In the summer of 1941, the Third Reich was at the apex of its power. After the defeat of Poland in September 1939, German troops had engaged in a series of spectacular blitzkrieg offensives against Denmark, Norway, the Benelux countries, and France, occupying almost the whole of Western Europe. In Eastern Europe, the Nazi regime was allied with Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria, and in the spring of 1941 it conquered Yugoslavia and Greece. Hitler thought the time for "Europe's crusade against Bolshevism" had come. For the June 22, 1941, attack on the Soviet Union, Hitler assembled an invading force of unprecedented size. In addition to 3.6 million German and allied soldiers, about 600,000 motor vehicles, 3,600 tanks, 7,200 artillery pieces, and 2,700 warplanes were deployment in the invasion. This photograph shows a unit of German tanks before their deployment; in the background, we see the bombardment of Sluk.
WHY DID HITLER ATTACK RUSSIA AND SPARE BRITAIN? (From the BBC)
In the summer of 1940 Adolf Hitler, despite his swift and dramatic victory over France, faced a major military and political problem. The British would not do what seemed logical and what the Führer expected - they would not make peace. Yet Hitler was frustrated by geography - in the shape of the English Channel - from following his immediate instincts and swiftly crushing the British just as he had the French.Hitler did in fact order preparations to be made for an invasion of England, but he was always half-hearted in his desire to mount a large seaborne landing. Germany, unlike Britain, was not a sea power and the Channel was a formidable obstacle. Even if air superiority could be gained, there remained the powerful British Navy. And there was another, ideological, reason why Hitler was not fully committed to invading Britain. For him, it would have been a distraction. Britain contained neither the space, nor the raw materials, that he believed the new German Empire needed. And he admired the British - Hitler often remarked how much he envied their achievement in subjugating India.Worse, if the Germans let themselves be drawn into a risky amphibious operation against a country Hitler had never wanted as an enemy, every day the potential threat from his greatest ideological opponent would be growing stronger. (It was just ironic that he was not yet at war with this perceived enemy, since in August 1939 Germany and the Soviet Union had signed a Non-Aggression Pact.)All this meant that, from Hitler's point of view, there was an alternative to invading Britain: he could invade the Soviet Union. Both Hitler and his military planners knew that Germany's best chance of victory was for the war in Europe to be finished swiftly.Hubert Menzel was a major in the General Operations Department of the OKH (the Oberkommando des Heers, the German Army headquarters), and for him the idea of invading the Soviet Union in 1941 had the smack of cold, clear logic to it: 'We knew that in two years' time, that is by the end of 1942, beginning of 1943, the English would be ready, the Americans would be ready, the Russians would be ready too, and then we would have to deal with all three of them at the same time.... We had to try to remove the greatest threat from the East.... At the time it seemed possible.' (The above paragraphs are taken from chapter one of 'War of the Century' by Laurence Rees, published by BBC Publications, 1999.)
December 1941. A German tank stuck in the Russian snow.
Prior to the invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler’s army had won a number of quick military victories. The campaign in the East, however, was a disaster for the Wehrmacht and proved to be a turning point in the war. Strategic mistakes, inadequate supplies for troops, and insufficient equipment all contributed to the German defeat on the Eastern Front. In many areas, German military equipment was not suited to the Soviet Union’s climate and ground conditions, especially in the winter months. This image shows a German type IV tank (in snow camouflage) stuck in the snow. While soldiers attempt to free the tank with shovels and pickaxes, a war correspondent (far right) captures photographs the scene.
Germans invaded the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, and looked poised to take Moscow by October that year. With the benefit of hindsight, popular opinion has labelled Hitler as virtually insane for invading the Soviet Union, but at the time many people - including those influential in both Britain and America - thought his decision was a sound one. Indeed, Hitler came much closer to pulling off his grand plan than the Soviet Union was ever prepared to admit.The German Blitzkrieg technique was as devastating in Russia as it had been in the rest of Europe. The scene was set for a war of annihilation waged by the Nazis against the Soviets with no mercy shown by either side. One week into the German invasion, 150,000 Soviet soldiers were either dead or wounded - more than during the five months of the Battle of the Somme.As the German armies swept further into the Russian heartland, one million Soviet troops were drafted to protect Kiev. But despite Stalin's ruthless order forbidding any city to surrender, Kiev fell and 600,000 Soviet soldiers were captured. By October 1941, three million Soviet soldiers were prisoners of war. New testimony and documentary evidence can now reveal that Stalin was seriously considering suing for peace and had even organised a 'getaway' train to take him to safety as German guns started pounding Moscow. His decision to stay and fight was a crucial turning point in the war.
Hitler’s Directive No. 45 of July 23, 1942, revised the original plan of the German summer offensive in southern Russia. According to the directive, the offensives in Stalingrad and the Caucasus were equally important and would be pursued simultaneously. Army Group A [Heeresgruppe A] was to occupy the oil fields of the Caucasus, while Army Group B [Heeresgruppe B] was to conquer Stalingrad, an important industrial city and rail hub on the Volga River. In 1940, Stalingrad (named Zarizyn until 1925, and Volgograd since 1961) had a population of 450,000. The battle for Stalingrad began on August 19, 1942; on August 23, the 6th Army, under the leadership of General Friedrich Paulus, was ordered to take the city. Bitter fighting ensued and losses were extraordinarily high. The battle for Stalingrad lasted until February 2, 1943, ending in a crushing German defeat.
Soviet POWs. 1942.
German treatment of POWs varied greatly and was largely determined by the nationality of their captives. Soviet POWs suffered the worst fate, since National Socialist racial policy held that the “Eastern races” were inferior, and since fighting Bolshevism was among the goals of Nazi political ideology. Soviet POWs were kept in makeshift camps without sufficient food, medical care, or protection from harsh weather conditions. Thousands of prisoners were used as forced laborers in the armaments industry and at mining sites. More than 3 million Soviet POWs died in German prison camps. This photograph was taken at a POW camp in Charkov (Ukraine).
1943. Soviet partisans hanged to deter others by the Germans.
With the attack on the Soviet Union, the Nazi campaign assumed its full scope as a racial-ideological war of annihilation of unprecedented brutality and barbarity. The Wehrmacht and the SS cooperated in the conquest of Eastern European “living space” [Lebensraum] and raw materials, in the systematic eradication of racial and political enemies, and in the decimation and enslavement of the Slavic peoples. By the end of the war, an estimated 25-27 million Soviet citizens had died, including many civilians. This photograph shows Soviet partisans who had been hanged to deter others from following a similar path. It was found on a fallen soldier in 1943.
WAR IN RUSSIA: HELL FOR THE PEOPLE (Source:BBC)
Stalin and Hitler were together responsible for the leitmotiv of ruthless brutality that prevailed throughout the hostilities between Russia and Germany. During the Battle of Moscow, in which 8,000 Soviet citizens were executed for perceived cowardice, the Russian armies were forced to stand their ground, despite perishingly cold conditions of 43 degrees below freezing.
To prevent his soldiers deserting the front line around the capital, Stalin ordered special 'blocking detachments' to shoot all deserters. The Soviet leadership also instructed Soviet partisans operating in the countryside to kill anyone whom they believed was disloyal. This resulted in an effective carte blanche for partisans to abuse their power and extract whatever they wanted from helpless villagers.A report from one partisan division shows that rape, killings and beatings were commonplace. To make villagers' lives still more hellish, in some areas, particularly the occupied Ukraine, nationalist partisans (as opposed to Soviet partisans), who were bent on freedom from the Soviet regime, also started up their own brutal operations in the countryside. Villagers were now faced with violence from three different fighting forces.Russians did not suffer only from their own side. Nazi rule over the territories they captured from Russia was draconian. Erich Koch, Reich Commissar of occupied Ukraine stated that the 'lowliest German worker is a thousand times more valuable' than the entire population of the Ukraine. Starvation was widespread, with Soviet civilians forced to eat dogs - until the dog supply ran out and people were forced to turn to rats, crows and birch bark. In the Ukrainian town of Kharkov, which was administered by the German army, 100,000 people died of starvation and disease.The German army, faced with an ever growing partisan threat, became increasingly comprehensive in their view about what constituted a partisan. One army document lists 1,900 partisans and their 'helpers', killed by the Germans in one action. But only 30 rifles and a handful of other weapons were found with them - more than 90% of those killed by the Germans had no guns.And yet people still managed to survive. Inna Gavrilchenko tells how lucky she was to get a job in a slaughter house during the occupation of Kharkov. It gave her access to blood, which she smuggled out and cooked into a 'blood omelette'.
After the 6th Army surrendered at Stalingrad on January 31 and February 2, 1943, its surviving members were taken into captivity. The battle for Stalingrad had lasted from August 1942 until February 2, 1943. After months of heavy fighting with neither sufficient supplies nor suitable equipment, and under extremely harsh climate conditions, most surviving soldiers more or less looked like the soldier here: ravaged by injury, hunger, and cold.
Februrary, 1943. The defeated German Sixth Army of Paulus.
According to the most recent research, however, it can be assumed that about 100,000 German soldiers were captured at Stalingrad; only about 6,000 of them returned home after the war.
The Atlantic Wall.
To prevent an Allied invasion of what Hitler called “fortress Europe,” the Organization Todt (OT) began construction in the summer of 1942 on a 1,600 mile-long defensive fortification along the Atlantic coast. Upon completion, this fortification (which was referred to as the “Atlantic Wall” [Atlantikwall] in Nazi propaganda) was to stretch from the Netherlands to the Spanish border. Its completion, originally scheduled for May 1943, was delayed by shortages in building materials. By the time the Allies invaded Normandy on June 6, 1944, only a small section of it had been finished.
A Russian village burns, January 1944.
On February 14, 1943, after the Germans experienced a devastating defeat on the Eastern Front, Hitler ordered his retreating army to leave nothing but “scorched earth” behind them – the idea being that this would slow the Red Army’s advance. But it did not slow down the Russian advance.