ВЕЛИКАЯ ОТЕЧЕСТВЕННАЯ ВОЙНА 

                                                                 (GREAT PATRIOTIC WAR) 

More than six decades have passed since the end of this horrendous conflict that changed the face of Europe forever.  Over 50 million people, majority Russians, died in this bloody conflagration. The Germans termed this conflict “Operation Barbarossa”, and the Russians refer to it as the “Great Patriotic War”. Ironically, Hitler envisioned this campaign to rid Europe of Slavs and Jews, but instead it was the end of Nazi Germany.  Hitler’s reckless gamble in attacking the USSR doomed his dreams of a “Thousand Year Reich”.

The Red Army

The Red Army was unprepared to meet the onslaught of the German Wehrmach that began on the early morning of June 22, 1941. Stalin’s prewar purges had decimated and demoralized the Red Army and were the direct cause of Russia’s initial disastrous defeats of 1941 - 1942. Stalin’s reign of terror was in full swing on the eve of WW II and the months leading to the pivotal battle at the gates of Moscow.  Prior to the German invasion, Stalin’s terror purges had eliminated the Red Army’s best senior officers: including three of the five marshals, thirteen of the fifteen army commanders, eight of the nine fleet admirals, fifty of the fifty-seven corps commanders, 154 of the 186 divisional commanders, and so on down the chain of the command” (page 79, The Greatest Battle, Andrew Nagorski ).  Stalin in effect beheaded the Red Army. Some historians estimate that the two decades of turmoil prior to the start of German invasion cost the lives of over 15 million Soviet peoples.  The pre-war Soviet movies, of course, portrayed the Red Army troops as mighty “heros” winning victory after victory on the soil of any potential invader, but these films only served to hide the poor state of the Red Army which was first revealed during the Winter War with Finland.  The Red Army units at the start of  Barbarossa were ill-trained, disorganized, poorly armed (with 1890 vintage rifles) and led by incompetent officers appointed for political reliability rather than merit. These troops retreated or surrendered by entire units as the Germans advanced.  Hitler had planned a 6-month blitzkreig to bring Russia to her knees, and the Germans were supremely confident that their Operation Barbarossa would end victoriously as had all their previous campaigns.  Nothing during summer of 1941 indicated otherwise.

The survival of the Red Army, and Russia, during the first two years of the German invasion, is one of the most heroic events in the annals of human history.  Hitler, the German people, and the world, expected the Red Army to be defeated in the summer of 1941 - but, she wasn’t. The resilience of the Red Army, in face of the enormous losses suffered during the first two years of the war, shocked the German general staff to the core and called their strategic plan into question - although no one dared, at that time, to question Hitler’s “intuitive genius”.                                

Initially, many people, particularly in the western regions of USSR, viewed the German invaders as liberators from the hated Stalinist tyranny. However, once they realized that the arrogant Germans had absolutely no concern for the Slav or the Jew, and that the very existence of Russia was at stake, a spirit of Borodino swept the land, and people rose up as one (men, women, aged and young, Christian, Jew and Muslim) to evict the foreign invader from Rodina Mat(Motherland).  The ordinary German soldier soon realized that they were fighting a cunning, brave and brutal enemy quite unlike the previous French, Dutch, or Brit opponents. By the second year of war, many German soldiers began to look upon the Red Army soldiers as super human instead of the “untermenschen” of Nazi propaganda. The Russians, in 1941 - 2, were willing to sacrifice land and lives for timeTime to survive, time to gather strength, and time to mount a counter attack.  I doubt the Germans ever understood the significance of time in invading Russia.

The near fatal blows the German Wehrmacht delivered the Red Army during the first two years were like those of a blacksmith beating a lump of steel into a sharp sword.  These early defeats forged a new Red Army. By the middle of 1943, the Red Army officers and soldiers were professional combatants who were well trained, well provisioned, and superbly confident that they are superior to the German invaders under any combat conditions. The accomplishments of the officers and troops were now being recognized with medals and orders which bestowed privileges previously unknown in the Red Army. The front line combat units of new Red Army no longer had to rely on obsolete Russian trucks or horse drawn wagons for transport, nor slog on foot through mud and snow.  They now rode into battle on vast numbers of lend-lease American Studebaker trucks. The German HQ was frequently stunned by the rapid mobility of the Red Army’s combat units. 

The Red Army returning home after the war changed the USSR in ways that Stalin and his close circle of party officials always feared. They had seen the world that existed beyond their closed borders; and, they began to demand a “better life” as a reward for the terrible price they paid to save the USSR. However, in Stalin’s realm of paranoid madness such a “better life” was an anathema.  As soon as the war ended, Stalin began to reinstitute the tyranny of self idolization, arrests and deportations, which had been relaxed a bit during the war.  Instead of a “better life”, soldiers often found themselves in a labor camp, and the invalids abandoned on street corners to beg.

The war-time, and post war, Soviet propaganda propagated an image that the war was won by glorious “Soviet heros” under the masterful guidance of Comrade Chairman Stalin, and, went to great lengths to deliberately conceal the true extent of suffering by the troops and the people during the war. Only after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, are the soldiers of the war-time Red Army being portrayed as ordinary human beings instead of glorious representatives of the eternal USSR.  There is now a more honest recognition of the terrible sufferings and injustices endured by these soldiers due to Stalin’s incompetence; brutality of his NKVD troops and political commissars; and, the general government neglect of returning veterans. The generation of Red Army soldiers who fought in the Great Patriotic War were remarkable people, and I doubt their kind will ever be seen again.  They came, many shoeless and illiterate, from the various republics, oblasts, cities, towns, villages, and forest huts of the vast expanse of the USSR to save Rodina Mat and push the German invaders back to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.  The heroic role played by the Red Army in the defeat of Hitler’s Third Reich can never be doubted, nor be allowed to fall victim to revisionist propaganda. 


The Wehrmacht

Walter Warlimont, a general on Hitler’s HQ staff, describes in his book, Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45, that Hitler would only accept facts and reality that conformed with his self-delusion, and ignored what he didn’t want to know.  Hitler continually underestimated the military and industrial might of the USSR, and the valor of the Russian people in the defense their country.  The German soldiers blindly adored their beloved “Führer”, and obediently marched into the vastness of an unknown Russia that fateful early morning of June 22, 1941.  Six months later, the once proud Wehrmacht retreated from Moscow frozen, bloodied, and exhausted.   

The German strategic plan for the Barbarossa campaign was flawed from the beginning.  Hitler’s was totally ignorant about Russia and the challenges of war in such a vast country.  Not long after the invasion of Russia, perhaps the greatest flaw of all was revealed: Hitler’s total incompetence as the leader of the German war effort against Russia. Hitler showed himself to be: delusional; indecisive when decisions were required; and, he portrayed childlike outbursts of rage when confronted by practical advice from his generals.  Hitler and Germany were totally unprepared for war against Russia.  Hitler had failed to recognize the need for a 4-engined long range bomber with the capacity to strike at the industrial sites beyond the Ural mountains.  Hitler never even anticipated the possibility of a winter campaign; and so, he didn’t bother to outfit the Wehrmacht with even the basic winter clothing and lubricants necessary to function effectively when the brutal Russian winter arrives - as it always does. German military and transport equipment was designed for combat in Western Europe, and not for the primitive and harsh conditions of Russia. German tanks & artillery were inferior to Russia’s; lorries were unsuited for the mud and the snow; and, there never were enough locomotives and transport planes to bring the required amount of munitions and supplies to the troops on a vast front extending from the Arctic to the Caucuses.                                                                                                                             

The deeper the Wehrmacht advanced into Russia, the more perilous became their situation.  As the Germans advanced eastward, they began to suffer serious casualties on an ever expanding front; partisans units began to disrupt their over-extended supply lines; and, the Red Army was growing more powerful by the day.  The German author, Paul Carrell, writes in his Scorched Earth (page 6): “By December 31, 1941, the Wehrmacht’s total losses in the eastern campaign already stood at 830,000 men killed, wounded, and missing. A total of 509,000 soldiers were available to replace them.”  No troops in history suffered as much for their country as the German troops who froze and bled to death in Russia.  Hitler condemned hundreds of thousands of troops to death or captivity by his irrational demands that there should be “no retreat”, when retreat was the only salvation for the troops. In the end, all Hitler had left to sacrifice for his madness were old men and young boys of the Volksturm.                                                                                                                    

There are those who believe that if only this or that had not happened, Germany would have won their war in Russia.  I don’t believe so.   A victory over the USSR was never in the cards for Hitler because such a "victory" was only an unobtainable delusion of his demented mind.

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