Saturday, 16 October 2010

WWII – the Russian Front

I have always had a fascination with the Second World War; I loved the films when I was a kid, and throughout my life have wondered at the ferocity, violence, mayhem it caused. I have been moved by the courage of all those men who gave their lives for freedom. All are true heroes every one of them, I am not sure if I could have landed on Omaha Beach, and ran up the bluffs. Or lived in a U-Boat or submarine, where your chances of survival were slim. I doubt I would have wanted to land on Okinawa, or fight in the jungles of Burma. Fly a Spitfire in the Battle of Britain, or fly a Bomber over enemy territory. How dreadful it must have been to be trapped in Stalingrad, or starving in Leningrad, not to mention the beyond evil treatment of prisoners whether civilians or soldiers, in the death and concentration camps.

Out of all of this senseless bloodlust, the worse violence, the worse place, the worst fighting, the worst death rate has to be the Russian Front. Fighting there went beyond evil; it went into another stratosphere of brutality. On June 22nd, 3 million German troops as well as approximately 1 million axis troops launched Operation Barbarossa. Three massive Army Groups; Army Group North, heading for Leningrad; Army Group Centre heading for Smolensk, then Moscow, and Army Group South, heading for the Ukraine. In the beginning the massive gamble seemed to pay off, the German Wehrmacht, swiftly moved hundreds of miles encircling hundreds of thousands of Red Army soldiers; in one encirclement the Wehrmacht trapped and captured 650,000 Red Army troops.

By November they were within sight of Moscow, yet they had not won, and though the view was one of imminent victory, the Germans, totally underestimated the strength on resolve of the Soviets. The Russian Front was hell for its troops, if you were a Lieutenant in the Wehrmacht; you were likely to be dead or a casualty within eleven days of arriving. The casualty rate was so high, by the beginning of the 1942, the 3 million German Soldiers were either dead or captured or casualties. If you watch the documentary about the Wehrmacht they say that in June 41, the German Army was at 95% of full readiness, by January 42, that was reduced to 5%, the army that left in 41 was wiped out.

Any decent minded person would have cut his losses and got the hell out of Dodge, but Hitler didn’t do this, he continued his madness, sending millions of troops to take the Crimea, and eventually to die in Stalingrad. Stalingrad is said to be the bloodiest, nastiest, most awful hellhole battle ever, it is estimated that between 1–1.5 million people died there, including the entire German 6th Army. Between 250,000 and 350,000 German troops were trapped in a pocket they called the Kessel or Cauldron. Slowly they were squeezed, fighting in freezing cold temperatures, hand to hand, house by house, room by room, what am horrific hell, did those soldiers on both sides have to endure. And if you were unfortunate enough to survive the 6 months of nightmarish conditions, you were then imprisoned in a gulag, for another ten years. Of the 95,000 German soldiers captured, only 5,000-6,000, ever saw Germany again.

Hitler would not allow them to escape, he let them all die, and that was not the end of his brutality. As well as letting his own soldiers down, who he expected to die in his name, and to never give up, even to the last man. His treatment of Russian prisoners was beyond barbaric, 3 million Russian prisoners died at the hands of the German Einsatzgruppen or Death Squads, as well as millions of Jews and Russian civilians.

Unlike Stalingrad, Hitler decided to surround Leningrad and starve its citizens, for over 700 days Leningrad was cut off with little to no food or fuel. As many as 1.4 million people were casualties of this hellish siege.

Even when in 1943, the tide was turning against Hitler and his forces were being decimated on both fronts, he continued the madness, engaging in the Battle of Kursk, where approximately 1 million soldiers were killed or wounded. The largest and most dreadful tank battle ever happened there, at Prokhorovka, thousands of tanks from each side collided outside the small town in a tiny square mile of land. By this stage the Germans were finished, yet Hitler still continued his madness.

From this time onwards the Germans were in retreat, but the bloody slaughter continued for another two years, costing the lives of millions more men, women and children. The Russians finally beat the Germans at their own game, and pushed them all the way back to Berlin. But still Hitler would not stop the hell, over half a million Germans lost their lives in that final battle.

No one knows the true amount of deaths from the Russian Front, it is estimated that between 25–35 million Russians died, and up to 6-7 million Germans. To think so many died in such a short space of time through the megalomania of a few individuals on both sides, is in my mind something we need to learn from. We never want to see the like again. I feel we don’t know enough about what happened in that hellhole back in the early forties, we know more about the western campaign, mainly because it was the front we were fighting on. We see more films about the US and British battles, but we need to see some more about the Russian ones. We seem to glorify war too much; it should be something that we don’t see any more. How can we still find some kind of justification to kill another human being in that way after witnessing the First and Second World Wars? Will we ever learn or will we have to witness the horror again in a few more decades, when the two most violent murderous wars, are lost with the survivors; when they are gone? Let’s hope that it never happens again, we want peace, harmony and oneness, with all of humanity. We need to trust, and form a togetherness, that will end war forever.

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