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WW2: The Russian Front: Rare Pictures: Part 2

The Russian front: Where the hardest and most brutal fighting took place during the Second World war

A Russian airman besides his fighter plane


In his book "Modern Times", Paul Johnson clearly marks the exact point in time when the outcome of the war was decided. His analysis is shared by other top authors, and was also shared by Winston Churchill himself at the time of events when they happened. Remaining wartime reports by German Generals allow us to see it clearly from the German military's point of view.

It's obvious that Hitler gambled everything by invading Russia, that attacking Russia and failing to defeat it could only mean that Germany will be defeated.

When the German invasion of Russia began in June 1941, Germany could potentially defeat Russia and win the war. Its initial victories were tremendous. Russian losses in men, equipment, and land, were unbelievably enormous. But Russia is HUGE, with endless resources, its soldiers are tough, and its winter is terrible for anyone not fully equipped for it, and the German military was definitely NOT equipped for the Russian winter, and knew it.

But in the first weeks of the invasion the German successes were such that the over-confident Hitler decided that he wants to occupy the rich Ukraine in the South even before taking Moscow, the heart of Russia. To do so he ordered to stop the advance of army group "Center" to Moscow and to give its two tank armies to army groups "North" and "South". This was perhaps Hitler's greatest mistake, and his Generals argued a lot against it, but in vain.

After spending more than a month on this diversion, in September 6th 1941 Hitler realized that he was running out of time in his race to defeat Russia before winter, which his war plan considered a major condition with no alternative.

So then he ordered to concentrate everything in an all-or-nothing effort to take Moscow "In the limited time before winter". Army group "Center" received its two tank armies back, plus a third tank army, and additional air units. In October 2nd 1941 the German military began its final assault on Moscow. In the 2nd week of October, there was a confident German public radio announcement that the outcome of the war has been decided and Russia is defeated.

But then the Russian winter began. Rains and deep mud slowed the German tanks and infantry almost to a standstill. The advance resumed a month later, when the mud was frozen by the dropping temperature. In German cities an emergency effort began, to collect winter clothing for their unequipped soldiers in Russia, who still fought in their summer uniform.

By the end of November 1941, the German armor spearheads reached a distance of just 27km from the center of Moscow, but could advance no further due to strong Russian resistance, and the temperature dropped to around -34C (-29F). The foremost German observers could see the tips of the towers of the Kremlin, but General Erich Hoepner, the commander of the leading Panzer Group 4, reported that his force "reached its utmost limit, with physical and mental exhaustion, unbearable shortage of personnel, and lack of winter clothing".


This Russian woman soldier is quite cheerful and enthusiastic about getting a few Germans. Tough lady.


By the end of November 1941, the German armor spearheads reached a distance of just 27km from the center of Moscow, but could advance no further due to strong Russian resistance, and the temperature dropped to around -34C (-29F). The foremost German observers could see the tips of the towers of the Kremlin, but General Erich Hoepner, the commander of the leading Panzer Group 4, reported that his force "reached its utmost limit, with physical and mental exhaustion, unbearable shortage of personnel, and lack of winter clothing".

General Wagner, the German army's top logistics officer also wrote a report that was summarized by the chief of staff with "we reached our limit in terms of personnel and equipment".

And then, in December 6th 1941, the Russian army counter-attacked the exhausted Germans with massive fresh reinforcement units that came from Siberia and the far East, and forced the German armies to a deep retreat, for the first time.

The next day, on December 7th 1941, the Soviet news agency announced the first German defeat since the invasion started. On the same day, Japan attacked the US in Pearl Harbor and the US joined the war with its immense military potential. On that day Hitler ordered to cease the attack and shift to defense.

A week later, General Hoepner reported "my 22 divisions face 43 Russian divisions, none of my divisions is capable of attack or of defending against a stronger force. All my positions are endangered. No fuel, no food for the horses, the soldiers fall asleep standing, everything is frozen, the soil is frozen a meter deep, which makes digging impossible."

As Paul Johnson writes, "at this stage it was clear that Operation Barbarossa failed. A totally new strategy was needed". Instead of that, in December 19, 1941, Hitler, the German dictator and a former WWI Corporal, appointed himself the new commander-in-chief of the German army, and personally commanded the daily war management since then. He no longer trusted his gifted Generals, the highly professional leaders of the world's most effective military machine, to win the war for him. He thought he can succeed where they failed, and ignored most of their advices since. He totally forbid any more retreats, a limiting constraint that cost the German military almost a third of its manpower in Russia before the end of the winter. General Halder wrote "Hitler's constant underestimation of the enemy is becoming grotesque".

In 1941 Russia survived a tremendous blow. Barely, and with horrible losses, but it survived it, and from that point on became ever stronger. Germany on the other hand had just pushed itself to the limit and beyond, and it was not enough. It charged forward again with all its remaining potential once the winter ended, and again a year later when the next winter ended, but it was too late. The weakened German military could not achieve then what it failed to achieve in 1941.

In December 1941 Germany lost the war when it failed in its all-or-nothing attempt to defeat Russia before the winter, and in addition to that, at its moment of failure, the US joined the war and its additional immense war potential further ensured Germany's defeat.

This man is showing off his Tommy Gun, if I may say so.


We can ask if Germany lost the war even earlier, for example when it failed to defeat Great Britain with airplanes and submarines, leaving it as an essential future base for massive US forces and a second front. Or when it just began its invasion of Russia. The answer to that is negative. As long as he wasn't at war with Russia, Hitler had options and possibilities, nothing was final yet. When he invaded Russia, he could still do things differently, such as concentrating the effort on Moscow from the beginning, and presenting the war as a campaign of liberation from Stalin's brutal regime in order to soften Russia's resistance, but Hitler interfered with the military conduct of the invasion from the beginning, and the unprecedented Nazi brutality that aimed to decimate and enslave them, left the tough Russian people with no other choice but to fight their toughest war, and utilize their endless resources much better than ever, and by doing so Hitler lost his last remaining options and his chance of winning the war.
So in December of 1941, at the gates of Moscow, Hitler's war was lost. It took 3 1/2 more years to end, thanks to the outstanding fighting skill and loyalty of the German soldier, but he could no longer win it.

Russian soldiers advance

Ordinary Russian people suffered the most

This handsome lady is at ease with her gun.

The Russians too felt the harsh Russian winters

A helmeted Russian soldier

1 comment:

  1. Great pictures, but would it not be possible to identify the locations of battlefield sites?



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Points To Ponder


It is difficult to distinguish between the quality of both the German and Russian soldiers. Both were motivated by their love for their motherland. But there were others factors that drove the two sides to such desperate fighting.

One, both sides knew that this was a no-holds bar war. Not fighting was thus not an option.

Second, both Hitler and Stalin had squads that killed any deserter. Turning away from fighting was just not possible.

Thus was seen some of the most bitter, brutal and desperate fighting on the WW2 eastern (Russian) Front.
"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
-- George Santayana


"Be polite; write diplomatically; even in a declaration of war one observes the rules of politeness."
--Otto von Bismarck

"When the enemy advances, withdraw; when he stops, harass; when he tires, strike; when he retreats, pursue.'
--Mao Zedong

Your Comments

Senior Observer said...

The reason the German soldier did not rape and loot as the other armies did. Including the US. (I was there) was the discipline. Half the troops or at least a great number of troops on my train to the front were AWOL's or deserters. That would not have happened in the German military. You left your post you were shot. Simple as that. Germans knew that so deserting was not an option. But the ordinary soldier knew that also applied to the officers. You did your duty or else.Remember Rommel? Hitler didn't care. Just follow orders. The respect for the officer by the ordinary soldier was good. I didn't have much respect for our officers. For months after the war we were still drinking instant coffee and instant milk. The general was living it up in London I suppose because I never saw him afterwards even though I was in 3rd DIVARTY Have a nice day


Great Comments

"The photos are nice, but I hate the way the nazis are portrayed. They are portrayed as always evil. Think about it. What do you think would happen when a country loses WWI? When they enter a depression and are stolen from by gypsies and jews?! Also, the Russians were just as brutal if not worse. They ran the gulags! They murdered men, women, and children who opposed communism. Stalin's regime killed 65MILLION people in it's lifetime. Hitler killed 21MILLION. Take your pick, you politically correct WUSS!"

Anonymous on Nazi Germany: A Pictorial History

"ever heard of the saying two wrongs don't make a right. yes they lost ww1, but they started it so they got their just deserts. and hitler was pure evil,theres no doubt he was a great leader and orator that took advantage of a country in despair. he stood by people that were simular to him and used them to 'persuade' others in high places to flock to his banner. once in power it was easy to unite a nation with his speaches that germeny could rule the world at ANY cost, the hatetred between germany and russia was legendry with both country's sinking to new levels of for russia killing millions of their own under stalin, yes, that was an atocity in itself but it was an internal matter in russia. nothing to do with the west. germany treated the russians as less than human in fact, less than the jews and the feelings were neutral. the battle of stalingrad were tesamony to that. so picking someone to like because they killed 21m instead of 65m is just sick and shows what sort of person you really are. i will say though that although these pictures are interesting, dont belive everything that they show. the picture at the top seems to show two peasants being shot, both are women so we asume that they are inocents. not so, women fought along side their men with amazing efect. rusian women were excellent marksmen and made effective snipers and machine gunners. not behind them a machingun nest. its more likely that the machingun nest was overun and they are being shot for shooting german soldiers. that being said, it saddens me to say that many of the pictures do depict atrocities that the devil himself would be ashamed of.having never been in a war, i can't imagine what humans would go through under such horrific conditions. knowing death was just around the corner probly turned the most mild mannered men and women into monsters. im not going to justify there actions or condone them but to understand what they went through. i hope for all our sakes we never have to go through anything like it again. but i think we will."
Anonymous on Nazi Germany: A Pictorial History


"The main thing is to make history, not to write it."
--Otto von Bismarck

"When you have to kill a man it costs nothing to be polite."
--Winston Churchill


"In time of war the loudest patriots are the greatest profiteers."
--August Bebel

"God is not on the side of the big battalions, but on the side of those who shoot best."

Great Comments....

I think it's important to remember that the German army at this time was one of the most disciplined fighting forces in the world. It's the reason Hitler made them swear an oath on his rise to Fuhrer; he knew they wouldn't break it.

That unflinching devotion to service and country would be their undoing, eventually - there were many suicides in combat. German soldiers who just couldn't deal with the brutality anymore - and the crime. Even leadership attempted to murder Hitler several times.

The Nazis were Germans, but the Germans weren't Nazis. Not all German soldiers were so criminally cruel. Most criminal cruelty was perpetrated not by the German Army, but by the Nazis and their divisions (SS, Gestapo, etc)
(Brutality Of Germans In Russia)
-- By Anonymous

Quotes about War....

"Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war."
---Otto von Bismarck


"Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
--Hermann Goering


"To conquer the enemy without resorting to war is the most desirable. The highest form of generalship is to conquer the enemy by strategy."
--Tzu Sun

"All men are brothers, like the seas throughout the world; So why do winds and waves clash so fiercely everywhere?"
--Emperor Hirohito