Fireworks and cannon salutes as Russia celebrates 74th anniversary of the Siege of Leningrad during which Nazi troops blockaded St Petersburg for four years and an estimated 800,000 people died
Fireworks exploded above the St Petersburg skyline today, reflecting in the swiftly flowing Neva River as the city celebrated the 74th anniversary of the battle that ended the Siege of Leningrad.
Named at the time after the communist revolutionary, the city was blockaded by German Nazi and Finnish troops for four desperate years during WW2.
By the time the siege ended on January 27, 1944, 872 days later, an estimated 630,000 people had died.
St Petersburg celebrated the 74th anniversary of the battle that ended the four-year-long Siege of Leningrad
Some historians say this is a conservative number, and suggest the real death toll to be closer to 800,000.
The siege began on September 8, 1941, when Nazi forces fully encircled the city, three months after launching Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union.
Like the Holocaust, the truth of what occurred took time to trickle outwards, across Europe to France and Britain.
Few people realised the real horror of the siege. For years afterwards Stalin kept it dark.
World War II guns fired a salute during the celebrations which took place today across the city
Fireworks exploded above the austere St Petersburg skyline, reflecting in the swiftly flowing Neva River
A new 3D panorama museum opened in Kirovsk, about 20 miles east of St Petersburg, to mark the occasion
After the Khrushchev thaw, a new legend was propagated. The citizens of Leningrad were heroic in their staunch resistance against hunger and German bombs.
They were willing - and quiet - martyrs for the Revolutionary cause.
But with the collapse of communism, archives opened, as did police records and siege diaries.
The city of almost 3 million, including about 400,000 children, had endured increasingly bleak hardship.
Known at the time as Leningrad, the city was blockaded by German Nazi and Finnish troops for nearly four years during WW2
German and Finnish forces encircled the city, blocking food, ammunition and medical supplies from reaching civilians
Historians suggest the real death toll of the assault to be as high as 800,000 - one in three of the city's population
During the first months of 1942 about 100,000 people were dying every four weeks
It is estimated that more than half of the city's population died during the siege's first year - an extremely cold winter stretching from 1941 to 1942.
Rations fell to just 125 grams of bread per person of which 50 to 60 per cent consisted of sawdust and other inedible bulking agents.
All municipal heating was switched off and the city's people were forced to endure temperatures of as low as -30 degrees celsius.
The death toll peaked in the first two months of 1942 at 100,000 every four weeks.
People died on the streets, and citizens soon became accustomed to the sight of bodies lying sprawled across the pavement.
Nazi shelling was continuous but civilians also had to contend with hunger and temperatures as low as -30 degrees Celsius
USSR officers from the Red Army defended the city using what limited ammunition had been stored there before the war
Rations fell to just 125 grams of bread per person per day, and heating in all municipal buildings was switched off
People became accustomed to the sight of dead bodies in the streets
People were forced to eat pets, dirt and glue.
Some, driven to utter desperation, even resorted to cannibalism. For those willing to break one of humanity's greatest taboos, the streets held an abundance of food.
But as families starved and froze to death inside the city, the German troops outside fared little better.
They had stretched themselves thin and, unlike the Russians, were not used to the bitter cold.
On January 12 of 1944 determined Russian forces broke through the German ranks encircling the city, ending the siege.
Operation Barbarossa remains the largest military operation, in terms of manpower, area traversed, and casualties, in human history. The failure of Operation Barbarossa resulted in the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany and is considered a turning point for the Third Reich. Most importantly, Operation Barbarossa opened up the Eastern Front, which ultimately became the biggest theater of war in world history. Operation Barbarossa and the areas which fell under it became the site of some of the largest and most brutal battles, deadliest atrocities, terrible loss of life, and horrific conditions for Soviets and Germans alike - all of which influenced the course of both World War II and the 20th century history.
While this film of one of the epic struggles of WWII is over 50 years old, it still delivers the drama of the battle fought by Russian soldiers and sailors to defend Leningrad. Codenamed "Operation Barbarrosa" by Hitler, the battle was truly horrific. This documentary, The Great Battle of the Volga, focuses on the bravery and suffering of the Russian soldiers as they endure the tremendous attack by the well-equipped German army. That they could regroup and fight back with such ferocity is depicted, along with the terrible destruction caused by the Germans
The Greatest Battle of All Time – Stalingrad
Mamayev Kurgan is a war memorial like no other on earth ~ for it is dominated by an angry goddess. The most gigantic, impressive and eerie statue in the world, Rodina-Mat, the Mother Goddess of Russia, touts up 160 feet without any pedestal, 20 feet higher than the Statue of Liberty ~ it is the resting place for 35,000 Soviet soldiers who died defending their city, their country and eventually the world.
Feb. 2 marked a very obscure date for Americans, but one that saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of young American boys in World War II ~ it is the 70th anniversary of the final surrender of German forces at Stalingrad ~ The decisive battle of World War II for quite suddenly a glimmer of world wide hope replaced the growing despair of watching an apparently invincible German Wehrmacht, that had conquered the entire European continent in less than three years, brought to its knees by the courageous Russian defenders of Stalingrad.
Americans have never had to defend their country from a fierce fighting force intent on occupying them such as Russia endured in World War 2 ~ so to truly understand the depth of Russian patriotism, as well as other occupied countries and states, we must understand the battle and triumph of Stalingrad against insurmountable odds.
The human cost was truly horrific, as Martin Sieff explains in his commemorative article entitled ~ The Greatest Battle of All Time ~ and Why It Still Matters Today.
Excerpt: “The colossal scale of the fighting between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in what Russians call the Great Patriotic War was well recognized by Americans and Britons at the time but it has been virtually forgotten since. But it dwarfed every other battlefront of the war combined. Eight out of 10 German soldiers killed in World War II died fighting the Red Army. The colossal total of nearly 27 million Soviet military and civilian dead was more than twice the death toll of all Americans, Britons, Commonwealth, French and even Germans killed in the war combined…. According to British military historian Anthony Bevoir, 1.1 million Soviet soldiers died in the Battle of Stalingrad and that does not include the at least 100,000 and possibly three times as many civilian inhabitants of the city massacred by the repeated waves of indiscriminate Luftwaffe air attacks….Nazi losses were colossal, too. According to Russian estimates, 1.5 million German and Axis soldiers lost their lives in the entire campaign, more than five times the entire U.S. combat dead for all of the war and more than twice the combined Union and Confederate dead of the entire U.S. Civil War.”
The Russian triumph at Stalingrad rapidly led to a German retreat and the inevitable encirclement of Berlin by allied forces. Here’s the scene in the German film Downfall, where Hitler finally realises he is defeated in Berlin, and lets out his anger on his Generals. This is the original video, parodied so many times on Youtube ~ the film is excellent and English Soft Subs/Closed Captions are available, look at the bottom right. 4 minute video
My point here is that patriotism that is grounded in overcoming a foreign invader ~ such as Russia’s victory at Stalingrad ~ is far more formidable than just waving flags and singing anthems. America should be conscious that our illegal occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in millions of civilian deaths and displacements. More importantly they have also become the breeding ground of patriotic freedom fighters who can no longer be labeled insurgents or terrorists ~ who we use to justify even more military spending.
And who is paying the cost of roughly 3 trillion dollars for these illegal wars and occupations?
American families are now paying at least $20,000 each for these occupations (including the hidden social costs) with no end in sight.
It’s the biggest bubble of all ~ The so-called US government takes our money;
Then gives it to corporate thieves and uses it to create mayhem around the world.
We are poorer for it.
Our children are poorer for it.
The nation is poorer for it.
It’s really no more complicated than that.
Now, 70 years later, the apparently invincible American Wehrmacht, as recently represented by Vice President Joe Biden, set the record straight at the annual Munich Security Conference ~ as reported by WSWS “.. not only is this decade-long exercise in US militarism not ended, it is about to erupt in a whole number of new areas across the globe, threatening the lives of countless millions of people.”
“The greatest threat to our world and its peace comes from those who want war, who prepare for it, and who, by holding out vague promises of future peace or by instilling fear of foreign aggression, try to make us accomplices to their plans.” ~ Hermann Hesse
In calling off Operation Sea Lion, Adolf Hitler, the Supreme Commander of the world's most powerful armed forces, had suffered his first major setback. Nazi Germany had stumbled in the skies over Britain but Hitler was not discouraged. In the past, he had repeatedly overcome setbacks of one sort or another through drastic action elsewhere to both triumph over the failure and to move toward his ultimate goal. Now it was time to do it again.
All of Hitler's actions in Western Europe thus far, including the subjugation of France and the now-failed attack on Britain, were simply a prelude to achieving his principal goal as Führer, the acquisition of Lebensraum (Living Space) in the East. He had moved against the French, British and others in the West only as a necessary measure to secure Germany's western border, thereby freeing him to attack in the East with full force.
For Hitler, the war itself was first and foremost a racial struggle and he viewed all aspects of the conflict in racial terms. He considered the peoples of Western Europe and the British Isles to be racial comrades, ranked among the higher order of humans. The supreme form of human, according to Hitler, was the Germanic person, characterized by his or her fair skin, blond hair and blue eyes. The lowest form, Hitler believed, were the Jews and the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe, including the Russians.
All of this had been outlined in his book, Mein Kampf, first published in 1925. In it, Hitler stated his fundamental belief that Germany’s survival depended on its ability to acquire vast tracts of land in the East to provide room for the expanding German population at the expense of the inferior peoples already living there, justified purely on racial grounds. Hitler explained that Nazi racial philosophy “by no means believes in an equality of races…and feels itself obligated to promote the victory of the better and stronger, and demand the subordination of the inferior and weaker.”
Therefore, in stark contrast to the battles so far in the West, Hitler intended the quest for Lebensraum in the East to be a "war of annihilation" utilizing the might of the German Army and Air Force against soldiers and civilians alike.
In March of 1941, he assembled his top generals and told them how their troops should behave: “This struggle is one of [political] ideologies and racial differences and will have to be conducted with unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness. All officers will have to rid themselves of obsolete ideologies…I insist absolutely that my orders be executed without contradiction." Hitler then ordered the killing of all Russian political authorities. "The [Russian] commissars are the bearers of ideologies directly opposed to National Socialism. Therefore the commissars will be liquidated. German soldiers guilty of breaking international law…will be excused.” His generals listened in silence to this command, known later as the Commissar Order.
For his most senior generals, the utterances of their Supreme Commander posed a dilemma. They were mostly men of the old-school, born and raised in Imperial Germany, long before Hitler, amid traditional morals of bygone days. Now, they felt duty-bound to follow Hitler’s orders, no matter how drastic, since they had all sworn an oath of obedience to the Führer. But to comply, they would have to abandon time-honored codes of military conduct, considered obsolete by Hitler, which prohibited senseless murder of civilians.
At the same time, they each owed a debt of gratitude to Hitler for restoring the Germany Army to greatness and for the slew of promotions bestowed upon them by the Führer in the wake of its continued success. Rank and privilege, and the immense prestige of holding the title of Colonel-General or Field Marshal in Hitler's Wehrmacht, had tremendous appeal for these men, Therefore, in the end, despite their misgivings, not one of them dared to speak up or refuse Hitler in regard to his war plans for Russia. Instead, they dutifully planned the invasion of Russia, knowing the attack would unleash an unprecedented wave of murder.
The invasion plan for Russia was named Operation Barbarossa (Red Beard) by Hitler in honor of German ruler Frederick I, nicknamed Red Beard, who had orchestrated a ruthless attack on the Slavic peoples of the East some eight centuries earlier.
Barbarossa would be Blitzkrieg again but on a continental scale this time, as Hitler boasted to his generals, "When Barbarossa commences the world will hold its breath and make no comment!" Set to begin on May 15, 1941, three million soldiers totaling 160 divisions would plunge deep into Russia in three massive army groups, reaching the Volga River, east of Moscow, by the end of summer, thus achieving victory.
Facing them would be Stalin's Red Army, estimated by the Germans at 200 divisions. Although somewhat outnumbered by the Russians, Hitler believed they did not pose a serious threat and would fall apart just like their fellow Slavs, the Poles, did in 1939. Against an army of battle-hardened, racially superior Germans, the Russians would be finished in a matter of weeks, Hitler claimed.
Most of his generals concurred, supported by recent evidence. They had watched with keen interest as Soviet Russia confidently invaded Finland in November 1939, only to see the Red Army disintegrate into a disorganized jumble amid embarrassing defeats at the hands of a much smaller blond-haired Finnish fighting force.
Buoyed by Hitler and awash in their own arrogance, the generals confidently finalized the details of Operation Barbarossa as the bulk of the German troops and armor slowly moved into position in the weeks leading up to May 15. But as the invasion date neared, complications arose that upset the whole timetable.
Hitler's old friend and chief ally, Benito Mussolini, leader of Fascist Italy, had foolishly tried to imitate the Führer and achieve battlefield glory for himself by launching a surprise invasion of Greece. British troops stationed in the Mediterranean then moved in to help the Greeks fend off the Italians. For Hitler, the very idea of British troops in Southern Europe was enough to keep him awake at night. Their presence was a threat to Germany's vulnerable southern flank, the region of Europe known as the Balkans, which also supplied most of Germany's oil. It would therefore be necessary to secure the Balkans before launching Barbarossa.
To quickly achieve this, Hitler slipped back into a familiar role – the political master manipulator – forging overnight alliances with two Balkan countries, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia.
But in Yugoslavia, things unexpectedly spiraled out of control when the government, upon its alliance with Hitler, was immediately overthrown by its own citizens. Hitler was enraged by the news, perceiving it as a blow to his prestige. In a tirade, he ordered his generals to crush the country "as speedily as possible" and also ordered Göring's Air Force to obliterate the capital city, Belgrade, as "punishment." For the Luftwaffe, Belgrade was an easy target and they quickly turned it to rubble while killing 17,000 defenseless civilians.
Meanwhile, beginning on Sunday, April 6, 1941, the Wehrmacht poured 29 divisions into the region, taking Yugoslavia by storm, then took Greece for good measure, forcing British troops there to make a hasty exit. Thus the Balkans were secured. However, these actions took nearly five weeks and caused a lot of wear and tear on tanks and other armored equipment needed for the Russian campaign.
July 1941. A confident looking Hitler with Luftwaffe Chief Hermann Göring (right) and a decorated fighter pilot. Behind Hitler is his chief military aide Wilhelm Keitel, now a Field Marshal. Below: General Heinz Guderian in Russia, full of confidence as well.
The new launch date for Barbarossa was Sunday, June 22, 1941. On that day, beginning at 3:15 am, 3.2 million Germans plunged headlong into Russia across an 1800-mile front, taking their foes by surprise. Russian field commanders made frantic calls to headquarters asking for orders, but were told there were no orders. Sleepy-eyed infantrymen scrambled out of their tents to find themselves already surrounded by Germans, with no option but to surrender. Bridges were captured intact while hundreds of Russian planes were destroyed sitting on the ground.
At 7 am that morning, over the radio, a proclamation from the Führer to the German people announced, “At this moment a march is taking place that, for its extent, compares with the greatest the world has ever seen. I have decided again today to place the fate and future of the Reich and our people in the hands of our soldiers. May God aid us, especially in this fight.”
In attacking Russia, Hitler had indeed stunned the world. But he also made a lot of Germans very nervous. Maria Mauth, a 17-year-old German schoolgirl at the time, recalled her father's reaction: "I will never forget my father saying: 'Right, now we have lost the war!' " But then reports arrived highlighting the easy successes. "In the weekly newsreels we would see glorious pictures of the German Army with all the soldiers singing and waving and cheering. And that was infectious of course...We simply thought it would be similar to what it was like in France or in Poland – everybody was convinced of that, considering the fabulous army we had."
Indeed, it was true. Whole armies of hapless Russians were now surrendering as the relentless three-pronged Blitzkrieg blasted its way forward. Soviet Russia had been caught unprepared due to the astounding negligence of the country's dictator, Josef Stalin, who had stubbornly disregarded a flurry of intelligence reports warning that a Nazi invasion was imminent.
The result was chaos. Georgy Semenyak, a 20-year-old Russian soldier at the time, remembered: “It was a dismal picture. During the day airplanes continuously dropped bombs on the retreating soldiers…When the order was given for the retreat, there were huge numbers of people heading in every direction…The lieutenants, captains, second-lieutenants took rides on passing vehicles…mostly trucks traveling eastwards…And without commanders, our ability to defend ourselves was so severely weakened that there was really nothing we could do.”
Hitler and the Army High Command were now poised to achieve the greatest military victory of all time by trouncing the Russians. At present, three gigantic army groups were proceeding like clockwork toward their objectives. Army Group North, with 20 infantry divisions and six armored divisions, headed for Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) by the Baltic Sea. Army Group Center, the largest, with 33 infantry and 15 armored divisions, continued on its 700-mile-long journey toward Russia’s capital, Moscow. Army Group South, with 33 infantry and eight armored divisions, headed for Kiev, capital of the Ukraine, the breadbasket of Europe with its fertile wheat fields. Along the way, German field commanders employed their already-perfected Blitzkrieg techniques time and time again to pierce Russian defensive lines and surround bewildered Red Army soldiers.June 1941 - Barbarossa
German invasion of the Soviet Union that opened World War II on the Eastern Front, commencing the largest, most bitterly contested, and bloodiest campaign of the war. Adolf Hitler’s objective for Operation BARBAROSSA was simple: he sought to crush the Soviet Union in one swift blow. With the USSR defeated and its vast resources at his disposal, surely Britain would have to sue for peace. So confident was he of victory that he made no effort to coordinate the invasion with his Japanese ally. Hitler predicted a quick victory in a campaign of, at most, three months.
German success hinged on the speed of advance of 154 German and satellite divisions deployed in three army groups: Army Group North in East Prussia, under Field Marshal Wilhelm von Leeb; Army Group Center in northern Poland, commanded by Field Marshal Fedor von Bock; and Army Group South in southern Poland and Romania under Field Marshal Karl Gerd von Rundstedt. Army Group North consisted of 3 panzer, 3 motorized, and 24 infantry divisions supported by the Luftflotte 1 and joined by Finnish forces. Farther north, German General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst’s Norway Army would carry out an offensive against Murmansk in order to sever its supply route to Leningrad. Within Army Group Center were 9 panzer, 7 motorized, and 34 infantry divisions, with the Luftflotte 2 in support. Marshal von Rundstedt’s Army Group South consisted of 5 panzer, 3 motorized, and 35 infantry divisions, along with 3 Italian divisions, 2 Romanian armies, and Hungarian and Slovak units. Luftflotte 4 provided air support.
Meeting this onslaught were 170 Soviet divisions organized into three “strategic axes” (commanding multiple fronts, the equivalent of army groups)—Northern, Central, and Southern or Ukrainian—that would come to be commanded by Marshals Kliment E. Voroshilov, Semen K. Timoshenko, and Semen M. Budenny, respectively. Voroshilov’s fronts were responsible for the defense of Leningrad, Karelia, and the recently acquired Baltic states. Timoshenko’s fronts protected the approaches to Smolensk and Moscow. And those of Budenny guarded the Ukraine. For the most part, these forces were largely unmechanized and were arrayed in three linear defensive echelons, the first as far as 30 miles from the border and the last as much as 180 miles back.
In World War 2, Hitler and Stalin, two of the most brutal dictators ever, commanded total control and led murderous terror regimes, in which fear of extreme punishment made it almost impossible to criticize or even to offer unfavorable advice, or even to awake the dictator late at night in case of emergency. In such regimes, one man makes all key decisions, and too many lesser decisions, and it's almost impossible to change his mind before or after he makes a major mistake. Here are some examples.
Full-scale development of the LaG-5, as the aircraft was now designated, began, and simultaneously problems arose concerning the initiation of the production process. Especially difficult to build were the first ten aircraft, assembled early in June 1942, which were manufactured in dreadful haste, with numerous errors. While it is normal practice to make parts from drawings, this time, on the contrary, final drawings were sometimes made from the parts. At the same time the tooling was being prepared and the process of producing new components was being mastered.
Aircraft Plant No.21 handled the task well. The transition to the modified fighter was effected almost without any reduction in the delivery rate to the air force. Following delivery of the first fully operational LaG-5 on 20th June 1942, the Gorkii workers turned out 37 more by the end of the month. In August the plant surpassed the production rate of all the previous months, 148 LaGG-3s being added to 145 new LaG-5s.
Series produced aircraft were considerably inferior to the prototype in speed, being some 24.8 to 31 mph (40 to 50km/h) slower. On the one hand this is understandable, as the LaGG-3 M-82 prototype lacked the radio antenna, bomb carriers and leading edge slats fitted to production aircraft. But there were other contributory causes, particularly insufficiently tight cowlings. Work carried out by Professor V Polinovsky with the workers of the design bureau of Plant No.21 enabled the openings to be found and eliminated.
Series built aircraft were sent to war, and the LaG-5's combat performance was proved in the 49th Red Banner Fighter Air Regiment of the 1st Air Army. In the unit's first 17 battles 16 enemy aircraft were shot down at a cost of ten of its own, five pilots being lost. Command believed that the heavy losses occurred because the new aircraft had not been fully mastered and, as a consequence, its operational qualities were not used to full advantage. Pilots noted that, owing to the machine's high weight and insufficient control surface balance, it made more demands upon flying technique than the LaGG-3 and Yak-1. At the same time, however, the LaG-5 had an advantage over fighters with liquid-cooled engines, as its double-row radial protected its pilot from frontal attacks. Aircraft survivability increased noticeably as a consequence. Three fighters returned to their airfield despite pierced inlet nozzles, exhaust pipes and rocker box covers.
The involvement of LaG-5s of the 287th Fighter Air Division, commanded by Colonel S Danilov, Hero of the Soviet Union, in the Battle of Stalingrad was a severe test for the aircraft. Fierce fighting took place over the Volga, and the Luftwaffe was stronger than ever before. The division experienced its first combats on 20th August 1942 with 57 LaG-5s, of which two-thirds were combat capable. Four regiments of the division were to have 80 fighters on strength, but a great many deficiencies prevented this. Serious accidents occurred; one fighter crashed during take-off, and two more collided while taxying owing to the pilots' poor view. During the first three flying days the LaGs shot down eight German fighters and three bombers. Seven were lost, including three to 'friendly' anti-aircraft fire.
Subsequently, the division pilots were more successful. There were repeated observations of attacks against enemy bombers, of which 57 were destroyed within a month, but the division's own losses were severe.
Based on experience gained during combat, the pilots of the 27th Fighter Air Regiment, 287th Fighter Air Division, concluded that their fighters were inferior to Bf109F-4s and, especially, 'G-2s in speed and vertical manoeuvrability. They reported: 'We have to engage only in defensive combat actions. The enemy is superior in altitude and, therefore, has a more favourable position from which to attack.'
Hitherto, it has often been stated in Soviet and other historical accounts that the La-5 (the designation assigned to the fighter in early September 1942) had passed its service tests during the Stalingrad battle in splendid fashion. In reality, this advanced fighter still had to overcome some 'growing pains'.
This was proved by state tests of the La-5 Series 4 at the NII WS during September and October 1942. At a flying weight of 7,4071b (3,360kg) the aircraft attained a maximum speed at ground level of 316mph (509km/h) at its normal power rating, 332.4mph (535 km/h) at its augmented rating and 360.4mph (580km/h) at the service ceiling of 20,500ft (6,250m) The Soviet-made M-82 family of engines - derived from the US-designed Wright R-1820 Cyclone - had an augmented power rating only at the first supercharger speed). The aircraft climbed to 16,400ft (5,000m) in 6.0 minutes at normal power rating and in 5.7 minutes with augmentation. Its armament was similar to that of the prototype. Horizontal manoeuvrability was slightly improved, but in the vertical plane it was decreased. Many defects in design and manufacture had not been corrected.
In combat Soviet pilots flew the La-5 with the canopy open, the cowling side flaps fully open and the tailwheel down, and this reduced its speed by another 18.6 to 24.8mph (30 to 40km/h). As a result, on 25th September 1942 the State Defence Committee issued an edict requiring that the La-5 be lightened, and that its performance and operational characteristics be improved.
The industry produced 1,129 La-5s during the second half of 1942, and these saw use during the counter attack by Soviet troops near Stalingrad. Of 289 La-5s in service with fighter aviation, the majority, 180 aircraft, were assigned to the forces of the Supreme Command Headquarters Reserve. The Soviet Command was preparing for a general winter offensive, and was building up reserves to place in support. One of these strong formations became the 2nd Mixed Air Corps under Hero of the Soviet Union Major-General I Yeryomenko, the two fighter divisions of which had five regiments (the 13th, 181st, 239th, 437th and 3rd Guards) equipped with the improved La-5. The new aircraft proved to be 11 to 12.4mph (18 to 20km/h) faster than the fighter which had passed the state tests at the NII WS in September and October 1942.
When the 2nd Mixed Air Corps, with more than 300 first class combat aircraft, was used to reinforce the 8th Air Army, the latter had only 160 serviceable aircraft. The 2nd Mixed Air Corps, reliably protecting and supporting the counter offensive by troops along the lines of advance, flew over 8,000 missions and shot down 353 enemy aircraft from 19th November 1942 to 2nd February 1943.
Progress made in combat activities by the Air Corps aviators in co-operation with joint forces during offensive operations on the Stalingrad and Southern fronts were noted by the ground forces Command. General Rodion Malinovsky, Commander of the 2nd Guards Army (later Defence Minister), wrote:
'The active warfare of the fighter units of the 2nd Mixed Air Corps [of which 80% of its aircraft were La-5s], by covering and supporting combat formations of Army troops, actually helped to protect the army from enemy air attacks. Pilots displayed courage, heroism and valour in the battlefield. With appearance of the Air Corps fighters the hostile aircraft avoided battle.
These men are Russian officers in the ROA, the Russian Liberation Army (In Russian: Russkaya Osvoboditelnaya Armiya). They are a part of captured Russian soldiers who joined the Germans and their Allies in the struggle against Bolshevism. The officer second from the left is General Vlasov. The ROA consisted of two divisions under the command of General Vlasov and its popular name was Vlasov's army.
By 1944 defeat stared Germany in the face. Goebbels's propaganda machine did its best to counter the deterioration of morale, especially emphasizing the bleak prospects with which the "unconditional surrender" slogan confronted the German people. On July 20 a few army officers and government officials attempted to kill Hitler and overthrow the Nazi regime, but the plot miscarried and merely resulted in the liquidation of the chief non-Nazis anywhere near the summit of power.
Opportunely for Goebbels came Allied publication of lists of "war criminals," the mass proscription of the German General Staff, and the approval of the "Morgenthau Plan," which envisaged the destruction of German industry and the conversion of all Germany into "a country primarily agricultural and pastoral in character," at the second Quebec conference in September 1944. Goebbels declared, "It hardly matters whether the Bolshevists want to destroy the Reich in one fashion and the Anglo-Saxons propose to do it in another." Doubtless the Morgenthau Plan did much to confuse those Germans who might be thinking of surrendering to the West while holding out against Stalin,, and thus Stalin could only profit by its dissemination by the U.S. and Britain.
At virtually the same moment that the Allies were endorsing the Morgenthau Plan at Quebec, the Nazi regime turned in desperation to a weapon which, if used earlier, might indeed have had great effect on the outcome of the war, but what the Nazis did with it in 1944 was too little and much too late. General Vlasov, who had been captured two years earlier, was to be transformed from a pawn of Nazi propaganda into the leader of a real Soviet anti-Stalinite army and government.
Vlasov, who was born in 1900, the son of a peasant family of Nizhnii Novgorod, had risen in Red Army ranks. A Party member since 1930, he had been Soviet military adviser to Chiang Kai-shek in 1938-1939, decorated in 1940, and in the autumn of 1941 one of the chief army commanders in the defense of Moscow. Apparently he possessed great personal magnetism, integrity, and ability. Not at all the opportunist and Nazi hireling he was accused of being, Vlasov "stressed his nationalism and strove to preserve the independence of the Movement," writes the most recent Investigator. Of the most influential men who joined his cause, probably the ablest was the brilliant but mysterious Milenty Zykov, who said he had been on the staff of Izvestiia under Bukharin and for a time had been exiled by Stalin. When captured he claimed to be serving as a battalion commissar, but it was suspected that he was much more.
By the end of 1942 Captain Wilfried Strik-Strikfeldt of the German army propaganda section was planning to establish a Russian National Committee led by Vlasov at Smolensk. The plan was vetoed from above, but in December the formation of the committee was proclaimed on German soil Instead. Vlasov published a statement of his aims, and he was allowed to tour occupied Soviet areas, meeting a considerable popular response. In April 1943 an anti-Bolshevik conference of Soviet prisoners opposed to Stalin's regime was held in Brest-Litovsk. After Vlasov declared that if successful he would grant Ukraine and the Caucasus self-determination, Rosenberg was persuaded to support the committee. However, in June 1943 Hitler ordered that Vlasov was to be kept out of the occupation zone, and that the movement was to be confined to propaganda—that is, promises which Hitler could ignore later—across the lines to Soviet-held territory.
During 1943 Vlasov's circle, under the protection of Strik-Strikfeldt's section at Dabendorf just outside Berlin, was allowed to carry on remarkably free discussions about a future non-Communist government for Russia and to publish two newspapers in Russian, one for Soviet war prisoners and another for the Osttruppen. The political center of gravity at Dabendorf fluctuated between the more socialist-inclined entourage of Zykov and the more authoritarian-minded group close to the emigre anti-Soviet organization, N.T.S. (Natsionalno-Trudovoi Soiuz or National Tollers' Union). Of course political arguments among Soviet emigres were nothing new; what was new was the hope of imminent action, utilizing the five million Soviet nationals in Germany, to overthrow Stalin—either with Hitler's support or, if he should fall, perhaps in conjunction with the Western Allies. Despite arguments, a fair degree of harmony was maintained among the Russians at Dabendorf. Especially noteworthy was the extent to which Vlasov and his followers succeeded in preventing themselves from being compromised by Nazi Ideology and in maintaining the integrity of their own effort to win Russian freedom.
Until 1944, however, the Vlasov circle was confined to discussion and publication. Although the phrase, "Russian Liberation Army," and Its Russian abbreviation, ROA (for Russkaia Osvoboditel'naia Armiia), were much used in propaganda— with Hitler's approval—there was in fact no such army. "ROA" was only a shoulder patch which the Osttruppen, scattered in small units throughout the Nazi army, were permitted to wear. In the summer of 1944 the ablest Intellectual of the Vlasov group, Zykov, was abducted and almost certainly murdered forthwith by the SS.
Nevertheless it was Himmler, chief of the SS, who not long afterward achieved the reversal of Nazi policy toward Vlasov. In a meeting with Vlasov in mid-September 1944, Himmler agreed to the formation of a Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia (Komitet Osvobozhdeniia Narodov Rossii or K.O.N.R.), which would have the potentiality of a government, and an actual army. It appears that Hitler consented to Himmler's new policy chiefly because his suspicion of other Nazi officials who opposed it was by 1944 greater than his fear of arming enemy nationals—a fear which, it must be said, was justified from the Nazi standpoint. The concrete results of Himmler's decision were meager, largely because the Russians could not, amid the disintegration which overtook the Nazi system during the last months of the war, obtain the material aid they needed to implement their plans.
However, in November 1944 in Prague the K.O.N.R. was officially established at a meeting which issued the so-called "Prague Manifesto." This document, declaring that the irruption of the Red armies into Eastern Europe revealed more clearly than ever the Soviet "aim to strengthen still more the mastery of Stalin's tyranny over the peoples of the USSR, and to establish it all over the world," stated the goals of the K.O.N.R. to be the overthrow of the Communist regime and the "creation of a new free People's political system without Bolsheviks and exploiters." It proclaimed recognition of the "equality of all peoples of Russia" and their right of self-determination as well as the intention of ending forced labor and the collective farms and of achieving real civil liberties and social justice. If such a document had been widely disseminated two or three years earlier and given some substance in Nazi occupation policy, the results might have been important or even decisive; coming in 1944, it had no observable effect on the Soviet peoples.
The Prague meeting did stimulate certain Nazi officials to make efforts to put the minorities into the picture with political committees and armies. A year earlier the Nazis had finally organized a Ukrainian SS division which bore the name "Galicia," but although it fought hard and well at the battle of Brody, on the Rovno-Lvov road, in July 1944, when it was finally overrun there, it dispersed to join Ukrainian partisan forces behind Red lines. In October an SS official, Dr. Fritz Arlt, attempted to secure the consent of the Ukrainian nationalist leaders to the formation of a Ukrainian national committee. To avoid being overshadowed by Vlasov, Bandera and Melnyk agreed to the setting up of such a committee, nominally headed by General Paul Shandruk. Melnyk protested the Prague Manifesto, but many Ukrainians nevertheless joined the Vlasov movement, along with representatives of other minorities.
In January 1945 the formation of the Armed Forces of the K.O.N.R. was announced; however, only two divisions were actually activated and mobilized. The First Division, under the command of a Ukrainian, General S. K. Buniachenko, was committed in April on the front near Frankfurt on the Oder, but the unit refused to fight under existing circumstances, and amid the Nazi military collapse moved south toward Czechoslovakia. At the call of the Czech resistance leaders in Prague, the division moved into the city and on May 7, with Czech aid, captured it from the Nazis.
However, in the Europe of the spring of 1945 there was no place for an anti-Soviet Russian army. The generals, including Vlasov, were turned over to the Soviet command by American and British forces, with or without authorization to do so. In February 1946 the remainder of the army was handed over by U.S. authorities without warning to Soviet repatriation officers at Plattling, Bavaria. In August Pravda announced the execution of Vlasov and his fellow officers, describing them as "agents of German intelligence" and failing to inform the Russian people that they had organized a movement to overthrow Stalin.
By mid-July 1941, all that remained was for the Russians to give up and accept their fate under Hitler, just like Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, France, Yugoslavia, and Greece.
But the Russians kept fighting.
October 1941. German infantrymen plunge ever deeper into Russia. Below: Hitler at the map table with Army Commander-in-Chief Brauchitsch and others, including Friedrich Paulus (2nd from left).
Despite staggering losses of men and equipment, pockets of fanatical resistance now emerged, unlike anything the Germans had encountered thus far in the war. And there were more surprises for the Germans. They had grossly underestimated the total fighting strength of the Red Army. Instead of 200 divisions, the Russians could field 400 divisions when fully mobilized. This meant there were three million additional Russians available to fight.
Another emerging factor was the vastness of Russia itself. It was one thing to ponder a map, something else to traverse the boundless countryside, as Field Marshal Manstein remembered: "Everyone was captivated at one time or other by the endlessness of the landscape, through which it was possible to drive for hours on end – often guided by the compass – without encountering the least rise in the ground or setting eyes on a single human being or habitation. The distant horizon seemed like some mountain ridge behind which a paradise might beckon, but it only stretched on and on."
The vastness created logistical problems including worn out foot soldiers and dangerously overstretched supply lines. It also taxed the ability of the Luftwaffe to provide close cover for advancing ground troops, a vital ingredient in the Blitzkrieg formula.
On top of this, Russian resistance began to stiffen all over as the soldiers and people rallied behind Stalin in the defense of their Motherland. Stalin, at first overwhelmed by the magnitude of Barbarossa, had regained his bearings and publicly appealed for a "Great Patriotic War" against the Nazi invaders. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, he enacted ruthless measures, executing his top commander in the west and various field commanders who had been too eager to retreat.
Under Stalin's tight-fisted grip, the chaos and panic that had initially enveloped the Russian officer corps gradually subsided. Red Army commanders took heed from Stalin, instilling his 'fight to the death' mentality in their frontline soldiers. They set up new defensive positions, not to be yielded until every last soldier was killed. They also began their first-ever counter-attacks against the advancing Germans.
As a result, with each passing day the Germans began to lose momentum. They could no longer easily blow through the Russian defenses and had to be wary of counter-strikes. All the while, German foot soldiers were becoming increasingly fatigued. By August of 1941, it had become apparent to the Army High Command there would be no speedy victory. “The whole situation makes it increasingly plain that we have underestimated the Russian colossus,” General Franz Halder, Chief of the General Staff, had to admit.
Therefore the question now arose – what to do – follow the original battle plan for Barbarossa or make changes to adapt?
Army Group Center was presently about 200 miles from Moscow, poised for a massive assault. However, the original plan called for Army Groups North and South to stage the main attacks in Russia, with Army Group Center playing a supporting role until their tasks were completed, after which Moscow would be taken.
A majority of Hitler’s senior generals now implored him to scrap Barbarossa in favor of an all-out attack on Moscow. If the Russian capital fell, they argued, it would devastate Russian morale and knock out the country’s chief transportation hub. Russia’s days would surely be numbered.
The decision rested solely with the Supreme Commander.
In what was perhaps his single biggest decision of World War II, Hitler passed up the chance to attack Moscow during the summer of 1941. Instead, he clung to the original plan to crush Leningrad in the north and simultaneously seize the Ukraine in the south. This, Hitler lectured his generals, would be far more devastating to the Russians than the fall of Moscow. A successful attack in the north would wreck the city named after one of the founders of Soviet Russia, Vladimir Lenin. Attacking the south would destroy the Russian armies protecting the region and place vital agricultural and industrial areas in German hands.
Though they remained unconvinced, the generals dutifully halted the advance on Moscow and repositioned troops and tanks away from Army Group Center to aid Army Groups North and South. By late September, bolstered by the additional Panzer tanks, Army Group South successfully captured the city of Kiev in the Ukraine, taking 650,000 Russian prisoners. As Army Group North approached Leningrad, a beautiful old city with palaces that once belonged to the Czars, Hitler ordered the place flattened via massive aerial and artillery bombardments. Concerning the five million trapped inhabitants, he told his generals, “The problem of the survival of the population and of supplying it with food is one which cannot and should not be solved by us.”
Now, with Leningrad surrounded and the Ukraine almost taken, the generals implored Hitler to let them take Moscow before the onset of winter. This time Hitler consented, but only partly. He would allow an attack on Moscow, provided that Army Group North also completed the capture of Leningrad, while Army Group South advanced deeper into southern Russia toward Stalingrad, the city on the Volga River named after the Soviet dictator.
This meant German forces in Russia would be attacking simultaneously on three major fronts over two thousand miles long, stretching their manpower and resources to the absolute limit. Realizing the danger, the generals pleaded once more for permission to focus on Moscow alone and strike the city with overwhelming force. But Hitler said no.
In the meantime, German troops still holding outside Moscow had remained idle for nearly two months, waiting for orders to advance. When the push finally began on October 2, 1941, a noticeable chill already hung in the morning air, and in a few places, snowflakes wafted from the sky. The notorious Russian winter was just around the corner.
At first it appeared Moscow might be another easy success. Two Russian army groups defending the main approach were quickly encircled and broken up by motorized Germans who took 660,000 prisoners.
Confident the war in Russia was just about won, Hitler took a leap by announcing victory to the German people: “I declare today, and I declare it without any reservation, that the enemy in the East has been struck down and will never rise again…Behind our troops already lies a territory twice the size of the German Reich when I came to power in 1933.”
By mid-October, forward German units had advanced to within 40 miles of Moscow. Only 90,000 Russian soldiers stood between the German armies and the Soviet capital. The entire government, including Stalin himself, prepared to evacuate.
But then the weather turned.
Russian Winter. Near Moscow, a wounded German is rescued. Below: A Panzer III tank stuck in the snow and cold as the whole offensive stalls.
It began with weeks of unending autumn rain, creating battlefields of deep, sticky mud that immobilized anything on wheels and robbed German armored units of their tactical advantage. The non-stop rain drenched foot soldiers, soaking them to the bone in mud up to their knees. And things only got worse. In November, autumn rains abruptly gave way to snow squalls with frigid winds and sub-zero temperatures, causing frostbite and other cold-related sickness.
The German Army had counted on a quick summertime victory in Russia and had therefore neglected to prepare for the brutal winter warfare it now faced. German medical officer Heinrich Haape recalled: “The cold relentlessly crept into our bodies, our blood, our brains. Even the sun seemed to radiate a steely cold and at night the blood red skies above the burning villages merely hinted a mockery of warmth.”
Heavy boots, overcoats, blankets and thick socks were desperately needed but were unavailable. As a result, thousands of frostbitten soldiers dropped out of their frontline units. Some divisions fell to fifty-percent of their fighting strength. Food supplies also ran low and the troops became malnourished. Mechanical failures worsened as tank and truck engines cracked from the cold while iced-up artillery and machine-guns jammed.
The once-mighty German military machine had now ground to a halt in Russia.
Frontline Russians noticed the change. A Soviet commander in the 19th Rifle Brigade recalled: "I remember very well the Germans in July 1941. They were confident, strong tall guys. They marched ahead with their sleeves rolled up and carrying their machine-guns. But later on they became miserable, crooked, snotty guys wrapped in woolen kerchiefs stolen from old women in villages...Of course, they were still firing and defending themselves, but they weren't the Germans we knew earlier in 1941."
Ignoring the plight of his frontline soldiers, Hitler insisted that Moscow could still be taken and ordered all available troops in the region to make one final thrust for victory. Beginning on December 1, 1941, German tank formations attacked from the north and south of the city while infantrymen moved in from the east. But the Russians were ready and waiting. The weather delays had given them time to bring in massive reinforcements, including 30 Siberian divisions specially trained for winter warfare. Wherever the Germans struck they encountered fierce resistance and faltered. They were also stricken by temperatures that plunged to 40 degrees below zero at night.
Hitler had pushed his troops beyond human endurance and now they paid a terrible price. On Saturday, December 6th, a hundred Russian divisions under the command of the Red Army's new leader, General Georgi Zhukov, counter-attacked the Germans all along the 200-mile front around Moscow. For the first time in the war, the Germans experienced Blitzkrieg in reverse, as overwhelming numbers of Russian tanks, planes and artillery tore them apart. The impact was devastating. By mid-December, German forces around Moscow, battered, cold and tremendously fatigued, were in full retreat and facing the possibility of being routed by the Russians.
Just six months earlier, the Germans had been poised to achieve the greatest victory of all time and change world history. Instead, they had succumbed to the greatest-ever comeback by their Russian foes. By now a quarter of all German troops in Russia, some 750,000 men, were either dead, wounded, missing or ill.
Reacting to the catastrophe he had caused, Hitler blamed the Wehrmacht's leadership, dismissing dozens of field commanders and senior generals, including Walther von Brauchitsch, Commander-in-Chief of the Army. Hitler then took that rank for himself, assuming personal day-to-day operational command of the Army, and promptly ordered all surviving troops in Russia to halt in their tracks and retreat not one step further, which they did. As a result, the Eastern Front gradually stabilized.
In the bloodied fields of snow around Moscow, Adolf Hitler had suffered a breathtaking defeat. The German Army would never be the same. The illusion of invincibility that had caused the world to shudder in the face of Nazi Germany had vanished forever – replaced now by a sliver of hope.
But for the populations of Eastern Europe and occupied Russia, there was much suffering yet to be endured. In cities and villages behind the front lines, Hitler's war of annihilation was fully underway, comprising the most savage episode in human history.
Because of his experiences in Vienna, World War One, the Münich putsch and in prison, Adolf Hitler dreamed of building a vast German Empire sprawling across Central and Eastern Europe. Lebensraum could only be obtained and sustained by waging a war of conquest against the Soviet Union: German security demanded it and Hitler's racial ideology required it. War, then, was essential. It was essential to Hitler the man as well as essential to Hitler's dream of a new Germany. In the end, most historians have reached the consensus that World War Two was Hitler's war (for more on Hitler, see Lecture 9 and Lecture 10). Unfortunately, although most western statesmen had sufficient warning that Hitler was a threat to a general European peace, they failed to rally their people and take a stand until it was too late.
Following 1933 -- the year when Hitler consolidated his power as Chancellor through the Enabling Act -- Hitler implemented his foreign policy objectives. These objectives clearly violated the provisions of the Versailles Treaty. Hitler's foreign policy aims accorded with the goals of Germany's traditional rulers in that the aim was to make Germany the most powerful state in all of Europe. For example, during World War One, German generals tried to conquer extensive regions in Eastern Europe. And with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918) between Germany and Russia, Germany took Poland, the Ukraine and the Baltic States from Russia. However, where Hitler departed from this traditional scenario was his obsession with racial supremacy. His desire to annihilate whole races of inferior peoples marked a break from the outlook of the old order. This old order never contemplated the restriction of the civil rights of the Jews. They wanted to Germanize German Poles, not enslave them.
But Hitler was an opportunist -- he was a man possessed and driven by a fanaticism that saw his destiny as identical to Germany's. The propaganda machine that Hitler adopted, however, was perhaps the most important device at his disposal. With it he was able to successfully undermine his opponent's will to resist. And propaganda, after winning the minds of the German people, now became a most crucial instrument of German foreign policy as a whole. There were upwards of 27 million German people living outside the borders of the Reich. To force those 27 million into support for Hitler, the Nazis utilized their propaganda machine. For example, they made every effort to export anti-Semitism internationally, thus feeding off prejudices of other nations. Hitler also began to promote himself as Europe's best defense against Stalin, the Bolsheviks and the Soviet Union (on Stalin see Lecture 10). In fact, the Nazi anti-Bolshevik propaganda convinced thousands of Europeans that Hitler was also Europe's best defense against all Communists.
Hitler was a shrewd statesman. He anticipated, for instance, that the British and French would back down the moment they were faced with his direct and willful violations of Versailles. He knew that any threat of war would drive the Anglo-French into a defensive posture. The reason for this should be pretty clear -- Britain and France would have done anything to avoid another conflict and this defensive position managed to win a vote of confidence from public opinion.
The British believed that Germany had been treated too harshly by the provisions of Versailles and because of this, they were willing to make concessions to the Germans. The French, with the largest army on the Continent, refused to contemplate an offensive war, as was their position in World War One, and decided instead to protect their borders at all costs. The United States, meanwhile, stood aloof from any European conflict because they had their own problems to deal with, namely, the Great Depression. To top it all off, the British and French no longer trusted Russia, so the hopes of establishing an alliance along the lines which developed during the Great War was just not possible. So the British introduced their policy of appeasement. They hoped that by making concessions to Hitler, war would be avoided. They also held on to the illusion that Hitler was, once again, Europe's best defense against Soviet Russia. The British appeasers certainly missed the boat -- even with Mein Kampf in their hands, they failed to understand Hitler's foreign policy aims. Hitler could be reasoned with, they argued. Meanwhile, Germany grew stronger and the German people began to look to Hitler as their messiah.
Hitler needed a strong army to realize his war aims. According to the provisions of the Versailles Treaty, the Germany army was to be limited to 100,000 soldiers. The size of the navy was limited as well. Germany was also forbidden to produce military aircraft, tanks and heavy artillery. The General Staff was dissolved. These were harsh provisions. How did Germany get by these conditions? Well, actually it was quite easy. In March 1935, Hitler declared that Germany was no longer bound by the provisions of the Versailles Treaty. He began conscription and built up the air force. France protested, weakly, and Britain negotiated a naval agreement with the Germans. One year later, on March 7, 1936, Hitler marched his troops into the Rhineland, a clear violation of Versailles. His generals cautioned Hitler that such a move would provoke an attack. Again, Hitler judged the Anglo-French response correctly. The British and French took no action. The British sat back. The French saw the remilitarization of the Rhineland as a grave threat to their security. With 22,000 German soldiers standing along the French border, why didn't the French act? The first reason was that France would not act alone and Britain offered no help at this point. Second, the French over-estimated German forces who marched into the Rhineland. Again, their posture was decidedly defensive. And lastly, French public opinion was strongly opposed to any confrontation with Hitler.
Meanwhile, European fascism was winning another war in Spain between 1936 and 1937. Mussolini and Hitler both supported Franco's right-wing dictatorship and as to be expected, the French refused to intervene. The Spanish Civil War was decisive for Hitler for it was here that he was able to test new weapons and new aircraft which would eventually make their appearance when World War Two finally broke out in 1939. And then in 1938, Hitler ordered his troops to march into Austria, which then became a province of Germany. The Austrians celebrated by ringing church bells, waving swastikas and attacking Jews. The Anschluss was yet another violation of Versailles. Why had so many people missed the boat? In Mein Kampf, Hitler had made it quite clear that Austria must be annexed to Germany, Did anyone listen? Did anyone make any effort to prevent Anschluss? No! Britain and France both informed the Chancellor of Austria that they would not help if invaded by Germany. Once again, non-intervention paved the way for Hitler's foreign policy aims.
Hitler used the threat of force to obtain Austria and a similar threat would give him the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia. More than three-quarters of the population of the Sudetenland were ethnic Germans. The area also contained key industries and was vital to the protection of Czechoslovakia. Without this area heavily fortified Czechoslovakia could not hope to withstand German aggression. Sudentenland Germans, encouraged by the Nazis, began to denounce the Czech government. Meanwhile, Hitler's propaganda machine accused the Czech government of hideous crimes and warned of retribution. He ordered his generals to plan an invasion of Czechoslovakia. At this point, the British Prime Minister NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN decided to intervene and Hitler agreed to a conference with him. The opinion of British statesmen was that the Sudetenland Germans were being deprived of their right to self-determination. The Sudetenland, like Austria, was not worth another war, they reasoned. Once the Germans were living under the German flag, the British argued, Hitler would be satisfied. And so the fate of Czechoslovakia was sealed in September 1938.
Chamberlain, Hitler, Mussolini and Daladier, the Prime Minister of France, signed the MÜNICH PACT and agreed that all Czech troops in the Sudetenland would be replaced by German troops. The British hailed Chamberlain -- the French hailed Daladier. While Chamberlain returned to England with a piece of paper in his hand, Hitler was laughing. What Britain and France had shown was their own weakness and this weakness increased Hitler's appetite for even more territory. With the Sudetenland annexed, Hitler plotted to annihilate the independent existence of Czechoslovakia. And so, in March 1939, Czechoslovak independence came to an end. After Czechoslovakia, Germany turned to Poland. Hitler demanded that the Polish port town of Danzig be returned to Germany. Poland refused to hand over Danzig since it was vital to their economy. Meanwhile, France and Britain warned Hitler that they would come to the assistance of Poland. On May 22, 1939, Hitler and Mussolini signed the Pact of Steel and promised one another mutual aid. One month later, the German army presented Hitler with battle plans for the invasion of Poland.
While all this was going on, negotiations were under way between Britain, France and Russia. The Soviets wanted mutual aid -- but they also demanded military bases in Poland and Romania. Britain would not give in to their demands. And of course, while all this is going on, Russia was conducting secret talks with Germany. The result of all this was that on August 23, 1939, Ribbentrop and Molotov signed the NAZI-SOVIET PACT of non-aggression. One section of this Pact -- even more secret than the Nazi-Soviet Pact itself -- called for the partition of Poland between Germany and Russia. The Nazi-Soviet pact served as the green light for the invasion of Poland and on September 1, 1939, German troops marched into Poland. Britain and France demanded that Hitler stop his forces but Hitler ignored them and so Britain and France declared war on Germany. Using the Blitzkrieg or lightening war, Poland succumbed to Germany on September 27, 1939.
The period of six months following the fall of Poland has been called "the phony war." Fighting was limited to minor skirmishes along the French and German borders. But in April 1940, Hitler struck at Denmark and Norway. Hitler needed to establish naval bases in these countries from which his submarines could attack England. Denmark surrendered in only one day and Norway soon followed. The following month, Hitler attacked Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. Surrenders followed quickly. Meanwhile, French troops rushed to Belgium to prevent a German breakthrough. The German forces converged on the French port of Dunkirk, the last point of escape for the Allies. But Hitler called off his tanks and planned to use airstrikes to annihilate the Allies. As it turned out, fog and rain prevented Hitler from using the full force of his airplanes. 340,000 British and French forces were ferried across the English Channel to England while Germany bombed the beaches.
By late Spring 1940, there was every indication that France was about to fall to the Nazis. Numerous French divisions were cut off and in retreat. Millions of French refugees were making their way south and on June 10, 1940, Mussolini declared war on France. The French government sent out an appeal for armistice and so on June 22, 1940, French and German officials met in a railway car and signed the agreement. In a odd twist of fate, it was the same railway car used to sign the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles back in 1918.
With France fallen, Hitler assumed that Britain would make peace. The British rejected any overtures on the part of the Germans and so in August 1940, Hitler ordered his Luftwaffe to conduct massive airstrikes against Britain and the Battle of Britain had begun. The battle raged for almost five months. On September 15, the British RAF shot down sixty German aircraft and Hitler was forced to postpone his invasion of Britain. The Germans, however, continued their night time attacks on English cities and towns but British morale never broke during the Blitz. By the end of 1941, Hitler had also invaded Russia but Russia would not yield.
By early 1942, Nazi Germany ruled virtually all of Europe. Territories were annexed, some were under German military authority while still others, such as France, collaborated with the Nazis. It was over this vast empire that Hitler intended to superimpose a New Order. The Germans expropriated and exploited every country which they conquered. They took gold, art, machinery and food supplies back to Germany. Some foreign factories were confiscated -- others produced what the Germans demanded. The bottom line is quite simple -- the Germans took whatever it was they wanted.
Seven million people from all over occupied Europe were enslaved and transported to Germany where they lived and worked in forced labor camps. The Nazis rules by terror and fear. The New Order meant torture, prison, firing squads and concentration camps. For example, in Poland, priests and intellectuals were jailed and killed and most schools and churches were ordered closed. In Russia, political officials were immediately executed and prisoners of war were herded into camps and worked to death. Germany ended up taking 5.5 million Russian POWs, 3.5 million of which were killed or died in captivity.
The task of imposing what came to be known as "the final solution of the Jewish Problem," was outlined at a conference held on January 20, 1942. One result of the WANNSEE PROTOCOL, was that a portion of the responsibility for the extermination of European Jewry was given to HIMMLER'S SS. The SS responded with fanaticism and bureaucratic efficiency. The Jews were identified with Reason, Equality, Tolerance, Freedom and individualism. The Jews had no Kultur. Though perhaps German born, they were not a people of the Volk. The SS enjoyed their work a great deal. They regarded themselves as idealists who were writing the most glorious of chapters in the history of Germany. In Russia, special squads of the SS -- the Einsatzgruppen, trained for genocide -- entered captured towns and cities and rounded up Jewish men, women and children who were herded into groups and then shot en masse. About two million Russian Jews perished as a result. In Poland, Hitler established ghettoes where some 3.5 million Jews were forced to live, sealed off from the rest of the population.
To expedite the Final Solution, the Nazis began to use concentration camps. These camps were already in existence for the use of political prisoners. Jews from all over Europe were rounded up under the notion that they were about to be resettled. Although the Jews knew something about plans for their eventual extermination, they just could not believe that any 20th century nation would resort to such a crime against humanity. Of course, the Holocaust was a reality. Cattle cars full of Jews and other inferior races traveled days without food or water. When the doors opened, they found themselves in the unreal world of the concentration camp. SS doctors then inspected the "freight." Rudolf Hoess (1900-1947), commandant at Auschwitz described the procedure in the following way:
I estimate that at least 2,500,000 victims were executed and exterminated [at Auschwitz] by gassing and burning, and at least another half million succumbed to starvation and disease, making a total dead of about 3,000,000. This figure represents about 70% or 80% of all persons sent to Auschwitz as prisoners, the remainder having been selected and used for slave labor in the concentration camp industries. . . .The final solution of the Jewish Question meant the complete extermination of all Jews in Europe. I was ordered to establish extermination facilities at Auschwitz in June 1941. It took from three to fifteen minutes to kill people in the death chamber, depending upon climatic conditions. We knew when the people were dead because their screaming stopped. We usually waited about one-half hour before we opened the doors and removed the bodies. After the bodies were removed our special commandos took off the rings and extracted gold from the teeth of corpses. . . .The way we selected our victims was as follows. . . . Those who were fit to work were sent into the camp. Others were sent immediately to the extermination plants. Children of tender years were invariably exterminated since by reason of their youth they were unable to work. . . . We endeavored to fool the victims into thinking that they were to go through a delousing process. Of course, frequently they realized our true intentions, and we sometimes had riots and difficulties due to that fact. Very frequently women would hide their children under clothes, but of course when we found them we would send the children in to be exterminated.
Auschwitz was more than a death factory. It also provided I. G. Farben with slave laborers, both Jew and non-Jew. Workers worked at a pace at which even the healthiest of workers would have found intolerable. And because Germany now had somewhat of an unlimited labor supply, working prisoners as fast as possible would solve two problems at the same time: increased production and the extermination of inmates. Auschwitz also allowed the SS, the elite members of the master race, to shape themselves according to Nazi ideology. The SS, for instance, amused themselves with pregnant women, women who were beaten with clubs, attacked by dogs, dragged by the hair and then thrown into the crematory, still alive. The SS systematically overworked, starved and beat their inmates. They made them live in filth and sleep in over-crowded rooms. The purpose of such inhuman behavior was to rob the individual of any shred of human dignity. In this way, the SS and the Nazis could demonstrate -- to themselves, of course -- that the Jew was clearly an inferior race of people. After hours or weeks, exhausted, starving, diseased and beaten, these men and women were sent to the gas chamber.
Over the course of the last 3000 years or so, the Jews have been the focus of hostility, hatred and intolerance. The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and medieval Christians all looked upon the Jew as an outsider, as a person who did not truly belong to or in the community in which they were living. What was unique about the HOLOCAUST was the Nazi's intention to murder, without exception, every single Jew they found. Also unique was the fanaticism and cruelty with which they pursued this goal. The Holocaust was the culmination of Nazi racial ideology. Using modern technology and bureaucratic machinery, the Nazis systematically killed at least six million Jews. This figure represents nearly 65% of Europe's Jewish population. 1.5 million of these were children. Another 6-7 million non-Jews were also exterminated meaning that the Holocaust resulted in the deaths of at least 13 million innocent souls. Could man ever return to the felicific idea of progress as advocated by the 18th or 19th centuries?
Across occupied territories of the Third Reich there were Nazi collaborators who welcomed the fall of democracy and who still saw Hitler as the best defense against communism. But each country also produced a resistance movement that grew stronger as Nazi atrocities increased. The resistance movement rescued downed pilots, radioed military movements to London, and sabotaged German railway depots. The Danish underground managed to smuggle 8000 Jews into Sweden while the Polish resistance, estimated to number 300,000, reported on German positions and interfered with the movement of supplies. Russian partisans sabotaged railways, destroyed trucks and killed hundreds of Germans in ambush. The Yugoslav resistance army, led by Marshall Tito, was a disciplined fighting force which ultimately liberated the country from the Germans.
European Jews were specifically active in the French resistance movement. But in eastern Europe, the Jewish resisters received little or no support and were usually denounced to the Nazis. The Germans responded harshly to the Jewish resistance. For example, 200 Jews were killed for every one Nazi. However, in the Spring of 1943, the surviving Jews of the Warsaw ghetto managed to fight the Germans for several weeks. Also, in 1943, and after the Allies had landed in Italy, Italian resisters managed to liberate the country from the fascists and German occupation. And on July 20, 1944, Colonel Stauffenberg planted a bomb under Hitler's table at staff conference meeting -- the bomb exploded but Hitler escaped serious injury. The Nazis responded by torturing and executing 5000 suspected anti-Nazis.
Although the European resistance was proof that some people refused to accept Hitler and the Nazis, their efforts did not bring an end to the war. Japan's imperialist endeavors from the early 1930s on and including the attack on PEARL HARBOR on December 7, 1941, forced the United States to end its isolationist position and enter the war. Meanwhile, Hitler had made the same blunder as had Napoleon, by attacking Russia in winter. In February 1943, almost 300,000 soldiers died in the battle of Stalingrad and another 130,000 were taken prisoner. And in the fall of 1943, Allied forces liberated Italy. Mussolini was dismissed, and eventually shot and hung by his ankles in April 1945. Finally, on June 6, 1944 -- D-Day -- the Allies landed 2 million men on to the beach head at Normandy. By August, the Allies liberated Paris and then Brussels and Antwerp. Meanwhile, the Allies were conducting massive bombing raids on German industrial cities. The Russians drove across the Baltic states, Poland and Hungary and by February 1945, they were 100 miles from Berlin. By April, American, British and Russian troops were moving toward Berlin from all sides. On April 30, 1945, Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide and one week later, May 7, a demoralized and near destroyed Germany surrendered unconditionally. Finally, on August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima -- 78,000 perished within fifteen minutes of the blast. Three days later, another bomb fell on Nagasaki and on August 14, Japan surrendered.
The legacy of World War Two was dramatic. 50 million lost their lives, 20 million Russians alone. The war also meant a vast number of people left Europe for either England or the United States in an exodus which has come to be known as the Great Sea Change. Hundreds of cities were destroyed, some of them centuries-old. Only 5% of Berlin remained intact, 70% of Dresden, Hamburg, Munich and Frankfurt were destroyed. The war also revealed the existence of two superpowers -- the United States and the Soviet Union, countries which would determine the fate of Europe and the world for the next four decades. The world now had to atomic bomb. The world also had its Satan: Hitler. Vast imperialist empires were destroyed and then there was the Holocaust. In the intellectual realm and in the world of art, the European war created a Second Lost Generation with its own philosophy: existentialism.
The final chapter in the destruction of Hitler's Third Reich began on April 16, 1945 when Stalin unleashed the brutal power of 20 armies, 6,300 tanks and 8,500 aircraft with the objective of crushing German resistance and capturing Berlin. By prior agreement, the Allied armies (positioned approximately 60 miles to the west) halted
Devastation in Berlin
Soviet troops at the Brandenburg Gate
Soviet troops at the Brandenburg Gate
their advance on the city in order to give the Soviets a free hand. The depleted German forces put up a stiff defense, initially repelling the attacking Russians, but ultimately succumbing to overwhelming force. By April 24 the Soviet army surrounded the city slowly tightening its stranglehold on the remaining Nazi defenders. Fighting street-to-street and house-to-house, Russian troops blasted their way towards Hitler's chancellery in the city's center.
Inside his underground bunker Hitler lived in a world of fantasy as his "Thousand Year Reich" crumbled above him. In his final hours the Fuehrer married his long-time mistress and then joined her in suicide. The Third Reich was dead.
Beginning of the End
Dorothea von Schwanenfluegel was a twenty-nine-year-old wife and mother living in Berlin. She and her young daughter along with friends and neighbors huddled within their apartment building as the end neared. The city was already in ruins from Allied air raids, food was scarce, the situation desperate - the only hope that the Allies would arrive before the Russians. We join Dorothea's account as the Russians begin the final push to victory:
"Friday, April 20, was Hitler's fifty-sixth birthday, and the Soviets sent him a birthday present in the form of an artillery barrage right into the heart of the city, while the Western Allies joined in with a massive air raid.
The radio announced that Hitler had come out of his safe bomb-proof bunker to talk with the fourteen to sixteen year old boys who had 'volunteered' for the 'honor' to be accepted into the SS and to die for their Fuhrer in the defense of Berlin. What a cruel lie! These boys did not volunteer, but had no choice, because boys who were found hiding were hanged as traitors by the SS as a warning that, 'he who was not brave enough to fight had to die.' When trees were not available, people were strung up on lamp posts. They were hanging everywhere, military and civilian, men and women, ordinary citizens who had been executed by a small group of fanatics. It appeared that the Nazis did not want the people to survive because a lost war, by their rationale, was obviously the fault of all of us. We had not sacrificed enough and therefore, we had forfeited our right to live, as only the government was without guilt. The Volkssturm was called up again, and this time, all boys age thirteen and up, had to report as our army was reduced now to little more than children filling the ranks as soldiers."
Encounter with a Young Soldier
"In honor of Hitler's birthday, we received an eight-day ration allowance, plus one tiny can of vegetables, a few ounces of sugar and a half-ounce of real coffee. No one could afford to miss rations of this type and we stood in long lines at the
Hitler's last public appearance
the Fuehrer inspects boy-soldiers
defending Berlin April 20, 1945
the Fuehrer inspects boy-soldiers
defending Berlin April 20, 1945
grocery store patiently waiting to receive them. While standing there, we noticed a sad looking young boy across the street standing behind some bushes in a self-dug shallow trench. I went over to him and found a mere child in a uniform many sizes too large for him, with an anti-tank grenade lying beside him. Tears were running down his face, and he was obviously very frightened of everyone. I very softly asked him what he was doing there. He lost his distrust and told me that he had been ordered to lie in wait here, and when a Soviet tank approached he was to run under it and explode the grenade. I asked how that would work, but he didn't know. In fact, this frail child didn't even look capable of carrying such a grenade. It looked to me like a useless suicide assignment because the Soviets would shoot him on sight before he ever reached the tank.
By now, he was sobbing and muttering something, probably calling for his mother in despair, and there was nothing that I could do to help him. He was a picture of distress, created by our inhuman government. If I encouraged him to run away, he would be caught and hung by the SS, and if I gave him refuge in my home, everyone in the house would be shot by the SS. So, all we could do was to give him something to eat and drink from our rations. When I looked for him early next morning he was gone and so was the grenade. Hopefully, his mother found him and would keep him in hiding during these last days of a lost war."
The Russians Arrive
"The Soviets battled the German soldiers and drafted civilians street by street until we could hear explosions and rifle fire right in our immediate vicinity. As the noise got closer, we could even hear the horrible guttural screaming of the Soviet soldiers which sounded to us like enraged animals. Shots shattered our windows and shells exploded in our garden, and suddenly the Soviets were on our street. Shaken by the battle around us and numb with fear, we watched from behind the small cellar windows facing the street as the tanks and an endless convoy of troops rolled by...
It was a terrifying sight as they sat high upon their tanks with their rifles cocked, aiming at houses as they passed. The screaming, gun-wielding women were the worst. Half of the troops had only rags and tatters around their feet while others wore SS boots that had been looted from a conquered SS barrack in Lichterfelde. Several fleeing people had told us earlier that they kept watching different boots pass by their cellar windows. At night, the Germans in our army boots recaptured the street that the
A Soviet soldier raises the
Hammer & Sickle atop the Reichstag
Hammer & Sickle atop the Reichstag
Soviets in the SS boots had taken during the day. The boots and the voices told them who was who. Now we saw them with our own eyes, and they belonged to the wild cohorts of the advancing Soviet troops.
Facing reality was ten times worse than just hearing about it. Throughout the night, we huddled together in mortal fear, not knowing what the morning might bring. Nevertheless, we noiselessly did sneak upstairs to double check that our heavy wooden window shutters were still intact and that all outside doors were barricaded. But as I peaked out, what did I see! The porter couple in the apartment house next to ours was standing in their front yard waving to the Soviets. So our suspicion that they were Communists had been right all along, but they must have been out of their minds to openly proclaim their brotherhood like that.
As could be expected, that night a horde of Soviet soldiers returned and stormed into their apartment house. Then we heard what sounded like a terrible orgy with women screaming for help, many shrieking at the same time. The racket gave me goosebumps. Some of the Soviets trampled through our garden and banged their rifle butts on our doors in an attempt to break in. Thank goodness our sturdy wooden doors withstood their efforts. Gripped in fear, we sat in stunned silence, hoping to give the impression that this was a vacant house, but hopelessly delivered into the clutches of the long-feared Red Army. Our nerves were in shreds."
"The next morning, we women proceeded to make ourselves look as unattractive as possible to the Soviets by smearing our faces with coal dust and covering our heads with old rags, our make-up for the Ivan. We huddled together in the central part of the basement, shaking with fear, while some peeked through the low basement windows to see what was happening on the Soviet-controlled street. We felt paralyzed by the sight of these husky Mongolians, looking wild and frightening. At the ruin across the street from us the first Soviet orders were posted, including a curfew. Suddenly there was a shattering noise outside. Horrified, we watched the Soviets demolish the corner grocery store and throw its contents, shelving and furniture out into the street. Urgently needed bags of flour, sugar and rice were split open and spilled their contents on the bare pavement, while Soviet soldiers stood guard with their rifles so that no one would dare to pick up any of the urgently needed food. This was just unbelievable. At night, a few desperate people tried to salvage some of the spilled food from the gutter. Hunger now became a major concern because our ration cards were worthless with no hope of any supplies.
Shortly thereafter, there was another commotion outside, even worse than before, and we rushed to our lookout to see that the Soviets had broken into the bank and were looting it. They came out yelling gleefully with their hands full of German bank notes and jewelry from safe deposit boxes that had been pried open. Thank God we had withdrawn money already and had it at home."
Field Marshall Keitel signs the surender terms
at Russian headquarters, Berlin May 9, 1945
at Russian headquarters, Berlin May 9, 1945
"The next day, General Wilding, the commander of the German troops in Berlin, finally surrendered the entire city to the Soviet army. There was no radio or newspaper, so vans with loudspeakers drove through the streets ordering us to cease all resistance. Suddenly, the shooting and bombing stopped and the unreal silence meant that one ordeal was over for us and another was about to begin. Our nightmare had become a reality. The entire three hundred square miles of what was left of Berlin were now completely under control of the Red Army. The last days of savage house to house fighting and street battles had been a human slaughter, with no prisoners being taken on either side. These final days were hell. Our last remaining and exhausted troops, primarily children and old men, stumbled into imprisonment. We were a city in ruins; almost no house remained intact."
The Rise and Fall of the first German Democracy
Summary: Weimar democracy, which arose from defeat and which replaced a semi-authoritarian imperialist regime, never had very wide support. Despite opposition from right and left the Weimar Republic survived to years of greater internal peace from the mid- 1920s, when the fundamental political problems were masked, until exposure by the economic and political crises of 1929 Hitler's appointment as German Chancellor in 1933 was arguably the most important event of the twentieth century. Within six years it led to the vast destruction and profound, world-wide changes of the Second World War. It is therefore crucial for historians to explain how so violent, barbaric and destructive a movement came to control an advanced and civilised country. The most direct causes for the collapse of the first German democracy must be sought in the years between the end of the First World War and the establishment of the Third Reich. This period can be divided into three sections: 1918-1924, when the Weimar Republic was set up and survived a series of severe crises; 1924-1929, when the republic was relatively stable and prosperous; and 1929-1933, when renewed instability eventually put an end to democracy with the appointment of Hitler as Reich Chancellor on 30 January 1933.
1918-1924: Defeat and New Order Survival
The defeat of 1918 hit the German public with brutal suddenness. To the very end they had been told that victory was within their grasp. In the spring of 1918 the German High Command still staked all on an offensive to achieve the breakthrough on the Western Front which had eluded them since 1914. An all-out victory would perpetuate the semi-authoritarian imperial regime and the privileges of its dominant classes. In fact German resources were by 1918 hopelessly over-stretched and morale at home and in the army had become fragile. At the end of September 1918 the High Command had to acknowledge defeat by asking for an armistice. This precipitated the revolution and the overthrow of the monarchy.
The parliamentary democracy which was established in Germany in 1918/19 was therefore the consequence of defeat and revolution and not the deliberate choice of a majority of the population. They hoped, however, that the removal of the Kaiser and the adoption of parliamentary democracy would make the Allies grant Germany a lenient peace. When the terms of the treaty Versailles became public in May 1919 many who had briefly supported democracy turned against it. Others, mostly the middle classes previously loyal to the Empire, had never wanted democracy and deeply resented the overthrow of the monarchy. They persuaded themselves that the German army had never been defeated on the battlefield, but had been undermined by subversion on the home front. The men swept to power in the revolution of November 1918 were held responsible for the collapse of civilian morale and accused of betraying the Fatherland for their own ends. This was the notorious 'stab-in-the-back myth'. Democracy and the Weimar Republic were therefore never universally accepted and suffered from a lack of legitimacy. In fair weather a majority might go along with it, but in a time of hardship, as in the Great Depression after 1929, they would desert it.
Why Weimar's Failure was Not Inevitable
Weimar's failure was, however, not inevitable, for the republic survived a period of severe political and economic crisis in its early years. The first threat came from the left, disappointed with the results of the revolution. They wanted a thorough-going transformation of society, as in Russia, based on the workers' and soldiers' councils which had spontaneously sprung up during the German revolution. Such a system had little chance of being realised in an advanced industrial country like Germany, where, unlike Russia, the workers had long had the vote. The first elections after the fall of the monarchy did not produce a socialist majority and the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany) had to govern in coalition with middle-class parties. Some historians have blamed the Social Democrats led by Friedrich Ebert for being too obsessed with the threat from the left and too reliant on the old imperial officials, particularly the officer corps and the general staff. Without their help, however, Ebert and his colleagues could not have fed the population, maintained law and order and safeguarded the unity of the Reich in 1918/19.
The Treaty of Versailles was regarded in Germany as humiliating and incapable of fulfilment. People lost sight of the fact that it left the unified Germany created in 1870 basically intact and in the long run in a strategically strong position, with weak neighbours on its east. Following Versailles, disillusionment with democracy led, in March 1920, to the first attempt by right-wing nationalists to overthrow the republic, the Kapp Putsch. At this point pro-republican forces, the parties of the centre and the left, were still strong enough to frustrate the coup. A general strike played a key role in defeating the plotters.
In the next few years instability was aggravated by accelerating inflation. The German currency had already lost much of its value during the war and Weimar governments were too weak to bring inflation under control. The reparations which Germany was obliged to pay under the peace settlement, and which were the subject of international negotiations from 1920 onwards, gave the Reich governments no incentive to put their finances in order. Moreover, by letting inflation continue, the Germans managed for a time to avoid the post-war slump that hit the other major industrial countries, Britain and America. The French Government under Poincar‚ felt that Germany was deliberately evading reparations and in January 1923 occupied the Ruhr as a 'productive pledge'. In France the Versailles Treaty was regarded as having insufficiently safeguarded her security against German aggression and reparations provided a lever through which the French hoped to retain some control over Germany. The economic separation of the Ruhr from the Reich knocked the bottom out of the German currency. By the summer of 1923 there was hyper-inflation; wages had to be paid with washing-baskets full of banknotes and the value of the mark fell hourly. Economic life was in chaos. It looked as if Germany was about to experience the disintegration she had avoided in 1918. In Central Germany there was an attempted Communist uprising; in Bavaria right-wing extremists, led by Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist party, tried to seize power.
The Nazis were one of many extreme right-wing groups whose hallmark was strident nationalism, based on the belief that Germans were an Aryan race, superior particularly to the Slav peoples of Eastern Europe. Most such groups were strongly anti-Semitic, believing that Jews were an alien race within, conspiring against the German people through ideologies such as liberalism and socialism, while as promoters of international capitalism they were undermining the economy of the country. In the social crisis of the post-war period sections of the lower middle class, squeezed between big business and labour and stripped of their savings by inflation, were attracted by National Socialism, simultaneously nationalist, anti-capitalist and anti-Bolshevik. There were similar fascist movements in other European countries, built around a leader who would impose order and authority. Hitler's movement obtained local prominence in Bavaria through his ability to give violent expression to the resentments and hatreds of people whose security had been shattered by defeat and revolution. In Bavaria the authorities dealt leniently with right-wing violence, for groups such as the Nazis might be needed against another uprising from the extreme left. Thus, Hitler and his movement grew, especially in the turmoil of 1923. He was, however, not important enough to control events and in November 1923 the Beer Hall Putsch failed ignominiously.
1924-1929: More Stability, Peace and Prosperity but Fundamental Weaknesses Remain
At this point the situation in Germany was changing radically for the better. Not only had all attempts to overthrow the republic from left or right failed, the introduction of a stable currency began the process of economic recovery. A settlement of the reparations problem, the Dawes Plan, was negotiated in 1924. The French occupation of the Ruhr was ended in 1925 and the Locarno Treaty created a greater sense of security in Europe. Germany's western borders were declared final, while her eastern borders could only be changed by agreement, not force. The German representative in these negotiations was Gustav Stresemann, Chancellor for three crucial months in 1923 and then foreign minister until his death in October 1929, but he was always under virulent attack from the nationalist opposition.
The middle 1920s have often been called the golden years of Weimar. Germany regained something like her pre-war standard of living. The arts flourished, with names that are still famous today, Brecht, Kurt Weill, the Threepenny Opera, the Bauhaus. The real strength of the German recovery is, however, still a matter of debate, for political and economic weaknesses continued. It was difficult under the Weimar political system to produce stable government. This is often attributed to the large number of political parties and the need to form coalitions which proved short-lived. The blame for this is put on the electoral system of strict proportional representation, which allowed even small parties to get a few members elected and immediately reflected, without any barrier, the rise and fall of parties. It would not, however, have been possible to introduce in Germany a first-past-the-post electoral system leading to a two-party system along British lines. Five or six major parties had survived from the imperial period and coalition government was unavoidable. Part of the problem was that the parties found it difficult to co-operate. This in turn was aggravated by the existence of extremist parties on the right and the left. It was difficult for the SPD, usually the largest party, to enterinto coalition with the middle-class parties, for its working-class voters might then defect to the Communist party, which always had at least a quarter of the left-wing vote. The irreconcilable division of the left was one of the reasons why the Nazis eventually took over with such ease.
The strength of the German economy in the mid-1920s is also still in dispute. It was very dependent on the in-flow of foreign, mainly American capital. The republic tried to meet aspirations for social welfare, for example through the introduction of comprehensive unemployment insurance in 1927. The employers complained that industry was in consequence burdened by heavy social costs and rendered uncompetitive. People who had lost their savings in the great inflation could not be effectively compensated and remained resentful. By 1927 agricultural prices started to fall internationally and German farmers were hard-pressed. Nevertheless, the democratic regime seemed firmly established by 1928. In the Reichstag elections of that year the SPD, the party most closely linked with Weimar, polled nearly 30 per cent of the vote. In contrast the Nazi party, for the first time contesting a national election on its own, obtained only 2.6 percent and 12 seats out of 491. There was, however, a fragmentation of parties in the centre ground of politics and this facilitated the Nazi breakthrough when crisis struck again.
1929-1933: Reduced Support for Centre Parties
The onset of the final crisis of the Weimar Republic is often linked to the Wall Street crash of October 1929, marking the beginning of a world-wide slump of unprecedented severity. In fact the German economy had already shown signs of sluggishness earlier in 1929. Political repercussions in Germany arose in the first place because higher levels of unemployment made the recently established national insurance scheme insolvent. The parties could not agree how to meet the deficit, the right refusing to sanction higher taxes, the left unwilling to see the burden on the workers and the unemployed rise. In March 1930 the broad coalition headed by the SPD fell apart. The new Chancellor, Heinrich Brüning, was given the right to use the President's emergency powers, under article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, to issue decrees. The Reichstag was thus by-passed and was only left with the option of voting Brüning's decrees down. When it did so in July 1930, the President, Hindenburg, sanctioned the dissolution of the Reichstag. Elections had therefore to be held in September 1930, when the Nazi party received eight times as many votes as previously. It became the second-largest party, with 18.3 per cent of the vote and 107 out of 577 deputies.
A great deal of research has gone into explaining the electoral upsurge of the Nazi movement, which by the summer of 1932 had reached a peak of 37.3 percent of the vote and 230 out of 608 Reichstag deputies, making it much the largest party. In the past historians have emphasised the irrational nature of this explosion, stressing the ruthlessness of Nazi propaganda, the appeal of Hitler's mass meetings, all signs of profound social-psychological disturbance. Recent electoral analyses have shown that the Nazis made their biggest gains among the Protestant middle class. Roman Catholic voters normally attached to the two Catholic parties retained their previous loyalties. The working-class voters of the two left-wing parties, the Social Democrats and the Communists, also proved relatively immune to the Nazi appeal. From this it can be argued that the various middle-class parties, already fragmented in 1928, were no longer seen as capable of protecting the interests of their voters. The Nazis, on the other hand, appealed effectively to the most diverse groups, including a large number of working-class voters not living in big industrial cities and not normally attached to the two left-wing parties. The Nazis claimed to be a movement, not a party, capable of ending the divisiveness of party and class. Before the incompatibility of their offers to different sections became obvious they had acquired total power.
Economic Crisis: Political Misjudgement
The steep decline of the German economy after 1929 was an essential pre-condition for the success of the Nazis, though not in itself a sufficient explanation. Historians still debate whether the German governments of the time, particularly that of Brüning, could have pursued different policies to mitigate the slump. The policies pursued were deflationary, namely the government itself was constantly cutting expenditure to balance its declining revenue, thus adding to the downward pressures in the economy. The alternative would have been to pump money into the economy, the policies that came later to be associated with the British economist John Maynard Keynes. Credit creation would in practice have been difficult. Till the summer of 1931 the slump did not seem to be of exceptional severity. Nobody wanted to slide back into the devastating inflation experienced only a few years earlier and largely caused by the unrestrained printing of money. The reflationary measures hesitatingly adopted in 1932 did not become effective until Hitler was in power and then benefited him.
In the final stages of the crisis the key decisions lay with the president Hindenburg, aged 85, and his advisers. Among them the most important was General Kurt von Schleicher, who represented the army. Confronted with the apparently irresistibly rising Nazi tide these men felt that Hitler would have to be brought into government, but without handing him the unlimited power he was demanding. Important interest groups, such as the major industrialists and the big landowners, wanted a stable government, which could not be established without the Nazis. Hitler was, however, not merely the puppet of big business, a Marxist argument not now generally accepted. In May 1932 Hindenburg dropped Brüning and was persuaded by Schleicher to appoint Papen as chancellor. The latter had virtually no support, was unable to strike a deal with Hitler and only survived by repeated dissolutions of the Reichstag. In the second of the resulting elections, in November 1932, the Nazis suffered a severe electoral setback, their vote dropping by over two million or 4 per cent. This lends weight to the argument that Hitler could have been kept out of power. Schleicher himself took office as chancellor in December 1932, but, with the Nazis still the largest party, could not find a stable basis for his government. Papen, originally his creature, felt aggrieved at being displaced, and by late January 1933 had persuaded Hindenburg that he could make the deal with Hitler that would at last bring the Nazi leader 'tamed' into the government. The Hitler cabinet formed on 30 January 1933 contained only two Nazis besides Hitler and it looked as if Papen, supported by other conservative non-Nazis, was the dominant figure. This swiftly proved an illusion. With the levers of power in his hands, and with a massive popular, and in part revolutionary, movement behind him, Hitler quickly demolished all restraints on his total control. He had achieved a revolution under a cloak of legality.
Hitler did not seize power, but was given it by a back-stairs intrigue. If so many German voters had not supported him he would never have been in the running. Even then it was not inevitable that he should become Chancellor, but few fully realised how catastrophic this would prove.
Words and concepts to note
Reich: the union of German states (Under). The first Reich was the Holy Roman Empire, which ended in 1806. The second Reich was the united Germany established in 1871. Hitler called his regime the Third Reich.
Reich Chancellor: title of the Prime Minister of the unified Germany from 1871.
councils; in German Räte. These were set up spontaneously in many German towns and cities (workers' councils) and in the army (soldiers' councils) during the Revolution of 1918. The Left wanted to make them, rather than a parliament elected by universal suffrage, the basis of the new society to be created by the revolution. They were influenced by the role played by soviets in the Russian Revolution.
repartions: the payments in money and in kind Germany was obliged to make to her former enemies to compensate for the damage done to them and their citizens in the war. These payments were later regulated by two international agreements, the Dawes Plan of 1924 and the Young Plan of 1929. The Great Depression brought them to an end in 1932.
inflation: too much money chasing too few goods - prices rise. The extreme inflation experienced in Germany in 1922/23 is usually called hyper-inflation.
Deflation: the opposite - too little money chasing too many goods, hence, although prices fall, there is not enough purchasing power to keep the economy running at capacity. This was the situation experienced in Germany from 1929.
Reflation is the attempt, by creating credit or simply by printing money, to overcome the slump associated with deflation.
Protestant. in Germany the Protestant, i.e. non-Roman Catholic, part of the population is in the majority. Most German Protestants belong to churches preaching the doctrines of Martin Luther, the German reformer of the sixteenth century, and are therefore often called Lutherans. The areas mainly inhabited by Roman Catholics are the Rhincland and most of Bavaria.
The German parties and their ideologies
Social Democracy, Communism and Marxism. In Germany the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the largest party before 1914, had become a party committed to reform. Its leaders were catapulted into power in 1918. The left wing of German socialists became consolidated into the Communist Party (KPD) and by the early 1920s followed the policy lines laid down from Moscow. While the SPD was the party most fully associated with the establishment and maintenance of the democratic republic, the KPD was strongly anti-republican. In the final years of Weimar the KID concentrated most of its fire on the SPI), believing that even if this helped to bring Hitler to power his rule would be brief and end in the inevitable overthrow of capitalism predicted by Marx. People on the right-wing of German poltics nevertheless tended to lump SPD and KPD together as Marxists.
National Socialism, Fascism and Conservative Nationalism. The National Socialist Workers' Party (NSDAP), Nazis for short, had many things in common with fascism in other countries. National Socialism became, however, much more important and more radical than other varieties of fascism, so that the general label 'fascist' hardly describes it adequately. It must also be distinguished from the traditional and conservative forms of German nationalism, though most German conservative nationalists tended to support Nazism and Hitler once they were in power and successful. As opposed to conservative nationalism, National Socialism was a revolutionary and totalitarian doctrine.
The German Army never fully recovered from the beating it took in Russia around Moscow and elsewhere during the winter of 1941-42 when it suffered over a million casualties. For a time, the entire Eastern Front had teetered on the verge of collapse as division upon division of well-equipped Russians materialized seemingly out of nowhere and attacked.
Reacting to the debacle, Hitler assumed personal day-to-day operational command of the Army, brushing aside some of the world’s finest military experts, the same generals who had invented Blitzkrieg and engineered the lightning-fast victories over Poland and France. In their place, Hitler poured over the maps himself and made vital strategic decisions alone.
One of the men nearest to him throughout much of the war, General Alfred Jodl, Chief of Operations at OKW, reflected on the Führer's style: "If there is anything that clearly demonstrates the revolutionary character of Hitler's method of [military] leadership, it is that he did not concede to his military working staff, the OKW, and within it, the Operations Staff, the role of strategic adviser. All attempts I undertook in this direction failed. Hitler was willing to have a working staff that translated his decisions into orders which he would then issue as Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht, but nothing more...He did not care to hear any other points of view; if they were even hinted at he would break into short-tempered fits of enraged agitation. Remarkable – and, for soldiers, incomprehensible – conflicts developed out of Hitler's almost mystical conviction of his own infallibility as leader of the nation and of the war."
Day-by-day Hitler took on more responsibility, directing the movements of individual divisions a thousand miles from his headquarters, based on information that was probably old by the time it reached him – especially bad news which was usually slow to reach the Führer. Additionally, Hitler had odd work habits, staying up till 4 a.m. or so every day, then sleeping till noon, when he would hold his first military conference of the day, needing to catch up on the morning's events. Other times, he was distracted by unrelated political and Nazi Party events. For example, at the very moment American troops were landing in North Africa, Hitler was away from his headquarters, attending the annual commemoration of the Beer Hall Putsch which had occurred back in 1923.
And there were, for Hitler the commander, some deeper flaws as German Field Marshal Erich von Manstein observed: "He was a man who saw fighting only in terms of the utmost brutality. His way of thinking conformed more to a mental picture of masses of the enemy bleeding to death before our lines than to the conception of a subtle fencer who knows how to make an occasional step backwards in order to lunge for the decisive thrust. For the art of war he substituted a brutal force which, as he saw it, was guaranteed maximum effectiveness by the will-power behind it.... Despite the pains Hitler took to stress his own former status as a frontline soldier, I still never had the feeling that his heart belonged to the fighting troops. Losses, as far as he was concerned, were merely figures which reduced fighting power. They are unlikely to have seriously disturbed him as a human being."
Now, in the late spring of 1942, as the muddy roads and fields finally dried out in Russia, Hitler steered the German Army into the region of southern Russia known as the Caucasus. Moscow would be left as-is for the time being. His new strategy was to grab the expansive oil fields in the Caucasus which fueled Russia’s war machine, and seize Stalingrad, the region’s major rail junction and industrial center, located along the Volga River. Conquering the city named after Soviet leader Josef Stalin, in addition to the oil fields, would be a fatal blow to Russia, Hitler believed.
But from the onset, the problem was a shortage of manpower. There simply were not enough available men of military age in Germany to make up for the losses already experienced in Russia. Therefore Hitler pressed his allies and coerced Nazi satellite states into sending him fresh troops. As a result, the Wehrmacht was boosted by the addition of 52 non-German divisions recruited from allies Italy and Spain and from satellites Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia. Their arrival in Russia made up for the shortage, but also made the German generals uneasy, realizing they were now dangerously reliant on troops with questionable training and skills, whose steadfastness and loyalty under fire remained to be seen.
Despite their concerns, Hitler's offensive, which he named Operation Blue, got off to a good start. Army Group B made steady eastward progress toward Stalingrad while Army Group A headed for the oil fields in the Caucasus. But it was almost too easy. On closer look, German field commanders realized that Russian battle tactics had changed. Instead of stubbornly standing their ground and inviting encirclement, the Red Army had adopted a new strategy, the fighting retreat, to minimize losses and draw the Germans ever deeper into Russia, thereby stretching already-overtaxed supply lines to the breaking point. And it worked. The big Panzer tanks, which burned a gallon of fuel per mile, now had to stop and turn off their motors, just to wait for the fuel trucks to catch up, while the infantry sat around waiting for food and ammunition.
June 1942. At the map table, the Führer speaks--his generals listen. To his left is Friedrich Paulus, a staff officer recently given command of Sixth Army. Below: A German armored column traverses Russia's wide open spaces, pushing toward Stalingrad.
By mid-summer, as the two army groups and their 700 tanks inched toward the oil fields and Stalingrad, the worsening supply situation, combined with the Wehrmacht's already limited manpower in the region necessitated a critical decision – which of the two main objectives should be achieved first?
Without hesitation, Hitler decided to go for the oil fields. And so he directed Fourth Panzer Army southward away from Stalingrad to aid First Panzer Army which was already approaching the oil fields. But several days later, upon further reflection, now realizing the Russians had left Stalingrad virtually undefended, the Führer changed his mind and decided to turn Fourth Panzer Army completely around and send it northward, back toward Stalingrad.
But it took some time for Fourth Panzer Army to wheel itself around, thereby giving the Russians sufficient time to set up strong defensive positions south of Stalingrad to obstruct its northward advance. Regardless, Hitler ordered the attack on Stalingrad to proceed, and at the same time, ordered the oil fields to be taken. He had changed his mind again. Both objectives were now to be taken simultaneously.
German field commanders in Russia and members of the Army High Command were utterly dismayed. It seemed like the Moscow nightmare was about to be repeated. It was a reoccurrence of the long-standing, fundamental disagreement they had with Hitler – pick one target and attack it with overwhelming force – whereas Hitler preferred a piecemeal approach toward multiple targets to satisfy his broader ambitions.
Senior strategists urged the Führer to take Stalingrad first using all available resources, then go for the oil fields.
A year earlier, Hitler had ignored their advice regarding Moscow. Now he spurned their advice about Stalingrad, maintaining just as he had a year ago, that the Russian Army would be defeated if only they followed his plan.
Two of his most senior officers, General Halder, Chief of the Army General Staff, and Field Marshal List, Commander of Army Group A in the Caucasus, openly criticized that plan. Hitler responded by sacking both men and took over List's post himself, assuming direct command of all the armies in the Caucasus.
For the main assault on Stalingrad, Hitler chose the pride of the Wehrmacht, its Sixth Army, commanded by General Friedrich Paulus. By mid-September, after rolling through the Russian outer defenses, Sixth Army entered the confines of the city. But this brought big problems. German armored commanders and their troops were used to fighting in Russia's wide open spaces which allowed for effective maneuvering of tanks and motorized infantry. Battle conditions in Stalingrad were exactly the opposite – a maze of city streets and multi-story buildings.
Even worse, Stalingrad was now a pile of rubble. Prior to invading the city, the Germans had tried to weaken Russian resistance via massive aerial and artillery bombardments. But this only created a jumble of blocked streets and broken cement, serving as very good cover for the thousands of Russian infantrymen now waiting to confront the Germans.
Under such conditions the Battle of Stalingrad quickly degenerated into a hand-to-hand street fight in which the Germans paid with blood for every piece of ground they gained. A German lieutenant on the scene wrote: “The street is no longer measured by meters but by corpses…Stalingrad is no longer a town. By day it is an enormous cloud of burning, blinding smoke; it is a vast furnace lit by the reflection of the flames. And when night arrives, one of those scorching, howling, bleeding nights, the dogs plunge into the Volga and swim desperately to gain the other bank. The nights of Stalingrad are a terror for them. Animals flee this hell; the hardest stones cannot bear it for long; only men endure.”
With German casualties piling up at a rate of 20,000 men a day, Hitler pulled divisions from his outer defenses in the region and sent them in one-by-one. Meanwhile, Soviet leader Josef Stalin plunged a million soldiers into the city, telling them: “You can no longer retreat…There is only one road, the road that leads forward. Stalingrad will be saved by you, or wiped out with you.”
Hitler had truly met his match in Stalin – a man like himself who saw fighting only in terms of the utmost brutality.
As November began amid the cold and snow of an early Russian winter, German troops at Stalingrad pressed harder than ever to finish the job. Along the outskirts of the city, they pushed forward to the banks of the Volga River, cutting off all Russian supply routes into Stalingrad. Inside the city, German infantrymen mounted a supreme effort to crush the last pockets of Russian infantry in their midst. To the German people, Hitler confidently announced the city, now ninety percent occupied, would fall at any moment.
And then the Russians struck back.
It began at dawn on Thursday, November 19, 1942, amid a raging blizzard as thirteen Russian armies led by Marshal Georgi Zhukov blasted thinly held German rear positions miles away from the city, attacking simultaneously from the north and south.
By sending so many rear units one-by-one into Stalingrad, Hitler had seriously eroded his outer sectors, leaving them to be held by mostly non-German troops. Marshal Zhukov had observed this and planned the entire counter-offensive to exploit this weakness. Now the worst fears of the German generals were realized as their shaky Romanian, Hungarian and Italian allies swiftly caved in under the weight of the Russian attack. In just three days, Russian troops from the north and south blasted their way through the crumbling lines and linked up, thereby encircling and trapping the entire Sixth Army inside Stalingrad.
September 1942. German troops in Stalingrad warily move forward. Below: Russian soldiers scurry through the smoldering wreckage to confront the invaders.
Hitler's new Chief of the Army General Staff, General Kurt Zeitzler, pleaded with the Führer to allow Sixth Army to attempt a breakout. But Hitler just hollered at him, “I won’t go back from the Volga!”
Instead, Hitler's plan was to supply his besieged army, some 20 German divisions, by air drops while relief troops led by Field Marshal Manstein fought their toward Stalingrad from the south.
But the plan was doomed from the start. Despite boasts by Göring that his Luftwaffe could pull it off, the supply planes were mostly grounded by bad weather. And when they did fly, Russian anti-aircraft guns and fighter planes blasted them out of the sky. As a result, only ten-percent of the needed supplies ever reached the troops. Meanwhile, Manstein’s troops only got to within thirty miles of the city and had to pull back or risk being surrounded themselves.
As the weather worsened, thousands of wounded, starving German infantrymen in Stalingrad froze to death amid subzero temperatures. General Zeitzler now pleaded with Hitler to let the remnants of Sixth Army attempt a breakout to the south to possibly link up with Manstein. He told Hitler of the appalling conditions.
But Hitler was unfazed. Stalingrad was to be held at all costs.
By now, the Russians had assembled seven armies to crush the Germans in Stalingrad. But before launching their attack, they offered a last minute chance to avoid the onslaught. On Friday, January 8, 1943, three Russians carrying a white flag presented surrender terms. However, they were reluctantly turned down by General Paulus, acting on Hitler's direct order. As a result, two days later, the Russians blasted the remaining Germans with five thousand artillery guns followed a week later by a massive infantry assault.
Once more the battle degenerated into a hand-to-hand street fight. This time the Russians paid with blood for every piece of ground they regained. But time was running out for Sixth Army. Food and ammunition supplies were critically low and the exhausted troops had been reduced to two narrow pockets in Stalingrad. On January 24th, the Russians offered another chance for surrender. This time Paulus sent a personal plea to Hitler: “Army requests immediate permission to surrender in order to save lives of remaining troops.”
Hitler responded: “Surrender is forbidden. Sixth Army will hold their position to the last man and the last round and by their heroic endurance will make an unforgettable contribution toward the establishment of a defensive front and the salvation of the Western World.”
Hitler followed this by bestowing over a hundred field promotions, hoping it would inspire Paulus and his command staff to go down in a blaze of glory. Paulus himself was elevated to Field Marshal by Hitler, knowing that no German Field Marshal had ever been captured alive.
But Paulus had other ideas. As Russian infantrymen approached Sixth Army’s command bunker, the cellar of a wrecked department store, Field Marshal Paulus and his surviving staff officers simply came out and quietly surrendered, ignoring Hitler’s order that they fight to the last man, as well as his implied desire that they commit suicide rather than capitulate. Thus the Battle of Stalingrad ended on a sullen, anticlimactic note, Sunday, January 31, 1943, ten years and one day after Hitler had come to power in Germany.
Out of an original force of 285,000 soldiers comprising Sixth Army, 165,000 had died in Stalingrad, while some 29,000 wounded had been air lifted out. The 91,000 survivors, including 24 generals and 2,500 officers, hobbled off in the snow to begin years of captivity in Russian POW camps in bitter cold Siberia. Only five thousand would survive the ordeal and return home, as the Russians, aware of how their men were faring in German hands, dished out the same treatment.
Russian casualties at Stalingrad are estimated at a million dead, including nearly all of the men Stalin had committed to fend off the initial attack.
After his surrender, an embittered Paulus turned against Hitler and Nazism. He collaborated with the Russians, forming a National Committee for Free Germany and made radio broadcasts from Moscow urging German troops to give up fighting for Hitler.
The refusal of Paulus to die honorably in battle, or by his own hand had enraged Hitler, who exclaimed: “How can one be so cowardly? I don’t understand it…What is life? Life is the Nation. The individual must die anyway. Beyond the life of the individual is the life of the Nation…So many people have had to die, and then a man like that besmirches the heroism of so many others at the last minute. He could have freed himself from all sorrow and ascended into eternity and national immortality, but he prefers to go to Moscow!”
On Wednesday, February 3, 1943, a special radio announcement informed the German people they had lost the Battle of Stalingrad. The news had a devastating impact on morale, casting an undeniable shadow of doubt on the Führer personally, and the future of Nazi Germany itself. A secret opinion survey taken shortly afterward by the Nazi intelligence service reported: “People ask, above all, why Stalingrad was not evacuated or relieved, and how it is possible, only a few months ago, to describe the military situation as secure? Fearing that an unfavorable end to the war is now possible, many compatriots are seriously thinking about the consequences of defeat.”
For Adolf Hitler and his most fanatical supporters, the military situation, although dire, was only part of the story. They were now fully engaged in another entirely different campaign – one they now considered equal in importance to the war, and here they were succeeding – the Final Solution of the Jewish problem.
Tanks and other heavy artillery rolled through the streets of Moscow
Soviet T-34 tanks and strategic ballistic missiles were on show ahead of the 65th anniversary of Allied Forces victory over the Hitler coalition in World War II on May 9.
The celebrations will also see British troops marching with Russian soldiers in Moscow’s Red Square for the first time ever.
A procession of Russian heavy weapons drive along Tverskaya street in Moscow, Russia, last night, during the rehearsal of the victory day parade
The celebrations are devoted to the victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany in World War II
The upcoming event has already been touched by controversy however, over the city’s plans to display a portrait of Soviet dictator and World War II ally Josef Stalin in the square for the parade.
If realised, the plans would break a major taboo in Russia.
For many, Stalin remains the butcher who sent hundreds of thousands of Communist Party men to their deaths in political purges.
He also callously condemned millions of peasants to die during man-made famines in the early Thirties.
The event has attracted controversy over the decision to display Stalin's portrait in Red Square
But for most modern Russians, Stalin is also the victor of World War II and the greatest hero of the Soviet century.
As the Soviet Union was brought to her knees in 1991, Stalin remained a symbol of Russian power.
Former Russian president and current prime minister Vladimir Putin has recently appeared to be making efforts to cleanse Stalin's image as part of a resurgence of national pride.
However, even for Mr Putin, open celebration of the dictator's achievements are still met with caution.
A couple take snaps of the tanks rumbling down the streets of Moscow
Human rights activists and allies of Mr Putin have attacked the plans by the city of Moscow to display portraits of Stalin in the Red Square during the May 9 celebrations.
The British embassy said in a recent statement that the parade will include a Royal Air Force band and a detachment of Welsh Guards.
The U.S. Embassy confirmed that its soldiers will take part in the parade. French soldiers are also to march.
For most of the 20th century, Russia was squared off against Britain and the U.S. The Cold War defined international relations in the aftermath of WW2 - and, some argue, even during the war.
British, French and U.S. troops will march alongside the Russian military during the celebrations
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, however, and the break-up of the Soviet Union just years later, Russia and the West have settled into an uneasy truce.
Victory Day is Russia's most important secular holiday. The military parade will be Russia’s largest ever, culminating in a flyover of 140 planes and helicopters.
Last year’s parade featured 9,000 servicemen, S-400 missiles and only half as many aircraft.
Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said Poland - which spent much of the Cold War fighting for survival under the threat of Russian imperialism - is also considering joining the celebrations.
Office workers have a bird's eye view of the procession as it makes its way down Tverskaya Street
Up to 20 million Russians are believed to have died as a result of Stalin's rule.
He was first denounced by the man to succeed him, Nikita Khrushchev, who committed the unthinkable by demolishing Stalin's reputation in what became known as the 'Secret Speech' of 1956.
From that point on, the Soviet leadership struggled to maintain the power that Stalin had wielded in the Communist world, without resorting to the murderous purges so favoured by the dictator.
Why Rudolf Hess took the sky road to Scotland has never been revealed officially, principally because two leaders of Allied strategy, Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, believed at the time that no useful purpose could be served by the telling. Hess was consigned to the limbo of hush-hush and all attempts to probe the craziest episode of the war were resolutely suppressed.
Today, two years after, many Englishmen and a few Americans know exactly why Hess came to England, and most of those in possession of the true story feel that it should now be told. For one thing, it would place before critics of Anglo-American policy towards Soviet Russia the vital and silencing fact that at a difficult moment, when he might have withdrawn his country from the war at Russia's expense, Churchill pledged Britain to continue fighting as a full ally of the newest victim of Nazi duplicity. There would have been some semblance of poetic justice to such a withdrawal-was it not Stalin who set the war in motion by signing a friendship pact with Hitler in 1939? But the British Prime Minister never even considered such action.
A few details are still unclear-only British Intelligence and several top-flight officials, know them; a few facts must still be kept dark for reasons of policy. But the essential story can be safely, and usefully, told. It makes one of the most fascinating tales of superintrigue in the annals of international relations. It adds up to a supreme British coup that must have shattered the pride of the Nazis in their diplomacy and their Secret Service. In that domain, it is fair to say, the Hess incident is a defeat equivalent to Stalingrad in the military domain.
Rudolf Hess did not "escape" from Germany. He came as a winged messenger of peace, and no Parsifal in shining armor was ever more rigorously and loyally consecrated to his mission. He came not only with Adolf Hitler's blessing, but upon Hitler's explicit orders. Far from being a surprise, the arrival of Hess was expected by a limited number of Britishers, the outlines of his mission were known in advance, and the Nazi leader actually had an RAF escort in the final stage of his air journey.
On the basis of reliable information since obtained from German sources and from indications given by Hess himself, it is possible to reconstruct the situation in Berlin that led to the mad Hess undertaking.
By the beginning of 1941 Hitler, in disregard of the advice of some of his generals, had decided that he could no longer put off his "holy war" against Russia. The attempt to knock out the Western democracies before turning to the East had failed. The alternative was an understanding with Great Britain which would leave Germany free to concentrate everything against Russia-a return, in some measure, to the basis of co-operation set up in Munich. Whatever Chamberlain and Daladier may have thought, the Germans had interpreted the Munich deal as a carte blanche for Nazi domination of Eastern Europe. The Allied guarantees to Poland and Rumania thereafter and their declaration of war, were indignantly denounced in Berlin as a democratic double-cross.
Hitler put out a tentative feeler in January 1941 in the form of an inquiry regarding the British attitude towards possible direct negotiations. It was not directed to the British Government but to a group of influential Britishers, among them the Duke of Hamilton, who belonged to the since discredited Anglo-German Fellowship Association. An internationally known diplomat served as courier. In the course of time a reply arrived in Berlin expressing limited interest and asking for more information. Tediously, cautiously, without either side quite revealing its hand, a plan was developed. When the German proposal of negotiations on neutral soil was rejected, Berlin countered with an offer to send a delegate to England. After all, had not Chamberlain flown to Germany?
A delegate was selected-Ernst Wilhelm Bohle, Gauleiter of all Germans abroad. Handsome, South African-born, Cambridge educated Willi Bohle was actually a British subject, though his passport was considerably out of date, and he seemed ideally suited for the mission. Several important foreign journalists in Berlin were let in on the secret that Bohle was being groomed for a very big and mysterious job abroad, and the story was planted in Turkish and South American papers to test British reaction. When weeks passed and the British press did not pick up the story, thus indicating an indifference to Bohle, Berlin became worried.
It was then that the Führer came through with one of his "geniale" ideas. Bohle was not the right man, he said. He did not have the national stature to impress the British. A really big Nazi would have to go, one whose name was inseparably linked with Hitler himself and whose presence could not possibly fail to command attention. He must be one, said Hitler, who would represent the "goodness" of the German race, one whose sincerity was unquestionable. What is more, he must be able to speak officially for the German Government and to give binding commitments on the behalf of the Führer. Providence, Hitler pointed out, had given Germany just the man-Walter Richard Rudolf Hess, Nazi Number Three, who in addition to fulfilling the other qualifications had grown up in the English quarter of Alexandria, spoke fluent English and "understood the British mind."
After Hitler transmitted his supreme and final offer-to send his own Deputy and closest friend directly to England-there was a long delay in replying. Possibly the imperturbable British required some time to recover from their astonishment. But finally Adolf's intuition was justified -- an acceptance of the proposal came through, details were arranged, and on May 10 Hess flew into the twilight.
Four months of intricate negotiations had preceded the flight. The Germans had pushed their proposal in the name of peace and Nordic friendship. Their British "friends" were co-operative without being too eager or too optimistic -- there was no use overlooking the difficulties. As was only natural, progress was made slowly; there were ups and downs in the fortunes of the enterprise.
The one thing the Germans did not know was that they were negotiating with agents of the British Secret Service using the names -- and the handwriting -- of the Duke of Hamilton and other gentry of the Anglo-German Fellowship Association! The fact is that the initial communication, in January, brought personally by an eminent diplomat, never reached its destination, having been intercepted by the Secret Service. From then on the correspondence was handled entirely by astute British agents. Replies designed to whet the German appetite, replies encouraging the supposition that Britain was seeking a way out of its military difficulties, were sent to Berlin. The hook was carefully baited that caught the third largest fish in the Nazi lake.
It was perhaps his perverted love of Wagnerian contrast that led Hitler to choose the night of his Deputy's fateful flight for unloading five hundred tons of noisy death on London.
That night the subterranean plotting room of the RAF Fighter Command was static with !activity. The heaviest Nazi bomber force ever sent to Britain was pounding the capital, and new waves of planes were crossing the coast every fifteen minutes. When a report from an outlying radiolocation station on the Scottish coast announced the approach of an unidentified plane, the receiving operator at Fighter Command checked it off as "one of ours" and promptly forgot it. On the tail of the first report came a second: the plane had failed to identify itself properly and its speed indicated that it was a fighter. Methodically, as one immune to surprises, the operator sent his flash to the plotting room and a hostile plane was pinpointed far up on the eastern coast of Scotland with an arrow to indicate that it was moving west.
By now inland stations were also picking up the mystery plane, obviously a fighter from its speed, although Scotland was far beyond the normal cruising range of any fighter. Consulted, the commanding officer at Fighter Command reacted in a manner that Fighter Command personnel still discuss with varying degrees of puzzlement. "For God's sake," he is reported to have shouted, "Tell them not to shoot him down!" In a matter of seconds a fighter station in Scotland received a flash and two Hurricanes took off to trail the mystery plane with orders to force it down but under no conditions to shoot at it. While the small red arrows on the plotting table crept across Scotland, high officers at Fighter Command watched with absorbed interest. Near the tiny village of Paisley, almost on the west coast, they stopped. "Made it," the commanding officer is reported to have grunted. "Thank God, he's down!"
In Lanarkshire, Scotland, David McLean, a farmer, watched a figure parachute into his field, and by the time the man had disentangled himself from the shrouds of his parachute, Farmer McLean was standing over him with a pitchfork. "Are ye a Nazi enemy, or are ye one o' ours?" he asked. "Not Nazi enemy; British friend," the man replied with some difficulty because he had wrenched his ankle and was in extreme pain. Helped into the farmer's kitchen, he announced that his name was Alfred Horn and that he had come to see the Duke of Hamilton, laird of the great Dungavel estate ten miles away. The man talked freely, and to local Home Guardsmen Jack Paterson and Robert Gibson, who had arrived in the meantime, he admitted that he had come from Germany and was hunting the private aerodrome on Hamilton's estate when his fuel gave out and he had to bail out. "My name is Alfred Horn," he repeated frequently as though seeking recognition. "Please tell the Duke of Hamilton I have arrived."
With their instinctive distrust of aristocracy, the canny Scots became suspicious of the whole situation, and the parachutist was bundled off to the local Home Guard headquarters, where an excited, argumentative crowd soon gathered. Meanwhile, a kind of official reception committee composed of Military Intelligence officers and Secret Service agents was waiting at the private aerodrome on the Hamilton estate. The forced landing ten miles from the prearranged rendezvous was the only hitch in the plan. It was the hitch, presumably, which broke to the whole world sensational news which otherwise might have been kept on ice for a while if not for the duration.
When the "reception committee" heard of the accident and finally found their visitor, he was being guarded by over a dozen defiant Home Guardsmen who were determined not to relinquish him. It took lengthy assurances that the man would remain safe in their custody, plus the arrival of Army reinforcements under instructions to co-operate with the "committee," to persuade the Guardsmen to give up their prisoner.
Still declaring that his name was Alfred Horn, Hess was placed in a military motorcar and driven to Maryhill Barracks near Glasgow. There he changed his story. "I have come to save humanity," he said. "I am Rudolf Hess." And he indicated that his visit was being expected by influential Englishmen -- a statement that was truer than he as yet suspected. His identity checked, Hess was taken to a military hospital to have his ankle treated, and with a Scots Guardsman on duty outside his door, spent his first night in the British Isles.
In the village of Paisley and many other parts of the Highlands, Scotsmen divided into factions-Scots nationalists and British loyalists, royalists and socialists-and throughout that night and for several days broke heads and knuckles over the issue of the German who came to Scotland. The loyalists and socialists suspected that either the Scots nationalists or royalists had been guilty of some treasonable skullduggery.
Hess passed a good night, and when his nurse brought breakfast on a tray the next morning at 8 a.m. he reminded her that on the continent one breakfasted later. She left the tray and departed, while he went back to sleep. When she returned at nine for the tray, the breakfast had not been touched, so she removed it, with the result that Hess spent his first morning in Britain without breakfast. Thereafter he breakfasted at eight.
Hitler's friend and deputy had come prepared for an indirect approach to the British Government through the Anglo-German Fellowship Association, to which a surprising number of prominent Britons adhered before the war. The actual approach, as planned by Winston Churchill, was exceedingly direct. Ivone Kirkpatrick, an astute super-spy in World War I and Councillor at the Berlin Embassy during the intervening years, flew to Scotland to receive the Hess plan for direct transmission to the British Government. Even Hitler could have asked no greater co-operation. Despite the absence of the Duke of Hamilton, Hess at this stage was still convinced that he was dealing with the Fellowship intermediaries.
It was to Kirkpatrick that the Nazi first poured out the details of Hitler's armistice and peace proposals. He was enthusiastic and voluble -- the stenographic report filled many notebooks. And he was most optimistic, since he was fully convinced that Britain was licked, knew it, and must therefore welcome the Führer's generous offer of amity. His tone throughout was that of a munificent enemy offering a reprieve to a foe whose doom was otherwise sealed.
The terms of Hitler's peace proposal have been discussed up and down England not only in well-informed political circles but in pubs, bomb shelters and Pall Mall clubs. It was too elaborate a secret to be kept. Cabinet members presumably told their friends in Parliament and the MP's told their club colleagues and the news percolated down. The filter of time, plus such cross-checking as is possible on a subject that is officially taboo, enables the writer to give the general outline, withholding details.
Hitler offered total cessation of the war in the West. Germany would evacuate all of France except Alsace and Lorraine, which would remain German. It would evacuate Holland and Belgium, retaining Luxembourg. It would evacuate Norway and Denmark. In short, Hitler offered to withdraw from Western Europe, except for the two French provinces and Luxembourg [Luxembourg was never a French province, but an independent state of ethnically German origin], in return for which Great Britain would agree to assume an attitude of benevolent neutrality towards Germany as it unfolded its plans in Eastern Europe. In addition, the Führer was ready to withdraw from Yugoslavia and Greece. German troops would be evacuated from the Mediterranean generally and Hitler would use his good offices to arrange a settlement of the Mediterranean conflict between Britain and Italy. No belligerent or neutral country would be entitled to demand reparations from any other country, he specified.
The proposal contained many other points, including plans for plebiscites and population exchanges where these might be necessitated by shifts in population that has resulted from the military action in Western Europe and the Balkans. But the versions circulating in authoritative circles all agree on the basic points outlined above.
In a prepared preamble, Hess explained the importance of Hitler's Eastern mission "to save humanity," and indicated how perfectly the whole arrangement would work out for Britain and France, not only from the ideological and security angles but also commercially. Germany, he pointed out, would take the full production of the Allied war industries until they could be converted to a peacetime basis, thus preventing economic depression. As Hess and his Führer saw it, England and France would become, in effect, the arsenals of free capitalism against Asiatic communism. The actual slaying of the Bolshevik dragon Hitler reserved for Germany alone, so that by this act he could convince a doubting world of his benevolent intentions. Hess gave no information on the military plans for Eastern Europe and would not be drawn out on that point, since it was a problem for Germany alone.
For two days Hitler's emissary unfolded his proposals and Churchill's amanuensis made notes. Hess was certain his plan would be accepted; it is characteristic of German thinking that it never foresees the possibility of another point of view. He emphasized that his Leader would not quibble over details -- Britain could practically write its own peace terms. Hitler was only eager, as a humanitarian, to stop the "senseless war" with a brother nation and thus incidentally guarantee supplies and safeguard his rear while fighting in the East.
With the prepared plan and the emissary's annotations in his notebooks, Kirkpatrick went to 10 Downing Street. The plan was communicated to Washington for an opinion, and the President, of course, confirmed the Prime Minister's decision. The answer would be a flat "No," but the two statesmen are reported to have agreed that open discussion of such a sensational offer would be undesirable at that time. They decided that the insanity explanation fed to the German people would also suffice for the rest of the world. Unlike the Germans and some Americans, no single Britisher believed a word of that story. Both London and Washington made repeated efforts to warn Russia of the coming German blows. The Russian leaders would not believe it-or pretended not to believe it-and certain Soviet diplomats insisted that the warnings were democratic "tricks". until the actual invasion took place.
Hess was not told of Churchill's decision and was permitted to assume that his proposals were under ardent discussion. At the hospital he rested easily and talked freely with his doctor, nurses and guards. He was tolerant and friendly until his doctor one morning made a typical British comment on Adolf Hitler, Hess thereupon staged a scene and remained surly and sulking for a week. When he was able to walk, he was flown to London, where he talked to Lord Beaverbrook, Alfred Duff Cooper and other government leaders. But Churchill refused his repeated requests for a meeting.
Only after he had talked himself out and could provide no further useful information, was Hess informed that his plan had been entirely rejected and that Britain was already Russia's ally. By that time he was aware, too, that the negotiations which preceded his flight had short-circuited the Fellowship crowd -- neither Hamiliton nor any of the others had known anything about the Hess visit until all of England knew it. Hess's shock and dismay resulted in a minor nervous breakdown, so that for a while the Nazi lie about his insanity came near being true. The news of the sinking of the Bismarck shook Hess so that he wept for an entire day.
Hess demanded that he be sent back to Germany, because, having come as an emissary, he was entitled to safe return. The British Government reasoned differently -- after all, he came as an emissary to private individuals, not to the Government directly -- and he became a special prisoner of war. He spends his existence in the manor house of a large English estate, with considerable freedom of movement on the well guarded grounds. His appetite is reported to be good. He spends most of his time reading German classics and perfecting his English. A book-dealer in London recently wrote to several of his customers who had purchased German books from him, inquiring whether they would care to resell them to another client: the client's name was given as Walter R. R. Hess.
This was not the first time England reduced a German stronghold by audacious Secret Service work. It was reported unofficially in Berlin that the Graf Spee was scuttled on orders sent over Admiral Raeder's signature by the cloak-and-dagger experts in the British Secret Service. Whether there is any truth to that or not, there is no doubt that when the whole story can be told the achievements of that Secret Service will astound the world. And the Hess episode is certain to stand out with a glory all its own among them.
An old man’s bones lay buried in a family grave in an impeccably kept cemetery in a Bavarian town called Wunsiedel. His name was Rudolf Hess. Born 1894, he suffered a mysterious death in 1987 at age 93.
Twenty-four years later, in the dark of the night of 20 July 2011, some ghouls dug up his remains, as well as the bones of his wife and his parents, and holocausted them.
Now who would want to do a ghoulish thing like that? Dracula? Some spiteful force beyond our comprehension that needs to drive a silver stake into the spirit of a man long gone – whose very memory still carries the pulse beat of an era we are not ever to investigate, much less to honor and respect?
David Irving, known even to his friends as the “reluctant Revisionist”, who, brilliant writer that he is, cannot resist to take a verbal swipe or two at twelve short years that ought to awe us at the very least with their scientific marvels, wrote this in introducing “Rudolf Hess: The Missing Years 1941-45”, Grafton Books, 1989:
“Semi-blind, his memory gone, he languished for 46 years in prison, and spent over half of that time in solitary confinement. At first, he was detained in cells with blackened windows, sentinels flashing torches on his face all night at half-hour intervals, and later in conditions only marginally more humane.“Occasionally, mankind remembered that he was there: at a time when political prisoners were being released as a token of humanity, the world knew that he was there in Spandau, and timid souls felt somehow the safer for it. In 1987 the news emerged that somebody had recently stolen the prisoner’s 1940s flying helmet, goggles, and fur-lined boots, and fevered minds imagined that these, his hallowed relics of 1941, might be used in some way to power a Nazi revival.“The prisoner himself had long forgotten what those relics had ever meant to him. The dark-red brick of Spandau prison in West Berlin was crumbling and decaying around him, and the windows were cracked or falling out of mouldering frames. He was the only prisoner left – alone, outliving all his fellows, his brain perhaps a last uncertain repository of names and promises and places, grim secrets that the victorious Four Powers might have expected him to take to the grave long before.“The prisoner was Rudolf Hess, the last of the “war criminals.” In May 1941 he had flown single-handedly to Scotland on a reckless parachute mission to end the bloodshed and bombing. Put on trial by the victors, he had been condemned to imprisonment in perpetuity for “Crimes against the Peace.” The Four Powers had expected him to die and thus seal off the wells of speculation about him, but this stubborn old man with the haunting eyes had by his very longevity thwarted them.“Few questions remained about the other Nazis. Hitler’s jaw bone was preserved in a Soviet glass jar; Ley’s brain was in Massachusetts; Bormann’s skeleton was found beneath the Berlin cobblestones; Mengele’s mortal remains were dis- and reinterred; Speer had joined the Greatest Architect. Dead, too, were Hess’s judges and prosecutors.Hess himself was the last living Nazi giant, the last enigma, unable to communicate with the outside world, forbidden to talk with his son about political events, his diary taken away from him each day to be destroyed, his letters censored and scissored to excise illicit content. The macabre Four Powers statute – ignored, in the event – ordained that upon his death his body was to be reduced to ashes in the crematorium at Dachau concentration camp. The bulldozers were already standing by to wreck Spandau jail within hours of his decease, so that no place of Nazi pilgrimage remained.“For forty years this Berlin charade was the sole remaining joint activity of the wartime Allied powers, a wordless political ballet performed by the Western democracies and high-stepping Red Army guards. Every thirty days the guard was rotated. Each time that the British or the American or the French came to hold the key, they could in theory have turned it and set this old man free. But they did not, because the ghosts of Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt were themselves the jailers. In the name of a Four Power agreement that had long since been dishonored, these ghosts kept Hess behind bars; and so Hitler’s deputy lived on in Spandau, mocking history and making a mockery of justice itself.“Despite everything, he became a martyr to a cause. Mankind dared not turn the key to set him free, and mankind did not know why.”Hess Family Grave - Recently Vandalized
In this essay, I will speculate why. I claim no certainty. What I am writing is strictly conjecture, stitched together from an intriguing pattern of clues.
Conventional wisdom has it that the proposal that Hess tried to take to Britain in 1941 was Hitler’s more than generous offer to prevent the ominous bloodshed that would descend on Europe in years to come exactly as the Führer feared.
And even now enough geopolitical and financial investments are still at risk, embedded in the Order that we know, that would embarrass the Powers entrenched in London, New York, and Tel Aviv.
I speculate, as many do, that Hess might well have meant to offer to factions friendly to the Third Reich within the British government a roadmap to the stars.
Just who was Rudolf Hess?
Hess with Child - The Family Side
Born to a wealthy merchant family of German background in Egypt, Hess grew up in palatial surroundings.
He enjoyed the finest classical education that money could buy in those years, part of it through private tutoring in Egypt, later on in Switzerland and Britain where he was privileged to mingle with the English-speaking upper crust, even as a youngster fascinated by astronomy.
He was described as “… a man of excellent breeding, moral rectitude and industry, upright, courageous…” – a “… moral compass for others”. Professor Haushofer, his mentor, said that his strength was not so much intelligence as heart and character.
Hess became Adolf Hitler’s closest comrade, though by temperament and background they were of a different shade. Hitler was of an iconoclastic nature that had the force of a volcano.
Hess was a man of quiet but flawless discernment. Hitler was a pragmatist politically yet utterly uncompromising at the core as to his aims and visions; Hess knew only the rule of his heart.
This is not ever acknowledged today in politically correct society, but Hitler in his early reign projected as seductive warmth of spirit through impeccable manners that were the envy of the rulers of his time, whereas Hess remained reticent and private by nature, not a man out to woo attention and favors for himself.
Hitler and Hess - The Early Days
In a staid and placid world, Hess might well have been the Führer’s superior by virtue of social position alone, but in the Twenties and the Thirties in a Europe coming apart at the seams, there was never a question in either man’s mind who was the leader called by destiny.
Hess might have been described as the finest specimen that centuries of culture and sophistication had brought forth, but Hitler was the avatar, on a trajectory like every immense persona who is guided from within, and Hess was his disciple.
After hearing Hitler speak in the spring of 1920, Hess joined the National Socialist movement as member # 16. He knew that he had met a man of a gigantic strength of will combined with a magnetic radiance.
The trust in each other these two young men enjoyed as political comrades was total. Maybe Hitler never had another friend like Hess he could trust utterly. For his part, Hess saw in Hitler the Messiah against Satan threatening his mother country in the guise of bestial Bolshevism from the East.
Likewise, Hess’s moral standing in the hearts of Germans of his time was absolute. He was commonly referred to as “the Conscience of the Party.” In the Third Reich’s hierarchy, Hess stood third in the chain of command as the leader of the NSDAP, the Nationalsozialistische deutsche Arbeiterpartei. Only Fieldmarshall Hermann Goering enjoyed higher ranking.
Hitler and Hess - Numbers One and Three in the Party
Common experiences bound Hess and Hitler as well. Both had honorably served in battle.
Both participated in an awkward uprising that history remembers as the Munich Beer Hall Putsch, a coup d’etat against the Weimar Republic that landed them briefly in Landsberg prison where conditions were relaxed for dissidents.
There, acting as Hitler’s private secretary, Hess volunteered as stylist and copy editor for Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf, for which world Jewry would never forgive him.Much nastiness has been claimed, then and since, about the Nazi leadership in general, but I have never read a single word of hate against Hess from his own inner circle. He was feared and persecuted with an inexorable hatred by Jewry.
He was kept isolated from human interaction for more than half of his life, beset and tormented like few other men on this earth. Why? What did this man know? What did he try to convey to the world – and was prevented from sharing?Expanding his backgroundRudolf Hess’s path in life was tragedy writ large.
In 1941, On the eve of war with the Soviet Union, Hess flew solo to Scotland on a private peace mission in an attempt to ward off the horror to come. Instead, he was arrested by the British government and held incommunicado until the war was over.
Rudolf Hess - Open Cockpit Days
After the guns fell silent, Hess was handed over to the Nuremberg Tribunal, tried in a political show trial where white became black, found “not guilty of crimes against humanity” but “guilty for conspiring against peace”, and sentenced to life internment at Spandau Prison.
Although he was in captivity for almost 4 years of the war and thus he was basically absent from it, in contrast to the others who stood accused at Nuremberg.
He was 52 years old when he set foot in Spandau. He lived another 41 years. He died mysteriously in 1987 – as widely advertised, by suicide, as even more widely believed, by murder.
Allegedly, the magnanimous peace offer he had in his briefcase, were it to come out, would embarrass the Brits to his day. I belong to a handful of skeptics who suspect he was about to offer something vastly more important, which would have made short shrift of the prevailing political order based on expensive energy provided by the industries we know.
Metapedia, the dissident counterpart website to Wikipedia, describes this failed peace mission as follows:
“Hess planned to meet the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon. He believed Hamilton to be an opponent of Winston Churchill, whom he held responsible for the outbreak of the war. His proposal of peace included returning all the western European countries conquered by Germany to their own national governments, but German police would remain in position. Germany would also pay back the cost of rebuilding these countries. In return, Britain would have to support the war against Soviet Russia. (…)“Churchill turned down the proposal for peace and held Hess as a prisoner of war in the Maryhill army barracks. Later Hess was transferred to Mytchett Place near Aldershot. The house was fitted out with microphones and sound recording equipment. Frank Foley and two other MI6 officers were given the job of debriefing Hess —”Jonathan”, as he was now known. Churchill’s instructions were that Hess should be strictly isolated and that every effort should be taken to get any information out of him that might be useful.“Controversy surrounds the case of whether Hitler knew of Hess’ plans to make peace with Britain. It is known that Hess had been getting flying lessons in a personalized Messerschmitt aircraft in the early stages of this preparation. He was accompanied by Hitler’s personal pilot, Hans Baur.Lured into a trap?“There is circumstantial evidence which suggests that Hess was lured to Scotland by the British secret service. Violet Roberts, whose nephew, Walter Roberts was a close relative of the Duke of Hamilton and was working in the political intelligence and propaganda branch of the Secret Intelligence Service (SO1/PWE), was friends with Hess’s mentor Karl Haushofer and wrote a letter to Haushofer, which Hess took great interest in prior to his flight.“According to data published in a book about Wilhelm Canaris, the head of German intelligence, a number of contacts between England and Germany were kept during the war. It cannot be known, however, whether these were direct contacts on specific affairs or an intentional confusion created between secret services for the purpose of deception. (…)“Certain documents Hess brought with him to Britain were to be sealed until 2017 but when the seal was broken in 1991-92 they were missing. Edvard Bene_, head of the Czechoslovak Government in Exile and his intelligence chief Franti_ek Moravec, who worked with SO1/PWE, speculated that British Intelligence used Haushofer’s reply to Violet Roberts as a means to trap Hess.“The fact that the files concerning Hess will be kept closed to the public until 2016 does allow the debate to continue, since without these files the existing theories cannot be fully verified.
In his final statement to the court on August 31, 1946 after his conviction, Hess declared in words that are sheer poetry in German but can only be an approximation in English:
“I had the privilege of working for many years of my life under the greatest son my nation has brought forth in its thousand-year history. Even if I could, I would not wish to expunge this time from my life. I am happy to know that I have done my duty toward my people, my duty as a German, as a National Socialist, as a loyal follower of my Führer. I regret nothing. No matter what people may do, one day I shall stand before the judgment seat of God Eternal. I will answer to Him, and I know that He will absolve me.”
After having served in prison for 20 years with other leaders of the Reich, the last two prisoners, Baldur von Schirach and Albert Speer, were released. Hess remained. He was the sole remaining inmate of Spandau Prison for yet another 21 years.
“Keeping one man in Spandau cost the West German government about 850,000 marks a year. In addition, each of the four Allied powers had to provide an officer and 37 soldiers during their respective shifts, as well as a director and team of wardens throughout the entire year. The permanent maintenance staff of 22 included cooks, waitresses and cleaners.“In the final years of his life, Hess was a weak and frail old man, blind in one eye, who walked stooped forward with a cane. He lived in virtually total isolation according to a strictly regulated daily routine. Regulations stipulated that prison officials could not ever call Hess by name. He was addressed only as “Prisoner No. 7.”
During his rare meetings with his wife and son, Hess was not allowed to embrace or even touch them. Why this inhuman cruelty?
Of the four powers that had won the war against Germany, three – the U.S., Russia, and France – proposed that he be released on humanitarian grounds due to his age. The British government balked. Thatcher was Prime Minister of Britain, and Chancellor Kohl – some call him Cohn or Cohen – was heading Germany.
On 17 August 1987, Hess died while under Four Power imprisonment at Spandau Prison in West Berlin. At 93, he was one of the oldest prisoners in the world. He was found in a summer house in a garden located in a secure area of the prison with an electrical cord wrapped around his neck. His death was ruled a suicide by self-asphyxiation, accomplished by tying the cord to a window latch in the summer house.
Prison guards who knew him in his last years say that he was so crippled by arthritis that he could not lift his arms above his shoulders. No way could this old man have strangled himself.
Hess was buried in Wunsiedel, and Spandau Prison was subsequently demolished to prevent it from becoming a shrine. Instead, his grave became exactly that.
“Every year after Hess’s death, nationalists from Germany and the rest of Europe gathered in Wunsiedel for a memorial march. Similar demonstrations took place around the anniversary of Hess’s death. These gatherings were banned from 1991 to 2000 and nationalists tried to assemble in other cities and countries (such as the Netherlands and Denmark). Demonstrations in Wunsiedel were again legalised in 2001. Over 5,000 nationalists marched in 2003, with around 7,000 in 2004, marking some of the biggest national demonstrations in Germany since 1945. After stricter German legislation regarding demonstrations by nationalists was enacted in March 2005 the demonstrations were banned again.Roosevelt Telegram to Churchill
It has often been said that a people defeated, besieged from all sides but not neutered, , will keep its myths alive. I have been told a few. One of them has it that the Führer is said to have insisted that there would be one “Last Battalion” that would come back after certain defeat and would finish what he himself could not do. That “Last Battalion” would be German.
German Occupation of Europe Timeline
What the Allies knew
Jews of the Channel Islands
The Polish Fortnightly Review
(Editor's note, the date in this caption was in error, these rocket launchers were not deployed until later in the war.) Soviet rocket launchers fire as German forces attack the USSR on June 22, 1941. (AFP/Getty Images) #
An Sd.Kfz-250 half-track in front of German tank units, as they prepare for an attack, on July 21, 1941, somewhere along the Russian warfront, during the German invasion of the Soviet Union. (AP Photo) #
A German half-track driver inside an armored vehicle in Russia in August of 1941. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive) #
German infantrymen watch enemy movements from their trenches shortly before an advance inside Soviet territory, on July 10, 1941. (AP Photo) #
German Stuka dive-bombers, in flight heading towards their target over coastal territory between Dniepr and Crimea, towards the Gate of the Crimea on November 6, 1941. (AP Photo) #
German soldiers cross a river, identified as the Don river, in a stormboat, sometime in 1941, during the German invasion of the Caucasus region in the Soviet Union. (AP Photo) #
German soldiers move a horse-drawn vehicle over a corduroy road while crossing a wetland area, in October 1941, near Salla on Kola Peninsula, a Soviet-occupied region in northeast Finland. (AP Photo) #
With a burning bridge across the Dnieper river in the background, a German sentry keeps watch in the recently-captured city of Kiev, in 1941. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive) #
Machine gunners of the far eastern Red Army in the USSR, during the German invasion of 1941. (LOC) #
A German bomber, with its starboard engine on fire, goes down over an unknown location, during World War II, in November, 1941. (AP Photo) #
Nazi troops lie concealed in the undergrowth during the fighting prior to the capture of Kiev, Ukraine, in 1941. (AP Photo) #
Evidence of Soviet resistance in the streets of Rostov, a scene in late 1941, encountered by the Germans as they entered the heavily besieged city. (AP Photo) #
Russian soldiers, left, hands clasped to heads, marched back to the rear of the German lines on July 2, 1941, as a
Russian men and women rescue their humble belongings from their burning homes, said to have been set on fire by the Russians, part of a scorched-earth policy, in a Leningrad suburb on October 21, 1941. (AP Photo) #Generally speaking, the Soviets followed a gradual approach in tank design, modifying a proven design rather than starting from scratch.The Soviet Union produced a large number of tank designs in the period between the two world wars. Early Russian experiments with AFVs in World War I had been limited to armored cars, such as the Austin Putilov. Based on a British chassis, it had entered service early in World War I. Lacking the industrial base of the other major military powers, the Russians concentrated in the postwar period on light tanks of simple design. Their first tanks were a few British and French models captured by the Bolshevik forces (known as the Reds) from their opponents (the Whites) during the Russian Civil War. The first Russian-built tank appeared in August 1920. It weighed some 15,700 pounds and had armor up to 16mm thick.With no tank design experience of their own, the Russians came to rely on the Germans in this regard. The new Bolshevik government of Russia and Weimar Germany found themselves at odds with the Western powers after World War I, and in 1922 at Rapallo the two governments normalized relations. Following this the two states undertook a clandestine military collaboration that included a German- Soviet tank-testing facility at Kazan in the Soviet Union. This gave the Germans an opportunity to carry out tank development in violation of the Versailles treaty, and the Soviets gained access to German technological and design developments.Although its designers had their own plans, the Soviet Union, in order to take advantage of new developments abroad, purchased a number of prototype tanks from other countries, including the Vickers tanks from Britain and Christie designs from the United States. The Vickers 6-Ton was the license-built Soviet T-26A. The T-26 of 1931 appeared in A and B versions. The A version, designed for infantry support, had twin turrets. The first production model mounted one 7.62mm machine gun in each turret. A follow-on mounted first a 27mm gun and then a 37mm gun in the right turret. The T-26A weighed some 19,000 pounds and had a crew of three. Powered by an 88-hp gasoline engine, it had a maximum speed of 22 mph. It had maximum 15mm armor protection.The single-turret T-26B version was intended as a mechanized cavalry AFV and mounted a high-velocity gun. The initial model mounted a single 37mm gun; follow-on models mounted a 45mm main gun. Despite their obsolescence, Soviet T-26 tanks fought in the early battles on the Eastern Front during World War II.The Soviet Union also purchased the light Vickers/Carden-Loyd tankette that the British abandoned. The Soviets enlarged it and put it into production in 1934. Some 1,200 were made as the T-37 light amphibious reconnaissance tank. The T-37 employed the Vickers hull and suspension married to a turret of Soviet design. A small propeller at the rear of the tank pushed it through water. Weighing some 7,100 pounds and capable of being air-lifted beneath a bomber, it had a 40-hp engine and could reach 21 mph on the road. It mounted a single 7.62mm machine gun and had only 10mm armor.An improved T-37 appeared in the T-38, produced beginning in 1936. Basically the T-37 in terms of armament and armor, it had an improved engine, transmission, and suspension. The T-38 remained in service until 1942.The final tank in this immediate series of light amphibians was the T-40. Quite different in appearance from its predecessors, the T- 40’s hull incorporated buoyancy tanks and had an upswept bow front similar to the later PT-76. It also had a small, sloped turret and was propelled in water by means of a small propeller. The T-40S version was simply a light tank without the amphibian feature. The T- 40 weighed some 12,300 pounds and had a two-man crew. It was armed with two machine guns, or a 20mm cannon and one machine gun. It had an 85-hp engine and was capable of 38 mph. The T-40 influenced the later T-60 and T-70 light tanks, the latter serving into the Cold War.The U.S. Christie designs and French tanks introduced a sprung bogie suspension system in place of a rigid system. This enabled increased speed without sacrificing armor or requiring an increase in the size of the power plant. This appealed to Soviet designers, and they copied the Christie M-1931 in their BT series of fast tanks (“BT” standing for bystrochodny tankovy, literally “fast tank”). The Soviet BT-1 was an exact reproduction of the Christie. The BT-1 weighed some 20,000 pounds, had a crew of three, and had top speeds of 65 mph on wheels and 40 mph on tracks. It mounted two machine guns and had maximum 13mm armor protection.Soon the Soviet Union was producing large numbers of BT tanks. The follow-on BT-2 was essentially the same hull as the BT-1 but with a new turret and a 37mm main gun and one machine gun. It was still in service in World War II. The BT-3, introduced in 1934, was essentially the BT-2 but with solid-disk road wheels instead of spoked wheels and a 45mm main gun instead of the 37mm.The BT-5 incorporated a number of improvements, chiefly in its lightweight 350-hp gasoline engine, originally an aircraft design. Entering production in 1935, the tank itself weighed some 25,300 pounds, had a crew of three, maximum 13mm armor, and could reach 40 mph on tracks. The BT-5 was armed with a 45mm main gun and one machine gun. It formed the basis of Soviet armored formations of the late 1930s. It was in fact superior in almost all performance characteristics to the German PzKpfw I, which mounted only two machine guns. The two tanks came up against one another in the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939.The follow-on BT-7 of 1937 was essentially an improved BT-5 incorporating sloped armor. The BT-7 was heavier and slower than the BT-5, reflecting the race between guns and armor and increasing concern about the lethality of antitank guns. Weighing some 30,600 pounds and crewed by three men, it utilized a new engine and had increased fuel capacity. Its two-man turret continued the 45mm main-gun armament. Armor thickness was a maximum 22mm.BT-1S MEDIUM TANK Final development of the BT series, this vehicle was built as a prototype only and was based on the BT-7M but was given sloped side armour as well as the sloping glacis. It retained the conical turret of the BT-7-2 and had removable side skirts. This was an important development vehicle in the evolution of the T-34 tank and was the first Soviet tank with all-sloped armour 15.6tons; crew 3; 45mm gun plus MG; armour 6-30mm; engine (diesel) 500hp; 40mph; 18.98ft x 7.5ft x 7.5ft.Following experience gained in the Spanish Civil War, the BT-7’s armor was increased, and it received a new engine. The resulting BT-7M medium tank, also known as the BT-8, was produced only in limited numbers. The hull was modified and included a new fullwidth, well-sloped front glacis plate instead of the faired nose of the earlier BT series. The BT-7M also mounted a 76mm gun and two machine guns.BT-7 tanks played a key role in the Soviet victory against the Japanese in the Battle of Nomonhan/Khalkhin Gol during May–September 1939. BT variants included command tanks, bridge-laying tanks, and a few flamethrower tanks. The BT-7 was certainly the most important Soviet tank in September 1939.The final BT-series tank, the BT-1S, appeared in prototype only. Employing sloping side armor and glacis, the BT-1S also had removable side skirts. The first Soviet tank with all-sloping armor, it was an important step forward to the T-34.The first indigenous Soviet medium tank design, the T-28, incorporated multiple turrets and was intended for an independent breakthrough role. Inspired by the Vickers A6 (its suspension was a clear copy) and German Grosstraktor designs, it grew out of the 1932 Red Army mechanization plan and was first produced by the Leningrad Kirov Plant. Intended for an attack role, the T-28 had a central main gun turret and two machine-gun turrets in front and to either side. The T-28 weighed 28,560 pounds, had a six-man crew, and was powered by a 500-hp engine and had a road speed of 23 mph. It had only 30mm maximum armor protection. The prototype mounted a 45mm gun, but production vehicles had a 76.2mm low-velocity main gun and two machine guns. Combat experience with the T-28 led to changes. Armor was increased on the C version to 80mm for the hull front and turret. Some T-28s substituted a low-velocity 45mm gun in the right front turret for the machine gun normally carried there. The T-28 had a poor combat record, however.The Soviets also came up with a number of heavy tanks. Indeed, from the early 1930s Soviet heavy tank design was dominated by multiturret “land battleships,” many of which saw service in the 1939–1940 Winter War with Finland and even into the June 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union. Among these was the T-35 heavy tank with five turrets. Weighing some 110,200 pounds, the T- 35 had a crew of 11 and was powered by a 500-hp engine that gave it a speed of nearly 19 mph. It had only maximum 30mm armor protection, however. The T-35 mounted a 76mm gun, two 45mm guns, and six machine guns.The Soviet experimental SMK (Sergius Mironovitch Kirov) heavy tank (with two turrets, one superimposed), which never went into production, was even larger. Weighing 58 tons, it had a 500-hp engine, a crew of seven, and 60mm armor, double that of the T-35. It was capable of 15 mph. Armament consisted of a 76mm gun, a 45mm gun, and three machine guns. Although these huge machines proved no match for the more nimble German tanks and artillery in 1941, the turrets, guns, and suspension systems developed for them did find their way into the KV series of heavy tanks.Ultimately the strain on their production facilities forced the Soviets to decide between a few monster tanks or more numerous smaller ones. They opted for continuation of the BT series and one heavy tank, the KV-1. The Soviets and the Germans recognized what the British and Americans did not: at least some of the tanks in a nation’s armor inventory needed to mount heavier guns capable of firing shells in order to engage and destroy enemy tanks. Both Germany and the Soviet Union settled on the 75mm (2.9-inch) gun or 76mm (3-inch) gun as their chief heavy weapon; the biggest tank gun in most other national armies was a 47mm (1.85-inch) gun or smaller.In the late 1930s the Soviet Union, not Germany, was the nation most interested in massive armor formations. It also possessed by far the largest number of armored fighting vehicles of any nation. In June 1941 the Soviet Union had 23,140 tanks (10,394 in the West), whereas the invading Germans had only about 6,000. Besides the advantage in numbers, the Soviets also had some of the best tanks in the world. During the war the Soviet Union built more tanks than any other power; these included a wide range of AFVs, from light to heavy tanks.At the beginning of World War II the Soviets possessed a large number of their medium BT-series tanks, chiefly BT-5s and BT-7s. These and the Soviet T-26s were superior in armor, firepower, and maneuverability to the German light PzKpfw Marks III and IV and could destroy any German tank. The Russian T-34 medium introduced in 1941 and KV-1 heavy tank introduced in 1940 both mounted the 76.2mm (3-inch) gun and were superior to the PzKpfws III and IV and every other German tank in 1941.
Reindeer graze on an airfield in Finland on July 26, 1941. In the background a German war plane takes off. (AP Photo) #
Heinrich Himmler (left, in glasses), head of the Gestapo and the Waffen-SS, inspects a prisoner-of-war camp in this from 1940-41 in Russia. (National Archives) #
Evidence of the fierce fighting on the Moscow sector of the front is provided in this photo showing what the Germans claim to be some of the 650,000 Russian prisoners which they captured at Bryansk and Vyasma. They are here seen waiting to be transported to a prisoner of war camp somewhere in Russia, on Nov. 2, 1941. (AP Photo) #
Adolf Hitler, center, studies a Russian war map with General Field Marshal Walter Von Brauchitsch, left, German commander in chief, and Chief of Staff Col. General Franz Halder, on August 7, 1941. (AP Photo) #
German soldiers, supported by armored personnel carriers, move into a burning Russian village at an unknown location during the German invasion of the Soviet Union, on June 26, 1941. (AP Photo) #
A huge Russian gun on tracks, likely a 203 mm howitzer M1931, is manned by its crew in a well-concealed position on the Russian front on September 15, 1941. (AP Photo) #
Rapidly advancing German forces encountered serious guerrilla resistance behind their front lines. Here, four guerrillas with fixed bayonets and a small machine gun are seen in action, near a small village. (LOC) #
Red Army soldiers examine war trophies captured in battles with invading Germans, somewhere in Russia, on September 19, 1941. (AP Photo) #
A view of the destruction in Riga, the capital of Latvia, on October 3, 1941, after the wave of war had passed over it, the Russians had withdrawn and it was in Nazi hands. (AP Photo) #
Five Soviet civilians on a platform, with nooses around their necks, about to be hanged by German soldiers, near the town of Velizh in the Smolensk region, in September of 1941. (LOC) #
A Finnish troop train passes through a scene of an earlier explosion which wrecked one train, tearing up the rails and embankment, on October 19, 1941. (AP Photo) #
Burning houses, ruins and wrecks speak for the ferocity of the battle preceding this moment when German forces entered the stubbornly defended industrial center of Rostov on the lower Don River, in Russia, on November 22, 1941. (AP Photo) #
General Heinz Guderian, commander of Germany's Panzergruppe 2, chats with members of a tank crew on the Russian front, on September 3, 1941. (AP Photo) #
German soldiers remove one of many Soviet national emblems during their drive to conquer Russia on July 18, 1941. (AP Photo) #
A man, his wife, and child are seen after they had left Minsk on August 9, 1941, when the German army swarmed in. The original wartime caption reads, in part: "Hatred for the Nazis burns in the man's eyes as he holds his little child, while his wife, completely exhausted, lies on the pavement." (AP Photo) #
German officials claimed that this photo was a long-distance camera view of Leningrad, taken from the Germans' seige lines, on October 1, 1941, the dark shapes in the sky were identified as Soviet aircraft on patrol, but were more likely barrage balloons. This would mark the furthest advance into the city for the Germans, who laid seige to Leningrad for more than two more years, but were unable to fully capture the city. (AP Photo) #
A flood of Russian armored cars move toward the front, on October 19, 1941. (AP Photo) #
German Army Commander Colonel General Ernst Busch inspects an anti-aircraft gun position, somewhere in Germany, on Sept. 3, 1941. (AP Photo) #
Finnish soldiers storm a soviet bunker on August 10, 1941. One of the Soviet bunker's crew surrenders, left. (AP Photo) #
German troops make a hasty advance through a blazing Leningrad suburb, in Russia on Nov. 24, 1941. (AP Photo) #
Russian prisoners of war, taken by the Germans on July 7, 1941. (AP Photo) #
An column of Russian prisoners of war taken during recent fighting in Ukraine, on their way to a Nazi prison camp on September 3, 1941. (AP Photo) #German mechanized troops rest at Stariza, Russia on November 21, 1941, only just evacuated by the Russians, before continuing the fight for Kiev. The gutted buildings in the background testify to the thoroughness of the Russians "scorched earth" policy. (AP Photo) #
German infantrymen force their way into a snipers hide-out, where Russians had been firing upon advancing German troops, on September 1, 1941. (AP Photo) #
Two Russian soldiers, now prisoners of war, inspect a giant statue of Lenin, somewhere in Russia, torn from its pedestal and smashed by the Germans in their advance, on August 9, 1941. Note the rope round the neck of the statue, left there in symbolic fashion by the Germans. (AP Photo) #
German sources described the gloomy looking officer at the right as a captured Russian colonel who is being interrogated by Nazi officers on October 24, 1941. (AP Photo) #
Flames shoot high from burning buildings in the background as German troops enter the city of Smolensk, in the central Soviet Union, during their offensive drive onto the capital Moscow, in August of 1941. (AP Photo) #
This trainload of men was described by German sources as Soviet prisoners en route to Germany, on October 3, 1941. Several million Soviet soldiers were eventually sent to German prison camps, the majority of whom never returned alive. (AP Photo) #
Russian snipers leave their hide-out in a wheat field, somewhere in Russia, on August 27, 1941, watched by German soldiers. In foreground is a disabled soviet tank. (AP Photo) #
German infantrymen in heavy winter gear march next to horse-drawn vehicles as they pass through a district near Moscow, in November 1941. Winter conditions strained an already thin supply line, and forced Germany to halt its advance - leaving soldiers exposed to the elements and Soviet counterattacks, resulting in heavy casualties and a serious loss of momentum in the war. (AP Photo) #The war on the Eastern Front, known to Russians as the "Great Patriotic War", was the scene of the largest military confrontation in history. More than 400 Red Army and German divisions clashed in a series of military operations over four years, along a front that extended more than 1,000 miles. Some 27 million Soviet soldiers and civilians and nearly 4 million German troops lost their lives along the Eastern Front during those years of brutality. The warfare there was total and ferocious -- the largest armored clashes in history (Battle of Kursk), the most costly siege on a modern city (nearly 900 days in Leningrad), scorched earth policies, utter devastation of thousands of villages, mass deportations, mass executions, and countless atrocities attributed to both sides. To make things even more complex, forces within the Soviet Union were often fractured among themselves -- early in the war, some groups had even welcomed the Germans as liberators from their mistreatment under Stalin, and fought against the Red Army. Later, as battles became desperate, Stalin issued Order No. 227, "Not a Step Back!", which forbid Soviet forces from retreating without direct orders -- commanders would face a tribunal, and foot soldiers faced "blocking detachments" from their own army, ready to gun down any who fled. The photos gathered here cover much of the years of 1942-1943, from the siege of Leningrad to the decisive Soviet victories in Stalingrad and Kursk. The vastness of the scale of the warfare is nearly unimaginable, and nearly impossible to capture in a handful of images, so take these as a mere glimpse of the horrors of the Eastern Front. (This entry is Part 14 of a weekly 20-part retrospective of World War II) Sometime in the Autumn of 1942, Soviet soldiers advance through the rubble of Stalingrad. (Georgy Zelma/Waralbum.ru)
Sometime in the Autumn of 1942, Soviet soldiers advance through the rubble of Stalingrad. (Georgy Zelma/Waralbum.ru)
The commander of a Cossack unit on active service in the Kharkov region, Ukraine, on June 21, 1942, watching the progress of his troops. (AP Photo) #
The crew of a German anti-tank gun, ready for action at the Russian front in late 1942. (AP Photo) #
This photo, taken in the winter months of 1942, shows citizens of Leningrad as they dip for water from a broken main, during the nearly 900-day siege of the Russian city by German invaders. Unable to capture the Leningrad (today known as Saint Petersburg), the Germans cut it off from the world, disrupting utilities and shelling the city heavily for more than two years. (AP Photo) #
A farewell in Leningrad, in the spring of 1942. The German Siege of Leningrad caused widespread starvation among citizens, and lack of medical supplies and facilities made illnesses and injuries far more deadly. Some 1.5 million soldiers and civilians died in Leningrad during the siege - nearly the same number were evacuated, and many of them did not survive the trip due to starvation, illness, or bombing. (Vsevolod Tarasevich/Waralbum.ru) #
Evidence of the bitter street fighting which took place during the occupation of Rostov, Russia by German forces in August of 1942. (AP Photo) #
A German motorized artillery column crossing the Don river by means of a pontoon bridge on July 31, 1942. Wrecked equipment and materiel of all kinds lies strewn around as the crossing is made. (AP Photo) #
A Russian woman watches building burn sometime in 1942. (NARA) #
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Click to view imageAn execution of Jews in Kiev, carried out by German soldiers near Ivangorod, Ukraine, sometime in 1942. This photo was mailed from the Eastern Front to Germany and intercepted at a Warsaw post office by a member of the Polish resistance collecting documentation on Nazi war crimes. The original print was owned by Tadeusz Mazur and Jerzy Tomaszewski and now resides in Historical Archives in Warsaw. The original German inscription on the back of the photograph reads, "Ukraine 1942, Jewish Action [operation], Ivangorod." #
A German soldier with a machine gun during the Battle of Stalingrad, in Spring of 1942. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive) #
German soldiers crossing a Russian River on their tank on August 3, 1942. (AP Photo) #
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Click to view imageAfter having occupied a village on the Leningrad sector in 1942, Soviet forces discovered 38 bodies of Soviet soldiers that had been taken prisoner by the Germans and apparently tortured to death. (AP Photo) #
This picture, received by the Associated Press on September 25, 1942 through a neutral source, shows a bomb falling after it has just left the plane on its descent to Stalingrad below. (AP Photo) #
Three Russian war orphans stand amid the remains of what was once their home, in late 1942. After German forces destroyed the family's house, they took the parents as prisoners, leaving the children abandoned. (AP Photo) #
A German armored car amidst the debris of the Soviet fortress Sevastopol in Ukraine on August 4, 1942. (AP Photo) #
Stalingrad in October of 1942, Soviet soldiers fighting in the ruins of the factory "Red October". (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive) #
Antitank gun crews of the Red Army prepare to fire against approaching German tank units, on an unknown battlefield, on October 13, 1942, during the German invasion of the Soviet Union. (AP Photo) #
In October of 1942, a German Junkers Ju 87 "Stuka" dive bomber attacks during the Battle of Stalingrad. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive) #
A German tank rolls up to its defeated enemy tank which burns near the edge of a patch of woods, somewhere in Russia, on October 20, 1942. (AP Photo) #
German soldiers advance outside Stalingrad late in 1942. (NARA) #
Sometime in the Autumn 1942, a German soldier hangs a Nazi flag from a building in downtown Stalingrad. (NARA) #
While Russian forces drive around behind them, threatening encirclement, the Germans continue their attempt to take Stalingrad. A Stuka raid on the factory district of Stalingrad is seen in this photo, taken on November 24, 1942. (AP Photo) #
A scene of devastation as an abandoned horse stands among the ruins of Stalingrad in December of 1942. (AP Photo) #
A tank cemetery which the Germans are stated to have established at Rzhev on December 21, 1942. Some 2,000 tanks were said to be in this cemetery in various stages of disrepair. (AP Photo) #
German troops pass through a wrecked generating station in the factory district of Stalingrad, on December 28, 1942. (AP Photo) #
Ruins of part of the city of Stalingrad, on November 5, 1942, following huge battles, with wrecked shells of buildings on either side. (AP Photo) #
Standing in the backyard of an abandoned house in the outskirts of the besieged city of Leningrad, a rifleman of the Red Army aims and fires his machine gun at German positions on December 16, 1942. (AP Photo) #
In January of 1943, a Soviet T-34 tank roars through the Square of Fallen Fighters in Stalingrad. (Georgy Zelma/Waralbum.ru) #
Soviet soldiers in camouflage winter uniforms line up along the roof of a house in Stalingrad, in January of 1943. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive) #
Soviet soldiers find cover in piles of rubble from blasted buildings while engaging German forces in street fighting on the outskirts of Stalingrad in early 1943. (AP Photo) #
German troops involved in street fighting in the destroyed streets of Stalingrad in early 1943. (AP Photo) #
Red Army soldiers in camouflage gear on a snow-covered battlefield, somewhere along the German-Russian war front, as they advance against German positions on March 3, 1943. (AP Photo) #
Soviet infantrymen move across snow-covered hills around Stalingrad, on their advance to lift the German siege of the city in early 1943. The Red Army eventually encircled the German Sixth Army, trapping nearly 300,000 German and Romanian soldiers in a narrow pocket. (AP Photo) #
In February of 1943, a Soviet soldier stands guard behind a captured German soldier. Months after being encircled by the Soviets in Stalingrad, the remnants of the German Sixth Army surrendered, after fierce fighting and starvation had already claimed the lives of some 200,000. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive) #
Germany's Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus at Red Army Headquarters for interrogation at Stalingrad, Russia, on March 1, 1943. Paulus was the first German Field Marshal taken prisoner in the war, defying Hitler's expectations that he fight until death (or take his own life in defeat). Paulus eventually became a vocal critic of the Nazi regime while in Soviet captivity, and later acted as a witness for the prosecution at the Nuremberg trials. (AP Photo) #
Red Army soldiers in a trench as a Russian T-34 tank passes over them in 1943, during the Battle of Kursk. (Mark Markov-Grinberg/Waralbum.ru) #
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Click to view imageBodies of dead German soldiers lie sprawled across a roadside southwest of Stalingrad, on April 14, 1943. (AP Photo) #
Soviet soldiers, on their backs, launch a volley of bullets at enemy aircraft in June of 1943. (Waralbum.ru) #
In mid-July of 1943, "Tiger" tanks of the German Army during the heavy fighting south of Orel, during the Battle of Kursk. From July until August of 1943, the region around Kursk would see the largest series of armored battles in history, as Germans brought some 3,000 of their tanks to engage more than 5,000 Soviet tanks. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive) #
Huge numbers of German tanks concentrate for a new attack on Soviet fortifications on July 28, 1943, during the Battle of Kursk. After taking months to prepare for the offensive, German forces fell far short of their objectives - the Soviets, having been aware of their plans, had built massive defenses. After the German defeat at Kursk, the Red Army would effectively have the upper hand for the rest of the war. (AP Photo) #
German soldiers march before a "Tiger" tank during the Battle of Kursk in June or July of 1943. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive) #
A Russian anti-tank gun crew advances towards the German positions under cover of a smoke screen, somewhere in Russia, on July 23, 1943. (AP Photo) #
Captured German tanks southwest of Stalingrad, shown on April 14, 1943. (AP Photo) #
A Soviet lieutenant hands cigarettes to German prisoners somewhere near Kursk, in July of 1943. (Michael Savin/Waralbum.ru) #
The ruins of Stalingrad -- nearly completely destroyed after some six months of brutal warfare -- seen from an aircraft after the end of hostilities, in late 1943. (Michael Savin/Waralbum.ru)
The Fall of Nazi Germany
After the successful Allied invasions of western France, Germany gathered reserve forces and launched a massive counter-offensive in the Ardennes, which collapsed by January. At the same time, Soviet forces were closing in from the east, invading Poland and East Prussia. By March, Western Allied forces were crossing the Rhine River, capturing hundreds of thousands of troops from Germany's Army Group B, and the Red Army had entered Austria, both fronts quickly approaching Berlin. Strategic bombing campaigns by Allied aircraft were pounding German territory, sometimes destroying entire cities in a night. In the first several months of 1945, Germany put up a fierce defense, but was rapidly losing territory, running out of supplies, and running low on options. In April, Allied forces pushed through the German defensive line in Italy, and East met West on the River Elbe on April 25, 1945, when Soviet and American troops met near Torgau, Germany. Then came the end of the Third Reich, as the Soviets took Berlin, Adolf Hitler committed suicide on April 30, and Germany surrendered unconditionally on all fronts by May 8 (May 7 on the Western Front). Hitler's planned "Thousand Year Reich" lasted only 12 incredibly destructive years.
"Raising a flag over the Reichstag" the famous photograph by Yevgeny Khaldei, taken on May 2, 1945. The photo shows Soviet soldiers raising the flag of the Soviet Union on top of the German Reichstag building following the Battle of Berlin. The moment was actually a re-enactment of an earlier flag-raising, and the photo was embroiled in controversy over the identities of the soldiers, the photographer, and some significant photo editing. More about this image from Wikipedia. (Yevgeny Khaldei/LOC)
"Raising a flag over the Reichstag" the famous photograph by Yevgeny Khaldei, taken on May 2, 1945. The photo shows Soviet soldiers raising the flag of the Soviet Union on top of the German Reichstag building following the Battle of Berlin. The moment was actually a re-enactment of an earlier flag-raising, and the photo was embroiled in controversy over the identities of the soldiers, the photographer, and some significant photo editing. More about this image from Wikipedia. (Yevgeny Khaldei/LOC)
A group of Hitler youth receive instruction in the use of a machine-gun, somewhere in Germany, on December 27, 1944. (AP Photo) #
A formation of B-24s of Maj. General Nathan F. Twining's U.S. Army 15th Air Force thunders over the railway yards of Salzburg, Austria, on December 27, 1944. The smoke created by their bombs mingles with that from the enemy's many smudge pots. (AP Photo) #
A heavily armed German soldier carries ammunition boxes forward during the German counter-offensive in the Belgium-Luxembourg salient, on January 2, 1945. (AP Photo) #
An infantryman from the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division goes out on a one-man sortie while covered by a comrade in the background, near Bra, Belgium, on December 24, 1944. (AP Photo) #
A Soviet machine gun crew crosses a river along the second Baltic front, in January of 1945. The soldier on the left is holding his rifle overhead while his comrades push a floating device with the artillery gun forward, followed by two men with several supply boxes. (AP Photo) #
Low flying C-47 transport planes roar overhead as they carry supplies to the besieged American Forces battling the Germans at Bastogne, during the enemy breakthrough on January 6, 1945 in Belgium. In the distance, smoke rises from wrecked German equipment, while in the foreground, American tanks move up to support the infantry in the fighting. (AP Photo) #
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Click to view imageThe bodies of some of the seven American soldiers that had been shot in the face by an SS trooper are recovered from the snow, searched for identification and carried away on stretcher for burial on January 25, 1945. (AP Photo/Peter J. Carroll) #
These German soldiers stand in the debris strewn street of Bastogne, Belgium, on January 9, 1945, after they were captured by the U.S. 4th Armored Division which helped break the German siege of the city. (AP Photo) #
Refugees stand in a group in a street in La Gleize, Belgium on January 2, 1945, waiting to be transported from the war-torn town after its recapture by American Forces during the German thrust in the Belgium-Luxembourg salient. (AP Photo/Peter J. Carroll) #
A dead German soldier, killed during the German counter offensive in the Belgium-Luxembourg salient, is left behind on a street corner in Stavelot, Belgium, on January 2, 1945, as fighting moves on during the Battle of the Bulge. (AP Photo/U.S. Army Signal Corps) #
From left, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and Soviet Premier Josef Stalin sit on the patio of Livadia Palace, Yalta, Crimea, in this February 4, 1945 photo. The three leaders were meeting to discuss the post-war reorganization of Europe, and the fate of post-war Germany. (AP Photo/File) #
Soviet troops of the 3rd Ukrainian front in action amid the buildings of the Hungarian capital on February 5, 1945. (AP Photo) #
Across the Channel, Britain was being struck by continual bombardment by thousands of V-1 and V-2 bombs launched from German-controlled territory. This photo, taken from a fleet street roof-top, shows a V-1 flying bomb "buzzbomb" plunging toward central London. The distinctive sky-line of London's law-courts clearly locates the scene of the incident. Falling on a side road off Drury Lane, this bomb blasted several buildings, including the office of the Daily Herald. The last enemy action of British soil was a V-1 attack that struck Datchworth in Hertfordshire, on March 29 1945. (AP Photo) #
With more and more members of the Volkssturm (Germany's National Militia) being directed to the front line, German authorities were experiencing an ever-increasing strain on their stocks of army equipment and clothing. In a desperate attempt to overcome this deficiency, street to street collection depots called the Volksopfer, meaning Sacrifice of the people, scoured the country, collecting uniforms, boots and equipment from German civilians, as seen here in Berlin on February 12, 1945. The Volksopfer bears the words "The Fuhrer expects your sacrifice for Army and Home Guard. So that you're proud your Home Guard man can show himself in uniform - empty your wardrobe and bring its contents to us". (AP Photo) #
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Click to view imageThree U.S. infantrymen look over the bodies of a number of dead German soldiers arranged in rows before an unidentified building in Echternach, Luxembourg, about 25 miles south of Pruem, on February 21, 1945. (AP Photo) #
A party sets out to repair telephone lines on the main road in Kranenburg on February 22, 1945, amid four-foot deep floods caused by the bursting of Dikes by the retreating Germans. During the floods, British troops further into Germany have had their supplies brought by amphibious vehicles. (AP Photo) #
This combination of three photographs shows the reaction of a 16-year old German soldier after he was captured by U.S. forces, at an unknown location in Germany, in 1945. (AP Photo) #
Flak bursts through the vapor trails from B-17 flying fortresses of the 15th air force during the attack on the rail yards at Graz, Austria, on March 3, 1945. (AP Photo) #
A view taken from Dresden's town hall of the destroyed Old Town after the allied bombings between February 13 and 15, 1945. Some 3,600 aircraft dropped more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the German city. The resulting firestorm destroyed 15 square miles of the city center, and killed more than 22,000. (Walter Hahn/AFP/Getty Images) #
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Click to view imageA large stack of corpses is cremated in Dresden, Germany, after the British-American air attack between February 13 and 15, 1945. The bombing of Dresden has been questioned in post-war years, with critics claiming the area bombing of the historic city center (as opposed to the industrial suburbs) was not justified militarily. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive) #
Soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Army storm into Coblenz, Germany, as a dead comrade lies against the wall, on March 18, 1945. (AP Photo/Byron H. Rollins) #
Men of the American 7th Army pour through a breach in the Siegfried Line defenses, on their way to Karlsruhe, Germany on March 27, 1945, which lies on the road to Stuttgart. (AP Photo) #
Pfc. Abraham Mirmelstein of Newport News, Virginia, holds the Holy Scroll as Capt. Manuel M. Poliakoff, and Cpl. Martin Willen, of Baltimore, Maryland, conduct services in Schloss Rheydt, former residence of Dr. Joseph Paul Goebbels, Nazi propaganda minister, in Münchengladbach, Germany on March 18, 1945. They were the first Jewish services held east of the Rur River and were offered in memory of soldiers of the faith who were lost by the 29th Division, U.S. 9th Army. (AP Photo) #
American soldiers aboard an assault boat huddle together as they cross the Rhine river at St. Goar, Germany, while under heavy fire from the German forces, in March of 1945. (AP Photo) #
An unidentified American soldier, shot dead by a German sniper, clutches his rifle and hand grenade in March of 1945 in Coblenz, Germany. (AP Photo/Byron H. Rollins) #
War-torn Cologne Cathedral stands out of the devastated area on the west bank of the Rhine, in Cologne, Germany, April 24, 1945. The railroad station and the Hohenzollern Bridge, at right, are completely destroyed after three years of Allied air raids. (AP Photo) #
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Click to view imageWith a torn picture of his "Führer" beside his clenched fist, a general of the Volkssturm, Hitler's last-stand home defense forces, lies dead on the floor of city hall in Leipzig, April 19, 1945. He committed suicide rather than face the U.S. troops capturing the city. (AP Photo/U.S. Army Signal Corps, J. M. Heslop) #
An American soldier of the 12th Armored Division stands guard over a group of German soldiers, captured in April 1945, in a forest at an unknown location in Germany. (AP Photo) #
Adolf Hitler decorates members of his Nazi youth organization "Hitler Jugend" in a photo reportedly taken in front of the Chancellery Bunker in Berlin, on April 25, 1945. That was just four days before Hitler committed suicide. (AP Photo) #
Partly completed Heinkel He-162 fighter jets sit on the assembly line in the underground Junkers factory at Tarthun, Germany, in early April 1945. The huge underground galleries, in a former salt mine, were discovered by the 1st U.S. Army during their advance on Magdeburg. (AP Photo) #
Soviet officers and U.S. soldiers during a friendly meeting on the Elbe River in April of 1945. (Waralbum.ru) #
Compounds erected by the Allies for their collections of prisoners never seem to be big enough, here is an over-crowded cage of Germans rounded up by the Seventh Army during its drive to Heidelberg, on April 4, 1945. (AP Photo) #
A U.S. soldier stands in the middle of rubble in the Monument of the Battle of the Nations in Leipzig after they attacked the city on April 18, 1945. The huge monument commemorating the defeat of Napoleon in 1813 was one of the last strongholds in the city to surrender. One hundred and fifty SS fanatics with ammunition and foodstuffs stored in the structure to last three months dug themselves in and were determined to hold out as long as their supplies. American First Army artillery eventually blasted the SS troops into surrender. (Eric Schwab/AFP/Getty Images) #
Soviet soldiers lead house-to-house fighting in the outskirts of Königsberg, East Prussia, Germany, in April of 1945. (Dmitry Chernov/Waralbum.ru) #
A German officer eats C-rations as he sits amid the ruins of Saarbrücken, a German city and stronghold along the Siegfried Line, in early spring of 1945. (AP Photo) #
Overwhelmed with emotion, this Czech mother kisses a Russian soldier in Prague, Czech Republic on May 5, 1945, thanking one who fought to free her beloved home. (AP Photo) #
The subway rush hour is brought to a standstill in New York City, May 1, 1945 as the report of Hitler's death was received. The German leader and head of the Nazi Party had shot himself in the head in a bunker in Berlin on April 30, 1945. His successor, Karl Dönitz, announced on German radio that Hitler had died the death of a hero, and that he would continue the war against the Allies. (AP Photo) #
Britain's Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, right, reads over the surrender pact, while senior German officers, from left, Major Friedel, Rear Admiral Wagner and Admiral Hans-Georg Von Friedeburg, look on, in a tent at Montgomery's 21st Army Group headquarters, at Luneburg Heath, on May 4, 1945. The pact agreed a ceasefire on the British fronts in north west Germany, Denmark and Holland as from 8am on May 5. German forces in Italy had surrendered earlier, on April 29, and the remainder of the the Army in Western Europe surrendered on May 7 -- on the Eastern Front, the German surrender to the Soviets took place on May 8, 1945. More than five years of horrific warfare on European soil was officially over. (AP Photo) #
A seething mass of humanity jammed itself into Whitehall in central London on VE-Day (Victory in Europe Day), May 8, 1945, to hear the premier officially announce Germany's unconditional surrender. More than one million people celebrated in the streets of London. (AP Photo) #
Looking north from 44th Street, New York's Times Square is packed Monday, May 7, 1945, with crowds celebrating the news of Germany's unconditional surrender in World War II. (AP Photo/Tom Fitzsimmons) #
Celebration of Victory in Moscow's Red Square, in the Soviet Union. Fireworks began on May 9, 1945, followed by bursts of gunfire and a sky illuminated by searchlights. (Sergei Loskutov/Waralbum.ru) #
The wrecked Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany, with a destroyed German military vehicle in the foreground, at the end of World War II. (AP Photo) #
Soviet Ilyushin Il-2 ground attack aircraft fly in the skies above Berlin, Germany in 1945. (Waralbum.ru) #
A color photograph of the bombed-out historic city of Nuremberg, Germany in June of 1945, after the end of World War II. Nuremberg had been the host of huge Nazi Party conventions from 1927 to 1938. The last scheduled rally in 1939 was canceled at the last minute due to a scheduling conflict: the German invasion of Poland one day prior to the rally date. The city was also the birthplace of the Nuremberg Laws, a set of draconian antisemitic laws adopted by Nazi Germany. Allied bombings from 1943 until 1945 destroyed more than 90% of the city center, and killed more than 6,000 residents. Nuremberg would soon become famous one last time as the host of the Nuremberg Trials -- a series of military tribunals set up to prosecute the surviving leaders of Nazi Germany. The war crimes these men were charged with included "Crimes Against Humanity", the systematic murder of more than 10 million people, including some 6 million Jews. This genocide will be the subject of part 18 in this series, coming next week. (NARA) #