world war ii: eastern front

Wiking Division soldiers having a cigarette break after completing a mission in the Kovel sector, spring 1944.

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Smart, beautiful and deadly, 19 year old Russian sniper Roza Shanina had 54 confirmed kills during World War II.

<<OK so I know for a fact I’ve blogged most of these photos before but I sincerely don’t give a rat’s ass.  I have no qualms about reblogging Ms. Shanina 100 times a day if it suits me…hell, no doubt I could devote a blog entirely to her remarkable accomplishments.  I am totally intrigued and mesmerized by her.  And not simply because she is amazingly beautiful and modest and bold, but also because of the unequivocal expertise she displayed in her “trade”.  Maybe it’s also because she has that certain look about her like she might be just a little too shy to come up and talk to you…and yet have zero reservations about calmly dispatching your ass from 1000 meters.>>

Shanina volunteered for the military after the death of her brother in 1941 and chose to be a marksman on the front line. Praised for her shooting accuracy, Shanina was capable of precisely hitting moving enemy personnel and making doublets (two target hits by two rounds fired in quick succession).


Allied newspapers described Shanina as “the unseen terror of East Prussia”. She became the first Soviet female sniper to be awarded the Order of Glory and was the first servicewoman of the 3rd Belorussian Front to receive it. Shanina was killed in action during the East Prussian Offensive while shielding the severely wounded commander of an artillery unit. Shanina’s bravery received praise already during her lifetime, but came at odds with the Soviet policy of sparing snipers from heavy fights. Her combat diary was first published in 1965.

The Soviets found that sniper duties fit women well, since good snipers are patient, deliberate, have a high level of aerobic conditioning, and normally avoid hand-to-hand combat. They found the same with women as bomber crews, very fine adjustments and intense technical expertise actually gave them a better reputation than most all male bomber squadrons.

“A group of young Jewish resistance fighters are being held under arrest by German SS soldiers in April/May 1943, during the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto by German troops after an uprising in the Jewish quarter.”

(AP)

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Karl-Gerät “Ziu” self-propelled siege mortar firing in Warsaw in late August 1944. The Karl-Gerät series was the largest caliber self-propelled weapon ever built and used in combat firing 60 cm (24 in) shells.

On leaving the Soviet village, the Das Reich Division troops were fired on forcing the men to seek cover in a ditch near the road. This photograph was taken during Operation Barbarossa in 1941.

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Stalingrad, a 3 episodes documentary by Pascale Lamche and Daniel Khamdamov, 2015, Roches Noires Prod., Fondation Aleksandr

Broadcast by the Belgian and French TV on March and May 2015, I highly recommend to watch this powerful, breathtaking, even lyrical documentary about the Battle of Stalingrad.

Exclusively made of original footage of the battle, with emotional first hand account by Vassili Grossman, Alexander Werth and common Russian and German soldiers, this is the most realistic and profound documentary I saw about war.

We have to make justice to the Soviet people and the Russians for the high price they paid in defeating Hitler. The Cold War almost made us forget that they were the ones who entered Berlin long before the Americans.

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Holocaust Memorial Day

On 27th January 1945, exactly 70 years ago today, Auschwitz and its subcamps were liberated by the advancing Red Army. Stunned Soviet soldiers released some 7,000 emaciated prisoners left behind as the Germans withdrew, taking those prisoners who were able on Death Marches.

Set up in 1940 by the occupying Germans, Auschwitz was initially a labor camp for Polish prisoners but grew into a death factory out of necessity when Jews from across Europe were shipped in. The Auschwitz complex consisted of three parts: Auschwitz-I was mostly administrative, Monowitz was a slave labor camp supporting I.G. Farben (who also produced the gassing chemical, Zyklon B), and Auschwitz-II (commonly referred to as Birkenau) acting as the death camp.

More than one million Jews were killed there, but they weren’t alone in the suffering. Along side them were mixed and non-pure Gypsies, Russians, Poles, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Gays, and various other political prisoners (such as Communists, Social Democrats) also died within its barbed wire fences. Hundreds were subjected to horrific and inhuman medical experiments by Dr. Josef Mengele and his fellow physicians in an effort to test theories of Aryan supremacy, bizarre genetic experiments on twins, various forms of sterilization to name a few.

Although the exact number may never be known, historians agree that up to 1.5 million people died in the gas chambers and crematoria of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In the end the camp served as Nazi Germany’s most efficient killing machine in the “Final Solution”—the genocide of European Jews and those who were considered untermensch.

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The Soviet D-Day — Operation Bagration,

Everyone remembers June 6th, 1944 when Allied forces crossed the English Channel and invaded France, an event forever known as D-Day.  Yet while D-Day is known by many in the West, like most other Soviet operations during the war the Soviet equivalent called “Operation Bagration” is little known and recognized.  Operation Bagration was the Soviet grand offensive to destroy the Wehrmacht and bring the Third Reich too its knees, but it was much more than that.  If D-Day could be likened to a stiff right hook that dazed the German military, Operation Bagration was more like being struck in the face with a 50 lb sledgehammer, then further pummeled while on the ground, then gruesomely  dispatched with an “American History X” style curbstomp with the Battle of Berlin. 

Operation Bagaration was meant to roughly coincide with D-Day in western Europe, but due to the logistics of organizing such a massive offensive, it was delayed until June 22nd.  Named after a Russian general during the Napoleonic Wars, it was a truly massive offensive.  Spread out among three major fronts were 2.5 million Soviet troops, as well was as roughly 2,700 tanks, 5,300 aircraft, and 25,000 artillery pieces. By contrast, the Normandy invasion involved less than half the men.  After suffering terrible losses a Stalingrad and Kursk, the Germans could only muster a comparatively weak force of 800,000 men (half of which were non-combat or support personnel), as well as 800 tanks, 500 assault guns, 1,000 - 1,300 aircraft, and 10,000 artillery.

The main goal of the operation was to capture Minsk, the capital of Belorussia, and thus the onus of the offensive was against German Army Group Center, which was the largest and most important part of the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front.  The offensive began on the early morning of June 23rd with a massive artillery bombardment lasting 2 hours.  According to surviving German soldiers, it was the largest and most terrifying barrage of the entire war.  The Soviets used a tactic called the creeping barrage, in which artillery fire would fire upon a target, then progressively creep forward to catch exposed troops that retreated to the rear.  After the barrage the Red Army attacked, using a tactic called “Deep Battle” where forces would exploit various weaknesses in the enemy line, eventually penetrating it, encircling enemy forces, and then driving deep into enemy territory.

The height of Operation Bagration occurred in early July when the Soviets crushed Army Group Center and took Minsk.  In a situation reminiscent of Stalingrad, 100,000 German troops of the 4th Army were surrounded in Minsk.  Unable to break out, they were utterly obliteraed, with 40,000 being killed and the rest being captured.  While Minsk was the main goal of the offensive, Bagration continued well into July and August.  By the time the operation was declared over in late August, Soviet troops had driven halfway through Poland, halting at the Vistula River, practically within shouting distance of Warsaw.  On other fronts, Soviet forces had driven into the Batlics, lifting the Siege of Leningrad and threatening to cut off hundreds of thousands of German troops in Kaliningrad (which did eventually happen).  In the south, Soviet forces were invading the Balkans and preparing to storm Romania, the primary source of oil for Germany.

The worst blow to Germany was not in terms of territory or resources, but men. Around 300,000 - 350,000 German soldiers were killed or missing.  Another 150,000 - 200,000 were captured and taken prisoner, 50,000 of which would be forced to march through Moscow in a grand parade (pictured above).  Army Group Center was thoroughly gutted, and would only be able to present a shadow of itself for the rest of the war.  The loss of so many men devastated the Wehrmacht, which was unable to replace its losses.  This was further exacerbated by terrible defeats in France at the hands of the Americans and Commonwealth forces.  From thence on the German Army would suffer severe manpower shortages, often replacing their ranks with barely trained soldiers who were either too young or too old for military service.  The Battle of Bulge was the Wehrmacht’s last hurrah, shortly afterward the German military would crumble into dust.

The Soviets too suffered heavy losses, around 180,000 killed or missing and 500,000 wounded.  However, Operation Bagration was a stunning success, which irreparably shattered the back of the Third Reich.