world war ii: red army


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.


The American Paratrooper Who Served in the Red Army During World War II.

When the United States entered World War II in 1941, Joseph R. Beyrle enlisted in the US Army and volunteered for the elite paratrooper service.  After completing paratrooper training and training as a demonlitions expert, he was assigned to the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division (Screaming Eagles) with the rank of sergeant. Little did he know where the winds of destiny would blow him. 

His first two missions were secret clandestine operations in which he covertly parachuted into German occupied France wearing bandoliers filled with gold, which he delivered to the French Resistance. On June 6th, 1944 Beyrle participated in the legendary D-Day drop during the Normandy Invasions. When his plane came under heavy fire he was forced to jump early and only 120 meters above the ground. Despite being separated from his unit, Sgt. Beyrle continued his mission, performing acts of sabotage behind enemy lines which resulted in the destruction of two bridges and a power station.  Unfortunatley a few days later he was captured by the Germans when he accidentally stumbled upon a German machine gun nest.  For the next 7 months he was held as a prisoner of war, where he became notorious as an escape artist, making several attempts, two of which were seccessful.  After each attempt, the Germans tortured, starved, and beat him, then transfered him to a different camp.  During his time in German captivity he was shuffled between seven different camps.  After his 7th escape attempt, which was successful except that he accidentally boarded a train for Berlin, the Germans sent him to a camp deep within Poland, with the idea that it’s distance from the Western Front would discourage him from further escape attempts.  Promptly after arriving at the camp in January of 1945, he successfully escaped and made his way to Soviet lines.

After his escape, he came upon the 1st Battalian of the 1st Tank Guards, where he met the famous lady tank commander Captain Aleksandra Samusenko, introducing her with the greeting, “Americansky tovarishch” (American comrade), while handing over a pack of Lucky Strikes. 

Wanting to get back into the war, Bayrle convinced Samusenko to allow him to join the Battalion. Samusenko agreed, and he was appointed a tank machine gunner.  For the next month he would serve with the Red Army, even taking part in the liberation of the POW camp from which he had escaped.  In February of 1945, he was seriously wounded after an attack by a Stuka dive bomber, and was evacuated to a Soviet hospital. During his recuperation, he met none other than the Soviet supreme military commander, Field Marshal Georgy Zhukov. 

 When Bayrle arrived at the US Embassy in Moscow, he learned that he was officially listed as dead, and that his family back home in Muskegon, Michigan had celebrated his funeral.  As it turns out, when he was captured during the Normandy Invasion, his uniforn and dogtags were taken and used by a German infiltration unit.  The German soldier wearing the uniform was unexpectidly killed in September, the corpse being recovered by the Allies and mistakenly identifed as Bayrle’s and buried in France.  Bayrle returned home in April of 1945, married in 1946 (coincidentally in the same church that held his funeral) and lived a happy life raising three children. In 1994 during the 50th Anniversary of D-Day, he was awarded with medals by both US President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin at the White House. He was also personally awarded a specially made presentation AK-47 dedicated to him by Mikhail Kalashnikov.  Joseph “Jumpin’ Joe” Beyrle passed away in 2004 while visiting the paratrooper training grounds in Toccoa, Georgia. He was buried with honors in Arlington National Cemetery.


Polish Army (LWP) in Berlin at the end of World War Two, 1945.

Photos from top to bottom:
1. Polish soldier with flag next to two Red Army soldiers.
2. Polish and Soviet flags on top of the Brandenburg gate.
3. Polish soldiers advancing during the battle.
4. Polish soldiers posing for a photo in front of the Brandenburg Gate

An estimated 200,000 Polish army soldiers took part in the Battle of Berlin– as well as pilots and aircrew of the Polish Air Force (LWP).


Forgotten World War II — The Battle of Lake Khasan

Technically the Battle of Lake Khasan was not a World War II battle, rather one of the many events leading up to WWII in the 1930’s, what I would call part of the World War II era.  After the Japanese occupation of Manchura and parts of China, tensions between the Empire of Japan and Soviet Union began to rise.  One major bone of contention had to do with border disputes. Small skirmishes and incidents between border guards and soldiers became common, and it was clear that a conflict was brewing.  In early 1938 the Japanese Government began to accuse the Soviet Union of tampering with border  markers along the border between China and the Khasansky District.  Fearing that the Japanese were up to no good, the Soviet Red Army began fortifying the high ground west of Lake Khasan, located around 130 km southwest of Vladivostok.  Unfortunately for them, the Japanese intercepted and decoded Soviet messages, and decided to respond in force.

Only July 29th, 1938 around 7,000 troops of the Japanese 19th Division crossed the border and engaged Soviet forces, at one point successfully surrounding and annihilating 300 Soviet soldiers and repelling 300 others.  At first the Soviet defenders were forced to fall back under the onslaught.  However by August 2nd, Soviet reinforcements would begin pouring into the region.  Over the next week around 23,000 Soviet soldiers, 350 tanks, 230 artillery, and 250 aircraft arrived.  With overwhelming force, the Soviets answered with a massive and powerful counterattack.  The Japanese were especially at a disadvantage, with only 37 artillery pieces, no tanks, and no aircraft.  One Japanese artillery officer noted that the Soviets fired more shells in a day than what the Japanese did during the entire battle. 

By August 9th, Japanese forces began to break under the Soviet counterattack.  On August 10th, the Japanese sued for peace, and the fighting stopped on August 11th.  Japanese forces lost 526 men, with another 1,000 wounded.  While the Soviets were victorious, they suffered terrible casualties, with 792 killed, over 3,000 wounded, and 46 tanks destroyed.  Because of the high casualties, the Soviet commander, Vasily Blyukher, was tortured and executed by the NKVD during Stalin’s purges.

The Battle of Lake Khasan would not be the last incident between the Soviets and Japanese. A year later, the Japanese Kwantung Army would attempt a massive full scale invasion of Soviet allied Mongolia.  During the Battle of Khalkin Gol, at least 100,000 men total took part in the battle.  In the end the Soviet Army dealt the Japanese Army a devastating thumping, convincing the Japanese that they should steer clear of further conflict with the Soviet Union.


Portraits of Soviet veterans on the 70th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. The Soviet Union (made up of 15 republics) and its allies defeated Nazi Germany in May 1945 after a long, bitter conflict. More than 20 million Soviet citizens were killed in the war.

Reuters photographers took portraits of Soviet army veterans, mostly now in their 80s and 90s. They photographed one veteran in each of the 15 former Soviet republics, and they are presented in this gallery alongside archive pictures of them in uniform during the war.