The Eastern Front was a gigantic battlefield and comes as no surprise as to the amount of relics lost and buried on this battlefield.Although the Germans knew that the Red Army’s reserves of manpower had been bled dry in the summer of 1941 and 1942, the Soviets were still re-equipping, simply by drafting the men from the regions taken back.
Between June 1941 and May 1945, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union engaged in a cataclysmic struggle on World War II’s Eastern Front.
The resulting war was one of the largest and deadliest military duels in all of human history, and ultimately turned the tables on the Nazi conquest of Europe.
It was also a conflict marked by strategic blunders, mass atrocities and human suffering on a previously unimaginable scale.
Despite their ideological antipathy, both Germany and the Soviet Union shared a common dislike for the outcome of World War I.
The Soviet Union had lost substantial territory in eastern Europe as a result of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, where it gave in to German demands and ceded control of Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and Finland, among others, to the “Central Powers”.
Subsequently, when Germany in its turn surrendered to the Allies and these territories were liberated under the terms of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, Russia was in a civil war condition and the Allies did not recognize the Bolshevik government.
The Soviet Union would not be formed for another four years, so no Russian representation was present.
The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact signed in August 1939 was a non-aggression agreement between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union that contained a secret protocol aiming to return Central Europe to the pre–World War I status quo by dividing it between Germany and the Soviet Union.
Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania would return to Soviet control, while Poland and Romania would be divided.
Adolf Hitler had declared his intention to invade the Soviet Union on 11 August 1939 to Carl Jacob Burckhardt, League of Nations Commissioner by saying, “Everything I undertake is directed against the Russians.
If the West is too stupid and blind to grasp this, then I shall be compelled to come to an agreement with the Russians, beat the West and then after their defeat turn against the Soviet Union with all my forces.
I need the Ukraine so that they can’t starve us out, as happened in the last war.
Germany’s invasion of Russia was the largest surprise attack in military history, but according to most sources, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise at all.
While the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany had signed a famous non-aggression pact in August 1939, many anticipated that Adolf Hitler had designs on attacking the Russians—whom he viewed as an inferior race—as soon as the time was right.
Adolf Hitler had argued in his autobiography Mein Kampf (1925) for the necessity of Lebensraum (“living space”): acquiring new territory for Germans in Eastern Europe, in particular in Russia.
He envisaged settling Germans there, as according to Nazi ideology the Germanic people constituted the “master race”, while exterminating or deporting most of the existing inhabitants to Siberia and using the remainder as slave labour.
Hitler as early as 1917 had referred to the Russians as inferior, believing that the Bolshevik Revolution had put the Jews in power over the mass of Slavs, who were, in Hitler’s opinion, incapable of ruling themselves but instead being ruled by Jewish masters.
Hard-line Nazis in Berlin (like Himmler) saw the war against the Soviet Union as a struggle between the ideologies Nazism and Jewish Bolshevism.
Wehrmacht officers told their troops to target people who were described as “Jewish Bolshevik subhumans”, the “Mongol hordes”, the “Asiatic flood” and the “red beast”.
The vast majority of German soldiers viewed the war in Nazi terms, seeing the Soviet enemy as sub-human.
The two powers invaded and partitioned Poland in 1939. After Finland refused the terms of a Soviet pact of mutual assistance, the Soviet Union attacked Finland on 30 November 1939 in what became known as the Winter War – a bitter conflict that resulted in a peace treaty on 13 March 1940, with Finland maintaining its independence but losing parts of eastern Karelia. In June 1940, the Soviet Union occupied and illegally annexed the three Baltic states—an action in violation of the Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907) and numerous bi-lateral conventions and treaties signed between the Soviet Union and Baltics. The annexations were never recognized by most Western states.
The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact ostensibly provided security to Soviets in the occupation of both the Baltics and the north and northeastern regions of Romania (Northern Bukovina and Bessarabia) although Hitler, in announcing the invasion of the Soviet Union, cited the Soviet annexations of Baltic and Romanian territory as having violated Germany’s understanding of the Pact. The annexed Romanian territory was divided between the Ukrainian and Moldavian Soviet republics.
According to a plan called Generalplan Ost, the populations of occupied Central Europe and the Soviet Union were to be partially deported to West Siberia, partially enslaved and eventually exterminated; the conquered territories were to be colonized by German or “Germanized” settlers.
In addition, the Nazis also sought to wipe out the large Jewish population of (Central and) Eastern Europe as part of their program aiming to exterminate all European Jews.
After Germany’s initial success at the Battle of Kiev in 1941, Hitler saw the Soviet Union as militarily weak and ripe for immediate conquest.
On 3 October 1941, he announced, “We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.”
Thus, Germany expected another short Blitzkrieg and made no serious preparations for prolonged warfare.
However, following the decisive Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943 and the resulting dire German military situation, Hitler and his Nazi propaganda proclaimed the war to be a German defence of Western civilization against destruction by the vast “Bolshevik hordes” that were pouring into Europe.
While the German 6th and 4th Panzer Armies had been fighting their way into Stalingrad, Soviet armies had congregated on either side of the city, specifically into the Don bridgeheads, and it was from these that they struck in November 1942
In Operation Uranus started on 19 November, two Soviet fronts punched through the Romanian lines and converged at Kalach on 23 November, trapping 300,000 Axis troops behind them
A simultaneous offensive on the Rzhev sector known as Operation Mars was supposed to advance to Smolensk, but was a failure, with German tactical flair winning the day.
The Germans rushed to transfer troops to Russia for a desperate attempt to relieve Stalingrad, but the offensive could not get going until 12 December, by which time the 6th Army in Stalingrad was starving and too weak to break out towards it.
Operation Winter Storm, with three transferred panzer divisions, got going briskly from Kotelnikovo towards the Aksai river but became bogged down 65 km (40 mi) short of its goal. To divert the rescue attempt, the Soviets decided to smash the Italians and come down behind the relief attempt if they could; that operation starting on 16 December
What it did accomplish was to destroy many of the aircraft that had been transporting relief supplies to Stalingrad. The fairly limited scope of the Soviet offensive, although still eventually targeted on Rostov, also allowed Hitler time to see sense and pull Army Group A out of the Caucasus and back over the Don
On 31 January 1943, the 90,000 survivors of the 300,000-man 6th Army surrendered. By that time the Hungarian 2nd Army had also been wiped out.
The Soviets advanced from the Don 500 km (310 mi) to the west of Stalingrad, marching through Kursk (retaken on 8 February 1943) and Kharkov (retaken 16 February 1943).
order to save the position in the south, the Germans decided to abandon the Rzhev salient in February, freeing enough troops to make a successful riposte in eastern Ukraine.
Manstein’s counteroffensive, strengthened by a specially trained SS Panzer Corps equipped with Tiger tanks, opened on 20 February 1943 and fought its way from Poltava back into Kharkov in the third week of March, when the spring thaw intervened. This left a glaring Soviet bulge (salient) in the front centered on Kursk.
After the failure of the attempt to capture Stalingrad, Hitler had delegated planning authority for the upcoming campaign season to the German Army High Command and reinstated Heinz Guderian to a prominent role, this time as Inspector of Panzer Troops. Debate among the General Staff was polarised, with even Hitler nervous about any attempt to pinch off the Kursk salient.
He knew that in the intervening six months the Soviet position at Kursk had been reinforced heavily with anti-tank guns, tank traps, landmines, barbed wire, trenches, pillboxes, artillery and mortars.
Although the Germans knew that the Red Army’s reserves of manpower had been bled dry in the summer of 1941 and 1942, the Soviets were still re-equipping, simply by drafting the men from the regions taken back.