News of the formal surrender of Germany arrived in Moscow in the early morning of May 9, 1945. Thus Victory in Europe Day is celebrated by Ukraine, Russia and elsewhere in the Former Soviet Union today, while everyone in the west celebrates it on May 8.
World War II came at the cost of nearly 28 million people of the Soviet Union – more than the entire current population of the State of Texas. It is difficult to put this into perspective in today’s world. Single battles between Russia and Germany took more lives than the entire US Civil War. A mere hour in some of these battles exceed the cumulative casualties the whole “Coalition of the Willing” suffered in a decade in Iraq. And of course, World War II took its toll on Germany and the Axis Powers, too. A full 90+% of German casualties were sustained fighting on the Eastern Front.
The War in the East started June 22, 1941 with Operation Barbarossa. Axis forces started the invasion with 3.9 Million Men, 600,000 vehicles and 750,000 horses. By December of 1941, lead elements of Germany’s Army Group Center even touched ground in Moscow. As with Napoleon, the severe Russian Winter – “General Winter” – and crack Siberian divisions brought in from the East, pushed the German Army Group Center back.
But let’s back up briefly, to July of 1941 and the City of Odessa. The Russian Army up to this point was hard pressed to lay claim to any sort of victory, large or small – suffering only a serious of large, stinging defeats. Odessa was a different case. Luftwaffe and Romanian air attacks started hitting the city in June, but the Siege of Odessa did not start until July of 1941. It was the focus of no less than 17 divisions (mostly Romanians supported by German Engineers (Pioneers), Artillery and Aircraft. Facing this force, the Russians had roughly four infantry and one cavalry division, with support from the Black Sea Fleet.
The Siege of Odessa lasted until October 15th when the last defenders were evacuated to Sevastopol. The Black Sea Fleet helped in the evacuation of over 300,000 civilians and soldiers. By the end of the siege, the Romanian Army suffered over 17,000 dead, over 60,000 wounded and over 11,000 missing versus Soviet losses ranging up to 60,000 during the battle, proper. The battle would not really end there – many partisans took to the massive labyrinth of tunnels under the city – the Odessa Catacombs, which remain a tourist attraction today and which require a guide.
For these actions, the City of Odessa became the First Hero City of the Soviet Union. The City of Odessa likes to say that they lasted longer than France did against Hitler.
In 1942, the renewed Summer Offensive brought the world’s attention to the City of Stalingrad. But, to the South, the Oilfields of the Caucasus were Germany’s original, true objective. Despite everything working against the Axis forces, including a Commander in Chief on Crack (okay… cocaine), the monstrous logistical challenge, the weather, and… shortages in fuel, the Wermarcht came very, very close to accomplishing its objective. They took Maikop and were within site of Grozny. Beyond that were the oilfields of Baku – the birthplace of Big Oil.
Short end of it was they were stopped. Hitler threw down his gauntlets at Stalingrad… and lost the entirety of Sixth Army. Generals Manstein and Hoth were able to salvage the situation and the battles would continue into 1943 and 1944. Then with the Western Allies landing at Normandy, the Soviets launched Operation Bagration in June of 1944 which ripped Army Group Center apart. One by one, the Axis allies fell – first Romania and Finland (technically a co-belligerent), then Bulgaria (if a passive ally), and Hungary (though many continued fighting).
The Soviet Army was the first to reach Berlin. The Battle for Berlin started on April 16, 1945. The ensuing battle involved over 1.1 million Russian soldiers. And with that… history was written by the victors. But, there’s a lot that the “Allies” have kept silent over the years. Much of what really happened invites ridicule… We will be investigating more of this as we go along.
There are a lot of lessons we can learn from World War 2 – lessons that are directly applicable today, the world over.