Seventy years after the end of World War II, young Americans and Russians alike in the 21st century have grown up ignorant of how crucial the Grand Alliance of World war II was to the survival of both their great nations. As all serious Western historians recognize, it was the Soviet Union and its peoples, most of all the Russian people, who made the greatest sacrifices and made the most important contributions to the winning of World War II.
At the time, the Soviet role was openly recognized and acknowledged certainly throughout Britain and also by many in the United States. “It was the Red Army that tore the guts out of the Wehrmacht,” legendary British War Premier Winston Churchill publicly proclaimed.
Nine out of every 10 German soldiers in World War II were killed by the Red Army. Even on the eve of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy, the greatest clash of arms in Western Europe during the war, less than 60 understrength Nazi divisions faced the Allies. Only 11 Nazi divisions were actually involved in combatting the Allied landings and build up over the following two months. Yet at the same time 228 Wehrmacht divisions were still fighting the Red Army tooth and nail in the East. The worst Nazi extermination camps, the industrialized killing machines of death at Auschwitz, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka – were all liberated and shut down by the advance of the Red Army. Hundreds of Soviet soldiers died in the single battle to liberate Auschwitz alone.
Andrew Roberts and Sir Max Hastings, the two outstanding military historians on all of World War II in the past 40 years in Britain, have both written and stated repeatedly and explicitly that all combined Anglo-American operations in the West, however admirable, successful and courageous, were all peripheral to the enormous scale of and strategic consequences of the victories won by the Red Army in the East.
Yet none of the most important events and anniversaries of the Great Patriotic War in the East have had the slightest impact on the America n media and public over the past year. This is a ridiculous and contemptible state of affairs and it was produced by sloppy ignorance and incompetence. It also represents a historic opportunity childishly, mindlessly thrown away and missed.
This past year we marked the 70th anniversary of The Year of Victories, from June 6, 1944 to May 9, 1945, the liberation of the entire continent of Europe by the mainly Anglo-American armies from the West and by the Russian-led and predominantly Russian Red Army from the East. This should have been a season of joint celebration, thanksgiving, the rebuilding of bridges and the recommitment of the great nations of East and West to a renewed era of mutual peace and mutual respect. It was of course nothing of the sort, though the reasons why this was so are beyond the parameters of this current conference.
Other anniversaries of World War II have completely disappeared down the Orwellian Memory Hole in the West. For History was not just extinguished and abolished in the dystopian tyranny of Orwell’s novel.
February, 2, to start with, marks a very obscure date for Americans, but it was one that saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of young American boys in World War II: It is the anniversary of the final surrender of German forces at Stalingrad – The decisive battle of World War II.
"Stalingrad changes everything," said Sir Max Hastings.
Some 400,000 German soldiers died in the more than five month battle for the city on the steep western banks of the Volga River. Another 265,000 Hungarians, Romanians and Italians in the armies of Germany’s allies were killed or captured. The battle annihilated Adolf Hitler’s Sixth Army, the most formidable infantry assault force the world had ever seen. Afterwards, the Germans only managed only one more major tactical victory, around Kharkov, in the whole war. Russian casualties at Stalingrad exceeded one million.
Today, all those generations later, the extraordinary struggle for Stalingrad still defines 21st century Russia.
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.
And the focal point of all of it was this surprisingly tranquil and atmospheric strip city that unfolds for 30 miles along the great River Volga. Named after Soviet Premier Josef Stalin, it was the dramatic apparent last stand of the Soviet Red Army against an apparently invincible Wehrmacht that had conquered the entire European continent in less than three years. But at Stalingrad all that changed.
“Beyond the Volga there is nothing!” went the Soviet rallying cry — and there wasn’t. Even now looking east from the imposing heights of Mamayev Kurgan, it is eerie to see that on the other side of the great Volga, a river as broad and impressive as the Mississippi, the embodiment of the soul of Russia, there literally is — nothing. Just low sand dunes that gave the city it’s originally name of Tsaritsyn, or “Golden Sand” back in 1589. And they stretch off for thousands of miles across the lower Eurasian steppe.
During the 200 days of Stalingrad, the hill of Mamayev Kurgan was fought over for 130 of them. Today, it is the resting place for 35,000 Soviet soldiers.
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. More than twice as many Russian civilians perished in the first week of air raids as died in the Allied bombing of Dresden. When Soviet interrogators asked Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus, the captured commander of the Sixth Army, why he had authorized such needless slaughter, he really did reply that he was only following orders.
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. None of the Axis remains that were found and identified were buried within the city. It is sacred soil to the Russian people. Only the heroic defenders of Stalingrad and the Motherland, or Rodina, are allowed the ultimate honor of resting there.
The entire German Sixth Army — some 300,000 men — at the time the most renowned and invincible infantry on earth, perished at Stalingrad. Just 90,000 of them survived to be taken prisoner with their commander, Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus. Of them, only 9,000 survived their long captivity to ever be repatriated home to Germany.
It is not only Stalingrad that has been forgotten. This past year, the 70th anniversary of D-Day was a world headlines story. Yet the biggest news from the reunion of statesmen wishing to bask in the reflected glories of the past was the deliberate rudeness of U.S. President Barack Obama of the United States and of Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
One could easily have inferred that Putin was the odd man out or leper at the D-Day celebrations, representing the discredited heirs of the Third Reich. He was there, in fact, as the head of state of the great power that had done far more than the United States and Britain combined to destroy Nazi Germany, the most evil regime in modern history.
As respected Irish military historian David Murphy pointed out in the Irish Times, when D-Day took place, only 11 German divisions directly opposed it. Yet at the same time, the Nazis had 228 divisions fighting the Red Army full-time on the Eastern Front. And the simultaneous victory of the Red Army in the Battle of Byelorussia, the Annihilation of Army Group Center, was far greater than D-Day and that was critical to its success.
As David Murphy wrote, “The D-Day operation was, without doubt, a major operation of huge complexity but the size and scope of Bagration was mind-boggling. Conservative estimates put the Soviet strength at more than 1.6 million men (against over 486,000 Germans) and Russian commanders had access to more than 5,800 tanks and 5,300 aircraft.”
It was the biggest and most decisive military victory of any land battle in World War II and it even dwarfed Stalingrad and the Battle of Normandy in the destruction it visited on the Wehrmacht. In two weeks, Hitler’s last great concentration of armies was annihilated in multiple encirclements in Byelorussia or White Russia, today the nation of Belarus.
In a handful of blinding weeks the Red Army using masterful blitzkrieg armored penetration tactics drove from the forests of its heartland all the way to the Vistula River and the outskirts of Warsaw.
The importance of Bagration was fully realized in the West at the time. The great British Broadcasting Corporation war correspondent Alexander Werth called it “bigger than Stalingrad.”
The Bagration-Byelorussia victory was crucial to victory in the West as well, Without it, Hitler would have been able to a rapidly transport hundreds of thousands of his best, combat-experienced troops west to stop the U.S. 12th Army Group’s drive through France that annihilated the German Army Group B under Field Marshals Gerd von Rundstedt and Gunther von Kluge.
Yet the 70th anniversary of Bagration went virtually un-noticed in the American and British press last year and there was no reference to it in the D-Day celebrations.
The peoples of the Soviet Union, especially the Russians, paid an enormous price for this great victory. As David Murphy wrote, “The casualties of this operation were equally staggering. The German historian Karl-Heinz Freiser has calculated German casualties at more than 399,000 killed, wounded, missing and POW. A conservative estimate of Russian casualties is more than 180,000. Total Russian wartime deaths still remain unclear with estimates ranging from 18 to 24 million, both military and civilian.”
This past year has also seen the 70th anniversary celebrations of the worst of all Nazi extermination camps, Auschwitz and Majdenek,
As the great British military historian Michael K. Jones documented in his classic 2011 book “Total War: From Kursk to Berlin,” the record of the Red Army combat soldiers and medical support staff in caring for the liberated survivors at those death camps was exemplary.
Yet not a single major U.S. or British leader is scheduled attended any of the Russian anniversary ceremonies for Bagration and the following victories.
This continued willful ignorance of the crucial Soviet and Russian contribution to victory in the greatest of all conflicts is shameful. It is also vastly detrimental to the rebuilding of mutual respect and understanding between the great allies of World War II still so crucial for world peace.
The anniversary of the liberation of the death camps and the true facts surrounding them need to be remembered. They contain crucially important lessons essential for the preservation of world peace in the 21st century.
In recent years, Western historians have increasingly embraced a doctrine of moral equivalency between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. It is perfectly true that the total death toll in Stalin’s terror, repressions and catastrophically bungled economic policies ran into the scores of millions. But an enormously important distinction needs to be made: The Red Army eye-witnesses from the lowest combat soldier to top ranking generals at the liberation of Auschwitz and Majdanek all shared appalling horror and reacted in the most decent and admirable way to the unimaginable evil they confronted. The record of Red Army medical services in trying to cope with a health crisis no one had imagined possible among the survivors was exemplary.
Michael Jones documents this vital and untold story with vivid accounts from the eye-witnesses. “When we saw what (Majdanek) contained, we felt dangerously close to going insane,” recalled Vasily Yeremenko of the Second Tank Army.
Captain Andrey Mereshenko of the Eighth Guards Army never forgot that when he arrived at Majdanek, “the ovens were still warm.”
War correspondent Konstantin Simonov wrote in the newspaper Red Star that his mind refused to recognize the reality of what he had seen with his own eyes.
The Soviet soldiers and senior officers who liberated the extermination camps reacted with horror at what they found: Many of them feared they were going insane. But they were not: They were retaining their humanity in its most precious forms.
When death camp prisoners “realize we want to help them,” some moan with joy,” Col. Georgi Elizavetsky wrote to his wife Nina. “And when they see bread, others literally howl, kiss our feet and become quite delirious. … “There is a children’s barracks in the camp. When we entered I just could not stand it anymore.”
In recent decades, as only a handful of combat war veterans from the three great Allied nations remain alive, this crucial truth has been lost: There was no moral equivalence, it is now claimed. Yet the soldiers of the Red Army suffered vastly more casualties than the Western Allies. They inflicted 90 percent of combat losses on the Nazi armies. They did more to win the war against the Nazi evils than anyone else.
They also deserve primary credit for ending the Holocaust. On September 23, 1944, the same day the Second Tank Army liberated Majdanek, troops of the Soviet First Belorussian Front also liberated the extermination camps at Sobibor and Treblinka. On January 27, 1945, they liberated the biggest and most diabolical murder factory of them all -- Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The bravery and sheer decency of the millions of ordinary Russian, Ukrainian and other nationalities in the Red Army who won the war and liberated the worst death camps needs to be remembered and honored, not forgotten in the West, or swept under the carpet. Their achievements should be the lasting foundation for a new generation of understanding and mutual respect between the thermonuclear superpowers.
But this conference also needs to remember the truly selfless, generous and extraordinary role that the United States, and Britain played in funneling unprecedented quantities of material aid to the Soviet Union when its peoples were fighting for their very survival against the most evil, most genocidal and most formidable military machine and government the world had ever seen.
The American people and their leader, President Franklin Roosevelt, rose to that challenge: The easily accessible Wikipedia entry on Lend Lease to the Soviet Union documents the full story: Total U.S. deliveries through Lend-Lease amounted to $11 billion i0n materials: over 400,000 jeeps and trucks; 12,000 armored vehicles (including 7,000 tanks, 11,400 aircraft and 1.75 million tons of food.
$1.3 billion worth of food alone was sent. Supplies of canned spam –spiced ham – became a major protein supply for the Red Army as early Stalingrad and it became the principle protein source for the Red Army forces fighting on the central battlefronts at Kursk in 1943 and in Belorussia in summer 1944.
In all, 17.5 million tons of military equipment, vehicles, industrial supplies, and food were shipped from the Western Hemisphere to the USSR, 94% coming from the US. For comparison, a total of 22 million tons landed in Europe to supply American forces from January 1942 to May 1945. It has been estimated that American deliveries to the USSR through the Persian Corridor alone were sufficient, by US Army standards, to maintain sixty combat divisions in the line.
The United States gave to the Soviet Union from October 1, 1941 to May 31, 1945 the following: 427,284 trucks, 13,303 combat vehicles, 35,170 motorcycles, 2,328 ordnance service vehicles, 2,670,371 tons of petroleum products (gasoline and oil), 4,478,116 tons of foodstuffs (canned meats, sugar, flour, salt, etc.), 1,900 steam locomotives, 66 Diesel locomotives, 9,920 flat cars, 1,000 dump cars, 120 tank cars, and 35 heavy machinery cars. One item typical of many was a tire plant that was lifted bodily from the Ford Company's River Rouge Plant and transferred to the USSR. The 1947 money value of the supplies and services amounted to about eleven billion dollars. Today that would be nearer a quarter of a trillion dollars. I
World War II has now been consigned to the memory hole of ancient history, especially in the United States. We live in a society where last week has become ancient history, and where the ephemera of cheap insults tweeted and magnified through the social media even drive national presidential campaigns.
But the past is not so easily banished from the present. Sigmund Freud, yet another now unfashionable Dead White European, taught us that the repression of important memories is lethally dangerous. It leads to subconscious drives to act out repressed events in compulsive, irrational and self-destructive forms of behavior.
What is true of individuals is also true of nations and national cultures that are composed of hundreds of millions of individuals. That is why the study of history, the recovery of national as well as individual memory, is so crucial to renew the friendship and mutual respect of our two great nations.
This is where we must start: In remembering the true depth, scale and sacrifice of our mutual collaboration in World War II that saved the human race.
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