The longest day of 1941 of the year, Saturday of 21 June was stifling and hot, a huge crowd of people dressed for summer, in shirts with short sleeves, excitedly watched an interesting cricket match. The mere fact that it was a match between the army and the air force indicated that there was a war.
The blitzkrieg that almost brought London to its knees, thank God, seems to have ended. There were no raids within six weeks.
Dead spectators watched the Air Force - the guys in blue earned a winning hundred points and did not even suspect that a few hours later, a thousand miles away, an event would occur that would completely change the course of the war.
Nowhere to hide: the soldier of the Red Army pulls the surrendering German out of the sewer well. Both sides often shot prisoners.
Hitler changed direction. He refused to attack the courageous, lonely Great Britain and deployed his armed forces eastward, which explained the absence of Luftwaffe aircraft in the sky over London. Just before dawn the next day, its Tanks and airplanes roared across the border between Nazi Germany and the communist Soviet Union, the Führer tore up the non-aggression treaty, which he concluded with Moscow less than two years ago.
The match of the day - and the subsequent 1 410 days - was a big deal. Hitler against Stalin, one totalitarian regime entered into a decisive and merciless battle with another totalitarian regime.
Hitler turning to stories, called the plan of his company "Operation Barbarossa" in honor of the bold and aggressive medieval German emperor. But what happened was nothing more than barbarism on a scale never before seen in modern Europe.
Acute conflict: Hitler violated the non-aggression pact with Stalin in the hope of conquering Russia in a few weeks
The number of troops involved in the fighting was enormous, almost unbelievable. Over the next four years, five million German soldiers will die on the Eastern Front and many will be captured.
Soviet casualties will be a staggering 27 of millions of people, two thirds of whom are civilians.
In addition to the scale of the campaign, which was also unprecedented in this battle of the titans, it was a bitterness on both sides. It was a bloody feud of epic proportions between the Slavs of Eastern Europe and the Aryans of the West, fueled by the ideological struggle between German Nazism and Soviet Bolshevism. Each regarded the other as an animal that must be killed without repentance, and any ideas of mercy or humanity were discarded.
Inhumanity: German soldiers laugh when a Russian soldier tries to help his wounded comrade
Bloody battles: the once uncontrollable Germans were stopped at Stalingrad, this was a turning point in Hitler’s failed invasion of Russia
Hitler demanded that his generals conduct a “war of extermination,” and the commanders not only allowed, but also actively encouraged murder, violence and robbery.
German tanks broke through the defensive lines of the Red Army - and then they brought down and derailed trenches to bury the still-living defenders. Prisoners of war were shot or not given food, so they had a choice - to eat each other or die of starvation. Running civilians were killed without the slightest hesitation.
Millions of Jews are also in the death trap. Behind the German forces that were rapidly advancing towards the center of Russia, special SS zonder teams were operating. They destroyed the Communists and the Jews - men, women, children, carrying out mass executions.
But the "march to the east", as it turned out, was Hitler's biggest mistake, the mistake due to which he lost the war. He assumed that it would be a quick victory — four weeks, perhaps less — when the demoralized Red Army, eaten away as he considered the cancer of Marxism, would collapse under the blows of its magnificent troops.
At the beginning, his prediction looked accurate. Stalin's insane purges of imaginary political opponents left his army without officers and with a disrupted control system. Border units retreated in disarray and panic. “The bodies lay on the roads and the black smoke from the burning fields covered the sun,” recalled one of the soldiers.
When the fascist troops attacked 1000 miles wide in the front, in the city of Minsk alone, in the western part of the Soviet Union, Belarus, a quarter of a million Soviet soldiers were surrounded. Soon Moscow was already in Hitler’s vice. Then he turned to seize the main strategic prizes - the grain regions of Ukraine and the oil-rich Caucasus.
What saved the Soviets from total defeat, was partly - coercion and fear. The commissioners stood behind the defenders and ruthlessly shot those who retreated. But more important was the old-fashioned patriotism.
Motherland was in danger, and soldiers and civilians, men and women, and even children, rallied to her defense, and what quickly became known as the Great Patriotic War began.
Street fighting: the Germans were stopped at Stalingrad
Ruthlessness: German troops enter the Russian village, which, in accordance with the Stalinist policy "not to leave the enemy nothing", was burned by the departing Russians
Hitler was not the first and not the last leader to discover that nothing unites divided people than an invasion of their country.
“May holy hatred be our main and only feeling,” Pravda, the official government newspaper, wrote.
"If you can keep weapon, even a shovel or pitchfork, attack the Germans. Kill the German and save the Motherland. "
The rhetoric worked. The key cities — Leningrad and Stalingrad — were almost captured, but they held, although millions of people died in them. Extremely fierce battles took place behind them and it is not surprising that German soldiers were most afraid of being sent to the Russian front.
In Stalingrad, in the ruins of streets and buildings, desperate, fiercest battles took place for six months before the remnants of the German army, surrounded and cut off from supplies, were forced to surrender, despite the order of the Führer to die on the barricades.
This was a turning point. After that, the Nazi troops moved to the position of the defenders. The front line was now moving back and forth with attacks and counterattacks (the Germans mostly counterattacked) and the two armies beat each other like mad.
Red Army in white: Russian soldiers attack German positions in winter 1941 of the year. Severe weather conditions were one of the factors hindering the German offensive
But the initiative already strongly belonged to Stalin. The retreat of the German troops from the Soviet Union became inevitable, and the battle for every piece of land was as fierce as the invasion was barbaric. Hitler, whose plans were destroyed, ordered to pursue a policy of "burned-out land" in the territories he left. In all the cities and villages through which his troops retreated, food was taken, buildings were destroyed, local residents were destroyed. The soldiers of the advancing Red Army liberated the desert.
We will never forget: Monuments in memory of the defenders of the Motherland have been erected throughout Russia.
The painful details of the atrocities became widely known. When the tank commander reached his own village in Ukraine, he was told that his wife and two children were locked in a shed that was doused with gasoline and set on fire.
“When he returned,” his comrades recalled, “he was already a different person. He no longer took prisoners. Even if the Germans tried to surrender, he killed them. ”
As the British historian Michael Jones tells in his new book about the horrors of the Eastern Front, the Germans even cynically used the methods of bacteriological warfare. In Belarus, they gathered almost 50 000 civilians, many of whom were children, and under guns drove them into a camp in a swamp surrounded by barbed wire.
2000 patients with typhus were also sent there to mix with healthy people and infect them. When the Germans left, the territory of the swamp camp was littered with the bodies of the dead and dying. The idea was to infect Soviet soldiers who would come to liberate the camp.
This plan, says Jones, "shook even veterans of the eastern front who had seen a lot." The Russian general said: "We will never forget or forgive these atrocities."
The same reaction was when, on the territory of Poland liberated from the Germans, the Red Army first encountered the concentration camp, when they first saw the crematorium stoves, still warm. One Soviet soldier said that when they understood what this place was used for, Maidanek, "we felt we were going crazy."
The soldiers' mental state was even worse when they reached the death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. Most of the inhabitants were already far away, but some still remained. They looked like perfect ruins.
“I have seen many innocent people killed. I saw those hanged and burned, ”wrote one company commander,“ but I was not ready for what I would see at Auschwitz. ”
Another soldier of the Red Army recalled: “worn out, terribly exhausted people wrapped in rags. Most were unable to stand, they lay on planks or sat leaning against a wall. It was a vision of hell. ”
Horror lay on horror - mountains of corpses; children's barracks, with only two survivors; warehouses filled with millions of rags - men's and women's clothing; 18-inch layer of soot on the internal parts of the chimney.
“I cannot comprehend how the human mind could have guessed such a thing,” said the sergeant after being in the “shower room.”
These devastating evidence of the destruction and torture of their people were fueling the Russian army. Another witness told his comrades: “No mercy to the German bastards. Smash them into bloody dust. ”
It was in this mood that the soldiers of the Red Army marched westward, crossed the Vistula, which flowed through Poland, and in January 1945 entered the territory of Germany. For many of them, the time has come for violent, officially sanctioned revenge.
Operational space: After breaking through the Russian border, German armor rapidly moved to the heart of a vast country.
The desert along the Minsk-Moscow highway: a column of German trucks passes through a Russian city destroyed by the war.
One soldier recalled how he asked the general what they could do with the Germans. "What do you want," he answered. “We did that,” the soldier told. “We shot unarmed civilians, threw grenades into basements where women and children were hiding.”
The tank commander deliberately crushed the refugees. The fighter pilot confessed that he shot down Bezhe columns without any repentance and turned thousands of people into mincemeat. ”
In one city, an old German rushed towards the Soviet troops, waving his Communist Party ticket with his ticket. He risked his life, keeping the party membership with the Nazis. But the soldier broke the German skull.
When he was shown the political loyalty of this man, the soldier said: “They are all the same to me, you bastards. I will not rest until I kill a hundred of them. ”
Spurred on by alcohol, the Red Army, raped, robbed and destroyed everything in its path to Berlin. The general, whose daughter was killed by the Germans in Ukraine, told the soldiers: “The hour of retribution has come. Each of us has a personal account - I have a daughter, you have sisters, our Mother Russia. ”
One of the few Soviet soldiers who came under the tribunal on charges of rape had a letter from home in the pocket of the gymnast saying that “the German fascists shot your father, hanged your mother and then, before killing your sister, raped her.
For the author of the book Michael Jones, who collected all this evidence, none of them is an excuse for the terrible behavior of a small part (in his opinion, they were - 10 -15%) of Soviet soldiers.
Big Three: The brutal dictator, Stalin, photographed here with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (left) and US President Franklin Roosevelt (center), was a key ally of the West
All this, unrestrained orgy of violence inevitably moved towards the Nazis. Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister, seized upon the atrocities of the Red Army, in order to convince the wavering Germans not to enter into negotiations and not to surrender, but to continue to fight until the very end.
And so it happened that the war on the Eastern Front, which began in the blood of 70 years ago, ended in bloody horror four years later.
The sacrifices were terrible, but not in vain. In the West, people often forget how dependent on the result of World War II on the Soviet Union. This debt tended to be ignored in the subsequent rhetoric of the Cold War, which dominated the relations between the USSR and the West for the next 45 years.
The monstrosity of the Stalin regime also makes it difficult to perceive the fact that, for four years, this serial killer - responsible for even more deaths than Hitler - was our ally.
The fact is, however, that without a long struggle on the Eastern Front, the Western allies might not have defeated Hitler. While his troops exhausted their forces in the struggle against the hordes of Stalin, the postponement gave Britain a chance to recover, pull up the Americans, start fighting in North Africa and Italy and prepare for the battles for the liberation of Europe in time.
If Hitler had won a quick victory over the Red Army, the whole continent would have been in his hands. And then he would be able to return to a devastated and depressed Britain.
We should be grateful to the Soviets for stubborn resistance to Hitler. This gave us a second chance, without which we could not have survived and conquered.
The book of Michael Jones "Total War: From StalinGrad to Berlin" was published by John Murray. Price £ 25.