Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Second Front – Part One

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Now fully engaged, as he would be for the remainder of the war, Stalin did what he knew best. He spent people.

Having a near endless supply of farm-boys, factory workers, miners, trappers, and other unskilled civilians from his vast empire, he undertook a simple but ruthless strategy; he would out-man the Germans. The military was required to slow the enemy, yield, and then counterattack. Hold. Attack. Yield. Counterattack. In the meantime, farms were burned, supplies moved ever backwards, as the season advanced.

This strategy was one few nations could afford because it required millions of expendable people and vast tracts of land. Both would have to be sacrificed in enormous quantities because that was the only way to fight an enemy possessed of superior weaponry, better training, fighting experience, and hell-bent on moving forward.

If we can presume Stalin had few qualms with the costs of the campaign, what exactly would he then worry about?

There was in all of this, a deep-rooted fear. Hitler was fighting one war, as he always had, and now it was on Russian soil. Stalin wondered if the Allies would be content to let Germany and Russia duke it out until they were both so weak that they, the U.S. and Britain, could swoop in and seal the victory. Would a greatly weakened Russia then have to cede territories to the capitalists when they decided how to split the free world between them?

Perhaps Stalin simply expected some sort of fairness from the Allies. After all the the numbers of English dead and injured during the Battle of Britain were but a tiny fraction of what Russia was losing day by day.

Thus, Stalin repeatedly asked Churchill (and Roosevelt) to begin a second front by invading France. The tangible results of such an action would be an immediate reduction of pressure on Russian forces as Germany would have to move troops to the opposite end of Europe. Then of course, the machinery of war, supplies and armaments, would have be stretched even more in order to keep two massive campaigns running. As it turns out, this is the way the war eventually played itself out, but this was not soon enough for Stalin.

Following is a summary of what Russia endured, the events around them strengthening a belief that the Allies were deliberate in delaying the invasion of Europe for selfish reasons:

  • June: Operation Barbarossa begins. Within a week, 600,000 Russian soldiers are killed, wounded, or captured!
  • July: Stalin sends the first request for a second front to the Allies. 180,000 men are lost defending Smolensk.
  • August – September: 450,000 Russian soldiers are captured defending Kiev and Leningrad.
  • September: The siege of Leningrad begins. See LENINGRAD below.
  • October – November: Over 650,000 Russian soldiers are captured defending Moscow.
  • December: Germany now has almost 2.5 million Russian prisoners, most of whom would end up dying from starvation, exposure, disease, and torture. Still, somehow, this month marks the failure of Operation Barbarossa.
  • December: The year ends with no second front.
  • January – March: Following Germany's failure to capture Moscow, Russia counterattacks. While the operation is successful in taking pressure off Moscow, it costs Russia between 500,000 and 1,000,000 men, killed, wounded, or captured.
  • May: Stalin sends his foreign minister to London and Washington. Vyacheslav Molotov returns in June with an agreement from Churchill and Roosevelt that they will create a second front.
  • July: Germany attacks a force of 60,000 Russians behind their lines (there as a result of the earlier operations out of Moscow.) The entire Russian force is taken or destroyed.
  • July: Germany also begins attacking Stalingrad. See STALINGRAD below.
  • December: The year ends with no second front.
  • February – March: With a tremendously costly victory in Stalingrad, the war starts to turn around for Russia. However, there will still be millions of casualties to come.
  • July – August: Over 860,000 men are killed or injured in a stunning victory over German armor in Kursk.
  • December: The year ends with no second front.
  • June – August: Over 700,000 soldiers are killed or wounded capturing Minsk and reaching the Polish border.

This marks the end of battles lost, battles won, and the long wait for, and in the case of the 1944 listing above, a reaction to the opening of a second front.

On June 6th, 1944, the Allies landed in Normandy, France, to begin taking Europe back.

Lest you think the nightmare was over for Stalin, consider that the war would last almost another year, with the Russian military continuing to sustain the highest numbers of casualties in any theater of operation. Quite simply, they had the capacity to produce and lose tremendous quantities of soldiers and equipment, and they would continue to do so all the way to Berlin.


Lasting from July 1942 until February of 1943, The Siege of Stalingrad would cost Russia an estimated 1.1 million troops and an unknown number of civilians.


Lasting from September 1941 until January of 1944, The Siege of Leningrad would cost Russia an unknown number of troops and an unknown number of civilians.

  • November: 11,000 civilians die of cold or starvation.
  • December: 50,000 civilians die of cold or starvation.
  • In January and February: 200,000 civilians die.

In total, almost two years later, 1.5 million civilians would have vanished from the population. We will never know how many of these would manage to escape the city and somehow survive the war zone and deadly weather. It is safe to assume most died in or near Leningrad.

Within the city, there was no talking for lack of energy. If someone fell in the street, he or she was ignored or searched for a precious ration card. There was no crying at funerals. There were no coffins for burials. Holes were made with explosives and bodies thrown in to remain uncovered. Snow would take care of that. And, there was cannibalism.

Have no doubt, Russia lost more people during the war than any other nation. But, they also produced more soldiers, tanks, aircraft, and weapons than any other. Therefore, in the end, without Russia, the war would never have been won.

1 comment:

dolat said...

I was a Maths student...History was not my forte
but after reading this it awakened my interest
Very well portrayed