The Russian Front 1941-1945 episode 1: On 22 June 1941, German tanks rolled into the Soviet Union in an offensive which was to claim the lives of nearly 49 million people. Over 3 million German troops invade Russia in three parallel offensives, in what is the most powerful invasion force in history. Nineteen panzer divisions, 3,000 tanks, 2,500 aircraft, and 7,000 artillery pieces pour across a thousand-mile front as Hitler goes to war on a second front. This episode covers the opening phase of the war, as the forces of Germany focused their eyes on the prize of Moscow, and the destruction of Russia.
The Russian Front was fought between the Soviet Union and Germany, along with other Axis powers, including Romania, Finland, and Italy. The Russian Front was characterized by some of the largest and deadliest battles of the war, including the Battle of Stalingrad and the Battle of Kursk. The front was also marked by extreme hardship, with the harsh Russian winter taking a heavy toll on both sides. Ultimately, the Soviet Union emerged victorious on the Russian Front, thanks in part to the determination and resilience of the Soviet people.
The Russian Front chronicles the war between the Soviet Union and Germany that began on June 22, 1941, when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, and ended with a Soviet assault on Berlin in April 1945. More combatants were killed on the Eastern Front than in all other theaters of World War II combined. The war on the Russian Front was a bitter, deadly struggle, triumphant for the Nazis at first, but eventually proving to be their downfall. Among the military campaigns examined is the brutal battle for Stalingrad in 1942, in which the Red Army lost more than 1 million men in defense of the city, and the engagement at Kursk in July 1943 involving 1 million men and 2,700 tanks.
Relive campaign by campaign and battle by battle the bloody war between Nazi Germany and the Red Army of the Soviet Union. Featuring rare archive footage from the front, this fascinating series retells a story of barbarism, heroism, self-sacrifice, patriotism, despair, and triumph. An epic history of war and warfare, it is also the story of ordinary soldiers on both sides who found themselves fighting to the death in an unimaginably harsh and brutal war.
Professor John Erickson, the award-winning author of “Road to Stalingrad” and “Road to Berlin” reassesses the titanic struggle between Hitler and Stalin on the Eastern Front. Series features rare archive footage from both Russian and German sources, informative graphics and maps, and incisive commentary and analysis by Professor John Erickson.
The Russian Front 1941-1945 episode 1
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for the German invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II. The operation began on June 22, 1941, when the German army, along with other Axis powers, launched a surprise attack on the Soviet Union. The invasion caught the Soviet forces by surprise and the Germans made rapid advances into Soviet territory. However, the harsh Russian winter and the determination of the Soviet people ultimately halted the German advance, and the operation is considered to have been a turning point in the war.
In the two years leading up to the invasion, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed political and economic pacts for strategic purposes. Following the Soviet occupation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, the German High Command began planning an invasion of the Soviet Union in July 1940 (under the codename Operation Otto). Over the course of the operation, over 3.8 million personnel of the Axis powers—the largest invasion force in the history of warfare—invaded the western Soviet Union along a 2,900-kilometer (1,800 mi) front, with 600,000 motor vehicles and over 600,000 horses for non-combat operations. The offensive marked a massive escalation of World War II, both geographically and with the Anglo-Soviet Agreement and the formation of the Allied coalition including the Soviet Union.
The operation opened up the Eastern Front, in which more forces were committed than in any other theater of war in human history. The area saw some of history’s largest battles, most horrific atrocities, and highest casualties (for Soviet and Axis forces alike), all of which influenced the course of World War II and the subsequent history of the 20th century. The German armies eventually captured some five million Soviet Red Army troops. The Nazis deliberately starved to death or otherwise killed 3.3 million Soviet prisoners of war, and millions of civilians, as the “Hunger Plan” worked to solve German food shortages and exterminate the Slavic population through starvation. Mass shootings and gassing operations, carried out by the Nazis or willing collaborators, murdered over a million Soviet Jews as part of the Holocaust.
Adolf Hitler was a German politician and leader of the Nazi Party. He rose to power as Chancellor of Germany in 1933 and later Führer in 1934. During his dictatorship from 1933 to 1945, he initiated World War II in Europe by invading Poland in September 1939. He was closely involved in military operations throughout the war and was central to the perpetration of the Holocaust, the systematic extermination of millions of Jews and other minority groups. Hitler and the Nazi regime were responsible for the deaths of millions of people, including civilians and members of the military, and were ultimately defeated by the Allied powers in 1945. Hitler committed suicide in April of that year.
Hitler was born in Braunau am Inn in Austria-Hungary and was raised near Linz. He lived in Vienna later in the first decade of the 1900s and moved to Germany in 1913. He was decorated during his service in the German Army in World War I. In 1919, he joined the German Workers’ Party (DAP), the precursor of the Nazi Party, and was appointed leader of the Nazi Party in 1921. In 1923, he attempted to seize governmental power in a failed coup in Munich and was imprisoned with a sentence of five years. In jail, he dictated the first volume of his autobiography and political manifesto Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”). After his early release in 1924, Hitler gained popular support by attacking the Treaty of Versailles and promoting pan-Germanism, anti-Semitism and anti-communism with charismatic oratory and Nazi propaganda. He frequently denounced international capitalism and communism as part of a Jewish conspiracy.
By November 1932, the Nazi Party held the most seats in the German Reichstag, but did not have a majority. As a result, no party was able to form a majority parliamentary coalition in support of a candidate for chancellor. The former chancellor Franz von Papen and other conservative leaders persuaded President Paul von Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as chancellor on 30 January 1933. Shortly after, the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act of 1933 which began the process of transforming the Weimar Republic into Nazi Germany, a one-party dictatorship based on the totalitarian and autocratic ideology of Nazism. On 2 August 1934, Hindenburg died and Hitler replaced him as the head of state and government. Hitler aimed to eliminate Jews from Germany and establish a New Order to counter what he saw as the injustice of the post-World War I international order dominated by Britain and France. His first six years in power resulted in rapid economic recovery from the Great Depression, the abrogation of restrictions imposed on Germany after World War I, and the annexation of territories inhabited by millions of ethnic Germans, which initially gave him significant popular support.
Joseph Stalin was a Soviet politician who served as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1922 until his death in 1953. Stalin rose to power in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and played a key role in the history of the Soviet Union. He was a ruthless and authoritarian leader who is responsible for the deaths of millions of people through political repression, forced collectivization, and other policies. Stalin’s rule is associated with the Great Purge, in which hundreds of thousands of people were executed or imprisoned, and with the widespread famine that occurred in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Despite his brutal tactics, Stalin was able to maintain his grip on power until his death in 1953.
Born to a poor family in Gori in the Russian Empire (now Georgia), Stalin attended the Tbilisi Spiritual Seminary before joining the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. He edited the party’s newspaper, Pravda, and raised funds for Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik faction via robberies, kidnappings and protection rackets. Repeatedly arrested, he underwent several internal exiles to Siberia. After the Bolsheviks seized power in the October Revolution and created a one-party state under the new Communist Party in 1917, Stalin joined its governing Politburo. Serving in the Russian Civil War before overseeing the Soviet Union’s establishment in 1922, Stalin assumed leadership over the country following Lenin’s death in 1924. Under Stalin, socialism in one country became a central tenet of the party’s ideology. As a result of his Five-Year Plans, the country underwent agricultural collectivisation and rapid industrialisation, creating a centralised command economy. Severe disruptions to food production contributed to the famine of 1930–33 that killed millions. To eradicate accused “enemies of the working class”, Stalin instituted the Great Purge, in which over a million were imprisoned, largely in the Gulag system of forced labour camps, and at least 700,000 executed between 1934 and 1939. By 1937, he had absolute control over the party and government.
Stalin promoted Marxism–Leninism abroad through the Communist International and supported European anti-fascist movements during the 1930s, particularly in the Spanish Civil War. In 1939, his regime signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, resulting in the Soviet invasion of Poland. Germany ended the pact by invading the Soviet Union in 1941. Despite initial catastrophes, the Soviet Red Army repelled the German invasion and captured Berlin in 1945, ending World War II in Europe. Amid the war, the Soviets annexed the Baltic states and Bessarabia and North Bukovina, subsequently establishing Soviet-aligned governments throughout Central and Eastern Europe and in parts of East Asia. The Soviet Union and the United States emerged as global superpowers and entered a period of tension, the Cold War. Stalin presided over the Soviet post-war reconstruction and its development of an atomic bomb in 1949. During these years, the country experienced another major famine and an antisemitic campaign that culminated in the doctors’ plot. After Stalin’s death in 1953, he was eventually succeeded by Nikita Khrushchev, who subsequently denounced his rule and initiated the de-Stalinisation of Soviet society.