A Russian girl directing a Red Army convoy towards Berlin in 1944
‘Operation Barbarossa’ was Hitler’s plan to defeat Russia in 4 months flat. Yet it wasn’t until 4 years later, on May 9th., 1945, that the German Army surrendered in Berlin. During this time, at least 25 million former Soviet citizens lost their lives in the most gruesome, tragic and wasteful way possible.
It was a war of fluctuating fortunes in which the Wehrmacht Generals came within binocular sight of all the Barbarossa objectives: Moscow, Leningrad and Stalingrad. But the protracted war left the German forces stretched and depleted and by 1943 Russia had the initiative. Even so, pressing it home meant fighting not only the Germans but Nazi allies from Finland to Romania.
You can follow all the events of the war on the excellent Pobediteli site, an interactive Flash presentation complete with maps, moving front line, annotations, archive pictures and audio clips of combatants from the many theatres of war.
It will take you a couple of hours to follow the entire timeline but it’s quite fascinating to watch the war unfold and to play General yourself, and to imagine what you might have done differently.
The tipping points are well highlighted. Russia moved all its factories East as early as 1941. Between July and November of that year some 1500 factories and 10 million people had been evacuated to places like Gorki and Chelyabinsk – still remembered today as ‘Tankograd’. So by the summer of 1942, the Russian war engine was fully functioning and competing with German production.
The Germans, to their advantage, had vast pools of slave labour from the occupied territories like Belarus . . . but unwilling and unfed labour didn’t match the productivity of dedicated Soviet workers. After a while, the Germans discovered that 60% of the 3,5 million slavs they put in labour camps early on were dying within 6 months, thanks to inhuman conditions. No personnel management stars earned by Germans here.
Another interesting highlight is of course the point at which Hitler ‘lost the plot’. By 1943, Stalin was devolving power to clever Generals he had learned to trust, while an increasingly paranoid Hitler as wresting powers from strategic command and firing those with more military competence than himself.
But none of these factors takes away the heroic defence of cities like Odessa, Leningrad and Staliningrad, which was largely down to the iron will and resolution of ordinary citizens. A little known fact is that the average Russian’s weapon of choice in Staliningrad was a spade, lethally sharpened on three sides. City combat was too fast and close to pull or load a gun.
The Pobediteli site has won several awards including ‘Internet Event Of The Year, 2005′.