"They crossed over the border the hour before dawn..." The Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact was signed on August 23, 1939. Anti-communist Germany came to terms with the USSR to open an opportunity for the invasion of Poland. World War II began within weeks with the German invasion of Poland. The pact was broken when the Germans invaded the USSR in June, 1941.
"Most of our planes were destroyed on the ground where they lay..." On June 22, 1941 the German's launched their attack on Russia. The Russians admitted to the loss of 1,200 aircraft in the first 9 hours. Within a week 90 percent of the Soviet front line strength had been destroyed. At the start of the war Russian Aircraft were outdated and no match for the German's. They were later supplemented by British aircraft including Spitfires and Hurricanes, and designed new aircraft of their own (Yaks and MiGs).
"Smolensk and Viasma soon fell..." Smolensk is a Russian city on the Dnieper River. The city was taken by the Germans during July and August of 1941. It became a central battlefield in the drive towards Moscow. Moscow was only 200 miles east of the city, along a road that had been taken by Napoleon in 1812. It was liberated by Russian troops in the winter of 1942-43. Out of an original force of 500,000-600,000, only 40,000 frost-bitten and half starved survivors stumbled back into France.
"By autumn we stood with our backs to the town of Orel..." Orel fell under German control October 8, 1941. The Press - "For all military purposes Soviet Russia is done with. The British dream of a two-front war is dead."
"General Guderian stands at the crest of the hill...." Heinz Guderian was a German military strategist who developed the Blitzkrieg, and was a primary proponent of tank warfare. Guderian's tactics were extremely successful during the invasion of Poland (September 1938). Guderian was put in charge of the German invasion of Russia, and was known for having many disagreements with Adolph Hitler with regards to strategy.
"Winter brought with her the rains, oceans of mud filled the roads..." Guderian noted that it started to snow on October 6, and reported that it was STILL snowing on October 12. By November he was reporting severe cases of frostbite, and no sign of winter clothing from headquarters.
"In the footsteps of Napoleon the shadow figures stagger through the winter..." General Blumentritt wrote "With amazement and disappointment we discovered in late October and early November that the beaten Russians seemed quite unaware that as a military force they had almost ceased to exist." On December 4 Guderian noted that the Second Panzer Army's drive to Moscow had been halted. The temperature had fallen to 31 below zero, and this was causing the ill-prepared German troops hardships. On December 5 the temperature had fallen another 5 degrees.
On December 6 General Georgi Zhukov unleashed 100 divisions of troops equipped and trained for the harsh conditions on the German invaders. For weeks afterwards the Germany army retreated, their front lines constantly pierced by Soviet troops. German military leaders could not help but compare their situation to that of Napoleon's defeated Grand Army, 130 years earlier.
"Falling back before the gates of Moscow " On December 5 the Germans had been stopped everywhere along a 200 mile semi- circular front around Moscow. Guderian had to pull back.
"The morning road leads to Stalingrad..." The Battle of Stalingrad was a pivotal Soviet victory. The German battle plan for 1942 moved away from Moscow towards the oil fields of the Caucasus and the warm water ports on the Caspian sea. In July 90 divisions of German troops set out towards Stalingrad, and by September had a foothold in Stalingrad. On November 23 a two-pronged Soviet counterattack surrounded the German 6th Army. Hitler forbade a German retreat. An attempt to help them was stopped. The troops were frozen and starved, and their vehicles only had fuel for 20 miles. Germany surrendered February 2, 1943 and lost approximately 150,000 troops.
"Two broken Tigers on fire in the night..." The tank-to-tank battles of World War II resulted in intensive research and development in armored vehicles. Germany upgraded the designs of previously used tanks, and developed several new models. These included the Tiger (1942), the Panther (1943) and the Royal Tiger (1943). During the Russian push towards Berlin in the latter days of the war there were a number of massive tank battles, at times involving hundreds of Russian and German tanks. Eye witness accounts of some of these battles speak of the hulks of tanks burning like torches.
"The flames of the Tigers are lighting the road to Berlin..." In January 1945 the Russians mounted their greatest offensive of the war. Stalin sent 180 divisions, many heavily armored, into Poland and East Prussia. Eisenhower informed Stalin on April 12 that US troops were going to make advances on Leipzig. Berlin was to be left pretty much to the Soviets. On April 16, Soviets launched a final attack on Berlin. German civilians and troops, expecting revenge from the Soviets, rushed to surrender to American and British troops in the city.
Surrender On April 25 patrols of the US 69th Infantry Division met with elements of the Russian 58th cutting off Berlin. On April 26 Russian shells began falling on the Chancellery in Berlin. Hitler committed suicide in his bunker on April 30, 1945. The German surrender was signed on May 7, 1945.
"They only held me for a day, a lucky break I say...." Russian prisoners of war who managed to escape their captors really did not fare much better. Fearing these men had been co-opted, Stalin ordered that they all be sent into a sort of internal exile in Siberia.