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Soviet Army Poster, Toidze - Your Motherland Calls, 1941 .With the outbreak of the Second World War, the Soviet Union found itself unprepared for the conflict.

Political purges had stripped the military of much of its experienced leadership, and industrial production was slow in converting from civil to military production.

Although its non-aggression pact with Germany (1939) served for a while to forestall an attack by Hitler, the Soviets were caught by surprise by the invasion of June 1941.

The greatest land war in recorded history began at 3.30 a.m. on 22 June 1941, the day after the 129th anniversary of Napoleon's attack on Russia in 1842.

German Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus,The initial German front was 995 miles-1600 km long. The main front would soon expand to 1490 miles-2384 km and extend to a depth of over 600 miles-960 km. In to this great space of steppe, forest and swamp marched the best of the German Army, amounting to
threequarters of it's field strength.

By the end of the year, the Germans had seized most of the Soviet territory in the west, surrounded St. Petersburg (having been renamed once again as Leningrad), and advanced to within a few hundred miles of Moscow. About 3.500.000 Red Army soldiers were in captivity and 4.000.000 had died in battle. At one time the Germans occupied some 900.000 square miles-1.440.000 square km of Soviet territory.

Bombed factory stands witness to WWII, Stalingrad.With tremendous effort, a Russian counter-offensive pushed back the advance on the capital, but in the summer of 1942 the Germans launched a new invasion against the southern front in an attempt to gain control of the rail center of Stalingrad on the Volga and the vital Caucasus oil fields.

The German Sixth Army was ordered to take Stalingrad - 'smash the enemy forces concentrated there, occupy the town and block land communications between the Don and the Volga'. Stalingrad was a long urban strip strung out along the west bank of the Volga. Hitler was determined to capture it as it was a major manufacturing centre and the key to the communications system of southern Russia.

n German hands it would block Russian attempts to destroy German armies between the Don and Caucasus. But Stalin was equally determined to defend it, not least as it bore his name. His order was read out to every Soviet soldier - 'Not a step backwards!' Hence the clash of the titans.

Soviet tank T-34/85, Eastern Front, 1944.The Battle of Stalingrad (August 1942 - February 1943) was the decisive Soviet victory that stopped the German southern advance and turned the tide of the war. At Stalingrad Soviet armies began the series of offensives that were to take them to Berlin.

From August 23, when German Sixth Army forces, commanded by General Friedrich Paulus, reached the Volga at Stalingrad, Soviet and German infantry fought a long, house-to-house battle for the city. The occupying Russian army was fanatical. It contested every street and factory, whether still standing or totally destroyed. Territory which the Germans, with their superior fire power, had won by day was regained by night. At the end city was completely leveled. There were no tall buildings left in Stalingrad.

Soviet army on the attack, Soviet-Polish border, Jan 1, 1944.At the same time Soviet armies, ultimately numbering an estimated 1 million men, built up. On 19 November, preceded by an enormous barrage, forces under General Zhukov attacked on both German flanks. Within 5 days they had executed a pincer movement that encircled 250,000-300,000 German and satellite troops - the besiegers were besieged. Hitler forbade Paulus from attempting to break out to the rear, which he might have done early in the encirclement.

Soviet soldiers raise their flag over the Reichstag in Berlin in 1945.Goering promised him an airlift which never materialised. A relief army stalled in December and rations had to be reduced. Ammunition was running low. In January the Russians called on von Paulus to surrender. Hitler ordered him to refuse, made him a Field Marshal and informed him that no German Field Marshal had ever been taken alive.

The German position was now hopeless. Troops slowly froze, starved and ran out of ammunition. Paulus's forces were divided into two parts by a Russian thrust. By January 30th he was trapped in the basement of the large department store in Stalingrad where he had set up his final HQ. To Hitler's disappointment he preferred to surrender and live: on 2 February he and his staff gave themselves up. By then 70,000 Germans had died in Stalingrad. The Russians took 91,000 prisoners, including twenty-four German generals. Only 6000 ever returned. Hitler himself said, 'The god of war has gone over to the other side'.
The symbolic statue of the Motherland in Volgograd. It's 52 metres high.Despite an overwhelming disadvantage in numbers and inferior weaponry, the Russian army succeeded in holding out against the enormous German army. In November, a relieving force managed to encircle the attackers and compel the surrender of the entire force, marking a decisive turning point in the war. From that point onward, the Russian army remained on the attack. By 1944 they had driven the Germans back to Poland, and on May 2, 1945, Berlin fell.

s was the case with the Napoleonic Wars, the Soviet Union emerged from World War II considerably stronger than it had been before the war. Although the country suffered enormous devastation and lost more than twenty million lives, it had gained considerable territory and now ranked as one of the two great world powers along with the United States.

Soviet War Poster - Have 
                    you volunteered?
Soviet War Poster: "Have you volunteered?"

Siege of Leningrad

Chieldren during seige.This was certainly the most tragic period in the history of this city. It was full of suffering and heroism. For everyone who lives in St. Petersburg the Blokada (the Siege) of Leningrad is an important part of their heritage and for the older generations it brings the memories that they will never forget.

The German army advanced so rapidly toward Leningrad that less than two and a half months after June 22, 1941, when the Soviet Union was attacked by Nazi Germany, German troops were already approaching Leningrad. The Red Army was outflanked and on September 8, 1941 the Germans had fully encircled Leningrad and the siege began.

Soviet soldiers during siedge.Leningrad was a particularly cosmopolitan city in which the arts flourished, despited Soviet rule. It had a long and glorious history which went back to the Tsars, when it was called, St. Petersberg, but after the October Revolution it was renamed Leningrad, after Lenin, one of the founders of the communist movement.

Siege lasted for about 900 days, from September 8, 1941 till January 27, 1944. The city (whose population then totaled nearly three million people) was completely cut off from the rest of the country, and it was Hitler’s intention to literally starve the city into submission.

Food and fuel stocks were very limited (1-2 months only). All the public transport stopped. By the winter of 1941-42 there was no heating, no water supply, almost no electricity and very little food. In January 1942, in the depths of an unusually cold winter, the lowest food rations in the city were only 125 grams (about 1/4 of a pound) of bread per day. In just two months, January and February, 1942, 200 thousand people died in Leningrad of cold and starvation. But some of the war industry still worked and the city did not surrender.

Harrison Salisbury, in his book 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad, wrote, “This was the greatest and longest siege ever endured by a modern city, a time of trial, suffering and heroism that reached the peaks of tragedy and bravery almost beyond our power to comprehend...Hitler’s attempt to wipe Leningrad off the map resulted in an almost unequaled example of courage, strength and determination from the city’s populace.”

Meanwhile, the city lived on. The treasures of the Hermitage and the suburban palaces of Petrodvorets, Pushkin, etc. were hidden in the basements of the Hermitage and St Isaac's Cathedral. Most students continued their studies and even passed finals.

In the midst of this misery, Dmitri Shostakovich was composing the Seventh "Leningrad" Symphony, a work of music that bore the stamp of genius, from a man who himself had suffered Stalin’s scorn.

When he finally finished the symphony, there were only 16 members still alive of the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra, which had previously numbered over 100. And the symphony was scored for a large orchestra. Signs were put up all over Leningrad, asking any musicians who were still alive and could play an instrument, and could get to the symphony hall to assemble. Word got around and musicians came from all over the city and from combat units, and assembled to rehearse this Seventh Symphony. For an entire week this ragged group of tired, sick, emanciated but incredibly dedicated musicians rehearsed the symphony.

On the day of the performance, the commander-in-chief of the city’s armed forces ordered his heavy artillery to knock out as many German guns as possible so that there would be no interruptions in the performance. As the bombardment subsided the first note of the symphony sounded. The performance was not only the most emotion-laden presentation of the work imaginable, but was surely one of the most electrifying concerts ever given. Whatever the technical shortcomings the performance might have had counted for nothing; the impact on the audience was truly extraordinary.

In January 1943 the Siege was broken and a year later, on January 27, 1944 it was fully lifted. At least 641 thousand people had died in Leningrad during the Siege (some estimates put this figure at 800 thousand). Leningrad still remains a symbol of Nazi brutality and aggression on the Eastern Front.

Elena Taranukhina lived through the siege of Leningrad and is sharing her experience now. (Eng.)

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