Posts Tagged ‘eastern front’

The War of the Century: When Hitler Fought Stalin, is a BBC documentary film series that examines Adolf Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 and the “no holds barred” war on both sides. It not only examines the war but also the terror inside the Soviet Union at the time due to the paranoia of Joseph Stalin – the revenge atrocities, the purge of the armed forces, the near-lunacy orders, & the paranoia of being upstaged by others, especially Marshal Zhukov. The historical adviser is Prof. Ian Kershaw.


Type: Documentary
Title: Stalingrad: The Attack, The Kessel, The Doom

The outcome of World War II in Europe was decided in the East. This tragic & unforgiving battle had two phases: (1) the German attack & eventual occupation of Stalingrad, which lasted from August to November 1942 & (2) the Soviet counteroffensive, which began in mid-November & ended with the liquidation of the German Sixth Army under General Friedrich Paulus. Hitler’s policy of ‘defense to the last’ cost the Germans more than 200,000 lives. The Russians had achieved their most notable & dramatic victory of the war.

This 3-part mini-series contains uncut, digitally remastered footage captured by front-line cameramen during the siege of Stalingrad. The collection of interviews featured here offer terrifying eyewitness accounts of the brutality, horror & hardships suffered by its plagued survivors. This masterfully crafted documentary truly stands as a striking testament to the human spirits unrelenting will to survive.

To watch Stalingrad, click here.

While the Phony War dragged on in the West, world attention turned to an escalating conflict in the East. Following the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland in late September 1939, Stalin’s government began pressuring Finland to make territorial concessions on the Karelian Isthmus. At the time, the Soviet-Finnish border crossed this strip of land between the Gulf of Finland & Lake Ladoga just twenty miles north of Leningrad – well within the range of Finnish artillery – & Stalin was concerned that, should Finland fall under German control, Leningrad’s safety would be compromised.

The Soviet dictator further requested that Finland grant him a thirty-year lease on the port at Hangö, about a hundred miles west of Helsinki, so that the Soviets could establish a naval base there. In exchange, he offered twice as much Soviet territory north of Lake Ladoga.

The Finns agreed to everything except the Hangö lease, which they claimed would violate their neutrality & compromise their independence. The Soviets next began a propaganda offensive, & when that also failed to win them Hangö, they invaded. Stalin initially threw thirty infantry divisions & six tank brigades against the nine Finnish divisions defending Karelia. Later, he sent even more troops north of Lake Ladoga to attack Finland from the east. This latter move showed especially poor judgment.

In general, the Soviets had made the same mistake that Franz Halder was contemplating killing Hitler to prevent: They had invaded Finland in winter, when conditions were simply not suitable for offensive operations. Their mechanized units quickly bogged down in thickly forested, snow-clogged terrain, & thousands of frozen Soviet corpses soon lined the few rough tracks along which tanks could pass. Finally, in January 1940, the Red Army pulled back from its lines north of Lake Ladoga & concentrated its vastly superior firepower on the Karelian front. Outnumbering the Finns there fifty to one, the Soviet troops eventually broke the Finnish lines & threatened Helsinki. On March 12th, the Finnish government asked for an armistice. The fighting ended two days later.

Thus the Red Army won the Winter War but hardly in a satisfactory manner. In Berlin, Hitler took careful notice of the numerous blunders the Soviets made & the great difficulty they had subjugating what was, by anyone’s measure, a considerably inferior Finnish military. How could the Red Army, the Führer must have wondered, possibly stand up to the Wehrmacht?

One of my favorite introductions to a novel.

From The Red Orchestra: The Soviet Spy Network Inside Nazi Europe by V.E. Tarrant

First, this is a story of a loosely connected group of Soviet spy apparats (networks) which operated in Nazi Germany, Nazi-occupied France, Belgium & Holland, & neutral Switzerland during the Second World War & which were collectively known as Die Rote Kapelle – The Red Orchestra.

The Red Orchestra was not only one of the strangest spy apparats in the history of espionage, it was also one of the most effective, playing a vital part in the eventual destruction of the vile scourge of Nazism. Its agents & informers included Russians, Polish Jews, Frenchmen, Belgians, Dutchmen, Hungarians, Swiss, Germans, & Englishmen. Although the Red Orchestra was a GRU (Glavno Razvedyvatelno Upravlenie, or Soviet Military Intelligence) apparat, its members included people from diverse political persuasions, ranging from committed Communists to right-wing conservatives, & from many different social classes, from aristocrats right across the spectrum to the proletariat. They included amongst their ranks professional GRU agents, businessmen, publishers, ordinary soldiers, a fortune teller & a group of high-ranking, strategically placed German officers who provided the Red agents with the day-to-day decisions & planning made by Hitler & the German High command relating to the course of the war on the Russian Front. This diverse collection of men & women, who in normal circumstances would have had very little in common, were united by a single common denominator – a hatred for Nazis.

The German counter-intelligence agencies became aware of the existence of the Red Orchestra shortly after Hitler launched his invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, & thus began a hunt for the Red agents by the Abwehr (Military Intelligence) & the Gestapo (Secret State Police) which lasted for over two years. During this time, by dint of slow, painstaking detective work, lucky breaks, the application of ‘intensified interrogation’ (the euphemism for torture) & betrayal, the German sleuths slowly prised open the Red Orchestra. But by the time the investigation had been brought to a successful conclusion the German forces on the Eastern Front had been defeated, thanks in the main to the information sent to Moscow by the Red Orchestra.

1. Strange Bleeps In The Ether

At 3:15 in the morning of Sunday, June 22nd, 1941 a gigantic radical lightening flash, followed a split second later by a deep thunderous roar, rippled along the German-Russian frontier as thousands of heavy-calibre guns simultaneously belched forth fire & steel. This massive bombardment heralded an onslaught by more than three million German troops, who poured over the Bug & Niemen rivers to invade the Soviet Union. Four days later, at 3:58AM on Thursday, June 26th, while Hitler’s panzers were smashing through the forward Russian defenses, a German long-range radio monitoring station sited at Kranz on the Baltic coast of East Prussia intercepted a Morse code message being tapped out on the key of a clandestine short-wave radio transmitter. The operator who intercepted this message had tuned in to the frequency employed by partisans of the Norwegian Resistance, who made nightly contact with London, usually relaying a short message consisting of no more than ten to a dozen cipher groups. But the call-sign the operator intercepted on the morning of June 26th was entirely different from those used by the Norwegians: ‘KLK from PTX… KLK from PTX… KLK from PTX. 2606.03.3032 wds. No. 14 qbv.’ This strange call-sign was followed by a message composed of thirty-two five-figure cipher groups, ending with the Morse signature ‘AR 503.85. KLK from PTX.’

During the course of the next four nights the Kranz station intercepted further messages from the PTX pianist (as an enemy radio operator was termed in German counter-espionage parlance), & when the nature of these messages was reported to Lieutenant-Colonel Hans Kopp, commanding officer of the Funkabwehr (Signals Security), whose headquarters was situated on the Matthaikirchplatz in central Berlin, he ordered the radio monitoring stations in Germany & Nazi-occupied Europe to pay special attention to the PTX transmissions: “Essential discover PTX schedule. Night frequency 10,363 kilocycles. Day frequency unknown. Priority 1a’.

As the PTX transmitter had burst into life only a few days after the invasion of the Soviet Union, Kipp was apprehensive that the recipient of the PTX messages might well be housed in Moscow & that the enciphered messages were the result of information gleaned by a Soviet spy ring at work somewhere in the Reich or the occupied territories. During the course of the next two months the monitoring stations intercepted some 250 messages taped out on the key of the PTX transmitter, but attempts to discover the location of the clandestine set by taking cross-bearings on the source of the signals produced inconclusive results: all that the radio experts could suggest was that PTX was operating from somewhere in an area covering southern Holland, Belgium, & north-eastern France. As it was essential to locate the city or town in which the pianist was holed up before a hunt by German counter-espionage agents could be mounted, such an imprecise report was as good as useless: they may as well have suggested the North Pole!

In the meantime, however, a far more disturbing report landed on Kopp’s desk. Early in July the monitoring stations at kranz & Breslau, while searching the air waves for further PTX transmissions, intercepted messages from a second transmitter which was employing the same five-figure cipher as the PTX pianist. In addition, it was noted that the schedules & frequencies employed by this second pianist were closely related to the modus operandi of PTX, which strongly suggested that the two pianists belonged to the same espionage apparat. Moreover, attempts by the monitoring stations to pin-point the location of this second transmitter by cross-bearings had produced far more positive & alarming results: it was housed somewhere within a radius of less than five miles from the Funkabwehr headquarters in the very heart of Hitler’s capital! To make matters worse, the Funkabwehr codes & cipher evaluation analysts had come to the conclusion that the cipher employed by both pianists was of Russian origin, which presented Kopp with the unpalatable certainty that a Soviet spy ring was at work in Germany.

Kopp reacted to this discovery as though he had received a violent electric shock, for on the eve of invasion of Russia the counter-espionage agencies in the Reich has assured Hitler that Germany had been swept clean of Communists & Soviet underground agents. Indeed, the campaign to smash the German Communist Party – in its day, the most powerful in Europe – along with the Communist espionage & informer organizations of the Comintern (Communist International) had commenced immediately after the Nazis sized power in January 1933. During the next eight years thousands of German Communists vanished behind the barbed wire of the concentration camps, while the Gestapo (Secret State Police), SD (SS Security Service) & Abwehr (Military Intelligence) methodically tracked down & liquidated the Comintern underground of saboteurs, informers & agents operating in the Nazi state.

This violent campaign to rid Germany of ‘reds’ had obviously not been thorough enough, as evidenced by the sudden appearance of the Berlin pianist. Goaded into action, Kopp dispatched three radio monitoring squads on to the streets of Berlin at the beginning of September to hunt down the enemy pianist, who had already relayed over 500 messages through the ether to Moscow. Theoretically, the location of a transmitter was a relatively easy matter. Three monitoring squads, each equipped with a direction-finder set (a receiver with a rotatable loop aerial) posted themselves at three different positions some miles from each other & each took a bearing on the clandestine transmitter when the pianist began tapping out his messages. The bearings were obtained by slowly turning the loop aerials until they reached a position where the enemy transmitter’s signal sounded loudest in the direction-finder receivers. The resulting data were then reported back to the squads’ commander, who drew the three reported lines of bearing across a street map commencing from the known positions of the three squads. The point at which the three lines intersected would then reveal the position of the transmitter on the street plan. That was the theory, but in practice the process of detection proved to be far more difficult.

When Kopp’s monitoring squads began their hunt, disguised in post office mechanics’ uniforms & employing post office maintenance vans & canvas street shelters to hide their bulky direction-finder sets, they found their task beset with problems. Unlike the PTX pianist who transmitted practically every night, the Berlin pianist functioned capriciously, alternating bouts of feverish activity with spells of silence which sometimes lasted for days at a time. To compound this difficulty the monitoring squads also had to cope with the pianist’s campaign of subterfuge. To throw the hounds off the scent he constantly changed his call-sign & transmitted on a variety of wavelengths. For example, on one particular night he put out his call-sign on 43 meters, received his acknowledgement from Moscow on 39 meters & then switched to 49 meters to transmit his message. He also introduced an additional stratagem by putting out a fresh call-sign when he switched from 43 to 49 meters, to give the impression that another transmitter had joined in.

To complicate matters still further, it soon became apparent from the bearings taken by three squads that the pianist was transmitting from three different places. Nevertheless, by October 21st, 1941 the detection squads had managed to narrow down the search to three approximate locations, each being less than two miles from Funkabwehr headquarters: one was near the Bayrische Platz to the south-west of Funkabwehr HQ, the second was to the eastward near the Moritzplatz & the third was due north in the area of Invalidenpark.

By this stage Kopp was confident that a few more days of short-range direction finding would pin-point the actual tenement blocks used by the pianist, & a raid launched when he was actually tapping out his messages would bag the elusive quarry. During the night of October 22nd the three squads searched the air waves in vain for the tap of the pianist’s key. Frustratingly, it seemed, the pianist had lapsed into one of his periodic bouts of silence. Night after night the three squads continued to search the air waves without success until, more than a week later, it dawned on Kopp that the pianist, by some ocular means, had discovered or been warned that the hounds were closing in for the kill.

Left with no alternative, Kopp withdrew his monitors & ordered the long-range stations to pay special attention to the Berlin area so that the Funkabwehr would be alerted should the wary pianist being transmitting again – if he ever did. In the meantime, Kopp had to admit defeat: the trail had gone cold.

The Plan Of Attack

It would be more probable that the confirmation of the order to attack Dresden was given in a general spirit of compliance with the memorandum tabled at Yalta by the Soviet Deputy Chief of Staff, General Antonov, on 4th February, in which he suggested that the Western strategic bomber forces might deliver attacks on communications near the Eastern front.

Once the order to bomb Dresden was confirmed Sir Arthur Harris raised no further objections to carrying it out. As he comments in his memoirs Bomber Offensive: “The attack on Dresden was at the time considered military necessity by much more important people that myself.”

The First Attack: 10:10PM, 13th February

At 10:09PM the ticking clock which replaced wireless broadcasts during alerts in Germany was sharply interrupted. The unmistakably Saxon voice of a very agitated announcer broke out of the loudspeakers: “Achtung, achtung, achtung! The first waves of the large enemy bomber formation have changed course, & are now approaching the city boundaries. There is going to be an attack. The population is instructed to proceed at once to the basements & cellars. The police have instructions to arrest all those who remain in the open.”

In his mosquito three thousand feet about the silent city, the Master Bomber was repeating over & over into his VHF transmitter: “Controller, to Plate-rack Force: Come in & bomb glow of red T.I.s as planned.”

It was exactly 10:10PM.

The Second Attack: 1:30AM, 14th February

Zero hour for the second attack on Dresden was 1:30AM. At 1:23AM the Blind Illuminator Lancasters released their sticks of flares across the aiming point, & at 1:28AM the Master Bomber arrived; to his horror, he found that the whole of the center of the city was being swept by a violent firestorm, making it impossible for him to identify the aiming point clearly.

From Irving:The Destruction of Dresden

Richard Pireau barely knew Dresden. All he could have told you was the vague direction of the Großer Garten, a large park in the center of the city. Again & again, impassable craters blocked his path. The soles of his shoes had been scorched away long ago. But he felt no pain. All he knew was that the fiery storm raging round him would soon close into an impassable ring. Shortly after 1 o’clock, he finally reached the park, where thousands were scrambling to safety, weak & exhausted like himself. Suddenly he was startled by a scream from thousands of throats. Incredulously he stared at the sky. All four corners of the park were lit up by white “Christmas tree” flares. Richard Pierau dropped to the ground & hid under a park bench. He was gripped by icy fear. Then another load of heavy bombs came screeching down remorselessly & there were more incendiaries. Richard scrambled in the earth, as hundreds of bombs & mines ploughed up the park. Then suddenly he was blown into the air. He lost consciousness. When he came to the next day, he was lying among a heap of dead bodies about to be taken to a mass grave.

The Third Attack: 12:12PM, 14th February

As the morning of February 14th dawned over Dresden, tens of thousands of people rushed out of the burning city along every road. A woman from Cologne, evacuated to Dresden, wrote: “Our ambulances, clearly marked with prominent red crosses were full of badly wounded people. When the low-level attack began, they refused to stay in the vehicles, but scrambled for shelter in the rubble. In front of us stood an open lorry, carrying wounded soldiers. The planes opened up with everything they had. Then the soldiers too, dropped off the lorry, running, staggering or crawling for dear life. One of them walked straight into the rain of bullets. He died on the spot. Again & again, the planes returned, firing on all the vehicles & killing scores of people.”

The Reaction In London

Churchill presented a minute to his Chiefs of Staff, in which he wrote: “It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, should be reviewed.” But Air Marshall Portal, Chief of Staff of the RAF, forced Churchill to withdraw his minute.

Similarly, a news item broadcast at 6PM on February 14th 1945, was amended in all further news bulletins. It went as follows, “Last night & again this morning, British & American Bombers delivered one of the power blows against Central Germany, as promised by the Allied leaders at Yalta. At night, 800 RAF bombers attacked Dresden, capital of Saxony, only some 70 miles from Marshal Koniev‘s front. The raid was the first major attack on this great industrial center. A terrific concentration of fires was started in the center of the city.”