Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Operation Barbarossa


One June 22, 2011 an important anniversary passed us by. It passed us by without any hoopla whatsoever. We in the US don’t do our own history, were not about to observe someone else’s history. But that history is critical, it is the turning point of one of the greatest conflicts of the 20th century; World War Two. On this date seventy years ago, on the 22nd of June, Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa. In a single stroke one of the greatest land battles of history began. This was the Ostfront of WWII, this was killing fields of the “Good War.”

As Dan Carlin points out in his “Ghost Of The Ostfront” series, this was a war between two utterly evil political systems; Communism and Nazism. It was a battle of annihilation, a battle to the death. No quarter was asked or given. 

Once you actually look or listen to the facts of this war, it becomes an amazing story. The entire US effort in Europe becomes a sidebar, a diversion, something barely worth mentioning. Our greatest general, Ike, would be a third tier or at best a second tier general in the Soviet Armies.  

The four years of war on the Ostfront cost the Soviet Union almost thirty million lives. That is the population of the Greater New York City and Los Angeles County together. Losses among the Germans and their allies was also gargantuan.

Even when you limit the narrative to the year of 1941, the history of the Russian front still defies imagination. Until they were halted by the very greatest Russian general of them all, General Winter, the Germans had swallowed up a huge chunk of real estate. It was an area roughly 1200 km by 800km. Only the triple whammy of winter, unpreparedness, and a brilliant counter offensive by fresh Siberian troops saved Moscow. 

It is no exaggeration to say that it was the Soviet Union that broke the back of Nazism. It is no exaggeration that the men and women who fought for Russia were a breed apart. If our US WWII Veterans are the “Greatest Generation,” then what do we call those Soviets who fought, and defeated the Nazis, in the greatest land war of all time? What of their suffering, what of their sacrifice, what of their bravery? It is true that they fought for one of the worst dictators in history; but what of it? They fought for the Motherland, and against a Nazi terror that was even worse than Stalin’s depredations. 

Many historians are wont to claim that with the invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler had inevitably lost the war. That view, in my opinion, is anachronistic. It has the benefit of hindsight. The results of Operation Barbarossa balanced on a knifes’ edge, especially in 1941. A few winter coats here, a better plan there, better management of resources over here, and the results could have been far different. What would of happened to the Soviet war effort if Stalin had stayed in his funk for longer? What if Stalin had decided to abandon Moscow to “safer” ground? What if the Japanese had not concentrated their efforts in Asia, and had decided to kick Russia when it was down? The only reason those Siberian troops arrived to surprise the Nazis was because Japan had signed an Armistice with the Soviet Union. No Armistice, no Siberian troops, no counter offensive, and who knows what happens in the spring of 1942? 

History is a lot more dynamic than most US citizens supposed, many times it rests on the most random of events. It is not quite the fluttering of butterflies wings in Peru, but it is very close.The what-ifs that surround the war in the east are numerous. You could spend numerous lifetimes working out the counterfactuals surrounding the “Great Patriotic War.” Granted most people do not have much enthusiasm for such pallor games, but at the very least we should honor the efforts of Soviets. They deserve our gratitude for their sacrifice, they took the brunt, and somehow survived. Without their suffering our world would be much different today.


Also posted at http://historyisnotwhatitusedtobe.blogspot.com/2011/06/operation-barbarossa.html
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