Friday, December 9, 2011

The Less Know December Event Of World War Two, 70 Years On.

The Seventieth anniversary of Pearl Harbor just passed us on December 7, 2011 and there were many remembrances of that date in the press, plus the blogosphere. But almost no one in the U.S. Remembered a much more significant anniversary that happened just a few days earlier, on the 5th of December.

We citizens of the US don’t do history well. We barely do our own history. Other’s history, we don’t do at all. So it no surprise that no one in the US marked December 5, 2011; but I guarantee many Russians did.

While the attack on Pearl Harbor was critical, it brought the US into World War Two and most likely sealed the fate of Nazi Germany and the Axis Powers, the real action was on the Eastern Front. December 5th marks the end of Operation Barbarossa and the beginning of the Soviet counter attack that saved Moscow.

Operation Barbarossa began, in the balmy days of June. Hitler had just put a hurting on Yugoslavia and was now ready to invade Russia. He was aided in the aim by Joseph Stalin, who insisted on doing absolutely nothing to prepare for the assault.

Stalin ignored every last indication of Hitler’s malign intent. He ignored the intelligence. He ignored the warnings printed in Hitler’s Mein Kampf. He insisted on following every jot and tittle of the Nazi-Soviet pact lest he anger the Nazi regime. He literally helped to supply the invasion that crashed through Soviet Russia on June 22, 1941.

When the invasion did come, Stalin went into a three day funk. He locked himself into his room and took no callers. Most people would have done the same. The first days of the invasion were utter disaster. The Nazis chewed up Soviet men, material, and land at a frightening pace. Most of the front line Soviet assets were gone by day three. The Red Army barely had a pot to cook in. Air power was vaporized on the ground, tanks, artillery, and men quickly followed when they lost air support. The Wehrmacht was turning Russia into their own personal playground, and there was not much the Red Army could do about it-- other than retreat.

Captured Soviet Artillery

And retreat the Russians did, further and further into the homeland. By November Nazi units were at the suburbs of Moscow. But then the greatest and longest serving of Russian Generals intervened: General Winter. The Nazi had no response to this greatest of Russian strategists and tacticians, no invading army since the Mongols did. Nazi soldiers were dying in alarming numbers, felled not by bullets, but by the god-awful cold. The Nazis were lightly clad in summer issue, worthless protection against the fierce Russian winter.

The lack of preparation for the Russian winter, plus the long logistical supply line to the front slowed the Nazis to a crawl. To add to the Nazi misery, the Russians had thrown up a fearsome defensive ring around Moscow that further impeded the Wehrmacht’s progress. Their vaunted Blitzkrieg literally frozen in place, the Nazis were forced to slog out the battles with rife fire and artillery support. It was then that Stalin plus the generals Zhukov and Vasilevsky unleashed a very unpleasant surprise: Red Army forces from the frozen lands of Siberia.

Thanks to the vast Soviet spy network those forces were released Asia to Europe. The Soviets learned that the Japanese were of no concern, so off to Moscow those men went. The Nazis were rather put off when the white-clad, and expert winter fighters, of Siberia came crashing through there lines.

Unfortunately Stalin waisted much of those troops by dispersing them in a general offense all along the front line. Moscow was saved, but the Wehrmacht lived to fight another day. It would be three, long bloody years before the Soviets would finally break the back of Nazi offensive capabilities at Kursk. It would be four years until the Soviets were able to mount an offense of their own. That offensive would see Berlin fall to the Red Army, but only after much pain, destruction and death.

On December 5th, 1941 crushing Hitler was hazy and distant wish of the Soviet people. By the slimmest of margins, Russia was able to save its capitol city from Nazi occupation. By January of 1942, the sacrifice of millions of Russian citizens had bought the Soviet Union a reprieve.  The Germans had been pushed back seventy miles and Moscow had been turned into an armed fortress.

Little did Stalin know that all these preparations were for naught. Little did he know that Moscow would never again be under such a direct threat. Stalin had survived, the Soviet Union had survived; by the narrowest of margins. The next test would come in the south, not in Moscow. It would come in a city that bore the dictators name: Stalingrad.
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