Sunday, June 08, 2008

On Friday, Bealtaine/May 9, the Russian people celebrated the 63rd Anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany by the Soviet Red Army in WW2 in 1945.
The event this year was notable for the fact that, for the first time since the dissolution of the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1990 and the establishment of the Russian Federation as a successor state; tanks, missiles and other heavy weapons were on display along with the 8,000 marching troops who took part in the Parade in Red Square, Moscow.

The achievements of the Russian people, the allied nations of the former Soviet Union, and their military, constitute the greatest epic of struggle and eventual victory in the history of human conflict, never likely to be equalled whatever the fate of humanity in the future.

Adolf Hitler’s Fascist German hordes invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, hoping for a quick victory against a despised and denigrated ‘sub-human’ Russian Slavic people by the Third Reich “Master Race”. Hitler had disposed of all opposition in Western Europe except Britain and calculated that a defeat of the Soviet Union would force Britain to come to peace terms soon after.

The Fascist Dictator wildly underestimated the resistance of the Soviet peoples and the quality of their military and armaments.

Although the fascist armies made initial breakthroughs of Soviet defences and occupied large tracts of Soviet territory, stubborn resistance in the rear and Soviet counter-attacks soon ground the invasion to a halt by the winter of 1941. In 1942, the fascists tried further expansion of their gains but were rebuffed by resolute Soviet defences at Leningrad(St Petersburg), east of Moscow, the Capital, Sevastopol, Crimea and Stalingrad(Volgograd) on the Volga river. Hitler needed to retain Stalingrad to control the Caucasus oil-fields which his forces had just captured.

The German 6th Army was told to capture and retain Stalingrad at all costs. After bitter street fighting which lasted for a couple of months, the Germans captured 90% of Stalingrad by November. The Soviets however had been building up massive forces on the flanks of Stalingrad and launched Operation Uranus on November 19 , with twin attacks that met four days later trapping the Sixth Army in Stalingrad. The Germans requested permission to attempt a break-out, which was refused by Hitler, who ordered Sixth Army to remain in Stalingrad where he promised they would be supplied by air until rescued. About the same time, the Soviets launched the Second Rzhev-Sychevka Offensive in a salient near the vicinity of Moscow. Its objective was to tie down Army Group Center and to prevent it from reinforcing Army Group South at Stalingrad. In December German relief forces got within 30 miles of the trapped Sixth Army before being turned back by the Soviets. By the end of the year, Sixth Army was in desperate condition, as the Luftwaffe was only able to supply about a sixth of the supplies needed.
After the surrender of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad on February 2 , 1943 , the Red Army launched eight offensives during the winter, many concentrated along the Don River, Russia near Stalingrad. Operation Citadel On July 4, the Wehrmacht launched a much-delayed offensive against the Soviet Union at the Kursk salient. Their intentions were known by the Soviets who had hastened to defend the salient with an enormous system of earthwork defenses. Both sides massed their armor for what became a decisive military engagement. The Germans attacked from both the north and south of the salient and hoped to meet in the middle, cutting off the salient and trapping 60 Soviet divisions. The German offensive got ground down as little progress was made through the Soviet defenses. The Soviets then brought up their reserves and the largest tank battle of the war occurred near the city of Prokhorovka. The Germans had exhausted their armoured forces and could not stop the Soviet counter-offensive that threw them back across their starting positions. In August Hitler agreed with his commanders to a general withdrawal to the river Dnieper line and as September proceeded into October 1943, the Germans found the Dnieper line impossible to hold as the Soviet bridgeheads grew, and important Dnieper towns started to fall.
Early in November the Soviet forces broke out of their bridgeheads on either side of Kiev and recaptured the Ukrainian capital. First Ukrainian Front attacked at Korosten on Christmas Eve. The Soviet advance continued along the railway line until the 1939 Polish-Soviet border was reached. In the north, a Soviet offensive in January 1944 had relieved the siege of Leningrad . In March, two Soviet fronts encircled Generaloberst Hans-Valentin Hube 's German First Panzer Army north of the Dniestr river. The Germans escaped the pocket in April saving most of their men but losing their heavy equipment. In early May, the Red Army's 3rd Ukrainian Front engaged German Seventeenth Army of Army Group South which had been left behind after the German retreat from the Ukraine. The battle was a complete victory for the Red Army, and a botched evacuation effort across the Black Sea led to over 250,000 German and Romanian casualties.
With Soviet forces approaching, German troops occupied Hungary on March 20 as Hitler thought that the Hungarian leader, Admiral Miklós Horthy , might no longer be a reliable ally. Finland sought a separate peace with Stalin in February 1944, but the terms offered were unacceptable. On JUNE 9 , the Soviet Union began the Fourth strategic offensive on the Karelian Isthmus that after three months would force Finland to accept an armistice.

Operation Bagration, a Soviet offensive involving 2.5 million men and 6,000 tanks, was launched on June 22 and was intended to clear German troops from Belarus. The subsequent battle resulted in the destruction of German Army Group Centre and over 800,000 German casualties, the greatest defeat for the Wehrmacht during the war. The Soviets swept forward, reaching the outskirts of Warsaw on July 31.

After the destruction of Army Group Center, the Soviets attacked German forces in the South in mid-July 1944 and in a month's time cleared the Ukraine of German presence. The Red Army's 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian Fronts engaged German Heeresgruppe Südukraine, which consisted of German and Romanian formations, in an operation to occupy Romania and destroy the German formations in the sector. The result of the battle was complete victory for the Red Army, and a switch of Romania from the Axis to the Allied camp.

The Red Army's 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Baltic Fronts engaged German Army Group Centre and Army Group North to capture the Baltic region from the Germans. The result of the series of battles was a permanent loss of contact between Army Groups North and Centre, and the creation of the Courland Pocket in Latvia. From December 29 , 1944 to February 13 , 1945, Soviet forces laid siege to Budapest which was defended by German Waffen-SS and Hungarian forces. It was one of the bloodiest sieges of the war.

Warsaw, 6 June 1944.

The proximity of the Red Army led the Poles in Warsaw to believe they would soon be liberated. On August 1 they rose in revolt as part of the wider Operation Tempest. Nearly 40,000 Polish resistance fighters seized control of the city as German army units moved into the city to put down the revolt. The resistance ended on October 2 . German units then destroyed most of what was left of the city. The Poles acted prematurely, as the Soviet forces had not sufficiently replaced losses in materiel or manpower to launch a sufficiently strong offensive against the Germans in Warsaw. The main consideration being the ultimate defeat of the Wermacht in the field rather than the liberation of one city, however desirable to the inhabitants.

Despite raucous criticism from the western Allies and the Polish nationalists in exile in London, the Soviet commanders held to their original strategy and on January 12 1945 the Red Army was ready for its next big offensive. Marshall Ivan Konev 's armies attacked the Germans in southern Poland, expanding out from their Vistula River bridgehead near Sandomierz.

January 14, Marshall Konstantin Rokossovsky's armies attacked from the Narew River north of Warsaw. They broke the defences covering East Prussia. Marshall Zhukov's armies in the centre attacked from their bridgeheads near Warsaw. The German front was now in shambles. On January 17 , Marshall Zhukov took Warsaw. On January 19, his tanks took Lodz . That same day, Marshall Konev's forces reached the German pre-war border. At the end of the first week of the offensive the Soviets had penetrated 100 miles deep on a front that was 400 miles wide. By February 13, the Soviets took Budapest. The Soviet onslaught finally halted at the end of January only 40 miles from Berlin, on the Oder river.

The Red Army (including 78,000 soldiers of the 1st Polish Army ) began its Battle of Berlin on April 16 . By now, the German Army was in full retreat and Berlin had already been battered due to preliminary air bombings. By April 24 the three Soviet army groups had completed the encirclement of the city. Hitler had sent the main German forces which were supposed to defend the city to the south as he believed that was the region where the Soviets would launch their spring offensive and not in Berlin.

As a final resistance effort, Hitler called for civilians, including teenagers, to fight the oncoming Red Army in the Volkssturm militia. Those forces were augmented by the battered German remnants that had fought the Soviets in Seelow Heights. But even then the fighting was heavy, with house-to-house and hand-to-hand combat. The Soviets sustained 305,000 dead; the Germans sustained as many as 325,000, including civilians. Hitler and his staff moved into the Führerbunker , a concrete bunker beneath the Chancellery, where on April 30 1945 , Adolf Hitler , along with his bride, Eva Braun committed suicide.
Admiral Karl Dönitz became leader of the German government after the death of Hitler, but the German war effort quickly disintegrated. German forces in Berlin surrendered the city to the Soviet troops on May 2 , 1945 . The German forces in Italy surrendered on May 2 , 1945 and German forces in northern Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands surrendered on May 4 ; and the German High Command surrendered unconditionally all remaining German forces on May 8th in Potsdam. The Soviet Union celebrated " Victory Day " on May 9 . The last Allied conference of World War II was held at the suburb of Potsdam, outside Berlin, from July 17 to August 2 .

The Potsdam Conference saw agreements reached
betweenthe Allies on policies for occupied Germany. Subsequently, political differences between the wartime allies led to a “Cold War” between the USA/Western Europe and the Soviet Union and its allies which lasted for 45 years, until 1990.
Nothing of subsequent history, however, could diminish the consummate victory of the Soviet Red Army against Hitler Germany, all those years ago in 1945 and the massive sacrifices of 20,000,000 or more casualties and huge losses of material values which were entailed by that victory.

FearFeasa Mac LéinnÁth Cliath/DUBLIN, 09 Bealtaine/May 2008.

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