Third Re­ich in photos: Eastern Front in flames



Rare photos from the front in 1942-43

“Be­tween novorossiysk and tu­apse” 29 Oc­to­ber 1942

The cover of the Cologne Il­lus­trated News­pa­per spot­lights a mass of Rus­sian POWS led by a sin­gle Ger­man soldier, pipe in mouth, thereby trum­pet­ing the Wehrma­cht’s Eastern Front vic­to­ries – in this case on a dusty road near two im­por­tant Black Sea ports. Most of Novorossiysk was oc­cu­pied by Ger­man and Ro­ma­nian troops on 10 Septem­ber 1942. How­ever, the strate­gic bay was de­fended for 225 days by a small Soviet naval unit un­til it was lib­er­ated in Septem­ber 1943. The Axis was there­fore never al­lowed ac­cess to the port for the trans­port of sup­plies.

Hitler fa­nat­i­cally be­lieved that af­ter Nazi Ger­many’s in­va­sion of the Soviet Union the Com­mu­nist mono­lith would col­lapse like a house of cards when con­fronted by the in­vin­ci­bil­ity of Nazi ide­ol­ogy and mil­i­tary tech­nol­ogy. While some of his high com­mand had their doubts about at­tack­ing such a vast coun­try, and re­mem­ber­ing Napoleon’s cat­a­strophic at­tempt pre­vi­ously, Hitler held sway, and on the morn­ing of 22 June 1941, he sent mil­lions of Axis troops across the bor­der, in­tent on burst­ing

Stalin’s bub­ble of se­cu­rity – an il­lu­sion pre­vi­ously imag­ined be­cause of his non-ag­gres­sion pact with Ger­many.

Ini­tially, Hitler could dance one of his vic­tory jigs as vast swathes of Rus­sian ter­ri­tory were over­run and hun­dreds of thou­sands of Red Army troops killed or cap­tured. The ‘house of cards’ was in­deed shaken, some out­ly­ing struc­tures fell, but time, the weather, the great ex­panse of land, di­min­ish­ing re­sources and, most im­por­tantly, the stamina, re­silience and courage of the Rus­sian peo­ples shored up the struc­ture, turn­ing the tide against the in­vaders.

An­other ma­jor fac­tor was the in­flux of ma­te­rial sup­port by the Al­lies, in­clud­ing 30 per cent of the USSR’S mil­i­tary air­craft and 58 per cent of the high-oc­tane avi­a­tion fuel, as well as 33 per cent of its mo­tor ve­hi­cles and 93 per cent of rail­way equip­ment. It would still take a scorched earth pol­icy and the deaths of mil­lions, but the Soviet house stood firm.

Soon a shadow be­gan to fall over Ger­many. On 14 Oc­to­ber a flight of

291 Amer­i­can B-17E ‘Fly­ing Fortresses’ de­stroyed the ball-bear­ing fac­to­ries in Sch­we­in­furt – a sign of things to come. Later that month Bri­tish forces turned the tables on Rom­mel, de­feat­ing the Afrika Korps at El Alamein.

In early Novem­ber a Rus­sian coun­ter­at­tack threat­ened to en­cir­cle the vaunted Sixth Army, but Hitler re­fused to al­low a with­drawal and later, as mat­ters wors­ened, de­nied a break-out, seal­ing the fate of 300,000 troops, in­clud­ing Ro­ma­nian and Ital­ian al­lies. Fac­ing not only de­ter­mined Rus­sian at­tacks, the Axis forces also grap­pled with -40 de­grees Cel­sius.

The be­gin­ning of 1943 found Ger­man troops forced to with­draw from the Cau­ca­sus and its oil re­serves. On 2 Fe­bru­ary, the Sixth Army sur­ren­dered to Soviet forces, and over 90,000 soldiers be­came POWS. Only 5,000 would ever re­turn to Ger­many.

May 1943 fea­tured 150,000 Ger­mans and Ital­ians sur­ren­der­ing to the Al­lies in Tu­nisia. The sum­mer also saw ever-in­creas­ing losses of Ger­man U-boats dur­ing the At­lantic Sea war, and even­tu­ally 90 per cent of Ger­man sub­mariners were lost. In July a ti­tanic tank bat­tle was fought at Kursk, and would be the Wehrma­cht’s last of­fen­sive ac­tion of the war on the Eastern Front. Then, on 10 July, com­bined An­glo-amer­i­can forces landed in Si­cily, be­gin­ning the Al­lied climb up the Ital­ian ‘boot’, led by Bri­tish Gen­eral Mont­gomery’s Eighth Army and Amer­i­can Gen­eral Pat­ton’s Sev­enth Army.

Cracks in the Axis wall widened when Mus­solini was ‘dis­missed’ from power by his own gov­ern­ment. It prompted Hitler to with­draw much­needed elite forces from Kursk and send them to Italy, where they could take over much of the coun­try, dis­arm­ing its mil­i­tary, killing thou­sands of Ital­ian soldiers and send­ing thou­sands more into slave labour.

As 1943 ground to an end, the Ger­man mil­i­tary jug­ger­naut was bogged down as fuel sup­plies dried up, and tank and air­craft losses es­ca­lated along with troop ca­su­al­ties. The home front was also in flames un­der re­lent­less Al­lied sat­u­ra­tion bomb­ing. The term ‘Eastern Front’ had, for the Ger­man soldier and his civil­ian fam­ily, be­come synonymous with death. Axis ca­su­al­ties for 1943 are es­ti­mated at over 1.6 mil­lion, Soviet ca­su­al­ties at nearly 8 mil­lion.


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