Guest Post: Russia’s World War II Experience Needs To Be Better Understood

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Brad Shaeffer

Russia’s World War II Experience Needs To Be Better Understood

I’m not sure what prompted me to consider this subject on my commute this morning, but it probably has to do with my reflecting on Memorial Day just passed.  That and the fact that crude oil continues to trade around $100/bbl and the implications for energy prices going forward—for the consumer and the countries who supply them.  One of those countries is Russia which produces 12% of the world’s oil.  As one whose company sometimes does business with Russian firms, I’ve found it helpful to understand their mind-set as I do any foreign customer whose worldview originates from a different vantage point than my own.  And one thing I have learned is that the Russian historical narrative of World War II is far different than ours.  I must say that when it comes to what they once referred to as “The Great Patriotic War” their memories are more accurate in my view.
It has been an article of faith among many Americans, young and old, that the United States “won” World War II.  And clearly our contribution in men and materiel was indispensable to the Allied victory…especially in the Pacific of course.  But because of Cold War tensions immediately following the end of the conflict, Americans were never really given an accurate portrayal of how the victory in Europe against Nazi Germany went down.  This is by no means a shot at our brave veterans who fought and suffered and left behind their heroic comrades in the deserts of Africa, the mountains of Italy, the fields of France, the canals of Holland, or the snows of the Ardennes.  But the simple fact is that eight out of ten Wehrmacht personnel were killed by the Red Army.  And the Russians in turn suffered an astounding 23 million dead in just four years repelling the German invaders who launched what would result in, by far, the largest and bloodiest land battles in human history.  That is just under 14% of their total population.  Every family in that country was impacted by the war in some way.  It is the equivalent of us suffering an unexpected invasion by a massive army hell bent on our annihilation and being forced to fight in a war in which almost 42 million Americans lose their lives.  When you consider the national trauma we felt at the murder of 3,000 of our fellow citizens on 9/11, the psychological impact of our absorbing such a blow as did Russia in the 1940s would be unimaginable.

The costliest battle the US fought in the war, the Battle of the Bulge, resulted in 90,000 American casualties (19,000 KIA) in fighting throughout the winter of 1944-45.  This is a noble and ghastly sacrifice no doubt.  However, in just the first twenty days of  “Operation Barbarossa,” the German code-word for the 3.9 million man, 3,600 tank, 2,900 aircraft  blitzkrieg across 600 miles of the Russian frontier launched on June 22, 1941, the Red Army suffered over  two million killed…that is 100,000 deaths every day for just the first three weeks of the war.

The ferocity and cold blooded brutality of the Ostheer (Germany’s Eastern Front army)  attack on Russia was unlike anything our armed forces would ever face on a mass scale, save perhaps the American experience against the vicious Japanese onslaught in the Philippines.  The general order passed down just prior to the invasion by the German High Command Chief of Staff, General Halder, echoing the words of Hitler at a pre-invasion meeting of some 200 senior officers, best sums up the tone of the war in the East.  “We must forget the concept of comradeship between soldiers…This is a war of annihilation.  The war will be very different than that in the West.  In the East, harshness today means lenience in the future.  Commanders must make the sacrifice of overcoming their personal scruples.” [My emphasis added].

By 1945 when their soldiers stood upon a conquered pile of smoking rubble and corpses that was once the Nazi capital of Berlin – the taking of which would cost the Russians yet another 300,000 lives – the Soviet Union could count their dead at over fifty-five times those of their US allies. In that time the Red Army had pushed the Ostheerback 1,300 miles from the Volga River and engaged and destroyed over 600 German divisions as compared to 175 on the Western Front…formations that Hitler could not commit to repel the Western Allies in Normandy.  One wonders how the war in Europe would have played out had the Soviet-German Non-aggression Pact remained in place.  But with two of the world’s most brutal and megalomaniacal dictators with two of the world’s most powerful armies facing each other, the war in the East was a fait accompli—which though a catastrophe for both nations, was a blessing to the American, British, and Canadian troops who landed against a much weaker opponent on D-Day than would have otherwise been the case.

It is an old axiom that the war in Europe was won with British brains, American brawn, and Russian blood.  A lot of Russian blood.  The names of Smolensk, Minks, Kiev, Leningrad, Stalingrad, Kursk, Sevastopol. and a thousand other lesser known locales are written in the blood of their people.  This very real history to them is what drove what we in the U.S. often viewed during the Cold War as manic Soviet paranoia.  Unfortunately it was Stalin’s cynical excuse for drawing his iron curtain around the satellite states of the Warsaw Pact to provide a buffer should any nation cast its coveting eyes towards Russia again.

By no means am I excusing communist barbarism and have written many times about my unwavering conviction that communism was the single worst evil of the 20th Century.  Indeed Josef Stalin needs to be remembered in our schools and universities for what he was: the greatest mass murderer in human history.  But one can both put Soviet communism in its proper place while at the same time honor the very real heroism and sacrifice of the millions of Russians who fought not for the Georgian butcher, but to repel the brutal invaders from their motherland.   To deny this history is to place one at a disadvantage when dealing with those with whom we must share this world.  Especially in this age of globalization and ever growing energy inter-dependence.

As is the case throughout the Allied world, the Russian veterans of the war are dying off at an accelerated rate.  Still, the scars left by that conflict remain and indeed are much deeper to that nation than we can possibly fathom. Given the immensity of their suffering and their over-weighted responsibility for crushing Hitler and his legions at the cost of tens of millions of their own citizens, it is understandable that the Russians may still be wary of certain segments of the West that brought them so much misery in the past.

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Yen Cross's picture

 Stalin's ghost would be helpfull. However Mikhail Gorbachev, is among the living.

max2205's picture

And if we didn't do anything to Stalin, why are we going to murder Gadafi??!!! We bully the weak and pander to real murderers

Sam Clemons's picture

Isn't that the exact nature of bullies?  Won't pick a fight that isn't easy to win.

narapoiddyslexia's picture

Anyone wishing to understand the Russo-German War of 1943 needs to read Why The Allies Won, by Richard Overy, Norton, 1995. 'Nuff said.

caconhma's picture

This is another piece of the past Soviet propaganda. It is indeed true that more than 30 millions Soviet people perished during the WWII. It is also true that Soviets defeated the NAZI Germany.

But it also true that

  • The Stalin communist & sadist & imperialist regime started the WWII. Remember that Soviets were expelled from The League of Nations (LON) for its aggressive war against Finland.
  • It was Stalin who signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact to start the WWII and to usurp Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, parts of Poland,  Romania, and later the entire Europe
  • Stalin was prepared to attack Germany. It is not a secret any more. Stalin started the general & total mobilization for a war 8 months before the Nazi invasion. It was Stalin who massed the 7 millions strong Red Army on the German boarder with 15,000+ tanks, 17,000+ combat air-crafts, and ~400 divisions (verces 200 German divisions). The Stalin armies were positioned for an attack, so, there were no  preparations for any defense. If Stalin built its defences as he did under Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk, the NAZI invasion would be stopped on the Soviet boarder without the human catastrophe for the Soviet people.
  • The Stalin regime did not want peace. It was preparing for endless wars. Stalin militarized the Soviet economy in early 1930s preparing for aggressive wars.
  • As a matter of fact, the Blitzkrieg tactic and strategy was not developed by Germans. It was developed by Soviets in late 1920. The Germans learned it from Soviets. Remember that after the WWI Germany could not have an army and air-force, consequently, Wehrmacht secretly trained in USSR.
  • Finally, why was the Nazi invasion so successful in spite of the overwhelming Soviet military capabilities and manpower? There are two reasons: (1) Nazi army was better trained (2) Soviet Red army did not want fight for sadistic Soviet dictator Stalin and his jewish commissars. This is why, when Nazi were close to Moscow, Stalin appeal to the Russian patriotism. He called Russian people to fight and save the Russia Motherland and he succeeded.
Matxeu's picture

Coincidentally, my perusals this week revolve around the unspoken truths of WWII.  Any reads you recommend?


Jaciems's picture


i have trouble believing some of this especially "As a matter of fact, the Blitzkrieg tactic and strategy was not developed by Germans. It was developed by Soviets in late 1920. The Germans learned it from Soviets. Remember that after the WWI Germany could not have an army and air-force, consequently, Wehrmacht secretly trained in USSR."

unlike the germans, the russians didnt mass their tanks together, they split em up throughout different divisions which goes against blitzkrieg tactics and is one of the reasons they got raped by ze germans so youre saying that the ruskies developed a great strategy which they didnt even bother using? their tanks didnt even have 2 way radios which was essential for blitzkrieg....

Flakmeister's picture

Fuller did pioneering work that was later taken up by Guderian. Tukhachevsky did independently develop a theory of "Deep Operations"....

It is ironic that even as late as Jan. 44 (Cherkassy), the Soviets were leery of "Deep Operations" after getting back slapped by Manstien in early '43... Blitzkrieg only works if an armoured counter riposte is not possible... Cobra and subsequent breakout is perhaps the best example. Hell, the Germans almost got their heads cut off at Arras in 1940...  

A Broken Bear's picture

Largely Spot on (disagree with the Blitzkrieg) How do you capture and kill so many soldiers if you caught the Soviets by surprise. Clearly the Soviets were massing together and there is sufficient evidence to support the arguement that Hitler simply pre-empted Stalins attempted invasion.

Doode's picture

First accurate account of what really happened in the WW2 I have read in years. Great job Mr. Schaeffer! Saving Private Ryan while was well intentioned skewed perception of the general public in a very disturbing way.

JW n FL's picture


The only History that Americans need to understand when it comes to Tyler and his People are!







That is ALL the information that any American with a Brain needs to know. For those that think I am kidding.. you are fucking sheep!

He_Who Carried The Sun's picture

I think that's bullish for treasuries, is it?

He_Who Carried The Sun's picture

Who is this Brad Shaeffer anyway? A Journalist? A quick google search brought up a lot of plumbing services...

When I read stuff like "The ferocity and cold blooded brutality of the Ostheer (Germany’s Eastern Front army)  attack on Russia was unlike anything our armed forces would ever face on a mass scale, save perhaps the American experience against the vicious Japanese onslaught in the Philippines." 

Then it is immediately clear from what heavily biased "school" of thinking he comes from. Do you know how many Russian soldiers wore German uniforms even before they "defected" to the Germans? They were ordered to infiltrate German positions and kill as many as possible. This is in part what Hitler referred to: The Red Army would not adhere to western style of warfare at no point. A lesson already learnt during the Finnish campaign and earlier during the fighting in the Baltics 1918/19. The casualty ratio at the Eastern Front was 4,8:1 - You wouldn't want to suggest that this reflects the high regard of human life among Russian leadership, would you? They did not care about a simple soldiers life with the Kommissars from well behind pointing loaded machineguns at their back to hinder defection! Another thing learnt in 1918/1919.

Besides, Mr. Shaeffer, I don't like your tone. Do you think that throwing atomic bombs on civilian population was not VICIOUS, not "cold blooded brutality"? Mymy! What do you know about real warfare or for that matter of its history? Not much, I suppose!
Learn to read French, German, Italian and last not least some Russian and get a hold of some first hand accounts. If you mention the Battle Of The Bulge only, you don't do justice to those who have fallen in Italy which has seen very "vicious" fighting from both sides as well.
Now, of course did the victory provide a lifeline to subsequent Russian Dictators. Perhaps From what we know today: The British should have allowed the Germans to take St.Petersburg in 1919 and Patton should have marched on in 1945. A lot of blood and tears could have been spared. My five cents.

Yen Cross's picture

 Singapore +15.

Yen Cross's picture

 Thank you? Are we good? I really respect your input. You are Damn smart!

    YEN   I am +15! no joke.

fxrxexexdxoxmx's picture

The loss of life by soldiers of Stalin's paradise might have been lessened had military commanders not shot infantry who hesitated when attacking armoured vehicles with handguns.

Sending infantry against mechanized armor simply to eliminate the number bullets available to the Germans might have also lessened the deaths of those who fought for family and home under Stalin.

A Man without Qualities's picture

The policy of executing soldiers that had become detached from the main body, on the basis that they might be spies meant that once you were cut off, you were screwed.  When Paulus' sixth army was encircled at Stalingrad, there were 50,000 Russians in German uniform, who had decided to defect rather than face a bullet from the NKVD.

As an amateur student of the eastern campaigns in both wars, it always stuns me how more brutal the fighting was and how the Russians were repeatedly burdened by poor leadership.  Once stunning example of this, which was a major contribution to the massive casualties at the start of Operation Barbarossa, was Stalin's state of denial that the Germans had attacked, such that he refused to order his airforce to take off and launch counterattacks.

But we should never ignore the significance of the American supplies shipped to Russia by the heroes of the Arctic convoys.  Particularly the felt boots and the supply trucks, which were vital to the Russian army.

If anyone wants to read a good book on Operation Barbarossa, I'd recommend "war without Garlands," by Robert Kershaw, though it is more concerned with the German experience...

Diogenes's picture

Russia's smartest most experienced generals were eliminated in the purges of the late 30s. Since then evidence has come out that the German secret service made up a lot of phony incriminating documents and planted them in Russia, in other words the Germans used Stalin's paranoia to liquidate the generals and leaders they feared most.

maximin thrax's picture

It would also have helped Russia to have not agreed with Hitler on the partitioning of Poland, giving Nazis territory right up to Russia's borders. In fact, simply by not believing Hitler and instead arming themselves to fight Germany in Poland she would have done alot to reduce her own casualties. Then, there's the purging of the Russian military shortly before the war that left her with damned few competent commanders, competent ones being the most feared as agents of revolution. Of course, with millions of citizens for cannon fodder, why risk overthrow from competent generals just because they're capable of winning more with less? The sad truth is that Stalin trusted Hitler above his own military, and that desire to hold onto power nearly lost an entire nation.

Vacca's picture

I believe Stalin was worried that Japan was going to launch an attack in the East and he didn't want to fight a war on two fronts. That would explain why he tried to appease Hitler in the west. When Japan refused to follow Hitler into Russia, a lot of Stalin's military was freed up.

maximin thrax's picture

The premise of "Japan following Hitler into Russia" presumes an overarching plan within the axis to defeat Russia, orchistrated by Hitler, which some on this board deny. Whether Stalin's military was ultimately freed up without an eastern front against Japan is not material to Stalin's plans since Stalin had no say in it; it was the US and China who took Japan's eye off the ball. Stalin got lucky. Luck is not a strategy.

Maybe if the US had not entered the war after Pearl the USSR would have been partitioned, and China defeated by Japan as well, if that was Japan's choice. With the necessary resourced being secured on the continent and most fighting to be done on land, who could have stopped the Imperial Japanese Army push into Asia? 

If Stalin was worried about Japan he would have had no choice but to prepare to fight two fronts, but apparently he failed to even prepare for one UNLESS the unfathomable loss of life was coldly calculated.

He_Who Carried The Sun's picture

Since Poland gave the pretext for declaring war on Germany, why do you think has war not been declared on Russia, who - from a Polish point of view - were just as much agressors violating international law as were the Germans? Start thinking!

maximin thrax's picture

I'd like to reply but I can't make out your point.

dogbreath's picture

the slaaughter doesn't make sense.  all those potential borrowers and credit card holders..........gone.

10kby2k's picture

The perception that Pearl Harbor was unprovoked (embargo was placed on Japan prior) to motivate a country (United States) to enter a war to which they were ambivalent is in the same vain that Russia (which initially greeted Germans as liberators--until they took their food and raped their women), forced the Germans into winter where they were decisively pushed back and eventually defeated. I believe that the real depiction of history is that Americans didn't want war (until we forced the Japanese to attack) and that the Russians were given 13 counties (the iron curtain) during the Yalta conference for being the key in the Germans defeat.

XenoFrog's picture

Keep in mind that the embargo was well earned, as Imperial Japan was gobbling up oil to keep their war machine in China going.

Vlad Tepid's picture

Xeno, point taken, but the embargo went way beyond the US refusing to sell oil to Japan.  We threatened other nations, especially Mexico and Holland after they began inking deals with the Japanese following our unilateral embargo.  That was what pushed them into the Dutch East Indies and a Pacific War, when they had been steadfastly gearing up for a war against the Soviets.  The time to stop them/embargo them/punish them would have been following the Mukden Incident in '33 but since we wanted no part in the League of Nations, their resolution of condemnation went unheeded - largely because the US insisted on selling the banned materials to Japan even past the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, the sinking of the Panay and the Rape of Nanjing.  The best treatment on this is a book called "Bankrupting the Enemy" (Edward S. Miller), which lays out a solid case that the US baited Japan into conflict throughout the 30s as a ploy for market control in China and general Pacific hegemony, but got in way over our heads ie tweaked the tail of the samurai.  Miller's not a fringe author - he wrote the definitive work on America's War Plan Orange and (I believe) was an oil executive for many years before retiring to his scholarly pursuits.

snowball777's picture

That you believe most of Eastern Europe was there to be "given" at Yalta speaks volumes as to your predisposed perspective of American exceptionalism.

What's the real distinction between the US stealth support of the German war machine and their stealth support of Mujahadeen in Afghanistan?

Where would the US be today, if the rest of her competitors had not been monkeyhammered and forced to turn on bended knee to the US in order to rebuild?

JW n FL's picture

it is like the Drill Baby Drill Crowd.. why would we want to be the only Country left with a Large supply of Oil in the end?


DUUHHHHHHHHH?!! I dont know George?? why would we?

JW n FL's picture

what we suffer is a HUGE number, better yet what we drown in.. what saturates our every fucking pore.. is stupid, a bunch of fucking idiots who want to play checkers in a chess world!


I just want to burn the board, so that no one can play ever again. High hopes to be sure.


Trix are for kids you silly-fucking-rabbits!

Yen Cross's picture

 Thanks for the reminders and my biological clock!  10k by2k, we need to discuss history.

MarketMinds's picture

How very odd i just was watching this BBC doc on the subject at hand.

shows both the russian sacrifice and the crimes committed by stalin.

good watch if you got 5hrs to burn


A.W.E.S.O.M.-O 4000's picture

HHHHMMMM. Watch a 5 hour documentary or take the kids to the beach like I promised?


I wonder ...

cossack55's picture

No Corexit or Cesium-137 on the BBC stuff.

10kby2k's picture

I had to walk out of the movie 'Pearl Harbor' for such a biased and I believe totally untruthful depiction of history. My son actually listened to me when I told him what I knew as the truth and it made sense to him.

Dapper Dan's picture

Do you realize that the movie Pearl Harbor was released 3 months before the  911 attacks?

The movie was co produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (friend of Bush) and Michael Bay (propaganda Films)

Jerry did lots of work after 911 for the Bushies.


Matxeu's picture

I found the timing odd myself

maximin thrax's picture

When are people going to accept the fact that it was our government's use of secret traction engines to propel Oahu careening into the Japanese fleet that forced the Emperor's hand? Clearly, we see a Jack Ryan playing a huge part in Pearl Harbor, and we know a Jack Ryan swiped a sub from the Ruskies, when his boss was Lord Vader himself (can't overemphasize that point), that had the silent traction engines. It certainly doesn't look good for Jack. I don't think we really know Jack.

Crab Cake's picture

I find it truly amazing how little people know of History in general. However, as important as Russias ww2 History is, I would argue the 70s and 80s Russian devolution is where we need to be looking. The US today is suffering many of the symptoms that the USSR did when it finally collapsed in on itself. What a shame the US, we, couldnt give up the Cold War when we won it; instead having to create new enemies and reasons for the military industrial complex to continue to exist. On a side note to the article above... We're damned lucky, and by we I mean humanity in general, that Germanys forces were controlled by the idiot Nazi class. Time and again the politicos didn't listen to their field commanders; if they had it would be a much different world. For example Barbarrossa was supposed to be a two prong, not three prong, offensive that claimed the resource rich south and the political seat in the North. It was also supposed to begin in the Spring, not Summer. Hitler delayed the offensive and sent three forks out to Leningrad, Moscow, and the Southern fork. Had he followed the Generals suggestions Moscow would have fallen long before winter came, Leningrad encircled and cut off instead of beseiged, and the southern arm wouldnt have bogged down. This is just one example of politics before military prudence that, thank god, hamstrung the mighty German Wermacht.

JLee2027's picture

I still say the Soviet Union - even fallen to Hitler - was too big for the Germans to effectively occupy and conquer. They, as you, expected reistance to cease after Moscow fell. Ha! It would have been a guerrila war for decades tying down millions of troops.

Crab Cake's picture

That may well be, but Russia proper is pretty much adjacent to Europe. It would have been a resistance fight in the hinterlands, not the urban grinds that ultimately broke the German army. In addition, under a successful more focused Op Barbarrossa, I dont see Europe ever being reclaimed. The only reason the US and UK had a fighting chance at a land invasion was because the Wermacht broke its teeth in the East fighting in stupid ways. Also the Luftwaffe was in many ways superior to the Allied air forces. Without the insane British air attacks and attrition in the East air superiority would never have been gained. A quick decisive political victory would have effectively ended the whole theatres front, and fortress Europe would have been truly impregnable. Lest we not forget that our jet air force and NASA came from German technologies. Given even a couple of more years Germany would have been fielding jet aircraft and probably had the homb. Again, thank goodness for stupid Nazi politicians trying to run the war because the German forces of the day were unmatched toe to toe.

Vlad Tepid's picture

How right you are.  All one has to do is look at the mini-plan in operation in the General Government in Poland.  It was to be genocide, followed by ethnic cleansing, followed by Germanic pioneers taking wagons east. Hitler was obsessed with the US Manifest Destiny idea (basically called "lebensraum" in German) and would have depopulated White Russia, the Ukraine, and mostly likely have drawn an (easily defensible) battle line at the Urals.  As you say, impregnable.

cossack55's picture

Hitler didn't read the fine print in his US history book. He should have airdropped blankets impregnated with small pox into the soviet cities.

Vlad Tepid's picture

Undone by the small print...

falak pema's picture

What is amusing in all this monday morning quarterbacking of the WW2 saga is that history makes it clear that building an "impregnable fortress" in Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals, as elsewhere, is a pipe-dream; as all empire builders find out. Not only is it challenged from out side but more importantly, from inside, and that is always inevitably the main reason why it dies. So you can blanket small pox to marginal populations to remove the pimple on the "Winning of the West"...but you can't obliterate 150 million that easily. Nor stop the entropy effect of power concentration bringing absolute corruption to the imperial ambition of holding the pure, true fortress against all comers.

Vlad Tepid's picture

Very true.  And it's important to remember that the Nazi governing apparatus was so rotten at it's core that it's continued existence would have been in doubt even with a successful military campaign in the east.

Forward History's picture

Bottom line, given another few years Hitler would have been removed as whatever was affecting him (Parkinson's, most likely), would have led to his overthrow. Himmler would have definitely made a move. When that happened, you'd see a civil war break out within the Third Reich, probably culminating in internal uprising of occupied cities, and a wounded army that would have had no choice but to pull back to its core holdings. End result? Large Reich, for sure, and perhaps a different enemy for the Cold War, but one that would have eventually fallen to its knees.