World War II: The Eastern Front

The war on the Eastern Front, known to Russians as the "Great Patriotic War", was the scene of the largest military confrontation in history. Over the course of four years, more than 400 Red Army and German divisions clashed in a series of operations along a front that extended more than 1,000 miles. Some 27 million Soviet soldiers and civilians and nearly 4 million German troops lost their lives along the Eastern Front during those years of brutality. The warfare there was total and ferocious, encompassing the largest armored clash in history (Battle of Kursk) and the most costly siege on a modern city (nearly 900 days in Leningrad), as well as scorched earth policies, utter devastation of thousands of villages, mass deportations, mass executions, and countless atrocities attributed to both sides. To make things even more complex, forces within the Soviet Union were often fractured among themselves -- early in the war, some groups had even welcomed the Germans and fought against the Red Army, in the hopes that Hitler's troops would liberate them from Stalin. Later, as battles became desperate, Stalin issued Order No. 227 -- "Not a Step Back!" -- which forbid Soviet forces from retreating without direct orders. Commanders who sought to pull back faced tribunals, and foot soldiers faced "blocking detachments" of their own fellow soldiers, ready to gun down any who fled. The photos gathered here cover much of 1942-1943, from the siege of Leningrad to the decisive Soviet victories in Stalingrad and Kursk. The vast scale of the warfare is nearly unimaginable, and nearly impossible to capture in a handful of images, so take these as a mere glimpse of the horrors of the Eastern Front. (This entry is Part 14 of a weekly 20-part retrospective of World War II)
Read more
Hints: View this page full screen. Skip to the next and previous photo by typing j/k or ←/→.

Most Recent

  • David W Cerny / Reuters

    Krampus: The Dark Companion of Saint Nick

    While Saint Nicholas may bring gifts to good boys and girls, ancient folklore in Europe's Alpine region also tells of Krampus, a frightening beast-like creature who emerges during the Yule season, looking for naughty children to punish in horrible ways—or possibly to drag back to his lair in a sack.

  • Yves Herman / Reuters

    Photos of the Week: 11/21-11/27

    Winter weather in China, Europe, and the United States, a Martian panorama, a neighborhood in flames in Manila, demonstrations in Chicago, the Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City, and much more.

  • © Julian Ghahreman-Rad / 2016 Sony World Photography Awards

    Images From the 2016 Sony World Photography Awards

    The 2016 Sony World Photography Awards are now taking entries, and the organizers have been kind enough to share some of their early entries with us.

  • Ricardo Moraes / Reuters

    Red Sludge From Brazilian Dam Collapse Reaches the Atlantic

    Earlier this month, on November 5, two dams retaining tons of iron-mining waste in Brazil burst, releasing a massive flood of toxic sludge that has flowed downstream into Rio Doce, spending two weeks making its way several hundred miles downstream, finally reaching the Atlantic Ocean.

Join the Discussion