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)

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