People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 19

May 09, 2010

65th Anniversary of the Great Patriotic War


Yohannan Chemarapally



RUSSIA and the countries which constituted the former USSR are all set to mark the 65th anniversary of the Great Patriotic War on May 9.The existential threat posed by Nazi Germany to the rest of humanity ceased to exist after their defeat on the Eastern Front by the Soviet forces. More and more historians have now come to the conclusion that it was the victory in the Eastern Front that was pivotal to the eventual outcome of World War II. The �Great Patriotic War� as the Commander in Chief, Joseph Stalin chose to describe the titanic war which lasted from June 22, 1941 to May 9, 1945, had claimed the lives of more than 27 million Soviet citizens, around 14 per cent of the population at the time. Eight out of ten Russians living today have had close relatives who either fought or perished in the war against the Axis powers led by Germany. Soviet soldiers and citizens who died in the war account for 40 per cent of all the casualties of world war two. In all, 8,66,800 Soviet combatants were killed in action. Thirty per cent of the USSR�s national wealth was destroyed during the bitterly fought war.

In comparison, the United Kingdom lost only 0.6 per cent of its population in the Great War. The American casualties were even lower, amounting to only 0.3 per cent of its population. Other countries suffered more at the hands of the occupying Axis powers. China lost an estimated 20 million people under Japanese occupation. The Nazi occupation is responsible for the deaths of more than 60 million people, the overwhelming majority of them citizens of European countries. The Japanese paid a bigger price than their European Axis allies when the American dropped atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The key role of Stalin in the War was sought to be obscured during the cold war years by Cold War historians and later on even by Russian historians. But in recent years, the Kremlin has publicly acknowledged the leadership provided by Stalin in turning the tide against the Nazi war machine. School text books, recently approved by the government, show Stalin in a positive light and highlight the role he played in making the USSR a superpower. A statue of Stalin along with that of Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill was put up in Volgograd as Stalingrad is called today, before the 60th anniversary of the Great Patriotic War. Almost all the statues and portraits of Stalin were removed during the 1960�s after his denunciation by President Nikita Khrushchev. Prime Minster Vladimir Putin has said on several occasions that Stalin and his epoch are an inalienable part of Russian history. He has also said that the demise of the Soviet Union was one of the biggest tragedies of the 20th century.

When Nazi Germany launched �Operation Barborasa� against the Soviet Union in 1941, the military situation for Allied Powers appeared grim. Britain was struggling to stave off a German invasion. The US was reeling after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Japanese forces were sweeping through Asia and threatening to knock the British out of India. German forces under the command of General Erwin Rommel were threatening to take control of the whole of North Africa.  

That was when Stalin decisively stepped into the picture. His style of leadership was personified by his Order No 227 of July 1942 to the Red Army soldiers fighting in Stalingrad. The order �Not One Step Backwards� galvanised the Soviet forces. When the Soviet forces launched a counter-offensive in the historical battle of Stalingrad on November 11, around 1.1 million Russian troops had to face an enemy of similar size. During the see-saw battle for the city, 750,000 Soviet soldiers died or went missing. The losses on the Axis side were around 850,000. Another important battle in the Great Patriotic war was the one at the Kursk Bulge which followed the German defeat at Stalingrad. The Germans seeking to once again regain the military initiative had deployed more than 800, 000 soldiers in an operation code named �Citadel�. The Soviets, who had gained the military momentum, had deployed more than a million men to confront the Germans. In the battle of �the Kursk Bulge�, more than 180, 000 Russian soldiers were killed in action. The German losses were estimated at around half a million.

In contrast, the battles fought by the US and British led forces against the Axis powers paled by comparison. In the much hyped Second Battle of El Alamein, (October 23-November 4, 1942) which many western historians claim to be as important as the battle of Stalingrad, the numbers of troops involved were fewer in number. A 220,000 strong Allied Force confronted an Axis army numbering 116,000. 13,000 Allied and 38,000 Axis troops were killed in action in that battle. That the Soviet-German theatre was the most important front during the War was exemplified by the fact that 60 to 80 per cent of Germany�s ground forces, half of its air force and a third of its Navy were deployed on the Eastern Front.

In all, during the course of the Great Patriotic War, the Red Army conducted eight big military campaigns, 51 strategic operations and more than a thousand army level operations. The Soviet army scored decisive victories in 1944, the year in which their actions were concentrated outside the territory of the USSR. Soviet forces liberated the Balkans and removed pro-fascists regimes in countries like Finland, Bulgaria and Romania. The Red Army was the first to reach Berlin and forcing the surrender of the Nazis.  Many of the military campaigns of the Red Army are now considered text book examples of modern warfare.

The letter sent by President Franklin Roosevelt to Stalin in February, 1943 acknowledges the crucial role played by the Red Army in stopping the German military juggernaut. �On behalf of the people of the United States I want to express to the Red Army on its 25th anniversary our profound admiration for its magnificent achievements unsurpassed in all history. For many months, in spite of many tremendous losses of supplies, transportation and territory, the Red Army denied victory to a most powerful enemy. It checked him at Stalingrad, at Moscow, at Voronezh, in the Caucasus and finally at the immortal Battle of Stalingrad, the Red army not only defeated the enemy but launched the great offensive, which is still moving forward along the whole front from the Baltic to the Black Sea---The Red Army and the Russian people have surely started the Hitler forces on the road to ultimate defeat�, the letter addressed by Roosevelt to Stalin stated.

The Soviet Union emerged from the War as a superpower alongside the United States. When the Germans launched their blitzkrieg against the USSR, most western military experts had predicted that Moscow would capitulate within a matter of months. The German military high command had promised Hitler that it would subdue Russia with �lightning speed�. The Soviet Union instead showed its resilience and also demonstrated to the world that it had the support of its people. Most East European countries either chose to meekly surrender or only put up a token fight when the German army invaded. The Soviet historian, K Voroshilov, echoing the views that many Russians held at the time, wrote that the US and the UK did little to help Russia as it faced the entire might of the German army. �By their unworthy game of provocation the Anglo-American �allies� who desired the greatest possible exhaustion and weakening of the Soviet Union, and consequently the prolongation of the war, gave Hitler the opportunity of waging the war for three years solely on the Soviet front without a glace behind him and having no fear from his rear, having concentrated against the Soviet Union huge masses of troops and equipment�.

Stalin�s superior war tactics coupled with the economic advances the country had made under socialism, helped thwart Hitler�s plans for world domination. More than 6,200 guerrilla and underground units, numbering over 1.4million combatants, fought behind enemy lines. More than 1.6 million German soldiers along with their collaborators were eliminated, wounded or taken prisoners by these partisans. According to Russian military historians, underground Soviet fighters were responsible for either destroying or disabling more than 4,500 enemy tanks and armoured vehicles, 2,500 artillery pieces and over 11,000 planes. At the beginning of the German military campaign, their air force had overwhelming aerial superiority. Ultimately, the USSR ended up by producing 40 per cent more fighter planes than the Germans. �The enemy sadly miscalculated�, wrote Stalin. �He failed to take into account the strength of the Red Army, failed to take into account the stability of the Soviet rear, failed to take into account the determination of our people to achieve victory�.

The Soviet Government, after initial hiccups, saw to it that its frontline fighters were well provided with combat hardware. Soviet factories produced combat weaponry at a much faster pace than their German counterparts. These included fighter planes, tanks and war ships.  The AK-47, which continues to be the weapon of choice for the armies and the guerrillas of the world, started production during the Great Patriotic War.