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History In Pictures

History In Pictures


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OPERATION BAGRATION, 1944: It Broke The Back Of The German Army


Berezina is quite a large river. By the end of that tragic day, all the water in the river was red with blood. Weakened or injured thousands drowned, not being able to cross it. There were thousands of people who could not swim and whose helpless bodies were swept away. Finally, the river bed was so littered with the bodies of men and horses, abandoned equipment, that when I came to the river bank, I saw a bloodcurdling fantastic view, that was probably a rarity even for the Eastern campaign. I managed to cross the river, almost without wetting my shoes, I stepped over the bodies of those who once terrified the whole of Europe. 

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After moving to the other side, we went on without respite. I still remember the walk along the roads, rivers and endless forests, under constant threat of enemy fire. Russian fire was constantly on us. So our column continued to plod on, darting from side to side like drunken mad men.  Russian aircraft taking off from some distant airfields would reach us and continued to methodically reduce our numbers. They dumped another batch of bombs and shells, and then, with a triumphant roar rushed back to restock ammo.

Red Army soldiers on the move during Operation Bagration

Operation Bagration dwarfed the Allied Normandy landings by a long margin. D-Day happened on June 6, 1944. Bagration too happened in June, 1944. On June 23, 1944.

But most school text books in the English speaking world only speak of D-Day. Few of us have even heard of Bagration. Two reasons for that. One is that the English media mostly tom-toms American and British effort during WW2 despite the fact that even a two bit historian will tell you that the real decisive fighting (in the European theater) of the war occurred on the Eastern Front. Secondly the Soviet government had thrown a veil of secrecy on WW2. Russian war archives lay inaccessible till the Soviet Union broke up in 1990s.

German soldiers surrender to the advancing Red Army

But it was one of the most decisive battles of the second world war. Stavka, the Russian High Command wanted to break the back of the German Army  with Bagaration, And it succeeded in doing that. Hundreds of thousands of German soldiers were captured or killed. The Red Army threw in 2.4 million soldiers, 5000 tanks, 36000 artillery guns and 5000 warplanes.

The soldiers of German Army Centre did not know what hit them when Operation Bagration started. The German Army was almost destroyed and the remnants was chased by the Russians till almost Warsaw.

Crestfallen captured German soldiers
On June 23rd 1944 "Operation Bagration" began. The unprecedented firepower of Russian artillery fire with more than thirty thousand guns and mortars  shook the German defensive positions for two hours. On the first day of the attack the Soviet troops managed to break into the German defenses in some places up to thirteen kilometers. Overcoming fierce resistance, the Red Army moved steadily westward.

By June 25 five German divisions, numbering up to 35,000 soldiers were surrounded in the city of Vitebsk. The city fell into Russian hands in a few days.

On June 26 June,  the Orsha-strategic center of the German defense was broken.The 1st Belorussian Front surrounded six German divisions in the area of Bobruisk.

Soviet aircraft, which now dominated the skies hammered the German positions mercilessly.

The Red army used massed tank columns to batter through the German defenses something which the Germans did earlier in the war.

The Russians liberated Minsk, the capital of Belarus, in July. 35,000 German officers and soldiers were taken prisoner.

By the end of August, 1944 the Red Army had advanced 500-600 kilometers along a 1100 km front. Belarus was almost freed. The once formidable German Army Center had been annihilated. It lost 6.00.000 men.

Soviet losses were 7,00,000 men, dead, injured or missing.

After Operation Bagration Russia had retaken Belarus and the road to Germany proper lay wide open.

 Ivan's war. The Russian army was unstoppable.

Bagration was the greatest Red army victory of the War. Bagration in many ways was a replay of Barbarossa, only in reverse. The Red Army in a massive 5 weeks campaign succeeded in moving the front line west to Warsaw, clearing Byelorussia and much of pre-War Poland of the Germans. Army Group Center was shattered. The Red Army completely destroyed 17 Wehrmacht divisions and heavily damaged the combat effectiveness of more than 50 other German divisions. Army Group Central was effectively limited as an effective command. It was the single greatest defeat suffered by the Wehrmacht in the War. The Wehrmacht suffered greater casualties than at Stalingrad.  Bagration not only smashed Army Group Central, but drove the Germans back deep into Poland. The Red Army succeeded in destroying the most powerful German formation at the time--Army Group Central. Before Bagration, the Wehrmacht had suffered substantial battlefield losses, but was still a very potent military force. After Bagration not only was the Wehrmacht unable to react powerfully to the Allied invasion of France, but would be unable to launch another important offensive in the East.

 The German defenses could not stop the Soviet batter ram

"Germany lost more than 300,000 men in twenty-two divisions in just five weeks; this was a blow from which the Ostheer (the German Army in Russia) never recovered. In order to stabilize the front, the German command was forced to transfer forty-six divisions and four brigades to Byelorussia from other sectors, taking some of the pressure off the British and American troops in France."

 "We are back" 
 Destroyed German tanks

Confident Russian commanders

 People of Minsk welcome Ivan

Red army on the move: T-34 tanks and soldiers

German POW  escorted by a Red Army soldier in Vitebsk

German trucks and armor were hammered by Soviet warplanes on the highway near Vitebsk

Women partisans in liberated Minsk. July 1944

Minsk liberated. Soviet fighters celebrate. July 2013

German POW squat on a street in Minsk


Suggested Reading

STALIN'S REVENGE: Operation Bagration and the Annihilation of Army Group Centre
Anthony Tucker-Jones assesses the opposing forces and their commanders and gives a vivid insight into the planning and decision-making at the highest level. He recreates the experience of the soldiers on the battlefield by using graphic contemporary accounts, and he sets the Bagration offensive in the wider context of the Soviet war effort. He also asks why Stalin's road to retribution proved to be such a long and bloody one - for the Germans, despite their crippling losses, managed to resist for another ten months.

OPERATION BAGRATION: The Destruction of Army Group Centre June-July 1944, A Photographic History
The Soviets punched massive holes in the disintegrating defenses almost everywhere, letting through a seemingly-unstoppable flood, pushing apart and encircling many precious German Panzer and infantry divisions. In the end Bagration cost the Wehrmacht more men and material than the catastrophe at Stalingrad sixteen months earlier. The shattering defeat of Army Group Centre resulted in the loss of over 300,000 men and witnessed Soviet forces pushing exhausted German remnants out of Russia and through Poland to the gates of Warsaw.

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Angriff The German Attack on Stalingrad In Photos [Hardcover]

Angriff The German Attack on Stalingrad In Photos [Hardcover]
"This volume reads just like a history due to the extensive captions that were researched extensively"

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WW2 Eastern Front Videos

Suggested Reading

A nice introduction to the SS. The SS (Stosstrupp Adolf Hitler) was a number of things--Hitler's body guard, law enforcement duties, concentration camp controllers, and soldiers (the Waffen-SS). This volume examines the work of the SS from 1939-1945. Early on, there was competition between the SA and the SS (to be devoted to Hitler, whereas the SA had other ambitions). With the demise of the SA, the SS became that much more important.

The SS had two elements--the Waffen-SS, the military arm, and the Allgemeine-SS, a police and security force with tentacles throughout German society. The second chapter lays out the variety of responsibilities of the Allgemeine-SS nicely. In addition to describing the "tentacles," this discussion also considers recruitment and training, symbolism (the death's head--totenkopf), uniforms, flags, and so on.

Then, the Waffen-SS. Appearance, equipment, training, weapons, tactics, and famous commanders, such as Sepp Dietrich. Some of the more legendary divisions in the Waffen-SS: Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, Das Reich, and Totenkopf. Other formations emerged, too, such as Wiking, a division made up of volunteers from Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, etc. The racial exclusivity of the Waffen-SS began to be compromised as needs for soldiers became more pressing as the war continued.

The book discusses the fighting power of the Waffen-SS—and its slow disintegration as it was bled to death in the Soviet Union and in France after the Normandy invasion. There were a few last hurrahs, such as in the Battle of the Bulge, but this element was slowly ground down due to causalities and inferior replacements.

Overall, an accessible and readable portrayal of the SS. .


Suggested Reading

Hitler's Armies: A history of the German War Machine 1939-45

Chris McNab's wonderfully-illustrated HITLER'S ARMIES, A HISTORY OF THE GERMAN WAR MACHINE 1939-45 traces the development and combat ops of the German Army including the Waffen-SS and Fallschirmjager. Strikingly illustrated with hundreds of color and b&w photographs, color maps and diagrams, combat artwork and color plates of weapons and uniforms, it's an appealing, comprehensive history of the men and units that made Blitzkrieg a household word.

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A Lousy Journalist?

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"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
-- George Santayana

Brutal WW2 Video: Captured By A German Cameraman

"There is no glory in war. It is man at his most bestial"


History Quotes

May 1945 - If hell on earth existed, than it existed in Prague after May the 5th. 1945. Old men, women and children were beaten to death and maimed. Rapes, barbaric cruelties, horror-scenarios of hellish proportions - here they had been let lose.

- Ludek Pachmann, Czech Chess-Grand Master and publicist, forty years after the fact.

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"History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are."

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.


HISTORY, n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.
-- Ambrose Bierce

We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.


"I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know no way of judging of the future but by the past."

"Patriotism ruins history."

Snippets from History

This short but important battle played a key role in the decision to use atomic bombs when attacking Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The battle showed just how far Japanese troops would go to defend their country.

Snippets From History

Paulus didn't give the order to 6th Army to surrender, but his troops no longer had much fight left in them. Resistance faded out over the next two days, with the last die-hards finally calling it quits. One Red Army colonel shouted at a group of prisoners, waving at the ruins all around them: "That's how Berlin is going to look!


History is Philosophy teaching by examples.


"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
-- George Santayana

Points to Ponder: Why Is China Unstable?

The aim of individuals in any society is money and power. Societies that give equal chance to all its members to get them will be the most stable. That is why democracies are more stable than other systems of governance.

China after Deng's reform gave the chance to get rich but power is in the hands of an elite; the Communist Party of China. Membership to the party is at the whims of the local party bosses. This leaves out many people who crave political power dissatisfied and disgruntled. There in lies the roots of instability. The Party suppressed these demands once at Tiananmen in 1989. But force is hardly the way to deal with things like these.

READ MORE: Tiananmen Square Massacre