Sunday, June 22, 2008

How Hitler Used the Longest Day: June 22, 1941

Mention the longest day of the year and for Russians of a certain age, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union comes to mind. By the way, June 22nd is the longest day of the year for points east of Greenwich Mean Time, if I'm not mistaken, versus June 21 for points west. And it was on the longest day of the year, June 22, 1941 that Hitler ordered his troops at 3:15 a.m. to begin their assault.

Operation Barbarossa was the codename for the invasion and 4.5 million Axis troops penetrated a 1,800 mile front stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.

Amazingly, the attack took Russia completely by surprise. Stalin was aware of the build-up of troops just west of the Soviet border but he believed Hitler's claim that they were to be used against England. Thanks to cryptologists who had cracked communication codes, Stalin was also provided with the date set for the invasion. But he didn't believe that Germany would invade so soon after they had signed a treaty with the Soviet Union. The first day of the invasion, Nazi bombs destroyed 2,000 Soviet aircraft. And thus began the Great Patriotic War as it is called in Russia.

Interesting how June 22 brings the invasion to mind for adult Russians even now, decades later. Yesterday in casual conversation with cab drivers to and from the airport, both mentioned it in response to my yakking about the summer solstice. And then today in worship service as part of his comments before the communion service, our dear brother Gheorge brought it up. Off-hand I don't remember quite how he managed to connect the invasion to the death, the burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . but he did.


John from Kansas said...

An excellent video, thanks for posting it. I once heard an account from a Russian fighter pilot who stated that after the war, whenever he found himself in a room where a former Sturmovik aircrew was present, he would remain standing until the Il-2 crewman was seated.

Anonymous said...

German forces throughout the war respectfully referred to the Ilyushin-2 as the "Iron Gustav," and that same heavily-armed, heavily-armored Sturmovik was responsible for a great many German casualties particularly during Operation "Typhoon," as German forces approached Moscow's western outskirts and tens of thousands of Muscovites began to flee the city eastward in October, in the direction of Kuibyshev, during what has since become known as "The Great Panic" (see Rodric Braithwaite's, "Moscow 1941: A City and It's People at War").

Increasingly, Russians are led to explain these days that they suffered the greatest casualties in the war, and that they therefore contributed more than any other nation. However, what should never be forgotten in this understandable surge of Russian pride is the cold fact that more than 17 million Asians (largely Chinese soldiers and civilians) died fighting the Japanese in the Far East, in a no-quarter war which chillingly resembles in sheer size and ferocity and racial hatred that seen between Germany and the USSR between June '41-May '45.

Go to, pull up any documentary film centering on the "Great Patriotic War," and you'll find in the ensuing comment boxes loads of hot-blooded, hormonal young men still insulting one another over the talking points of this war. It's rather disconcerting to discover that the very antipathy that first took Russia and Germany to war 67 years ago, is still present today among coming Russian and German youth who know war only from the distant comfort of their warm computer consoles.

Only older Russians and Germans understand precisely how close the USSR came to collapse in 1941, and how very close tiny Germany--a nation perpetually stricken with few natural resources and a small population--came to achieving total pan-European victory by 1941. Much should always be said for the now-legendary Russian resolve and resistance to the Nazi foe several decades ago, though it should also be remembered that, but for Hitler's arrogance and the onset of heavy rains and Rasputitza and the bitterest winter in Russia in 42 years (air temperatures fell to as low as -52-Centigrade in 1941), Moscow, as British historian Henry Maule once noted, would likely have fallen.

From Maule's "The Great Battles of World War II--Moscow" (Hamlyn Publishing, 1972):

"...Had Hitler [in 1941] not committed Germany to fighting on two fronts, had not the British fought on despite the impossible odds after the fall of France, the outcome [of the Second World War] might have been very different. If, in the final hour of faltering before Moscow, the Wehrmacht could have been reinforced by the German troops then committed against Britain in Africa, or compelled warily to stand guard in Western Europe and on the Mediterranean, if they could have thrown in the crack airborne battalions decimated in the bloody battle for Crete, if all the warplanes and their crews shot down in the Battle of Britain had been available, then Moscow must have fallen. Above all, had the start of Operation Barbarossa not been delayed four weeks by [General Sir Archibald] Wavell's victory in North Africa, and by Germany's engagement in the Balkans, total victory would probably have been achieved in Russia before the onset of winter."