The Third Reich ruthlessly led by Nazi leaders was to collapse under sustained attacks by the Russian Red Army and Britain’s Royal Air Force .

Germany although numerically superior was to be warded off invading Britain (Operation Sea lion) by determined fighting by British and Commonwealth air aces in Spitfires and Hurricanes.Although English airfields were damaged during the Luftwaffe air campaign of 1940 ultimately after a sustained onslaught of 90 nights upon London the High Command turned their attentions to Russia.The German military had to this point been chiefly victorious in the European campaigns for the Reich they had however encountered Resistance in the occupied ‘Lander’ especially in Norway,Poland, Denmark,Holland, Belgium, France and even the Czech Republic.The Campaign in Russia (Operation Barbarossa) begun on 22 June 1941. Thousands of men were massed with mules, artillery, panzers (tanks) and  armoured personnel carriers. Manstein and Von Paulus may have harboured reservations during the invasion of Russia as German forces swept into Russia’s interior. Most Generals thought it would be a cakewalk.

 

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Behind the German front line came ideological ‘Einsatzkommando’ bearing the extreme orders of the Nazis to eliminate Communists, Jews, Partisans anyone in fact who was an Enemy of the Reich, which included a vast amount of Russian prisoners of war.The actions of these murderous and ruthless squads left some in the German military dismayed and later during the seige of Stalingrad (December 1941) they were left to question the orders.The actions of the Nazi Establishment were later to haunt them. Russians feared falling prisoner to them, which had not been the situation as the forces swept east in the Ukraine, resistance now became fanatical (even suicidal) as German forces endeavoured to power on across the Volga River and towards the oilfields.
Russians soon got to know that their comrades who had surrendered were very badly treated, huge numbers of them never returning from the war as the tragic human cost rose and rose on the Eastern front. NKVD political squads being sent to bolster morale and shoot deserters. It was to be total war, an ideological war and a ‘war of annihilation’.
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As the attack petered out before the oncoming Soviet winter, German commanders feared out-running long and lengthy supply lines, massive pincer and encirclements brought huge amounts of Soviet prisoners. As 1941 wore on German soldiers it began to dawn on German soldiers of the Wehrmacht and the 6th Army that their uniforms and greatcoats were not going to be enough to stand up to the Russian winter.Stalin at first disbelieved the German invasion and felt very betrayed when German forces didn’t keep their word. At first Russians’ yielded ground and their casualty rate was extremely high. At first the Soviet Red army reeled before the co-ordinated assaults of the Wehrmacht,using fighters,bombers and artillery in close support.The air warfare in the East became so bitter that pilots landed in order to shoot their opponents, but it was at Stalingrad beside the Volga where Russia was to show it’s real stubborness.
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Great Britain by contrast had at least seen a glimmer of a war with Germany in the pipeline.Luckily RAF Commanders, such as Dowding,were as a benchmark able pre-1938 to have fighters improved notably the Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane to assist in aerial combat and aerial reconnaissance.The British expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) placed back in their old role guarding the French left flank.Unfortunately for the appeaser Neville Chamberlain they were overrun, cut off by Panzer assualt in “Fall Gelb” May 1940,leading to the historic evacuation of 300,000 troops at Dunkerque. Churchill saw the only way to hit back at Germany was through the bomber force.Britain’s strategic air offensive became a prolonged and drawn out slog, causing 65,000 airmen to be lost by the war’s end.
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Britain benefited in the darkest hour by Volunteers coming from the Empire and overrun states Canada, Australia,New Zealand, South Africa , American aircrew with supplementary squadrons of Poles,Czechs and French pilots. The Spitfire had a range of 680 km so was not really suitable for bomber escorts, with it’s 90 gallon fuel tank a spitfire had only a 90 minute flying time. In the RAF during 1940-42 it was found that frequently the bombs dropped afar from their targets, and the sacrificial bombing was sadly ineffective.
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The RAF, as a general rule, conducted all of their bombing operations against Germany at night. Escorts were not really necessary under these conditions and probably would have been more of a liability than any protection. The USAAF believed that they could conduct precision daylight bombing and executed their operations against Germany during the day. The American leadership initially believed that the B-17 and B-24 bombers were so heavily defended that they would not need to be escorted. When this was proven to be incorrect, it lead to the rapid and joint British-American development of the P-51 Mustang (North American air frame with a Rolls Royce engine).
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Most bombing by both the RAF and USAAF was partially or fully unescorted.

Early in the war, virtually all long-distance bombing raids took place at night to avoid the possibility of interception. The Germans used searchlights and AA guns to try to combat this. Later in the war they developed night fighters.

As the German 6th Army dug in besides the Volga in the Northern Stalingrad factory district the snow had already begun falling.Zhukov sent by Stalin to stiffen Resistance observed the Wehrmacht noticing German infantry divisions liked to come forward following artillery barrages, air assaults accompanied by tanks and flame throwers.He ordered hand-to-hand fighting in Stalingrad’s rubble strewn houses. Zhukov also examined the German line and was surprised to find thinly held Roumanian sectors either side of the salient, it became his goal to later launch a counter-attack breaking through their lines to entrap and encircle enemy divisions.Germany (at Stalingrad) was later to lose the entire 6th Army like this, in total 17 divisions.

It was Heeresgruppe A that became Army Group Centre, under 3 German formations that had been assigned to invade and destroy the Soviet Union.

A German prisoner of war escorted by a Soviet soldier, Stalingrad, 1943

3 years to the day ,from when Barbarossa started, Operation Bagration began on 22 June 1944.Soon German troops in the Minsk area of Belorussia were trapped (300,000) and a further 100,000 encircled as Wehrmacht Army Group Centre collapsed.Soviets achieved a major victory from which Nazi Germany could never recover as Bagration destroyed a whole Army Group thence rupturing the German front line. Russia now had vast numerical superiority in personnel,tanks, field guns, assault guns and aircraft.

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Total German losses on the Eastern Front 1 June-29 August 1944                          71,685 killed, 503,564 wounded, 325,381 missing a total of 900,630.

In Bagration the Red Army liberated a vast amount of area whose population had suffered greatly under the mistreatment from the German occupation.In order to show the outside world the magnitude 50,000 German prisoners were paraded through Moscow in a march past that took 90 minutes.

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The German Army, under the Nazis, never recovered the materiel and manpower having lost 25% of Eastern Front forces 17 divisions at Stalingrad and a further 17 divisions during Bagration.These losses included experienced soldiers , NCO’s and Officers.At this late stage the Wehrmacht could not replace those lost.Army Group centre, commanded by German field marshal Fedor von Bock had “feste platze” such as Polotsk,Vitebsk,Orsha,Mogilev,Borisov,Minsk,Slutsk,Pinsk,Kovel and Vilnius.

Soviet deep battle techniques and false misleading signals traffic fooled Germans to divert reserves to the wrong sectors and this allowed the Red Army to reach the Vistula and for the first time to be within striking distance of Berlin.Soviet High Command used West Ukraine as a staging area into Poland.Total collapse of Army Group center involved about 400,000 German losses.

Meanwhile back in Britain after a dogged 1940-41 during 1942 it was the herald of new 1,000 bomber campaign era.Cologne was the first target on 30 May 1942 with Essen following 1 June 1942.

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tbc

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