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Red Army, Russian Krasnaya Armiya, Soviet army created by the Communist government after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The name Red Army was abandoned in 1946.
The Russian imperial army and navy, together with other imperial institutions of tsarist Russia, disintegrated after the outbreak of the Russian Revolution of 1917. By a decree of January 28 (January 15, Old Style), 1918, the Council of People’s Commissars created a Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army on a voluntary basis. The first units, fighting with a revolutionary fervour, distinguished themselves against the Germans at Narva and Pskov on February 23, 1918, which became Soviet Army Day. On April 22, 1918, the Soviet government decreed compulsory military training for workers and peasants who did not employ hired labour, and this was the beginning of the Red Army. Its founder was Leon Trotsky, people’s commissar for war from March 1918 until he lost the post in November 1924.
The Red Army was recruited exclusively from among workers and peasants and immediately faced the problem of creating a competent and reliable officers’ corps. Trotsky met this problem by mobilizing former officers of the imperial army. Up to 1921 about 50,000 such officers served in the Red Army and with but few exceptions remained loyal to the Soviet regime. Political advisers called commissars were attached to all army units to watch over the reliability of officers and to carry out political propaganda among the troops. As the Russian Civil War continued, the short-term officers’ training schools began to turn out young officers who were regarded as more reliable politically.
The number of Communist Party members increased among the Red Army’s ranks from 19 to 49 percent during 1925–33, and among officers this increase was much higher. Moreover, all commanders were graduates of Soviet military academies and officers’ training schools, admission to which was limited to those recommended by the Communist Party.
In May 1937 a drastic purge, affecting all potential opponents of Joseph Stalin’s leadership, decimated the officer corps and greatly reduced the morale and efficiency of the Red Army. On June 12, Mikhayl Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky, first deputy people’s commissar of war, and seven other Red Army generals were found guilty of plotting to betray the Soviet Union to Japan and Germany, and all were shot. Many other generals and colonels were either cashiered or sent to forced-labour camps, or both. The purge’s effects were apparent in the serious defeats suffered by the Red Army during the first months of the German invasion (1941), but a corps of younger commanders soon emerged to lead the Soviet Union to victory in World War II.
By war’s end the Soviet armed forces numbered 11,365,000 officers and men. Demobilization, however, started toward the end of 1945, and in a few years the armed forces fell to fewer than 3,000,000 troops.
In 1946 the word Red was removed from the name of the armed forces. Thus, a Soviet soldier, hitherto known as a krasnoarmiich (“Red Army man”), was subsequently called simply a ryadovoy (“ranker”). Discipline in the Soviet forces was always strict and punishments severe during World War II, penal battalions were given suicidal tasks. In 1960, however, new regulations were introduced making discipline, and certainly punishments, less severe. Officers were to use more persuasion and were charged with developing their troops’ political consciousness, thus ending the dual control of military commanders and political commissars. By contrast, enlisted men increasingly brutalized each other conscripts with longer service took advantage of new recruits, and ethnic communities worked out mutual hostilities in the barracks. The era of the revolutionary “Red Army” ended, in fact as well as in name, long before the final disappearance of the Soviet Union. In Russia, February 23, now known as Defender of the Fatherland Day, is still the official day to honour military veterans.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Michael Ray, Editor.
During World War II, German forces begin their siege of Leningrad, a major industrial center and the USSR’s second-largest city. The German armies were later joined by Finnish forces that advanced against Leningrad down the Karelian Isthmus. The siege of Leningrad, also known as . read more
The last German troops in the Soviet city of Stalingrad surrender to the Red Army, ending one of the pivotal battles of World War II. On June 22, 1941, despite the terms of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, Nazi Germany launched a massive invasion against the USSR. Aided by its . read more
Main Attractions of Pskov
The Pskov Krom (Kremlin) - the historic and architectural center of Pskov, one of the symbols of the city, a great example of old Russian medieval defensive architecture located at the confluence of the Pskova River into the Velikaya River. On an area of 3 hectares, you can see a large number of architectural monuments including the monumental 78 meters high Trinity Cathedral (1699) - the only large church in Pskov that has survived to this day.
The difference between the Pskov Kremlin and the fortresses of Tver, Moscow, Smolensk, and other Russian cities is that it was not influenced by Italian architecture. The fortification was built in a brutal, solid style, characteristic of the independent Pskov Republic of the 14th-16th centuries. The height of the walls is 6-8 meters, the length - about 1 km.
On the territory of the Pskov Kremlin there is the only administrative building of the 17th century preserved in its original form - the Order Chambers (1693). Today, this federal cultural heritage site is used as an exhibition and cultural center of the Pskov Historical, Artistic and Architectural Museum-Reserve. The expositions recreate the atmosphere in which medieval Russian administrative work was carried out.
Pogankin Chambers - a stone residential, warehouse and industrial building constructed in the 1670s, a monument of history and culture of federal significance. Inside you can find several exhibitions including a collection of icons created in Pskov in the 14th-17th centuries. The Pskov school of painting is recognized as a completely original artistic phenomenon of old Russia. There is also a collection of silverware here. Nekrasova Street, 7.
Gremyachaya Tower (1525) - the tallest stone tower in Pskov (29 meters) and one of the symbols of the city. A lot of urban legends are associated with this tower. The most famous one is about the prince’s daughter walled up in it. Only those who are not afraid to spend 12 consecutive nights in the tower reading the Psalter can free her. In addition to the princess, the brave person will receive barrels of gold, the ringing of which is heard by the Pskovites at night here. Gremyachaya Street, 8.
Menshikov Chambers - a complex of buildings of the 17th century that was the ancestral home of Semyon Menshikov, the headman and richest merchant of the Pskov land. The snow-white architectural ensemble is made of limestone and consists of three-storey and two-storey buildings connected by underground galleries. Today, there are souvenir shops selling ceramics, thematic books, as well as a pottery museum here. There is a permanent exhibition of contemporary Pskov artists in one of the buildings. Sovetskaya Street, 50.
Mirozhsky Monastery - a monastery complex of the 12th century located on the bank of the Velikaya River. It is famous for its unique preserved pre-Mongol frescoes, which are open to the public only in dry weather. In the Middle Ages, this monastery was the cultural center of Pskov. Mirozhskaya Embankment, 2.
Arboretum Mirozhsky Park - a great place to walk located near the Mirozhsky Monastery. The most beautiful place in the park is a pond with an artificial island where wild ducks nest all year round. Yubileynaya Street, 1?.
Cathedral of the Nativity of John the Baptist - a picturesque church located on the left bank of the Velikaya River, opposite the Pskov Kremlin. The appearance of the building strikes with restraint and monumental simplicity, contrasting with most of the Pskov churches. Details of the external decor are practically absent. For several centuries it was the burial vault of the Pskov princesses. Over the centuries, the soil around the church rose. Today, its floor is almost one meter below the ground level. Maksima Gorkogo Street, 1.
Church of the Epiphany - one of the most famous churches in Pskov. This picturesque asymmetric monument of history and culture of federal significance of the 15th-16th centuries is located on the right bank of the Pskova River. Gertsena Street, 7.
Apartment-museum of Vladimir Lenin. The museum is located in the apartment building of the merchant P. Chernov on the former Arkhangelskaya Street (today, Lenina Street, 3), on the third floor. From March to May 1900, Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) rented a room here. In 2001, the museum became part of the Pskov Museum-Reserve and was supplemented with exhibits about the life of the Pskov region and Pskov in the late 19th - early 20th centuries.
Monument to the Pskov Paratroopers (The Canopy). On February 29, 2000, at the height of the Second Chechen War, in the Argun Gorge, an armed clash took place between large forces of Chechen separatists retreating from the encirclement and a detachment of Russian paratroopers made up mainly of the 6th company of the 2nd battalion of the 104th paratrooper regiment of the 76th Pskov division.
In the desperate battle, the defending paratroopers displayed heroism, but the opposing forces were too strong. Almost all of the paratroopers were killed in action. The dramatic course and outcome of the battle caused a significant resonance in Russian society. For this feat, 22 of them (21 - posthumous) were awarded the title of Hero of Russia, 69 soldiers and officers were awarded the Orders of Courage (63 - posthumous). The monument looks like a snow-white metal canopy of a parachute over a pedestal stylized as a mountain peak. Leningradskoye Highway, 222.
Mikhailovskoye Museum-Reserve - a memorial complex and an extensive park area located about 115 km away from Pskov, a federal cultural heritage site dedicated to Alexander Pushkin, one of the greatest Russian poets. The grave of Alexander Pushkin is located on its territory. There are several estates with parks, estates of the poet’s relatives and friends, museums, remains of old settlements, picturesque meadows and lakes.
Epic “Battle of the Ice” Rivaled the Casualties of “Game of Thrones”
It was a scene straight out of “Game of Thrones.” The knights and cavalry and infantrymen of two armies, already weary from battle but reinvigorated for a final face-off across a huge frozen lake. The winner would determine borderlines for centuries.
That was the case on this day way back in 1242 on Lake Peipus when Russians faced off against Catholic crusaders from the west in what came to be known, aptly, as the “Battle of the Ice.”
At the time a religious order known as the Teutonic Knights , crusaders who originally fought in the Middle East, had turned their attention to Eastern Europe and set about conquering land there for the Roman Catholic church.
By 1241 they had captured the Russian city of Pskov, close to the border of modern-day Estonia, and threatened the city of Novgorod further east.
But then Novgorod called upon Prince Alexander Nevsky, who would become one of Russia’s first military heroes, according to The New Republic . Nevsky had already led a victory over Swedish invaders in 1240 and he rallied the Russians against the Teutonic Knights as well.
As a Russian account tells it, “Feeling a new danger, the people of Novgorod, led by Prince Alexander Nevsky rose against the enemy.” First Nevsky and his men recaptured Pskov, after which he is said to have remarked, “Lest they should boast, saying, we will humble the Slovan race under us – for is not Pskov taken, and are not its chiefs in prison?”
But the knights stopped running after they reached Lake Peipus. There, on the desolate, frozen expanse, the two sides faced each other.
There are varying accounts of how many fighters each side had, but the Russian account says 10,000 to 12,000 knights were gathered on one side, facing 15,000 to 17,000 of Nevsky’s soldiers.
“At dawn of April 5 the crusaders formed up their army in a triangle, the sharp angle of which was turned towards the enemy,” the account says. “Alexander Nevsky placed the main force not in the center, which was usual for Russian troops, but at flanks. In front of the Russian army was an advanced detachment of light cavalry, archers and slingers. The rear of the Russian battle formation was turned towards the precipitous eastern shore of the lake. Prince’s major cavalry lied in ambush behind the left flank.”
The account says that as the two sides approached each other, the Russian archers rained down a “shower of arrows” on the knights, but the armored crusaders still managed to defeat the first regiment of Russian forces. But they had walked into Nevsky’s ambush and were attacked on two sides.
Another historical account said that what followed next was a “great slaughter.”
“The battle lasted til the late night,” the Russian account says. “When the knights wavered and ran, the Russians chased them… Thin coastal ice started to collapse under the horses and heavy armored crusaders.” (Though that last detail is apparently contested by some historians, according to National Geographic .)
In the end “countless” fighters were killed, the historical account says, but the knights were pushed back from Russian lands.
Eventually the Russians and the order signed a treaty and exchanged prisoners, ending the conflict for the time being.
But the battle set borders that remain to this day – Lake Peipus currently divides Estonia and Russia. Nearly a millennia later, there is still tension over the oft-frozen waters.
“At dusk, viewed across its white sand beaches, the lake is a picture of Baltic enchantment fishermen trawl the waters for pike-perch as the sun sinks,” the Financial Times recently put it. “Tourists come to swim in the lake’s tideless waters, to pick raspberries in the forests and to loll in the wood-burning saunas – but night and day, Lake Peipsi [Peipus] is patrolled by border guards. During the summer, the boundary line between Russia and Estonia is marked out by buoys during the winter, by fir trees drilled into the ice.”
It’s a border that could have looked very different if the epic April 5, 1242 “Battle of the Ice” had gone another way.
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Forgotten Battles of the Great Patriotic War
The Soviet-German war was the fiercest, most brutal and most costly chapter in World War II. Since this conflict ended with the destruction of both Germany’s Wehrmacht and Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, it was also the war’s most decisive theater. It is unfortunate, therefore, that until very recently— for largely political, ideological and military reasons— the historical record of this struggle has remained woefully incomplete.
Newly released Russian and German archival sources now indicate that Soviet histories of the war overlooked or obscured as much as 40 percent of the Red Army’s wartime military operations, primarily its failed offensives, in a deliberate attempt to conceal those defeats or to protect the reputations of defeated wartime commanders. Resurrecting many of these “ forgotten battles” enables us to recognize the contributions of the thousands of Red Army soldiers who fought, perished or simply endured for the sake of their Motherland, only to see history forget their sacrifices.
German Operations Barbarossa in 1941 and Blue in 1942— interrupted by the Red Army’s successful defense of Leningrad, Moscow and Rostov in late 1941 and its partially successful counteroffensive during the winter of 1941-42— dominated the first 18 months of war on the Eastern Front. Although the Wehrmacht retained the strategic initiative throughout much of this period, the Red Army managed to deny Hitler victory at Moscow, ensuring he could no longer win the war.
Histories have portrayed Barbarossa, which began on June 22, 1941, and ended on December 5, 1941, as a virtually seamless German advance from the Soviet Union’s western frontiers to the gates of Leningrad, Moscow and Rostov, punctuated by occasional heavy fighting but unfaltering until German forces reached Moscow. From late June through September 1941, however,Josef Stalin and his Stavka (High Command) deliberately and repeatedly tried to halt the German juggernaut by launching incessant counterstrokes and, in at least one case, a full-fledged counteroffensive.
As early as late June, the Red Army attempted to blunt the German advance with its large tank and mechanized force. In Lithuania the Northwestern Front’s 3rd and 12th Mechanized corps struck back at German Army Group North at Kelme and Raseiniai in Belorussia the Western Front’s 6th, 11th and 14th Mechanized corps counterattacked against Army Group Center near Grodno and Brest and in the Ukraine the Southwestern Front’s 4th, 6th, 8th, 9th, 15th, 19th and 22nd Mechanized corps launched massive counterstrokes against Army Group South near Brody and Dubno. Poorly coordinated and supported, those assaults proved utterly futile and often suicidal, and they ultimately resulted in the destruction of most of the Red Army’s tank and mechanized force. Only the massive attacks in the south, personally directed by army General Georgi K. Zhukov, the chief of the Red Army General Staff, had any appreciable effect on the overwhelming German advance.
In July the Red Army launched yet another series of heavy counterstrokes. The Northwestern Front struck the vanguard of Army Group North near Sol’tsy, delaying the German advance toward Leningrad for a full week. And in the center, the Western and Central fronts launched multiple unsuccessful counterstrokes to contain Army Group Center’s forces along the Dnepr River. These futile struggles included the spectacular destruction of the Western Front’s 5th and 7th Mechanized corps near Lepel’, Marshal Semyon Timoshenko’s notorious but also pathetically weak “ Timoshenko offensive” against General Heinz Guderian’s Second Panzer Group along the Sozh River, and a counterstroke near Bobruisk, all of which were unable to stop Army Group Center’s advance toward Smolensk. In the south, multiple counterattacks by the Southwestern Front near Korosten’ slowed but failed to halt Army Group South’s advance toward Kiev.
Undeterred by its July failures, the Red Army continued striking back against the advancing Germans in August. In the north, the Northern and Northwestern fronts assaulted Army Group North’s vanguard near Staraia Russa, again delaying the German advance for a week. In the center , the Western Front assaulted Army Group Center east of Smolensk with five ad hoc shock groups to rescue its forces surrounded in the city. Although all of these Red Army attacks ended in failure, their ferocity persuaded Hitler to delay his advance on Moscow and instead engage “softer” targets around Kiev.
Finally, in late August, the Western, Reserve and Briansk fronts launched a massive counteroffensive in the Smolensk, El’nia and Roslavl’ regions to prevent the Germans from continuing their advance on Moscow and Kiev. The ensuing bloody failure weakened the Red Army’s defenses along the Moscow axis, contributed to its disastrous defeats at Viaz’ma and Briansk in early October, and led to the Wehrmachts subsequent spectacular advance on Moscow during Operation Typhoon. Finally, during the initial stages of Operation Typhoon in late October, the Northwestern Front employed a special operational group (Group Vatutin) near Kalinin to halt the German Ninth Army’s advance to the vital Leningrad-Moscow railroad line and ultimately prevent that army from participating in the final Wehrmacht drive on Moscow. These forgotten battles also explain why the Wehrmacht ultimately suffered defeat at the gates of Moscow in early December 1941.
Accounts of the Battle of Moscow and the Red Army’s winter offensive of 1941-42 ignore Soviet counteroffensives in the Leningrad region, near Viaz’ma west of Moscow, near Bolkhov and Oboian’ south of Moscow, and in the Crimea. In the north, the Leningrad and Volkhov fronts launched a massive Leningrad-Novgorod (Liuban’) offensive in January 1942 to defeat Army Group North’s Eighteenth Army and raise the siege of Leningrad. Although the Volkhov Front’s forces managed to pierce German defenses, Army Group North struck back, encircling and destroying the Soviet 2nd Shock Army and 13th Cavalry Corps by early July 1942.
In the wake of the Red Army’s successful January counteroffensive at Moscow, in February 1942 the Kalinin and Western fronts launched their Rzhev-Viaz’ma offensive to encircle and destroy Army Group Center. Spearheaded by cavalry and airborne forces, the two fronts penetrated German defenses northwest and southeast of Moscow and almost linked up in the Viaz’ma region. Although it created havoc in Army Group Center’s rear area, this offensive also failed after months of fighting, leaving large Red Army forces isolated in Army Group Center’s rear area until German forces liquidated them in midsummer.
Coincident with its January and February offensives, the Red Army’s Briansk and Southwestern fronts also conducted a largescale offensive to eliminate a massive German salient jutting eastward from Kursk toward the Bolkhov and Oboian’ regions. However, the so-called Orel-Bolkhov, Bolkhov and Oboian’- Kursk offensives also failed. Similarly, an unsuccessful Northwestern Front offensive in the Demiansk region and an offensive by the Crimean Front in the Crimea have also disappeared from the pages of history.
The Red Army also reacted far more aggressively while the Wehrmacht was conducting Operation Blue from June 28 through November 18, 1942. Rather than abandoning the strategic initiative to the Germans, in May 1942 the Soviets conducted major offensives at Khar’kov and in the Crimea. Even after those offensives failed and Operation Blue began, the Red Army struck back fiercely at the Wehrmacht as the Germans advanced toward Stalingrad.
During July and August 1942, the Red Army conducted numerous counterattacks against Wehrmacht forces advancing toward Stalingrad and against German defenses elsewhere along the front. Masked by the dramatic German advance, these forgotten battles include three major offensives near Voronezh, one in concert with an impressive counterstroke west of Stalingrad, and others near Siniavino, Demiansk, Rzhev, Zhizdra and Bolkhov.
The Red Army conducted its largest-scale attempt to defeat Operation Blue during July, August and September in the Voronezh region.Throughout July it employed its new 5th Tank Army and as many as seven tank corps numbering up to 1,500 tanks in this series of counterattacks. Moreover, Stavka coordinated the 5th Tank Army’s assault west of Voronezh with major counterstrokes by the Stalingrad Front’s 1st and 4th Tank armies along the approaches to the Don River west of Stalingrad.
The Red Army also timed its offensives in the Demiansk, Rzhev, Zhizdra and Bolkhov regions to coincide with operations near Voronezh and at Stalingrad. For example, the Western and Briansk fronts employed several tank corps and, later, the new 3rd Tank Army in their July and August offensives near Zhizdra and Bolkhov. On the other hand, the Western and Kalinin fronts’ August-September offensive near Rzhev, which was orchestrated by Zhukov and achieved modest success, became a virtual dress rehearsal for an even larger counteroffensive in the same region later in the year (Operation Mars).
Although the Leningrad and Volkhov fronts’ second offensive at Siniavino, east of Leningrad, in August and September 1942 failed disastrously, it prevented German forces from capturing Leningrad and tied down the German Eleventh Army In the process, however, the 2nd Shock Army, which the Germans had already destroyed at Miasnoi Bor by early July, was destroyed once again in September near Siniavino.
The Red Army again seized the strategic initiative in late November 1942 by virtue of its twin offensives in the Rzhev and Stalingrad regions (Operations Mars and Uranus) and held it during its ambitious but only partially successful offensive in the winter of 1942-43. Quite naturally, the Red Army’s victory at Stalingrad, its advance to Khar’kov and south to the Donbas region in early 1943, and Field Marshal Erich von Manstein’s counterstroke in the south dominate accounts of the winter campaign. Those accounts, however, totally ignore three major Red Army offensives— Operation Mars, Operation Polar Star and the Orel-Briansk-Smolensk offensive — and severely understate the scope of its Donbas offensive, exaggerate its achievements at Demiansk and Rzhev, and distort Stavka’s strategic intent in the late winter of 1942-43.
During Operation Mars, the second Rzhev-Sychevka offensive in late November and December 1942, which was directed by Zhukov, the Western and Kalinin fronts sought to destroy the German Ninth Army and, if possible, all of Army Group Center. Although Mars ended in bloody failure, it weakened the Ninth Army and ultimately forced Army Group Center to abandon the salient in February 1943. At least in part, the offensive was forgotten to preserve Zhukov’s reputation.
The Western, Briansk and Central fronts conducted their massive Orel-Briansk-Smolensk offensive from early February through late March 1943 to collapse German defenses in central Russia and drive Werhmacht forces back across the Dnepr River. Although the Central Front’s forces reached the Desna River west of Kursk, the offensive faltered in early March when the Western and Briansk fronts failed to dent German defenses around Orel, and Manstein’s counterstroke recaptured Khar’kov and Belgorod. This offensive left the infamous bulge at Kursk.
The Northwestern, Leningrad and Volkhov fronts conducted Operation Polar Star in February and March 1943 to pierce Army Group North’s defenses near Staraia Russa, liquidate the Germans’ Demiansk salient, raise the siege of Leningrad, encircle and destroy the bulk of Army Group North, and commence the liberation of the Baltic region. This offensive faltered after the Germans voluntarily withdrew from their Demiansk salient, and Manstein’s counterstroke forced Stavka to shift its strategic reserves to the south. Although a clear failure, Operation Polar Star served as a virtual dress rehearsal for Stavka’s January 1944 offensive, which ultimately liberated the Leningrad region.
Finally, existing accounts of the Red Army’s first Donbas offensive in February 1943 overlook a major portion of the Southwestern Front’s offensive and the major role the Southern Front played in the failed effort to expel German forces from the Donbas region. Specifically, these accounts ignore the full context of the 8th Cavalry Corps’ famous advance to Debal’tsevo by simply calling it a “ raid” rather than a failed advance by several mobile corps.
THE RED ARMY’S SIGNAL VICTORY AT KURSK in July 1943 and its subsequent dramatic exploitation to and across the Dnepr in the battles for Gomel’, Kiev and Kremenchug dominate existing histories of the summer-fall campaign of 1943. However, these accounts mask several bloody operational defeats spanning the entire front, from Siniavino in the north to the Taman’ Peninsula in the south, most of which took place when an overly optimistic Stavka tested the operational limits of its forces completing successful offensive operations. Furthermore, contrary to continuing claims that Stavka routinely focused its offensive efforts along a single strategic axis, specifically in the Ukraine, in reality it ordered the Red Army to conduct strategic offensives along multiple axes and across a broad front throughout the campaign.
The only major forgotten conflict during the summer of 1943 occurred within the context of the Battle of Kursk, when the Southwestern and Southern fronts jointly attacked along the northern Donets and Mius rivers. Although the motives for this second Donbas offensive remain unclear, as Soviet sources claim, the offensive was probably designed to collapse German defenses in the Donbas and attract vital German armored reserves away from the Kursk region.
The most dramatic forgotten battles during this campaign began in early October, when the Kalinin (1st Baltic), Western, Briansk and Central (Belorussian) fronts drove into eastern Belorussia to capture Minsk the Voronezh (1st Ukrainian) Front began operations to expand or seize new bridgeheads over the Dnepr north and south of Kiev and the Steppe (2nd Ukrainian), Southwestern (3rd) and Southern (4th) fronts struggled to clear German forces from the Dnepr River bend from Kremenchug south to Nikopol’.
The Red Army’s first Belorussian offensive, which began in early October and continued unabated through year’s end, involved intense and costly fighting on the approaches to Vitebsk, Orsha and Bobruisk and along the Dnepr. Although existing histories describe small fragments of this massive offensive, such as the Nevel’ and Gomel’-Rechitsa operations, they studiously ignore the offensive’s full scope and ambitious intentions.
The same accounts also routinely ignore the Voronezh Front’s bitter struggle in October 1943 to seize a strategic bridgehead across the Dnepr River in the Kiev region. During three weeks of bloody but futile fighting, the Voronezh Front’s 38th, 60th, 40th, 3rd Guards Tank, 27th and 47th armies, in conjunction with the Central Front’s 13th and 60th armies, failed to dislodge forces from Army Group South’s Fourth Panzer and Eighth armies, which contained Red Army bridgeheads in the Chernobyl’, Gornostaipol’ , Liutezh and Velikii Bukrin regions. In this instance, the Voronezh Front’s spectacular victory at Kiev in November erased these failed offensives from both memory and history. At the same time, existing accounts also largely ignore the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Ukrainian fronts’ equally frustrating failure to clear Army Group South’s forces from the lower Don region during their Krivoi Rog-Nikopol’ offensive from November 14 to December 31, 1943.
The North Caucasus Front conducted its Taman’ offensive from early April through August 1943 to clear German forces from the northern Caucasus region. Directed for a time by Zhukov, this offensive included a prolonged series of unsuccessful assaults against the German Seventeenth Army’s fortified defenses around the towns of Krymskaia and Moldavanskoe, which anchored Hitler’s bridgehead in the Taman’ region. Finally, the Leningrad Front’s sixth Siniavino offensive in mid-September 1943 was a furious, bloody, but ultimately successful attempt to overcome Army Group North’s defenses on Siniavino Heights, a target that had eluded Soviet capture for more than two years.
The Red Army retained the strategic initiative from January 1, 1944, until war’s end. During this period, the Soviets conducted simultaneous and successive offensives on an unprecedented scale, and often without pause, in the Baltic region, the Ukraine, Belorussia, Poland, the Balkans and finally Germany proper, culminating in the final victory at Berlin in May 1945.
Accounts of the winter campaign of 1944 focus exclusively on the Red Army’s successful offensives in the Leningrad region, the Ukraine and the Crimea. While doing so, however, they ignore frequent Red Army offensive failures, most of which took place during the waning stages of successful offensives in hopes of taking advantage of apparent German weakness. These forgotten battles include major failed Red Army offensives into the Baltic region, Belorussia and Romania.
The Leningrad Front, joined later by the 2nd and 1st Baltic fronts, conducted their Narva, Pskov-Ostrov and Pustoshka-Idritsa offensives along the eastern borders of the Baltic states during March and April 1944 to capitalize on Army Group North’s previous defeat south of Leningrad, penetrate the vaunted Panther Defense Line, and begin the liberation of the Baltic region. During this period, three Leningrad Front armies tried repeatedly but unsuccessfully to destroy German forces defending Narva and thrust deep into Estonia, while three other Leningrad Front armies wedged into German defenses between Pskov and Ostrov on the northeast border of Latvia but were unable to seize either city despite six weeks of heavy fighting. To the south the massed forces of the 2nd and 1st Baltic fronts repeatedly battered the Sixteenth Army’s defenses from Pustoshka southwest of Demiansk to Idritsa, but they only were able to achieve limited success.
During the period from January 1 through the end of March, the 1st Baltic, Western and Belorussian fronts continued their first Belorussian offensive to overcome Army Group Center’s defenses in eastern Belorussia, during which the fronts suffered more than 200,000 casualties in seven distinct offensives. Attacking north and east of Vitebsk, the 1st Baltic Front severed communications between German forces in Vitebsk and Polotsk and advanced into the western suburbs of the former.The Western Front assaulted German defenses southeast and south of the city, trying in vain to encircle it from the south. In southern Belorussia, the Belorussian Front captured Kalinkovichi north of the Pripiat’ River in January, drove German forces back to Rogachev and almost severed communications between Army Groups Center and South along the river.
At the southern extremity of the front, the 2nd and 3 rd Ukrainian fronts tried to capitalize on their successful March offensive in the Ukraine by mounting the first IasiKishinev offensive to breach German and Romanian defenses in northern Romania and capture those two vital cities in April and May 1944. The 3rd Ukrainian Front’s repeated failed attempts to breach German defenses along the Dnestr River in April and early May concluded with German counterstrokes that nearly destroyed many of the 3rd Ukrainian Front’s Dnestr bridgeheads. During the same period, the 2nd Ukrainian Front launched two major offensives, culminating on May 2 with an assault by almost 600 tanks from its 2nd, 5th Guards and 6th Tank armies. After four days of intense but totally forgotten fighting (called the Battle of Targul-Frumos by the Germans), counterattacking German panzer forces brought the offensive to an abrupt halt with heavy losses to the attackers.
Because they were so successful, the Red Army’s offensives during the summer and fall of 1944 in Belorussia, Poland and Romania sharply reduced the number of smaller battles in this campaign. However, although the Red Army achieved far more than it anticipated during those massive offensives, in at least two instances Stavka could not resist attempting to achieve even more, this time in failed offensives in eastern Prussia and eastern Hungary.
THE 3RD BELORUSSIAN FRONT INVADED EASTERN Prussia immediately after the 1st Baltic and 3rd Belorussian fronts completed their successful Memel’ offensive in mid October 1944. By this time, attacking Red Army forces reached the Baltic Sea, separating Army Group North’s forces in Courland from Army Group Center’s in East Prussia. Capitalizing on this situation, the 3rd Belorussian Front launched its first East Prussian offensive on October 16 by attacking westward toward Konigsberg with its 5th and 11th Guards armies and, later, its 31st, 39th and 28th armies and 2nd Guards Tank Corps. However, this offensive faltered with heavy losses after nearly a week of intense fighting when Red Army forces encountered deeply fortified defenses and intense counterattacks by hastily regrouped panzer reserves.
During the East Carpathian offensive, which took place in the Carpathian Mountain region and eastern Hungary, elements of the 1st, 4th and 2nd Ukrainian fronts attempted to envelop the First Panzer Army’s mountain defenses, disrupt communications between Army Groups Center and South, and encircle German and Hungarian forces defending eastern Hungary.The 1st Ukrainian Front’s 38th Army and 4th Ukrainian Front’s 1st Guards and 18th armies attacked through the mountains into eastern Slovakia to link up with the 2nd Ukrainian Front’s 6th Guards Tank and 27th armies and 1st Guards cavalry-mechanized group attacking northward through eastern Hungary. This offensive failed to achieve its ambitious aims when the 38th Army’s attack bogged down in the Dukla Pass, the 4th Ukrainian Front’s attack ground to a halt in the mountains, and the 2nd Ukrainian Front’s cavalry-mechanized group was itself encircled and badly damaged at Nyiregyhaza north of Debrecen by counterattacking German panzer forces.
Most accounts of the offensive operations the Red Army conducted during the winter and spring of 1945 focus on its massive offensives in East Prussia and Poland and, to a lesser extent, in Hungary. In so doing they ignore two other forgotten battles: the Berlin offensive, which was planned but not conducted until April and the Western Carpathian offensive, which failed to achieve its ambitious goals.
After the 1st Belorussian and 1st Ukrainian fronts reached the Oder River, 60 kilometers east of Berlin, in late January 1945, Stavka ordered their forces to mount a final assault to capture Berlin by the end of February or early March. Within days after both fronts began this new offensive, however, on February 10 Stalin ordered them to stop.The most probable explanation for his change of heart was his desire to shift the axis of the Red Army’s main advance from Berlin to western Hungary and Austria so that it could occupy the Danube basin before hostilities ended. Stalin reached this decision while Allied leaders were meeting at Yalta, shortly after Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill assured him that the Red Army could capture Berlin and advance to the Elbe River. Ultimately, the Soviets began their Berlin offensive on April 16, the day after Vienna fell to the Red Army.
During the same period, the 1st, 4th and 2nd Ukrainian fronts launched the West Carpathian offensive to overcome stiff German resistance in the western Carpathians in northwestern Slovakia. The 1st Ukrainian Front’s 60th and 38th armies attacked southward through Moravska-Ostrava toward Brno in conjunction with the 4th Ukrainian Front’s 1st Guards and 18th armies to link up with mobile forces from the 2nd Ukrainian Front, which were attacking northward toward Brno. The 1st Guards cavalry mechanized group and 6th Guards Tank Army, which spearheaded the 2nd Ukrainian Front’s northward thrust, suffered heavy losses when this offensive failed.
The Red Army’s climactic offensives against Berlin and Prague in April and May 1945 crushed the remnants of the Wehmtacht and shrank the theater of military operations to such an extent that Soviet intentions were quite obvious. The only exceptions to this rule were a series of Red Army offensives in Courland that were obscured by the dramatic fighting in Poland and at Berlin.
After isolating Army Group North in the Courland Peninsula in mid-October 1944, the 1st and 2nd Baltic fronts besieged this German force until it surrendered on May 9, 1945. Although existing histories accurately describe the Courland siege in general, they obscure the heavy fighting that occurred when Red Army forces attempted to reduce the pocket: for example, the concerted offensives the fronts conducted in late October 1944 from November 20-24 and December 21-22, 1944 and in late February and mid-March 1945.
This brief survey identifies many but not all forgotten battles of the Great Patriotic War. An accurate history will emerge only after those battles have been returned to their proper place in the vast mosaic of wartime operations. Only then will we completely comprehend the military strategies and operational techniques of the participating armies. Only then will we be able to fully appreciate the contributions of the Red Army’s soldiers.
Originally published in the August 2004 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.
Pskov: ready for battle
In the 76th Airborne Division they train for combat, not for show. Over the past 70 years, the division has been in most of Russia's armed conflicts: from Stalingrad to South Ossetia.
Being the country's first fully-professional division, it is staffed by men who the entire army looks up to. To be selected for the division is an honor, as Major Ruslan Kompanets, Assistant to the Division Commander explains:
&ldquoIt's the men who were, and are part of this division who have made it what it is &ndash famous in all of Russia, and maybe the world.&rdquo
But away from the order of the military base is the messy reality of war. Any unit's history is not just about military glory, it is about the loss of human life. Due to its status, this division has suffered more than most.
It is March 2000, and the Russian army is forcing Chechen militants to retreat into the mountains. The army&rsquos commander insists that the war has been won.
Meanwhile, at the frontline, a small troop is sent ahead to set up camp on a key mountain position. Before they have a chance, they are ambushed by the bulk of the remaining militant force. The troop resists until they run out of ammunition.
Eighty four men from the division died that day. Lance Corporal Aleksandr Lebedev was one of them. He'd just bought a house, had a fiancée and was planning to leave the front-line.
&ldquoWe didn't manage to do our job as parents,&rdquo Raisa Lebedeva, the corporal&rsquos stepmother says.
&ldquoWe should have stopped him from going on this final mission. He was such a good person, he really loved life.&rdquo
Unlike most soldiers in the Russian army, these paratroopers are professional soldiers. They receive salaries of around $400 a month.
They are supplied with superior army food and live in small rooms instead of barracks with bunk beds. And death, as part of their job, is something these men just learn to live with.
&ldquoOf course, the first time somebody was killed in our troop it was scary,&rdquo Roman Rubenov, a paratrooper, recalls.
&ldquoBut I like to be a soldier: I have an excellent relationship with other people here. And I am good at shooting.&rdquo
If Russia's recent history is any guide, this skill may be needed for more than aiming at cardboard cut outs.
And the 76th Division's men will once again be called upon to prove their bravery.
Carlo Disieno, a former American paratrooper who now lives in Pskov, explains that regardless of nationality, it is ultimately the desire to be the best of the best that leads these soldiers on.
The training process is grueling, both physically and psychologically and sacrifice is an important part of the paratroopers&rsquo lives:
&ldquoYou have to be willing to sacrifice,&rdquo Carlo Disieno explains. &ldquoAnd to sacrifice your life.&rdquo
United by common ground
Local residents say that the military and civil populations of the city live have learned to live as a united community.
Svetlana Vyalkovskaya&rsquos family has strong ties with the military: both her father and brother serve in the 76th Division.
&ldquoEverything is okay, people communicate,&rdquo she says. &ldquoI guess it&rsquos normal for military people to live together with civilians.&rdquo
But, it is not just recently that Pskov has won military glory for itself. Its battle history goes many centuries back.
The walls of the Pskov Fortress were most severely tested in 1581, when the army of Polish king Stefan Batory laid siege to this citadel as part of the Livonian war between Ivan the Terrible and his western neighbors, says Professor William Brumfield, an expert on Russian architecture from US-based Tulane University:
&ldquoHere, the local stones were put together with great skill and ingenuity &ndash of great thickness &ndash and managed to serve its purpose at times of greater stress.&rdquo
Russian Soldiers Weakened Enemy Forces Before Attacking
Russian tactics were basically defensive in nature. A typical use of available forces would have the numerous Russian archers fire at an advancing enemy, weakening them as they came close. The foot soldiers would absorb the initial attacks—whether they held or not was impossible to predict, but this would spare the valuable druzhina for a devastating counterattack against a hopefully tired and disorganized enemy. The horse archers and skirmish cavalry, armed with composite bows, would begin to shoot before their opponents’ arrows could reach them. As one observer, Friar Carpini, noted, “They begin to shoot before their opponents’ arrows can reach them, sometimes even ahead of the time when they are not in range. As soon as their arrows can reach the mark unhindered they are said, owing to the density of their shooting, to rain arrows rather than to shoot them.”
When the Crusaders mustered their forces and closed in on the raiding Russian army, Alexander purposefully fled. It was late March, and ice still remained in the Russian streams and rivers. As the Russians fled back to their homeland, the Crusaders had their first victory. They managed to cut off and ambush a force of Russians separated from the main army, destroy it, and force the survivors to flee for their lives to the main army. Alexander didn’t panic—he knew his men. They would fight well when the time came.
The Russian army fell back to the area of gigantic Lake Peipus, the fourth largest lake in Europe. Lake Peipus was still frozen over, but with an uneven surface. The ice was thick enough for infantry and lighter cavalry to cross—it was not all that deep in many places—with little difficulty. Here, the Russian prince showed his innate knowledge of both the enemy and the terrain. He formed his army, not on the lake itself but on the shore, where he could face the attacking enemy as it stumbled to cross the ice. The numerous Russian archers were stationed in the center of the northern edge of the army, with the horse archers on the right flank to counter the Teutonic Order, which rode in the center of the Crusader army. Crusader allies were positioned on the right flank, Danes and Estonians to the left, and auxiliaries to the rear in support. The heavily armored knights formed the spearhead of a column followed by light cavalry and foot, which charged into the Russian infantry. Alexander and the men of Novgorod drew up their forces by the lake, at Uzmen, by the Raven’s Rock, and the Germans and Estonians rode straight at them, driving themselves like a wedge through their own army. The Crusaders wasted no time in attacking the Russians.
The battle began with their bold assault. Teutonic banners were soon flying in the midst of the archers, and broadswords were heard cutting helmets apart. The Crusaders had a very basic plan: kill or capture the Russian leader. Without their prince, the Russians would fragment because of loss of command control. The Germans knew this, and so did Alexander. The Russian center reeled and fell back from the force of the Crusader mounted attack, but this time the men did not break. Instead, the horse archers methodically began to destroy the Danish wing of the Crusader army. Much as the Germans and Poles had discovered at Liegnitz the year before, the Danes were finding out what it was like to be faced with an enemy they could not catch and that hurt them from a distance without their being able to reply. A whistling rain of arrows fell upon the surprised king’s men. The Estonians and Danes either died in their tracks or began to run away madly, seeking any escape from certain death. Once this occurred, the vastly superior Russian army began to outflank the outnumbered Crusaders.
Cast of thousands … Photograph: Kobal
The film opens in a rural setting, with Prince Alexander toiling away in an implausible fashion among the fishermen. "Hack their ships we did nigh to smithereens," they sing, referring to the teenage Alexander's earlier triumph over a Swedish invasion at the River Neva (which lent him the commemorative surname Nevsky). A Mongol emissary from the Golden Horde appears and offers Alexander a job as commander. He refuses. In real life, Alexander did enter into a controversial alliance with Batu Khan, leader of the Horde and grandson of Genghis Khan. Admittedly, this was not formalised until 10 years after the Battle of the Ice, but the film's implication that he turfed the Mongols out is deliberately misleading. Director Sergei Eisenstein (who, like score composer Sergei Prokofiev, was in Stalin's bad books when this film was made) actually wanted to put the Mongol alliance in, but the NKVD's script doctors were having none of it. The scenes were cut before they could be filmed.
Location [ edit | edit source ]
The exact location where the battle took place is unknown. The Chronicum Livoniae by Hermann de Wartberge mentioned that the battle was fought in terram Sauleorum. Traditionally, this was identified with Šiauliai (German language: Schaulen , Latvian language: Šauļi ) in Lithuania or with the small town of Vecsaule near Bauska in what is today southern Latvia. Ζ] In 1965 the German historian Friedrich Benninghoven proposed Jauniūnai village in Joniškis district, Lithuania as the battle site. Η] The theory gained some academic support and in 2010 the Lithuanian government sponsored construction of the memorial in Jauniūnai – a 29-metre (95 ft) tall sundial, a pond, and a park of oaks. ⎖] The village of Pamūšis, situated some 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) east of Janiūnai on the Mūša River, also claims to be the location of the battle. ⎗] Saule/Saulė means "the Sun" in both Latvian and Lithuanian.