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The War on the Eastern Front , The Soviet Union 1941-1945      A Photographic History

The War on the Eastern Front , The Soviet Union 1941-1945 A Photographic History

Alexander Hill
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
In June 1941,The USSR Council of Peoples Commissars and the Communist Party Central Committee passed a resolution to create the Soviet Information Bureau. Its main task was to cover International Military events and the Countries domestic life in Newspapers, periodicals and by the medium of wireless.

War in the Eastern Front.jpg

In 1944 a sub section was created to provide propaganda for Foreign Countries. They supplied images and written reports to over one thousand newspapers, 500 magazines, radio stations in 23 countries and embassies abroad alongside trade unions and youth and scientific organisations.

Many of us are familiar with the high quality images from WW2. Of course later we find that many have been doctored, or carefully edited, to promote the heroic soviet cause and its struggles ( but never its failures or leadership or brutality ).

The Agency still exists as RIA Novosti , or Sputnik in the west ,and continues to supply media information and disinformation.

Alexander Hill has worked hard to obtain the highest quality images that follow the course of the struggles, many of them are quite candid, and stark in their detail, from early training methods to the brutality of war.

The Book begins with the Red Armies preparation for War.

Chapter 1
The Red Army Prepares for War
Chapter 2
Preludes to the main event : the Soviet Unions small wars of the 1930s,
Chapter 3
Debacles in Poland and Finland
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
On the Moscow Axis
Chapter 6
Leningrad Besieged
Chapter 7
The Soviet Navy at War
Chapter 8
Counter-Attack , the Soviet Winter Offensive of 1941-1942
Chapter 9
In the Enemy Rear ,The Soviet Partisan Movement
Chapter 10
Soviet Women and the War Effort
Chapter 11
All for the Front: the Soviet Rear
Chapter 12
Not a Step Back : Stalingrad and the Caucaus
Chapter 13
The Turning Tide : German Defeat in the South
Chapter 14
The Bitter Road back to Smolensk and Beyond
Chapter 15
From Kursk to the Dnepr
Chapter 16
Allied Aid and the Soviet War Effort
Chapter 17
The Axis Undermined: from the Ukraine to Romania and Hungary
Chapter 18
Bagration : from Minsk to Warsaw
Chapter 19
The Air War : The Soviet Air Forces Ascendant
Chapter 20
The War in the North : from the Barents Sea to the Baltic
Chapter 21
From the Vistula to the Oder
Chapter 22
The Prize : the Battle for Berlin
Chapter 23
Finishing off the Axis: the Soviet union against Japan
Chapter 24
Counting the Cost, Reconstruction and Commemoration

Some notes on a very small number of the images, to give an overview of the work:

The book opens with its first image showing a parade in Red Square on the 7th of November 1930 on the 13th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution, we see trundling towards us a fleet of Captured British Ricardo engined Type B tanks. This illustrates just how far behind the country was in both armaments and technology.

Of course the purges of 1937 served to decimate the Russian Military and to stifle any meaningful progress. All of the images of this time show equipment pre dating the revolution, and such things as aircraft are direct copies of Great War British Aircraft. Later it becomes clear that the Red Army is at last making progress, with tanks such as the T-26 shown on manoeuvres , although the images are more for heroic effect and impressing visitors and dignitaries than reality.

The artillery shown in the vast parades is still sadly lacking, much of it dating to before the Great War, but the Red Army was beginning to adapt to and understand the need for mechanisation, even down to creating training schools for armoured warfare, illustrated with a tank turret in the classroom being explained to the new breed of officers.

We see young men posing with their weapons during the early phases of the Spanish Civil war. They appear informal and relaxed , whereas later images are all carefully choreographed and heroic in their nature,

The images then start to show a marked professionalism. Greater care is shown in the additional symbolism, so carefully placed in the backgrounds of each picture we see Stalin's image, or cheering peasants welcoming the liberators (or you get shot). The Red Army Snipers, ski mounted, are carefully balanced centre of image, not that it helped much against the Finns, but the agency was soon learning that there is more than one way to win a war, and to avoid Stalin's wrath.

What is of interest are the images of river crossings. The Soviet Army lacked conventional bridging equipment , but instead relied on the old fashioned methods of the farm labourer, cutting trees and building a bridge. The Army also lacked all wheel drive trucks.

Some photos taken in August of 1941 show Russian troops entering Iran with British Troops.

Gradually as the war progresses the Photographers started to record the grim reality of war, very few staged heroic pictures, just images of shocked and injured troops alongside naval and civilian personnel hastily pulled into the battle.

There are no more posed pictures. Images tare taken right up on the front line and show civilians mobilised to assist the army with manual labour, and now very evident, women in the fighting line. The troops however are still fighting with bolt action rifles, which must have disadvantaged them badly against the German troops armed with MP-40s.

Images show the use of Aircraft to move troops, supplies, and the injured,. The Li-2 which I think is a copy of the DC3, became the lifeline for those encircled by the German army. They are also pictured using captured German artillery to good effect, and even damaged ships to create floating batteries. The Red Army is learning to adapt fast

There are some superb battle scenes of large naval ships, alongside the small high speed launches , submarines , torpedo boats and camouflaged cutters delivering supplies. None of these images appear in any way posed. I presume the photographers are now accepted as part of the background scenery.

Pictures of the Soviet Winter Offensive of 1941-1942 show stark images of war weary troops battling their way through snow. The general mood is changing as they appear to be winning the battle, and new technology is evident, from the tommy guns and self loading rifles to better winter clothing and camouflage and even air sleds , fitted with a forward facing machine gun. Large amounts of captured weaponry are in evidence as are destroyed and damaged German tanks, in many cases the victims of the new KV-1 tank, 40 tons of it and well armoured.

The Partisans, many of them young, are shown being trained by Red Army Commanders Mostly armed with rifles , they are able to cover a wide area of home ground and launch small attacks against the Germans. The mounted troops are now shown using modern radio equipment to keep in touch alongside better weaponry such as the PPSh Sub Machine gun. The images show local women, many elderly, assisting in the fight by bringing food and information on German troop movements to the men. Sadly there are also images of Soviet Women looking for missing family members amongst those killed by the Germans in reprisals.

An amazing array of crystal clear images shows women working in foundries, munitions production, digging defensive positions, air raid prevention and anti aircraft batteries, alongside nurses in the field and radio and telephone operators.
It is noticeable is how young they are, little more than school girls. One of the best images shows Russian snipers, over 1,000 of them in the field and over 400 in training the snipers. These young girls certainly took a toll on the invading forces.

We see pictures of the background work in sustaining the military - doctors and horse and dog drawn sleds, taking the injured to the field hospitals, even mobilising biplanes modified to carry a doctor and a patient behind the pilot,. Damaged machinery is shown being repaired and refurbished, an important part of keeping the army on the move. Heavy locomotives so often damaged by the Luftwaffe are shown in the vast workshops being overhauled and put back into working order, as are engineers constantly battling to repair the damaged rail lines which ran so close to the fighting line.

The support offered by the British and Americans begins to show. A Matilda tank is shown in battle , more modern Anti Aircraft guns appear, and lots of the images of battle scenes, including troops being killed. Of interest to tank nuts are the pictures of T-34 tanks and the differences shown between various factories. The new DshK 12.7 mm Heavy machine gun is shown engaging German aircraft.

There are some stunning night photos of Operation Uranus , showing the muzzle blast from T-34 tanks in action as they encircle Stalingrad. An unusual but most welcome image is that of a Red Army Soldier armed with his PPSh sub machine gun, carrying a heavy container of heated food on his back to his comrades through the rubble of the City. Further images show how much destruction was wrought by both sides in Liberating the City.

Fording the vast array of lakes and rivers slowed the men down, we see them using inflatable dinghies and traditional Russian boats, with snow featuring heavily in many of these images.

The Impact of the British and American supplied equipment shows a marked difference to the Army's ability to fight. Newer and better aircraft, jeeps, pontoons, landing craft and all wheel drive trucks speed things up and allow the Red Army to cover the ground so much faster.

The final chapter of the book is illustrated with pictures of highly decorated Elderly Red Army Troops. The lines are etched upon their faces, but their eyes are bright as they recall their part in the battle.

Every single photograph is crystal clear, a compliment to the men and women who risked their lives, with over 300 images showing every aspect of the war. The stunning variety of never before seen images makes this book well worth reading.

Although primarily a photographic record, the author gives you an overview of each section of the battle, and a translation of the original notes accompanying each picture. These improve the images, as you have so much more period background information.

A hard back book running to over 300 pages that gives an authentic and period insight into the struggles of the Soviet People.
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