The Red Army

After the October Revolution it was decided by Vladimir Lenin that the old Russian Army would have to be turned into an instrument of the Communist Party. The old army was demobilized and in January 1918 the Soviet government ordered the formation of the Red Army of Workers and Peasants.

Leon Trotsky, the Commissar of War, was appointed the head of the Red Army on 13th March, 1918. The army had to be established quickly as it was needed to fight the White Army during the Civil War. Trotsky was forced to recruit a large number of officers from the old Russian Army. He was criticized for this but he argued that it would be impossible to fight the war without the employment of experienced army officers.

Initially a volunteer army, losses during the Civil War forced the Soviet government to introduce conscription in June, 1918. Lenin was impressed by Trotsky's achievements and in 1919 remarked to Maxim Gorky: "Show me another man who could have practically created a model army in a year and won respect of the military specialist as well."

At the end of the Civil War there were over 5,000,000 men in the Red Army. They were demobilized with 600,000 men retained to form a regular army.

When Adolf Hitler gained power in 1933 the Soviet government decided to increase the size of the Red Army to combat the dangers of Nazi Germany. By 1935 the Red Army had grown to 1,300,000 men. The Soviet Union also had 10,000 tanks and 5,000 front-line planes.

Joseph Stalin gradually became convinced that the leadership of the Red Army was planning to oust him from power. In June, 1937, Mikhail Tukhachevsky and seven other top Red Army commanders were charged with conspiracy with Germany. All eight were convicted and executed. All told, 30,000 members of the armed forces were executed. This included fifty per cent of all army officers.

When the Red Army was originally established soldiers swore an oath to fight for international socialism. This was changed in January 1939 and recruits had to pledge himself "to protect with all his strength the property of the Army and the People and to cherish unto death his People, the Soviet homeland and the government of Workers and Peasants, also to respond at the first call from the government of Workers and Peasants to defend the homeland, the USSR."

The Red Army also contained political commissars whose role it was to ensure loyalty to Joseph Stalin and his government. Often members of NKVD, the Soviet secret police, the presence of political commissars created an inefficient duality of field command.

On the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 the Red Army had an estimated 1,800,000 men in its ranks, of whom one fourth were stationed in the Far East.

In November, 1939, the Red Army invaded Finland. Marshall Carl Mannerheim, Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Army, was able to block the Soviet advance at Kemijarvi and Karelian. It was not until the spring of 1940 that the 7th and 13th armies led by General Kiril Meretsokov, was able to break through the Finnish defences.

A Red Army officer instructs his men on the Maxim machine-gun
A Red Army officer instructs his men on the Maxim machine-gun

Finland agreed peace terms on 13th March, 1940. The war cost the Soviets 200,000 men, 700 planes and 1,600 tanks. Joseph Stalin now came to the conclusion that the Red Army was not able to fight a major war and helped to confirm his view that it was vitally important to avoid a war with Nazi Germany for as long as possible. The Soviet-Finnish War also convinced Adolf Hitler that the German Army would easily beat the Red Army when the war eventually took place.

After the war with Finland Stalin rapidly increased in size of the Red Army. By 1941 it had grown to 3 million men (300 divisions). Most of the men served in unmechanized rifle divisions. The infantry were supported by horse-drawn artillery and the cavalry. Over half of the soldiers in the Red Army were stationed in the west facing the much smaller German forces.

The Red Army also had two new tank corps. This included the KV and Russia's new "shellproof" tank, the T-34. The tank was provided with sloped armour to deflect shells that was welded instead of riveted. Fitted with a powerful diesel engine, its main armament was a high-velocity 76mm gun.

On 21st June, 1941, a German sergeant deserted to the Soviet forces. He informed them that the German Army would attack at dawn the following morning. Joseph Stalin was reluctant to believe the soldier's story and it was not until the German attack took place that he finally accepted that his attempts to avoid war with Germany until 1942 had failed.

The German forces, made up of three million men and 3,400 tanks, advanced in three groups. The north group headed for Leningrad, the centre group for Moscow and the southern forces into the Ukraine. Within six days, the Germans had captured Minsk. General Demitry Pavlov, the man responsible for defending Minsk, and two of his senior generals were recalled to Moscow and were shot for incompetence.

With the execution of Pavlov and his generals, Joseph Stalin made it clear that he would punish severely any commander whom he believed had let down the Soviet Union. In future, Soviet commanders thought twice about surrendering or retreating. Another factor in this was the way that the German Army massacred the people of Minsk. Terrified of both Stalin and Hitler, the Soviet people had no option but to fight until they were killed.

Joseph Stalin appointed himself Commander-in-Chief of the Red Army on 20th July, 1941. A new Conscription Act was passed on 31st August 1941. The age of military conscription was lowered to eighteen for youths without secondary education and nineteen for those who had been educated above that level.

The first few months of the war was disastrous for the Soviet Union. The German northern forces surrounded Leningrad while the centre group made steady progress towards Moscow. German forces had also made deep inroads into the Ukraine. Kiev was under siege and Stalin's Chief of Staff, Georgi Zhukov, suggested that the troops defending the capital of the Ukraine should be withdrawn, thus enabling them to take up strong defensive positions further east. Stalin insisted that the troops stayed and by the time Kiev was taken, the casualties were extremely high. It was the most comprehensive defeat experienced by the Red Army in its history. However, the determined resistance put up at Kiev, had considerably delayed the attack on Moscow.

It was now September and winter was fast approaching. As German troops moved deeper into the Soviet Union, supply lines became longer. Joseph Stalin gave instructions that when forced to withdraw, the Red Army should destroy anything that could be of use to the enemy. The scorched earth policy and the formation of guerrilla units behind the German front lines, created severe problems for the German war machine which was trying to keep her three million soldiers supplied with the necessary food and ammunition.

By October, 1941, German troops were only fifteen miles outside Moscow. Orders were given for a mass evacuation of the city. In two weeks, two million people left Moscow and headed east. Stalin rallied morale by staying in Moscow. In a bomb-proof air raid shelter positioned under the Kremlin, Stalin, as Supreme Commander-in-Chief, directed the Soviet war effort. All major decisions made by his front-line commanders had to be cleared with Stalin first.

In November, 1941, the German Army launched a new offensive on Moscow. The Soviet army held out and the Germans were brought to a halt. Stalin called for a counter-attack. His commanders had doubts about this policy but Stalin insisted and on 4th December the Red Army attacked. The Germans, demoralized by its recent lack of success, was taken by surprise and started to retreat. By January, the Germans had been pushed back 200 miles.

Stalin's military strategy was basically fairly simple. He believed it was vitally important to attack the enemy as often as possible. He was particularly keen to use new, fresh troops for these offensives. Stalin argued that countries in western Europe had been beaten by their own fear of German superiority. His main objective in using new troops in this way was to convince them that the German forces were not invincible. By pushing the German Army back at Moscow, Stalin proved to the Soviet troops that Blizkrieg could be counteracted; it also provided an important example to all troops throughout the world fighting the German war-machine.

Helped by aid from the United States and Britain, the Soviet Union was able to build up the Red Army. The large tank corps were replaced by independent tank brigades of about 90 tanks. In late 1942 the Red Army created tank corps that contained one motorized infantry and two tank brigades. These new units were used to exploit gaps created by massed infantry attacks.

In July 1943 a Red Army attack using 3,000 tanks defeated the German Army at Kursk. This was followed by steady Soviet advances along the Eastern Front. The pace of success was increased when the Allies landed in Normandy in June 1944.

In 1945 the Red Army moved into Germany. Afraid of being captured by the Soviets and being paraded around the streets in a cage, Adolf Hitler commits suicide and on 2nd May, the Commander of German troops in Berlin surrendered.

At its peak an estimated 12.5 million men and women fought in the Red Army. It is unknown how many were killed but after the peace was signed the government claimed that over 20 million Soviet citizens died during the Second World War.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) George Seldes wrote about Red Army in his book You Can't Print That! (1929)

Food clothing and propaganda have made the army loyal. Trotsky's personality and his knowledge of military strategy were an important factor for years. Although he has spent most of his life as a red agitator and writer, he has always been a student of military strategy, has written a book on Napoleon's manoeuvres and has been given credit for building the keenest morale and using the keenest military strategy in the numerous campaigns in which Russia defeated her enemies in the civil wars.

(2) Leopold Trepper, the head of the Red Orchestra, kept Joseph Stalin and the Red Army informed of the planned German invasion of the Soviet Union. He wrote about this in his autobiography, The Great Game (1977)

On December 18, 1940, Hitler signed Directive Number 21, better known as Operation Barbarossa. The first sentence of the plan was explicit: "The German armed forces must be ready before the end of the war against Great Britain to defeat the Soviet Union by means of Blitzkrieg."

Richard Sorge warned the Centre immediately; he forwarded them a copy of the directive. Week after week, the heads of Red Army Intelligence received updates on the Wehrmacht's preparations. At the beginning of 1941, Schulze-Boysen sent the Centre precise information on the operation being planned; massive bombardments of Leningrad, Kiev, and Vyborg; the number of divisions involved.

In February, I sent a detailed dispatch giving the exact number of divisions withdrawn from France and Belgium, and sent to the east. In May, through the Soviet military attaché in Vichy, General Susloparov, I sent the proposed plan of attack, and indicated the original date, May 15, then the revised date, and the final date. On May 12, Sorge warned Moscow that 150 German divisions were massed along the frontier.

The Soviet intelligence services were not the only ones in possession of this information. On March 11, 1941, Roosevelt gave the Russian ambassador the plans gathered by American agents for Operation Barbarossa. On the 10th June the English released similar information. Soviet agents working in the frontier zone in Poland and Rumania gave detailed reports on the concentration of troops.

He who closes his eyes sees nothing, even in the full light of day. This was the case with Stalin and his entourage. The generalissimo preferred to trust his political instinct rather than the secret reports piled up on his desk. Convinced that he had signed an eternal pact of friendship with Germany, he sucked on the pipe of peace. He had buried his tomahawk and he was not ready to dig it up.

(3) Joachim von Ribbentrop, letter to Staatssekretaer Weizsaecker (29th April, 1941)

I can summarize my opinion on a German-Russian conflict in one sentence: if every burned out Russian city was worth as much to us as a sunk English battleship, then I would be in favour of a German-Russian war in this summer; I think though that we can win over Russia only militarily but that we should lose economically. One can find it enticing to give the Communist system its death blow and perhaps say too that it lies in the logic of things to let the European-Asiatic continent now march forth against Anglo-Saxondom and its allies. But only one thing is decisive: whether this undertaking would hasten the fall of England.

That we will advance militarily up to Moscow and beyond victoriously, I believe is unquestionable. But I thoroughly doubt that we could make use of what was won against the well known passive resistance of the Slavs.

A German attack on Russia would only give a lift to English morale. It would be evaluated there as German doubt of the success of our war against England. We would in this fashion not only admit that the war would still last a long time, but we could in this way actually lengthen instead of shorten it.

(4) Joseph Stalin, radio speech (June, 1941)

The Red Army, the Red Navy, and all citizens of the Soviet Union must defend every inch of Soviet soil, must fight to the last drop of blood for our towns and villages, must display the daring, initiative and mental alertness characteristic of our people.

In case of forced retreat of Red Army units, all rolling stock must be evacuated, the enemy must not be left a single engine, a single railway truck, not a single pound of grain or gallon of fuel. Collective farmers must drive off all their cattle and turn over their grain to the safe keeping of the state authorities, for transportation to the rear. lf valuable property that cannot be withdrawn, must be destroyed without fail.

In areas occupied by the enemy, partisan units, mounted and on foot, must be formed; sabotage groups must be organized to combat enemy units, to foment partisan warfare everywhere, blow up bridges and roads, damage telephone and telegraph lines, set fire to forests, stores and transport. In occupied regions conditions must be made unbearable for the enemy and all his accomplices. They must be hounded and annihilated at every step, and all their measures frustrated.

(5) Marshal Alexander Vasilevsky, Memoirs (1974)

Stalin was unjustifiably self-confident, headstrong, unwilling to listen to others; he overestimated his own knowledge and ability to guide the conduct of the war directly. He relied very little on the General Staff and made no adequate use of the skills and experience of its personnel. Often for no reason at all, he would make hasty changes in the top military leadership. Stalin quite rightly insisted that the military must abandon outdated strategic concepts, but he was unfortunately rather slow to do this himself. He tended to favour head-on confrontations.

Konstantin Rotov, Krokodil (1945)
Konstantin Rotov, Krokodil (1945)

(6) General Walter Warlimont, order issued to German Army about the occupation of the Soviet Union (12th May, 1941)

1. Political officials and leaders are to be liquidated.

2. Insofar as they are captured by the troops, an officer with authority to impose disciplinary punishment decides whether the given individual must be liquidated. For such ax decision the fact suffices that he is a political official.

3. Political leaders in the troops (Red Army) are not recognized as prisoners of war and are to be liquidated at the latest in the prisoner-of-war transit camps.

(7) Alfred Jodl, order issued to the German Army (23rd July, 1941)

In view of the vast size of the occupied areas in the East the forces available for establishing security in these areas will be sufficient only if al resistance is punished not by legal prosecution of the guilty but by the spreading of such terror by the occupying power as is appropriate to eradicate every inclination to resist among the population. The competent commanders must find the means of keeping order not by demanding more security forces but by applying suitable Draconian methods.

(8) Order from the German Army Supreme Command (16th June 1941)

General provisions on the treatment of Soviet POWs. Bolshevism is a deadly enemy of National Socialist Germany. For the first time the German soldier is facing an enemy, who has not just received military training, but is indoctrinated in the spirit of Bolshevism. Struggle against National Socialism is in his flesh and blood. He wages this struggle using all means: sabotage, subversive propaganda, arson, murder. Therefore the Bolshevik soldier has lost the privilege to be treated as a genuine soldier according to the Geneva Convention.

(1) The faintest manifestations of protest or disobedience should be met with ruthless reprisals.

(2) Weapons should be used ruthlessly to suppress resistance.

(3) The escaping POWs should be shot at without warning and with the determination to hit the target.

(9) Major Shabalin, a member of the Red Army, kept a diary of the fighting with the German Army in 1941. He was killed on 20th October and his diary was translated by the Germans for military analysis.

9th September, 1941: The situation with the personnel is very bad, practically the whole army consists of men, whose homes have been captured by the Germans. They want to go home. The passivity at the front, immobility in the trenches demoralise the soldiers. There are some cases of drinking among the officers and political Commissars. Sometimes people do not come back from reconnaissance missions.

14th October, 1941: The enemy has encircled us. Incessant gunfire. Cannon, mortar and submachine gun exchanges. Danger and fear all day long. And this is not to mention the swamp, the forest, and the problem of passing the night. I have not slept since the

15th October, 1941: Terrifying! I wander around, dead bodies, was horrors and permanent bombardment everywhere. I am hungry and had no sleep again. Took a bottle of alcohol. Went to the forest for reconnaissance. Our total destruction is obvious. The army is beaten, its supply train is destroyed, am writing sitting in a forest by a bonfire. In the morning lost all my Cheka (KGB) officers, and now I am alone among strangers. The army has disintegrated.

16th October, 1941: I spent the night in the forest, had no bread for three days. There are a lot of soldiers in the forest, but no officers. Throughout the night and the morning the Germans were firing at the forest from all kind of weapons. At about 7 a.m. we got up and marched north. The gunfire continues. During a halt I managed to wash my face and hands.

19th October, 1941: All night long we were marching through the rain across marshlands. Pitch dark. I was wet to the bone, my right foot has swollen; very difficult to walk.

(10) Statement issued by the Soviet government (3rd February, 1943)

Our forces have now fully completed the liquidation of the German fascist troops encircled in the area of Stalingrad. Today the forces of the Don front broke the resistance of the enemy encircled north of Stalingrad and compelled them to capitulate.

The last centre of enemy resistance in the Stalingrad area has thus been crushed. Today, February 2, 1943, the historic battle before Stalingrad has been concluded by the final victory of our forces.

During the past two days the number of prisoners taken by the Soviet forces was increased by 45,000 bringing the total in the Stalingrad area from January 10 to February 2 up to 91,000 officers and men.

On February 2 our troops captured Lieutenant General Streicher, Commander of the 11th German Army Corps, who was in command of the group of forces encircled north of Stalingrad, and his Chief of Staff, Colonel Helmuth Rostuck.

During the general offensive against the encircled enemy troops between January 10 to February 2, according to incomplete data, booty captured by our forces totalled 750 aircraft, 1,550 tanks, 6,700 guns, 1,462 mortars, 6, 135 machine-guns, 90,000 rifles, 61,102 lorries, 7,369 motor-cycles, 480 tractors, 320 radio transmitters, three armoured trains, 56 railway engines, 1,125 railway trucks, 235 arms and ammunition dumps, and a large quantity of other war material. Other booty is being counted.

(11) The Manchester Guardian (4th September, 1943)

The great Russian advances continued yesterday on all fronts, particularly in the Donets, where 150 places have fallen to the Red Army. Stalino is now menaced. In all some 400 more towns, villages, and railway stations have been captured.

A Moscow telegram received early today says the German retreat in some sectors of the Donets is becoming a rout, and large enemy forces are now facing a threat of envelopment.

The rapidity of the advance in the Donets area is shown by the fact that although the capture of Lisichansk was only announced on Thursday the Russians are now able to report the capture of the railway junction at Kamishevankha, fifteen miles south of Lisichansk on the way to the big German base of Stalino. Numerous other advances towards the heart of the industrial Donets are also reported. The Germans are blowing up all the buildings they can as they retreat.

The threat to the important railway junction of Konotop is rapidly growing. On the front the 100 inhabited places captured include the big town of Bielopole.

(12) General Paul von Kleist was interviewed by Basil Liddell Hart about the Red Army in his book The Other Side of the Hill (1948)

The men were first-rate fighters from the start, and we owed our success simply to superior training. They became first-rate soldiers with experience. They fought most toughly, had amazing endurance, and could carry on without most of the things other armies regarded as necessities. The Staff were quick to learn from their early defeats, and soon became highly efficient.

Their equipment was very good even in 1941, especially the tanks. Their artillery was excellent, and also most of the infantry weapons - their rifles were more modem than ours, and had a more rapid rate of fire. Their T.34 tank was the finest in the world.

(13) General Gerd von Rundstedt argued that the standard of the Red Army generals improved during the Second World War.

None were any good in 1941. Of Budenny, who commanded the armies facing me, a captured Russian officer aptly remarked - 'He is a man with a very large moustache, but a very small brain.' But in later years there is no doubt of the improvement in their generalship. Zhukov was very good. It is interesting to recall that he first studied strategy in Germany under General von Seeckt - this was about 1921-23.

(14) Guenther Blumentritt first fought against the Russian Army during the First World War.

In 1914-18, as a lieutenant, I fought for the first two years against the Russians, after a brief contact with the French and Belgians at Namur in August, 1914. In our very first attack on the Russian front, we quickly realized that here we were meeting essentially different soldiers from the French and Belgian - hardly visible, entrenched with consummate skill, and resolute! We suffered considerable losses.

In those days it was the Russian Imperial Army. Hard, but good-natured on the whole, they had the habit of setting fire on military principle to towns and villages, in East Prussia when they were forced to withdraw, just as they always did thereafter in their own country. When the red glow from the burning villages lit up the horizon at evening, we knew that the Russians were leaving. Curiously, the population did not seem to complain. That was the Russian way, and had been so for centuries.

When I referred to the bulk of the Russian Army good-natured, I am speaking of their European troops. The much harder Asiatic troops, the Siberian corps, were cruel in their behaviour. So, also, were the Cossacks. Eastern Germany had plenty to suffer on this score in 1914.

Even in 1914-18 the greater hardness of war conditions in the East had its effect on our own troops. Men preferred to be sent to the Western rather than the Eastern front. In the West it was a war of material and mass artillery -Verdun, the Somme, and so on. These factors were paramount, and very gruelling to endure, but at least we were dealing with Western adversaries. In the East there was not so much shell-fire, but the fighting was more dogged, as the human type was much harder. Night fighting, hand-to-hand fighting, fighting in the forests, were particularly fostered by the Russians. In that war there was a saying current among German soldiers: 'In the East the gallant Army is fighting; in the West the Fire Brigade is standing by.'

The Red Army of 1941-45 was far harder than the Tsar's Army, for they were fighting fanatically for an idea. That increased their doggedness, and in turn made our own troops hard, for in the East the maxim held good - "You or I". Discipline in the Red Army was far more rigorous than in the Tsar's Army. These are examples of the sort of order that we used to intercept - and they were blindly obeyed.

Wherever Russians have appeared in the history of war, the fight was hard, ruthless, and involved heavy losses. Where the Russian makes a stand or defends himself, he is hard to defeat, and it costs a lot of bloodshed. As a child of nature he works with the simplest expedients. As all have to obey blindly, and the Slav-Asiatic character only understands the absolute, disobedience is non-existent. The Russians commanders can make incredible demands on their men in every way and there is no murmuring, no complaint.

(15) General Hasso Manteuffel was impressed by the standard of the Red Army in the Second World War.

The advance of a Russian Army is something that Westerners can't imagine. Behind the tank spearheads rolls on a vast horde, largely mounted on horses. The soldier carries a sack on his back, with dry crusts of bread and raw vegetables collected on the march from the fields and villages. The horses eat the straw from the house roofs - they get very little else. The Russians are accustomed to carry on for as long as three weeks in this primitive way, when advancing. You can't stop them, like an ordinary army, by cutting their communications, for you rarely find any supply columns to strike.

(16) In 1943 Lieutenant-General Rokoossovsky of the Red Army wrote about the German invasion of the Soviet Union during the Second World War.

The Germans avoid woods, fearing guerillas and knowing how difficult it is to use tanks there. In the villages they generally select brick houses or houses with brick foundations as firing posts. Not infrequently German soldiers dressed in women's clothing move from the houses to the trenches, reckoning that Soviet artillery will not notice this ruse.

Bayonet charges are dreaded by the Germans and they always avoid them. In counter-attacking, they shoot without even taking aim.

Engagements with enemy tank units have led us to the conclusion that German tank crews are afraid of the anti-tank grenades extensively used by Soviet infantry.

(17) Vsevolod Vishnevsky was a Soviet journalist who reported on the battle for Tallinn during the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.

The battles were extremely hard fought. On one of the sectors of the front the Nazis launched a "psychological attack". It was done at dusk. After strong artillery preparations the alcohol-primed soldiers rose to their full height and rushed into the attack, firing from their automatic weapons.

They advanced in waves, hoping to paralyze the defenders' will to resist. Well aimed machine-gun fire, however, mowed down the Nazis in hundreds. Encircled by five times superior enemy forces the Red Army fought the unequal battle with iron tenacity. In the approaches to Tallinn the Nazis were counter-attacked by Soviet marines. Under the latter's onslaught the enemy was hurled back from the city for several miles. On the highways hundreds of Germans met their end on the barbed wire entanglements.

Shelling from the Soviet warships threw whole German columns into the air. Anti-aircraft fire and attacks by planes were very intensive. In one raid alone the Germans lost entire groups of planes. Nazi airmen picked up in the water spoke with a nervous shudder of the Soviet A.A. barrage.

Although cut off, the marines continued to hold the position for days. The population of the city took an active part in the fighting. The metal workers of Tallinn, the textile workers of Keila, fishermen from Muhumaa Island, peasants of Volost Ravila, left their homes and participated in the defence.

Members of the People's Volunteer Force fought side by side with Red Army men. Esthonian girls were not behind the men in courage and bravery. A 17-year- old nurse, Nina, brought a wounded soldier off the battlefield on her back under a hail of bullets. The Germans opened a deliberate fire on the nurse and wounded her. Bleeding profusely, she nevertheless brought the Red Army man safely to the first-aid post, where she attended to him before attending to her own wounds.

Thousands of working people, Esthonians and Russians, built barricades under artillery fire. Motor drivers delivered ammunition and provisions and picked up wounded under direct fire.

The fighting raged on the outskirts of the city and in the city itself, but the electric power station continued to work, and newspapers continued to appear. After a long siege the enemy brought up fresh forces and finally broke into the town.

For four days in succession heavy artillery pounded away at the port and the roadstead, putting up a curtain fire in an attempt to prevent evacuation. The heroic defence nevertheless made it possible to evacuate a large proportion of the population.

(18) Milovan Djilas, Conversations With Stalin (1962)

Koniev was one of Stalin's new wartime commanders. His promotion had been less rapid than Rokossovsky's, whose career was much more sudden and stormy. He joined the Red Army just after the revolution as a young worker, and gradually rose through the ranks and through the army schools. But he, too, made his career in battle, which was typical of the Red Army under Stalin's leadership in the Second World War.

Taciturn as usual, Koniev explained to me in a few words the course of the campaign at Korsun-Shevchenkovsky, which

had just been completed and which was compared in the Soviet Union with the one at Stalingrad. He described, some what gleefully, Germany's latest catastrophe: some eighty, or even a hundred, thousand Germans had refused to surrender and had been forced into a narrow space, then tanks smashed their heavy equipment and machine-gun posts while the Cossack cavalry finally finished them off. 'We let the Cossacks cut them up for as long as they wished. They even hacked off the hands of those who raised them to surrender!' the Marshal said wjith a smile.

I must admit that at that moment I also rejoiced over the fate that had befallen the Germans. In my country too Nazism had, in the name of a 'master race', waged war without any of the humane considerations that had previously been shown. And yet I had another feeling at the time-horror that it should be so, that it could not be otherwise.

(19) Ann Stringer, United Press (26th April, 1945)

The Elbe River is swarming with Russian soldiers, stripped to their shorts. They are swimming over to greet us. The Germans blew all the bridges across the Elbe, but there is a small fleet of shaky boats and canoes. I decided to cross the river in one of them and visit the Russians.

As the Russians on the eastern bank saw us coming in our canoe they rushed down to the river bank through the tall, wet grass and began yelling greetings. They helped us drag the canoe up on the bank, and then they all stood rigidly at attention for a moment. One by one they stepped forward, saluted, shook hands and stepped back into line.

Then Lt. Grigori Otenchuku, a veteran of Stalingrad, stepped forward to make a formal speech in behalf of the Russians.

"A few months ago German soldiers were nearly in Stalingrad," he said. "Now Russian soldiers are in Berlin and Russian soldiers are here - all the way across Germany - with their American Allies."

Our party consisted of Lt. Myril Mayer of Wood River and Lt. Raymond Worth of Galveston. The Russian soldiers insisted that we meet the commander of their regiment, so we started off. I noticed that almost all of our escort wore at least one brilliantly colored medal on their greenish tunics.

We were introduced to the commander, a quiet, stocky man with jet black hair. We gave the Russians our autographs. They gave us theirs. The commander invited us to lunch. He said I was the first American woman he and his troops had ever seen, and he seated me in the place of honor on his right at the luncheon.

(20) Catherine Coyne, Boston Herald (27th April, 1945)

Americans and Russians in their historic long-awaited link-up in their joint war against Germany provided the world with a hilarious preview of VE-Day in a sunny meadow on the bank of the Elbe river here this afternoon.

There was a ceremony, of course. Maj.-Gen. E.R Reinhardt, commanding general of the 69th Infantry Division, one of whose second lieutenants made the first contact unofficially and accidentally late yesterday afternoon, crossed the Elbe in a rowboat to meet a major general of the 58th Guards Division of the Red Army.

They shook hands, posed for thousands of pictures in the center of a screaming, shoving mob of official professional and amateur cameramen, then feasted in a German barracks on captured German eggs, black bread with cheese and tumblers of champagne and eau de vivre, an inferior cognac bottled for the Wehrmacht.

Primarily, however, it was a day for the little man of the armies - for the GI and the junior officer-and each made it a merry one, forgetting war while toasting the United States and Russia, swapping insignia and watches, snapping pictures and trying out one another's weapons amid noise, danger and laughter reminiscent of the Fourth of July at home.