Although the Soviet Union reportedly lost over 25 million citizens in World War II, most Americans are unaware of the brutal fighting that occurred between the Soviets and Germans in the heart of the USSR. The NY Times has an interesting article about the opening of the Russian State Archives and some of the history that has come to light since researchers have been able to access Soviet documents:
[NOTE: These are excerpts from a NY Times article. I did not write them (although I wish I did, and someday perhaps I will). I am merely including them because I think they make some very important points about the Soviet effort in WWII.]
…military historians have always known that the main scene of the Nazis’ downfall was the Eastern Front, which claimed 80 percent of all German military casualties in the war.
The four-year conflict between the Wehrmacht and the Red Army remains the largest and possibly the most ferocious ever fought. The armies struggled over vast territory. The front extended 1,900 miles (greater than the distance from the northern border of Maine to the southern tip of Florida), and German troops advanced over 1,000 miles into Soviet territory (equivalent to the distance from the East Coast to Topeka, Kan.). And they clashed in a seemingly unrelenting series of military operations of unparalleled scale; the battle of Kursk alone, for instance, involved 3.5 million men.
In short, the war fought on the Eastern Front is arguably the single most important chapter in modern military history, but it is a chapter that in many essential ways is only now being written. From evidence released from Soviet archives since the mid-1980’s, scholars have learned, for example, that Soviet deaths numbered nearly 50 million, two and half times the original estimate; that the Red Army raped two million German women during their occupation to wreak revenge; and that an astonishing 40 percent of Soviet wartime battles were for decades lost to history.
Military historians like Williamson Murray, professor emeritus at Ohio State University and a defense consultant in Washington, hold that the Soviets probably documented their war more fully than any other of the combatant states. Yet the war on the Eastern Front is still obscure, largely because of the cold war. During that period, the U.S.S.R.’s immense archives concerning the conflict were essentially closed to Western scholars. At the same time, the decisive impact of America’s erstwhile ally was often deliberately underplayed in the West for political reasons.
…the Soviets’ brilliant use of encirclement and what they called “deep battle”, extremely rapid, far-reaching advances behind the enemy’s front lines, constituted the most innovative and devastating display of “operational art” in World War II. Soviet operations from the summer of 1944 to the winter of 1945, they conclude, were far superior to those of the German Army at its best.
One of the more surprising statements:
….specialists in the field say that what may turn out to be a bigger problem is the dearth of Russian military historians in the West who can take advantage of the documentary material already available…
Send me! Send me! Send me!!!!!!! I would love to get my hands on those documents…I should probably start brushing up on my Russian, though.