On 22nd June 1941, Adolf Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa–the Nazi invasion of Soviet Russia. Four million troops, backed by 19 panzer divisions, fought their way east, confident of total victory within a just few short months. They were wrong.
Instead of collapsing, the Soviet Union held strong and–under the utterly ruthless leadership of Josef Stalin–fought a savage, four year war of attrition on a scale the world had never before witnessed. Over 30 million people would be slaughtered in the horror, most of them civilians. Four out of every ten German soldiers to be killed in WWII would die fighting the Russians. The Red Army suffered ten times as many dead as the Western Allies combined. Hitler and Stalin were prepared to accept losses on any scale in the pursuit of victory.
Soviet Storm tells the complete story of the War on the Eastern Front, profiling the epic campaigns and battles, revealing the tactics employed by both sides and exposing the true horrors of a conflict almost unimaginable in its sheers cruelty and depravity. Here were the greatest civilian losses the largest battle and the biggest tank battle–Kursk–the world has ever seen. This was war on a scale and ferocity never seen before as Hitler and Stalin battled for the future of the world.
Soviet Storm: WWII In The East tells the incredible stories from the Second World War’s biggest and bloodiest theatre of war. Told from an unprecedented Russian perspective the episodes explore some of the most devastating battles of World War II from the Red Army’s catastrophic encirclement at Kiev in 1941 to the notorious Rzhev meat-grinder. The series also looks at the dramatic recovery of the Soviet air force from it’s almost total destruction in the first days of the war, the role of Baltic Sea Fleet submarines, the brutal partisan war fought against a backdrop of Nazi genocide, and the crucial role of Soviet secret intelligence.
Across 18 episodes the biggest battles, the key personalities and the decisive weapons of the war are examined in depth including legendary tanks like the T-34 and the Tiger, and less well-known Soviet aircraft such as the Ilyushin 2 flying tank or the superb Lavochkin La-5 fighter.
From the German invasion of 22nd June 1941 through to the brutal fighting outside the gates of Moscow, the savage street-fighting of Stalingrad, and the long, bloody road to Berlin, this is an epic retelling of the world s most devastating conflict.
Especially produced to mark the 75th anniversary of Operation Barbarossa with unrivalled access to rare and and previously unseen combat film from military archives, Soviet Storm WW2 in the East is by far the most detailed and extensive film history of the war on the Eastern Front ever released.
Produced by Star Media and Babich Design for Channel One Russia; english edition for History UK
Part 1: Operation Barbarossa
The Battle of Britain is over. The Luftwaffe has been driven to exhaustion, and Germany suffers its first major defeat. Even though Britain remains undefeated, it is so isolated that Hitler has no concerns about turning his attention East. In April 1940 Hitler signed the operation Barbarossa, and heavy war machinery started making its way to the boundaries of the USSR. Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the USSR, takes the Soviets completely by surprise and the Red Army suffers terrible casualties. However, the very first battles in June 1941 at the border at the Brest Fortress, near Kiev and Minsk broke the German design of Blitzkrieg, a ‘lightning war’. Massive losses sustained by the retreating Red Army could well be explained but the mistakes had to be paid for by both the soldiers and generals.
In the beginning of 1941 the political situation was tense and uncertain for the USSR leadership. Just a few officers of the Soviet Command doubted that there would be war with Germany. But what was the timing? Really valuable information of Germany’s plans regarding the Soviet Union is drowning in the huge mass of reports from Soviet intelligence officers. The non-aggression pact and the contradictions in the information obtained by the intelligence create a false illusion that the war on the USSR territory is still far away. However, in the military leadership of the Third Reich, a secret directive was signed in December 1940 and the development of the Barbarossa plan was in full swing. According to it, fast powerful panzer groups would dash into the territory of the USSR, and all Soviet military power should be destroyed at lightning speed.
Part 2: The Battle of Kiev
After the swift success at Smolensk, Hitler has diverted the bulk of Heinz Guderian’s panzers down to the South, so as to capture the Ukrainian capital Kiev, considered more important than Moscow in Hitler’s mind. It begins a gigantic clash and turns out to be the biggest military encirclement in history. Despite heroic and long resistance, approximately six hundred and fifty thousand Soviet soldiers face captivity or death.
Having broken through the first line of the Soviet defense, the German troops, almost without losses, and with a quick march were able to make a breakthrough deep into the territory of the USSR. However, after some time, the German motorized infantry’s advance was stopped by continuous machine-gun fire from the allegedly retreating or destroyed Soviet army. This was the second line of defense, the so-called Stanin line. The fortified area on the outskirts of Kiev is especially well equipped. Reinforced concrete pillboxes, disguised as log cabins, were able to stop the onslaught of troops moving on motorcycles, but they were powerless in front of the tank divisions.
Part 3: The Defence of Sevastopol
Hitler’s 1941 invasion of the USSR ran into some its fiercest resistance at the Black Sea ports of Odessa and Sevastopol, where Soviet elite naval infantry brigades fought doggedly to hold back German and Romanian troops. Erich von Manstein’s soldiers have trapped a massive Soviet force in Crimea, but the doomed troops have no intentions of surrendering, strongly motivated by patriotism. Manstein assembles the greatest concentration of artillery in history, which includes the world’s biggest railway-gun nicknamed “Dora,” and for eight months Soviets troops are savagely bombarded; destroying Sevastopol’s only harbor. Realizing the battle is hopelessly lost, the Soviet forces finally surrender.
From the very first days of the beginning of the war, Hitler had to adjust the “Barbarossa” plan in connection with the activity of Soviet troops on the Crimean peninsula. Soviet bombers, taking off every day from the Crimean airfield, carried out a massive bombing of oil refineries and oil fields located in Romania and along the Danube. Thousands of high-explosive and incendiary bombs dropped from the air destroyed strategic supplies of fuel vital for the German troops. Already in August 1941, Hitler redirected part of the German troops of the Army Group “South” from the main direction to the Crimean peninsula, weakening the severity of the main blow brought over the USSR.
Part 4: The Battle of Moscow
From the very first days of the war the USSR capitol had been preparing its defense. Institutions and plants, embassies and ministries were evacuated. In order to organize the defense of Moscow and stifle the fascist offensive, Marshal Zhukov was called from Leningrad to Moscow.
October 1941, Germany’s Army Group Center is only some 25 km west of Moscow. The Russian winter, however, is only a few weeks away. With not enough soldiers or military equipment, the Soviet high command’s only hope left is that the weather will save the capital. The battle ends in a bloody failure for the German Army, and it is forced to retreat.
According to the Barbarossa plan, it was necessary to reach Moscow within 2-3 months, but the defense of Smolensk, Kiev and other important cities delayed the advance of German troops to the capital. But by the end of September, German troops still manage to arrive the outskirts of Moscow. By this time, the appearance of the capital had changed beyond recognition – anti-aircraft guns staring into sky, barrage balloons hovering over the city, windows sealed with tape, barricades and anti-tank “hedgehogs”. Stalingrad is still deep in the rear, at its tank factory T-34 tanks roll off the assembly line, where future tank crews take part in construction. The Soviet army suffers heavy defeats, but it also gains invaluable experience.
Part 5: The Siege of Leningrad
Leningrad, a vital and large Baltic sea port, is facing the entire weight of Army Group North. The Soviets have no reserves to spare as the Battle of Moscow is about to begin. Wilhelm von Leeb’s Army Group North fails to take Leningrad, but begins a horrible siege that will last 872 days, in which over a million civilians will die of starvation and disease.
The takeover of Leningrad was of strategic importance for the German Command. On the 8th of September 1941 the Germans reached Lake Ladoga and the city turned out to be cut off from the ‘mainland’. Death from starvation began to threaten the population of Leningrad. The ships of the Baltic Fleet, anti-aircraft guns, artillery and troops of the Red Army defended the city and the ‘life road’ that became operable after the frosts. Multiple attempts of the Soviet Command to break though the encirclement failed one after another.
The enemy is rushing to Leningrad, but the resistance of the Soviet troops is delaying the advance of the Nazis, the extended desperate battles give the Soviet people time and a chance to prepare for the imminent blockade. Particularly fierce battles are being fought near Staraya Russa, where for the first time weapons never before seen by them fall into the hands of German soldiers. This weapon does not look like an artillery system, but it is. On the truck-mounted frame, rockets are attached and when launched, completely cover the target area under fire. These are the famous “Katyushas” – multiple rocket launchers, a new generation of weapons. In the Baltic, Hitler needs to neutralize the Baltic fleet actively involved in the defence of Leningrad, now sustaining serious casualties from German air-raids and explosions on minelayers.
Part 6: The Rzhev Meat-Grinder
The German conquests of 1941 left Hitler’s troops perilously close to the Soviet capital, Moscow. Around Rzhev terrible fighting raged as the Red Army attacked again and again to drive back the invader. The capture of Rzhev, the city that connects all railroads in Western Russia, is imperative. It will cost the lives of some 3 million Soviet soldiers and 500 000 German soldiers. It will take the Soviets a total of 3 years to throw the Germans firmly out of the city. These bloodbaths will become known by the veterans and historians as “The Rzhev Meat-Grinder”.
October 1941. The operation to seize Moscow, code-named Typhoon, is taking its course. Soviet troops are retreating, the roads filled with chaos and confusion, evacuation is under continuous enemy fire, but the troops manage to blow up bridges, factories, and strategic targets left behind. The city of Rzhev has historically been an important road junction, where the most important railway lines intersected. In Rzhev there are huge warehouses of mines and ammunition, which cannot be removed, because all the railway tracks have already been destroyed by the bombing. The Soviet leadership makes the only correct decision in this situation – to blow up the entire Rzhev railway junction.
Part 7: The Battle of Stalingrad
After the failure to take both Moscow and Leningrad, Hitler sets his sights on the oil fields in the Caucasus. If captured, the Red Army will lose 70–90 per cent of all its oil resources. Therefore, the famous city on the Volga, Stalingrad, must be “held at all costs.” The German General Staff thinks taking the city will be a matter of a few weeks, but events steadily turn against the Germans. It will be one of the most costly, famous, and decisive battles of the Second World War.
On the 28th of June 1943 German troops launched Case Blue. They dashed towards Voronezh, Stalingrad, and Rostov-on-Don. The insufficiently embattled south sector of the Soviet-German front was breached. The retreat of the Soviet troops Eastward was going on when a famous order later called “Not a Step Back!” was issued. Special anti-retreat detachments were supposed to stop fleeing military units.
On June 19, 1942, near where the head of the operational department of the Army Group “South” was located, Soviet anti-aircraft gunners brought down a German reconnaissance aircraft, with German command detailed maps and plans of Operation Blau. In the course of this operation, the Germans were going to seize the approaches to the Caucasus and deprive Soviet troops of the “blood of war” – oil. Army Group “South” was divided into two directions. Direction “A” aims to capture the Caucasus, direction “B” – the capture of Stalingrad. Stalin reacted with apprehension to the captured documents delivered to him in Moscow, thinking that this could be deliberately planted disinformation. However, at the end of July, powerful German tank formations moved in the direction of Stalingrad…
Part 8: The Battle of the Caucasus
In 1942 Hitler launched his great summer offensive against the Soviet oil fields in the Caucasus. If he could seize control of this vital resource, the war might be lost. But bitter fighting in the Caucasus Mountains, and in the streets of Stalingrad, would thwart Hitler’s dream.
Ewald von Kleist has broken through to the Terek river, slap in front of the vital oil fields of Grozny and Baku. Only freezing temperatures in the Caucasus prevent von Kleist’s 1st Panzer Army from breaking through to Ozoni Kizi and Tbilisi. The Soviets launch a desperate counter-attack that holds the Germans back. After the winter, Hitler makes a series of strategic blunders with von Kleist’s forces, and he is forced to withdraw all his troops in the Caucasus to the Kuban bridge-head.
In the group of German armies, Army Group “South” had a special regiment 800 called “Brandenburg”, in which soldiers and officers had an enemy uniform with them and often used it to carry out sabotage missions. So, on July 27, 1942, the German command received a report on the prevention of the explosion of the Veselovskaya dam by the Brandenburg soldiers, but it soon became clear that the report was premature, and the waters of the Manych River had spilled as a result of the dam explosion, making the advance of panzer groups impossible. The reservoir flooded an area up to 3-4 kilometers wide, and the main breakthrough had to be moved to the west, allowing Soviet troops to retreat and organize defenses.
Part 9: The Battle of Kursk
After two years of war, Hitler was no closer to victory in the East, and his forces had suffered a devastating defeat at Stalingrad. Now the Germans gathered their strength for one last massive offensive to decide the outcome of the war.
It was April 1943. The frontline froze, but the Soviet Command was already designing plans for the Summer, paying special attention to the Kursk region. Here the troops of the Central Front had deeply bucked in the German defenses. The Germans planned to cut off the Kursk bulge with a double blow during Operation Citadel. Army Group Center was supposed to attack from the North and troops of Army Group South were to attack from the south.
In the battles near Leningrad, Soviet troops captured a new German tank with an elephant sign on its armor. However, the true name of the tank becomes known much later, it is the German “Tiger”. As a result of testing the captured “Tiger”, it turned out that its armor could not be penetrated even when a shell was fired from cannon at 200 meters distance. Soviets had to admit that their artillery was powerless against such tanks. Meanwhile, by the summer of 1943, the Central and Voronezh fronts of the Red Army had made a deep breach in the enemy’s defenses, forming the so-called Kursk salient. The German operation “Citadel” planned an offensive from the south and north to the Red Army, locking it in a “bulge” in the Kursk region.