What was the role of Konstantin Rokossovsky during WW1?

What was the role of Konstantin Rokossovsky during WW1?

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The Wikipedia article is very poor in this subject:

On joining the Kargopolsky 5th Dragoon Regiment, Rokossovsky soon showed himself a talented soldier and leader; he ended the war with the rank of a junior non-commissioned officer, serving in the cavalry throughout the war. He was wounded twice during the war and awarded the Cross of St George.[4][5] In 1917, he joined the Bolshevik Party and soon thereafter, entered the ranks of the Red Army.

I've taken a look at the cited sources. No. [5] produces the404 error, no. [4] (in Russian, link here) has also not much information:

Когда началась первая мировая война, 18-летний Константин добровольцем вступил в Каргопольский драгунский полк. Уже через несколько дней службы за солдатскую смекалку и мужество ему перед строем вручили Георгиевский крест 4-й степени. За три года службы Константин дослужился до унтер-офицера, был удостоен трех Георгиевских медалей. С октября 1917 г. в Красной Гвардии, затем Красной Армии.

When the First World War begun, 18-year-old Konstantin volunteered to Kargopolsky Dragoon Regiment. Only in few days of service he was awarded of 4-class St. George Cross for bravery. For three years of service he was promoted to sergeant [?], had received three George medals. Since October 1917 in Red Guard, then Red Army

The site provides links to books one (Рокоссовский: Жизнь замечательных людей - Rokossovsky: life of remarkable people) and the other (Мемуары Маршала Константина Рокоссовского - Memoirs of Marshall Konstantin Rokossovsky) might have an answer. Unfortunately I'm not good enough with Russian to translate it myself.

Is there any English page (or could you answer please) what was the career of the Marshall during WW1?

(all translations are mine, please Russian speakers correct, if necessary)

'A Soldier's Duty' by Rokossovsky himself doesn't contain anything about his WWI service.

The general information is that he was a very brave volunteer, who joined KDP on the outbreak of the war and reached the rank of NCO through the line of some great (for a soldier) exploits - sometimes, always like 'brigadier Gerard'.

According to Rokossovsky himself, his contemporary in the Regiment - Ivan Tulenev, one of only 7 people in History who ever had St George's Crosses of all 4 classes and the future Soviet '4 star general', - was even more brave then he himself was. [1]

If you need any technicalities, so to say?

Upon joining KDP, Rokossovsky almost immediately went scouting, and made accurate observation of German units whereabouts. That proved to be of great help to Russian superior commanders - and he received St George's Cross 4th class. [1]

Next time he volunteered to No Man's Land with 3 other dragoons, and managed to kill or take prisoners the entire German FOP. After a full day of heavy artillery bombardment they managed by night to extract all the prisoners and get them to HQ of their Regiment. St. George's Medal 4th class. [1]

And so on, and so forth…

[1] Sources: Various Russian Language documents stored within the Russian State Archive for Military History (РГВИА)

What was the role of Konstantin Rokossovsky during WW1? - History

By Jonas Goldstein

When they invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Germans were confident of a swift victory over the Russian untermenschen (subhumans). But as Napoleon before them had discovered, the vastness of Russia and the fighting skills of her people, especially under able leadership, are formidable challenges. In 1941, the original thrust of the Nazis was repelled before Moscow. In 1942 they were defeated at Stalingrad, and in the summer of 1943 there was the Battle of Kursk, an even more decisive setback for Hitler than his disaster on the Volga. This latter engagement has been termed history’s greatest tank battle. Its dimensions stagger the imagination, and the tactics employed challenge the military mind. It has always been a temptation to designate Stalingrad, not the Kursk battle, as the turning point of World War II. But although this battle demonstrated a remarkable improvement in the operational skills of Soviet soldiers and weapons, it was only a part of a widespread campaign. At the same time, it must be realized that the German Army, though reduced in its military capabilities after its defeat on the Volga, was still a formidable force. This was demonstrated in mid-March 1943 when the Nazis recaptured the vital city of Kharkov.

As the front stabilized during spring 1943, the Soviet General Staff tried to determine the Germans’ next move. The consensus was that the Kursk salient was the only place where the enemy was in position to launch an attack with any prospect of success. The concentration of panzer forces and infantry divisions around Orel and Kharkov hinted that these were the staging areas for the coming attack. The Soviets presumed that two heavy armored incursions north and south of the neck of the salient would attempt to converge and encircle the Soviet forces.


Paulus was born in Guxhagen and grew up in Kassel, Hesse-Nassau, the son of a treasurer. [4] He tried, unsuccessfully, to secure a cadetship in the Imperial German Navy and briefly studied law at Marburg University. [ citation needed ]

Many English language sources and publications from the 1940s to the present day give Paulus' family name the prefix "von". For example: Mark Arnold-Forster's The World At War, companion volume to the documentary of the same name, Stein and Day, 1973, pp. 139–42 other examples are Allen and Muratoff's "The Russian Campaigns of 1941-1943," published in 1944 [5] and Peter Margaritis (2019). [6] This is incorrect, as Paulus' family was never part of the nobility, [ citation needed ] and Antony Beevor refers to his "comparatively humble birth" (like Rommel's family their "sole similarity"). [7]

After leaving university without a degree, he joined the 111th Infantry Regiment as an officer cadet in February 1910. On 4 July 1912 he married the Romanian Elena Rosetti-Solescu, the sister of a colleague who served in the same regiment. When World War I began, Paulus' regiment was part of the thrust into France, and he saw action in the Vosges and around Arras in the autumn of 1914. After a leave of absence due to illness, he joined the Alpenkorps as a staff officer, serving in France, Romania and Serbia. By the end of the war, he was a captain.

After the Armistice, Paulus was a brigade adjutant with the Freikorps. He was chosen as one of only 4,000 officers to serve in the Reichswehr, the defensive army that the Treaty of Versailles had limited to 100,000 men. He was assigned to the 13th Infantry Regiment at Stuttgart as a company commander. He served in various staff positions for over a decade (1921–33). In 1920s, as part of the military cooperation between Weimar Republic and Soviet Union to escape Treaty of Versailles, Paulus presented guest lectures in Moscow, Soviet Union. [8]

Later, Paulus briefly commanded a motorized battalion (1934–35) before being named chief of staff for Panzer headquarters in October 1935. This was a new formation under the direction of Oswald Lutz that directed the training and development of the Panzerwaffen, or tank forces of the German army.

In February 1938 Paulus was appointed Chef des Generalstabes to Gen. Heinz Guderian's new XVI Armeekorps (Motorisiert), which replaced Lutz's command. Guderian described him as "brilliantly clever, conscientious, hard working, original and talented" but had severe doubts about his decisiveness, toughness and lack of command experience. He remained in that post until May 1939, when he was promoted to major general and became chief of staff for the German Tenth Army, with which he saw service in Poland. The unit was renamed the Sixth Army and engaged in the spring offensives of 1940 through the Netherlands and Belgium. Paulus was promoted to lieutenant general in August 1940. The following month he was named deputy chief of the German General Staff (Oberquartiermeister I). In that role he helped draft the plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa.

Stalingrad Edit

In November 1941, after German Sixth Army's commander Field Marshal Walter von Reichenau—Paulus' patron—became commander of the entire Army Group South, Paulus, who had never commanded a larger unit than a battalion prior to this time, was promoted to General der Panzertruppe and became commander of the Sixth Army. [9] However, he only took over his new command on 20 January, six days after the sudden death of Reichenau, [10] leaving him on his own and without the support of his more experienced sponsor.

Paulus led the drive on Stalingrad during that summer. His troops fought Soviet forces defending Stalingrad over three months in increasingly brutal urban warfare. In November 1942, when the Soviet Red Army launched a massive counter-offensive, code-named Operation Uranus, Paulus found himself surrounded by an entire Soviet Army Group. Paulus did not request to evacuate the city when the counter-offensive began. [11]

Paulus followed Adolf Hitler's orders to hold his forces' position in Stalingrad under all circumstances, despite the fact that he was completely surrounded by strong Soviet forces. Operation Winter Storm, a relief effort by Army Group Don under Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, was launched in December. Following his orders, Paulus prepared to cooperate with the offensive by trying to break out of Stalingrad. In the meantime, he kept his entire army in fixed defensive positions. Manstein told Paulus that the relief would need assistance from the Sixth Army, but the order to initiate the breakout never came. Paulus remained absolutely firm in obeying the orders he had been given. Manstein's forces were unable to reach Stalingrad on their own and their efforts were eventually halted due to Soviet offensives elsewhere on the front. [10] : 137,142,150,153,156

Kurt Zeitzler, the newly appointed chief of the Army General Staff, eventually got Hitler to allow Paulus to break out—provided he continue to hold Stalingrad, an impossible task.

For the next two months Paulus and his men fought on. However, the lack of food and ammunition, equipment attrition and the deteriorating physical condition of the German troops gradually wore down the German defense. With the new year Hitler promoted Paulus to Colonel General. [10] : 164

Regarding the resistance to capitulate, according to Adam, Paulus stated

What would become of the war if our army in the Caucasus were also surrounded? That danger is real. But as long as we keep on fighting, the Red Army has to remain here. They need these forces for a big offensive against Army Group 'A' in the Caucasus and along the still-unstable front from Voronesh to the Black Sea. We must hold them here to the last so that the eastern front can be stabilized. Only if that happens is there a chance of the war going well for Germany." [10] : 174

Crisis Edit

On 7 January 1943 General Konstantin Rokossovsky, commander of the Red Army on the Don front, called a cease-fire and offered Paulus' men generous surrender terms: normal rations, medical treatment for the ill and wounded, permission to retain their badges, decorations, uniforms and personal effects. As part of his communication, Rokossovsky advised Paulus that he was in an impossible situation. Paulus requested permission from Hitler to surrender. Even though it was obvious the Sixth Army was in an untenable position, the German Army High Command rejected Paulus' request, stating, "Capitulation out of the question. Every day that the army holds out longer helps the whole front and draws away the Russian divisions from it." [10] : 166–169

After a heavy Soviet offensive overran the last emergency airstrip in Stalingrad on 25 January, the Soviets again offered Paulus a chance to surrender. Paulus radioed Hitler once again for permission. Telling Hitler that collapse was "inevitable," Paulus stressed that his men were without ammunition or food, and he was no longer able to command them. He also said that 18,000 men were wounded and were in immediate need of medical attention. Once again, Hitler rejected Paulus' request out of hand, and ordered Paulus to hold Stalingrad to the death. On 30 January Paulus informed Hitler that his men were only hours from collapse. Hitler responded by showering a raft of field promotions by radio on Paulus' officers to build up their spirits and steel their will to hold their ground. Most significantly, he promoted Paulus to field marshal. In deciding to promote him, Hitler noted that there was no known record of a Prussian or German field marshal ever having surrendered. The implication was clear: Paulus was to commit suicide. Hitler implied that if Paulus allowed himself to be taken alive, he would shame Germany's military history.

Capitulation Edit

Paulus and his staff were captured on the morning of 31 January 1943. The events of that day were recorded by Col. Wilhelm Adam, one of Paulus' aides and an adjutant in the XXIII Army Corps, in his personal diary:

January 31, 1943 – 7.00 a.m. It was still dark but day was dawning almost imperceptibly. Paulus was asleep. It was some time before I could break out of the maze of thoughts and strange dreams that depressed me so greatly. But I don't think I remained in this state for very long. I was going to get up quietly when someone knocked at the door. Paulus awoke and sat up. It was the HQ commander. He handed the colonel general a piece of paper and said: 'Congratulations. The rank of field marshal has been conferred upon you. The dispatch came early this morning – it was the last one.'

'One can't help feeling it's an invitation to suicide. However I'm not going to do them such a favour.' said Paulus after reading the dispatch. Schmidt continued: 'At the same time I have to inform you that the Russians are at the door.' with these words he opened the door and a Soviet general and his interpreter entered the room. The general announced that we were his prisoners. I placed my revolver on the table.

'Prepare yourself for departure. We shall be back for you at 9.00. You will go in your personal car.' said the Soviet general through his interpreter. Then they left the room. I had the official seal with me. I prepared for my last official duty. I recorded Paulus's new rank in his military document, stamped it with the seal then threw the seal into the glowing fire.

The main entrance to the cellar was closed and guarded by the Soviet soldiers. An officer, the head of the guards, allowed me and the driver to go out and get the car ready. Climbing out of the cellar, I stood dumbfounded. Soviet and German soldiers, who just a few hours earlier had been shooting at one another, now stood quietly together in the yard. They were all armed, some with weapons in their hands, some with them over their shoulders.

My God, what a contrast between the two sides! The German soldiers, ragged and in light coats, looked like ghosts with hollow, unshaven cheeks. The Red Army fighters looked fresh and wore warm winter uniforms. Involuntarily I remembered the chain of unfortunate events which had prevented me from sleeping for so many nights. The appearance of the Red Army soldiers seemed symbolic. At 9.00 sharp the HQ commander of the 6th Army arrived to take the commander of the vanquished German 6th Army and its staff towards the rear. The march towards the Volga had ended." [12]

On 2 February 1943 the remainder of Sixth Army capitulated. Upon finding out about Paulus' "surrender", Hitler flew into a rage and vowed never to appoint another field marshal again. He would, in fact, go on to appoint another seven field marshals during the last two years of the war. Speaking about the surrender of Paulus, Hitler told his staff:

In peacetime Germany, about 18,000 or 20,000 people a year chose to commit suicide, even without being in such a position. Here is a man who sees 50,000 or 60,000 of his soldiers die defending themselves bravely to the end. How can he surrender himself to the Bolshevists?! [13]

Paulus, a Roman Catholic, was opposed to suicide. During his captivity, according to Gen. Max Pfeffer, Paulus said of Hitler's expectation: "I have no intention of shooting myself for this Bohemian corporal." Another general told the NKVD (the public and secret police organisation of the Soviet Union) that Paulus had told him about his promotion to field marshal and said, "It looks like an invitation to commit suicide, but I will not do this favor for him." Paulus also forbade his soldiers from standing on top of their trenches in order to be shot by the enemy. [14]

Shortly before surrendering, Paulus sent his wedding ring back to his wife on the last plane departing his position. He had not seen her since 1942 and would not see her again, as she died in 1949 while he was still in captivity. [15]

At first Paulus refused to collaborate with the Soviets. However, after the attempted assassination of Hitler on 20 July 1944, he became a vocal critic of the Nazi regime while in Soviet captivity, joining the Soviet-sponsored National Committee for a Free Germany appealing to Germans to surrender. He later acted as a witness for the prosecution at the Nuremberg Trials. He was allowed to move to the German Democratic Republic in 1953, two years before the repatriation of the remaining German POWs.

During the Nuremberg Trials, Paulus was asked about the Stalingrad prisoners by a journalist. He told the journalist to tell the wives and mothers that their husbands and sons were well. [16] Of the 91,000 German prisoners taken at Stalingrad, half had died on the march to Siberian prison camps, and nearly as many died in captivity only about 6,000 survived and returned home. [Note 2]

After his return to the German Democratic Republic in 1953, Paulus gave a press conference in Berlin on 2 July 1954 in the presence of Western journalists, entitled "On the vital issues of our nation." In it, he paid respect to the memory of General Heinz Guderian, who had died a little over a month previously, and criticized the political leaderships of the Second and Third Reich for causing the defeats of the German Army in both world wars:

I have in mind in particular General Guderian, who died prematurely, and with whom I was particularly close, as chief of staff for the organization of the armored troops, and we were carrying out a task together. Maybe since the last time we met - more than 10 years ago - our views on specific issues differed, but I know in general, through his writings, with what sense of responsibility, how restlessly he refused to align himself with the Federal Chancellor's European Defence Community policy. He was, in any case, a defender of a united and sovereign Germany. Everyone knows that our nation used to have great military experts, known all over the world, such as Clausewitz, Moltke the Elder, Schlieffen. Certainly, in their time they assessed the political-military situation of Germany with perseverance and sobriety, developed principles and positions for the strategy and tactics of a general nature, which were valid for the special situation in which Germany would be in a state of war. There are still many people today who wonder how Germany, which no doubt possessed a highly trained army, could be defeated in two wars. The question cannot be answered in military terms. The governments responsible for this have both put their armed forces in front of insoluble problems. Even the best army is doomed to fail when it is required to perform impossible tasks, that is, when it is ordered to campaign against the national existence of other peoples. [18]

He also criticized United States foreign policy as aggressive and called for a reconciliation between the Germans and the French:

American policy today calls itself "power politics". For us Germans, this is particularly indicative. We have been punished for pursuing the policy of violent and lightning strikes that is now being cultivated, and we know what it has cost us. We Germans have seen that in the 20th century, such "power politics" that a strong and rich country seeks to pursue at the expense of other countries is doomed to failure. This policy can have no prospect of success unless it manages to stifle the national will of other peoples, to crush their independence. But it is a misconception and dangerous idea that the age of nations is over simply because a power, the United States, relies on this position so that it can bend over and dominate other nations at the lowest cost to it. Establishing good neighborly relations with the countries that surround us from east and west is crucial for our national existence. I have in mind, first of all, France. The time has come for the old enmity that we have inherited and the many disputes to be buried once and for all. These two peoples must put aside all conflicts between them, all the more so because German-French relations are the link in the dangerous chain held by the Americans to turn one European people against the other and use them as a vehicle for their own policy. [18]

Finally, he supported former German Chancellor Heinrich Brüning's appeal for a betterment of relations between West Germany and the Eastern Bloc, agreed with Brüning's criticism of then-West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer's overtly pro-American policy, and expressed his hope for a German reunification:

Chancellor Brüning took a clear stand against Chancellor Adenauer's rigid orientation to the West, and practically against the EDC and the Bonn conventions. Like many West German economists and politicians, he was in favor of taking advantage of the slightest opportunity to negotiate with the East. Thus, another prominent and experienced German politician stressed that a final implementation of the EDC agreement would be dangerous for the German nation. No sensible person can understand why Dr. Adenauer, under American influence, strongly opposes exploiting the opportunities for the resumption of economic and cultural relations with the peoples of the East.

As a former military man and commander of a large sector, taking into account the current situation and based on my experiences, I have come to the conclusion that we must definitely take the path that, in any form, leads to the development and consolidation of relations between East and West. Only we Germans can decide the future of Germany.

When I say that we Germans must focus above all on the unity and independence of Germany, on the affirmation of the vital national rights of our nation, I realize that in this way we are best serving the cause of peace, of international détente and reconciliation between peoples. We want good relations between the German people and other peoples who respect our national rights. This is the precondition for collective security in Europe and at the same time for a happy future for our own nation. With a reunited Germany having good relations with the two great powers, not only can peace not be disrupted in Europe, but the basis for the development of general prosperity is laid. [18]

From 1953-56 he lived in Dresden, East Germany, where he worked as the civilian chief of the East German Military History Research Institute. In late 1956 he developed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and became progressively weaker. He died within a few months, in Dresden, on 1 February 1957, 14 years and one day after his surrender at Stalingrad. As part of his last will and testament, his body was transported to Baden-Baden, West Germany, to be buried at the Hauptfriedhof (main cemetery) [19] next to his wife, who had died eight years earlier in 1949, not having seen her husband since his departure for the Eastern Front in the summer of 1942. [Note 3]

Famous People of World War Two

Influential people who caused, influenced and fought during the Second World War.

(1889 – 1945) Dictator of Nazi Germany from 1933-45. During the 1930s, Hitler sought to gain ‘lebensraum’ for Germany – claiming Austria, Czechoslovakia and finally invading Poland. Hitler’s initial success encouraged him to invade Russia, which ultimately would over-stretch his war-machine. Hitler’s regime also pursued the extermination of Jews and other ‘non-Aryan’ minorities in concentration camps across Europe. He committed suicide in May 1945 – shortly before Germany’s final surrender.

The Big Three

The Big Three were the Allied leaders of Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt, who represented Great Britain, Soviet Union and the United States in the alliance against Germany and Japan.

Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965) – Churchill was elected Prime Minister of the UK in May 1940, when Britain and her Empire stood alone against Hitler. Churchill was influential in refusing to seek a deal, but continue to fight and resist. Churchill took an active direction in the war effort, and his speeches helped to bolster morale during the difficult years of 1940 and 1941.

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882 – 1945) – US President 1932 – 1945. Roosevelt was sympathetic to the Allied cause and offered generous war loan to Britain. After Pearl Harbour, he led the US in declaring war on both Japan and Germany. The entry of the US tipped the balance of power, and by 1944, the US provided the majority of troops in the D-Day landings.

Joseph Stalin (1879 – 1953) Leader and dictator of the Soviet Union. Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler in 1939. He was shocked when Germany invaded in 1941, but he was the figurehead in rallying Russian resistance to the invading German war machine. Stalin was a ruthless leader, but after Stalingrad, the tide of war was turned, and the Red Army began to advance towards Berlin.

Other leaders of WWII

Harry Truman (1884 – 1972) American President from January 1945. Truman oversaw the end of the war in Europe. Truman also approved the atomic bomb to be dropped on Japan, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the aftermath of the Second World War, he helped find the United Nations.

Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) Fascist dictator of Italy. Mussolini was head of the Italian government from 1925-43. He sought to create a new Roman Empire and allied Italy with Germany. After the fall of Italy to Allied troops, he was executed by Italian partisans.

Charles de Gaulle (1890 – 1970) When France surrendered to the Germans, Charles de Gaulle escaped to England and provided a focal point for the Free French who wished to resist the German occupation. De Gaulle became the symbol of the French resistance and triumphantly returned to Paris in 1944.

Neville Chamberlain (1869 – 1940) Chamberlain was British Prime Minister from 1937-40. He initially sought a policy of appeasement with Hitler to allow the UK to re-arm and also in the hope another war could be avoided. After the invasion of Poland, Chamberlain led Great Britain into war with German. The early years of the war were considered a failure, and after humiliating setbacks, he was replaced by Churchill.

General Josip Tito. (1892 – 1980) Leader of the Yugoslavian resistance. Tito’s partisans caused considerable damage to the German occupiers and are considered the most effective resistance movement in occupied Europe.

Emperor Hirohito (1901 – 1989) During the 1930s, Hirohito was the official Head of State of Japan. He oversaw the militarization of society and the Japanese attempt to conquer China and South East Asia.

Hideki Tojo (1884 – 1948) A general of the Imperial Japanese Army. Tojo was Prime Minister from October 17, 1941, to July 1944. Tojo was responsible for ordering the attack on Pearl Harbour and other measures of aggression. He was executed for war crimes in 1948.

Haile Selassie (1892 – 1975) Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930. Selassie became an inspirational figure in the movement for African independence for the way he resisted the Italian invasion of Ethiopia during the 1930s.

Chiang Kai-shek (1887 – 1975) Leader of Chinese Nationalist forces. Led Chinese troops against the Japanese invasion of mainland China. In 1942, China became an Allied power, and Chiang Kai-Shek led nationalist forces.

Military figures

(1890 – 1969) A five star General in US Army, Eisenhower was Supreme Allied Commander for the D-Day invasion of occupied Europe. (1944-45)

General Patton (1885 – 1945) US Commander during Second World War, Patton distinguished himself in Africa, Sicily and the liberation of France – especially during the Battle of the Bulge.

Erwin Rommel (1891 – 1944) ‘The Desert Fox’ was admired by both his troops and enemies developing a reputation for invincibility. He was a commander during the invasion of France (1940) and achieved striking victories in North Africa war. In 1944, Rommel was put in charge of defending the Atlantic Wall, but disillusioned with Hitler he became part of the failed bomb plot and was forced to take his own life.

Bernard Montgomery (1887 – 1976) British General during World War Two. Led Allied troops to the first major victory of the war (El Alamein) when it was desperately needed. He also led British divisions during Operation Overlord and the liberation of occupied Europe.

Friedrich Paulus (1890 – 1957) German military officer promoted to Field Marshall, commanding the Sixth Army, during the Battle of Stalingrad. Defied Hitler’s orders to surrender, signalling the decisive shift of momentum on the Eastern Front. Taken prisoner by the Russians, he became a critic of Nazi Germany.

Erich von Manstein (1887 – 1973) German officer who devised a plan for the invasion of France. Manstein was promoted to General Field Marshall, taking an active role in the Battle of Stalingrad, the Siege of Leningrad and the Battle of Kursk. He clashed with Hitler over military strategy and was removed from his post in March 1955.

Isoroku Yamamoto (1884-1943) Japanese Commander in Chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Yamamoto was responsible for the naval actions at Pearl Habour and the Battle of Midway. He was popular with his men, and when his plane was shot down in 1943, it was a blow to Japanese War morale.

Georgy Zhukov (1896 – 1974) Russian commander. Zhukov rose to Chief of General Staff. During the Second World War, he played a decisive role in battles on the Eastern Front. Including the Battle of Kursk and the final Battle for Berlin. Zhukov was a Russian representative during the German surrender.

Konstantin Rokossovsky (1896 – 1968) Marshall of the Soviet Union. Rokossovsky was responsible for planning and executing Operation Bagration between June and August 1944. This broke the resolve of the German army and led to major Russian advances on to the edges of the Third Reich.

Arthur Harris (1892 – 5 April 1984) Harris was head of RAF Operation Bomber Command 1942-45. He led the intense bombing of Germany to undermine morale, hit industrial production and provide an aerial second front. His actions were controversial for the high number of German civilians who died in the bombing raids.

Leading Nazi figures

Joseph Goebbels (1897 – 1 May 1945) Nazi Minister of Propaganda. Goebbels radio broadcasts throughout the war were influential in shaping German public opinion. He called for ‘total war’ and was put in charge of closing down businesses not essential to the war effort. Goebbels also preached a virulent ‘anti-Semitism’ and encouraged the persecution of Jews.

Herman Goring (1893 – 1946) Goring was a committed Nazi, who founded the Gestapo in 1933. He was made Commander of the Luftwaffe and was influential in managing the German economy. He lost favour with Hitler after the massive Allied bombing in the later part of the war.

Heinrich Himmler (1900 – 1945) Himmler was a leading member of the Nazi party and one of the most powerful men in the Third Reich. Himmler set up the SS and the system of extermination camps used in the Holocaust. He also oversaw the Gestapo. Briefly appointed military commander during the last months of the war. Himmler attempted to open terms with the Allies. After his capture, he committed suicide.

Individual soldiers

Vasily Zaytsev (1915 – 1991) Russian sniper who fought during the desperate Battle of Stalingrad. Zaytsev killed 225 enemy soldiers during the battle

(1910 – 1982) One of Britain’s top flying aces, who shot down at least 22 aircraft during the Battle of Britain and after. Even more remarkable since he lost both legs in an accident pre-war.


J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904–1967), American physicist who worked on the development of the Atomic bomb. Oppenheimer was in charge of the Manhattan project which led to the creation of the first atomic bomb, later dropped in Japan. He later campaigned against his own invention.

Frank Capra (1897 – – 1991) – Italian-American film producer. During World War Two he joined the US Army Corps and produced propaganda films such as “Why we serve”. These were widely shown in Britain, the US and Canada and considered important for the home front.

Anne Frank (1929-45) – Young Jewish diarist. During her childhood, her family were forced into hiding from the Nazis. Living in difficult circumstances and close confinement with many other people, she retained good humour and a positive outlook on life. After the war and her tragic death, her father published her diary to worldwide acclaim.

People who resisted Hitler and the Holocaust

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945 ) was a Lutheran Pastor who was an influential critic of Hitler and Nazism, executed in 1945. He publically spoke against the Nazi policy of euthanasia and the murder of Jews. He was executed in a Nazi concentration camp, shortly before the end of the war.

Sophie and Hans Scholl (1921/ 1918 -1943) – The Scholls opposed the Nazi ideology of Hitler’s Germany and distributed anti-Nazi propaganda to students in Munich. Both were executed for high treason.

Wilhelm Franz Canaris (1887 – 1945) Head of the German Abwher, Canaris was a long-term opponent of Hitler’s rule. He promoted resistance and tried to work with the Allies to bring about Hitler’s downfall. Arrested and executed after the failed July plot.

Claus von Stauffenberg (1907 – 1944) An aristocratic German officer, Stauffenberg was a principal member of the resistance to Hitler within the Wehrmacht. He led the unsuccessful July 1944 bomb plot against Hitler and was shot soon after.

Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941 ) was a Franciscan priest who encouraged devotion to Mary and was committed to praying for those hostile to the Church. In 1941, he was arrested for sheltering Jews and sent to Auschwitz. He volunteered to take the place of a man condemned to death.

Oskar Schindler (1908 – 1974) An ethnic German who joined the Nazi party and bought a factory in Poland. He used his connections and his own money to successfully protect over 1,000 Jews who were employed in his factory.

Witold Pilecki (1901 – 1948) Pilecki was a soldier in the Polish army and after the German occupation, he joined the underground Polish resistance. In 1943, he volunteered to smuggle himself into Auschwitz concentration camp so he could report on the Holocaust to the allies. He then escaped Auschwitz and took part in the Warsaw uprising of 1944. In 1948, he was executed by the Stalinist secret police for retaining loyalty to the non-Communist Polish government.

Chiune Sugihara (1900 – 1986) Japanese diplomat who served as Vice-Consul to Lithuania during the Second World War. He helped several thousand Jews to escape from Lithuania by personally writing exit visas – despite the fact he was disobeying orders from Tokyo not to do so. It is estimated, because of Sugihara’s actions, 6,000 Jews were able to escape from Lithuania and avoid the holocaust. After the war, he was forced to resign from the Japanese civil service.

Spies of the Second World War

Odette Sansom (1912—1995) – British spy for SOE. Parachuted into France and worked for the French underground. Caught by the Gestapo, she was tortured and sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. Awarded George Cross and Legion d’honneur.

Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Famous People of the Second World War”, Oxford, – 17th February 2017. Last updated 1 March 2020.

The Second World War

The Second World War by Antony Beevor at Amazon

The Second World War by Max Hastings

The Second World War by Max Hastings at Amazon

Related pages

People of the First World War (1914 to 1918) The principal figures involved in the First World War from Germany, Britain, US and the rest of the world. Includes David Lloyd George, Woodrow Wilson, the Kaiser and George Clemenceau.

People of the Cold War (1948 to 1990) Famous people who participated in the Cold War between the Soviet bloc and the US/NATO allies.

Military figures – Famous military leaders and soldiers, including Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Ataturk, Erwin Rommel, Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower.

Inter-war era (1918 to 1939) A period of peace in between the two world wars. Characterised by economic boom and bust, and the growth of polarising ideologies.

Famous female spies – Female spies who risked their lives to enter enemy territory. Including many spies who volunteered for SOE and work for the French resistance in the second world war.

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Marshal K.K. Rokossovsky: The Red Army's Gentleman Commander Kindle Edition

" . great attention to detail, vivid descriptions of Rokossovsky in combat, and the incorporation of material from a wealth of sources enable readers to see the Marshal in a brighter light . Sokolov offers an excellent work in this biography."-- "Journal of Military History"

" . Stuart Britton once again has provided an excellent translation from the original Russian and Helion, the publisher, has produced a book of the highest quality. Sokolov deserves high praise for his work and the attention that he has brought to a little known but superb Russian Commander. His writing style is quite different from traditional Western authors as it reverts periodically to an almost spoken text however this only requires getting used to and does not take away from the quality of the research. He also provides a selected bibliography, unfortunately for the Western reader it primarily refers to Russian sources. A very interesting and engaging read."-- ⋊nadian Army Journal"

ȭr. Sokolov has crafted a valuable addition to the existing literature on not just the Second World War, but also many other of the 20th centuries salient events (including insight into post-war Poland and Rokossovsky's role as the Soviet imposed head of the Polish Armed Forces at a critical point during the Cold War)"-- "Globe at War"

"Sokolov's work is likely to remain standard interpretation of a remarkable if often-forgotten soldier. It combines action, human interest, and historical analysis in a manner that should be of interest to general readers, Russian historians, and soldiers alike.""-- "The Russian Review" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

7. Bernard Montgomery (1887-1976)

10 Greatest Generals of World War II – Bernard Montgomery

Montgomery (nicknamed ‘Monty’) was an officer who fought both in World War I and World War II. He commanded the 8th Army from 1942 from the Western Desert until the final Allied victory in Tunisia. The entire time he spent in the British Army was 50 years (from 1908 to 1958).

Montgomery was also the planner of this D-Day invasion in Normandy, and he commanded the Allied ground forces during the famous Battle of Normandy.

This remarkable general also met Rommel on the battle, whom he conquered many times throughout the North African campaign. He received the Legion of Merit from the USA government.

Pavel Batov

70s Batov portrait
  • Bait-and-Switch Boss: Omsk-specific. Zlatoust is not a particularly difficult "deunifier" final enemy for Western Siberia, but after the Black League crushes them and unites the region, they will suddenly have to deal with Pavel Batov's National Salvation Commission rising up to stop their dark ambitions. This will almost certainly catch a new player coming in blind completely off-guard and end their run, and almost always succeeds in assassinating Yazov and collapsing the League's control over the region when the AI has to deal with it.
  • Cincinnatus: After unifying Western Siberia, Batov voluntarily agrees to hold democratic elections. Despite his power, if he refuses to rig the elections to favor himself, resulting in Boris Yeltsin's victory, Batov will transfer power to him, and continue working to protect the freedom and democracy of the new state. Even if he rigs things and wins, Batov still has no desire of keeping power indefinitely, and intends to step down for good when Russia is whole again.
  • A Father to His Men: Batov is a humble commander with a great fondness for the soldiers under his command, who in turn call him 'our Suvorov'.
  • The Lancer: Batov is Rokossovsky's close friend and professional aide.
  • La Résistance: If Omsk defeats Sverdlovsk and unites West Siberia, Batov forms the National Salvation Commission to resist against the insane Black League, which then has to deal with him as yet another enemy. He actually stands a good chance of assassinating Yazov and collapsing their government too it is one of the most common deunification events in the game.
  • Take Up My Sword: Batov vows to carry on Rokossovsky's cause after Rokossovsky dies after uniting West Siberia.
  • Un-person: If the National Salvation Commission is defeated, the Black League will kill Batov and erase all evidence of his existence.
  • Unwitting Pawn: If Speer comes to power in Germany and Omsk unifies Western Siberia, Speer can discreetly have funds sent to Batov's insurgency so that they can take out the Black League&loz.

Descripción del producto

Biograf໚ del autor


" . great attention to detail, vivid descriptions of Rokossovsky in combat, and the incorporation of material from a wealth of sources enable readers to see the Marshal in a brighter light . Sokolov offers an excellent work in this biography."-- "Journal of Military History"

" . Stuart Britton once again has provided an excellent translation from the original Russian and Helion, the publisher, has produced a book of the highest quality. Sokolov deserves high praise for his work and the attention that he has brought to a little known but superb Russian Commander. His writing style is quite different from traditional Western authors as it reverts periodically to an almost spoken text however this only requires getting used to and does not take away from the quality of the research. He also provides a selected bibliography, unfortunately for the Western reader it primarily refers to Russian sources. A very interesting and engaging read."-- ⋊nadian Army Journal"

ȭr. Sokolov has crafted a valuable addition to the existing literature on not just the Second World War, but also many other of the 20th centuries salient events (including insight into post-war Poland and Rokossovsky's role as the Soviet imposed head of the Polish Armed Forces at a critical point during the Cold War)"-- "Globe at War"

"Sokolov's work is likely to remain standard interpretation of a remarkable if often-forgotten soldier. It combines action, human interest, and historical analysis in a manner that should be of interest to general readers, Russian historians, and soldiers alike.""-- "The Russian Review" --Este texto se refiere a una edición agotada o no disponible de este título.

Victory and Memory

This special anniversary issue of the &ldquoTretyakov Gallery Magazine&rdquo is devoted to those two tragedies of the 20th century, the most atrocious world wars in human history, to their participants and witnesses. Most of all it is about the Victory of the nations of the Soviet Union in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, about the living memory that cannot be falsified, idealized or allowed to recede into history. Like the handful of surviving eyewitnesses of this tragic and heroic chapter in history, like their descendants, it is works of art that preserve the memory and teach people to respect our country&rsquos past and take pride in our Motherland.

Viktor DMITRIEVSKY. Victory Day. 1982
Oil on canvas

Citizens of Russia and countries near and far, descendants of, and heirs to the soldiers who brought Victory and the participants and veterans of World War II and the Great Patriotic War - all carry in their memory the pain of irredeemable loss, while also taking pride in the bravery and heroic exploits of their forefathers, those who set the world free from the scourge of fascism.

Yevsei MOISEENKO. Victory. 1970-1972
From the &ldquoWar Years&rdquo series. Oil on canvas. 200 × 150 cm. © Russian Museum

The freed world remembers the levelled cities and villages, the destroyed architectural landmarks, the burnt libraries, the pillaged museums. And it was to ensure that this never happens again that soldiers of the Red Army and its allies, workers on the home front, as well as French resistance fighters, members of resistance groups in Yugoslavia and Italy, Greece and Bulgaria and underground units in Slovakia and Belgium performed their feats of bravery.

Art plays an important role in keeping alive the memories of wars - it alone can reflect the facts and events of an era and spiritually transform, prevent and forewarn. The work of these artists, poets, writers, film makers and photographers is the symbiosis of documentary evidence and spiritual consolidation of sensations and emotions, the symbiosis of the truth of reality and the truth of art.

In this issue the reader is certain to encounter familiar names and references to familiar works of enduring value: this is true both for the prominent Russian artists and the galaxy of their outstanding Western counterparts.

Dmitry BELYUKIN. Georgy Zhukov. 2015
Oil on canvas. 150 × 100 cm

Art and war, art on the frontline: these notions do not go together naturally on logical grounds. Let's remind ourselves of the distant past, the works of great artists from across the world, the tragic narratives and symbols of suffering and horror in the etchings of Jacques Callot and Francisco Goya, the compositions of Vasily Vereshchagin and Salvador Dali, Alexander Deineka and Pablo Picasso, the sculptures of Henry Moore and Ernst Neizvestny, Yevgeny Vuchetich and Vera Mukhina, the paintings of Ernst Fuchs and Mikhail Savitsky, Yevsei Moiseenko, Renato Guttuso and Renzo Orvieto.

Аlexander DEINEKA. The Defence of Sevastopol. 1942
Oil on canvas. 200 × 400 cm. © Russian Museum

It would be sufficient to remind readers about just a handful of widely known works of the great Soviet 20th century masters: Irakli Toidze's poster &ldquoMotherland is Calling!" paintings such as Alexander Deineka's &ldquoDefence of Sevastopol", Arkady Plastov's &ldquoThe Fascist Plane Flew By", Konstantin Yuon's &ldquoParade on Red Square. November 7 1941", Pavel Korin's portrait of Marshal Georgy Zhukov Gely Korzhev's series &ldquoTouched by the Fire of War" and the Kukryniksy's &ldquoWindows of TASS" (the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union) memorial complexes such as Mikhail Anikushin's &ldquoMonument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad" in St. Petersburg and the complex on Mamayev Kurgan in Volgograd, with Yevgeny Vuchetich's august statue of the Motherland.

In any such ranking a prominent place is held by films such as Mikhail Kalatozov's &ldquoThe Cranes Are Flying", Grigory Chukhrai's &ldquoBallad of a Soldier", Sergei Bondarchuk's &ldquoThey Fought for Their Country", Sergei Gerasimov's &ldquoThe Young Guard", Rezo Chkheidze's &ldquoFather of a Soldier", Andrei Tarkovsky's &ldquoIvan's Childhood", Yury Ozerov's epic series &ldquoLiberation", Elem Klimov's &ldquoCome and See", Nikita Mikhalkov's &ldquoBurnt by the Sun" and Mikhail Romm's documentaries.

It was only natural that when our peaceful homeland began to feel the pain of war, evacuation, back-breaking toil and bombardment, the first responses came in compositions combining music and poetry: among works that immediately come to mind is the thunderous &ldquoThe Sacred War" to the music of Alexander Alexandrov with lyrics by Vasily Lebedev-Kumach. Sergei Mikhalkov's angry satires and the Kukryniksy's biting caricatures stirred especially strong emotions. In no time, the era also produced works of art that would win recognition across the civilized world, such as Konstantin Simonov's expressive and heart-felt poem &ldquoWait for Me", Olga Berggolt's poetic hymn extolling the fortitude of Leningrad under siege, Alexander Tvardovsky's poem &ldquoVasily Tyorkin", equally admired by soldiers and workers on the home front, and Dmitry Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony (the &ldquoLeningrad") later came works by Sergei Prokofiev, Georgy Sviridov and Alfred Schnittke. During the war and in the difficult times that followed we lived to the accompaniment of songs whose lyrics had been created by soldiers of the Great Patriotic War, like Mikhail Matusovsky, Alexei Fatyanov, Yevgeny Dolmatovsky and Bulat Okudzhava.

Loyalty to traditions, deep-seated patriotism and pride in our triumphant forefathers are also the hallmark of the creations of many post-war poets: Rasul Gamzatov and Robert Rozhdestvensky, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Bella Akhmadulina and Andrei Voznesensky, Samad Vurgun and David Kugultinov, Andrei Dementiev and Mikhail Nozhkin. Alexandra Pakhmutova's songs to Nikolai Dobronravov's poems, the songs of Vladimir Mulyavin and the group Pesnyary, as well as the famous series of war ballads created by Vladimir Vysotsky. All these works were to stay in the public memory for a very long time.

This inexhaustible subject has been covered in many books and articles, its historiography in the field of art expanding continuously.

In an article devoted to the 70th anniversary of Victory, the art historian Alexander Morozov wrote: &ldquoThe experience of the Great Patriotic War found a crucial place in the heritage of Soviet-era art. And this is not surprising. There are two reasons for this. First, the war experience has continued to stir strong feelings in Russian society to this day, its existential conflux of tragedy and triumph scorching the people's hearts. But at the same time official interest in the subject has always been strong, since the state has considered it as one of the crucial instruments for cultivating Soviet patriotism and political stability in society."

Celebrating the 75th anniversary of the historic victory over fascism, we speak about Memory as a road of life, valour, heroism, immortality. In our consciousness the ideas of Victory in the Great Patriotic War and Memory of that war cannot be separated. The memory keepers are the participants and veterans of war, their children and grandchildren, the descendants of well-known and unknown heroes, and, of course, cultural figures.

With its long-standing tradition of patriotism, our national art has long been imbued with a sense of civic moral responsibility for what is happening in our country, for its past and present. And the first to respond to the fascist troops' treacherous attack were musicians and poets, poster designers, caricaturists and graphic artists, journalists - all figures on the multinational Soviet cultural scene who &ldquoplaced the pen on the same footing as the bayonet". Some of these personalities were familiar with, and learnt from the experience of their predecessors - those senior colleagues who had worked during World War One and the Civil War.

This torch was picked up by post-war poster artists such as Oleg Savostyuk, Boris Uspensky, Miron Lukianov and Yevgeny Kazhdan. For all the diversity of their aesthetic platforms and for all the individual variations in their styles, their works highlighting the fortitude and courage, suffering and hope of the homeland's defenders on the frontline and on the home front share something in common - an emotional involvement in their nation's destiny, a sense of spiritual uplift, an exemplary style.

The posters and paintings, drawings from nature, compositions in oil and sculptures created by artists of different generations, both those who experienced wartime privations and those whose careers began after the war - these works are priceless artistic accounts drawn from an unfading memory. Their creations formed a chronicle reflecting deep inward responses to that heroic era.

Such works that have left an indelible mark in the history of art include Viktor Koretsky's poster &ldquoRed Army Soldier, Save Us!", Boris Yefimov's caricatures, Vera Mukhina's statues of war heroes, paintings such as Sergei Gerasimov's &ldquoPartisan's Mother" and Alexander Laktionov's &ldquoLetter from the Front". The global treasure trove of art became enriched with such works as the Kukryniksy's &ldquoThe End of Hitler", Mikhail Savitsky's &ldquoPartisan Madonna", the artist-brothers Alexei and Sergei Tkachev's &ldquoChildren of the War", Viktor Ivanov's &ldquoThe Family. 1945", Andrei Mylnikov's Spanish triptych and compositions &ldquoThe Oath of the Baltic Fleet Sailors" and &ldquoLeningrad. 1941", Yevsei Moiseenko's &ldquoMothers, Sisters" and &ldquoVictory". Art lovers appreciate Mikhail Khmelko's &ldquoThe Triumph of the Conquering People", Anatoly Nikich's &ldquoWar Correspondents", Viktor Popkov's &ldquoMezen Widows" and &ldquoFather's Greatcoat", Igor Obrosov's &ldquoIn Memory of the Ashless Burial of Husbands, Brothers, and Children. Dedicated to V. Popkov", Ilya Glazunov's &ldquoLeningrad Blockade", Valentin Sidorov's &ldquoMy Quiet Motherland", Tatiana Nazarenko's &ldquoPartisans Are Here". The pieces created during the war or shortly afterwards include paintings by Yury Neprintsev and Boris Prorokov, Igor Grabar and Konstantin Yuon, Boris Nemensky and Yefrem Zverkov, Tair Salakhov and Zurab Nizharadze, Boris Ugarov and Yury Korolev, Pyotr Kotov and Alexei Tyapushkin, Mai Dantsig and Tatiana Yablonskaya, Pyotr Ossovsky and Vasily Nechitailo, Ural Tansykbaev and Izzat Klychev, Nikolai Solomin and Viktor Makeyev. Works produced later include the creations of Sergei Prisekin, Vasily Nesterenko, Alexander Sytov, Nikolai Borovskoy, Nikolai Kolupaev, Yury Kalyuta, Viktor Kalinin, Pyotr Stronsky, Dmitry Bilyukin and many others.

Tair SALAKHOV. The Artist Boris Yefimov. 2006
Oil on canvas. 145 × 100 cm. Property of the artist

Particularly noteworthy are the impressive monumental complexes created by Yevgeny Vuchetich, Lev Kerbel, Matvei Manizer, Nikolai Tomsky and Zurab Tsereteli, as well as the sculptures of Grigory Yastrebenetsky, Vladimir Tsigal and Viktor Tsigal, Daniel Mitlyansky, Anatoly Bichukov, Alexander Burganov, Oleg Komov, Yury Chernov, Alexander Rukavishnikov, Mikhail Pereyaslavets, Andrei Balashov, Andrei Kovalchuk, Salavat Shcherbakov and Valdimir Gorevoi. The theme of war is highlighted in the graphic works of Alexei Kravchenko, Georgy Vereisky, Alexander Pakhomov, Nikolai Blagovolin, Georgy Poplavsky, Vladimir Kurdov, Mai Miturich, Ivan Bruni, Vyacheslav Zhelvakov, Nikolai Korotkov. Those works mentioned are only an incomplete selection of the most noteworthy pieces of art, landmarks that chronicle the heroic exploits of the nations of the Soviet Union on their path to Victory.

In today's world we are confronted with new risks of environmental, economic, political and revanchist nature. We all are responsible for the future of the civilization on our planet, no matter what our political beliefs and leanings, religious affiliations and race may be.

The 75th anniversary of the Great Victory is not just an occasion for celebration but a momentous landmark in human history that binds us together across the decades and generations and prevents people from being turned into robots that are incapable of feeling and contributing to the store of universal, humanistic values.

Tatiana YABLONSKAYA. Grain. 1949
Oil on canvas. 201 × 370 cm. © Tretyakov Gallery

What was the role of Konstantin Rokossovsky during WW1? - History

By Arnold Blumberg

Prior to the Russo-Finnish War, problems were already setting in for Russia and Germany. The hugely cynical German-Soviet nonaggression pact, concluded in August 1939, assigned the Baltic region of eastern Europe to the exclusive sphere of influence of Communist Russia. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin immediately embarked on a program to annex traditionally Russian-dominated territory in the area, including Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, to serve as an obstacle to any potential German invasion of the Soviet Union. With good reason, Stalin did not trust Nazi strongman Adolf Hitler to keep his word one second longer than Hitler thought expedient.

The Soviet leader feared that his pro-German—or at least anti-Russian—neighbor to the north, Finland, would join Germany in an assault on Russia. As a result, he demanded that the Russians be allowed to station troops in certain key areas of Finland, and that the Russo-Finnish border on the Karelian Isthmus between the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga be moved 20 miles northwest to create a buffer zone to better protect the Russian city of Leningrad on the extreme eastern edge of the gulf. In return, the Soviets would give up some worthless wilderness land in eastern Karelia and enter into paperweight trade and defense treaties.

The Finns understandably resisted. The consequence of such concessions by the Helsinki government would have forced them to dismantle their defenses in the territory forfeited to the Soviets, leaving them bereft of the ability to defend themselves against future Russian aggression. Determined to preserve their hard-won independence, achieved from Russia in 1918, and misled by the delusion that the Western democracies would step in to deter any Communist attack, the fiercely patriotic Finns rejected all Soviet demands.

An Unprepared Red Army

Responding to the unexpected rebuff from Helsinki of Soviet demands, which he viewed as urgent and reasonable, Stalin ordered the Red Army on November 13, 1939, to prepare for an invasion of Russia’s northern neighbor, prompting the beginning of the Russo-Finnish War. Like the country it represented, the Red Army was a colossus on paper, with hundreds of divisions and thousands of aircraft and tanks. A war with Finland involving merely mathematical equations would be a short one indeed. But much of the Russian strength was more apparent than real. In 1939, the Red Army was still an unknown quantity. Born in the Russian civil war of 1918-1920, a conflict made up of scattered large-scale partisan operations, the Army was untried in conventional warfare, except for a short, sharp conflict with the Japanese in Manchuria in the spring and summer of 1939.

Although one of the largest military machines in the world, the Red Army was hard-pressed to adequately equip and maintain such a huge force. By the end of 1939, much of its equipment was obsolete, but the need to arm newly activated formations prevented the replacement of old infantry weapons, tanks, and planes. Even had all the combat weapons been perfectly up to date, the level of training of Russian troops in their usage was below par, as was the expertise and experience to put in place a logistical system that could properly support large-scale military operations.

The rank-and-file Russian soldier was not all that bad. Some units were better trained than others, but none was adequately prepared for the challenge of extreme winter warfare. Only a quarter of the Soviet Army’s entire strength could be devoted to the Finnish war effort, at least at the start. Garrisons in Poland, Romania, the Baltic States, and the Far East tied up some of its finest fighting formations. Initial Soviet forces committed to battle would be around half a million men.

The Great Purge

By far the most serious and crippling blow to the effectiveness of the Red Army at the brink of the Russo-Finnish War was the lingering effects of Stalin’s cold-blooded purge of its officer corps during the previous two years. The paranoid dictator, seeing plots against him at every turn, had decimated the Red Army leadership in an attempt to quash any potential obstacles to his absolute control of the country. Internal threats were always seen as the most immediate threat to his power. The existing Army, led by numerous ex-czarist officers, was considered by Stalin to be the primary menace to his regime. Hundreds of officers were systemically liquidated during the ensuing Great Purge. Stalin’s aim was the utter destruction of the Red Army’s leadership. In this he succeeded totally. Anyone who demonstrated the least amount of initiative or creative thought was disposed of in an NKVD prison cellar by a bullet to the back of the head. Marshals, generals, colonels, and even junior officers and NCOs were shot by the dozens. To fill the gaps, officers were rapidly promoted before they were properly trained for their new and higher responsibilities. It was not uncommon to find colonels in charge of divisions, majors heading up regiments.

To help the new, inexperienced leaders, a dual system of command was implemented. Political commissars were appointed at the regimental level to assure the reliability of field-grade officers. This also allowed for divided command, which would help control potential enemies inside the Army. But the commissars were more than mere political advisers they had real authority over the conduct of military operations. Consequently, planning for military missions was secondary on everyone’s agenda, power and control being the primary goals. Much of the rigidity and snail-like pace of Soviet battle schemes could be attributed to the lack of unity of command, which permeated down to battalion level.

A Veteran Finnish Army

The Red Army’s opponent in late 1939 was a Finnish National Army of 33,000 men grouped in three infantry divisions, a light infantry and a cavalry brigade supported by about 15 artillery battalions, fewer than 70 aircraft, and a dozen French World War I-era Renault tanks. The regular army was backed up by territorial and home guard units. The most important of these was the territorial force, which when mobilized increased the Finnish Army to 127,000 men in nine infantry divisions. The Army Reserve had another 100,000 men, as did the paramilitary Civic Guard, allowing the Finns to field an army of more than 400,000 troops in 12 divisions of 14,200 men each. (A typical Russian division was over 17,000 men strong.) In support of frontline forces were 100,000 women of the Lotta Svard, or Women’s Auxiliary Army. In addition, small numbers of cavalry and Jaegers, acting as elite light infantry, the latter moving by bicycle, could be employed. Field artillery was chiefly 77mm field guns supplemented by 122mm howitzers. Heavy artillery consisted of 105mm and 107mm pieces, but there were few of these in the Finns’ arsenal. All artillery was horse drawn, and each battery held between four and six pieces.

In contrast to their Russian counterparts, many Finnish officers were veterans of World War I and the Finnish War of Independence. They were drawn from the aristocracy and thus were very anti-communist, and they typically led from the front. Finnish enlisted men were also very capable. Most were comfortable in winter conditions, could navigate through thick forests, and were crack marksmen. Along with an experienced, dedicated officer corps and committed frontline troops, the Finns were fortunate to have an Army commander who inspired confidence as well as providing unity of command. Born in 1867, Baron Carl Gustav Mannerheim was a Swedish-Finnish nobleman and career soldier who at the age of 19 had gone AWOL from a Finnish cadet program and joined the Imperial Russian Army, where he served with distinction during the Russo-Japanese War and World War I.

When Russia fell into revolutionary chaos in November 1917, Mannerheim returned to Finland and assumed leadership of the Finnish anti-Bolshevik military forces. Under his command, the Finnish Communists and their Russian supporters were crushed, and Finland obtained her independence from Russia. But after 1919, Mannerheim spent much of his time dabbling in right-wing politics. From 1931 to 1939, he was chairman of the country’s Defense Council. Favoring a policy of conciliation toward Stalin, he was nonetheless appointed commander of the nation’s military when war with Russia appeared imminent.

The Three Fronts of the Russo-Finnish War

Operations during the Russo-Finnish War would be divided among three distinct geographical areas: the Karelian Isthmus, the region immediately north of Lake Ladoga, and the area farther north of the lake. By far the most important front was the Karelian Isthmus north of Leningrad. Its open fields and partly cultivated woodlands made the topography conducive to large-scale mechanized maneuvers. A sprawling network of lakes, the isthmus was initially an obstacle, but once the lakes froze in mid-December, they became clear terrain. The isthmus, 65 miles across at its widest point, was protected by a Finnish defensive position known as the Mannerheim Line. The area located to the north of Lake Ladoga, called by the Finns Ladoga-Karelia, was a region less well developed and more heavily forested than the isthmus. With few major roads, that part of the country was best traversed on numerous logging trails that were mutually supportable. A successful thrust through this area could result in the outflanking of the Mannerheim Line.

World War Two, 17th January 1940, Finland, A long line of Soviet tanks captured by the Finnish army on the Suomussalmi front.

North of Ladoga-Karelia, the roads became scarcer and the forest even more impenetrable. Only a handful of rough paths traversed the central part of Finland, although communications improved as one proceeded west. What passed for roads in the country’s midsection were so far apart that Russian forces moving on parallel routes could not support one another. Worse, the poor roads could not handle heavy traffic and barely managed to support the movements of single Russian divisions traveling along them.

The most important objective for the Russians was the capture of the town of Viipuri at the northwestern corner of the isthmus. With the town’s vital road network in hand, the Soviets would have an easy pathway by which to penetrate into the populated western and northern portions of Finland. Soviet strategy for the prosecution of the war was to advance along the entire Finnish border in overwhelming strength, pushing the enemy hard from eight different directions by means of a coordinated westward advance. This would allow the Russians to hammer the Mannerheim Line from both front and rear. In the north, the plan was for the Murmansk-based Fourteenth Army (three mediocre infantry divisions with attached armor) to occupy the Lapland port of Petsamo and take the town of Oulu on the Gulf of Bothnia. With that accomplished, much of the aid coming to the Finns from Sweden would be blocked.

The midsection of Finland was to be attacked by Ninth Army, five rifle divisions along with a motley assortment of armored units, which would move westward to take as many of the Finns’ communications centers as possible, thus cutting the country in two. In the Ladoga-Karelia sector, the Russian objective was to turn the northern flank of the isthmus’s defenses by circling around Lake Ladoga’s north shore and striking the Mannerheim Line from behind. This vital task was assigned to the Russian Eighth Army, which comprised six rifle divisions and two tank brigades. Facing the Karelian Isthmus was the Russian Seventh Army, made up of 14 infantry divisions, three armored brigades, and a mechanized corps containing over 1,000 tanks. Supporting these units were considerable artillery assets. This force was to breach the Mannerheim Line by frontal assault, take the city of Viipuri, and sweep west toward the Finnish capital of Helsinki.

In overall operational control of the Soviet forces at the start of the war was Lt. Gen. Kirill Meretskov, commander of the Leningrad Military District since 1938. Having distinguished himself during the Russian Civil War, the chubby, non-professionally trained soldier had survived Stalin’s purges and was noted for diligence, if not inspired leadership. He estimated that the struggle with Finland would be concluded in 12 days.

A Responsive Finnish Strategy

The Finns’ strategy was one of wait and see. They guessed correctly about the size and scope of their enemy’s thrust up the Karelian Isthmus and at Suomussalmi in the central part of the country and prepared well to counter the attacks. But they underestimated the power of the Soviet attack on the Karelia-Ladoga axis, which was undermanned by friendly forces. The end game for the Finns was to hold on until the West came to their rescue or Stalin settled for a negotiated peace. Barring those results, the Finns were determined to fight to the last man.

On the eve of war, the Finns established a covering force stretching 625 miles from the Arctic Ocean southward toward the north shore of Lake Ladoga, with Civic Guard and reservists under Lt. Gen. Viljo Tuompo. From the north bank of Lake Ladoga and extending 60 miles farther north was Maj. Gen. Woldemar Hagglund’s 4th Corps, consisting of two infantry divisions. On the western side of the Karelian Isthmus stood the Finnish II Corps under Lt. Gen. Harald Ohquist, with three infantry divisions and advance troops operating forward of the Mannerheim Line. To the east, connecting with Lake Ladoga’s southern shore, were two divisions of the III Corps’s two infantry divisions and one detachment of covering troops. Overall command of the III and IV Corps was exerted by General Hugo V. Ostermann of the Army of the Karelian Isthmus.

Slowing the Russian Advance

On November 30, Russian air raids on Helsinki, Viipuri, and other Finnish cities and towns heralded the start of the Winter War. That same day, Soviet landing parties from the Baltic Fleet occupied several key Finnish islands in the Gulf of Finland. The next day, Meretskov stormed across the frontier with 120,000 men, 1,000 tanks, and 600 artillery pieces. From the start, Russian columns experienced massive traffic jams caused by the poor road conditions, snowstorms, and token Finnish resistance, which reduced the Russian advance to a crawl or immobilized it completely.

Finnish soldiers move into position during heavy fighting in December 1939. Small but well-trained, the Finnish forces proved to be fierce defenders of their homeland.

Prior to the Russian attack, the Finns had evacuated much of the population in the border area and conducted a scorched-earth policy to deprive the enemy of both shelter and sustenance. Hundreds of booby traps delayed the Russians and caused many casualties. Single Finnish snipers were able to halt large Soviet forces for hours. Because the Russians were sticking to the few good roads, their formations were bunching up, preventing them from properly deploying for battle. As a result, the separate columns were unable to support one another and were exposed to Finnish flank attacks.

At the outset of the war, the biggest threat to the Finns was the Russians’ tanks. The defenders had few antitank weapons and little training in using them. Although Russian tank tactics were crude, straight-ahead charges, they proved effective in driving the Finns back from the border to the Mannerheim Line during the first days of the war. But by the end of the first week, the Finns had discovered ways to counter the enemy armor: logs and crowbars jammed into the wheels of the steel monsters, Molotov cocktails (gasoline- and chloride potassium-filled bottles), and bunches of stick grenades or satchel charges placed on tank treads all proved effective armor killers. Eighty Russian tanks were destroyed by such methods during the border fighting. Although as many as 70 percent of the tank-busting squads became casualties, there was never a lack of volunteers for the extremely hazardous, close-quarter duty.

Defending the Mannerheim Line

By December 6, the Finns had withdrawn to the Mannerheim Line, a series of 109 reinforced concrete positions covering 80 miles. Fronting the line were vast fields of barbed-wire entanglements, thousands of mines planted on all likely avenues of approach, and five to seven rows of granite rocks sunk into the ground to serve as antitank obstacles. The line’s principal weakness was the fact that its pillboxes were too far apart to provide mutual fire support for each other. More critical was that the Finns did not have enough artillery or ammunition to support the line. Regardless, when defended by stubborn troops and attacked by poorly led Russian soldiers not properly supported by artillery or tanks, the Mannerheim Line proved formidable and effective.

Throughout most of December, the Russians attacked the Mannerheim Line, first on the left flank near the town of Taipale, then at Summa on the right. The fighting assumed a familiar pattern: the Russians would unleash a heavy artillery barrage, followed by frontal attacks by infantry and small groups of tanks that followed the tightly packed infantry column in the open. Deliberate and carefully laid down Finnish artillery and machine-gun fire (the latter at extremely close range) would come into play, plastering the Russians as they struggled through minefields and barbed wire and sending the Soviets into headlong flight.

By December 20, the first Soviet offensive on the Karelian Isthmus had failed. Seven infantry divisions and two armored brigades supported by 600 guns and 1,000 planes had not made a dent in the Mannerheim Line. The cost to the Russians was enormous—thousands killed, many more wounded or unable to function in the bitter winter conditions that even the Soviets were not equipped to contend with. More than 250 Russian tanks were destroyed.

The Finnish Counterattack

On December 23, the Finnish high command launched a counterattack from the Mannerheim Line. Lack of fresh troops and blasting snow storms coupled with fierce enemy resistance brought the attack to a halt that same day. The Finns lost 1,300 battle casualties in return for a few miles of ground gained. North of Lake Ladoga, in the Finnish IV Corps sector, the start of the war saw significant gains by the Russian 155th, 139th, and 168th Infantry Divisions on the left of the corps near the town of Suojarvi and southward to Lake Ladoga’s northern shore. The Finns had not anticipated the strength of the enemy attack in the area, leaving the section badly undermanned. The weak Finnish covering force was pushed back for five days until Mannerheim sent the 6th and 9th Divisions to the threatened sector to prevent the vital communication center of Tolvajarvi from falling.

Stinging small-unit raids, followed by larger battalion-sized attacks, enabled the Finns to stop the Russian advance north of Lake Ladoga. Confined to the few roads in the area because of deep snow and hampered by severe cold and lack of food and proper clothing, the demoralized Soviet forces were surrounded by the Finns in the foreboding forests. Pressured by their unseen enemy, the Soviets tried to retreat or hunkered down in the snowy waste to be surrounded and mopped up by the Finns. The battle for Tolvajarvi cost Finland 630 killed and 1,320 wounded. The Russians sustained 5,000 killed, 5,000 wounded, and 600 taken prisoner. Fifty-nine tanks and armored cars were destroyed. The victory at Tolvajarvi secured Finland’s northern flank for the rest of the war.

With the Tolvajarvi front stabilized, Hagglund initiated an attack on the Russian 18th and 168th Infantry Divisions and 34th Tank Brigade immediately north of Lake Ladoga, between Kitela and Syskyjarvi. After two false starts, the Finns launched their assault on December 26, first taking the village of Uomaa behind the Russian lines and cutting off their communications. This was followed by an assault by two Finnish task forces on a 10-mile front along the Uomaa road toward the north coast of Lake Ladoga. The aim was to cut off the advance elements of the 168th Division.

By the end of the first week of January 1940, the Russian Ladoga front was in tatters, with supply lines severed and many Russian battalions encircled because they had refused to retreat, instead digging in waiting to be surrounded by the Finns. The pockets of trapped Russians were soon known to the world as mottis, the Finnish word denoting a pile of timber destined to be chopped in to convenient lengths of firewood. Hagglund’s attack had created nine such mottis, including Lt. Gen. Andrei Bondarev’s 20-square-mile Great Motti containing much of the 168th Division.

RUSSO-FINNISH WAR, 1939-40. Soviet medium tank shells Finnish positions at close range.

The Battle For Suomussalmi

As Hagglund’s mottis were forming, the action was heating up farther north. The Soviets had set their sights on Suomussalmi, a provincial town of 4,000 inhabitants located in Finland’s midsection. The Soviet 44th and 163rd Divisions of the Ninth Army were tasked with its capture. From there, they were to move on the town of Oulu, cutting off the country’s rail connection with Sweden. The 163rd was to advance on the town in two columns from the north and east, while the motorized 44th Division followed in support.

The 163rd moved slowly, its heavy equipment and transport forced to remain on the few roads in the area. Finnish ski troops slowed the unit even more by attacking supply bases and supply convoys in the rear. Nevertheless, the Russians took Suomussalmi on December 7. A few days later, Finnish reinforcements from the 9th Division arrived after traveling over a distance of 100 miles.

On December 11, without any artillery support, the Finns counterattacked the town, cutting off enemy supply lines and forestalling any possibility of a Russian retreat. The Russian 44th Division arrived within four miles of Suomussalmi on December 22 and was promptly blocked off and surrounded. On Christmas Eve, the trapped Russians attempted to break out to the east. The Finns adopted an elastic defense that lured enemy armor and infantry into the woods so they could be counterattacked by stealthily moving ski troops.

With the arrival of the 9th Division’s artillery assets, the Russians were pummeled by well-aimed fire. Their attack collapsed. The Finns then went over to the offensive on the 27th and destroyed the Russian 163rd Division three days later. Turning next to the enemy 44th Division, the Finns chopped the division into small mottis that were mopped up in turn. The fight for Suomussalmi cost the Russians over 30,000 men killed and captured, 43 tanks, and 270 other vehicles. The Finns lost 900 dead and 1,770 wounded in the grueling contest.

Breaking the Mannerheim Line

As 1939 turned into 1940, Stalin, disgusted with the war’s lack of progress, named General Semyon K. Timoshenko the new commander of the fight against Finland. Timoshenko’s chief of staff was General Georgi Zhukov, destined to become the greatest Russian general of the war. The Leningrad Military District was renamed the Northwestern Front, with the forces on the Karelian Isthmus reorganized into Thirteenth and Seventh Armies. First priority was given to breaking the Mannerheim Line. Armored units were concentrated in packs of 100 vehicles and ordered to work closely with their supporting infantry instead of charging ahead by themselves. Most importantly, the artillery was strengthened and concentrated (80 heavy guns to each mile of front), and better-coordinated barrages on enemy positions were planned to support advancing infantry and tanks.

The new Soviet attack on the Mannerheim Line commenced on February 1, 1940, with more than 300,000 artillery shells smashing into Finnish positions around Summa on the first day. The Russian ground attack was directed toward the city of Viipuri. Despite the new and improved tactics and better morale, one aspect remained the same: the Russians were still willing to accept massive losses in order to gain their objectives. These attacks, made by massed columns of closely packed men, were supported by air bombardment and artillery fire, followed by strong tank and infantry assaults. No matter how many men and vehicles were lost, the attacks would be repeated in each division’s assigned sector, up to five times a day, with fresh units thrown into the cauldron of battle.

The Russian advance on February 2 and 3 repeated the pattern of the first day, but was even more powerful. Fighting was fierce around Summa, with the Finns knocking out 90 tanks while laboring under artillery shelling of 400 rounds per minute. As the days passed, the Finnish strongpoints fell to the Soviet attackers. A week later, the Russians widened their attacks by hitting positions from Taipale to the Gulf of Finland.

A Finnish house goes up in flames after being struck by Russian bombs in January 1940. With only token resistance, Russian air power controlled the skies.

Finally, on February 11, the inevitable occurred—the Russians broke through the Mannerheim Line northeast of Summa. The Russian 123rd Division with its attached 35th Light Tank Brigade punched through the weakened and exhausted defenders after a furious two-and-a-half-hour artillery barrage and established a salient in the enemy lines. The Finns counterattacked on the 13th but were repulsed. That same day, a strong Russian armored column was poised to roll past the Lahde crossroads straight for Viipuri. Unaccountably, the force halted to await reinforcements, allowing the Finns to shore up their defenses and stop the threatened advance on Viipuri.

The Last Line of Finnish Defenses

The pressure along the entire Karelian front continued to increase. As a result, Mannerheim ordered the II Corps to retire to a position farther back from Summa, called the Intermediate Line. The new site varied in strength widely from sector to sector. In the area fronting Viipuri, it was as strong as the Mannerheim Line. On the 18th, another crisis brewed for the Finns as a Soviet division almost took Taipale on the other side of the Karelian Isthmus.

By February 24, the Intermediate Line was bending at several places. At one of the threatened points, Honkaniemi Station, the Finns launched their only tank attack of the war, using five British-made Vickers light tanks sporting 37mm guns. The Finnish tanks were routed when they ran into several Russian tanks firing much larger 76mm shells. Not long after the failed tank attack, Mannerheim ordered a retreat to the Rear Line, an area west of Viipuri where numerous lakes made for good defensive ground.

On February 28, Timoshenko carried out an attack on the entire Rear Line. He felt confident the Mannerheim Line had held for 78 days, the Intermediate Line for only 12 days. Timoshenko reasoned that the third Finnish defensive line could not be very strong—and there was no fourth line.

As March approached, the Finns hoped that the Isthmus Army could hold out until the spring thaw melted the frozen lakes and gulf, creating a protective quagmire shielding Viipuri. Aware of the coming thaw, the Soviets pressed ahead with their attack on the Rear Line on March 2. The next day, the XXVIII Army Corps landed on the western coast of the Viipuri Gulf. Some 30 Russian divisions, 1,200 armored vehicles, and 2,000 aircraft began hammering the Rear Line and the gulf.

Over 200,000 Russians and 25,000 Finns Killed

By mid-March, the loss of territory and of men—75,000 killed or wounded since the start of the war—had exhausted the Finnish nation. It was also obvious that no help would be coming from the Western powers. The Helsinki government requested and was granted a cease- fire on March 13. There was nothing left to do but count the cost: 25,000 Finns killed (about 2.6 million in 1939 American terms), with another 44,000 wounded. The Russians claimed 215,000 died or wounded. (Modern authorities speculate that the real number of Russian dead was 230,000 to 270,000, with an additional 200,000 to 300,000 wounded.) The Finns also destroyed 2,300 armored vehicles and 700 Russian planes

In the end, Finland lost the Karelian Isthmus and had to allow Soviet basing rights at the port of Hango. More than 420,000 Finnish civilians were displaced as a result of the political settlement. But the most amazing result of the savage war was that the Finns retained their independence. For Stalin and the Soviet Union, the victory was bittersweet. The Winter War had cost them enormous national prestige and encouraged Adolf Hitler to look ever more closely at an eastward invasion of Mother Russia—an invasion that would begin in June 1941, code-named Barbarossa. (Read more about the events and campaigns that defined the Second World War’s Eastern Front inside WWII History magazine.)

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