Suddenly and without warning, early on the morning of 22 June 1941, over three million Axis forces lunged across the Soviet state border and commenced Hitler’s infamous Operation Barbarossa. Spearheaded by four powerful panzer groups and protected by an impenetrable curtain of air support, the seemingly invincible Wehrmacht advanced from the Soviet Union’s western borders to the immediate outskirts of Leningrad, Moscow, and Rostov in the shockingly brief period of less than six months. Faced with this sudden, deep, and relentless German advance, the Red Army and Soviet State were forced to fight desperately for their very survival.
The ensuing struggle, which encompassed a region totaling roughly 600,000 square miles, lasted for almost four years before the Red Army triumphantly raised the Soviet flag over the ruins of Hitler’s Reich’s Chancellery in Berlin in late April 1945. The Soviet Union’s self-proclaimed “Great Patriotic War” was one of unprecedented brutality. It was a veritable “Kulturkampf,” a war to the death between two cultures, which killed as many as 35 million Russian soldiers and civilians, almost 4 million German soldiers and countless German civilians, and inflicted unimaginable destruction and damage to the population and institutional infrastructure of most of central and eastern Europe.
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