German artillery on exercises in eastern Austria, then part of 'Greater Germany', summer 1941.

The assembly of the largest invasion force ever, consisting of nearly 4 million men on a front 1,000 miles long could not possibly be concealed. Nevertheless all manner of fictions were invented to explain the build up for Barbarossa, however implausible they might seem to those involved. As it turned out Stalin chose to believe these stories, even as he received numerous intelligence reports that a German invasion was imminent.

The fiction was maintained even within the German army just two days before Barbarossa was launched. Siegfried Knappe was in an artillery regiment on the border with Russia:

“Gentlemen,” Raake said, “study this map carefully. We must determine the best position for our guns in the event of an attack on Russia.”

We stared at him, speechless. We had a friendship treaty with Russia, and we were at war with England. Things were not adding up.

“Why would we attack Russia?” I asked. “It is just an exercise,” Raake said. “A hypothetical situation.”

We studied the map and, with Raake, determined the best positions for the guns of each battery. We then went out and found the positions assigned to us. It could have been just another exercise, but none of us really believed that. We did not have orders to move our guns into the positions, only to be familiar with our assigned locations and ready to move our guns into them.

This had formerly been the border between East Prussia and Poland, but now that Germany and Russia had divided Poland between them it was the border between East Prussia and Russia. The Russians had created a no-man’s-land on their side of the border by removing everything that was there in order to provide an unobstructed view. Then they had installed a barbed wire fence and sentry towers to keep watch.

There were no changes on our side; rye and potato fields, as well as patches of birch and fir trees, almost bordered the fence.

Schumann, Witnauer, and I were then summoned to Raake’s office again. Raake looked very serious and tense this time. “You are each to send a work detail of men in civilian clothing to load three hundred rounds of ammunition for your guns into farm wagons and take the rounds to your assigned gun positions,” he said. “Your men are to look like farmers doing farm work, and your ammunition is to be camouflaged after you unload it.”

We did not look at each other. It was evident that we were going to invade Russia even though we had a friendship treaty with her.

“When are we going to invade, Major?” Schumann asked. “It is only an exercise, Schumann. A purely hypothetical situation. But we have to make it look as real as possible.”

See Siegfried Knappe: Soldat – Reflections of a German Soldier, 1936-1949

He had been ordered to establish an outpost from which he could register the only road by which the enemy transport could enter the town. With a small party of volunteers he pressed on until finally with one other he succeeded in establishing an outpost right in the town, which was occupied by the Foreign Legion, despite enemy machine gun fire which prevented our infantry from advancing.

According to prisoners the U-Boat sank on two occasions to a depth of about 210 m. (689 ft.). The presence of chlorine became increasingly oppressive. There were still 50 kg. of compressed air available. “U 138” rose to a depth of about 30 m. (98.4 ft.) and would have attempted to torpedo the “cruiser,” but for the fact that everything in the U-Boat was flooded, and the pumps could not be made to work …

Next morning, the 17th June, the 5th Light Division set off at the appointed time [4.30am] and after a headlong advance reached the neighbourhood of Sidi Suleiman at 06.00 hours. The 15th Panzer Division had become involved in heavy fighting against an armoured force which the British had sent to parry the danger menacing their army. But it soon reached is objective. Great numbers of destroyed British tanks littered the country through which the two divisions had passed.

Strong tides of emotion, fierce surges of passion, sweep the broad expanses of the Union in this year of fate. In that prodigious travail there arc many elemental forces, there is much heart-searching and self-questioning; some pangs, some sorrow, some conflict of voices, but no fear. The world is witnessing the birth throes of a sublime resolve. I shall presume to confess to you that I have no doubts what that resolve will be.

The shot had penetrated the front of the turret just in front of King, the loader. It had twisted the machine-gun out of its mounting. It, or a jagged piece of the torn turret, had then hit the round that King had been holding ready – had set it on fire. The explosion had wrecked the wireless, torn King’s head and shoulders from the rest of his body and started a fire among the machine-gun boxes stowed on the floor.

Categories 1941

It was usually one of the quietest streets in the town of Tartu. But today people were moving about in small groups and talking furtively and looking very scared. And there, just before me, a lorry passed on the street. There were three uniformed men in it. An N.K.V.D. man, a soldier with a rifle and a militia man together with some ten or twelve civilians…men, women and children. They looked desperate. They had bundles with them. Everybody on the street could not help but glance in their direction.

Twenty aircraft of the Command were despatched to attack this force, which consisted of one pocket battleship (possibly the Lutzow) and five destroyers with air escort. One aircraft scored a hit with a torpedo amidships on the battleship, and a second aircraft claimed a hit, though the result of its attack was not seen owing to the smoke which surrounded the target.

On average, some four thousand people died each month. As the poverty and hunger worsened, tuberculosis also became epidemic and wrought horrible devasta- tion up to the very end of the ghetto’s existence. It was impossible to fight. Thousands of adults and children died because they were getting no fat, no milk, no sugar.

They were fighting for something that was almost as fundamental as self-preservation – for human dignity, for the right of walking among others as an equal. And since we brought against them forces much inferior in numbers to their own, the French could not out of sense of pride surrender at once.