Friday, June 22, 2018

Hitler Moves East

While I am not a big fan of reruns, typically I do those when the Muse has gone walkabout, I pondered for quite some time yesterday as to what to post to commemorate the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany seventy-seven years ago today. So I went through the archives to see what I had posted in past years.

I was somewhat dumbfounded to see that in six years of blogging, I had posted but once upon this momentous event. Once. Five years ago.

Not exactly a record, is it?

That post remains one of my favorites. No way I could top that without a lot more writing and thinking. Some day I will extend the story of that German tank crew I introduced last fall to the Eastern Front. If you were a German of a certain age between 1941 and 1945, odds are you served on the Eastern Front. Odds were pretty good that you died there as well. Roughly 4,500,000 Germans died fighting in Russia, some 500,000 dying as Prisoners of War.

Yes, the Soviets suffered far worse, some 8 to 10 million dead.

It was a titanic struggle, almost inconceivable from a western standpoint.

Before hitting you with a rerun, I found a short film of the Eastern Front, gives you a picture, a very small picture of those days. One thing missing from the film? The appalling brutality of the Germans shown to the civilians they encountered, many of whom (particularly in the Ukraine) welcomed the Germans as liberators from Stalin.

Also note (and the film shows it) that many German units went into Russia much as Napoleon's army had in 1812, on foot, with much of their transport being horse drawn.



I don't know how many of you were reading back in 2013, but a lot of the new crowd hasn't seen this. As I rather liked the post, I decided to share it again. (This time there are sources for most of the photos, wasn't true back in 2013, I wasn't as careful back then. One learns.

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Seventy-two years ago, at 0315 on the 22nd of June, 1941, a Sunday, German aircraft began bombing Soviet positions behind the frontier inside Russian-occupied Poland.

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In conjunction with those behind the lines air strikes, German artillery began pounding Soviet positions along that same frontier.

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Shortly thereafter, German tanks and infantry moved forward. In many places overrunning stunned and disoriented Soviet troops. The largest military operation in human history had just begun, Fall Barbarossa, Case Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.

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This was more than a war over territory, this was a war of competing ideologies. A war to determine, in the sick, twisted minds of Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, who would have the privilege of enslaving all of Europe. A titanic struggle, the end result of which might well plunge mankind into a new Dark Age.

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Again, the roads were choked with refugees. The first batches of prisoners were taken.
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Soviet soldiers began surrendering by the thousands.

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The Luftwaffe ranged over the front and deep behind Russian lines. For the most part, the Red Air Force had been destroyed on the ground.

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Each day saw the German armored formations penetrating deeper and deeper into Soviet territory.

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But all was not well. While the Panzers drove deep, they were also bypassing resistance, leaving tens of thousands of Russian troops in their rear. The hard marching infantry, try as they might, could not keep up.

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And the Panzers were starting to encounter a new foe, one which shocked and concerned the Panzer generals. The Soviet T-34.

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Russian resistance to the German onslaught began to stiffen.

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Appeals were made to the Russian people to fight back, for Holy Mother Russia. To defend their families, their native land.

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More of the powerful T-34s were reaching the front.

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The Red Army was finding its fighting spirit.

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The summer was gone, autumn was arriving, the weather was turning...


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Winter was coming...

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What began on the 22nd of June, 1941, would not end until nearly four years later in May of 1945 in the ruins of Berlin. Literally millions had died. Millions more had suffered from the deprivations of war.


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The Red Army would advance into Germany and an Iron Curtain would fall over Eastern Europe which wouldn't be lifted until the collapse of the Soviet Union itself in 1991.

It had been a massive campaign of global implications. The echoes of that campaign still resonate these many years later.

Russian Celebration of the Victory of Stalingrad
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Original post is here.

52 comments:

  1. A brutal war of extermination that forever scarred the Russian psyche. Good choice of photos Sarge.

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  2. Just on the outskirts of Moscow you can still see the entrenchments that marked the limits of the German advance, and outside the Kremlin is a memorial to the 20,000,000 Russians that died in the war. I also remember going to the monument in East Berlin to the glorious Red Army who conquered the Nazis. It was a huge Red Army soldier - clearly Joseph Stalin - atop the ruins of the Nazi empire, and our guide, a lovely young Fraulein, was extolling the heroic Soviets. It was rather like being in the ruins of Richmond in 1867 and hearing a beautiful Southern belle extolling the brave Yankee soldiers who saved us from our selves.

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    1. That describes it pretty well Dave.

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  3. Hey Old AFSarge;

    I had posted something a few days ago about Victor Suvorov that wrote that the Soviets were fixing to invade the west, but the Germans jumped off before they did. It sounds like an odd theory but it does explain why the soviets were out of positions for defensive operations and the sheer number of aircraft the Soviets had staged near the border. Hitler had gotten a poor impression of the Red army during the "Winter War". There is a monument to the soviet seizure of Berlin in the "TierGarden" in Berlin that the old Germans called "The tomb of the unknown rapist". while I was there in 1988 with Field Station Berlin.

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    1. I read that, I also read Suvorov on that topic. While I wouldn't put it past Stalin to do that, I think it was just piss-poor generalship that left the Reds in a bind. The aircraft were positioned towards potential enemies, not much need of them in Kazakhstan. Also Stalin's purges of the Red Army leadership would have made an offensive problematic, look how poorly they did against the Finns in 1940.

      Suvorov was a Russian, I took his writings with a grain of salt. He wasn't there in 1941 and Soviet history books were loosely, at best, acquainted with the truth.

      Do I discount a Soviet move westward? Not at all. Just not in 1941.

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    2. I take Suvorov with a small grain of salt. There is more truth to that conspiracy theory than many other 'well known conspiracies.' Stalin's brutal purges of the Georgian people, the Soviet non-invasion of Poland and the subsequent murder of so many officers, ncos, intellectuals, politicians, leaders and priests, the continued attempt to take Finland. Stalin was on the move, and it looks like he was doing it in surges.

      Definitely something spooked Hitler about his 'friendship' with Stalin. Many plans for better planes, tanks, more mobilization equipment were cancelled after the Fall of France that should have been kept in the works if Germany was eventually going east.

      Maybe not the way Suvorov laid it out, but there's enough truth in his works to suggest something.

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    3. Hitler was always going to invade Russia. He made that clear in Mein Kampf and in many of his talks with his inner circle. The Non-Aggression Pact was always meant to be temporary. The "evidence" of an impending Soviet move to the west is on shaky ground. Later sure, in '41, no way.

      I'm not sure where the plans you mention exist, Nazi Germany was not organized, not rational, and certainly not forward looking. Most of the stuff you see in print is someone trying to sell a book, which worked not too long ago. Slap a swastika on the cover and mention Nazi/Soviet conspiracies and you can sell a lot of books.

      Hitler didn't listen to his intel people for the East later in the war, why would he listen to them earlier.

      I'm not buying the imminent invasion of the West by Stalin. Not in '41.

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    4. Maybe I've fallen too far into the pit of conspiracy. I will need to think on it.

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    5. It happens, I've been there, done that.

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    6. Hitler's intel people were very often wrong about Russia. Many of their assets had been turned, if they hadn't been executed. Too much of what what was known for sure didn't make into higher level briefings. A lot of "victory fever" played into it, just like the Japanese a while later.

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  4. And we also need to remember that the enemy of our enemy is just the enemy of our enemy. We need to be more careful with our strategic and tactical alliances.

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    1. We need to remember what Churchill (IIRC) said, "Nations don't have friends, they have interests."

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    2. I think that was Benjamin Disraili (sp?)

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    3. Well, also I've seen references to DeGaulle saying it as well. Another source says it was Lord Palmerston who said, “England has no eternal friends, England has no perpetual enemies, England has only eternal and perpetual interests”. Close enough I suppose, still a true statement.

      (Disraeli, for the record. You were close.)

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    4. Yes, William, I've learned never to challenge Sarge on matters of History. Those lessons were hard and painful. My Google search showed Lord Palmerston with the most returns when "nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests" was the search term.

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  5. I was watching a video on YouTube last night in which a Brit is explaining Case Blue, and he was saying that Hitler had wanted to occupy Moscow, and the General in charge countermanded that. One of the reasons Hitler mistrusted his generals.

    I had always thought that if the Nazis had captured Moscow the war would have been over, but then I read that Napoleon captured Moscow and look where it got him ;-)

    Yes, you wonder how history would be if the Nazis had treated the Ukranians - an others - and humans and not untermensch. But then they wouldn't have been Nazis.

    You really have no conception of how the Russians suffered until you go there - all kinds of monuments to the "Great Patriotic War" - in St Petersburg saw a huge mound where 100s of thousands of starved were buried.

    One historian said that the Russians faced 2/3s of the Wehrmacht, while the west had the other third. Don't know if that is true, but they suffered on a massive scale.

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    1. The bulk of the Wehrmacht was on the Eastern Front, may have been about two-thirds.

      As to Moscow, in 1812 it wasn't as important as it was in 1941. Russians would have probably fought on even if Moscow had fallen, they're stubborn bastiges. But Moscow was an important communications hub in 1941.

      In 1812 it wasn't even the primary capital of Russia, the Czar preferred St. Petersburg.

      Invading Russia was a stupid move, but like you said, Hitler wouldn't have been Hitler if he hadn't!

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  6. An accurate reading of the German planning and deliberations culmination in the final order for Operation Barbarossa showed that the objective was not the capture of any particular cities but the destruction of the Red Army as a cohesive fighting force west of the Dnepr and Dvina Rivers. The increasingly effective and tenacious resistance by the Red Army around Yelnya/Smolensk later in the summer of 1941 demonstrated, however faintly it might have seemed at the time, the the Germans had failed to achieve their primary objective....

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    1. As the campaign went on, the infantry just couldn't keep up with the panzers, which left all sorts of Russians in the rear. The Russians may have been disorganized early on and a bit disheartened, but Russians eventually fight back like cornered wildcats.

      Tough bastiges!

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  7. Culmination=culminating. Grrr....

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  8. Okay, boss. Did Blogger eat two of my earlier comments?

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    1. I see three comments before this one. It's possible Blogger ate them, I checked in the filter, they weren't trapped there. (Unless those online casino comments were yours. 😉)

      Blogger will eat comments, it ate one of mine earlier in the week.

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  9. There are two countries ( besides the U.S., of course ) that only fools would invade: Russia and China.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

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  10. https://youtu.be/FQdjGJJktfk
    a very interesting vid on the background of Barbarossa...

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    1. That guy produces some pretty good videos on historical events.

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  11. The photo of the Landser throwing the grenade is the image that comes to my mind when I think Ostfront.

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    1. I'm pretty sure that picture was used as the cover art in an old board game on WWII.

      It's one of those images that can be called iconic.

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    2. Squad Leader used a variant of that image. And other games at least. Cross of Iron, the supplement to SL, also used something like that.

      Very iconic.

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    3. The German "potato masher" is another iconic image of that war.

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  12. It seems to me that the Russian troops cut off by the Panzers, while problematic for the infantry, were not the big threat in the minds of the German generals--the reserves the Russians could call upon from the east were. Many of the Siberian units that made such an impact during the battle for Moscow were well-trained and had recent combat experience against Japanese; unlike the surrounded units supply would be no issue either for those troops. The Germans may have thought that those troops were fixed as long as Japan remained a credible threat to the Soviet Far East, but for how long? Following Richard Sorge's revelation of Japan's "Strike South" plans Stalin knew he could safely move those units west--in time for the counteroffensive against Operation Typhoon....

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    1. The Japanese turning their gaze to the south probably saved the USSR. It was a close run thing.

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  13. One of the few things the Russians did right during the early days of the invasion was a quick and timely evacuation from the western part of the USSR of their locomotives and rolling stock. This meant the Germans could not easily use the Russian railways and had to manually convert the tracks to the standard European guage instead of the Russian guage--no easy task while trying to keep up with Panzer divisions. The Germans were critically short of trucks and scoured Europe for every one they could find; the motley patchwork nature of the truck fleet and its unsuitability for Russia's roads (such as existed) made even routine maintenance a bewildering nightmare. Even the Panzers broke down at an increasing rate and if repairs couldn't be conducted in the field had to be transported back to Germany. Draft horses for the artillery and supply units also suffered enormously under field conditions in Russia and many died; their replacements were the panjes--Russian ponies not really meant as draft animals. The only thing that seemed to improve as Barbarossa went on was the physical condition of the German soldiers themselves. Already in top physical shape they became leaner and tougher after the brutal forced marches needed to keep up with the spearheads....

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    1. This is why professionals study logistics.

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    2. Not only the evacuation of the trains, but of as much industrial plant as they could load onto them. It's absolutely incredible how much industry was able to be evacuated to the Urals and eastward, so quickly, along with many of the skilled operators, technicians, and engineers to set them up again and resume production. Sometimes under tarps and other temporary shelters until factory buildings were complete. The workers lived in worse conditions and worked hellish hours. Semi-slave labor. I call it "semi" because there was an true desire to do what was necessary to defeat the invaders, but it was backed up by immense feat of the NKVD and being either executed as a traitor, saboteur, or sent to the even worse Gulags as a slacker.

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    3. German logistics were from hell. They'd requisitioned trucks from all over Occupied Europe, but they were not made for Russian roads, such as they were. The vast majority, except for a few miles outside of major cities were dirt roads. With the need for relaying Russian railroad lines to German gauge, that put undue pressure on the trucks. Trucks that mostly were requisitioned civilian trucks made for West European paved roads. Those civilian trucks' suspensions weren't made for dirt roads, nor were they made for the deep mud which came with the rains. When it was dry, the dust from these roads quickly overwhelmed dust filters designed for a more benign environment. They wore out rather quickly. When dust gets into engines, it does bad, bad things. Dirt roads mean lower speeds, which means higher gas consumption per mile. Which the German didn't have enough tanker-trucks to get forward, not had they planned for this. In France, the Germans had often been able to scavenge gas from civilian gas stations. Those didn't exist in the Soviet Union. And Soviet tanks often ran on diesel, while German tanks ran on gas, so captured military stores weren't much help, either. It is extremely fair to say that Barbarossa had failed by the end of September at the latest, and possibly by the end of July. The only hope the Germans had was wiping out the Soviet armies west of the Dvina and Dniepr rivers, but they failed in that. Alternatively, if they'd lunged for Moscow in September instead of Kiev and provoked a collapse of the government since panic is contagious? I've doubts about since the Communists were at least as bloody-minded and ruthless as the Nazis. The Nazis fought to very nearly the bitter end, and I don't doubt the Communists would've, too. Especially since German lines were porous and word was escaping from the very beginning of what they were doing behind their lines...

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    4. It's amazing the Germans were able to advance as far and as fast as they did, all told. They had a spare parts nightmare to deal with, and the generals were reduced to begging Hitler to release 50 or 100 tank engines to repair damaged tanks in September, 1941.

      I have often found it a slight comfort that true Evil is marred by greater irrationality than Goodness is. Communism was slightly more rational than Nazism, possibly explaining its survival into 1942, but not as rational as liberty/capitalism which supplied a lot of (most importantly) trucks, and also tanks, aircraft, food, and oil to sustain it as it supplied lives in extra large measure.

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    5. The German Army which went into Russia in 1941 wasn't all that different from the French Army that went in in 1812. Most of the German Army was on foot or horse drawn. The wagons were better, pneumatic tires last longer than iron-bound wood, the guns were larger and better, and of course the weapons of the individual soldiers were far better. But most of the Fritzes got to the outskirts of Moscow the same as the Pierres, on foot or on horseback.

      Railroads helped, which is probably why the Germans were still well into European Russia as late as 1944. But poor logistics doomed the Wehrmacht as much as they doomed the Grande Armee. That and winter, winter makes logistics tougher, all of that warm clothing has to be moved up to the front. (Soldiers on foot can't carry that much extra clothing, your average grunt will dump it first chance he gets.)

      Nazism was different insofar as it really was a German phenomenon, didn't really translate well to other nationalities, whereas Communism does quite readily, as history has shown.

      Seems everybody knew what the Germans were doing behind their lines, except the German villages near the camps back home. Yeah, I don't buy that either!

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  14. And the smartest of them all? General Winter.

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  15. A popular topic for speculation is whether or not the Soviet Union could have survived had Moscow been captured in 1941; after all, Tsarist Russia survived when Napoleon occupied the city in 1812. A critical difference was that in 1812 St. Petersburg was the capitol instead of Moscow; Russian prestige was injured but that only motivated Aleksandr I to fight harder. In 1941 Moscow was the center, but the Soviet government had a fallback position in place and while he chose to remain in Moscow while the Germans approached Stalin probably knew they would not make it. After the initial victories at Bryansk and Vyazma the German offensive rather quickly foundered and under men like Zhukov and Yeremenko the Red Army was recovering from its initial shock.

    I think a critical factor was Stalin himself. He remained in the Kremlin but had the Germans entered the city probably would not have dug himself in like Hitler did in Berlin; he would have grudgingly evacuated but pushed the Red Army even harder--a negotiated peace would not even have been possible until after Stalingrad, and Stalin understood that Hitler would have rejected any overtures even then. The possibility of separate peace negotiations with Germany were Stalin's weapon aimed at FDR only, to hasten a second front (I personally doubt Churchill would have fallen for Stalin's bait--the two men hated each other even if Churchill hated Hitler more). The bottom line is that Stalin knew what awaited him if the Germans were allowed to win as did his underlings--and by the end of 1941 the rest of the USSR was waking up to the fact that the Nazis were not the same Germans they gave into in 1918....

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    1. All excellent points Jenk, you've given this some thought I see.

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  16. During the war on the Eastern Front literally every river bridge in European Russia was destroyed by either airstrikes, artillery or engineers; it took the Russians a while to rebuild. One of the stories I recall reading from Operation Barbarossa was that when the Germans were crossing the Berezina River they had to construct a series of pontoon bridges; while doing so the engineers noticed a series of wooden stumps regularly spaced on both banks of the river. Nothing else, just aged wooden stumps that might have served a purpose at one time. It turned out that those stumps were bridge supports--the last physical remnants of the bridges Napoleon's men retreated across in 1813....

    And for those who like scary stories that will make you want your mummy there's this: traditionally the Mongols took great pains to bury their deceased khans in secret on the open steppe, but Tamerlane did not follow that custom. He had a mausoleum built for himself in modern day Tashkent and leveled a curse on those who would disturb it. The tomb was opened by a team of Soviet archeologists on--June 22nd 1941 (cue the Raiders of the Lost Ark theme)....

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    1. I've read that about the remnants of the Berezina bridge being found, seems plausible.

      As to the tomb of Tamerlane (aka Timur) being opened on the 22nd, it was actually the 20th. Barbarossa had been planned since 1940, cool story but hard to credit. However, the Soviets re-buried Tamerlane with the appropriate solemnity in November 1942. I've seen that that was "just before the Soviet victory of Stalingrad." But that victory didn't happen until early 1943.

      Cool stories but...

      Who knows?

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    2. OAFS:

      I presume that you have read the book " 900 Days, The Siege of Leningrad ".

      Paul

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    3. Yes, but too long ago, I might need to re-read it!

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