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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Soviet Storm: WWII in the East

I've been watching the documentary series Soviet Storm: WWII in the East on Hulu. It is a Russian documentary that has had the narration and some titles translated to English (the maps are still in Russian, so you need to pay extra attention to the narration). Overall, I would rate it as being one of the better WWII documentaries I've seen in a long while and would recommend it for anyone interested in WWII.

As some background, I don't consider myself a "WWII buff." Although I believe that I am fairly well read on WWII--enough to talk somewhat intelligently--I lack the extensive library and study that a true WWII "buff" has put into the subject. Most of my reading and viewing has, naturally, focused on the standard American point-of-view: the invasion of France, Battle of Britain, North Africa, the Italian campaign, D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge, the Holocaust, and the significant battles of the South Pacific. However, as my interest in WWII has grown over the last several years, I found myself wanting to learn more about other aspects of the war that are often overlooked in standard histories, including the war in South East Asia and China against the Japanese, the North Pacific conflict, the Soviet front, etc. While most WWII histories cover the Battle of Stalingrad, the Soviet front is largely overlooked. Thus, it was with interest and delight that I found Soviet Storm which provides a basic overview of the major battles of the Eastern Front. It is doubly interesting because, produced by a Russian television channel, it provides a Russian/Soviet point-of-view of the conflict.

Like a lot of newer documentaries, it relies heavily on computer animation of tanks and aircraft over using footage from the war. I would have preferred more actual footage, but the animation is pretty good compared to most documentaries. I'm only about half-way through the series, but I've noticed that as I get further, the producers use more footage, so perhaps there was a shortage of Soviet film from the early battles of the war.

The re-enactments seem pretty good as well, with attention paid to have what appear to be correct uniforms and individual weapons for the different periods. Also, the producers give brief overviews of different weapon systems, such as the tanks and aircraft, that figure prominently in the series.

One of the interesting aspects of WWII is that it was the last major war where the combatants enjoyed equal  levels of technology. Although one side or another gained temporary advantages at different stages of the war, it cannot be said that any of the major combatants had a distinct technological edge over any other--the aircraft, tanks, artillery, ships, and so on, were roughly equivalent for most of the war. If Germany had been able to hold out another year, things may have been different--of course, they would have also suffered a nuclear attack, so maybe things wouldn't have been too different after all.

It is also interesting because you can see the birth of many modern concepts of war, but there were still holdovers from the static fighting of WWI. In the early stages of the war, both the Soviets and the Germans seemed obsessed with frontal attacks on prepared positions. Although the Soviets seemed to learn from their mistakes, the Germans repeated this basic tactical mistake again and again--most significantly, with their offensive at Kursk. I kept wondering how the outcome might have been different if Rommel had been in Russia rather than North Africa.

In watching this series, it is clear that, other than the initial invasion of Russia, the Germans never enjoyed clear air superiority, and lacked any significant strategic bombing capabilities.

Neither side seemed to have devoted much attention to engineering battalions. There was no mention of constructing airfields, bridges or roads, as you would read about in campaigns involving the Western allies. There are many references to Soviet soldiers having to improvise rafts for river crossings.

I was also left with the impression that the Germans really didn't have any specific goals in the invading the Soviet Union. The initial invasion flitted back and forth between taking the oilfields to the south, or Moscow to the north, and wound up accomplishing neither.

 

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