The end of Germany's dreams of dominance: the corpses of three German soldiers killed in fighting for the city of Mogilev in Belorussia, liberated by the Red Army in June 1944, soon after the D-Day landings in Normandy.
The War Comes to Germany
After the glory years of 1939-42, the tide of the war turned against Germany at Stalingrad, and by 1944 it became clear that soon, for the first time since the Napoleonic era, foreign troops would tread on German soil on their march towards the capital of Hitler's Third Reich: Berlin.
B y the beginning of 1945, Nazi Germany's 'Thousand-Year Reich' was rushing towards its apocalyptic end, exactly 12 years after it began. On 30 January 1933, Adolf Hitler had been appointed Chancellor of the troubled Weimar Republic by President Paul von Hindenburg. After rapidly subordinating all political and military authority - as well as the social and cultural fabric of the country - to the dictates of his party, the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP, the National Socialist German Worker's Party) Hitler began preparing for a war, the likes of which the world had never seen.
The war was formally unleashed on 1 September 1939, when one and a half million German troops invaded neighbouring Poland. Within days, the superbly trained and equipped Wehrmacht troops had vanquished the illequipped Polish Army. But, contrary to Hitler's expectations, the violation of Poland's sovereignty precipitated declarations of war on Germany from both France and Great Britain. After eight months of bluster and ultimatums - the so-called Sitzkrieg (sit-down war) or 'phoney war' in the West - the Germans finally launched a western offensive in May 1940. The Sitzkrieg became a Blitzkrieg as the French were defeated in just over a month, and were forced to sign a humiliating armistice in the very same spot in the forest of Compiègne, in the same train carriage, in which the German empire had been forced to sue for peace at the end of World War I. The newsreels of Hitler dancing his little jig of joy upon hearing of the French capitulation, and German troops marching down the Champs-Élysées, were seen all over the world. Great Britain, protected by the English Channel and the skill and bravery of the Royal Air Force, held out alone against Germany throughout the rest of 1940 and the first half of 1941. But although they had had to give up their plans for an invasion of Britain, the Germans were in undisturbed control of most of Western and Central Europe. With Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Norway, and France occupied or under the control of client states, and friendly regimes in Italy, Spain, and Hungary, Germany could now turn her attentions East.
On 22 June 1941, at 0330 hours, mechanised Wehrmacht divisions, supported by Luftwaffe fighterbombers, poured across the Niemen River into Russia. The date had been carefully chosen for its historical significance. Exactly 129 years before, on 22 June 1812, an apparently invincible Napoleon Bonaparte had also crossed the Niemen to attack Russia. However, Hitler should have studied his history a little more closely; Napoleon was forced to begin his disastrous retreat only six months after invading, eventually losing 95 per cent of his troops to combat and the Russian winter. Although it would take longer, and cost even more lives, a similar fate would befall the German invaders.
German confidence in the early days of Operation Barbarossa: With German troops closing on Moscow, the placard, dated 2 October 1941, reads 'The Russian must die that we may live.'
Despite its having started late - the original launch date was May - 'Operation Barbarossa' initially made fantastic progress, raising expectations of a repeat of the B