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Film Spurs Russia to Squelch Criticism of Soviet War Tactics

By Justin Ewers 
Originally published by World War II magazine. Published Online: May 22, 2009 
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JULY 2009 — A television documentary about the Red Army's enormous death toll during World War II has drawn a fierce backlash in Russia, where the "Great Patriotic War" has been viewed in recent decades as a time of noble sacrifice. The film, Rzhev: Marshal Zhukov's Unknown Battle, aired on Russian television in February. It tells the story of the little-known battles of Rzhev—a town on the upper Volga River—in 1942 and 1943, in which more than a million Soviet soldiers were killed. Along with battlefield reenactments, the film includes interviews with veterans on both sides, notably several German survivors who said the Red Army's human-wave attacks used Soviet troops as little more than "cannon fodder."

This depiction of Soviet tactics has infuriated many Russians, some of whom demanded the arrest of the film's narrator, Russian news anchor Alexei Pivovarov, calling him a traitor. Several high-ranking members of the Russian government have even called for a new law, based on Holocaust denial legislation in Germany, that would criminalize any reference to the Soviet Union not winning the war. Several legislators, with the support of the Russian prosecutor general, have agreed to present the idea to the Russian parliament this year.

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"It has become the fashion to smear the heroic deeds of the Soviet people and to defame the Soviet way of life," said Ivan Korbutov, a retired general who heads the Russian council of war veterans. "Such actions, orchestrated at the behest of the West to discredit our glorious past, must be brought to court and the journalists responsible punished."

Tensions have been flaring throughout Eastern Europe in recent years over some of the lingering grievances of the Second World War, but many outsiders are baffled by the furious response to the new documentary, which most observers consider to be fair and balanced.

"The name Rzhev should resound in the consciousness of Russians in the same way that the Somme does for Britons," Adrian Blomfield, the Moscow correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, wrote in a recent issue of the Moscow News Weekly. "This cataclysmic death toll was largely the result of Josef Stalin's disdain for the lives of his own men and of the atrocious bungling of Soviet commanders. Yet most Russians know little of the Rzhev battles because they have largely been airbrushed from official history."

That airbrushing, it seems, is likely to continue.


42 Responses to “Film Spurs Russia to Squelch Criticism of Soviet War Tactics”


  1. 1
    nikolai meisher says:

    It took 25 million russian lives to destroy the german invaders. americans cry about omaha beach where a few thousand died. we russians dont care about how many die as long as the interloper got destroyed and our country is ours. god bless russia.

    • 1.1
      Mark Espinola says:

      How soon some Russians forget, or were diberatly lied to in school about Stalin being Hitler's ally, when the Germans and Russians invaded and jointly carved up Poland into their totalitarians empires.

      In the Nazi controlled portion of western and central Poland the Nazi SS swiftly began enslaving and slaughtering both Jews and Poles. Poland as a free nation no longer existed.

      Russian communist occupiers in Eastern Poland kidnapped some 21.000 Polish officers and enlisted men, transporting into Russia, murdering all of them on Stalin's orders in 1940. An estimated 65.000 Poles lost their lives at the hands of the Red Russian invaders.

      While England's cities & air fields were being relentlessly bombed by the Hitler's Luftwaffe, Stalin and his Bolshevik elite supported the Nazi dictatorship's aggressive war against England & western Europe, with large quantities of Russian-based war materials, coupled even with operational support services to assist the Hitler's German war of conquest.

      While Hitler's Nazi armies invaded & occupied half of Europe from Norway to Greece, Stalin's communist hordes took over all the three small Baltic states and parts of Romania and Finland (stolen sections of Finland in 1940 remain occupied by Russia in 2011).

      Thousands of anti-communists in the three Baltic states were murdered or deported by the Kremlin's NKVD butchers to a slower death in Siberia. During 1940 and the first half of 1941, the brutal Russian Soviet invaders sent at least 350 000 people from Stalin's new conquered territories to the frozen Siberian gulag wastelands.

      Stalin's repressive communist empire would have suffered far greater losses or lost the war against Hitler's invading Nazi war machine without huge amounts of American & British military assistance.

      Many American, Canadian, British & other Allied seamen lost their lives while transporting massive cargo ship loads of vital armaments to support communist Russia's war effort against the murdering Nazi invaders.

      Even prior to the formal end to World War II in Europe Stalin's Red henchmen were already enslaving millions under their vicious system of Bolshevik hell. Today's Russian empire remains a corrupt neo-fascist dictatorship, which is a shame.

    • 1.2
      Boris Hayete says:

      The cost of 25 million lives is definitely a problem. The main reason the victory cost us 25 million lives is that the price of victory didn't matter to the government. Had Stalin and his clique spent more time 'crying over a few thousand', the war would have gone very differently, and might even have been avoided (we'll never know).

    • 1.3
      lenin chigbundu says:

      i watched the documentary on youtube about the soviet storm…how come you omitted the operational details about the finnish-karelia front in 1944…you ruskies didnt really go there or were the finns fighting squirrels in the woods?
      you chose to occupy the whole of balkan and eastern europe but left finland out of it…because they won their defensive battles against and wore you out so you elected to go an armistice…you knew they had better partisans prepared to fight you all the way to the arctic circle. when you narrate history tell us the whole truth…as you can see we are not exactly stupid…oh and do not forget stalin wanted to return to finland in 1940 but he was waiting for Germany to open operation seelion.
      as academic technicians we hate lies

  2. 2
    Michael says:

    If Soviet troops being used as cannon fodder is an issue, then it seems like all of the Soviet's history in the Second World War is off the table for discussion.

  3. 3
    david slk says:

    Tragic Russian fight performance stemmed from analfabetism or at best poor educated population. It has been improved partially, but disdain for the human lives is deeply rooted in russian society to date and that is why it doesn´t fit in Europe.
    Inability to look back and admit one´s own failure is another feature, who says the truth is traitor, brainwashed people rule steadily. Had Hitler wasn´t nut and exploited the fact that Germans were welcomed as liberators in the east, WW2 could be shaped in different way.

  4. 4
    Artur says:

    I wouldn't go as far as saying that the Russian population is poorly educated. Now American population that I'll believe. Why is it that every American idiot out there always thinks that if a person is from the former Soviet Union they are automatically from Russia or Russian. When you say to people that you're from the U.S.A. should they automatically assume that you're from Texas? Now if that isn't stupidity I don't know what is. Should I make a few more examples? Or do you get my point.

  5. 5
    Thomas Nye says:

    Poor, Poor, Artur. Sounds too me like you have an American Skeleton in your closet, or was it your Grandmother who had the American in the closet?

  6. 6
    saddened says:

    Russians have a deep soul to my understanding. Russia has a lot of sad history. This is part of it I;m sure. If they have survived this far through that much crap, learn from the bad and create better future. You have that choice I hope.

    If you really want something to think about, put yourself in the frozen boots of men of both sides who never knew if they would see another dawn much less their families. Was that a future/choice they planned for at their age?

  7. 7
    J. Christopher Murray says:

    Artur,
    I believe that david slk was referring to the Soviet population at the time of WWII. Certainly, later Soviet and now Russian educational standards were/are among the best in the world.

    The fact that the T-34 tank was superior to anything that the German army had at the time the invasion of the Soviet Union and the Soviet introduction of the rocket as an effective battlefield weapon during WWII proves that Soviet illiteracy at the time was not universal, although it probably was widespread in rural areas in 1941.

    I find it interesting that to counter david slk you felt the need to point to ignorance among Americans. As your own post indicates, the visitors to this site come from around the globe, not just America.

    The tremendous early success of the German invasion probably was mostly due to Stalin's purges of the Soviet Army's officers in the '30's to protect him from a perceived threat to his position.

  8. 8
    J. Christopher Murray says:

    nikolai,

    I have a very difficult time seeing how the banal delusion that was Nazism could have been removed from Europe without the tremendous contribution and sacrifices made by the Soviet Peoples.

    Damn straight – God bless Russia! God bless us all. If he does, we'll know it, by none of us having to go through anything like WWII ourselves. I really enjoy learning and thinking about WWII, but on occasion I feel a pang of guilt that I enjoy a subject that for the last generation could only be described as a grotesque nightmare.

    I hope that the reaction in Russia to this documentary softens. As you say, 25 million Soviet lives were lost in this conflict. I think that the the million or so who were lost during the Rzhev campaigns have the right to hear the truth regarding their sacrifices told. To me that totally out weighs protecting the image of Zhukov or Stalin or the Soviet Army in WWII.

    • 8.1
      lenin chigbundu says:

      contact on facebook under my name
      you have forgotten that poland shared territory at the expense of Rumania before the German attack in September..how come no one is talking about that or do we all have short memories…let us not forget that the poles wanted to negotiate with hitler about the danzig corridor and the british sent diplomatic soundings to hitler that they would be amenable to negotiations. what spoiled the whole thing was when ribbentrop read up a draft of sixteen points for the british ambassodor but refused to make a copy available to the poles because they had not turned up for the meeting.

      perhaps i will like to add that the polish ambassodor turned up to state that the poles were favourbly disposed to negotiations but he did not have the authority to sign on behalf of his country. that was when hitler decided to send his armies into poland…this time he had to explain to his general staff that he wanted living space in the east and poland would be the conduit to that promised land.
      you do not need to be sorry for poland…they did grab some territorial morsels fed to them by the Germans…when the time came hitler to have the danzig corridor, the poles decided to become difficult.

      • 8.1.1
        Colin Cook says:

        What nonsense. Hitler refused the Poles admission to the negotiations because he was concerned it would use up time for the invasion on which he had already decided. Have a read of Beevor. And I do feel sorry for the Poles – divided up by the two biggest butchers in history.

  9. 9
    Carl Kuntze says:

    I wonder how old J. Christopher Murray is. I was 10 and a half when Pearl Harbor was attacked, but was aware of world events simply from reading newspapers and magazines. Time and Life, particularly. Russia was left vulnerable by Stalin's nonappression pact with Hitler. He wanted his own piece of Eastern Europe. Much of the casualties were caused by human wave charges, and starvation. Stalin was just as nutty as Hitler. He ever caused the execution of his own generals, whom he suspected of plotting against him. I was in an argument with a Soviet academic on a train from Budapestt. He finally conceded that Lendlease saved Russia. When I pointed out The US was never repaid for it, he rejoined that England never repaid their own part of the debt.

  10. 10
    Krapotkin says:

    I opine, that literacy in the USSR by 1939/40 must have been around 90%.
    I suggest some reading of Cruzio Malaparte(Kaput), on the matter of the Soviet Soldiers technical ability and education during WW2!

    • 10.1
      lenin chigbundu says:

      i support your sentiments…the education system supported bilingualism to foster literacy…in terms of technical tuition, they were not too bad either…just check out the secret russian aircraft of ww2 and eat your bile dry. if Tuchachesky had been allowed to complete the modernization of the armoured forces for deep …… operations we would have had the kv 1 tank mounting a much longer 76.2 and another mounting the definitive 107mm…that was what made hitler decide to last out at stalin. he knew that stalin had the resources to bring off this development while his industrialist were just taking their time. this is something i would like all students of world war two history to gesticulate on systematically

  11. 11
    ralf64 says:

    Why can't people of Russia finally – after all these decades – addmit that their Red Army was relatively poor, lost millions and millions of men just because poor trainded soldiers, louse commanders, bad service and especially that one there in Kreml – Joe "The Victorious Luser" Zhugasvili.

    Remember this: without western aid and 2nd front (Battle of Atlantic), 3rd front (Air Battle over the Germany), 4th front (Italy) and 5th front (France) Soviet Union couldn't have kept germans much longer. The population ratio was 2:1 for Soviet but their loss ratio was 1:4 or even worse. So without west Soviet Union would have lost that war. You know it are you mentally ready to addmit it also?

    • 11.1
      lenin chigbundu says:

      these are the facts…most of the divisons that fought on the eastern front were rested in the west or south to refit, rest and retrain wtih new equipment. stalin knew this and presurised churchill to open a second front. the americans knew as much and made it clear that they would only support the opening of a second front. chruchill just as the coward that he is wanted the second front to enguf the whole of the balkan peninsula with the SOE doing most of the dirty work and the balkan peoples suffering as result
      while hitler placed thirty divisions in france with most of them understrength, he maintained almost two hundred divisions on the eastern front continually.
      when the battle of the bulge pricked churchill he picked up the phone with lips quivering in the cold to petition Uncle jOE to open the floodgates of the eastern front for him.

      • 11.1.1
        Colin Cook says:

        Churchill may have been a lot of things but he was no coward….have a look at his African adventures….as for lips quivering, you were there were you? And this was Uncle Joe the Butcher was it?

  12. 12
    Nikitn says:

    First of all, try using your brains. morons.

    10.8 million Soviet soldiers were killed. Of those 3,9 million died in Nazi camps.

    Combat losses were around 6.9 million.

    The axis lost 5.2 million men in the east, 4,2 million of them being combat losses.

    That makes for a KDR of 1.4:1

    OK?

    • 12.1
      Colin Cook says:

      Not by my maths. It's either 10.8 v 5.2 or 6.9 v 4.2. Neither seems to be 1.4:1.

  13. 13
    Mark Espinola says:

    Stalin could have cared less for his own troops and the millions suffering under his brutal communist dictatorship, plus the fact he actually trusted the other monster, Hitler.

  14. 14
    Roger says:

    Lend lease helped, but Russia won the war in the east by simply outfighting the Germans.

  15. 15
    Russian says:

    \\ The tremendous early success of the German invasion probably was mostly due to Stalin's purges of the Soviet Army's officers \\

    And what about tremendous success of Germans in France, Poland etc.? Was it mostly due to natural stupidity of local officers, that no purge can ever cure? :-)

    Seriously, initial success of Germans was due to
    (1) they attacked first
    (2) they had a lot of experience, while Soviets had not.
    (3) Bf-109 Messerschmidt, base Germans fighter, was superior to Soviet's base fighter, I-16. So, Germans dominated Air.

    As for anti-Stalin stuff, is just post-war propaganda.

    • 15.1
      Colin Cook says:

      Oh come on…..even the Russians have admitted he was a butcher of seismic proportions.

  16. 16
    Russian says:

    \\ Why can't people of Russia finally – after all these decades – addmit that their Red Army was relatively poor, lost millions and millions of men just because poor trainded soldiers, louse commanders, bad service and especially that one there in Kreml – Joe "The Victorious Luser" Zhugasvili. \\

    Because this is not Truth, but pure propaganda.

    One part of this propaganda are "russian meat waves" etc.

    Russian MILITARY losses, compared to Nazi's MILITARY losses.

    But propaganda usually compares human losses.

    Yes, human losses are true.
    Germans killed more than 10 millions of unarmed civilian population in Russia.

    This is something (besides propaganda) the West was always good at, Libya.being the recent example.

    But what it has to do with quality of Russian commanders and Joseph Stalin?

  17. 17
    Russian says:

    :
    Russian MILITARY losses, compared to Nazi's MILITARY losses, were normal (some numbers were already quoted here)
    :

    • 17.1
      L says:

      Why is it so offensive to suggest that Soviet loses were so heavy when the war started? Hitler broke the non-agression pact and took the Soviet Union by surprise. There's nothing dishonorable about being cheated.

      • 17.1.1
        Colin Cook says:

        There was nothing honorable about either of the butchers.

  18. 18
    Skip Keller says:

    Hitler and Stalin should have strapped on a couple 45s shot it out

    and saved 15 MILLION LIVES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • 18.1
      lenin chigbundu says:

      when shamir the chechen leader suggested this to putin…what was your own answer

    • 18.2
      Al From Maine says:

      A couple of .45's? Please be real. Adolf would have used a Luger or P-38 and Joe would have a Nagant revolver!

      • 18.2.1
        lenin chigbundu says:

        Absolute tosh! Lend Lease enabled the Russian Infantry to be transferred on wheels..the rubber..the steel..the ball bearings..the butter..all these came for the American heartland. You convenietly forget how the KGB came to spain to deal with the Trotskyist and the POUM party menbers…check up Beevor's book once again. Russia has always let its friends down..The Red Fins in 1919 and the Poplar Front in 1937. They never outfought the Germans..certainly not the SS…these camouflaged warriors always found an answer for Stalin's hordes on the steppes of Russia. It was Hitler who let them down. Many a time a panzer ace smeared the steppes with tank kills …even the Luftwaffe eagles continued to paint the VVS aircraft with swastikas in the air. You need to understand the basic Soviet peasant and what their psychology stands for. How many people welcomed the Soviet partisans in Poland, Hungary and Finland.?
        With reference to Churchill's adventures in Africa..why could he not repeat the feat in the Greek Islands of Rhodes and Ceres…because the Americans withheld equipment..showing that Britain has lost its position as a global power. Even Montgomery pleaded that there were no more men to field his armies. Had it not been for the colonial regiments and the commonwealth forces..where would Churchill be today..hanging at the end of a noose..at least Hitler would have made certain of that. The British always like to escape scotfree…when important matters are brought up..this willy warrior wanted to set the Balkans ablaze so the Americans would be enmeshed in a new war. In the end, the Russians won because the American trucks took their infantry from the bivouacs to the frontlines..jjust imagine Hitler had ten thousand trucks of dependable quality for his OSTFRONT..WHERE would stalin be today…in Kuibyshev?

  19. 19
    jim says:

    Hitler had eyes on the USSR; see Mein Kampf. Then he went into Poland first; why did he not go West? He needed to move towards his arch–enemy Stalin. And if the West had left him alone – what then? From Hitler's own mouth come words that spelt doom – 11 August 1939 and Hitler speaks privately with Carl Burckhardt (Commissioner in Danzig) "Everything I undertake is directed against the Russians. If the West is too stupid and blind to grasp this, then I shall be compelled to come to an agreement with the Russians, beat the West and then after their defeat turn turn against the Soviet Union with all my forces. I need the Ukraine so that they can't starve us out, as happened in the last war" Do we need any better explanation of the reason for the War? This is QED.

    • 19.1
      lenin chigbundu says:

      with stalins oil and minerals hitler prosecuted the war in the west…from the coast of france he should have turned back to head for the east while leaving the uk to recover. stalin the blackmailer had a good resource of oil for sale..hitler did not want to buy them any more…he just wanted to have it all for himself. taht is why he planned operation blue for oil and i understand his sentiments here.

    • 19.2
      lenin chigbundu says:

      If his eyes were for the east..why was he disturbing Czechoslovakia and Austria..and bullyinig Hungary and Romania? Are these countries in the West? Forget this nonsense of him trying to protect his flank..the direct route to Kalingrad could have been achieved via Danzig…Let us call a spade a spade..he wanted regional then global hegemony..the west could see t his and acted in spite of it. You need to understand the psychology of war diplomacy.

  20. 20
    R. Teerink says:

    The people of the Sovjet Union paid a high price to defeat Nazism, Without that sacrifice the outcome of WWII would have been different … The history of Russia and (USSR) can be read in the eyes of these people..uptill today…

  21. 21
    Mike H. says:

    As a former Sp4, US Army (Many years ago!), I was fortunate enough to work with a sergeant that disabused my opinion of the Red Army: that it was made up of peasants that had to be taught how to read first, and were issued their small arms by sending them into the attack with the instruction, "when you get to those dead men, pick up one of their guns." This was true in some extreme instances, but in other areas, the Red Army was as well equipped and trained as their German opponents…and, in some cases (Soviet Naval Infantry) far superior. The myth of German air superiority is crushed by the La-5/La-7, and Yak-3/Yak-9 fighters that gave Messerschmitt drivers a frightful surprise. The scientists, technicians, and weapons desighers were obviously of extremely high caliber and very well educated and trained. The USA and Russia really need to get to know each other…who knows? Maybe after 100 years we can stop this foolishness and live in peace again…something I'm sure every soldier on any side would think a good final result of their sacrifices. And one would have to be a bloody fool to ignore the atrocities committed by the leadership of the Red Army at the orders of Stalin, or Stalin's insane purge of the Red Army leadership just two years before Barbarossa, leading to the horrendous losses in the USSR and the seeming near-collapse of the Red Army in June-December 1941.

  22. 22
    Al From Maine says:

    My Grandfather was on the Eastern Front in field grey, he rarely spoke of the sheer horror of seeing Soviet infantry assaults. He spoke of seeing machine gun barrels melt on their MG-34's as the reds just kept coming. It just sickened him to think of it. Saying that such human wave assaults did not happen would be like denying the Holocaust or denying the war crimes commited by the Japanese. Do the Russian people also want to deny the mass murder committed by Joe Stalin? Acknowledge the mistakes of the past and learn from them

  23. 23
    lenin chigbundu says:

    Aye..Aye…that machine gun ripped holes through the stumbling hordes of Red soldiers…I cannot believe people would convenietly smooch clean this particular aspect of that sad episode…for this type of warfare was the GPMG designed…I recall one action on the eastern Front where Field Marshal Model killed about twenty six thousand Russians in one battle…the grim slaughter was the direct result of the GPMGs and the mortars.

  24. 24
    lenin chigbundu says:

    Consider the carnage of Stalingrad..how many Russian combatants perished in the ruins…just imagine the Germans had the Panzerfausts and the Panzerschreck..wtih their fully trained infantry and Panzergrenadier.. that city would have been taken.



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