On June 22, 1941, Hitler’s Nazi Germany launched an attack of unprecedented scale against Stalin’s Soviet Union. The titanic clash between the two totalitarian powers would decide the outcome of World War Two. In the Soviet Union the struggle became known as the Great Patriotic War.
No other nation on earth would have been able to withstand such an enormous attack. Very few individuals in history other than Stalin would have been so inured to the suffering of their people as to pay the price required to repel it.
As the Red Army fell back under the weight of the onslaught, Stalin ordered a scorched earth policy. Wells were poisoned, crops burned in the fields, farm animals slaughtered, and entire towns destroyed. No consideration was given as to how civilians would survive in the blackened wastelands they had once called home.
Stalin demanded that civilians and soldiers alike be prepared to pay any price to keep him in power. The Red Army was the largest army in the world, but its soldiers were badly equipped and trained. To guard against the possibility of them fleeing from the enemy, battalions armed with machine guns were stationed to the rear of the lines of battle, ready to gun down any man who lost their nerve and attempted to escape.
With Germany’s eventual defeat in May 1945, Stalin’s power and international prestige were at an all-time high, but the Soviet Union lost between 20 and 42 million dead.