Nashville, TN
I answered the following question on Quora and got a lot of attention.  I'm posting it here to mix it up a little.  Studying WW2 is a big interest for me.

"What was the scariest thing for a German soldier to see during WW2?"


I’m approaching this question from the perspective of what scariest for the highest number of German soldiers, all of which would be on the eastern front since that is where most fought and died.
  • Being deployed to the eastern front. The chances of returning home in good health from the eastern front were low.
  • The Katyusha rocket launchers - These were basically large pickup trucks fitted with racks to launch missiles. They weren’t very accurate, though batteries of them could kill just about everyone in a given area.
  • Hand to hand fighting. The Germans excelled at mechanized battle. They didn’t like hand to hand combat. The Russian’s were plenty comfortable with hand to hand and they dealt it out very well.
  • The little shovel carried by Russian soldiers, called a spade or entrenching tool. They were wicked hand to hand combat weapons and the Germans greatly feared them in the hands of a Russian soldier.
  • Toward the end of the war, the Russian’s had air superiority, artillery superiority and numerical superiority. The German’s loved it when they had air and artillery superiority. However, as the tide turned against them, they feared it greatly. The losses suffered by German soldiers in the last year of the war at the hands of the Russians are astronomical.

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Central Maine
The US military entrenching tool makes a pretty fearsome weapon up close also. What it does in dirt and rock it does even better in soft flesh used as a slashing axe/tomahawk. Or it did in the 70s, maybe they come with rubber (PC) blades now.

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Brian. Lover of SE razors. Maker of Krampert's Finest Products.

Central Maine
(This post was last modified: 03-25-2018, 09:52 PM by ShadowsDad.)
I have much more time now...

Question for you Pete, since I don't study ww2 in any depth beyond what I see on the history channel and such.

At the very beginning of the Russian campaign things were going great and a German soldier wouldn't have thought twice about going to the east. Correct me if I'm wrong, but as the supply lines got longer any resupply was made impossible when coupled with the winter and spring and at that time things changed and it became a nightmare. Or were they able to resupply? Where I'm going with this is the Germans at the end of the supply lines were screwed and were where they found themselves. If resupply was impossible how could new soldiers fear it since they couldn't be sent? I'm guessing that they sent new conscripts during the summer/autumn?

Pete, you know this, but that's precisely what Stalin planned for... the sheer size of the country. I understand that he had various defense lines and each got stronger as the Germans stretched their supply lines further. I think Stalingrad (or was it Moscow?) was like that also. Weak outer defense lines and as the soldiers pulled back the defenses got stronger and more formidable. Basically to lure them in. Very slick move.

BTW, when I was a child I knew an ex German soldier. I had a summer job as a custodian and he was one of the full time custodians. He had been conscripted as a child by the National Socialists (who he hated, but being conscripted as a child would do that to one if they weren't hated before that) at the end of the war. When the Americans arrived in his town he stripped off his uniform and threw his weapon into a pond. I wish I could remember his name, but I can't. It was over 5 decades ago. Like most "normal" Germans he was a decent sort of person, just like us but with a different language.

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Brian. Lover of SE razors. Maker of Krampert's Finest Products.

Nashville, TN
There are a multitude of reasons that things didn't go well for the Germans. Without a doubt, the absolute biggest reason is that Hitler was a terrible military strategist, yet he insisted on making decisions. Some of his early mistakes were failing to listen to his Generals as well as under-estimating the Russians. Plans had to go well and Russia had to be defeated quickly - before they had time to mobilize and get ready

The long supply lines and winter were definitely factors, though not the deciding factors. The supply lines were strained, but never broken. Hitler wouldn't listen to his Generals and focus on taking Moscow from the beginning. If they had been able to take Moscow, the Russians would probably have surrendered as communications and transportation would have been devastated with the fall of Moscow. Yet Hitler insisted on attacking multiple areas at once, thus diluting their power.

My opinion, which isn't share by all, is that the primary reason the Russians defeated the Germans is due to morale. Hitler didn't care about troops, only the extent to which their deaths impacted war making ability. Hitler wouldn't listen to his Generals, thus many German soldiers died needlessly. This had a big impact on morale.

Stalin, who was cut from the same cloth as Hitler, didn't care about troops. However, once he saw that they could lose the war, he started listening to his Generals. The Generals, with great support from the communists, supported the troops as best they could. The Russian people had bought into communist thinking, part of which is sacrificing oneself for the country. Conditions in the Battle for Stalingrad were absolutely hellish. While German soldiers weren't feeling any love, commissars were going out among the troops, building relationships, offering support, and sharing information.

Someone came up with the idea of telling the stories of those who sacrificed themselves or showed great bravey. The spin was absolutely positive. This helped people be more willing to sacrifice themselves. People wanted to have those stories told about themselves. Here is another example of commissar effectiveness. If there was a soldier whose courage was of concern, they would write a letter to his family. The family would then write a letter to the soldier telling him he better not shame the family.

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Central Maine
I'm glad I wasn't on either side!

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Brian. Lover of SE razors. Maker of Krampert's Finest Products.

Super Moderator
This is interesting Pete123 , however, from the reading I've done the Commissars weren't exactly as warm and friendly as you make them out to be. They represented the political arm of the state and there was a political unit attached to every military unit. They saw to it that the soldiers did their duty. Stalingrad was a good example of their impact and the effectiveness of their propaganda. Up to that point most Soviet soldiers preferred not to engage too strenuously and to fall back or even dessert rather than risk death. Stalin saw that this was going to have significant consequences thus the Commissars/politicos essentially lined up behind the troops and shot any deserters. If they were captured and subsequently released as was often the case because of pure logistics of housing and feeding prisoners, the released soldiers were shot on return to their unit because they weren't trusted and as a disincentive to surrendering. For further incentive any soldier who didn't do their duty would not only be killed, but their families would be killed as well. They were essentially dead men walking so they had nothing to lose by fighting to the death, maybe even gain some glory. The German command at Stalingrad reported unusually stiff resistance from the Soviets who until then didn't fight so hard. The Commissars also spread stories among their troops of German atrocities committed on Soviet civilians, women and children and not to excuse any of this and some of it was actually true, a large part of it was greatly exaggerated and intended to outrage the Red army soldiers. It was so effective that the revenge atrocities committed on German civilians got so out of hand that toward the end even Stalin agreed that the propaganda should be lightened up. At the end as the Red Army advanced the Germans in full retreat were desperately trying to make it to the Elbe River so that they could surrender to the Americans - a far better chance of survival. My wife's grandfather fought on the Eastern front and was captured by the Soviets. He never spoke of his experiences.

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Nashville, TN
I like this conversations Marko.

Based on what I know, the commissars weren't that bad, though there are bad apples in any lot. The bad ones were the NKVD and they were a rough and mean bunch.

The stories about harsh treatment of Russian soldiers and the death squads to shoot deserters have been around a long time. A few years after the Soviet Union collapsed, western historians were given access to documents which had been considered state secrets that have shown new information. The first thing to understand is that Stalin was a monster in the same way that Hitler was. So, he issued orders such as anyone captured that is set free should be put to death, deserters should be shot, etc... While his orders weren't ignored, they often were not implemented as much as he intended. Sadly, once Russian soldiers were captured by the Germans, their chance of survival was very low.

Morale was low in the beginning. Stalin, ever the monster, killed the best of the military leadership in the 1930's to protect his hold on power. So, WW2 broke out and there was no leadership and very bad results ensued.

The Battle for Stalingrad is a big focus for me. As it turns out, Russia sent a bunch of historians down to Stalingrad once the battle was over. These historians interviewed hundreds of people from the lowest level to the highest level. Historian Johen Hellbeck came across these interviews after the iron curtain fell. He wrote a book called "The Stalingrad Protocols", which was translated to English as "Stalingrad: The City that Defeated the Third Reich" I would highly recommend this book.

Reading these interviews allowed me to see the bravery, support from the commissars, willingness for self sacrifice, etc... that I referred to earlier. Stalin definitely issued an order that there would be no retreating from Stalingrad, that it was a fight to the death. Instead of scaring soldiers, the majority of them bought into the belief that the time for retreat was over. They were actually glad that Stalin made that call.

I think there is solid evidence that morale among Russian soldiers was good once they got past the first year. The number of soldiers shot for deserting is low, far lower than what was believed for a long time. I don't think that harsh treatment of soldiers was widespread. I've come to see that Russians were defending their home and were proud to fight.

The Russians had penal battalions. Rather than shooting deserters, they put them in the penal battalions, which were given the tasks where they were most likely to die. If they lived, it was considered that their honor was returned.

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Central Maine
If anyone wanted to live through Stalin they had better have written something that bolstered him. He killed millions merely for knowing someone or being a name uttered merely to curry momentary favor. Many never knew why they and their family died in the gulag. I would place little faith in "historical" writings done during Stalin's life and while in country. One must place such works in the context of the day and not place them in the context of the USA and in our day of free speech etc'. Americans have a difficulty to place ourselves in the horror experienced by the rest of the world.

Heck, just look at today in the USA where there is no such gulag and there is so much extremely obvious fake news that is easy to disprove. Imagine what it would be like if the gulags were to be instituted here. Any historical writings of the age would be total manure since there would be no one to publish the reality. Go back decades and that would be Stalinesque. I would more believe the Russian horror rather than the sugar coated version just based on the reality of the Stalin years alone and what it took to stay alive through them as a "historical reporter".

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Brian. Lover of SE razors. Maker of Krampert's Finest Products.

Southern Ohio
>>>>I don't think that harsh treatment of soldiers was widespread.

If you have seen the movie "Enemy at the gates" where in the beginning only every third soldier was issued a weapon and the the other two were just given rounds. That was really more like 1 in 10 go a weapon and the rest got rounds. Not great odds when you would be shot for retreating. But I agree they got better as the tide turned with pressure coming on Germany from both sides.

I just finished a book on the Battle of Okinawa. Having been stationed there - I wish I had read that book before going there so I could have explored many of the sites. I think that one battle probably made many of the battles on the eastern front look like picnics.

From April 1st to June 23 the toll was:

12,500 Americans killed
107,000 Japanese Soldiers killed
140,000 Civilians killed

Pretty bad all around.

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Super Moderator
(This post was last modified: 03-28-2018, 02:02 AM by Marko.)
While primary sources always have some value, I would take anything produced by the Soviets even after Stalin was gone with a grain of salt. I think if you try to read a diversity of sources you may get an idea or what may have happened but we'll never know for sure.

I found Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege by Antony Beevor to be excellent


Beevor has written several books on various conflicts / battles, The Fall of Berlin is also very good and I want to read his book on D-Day. I find its better to read books focussed on small segments of conflicts rather than the entire conflict - WWII is just to vast and complex an undertaking to try to get all in one read.

I just read Lost Honour , Betrayed Loyalty: The Memoir of a Waffen SS Soldier On The Eastern Front to try to get a German perspective. The author was conscripted into the Wermacht then encouraged to join the Waffen SS Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler or things wouldn't go well for his mother who had been heard making derogatory remarks about Hitler. After serving with the 1st SS Panzer Division on the eastern Front, in France, in Italy and back to the eastern front as a member of the SS penal Brigade Dirlewanger he was captured by the Soviets. Very interesting to get a soldier's perspective although again it has to be taken with a grain of salt as very few will admit to committing atrocities or being members of the Gestapo.


I may have confused commissars and NKVD but what I was referring to was the political arm that oversaw the proper conduct of the military arm.

If you haven't listened to any of Dan Carlin's Hardcore History podcasts I recommend them. The Logical Insanity episode is amazing and at only 3 hours long, its quite listenable. He discusses how western civilization went from war with rules in the 19th century - generally stay out of cities, don't kill women and children and non-combatants etc to dropping atom bombs on cities within 50 years and how it was insane but logical.

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