Today in History, June 24: 1812 – A bad idea. Napoleon Bonaparte invades Russia with his Grande Armee, 500,000 troops from France and other nations under French control, the largest army ever assembled to that time. The Russians would avoid major conflict, continuously retreating while burning all resources in Napoleon’s path. This is important because in those days armies had to live off the land. Napoleon managed to take Moscow…but the Russians burned their own capitol to deny the French food, housing and resources. Napoleon had no choice but to retreat……in the midst of the Russian winter. But now the Russians changed tactics…now they raided the retreating French army continuously…by the time Napoleon finally reached Russia’s borders (abandoning his army to return to Paris), over 400,000 of his army had starved to death or been killed.
1941 – Operation Barbarossa. The largest invasion in history, ordered by Adolph Hitler, kicks off as 3 million German soldiers, supported by 19 Panzer (tank) divisions, 2,500 aircraft and 7,000 artillery pieces use their now standard Blitzkrieg tactics against Russia. Initially the offensive was incredibly successful, pushing 300 miles into enormous Russia within weeks. Hitler’s fellow meglomaniac Stalin had signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler, and had recently asked to join Hitler in his designs on world domination, so he thought his country was safe; and Russia’s air forces were obsolete. However, Hitler was ignoring history (never, ever, EVER, do that!!). Napoleon (almost 129 years to the day) had invaded Russia and been turned back by the Russian winter, in WWI Hitler’s predecessors had been ruined by opening a second front against Russia. Hitler’s fate would be the same. Russia benefited from an almost limitless source of manpower, and the industrial might of America, which sent arms and modern aircraft. Added to the Russian winter which Hitler did not prepare for, and defeat was unavoidable for Germany.
Being sent to the “Eastern Front” was the kiss of death for German troops who had gained disfavor with their superiors.
Today in History, April 13: 1941 – The Russian and Japanese governments sign a non-aggression treaty. The treaty gave both nations much needed cover. The Russians didn’t have to fight the Japanese in Manchuria, freeing up hundreds of thousands of troops to fight the Germans. The Japanese, likewise, freed up hundreds of thousands of troops to fight the Americans. FDR encouraged Stalin at Malta to declare war on Japan after the defeat of Germany. They did so, conveniently, between the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ostensibly after the war was over, invading Manchuria and demanding the northern islands of Japan for their “effort”.