'Images of War - Operation Barbarossa'

Some examples of the pictures in this volume from the popular series

The ‘Images of War - Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives’ series of books are very wide ranging. A multitude of titles cover all aspects of war using photographs from many different sources. Typically these books only attempt a very general background history to give the pictures some context. They contain numerous images, each with a useful commentary explaining some of the details.

The following are excerpts from Hans Seidler’s ‘Operation Barbarossa - Hitler’s Invasion Of Russia’ (2010). There have been several more books in the series dealing with the Eastern Front since then.

A 21 cm Mrs 18 on its gun carriage being readied by the crew.This heavy mortar large-calibre gun had a range of almost 17 km, the large calibre and its enormously effective fire made the mortar a very effective artillery weapon. Although it was hindered by its weight of some 16.7 tons it remained in service until the end of the war. It was widely used destroying enemy fortifications and well dug-in positions.

Here a 21cm Mrs 18 is being served by its crew prior to firing. One of the guns 21cm projectiles is being displayed for the camera.This weapon was the largest calibre artillery piece to see action with the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS.The gun was purposely designed to fire projectiles at higher than normal angles of elevation for long-range firing.

Red Army survivors recalled that they had been caught off guard, lulled into a false sense of security after escaping from the Smolensk pocket Now they were being attacked by highly mobile armour and blasted by heavy artillery. In many places the force of attack was so heavy that they were unable to organize any type of defence.

In total confusion, hundreds of troops, disheartened and frightened, retreated to avoid the slaughter; whilst other more fanatical units remained, ruthlessly defending their positions to the death.

On 1 August, Guderian's force launched his Roslavl offensive.The Russian force that was thrown in against the German attack was emnants from the battle of Smolensk. They were completely exhausted, short of ammunition and vulnerable.

The Russians tried desperately to hold on to the town of Roslavl, but under direct attack by seven fresh German infantry divisions, the defence soon crumbled away. Around the town a pocket soon began to form, with Germans bringing up greater artillery concentration, whilst Red Army troops feebly trying to break out.

Roslavl finally fell to the Germans on 3 August. Guderian immediately ordered a panzer striking force of three divisions away from the main battle to probe southwards and clear up stragglers from both Smolensk and Roslavl.

The battles of Smolensk and Roslavl was one of the swiftest as well as one of the most complete German Army victories in the East. Altogether some 300,000 Soviet soldiers had been captured in the Smolensk pocket. However 200,000 had managed to break out and fight in Roslavl and surrounding areas further east.

A 2cm FlaK crew preparing for action against an enemy target. A soldier can be seen with an optical range finderThe range finder was remarkably good at finding the initial range, but it needed operators with special aptitudes reinforced with constant training for them to keep track of the target during a battle.

A typical German defensive position in Russia. Although unable to sustain heavy systematic bombardments from the enemy these positions offered the men some degree of shelter from the rain and later the snow. Many hundreds of these dug-outs were built on the Eastern Front and were commonly known by the Germans as small houses.

Two photographs, one taken out in a field and the other in a forest, showing shelter quarters being put together by the Landser to construct pup-tents. This water resistant Zeltbahn could easily be joined together with one or three others to make two and four-man tents.

From Operation Barbarossa: Hitler’s Invasion of Russia (Images of War)

This excerpt appears by kind permission of the publisher, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, copyright remains with author.