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Warship Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022: Limping into Exile

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022: Limping into Exile

Original print with McCully report MSS.-AR branch. Naval History and Heritage Command Catalog #: NH 91178

Above we see Tsar Nicholas II’s once-mighty Russian Pacific fleet at anchor at Vladivostok, in September 1903. From left to right: the battleship Sevastopol, armored cruisers Gromoboi and Rossia, battleship Peresviet, protected cruiser Bogatyr, cruiser Boyarin, center; auxiliary cruiser Angara (three funnels, black hull); and battleships Poltava and Petropavlovsk. Of course, the following year would bring war with the Japanese Empire, and just about all the above would be swept away. 

Tracing its origins to the old Okhotsk flotilla of 1731, the Tsarist Pacific fleet would reach its zenith in 1904 and, just a decade later, was a shadow of its former self.

Here is the tale of how the Tsar’s final Pacific flotilla ended its days, 100 years ago this week.

1914-17

When Russia entered the Great War in August 1914, the renamed Siberian Military Flotilla included the smallish protected cruisers Askold (Krupp-built, 5,900 tons, 12×6-inch guns) and Zhemchug (3,100 tons, 8×4.7 inch), a mix of 22 old/small torpedo boat-sized destroyers, seven or eight early submarines, a couple of auxiliary cruisers (really just converted steamers), three minelayers, some random gunboats exemplified by the old Danish-built Mandzhur, and two new Taymyr-class icebreakers.

The flotilla was manned by some 6,000 officers and men, including shore establishments, magazines, and drydocks.

Russian protected cruiser Askold under repair in Toulon, Sept 1916

Russian Cruiser Zhemchug as part of the Siberian Flotilla

Russian Siberian Military Flotilla Ulysses Bay 1908 with the submarines Delfin, Kasatka, Skat, Nalim, Sheremetev, Osyotr, Kefal, Paltus, Bychok or Plotva, and destroyer Grozovoy

All-in-all, a respectable coastal defense force to protect its two key ports at Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk, both of which had a serious network of modern coastal artillery emplacements ashore. Further, this did not consider the 30 or so small shallow-draft gunboat flotillas on the Amur, Ussuri, and Sungari River systems coursing through the somewhat outlaw China and Korean border regions.

Its commander, since November 1913, was RADM Maximilian Fedorovich Schultz, one of the few Russian officers who came out of the 1904 War with a decent combat record as the skipper of the hard-fighting cruiser Gromoboi.

However, this force was soon whittled down as the war went on, with Zhemchug scandalously blasted away at her moorings at Penang by the German raider Emden in October and Askold sent into the Indian Ocean to search for Emden and then spending practically the rest of the war in the Mediterranean Sea.

Once the Ottoman Turks entered the war and closed off Russia’s Black Sea ports to British and French war material in late 1914, coupled with the destruction of the German East Asia Squadron under Admiral Maximilian von Spee leaving the Pacific largely safe, Russia’s far Northern ports at Archangel and Romanov-on-Murman (today’s Murmansk) would become strategically important to the War effort. This saw a lot of the Siberian Flotilla siphoned off to become part of the new Arctic Flotilla/Northern Fleet in the freezing White Sea under Rear Admiral Ogrimov.

Askold would eventually end up in Archangel, as would the six best torpedo boats from Vladivostok and the submarine Delfin— the latter sent across the Trans-Siberian railroad and then barged up the Dvina River, a trek of over 8,000 miles. The minelayer Ussuri, along with the shiny new icebreakers Taymyr and Vaygach, would likewise be sent to the White Sea in 1915, largely by the Northern Route.

The twin icebreakers Taymyr and Vaigach coaling from a freighter at Emma Harbor, 1913. Part of the Arctic Ocean Hydrographic Expedition under CDR (later ADM) Aleksandr Kolchak that helped chart the Northern Sea Route over Siberia and discovered what is now Severnaya Zemlya, they were assigned to the Pacific pre-war but would end up in the White Sea by 1915.

The Japanese, now Russian allies on paper at least, also retroceded (for a token fee) some wrecked old Tsarist warships captured during the 1904-05 War that they had rebuilt on a budget: the Petropavlovsk-class battleship Chesma (ex-Poltava), the battleship Peresvet (reclassified as an armored cruiser as she had been equipped with smaller caliber British Armstrong guns by the Japanese), the cruiser Varyag, and the auxiliary cruiser Angara.

Transferred by the Japanese at Vladivostok in March/April 1916, the first three were soon dispatched to the Med (where Peresvet was promptly sunk by a German mine off Port Said) within weeks and two would end up in Archangel by 1917. 

Chesma photographed at Vladivostok in 1916, after being repatriated by Japan to Russia. This ship served as The Japanese Tango after being salvaged at Port Arthur after The Russo-Japanese War; previously she was The Russian Poltava. NH 94326

Chesma, foreground, and Varyag, background, photographed at Vladivostok after being retroceded by Japan in March 1916. NH 94355

Peresvet photographed at Vladivostok in 1916 after being retroceded by Japan to Russia. This ship was sunk at Port Arthur in 1904 and served the Japanese Navy as the Sagami from 1905 to March 1916. Peresvet was mined and sunk on 4 January 1917 near Port Said, Egypt. NH 94791

Staffing these three large ships significantly drained the flotilla of manpower, leaving several ships laid up afterward.

Angara, in poor material condition, never left Vladivostok and served as a barracks and depot ship there.

Pechenga, a Russian depot ship probably photographed at Vladivostok during World War I. This ship was built in 1898 in Scotland as Moskva for the Russian Volunteer Fleet Association; was renamed Angara in late 1903 for naval service and sunk at Port Arthur. She was raised by Japan and renamed Anegawa Maru then served as a transport until and ceded back to Russia in 1916. Scuttled in 1922, she was later raised and scrapped by the Soviets. NH 92087

Further transfers of the rest of its submarines to the Black and Baltic Sea via rail, and the paying off of three worn-out torpedo boats/destroyers (Besposhtchadny, Boiki, and Grozny) in 1916 would leave the Siberian Military Flotilla in 1917 without any battleships, submarines, or cruisers and precious few escorts. Its two most powerful ships being its auxiliary cruisers. 

Orel (“Eagle”), a German F. Schichau-built fast passenger steamer with accommodations for 390 passengers built originally for the Russian Volunteer Fleet, was the Siberian Military Flotilla’s most fearsome warship after October 1914 and would remain so until she sailed away in January 1920. Mounting eight deck guns ranging from 47mm to 120mm along with a few machine guns and capable of maintaining 16 knots, she was classed as an auxiliary cruiser by the Russians. During the Great War, she looked for the German raider Emden, landed her naval infantry at Singapore to suppress a rebellion of Sepoys, and patroled from Hawaii to Bombay. She was sold after the Russian Civil War to an English shipping firm and, as the SS Silvia and later SS Haitian, would survive in merchant service until 1950. Image from Yu.N.Trifonov, A.E.Volkov’s “Marine collection” 2007/06.

Orel and her sisterships, the passenger steamers Poltava, Simbirsk, Pensa, and Rjasan, from the 1910 Engineering magazine

Revolution

By the time of the March Revolution that overthrew the Tsar in far-away Petrograd, the Siberian flotilla would number only about a dozen semi-active torpedo boats/destroyers, the auxiliary cruisers Lieutenant Dydymov and Orel, the 700-ton gunboat Adm. Zavoyko, the gunboat Mandzhur, and the 2,500-ton minelayer Mongugay.

On 29 November 1917, Adm. Zavoyko raised a red flag on her masts while in Golden Horn Bay, the first such vessel in the Pacific to do so, and the rest of the fleet went over to the Bolsheviks, becoming the Red Siberian Flotilla on 12 December 1917– with most ships’ officers and senior NCOs released from duty.

RADM Schultz, after a term in the brig guarded by red-arm banded sailors, was retired. He returned to his sister’s home near Luga, outside of Petrograd, and was later arrested in late September or early October 1919 and shot by the Bolsheviks, his body was never found.

Intervention and Civil War

Meanwhile, with stockpiles of allied war aid crowding the docks of Vladivostok, American (cruiser USS Brooklyn), British (cruiser HMS Suffolk) and Japanese (battleships Iwami and Asahi) warships were in the harbor by January 1918 and had sent marines ashore to protect their consulate.

Bundled up U.S. Marines landed from USS Brooklyn (CA-3) at Vladivostok, Siberia, in 1918-19. 111-SC-76186

This soon expanded to a mandate to support the withdrawal of the newly formed Czech Legion, recruited from Austrian POWs held in Russian camps, and whole divisions of ground troops came ashore over the summer with the Japanese eventually landing 72,000 troops under the command of Gen. Kikuzo Otani. By comparison, the smaller American Expeditionary Force, Siberia, of Maj. Gen. William S. Graves only amounted to about 8,000 soldiers. The latter was supported by a U. S. Navy task force under RADM William L. Rodgers. Similar forces were landed by the Canadians (4,400) and British (6,700, mostly Indian, troops).

American sailors equipped with Remington-made Mosin rifles and helmets in Vladivostok, Russia, 1918. 111-SC-50100

U.S. Soldiers in Vladivostok, Aug. 1918, a mission that would span four years

Russian Intervention, 1918-20. Hospital Car operated by the American Expeditionary Forces at Khabarovsk, north of Vladivostok. American Red Cross Collection. The war in Siberia was one of railways and ports. Photograph received November 11, 1919. National Archives.

With the change in Eastern Siberia’s political polarity in June 1918, the anti-Bolshevik White Russians under then-Admiral Kolchak, with the interventionists as muscle, took control of the Siberian Military Flotilla. The Japanese duly impounded the destroyers Tochnyy, Tvordyy, Smelyy, and Skoryy along with most of the gunboats of the Amur River flotillas, and never gave them back.

Russian destroyer Skoryy, seen at Port Arthur in 1903. The 258-ton Sokol-class destroyer was assembled at Port Arthur from a Nevsky-supplied kit and, escaping the fall of the fortress in 1905, was eventually taken over by the Japanese in June 1918 who kept her in operation for four years, scuttling the vessel in October 1922 along with the other destroyers the Japanese had taken up.

Bereft of lower ratings, who had either signed up with the Reds or deserted, the Flotilla was sidelined through most of the Russian Civil War. During this period, its leadership shifted between Rear Admirals Sergei Nikolaevich Timirev and Mikhail Andreevich Berens. Efforts to train new officers and crews from local recruits were begun but, as it would turn out, were short-lived.

Once Kolchak was betrayed and executed at the end of 1919 and it looked like the Reds were going to win, a great flight from Vladivostok led to the departure of a convoy led by Orel (with RADM Berens aboard), the transport Yakut, and a group auxiliary ships manned by midshipmen of the local Naval School and refugees from Vladivostok to Japanese-held Tsingtao in January 1920, with Orel proceeding ultimately to Sevastopol where they would join the White Russian forces there.

Two Siberian Flotilla units probably photographed off Vladivostok. Transport Yakut was a former British Steamship, purchased in 1892. A Nevski-built, Yarrow-Type Destroyer appears at left. NH 94289

In their wake, Berens (or the Japanese) had scuttled the destroyers Trevozhnyy, Inzhener-mekhanik Anastasov, and Leytenant Maleyev.

Destroyer Inzhener-mekhanik Anastasov in Vladivostok. She had been scuttled in 1920.

Their supply lines running short and the Japanese still in control of the region as far inland as the eastern shores of Lake Baikal, the Reds stopped just short of overrunning the maritime region and Vladivostok languished as the principal port of a rump state– the Far Eastern Republic– under the protectorship of the Allied interventionists and with the tacit agreement of Moscow.

This thing. The population, just 1.7 million-ish, half of it Chinese/Mongol, was sparse but the mineral riches were heavy

It should be noted that the FER kind of wanted to just break away from the whole Russia thing and go its own way, much like the Baltics, Caucuses, Ukraine, Finland, and Poland had done already. Their much-divided 400-member representative Constituent Assembly consisted of about a quarter Bolsheviks with sprinklings of every other political group in Russia including Left and Right Social Revolutionaries, Kadets (which had long ago grown scarce in Russia proper), Mensheviks, Socialists, outright Monarchists, and Anarchists. This produced a weak and divided buffer state between Soviet Russia and Imperial Japan and Moscow, fighting Poland in the West and against Wrangel’s White Russian forces in Ukraine at the time, had bigger fish to fry.

The thing is, Washington and London tired of their Russia expenditures once it became clear regime change wasn’t going to be a thing and, with the withdrawal of the British, the Czech Legion, and AEF-Siberia by April Fool’s Day 1920, it became an outright Japanese puppet, safe and snug behind a cordon sanitaire of the Emperor’s bayonets.

Enter RADM Georgy Karlovich Stark

The descendant of a Scottish family of the Clan Donnachaidh that moved to Russia back during the days of Peter the Great, Stark was a career naval officer born in 1878. Graduating from the naval cadet school in 1898, he was well-placed as his great uncle was Admiral Oskar Viktorovich Stark, the commander of the Russian Pacific Fleet at the beginning of the 1904 war. The younger Stark spent his career in destroyers, ultimately going on to command the 5th and 12th destroyer divisions against the Germans in the Baltic in 1916 and, after the March Revolution, was promoted to become the rear admiral in charge of the Baltic Fleet’s mine forces– the most effective unit of that fleet.

Cashiered once the Bolsheviks came into power, Stark made his way east and fell in with Kolchak by June 1918, ultimately leading an infantry division of all things in combat along the Trans-Siberian. Narrowly escaping the White collapse along the shores of Lake Baikal and crippled by typhus, he was in a Vladivostok convalescence bed when Berens pulled stumps with the flower of the Siberian Flotilla’s officer corps.

Under the squishy politics of the FER, the flotilla was rechristened the republic’s “People’s Revolutionary Fleet” but, following a pro-White coup under Gen. Mikhail Diterikhs and others in Vladivostok in May 1921, became the Siberian Military Flotilla once again– using the old St. Andrew’s naval flag– under the new Provisional Priamur Government, with a recovered Stark in command. Reforms and rebuilding efforts by Stark (who also pitched in with running the government) put some of the fleet’s destroyers and gunboats back in service and they were used to support a variety of amphibious landings along the coastline to fight Red partisans throughout the summer periods of 1921 and 1922.

The gunboat Adm. Zavoyko, away on a mission when the coup went down, rather than sail for Vladivostok and join the Whites, instead made for Shanghai. There, according to legend, she successfully fended off several plots from foreign actors, Whites, monarchists, and the like to take over the vessel.

Then, starting in June 1922, the Japanese began to slowly withdraw from the Priamur enclave with the final troops sailing away in early October. Diterikhs tried to go on the offensive near Khabarovsk to scare the Reds off, but they were driven back. On 9 October, the Reds occupied Spassk and began moving into South Primorye, then, by 19 October, were on the outskirts of Vladivostok.

This left Stark tasked with a maritime evacuation of the last die-hard White Russians, bereft of international support, using what remained of the flotilla. A genuine spit-and-bubble gum effort. Scuttling the already disarmed destroyers-turned-minesweepers Serdityy and Statnyy, as well as the Pechenga (old Angara) after stripping them of everything useful, he was able to scrape together a handful of vessels that could make the open ocean.

Serdityy, Russian destroyer, photographed at Vladivostok in 1916. Note that the ship’s guns have been removed, probably for service as a minesweeper. This ship originally was ordered as Bekas but was renamed on 26 December 1899 (old style calendar). Note the floating dock in the left background. NH 92392

Stark’s force included the auxiliary cruiser Lieutenant Dydymov, the gunboats Mandzhur, Farvater, Strela, Strazh, and Porazhayushchiy; the minelayer Mongugai, the tug Baykal, dispatch boat Ayaks, and the freighters Diomed, Zapal, Patrokl, Svir, Uliss, Il’ya Muromets, Batareya, and Parizh. Joined by a dozen miscellaneous civilian vessels– including fishing trawlers and construction barges– under a tri-color Russian flag at Posyet Bay, Stark’s little fleet numbered 28 ships all told by 28 October, filled with over 10,000 refugees.

Korea and China

Sailing 370 miles for Genzan (Wonson) in what is now North Korea, they arrived on Halloween 1922 and remained there for three weeks as other White Russian vessels swelled Stark’s exile fleet to over 40 ships. Ordered to leave by the Japanese who were not anxious to support a Russian exile community in the Hermit Kingdom, Stark consolidated his ships, shedding the crippled vessels along the way (Dydymov was tragically lost in a storm while the dispatch boat Ayaks was later lost off Formosa) and stopped briefly at Fuzan (Busan) before arriving at Shanghai with just 15 ships. He was joined there by the White Russian gunboat Magnit, which had left Petropavlovsk with 200 Siberian Cossacks aboard.

Soon, the gunboats Farvater, Strela, Strazh, and Porazhayushchiy were disarmed and sold to a French concern in Shanghai in exchange for enough credit to buy 1,500 tons of coal for the ships that were left.

Meanwhile, (acting) RADM (formerly Capt. 2nd rank) Vasily Viktorovich Bezuar remained at Genzan with 11 broken ships that he would liquidate, arriving in Shanghai before the year was out.

In a state of the surreal, the exiled anti-White gunboat Adm. Zavoyko was still in Shanghai at the time, and only sailed back home to the now-all-Soviet Vladivostok in March 1923 (after Stark’s fleet left) where she became a unit of the Red Banner Fleet– the only one in the Pacific until 1932.

ADMIRAL ZAVOYKO 1921

ADMIRAL ZAVOYKO 1921

It was in Shanghai that Red Navy Capt. Vladimir Alexandrovich Belli– like Stark from a Scottish family that had been in Russia since the 1700s– was sent by Moscow to talk with Stark. He brought the White admiral a photo and letter from his family in Petrograd and offered a general amnesty on behalf of the Central Committee in exchange for the return of the flotilla. Stark refused and, according to some reports, Belli didn’t blame him. Nonetheless, some of the refugees had second thoughts about their new lives abroad and returned to Russia with the Red officer.

With most of the sad little fleet’s refugees leaving the ships to cast their lot ashore with the thousands of White Russian exiles in Manchuria and China, by January 1923 it had been decided that the remaining ships which could still steam would head as a force to Manila, where– with the diplomatic support of fellow White RADM Boris Petrovich Dudorov who was serving as naval attaché in Tokyo from 1918 to 1922 and Washington after 1923 for the exile government as the Japanese did not recognize the Moscow government– they would be given a literal safe harbor.

Much like the welcome the Tsar’s battered fleet received in 1905 and the exiled South Vietnamese Navy would receive in 1975 following the fall of Saigon, the Philippines became home to Stark’s Whites.

The Last Leg

On 20 January, ten of Stark’s vessels carrying 720 odd White Russian naval officers and sailors, along with 175 of their wives and children, appeared in the Lingayen Gulf. They would be escorted into Cavite by the U.S. Navy, where their ships would be swept for weapons, the breechblocks of their guns removed, and a (guarded) camp established at Olongapo ashore.

Governor General Leonard Wood went on to secure $5K from the American Relief Administration for Russia and a matching $5K from the American Red Cross while pushing the local government to allow some of the smaller Russian ships to engage in inter-island trade. On 23 March 1923, in agreement with the U.S. Navy, Stark ordered the St. Andrews Cross lowered on his ships, replaced by the Stars & Stripes alone.

In April, President Harding authorized the emigration of 500 Russian refugees from Stark’s ships to the U.S.– provided they could pay their own way on an Army-provided transport and be granted visas– while many of the balance would go on to take jobs in Mindanao.

On 24 May 1923, some 529 Russians, mostly former naval personnel and their families, were taken on the 3,000-ton U.S. Army Transport Merritt and, subject to military justice with Stark’s blessing, would sail for San Francisco in a transit paid for by Stark’s remaining funds. The fees for the necessary visas, likewise, had been paid for out of the fleet’s strongbox.

The USAT Merritt. Built in China in 1912 for the U.S. Army Quartermaster Department, she would ply the Philippines and run a shuttle service to Hawaii and California for 20 years. Sold on the commercial market as SS Bisayas, she was lost in 1942 to the Japanese who raised her and put her back in service as the Hishigata Maru until the USAAF sent her to the bottom for a final time in 1945.

As for the last of Stark’s ships, they were left to sway at their moorings in Cavite with 75 volunteers to keep them afloat until they could be sold or disposed of.

While many of the principal European countries soon reestablished relations with Soviet Russia– Great Britain concluded a trade agreement with the Soviet regime in 1921 and accorded recognition in 1924 while Germany re-established diplomatic relations in 1922 and concluded a comprehensive commercial treaty in 1925– U.S. relations with Moscow gently warmed until the Soviet Union was recognized in 1933. However, a Soviet delegation was allowed to visit Cavite in 1925 to inspect Stark’s remaining unsold ships, and, with one curious exception, they elected to sell them for scrap “as-is, where-is.” Of these, one, the gunboat Mandzhur was purchased by Amagasaki Kisen, refurbished, and placed into service as Kimigayo Maru No.2.

Russian auxiliary cruiser/gunboat Mandzhur (Manchu, Manjur,) built in Denmark in 1886

Kimigayo Maru No.2, formerly the White Russian gunboat Mandzhur, was placed in regular two-day rice and barley runs between Osaka and Jeju Island from 1926 through 1941. Taken up from service by the Japanese Navy, she was lost in the June 1, 1945, B-29 bomber raid on Osaka.

The only ship of Stark’s that went back to Vladivostok was the 2,500-ton minelayer Mongugay.

Built in 1896 in Germany as a commercial steamer Pronto, Mongugay had been bought by the Russian Navy in 1904 for service during the war with Japan. Able to carry 310 mines and armed with a mixed battery of 75mm and 47mm guns, she served the Tsar, then the Reds, then the Whites and Stark until abandoned in Cavite. Reclaimed by the Reds in March 1925, she was made ready to sail and arrived back at Vladivostok on 12 April.

Used by Sovtorgflot as a tramp steamer of sorts into 1933, Mongugay was subsequently handed back over to the newly formed Soviet Red Banner Pacific Fleet and used as a receiving ship until 1951 when she was finally scrapped.

As for Stark, the unsinkable admiral would wander around Asia and Europe for a bit before settling with the large Russian exile community in Paris, where he would work as a taxi driver while serving as the chair of the “All-Foreign Association of Russian Naval Officers.” During the occupation of Paris by the Germans, he refused to cooperate with the German authorities and instead was involved with the Resistance.

Passing in 1949, aged 71, Stark was buried in the Russian cemetery at Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois.

Stark’s second in command, the young Bezuar, would go on to serve as a merchant ship captain in Philippine and Chinese waters during the interwar period and was killed in December 1941 when the Japanese sank his ship. Speaking of which, many of the White Russian exiles that settled in Mindanao would go on to join and support anti-Japanese resistance forces in the islands during WWII occupation.

Belli, the Red officer of Scottish ancestry who offered Stark and company amnesty in Shanghai in 1923, went on to spend 10 years as a guest in Stalin’s gulag during the Purges, then, during WWII, returned to service and eventually retired in 1951 as a rear admiral teaching international naval law at the Voroshilov Naval Academy. He outlived just about everyone else involved in this story and died in Leningrad in 1981, still officially a member of the Frunze Academy’s board at age 93.


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Nick Gunar, Ukraine edition

The most current map, via the British MOD:

Tea leaves?

The minutes after the Russian offensive into Ukraine kicked off, RIA Novosti, which is owned and operated by the Russian federal government and is basically just a descendant of the old Sovinformburo, released a fairly wild piece by commentator Petr Akopov that, while it has been zapped from RIA’s website proper, still exists in web archives. 

So interesting, and mechanically translated, excerpts (with commentary added), basically painting the conflict as a civil war that is correcting the wrongs of 1918, when the old Russian Empire fell apart, and 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed:

A new world is being born before our eyes. Russia’s military operation in Ukraine has ushered in a new era – and in three dimensions at once. And of course, in the fourth, internal Russian.

Russia is restoring its unity – the tragedy of 1991, this terrible catastrophe in our history, its unnatural dislocation, has been overcome. Yes, at a great cost, yes, through the tragic events of a virtual civil war, because now brothers, separated by belonging to the Russian and Ukrainian armies, are still shooting at each other, but there will be no more Ukraine as anti-Russia. Russia is restoring its historical fullness, gathering the Russian world, the Russian people together – in its entirety of Great Russians, Belarusians and Little Russians (Ukrainians). If we had abandoned this, if we had allowed the temporary division to take hold for centuries, then we would not only betray the memory of our ancestors, but would also be cursed by our descendants for allowing the disintegration of the Russian land.

Vladimir Putin has assumed, without a drop of exaggeration, a historic responsibility by deciding not to leave the solution of the Ukrainian question to future generations.

Now this problem is gone – Ukraine has returned to Russia.

Did someone in the old European capitals, in Paris and Berlin, seriously believe that Moscow would give up Kiev?

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry has set up a Telegram channel with videos that it says show captured Russian soldiers– which the country says they have over 200– and in public statements say they were tricked or otherwise threatened to take part in the operation. These statements were replayed on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is of course paid for by the U.S. government.

These kinds of videos are extremely distasteful, no matter who puts them out, as EPOWs should never be made to release public statements while in enemy custody.

However, it does kind of point to the fact that the Russians seem to have pushed into Ukraine with their “B Team” of second-line units and recalled reservists outfitted with old equipment– the better to soak up Ukraine’s limited supply of expensive donated MANPADS and ATGMs (NLAW, Javelin, Stinger, Panzerfaust 3, etc).

Notably, when you see Russian vehicles and aircraft in videos and images from the conflict they are older models with none of the cutting edge types (e.g. Su-57 strike aircraft and T-14 Armata tanks) seen. Further, there are few divisional- or even brigade-size maneuvers, with the Russians sticking to battalion-sized elements, as well as a lack of significant night-time operations, another indicator of lower-trained, under-equipped troops. 

Now a half-week in motion, Russian troops seem to be facing growing morale and logistics issues, with videos circulating widely of tanks and AFVs parks on roadways out of fuel and with poor (no) perimeter security. As anyone who has been around tracks can vouch, armor is the Great White shark of the battlefield, always hungry, always looking to top off every day, whether on the move or not.

The Pentagon on Sunday acknowledged, “We believe that their advance was slowed both by resistance from the Ukrainians, who have been quite creative in finding ways to attack columns and, number two, by the fuel shortages and the sustainment issues that they have had.”

The British MOD had the same take on Saturday:

With the Russian lines of communications being very porous, and growing longer every day, the current Ukrainian bywords seem to be “Ласкаво просимо до пекла!,” or “Welcome to hell” with roadway signs defaced with the warning and official government ministries signing off their social media posts with the catchphrase.

Ironically, as far as I know, the most popular pop culture reference to this is in the tragically underrated popcorn action film Men of War (1994) in which Swedish strongman Dolph Lundgren, portraying former SF weaponsman Ameri-Swede Nick Gunar, uses it when taking on a group of mercs looking to carve off a random South Pacific island for its value in guano. Welding a CG-84, he also delivers a great “Spring, era jävlar” line, which is funny if you know Swedish.

The Ukrainians say the current tally (as with all “body counts” issued during war should be taken with a grain of salt) 60 hours into the war is:

Aircraft – 14 (including an Il-76 reportedly full of VDS)
Helicopters – 8
Tanks – 102
Combat armored vehicles – 536
Guns and howitzers – 15
SAM (Buk-М2) – 1

The war is also getting very asymmetric, with reported “Russian saboteur teams” engaging in wild gun battles in Kyiv and elsewhere. These units, dressed in Ukrainian police and military uniforms, and in Ukrainian-marked vehicles, are a throwback to Skorzeny’s Battle of the Bulge Operation Greif and need lots of pre-planning.

At the same time, the Western Europeans are getting more muscular with their support of Ukraine, mirroring roughly what was seen with the Finns and the Soviets in 1939.

As noted by the ISW:

The European Union announced direct military aid to Ukraine for the first time in EU history (€500 million worth) on February 27 while Germany announced a dramatic reorientation of its foreign policy to mitigate the threat that Russia poses to Germany and its allies. Germany will prioritize military spending and energy independence despite short-term economic costs.

Unexpected new allies such as Belgium, Sweden, and Germany are all sending Ukraine anti-armor weapons directly from their war stocks while France and Denmark have announced they will allow volunteers– including furloughed military personnel– to head to join a new “foreign legion” set up by Kyiv and recruited through the country’s embassies and consulates abroad. 

A number of Americans have been war tourists in Ukraine since 2014, sometimes paying for it with their lives, and I am 100 percent sure this next wave will be high and deep. I can vouch that some of my own acquaintances have messaged they will be taking an extended vacation in Eastern Europe starting as early as next week, a sticky proposition if captured, as they are on the Retired Reserve rolls.

While peace talks are reportedly on the horizon, there seems to be little hope of them yielding any results in the near future. I hate to say it is WWIII by proxy, so maybe let’s just call it the Winter War Part II. 

Welcome home, Gen. Gudin

In case you missed it, (most of) the body of fallen General of Division Charles-Étienne César Gudin de La Sablonnière was reinterred at the Hôtel des Invalides in Paris on 2 December 2021, marking the anniversary of the French victory at the Battle of Austerlitz. The event was complete with a Napoleonic honor guard. 

Gudin, from a noble family, was born in 1768 and served with the King’s Guard prior to the Revolution. Keeping his head (see what we did there), the reported childhood friend of Napolean fought with the Army of the North and of the Rhine from 1793, distinguishing himself at Auerstaedt in 1806 and at Eylau in 1807, then was wounded at Wagram.

Rising to command a division for the disastrous Russian campaign in 1812, he died at age 44 near Smolensk three days after his leg was amputated following it being smashed by a Russian cannonball during the battle of Valoutina Gora.

As the convoy back to Europe was small, the French buried his shattered body in one of the bastions of the Smolensk fortress then carried Gudin’s heart back home, later installing it in a chapel in Paris’ Père Lachaise cemetery, and added his name to the Arc de Triomphe.

Fast forward to 2019 and, under a dance hall in eastern Russia, a one-legged skeleton of a man, aged 40-45, was discovered by an international team of scholars who chased down Gudin’s story.

Matching the remains with the known DNA of Baron Pierre-César Gudin, Charles-Etienne Gudin’s brother– also a Napoleonic general who died more peacefully in 1855– the body was ceremoniously transferred back to France.

In last year’s interment, chaired by Geneviève Darrieussecq, Minister Delegate of the Minister of the Armed Forces, in charge of Memory and Veterans Affairs, Gen. Gudin has returned from his very cold, and very long, Russian winter.

Flotsam of the Tsar’s 1st Pacific Squadron

Camp Kanzense. Matsuyama. Japan, Spring 1905: A group of Russian sailors from the assorted warships sunk by Japanese artillery in the mud of Port Arthur during the siege there. Cap bands show they are from the Баян (Bayan), Бобр (Bobr), Варяг (Varyag), Гиляк (Gilyak), Забияка (Zabiyaka), Паллада (Pallada), Пересвет (Peresvet), Победа (Pobeda), Полтава (Poltava), Ретвизан (Retvizan), and Отважный (Otvazhnyy).

Unlike Japanese EPOW camps in WWII, the Meiji era camps of the Russo-Japanese War were reportedly very hospitable, and the “guests” were returned in good health after the peace. It was only after the corruption of the Bushido code by the 1930s Japanese military elite that the treatment of captured enemy troops and sailors was seen as a dim and distasteful burden. 

When the fortress seaport was scandalously surrendered by Baron Anatoly Stoessel to the Japanese on 2 January 1905, despite having another 30-to-60 days worth of shells and supplied on hand, some 8,985 Russian sailors were marched off to captivity along with 878 Army officers and 23,491 of the Tsar’s soldiers.

Echoes of the Tsars Grow Quieter

Mr. Andrew Andreevich Romanov died in Inverness, California on Sunday, aged 98. Who is Mr. Romanov? Known inside his family and to Russian monarchists as Prince Andrew Romanoff, he was the de facto head of the House of Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov due to the pedigree of being the grand-nephew of Russia’s last Tsar, the martyred Emperor Nicholas II. Further, he was the great-grandson of Alexander III, great-great-grandson of Alexander II, et. al going back to 1613.

However, he spent his whole life in exile, with his father, Prince Andrei Alexandrovich, the eldest nephew of Nicholas II, fleeing increasingly Bolshevik Russia on the British battleship HMS Marlborough in 1919 for points West (and in order to attend the Paris Peace Conference just in case the White Russian government won the Civil War).

Born in London in 1923, his youth was spent as something of a houseguest, via a grace-and-favor residence, to his relatives the Windsors– his godfather was the future King Edward VIII– and he attended Haileybury. When WWII came, he volunteered for the Royal Navy, serving as a rating. (Keep in mind the RN during the war was home to many other exiled nobles, e.g. Prince Philip of Greece.)

Emigrating to the U.S. in 1949 with $800 in his pocket, the Romanov prince without a throne became naturalized in 1954 and settled ultimately in California where “he worked as an agronomist, a broker, a real estate agent, a carpenter, and many other jobs” along with becoming something of a West Coast folk artist and penning an art book/autobiography, “The Boy Who Would Be Tsar.” 

Vale, sir.

80 Years Ago: Siege Bread

Siege of Leningrad.

This is the ration card and daily norm of “bread” (200 grams) in October 1941, only a month into the 872-day siege.


Recipe for blockade bread:

*defective rye flour -45%
*presscake -10%
*soy flour-5%
*bran-10%
*cellulose-15%
*wallpaper dust -5%
*malt -10%

The Museum of the History of St. Petersburg has kept about 700 unique children’s drawings that were created during the siege (September 8, 1941 – January 27, 1944). These drawings were recently brought to life using VR animation technologies.
 

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021: Behold, the Destroyerzooka

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021: Behold, the Destroyerzooka

Here we see the Soviet Orfey (Orpheus)-class destroyer Engels (formerly Desna) with his (Russian warships are always masculine by tradition) unique stern 12-inch (305mm) Kurchevsky pattern “Dynamo-Reactive” recoilless rifle, circa the summer of 1934. A tough little ship going past his goofy one-off experimental gun, he had an interesting life.

Background

With a shredded naval list after the Russo-Japanese War, having lost two out of three fleets, the Tsarist Imperial Navy needed new ships of every stripe in the 1910s as they were facing an increasingly modern Ottoman fleet in the Black Sea as well as the Swedes (always a possible opponent) and the German juggernaut in the Baltic. Part of the naval buildout was a series of 52 destroyers derived from the Novik.

Novik was a great destroyer for 1910. At some 1,600-tons full load, he could make 37.3 knots, which is still fast for a destroyer today, and carried four twin 18-inch torpedo tubes (eight tubes total) as well as four 4-inch guns.

The follow-on Orfey-class upgrade from Novik, planned to number 23 vessels, ended up being trimmed back to just 16 due to the Great War and Russia’s series of revolutions and civil war, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Some 1,440-tons when fully loaded, the 321-foot tin cans used a plant that had two Curtis-AEG-Vulkan turbines and four Normand-Vulkan boilers on two shafts to make 32 knots, making them still very fast for the age but slightly slower than the 6-boiler/3-turbine/3-shaft plant seen in Novik. However, they carried more torpedo tubes, a total of nine, in addition to their four 4″/60 Vickers-Obukhovski Pattern 1911 guns.

Ofrey class destroyer plan. These ships, benefiting from the Russo-Japanese war experience, had double the main transverse bulkheads of pre-1904 Russian destroyers with 12 watertight sections (each with their own pumping systems) as well as individually compartmentalized boilers, hence all the funnels. The keel was made of doubled 6mm steel sheets set at angles to each other, creating a double hull of sorts. Lacking true armor, the conning tower/bridge was made of half-inch ordnance steel sheets to provide splinter and small arms protection. Interestingly, the topside radio room (one 2 kW transmitter and two receivers) and two 45-cm searchlights were fed by a separate 10kW Penta kerosene dynamo protected centrally, rather than the rest of the ship’s power which was provided by two 20 kW turbo generators.

Desna, shown here in fitting out at the Kolpino Metalworks in Petrograd (Great War-era St. Petersburg) had nine 18-inch torpedo tubes.

Closer detail on those tubes

And even closer

His initial armament, as with the rest of the class, included four long-barreled 4″/60 Vickers-Obukhovski Pattern 1911 guns, one over the bow, and three crowding her stern. These could fire a 66-pound HE or 52-pound “Diving” shell at 12 rounds per minute, providing the crew was drilled properly, to a range of 17,600 yards. Two 150-shell magazines, fore, and aft, were installed below deck. The guns were directed by a 9-foot Barr & Stroud 30x stereoscopic rangefinder of RN F.Q. 2 pattern.

Laid down in November 1914, three months into the Great War, Desna was named after the famed tributary of the Dnieper that runs through Smolensk to Kyiv.

Commissioned 16 August 1916, he was rushed into operations and famously came to the defense of the heroic but obsolete Borodino-class battleship Slava during the long-running Battle of Moon Sound, in which the Russian battlewagon gave, by all accounts, a full measure against a much larger and more powerful German force.

Slava, after the Battle of Moon Sound

Helping to evacuate Slava’s crew, Desna fired torpedoes into the stricken battlewagon to prevent it from falling into German hands. Desna’s brother, Grom, was sunk during the operation.

Caption: A newly -completed Destroyer of the improved “Novik” Type, either DESNA (1915-1941) or AZARD (1916-1919). Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drashpil of Margate, Fla., 1983. Catalog #: NH 94295

Same, NH 94294

Same, NH 94296

Civil War

Becoming part of the Red Baltic Fleet by default during the Russian Revolution and Civil War, Desna took part in the “Ice Campaign” during which the force broke through the frozen Baltic to escape Helsinki ahead of the Germans in April 1918.

Based at the fortress island of Kronstadt, Desna took part in operations against the British in 1918-19. (During this period, brother Gavriil helped sink HM Submarine L-55 and three British torpedo boats, while brothers Konstantin and Vladimir/Svoboda were sunk in turn by British mines. Another classmate, Kapitan Miklucha Maklai/Spartak, was captured by the British and turned over to the Estonians.)

Then, in the continued evolution of counterrevolution, Desna and company fought against the Bolsheviks in the 1921 revolt of the Red Fleet.

Rudolf Franz’s 1936 painting depicts the storming of Kronstadt by the Red Army to put down the revolt. Over a thousand were killed on both sides and an estimated 2,100 rebellious sailors were executed or disappeared into labor camps.

In part to wipe out the stain of his role in the brutally suppressed Kronstadt revolt, Desna was renamed in 1922 to Engels, celebrating the German socialist philosopher of the same name who helped develop Marxism.

An ice-bound Engels

Then came several years of lingering operations and refits, as the Soviets were cash strapped for operational funds throughout the rest of the decade. During this period, classmates Orfey and Letun, in bad technical condition after Great War damage, were broken up after the Civil war.

Dynamo-Reactive!

In 1932, Engels was refitted and rebuilt, emerging two years later with a new engineering plant as well as a new gun over his stern in place of two of his 4-inchers.

A design came from the mind of weapon engineer Leonid Kurchevsky, who was fascinated with recoilless rifles. He had spent time in Stalin’s gulag system then emerged in 1929 to catch the eye of Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, the “Red Napolean” military theoretician who wanted to see Kurchevsky’s simple designs fitted on everything.

Kurchevsky and some of his recoilless rifles in the early 1930s.

The Kurchevsky gun fitted on Engels was awkward, only able to fire to port and starboard with a low train and elevation.

It fired a 660-pound shell to 14,000 yards but proved inaccurate, unreliable, and prone to malfunction. A larger 15-inch model was to be installed on a cruiser but never made it off the drawing board.

I mean, come on…

While some 2,000~ Kurchevsky guns were delivered, fitted to tanks and vehicles as well as ships, it turns out they sucked.

Via Global Security: 

Soon the “bubble” burst. It turned out that the armor-piercing shells of anti-tank DRP, even when fired at point-blank, were not able to penetrate armor thicker than 30 mm. The accuracy and range of field artillery guns do not meet the requirements at all. At the same time, the guns themselves are unreliable and unsafe during operation, there had been numerous cases of rupture of barrels during firing.

Aircraft and naval automatic cannons of the Kurchevsky caliber from 37 to 152 mm gave constant failures and delays during firing due to incomplete combustion of the nitro-fabric sleeves and the unreliable operation of the pneumatic recharge mechanism, which made this weapon absolutely not combat-ready. Soon all PDDs were removed from the troops and destroyed. By June 22, 1941, there was not a single Kurchevsky gun in service with the Red Army.

While Tukhachevsky was sacked in 1937 for other reasons and scapegoated as a Trotskyist in the Great Purge before WWII, Kurchevsky got the wrap at around the same time directly for his funky weaponry. Thrown back in the gulag the inventor was executed sometime in the late 1930s.

War, again, and again

With the Russians flexing against the Finns in the 1939-40 Winter War, Desna/Engels, his Kurchevsky gun landed, and his old 4-inchers reinstalled, bombarded Finnish positions and installations, a task for which his 9-foot draft no doubt assisted.

When the Germans invaded in 1941, Engels was used in coastal minelaying and convoy duty.

Just two weeks after Barbarossa kicked off, on 6 July, he and two other destroyers (Serditogo and Sil’nyy) clashed with two German minesweepers (M-23 and M-31) in what is known today as the Battle of the Irbensky Strait. Famed in Russian naval lore as it was the largest surface battle they fought in the Baltic in WWII; it is much less known outside of the Motherland. This is probably because all vessels involved sailed away after the engagement, a tactical draw.

Damaged extensively on 7 August 1941 by a 550-pound bomb dropped via Stuka, Engels was soon patched up and two weeks later sailed from Tallinn in occupied Estonia to Kronstadt as part of one of the desperate convoys headed north from the doomed port. That month, some 190 Soviet ships and 40,000 souls attempted to escape. The seaborne evacuation of encircled Tallin to Krondstadt and Leningrad went down in history as the “Soviet Dunkirk.” 

With the route obvious to the Germans and Finns, the Axis planted 2,000 mines in what became known as the Juminda Barrage. 

A German map from 1941 showing the location of the Juminda mine barrage

It was on this voyage that he stumbled across a German minefield off Cape Juminda, hitting one with his bow and shrugged it off, damage control successful. However, while the damaged destroyer was being rigged for towing by the icebreaker Oktyabr, Engels hit a second mine that exploded under her stern and triggered the aft 4-inch magazine. That was it and she rolled over and sank. 

Four days later, classmates Pobiditel/Volodarski and Azard/Artyom were lost in a similar minefield in the same Tallinn-to-Kronstadt run. Some 80 ships eventually hit mines in the Jumidia Barrage, with at least 21 Soviet warships, including five destroyers sent to the bottom in August alone. 

Epilogue

As with Desna/Engels, few Orfey-class destroyers made it out of WWII. Three units that survived by nature of serving with the Northern Fleet out of Murmansk and two more with the Pacific Fleet out of Vladivostok remained in service into the early 1950s but were soon discarded. The last remaining example of the class, Spartak, spent her final days in Peru’s Pacific coast as the Estonians had sold her to that Latin American country in the 1930s.

The class is remembered in some Soviet-era maritime art.

Meanwhile, a fishing net-wrapped wreck off Estonia’s Cape Yuminda, documented in 2016, could be the bones of Engels.

As for Leonid Kurchevsky, he was “rehabilitated posthumously in 1956” after the end of the Stalin regime. The next year, Marshal Tukhachevsky and his codefendants in the Purge trial were declared innocent of all charges and rehabilitated, posthumously.

Specs:


Displacement: 1,260 tons (standard) 1,440 tons (full load)
Length 321 ft 6 in
Beam 30 ft 6 in
Draught 9 ft 10 in
Machinery: 4 boilers (30,500 shp) 2 steam turbines, 2 shafts
Speed 32 knots
Range: 1,680 miles @21 knots
Complement: 150 (8 officers, 6 michman, 136 ratings)
Armament:
(1917)
4 x 4″/60 Vickers-Obukhovski Pattern 1911 guns in single unprotected mounts
1 x 40/39 Vickers AAA pom-pom anti-balloon gun
2 x Maxim machine guns (7.62×54)
9 x 18-inch torpedo tubes (3×3)
80 M1908 style sea anchor mines
10 depth charges

(1934)
1 x 12-inch recoilless rifle (experimental)
2 x 4″/60 Vickers-Obukhovski Pattern 1911 guns in single unprotected mounts
1 x 3″/28 Lender AAA
4 x 1 12.7mm/79 DK Heavy machine gun (drum fed)
9 x 18-inch torpedo tubes (3×3) with more modern 45-36Н torpedoes
2 x depth charge racks
58 mines

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105mm Echos in the Russian Kurils

In the windswept and remote northern portion of Kuril Islands chain in the Sea of Okhotsk, currently-Russian owned Paramushir (AKA Paramushiro or Paramushiru) was part of the Japanese Empire from 1875 through 1945. During WWII, the local garrison, formed around the Imperial Japanese Army’s 91st Infantry “Future” Division (with six infantry and two artillery battalions), crisscrossing the island with a maze of coastal artillery positions and fortified bunkers, ready to pull an Iwo Jima on invading American (or Soviet) landing forces. Following the American liberation of the Aleutians in 1943, regular bomber air raids stitched up the island.

When the Russkies arrived in force on 18 August 1945, although the surrender of Imperial Japan was announced by Hirohito three days prior, both sides still wanted to fight for the frozen Kurils, and for two weeks, Soviet troops carried out the final opposed landing operation of the war.

Soviet-era painting depicts the landing of Soviet forces on Kurils, where two inexperienced Russian Naval Infantry divisions learned the same bloody lessons the U.S. Marines had already paid for on Tarawa

In the end, the Russians suffered some 1,500 casualties taking Paramushir and nearby Shumshu– which saw the last Japanese tank combat in history.

Soviet anti-tank teams on Shumshu island during the Kuril landing operation. August 1945. While the Degtyaryov PTRD-41 (shown) and Simonov PTRS-41 14.5x114mm anti-tank rifles were hopelessly obsolete by 1942 on the Eastern Front, they could still penetrate 30mm of steel armor at 500 meters, which was more than enough for Japanese Type 97 Chi-Ha/Shinimoto and Type 95 Ha-Go tanks arrayed against them in the Kuriles which boasted 25mm and 12mm, respectively, at their toughest parts.

Today, Paramushir is home to a small Russian settlement (the Japanese locals were deported to Siberia in 1947) and the parts that are not current military bases are often visited by historians of all stripes to poke around and look for WWII sites and objects. One such expedition recently photographed a fairly well-preserved Japanese Type 92 10 cm (105x737R) howitzer still buried in its hillside position.

The long-barreled Type 92 was well-known to U.S. troops, having been the bane of American positions at Corregidor and Henderson Field. The Soviets, meanwhile, had experienced the gun in 1939 at Khalkhin Gol where some guns fired so many shells in such a short period that they reportedly glowed red

Pistol Pete was a type 92 10cm field gun used by IJA at Guadalcanal.

Brezhnev’s Big 7

U.S. Army Training Aid, GTA 30-3-23, September 1981, official caption: “A composite view of Soviet combat equipment known as the Big 7.’ Shown are: 1. A ZSU-23/4 armored anti-aircraft weapon, 2. A T-72 tank, 3. An SA-8 Gecko surface-to-air missile system mounted on a three-axle amphibious vehicle, 4. A Mi-24 HIND-D gunship with one nose machine gun and four anti-tank missiles, 5. A BMP amphibious armored infantry combat vehicle with a 73mm smoothbore gun and an anti-tank missile, 6. An M-1974 122mm self-propelled gun, 7. An M-1973 152mm self-propelled gun.”

DOD Graphic DAST8512646 via the National Archives

Commonly seen at the time in Red Square May Day parades and grainy intel photos from along the Iron Curtain and in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, these were all top of the line at the time the training aid was circulated and are still encountered around the world today, making this 40-year-old poster still kinda relevant. 

Barbarossa at 80

Some eight decades have passed since what is arguably the largest land invasion in modern times kicked off,
Unternehmen Barbarossa, pitting 3.8 million German, Hungarian, Italian, Finnish, Slovak, and Romanian troops against the scandalously unexpecting Soviet legions of Generalissimo Stalin.

German soldiers crossing Soviet border post ,June 22, 1941, Barbarossa

Safronov Viktor Alekseevich (b. 1932.) – June 22, the border

Red Army anti-tank gun crew wiped out. “They fought for Homeland.”  By G. M. Zykov

Although the wave would eventually break on the outskirts of Moscow– even Napolean had at least captured the vacated Kremlin some 120 years prior– the war on the Eastern Front was far from over and would claim millions on both sides.

Today, Barbarossa is seen through the lens of a myriad of conflicting issues even today in Germany.

Meanwhile, the Russians have a view that nothing is forgiven, or forgotten. 

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