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D-Day matters little to Russians, as Red Army won WWII single-handedly

Soviet forces turned Nazi tide, 'didn't require help from Allies'

AP, Reuters

Ceremonies to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day drew thousands of visitors to the cemeteries, beaches and villages of Normandy this week, including some of the few remaining survivors of the largest sea-borne invasion ever mounted.

World leaders and dignitaries including U.S. President Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth II were to gather to honor the more than 150,000 American, British, Canadian and other Allied D-Day veterans who risked and gave their lives to defeat Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.

In Moscow, however, 77-year-old Galina Makarenko, sitting in the shade on a bench, paused for several seconds before delivering her blunt opinion on the Allied D-Day landings of June 6, 1944.

“It helped us a little. But only a little,” said the sprightly physicist, who was evacuated from Moscow to Kazakhstan to escape the conflict that Westerners call World War II and Russians refer to as the Great Patriotic War.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was to join the leaders of France, Britain, the United States and Germany to mark the 70th anniversary on Friday of the Normandy landings that opened the Western Front against Hitler’s forces, catching them in a giant pincer movement as Stalin’s Red Army pushed them back in the east.

But while many in the West see D-Day as the decisive turning point in the conflict, conversations in the Russian capital on Thursday reflected a widely held view that the Soviet Union had already changed the course of the war, in which it lost more than 20 million people, and would have prevailed on its own.

“That is absolutely clear, there’s no doubt about that. It would have won because the people were desperate, they had gathered their strength and learned to wage war. The war would definitely have been won by the Soviet people,” said pensioner Nikolai Kosyak, 64.

The timing of the second front was a vexed question between the wartime Allies: Soviet leader Josef Stalin had urged British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to open it as far back as August 1942.

According to the interpreter’s record of their tense encounter that month in Moscow, Churchill argued this would be premature, insisting that “war was war but not folly, and it would be folly to invite a disaster that would help nobody.” A “restless” Stalin retorted that “a man not prepared to take risks could not win a war.”

For the eventual D-Day assault, the Allies mustered more than 150,000 British, Canadian and American troops, and preceded their offensive with months of intensive bombing of targets in German-occupied France.

But many Russians are convinced to this day that the delay was a deliberate ploy. While D-Day “helped us a great deal,” Kosyak said, Churchill “wanted the Russians and Germans to destroy each other in this war, and to enter it at the right moment when both were weakened.”

Communications worker Igor Tolkarev, 48, said: “I think he just waited for us and decided to do it only when our troops started an offensive. Only then he joined the side of those who were stronger.”

For retired engineer Lyudmila Krylova, 67, the timing had to do with political ideology.

“Because the West had a very bad attitude toward the communist Soviet Union at that time and was interested in preventing communism from spreading across Europe — that’s probably why political leaders in the West were not interested in such a triumphal victory of the Red Army and a swift end of the war,” she said. “And then they were sparing their people, their army, their casualties.”

Her grandson, Maxim Krylov, 11, chimed in: “If not for our Red Army and for all our troops we, Russians, would not be standing here now.”

In a schoolchildren’s encyclopedia on sale in central Moscow, the opening of the Western Front is dealt with in just half a sentence, in a four-page entry on the Great Patriotic War: “In the meantime, the Allies had opened a second front in Europe, but Soviet forces had captured the initiative in the offensive on Germany.”

At a time when Russian authorities have denounced the rise of what they call “fascism” in neighboring Ukraine, elderly physicist Makarenko is skeptical about attempts to invoke the wartime spirit in Moscow’s dispute with its neighbor. But among those interviewed, she is not alone in seeing parallels between Western mistrust of Russia then and now.

“Everyone wanted to strangle the Soviet Union — and they want to now,” she said. “The whole of the West is jealous of Russia. . . . Russia is a unique country.”

  • Yoshiko

    This is not the complete picture. Not All in Russia thinks the same, there’re many-many russian people who very skeptical in whole “victory cult” which started to made from old war in Russia. There’s no country except Russia where this victory elevated to the level of “new religion” – and many russians hate that because it’s looking already ridiculous with many scandals.
    Many russians realize that the price for victory was too high, there was many mistakes made directly by famous generals and the main authority and the partnership of western partners is especially deprecated.
    And the place for critical view of WW2 victory in Russia is shrinking now – because Putin irresponsibly signed the very scandalous law which makes criminal penalty for anyone who “excuse” nazism, but also “denies” the role of USSR in victory in WW2. This law is awful and can’t be suited in modern era.

  • preventallwarsdotorg

    The actual value of the commemorations of the brutal Normandy D-day landings should be that all national political leaders resolve not to permit conditions for such events to recur.

    However, in spite of the recorded brutality and waste in many many thousands of young lives on that 6th day of June, the world’s national political leaders seem incorrigible at grasping the need for permanent war prevention -especially, as they are also now ‘un-winnable’ contests.

    Ukraine. Syria. Iraq. Afghanistan. Libya. Central African Republic. Biafra (with the consequent long-term confusion of ‘victorious’ Nigeria). The Cold War. Even Vietnam/China/USSR (now desperately aspiring to socio-economic principles for which they had sacrificed so many millions to avoid.) etcetera.

    And with the apparent solemnity of the commemorations, some of today’s attendees of the ceremonies at Normandy still have etched on their minds, opportunities to prevail politically by further war initiation.

    Yet, rather than seeking safer alternatives for war prevention, the world continues to rely on the chronically failed formulae of relying on national political leaders (the indisputable creators of all wars) as the absolute arbiters of war prevention!

  • disqus_78r6IPfptX

    I agree with Russian sentiments. It’s what I was taught in high school history class in Canada in the 1970s, that the Red Army broke the back of the Nazis at Stalingrad between August 1942 and February 1943. It was a losing battle from then on, meaning that the Battle of Stalingrad, not the invasion of Normandy, was the real turning point in the war. It’s pretty obvious. The Russians begged the Western Allies for a second front to ease their suffering, but in the end the Normandy Invasion of June 1944 was a great show late in the game. As a Canadian maybe I should not be challenging the actions and sacrifices of our men in the battle against the Nazis. But I am well aware of the publicity machine that has always hyped Operation Overlord. What I really mean to question is the portrayal of it by the media, the politicians and the school teachers. It makes for great movies. In truth, the Red Army defeated the Germans more by their brute endurance than their skill, although they had plenty of skill by the end of the war. It took that long for the Russian command structure to recover from the damage deliberately inflicted by Stalin during his 1930s purges of the military. But once they were properly organized and supplied they could easily have driven all the way into France, in time. Britain’s Mr. Churchill and America’s Mr. Truman wouldn’t have been happy about that, but looking at Europe from the Russian perspective it is really just a medium-sized peninsula, and I’m sure they could have done it.

    Operation Overlord is often called the largest amphibious assault in history. But I think the American invasion of Okinawa in April 1945, Operation Iceberg,
    surpassed it. We remember D-Day differently because the Okinawa assault
    is still too terrible for most people to stomach.