Seventy years ago today the two most vile systems the world has yet produced locked themselves in a deadly embrace. Along an 1,800-mile front, 4.5 million soldiers of Hitler’s Nazi Germany and its allies commenced Operation Barbarossa, launching themselves against Stalin’s Communist regime. At the time, not many gave the Soviet Union much chance of survival, and the results of the first few months of fighting seemed to bear out those estimations.
By early December, German forces had surrounded Leningrad and pushed deep into the Ukraine; men in one of the German infantry divisions could see the spires of Moscow’s churches. The Soviets had lost at least 802,000 killed, 3 million wounded, and another 3.3 million captured. These 7 million losses, in just the first months of a war that would last four years, were double the number of troops German intelligence had reported the Soviets possessed at the start of the war. They also represented over seven times America’s killed and wounded during all of World War II. But the Germans paid a steep price for their initial successes, with over three-quarters of a million of their own men dead or wounded.