Russia has become the quiet giant in world politics. A failed communist country, today's Russia is sort of a republic, not really free politically and not really having any civil liberties.

Just before the start of World War II, Joseph Stalin, general secretary of the communist party - a fancy communist name for a dictator - agreed to divide much of Europe with Adolph Hitler's Nazi Germany. Soon, after conquering much of Europe, though, Hitler turned the German blitzkrieg against Russia.

Between 1939 and 1941, Germany's blitzkrieg ("lightning war") defeated Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, and France, not to mention 380,000 British soldiers stationed in France. Riding high on the success of the German army against Europe and his own methamphetamine addiction, Hitler figured he might as well conquer Russia.

For the most part, Hitler was correct: Germany could have easily defeated Russia. The Russians were caught by surprise. Had Germany blitzkrieged its way into Russia's poorly trained militia during good weather, Moscow - and thus the Russian nation - would have probably fallen as easily as France. But Hitler chose to attack at the beginning of Russia's rainy season. Russian roads, combined with severe rains, turned the entire country into a giant mud-hole that trapped tanks, trucks and soldiers in several feet of pure mud. Nothing could move. The mud literally sucked the boots off German soldiers attempting to push supply trucks to higher ground. German supply lines and the super-fast Panzer tanks were bogged down to a standstill. Russian supply lines, accustomed to the mud and aided by millions of Russian women and children wielding shovels, were alive and strong.

But Stalin had two very important advantages besides bad weather: Russia could out-produce Germany in tanks and other weapons of war, and he had millions of common soldiers who were willing to die for their country. In all, seven million Russians died fighting Germany, and another 3.6 million died in German concentration camps.

In the early part of the war, when Hitler broke his agreement and caught Stalin by surprise, poorly supplied Russian troops traveled in twos: one to carry the rifle, and the other to carry the ammunition. When the rifleman died, the other man picked up the rifle and kept fighting. In all, eight out of every 10 German soldiers - six million in all - died fighting Russians. Like all good communist leaders, Stalin believed that common citizens and common soldiers were expendable cannon fodder. If a million Russians died in a single battle, he had plenty more where those came from. Factory workers usually consisted of older women, children, and anyone too old to fight. Everyone else, male or female, went to war.

In the end, Russia simply outmanned and outproduced Germany in a war of attrition. Russia was able to supply its army with the needed materials while the German economic system could not. Russian production outweighed that of Germany in virtually every war item: tanks, self-propelled guns, field guns, machine guns, mortars, combat aircraft, rifles and carbines - everywhere but shipbuilding. The blitzkrieg stumbled and fell against a wall of mud and human flesh.

Mark Stepp is a retired senior technical writer and former newspaper reporter/editor. He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, and a graduate of Northeastern State University with a BA in education and journalism.

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