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World War II in Colour (2009–…): Season 1, Episode 4 - Hitler Strikes East - full transcript

[theme music plays]

[background music over dialogues]


[bombs exploding]

[cannons firing]

[woman crying]

[speaking german]

[speaking german]

[audience applauding]

[narrator] Adolf Hitler
had never disguised his belief

that the Soviet Union would be
his regime's ultimate enemy.

[audience applauding]

[speaking german]

He hated communism

and saw the vast open spaces

and abundant natural resources
of Soviet Russia

as the prize which would finally
enable the German people

to become the master race.

Throughout the early months of 1941,

as he stayed at the Berghof,

his country retreat
in the Bavarian Alps,

Hitler planned his greatest gamble:

Operation Barbarossa,

the assault on the Soviet Union.

Steadily, his armies
were redeployed to the east

and re-equipped for what would be
their greatest challenge.

In theory Stalin's Soviet Union
was still Hitler's ally,

and Stalin was keen
to keep it that way

for his country was
woefully unprepared for war.


The mighty Red Army,
once the largest

and most technologically advanced
in the world,

had been devastated
by Stalin's purges in the late 1930s.

Three quarters of its senior officers
had been shot or imprisoned.

Despite appearances

there had been a catastrophic
collapse in morale and efficiency.

As German soldiers now flooded
into neighbouring Poland

Stalin, desperate to maintain the peace,

gave orders that nothing
should be done to offend Hitler.

But Hitler had
one other task to perform

before he could push on to Russia.

He needed to secure
his southern flank.

Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary
were Germany's firm allies.

But in March 1941

the Yugoslav government,
sympathetic to Germany,

was overthrown by pro-British forces.

It's next-door neighbour Greece
was also pro-British.


So, on 6 April 1941,

the German army
invaded the Balkans.


33 German divisions
moved into Yugoslavia.

They swiftly tore its defences apart.

The capital Belgrade
surrendered on 12 April.

Greece fell almost as quickly.

Despite British help

Athens was captured
in less than three weeks.

The way was now clear
for Operation Barbarossa.

[background music over dialogues]

Over four million men
were to be deployed.

They were supported
by more than 3,000 aircraft.

The plan called
for three simultaneous thrusts.

Army Group North
would overrun the Baltic states

and seize Leningrad.

Army Group Centre
was to advance to Moscow.

And Army Group South
would occupy the Ukraine.

Hitler's generals went silent
when he showed them the plan.

They were worried
it was too ambitious

and would spread
their forces too thinly.

But none dared voice their doubts.

The Red Army was much bigger.

It had nearly two million men

within striking distance
of the Western Front

and millions more in reserve.

The Russians also had
more than 20,000 tanks,

far outnumbering
Germany's 6,000.

They were older and less powerful

but they were still
a formidable fighting force.

The issue for Germany was:

could its superior technology
and speed overwhelm the Russians

before the Red Army's vast numbers
ground them down?

Operation Barbarossa
began at 3:15 am

on 22 June 1941.


The Luftwaffe joined in at dawn,
targeting Soviet airfields.


the ground attack began.


The Germans swiftly
crossed the River Bug

on the border between
Poland and the Soviet Union.

Hitler's Panzers were soon thrusting
deep into Soviet territory.

Within two days the Panzers
had penetrated more than 50 miles.

Red Army counterattacks

were swiftly brushed aside.



Tens of thousands of Soviet prisoners
were rounded up.

Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe had
total domination of the air.

The Red Army's leadership
seemed paralysed

by the German onrush.

On 29 June, seven days
after the start of the assault,

two Panzer thrusts
met up near Minsk,

surrounding huge pockets
of Soviet troops.


As the follow-up infantry arrived

more than 300,000 prisoners
were taken.


Often the Germans found themselves
welcomed as liberators,

particularly in the Ukraine

where anti-Russian feeling
was widespread.

In Moscow Stalin appeared
to have suffered a near-breakdown

at the news of his betrayal by Hitler.

He remained silent
for more than a week.

[speaking ukraine]

Not until 3 July did he appeal
to his people's patriotism

to save the Motherland.

In Britain the Prime Minister,
Winston Churchill,

received the news
of Operation Barbarossa

with very different feelings.

It meant the country
no longer stood alone.

He announced
that any enemy of Nazi Germany

was a friend of Britain's,

no matter what the political differences
in the past.

He then sent a mission to Moscow

to sign a treaty of mutual assistance

with Soviet foreign minister,
Vyacheslav Molotov.

But apart from
sending aid by sea

there was little
Britain could do immediately

to help the Soviet Union.

As June turned to July

the German Blitzkrieg
slashed deeper into Soviet territory.

It was beginning to look
as if nothing could stop Hitler.

But he was about to make
his first major strategic blunder.


In early July 1941

over 300,000 Red Army troops
were surrounded west of Minsk.

Hitler's Panzer commanders,

in particular General Heinz Guderian,

begged to be allowed to race on.

Operation Barbarossa
was working like clockwork.



Within a week,
the Panzers were at Smolensk,

deep inside Russia

and only a couple of hundred miles
from Moscow.

On 22 July

a Panzer pincer movement met
to the east of Smolensk,

trapping another
310,000 Soviet troops.

Here there was a brief pause
while the rest of the army caught up.

Though the tanks could move
at spectacular speed,

most of the army still had to walk

or rely on horse-drawn transport.

But it still only took them five days

before they arrived
and began mopping up.


The operation was completed
in just nine more days.

Vast columns of Soviet prisoners
began trudging west to captivity.

Over two and a half million
never returned.

Moscow was now only 200 miles away
and the road lay open.

It seemed certain it would fall
by the end of the summer,

as planned.


But elsewhere the German advance
was finding the going more difficult.

The Red Army was counter-attacking
more effectively

and by mid-July Army Group South
was still more than 50 miles from Kiev.

Hitler decided
Guderian's Panzers should delay

their advance on Moscow

and swing south to Kiev
to provide help.

Guderian objected strongly,

but Hitler was adamant.

There should be
no further advance on Moscow

until Kiev had fallen.

It would turn out to be
a fateful decision.

There were already worrying signs

the Red Army was not going
to be the pushover

Hitler had been expecting.

Soviet manpower seemed endless.

More than 16 million troops
were now mobilised.

And the Red Army now had
some formidable new weapons.

In particular a new tank,

the 37-ton T-34.

It had a 76 mm gun

and was faster
and better cross-country

than the Panzer Mark IV.


Yet, as the Blitzkrieg continued,

it was easy to miss the warning signs.

Guderian's Panzer group
began its thrust south

on 23 August 1941.

The Panzers of Army Group South
struck north three weeks later.

The pincers met east of Kiev
on 16 September.


Two more Soviet armies
were utterly destroyed.

Half a million men
were killed or captured.

On the same day,
more than 1,000 miles to the north,

Army Group North surrounded
the city of Leningrad,

today's Saint Petersburg.

It was immediately cut off
from the rest of the Soviet Union.


The city was besieged.

Hitler decided not to storm it

and the German troops settled down
to starve it into surrender.

Conditions in the city became dire.

The only link
to the rest of the Soviet Union

was across Lake Ladoga to the east

but only a small amount of food
could come in by water.

Starvation set in.

Over 11,000 people died in November.

Not until December could an ice road
be opened across the lake

and there was
a slight increase in rations.

But 3,700 people died of starvation

on one day in December alone.

Meanwhile, Army Group Centre
now prepared

for the final assault on Moscow.

Guderian's Panzers had re-joined it

to lead the Blitzkrieg.

The Germans had
a two to one superiority

in tanks and men at the front,

and three to one in aircraft.


The assault started
on 20 September 1941.


Once again Guderian's Panzers
slashed deep through the Red Army.

By 7 October

yet more Soviet troops
were surrounded.

But Stalin was determined
to defend Moscow to the last.

He appointed Marshal Georgy Zhukov
to organise the defence of the city.

The people of Moscow were mobilised
to dig a series of defensive lines.


But the real obstacle
to German advance

would be the weather.

On 8 October heavy rains set in.

German vehicles soon became
bogged down in a sea of mud.

By late October

appalling weather and an increasingly
stubborn Soviet resistance

meant Army Group Centre was still
some 50 miles short of Moscow.

Hitler was finally paying the price
for his decision earlier in the year

to delay his advance on Moscow.

At around the same time

Army Group South
reached the Black Sea,

trapping yet more Soviet soldiers.

Another 100,000 prisoners were taken.

But they too were hampered
by the weather.

Even so, the city of Kharkov
was captured on 24 October 1941.

But the weather was now
starting to freeze.

The German forces,

confident the campaign
would be over by the summer,

were caught unprepared.

With no winter clothing,
they now suffered terribly.

On the Moscow front

Army Group Centre
was now beginning its final push

to capture the Soviet capital.

By 4 December its leading units
were just 19 miles from Red Square.

Some reconnaissance patrols claimed

they could see
the golden domes of the Kremlin

glinting in the distance.

But that night
the temperature plunged again.

Tank engines would not start.

Weapons froze.

Many soldiers were severely frostbitten.

On 5 December

the Germans halted the attack.

Winter had come
to the rescue of the Red Army.

But the Germans were confident

that, come the spring,
they could finish the job.



For much of autumn 1941,

Stalin's armies reeled
under the German onslaught.

But all the while
he had another worry:

that the Japanese would attack
his forces in Siberia.

But in November
the Soviet dictator received a message

from his top spy in Japan

assuring him the Japanese
had no such intention.

Immediately more than 30 divisions
began moving west

along the Trans-Siberian railway
to Moscow.

They were well-equipped
and well-trained in winter fighting.

By early December

more than half a million extra men
were in position near the capital.

On 5 December,

just as the Germans were abandoning
their attempt to capture Moscow,

they were hit by
a savage Russian attack.


First came a massive
Soviet artillery barrage.

Then swarms of Soviet T-34s

crashed through
the German defences.

Stunned by the savagery of the attack

by an enemy they had assumed
was on the ropes,

the Germans fell back.

For the next seven days

the Soviet troops tore
into the German forces.

For Hitler, who had
only reluctantly agreed

to halt the attack on Moscow

it was a terrible blow.

[dog barking]

On 19 December he sacked
his overall commander-in-chief,

Field Marshal
Walther von Brauchitsch,

and assumed command himself.

Heinz Guderian was also sacked,

along with 35 other senior officers.

Hitler now ordered
that there would be no more retreats.

The German troops should fight

and, if necessary,
die where they stood.


It worked.

The German line
gradually steadied.


But Stalin, elated
by the Red Army's success,

now demanded a massive advance
across the whole front.

Marshal Zhukov, one of Stalin's
most trusted commanders,

tried to dissuade him,

but Stalin was determined.


For the next four months,
fighting swirled inconclusively

around the German defensive positions.

For Hitler this was
a very uncomfortable situation.

He was used to,
and expected, quick results.

Now he was dangerously
bogged down in the Soviet Union

and facing an enemy
that never seemed to give up.

Nor was Russia his only headache.

On 7 December 1941

Germany's ally, Japan,
attacked the US without warning.

Hitler, with almost no thought,

also declared war on the US.

With no advanced planning

he had taken on
a massive new enemy.

As 1941 became 1942,

Hitler remained determined to go
on the offensive again in Russia.

But he needed a new strategy.

The original plan of fighting
across the whole front

was no longer tenable.

as his economic advisers told him,

Germany's oil supplies
were running low.

So he decided to halt
the attacks in the north

and instead head
for Russia's oilfields in the south.

The initial plan
for Operation Blue,

as it was called,

envisaged an assault
south of Kharkov

with Army Group A
swinging down to seize the oilfields

while Army Group B
covered its flank along the River Don.

Straight away there
was a brutal encounter

with Soviet forces
trying to retake Kharkov.



Another 200,000 Soviet troops
were captured.

70,000 were killed.


As part of the same operation

the German's tightened their siege
of the port of Sebastopol

in the Crimea.

For eight months the defenders
were under constant bombardment

from German artillery

including a massive
400 mm railway gun.


In late June 1942

Sebastopol finally fell
to the Germans.

It was now safe
to head for the oilfields.


On 28 June the offensive began.

Army Group B forced its way
through to the River Don

and advanced
along its western bank.



Army Group A faced
stronger resistance.

But by 9 July it was close to Rostov.

Hitler now made a series

of what would turn out
to be serious strategic blunders.

As Army Group B
made its way along the Don,

the Führer ordered it
to capture Stalingrad

even though the city had
no immediate strategic significance.

The army had suddenly been given
a massive new task.

Two weeks later
Hitler compounded his misjudgement.

Frustrated by the slow progress
of the campaign in the Caucasus,

he diverted the bulk of his Panzers
down to the mountains.

The march on Stalingrad
slowed noticeably.

The reinforced Army Group A
now raced across the Caucasus

to within 70 miles of the Caspian,

threatening to cut off
all the Soviet armies in the area.

But then Hitler
changed his mind again.

Enraged by Army Group B's
slow progress to Stalingrad,

he now ordered the Panzers
back up north.

On 9 August

Army Group A seized the first
of the southern oilfields at Maykop.

It found them comprehensively trashed.


But without reinforcements
it could get no further

and the huge oilfields
in the central Caucasus

and those near the Caspian Sea

remained beyond its grasp.

But by now Hitler's attention
had shifted again.

In late August, German forces were
within striking distance of Stalingrad.


The assault on the city

which bore the name
of Hitler's arch-enemy

had begun.

It would be one
of the most crucial battles

of World War II.

On 17 August 1942

General Friedrich Paulus' Sixth Army
crossed the Don

and began a final push on Stalingrad.

Six days later one Panzer thrust

had reached the Volga river
just north of the city

and German forces were fighting
in the outer suburbs.

Hitler seemed poised
for a famous victory.

Stalingrad was
an important industrial centre.

It straggled for more than 12 miles
along the west bank of the river.

Its factories produced over a quarter

of the Soviet Union's
tractors and trucks,

as well as tanks and guns.

The Russian people had turned it
into a formidable fortress.

They had been helped
by Hitler's decision

to send Army Group B's
Panzers to the south.

This had given them
another two weeks to prepare.

The German plan was to make
a direct assault on the city.



Now began one of the most
prolonged and intense battles

of World War II.



Slowly the Germans edged forward,

street by street,

with Stuka dive bombers
blitzing just ahead of them.


The fighting was savage,

house to house, room by room.


The Soviet defenders used the sewers
for shelter and communications,

and the ruins above for sniping.

Russian reinforcements had
to be brought across the river.


Often, they were
under assault from the air.

But even so, thousands got through.


By late September
the Germans had pushed their way

through most of the city,
almost to the Volga.

For Hitler the capture of Stalingrad
was now an obsession.

On 4 October 1942

General Paulus launched
what was meant to be

the final assault on Stalingrad.

Tanks led the way,

grinding over the rubble
and firing point-blank into courtyards.

One German officer said:

"The advance is measured
in corpses, not metres."

German victory seemed certain.

But in fact, the Germans
were dangerously overextended.

By mid-November the Soviet army
was bringing in reinforcements.

More than a million troops,
13,500 guns,

900 tanks and over 1,000 aircraft

were secretly moved to the battle zone.

On 19 November they attacked
the German's northern flank.


After a massive artillery barrage,

the T-34s and assault infantry

burst through the German positions.

Now it was the Germans

who surrendered in their thousands.

The next day
a Soviet assault in the south

was equally successful.

And on 23 November

these pincer movements met
west of Stalingrad

cutting off the German Sixth Army.

General Paulus,
in charge of the German forces,

could have broken out.

But Hitler ordered him
to stand and fight.

The Führer had been
assured by the Luftwaffe

that sufficient supplies
could be airlifted into Stalingrad.

This was enough for him to announce

that the German positions
must hold out until relieved.

To help Paulus
Field Marshal Erich von Manstein,

the overall German commander
in the region,

launched Operation Winter Storm

on 12 December.

It was an attempt
by the German Panzers

to break the Soviet
encirclement of the city.


For two days it went well.

But then Red Army
resistance increased.

By 23 December

the German rescue attempt
had ground to a halt

about 30 miles from the city.


Manstein advised
the beleaguered Paulus

to attempt to break out of Stalingrad.

But Paulus wanted Hitler's permission.

This was refused.

It was probably too late anyway.

Marshal Zhukov now unleashed
the next stage of his master plan.

It was a massive assault
on the Panzer relief operation.


The Panzers were pushed back,
away from the city,

and by the end of December,

all hope of relieving German forces
in Stalingrad had gone.

Worse still,
plans to airlift aid into the city

were a fiasco.

The German troops needed
700 tons of supplies a day to survive.

They never received more than 80.

The weather was too bad

and the Red Air Force
now commanded the skies.


Steadily, the Soviet troops squeezed in
on the encircled Germans.

200,000 men were trapped.

On 8 January the Soviets called
on the Germans to surrender.

They refused.


On 31 January 1943

Paulus was forced to surrender.


Over 100,000 men
stumbled off into captivity.

Only 5,000 would
ever return to Germany.

Stalingrad had been a bloody battle.

The Germans had been savaged.

They had lost some
300,000 of their men

and at least as many of their allies.

The Russians had lost
about the same number,

including thousands of civilians.

It was Germany's greatest
catastrophe in the war so far,

but it wouldn't be the last.

The Red Army was now
inflicting massive defeats

on Hitler's forces
across the whole Eastern Front.

Stalingrad had been a great triumph
for the Soviet army.

Now its operational commander,
Marshal Zhukov,

set his sights on
the Germany's Army Group A,

still camped in the Caucasus.

Soviet troops thrust their way
west of Stalingrad

and by early December 1942
were within 120 miles of Rostov.

There was a real possibility

all the German forces in the south
would be cut off.

With little choice
Hitler reluctantly gave Army Group A

permission to fall back.


Over the next month

the Germans fought
a skilful rear\guard action.


Hundreds of thousands
of troops withdrew.

Then, on 12 January 1943,

Zhukov launched an all-out assault.


The Soviets attacked
along a 500-mile front.

Outnumbered seven to one,

von Manstein, the overall commander
of German forces in the region,

fought a brilliant mobile retreat.

But by the end of February,
the Red Army had recaptured

both Kursk
and the nearby city of Kharkov.

This Russian winter offensive

had struck a crippling blow
to German power.

Over a matter of months
it had lost a million men,

and vast numbers
of tanks and guns.

The Red Army still had
enormous reserves of manpower.

It was also benefiting
from a huge increase

in weapons production and aid

from the United States and Britain.

The Germans also no longer had
the technological upper hand.

The T-34 tank was more than a match
for the Panzer Mark IV.

And they also had the terrifying
Katyusha multiple rocket-system,

which shattered German troops.

Yet Hitler refused to give up hope.

He still dreamed
of a pre-emptive summer assault

that would throw
the Soviet Union off balance

and regain the initiative.

The city of Kursk seemed
the obvious place to start.

Here, the Soviet assault
had pushed a bulge

deep into the German lines.

It looked temptingly exposed.

Hitler decided it should be
cut off and annihilated.

He also had an ace up his sleeve.

The German counter-attack
would be led

by a new generation
of German tanks

especially designed to combat
the formidable Russian T-34.

The massive but slow 55-ton Tiger
had a lethal 88 mm gun

and its frontal armour
made it almost impervious

to Soviet tank guns.

And then there was
the faster 43-ton Panther

with a new 75 mm gun,

also capable of knocking out the T-34.

These tanks were so new,

Hitler was forced
to delay the attack

while sufficient numbers
were manufactured

and delivered to the front.

But even as the German forces
began to assemble

Soviet commander Marshal Zhukov
guessed what was about to happen.

Soon afterwards
he received information

from a Soviet spy ring
inside the German High Command,

confirming the site of the attack.

Zhukov ordered the construction
of a series of defensive lines

with anti-tank ditches, minefields
and deep belts of barbed wire.

He also massively built up
Soviet forces in the area,

pulling in troops and tanks
from less vulnerable parts of the front.

By the eve of the assault on Kursk,

the Germans were hugely
outnumbered by Soviet defenders,

who also knew exactly
when the Germans would attack.

On 5 July 1943,

just as the German troops
prepared to assault,

they were hit by a huge
Soviet artillery bombardment.


Even so, the next morning
the Panzers still rolled forward.

But this time they were up against
a well-entrenched enemy.

There was no realistic chance

of a lightning Blitzkrieg breakthrough.


The results were disastrous.

In the north the German army
gained a mere six miles

for the loss of 25,000 men

and more than 200 tanks.


In the south the Germans
fared a little better.

A wedge 25 miles deep was driven
into the Soviet defences.

But it also came at a high price.

10,000 men were killed
and 350 tanks destroyed.

But, for a brief moment,

it looked as if a German breakthrough
might be possible.


Then Zhukov threw in his reserves.

On 12 July 1943

900 tanks charged
into the German flank.


Almost 2,000 tanks now engaged

in what was
the largest armoured battle

of World War II.


The Soviet T-34's drove
into the German lines

and opened fire at point-blank range.


After a single day of brutal combat

the Germans had lost a further
350 tanks and were retreating.

Meanwhile, overhead,
there was an epic air battle.

Eventually, the Soviet air force
established supremacy

over the Luftwaffe.

Now the Russians could unleash

their formidable Ilyushin
IL 2 Sturmovik tank killers.

By 23 July

the Germans had lost
any ground they had gained

and with it the cream of their army.

Hitler's adventure at Kursk

had cost him at least 50,000 troops

and more than 700 tanks.

Never again
would the Germans launch

a major offensive
on the Eastern Front.

The Russians had turned
the tide of the war.