Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Guest Post from Chris Oakley: "Is Moscow Burning?" Pt 6

Summary: In the first five parts of this series, we reviewed the course of Allied and Axis rocket development in the Second World War from the first Nazi V-weapons attacks on Moscow in 1941 to the use of ground-to-ground and air-to- air rockets in the great Allied campaigns of 1944. In this final chapter of the series, we’ll look back at how rocket attacks hastened the ultimate collapse of the Third Reich. Check out Part 1 on Changing the Times


By the time the first Anglo-American advance troops marched into Paris in August of 1944, only the most diehard Nazi fanatics still held out any hope of a German victory on the Western Front. Not only was the Third Reich hopelessly behind the Allies in both quantity and quality of military technology, but Allied rocket strikes were wiping out an ever-growing portion of the German transportation network in Western Europe. This meant neither supplies nor manpower could reach the German lines in time to make any significant difference in the course of the campaign to liberate France, Belgium, and the Low Countries.

The situation was even more dire for Germany on the Eastern Front; Soviet rocket crews were raining destruction on the beleaguered German armies with such lethal frequency and precision that it seemed like the Wehrmacht might be wiped out to the last man before the first snows of winter fell. To add insult to injury, German cities in the East were in range of Soviet long-distance rockets for the first time, and Stalin had given the go-ahead for the Red Army to subject them to the same type of vicious bombardment German V-1 and V-2 units had previously unleashed on Soviet cities and towns.

While it would take until January of 1945 for Red Army rocket crews to get within striking distance of Berlin, the Red Air Force was carrying out rocket attacks on the German capital as early as November of 1944. In pre-dawn raids launched from bases in eastern Poland, Soviet Il-2 bombers struck often and hard at Berlin’s infrastructure, helping to turn much of the once-elegant city into a hellish wasteland as they fired rocket after rocket into roads, bridges, and tram stations. Berlin’s famed Tiergarten zoo was one of the most notable casualties of these attacks, having been pounded into rubble during an Il-2 attack in early December; it’s thought that 90 percent of the zoo’s animals died in the raid.

Joseph Goebbels’ first response to the Red Air Force rocket strikes on Berlin was to turn them into fodder for his propaganda machine. Though it was crystal clear to any impartial observer that Germany had lost the war, Goebbels continued to exhort his radio listeners to keep fighting the Red Army at all costs. He gave no thought to the thousands of civilians in the German capital who’d been killed or injured by the rocket bombings, or the tens of thousands of refugees trying desperately to reach safety in the west before the next wave of rockets exploded in Berlin’s streets. He only cared about enforcing political conformity and maintaining the total obedience to Hitler that had been the hallmark of Nazi ideology since the F├╝hrer first rose to power in 1933. Not even the destruction of the city’s largest hospital by Soviet rockets in mid-February of 1945 could persuade Goebbels or Hitler to change their suicidal course. Indeed, Goebbels went so far as to threaten to shoot anyone in his ministry who gave the vaguest hint of supporting a negotiated peace with the Allies.

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