Tag Archives: Operation Barbarossa

Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (4)

About a year ago I bought a collection, on DVD, of what were, supposedly,  more than 12,000  images of World War Two . I was very surprised, and pleased, to see that most of them were not British or American but were in fact either Russian or German. I would like to share some of these photographs with you, because a number of them have great photographic merits as well as capturing a split second in history.

Please be aware that these photographs do indeed capture moments in history. They portray the deeds of the Soviet Union, not the deeds of  present day Russia, a country run, like China and North Korea, on the mushroom method of management, although, of course, you can be sure that Putin’s suit will always remain spotless.

Today then , I’m going to look at the some of the pictures of children. Some were really quite cute, although they made no effort to disguise the fact that a war was going on:

In this picture, the war is a soldier, looking out of the window, making a call by field telephone :

Another photograph made the point that in the twenty or so years since the revolution in 1917, the Soviets had made enormous strides in improving living standards, particularly in the cities. Don’t miss the Demonic Phantom in the middle of the back row. Or perhaps she’s the KGB Milklady

But then, the Germans invaded the Soviet Union and the Heinkels and the Dorniers rained death over Russian cities. This picture has done duty as being English boys watching the Battle of Britain, but the lack of clothing and the short, almost shaven haircuts, say to me “Western Russia”, a place of unending flat fields where Operation Barbarossa took place in absolutely splendid summer weather. Look at how the boys are amazed, fascinated, yet each one of them has a look of fear in their eyes.

Boys would play their part in the war. For Yuri Gagarin, the  cosmonaut, it was throwing caltrops on the road, pouring soil into tank batteries about to be recharged and mixing up the chemicals used for this job. No wonder! His school was burned down, his family were forced to live in a mud hut and two of his brothers went to Poland for slave labour. In this picture, the boys seem to be snipers of some sort, using enormous long barrelled rifles, or is the nearer one a machine gun?

Next comes a beautiful picture of three bewildered and possibly orphaned little children in front of what may well be the ruins of their house. In Yuri Gagarin’s village, some 27 houses were burnt down. Hitler’s plans for the Russians involved the complete eradication of all the Russian villages, towns and cities, and to have the population housed in large camps from which they would be able to cultivate the land for the Germans. As these slave labourers died off, German families would come east to farm the land as their own:

A similar picture but the little boy is clearly well aware of what has happened to their family, and he just can’t take any more:

This is an unknown Russian village with two more little children. Both the village and its population have been destroyed:

The Germans were not in the slightest bit interested in the Russian civilian population. How could they be when they had carried out the massacre at Babi Yar and killed 33,771 Jews in two days, and the Rumbula massacre in Latvia where around 25,000 Jews were murdered in two days? As the Holocaust moved forward, the Germans would expect to find and kill all the Jews of a small town in a single day.

Russians, and indeed, all Slavs, were merely “untermenschen”, sub-humans, to be killed as the mood took them. The exceptions were the higher echelons of the Communist Party, who were killed on sight.

Human beings, no matter what may have happened to them, will always want to talk to each other and discuss. Here is Grandad, with his three grandsons, talking to somebody they know, probably about the future and where they are going to live. The Wehrmacht would burn down houses just because they felt like it, which may be what has happened here:

PS

My records, which I was looking at last night, show that I published “An impossible Beatles Quiz (1….the Questions)” but that I did not ever publish the answers. For Quiz No 2, I did publish both the Questions and the Answers.

Does anybody out there remember?     

I clearly thought I had published both Questions and Answers for Quiz 1, but the WordPress list of “Published” seems to think otherwise! Indeed, it thinks different things about the subject every single time I do a search!

Please write any thoughts in the “Comments” section of this particular blog post if you can help. 

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Filed under History, military, Politics, Russia, Uncategorized, war crimes

Two strange graves

Wandering around Penzance Cemetery looking for the graves of three Luftwaffe bomber crew members, I soon found the War Graves Section of the cemetery.

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Of the 110 identified casualties, two stood out from the rest for very different reasons. The first is a war grave of an extremely strange and unusual political background, coupled with a puzzling discrepancy over dates.
According to his grave, Sapper William Ormerod (1903548) of the 661st General Construction Company of the Royal Engineers died on June 17th 1941.

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William was born in Manchester and had lived in London. As Sapper Ormerod, he was a British Volunteer in the Winter War of 1939-1940 and was killed in action fighting against the Soviet Red Army in Finland.

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Sapper Ormerod was initially buried in Karelia, but at some point his remains were returned to England. This lengthy delay is presumably the reason that the date of death on his grave in Penzance is listed as June 17th 1941, when there is much evidence to support the idea that he was actually killed in the previous year. But neither is a death date of June 17th 1940 particularly likely either, given that the Winter War ended with the Peace of Moscow,  a treaty which was signed on March 12th 1940. Perhaps Sapper Ormerod was initially injured in combat, and then died of his wounds.

The Soviet Union, of course, were our allies for the vast majority of the Second World War. Before Hitler’s surprise attack on Russia, however, the Soviets, having signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany in August 1939, the so-called Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, were considered by the British to be an ally of Nazi Germany.

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For this reason, when the Soviets attacked Finland on November 30th 1939, the gallant Finns were considered to be our allies. Presumably, this was the reason that men such as Sapper William Ormerod went out there to fight and in some cases, to make the supreme sacrifice. The great ironies of war were re-established, of course on June 22nd 1941, Operation Barbarossa, when Hitler attacked his erstwhile ally. The Soviet Union then immediately ceased to be a bunch of Commies and became our true and most wonderful of friends. The gallant little Finns became our treacherous, despicable enemies. Too late alas, for William Ormerod.

A second war grave in Penzance Cemetery is unusual for a very different reason. It is the grave of John Ostrich.

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John was a member of the Merchant Navy and served as a Mess Room Boy. He was aged only fourteen years and 344 days old at the time of his death. John was the son of Louis and Nancy Ostrich of Canton in Cardiff, and was a member of the crew of the S.S. Margo, a cargo ship registered in Cardiff, with a weight of 1,412 tons.

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John was killed on March 8th 1941. This account comes from a Merchant Navy Message Board and was written by a guest who signed in with the name of “SIF9HD8”. I hope he will not mind my quoting his words…

“On the afternoon of the March 8, 1941, sailing in the English Channel, the Margo came under attack from three German aircraft who proceeded to rake the ship with machine gun, cannon fire and bombs. Although no bombs or explosives hit the Margo, the ship was violently shaken by the concussion of the near misses and her hull and superstructure were pierced by cannon and machine gun fire. Crew members returned fire with small calibre weapons onboard the Margo, and in the process hit one of the aircraft, which was subsequently seen to break off the attack and black smoke was observed coming from the starboard engine. The remaining aircraft continued their attacks for several more minutes, which was eventually broken off and the aircraft disappeared over the horizon. While assessing the ship’s damage, it was found four crew had suffered various injuries and the young Mess Room Boy lay dead. A course was then set for Penzance to land the wounded and the dead”.

At the tender age of fourteen, John Ostrich was one of the youngest casualties of the Second World War. I found another part of the story on the Internet….

“Archie Richards, a former serviceman with the Royal Navy, who notified the local; newspaper, “The Cornishman” of the grave, said: “I don’t want this to be a competition for who has the youngest war dead. I just want to let people know that a 14-year-old died for his country and lies here.” His final resting place is sited across a path from other war graves, meaning John Ostrich is separated from fallen comrades . Mr Richards added: “I also hope that maybe a family member might come across this and want to visit the grave”.

For years,  the Royal Navy Association had held a service at the war memorial in Penzance cemetery and members had wondered about this boy. Recent government acknowledgement now allows Merchant Navy veterans to stand alongside armed forces personnel and their efforts and achievements in time of war have been recognised as an important part in winning the war.”

A book “They Shall Grow Not Old” by Billy McGee is dedicated to more than 500 boys aged under 16 who died in service with the Merchant Navy during the Second World War. It is only available from the author who can be contacted on “billy1963@ntlworld.com”

The Margo herself had a very long and complex history. Just one screen capture hardly does it justice.

Capture

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Filed under Cornwall, History