I used to buy a lot of things on ebay. And sometimes I found some real bargains and some really interesting things for sale. That’s not quite as easy a proposition now, but recently I decided to search for some propaganda leaflets from World War Two, the sort that were dropped on enemy forces from aircraft. Many people thought that they were 100% effective, but “Bomber” Harris, the man in charge of the RAF’s Bomber Command, thought that they merely provided the Germans with free toilet paper for the duration of the war. Here’s a sample selection, which was priced at £200:
By 1945, the war was nearly over, but the Germans still fought on and refused to surrender. The lives of ordinary Germans seem to have had no value or importance as far as their leaders were concerned.
After the Vistula–Oder Offensive of early 1945, the Soviet Red Army had temporarily halted their westward advance on a line 37 miles east of Berlin. By March 9th, the Germans too had established their own defensive plans for the city. The first preparations for this were made in the suburbs of Berlin from March 20th onwards.
At this point, there were 766,750 German soldiers acting as Berlin’s defenders and a Soviet attacking force of a gigantic 2,300,000 men.
The Germans would still not surrender, though. Eventually, leaflets were dropped from Soviet aircraft to persuade them to give up. Such a leaflet is what I bought on ebay at a bargain price of £10. There were no other bidders. This is the front page.
This is a Lisunov Li-2, which was probably the Russian aircraft of choice for leaflet drops. All American readers should recognise it!
The leaflet was very simply presented. The text is direct and to the point. As most readers do not speak German, and neither do I, thanks to Google translate, I can provide the English:
“Lesen und an die Kamarden weitergeben!”
Read and pass it on to your friends!
“Rette dich, ehe es zu spät ist!”
Save yourself before it’s too late!
Certain city names occur and recur on this propaganda leaflet. So now, here’s a little bit of geography. First, the places important to the German invaders…….
Stalingrad was on the River Volga, way, way, to the east of the European Soviet Union, and almost in Asia. It was north of the Caucasus and a good way east of the Black Sea.
Leningrad was in the north, on the Baltic Sea, right next to Estonia and Finland. Moscow, Minsk and Warsaw were all further south, on the usual West-East invader’s route into Russia. Nowadays these cities are major stations on the Moscow-Berlin line, a journey which took me two whole days in 1969.
The Soviet Red Army’s route from east to west, as they chased the Germans out of their country, across Poland, and finally to their own capital, Berlin, was, of course, a lot longer than two days!
Finally, some help with the place names mentioned in the next few extracts…..
In central Europe, the Oder is the river which still forms the present-day frontier between Germany and Poland. In the Cold War, it was half of the so-called “Oder-Neisse Line“.
The River Spree actually flows through the very centre of Berlin and then joins the River Havel in Spandau, home of the heavy machine gun and the famous ballet company:
“Von der Wolga bis zur Oder sind es 2000 Kilometer, von Der Oder bis zur Spree – 75.”
“From the Volga to the Oder it is 2000 kilometers, from the Oder to the Spree – 75.”
On we go, chasing the Fascists…….
“Die Rote Armee hat den Weg von der Wolga bis zur Oder zurückgelegt und die Oder überschritten.”
“The Red Army has travelled the route from the Volga to the Oder and crossed the Oder.”
Here are the Germans, trying to defend the River Oder. The Field Marshall was a little bit disappointed with the turn-out:
“Sie wird auch den Weg bis zur Spree zurücklegen.”
“It (the Red Army) will also travel the road to the Spree.”
The Spree is the last river before you reach the very centre of Berlin. Here it is, right next to the Reichstag building:
“Zwischen Wolga und Oder gab es Stalingrad und Kursk, Leninjgrad und Minsk, Kischinew und Warschau. Jenseits der Oder liegt Berlin.”
“Between the Volga and the Oder there was Stalingrad and Kursk, Leningrad and Minsk, Kishinev and Warsaw. Berlin is on the other side of the Oder.”
These cities all form the different routes for the invaders of the Soviet Union to travel. The next two sentences from the leaflet duly lists them, as the Red Army chases the Germans westwards, out towards the Vaterland :
Route 1 is Stalingrad-Kursk-Berlin, and Route 2 is Leningrad-Minsk-Berlin and, presumably, Route 3 is Kishinev-Warsaw and then Berlin. KIshinev was in Moldova, just to the north of Rumania.
All three routes begin to converge when they reach Warsaw and Berlin. That explains the Red Army of 2.3 million men.
“Die Rote Armee hat die gewaltigen Schlacten um Stalingrad und Kursk, um Leningrad und Minsk, um Kishinew und Warschau gewonnen.”
“Sie wird auch die Schlact um Berlin gewinnen.”
“The Red Army has won the mighty battles around Stalingrad and Kursk, Leningrad and Minsk, Kishinev and Warsaw.”
“It will win the Battle of Berlin”
“Zwischen Wolga und Oder hatten die Deutschen Dutzende, uneinnehmbarer Wälle und Hunderte erstklassiger Festungen.”
“Jenseits der Oder, auf dem Wege nach Berlin, gibt es weder Wälle noch festungen mehr.”
“Between the Volga and the Oder, the Germans had dozens of “impregnable ramparts” and hundreds of first class forts.”
“Beyond the Oder, on the way to Berlin, there are no more ramparts or fortresses.”
And then a frightening threat, or more likely, promise:
“Die Rote Armee hat alle deutschen Festungen zwischen Wolga und Oder genommen und die Oder überquert.”
“Sie wird auch die letzte Festung jenseits der Oder – Berlin – nehmen.”
“The Red Army took all German fortresses between the Volga and the Oder and crossed the Oder.”
“It will also take the last fortress on the other side of the Oder – Berlin.”
That is the end of the first section of the leaflet. Next time, we’ll take a look at the second section. The picture shows Soviet infantry capturing some of the streets of Berlin.
And finally, I do apologise for the lack of maps. I searched for a long time to find a simple map of the Eastern Front in 1945, but an overall, easy-to-understand example proved impossible to find.