"Kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down." This is how Adolf Hitler described the state of the hated Soviet Union before launching Operation Barbarossa during World War II in June, 1941. Just six months later, Germany's ally Japan would launch a surprise attack on the United States, awakening the "sleeping giant" against the Axis powers. The resulting disaster for the Nazis was a relentless squeeze by the Western Allies and a murderous quagmire at Stalingrad. Although the Western Allies took much of the credit for the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany four years later, the victory was ultimately achieved in Russia.
Forgetting the lesson of Napoleon's Grande Armee a century and a half earlier, Hitler rushed a massive military force eventually totaling four million men into the heart of the Soviet Union. Achieving astonishing initial successes, Hitler's grand mechanized force thrust all the way to the gates of Moscow. The Nazi army stalled, however, at this critical moment, unleashing Hitler's greatest foe: the Russian winter. The Soviets counter-attacked in those crucial months, pushing the Germany army back and shifting the focus of the war to come. As the German force abandoned its goal of taking Moscow and ending the war swiftly, the focus of the war shifted to the south where the Nazis hoped to capture valuable oil fields. As the Germans moved south, they faced but one obstacle to success: Stalingrad.
Hitler's determination to smash the city bearing the name of his most hated enemy was matched only by Josef Stalin's determination to hold the city at all costs. In meeting at this destined city, the two men were about to demonstrate the classic paradox in physics of, "what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object." Rather than bypass the fortified and densely populated city for the riches of the oil fields, Hitler committed his force headlong. What resulted was what military historians regard as the bloodiest battle in human history. House to house fighting, constant bombardments, starvation, and exposure to the Russian winter combined to cause staggering casualties on both sides. Civilians caught in the middle perished at a staggering rate as the blockade lasted six months. Ultimately, the Red Army was able to make an astonishing pincer move against the German forces in February 1942, encircling and annihilating the remaining Nazis.
The disaster for Adolf Hitler at Stalingrad proved insurmountable in World War II as he lost many of his battle-hardened veterans. As the Soviets began their counter-offensive in the east, the Western Allies began their invasion of Italy. Hitler's allies and client states were knocked out one by one until the bulk of the Western Allies' forces finally landed at Normandy in June, 1944. Although the rapid advance of the allies through Western Europe was impressive, the devastation of German forces in the Soviet Union had left it woefully unprepared to face this new threat. The resulting "race to Berlin" was ultimately won by the Soviet Union, a fitting end to Nazi Germany as Soviet soldiers raised the Hammer and Sickle above the Reichstag. While great successes and astonishing victories were achieved by all of the allies against the Nazis, it was the victory at Stalingrad which sealed the fate of the most diabolical regime in world history.