Operation Titan: The Race to Berlin
The date was June 20, 1944. For over half a decade German aggression had plagued the continent of Europe, first with the bullying of lesser neighbors, and then with outright invasion. While many have cited revenge and spite towards France and Britain for the unfair hand they dealt the Germans after the first world war as the reason for Hitler's aggression, Austria and all of Eastern Europe were the areas he targeted his aggression towards. Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, all of these were the first to feel the direct sting of the German menace. While some may view revenge towards the west for Hitler's rise to power, his consequent aggression into the east can be seen as little more than empire building.
The last great European expansion, Germany spread its war eastward, and only because the allies forced its hand, did it turn west and overrun France and the great force the Allies were assembling there. Once Britain was driven back to her island, Germany's "revenge" towards the west did not force an all out invasion of Great Britain. Rather it held her at bay on her island. With his main threat separated by the channel, Hitler then went back to his empire building in the east, forcibly puppetting or invading the rest of the Slavic countries.
In Moscow a very calculating man watched all these developments with great interest. He was smart enough to agree to a partition of Poland with this new aggressor: it would accommodate Russia in several ways. He watched with a bit of delight as the democracies of the west were humbled. But as the German war machine worked into the Balkans and into Greece, he knew this thirst for conquest had not and could not be quenched. The man in Berlin very simply could not rest his tanks on the eastern reaches of Romania, or in Warsaw. Seeing the same gold at the end of the rainbow that Napoleon had seen a century ago, he believed himself invincible and took on the most daunting country in the world. Like Napoleon's soldiers, the German troops soon realized not only were they fighting against an endless sea of enemy troops, but they were fighting its harsh winters as well.
In the invasion of Russia, soldiers from both sides as well as countless civilians felt the horror and devastation of this massive war. A thousand times more potent than anything Napoleon could bring to the battlefield, with the advance of weaponry this invasion and defense of Russia was horrific in every respect. Casualties on both sides continued to mount as the enormous jaws of modern military invention feasted on unlimited warfare. Millions upon millions face to face in battle, destroying everything in their path with awesome and dreadful weaponry. As the Red Army was beaten back, town after town and city after city was destroyed: shelled beyond recognition, burnt to the ground. The wounds of war were severe upon the land of Russia in the early years of the war.
It was with great spite and hate that soldiers of the Red Army fought against this invader. They were determined to drive this monster out of their land, and in the back of their minds was the wish to seek revenge for these horrors by visiting the same style of warfare upon German cities and German soil. Stalin himself had these very same sentiments. As the German war machine stalled outside Stalingrad, and short of Moscow, and the tide began to turn, these thoughts of revenge moved to the top of his thoughts. Bury them. Drive them forth. Make Hitler pay. As the Red Army gathered strength and drove the Germans back, by the middle of 1944, they were close to pushing the last invader off Russian soil.
For several years it seemed to Stalin that he had been fighting this war alone against the Axis. For the last three years, the only ground battles on European soil happened in Russia. In an uneasy partnership with the democratic west, Stalin held great contempt for the west, not only ideologically, but also for their seemingly non-committal way of fighting this war. The best the Allies could muster was an invasion of Africa and Egypt. Not a single foot on European soil, while Russian men alone held the tide against the Axis advance.
Finally, on June 6, 1944 America and Britain finally landed in force upon the European continent in Normandy opening up that second front Stalin had so long demanded. Finally.... finally Hitler would have to fight a two front war, taking the pressure off the defenders in Russia.
After three costly years of war, Russia had finally gotten the upper hand on the situation, stopping the Germans on all fronts, and as their war machine was built up, eventually driving the invaders back. Offensive after offensive saw more land recaptured, and with each new battle more troops were thrown into the line. By the middle of 1944 Russia not only boasted the world's largest army, its ground forces had twice as many divisions as any other country. With the German war machine finally feeling the bite after 5 years of continual war, they were ill equipped to take on the massive size of the Red Army and fend off the Allied invasion from the west.
By June 1944, with 300 divisions poised to strike in a line from Leningrad to the Black Sea, Stalin and his Generals could sense that this summer would be theirs. They looked forward to a summer offensive that would completely break the back of the enemy.