The Guardian November 8, 2000


Remember the Kursk: Today and Yesterday

by Don Sloan

The tragedy of the Russian submarine's sinking in the Barents Sea, with the 
loss of all 118 on board, added the word Kursk to our lexicon. We learned 
about the origin of the name  a community of about 250,000 in southwest 
Russia, close to the Ukrainian border.

We saw the photos of the sobbing families that had lost husbands, brothers, 
sons and fathers, and we felt their grief.

We lamented, wondering if the Russian authorities had acted with 
efficiency, but feeling hopeful that all steps were carried out in the name 
of humanity to save its crew.

Leaning back into this century's annals of World War II, it is clear why 
Kursk deserved to have the ship named in its honour.

Its place in history was set over a half-century ago. The "rest of the 
story" about the city of Kursk should leave us with more than just a 
commemoration over a namesake nuclear sub.

The Great Patriotic War, as the Soviet Union labelled its efforts in WW2, 
was under full steam on the eastern front in 1943.

It was becoming apparent to Premier Joseph Stalin that his two "allies" in 
the fight against fascist Germany  the United States and Great Britain  
had little intention of fulfilling a pledge made by President Franklin 
Delano Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill to open up a second 
front in northern France that year, to take some pressure off the Soviet 
forces.

In fact the Second front did not occur until both Roosevelt and Churchill 
became convinced that the Soviet Union would reach Berlin first and alone.

This was intolerable for those who had assumed that the impetuous German 
June 22, 1941, invasion would "kill two birds with one stone" and rid them 
of the menace of Nazism  and more, the "spectre of communism" that Karl 
Marx predicted 75 years earlier.

The June 24, 1941, edition of The New York Times quotes then-Senator 
Harry S Truman discussing the Nazi invasion of the USSR and stating that 
"the United States [should] help whatever side seems to be losing".

Whenever one side gained the advantage the US should help the other, a 
policy cynically intended to lead to the mutual destruction of both Germany 
and the USSR.

"Let them kill as many as possible ..."

Hitler had prioritised Leningrad in the north and Stalingrad in the south 
as the goals of the Nazi march to the Urals. Had he been successful, 
Moscow's capture would have surely followed.

The Japanese Pearl Harbour adventure would signal the start of its invasion 
of Siberia and all of Europe and Asia would come under Axis control.

Historians of the era have agreed that with the vast food stores of the 
Ukraine and the USSR's huge oil and gas reserves, there would have been 
perhaps no stopping Hitler from his plan to rule the world, including the 
United States and the UK.

However, his brash predictions of spending Christmas in Red Square were 
unrealistic.

Joe Stalin and the Red Army stood in the way.

Even without the promised support from London and Washington, the Soviet 
Union stood firm. With England and the United States occupied in an African 
campaign instead of on the beaches of Normandy, the Red Army took another 
deep breath, the Soviet people tightened their belts one more notch and 
went on the offensive.

The counter-attacks began on November 19, 1942, Stalingrad's siege was 
lifted on February 2, 1943 and the German ring around Leningrad was 
beginning to perforate.

In July 1943, the German High Command was determined to take a stand of its 
own. A 60-mile wedge in the German lines in a 9,000 square mile area became 
the battle of Kursk.

Code-named Citadel, the German general staff, under Hitler's direct orders, 
mobilised every available piece of weaponry and manpower, consisting of 
over 37 divisions, 2000 aircraft and 3000 tanks.

The Red Army matched the German might; well over a million soldiers were 
involved in the fray.

Citadel was launched on July 5, 1943. By the 13th of July, it was over. The 
Red defence of Kursk held and its offence crushed the Nazi hordes, with an 
enormous loss of life on both sides. It was the last aggressive attempt by 
Hitler on the Russian front.

From then on, it was all retreat.

William L Shirer in his The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and 
other historical reviews of the war, as researched by the late historian, 
Saul Friedberg in his chronicles, The Final Conflict, describe the 
battle for Kursk as the turning point in the war.

It broke the backs of the German High Command, with losses in armaments, 
supplies and personnel that were staggering, resources that never made 
their way to Normandy and never faced the D-Day invasion forces. Its 
significance cannot be exaggerated.

The Red Army started its sweep across the entire front of 2,500 miles that 
ended at the Reichstag in Berlin on May 9, 1945, with Germany's 
unconditional surrender and Hitler's suicide.

The name Kursk and its shocking loss of 118 lives shall live in our 
memories forever. But the many tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians 
who perished in the eight-day battle of Kursk 57 years earlier are a 
reminder of the over 20 million lives the Soviet people gave in their 
struggle against the German onslaught.

Remember the Kursk, but remember it for all of its meanings.

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Don Sloan is assistant editor of Political Affairs, the monthly journal of the Communist Party of USA. People's Weekly World

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