On June 16 this year, U.S. President Donald Trump announced he was removing another 10,000 U.S. troops from Germany reducing American troop levels there to a derisory 24,500.
The move came only a week before the 76th anniversary of the start of the most decisive battle of World War II, the destruction of the heart of the fearsome and monstrous Nazi war machine – Army Group Center – in the Battle of Belorussia. It was an achievement that continues to shape our 21st century world.
The COVID-19 pandemic and George Floyd tragedy have at least shut up the usual childish fairy tales that flood the U.S. media at this time of year about how they and the British single-handedly saved the world from the curse of Nazism. But it seems timely once again to remember the Battle of Belorussia – the great victory that really did break Nazi military power in June 1944.
All serious Western military historians, to their credit fully acknowledge this reality, but in the popular media it is totally forgotten. Less than 60 Nazi Wehrmacht divisions were assembled to face supposedly the supreme challenge of the War – D-Day: the Allied invasion of Europe. But more than 180 Wehrmacht divisions remained committed to holding back the Red Army in the East. And they lost.
Starting on June 22, 1944, the Soviet Union inflicted the biggest defeat in German military history by destroying 28 out of the 34 divisions of Army Group Center, killing and capturing 450,000 men.
In the space of a month, Army Group Center, the great center of gravity and hard strategic rock on which German domination of Russia’s heartland had rested for three years, was annihilated. It was a cataclysmic defeat on an even bigger scale than Stalingrad.
In German military history, the campaign was named “The Destruction of Army Group Center.” It came at the same time, and in large part made possible, the great Allied victory in the West at the Battle of Normandy. The scale of destruction visited upon Army Group Center dwarfed that visited upon the Falaise Pocket in the West.
British war premier Winston Churchill recognized the significance and scale of the victory immediately . “Good God, can’t you see that the Russians are spreading across Europe like a tide?” he exclaimed to his young Personal Private Secretary John “Jock” Colville” who 30 years later mentored me at the British Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Churchill recognized correctly that the Battle of Belorussia was of lasting geostrategic importance and sure enough its outcome remains of critical importance to this day. For it established Soviet military supremacy across Sir Halford Mackinder’s Heartland – the geopolitical world island of Eurasia.
The collapse of communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union eclipsed this reality during the dark decade of Russia’s misery under President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s (aided and abetted by the Clinton administration and the catastrophic economic advice of then Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Vice President Al Gore). But it did not eliminate the underlying reality. Then Russia regained its stability, its underlying economic strength and its military power under President Vladimir Putin.
Unlike Britain’s global empire which vanished in the 15 years from 1947 to the early 1960s, or U.S. military power which has been exhausted by unending inept wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Battle of Belorussia established a global reality that endures to this day.
That battle, also known as Operation Bagration also marked the ascendance of the Soviet and post-Soviet way of war. As retired U.S. Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor, most insightful of modern Western military analysts writes in his classic work “Margin of Victor,” “The triumphant Wehrmacht of 1941 was crushed in 1944 …(by) a Soviet transformation focused on integrating and concentrating combat power on the operational level for strategic effect.”
“The Soviet Union won World War II in eastern Europe,” Macgregor concluded, “because the Communist Party of the Soviet Union organized its forces to achieve absolute unity of command. …Thanks to this unique condition of unity of effort, the Soviet high command could commit troops and resources when and where they were needed quickly and efficiently on the strategic and operational levels of war. …The spectacular advance of Soviet military power over the wreckage of Army Group Center into the heart of Europe ensured the destruction of the Third Reich.”
The Battle of Belorussia also holds a crucial lesson on the strength, endurance and resilience of the Russian people. In the three years following June 22, 1941, more than 25 million Russians died at the hands of the Nazi invaders. Not since the Mongol heirs of Genghis Khan conquered China in the 13th century had so much loss of life been visited upon a single nation. Even a limited nuclear strike on Russia or the United States now would not produce such comparable casualties and human suffering. Yet the Russian people, with their fellow peoples of Eurasia came back to win this greatest of military victories.
Thirty years after the Collapse of Communism it is now One World Liberal Internationalism – the Cult of Free Trade and Open Borders – that is collapsing before our eyes. But the military dynamics established across Central Europe in June 1944 – that true Month of Victories – still drive our reality and shape our global destiny.