Friday, March 4, 2016

Soviet Storm -- An epic Russian TV documentary account of WWII in the East

In 2011, Russian television produced an epic documentary look at World War II in the East -- known to the Russians as the Great Patriotic War -- called Soviet Storm.

Consisting of 18 parts, Soviet Storm follows the titanic and brutal struggle between Hitler's genocidal Nazi invaders and the Red Army and people of the USSR. It details the disastrous start to the war, through to the siege of Leningrad and battle for Moscow, to the turning of the tide at Stalingrad and Kursk, to the drive to victory in Berlin. It even has episodes dealing specifically with the partisan struggle, the air war, naval war (yes, there was one), espionage and battles and fronts you have likely not heard of.

Soviet Storm is incredibly well done, written and narrated, with very high production values and powerful recreations of important or interesting moments. It uses a blend of CGI and live action, as well as archival footage, to great effect. What also makes Soviet Storm notable is that it is told from the Russian perspective and lacks many of the broad stroke negative myths that were built up after the end of the war during the Cold War.

While the Red Army and Soviet people were often portrayed in the West as having fought simply out of fear of the government, and as having won largely due to German errors and hubris, Western aide and superior numbers, Soviet Storm presents a more accurate, nuanced and complete account.

The documentary is not a whitewash. It acknowledges and details the use of brutality, scapegoating and terror by the Stalinist regime, moments of incompetence and catastrophic strategic inflexibility by the Red Army generals and Stalin, and war crimes on the part of the Soviet forces.

But it also shows the incredible courage and dedication of citizens, the shift over to new and far more flexible and innovative tactics that helped greatly to seize the offensive initiative away from the Germans, the designs of new weapons and vehicles that proved often superior to what the Germans could field, the steps taken by the regime that were anything but incompetent such as the almost unbelievable dismantling of industry that was then reassembled further East on an incredible scale, and does all of this with an emphasis totally absent in many Western narratives.

While this is primarily a military documentary focused on grand strategy it movingly portrays the devastation and horror brought to ordinary people and tells the stories of many individual moments of self-sacrifice or bravery.It portrays the incredible tenacity of Soviet resistance that began on the very first day of the invasion -- often after those resisting had been totally cut-off from any hope of relief where extraordinary levels of courage were displayed.

For a documentary about events that took place across such a vast scale it humanizes many moments and tells a surprising number of individual tales. It also portrays a people who were not automatons but actual human beings driven by motives in some cases of nationalism and patriotism, revulsion at the viciousness of the Nazi invader or a genuine Communist fervor.

While not without its flaws and blind spots, it is well worth watching in its totality for anyone interested in military history, the Soviet-Nazi conflict or World War II generally.

Soviet Storm is available in English on DVD in a box set, but it is also, at least for now, available for free from different sources on You Tube. I have embedded a direct link to the first episode below, which while it will not play here, will take you to it on You Tube (it has Vietnamese subtitles, which was the only one I could find that allowed embedding) I have also provided links to two other playlists (in English without subtitles) of the full 18 episodes after that.

PLEASE NOTE: We removed the video as it will not play as embedded. Click on the link to the playlist below to watch the series for free on You Tube:

Soviet Storm Playlist:

See also: 26 Incredibly Evocative Photos of 1956 Soviet Moscow

See also: 8 great American leftist films -- An alternative Oscar playlist

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