Last week, three-quarters of a century ago

Last week in Second World War history

Those who know their history know that the Eastern Front was by far the largest theatre of operations during the Second World War. The Soviet Union put more men and women into the fighting than all other Allies combined, and the countries of the Eastern Theatre suffered over 11 million casualties.

The Germans also put far more men and resources into the Eastern Front. The launch of the war in the east, Operation Barbarossa, sent nearly 4 million men across the Polish frontier, overwhelming—at first—a Soviet strength of under 3 million.

Source: Britannica.

In comparison, the western Allies sent 1.3 million men into Italy between 1942 and 1945, and 156,000 stormed the Normandy beaches on D-Day.

On Facebook and Google+, I’ve been posting daily updates on “on this day in the history of the Eastern Front of the Second World War.” And here, I’ll post a summary of the previous week in history, three-quarters of a century ago.

September 25 – October 1


September 25:

  • Hitler arrives in Poland to observe the bombing in Warsaw.
  • Soviet troops capture Bialystock, Poland.
  • Stalin proposes to Germany that the USSR take over Lithuania, giving Germany areas near Warsaw in exchange.

September 26:

  • Insignia of the Polish Home Army, Armia Krajowa.

    The resistance Polish Home Army, Armia Krajowa, established in Warsaw.

September 27:

  • Polish government in exile sets up in Paris, France.
  • After a 2-week siege, Warsaw falls to Germans.
  • Soviets execute 150 Polish policemen.

September 28:

  • Estonia and USSR sign a 10-year mutual assistance pact, allowing Soviet troops to be stationed in Estonia.
  • Germans and Soviets sign agreement denoting common border in Poland.
  • Joachim von Ribbentrop, Reich Minister of Foreign Affairs.

    German Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop arrives in Moscow to announce joint Soviet-German negotiations for peace with Western powers.

September 29:

  • Hitler orders repatriation of ethnic Germans living in Estonia and Latvia to Germany, as he knows the USSR will soon demand control of the Baltic States.
  • Formal surrender of Poland and division between Germany and USSR


September 26:

  • German ambassador to the USSR tells Soviets that Japan would join alliance with Germany and Italy.

October 1, 1940:

  • Erich Hartmann in 1944.

    Erich Hartmann, greatest fighter ace in the history of aerial warfare, begins basic training in East Prussia. He would shoot down 345 Soviet planes and never be shot down himself. After the war, he was wrongfully convicted of war crimes and served 10 years at hard labour in Soviet prisons. After his release, he joined the air force of the Federal Republic of Germany.

  • Hitler orders Polish gentry exterminated and civilians’ living standards in Poland reduced, as they are now “workers” for the Reich.


Einsatzgruppen killing unarmed civilians in 1942. Wikipedia.

Karl Jager, commander of Einsatzkommando Group A, a Nazi death squad, begins keeping detailed records of numbers of Jews and other civilians his team murdered each day. These became known as the “Jager Reports.” The Einsatzgruppen were special detachments of the SS, specifically charged with killing civilians. For example, during this week in 1941, he reports killing:

  • September 25: 575 Jews in Lithuania
  • September 27: 3,446

September 25:

  • Hitler orders cease of attacks on Leningrad, in favour of starving the city.
  • German and Romanian troops reach Perekop Isthmus to cut off Crimean Peninsula

September 26:

  • German battleship Tirpitz joins naval manoeuvers in the Baltic Sea.
  • Free French sign alliance with the USSR

September 27:

  • German truck stuck in the mud in Russia. Pinterest.

    Rain begins on the Eastern Front, making mud a problem for German invaders.

  • Lord Beaverbrook and U.S. diplomat Averell Harriman arrive in Arkangelsk.
  • 23,000 Jews murdered at Kamenets-Podolsk, Ukraine.

September 28:

  • US and UK officials travel to Moscow to discuss western aid to USSR.
  • Soviet General Gregory Zhukov announces that family members of captured Red Army soldiers would be arrested and shot.

    Georgy Zhukov in 1944. Wikipedia.

  • Jews in Kyiv, Ukraine order to gather at Dorogozhitshay Street at 7:00 the next morning.

September 29, 1941:

  • Reinhard Heydrich named Deputy Protector of Bohemia and Moravia.
  • Vyacheslav Molotov, Lord Beaverbrook and U.S. representative Averell Harriman discuss Western aid to the USSR.
  • Soviet submarine ShCh-319 attacks German ships off Latvia, then strikes a mine and sinks.
  • Hitler orders Leningrad wiped out by bombardment.

    Leningraders during the siege. Source: Daily Chronicles of World War II.

  • Einsatzgruppen death squads murder 50,000 – 96,000 Ukrainians at Babi Yar near Kyiv.
  • Red Army prevents German forces from entering Crimea.

September 30, 1941:

  • Military photographer and long-time Nazi Johannes Hahle turns over some photos in a folder marked “in the East” to his superiors, but keeps photos of the Babi Yar massacre a secret.
  • Soviet Black Sea fleet begins considering transferring from Odessa to Crimea.
  • German Operation Typhoon begins with early assault on Moscow.

October 1, 1941:

  • US-UK-USSR aid conference produces protocol for immediate, long-term aid deliveries to the USSR.
  • Finnish troops reach Petrozavodsk, capital of Soviet Karelia, further isolating Leningrad.
  • Majdanek Concentration Camp in Poland begins operations.
  • Soviets release over 50,000 Polish POWs to form a Polish unit of the Red Army to fight Germany.
  • Soviet POWs in 1941.

    Germans launch Operation Typhoon, attack on Moscow.

  • Panzergruppe 2 splits into two to advance on Orel and Bryansk, Russia.


September 25:

  • Hitler sacks Colonel-General Halder as Chief of the Army General Staff and replaces him with General Zeitzler

September 26:

  • Soviet ace Lydia Lytvyak, the first female ace. She made as many as 14 kills.

    Red Army launches offensive in Tuapse region in the Caucasus.

  • German forces begin new offensive in Stalingrad.
  • Soviet ace Lydia Litvyak shoots down German bomber over Stalingrad, and shares credit for downing a second.

September 27:

  • Sgt. Jacob Pavlov and three other Soviet soldiers attack an apartment block in Stalingrad with hand grenades, expelling occupying Germans and freeing wounded Soviet soldiers. This building became the iconic “Pavlov’s House.” The men defended it for 58 days against infantry, artillery and tank attacks.

    “Pavlov’s House” in Stalingrad, where a handful of men under Sgt. Jabo Pavlov defended the building against repeated attacks for two months.

September 29, 1942:

  • Sigmund Freud’s sister Esther Adolphine dies in Theresienstadt concentration camp in occupied Czechoslovakia.

September 30, 1942:

  • Soviet forces cross the Volga River near Moscow.
  • Due to a typhus epidemic in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Commandant Rudoph Hoss forbids guards from consuming any raw foods.
  • 610 Jews arrive at Auschwitz from the Netherlands. 454 gassed immediately.


September 25:

  • Red Army captures Roslavl and Smolensk.

September 27:

  • German forces in Ukraine begin withdrawal to western bank of Dnipro River.

    An iconic war photo of the Red Army preparing to cross the Dnipro River in 1943, chasing the retreating Germans. From Bill Downs, War Correspondent.

  • Red Army captures Temryuk, Russia, the last Black Sea port held by Germans.

September 28:

  • Germans recapture Split, Yugoslavia from partisans

September 28:

  • Minesweeper USS Aspire transferred to the USSR under the lend-lease agreements.

September 30, 1943:

  • Red Army expands is bridgehead over the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine to 500 km.
  • U-boat “wolfpack” in the Kara Sea north of Russia sink freighter Arhangelsk.

October 1, 1943:

  • German U-boat, circa 1942. Pinterest.

    German u-boats sink Soviet freighter and escort ship in the Kara Sea, off northern Russia.


September 25:

  • Soviets trick Slovakian Captain Frantisek Urban to visit Moscow, then arrest him, sending him to Lubyanka Prison.

September 26:

  • Red Army completes occupation of Estonia.

September 27:

  • 2000 soldiers of Armia Krajowa, Poland’s resistance army, surrender in Warsaw

September 28:

  • Germans begin transferring 18,000 prisoners from Theresienstadt Concentration Camp, Czechoslovakia to Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland.
  • Josip Tito authorizes Soviet troops to enter Yugoslavia. Red 57th Army begins moving toward Belgrade.

September 29:

  • US OSS agents parachute into Bucharest to liberate 1,888 Allied POWs, and take Romanian diplomatic documents to prevent their capture by Soviets.

October 1, 1944:

  • Slovak resistance fighters name themselves the Czechoslovakian 1st Army.
  • Hungarian delegation comes to Moscow to discuss armistice separate from Germany.
  • Red Army crosses Danube into Yugoslavia.

October 2, 1944:

  • Boy Scouts in the Armija Krajowa, the Polish Home Army, during the Warsaw Uprising. Wikimedia Commons.

    Warsaw Uprising ends after 63 unsuccessful days of fighting. 15,200 Armia Krajowa insurgents and 200,000 civilians killed, along with 16,000 German forces.

This is the history that I cover in the Eastern Front trilogy, through the eyes of a man who was there: my father-in-law, the late Maurice Bury.

Check out the books from their page on this website, or on Amazon.

Have anything to add about last week in history? Leave a Comment!


Walking Out of War wraps up the trilogy

The long-awaited final volume in the trilogy recounting the wartime experiences of my father-in-law launches in e-book form on Wednesday,  February 22. You can pre-order it now from Amazon at a special discounted price.
Cover-WOOW-500x800 (1)

Walking Out of War follows up on Army of Worn Soles (2014) and Under the Nazi Heel (2016).

What’s it about?

Ukraine, 1944: After the Soviets burned the Ukrainian city of Ternopyl to the ground to crush the stubborn Nazi occupiers, they rounded up every remaining Ukrainian man around for the Red Army’s final push on Germany. Maurice Bury, Canadian citizen, Ukrainian resistance fighter and intelligence officer, is thrust once again into the death struggle between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s USSR.

Fighting across the Baltics in the autumn of 1944 is tough and bloody. Then the Red Army enters Germany, where they’re no longer liberators—they’re the long-feared Communist horde, bent on destruction, rape and revenge. The Communists are determined to wipe Nazism from the face of the earth. And the soldiers want revenge for Germany’s brutal invasion and occupation.

Maurice has determined his only way out of this hell is to survive until Nazi Germany dies, and then move home to Canada. But to do that, he’ll have to not only walk out of war, but elude Stalin’s dreaded secret police.

Pre-order for less

Walking Out of War will officially be available on Amazon on February 22 for just $2.99 for the Kindle edition. But if you order before midnight at the end of February 21, you’ll be able to get it for just $1.99.

Get it for free

If you’re willing to write an honest review (tell the world exactly what you think—no influence from me), I’ll send you an advance review copy (ARC). Just email and put “Walking Out of War – ARC” in the subject line, and I’ll fire back a copy as soon as I can. The only thing I ask is that you post your review on Amazon as soon as possible, and if you have a chance, post the same review on the Goodreads page.


Preview: Under the Nazi Heel

The sequel to Army of Worn Soles is nearly ready to publish. I have been going through edits and corrections made by the excellent Gary Henry and Joy Lorton, and all I need now is a final cover. So I thought that I would share another preview. Since winter has finally arrived in my part of the world, I thought I would present a wintry, snowy episode from a January, 73 years ago.

Subscribe to get Written Words in your email today, and I’ll send you a free e-copy of Army of Worn Soles so that you can read it before the sequel comes out.

Trondheim forest preview

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Chapter 11: Meeting in the Snow

January, 1943

The winter of 1943 was not as cold as 1942, when oil froze in Panzer engines, but January nights were bitter. Driving a single-horse sleigh through the forest at night, Maurice pulled his fur hat lower on his head and the collar of his coat higher.

He was returning by horse-cart from a village called Prosova, in the eastern part of his range. He had left a little before sunset. No one would want to be out on such a cold night, and the Germans had long before learned not to venture at night into the countryside. The Ukrainian Insurgent Army lived deep in the forests and swamps, supported by willing donations of locals. And then there was the rival OUN-B, the nationalists led by Stepan Bandera, who had no mercy for soldiers, agents, spies and collaborators of either Nazi Germany or the USSR.

The snow beside the sleigh tracks was deep and the setting sun turned the clear, distant sky a vivid yellow in the west. When he looked back over his shoulder, he could see white stars against the deep purple-blue sky.

Maurice shivered under his thick fleece blankets and flicked the reins to urge the horse to go a little faster. He steered toward trees, keeping to the paths known to the locals. Still, Maurice knew that their security depended on adherence to the rules of secrecy and stealth. They worked in separate units, communicated only in the stefetka code and used only code names. Maurice did not even know the real name, nor the face of his superior officer, and he had never met most of the agents who reported to him.

Every move was fraught with multiple risks: risks of being observed by one of the enemies; of their intelligence being faked; of being killed by the Germans, the Communists or by mistake by partisans. Maurice shivered again.

Maurice’s heart began to pound when he saw a slim shape on a big, black horse coming straight toward him through the trees, along a path that crossed his. Maurice took his pistol from its holster and held it under the blanket, then chucked the reins to speed up his horse so that he would reach the path intersection before the rider.

Just as the last daylight faded, Maurice reined in so that his sleigh blocked the intersecting path. The rider stopped when he could actually see his face. It was a young boy, maybe thirteen or fourteen years old. “Good evening, sir,” he said in a shaky voice.

“You’re out late tonight,” Maurice said, and he knew he did not sound friendly. He was nervous, himself. Why was a young boy out after curfews? “Where are you going?”

“To see my uncle,” said the boy, trembling. Maurice became more curious. Why was this boy being evasive? Why was he so afraid? He must have been able to tell that Maurice was not a German officer.

“Where does your uncle live?”

The boy hesitated. “In … in Mykulynci.” The town was about five kilometres away, but still, why was a young boy traveling alone at night? Maurice started to get the feeling that the boy thought he was doing something heroic.

“You had better tell me what you’re doing,” Maurice said in a softer tone. Not friendly, but not unfriendly, either.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, tell me the real reason you’re travelling at night when there are strict curfews. It’s not safe.”

“I’m not afraid,” said the boy, looking around. But the only way forward was blocked by Maurice’s sleigh, and the snow was too deep for the horse to pass around it.

“Why are you going to Mykulynci?” Maurice asked again.

“I told you, to see my uncle.”

“What’s his name?”

“I don’t see why I should be telling you anything. I don’t even know who you are!”

“You don’t need to know who I am. But I know who you are,” Maurice lied. “And I know you’re much too young to be doing what you’re trying to do. Who are you going to see?”

“I’m not too young to love my country!”

“This is not a game.” Maurice leaned close to the boy, his voice a growl. “This is a war between grown-up men, and children who get involved always get killed.” Maurice decided to change tactics. “Listen, my friend, I know what you’re trying to do. But think how your mother would feel if you were hurt — or worse. And what if you fell into German hands?”

“I’m not afraid of the Germans! We rule the night!”

“‘We’? Who are ‘we’?”

map of Ternopyl Oblast

Ternopyl Oblast, Ukraine, today. Maurice’s territory was south of Ternopyl city.

The boy’s eyes widened and he looked around again. He realized he had made a serious mistake.

Maurice leaned close. “Which unit are you with?” he whispered. When the boy hesitated, he said “Come on, you can trust me. I’m a Ukrainian, not a German. I love my country, too.”

“Can I really trust you?”

“Oh, yes. I’m friendly to … our side.” Maurice wished he could say more, but the less the boy knew, the safer he would be.

The boy leaned closer and whispered “I’m bringing a message to Mr. Stefaniuk in Mykulynci. It’s from a man named … ‘Half-Moon.’”

“Half-Moon” was the code name of one of Maurice’s agents, one of the few he knew personally. Maxim Tanshysyn was a lazy old bureaucrat who was never on time, nor were his reports ever complete. Now he was sending children to do his work for him. “What sort of message?”

“I don’t know. I was told to put the message directly into the hands of Mr. Stefaniuk.” The boy pulled a slip of paper from a pocket, but held it close to his chest.

“I know Mr. Stefaniuk myself. I’ll get the message to him. I know all the people involved in this. I’m a friend of … our organization. Your duty is to look after your family and not to endanger any of your comrades. And someone your age, out here, is going to draw a lot of attention from the enemy. If you get caught, you’ll endanger everyone that you know. Is that what you want?”

Maurice could see that the boy was thinking about it, and that he was a lot more scared than he had been at first. He suddenly thrust the paper to Maurice. “I’m trusting you.” Without another word, he turned the horse around carefully and retreated down the path. In seconds, his shadow had melted into the forest.

Maurice opened the note. In the dim moonlight, he could barely make out rows of numbers. It was the stefetka code, all right. Half-Moon was going to get it. But now, he had to make another detour before returning home, to bring the message to Stefaniuk in Mykulinci.

About Under the Nazi Heel

For Ukrainians in 1942, the occupying Germans were not the only enemy.

Maurice Bury was drafted into the Red Army just in time to be thrown against the invading Germans in 1941. Captured and starved in a POW camp, he escaped and made his way home to western Ukraine, where the Nazi occupiers pursued a policy of starving the locals to make more “living space” for Germans.

To protect his family, Maurice joins the secret resistance. He soon finds the country faces multiple threats. Maurice and his men are up against Soviet spies, the Polish Home Army and enemies even closer to home.

Experience this seldom seen phase of World War 2 through the eyes of a man who fought and survived Under the Nazi Heel.

Find it on Amazon.

It’s launch day today

Image courtesy SpaceX
Army of Worn Soles, my third book, launches officially today.
It’s exclusively on Amazon, at least for three months, allowing me to take advantage of the marketing and promotional tools available through the Kindle Select program.
Go to Amazon right now for a look inside (or to buy it if you can’t wait)
And in celebration of the launch, I’m putting my previous books, The Bones of the Earth and One Shade of Red, on sale for just 99 cents each on all channels, all week long:

What’s it about?

Ukraine, 1941
A Canadian is drafted into the Soviet Red Army, just in time to be thrown against Nazi Germany’s invasion. Caught in the vise of the Nazi and Communist forces, Maurice Bury concentrates on keeping his men alive as they retreat across Ukraine from the German juggernaut. Now the question is: will they escape from the hell of the POW camp before they starve to death?

Follow the tour and win a signed paperback

Sixteen awesome bloggers are supporting the launch of Army of Worn Soles by posting excerpts. Coming up:
Monday, June 23: Rebekah Lynn’s Books blog
Tuesday, June 24: Michael Lorde’s M.E. Author blog
Wednesday, June 25: BestSelling Reads’ Win-a-Book Wednesday—two chances to win!
Thursday, June 26: Wodke Hawkinson’s Find a Good Book to Read blog
Friday, June 27: Seb Kirby’s New Words for New Times
Saturday, June 28: Michelle Chiapetta’s Chipper Muse
Sunday, June 29: Gae-Lynn Woods’ The Big Heat
Monday, June 30: Back to Written Words for the wrap-up.
Read each blog on its day and collect the clue. Put all the clues together and unscramble them for a chance to win a signed paperback copy.
And if you enter the clue into the comments field in the respective blog, you’re eligible to win a free e-copy. Don’t delay—enter now!
You still have a chance to go back to the previous blogs. For a list, visit my blog post from the start of the tour.

Why June 22?

June 22 is the anniversary of a key event in the book and the life of its protagonist, Maurice Bury. What is it? Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out.

Get it from Amazon today!