Reality of War
German soldiers fighting in Novorossiysk, 1943. Pistol in one hand, ax in the other, ready for anything.|
The role of exhaustion in warfare is almost never mentioned. Well, let's take a look, shall we?
If you read standard histories of battles and campaigns, you almost never will hear about how the soldiers were worn out by marching to battle and thus lost, or for that reason didn't pursue a beaten enemy.
|Wehrmacht soldiers in Rostov trying to save a wounded comrade, 1942. Things are getting hectic and Stalingrad is just down the road.|
Then, the historians will say "General so-and-so missed a golden opportunity to finish off the retreating enemy." Many, many battles were decided by sheer exhaustion.
You will read that they won or lost, of course, but not how they savagely battled their enemy in hand-to-hand combat or simply became indifferent to just about anything through perpetual campaigning. So, they marched all night to get to the battle? Oh, might that have had something do with the fact they didn't pursue the enemy afterward and let them "get away"?
|Waffen SS of Totenkopf Division aboard an Sdkfz 251 half track, apparently at Kursk after a hard day at the office. These were the elite of the Wehrmacht....|
But that is the reality of war. It is not all shooting and heroes and Hollywood glamour.
|"March 20km through the night so you can be in a position to hold a barren hill against a horde of murderous, fully rested and better-armed killers."|
This page is about the small change of war. Ordinary grunts just getting through it. Sometimes, it isn't immaculate uniforms and people looking heroic. Men drive all night, then have to stop and wait until told to drive somewhere else. What would you do during the downtime?
War is bad food and mud and dirt and dust and boredom and the worst smells you will experience in your life, with momentary flashes of sheer terror.
|Meanwhile, on the other side.... This fine fellow probably would not have wanted his photo taken then. He better hope it was done by a friend and not his supervisor....|
It is as if soldiers were robots who recharged every night and went back to normal by morning, with every regiment always at a peak state of readiness and every army as mathematically powerful as the number of men in its ranks and the weapons they carry.
|Soldiers in any army will recognize this - you've been hoofing it all day (note his mud-caked boots) and you get a few minutes to rest. Off you go to sleep sitting up.|
Men are not robots, however. Such is not the case and never has been. This is a collection of pictures of people who have been pushed as far as people can be pushed and still function at some level.
|A boy sits alone in the ruins of his home, his parents buried dead underneath after a German rocket attack. London, 1945. Toni Frissell.|
This page shows both soldiers and civilians, because in World War II, civilians suffered as much as anyone, just in different ways.
There are a lot of emotions expressed here, not all strictly exhaustion - here is a blind terror, stunned incomprehension, tragic sorrow, people beyond caring, dull incomprehension - and that is what we are getting at: people going through Hell.
So if the title "exhaustion" is a bit misleading, well, it was as close as we could get. But there is a lot of sheer exhaustion, too.
|Yay victory! Men of the First Marine Division coming off the line after twenty three straight days of combat, Cape Gloucester, Jan 1944. But they got their flags.|
We don't know what all of these people have been through, what they saw only a few moments before the photograph was taken, whether they killed or saw others killed or simply were faced with an impossible situation.
|Pilots dozing in the ready room - a common state of affairs in all air forces.|
It's the not knowing that makes many of the pictures so poignant. Their lives have changed - and they don't like it. But they're not sure yet just how much. The underlying theme is that these are people who somehow have survived, but more often than not probably don't much care anymore. That's what war will do to you.
We're not suggesting that anyone on here does or does not deserve sympathy. They are human beings showing emotion, that is it. You will draw your own conclusions.
|German soldiers on a hot day on the steppes of Ukraine, July 1941. Operation Barbarossa. It gets very hot as well as very cold out there. Guys like these do not show heat fatigue often - it has to be truly brutal for them to show weakness.|
Some of these folks know they're dead men. It's only a matter of time for them, as they are well aware. And there's not a thing they can do about it. The only questions left for them are when, and how.
Exhausted German grenadier somewhere in Russia, summer 1941.|
|This guy has had enough.|
|Another picture of this guy and his buddy. The Finns were renowned as awesome irregular fighters, but they did not have the manpower to stage many pitched battles.|
Some of those other more-deserving folks no doubt were victims of some of the folks shown on this page.
|8th Panzer Division.|
We have pages for those folks, too. But this page is for that most natural of human states during wartime, tiredness.
|Not a dramatic shot, but this is the reality of exhaustion in war - dirty, worn, in the middle of nowhere, emotionless, no patience for anything. On the Eastern Front, probably a dispatch rider, just an ordinary guy being passed on the road.|
These pictures also tell a side of the war that you will not often see. Why did the German invasion of the Soviet Union fail? These pictures help drive home that the answer, quite simply, was that the Soviet Union was big. It was huge. It was gigantic. Simply occupying the territory was a phenomenal undertaking, regardless of whether the Russians resisted. Of course, they did resist - but that was not the dominant factor in why the Germans lost. If it had been Poland or Czechoslovakia or Austria or any of those similar European nations (in terms of size), the Germans would have won. The Soviet Union was just too big. It wore the Germans out and exhausted their supplies of scarce commodities like oil and steel and rubber for tires.
|German motorcycle troops during the opening stages of Operation Barbarossa.|
So, there is a point to all this in terms of outcomes. However, at the most basic level, this simply is a page showing in common human terms the misery and sheer tiredness a war can impose on everybody, whether they were wrong or right, good or bad, on our side or theirs. The Second World War.
|Robert Capa, Omaha Beach, France, June 1944 A German soldier captured by American forces.|
|1945: a young German girl cries in the ruins of a bombed out building after losing her entire family. I know, "she had it coming," right?|
|French Resistance fighter, Paris, 1944. The partisans staged an uprising - then waited days for the Allied troops to arrive. The relief troops ultimately did arrive, unlike in Warsaw shortly thereafter.|
|Sailor sleeping just inside a hatch on board the battleship New Jersey while en route to the Philippines, December 1944. Life of a sailor, too tired to make it back to his bunk.|
|Stalingrad POWs. They're all dead men. They know it. Think he'll get new spectacles if his break?|
|No, he's not dead. This is a Red Army soldier who, desperate from thirst, drinks water from the cooling tank of a disabled Maxim heavy machine gun. Believe me, he's thankful to get it. Summer 1942.|
|German Paratrooper. The eyes tell the whole story. Picture him in a horror film - it's easy to do.|
|That's an impressive shot. Normandy, 1944.|
|Berlin May 1945. Many in this situation just grabbed a pistol....|
|At least it's all over. "Thanks for everything, Adolf."|