The Eastern Front | The National WWII Museum | New Orleans (2023)

Primary image: map showing the advance of the Allied armies from both the east and west at the end of World War II. (Image: The National WWII Museum.)

The US involvement in the European theater of operations was mainly confined to western Europe and Italy, but some of the war’s most savage fighting occurred on the Eastern Front, where the Axis powers had set out to conquer the Balkan Peninsula and the immense reaches of the Soviet Union. More combatants were killed on the Eastern Front than in all other theaters of World War II combined. These bitterly contested, racial battles (Adolf Hitler had vowed to exterminate the eastern Slavs) prevented Germany from mounting a more resolute defense against Allied armies in Normandy, and later, on the Reich’s western borders.

As early as 1923, when Hitler authored Mein Kampf, he believed Germany’s destiny lay in defeating its historic enemy, France, and pushing eastward into the Soviet Union, exterminating both communism and the Slavic peoples. But he didn’t want to fight both countries at the same time, especially if Great Britain came to the defense of France.

Accordingly, in August 1939, Hitler signed a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union. The treaty also included a secret agreement to divide Poland, the Baltic States (Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania), Finland, and Romania into German and Soviet spheres of influence. Neither country fully trusted the other, but the agreement achieved short-term goals for both parties. Germany was free to attack Poland and France without worrying about a Soviet invasion, and the Soviets could take control over parts of eastern Europe without fear of German retaliation.

After Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, Soviet troops moved into parts of eastern Europe, occupying 286,000 square miles of territory containing 20 million people. This action was permitted under the terms of the nonaggression pact, but it endangered Hitler’s plans for expansion eastward. “The sooner Russia is smashed the better,” he told his generals.

On June 22, 1941, Hitler took his greatest gamble, unleashing Operation Barbarossa, a three million-man invasion of the Soviet Union. The invasion was spectacularly effective in its early stages. By September, the Red Army had sustained some 2.5 million casualties. But it turned out to be a fatal mistake. The Soviet Union was one of only two countries (the other was the United States) Germany could not defeat. The Red Army was the largest in the world, comprising over 250 divisions, and the Soviet Union was the world’s largest country by area, with vast natural resources. Undaunted, Hitler was confident the Soviet Union would fall to his armies in a matter of months. Its military equipment was outmoded, its generals were inept, and it had great difficulty defeating tiny Finland the previous year. There was also strong opposition to Joseph Stalin’s repressive regime in the Ukraine and other Soviet provinces. “We have only to kick in the door,” Hitler said, “and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.”

The United States and Great Britain were barely on speaking terms with Stalin’s communist regime but both eventually joined forces with the “Reds” because they shared a common enemy. “Any man or state who fights on against Nazism will have our aid,” Winston Churchill told the British people in a radio address.

The fighting on the Eastern Front was terrible and incessant, brutal beyond belief. Both sides fought with demonic fury—the Germans to crush the hated Slavs, and the Soviets to defend the sacred soil of Mother Russia. Atrocities including beheadings and mass rapes occurred daily. Millions of captured soldiers died of exposure and maltreatment. The Germans besieged Leningrad and tried to subdue it by starving its entrapped people.

At Stalingrad, the pivotal battle of World War II, Hitler had ordered that the entire male population of the city of one million be killed and that all females be deported. No battle in history was more ferociously waged. In house-to-house, factory-to-factory fighting, snipers were used to great effect by both sides, and the butcher’s bill ran high. The Axis forces suffered 850,000 casualties and the Soviets 750,000. Stalin considered his losses necessary. The surrender of the city would have been an irreversible victory for the Nazis.

Millions of victims of the German invasion were noncombatants. Jews and Slavic peasants were killed by the German army—the Jews by rifle squads that followed the army. Hitler’s racial crusade against the Slavs would backfire, however, driving potential Nazi collaborators back into the arms of the tyrannical dictator Stalin.

After the Red Army prevented the Wehrmacht from taking Moscow in 1941 and prevailed at Stalingrad—one of the most decisive battles in history—it began a counteroffensive that drove the enemy all the way back to Berlin in 1945. In one of the final stages of the Red offensive, Soviet advances in the summer of 1944 drew away German forces that could have blunted the Allied offensive in Normandy.


Are backpacks allowed at the ww2 Museum? ›

ONLY rolling luggage can be accommodated at the Guest Services desk based on available space. The Museum has lockers for storing backpacks and other small items but capacity is limited.

How many people died on the Eastern Front? ›

They were characterized by unprecedented ferocity, destruction on a massive scale, mass deportations, and immense loss of life due to combat, starvation, exposure, disease, and massacres. Of the estimated 70-85 million deaths attributed to World War II, around 40 million occurred on the Eastern Front.

Can you bring drinks into ww2 Museum? ›

Only bottled water with a screw top is allowed in the galleries. Food is only allowed in the designated restaurant areas or ground level lobbies.

Can you leave the ww2 Museum and come back? ›

The simple answer is yes. You receive a tag/button upon admittance. Helpful?

Can you take pictures in the war Museum? ›

Photography is permitted for personal use only, with hand-held equipment. Please exercise due care when taking close-up photographs of any exhibit or display. The use of tripods, monopods, etc. is not permitted unless pre-approval has been requested and given.

What clothing restrictions were there in ww2? ›

Regulation L-85, issued by the War Production Board in 1942, rationed natural fibers and forbade drastic style changes that might tempt buyers. It limited color choices and restricted the length of skirts and the fullness of pants and jackets; even cuffs were banned.

What was the worst front in ww2? ›

Of the estimated 70–85 million deaths attributed to World War II, around 30 million occurred on the Eastern Front, including 9 million children.

What were the horrors of the Eastern Front? ›

Atrocities including beheadings and mass rapes occurred daily. Millions of captured soldiers died of exposure and maltreatment. The Germans besieged Leningrad and tried to subdue it by starving its entrapped people.

What was the most brutal battle of ww2? ›


How long does it take to walk through ww2 Museum New Orleans? ›

A full day at the Museum allows you to see everything we have to offer. View all perspectives of the American experience in World War II, from the treacherous islands of the Pacific to the dogged days in Europe to the crucial efforts at home. Plus, save some time for a meal or treat at one our delicious restaurants.

Does the ww2 Museum have metal detectors? ›

All guests who enter the Museum are required to go through a metal detector and are subject to bag search. For more information or if you have further questions, please email

Were soldiers allowed to drink in ww2? ›

Ultimately, the US Military landed on the side of providing alcohol rather than restricting it. Then, much like in manufacturing and food production, the US government instructed the brewing industry to allocate 15 percent of its products for the military to ensure that beer could be provided to troops.

How many ww2 veterans are still alive? ›

The people listed below are, or were, the last surviving members of notable groups of World War II veterans, as identified by reliable sources. About 70 million people fought in World War II between 1939 and 1945 and, as of 2022, there are still approximately 167,000 living veterans in the United States alone.

Can you still find ww2 relics? ›

I have visited numerous locations over the years, in some cases returning again and again to the same site for five years or more. Old airbases are always littered with relics, as are the sites of old POW camps and army camps, and some take many trips to recover all the relics they hold.

Can you wear a backpack in a Museum? ›

Backpacks may not be worn on the back, but must be carried on the side, under the arm, or on the front of the body. These limitations help us protect the artworks from accidental damage. George Y. George Y.

Can you bring a backpack to Field Museum? ›

You are more than welcome to carry your backpacks or coats throughout the Museum. However, a seasonal coat check is located in Stanley Field Hall near the museum's South Entrance.

Are backpacks allowed in Air and Space Museum? ›

Security will want to inspect it, but you should be able to bring it into the museums with no issue.

Are backpacks allowed in 9 11 Museum? ›

Security screening is mandatory for all visitors that wish to enter the Memorial Museum, and will include screening of all bags, equipment, and belongings. Permissible baggage, handbags, backpacks, shopping bags, equipment, and belongings for visitors is limited to 8” x 17” x 19” per item.

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