Why We Fight #5: The Battle of Russia (1943)
United State War Department
This is the fifth part of a series of films produced by the United States War Department during World War II. The series explained the reasons for the U.S war effort up to that time. This fifth part explains the plans and events that led to the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union and chronicles the war on the Eastern Front from Operation Barbarossa to the battle of Stalingrad. Supervised by Frank Capra and directed by Anatole Litvak.
The Battle of Russia was the fifth film of Frank Capra's Why We Fight propaganda film series, and the longest film of the series. The film begins with an overview of previous failed attempts to conquer Russia: by the Teutonic Knights in 1212 (footage from Sergei Eisenstein's film Alexander Nevsky is used here), by Charles XII of Sweden in 1704 (footage from Vladimir Petrov's film Peter the First), by Napoleon I in 1812, and by Germany in World War I.
The vast natural resources of the Soviet Union are then described, showing why the land is such a hot prize for conquerors. To give a positive impression of the Soviet Union to the American audience, the country's ethnic diversity is covered in detail. Later on, elements of Russian culture familiar to Americans, including the musical compositions of Tchaikovsky and Leo Tolstoy's book War and Peace are also mentioned. Communism is never mentioned at any point in the film. The start of the film also includes a quote from U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who commended the Russian people's defense of their nation as one of the most courageous feats in military history.
The film then covers the Nazi conquests in the Balkans, described as a preliminary to close off possible Allied counter-invasion routes, before the war against Russia was launched on June 22, 1941. The narration describes the German "keil und kessel" tactics for offensive warfare, and the Soviet "defense in depth" used to counter this. The scorched earth Soviet tactics, the room-to-room urban warfare in Soviet cities, and the guerilla warfare behind enemy lines are also used to underline the Soviet resolve for victory against the Nazis.
One powerful scene shows Russians swearing their oath:
For the burned cities and villages
For the deaths of our children and our mothers
For the torture and humiliation of our people
I swear revenge upon the enemy
I swear that I would rather die in battle with the enemy
Than surrender myself my people and my country to the Fascist invaders
Blood for Blood!
Death for Death!
The Siege of Leningrad and the Battle of Stalingrad conclude the film.