33 Colorized Images That Capture The Endless Brutality Of World War II’s Eastern Front

Published June 8, 2019
Updated August 15, 2022

At the cost of more than 30 million lives, Hitler would finally be defeated — by the Soviets.

A Dead Soldier Lies In Front Of A Burning Tank
A Hippo In A Cage
A Horse Grazes Around Ruins Of War
A Line Of Female Soldiers Smile While Holding Guns
33 Colorized Images That Capture The Endless Brutality Of World War II’s Eastern Front
View Gallery

In the United States, World War II's Western Front gets most of the attention. D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, the Nazi occupation of France — these all conjure vivid images in America's collective imagination. But it was the war's Eastern Front between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union where some of the war's most barbaric fighting occurred.

The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed a nonaggression pact in August 1939, wherein each country agreed to not fight the other for 10 years.

According to the deal, the Soviet Union would acquire Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, as well as the eastern half of Poland.

Poland's western half, which bordered Germany, could therefore be invaded by the Nazis without a fight from the Soviets — which is exactly what Adolf Hitler did on September 1, nine days after the pact was signed. It was this invasion that started World War II in Europe.

Both sides secretly knew they would in all likelihood enter a war against each other, but their pact gave them time to prepare. Hitler focused on expanding its reach in western and central Europe – in France, Denmark, Belgium, and elsewhere – while Joseph Stalin rounded up millions of Soviets, mostly convicts and political prisoners, into gulags to perform forced labor.

Operation Barbarossa Begins On The Eastern Front

But on June 22, 1941, that all changed. Hitler broke the Nazi-Soviet deal with the launch of Operation Barbarossa, invading the Soviet Union from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south with some 3 or 4 million men. About a quarter of the Axis forces were non-German, with many Hungarians, Romanians, Finnish, Ukrainians, and others.

Within a week, German forces advanced 200 miles into Soviet territory. Within a couple months, 2.5 million Soviets soldiers were either killed, wounded, or missing. By December, that figure skyrocketed to nearly 7 million — the current populations of Los Angeles and Chicago combined.

The fighting was beyond brutal; beheadings and mass rapes occurred daily. Instead of deporting Jews and Roma to concentration camps, 3,000 members of the German Einsatzgruppen — literally "operational groups" — killed civilians in their own cities and villages. They murdered well over 1 million civilians, usually in mass shootings.

But the Germans got a reality check once the bitter Russian winter set in. Expecting a quick Soviet collapse — "We have only to kick in the door, and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down," Hitler said before the invasion — the Germans didn't prepare for an extended war.

The Nazis also apparently didn't anticipate just how long it would take to traverse the vastness of Russia and siege Moscow, which is 1,000 miles east of Berlin. By the time the Germans reached Moscow, they were stretched beyond effectiveness. That year, the Red Army beat back the Germans when they tried to take Moscow.

The Devastation At Stalingrad

But Hitler set his sights on a more strategic victory. In 1942, he sought to seize and destroy Stalingrad, an industrial city in Russia's southwest that was a major producer of artillery for Soviet troops. The city's Volga River was also an important shipping route connecting the city to the Black and Caspian Seas.

Stalingrad was the largest and bloodiest battle not only in World War II, but in the history of warfare. During five months of dozens of German airstrikes and savage hand-to-hand combat, 2 million were killed, wounded, or captured. Many of those killed were civilians; tens of thousands of people were forced into slave labor camps in Germany.

The battle left the city of Stalingrad — once an economic hub of 400,000 — in complete ruins. Like all over the Eastern Front, men, women, and children had to desperately scrounge for food and water.

Both sides suffered heavy losses at Stalingrad, but the encircled German army inside of Stalingrad ended up surrendering to the Soviets. It ended up being one of the most decisive battles of the war, forcing the Germans to retreat until their eventual surrender on May 9, 1945, after the Battle of Berlin.

Above, photos from the bloody battles and daily struggles of the Eastern Front have been brought to life in full color. Take a look.

After checking out these full-color photos from World War II's Eastern Front, check out more color photos of the war. Then, learn about the million-plus forgotten African soldiers forced to fight in World War II.

All That's Interesting
Established in 2010, All That's Interesting brings together a dedicated staff of digital publishing veterans and subject-level experts in history, true crime, and science. From the lesser-known byways of human history to the uncharted corners of the world, we seek out stories that bring our past, present, and future to life. Privately-owned since its founding, All That's Interesting maintains a commitment to unbiased reporting while taking great care in fact-checking and research to ensure that we meet the highest standards of accuracy.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.