My first inclination was to watch the long-awaited, 20-minute 1945 parade segment in Red Square first, and so I did. Then I viewed, in the bonus material, the Photo Gallery with Audio Commentary next, and, finally, the 72-minute Fall of Berlin 1945 original Russian documentary film by director Yuri Raisman with English commentary. (This is not to be confused with the 1949 dramatic version of the very same title, however, an honest mistake that can be made, as they both cover the same battle.)
Having done that, I seriously recommend to all future viewers that you do it the exact opposite way for maximum enjoyment and better understanding. Watch the documentary first, then the still Photo Gallery, and finally the parade itself. It will all make far better sense that way. Trust me on this one!
According to the box's liner notes, "At the zenith of its power, the USSR celebrated its victory over Nazi Germany with a spectacular armed forces parade in the Kremlin's Red Square on June 24, 1945," just six weeks after V-E Day, and less than a month before the final Big Three Conference of the war at Potsdam, outside Berlin.
"Participating combat veterans and Army musicians rehearsed for weeks to present an unforgettable demonstration of Soviet martial precision. Comprising troop contingents selected by Stalin, the review bore witness to the pomp and grandeur of a waning era of military romanticism soon displaced by the austere realities of the Cold War.
"The Soviet cinematic record shows troops hurling seized German flags before the (red granite) Lenin Mausoleum (still there today), parade footage, and close-ups of Red Army soldiers and gaudily decorated officers attending the opening ceremony.
"The Soviet dictator---with prominent public officials and field marshals---observe events from the elevated concrete platform of the mausoleum. Inordinately praiseworthy of Stalin, the feature was ultimately consigned to Moscow's film archives. Through IHF's initiative, it was recently rediscovered and authorized for contemporary distribution. Transferred from an original 35mm negative and digitally restored for optimal quality."
The outstanding battle documentary on the fall of Berlin is, quite literally, the best that I've ever seen on the subject---and that includes several really good History Channel productions over the last decade. Made from both original German and Red Army newsreel footage shot before and during the actual battle, the Soviet production uses a "then and now" theme of showing German parades at, say, the Brandenburg Gate in 1940, and contrasting them with the bullet-pocked structure of 1945 most effectively, a device employed repeatedly with other scenes as well.
As the narrator's voice intones in English "Adolf Hitler saw himself as the master of the universe," we see scenes of the 1st Byelorussian (White) Russian and Ist Ukrainian Armies driving across the plains of liberated Russia and Poland on their way across river after river until the final one was arrived at: the Oder. "The siege of Berlin really began at Stalingrad on the Volga River," the sonorous voice asserts. "The bones of the supermen became fertilizer for the Ukraine".
The three Red Army Fronts driving into Nazi Germany in 1945 were commanded by rival Marshals Ivan Konev in the south, Georgi Zhukov in the center, and Polish-born Konstantin Rokossovski in the north, as a relief map is shown of the overall Berlin combat campaign area that they will assault.
"The greatest artillery barrage in history" by both tube weapons and Katyusha rockets "opens the gigantic Russian offensive" we hear and see, and then come Red Air Force Stormavik dive bombers roaring in at low levels, the Soviet version of the previous and far more famous German Stukas. Although it isn't widely known, just as the Allied air forces defeated the German Luftwaffe in the West, so, too, by 1945 did the Red Air Force emerge victorious on the Eastern Front.
Since the documentary was made before the real onset of the Cold War, the Soviet production team made it in the Allied spirit that prevailed at the time, and thus the viewer sees American Jeeps and DUKW (duck) amphibious vehicles in action crossing canals and lakes on their way to Berlin's principal Seelow Heights defensive position, as the narrator terms them correctly as "Lend Lease" vehicles.
As the narrator states, "The Red Army reached Berlin on Apr. 23, 1945," a section is interjected about the previous conquest of the city in 1760 during the Seven Years' War when the Tsarist Russian Army under Gen. Chernikov occupied it as Frederick the Great's Prussians retreated. I learned something new when the surrender documents of Oct. 9, 1760 were displayed, as well as captured Prussian banners and trumpets.
Next come scenes of Red Army men fighting in then modern Berlin, street by street, house by house, on rooftops, and in cellars.
The voice asserts that "The force that stopped the blitz cannot now be stopped," and the viewer sees the famous scene of an old German man in Berlin cutting apart the hip of a dead horse for food. The outstretched hands of 1940 Nazi salutes are then contrasted with the hands of 1945 reaching out for bread being freely given by Soviet troops to feed the defeated German civilian populace of Berlin.
As we see German women forced to clear previously built tank traps in the streets, we hear "The Red Army does not kill women and children," as the rape of thousands of German women of all ages for which it became notorious is simply not even mentioned. Rather than that, we hear "Strength that is gentleness and gentleness that is strength" to characterize the Red Army as German soldiers are seen surrendering. For those who fight to the death, the narrator intones, "For some, there is only strength."
Next, the viewer witnesses Red Army planes landing at Berlin's famous Tempelhof Airfield, where previously Luftwaffe commander Reich Marshal Hermann Goring reviewed his goose-stepping Air Force legions.
Fallen Italian Fascist dictator Duce/Leader Benito Mussolini is seen being rescued in 1943 by "Hitler's body snatcher, Skorzeny," it is explained in a rather odd and funny moment in the film. Next comes the famous Elbe river linkup at Torgau, Germany by the American and Red Armies on Apr. 25, 1945: "Men of the Red Banner drink toasts with those of the red, white, and blue" states the Communist voiceover.
"The fires that were started in Berlin," it continues, "spread far and wide, only to return to Berlin. In the capital of the Herrenvolk/master race, looting breaks out in Berlin, as Germans break into German shops to steal German goods."
"The Red Army soldier takes times out to be kind," as we see him help a doddering old man down off a pile of rubble onto more level ground. Statues of previous German warriors are thrown into the street by other Russian soldiers meanwhile.
As we see Red Army men storming the famous Reichstag building, the narrator refers to the boast of Nazi Propaganda Minister Dr. Josef Gobbels that "No Russian will ever set foot in Berlin!' but 130,000 German Army troops surrender, we learn.
"White flags replace swastikas," as we see Berlin commandant Gen. Helmuth Weidling emerging from an air raid shelter to surrender. "What happened to the goose step?" the narrator asks rhetorically, as we see defeated Germans shuffle by their now occasionally saluting officers with military salutes, not the Nazi outstretched arm salute. Gen. Weidling is then shown describing his last meeting with a hunched over, aging Hitler on Apr. 29, 1945, the day before the latter's suicide.
Then come the famous scenes of Dr. Gobbels' charred, dead body, with those of his burnt wife and their unburnt, but very dead, murdered children, killed on their mother's orders, as Red Army officers stare incredulously at their bodies, the children still in their bedclothes.
Marshal Zhukov is seen taking a walking tour of conquered Berlin, from the equestrian statue of Kaiser/Emperor Wilhelm I to the horses and chariot atop the Brandenburg Gate, from the now deserted General Staff building on the Bendlerstrasse, to the armored car- littered Honor Courtyard of the New German Reich Chancellery in Berlin, plus the 1871 Victory Monument most recently seen as a backdrop to Sen. Barack Obama's 2008 Berlin speech.
We see liberated displaced persons (DPs) of all nations---freed by the Red Army---marching happily in Berlin, and victorious Gen. Vasily Chuikov---the hero of Stalingrad-being tossed into the air by his cheering troops, and dancing Red Guards. Graffiti on walls proclaim, "Berlin Forever German" as the voiceover states, "The Potsdam Declaration offers Germany democracy," juxtaposed against Russian graffiti on the walls of the smoke-blackened Reichstag.
Then the scene shifts back to Tempelhof again, where RAF Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder and USAAF Gen. Carl "Tooey" Spaatz land on May 8, 1945 to be greeted by Red Army Gen. Sokolovsky, followed by the German surrender delegation of Army Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Navy Adm. Hans-Georg von Friedeburg, and Luftwaffe representative Col. Gen. Hans-Jurgen Stumpff. The latter are seen to be left cooling their heels during the Berlin Allied victory parade, with Keitel reading the surrender documents in the rear of a US Army Packard staff car.
Next we see the German Army Engineering School at Karlshorst, outside Berlin, where the Germans again are left waiting, smoking cigars. In actuality---as Keitel later wrote in his jail cell memoirs before he was hanged as a convicted war criminal---the Russians served them a sumptuous banquet with wine before the surrender ceremony that became the Russian version of their V-E Day. (The Allied surrender had taken place the day before, in the famous "red brick schoolhouse" at Reims, France.)
As Keitel entered the surrender room, the narrator intoned solemnly, "Hold the head high---or the monocle will fall off!"---the only time he ever wore it, I believe, as a way of defying his captors. Ironically, in 1940, Keitel had presided over the French surrender at Compiegne, France.
"Keitel signs first, then the admiral, then Stumpff,"then Zhukov, Tedder, Spaatz, and the French representative, Gen. Jean de Lattre de Tassigny. "'You are dismissed,' Zhukov is quoted as saying. "Tens of millions of lives had been lost, with Berlin the cradle of vain hopes," as the scene shifts briefly to black and white newsreel shots of the June 24, 1945 Red Army victory parade on Red Square as this spectacular Artkino film release ends.
The bonus feature Photo Gallery begins with a beautiful full color portrait of Marshal Zhukov, the entire front of his uniform emblazoned with orders and decorations---far more than Hermann Goring ever wore, it should here be noted! "The hero of Moscow, Stalingrad, Warsaw, and Berlin became a marked man of Stalin's jealousy as the war ended," the audio commentary notes.
The parade began with 1,400 Red Army musicians playing martial tunes and marches, but before that, the issue of who would take the salute had had to be resolved. "Russian military tradition had it that it must be done on horseback, so Stalin called in former cavalryman Zhukov and asked him, 'Can you still ride a horse?" to which he said yes, quickly adding that it should be Stalin who took the salute, not him. 'No, you do it.' Stalin replied. This was the story he told in his 1969 memoirs" (Zhukov's Greatest Battles.) "In the 1990 edition, however, he added this revealing coda: Vasily Stalin-the dictator's son---shared with him this anecdote, that Stalin had planned to take the salute mounted on a white charger, but had fallen off, hurting his head and shoulder in the process. 'Let Zhukov take the parade; he's an old cavalryman,'" perhaps slyly hoping that his most famous Marshal---whom he feared as a possible postwar rival---might also fall off. Wisely and shrewdly, Zhukov was shown the actual white Arabian steed that Stalin had ridden and that he would also ride---and practiced. That is the ride we see in the subsequent trooping of the line that begins the color parade film.
In June 1946, NKVD police chief Lavrenti P. Beria and Stalin accused Zhukov of behaving "improperly" before a conference of all the Soviet marshals---many of them also rivals of Zhukov---and he was banished to minor posts in the Soviet Far East. He was "rehabilitated" in 1965 for the 20th anniversary of the Russian term for World War II even today: the Great Patriotic War. Despite that, however, "His dacha/country home was bugged until his death in 1974."
Significantly, just one week after the victory parade, former "Marshal" Stalin was awarded the more grandiloquent title of Generalissimo---the only other two in the world being Chiang Kai-shek and Francisco Franco. Today, there are none.
The final photos in the Gallery show us the captured Nazi banners and flags that had been thrown at Stalin's feet during the parade, as well as the fallen eagle and swastika "from the Reichstag" (in reality from the NRC in Berlin, however.) Today, they are still on display in the Great Hall of the Central Armed Forces Museum in Moscow.
Now comes the main event, so to speak---the actual victory parade that is the highlight of this overall top-drawer, first-rate cinematic production: Cossacks in brown, sailors in Navy blue, marshals and generals in bright green, their heaving chests festooned like Christmas trees with blazing decorations.
"At 9:55 AM, the leaders mount their horses and are cheered, as a light rain falls in Moscow's Red Square." Above them on the gleaming red Lenin's Mausoleum stood the leaders of the USSR, from left to right, Foreign Commissar Vyacheslav M. Molotov in dark blue cap and uniform, then Stalin and old Bolshevik cavalryman Kliment Voroshilov---both in their marshals' finery---and the nominal President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Kalinin.
Riding below them on their white steeds were fellow Marshals Zhukov and Rokossovsky, and the hero of the hour---Zhukov---was allowed by Stalin to deliver the theme of the parade from atop Lenin's Tomb, next to him: "The Great Patriotic War is over," as Stalin's supposed successor-Georgi Malenkov---looked on. "We won because of Stalin!" which all of them knew wasn't true, at least not in 1941, at any rate.
With sabers drawn and Red flags waving, Zhukov took the salute, and the massive parade begins, all shown in crisp, clear, brilliant color. "The heroic sailors of Odessa, Sevastopol, and the Baltic Sea" began, followed by the banners of the hated, and finally defeated, Nazis tossed onto the wet cobblestones. The Moscow Garrison of the Red Army comes next with bayoneted rifles.
As the cavalry thundered by, Marshal Semyon Budenny---hero of the Russian Civil War---also joins the reviewers atop the Mausoleum, followed on the Square by quaint-looking, horse-drawn machine guns. Anti-aircraft guns follow, mounted on trucks, as do motorized artillery and infantry, then the searchlights and sound trucks used in the famous 1941 defense of the Soviet capital. Next come tractor-pulled artillery and self-propelled guns, the latter often misidentified in all armies as tanks; they are not.
Motorcycles with sidecars and light armored cars with machine guns follow, plus the most famous medium tanks of the war on either side, the still used T-34s. Massive pictures of Lenin and Stalin dominate one end of the famed square, with red banners proclaiming, "Led by the Great Stalin," as the postwar deification of the Cult of Stalin's Personality overtook the previous four-year-long theme of the Great Patriotic War.
As with Hitler's 1939 50th birthday parade in Berlin, so too, does the Red Army Victory Parade end with the band and its jingling johnnies with dangling horsetails moved to the front and center to serenade the victors. That night, the traditional fireworks and searchlights bring the day's events to a close, but not just yet, as the film concludes with an idealized color portrait of Generalissimo Stalin in all his radiant glory.Red Army Victory DAY Parade In Red Square, June 24, 1945 DVD