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As noted in this answer, the typical well-know-from-paintings red coats and hats uniform of Russian Streltsy guard was both a winter and summer uniform.
Is there any reason why an (obviously warm, to survive Russian winter) clothing was also used as summer uniform? It must have strongly reduced the military efficacy of the troops, who'd be sweltering in Moscow heat in summer in the same cloths required to survive Moscow winter.
Was it cost? Rarity of uniform clothing pre-textile-industry? Logistic issues? Or the fact that the uniform wasn't actually all that warm and winter warmth was instead achieved by layers of cloths worn under the red coats?
Actually, streltsy worn two types of kaftans - basic kaftan and kaftan for cold weather. Cold weather kaftan is quilted with sheepskin or fur and has fur collar and fur hem sleeves.
Winter kaftan (note sleeves and collar):
According to Yuri Veremeev, "Anatomy of Army"
Who in reality was the Soviet traitor in the new Cumberbatch spy thriller?
On March 19, 2021, after a COVID-induced delay, the new historical thriller The Courier, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, had its world premiere. The film tells the story of Oleg Penkovsky, one of the most famous Cold War traitors, and his contact, Greville Wynne (played by the British actor).
Why do many consider Colonel Penkovsky, a member of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) of the General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces, to be the West&rsquos most important mole inside the Soviet Union in the entire history of the Cold War?
A tale of three intelligence services
Central Intelligence Agency
&ldquoYou can be sure of my devotion, dedication and determination in fighting for your (and now my) cause. You will remember me kindly, I will win your recognition,&rdquo wrote Oleg Penkovsky in a secret message to Queen Elizabeth II, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower and ten leading Western politicians.
This was one of several letters drafted by the GRU colonel in the summer of 1960 for the eyes of the CIA and MI6, along with Soviet military secrets. In this way, the high-ranking Soviet officer made overtures to the Western special services.
Graduating class of the Dzerzhinzkiy Artillery Engineering Academy in the USSR in 1960 Oleg Penkovskiy is the third from right in the front row.
Central Intelligence Agency
In his own words, it took Penkovsky three years to comprehend everything and become &ldquoa soldier in the fight for Truth, for the ideals of a genuine free World and Democracy for Humankind.&rdquo
Several times he reached out to the West: through U.S. tourists in Moscow and British businessman Greville Wynne, who had links with British intelligence.
Since Oleg Penkovsky offered his services to both the Americans and the British, the CIA and MI6 developed him jointly. During a trip to London in April 1961, the Soviet colonel held a series of meetings with his new handlers and received special equipment, including a Minox portable camera.
Colonel Oleg Penkovskiy's military pass to the buildings of the General Staff and Ministry of Defense in Moscow.
Central Intelligence Agency
For his services, Penkovsky requested U.S. or UK citizenship, as well as a senior position in the special services of his adopted country. He was allowed to try on and be photographed in the uniform of American and British intelligence officers.
A spy like no other
As deputy head of the Foreign Relations Department of the State Committee for the Coordination of Scientific Research under the USSR Council of Ministers, Penkovsky had an opportunity to travel on trips abroad, which he used to meet with his new Western colleagues.
Oleg Penkovsky's spy equipment.
In Moscow, his main channel of communication was a man called Greville Wynne, who often visited the USSR on &ldquotrade matters.&rdquo Besides Wynne, ten other U.S. and British agents &mdash all embassy employees &mdash contacted Penkovsky.
Over the course of his espionage career, Oleg Penkovsky inflicted enormous damage on the Soviet Union. He succeeded in transferring to the West 111 Minox films with 5,500 top-secret Soviet military documents, totaling 7,650 pages. The transcript of his conversations with MI6 and the CIA ran to 1,200 pages of typewritten text. He revealed the identities of hundreds of Soviet agents in the West, and some of his intel about the Kremlin&rsquos plans landed directly on the desk of President John F. Kennedy.
Oleg Penkovsky's encrypted postcard.
The technical information provided by Penkovsky about various Soviet ballistic missiles proved very useful to the Americans during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Thanks to its mole, Washington knew exactly what kind of missiles Khrushchev had deployed to &ldquoLiberty Island&rdquo and what they were capable of. However, the colonel did not have time to enjoy the gratitude of the United States. On October 22, at the peak of the crisis, he was arrested by the KGB.
The KGB had been watching Penkovsky for almost a year before it pounced. Operatives had seen him in the company of British embassy employee Janet Chisholm, who herself was suspected of espionage.
Throughout 1962, the KGB surveilled the colonel, identified his contacts, tactfully questioned his colleagues at work, and secretly searched the suspected spy&rsquos apartment. Operational matters in the Penkovsky case were supervised personally by the head of the KGB, Vladimir Semichastny.
&ldquoIn the affair of the traitor Penkovsky and his associate Wynne, it was established that the carelessness, political myopia and irresponsible chatter of some military personnel with whom Penkovsky met and drank directly facilitated his criminal activities,&rdquo wrote the head of the KGB Investigative Department, Nikolai Chistyakov. &ldquoBut there was something else too. Penkovsky was surrounded not only by drinking buddies and airheads, but also by shrewd, perceptive types. Their signals about Penkovsky&rsquos excessive inquisitiveness regarding matters not directly related to him, as well as his suspicious behavior, allowed our officers to expose this dangerous criminal.&rdquo
The trial of Oleg Penkovsky.
Greville Wynne was detained in Budapest ten days after Penkovsky&rsquos arrest, and taken to Moscow. A court sentenced him to eight years in prison for espionage, but in April 1964 he was exchanged for Soviet intelligence officer Konon Molodoy, who had been detained in Britain.
As for Oleg Penkovsky, he was less fortunate. Despite his candid confessions and total willingness to cooperate with the investigation, he was shot for treason on May 16, 1963.
If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.
Soviet uniform during World War II
Red Army soldiers were issued with a full set of equipment, with belts made of leather or canvas, cartridge belts, main and supplementary pouches for grenades and food, an entrenching tool, water bottle, rifle fittings. Source: Grigory Sysoev / RIA Novosti
When World War II engulfed the Soviet Union in 1941, Moscow had the largest army in Europe, with almost 2 million soldiers. The downside was the expense of re-clothing such numbers, so Soviet troops entered the conflict in dress developed under the tsarist generals in the early 1900s.
At the outbreak of hostilities, Soviet uniforms comprised many of the same elements worn by Russian forces in the First World War, including a cotton tunic and pants, and boots with cloth windings because of leather shortages. The 1935-issue winter greatcoat was almost a duplicate of the 1912 design. But a noticeable difference was the enlisted troops&rsquo preference for the forage cap to the peaked cap that had replaced the pointed felt budenovka cap before it. The new Soviet winter wear also included a cap with ear flaps.
Red Army soldiers were issued with a full set of equipment, with belts made of leather or canvas, cartridge belts, main and supplementary pouches for grenades and food, an entrenching tool, water bottle, rifle fittings (bayonet and cleaning kits), and a steel helmet.
Officers of the Red Army. Source: RIA Novosti
But the war brought changes too. Bulky equipment stowed in several packs was too cumbersome for foot soldiers expected to cover up to 40 km (25 miles) in a day, so a waterproof duffel bag was introduced.
The greatcoat and bedroll soldiers carried around their body also hampered mobility, and in August 1941 the order was give to issue a new cotton winter jacket that could be worn under a coat but gave good protection against the cold, and could be worn as a separate uniform item. In areas with severe winters, greatcoats were replaced by half-length fur coats. And instead of shoes and conventional boots in extreme weather, the forces got thick wool and felt valenki, traditional winter footwear worn for hundreds of years.
Along with millions of men, thousands of women also now appeared at the front, including in combat units. This had been almost unheard of in the old Russian army, so there was no special uniform for them, requiring Soviet quartermasters to come up with a solution in quick time. In August 1941, a prototype women&rsquos uniform was created, with a dress instead of a tunic, first made of cotton and then wool, and with a beret instead of a forage cap.
Women appeared at the front in 1941. Source: RIA Novosti
It became clear in the first battles of the war that the uniform of Soviet officers and generals made them easy targets for enemy marksmen. Distinctive insignia and braid on their caps that was introduced shortly before the war singled them out from the lower ranks. Also in August 1941, the army command sent down orders to remove all uniform chevrons and bright stripes on pants, and to replace gold-colored lapel insignia with new-issue khaki equivalents.
As well as the problem of bright markings, in the early years of the war Soviet uniform was produced in large quantities in non-standardized facilities, resulting in variations in patterns. In 1943, military dress underwent a major reform, the main innovation of which was the reintroduction of officer epaulettes, not worn since the 1917 Russian Revolution.
They returned in khaki for field wear and were gold-colored for day-to-day wear. Rank was now denoted not with diamonds and squares on the lapels but by the number of stars on epaulettes. Higher-ranking officers also wore a gilded Soviet Union coat of arms on their shoulder-straps.
The lower ranks were less affected by the reforms. Troops were issued with new shirts with stiff vertical collars rather than folded-over ones. Ankle boots with windings largely disappeared, and the army was issued longer kirza boots made of layered tarpaulin in place of leather and treated for water resistance. These were a boon for Soviet quartermasters struggling with leather shortages, and they were comfortable to wear for the soldiers, compared to heavy boots.
Uniforms were now divided into parade, field and day-to-day wear variants. The field uniform was used in active service and combat, and the latter for drill service. Parade wear was only worn on ceremonial occasions. As well as epaulettes, officers regained their smart former imperial cut jackets.
Other dress uniform elements that made a comeback included cuffs and gold and silver embroidery. The soldier&rsquos dress uniform had red piping on the collar, cuffs and pockets, but remained unused for a long time yet. The ceremonial outfit was first worn by Soviet soldiers on June 24, 1945, at the Victory Parade in Moscow marking the defeat of Hitler&rsquos Germany.
The Kirov Murder and the Moscow Show Trials
Lenoe, Matthew E. The Kirov Murder and Soviet History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010.
This book by historian Matthew Lenoe assembles multiple investigations and official documents of the Kirov murder, which set the Great Purge in motion. This massive assemblage reexamines Stalin’s role in the famous assassination.
Conquest, Robert. Stalin and the Kirov Murder. New York City: Oxford University Press, 2010.
This book also by Robert Conquest, author of The Great Terror: A Reassessment, was the first comprehensive examination of the role Stalin played in the Kirov murder. It not nearly as extensive as Lenoe’s work on the subject, but it provides clear and concise information about the case and Stalin’s part in the matter. It is an excellent source for basic background information on the subject.
Library of Congress, “Revelations from the Russian Archives: Repression and Terror: Kirov Murder and Purges.” Last modified July 22, 2010. Accessed May 2, 2013. http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/archives/repk.html.
Nikolai Bukharin, member of the Soviet politburo and Central Commitee and editor-in-chief of Pravda newspaper was the central victim of the Moscow show trials. A former supporter of Stalin’s Bukharin came to oppose the excesses of his leadership and was arrested for the murder of Kirov. The following transcript involves Bukharin defending his allegiance to the Soviet cause and his condemnation of terror.
BUKHARIN. Let me relate to you how I explained this matter.
Comrade Mikoian says the following: On the most basic question,
he, Bukharin, has differences of opinion with the party: In
essence, he stuck to his old positions. This is untrue. In no way
have I stuck to my previous positions — not on industrialization,
not on collectivization, [and] not on village restructuring in
general. But with regards to stimuli in agriculture, this question
was not clear to me until the matter came round to the legislation
on Soviet trade. I consider the entire problem, as a whole, was
resolved after the introduction of laws on Soviet trade. Prior to
this, this problem, very important but not all-embracing, was not
clear to me. When this matter became pertinent to product turnover
in [illegible] and Soviet….
[intervening pages of transcript missing]
I would like to make one more remark. Apparently Mikoian has
said: How, then, are you not responsible, as you say, for
[illegible] this whole “school” sits? I do bear responsibility for
this. But the question involves the degree of responsibility it
is a matter of the quality of this responsibility. During the
process of confrontation [and cross-examination], I told Kaganovich
that I am responsible for the death of Tomskii because, in 1928-29,
had I not headed up groups of rightists, it is possible that
Tomskii’s fate might also have been different. I bear
responsibility for this fact. However, it is necessary to
establish the degree and nature of this responsibility.
Responsibility for what transpired with these youth over an
indefinite number of years qualitatively and quantitatively differs
from, let’s say, the responsibility of a person who orders another
person to do something and that person carries out the order. I am
not shifting responsibility from myself more than anyone else, I
accept the gravity of this responsibility. However, I would like
to say that the measure of responsibility, the characterization of
this responsibility, is absolutely specific in nature, and it
should be expressed as I have expressed it here.
[intervening pages of transcript missing]
[…] two people? This is an obvious lie. How could Kulikov offer
two versions in answer to this absolutely and exceptionally
terrible question? How could Sokol’nikov advance two ideas at the
(VOICE: Rozit, Slepkov, and others mention this).
BUKHARIN: In what regard about this? If one speaks
“generally” in this way, nothing at all is said: It is the same as
when a student is asked where Moscow is on the map, and he
immediately covers the whole map with the palm of his hand.
Regarding the Riutinskii platform. It was presented by Ezhov
as one of the top-priority issues requiring deliberation. This is
very understandable from the point of view of constructing an
indictment. The Riutinskii platform (if you could prove that I
have any connection to it) would be a real treasure, because of its
concern with the most crucial moments in the struggle with Soviet
power, its concern with terror, and [illegible], etc., etc. I
studied the vast number of pages of [material?] especially from the
angle of the Riutinskii platform. Nonetheless, I feel that it is
necessary here to look closely at this matter which, after all, is
in testimony. Astrov testifies that the authors were Rykov […]
[intervening pages of transcript missing]
[…] Errio did not see it is even there, they say, that I
maintained contact with Skrypnik (for a right-wing deviation, I
would have to be linked to the positions of Skrypnik) it has been
established, they say, that I stand for a democratic republic and,
at the same time, it is known that I spoke about it, let’s say, at
an assembly, and a whole series of other things. I cannot answer
all these questions separately, since it would require too much
time, so I’ll take only the fundamental ones.
I’d like to say a few words about terror. Comrades, the
question of membership in the party seems to me simply to be naive:
if a person takes the terrorist point of view against the
leadership of the party, then the question as to whether he may be
a party member is a naive question.
I have absolutely no relationship with terror, not by a single
word or thought. When I hear these things, it seems to me that the
conversation concerns other people perhaps I am sitting here and
hearing about another person. I do not understand how I can be
charged with such an accusation to me this is absolutely
incomprehensible [and] I look on this as “a sheep looking at new
gates” [i.e., I feel totally lost in foreign territory].
POZERN: These are not “new gates”–that’s the problem.
BUKHARIN: To your way of thinking, perhaps they are not new
gates, but then I’m not a sheep either.[intervening pages of transcript missing]
STALIN: You should not and do not have the right to slander
yourself. This is a most criminal thing.
MOLOTOV: That which you have stated concerning the famine is
simply an anti-Soviet thing.
VOICES FROM THE ROOM: A counterrevolutionary thing!
STALIN: You must come around to our position. Trotskii with
his disciples, Zinov’ev and Kamenev, at one time worked with Lenin,
and now these people have negotiated an agreement with Hitler.
After this, can we label such things as shocking? Absolutely not.
After everything that has happened to these gentlemen, former
comrades, who have negotiated an agreement with Hitler, a sellout
of the USSR, there is nothing surprising in human affairs.
Everything has to be proven and not [just] replied to using
exclamation points and question marks.
MOLOTOV: And anti-Soviet matters should not be engaged in.
MOLOTOV: Let us call a recess, comrades.
The following clip shows footage from one of the Moscow trials, including the indictment and public reaction to the convictions. Head prosecutor Andrey Vyshinsky references a “fifth column” of enemies, traitors, and spies that seek to undermine the Soviet Union and that must be crushed. He says,
“let the verdict be heard like thunder, like a fresh, purifying thunder storm of Soviet justice.”
“Prisoners at Work.” Gulag: Many Days, Many Lives, Item #33 (accessed May 02 2013)
The following picture shows a normal day of labor in the Soviet Gulag.
Alexei Andreevich Merekov, “Frost.” Gulag: Many Days, Many Lives, Item #215 (accessed May 02 2013)
The following was painted at a Gulag camp in Kolyma. It represents the harsh living conditions of the prisoners during brutal Russian winters.
“A group of soldiers of Primorskaia army in the fights at Lake Chasan, Mongolia. 1938.” Gulag: Many Days, Many Lives, (accessed May 02 2013)
The following 1938 picture shows a group of soldiers stanced for execution.
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. The Gulag Archipelago. New York City: Basic Books, 1997.
This book written by a Gulag survivor is a three volume assemblage of the terrors of like in Gulag based on the personal testimonies of survivors. The reference to an archipelago in the title compares the camps with a chain of islands, distant and unknown to those who have never been. Solzhenitsyn attempts to bridge the gap of understanding through his portrayal of Gulag camp life. The Gulag Archipelago shocked the Western world with its vivid portrayal of the injustices of Gulag. Upon the publication of the first volume, Solzhenitsyn was arrested for treason and exiled from the Soviet Union.
Applebaum, Anne. Gulag: A History. New York City: First Anchor Books, 2004.
In her work, Applebaum outlines the entire history of Russian Gulag from its conception during the Russian Revolution of 1917 under Lenin and expanded under Stalin to its demise after the Glasnost period. Applebaum outlines Gulag camps as an economic and political institution, but also gives more personal accounts of the lives of prisoners and the way the camps influenced their everyday relations and behaviors.
Kerber, L.L. Stalin’s Aviation Gulag: A Memoir of Andrei Tupolev and the Purge Era. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996.
Kerber’s memoir of his expiriences with Andrei Tupolev tells one of the more bizarre stories of Soviet Gulag. Tupolev, head developer of Soviet aviation and aircraft desing, was arrested and imprisoned in 1937. However, Tupolev was not held in a normal Gulag he was held with many other aviation engineers in a special prison known as a sharaga and ordered to continue his work under the watchful eye of the NKVD. Kerber describes daily life in the strange institution of sharaga.
'Whitewashed and erased': There's a reason Juneteenth isn't taught in schools, educators say
A Connecticut fourth grade social studies textbook falsely claimed that slaves were treated just like “family.” A Texas geography textbook referred to enslaved Africans as “workers.” In Alabama, up until the 1970s, fourth graders learned in a textbook called "Know Alabama" that slave life on a plantation was "one of the happiest ways of life."
In contrast, historians and educators point out, many children in the U.S. education system are not taught about major Black historical events, such as the Tulsa Race Massacre or Juneteenth, the June 19 commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States.
As the country grapples with a racial reckoning following the killing of George Floyd in police custody, educators said that what has and what has not been taught in school have been part of erasing the history of systemic racism in America and the contributions of Black people and other minority groups.
“There’s a long legacy of institutional racism that is barely covered in the mainstream corporate curriculum,” said Jesse Hagopian, an ethnic studies teacher in Seattle and co-editor of the book “Teaching for Black Lives.”
“It’s really astounding how little the contributions of Black people are included in much of the mainstream curriculum and how much of that institutional racism is disguised,” he said.
Historians said curriculums are about identity and learning about ourselves and others.
“The curriculum was never designed to be anything other than white supremacist," Julian Hayter, a historian and an associate professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia, said, "and it has been very difficult to convince people that other versions of history are not only worth telling. They’re absolutely essential for us as a country to move closer to something that might reflect reconciliation but even more importantly, the truth."
LaGarrett King, an associate professor of social studies education at the University of Missouri, said the history curriculums in schools are meant to tell a story and, in the U.S., that has been one of a “progressive history of the country.”
“Really the overarching theme is, ‘Yes, we made mistakes, but we overcame because we are the United States of America,'” said King, who is also the founding director of the Carter Center for K-12 Black History Education at the university.
“What that has done is it has erased tons of history that would combat that progressive narrative,” he said.
King said the experiences and oppression of Black people, Latino people, indigenous people, Asian people and other minority groups in the U.S. are largely ignored or sidelined to fit those narratives.
“So, of course you’re not going to have crucial information such as what happened in Tulsa, you’re not going to have information such as the bombing of a Philadelphia black neighborhood,” he said.
In 1921 in Oklahoma, whites looted and destroyed Tulsa's Greenwood District, known for its affluent Black community. Historians believe that as many as 300 Black people were killed.
In May 1985, Philadelphia police dropped a bomb onto the compound of MOVE, a black liberation group, killing six members, five of their children and destroying 65 homes in the neighborhood.
Another often-omitted period of U.S. Black history is the Red Summer, a period of time through 1919 when white mobs incited a wave of anti-Black violence in dozens of cities.
As for the protests against racial inequality and police brutality after the killing of Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police, King emphasized that these movements were not new.
“Black people have been saying this for the past 400 years, this is not a new movement,” he said. “Each generation has had their point in time where they’re trying to say through protest, through rebellion, ‘listen to us, listen to us,’” he said.
Part of the problem is that society has never listened to that history, he said.
“In many ways we wouldn’t have a Black Lives Matter movement if Black lives mattered in the classroom,” he said.
“In many ways we wouldn’t have a Black Lives Matter movement if Black lives mattered in the classroom."
The current moment has also put increased national attention on Juneteenth, which is Friday this year.
President Donald Trump said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Thursday that he moved a rally in Tulsa set for Friday to Saturday “out of respect” for two African American friends and supporters.
“I did something good. I made it famous. I made Juneteenth very famous. It’s actually an important event, it’s an important time. But nobody had heard of it,” he said, although his office has previously put out statements marking the occasion.
Historians note that Juneteenth has been celebrated in Black communities across the country for 155 years.
And even after the Confederate surrender and Juneteenth, slavery still existed in parts of the country until Congress passed the 13th Amendment, which was ratified in Dec. 1865, formally abolishing slavery in the United States.
Hayter said that the history of Black people and other minority communities has already “been completely whitewashed and erased" when it is taught in American classrooms.
He pointed to the argument made by some that removing Confederate statues and iconography is tantamount to erasing history.
“So when people say you can’t erase history, it's like, what are you talking about?” he said. “If you crack open a textbook from the mid-20th century, there are no minorities in those textbooks.”
“The contributions they made to the American democratic experience are completely ignored,” he said.
Hayter said those histories have been seen as “a footnote to a larger narrative and not an important and integral portion of the history more largely.”
“As long as we continue to treat these as addendums to a larger American narrative, we’re failing these kids in large part because we’ve reduced these histories to second-class status,” he said.
Hagopian said “Teaching for Black Lives” seeks to uncover some of these really important periods of Black history and give educators access points to teach students about them, including a whole lesson on the Tulsa Race Massacre.
He said another historical period that was glaringly absent from the mainstream curriculum was Reconstruction, the era following the Civil War that sought to address the inequalities of slavery.
“Reconstruction is one of the most fascinating and revolutionary periods in American history,” he said.
Hagopian said it was a remarkable period of time, although short, when the country undertook a conscious effort to tear down institutionally racist structures.
“Black people built the public school system across the South, and there were integrated schools in the 1860s. They were more integrated than today, just incredible examples of Black empowerment,” he said, adding that there were more Black elected officials than at anytime until recently.
“It’s such an important era to examine," Hagopian said. "If we’re going to escape the intense level of racism that we have today, we’re going to need to look at what it looked like when there was a movement toward institutional anti-racism."
It is also important, Hagopian said, to teach students that the civil rights movement went beyond a few famous figures commonly featured in history books or during Black History Month, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.
“I think one of the most important things for students to learn about is the way young people have helped shape American history in profound ways and to help understand the contributions especially of Black youth to this nation,” he said.
“They’re so often erased, but when students learn that it was young people who were the leaders of the civil rights movement, they can then see themselves as potential actors to transform the world today."
The Real Reason Hitler Launched the Battle of the Bulge
Among a new book's revelations: Crystal meth was the German army's drug of choice.
Winston Churchill called World War II's Battle of the Bulge "the greatest American battle of the war." Steven Spielberg engraved the 6-week ordeal on the popular imagination with Band of Brothers, which dramatized the attack on the village of Foy by three companies of the 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles.
Now, British military historian Peter Caddick-Adams is drawing on his years spent reconstructing the epic battle in his just-published book, Snow and Steel: Battle of the Bulge 1944-45. Speaking from a British military base in Germany, he talks about Hitler's reasons for launching the offensive, why crystal meth was the drug of choice for the Wehrmacht, and what lessons the battle can teach us today.
How did the battle get its name? What was the Bulge?
To begin with, soldiers weren't sure what to call the battle. It was a German penetration into the American lines, which the Americans had then surrounded and eventually sealed off. The word for that in the First World War was "salient." But that sounded too formal, perhaps too British. An American journalist was interviewing George Patton. The journalist needed a unique, American-sounding word that could become shorthand for the battle. And the word "bulge" popped into his mind. It was adopted pretty soon after the battle, and it stuck.
Your interest in the battle began with a schoolboy epiphany. Take us back in time.
I had some friends who restored secondhand military vehicles. One summer in the mid-1970s they invited me to return to the area where the Battle of the Bulge had been fought. We drove in these vehicles, and to make it look right, we put on some khaki, then drove through the little villages of the Ardennes.
I was amazed by the older generation, who came out of their houses and could remember what was by then 30 or so years earlier. You could see by their faces how much it had meant to them. Some of them burst into tears the moment they saw a U.S. jeep.
One farmer led us up a small trail to the top of a hill and showed us where the American and German lines had been. I couldn't see anything, which was somewhat of a disappointment. Then I kicked idly at a stone. It turned out not to be a stone but an entrenching tool. All of a sudden beneath the undergrowth, when I looked, there were cartridges, bits of helmet, canteens—all the debris you'd associate with a battle. When you're a teenager, that makes a huge impression.
You say Hitler's decision to launch the Ardennes offensive was more political than military. How so?
I feel I was breaking new ground by asserting that the decision by Hitler to launch the Ardennes attack—and it's his alone—is a political one rather than a military one. The traditional view is that this is an attempt to turn around the military situation as it was at the end of 1944. (See a World War II time line.)
I came to the conclusion that this is rather Hitler's attempt to reassert his personal political control over the German general staff and the entire Nazi hierarchy. It's a reaction to the von Stauffenberg bomb attempt on his life on the 20th of July, 1944. After that, he hides away. He goes into shock. He doesn't know whom to trust. His health goes downhill. The genesis of Hitler's plans to launch the Bulge is his grappling to retain control of the direction of military affairs and prove to the Third Reich that he's still the man at the top.
A fascinating section in your book explains the mythological and cultural significance of forests to the German psyche. How did the Ardennes campaign fit into this?
Again, I think I was breaking new ground here. I wondered why Hitler had specifically chosen the Ardennes. It's his plan, and everything about it had to have significance. Therefore, I wondered if there was more to the Ardennes than simply a region where the Allies were weak. I went back to Hitler's pronouncements, his beliefs, and his fascination with Wagner. In Wagner, a huge amount of the action takes place in woods and forests. This taps into the old Nordic beliefs and gods—that woods are a place of testing for human beings.
If you look at the whole Nazi creed, the false religion that Hitler and the SS created, woods and forests crop up time after time. Even the code name for the offensive, Herbstnebel—Autumn Mist—has all sorts of Wagnerian connotations. Wagner uses mist or smoke to announce the arrival of evil. So it was no accident that the attack against the Americans was launched from large forests, in heavy fog.
Hitler had a very low opinion of the Americans as a fighting force. Why?
Hitler thought the Americans were a mongrel force made up of all sorts of different nations. But that's a blatant misreading of history. For a start, Germany itself is a mixture of all sorts of different nations. Huge numbers of Americans who went to fight in the Ardennes in 1944 had also come originally from Germany. He also overlooks that so many great American figures were originally German. Eisenhower originally came from the Saarland. Pershing, the American general in World War I, is a German name.
All Hitler's knowledge of the United States is from reading cowboy books written by a charlatan writer called Karl May, who'd never actually been to the United States. So Hitler is remarkably ill-equipped to make these sweeping generalizations about the Americans—particularly about their ability to mass manufacture, which is one of the things that bring about his downfall. The Germans are going into battle barely better equipped than they were in 1914, with upwards of 50,000 horses. By contrast, the Americans are fully mechanized.
A figure who strides out of the pages of the book is the cigar-chomping American general, Patton. In what ways did he typify the American character—and fighting tactics?
It's difficult to discuss the Bulge without referring to George Patton, with his cigars and trademark pearl-handled revolvers. He is so American, from a British point of view. What do I mean by that?
Well, he had unbounded confidence. And, I think, one thing that marks out successful captains in history is a superb confidence that almost borders on arrogance. That's something Patton has. He would always say that a perfect plan is not as good as an imperfect plan that's executed violently and immediately.
One of the key aspects of the battle is the speed with which he can reorientate his Third Army, which is to the south of the Bulge, and get them to counterattack the Germans by moving north. To turn a whole army around on its axis by 90 degrees and move north in the middle of winter at almost no notice is almost unheard of.
But Patton achieves this within a couple of days—much to the amazement of the Germans and even more to the amazement of his fellow Allies. He says he will do it. Most people don't believe he can. Yet, my goodness me, he delivers, and delivers in spades.
On the other side, one of the most compelling characters is the German Panzer commander, Joachim Peiper. He was nasty bit of work, wasn't he?
Joachim Peiper was a 28-year-old true believer in the Nazi faith. His whole life had been acted out in the shadow of Hitler and the Third Reich. He'd come to prominence early. He was a colonel in the Waffen SS and worked as an adjutant to Himmler. He was involved in a whole series of war crimes on the eastern front, where he taught his men to regard Russian lives as being worth nothing.
He and his men bring this mentality to the western front when they fight in the Bulge in 1944, and it's they who perpetrate the famous massacre just outside the town of Malmedy.
I also wanted to try and strip the gloss off Joachim Peiper as a brilliant military commander. One of the points I make in the book is that he had passed his best in a military sense. His performance wasn't nearly as good as he claimed it to be. When I went back through the records, I found he'd lied about the progress he'd made during the Battle of the Bulge.
One of the things that most surprised me was your contention that the use of crystal meth was widespread in the German army.
The Germans routinely encouraged their soldiers to take what we would now call crystal meth before battle. It would whip them up into a fury and may explain some of the excesses they committed. It's a way of motivating scared young men. And some of the Germans are very young indeed. I found lots of evidence of 16-year-olds being put into uniform and sent into battle.
So I think you're reaching for every possible technique to exaggerate your soldiers' combat performance. This wasn't just an SS thing. The German army was not below stooping to use drugs to increase its soldiers' effectiveness on the battlefield.
What are the most important lessons, militarily and personally, you took away from studying the battle?
Writing military history is fascinating because you never end up where you think you will. One of the things I took away was how much the Allies deluded themselves as to the situation of their opponents—how much they believed, because they wanted to believe, that the Germans were a spent force. The Battle of the Bulge proved exactly the opposite. And we do this time and time again. We under-appreciate the effectiveness of our opponents even today.
Personally speaking, I was fascinated and humbled by the resilience of the soldiers, particularly the Americans, I met, whether personally or through their letters and diaries. I have seen action in combat zones myself. But I could have no conception of the horrific, freezing conditions that the American soldiers coped with and overcame.
What I took away is that soldiering is not about planning. It's all about how you react when something goes wrong, when the wheel comes off—how quickly you can turn things around, how resilient and deep your resolve is. That was demonstrated in spades by the U.S. Army at the Bulge. And that is deeply humbling and very instructive.
How many Bulge veterans are alive today?
There are precious few. Of the several hundred thousand that took part in the Battle of the Bulge, only a couple of thousand are now left with us. Most of those are fading fast, which is one of the reasons I wanted to write the book for the 70th anniversary. I knew that if I left it any longer, there'd be no one left around to say, "Yes, that's how it was," or "No, the author's talking a load of rubbish." [Laughs] I wanted to write it as a tribute to those who'd fought in the campaign, while there were still some of them left alive to appreciate my comments.
Simon Worrall curates Book Talk. Follow him on Twitter or at simonworrallauthor.com.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Battle of the Bulge lasted 14-months. The story has been changed to reflect the correct duration, which is 6-weeks.
How did Pepsi become the first American brand to take root in the Soviet Union?
&ldquoWe had a very beautiful uniform, like that of doctors: white robes, hats, clothes made personally for each worker. We were all proud of our work, and it was very prestigious to work here,&rdquo recalled Valentina Merezhko, a resident of the southern city of Novorossiysk (link in Russian). She was one of the lucky ones who worked in the USSR&rsquos first Pepsi plant, which opened its doors in 1974, making up to 160,000 bottles of Pepsi per shift.
The head of the company at that time, Donald M. Kendall, named it &ldquothe best and most modern PepsiCo plant in the world.&rdquo He must have been surprised that the plant was completed in just 11 months &ndash something never achieved before with any other Pepsi plant.
Kendall had been dreaming of it for years, but it was in the summer of 1959 that good fortune came his way at the U.S. National Exhibition in Moscow&rsquos Sokolniki Park. At that time, he was in charge of Pepsi&rsquos international operations, and asked Richard Nixon, then U.S. Vice President, to help him &ldquoget a Pepsi in [Nikita] Khrushchev&rsquos hand.&rdquo Nixon agreed, and the rest is history. The company was eager to enter the Russian market, especially since Pepsi&rsquos key competitor, Coca-Cola, was not active there.
Nikita Khrushchev (left) tastes Pepsi in 1959 at the U.S. National Exhibition in Moscow. He is watched by U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon (center) and Donald Kendall (right).
In between talks with the Soviet leader on their countries&rsquo rivalry in the production of consumer goods, Nixon fulfilled his promise to Kendall and the above picture was taken. This was the best advertisement that a company could possibly want in the Soviet Union at that time!
Nixon actually tricked Khrushev, asking to taste two types of Pepsi: one made in the U.S., and one made in Moscow (our guess is that the Americans brought concentrate to Moscow and added local water). Of course, the Soviet leader preferred the latter and then promoted it to everyone at the exhibition. The press went crazy and published photos of Khrushchev holding a Pepsi with the caption, &ldquoKhrushchev wants to be sociable,&rdquo which was a reference to Pepsi&rsquos slogan in the U.S. at that time: &ldquoBe sociable, have a Pepsi.&rdquo
Barter for Vodka
It wasn&rsquot until 1972, however, when Pepsi became the first capitalistic brand produced in the Soviet Union. According to the agreement, PepsiCo started to supply concentrate and equipment for 10 future production plants where concentrate was to be diluted, bottled and distributed across the country.
One issue to solve, however, was payment. Soviet rubles could not be internationally exchanged because of Kremlin currency controls, which made it illegal not only to trade them internationally but also to take the currency abroad. Therefore, a barter deal was made whereby Pepsi concentrate was swapped for Stolichnaya vodka and the right for its distribution in the U.S. &ndash liter per liter.
Originally, it was expected that the first plant would appear in Sochi, but due to the lack of fresh water sources nearby it was decided to build it in Novorossiysk. When the plant opened, Soviet people often would visit Novorossiysk with two goals: a holiday on the Black Sea, and to try Pepsi.
Apart from Kendall and his board of directors, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev also came to see the first Pepsi plant.
By the end of 1982 seven more plants appeared: in Moscow, Leningrad, Kyiv, Tashkent, Tallinn, Alma-Ata and Sukhumi.
Teenagers celebrate the end of school, Moscow, 1981.
In 1973-1981, as many as 1.9 million decaliters of Stolichnaya vodka worth $25 million was shipped to the U.S., and 32.3 million decaliters of Pepsi was produced, earning the Kremlin 303.3 million rubles. The barter deal with the USSR only allowed the company to profit from vodka sales in the U.S. &ndash it didn&rsquot benefit from Pepsi sales in the Soviet Union.
A Pepsi stand in Moscow, 1983.
The price for a bottle of the American soft drink was twice the cost of Soviet drinks (lemonad was 10 kopecks), and one could buy a 0.33 liter bottle for 45 kopecks, and then return the glass bottle to get 10 kopecks back.
In 1988, Pepsi was the first Western brand to place a paid commercial on Soviet TV. The ad featured none other than Michael Jackson.
Following the American reaction to Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979, the sales of vodka plummeted and PepsiCo started to look for something else to barter. The company founded a peculiar way to continue its business &ndash Soviet warships.
In May 1989, Pepsi bought 17 submarines (for $150,000 each), a cruiser, a frigate and a destroyer, which all were later resold for scrap. Plus, the company bought new Soviet oil tankers and later leased them or sold them in partnership with a Norwegian company. It was then that Kendall famously remarked, addressing U.S. national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, &ldquoWe're disarming the Soviet Union faster than you are.&rdquo
A 1990 Pepsi commercial in the USSR: &ldquoNew generation choses Pepsi.&rdquo
A year later, the company signed a historical $3 billion deal with the Kremlin to swap 10 Soviet tankers and freighters worth more than $300 million for Pepsi concentrate.
Despite Kendall&rsquos hopes that this would foster PepsiCo&rsquos further expansion in the country, the collapse of the Soviet Union ruined his plans and the company never claimed the ships. They were located in a newly independent Ukraine that wanted to bargain something for itself. Suddenly, PepsiCo had to deal with 15 states instead of one. The worst part &ndash its key competitor, Coca-Cola, now entered the market, and PepsiCo struggled to hold on to its market share in Russia.
Pepsi from a Moscow-based plant, 1991.
Today, Pepsi enjoys a strong position on the Russian market producing a wide range of items. Yet, from time to time, Russians nostalgically recall the unique taste of Pepsi in a glass bottle saying that it tasted better than today because plastic ruins the taste.
Here&rsquos something that shows the extent of this nostalgia: One lucky owner of an original Soviet-era Pepsi bottle offered to sell it for 6,400 rubles ($110) &ndash an already expired product, of course, but still a nice find for lovers of vintage items!
Want to know more about life in the Soviet Union and daily habits in those times? Check out 10 things you can only understand if you lived in the USSR.
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The History of Georgia
The Democratic Republic of Georgia and its territorial losses after the Soviet invasion
After occupation of Georgia by Lenin Russia, Communists began to depress the rival forces and to strengthen their power. Armed Forces of Democratic Republic, State and Elective Bodies and Non-Proletarian Parties were abolished. Privacy of lands was abolished as well, a whole industry, railways, fleet, banks etc. passed in the hands of the government. Punisher organizations held the massive shooting and exile on oppositionists of the regime and even suspected persons. Especially, former officers and representatives of nobility and intelligentsia. With the aim of setting atheism, Communists destroyed churches, exterminated clergymen only in 1922-1923 1500 churches were destroyed in Georgia.
In spite of bloody terror, anti-communistic actions took place in Georgia in 1921-1924. But they were disconnected and government easily managed to localize and suppress them. The most important movement took place in 1924. Rebels had contacts with immigrated government. Simultaneous actions in different regions were planned, but Communists arrested several rebellion leaders. So, the rebellion was not organized and it was cruelly suppressed.
Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia (it was officially called so by that time), was considered as the independent state at first, but its territory was occupied by Russian Army, and Georgian Communists acted only under Moscow orders. The plan of further state construction of Soviet Georgia was made in Moscow as well, which would simplify its steps into Soviet political and economical system.
Georgian SSR, in fact, was a federal state. At the end of 1921 on the ground of the Alliance Agreement, Abkhazia SSR (Autonomous Republic since 1931) entered its structure. Besides, there was created Ajara Autonomous Republic on Georgia territory in 1921 and South Ossetia Autonomous Region in 1922. Georgia SSR itself with Azerbaijan and Armenia, by the proposal of Lenin in 1922, was in Transcaucasia Federation, which entered USSR, created at the end of the same year. In 1936 Transcaucasia Federation was abolished, and Georgia directly entered Soviet Union structure.
From the second half of the 20s, swift processes of industrialization and collectivization began in Soviet State, the real aim of which was maximal strengthening of existing regime. There were built a lot of factories, hydroelectric power stations and mines in Georgia. Coal and Manganese widely mined. Technical cultures, especially tea and citrus for the huge soviet market, were mastered in Agriculture. But enterprises, built in accelerated tempos were of a low quality. The sowing territories were widened after chopping woods. Setting monocultures in all regions lost the traditional light to Georgian many-sided agriculture.
Communist dogmatism in USSR considered industrialization and collectivization with the cultural revolution, as the main condition for socialism. So, in the 20-30s the amount of secondary and high educational institutions rose in Georgia. Science and Art developed. In 1940 there was established the Academy of Science of Georgia USSR. But from that very time the individual thinking abilities of the creative intelligentsia, literature and art representatives were reduced. Everything was obeyed to the Communist Dictatorship Ideology. With the aim of the final frightening and spiritual weakness of the several millionian population of Soviet Union, Stalin government ran the wide repressions in the second half of the 30s, which appeared in the first days of existence of the Communist Regime, but they became especially massive in 1937-1938. Georgia was one of those regions of SSR, where the repressing engine was particularly active. During those years, there were shot thousands of innocent people in Georgia, and even more were sent in "Gulag" camps, where the most of them found their oppressed death. Among repressed people there were the best representatives of intelligentsia, including such remarkable representatives of Georgian culture, as writer M. Javakhishvili, poets T. Tabidze and P. Iashvili, stage-manager S. Akhmeteli, scientist-philologist Gr. Tsereteli, conductor E. Mikeladze etc. Villages were involved in the massive repressions as well, where thousands of peasants died from the public collectivization, which ended in that period.
The Banner of Victory over Reichstag
Political repressions of 30s took lives of the Soviet army and Military-industrial complex personnel, which caused the blow to the self-defencability of the country, but because of those very repressions, the fear, set in the society, strengthened the authoritative Stalin Regime and helped to mobilize all total forces of Soviet Union in the war against Germany, which started on June 22, 1941. There didn't actually take place military movements on Georgian territory (only in summer of 1942, Germans invaded Abkhazia and occupied one village), but the country sacrificed the maximum of its demographic and material resources in this war.
In Georgia, the population of which was 3612 thousand in 1940, there were mobiled and sent in the active army more than 700 thousand people, and more than 300 thousands haven't returned back. The part of the people from Georgia fought in the national Georgian divisions and majority in the other parts of many-national Soviet army.
Georgians fought in partisan groups, as on the SSR territory, so in the countries occupied by Nazis. Among Georgians there were people, who stood for Germany and fought under its flag. Most of them acted on the ground of belief that the victory of Germany would bring the liberation for Georgia. But the amount of those people was scanty in comparison with these legions, which fought for the liberty of USSR.
Most of Georgians who fought in Soviet army, sincerely believed that they protected the "Socialism Property", which was at the high value rank of the Communist Propaganda in that time. Besides, a Georgian soldier knew that any place he fought, in Moscow, Ukraina of on Volga, he was defending Georgia from the horrors of the war and from that slavery, which was caused by Hitler regime to the occupied countries.
The home front laborers were ruled by the same aims as well, which played a big role in the victory over the enemy. The whole economic of Georgia worked with maximal power for the front. In spite of the conscription of the large part of qualified laborers, the machine-building and metal-working factories redoubled their productivity. The place of the soldier laborers at their machines took their wives, sisters and daughters. The large amount of armament, military materials and uniforms was produced. 200 new enterprises were built. Soviet collective farms highly implemented agricultural and production plans. Georgia sheltered also many thousands of evacuated people from the territories, occupied by Nazis. In the famous resorts and medical institutions, wounded Soviet soldiers had courses of cure.
Thus, the population of Georgia played an important role in that great victory, which was got in the struggle against Fascism by Soviet people.
After the World War II, economy of Georgia in several years became higher than it was before the war. New enterprises, water power stations, mines, irrigating channels etc were arranged. But the government kept the society under the heavy ideological pressure. The new repression wave appeared again, which was ceased only after the death of Stalin (1953).
The new Soviet government, the leader of which was N. Khrushchov, softened the inner political regime. Besides, in the 30-40s Stalin was accused to every crime, committed by the government. Nothing was said about the Soviet system perversion. On the XX Communist Party Congress in February 1956, worshipping of Stalin was converted into the personal retaliations. Anti-Stalinist Company was tending to the opinion, that his repressive actions were conditioned by his Georgian origin.
Plaque commemorating the massacre, in Rustavelis Gamziri
Especially bitter was the critique of Stalin for Georgian youth, which was accustomed to the fanatical idolization of Stalin before by the official ideology. Besides, Georgian national feelings were offended. On March 3, 1956, separate manifestations took place in Tbilisi high educational schools, and on March 5, the situation in the city became unrulable. Demonstrations and meetings were held, where people required rehabilitation of Stalin, criticized the XX Congress solutions. Nothing was anti-Soviet in this action, but the government cruelly suppressed youth protest. On March 9, Soviet armies shot the participants of the meeting in the center of Tbilisi. More than 100 people died and about 300 people were wounded (the exact numbers are not known).
In fact, after the March tragedy, the wide layers of population of Georgia lost the Communist ideology belief. In the 60s, there began the period in Soviet Union, which was called "the Period of Motionlessness" afterwards. In spite of that, the great "Communism" reconstructions still were running, party and state functioners of different ranks reported to the higher authorities about new achievements, in fact, their words were far from reality. Corruption became of a total character as well. No one believed in official propaganda any more.
Falsity and dissimulation of the state politic level, morally corrupted the Soviet society. Since the 60s, in Georgia and other USS Republics, there widely set so-called "Shade Economic", which was the result of ignorance of the economical objective rules under administrational governance system.
The most radical expression of the progressive part of the society, opposed to the existing system, was the dissidential movement, which started since the 60s. Among the Georgian dissidents, the most devoted and spiritually strong person was Merab Kostava (1938-1989). He was arrested for several times by the state security committee and served his term in the far camps of Russia.
By the 80s, it became clear to everyone that the rotten Soviet regime had no future perspective. In 1985, the leader of the country, M. Gorbachov tried to overcome the crisis with cardinal reforms. The "Restructuring" ("Perestroika") began, but the liberalization and publicity, connected to this process, appeared the gin from the bottle for Soviet Union. Architects of the "Restructuring" ("Perestroika") didn't know that the Soviet system built with blood and iron, had no "immunity" for democratic freedom, and as a result, the swift decomposition of this process began.
"Restructuring" in Georgia began with emphasizing national aspiration. In 1987, the first legal national political organization - Ilia Chavchavadze Society - was created. In a while, other similar organizations appeared as well. The leaders of the national movement, which became of a wide scale by 1988, were former prisoners, Georgian dissidents. Soon, the motto of Independence of Georgia was evidently shown. Soviet government, which in spite of the "Restructuring", periodically kept trying to hold forceful methods, used armies and armored technique towards the peaceful meeting participants in the center of Tbilisi. On April 9, 1989, at night, the meeting was attacked. 20 persons were killed most of them were women. It must be notified that the April 9 tragedy happened on the same place, as March 9, 1956 bloodshed. But in 1989, the general situation in USSR was quite different. The bloody action on April 9 angered not only the whole Georgia, but the progressive society of Russia, which firmly rebelled against this fact. In those days in Georgia, there took place the national integrity. The government was forced to step back.
Poster showing Mikhail Gorbachev
After April 9, the leadership of Georgian Communist Party lost its influence in the Republic. National movement became the main motive power for the political life of Georgia. Unfortunately, among the leaders of this movement there was not unanimity at all. M. Kostava, who tried to maintain the integrity of national powers, died in the accident. After his death, the powers, struggling for the independence, finally divided into two camps. The most popular in the public was the political block "The Round Table". The famous leader of this block was the former dissident, philologist, Zviad Gamsakhurdia (1938-1993). Exactly his personal popularity conditioned the victory (62% votes) of "The Round Table" after October 28, 1990 elections (the first many-partied elections in Georgia since 1921). Thus, it was a peaceful end of the Communist governance in Georgia.
Z. Gamsakhurdia soon became the president of the country, and during the period of his reign, the inner political situation in the Republic aggravated. Because of the inflexible, ambitious policy of Gamsakhurdia, the relations between the governing "The Round Table" and the rest opposite part, became bitter. The condition in Autonomies was strained too, especially in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Gamsakhurdia's nationalistic phraseology disturbed the ethnic minorities. If in 1981 the partial compromise with Abkhazia was managed, the conflict with Ossetia became the armed opposition. The reason of this was the abolishment of Autonomous Region of Ossetia by the Parliament of Georgia. This solution was provoked by Ossetians, declaring the Autonomous Region as the Sovereign Republic. It must also be notified that in Georgia of this period, one of the reasons of existing ethnical conflicts (and also the split in Georgian national movement), except the local radical actions, was, as it seemed, the hidden activity of SSC of the Union, which used the tried imperial methods - "separate and dominate".
Ten Amazing Facts About Peter The Great of Russia
Peter the Great was one of the greatest Tsars. He transformed the country. Peter loved all things western and he wanted to turn his Empire into a western state. Tsar Peter was an autocrat and he tolerated no opposition. He was to greatly expand the Russian Empire and won many battles.
In particular, he defeated an invasion of Russia by the Swedish Monarch Charles XII. He was one of the founders of modern Russia. St Petersburg, the second city fo Russia is named in his honor.
In the war against the Turkish Empire in 1695, he fought as a regular foot soldier. The Tsar believed that was the only way to beat the Turks. He proved to be a ferocious fighter and brave in battle.
Peter was a giant and was possibly the tallest Tsar ever it is estimated that he was six feet, seven or eight inches in height or over 2 meters.
Peter the Great at the Battle of Narva
He married twice and had eleven children, many of these died in infancy or early childhood. Peter also had many children outside of wedlock.
Peter the Great&rsquos eldest son from his first marriage, Prince Alexei, was convicted of high treason by his father and secretly executed in 1718. It was alleged that he was planning to kill his father and to seize the throne.
Peter believed that Russia needed a port to be truly a great power. It had only Archangel and it was ice-bound every winter and early Spring. For this reason, he fought wars with the Swedes and the Turks to obtain a port for the Russian army. He was unable to seize a port from the Turks. However, he was able to secure some territory on the Baltic Coast after his victory against Sweden in the Great Northern War.
Peter the Great built the first Russian navy. He traveled to Europe to get the technology and the know-how that was needed to build a navy. he also hired foreign experts to help him to build his new fleet.
Peter was fascinated by all things nautical and he personally inspected the building of his new ships. It is believed that Peter even worked on the ships, using skills he learned in the Netherlands.
Peter the Great Monument in St Petersburg
Peter was forced to return from a European Tour after a rebellion by the Streltsy. They were elite troops and they had mutinied during Peter&rsquos absence.
Peter took drastic actions and executed many of the mutineers. Indeed he executed many of them with his own hands. Peter is alleged to have beheaded many of the rebels.
It is believed that Peter the Great died after trying to rescue some drowning men. The cold water cause a recurrence of a serious illness and this led to his early death at the age of forty-five.
As he lay on hs dead bed Peter was asked to name his heir. He asked for a pen and paper but before he could write the name of the next heir he took his last breath and died.
Peter began the work on St Petersburg, the city that bears his name. He had the city built on marshy soil. During the building of the city thousands of people died.
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