By spring 1945 World War II had been raging in Europe for more than five years. Years of brutal battles resulted in massive losses of human life and destruction of towns and cities. Since 1941, the Soviet Union had been fighting Germany in eastern Europe, losing millions of soldiers as they repelled Hitler’s invasion of Soviet territory.
In June 1944 successful Allied invasions in France allowed U.S. and British forces to capture German territory and press the Axis powers back. At the same time, the Soviets, led by Premier Joseph Stalin, began their campaign in the east. Over the year, the Red Army marched toward Berlin, intent on the destruction of Nazi Germany. (D-Day paved the way for the downfall of Nazi Germany.)
On June 22, 1944, three years to the day after German troops invaded Soviet territory, the Red Army launched Operation Bagration, a massive offensive on the eastern front aimed primarily at annihilating Army Group Center, the once mighty Nazi force that had reached the outskirts of Moscow in 1941 during Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa.