Soviet soldier in the liberated village, 1941

This soldier and his companions had just come and liberated his village. She is greeting the Soviet army. Photograph taken after the Battle of Moscow, Soviet counterattack, December 1941. Original title: "In the Free Village". Author: Ivan Shagin.

By early December 1941, German troops had crossed the Moscow-Volga Canal and forward units were just twelve miles from the Kremlin. But it was as close to the Soviet capital as the Wehrmacht would ever get. Because on December 5, 1941 the Red Army launched a dramatic counterattack.

Soviet units – many of whom had recently arrived in Moscow from Siberia – encountered German soldiers who had reached the limits of their own endurance.

"The commanders said that the Siberian divisions saved Moscow", said Vasily Borisov, one of the Red Army soldiers who had been taken from the east to fight in the Battle for Moscow. “There was a one-on-one fight during the counter-attacks. We had to fight the Germans in the trenches. And those who were more deserving survived and the weak died."

German soldiers were not only exhausted - they were terrifyingly equipped for the winter war. The Nazi leadership believed that the war would be won by the autumn of 1941, so why prepare German troops to fight in the winter?

"When the temperature dropped below minus 30 °C, our machine guns were no longer firing", recalled Walter Schaefer-Kenert, a German officer who fought in Moscow.

"Our machine guns were precision tools, but they didn't shoot properly when the oil got thick - it really scares you ... We had heavy damage to toes and fingers during the night, and when on foot. The army had to sleep. Khula, you tried to make a hole in the ice.

Then came an order that a guard would have to turn around every two hours and watch because you would starve to death and you wouldn't realize this was happening. Especially if we fought and sweated during the day and then shivered at night with the cold – then the greatest danger was death from the cold. It's a very good death but you don't want to take it!

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