Colorized Images That Capture the Grim Reality of World War II’s Eastern FrontThe Eastern Front between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union witnessed some of the most barbaric and intense fighting of World War II.

In August 1939, these two powerful nations struck a shocking nonaggression pact, agreeing to a ten-year period without conflict.

This pact, known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, was not just a simple agreement but a strategic move that reshaped the map of Europe.

Under the terms, the Soviet Union was granted control over Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, and the eastern half of Poland

This allowed Nazi Germany to invade the western half of Poland without Soviet interference, which Adolf Hitler did on September 1, 1939, just nine days after the pact was signed, marking the beginning of World War II in Europe.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

Sometime in the fall of 1942, Soviet soldiers advance through the rubble of Stalingrad.

Despite the pact, both Germany and the Soviet Union harbored no illusions about their future. They anticipated an inevitable clash but used the agreement to bide their time.

Hitler, ever the opportunist, focused on expanding Nazi influence across Western and Central Europe, swiftly conquering France, Denmark, Belgium, and other nations.

Meanwhile, Joseph Stalin tightened his iron grip on the Soviet Union, forcefully consolidating power.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

In the winter of 1942, citizens of Leningrad draw water from a broken main during the nearly 900-day siege by German invaders. Unable to capture the city, the Germans isolated it, disrupted utilities, and shelled it for over two years.

On June 22, 1941, the landscape of World War II shifted dramatically.

Hitler shattered the Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact with the launch of Operation Barbarossa, a massive invasion of the Soviet Union.

From the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south, 3 to 4 million Axis troops advanced, including many non-Germans such as Hungarians, Romanians, Finns, etc.

In just one week, German forces had pushed 200 miles into Soviet territory.

Within a few months, 2.5 million Soviet soldiers were dead, wounded, or missing. By December, this number had escalated to nearly 7 million.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

A German grenadier carrying a machine gun on his shoulder in front of a building on fire during the German retreat in the Soviet Union, 1944.

The fighting was extraordinarily brutal. Executions and mass rapes were daily occurrences.

Instead of deporting Jews and Roma to concentration camps, the 3,000-strong German Einsatzgruppen, or “operational groups,” executed civilians in their own towns and villages, resulting in the mass murder of over 1 million people, often through mass shootings.

However, the Germans faced a harsh reality check with the onset of the bitter Russian winter.

Hitler, expecting a quick Soviet collapse, famously declared, “We have only to kick in the door, and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.”

This meant the Germans were unprepared for a prolonged conflict.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

During the siege of Leningrad in 1943, Belle the hippo survived the war thanks to her caretaker, Yevdokia Dashina. When the city’s water supply was cut off in 1941, Belle’s pool dried up, causing her skin to crack. Every day, Dashina hauled a 40-liter barrel of water from the Neva River to bathe Belle and rubbed her with camphor oil. This dedication eventually healed Belle’s skin, allowing her to take refuge underwater during air raids.

The Nazis also underestimated the vast distances involved in their campaign. Moscow, situated 1,000 miles east of Berlin, proved to be a formidable objective.

By the time German forces reached the outskirts of Moscow, they were stretched beyond their limits.

The Red Army capitalized on this, successfully defending Moscow and pushing the Germans back, marking a decisive moment in the war.

Hitler aimed for a strategic victory in 1942 by targeting Stalingrad, a key industrial city in southwestern Russia.

Stalingrad was a major producer of artillery for Soviet forces, and its location along the Volga River made it a crucial shipping route to the Black and Caspian Seas.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

An abandoned horse stands among the ruins of Stalingrad in December of 1942.

The Battle of Stalingrad became the largest and bloodiest confrontation in the history of warfare.

Over five brutal months, the city endured relentless German airstrikes and savage hand-to-hand combat.

The toll was staggering: 2 million people were killed, wounded, or captured, including many civilians

Both sides suffered heavy losses, but the encircled German army in Stalingrad eventually surrendered to the Soviets.

This surrender marked one of the war’s most decisive turning points, forcing the Germans into a steady retreat that culminated in their eventual surrender on May 9, 1945, after the Battle of Berlin.

The photos collected here, brought to life in full color, depict the bloody battles and daily struggles of World War II’s Eastern Front.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

In 1943, female snipers of the Red Army gather together before heading to the frontlines.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

Soviet soldiers charge during the Siege of Leningrad. January 1, 1943.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

Three Russian war orphans stand amid the remains of what was once their home, in late 1942. After German forces destroyed the family’s house, they took the parents as prisoners, leaving the children abandoned.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

Red Army soldiers raise the Soviet flag over the Reichstag during the Battle of Berlin. May 2, 1945.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

In the fall of 1942, a German soldier is seen hanging a Nazi flag from a building in downtown Stalingrad.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

German soldiers, supported by armored personnel carriers, move into a burning Belarusian village at an unknown location on June 26, 1941.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

Soviet soldiers, on their backs, launch a volley of bullets at enemy aircraft in June of 1943.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

In October of 1942, a German Junkers Ju 87 “Stuka” dive bomber attacks during the Battle of Stalingrad.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

In late 1943, an aerial view reveals the ruins of Stalingrad, almost entirely destroyed after six months of brutal warfare.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

Romanian soldiers being drawn by a camel on the Stalingrad front. September 1942.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

Captured Jewish civilians who participated in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising are marched out of the city by Nazi troops, Warsaw, Poland, April 19, 1943.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

Heinrich Himmler inspects a prisoner-of-war camp in Russia. c. 1941.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

On August 4, 1942, a German armored car is seen amidst the debris of the Soviet fortress in Sevastopol, Ukraine.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

Soviet snipers fighting on the Leningrad front during a blizzard. 1943.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

Soviet soldiers, on their backs, launch a volley of bullets at enemy aircraft in June of 1943.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

A Soviet woman watches a building burn sometime in 1942.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

Young girls assembling machine guns in a Soviet factory. 1943.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

German soldiers pass Adolph Hitler during their campaign in Poland, 1940.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

Ukrainian cavalrymen on parade in front of Hans Frank, Nazi Governor-General of occupied Poland. Lviv, Ukraine. September 1939.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

An old German woman walks through the smoking ruins of Berlin after the city was captured by the Red Army. 1945.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

German prisoners of war captured during the battle of Stalingrad. 1943.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

A serpentine line of German soldiers stretches to the horizon as they are marched to prison camps after being routed from their last forts near Stalingrad, 1943.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

The commander of a Cossack unit on active service in the Kharkov region of Ukraine, on June 21, 1942.

Colorized Images Eastern Front World War Two

In February 1943, a Soviet soldier stands guard behind a captured German soldier. After months of encirclement by Soviet forces in Stalingrad, the remnants of the German Sixth Army surrendered. The fierce fighting and starvation had already claimed the lives of around 200,000 soldiers.

(Photo credit: Colorized and upscaled by RHP / Wikimedia Commons / Bundesarchiv).