By Pierre Kosmidis
Photos submitted by Anton Belousov
The Eastern Front during WW2 has proved to be the graveyard of nazi aspirations for world domination.
Millions of German soldiers died during the fierce battles fought in the vast expanses of the then Soviet Union.
It is estimated that 4 out of 5 German soldiers killed during WW2, died in the Eastern Front.
Apart from the lives lost, as millions of Soviets -soldiers and unarmed citizens- suffered and died during the War in the East too, or the “Great Patriotic War” as it has since been known, thousands of vehicles of all sorts, ranging from heavy armour such as tanks and self-propelled guns, to tractors, trucks, motorbikes and any other vehicle used by the German Army, were left in the Soviet Union and swiftly… changed ownership.
According to the German High Command, during the period from June 22 to December 31, 1941, German troops lost 35,159 trucks, 24,849 cars and 2,469 tractors at the Eastern Front.
During the battle for Moscow, from mid-November to December 31, 1941, the Red Army seized 15,049 German vehicles.
During the encirclement and liquidation of the German Army in Stalingrad in 1943, the Don Front Red Army captured 80,438 vehicles and 571 German Army tractors.
The correspondent of Krasnaya Zvezda, the official newspaper of Soviet Ministry of Defence, who visited the area to the west of Stalingrad, wrote in those days:
“The Germans had thousands of trucks, cars, mostly dumped in ravines, because they did not have the time or the means to destroy them. Some 70 percent of these vehicles can still be repaired and put into operation again.”
www.ww2wrecks.com has contacted Mr. Anton Belousov, IT manager in a Russian company, who specializes in the recovery and restoration of old cars, to learn more on the WW2 vehicles “goldmine” that is the former Soviet Union and today’s Russia.
Why did you start looking for WW2 vehicles in Russia?
I always liked history, especially the Third Reich vehicles and equipment. I study WW2 history and I often go to battlefields with my friends, we still find cars in the woods, in fields, or even in swamps.
Now in modern-day Russia it is hard to find WW2 cars in sheds and garages.
As a rule, most of these cars were used in rural areas or in construction projects and they have virtually become useless.
Some luxury cars of Wehrmacht officers remained in garages of the Soviet high class, such as officers, politicians and members of the Communist Party.
Many WW2 vehicles found their way back to the West after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.
Gangster groups bought them up and sold them to collectors in Western Europe or the US, through Lithuania and Latvia.
Many such WW2 cars and other vehicles are still around in the Russian streets. Do you think there is big interest and historic importance?
Of course there is historic importance, we as the country which was involved in World War II and lost millions of people, we honour the memory of our grandfathers and great-grandfathers who died during the War, so history plays a significant part in our lives.
Usually some WW2 vehicles can now be seen during parades or reenactment activities, but the majority of such cars is kept in museums where access is free, while some cars are stored in private collections and access to them is difficult.
Are there WW2 vehicles still being discovered in Russia?
The majority of WW2 vehicles has already been found in the woods, while others are just a pile of rusted metal.
At the end of WW2 the vehicles abandoned in battles were taken by a special military transport company, they were serviced and sent back to the front, to be used by the Red Army.
Villagers could take some cars from the battlefields and hide them, but this was illegal and they could be shot or considered enemies of the State if they were found.
So, it is still possible to find such cars which have been modified beyond recognition over the years or were just left in a barn in villages away from the urban centres of Russia.
But good luck smiles every now and then and a WW2 vehicle emerges from oblivion and even though very little remains from the actual vehicle, the skilled eye can see the value of that historic vehicle.
Were WW2 vehicles used during the Soviet Union period too?
Obviously those WW2 vehicles were used in the post-war era, in construction and in agricultural projects, while luxury cars formerly belonging to high-ranking German officers, became the vehicles of Soviet Union officers.
It is worth mentioning too that after the end of WW2, Stalin, with the 1951 directive, prohibited the use of foreign cars and people hid the WW2 vehicles for decades and had to use public transportation, as the Soviet industry until the end of 1990 couldn’t provide with cars the 160 million Russian citizens. Automobiles were always a scarce commodity in the USSR.
If you could choose, which one would be your favourite WW2 car and why?
I would choose the VW Typ 166 Swimmwagen, because I am a fan of the air cooled rear-engine cars created by Ferdinand Porsche and this car combines a boat with an all-terrain vehicle.