June 22, 1941, the longest day of the year, began on a beautiful, clear summer night. High school students across the Soviet Union were celebrating graduation, many returning home in the early hours. At 3:00 a.m. that day, Nazi Germany had set into motion Operation Barbarossa, a carefully planned, devastating strike against an unsuspecting Soviet army and people. Three million German soldiers, with 150 divisions, 3,500 tanks and over 2,000 planes descended along an 1,800 mile front from the Baltics to the Black Sea. By dawn, Bialystok, Kiev, Brest, Grodno, Rovno, Kovno, and the ports of Tallinn and Riga were under intense bombardment; the number of civilian and military casualties surged. Finally, at noon, Soviet citizens heard on their home radios and on public megaphones Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov’s address to the nation: “Today at four o’clock, without any declaration of war and without any claims being made on the Soviet Union, German troops attacked our country.” The government assured its citizens that the Soviet victory would be swift and painless. Reality would prove dramatically different.
On June 22, the shadows of bombs.