Moscow Strikes Back

Moscow Strikes Back (Russian: Разгром немецких войск под Москвой, Razgrom Nemetskikh Voysk Pod Moskvoy, "Rout of the German troops near Moscow") is a Soviet war documentary about the Battle of Moscow made during the battle in October 1941 – January 1942, directed by Leonid Varlamov and Ilya Kopalin. It won an Academy Award for Best Documentary.

Moscow Strikes Back
Directed byLeonid Varlamov
Ilya Kopalin
Produced byCentral Studio of Newsreels
StarringGenerals Zhukov, Rokossovsky, ordinary soldiers
Music byV. Smirnov
CinematographyIvan Belyakov and others
Release date
February 23, 1942 (1942-02-23)
Running time
55 minutes
LanguageRussian (subtitles)


Russian women making artillery shells

The film begins in Moscow, with civilians preparing defences in their streets. Men in civilian clothes with rifles prepare for battle. Women machine shell cases and prepare hand grenades. An apparently huge Stalin makes a battle speech in Red Square to thousands of cheering Red Army soldiers on parade with greatcoats, ushankas and fixed bayonets.

Anti-aircraft guns fire at night

Men, trucks, tanks and artillery advance into battle. Anti-aircraft guns fire into the night sky, which is crisscrossed by searchlight beams. A crashed German bomber is seen in close-up. Russian fighters and bombers are readied and armed.

A crewman jumps aboard his snow-camouflaged tank

Artillery guns of many types fire many times. Tank crewmen scramble to their tanks and jump aboard. Tanks race across snow-covered plains towards the enemy. Snow camouflaged troops parachute behind enemy lines. They collect skis parachuted to them and go into battle, lying down under fire before attacking again. Tanks rush from a forest across the snow, infantrymen riding on their rear decks or skiing into battle in large numbers. A tank is hit and explodes as the attack goes on. Russian infantry in greatcoats storm a village and clear the houses of surrendering German soldiers. Towns and cities are liberated. The Russian soldiers are greeted by smiling civilians. An old woman kisses several soldiers.

German atrocities are shown. The elegantly preserved houses of the playwright Anton Chekhov and the novelist Leo Tolstoy are seen badly damaged, the museum exhibits destroyed. The bodies of murdered civilians are shown. Quantities of destroyed German armour and transport are scattered across the landscape. Captured artillery is to be used against the Germans. The bodies of dead Germans are seen frozen in the snow. Maps show the extent of the Russian advance. The front line has retreated far from Moscow.

Making the film

Tanks and ski infantry attack together

The film's director Ilya Kopalin recalled of the film shoot in the winter of 1941–1942 that:

It's been severe, but happy days. Severe, because we made a movie in a front-line city. Basement studio has turned into the apartment where we lived like in casern. At night, we discussed with the cameramen the job for the next day, and in the morning the machine took away the cameramen to the front to back in the evening with the footage. The shooting was very heavy. There were thirty-degree frosts. The mechanism of the movie camera froze and clogged with snow, numbed hands refused to act. There were times when in the car, which returned from the front, lay the body of our dead comrade and broken equipment. But the knowledge that the enemy pulls back from Moscow, that collapses the myth of the invincibility of the Nazi armies, gave us strength.

German soldier lies dead, snow on his back

We knew that the film should be created as soon as possible, that the people should as soon as possible to see on the screen the offspring of the first victories of the army. And shoted material immediately move to the lab on the editing table. We cut both day and night in the cold editing rooms without going to the shelter even when air-raid ... At the end of December 1941 cutting of the movie was over. In the great cold hall began dubbing studio. There was the most responsible exciting entry: "Fifth Symphony" by Tchaikovsky. Bright Russian melody, outcry, wailing chords. And on the screen were burned towns, gallows, corpses, and all the way of retreat of fascists revealed signs of violence and barbarism. We listened to music, watched the screen and cried. Cried the musicians, who played with difficulty by frozen hands.

English version

The English version's cues were written by Albert Maltz and Elliot Paul, and the vocal narration was by Edward G. Robinson. It was distributed by Artkino Pictures and Republic Pictures.[1]


German soldiers surrender

In 1942, the New York Times began its review with the words "Out of the great Winter counter-offensive that began on Dec. 6 of last year on the approaches to Moscow, Russian front-line cameramen have brought a film that will live in the archives of our time. Moscow Strikes Back, now at the Globe, is not a film to be described in ordinary reviewer's terms, for these events were not staged before a camera and artistically arranged; they were recorded amidst a struggle that knew no quarter. Yet, here is a film to knot the fist and seize the heart with anger, a film that stings like a slap in the face of complacence, a scourge and lash against the delusion that there may still be an easy way out. Here is a film to lift the spirit with the courage of a people who have gone all-out."[2]

The Times reviewer describes the film in detail, admitting that words are inadequate, and adds that "The savagery of that retreat is a spectacle to stun the mind." He finds "infinitely more terrible" the sight of the atrocities, "the naked and slaughtered children stretched out in ghastly rows, the youths dangling limply in the cold from gallows that were rickety, but strong enough."[2] The review concludes that "To say that Moscow Strikes Back is a great film is to fall into inappropriate cliché." Slavko Vorkapich's editing is described as brilliant; Albert Maltz's writing as terse, Robinson's voice-over as moving, "but that does not tell the story of what the heroic cameramen have done", filming "amid the fury of battle".[2]


In the USSR, the film was awarded the Stalin Prize. In America, it was one of four winners at the 15th Academy Awards for Best Documentary.[1] It also won the National Board of Review award for best documentary in 1942 and New York Film Critics Circle Awards for Best War Fact Film.

See also


  1. "Moscow Strikes back". Artkino Pictures. 1942. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  2. "T.S." (17 August 1942). "Movie Review: Moscow Strikes Back (1942) 'Moscow Strikes Back,' Front-Line Camera Men's Story of Russian Attack, Is Seen at the Globe". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
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