The 1941 summer and autumn saw the beginning of a devastating conflict that would consume Europe and beyond for the next four years – World War II. Among its many atrocities, one of the most chilling was the dark game of Russian Roulette that soldiers on both sides were forced to play, with their lives on the line.
Russian Roulette originated in Tsarist Russia and was practiced among criminals, then made popular by films such as The Deer Hunter (1978). During WWII, it became a new way for soldiers to decide who should continue with a dangerous mission or take part in a suicide attack. Its introduction into warfare had far reaching implications for all those involved; those playing could be faced with sudden death if they lost, while their comrades watched helplessly as life-altering decisions were reduced to the whims of a spinning revolver.
This dark period is explored further in the documentary ‘Russian Roulette: July – September 1941’, which looks at how this deadly game shaped WW2 history during its first few months of raging conflict. It details how Stalin’s order to execute any soldier who retreated without permission led to an increase in suicides amongst Red Army soldiers and those under his