The many headed hydra was a snake-like monster of myth and popular imagination. Its ability to grow more heads each time one was lost ensured its survival. It was finally killed by Hercules.
Choosing it for the German army implied the millions of men Hitler had mobilised, and the millions who had perished. Destroying it was a mammoth achievement. Hercules’ strength is found in the unity of the Allies, seen in the insignia on the sleeve of the large arm wielding the sword.
It is 5 May 1945. Hitler is dead, the Allies are taking Berlin. The war will be all but over by 8th May. The Crimean Conference in February 1945 had set the complete removal of the German military leadership as one of its post-war targets.
This poster, celebrating allied strength, also sends a specific visual message to Russian viewers. Not only does this poster recall the animals in popular prints, but borrows specifically from a particular Russian painting. Vereschagin’s ‘Apotheosis of War’ (1871) recorded a gruesome practice. Invaders from the east would mark their passage with a pile of skulls of slaughtered locals. Ominous black birds flutter over Vereschagin’s version. This reminder of former Russian battles and victories memorialises the Russian sacrifice in winning the war.
Sarkisian’s homage to traditional painting, to Vereschagin as a military artist, is matched by his own playfulness in this poster. Although they all wear the green German helmet, each of the monster’s heads is given a different expression, from surprise to shock and anger.
The colour combination of red, blue/grey and yellow underlies the theme: the deed is done in steely grey but the sickly yellow below reminds of the suffering entailed.
The upper text is a quotation from the Declaration of the Crimean Conference. It refers to the need to destroy the German military leadership.
The jaunty verse below by Lebedev-Kumach emphasises the snake-like vileness of the fascists, and the need for their annihilation. He succeeds, along with the artist, in translating the formal rhetoric of the declaration into the language of ordinary Russians, now expecting some form of retribution against the enemy.