James W. Meng

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Units: Foreword 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5


The USSR during the Great Patriotic War.
12.1. External politics of the USSR on the eve of World War II.

The rise to power of Chancellor Adolf Hitler in Germany in 1933 resulted in a change in the goals of Soviet foreign policy. Military cooperation was discontinued, and Soviet diplomats began to make contact with Western democracies. Diplomatic relations were first established between the USSR and the United States in 1933; the Soviet Union was then admitted to the League of Nations in 1934. This was an important step in the process of international recognition for the USSR. It was determined that the foundational principles of Soviet diplomacy were to be non-aggression and neutrality in any conflict.

As a result of an environment of mutual distrust between Britain, France, and the USSR in the 1930s, efforts to create a system of collective security against the pro-German bloc failed. The USSR then began to negotiate with the German side; negotiations ended on the 23rd of August 1939 with the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on Non-Aggression, valid for a ten-year period. This treaty additionally contained a secret protocol on the delimitation of spheres of influence between Germany and the USSR in Eastern Europe, recognizing the Baltic states, Finland, Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina as being within the USSR's sphere of interest. As a result, Stalin was given time to strengthen the country's defenses. The treaty also granted the USSR the opportunity to create a security buffer zone on its western borders.

On the 1st of September 1939 Germany launched an offensive on Poland, and thus began the second World War. It was the result of confrontation between two coalitions: that of the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, Finland, Hungary, Romania, etc.) and the Allied powers (England, France, USA). Shortly thereafter, on the 17th of September 1939, in accordance with the secret conditions of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the Red Army crossed the Soviet-Polish border. Military operations subsequently annexed western areas of western Ukraine and Belarus for the USSR that had been previously annexed by Poland in 1920.

On the northwest borders of the USSR the task of ensuring the security of Leningrad came quickly to hand. Following several unsuccessful attempts to reach an agreement on obtaining territorial concessions from Finland, the USSR declared war on the 30th of November 1939 for which it was ultimately quite ill-prepared. The Red Army suffered heavy losses, with 74,000 men killed. On the 30th of March 1940 a peace treaty was signed, in which the province of Karelia and several islands in the Finnish Gulf were conceded to the USSR, forming the Karelian-Finnish SSR. These actions were not well received in the sphere of international diplomacy, and the League of Nations condemned the USSR for these actions and expelled the Soviet Union from its membership.

Soviet troops were moved into the Baltic states in June 1940, after which Communist governments quickly rose to power. By August 1940 these republics were all integrated into the USSR. At the same time, Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, occupied by Romania since 1918, were also annexed to the USSR, becoming part of the newly-formed Moldovan SSR. As such, the USSR's western borders had moved 200-600 kilometers per year, which became strategically important under the conditions of the world war to come.

By the autumn of 1940, Hitler's troops had unleashed war and occupied a significant part of Europe - France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Denmark, and Norway - and he quickly began to avail his regime of the occupied states' economic potential. But Hitler viewed the eventual defeat of the USSR as of paramount importance: in December 1940, he adopted the "Barbarossa Plan" providing for a rapid "blitzkrieg" war against the Soviet Union, intended to end in the capture of Moscow.

In the USSR preparations for a potential armed conflict were also underway and were conducted on two fronts: economic and military-technical. By the beginning of the war, the USSR was superior in tanks and aviation, and was also not inferior in artillery and in the numbers of its army - 5,374,000 people versus 5.5 million German troops. In general, though, the USSR's troops had obsolete armaments. Newer weapons - the T-34 tank, IL-2 airplane, automatic rifles - had only begun to be produced. Based upon most technical and production indicators, the USSR's safety from a German offensive was secured. However the effect of Stalin's repressions had taken a toll on the command staff of the Red Army, which had a substantial adverse effect on the troops' preparedness at the beginning of the war.

Soviet intelligence reported daily to Stalin on Hitler's movements and plans. Stalin, however, did not fully trust many of these reports and had planned to put off the start of the war until the summer of 1942. He therefore refused to immediately prepare the troops for war in the meantime.

12.2. Early period of the Great Patriotic War. (22nd June 1941 - November 1942)

Meanwhile, Hitler concentrated on the eastern direction of 153 German battalions and on the 37 divisions of the Allied countries. German aggression against the USSR began early on the morning of the 22nd of June 1941 without an official declaration of war; thus began the Great Patriotic War for the USSR. The German offensive was conducted in three directions, north, center, and south, intended to lead to Leningrad, Moscow, and Kiev.

Personal mistakes of Stalin himself in discerning the urgency with which the USSR needed to prepare for war with Germany resulted, during the first few weeks of the war, in significant disorganization within the army, its command structure, and indeed among the entirety of the Soviet people. But the liberative character of the war ultimately made great contributions to the growth of national self-awareness and the rise of patriotism among the multinational peoples of the USSR: the entire country rose to defend the Motherland. On the 22nd of June 1941, general mobilization of people of age for military service was declared. All Soviet nationalities fought in the Red Army from the earliest days of the war: Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Siberians, Caucasians, nationals of the Baltics and of the many peoples of Central Asia all fought alongside each other.

Extraordinary measures were taken in military-political and economic spheres to repel aggresion. On the 23rd of June 1941, the Headquarters of the Central Command was created under the People's Commissar of Defense S.K. Tymoshenko, which later became the Supreme Command under I.V. Stalin. Martial law was introduced in the country on the 29th of June. On the 30th, the State Defense Committee was created to facilitate management of combat operations. It was also headed by Stalin, who simultaneously took up the post of People's Commissar of Defense. The State Defense Committee became the main authority in the country.

German aggression against the USSR forced England and France, under pressure of an increased threat, to make statements supporting the struggle of the Soviet people. On the 12th of July 1941 a Soviet-British agreement on joint action against Germany and its allies was concluded in Moscow, cementing the creation of the Allied coalition. In July 1942, an additional agreement with the United States was signed on assistance in lend-lease (provisional loans of armaments, equipment, and food to the USSR).

The war's outbreak became a terrible moment for the Red Army. German troops advanced with relative ease 300-600km deep into Soviet territory. Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Moldova, and part of Ukraine were occupied. In September, German troops initiated a total blockade of Leningrad that continued for nearly three years, the worst period of which was the extremely cold winter of 1941-42. Its inhabitants were rescued by food supplies carried on the "Road of Life" over Lake Ladoga.

The German summer-autumn campaign had disastrous results for the USSR, resulting in nearly 5 million people killed, wounded, or captured. Almost all aviation and tanks were lost on the border.

During the autumn of 1941 German troops approached Moscow, and a battle began on the 30th of September. A general advance was carried out by German troops from the center group by striking Guderian's tank army in the direction of Orel-Tula-Moscow (known as Operation Typhoon). The Soviet defenses were breached, and by the 7th of October, four Soviet armies had been encircled west of Vyazma and the German armies captured the cities of Kalinin, Mozhaisk, and Maloyaroslavets. On the 20th of October 1941 a state of siege was imposed in Moscow. But not long thereafter, on the 7th of November - the anniversary of the October Revolution - a military parade took place on Red Square, after which soldiers immediately left for the front.

On the 5th and 6th of December 1941, a counteroffensive was launched near Moscow by Soviet troops under the command of G.K. Zhukov. 38 German divisions were routed and the enemy thrown back by 100-250km. This, combined with the Red Army's subsequent offensive between December 1941 and March 1942 exposed the myth of the invincibility of the German army, and significantly distrupted Hitler's plans for a lightning war.

With the victory near Moscow and the winter campaign having come and gone, it was possible to stabilize the front and build up the forces. But during the first half of 1942, Stalin requested a series of offensive operations to the south near Kharkov, and in the Crimea. These ended in a series of severe defeats with major losses. Between May and July 1942, German troops occupied Kharkov and then the entirety of Crimea and the Donbass, thereby opening the way to the North Caucasus and the Volga region. On the 17th of July 1942 the defense of Stalingrad began.

By the autumn of 1942 a brutal occupation regime had been established in most of the USSR's European territory, ruling over a population of nearly 50 million people. This territory was divided into separate parts - Reichscommisariats - which were effectly designated and ruled as colonies of the Third Reich.

In these territories, requisition of food and equipment was carried out. The cultural values of the occupiers were required to be recognized and people were forcibly coerced into labor at German enterprises, where the working day was sometimes as long as 16 hours.

Villagers were required to provide the occupation regime with food supplies. Resistance was swiftly punished with punitive operations - mass executions. For one dead German, fifty people were to be sentenced to death.

In each occupied territory the Germans created networks of concentration camps. In Ukraine alone there were 180. Policies of genocide were pursued against their occupants. During the war years, over 3.3 million prisoners (57%) were killed in the concentration camps of the USSR. A significant element of the policy of genocide was the mass extermination of the Jewish population, now known as the "Holocaust". Jewish ghettos were created in all major cities. In total, the fascists murdered 6 million Jews, of whom at least 1 million were citizens of the USSR. In the occupied territories, another 7 million civilians and 4 million prisoners of war were also killed.

People sent to work in fascist Germany were called "Ostarbeiters" (Eastern workers). 5.3 million people were sent in total for use as additional labor resources and accounted for two-thirds of the foreign labor force. Their conditions were dire, and even the slightest violation could be punished with banishment to a concentration camp.

Between late June and early July 1941, the decision was made to organize resistance in the rear area of the German occupation. By the end of 1941 a large number of partisan and underground groups had formed in the occupied areas of the USSR, reaching its largest scale in 1942 in the Bryansk, Smolensk, and Orel regions, as well as in Belarus, Ukraine and the Crimea.

Once these groups had been united, large partisan units were formed under the command of A.N. Saburov, S.A. Kovpak and A.F. Fedorov, the last two of whom were eventually twice awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. In support of strategic leadership of these partisan groups, the Central Headquarters of the Partisan Movement was created, led by P.K. Ponomarenko; its task was to unite and coordinate the Red Army and partisan groups.

One particularly effective form of partisan action during this period was the "Rail War" conducted between October 1942 and March 1943 in which partisans disabled more than 2,000 kilometers of railways via sabotage. Partisans also destroyed police garrisons and occupation headquarters. In 1943, 24 partisans were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.

12.3. Soviet home front during the war years.

The work of the Soviet rear was in providing support to the troops in the fight with the fascist German troops. Their slogan was "Everything for the front, everything for victory!" On the 30th of June 1941, a military-economic plan was approved for the production of many different types of weapons and ammunition.

In the second half of 1941, the volume of industrial production decreased significantly in the defense industries. As the German armies advanced, many large industrial enterprises along with the people running them had been evacuated to the east. During the war years, 2,593 factories and more than 10 million people were evacuated from what had become front-line regions. Many factories previously producing items for civilian needs were repurposed for military use.

By 1942, the entire urban and rural population at or above age 14 had been mobilized for labor, and measures were introduced to strengthen discipline. Unauthorized departure or absence from military enterprises was treated as desertion. Women and teenagers made up the main labor force at this time.

Beginning in 1943, the Soviet rear was able to maintain a general rise in production. As the Donbass had been lost only at the end of 1942, activity of the country's coal centers in Kuznetsk, Karaganda, and the Urals was restored. Work also began to be carried out on new military equipment and on the preparation of new types of aircraft, tanks, and combat weapons.

One of the most important tasks of the rear was to maintain agricultural production. During the war years, the main regions of food production were in the Volga region, Siberia, Kazakhstan, and Central Asia. The eastern regions' share in the USSR's gross grain harvest was at this time, as much as 62% (1942) compared to just 29% in 1940.

Ideological work to mobilize the USSR against the external enemy maintained a special place during this period. In search of foundational material, leadership turned to domestic history and ideas about the "great Russian nation".

In 1942, the creation of a new national anthem was announced. Major changes occurred in the relationship between the state and the Russian Orthodox Church, which during the war years provided enormous moral support to the army, as well as material assistance. In September 1943 the Patriarchate was restored at the Council of Bishops in Moscow. Metropolitan Sergei (Stragorodsky) was elected patriarch.

German policies of imprisonment and genocide against Slavs, Jews, and other nationalities deemed undesirable provoked profound protest and condemnation. In efforts to organize worldwide support for the USSR, by the end of 1941, the All-Slavic Committee, the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, and the Anti-Fascist Committees of Soviet Women (AKSM), Youth (AKSM), and Scientists (AKSU) were created on public initiative. The result was a campaign of humanitarian assistance deployed worldwide to Red Army soliders and other Soviet citizens who suffered during the war.

12.4. Radical turn in the Great Patriotic War.(November 1942 - December 1943)

By the fall of 1942, the alignment of forces on the Soviet-German front began to change. The Red Army stopped German advancement in the North Caucasus, preventing them from taking the oil reserves maintained in Grozny and Baku. From there, the decision was made to proceed from the Stalingrad Front: on the 19th of November 1942, the Battle of Stalingrad began with plans to defeat the German troops in the south and improve the situation near Moscow and Leningrad.

The ensuing offensive - operation "Uranus" - was carried out by troops of the Southwestern, Don, and Stalingrad fronts. On the 23rd of November, the troops of the Southwestern and Stalingrad fronts met, closing the encirclement of the 6th German Army. On the 2nd of February 1943, the encircled grouping was liquidated. 91,000 people were taken prisoner, including 24 generals, led by Field Marshal F. von Paulus. By January 1943, the general offensive of Soviet troops had broken the blockade of Leningrad and by the summer a significant part of the North Caucasus had been liberated.

In the summer of 1943, the Wehrmacht command transferred 34 divisions to the eastern front, leaving North Africa and Italy open to Anglo-American troops. The German command planned to conduct another strategic offensive, known as "The Citadel" on the Kursk bulge with the participation of 50 divisions, of which 20 were tank and motorized, constituting 900,000 men in total.

In response, Soviet command concentrated a very large number of troops, superior in number to the enemy (1.3 million people). The Soviet command decided to attempt defeating the tank factions and move into a counteroffensive, which was fought by troops of the Central Front (commanded by General K.K. Rokossovsky), Voronezh (commanded by General N.F. Vatutin), and Stepnovo (General I.S. Konev) fronts.

During the Battle of Kursk (5th July - 23rd August 1943), the German offensive was halted after heavy fighting and a Soviet counteroffensive began in which the Soviet troops held a distinct strategic advantage. Orel, Belgorod and Kharkov were liberated. In October 1943, fierce battles took place on the river Dnepr, ending on the 6th of November with the liberation of Kiev, Ukraine's capital.

The military successes of the USSR and other states of the Allied coalition in 1943 determined the process of expanding cooperation among the participating countries. In November 1943, the Tehran Conference brought together the leaders of the three main Allied powers - Great Britain (W. Churchill), the United States (F. Roosevelt) and the USSR (I.V. Stalin). Together they reached an agreement to open a second European front to provide the USSR with assistance. In return, the USSR agreed to enter the war against Japan. Soon thereafter, United States troops landed in France as part of operation "Overlord" in May 1944.

During the war, nationalist movements in Western Ukraine and Belarus, the Baltics, the Crimea, and in the North Caucasus intensified. Their aim was to achieve national independence from the USSR, and in support of this goal they agreed to cooperate with the Germans. For example, about 20,000 Crimean Tatars joined units of the German army, and the Kalmyk cavalry division surrendered to the Germans.

The Soviet leadership reacted violently to these nationalists, and their participants were declared traitors. The broader tragedy, however, was that entire nationalities were accused of betrayal and that historical memory exists to this day. This resulted in the deportation and liquidation of the national autonomies of several republics: between 1943-44, it affected the Kalmyks, Karachais, Balkars, Chechens and Ingush, as well as Crimean Tatars and others.

12.5. Final stage of the Great Patriotic War. (January 1944 - 9th May 1945).

During the final stage of the war, the Soviet Army was faced with the task of finally destroying the enemy on its own territory and moving on to the liberation of other European countries. This was accomplished with assistance from the United States and the decision to open a second European front on the 6th of June 1944 as a part of Operation Overlord, during which Allied troops under the command of General D. Eisenhower landed in Normandy, France.

In the beginning of 1944 the blockade of Leningrad was finally overcome. Not long thereafter the Korsun-Shevchenko operation was conducted, in course of which troops of the Southwestern front liberated Eastern Ukraine, and in early May, Crimea. From these successes, the Red Army began large-scale offensives in Karelia, Belorussia, Western Ukraine and Moldova.

During the Belarusian operation (code-named "Bagration", held between the 23rd of June to the 29th of August 1944) Belarus, Latvia, part of Lithuania, and the eastern part of Poland were liberated. Soviet troops arrived in East Prussia. On the 19th of September 1944 Finland signed a truce with the USSR and on the 4th of March 1945 Finland declared war on Germany.

Following the explusion of invaders from Soviet land, military operations were carried out to liberate Central Europe. During the Lvov-Sandomierz operation (13 July - 29 August 1944) the western regions of Ukraine and the southeast regions of Poland were liberated. During the Iasi-Chisinau operation (22 - 29 August 1944) Moldova was liberated and Romania withdrawn from the war in support of Germany. Victory of Soviet troops in the Balkans resulted in favorable conditions for the liberation of Yugoslavia, Greece, and Albania by the end of 1944.

During the Vistula-Oder operation (12 January - 3 February 1945) an enemy batallion was defeated while defending itself on Polish territory. 600,000 Soviet troops were killed. Nevertheless, by early April 1945, Hungary and eastern Austria had been liberated. From the 16th of April to the 8th of May 1945 the final operation of the war took place in Berlin, supervised by marshals G.K. Zhukov, K.K. Rokossovsky, and I.S. Konev.

On the 8th of May 1945, Germany signed an unconditional surrender; the following day, Soviet troops liberated Prague. This day was subsequently celebrated in the USSR as Victory Day, and is still celebrated in Russia today. With the cessation of hostilities came an end to the Great Patriotic War. On the 24th of June 1945 the first Victory Parade was hosted in Moscow, on Red Square.

At this final stage in the war, the Allies met once again in a conference of the "Big Three" in Yalta (4-11 February 1945) and in Potsdam (17 July - 2 August 1945). These conferences were intended to settle matters including post-war arrangements for Germany and other nation-states in Central and Eastern Europe. Following the defeat of Germany, the Soviet Union agreed to start war with Japan in exchange for the consent of the Allies to return South Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands to the USSR. The Allies also took the decision to create the United Nations as an international organization in support of maintaining the peace and developing cooperation, and the USSR joined..

On the 5th of April 1945, the USSR dissolved the Soviet-Japanese neutrality treaty and on the 8th of August 1945, declared war on Japan. On the eve of this declaration - on the 6th and 9th of August - American atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Thousands of deaths resulted.

During the ensuing military operations in the Far East, Soviet troops liberated Manchuria, North Korea, and seized South Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands. On the 2nd of September 1945, Japan signed an act of unconditional surrender and the second World War thus came to a close.

When the second World War came to a close, it did so with the complete defeat of German fascism and Japanese militarism. The Great Patriotic War of the Soviet people was perhaps the most important component of this defeat. It brought about 80% of the total losses of the fascist German army, including losses of the majority of its military equipment. Germany also lost over 10 million people in the war with the USSR.

At the same time, the losses of the Soviet Union were far higher - at least 27 million people. One third of the total national wealth was destroyed. In total, the USSR's losses amounted to 40% of all human losses in the second World War. For the USSR, the war brought with it qualities of liberation and justice for the nation. But victory in this war held historical significance for the fate of all peoples of all continents: in the fight against fascism, the Soviet people had faced down a terrifying enemy for their national independence and territorial integrity and, with the support of the Allied coalition countries, made a decisive contribution to the victory.

Of course, the most important root of the Soviet victory in the Great Patriotic War was the valor and heroism of its peoples. Over 11,000 soliders were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union for their feats on the fronts of the war. 104 of these soldiers received this title twice. Marshal G.K. Zhukov, pilots I.N. Kozhedub and A.I. Pokryshkin received it thrice.

After the war, a new system of international relations came to the fore - the Yalta-Potsdam system - under which new geographical borders were established in Eastern Europe. This system, however, was in no small part based on the opposition of two separate blocs of nations: the capitalist United States and countries of Western Europe, versus the Stalinist-socialist USSR and countries of Eastern Europe.