In August 1939 the world was surprised by the announcement of a nonaggression pact and trade agreement between Germany and the Soviet Union. This move, uniting two apparent enemies, gave Hitler the freedom to annex more territory in the east without fear of Soviet intervention. Secret clauses in the agreement divided Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence and provided for the division of Poland between the two countries (Taylor 2005).
Poland, aware of the significance of the German-Soviet pact, prepared to defend itself, and remained Britain and France of their promises to help it resist aggression. With Hitler becoming increasingly belligerent and tensions mounting, Europe braces itself for war.
Despite the nonaggression pact with Hitler, Stalin remained wary of Germany’s military power and sought to secure the Baltic flank of the Soviet Union. In September and October, 1939, the tiny countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were pressured by the Soviet Union into signing treaties that allowed Soviet troops to be stationed in their territories. The Soviet Union annexed those nations in 1940. On October 7, 1939, the Soviet demanded that Finland gave up land near Leningrad on the Karelian Isthmus (Taylor 2005), and grants the Soviets use of the Hango (or Hanko) naval base, and negotiations ended on November 30 when the Soviet invaded Finland.
Thesis Statement: The purpose of this study is to scrutinize the World War II between Russia and Germany.
A. Russian Campaign, 1941
Hitler considered the conquest of the Soviet Union to be a critical part of his plan to create a German empire. The great agricultural areas of the Soviet Union would provide room for German colonists, Russian mineral resources would be exploited for German industry, and Russian labor would be used in German factories (Remak 2006). The Soviet Union was also, in Hitler’s mind, an ideological enemy: Communism could never coexist with Nazism.
Hitler’s invasion plan was called Barbarossa, after the nickname of the 12th-ceentury Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I. The plan called for launching three main thrusts into the Soviet Union, with immediate goals of taking Leningrad in the north, Moscow in the center, and Kiev and the Ukraine in the south. Hitler hoped that his troops could encircle large pockets of Soviet troops (Graff 2006), as well as capture the main Soviet industrial and agricultural regions, and thus cause resistance to collapse before winter. The plan originally called for the attack to begin in May, 1941, but it was delayed until June by the need to secure the Balkans and Greece on Germany’s southern flank. This delay may have doomed the plan—had the Germans attacked according to the original schedule, they might have had the time to reach their objectives before the offensive was stalled by the severe Russian winter of 1941-42 (Michel 2004).
On June 22, 1941, the massive blitzkrieg began. The Germans, led by Field Marshal Wilhelm von Leeb in the north, Field Marshal Fedor von Bock in the center, and Field Marshal Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt in the south, attacked with some 3,000,000 men and 19 panzer divisions. Actual tank strength—about 2,400—was approximately the same as that of the 10 panzer divisions used against France in 1940 (Liddell Hart 2001). Simultaneously with the German attack, the Finnish army struck near Leningrad, and the Romanian army crossed into the Ukraine and drove toward Odessa.
B. Russian Campaign, 1942
Russian Winter Offensive. The Soviets’ success in stopping the Germans before Moscow encouraged them to stay on the offensive in early 1942. The Germans were ill equipped for cold weather, and the forward lines were so far from Germany that supplying the troops became increasingly difficult. The Soviets attacked to the north and south of Moscow, hoping to encircle and isolate the German army that faced the city (Dupuy 2003). The Soviet met with unexpected success and retook much ground, but suffered such heavy losses were also heavy, in part because Hitler refused to allow his troops to fall back to defensible positions. An offensive was also begun from the besieged city of Leningrad, but the Soviets made little progress there. The Russian offensive ended in late February, and both sides made plans for spring operations (Sulzberger 2000).
German Spring Offensive. The German campaign opened in May. The main effort was made in the Caucasus, with the capture of its oil fields as a major objective. Sevastopol, in the Crimea, fell on July 1, after a long siege. A major attack that was opened on June 28 soon was extended along a 200-mile (320-km) front between the Don and Donets rivers. After reaching the vicinity of Voronezh, the armies turned south. Maikop, deep in the Caucasus, was reached on August 9. The Germans had outrun their supplies, however, and made little further progress (Remak 2006).
C. Russian Campaign, 1943-44
German Retreat from the Caucasus. The surrender of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad on February 2, 1943, left Hitler’s forces in the Caucasus in a perilous situation. Field Marshal General Paul Ludwig Kleist conducted a successful retreat while Field Marshal Erich von Mannstein held a corridor open for him at Roslov. The Russians then launched an offensive from Voronezh toward the Ukraine, and captured Kursk on February 14 and Kharkov on February 16 (Michel 2004). However, efforts to continue the advance into the Ukraine were repulsed by German counterattacks, and the Germans recaptured Kharkov on March 14.
Battle of Kursk. The Battle of Kursk was the culmination of what was to be the last great German offensive against the Soviet Union. The German plan was to attack the north side of the Soviet salient around Kursk with Field Marshal Gunther von Kluge’s Ninth Army, and simultaneously push against the southern side of the salient with the Fourth Panzer Army, led by Mannstein. These two armies would then link up and destroy the trapped Soviets (Graff 2006). German delays gave the Soviets time to prepare powerful defenses within the salient and to being in more troops and equipment. The Soviet plan was to allow the Germans to batter themselves against the Soviet defenses until exhausted, and then strike back. The two sides committed a total of 6,000 tanks, 4,000 aircraft, and 2,000,000 men (Liddell Hart 2001).
The German attack began on July 5. Gains were small and costly, as the Soviet defenses were well prepared and the Soviets possessed air superiority. The German troops in the north advanced only about six miles (10 km) before they were stopped; those in the south gained only 20 miles (32 km) in an entire week of hard fighting. The Battle of Kursk was the largest tank battle of the war, with as many as 3,000 tanks engaged at once. The German lost some 2,000 tanks in the course of the battle, a blow from which the once dreaded panzer armies never completely recovered (Liddell Hart 2001). The Soviets’ losses were nearly as high, but their tank production was sufficient to compensate for the losses.
Russian Offensive. On July 12, the Soviets struck back, attacking the German salient around Orel, but Soviet troops struck in the south, advancing against Belgorod. Belgorod was taken on August 5, the same day that Orel was liberated. Kharkov was retaken for the lat time on August 23. It had changed hands four times and was in ruins.
By September, Soviet armies under General Ivan S. Konev, Rodion Y. Malinovsky, and Fedor I. Tolbukhin were attacking all along the Dnieper River. On November 6, after heavy fighting t Dnepropetrovsk and Melitopol, the Germans were pushed back across the river. Kiev, capital of the Ukraine, was also recaptured on November 6. On the central front the Germans were driven out of Smonlensk on September 25, but the Russian drive could not be sustained, grinding to a halt some 100 miles (160 km) east of Minsk (Sulzberger 2000).
On January 15, 1944, the Soviets launched a major offensive in the north. Soviet troops struck south in two prongs from besieged Leningrad, and at the same time attacked near Novgorod. The Soviet advance continued steadily and German casualties were high. By early March, the German armies had been forced back to Estonia and Latvia.
On March 4, 1944, a new Soviet offensive opened in the Ukraine. A series of thrusts soon left the Germans with only an uncertain foothold in the Soviet Union. Konev’s army reached the Romanian frontier before the end of the month, and Zhukov’s troops were at the border of Czechoslovakia on April 8. After the fall of Odessa two days later the Germans had little hope of holding any part of the Ukraine (Remak 2006). A Soviet drive into the Crimea resulted in the liberation of Sevastopol on May 9.
D. Final Russian Campaign, 1944-45
The Soviet Union opened its summer campaign of 1944 on June 9 with an attack on Finland. The Mannerheim Line was broken on June 18 and Viipuri was captured. Finland signed an armistice on September 4.
On the other hand, Hitler was convinced that the next great Soviet offensive would be in the south part of the Eastern Front, with goal of seizing the Balkan states and their important resources. Accordingly, he moved much of his strength away from the center of the front in Byelo-russia and put it in the south. The Soviets, however, were planning an attack in the center (Remak 2006).
As a conclusion, as the war drew to a close, the nations of the word were eager to find a means of attaining permanent peace. In 1945, the United Nations was established and its charter was signed by 51 countries. However, threats to the friendly settlement of postwar problems appeared even before the charter was signed. The Soviet Union, for example, had antagonized the United States and Great Britain by annexing the Baltic states. And by making extreme reparations demands upon Germany, Hungary, and Poland.
After the war, the Soviets disagreed with the other Allies about the application of the agreements they had reached concerning the status of conquered and occupied territories. Although they had promised to allow self-determination for the people of the territories they had occupied, the Soviets brought most of the Balkan nations under Communist rule. They also supported rebels in Greece, turkey, and Iran, aided the Communist uprising in China, and closed off Eastern Europe—including the Soviet occupation zone of Germany— to the outside world. These actions led to a prolonged period of tension called the “cold war’ between the Western powers and the Soviet Union. Soviet-dominated Europe, said Winston Churchill, was separated from the rest of the world by an “iron curtain.”