** war and social upheaval: World War II Soviet aggressions

World War II: NAZI-Soviet Alliance--Soviet Agressions (1939-40)

Figure 1.--These Estonians are left to right: Milvi Tomasson, grandfather Jaan Tuum, and Uuno Tomason, The photograph was taken in Tallinn during 1937. The Tomasson family was deported, but not the grandfather. Only about half the deportees survived to return to Estonia. In the dreadful conditions experienced in the deportations, the children were especially vulnerable. In this case their father Johannes died in Soviet Sverdlovsk Oblast prison camp (April 1943). We do not knoiw the fate of the children.

Although it is the NAZI aggressions that are most commonly addressed in World War II histories, the Soviet Union compiled nearly as long a list of aggressions as the NAZIs. The Soviet Union also invaded Poland, only two weeks later. Operating within secret protocols to the NZI-Soviet Pact, Hitler and Stalin were in fact close partners in the waging of aggressive war. The Great Patriotic War/Ostkrtieg fought against the NAZIs after the 1941 German invasion came to be an icon in Soviet history. Left unsaid was the fact that Hitler and Stalin were partners in the virtul partition of Europe. And the mnassive Red Army gave Stalin the capability of enforcing his will on the small, poorly armed comtries of Easter Europe. The first target was Poland which both NAZI Germany and the Soviet Union invaded launching World War II (September 1939). After Poland, the first target was Finland, but Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania were also targets. The Soviet invasion of Finland had significant repercussions. The Allies for a time considered actively aidinging Finland, but the Germans offensives in the West soon made that impossible. The poor performance of the Red Army in Finland was a factor in Hitler's decission to attack the Soviet Union before Britain had been defeated.

Soviet Policy

All the focus was on the NAZI invasion, both by journalists at the time and by historians after the War. The War developed wih the Gernas fighting the Western Allies while Stalin seized largee areas of Eastern Europe. Most historians ignore the fact that this was not precisely the war Hitler wanted, especially war with Britain, but was exactly what Stalin wanted. The NAZI barbarities in Poland are well documented, but the Soviet atrocities little noted except Katyn. Although it is the NAZI aggressions that are most commonly addressed in World War II histories, the Soviet Union compiled nearly as long a list of aggressions as the NAZIs. Operating within secret protocols to the Non-agression Pact, Hitler and Stalin were in fact close partners in the waging of aggressive war. The Great Patriotic War/Ostkrieg fought against the NAZIs after the 1941 German invsion came to be an icon in Soviet history. Left unsaid was the fact that Hitler and Stalin were partners in the partition of Europe, returming to tyhe 19th centurt situatiin of mult-ethnic empires.

NAZI-Soviet Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (August 1939)

NAZI Foreign Minister Ribbentrop and newly appointed Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs Molotov on August 23, 1939, signed the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. At the time of thesigning, British and French delegations were in Moscow trying to reach an understanding with Stalin. Hewas convinced, however, that they were tring to draw him into a war with Hitler. The two countries which until that time had been bitter foes, pledged not attack each other. Any problems developing between the two countries were to be delt with amicably. It was last for 10 years. The Pact shocked the world and the purpose was immedietly apparent. It meant that Germany could attack Poland without fear of Soviet intervention. Thus after defeating Poland, Germany did not have to fear a full-scale European war on two fronts. What was not known at the time was that there was a secret protocol to the pact which in effect divided Eastern Europe betwen the two countries. This protocol was discoered after the end of the World War II in 1945. The Soviets continued to deny this protocol until 1989. The NAZIs 8 days after signing the Pact invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, launching World War II. Britain and France declared war September 3. Poland's fate was sealed on September 17, when the Soviets invaded Poland from the east. Although the Soviet's did not enter the War against Britain and France, the Soviets were virtual NAZI allies as they provided large quantaies of strategic materials, especially oil. Communist parties in Britain and France opposed the war effort. The Communst Party in America opposed President Roosevelt's efforts to expand defense spending and assist Britain and France.

Soviet Military

The Soviet Union had three combat branches, the Red Army, the Red Air Force, and the Red Navy. The NKVD secret police force also mobilized military history The Red Army was the dominant or senior service throuhout the War. It would carry the load of the savage fighting against the German Wehrmacht during World War II (June 1941-May 1945). It would be the most costly and decisive military campaign in history. But for nearly 2 years, the NAZI and Soviet firces were allies and got on amiably. In fact the Soviet Union supplied the Germans vast quantities of critical war material, without which the Wehrmacht's stunning Western camapaign (May-June 1940) would have been difficult. [Tooze] At the time that Hitler seized power (1933), only two countries had militaries with a modern battle dictrine what we now call combined arrms warfare or during World War II what was called Blitzkrieg. It was not only the German that develooed this innovative concept, the Soviets did as well. This was because they trained and cooperated with the Germans as part of the Rapallo Treaty (1922). It was all done in secret deep in thev Soviet Union. Such operations were banned in Germany as part of the Versailles Peace Treaty. The Germany were not even permitted to have tanks at the time. As a result it was not just the Germamns that had this advanced tactical capability. Stuningly, as Hitler began remilitaizing and wining adherents in the German military, Stalin launched a massive purge of the Soviet military. He has much of the professional core of Soviet military arrested. There were a few show trials including Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, the Red Napoleon, on down. Special attention was given to arresting the Red Army commanders who had been involved in the Rapallo process with the Germans. These were the Soviet officers who like the Germans had mastered Blitzkieg. Not only were they arrested, but the whole concept promoted by Tukhachevsky fell into disrepute. Officers were terrified of any connection with Tukhachevsky, even his concepts. And when Hitler and Stalin launched World War II. it showed. First in Poland (September 1939) where the Poles offered little resistance and more notably in Finland (Novemnber 1939) where they Finns resisted fiercely. All of this was being closely observed in Berlin and would be a major factor in Hitler's decision to invade.

Individual Countries Targeted

As Europe move toward war, both the Allies and the NAZIs sought an arrangemt with the Soviet Unon. It was not lost on both sides that it was the Frebch alliance with Russia that prevented a German victory in World War II. Most historians and most ominously Adolf Hitler believed that it was the two front war that resulted in Germany's defeat. Stalin for his part was aware of the price Russian paid for honoring its treatty obligations. Thus putting off war with Germany was a major enducement. In addition based on World War I, Stalin had every reason to believe that the NAZIs and Allies would batter themselves as they did in World War I, making them more vulnerable to Soviet military action and polutical agitation. In addition, the Germans were willing to partition Eastern Europe with the Soviets, beginning with Poland. The Allies were willing to offer enducements, but not willing to contenence Soviet aggression to secure a treaty. The NAZIs were no only more than willing, but wanted to participate in agression. A Secret Protocoll to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact partioioned Eastern Europe between the two toyalitarian giants. The first victim of the NAZI-Soviet alliance was Poland. Geramny invaded first and the Siviets two weeks later. After Poland, the first target was Finland (the Winter War), but Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania were also targeted. None had the military power to resist Soviet aggression as Poland and Finland did.


Davidson, The Unmaking of Adolf Hitler (The University of Missouri Press: Columbia, 1996), 519p.

Fest, Jaochim C. Hitler (Vintage Books: New York, 1973).

Freidel, Frank. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Rendezuous with Destiny (Little Brown: Boston, 1990), 710p.

Gilbert, Martin. A History of the Twentieth Century Vol. 2 1933-54 (William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York, 1998), 1050p.

Reese, Roger Roi. "The Red Army and the Great Purge," in J. Arch Getty and Roberta Manning, eds., Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 198-214.

Reese, Roger Roi. Stalin's Reluctant Soldiers: A Social History of the Red Army, 1925-1941 (Modern War Studies), 272p.

Walter, Hannes "Estonia in World War II", webpage accessed April 9, 2004


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Created: May 25, 2003
Last updated: 1:23 AM 11/26/2021