*** war and social upheaval: World War II European Theater -- Great Patriotic War military campaigns

World War II: The Great Patriotic War--Military Campaigns

Figure 1.--The Great Patriotic War became an event of almost religious veneration after World War II. This mural was painted by children at the Childen's Home in Dashambe. The Home is a boarding school for Street children who have been caught petty theieving.

Hitler launched the most imense military campaign in human history with te invasion of the Soviet Union--Operation Barbarossa (June 1941). It is estimated that on the eve of battle, 6.25 million men faced each other in the East. The Soviets were surprised and devestated. Stalin ignored warnings from the British who as a result of Ultra had details on the German preparations. Stalin was convinced that they were trying to draw him into the War and until the actual attack could not believe that Hitle would attack him. The attack was an enormous tactical success. The Red Air Force was virtually destroyed. Soviets cities fell and whole Soviet armies were engulfed in sweeping pincer movements spearheaded by German panzers. Many military analysts question whether the Soviets could resist the NAZI blitzkrieg. The Soviets did hold, in part because Germany's Axis ally Japan struck America rather than the Soviets. This allowed the Soviets to bring Siberian troops west to spearhead a devestating surprise Winter offensuve before Moscow (December 1941). The German Army Group Center suffered devestating losses from which they never fully recovered. As a result, the German offensive in 1942 was restricted to the southin an rffort to fully seize the Ukraine as well as the Caucasian oil fields. Again the NAZIs gained great success and wre on the verge of seizing Stalingrad when a second surrose Winter offensive destroyed Germany's most fowerful formation--the Sixth Army. Germany's final great Eastern offensive came in 1943. This time the WeEhrmacht was capable of striking in only a small section of the front--the Kursk salient. THe battle was the largest tank engagement in history and destroyed the Whrmacht as an offensive force. The Soviets seized the ininitive with Operation Operation Bagration which shatered Army Group Center (June-July 1944). This was the most devestating German defeat of the War. It essentially destroyed NAZI Germany's defensive capacity, opening the way to western Poland and the Reich itself.

The Soviet Union on the Brink of War

It is difficult to tell what the Soviet people on the eve of theNAZI invasion were thinking because of the cintrolled society. Most with memories of World War I desperately wanted to keep out of the War. Some were aware that their country was a far from perfect society. Mny believed the propaganda published in the newspapers and broacast on the radio. Many minorities were being perscecuted, especially the Ukranians and the Balts and Poles in the teritory acquired through the 1939 pact with Hitler. The newspapers lauded Stalin, the "Genius of Mankind, the Greatest Genius of All Times and Peoples". Moscow and St. Petersburg were overcroded and people existed in squalor. There was along side this a kind of intelectual frment. The theaters offered wonderful music and dance. Moscow had a brabd new, modern Metro. Thenew NKVD chief, Lavrenti Beria, seemed less rithless than his predecessor. The depths of the Great Terror seemed to have passed. Stalin's rule had brought schools and educational opportunities. There were jobs to be had. Some were still idealtically committed ro Socialism and a new better future for Russian and the world. 【Braithwaite】

Operation Barbarossa

The Battle of Britain in many ways changed the course of the War. An invasion of Britain was impossible without air superiority. Hitler, fearing a cross-Channel invasion, decided that the only way to force the British to seek terms was to destroy the Soviet Union. He began shifting the Wehrmacht eastward to face the enemy that he had longed to fight from the onset--Soviet Russia. The nature of the War changed decisevely in the second half of 1941. The Germans invaded Russia in June 1941, launching the most sweeping military campaign in history. It is estimated that on the eve of battle, 6.25 million men faced each other in the East. The Soviets were surprised and devestated. Stalin ignored warnings from the British who as a result of Ultra had details on the German preparations. Stalin was convinced that they were trying to draw him into the War and until the actual attack could not believe that Hitle would attack him. The attack was an enormous tactical success. The Soviets were surprised and devestated. The Soviet Air Force was destoyed, largely on the ground. The Germans captured 3.8 million Soviet soldiers in the first few months of the campaign. No not knowing the true size of the Red Army, they thought they had essentally won the War. German columns seized the major cities of western Russia and drove toward Leningrad and Moscow. But here the Soviets held. The Japanese decission to strike America, allowed the Sovierts to shift Siberian reserves and in December 1941 launch a winter offensive stopping the Whermacht at the gates of Moscow--inflicting irreplaceable losses. The army that invaded the Soviet Union had by January 1942 lost a quarter of its strength. Hitler on December 11 declared war on America--the only country he ever formally declared war on. In an impassioned speech, he complained of a long list of violations of neutality and actual acts of war. 【Domarus, pp. 1804-08.】 The list was actually fairly accurate. His conclusion, however, that actual American entry into the War would make little difference proved to a diasterous miscalculation. The Germans who months before had faced only a battered, but unbowed Britain now was locked into mortal combat with the two most powerful nations of the world. The British now had the allies that made a German and Japanese victory virtually impossible. After the Russian offensive of December 1941 and apauling German losses--skeptics began to appear and were give the derisory term " Gröfaz ".

The Occupied East

The NAZI program for Lebensraum in the east was not just to acquire territory. The plans for that territory was monsterous beyond belief. he plan was to evacate Poles an Russians from these territories. Some would remain to serve as slave laborers. Millions would be expelled or "evacuatd" with the understanding that large numbers would die in the process. The goal was to make the east German. Here Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler had the responsibility for persuing this effort. He appears to have assigned his deputy Reinhard Heydrich appears to have coordinated this effort and essentially he SS's entire eastern operations. Heydrich ordered the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) (SS Security Service) in 1941 to begin the necessary planning. The Reichs-Sicherheitsdienst (RSHA) (Reich Decurity Head Office). There were differences of opinion within the SS and between the SS and Alfred Rosenberg's Ostministerium (Ministry for the Occupied East) over how to claim the East. There was agreemnt that large numers of Slavs had to be removed to Siberia. There were differences as to the extent to which forcible evictions should take place.


Military histories commonly concentrate on the major battles, generals, tactics, and weaponry. Often neglected are logistics. This is not a mistake military planners make. Questions of logistics are commonly decisive in warfare. It was logistics and the overwealming superiority of the Allies in men and material that determined the outcome of World War II. No where exceptin the Pacific was logistics more important than the vast Eastern front. It was by far the largest campaign of the War involving the longest terresterial supply lands. The Germans launched the invasion of the Soviet Union with an incomplete logistical plan. The Germans prepared for a quick summer campaign which would achieve victory by the fall. There was no plan for fighting or supplying the three army Groups in cold winter weather. The resultung disaterous defeat before Moscow (December 1941) doomed the NAZIs to defeat. The German Wehrmact was not as is often thought a modern mechanized force. The Wehrmacht had powerful mechanized panzer divisions, but much of the Wehrmacht still rlied on horse-drawn transport. And the Wehrmacht encountered another problem at it entered theseemingly enless steppe of Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union did not have a modern road network. When the rains arrived the Wehrmacht was mired down in an empenetrable sea of mud. Thus the Germans had to depend on the Soviet rail network. This limited both operations and supply. The NAZIs hoped that these limitations would also restrict the Red Army as after Stalingrad it relentlessly deove west. The Red Army as a result of Lend Lease, however, had access to the industrial powerhouse of the United States. And among other items, huge numbers of lovomotives and trucks poured into the Soviet Union. The Soviets were not impressed with American tanks, American trucks were a very different mattr. As a result, in five stunning offenses during 1944, the Red Army destroyed the Wehrmact--exactly what the Wehrmact had attempted to achieve with Barbarossa--and advanced to the very borders of the Reich.


The Resistance was especially important in the Soviet Union where guerrila groups disrupted German supply lines. The Soviets created the largest and most important Ressistance effort. This was possibly primarily because of the genocidal NAZI policies in the East. Ironically, the Soviet Union was the one country that the NAZIs invaded where they could have developed considerable popular support. The early successes of the Germans staggered the Red Army and Soviet society as a whole. Red Army soldiers surrendered in staggering numbers. Only slowly did anti-NAZI partisan units begin to form. Many of the partisans units were formed from men left behind as the Red Army retreated east. Later the Soviets dropped men and supplies to reinforce the partisan units. Other partisan units were formed by civilians. They Soviet partisans were an important part of the Great Patriotic War. Partisans killed thousands of German soldiers, but the major contribution was in disrupting Wehrmacht supply lines. Not only did this make supplying front line troops difficult, but it forced the Wehrmact to deply an important part of its combat strength in rear areas to secure supply lines. This was especially important in 1941-43. As the tide turned on the Eastern Front, the importance of the partisans declined as the Red Army became an effective fighting force. The partisans even in the later phases of the War was still significant and were a cotinuing drain on the Wehrmacht as it retreated west.

Leningrad (1941-44)

Leningrad was one of the to major cities of the Soviet Union. Army Group North ws assigned the task of seizing the city. It struck toward Leningrad and during July made rapid progress through the Baltic Republic. Then the Gemans were slowed by the boggy, forested country between Lakes Peipus and Ilmen. Army Group North planned its final drive to Leningrad (August 10). The drive on Lenningrad was part of a pincer movement. The Finns had joined the German invasion in an effort to regain the territory seized by Stalin in 1939-40. The Finns reached their pre-1940 border on the Karelian Isthmus 30 miles north of Leningrad (August 31). Army Group North to the Souh arrived at the Neva River 10 miles (August 31). southeast of the city. The Finns launched an offensive east of Lake Ladoga toward the Svir River, hoping to join up with Army Goup North driving from the southwest (September 4). Army Group North took Shlisselburg on Lake Ladoga. This severed Leningrad's land links with the rest of the country. Soviet resistance was stiffening, but Lennigrad at this time was within the Hitler's grasp. A confluence of factors, however, combined to save the city. Hitler vascilated as to what was the priority target and where forces should be concentrated. Hitler determined that Leningrad was to be surrounded to avoid costly street fighting. (Later at Stalingrad he changed tactics.) At Leningrad this forced Army Group North into the narrow isthmus to the east, reducing its tactical advantage. Finninsh Field Marshal Baron Carl G. E. Mannerheim, refused to cross the border and close in from the north. Mannerheim apparently decided that Finland was not going to persue the War beyond retrieving lost Finnish trritory. Then Hitler in on of his many vassilations redeployed Army Group North's panzers (second week of September. This was a critical decession. Hitler left Army Group North only one motorized corps, and ordered that it be held in reserve. In the savage fighting which followed. The Soviets managed to stop the Germans. Lenningrad was, however, cut off from food and fuel. Some supplies could be brought in on an ice road after Lake Ladoga froze, but Stlain refused for several months to evacuate the children. Many were to starve that first Winter. Available food was given primrily to combat troops. The people of the city were put on starvation rations. Refugees without Lenningrad ration cards were left to starve. The Germans ubjected the city to incessent artillety fire and Luftwaffe bombing. The German seige lasted more than 2 years. Finally the Red Army opens its offensive to relieve the city (January 15, 1944).

Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941)

Japan and the Soviets fought pitched battles along the Manchrian border in 1939. An offensive by Marshall Zukov forced the Japanese to ask for an armistace. Still the Soviets kept important forces on the border. Japan in late 1941 was poised for a military strike to take advantage of the fighting in Europe. There were two basic options: strike north at the Sovierts or South at the resources of Southeast Asia. The decission was to strike south. Here the only force to oppose the Japanese was the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor. A Japanese carrier taskforce on December 7, 1941, executed a surprise attack on the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. It was a brilliant tactical victory for Japan, but perhaps the greatest mistake in modern military history as it brought a suddenly united America with its vast industrial capacity into the War. The decesion to make war on the United States was taken when it looked like the Germans would succeed in destroying the Red Army. Just as the Japanese carrier fotce struck the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor an undefeated Red Army was posed to launch a massive countet-offensive before Moscow. Tghus the Japanese found themselves with an undefeated Chinese enemy, a hostile Soviet Union to the north, and at war with the world's greatest induistrial power. And despite the damage to the Pacific Fleet, American industry was untouched.

Soviet Counter-Offensive Before Moscow (December 1941)

The desisive battle of Barbarossa and arguably the entire War was fought before Moscow during the Winter 1941-42. The Japanese decission to strike America, allowed the Sovierts to shift Siberian reserves. A Japanese spy in Tokyo had informed Stalin well before the actual attack on Pearl Harbor. These troops, well trained in winter warfare, on December 6, 1941 launched a winter offensive stopping the Whermacht at the gates of Moscow--inflicting irreplaceable losses. The Wehrmacht was stuned at the extent of the Soviet offensive, assuming that the staggering victories in the Summer had crippled the Red Army. There were no preparations made such as winter clothing or assessing the performance of weapons in extemely cold winter conditions. Hitler had assummed that the camapign would defeat the Soviets in a summer campaign before the onset of Winter. Hitler demanded that the Whermacht stand and fight. This probably saved the Wwhrmach from an even greater dissater than what ocurred. An entire Germany Army, the 16th Army of more than 90,000 men, was essentially cut off and only supplied with an enormous effort by the Luftwaffe. A land corridor was not restablished until April 1942. The massive Axis army that invaded the Soviet Union had by January 1942 lost a quarter of its strength amd huge quantities of tanks, artillery, and supplies. These losses of men and material by the Wehrmacht were especially grevious and Germany did not have the manpower resources or industrial capacity to fully replace and reequip a new army.

Rzhev Salient Battles (January 1942-March 1943)

Most World War II histories after the Soviet Winter Offensive before Moscow, shift to the fighting in the south in the Crimea and Ukraine. There was, however, major operations in the north around Moscow fought by the Red Army commanded by Marshal Zukov and the Wehrmcht Army Group Center. It was a massive battle and the longest lasting land battle of the War. The Battles are also known as the 'Rzhev meat-grinder' or 'slaughterhouse ("Ржевская мясорубка") as a result of the huge losses losses suffered by the Red Army. Soviet historins in particular downplay the Rzhev salient battles. Zukov admitted after the War that he underestimated the strength of the German defenses. The battles swirled around Rzhev, Sychyovka, and Vyazma. As a result of the Red Army Winter Offensive, the German forces were driven back from Moscow. The fighting resulted, however, in a slient pointing at Moscow--the Rzhev-Vyazma Salient. The Germans referred to it as the Rzhev pistol which they proceeded to heavily fortify. Hitler who still dremed of seizing Moscow was determined to hild the salient for future opertions. Thus Arny Group Center was ordered to hold it despite the vulnerble position. Straka committed the Kalinin and Western Front (including the 22nd, 29th, 30th, 31st, 39th of the former, and the 1st Shock, 5th, 10th, 16th, 20th, 33rd, 43rd, 49th, and 50th armies and three cavalry corps). The Soviets forces penetrated into the German salint. Army Group Centre's 9th Army launched Operation Seydlitz (July 1942) which isolated and destroyed substantial Soviet forces. This operation captured the focus of Straka and was a factor in Army Group South's 1942 successes in the Ukraine. Zukov as Case Blue unfolded in the south was pulled away from the Rzhev fighting to undertake the defense of Stalingrad. Eventually after the Stalingrad disaster, the German's withdrew from the Rzhev Salient. This significantly shortened the German line and freed up some 20 divisions which were turned into a strategic reserve and entually committed in the Battle of Kursk. The Soviet objective was to capture the 30 German divisions defending the Salient in a a Stalingrad-like Kessel. Not only did the Soviets fail, but they suffered massive losses, estimated at 0.3-0.4 million men killed. The Rzhev Salient also distracted Straka from the developing German offensive in the south. German losses were also heavy, some 0.2-0.3 million killed. While less than the Soviet losses, they were of a magnitude that could not be as easily replaced as the Soviet losses. Even so, Soviet historians downplay and even supress sources and scholarly work on the Rzhev Battles. Strka's misjugement and the mixed outcome in conrat to the heroic defense of Leningrad and Stalingrad. It was not an awe inspiring victory as was the case of Stalingrad and Bagration.

Soviet Offensive (Spring 1942)

Army Group South had seized Kharkov in the Ukraine (October 1941). It would prove to be the most fought-over Soviet cities of the Eastern campaign. The Soviets buoyed by their sucessful Winter Counter-offensive (Winter 1941-42) launched an offemsive to retake the strategic city. Marshall Timoshenko attacked toward Kharkov and encountered the main German striking force (Spring 1942). The Soviets had assumed that the NAZIs would resume the offensive toward Moscow and had not anticipated such strong forces in the south. Stalin was convinced that the Germans were fatally over stretched. The Red Army was ordered to strike at southern end of the German front line, near Kharkov. The Soviet were hugely mistasken. In fact the reality was dramastically different. The Soviet offensive proved to be an unmitigated disaster, made worse because of Stalin's insistence on prrsonally directing the fighing. The Soviet forces were shatered. The result was hundreds of thousands of Red Army soldiers were lost. It was one of the most catastrophic actions in Russian military history. The Soviets kept the dimensions of their defeat a state secret. Only in the last decade were the documents made generally available. 【Glanz】 The Germans responded with a counter-offensive of their own. The Germans struck (May 12). German Panzers cut off several Soviets armies and began the systematic reduction of the resulting Kharkov pocket which they achieved (late-May). More than 70,000 Red Army soldiers were killed and 200,000 men taken prisoner. The dimensions of the disaster was largely due to Stalin's refusal to respond to pleas from Red Army commanders to pull back from a massive advamce. 【Khrushchev, pp. 182-89.】 There were also huge losses of equipment. The entire southern wing of the Russian line had been shatered. It would prove to be the last major German victory in the East. The Red Army front line in the South was shattered and had exhausted its offensive capability. The Wehrmacht was, however, not fully aware of the weakness of the Soviet position. The Germans seized the Crimea after valliant Soviet fighting in Sevastapol. The Donets industrial basin was virtually undefended. And the opening to the oil of the Caucus wide open. The Germans advanced into the Caususes, threatening the Soviet Union's most important source of oil. Army Group A took Rostov (July 23). Now the Sixth and Fourth Panzer Armies struk east for Stalingrad.

The Crimea (1941-44)

As the Whermacht smashed its way into the Ukraine, the reached the narrow istmus leading into the Crimean Peninsular. The Whermacht and Red army would fight a savage campaign to control the Crimea over the next 3 bloody years (1941-44). An entire war was fought over the strategically important Crimea during the 19th century. That time the Germans (Prussia) largely stayed out of it. This time the Germans were the principal attacking force. It proved to an unusual paet of the War in the east in that naval support, amphibious landings, and naval evacuations proved to be an important part of the campaign, and this despite the fact that neither the Soviets or Germans were important naval powers. Both sides employed ethnic clransing operations as part of their campaign strategy. The Germans murdered the Jews. The Soviets targeted the less than loyal Tartars--one of several nationalities targeted by Stalin. The fighting in the Crimea was largely associated with the campaign in the Ukraine, the focus of Hitler's desire to obrain resources in the East. The campaign beagn when the Soviets created the Sevstapol fortified region (1941). And thus the Whgermact did not take the storied city and fortress in the first year of the campign. The Germans led by Manstein renewed the the battle for the Crimea in their 1942 Spring offensive, but then hit the massive Sevastapol defenses which could not be suronded. One historian writes, "Amazingly, Manstein does not even mention his first assault upon Sevastapol in his memoirs, indicating his tendency to skip over unpleasant events. Once Mansen's pursuit ground to hault against Sevastapol's defenses, it was clear to Manstein that he would have to mount either a seige or a full-scle assault in order to take the city. Characteristically, he opted for the more decisive choice of an assault." 【Forczyk】 Crimea lived after the German occupation (1942-43). Even after Stalingrad and Kirsk, Hitler was determined to hold on to the Crimea. He saw the Crimea as a possible way of achieving his goal of sequing the oil of the Caucauses. He this took the desperate step of retaining both German and Romanian forces in the Crimea even after the rest of the Whermacht had retreated west. This was just one if the multitude of collosal military mistakes made by the Führer who saw himself a military genius. The Soviets targettted the Crimea in one of several sweeping offensives to smash the Whermacht (1944). They would destroy the German 17th Army which Hitler had ordered to defend the Crimea. The Soviet offensive after Kursk cut of German and Romanian forces when Hitler refussed to evacuate the Crimea. The subsequent Soviet offensive conducred by the 4th Ukranine Front destroyed the German 17th Army (1944). This was anothger whole Army, lost as at Stalingrad because of Hitler's detrmination that German soldiers stand and fight.

Case Blue: Stalingrad (June 1942-February 1943)

The battle of Stalingrad is generally seen as the turning point in the Second World War. The German summer 1942 offendive aimed south at the Ukraine, the Caucasus, and reaching the Volga at Stalingrad. The massive winter losses had significantly reduced the capabilities of the Wehrmacht. They simply were unable to accomplish the assigned objectives. The Wehrmacht no longer had the strength to launch a massive offensive all along the Eastern Front. They decided to strike in the south toward Stalingrand and the Caucuses where Hitler was especially interested in the oil resources. The powefull, well equipped 6th Army was assigned the task. Initially they achieved startling successes. The shatered elements of the Red Army fell back accross the Don and were persued by the 6th Army. German inteligence, however, failed to appreciate the ability of the Russians to form and arm replcement armies. Hitler refused to even listen to estimates of Soviet strength. Hitler here made a deadly error. He dividing his forces, weakening 6th Army in an effort to seize the oil rich Caucusses. The Red Army withdrew accross the Volga when the 6th Army reached Stalingrad, but mainatined forces needed in the city to steadily bleed the Germans. By fighting in the city, the 6th Army's powerful mobil striking potential was negated by determined Red Army soldiers. The Soviet counter-offensive surrounding the 6th Army in Stalingd came as a complete suprise to the Germans. The result when Hitler refused to let the 6th Army break out was the complete loss of the Army, the most powerfull unit in the German order of battle (December 1942-January 1943). A HBC reader as a GI in Germany after the War met a youth named Hans who as a Hitler Youth boy flew a combat mission in the Luftwaffe Komet rocket plane. His brother was killed flying supplies into Stalingrad where the 650,000 men of the 6th Army were trapped. Not many of those Germans trapped came back to Germany after the war nor did many of the Soviets captured by the Germans return home.

Air War in the East

Most historical accounts of the air war available in the West seal with the Luftwaffe campaigns in the West and the subsequent Allied strtegic bombing campaign. The air war on the Eastern Front is much less studied. This is somewhat surprising as Germany and the Soviet Union when the War began had the two mist powerful air forces. The Luftwaffe essentially destroyed the Red Air Force during the first few days of Barbarossa. As a result the Red Air Force was not a factor during Barbarossa. The Red Army during the Barbarossa had to fight with virtually no air cover. This graduaally changed and by 1943 the Red Air Force was again an important factor in the War. Several factors were involved here. The Soviets did have a substantial aeronautics industry and the Soviet war plants that had been moved east by 1943 had reached full production. America through Lend Lease was delivering planes to the Soviets. The Allied strategic bombing campaign forced not only forced the Luftwaffe to withdraw assetts from the Eastern Front to defend German cities. In addition the bombing disrupted German production as well as casused substantial lossess in German fighters. Many accounts of the air war do not give sufficent attention to the impact on the Luftwaffe of engaging the Allied bombers even before long-range fighter cover became available.

Kursk (July 1943)

The defeat in North Africa was punishing, but it was on the Eastern Front against the Soviets that the great bulk of the Wehrmacht was deployed. The Germans after Stalingrad fell back, but began amassing their forces for a third summer offensive of the Russian campaign. The offensive this time was even more limited than in 1942. The target was a buldge in the Soviet line, the Kursk salient. The fighting on the huge Eastern Front involved vast armies in some of the most savage fighting ever recorded and Kursk may well have been the most vicious fighting of the War. The latgest tank battle in history occurred during 1943 at Kursk where the Germans suffered losses from which they never recovered. It was their vast important offensive on the Eastern Front. Without the Soviet defeat of the Wehrmacht, the Western Allies would have been hard pressed to contain the Germans or cross the Channel. A victorious Russian ally, however, meant that peace following the War would be far from ideal and leave the peoples of Eastern Europe locked into a new totalitarian dictatorship for a half a century.

Soviet Offensives: Summer-Autumn Campaign (August-October 1943)

The German Kursk Offensive was the last Germam offensive of any importance in the East. Kursk meant that the Germans no longer had the force to regain the initiative on the Eastern Front. German losses in the East had been massive. The Whermacht was not yet broken, but it was no longer as effective as before. The Germans were now left bracing and reacting to Soviet moves. And after Kursk, the Germas not only had to deal with resirgent and increasinly powerful Red Army, but the Allies began to mount offensive operations in the West. They had to commit reserves to occupy Italy which the Allies invaded (September 1943). And they had to move forces west into France to prepare for the coming cross-Channel invasion. The Red Army lost no time after Kursk in striking at the Germans. These offensives covered much of the Eastern Front. The ceterpiece was the Second Battle of Smolensk (August–October 1943). It was coordinated with the Lower Dnieper Offensive (August–September 1943). The Smolensk offensive lasted 2 months and drove German forces presence from the Smolensk and Bryansk regions, securing yhe appraoches to Moscow. The advances in the Ukraine were even more important. The German resistance was stiff limiting the asdvances in the Smolensk area, but major gains were made in the Battle for the Dnieper. The Germans had to commit 55 divisions to the Smolensk Front. As a result there were inadequate forces available to defend the Dnieper barrier in the south. The Red Army managed to overrun major German defensive positions. The German continuous line was now broken by the impassable Pripet marshes, complicating the mutual support of Army Group North and Center. Under-strength German divisions now were forcred to defend longer lines with weaker defensive positions. And the need to prepare for the Allied cross-Channel invasiin in the West meant that was no hope for reinforcements. a once-united German front was now separated by the huge and impassable Pripet marshes, cutting Army Group South off from its northern counterparts, thus greatly reducing the Wehrmacht's abilities to shift troops and supplies from one sector of the front to the other. 【Istomin, p. 163.】 During the Summer-Autumn offensives, the Red Army penetrated into Soviet areas that had been occupied for a substantial period (2 years) by the Germans. The duscovered evidence of the terrible attrocities by the SS Einsatzgruppen units. And in addition to the horrendous killing operations, the Sovietrs encountered the terrible destruction, basically Generalplan Ost put in operation. In the Smolensk area, the Soviets found industry and agriculture destroyed. In Smolensk oblast, some 80 percent of urban and urban and 50 percent of habitations destroyed. 【Istomin, p. 15.】

Stalins 10 Blows (1944)

Kursk was the last offensive launched by the Germand in the East. Until Kursk the only sucessful Soviet offensives were in the winter. The Germans were triumphant in the summer until Kursk. The defeat at Kurksk showed that the tide of the War had revocably turned. By 1944 the power of the Red Army had swelled and the Germans had had to shift forces west to prepare for the Allied cross-Channel invasion. Not only had the Soviets formed massive new armies, well equipped with tanks and artillert, they now had unprecedented mobility as a result of the huge numbr of Anerican trucks delivered through Lend Lease. In contrast, the German forces facing them were not strengthened. Führer Directive No. 51 ordered that all all new men and materials were delivered to the Western Front to meet the expected Allied Invasion (November 3, 1943). The Germn and Allied Axis forces all along the Eastern Front were outnumbered and poorly equipped in comparison to the resurgent Red Army. Front line units were badly outgunned and reserves were stretched thin. This included army Group Center, the most importsnt formtion in the Wehrmacht. The Germans expected a year of fighting greatlyvsuperior Soviets forces, hoping that the advantage of the defense would aid them stand their ground. What the Germans were unprepared for, especially as they were now less mobil thzn at the outset of Barbarossa was the red army's new mobility. And here Hitler was a great ally to the Red Army. He refused to allow German units to fall back to well prepared lines. when withdrawls were finlly authorized, it was iften t the last minurte and in chotic condirions. Only the professionalism of the German commsnders prevented disaster. The Soviets conducted several major offensives during 19944, the nost important being Bagration. They became known as 'Stalin's 10 Blows'. These offensives conducted by the Red Army in 1944 s drove the German and allied Axis forces from Soviet territory. They also made it impossible for the Germans to shift forces west to prevent the allied break out from Normaby. By the end of the year, the Red rmy was in a position to drive into the reich itself and destroy the remaining germn gorces and NAZI regime. The term 'Stalin's 10 Blows' originated after the offensives had been conducted following Stalin's '27th anniversary of the Great October socialist revolution' (27-я годовщина Великой Октябрьской социалистической революции») (November 1944). The occasioin was the Moscow meeting of Soviet deputies. The term was one of may manifestation of Stalin's 'cult of personality' Another term was the 'Year of twelve victories'. The use of the term was discontinued after Stalin's death. Nikita Khrushchev's Secret speech denouncing Stalin and ending his 'cult of personality' (1956).

Operation Bagration (June-July)

Opperation Bagration was the largest German defeat in World War II, but is vurtually unknown in the Wesr. The attention of the Western Allies was on Normany in June 1944. Unlike the Axis, the Allies attempted to coordinate their strategy. Thus the Soviets launched their major 1944 effort in coordination with the D-Day landings to prevent the Wehrmach from transferring forces west to smash the Normandy bridgehead. Operation Bagration was timed to begin on the same day the NAZIs invaded the Soviet Union (June 22) 3 years earlier. The NAZIs had launced offensives in Spring or early Summer 1941, 42, and 43). The Wehrmacht no longer was capable of a major offensive in the East. It was the Red Army's turn in 1944. The target was the Wehrmcht's Army Group Central, the most powerful existing German formastion. Army Group Center was deployed defensively in Byelorussia. Bagration in many ways was a replay of Barbarossa, only in reverse. The Red Army in a massive 5 weeks campaigm suuceeded in moving the front line west to Warsaw, liberating Byelorussia and much of eastern Poland. Army Group Center was shatered. The Red Army completely destroyed 17 Wehrmacht divisions and heavily damaged the combat effectivness of more than 50 other German divisions--essentially half of the German force. The Soviets killed or took about 0.4 million German prisoners. Army Group Central was shattered as a military force. It was the single greatest defeat suffered by the Wehrmacht in the War--worse them the disaster at Stalingrad. The Wehrmact sffered greater casualties than at Stalingrad. 【Zaloga】 Bagration not only smashed Army Group Central, but drove the Germans back into western Poland.

Romania (August-September)

The Red Army reached Romanian teritory (August 1944). It was at this time that a Madame Kolontay, Stlin's agent in Stockholm, presented a draft armistice agreement to the Romanians. Given the military situation, it seemed a generous offer. The Soviets demanded that the German armies leave Romania within 15 days. The Soviets pledged to only pass through north territory as they pushed west toward Hungary and Germany. They pledged not to take Bucarest and the south of the country. Antonescu prepared to defend Romania. He deployed nine elite divisions on the Focsani-Namoloasa-Galati line. He believed that they could hold the Soviets until the Armistice could be signed. Romanian diplomats sent the Soviet proposal August 22). Anti-Fascist elements in Romania were plotting with King Michael to remove Antonescu and end the War. King Michael arrested Antonescu and immediately declared a ceasefire. The Red Army ignored the King's cease fire and persued yheir offensive. The Soviets quickly broke the Romanian defensive line. Most Romanian soldiers refused to fight. The Soviets took more than 0.6 million prisoners. The NAZIs refused to recognize the new Romanian Government. They attacked Bucarest hoping to put down the new Government. German military resources by this time gad been badly degraded. And even Hitler decided against committing the few military resources available in Romania at a time that the Red Army was driving through Poland toward the Reich. The Romanian Army which refused to fight the Russians, did engage the Germans and held the capital until the Red Army reached it. The Romanians surrendered unconditionlly (September 12, 1944).

Warsaw (August 1)

After Operation Bagration (June-July 1944), Warsaw on the Vistula was the principle barrier standing between thev Red Army and Berlin. The Poles did not greet the Red Army in the same way that populations in the West cheered the Americans and British. They had no illusions about what would follow in the wake of the Red Army, a Stalinist dictatorship. The Home Army (loyal to thev London goverment-in-exile) decided on a desperate gambit at the Red army apprpached the Vistula. They would stage an insurrection and free Warsaw. The Home Army rebelled (August 1) anticipating the support of the Red army. Instead Stalin ordered the Soviet troopds to stop on the far side if the Vistula. The German reaction was vicious. On one day alone the SS rounded up and shot 25,000 Polish men women and children. The Americans offered to drop supplies, but Stalin refused permission for the flights to use needed Soviet air bases to refuel for the return trip. Thev Poles fought valiantly on, finally capitulating (October 2). The Germans at Hitler's orders virtualy razed the city. The Soviets finally took Warsaw with little resistance from the Germans (January 1945). 【Davies】

Baltic Offensive (September 14 – November 20)

The next Soviet offensive was aimed at the Baltics. The Baltic Republics were not part of the Soviet Union at the onset of the War. They were part oif the Russian Empire, but obtained their indeoendence after World War I by beating back Bolshevick armies. The Soviets invaded and annexed the Baltic (1940), as part of their share of Europe as a NAZI ally under the terms of the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. The Soviet NKVD committed terrible attrocities throughutvtheBaltics. Army Grouo North as part of Barbarossa rolled rapidly east through the Baltics (1941). With the Geman defeats in the East, the Soviets by 1944 were in a position to retake the Baltics. The strongest German formatiin in the east was army Group Center. The soviet Bagration offensive shattered Army Groupo Center and separated what was left from Army Group North (July 30). Without the suppoort of Army Group Center, Army Group Noth had no chance of defending the Balyics from the massive Soviet forcesgrouping for anithger offensive. The Red Army Leningrad Front and the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Baltic Fronts smashed into what was left of Army Group North (eptembr 14). This offensive drove into Estonia and most of Latvia. The Red Army entered Tallinn (September 22). Thiswas not, however, a lineration as was the case in the West. The estoniand and other Balts were just experiencing a chnge of German for Soviet occupation. A nightmarish Soviet occupation followed. A dreadful as the Soviet occupation was, the Balts did not know that the Germans as part of Generalplan Ost were planning their eliminattion. The Soviets entered Riga wiyhout a fight (October 13). Because of Hitler;s orders to stand and fight, the Soviets were able to isolate 30 divisions of Army Group North from Army Group Center. This became known as the Courland Pocket. The Soviets simply bypassed them and moved west. The 30 divisions could have been used in the defense of Berlin. The Germnsithout supplies were not a thret. They held out until the end of the war. Stalin's speech called the offensive the Liberation of Estonia and Latvia and explained that the Germans in Courland were cut off and the Finns were forced out of the War. With the NAZIU surrender (May 1945), the Germans in the Courland Pocket disappeared into the Soviet Gulag, Few ever survived to return to Germany.


Berlin (April 1945)

The battle for Berlin fought in April 1945 was one of the most horific engagements of World War II. Stalin ordered the Red Army to take Berlin. After the Americans seized the Remagen Bridge and crossed the Rhine, Stalin ordered the time tble speeded up and at the same time lied to Eisenhowser that he was preparing to take the German capital. Losses on both the German and Russian side were enormous. Russian losses were in part due to the fact that Stalin had ordered that Berlin be seized bfore the Americans could reach it. Stalin's ordered resulted in a race to Berlin by Marshal Zukov and Koniev, both wanting the victor' laurels. It has always been wonderd why Stalin was so obsessed with Berlin and was willining to sacrifice so many Red Army soldiers to get to Berlin before the Americans. It has always been felt that it was primarily for the political value, to demonstrate the role of the Red Army in defeating the NAZIs. A British histoian argues that there was another important reason. Beria had learned of the American Manhattan Project to build an atomic bomb. Stalin as a rsult ordered a top secret Soviet atomic bomb project--Project Boradino. Located at Berlin was the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, the center of the German atomic project. While the Germans were fa behind the Americans, the Russins obrained agreat deal of valuable information an 3 tons of uranium oxide. 【Beavers】 ] The Soviet conquest of Berlin proved to be a nightmare for the surviving women, almost all of whom were raped. It is estimated that 2 million German women were raped by Russians at the end of the War. Perhaps 0.2 million of those rapes took place in Berlin. The rapes included children, nuns, old ladies, and even Russian women brought to Germany to work as slave laborers. The Soviets denied the German civilian reports, but Soviet archieves leave no doubt as to what occurred. 【Beavers】

German Collapse (May 1945)

The Germans already reeling from Soviet offenses collapsed less than a year after D-Day in May 1945. General Karl Weidling, the commander leading the defense of Berlin, finally surrendered (May 2). The new Führer attempted to move as much of the Wehrmacht west and to surrender to the Western Allies. Eisenhower made in clear that the surrender would have to be to both the Western Allies and the Soviets. Kietel signed the final act of Capitulation (May 8). Eisenhower refused to meet with the German officers. Only after they had signed the surrender documents did he appear to ask them if they fully understood the document. He refused to shake hands. As the Allied armies moved through Poland and Germany, the horrendous crimes of the NAZI party were revealed to an incredulous world.



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Braithwaite, Rodric. Moscow 1941: A City and Its People at War (Knopf, 2006), 398p. Braithwaite was a British ambassador to the Soviet Union.

Davies, Norman. Rising '44: The Battle for Warsaw (Viking, 2004). Davies is critical of The allies, President Roosevelt in particular for allowing Stalin to swollow up Poland. Like other authors making similar charges, Davies does not explain just what could have been done to have prevented it.

Domarus, Max. Hitler Reden und Proklamationen 1932-45 Vo. 1-2 (Neustadt a.d. Aisch: Velagsdruckerei Schmidt, 1962-63).

Forczyk, Robert. Where the Iron Crosses Grow: The Crimea 1941-44 (2014), 336p.

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Mastny, V. "Soviet war aims at the Moscow and Teheran conferences," Journal of Modern History (1975).

Zaloga, Steven J. Bagration 1944: The Destruction of Army Group Center (Praeger Illustrated Military History: Praeger Publishers, 2004), 96p.


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Created: February 2, 2004
Last updated: 2:07 AM 3/12/2024