Eastern Front (World War II)

Eastern Front (World War II)

Overview
The Eastern Front of World War II was a theatre
Theater (warfare)
In warfare, a theater, is defined as an area or place within which important military events occur or are progressing. The entirety of the air, land, and sea area that is or that may potentially become involved in war operations....

 of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 between the European Axis powers
Axis Powers
The Axis powers , also known as the Axis alliance, Axis nations, Axis countries, or just the Axis, was an alignment of great powers during the mid-20th century that fought World War II against the Allies. It began in 1936 with treaties of friendship between Germany and Italy and between Germany and...

 and co-belligerent
Co-belligerence
Co-belligerence is the waging of a war in cooperation against a common enemy without a formal treaty of military alliance.Co-belligerence is a broader and less precise status of wartime partnership than a formal military alliance. Co-belligerents may support each other materially, exchange...

 Finland
Finland
Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

 against the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

, Poland
Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

, and some other Allies
Allies of World War II
The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War . Former Axis states contributing to the Allied victory are not considered Allied states...

 which encompassed Northern
Northern Europe
Northern Europe is the northern part or region of Europe. Northern Europe typically refers to the seven countries in the northern part of the European subcontinent which includes Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Finland and Sweden...

, Southern
Southern Europe
The term Southern Europe, at its most general definition, is used to mean "all countries in the south of Europe". However, the concept, at different times, has had different meanings, providing additional political, linguistic and cultural context to the definition in addition to the typical...

 and Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

 from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945. It was known by many different names depending on the nation, notably the Great Patriotic War in the former Soviet Union, while known in Germany as the Eastern Front , the Eastern Campaign or the Russian Campaign .

The battles on the Eastern Front constituted the largest military confrontation in history.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Eastern Front (World War II)'
Start a new discussion about 'Eastern Front (World War II)'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia
The Eastern Front of World War II was a theatre
Theater (warfare)
In warfare, a theater, is defined as an area or place within which important military events occur or are progressing. The entirety of the air, land, and sea area that is or that may potentially become involved in war operations....

 of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 between the European Axis powers
Axis Powers
The Axis powers , also known as the Axis alliance, Axis nations, Axis countries, or just the Axis, was an alignment of great powers during the mid-20th century that fought World War II against the Allies. It began in 1936 with treaties of friendship between Germany and Italy and between Germany and...

 and co-belligerent
Co-belligerence
Co-belligerence is the waging of a war in cooperation against a common enemy without a formal treaty of military alliance.Co-belligerence is a broader and less precise status of wartime partnership than a formal military alliance. Co-belligerents may support each other materially, exchange...

 Finland
Finland
Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

 against the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

, Poland
Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

, and some other Allies
Allies of World War II
The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War . Former Axis states contributing to the Allied victory are not considered Allied states...

 which encompassed Northern
Northern Europe
Northern Europe is the northern part or region of Europe. Northern Europe typically refers to the seven countries in the northern part of the European subcontinent which includes Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Finland and Sweden...

, Southern
Southern Europe
The term Southern Europe, at its most general definition, is used to mean "all countries in the south of Europe". However, the concept, at different times, has had different meanings, providing additional political, linguistic and cultural context to the definition in addition to the typical...

 and Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

 from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945. It was known by many different names depending on the nation, notably the Great Patriotic War in the former Soviet Union, while known in Germany as the Eastern Front , the Eastern Campaign or the Russian Campaign .

The battles on the Eastern Front constituted the largest military confrontation in history. They were characterized by unprecedented ferocity, wholesale destruction, mass deportations, and immense loss of life variously due to combat, starvation, exposure, disease, and massacres. The Eastern Front, as the site of nearly all extermination camps, death march
Death marches (Holocaust)
The death marches refer to the forcible movement between Autumn 1944 and late April 1945 by Nazi Germany of thousands of prisoners from German concentration camps near the war front to camps inside Germany.-General:...

es, ghettos, and the majority of pogroms, was central to the Holocaust. Of the estimated 70 million deaths
World War II casualties
World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history. Over 60 million people were killed, which was over 2.5% of the world population. The tables below give a detailed country-by-country count of human losses.-Total dead:...

 attributed to World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, over 30 million, many of them civilians, died on the Eastern Front. The Eastern Front was decisive in determining the outcome of World War II, eventually serving as the main reason for Germany's defeat. It resulted in the destruction of the Third Reich, the partition of Germany for nearly half a century
German reunification
German reunification was the process in 1990 in which the German Democratic Republic joined the Federal Republic of Germany , and when Berlin reunited into a single city, as provided by its then Grundgesetz constitution Article 23. The start of this process is commonly referred by Germans as die...

 and the rise of the Soviet Union as a military and industrial superpower
Superpower
A superpower is a state with a dominant position in the international system which has the ability to influence events and its own interests and project power on a worldwide scale to protect those interests...

, which would itself only survive for nearly a half-century further
Dissolution of the Soviet Union
The dissolution of the Soviet Union was the disintegration of the federal political structures and central government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , resulting in the independence of all fifteen republics of the Soviet Union between March 11, 1990 and December 25, 1991...

 in time.

The two principal belligerent powers were Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, along with their respective allies. Though never engaged in military action in the Eastern Front, the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 and the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 both provided substantial material aid to the Soviet Union. The Soviet-Finnish Continuation War
Continuation War
The Continuation War was the second of two wars fought between Finland and the Soviet Union during World War II.At the time of the war, the Finnish side used the name to make clear its perceived relationship to the preceding Winter War...

 may be considered the northern flank of the Eastern Front. In addition, the joint German-Finnish operations
Operation Silver Fox
Operation Silver Fox was a joint German–Finnish military operation plan during World War II, though it was mainly operated and engaged by Germans. Its main goal was the capture of the key Soviet port at Murmansk through attacks from Finnish and Norwegian territory.The operation had to be three...

 across the northernmost Finnish-Soviet border and in the Murmansk region
Murmansk Oblast
Murmansk Oblast is a federal subject of Russia , located in the northwestern part of Russia. Its administrative center is the city of Murmansk.-Geography:...

 are also considered part of the Eastern Front.

Background



Despite their ideological antipathy, both Germany and the Soviet Union shared a mutual dislike for the outcome of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. The Soviet Union had lost substantial territory in Eastern Europe as a result of the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, where it gave in to German demands and ceded control of Poland
Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

, Lithuania
Lithuania
Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

, Estonia
Estonia
Estonia , officially the Republic of Estonia , is a state in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia , and to the east by Lake Peipsi and the Russian Federation . Across the Baltic Sea lies...

, Latvia
Latvia
Latvia , officially the Republic of Latvia , is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Estonia , to the south by Lithuania , to the east by the Russian Federation , to the southeast by Belarus and shares maritime borders to the west with Sweden...

 and Finland
Finland
Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

, among others, to the "Central Powers
Central Powers
The Central Powers were one of the two warring factions in World War I , composed of the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Bulgaria...

". Subsequently, when Germany in its turn surrendered to the Allies, these territories were liberated under the terms of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919
Paris Peace Conference, 1919
The Paris Peace Conference was the meeting of the Allied victors following the end of World War I to set the peace terms for the defeated Central Powers following the armistices of 1918. It took place in Paris in 1919 and involved diplomats from more than 32 countries and nationalities...

 to which the newly formed Soviet government was not invited.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact
Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, named after the Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and the German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, was an agreement officially titled the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union and signed in Moscow in the late hours of 23 August 1939...

 signed in August 1939 was a non-aggression agreement between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union that contained a secret protocol that aimed to return Eastern Europe to the pre–World War I status quo by dividing it between Germany and the Soviet Union. Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania would return to Soviet control, while Poland and Romania would be divided between them.

According to Andrew Nagorski (2007; The Greatest Battle) Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 had declared his intention to hit the USSR on 11 August 1939 to Carl Jacob Burckhardt
Carl Jacob Burckhardt
Carl Jacob Burckhardt was a Swiss diplomat and historian. His career alternated between periods of academic historical research and diplomatic postings; the most prominent of the latter were League of Nations High Commissioner for the Free City of Danzig and President of the International...

, League of Nations Commissioner by saying, "Everything I undertake is directed against the Russians. If the West is too stupid and blind to grasp this, then I shall be compelled to come to an agreement with the Russians, beat the West and then after their defeat turn against the Soviet Union with all my forces. I need the Ukraine
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

 so that they can't starve us out, as happened in the last war."

The two powers invaded and partitioned Poland in 1939
Invasion of Poland (1939)
The Invasion of Poland, also known as the September Campaign or 1939 Defensive War in Poland and the Poland Campaign in Germany, was an invasion of Poland by Germany, the Soviet Union, and a small Slovak contingent that marked the start of World War II in Europe...

. In November 1939 the Soviet Union invaded Finland in what became known as the Winter War
Winter War
The Winter War was a military conflict between the Soviet Union and Finland. It began with a Soviet offensive on 30 November 1939 – three months after the start of World War II and the Soviet invasion of Poland – and ended on 13 March 1940 with the Moscow Peace Treaty...

 – a bitter conflict that only resulted in partial victory for the Soviet Union. In June 1940, the three Baltic states
Baltic states
The term Baltic states refers to the Baltic territories which gained independence from the Russian Empire in the wake of World War I: primarily the contiguous trio of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania ; Finland also fell within the scope of the term after initially gaining independence in the 1920s.The...

 were occupied and illegally incorporated into the Soviet Union, through threats of force and other diplomatic pressure. This step was illegal under the international law
Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907)
The Hague Conventions were two international treaties negotiated at international peace conferences at The Hague in the Netherlands: The First Hague Conference in 1899 and the Second Hague Conference in 1907...

 and was not recognized by majority of Western states. The pact gave security to Soviets in occupation of the north and northeastern regions of Romania (Northern Bukovina
Bukovina
Bukovina is a historical region on the northern slopes of the northeastern Carpathian Mountains and the adjoining plains.-Name:The name Bukovina came into official use in 1775 with the region's annexation from the Principality of Moldavia to the possessions of the Habsburg Monarchy, which became...

 and Bessarabia
Bessarabia
Bessarabia is a historical term for the geographic region in Eastern Europe bounded by the Dniester River on the east and the Prut River on the west....

). These regions were then divided between the Ukrainian
Ukrainian SSR
The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic or in short, the Ukrainian SSR was a sovereign Soviet Socialist state and one of the fifteen constituent republics of the Soviet Union lasting from its inception in 1922 to the breakup in 1991...

 and Moldavian
Moldavian SSR
The Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic , commonly abbreviated to Moldavian SSR or MSSR, was one of the 15 republics of the Soviet Union...

 Soviet republics.

German ideology


Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 had argued in his autobiography Mein Kampf
Mein Kampf
Mein Kampf is a book written by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. It combines elements of autobiography with an exposition of Hitler's political ideology. Volume 1 of Mein Kampf was published in 1925 and Volume 2 in 1926...

 for the necessity of Lebensraum
Lebensraum
was one of the major political ideas of Adolf Hitler, and an important component of Nazi ideology. It served as the motivation for the expansionist policies of Nazi Germany, aiming to provide extra space for the growth of the German population, for a Greater Germany...

, acquiring new territory for German settlement in Eastern Europe. He envisaged settling Germans there as a master race, while exterminating or deporting most of the inhabitants to Siberia
Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

 and using the remainder as slave labour.
To hard-line Nazis in Berlin (like Himmler), the war against the Soviet Union was a struggle of Nazism
Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 against Communism
Communism
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

, and of the Aryan race
Aryan race
The Aryan race is a concept historically influential in Western culture in the period of the late 19th century and early 20th century. It derives from the idea that the original speakers of the Indo-European languages and their descendants up to the present day constitute a distinctive race or...

 against Slavic Untermenschen (subhumans). Hitler referred to it in unique terms, calling it a "war of annihilation". In a plan called Generalplan Ost
Generalplan Ost
Generalplan Ost was a secret Nazi German plan for the colonization of Eastern Europe. Implementing it would have necessitated genocide and ethnic cleansing to be undertaken in the Eastern European territories occupied by Germany during World War II...

, the population of occupied Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union was to be partially deported to West Siberia, partially enslaved and eventually exterminated; the conquered territories were to be colonized by German or "Germanized" settlers. In addition, the Nazis also sought to wipe out the large Jewish population of Eastern Europe as part of the Nazi program aimed to exterminate all European Jews.

After Germany's initial success at the Battle of Kiev
Battle of Kiev (1941)
The Battle of Kiev was the German name for the operation that resulted in a very large encirclement of Soviet troops in the vicinity of Kiev during World War II. It is considered the largest encirclement of troops in history. The operation ran from 23 August – 26 September 1941 as part of Operation...

, Adolf Hitler saw the Soviet Union as militarily weak and ripe for immediate conquest. On October 3, 1941, he announced, "We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down." Thus, Germany expected another short Blitzkrieg and made no serious preparations for prolonged warfare. However, following the decisive Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad
Battle of Stalingrad
The Battle of Stalingrad was a major battle of World War II in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad in southwestern Russia. The battle took place between 23 August 1942 and 2 February 1943...

 and the resulting dire German military situation, Hitler and Nazi propaganda proclaimed the war to be a German defence of Western civilization against destruction by the vast "Bolshevik hordes" that were pouring into Europe.

Soviet ideology


The Soviet regime, led by Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

, planned the expansion of their ideology (Marxist-Leninism) and lent lip service to the advancement of world revolution
World revolution
World revolution is the Marxist concept of overthrowing capitalism in all countries through the conscious revolutionary action of the organized working class...

. In reality, Stalin adhered to the Socialism in one country
Socialism in One Country
Socialism in One Country was a theory put forth by Joseph Stalin in 1924, elaborated by Nikolai Bukharin in 1925 and finally adopted as state policy by Stalin...

 doctrine and used it to justify the massive industrialization of the USSR during the 1930s. Nazi Germany, who positioned itself as a consistently anti-Communist regime, and who formalised this position by signing the Anti-Comintern Pact
Anti-Comintern Pact
The Anti-Comintern Pact was an Anti-Communist pact concluded between Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan on November 25, 1936 and was directed against the Communist International ....

 with Japan and Italy
Kingdom of Italy (1861–1946)
The Kingdom of Italy was a state forged in 1861 by the unification of Italy under the influence of the Kingdom of Sardinia, which was its legal predecessor state...

, was a direct ideological antipode of the Communist Soviet Union. The ideological tensions had transformed into the proxy war
Proxy war
A proxy war or proxy warfare is a war that results when opposing powers use third parties as substitutes for fighting each other directly. While powers have sometimes used governments as proxies, violent non-state actors, mercenaries, or other third parties are more often employed...

 between Nazi Germany and the USSR, when, in 1936, Germany and Fascist Italy
Italian Fascism
Italian Fascism also known as Fascism with a capital "F" refers to the original fascist ideology in Italy. This ideology is associated with the National Fascist Party which under Benito Mussolini ruled the Kingdom of Italy from 1922 until 1943, the Republican Fascist Party which ruled the Italian...

 interfered in the Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

, supporting Spanish Nationalists, while the Soviets supported the predominantly socialist and communist-led Second Spanish Republic
Second Spanish Republic
The Second Spanish Republic was the government of Spain between April 14 1931, and its destruction by a military rebellion, led by General Francisco Franco....

.

German Anschluss
Anschluss
The Anschluss , also known as the ', was the occupation and annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in 1938....

 of Austria in 1938 and dismemberment of Czechoslovakia demonstrated the impossibility of establishing a collective security system in Europe, a policy advocated by the Soviet ministry of foreign affairs Maxim Litvinov
Maxim Litvinov
Maxim Maximovich Litvinov was a Russian revolutionary and prominent Soviet diplomat.- Early life and first exile :...

. This, as well as inability of the British and French leadership to sign a full scale anti-German political and military alliance with USSR, led to signing a non-aggression pact
Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, named after the Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and the German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, was an agreement officially titled the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union and signed in Moscow in the late hours of 23 August 1939...

 between the Soviet Union and Germany in late August, 1939.
Signing of the non-aggression pact led to a turn of Soviet propaganda. The Nazis were not portrayed as sworn enemies any more, and the media of the Soviet Union portrayed the Germans as neutrals, blaming Poland
Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

, United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 and France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 for the start of the war. However, after the German attack the position of the Soviet government shifted completely to encourage the beating back of the Nazi hordes.

Forces


The war was fought between Nazi Germany, its allies and Finland, against the Soviet Union. The conflict began on 22 June 1941 with the Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

 Offensive, when Axis
Axis Powers
The Axis powers , also known as the Axis alliance, Axis nations, Axis countries, or just the Axis, was an alignment of great powers during the mid-20th century that fought World War II against the Allies. It began in 1936 with treaties of friendship between Germany and Italy and between Germany and...

 forces crossed the borders described in the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, thereby invading the Soviet Union. The war ended on 9 May 1945, when Germany's armed forces
Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

 surrendered unconditionally
Unconditional surrender
Unconditional surrender is a surrender without conditions, in which no guarantees are given to the surrendering party. In modern times unconditional surrenders most often include guarantees provided by international law. Announcing that only unconditional surrender is acceptable puts psychological...

 following the Berlin Offensive, a strategic operation executed by the Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

, also known as the Battle of Berlin
Battle of Berlin
The Battle of Berlin, designated the Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation by the Soviet Union, was the final major offensive of the European Theatre of World War II....

.
The states that provided forces and other resources for the German war effort included the Axis Powers
Axis Powers
The Axis powers , also known as the Axis alliance, Axis nations, Axis countries, or just the Axis, was an alignment of great powers during the mid-20th century that fought World War II against the Allies. It began in 1936 with treaties of friendship between Germany and Italy and between Germany and...

 – foremost Romania, Hungary, Italy, pro-Nazi Slovakia, and Croatia. The anti-Soviet Finland, which had fought two conflicts with the Soviet Union, also joined the Offensive. The Wehrmacht forces were also assisted by anti-Communist partisans
Partisan (military)
A partisan is a member of an irregular military force formed to oppose control of an area by a foreign power or by an army of occupation by some kind of insurgent activity...

 in places like Western Ukraine, the Baltic states
Baltic states
The term Baltic states refers to the Baltic territories which gained independence from the Russian Empire in the wake of World War I: primarily the contiguous trio of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania ; Finland also fell within the scope of the term after initially gaining independence in the 1920s.The...

, and later Crimean Tatars
Crimean Tatars
Crimean Tatars or Crimeans are a Turkic ethnic group that originally resided in Crimea. They speak the Crimean Tatar language...

. Among the most prominent volunteer army formations was the Spanish Blue Division
Blue Division
The Blue Division officially designated as División Española de Voluntarios by the Spanish Army and 250. Infanterie-Division in the German Army, was a unit of Spanish volunteers that served in the German Army on the Eastern Front of the Second World War.-Origins:Although Spanish leader Field...

, sent by Spanish dictator Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco y Bahamonde was a Spanish general, dictator and head of state of Spain from October 1936 , and de facto regent of the nominally restored Kingdom of Spain from 1947 until his death in November, 1975...

 to keep his ties to the Axis intact.

The Soviet Union offered support to the partisans in many Wehrmacht-occupied countries in Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

, notably those in Slovakia, Poland and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia
Kingdom of Yugoslavia
The Kingdom of Yugoslavia was a state stretching from the Western Balkans to Central Europe which existed during the often-tumultuous interwar era of 1918–1941...

. In addition the Polish Armed Forces in the East
Polish Armed Forces in the East
Polish Armed Forces in the East refers to military units composed of Poles created in the Soviet Union at the time when the territory of Poland was occupied by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in the Second World War....

, particularly the First
First Polish Army (1944-1945)
The Polish First Army was a Polish Army unit formed in the Soviet Union in 1944, from the previously existing Polish I Corps as part of the People's Army of Poland . The First Army fought westward, subordinated to the Soviet 1st Belorussian Front, during the offensive against Germany that led to...

 and Second
Polish Second Army
The Polish Second Army was a Polish Army unit formed in the Soviet Union in 1944 as part of the People's Army of Poland. The organization begun in August under the command of generals Karol Świerczewski and Stanislav Poplavsky, and the formation under command of general Świerczewski entered active...

 Polish armies, were armed and trained, and would eventually fight alongside the Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

. The Free French forces also contributed to the Red Army by formation of GC3
Normandie-Niemen
The Normandie-Niemen Regiment was a fighter squadron, later regiment of the French Air Force. It served on the Eastern Front of the European Theatre of World War II with the 1st Air Army...

 (Groupe de Chasse 3 or 3rd Fighter Group) unit to fulfill the commitment of Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle
Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle was a French general and statesman who led the Free French Forces during World War II. He later founded the French Fifth Republic in 1958 and served as its first President from 1959 to 1969....

, leader of the Free French, who thought that it was important for French servicemen to serve on all fronts.
British and Commonwealth forces contributed directly to the fighting on the Eastern Front through their service in the convoys
Arctic convoys of World War II
The Arctic convoys of World War II travelled from the United Kingdom and North America to the northern ports of the Soviet Union—Arkhangelsk and Murmansk. There were 78 convoys between August 1941 and May 1945...

 and training Red Air Force pilots, as well as in provision of early material and intelligence support. The later massive materiel support of the Lend-Lease
Lend-Lease
Lend-Lease was the program under which the United States of America supplied the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, China, Free France, and other Allied nations with materiel between 1941 and 1945. It was signed into law on March 11, 1941, a year and a half after the outbreak of war in Europe in...

 by the United States and Canada played a significant part particularly in the logistics
Logistics
Logistics is the management of the flow of goods between the point of origin and the point of destination in order to meet the requirements of customers or corporations. Logistics involves the integration of information, transportation, inventory, warehousing, material handling, and packaging, and...

 of the war.
For nearly two years the border was quiet while Germany conquered Denmark, Norway
Operation Weserübung
Operation Weserübung was the code name for Germany's assault on Denmark and Norway during the Second World War and the opening operation of the Norwegian Campaign...

, France, The Low Countries
Battle of France
In the Second World War, the Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, beginning on 10 May 1940, which ended the Phoney War. The battle consisted of two main operations. In the first, Fall Gelb , German armoured units pushed through the Ardennes, to cut off and...

, and the Balkans. Hitler had always intended to renege on his pact with the Soviet Union, eventually making the decision to invade in the spring of 1941. Hitler believed that the Soviets would quickly capitulate after an overwhelming German offensive and that the war could largely end before the onset of the fierce Russian winter.

Some say Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

 was fearful of war with Germany or just did not expect Germany to start a two-front war
Two-front war
In military terminology, a two-front war is one in which fighting takes place on two geographically separate fronts. It is usually executed by two or more separate forces simultaneously or nearly simultaneously, in the hope that their opponent will be forced to split their fighting force to deal...

, and was reluctant to do anything to provoke Hitler. Others say that Stalin was eager for Germany to be at war with other capitalist countries. Another viewpoint is that Stalin expected war in 1942 (the time when all his preparations would be complete) and stubbornly refused to believe its early arrival.

British historians Alan S. Milward and M. Medlicott show that Nazi Germany—unlike Imperial Germany—was prepared for only a short-term war (Blitzkrieg). According to Edward Ericson, although Germany's own resources were sufficient for 1940 victories in the West, massive Soviet shipments obtained during a short period of Nazi-Soviet economic collaboration were critical for Germany to launch Operation Barbarossa.

Germany had been assembling very large numbers of troops in eastern Poland and making repeated reconnaissance
Reconnaissance
Reconnaissance is the military term for exploring beyond the area occupied by friendly forces to gain information about enemy forces or features of the environment....

 flights over the border, and the Soviet Union responded by assembling its divisions on the western border, although Soviet assembling was slower than the German due to its less dense road network. As in the Sino-Soviet conflict
Sino-Soviet conflict (1929)
The Sino–Soviet conflict of 1929 was a minor armed conflict between the Soviet Union and Chinese warlord Zhang Xueliang of the Republic of China over the Manchurian Chinese Eastern Railway....

 on Chinese Eastern Railway or Soviet-Japanese border conflicts
Soviet-Japanese Border Wars
The Soviet–Japanese Border Wars were a series of border conflicts between the Soviet Union and Japan between 1932 and 1939.Before Japanese occupation of Manchukuo, the Soviet Union had conflict with China on the border of Manchuria...

 Soviet troops on western border received a directive, signed by Marshal
Marshal
Marshal , is a word used in several official titles of various branches of society. The word is an ancient loan word from Old French, cf...

 Semyon Timoshenko
Semyon Timoshenko
Semyon Konstantinovich Timoshenko was a Soviet military commander and senior professional officer of the Red Army at the beginning of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.-Early life:...

 and General of the Army
General of the Army
General of the Army is a military rank used in some countries to denote a senior military leader, usually a General in command of a nation's Army. It may also be the title given to a General who commands an Army in the field....

 Georgy Zhukov
Georgy Zhukov
Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov , was a Russian career officer in the Red Army who, in the course of World War II, played a pivotal role in leading the Red Army through much of Eastern Europe to liberate the Soviet Union and other nations from the Axis Powers' occupation...

, that ordered (as demanded by Stalin): "do not answer to any provocations" and "do not undertake any (offensive) actions without specific orders" – which meant that Soviet troops could open fire only on their soil and forbade counter-attack on German soil. The German invasion therefore caught the Soviet military and civilian leadership largely by surprise.

The extent of warnings received by Stalin about a German invasion is controversial, and the claim that there was a warning that "Germany will attack on 22 June without declaration of war" has been dismissed as a "popular myth". However some sources quoted in the articles on Soviet spies Richard Sorge
Richard Sorge
Richard Sorge was a German communist and spy who worked for the Soviet Union. He has gained great fame among espionage enthusiasts for his intelligence gathering during World War II. He worked as a journalist in both Germany and Japan, where he was imprisoned for spying and eventually hanged....

 and Willi Lehmann
Willi Lehmann
Willi Lehmann was a police official and Soviet agent in Nazi Germany.Lehmann was a criminal inspector and SS-Hauptsturmführer , alias Agent A-201/Breitenbach. During World War II Lehmann was one of the most valuable sources for the NKVD in Germany.Lehrmann joined the Berlin police force in 1911...

 say they had sent warnings of an attack on 20 or 22 June, which were treated as "disinformation". The Lucy spy ring
Lucy spy ring
In World War II espionage, the Lucy spy ring was an anti-German operation that was headquartered in Switzerland. It was run by Rudolf Roessler, a German refugee and ostensibly the proprietor of a small publishing firm, Vita Nova...

 in Switzerland also sent warnings, possibly deriving from Ultra codebreaking in Britain.

Soviet intelligence was fooled by German disinformation, so sent false alarms to Moscow about a German invasion in April, May and the beginning of June. Soviet intelligence reported that Germany would rather invade the USSR after the fall of the British Empire or after an unacceptable ultimatum demanding German occupation of Ukraine during the German invasion of Britain.

For Soviet preparations, see Operation Barbarossa: Soviet preparations.

Conduct of operations



While German historians do not apply any specific periodisation to the conduct of operations on the Eastern Front, all Soviet and Russian historians divide the war against Germany and its allies into three periods, which are further subdivided into the major Campaign
Military campaign
In the military sciences, the term military campaign applies to large scale, long duration, significant military strategy plan incorporating a series of inter-related military operations or battles forming a distinct part of a larger conflict often called a war...

s of the Theatre of war:
  1. First period of Great Patriotic war (22 June 1941 – 18 November 1942)
    • Summer-Autumn Campaign (22 June – 4 December 1941)
    • Winter Campaign of 1941–42 (5 December 1941 – 30 April 1942)
    • Summer-Autumn Campaign (1 May – 18 November 1942)
  2. Second period of Great Patriotic war (19 November 1942 – 31 December 1943)
    • Winter Campaign of 1942–43 (19 November 1942 – 3 March 1943)
    • Summer-Autumn Campaign of 1943 (1 July – 31 December 1943)
  3. Third period of Great Patriotic war (1 January 1944 – 9 May 1945)
    • Winter-Spring Campaign (1 January – 31 May 1944)
    • Summer-Autumn Campaign of 1944 (1 June – 31 December 1944)
    • Campaign in Europe during 1945 (1 January – 9 May 1945)

Operation Barbarossa: Summer 1941



Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

 began just before dawn on 22 June 1941. The Germans wrecked the wire network in all Soviet western military district
Military district
Military districts are formations of a state's armed forces which are responsible for a certain area of territory. They are often more responsible for administrative than operational matters, and in countries with conscript forces, often handle parts of the conscription cycle.Navies have also used...

s to undermine Soviet communications. At 03:15 on 22 June 1941 ninety-nine (including fourteen panzer division
Panzer Division
A panzer division was an armored division in the army and air force branches of the Wehrmacht as well as the Waffen-SS of Nazi Germany during World War II....

s and ten motorized) of 190 German divisions deployed against the Soviet Union began the offensive from the Baltic to the Black seas. They were accompanied by ten Romanian divisions, nine Romanian and four Hungarian brigade
Brigade
A brigade is a major tactical military formation that is typically composed of two to five battalions, plus supporting elements depending on the era and nationality of a given army and could be perceived as an enlarged/reinforced regiment...

s. On the same day the Baltic
Baltic Military District
The Baltic Military District was a military district of the Soviet armed forces, formed briefly before the German invasion, and then reformed after World War II and disbanded after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991....

, Western and Kiev Special military districts were renamed to Northwestern, Western and Southwestern Fronts respectively. To establish air supremacy, the German air force
Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

 began immediate attacks on Soviet airfields, destroying much of the forward-deployed Soviet Air Force airfield fleets consisting of largely obsolescent types before their pilots had a chance to leave the ground. For a month the offensive conducted on three axes was completely unstoppable as the panzer
Panzer
A Panzer is a German language word that, when used as a noun, means "tank". When it is used as an adjective, it means either tank or "armoured" .- Etymology :...

 forces encircled
Encirclement
Encirclement is a military term for the situation when a force or target is isolated and surrounded by enemy forces. The German term for this is Kesselschlacht ; a comparable English term might be "in the bag"....

 hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops in huge pockets that were then reduced by slower-moving infantry
Infantry
Infantrymen are soldiers who are specifically trained for the role of fighting on foot to engage the enemy face to face and have historically borne the brunt of the casualties of combat in wars. As the oldest branch of combat arms, they are the backbone of armies...

 armies while the panzers continued the offensive, following the Blitzkrieg
Blitzkrieg
For other uses of the word, see: Blitzkrieg Blitzkrieg is an anglicized word describing all-motorised force concentration of tanks, infantry, artillery, combat engineers and air power, concentrating overwhelming force at high speed to break through enemy lines, and, once the lines are broken,...

 doctrine
Military doctrine
Military doctrine is the concise expression of how military forces contribute to campaigns, major operations, battles, and engagements.It is a guide to action, not hard and fast rules. Doctrine provides a common frame of reference across the military...

.

Army Group North
Army Group North
Army Group North was a German strategic echelon formation commanding a grouping of Field Armies subordinated to the OKH during World War II. The army group coordinated the operations of attached separate army corps, reserve formations, rear services and logistics.- Formation :The Army Group North...

's objective was Leningrad
Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea...

 via the Baltic States
Baltic states
The term Baltic states refers to the Baltic territories which gained independence from the Russian Empire in the wake of World War I: primarily the contiguous trio of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania ; Finland also fell within the scope of the term after initially gaining independence in the 1920s.The...

. Comprising the 16th and 18th armies and the 4th Panzer Group, this formation advanced through Lithuania
Lithuania
Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

, Latvia
Latvia
Latvia , officially the Republic of Latvia , is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Estonia , to the south by Lithuania , to the east by the Russian Federation , to the southeast by Belarus and shares maritime borders to the west with Sweden...

, Estonia
Estonia
Estonia , officially the Republic of Estonia , is a state in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia , and to the east by Lake Peipsi and the Russian Federation . Across the Baltic Sea lies...

, and the Russian Pskov
Pskov Oblast
Pskov Oblast is a federal subject of Russia . Pskov Oblast borders the countries of Estonia and Latvia, as well as Belarus. It is the westernmost federal subject of contiguous Russia . Its major cities are the administrative center Pskov and Velikiye Luki . Area: 55,300 km²...

 and Novgorod
Novgorod Oblast
Novgorod Oblast is a federal subject of Russia , located between Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Its administrative center is the city of Veliky Novgorod. Some of the oldest Russian cities, including Veliky Novgorod and Staraya Russa, are located there...

 regions. In Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, they were supported by the local insurgents
Forest Brothers
The Forest Brothers were Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian partisans who waged a guerrilla war against Soviet rule during the Soviet invasion and occupation of the three Baltic states during, and after, World War II...

, "liberating" almost the whole of Lithuania, northern Latvia and southern Estonia prior to the arrival of the German forces.

Army Group Centre
Army Group Centre
Army Group Centre was the name of two distinct German strategic army groups that fought on the Eastern Front in World War II. The first Army Group Centre was created on 22 June 1941, as one of three German Army formations assigned to the invasion of the Soviet Union...

's two panzer groups (2nd and 3rd) advanced to the north and south of Brest-Litovsk and converged east of Minsk
Minsk
- Ecological situation :The ecological situation is monitored by Republican Center of Radioactive and Environmental Control .During 2003–2008 the overall weight of contaminants increased from 186,000 to 247,400 tons. The change of gas as industrial fuel to mazut for financial reasons has worsened...

, followed by the 2nd, 4th, and 9th armies. The combined panzer force reached the Beresina River
Berezina River
The Berezina is a river in Belarus and a tributary of the Dnieper River.The Berezina Preserve by the river is in the UNESCO list of Biosphere Preserves.-Historical significance:...

 in just six days, 650 km (403.9 mi) from their start lines. The next objective was to cross the Dnieper river
Dnieper River
The Dnieper River is one of the major rivers of Europe that flows from Russia, through Belarus and Ukraine, to the Black Sea.The total length is and has a drainage basin of .The river is noted for its dams and hydroelectric stations...

, which was accomplished by 11 July. Following that, their next target was Smolensk
Smolensk
Smolensk is a city and the administrative center of Smolensk Oblast, Russia, located on the Dnieper River. Situated west-southwest of Moscow, this walled city was destroyed several times throughout its long history since it was on the invasion routes of both Napoleon and Hitler. Today, Smolensk...

, which fell on 16 July, but the fierce Soviet resistance in the Smolensk area
Battle of Smolensk (1941)
The Battle of Smolensk was a largely successful encirclement operation by the German Army Group Centre's 2nd Panzer Group led by Heinz Guderian and the 3rd Panzer Group led by Hermann Hoth against parts of four Soviet Fronts during World War II...

 and retardation of Wehrmacht advance in North and South forced Hitler to halt a center thrust at Moscow and to divert Panzer Group 3 north. Critically, Guderian's Panzer Group 2 was ordered to move south in a giant pincer maneuver with Army Group South which was advancing into Ukraine. Army Group Centre's infantry divisions were left relatively unsupported by armor to continue their slow advance to Moscow.

This decision caused a severe leadership crisis. German generals argued for an immediate offensive towards Moscow, but Hitler overruled them, citing the importance of Ukrainian agricultural, mining and industrial resources, as well as the massing of Soviet reserves in the Gomel area between Army Group Centre's southern flank and the bogged-down Army Group South's northern flank. This decision, Hitler's "summer pause", is believed to have had a severe impact on the Battle of Moscow
Battle of Moscow
The Battle of Moscow is the name given by Soviet historians to two periods of strategically significant fighting on a sector of the Eastern Front during World War II. It took place between October 1941 and January 1942. The Soviet defensive effort frustrated Hitler's attack on Moscow, capital of...

's outcome, by giving up speed in the advance on Moscow in favor of encircling large numbers of Soviet troops around Kiev.

Army Group South
Army Group South
Army Group South was the name of a number of German Army Groups during World War II.- Poland campaign :Germany used two army groups to invade Poland in 1939: Army Group North and Army Group South...

, with 1st Panzer Group, 6th, 11th
11th Army (Germany)
The 11th Army was a World War I and a World War II field army.-World War I:The 11th Army was formed in early 1915. It briefly fought on the Western Front during the Battle of Ypres, holding the line against the allied attack...

 and 17th armies
17th Army (Germany)
The German Seventeenth Army was a World War II field army.-Commanding officers:* General der Infanterie Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel * Generaloberst Hermann Hoth...

, was tasked with advancing through Galicia and into Ukraine
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

. Their progress, however, was rather slow, and took heavy casualties in a major tank battle
Battle of Brody (1941)
The Battle of Brody was a tank battle fought between the Panzer Group 1's IIIrd, XLVIII Army Corps and five Soviet Mechanized Corps of the Soviet 5th Army and 6th Army in the triangle formed by the towns Dubno, Lutsk and Brody in Ukraine between 23...

. With the corridor towards Kiev
Kiev
Kiev or Kyiv is the capital and the largest city of Ukraine, located in the north central part of the country on the Dnieper River. The population as of the 2001 census was 2,611,300. However, higher numbers have been cited in the press....

 secured by mid-July, the 11th Army, aided by two Romanian armies, fought its way through Bessarabia
Bessarabia
Bessarabia is a historical term for the geographic region in Eastern Europe bounded by the Dniester River on the east and the Prut River on the west....

 towards Odessa
Odessa
Odessa or Odesa is the administrative center of the Odessa Oblast located in southern Ukraine. The city is a major seaport located on the northwest shore of the Black Sea and the fourth largest city in Ukraine with a population of 1,029,000 .The predecessor of Odessa, a small Tatar settlement,...

. The 1st Panzer Group turned away from Kiev for the moment, advancing into the Dnieper bend (western Dnipropetrovsk Oblast
Dnipropetrovsk Oblast
Dnipropetrovsk Oblast is an oblast of central Ukraine, the most important industrial region of the country. Its administrative center is Dnipropetrovsk....

). When it joined up with the southern elements of Army Group South at Uman, the Group captured about 100,000 Soviet prisoners
Battle of Uman
The Battle of Uman was the German and allied encirclement of the 6th and 12th The Battle of Uman (15 July–8 August 1941) was the German and allied encirclement of the 6th (General Lieutenant I.N. Muzyrchenko) and 12th The Battle of Uman (15 July–8 August 1941) was the German and allied...

 in a huge encirclement. Advancing armored divisions of the Army Group South met with the Guderian's Panzer Group 2 near Lokhvytsa
Lokhvytsia
Lokhvytsia is a city in the Poltava Oblast of central Ukraine. It is the administrative center of the Lokhvytskyi Raion , and is located on the banks of Lokhvytsia River.The current estimated population is around 21,400 ....

 in mid September, cutting off large numbers of Red Army troops in the pocket east of Kiev
Kiev
Kiev or Kyiv is the capital and the largest city of Ukraine, located in the north central part of the country on the Dnieper River. The population as of the 2001 census was 2,611,300. However, higher numbers have been cited in the press....

. 400,000 Soviet prisoners
Nazi crimes against Soviet POWs
The Nazi crimes against Soviet Prisoners of War relate to the deliberately genocidal policies taken towards the captured soldiers of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany...

 were captured as Kiev was surrendered
Battle of Kiev (1941)
The Battle of Kiev was the German name for the operation that resulted in a very large encirclement of Soviet troops in the vicinity of Kiev during World War II. It is considered the largest encirclement of troops in history. The operation ran from 23 August – 26 September 1941 as part of Operation...

 on 19 September.
As the Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

 withdrew behind the Dnieper and Dvina rivers, the Soviet Stavka
Stavka
Stavka was the term used to refer to a command element of the armed forces from the time of the Kievan Rus′, more formally during the history of Imperial Russia as administrative staff and General Headquarters during late 19th Century Imperial Russian armed forces and those of the Soviet Union...

 turned its attention to evacuating as much of the western regions' industry as it could. Factories were dismantled and packed onto flatcars, away from the front line
Front line
A front line is the farthest-most forward position of an armed force's personnel and equipment - generally in respect of maritime or land forces. Forward Line of Own Troops , or Forward Edge of Battle Area are technical terms used by all branches of the armed services...

, re-establishing it in more remote areas of the Urals
Ural Mountains
The Ural Mountains , or simply the Urals, are a mountain range that runs approximately from north to south through western Russia, from the coast of the Arctic Ocean to the Ural River and northwestern Kazakhstan. Their eastern side is usually considered the natural boundary between Europe and Asia...

, Caucasus
Caucasus
The Caucasus, also Caucas or Caucasia , is a geopolitical region at the border of Europe and Asia, and situated between the Black and the Caspian sea...

, Central Asia
Central Asia
Central Asia is a core region of the Asian continent from the Caspian Sea in the west, China in the east, Afghanistan in the south, and Russia in the north...

 and south-eastern Siberia
Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

. Most civilians were left to make their own way East as only the industry-related workers could be evacuated with the equipment, and much of the population was left behind to the mercy of the invading forces.

Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

 ordered the retreating Red Army to initiate a scorched earth policy to deny Germans and their allies basic supplies as they moved eastward. To carry out that order, the destruction battalions
Destruction battalions
Destruction battalions, colloquially destroyers or strybki was a paramilitary organisation in the western Soviet Union, which fulfilled tasks of internal security in the Eastern Front and after it.-Background:...

 were formed in front line area, having authority to summarily execute any suspicious person. The destruction battalions burned down villages, schools and public buildings. As a part of this policy, NKVD
NKVD
The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs was the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union that directly executed the rule of power of the Soviets, including political repression, during the era of Joseph Stalin....

 committed prisoner massacres where thousands of anti-Soviet prisoners were executed.

Moscow and Rostov: Autumn 1941



Hitler then decided to resume the advance to Moscow, re-designating the panzer groups as panzer armies for the occasion. Operation Typhoon
Battle of Moscow
The Battle of Moscow is the name given by Soviet historians to two periods of strategically significant fighting on a sector of the Eastern Front during World War II. It took place between October 1941 and January 1942. The Soviet defensive effort frustrated Hitler's attack on Moscow, capital of...

, which was set in motion on 30 September, saw 2nd Panzer Army rush along the paved road from Orel
Oryol
Oryol or Orel is a city and the administrative center of Oryol Oblast, Russia, located on the Oka River, approximately south-southwest of Moscow...

 (captured 5 October) to the Oka river
Oka River
Oka is a river in central Russia, the largest right tributary of the Volga. It flows through the regions of Oryol, Tula, Kaluga, Moscow, Ryazan, Vladimir, and Nizhny Novgorod and is navigable over a large part of its total length, as far upstream as to the town of Kaluga. Its length exceeds...

 at Plavskoye, while the 4th Panzer Army (transferred from Army Group North to Centre) and 3rd Panzer armies surrounded the Soviet forces in two huge pockets at Vyazma
Vyazma
Vyazma is a town and the administrative center of Vyazemsky District of Smolensk Oblast, Russia, located on the Vyazma River, about halfway between Smolensk and Mozhaysk. Throughout its turbulent history, the city defended western approaches to the city of Moscow...

 and Bryansk
Bryansk
Bryansk is a city and the administrative center of Bryansk Oblast, Russia, located southwest of Moscow. Population: -History:The first written mention of Bryansk was in 1146, in the Hypatian Codex, as Debryansk...

. Army Group North positioned itself in front of Leningrad
Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea...

 and attempted to cut the rail link at Mga
Mga
Mga is an urban locality in Kirovsky District of Leningrad Oblast, Russia. Population: The name is almost certainly from the identically named river Mga on which it lies ; the suggestion that it comes from the initials of the owner of the land in the 19th century, Maria Grigorievna Apraksin Mga ...

 to the east. This began the 900-day Siege of Leningrad
Siege of Leningrad
The Siege of Leningrad, also known as the Leningrad Blockade was a prolonged military operation resulting from the failure of the German Army Group North to capture Leningrad, now known as Saint Petersburg, in the Eastern Front theatre of World War II. It started on 8 September 1941, when the last...

. North of the Arctic Circle
Arctic Circle
The Arctic Circle is one of the five major circles of latitude that mark maps of the Earth. For Epoch 2011, it is the parallel of latitude that runs north of the Equator....

, a German-Finnish force set out for Murmansk
Operation Silver Fox
Operation Silver Fox was a joint German–Finnish military operation plan during World War II, though it was mainly operated and engaged by Germans. Its main goal was the capture of the key Soviet port at Murmansk through attacks from Finnish and Norwegian territory.The operation had to be three...

 but could get no further than the Zapadnaya Litsa River
Zapadnaya Litsa River
Zapadnaya Litsa River is a river in the north of the Kola Peninsula in Murmansk Oblast, Russia. It is 107 km in length. The area of its basin is 1,190 km². The Zapadnaya Litsa River originates on the Kuchintundra and flows into the Barents Sea...

, where they settled down.
Army Group South pushed down from the Dnieper to the Sea of Azov
Sea of Azov
The Sea of Azov , known in Classical Antiquity as Lake Maeotis, is a sea on the south of Eastern Europe. It is linked by the narrow Strait of Kerch to the Black Sea to the south and is bounded on the north by Ukraine mainland, on the east by Russia, and on the west by the Ukraine's Crimean...

 coast, also advancing through Kharkov, Kursk
Kursk
Kursk is a city and the administrative center of Kursk Oblast, Russia, located at the confluence of the Kur, Tuskar, and Seym Rivers. The area around Kursk was site of a turning point in the Russian-German struggle during World War II and the site of the largest tank battle in history...

, and Stalino. The 11th Army moved into the Crimea
Crimea
Crimea , or the Autonomous Republic of Crimea , is a sub-national unit, an autonomous republic, of Ukraine. It is located on the northern coast of the Black Sea, occupying a peninsula of the same name...

 and took control of all of the peninsula
Peninsula
A peninsula is a piece of land that is bordered by water on three sides but connected to mainland. In many Germanic and Celtic languages and also in Baltic, Slavic and Hungarian, peninsulas are called "half-islands"....

 by autumn (except Sevastopol
Sevastopol
Sevastopol is a city on rights of administrative division of Ukraine, located on the Black Sea coast of the Crimea peninsula. It has a population of 342,451 . Sevastopol is the second largest port in Ukraine, after the Port of Odessa....

, which held out until 3 July 1942). On 21 November, the Germans took Rostov
Battle of Rostov (1941)
The article is about the German Army Group South Sea of Azov Offensive Operation commanded by General Gerd von Rundstedt, the Soviet Rostov Defensive Operation by the Southern Front commanded by General-Colonel Yakov Cherevichenko, and the Rostov Offensive Operation executed by the...

, the gateway to the Caucasus
Caucasus
The Caucasus, also Caucas or Caucasia , is a geopolitical region at the border of Europe and Asia, and situated between the Black and the Caspian sea...

. However, the German lines were over-extended and the Soviet defenders counterattacked the 1st Panzer Army's spearhead from the north, forcing them to pull out of the city and behind the Mius River
Mius River
Mius is a river in Eastern Europe that flows through Ukraine and Russia. It starts in the Donets Range of Donetsk Oblast and flows through Luhansk Oblast, Ukraine and Rostov Oblast, Russia into the Mius Firth of the Sea of Azov, west of Taganrog...

; the first significant German withdrawal
Withdrawal (military)
A withdrawal is a type of military operation, generally meaning retreating forces back while maintaining contact with the enemy. A withdrawal may be undertaken as part of a general retreat, to consolidate forces, to occupy ground that is more easily defended, or to lead the enemy into an ambush...

 of the war.


The onset of the freeze of winter saw one last German lunge that opened on 15 November, when the Germans attempted to throw a ring around Moscow. On 27 November the 4th Panzer Army got within 30 km (18.6 mi) of the Kremlin
Moscow Kremlin
The Moscow Kremlin , sometimes referred to as simply The Kremlin, is a historic fortified complex at the heart of Moscow, overlooking the Moskva River , Saint Basil's Cathedral and Red Square and the Alexander Garden...

 when it reached the last tramstop of the Moscow line at Khimki
Khimki
Khimki is a city in Moscow Oblast, Russia, situated just northwest of Moscow, at the west bank of the Moscow Canal. Population: 207,125 ; 141,000 ; 106,000 ; 23,000 .-History:...

. Meanwhile, the 2nd Panzer Army, despite its best efforts, failed to take Tula
Tula, Russia
Tula is an industrial city and the administrative center of Tula Oblast, Russia. It is located south of Moscow, on the Upa River. Population: -History:...

, the last Soviet city that stood in its way of the capital. After a meeting held in Orsha
Orsha
Orsha is a city in Belarus in Vitebsk voblast on the fork of the Dnieper and Arshytsa rivers.-Facts:*Location: *Population: 125,000 *Phone code: +375 216*Postal codes: 211030, 211381–211394, 211396–211398-History:...

 between the head of the Army General Staff
Oberkommando des Heeres
The Oberkommando des Heeres was Nazi Germany's High Command of the Army from 1936 to 1945. The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht commanded OKH only in theory...

, General Franz Halder
Franz Halder
Franz Halder was a German General and the head of the Army General Staff from 1938 until September, 1942, when he was dismissed after frequent disagreements with Adolf Hitler.-Early life:...

, and the heads of three Army
Army group
An army group is a military organization consisting of several field armies, which is self-sufficient for indefinite periods. It is usually responsible for a particular geographic area...

 groups and armies, it was decided to push forward to Moscow
Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

 since it was better, as argued by head of Army Group Center, Field Marshal
Field Marshal
Field Marshal is a military rank. Traditionally, it is the highest military rank in an army.-Etymology:The origin of the rank of field marshal dates to the early Middle Ages, originally meaning the keeper of the king's horses , from the time of the early Frankish kings.-Usage and hierarchical...

 Fedor von Bock
Fedor von Bock
Fedor von Bock was a German Generalfeldmarshall who served in the Wehrmacht during the Second World War. As a leader who lectured his soldiers about the honor of dying for the German Fatherland, he was nicknamed "Der Sterber"...

, for them to try their luck on the battlefield rather than just sit and wait while their opponent gathered more strength.

However, by 6 December it became clear that the Wehrmacht
Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

 was too weak to capture Moscow and the attack was put on hold. Marshal
Marshal
Marshal , is a word used in several official titles of various branches of society. The word is an ancient loan word from Old French, cf...

 Shaposhnikov
Shaposhnikov
Shaposhninkov is a surname, and may refer to:*Adrian Shaposhnikov, 1888-1967, composer*Boris Shaposhnikov, Soviet military commander in the interwar period...

 thus began his counter-attack
Counter-Attack
Counter-Attack is a 1945 war film starring Paul Muni and Marguerite Chapman as two Russians trapped in a collapsed building with seven enemy German soldiers during World War II...

, employing freshly mobilized reserves
Military reserve force
A military reserve force is a military organization composed of citizens of a country who combine a military role or career with a civilian career. They are not normally kept under arms and their main role is to be available to fight when a nation mobilizes for total war or to defend against invasion...

, as well as some well-trained Far-Eastern divisions transferred from the east following the guarantee of neutrality from Japan.

Soviet counter-offensive: Winter 1941



During the autumn, Stalin had been transferring fresh, well-equipped Soviet forces from Siberia and the Far East to Moscow. On 5 December 1941, these reinforcements attacked the German lines around Moscow, supported by new T-34 tanks and Katyusha rocket launchers. The new Soviet troops were better-prepared for winter warfare than their foes, and they also included several ski battalions
Ski warfare
Ski warfare, the use of ski-equipped troops in war, is first recorded by the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus in the 13th century. The speed and distance that ski troops are able to cover is comparable to that of light cavalry.-History:...

. The exhausted and freezing Germans were driven away from Moscow on 7 January 1942.

A further Soviet attack was mounted in late January, focusing on the junction between Army groups North and Centre between Lake Seliger
Lake Seliger
Seliger is a lake in Tver Oblast and, in the extreme northern part, Novgorod Oblast of Russia, in the northwest of the Valdai Hills, a part of the Volga basin. Absolute height: 205 m, area 212 km², average depth 5.8 m....

 and Rzhev
Rzhev
Rzhev is a town in Tver Oblast, Russia, southwest of Staritsa and from Tver, on the highway and railway connecting Moscow and Riga. It is the uppermost town situated on the Volga River. Population:...

, and drove a gap between the two German army groups. In concert with the advance from Kaluga
Kaluga
Kaluga is a city and the administrative center of Kaluga Oblast, Russia, located on the Oka River southwest of Moscow. Population: It is served by Grabtsevo Airport.-History:...

 to the south-west of Moscow, it was intended that the two offensives converge on Smolensk, but the Germans rallied and managed to hold them apart, retaining a salient
Salients, re-entrants and pockets
A salient is a battlefield feature that projects into enemy territory. The salient is surrounded by the enemy on three sides, making the troops occupying the salient vulnerable. The enemy's line facing a salient is referred to as a re-entrant...

 at Rzhev. A Soviet parachute drop
Paratrooper
Paratroopers are soldiers trained in parachuting and generally operate as part of an airborne force.Paratroopers are used for tactical advantage as they can be inserted into the battlefield from the air, thereby allowing them to be positioned in areas not accessible by land...

 on German-held Dorogobuzh
Dorogobuzh
Dorogobuzh is a historic town and the administrative center of Dorogobuzhsky District of Smolensk Oblast, Russia, straddling the Dnieper River to the east of Smolensk and west of Vyazma. Population:...

 was spectacularly unsuccessful, and those paratroopers who survived had to escape to the partisan-held areas beginning to swell behind German lines. To the north, the Soviets surrounded a German garrison
Garrison
Garrison is the collective term for a body of troops stationed in a particular location, originally to guard it, but now often simply using it as a home base....

 in Demyansk
Demyansk
Demyansk is an urban locality and the administrative center of Demyansky District of Novgorod Oblast, Russia, located along the Yavon River. Population:...

, which held out with air supply for four months, and established themselves in front of Kholm, Velizh
Velizh
Velizh is a town and the administrative center of Velizhsky District of Smolensk Oblast, Russia, situated on the bank of the Western Dvina, from Smolensk. Population:...

, and Velikie Luki.

Further north still, the Second Shock Army was unleashed on the Volkhov River
Volkhov River
Volkhov is a river in Novgorod Oblast and Leningrad Oblast in northwestern Russia.-Geography:The Volkhov flows out of Lake Ilmen north into Lake Ladoga, the largest lake of Europe. It is the second largest tributary of Lake Ladoga. It is navigable over its whole length. Discharge is highly...

. Initially this made some progress; however, it was unsupported, and by June a German counterattack cut off and destroyed the army. The Soviet commander, Lieutenant General Andrey Vlasov
Andrey Vlasov
Andrey Andreyevich Vlasov or Wlassow was a Russian Red Army general who collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II.-Early career:...

 later became known for defecting to the Germans and forming the ROA or Russian Liberation Army
Russian Liberation Army
Russian Liberation Army was a group of predominantly Russian forces subordinated to the Nazi German high command during World War II....

.

In the south the Red Army lunged over the Donets River at Izyum and drove a 100 km (62.1 mi) deep salient. The intent was to pin Army Group South against the Sea of Azov
Sea of Azov
The Sea of Azov , known in Classical Antiquity as Lake Maeotis, is a sea on the south of Eastern Europe. It is linked by the narrow Strait of Kerch to the Black Sea to the south and is bounded on the north by Ukraine mainland, on the east by Russia, and on the west by the Ukraine's Crimean...

, but as the winter eased the Germans were able to counter-attack and cut off the over-extended Soviet troops in the Second Battle of Kharkov
Second Battle of Kharkov
The Second Battle of Kharkov, so named by Wilhelm Keitel, was an Axis counter-offensive against the Red Army Izium bridgehead offensive conducted from 12 May to 28 May 1942, on the Eastern Front during World War II. Its objective was to eliminate the Izium bridgehead over Seversky Donets, or the...

.

Don, Volga, and Caucasus: Summer 1942




Although plans were made to attack Moscow again, on 28 June 1942, the offensive re-opened in a different direction. Army Group South took the initiative, anchoring the front with the Battle of Voronezh
Battle of Voronezh (1942)
The Battle of Voronezh was a battle on the Eastern Front of World War II, fought in and around the strategically important city of Voronezh on the Don river, south of Moscow, from 28 June-24 July 1942, as opening move of the German summer offensive in 1942....

 and then following the Don river southeastwards. The grand plan was to secure the Don and Volga first and then drive into the Caucasus towards the oilfields, but operational considerations and Hitler's vanity made him order both objectives to be attempted simultaneously. Rostov was recaptured on 24 July when 1st Panzer Army joined in, and then that group drove south towards Maikop
Maykop
Maykop is the capital city of the Republic of Adygea, Russia, located on the right bank of the Belaya River . Population: -History:...

. As part of this, Operation Shamil was executed, a plan whereby a group of Brandenburger commandos dressed up as Soviet NKVD
NKVD
The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs was the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union that directly executed the rule of power of the Soviets, including political repression, during the era of Joseph Stalin....

 troops to destabilise Maikop's defenses and allow the 1st Panzer Army to enter the oil town with little opposition.

Meanwhile, 6th Army was driving towards Stalingrad, for a long period unsupported by 4th Panzer Army, which had been diverted to help 1st Panzer Army cross the Don. By the time 4th Panzer Army had rejoined the Stalingrad offensive, Soviet resistance (comprising the 62nd Army under Vasily Chuikov
Vasily Chuikov
Vasily Ivanovich Chuikov was a Russian lieutenant general in the Red Army during World War II, twice Hero of the Soviet Union , who after the war became a Marshal of the Soviet Union.-Early life and career:Born into a peasant family in the village of Serebryanye Prudy, he joined the Red Army during...

) had stiffened. A leap across the Don brought German troops to the Volga on 23 August but for the next three months the Wehrmacht
Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

 would be fighting the Battle of Stalingrad
Battle of Stalingrad
The Battle of Stalingrad was a major battle of World War II in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad in southwestern Russia. The battle took place between 23 August 1942 and 2 February 1943...

 street-by-street.


Towards the south 1st Panzer Army had reached the Caucasian foothills and the Malka River
Malka River
Malka River , also known as Balyksu River , is a river in Kabardino-Balkaria in Russia, Terek's left tributary. The length of the river is 210 km. The area of its basin is 10,000 km². The Malka originates in the glaciers on the northern slopes of Mount Elbrus. Its main tributary is the...

. At the end of August Romanian mountain troops joined the Caucasian spearhead, while the Romanian 3rd and 4th armies were redeployed from their successful task of clearing the Azov littoral
Littoral
The littoral zone is that part of a sea, lake or river that is close to the shore. In coastal environments the littoral zone extends from the high water mark, which is rarely inundated, to shoreline areas that are permanently submerged. It always includes this intertidal zone and is often used to...

. They took up position on either side of Stalingrad to free German troops for the proper fighting. Mindful of the continuing antagonism between Axis allies Romania and Hungary
Hungary
Hungary , officially the Republic of Hungary , is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is situated in the Carpathian Basin and is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Serbia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. The...

 over Transylvania
Transylvania
Transylvania is a historical region in the central part of Romania. Bounded on the east and south by the Carpathian mountain range, historical Transylvania extended in the west to the Apuseni Mountains; however, the term sometimes encompasses not only Transylvania proper, but also the historical...

, the Romanian army in the Don bend was separated from the Hungarian 2nd army by the Italian 8th Army. Thus all of Hitler's allies were involved – including a Slovakia
Slovakia
The Slovak Republic is a landlocked state in Central Europe. It has a population of over five million and an area of about . Slovakia is bordered by the Czech Republic and Austria to the west, Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east and Hungary to the south...

n contingent with 1st Panzer Army and a Croatia
Croatia
Croatia , officially the Republic of Croatia , is a unitary democratic parliamentary republic in Europe at the crossroads of the Mitteleuropa, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean. Its capital and largest city is Zagreb. The country is divided into 20 counties and the city of Zagreb. Croatia covers ...

n regiment
Regiment
A regiment is a major tactical military unit, composed of variable numbers of batteries, squadrons or battalions, commanded by a colonel or lieutenant colonel...

 attached to 6th Army.

The advance into the Caucasus bogged down, with the Germans unable to fight their way past Malgobek
Malgobek
Malgobek is a town in the Republic of Ingushetia, Russia, located northwest of the republic's capital Magas. Population: Malgobek was founded in 1935 as a settlement for workers at then recently discovered oilfields, on the territory of former Ingush villages of Malgobek-Balka and Chechen-Balka...

 and to the main prize of Grozny
Grozny
Grozny is the capital city of the Chechen Republic, Russia. The city lies on the Sunzha River. According to the preliminary results of the 2010 Census, the city had a population of 271,596; up from 210,720 recorded in the 2002 Census. but still only about two-thirds of 399,688 recorded in the 1989...

. Instead they switched the direction of their advance to approach it from the south, crossing the Malka at the end of October and entering North Ossetia
Ossetia
Ossetia Ossetic: Ир, Ирыстон Ir, Iryston; Russian: Осетия, Osetiya; Georgian: ოსეთი, Oset'i) is an ethnolinguistic region located on both sides of the Greater Caucasus Mountains, largely inhabited by the Ossetians. The Ossetian language is part of the Eastern Iranian branch of the Indo-European...

. In the first week of November, on the outskirts of Ordzhonikidze, the 13th Panzer Division's spearhead was snipped off and the panzer troops had to fall back. The offensive into Russia was over.

Stalingrad: Winter 1942




While the German 6th Army and 4th Panzer Army had been fighting their way into Stalingrad, Soviet armies had congregated on either side of the city, specifically into the Don bridgehead
Bridgehead
A bridgehead is a High Middle Ages military term, which antedating the invention of cannons was in the original meaning expressly a referent term to the military fortification that protects the end of a bridge...

s that the Romanians did not reduce, and it was from these that they struck on 19 November 1942. In Operation Uranus
Operation Uranus
Operation Uranus was the codename of the Soviet strategic operation in World War II which led to the encirclement of the German Sixth Army, the Third and Fourth Romanian armies, and portions of the German Fourth Panzer Army. The operation formed part of the ongoing Battle of Stalingrad, and was...

, two Soviet fronts punched through the Romanian lines and converged at Kalach
Kalach-na-Donu
Kalach-na-Donu , or Kalach-on-the-Don, is a town and the administrative center of Kalachyovsky District of Volgograd Oblast, Russia, located on the Don River west of Volgograd. Population: It was founded in 1708 as a Cossack sloboda...

 on 23 November, trapping 300,000 Axis troops behind them. A simultaneous offensive on the Rzhev sector known as Operation Mars
Operation Mars
Operation Mars was the codename for the Rzhev offensive operation part of the Rzhev-Vyazma strategic offensive operation launched by Soviet forces against German forces during World War II. It took place between 25 November and 20 December 1942 in a salient in the vicinity of Moscow...

 was supposed to advance to Smolensk, but was a failure, with German tactical flair winning the day.


The Germans rushed to transfer troops to Russia for a desperate attempt to relieve Stalingrad, but the offensive could not get going until 12 December, by which time the 6th Army in Stalingrad was starving and too weak to break out towards it. Operation Winter Storm
Operation Wintergewitter
Operation Winter Storm was a German offensive in World War II, undertaken between 12–23 December 1942, in which the German 4th Panzer-Armee failed to break the encirclement of Axis forces during the Battle of Stalingrad....

, with three transferred panzer divisions, got going briskly from Kotelnikovo
Kotelnikovo
Kotelnikovo is a town and the administrative center of Kotelnikovsky District of Volgograd Oblast, Russia, located on the Kurmoyarsky Aksay River , southwest of Volgograd...

 towards the Aksai river but became bogged down 65 km (40.4 mi) short of its goal. To divert the rescue attempt the Soviets decided to smash the Italians and come down behind the relief attempt if they could, that operation starting on 16 December. What it did accomplish was to destroy many of the aircraft that had been transporting relief supplies to Stalingrad. The fairly limited scope of the Soviet offensive, although still eventually targeted on Rostov, also allowed Hitler time to see sense and pull Army Group A out of the Caucasus and back over the Don.

On 31 January 1943, the 90,000 survivors of the 300,000-man 6th Army surrendered. By that time the Hungarian 2nd Army had also been wiped out. The Soviets advanced from the Don 500 km (310.7 mi) to the west of Stalingrad, marching through Kursk
Kursk
Kursk is a city and the administrative center of Kursk Oblast, Russia, located at the confluence of the Kur, Tuskar, and Seym Rivers. The area around Kursk was site of a turning point in the Russian-German struggle during World War II and the site of the largest tank battle in history...

 (retaken on 8 February 1943) and Kharkov (retaken 16 February 1943). In order to save the position in the south, the Germans decided to abandon the Rzhev salient in February, freeing enough troops to make a successful riposte
Riposte
In fencing, the riposte is an offensive action with the intent of hitting one's opponent, made by the fencer who has just parried an attack....

 in eastern Ukraine. Manstein's counteroffensive, strengthened by a specially trained SS Panzer Corps
II SS Panzer Corps
The II SS Panzer Corps was a Nazi German Waffen-SS armoured corps which saw action on both the Eastern and Western Fronts during World War II.- Formation - Kharkov :...

 equipped with Tiger tank
Tiger I
Tiger I is the common name of a German heavy tank developed in 1942 and used in World War II. The final official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. E, often shortened to Tiger. It was an answer to the unexpectedly formidable Soviet armour encountered in the initial months of...

s, opened on 20 February 1943, and fought its way from Poltava
Poltava
Poltava is a city in located on the Vorskla River in central Ukraine. It is the administrative center of the Poltava Oblast , as well as the surrounding Poltava Raion of the oblast. Poltava's estimated population is 298,652 ....

 back into Kharkov
Third Battle of Kharkov
The Third Battle of Kharkov was a series of offensive operations on the Eastern Front of World War II, undertaken by the German Army Group South against the Red Army, around the city of Kharkov , between 19 February and 15 March 1943...

 in the third week of March, upon which the spring thaw intervened. This had left a glaring bulge in the front centered on Kursk.

Kursk: Summer 1943




After the failure of the attempt to capture Stalingrad, Hitler had deferred planning authority for the upcoming campaign season to the German Army High Command and reinstated Guderian
Heinz Guderian
Heinz Wilhelm Guderian was a German general during World War II. He was a pioneer in the development of armored warfare, and was the leading proponent of tanks and mechanization in the Wehrmacht . Germany's panzer forces were raised and organized under his direction as Chief of Mobile Forces...

 to a prominent role, this time as Inspector of Panzer Troops. Debate among the General Staff was polarised, with even Hitler nervous about any attempt to pinch off the Kursk salient. He knew that in the intervening six months the Soviet position at Kursk had been reinforced heavily with anti-tank guns, tank traps, landmines
Land mine
A land mine is usually a weight-triggered explosive device which is intended to damage a target—either human or inanimate—by means of a blast and/or fragment impact....

, barbed wire
Barbed wire
Barbed wire, also known as barb wire , is a type of fencing wire constructed with sharp edges or points arranged at intervals along the strand. It is used to construct inexpensive fences and is used atop walls surrounding secured property...

, trenches
Trench warfare
Trench warfare is a form of occupied fighting lines, consisting largely of trenches, in which troops are largely immune to the enemy's small arms fire and are substantially sheltered from artillery...

, pillboxes, artillery
Artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 and mortars
Mortar (weapon)
A mortar is an indirect fire weapon that fires explosive projectiles known as bombs at low velocities, short ranges, and high-arcing ballistic trajectories. It is typically muzzle-loading and has a barrel length less than 15 times its caliber....

. However, if one last great blitzkrieg
Blitzkrieg
For other uses of the word, see: Blitzkrieg Blitzkrieg is an anglicized word describing all-motorised force concentration of tanks, infantry, artillery, combat engineers and air power, concentrating overwhelming force at high speed to break through enemy lines, and, once the lines are broken,...

 offensive could be mounted, just maybe the Soviets would ease off and attention could then be turned to the Allied threat to the Western Front
Western Front (World War II)
The Western Front of the European Theatre of World War II encompassed, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and West Germany. The Western Front was marked by two phases of large-scale ground combat operations...

. The advance would be executed from the Orel salient to the north of Kursk and from Belgorod
Belgorod
-Twin towns/sister cities:Belgorod is twinned with: Wakefield, England, United Kingdom Herne, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany Palembang, South Sumatra, Indonesia Opole, Poland Vyshhorod, Ukraine Kharkiv, Ukraine-External links:...

 to the south. Both wings would converge on the area east of Kursk
Kursk
Kursk is a city and the administrative center of Kursk Oblast, Russia, located at the confluence of the Kur, Tuskar, and Seym Rivers. The area around Kursk was site of a turning point in the Russian-German struggle during World War II and the site of the largest tank battle in history...

, and by that means restore the lines of Army Group South
Army Group South
Army Group South was the name of a number of German Army Groups during World War II.- Poland campaign :Germany used two army groups to invade Poland in 1939: Army Group North and Army Group South...

 to the exact points that it held over the winter of 1941–1942.

Although the Germans knew that the Red Army's reserves of manpower had been bled dry in the summer of 1941 and 1942, the Soviets were still re-equipping, simply by drafting the men from the regions taken back.

Under pressure from his generals, Hitler agreed to the attack on Kursk, little realising that the Abwehr
Abwehr
The Abwehr was a German military intelligence organisation from 1921 to 1944. The term Abwehr was used as a concession to Allied demands that Germany's post-World War I intelligence activities be for "defensive" purposes only...

s intelligence on the Soviet position there had been undermined by a concerted Stavka
Stavka
Stavka was the term used to refer to a command element of the armed forces from the time of the Kievan Rus′, more formally during the history of Imperial Russia as administrative staff and General Headquarters during late 19th Century Imperial Russian armed forces and those of the Soviet Union...

 misinformation and counter-intelligence
Counter-intelligence
Counterintelligence or counter-intelligence refers to efforts made by intelligence organizations to prevent hostile or enemy intelligence organizations from successfully gathering and collecting intelligence against them. National intelligence programs, and, by extension, the overall defenses of...

 campaign mounted by the Lucy spy ring
Lucy spy ring
In World War II espionage, the Lucy spy ring was an anti-German operation that was headquartered in Switzerland. It was run by Rudolf Roessler, a German refugee and ostensibly the proprietor of a small publishing firm, Vita Nova...

 in Switzerland
Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

. When the Germans began the operation, it was after months of delays waiting for new tanks and equipment, by which time the Soviets had reinforced the Kursk salient with more anti-tank firepower than had ever been assembled in one place before or since that day.


In the north, the entire German Ninth Army had been redeployed from the Rzhev salient into the Orel salient and was to advance from Maloarkhangelsk to Kursk. But its forces could not even get past the first objective at Olkhovatka, just 8 km (5 mi) into the advance. The 9th Army blunted its spearhead against the Soviet minefields
Land mine
A land mine is usually a weight-triggered explosive device which is intended to damage a target—either human or inanimate—by means of a blast and/or fragment impact....

, frustratingly so considering that the high ground there was the only natural barrier between them and flat tank country all the way to Kursk. The direction of advance was then switched to Ponyri, to the west of Olkhovatka, but the 9th Army could not break through here either and went over to the defensive. The Soviets soaked up the German punishment and then struck back
Operation Kutuzov
Operation Kutuzov was a military operation by the Red Army in its fight against the German Wehrmacht during World War II. It was named after Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov, the Tsarist General credited with saving Russia from defeat during the invasion by Napoleon in 1812.The Operation began on 12...

. On 12 July the Red Army battled through the demarcation line between the 211th and 293rd divisions on the Zhizdra River
Zhizdra River
Zhizdra River is a river in Kaluga Oblast in Russia, Oka's left tributary. The length of the river is 223 km. The area of its basin is 9,170 km². the Zhizdra River freezes up in late November and stays icebound until early April. Its main tributaries are the Resseta, Vytebet, and Serena. The towns...

 and steamed towards Karachev
Karachev
Karachev is an old town in Karachevsky District of Bryansk Oblast, Russia. In the Middle Ages, it was the capital of one of the Upper Principalities, until its rulers moved their seat to Peremyshl. Its old architecture was heavily damaged during the World War II...

, right behind them and behind Orel.
The southern offensive, spearheaded by 4th Panzer Army, led by Gen. Col. Hoth
Hermann Hoth
Hermann "Papa" Hoth was an officer in the German military from 1903 to 1945. He attained the rank of Generaloberst during World War II. He fought in France, but is most noted for his later exploits as a panzer commander on the Eastern Front...

, with three Tank Corps made more headway. Advancing on either side of the upper Donets on a narrow corridor, the II SS Panzer Corps
II SS Panzer Corps
The II SS Panzer Corps was a Nazi German Waffen-SS armoured corps which saw action on both the Eastern and Western Fronts during World War II.- Formation - Kharkov :...

 and the Großdeutschland Panzergrenadier divisions battled their way through minefields and over comparatively high ground towards Oboyan
Oboyan
Oboyan is a town and the administrative center of Oboyansky District of Kursk Oblast, Russia, located south of Kursk on the right bank of the Psyol River at its confluence with the Oboyanka River. Population:...

. Stiff resistance caused a change of direction from east to west of the front, but the tanks got 25 km (15.5 mi) before encountering the reserves of the Soviet 5th Guards Tank Army outside Prokhorovka
Prokhorovka
Prokhorovka is an urban locality and the administrative center of Prokhorovsky District of Belgorod Oblast, Russia, located along the Psyol River southwest of the city of Kursk. Population:...

. Battle was joined on 12 July, with about one thousand tanks doing battle. After the war, the battle near Prochorovka was idealized by the Soviet historian
Historian
A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is...

s as the biggest tank battle of all time. The meeting engagement at Prochorovka was a Soviet defensive success, albeit at heavy cost. The Soviet 5th Guards Tank Army, with about 800 light and medium tanks, attacked elements of the II SS Panzer Corps. Tank losses on both sides have been the source of controversy ever since. Although the 5th Guards Tank Army did not attain their terrain objectives, the German advance was halted.

At the end of the day both sides had fought each other to a standstill, but regardless of the standstill in the north Manstein intended to continue the attack with the 4th Panzer Army. But the Soviets could absorb the attack, and German strategic advance Operation Citadel had been halted. Under the impression of the successful counter-attack
Counter-Attack
Counter-Attack is a 1945 war film starring Paul Muni and Marguerite Chapman as two Russians trapped in a collapsed building with seven enemy German soldiers during World War II...

 operations in the south the Red Army started the strong offensive operation in the northern Orel salient and achieved a breakthrough on the flank of the German 9th Army. Also worried by the Allies' landing in Sicily on 10 July, Hitler made the decision to halve the offensive even as the German 9th Army was rapidly giving ground in the north. The Germans' final strategic offensive in the Soviet Union ended with their defense against a major Soviet counteroffensive that lasted into August. A detailed analysis of this campaign is available in the Battle of Kursk article
Battle of Kursk
The Battle of Kursk took place when German and Soviet forces confronted each other on the Eastern Front during World War II in the vicinity of the city of Kursk, in the Soviet Union in July and August 1943. It remains both the largest series of armored clashes, including the Battle of Prokhorovka,...

.

The Kursk offensive was the last on the scale of 1940 and 1941 the Wehrmacht was able to launch, and subsequent offensives would represent only a shadow of previous German offensive might. Following the defeat, Hitler would not trust his generals to the same extent again, and the quality of German strategic decision fell correspondingly. The Battle of Kursk cost Hitler over 200,000 troopers and 1,000 tanks, forever dispelling the last hope of the German Army for victory or even stalemate in the East.

Autumn and Winter 1943–44




The Soviet juggernaut got rolling in earnest with the advance into the Germans' Orel salient. The diversion of the well-equipped Grossdeutschland Division from Belgorod to Karachev could not stop it, and a strategic decision was made to abandon Orel (retaken by the Red Army on 5 August 1943) and fall back to the Hagen line in front of Bryansk
Bryansk
Bryansk is a city and the administrative center of Bryansk Oblast, Russia, located southwest of Moscow. Population: -History:The first written mention of Bryansk was in 1146, in the Hypatian Codex, as Debryansk...

. To the south, the Soviets blasted through Army Group South's Belgorod positions and headed for Kharkov once again. Though intense battles of movement throughout late July and into August 1943 saw the Tiger
Tiger I
Tiger I is the common name of a German heavy tank developed in 1942 and used in World War II. The final official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. E, often shortened to Tiger. It was an answer to the unexpectedly formidable Soviet armour encountered in the initial months of...

s blunting Soviet tanks on one axis, they were soon outflanked on another line to the west as the Soviets advanced down the Psel
Olshanka
Olshanka , also known as Psel and Vyshnyaya Olshanka, is a village in Chernyansky District of Belgorod Oblast, Russia....

, and Kharkov had to be evacuated for the final time on 22 August.

The German forces on the Mius, now comprising the 1st Panzer Army and a reconstituted 6th Army, were by August too weak to repulse a Soviet attack on their own front, and when the Soviets hit them they had to fall back all the way through the Donbass industrial region to the Dnieper, losing the industrial resources and half the farmland that Germany had invaded the Soviet Union to exploit. At this time Hitler agreed to a general withdrawal to the Dnieper line, along which was meant to be the Ostwall, a line of defence similar to the Westwall of fortifications along the German frontier in the west. The main problem for the Germans was that these defences had not yet been built, and by the time Army Group South had evacuated eastern Ukraine and begun withdrawing across the Dnieper during September, the Soviets were hard behind them. Tenaciously, small units paddled their way across the 3 km (1.9 mi) wide river and established bridgehead
Bridgehead
A bridgehead is a High Middle Ages military term, which antedating the invention of cannons was in the original meaning expressly a referent term to the military fortification that protects the end of a bridge...

s. A second attempt by the Soviets to gain land using parachutists, mounted at Kanev on 24 September, proved as luckless as at Dorogobuzh eighteen months previously, and the paratroopers were soon repelled – but not until still more Red Army troops had used the cover they provided to get themselves over the Dnieper and securely dug in. As September ended and October started, the Germans found the Dnieper line impossible to hold as the Soviet bridgeheads grew, and important Dnieper towns started to fall, with Zaporozhye the first to go, followed by Dnepropetrovsk. Finally, early in November the Soviets broke out of their bridgeheads on either side of Kiev and captured the Ukrainian capital, at that time the third largest city in the Soviet Union.

Eighty miles west of Kiev, the 4th Panzer Army, still convinced that the Red Army was a spent force, was able to mount a successful riposte at Zhytomyr
Zhytomyr
Zhytomyr is a city in the North of the western half of Ukraine. It is the administrative center of the Zhytomyr Oblast , as well as the administrative center of the surrounding Zhytomyr Raion...

 during the middle of November, weakening the Soviet bridgehead by a daring outflanking strike mounted by the SS Panzer Corps along the river Teterev. This battle also enabled Army Group South to recapture Korosten and gain some time to rest; however, on Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve refers to the evening or entire day preceding Christmas Day, a widely celebrated festival commemorating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth that takes place on December 25...

 the retreat began anew when the First Ukrainian Front (renamed from Voronezh Front) struck them in the same place. The Soviet advance continued along the railway line until the 1939 Polish-Soviet border was reached on 3 January 1944. To the south, Second Ukrainian Front (ex Steppe Front
Steppe Front
The Steppe Front and later the 2nd Ukrainian Front was a Front , effectively an Army group sized formation, of the Soviet Army during the Second World War...

) had crossed the Dnieper at Kremenchug and continued westwards. In the second week of January 1944 they swung north, meeting Vatutin's tank forces which had swung south from their penetration into Poland and surrounding ten German divisions at Korsun-Shevenkovsky, west of Cherkasy. Hitler's insistence on holding the Dnieper line, even when facing the prospect of catastrophic defeat, was compounded by his conviction that the Cherkassy pocket could break out and even advance to Kiev, but Manstein was more concerned about being able to advance to the edge of the pocket and then implore the surrounded forces to break out. By 16 February the first stage was complete, with panzers separated from the contracting Cherkassy pocket only by the swollen Gniloy Tikich river. Under shellfire and pursued by Soviet tanks, the surrounded German troops, among whom were the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, fought their way across the river to safety, although at the cost of half their number and all their equipment. They assumed the Soviets would not attack again, with the spring approaching, but on 3 March the Soviet Ukrainian Front went over to the offensive. Having already isolated the Crimea by severing the Perekop isthmus
Isthmus of Perekop
The Isthmus of Perekop is the narrow, 5-7 km wide strip of land that connects the peninsula of Crimea to the mainland of Ukraine. The isthmus is located between the Black Sea to the west and the Azov Sea the east. The isthmus takes its name from the Tatar fortress of Perekop.The border between the...

, Malinovsky's forces advanced across the mud to the Romania
Romania
Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

n border, not stopping on the river Prut
Prut
The Prut is a long river in Eastern Europe. In part of its course it forms the border between Romania and Moldova.-Overview:...

.
One final move in the south completed the 1943–44 campaigning season, which had wrapped up an advance of over 500 miles. In March, 20 German divisions of Generaloberst Hans-Valentin Hube
Hans-Valentin Hube
Hans-Valentin Hube was a German general who served in the German Army during the First and Second World Wars. He was one of 27 people to be awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds...

's 1st Panzer Army
German First Panzer Army
The 1st Panzer Army was a German tank army that was a large armoured formation within the Wehrmacht Heer field forces during World War II.-Formation:...

 were encircled in what was to be known as Hube's Pocket
Kamenets-Podolsky Pocket
The Battle of the Kamenets-Podolsky Pocket, also known as Hube's Pocket, was a Wehrmacht attempt on the Eastern Front of World War II to evade encirclement by the Red Army....

 near Kamenets-Podolskiy. After two weeks' hard fighting, the 1st Panzer managed to escape the pocket, suffering only light to moderate casualties. At this point, Hitler sacked several prominent generals, Manstein included. In April, the Red Army took back Odessa
Odessa
Odessa or Odesa is the administrative center of the Odessa Oblast located in southern Ukraine. The city is a major seaport located on the northwest shore of the Black Sea and the fourth largest city in Ukraine with a population of 1,029,000 .The predecessor of Odessa, a small Tatar settlement,...

, followed by 4th Ukrainian Front's campaign to restore control over the Crimea, which culminated in the capture of Sevastopol
Sevastopol
Sevastopol is a city on rights of administrative division of Ukraine, located on the Black Sea coast of the Crimea peninsula. It has a population of 342,451 . Sevastopol is the second largest port in Ukraine, after the Port of Odessa....

 on 10 May.

Along Army Group Centre's front, August 1943 saw this force pushed back from the Hagen line slowly, ceding comparatively little territory, but the loss of Bryansk, and more importantly Smolensk, on 25 September cost the Wehrmacht the keystone of the entire German defensive system. The 4th and 9th armies and 3rd Panzer Army still held their own east of the upper Dnieper, stifling Soviet attempts to reach Vitebsk. On Army Group North's front, there was barely any fighting at all until January 1944, when out of nowhere Volkhov and Second Baltic Fronts struck. In a lightning campaign, the Germans were pushed back from Leningrad and Novgorod was captured by Soviet forces. By February the Red Army had reached the borders of Estonia
Estonia
Estonia , officially the Republic of Estonia , is a state in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia , and to the east by Lake Peipsi and the Russian Federation . Across the Baltic Sea lies...

 after a 75-mile advance. The Baltic Sea seemed to Stalin the quickest way to take the battles to the German ground in East Prussia
East Prussia
East Prussia is the main part of the region of Prussia along the southeastern Baltic Coast from the 13th century to the end of World War II in May 1945. From 1772–1829 and 1878–1945, the Province of East Prussia was part of the German state of Prussia. The capital city was Königsberg.East Prussia...

 and seize control of Finland. The Leningrad Front
Leningrad Front
The Leningrad Front was first formed on August 27, 1941, by dividing the Northern Front into the Leningrad Front and Karelian Front, during the German approach on Leningrad .-History:...

's offensives towards Tallinn
Battle of Narva (1944)
The Battle of Narva was a military campaign between the German Army Detachment "Narwa" and the Soviet Leningrad Front fought for possession of the strategically important Narva Isthmus on 2 February – 10 August 1944 during World War II....

, a main Baltic
Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea is a brackish mediterranean sea located in Northern Europe, from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 20°E to 26°E longitude. It is bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands. It drains into the Kattegat by way of the Øresund, the Great Belt and...

 port, were stopped in February 1944. The German army group "Narwa" included Estonian conscripts defending the re-establishment of Estonian independence
National Committee of the Republic of Estonia
The National Committee of the Republic of Estonia was formed by the underground resistance movements in German-occupied Estonia in March 1944. By April 1944 a large number of the committee members were arrested by the German security agencies....

.

Summer 1944


Wehrmacht planners were convinced that the Soviets would attack again in the south, where the front was fifty miles from Lvov and offered the most direct route to Berlin
Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

. Accordingly they stripped troops from Army Group Centre, whose front still protruded deep into the Soviet Union. The Germans had transferred some units to France to counter the invasion of Normandy two weeks before. The Belorussian Offensive (codenamed Operation Bagration), which began on 22 June 1944, was a massive Soviet attack, consisting of four Soviet army groups totaling over 120 divisions that smashed into a thinly-held German line. They focused their massive attacks on Army Group Centre, not Army Group North Ukraine as the Germans had originally expected. More than 2.3 million Soviet troopers went into action against the German Army Group Centre, which boasted a strength of fewer than 800,000 men. At the points of attack, the numerical and quality advantages of the Soviets were overwhelming: the Red Army achieved a ratio of ten to one in tanks and seven to one in aircraft
Aircraft
An aircraft is a vehicle that is able to fly by gaining support from the air, or, in general, the atmosphere of a planet. An aircraft counters the force of gravity by using either static lift or by using the dynamic lift of an airfoil, or in a few cases the downward thrust from jet engines.Although...

 over the enemy. The Germans crumbled. The capital of Belarus
Belarus
Belarus , officially the Republic of Belarus, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, bordered clockwise by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital is Minsk; other major cities include Brest, Grodno , Gomel ,...

, Minsk
Minsk
- Ecological situation :The ecological situation is monitored by Republican Center of Radioactive and Environmental Control .During 2003–2008 the overall weight of contaminants increased from 186,000 to 247,400 tons. The change of gas as industrial fuel to mazut for financial reasons has worsened...

, was taken on 3 July, trapping some 100,000 Germans. Ten days later the Red Army reached the prewar Polish
Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

 border. Bagration was by any measure one of the largest single operations of the war. By the end of August 1944, it had cost the Germans ~400,000 dead, wounded, missing, and sick, from whom 160,000 were captured, as well as 2,000 tanks and 57,000 other vehicles. In the operation, the Red Army lost ~180,000 dead and missing (765,815 totally, including wounded and sick plus 5073 Poles), as well as 2,957 tanks and assault guns. The offensive at Estonia
Battle of Narva (1944)
The Battle of Narva was a military campaign between the German Army Detachment "Narwa" and the Soviet Leningrad Front fought for possession of the strategically important Narva Isthmus on 2 February – 10 August 1944 during World War II....

 claimed another 480,000 Soviet troopers, 100,000 of them as dead.

The neighbouring Lvov-Sandomierz operation was launched on 17 July 1944, rapidly routing the German forces in Western Ukraine. The Soviet advance in the south continued into Romania
Battle of Romania (1944)
The Jassy–Kishinev Operation, named after the two major cities, Iaşi and Chişinău, in the staging area, was a Soviet offensive against Axis forces, which took place in Eastern Romania from 20–29 August 1944...

 and, following a coup against the Axis-allied government of Romania on 23 August, the Red Army occupied Bucharest
Bucharest
Bucharest is the capital municipality, cultural, industrial, and financial centre of Romania. It is the largest city in Romania, located in the southeast of the country, at , and lies on the banks of the Dâmbovița River....

 on 31 August. In Moscow on 12 September, Romania and the Soviet Union signed an armistice
Armistice
An armistice is a situation in a war where the warring parties agree to stop fighting. It is not necessarily the end of a war, but may be just a cessation of hostilities while an attempt is made to negotiate a lasting peace...

 on terms Moscow virtually dictated. The Romanian surrender tore a hole in the southern German Eastern Front causing the inevitable loss of the whole of the Balkans
Balkans
The Balkans is a geopolitical and cultural region of southeastern Europe...

.
The rapid progress of Operation Bagration threatened to cut off and isolate the German units of Army Group North
Army Group North
Army Group North was a German strategic echelon formation commanding a grouping of Field Armies subordinated to the OKH during World War II. The army group coordinated the operations of attached separate army corps, reserve formations, rear services and logistics.- Formation :The Army Group North...

 bitterly resisting the Soviet advance
Battle of Narva (1944)
The Battle of Narva was a military campaign between the German Army Detachment "Narwa" and the Soviet Leningrad Front fought for possession of the strategically important Narva Isthmus on 2 February – 10 August 1944 during World War II....

 towards Tallinn
Tallinn
Tallinn is the capital and largest city of Estonia. It occupies an area of with a population of 414,940. It is situated on the northern coast of the country, on the banks of the Gulf of Finland, south of Helsinki, east of Stockholm and west of Saint Petersburg. Tallinn's Old Town is in the list...

. In a ferocious attack at the Sinimäed Hills, Estonia, the Soviet Leningrad Front
Leningrad Front
The Leningrad Front was first formed on August 27, 1941, by dividing the Northern Front into the Leningrad Front and Karelian Front, during the German approach on Leningrad .-History:...

 failed to break through the defence of the smaller, well-fortified army detachment "Narwa" in terrain not suitable for large scale operations.

On the Karelian Isthmus
Karelian Isthmus
The Karelian Isthmus is the approximately 45–110 km wide stretch of land, situated between the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga in northwestern Russia, to the north of the River Neva . Its northwestern boundary is the relatively narrow area between the Bay of Vyborg and Lake Ladoga...

, the Soviets launched a massive attack against the Finnish lines on June 9, 1944, (coordinated with the Allied Invasion of Normandy). Three armies were pitted there against the Finns, among them several experienced guards rifle formations. The attack breached the Finnish front line of defence in Valkeasaari on June 10 and the Finnish forces retreated to their secondary defence line, the VT-line
VT-line
The VT-line or Vammelsuu–Taipale line was a Finnish defensive line on the Karelian Isthmus built in 1942–1944 during the Continuation War and running from Vammelsuu on the northern shore of the Gulf of Finland through Kuuterselkä and Kivennapa and along Taipaleenjoki to Taipale on the western...

. The Soviet attack was supported by a heavy artillery barrage, air bombardments and armoured forces. The VT-line was breached on June 14 and after a failed counterattack in Kuuterselkä by the Finnish armoured division, the Finnish defence had to be pulled back to the VKT-line
VKT-line
The VKT-line or Viipuri–Kuparsaari–Taipale line was a Finnish defensive line on Karelian Isthmus during the Continuation War, spanning from Viipuri through Tali and Kuparsaari along the northern shore of Vuoksi River, Suvanto and Taipaleenjoki to Taipale on the western shore of Lake Ladoga, using...

. After heavy fighting in the battles of Tali-Ihantala
Battle of Tali-Ihantala
The Battle of Tali-Ihantala was part of the Continuation War , which occurred during World War II. The battle was fought between Finnish forces—using war material provided by Germany—and Soviet forces...

 and Ilomantsi
Battle of Ilomantsi
The Battle of Ilomantsi was a part of the Continuation War . It was fought from July 26 to August 13, 1944, between Finland and the Soviet Union in area roughly 40 kilometers wide and 30 kilometers deep, near the Finnish-Soviet border, close to a small Finnish town of Ilomantsi, in North Karelia...

, Finnish troops finally managed to halt the Soviet attack.

In Poland, as the Red Army approached, the Polish Home Army (AK) launched Operation Tempest
Operation Tempest
Operation Tempest was a series of uprisings conducted during World War II by the Polish Home Army , the dominant force in the Polish resistance....

. During the Warsaw Uprising
Warsaw Uprising
The Warsaw Uprising was a major World War II operation by the Polish resistance Home Army , to liberate Warsaw from Nazi Germany. The rebellion was timed to coincide with the Soviet Union's Red Army approaching the eastern suburbs of the city and the retreat of German forces...

, the Soviet Army halted at the Vistula River, unable or unwilling to come to the aid of the Polish resistance. An attempt by the communist controlled 1st Polish Army
First Polish Army (1944-1945)
The Polish First Army was a Polish Army unit formed in the Soviet Union in 1944, from the previously existing Polish I Corps as part of the People's Army of Poland . The First Army fought westward, subordinated to the Soviet 1st Belorussian Front, during the offensive against Germany that led to...

 to relieve the city was unsupported by the Red Army and was thrown back in September with heavy losses.

In Slovakia
Slovakia
The Slovak Republic is a landlocked state in Central Europe. It has a population of over five million and an area of about . Slovakia is bordered by the Czech Republic and Austria to the west, Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east and Hungary to the south...

, the Slovak National Uprising
Slovak National Uprising
The Slovak National Uprising or 1944 Uprising was an armed insurrection organized by the Slovak resistance movement during World War II. It was launched on August 29 1944 from Banská Bystrica in an attempt to overthrow the collaborationist Slovak State of Jozef Tiso...

 started as an armed struggle between German Wehrmacht forces and rebel Slovak troops in August to October 1944. It was centered at Banská Bystrica
Banská Bystrica
Banská Bystrica is a key city in central Slovakia located on the Hron River in a long and wide valley encircled by the mountain chains of the Low Tatras, the Veľká Fatra, and the Kremnica Mountains. With 81,281 inhabitants, Banská Bystrica is the sixth most populous municipality in Slovakia...

.

Autumn 1944



On 8 September 1944 the Red Army began an attack on the Dukla Pass
Battle of the Dukla Pass
Battle of the Dukla Pass, also known as the Dukla / Carpatho-Dukla / Rzeszów-Dukla / Dukla-Prešov Offensive was the scene of bitterly contested battle for the Dukla Pass on the Eastern Front of World War II between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in September-October 1944. German resistance was...

 on the Slovak-Polish border. Two months later, the Soviets won the battle and entered Slovakia. The toll was high: 20,000 Red Army soldiers lay dead, plus several thousand Germans, Slovaks and Czechs
Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

.

Under the pressure of the Soviet Baltic Offensive, the German Army Group North were withdrawn to fight in the sieges of Saaremaa
Moonzund Landing Operation
The Moonsund Landing Operation , also known as the Moonzund landing operation, was an amphibious operation and offensive by the Red Army during World War II, taking place in late 1944. It was part of the Baltic Offensive, and was designed to clear German forces of Army Group North from the islands...

, Courland
Courland Pocket
The Courland Pocket referred to the Red Army's blockade or encirclement of Axis forces on the Courland peninsula during the closing months of World War II...

 and Memel
Battle of Memel
The Battle of Memel or the Siege of Memel took place when the Soviets launched their Memel Offensive Operation in late 1944. The offensive led to a three-month siege against German forces in a small bridgehead in the town and its port....

.

January–March 1945



Main articles: Vistula-Oder Offensive
Vistula-Oder Offensive
The Vistula–Oder Offensive was a successful Red Army operation on the Eastern Front in the European Theatre of World War II; it took place between 12 January and 2 February 1945...

 (January–February) with the follow-up East Pomeranian Offensive
East Pomeranian Offensive
The East Pomeranian Strategic Offensive operation was an offensive by the Red Army in its fight against the German Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front...

 and Silesian Offensives
Silesian Offensives
The Silesian Offensives were two 1945 offensives conducted by the Soviet Red Army against the German Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front in World War II.-The offensives:...

 (February–April), East Prussian Offensive
East Prussian Offensive
The East Prussian Offensive was a strategic offensive by the Red Army against the German Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front . It lasted from 13 January to 25 April 1945, though some German units did not surrender until 9 May...

 (January–April), Vienna Offensive
Vienna Offensive
The Vienna Offensive was launched by the Soviet 3rd Ukrainian Front in order to capture Vienna, Austria. The offensive lasted from 2–13 April 1945...

 (March–April)

The Soviet Union finally entered Warsaw
Warsaw
Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. It is located on the Vistula River, roughly from the Baltic Sea and from the Carpathian Mountains. Its population in 2010 was estimated at 1,716,855 residents with a greater metropolitan area of 2,631,902 residents, making Warsaw the 10th most...

 on 17 January 1945, after it was destroyed and abandoned by the Germans. Over three days, on a broad front incorporating four army front
Front (Soviet Army)
A front was a major military organization in the Soviet Army during many wars. It was roughly equivalent to an army group in the militaries of most other countries except Germany...

s, the Red Army began an offensive across the Narew
Narew
The Narew River , in western Belarus and north-eastern Poland, is a left tributary of the Vistula river...

 River and from Warsaw. The Soviets outnumbered the Germans on average by five~six to one in troops, six to one in artillery, six to one in tanks and four to one in self-propelled artillery
Self-propelled artillery
Self-propelled artillery vehicles are combat vehicles armed with artillery. Within the term are covered self-propelled guns and rocket artillery...

. After four days the Red Army broke out and started moving thirty to forty kilometres a day, taking the Baltic states, Danzig, East Prussia
East Prussia
East Prussia is the main part of the region of Prussia along the southeastern Baltic Coast from the 13th century to the end of World War II in May 1945. From 1772–1829 and 1878–1945, the Province of East Prussia was part of the German state of Prussia. The capital city was Königsberg.East Prussia...

, Poznań
Poznan
Poznań is a city on the Warta river in west-central Poland, with a population of 556,022 in June 2009. It is among the oldest cities in Poland, and was one of the most important centres in the early Polish state, whose first rulers were buried at Poznań's cathedral. It is sometimes claimed to be...

, and drawing up on a line sixty kilometres east of Berlin
Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

 along the River Oder
Oder
The Oder is a river in Central Europe. It rises in the Czech Republic and flows through western Poland, later forming of the border between Poland and Germany, part of the Oder-Neisse line...

. During the full course of the Vistula-Oder operation (23 days), the Red Army forces sustained 194,191 total casualties (killed, wounded, and missing) and lost 1,267 tanks and assault guns.

On 25 January 1945, Hitler renamed three army groups. Army Group North
Army Group North
Army Group North was a German strategic echelon formation commanding a grouping of Field Armies subordinated to the OKH during World War II. The army group coordinated the operations of attached separate army corps, reserve formations, rear services and logistics.- Formation :The Army Group North...

 became Army Group Courland
Army Group Courland
Army Group Courland was a German Army Group on the Eastern Front which was created from remnants of the Army Group North, isolated in the Courland peninsula by the advancing Soviet Army forces during the 1944 Baltic Offensive of the Second World War. The army group remained isolated until the end...

; Army Group Centre became Army Group North and Army Group A
Army Group A
Army Group A was the name of a number of German Army Groups during World War II.-Western Front, 1940:During the German invasion of the Low Countries and France Army Group A was under the command of General Gerd von Rundstedt, and was responsible for the break-out through the Ardennes...

 became Army Group Centre. Army Group North (old Army Group Centre) was driven into an ever smaller pocket around Königsberg
Königsberg
Königsberg was the capital of East Prussia from the Late Middle Ages until 1945 as well as the northernmost and easternmost German city with 286,666 inhabitants . Due to the multicultural society in and around the city, there are several local names for it...

 in East Prussia
East Prussia
East Prussia is the main part of the region of Prussia along the southeastern Baltic Coast from the 13th century to the end of World War II in May 1945. From 1772–1829 and 1878–1945, the Province of East Prussia was part of the German state of Prussia. The capital city was Königsberg.East Prussia...

.

A limited counter-attack (codenamed Operation Solstice
Operation Solstice
Operation Solstice , also known as Unternehmen Husarenritt or the "Stargard tank battle", was one of the last German armoured offensive operations on the Eastern Front in World War II....

) by the newly created Army Group Vistula
Army Group Vistula
Army Group Vistula was an Army Group of the Wehrmacht, formed on January 24, 1945. It was put together from elements of Army Group A , Army Group Centre , and a variety of new or ad-hoc formations...

, under the command of Reichsführer-SS
Reichsführer-SS
was a special SS rank that existed between the years of 1925 and 1945. Reichsführer-SS was a title from 1925 to 1933 and, after 1934, the highest rank of the German Schutzstaffel .-Definition:...

 Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was Reichsführer of the SS, a military commander, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. As Chief of the German Police and the Minister of the Interior from 1943, Himmler oversaw all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo...

, had failed by 24 February, and the Soviets drove on to Pomerania
Pomerania
Pomerania is a historical region on the south shore of the Baltic Sea. Divided between Germany and Poland, it stretches roughly from the Recknitz River near Stralsund in the West, via the Oder River delta near Szczecin, to the mouth of the Vistula River near Gdańsk in the East...

 and cleared the right bank of the Oder River. In the south, three German attempts to relieve the encircled Budapest
Budapest
Budapest is the capital of Hungary. As the largest city of Hungary, it is the country's principal political, cultural, commercial, industrial, and transportation centre. In 2011, Budapest had 1,733,685 inhabitants, down from its 1989 peak of 2,113,645 due to suburbanization. The Budapest Commuter...

 failed and the city fell on 13 February to the Soviets. Again the Germans counter-attacked, Hitler insisting on the impossible task of regaining the Danube
Danube
The Danube is a river in the Central Europe and the Europe's second longest river after the Volga. It is classified as an international waterway....

 River. By 16 March the attack had failed and the Red Army counterattacked the same day. On 30 March they entered Austria
Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

 and captured Vienna
Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

 on 13 April.

OKW claim German losses of 77,000 killed, 334,000 wounded and 292,000 missing, with a total of
703,000 men, on the Eastern Front during January and February 1945.

On 9 April 1945, Königsberg finally fell to the Red Army, although the shattered remnants of Army Group North continued to resist on the Heiligenbeil
Heiligenbeil Pocket
The Heiligenbeil Pocket or Heiligenbeil Cauldron was the site of a major encirclement battle on the Eastern Front during the closing weeks of World War II, in which the Wehrmacht's 4th Army was almost entirely destroyed during the Soviet Braunsberg Offensive Operation...

 and Danzig beachheads until the end of the war in Europe. The East Prussian operation, though often overshadowed by the Vistula-Oder operation and the later battle for Berlin, was in fact one of the largest and costliest operations fought by the Red Army through the war. During the period it lasted (13 January – 25 April), it cost the Red Army 584,788 casualties, and 3,525 tanks/assault guns.

By early April, the Stavka
Stavka
Stavka was the term used to refer to a command element of the armed forces from the time of the Kievan Rus′, more formally during the history of Imperial Russia as administrative staff and General Headquarters during late 19th Century Imperial Russian armed forces and those of the Soviet Union...

 freed up General Konstantin Rokossovsky
Konstantin Rokossovsky
Konstantin Rokossovskiy was a Polish-origin Soviet career officer who was a Marshal of the Soviet Union, as well as Marshal of Poland and Polish Defence Minister, who was famously known for his service in the Eastern Front, where he received high esteem for his outstanding military skill...

's 2nd Belorussian Front
2nd Belorussian Front
The 2nd Belorussian Front was a military formation of Army group size of the Soviet Army during the Second World War...

 (2BF) to move west to the east bank of the Oder. During the first two weeks of April, the Soviets performed their fastest front redeployment of the war. General Georgy Zhukov
Georgy Zhukov
Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov , was a Russian career officer in the Red Army who, in the course of World War II, played a pivotal role in leading the Red Army through much of Eastern Europe to liberate the Soviet Union and other nations from the Axis Powers' occupation...

 concentrated his 1st Belorussian Front
1st Belorussian Front
The 1st Belorussian Front was a Front of the Soviet Army during World War II...

 (1BF), which had been deployed along the Oder river from Frankfurt in the south to the Baltic, into an area in front of the Seelow Heights
Seelow Heights
The Seelow Heights are situated around the town Seelow, about 90 kilometres east of Berlin and overlook the Oderbruch, the western flood plain of the River Oder which is a further 20 km to the east....

. The 2BF moved into the positions being vacated by the 1BF north of the Seelow Heights. While this redeployment was in progress gaps were left in the lines and the remnants of the German 2nd Army, which had been bottled up in a pocket near Danzig, managed to escape across the Oder. To the south General Ivan Konev
Ivan Konev
Ivan Stepanovich Konev , was a Soviet military commander, who led Red Army forces on the Eastern Front during World War II, retook much of Eastern Europe from occupation by the Axis Powers, and helped in the capture of Germany's capital, Berlin....

 shifted the main weight of the 1st Ukrainian Front
1st Ukrainian Front
The 1st Ukrainian Front was a front—a force the size of a Western Army group—of the Soviet Union's Red Army during the Second World War.-Wartime:...

 (1UF) out of Upper Silesia
Upper Silesia
Upper Silesia is the southeastern part of the historical and geographical region of Silesia. Since the 9th century, Upper Silesia has been part of Greater Moravia, the Duchy of Bohemia, the Piast Kingdom of Poland, again of the Lands of the Bohemian Crown and the Holy Roman Empire, as well as of...

 north-west to the Neisse River. The three Soviet fronts had altogether 2.5 million men (including 78,556 soldiers of the 1st Polish Army
First Polish Army (1944-1945)
The Polish First Army was a Polish Army unit formed in the Soviet Union in 1944, from the previously existing Polish I Corps as part of the People's Army of Poland . The First Army fought westward, subordinated to the Soviet 1st Belorussian Front, during the offensive against Germany that led to...

); 6,250 tanks; 7,500 aircraft; 41,600 artillery
Artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 pieces and mortars
Mortar (weapon)
A mortar is an indirect fire weapon that fires explosive projectiles known as bombs at low velocities, short ranges, and high-arcing ballistic trajectories. It is typically muzzle-loading and has a barrel length less than 15 times its caliber....

; 3,255 truck
Truck
A truck or lorry is a motor vehicle designed to transport cargo. Trucks vary greatly in size, power, and configuration, with the smallest being mechanically similar to an automobile...

-mounted Katyushas rocket
Rocket
A rocket is a missile, spacecraft, aircraft or other vehicle which obtains thrust from a rocket engine. In all rockets, the exhaust is formed entirely from propellants carried within the rocket before use. Rocket engines work by action and reaction...

s, (nicknamed "Stalin Organs"); and 95,383 motor vehicles, many of which were manufactured in the USA.

End of War: April–May 1945


Main articles: Battle of Berlin
Battle of Berlin
The Battle of Berlin, designated the Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation by the Soviet Union, was the final major offensive of the European Theatre of World War II....

, Battle of Halbe
Battle of Halbe
The Battle of Halbe lasted from April 24 - May 1, 1945 was a battle in which the German Ninth Army, under the command of Colonel General Theodor Busse was destroyed as a fighting force by the Red Army during the Battle for Berlin....

, Prague Offensive
Prague Offensive
The Prague Offensive was the last major Soviet operation of World War II in Europe. The offensive, and the battle for Prague, was fought on the Eastern Front from 6 May to 11 May 1945. This battle for the city is particularly noteworthy in that it ended after the Third Reich capitulated on 8 May...




All that was left for the Soviets to do was to launch an offensive to capture central Germany (which would eventually become East Germany after the war). The Soviet offensive had two objectives. Because of Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

's suspicions about the intentions of the Western Allies
Western Allies
The Western Allies were a political and geographic grouping among the Allied Powers of the Second World War. It generally includes the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth, the United States, France and various other European and Latin American countries, but excludes China, the Soviet Union,...

 to hand over territory occupied by them in the post-war Soviet zone of occupation
Sphere of influence
In the field of international relations, a sphere of influence is a spatial region or conceptual division over which a state or organization has significant cultural, economic, military or political influence....

, the offensive was to be on a broad front and was to move as rapidly as possible to the west, to meet the Western Allies as far west as possible. But the overriding objective was to capture Berlin. The two were complementary because possession of the zone could not be won quickly unless Berlin was taken. Another consideration was that Berlin itself held strategic assets, including Adolf Hitler and the German atomic bomb
German nuclear energy project
The German nuclear energy project, , was an attempted clandestine scientific effort led by Germany to develop and produce the atomic weapons during the events involving the World War II...

 program.

The offensive to capture central Germany and Berlin
Battle of Berlin
The Battle of Berlin, designated the Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation by the Soviet Union, was the final major offensive of the European Theatre of World War II....

 started on 16 April with an assault on the German front lines on the Oder and Neisse rivers. After several days of heavy fighting the Soviet 1BF and 1UF punched holes through the German front line and were fanning out across central Germany. By 24 April, elements of the 1BF and 1UF had completed the encirclement
Encirclement
Encirclement is a military term for the situation when a force or target is isolated and surrounded by enemy forces. The German term for this is Kesselschlacht ; a comparable English term might be "in the bag"....

 of Berlin and the Battle of Berlin
Battle of Berlin
The Battle of Berlin, designated the Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation by the Soviet Union, was the final major offensive of the European Theatre of World War II....

 entered its final stages. On 25 April the 2BF broke through the German 3rd Panzer Army's line south of Stettin. They were now free to move west towards the British 21st Army Group
British 21st Army Group
The 21st Army Group was a British headquarters formation consisting primarily of British and Canadian forces. The Army Group was an important Allied force in the European Theatre of World War II. It was established in London during July 1943 under the command of Supreme Headquarters Allied...

 and north towards the Baltic port of Stralsund
Stralsund
- Main sights :* The Brick Gothic historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.* The heart of the old town is the Old Market Square , with the Gothic Town Hall . Behind the town hall stands the imposing Nikolaikirche , built in 1270-1360...

. The 58th Guards Rifle Division of the 5th Guards Army made contact with the US 69th Infantry Division of the First Army
U.S. First Army
The First United States Army is a field army of the United States Army. It now serves a mobilization, readiness and training command.- Establishment and World War I :...

 near Torgau
Torgau
Torgau is a town on the banks of the Elbe in northwestern Saxony, Germany. It is the capital of the district Nordsachsen.Outside Germany, the town is most well known as the place where during the Second World War, United States Army forces coming from the west met with forces of the Soviet Union...

, Germany at the Elbe
Elbe
The Elbe is one of the major rivers of Central Europe. It rises in the Krkonoše Mountains of the northwestern Czech Republic before traversing much of Bohemia , then Germany and flowing into the North Sea at Cuxhaven, 110 km northwest of Hamburg...

 river.

On 29 and 30 April, as the Soviet forces fought their way into the centre of Berlin, Adolf Hitler married Eva Braun
Eva Braun
Eva Anna Paula Hitler was the longtime companion of Adolf Hitler and, for less than 40 hours, his wife. Braun met Hitler in Munich, when she was 17 years old, while working as an assistant and model for his personal photographer and began seeing him often about two years later...

 and then committed suicide by taking cyanide
Cyanide
A cyanide is a chemical compound that contains the cyano group, -C≡N, which consists of a carbon atom triple-bonded to a nitrogen atom. Cyanides most commonly refer to salts of the anion CN−. Most cyanides are highly toxic....

 and shooting himself. Helmuth Weidling
Helmuth Weidling
Helmuth Otto Ludwig Weidling was an officer in the German Army before and during World War II...

, defence commandant of Berlin, surrendered the city to the Soviets on 2 May. Altogether, the Berlin operation (16 April – 8 May) cost the Red Army 361,367 casualties (dead, missing, wounded and sick) and 1,997 tanks and assault guns. German losses in this period of the war remain impossible to determine with any reliability.

At 02:41 on the morning of 7 May 1945, at the SHAEF headquarters, German Chief-of-Staff General Alfred Jodl
Alfred Jodl
Alfred Josef Ferdinand Jodl was a German military commander, attaining the position of Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command during World War II, acting as deputy to Wilhelm Keitel...

 signed the unconditional surrender
Unconditional surrender
Unconditional surrender is a surrender without conditions, in which no guarantees are given to the surrendering party. In modern times unconditional surrenders most often include guarantees provided by international law. Announcing that only unconditional surrender is acceptable puts psychological...

 documents for all German forces to the Allies. It included the phrase All forces under German control to cease active operations at 2301 hours Central European time on 8 May 1945. The next day shortly before midnight, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel
Wilhelm Keitel
Wilhelm Bodewin Gustav Keitel was a German field marshal . As head of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht and de facto war minister, he was one of Germany's most senior military leaders during World War II...

 repeated the signing in Berlin at Zhukov's headquarters. The war in Europe was over.

In the Soviet Union the end of the war is considered to be 9 May, when the surrender took effect Moscow
Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

 time. This date is celebrated as a national holiday
Public holiday
A public holiday, national holiday or legal holiday is a holiday generally established by law and is usually a non-working day during the year....

 – Victory Day
Victory Day (Eastern Europe)
Victory Day or 9 May marks the capitulation of Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union in the Second World War...

 – in Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 (as part of a two-day May 8–9 holiday) and some other post-Soviet countries. The ceremonial Victory parade
Moscow Victory Parade of 1945
The Moscow Victory Parade of 1945 was a victory parade held by the Soviet army after the defeat of Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War. It took place in the Soviet capital of Moscow, mostly centering around a military parade through Red Square...

 was held in Moscow on 24 June.

German Army Group Centre
Army Group Centre
Army Group Centre was the name of two distinct German strategic army groups that fought on the Eastern Front in World War II. The first Army Group Centre was created on 22 June 1941, as one of three German Army formations assigned to the invasion of the Soviet Union...

 initially refused to surrender and continued to fight in Czechoslovakia
Prague Offensive
The Prague Offensive was the last major Soviet operation of World War II in Europe. The offensive, and the battle for Prague, was fought on the Eastern Front from 6 May to 11 May 1945. This battle for the city is particularly noteworthy in that it ended after the Third Reich capitulated on 8 May...

 until about 11 May.

A small German garrison on the island of Bornholm (Denmark) refused to surrender until after being bombed and invaded by the Soviets. The island was returned to the Danish government four months later.

Soviet Far East: August 1945



The Soviet invasion of Manchuria began on 8 August 1945, with the Soviet invasion of the Japanese puppet states of Manchukuo
Manchukuo
Manchukuo or Manshū-koku was a puppet state in Manchuria and eastern Inner Mongolia, governed under a form of constitutional monarchy. The region was the historical homeland of the Manchus, who founded the Qing Empire in China...

 and neighbouring Mengjiang
Mengjiang
Mengjiang , also known in English as Mongol Border Land, was an autonomous area in Inner Mongolia, operating under nominal Chinese sovereignty and Japanese control. It consisted of the then-Chinese provinces of Chahar and Suiyuan, corresponding to the central part of modern Inner Mongolia...

; the greater offensive would eventually include northern Korea
Korea
Korea ) is an East Asian geographic region that is currently divided into two separate sovereign states — North Korea and South Korea. Located on the Korean Peninsula, Korea is bordered by the People's Republic of China to the northwest, Russia to the northeast, and is separated from Japan to the...

, southern Sakhalin
Sakhalin
Sakhalin or Saghalien, is a large island in the North Pacific, lying between 45°50' and 54°24' N.It is part of Russia, and is Russia's largest island, and is administered as part of Sakhalin Oblast...

, and the Kuril Islands
Kuril Islands
The Kuril Islands , in Russia's Sakhalin Oblast region, form a volcanic archipelago that stretches approximately northeast from Hokkaidō, Japan, to Kamchatka, Russia, separating the Sea of Okhotsk from the North Pacific Ocean. There are 56 islands and many more minor rocks. It consists of Greater...

. It marked the initial and only military action of the Soviet Union against the Empire of Japan
Empire of Japan
The Empire of Japan is the name of the state of Japan that existed from the Meiji Restoration on 3 January 1868 to the enactment of the post-World War II Constitution of...

; at the Yalta Conference
Yalta Conference
The Yalta Conference, sometimes called the Crimea Conference and codenamed the Argonaut Conference, held February 4–11, 1945, was the wartime meeting of the heads of government of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union, represented by President Franklin D...

, it had agreed to Allied pleas to terminate the neutrality pact with Japan and enter the Second World War's Pacific theatre within three months after the end of the war in Europe. While not a part of the Eastern Front operations, it is included here because the commanders and much of the forces used by the Red Army, came from the European Theatre of operations and benefited from the experience gained there. In many ways this was a 'perfect' operation, delivered with the skill gained during the bitter fighting with the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe over four years.

Results


The Eastern Front was the largest and bloodiest theatre of World War II. It is generally accepted as being the deadliest conflict in human history, with over 30 million killed as a result. The German armed forces suffered 80% of its military deaths in the Eastern Front. It involved more land combat than all other World War II theatres combined. The distinctly brutal nature of warfare on the Eastern Front was exemplified by an often willful disregard for human life by both sides. It was also reflected in the ideological premise for the war, which also saw a momentous clash between two directly opposed ideologies.

Aside from the ideological conflict, the mindframe of the leaders of Germany and the Soviet Union, Hitler and Stalin respectively, contributed to the escalation of terror and murder on an unprecedented scale. Stalin and Hitler both disregarded human life in order to achieve their goal of victory. This included terrorization of their own people, as well as mass deportation of entire populations. All these factors resulted in tremendous brutality both to combatants and civilians that found no parallel on the Western Front
Western Front (World War II)
The Western Front of the European Theatre of World War II encompassed, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and West Germany. The Western Front was marked by two phases of large-scale ground combat operations...

. According to Time
Time (magazine)
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

: "By measure of manpower, duration, territorial reach and casualties, the Eastern Front was as much as four times the scale of the conflict on the Western Front
Western Front (World War II)
The Western Front of the European Theatre of World War II encompassed, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and West Germany. The Western Front was marked by two phases of large-scale ground combat operations...

 that opened with the Normandy invasion."

The war inflicted huge losses and suffering upon the civilian populations of the affected countries. Behind the front lines, atrocities against civilians in German-occupied areas were routine, including the Holocaust. German and German-allied forces treated civilian populations with exceptional brutality, massacring villages and routinely killing civilian hostages. Both sides practiced widespread scorched earth
Scorched earth
A scorched earth policy is a military strategy or operational method which involves destroying anything that might be useful to the enemy while advancing through or withdrawing from an area...

 tactics, but the loss of civilian lives in the case of Germany was incomparably smaller than that of the Soviet Union, in which at least 20 million civilians were killed. According to Geoffrey A. Hosking, "The full demographic loss to the Soviet peoples was even greater: since a high proportion of those killed were young men of child-begetting age, the postwar Soviet population was 45 to 50 million smaller than post- 1939 projections would have led one to expect." When the Red Army invaded Germany in 1944, many German civilians suffered from vengeance taken by Red Army soldiers (see Soviet war crimes). After the war, following the Yalta conference
Yalta Conference
The Yalta Conference, sometimes called the Crimea Conference and codenamed the Argonaut Conference, held February 4–11, 1945, was the wartime meeting of the heads of government of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union, represented by President Franklin D...

 agreements between the Allies, the German populations of East Prussia
East Prussia
East Prussia is the main part of the region of Prussia along the southeastern Baltic Coast from the 13th century to the end of World War II in May 1945. From 1772–1829 and 1878–1945, the Province of East Prussia was part of the German state of Prussia. The capital city was Königsberg.East Prussia...

 and Silesia
Silesia
Silesia is a historical region of Central Europe located mostly in Poland, with smaller parts also in the Czech Republic, and Germany.Silesia is rich in mineral and natural resources, and includes several important industrial areas. Silesia's largest city and historical capital is Wrocław...

 were displaced to the west
German exodus from Eastern Europe
The German exodus from Eastern Europe describes the dramatic reduction of ethnic German populations in lands to the east of present-day Germany and Austria. The exodus began in the aftermath of World War I and was implicated in the rise of Nazism. It culminated in expulsions of Germans from...

 of the Oder-Neisse Line
Oder-Neisse line
The Oder–Neisse line is the border between Germany and Poland which was drawn in the aftermath of World War II. The line is formed primarily by the Oder and Lusatian Neisse rivers, and meets the Baltic Sea west of the seaport cities of Szczecin and Świnoujście...

, in what became one of the largest forced migration
Forced migration
Forced migration refers to the coerced movement of a person or persons away from their home or home region...

s of people in world history.

The Soviet Union came out of World War II militarily victorious but economically and structurally devastated. Much of the combat took place in or close by populated areas, and the actions of both sides contributed to massive loss of civilian life as well as a tremendous material damage. According to a summary, presented by Lieutenant General Roman Rudenko at the International Military Tribunal
Nuremberg Trials
The Nuremberg Trials were a series of military tribunals, held by the victorious Allied forces of World War II, most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of the defeated Nazi Germany....

 in Nuremberg
Nuremberg
Nuremberg[p] is a city in the German state of Bavaria, in the administrative region of Middle Franconia. Situated on the Pegnitz river and the Rhine–Main–Danube Canal, it is located about north of Munich and is Franconia's largest city. The population is 505,664...

, the property damage in the Soviet Union inflicted by the Axis invasion was estimated to a value of 679 billion rubles. The largest number of civilian deaths in a single city was 1.2 million citizens dead during the Siege of Leningrad
Siege of Leningrad
The Siege of Leningrad, also known as the Leningrad Blockade was a prolonged military operation resulting from the failure of the German Army Group North to capture Leningrad, now known as Saint Petersburg, in the Eastern Front theatre of World War II. It started on 8 September 1941, when the last...

. The combined damage consisted of complete or partial destruction of 1,710 cities and towns, 70,000 villages/hamlets, 2,508 church buildings, 31,850 industrial establishments, 40,000 miles of railroad, 4100 railroad stations, 40,000 hospitals, 84,000 schools, and 43,000 public libraries. Seven million horses, and 17 million sheep and goats were also slaughtered or driven off. Wild fauna were also affected. Wolves and foxes fleeing westward from the killing zone, as the Soviet army advanced 1943–45, were responsible for a rabies
Rabies
Rabies is a viral disease that causes acute encephalitis in warm-blooded animals. It is zoonotic , most commonly by a bite from an infected animal. For a human, rabies is almost invariably fatal if post-exposure prophylaxis is not administered prior to the onset of severe symptoms...

 epidemic which spread slowly westwards, reaching the coast of the English Channel
English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...

 by 1968.

Leadership


The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were both ideologically driven states (Soviet communism and Nazism
Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 respectively), in which the leader had near-absolute power
Totalitarianism
Totalitarianism is a political system where the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible...

. The character of the war was thus determined by the leaders and their ideology to a much greater extent than in any other theatre of World War II.

Adolf Hitler




Adolf Hitler exercised a tight control over the war, spending much of his time in his command bunkers (most notably at Rastenburg in East Prussia
East Prussia
East Prussia is the main part of the region of Prussia along the southeastern Baltic Coast from the 13th century to the end of World War II in May 1945. From 1772–1829 and 1878–1945, the Province of East Prussia was part of the German state of Prussia. The capital city was Königsberg.East Prussia...

, at Vinnitsa in Ukraine
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

, and under the garden of the Reich Chancellery
Reich Chancellery
The Reich Chancellery was the traditional name of the office of the Chancellor of Germany in the period of the German Reich from 1871 to 1945...

 in Berlin
Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

). At crucial periods in the war he held daily situation conferences, at which he used his remarkable talent for public speaking to overwhelm opposition from his generals and the OKW staff with rhetoric.

In part because of the unexpected success of the Battle of France
Battle of France
In the Second World War, the Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, beginning on 10 May 1940, which ended the Phoney War. The battle consisted of two main operations. In the first, Fall Gelb , German armoured units pushed through the Ardennes, to cut off and...

 despite the warnings of the professional military, Hitler believed himself a military genius, with a grasp of the total war effort that eluded his generals. In August 1941 when Walther von Brauchitsch
Walther von Brauchitsch
Heinrich Alfred Hermann Walther von Brauchitsch was a German field marshal and the Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres in the early years of World War II.-Biography:...

 (commander-in-chief of the Wehrmacht
Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

) and Fedor von Bock
Fedor von Bock
Fedor von Bock was a German Generalfeldmarshall who served in the Wehrmacht during the Second World War. As a leader who lectured his soldiers about the honor of dying for the German Fatherland, he was nicknamed "Der Sterber"...

 were appealing for an attack on Moscow, Hitler instead ordered the encirclement and capture of Ukraine, in order to acquire the farmland, industry, and natural resources of that country. Some historians believe that this decision was a missed opportunity to win the war.

In the winter of 1941–1942 Hitler believed that his obstinate refusal to allow the German armies to retreat had saved Army Group Centre
Army Group Centre
Army Group Centre was the name of two distinct German strategic army groups that fought on the Eastern Front in World War II. The first Army Group Centre was created on 22 June 1941, as one of three German Army formations assigned to the invasion of the Soviet Union...

 from collapse. He later told Erhard Milch
Erhard Milch
Erhard Milch was a German Field Marshal who oversaw the development of the Luftwaffe as part of the re-armament of Germany following World War I, and served as founding Director of Deutsche Luft Hansa...

,
I had to act ruthlessly. I had to send even my closest generals packing, two army generals, for example ... I could only tell these gentlemen, "Get yourself back to Germany as rapidly as you can – but leave the army in my charge. And the army is staying at the front."


The success of this hedgehog defence
Hedgehog defence
In warfare, the hedgehog defence is a military tactic for defending against a mobile armoured attack, or blitzkrieg. The defenders deploy in depth in heavily fortified positions suitable for all-around defence. The attackers can penetrate between these "hedgehogs", but each position continues to...

 outside Moscow led Hitler to insist on the holding of territory when it made no military sense, and to sack generals who retreated without orders. Officers with initiative were replaced with yes-men or fanatical Nazis. The disastrous encirclements later in the war – at Stalingrad
Battle of Stalingrad
The Battle of Stalingrad was a major battle of World War II in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad in southwestern Russia. The battle took place between 23 August 1942 and 2 February 1943...

, Korsun
Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket
The Korsun–Shevchenkovsky Offensive led to the Battle of the Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket which took place from 24 January to 16 February 1944. The offensive was part of the Dnieper–Carpathian Offensive...

 and many other places – were the direct result of Hitler's orders. This idea of holding territory led to another failed plan, dubbed "Heaven-bound Missions", which involved fortifying even the most unimportant or insignificant of cities and the holding of these "fortresses" at all costs. Many divisions became cut off in "fortress" cities, or wasted uselessly in secondary theatres, because Hitler would not sanction retreat or abandon voluntarily any of his conquests.

Frustration at Hitler's leadership of the war was one of the factors in the attempted coup d'etat
Coup d'état
A coup d'état state, literally: strike/blow of state)—also known as a coup, putsch, and overthrow—is the sudden, extrajudicial deposition of a government, usually by a small group of the existing state establishment—typically the military—to replace the deposed government with another body; either...

 of 1944, but after the failure of the 20 July Plot Hitler considered the army and its officer corps suspect and came to rely on the Schutzstaffel
Schutzstaffel
The Schutzstaffel |Sig runes]]) was a major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Built upon the Nazi ideology, the SS under Heinrich Himmler's command was responsible for many of the crimes against humanity during World War II...

 and Nazi party members to prosecute the war. His many disastrous appointments included that of Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was Reichsführer of the SS, a military commander, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. As Chief of the German Police and the Minister of the Interior from 1943, Himmler oversaw all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo...

 to command Army Group Vistula
Army Group Vistula
Army Group Vistula was an Army Group of the Wehrmacht, formed on January 24, 1945. It was put together from elements of Army Group A , Army Group Centre , and a variety of new or ad-hoc formations...

 in the defence of Berlin in 1945 – Himmler suffered a mental breakdown under the stress of the command, and began ranting to his High Command about large numbers of (non-existent) "savior" divisions readying to counter-attack. He was quickly replaced by Gotthard Heinrici
Gotthard Heinrici
Gotthard Heinrici was a general in the German Army during World War II.-Personal life:Heinrici's was born in Gumbinnen , East Prussia, on Christmas Day, 1886, to Paul Heinrici, a local Lutheran minister of the Prussian Church, and his wife Gisela, née von Rauchhaupt, who was of recent Jewish descent...

.

Hitler's direction of the war was disastrous for the German Army, though the skill, loyalty, professionalism and endurance of officers and soldiers enabled him to keep Germany fighting to the end. F. W. Winterbotham
F. W. Winterbotham
Frederick William Winterbotham was a British Royal Air Force officer who during World War II supervised the distribution of Ultra intelligence. Later, Winterbotham published the first popular account of Ultra....

 wrote of Hitler's signal to Gerd von Rundstedt
Gerd von Rundstedt
Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt was a Generalfeldmarschall of the German Army during World War II. He held some of the highest field commands in all phases of the war....

 to continue the attack to the west during the Battle of the Bulge
Battle of the Bulge
The Battle of the Bulge was a major German offensive , launched toward the end of World War II through the densely forested Ardennes mountain region of Wallonia in Belgium, hence its French name , and France and...

:
"From experience we had learned that when Hitler started refusing to do what the generals recommended, things started to go wrong, and this was to be no exception."

Joseph Stalin



Joseph Stalin bore the greatest responsibility for some of the disasters at the beginning of the war (for example, the Battle of Kiev
Battle of Kiev (1941)
The Battle of Kiev was the German name for the operation that resulted in a very large encirclement of Soviet troops in the vicinity of Kiev during World War II. It is considered the largest encirclement of troops in history. The operation ran from 23 August – 26 September 1941 as part of Operation...

), but can be equally praised for the subsequent success of the Soviet Army, which would have been impossible without the unprecedentedly rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union, which was the first priority of Stalin's internal policy throughout the 1930s.

Stalin's Great Purge
Great Purge
The Great Purge was a series of campaigns of political repression and persecution in the Soviet Union orchestrated by Joseph Stalin from 1936 to 1938...

 of the Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

 in the late 1930s consisted of the legal prosecution of many of the senior command, many of whom were convicted and sentenced to death or imprisonment. The executed included Mikhail Tukhachevsky
Mikhail Tukhachevsky
Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky was a Marshal of the Soviet Union, commander in chief of the Red Army , and one of the most prominent victims of Joseph Stalin's Great Purge.-Early life:...

, a proponent of armoured blitzkrieg
Blitzkrieg
For other uses of the word, see: Blitzkrieg Blitzkrieg is an anglicized word describing all-motorised force concentration of tanks, infantry, artillery, combat engineers and air power, concentrating overwhelming force at high speed to break through enemy lines, and, once the lines are broken,...

. Stalin promoted some obscurantists like Grigory Kulik
Grigory Kulik
Grigory Ivanovich Kulik was a Soviet military commander and was born into a peasant family near Poltava in Ukraine. A soldier in the army of the Russian Empire in World War I, he joined the Bolshevik Party in 1917 and the Red Army in 1918...

 (who opposed the mechanization of the army and the production of tank
Tank
A tank is a tracked, armoured fighting vehicle designed for front-line combat which combines operational mobility, tactical offensive, and defensive capabilities...

s), but on the other hand purged the older commanders who had had their positions since the Russian Civil War
Russian Civil War
The Russian Civil War was a multi-party war that occurred within the former Russian Empire after the Russian provisional government collapsed to the Soviets, under the domination of the Bolshevik party. Soviet forces first assumed power in Petrograd The Russian Civil War (1917–1923) was a...

, and had experience, but were deemed "politically unreliable". This opened up those places to the promotion of many younger officers that Stalin and the NKVD thought were in line with Stalinist politics, many of whom proved to be terribly inexperienced, but some were later very successful. Soviet tank output remained the largest in the world. Distrust of the military led, since the foundation of the Red Army in 1918, to a system of "dual command", in which every commander was paired with a political commissar
Political commissar
The political commissar is the supervisory political officer responsible for the political education and organisation, and loyalty to the government of the military...

, a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Communist Party of the Soviet Union
The Communist Party of the Soviet Union was the only legal, ruling political party in the Soviet Union and one of the largest communist organizations in the world...

. Larger units had military councils consisting of the commander, commissar and chief of staff, who ensured that the commanding officer was loyal and implemented Party orders.

Following the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland, the Baltic states
Occupation and annexation of the Baltic states by the Soviet Union (1940)
The occupation and annexation of the Baltic states by the Soviet Union covers the period from the Soviet–Baltic mutual assistance pacts in 1939, to the illegal annexation in 1940, to the mass deportations of 1941...

 and Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina in 1939–40, Stalin insisted that every fold of the new territories should be occupied; this move westward left troops far from their depots in salients that left them vulnerable to encirclement. There was an assumption that, in the event of a German invasion, the Red Army would take the strategic offensive and fight the war mostly outside the borders of the Soviet Union; thus few plans were made for strategic defensive operations. However, fortifications were built. As tension heightened in spring 1941, Stalin was desperate not to give Hitler any provocation that could be used as an excuse for an attack; this caused him to refuse to allow the military to go onto the alert even as German troops gathered on the borders and German reconnaissance planes overflew installations. This refusal to take the necessary action was instrumental in the destruction of major portions of the Red Air Force, lined up on its airfields, in the first days of the war.

Stalin's insistence on repeated counterattacks without adequate preparation led to the loss of almost the whole of the Red Army's tank corps in 1941 – many tanks simply ran out of fuel on their way to the battlefield through faulty planning or ignorance of the location of fuel dumps. While some regard this offensive strategy as an argument for Soviet aggressive strategic plans, the offensive operational planning was not, by itself, evidence of any aggressive foreign policy intent.

Unlike Hitler, Stalin was able to learn lessons and improve his conduct of the war. He gradually came to realise the dangers of inadequate preparation and built up a competent command and control organization – the Stavka
Stavka
Stavka was the term used to refer to a command element of the armed forces from the time of the Kievan Rus′, more formally during the history of Imperial Russia as administrative staff and General Headquarters during late 19th Century Imperial Russian armed forces and those of the Soviet Union...

 – under Georgy Zhukov
Georgy Zhukov
Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov , was a Russian career officer in the Red Army who, in the course of World War II, played a pivotal role in leading the Red Army through much of Eastern Europe to liberate the Soviet Union and other nations from the Axis Powers' occupation...

, Semyon Timoshenko
Semyon Timoshenko
Semyon Konstantinovich Timoshenko was a Soviet military commander and senior professional officer of the Red Army at the beginning of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.-Early life:...

 and others. Incompetent commanders were gradually but ruthlessly weeded out.

At the crisis of the war, in autumn 1942, Stalin made many concessions to the army: unitary command was restored by removing the Commissars from the chain of command
Chain of Command
Chain of Command may refer to:* Chain of command, in a military context, the line of authority and responsibility along which orders are passed* "Chain of Command" , the fifth episode of the first season of Beast Wars...

. After the Battle of Stalingrad
Battle of Stalingrad
The Battle of Stalingrad was a major battle of World War II in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad in southwestern Russia. The battle took place between 23 August 1942 and 2 February 1943...

, shoulderboards were introduced for all ranks; this was a significant symbolic step, since they had been seen as a symbol of the old regime after the Russian Revolution of 1917
Russian Revolution of 1917
The Russian Revolution is the collective term for a series of revolutions in Russia in 1917, which destroyed the Tsarist autocracy and led to the creation of the Soviet Union. The Tsar was deposed and replaced by a provisional government in the first revolution of February 1917...

. Beginning in autumn 1941, units that had proved themselves by superior performance in combat were given the traditional "Guards" title. But these concessions were combined with ruthless discipline: Order No. 227, issued on 28 July 1942, threatened commanders who retreated without orders with punishment by court-martial
Court-martial
A court-martial is a military court. A court-martial is empowered to determine the guilt of members of the armed forces subject to military law, and, if the defendant is found guilty, to decide upon punishment.Most militaries maintain a court-martial system to try cases in which a breach of...

. Infractions by military and politruks were punished with transferral to penal battalions and penal companies
Company (military unit)
A company is a military unit, typically consisting of 80–225 soldiers and usually commanded by a Captain, Major or Commandant. Most companies are formed of three to five platoons although the exact number may vary by country, unit type, and structure...

, and the NKVD
NKVD
The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs was the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union that directly executed the rule of power of the Soviets, including political repression, during the era of Joseph Stalin....

's barrier troops
Barrier troops
Barrier troops, blocking units, or anti-retreat forces are formations of soldiers normally placed behind regular troops on a battle line to prevent panic or unauthorized withdrawal or retreat...

 would shoot soldiers who fled.

As it became clear that the Soviet Union would win the war, Stalin ensured that propaganda always mentioned his leadership of the war; the victorious generals were sidelined and never allowed to develop into political rivals. After the war the Red Army was once again purged (but not as brutally as in the 1930s): many successful officers were demoted to unimportant positions (including Zhukov
Georgy Zhukov
Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov , was a Russian career officer in the Red Army who, in the course of World War II, played a pivotal role in leading the Red Army through much of Eastern Europe to liberate the Soviet Union and other nations from the Axis Powers' occupation...

, Malinovsky
Rodion Malinovsky
Rodion Yakovlevich Malinovsky was a Soviet military commander in World War II and Defense Minister of the Soviet Union in the late 1950s and 1960s. He contributed to the major defeat of Nazi Germany at the Battle of Stalingrad and the Battle of Budapest...

 and Koniev).

Occupation and repression



The enormous territorial gains of 1941 presented Germany with vast areas to pacify and administer. For the majority of people of the Soviet Union, the Nazi invasion was viewed as a brutal act of unprovoked aggression. While it is important to note that not all parts of Soviet society viewed German advance in this way, the majority of Soviet population indeed viewed German forces as occupiers – not liberators. The policies of Nazi Germany itself was the catalyst for such response from the people of the Soviet Union. In areas such as Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania (which had been conquered by the Soviet Union in 1940) the Wehrmacht was welcomed by most of the native population as well as some Soviet citizens. This was particularly true of the recently Soviet occupied territories of Western Ukraine and Western Belarus, which greeted the Germans as liberators from Soviet rule. However, Soviet society as a whole was hostile to the invading Nazis. The nascent national liberation movements among Ukrainians
Ukrainians
Ukrainians are an East Slavic ethnic group native to Ukraine, which is the sixth-largest nation in Europe. The Constitution of Ukraine applies the term 'Ukrainians' to all its citizens...

 and Cossack
Cossack
Cossacks are a group of predominantly East Slavic people who originally were members of democratic, semi-military communities in what is today Ukraine and Southern Russia inhabiting sparsely populated areas and islands in the lower Dnieper and Don basins and who played an important role in the...

s, and others were viewed by Hitler with suspicion; some, (especially those from the Baltic States) were co-opted into the Axis armies and others brutally suppressed. None of the conquered territories gained any measure of self-rule. Instead, the racist
Racism
Racism is the belief that inherent different traits in human racial groups justify discrimination. In the modern English language, the term "racism" is used predominantly as a pejorative epithet. It is applied especially to the practice or advocacy of racial discrimination of a pernicious nature...

 Nazi ideologues
Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 saw the future of the East as one of settlement by German colonists, with the natives killed, expelled, or reduced to slave labour. The cruel and brutally inhumane treatment of Soviet civilians, women, children and elderly, the daily bombings of civilian cities and towns, Nazi pillaging of Soviet villages and hamlets, and unprecedented harsh punishment and treatment of civilians in general were some of the primary reasons for Soviet resistance to Nazi Germany's invasion. Indeed, the Soviets viewed Germany's invasion as an act of aggression and attempt to conquer and enslave local population.

Regions closer to the front were managed by military powers of the region, in other areas such as Baltic states annexed by USSR in 1940, Reichscommissariats were established. As a rule, the maximum in loot was extracted. In September 1941, Erich Koch
Erich Koch
Erich Koch was a Gauleiter of the Nazi Party in East Prussia from 1928 until 1945. Between 1941 and 1945 he was the Chief of Civil Administration of Bezirk Bialystok. During this period, he was also the Reichskommissar in Reichskommissariat Ukraine from 1941 until 1943...

 was appointed to the Ukrainian Commissariat. His opening speech was clear about German policy: "I am known as a brutal dog … Our job is to suck from Ukraine all the goods we can get hold of ... I am expecting from you the utmost severity towards the native population."

Atrocities against the Jewish population in the conquered areas began almost immediately, with the dispatch of Einsatzgruppen
Einsatzgruppen
Einsatzgruppen were SS paramilitary death squads that were responsible for mass killings, typically by shooting, of Jews in particular, but also significant numbers of other population groups and political categories...

 (task groups) to round up Jews and shoot them. Local anti-semites were encouraged to carry out their own pogrom
Pogrom
A pogrom is a form of violent riot, a mob attack directed against a minority group, and characterized by killings and destruction of their homes and properties, businesses, and religious centres...

s. In July 1941 Erich von dem Bach-Zalewski's SS unit began to carry out more systematic killings, including the massacre of over 34,777 Jews at Babi Yar
Babi Yar
Babi Yar is a ravine in the Ukrainian capital Kiev and a site of a series of massacres carried out by the Nazis during their campaign against the Soviet Union. The most notorious and the best documented of these massacres took place on September 29–30, 1941, wherein 33,771 Jews were killed in a...

. By the end of 1941 there were more than 50,000 troopers devoted to rounding up and killing Jews. The gradual industrialization of killing led to adoption of the Final Solution
Final Solution
The Final Solution was Nazi Germany's plan and execution of the systematic genocide of European Jews during World War II, resulting in the most deadly phase of the Holocaust...

 and the establishment of the Operation Reinhard
Operation Reinhard
Operation Reinhard was the code name given to the Nazi plan to murder Polish Jews in the General Government, and marked the most deadly phase of the Holocaust, the use of extermination camps...

 extermination camps: the machinery of the Holocaust. In three years of occupation, between one and two million Soviet Jews were killed. Other ethnic groups were targeted for extermination, including the Roma and Sinti
Sinti
Sinti or Sinta or Sinte is the name of a Romani or Gypsy population in Europe. Traditionally nomadic, today only a small percentage of the group remains unsettled...

; see Porajmos
Porajmos
The Porajmos was the attempt made by Nazi Germany, the Independent State of Croatia, Horthy's Hungary and their allies to exterminate the Romani people of Europe during World War II...

.

The massacres of Jews and other ethnic minorities were only a part of the deaths from the Nazi occupation. Many hundreds of thousands of Soviet civilians were executed, and millions more died from starvation
Starvation
Starvation is a severe deficiency in caloric energy, nutrient and vitamin intake. It is the most extreme form of malnutrition. In humans, prolonged starvation can cause permanent organ damage and eventually, death...

 as the Germans requisitioned food for their armies and fodder for their draft horses. As they retreated from Ukraine and Belarus in 1943–44, the German occupiers systematically applied a scorched earth
Scorched earth
A scorched earth policy is a military strategy or operational method which involves destroying anything that might be useful to the enemy while advancing through or withdrawing from an area...

 policy, burning towns and cities, destroying infrastructure, and leaving civilians to starve or die of exposure. In many towns, the battles were fought right within towns and cities with trapped civilians caught in the middle. Estimates of total civilian dead in the Soviet Union in the war range from seven million (Encyclopædia Britannica
Encyclopædia Britannica
The Encyclopædia Britannica , published by Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., is a general knowledge English-language encyclopaedia that is available in print, as a DVD, and on the Internet. It is written and continuously updated by about 100 full-time editors and more than 4,000 expert...

) to seventeen million (Richard Overy).

The Nazi ideology and the maltreatment of the local population and Soviet POWs encouraged partisan
Partisan (military)
A partisan is a member of an irregular military force formed to oppose control of an area by a foreign power or by an army of occupation by some kind of insurgent activity...

s fighting behind the front, motivated even anti-communists or non-Russian nationalists to ally with the Soviets, and greatly delayed the formation of German allied divisions consisting of Soviet POWs (see Vlasov army). These results and missed opportunities contributed to the defeat of the Wehrmacht.

Vadim Erlikman has detailed Soviet losses totaling 26.5 million war related deaths. Military losses of 10.6 million include 6.0 million killed or missing in action and 3.6 million POW dead, plus 400,000 paramilitary and Soviet partisan
Soviet partisans
The Soviet partisans were members of a resistance movement which fought a guerrilla war against the Axis occupation of the Soviet Union during World War II....

 losses. Civilian deaths totaled 15.9 million, which included 1.5 million from military actions; 7.1 million victims of Nazi genocide
Genocide
Genocide is defined as "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group", though what constitutes enough of a "part" to qualify as genocide has been subject to much debate by legal scholars...

 and reprisals; 1.8 million deported to Germany for forced labor; and 5.5 million famine
Famine
A famine is a widespread scarcity of food, caused by several factors including crop failure, overpopulation, or government policies. This phenomenon is usually accompanied or followed by regional malnutrition, starvation, epidemic, and increased mortality. Every continent in the world has...

 and disease
Disease
A disease is an abnormal condition affecting the body of an organism. It is often construed to be a medical condition associated with specific symptoms and signs. It may be caused by external factors, such as infectious disease, or it may be caused by internal dysfunctions, such as autoimmune...

 deaths. Additional famine deaths, which totaled 1 million during 1946–47, are not included here. Soviet repressions seems also to be not included. These losses are for the entire territory of the USSR including territories annexed in 1939–40.

Belarus
Belarus
Belarus , officially the Republic of Belarus, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, bordered clockwise by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital is Minsk; other major cities include Brest, Grodno , Gomel ,...

 lost a quarter of its pre-war population, including practically all its intellectual elite. Following bloody encirclement battles, all of the present-day Belarus territory was occupied by the Germans by the end of August 1941. The Nazis imposed a brutal regime, deporting some 380,000 young people for slave labour, and killing hundreds of thousands of civilians more. More than 600 villages like Khatyn were burned with their entire population. More than 209 cities and towns (out of 270 total) and 9,000 villages were destroyed. Himmler pronounced a plan according to which 3/4 of Belarusian population was designated for "eradication" and 1/4 of racially cleaner population (blue eyes, light hair) would be allowed to serve Germans as slaves.

Some recent reports raise the number of Belarusians who perished in War to "3 million 650 thousand people, unlike the former 2.2 million. That is to say not every fourth inhabitant but almost 40% of the pre-war Belarusian population perished (considering the present-day borders of Belarus)."

Sixty percent of Soviet POWs died during the war. By the end of the war, large numbers of Soviet POWs, forced laborers and Nazi collaborators (including those who were forcefully repatriated
Operation Keelhaul
Operation Keelhaul was carried out in Northern Italy by British and American forces to repatriate Soviet Armed Forces POWs of the Nazis to the Soviet Union between August 14, 1946 and May 9, 1947...

 by the Western Allies
Western Allies
The Western Allies were a political and geographic grouping among the Allied Powers of the Second World War. It generally includes the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth, the United States, France and various other European and Latin American countries, but excludes China, the Soviet Union,...

) went to special NKVD
NKVD
The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs was the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union that directly executed the rule of power of the Soviets, including political repression, during the era of Joseph Stalin....

 "filtration" camps. By 1946, 80 per cent civilians and 20 per cent of PoWs were freed, others were re-drafted, or sent to labor battalions. 2 per cent of civilians and 15 per cent of the PoWs were sent to Gulag
Gulag
The Gulag was the government agency that administered the main Soviet forced labor camp systems. While the camps housed a wide range of convicts, from petty criminals to political prisoners, large numbers were convicted by simplified procedures, such as NKVD troikas and other instruments of...

.

The Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 had not signed the Geneva Convention (1929)
Geneva Convention (1929)
The Geneva Convention was signed at Geneva, July 27, 1929. Its official name is the Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Geneva July 27, 1929. It entered into force 19 June 1931. It is this version of the Geneva Conventions which covered the treatment of prisoners of war...

. However, a month after the German invasion in 1941, an offer was made for a reciprocal adherence to the Hague convention
Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907)
The Hague Conventions were two international treaties negotiated at international peace conferences at The Hague in the Netherlands: The First Hague Conference in 1899 and the Second Hague Conference in 1907...

. This 'note' was left unanswered by Third Reich officials.
The official Polish
Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

 government report of war losses prepared in 1947 reported 6,028,000 war victims out of a population of 27,007,000 ethnic Poles
Poles
thumb|right|180px|The state flag of [[Poland]] as used by Polish government and diplomatic authoritiesThe Polish people, or Poles , are a nation indigenous to Poland. They are united by the Polish language, which belongs to the historical Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages of Central Europe...

 and Jews
Jews
The Jews , also known as the Jewish people, are a nation and ethnoreligious group originating in the Israelites or Hebrews of the Ancient Near East. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation...

; this report excluded ethnic Ukrainian
Ukrainians
Ukrainians are an East Slavic ethnic group native to Ukraine, which is the sixth-largest nation in Europe. The Constitution of Ukraine applies the term 'Ukrainians' to all its citizens...

 and Belarusian
Belarusians
Belarusians ; are an East Slavic ethnic group who populate the majority of the Republic of Belarus. Introduced to the world as a new state in the early 1990s, the Republic of Belarus brought with it the notion of a re-emerging Belarusian ethnicity, drawn upon the lines of the Old Belarusian...

 losses.

Soviet repressions also contributed into the Eastern Front's death toll. Immediately after the start of the German invasion, the NKVD massacred large numbers of prisoners in most of their prisons in Western Belarus and Western Ukraine, while the remainder was to be evacuated in death marches. Most of them were political prisoner
Political prisoner
According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, a political prisoner is ‘someone who is in prison because they have opposed or criticized the government of their own country’....

s, imprisoned and executed without a trial. Encyklopedia PWN, Zbrodnie Sowickie W Polsce

Industrial output


The Soviet victory owed a great deal to the ability of its war industry to outperform the German economy, despite the enormous loss of population and land. Stalin's five-year plans of the 1930s had resulted in the industrialization of the Urals and central Asia. In 1941, the trains that shipped troops to the front were used to evacuate thousands of factories from Belarus and Ukraine to safe areas far from the front lines. Once these facilities were reassembled east of the Urals, production could be reassumed without fear of German bombing.

As the Soviet Union's manpower reserves ran low from 1943 onwards, the great Soviet offensives had to depend more on equipment and less on the expenditure of lives. The increases in production of materiel
Materiel
Materiel is a term used in English to refer to the equipment and supplies in military and commercial supply chain management....

 were achieved at the expense of civilian living standards – the most thorough application of the principle of total war
Total war
Total war is a war in which a belligerent engages in the complete mobilization of fully available resources and population.In the mid-19th century, "total war" was identified by scholars as a separate class of warfare...

 – and with the help of Lend-Lease
Lend-Lease
Lend-Lease was the program under which the United States of America supplied the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, China, Free France, and other Allied nations with materiel between 1941 and 1945. It was signed into law on March 11, 1941, a year and a half after the outbreak of war in Europe in...

 supplies from the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 and the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. The Germans, on the other hand, could rely on a large slave workforce from the conquered countries and Soviet POWs.

Although Germany produced many times more raw materials, it could not compete with the Soviets on the quantity of military production (in 1943, the Soviet Union manufactured 24,089 tanks
Soviet armored fighting vehicle production during World War II
During the Second World War from the start of the war between the Soviet Union and Germany on 22 June 1941 Soviet armoured vehicle production was necessary to replace losses due to combat and the loss of production facilities....

 to Germany's 19,800
German armored fighting vehicle production during World War II
This article lists production figures for German armored fighting vehicles during the World War II era. Vehicles include tanks, self-propelled artillery, assault guns and tank destroyers....

). The Soviets incrementally upgraded existing designs, and simplified and refined manufacturing processes to increase production. Meanwhile, German industry engineered more advanced but complex designs such as the Panther tank
Panther tank
Panther is the common name of a medium tank fielded by Nazi Germany in World War II that served from mid-1943 to the end of the European war in 1945. It was intended as a counter to the T-34, and to replace the Panzer III and Panzer IV; while never replacing the latter, it served alongside it as...

, the King Tiger or the Elefant
Elefant
The Elefant was a "schwerer Panzerjäger" of the German Wehrmacht used in small numbers in World War II. It was built in 1943 under the name Ferdinand, after its designer Ferdinand Porsche. In 1944, after modification of the existing vehicles, they were renamed Elefant...

 from a 1943 decision for "quality over quantity".
Summary of German and Soviet raw material production during the war
Year Coal
(million tonnes, Germany includes lignite and bituminous types)
Steel
(million tonnes)
Aluminium
(thousand tonnes)
Oil
(million tonnes)
German Soviet German Soviet German Soviet German Soviet Italian Hungarian Romanian Japanese
1941 483.4 151.4 31.8 17.9 233.6 5.7 33.0 0.12 0.4 5.5 -
1942 513.1 75.5 32.1 8.1 264.0 51.7 6.6 22.0 0.01 0.7 5.7 1.8
1943 521.4 93.1 34.6 8.5 250.0 62.3 7.6 18.0 0.01 0.8 5.3 2.3
1944 509.8 121.5 28.5 10.9 245.3 82.7 5.5 18.2 - 1 3.5 1
1945 149.3 12.3 86.3 1.3 19.4 - - - 0.1

Summary of Axis and Soviet tank and self-
propelled gun production during the war
Year Tanks and self-
propelled guns
Soviet German Italian Hungarian Japanese
1941 6,590 5,200 595 - 595
1942 24,446 9,300 1,252 500 557
1943 24,089 19,800 336 558
1944 28,963 27,300 - 353
1945 15,400 - - 137

Summary of Axis and Soviet aircraft production during the war
Year Aircraft
Soviet German Italian Hungarian Romanian Japanese
1941 15,735 11,776 3,503 - 1,000 5,088
1942 25,436 15,556 2,818 6 8,861
1943 34,845 25,527 967 267 16,693
1944 40,246 39,807 - 773 28,180
1945 20,052 7,544 - - 8,263

Summary Of German and Soviet industrial labour (including those classified as handworkers), and summary of foreign, voluntary, coerced and POW labour
Year Industrial Labour Foreign Labour Total Labour
Soviet German Soviet German Total Soviet Total German
1941 11,000,000 12,900,000 - 3,500,000 11,000,000 16,400,000
1942 7,200,000 11,600,000 50,000 4,600,000 7,250,000 16,200,000
1943 7,500,000 11,100,000 200,000 5,700,000 7,700,000 16,800,000
1944 8,200,000 10,400,000 800,000 7,600,000 9,000,000 18,000,000
1945 9,500,000 2,900,000 - 12,400,000 -


It should be noted that the Axis allies Italy, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria added to the German numbers. Two-thirds of Germany's Iron ore, much needed for her military production, came from Sweden
Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

. Soviet production and upkeep was assisted by the Lend-Lease
Lend-Lease
Lend-Lease was the program under which the United States of America supplied the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, China, Free France, and other Allied nations with materiel between 1941 and 1945. It was signed into law on March 11, 1941, a year and a half after the outbreak of war in Europe in...

 program from the United States and Britain. After the defeat at Stalingrad, Germany geared completely towards a war economy, as expounded in Goebbels
Goebbels
Goebbels, alternatively Göbbels, is a common surname in the western areas of Germany. It is probably derived from the Old Low German word gibbler, meaning brewer...

' Sportpalast speech
Sportpalast speech
The Sportpalast or total war speech was a speech delivered by Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels at the Berlin Sportpalast to a large but carefully selected audience on 18 February 1943 calling for a total war, as the tide of World War II had turned against Nazi Germany and its Axis allies.It is...

, increasing production in subsequent years under Albert Speer
Albert Speer
Albert Speer, born Berthold Konrad Hermann Albert Speer, was a German architect who was, for a part of World War II, Minister of Armaments and War Production for the Third Reich. Speer was Adolf Hitler's chief architect before assuming ministerial office...

's astute direction, despite the intensifying Allied bombing campaign
Strategic bombing during World War II
Strategic bombing during World War II is a term which refers to all aerial bombardment of a strategic nature between 1939 and 1945 involving any nations engaged in World War II...

.

Casualties



The fighting involved millions of Axis and Soviet troops along the broadest land front in military history. It was by far the deadliest single theatre of war in World War II, with over 9 million military deaths on the Soviet side (out of which 3.6 million died in German captivity); Axis military deaths were over 5 million (out of which 824,000 admittely died in Soviet captivity). Included in this figure of Axis losses is the majority of the 2 million German military personnel listed as missing or unaccouted for after the war. Dr Rűdiger Overmans states that it seems entirely plausible, while not provable, that one half of these men were killed in action and the other half dead in Soviet custody.

Estimated civilian deaths range from about 14 to 17 million. Over 11.4 million Soviet civilians within pre-1939 borders were killed, and another estimated 3.5 million civilians were killed in the annexed territories. The Nazis exterminated one to two million Soviet Jews (including the annexed territories) as part of the Holocaust. Soviet and Russian historiography often uses the term "irretrievable casualties". According to the Narkomat of Defence order (№ 023, 4 February 1944), the irretrievable casualties include killed, missing, those who died due to war-time or subsequent wounds, maladies and chilblain
Chilblain
Chilblains are a medical condition that is often confused with frostbite and trench foot. Chilblains are acral ulcers that occur when a predisposed individual is exposed to cold and humidity. The cold exposure damages capillary beds in the skin, which in turn can cause redness, itching, blisters,...

s and those who were captured.

The huge death toll was attributed to several factors, including brutal mistreatment of POWs and captured partisans, large deficiency of food and medical supplies in Soviet territories, multiple atrocities by the Germans and the Soviets against the civilian population and each other. The multiple battles, and most of all, the use of scorched earth
Scorched earth
A scorched earth policy is a military strategy or operational method which involves destroying anything that might be useful to the enemy while advancing through or withdrawing from an area...

 tactics destroyed agricultural land
Agriculture
Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life. Agriculture was the key implement in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the...

, infrastructure, and whole towns, leaving much of the population homeless and without food.
Military losses on the Eastern Front during World War II
Forces fighting with the Axis
Total Dead KIA
Killed in action
Killed in action is a casualty classification generally used by militaries to describe the deaths of their own forces at the hands of hostile forces. The United States Department of Defense, for example, says that those declared KIA need not have fired their weapons but have been killed due to...

/MIA
Missing in action
Missing in action is a casualty Category assigned under the Status of Missing to armed services personnel who are reported missing during active service. They may have been killed, wounded, become a prisoner of war, or deserted. If deceased, neither their remains nor grave can be positively...

Prisoners taken by the Soviets Prisoners who died in Captivity
Greater Germany 4,300,000 4,000,000 3,300,000 374,000
Soviet residents who joined German army 215,000+ 215,000 1,000,000 Unknown
Romania 281,000 81,000 500,000 200,000
Hungary 300,000 100,000 500,000 200,000
Italy 82,000 32,000 70,000 50,000
Total 5,178,000+ 4,428,000 5,450,000 824,000
Military losses on the Eastern Front during World War II
Forces Fighting with the Soviet Union
Total Dead KIA/MIA Prisoners taken by the Axis Prisoners who died in captivity
Soviet 10,600,000 6,829,437 5,200,000 3,300,000
Poland 24,000 24,000 Unknown Unknown
Romania 17,000 17,000 80,000 Unknown
Bulgaria 10,000 10,000 Unknown Unknown
Total 10,651,000 6,927,204 + Partisan KIA. 5,280,000 3,600,000


Polish Armed Forces in the East
Polish Armed Forces in the East
Polish Armed Forces in the East refers to military units composed of Poles created in the Soviet Union at the time when the territory of Poland was occupied by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in the Second World War....

, initially consisting of Poles from Eastern Poland or otherwise in Soviet Union in 1939–1941, began fighting alongside the Red Army in 1943, and grew steadily as more Polish territory was liberated from the Nazis in 1944–1945.

When the Axis countries of Eastern Europe were occupied by the Soviets, they were forced to change sides and declare war on Germany. (see Allied Commission
Allied Commission
Following the termination of hostilities in World War II, the Allied Powers were in control of the defeated Axis countries. Anticipating the defeat of Germany and Japan, they had already set up the European Advisory Commission and a proposed Far Eastern Advisory Commission to make recommendations...

s).

Some of the Soviet citizens would side with the Germans and join Andrey Vlasov
Andrey Vlasov
Andrey Andreyevich Vlasov or Wlassow was a Russian Red Army general who collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II.-Early career:...

's Russian Liberation Army
Russian Liberation Army
Russian Liberation Army was a group of predominantly Russian forces subordinated to the Nazi German high command during World War II....

. Most of those who joined were Russian POWs. These men were primarily used in the Eastern Front but some were assigned to guard the beaches of Normandy
Normandy
Normandy is a geographical region corresponding to the former Duchy of Normandy. It is in France.The continental territory covers 30,627 km² and forms the preponderant part of Normandy and roughly 5% of the territory of France. It is divided for administrative purposes into two régions:...

.
The other main group of men joining the German army were citizens of the Baltic countries annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 or from Western Ukraine. They fought in their own Waffen-SS units.

A comparison of the losses demonstrates the cruel treatment of the Soviet POWs by the Nazis. Most of the Axis POWs were released from captivity several years after the war, but the fate of the Soviet POWs differed markedly. Nazi troops who captured Red Army soldiers frequently shot them in the field or shipped them to concentration camps and executed them. Hitler's notorious Commissar Order
Commissar Order
The Commissar Order was a written order given by Adolf Hitler on 6 June 1941, prior to Operation Barbarossa. Its official name was Guidelines for the Treatment of Political Commissars...

 implicated all the German armed forces in the policy of war crimes.

See also

  • Historiography of World War II
    Historiography of World War II
    The Historiography of World War II is the study of how historians viewed the causes and outcome of World War II.-Contemporary View:Especially directly after World War II, Nazi Germany was held to blame for starting the war. Historians cited several reasons for this...

  • Horses in World War II
    Horses in World War II
    Horses in World War II were used by the belligerent nations for transportation of troops, artillery, materiel, and, to a lesser extent, in mobile cavalry troops. The role of horses for each nation depended on its military strategy and state of economy and was most pronounced in German and Soviet...

  • Timeline of the Eastern Front of World War II
  • List of military operations on the Eastern Front of World War II
  • Operation Silberfuchs – Axis attack on the Soviet Arctic
  • Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation – the Soviet campaign against Japan
    Japan
    Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

     in Manchuria
    Manchuria
    Manchuria is a historical name given to a large geographic region in northeast Asia. Depending on the definition of its extent, Manchuria usually falls entirely within the People's Republic of China, or is sometimes divided between China and Russia. The region is commonly referred to as Northeast...

    , Inner Mongolia
    Inner Mongolia
    Inner Mongolia is an autonomous region of the People's Republic of China, located in the northern region of the country. Inner Mongolia shares an international border with the countries of Mongolia and the Russian Federation...

    , Korea
    Korea
    Korea ) is an East Asian geographic region that is currently divided into two separate sovereign states — North Korea and South Korea. Located on the Korean Peninsula, Korea is bordered by the People's Republic of China to the northwest, Russia to the northeast, and is separated from Japan to the...

    , Sakhalin
    Sakhalin
    Sakhalin or Saghalien, is a large island in the North Pacific, lying between 45°50' and 54°24' N.It is part of Russia, and is Russia's largest island, and is administered as part of Sakhalin Oblast...

     and the Kurile Islands
  • Captured German equipment in Soviet use in Eastern front
  • Voenno-vozdushniye Sily – Soviet Air Force in World War II
  • Morskaya Aviatsiya – Soviet Naval Air Service in World War II
  • Women in the Russian and Soviet military
    Women in the Russian and Soviet military
    Women in the Russian and Soviet military, as in other nations, have played an important role in their country's military history, in particular during the Great Patriotic War. Despite performing various duties in the armies throughout Russian history, it was in the 20th century that women began to...

  • Occupation of Belarus by Nazi Germany
    Occupation of Belarus by Nazi Germany
    The occupation of Belarus by Nazi Germany occurred as part of the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 and ended in August 1944 with the Soviet Operation Bagration.- Background :...

  • Italian war in Soviet Union, 1941-1943
    Italian war in Soviet Union, 1941-1943
    The Italian participation in the Eastern Front during World War II began after the launch of Operation Barbarossa on 22 June 1941. Barbarossa was the German war against the Soviet Union...

    • The Italian Alpini infantry corps in Russia
  • Victory Day
    Victory Day
    Victory Day is a common name of many different public holidays in various countries to commemorate victories in important battles or wars in the countries' history.- April 30 in Vietnam :...

     and Ribbon of Saint George
    Ribbon of Saint George
    The Ribbon of St George or St. George's Ribbon constitutes one of the most recognised and respected symbols of military valour in modern Russia. It is widely associated with the commemoration of World War II and especially with the units who were awarded the collective Guard battle honours during...

  • The Battle of Russia
    The Battle of Russia
    The Battle of Russia is the fifth film of Frank Capra's Why We Fight propaganda film series, and the longest film of the series.The film begins with an overview of previous failed attempts to conquer Russia: by the Teutonic Knights in 1242 , by Charles XII of Sweden in 1704 The Battle of Russia is...

     – film from the Why We Fight
    Why We Fight
    Why We Fight is a series of seven war information training films commissioned by the United States government during World War II whose purpose was to show American soldiers the reason for U.S. involvement in the war. Later on they were also shown to the general U.S...

     propaganda film series
  • Severity Order
    Severity Order
    The Severity Order was the name given to an order promulgated within the German Sixth Army on the Eastern Front during World War II by Field Marshal Walther von Reichenau on 10 October 1941....

  • Romania during World War II
    Romania during World War II
    Following the outbreak of World War II on 1 September 1939, the Kingdom of Romania officially adopted a position of neutrality. However, the rapidly changing situation in Europe during 1940, as well as domestic political upheaval, undermined this stance. Fascist political forces such as the Iron...

  • Hungary during World War II
    Hungary during World War II
    Hungary during World War II was a member of the Axis powers. In the 1930s, the Kingdom of Hungary relied on increased trade with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany to pull itself out of the Great Depression. By 1938, Hungarian politics and foreign policy had become increasingly pro-Fascist Italian and...

  • Military history of Finland during World War II
    Military history of Finland during World War II
    From 1939 to 1945, Finland fought three wars: the Winter War alone against the Soviet Union, the Continuation War with Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union, and the Lapland War against Nazi Germany...

  • Military history of Bulgaria during World War II
    Military history of Bulgaria during World War II
    The military history of Bulgaria during World War II encompasses an initial period of neutrality until 1 March 1941, a period of alliance with the Axis Powers until 9 September 1944 and a period of alignment with the Allies until the end of the war. Bulgaria was a constitutional monarchy during...

  • Estonia in World War II
    Estonia in World War II
    The ground for the fate of Estonia in World War II was laid by the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, particularly its Secret Additional Protocol of August 1939....

  • Western Front (World War II)
    Western Front (World War II)
    The Western Front of the European Theatre of World War II encompassed, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and West Germany. The Western Front was marked by two phases of large-scale ground combat operations...


External links