Army Group Centre 's two panzer groups the 2nd and 3rd , advanced to the north and south of Brest-Litovsk and converged east of Minsk , followed by the 2nd , 4th , and 9th Armies. The next objective was to cross the Dnieper river , which was accomplished by 11 July. Their next target was Smolensk , which fell on 16 July, but the fierce Soviet resistance in the Smolensk area and slowing of the Wehrmacht advance by the North and South Army Groups forced Hitler to halt a central thrust at Moscow and to divert the 3rd Panzer Group north.
Critically, Guderian 's 2nd Panzer Group 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. The German field commanders 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 's outcome, by slowing down the advance on Moscow in favor of encircling large numbers of Soviet troops around Kiev. Army Group South , with the 1st Panzer Group , the 6th , 11th and 17th Armies , was tasked with advancing through Galicia and into Ukraine. Their progress, however, was rather slow, and they took heavy casualties in a major tank battle. The 1st Panzer Group turned away from Kiev for the moment, advancing into the Dnieper bend western Dnipropetrovsk Oblast.
When it joined up with the southern elements of Army Group South at Uman , the Group captured about , Soviet prisoners in a huge encirclement. As the Red Army withdrew behind the Dnieper and Dvina rivers, the Soviet Stavka high command turned its attention to evacuating as much of the western regions' industry as it could. Factories were dismantled and transported on flatcars away from the front line for re-establishment in more remote areas of the Ural Mountains , Caucasus , Central Asia and south-eastern Siberia.
Most civilians were left to make their own way east, with only industry-related workers evacuated with the equipment; much of the population was left behind to the mercy of the invading forces.
Eastern Front (World War II)
Stalin ordered the retreating Red Army to initiate a scorched-earth policy to deny the Germans and their allies basic supplies as they advanced eastward. To carry out that order, destruction battalions were formed in front-line areas, having the authority to summarily execute any suspicious person. The destruction battalions burned down villages, schools, and public buildings. Hitler then decided to resume the advance on Moscow, re-designating the panzer groups as panzer armies for the occasion. North of the Arctic Circle , a German—Finnish force set out for Murmansk but could get no further than the Zapadnaya Litsa River , where they settled down.
The combined German and Romanian forces moved into the Crimea and took control of all of the peninsula by autumn except Sevastopol , which held out until 3 July On 21 November, the Wehrmacht took Rostov , the gateway to the Caucasus. 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 ; the first significant German withdrawal of the war. The onset of the winter freeze saw one last German lunge that opened on 15 November, when the Wehrmacht attempted to encircle Moscow.
Meanwhile, the 2nd Panzer Army failed to take Tula , the last Soviet city that stood in its way to the capital. After a meeting held in Orsha between the head of the OKH Army General Staff , General Franz Halder and the heads of three Army groups and armies, decided to push forward to Moscow since it was better, as argued by the head of Army Group Center , Field Marshal Fedor von Bock , for them to try their luck on the battlefield rather than just sit and wait while their opponent gathered more strength.
Operation Barbarossa : Nazi Germany's war in the East, 1941-1945
However, by 6 December it became clear that the Wehrmacht did not have the strength to capture Moscow, and the attack was suspended. Marshal Shaposhnikov thus began his counter-attack , employing freshly mobilized reserves ,  as well as some well-trained Far-Eastern divisions transferred from the east following intelligence that Japan would remain neutral. The Soviet counter-offensive during the Battle of Moscow had removed the immediate German threat to the city. According to Zhukov , "the success of the December counter-offensive in the central strategic direction was considerable.
Having suffered a major defeat the German striking forces of Army Group Centre were retreating. The main blow was to be delivered by a double envelopment orchestrated by the Northwestern Front , the Kalinin Front and the Western Front.
Operation Barbarossa : Nazi Germany's war in the East,… — Kalamazoo Public Library
The overall objective according to Zhukov was the "subsequent encirclement and destruction of the enemy's main forces in the area of Rzhev, Vyazma and Smolensk. The 20th Army, part of the 1st Shock Army, the 22nd Tank Brigade and five ski battalions launched their attack on 10 January By 17 January, the Soviets had captured Lotoshino and Shakhovskaya. By 20 January, the 5th and 33rd armies had captured Ruza, Dorokhovo, Mozhaisk and Vereya, while the 43rd and 49th armies were at Domanovo. The Wehrmacht rallied, retaining a salient at Rzhev. A Soviet parachute drop by two battalions of the st Airborne Brigade and the th Airborne Regiment on 18 and 22 January was designed to "cut off enemy communications with the rear.
Mikhail Grigoryevich Yefremov 's 33rd Army aided by Gen. This force was joined by additional paratroopers of the 8th Airborne Brigade at the end of January. However, in early February, the Germans managed to cut off this force, separating the Soviets from their main force in the rear of the Germans.
They were supplied by air until April when they were given permission to regain the Soviet main lines. Only part of Belov's Cavalry Corps made it to safety however, while Yefremov's men fought "a losing battle. By April , the Soviet Supreme Command agreed to assume the defensive so as to "consolidate the captured ground. To the north, the Red Army surrounded a German garrison in Demyansk , which held out with air supply for four months, and established themselves in front of Kholm , Velizh , and Velikie Luki.
Initially this made some progress; however, it was unsupported, and by June a German counterattack cut off and destroyed the army. The intent was to pin Army Group South against the Sea of Azov , but as the winter eased the Wehrmacht counter-attacked and cut off the over-extended Soviet troops in the Second Battle of Kharkov. Although plans were made to attack Moscow again, on 28 June , the offensive re-opened in a different direction.
Army Group South took the initiative, anchoring the front with the Battle of Voronezh 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 oil fields , but operational considerations and Hitler's vanity made him order both objectives to be attempted simultaneously. Rostov was recaptured on 24 July when the 1st Panzer Army joined in, and then that group drove south towards Maikop.
As part of this, Operation Shamil was executed, a plan whereby a group of Brandenburger commandos dressed up as Soviet NKVD troops to destabilise Maikop's defences and allow the 1st Panzer Army to enter the oil town with little opposition. Meanwhile, the 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 the 4th Panzer Army had rejoined the Stalingrad offensive Soviet resistance comprising the 62nd Army under Vasily Chuikov had stiffened.
A leap across the Don brought German troops to the Volga on 23 August but for the next three months the Wehrmacht would be fighting the Battle of Stalingrad street-by-street. 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. They took up position on either side of Stalingrad to free German troops for the main offensive. Mindful of the continuing antagonism between Axis allies Romania and Hungary over Transylvania , 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 Slovakian contingent with the 1st Panzer Army and a Croatian regiment attached to 6th Army. The advance into the Caucasus bogged down, with the Germans unable to fight their way past Malgobek and to the main prize of Grozny. 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. 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.
While the German 6th and 4th Panzer Armies had been fighting their way into Stalingrad, Soviet armies had congregated on either side of the city, specifically into the Don bridgeheads , and it was from these that they struck in November In Operation Uranus started on 19 November, two Soviet fronts punched through the Romanian lines and converged at Kalach on 23 November, trapping , Axis troops behind them. The Germans rushed to transfer troops to the Soviet Union in 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.
To divert the rescue attempt, the Red Army 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 , the 90, survivors of the ,man 6th Army surrendered. By that time the Hungarian 2nd Army had also been wiped out. 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 in eastern Ukraine.
Manstein 's counteroffensive, strengthened by a specially trained SS Panzer Corps equipped with Tiger tanks , opened on 20 February and fought its way from Poltava back into Kharkov in the third week of March, when the spring thaw intervened. This left a glaring Soviet bulge salient in the front centered on Kursk.
After the failure of the attempt to capture Stalingrad, Hitler had delegated planning authority for the upcoming campaign season to the German Army High Command and reinstated Heinz Guderian 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 , barbed wire , trenches , pillboxes , artillery and mortars. However, if one last great blitzkrieg offensive could be mounted, then attention could then be turned to the Allied threat to the Western Front. Certainly, the peace negotiations in April had gone nowhere. Both wings would converge on the area east of Kursk, and by that means restore the lines of Army Group South to the exact points that it held over the winter of — In the north, the entire German 9th Army had been redeployed from the Rzhev salient into the Orel salient and was to advance from Maloarkhangelsk to Kursk.
The 9th Army blunted its spearhead against the Soviet minefields , 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 Red Army then launched a counter-offensive, Operation Kutuzov. On 12 July the Red Army battled through the demarcation line between the th and rd divisions on the Zhizdra River and steamed towards Karachev , right behind them and behind Orel. The southern offensive, spearheaded by 4th Panzer Army , led by Gen. Hoth , with three Tank Corps made more headway. Battle was joined on 12 July, with about one thousand tanks being engaged. After the war, the battle near Prochorovka was idealized by Soviet historians as the largest tank battle of all time.
The meeting engagement at Prochorovka was a Soviet defensive success, albeit at heavy cost. Tank losses on both sides have been the source of controversy ever since. Although the 5th Guards Tank Army did not attain its objectives, the German advance had been halted. At the end of the day both sides had fought each other to a standstill, but regardless of the German failure in the north Erich von Manstein proposed he continue the attack with the 4th Panzer Army.
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 halt 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 defence against a major Soviet counteroffensive that lasted into August. The Kursk offensive was the last on the scale of and that the Wehrmacht was able to launch; subsequent offensives would represent only a shadow of previous German offensive might.
The Soviet multi-stage summer offensive started with the advance into the Orel salient. Although intense battles of movement throughout late July and into August saw the Tigers blunting Soviet tank attacks on one axis, they were soon outflanked on another line to the west as the Soviet forces advanced down the Psel , and Kharkov was abandoned 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 Red Army hit them they retreated all the way through the Donbass industrial region to the Dnieper, losing 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 Siegfried Line of fortifications along the German frontier in the west. The main problem for the Wehrmacht was that these defences had not yet been built; by the time Army Group South had evacuated eastern Ukraine and begun withdrawing across the Dnieper during September, the Soviet forces were hard behind them.
A second attempt by the Red Army to gain land using parachutists, mounted at Kaniv on 24 September, proved as disappointing as at Dorogobuzh eighteen months previously. 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.
Important Dnieper towns started to fall, with Zaporozhye the first to go, followed by Dnepropetrovsk. Finally, early in November the Red Army broke out of its 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 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 the retreat began anew when the First Ukrainian Front renamed from the Voronezh Front struck them in the same place.
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The Soviet advance continued along the railway line until the Polish—Soviet border was reached on 3 January In the second week of January they swung north, meeting Vatutin's tank forces which had swung south from their penetration into Poland and surrounding ten German divisions at Korsun—Shevchenkovsky, west of Cherkassy. 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 Red Army 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 , Malinovsky's forces advanced across the mud to the Romanian border, not stopping on the river Prut. One final move in the south completed the —44 campaigning season, which had wrapped up a Soviet advance of over miles. After two weeks' of heavy fighting, the 1st Panzer managed to escape the pocket, at the cost of losing almost the entire heavy equipment.
At this point, Hitler sacked several prominent generals, Manstein included. In April, the Red Army took back Odessa , followed by 4th Ukrainian Front's campaign to restore control over the Crimea, which culminated in the capture of Sevastopol on 10 May. Along Army Group Centre's front, August 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. In a lightning campaign, the Germans were pushed back from Leningrad and Novgorod was captured by Soviet forces. After a mile advance in January and February, the Leningrad Front had reached the borders of Estonia.
To Stalin, the Baltic Sea seemed the quickest way to take the battles to the German territory in East Prussia and seize control of Finland. The German army group "Narwa" included Estonian conscripts , defending the re-establishment of Estonian independence. Wehrmacht planners were convinced that the Red Army would attack again in the south, where the front was fifty miles from Lviv and offered the most direct route to Berlin. 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 was agreed upon by Allies at the Tehran Conference in December and launched on 22 June , was a massive Soviet attack, consisting of four Soviet army groups totaling over divisions that smashed into a thinly held German line.
More than 2. At the points of attack, the numerical and quality advantages of the Soviet forces were overwhelming. The Red Army achieved a ratio of ten to one in tanks and seven to one in aircraft over their enemy. The Germans crumbled. The capital of Belarus , Minsk , was taken on 3 July, trapping some , Germans. Ten days later the Red Army reached the prewar Polish border. Bagration was, by any measure, one of the largest single operations of the war.
The offensive at Estonia claimed another , Soviet soldiers, , of them classed as dead. The Soviet advance in the south continued into Romania and, following a coup against the Axis-allied government of Romania on 23 August, the Red Army occupied Bucharest on 31 August. Romania and the Soviet Union signed an armistice on 12 September. The rapid progress of Operation Bagration threatened to cut off and isolate the German units of Army Group North bitterly resisting the Soviet advance towards Tallinn.
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 10 June and the Finnish forces retreated to their secondary defence line, the VT-line. The Soviet attack was supported by a heavy artillery barrage, air bombardments and armoured forces. After heavy fighting in the battles of Tali-Ihantala and Ilomantsi , Finnish troops finally managed to halt the Soviet attack. During the Warsaw Uprising , the Red Army halted at the Vistula River , unable or unwilling to come to the aid of the Polish resistance.
Two months later, the Soviet forces won the battle and entered Slovakia. The Soviet Union finally entered Warsaw on 17 January , after the city was destroyed and abandoned by the Germans. Over three days, on a broad front incorporating four army fronts , the Red Army launched the Vistula—Oder Offensive across the Narew River and from Warsaw. The Soviets outnumbered the Germans on average by 5— in troops, in artillery, in tanks and in self-propelled artillery.
During the full course of the Vistula—Oder operation 23 days , the Red Army forces sustained , total casualties killed, wounded and missing and lost 1, tanks and assault guns. On 25 January , Hitler renamed three army groups. In the south, the German attempts, in Operation Konrad , to relieve the encircled garrison at Budapest failed and the city fell on 13 February. On 6 March, the Germans launched what would be their final major offensive of the war, Operation Spring Awakening , which failed by 16 March.
OKW claim German losses of 77, killed, , wounded and , missing, with a total of , men, on the Eastern Front during January and February 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 throughout the war. During the period it lasted 13 January — 25 April , it cost the Red Army , casualties, and 3, tanks and assault guns.
During the first two weeks of April, the Red Army performed their fastest front redeployment of the war. 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.
The Soviet offensive had two objectives. Because of Stalin's suspicions about the intentions of the Western Allies to hand over territory occupied by them in the post-war Soviet sphere of 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 part of the German atomic bomb program. The offensive to capture central Germany and Berlin 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. They were now free to move west towards the British 21st Army Group and north towards the Baltic port of Stralsund.
On 29 and 30 April, as the Soviet forces fought their way into the centre of Berlin, Adolf Hitler married Eva Braun and then committed suicide by taking cyanide and shooting himself. Helmuth Weidling , defence commandant of Berlin, surrendered the city to the Soviet forces on 2 May. German losses in this period of the war remain impossible to determine with any reliability.
It included the phrase All forces under German control to cease active operations at hours Central European time on 8 May 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 time. This date is celebrated as a national holiday — Victory Day — in Russia as part of a two-day 8—9 May holiday and some other post-Soviet countries.
The ceremonial Victory parade was held in Moscow on 24 June. The German Army Group Centre initially refused to surrender and continued to fight in Czechoslovakia until about 11 May. A small German garrison on the Danish island of Bornholm refused to surrender until they were bombed and invaded by the Soviets. The island was returned to the Danish government four months later. The Soviet invasion of Manchuria began on 8 August , with an assault on the Japanese puppet states of Manchukuo and neighbouring Mengjiang ; the greater offensive would eventually include northern Korea , southern Sakhalin , and the Kuril Islands.
Apart from the Battles of Khalkhin Gol , it marked the only military action of the Soviet Union against Imperial Japan ; at the Yalta Conference , 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. It is generally accepted as being the deadliest conflict in human history, with over 30 million killed as a result. 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 the terrorization of their own people, as well as mass deportations of entire populations.
All these factors resulted in tremendous brutality both to combatants and civilians that found no parallel on the Western Front. According to Time magazine : "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 that opened with the Normandy invasion. Army Chief of Staff , calculated that without the Eastern Front, the United States would have had to double the number of its soldiers on the Western Front. In War II Russia occupies a dominant position and is the decisive factor looking toward the defeat of the Axis in Europe.
While in Sicily the forces of Great Britain and the United States are being opposed by 2 German divisions, the Russian front is receiving attention of approximately German divisions. Whenever the Allies open a second front on the Continent, it will be decidedly a secondary front to that of Russia; theirs will continue to be the main effort.
Without Russia in the war, the Axis cannot be defeated in Europe, and the position of the United Nations becomes precarious. With Germany crushed, there is no power in Europe to oppose her tremendous military forces. 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 those carried out as part of the Holocaust.
German and German-allied forces treated civilian populations with exceptional brutality, massacring whole village populations and routinely killing civilian hostages see German war crimes. Both sides practised widespread scorched earth 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 were killed.
According to British historian Geoffrey 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 projections would have led one to expect. After the war, following the Yalta conference agreements between the Allies, the German populations of East Prussia and Silesia were displaced to the west of the Oder—Neisse line , in what became one of the largest forced migrations of people in world history.
Much of the combat took place in or close to populated areas, and the actions of both sides contributed to massive loss of civilian life and tremendous material damage. According to a summary, presented by Lieutenant General Roman Rudenko at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg , the property damage in the Soviet Union inflicted by the Axis invasion was estimated to a value of billion rubles. The largest number of civilian deaths in a single city was 1.
Seven million horses, 17 million cattle, 20 million pigs, 27 million sheep were also slaughtered or driven off. Wolves and foxes fleeing westward from the killing zone, as the Soviet army advanced between and , were responsible for a rabies epidemic that spread slowly westwards, reaching the coast of the English Channel by The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were both ideologically driven states by Soviet communism and by Nazism respectively , in which the foremost political leaders had near-absolute power.
The character of the war was thus determined by the political leaders and their ideology to a much greater extent than in any other theatre of World War II. Adolf Hitler exercised tight control over the German war-effort, spending much of his time in his command bunkers most notably at Rastenburg in East Prussia , at Vinnitsa in Ukraine , and under the garden of the Reich Chancellery in Berlin.
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 from the OKW staff with rhetoric. In part because of the unexpected degree of German success in the Battle of France 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 , when Walther von Brauchitsch commander-in-chief of the Wehrmacht and Fedor von Bock appealed 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. In the winter of — Hitler believed that his obstinate refusal to allow the German armies to retreat had saved Army Group Centre from collapse.
He later told Erhard Milch :. 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 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 with fanatical Nazis.
The disastrous encirclements later in the war — at Stalingrad , Korsun and many other places — resulted directly from Hitler's orders. This idea of holding territory led to another failed plan, dubbed [ by whom? Many divisions became cut off in "fortress" cities, or wasted uselessly in secondary theatres, because Hitler would not sanction retreat or voluntarily abandon any of his conquests.
Frustration at Hitler's leadership in the war was one of the factors in the attempted coup d'etat of , 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 SS and Nazi party members to prosecute the war. Hitler's direction of the war ultimately proved 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. Winterbotham wrote of Hitler's signal to Gerd von Rundstedt to continue the attack to the west during the Battle of the Bulge :.
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 bore the greatest responsibility for some of the disasters at the beginning of the war for example, the Battle of Kiev , but equally deserves praise for the subsequent success of the Soviet Red Army , which depended on the unprecedentedly rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union , which Stalin's internal policy had made the first priority throughout the s. Stalin's Great Purge of the Red Army in the late s involved the legal prosecution of many of the senior command, many of whom the courts convicted and sentenced to death or to imprisonment.
The executed included Mikhail Tukhachevsky , a proponent of armoured blitzkrieg. Stalin promoted some obscurantists like Grigory Kulik who opposed the mechanization of the army and the production of tanks, but on the other hand purged the older commanders who had held their positions since the Russian Civil War of —, and who had experience, but were deemed "politically unreliable".
This opened up their places to the promotion of many younger officers that Stalin and the NKVD regarded as in line with Stalinist politics. Many [ quantify ] of these newly promoted commanders proved terribly inexperienced, but some later became very successful. Soviet tank-output remained the largest in the world. From the foundation of the Red Army in , political distrust of the military had led to a system of "dual command", with every commander paired with a political commissar , a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Larger units had military councils consisting of the commander, commissar and chief of staff — commissars ensured the loyalty of the commanding officers and implemented Party orders. Following the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland , of the Baltic states and of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina in —, Stalin insisted on the occupation of every fold of the newly Sovietized territories; this move westward positioned troops far from their depots, in salients that left them vulnerable to encirclement. As tension heightened in spring, , Stalin desperately tried not to give Hitler any provocation that Berlin could use as an excuse for a German attack; Stalin refused to allow the military to go on the alert — even as German troops gathered on the borders and German reconnaissance planes overflew installations.
This refusal to take 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 German-Soviet war. At the crisis of the war, in the autumn of , Stalin made many concessions to the army: the government restored unitary command by removing the Commissars from the chain of command.
Beginning in autumn , units that had proved themselves by superior performance in combat were given the traditional "Guards" title. These concessions were combined with ruthless discipline: Order No. Infractions by military and politruks were punished with transferral to penal battalions and to penal companies which carried out especially hazardous duties, such as serving as tramplers to clear Nazi minefields.
As it became clear that the Soviet Union would win the war, Stalin ensured that propaganda always mentioned his leadership of the war; he sidelined the victorious generals and never allowed them to develop into political rivals. After the war the Soviets once again purged the Red Army though not as brutally as in the s and demoted many successful officers including Zhukov , Malinovsky and Koniev to unimportant positions. The enormous territorial gains of 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 the German advance in this way, the majority of the Soviet population viewed German forces as occupiers. In areas such as Estonia , Latvia , and Lithuania which had been annexed by the Soviet Union in the Wehrmacht was tolerated by a relatively more significant part of the native population.
This was particularly true for the territories of Western Ukraine, recently rejoined to the Soviet Union, where the anti-Polish and anti-Soviet Ukrainian nationalist underground hoped in vain to establish the "independent state", relying on German armed force. However, Soviet society as a whole was hostile to the invading Nazis from the very start.
The nascent national liberation movements among Ukrainians and Cossacks , 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 Nazi ideologues 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 an attempt to conquer and enslave the local population. Regions closer to the front were managed by military powers of the region, in other areas such as the Baltic states annexed by the USSR in , Reichscommissariats were established. As a rule, the maximum in loot was extracted.
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 task groups to round up Jews and shoot them.
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 as the Germans requisitioned food for their armies and fodder for their draft horses. As they retreated from Ukraine and Belarus in —44, the German occupiers systematically applied a scorched earth policy, burning towns and cities, destroying infrastructure, and leaving civilians to starve or die of exposure.
The Nazi ideology and the maltreatment of the local population and Soviet POWs encouraged partisans fighting behind the front; it 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 Military losses of Civilian deaths totalled Additional famine deaths, which totalled one million during —47, are not included here.
These losses are for the entire territory of the USSR including territories annexed in — Belarus 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 The Nazis imposed a brutal regime, deporting some , young people for slave labour, and killing hundreds of thousands civilians more. Some recent reports raise the number of Belarusians who perished in the war to "3 million thousand people, unlike the former 2.
Sixty percent of Soviet POWs died during the war. By , 80 per cent of civilians and 20 per cent of POWs were freed, others were re-drafted, or sent to labour battalions. Two per cent of civilians and 14 per cent of the POWs were sent to the Gulag. The official Polish government report of war losses prepared in reported 6,, victims out of a population of 27,, ethnic Poles and Jews; this report excluded ethnic Ukrainian and Belarusian losses.
Although the Soviet Union had not signed the Geneva Convention , it is generally accepted that it considered itself bound by the provisions of the Hague convention. This 'note' was left unanswered by Third Reich officials. Soviet repressions also contributed into the Eastern Front's death toll.
Mass repression occurred in the occupied portions of Poland as well as in the Baltic states and Bessarabia. Immediately after the start of the German invasion, the NKVD massacred large numbers of inmates in most of their prisons in Western Belarus and Western Ukraine, while the remainder was to be evacuated in death marches. 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 s had resulted in the industrialization of the Urals and central Asia. In , thousands of trains evacuated critical factories and workers from Belarus and Ukraine to safe areas far from the front lines. Once these facilities were reassembled east of the Urals, production could be resumed without fear of German bombing. As the Soviet Union's manpower reserves ran low from onwards, the great Soviet offensives had to depend more on equipment and less on the expenditure of lives. The Germans, on the other hand, could rely on a large slave workforce from the conquered countries and Soviet POWs.
American exports and technical expertise also enabled the Soviets to produce goods that they wouldn't have been able to on their own. German production of explosives from — was 1. Consumption on all fronts during the same period was 1. Soviet armored fighting vehicle production was greater than the Germans in , the Soviet Union manufactured 24, tanks and self-propelled guns to Germany's 19, The Soviets incrementally upgraded existing designs, and simplified and refined manufacturing processes to increase production, and were helped by a mass infusion of harder to produce goods such as aviation fuel, machine tools, trucks, and high-explosives from Lend-Lease, allowing them to concentrate on a few key industries.
Meanwhile, Germany had been cut off from foreign trade for years by the time it invaded the USSR, was in the middle of two extended and costly theaters at air and sea that further limited production Battle of the Atlantic and Defence of the Reich , and was forced to devote a large segment of its expenditures to goods the Soviets could cut back on such as trucks or which would never even be used against the Soviets such as ships. This included , trucks, 12, armored vehicles including 7, tanks , 11, aircraft and 1. Five thousand tanks were provided by the British and Canada.
Total British supplies were about four million tons. After the defeat at Stalingrad, Germany geared completely towards a war economy, as expounded in a speech given by Joseph Goebbels , the Nazi propaganda minister , in the Berlin Sportpalast , increasing production in subsequent years under Albert Speer 's the Reich armaments minister direction, despite the intensifying Allied bombing campaign.
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 the European portion of World War II with up to 10 million military deaths on the Soviet side although, depending on the criteria used, casualties in the Far East theatre may have been similar in number. Included in this figure of German losses is the majority of the 2 million German military personnel listed as missing or unaccounted for after the war.
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Estimated civilian deaths range from about 14 to 17 million. Over According to the Narkomat of Defence order No. The huge death toll was attributed to several factors, including brutal mistreatment of POWs and captured partisans, the large deficiency of food and medical supplies in Soviet territories, and atrocities committed mostly by the Germans against the civilian population.
The multiple battles and the use of scorched earth tactics destroyed agricultural land , infrastructure, and whole towns, leaving much of the population homeless and without food. According to a report prepared by the General Staff of the Army issued in December , materiel losses in the East from the period of 22 June until November stood at 33, armored vehicles of all types tanks, assault guns, tank destroyers, self-propelled guns and others.
Paul Winter, Defeating Hitler , states "these figures are undoubtedly too low". The Soviets lost 96, tanks, tank destroyers, self-propelled guns and assault guns, as well as 37, other armored vehicles such as armored cars and semi-tracked trucks for a total of , armored vehicles lost. The Soviets also lost , aircraft combat and non-combat causes , including 46, in combat. Polish Armed Forces in the East , initially consisting of Poles from Eastern Poland or otherwise in the Soviet Union in —, began fighting alongside the Red Army in , and grew steadily as more Polish territory was liberated from the Nazis in — When the Axis countries of Central Europe were occupied by the Soviets, they changed sides and declared war on Germany see Allied Commissions.
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. They fought in their own Waffen-SS units. Hitler's notorious Commissar Order called for Soviet political commissars, who were responsible for ensuring that Red Army units remained politically reliable, to be summarily shot when identified amongst captured troops. Axis troops who captured Red Army soldiers frequently shot them in the field or shipped them to concentration camps to be used as forced laborers or killed.
It is estimated that between 2. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For a discussion of the term itself, see Great Patriotic War term. Not to be confused with Patriotic War of Finland until Add to Wishlist. USD Sign in to Purchase Instantly. Overview The war between Nazi Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union that raged between and was the ultimate confrontation between the two great totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century.
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