What was the reason for Soviet troops to withdraw from Yugoslavia in World War II?

What was the reason for Soviet troops to withdraw from Yugoslavia in World War II?

For all these countries that the Red Army entered (Poland, Romania, part of Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary), the procedure was straightforward. Once the Soviets beat the Germans they become de facto occupants and could establish a government of their choice.

With Bulgaria it was a little bit different. Once it became clear that the Red Army offensive would enter their country, local communists swiftly executed a coup d'etat, which was obviously not opposed by either the Bulgarian public or the USSR. Even so, they still went under Soviet control.

In Yugoslavia, they had their own socialist government. However, since 1948 Yugoslavia was independent from USSR. As much as it is questionable if they were a part of the Eastern Bloc, they surely weren't under USSR power like the rest. (Albania had some similarities, also being independent since 1961. Albania was geographically separated from the Eastern Bloc in that it only bordered Yugoslavia.)

Somehow, it never occurred to me that the Red Army did enter Yugoslavia, and did take a major part in liberating the capital in 1944. What were the reasons for completely withdrawing their troops, and when did it happen? It is so unlike Stalin to do something like this. He could leave at least a few rear units and try to influence, if not control, the situation later. This would repeat the usual scenario that had played out previously. The West could object, but surely they wouldn't bring their own troops to Yugoslavia to escalate conflict, especially since everyone was still facing the Germans. It seems that it is somewhat exceptional that Yugoslavia was handled this way with respect to all the other countries where the Red Army "dropped by".

Part of the story is probably the Percentages agreement between Churchill and Stalin, from the Moscow Conference in 1944.

According to Wikipedia,

Churchill's account of the incident is the following: Churchill suggested that the Soviet Union should have 90 percent influence in Romania and 75 percent in Bulgaria; the United Kingdom should have 90 percent in Greece; in Hungary and Yugoslavia, Churchill suggested that they should have 50 percent each. Churchill wrote it on a piece of paper which he pushed across to Stalin, who ticked it off and passed it back.

It was amended later for Hungary. Wikipedia further writes:

If this agreement was true, then Stalin did keep to his promise about Greece, but did not keep his promise for Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary, which became one-party communist states with no British influence. Yugoslavia remained a non-aligned state in line with the Percentage agreement, though it was a one-party communist state, with very limited British influence. Neither did Churchill keep his promise about Greece, which became a one-party junta with no Soviet influence. Britain supported the Greek government forces in the civil war but the Soviet Union did not assist the communist partisans.

As the article also notes, this version has been disputed. But it might be the case that Stalin was wary that he could't take everything and get away with it.

There were a couple reasons. The first was that Tito basically represented "a government of their [Soviet] choice". The second was that Tito showed that he could "take care of himself".

Josip Broz Tito had started with the Russian Communist Party as early as 1917. When "Russia" became the Soviet Union, he was a member of the Soviet Communist party and secret police, before he went back to Yugoslavia. He was highly regarded among Soviet and East European Party members. Essentially, Stalin couldn't find a "better" Communist.

The other reason is that Tito had led the resistance movement beginning in 1941, right from the beginning of the German occupation. He even established a short-lived "Republic" later that year. Given that he was able to keep part of Yugoslavia "independent" of the Axis, he could do the same, if necessary, vis-a-vis Stalin, who preferred to have Tito "nominally" under his control, than an open enemy.

The Soviet troops withdrew from Yugoslavia late in 1944, en route to fighting German and Hungarian enemies, and after securing some (logistical) support from Tito.

The Soviets only had a small presence in Yugoslavia, during the capture of Belgrade where they only had an assisting role - Tito's Partisans proved more than capable of defeating the Nazis on their own. The troops in Yugoslavia, the 2nd and 3rd Ukranian Front, were needed elsewhere, and so were redeployed to Hungary once it was clear the Yugoslavians had things well in hand.

The Wiki article on the Tito-Stalin split has some more background on how Yugoslavia avoided becoming a satellite state of the Soviet Union.

Tito was a master of deception. After finally meeting Churchill in 1943 and getting his support changed from Draza Mihailovic's Chetniks to his communist partisans, Tito flew to Moscow in 1944 to obtain the Soviets' support for the liberation of Belgrade. Tito had one condition for the Soviet troops - not to use heavy artillery during the liberation of Belgrade.

As a consequence, the Soviets had heavy casualties during the street-to-street fighting with retreating Nazi troops. Once when Belgrade was liberated, the Soviets installed heavy artillery on the banks of Danube from which they started shelling of Zemun, the Croatian city ruled by the pro-Nazi Croatian Ustaše. The Russian statement of proclaiming Croatia an easy campaign led to the complete devastation of Zemun. In order to preserve the rest of Croatia from Soviet shelling Tito thanked Soviets for their help and asked them to leave the liberation of Croatia to his partisans troops.

It has nothing to do with percentages, but with agreement between Yugoslavian communists and Soviet communists.

Tito was in contact with Comiterna throughout the war and when Soviets came to Yugoslavia. That was in fact the only allied territory, unlike all others who fought against them in one way or another. British absolutely didnt have a say in post war Yugoslavia. We can see evidence from Churchill's change of attitude towards Tito and Trieste crisis.

Even before the war was officially over, there was an incident where British sailors and SAS were trying to interfere with Partisan advance through Istrian peninsula. Partisans arrested them and immediately all aid was suspended. Tito didnt forget that both Soviet, GB and USA supported the official Yugoslavian government in exile (Soviets politically, GB and USA politically and materially). Soviets really didn't have to leave any troops in Yugoslavia since it was allied in true sense of the word. In any event both east and west were played by Tito who actually successfully established Yugoslavian national liberation movement without any help from outside. And because they did it by themselves they owed nothing to anyone.

What was the reason for Soviet troops to withdraw from Yugoslavia in World War II?

Short Answer:
Unlike most of Eastern Europe, Yugoslavia had a significant army which gave it the option of independence after the war. It's true though that because the Yugoslav Communists were close allies of the Soviet Union with their ideology branching off the Soviets; there was no reason to impose a Soviet Style Communist regime during the war because that was Marshal Tito's plan from the beginning. Stalin and Tito fell out after the war when Stalin tried to dictate to Tito in 1948. Mostly on Foreign policy.

Detailed Answer:
The Soviet Union really did not Liberate Yugoslavia during WWII. Yugoslavia was largely liberated by its own forces. Yes the Soviet's did aid Yugoslavia at the end of 44. However; The Yugoslavs had been fighting for 3 years at that point and had their own sizable military independent from Soviets. Given this there was no need for the Soviets to install a pro Soviet Communist regime in Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia was doing that themselves. So their was no reason for the Soviet's to leave troops in Yugoslavia. By the end of WWII there were no foreign troops in Yugoslavia. There was no need.

Yugoslav Partisans
SFR Yugoslavia was one of only two European countries that were largely liberated by its own forces during World War II. It received significant assistance from the Soviet Union during the liberation of Serbia, and substantial assistance from the Balkan Air Force from mid-1944, but only limited assistance, mainly from the British, prior to 1944. At the end of the war no foreign troops were stationed on its soil. Partly as a result, the country found itself halfway between the two camps at the onset of the Cold War.

When Stalin tried to dictate Yugoslavia's foreign policy after WWII, in 1948, that's when Stalin and Tito had a falling out. Yugoslavia did not join the Warsaw Pact and in 1948 Tito blocked Russia from supporting a Greek Revolution siding with the West. (the Greek red army collapsed when Tito refused to permit Stalin to resupply them through Yugoslavian territory). Tito also broke with the Soviet Union over the Marshal Plan. Yugoslavia was the only communist country which participated in it. Throughout the cold war Yugoslavia benefited from aid from both the Soviet Union and West.

During the cold war Turkey and Yugoslavia had a mutual defense pact. Yugoslavia had no such defense treaty with the Soviet Union; Which basically made Yugoslavia loosely associated with NATO rather than the Soviet Union.

What was the reason for Soviet troops to withdraw from Yugoslavia in World War II? - History

As in the case of World War I, Bulgaria fought on the losing German side of World War II but avoided open conflict with the Russian/Soviet state. Again the strains of war eroded public support and forced the wartime Bulgarian government out of office. But World War II heralded a drastic political change and a long era of totalitarian governance.

The Passive Alliance

Having failed to remain neutral, Boris entered a passive alliance with the Axis powers. The immediate result was Bulgarian occupation (but not accession) of Thrace and Macedonia, which Bulgarian troops took from Greece and Yugoslavia respectively in April 1941. Although the territorial gains were initially very popular in Bulgaria, complications soon arose in the occupied territories. Autocratic Bulgarian administration of Thrace and Macedonia was no improvement over the Greeks and the Serbs expressions of Macedonian national feeling grew, and uprisings occurred in Thrace. Meanwhile, the Germans pressured Bulgaria to support the eastern front they had opened by invading the Soviet Union in June 1941. Boris resisted the pressure because he believed that Bulgarian society was still sufficiently Russophile to overthrow him if he declared war. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor ended United States neutrality, Bulgaria declared war on Britain and the United States, but continued diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union throughout World War II. Acceleration of domestic war protests by the BCP in 1941 led to an internal crackdown on dissident activities of both the right and left. In the next three years, thousands of Bulgarians went to concentration and labor camps.

The German eastern front received virtually no aid from Bulgaria, a policy justified by the argument that Bulgarian troops had to remain at home to defend the Balkans against Turkish or Allied attack. Hitler reluctantly accepted this logic. Boris's stubborn resistance to committing troops was very popular at home, where little war enthusiasm developed. Nazi pressure to enforce anti-Jewish policies also had little support in Bulgarian society. Early in the war, laws were passed for restriction and deportation of the 50,000 Bulgarian Jews, but enforcement was postponed using various rationales. No program of mass deportation or extermination was conducted in Bulgaria.

Wartime Crisis

In the summer of 1943, Boris died suddenly at age 49, leaving a three-man regency ruling for his six-year-old son, Simeon. Because two of the three regents were figureheads, Prime Minister Bogdan Filov, the third regent, became de facto head of state in this makeshift structure.

The events of 1943 also reversed the military fortunes of the Axis, causing the Bulgarian government to reassess its international position. Late in 1943, the Allies delivered the first of many disastrous air raids on Sofia. The heavy damage sent a clear message that Germany could not protect Bulgaria from Allied punishment. Once the war had finally intruded into Bulgarian territory, the winter of 1943-44 brought severe social and economic dislocation, hunger, and political instability. The antiwar factions, especially the communists, used urban guerrilla tactics and mass demonstrations to rebuild the organizational support lost during the government crackdown of 1941. Partisan activity, never as widespread as elsewhere in the Balkans during the war, increased in 1944 as the Red Army moved westward against the retreating Germans. To support antigovernment partisan groups, in 1942 the communists had established an umbrella Fatherland Front coalition backing complete neutrality, withdrawal from occupied territory, and full civil liberties.

Early in 1944, Bulgarian officials tried to achieve peace with the Allies and the Greek and Yugoslav governments-in-exile. Fearing the German forces that remained in Bulgaria, Filov could not simply surrender unconditionally meanwhile, the Soviets threatened war if Bulgaria did not declare itself neutral and remove all German armaments from Bulgaria's Black Sea coast. Unable to gain the protection of the Allies, who had now bypassed Bulgaria in their strategic planning, Bulgaria was caught between onrushing Soviet forces and the last gambits of the retreating Nazis. At this point, the top priority of Bulgarian leaders was clearing the country of German occupiers while arranging a peace with the Allies that would deprive Soviet forces of an excuse to occupy Bulgaria. But in September 1944, the Soviet Union unexpectedly declared war on Bulgaria, just as the latter was about to withdraw from the Axis and declare war on Germany.

The Soviet Occupation

When Soviet troops arrived in Bulgaria, they were welcomed by the populace as liberators from German occupation. On September 9, 1944, five days after the Soviet declaration of war, a Fatherland Front coalition deposed the temporary government in a bloodless coup. Headed by Kimon Georgiev of Zveno, the new administration included four communists, five members of Zveno, two social democrats, and four agrarians. Although in the minority, the communists had been the driving force in forming the coalition as an underground resistance organization in 1942. The presence of the Red Army, which remained in Bulgaria until 1947, strengthened immeasurably the communist position in dealing with the Allies and rival factions in the coalition. At this point, many noncommunist Bulgarians placed their hopes on renewed relations with the Soviet Union in their view, both Germany and the Allies had been discredited by the events of the previous fifteen years. In 1945 the Allies themselves expected that a benign Soviet Union would continue the wartime alliance through the period of postwar East European realignment.

The armistice signed by Bulgaria with the Soviet Union in October 1944 surrendered all wartime territorial gains except Southern Dobruja this meant that Macedonia returned to Yugoslavia and Thrace to Greece. The peace agreement also established a Soviet-dominated Allied Control Commission to run Bulgaria until conclusion of a peace treaty. Overall war damage to Bulgaria was moderate compared to that in other European countries, and the Soviet Union demanded no reparations. On the other hand, Bulgaria held the earliest and most widespread war crimes trial in postwar Europe almost 3,000 were executed as war criminals. Bulgaria emerged from the war with no identifiable political structure the party system had dissolved in 1934, replaced by the pragmatic balancing of political factions in Boris's royal dictatorship. This condition and the duration of the war in Europe eight months after Bulgaria's surrender gave the communists ample opportunity to exploit their favorable strategic position in Bulgarian politics.

Who fought alongside Hitler against the USSR in World War II and why

Fascist Italy, the main ally of Nazi Germany in World War II, was largely responsible for the Mediterranean theater of war. Benito Mussolini, however, also wanted Hitler to give his soldiers a chance to prove themselves in the &ldquoCrusade against Bolshevism&rdquo.

A 62,000-strong Expeditionary Corps was dispatched to the Eastern Front. It served as the basis of the 8th Italian army, numbering about 235,000 men, that would be formed in the summer of 1942. The Germans, however, were not very impressed by the Italian units&rsquo combat readiness. The Italians proved completely unprepared for warfare: They lacked sufficient road vehicles, heavy weapons, ammunition or provisions.

You can read about how the Italians fought in the Soviet Union up to their defeat on the River Don at the end of 1942, as well as about their relations with the local populations and discover which units of the Italian armed forces still managed to earn the respect of their German allies in our separate article.

The Romanians

In 1918, Romania, taking advantage of the chaos of the Russian Civil War, annexed Bessarabia, which had been part of the Russian Empire since 1812. Moscow never forgot this loss and, in 1940, after putting pressure on Bucharest with Berlin&rsquos tacit agreement, regained control over Bessarabia. At the same time, under German auspices, extensive Romanian territories went to Hungary and Bulgaria, which had claims to them.

On losing up to 40 percent of its territory, Greater Romania ceased being &ldquoGreater&rdquo overnight. The Third Reich, having played a key role in this, immediately lured the weakened and traumatized country (which, until then, had been orientated towards the Western allies) to its camp. For their participation in the upcoming war against the USSR, the Romanians were promised not only the return of the lost region of Bessarabia (as well as Northern Bukovina, which had been ceded to the Soviet Union), but also the annexation of a significant part of Soviet Ukraine.

Find out more about the Romanian offensive in the south of the Soviet Union and the Romanians&rsquo role in the Battle of Stalingrad here.

The Hungarians

The main motive which prompted the Hungarians to join the German campaign in the east was a desire not to lose what they already had - namely, Northern Transylvania - rather than acquire new territory.

This large region with a mixed Romanian-Hungarian population had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of World War I. Annexed to Romania in 1918, it was assigned by the Germans to Hungary in the Second Vienna Award on August 30, 1940. When Romanian armies invaded the USSR alongside the Wehrmacht, the ruling circles in Budapest became seriously concerned that, if Hungary stayed out of the conflict, Hitler might reconsider the fate of Northern Transylvania in favor of the Romanians, who were supporting him.

You can read more about how the Hungarian army fought in the Soviet Union and why the Hungarians were seen as the most brutal of Germany&rsquos allies on the Eastern Front in the following article.

The Finns

Finland viewed its participation in the German campaign against the Soviet Union as a continuation of the 1939-1940 Winter War, which had resulted in the country losing part of its territory, including the northern part of the Karelian Isthmus.

The Finnish forces, however, did not confine themselves to retaking the lost territories. They occupied a significant part of Soviet Karelia and also blockaded Leningrad from the north. Overall, the Soviet-Finish sector of the Eastern Front was the quietest throughout the war. There was even a joke doing the rounds in the Red Army about the Soviet troops who were opposing the Finns: &ldquoOnly three armies in the world don&rsquot fight - the Swedish army, the Turkish army and the 23rd Soviet Army.&rdquo

Finland did not share the same fate of Hitler&rsquos other allies, such as Romania, Hungary or Bulgaria. A pro-Soviet regime was never installed there. Find out why here.

The Swedes

During World War II, Sweden had to partly abandon its policy of neutrality, both under pressure from Germany and quite voluntarily following the Soviet Union&rsquos attack on Finland in November 1939.

Having proclaimed itself a &ldquonon-belligerent&rdquo state, Sweden began to actively supply the Finns with weapons and ammunition and facilitated the dispatch of a Swedish Volunteer Corps numbering over 8,000 men to fight the Red Army.

The Swedes, however, were much less willing to support the Continuation War, which Finland had launched against the Soviet Union, because it was no longer a fight for survival and independence. Still, Swedish volunteer units were dispatched to the Eastern Front again. You can read about their fate here.

The Croatians

When, in April 1941, the so-called Independent State of Croatia was established on the ruins of the defeated Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Croatian society split in two. While some people joined the resistance movement that was rapidly gaining momentum in the Balkans, others, namely supporters of Ante Pavelić, the leader of the Nazi Usta&scarone organization, were happy to shadow the policies of the Third Reich.

Hitler did not initially intend to involve Croatian units in Operation Barbarossa, but eventually agreed to Pavelić&rsquos request to give them a chance to join the struggle &ldquoof all freedom-loving nations against communism&rdquo. The 369th Croatian Reinforced Infantry Regiment, numbering up to 4,000 men, as well as the Croatian air force and naval legions left for the Eastern Front.

The Croatian regiment was the only foreign unit given a direct role by the Germans in the assault on Stalingrad. You can read about how the Croatians fought in the streets of the city and how it ended for them here.

The Spaniards

Germany&rsquos attack on the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, sparked unprecedented ferment in Spain. On the same day, Foreign Affairs Minister Ramón Serrano Suñer informed the German ambassador in Madrid that his country welcomed what had happened and was ready to help the Third Reich by sending volunteers.

The motives of those who wanted to set off for the Eastern Front varied. Some wanted to settle old scores with the Russians for their interference in the Spanish Civil War, while others genuinely hated communism. There were also those who saw it as a means of &ldquoatonement&rdquo for their Republican past and some, having secretly remained loyal to the defeated Republic, even hoped to flee to the Red Army side on arrival in the war zone.

A total of 50-70,000 Spaniards served as members of the 250th Infantry Division, also known as the Spanish Volunteer Division or simply the &lsquoBlue Division&rsquo, throughout the period of its involvement in the war against the USSR. In addition, a &ldquoBlue Squadron&rdquo operated in the skies over the Soviet Union and was credited with downing more than 150 Soviet aircraft.

You can read what prompted General Francisco Franco hastily to withdraw his troops from the Eastern Front in the autumn of 1943 in our separate article.

The Slovaks

In the spring of 1939, Nazi Germany dealt the final blow to a weakened Czechoslovakia after it was abandoned by Western powers and encouraged the declaration of an &ldquoindependent&rdquo Slovak republic. It was the Slovaks&rsquo first state in their entire history. The trouble was that not all Slovaks were happy with the fact that their homeland had been turned into a totalitarian satellite state of the Third Reich.

The Slovaks had no reason to fight against the Soviet Union and the Germans did not plan to involve them, merely regarding Slovakia as a transit zone. Nevertheless, the government of President Jozef Tiso volunteered to fight side by side with the Nazis on the Eastern Front. &ldquoIn full solidarity with the Greater Germanic Reich, the Slovak people are taking their place in the defense of European culture,&rdquo Interior Minister Alexander Mach stated.

The reality differed sharply from the propaganda slogans. The Slovaks proved to be the most unreliable of Germany&rsquos allies on the Eastern Front. They went over to the side of the Red Army and Soviet partisans en masse, in order to fight against the Wehrmacht. Find out what the Germans had to do to prevent this happening in the following article.

The French

&ldquoThis war is our war and we shall see it through to the end, to victory,&rdquo is how Jacques Doriot, the leader of the fascist French Popular Party, commented on the German invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. Various collaborationist organizations operating on the territory of occupied France and the puppet Vichy regime were indeed the main driving force behind sending French troops to the Eastern Front.

French society as a whole, however, supported neither collaboration with the enemy nor the war against the USSR. In the whole period of the existence of the Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism, no more than 7,000 people signed up.

German and Vichy propaganda ceaselessly repeated that the legion&rsquos soldiers were the heirs of Napoleon&rsquos &ldquoGrande Armée&rdquo, called upon to restore the honor and glory of their ancestors. Read about the striking similarities between the fate of the French legionnaires in the USSR in World War II and that of Napoleon&rsquos soldiers in Russia in 1812 here.

If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.

Mikhail Gorbachev’s Glasnost and Perestroika

In March 1985, a longtime Communist Party politician named Mikhail Gorbachev assumed the leadership of the USSR He inherited a stagnant economy and a political structure that made reform all but impossible.

Gorbachev introduced two sets of policies that he hoped would help the USSR become a more prosperous, productive nation. The first of these was known as glasnost, or political openness. Glasnost eliminated traces of Stalinist repression, like the banning of books and the omnipresent secret police, and gave new freedoms to Soviet citizens. Political prisoners were released. Newspapers could print criticisms of the government. For the first time, parties other than the Communist Party could participate in elections.

The second set of reforms was known as perestroika, or economic restructuring. The best way to revive the Soviet economy, Gorbachev thought, was to loosen the government’s grip on it. He believed that private initiative would lead to innovation, so individuals and cooperatives were allowed to own businesses for the first time since the 1920s. Workers were given the right to strike for better wages and conditions. Gorbachev also encouraged foreign investment in Soviet enterprises.

However, these reforms were slow to bear fruit. Perestroika had torpedoed the 𠇌ommand economy” that had kept the Soviet state afloat, but the market economy took time to mature. (In his farewell address, Gorbachev summed up the problem: “The old system collapsed before the new one had time to begin working.”) Rationing, shortages and endless queuing for scarce goods seemed to be the only results of Gorbachev’s policies. As a result, people grew more and more frustrated with his government.

World War II Database

ww2dbase The nation of Yugoslavia was established in 1918, born out of a pan-South Slav nationalist sentiment shared among the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes against Austria-Hungary. Major tensions between the different ethnic groups within the country began as early as 1921, during the writing of the constitution, and over time language, religious, and other differences slowly added weight to the various disagreements. In the late 1920s, the Croatian nationalist Ustase movement began receiving support from Italy as Benito Mussolini wished to maintain the disunity within Yugoslavia in preparation of a possible future aggressive move by Italy Hungary also befriended the Croats with similar intentions. The Soviet Union had an interest in Yugoslavia as well, with Soviet military intelligence agents establishing cells in the country and providing military training for future fighters. Officially, the Yugoslavian government maintained close relationships with Britain and France, but the changing European political situation in the mid-1930s led to an attempt at establishing a friendly stance with Germany and Italy, even as Regent Prince Paul personally sympathized with the Western Allies. After the European War began, Yugoslavia was reluctantly pressured into joining the Axis alliance, and it prompted mass demonstrations and an overthrow of the regency. Seeing that Yugoslavia could not be concretely made a reliable ally to secure the Balkan Peninsula, Adolf Hitler decided to occupy the country. The Yugoslavian military surrendered to the joint-invasion by Germany, Italy, Hungary, and Bulgaria on 17 Apr 1941. The royal family and the government fled to Britain.

ww2dbase Germany broke up occupied Yugoslavia by taking control over much of the Serbia region establishing a nominally independent Croatia giving Slovenia, Kosovo, and Dalmatian regions to Italy giving northern Serbia to Hungary and giving Macedonia region to Bulgaria. Anti-German resistance in occupied Yugoslavia began almost immediately after the invasion. The disunity between the various ethnic and political factions in the country expectedly produced two separate resistance movements, however. One movement, the Chetniks led by General Dragoljub "Draza" Mihailovic, had the support of Serbs, monarchists, and the remnants of the Royal Yugoslav Army. The Chetniks had the support of the Yugoslavian government-in-exile. Mihailovic initially attempted to coordinate actions with the other, the Communists, but ideological differences soon led to his re-thinking of strategy, shifting from a purely anti-German stance to a pro-Yugoslavia stance, meaning that he allowed the scaling back of resistance activities in order to bide time and build strength, with the short-term goal of minimizing brutal German reprisals and the long-term goal of re-establishing the Yugoslavian monarchy. The Communists (officially "People's Liberation Army and Partisan Detachments of Yugoslavia" after 1942), had the support of republicans and liberals. Unlike the Chetniks, the Communists were extremely aggressive against the Germans and anyone in the way of the Communist expansion. The two groups' differences soon grew into conflict, with the Chetniks assaulting Communists by Nov 1941. Between 1941 and 1943, the Western Allies supported the Chetniks while the Soviet Union supported the Communists in 1943, during the Tehran Conference, the Soviet Union persuaded United States and Britain to switch their support from the conservative (and thus appearing meek) Chetniks to the aggressive Communists. Between 1943 and 1945, the Communist partisan forces were gradually consolidated under Josip Broz Tito. An attempt was made in Jun 1944 to unite the two factions, by means of the Tito-Subasic Agreement signed on the island of Vis and approved by King Petar II, but this agreement ultimately would not secure the cooperation it aimed for, and the two factions continued to work toward each of their own vision of the future of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavian resistance tied down a great number of German troops to operate a series of protracted anti-partisan campaigns. During the final phases of the war in Yugoslavia, Communist partisans provided intelligence for the successful invading Soviet forces, and in fact drove out German troops, who were already in retreat toward Austria, from much of Yugoslavian territory ahead of the Soviets. Meanwhile, the Chetniks fought the troops of the German puppet Independent State of Croatia, achieving mixed results. Soviet troops took control of Belgrade on 20 Oct 1944. On 6 Apr 1945, partisans took control of Sarajevo. German troops evacuated Zagreb on 7 May, and Communist partisan troops entered that city two days later. Although the fighting phase of the European War was supposed to be over after the German surrender, fighting continued for many days to come as the German surrender did little to settle the two sides in what was effectively an ongoing civil war in Yugoslavia. It would not be until the end of the month when all Croatian, Serbian, and the few remaining German units would surrender to British authorities. In the final stages of the European War, Communist partisan fighters also ventured into Austria alongside Soviet troops Tito did not withdraw them out of Austria until 20 May.

ww2dbase Yugoslavia suffered roughly 1,000,000 deaths during the European War, about 40% of which military and 60% civilian. Of the civilian deaths, a high percentage were attributed to genocide, including Jews at the hands Germans and Yugoslavian collaborators, Serbs and Roma at the hands of Croatians, Muslims and Croats at the hands of the Chetniks, and Slovenes at the hands of the Italians. The end of the war did not spell the end of such atrocities ethnic killings would continue in Yugoslavia for many decades to come.

ww2dbase Prior to the end of the war, in Mar 1945, Tito had already been recognized by the Allies as the Prime Minister of Yugoslavia, and he assumed control of the country at the end of the European War. King Petar II allowed a referendum to determine the future of the country meanwhile, he remained abroad. In 29 Nov 1945, the people of Yugoslavia voted to depose the monarch, but King Petar II refused to abdicate. On the same day, Tito declared the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia, and the newly established parliament affirmed Tito's position as the prime minister. Mihailovic, the leader of the Chetniks during the war, was captured in 1946. He was given a show trial, during which his anti-Communist stance was portrayed as if it was German collaboration. He was found guilty and was executed very shortly after.

ww2dbase Sources:
Gregory Freeman, The Forgotten 500


Germany and the Soviet Union remained unsatisfied with the outcome of World War I (1914–1918). Soviet Russia had lost substantial territory in Eastern Europe as a result of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 1918), where the Bolsheviks in Petrograd conceded to German demands and ceded control of Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Finland, and other areas, to the Central Powers. Subsequently, when Germany in its turn surrendered to the Allies (November 1918) and these territories became independent states under the terms of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 at Versailles, Soviet Russia was in the midst of a civil war and the Allies did not recognise the Bolshevik government, so no Soviet Russian representation attended. [6]

Adolf Hitler had declared his intention to invade the Soviet Union on 11 August 1939 to Carl Jacob Burckhardt, 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 so that they can't starve us out, as happened in the last war. [7]

The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact signed in August 1939 was a non-aggression agreement between Germany and the Soviet Union. It contained a secret protocol aiming to return Central 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 the Soviet control, while Poland and Romania would be divided. [ citation needed ] The Eastern Front was also made possible by the German–Soviet Border and Commercial Agreement in which the Soviet Union gave Germany the resources necessary to launch military operations in Eastern Europe. [8]

On 1 September 1939 Germany invaded Poland, starting World War II. On 17 September, the Soviet Union invaded Eastern Poland, and, as a result, Poland was partitioned among Germany, the Soviet Union and Lithuania. Soon after that, the Soviet Union demanded significant territorial concessions from Finland, and after Finland rejected Soviet demands, the Soviet Union attacked Finland on 30 November 1939 in what became known as the Winter War – a bitter conflict that resulted in a peace treaty on 13 March 1940, with Finland maintaining its independence but losing its eastern parts in Karelia. [9]

In June 1940 the Soviet Union occupied and illegally annexed the three Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania). [9] The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact ostensibly provided security to the Soviets in the occupation both of the Baltics and of the north and northeastern regions of Romania (Northern Bukovina and Bessarabia, June–July 1940), although Hitler, in announcing the invasion of the Soviet Union, cited the Soviet annexations of Baltic and Romanian territory as having violated Germany's understanding of the Pact. Moscow partitioned the annexed Romanian territory between the Ukrainian and Moldavian Soviet republics.

German ideology

Adolf Hitler had argued in his autobiography Mein Kampf (1925) for the necessity of Lebensraum ("living space"): acquiring new territory for Germans in Eastern Europe, in particular Russia. [10] He envisaged settling Germans there, as according to Nazi ideology the Germanic people constituted the "master race", while exterminating or deporting most of the existing inhabitants to Siberia and using the remainder as slave labour. [11] Hitler as early as 1917 had referred to the Russians as inferior, believing that the Bolshevik Revolution had put the Jews in power over the mass of Slavs, who were, in Hitler's opinion, incapable of ruling themselves and had thus ended up being ruled by Jewish masters. [12]

The Nazi leadership, including Heinrich Himmler, [13] saw the war against the Soviet Union as a struggle between the ideologies of Nazism and Jewish Bolshevism, and ensuring territorial expansion for the Germanic Übermensch (superhumans), who according to Nazi ideology were the Aryan Herrenvolk ("master race"), at the expense of the Slavic Untermenschen (subhumans). [14] Wehrmacht officers told their troops to target people who were described as "Jewish Bolshevik subhumans", the "Mongol hordes", the "Asiatic flood" and the "red beast". [15] The vast majority of German soldiers viewed the war in Nazi terms, seeing the Soviet enemy as sub-human. [16]

Hitler referred to the war in radical terms, calling it a "war of annihilation" (Vernichtungskrieg) which was both an ideological and racial war. The Nazi vision for the future of Eastern Europe was codified most clearly in the Generalplan Ost. The populations of occupied Central Europe and the Soviet Union were to be partially deported to West Siberia, enslaved and eventually exterminated the conquered territories were to be colonised by German or "Germanized" settlers. [17] In addition, the Nazis also sought to wipe out the large Jewish population of Central and Eastern Europe [18] as part of their program aiming to exterminate all European Jews. [19]

After Germany's initial success at the Battle of Kiev in 1941, Hitler saw the Soviet Union as militarily weak and ripe for immediate conquest. In a speech at the Berlin Sportpalast on 3 October, he announced, "We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down." [20] 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 in 1943 and the resulting dire German military situation, Nazi propaganda began to portray the war as a German defence of Western civilisation against destruction by the vast "Bolshevik hordes" that were pouring into Europe.

Soviet situation

Throughout the 1930s the Soviet Union underwent massive industrialisation and economic growth under the leadership of Joseph Stalin. Stalin's central tenet, "Socialism in One Country", manifested itself as a series of nationwide centralised Five-Year Plans from 1929 onwards. This represented an ideological shift in Soviet policy, away from its commitment to the international communist revolution, and eventually leading to the dissolution of the Comintern (Third International) organisation in 1943. The Soviet Union started a process of militarisation with the 1st Five-Year Plan that officially began in 1928, although it was only towards the end of the 2nd Five-Year Plan in the mid-1930s that military power became the primary focus of Soviet industrialisation. [21]

In February 1936 the Spanish general election brought many communist leaders into the Popular Front government in the Second Spanish Republic, but in a matter of months a right-wing military coup initiated the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939. This conflict soon took on the characteristics of a proxy war involving the Soviet Union and left wing volunteers from different countries on the side of the predominantly socialist and communist-led [22] Second Spanish Republic [23] while Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Portugal's Estado Novo (Portugal) took the side of Spanish Nationalists, the military rebel group led by General Francisco Franco. [24] It served as a useful testing ground for both the Wehrmacht and the Red Army to experiment with equipment and tactics that they would later employ on a wider scale in the Second World War.

Germany, which was an anti-communist régime, formalised its ideological position on 25 November 1936 by signing the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan. [25] Fascist Italy joined the Pact a year later. [23] [26] Soviet Union negotiated treaties of mutual assistance with France and with Czechoslovakia with the aim of containing Germany's expansion. [27] The German Anschluss of Austria in 1938 and the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia (1938–1939) demonstrated the impossibility of establishing a collective security system in Europe, [28] a policy advocated by the Soviet ministry of foreign affairs under Maxim Litvinov. [29] [30] This, as well as the reluctance of the British and French governments to sign a full-scale anti-German political and military alliance with the USSR, [31] led to the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Germany in late August 1939. [32] The separate Tripartite Pact between what became the three prime Axis Powers would not be signed until some four years after the Anti-Comintern Pact.

The war was fought between Nazi Germany, its allies and Finland, against the Soviet Union and its allies. The conflict began on 22 June 1941 with the Operation Barbarossa offensive, when Axis 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 surrendered unconditionally following the Battle of Berlin (also known as the Berlin Offensive), a strategic operation executed by the Red Army.

The states that provided forces and other resources for the German war effort included the Axis Powers – primarily Romania, Hungary, Italy, pro-Nazi Slovakia, and Croatia. Anti-Soviet Finland, which had fought the Winter War against the Soviet Union, also joined the offensive. The Wehrmacht forces were also assisted by anti-Communist partisans in places like Western Ukraine, and the Baltic states. Among the most prominent volunteer army formations was the Spanish Blue Division, sent by Spanish dictator Francisco Franco to keep his ties to the Axis intact. [33]

The Soviet Union offered support to the partisans in many Wehrmacht-occupied countries in Central Europe, notably those in Slovakia, Poland. In addition, the Polish Armed Forces in the East, particularly the First and Second Polish armies, were armed and trained, and would eventually fight alongside the Red Army. The Free French forces also contributed to the Red Army by the formation of the GC3 (Groupe de Chasse 3 or 3rd Fighter Group) unit to fulfil the commitment of Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French, who thought that it was important for French servicemen to serve on all fronts.

Comparative strengths of combat forces, Eastern Front, 1941–1945 [34] [35] [36]
Date Axis forces Soviet forces
22 June 1941 3,050,000 Germans, 67,000 (northern Norway) 500,000 Finns, 150,000 Romanians
Total: 3,767,000 in the east (80% of the German Army)
2,680,000 active in Western Military Districts out of 5,500,000 (overall) 12,000,000 mobilizable reserves
7 June 1942 2,600,000 Germans, 90,000 (northern Norway) 600,000 Romanians, Hungarians, and Italians
Total: 3,720,000 in the east (80% of the German Army)
5,313,000 (front) 383,000 (hospital)
Total: 9,350,000
9 July 1943 3,403,000 Germans, 80,000 (northern Norway) 400,000 Finns, 150,000 Romanians and Hungarians
Total: 3,933,000 in the east (63% of the German Army)
6,724,000 (front) 446,445 (hospital)
Total: 10,300,000
1 May 1944 2,460,000 Germans, 60,000 (northern Norway) 300,000 Finns, 550,000 Romanians and Hungarians
Total: 3,370,000 in the east (62% of the German Army)
1 January 1945 2,230,000 Germans, 100,000 Hungarians
Total: 2,330,000 in the east (60% of the German Army)
6,532,000 (360,000 Poles, Romanians, Bulgarians, and Czechs)
1 April 1945 1,960,000 Germans
Total: 1,960,000 (66% of the German Army)
6,410,000 (450,000 Poles, Romanians, Bulgarians, and Czechs)

The above figures includes all personnel in the German Army, i.e. active-duty Heer, Waffen SS, Luftwaffe ground forces, personnel of the naval coastal artillery and security units. [37] [38] In the spring of 1940, Germany had mobilised 5,500,000 men. [39] By the time of the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht consisted of c, 3,800,000 men of the Heer, 1,680,000 of the Luftwaffe, 404,000 of the Kriegsmarine, 150,000 of the Waffen-SS, and 1,200,000 of the Replacement Army (contained 450,400 active reservists, 550,000 new recruits and 204,000 in administrative services, vigiles and or in convalescence). The Wehrmacht had a total strength of 7,234,000 men by 1941. For Operation Barbarossa, Germany mobilised 3,300,000 troops of the Heer, 150,000 of the Waffen-SS [40] and approximately 250,000 personnel of the Luftwaffe were actively earmarked. [41]

By July 1943, the Wehrmacht numbered 6,815,000 troops. Of these, 3,900,000 were deployed in eastern Europe, 180,000 in Finland, 315,000 in Norway, 110,000 in Denmark, 1,370,000 in western Europe, 330,000 in Italy, and 610,000 in the Balkans. [42] According to a presentation by Alfred Jodl, the Wehrmacht was up to 7,849,000 personnel in April 1944. 3,878,000 were deployed in eastern Europe, 311,000 in Norway/Denmark, 1,873,000 in western Europe, 961,000 in Italy, and 826,000 in the Balkans. [43] About 15–20% of total German strength were foreign troops (from allied countries or conquered territories). The German high water mark was just before Battle of Kursk, in early July 1943: 3,403,000 German troops and 650,000 Finnish, Hungarian, Romanian and other countries troops. [35] [36]

For nearly two years the border was quiet while Germany conquered Denmark, Norway, France, the Low Countries, 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. [7] [44]

Some historians say Stalin was fearful of war with Germany, or just did not expect Germany to start a two-front war, and was reluctant to do anything to provoke Hitler. Others say that Stalin was eager for Germany to be at war with 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. [45]

British historians Alan S. Milward and M. Medlicott show that Nazi Germany—unlike Imperial Germany—was prepared for only a short-term war (Blitzkrieg). [46] According to Edward Ericson, although Germany's own resources were sufficient for the victories in the West in 1940, massive Soviet shipments obtained during a short period of Nazi–Soviet economic collaboration were critical for Germany to launch Operation Barbarossa. [47]

Germany had been assembling very large numbers of troops in eastern Poland and making repeated reconnaissance flights over the border the Soviet Union responded by assembling its divisions on its western border, although the Soviet mobilisation was slower than Germany's due to the country's less dense road network. As in the Sino-Soviet conflict on the Chinese Eastern Railway or Soviet–Japanese border conflicts, Soviet troops on the western border received a directive, signed by Marshal Semyon Timoshenko and General of the Army Georgy Zhukov, 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 and Willi Lehmann, say they had sent warnings of an attack on 20 or 22 June, which were treated as "disinformation". The Lucy spy ring in Switzerland also sent warnings, possibly deriving from Ultra codebreaking in Britain. Sweden had access to internal German communications through breaking the crypto used in the Siemens and Halske T52 crypto machine also known as the Geheimschreiber and informed Stalin about the forthcoming invasion well ahead of June 22, but did not reveal its sources.

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 [48] or after an unacceptable ultimatum demanding German occupation of Ukraine during the German invasion of Britain. [49]

Foreign support and measures

A strategic air offensive by the United States Army Air Force and Royal Air Force played a significant part in reducing German industry and tying up German air force and air defence resources, with some bombings, such as the bombing of the eastern German city of Dresden, being done to facilitate specific Soviet operational goals. In addition to Germany, hundreds of thousands of tons of bombs were dropped on their eastern allies of Romania and Hungary, primarily in an attempt to cripple Romanian oil production.

British and Commonwealth forces also contributed directly to the fighting on the Eastern Front through their service in the Arctic convoys and training Red Air Force pilots, as well as in the provision of early material and intelligence support.

Allied shipments to the Soviet Union [50]
Year Amount
1941 360,778 2.1
1942 2,453,097 14
1943 4,794,545 27.4
1944 6,217,622 35.5
1945 3,673,819 21
Total 17,499,861 100

Soviet Union

Among other goods, Lend-Lease supplied: [51] : 8–9

  • 58% of the USSR's high octane aviation fuel
  • 33% of their motor vehicles
  • 53% of USSR domestic production of expended ordnance (artillery shells, mines, assorted explosives)
  • 30% of fighters and bombers
  • 93% of railway equipment (locomotives, freight cars, wide gauge rails, etc.)
  • 50–80% of rolled steel, cable, lead, and aluminium
  • 43% of garage facilities (building materials & blueprints)
  • 12% of tanks and SPGs
  • 50% of TNT (1942–1944) and 33% of ammunition powder (in 1944) [52]
  • 16% of all explosives (from 1941 to 1945, the USSR produced 505,000 tons of explosives and received 105,000 tons of Lend-Lease imports) [53]

Lend-Lease aid of military hardware, components and goods to the Soviet Union constituted to 20% percent of the assistance. [51] : 122 Rest were foodstuff, nonferrous metals (e.g. copper, magnesium, nickel, zinc, lead, tin, aluminium), chemical substances, petroleum (high octane aviation gasoline) and factory machinery. The aid of production-line equipment and machinery were crucial and helped to maintain adequate levels of Soviet armament production during the entire war. [51] : 122 In addition, the USSR received wartime innovations including penicillin, radar, rocket, precision-bombing technology, the long-range navigation system Loran, and many other innovations. [51] : 123

Of the 800,000 tons of nonferrous metals shipped, [51] : 124 about 350,000 tons were aluminium. [51] : 135 The shipment of aluminium not only represented double the amount of metal that Germany possessed, but also composed the bulk of aluminium that was used in manufacture of Soviet aircraft, that had fallen in critically short supply. [51] : 135 Soviet statistics show, that without these shipments of aluminium, aircraft production would have been less than one-half (or about 45,000 less) of the total 137,000 produced aircraft. [51] : 135

Stalin noted in 1944, that two-thirds of Soviet heavy industry had been built with the help of the United States, and the remaining one-third, with the help from other Western nations such as Great Britain and Canada. [51] : 129 The massive transfer of equipment and skilled personnel from occupied territories helped further to boost the economic base. [51] : 129 Without Lend-Lease aid, Soviet Union's diminished post invasion economic base would not have produced adequate supplies of weaponry, other than focus on machine tool, foodstuff and consumer goods [ clarification needed ] . [51] : 129

In the last year of war, lend-lease data show that about 5.1 million tons of foodstuff left the United States for the Soviet Union. [51] : 123 It is estimated that all the food supplies sent to Russia could feed a 12,000,000-man strong army a half pound of concentrated food per day, for the entire duration of the war. [51] : 122–3

The total lend-lease aid during the second World War had been estimated between $42–50 billion. [51] : 128 The Soviet Union received shipments in war materials, military equipment and other supplies worth of $12.5 billion, about a quarter of the U.S. lend-lease aid provided to other allied countries. [51] : 123 However, post-war negotiations to settle all the debt were never concluded, [51] : 133 and as of date, the debt issues is still on in future American-Russian summits and talks. [51] : 133–4

Prof. Dr. Albert L. Weeks conclude: 'As to attempts to sum up the importance of those four-year-long shipments of Lend-Lease for the Russian victory on the Eastern Front in World War II, the jury is still out – that is, in any definitive sense of establishing exactly how crucial this aid was.' [51] : 123

Nazi Germany

Germany's economic, scientific, research and industrial capabilities were one of the most technically advanced in the world at the time. However, access to (and control of) the resources, raw materials and production capacity required to entertain long-term goals (such as European control, German territorial expansion and the destruction of the USSR) were limited. Political demands necessitated the expansion of Germany's control of natural and human resources, industrial capacity and farmland beyond its borders (conquered territories). Germany's military production was tied to resources outside its area of control, a dynamic not found amongst the Allies.

During the war, as Germany acquired new territories (either by direct annexation or by installing puppet governments in defeated countries), these new territories were forced to sell raw materials and agricultural products to German buyers at extremely low prices. Two-thirds of all French trains in 1941 were used to carry goods to Germany. Norway lost 20% of its national income in 1940 and 40% in 1943. [54] Axis allies such as Romania and Italy, Hungary, Finland, Croatia and Bulgaria benefited from Germany's net imports. Overall, France made the largest contribution to the German war effort. In 1943–44, French payments to Germany may have risen to as much as 55% of French GDP. [55] Overall, Germany imported 20% of its food and 33% of its raw materials from conquered territories and Axis allies. [56]

On 27 May 1940, Germany signed the "Oil Pact" with Romania, by which Germany would trade arms for oil. Romania's oil production amounted to approximately 6,000,000 tons annually. This production represents 35% of the total fuel production of the Axis including the synthetic products and the substitutes and 70% of the total production of crude oil. [57] In 1941, Germany only had 18% of the oil it had in peacetime. Romania supplied Germany and its allies with roughly 13 million barrels of oil (about 4 million per year) between 1941 and 1943. Germany's peak oil production in 1944 amounted to about 12 million barrels of oil per year. [58]

Rolf Karlbom estimated that Swedish share of Germany's total consumption of iron may have amounted to 43% during the period of 1933–43. It may also be likely that 'Swedish ore formed the raw material of four out of every ten German guns' during the Hitler era'. [59]

Forced labour

The use of foreign forced labour and slavery in Nazi Germany and throughout German-occupied Europe during World War II took place on an unprecedented scale. [60] It was a vital part of the German economic exploitation of conquered territories. It also contributed to the mass extermination of populations in German-occupied Europe. The Nazi Germans abducted approximately 12 million foreign people from almost twenty European countries about two-thirds came from Central Europe and Eastern Europe. [61] Counting deaths and turnover, about 15 million men and women were forced labourers at one point during the war. [62] For example, 1.5 million French soldiers were kept in POW camps in Germany as hostages and forced workers and, in 1943, 600,000 French civilians were forced to move to Germany to work in war plants. [63]

The defeat of Germany in 1945 freed approximately 11 million foreigners (categorised as "displaced persons"), most of whom were forced labourers and POWs. In wartime, the German forces had brought into the Reich 6.5 million civilians in addition to Soviet POWs for unfree labour in factories. [61] In all, 5.2 million foreign workers and POWs were repatriated to the Soviet Union, 1.6 million to Poland, 1.5 million to France, and 900,000 to Italy, along with 300,000 to 400,000 each to Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Hungary, and Belgium. [64]

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 eight major campaigns of the Theatre of war: [65]

  • First period (Russian: Первый период Великой Отечественной войны ) (22 June 1941 – 18 November 1942)
  1. Summer–Autumn Campaign of 1941 (Russian: Летне-осенняя кампания 1941 г. ) (22 June – 4 December 1941)
  2. Winter Campaign of 1941–42 (Russian: Зимняя кампания 1941/42 г. ) (5 December 1941 – 30 April 1942)
  3. Summer–Autumn Campaign of 1942 (Russian: Летне-осенняя кампания 1942 г. ) (1 May – 18 November 1942)
  • Second period (Russian: Второй период Великой Отечественной войны ) (19 November 1942 – 31 December 1943)
  1. Winter Campaign of 1942–43 (Russian: Зимняя кампания 1942–1943 гг. ) (19 November 1942 – 3 March 1943)
  2. Summer–Autumn Campaign of 1943 (Russian: Летне-осенняя кампания 1943 г. ) (1 July – 31 December 1943)
  • Third period (Russian: Третий период Великой Отечественной войны ) (1 January 1944 – 9 May 1945)
  1. Winter–Spring Campaign (Russian: Зимне-весенняя кампания 1944 г. ) (1 January – 31 May 1944)
  2. Summer–Autumn Campaign of 1944 (Russian: Летне-осенняя кампания 1944 г. ) (1 June – 31 December 1944)
  3. Campaign in Europe during 1945 (Russian: Кампания в Европе 1945 г. ) (1 January – 9 May 1945)

Operation Barbarossa: Summer 1941

Operation Barbarossa began just before dawn on 22 June 1941. The Germans cut the wire network in all Soviet western military districts to undermine the Red Army's communications. [66] Panicky transmissions from the Soviet front-line units to their command headquarters were picked up like this: "We are being fired upon. What shall we do?" The answer was just as confusing: "You must be insane. And why is your signal not in code?" [67]

At 03:15 on 22 June 1941, 99 of 190 German divisions, including fourteen panzer divisions and ten motorised, were deployed against the Soviet Union from the Baltic to the Black Sea. They were accompanied by ten Romanian divisions, three Italian divisions, two Slovakian divisions and nine Romanian and four Hungarian brigades. [68] On the same day, the Baltic, Western and Kiev Special military districts were renamed the Northwestern, Western and Southwestern Fronts respectively. [66]

To establish air supremacy, the Luftwaffe 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. [69] For a month the offensive conducted on three axes was completely unstoppable as the panzer forces encircled hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops in huge pockets that were then reduced by slower-moving infantry armies while the panzers continued the offensive, following the Blitzkrieg doctrine.

Army Group North's objective was Leningrad via the Baltic states. Comprising the 16th and 18th Armies and the 4th Panzer Group, this formation advanced through the Baltic states, and the Russian Pskov and Novgorod regions. Local insurgents seized the moment and controlled most of Lithuania, northern Latvia and southern Estonia prior to the arrival of the German forces. [70] [71]

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 combined panzer force reached the Beresina River in just six days, 650 km (400 mi) from their start lines. 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 manoeuvre with Army Group South which was advancing into Ukraine. Army Group Centre's infantry divisions were left relatively unsupported by armour to continue their slow advance to Moscow. [72]

This decision caused a severe leadership crisis. The German field commanders argued for an immediate offensive towards Moscow, but Hitler over-ruled 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", [72] is believed to have had a severe impact on the Battle of Moscow's outcome, by slowing down the advance on Moscow in favour of encircling large numbers of Soviet troops around Kiev. [73]

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 the Battle of Brody. At the beginning of July, the Third and Fourth Romanian Armies, aided by elements of the German 11th Army, fought their way through Bessarabia towards Odessa. 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 100,000 Soviet prisoners in a huge encirclement. Advancing armoured divisions of the Army Group South met with Guderian's 2nd Panzer Group near Lokhvytsa in mid September, cutting off large numbers of Red Army troops in the pocket east of Kiev. [72] 400,000 Soviet prisoners were captured as Kiev was surrendered on 19 September. [72]

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.

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. [74] As a part of this policy, the NKVD massacred thousands of anti-Soviet prisoners. [75]

Leningrad, Moscow and Rostov: Autumn 1941

Hitler then decided to resume the advance on Moscow, re-designating the panzer groups as panzer armies for the occasion. Operation Typhoon, which was set in motion on 30 September, saw the 2nd Panzer Army rush along the paved road from Oryol (captured 5 October) to the Oka River at Plavsk, 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 and Bryansk. [76] Army Group North positioned itself in front of Leningrad and attempted to cut the rail link at Mga to the east. [77] This began the 900-day Siege of Leningrad. 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. [78]

Army Group South pushed down from the Dnieper to the Sea of Azov coast, also advancing through Kharkov, Kursk, and Stalino. 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 1942). 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. [79] [80]

The onset of the winter freeze saw one last German lunge that opened on 15 November, when the Wehrmacht attempted to encircle Moscow. On 27 November, the 4th Panzer Army got to within 30 km (19 mi) of the Kremlin when it reached the last tramstop of the Moscow line at Khimki. 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. [81]

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 mobilised reserves, [82] as well as some well-trained Far-Eastern divisions transferred from the east following intelligence that Japan would remain neutral. [83]

Soviet counter-offensive: Winter 1941

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." Stalin's objective in January 1942 was "to deny the Germans any breathing space, to drive them westward without let-up, to make them use up their reserves before spring comes. " [84]

The main blow was to be delivered by a double envelopment orchestrated by the Northwestern Front, the Kalinin Front and the Western Front. 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 Leningrad Front, the Volkhov Front and the right wing forces of the Northwestern Front were to rout the Army Group North." The Southwestern Front and Southern Front were to defeat the Army Group South. The Caucasian Front and Black Sea Fleet were to take back the Crimea. [84] : 53

The 20th Army, part of the Soviet 1st Shock Army, the 22nd Tank Brigade and five ski battalions launched their attack on 10 January 1942. 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. [84] : 58–59

The Wehrmacht rallied, retaining a salient at Rzhev. A Soviet parachute drop by two battalions of the 201st Airborne Brigade and the 250th Airborne Regiment on 18 and 22 January was designed to "cut off enemy communications with the rear." Lt.-Gen. Mikhail Grigoryevich Yefremov's 33rd Army aided by Gen. Belov's 1st Cavalry Corps and Soviet Partisans attempted to seize Vyazma. 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." [84] : 59–62

By April 1942, the Soviet Supreme Command agreed to assume the defensive so as to "consolidate the captured ground." According to Zhukov, "During the winter offensive, the forces of the Western Front had advanced from 70 to 100 km, which somewhat improved the overall operational and strategic situation on the Western sector." [84] : 64

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.

Further north still, the Soviet 2nd Shock Army was unleashed on the Volkhov River. 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, later defected to Germany and formed the ROA or Russian Liberation Army.

In the south the Red Army lunged over the Donets River at Izyum and drove a 100 km (62 mi) deep salient. 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.

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 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.

Towards the south, the 1st Panzer Army had reached the Caucasian foothills and the Malka River. 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.

Stalingrad: Winter 1942

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 1942. In Operation Uranus started on 19 November, two Soviet fronts punched through the Romanian lines and converged at Kalach on 23 November, trapping 300,000 Axis troops behind them. [85] A simultaneous offensive on the Rzhev sector known as Operation Mars was supposed to advance to Smolensk, but was a costly failure, with German tactical defences preventing any breakthrough.

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. Operation Winter Storm, with three transferred panzer divisions, got going briskly from Kotelnikovo towards the Aksai river but became bogged down 65 km (40 mi) short of its goal. 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. [86]

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 Red Army advanced from the Don 500 km (310 mi) to the west of Stalingrad, marching through Kursk (retaken on 8 February 1943) and Kharkov (retaken 16 February 1943). 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 1943 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.

Kursk: Summer 1943

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. [87]

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. [87] The advance would be executed from the Orel salient to the north of Kursk and from Belgorod to the south. 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 1941–1942.

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. But its forces could not even get past the first objective at Olkhovatka, just 8 km (5.0 mi) into the advance. 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 211th and 293rd 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. Col. Hoth, with three Tank Corps made more headway. Advancing on either side of the upper Donets on a narrow corridor, the II SS Panzer Corps and the Großdeutschland Panzergrenadier divisions battled their way through minefields and over comparatively high ground towards Oboyan. Stiff resistance caused a change of direction from east to west of the front, but the tanks got 25 km (16 mi) before encountering the reserves of the Soviet 5th Guards Tank Army outside Prokhorovka. Battle was joined on 12 July, with about one thousand tanks being engaged.

After the war, the battle near Prochorovka was idealised 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. 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 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 1940 and 1941 that the Wehrmacht was able to launch subsequent offensives would represent only a shadow of previous German offensive might.

Autumn and Winter 1943–44

The Soviet multi-stage summer offensive started with the advance into the Orel salient. The diversion of the well-equipped Großdeutschland Division from Belgorod to Karachev could not counteract it, and the Wehrmacht began a withdrawal from Orel (retaken by the Red Army on 5 August 1943), falling back to the Hagen line in front of Bryansk. To the south, the Red Army broke through Army Group South's Belgorod positions and headed for Kharkov once again. Although intense battles of movement throughout late July and into August 1943 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 Donbas 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. Tenaciously, small units paddled their way across the 3 km (1.9 mi) wide river and established bridgeheads. 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.

130 kilometres (80 mi) 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. The Soviet advance continued along the railway line until the 1939 Polish–Soviet border was reached on 3 January 1944.

To the south, the Second Ukrainian Front (ex Steppe Front) 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–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 1943–44 campaigning season, which had wrapped up a Soviet advance of over 800 kilometres (500 mi). In March, 20 German divisions of Generaloberst Hans-Valentin Hube's 1st Panzer Army were encircled in what was to be known as Hube's Pocket near Kamenets-Podolskiy. 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 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. [89]

In a lightning campaign, the Germans were pushed back from Leningrad and Novgorod was captured by Soviet forces. After a 120-kilometre (75 mi) 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. [89] The Leningrad Front's offensives towards Tallinn, a main Baltic port, were stopped in February 1944. The German army group "Narwa" included Estonian conscripts, defending the re-establishment of Estonian independence. [90] [91]

Summer 1944

Wehrmacht planners were convinced that the Red Army would attack again in the south, where the front was 80 kilometres (50 mi) 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 1943 and launched on 22 June 1944, was a massive Soviet attack, consisting of four Soviet army groups totalling 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 troops went into action against German Army Group Centre, which had a strength of fewer than 800,000 men. 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 100,000 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.

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 in total, including wounded and sick plus 5,073 Poles), [92] as well as 2,957 tanks and assault guns. The offensive at Estonia claimed another 480,000 Soviet soldiers, 100,000 of them classed as dead. [93] [94]

The neighbouring Lvov–Sandomierz operation was launched on 17 July 1944, with the Red Army routing the German forces in Western Ukraine and retaking Lviv. 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. [95] [96]

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. Despite a ferocious attack at the Sinimäed Hills, Estonia, the Soviet Leningrad Front failed to break through the defence of the smaller, well-fortified army detachment "Narwa" in terrain not suitable for large-scale operations. [97] [98]

On the Karelian Isthmus, the Red Army launched a Vyborg–Petrozavodsk Offensive against the Finnish lines on 9 June 1944, (coordinated with the Western 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 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. The VT-line was breached on 14 June and after a failed counterattack in Kuuterselkä by the Finnish armoured division, the Finnish defence had to be pulled back to the VKT-line. After heavy fighting in the battles of Tali-Ihantala and Ilomantsi, Finnish troops finally managed to halt the Soviet attack. [ citation needed ]

In Poland, as the Red Army approached, the Polish Home Army (AK) launched Operation Tempest. During the Warsaw Uprising, the Red Army were ordered to halt at the Vistula River. Whether Stalin was unable or unwilling to come to the aid of the Polish resistance is disputed. [99]

In Slovakia, the Slovak National Uprising started as an armed struggle between German Wehrmacht forces and rebel Slovak troops between August and October 1944. It was centered at Banská Bystrica. [ citation needed ]

Autumn 1944

On 8 September 1944 the Red Army began an attack on the Dukla Pass on the Slovak–Polish border. Two months later, the Soviet forces won the battle and entered Slovakia. The toll was high: 20,000 Red Army soldiers died, plus several thousand Germans, Slovaks and Czechs.

Under the pressure of the Soviet Baltic Offensive, the German Army Group North were withdrawn to fight in the sieges of Saaremaa, Courland and Memel.

January–March 1945

The Soviet Union finally entered Warsaw on 17 January 1945, 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 5–6:1 in troops, 6:1 in artillery, 6:1 in tanks and 4:1 in self-propelled 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, Poznań, and drawing up on a line sixty kilometres east of Berlin along the River Oder. 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 became Army Group Courland Army Group Centre became Army Group North and Army Group A became Army Group Centre. Army Group North (old Army Group Centre) was driven into an ever-smaller pocket around Königsberg in East Prussia.

A limited counter-attack (codenamed Operation Solstice) by the newly created Army Group Vistula, under the command of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, had failed by 24 February, and the Red Army drove on to Pomerania and cleared the right bank of the Oder River. 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. On 30 March the Red Army entered Austria and captured Vienna 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. [100]

On 9 April 1945, Königsberg in East Prussia finally fell to the Red Army, although the shattered remnants of Army Group Centre continued to resist on the Vistula Spit and Hel Peninsula 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 throughout the war. During the period it lasted (13 January – 25 April), it cost the Red Army 584,788 casualties, and 3,525 tanks and assault guns.

The fall of Königsberg allowed Stavka to free up General Konstantin Rokossovsky's 2nd Belorussian Front (2BF) to move west to the east bank of the Oder. During the first two weeks of April, the Red Army performed their fastest front redeployment of the war. General Georgy Zhukov concentrated his 1st Belorussian Front (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. 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 shifted the main weight of the 1st Ukrainian Front (1UF) out of Upper Silesia north-west to the Neisse River. [101] The three Soviet fronts had altogether some 2.5 million men (including 78,556 soldiers of the 1st Polish Army) 6,250 tanks 7,500 aircraft 41,600 artillery pieces and mortars 3,255 truck-mounted Katyusha rocket launchers, (nicknamed "Stalin Organs") and 95,383 motor vehicles, many of which were manufactured in the United States. [101]

End of the war: April–May 1945

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 over-riding 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. [102]

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. By 24 April, elements of the 1BF and 1UF had completed the encirclement of the German capital and the Battle of Berlin 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 and north towards the Baltic port of Stralsund. The 58th Guards Rifle Division of the 5th Guards Army made contact with the US 69th Infantry Division of the First Army near Torgau, Germany at the Elbe river. [103] [104]

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. [105] Altogether, the Berlin operation (16 April – 2 May) cost the Red Army 361,367 casualties (dead, wounded, missing and sick) and 1,997 tanks and assault guns. German losses in this period of the war remain impossible to determine with any reliability. [106]

At 2:41 am on 7 May 1945, at SHAEF headquarters, German Chief-of-Staff General Alfred Jodl signed the unconditional surrender documents for all German forces to the Allies at Reims in France. 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 repeated the signing in Berlin at Zhukov's headquarters, now known as the German-Russian Museum. The war in Europe was over. [107]

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. [108]

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.

Soviet Far East: August 1945

After the German defeat, Joseph Stalin promised his allies Truman and Churchill, that he would attack the Japanese within 90 days of the German surrender. The Soviet invasion of Manchuria began on 8 August 1945, 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. [109]

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. [4] The German armed forces suffered 80% of its military deaths in the Eastern Front. [110] 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 wilful 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 terrorisation 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." [111] Conversely, General George Marshall, the U.S. 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. [112]

Memorandum for the President's Special Assistant Harry Hopkins, Washington, D.C., 10 August 1943:

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 200 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. Similarly, Russia’s post-war position in Europe will be a dominant one. With Germany crushed, there is no power in Europe to oppose her tremendous military forces. [113]

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-1939 projections would have led one to expect." [114]

When the Red Army invaded Germany in 1944, many German civilians suffered from reprisals by Red Army soldiers (see Soviet war crimes). 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.

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 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 679 billion rubles. The largest number of civilian deaths in a single city was 1.2 million citizens dead during the Siege of Leningrad. [115]

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, 64,000 kilometres (40,000 mi) of railroad, 4,100 railroad stations, 40,000 hospitals, 84,000 schools, and 43,000 public libraries leaving 25 million homeless. Seven million horses, 17 million cattle, 20 million pigs, 27 million sheep were also slaughtered or driven off. [115] Wild fauna were also affected. Wolves and foxes fleeing westward from the killing zone, as the Soviet army advanced between 1943 and 1945, were responsible for a rabies epidemic that spread slowly westwards, reaching the coast of the English Channel by 1968. [116]

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. [ citation needed ]

Adolf Hitler

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 1941, 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. Some historians like Bevin Alexander in How Hitler Could Have Won regard this decision as 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 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? ] "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 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 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 (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. F. W. 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

Joseph Stalin bore the greatest responsibility for some of the disasters at the beginning of the war (for example, the Battle of Kiev (1941)), but equally deserves praise for the subsequent success of the Soviet Red Army, which depended on the unprecedentedly rapid industrialisation of the Soviet Union, which Stalin's internal policy had made the first priority throughout the 1930s. Stalin's Great Purge of the Red Army in the late 1930s 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 mechanisation 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 1917–1922, 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 1918, 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 1939–1940, 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, 1941, 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 1942, Stalin made many concessions to the army: the government restored unitary command by removing the Commissars from the chain of command. Order 25 of 15 January 1943 introduced shoulderboards for all ranks this represented a significant symbolic step, since after the Russian Revolution of 1917 shoulderboards had connotations as a symbol of the old Tsarist régime. Beginning in autumn 1941, units that had proved themselves by superior performance in combat were given the traditional "Guards" title. [117]

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. 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. [118] The order stipulated to capture or shoot "cowards" and fleeing panicked troops at the rear the blocking detachments in the first three months shot 1,000 penal troops and sent 24,993 to penal battalions. [119] By October 1942 the idea of regular blocking detachments was quietly dropped, By 29 October 1944 the units were officially disbanded. [120] [121]

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 1930s) and demoted many successful officers (including Zhukov, Malinovsky and Koniev) to unimportant positions. [ citation needed ]

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 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 1940) 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 1940, Reichscommissariats were established. As a rule, the maximum in loot was extracted. In September 1941, Erich Koch 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 (task groups) to round up Jews and shoot them. [122]

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 1943–44, the German occupiers systematically applied a scorched earth policy, burning towns and cities, destroying infrastructure, and leaving civilians to starve or die of exposure. [123] In many towns, the battles were fought 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) to seventeen million (Richard Overy).

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 Ostlegionen). These results and missed opportunities contributed to the defeat of the Wehrmacht.

Vadim Erlikman has detailed Soviet losses totalling 26.5 million war related deaths. Military losses of 10.6 million include six million killed or missing in action and 3.6 million POW dead, plus 400,000 paramilitary and Soviet partisan losses. Civilian deaths totalled 15.9 million, which included 1.5 million from military actions 7.1 million victims of Nazi genocide and reprisals 1.8 million deported to Germany for forced labour and 5.5 million famine and disease deaths. Additional famine deaths, which totalled one million during 1946–47, are not included here. These losses are for the entire territory of the USSR including territories annexed in 1939–40. [ citation needed ]

Some recent reports raise the number of Belarusians who perished in the 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)." [126]

Sixty percent of Soviet POWs died during the war. By its end, large numbers of Soviet POWs, forced labourers and Nazi collaborators (including those who were forcefully repatriated by the Western Allies) went to special NKVD "filtration" camps. By 1946, 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. [127] [128]

The official Polish government report of war losses prepared in 1947 reported 6,028,000 victims out of a population of 27,007,000 ethnic Poles and Jews this report excluded ethnic Ukrainian and Belarusian losses.

Although the Soviet Union had not signed the Geneva Convention (1929), it is generally accepted that it considered itself bound by the provisions of the Hague convention. [129] A month after the German invasion in 1941, an offer was made for a reciprocal adherence to Hague convention. This 'note' was left unanswered by Third Reich officials. [130]

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. [131]

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 industrialisation of the Urals and central Asia. In 1941, 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 1943 onwards, the great Soviet offensives had to depend more on equipment and less on the expenditure of lives. [ citation needed ] The increases in production of materiel were achieved at the expense of civilian living standards – the most thorough application of the principle of total war – and with the help of Lend-Lease supplies from the United Kingdom and the United States. 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. For example, while the USSR was able to produce fuel of octane numbers from 70 to 74, Soviet industry only met 4% of demand for fuel of octane numbers from 90+ all aircraft produced after 1939 required fuel of the latter category. To fulfill demands, the USSR depended on American assistance, both in finished products and TEL. [132]

Germany had far greater resources than did the USSR, and dwarfed its production in every matrix except for oil, having over five times the USSR's coal production, over three times its iron production, three times its steel production, twice its electricity production, and about 2/3 of its oil production. [133]

German production of explosives from 1940 to 1944 was 1.595 million tons, along with 829,970 tons of powder. Consumption on all fronts during the same period was 1.493 million tons of explosives and 626,887 tons of powder. [134] From 1941 to 1945, the USSR produced only 505,000 tons of explosives and received 105,000 tons of Lend-Lease imports. [53] Germany outproduced the Soviet Union 3.16 to 1 in explosives tonnage.

Soviet armoured fighting vehicle production was greater than the Germans (in 1943, the Soviet Union manufactured 24,089 tanks and self-propelled guns to Germany's 19,800). 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 theatres 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). Naval vessels alone constituted 10–15% of Germany's war expenditures from 1940 to 1944 depending on the year, while armoured vehicles by comparison were only 5–8%. [135]

Summary of German and Soviet raw material production during the war [136]
Year Coal
(million tonnes, Germany includes lignite and bituminous types)
(million tonnes)
(thousand tonnes)
(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 [137] 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 [136]
Year Tanks and self-
propelled guns
Soviet German Italian Hungarian Romanian Japanese
1941 6,590 5,200 [138] 595 595
1942 24,446 9,300 [138] 1,252 500 557
1943 24,089 19,800 336 105 558
1944 28,963 27,300 353
1945 [137] 15,400 137
Summary of Axis and Soviet aircraft production during the war [136]
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 [137] 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 [139]
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 [137] 9,500,000 2,900,000 12,400,000

Soviet production and upkeep was assisted by the Lend-Lease program from the United States and the United Kingdom. In the course of the war the US supplied $11 billion of materiel through Lend-Lease. This included 400,000 trucks, 12,000 armoured vehicles (including 7,000 tanks), 11,400 aircraft and 1.75 million tons of food. [140] The British supplied aircraft including 3,000 Hurricanes and 4,000 other aircraft during the war. Five thousand tanks were provided by the British and Canada. Total British supplies were about four million tons. [141] Germany on the other hand had the resources of conquered Europe at its disposal those numbers are however not included into the tables above, such as production in France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Denmark, and so on.

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 8.7 - 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). [142] [143] [144] Axis military deaths were 5 million of which around 4,000,000 were German deaths. [145] [146]

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. Rüdiger Overmans states that it seems entirely plausible, while not provable, that one half of these men were killed in action and the other half died in Soviet custody. [147] Official OKW Casualty Figures list 65% of Heer killed/missing/captured as being lost on the Eastern Front from 1 September 1939, to 1 January 1945 (four months and a week before the conclusion of the war), with front not specified for losses of the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe. [148]

Estimated civilian deaths range from about 14 to 17 million. Over 11.4 million Soviet civilians within pre-1939 Soviet borders were killed, and another estimated 3.5 million civilians were killed in the annexed territories. [149] The Nazis exterminated one to two million Soviet Jews (including the annexed territories) as part of the Holocaust. [150] Soviet and Russian historiography often uses the term "irretrievable casualties". According to the Narkomat of Defence order (No. 023, 4 February 1944), the irretrievable casualties include killed, missing, those who died due to war-time or subsequent wounds, maladies and chilblains and those who were captured.

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.

Military losses on the Eastern Front during World War II [151]
Forces fighting with the Axis
Total Dead KIA/DOW/MIA Prisoners taken by the Soviets Prisoners who died in Captivity WIA (not including DOW)
Greater Germany est 4,137,000 [152] est 3,637,000 2,733,739–3,000,060 500,000 [153] Unknown
Soviet residents who joined German army 215,000 215,000 400,000+ Unknown 118,127
Romania 281,000 226,000 500,000 55,000
Hungary 300,000 245,000 500,000 55,000 89,313
Italy 82,000 55,000 70,000 27,000
Finland [154] 63,204 62,731 3,500 473 158,000
Total est 5,078,000 est 4,437,400 4,264,497–4,530,818 est 637,000 Unknown
Military losses on the Eastern Front during World War II [155]
Forces fighting with the Soviet Union
Total Dead KIA/DOW/MIA Prisoners taken by the Axis Prisoners who died in captivity WIA (not including DOW)
Soviet 8,668,400–10,000,000 6,829,600 4,059,000 (military personnel only)–5,700,000 2,250,000–3,300,000 [156] [157] of which 1,283,200 confirmed [158] 13,581,483 [159]
Poland 24,000 24,000 Unknown Unknown
Romania 17,000 17,000 80,000 Unknown
Bulgaria 10,000 10,000 Unknown Unknown
Total Up to

Based on Soviet sources Krivosheev put German losses on the Eastern Front from 1941 to 1945 at 6,923,700 men: including killed in action, died of wounds or disease and reported missing and presumed dead – 4,137,100, taken prisoner 2,571,600 and 215,000 dead among Soviet volunteers in the Wehrmacht. Deaths of POW were 450,600 including 356,700 in NKVD camps and 93,900 in transit. [152]

According to a report prepared by the General Staff of the Army issued in December 1944, materiel losses in the East from the period of 22 June 1941 until November 1944 stood at 33,324 armoured 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". [160] According to Soviet claims, the Germans lost 42,700 tanks, tank destroyers, self-propelled guns and assault guns on the Eastern front. [161] Overall, Nazi Germany produced 3,024 reconnaissance vehicles, [ unreliable source? ] 2,450 other armoured vehicles, 21,880 armoured personnel carriers, 36,703 semi-tracked tractors and 87,329 semi-tracked trucks, [162] estimated 2/3 were lost on the Eastern front. [ citation needed ]

The Soviets lost 96,500 tanks, tank destroyers, self-propelled guns and assault guns, as well as 37,600 other armoured vehicles (such as armoured cars and semi-tracked trucks) for a total of 134,100 armoured vehicles lost. [163]

The Soviets also lost 102,600 aircraft (combat and non-combat causes), including 46,100 in combat. [164] According to Soviet claims, the Germans lost 75,700 aircraft on the Eastern front. [165]

Polish Armed Forces in the East, initially consisting of Poles from Eastern Poland or otherwise in the 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 Central Europe were occupied by the Soviets, they changed sides and declared war on Germany (see Allied Commissions).

Some Soviet citizens would side with the Germans and join Andrey Vlasov's Russian Liberation Army, Ukrainian Liberation Army, Georgian Legion and other Ostlegionen units. Most of those who joined were Soviet POWs. These foreign volunteers in the Wermacht were primarily used in the Eastern Front but some were assigned to guard the beaches of Normandy. [166] 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, including the Latvian Legion and the Galicia Division. [167]

Croatia in Yugoslavia, 1945–91

After 1945 Croatia was a republic within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This new federation was intended to satisfy the national aspirations of all its peoples, but a centrally controlled Communist Party and a supranational push for Yugoslav unity undermined this structure. The effects were felt in Croatia in such matters as the purge in 1948 of the Croatian communist Andrija Hebrang and others who had supported first Croatian national interests and then the Soviet side in Tito’s split with Joseph Stalin. A later issue was the Partisan-based Serb predominance in the Yugoslav army and the local Croatian police. By the 1960s Croats had grown increasingly critical of the economic centralization that appropriated part of the republic’s income for investment in other parts of the federation.

Beginning in the early 1960s, the Yugoslav government instituted a number of economic reforms and attempts at political liberalization and decentralization. Encouraged in Croatia by a reformist party leadership under Miko Tripalo and Savka Dabčević-Kučar, these reforms contributed to the flowering of a “Croatian Spring” in 1969–71. The movement took the shape of a cultural and national revival, expressed in large part through the activities of the cultural organization Matica Hrvatska, but it soon culminated in calls for greater Croatian autonomy. Warning of the danger of civil war, Tito intervened and reimposed “democratic centralism” through a series of purges and trials that decimated the ranks of Croatian politicians and intellectuals. The political restrictions were not alleviated by the 1974 Yugoslav constitution: although the republics gained greater autonomy within the federation, they were still controlled by their single-party regimes.

This centralized control began to break down in the late 1980s, however. In 1989, as communist hegemony was challenged throughout eastern Europe, the Slovene and Croatian communists agreed to free multiparty elections. The right-wing, nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica HDZ), led by Franjo Tudjman (a former party member who had been jailed during the suppression of the Croatian Spring), was victorious in the Croatian elections of 1990. The Serb minority was deeply alarmed by Croatia’s new constitution (promulgated in December 1990), which omitted Serbs as a “constituent people,” and by the actions of the new government, which purged Serbs from public administration, especially the police. Serbs’ fears also were aroused by accusations, especially from Belgrade, that Croatian nationalism meant a return to fascism and the anti-Serb violence of World War II.

When independence was declared on June 25, 1991, armed clashes spread in protest throughout Serb enclaves in Croatia. This violence coincided with the hasty withdrawal of the Yugoslav People’s Army from a newly independent Slovenia. Turning to oppose Croatia’s independence, a larger contingent of army forces attacked the new regime. In the ensuing war, the city of Vukovar in Slavonia was leveled by bombardment, Dubrovnik and other Dalmatian cities were shelled, and about one-third of Croatian territory was occupied by Yugoslav forces. Warfare was halted by an agreement whereby European troops, sponsored by the United Nations (UN), were installed in the disputed areas in order to stabilize and demilitarize them. Although Croatia was granted international recognition in 1992, the government’s control over its own territories remained incomplete.

Similar Questions

Social Studies

What caused Yugoslavia to break up? A. communist aggression B. the end of World War II C. different regions declaring independence D. the collapse of the Soviet Union

Us history

What was the main effect of the Civil War on the women's movement? A. The women's movement shifted their focus to helping widows of the Civil War. B. The movement was put on hold while women focused on anti-slavery reform and the

Social Studies

PLZ HELP. 1. Why did some leaders of Middle Eastern nations oppose secular governments there? A.They believed in Westernization. B. They thought Muslim nations should follow Islamic law. C. They opposed governments controlled by

Social studies

What was the main goal of the Chinese citizens who protested the Chinese government in the late 1980s? A. to demand access to food and water B. to demand fairer wages C. to demand greater political freedom D. to demand improved

In the western part of the United States, the main natural resources are minerals, timber, and water. The various resources have been mined, used to build homes, irrigation, and use in the cities. How has the way people managed


Which describes the situation in Yugoslavia following the fall of the Soviet Union? Able to practice religion again, Yugoslavians worshipped openly until Protestant infighting exploded into a genocidal war. Post-Communist

Social Studies HELP.

10. What non-weapon tactic did the Allies use effectively against the Nazis? A. sending troops to non-combat areas to divert attention from the real target B. sending propaganda to European nations denouncing the Nazis C. sending

8th Grade History

How did Jefferson Davis's failure as a leader illustrate a key weakness of the Confederacy? A. He failed to secure enough funds for the war, which illustrates the Confederacy's bureaucratic corruption. B. He failed to secure

Social Studies

What was the main reason for Cold War conflicts between the superpowers? A. differences over political ideologies**** B. the peace terms of World War II C. the Soviet refusal to sign arms agreements D. U.S. trade agreements with


Which best explains why the Bosnian-Serb genocide occurred in Yugoslavia after the end of the Cold War? A. Communism had provided a means of social control, but capitalism brought the availability of weapons and improved

World History

Which of the following is one way Russia's lack of industrialization impacted the war? A. Russia quickly surrendered and removed itself from the war. B. Trench warfare did not develop on the Eastern Front. C. The Ottomans were


Which best describes how factors such as natural resources, physical characteristics, and the relative location of North American nations may have helped prevent war between them? (3 points) North American nations are similar in

Soviet Union: German Prisoners of War following World War II

During World War II, Nazi Germany sent its soldiers across much of Europe, the Soviet Union, North Africa, and the world’s oceans. After the Third Reich’s fortunes shifted decisively in the lost battle for Moscow in December 1941, the Allies began to inflict grievous defeats on the German army, which resulted in millions of casualties and prisoners of war (POWs).

At the time of the German surrender, on 8 May 1945, approximately twenty nations allied against former Nazi-controlled territories, held German POWs. The United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union held the vast majority of the eleven million who surrendered. Approximately 5 million were released almost immediately, and the last POWs in the Soviet Union would not return until 1956. Both the Western Allies and the Soviets committed crimes against the POWs. Thousands of POWs died in American stockades and French work camps. POWs in the Soviet Union, and in Soviet occupied countries such as Poland, had the worst luck. They were deployed in various kinds of work with few provisions and more often than not exposed to the harsh weather of Siberia. Hundred of thousands are estimated to have died.[i]

Post–1945 Germany was divided into four zones of occupation. The British and American zones merged in 1947 into the Bizone, and the French zone merged in early 1949 shortly before the new West German state was proclaimed. In the eastern zone of occupation, the Soviet Union was in control. The Soviets promoted the creation of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) out of the forced merger between German communists and the eastern Social Democrats. Thus, they ensured that communists controlled the eastern zone under the guise of democratic unity.

While this case study reviews the conditions for POWs held by several different countries, it primarily focuses on those held by the USSR. Poland and Yugoslavia are treated in separate case studies and evidence suggests that those held by no other single country exceed the 50,000 deaths threshold that defines this research project.

Atrocities (1945-1953)

Conditions varied according to the state that held the POWs. At the war’s end, millions of German soldiers, fearing revenge, trekked westward hoping to surrender to the Americans or British, rather than the Red Army. Indeed, the Soviet Union had never signed the Geneva Accords and therefore German POWs were not subject to the laws of war, which forbade excessive work and required a certain number of daily calories for each prisoner. The POWs were employed to help rebuild the war-destroyed country. Many were sent to logging camps in Siberia or mining in the Ural Mountains. Imprisonment was generally harsh. A young POW recalled being subjected to “brutal assaults on a daily basis, hunger, disease, and the cold.” Only by 1948 did their situation improve. [ii]

The German occupation had wreaked havoc on Soviet soil, so the Soviet propaganda machine had little difficulty instilling hatred for Germans. Many POWs who died in captivity were almost certainly casualties of punitive revenge, but their exact numbers cannot be readily ascertained. There is a consensus, however, that most deaths were not the result of official policy. Most German POWs seem to have died before 1945 due to their poor health when falling captive after month-long fighting such as in Stalingrad. Many others died because of overwork, and because the Soviets did not allocate resources towards the POWs, but to their war effort. After the war, Soviet resources were in turn allocated towards their own population, and poor postwar harvests only made the POW’s situation worse. Until 1947 the single highest cause of death was dystrophy, a disease caused by undernourishment.[iii] Moreover, POWs often engaged in self-destructive behavior, such as refusing food, and/or inhaling, imbibing, or consuming dangerous substances in the hopes to be weakened to an extent to be let off work or be returned sooner to Germany. The deaths that resulted from this cannot be ascertained either. Still, for the Soviets, the German POWs had a use they were to work to rebuild the country. In this, Soviet treatment of German POWs differed from the wartime policies of Nazi Germany, which intentionally sought to kill Soviet POWs. [iv]

The Soviets were not alone in their treatment of German POWs. An estimated 40,000 died in American stockades because of neglect and hunger between May and July of 1945. Another 20,000 died while working to rebuild war-ravaged France, often tasked with dangerous tasks such as removing explosives from mine fields. Here again historians generally agree that there were no deliberate attempts to annihilate German POWs en masse. While certainly the policies put in place came out of hatred and punitive sentiments, it was the difficult condition of the immediate postwar, especially low calorie diets, neglect, and overwork that ensured the death of POWs.[v]

Nonetheless, for the purposes of this study, fatalities that result when populations are kept under the direct control of a power (the “camp” is the signature such example) in conditions that produce high mortality are included.

It is difficult to ascertain the exact number of deceased POWs and whether they died before or after 1945. The reasons are patchy record keeping the chaotic conditions the immediate postwar period, and the discrepancy between official figures and the number of actual disappeared POWs. Moreover, the POW topic is a favorite of the far right, always intent on inflating numbers of dead POWs and ethnic Germans in order to craft revisionist and Holocaust–denying narratives.

The numbers are most accurate for the POWs deaths in countries other than the Soviet Union. McDonough estimates that 80,000 German POWs died in Yugoslavia working to rebuild the country and as the result of abuse and malnutrition (see Yugoslavia case study). Close to 10,000 died in Polish mines and camps (see Poland case study). He estimates POWs under American, British, French, Belgian, Luxembourger, and Dutch control to have died to be 63,815. It should be noted that the American forces donated thousands of POWs to the French and the Belgians to perform rebuilding work.[vi] The deaths break down to 40,000 dead under American captivity on German soil, 1,254 dead under British captivity in Germany, 21,886 in France, 450 in Belgium, 210 in Holland, and 15 dead POWs in Luxembourg.[vii] Historians agree that 100,000 POWs held by non–Soviet forces remain missing, but it is not clear from the scholarship how much overlap there is between the “missing” POWs and the “confirmed” dead because of unreliable data.[viii]

The Soviet case is the most vexing for researchers. The official Soviet numbers are that 350,000 to 400,000 German POWs perished in Soviet imprisonment, which historians have determined to be far too low.[ix] Scholars agree that 1.1 million German POWs perished in Soviet captivity, fully one third of all German POWs under Soviet control.[x] The confusion comes when determining the exact period when the deaths occurred given the patchy (or perhaps even mendacious) record–keeping of Soviet officials. Scholars know that the NKVD organized German POWs beginning in 1943 according to the GULAG model, and integrating them into the Soviet war economy as workers. Their importance as a workforce ensured that the Soviets were interested in keeping them well after 1945, which meant continued mortality levels, albeit at lower percentages than during the war years. Whereas in 1945 mortality was 14.5%, by 1947 it had dropped to 1.7%. Since 3 million German POWs were under Soviet control in 1945, over 400,000 must have died in Soviet camps after 1945. Yet, this number remains an estimate.[xi]

Given that we treat Yugoslavia and Poland separately, German POWs included in this study are: 63, 815 (US, France, UK, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg) and 400,000 USSR.

The question of the POWs was a very important topic already in Nazi Germany. Bereaved families wanted their men back. After the war, the vast majority of ordinary Germans in east and west believed that they had suffered the most during World War II, and POWs were the very symbol of defeat and German victimization. [xii]

Occupied Germany was divided into a Western capitalist, and an eastern Communist part. In the western occupation zone, German politicians across the political spectrum and the vast majority of ordinary citizens lobbied for the POWs’ release, pressing hard on Allied High Commissioner John J. McCloy to release those who remained behind bars. [xiii] They had successes because the Americans and British desperately wanted German allies in their coming struggle against the Soviet Union. The Western Allies were signatories of the Geneva Convention which stipulated that POWs were to be released shortly after the war ended, but POW releases, and especially the amnesties of convicted war criminals must be seen in the light of West German lobbying in the context of the nascent Cold War. [xiv]

West Germans had less success in influencing the Soviet Union before Stalin’s death in 1953. Given the Cold War, the Western Allies could not influence the Kremlin either. The Soviet Union refused to discuss the question of POWs. Historian Andreas Hilger argues that the logic of pre–1953 POW releases by the Soviet Union defy consistent explanation. Often they were conditioned strictly by Soviet calculations. As long as a POW was fit and useful he was kept working, when they became too sick and weak they were repatriated. The Soviets also devised a scheme by which POWs who fulfilled a work quota could come home sooner. In neither case were Soviet authorities consistent about their promises.[xv] The East Germans were in no condition to challenge Soviet POW policies, even though they counted on the POWs, especially if they had become antifascists or even communists, to play a role in creating the new socialist Germany. Rather, East German communists sought to inculcate Stalinist values in the population, which included reviling all POWs as fascists. The Soviet Union subordinated POW repatriation to their reconstruction needs. The POWs who returned to both Germanys in the late 1940s were “ragged and emaciated.”[xvi]

It would take until 1953 and 1956 respectively for the last surviving POWs to return. The decisive factor was Stalin’s death in 1953 and Moscow’s desire to minimize the number of foreign prisoners in the country (many Japanese POWs were also released), secure the status quo in Europe, and normalize relations with West Germany. Moreover, they wanted to give the East German government a trump card after the June 1953 uprising in East Germany by crediting East Berlin with the repatriations. The Soviets released 10,200 POWs in 1953. The remaining 9,262 had been mostly accused of war crimes and sentenced to lengthy prison terms that would last until the 1980s. Still, the Soviets desired to establish diplomatic relations with West Germany, which would ensure the status quo in Eastern Europe, as Germany would effectively remain divided in East and West. Given the popularity of the POW question in West Germany, the West German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, flew to Moscow in 1955 and told Khrushchev that the POWs were to be released before diplomatic relations were established. This ensured the return of the last prisoners to East and West Germany. [xvii]

We code this case as ending ‘as planned,’ through a process of normalization hastened by leadership change which brought a moderating domestic influence to bear on the fate of the POWs.

Recognizing that others may interpret events differently, we also offer a secondary coding of this case as a strategic shift, whereby the Soviet leadership moderated following the death of Stalin.


Biess, Frank. 2006. Homecomings: Returning POWs and the Legacies of Defeat in Postwar Germany. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Bischof, Günter, Stefan Karner, and Barbara Stelzl–Marx, eds., 2005. Kriegsgefangenen des Zweiten Weltkrieges: Gefangennahme–Lagerleben–Rückkehr. Vienna and Munich: R. Oldenbourg Verlag.

Borchard, Michael.2000. Die Deutschen Kriegsgefangenen in Der Sowjetunion: Zur Politischen Bedeutung Der Kriegsgefangennfrage, 1949–1955. Düsseldorf: Droste.

Dieter–Müller, Klaus, 2005. “Die Geschichte hat ein Gesicht,” in Bischof, Günter, Stefan Karner, and Barbara Stelzl–Marx, eds. Kriegsgefangenen des Zweiten Weltkrieges: Gefangennahme–Lagerleben–Rückkehr. Vienna and Munich: R. Oldenbourg Verlag.

Hilger, Andreas. 2000. Deutsche Kriegsgefangene in Der Sowjetunion, 1941–1956: Kriegsgefangennenpolitik, Lageralltag Und Erinnerung. Essen: Klartext Verlag.

Hilger, Andreas. 2005. “Skoro Domoj?” in Bischof, Günter, Stefan Karner, and Barbara Stelzl–Marx, eds., 2005. Kriegsgefangenen des Zweiten Weltkrieges: Gefangennahme–Lagerleben–Rückkehr. Vienna and Munich: R. Oldenbourg Verlag.

Horton, Aaron. 2014. German POWs, Der Ruf, and the Genesis of Group 47: The Political Journey of Alfred Andersch and Hans Werner Richter. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press..

Lehmann, Albrecht. 1986. Gefangenschaft Und Heimkehr: Deutsche Kriegsgefangen in Der Sowjetunion. Munich: C.H. Beck.

Lucks, Günter, and Harald Stutte, 2010. Ich War Hitlers Letztes Aufgebot: Meine Erlebnisse Als SS–Kindersoldat. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rohwolt Verlag.

McDonough, Giles. 2007. After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation. New York: Basic Books.

Moeller, Robert G. 2005 “Germans as Victims?: Thoughts on a Post–Cold War History of World War II’s Legacies,” History and Memory, Vol.17, No 1–2 (Spring–Winter): 145–194.

Schwarz, Thomas. 1991. America’s Germany: John J. McCloy and the Federal Republic of Germany. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Steinbach, Peter. 1989. “Zur Sozialgeschichte der deutschen Kriegsgefangenschaft in der Sowjetunion im Zweiten Weltkrieg in der Frühgeschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland: Ein Beitrag zum Problem historischer Kontinuität,” Zeitgeschichte 17: 1–18.

Steiniger, Rolf. 2014. Deutschland und die USA: Vom Zweiten Weltkrieg bis zur Gegenwart. Munich: Lau–Verlag, 2014.

[ii] Lucks and Harald Stutte 2010, 253–254.

[iii] Hilger 2000, 20 in Bischof, Karner, and Stelzl–Marx 2005, 202–206.

[iv] Lehmann 1986, 10, 81–83 Biess 2006, 119–140.

[v] Borchard 2000, 38 McDonough 2007, 399, 408, 426.

[vii] McDonough 2007, 399, 408, 420, 426.

[ix] Hilger and Dieter–Müller give different numbers for the official Soviet version. See Hilger 2000, 71, and Dieter–Müller 2005, 79.