Soviet Union in World War II

During the early morning of 22 June 1941, Hitler broke the pact by starting Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of Soviet-held territories and the Soviet Union that began the war on the Eastern Front.

In the first three weeks of the invasion, as the Soviet Union tried to defend itself against large German advances, it suffered 750,000 casualties, and lost 10,000 tanks and 4,000 aircraft.

Soviets stop the Germans

By the end of 1941, the Soviet military had suffered 4.3 million casualties and the Germans had captured 3.0 million Soviet prisoners, 2.0 million of whom died in German captivity by February 1942.

While the Germans made huge advances in 1941, killing millions of Soviet soldiers, at Stalin's direction, the Red Army directed sizable resources to prevent the Germans from achieving one of their key strategic goals, the attempted capture of Leningrad. They held the city at the cost of more than a million Soviet soldiers in the region and more than a million civilians, many of whom died from starvation.

Correctly calculating that Hitler would direct efforts to capture Moscow, Stalin concentrated his forces to defend the city, including numerous divisions transferred from Soviet eastern sectors after he determined that Japan would not attempt an attack in those areas. By December, Hitler's troops had advanced to within 25 kilometres (16 mi) of the Kremlin in Moscow. On 5 December, the Soviets launched a counteroffensive, pushing German troops back c. 80 kilometres (50 mi) from Moscow in what was the first major defeat of the Wehrmacht in the war.

In early 1942, the Soviets began a series of offensives labeled "Stalin's First Strategic Offensives". The counteroffensive bogged down, in part due to mud from rain in the spring of 1942.Stalin's attempt to retake Kharkov in the Ukraine ended in the disastrous encirclement of Soviet forces, with over 200,000 Soviet casualties suffered.[68] Stalin attacked the competence of the generals involved.General Georgy Zhukov and others subsequently revealed that some of those generals had wished to remain in a defensive posture in the region, but Stalin and others had pushed for the offensive. Some historians have doubted Zhukov's account.

The German southern campaign began with a push to capture the Crimea. In their southern campaigns, the Germans took 625,000 Red Army prisoners in July and August 1942 alone.

Estimating that the Russians were "finished," the Germans began another southern operation in the fall of 1942, the Battle of Stalingrad. Hitler insisted upon splitting German southern forces in a simultaneous siege of Stalingrad. Although the Soviets suffered in excess of 1.1 million casualties at Stalingrad.

Soviet push to Germany

In 1943 the Germans did attempt an attack at Kursk, which was successfully repulsed by the Soviets. The Battle of Kursk was a World War the Second engagement between German and Soviet forces on the Eastern Front near Kursk (450 kilometres or 280 miles southwest of Moscow) in the Soviet Union during July and August 1943. The German offensive was code-named Operation Citadel  and led to one of the largest armoured clashes in history, the Battle of Prokhorovka. The German offensive was countered by two Soviet counter-offensives, Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev and Operation Kutuzov. For the Germans, the battle represented the final strategic offensive they were able to mount in the east. For the Soviets, the decisive victory gave the Red Army the strategic initiative for the rest of the war.

The Germans hoped to weaken the Soviet offensive potential for the summer of 1943 by cutting off a large number of forces that they anticipated would be in the Kursk salient assembling for an offensive. The Kursk salient or bulge was 250 km north to south, 160 km east to west. By eliminating the Kursk salient they would also shorten their lines of defence, taking the strain off their overstretched forces.The plan envisioned an envelopment by a pair of pincers breaking through the northern and southern flanks of the salient. Hitler thought that a victory here would reassert Germany's strength and improve his prestige with allies who were considering withdrawing from the war.It was also hoped that large numbers of Soviet prisoners would be captured to be used as slave labour in Germany's armaments industry.

The Battle of Kursk was the first time a German strategic offensive had been halted before it could break through enemy defences and penetrate to its strategic depth (The maximum depth of the Nazi advance was 8–12 km in the north and 35 km in the south. Though the Soviet Army had succeeded in winter offensives previously, their counter-offensives following the German attack were their first successful strategic summer offensives of the war.

By the end of 1943, the Soviets occupied half of the territory taken by the Germans from 1941–1942. Soviet military industrial output also had increased substantially from late 1941 to early 1943 after Stalin had moved factories well to the East of the front, safe from German invasion and air attack.The strategy paid off, as such industrial increases were able to occur even while the Germans in late 1942 occupied more than half of European Russia, including 40 percent (80 million) of its population, and approximately 2,500,000 square kilometres (970,000 sq mi) of Soviet territory.The Soviets had also prepared for war for more than a decade, including preparing 14 million civilians with some military training.

In 1944, the Soviet Union made significant advances across Eastern Europe toward Germany,including Operation Bagration, a massive offensive in Belarus against the German Army Group Centre. The operation resulted in the Soviets retaking Belarus and western Ukraine, along with the successful effective destruction of the Army Group Centre and 300,000 German casualties, though at the cost of more than 750,000 Soviet casualties.

Successes at Operation Bagration and in the year that followed were, in large part, due to a weakened Wehrmacht that lacked the fuel and armament they needed to operate effectively,growing Soviet advantages in manpower and materials, and the attacks of Allies on the Western Front.

20,000 Polish rebels and up to 200,000 civilians were killed by Wehrmacht forces, with Soviet forces entering the city of Warsaw in January 1945. The citizens of Warsaw meet the Red Army.

The Red Army also expelled German forces from Lithuania and Estonia in late 1944 at the cost of 260,000 Soviet casualties.

Victory at Budapest permitted the Red Army to launch the Vienna Offensive in April 1945. To the northeast, the taking of Belarus and western Ukraine permitted the Soviets to launch the massive Vistula - Oder Offensive, where German intelligence had incorrectly guessed the Soviets would have a 3-to-1 numerical superiority advantage that was actually 5-to-1 (over 2 million Red Army personnel attacking 450,000 German defenders), the successful culmination of which resulted in the Red Army advancing from the Vistula river in Poland to the German Oder river in Eastern Germany.

Final Victory

By April 1945, Germany faced its last days with 1.9 million German soldiers in the East fighting 6.4 million Red Army soldiers while 1 million German soldiers in the West battled 4 million Western Allied soldiers.

By April 24, Berlin was encircled by elements of two Soviet fronts, one of which had begun a massive shelling of the city on April 20 that would not end until the city's surrender. On April 30, Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide, after which Soviet forces found their remains, which had been burned at Hitler's directive. German forces surrendered a few days later.

Economic losses, including losses in resources and manufacturing capacity in western Russia and Ukraine, were also catastrophic.The war resulted in the destruction of approximately 70,000 Soviet cities, towns and villages. Destroyed in that process were 6 million houses, 98,000 farms, 32,000 factories, 82,000 schools, 43,000 libraries, 6,000 hospitals and thousands of kilometers of roads and railway track.

Stalin was soon conferred with the rank of the Generalissimus of the Soviet Union, which becomes the country's highest military rank followed by Marshal for his role in the Soviet victory of the war.