For Eastern Europe, the war began 22 June, 1941. It would be the largest stage of war the world had ever seen and will be notoriously remembered for it’s unprecedented ferocity, destruction, and the vast loss of life. But more than any other battle ever fought in the past, this fight had another element: the extermination of ‘unwanted individuals’, better known as the Holocaust. World War II saw some of the worst arocities ever recorded, creating such horrors as extermination camps, death marches, ghettos, and pogroms. Various figures estimate the total death toll to be around 60 million, with an incredible 27 million coming from Eastern Europe alone. But besides the number of casualties - over one third of the total were civilians - WWII also resulted in the rise of the Soviet UNI0N as a military and industrial superpower.
Setting the Stage
Ideology seemed to be a theme that appealled to many leaders at the time and with so many big heads ruling the masses, fights and traitorous acts were characteristically in fashion. While Hitler is the one that most focus on in these times of conflict, Stalin too had an ideological head about him and it didn’t take long for him to realise that Hitler’s campaign of conquering the world would also be a good time for the Soviet UNI0N to be broadening it’s boarders; especially since Hitler’s war had “nothing to do with the Soviet UNI0N.” Stalin wanted the Baltics as well as Bessarabia and he didn’t think the West would mind too much since they would have an all out war on their hands. The USSR and Germany maintained long negotiations over which zones would belong to whom and how they would be obtained. Finally in August of 1939, The Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact was established which was a non-aggression agreement between Nazi Germany and the Soviet UNI0N outlining a secret protocol stating how Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania would be divided between them. More specifically, the pact also allowed for the return of the Ukrainian, Belarusian and Moldavian territories in the north and northeastern regions of Romania to the Soviet UNI0N, with Stalin endorsing the idea that ethnically, they belonged to the Soviet UNI0N. In reality however, the real reason for the occupation, or rather expansion to include these lands, needed no covering up.
And so it Begins...
In September of 1939, Germany invaded and partitioned Poland while the Soviet UNI0N got to work and waged the Winter War against Finland in the very next month; demonstrating to the world that this was an act synonymous to their allegiance with Germany. Riding the winds of victory, the USSR did not waste time in winning the ‘diplomatic’ wars against Romania and the Baltic States - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – which then effectively allowed them occupancy. Hiding behind the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact, the Soviet UNI0N felt safe.
But even in addition to that, no one imagined that Germany would even consider attacking the USSR, effectively waging a war on two fronts which could have only meant defeat for the Nazis considering the shear number of countries they were fighting.
This reasoning was flawed, and all intelligence indicated that the Germans were preparing to launch an offensive into the USSR. Large numbers of German troops were amassing in Poland, and there were repeated reconnaissance flights over the border. But Stalin chose to ignore all of it.
So blind to all intelligence and reason, the USSR was not prepared for the strike when it came and Nazi forces were able to march through Soviet lands easily and quickly, meeting almost no resistance.
A directive was received by Soviet troops, however, on the very night of the German invasion from Stalin, stating that they were “not to answer to any provocations” and were “not to take any action without specific orders.” Some say that Stalin spent that first night seated alone in his office thinking about the events leading up to this fateful night and wondering how the Soviet UNI0N could possibly fight back successfully without any professional soldiers: (After the revolution of 1917, the new Soviet authority executed all soldiers and officers and the country was left with thousands of energetic and enthusiastic men, but all uneducated in the ways of war).
And so the battle began with Operation Barbarossa on 22 June 1941.
The Dirty Work
The Germans dismantled the wire network in all Western Soviet military districts to undermine Soviet communications. At 03:15 on 22 June 1941, 99 (including fourteen panzer and ten motorized divisions) out of 190 German divisions, deployed an attack against the Soviet UNI0N from the Baltic right through to the Black Sea. They were accompanied by ten divisions as well as nine brigades from Romania and four from Hungary. Also on the same day, the Baltic, Western and Kyiv Special military districts were renamed the Northwestern, Western and Southwestern Fronts respectively. For a month, the offensive continued on three axes, and was completely unstoppable as the Panzer forces encircled hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops in huge pockets that were continually reduced by the slower-moving infantry armies. As part of this high tempo campaign, the German air force began immediate attacks on Soviet airfields, destroying many of the Soviet Air Force fleets, which nevertheless, consisted of planes that were largely obsolete.
But as German troops were getting deeper and deeper into the country, day by day it was getting harder and harder for them to fight against the Russian soldiers. The invasion that was once considered successful, ceased to be such a success once the Nazis reached Stalingrad. It was this city, named after the man himself, which stopped the Germans in their tracks; because if Stalingrad were to have admitted defeat, not only would it have been the loss of a city, but the loss of an ideology. The Battle for Stalingrad has been judged as one of the greatest victories on the Eastern Front, and rightly so: it occurred between 17 July 1942 – 2 February 1943 and the results are cited as the turning point for WWII. As the bloodiest battle of the war, casualties for those few months alone are estimated at a staggering 2 million, marked by brutality and a disregard for military and civilian casualties on both sides. It was the first large-scale defeat for Germany as the Soviet-offensive eventually trapped and destroyed the German 6th Army and other Axis forces. They were forced to retreat and this would be the last time Germany would engage any Soviet territory. February 2, would mark the beginning of a dream lost for the Nazis.
But it would take a further 2 years to continue the push of German armies back to their home base in Berlin. And this was important for Stalin as not only did he want to crush the Germans, he wanted to be first in the capital hoping to gain a commanding influence over the European continent. His offensive into Germany began on 16 April with an assault on the German front lines on the Oder and Neisse rivers. The day the Soviet forces fought their way into the centre of Berlin, April 30, Hitler decided that he would go out in style by marrying Eva Braun and then committing suicide by cyanide and shooting himself. Helmuth Weidling, the defence commandant of Berlin, surrendered the city to the Soviets on 2 May and the German Instrument of Surrender entered into force on 8 May 1945 at 23.01 CET - it was already 9 May in the Soviet UNI0N.
The rest, as they say, is history. Stalin and his Red Army was victorious, and the Hammer and Sickle flew from the top of the Reichstag.
While Stalin had initially considered he would be dividing up Europe between himself and Hitler, it turned out he did the same thing but with Churchchill and Roosevelt instead, and as many would have it, it was all done on the back of a cigarette packet.
German y was divided into East and West, as was the whole of Europe. The Iron Curtain descended and stayed in place for decades, creating a divide in the world the likes of which had never been seen before, and hopefully will never be seen again.