World War II
Early Years, 1939-1941
World War II
the Defeat

World War II
the Invasion of Russia, 1941-1942

A.) German-Soviet Relations, 1939-1941

Before the Non-Agression Pact of August 23rd 1939, Hitler had often held tirades against Communism, picturing the danger of an imminent Bolshevist invasion of Europe. Nazi propaganda had also depicted Bolshevism as the enemy. With the pact signed, this seized immediately. Similarily, Soviet propaganda treated Hitler's Germany accordingly. The Non-Agression Pact led to an abrupt change in the treatment of each other in media (propaganda). Germany and the USSR agreed on a peaceful transfer of the ethnic Germans living in Estonia and Latvia to Germany. Stalin trusted in Hitler sticking to the pact. Hitler, however, stuck to his goal of gaining LEBENSRAUM IM OSTEN (living space (for the German nation) in the East) and ordered secret preparations for the invasion. However, because of Italian lack of progress on the Greek front, it was postponed - German authority had to be established there first.

B.) The Balkans Campaign, April-June 1941

Germany established alliances with HUNGARY, RUMANIA and BULGARIA. YUGOSLAVIA resented German offers; on April 6th Germany opened hostilities by bombing Belgrade. The country was quickly occupied, as was continental GREECE. Crete was held by Greek and British troops until it was taken by a German airborne offense, May 20th until June 1st.
The political map of the Balkans was rearranged. Rumania, which had ceded Northern Transylvania to Hungary in 1940, was promised territorial gains in Bessarabia and western Ukraine. Yugoslavia was split up; Italy occupied Montenegro, Western Slovenia and some Dalmatian coastal regions. CROATIA (including Bosnia-Hercegovina) was established as a German vassal state. Macedonia was given to Bulgaria, Serbia was occupied by German forces.
The mountaineous Balkan peninsula was of minor importance; the main object of it's occupation was to negate Britain the opportunity to establish a bridgehead in continental Europe, and to protect Germany's flank when it would attack the USSR. The campaign resulted in a delay of the invasion, a delay which turned out to be crucial.

C.) Germany's Invasion of Russia

On June 22nd 1941, German forces crossed into the USSR, without a war being declared. The invasion came as a shock to Stalin. Although he had been given details about Germany's invasion plan from spy RICHARD SORGE, he did not believe in it, because spies observing a factory producing buttons for Germany's uniforms did not report a significant raise in the production of winter coat buttons. Stalin remained in a state of shock for weeks, which left the USSR whichout a commander. In the meantime, German panzer units quickly pushed forward, encircling Russian army units. FINLAND seized the opportunity to regain Eastern Karelia, also invaded the USSR and thus became a German ally.
The Soviet army took heavy losses, and by winter 1941 the German army stood in front of Leningrad and Moscow. However, the advance came to a halt, for a number of reasons. (1) the German army, despite Hitler's long-term-goal of acquiring Lebensraum im Osten, was not prepared for a winter war. German tanks were unfit to move under severe Russian winter conditions, and the soldiers were not even supplied with winter coats. (2) Meanwhile, Stalin had recovered from his shock, and Russia had reorganized it's defence, which inflicted the German army, in front of Moscow, it's first defeat.

D.) The Africa Campaign 1941

As in Greece, Italy proved unable to hold it's ground in Libya, against British Commonwealth forces. An Italian invasion from Libya into Egypt (Sept. 1940) had been repelled and in Dec. 1940 the British had begun their counteroffensive into Libya, quickly taking Cyrenaica. In January 1941, the German Afrika Corps was formed and dispatched to the front, under the command of ERWIN ROMMEL. The British advance was halted.

E.) The US Enters the War

German diplomacy tried to get Japan attack the USSR from the East, leading to a collapse of the USSR. However, Japan instead decided to attack the United States. On December 6th 1941, without a previous declaration of war, the Japanese navy and air force launched an attack at Pearl Harbour. Immediately afterwards, on Dec. 11th, Germany and Italy DECLARED WAR ON THE UNITED STATES. Two regional wars had escalated into a world war. The declaration, in fact, was only a formality. For on August 14th 1941, Churchill and Roosevelt had signed the ATLANTIC CHARTER, an agreement on common policy regarding the political order in post-war Europe.

F.) The Russian Front in 1942

Spy Richard Sorge, working at the German embassy in Tokyo, had informed Stalin, ahead of Pearl Harbour, that Japan definitely would not attack the USSR. Stalin ordered his eastern army to move to Europe; MARSHAL ZHUKHOV was placed in command. On Dec. 5th the Red Army launched a counteroffensive, which retook some ground.
In June 1942, the German army went on the offensive again, occupying the plains of Eastern Ukraine and Southern Russia. They entered the city of Stalingrad and reached the Caucasus Mountains. In December 1942, they had reached the furthest line German soldiers ever reached. The crucial oil fields of Baku were still beyond German control.

G.) North Africa, 1942

Early in 1942 Rommel went on the offensive against the British in Libya. By June he had expelled the British from Libya and crossed into Egypt. The advance was held et El Alamein because of lack of supplies (June 30th).
On November 8th 1942, US forces landed in Casablanca, Oran, Algiers, Bougie and Bone (NORTH AFRICA). The local French forces went over to the allies, denouncing loyalty to Vichy. The Germans were reduced to Tunisia and Libya.

Library of Congress Country Studies : Germany
Nationalsozialistische Europapläne (National Socialist Plans for Europe), by Daniel Spichtinger, in German
DOCUMENTS World War II Documents, from the Avalon Project from Yale Law School
"Hitler, the liberator", Russian language poster printed by German occupying force, from Politische Plakate in Deutschland : 2. Weltkrieg (political posters in Germany, 2nd World War) by Ziko Marcus Sikosek, in German; scroll down

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted April 18th 2001

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