1929-1939 1945-1949

World War II, 1939-1945

The Versailles system collapsed in 1936. With Italy and Germany questioning the borders drawn in the Paris Peace Treaties of 1919-1920, the U.S.S.R. approached the British government in 1937, suggesting to set up a new system ensuring the balance of powers in Europe, without success. When the representatives of Britain, France, Italy and Germany discussed the future of Czechoslovakia in Munich in September 1938, neither Czechoslovakia nor the U.S.S.R. were invited; the U.S.S.R. was diplomatically isolated.
On August 23rd 1939, Soviet foreign minister Molotov and German foreign minister Ribbentrop signed the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, ending Soviet diplomatic isolation in Europe.

From May to September 1939, Japan and the U.S.S.R. fought a brief (and, by the world media, little covered) war over Mongolia; the Japanese, who wanted to replace the Soviets as the dominating force in Outer Mongolia, failed in achieving their objective.
In a secret memorandum attached to the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, Germany and the U.S.S.R. agreed to partition the cordon of states separating both, established at the Paris Peace Conference. German troops invaded Poland on September 1st 1939. Britain and France declared war on Germany, but took little action. On September 17th 1939, Soviet forces invaded the eastern regions of Poland; Britain and France did not declare war on the U.S.S.R.
The U.S.S.R. in November 1939 attacked Finland; the Finnish forces, contrary to expectations, stopped the Red Army. The Western Press branded the U.S.S.R. as aggressors, celebrated the Finns as heroes. U.S. Americans, Canadians, Swedes volunteered to fight in Finland; the parliaments of the United Kingdom and France discussed to send regiments to help the Finns. In this situation, on March 12th 1940, the U.S.S.R. and Finland signed the Peace of Moscow; Finland had to cede Eastern Karelia.
In June 1940 (with the German invasion of France being in progress) the U.S.S.R. demanded the Baltic Republics (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia) to permit the stationing of Soviet troops on their territory, and new elections being held (July 1940). Forged election results were published, Communist governments formed; the three republics "applied" for membership in the U.S.S.R. which was granted in August 1940.
In July 1940 the Red Army occupied and the U.S.S.R. annexed Bessarabia (since 1918 part of Romania) and the Northern Bukovina. Stalin even had gone for more, had demanded that Sweden cede the island of Gotland for the reason that it was located too close to Leningrad, a demand the Swedes adamantly refused.
By summer 1940 Stalin had achieved major territorial acquisitions, with the U.S.S.R. not being in the state of war, while to the west Germany and her allies faced Britain and Greece in war, in the east Japan and China. Outer Mongolia, Tannu Tuva and Xinjiang were Soviet sphere of influence.

Hitler had outlined his vision to acquire 'Lebensraum im Osten' (living space in the east) in his book "Mein Kampf" (1925-1926). On June 22nd 1941 the German army launched the invasion of the U.S.S.R., an invasion of which Stalin had been warned, warnings on which he refused to act.
The German invasion of the U.S.S.R. solved Churchill's problem; the U.S.S.R. became natural allies, sharing the same enemy, and soon they would be joined by the U.S. As the western allies needed the U.S.S.R., they had to tacitly accept Stalin's recent territorial acquisitions (although neither Britain nor the U.S. recognised the accession of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to the Soviet Union). Britain, which had entered the war against Germany for the sake of Poland, could not pressure the issue of Poland's eastern provinces, in 1939 occupied and annexed by the U.S.S.R., because only with the Soviet alliance could it hope to defeat Germany. When the Germans exhumed the victims of the Katyn massacre in 1943 and published their findings, the British suppressed the spread of the news in order to preserve the alliance.
In 1941 and 1942, the U.S.S.R. had to take heavy blows, the German army laying siege to Leningrad, advancing to the outskirts of Moscow and into Stalingrad. Stalin's master spy in Japan, Richard Sorge, reported the Japanese decision not to attack the U.S.S.R. in the east, but instead attack the U.S. at Pearl Harbour; Stalin ordered his forces in the Pacific to move westward; they were thrown into the Battle of Stalingrad. Stalingrad was liberated by Feb. 2nd 1943; from then on the Red Army advanced. By summer 1944 the Red Army approached Poland and Romania. An attempt by the government of Hungary to negotiate an armistice in March 1944 was ended by a German coup; Romania signed an armistice in September 1944; Bulgaria switched from a German to a Soviet alliance in the same month. In December 1944, an Anti-Fascist government was formed in Hungary, which declared war on Germany.

From 1943 onward, Soviet foreign policy could look forward to the post-war order of Europe. The U.S.S.R. was temporary home to many Communist refugees from countries in central and Western Europe; Polish, German, Hungarian etc. Communists in the U.S.S.R. prepared to establish an administration in their respective country once it was liberated by the Red Army.
Then there were the meetings of the Allies. Stalin was not present at Cairo, Nov. 1943, but participated in the Tehran Conference of Nov./Dec. 1943. At Tehran, the post-war borders of Poland were decided. At the Yalta Conference (Feb. 1945, held on Soviet territory), the U.S.S.R. agreed to declare war on Japan within 90 days after the defeat of Germany, and was promised Southern Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands. As there were two competing administrations claiming to govern Poland, one the exile government in London, the other the Communist administration set up in Lublin, the formation of a coalition government including elements of both was decided. At the Potsdam Conference (August 1945) Stalin obtained the promise of reparations by Germany and Austria, a share in the Allied military administration of Germany and Austria, recognition for the new borders of Poland. In the Far East, the Japanese forces in Manchuria and to the North of the 38th parallel on the Korean peninsula were to be disarmed by Soviet forces.
At Yalta Churchill had suggested to agree on the allocation of British and Soviet political influence in Southeastern Europe, which Stalin accepted; this was to lay the foundation for the establishment of blocs after the war.

In 1944, the U.S.S.R. annexed Tannu Tuva.

The U.S.S.R. regarded herself as the representative of the interests of Communists in the various European countries. A matter to which little attention is paid in English language publications was the participation of Spanish and Swedish volunteers in the war Germany raged against the U.S.S.R., "volunteers in the struggle against Bolshevism"; the western Allies treated Spain and Sweden as neutral powers, a status the U.S.S.R. in the end accepted.

Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 8th, in a separate ceremony to the Soviets on May 9th at Karlshorst in Berlin. Japan surrendered on August 14th 1945, a surrender accepted by U.S. president Truman on August 15th; a formal document of surrender was signed Sept. 2nd 1945.

Articles Tehran Conference, Yalta Conference, Potsdam Conference, from Wikipedia
The USSR in World War II, from World War II Multimedia Database
REFERENCE Richard Overy, Russia's War. A History of the Soviet War Effort 1941-1945, NY : Penguins 1998 [G]
Gerhard L. Weinberg, A World at Arms. A Global History of World War II, Cambridge : UP 1994 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted April 18th 2007, last revised on June 2nd 2008

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