The Winter War, the Baltic Republics and Bessarabia

The Great Patriotic War
The German Invasion, 1941-42

A.) The Winter War

Since August/September 1939, German-Soviet relations were not amiable, but cooperative. German propaganda ceased to spread Anti-Bolshevist slogans; the treaties and agreements signed with Russia were kept. Russia, in return stuck to the agreements as well, proceeded with the repatriation of Estonia's and Latvia's German minority to Germany.
Suddenly, on June 22nd 1941, German forced invaded the Soviet Union, without declaration of war. Stalin had not expected this turn of events and was in a state of shock for weeks. As the Soviet constitution did not foresee such an event and Stalin had monopolized political authority, the state thus was paralyzed, leaderless, for weeks.
Actually, Stalin had been given detailed information on Germany's invasion plan, the exact date, the divisions involved, the place of attack, supplied by master spy RICHARD SORGE from Tokyo. However, Stalin chose not to believe these data because other spies reported no significant increase in the production of buttons used for German Winter Coat Uniforms.

German forces quickly broke through the Russian front, envelopped entire Russian divisions (KESSELSCHLACHT) and forced them to surrender. Within a few months, German troops reached the outskirts of LENINGRAD, appeared in front of Moscow and had occupied most of the Ukraine.
Finland had formed an alliance with Germany to regain it's territory lost in the WINTER WAR. Leningrad effectively was cut off from the territory held by the Red Army and was, for the next 3 years, under siege (SIEGE OF LENINGRAD). The German forces did not want to take the city; the order was to starve it to death. An estimated 700.000 died during that siege.
German forces occupying the Ukraine - a land which remembered that Stalin had caused, without necessity, a famine that had killed an estimated 8 million of them (the KULAKS) - found numerous Ukrainians willing to join the Germans in fighting the Russians. The Galicia Division of Ukrainian volunteers was established.
The onset of Winter stopped the German advance; German tank engines simply stopped to function at Russian winter temperatures. Russian T 34 tanks, technically simple but robust, rolled on and the Red Army was able to regain some ground in the Winter of 1941/42.
Meanwhile Hitler had criticized the German General Staff for having focussed on taking Moscow rather than advancing in the south, toward STALINGRAD, a vital railway junction, and toward the OIL FIELDS OF BAKU. The chief of staff, HALDER, resigned and from now on Hitler was in charge of the army as well. In summer 1942, German forces went on the offensive again, occupying the steppe east of Ukraine, pushing into Stalingrad and even reaching the Caucasus mountains.

Russia, despite the tremendous losses in territory and men, and despite the suffering the country had gone through under Stalin in peacetime, rallied to the cause of defending the fatherland in the GREAT PATRIOTIC WAR. Russia's industry supplied arms - T 34 tanks, the KALASHNIKOV, artillery, ammunition. Russian forces held the line. In winter 1942, the German advance came to a halt. Master spy Richard Sorge reported that Japan definitively would not attack the USSR, but would attack the US instead. Stalin could order his eastern forces under GENERAL ZHUKOV to move west.
The actions of the German occupants - confiscation of property, deportation of men and women to work as forced labour, mass executions of Jews, policy of racial purification - alienated even the goodwilling among the population. PARTISANS organized armed resistance.

Library of Congress, Country Studies : Russia, chapter Great Patriotic War
DOCUMENTS Soviet Propaganda Posters, from Earth Station #1, some of them on WW II; not in chronological order
Agreement Between the United Kingdom and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics : July 12, 1941, from Avalon Project at Yale Law School
Mutual Aid Agreement Between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics : June 11, 1942, from Avalon Project at Yale Law School
German Proclamation of War against the USSR, June 22nd 1941, posted by S.D. Stein
Statement of German Foreign Minister, June 22bd 1941, posted by S.D. Stein
Stalin Broadcast July 3rd 1941, posted by S.D. Stein
Hitler's Order of the Day to the German troops on the Eastern Front, Oct. 2nd 1941, posted by S.D. Stein
REFERENCE Richard Overy, Russia's War, A History of the Soviet War Effort 1941-1945, (1997) Penguins 1998

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 8th 2004

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