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An introduction to the history of germany in world war two

Print this page Roots of war On 22 June 1941, some three million soldiers of Germany and her allies began an attack on the Soviet Union. This war was supposed to be over in a matter of months, but it lasted for four years, and grew into the largest and most costly conflict in all history. The roots of the war lie in the appointment of Adolf Hitler as German chancellor in 1933. The cost to the Soviet Union was an estimated 27 million dead.

His hatred of Soviet Communism and his crude ideas of economic imperialism, expressed in the pursuit of Lebensraum 'living-space'made the Soviet Union a natural area for Hitler's warlike ambitions.

After the outbreak of war in 1939 came the added fear of Soviet expansion in Eastern Europe, while Germany was fighting the British Empire and France in the west. All of these factors contributed to the decision taken by Hitler in July 1940, after the German defeat of France, to plan for an all-out assault on the Soviet Union. Not until December 1940, however, did Hitler make a final decision to go ahead with what became known as Operation Barbarossa.

The original date, set for May 1941, had to be revised to complete the vast preparations for the attack - following other German attacks on Yugoslavia and Greece in April.

The date of 22 June was late for starting a campaign over such a vast area, but German commanders were confident that the Soviet armed forces were primitive, and that the Soviet people were waiting for liberation. Victory was expected by the early autumn.

  1. It killed more people, cost more money, damaged more property, affected more people, and caused more far-reaching changes in nearly every country than any other war in history. The Soviet state was transformed in the process into a superpower, and Communism, close to extinction in the autumn of 1941, came to dominate the whole Eurasian area, from East Germany to North Korea.
  2. The Pacific Theater The war in the Pacific essentially began on September 18, 1931, when Japan invaded Manchuria, which was known for its natural resources. After the destructive and indecisive battle of Jutland 1916 and the mutiny of its sailors in 1917, the Kaiserliche Marine spent most of the war in port, only to be turned over to the allies and scuttled at surrender by its own officers.
  3. It also provides a timeline and biographies of key participants in two useful appendices. So, some years later started another world war.
  4. Most consider the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, to be the beginning of the war. On June 6, 1944, 160,000 Allied troops and 30,000 vehicles landed along a 50-mile front of fortified French coastline and began fighting on the beaches of Normandy.
  5. Relations between Japan and the United States became increasingly tense in the fall of 1941. In the 1880s he introduced old age pensions, accident insurance, medical care and unemployment insurance that formed the basis of the modern European welfare state.

Despite repeated intelligence warnings, which included the precise day and hour of Germany's incipient assault, Stalin remained convinced that Hitler would not risk an eastern war as long as the British Empire remained undefeated.

It has been argued that Stalin in fact planned a pre-emptive attack on Germany for the early summer of 1941, and was then thrown off-balance by the German invasion. For two years Soviet forces pushed the German army back into Germany. The evidence makes clear the defensive posture of the Soviet Union in 1941. Stalin did not want to risk war, though he hoped to profit from the German-British struggle if he could.

In the event, the shock of attack almost unhinged the Soviet state, and by the autumn German forces had destroyed most of the Red Army and the Russian air force, surrounded and besieged Leningrad - where over one million people died of starvation and cold - and were approaching the outskirts of Moscow.

The Red Army had sufficient reserves to stop the German army from completing the rout in December 1941, but the following summer German offensives launched far to the south of Moscow, to seize the rich oilfields of the Caucasus and to cut the Volga shipping route, created further chaos.

Hitler hoped that German forces would capture the oil and sweep on through the Middle East to meet up with Axis forces in Egypt.

The Volga was to be blocked at Stalingrad, after which German forces could wheel northwards to outflank Moscow and the Soviet line. The southern attack failed at Stalingrad.

World War Two: History in an Hour

After weeks of chaotic retreats and easy German victories, the Red Army solidified its defence and against all the odds clung on to the battered city. Some historians have seen this as the turning point of the war. But not until the Red Army had decisively defeated German forces in the more favourable summer weather of 1943 did the tide really turn. The Battle of Kursk in July 1943 was one of the greatest set-piece battles in military history.

The Red Army withstood a massive German assault, and then counter-attacked. For two years Soviet forces pushed the German army back into Germany, until in May 1945 Soviet forces accepted the surrender of the relic of Hitler's army in Berlin. Top Turnaround The central question of the German-Soviet war is why, after two years of defeats, and the loss of more than five million men and two-thirds of the industrial capacity of the country, the Red Army was able to blunt, then drive back, the German attack.

Camouflage, surprise and misinformation were brilliantly exploited to keep the German army in the dark. The idea that the USSR had limitless manpower, despite its heavy losses, is inadequate as an answer.

Germany and her allies also possessed a large population, and added to it the peoples of the captured Soviet areas - men and women who were forced to work for the German army or were shipped back to work in the Reich. Soviet armies were always desperately short of men. Above all, Soviet tactics in 1941-2 were extremely wasteful of manpower.

If the Red Army had continued to fight the same way, it would simply have sustained escalating losses for little gain. Nor did the USSR enjoy an advantage in economic resources. After the German attack, Soviet steel production fell to eight million tons in 1942, while German production was 28 million tons.

In the same year, Soviet coal output was 75 million tons, while German output was 317 million. The USSR nevertheless out-produced Germany in the quantity though seldom in the quality of most major weapons, from this much smaller industrial base. The impressive production of weapons was achieved by turning the whole of the remaining Soviet area into what Stalin called 'a single armed camp', focusing all efforts on military production and extorting maximum labour from a workforce whose only guarantee of food was to turn up at the factory and work the arduous 12-hour shifts.

Without Lend-Lease aid, however, from the United States and Britain, both of whom supplied a high proportion of food and raw materials for the Soviet war effort, the high output of weapons would still not have been possible. The chief explanation lies not in resources, which Germany was more generously supplied with than the Soviet Union, during the two central years of the war before American and British economic power was fully exerted.

It lies instead in the remarkable reform of the Red Army and the Russian air force, undertaken slowly in 1942. Every area of Soviet military life was examined and changes introduced. The army established the equivalent of the heavily armoured German Panzer divisions, and tank units were better organised - thanks to the introduction of radios. Soviet army tactics and intelligence-gathering were also overhauled. Camouflage, surprise and misinformation were brilliantly exploited to keep the German army in the dark about major Soviet intentions.

The air force was subjected to effective central control and improved communications, so that it could support the Soviet army in the an introduction to the history of germany in world war two way as the Luftwaffe backed up German forces.

Top People's input The Red Army was fortunate that in 1942 Stalin finally decided to play a less prominent role in defence planning and discovered in a young Russian general, Georgi Zhukov, a remarkable deputy whose brusque, no-nonsense style of command, and intuitive operational sense, were indispensable in making the Red Army a better battlefield force. The Communist Party also accepted the need to give the Red Army greater flexibility in fighting the war, and in the autumn of 1942 scaled down the role of political commissars attached to the armed forces.

Many women joined the partisan movement operating behind the German lines. The Soviet people also played their part. Despite exceptional levels of deprivation and loss, they kept up the production of food, weapons and equipment. Some were terrorised into doing so, particularly the millions of camp labourers who worked fully for the war effort.

But others did so from a genuine patriotism or a hatred of German fascism. The harsh treatment of the Soviet population in those areas of Russia occupied by Germany made it easier for the Stalinist regime to mobilise support elsewhere in Russia for the war effort.

Stalin relaxed the repression of the Church so that it could be used to mobilise enthusiasm, while propaganda played on the theme of past Russian glories against European invaders, rather than on Communist successes. An exceptional burden was borne by Soviet women. By 1945 over half the workforce was female, and on the land, more than four-fifths. Women fought in their thousands in the Soviet armed forces as pilots, sharpshooters, even tank commanders.

  • The government played a powerful role in the industrialization of the German Empire founded by Otto von Bismarck in 1871 during a period known as the Second Industrial Revolution;
  • The result was that the large landowners obtained larger estates, and many peasant became landless tenants, or moved to the cities or to America;
  • The war in the east ended with the defeat and collapse of Russian Empire , and German troops occupied large parts of Eastern and Central Europe with varying degree of control , establishing various client states such as a kingdom of Poland and the United Baltic Duchy;
  • The German colonies were taken during the war, and Italy took the southern half of Tyrol after an armistice had been agreed upon;
  • After World War I, Germany, Italy, and Japan — all anxious to regain or increase their power — adopted forms of dictatorship.

Many women joined the partisan movement operating behind the German lines - and by 1943 there were an estimated 300,000 of them. They constantly harried German troops, and were themselves the victim of harsh punitive expeditions, which led to the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent villagers along with the partisan bands. The so-called 'barbarisation of warfare' has a number of explanations.

  • Japan had no plans for invading the United States mainland;
  • The League of Nations was unable to promote disarmament.

Conditions were harsh for both sides, and losses were high. Soviet resistance made possible a successful Allied invasion of France. By the autumn of 1941 these instructions had expanded to include all suspected partisans and other categories of Jew. In 1942 the remaining Jewish population was rounded up and killed on the spot or sent to extermination camps.

The mass-murder of the Jews illustrates the importance of ideology in the conflict. Both sides fought in effect a civil war - the Soviets against imperialist invaders, the Germans against Jewish Bolshevism. The nature of the dictatorships determined the savage character of the eastern conflict. Soviet victory came at a high price, but a combination of total-war mobilisation, better fighting methods and high operational skills defeated a German army that in 1944 was a formidable, heavily armed and modern fighting force.

Soviet resistance made possible a successful Allied invasion of France, and ensured the final Allied victory over Germany. The Soviet state was transformed in the process into a superpower, and Communism, close to extinction in the autumn of 1941, came to dominate the whole Eurasian area, from East Germany to North Korea.