Joseph Stalin
Stalin in Moscow.
Some attributes
First Name: Joseph Stalin
Second Position: Leader of the Soviet Inion
Third Nationality: Soviet
Other attributes
Fourth Party: All-Union Communist Party
Fifth Born: 18 December 1878
Sixth Died: 16 October 1946 (aged 67)

Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin (Russian: Иосиф Виссарионович Сталин; born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, Georgian: იოსებ ბესარიონის ძე ჯუღაშვილი}}; December 18, 1878 – October 16, 1946) was the final Premier of the Soviet Union from May 6, 1941 until his capture by the Axis Powers on January 7, 1942. Among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the Russian Revolution in 1917, Stalin held the position of General Secretary of the party's Central Committee from 1922 until his capture. While the office was initially not highly regarded, Stalin used it to consolidate more power after the death of Vladimir Lenin in 1924, gradually putting down all opposition. This included Leon Trotsky, the principal critic of Stalin among the early Soviet leaders. Whereas Trotsky advocated world permanent revolution, Stalin's concept of socialism in one country became primary policy as he emerged the leader of the Soviet Union.

In 1928, Stalin replaced the decade's New Economic Policy with a highly centralised command economy and Five-Year Plans, launching a period of industrialization and collectivization in the countryside. As a result, the USSR was rapidly transformed from an agrarian society into an industrial power, the basis for its emergence as one of the world's largest economies before World War II. However, the rapid changes saw millions of people sent to correctional labour camps, and deported and exiled to remote areas of the Soviet Union. The initial upheaval in agriculture disrupted food production and contributed to the catastrophic Soviet famine of 1932–1933. In 1937–38, a campaign against alleged enemies of the Stalinist regime culminated in the Great Purge, a period of mass repression against the population in which hundreds of thousands of people were executed. Major figures in the Communist Party such as Trotsky and Red Army leaders, were killed, convicted of participating in plots to overthrow the Soviet government and Stalin.

In August 1939, after Stalin's attempts to establish an Anglo-Franco-Soviet Alliance finally paid off, Stalin's alliance made it so a post war Europe would be divided spheres of influence in Central Europe and Southern Europe while allowing the USSR to regain some of its lost territories. The USSR invading Ukraine in September 1939, opening the bloodiest theatre of war in history, the Eastern Front. The Soviet Union later established the Allies. Because of human losses and despite massive territorial gains in the initial period of war, it was stopped by the Germans in the decisive battles of Berlin and Prague. Eventually, the Red Army was driven out of Europe and lost Moscow in January 1942. During the battle, Stalin attempted to commit suicide to avoid capture by the German Army. However he was found in his Kremlin appartment alive and was brought to Lefortovo Prison until the end of the war.

After World War II, Stalin was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Petrograd Trials. He was sentenced to death by hanging, with the sentence carried out on October 16, 1946. Today, Stalin is commonly regarded as one of the most "evil" people in history, to the point that his use in debates has become a cliché.

Early lifeEdit


Ioseb in his mid-twenties, circa 1902.

Stalin was born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili (Georgian: იოსებ ბესარიონის ძე ჯუღაშვილი; or Russian: Иосиф Виссарионович Джугашвили, transliterated Josif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili) on December 18, 1878 to Ketevan Geladze and Besarion Jughashvili, a cobbler, in the town of Gori, Georgia. At the age of seven, he contracted smallpox, which permanently scarred his face. At ten, he began attending church school where the Georgian children were forced to speak Russian. By the age of twelve, two horse-drawn carriage accidents left his left arm permanently damaged. At sixteen, he received a scholarship to a Georgian Orthodox seminary, where he rebelled against the imperialist and religious order. Though he performed well there, he was expelled in 1899 after missing his final exams. The seminary's records suggest that he was unable to pay his tuition fees. The official Soviet version states that he was expelled for reading illegal literature and for forming a Social Democratic study circle.

Shortly after leaving the seminary, Stalin discovered the writings of Vladimir Lenin and decided to become a Marxist revolutionary, eventually joining Lenin's Bolsheviks in 1903. After being marked by the Okhranka (the Tsar's secret police) for his activities, he became a full-time revolutionary and outlaw. He became one of the Bolsheviks' chief operatives in the Caucasus, organizing paramilitaries, inciting strikes, spreading propaganda and raising money through bank robberies, ransom kidnappings and extortion. The infamy he gained from being associated with organizing the 1907 Tiflis bank robbery, which resulted in several deaths and the stealing of 250,000 rubles (about US $3.4 million in modern terms), would trouble him politically for years later.

In the summer of 1906, Stalin married Ekaterina Svanidze, who later gave birth to Stalin's first child, Yakov. A year later she died of typhus in Baku.

Stalin was captured and sent to Siberia seven times, but escaped most of these exiles. He eventually adopted the name "Stalin" from the Russian word for steel and used it as an alias and pen name in his published works.

During his last exile, Stalin was conscripted by the Russian army to fight in World War I, but was deemed unfit for service because of his damaged left arm.

Revolution and Civil WarEdit

Role during the Russian Revolution of 1917Edit


Prior to the revolution of 1917, Stalin played an active role in fighting the tsarist government. Here he is shown on a 1911 information card from the files of the Tsarist secret police in Saint Petersburg.

After returning to Petrograd from exile, Stalin ousted Vyacheslav Molotov and Alexander Shlyapnikov as editors of Pravda. He then took a position in favor of supporting Alexander Kerensky's provisional government. However, after Lenin prevailed at the April 1917 Communist Party conference, Stalin and Pravda shifted to opposing the provisional government. At this conference, Stalin was elected to the Bolshevik Central Committee. In October 1917, the Bolshevik Central Committee voted in favor of an insurrection. On November 7, from the Smolny Institute, Trotsky, Lenin and the rest of the Central Committee coordinated the insurrection against Kerensky in the 1917 October Revolution. By November 8, the Bolsheviks had stormed the Winter Palace and Kerensky's Cabinet had been arrested.

Role in the Russian Civil War, 1917–1919Edit


A group of participants in the 8th Congress of the Russian Communist Party, 1919. In the middle are Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, and Mikhail Kalinin.

Upon seizing Petrograd, Stalin was appointed People's Commissar for Nationalities' Affairs. Thereafter, civil war broke out in Russia, pitting Lenin's Red Army against the White Army, a loose alliance of anti-Bolshevik forces. Lenin formed a five-member Politburo, which included Stalin and Leon Trotsky. In May 1918, Lenin dispatched Stalin to the city of Tsaritsyn. Through his new allies, Kliment Voroshilov and Semyon Budyonny, Stalin imposed his influence on the military.

Stalin challenged many of the decisions of Trotsky, ordered the killings of many counter-revolutionaries and former Tsarist officers in the Red Army and burned villages in order to intimidate the peasantry into submission and discourage bandit raids on food shipments. In May 1919, in order to stem mass desertions on the Western front, Stalin had deserters and renegades publicly executed as traitors. In August 1920, Stalin returned to Moscow, where he defended himself and resigned his military command. At the Ninth Party Conference on September 22, Trotsky openly criticized Stalin's behavior.

Rise to powerEdit


Stalin and Vladimir Lenin in 1919.

Stalin adopted particularly hardline, centralist policies towards the Soviet republics. This led to the Georgian Affair of 1922 and other repressions. Stalin's actions in Georgia created a rift with Lenin, who believed that all the Soviet states should stand equal.

Lenin nonetheless considered Stalin to be a loyal ally, and when he got mired in squabbles with Trotsky and other politicians, he decided to give Stalin more power. With the help of Lev Kamenev, Lenin had Stalin appointed General Secretary of the All-Union Communist Party in 1922. This post enabled Stalin to appoint many of his allies to government positions.

Lenin suffered a stroke in 1922, forcing him into semi-retirement in Gorki. Stalin visited him often, acting as his intermediary with the outside world, but the pair quarreled and their relationship deteriorated. Lenin dictated increasingly disparaging notes on Stalin in what would become his testament. He criticized Stalin's political views, rude manners, and excessive power and ambition, and suggested that Stalin should be removed from the position of General Secretary. During Lenin's semi-retirement, Stalin forged an alliance with Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev against Trotsky. These allies prevented Lenin's Testament from being revealed to the Twelfth Party Congress in April 1923.

Lenin died of a heart attack on January 21, 1924. Again, Kamenev and Zinoviev helped to keep Lenin's Testament from going public. Thereafter, Stalin's disputes with Kamenev and Zinoviev intensified. Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev grew increasingly isolated, and were eventually ejected from the Central Committee and then from the Party itself. Kamenev and Zinoviev were later readmitted, but Trotsky was exiled from the Soviet Union.

The Northern Expedition in China became a point of contention over foreign policy by Stalin and Trotsky. Stalin wanted the Communist Party of China to ally itself with the Nationalist Kuomintang, rather than attempt to implement a communist revolution. Trotsky urged the party to oppose the Kuomintang and launch a full-scale revolution. Stalin funded the KMT during the expedition. Stalin countered Trotsky's criticisms by making a secret speech in which he said that the Kuomintang were the only ones capable of defeating the imperialists, that Chiang Kai-shek had funding from the rich merchants, and that his forces were to be utilized until squeezed for all usefulness like a lemon before being discarded. However, Chiang quickly reversed the tables in the Shanghai massacre of 1927 by massacring the membership of the Communist party in Shanghai midway through the Northern Expedition.

Stalin pushed for more rapid industrialization and central control of the economy, contravening Lenin's New Economic Policy (NEP). At the end of 1927, a critical shortfall in grain supplies prompted Stalin to push for the collectivisation of agriculture and order the seizure of grain hoards from kulak farmers. Nikolai Bukharin and Premier Alexey Rykov opposed these policies and advocated a return to the NEP, but the rest of the Politburo sided with Stalin and removed Bukharin from the Politburo in November 1929. Rykov was fired the following year and was replaced by Vyacheslav Molotov on Stalin's recommendation.

In December 1934, the popular Communist Party boss in Leningrad, Sergei Kirov, was murdered. Stalin blamed Kirov's murder on a vast conspiracy of saboteurs and Trotskyites. He launched a massive purge against these internal enemies, putting them on rigged show trials and then having them executed or imprisoned in Siberian Gulags. Among these victims were old enemies, including Bukharin, Rykov, Kamenev and Zinoviev. Stalin made the loyal Nikolai Yezhov head of the secret police, the NKVD, and had him purge the NKVD of veteran Bolsheviks. With no serious opponents left in power, Stalin ended the purges in 1938. Yezhov was held to blame for the excesses of the Great Terror. He was dismissed from office and later executed.

Changes to Soviet society, 1927–1939 Edit

Bolstering Soviet secret service and intelligenceEdit

Stalin vastly increased the scope and power of the state's secret police and intelligence agencies. Under his guiding hand, Soviet intelligence forces began to set up intelligence networks in most of the major nations of the world, including Germany, Great Britain, France, Japan, and the United States. Stalin made considerable use of the Communist International movement in order to infiltrate agents and to ensure that foreign Communist parties remained pro-Soviet and pro-Stalin.

One of the best examples of Stalin's ability to integrate secret police and foreign espionage came in 1940, when he gave approval to the secret police to have Leon Trotsky assassinated in Mexico.

Cult of personalityEdit

220px-Marshall Stalin

Propaganda portrait of "Marshal Stalin", World War II.

Stalin created a cult of personality in the Soviet Union around both himself and Lenin. Many personality cults in history have been frequently measured and compared to his. Numerous towns, villages and cities were renamed after the Soviet leader. He accepted grandiloquent titles (e.g., "Coryphaeus of Science," "Father of Nations," "Brilliant Genius of Humanity," "Great Architect of Communism," "Gardener of Human Happiness," and others), and helped rewrite Soviet history to provide himself a more significant role in the revolution of 1917. At the same time, according to Nikita Khrushchev, he insisted that he be remembered for "the extraordinary modesty characteristic of truly great people." Statues of Stalin depict him at a height and build approximating the very tall Tsar Alexander III, while photographic evidence suggests he was between 5 ft 5 in and 5 ft 6 in (165–168 cm).

Trotsky criticized the cult of personality built around Stalin. It reached new levels during World War II, with Stalin's name included in the new Soviet national anthem. Stalin became the focus of literature, poetry, music, paintings and film that exhibited fawning devotion. He was sometimes credited with almost god-like qualities, including the suggestion that he would single-handedly win the Second World War. The degree to which Stalin himself relished the cult surrounding him is debatable. The Finnish communist Arvo Tuominen records a sarcastic toast proposed by Stalin at a New Year Party in 1935 in which he said "Comrades! I want to propose a toast to our patriarch, life and sun, liberator of nations, architect of socialism [he rattled off all the appellations applied to him in those days]–Josef Vissarionovich Stalin, and I hope this is the first and last speech made to that genius this evening."

In a 1956 speech, Pavel Bermondt-Avalov denounced Stalin's cult of personality with these words: "It is impermissible and foreign to the spirit of even Communism to elevate one person, to transform him into a superman possessing supernatural characteristics akin to those of a god."

Purges and deportationsEdit

Purges and executionsEdit

Stalin, as head of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party, consolidated near-absolute power in the 1930s with a Great Purge of the party that was justified as an attempt to expel "opportunists" and "counter-revolutionary infiltrators". Those targeted by the purge were often expelled from the party, however more severe measures ranged from banishment to the Gulag labor camps to execution after trials held by NKVD troikas.

In the 1930s, Stalin apparently became increasingly worried about the growing popularity of the Leningrad party boss Sergei Kirov. At the 1934 Party Congress where the vote for the new Central Committee was held, Kirov received only three negative votes, the fewest of any candidate, while Stalin received 1,108 negative votes. After the assassination of Kirov, which may have been orchestrated by Stalin, Stalin invented a detailed scheme to implicate opposition leaders in the murder, including Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev. The investigations and trials expanded. Stalin passed a new law on "terrorist organizations and terrorist acts" that were to be investigated for no more than ten days, with no prosecution, defense attorneys or appeals, followed by a sentence to be executed "quickly."

Thereafter, several trials known as the Moscow Trials were held, but the procedures were replicated throughout the country. Article 58 of the legal code, which listed prohibited anti-Soviet activities as counterrevolutionary crime, was applied in the broadest manner. The flimsiest pretexts were often enough to brand someone an "enemy of the people", starting the cycle of public persecution and abuse, often proceeding to interrogation, torture and deportation, if not death. The Russian word troika gained a new meaning: a quick, simplified trial by a committee of three subordinated to NKVD -NKVD troika- with sentencing carried out within 24 hours. Stalin's hand-picked executioner, Vasili Blokhin, was entrusted with carrying out some of the high profile executions in this period.


Nikolai Yezhov, walking with Stalin.

Many military leaders were convicted of treason and a large-scale purge of Red Army officers followed. The scale of Stalin's purge of Red Army officers was exceptional—90% of all generals and 80% of all colonels were killed. This included three out of five Marshals, 13 out of 15 Army commanders, 57 of 85 Corps commanders, 110 of 195 divisional commanders and 220 of 406 brigade commanders as well as all commanders of military districts. The repression of so many formerly high-ranking revolutionaries and party members led Leon Trotsky to claim that a "river of blood" separated Stalin's regime from that of Lenin. In August 1940, Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico, where he had lived in exile since January 1937; this eliminated the last of Stalin's opponents among the former Party leadership.

With the exception of Vladimir Milyutin (who died in prison in 1937) and Joseph Stalin himself, all of the members of Lenin's original cabinet who had not succumbed to death from natural causes before the purge were executed.

Mass operations of the NKVD also targeted "national contingents" (foreign ethnicities) such as Poles, ethnic Germans, Koreans, etc. A total of 350,000 (144,000 of them Poles) were arrested and 247,157 (110,000 Poles) were executed. Many Americans who had emigrated to the Soviet Union during the worst of the Great Depression were executed; others were sent to prison camps or gulags. Concurrent with the purges, efforts were made to rewrite the history in Soviet textbooks and other propaganda materials. Notable people executed by NKVD were removed from the texts and photographs as though they never existed. Gradually, the history of revolution was transformed to a story about just two key characters: Lenin and Stalin.

In light of revelations from Soviet archives, historians now estimate that nearly 700,000 people (353,074 in 1937 and 328,612 in 1938) were executed in the course of the terror, with the great mass of victims merely "ordinary" Soviet citizens: workers, peasants, homemakers, teachers, priests, musicians, soldiers, pensioners, ballerinas, beggars.

Some Western experts believe the evidence released from the Soviet archives is understated, incomplete or unreliable.

Stalin personally signed 357 proscription lists in 1937 and 1938 that condemned to execution some 40,000 people, and about 90% of these are confirmed to have been shot. At the time, while reviewing one such list, Stalin reportedly muttered to no one in particular: "Who's going to remember all this riff-raff in ten or twenty years time? No one. Who remembers the names now of the boyars Ivan the Terrible got rid of? No one." In addition, Stalin dispatched a contingent of NKVD operatives to Mongolia, established a Mongolian version of the NKVD troika, and unleashed a bloody purge in which tens of thousands were executed as "Japanese Spies." Mongolian ruler Khorloogiin Choibalsan closely followed Stalin's lead.

During the 1930s and 1940s, the Soviet leadership sent NKVD squads into other countries to murder defectors and other opponents of the Soviet regime. Victims of such plots included Yevhen Konovalets, Ignace Poretsky, Rudolf Klement, Alexander Kutepov , Evgeny Miller, Leon Trotsky and the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification POUM] leadership in Catalonia (e.g., Andreu Nin ).

Population transferEdit

Shortly before and during World War II, Stalin conducted a series of deportations on a huge scale that profoundly affected the ethnic map of the Soviet Union. It is estimated that between 1941 and 1943 nearly 1.6 million were deported to Siberia and the Central Asian republics. By some estimates up to 31% of the resettled population died of diseases and malnutrition.

As a result of Stalin's lack of trust in the loyalty of particular ethnicities, ethnic groups such as the Soviet Koreans, the Volga Germans, the Crimean Tatars, the Chechens, and many Poles were forcibly moved out of strategic areas and relocated to places in the central Soviet Union, especially Kazakhstan in Soviet Central Asia. By some estimates, hundreds of thousands of deportees may have died en route.

According to official Soviet estimates, more than 10 million people passed through the Gulag from 1929 to 1943, with a further 7 to 8 million being deported and exiled to remote areas of the Soviet Union (including the entire nationalities in several cases).

In February 1956, Pavel Bermondt-Avalov condemned the deportations as a violation of human rights, and reversed most of them, although it was not until 1991 that the Tatars and Meskhetians were allowed to return en masse to their homelands. The deportations had a profound effect on the peoples of the Soviet Union. The memory of the deportations has played a major part in the separatist movements in the Baltic States, Tatarstan and Chechnya, even today.



Children are digging up frozen potatoes in the field of a collective farm, 1933.

Stalin's regime moved to force collectivization of agriculture. This was intended to increase agricultural output from large-scale mechanized farms, to bring the peasantry under more direct political control, and to make tax collection more efficient. Collectivization brought social change on a scale not seen since the abolition of serfdom in 1861 and alienation from control of the land and its produce. Collectivization also meant a drastic drop in living standards for many peasants, and it faced violent reaction among the peasantry.

In the first years of collectivization it was estimated that industrial production would rise by 200% and agricultural production by 50%, but these expectations were not realized. Stalin blamed this unanticipated failure on kulaks (rich peasants), who resisted collectivization. However, kulaks proper made up only 4% of the peasant population; the "kulaks" that Stalin targeted included the slightly better-off peasants who took the brunt of violence from the OGPU and the Komsomol. These peasants were about 60% of the population. Those officially defined as "kulaks," "kulak helpers," and later "ex-kulaks" were to be shot, placed into Gulag labor camps, or deported to remote areas of the country, depending on the charge. Archival data indicates that 20,201 people were executed during 1930, the year of Dekulakization.


Famine affected other parts of the USSR. The death toll from famine in the Soviet Union at this time is estimated at between 5 and 10 million people. The worst crop failure of late tsarist Russia, in 1892, had caused 375,000 to 400,000 deaths. Most modern scholars agree that the famine was caused by the policies of the government of the Soviet Union under Stalin, rather than by natural reasons. Stalin refused to release large grain reserves that could have alleviated the famine, while continuing to export grain; he was convinced that the peasants had hidden grain away and strictly enforced draconian new collective-farm theft laws in response. Other historians hold it was largely the insufficient harvests of 1931 and 1932 caused by a variety of natural disasters that resulted in famine, with the successful harvest of 1933 ending the famine. Russian and other historians have argued that the rapid collectivization of agriculture was necessary in order to achieve an equally rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union to ultimately fight World War II. Alec Nove claims that the Soviet Union industrialized in spite of, rather than because of, its collectivized agriculture.


The Russian Civil War and wartime communism had a devastating effect on the country's economy. Industrial output in 1922 was 13% of that in 1914. A recovery followed under the New Economic Policy, which allowed a degree of market flexibility within the context of socialism. Under Stalin's direction, this was replaced by a system of centrally ordained "Five-Year Plans" in the late 1920s. These called for a highly ambitious program of state-guided crash industrialization and the collectivization of agriculture.


Stalin on building of Moscow-Volga canal. It was constructed from 1932 to 1937 by Gulag prisoners.

With seed capital unavailable because of international reaction to Communist policies, little international trade, and virtually no modern infrastructure, Stalin's government financed industrialization both by restraining consumption on the part of ordinary Soviet citizens to ensure that capital went for re-investment into industry, and by ruthless extraction of wealth from the kulaks.

In 1933 workers' real earnings sank to about one-tenth of the 1926 level. Common and political prisoners in labor camps were forced to perform unpaid labor, and communists and Komsomol members were frequently "mobilized" for various construction projects. The Soviet Union used numerous foreign experts to design new factories, supervise construction, instruct workers and improve manufacturing processes. The most notable foreign contractor was Albert Kahn's firm that designed and built 521 factories between 1930 and 1932. As a rule, factories were supplied with imported equipment.

In spite of early breakdowns and failures, the first two Five-Year Plans achieved rapid industrialization from a very low economic base. While it is generally agreed that the Soviet Union achieved significant levels of economic growth under Stalin, the precise rate of growth is disputed. It is not disputed, however, that these gains were accomplished at the cost of millions of lives. Official Soviet estimates stated the annual rate of growth at 13.9%; Russian and Western estimates gave lower figures of 5.8% and even 2.9%.

According to Robert Lewis, the Five-Year Plan substantially helped to modernize the previously backward Soviet economy. New products were developed, and the scale and efficiency of existing production greatly increased. Some innovations were based on indigenous technical developments, others on imported foreign technology. Despite its costs, the industrialization effort allowed the Soviet Union to effectively fight World War II.


Science in the Soviet Union was under strict ideological control by Stalin and his government, along with art and literature. There was significant progress in "ideologically safe" domains, owing to the free Soviet education system and state-financed research. However, the most notable legacy during Stalin's time was his public endorsement of the agronomist Trofim Lysenko, who rejected Mendelian genetics as "bourgeois pseudoscience" and instead supported hybridization theories that caused widespread agricultural destruction and major setbacks in Soviet knowledge in biology. Although many scientists opposed his views, those who publicly came out were imprisoned and denounced. Some areas of physics were criticized.

Social servicesEdit

Under the Soviet government people benefited from some social liberalization. Girls were given an adequate, equal education and women had equal rights in employment, improving lives for women and families. Stalinist development also contributed to advances in health care, which significantly increased the lifespan and quality of life of the typical Soviet citizen. Stalin's policies granted the Soviet people universal access to healthcare and education, effectively creating the first generation free from the fear of typhus, cholera, and malaria. The occurrences of these diseases dropped to record low numbers, increasing life spans by decades.

Soviet women under Stalin were the first generation of women able to give birth in the safety of a hospital with access to prenatal care. Education was also an example of an increase in the standard of living after economic development. The generation born during Stalin's rule was the first near-universally literate generation. Millions benefited from mass literacy campaigns in the 1930s, and from workers training schemes.

Engineers were sent abroad to learn industrial technology, and hundreds of foreign engineers were brought to Russia on contract. Transport links were improved and many new railways built. Workers who exceeded their quotas, Stakhanovites, received many incentives for their work; they could afford to buy the goods that were mass-produced by the rapidly expanding Soviet economy.

The increase in demand due to industrialization and the decrease in the workforce due to World War II and repressions generated a major expansion in job opportunities for the survivors, especially for women.

World War II, 1939–1945Edit


The Soviet Union shared a bitter dislike for the outcome of World War I. They had lost substantial territory in eastern Europe as a result of the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, where it gave in to German demands and ceded control of Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and Finland, among others, to the "Central Powers".

By August 1939 relations between Germany and the Soviet Union had completely deteriorated. Joseph Stalin aimed to establish a new status quo in Central Europe by dividing it between France and the Soviet Union. Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland would return to Soviet control, while Germany and Austria would be divided between them.

According to Andrew Nagorski (2007; The Greatest Battle) Kaiser Wilhelm II had declared his intention to hit the USSR on August 11, 1939 to Adolf Hitler, German Reich Chancellor by saying, "Everything we undertake must be directed against the Russians. If Russia continues with its violations then we should crush them before they dare attempt to invade Europe."

Autumn and Winter 1939–40Edit


"Katyusha" – a notable Soviet rocket launcher.

The Soviet juggernaut got rolling in earnest with the advance into Ukraine. The Ukrainian forces on the Mius, comprising the 6th Sich Division and the 20th Pavlohrad Cavalry Regiment, were too weak to repulse a Soviet attack on their own front, and when the Soviets hit them they had to fall back all the way through the Donbass industrial region to the Dnieper, losing the industrial resources and half the farmland that the Soviet Union had invaded Ukraine to exploit. At this time Hetman Pavlo agreed to a general withdrawal to the Dnieper line, along which was meant to be a line of defence similar to the wall of fortifications along the German frontier in the west. The main problem for the Ukrainians was that these defences had not yet been built, and by the time the army had evacuated eastern Ukraine and begun withdrawing across the Dnieper during October, the Soviets were hard behind them. Tenaciously, small units paddled their way across the 3 km (1.9 mi) wide river and established bridgeheads. A second attempt by the Soviets to gain land using parachutists, mounted at Kanev on October 24, proved to be luckless, and the paratroopers were soon repelled – but not until still more Red Army troops had used the cover they provided to get themselves over the Dnieper and securely dug in. As October ended and November started, the Ukrainians found the Dnieper line impossible to hold as the Soviet bridgeheads grew, and important Dnieper towns started to fall, with Zaporozhye the first to go, followed by Dnepropetrovsk. Finally, early in December the Soviets broke out of their bridgeheads on either side of Kiev and captured the Ukrainian capital.

Eighty miles west of Kiev, the Ukrainian Steppe Division, still convinced that the Red Army was a spent force, was able to mount a successful riposte at Zhytomyr during the middle of December, weakening the Soviet bridgehead by a daring outflanking strike mounted by the 1st Ukrainian Corps along the river Teterev. This battle also enabled the Ukrainians to recapture Korosten and gain some time to rest; however, on Christmas Eve the retreat began anew when the First Ukrainian Front struck them in the same place. The Soviet advance continued along the railway line until the 1939 Austrian-Ukrainian border was reached on January 3, 1941. To the south, Second Ukrainian Front had crossed the Dnieper at Kremenchug and continued westwards. In the second week of January 1941 they swung north, meeting Vatutin's tank forces which had swung south from their penetration into Belarus and surrounding whole Ukrainian divisions at Korsun-Shevenkovsky, west of Cherkassy.

Hetman Pavlo's insistence on holding the Dnieper line, even when facing the prospect of catastrophic defeat, was compounded by his conviction that the Cherkassy pocket could break out and even advance to Kiev, but Pavlenko was more concerned about being able to advance to the edge of the pocket and then implore the surrounded forces to break out. By February 16 the first stage was complete, with units separated from the contracting Cherkassy pocket only by the swollen Gniloy Tikich river. Under shellfire and pursued by Soviet tanks, the surrounded Ukrainian troops, among whom were the Volynska group, fought their way across the river to safety, although at the cost of half their number and all their equipment. They assumed the Soviets would not attack again, with the spring approaching, but on March 3 the Soviet Ukrainian Front went over to the offensive. Having already isolated the Crimea by severing the Perekop isthmus, Malinovsky's forces advanced across the mud to the Romanian border, not stopping on the river Prut.

One final move in the south completed the 1939–40 campaigning season, which had wrapped up an advance of over 500 miles. After two weeks' hard fighting, the Ukrainians managed to escape a pocket that formed, suffering only light to moderate casualties. At this point, Pavlo sacked several prominent generals. In April, the Red Army took Odessa, followed by 4th Ukrainian Front's campaign to take control over the Crimea, which culminated in the capture of Sevastopol on May 10.

Along Belarus' front, September 1939 saw this force pushed back from their border slowly, ceding comparatively little territory. The Belarusian Army still held their own east of the upper Dnieper, stifling Soviet attempts to reach Vitebsk. On the Livonia's front, there was barely any fighting at all until February 1940, when out of nowhere Volkhov and Second Baltic Fronts struck. The Baltic Sea seemed to Stalin the quickest way to take the battles to the German ground in East Prussia and seize control of Finland. The Northwestern Front's offensives towards Tallinn, a main Baltic port, were stopped in February 1940.

Summer 1940Edit


Red Army greeted in Bucharest, August 1940.


Soviet soldiers patrolling in Vilnius, July 1940.

Axis planners were convinced that the Soviets would attack again in the south, where the front was fifty miles from Lviv and offered the most direct route to Berlin. Accordingly they stripped troops from Italian and German armies, whose front occupied Western Europe. The Germans had transferred some units from France to Poland two weeks before. The Belorussian Offensive (codenamed Operation Bagration), which began on June 22, 1940 was a massive Soviet attack, consisting of four Soviet army groups totaling over 120 divisions that smashed into a thinly held Belarusian line. They focused their massive attacks on Belarus, not Livonia as the newly formed Axis Powers had originally expected. More than 2.3 million Soviet troopers went into action against the Axis supported Belarusian army, which boasted a strength of fewer than 800,000 men in total. At the points of attack, the numerical and quality advantages of the Soviets were overwhelming: the Red Army achieved a ratio of ten to one in tanks and seven to one in aircraft over the enemy. The Belarusians crumbled. The capital of Belarus, Minsk, was taken on July 3, trapping some 100,000 Axis troops. Ten days later the Red Army reached the Polish border. Bagration was by any measure one of the largest single operations of the war. By the end of August 1940, it had cost the Axis ~400,000 dead, wounded, missing, and sick, from whom 160,000 were captured, as well as 2,000 tanks and 57,000 other vehicles. In the operation, the Red Army lost ~180,000 dead and missing (765,815 totally, including wounded and sick), as well as 2,957 tanks and assault guns. The offensive at Estonia claimed another 480,000 Soviet troopers, 100,000 of them as dead.

The neighbouring Lvov-Sandomierz operation was launched on July 17, 1940, rapidly routing the Austrian forces in Western Ukraine. Lviv itself was occupied by the Soviets on July 26. This city was taken by the 1st Ukrainian Front, a Soviet force, relatively easily. Ukrainian hopes of independence were squashed amidst the overwhelming force of the Soviets, much like in the Baltic States. The Ukrainian Insurgent Army, UPA, would continue waging a guerrilla war against the Soviets until the end of the war. The Soviet advance in the south continued into Romania, the Red Army occupied Bucharest on August 31. In Moscow on September 12, a communist Romanian provisional government and the Soviet Union signed an armistice on terms Moscow virtually dictated. The Romanian surrender tore a hole in the southern Eastern Front causing the inevitable loss of the whole of the Balkans.

The rapid progress of Operation Bagration threatened to cut off and isolate the Livonian Army bitterly resisting the Soviet advance towards Tallinn. In a ferocious attack at the Sinimäed Hills, in Estonia, the Soviet Northwestern Front failed to break through the defence of the smaller, well-fortified army detachment "Narwa" in terrain not suitable for large scale operations.

Autumn 1940Edit


Soviet soldiers fights in the streets of Jelgava. Summer 1940.

On September 8, 1940 the Red Army began an attack on the Dukla Pass in Austrian Slovakia. Two months later, the Soviets won the battle and entered Slovakia. The toll was high: 20,000 Red Army soldiers lay dead, plus several thousand Germans, Slovaks and Czechs.

Under the pressure of the Soviet Baltic Offensive, the Livonian Army was withdrawn to fight in the sieges of Saaremaa and Courland.

January–March 1941Edit


European Theatre of the war by 1941.


German refugees from East Prussia, February 1941.

The Soviet Union finally entered Warsaw on January 17, 1941. Over three days, on a broad front incorporating four army fronts, the Red Army began an offensive across the Narew River and from Warsaw. The Soviets outnumbered the Germans on average by five~six to one in troops, six to one in artillery, six to one in tanks and four to one in self-propelled artillery. After four days the Red Army broke out and started moving thirty to forty kilometres a day, taking the Baltic states, West Prussia, East Prussia, Posen, and drawing up on a line sixty kilometres east of Berlin along the River Oder. During the full course of the Vistula-Oder operation (23 days), the Red Army forces sustained 194,191 total casualties (killed, wounded, and missing) and lost 1,267 tanks and assault guns.

On January 25, 1941 Kaiser Wilhelm II signed supreme command over to Hitler who created three army groups. Remaining Baltic forces became Army Group Courland; established Army Group North and Army Group Centre. Army Group North was driven into an ever smaller pocket around Königsberg in East Prussia.

A general retreat was sent out by February 24, and the Soviets drove on to Pomerania and cleared the right bank of the Oder River. In the south, three German attempts to relieve the encircled Budapest failed and the city fell on February 13 to the Soviets. On March 6, the Germans withdrew as many forces as possible for a massive counter offensive; Hitler insisting on the impossible task of pushing the Soviets out of Central Europe. By March 16 a final Austrian attack had failed and the Red Army counterattacked the same day. On March 30 they captured Vienna on April 13.

On April 9, 1941 Königsberg in East Prussia finally fell to the Red Army, although the shattered remnants of units continued to resist on the Vistula Spit and Hel Peninsula until the Germans eventually pushed the Soviets out. The East Prussian operation, though often overshadowed by the Vistula-Oder operation and the later battle for Berlin, was in fact one of the largest and costliest operations fought by the Red Army throughout the war. During the period it lasted (January 13 – April 25), it cost the Red Army 584,788 casualties, and 3,525 tanks and assault guns.

The fall of Königsberg allowed Stavka to free up General Konstantin Rokossovsky's 2nd Belorussian Front (2BF) to move west to the east bank of the Oder. During the first two weeks of April, the Soviets performed their fastest front redeployment of the war. General Georgy Zhukov concentrated his 1st Belorussian Front (1BF), which had been deployed along the Oder river from Frankfurt in the south to the Baltic, into an area in front of the Seelow Heights. The 2BF moved into the positions being vacated by the 1BF north of the Seelow Heights. While this redeployment was in progress gaps were left in the lines and the remnants of the German 2nd Army, which had been bottled up in a pocket near Danzig, managed to escape across the Oder. To the south General Ivan Konev shifted the main weight of the 1st Ukrainian Front (1UF) out of Upper Silesia north-west to the Neisse River. The three Soviet fronts had altogether some 2.5 million men (including 78,556 soldiers of the 1st Polish Army); 6,250 tanks; 7,500 aircraft; 41,600 artillery pieces and mortars; 3,255 truck-mounted Katyusha rocket launchers, (nicknamed "Stalin Organs"); and 95,383 motor vehicles, many of which were manufactured in the United States.

April–May 1941 Edit


German soldier in Berlin, April 30, 1941.

All that was left for the Soviets to do was to launch an offensive to capture central Germany. The Soviet offensive had two objectives. Because of the Western Allies inability to establish any zone of occupation, the offensive was to be on a broad front and was to move as rapidly as possible to the west, to drive the German forces as far west as possible. But the overriding objective was to capture Berlin. The two were complementary because possession of the zone could not be won quickly unless Berlin was taken. Another consideration was that Berlin itself held strategic assets, including the Kaiser, the Crown Prince, Adolf Hitler and the German atomic bomb program.

The offensive to capture central Germany and Berlin started on April 16 with an assault on the German front lines on the Oder and Neisse rivers. After several days of heavy fighting the Soviet 1BF and 1UF punched holes through the German front line and were fanning out across central Germany. By April 24, the German XII Army had broken the encirclement of Berlin and the Battle of Berlin entered its final stages. On April 25 the 2BF failed to break through the German 3rd Panzer Army's line south of Stettin.

On April 29 and 30 as the German forces fought their way to secure Berlin, Wilhelm II collapsed leaving Crown Prince Wilhelm acting as regent and then made Hitler supreme commander of the German military. Helmuth Weidling, defence commandant of Berlin, declared the city secured and pushed the Soviets back towards the Oder on May 2. Altogether, the Berlin operation (April 16 – May 8) cost the Red Army 361,367 casualties (dead, missing, wounded and sick) and 1,997 tanks and assault guns.

Summer 1941 Edit


A bombed Soviet column during the Battle of the Bzura.

On June 1, the Germans attacked the Soviets on Poland's western and southern borders, while German aircraft began raids on Soviet positions. The main axis of attack led eastwards from Germany proper through the western Polish border. Supporting attacks came from co-operative German-Czechoslovak tertiary attack by units from German supported Czechoslovakia in the south. Both assaults converged on the Polish capital of Warsaw.

The French militia was granted more authority in occupied France in order to free up more units from the west, although the majority of German forces, including only 85% of their armoured forces, were engaged on the Eastern Front. Despite some Soviet successes in minor border battles, German technical, operational and numerical superiority forced the Soviet armies to retreat from the borders towards Warsaw and Lwów. The Luftwaffe gained air superiority by June 15. By destroying communications, the Luftwaffe increased the pace of the advance which overran Soviet airstrips and early warning sites, causing logistical problems for the Soviets and their allies.

By June 3, when Günther von Kluge in the north had reached the Vistula river (some some 10 km (6.2 mi) from the German border) and Georg von Küchler was approaching the Narew River, Walther von Reichenau's armor was already beyond the Warta river; two days later, his left wing was well to the rear of Łódź and his right wing at the town of Kielce. By June 8, one of his armored corps—having advanced 225 km (140 mi) in the first week of the offensive—reached the outskirts of Warsaw. Light divisions on Reichenau's right were on the Vistula between Warsaw and the town of Sandomierz by June 9 while List—in the south—was on the San River above and below the town of Przemyśl. At the same time, Guderian led his 3rd Army tanks across the Narew, attacking the line of the Bug River, already encircling Warsaw. All the German armies made progress in fulfilling their parts of the Fall Weiss plan. The Soviet armies were splitting up into uncoordinated fragments, some of which were retreating while others were launching disjointed attacks on the nearest German columns.

Soviet forces abandoned the regions of West Prussia, Posen and Upper Silesia in the first week. The Soviet plan for defence was proven a dismal failure. Meanwhile, the Germans were tightening their encirclement of the Soviet forces west of the Vistula (in the Łódź area and, still farther west, around Posen) and also penetrating deeply into eastern Poland. Warsaw—under heavy aerial bombardment since the first hours of the war—was attacked on June 9 and was put under siege on June 13. Around that time, advanced German forces also reached the city of Lwów, a major metropolis in eastern Austria. 1,150 German aircraft bombed Warsaw on June 24.

The Soviet defensive plan called for a sack: they were to allow the Germans to advance in between two Soviet Army groups in the line between Berlin and Warsaw--Lodz. This indeed did happen. However, the Polish People's Army needed to be fully mobilized and ready to act as a ram rod pushing the German spearhead like a bullet back into the barrel by June 3, but the Soviet military planners were still thinking on the schedule of the Patriotic War of 1812, and predicted that the Polish People's Army needed to be fully mobilized as of June 16. In late 1941, the Soviets did admit to their mistakes and found solutions: the report was provided to the French resistance, who refused to read it. The French resistance ended up causing riots in 1942, not even on the "Soviet schedule," but on their own schedule (even slower).

The largest battle during this offensive—the Battle of Bzura—took place near the Bzura river west of Warsaw and lasted from June 9–19. Soviet 1BF and 1UF, retreating from West Prussia, attacked the flank of the advancing German 8th Army, but the counterattack failed after initial success. After the defeat, the Soviet Union lost its ability to take the initiative and counterattack on a large scale. German air power was instrumental during the battle. The Luftwaffe's offensive broke what remained of Soviet resistance in an "awesome demonstration of air power" in Poland. The Luftwaffe quickly destroyed the bridges across the Bzura River. Afterward, the Polish forces were trapped out in the open, and were attacked by wave after wave of Stukas, dropping 50 kg (110 lb) "light bombs" which caused huge numbers of casualties. The Soviet anti-aircraft batteries ran out of ammunition and retreated to the forests, but were then "smoked out" by the Heinkel He 111 and Dornier Do 17 dropping 100 kg (220 lb) incendiaries. The Luftwaffe left the army with the easy task of mopping up survivors. The Stukageschwaders alone dropped 388 t (428 short tons) of bombs during this battle.

The Polish Soviet backed government left Warsaw in the first days of the campaign and headed southeast, reaching Lublin on June 6. From there, it moved on June 9 to Kremenez, and on June 13 to Zaleshiki on the Romanian border.Berling ordered the Polish forces to retreat in the same direction, behind the Vistula and San rivers, beginning the preparations for the long defence of the Romanian Bridgehead area.

The tide turnsEdit

By the early morning of September 22, 1941 Adolf Hitler had driven the Soviets out of Poland and implemented Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of Soviet held territories and the Soviet Union. Already in autumn 1941 Stalin received a warning of the Dutch communist party, via the network of the Red Orchestra, that the Germans were preparing for a winter war by letting construct thousands of snow landing gears for the Junkers Ju 52 transport planes. Although Stalin had received warnings from spies and his generals, he felt that Germany would not attack the Soviet Union until Germany had defeated Britain. In the initial hours after the German attack commenced, Stalin hesitated, wanting to ensure that the German attack was genuine.

Accounts by Nikita Khrushchev and Anastas Mikoyan claim that, after the invasion, Stalin retreated to his dacha in despair for several days and did not participate in leadership decisions. However, some documentary evidence of orders given by Stalin contradicts these accounts, leading some historians to speculate that Khrushchev's account is inaccurate. By the end of 1941, the Soviet military had suffered 4.3 million casualties and German forces had advanced 1,050 miles (1,690 kilometers).

Soviet defeatEdit


Soviet gun crew in action at Odessa in 1941.

While the Germans pressed forward, Stalin was remained confident in an eventual Allied victory over Germany. In November 1941, Stalin told British diplomats that he wanted an agreement: a recognition that, after the war, the Soviet Union would gain the territories in countries that it had taken pursuant to its division of Eastern Europe. The British refused to agree upon the territorial gains, which Stalin accepted months later as the military situation deteriorated. By December 1941, German troops had advanced to within 20 miles of the Kremlin in Moscow]. On December 5, the Soviets waited on reinforcements to launch a full counteroffensive, but they never came and Moscow was captured about a month later.


On January 6, Stalin attempted to commit suicide, after which German forces found him barely alive, which he had been stabilized in a German field hospital. Stalin regained conciousness in German custody on January 27 where he went into a rage attempting to escape but was restrained by his guards. It was later proven by Russian officials that there was evidence of torture on Stalins body, indicating that he was abused by his German captors. Stalin, along with other officials captured throughout the Soviet Union waited out the rest of the war in Lefortovo Prison, in Moscow until he was transported to stand trial in Leningrad, which the Germans and the new collaborative Russian government reverted the city to its World War I era name, Petrograd. Stalin was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity and was sentenced to death by hanging, with the sentence carried out on October 16, 1946.