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The Great Patriotic War
Although the rest of Europe had long been involved in the conflict known as World War Two, the Russian Empire managed to stay out of what was dubbed as 'Hitler's madness' until June 11, 1941, when the bulk of German forces moved into Russia and the Baltic states.
Although the Germans had the element of surprise, the 'Tukhachevsky Line' of fortifications along the former Russo-Polish border stalled the Nazi advance just long enough to get the Imperial Army, Navy and Air Corps prepared for the new war. Minsk, Riga and Kiev fell within two months, and Russia was shocked by the greatest loss of territory since Napoleon's time. Prime Minister Joseph Stalin was sent into a small nervous breakdown by the shock, and the Tsar, Peter V, proved unable to make the right decisions. By the start of July, when the PM had recovered his senses, the Germans were rolling towards Moscow. St Petersburg was besieged by July 24, the Royal Family, Duma and Imperial Treasures evacuated to Kuybyshev, further east. Kiev fell in August, with half a million soldiers taken prisoner. By January 1942, the Germans had taken Smolensk and were pressing towards the town of Tsaritsyn on the Volga.
From Smolensk to Stalingrad
On January 8, 1942, the Russian Air Corps struck at the German railhead at Smolensk, blowing up a train carrying two German generals. They had been about to plot an assault on Moscow, the core of Russian resistance, that would have won the war. Fortunately, as it was, Hitler decided to march in the south, as Siberian divisions used to the brutal winter rolled the Germans back from Moscow, and supplies sent discreetly through neutral Finland kept St Petersburg going. Despite the Russian Army's best efforts, they were pushed out of the Ukraine, back into the Caucasus. By August, the Germans had the opportunity to take the oilfields of the south or the supply hub of Stalingrad. Hitler chose Stalingrad. In bitter house to house fighting, the Germans took almost all of the city, but the Imperial forces clung on. Hitler was so determined to take Stalingrad that he continued to feed the men in, even as the Siege of St Petersburg was broken and the Caucasus saved. By December 1942, with the encirclement and destruction of Hitler's Sixth Army by Zhukov's Shock Army, the hope for German victory diminished.
Kursk to Bucharest
In January 1943 the Russians took Kharkov in Ukraine. But the Germans, aware that they could only win by bleeding the Allies dry, made a Stalingrad-style stand in the Ukrainian industrial city. The Russians merely besieged it and rolled on. At Kursk in June, the Germans attempted to encircle the majority of the Russian Southwest Front. This failed, in a massive tank battle that saw much of the Wehrmacht's remaining offensive capacity removed.
By September the Russians had retaken most of the Ukraine, and stood on the Dnieper. The Rumanians, under Fascist Marshal Antonescu, had allied with Hitler: now the dictator was executed and the Russians welcomed. The same occurred in Bulgaria. But the Germans used Rumania for its oil, and dispatched their battered Ukrainian force to protect the wells of Ploesti. Fatigued by two years of war, the Russians were forced to stop, as the Germans dug in for the winter.
The German High Command,