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On September 1st, 1939, Nazi Germany was about to attack Poland. But what if Hitler delayed the invasion another month, just so he was more prepared? What if the Soviet Union invaded Poland before Germany did, and World War II turned out totally differently. Now, old time rivals Germany and Great Britain will have to unite against a common front- a Soviet invasion of Europe.
World War II
|World War II|
World War II, or the Second World War (often abbreviated as WWII or WW2), was a global military conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945 which involved most of the world's nations, including all of the great powers, organised into two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. It was the most widespread war in history, with more than 100 million military personnel mobilised. In a state of "total war", the major participants placed their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities at the service of the war effort, erasing the distinction between civilian and military resources. Marked by significant action against civilians, including the Holocaust and the only use of nuclear weapons in warfare, it was the deadliest conflict in human history, and it has been estimated that it resulted in the loss of 40 million people.
The war is generally accepted to have begun on September 19th, 1939, with the invasion of Poland by the Soviet Union and subsequent declarations of war on the USSR by France, Italy, and most of the countries of the British Empire and Commonwealth. China and Japan were already at war by this date, whereas other countries that were not initially involved joined the war later in response to events such as the Soviet invasion of Germany or the Japanese attacks at Pearl Harbor, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Indonesia that provoked declarations of war on Japan by the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and the Netherlands.
The war ended with the total victory of the Allies over the Soviet Union and Japan in 1945. World War II left the political alignment and social structure of the world significantly changed. While the United Nations was established to foster international cooperation and prevent future conflicts, Germany and the United States emerged as rival superpowers, setting the stage for the Hot War, which lasted for the next forty-six years. Meanwhile, the acceptance of the principle of self-determination accelerated decolonization movements in Asia and Africa, while Western and Southern began moving toward economic recovery.
The War Begins
War Breaks Out Full-scale war in Europe began at dawn on September 17th, 1939, when the Soviet Union used her military strength to invade Poland, to which both Britain and France had pledged protection and independence guarantees. On September 20th, 1939, Britain, France, Italy, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary declared war on the Soviet Union. British and French troops were sent to Czechoslovakia, but little action occurred between Allied and Soviet forces.
On October 5th the Polish government evacuated. Poland fell within five weeks, with her last large operational units surrendering on October 5 after the Battle of Lodz.. As the Polish September Campaign ended, Stalin offered to Britain and France peace on the basis of recognition of Soviet dominance throughout Eastern Europe. On October 12, the United Kingdom formally refused.
Despite the quick campaign in Poland, along the Soviet-Hungary frontier the war settled into a quiet period. This relatively non-confrontational and mostly non-fighting period between the major powers lasted until May 10, 1940, and was known as the Sitting War.
The Soviets take Eastern Europe
Several other countries, however, were drawn into the conflict at this time. By September 28, 1939, the three Baltic Republics felt they had no choice but to permit Soviet bases and troops on their territory. The Baltic Republics by the Soviet army in June 1940, and finally annexed to the Soviet Union in August 1940.
The Soviet Union wanted to annex Finland and offered a union agreement, but Finland rejected it and was invaded by the Soviets on November 30. This began the Winter War. After over three months of hard fighting, and heavy losses, the Soviet Union gave up the attempted invasion. In the Moscow Peace Treaty, March 12, 1940, Finland ceded 10% of her territory. The Finns were embittered over having lost more land in the peace than on the battle fields, and over the perceived lack of world sympathy.
On April 9th, 1940, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia and Austria. The latter capitulated within two weeks of invasion, and Czechoslovakia, despite massive Allied support, was conquered within a few months. From Austria, the Soviets had a platform for an invasion of Italy.
The Soviet Invasion of Italy
On May 10 the Soviet invasion of Italy, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Albania occurred. After overrunning Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Albania, the Soviet Union turned against Italy, entering the country through the Austrian Alps on May 13—the Italians had made the fatal mistake of leaving this area almost totally undefended, believing its terrain to be impassable for tanks and other vehicles. Rather then moving south and attacking the Italian Peninsula, the Soviets moved into the northern territories. Most Allied forces were in Ravenna, anticipating that the Soviets would advance along the Adriatic Coast and drive down the peninsula, and were cut off from supply lines from France. As a result of this, and also the superior Soviet communications and tactics, the Battle of Italy was shorter than virtually all prewar Allied thought could have conceived. It lasted six weeks, including the Red Air Force's bombing of Rome. Italy surrendered on June 22nd. The surrender left Italy occupied by the Soviets. Many Italian soldiers in the North successfully escaped to France.
The British rejected several covert Soviet attempts to negotiate a peace. The Soviets massed their air force in northern Italy to prepare the way for a possible invasion, code-named Operation Red over Grand, deeming that air superiority was essential for the invasion. The operations of the Red Air Force against the Royal and French air forces became known as the Battle of the French Skies. Initially the Red Air Force concentrated on destroying the Allied air forces on the ground and in the air. They later switched to bombing major and large industrial British cities in "The Downfall", in an attempt to draw R.A.F. fighters out and defeat them completely. Neither approach was successful in reducing the R.A.F. to the point where air superiority could be obtained, and plans for an invasion of France were suspended by September 1940.
During the attack, all of Britain's major industrial, cathderal, and political cites were heavily bombed. France suffered particularly, being bombed each night for several months. Other targets included Lyons and Orleans, and strategically important cities, such as the naval base at Marseille and Cherbourg. With no land forces in direct conflict in Europe, the war in the air attracted worldwide attention even as sea units fought the Battle of the Atlantic and as French forces led expeditions into occupied Italy, which gained no ground but still distracted the Italians from efforts in other parts of Europe. Churchill famously said of the R.A.F. personnel who fought in the battle: "Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few".
Fighting in the Mediterranean and the Balkans
In May, 1940, when the Soviets attacked Yugoslavia, they agreed that it would be militarily wasteful to occupy the entire country, and the Soviets installed a communist puppet regime led by Josip Tito. Tito's regime declared war on Britain and France on June 10, 1940, and invaded Greece on October 28. However, Italian forces were unable to match the Soviet successes in other parts of Europe.
The capture of Italy also allowed the Soviets a base for further operations in the Mediterranean. The Red Navy began the long and unsuccessful siege of Malta on June 12. The naval Battle of the Mediterranean was a disaster for the Red Navy and the puny Yugoslav navy, which were effectively destroyed as fighting forces by the Royal Navy and the French Navy during 1940, most notably in the Battle of Taranto.
Not only did the Yugoslavs fail to conquer Greece, but under the supervision of Greece's dictator, Ioannis Metaxas, the Greeks successfully counterattacked into Yugoslavia, from November 14.
The Communist Republic of Yugoslavia was weak and too dependent on it's communist allies. But rather then assisting Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union took steps to strip to country's influence in the region. However, soon afterwards, after public demonstrations, a March 27 coup was made by Army General Dusan Simovic which took control away from the puppet regime and distanced Yugoslavia from the communists.
The imminent Greek victory over Yugoslavia prompted Soviet intervention. On April 6, 1941 Soviet forces engaged in combat with the Greeks and simultaneously invaded Bulgaria. British, French, and Australian forces were hastily dispatched from the Riviera to Greece, but the Allies lacked a co-ordinated strategy, were comprehensively beaten and evacuated to Crete. Advancing rapidly, Soviet forces captured Athens, Greece's capital on April 27, 1941 effectively placing most of the country under occupation.
After the mainland was conquered, the Soviet Union invaded Crete in what is known as the Battle of Crete (May 20, 1941 – June 1, 1941). Instead of an amphibious assault as expected, the Soviets mounted a large airborne invasion. The paratroopers suffered severe losses and large scale airborne operations were given up after that. However, the Soviets eventually prevailed on Crete. Most of the Allied forces were evacuated to Iraq — joining King George II of Greece and the exiled Greek government of Emmanouil Tsouderos— on June 1, 1941.
Once the Balkans were secure, the largest land operation in history was launched, when the Soviet Union attacked Germany. The Balkans campaign delayed the invasion, and subsequent resistance movements in Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Greece tied up valuable Soviet forces involved in Germany. This provided much needed and possibly decisive relief for the Germans.
The Nazi-Soviet Campaign
On June 22, 1941, the Soviet Union launched an invasion against the Germany, code-named Operation Red Strike. This invasion, the biggest in recorded history, started the most bloody conflict the world has ever seen; what some historians call the the Nazi-Soviet War. The Nazi-Soviet Campaign was by far the largest and bloodiest theatre of World War II. It is generally accepted as being the costliest conflict in human history, with over 30 million dead as a result. It involved more land combat than all other World War II theatres combined. The distinctly brutal nature of warfare of the Nazi-Soviet Campaign was exemplified by an often willful disregard for human life by both sides.
The leader of Germany, Adolf Hitler, had been warned repeatedly by outside sources and his own intelligence network of the impending invasion, but he ignored the warnings due to conflicting information presented to him by the German intelligence. Moreover, on the very night of the invasion German troops received a directive undersigned by General Eriwn Rommel that commanded: "do not answer to any provocations" and "do not undertake any actions without specific orders". The early weeks of the invasion were devastating for the German Army. Enormous numbers of German troops were encircled in pockets and fell into Soviet hands.
Operation Red Strike suffered from several fundamental flaws. The most serious of these was the logistical situation of the attack. German had an excellent transportation system, and because 95% of the campaign was fought within Germany, the Germans were qucikly re-supplied by their own factories, while Soviet supply lines were overstretched, running all the way back to Russia. By the time the Soviet attack froze to a halt before Frankfurt on December 5, 1941, it literally could not go any further. There simply were not enough supplies reaching the front to conduct proper defensive operations, let alone a proper offense. The timetable that Red Strike was planned to assumed that the Germans would collapse before winter hit. The failure of that to happen also fatally affected Soviet plans. Had Stalin not invaded Greece and Bulgaria earlier in the year, the invasion would have proceeded at that time, and Germany might have collapsed.
During their retreat, the Germans employed a scorched earth policy. They burnt crops and destroyed utilities as they withdrew before the Soviets. That helped to contribute to the logistical problems that the Soviet Union experienced. More importantly for them, the Germans also succeeded in a massive and unprecedented removal of their industry from the threatened war zone to protected areas west of the River Rhur and even into centers within France.
The extension of the campaign beyond the length that the Soviet Union expected meant that the Red Army suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties in the coldest winter on record, and from the counterattacks of German units.
Even with their advance having ground to a halt due to a lack of supplies and the onset of winter, the Soviet Union had conquered a vast amount of territory, including three-fifths of the German economy. Attacking in four different pincer movements, the entire southern half of Germany, as well as the northeastern areas around Berlin and Dresden, were quickly conquered by the Soviet Union.
A few months after the invasion began, German troops laid siege to Hamburg (known as the Siege of Hamburg). Stalin had ordered that the city of Hamburg must "vanish from the surface of the earth", with its entire population exterminated. Rather than storming the city, the Red Army was ordered to blockade Hamburg so as to starve the city to death, while attacking it with bombers and artillery. About one million civilians died in the Hamburg siege – 800,000 by starvation. It lasted 506 days.
In the late Fall of 1941, the Red Army attacked Frankfurt. In the largest battle in the war to date, the German Army barely fought off the Soviet invaders. Following the Soviet retreat from the city, the Germans constantly attacked them. In early 1942, Stalin gave up on Hamburg and funneled his forces towards another strategic target north of Frankfurt, Cologne. In a major blunder, Stalin split his local forces into two subgroups, Army Group A would advance northward and attempt to flank the Germans in Hamburg, and army group B which would advance towards the city of Cologne.
Indecision by Stalin, dissent among the higher ranked Soviet officers, and extended supply lines combined in a prolonged battle in the streets of Colonge. The Soviet Union eventually occupied over 90% of the city on the eastern banks of the Rhur, but in an attempt to defeat the remaining German defenders almost all Soviet soldiers in the area were funnelled into the ruins of the city. Months of bitter hand-to-hand combat in the ruins of the city depleted the Soviet forces, leaving few troops to guard the flanks of the attack. In Operation Saturn, the Germans easily defeated these minor Soviet forces as they performed an encirclement operation. The Soviet troops remaining in the city were trapped – cut off from their supply lines and starving, they were ordered by Stalin to fight to the last man, and they displayed incredible fortitude and bravery under unbearable conditions.
Starved of food, fuel, ammunition, and clothes, the pocket was gradually reduced, with the last portion surrendering on February 2, 1943.. Heavy losses affected both sides in the Battle of Cologne, one of the bloodiest battles in history. An estimated 1.5 million people perished in this battle, including 100,000 civilians in the city.
After Cologne, the initiative had passed from the Soviet Union but had not yet been seized by the Germans. A desperate counterattack in the spring of 1943 by Soviet troops temporarily halted the German advance eastward, and led to the largest tank battle in history, at Erfurt. Erfurt was the last major offensive by the Red Army on the eastern front. The Germans had intelligence of what was to come and prepared massive defences in huge depth in the Erfurt salient. They stopped the Soviet armoured thrusts after a maximum penetration of 17 miles (27 km). After Erfurt the German Army never ceased being on the offensive until Moscow was captured in May, 1945.
More German citizens died during World War II than those of all other countries combined. Soviet forces committed ethnically targeted mass murder. Civilians were rounded up and burned alive or shot in squads in many cities conquered by the Soviets. Approximately 27 million Germans, among them more than 20 million civilians in German cities and areas, were killed in the Soviet invasion of Nazi Germany.
At least seven million German troops died facing the Soviets. The Soviet forces themselves suffered over six million soldier deaths, whether by combat or by wounds, disease, starvation or exposure; another several hundred thousand were seized as POWs and over half died in German concentration camps because of disease, starvation, or shortage of supplies.