Above is an image of Kiev during Operation Barbarossa
World War proved to be the deadliest conflict in human history. With total war related deaths ranging from 70-85 million people, the war is still stained into the memories of many. Put simply, no country on Earth went unaffected in some way by this war. Nowhere else does this ring truer than the USSR; a country that lost nearly 25 million people to the Second World War.
Above is a video that details each country’s causalities during WWII
Part of the reason that the Soviets had such a high casualty rate was because of their ill preparedness for the war. There were several factors that contributed to the Soviet Union being unprepared for the start of WWII. Perhaps most notably was Joseph Stalin’s refusal to believe that the Germans would invade.
When the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, Stalin was incredibly reluctant to accept the fact that the Germans had crossed the border. Up until that point, the Soviets and Germans had a non-aggression pact, and the Germans had various military training schools within the Soviet Union, so Stalin found it difficult to even comprehend the idea of a German invasion. After all, Hitler and Stalin had been allies for years.
Above is a map of the German advance during the first few months of Operation Barbarossa
Another reason for the Soviet ill preparedness was due to Stalin’s purges in the 1930’s. During this time, thousands of military officers were purged from the Red Army. Frequently, the most liberal minded officers that experimented with new tactics were purged at the highest rates. This ultimately caused a leadership void, so when the time came to fight, there were few qualified people to lead.
Despite this, the Soviets eventually would come to claim victory over the Germans. This was due to a multitude of factors. Perhaps one of the biggest factors was that the German army greatly underestimated the size of the Red Army. Other important factors involve Stalin’s “Not one step back” order and the greater industrial output of the Soviet Union. Soviet industry, and correspondingly the Soviet people were key in the Soviet Union’s victory over the Germans.
In fact, one of the most important decisions that Stalin made during the war, was to move most of the country’s industrial capability east of the Ural mountain range. As a result, Soviet weapons plants that produced critical materiel would not be taken by the Germans, nor would they be within range of German bombers. This entailed physically moving factories via rail. More than 1500 factories would end up being moved to locations in Siberia and Central Asia.
Above is a map that shows the locations of Soviet tank and aircraft factories, as well as the range of German bombers
Following the conclusion of the war, the Soviets faced several major challenges. One short term challenge that the USSR faced was the demobilization of millions of men. The country was now faced with the task of both housing and employing these men; many of which where physically injured or had various psychological issues such as PTSD. Due to the housing crises directly following the war, many former soldiers became homeless.
In the Long term, the Soviet Union faced demographic challenges. For example, nearly 68% of men born in 1923 did not live to see the conclusion of the war. Furthermore, the impact that this war had on the region can even be seen in Russia’s demographics today. The influence that the Second World War had on the Soviet Union was truly incredible, and one could go mad trying to calculate the affect that tens of millions of dead had on the country.
Internationally, the end of WWII meant that much resentment would grow out of what used to be an alliance. This is in part because the U.S. and British opened up a Western Front so late in the war. Stalin perceived this move as a conspiracy against the Soviet Union to take most of the casualties in fighting the Germans. This animosity between countries that used to be partners contributed to the beginning of the Cold War.
World War II is widely viewed as being the most impactful period in Soviet and Russian history. Many in the former Soviet republics point to that war as a period in time where people were able to overcome incredible adversity, and grapple their way to victory.
Wikimedia Commons Images – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Images
The Fallen of WWII – YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwKPFT-RioU
Russia A History – Freeze
The Eastern Front – The National WWII Museum https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/eastern-front
Mark Harrison – University of Warwick – https://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/markharrison/entry/was_the_soviet/
Soviet Factory Map – https://www.google.com/search?q=WWII+soviet+factories+german+bomber+range&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwimhY6Ukr_hAhUsrlkKHXJ3BGEQ_AUIDigB&biw=1280&bih=610#imgrc=dmHEU_a9dtQzWM: