Soviet Union in World War II - Soviets Stop The Germans

Soviets Stop The Germans

Further information: Eastern Front (World War II), Battle of Moscow, and Battle of Stalingrad

While the Germans made huge advances in 1941, killing millions of Soviet soldiers, at Stalin's direction, the Red Army directed sizable resources to prevent the Germans from achieving one of their key strategic goals, the attempted capture of Leningrad. They held the city at the cost of more than a million Soviet soldiers in the region and more than a million civilians, many who died from starvation. While the Germans pressed forward, Stalin was confident of an eventual Allied victory over Germany. In September 1941, Stalin told British diplomats that he wanted two agreements: (1) a mutual assistance/aid pact and (2) 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 with Hitler in the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. The British agreed to assistance but refused to agree to the territorial gains, which Stalin accepted months later as the military situation had deteriorated somewhat by mid-1942. In November 1941, Stalin rallied his generals in a speech given underground in Moscow, telling them that the German blitzkrieg would fail because of weaknesses in the German rear in Nazi-occupied Europe and the underestimation of the strength of the Red Army, and that the German war effort would crumble against the British-American-Soviet "war engine". On November 6, 1941, Stalin addressed the Soviet Union for the second time (the first was on July 2, 1941).

Correctly calculating that Hitler would direct efforts to capture Moscow, Stalin concentrated his forces to defend the city, including numerous divisions transferred from Soviet eastern sectors after he determined that Japan would not attempt an attack in those areas. By December, Hitler's troops had advanced to within 30 km of the Kremlin in Moscow. On December 5, the Soviets launched a counteroffensive, pushing German troops back c. 80 km from Moscow in what was the first major defeat of the Wehrmacht in the war.

In early 1942, the Soviets began a series of offensives labeled "Stalin's First Strategic Offensives", although there is no evidence that Stalin developed the offensives. The counteroffensive bogged down, in part due to mud from rain in the Spring of 1942. Stalin's attempt to retake Kharkov in the Ukraine ended in the disastrous encirclement of Soviet forces, with over 200,000 Soviet casualties suffered. Stalin attacked the competence of the generals involved. General Georgy Zhukov and others subsequently revealed that some of those generals had wished to remain in a defensive posture in the region, but Stalin and others had pushed for the offensive. Some historians have doubted Zhukov's account.

At the same time, Hitler was worried about American support after their entry into the war following the Attack on Pearl Harbor, and a potential Anglo-American invasion on the Western Front in 1942 (which did not occur until the summer of 1944). He changed his primary goal from an immediate victory in the East, to the more long-term goal of securing the southern Soviet Union to protect oil fields vital to the long-term German war effort. While Red Army generals correctly judged the evidence that Hitler would shift his efforts south, Stalin thought it a flanking move in the German attempt to take Moscow.

The German southern campaign began with a push to capture the Crimea, which ended in disaster for the Red Army. Stalin publicly criticized his generals' leadership. In their southern campaigns, the Germans took 625,000 Red Army prisoners in July and August 1942 alone. At the same time, in a meeting in Moscow, Churchill privately told Stalin that the British and Americans were not yet prepared to make an amphibious landing against a fortified Nazi-held French coast in 1942, and would direct their efforts to invading German-held North Africa. He pledged a campaign of massive strategic bombing, to include German civilian targets.

Estimating that the Russians were "finished," the Germans began another southern operation in the fall of 1942, the Battle of Stalingrad. Hitler insisted upon splitting German southern forces in a simultaneous siege of Stalingrad and an offensive against Baku on the Caspian Sea. Stalin directed his generals to spare no effort to defend Stalingrad. Although the Soviets suffered in excess of 1.1 million casualties at Stalingrad, their victory over German forces, including the encirclement of 290,000 Axis troops, marked a turning point in the war.

Within a year after Barbarossa, Stalin reopened the churches in the Soviet Union. He may have wanted to motivate the majority of the population who had Christian beliefs. By changing the official policy of the party and the state towards religion, he could engage the Church and its clergy in mobilizing the war effort. On September 4, 1943, Stalin invited the metropolitans Sergius, Alexy and Nikolay to the Kremlin. He proposed to reestablish the Moscow Patriarchate, which had been suspended since 1925, and elect the Patriarch. On September 8, 1943, Metropolitan Sergius was elected Patriarch. One account said that Stalin's reversal followed a sign that he supposedly received from heaven. he wrote that Ilya, Metropolitan of the Lebanon Mountains, claimed to receive a sign from heaven that

"The churches and monasteries must be reopened throughout the country. Priests must be brought back from imprisonment, Leningrad must not be surrendered, but the sacred icon of Our Lady of Kazan should be carried around the city boundary, taken on to Moscow, where a service should be held, and thence to Stalingrad Tsaritsyn."

Shortly thereafter, Stalin's attitude changed. Radzinsky wrote:

"Whatever the reason, after his mysterious retreat, he began making his peace with God. Something happened which no historian has yet written about. On his orders many priests were brought back to the camps. In Leningrad, besieged by the Germans and gradually dying of hunger, the inhabitants were astounded, and uplifted, to see wonder-working icon Our Lady of Kazan brought out into the streets and borne in procession." Radzinsky asked, "Had he seen the light? Had fear made him run to his Father? Had the Marxist God-Man simply decided to exploit belief in God? Or was it all of these things at once?."

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