The Soviet Union in World War II is the story of several wars. When World War II started, the Soviet Union was effectively an ally of Nazi Germany in a relatively conventional European interstate war. Although the Germans did most of the fighting in Poland, the Soviet Union occupied the eastern part. Until 22 June 1941, when Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, the Soviet Union provided Nazi Germany with large quantities of strategic raw materials. Furthermore, the Soviet Union gave Germany access to the Far East, and especially rubber, which was brought through Siberia. During this time it also fought the 1939–1940 “Winter War” with Finland and, in 1940, occupied Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and what is now Moldova. However, the Soviet Union expected more technological aid from Germany than it was prepared to give. Hitler determined to conquer the country, in part, to seize its natural resources. The second war did not involve the Soviet Union and was about control of the Mediterranean. The third war, arguably the largest single component of World War II, began on 22 June 1941, when the Germans attacked the Soviet Union. Overnight, the Soviet Union became an ally of Britain and a recipient of Lend-Lease aid from the United States. That war, the “War on the Eastern Front,” is known in the Soviet Union and Russia as Velikaya Otechestvennaya Voyna—the “Great Patriotic War.” It lasted for 1,418 days, and between twenty-six and twenty-seven million Soviet people, mostly civilians, died. Even after the Western Allies got ashore in Europe, the Soviet Union was still engaging the majority of German forces. Final Soviet battlefield losses were 8.7 million. After the defeat of Germany, the Soviet Union entered the Pacific War, which had begun with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. On 9 August 1945 the Soviet Union attacked the Japanese Army in Manchuria, which capitulated eight days later. The Soviet effort, and particularly the dramatic reversal of fortunes that occurred in 1942 and 1943, turned a “pariah state” experimenting with a new economic and political system into the successful exponent of the same, and into a space-bound superpower with the revived trappings of its imperial past. The Soviet nuclear program, for example, began in 1942. The decisive contribution of its armed forces to the overall Allied victory was underrated in the West during the Cold War. However, the process of reconciliation that began in the 1980s and the breakup of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991 changed that.
General Overviews in English
Erickson 1975 and Erickson 1983 will remain the definitive work in English and probably any language on the type of war the Soviet Union and Germany waged and how it was won, although it is not always an easy read. Bellamy 2007 and Mawdsley 2005 are newer one-volume histories, incorporating the new material that became available from the 1980s and addressing the new debates and issues they opened up. Ziemke’s two volumes (Ziemke 1987a, Ziemke 1987b) follow the same roadmap as Erickson’s work and form a more straightforward military history with excellent maps. Both Bellamy and Mawdsley rely heavily on Krivosheyev 1997 (see also General Overviews in Russian). Boog 1996 and Boog 2001 are outstanding new additions from the German viewpoint.
Bellamy, Chris. Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War. New York: Knopf, 2007.
Complete one-volume history of the Soviet Union in World War II, utilizing newly available documents (see Collections of Russian Documents). Examines Russia in World War II as a whole, not just the 1941–1945 era. Also analyzes the politics and inner workings of the uneasy Alliance with the UK and US grand strategy and the influence on postwar politics.
Boog, Horst. Germany and the Second World War. Vol. 4, The Attack on the Soviet Union. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996.
Originally published in German by the Militärgeschichtlisches Forschungsamt (Research Institute for Military History), this series, which will total ten volumes, is effectively a German “official history” although the multiple authors deny it that title. A remarkable work of collaborative history by expert authors, with Horst Boog, Jürgen Förster, Joachim Hoffmann, Ernst Klink, Rolf-Dierter Müller, Werner Rahn, Reinhard Stumpf, Gerd R. Uberschär, and Bernd Wegner collaborating on this volume and The Global War alone. Germany and the Second World War is valuable and authoritative and also includes excellent maps.
Boog, Horst. Germany and the Second World War. Vol. 6, The Global War. Oxford: Clarendon, 2001.
Another volume in the Germany and the Second World War series (see Boog 1996), Volume 6 has an appended volume of maps, such as German administration in occupied western Russia.
Erickson, John. Stalin’s War with Germany. Vol. 1, The Road to Stalingrad. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1975.
Unsurpassed in detail, sometimes graphic, covers the period when the Germans overran the western Soviet Union and advanced to the Volga. This was the first history of the 1941–1945 war to use Soviet rather than predominantly German sources.
Erickson, John. Stalin’s War with Germany. Vol. 2, The Road to Berlin. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1983.
In the same style as Erickson 1975, the definitive account of the Soviet retaliation, which took the Red Army to Berlin. Ends abruptly with the Prague operation, without analyzing the social and economic effects of the war on the Soviet Union.
Krivosheyev, Grigoriy F. Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century. London: Lionel Leventhal, 1997.
Translation of Krivosheyev 1993 (see General Overviews in Russian). The most reliable survey available of Soviet losses, with scientific definition of how these losses are calculated. Some of Krivosheyev’s figures have been challenged, but this is accepted as the definitive source and also enumerates most of the major Soviet operations.
Mawdsley, Evan. Thunder in the East: The Nazi-Soviet War 1941–45. London: Hodder, 2005.
Concise history of the Soviet-German war, embracing higher-level military, economic, and political issues. Notes the importance of all factors: military, economic, and demographic. Best introduction for undergraduates and beginning postgraduates.
Ziemke, Earl F. Moscow to Stalingrad: Decision in the East. Washington, DC: Center of Military History, US Army, 1987a.
Following the waxing and waning of German fortunes in two volumes in the same way as Erickson 1975 and Erickson 1983, Ziemke presents an authoritative general survey of the war, with excellent maps. Because of the publication date, however, the work is unable to utilize newly released Soviet materials.
Ziemke, Earl F. Stalingrad to Berlin: The German Defeat in the East. Washington, DC: Center of Military History, US Army, 1987b.
The second volume of Ziemke’s account (see Ziemke 1987a), aimed primarily at a military audience. Most useful for those interested in Soviet and German tactics and operational art and logistics, and it is also on the relative priority the Germans gave to fighting the Soviet forces and the Western Allies.
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