(World War II, 1939–45) A series of military campaigns fought in eastern Europe. The first campaign (September 1939) followed the Nazi-Soviet pact (1939), when Germany invaded Poland. Soviet forces entered from the east, and Poland collapsed. Finland was defeated in the Finnish-Russian War. In June 1941 Hitler launched a surprise offensive against his one-time ally, the Soviet Union. Italy, Romania, Hungary, Finland, and Slovakia joined in the invasion. By the end of 1941 Germany had overrun Belorussia and most of the Ukraine, had besieged Leningrad, and was converging on Moscow. The Russian winter halted the German offensive, and the attack on Moscow was foiled by a Soviet counter-offensive. Britain, now allied with the Soviet Union, launched a joint British-Soviet occupation of Iran (1941), thus providing a route for British and US supplies to the Red Army, as an alternative to ice-bound Murmansk. During 1942 Leningrad continued to be besieged, while a massive German offensive was launched towards Stalingrad and the oil-fields of the Caucasus. Kursk, Kharkov, and Rostov all fell, as did the Crimea, and the oil centre of Maikop was reached. Here the Soviet line consolidated and forces were built up for a counter-offensive which began in December 1942, the relief of Stalingrad following in February 1943. The surrender of 330,000 German troops there marked a turning point in the war. A new German offensive recaptured Kharkov, but lost the massive Battle of Kursk in July. The Red Army now resumed its advance and by the winter of 1943–44 it was back on the River Dnieper. In November 1943 Hitler ordered forces to be recalled from the Eastern Front to defend the Atlantic. Soviet offensives from January to May 1944 relieved Leningrad, recaptured the Crimea and Odessa, and re-entered Poland. Through the rest of the year and into 1945 the Red Army continued its advance, finally entering Germany in January 1945. By April it was linking up with advance troops of the Allied armies from the west, and on 2 May Berlin surrendered to Soviet troops. Victory on the Eastern Front had been obtained at the cost of at least 20 million lives.
Subjects: World History.