Tuesday, August 2, 2011

World War II Soviet Armed Forces (2) 1942-43

The Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939 had allowed the Soviet Union to regain most of the territory conceded during the Russian Civil War. By 1941 the Soviet Union consisted of 15 Soviet Socialist Republics (SSRs), comprising the Russian Empire as it had existed before 1917, and also the western Ukraine, which had never been Russian. However, the Winter War against Finland (November 1939-March 1940) had exposed the numerically huge Red Army as poorly equipped and incompetently commanded; despite Russia's reoccupation of much Finnish territory, that country remained unconquered. Encouraged by the revelation of Soviet military unpreparedness, Germany and its European Axis allies launched an unprovoked attack on the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. By January 1942 the Axis had forced the Red Army back 450 miles, and had occupied six SSRs - Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Byelorussia (Belarus) and Ukraine. Axis forces were threatening Leningrad (now St Petersburg) and Moscow, and were poised to wheel southwards towards the economically vital oilfields of the Caucasus. The two years described in this volume (January 1942 to December 1943) saw the Soviet Union recovering - slowly, and at great cost - from the catastrophic defeats of 1941. Leningrad and Moscow had been successfully defended, and the .Axis advance had been halted in western Russia. By December 1942 the Axis advance to the Caucasus had been stopped on the Georgian border; most of the oilfields were saved, and the winter of 1942-43 proved to be the turning-point in the war.