The Soviet Union in World War II

Nadia Mathis

Introduction

The Soviet Union entered into World War II on September 17, 1939 when Joseph Stalin ordered the Red Army to invade Eastern Poland. They did so under the pretense of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact - a nonaggression pact between Germany and the Soviet Union which said that if the Soviet Union did not attack German troops, they would be given the Eastern territories of Poland along with the several other Eastern European nations.


By 1939, the Soviet Union was a major industrial nation and was comparatively well-off as it was less affected by the Great Depression than countries such as France and Great Britain. The military forces under Stalin were drastically increased benefiting from the industrialization that had occurred. However, the USSR was also facing large famines, as population increased and agriculture stayed at the same level.


The objectives of the Soviet Union in World War II were to defeat Germany and to expand their sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. The war brought harsh conditions for the USSR as it was fought on their territory. The war brought starvation, disease, extreme rationing, and massive destruction. World War II also increased Soviet nationalism and unity, uniting in the belief that the people needed to protect their country against the German belligerents.

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The NKVD was the Soviet secret police group that was tasked with uncovering espionage of Soviet citizens. Enemies of the state were often taken to Gulag camps or executed. The Soviet government had a large fear of espionage against them. Propaganda during the war often reminded citizens of the dangers of collaboration with Germans, especially about being aware of actions such as talking on the telephone, that could assist the fascists.


Soviet Propaganda. Unknown Date. Photograph. Russian World War II Propaganda. Web. 28 November 2015.

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In 1941, the Soviet NKVD - the law enforcement agency in charge of suppressing political animosity and uncovering espionage - carried out a series of massacres of Soviet prisoners of war. As German troops advanced on the Soviet Union, the NKVD was tasked with liquidating and evacuating the prisoner of war camps as the Red Army retreated. This resulted with the death of 100,000 prisoners in the span of a few weeks.


The corpses of victims of the Soviet NKVD. 1941. Photograph. Web. Wikipedia.org. 28 November 2015.

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Throughout the war, the previously ethnically divide in the Soviet Union dissipated as soldiers of all nationalities united in the common idea of protecting the home front against the brutal Germans. This war created a uniting force of nationalism that was unprecedented in the Soviet Union and was used in propaganda to support the communist idea that there should not be a divide between races or social classes.


Soviet Propaganda. Unknown Date. Photograph. Russian World War II Propaganda. Web. 28 November 2015.

Everything for the victory to the front from the women of USSR!

In the beginning of the year, the role of women at the home front was to work in factories and farms to produce the goods needed to support the Red Army. This propaganda worked to promote women at home to support the army by continuing to manufacture goods such as weaponry.


Soviet Propaganda. Unknown Date. Photograph. Russian World War II Propaganda. Web. 28 November 2015.

Tractor in the field is the same as a tank in battle

Women often contributed to the Soviet war effort through working in industry, transport, and agriculture. While 800,000 women participated in the Soviet armed forces, propaganda of the time often supported the idea that the women should work to support the Red Army rather than necessarily be in the army themselves.


Soviet Propaganda. Unknown Date. Photograph. Russian World War II Propaganda. Web. 28 November 2015.

Soviet Sniper, Roza Shanina

The Soviet Army stood out for the large-scale participation of women in the armed forces. Pictured is Roza Shanina, one of the 400,000 women that fought in the front line for the Soviet Union. Though women faced harsh discrimination and were often turned away from military service in the beginning of the war, by 1944, the efforts of the determined women and the losses that the Soviets had faced to the Germans led a drastic increase in the number of front-line women.



Sniper Roza Shanina, holding a 1891/30 Mosin–Nagant with the 3.5x PU scope. 1944. Photograph. Wikipedia.org. Web. 28 November 2015.

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World War II was brutal for the Soviet Union. The people were searching for ways to decrease the time until the war ended. This propaganda worked to increase confidence in the Red Army and encourage hard work in the factories. During World War II, the Soviet citizens were better prepared than any other nation involved for the food and good shortages that they would face. In 1941, the government implemented rations on goods to those in the city and the rural farmers received no rations, living on what they had left after producing for the army.


Soviet Propaganda. Unknown Date. Photograph. Russian World War II Propaganda. Web. 28 November 2015.
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During World War II, the Red Army allowed boys under the age of 18 to volunteer their service. These boys were often orphans who escaped destitution through their military service. Officially, the age of conscription for those without secondary education was 18 and for those with, 19.


Son of the Regiment. Unknown Date. Photograph. Children in History. Web. 28 November 2015.

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The citizens of the Soviet Union were not exempt from the German goal of finding a "final solution." Men, women, and children were shot, starved, or worked to death under the Nazi occupation of Soviet territory. These victims were often Jewish, communist, or anti-German.


USSR, An Einzatzgruppe man leading blindfolded Jews to be shot to death. Unknown Date. Photograph. Yad Vashem Photo Archives. Web. 28 November 2015.

Citizens of Leningrad, 1942

Citizens of the Leningrad fleeing their destroyed homes during the Siege of Leningrad in which approximately one million citizens were killed. This siege was a 872 day blockade of the city of Leningrad by the German armed forces and included famine, bombardment, and conditions of extreme temperatures for the people of the city.


“After bombing”. Citizens of Leningrad leaving their houses destroyed by German bombing. 1942. Photograph. Wikipedia.org. Web. 28 November 2015.

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The Siege of Leningrad began in 1941 and lasted until 1944. The bombardment and blockade resulted in the loss of approximately 1.5 million soldiers and civilians as well as the destruction of historical palaces, factories, and schools. Propaganda after the lifting of the siege called for revenge against the German army that had so brutally destroyed Leningrad, uniting the people in the common memory of the horrors.


Soviet Propaganda. Unknown Date. Photograph. Russian World War II Propaganda. Web. 28 November 2015.
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The German military, counting on a quick victory in the Soviet Union, was unprepared for the harsh Russian winters. Prior to the winter of 1941, the German army had made large grabs into the Soviet territory, this winter halted the German army and gave the Red Army the home-front advantage as they were much better equipped for the cold winters.


A Panzer III tank stuck in the snow and cold as the whole offensive stalls.1941. Photograph. The History Place. Web. 28 November 2015.

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In June of 1941, after being invaded by Germany, the Soviet Union joined the Allied Forces with Great Britain and France. This piece of propaganda was likely released in the latter parts of the war, 1943, when the Soviet Union advanced an offensive against Nazi Germany with the help of the United Kingdom and the United States.


Soviet Propaganda. Unknown Date. Photograph. Russian World War II Propaganda. Web. 28 November 2015.
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Propaganda showed both the Soviet objectives of the war as well as the portrayal of certain demographics, such as women. This piece of propaganda was likely released when the Soviet Union was on offensive against the German army. This showed the Red Army's objectives of freeing Slavic land from Germany. This public objective differed in some ways from the objective of increasing the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union, justifying it by portraying this offensive as an act to free the Slavs.


Soviet Propaganda. Unknown Date. Photograph. Russian World War II Propaganda. Web. 28 November 2015.

Glory to the liberators of Ukraine

The Soviet opinion on their offensive movements in the last two years of World War II was that they were freeing the people in former occupied German territories, such as Ukraine. Propaganda posters often used women to evoke emotion in the viewer showing the Soviet soldiers as protectors and liberators of the women and youth in the areas where they advanced. This promoted the offensive while hiding the brutality of the Red Army on these territories.


Soviet Propaganda. Unknown Date. Photograph. Russian World War II Propaganda. Web. 28 November 2015.
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In August of 1941, Hitler's German Army had advanced to the border of Moscow. However, his troops were unprepared for the harsh Soviet winters, predicting a summer victory. This began the halting of Germany's troops which allowed the Red Army to begin an offensive against them. Soviet opinion on German occupied territories were that they were enslaving the populations and needed to be saved by the Soviet Union.


Soviet Propaganda. Unknown Date. Photograph. Russian World War II Propaganda. Web. 28 November 2015.

Europe will be free

Propaganda often showed the Allied forces as working together to free Europe from the hostilities of the German army. Especially in the last two years of the war, the idea of the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union defeated Germany persisted as the governments attempted to maintain support for the war. The idea of freeing Europe persists through the propaganda of the second half of the war.


Soviet Propaganda. Unknown Date. Photograph. Russian World War II Propaganda. Web. 28 November 2015.
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By the time World War II came to an end in 1945, the Soviet Union had turned from being partly occupied by German forces to an expanded influence stretching to the newly-founded East Germany and down through Yugoslavia and Albania. This expanded influence set the foundations for the "Iron Curtain" that would divide Europe in the years following the war.


Soviet Influence in Europe, Post WWII. Digital Image. Patrice Ayme's Thoughts. Web. 28 November 2015.