3.3: Europe at War: Hitler's war against the USSR

AGE 9. The Time of World Wars
3.3. Europe at War: Hitler's war against the USSR

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AGE 9. The Time of World Wars
3.3. Europe at War: Hitler's war against the USSR

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What is this lesson about?
Hitler's main goal of the war was the conquest of the Soviet Union.
In june 1941 he launched a full scale invasion of the USSR, named "Operation Barbarossa".
Stalin was taken completely by surprise.
The German army pushed deep into Russian territory and the Red Army suffered terible losses.

But the German successes did not last forever...

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people in this lesson
Adolf Hitler
field marshall

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Word Duty

Words that are in bold print must be learned for a test. 
Words that are printed cursive in the texts, you just need to be able to understand & translate!

Operation Barbarossa: name for the German invasion of the Soviet Union

Red Army: the Soviet army

Wehrmacht: the German army

Great Patriotic War: the Russian name for World War 2

Einsatzgruppen: special death squads. Their task was to kill as many Jews and communists as possible.

scorched earth: a tactic used by the Red Army. It meant that they destroyed everything in their retreat that could not be transported, to leave nothing useful for the Germans.


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Important dates in this lesson:

1941:  Start Operation Barbarossa (June 22nd)

1943: Germans surrender at Stalingrad (Jan 31st)

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The battle of Britain and the bombing of British cities had not brought England to its knees. Between June 1940 and March 1941 the German Luftwaffe had lost 2,265 airplanes over the British isles. Cities such as London, Birmingham, Coventry and Liverpool were badly damaged. But the British prime minister Winston Churchill did not think of surrendering.
Hitler was frustrated. He could not afford to lose more airplanes because he needed them for his biggest project: the invasion of the Soviet Union.

The conquest of Russia, the destruction of communism and the creation of Lebensraum for German people was Hitler's largest goal.
Hitler had secretly been planning an attack on the Soviet Union for many years, despite his Pact with Stalin.
The invasion was to take place in the spring of 1941. The conquest of the Soviet Union should be finished before winter.

Hitler and his generals planning the invasion of the Soviet Union, spring 1941

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Operation Barbarossa

In the early morning of June 22nd 1941, three million German troops crossed the border into Russia. The invasion was named "Operation Barbarossa". 
Stalin was taken completely by surprise and the ill prepared Red Army was pushed back by the superior German tanks and airplanes. 
Using Blitzkrieg warfare, the German army initially conquered a lot of territory. Three army groups tried to conquer the cities Leningrad (north), Moscow (centre) and Stalingrad (south) as quickly as possible.
Especially the south was important. Getting the Caucasus oilfields would enable Hitler to keep waging war for many more years.

Source A
Hitler stabs Stalin in the back

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1a. What is Source A about?
Treaty of Versailles
Nazi-Soviet Pact

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1b. Which element in Source A
supports the answer to question 1a?

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If you need to mention an ‘element’ from the source you need to describe something that you can SEE in the source. 
1c. What opportunity does Hitler mean?
attacking the USSR
killing Stalin
destroying communism
ending appeasement

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1d. Which element in Source A
supports the answer to question 1c?

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1e. Which of the following was the least important reason
for invading the Soviet Union?
grain and oil fields
destroy Treaty of Versailles
destroy communism

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1f. Which answer from question 1e
can be seen in the cartoon?

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1g. In the cartoon Hitler stabs Stalin in the back.
Why do you think the artist specifically used
this way of killing someone?

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1h. Stalin drops his pipe.
Any idea why the artist put this in the cartoon?

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German successes

There were several disputes about tactics and timing between Hitler and his generals, but the Blitzkrieg against the Red Army had devastating effects. In the first three months of the campaign, the Germans destroyed the USSR'S entire air and tank forces (7000 aircraft and 20,000 tanks). The Red Army suffered 4 million casualties (half of them deaths). By September 1941, Leningrad (the second city in the USSR) was under siege. In the south, German forces had control of the Ukraine and had reached as far as the Crimea. In the centre of Russia, the Germans almost reached the capital Moscow, and Stalin seriously considered surrendering. 

German soldiers marching through Russia. Note the use of many horse carriages in the German army.

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German errors

Late in 1941 the German advance was halted by the Russian winter. From now on, the succesful advance would never be repeated again. 

I. Hitler had been so confident that Stalin would be defeated before winter that he had not equipped his troops with winter clothing. The German army was not prepared for a winter war.
When snow began to fall the German tanks were halted and the German troops began to dig trenches.

II. Winter gave Stalin time to reorganise his army completely. The USSR developed new weapons such as the T-34 tank which would be produced in huge numbers. Stalin also inspired confidence and loyalty in his people. He called upon the people to defend "Mother Russia" in fighting the "Great Patriotic War"

Hitler had ordered not to provide winter clothing to his soldiers. He was confident that Russia would be defeated before the fall of winter. Issuing winter clothing would make the soldiers believe that a winter war was possible. Hitler did not want that.

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2. What evidence is there to show that Hitler was
confident of beating the Soviet Union?

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III. The Nazis themselves also helped Stalin. Their brutal treatment of the Soviet population in the areas they controlled increased the will to resist.
At the Eastern Front the normal rules of war did not apply. The Germans regarded it as a war of extermination. They believed they were exterminating inferior races and the very notion of communism. Behind the regular German troops

IV. The Germans found it difficult to make good use of the areas they occupied. As the Red Army retreated, it destroyed everything that could not be transported. It left nothing behind to aid the enemy. This tactic is known as a "scorched earth" policy.

A photograph found within an Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing squad) soldier’s personal album, labelled on the back as “Last Jew of Vinnitsa”, it captures a member of Einsatzgruppe D just about to shoot a Jewish man kneeling before a filled mass grave in Vinnitsa, Ukraine. All 28,000 Jews from Vinnitsa and its surrounding areas were massacred at the time. 

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V. The Soviet people rebuilt the USSR's economy. They dismantled over 2500 major industrial complexes and transported them east by rails to the Urals, Siberia and Kazakhstan - regions out of reach of the German army. Some 25 million workers were forced to migrate east with these industries.
In 1942 the USSR equalled and then passed German war production. 

VI. The Germans were not efficient in supplying their troops. Hundreds of thousands of German soldiers died from cold and disease.

VII. When Operation Barbarossa started, Stalin was no longer an 
ally of Germany, and immediately became an ally of Britain and 
the USA. Both these new allies (despite their hatred towards communism) supplied vast amounts of food, raw materials and industrial equipment on dangerous shipping routes.

Soviet women were vital for the production of armaments, often working in primitive conditions in emergency built industrial complexes in the east, far from their homes, but safe from the invading Germans

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December 7 1941 is a day that will forever live in infamy. On this date, the Imperial Japanese Navy conducted a surprise attack on Naval Base Pearl Harbor. The Japanese intended the attack to be a preventative measure to keep the United States Pacific Fleet from interfering with Japanese plans for military conquest over the overseas territories of the U.S., United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. The surprise attack came as a shock to the American people who up until this point had not experienced the horrors of World War 2. Following the attack, the United States declared war on Japan and an active alliance with Great Britain was established leading Germany and Italy to declare war on the U.S. on December 11th. The U.S. would return the favor on December 12th and the nation was thrust into active involvement in the Second World War
On Dec. 7th 1941 Hitler's ally Japan attacked the US naval base on the island of Pearl Harbor, destroying most of the American fleet. President Roosevelt declared war on Japan. The next day Japan's allies Germany and Italy declared war on the USA.
The European war had tuned into a World War. In Europe the people in the occupied countries and in Britain got new hope: maybe the 'Yanks' are coming again...

meanwhile, at the other side of the world...

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3. Consider Stalin's reaction to the news of Pearl Harbor.

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The Tide turns:
The Battle of Staingrad (Sept 1942 - Jan 1943)

Despite all the reforms of the Red Army, 1942 began badly for the USSR. The Germans made further advances, and attempts by the Red Army to push them back led to a further 500,000 casualties. When Hitler decided to strike towards the Caucasus mountains and to capture the USSR'S oil fields, the Red Army generals knew they had at all costs to halt the German advance at Stalingrad on the Volga river. Stalingrad was a major industrial and strategic centre. If the Germans seized Stalingrad, they would cut the USSR'S links with southern Russia. 

The Germans reached the suburbs of Stalingrad despite fierce resistance by the Soviet forces. It became a savage hand-to-hand battle, and in the street fighting the Germans' tanks were of little use. The Germans held on grimly but on 19 November, when the Soviet commander Zhukov counter-attacked in pincer movements north and south of the city, part of the German army was encircled. 

Soviet soldiers defending the Red October factory from a German assault during the Battle of Stalingrad (1942–43).

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Outnumbered, the German commander Paulus wanted to retreat and link up with reinforcements, but Hitler ordered him to fight on. Soviet air power gradually cut off his supplies. Soviet artillery, well supplied with shells, pounded the German positions and another new weapon, the Katyusha rocket launcher, rained down explosives on them. By December, the German position was hopeless. Paulus finally surrendered on 31 January 1943, along wit 300,000 soldiers.

Stalingrad was the first major defeat for the Germans. Although the Germans still held huge amounts of Soviet territory, a turning point in the war had been reached.
With the USA preparing to join the Allies in Europe (while at the same time fighting against Japan), Hitler's troops were now on the retreat.

German soldiers are marched off as prisoners of war (POW's) after the surrender at Stalingrad, ( Januari 1943) guarded by Russian soldiers

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4. Did Hitler care about the lives of his soldiers?
Explain your answer.

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Source B

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Comment on source B.
(at least 50 words)

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Write down one question about something in this lesson that you still don't fully understand.

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The Western Front

As early as 1942 the US commander general Eisenhower put together plans for a joint US-British attack on occupied Europe. Through 1942 and 1943 American forces built up steadily on the British mainland. President Roosevelt believed that the American priority was the war against Germany rather than the war against Japan, so 85% of US resources were targeted at Germany during the War.
In 1943, US and British forces attacked Italy from the south. Italy surrendered in september 1943, although the north was then immediately occupied by German forces.
But the main objective was still the liberation of France. A formidable task. The Germans had built strong defences all along the Atlantic coast. It was a very high risk undertaking but the start of Operation Overlord, was nonetheless fixed for 6 June 1944.
This would be D-Day, Decision Day.

The United States actually had a 'ghost army' with only one mission: to deceive the enemy tactically. During and after D-Day, they staged more than twenty operations, using inflatable tanks, sound trucks and misleading Morse Code and radio messages.

American soldiers landing on the Normandy beach in the early morning of June 6th, 1944.

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Films about the Eastern Front
Hun vriendschap zou eeuwig duren, maar de oorlog veranderde alles...

Berlijn 1941: vijf vrienden nemen afscheid. Ze beloven elkaar eeuwige vriendschap. Maar geen van hen kon vermoeden hoe de oorlog hen zou veranderen. Wilhelm en Friedhelm worden naar het oostfront gestuurd. Charlotte, die heimelijk verliefd is op Wilhelm, volgt hen door zich aan te melden als verpleegster in een militair hospitaal. Greta, een zangeres, papt aan met een SS-officier. Vanuit die positie probeert ze haar vriend Viktor, die een Joodse vader heeft, te redden van deportatie. De oorlog zal elk van deze jonge mensen voorgoed veranderen. De één wordt een held, de ander een lafaard. De één kiest voor goed, de ander voor kwaad. Hun belofte om voor altijd vrienden te blijven behoort tot een andere wereld...

Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter is een ontzagwekkende miniserie die op alle fronten imponeert en een gewaagde poging doet om een dialoog over het oorlogsverleden tussen de oudere en jongere generatie op gang te brengen. Het is tevens de duurste serie ooit gemaakt in de geschiedenis van de Duitse televisie en brak ten tijde van uitzending kijkcijferrecords (maar liefst 7.5 miljoen mensen zaten aan de buis gekluisterd). De veelgeprezen miniserie onderscheidt zich door de nadruk te leggen op gewone mensen die middels de oorlog in uitzonderlijke situaties terecht komen.

With the Battle of Stalingrad as their backdrop, Vassili Zaytsev, a reluctant sniper in the Russian army, and Major Konig, a professional German sniper play a game of wits and marksmanship as the war rages on. With both pride and patriotism on his side, Zaytsev makes his way through the battle narrowly avoiding death countless times. Love is lost and friendships are tested as Zaytsev is elevated from a humble sheep farmer to legendary status throughout his rivalry with Konig.

In the spring of 1942, German troops advanced deep into the Soviet Union en route to Stalingrad. Hitler seriously misjudged the tenacity of the Red Army and was convinced that the city could be conquered before winter. Ordinary foot soldiers, inadequately clothed and without sufficient food, struggled just to stay alive. Abandoned by their leaders, Nazi troops froze and starved to death in a conflict that left over one million dead. Stalingrad graphically depicts this turning point in World War II as a vast tableau of horror in which the average German soldier was as much a victim of Nazi evil as the Soviet people.
The plot is based on "a dramatic love story against the backdrop of a grand battle". The action takes place in 1942 when the German troops occupied the bank of the Volga river. Having failed while attempting to cross the Volga and launch a counter-offensive on the German army, the Soviet troops were forced to retreat. However, a few soldiers managed to get to the shore of the enemy. They remain in the minority, and hide in a coastal house, where they met a girl. The Germans occupied her home, and she did not have time to leave the front line. Against the backdrop of the most bloody battle in the mankind history develops a love story, and from that moment the soldiers have to protect this girl at any cost.

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