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The great patriotic war was a theatre of war primarily between Russia and the Nazis, although it involved many surrounding countries in Eastern Europe and beyond. This period was notorious for its unprecedented ferocity, destruction, and immense loss of life and was lead under the leadership of Stalin. Yet to what extent was Stalin’s efforts and actions the reason for the Soviet victory against the axis powers? Politically, there were many aspects that contributed to the war effort.
The Communist Party itself worked at the rear of the forces (350,000 members were transferred to the back lines) and also increased membership to ensure that there was sufficient support for the party. The NKVD played a more significant role in the war, most importantly controlling the USSR population through fear. The NKVD were responsible for the labour camps (gulags) where prisoners of war were sent as well as opposition suspects and deserters from the Russian armies.
The group had many other roles, including undercover officers within the red army reporting any deficiencies in moral and any anti-communist attitudes. Therefore they created a sense of terror that deterred any resistance against Stalin and the regime from building up effectively as well as maintaining discipline and security within the army. This was obviously a crucial factor in Soviet success, without this the Red Army would not have fought effectively.
Although the NKVD were very effective throughout the war and must certainly be credited in the Soviet success, Stalin was in overall control of the body, and therefore could also claim some of this as his own. He also influenced the air of terror, by coining orders like “not one step back” meaning that any soldiers that tried to retreat would be shout by the NKVD themselves. Britain and America were Russia’s allies in the war and although they did not send troops directly to the front line, the lend lease programme (begun in March 1941) provided the USSR with essential war supplies – $11.
3 billion worth of goods were sent throughout the war. Without these the army would have been less effectively supplied and progress may have been slower, particularly one the offensive move towards Berlin, which may have given the enemy more time to re-organise and build defenses. Additional assistance came from U. S. Russian War Relief (a private, nonprofit organization) and the Red Cross who also sent supplies. Again, it could be suggested that it was Stalin’s political ability that allowed him to form these alliances that proved to be so vital.
However, for the supplies from the Red Cross and Russian war relief he cannot be accredited and it could be argued that the allies did not aid Russia due to Stalin’s diplomacy but merely in an attempt to defeat Germany. Despite the destruction of the war, the Russian economy managed to keep the front supplied with weapons and other supplies. The move to dismantle factories and rebuild them in the remote Urals once the Germans had begun to infiltrate Russia proved to be very successful.
1500 enterprises and 10 million people were transferred eastwards and the new industrial heartlands began production. The planned economy also meant that industrial plants were converted into military production factories (for example, in Moscow a children’s bicycle factory was converted into a automatic rifles factory). Without this economic planning, the Red Army would not have been supplied tanks, guns ammunition and planes in adequate quantities (in fact, by 1943 the Red Army was achieving this).
However, yet again the ideas for the planned economy and the move of the factories were announced by Stalin and therefore their successful results and vital contribution to the war could be said to be a result of cunning planning and economic efficiency. Further than this, Stalin managed to mobilize the entire urban society into production. Similarly to the five year plans, anyone of a working age was forced into labour, including the women. For example, in 1942, women made up 53% of the urban workforce.
Without this mobilisation, the factories would not have run to full capacity and production levels would have fallen substantially. Stalin also cleverly ensured that the workers would not resent the regime by increasing wages (wages rose by 75% between 1938 and 1944) and those in regular manual employment were guaranteed survival through the network of Ors (workers provisionary department) shops at their places of work. Obviously the Red Army must be accredited with at least some of the war success.
Although it was initially disorganised and was unable to adapt to the defensive tactics now necessary, this was the result of Stalin’s fierce purges of the Red Army causing military leaders to be wary of taking any initiative or acting without firm orders from the leader himself. The Army was however, heroic in nature and had many successful attacks against the Germans (for example, the Battle of Kursk). Another initial weakness was the dual command of the Politruki, but Stalin did end this when he realised it was a hindrance to the army rather than a help. Stalin’s choices in military men had both positive and negative effects on the war.
He was often seen to give leadership powers to those who were his close friends and allies, often with poor results. An example of this is Kulik who delayed the production of Katyusa rockets and T34 tanks due to a belief that more old fashioned artillery and horsepower were more effective war methods. However, Soviet success was also the result of meticulous planning and military excellence of many other of the Russian leaders, for example Vasilevsky who was responsible for the planning and co-ordination of all decisive offences and Chuikov who commanded in Stalingrad.
The man with the most influence militarily however was General Zhukov who oversaw the defence of Leningrad and orchestrated the first breakthrough, commanded in the Battle of Kursk and launched the final attack on Germany, including capturing Berlin. Further than this Zhukov was more fearless than many others of the leaders and stood up for his military ideas. It could be suggested that this was the main reason that Stalin eventually accepted that his tactics needed updating and moved away from his previous military ideas. Had the Red Army continued with these they may never have won the war as the outdated tactics were very unsuccessful.
The Stavka ended up being a very effective team, some disagreement with Stalin was tolerated and the result was concrete military decisions that resulted in Soviet success. It is possible to completely blame Stalin for the initial Russian failures for a further reason. Previous to Operation Barbarossa, Stalin had been warned of the German attack but simply ignored this and made no defensive military plans. Therefore when under attack, the army only had defensive strategies available. This was particularly a problem due to the lack of initiative that generals were willing to take as explained above.
Some debate still remains over why Stalin refused to acknowledge the information but it was probably a combination of Stalin’s overconfidence in the character of Hitler and other circumstantial information (such as 22nd June was theoretically too late to attack as it was too close to the Russian winter). For these reasons Stalin was certainly a hindrance to the Russian side at times. However, he did change his tactics eventually which was obviously a difficult move for Stalin as it resulted in a loss of face. Another of Stalin’s failures was his refusal to sign the Geneva Convention for human rights.
Therefore when Russian prisoners of war were captured they often ended up in extermination camps in Germany. Many Russian war prisoners ended up fighting for the German side in preference to being killed. An example of this is Andrei Vlasov who set up a Russian Liberation Army who fought for the Germans; he was later used as a figurehead for German propaganda. If Stalin had signed the agreement the Germans wouldn’t have had any extra re-enforcements. Another general factor for the Soviet success in the Great Patriotic War is “psychological and social”. The role of the Russian people undoubtedly contributed to the war effort.
Other than the obvious roles they played in the factories, farms and on the battlefront itself, the sheer heroism of many of the people is astounding. For example, within Leningrad the Russian people failed to give in to German terror for 872 days, despite the constant attack from the skies, bitter famines spread throughout the whole city, horrific death rates (in December 1941, 53000 people died in Leningrad (this was as many as the total deaths in 1940)) and rations that were barely enough to survive (bread rations were 400g a day but decreased to 250-125g in December/January 1941).
This strength of the nation was seen in other places, such as the partisan units that were set up in the German occupied areas. Often the members were Red Army troops that had not retreated quick enough to stay in front of the Germans, but many were also civilians united in a hatred for the Nazis. They were effective in tying down Germans in certain areas, harassing German soldiers but most importantly showing the opposition that Russian influence was still present in their occupied areas.
The sheer hatred that the Russians felt for the Germans was also influential to Soviet success, and the treatment in the camps was certainly a contributing factor to this. Another reason for this was the treatment for the Russians in the German occupied territory. The Germans viewed the war as a “war of extermination” and used the Slav people as “sub-humans”. An example is a quote from Hitler “if 10,000 females die of exhaustion digging an anti-tank ditch, my only interest is that the ditch is dug for Germany”.
Only towards the end of the war did the Germans realise that it would be much more effective to try and keep the Russians on side. An example of the earlier brutality is the 34,000 Jews and Soviet citizens massacred at Babi-Yar which was an attempt to “cleanse Russia” and create living space (lebensraum). This is important for the war as the Russian hatred fuelled their desire to defeat the Germans and individuals would work harder and faster in whatever role they were contributing in.
It could be suggested that Stalin did help influence this as his speech’s were always hugely anti-German and highlighted the deaths and terrors inflicted upon Russia. He also contributed to the propaganda that was circulated in the war which showed clearly the brutalities of the war to the Russian civilians. This was to influence the Red Army and partisans to fight for “motherland, for honour, for freedom and for Stalin”. Stalin also managed to mobilise and encourage women into the war effort. Women took on roles within factories, farms and other men’s positions such as miners and welders.
At the beginning of 1940 women made up 41% of labour front and over 800,000 saw active service on the battlefields (ordered after 1942). Another social change that Stalin made during the war were the religious concessions. For example, in 1942 the labour camps were searched for religious men who were then allowed home and in 1943 they Russians elected a new patriarch and synod. These proved very successful and brought him more support as the religious Russians had previously felt oppressed. Stalin as a war leader was always resolute and determined.
It is unquestionable that Stalin was courageous, despite German attack he remained with his family in Moscow rather than fleeing to Kuibyshev. Although he did make some mistakes, particularly during the openings of the war, he did manage to amend many of these. The ways in which Stalin helped make the Soviet war success certainly outweigh his hindrances in both number and significance. Without such a powerful, charismatic and talented leader, Russia would have been much more likely to be defeated in the Great Patriotic war.