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Author(s) of the publication: Yevgeny MOROZOV

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by Yevgeny MOROZOV, military observer

The closing stage of the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany included the summer-autumn campaign of 1944 and the winter-spring campaign of 1945. On the Eastern Front the Soviet troops smashed the German armies and liberated from the Nazi occupation seven countries of Central Europe, paving the way for the restoration of their political and economic structures.

Central Europe is the traditional name of the territories located between the main military-political centers of the continent-on its west and on its east. In the 1930s the name belonged to the region between the Soviet Union and Germany bordered on the south by Switzerland and Italy. In 1938 it included Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Greece, Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. During the Second World War the destinies of these countries were mostly dramatic. The reason for that was to a considerable extent their historically formed hostile relations, the absence of stable traditions of independence, differences in the political and ethnic borders and underhand political intrigues of Germany, Great Britain and the USSR.

Typical during that period for the whole Central Europe were economic reorientation to the Third Reich, massive deliveries of foodstuffs and raws at reduced prices, or simply as requisitions, impoverishment of the masses, mounting police repressions, and in areas under German occupation-ruthless occupation regimes. And, naturally enough, that generated anti-Nazi feelings which were exacerbated from the summer of 1943 by allied air raids on strategic targets in Bulgaria and Romania and by the Soviet propaganda which found ready response among the Slavonic peoples of this region. There were mounting guerilla movements in all these countries which were directly fired by events on the Soviet-German front. Apart from that there was formed a peculiar mosaic of military-political groupings which often collaborated, but were mostly aliened. A significant role in their establishment and further growth was played by the British and Soviet secret services which operated through the emigre governments of Poland, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Greece, occupied by the Nazis and through the structures of COMINTERN*.

One example of the most stubborn and vigorous resistance was offered by Yugoslavia. Already from the start of the Great Patriotic War its people staged a massive uprising which later took the form of a long and desperate guerilla war. But the ranks of the Communist and nationalist (Chetniki) guerillas broke up and they turned into irreconcilable foes. The Communists, led by Josef Tito, became the main resistance force. By the autumn of 1943 they organized their own governing bodies, reinforced their People's Liberation

* COMINTERN (Communist International)-international organization which united after 1919 Communist parties of different countries. Was dissolved in spring of 1943, but its personnel and contacts were still used by the USSR military and political leadership. - Ed.

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Army and assumed control over nearly half of the territory of their country.

After Yugoslavia, a guerilla movement sprang up in Bulgaria, but the political conditions in the country obstructed its rapid growth. Nevertheless, by the end of 1943 the country had its Patriotic Front of left-wing forces under the leadership of the Bulgarian Workers' Party. Its declared objective was the establishment of a democratic republic and the liberation movement spread all over the country.

In Albania and Greece the people's war began in the autumn of 1942 and was progressing much faster than in Bulgaria. A year later, under the leadership of the National-Liberation Front (leftist forces) of Albania formed its People's Liberation Army which assumed control over large regions of the country. In Greece, the coalition National Front (leftist) formed a regular army structure-five infantry divisions and a cavalry brigade of 35 - 40 thous. men. But functioning in both countries were military organizations of pro-Western political orientation which were hostile to their leftist rivals.

The rapid growth of the anti-fascist armed formations in the Balkans was promoted by the capitulation in September 1943 of Italy, governed by the dictator Benito Mussolini. The guerillas occupied big region of the country, captured army stores with huge military supplies and a large proportion of the Italian army units finally joined the guerillas.

Pages. 6

The situation was more complicated in Poland. There appeared several military-political structures and the biggest of them-ARMIYA CRAIOVA-was controlled by the emigre government in London. It focused its efforts on preparations for future hostilies, conducting from time to time terrorist and sabotage operations. More active underground resistance campaign was launched by the GVARDIYA LUDOVA set up by the Polish Workers' Party and its peasant detachments of self-defense.

By the autumn of 1943 nobody had any illusions any longer about the outcome of what was called the "great confrontation of peoples". The Centrist and right-wing political organizations and rightist political circles in many countries of Central Europe were engaged in secret negotiations with the Western allies. On the side of the German "Third Reich" remained only some radical-fascist groupings which forced the Nazi leaders to increase the strength of their occupation forces even despite the critical situations on the Western and Eastern fronts.


Summing it up, the strategic initiative was firmly in the hands of the anti-Hitler coalition. The Soviet Red Army achieved irreversible superiority over the enemy. Its main forces reached the Dnieper and crossed it south of the Pripyat.

Thus it was time to start strategic planning of further operations together with the allies. It was necessary to decide where the main offensive should be launched and where the allies should be promoting their influence. None of these questions had been discussed at earlier conferences or in the exchanges of correspondence between the leaders of the USSR, Great Britain and the United States. What is more, there were sharp differences between the last

Pages. 7

two of them.* President Roosevelt believed that the main objective of the war was the establishment of control over Europe, while Prime Minister Churchill was concerned with the preservation of the British Empire. Therefore the first of them insisted on a direct strike at Germany over France, and the second-on the restoration of London's control over the Mediterranean basin as a region restoring the integrity of the Empire. And there is no denying the fact that Churchill, acting with his proverbial zeal and persistence, was able to re-orient the allied forces to the region of his main concern (landing in North Africa in the autumn of 1942 and the opening of the Italian front in the summer-autumn of 1943). His latest plan was moving the Anglo-American forces across the Adriatic and the occupation of Europe before the arrival of the Soviet Red Army. But since Roosevelt agreed on the American entry into the war only on the condition of the liquidation of the British Empire (Atlantic Charter of 1941) there was mounting distrust in Washington towards the British premier and all the more so because his latest initiatives looked really fantastic from the military point of view. And when in the autumn of 1943 Churchill decided to implement his plans, trying to capture-without an American consent-the main islands in the Aegean, the US leadership sharply refused to supply the resources for that campaign. The subsequent military operations ended quickly with the defeat and withdrawal of the British troops. The Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was also dissatisfied (and very seriously, right from the start) with London's Mediterranean strategy, especially because it was being translated into reality at the expense of the implementation of the central objective formulated from the start of the war-the opening of a Second Front in Northern France.

All of these accumulated problems were solved at the Teheran Conference (November 1943) which became a diplomatic victory of both Stalin and Roosevelt because their personal agreements made it impossible for Churchill to steer his own line. The Allies solved the problem of the Second Front and agreed on the direction of their offensive strikes. The demarcation line of the Soviet forces passed along the Oder, the border between Czechia and Moravia and included Hungary. Yugoslavia was not divided at all, and Greece was included into the British zone (as a concession to Churchill).

See: Ya. Renkas, "Irreconcilable Allies", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2004. - Ed.

Pages. 8

Summing it up, the Great Powers set their course at the liberation of Central Europe.


The winter-spring campaign of the Red Army of 1943 - 1944 had as its objective liberating from the Nazi invaders all occupied regions of the Soviet Union. But plans prepared by the Soviet General Staff could not be fully implemented. On the southern front Russian armies liberated the Right-Bank Ukraine (with the exception of Western Ukraine) and the Crimea and also the northern part of the Romanian Moldova, on the north-western front they halted on the borders of the Baltic republics. And on the main-central front-they were unable to achieve strategic superiority.

There were many such situations in history. The leading German theorist and military historian, Carl von Clausewitz (1780 - 1831) stressed time and again that the "iron dependence" of strategy on politics is not something mechanical, but dialectic. Often observed is a "reverse dependence"-events of a war influence on politics. And that is what happened on this occasion: the staunchness of the CENTER Group of German armies and the poor preparedness of the Nazi front in Byelorussia substantially influenced the process of liberation of Central Europe.

But despite all of these problems, the next objective of the Soviet command was completing the liberation of the entire Soviet territory and also driving the enemy from all countries of the region. This objective was formulated in the Order of the Supreme Commander (issued for May Day of 1944). It called for liberating the whole of our territory from the Nazi invaders and for restoring the borders of the Soviet Union from the Black to the Barents Sea. It called for chasing the wounded Nazi beast and dealing the final blow... in its own den... "We are to liberate from the Nazi captivity our brothers Poles, Czechoslovaks and other allied peoples..."

On the basis of that strategy the summer campaign of the Red Army was planned as a general offensive. It was to be started with Operation Bagration in Byelorussia and continued with decisive strikes in other directions. By that time the Soviet forces included 461 army divisions, 21 tank and mechanized corps, a large number of units of reinforcement (a total of 6.6 mln officers and men, 98.1 thous. guns and mortars, 7.1 thous. tanks and self-propelled artillery units and some 12.9 thous. aircraft). They were confronted by 181.5 Nazi army divisions and the

Pages. 9

forces of their 58 allies (4.3 mln officers and men, 59 thous. guns and mortars, 7.8 thous. tanks and cannon, 3.2 thous. aircraft).

Military contingents of Poland and Czechoslovakia stationed on Soviet territory were turned into army corps and an army brigade and division were formed from Yugoslav and Romanian POWs. Organized in Poland was Armiya Ludova and guerilla detachments were reinforced in Bulgaria. Political organizations and formations of the countries of Central Europe, oriented to the USSR, received directives from Moscow about establishing coalition relations with the pro-Western forces (this was done most successfully in Slovakia and Romania). Diplomatic preparations were launched for the entry of Soviet forces into foreign territories.

Of great importance for the plans of the Soviet leaders was the opening of the Second Front in France. On June 6, 1944 the Anglo-American and Canadian forces made a landing in Normandy and engaged in heavy and prolonged battles for enlarging the strategic bridgehead. In this situation the Germans were unable to resort to their traditional method of stabilizing the situation on the Eastern front by transfers of troops from Western Europe.

Operation BAGRATION was launched on June 23 of that year and ended with a crushing defeat of the CENTRE group of German armies. On July 20 the Soviet troops entered the territory of Poland. On July 17 they launched an offensive in the Baltic region (Pribaltika) and a month later they reached the border of Eastern Prussia. The objective of liberation of the Soviet Motherland was fulfilled in the main.

Having spent giant resources and manpower in the massive offensive operations the Soviet armies stopped

Pages. 10

on the banks of the Visla in August-September. To the south of the Carpathians the Red Army started the liberation of Central Europe and acted in keeping with the prepared plans. On August 23 they launched Yassy-Kishinev Operation and the coalition of the ruling circles and left-wing forces in Romania declared the country's withdrawal from the war and joining the Allied armies. The territory of the country was cleared from the Nazis in only 10 days and the Soviet-Romanian units approached the borders of Hungary.

In August 1944 a revolutionary situation emerged in Slovakia with many of its regions declaring independence from the old puppet regime. Its army units were joining the rebel forces. In that situation the old regime had to appeal for Nazi support and fighting started all over the country. In the meantime representatives of the emigre (London) government of Czechoslovakia and leaders of the Slovak National Council who were in the Soviet Union appealed to the Soviet leadership for help. The USSR replied by preparing within a very brief span of time what became known as the East-Carpathian operation. The 38th Army of the Ukrainian Front, the 1st Army of the Guards of the 4th Ukrainian Front and the Czechoslovak Army Corps were to cross the Carpathians and join the rebels. The offensive was started on September 8, but could not be developed in the difficult mountain conditions. The enemy took advantage of the delay and crushed the rebel units.

On September 5, 1944 the Soviet Union declared war to the Bulgarian regime (that must have been a diplomatic act designed to facilitate political maneuvers) and the Soviet army crossed into Bulgaria three days later. A rebellion in Sofia brought to power

Pages. 11

a government of National Front which declared war on Germany and sent troops against the Nazis.

In view of a flank threat to its communications, the German command began to withdraw its occupation units from Greece, Albania and southern regions of Yugoslavia. Soviet and Bulgarian units entered Macedonia, delivering strikes at the retreating German forces. On October 14 - 20 Soviet troops, acting together with the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia, liberated Belgrade. On November 3 the last German soldiers left the Greek mainland and on November 29 they withdrew from Albania.

The situation was not so simple in Hungary. In September-October of 1944 its government conducted truce negotiations with the Red Army command. Right after signing the agreement, Soviet army units were to enter Hungary and to be joined by Hungarian troops. But on October 15 - 16 the Germans staged a coup in Budapest which put in power a government of the Nazi party "Crossed Arrows" and most of the Hungarians continued to fight on the German side. But the Soviet troops continued their offensive. After heavy fighting they surrounded Budapest in December. On the initiative of the local Communists the Hungarian Front of Independence was organized together with the Provisional National Assembly and a coalition Government. On December 28 they declared war on the "Third Reich".

Thus the problems of national liberation of countries to the south of the Carpathians were in the main: the countries of the region joined the anti-Hitler coalition and their territories were cleared of the enemy (except small territories in the west of Hungary and in the north of Yugoslavia). The only remaining "seat of tension" was the civil war in Greece, provoked by the British, between the leftist and pro-Western military-political formations. But the Soviet leadership with its policy of unification of the broadest spectrum of popular movements in the struggle against fascism, was able to make them conclude the compromise Barkiza agreement (Cairo, February 12, 1945).


It was Napoleon who said that when at war, time is more important than anything else. Therefore the liberation of Central Europe by the Soviet Red Army (winter-spring 1944 - 1945) was "interlaced" with yet another strategic objective-the utter crushing defeat of Nazi Germany. It had to be accomplished by two strong army groups concentrated in Poland and Hungary.

Pages. 12

Poland was cleared from the enemy in January-February 1945 in the course of the Visla-Oder operation. In February and March our troops were engaged in military operations in Silesia, Pomerania and Eastern Prussia. Preparations went on for a decisive strike at Berlin. At that time Stalin scored yet another victory on the diplomatic front-at the Yalta Conference. Taking advantage of the strong impression produced by the dramatic success of the Visla-Oder operation, he insisted on shifting further to the west of the Soviet demarcation line drawn at the talks in Teheran. The zone of Soviet army control now included parts of Vienna and Berlin and also Czechia and Yugoslavia.

But the liberation of Hungary dragged on. Hitler, who took a hard line on the prevalence of economics over politics and strategic considerations, moved all of the available army units to the defense of the local oil fields. Soviet troops of the 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian fronts had to do their best in heavy battles in order to beat back two German counter-attacks in January and February-March of 1945. After that the Red Army routed the Budapest grouping of German forces. On March 16 the Soviet forces went on the offensive and liberated Hungary by April 4 and on April 13 they liberated Vienna. The provisional government of Austria restored the country's independence. Taking place at the same time was the Berlin operation which reached its victorious conclusion on May 2.

Soviet units of the 4th Ukrainian Front were fighting for the Morava-Ostrav industrial region and American forces were approaching Plzen. Concentrated in Czechia at that time were up to 70 German divisions (some 900 thous. men). But the national-liberation struggle was also mounting there: in early May 20 guerilla brigades (some 7,700 men) were in action there and there were spontaneous popular uprisings, such as the Prague revolt which began on May 5. The rebels found themselves in a very critical position-in the very thick of the enemy forces. On May 7 the Prague offensive was launched by Soviet units of the 1st, 2nd and 4th Ukrainian fronts. The German resistance was crushed in a week and the Yugoslav Army cleared the country's north of the enemy. In this way the liberation of Central Europe was completed in the first half of May of 1945.



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