When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 they were severely outnumbered but were better trained and equipped. Hitler and the German High Command predicted it would take four months to defeat the Red Army. The initial phase of the invasion was very successful. The Blitzkrieg worked as designed and drove deep into Soviet territory, encircling enemy troops and capturing many prisoners. By October 1941 the Germans made it to within sixty miles of Moscow. (Freeze, pg. 376)
In June 1941 the Red Army was far from prepared to take on a German invasion. Stalin purged many of his generals and junior officers. This made a Soviet response to the invasion poorly coordinated. At the same time the number of political commissars rose as did their authority in the ranks. What made the German invasion so successful and Soviet response so poor was, in part, the difference in morale and purpose. German soldiers believed in the fight against Bolshevism and the need to purge it while their Soviet counterparts’ loyalty was driven by fear. The German army was also much more technologically advanced. Freeze explains how of the Soviets’ 20,000 tanks, less than 2,000 were modern. (Freeze, pg. 376) Poor equipment, morale and leadership lead to the German army driving deep into Soviet territory in a short time.
Fast forward to February 1943 and everything has changed. The Germans were dealt a devastating blow at the Battle of Stalingrad and had began their long retreat west. By July 1943 the Germans were making their last major offensive in the on the Eastern front, Operation Citadel. (Freeze, pg. 381) Kursk was the largest tank battle in history. The battle involved over 2 million troops and 6,000 tanks. In less than two months the Germans suffered 200,000 casualties and hundreds of tanks while the Soviets suffered over 850,000 casualties and thousands of tanks. (Britannica, Battle) The picture above shows Hitler weeping over the loss of men and equipment during the Battle of Kursk. After the battle Hitler told his generals “Whenever I think of this attack, my stomach turns over.” The Battle of Kursk was where superior German technology met Soviet production capabilities. Advanced German tanks were outnumbered and over powered by the T-34, which were much easier to produce. The Soviets also proved their manpower could be easily replaced where the Germans could not. The battle proved quality does not always win over quantity as it did in 1941-42. The Germans would never launch another major offensive in the east. Instead the Red Army would push the Germans all the way back to Berlin.
When WWII ended Soviet society still had many challenges ahead. Defeating the Germans was only one of these challenges. The Soviet Union needed to rebuild its cities, economy and relationship between the government and people. Now that the war was over the Soviet Union had to rebuild its supply lines of food throughout the country, which meant reviving farms destroyed by both the Germans and the Red Army between 1941 and 1944. The Soviet economy after the war was centered around the military. (Harrison, pg. 4) Post WWII Soviet Union became more militarized than it did before the war and Stalin became more powerful. His power and influence now extended into eastern Europe. The Soviet Union prepared for a possible war with the west. The end of WWII would mark the beginning of the Cold War, a largely ideological war with the west.
Harrison, M. “The Soviet Union after 1945: Economic Recovery and Political Repression.” Past & Present, vol. 210, no. Supplement 6, 2011, pp. 103–120., doi:10.1093/pastj/gtq042.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Battle of Kursk.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 28 June 2019, www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Kursk.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Oxford University Press, 2009.