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Sunday, June 10, 2001
By 1942, Stalin figured the strength of the Nazi army was beginning to wane and that he, finally, would have a strategic advantage. Stalin planned to liberate Leningrad and establish strongholds at Sevastopol and Kharkov.
The siege on Leningrad began on September 8, 1941, and lasted till January 27, 1944. Sevastopol was captured in 1942, after a nine month siege, by combined German and Romanian forces. The Soviets did not get the city back until 1944 , reassigning it to Ukraine in 1954. In February 1943, Stalin was occupying Kharkov and on February 19, Hitler launched an offensive and retook Kharkov.
Stalin stationed a large number of troops in and around Moscow. He expected Hitler to attack the city again in 1942. Instead, Hitler decided to attack and take Sevastopol. In the process, he devastated the Soviet forces stationed at Kerch in Crimea and captured Sevastopol and the oil rich areas in the Caucasus by June 1942. Hitler, scared off by the brutal Russian winter to the north, was making his play in the south, driving deeper into Soviet territory.
The Soviet military leaders realized that they could not launch a defensive at every single attack point. Hitler's strategy of encirclement was, by now, well known and Soviet troops were pulled back to the Volga River and into the Causacus Mountains. The Nazis interpreted this action as a sign that the Soviet army was severely weakened and had run out of backup troops. As a result, Germany thought that they had a clear shot of reaching both the Volga River and the Causasus at the same time.
Germany made the mistake of stretching out the front. As a result, they were not able to take and hold Stalingrad or get into the Cacasus Mountains. The extended supply line was quickly weakened and Nazi troops soon found themselves facing another Russian winter. Meanwhile, the Soviets had positioned large numbers of troops to the north and south of Stalingrad. On November 19, 1942, Soviet troops overwhelmed Rumanian and German forces at Stalingrad. Germany tried to take Stalingrad again but was forced to face defeat in February 1943. Soviet forces hammered away at Hitler's troops to the south, forcing their retreat from the Causasus and the southern front.
A pattern seemed to have developed. Soviet troops were generally successful in the winter while the Nazis achieved victories in the summer. Hitler's goal for the summer of 1943 was to take the central Russian area around Kursk. Hitler attacked Kursk on July 5, 1943, but was forced out after suffering sizeable losses. This was to be the last major Nazi offensive on the Russian front.
After the Nazi defeat at Kursk, the Soviets were finally in a position to drive the Germans out. They began a series of operations which, by the fall of 1943, succeeded in pushing the German troops across the Dnieper River. The German line in the Crimea was broken and Smolensk was liberated by the Soviets. Ukraine and Leningrad were relieved of Nazi domination early in 1944. During the same year, the Soviets drove the Nazis out of Belarus and entered Poland.
Photographs courtesy of Funet Russian Archives