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USSR Involvement in World War II

USSR Involvement in World War II
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  • 0:03 USSR in WWII
  • 0:30 Background
  • 1:14 Pre-1941
  • 1:56 1941-1945
  • 3:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the actions and motives of Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union during WWII. Learn how the war's results helped spur the 20th century's Cold War.

USSR in WWII

If you bring up the Soviet Union to your parents, chances are you will get scowls and jeers in return. This is because for nearly half of the 20th century, the Soviet Union and the United States were on the brink of war with one another. Knowing this, you might be surprised to learn that during WWII, the Soviet Union was actually allied with the United States. In this lesson, we will explore the Soviet Union's actions during WWII.

Background

The Soviet Union was created in the early 1920s, and its revolutionaries quickly transformed the institutions of the former Russian Empire into the Soviet Union. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the centrally-controlled Soviet Union underwent a quick and enormous forced industrialization imposed by its leader, Joseph Stalin.

The now industrialized Soviet Union quickly became one of Europe's - and the world's - preeminent powers. Also rising in the 1930s was Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party in Germany. Hitler took full power in Germany in 1934, and the two burgeoning powers were immediate rivals. After all, fascism and communism are almost exact opposites of one another.

Pre-1941

The two burgeoning superpowers appeared to be on a collision course. Despite their shared hatred of one another, they shared a mutual desire for expanded territory, and both countries used this to their advantage. In August 1939, Stalin and Hitler signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a non-aggression pact which essentially divided eastern and central Europe between the two countries.

With this agreement in place, Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and the Soviet Union invaded from the east later that month. Not settled with territorial gains in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union invaded Finland in November and conquered the country by March.

1941-1945

The peace between the Soviet Union and Germany lasted nearly two years. According to historians, Hitler intended from the beginning of WWII to eventually invade the Soviet Union. The non-aggression pact was merely meant to pacify the Soviets while Germany conquered Western Europe and could turn its attention to a full-scale invasion along its eastern front. Even though he never conquered Great Britain, he chose to invade the Soviet Union anyway in the summer of 1941.

The invasion took the Soviets by surprise. Germany attacked quickly, with tanks leading the assault, and they advanced easily through western Russia. The Germans hoped to destroy the Soviet forces quickly and force a surrender before the winter, but they were not quick enough. The harsh Russian winter that followed forced the Germans forces to retreat in December.

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