Number of Soldiers: 500,000
Number of Fallen: 200,000
Number of Medal Holders: 160,772
Prior to the German attack on it, on 22 June 1941, the U.S.S.R. conducted a policy of postponing confrontation on two Fronts: with Nazi Germany in Europe and with Imperial Japan in the Far East.
Despite the development in its Military and Security Industries in the 1930’s, the U.S.S.R. was not prepared and set for military confrontation and war due to the following reasons.
1. “Purges” in the High Command of the Red Army and the Navy, and in the Security and Intelligence, Economic and Industrial Systems during the 1930’s.
2. Military conflicts in which the U.S.S.R. was involved – the Spanish Civil war, 1936-39; the Sino-Japanese War, from 1937 onwards; confrontations with Japan, in 1938-39; the “Winter War” against Finland, 1939-40 (see article about the Winter War attached to this page) – conflicts which pointed at dysfunction in the Soviet Military and Security System, and at outdated combat methods and means that were not adapted to the circumstances of modern warfare.
A Non-Aggression Pact and the division of Spheres of Influence between the U.S.S.R. and Germany (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) was signed, on 23 August 1939, in order to postpone the confrontation with Germany as much as possible; it was a result of the inability to reach military cooperation with Britain and France for the purpose of stopping Hitler and his aspirations for expansion.
This Pact enabled Hitler to conquer Poland and turn his Army towards Western Europe, England and France.
Following the Pact with Germany, the U.S.S.R. attained territorial gains and until 1941 it took control over the three Baltic States, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, over Eastern Poland and over parts of Romania, and placed its borders within hundreds of kilometers from the old borders of 1939.
The Red Army deployed in the territory that was annexed to the U.S.S.R. with a Force of three and a half million soldiers, which was equipped with about 12,000 tanks, about 9,000 airplanes and about 40,000 guns and mortars.
In spite of the Intelligence data that warned about an impending attack, the U.S.S.R. was surprised at 3 o’clock in the morning, of 22 June 1941, when the German Army launched “Operation Barbarossa”.
In a “Blitz War”, the German Army attacked in three principal axes.
Northern Axis: towards Leningrad;
Central Axis: towards Moscow;
Southern Axis: towards Kiev.
The biggest strategic surprise for The Red Army’s High Command, headed by Stalin, was when it turned out that the focus of the German Offensive was on the center and northwards; this despite the Command’s assessment that the focus of the German Offensive would be on the Southern Axis – the Ukraine region.
Until December, 1941, the Red Army, on all its Corps and Forces, absorbed serious setbacks and defeats. In the course of the first six months of the war, the Red Army lost most of its Armored Corps, most of its Air-Force, millions were killed and injured, and upwards of three million soldiers were captured by the Germans. Germany took control over the U.S.S.R’s European territories and close to eighty million people found themselves under its authority.
Because of the harsh Russian winter, the non-navigable terrain conditions and the Russian Units’ stubborn fighting, the German Offensive was halted – on the outskirts of Moscow.
On 5 December 1941, after intelligence data suggesting that Japan was not going to attack the U.S.S.R. had been received, and after fresh Forces were transferred from the Far East, the Red Army assumed a Counteroffensive and managed to fend off the Germans a few tens of kilometers from the Capital and with that to check their advance and prevent them from occupying the City.
The Soviet Counteroffensive signaled the U.S.S.R.’s comparative recovery and the end of the German Blitz War. According to Stalin’s understanding, the Red Army was to continue with the Offensive, and to remove the Germans from Soviet soil and win the war by 1942.
In the course of 1942, following organization and reinforcement, the German Army succeeded in stopping the Soviets’ great Offensive near the City of Kharkov and broke through in the direction of southeastern U.S.S.R., towards the Caucasus Region, with the intention of seizing the oil fields of Azerbaijan and advancing towards Iran and Iraq.
After fierce and bloody battles, great loss of fighters and weapons that almost brought the collapse of the Red Army, the German Army’s progress was halted in Stalingrad.
Following a period of organization, the Red Army launched a Counteroffensive.
Outflanking the German, Romanian, Hungarian and Italian Forces of the 6th Army commanded by Paulus, it encircled them, and, on 2 February 1943, brought about the surrender of around 90,000 German Troops.
The conflict between the U.S.S.R. and Germany reached a new height in the Battle of Kursk, in the spring-summer of 1943, when the German Offensive, that had begun in early July, 1943, with the concentration of strong Armored Forces (which included the new “Tiger” and “Panther” Tanks), broke through into the Red Army’s range. The Germans were pounded and stopped in front of the lines of defense that had been prepared in time, as the Red Army engaged in a Counterattack and, while suffering many casualties, managed to advance toward the German-controlled areas. For elaboration, see attached article, “The Battle of Kursk and Jewish Fighters”:
On 6 November 1943, after crossing the wide Dnieper River, the City of Kiev was liberated.
The transition to a Strategic Offensive became possible after gaining the enormous advantage and superiority of manpower and combat means (Armor, Aircraft, Artillery), which were provided to the Red Army by the Security Industry Plants that had been moved from western regions of the U.S.S.R. to areas east of the Ural.
In the years 1943-1944, the Soviet advantage stood at 5:1 in tanks, 6:1 in aircraft and 3:1 in manpower.
In 1943, the Red Army, commanded by Commanders Zhukov, Rokossovsky, Konev, Vasilevsky and others, took the strategic initiative for the first time and transitioned to the offensive along the entire Front, with a wiser and more coordinated combination of all Forces and Corps.
However, in spite of the changes that were occurring in favor of the U.S.S.R. on the Soviet-German Front until June, 1944, the German Forces still managed to halt the progress of the Red Army.
The Strategic Offensive, of 23 June 1944 (Operation “Bagration”, named after the Russian General who had fallen in battle, in 1812, against Napoleon’s Army), included a number of Red Army Fronts and took place along almost 800 kilometers. Its purpose: liberate Belarus and the Baltic States, invade Poland and threaten the heart of Germany.
In the course of 1944 and until the end of the war, on 9 May 1945, the Red Army conquered all of Eastern Europe, from Yugoslavia in the south all the way up to the Baltic States in the north, including Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and East Germany – where the Allied Forces of the U.S.S.R., the U.S.A., England and France all met.
Three Fronts of the Red Army, commanded by Zhukov, Konev and Rokossovsky, participated in the Operation to conquer Berlin. The Red Army lost about 300,000 people and a great number of Armored Vehicles and other Means – in the Battle of Berlin alone. The Battles dragged on to 12 May 1945 as well, when the Red Army confronted German Units on its way to the City of Prague.
In the course of the war, the U.S.A. and Britain assisted the U.S.S.R. with weapons, transportation and other means in large scopes, as convoys of British Vessels carried aircrafts, tanks and trucks to the northern Ports of the U.S.S.R., and the U.S.A. transported great quantities of aid to the U.S.S.R. from the south, through the Iranian corridor and from the Far East.
In August-September, 1945, after the dropping of a Nuclear Bomb on Japan by the U.S.A., the U.S.S.R. launched a war against Japan, who maintained neutrality during the war, in accordance with a Treaty signed between the sides in March, 1941.
During the course of the war, the U.S.S.R. produced:
• More than 100,000 Tanks (among them the T-34 Tank which was considered one of the best Tanks in the war).
• Close to 120,000 Fighter, Attack and Bomber Aircrafts.
And it conscripted more than 30 million people.
• Close to 13 million soldiers were killed (non-final numbers).
• About 5,800,000 soldiers were captured by the Germans, of whom more than 3 million died in captivity).
• Total number of casualties in the war is estimated at around 27 million (non-final numbers).
Jews in the Red Army:
A. About 500,000 (estimate)
B. Upwards of 350 Jews reached the rank of General and Admiral (out of 5,000 Generals and Admirals in the war).
C. 148 persons were awarded with the highest Decoration – Hero of the Soviet Union.
D. 200,000 Jews (estimate) fell in the war.
GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate)
The GRU, the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces (“The Red Army”), was established in 1918. Its task was to gather strategic, military and technical intelligence. In the World War it also conducted sabotage operations behind enemy lines and maintained cooperation with Partisan Units. During the course of the war, this Organization, in collaboration with the NKVD (see below), operated primarily against Germany and the German Army and saw some successes, which were later entered into the annals of Intelligence as classics. The most outstanding and well known Operations were: the Richard Sorge Ring in Japan; the “Red Orchestra”, headed by Leopold Trepper, in occupied Europe; and the “Red Three”, headed by Sandor Rado, which operated in Switzerland. Jews took an important part in the administration work and in the planning and management of many Operations, as well as in the various spying networks that were operated by the organization.
NKVD is the initials for, the “People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs”. This was the name of the almighty Soviet Organization during World War II, whose mission was to protect the State and Regime’s security and to fight all enemies of the Bolshevik Revolution. The Organization was established in December, 1917, and from then has undergone several organizational transformations and turned into one of the main centers of power in the Stalin era, while its head (from 1938), Lavrenty Beria, became a well-known figure in the Soviet Regime and in the history of the U.S.S.R. It was an Organization of enormous dimensions, comprising an extensive system of Agents, Internal Security Forces and the Border Guard Troops. At its disposal during the war were 53 Divisions and 28 Brigades, not including the Border Guard Troops. Those ones fulfilled an important role in Partisan Warfare in the occupied Soviet territories. On the eve of the German attack on the U.S.S.R., the Border Guard Troops numbered upwards of 150,000 people, 1,000 of whom were deployed along the Country’s western border. These Troops, who were equipped with light weapons primarily, suffered many casualties. Later in the war they were reorganized in the framework of 15 Infantry Divisions and took part in most of the major Campaigns – Moscow, Smolensk, Stalingrad, Kursk, and more. Some of these Troops operated on the border of the U.S.S.R. in the Far East and participated in the Soviet Offensive on the Japanese in Manchuria, in August, 1945.
The NKVD also engaged in activities of suppression and elimination of the Regime’s dissidents, in the U.S.S.R. as well as in States and territories that have been annexed to the U.S.S.R., especially Poland and the Baltic States. For instance, they perpetrated the massacre of Polish Officers who had fallen in Soviet hands in the Katyn Forest, where about 15,000 persons were eliminated and among them also Jews (see “Poland” Chapter in this Section).
In 1920, a Department of Foreign Intelligence (INO) was established as well within the Organization, which operated under the auspices of the Soviet Diplomatic and Trade Missions that had been opened around the world. In this area, the Organization operated in cooperation with the Intelligence Division of the GRU’s General Staff. While the GRU was operating in the Japanese, German and Occupied Europe Theatres, the NKVD focused on activity opposite Britain and the U.S.A., which was uncovered in later stages with the exposure of Agents like Kim Philby, Guy Burgess and others. The Organization also worked to attain the Atomic secrets from approachable sources in both these Countries. On the other hand, the Organization maintained ties of cooperation with the American OSS and the British SOE throughout the war.
From its inception, there were also many Jews serving in the Organization, in a variety of assignments, from the lower echelons up to the most senior positions. About half of the heads of the INO, from its establishment until and 1938, were Jewish. One of them, Meier Trilisser, was regarded as the founder and designer of the methods of operation used by the Soviet Foreign Intelligence. Furthermore, over the years many Jews have been dismissed or eliminated in the course purges that were implemented within the Organization, due to suspicions of disloyalty, anti-revolutionary activity and the like.
The Code Breakers
One of the lesser known Theatres of Battle in any war, World War II included, is the Scene of Signals Intelligence (contracted to SIGINT) in which information that is being transferred through the communication and electronic systems a foe operates is collected by running certain technical means.
This is the “War of the Minds”, as it is commonly called, between the Intelligence Services and the foe’s various security elements. The foe’s security officers make every effort on their part to conceal and encrypt the contents of the voluminous and valued traffic that is being transmitted without a stop by various communication media of Military and Civilian State bodies, such as the Diplomatic Service, the Intelligence Services and the like.
Facing them, Intelligence Services invest every possible effort as well in order to penetrate the circles of defense that have been placed for the purpose of protecting this precious information, and vice versa.
In the U.S.S.R., this matter was handled by Department No. 8, in the Main Directorate of State Security (GUGB) of the NKVD. Jews were serving in all these Bodies as well, and they contributed a great deal to the advancement of this area before and during the war and assisted in the construction of systems that produced highly valuable intelligence for the management of the war on all Fronts and at all levels – the Political and the Military, the Strategic, the Operative and the Tactical.