World War II
World War II known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries; the major participants threw their entire economic and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China, it included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, the only use of nuclear weapons in war. Japan, which aimed to dominate Asia and the Pacific, was at war with China by 1937, though neither side had declared war on the other. World War II is said to have begun on 1 September 1939, with the invasion of Poland by Germany and subsequent declarations of war on Germany by France and the United Kingdom.
From late 1939 to early 1941, in a series of campaigns and treaties, Germany conquered or controlled much of continental Europe, formed the Axis alliance with Italy and Japan. Under the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union partitioned and annexed territories of their European neighbours, Finland and the Baltic states. Following the onset of campaigns in North Africa and East Africa, the fall of France in mid 1940, the war continued between the European Axis powers and the British Empire. War in the Balkans, the aerial Battle of Britain, the Blitz, the long Battle of the Atlantic followed. On 22 June 1941, the European Axis powers launched an invasion of the Soviet Union, opening the largest land theatre of war in history; this Eastern Front trapped most crucially the German Wehrmacht, into a war of attrition. In December 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on the United States as well as European colonies in the Pacific. Following an immediate U. S. declaration of war against Japan, supported by one from Great Britain, the European Axis powers declared war on the U.
S. in solidarity with their Japanese ally. Rapid Japanese conquests over much of the Western Pacific ensued, perceived by many in Asia as liberation from Western dominance and resulting in the support of several armies from defeated territories; the Axis advance in the Pacific halted in 1942. Key setbacks in 1943, which included a series of German defeats on the Eastern Front, the Allied invasions of Sicily and Italy, Allied victories in the Pacific, cost the Axis its initiative and forced it into strategic retreat on all fronts. In 1944, the Western Allies invaded German-occupied France, while the Soviet Union regained its territorial losses and turned toward Germany and its allies. During 1944 and 1945 the Japanese suffered major reverses in mainland Asia in Central China, South China and Burma, while the Allies crippled the Japanese Navy and captured key Western Pacific islands; the war in Europe concluded with an invasion of Germany by the Western Allies and the Soviet Union, culminating in the capture of Berlin by Soviet troops, the suicide of Adolf Hitler and the German unconditional surrender on 8 May 1945.
Following the Potsdam Declaration by the Allies on 26 July 1945 and the refusal of Japan to surrender under its terms, the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August respectively. With an invasion of the Japanese archipelago imminent, the possibility of additional atomic bombings, the Soviet entry into the war against Japan and its invasion of Manchuria, Japan announced its intention to surrender on 15 August 1945, cementing total victory in Asia for the Allies. Tribunals were set up by fiat by the Allies and war crimes trials were conducted in the wake of the war both against the Germans and the Japanese. World War II changed the political social structure of the globe; the United Nations was established to foster international co-operation and prevent future conflicts. The Soviet Union and United States emerged as rival superpowers, setting the stage for the nearly half-century long Cold War. In the wake of European devastation, the influence of its great powers waned, triggering the decolonisation of Africa and Asia.
Most countries whose industries had been damaged moved towards economic expansion. Political integration in Europe, emerged as an effort to end pre-war enmities and create a common identity; the start of the war in Europe is held to be 1 September 1939, beginning with the German invasion of Poland. The dates for the beginning of war in the Pacific include the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War on 7 July 1937, or the Japanese invasion of Manchuria on 19 September 1931. Others follow the British historian A. J. P. Taylor, who held that the Sino-Japanese War and war in Europe and its colonies occurred and the two wars merged in 1941; this article uses the conventional dating. Other starting dates sometimes used for World War II include the Italian invasion of Abyssinia on 3 October 1935; the British historian Antony Beevor views the beginning of World War II as the Battles of Khalkhin Gol fought between Japan and the fo
Baltic Sea campaigns (1939–45)
The Baltic Sea Campaigns were conducted by Axis and Allied naval forces in the Baltic Sea, its coastal regions, the Gulf of Finland during World War II. After early fighting between Polish and German forces, the main combatants were Germany and Finland, opposed by the Soviet Union. Sweden's navy and merchant fleet played important roles, the British Royal Navy planned Operation Catherine for the control of the Baltic Sea and its exit choke point into the North Sea. While operations included surface and sub-surface combat, aerial combat, amphibious landings, support of large-scale ground fighting, the most significant feature of Baltic Sea operations was the scale and size of mine warfare in the Gulf of Finland; the warring parties laid over 60,000 naval mines and anti-sweep obstacles, making the shallow Gulf of Finland one of the most densely mined waters in the world. The Finnish Navy was a small professional force. Naval strength in 1941 consisted of: Two coastal defence ships Five submarines Four sloops Three minelayers 12 minesweepers Seven motor torpedo boatsThe Finnish Navy used several other vessels during the wars: Four sloops — used as escorts and minesweepers Six cutters — smaller vessels used as escorts and minesweepers 17 VMV-class patrol boats — used as small torpedo boats, gun boats, sub hunters and in other roles.
The German Reichsmarine—the Kriegsmarine's pre-war name—suffered from the limitations imposed by post-World War I treaty obligations. The name Kriegsmarine was adopted the same year. Though a large and professional force, it had to divide its assets between several theaters of war limiting the number and size of the ships it was able to deploy in the Baltic Sea. At the start of the Operation Barbarossa on 21 June 1941 German naval forces in the Baltic Sea consisted of 28 Schnellboote 5 submarines 10 minelayers 3 squadrons of M-class minesweepers 3 squadrons of requisitioned minesweepers 2 squadrons of R-boats 2 squadrons of patrol boats 3 Sperrbrecher 2 depot ships for minesweepers Various naval tugs and other auxiliariesIn September 1941 Germany formed the provisional Baltenflotte, which consisted of the battleship Tirpitz, cruisers Admiral Scheer, Emden, Köln, Leipzig and Nürnberg, destroyers Z25, Z26, Z27 and the 2nd torpedo boat squadron, it had been tasked with destroying the Soviet Baltic Fleet should it try to escape to neutral Sweden.
As this did not happen, aerial reconnaissance showed severe damage to the remaining ships of the Soviet Baltic Fleet, the Baltenflotte was disbanded before October 1941. The small Polish Navy suffered from lack of funds, but still managed to field, at the outbreak of war: Four large destroyers Five submarines One large minelayer Various smaller vessels The Soviet Baltic Fleet was the largest of the four fleets which made up the Soviet Navy during World War II, was commanded by Vladimir Tributs throughout the war. Though having bases only in the eastern corner of the Gulf of Finland, the Red Banner Baltic Fleet was the largest naval power in the Baltic Sea; as World War II progressed, it was able to make use of naval bases in Estonia and Lithuania, first under the terms of agreements forced by the Soviet Union in autumn 1939 by direct access to the bases following the occupation of the Baltic states in spring, 1940. Gains from the peace treaty after the Winter War further helped the Baltic Fleet, as it acquired a base at Hanko, Finland, as well as the coast of the Karelian Isthmus.
Liepāja and Tallinn were the main naval bases of the Baltic Fleet prior to Operation Barbarossa. The Swedish Navy was the third largest in the Baltic Sea. Though Sweden stayed neutral during the war, its naval vessels escorted and protected convoys inside Swedish territorial waters, at times attacking hostile submarines with depth charges. Estonia and Lithuania all had small naval forces before World War II. During the occupation and annexation of the Baltic states by the Soviet Union in 1940 these were attached to the Soviet Baltic Fleet; the Polish Navy participated in the Battle of Gdańsk Bay and Battle of Hel in 1939. A few of its surface ships were evacuated to continue the war from Britain, but most vessels remained in Poland and were sunk by German forces. Polish submarines operated in the Baltic until either internment in Sweden or escape to Britain in the Autumn of 1939. German naval losses during the invasion amounted to a minesweeper; the Winter War and the occupation of the Baltic states had left the Red Banner Baltic fleet in a strong position.
It was the largest navy on the Baltic Sea with bases all along the Baltic coast as well as in Hanko. In particular, the long and vulnerable southern coast of Finland was now exposed to the Soviet navy for its full length; the Finnish Navy had two branches, the old but well-maintained coastal fortifications built by the Russians before World War I, the actual navy, consisting of two coastal defence ships, five submarines and a number of smaller craft. The Kriegsmarine could provide only a small part of its naval force, as it was tied up in the battle of the Atlantic. Germany's main concern in the Baltic sea was to protect the routes through the Archipelago Sea which supplied its war industry with vital iron ore imported from Sw
Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist
Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist was a German field marshal during World War II. Kleist led the 1st Panzer Group during the Battle of France, the Battle of Belgium, the Balkans Campaign and the initial stages of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, he was the commander of Army Group A during the latter part of Case Blue, the 1942 summer offensive in southern Russia. Following the war, Kleist was extradited to the Soviet Union where he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for war crimes. Ewald von Kleist was born into the noble family Kleist, an old Pomeranian family with a long history of military service, his ancestor was the Prussian field marshal Henning Alexander von Kleist and his great-grandfather was the Prussian general Karl Wilhelm Heinrich von Kleist. At a young age, Kleist joined the Prussian field artillery regiment, "General Feldzeugmeister" No. 3 on 9 March 1900 as a fahnenjunker. He was commissioned as a lieutenant on 18 August 1901. On March 22, 1914, he was promoted to Captain and joined the Leib-Husaren-Regiment No. 1.
During the First World War, Kleist served on the Eastern Front and participated in the Battle of Tannenberg. From 1915 to 1918 he served as a staff officer on the Western Front. After the First World War ended, Kleist joined the Freikorps and participated in the Latvian and Estonian Wars of Independence as a member of the Iron Division. In June of 1919, he led an attack group during the Battle of Cēsis. Kleist joined the Reichswehr in 1920. From 1924 to 1928 he was assigned as a tactics instructor at the Hannover Cavalry School. In 1928 he served as the chief of staff of the 2nd Cavalry Division in Breslau from 1929 to 1931 he held the same position in the 3rd Division in Berlin. Kleist was promoted to Colonel in 1931 and was given command of the 9th Infantry Regiment in Potsdam. At the beginning of 1932, he was given command of the 2nd Cavalry Division. In October of 1932, he was promoted to Major General. After the Nazis seized power the Reichswehr was united with the newly formed Wehrmacht. On December 1, 1933, he was promoted to lieutenant general.
In October 1934 he was given command of the "Breslau Army", reorganized into the VIII. Army Corps. In 1935 he was given command of the newly formed military district VIII responsible for Silesia while serving as the commanding general of the VIII. Army Corps. On August 1, 1936, he was promoted to General of the Cavalry. In February 1938 Kleist was involved in the Blomberg–Fritsch affair and forced to retire from service. To secure his retirement, he acquired a property near Breslau. After the outbreak of the Second World War Kleist was recalled to active duty and led the XXII Motorised Corps in the Invasion of Poland, during which his corps broke through the southern wing of the Polish army. In May 1940 Panzer Group Kleist was formed, the first operational formation of several Panzer corps in the Wehrmacht. Panzer Group Kleist played an important role in the the Invasion of France, it spearheaded the German breakthrough in the Ardennes and reached the sea, forming a huge pocket containing several Belgian and French armies.
Kleist was promoted to Colonel-General on 19 July 1940 and received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. In April 1941 Panzer Group Kleist was renamed to 1st Panzer Group and spearheaded the invasions of Yugoslavia and Greece. In June of 1941, he led 1st Panzer Group in Operation Barbarossa as part of Army Group South; the 1st Panzer Group was responsible for the breakthrough of the Stalin Line. It defeated the Red Army in the Battle of Brody, one of the largest tank engagements of the war, which involved over 3400 Soviet tanks and 750 German tanks. By 26 September 1941, 1st Panzer Group together with 2nd Panzer Group led by Colonel-General Heinz Guderian had captured over 800 Soviet tanks and took about 650,000 prisoners of war in the battles of Uman and Kiev. In recognition of their achievements, the Kleist and Guderian tank groups were converted into panzer armies at the beginning of October 1941, which made their commands equivalent to other army commanders. After operations at Kiev concluded, Kleist's 1st Panzer Army advanced east to capture the important industrial Donbass region.
On 26 September, the Battle of the Sea of Azov began as the Southern Front launched an attack on the northern shores of the Sea of Azov against the German 11th Army, advancing into the Crimea. On 1 October the 1st Panzer Army swept south and encircled the two attacking Soviet 9th and 18th armies, by 11 October both Soviet armies had been destroyed; the Soviet forces suffered heavy losses with over 100,000 men captured as well as 760 artillery pieces and 200 tanks destroyed or captured in the pocket alone. By the end of October, the 1st Panzer Army had taken Donbass. On 17 November, after the German forces crossed the Mius river and captured 10,000 Soviet troops, the Battle of Rostov began. On 19 November 1941 the 1st Panzer Army reached Rostov and the following day, they seized the bridge over the river Don, the last barrier before the Caucasus. On 21 November the Germans took Rostov, but on 27 November the Southern Front led by General Yakov Cherevichenko as part of the Rostov Strategic Offensive Operation, counter-attacked the 1st Panzer Army's over-extended spearhead from the north, forcing them to pull out of the city.
By 2 December 1941, the Soviet forces had retaken Rostov and the 1st Panzer Army was forced to withdraw back to the Mius River, near Taganrog. This was the first major German withdrawal of the war. During the Second Battle of Kharkov on 17 May 1942 as part of Operation Fredericus, Kleist's 1st Panzer Army attacked the Barvenkovo bridgehead from the South, advancing up to ten kilometres in the first day
Bombing of Gorky in World War II
The bombing of Gorky by the German Luftwaffe was the most destructive attack on Soviet war production on the Eastern Front in World War II. It lasted intermittently from October 1941 - June 1943, with 43 raids carried out; the main target was the Gorky Automobile Plant, manufacturing T-60 light infantry tanks. Defences proved inadequate, though a full-size dummy model of the main factory, a ‘false village’ of painted images on the ground, caused some confusion to enemy pilots; the whole plant was destroyed, an inquiry demanded by Stalin. The plant was reconstructed in four months. Gorky is now known as Nizhny Novgorod; the destruction of Gorky's industry was in operation Barbarossa from the beginning. It was one of the largest suppliers of weapons for the Red Army. Germany planned to capture and occupy the city during the second half of September 1941; the city was the main center of the entire Volga region and in it was concentrated the main industry and state power over the regions. Occupation of Gorky meant for Germany complete control over the Volga region.
First, the Germans were to destroy the defense industry of the city - Gorky Automobile Plant, Krasnoe Sormovo and the Dvigatel Revolyutsii. After the occupation of the city, the General District of Gorky or the General District of Nizhny Novgorod was to be created, included in the Reichcommissariat Moskowien. Gorky Machine-Building Plant was planned to be converted to the production of German military equipment. On October 31, 1941, Stalin ordered GAZ to increase the production of T-60 tanks; the leadership of the city knew. It was necessary to strengthen the city's air mask factories, but the necessary measures were not brought to an end. Nikolay Markov, commander of the Gorky Brigade Air Defense District, was appointed in October 1941. Arriving in Gorky, he noticed. In it there were only about 50 antiaircraft guns and few searchlights. At the same time, Gorky was densely built up with the most important strategic objects. Reconnaissance flights over Gorky began in the autumn of 1941. German planes flew at high altitude, braking over GAZ.
The first plane scout Ju 88 appeared in the sky above the city on Thursday, October 9. At first the Luftwaffe bombed the suburbs; the main blow fell on warehouses near Dzerzhinsk. Followed two large raids on Gorky, he 111 aircraft of the 100th bomber squadron Viking were involved. The first raid of Tuesday, November 4 to Wednesday 5, UK Guy Fawkes Night, began at 4:30 pm. According to air defense estimates, about 150 aircraft participated in it and 11 aircraft flew to the city; the planes approached individually and in groups of 3-16 at an interval of 15–20 minutes. The bombing lasted all night. In addition to bombs, leaflets were dropped. GAZ, Nitel and the Dvigatel Revolyutsii factory were struck, 55 people died, 141 were wounded. According to German data, 15 planes participated in this raid; the first aircraft dropped bombs. They began to shoot people from machine guns running along the streets. From the direct hit in the main building of the Nitel and part of leadership died. During the night bombing, the main impact occurred on secondary objects, residential urban areas and the field in the Stakhanovsky village.
The incendiary and high-explosive bombs weighing from 70 to 250 kg and heavy bomb-mines BM-1000 weighing 871 kg were dropped. The second raid on the night of November 5 to Thursday, 6. An air alert was announced. At 23:34 pm, the power lines from the Balakhna power plant to the city were damaged by a bomb strike; some of the industrial regions were temporarily de-energized. At 01:47 am the raid on Gorky began, the main impacts were GAZ, Krasnoe Sormovo and residential buildings; the antiaircraft batteries rendered counteraction, so bombing was less precise. According to air defense data, 14 aircraft flew into the city. In the GAZ area, 5 people died, 21 were wounded. According to the results of two raids, the main office of GAZ, a garage, a smithy, a stamping building, a professional technical factory, an archive, experimental workshops, a repair and mechanical workshop, a mechanical workshop No. 2, a power plant No. 2, a wheel workshop, a motor workshop No. 2, a foundry workshop of gray cast iron, press workshop, residential area of the district were damaged.
The building of the administration of the Dvigatel Revolyutsii was destroyed. In several places there was a panic; this contributed to the large number of refugees who filled the city, part of the population began to leave the urban areas. The plants stopped production; the absence of antiaircraft guns allowed German aircraft to conduct sighting bombing from a low altitude. A total of 127 people died, 176 were injured 195 were wounded. A large number of the deceased were refugees from Moscow, resettled in the Avtozavodsky City District. No German aircraft were shot down. On Saturday, November 8, 1941, the Gorky Brigade Air Defense District was reinforced by the 58th and 281st separate anti-aircraft artillery divisions, the 142nd Fighter Aviation Division and the 45th anti-aircraft search belt. On the same day, at 3:20 am, a reconnaissance aircraft Ju 88D flew over Gorky, and from Wednesday, November 12 to Tuesday, 18, 1941, the Germans launched a series of raids by single-seat aircraft with the main purpose of destroying the Kanavinsky Bridge, but missed.
On the night of February Tuesday, 3 to Wednesday, 4, a single a
Battle of Kiev (1943)
The Second Battle of Kiev was part of much wider Soviet offensive in Ukraine known as the Battle of the Dnieper involved three strategic operations by the Soviet Red Army, one operational counterattack by the Wehrmacht which took place between 3 October and 22 December 1943. Following the Battle of Kursk, the Red Army launched Belgorod-Kharkov Offensive Operation, pushing Erich von Manstein's Army Group South back towards the Dnieper River. Stavka, the Soviet high command, ordered the Central Front and the Voronezh Front to force crossings of the Dnieper; when this was unsuccessful in October, the effort was handed over to the 1st Ukrainian Front, with some support from the 2nd Ukrainian Front. The 1st Ukrainian Front, commanded by Nikolai Vatutin, was able to secure bridgeheads north and south of Kiev; the structure of the strategic operations from the Soviet planning point of view was: Kiev Strategic Offensive Operation by the Central and Voronezh Fronts Chernobyl-Radomysl Offensive Operation Chernobyl-Gornostaipol Defensive Operation Lyutezh Offensive Operation Bukrin Offensive Operation Bukrin Offensive Operation Kiev Strategic Offensive Operation Rauss' November 1943 counterattack Kiev Strategic Defensive Operation In October 1943, several of Vatutin's armies were having serious trouble trying to break out of the rugged terrain of the Bukrin bend, the southern bridgehead.
The 24th Panzer Corps of Walther Nehring, in an effective defensive position, had the opposing Soviet forces squeezed in. As a result, Vatutin decided to concentrate his strength at the northern bridgehead at Lyutezh; the 3rd Guards Tank Army, commanded by Pavel Rybalko, moved northwards toward the Lyutezh bridgehead under cover of darkness and diversionary attacks out of the Bukrin bend. The Soviet preparations were considerable, including the installation of 87 ferries. Many of the Soviet bridges were built making them difficult to detect. Feint attacks and the construction of fake bridges may have fooled the Germans for a short while. Fire support was provided by 700 combat aircraft; the 27th and 40th Armies launched the Soviet diversionary attack at Bukrin on 1 November, two days ahead of schedule but advanced only 1.5 kilometers before being driven back. Soviet historians claimed complete success for the Red Army deception measures but the Germans identified the Soviet assault sector and sent armored reinforcements to the area.
The 4th Panzer Army war diary referred to the main Soviet push north of Kiev on 3 November as the offensive we have been expecting. The Germans were uncertain whether the anticipated Soviet assault had far-reaching objectives from the outset or was for the capture of an initial bridgehead to be exploited later. Early on the morning of 3 November 1943, the 4th Panzer Army was subjected to a massive Soviet bombardment; the Soviet 38th and 60th Armies attacked in the first wave but failed to break through the positions of the German VII Army Corps. On 4 November the 3rd Guards Armored Army and I Guard Cavalry Corps were added to the assault, compelling VII Army Corps to retreat and evacuate Kiev; the Soviets captured Kiev on 6 November. The second phase of the Soviet offensive now began, with the 1st Ukrainian Front's objective consisting of the capture of the towns of Zhitomir, Korosten and Fastov, the cutting of the rail link to Army Group Center. By 7 November the Soviet spearheads had reached the important railway node at Fastov 50 kilometers south-west of Kiev.
The plan went well at first for Vatutin. As Rybalko's tanks moved through the streets of Kiev on 6 November, Manstein pleaded with Adolf Hitler to release the 48th and 40th Panzer Corps in order to have sufficient forces to retake Kiev; the 48th Panzer Corps was committed to Manstein. Hitler refused to divert the 40th Panzer Corps, replaced Hoth with Erhard Raus, ordered to blunt the Soviet attack and secure Army Group South's northern flank and communications with Army Group North. A number of sources give 6 November as the date for the fall of Kiev; the 1st Czechoslovak Independent Brigade seems to have started the assault earlier, at 12.30 on 5 November, reaching the Dniepr at 02.00 on the 6th, after sweeping through the western suburbs of the city and were the first unit in the city center, with Kiev being captured at 06.50 on the 6th. Raus was in difficulty with his units suffering heavy casualties in the initial stages of Vatutin's offensive; the 4th Panzer Army was reinforced with artillery and rockets.
The German divisions were bolstered on 7 November by the arrival of the newly formed 25th Panzer Division commanded by General der Panzertruppen Georg Jauer. Its drive on Fastov was halted by the 7th Guards Tank Corps; the half-formed 25th Panzer Division had only emergency individual training, lacked entire equipment categories and was committed against the protests of Heinz Guderian, the Inspector of Panzer Troops. It became the first committed Panzer Division that failed to achieve at least initial offensive success on the Eastern Front; the failed German offensive stopped the advance of the Soviet 3rd Guards Armored Army. The rest of the Soviet forces continued their attacks. Rybalko was soon just 40 mi from Berdichev. Zhitomir was taken by the 38th Army on 12 November but the Soviet advance came to a halt as the I Guards Cavalry Corps troopers looted the German 4th Army's alcohol stocks; the 60th Army took Korosten on 17 November and 40th Army was moving south from Kiev. The only re
The Soviet Union the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were centralized; the country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Minsk, Alma-Ata, Novosibirsk, it spanned over 10,000 kilometres east to west across 11 time zones, over 7,200 kilometres north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, steppes and mountains; the Soviet Union had its roots in the 1917 October Revolution, when the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the Russian Provisional Government which had replaced Tsar Nicholas II during World War I. In 1922, the Soviet Union was formed by a treaty which legalized the unification of the Russian, Transcaucasian and Byelorussian republics that had occurred from 1918. Following Lenin's death in 1924 and a brief power struggle, Joseph Stalin came to power in the mid-1920s.
Stalin committed the state's ideology to Marxism–Leninism and constructed a command economy which led to a period of rapid industrialization and collectivization. During his rule, political paranoia fermented and the Great Purge removed Stalin's opponents within and outside of the party via arbitrary arrests and persecutions of many people, resulting in at least 600,000 deaths. In 1933, a major famine struck the country. Before the start of World War II in 1939, the Soviets signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, agreeing to non-aggression with Nazi Germany, after which the USSR invaded Poland on 17 September 1939. In June 1941, Germany broke the pact and invaded the Soviet Union, opening the largest and bloodiest theatre of war in history. Soviet war casualties accounted for the highest proportion of the conflict in the effort of acquiring the upper hand over Axis forces at intense battles such as Stalingrad and Kursk; the territories overtaken by the Red Army became satellite states of the Soviet Union.
The post-war division of Europe into capitalist and communist halves would lead to increased tensions with the United States-led Western Bloc, known as the Cold War. Stalin died in 1953 and was succeeded by Nikita Khrushchev, who in 1956 denounced Stalin and began the de-Stalinization; the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred during Khrushchev's rule, among the many factors that led to his downfall in 1964. In the early 1970s, there was a brief détente of relations with the United States, but tensions resumed with the Soviet–Afghan War in 1979. In 1985, the last Soviet premier, Mikhail Gorbachev, sought to reform and liberalize the economy through his policies of glasnost and perestroika, which caused political instability. In 1989, Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe overthrew their respective communist governments; as part of an attempt to prevent the country's dissolution due to rising nationalist and separatist movements, a referendum was held in March 1991, boycotted by some republics, that resulted in a majority of participating citizens voting in favor of preserving the union as a renewed federation.
Gorbachev's power was diminished after Russian President Boris Yeltsin's high-profile role in facing down a coup d'état attempted by Communist Party hardliners. In late 1991, Gorbachev resigned and the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union met and formally dissolved the Soviet Union; the remaining 12 constituent republics emerged as independent post-Soviet states, with the Russian Federation—formerly the Russian SFSR—assuming the Soviet Union's rights and obligations and being recognized as the successor state. The Soviet Union was a powerhouse of many significant technological achievements and innovations of the 20th century, including the world's first human-made satellite, the first humans in space and the first probe to land on another planet, Venus; the country had the largest standing military in the world. The Soviet Union was recognized as one of the five nuclear weapons states and possessed the largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction, it was a founding permanent member of the United Nations Security Council as well as a member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the World Federation of Trade Unions and the leading member of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance and the Warsaw Pact.
The word "Soviet" is derived from a Russian word сове́т meaning council, advice, harmony and all deriving from the proto-Slavic verbal stem of vět-iti, related to Slavic věst, English "wise", the root in "ad-vis-or", or the Dutch weten. The word sovietnik means "councillor". A number of organizations in Russian history were called "council". For example, in the Russian Empire the State Council, which functioned from 1810 to 1917, was referred to as a Council of Ministers after the revolt of 1905. During the Georgian Affair, Vladimir Lenin envisioned an expression of Great Russian ethnic chauvinism by Joseph Stalin and his supporters, calling for these nation-states to join Russia as semi-independent parts of a greater union, which he named as the Union of Soviet Republics of Europe and Asia. Stalin resisted the proposal, but accepted it, although with Lenin's agreement changed the name of the newly proposed sta