Battle of the Kerch Peninsula
The Battle of the Kerch Peninsula, which commenced with the Soviet Kerch-Feodosia landing operation and ended with the German Operation Bustard Hunt, was a World War II battle between Erich von Manstein's German and Romanian 11th Army and the Soviet Crimean Front forces in the Kerch Peninsula, in the eastern part of the Crimea. It began on 26 December 1941 with an amphibious landing operation by two Soviet armies intended to break the Siege of Sevastopol. Axis forces first contained the Soviet beachhead throughout the winter and interdicted its naval supply lines through aerial bombing. From January through April, the Crimean Front launched repeated offensives against the 11th Army, all of which failed with heavy losses; the Red Army lost 352,000 men in the attacks. Superior German artillery firepower was responsible for the Soviet debacle. On 8 May 1942, the Axis struck with great force in a major counteroffensive codenamed Trappenjagd which concluded by around 19 May 1942 with the liquidation of the Soviet defending forces.
Manstein used a large concentration of airpower armed infantry divisions, concentrated artillery bombardments and amphibious assaults to break through the Soviet front in its southern portion in 210 minutes, swing north with the 22nd Panzer Division to encircle the Soviet 51st Army on 10 May and annihilate it on 11 May. The remnants of the 44th and 47th Armies were pursued to Kerch, where the last pockets of organized Soviet resistance were eradicated through German aerial and artillery firepower by 19 May; the decisive element in the German victory was the campaign of airstrikes against the Crimean Front by Wolfram von Richthofen's 800 aircraft-strong VIII. Fliegerkorps, which flew an average of 1,500 sorties per day in support of Trappenjagd and attacked Soviet field positions, armored units, troop columns, evacuation ships and supply lines. German bombers used up to 6,000 canisters of SD-2 anti-personnel cluster munitions to kill masses of fleeing Soviet infantrymen. Manstein's outnumbered 11th Army suffered 7,588 casualties, while the Crimean Front lost 176,566 men, 258 tanks, 1,133 artillery pieces and 315 aircraft in three armies comprising twenty-one divisions.
Total Soviet casualties during the five month-long battle amounted to 570,000 men, while Axis losses were 38,000. Trappenjagd was one of the battles preceding the German summer offensive, its successful conclusion allowed the Axis to concentrate their forces on Sevastopol, conquered within six weeks. The Kerch Peninsula was used a launching pad by German forces to cross the Kerch Strait on 2 September 1942 during Operation Blücher II, a part of the German drive to capture the Caucasus oilfields. On 8 December 1941, the Soviet supreme command, ordered General-Lieutenant Dmitry Timofeyevich Kozlov's Transcaucasian Front to begin planning for a major operation to cross the Kerch Strait and link up with the Soviet Separate Coastal Army holed up in Sevastopol, thereby liberating the Crimea from the Germans; the ambitious operation, the first major amphibious operation in Soviet history, was founded upon Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin's belief in the German Wehrmacht's imminent collapse. The plan was drawn up by the Transcaucasian Front's chief of staff General-Major Fyodor Tolbukhin.
Tolbukhin's plan was too complicated for Soviet Navy's abilities. It was based on multiple small landings at separate locations at separate times instead of one large, simultaneous landing. Five transport groups from Rear-Admiral Sergey Gorshkov's Azov Flotilla would land 7,500 soldiers from the 224th Rifle Division and 302nd Mountain Rifle Division of the 51st Army on eight isolated beaches north and south of Kerch. After the Germans were distracted by this, the 44th Army would land at Feodosiya in the German rear. Naval gunfire support would be provided by the Black Sea Fleet; the Soviet Air Forces, would contribute air cover from the Taman Peninsula. The Soviets had the men and troop transports on hand but were compelled to use fishing trawlers for the actual landings due to the lack of landing craft, had little experience with large-scale joint operations and were impeded by the stormy winter weather. A German Messerschmitt Bf 110 reconnaissance aircraft noted the buildup of Soviet naval forces and reported it to Lieutenant General Hans Graf von Sponeck's XXXXII Army Corps headquarters.
Sponeck issued a general alert for enemy amphibious landings in the Kerch Peninsula. The mass of Sponeck's units had been transferred for the assault on Sevastopol and he had only the 46th Infantry Division under Lieutenant General Kurt Himer who had assumed his command on 17 December, two coastal artillery battalions equipped with obsolete World War I artillery pieces, a combat engineer regiment and a Luftwaffe anti-aircraft battalion; the 46th Infantry Division up to strength, was woefully overextended holding down the entire Kerch Peninsula against potential Soviet landings. Sponeck's only backup was the Romanian 8th Cavalry Brigade near Alushta. On the evening of 25 December 1941, the 224th Rifle Division and 83rd Naval Infantry Brigade were packed into small craft on the Taman Peninsula and began to pass the Kerch Strait. Group 2 disembarked at Cape Khroni to the northeast of Kerch, it consisted of the gunboat Don, the transports Krasny Flot and Pyenay, a tugboat, two motor barges that carried three T-26 light tanks and a few artillery pieces, 16 fishing trawlers.
Whaleboats were substituted for landing craft, resulting in tediously slow landings and the drowning of men and equipment. 697 men from the 2nd Battalion of the 160th Rifle Regiment landed at Cape
First Battle of Kharkov
The 1st Battle of Kharkov, so named by Wilhelm Keitel, was the 1941 battle for the city of Kharkov during the final phase of Operation Barbarossa between the German 6th Army of Army Group South and the Soviet Southwestern Front. The Soviet 38th Army was ordered to defend the city while its factories were dismantled for relocation farther east; the German 6th Army needed to take the city in order to close the widening gap to the German 17th Army. By 20 October the Germans had reached the western edge of the city, it was taken by the 57th Infantry Division by 24 October. At that time, most of Kharkov's industrial equipment had been evacuated or rendered useless by the Soviet authorities. In the autumn of 1941, Kharkov was considered one of the Soviets' most important strategic bases for railroad and airline connections, it not only connected the east-west and north-south parts of Ukraine, but several central regions of the USSR including the Crimea, the Caucasus, the Dnieper region, Donbas. Kharkov was one of the largest industrial centers of the Soviet Union.
One of its greatest contributions was the Soviet T-34 tank, both designed and developed at the Kharkov Tractor Factory. It was considered to be the most powerful tank plant in the country. Other factories that were located in the city included the Kharkov Aircraft Plant, Kharkov Plant of the NKVD, the Kharkov Turbine Plant. Military products that were in Kharkov before the battle started included: tanks, Su-2, artillery tractors, 82 mm mortars, sub-machine guns and other military equipment; the main objective for the German troops was to capture the railroad and military factories, thus they tried to keep the industrial area of Kharkov intact. Adolf Hitler himself stressed the importance of those military plants stating: "… The second in importance is south of Russia the Donets Basin, ranging from the Kharkov region. There is the whole basis of Russian economy, it was rated at 901,000 people on 1 May 1941. In September 1941 the population skyrocketed to 1.5 million people, due to numerous evacuees from other cities.
After multiple attacks and many deaths, the population of Kharkov decreased to 180 – 190,000, the size after the liberation of the city in August 1943. After the Battle of Kiev, Army Group Center was ordered to redeploy its forces for the attack on Moscow, so the 2nd Panzer Group turned north towards Bryansk and Kursk. Army Group South, in particular Walther von Reichenau's 6th Army and Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel's 17th Army took the place of the Panzer Divisions; the main offensive formation of Army Group South, Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist's 1st Panzer Group, was in the meantime ordered south for a drive to Rostov-on-Don and the Caucasian oilfields, following Führer Directive No. 35. The burden of processing Kiev's 600,000 prisoners of war fell upon the 6th and 17th Armies, so while the 1st Panzer Group secured the German victory in the Battle of Melitopol, these two armies spent the next three weeks regrouping. Meanwhile,'Stavka', needed to stabilize its southern flank and poured reinforcements into the area between Kursk and Rostov, at the expense of its forces in front of Moscow.
The Southwestern Front, destroyed during the battle of Kiev, was re-established under the command of Marshal Semyon Timoshenko, one of the more capable Red Army commanders. The 6th, 21st, 38th and 40th Armies were reconstituted from scratch. With the Battle of Moscow under way, the Germans had to protect their flanks, on 6 October von Reichenau advanced through Sumy and Okhtyrka in the direction of Belgorod and Kharkov. On the same day, the 17th Army commenced its offensive from Poltava towards Lozova and Izyum to protect the lengthening flank of the 1st Panzer Army; the Southwestern Front's 6th Army and 38th Army failed to conduct a coordinated defense and were beaten back. In the lead up to the Battle of Moscow, the Red Army suffered a catastrophic defeat at Vyazma and Bryansk, suffering 700,000 casualties; the few reserves available were needed to defend the Soviet capital, thus were unavailable to Timoshenko's reconstituted Southwestern Front. With no reserves to plug the breach, the Stavka was forced fall back to Voronezh in order prevent a total collapse of the southern flank.
Although the main objectives of the German Army before winter fell were to capture Leningrad and the approaches to the Caucasian oilfields, Kharkov was an important secondary objective. Besides the need to protect the flanks of its motorized spearheads, the OKH, the German Army high command saw the importance of Kharkov as an industrial center and railroad hub. Capturing the city meant that the Southwestern and Southern Front had to fall back on Voronezh and Stalingrad as their major transport hubs. When, in the second week of October, the rainy season of the Rasputitsa and the poor logistics in the area between the Dnepr and the front, caused the offensive to stall. Hitler allocated resources from the 17th Army to the 6th Army to ensure the capture of Kharkov. This, weakened the 17th Army's effort to protect the flank of the 1st Panzer Army and contributed to the German defeat at the Battle of Rostov. After 17 October, night frost improved the roads, but snow storms and the cold started to hamper the Germans, who
Battle of Kursk
The Battle of Kursk was a Second World War engagement between German and Soviet forces on the Eastern Front near Kursk in the Soviet Union, during July and August 1943. The battle began with the launch of the German offensive, Operation Citadel, on 5 July, which had the objective of pinching off the Kursk salient with attacks on the base of the salient from north and south simultaneously. After the German offensive stalled on the northern side of the salient, on 12 July the Soviets commenced their Kursk Strategic Offensive Operation with the launch of Operation Kutuzov against the rear of the German forces in the northern side. On the southern side, the Soviets launched powerful counterattacks the same day, one of which led to a large armoured clash, the Battle of Prokhorovka. On 3 August, the Soviets began the second phase of the Kursk Strategic Offensive Operation with the launch of Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev against the German forces in the southern side of the Kursk salient; the battle was the final strategic offensive that the Germans were able to launch on the Eastern Front.
Because the Allied invasion of Sicily had begun, Adolf Hitler was forced to have troops training in France diverted to meet the Allied threat in the Mediterranean, rather than use them as a strategic reserve for the Eastern Front. Hitler canceled the offensive at Kursk in part to divert forces to Italy. Germany's extensive losses of men and tanks ensured that the victorious Soviet Red Army enjoyed the strategic initiative for the remainder of the war; the Germans hoped to weaken the Soviet offensive potential for the summer of 1943 by cutting off the forces that they anticipated would be in the Kursk salient. The Kursk salient or bulge was 250 kilometres long from north to south and 160 kilometres from east to west; the plan envisioned an envelopment by a pair of pincers breaking through the northern and southern flanks of the salient. Hitler believed that a victory here would reassert German strength and improve his prestige with his allies, who were considering withdrawing from the war, it was hoped that large numbers of Soviet prisoners would be captured to be used as slave labour in the German armaments industry.
The Soviet government had foreknowledge of the German intentions, provided in part by the British intelligence service and Tunny intercepts. Aware months in advance that the attack would fall on the neck of the Kursk salient, the Soviets built a defence in depth designed to wear down the German armoured spearhead; the Germans delayed the offensive while they tried to build up their forces and waited for new weapons the new Panther tank but larger numbers of the Tiger heavy tank. This gave the Red Army time to construct a series of deep defensive belts; the defensive preparations included minefields, artillery fire zones and anti-tank strong points, which extended 300 km in depth. Soviet mobile formations were moved out of the salient and a large reserve force was formed for strategic counter-offensives; the Battle of Kursk was the first time in the Second World War that a German strategic offensive was halted before it could break through enemy defences and penetrate to its strategic depths.
The maximum depth of the German advance was 8–12 kilometres in the north and 35 kilometres in the south. Though the Red Army had succeeded in winter offensives their counter-offensives following the German attack at Kursk were their first successful strategic summer offensives of the war; as the Battle of Stalingrad ground to its conclusion, the Red Army moved to a general offensive in the south, in Operation Little Saturn. By January 1943, a 160 to 300 km wide gap had opened between Army Group B and Army Group Don, the advancing Soviet armies threatened to cut off all German forces south of the Don River, including Army Group A operating in the Caucasus. Army Group Center came under significant pressure as well. Kursk fell to the Soviets on 8 February 1943, Rostov fell on 14 February; the Soviet Bryansk and newly created Central Fronts prepared for an offensive which envisioned the encirclement of Army Group Center between Bryansk and Smolensk. By February 1943 the southern sector of the German front was in strategic crisis.
Since December 1942 Field Marshal Erich von Manstein had been requesting "unrestricted operational freedom" to allow him to use his forces in a fluid manner. On 6 February 1943, Manstein met with Hitler at the headquarters in Rastenburg to discuss the proposals he had sent, he received an approval from Hitler for a counteroffensive against the Soviet forces advancing in the Donbass region. On 12 February 1943, the remaining German forces were reorganised. To the south, Army Group Don was placed under Manstein's command. Directly to the north, Army Group B was dissolved, with its forces and areas of responsibility divided between Army Group South and Army Group Center. Manstein inherited responsibility for the massive breach in the German lines. On 18 February, Hitler arrived at Army Group South headquarters at Zaporizhia just hours before the Soviets liberated Kharkov, had to be hastily evacuated on the 19th. Once given freedom of action, Manstein intended to utilise his forces to make a series of counterstrokes into the flanks of the Soviet armoured formations, with the goal of destroying them while retaking Kharkov and Kursk.
The II SS Panzer Corps had arrived from France in January 1943, refitted and up to near full strength. Armoured units from the 1st Panzer Army of Army Group A had pulled out of the Caucasus and further strengthen
Slovak Republic (1939–1945)
The Slovak Republic, otherwise known as the Slovak State, was a client state of Nazi Germany which existed between 14 March 1939 and 4 April 1945. It controlled the majority of the territory of present-day Slovakia but without its current southern and eastern parts, ceded to Hungary in 1938; the Republic bordered Germany, constituent parts of "Großdeutschland", the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Poland – and subsequently the General Government – along with independent Hungary. Germany recognized the Slovak State, as did several other states, including Croatia, El Salvador, Italy, Japan, Manchukuo, the Soviet Union, Spain and the Vatican City; the majority of the Allies of World War II never recognized the existence of the Slovak Republic. The Soviet Union nullified its recognition after Slovakia joined the invasion of the USSR in 1941; the official name of the country was the Slovak State from 14 March to 21 July 1939, the Slovak Republic from 21 July 1939 to its end in April 1945. The country is referred to as the First Slovak Republic to distinguish it from the contemporary Slovak Republic, not considered its legal successor state.
The name "Slovak State" was used colloquially, but the term "First Slovak Republic" was used in encyclopaedias written during Communist rule. After the Munich Agreement, Slovakia gained autonomy inside Czecho-Slovakia and lost its southern territories to Hungary under the First Vienna Award; as the Nazi Führer Adolf Hitler was preparing a mobilisation into Czech territory and creation of his Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, he had various plans for Slovakia. German officials were misinformed by the Hungarians that the Slovaks wanted to join Hungary. Germany decided to make Slovakia a separate puppet state under the influence of Germany, a potential strategic base for German attacks on Poland and other regions. On 13 March 1939, Hitler invited Monsignor Jozef Tiso, to Berlin and urged him to proclaim Slovakia's independence. Hitler added that, if Tiso did not consent, he would have no interest in Slovakia's fate and would leave it to the territorial claims of Hungary and Poland. During the meeting, Joachim von Ribbentrop passed on a report claiming that Hungarian troops were approaching the Slovak borders.
Tiso refused to make such a decision himself, after which he was allowed by Hitler to organise a meeting of the Slovak parliament which would approve Slovakia's independence. On 14 March, the Slovak parliament convened and heard Tiso's report on his discussion with Hitler as well as on a possible declaration of independence; some of the deputies were skeptical of making such a move, among other reasons due to the fact that some worried that the Slovak state would be too small and with a strong Hungarian minority. The debate was brought to a head when Franz Karmasin, leader of the German minority in Slovakia, said that any delay in declaring independence would result in Slovakia being divided between Hungary and Germany. Under these circumstances, Parliament unanimously declared Slovak independence, thus creating the first Slovak state in history. Jozef Tiso was appointed the first Prime Minister of the new republic; the next day, Tiso sent a telegram asking the Reich to take over the protection of the newly minted state.
The request was accepted. On 23 March 1939, having occupied Carpatho-Ukraine, attacked from there, the newly established Slovak Republic was forced to cede 1,697 square kilometres of territory with about 70,000 people to Hungary before the onset of World War II. Slovakia was the only Axis nation other than Germany to take part in the Polish Campaign. With the impending German invasion of Poland planned for September 1939, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht requested the assistance of Slovakia. Although the Slovak military was only six months old, it formed a small mobile combat group consisting of a number of infantry and artillery battalions. Two combat groups were created for the campaign in Poland for use alongside the Germans; the first group was a brigade-sized formation that consisted of six infantry battalions, two artillery battalions, a company of combat engineers, all commanded by Antonín Pulanich. The second group was a mobile formation that consisted of two battalions of combined cavalry and motorcycle recon troops along with nine motorised artillery batteries, all commanded by Gustav Malár.
The two groups reported to the headquarters of the 3rd Slovak Infantry Divisions. The two combat groups fought while pushing through the Nowy Sącz and Dukla Mountain Passes, advancing towards Dębica and Tarnów in the region of southern Poland; the Slovak military participated in the war on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union. The Slovak Expeditionary Army Group of about 45,000 entered the Soviet Union shortly after the German attack; this army lacked logistic and transportation support, so a much smaller unit, the Slovak Mobile Command, was formed from units selected from this force. The Slovak Mobile Command was attached to the German 17th Army and shortly thereafter given over to direct German command, the Slovaks lacking the command infra
Battle of Rzhev, Summer 1942
The Battle of Rzhev in the Summer of 1942 was part of a series of battles that lasted 15 months in the center of the Eastern Front. It is known in Soviet history of World War II as the First Rzhev–Sychyovka Offensive Operation, defined as spanning from 30 July to 23 August 1942. However, it is documented that the fighting continued undiminished into September and did not cease until the beginning of October 1942; the Red Army suffered massive casualties for little gain during the fighting, giving the battle a notoriety reflected in its sobriquet: "The Rzhev Meat Grinder". Rzhev lies 140 miles west of Moscow and was captured by the German Wehrmacht in Operation Typhoon in the autumn of 1941, which took them to the gates of Moscow; when the Soviet counteroffensive drove them back, Rzhev became a cornerstone of the Germans' defense. By mid-1942, the city stood at the apogee of a salient that protruded from the front lines, pointing in the general direction of Moscow. In July and August 1942, Stalin tasked two of his front commanders, General Georgy Zhukov and General Ivan Konev, to conduct an offensive to recapture Rzhev and strike a blow against Army Group Center that would push them away from Moscow.
The attack would fall upon one of their main opponents of the winter battles, General Walter Model's 9th Army, which occupied the majority of the Rzhev salient. The high losses and few gains made during the two-month struggle left a lasting impression on the Soviet soldiers who took part. In October, the strategic balance in the centre of the Eastern Front remained unchanged. However, the German army had suffered grievous losses, whilst its defence had been tactically successful, it had achieved little more than maintaining the status quo, and although the offensive failed, Zhukov was given another chance to crush the Rzhev salient soon afterwards. The closing stages of the Battle of Moscow saw the formation of the Rzhev salient; the Soviet counter-offensive had driven the Wehrmacht from the outskirts of Moscow back more than 100 miles, had penetrated Army Group Centre's front in numerous places. Rzhev, a strategic crossroads and vital rail junction straddling the Volga, became the northern corner post of Army Group Centre's left wing.
It was the only town of note for many miles and gave the 9th Army something to hang on to, in what otherwise seemed a wilderness of forest and swamp in all directions. The salient's existence was threatened at the moment of its creation, when the Kalinin Front's 39th and 29th Armies opened a gap just west of Rzhev and thrust southwards into the German rear. Just managing to keep the encroaching Soviet armies away from the vital rail link into Rzhev, the 9th Army, now commanded by General Model, managed to close the Rzhev gap, thereby cutting the Soviet supply lines and reducing their ability to deal a crippling blow to the whole army group; the Soviet counter-attack had run out of steam and the Germans recovered enough to mount several operations to clear up their rear area. In July 1942, Operation Seydlitz was mounted to trap and destroy the two Soviet armies and succeeded in little over a week in doing so, making the army group once more an credible threat to Moscow. General of Panzer Troops Heinrich von Vietinghoff was senior corps commander in the 9th Army in June 1942, temporarily led the Army at the start of the battle, whilst Model was on convalescent leave.
He commanded 10th Army and Army Group C in Italy. General of Panzer Troops Walter Model had commanded 3rd Panzer division at the start of Operation Barbarossa, had become commander of XXXXI Motorised Corps in October 1941, he had shown great resolve in the defensive winter battles, was promoted to 9th Army commander on 12 January 1942. He proved to be a defensive specialist. Respected by Hitler, his star continued to rise, becoming a field marshal in March 1944. Georgy Zhukov was Chief of the General Staff when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union but, following a disagreement with Stalin concerning the defense of Kiev, was demoted to command of the Reserve Front, he became a troubleshooter, commanding the Leningrad Front in the autumn, back to Moscow to conduct its defense and counteroffensive. Zhukov remained in the central sector, he argued in the spring of 1942 that the Moscow axis was the most critical and that Army Group Center posed the greatest threat to the Soviet Union. To him, the German forces at Rzhev "represented a dagger pointed at Moscow".
Zhukov convinced Stalin to give him the extra forces. He commanded Western Front's attacks until, in the latter part of August, Zhukov became deputy supreme commander and was transferred to Stalingrad, he continued to hold the highest commands in the Soviet Army, became a Marshal of the Soviet Union in January 1943. Zhukov remained always in the thick of the fighting until the end of the war, commanding the 1st Belorussian Front in the assault on Berlin, still in rivalry with Konev, who commanded the 1st Ukrainian Front in the final battle. Colonel-General Ivan Konev began the war against Germany commanding the 19th Army, which become encircled around Vitebsk in the first weeks of the conflict. Stalin blamed Konev for the disaster but Zhukov intervened and ensured his survival and promotion to Front commander, he went on to command Kalinin Front in the winter battles around Moscow with distinction, still commanded Kalinin Front at the start of the Rzhev Operation. When Zhukov was promoted to deputy supreme commander, Konev was given overall responsibility for the continuing offensive.
The summer months of 1942 in the Rzhev area was warm, with long days and a high sun which allowed the area to dry out after the spring thaw. R
Arctic naval operations of World War II
The Arctic Circle defining the "midnight sun" encompasses the Atlantic Ocean from the northern edge of Iceland to the Bering Strait. The area is considered part of the Battle of the Atlantic or the European Theatre of World War II. Pre-war navigation focused on the international ore trade from Narvik and Petsamo. Soviet settlements along the coast and rivers of the Barents Sea and Kara Sea relied upon summer coastal shipping for supplies from railheads at Arkhangelsk and Murmansk; the Soviet Union extended the Northern Sea Route past the Taymyr Peninsula to the Bering Strait in 1935. The Winter War opened the northern flank of the eastern front of World War II. Arctic naval presence was dominated by the Soviet Northern Fleet of a few destroyers with larger numbers of submarines and torpedo cutters supported by icebreakers; the success of the German invasion of Norway provided the Kriegsmarine with naval bases from which capital ships might challenge units of the Royal Navy Home Fleet. Luftwaffe anti-shipping aircraft of Kampfgeschwader 26 and Kampfgeschwader 30 operated intermittently from Norwegian airfields, while routine reconnaissance was undertaken by Küstenfliegergruppen aircraft including Heinkel He 115s and Blohm & Voss BV 138s.
To support the Soviet Union against the German invasion, the Allies initiated a series of PQ and JW convoys bringing military supplies to the Soviet Union in formations of freighters screened by destroyers and minesweepers. Escorting cruisers maneuvered outside the formation, while a larger covering force including battleships and aircraft carriers steamed nearby to engage Kriegsmarine capital ships or raid their Norwegian bases; the Soviet Union and Germany employed smaller coastal convoys to maintain the flow of supplies to the Soviet arctic coast, transport strategic metal ores to Germany, sustain troops on both sides of the northern flank of the eastern front. Soviet convoys hugged the coast to avoid ice while German convoys used fjords to evade Royal Navy patrols. Both sides devoted continuing efforts to minelaying and minesweeping of these shallow, confined routes vulnerable to mine warfare and submarine ambushes. German convoys were screened by minesweepers and submarine chasers while Soviet convoys were protected by minesweeping trawlers and torpedo cutters.
A branch of the Pacific Route began carrying Lend-Lease goods through the Bering Strait to the Soviet Arctic coast in June 1942. The number of westbound cargo ship voyages along this route was 23 in 1942, 32 in 1943, 34 in 1944 and 31 after Germany surrendered in 1945. Total westbound tonnage through the Bering Strait was 452,393 in comparison to 3,964,231 tons of North American wartime goods sent across the Atlantic to Soviet Arctic ports. A large portion of the Arctic route tonnage was fuel for Siberian airfields on the Alaska-Siberia air route. 6 September 1939: Bremen was the first of 18 German merchant ships to take refuge in Murmansk after avoiding British naval patrols in the Atlantic. 30 November 1939: The Winter War offensive against Petsamo was supported by Soviet Northern Fleet destroyers Kuibishev, Karl Liebknecht and Grozny. April 1940: Operation Weserübung included an invasion of Narvik by troops embarked aboard ten Kriegsmarine destroyers. Covering battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau engaged HMS Renown.
4 May 1940: The Polish destroyer Grom was sunk off Narvik by a KG 100 bomber. 21 May 1940: HMS Effingham was scuttled after grounding on a shallow pinnacle off Narvik. 4 June 1940: Operation Alphabet troopships Monarch of Bermuda, Sobieski, Lancastria, Oronsay, Arandora Star, Royal Ulsterman, Ulster Prince, Ulster Monarch and Duchess of York began evacuation of 24,600 Allied soldiers from Narvik. 8 June 1940: With some of the longest range naval gunnery hits documented and Gneisenau sank the British aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and her escorting destroyers HMS Acasta and Ardent during Operation Juno. 9 July 1940: Raider Komet sailed north from Bergen and waited near Novaya Zemlya until 13 August 1940 for ice conditions to allow passage through the Matochkin Strait into the Kara Sea. Komet proceeded east with the assistance of three Soviet icebreakers to enter the Pacific Ocean through the Bering Strait on 5 September 1940. Soviet submarine Shch-423 made a similar trip from Murmansk to Vladivostok from 5 August to 17 October.
25 July 1940: Admiral Hipper sailed for a two-week Arctic patrol. 15 August 1940: Army transport USAT American Legion departed Petsamo for New York City carrying American nationals from Finland, Latvia, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands. American Legion carried Princess Märtha of Sweden with her children, a Bofors 40 mm gun manufactured in Sweden which became the prototype for American manufacture of the primary United States Navy anti-aircraft gun of World War II. 25 August 1940: HMS Norfolk and HMAS Australia sailed for a five-day patrol to Bear Island. 16 October 1940: HMS Furious launched an airstrike against the Tromsø seaplane base. 4 March 1941: HMS Edinburgh and Nigeria covered the Operation Claymore raid on Lofoten. 11 April 1941: HNoMS Mansfield destroyed the Øksfjord fish oil factory. 7 May 1941: Destroyers HMS Somali, Eskimo and HMAS Nestor captured code documents aboard the German weather ship München near Jan Mayen while covered by cruisers HMS Edinburgh and Birmingham. HMS Nigeria made a similar capture of the weather ship Lauenburg on 28 June.
25 June 1941: The Soviet troopship Mossovet brought reinforcements to Titovka.
The Continuation War was a conflict fought by Finland and Nazi Germany, as co-belligerents, against the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1944, during World War II. In Russian historiography, the war is called the Soviet–Finnish Front of the Great Patriotic War. Germany regarded its operations in the region as part of its overall war efforts on the Eastern Front and provided Finland with critical material support and military assistance; the Continuation War began 15 months after the end of the Winter War fought between Finland and the USSR. There have been a number of reasons proposed for the Finnish decision to invade, with regaining territory lost during the Winter War being regarded as the most common. Other justifications for the conflict included President Ryti's vision of a Greater Finland and Commander-in-Chief Mannerheim's desire to liberate Karelia. Plans for the attack were developed jointly between the Wehrmacht and a small faction of Finnish political and military leaders with the rest of the government remaining ignorant.
Despite the co-operation in this conflict, Finland never formally signed the Tripartite Pact that had established the Axis powers and justified its alliance with Germany as self-defence. In June 1941, with the start of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Finnish Defence Forces launched their offensive following Soviet airstrikes. By September 1941, Finland occupied East Karelia and reversed its post–Winter War concessions to the Soviet Union along the Karelian Isthmus and in Ladoga Karelia; the Finnish Army halted its offensive past the old border, around 30–32 km from the centre of Leningrad and participated in besieging the city by cutting its northern supply routes and digging in until 1944. In Lapland, joint German–Finnish forces failed to capture Murmansk or cut the Kirov Railway, a transit route for lend-lease equipment to the USSR; the conflict stabilised with only minor skirmishes until the tide of the war turned against the Germans and the Soviet Union's strategic Vyborg–Petrozavodsk Offensive in June 1944.
The attack drove the Finns from most of the territories they had gained during the war, but the Finnish Army halted the offensive in August 1944. Hostilities between Finland and the USSR ended with a ceasefire, called on 5 September 1944, formalised by the signing of the Moscow Armistice on 19 September 1944. One of the conditions of this agreement was the expulsion, or disarming, of any German troops in Finnish territory, which led to the Lapland War between the former co-belligerents. World War II was concluded formally for Finland and the minor Axis powers with the signing of the Paris Peace Treaties in 1947; the treaties resulted in the restoration of borders per the 1940 Moscow Peace Treaty, the ceding of the municipality of Petsamo and the leasing of Porkkala Peninsula to the USSR. Furthermore, Finland was required to pay $300 million in war reparations to the USSR. 63,200 Finns and 23,200 Germans died or went missing during the war in addition to 158,000 and 60,400 wounded, respectively.
Estimates of dead or missing Soviets range from 250,000 to 305,000 while 575,000 have been estimated to have been wounded or fallen sick. On 23 August 1939, the Soviet Union and Germany signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, in which the two parties agreed to divide the independent countries of Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania into spheres of interest, with Finland falling within the Soviet sphere. Shortly after, Germany invaded Poland leading to the United Kingdom and France declaring war on Germany; the Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland on 17 September. Moscow turned its attention to the Baltic states, demanding that they allow Soviet military bases to be established and troops stationed on their soil; the Baltic governments signed agreements in September and October. In October 1939, the Soviet Union attempted to negotiate with Finland to cede Finnish territory on the Karelian Isthmus and the islands of the Gulf of Finland, to establish a Soviet military base near the Finnish capital of Helsinki.
The Finnish government refused, the Red Army invaded Finland on 30 November 1939. The USSR was expelled from the League of Nations and was condemned by the international community for the illegal attack. Foreign support for Finland was promised, but little actual help materialised, except from Sweden; the Moscow Peace Treaty concluded the 105-day Winter War on 13 March 1940 and started the Interim Peace. By the terms of the treaty, Finland ceded 11 per cent of its national territory and 13 percent of its economic capacity to the Soviet Union; some 420,000 evacuees were resettled from the ceded territories. Finland retained its sovereignty. Prior to the war, Finnish foreign policy had been based on multilateral guarantees of support from the League of Nations and Nordic countries, but this policy was considered a failure. After the war, Finnish public opinion favored the reconquest of Finnish Karelia; the government declared national defence to be its first priority, military expenditure rose to nearly half of public spending.
Finland purchased and received donations of war materiel during and after the Winter War. Finnish leadership wanted to preserve the spirit of unanimity, felt throughout the country during the Winter War; the divisive White Guard tradition of the Finnish Civil War's 16 May victory-day celebration was therefore discontinued. The Soviet Union had received the Hanko Naval Base, on Finland's southern coast near the capital Helsinki, where it deployed over 30,000 Soviet military personnel. Relations between Finland and the Soviet Union remained strained after the signing of the one-sided peace treaty