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Three Periods of War

Soviet military analysts and historians subdivide the war into three distinct periods, each of which reflected the basic political-military conditions that characterized its duration. Although the Red Army was primarily on the strategic defensive during the first period of war (22 June 1941-19 November 1942), this period was punctuated by the Red Army's Moscow strategic counteroffensive and several operational offensives designed to wrest the initiative from German hands. The two massive German offensives during this period (October-December 1941 and June-October 1942) placed the Soviet nation in jeopardy.

Several heated debates have grown since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, when some former Soviet republics and East European countries started reviewing the history of World War Two, and especially the role of the Soviet Union in it. The most widespread beliefs of these revisionists regarding the day when the Soviet Union joined the war can be divided into two groups. Some say June 22 was the beginning of a new stage in the war, which the Soviet Union joined in September 1939 when Western Ukraine and Western Belarus were annexed into the country. Others claim that Germany did not attack the Soviet Union without a declaration of war on June 22, but delivered a pre-emptive strike at the Soviet troops poised for occupying Europe.

Waging life-or-death battles and losing a substantial part of its territory, the Soviet Army stopped the advancing German troops and prevented them from attaining the goals outlined in the blitzkrieg plans. Moreover, Germany, even though it used the resources and capabilities of axis states, could not win the war of economic and human resources against the Soviet Union, let alone the subsequent anti-Hitler coalition.

The second period of war (19 November 1942 - 31 December 1943), which commenced with the Soviet strategic counteroffensive at Stalingrad, was a transitional period marked by alternating attempts by both sides to secure strategic advantage. After the titanic Battle of Kursk, by 31 December 1943, the Soviets had firmly secured the strategic initiative and advanced beyond the Dnepr River line. The Red Army maintained the strategic initiative during the third and final period of war (1944 - 1945) and ultimately emerged victorious over Nazi Germany.

While each of these periods displayed unique political-military characteristics, each also reflected distinct changes in the Red Army's force structure and operational maneuver capabilities - forces and capabilities that in turn helped produce the distinct political-military nature of each period. The first period of war was a formative phase during which the Wehrmacht virtually dismantled the Red Army's force structure in heavy combat and forced the Soviet High Command (the Stavka) to reconstruct it in a painful and costly process of trial and experimentation. Soviet operational maneuver concepts and mobile forces necessary to carry them out emerged in embryonic form during the spring of 1942. Additional battlefield experimentation during 1943 led to the creation of the Red Army's "modern" operational maneuver force and refined concepts for their combat employment. The Soviets improved their mobile forces and concepts governing their use during the third period of war, providing a basis for both wartime victory and an effective military force in the postwar years.

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