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To what extent was Stalin’s leadership the most significant reason for Soviet victory during the Great and Patriotic War?

The command phrase is ‘To what extent’ and so your answer should make an assessment as to how important Stalin’s role was in relation to other factors. As the question focusses on Stalin’s leadership, around half your answer should be on this, and the rest on other factors.

Your introduction should outline your argument and present the factors you intend to discuss. Try and keep it short. Make an initial judgement if you want, but if you do, ensure that you maintain this view throughout your essay.

The main body of your essay should be structured and organised. Refer to a range of factors and explore these, before coming to a mini conclusion at the end of each paragraph as to their significance. Use the PEE (Point, Evidence, Explanation) structure if it helps you, and try to include some historical interpretations. Use these to support your argument or highlight how different historians look at factors differently.

In terms of Stalin’s leadership, you could consider the following factors:

1.       Management of the economy.

2.       Political decisions.

3.       Control of the people.

4.       Initial retreat.

Here are some ideas/arguments/facts/interpretations that you could use to form a judgement:

Management of the economy

·         Soviet steel production was three-times greater than that of Germany.

·         Weapons production increased by 458%.

·         Evacuation of industry – 41% of capacity relocated to the West.

·         ‘If WW2 was a test then the Soviet economy passed it.’ (Barber and Harrison).

·         ‘It was the strength of the Soviet war economy which paved the way for eventual victory.’ (Laver).

Political decisions

·         Creation of Stavka (Soviet High Command) two days after the Nazi invasion, to direct military and strategic operations.

·         Establishment of GKO (State Defence Committee) in June to act as the highest level of command.

·         Stalin recognised the centralisation of power was paramount to ensure speedy and decisive action.

·         Appointment Zhukov and passing of power to his subordinates to ensure flexibility.

·         ‘At a critical moment, he proved himself to be resolute and decisive.’ (Pearson)

Control of the people

·         Religious concessions – resulted in the re-opening of 30,000 churches.

·         Propaganda – integral part of the regime’s strategy for enforcing control. Focus on national pride and patriotism, widespread adoption of the title ‘Great and Patriotic War’ and whipping-up of hatred of against the Nazis. Stalin frequently held up as a symbolic figure of resistance.

·         ‘The Russian people were convinced by every possible form of propaganda that the fight was worthwhile and would end in victory.’ (Oxley)

·         NKVD – ensured compliance of population. Headed by Beria, one of the most feared and powerful Communists, those suspected of disloyalty and considered incompetent were arrested.

·         People’s Militias – used by the regime to enlist popular support. Used to assist the overstretched Red Army, but were often spontaneously formed and received inadequate weapons and training.

Initial retreat

·         Stalin failed to mobilised his forces immediately following the Nazi invasion.

·         He retreated to his country house and considered fleeing Moscow.

·         ‘[Stalin’s move was one that] defied reasonable explanation.’ (Lynch).

·         For a week, the Soviets were left leaderless as Stalin failed to take-up command.

·         Some have suggested that Stalin had a mental breakdown before he pulled himself together.

Other factors could include:

5.       Lend-lease programme.

6.       Nazi weaknesses and mistakes.

7.       Tenacity and bravery of the Soviet people.

Here are some ideas/arguments/facts/interpretations that you could use to form a judgement:

Lend-lease programme

·         Importance has been debated: Western historians naturally emphasise its role, whereas Soviet historians downplay its significance.

·         Contributed 22,000 tons of steel, 1000 aircraft and 6000 trucks – totalling $11.2 billion in aid.

·         Contributed towards 13% of USSR’s total resources.

·         Vital in maintaining industrial production and ensuring Soviet forces had adequate resources to engage in total war.

·         ‘One cannot deny that the Americans shipped over to us material without which we could not have equipped our armies held in reserve or been able to continue the war.’ (Zhukov).

·         ‘The United States’ aid to Russia played a much more vital war role than it would initially appear.’ (Jones).

Nazi weaknesses and mistakes

·         Many Ukrainians initially welcomed the Germans as liberators but they failed to utilise this support.

·         German atrocities resulted in 11.3 million Soviet deaths.

·         Hitler viewed the Slavs as untermenschen or ‘sub-humans’, ripe for exploitation, experiment, and extermination.

·         Hitler’s decision making was poor for he relied on intuition as opposed to organised command and structure.

·         ‘If it had not been for Hitler’s fanatical racism, the USSR would not have won the struggle on the Eastern Front.’

Tenacity and bravery of the Soviet people

·         War of attrition in which the Soviet people and Red Army drew Nazi forces deep into the USSR before counter-attacking.

·         Harsh conditions in which the people had laboured during the 1930s prepared them for war.

·         Long German occupation of the most fertile lands, a shortage of agricultural labour and the re-imposition of state grain requisitioning all combined to form a chronic food shortage – 7.5 million died from starvation.

·         German forces met ferocious resistance during the Siege of Leningrad, Battle of Stalingrad and Battle of Citadel (Kursk), where 91,000 became POW.

·         ‘The raw courage and resilience of the Russian people, seemingly inured to suffering, proved a priceless asset.’

Your conclusion should reach a judgement as to what extent Stalin’s leadership was responsible for Soviet victory. Whatever conclusion you come to you should explain why the factor you have chosen, is more significant than the others. You could attempt to align yourself with a school of thought, for example, whether you believe Soviet or Western interpretations provide the most convincing explanation for Soviet victory and what was responsible for this.

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