The post-Soviet countries, including Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Russia in the Caspian region commemorate today the 78th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in 1945. The occasion, marking the end of the Second World War, is observed by people in different parts of the world, including various former Soviet Union republics that witnessed some of the worst horrors of the war.
The German invasion of the Soviet Union, which started on June 22, 1941, took the country’s leadership and nearly 200 million inhabitants completely by surprise. A blitzkrieg, or “lightning war” against the USSR violated the Molotov-Ribbentrop treaty signed between Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939, which ensured that neither country attacked the other.
Some 75 million people died in World War II, of whom nearly 27 million people were from the USSR. The Soviet Union spent over $192 billion on the war effort. Caspian News outlines some of the most significant contributions of the post-Soviet nations that make up the region.
Manpower, along with the oil, defense, chemical, agricultural, and mining industries of Azerbaijan played an unmatched role in the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany from the very beginning of the war. Around 700,000 soldiers were sent to frontline units, and about half of them died in service. Several frontline divisions of the Soviet army each consisted of Azerbaijani soldiers, including the 416th division, which reached Berlin from its home in the Caucasus.
Azerbaijani men fought on the fields of the 1941-1945 war. A total of 123 representatives of Azerbaijan were awarded the high rank of the Hero of the Soviet Union. Of more than 660,000 Azerbaijanis who participated in the war, around half died, demonstrating the big sacrifices made by the country at that time.
Azerbaijan was the main supplier of fuel and lubricants to the Soviet army as 90 percent of motor oils, 80 percent of gasoline, and 70 percent of oil came from Azerbaijan. From 1941 to 1945, Soviet army units received 75 million tons of oil and 22 million tons of gasoline.
The Azerbaijani chemist Yusif Mammadaliyev organized the production of 38 types of fuel, eight types of diesel, various compounds of gasoline for nine types of aircraft, and the famous Molotov cocktail. Baku is reported to have produced 10,000 Molotov cocktails per day. Mammadaliyev and his team invented the strategic high-octane jet fuel B-78. The Soviet army got over a million tons of B-78 fuel throughout the war. Baku became the primary strategic goal of Hitler's 1942 Fall Blau offensive. The German army was at first stalled in the mountains of Caucasus, then decisively defeated at the Battle of Stalingrad, and forced to retreat.
More than 130 types of weapons and spare parts were produced in Azerbaijan throughout the years of war, including the Katyusha rocket, the Shpagin machine gun, and the Yak-3 fighter jet. Ships and submarines were repaired at shipyards and tanks at factories, at a time when farms churned out 500,000 tons of cotton.
Dozens of hospitals in Azerbaijan received soldiers with severe combat wounds for treatment. Over 1.5 million soldiers were treated in those military clinics and sent back to the frontiers.
Azerbaijan's territory was crucial in providing the Soviet forces with American and British supplies under the Lend-Lease program, a United States program to provide its allied nations with the aid and military supplies needed to win World War II. The resistance against the Nazi invasion received a boost from the successful transportation of aid and military material by Baku Flotilla, railway and other transport enterprises through Iran via Azerbaijan into the Soviet Union.
In the meantime, enterprises from Azerbaijan participated actively in the restoration of territories liberated from Nazi occupation during and after the war.
Defeating Nazi Germany and putting an end to Adolf Hitler's invasion certainly took its toll on the USSR, which lost nearly 27 million people, while Russia suffered the highest number of casualties among all nations involved, with 21 million. The Soviet Union spent over $192 billion on the war effort.
Although one million German soldiers and their allies achieved a series of victories, the Battle of Stalingrad, fought between 1942 and 1943, fundamentally changed the course of Germany’s fate in the Soviet Union. The battle, which took the lives of around two million people, is remembered as the bloodiest in history, yet the Battle of Stalingrad is considered to be the definitive turning point where the Soviet troops dealt their German counterparts a crushing defeat. From that point on, the Soviet Union put Germany on the defensive until the Battle of Berlin ended the war.
By 1942, Russia was producing mass quantities of high-quality armaments east of the Ural Mountains that were out of reach for Germany’s air force. The Soviets also possessed a tremendous overseas intelligence-gathering operation, via the international Communist movement. If the German army had not been tied down in the Soviet Union in a huge battle of attrition that they could not hope to win, Victory Day would have certainly been vastly delayed.
Over the four years of fighting, Kazakhstan dispatched 20 percent, or 1,196,164, of its citizens to the frontlines, where 601,939 or 12 percent of the population died, did not return from captivity, or went missing.
The famous 316th Rifle Division, which was launched in Almaty, then the capital of the Kazakh SSR, became one of the most famous after joining the Battle of Moscow. Soviet newspapers later reported that twenty-eight soldiers from the division’s 1075th Regiment destroyed eighteen enemy tanks while fighting to the last.
In the first few months of the war, much of the Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian industry was relocated to Kazakhstan. Before 1941, the Central Asian country owned only six military-oriented plants and specialized manufactories. After 1941, this figure amounted to roughly 300, including a range of industrial plants evacuated from Russia’s territories. Kazakhstan produced 85 percent of the Soviet lead, topping the list of lead producers. Nine out of 10 bullets were made with lead produced in Kazakhstan during World War II.
Much of Soviet theatres and film studios, including Mosfilm and Lenfilm, were also relocated to Kazakhstan during the war.
What is now considered the largest and wealthiest country in Central Asia sheltered many filmmakers, musicians, writers and poets, such as Sergei Eisenstein, a Russian film director and theorist whose work includes the three classic movies Battleship Potemkin; Sergei Prokofiev, who is considered one of the giants of 20th-century music, and many others.
The Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic was one of 15 republics that formed the USSR, and – like Azerbaijanis, Russians and Kazakhs – Turkmen people commemorate Victory Day on May 9. In 2000, by a decree by the late President Saparmurat Niyazov, all victims of the war were declared National Heroes.
In the second month of the 1941-1945 war, major enterprises, educational, scientific, and cultural institutions, including Moscow State University, were evacuated to Turkmenistan. In addition, Turkmenistan has given shelter to tens of thousands of people evacuated from frontline areas. The country’s economy was totally rebuilt to meet the military demand, while 93 percent of the adult population, who were not called up for service, were engaged in agricultural activities to provide the country with raw materials and food. Along with people, Turkmenistan provided the frontline with horses.