World War II and Great Patriotic War Difference

What’s the difference between WWII and the Great Patriotic War? World War II is, by all means, one of the most controversial events in the world history and some countries seem to be unable to come to an agreement about achievements of this or that country.

Russians, for example, might get offended at any American or British pride over victory in WWII, assuming that Russians won the war all by themselves.  Some American historians, in their turn, seem to underestimate the vital contribution of the Soviet Union.  Things become even more complicated when Russian laymen use the term Great Patriotic War, while beyond the boundaries of the former Soviet Union people mainly talk about World War II.  Naturally, a number of questions arise: what is meant by the Great Patriotic War? What’s the difference between WWII and the Great Patriotic War?

To answer these and many other questions, we suggest looking at the subject from the points of view of the 3 countries – the AlliesGreat Britain, the USSR, and the USA.

Great Britain during World War II

Let us start almost 20 years before the Second World War broke out. 1920 was marked by the creation of the League of Nations, the main aim of which was the cooperation of nations. The league didn’t forbid war, but the agreement was made to respect and preserve the borders of the members of the League. However, despite the agreement, in 1935 Italy attacked Ethiopia (Abyssinia), a fellow member of the League. Instead of intervening in the conflict, Great Britain and France decided not to take action against Italy, as they needed Italy as an ally against Hitler (who at that time was already rearming Germany). That was a very decisive point in history and, had the other decision been taken by Great Britain and France, the war could have been avoided.

For the next 4 years Germany, Italy and their Asian ally Japan (known as the Axis) had been seizing territories of their own interest. In 1938, in order to avoid war at all costs, Nevil Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, accepted the cooperation with Germany in a takeover of German-speaking parts of Chechoslovakia. After realizing the war was inevitable, the British promised their help to Poland in case of Nazi attack. In 1939 Britain entered the war after German troops had attacked Poland. So, 1939 is officially known as the beginning of the Second World War.

In May 1940 the German army defeated France and was heading to Great Britain but suffered a setback.  Winston Churchill told the nation in famous inspiring speech: “…we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight on the hills; we shall never surrender…”, so the surrender was unthinkable.

In 1941 Germany attacked the USSR which marked the beginning of the Great Patriotic War.

Allies in WWII

The Guards in London. Photo: Pixabay

Great Patriotic War in the Soviet Union

Having signed a non-aggression pact with Germany in 1939, the attack on June 22 1941 caught the USSR by surprise. Besides, Stalin’s purges of the 1930s stripped the army of many experienced leaders and industrial production was slow at adapting to new military needs.

The title ‘Great Patriotic War’ comes from Stalin’s radio address to the Soviet people on July 3 1941, in which he called on the entire nation to fight the invaders. Some Russian historians assume that the title was coined in analogy with the Patriotic War of 1812 (the war against Napoleon), as both wars were battles for the freedom and independence of the motherland, and, in case of the Great Patriotic War, the fight for the very existence of the Soviet people.  In Europe and America the fighting in the Soviet territory is known as the Eastern Front of WWII.

The Great Patriotic War differed a lot from the one experienced in the West. While Hitler’s occupation of countries such as Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and France was harsh, but was not aimed at inflicting widespread depopulation (with the exception of the Jews), there are numerous evidence that Hitler viewed everything east of Poland as an extra territory for the Aryan race, the territory which needed to be cleared of ‘Slavic subhumans’.

A lot can be said about the Great Patriotic War, about most important battles, outstanding commanders, human losses. St Petersburg alone with its 900-day siege require a separate article, that is why we are not going to concentrate on the details now, instead, we pass on to the last country of the Allies – the USA.

 difference between WWII and the Great Patriotic War


US Involvement in WWII

The war broke out in Europe in 1939. With Hitler’s dominance in Europe and with Japan getting stronger in Asia, America found itself sandwiched between two possible sources of danger. Something needed to be done in order to protect the country.

In March 1941 Congress approved Roosevelt’s Lend Lease plan, which gave him the right to supply any country with necessary goods. American weapons, food and equipment were sent to support Great Britain, which by 1941 was the only country in Western Europe still fighting back Nazi army. The same was done when Nazi Germany attacked Russia in June 1941. On 8 December 1941 the USA declared war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbour, and, as Japan and Germany were allies, Hitler, in his turn, declared war on the US. Since that moment the war became a worldwide one: countries in Europe, Asia and America were at war. The US government quickly reorganized the whole economy towards winning the war: all factories started producing war supplies, high income taxes were introduced, gasoline and food were rationed. Besides, a lump sum was spent on a secret project ‘the Manhattan project’ which resulted in the world’s first atomic bomb being tested in 1945.

USA during WWII

Changing of the Guard in Washington DC. Photo: Flickr

To sum up, the main dates and events of the two wars are presented in the table below.

Timeline of World War II

Stages Events in the world Participation of the USSR
The 1st stage

1.9.1939 – 21.6.1941.

The beginning of the WWII. The Phoney War in the West. The defeat of France, German occupation of some countries. Anglo-German confrontation Two-way division and annexation of the territory of Poland by the USSR and Germany. The Winter War with Finland.
The 2d stage

22.6.1941 – 18.11.1942.

Germany attacks the USSR. Japan attacks the USA. Anglo-American troops fight Germans in North Africa. The beginning of the Great Patriotic War. The USSR fights back German army. The Battle of Moscow. Defensive stage of the Battle of Stalingrad.
The 3d stage

19-20.11.1942 – end of  1943.

The US seized the initiative in the war with Japan. Anglo-American armed forces land in Italy. The fall of Mussolini’s regime. The Nazi troops are defeated in the Battles of Stalingrad, Kursk, Orel and in Ukraine.
The 4th stage

the beginning of 1944 – 9.5.1945.

The liberation of France and other countries by the Allies. Liberation of territories occupied by Japan. The liberation of the whole territory of the USSR and some European countries. The Battle of Berlin.  German Instrument of Surrender was signed. Hitler’s suicide. The end of the Great Patriotic War
The 5th stage

10.5. 1945 – 2.9.1945.

Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Occupation of Japan by American troops. The USSR declared war on Japan. The capitulation of Japan.

The end of WWII

As it can be seen from the table and everything said above, the Great Patriotic War and World War Two are inseparable and it is incorrect to refer to them as to 2 different wars. Russians can’t take credit for everything done in order to liberate the occupied territories, however, the Soviet contribution to the victory is of vital importance and the human losses are irretrievable.

Compare the numbers – America lost slightly more than 400,000 soldiers (killed or missing) and almost no civilians during World War II. Wheread the USSR, depending on which historian you believe, would lose at least 11,000,000 soldiers (killed and missing) as well as somewhere between 7,000,000 to 20,000,000 million of its civilian population during the Great Patriotic War.

The British and American achievements are also notable, no one should deny that without Britain being the only country in Europe resisting the Nazis and without American military supplies, the outcome of the war could have been different.

Russia still keeps the memory of the events that happened 76 years ago, and there are a lot of memorials and museums in Moscow devoted to the Great Patriotic War and World War II. Here is the list of must-see military and war places.

WWII Travel Sites and Museums in Moscow

  • The Museum of the Great Patriotic War
  • The Holocaust Memorial Synagogue
  • The Obelisk of Victory on Poklonnaya Hill
  • The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Victory Park and Alexander Garden near the Kremlin
  • The Cold War Museum Bunker-42
  • The Central Armed Forces Museum
  • Victory Park and the Exhibition of Military Equipment and Weapons in the Open Air
Russia during WWII

Tsar Cannon in Moscow Kremlin

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