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Eastern Front was a term used during the First and Second World Wars to describe the battle fronts between lands controlled by Germany and land controlled by Russia or the Soviet Union. A contested armed frontier during a war is called a "front". The Eastern Front of World War II was the bloodiest and largest theater of warfare in history.
World War I
The Eastern Front of World War I was primarily fought between the Russian Empire and the empires of Germany and Austria Hungary with support from the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria. The front began on 17 August 1914, when Russia invaded East Prussia. Soon after, Russia invaded Austria-Hungary at Galicia and pushed back the Austro-Hungarian armies out of the area. However the German campaign didn't result well for the Russians as the Germans won a decisive battle at Tannenberg and inflicted heavy casualties on the Russian army. The Germans then defeated the Russians at the Battle of the Vistula River, and pushed their enemy back to a safe distance. Russia however continued to advance in Hungary and after capturing Łódź in December 1914, Germany sent many divisions to Austria-Hungary to help their ally. The Russians and Austro-Hungarians fought throughout the winter in the Carpathian Mountains and the Russians continued their steady advance until March 1915, when considerable German forces arrived in the area and stopped the Russian advance. During a short lull, Germany transferred many divisions to the eastern front to prepare for their first real offensive against Russia. In May 1915, Germany and Austria-Hungary, fighting under a unified command, launched the Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive, which pushed the Russians out of Galicia. A general advance followed and the Russians were forced into a steady retreat. By mid-1915 the Central Powers had overrun Russian Poland and pushed the front line to a safe distance away from their borders. Only after a Russian victory at Sventiany was the advance stopped and the front line stabilized. By 1916, the Russian war production increased and more and more troops were sent to the front lines. After increasing the strength of their army, Russia launched a major offensive in June 1916, lead by General Aleksei Brusilov. The offensive targeted the Austro-Hungarian armies and was a great success at first, as the Russian army advanced 70 km (43 mi) west. In August, Romania entered the war on the side of the Allies and invaded Austria-Hungary from the south, but were quickly overrun by Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire. Russia was then forced to divert several divisions to northern Romania to help their besieged ally. After stopping the advance in northern Romania, the Russians looked back to continue their previous offensive, but due to the arrival of new German divisions, the advance was quickly stopped. By 1917 the Russian army was on the verge of collapse. After the February Revolution, the Empire collapsed and was replaced by a provisional government, which looked to continue the war. The last Russian offensive of the war, the Kerensky Offensive was launched in July 1917, but was unsuccessful. In November the Bolsheviks took full control of Russia and looked for peace with the Central Powers. In March 1918, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed which ended the Eastern Front and gave most western Russia to Germany.
World War II
The Eastern Front of World War II was fought between Germany and her allies against the Soviet Union. The front began on 22 June 1941 with Operation Barbarossa, where Germany launched a massive invasion of the Soviet Union. Using their highly advanced Blitzkrieg doctrine and spearheaded by formidable Panzer armies, the Germans pushed deep into the Soviet Union, while inflicting enormous losses on the Red Army. During the Battles of Smolensk and Kiev, the Red Army lost and suffered heavy casualties, but managed to delay the German advance, thus giving more time for defenses and fortifications to be built around Moscow. By October Germany reached the gates of the Soviet capital and Hitler launched Operation Typhoon, to capture Moscow before winter. However due to stiff Soviet resistance and Vyazma and Tula, the fast moving panzer armies were slowed considerably. An unusually cold winter began, stopping the German tanks dead in their tracks only 15 miles away from Moscow and allowing the Red Army to launch a massive counter-offensive which pushed the Germans to a safe distance away from city. The Soviets had defended their capital city, but at a very high cost. The Red Army suffered more than 1,280,000 casualties. In the north the Germans besieged Leningrad but the Red Army kept them at bay. This siege would last three years. Even though the Soviets had won at Moscow, the war was far from over. Germany occupied vast areas of the country and was still strong. In the summer of 1942, Hitler launched Case Blue, a massive offensive to capture the Caucasus. The Germans captured key cities such as Rostov, Kharkov and Krasnodar and pushed towards a key transport hub on the Volga, Stalingrad. The German 6th Army entered the outskirts of the city in August but was slowed down with fierce Soviet resistance. Even though the Germans controlled 90% of the city, they were unable to dislodge the last Soviet defenders tenaciously holding on to the west bank of the Volga. Winter set in and the German tanks were once again unable to perform well. In November the Red Army launched Operation Uranus, another massive counter-offensive which destroyed the weak Romanian and Hungarian armies and encircled the Germans inside Stalingrad. The now depleted German Army held on against wave after wave of Soviet attacks until they finally collapsed and surrendered on 3 February 1943. With more than 1.7 million casualties, the Battle of Stalingrad was the bloodiest in history. With Stalingrad secure the Red Army launched Operation Little Saturn and pushed the Germans back into the Ukraine. In the summer of 1943, Hitler launched yet another offensive, Operation Citadel. Two large Panzer Armies spearheaded the attack in a pincer movement to encircle the industrial city of Kursk. However thousands of Soviet T-34 tanks were rushed to Kursk and engaged the German Panzer and Tiger tanks in the largest tank battle in history, just outside the city resulting in another decisive victory for the Red Army. After Kursk, the Germans had suffered heavy casualties and their supplies had grown thin, while the ever growing Red Army had a never ending flow of supplies and troops. Germany hadn’t expected the war to last this long and were beginning to fall apart. By spring of 1944, the Red Army had relieved Leningrad and pushed the Germans out of Russia and the Ukraine. Army group Center however, still held on strong and occupied most of Byelorussia. During this time, the western Allies had invaded northern France and forced Germany to relocate some troops and supplies to the west. This allowed the Soviets to launch Operation Bagration, the largest Soviet offensive of the war which destroyed Army Group Center and had the Red Army advance to the border of Prussia and Poland. In the south the Red Army overran Romania and was pushing into Hungary. Now with the Germans fighting the Americans and British in the west and the Soviets in the east, the fall of Germany was all but inevitable. The next Soviet offensives came in the winter of 1945, the Vistula-Oder Offensive and the East Prussian Offensive in which the Red Army smashed through German occupied Poland and captured the historical capital of Germany, Konigsberg. In the south the Red Army pushed into Hungary and captured Budapest, thus knocking Hungary out of the war. By the end of March the Red Army had invaded Germany and had advanced to the Oder River, just 50 miles east of Berlin. As Germany’s end neared close the Soviet Union now looked to capture key cities in central Europe, before the fast moving American armies from the west did. The Red Army then turned some of its attention to advance and capture Vienna and Prague. In mid April 1945, the Red Army launched its final offensive, the Berlin Offensive. After nearly two weeks of fighting, the Red Army captured Berlin and shortly after Germany surrendered.