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Operation Barbarossa
Part of the Eastern Front of World War II
Map depicting actual (grey) and planned (white) Axis and Finnish advances during Operation Barbarossa and the contemporaneous Continuation War
Operation Barbarossa
Date22 June – 5 December 1941
(5 months, 1 week and 6 days)
LocationEuropean part of the USSR, including present-day Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Poland, and Western Russia and Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia

Tactical Axis victories until the failed German offensive outside Moscow codenamed "Operation Typhoon"; its failure along with the failure to take Leningrad and other major objectives by winter led to Barbarossa's failure and ultimately Germany's downfall.[2]p. 24 The Soviet Union loses huge numbers of men and quantities of war material.

  • Strategic Soviet victory; Soviet Union retains Leningrad and Moscow, repels the offensive and eventually defeats Germany and its allies
 Nazi Germany
 Kingdom of Romania
 Kingdom of Italy
 Kingdom of Hungary (1920–46)
 Slovak Republic (1939–1945)
 Soviet Union
Commanders and leaders
Nazi Germany Adolf Hitler
Nazi Germany Walther von Brauchitsch
Nazi Germany Franz Halder
Nazi Germany Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb
Nazi Germany Fedor von Bock
Nazi Germany Gerd von Rundstedt
Nazi Germany Robert Ritter von Greim
Romania Ion Victor Antonescu
Finland Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim

Soviet Union Joseph Stalin
Soviet Union Georgy Zhukov
Soviet Union Aleksandr Vasilyevskiy
Soviet Union Semyon Budyonny
Soviet Union Kliment Voroshilov
Soviet Union Semyon Timoshenko
Soviet Union Markian Popov
Soviet Union Fedor Kuznetsov
Soviet Union Dmitry Pavlov Executed

Soviet Union Ivan Tyulenev
Soviet Union Mikhail Kirponos
Units involved
Frontline strength (June 1941):
3.8 million personnel (Axis)[2][3] 4,300 tanks[4]
4,389 aircraft[5]
7,200 artillery pieces[3]
Frontline strength (June 1941):
2.68[2]–2.9 million personnel[6]
Overall strength (June 1941): 5,500,000 personnel[2]
15,000–25,000 tanks,
35,000-40,000 aircraft (11,357 combat ready on 22 June 1941)[7]
Casualties and losses

Total military casualties:
over 800,000

Total military casualties:
over 4,000,000

1Finland was a co-belligerent that launched its own offensive on 25 June. It was not a member of the Axis powers, and the Finnish offensive was coordinated with but distinct from this operation. However, Soviet losses resulting from the Finnish offensive are included in the totals.

25,513 Finns died of their wounds in 1941.[citation needed]

Operation Barbarossa (German: Fall Barbarossa, literally "Case Barbarossa"), beginning 22 June 1941, was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II.[16][17] Over the course of the operation, about four million soldiers of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a 2,900 km (1,800 mi) front,[2][3][18] the largest invasion in the history of warfare. In addition to troops, Barbarossa initially used 600,000 motor vehicles and 625,000 horses.[19] The ambitious operation was driven by Adolf Hitler's persistent desire to conquer the Soviet territories as embodied in Generalplan Ost. It marked the beginning of the pivotal phase in deciding the victors of the war. The German invasion of the Soviet Union caused a high rate of fatalities: 95 percent of all German Army casualties that occurred from 1941 to 1944, and 65 percent of all Allied military casualties from the entire war.[citation needed]

Operation Barbarossa was named after Frederick Barbarossa, the medieval Holy Roman Emperor. The invasion was authorized by Hitler on 18 December 1940 (Directive No. 21) for a start date of 15 May 1941, but this would not be met, and instead the invasion began on 22 June 1941. Tactically, the Germans won resounding victories and occupied some of the most important economic areas of the Soviet Union, mainly in Ukraine.[20] Despite these successes, the German offensive stalled on the outskirts of Moscow and was then pushed back by a Soviet counter offensive without having taken the city. The Germans could never again mount a simultaneous offensive along the entire strategic Soviet–German front.[21] The Red Army repelled the Wehrmacht's strongest blow, and forced an unprepared Germany into a war of attrition with the largest nation on Earth.

Operation Barbarossa's failure led to Hitler's demands for further operations inside the USSR, all of which eventually failed, such as continuing the Siege of Leningrad,[22][23] Operation Nordlicht, and Operation Blue, among other battles on occupied Soviet territory.[24][25][26][27][28]

Operation Barbarossa was the largest military operation in world history in both manpower and casualties.[29] Its failure was a turning point in the Third Reich's fortunes. Most importantly, Operation Barbarossa opened up the Eastern Front, to which more forces were committed than in any other theater of war in world history. Regions covered by the operation became the site of some of the largest battles, deadliest atrocities, highest casualties, and most horrific conditions for Soviets and Germans alike—all of which influenced the course of both World War II and 20th-century history. The German forces captured over three million Soviet prisoners of war in 1941,[13] who were not granted the protection stipulated in the Geneva Conventions.[30] Most of them never returned alive.[31] Germany deliberately starved the prisoners to death as part of its "Hunger Plan", i.e., the program to reduce the Eastern European population.[32]

German intentions

Nazi Germany policy towards the Soviet Union

As early as 1925, Hitler suggested in Mein Kampf that he would invade the Soviet Union, asserting that the German people needed Lebensraum ("living space", i.e., land and raw materials) and that these should be sought in the East. Nazism viewed the Soviet Union (and all of Eastern Europe) as populated by "Untermensch" Slavs, ruled by "Jewish Bolshevik" masters.[33][34] Mein Kampf said Germany's destiny was to turn "to the East" as it did "six hundred years ago" and "the end of the Jewish domination in Russia will also be the end of Russia as a State."[35] Thereafter, Hitler spoke of an inescapable battle against "pan-Slav ideals", in which victory would lead to "permanent mastery of the world", although he also said they would "walk part of the road with the Russians, if that will help us".[36] Accordingly, it was stated Nazi policy to kill, deport, or enslave the majority of Russian and other Slavic populations and repopulate the land with Germanic peoples (see Generalplan Ost). Verification of the belief in German ethnic predominance is discernible in official German records and by pseudo-scientifically validated articles in German periodicals at the time, works which covered matters like ‘how to deal with alien populations’ in the eastern areas to be ceded to Germans for the sake of Lebensraum.[37]

Before World War II, observers believed that in a war with the Soviet Union, Germany would attack through the Baltic states while the Kriegsmarine would seize Leningrad from the sea. They assumed that possessing the entire Baltic basin would satisfy Hitler, who would not repeat Napoleon's mistake of attacking Moscow.[38] Some historians also believe that a decision to invade Russia was premeditated, based on Hitler being afraid of having to fight a war both against the allies in the west as well as against the Russians in the east. This preventative war would allow the Germans to avoid making the same mistake they had made in World War 1.[39]

1939–1940 German-Soviet relationship

The Soviet Union and Germany signed a non-aggression pact in August 1939, the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, shortly before the German invasion of Poland that triggered World War II, which was followed by the Soviet invasion of that country. A secret protocol to the pact outlined an agreement between the Third Reich and the Soviet Union on the division of the border states between their respective "spheres of influence". The Soviet Union and Germany would split Poland if an invasion were to occur, and Latvia, Estonia and Finland were defined as falling within the Soviet sphere of influence.[40][41] The pact surprised the world[42] because of the parties' mutual hostility and their conflicting ideologies. As a result of the pact, Germany and the Soviet Union had reasonably strong diplomatic relations and an important economic relationship. The countries entered a trade pact in 1940, in which the Soviets received German military and industrial equipment in exchange for raw materials, such as oil or wheat, to help Germany circumvent a British blockade.[43]

Despite the parties' ongoing relations, each side was highly suspicious of the other's intentions. After Germany entered the Axis Pact with Japan and Italy, it began negotiations about a potential Soviet entry into the pact.[44] After two days of negotiations in Berlin from 12–14 November, Germany presented a proposed written agreement for a Soviet entry into the Axis. The Soviet Union offered a written counterproposal agreement on 25 November 1940, to which Germany did not respond.[45][46] As both sides began colliding with each other in Eastern Europe, conflict appeared more likely, although they signed a border and commercial agreement addressing several open issues in January 1941. Historians also believe that Stalin, despite providing an amicable front to Hitler, did not wish to remain allies with Germany. Rather, Stalin might have had intentions to break off from Germany and proceed with his own campaign against Germany as well as the rest of Europe.[47]

Germany plans the invasion

The situation in Europe by May–June 1941, at the end of the Balkans Campaign and immediately before Operation Barbarossa

Joseph Stalin's own reputation as a brutal dictator contributed both to the Nazis' justification of their assault and their faith in success. In the late 1930s, many competent and experienced military officers were killed in the Great Purge, leaving the Red Army with a relatively inexperienced leadership compared to that of their German counterparts. The Nazis often emphasized the Soviet regime's brutality when targeting the Slavs with propaganda. German propaganda claimed the Red Army was preparing to attack them, and their own invasion was thus presented as a preemptive strike.[48]

In the summer of 1940, when German raw materials crises and a potential collision with the Soviet Union over territory in the Balkans arose, an eventual invasion of the Soviet Union looked increasingly like Hitler's only solution.[49] While no concrete plans were yet made, Hitler told one of his generals in June that the victories in western Europe "finally freed his hands for his important real task: the showdown with Bolshevism".[50] Although German generals told Hitler that occupying Western Russia would create "more of a drain than a relief for Germany's economic situation,"[51] the Führer anticipated additional benefits:[citation needed]

  • When the Soviet Union was defeated, the labor shortage in German industry could be relieved by demobilization of many soldiers.[citation needed]
  • Ukraine would be a reliable source of agricultural products.[citation needed]
  • Having the Soviet Union as a source of forced labor under German rule would vastly improve Germany's geostrategic position.[citation needed]
  • Defeat of the Soviet Union would further isolate the Allies, especially the United Kingdom.[citation needed]
  • The German economy needed more oil – controlling the Baku Oilfields would achieve this; as Albert Speer, the German Minister for Armaments and War Production, later said in his post-war interrogation, "the need for oil certainly was a prime motive" in the decision to invade.[52]

Weisung Nr. 21: Fall Barbarossa (Directive no. 21: Case Barbarossa) The first paragraph reads: "The German armed forces must be prepared to crush Soviet Russia in a rapid campaign even before the conclusion of the war against England (Case Barbarossa)."[53]

The Marcks Plan for the invasion of the Soviet Union: August 5th 1940

On 5 December 1940, Hitler received the final military plans for the invasion which were drawn since July 1940 already under the codename Operation Otto.[54] He approved them all, with the start scheduled for May 1941.[55] On 18 December, Hitler signed War Directive No. 21 to the German High Command for an operation now codenamed "Operation Barbarossa" stating: "The German Wehrmacht must be prepared to crush Soviet Russia in a quick campaign."[55][56] The operation was named after Emperor Frederick Barbarossa of the Holy Roman Empire, a leader of the Third Crusade in the 12th century. The invasion was set for 15 May 1941.[56] The plan for Barbarossa assumed that the Wehrmacht would emerge victorious if it could destroy the bulk of the Red Army west of the Western Dvina and Dnieper Rivers. This assumption would be proven fatally wrong less than a month into the invasion.[57]

In a 1978 essay "Das Russlandbild der führenden deutschen Militärs" Andreas Hillgruber made the case that the invasion plans drawn up by the German military elite were coloured by hubris stemming from the rapid defeat of France at the hands of the "invincible" Wehrmacht and by ignorance tempered by traditional German stereotypes of Russia as a primitive, backward "Asiatic" country -- a colossus with feet of clay. Red Army soldiers were considered brave and tough, but the officer corps was held in contempt. The leadership of the Wehrmacht paid little attention to politics, the economy or culture and the considerable industrial capacity of the Soviet Union was ignored as a factor, in favour of a very narrow military view. As a result the Wehrmacht was ill-informed about the Soviet military and economic capacity. It was assumed that the Soviet Union was destined to be defeated, and that it would take Germany between six to eight weeks to destroy the Soviet Union.

Hillgruber argued that because these assumptions were shared by the entire military elite Hitler was able to push through a "war of annihilation" that would be waged in the most inhumane fashion possible, with the complicity of "several military leaders", even though it was quite clear that this would be a violation of all accepted norms of warfare.[58]

In the Soviet Union, speaking to his generals in December 1940, Stalin mentioned Hitler's references to an attack on the Soviet Union in Mein Kampf, and said they must always be ready to repulse a German attack, and that Hitler thought the Red Army would need four years to ready itself. Hence, "we must be ready much earlier" and "we will try to delay the war for another two years".[59]

In autumn 1940, high-ranking German officials drafted a memorandum on the dangers of an invasion of the Soviet Union. They said Ukraine, Belorussia and the Baltic States would end up as only a further economic burden for Germany.[60] Another German official argued that the Soviets in their current bureaucratic form were harmless, the occupation would not produce a gain for Germany and "why should it not stew next to us in its damp Bolshevism?"[60]

Hitler disagreed with economists about the risks and told Hermann Göring, the chief of the Luftwaffe, that "everyone on all sides was always raising economic misgivings against a threatening war with Russia. From now on he was not going to listen to any more of that kind of talk or he was going to stop up his ears in order to get his peace of mind."[61] This was passed on to General Georg Thomas, who had been preparing reports on the negative economic consequences of an invasion of the Soviet Union—that it would be a net economic drain unless it was captured intact.[61]

From left to right: Rudolf Heß, Heinrich Himmler, Philipp Bouhler, Fritz Todt and Reinhard Heydrich, listening to Konrad Meyer at a Generalplan Ost exhibition, 20 March 1941

Beginning in March 1941, Göring's Green Folder laid out details of the Soviet Union's proposed economic disposal after the invasion. The entire urban population of the invaded land was to be starved to death, thus creating an agricultural surplus to feed Germany and allowing the urban population's replacement by a German upper class. In the summer of 1941, German Nazi-ideologist Alfred Rosenberg suggested that conquered Soviet territory should be administered in the following Reichskommissariate:[citation needed]

Nazi policy aimed to destroy the Soviet Union as a political entity in accordance with the geopolitical Lebensraum ideal ("Drang nach Osten") for the benefit of future generations of the "Nordic Aryan master race".[48]

Operation Barbarossa was to combine a northern assault towards Leningrad, a symbolic capturing of Moscow, and an economic strategy of seizing oil fields in the south beyond Ukraine. Hitler and his generals disagreed on which of these aspects should take priority and where Germany should focus its energies; deciding on priorities required a compromise. While planning Barbarossa in 1940–1941, in many discussions with his generals, Hitler repeated his order: "Leningrad first, the Donetsk Basin second, Moscow third".[16][62]

Hitler believed Moscow was of "no great importance" in the defeat of the Soviet Union, and instead believed victory would come with the destruction of the Red Army west of the capital.[63][64][65] This later led to conflict between Hitler and several German senior officers including Heinz Guderian, Gerhard Engel, Fedor von Bock and Franz Halder, who believed the decisive victory could only be delivered at Moscow.[66] Hitler was impatient to get on with his long-desired invasion of the east. He was convinced Britain would sue for peace, once the Germans triumphed in the Soviet Union, the real area of Germany's interests. Halder noted in his diaries that, by destroying the Soviet Union, Germany would destroy Britain's hope of victory.[citation needed]

Hitler had grown overconfident from his rapid success in Western Europe and the Red Army's ineptitude in the Winter War against Finland in 1939–1940. He expected victory within a few months and therefore did not prepare for a war lasting into the winter. This meant his troops lacked adequate warm clothing and preparations for a longer campaign when they began their attack. The assumption that the Soviet Union would quickly capitulate would prove to be his undoing.[67]

German preparations

The Germans had begun massing troops near the Soviet border even before the campaign in the Balkans had finished. By the third week in February 1941, 680,000 German soldiers were stationed on the Romanian-Soviet border.[43][68] In preparation for the attack, Hitler moved 3.2 million German and about 500,000 Axis soldiers to the Soviet border, launched many aerial surveillance missions over Soviet territory, and stockpiled materiel in the East. The Soviets were still taken by surprise, mostly due to Stalin's belief that the Third Reich was unlikely to attack only two years after signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The Soviet leader also believed the Nazis would be likely to finish their war with Britain before opening a new front. He refused to believe repeated warnings from his intelligence services on the Nazi buildup, fearing the reports to be British misinformation designed to spark a war between Germany and the USSR.[69]

Spy Dr. Richard Sorge gave Stalin the exact German launch date; Swedish cryptanalysts led by Arne Beurling also knew the date beforehand, but Sorge and other informers (e.g., from the Berlin Police department) had previously given different invasion dates which passed peacefully before the actual invasion. In addition, British intelligence gathering information through Ultra warned the Soviet Union of impending invasion several months prior to 22 June 1941.[70]

The Germans set up deception operations, from April 1941, to add substance to their claims that Britain was the real target: Operations Haifisch and Harpune. These simulated preparations in Norway, the Channel coast and Britain. There were supporting activities such as ship concentrations, reconnaissance flights and training exercises. Some details of these bogus invasion plans were deliberately leaked.[citation needed]

German military planners also researched Napoleon's failed invasion of Russia. In their calculations they concluded that there was little danger of a large-scale retreat of the Soviet army into the Russian interior, as it could not afford to give up the Baltic states, Ukraine, or the Moscow and Leningrad regions, all of which were vital to the Red Army for supply reasons and would thus have to be defended.[71]

The strategy Hitler and his generals agreed on involved three separate army groups assigned to capture specific regions and cities of the Soviet Union. The main German thrusts were conducted along historical invasion routes. Army Group North was to march through the Baltics into northern Russia, and either take or destroy the city of Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg). Army Group Center would advance to Smolensk and then Moscow, marching through what is now Belarus and the west-central regions of Russia proper. Army Group South was to strike the heavily populated and agricultural heartland of Ukraine, taking Kiev before continuing eastward over the steppes of the southern USSR to the Volga with the aim of controlling the oil-rich Caucasus.

The postponement of Barbarossa from the initially planned date of 15 May to the actual invasion date of 22 June 1941 (a 38-day delay) occurred due to a combination of reasons; the Balkans Campaign required a diversion of troops and resources; insufficient logistics (preexisting and those incurred by the Balkans Campaign) hampered the preparations; and an unusually wet winter that kept rivers at full flood until late spring could have discouraged an earlier attack, even if it was unlikely to have happened before the end of the Balkans Campaign. The importance of the delay is still debated.[72][73]

The Germans also decided to bring rear forces (mostly Waffen-SS units and Einsatzgruppen) into the conquered territories to counter any partisan activity in areas they controlled.[48]

Soviet preparations

Despite the estimations held by Hitler and others in the German high command, the Soviet Union was by no means weak. Rapid industrialization in the 1930s had led to industrial output second only to that of the United States, and equal to Germany.[citation needed] Production of military equipment grew steadily, and in the pre-war years the economy became progressively more oriented toward military production. Mikhail Tukhachevsky, one of the prominent military theorists in tank warfare in the interwar period, lobbied the Kremlin for colossal investment in the resources required for the production of weapons in mass quantities. In 1930 he forwarded a memo to the Kremlin, pressing the case for "40,000 aircraft and 50,000 tanks".[74] In the early 1930s, a very modern operational doctrine for the Red Army was developed and promulgated in the 1936 field regulations, in the form of the Deep Battle concept. Defense expenditure also grew rapidly: by 1933 it had reached 12 percent of gross national product, from 5.2 percent in 1913; and by 1940 it stood at 18 percent.[75]

On 5 May 1941, Stalin gave a speech to graduates of military academies in Moscow declaring: "War with Germany is inevitable. If comrade Molotov can manage to postpone the war for two or three years that will be our good fortune, but you yourselves must go off and take measures to raise the combat readiness of our forces".[76]

We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.[77][78]

—Adolf Hitler

When Barbarossa commences, the world will hold its breath and make no comment.

—Adolf Hitler

According to Taylor and Proektor (1974), the Soviet armed forces in the western districts were outnumbered, with 2.6 million Soviet soldiers versus 3.9 million for the Axis.[79] However, Glantz reports about 3.8 million as the total force of the Axis in June 1941, with 900,000 of them deployed in the West.[80] The overall size of the Soviet armed forces in early July 1941, amounted to a little more than five million men, 2.6 million in the west, 1.8 million in the Far East, with the rest being deployed or training elsewhere.[79][80] These figures, however, can be misleading.[citation needed] The figure for Soviet strength in the western districts of the Soviet Union counts only the First Strategic Echelon, which was stationed on and behind the Soviet western frontier to a depth of 400 kilometers; it also underestimates the size of the First Strategic Echelon, which was actually 2.9 million strong.[citation needed] The figure does not include the smaller Second Strategic Echelon, which as of 22 June 1941 was in the process of moving toward the frontier; according to the Soviet strategic plan; it was scheduled to be in position reinforcing the First Strategic Echelon by early July. The total Axis strength is also exaggerated; 3.3 million German troops were earmarked for participation in Barbarossa, but that figure includes reserves which did not take part in the initial assault. A further 600,000 troops provided by Germany's allies also participated, but mostly after the initial offensive.

On 22 June, the German Wehrmacht achieved a local superiority in its initial assault (98 German divisions), including 29 armoured and motorized divisions, some 90 percent of its mobile forces, attacking on a front of 1,200 km (750 mi) between the Baltic Sea and the Carpathian Mountains, against NKVD border troops and the divisions of the Soviet First Operational Echelon (the part of the First Strategic Echelon stationed immediately behind the frontier in the three western Special Military Districts) because it had completed its deployment and was ready to attack about two weeks before the Red Army was scheduled to have finished its own deployment with the Second Strategic Echelon in place. At the time, 41 percent of stationary Soviet bases were located in the near-boundary districts, many of them in the 200 km (120 mi) strip around the border; according to a Red Army directive, fuel, equipment, railroad cars, etc. were similarly concentrated there.[81]

Moreover, on mobilization, as the war went on, the Red Army gained steadily in strength. While the strength of both sides varied, in general the 1941 belligerents fought with a slight Axis numerical superiority in manpower at the front.[citation needed] According to Mikhail Meltyukhov (2000:477), by the start of war, the Red Army numbered a total of 5,774,211 troops: 4,605,321 in ground forces, 475,656 in the air force, 353,752 in the navy, 167,582 as border guards and 171,900 in internal troops of the NKVD.

Development of the armed forces of the Soviet Union
from 1939 to 1941
1 January 1939 22 June 1941 % increase
Divisions calculated 131.5 316.5 140.7
Personnel 2,485,000 5,774,000 132.4
Guns and mortars 55,800 117,600 110.7
Tanks 21,100 25,700 21.8
Aircraft 7,700 18,700 142.8

In some key weapons-systems, however, the Soviets had a considerable numerical advantage. In tanks, for example, the Red Army dominated overwhelmingly in numbers. They possessed 23,106,[83] of which about 12,782 were in the five Western Military Districts (three of which directly faced the German invasion front). Adolf Hitler later said "If I had known about the Russian tank's strength in 1941 I would not have attacked".[84] However, maintenance and readiness standards were very poor; ammunition and radios were in short supply, and many units lacked the trucks needed to carry supplies.[citation needed]

Also, from 1938, the Soviets had partly dispersed their tanks to infantry divisions for infantry support, but after their experiences in the Winter War and their observation of the German campaign against France, they had begun to emulate the Germans and organize most of their armored assets into large armored divisions and corps. This reorganization was only partially implemented at the dawn of Barbarossa,[85] as not enough tanks were available to bring the mechanized corps up to organic strength.

The German Wehrmacht had about 5,200 tanks overall, of which 3,350 were committed to the invasion. This yields a balance of immediately available tanks of about 4:1 in the Red Army's favor. However, the most advanced Soviet tank models, the T-34 and KV-1, were not available in large numbers early in the war, and only accounted for 7.2 percent of the total Soviet tank-force.

The Soviet numerical advantage in heavy equipment was also more than offset by the greatly superior training and readiness of German forces. The Soviet officer corps and high command had been massacred in Stalin's Great Purge (1936–1938). Out of 90 generals arrested, only six survived the purges, as did only 36 out of 180 divisional commanders, and just seven out of 57 army corps commanders. In total, some 30,000 Red Army personnel were executed,[86] while more were deported to Siberia and replaced with officers deemed more "politically reliable". Three out of the five pre-war marshals and about two-thirds of the corps and division commanders were shot. This often left younger, less experienced officers in their places. For example, in 1941, 75 percent of Red Army officers had held their posts for less than one year. The average Soviet corps commander was 12 years younger than the average German division commander. These officers tended to be very reluctant to take the initiative and often lacked the training necessary for their jobs.

The number of aircraft was also heavily in the Soviets' favor. However, Soviet aircraft were largely obsolete, and Soviet artillery lacked modern fire-control techniques.[87] Most Soviet units were on a peacetime footing, which might explain why aviation units had their aircraft parked in closely bunched neat rows, rather than dispersed, making easy targets for the Luftwaffe in the first days of the conflict. Prior to the invasion the VVS (Voenno-Vozdushnye Sily; Soviet Air Force) was forbidden to shoot down Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft, despite hundreds of prewar incursions into Soviet airspace.

1941 U.S. newsreel film about Russian resistance against Germany

A shortage of modern aircraft severely hampered the Soviet war effort in the first phase of the Eastern-front war. The Soviet fighter force was equipped with large numbers of obsolete aircraft, such as the Polikarpov I-15 biplane and the Polikarpov I-16. In 1941 the MiG-3, LaGG-3 and Yak-1 had just started to roll off the production lines, but were far inferior in all-round performance to the Messerschmitt Bf 109 or later, to the Fw 190 when it entered operations in September 1941. Few aircraft had radios and those that were available were unencrypted and did not work reliably. The poor performance of the VVS during the Winter War with Finland had increased the Luftwaffe's confidence that the Soviets could be mastered. The standard of flight training had been accelerated in preparation for a German attack that was expected to come in 1942 or later. However Soviet pilot training was extremely poor. Order No 0362 of the People's Commissar of Defense, dated 22 December 1940, ordered flight training to be accelerated and shortened. Incredibly, while the Soviets had 201 MiG-3s and 37 MiG-1s combat-ready on 22 June 1941, only four pilots had been trained to handle these machines.[88]

The Red Army was dispersed and unprepared, and units were often separated and without transportation to concentrate prior to combat. Although it had numerous, well-designed artillery pieces, some of the guns had no ammunition. Artillery units often lacked transportation to move their guns. Tank units were rarely well equipped, and also lacked training and logistical support. Maintenance standards were very poor. Units were sent into combat with no arrangements for refueling, ammunition resupply, or personnel replacement. Often, after a single engagement, units were destroyed or rendered ineffective. The army was in the midst of reorganizing their armor units into large tank corps, adding to the disorganization.

As a result, although on paper the Red Army in 1941 seemed at least the equal of the German army, the reality in the field was far different; incompetent officers, as well as partial lack of equipment, insufficient motorized logistical support, and poor training placed the Red Army at a severe disadvantage.[citation needed]

In August 1940 British intelligence had received hints of German plans to attack the Soviets only a week after Hitler informally approved the plans for Barbarossa.[70] Stalin's distrust of the British led to his ignoring their warnings, believing it to be a trick designed to bring the Soviet Union into the war.[70][89] In the spring of 1941, Stalin's own intelligence services and American intelligence gave regular and repeated warnings of an impending German attack.[90] However, Stalin chose to ignore them. Although acknowledging the possibility of an attack in general and making significant preparations, he decided not to run the risk of provoking Hitler.[91] He also had an ill-founded confidence in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which the USSR and Germany had signed just two years before. He also suspected the British of trying to spread false rumours in order to trigger a war between Germany and the USSR.[92][93] Consequently, the Soviet border troops were not put on full alert and were sometimes even forbidden to fire back without permission when attacked—though a partial alert was implemented on 10 April—they were simply not ready when the German attack came.[89]

Enormous Soviet forces had massed on the western border of the Soviet Union in case the Germans did attack. However, these forces were very vulnerable due to changes in the tactical doctrine of the Red Army. In 1938, it had adopted, on the instigation of General Dmitry Pavlov, a standard linear-defense tactic in line with other nations. Infantry divisions, reinforced by an organic tank component, would dig in to form heavily fortified zones. Then came the shock of the Fall of France. The Wehrmacht defeated the French Army in a mere six weeks. Soviet analysis of events, based on incomplete information, concluded that French military collapsed due to a reliance on linear defence and a lack of armored reserves.

The Soviets decided not to repeat these mistakes. Instead of digging-in for linear defense, the infantry divisions would henceforth concentrate in large formations.[94] Most tanks would also be concentrated into 29 mechanized corps, each with over 1,031 of them.[95] Should the Germans attack, their armored spearheads would be cut off and wiped out by the mechanized corps.[citation needed] These would then cooperate with the infantry armies to drive back the German infantry, vulnerable in its approach march. The Soviet left wing, in Ukraine, was to be enormously reinforced to be able to execute a strategic envelopment: after destroying German Army Group South, it would swing north through Poland in the back of Army Groups Center and North. With the complete annihilation of the encircled German Army thus made inevitable, a Red Army offensive into the rest of Europe would follow.[96][97]

The Soviet offensive plans theory

General Georgy Zhukov in 1941

Immediately after the German invasion of the USSR, Adolf Hitler put forward a thesis that the Red Army made extensive preparations for an offensive war in Europe, thus justifying the German invasion as a pre-emptive strike.[98] After the war some Wehrmacht leaders, like Wilhelm Keitel, promoted this view.[99]

This thesis was reiterated in the 1980s[98] based on the analysis of circumstantial evidence.[100] Thus it has been found that Zhukov drew up a proposal (signed by Aleksandr Vasilevsky and Nikolai Fyodorovich Vatutin) suggesting secret mobilization and deploying Red Army troops on the western border, under the cover of training. This proposed operation aimed to cut Germany off from its allies, especially from Romania and its oilfields that Germany needed to conduct the war.[101]

According to Viktor Suvorov, Stalin planned to use Germany as a proxy (the "icebreaker") against the West. Stalin aimed to fuel Hitler's aggressive plans against Europe, and only after the countries had fought each other—and exhausted themselves to some extent—would the USSR make their move. For this reason Stalin provided significant material and political support to Adolf Hitler, while at the same time preparing the Red Army to "liberate" the whole of Europe from Nazi occupation. Suvorov saw Barbarossa as a German pre-emptive strike that capitalized on the Soviet troop concentrations immediately on the 1941 borders. Some others who support the idea that Stalin prepared to attack, like Mikhail Meltyukhov, reject this part of Suvorov's theory, arguing that both sides prepared for an attack on their own, not in response to the other side's preparations.

Although this thesis has drawn the attention of the general public in some countries (Germany, Russia and Israel), and has been supported by some historians (examples include Vladimir Nevezhin, Boris Sokolov, Valeri Danilov, Joachim Hoffmann, and Mark Solonin), the idea that Stalin was preparing an attack in 1941 has not been accepted by many western historians.[98][102]

Order of battle

Composition of the Axis forces

Franz Halder as the Chief of General Staff OKH, concentrated the following Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe forces for the operation:

Army Group North (Heeresgruppe Nord) (Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb) staged in East Prussia with (29 divisions):

Army Group Center (Heeresgruppe Mitte) (Fedor von Bock) staged in Eastern Poland with (50 divisions):

Army Group South (Heeresgruppe Süd) (Gerd von Rundstedt) was staged in Southern Poland and Romania with (57 divisions):

From Occupied Norway a smaller group of forces consisted of:

From Finland (engaged in its Continuation War) (16 divisions):

Numerous smaller units from all over Nazi-occupied Europe, like the "Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism" (Légion des Volontaires Français contre le Bolchévisme), supported the German war effort.

Germany and allies Soviet Union Ratio
Divisions 183 190 1 : 1.1
Personnel 4,306,800 3,289,851 1.3 : 1
Guns and mortars 42,601 59,787 1 : 1.4
(incl assault guns)
4,171 15,687 1 : 3.8
Aircraft 4,389[103] 11,537[7] 1 : 2.6

Source: Mikhail Meltyukhov "Stalin's Missed Chance" table 47,[104]

Composition of the Soviet Forces

At the beginning of the German Reich’s invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941 the Red Army areas of responsibility in the European USSR were divided into four active Fronts. More Fronts would be formed within the overall responsibility of the three Strategic Directions commands which corresponded approximately to a German Army (Wehrmacht Heer) Army Group (Heeresgruppen) in terms of geographic area of operations.

In accordance with peacetime directives the Northern Front was formed from the Leningrad Military District, the North-Western Front from the Baltic Special Military District, the Western Front was formed from the Western Special Military District, and the Soviet Southwestern Front was formed from the Kiev Special Military District. The Southern Front was created on 25 June 1941 from the Odessa Military District.

The first Directions were established on 10 July 1941, with Kliment Voroshilov commanding the North-Western Strategic Direction, Timoshenko commanding the Western Strategic Direction, and Budyonny commanding the South-Western Strategic Direction.[105]

The forces of the North-Western Direction were:[106]

The forces of the Western Direction were:

The forces of the South-Western Direction were:

Beside the Armies in the Fronts, there were a further six armies in the Western region of the USSR: the 16th, 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd and the 24th Armies that formed, together with independent units, the Stavka Reserve Group of Armies, later renamed the Reserve Front – nominally under Stalin's direct command.

The invasion

Phase 1: The frontier battles (22 June – 3 July 1941)

German advances during the opening phases of Operation Barbarossa

At 3:15 a.m. on Sunday, 22 June 1941, the Axis bombed major cities in Soviet-occupied Poland, two hours after the start codeword "Wotan" was issued. It is hard to pinpoint the opposing sides' strength in this initial phase, as most German figures include reserves allocated to the East but not yet committed, as well as several other comparability issues between the German and USSR's figures. Roughly three million Wehrmacht troops went into action on 22 June, and they faced slightly fewer Soviet troops in the border Military Districts. The contribution of the German allies would generally not make itself felt until later. The surprise was complete: though the Stavka, alarmed by reports that Wehrmacht units were approaching the border, had, at 00:30, ordered that the border troops be warned that war was imminent, only a small number of units were alerted in time.[citation needed]

At around noon 22 June 1941, the news of the invasion was broadcast to the population by Molotov, as follows:[107]

Citizens and Citizenesses of the Soviet Union! Today, at four o'clock in the morning, without addressing any grievances to the Soviet Union, without declaration of war, German forces fell on our country, attacked our frontiers in many places and bombed our act of treachery unprecedented in the history of civilized nations...The Red Army and the whole nation will wage a victorious Patriotic War for our beloved country, for honour, for liberty...Our cause is just. The enemy will be beaten. Victory will be ours.[107]

By calling upon the population's devotion to their nation rather than the Party, Molotov struck a patriotic chord while allowing a stunned people to absorb the shattering news. The invasion did not come as a surprise to Stalin but he was completely astounded.[107] It was not until 3 July before Stalin addressed the nation for the first time since the start of the German invasion, and just like Molotov's announcement of the war on 22 June, he called for a "patriotic war...of the entire Soviet people".[108][109]

In Germany, on the morning of 22 June, Joseph Goebbels announced the invasion to the waking nation in a radio broadcast:[110]

At this moment a march is taking place that, for its extent, compares with the greatest the world has ever seen. I have decided today to place the fate and future of the Reich and our people in the hands of our soldiers. May God aid us, especially in this fight.[110]

German troops crossing the Soviet border, 22 June 1941

Later the same morning, Hitler proclaimed to colleagues, "before three months have passed, we shall witness a collapse of Russia, the like of which has never been seen in history".[110]

Aside from the roughly 3.2 million German ground troops engaged in, or earmarked for, the Eastern Campaign, about 500,000 Romanian, Hungarian, Slovakian, Croatian, and Italian troops accompanied the German forces, while the Army of Finland made a major contribution in the north. The 250th Spanish "Blue" Infantry Division, was a formation of volunteered Spanish Falangists and Nazi sympathisers.[citation needed]

Luftwaffe reconnaissance units worked frantically to plot troop concentration, supply dumps, and airfields, and mark them for destruction. The Luftwaffe's task was to neutralize the Soviet Air Force. This was not achieved in the first days of operations, despite the Soviets having concentrated aircraft in huge groups on the permanent airfields rather than dispersing them on field landing strips, making them ideal targets. The Luftwaffe claimed to have destroyed 1,489 aircraft on the first day of operations.[111] Hermann Göring—Chief of the Luftwaffe—distrusted the reports and ordered the figure checked. Picking through the wreckages of Soviet airfields, the Luftwaffe's figures proved conservative, as over 2,000 destroyed Soviet aircraft were found.[111] The Luftwaffe lost 35 aircraft on the first day of combat. The Germans claimed to have destroyed only 3,100 Soviet aircraft in the first three days. In fact Soviet losses were far higher; according to Russian historian Viktor Kulikov, some 3,922 Soviet aircraft had been lost.[112] The Luftwaffe had achieved air superiority over all three sectors of the front, and would maintain it until the close of the year.[113] The Luftwaffe could now devote large numbers of its Geschwader (also see Luftwaffe Organization) to support the ground forces.

Army Group North

Crossing of the Daugava (Dvina) river by the 20th Panzer Division

Opposite Army Group North were two Soviet armies. The Wehrmacht OKH thrust the 4th Panzer Group, with a strength of 600 tanks, at the junction of the two Soviet armies in that sector. The 4th Panzer Group's objective was to cross the Neman and Daugava Rivers which were the two largest obstacles in the advance to Leningrad. On the first day, tanks crossed the River Neman and penetrated 50 mi (80 km). Near Raseiniai, the armoured units were counterattacked by 300 tanks of the 3rd and 12th Soviet Mechanized Corps. It took four days for the Germans to encircle and destroy the Soviet armour who lacked fuel, ammunition and coordination. By the end of the first week the Soviet Mechanized Corps had lost 90 percent of its strength.[114] The Panzer Groups then crossed the Daugava near Daugavpils. The Germans were now within striking distance of Leningrad. However, due to their deteriorated supply situation, Hitler ordered the Panzer Groups to hold their position until the infantry formations caught up. The orders to hold would last over a week, giving time for the Soviets to build up a defense around Leningrad and along the bank of the Luga River. Further complicating the Soviet position, on 22 June, the anti-Soviet June Uprising in Lithuania began, and an independent Lithuania was proclaimed on the 23rd.[115] An estimated 30,000 Lithuanian rebels engaged Soviet forces, joined by ethnic Lithuanians from the Red Army. As the Germans reached further north, armed resistance against the Soviets broke out in Estonia as well. The "Battle of Estonia" culminated as the 18th Army reached the Gulf of Finland coast[116] which forced the Baltic Fleet to evacuate Tallinn, resulting in one of the greatest naval disasters in history.

Army Group Center

Panzer units move through Pruzhany in western Belarus in June 1941.

Army Group Center was composed of 4th Army, 9th Army, 2nd Panzer Group, 3rd Panzer Group; with 2nd army held in the strategic reserve.[117] Opposite Army Group Center were four Soviet armies: the 3rd, 4th, 10th and 11th Armies.

The Soviet Armies occupied a salient that jutted into German occupied Polish territory with the Soviet salient's center at Białystok. Beyond Białystok was Minsk, the capital of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic and a key railway junction. The goal of the two Panzer Groups' was to meet at Minsk, denying the Red Army an escape route from the salient. The 3rd Panzer Group broke through the junction of two Soviet Fronts in the north of the salient, and crossed the River Neman while the 2nd Panzer Group crossed the Bug River river in the south. As the Panzer Groups attacked, the 4th and 9th Armies of Army Group Center struck at the salient, eventually encircling Soviet troops at Białystok.

Stavka at first failed to grasp the dimensions of the catastrophe that had befallen the Soviet Union. Marshal Semyon Timoshenko ordered all Soviet forces to launch a general counter-offensive, but with supply and ammunition dumps destroyed, and the complete collapse of communication, the uncoordinated attacks failed. Zhukov signed the infamous Directive of People's Commissariat of Defence No. 3, under pressure from Stalin – as he later claimed, which ordered the Red Army to start an offensive. He commanded the troops "to encircle and destroy the enemy grouping near Suwałki and to seize the Suwałki region by the evening of 26 June" and "to encircle and destroy the enemy grouping invading Vladimir-Volynia and Brody direction" and even "to seize the Lublin region by the evening of 24 June".[118] This maneuver failed, and disorganized Red Army units were soon destroyed by the Wehrmacht.

Captured Soviet equipment

On 27 June, 2nd and 3rd Panzer Groups met up at Minsk, advancing 200 mi (320 km) into Soviet territory and a third of the way to Moscow. In the vast pocket between Minsk and the Polish border, the remnants of thirty-two Soviet Rifle divisions, eight Tank, Motorized, Cavalry and Artillery divisions were encircled.[citation needed] By 3 July, three encircled Soviet Armies (3rd, 4th and 10th) were destroyed in the vicinity of Minsk. Hitler had believed that the Red Army would collapse if the Wehrmacht could destroy the bulk of the their forces west of the Western Dvina and Dnieper Rivers. However after the victory at Minsk, as Army Group Center reached the two rivers, they encountered another five Soviet Armies (16th, 19th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd). Three of these Soviet Armies (16th, 19th, and 20th) were quickly encircled and eventually decimated in the vicinity of Smolensk, while the other two were severely weakened. However, these successes came at a very steep cost for the Wehrmacht.[119] According to Franz Halder, the chief of the OKH General Staff, by 2 August Army Group Center had lost 74,500 men and received only 23,000 replacements since the start of the campaign. Later still, by 28 August, Halder recorded that the Panzer divisions of the 2nd and 3rd Panzer Groups were operating with an average tank strength of 45 percent, with the 7th Panzer Division the lowest at a strength of only 24 percent.[120]

Army Group South

Ukraine, early days of Barbarossa

Opposite Army Group South were three Soviet armies, the 5th, 6th and 26th. Soviet commanders reacted quicker and the Germans faced determined resistance from the start. The German infantry armies struck at the junctions of these armies while the 1st Panzer Group drove its armored spearhead of 600 tanks right through the Soviet 6th Army, aiming to take Brody. On 26 June, five Soviet mechanized corps with over 4,000 tanks mounted a massive counterattack on the 1st Panzer Group. The battle was among the fiercest of the 1941 campaign and one of the largest tank battles in history, lasting over four days. In the end the poor Soviet logistics and coordination, combined with German tactical skill and air superiority enabled the Germans to prevail, although the Soviets inflicted heavy losses on the 1st Panzer Group.[citation needed]

With the Soviet counteroffensives' failure, the last substantial Soviet tank forces in Western Ukraine had been decimated, and the Red Army assumed a defensive posture, focusing on strategic withdrawal under severe pressure. The Soviet air arm, the VVS, lost 1,561 aircraft over Ukraine, with one tenth of its entire strength destroyed on the ground on the first day of the war.[121] With their armored reserves all but destroyed, the Red Army in Ukraine could not conduct any mobile operations and were forced onto the defensive for the rest of the year.

However, Red Army commanders such as Mikhail Kirponos, Konstantin Rokossovsky and Andrey Vlasov were among some of the best generals in the Soviet Union (though Vlasov would eventually defect to Germany). Their tactical skill, as well as quick reaction to the invasion meant that the Soviet forces in Ukraine avoided the rapid destruction that befell other army groups in Belarus and the Baltic States. However without any armored support, and the Luftwaffe dominating the sky, all the Red Army could do was buy time. Eventually, the German 6th Army broke through the Stalin Line and 1st Panzer Group finally reached open country. von Kleist's Panzers linked up with von Reichenau's forces, trapping the remains of the Soviet 5th and 6th armies. The door to Kiev was now open.

Summary of the first phase

By the end of the first week, all three German Army Groups had achieved major campaign objectives. However, in the vast pocket around Minsk and Białystok, the Soviets were still fighting; reducing the pocket was causing high German casualties and many Red Army troops were escaping. The estimated casualties of the Red Army amount to 600,000 killed, wounded, missing or captured.

Franz Halder summarized the achievements made in the opening phase of the operation in his diary as follow: "The objective to shatter the bulk of the Russian Army this [western] side of the Dvina and Dnieper has been accomplished... It is thus probably no overstatement to say that the Russian Campaign has been won in the space of two weeks."[122] However, cracks were already beginning to form in Hitler's plan. It became apparent to everyone that the OKH had grossly underestimated the size of Soviet reserves. Furthermore, the Wehrmacht's officer core consisted of the old German aristocracy, primarily Prussian Junkers. These officers were schooled in the 19th century style of Clausewitzian theory.

According to Clausewitz, wars were won by concentrating your armies at the enemy's focal point, their tactical Schwerpunkt. At the tactical level, this meant that your armies would win a battle by concentrating effort at unexpected locations, then having them converge upon the enemies focal point, leading to a Kesselschlacht, a cauldron battle. Now surrounded, the enemy would be forced to fight a Vernichtungsschlacht, a battle of annihilation where they would be destroyed. The Białystok–Minsk operation is a perfect example of this style of thinking. At the strategic level, this meant that your armies after winning their decisive battles would eventually converge on the enemies overall focal point. In the case of Operation Barbarossa, this was Moscow. Thus nearly every German commander treated Moscow as the ultimate prize.

However Hitler had a more modern, and according to David Glantz[citation needed], correct view of modern warfare. Wars were not won by aristocrats drinking wine and smoking cigars over the negotiating table, dictating terms to their defeated gentleman rivals after winning some decisive engagement. Wars were won by making resistance impossible by starving them of industrial production, and denying them the raw materials needed to fight. In this thinking, Leningrad was of vital importance to keep the Baltic Fleet from interfering with deliveries of iron ore from Sweden. Furthermore, Crimea must be captured to prevent air raids on Romanian oil fields. Kharkov also must be captured to deny the enemy its deposits of coal and iron, as well as its heavy industry. Finally, Rostov-on-Don must be captured in order to deny access to the Black Sea as well as using it as eventual launching pad for an invasion of the Caucasus, rich in oil and minerals.

To this end, Hitler ordered 3rd Panzer Group north in order to assist Army Group North in the capture of Leningrad. The 11th Army was ordered south to capture Crimea. The 6th Army was ordered to seize Kharkov and the 1st Panzer Group was ordered to seize Rostov-on-Don with the 17th Army acting as the link between the other two. This meant that instead of the armies converging on some decisive objective, they were instead spreading themselves out leading to thinly defended sectors and dangerous gaps, areas ripe for counterattacks. To the German officer corps, Hitler's decisions were strategic madness.

Phase 2: Battle of Smolensk (3 July – 5 August 1941)

German advances during Operation Barbarossa, 22 June to 9 September 1941

On 3 July, Hitler finally gave the go-ahead for the Panzers to resume their drive east after the infantry divisions had caught up. However, a rainstorm typical of Russian summers slowed their progress and Russian defenses stiffened. The delays gave the Soviets time to organize a massive counterattack against Army Group Center. Its ultimate objective was Smolensk, which commanded the road to Moscow. Facing the Germans was an old Soviet defensive line held by six armies. On 6 July, the Soviets attacked the 3rd Panzer Army with 700 tanks. The Germans defeated this counterattack with overwhelming air superiority. The 2nd Panzer Army crossed the River Dnieper and closed on Smolensk from the south while the 3rd Panzer Army, after defeating the Soviet counterattack, closed on Smolensk from the north. Trapped between their pincers were three Soviet armies. On 18 July, the Panzer Groups came to within sixteen kilometres of closing the gap but the trap would not snap shut until 26 July. When the Panzer Groups finally closed the gap, 300,000 Red Army soldiers were captured;[123] but liquidating the pocket took another ten days in which time 100,000 Red Army soldiers escaped to stand between the Germans and Moscow.

Four weeks into the campaign, the Germans realized they had grossly underestimated Soviet strength. The German troops had used their initial supplies without attaining the expected strategic freedom of movement. Operations were now slowed down to allow for resupply; the delay was to be used to adapt strategy to the new situation. Hitler had lost faith in encirclement as large numbers of Soviet soldiers had escaped the pincers. Hitler now believed he could defeat the Soviets by economic damage, depriving them of the industrial capacity to continue the war. That meant seizing the industrial center of Kharkov, the Donets Basin and the oil fields of the Caucasus in the south and the speedy capture of Leningrad, a major center of military production, in the north. He also wanted to link up with the Finns to the north.

Fedor von Bock and almost all the German generals involved in Operation Barbarossa, vehemently argued in favor of continuing the all-out drive toward Moscow. Besides the psychological importance of capturing the enemy's capital, the generals pointed out that Moscow was a major center of arms production and the center of the Soviet communications and transportation system. More importantly, intelligence reports indicated that the bulk of the Red Army was deployed near Moscow under Semyon Timoshenko for an all-out defense of the capital. But Hitler was adamant, and issued a direct order to Heinz Guderian, bypassing his commanding officer von Bock, to send Army Group Centre's tanks to the north and south, temporarily halting the drive to Moscow.

Phase 3: Kiev and Leningrad (5 August – 2 October 1941)

By mid-July, below the Pinsk Marshes, the Germans had come within a few kilometers of Kiev. The 1st Panzer Army then went south while the German 17th Army struck east and trapped three Soviet armies near Uman. As the Germans eliminated the pocket, the tanks turned north and crossed the Dnieper. Meanwhile, the 2nd Panzer Army, diverted from Army Group Center, had crossed the River Desna with 2nd Army on its right flank. The two Panzer armies now trapped four Soviet armies and parts of two others.

Killing of Jews at Ivangorod, Ukraine, 1942[124]

For its final attack on Leningrad, the 4th Panzer Army was reinforced by tanks from Army Group Center. On 8 August, the Panzers broke through the Soviet defenses; the German 16th Army attacked to the northeast, the 18th Army and the Estonian guerilla Forest Brothers cleared the country and advanced to Lake Peipus.[125] By the end of August, 4th Panzer Army had penetrated to within 30 mi (48 km) of Leningrad. The Finns had pushed southeast on both sides of Lake Ladoga, reaching the old Finnish-Soviet frontier.

At this stage, Hitler ordered the final destruction of Leningrad with no prisoners taken, and on 9 September, Army Group North began the final push which within ten days brought it within 7 mi (11 km) of the city. However, the advance over the last 10 km (6.2 mi) proved very slow and casualties mounted. At this stage, Hitler lost patience and ordered that Leningrad should not be stormed but starved into submission. Deprived of its Panzer forces, Army Group Center had remained static and was subjected to numerous Soviet counterattacks in particular the Yelnya Offensive in which the Germans suffered their first major tactical defeat since their invasion began. These attacks drew Hitler's attention back to Army Group Center and its drive on Moscow. The Germans ordered the 3rd and 4th Panzer Armies to break off their siege of Leningrad and support Army Group Center on its attack on Moscow.

Before it could begin, operations in Kiev needed to be finished. Half of Army Group Center had swung to the south in the back of the Kiev position, while Army Group South moved to the north from its Dniepr bridgehead. The encirclement of Soviet Forces in Kiev was achieved on 16 September. A savage battle ensued in which the Soviets were hammered with tanks, artillery, and aerial bombardment. After ten days of vicious fighting, the Germans claimed over 600,000 Soviet soldiers captured. Actual losses were 452,720 men, 3,867 artillery pieces and mortars from 43 Divisions of the 5th, 21st, 26th, and 37th Soviet Armies.[126]

Phase 4: Battle for Moscow (2 October – 5 December 1941)

The eastern front at the time of the Battle of Moscow:

  Initial Wehrmacht advance – to 9 July 1941
  Subsequent advances – to 1 September 1941
  Encirclement and battle of Kiev – to 9 September 1941
  Final Wehrmacht advance – to 5 December 1941

Soldiers pull a staff car through the heavy mud of the Russian roads, November 1941.

After Kiev, the Red Army no longer outnumbered the Germans and there were no more directly available trained reserves. To defend Moscow, Stalin could field 800,000 men in 83 divisions, but no more than 25 divisions were fully effective. Operation Typhoon, the drive to Moscow, began on 2 October. In front of Army Group Center was a series of elaborate defense lines, the first centered on Vyazma and the second on Mozhaysk.

The first blow took the Soviets completely by surprise as the 2nd Panzer Army, returning from the south, took Oryol which was 75 mi (121 km) south of the Soviet first main defense line. Three days later, the Panzers pushed on to Bryansk while 2nd Army attacked from the west. The Soviet 3rd and 13th Armies were now encircled. To the north, the 3rd and 4th Panzer Armies attacked Vyazma, trapping the 19th, 20th, 24th and 32nd Armies. Moscow's first line of defense had been shattered. The pocket eventually yielded 673,000 Soviet prisoners, bringing the tally since the start of the invasion to three million. The Soviets had only 90,000 men and 150 tanks left for the defense of Moscow.

The Soviets had already survived beyond the few weeks that most experts expected after the Germans invaded; Walter Duranty was perhaps the only observer to predict that the USSR could survive for much longer.[127] The German government now publicly predicted the imminent capture of Moscow, convincing foreign correspondents of a pending Soviet collapse.[128]:83–91 On 13 October, the 3rd Panzer Army penetrated to within 90 mi (140 km) of the capital. Martial law was declared in Moscow. Almost from the beginning of Operation Typhoon, however, the weather had deteriorated. Temperatures fell while there was a continued rainfall, turning the unpaved road network into mud and steadily slowing the German advance on Moscow to as little as 2 mi (3.2 km) a day. The supply situation rapidly deteriorated. On 31 October, the German Army High Command ordered a halt to Operation Typhoon while the armies were reorganized. The pause gave the Soviets, who were in a far better supply situation, time to consolidate their positions and organize formations of newly activated reservists. In little over a month the Soviets organized eleven new armies which included 30 divisions of Siberian troops. These had been freed from the Soviet far east as Soviet intelligence had assured Stalin there was no longer a threat from the Japanese. With the Siberian forces came over 1,000 tanks and 1,000 aircraft.

The Germans were nearing exhaustion, while they also began to recall Napoleon's invasion of Russia. General Günther Blumentritt noted in his diary:

They remembered what happened to Napoleon's Army. Most of them began to re-read Caulaincourt's grim account of 1812. That had a weighty influence at this critical time in 1941. I can still see Von Kluge trudging through the mud from his sleeping quarters to his office and standing before the map with Caulaincourt's book in his hand.[129]

On 15 November, with the ground hardening due to the cold weather, the Germans once again began the attack on Moscow. Although the troops themselves were now able to advance again, there had been no delay allowed to improve the supply situation. Facing the Germans were the 5th, 16th, 30th, 43rd, 49th, and 50th Soviet armies. The Germans intended to let 3rd and 4th Panzer Armies cross the Moscow Canal and envelop Moscow from the northeast. 2nd Panzer Army would attack Tula and then close in on Moscow from the south. As the Soviets reacted to the flanks, 4th Army would attack the center. In two weeks of desperate fighting, lacking sufficient fuel and ammunition, the Germans slowly crept towards Moscow. However, in the south, 2nd Panzer Army was being blocked. On 22 November, Soviet Siberian units augmented with the 49th and 50th Soviet Armies attacked the 2nd Panzer Army and inflicted a shocking defeat on the Germans. However, 4th Panzer Army pushed the Soviet 16th Army back and succeeded in crossing the Moscow canal and began the encirclement.

On 2 December, part of the 258th Infantry Division advanced to within 15 mi (24 km) of Moscow, and could see the spires of the Kremlin,[130] but by then the first blizzards of the winter had begun. A Reconnaissance-Battalion also managed to reach the town of Khimki—only about 8 km (5.0 mi) away from the Soviet capital—and captured its bridge over the Moscow-Volga Canal as well as its railway station, which marked the farthest advance of German forces.[131][132] The Wehrmacht was not equipped for winter warfare. The bitter cold also caused severe problems for their guns and equipment; weather conditions grounded the Luftwaffe. Newly built-up Soviet units near Moscow now numbered over 500,000 men, and on 5 December, they launched a massive counterattack which pushed the Germans back over 200 mi (320 km). By December 1941, the invasion had cost the German Army over 210,000 killed and missing and 620,000 wounded, a third of whom became casualties after 1 October.


German soldiers with a destroyed Soviet KV-1 tank at Kaunas

Looking back near the end of the war, as Germany's inevitable and impending defeat loomed ever closer, Hitler attributed great blame to Mussolini's Greek fiasco as the cause of his own subsequent catastrophe.[133] Shirer argues that the fatal decision of the operation was the postponement from the original date of 15 May because Hitler wanted to intervene against an anti-German coup in Yugoslavia and Greek advances against Italy's occupation of Albania.[134] As an explanation of Germany's calamitous defeat in the Soviet Union, this had little to commend it.[135] But, although the diversion of German resources into Greece just prior to the attack on the Soviet Union scarcely helped the latter enterprise, Mussolini's foolishness did not undermine 'Barbarossa' before the operation started.[133] During the campaign, Hitler ordered the main thrust toward Moscow to be diverted southward to help the Southern Army Group capture Ukraine. This move delayed the assault on the Soviet capital, though it also helped secure Army Group Center's southern flank. By the time they turned to Moscow, the Red Army's fierce resistance, the mud following the autumn rains and, eventually, snow, brought their advance to a halt.

In addition, resistance by the Soviets, who proclaimed a Great Patriotic War in defense of the motherland, was much more fierce than the German command had expected. The border fortress of Brest, Belarus illustrates that tenacity: attacked on the very first day of the German invasion, the fortress was expected to fall within hours, but held out over a week. (Soviet propaganda later asserted it held out for six weeks).[136] German logistics also became a major problem, as supply lines grew very long and vulnerable to partisan attacks in the rear. The Soviets also carried out a scorched earth policy on some of the land they were forced to abandon in order to deny the Germans food, fuel and buildings.

Despite the setbacks, the German advance continued, often destroying or surrounding whole armies of Soviet troops and forcing them to surrender. The battle for Kiev was especially brutal. On 19 September, Army Group South seized control of Kiev, and took 665,000 prisoners. Kiev was later awarded the title Hero City for its defense.

Army Group North, which was to conquer the Baltic countries and eventually Leningrad, reached the southern outskirts of Leningrad by August 1941. There, fierce Soviet resistance stopped it. Since capturing the city seemed too costly, German command decided to starve the city to death by blockade, starting the Siege of Leningrad. The city held out, despite several attempts by the Germans to break through its defenses, unrelenting air and artillery attacks, and severe shortages of food and fuel, until the Germans were driven back from the city's approaches in early 1944. The siege resulted in the deaths of some one million of the city's inhabitants.[137] Leningrad was the first Soviet city to receive the title of 'Hero City'.

In addition to the main attacks of Barbarossa, German forces occupied the Finnish district of Petsamo in order to secure its important nickel mines. They also launched a series of attacks against Murmansk beginning on 28 June 1941, known as Operation Silberfuchs.

Reasons for initial Soviet defeats

A column of Red Army prisoners of war captured near Minsk is marched west

A group of Soviet prisoners of war, taken to an undefined prison camp. Some 2.8 million Soviet prisoners were killed in just eight months of 1941–42.

The Red Army and air force were so badly defeated in 1941 mainly because they were ill-prepared for the Axis surprise attack. By 1941 the Germans were the most experienced and best-trained troops in the world for the rapid, blitzkrieg-style warfare that encompassed the Eastern Front during the second half of 1941.[citation needed]

The Axis had a doctrine of mobility, annihilation, excellent communications and confidence caused by repeated low-cost victories. The Soviet armed forces, by contrast, lacked leadership, training and readiness.[citation needed] The officer corps of the Red Army had been decimated by Stalin's Great Purge of 1936–1938, and their replacements, appointed by Stalin for political reasons, often lacked military competence, which was shown by the difficulty that the Soviet Union had in defeating Finland in the Russo-Finnish War of 1939–1940.[138] Of the five marshals appointed in 1935, only two emerged from Stalin's purge with their lives; 50 out of the 57 corps commanders were killed, 154 out of the 186 divisional commanders and 401 out of 456 colonels; and many other officers were dismissed.[139][140] Stalin further underscored his control by reasserting the role of political commissars at the divisional level and below to oversee and ensure the political correctness and loyalty of the army to the regime. The commissars held a position equal to that of the commander but with the authority to countermand his orders.[141]

Nonetheless, the impact of the purges must be seen in context of the military strength of the armed forces in 1937, which was far from actualizing the goals set by the military reforms that began in the early 1930s. By 1941 about 80 percent of the officers dismissed during the purge had been reinstated.[141] Also, between January 1939 and May 1941, 161 new divisions were activated. Therefore, although about 75 percent of all the officers had been in their position for less than one year by 1941, that was because of the rapid increase in creation of military units, and not just because of the purge.[141] Hence, it was the combined effect of the purge and the rapid expansion of the army that led to its dilution.

In the interwar years following the end of World War I, much of the effort of the Red Army was put towards the development of offensive forces, concepts, doctrines, and techniques. Soviet brainpower and resources focused on the creation of elements critical to achieving strategic offensive success through the conduct of deep operations and deep battle. The Red Army's fixation on offensive combat meant little attention was given to defensive combat.[142] For instance, the 1936 Field Regulations devoted only about 20 pages of the 300-page document to defence, in which it was described as a temporary phenomenon designed to economize force, gain time, hold critical areas, or disrupt an advancing enemy, pending a resumption of the all-important offence. This general neglect for the need of defensive combat, combined with other problems, caused the disasters that befell the Red Army in the summer and fall of 1941.[142]

Much Soviet planning assumed that in case of a German invasion, the main forces of each side would need up to two weeks to meet each other and Stalin forbade any ideas of a campaign deep inside Soviet territory. Thus the Axis attack came when new organizations and promising, but untested, weapons were just beginning to trickle into operational units.[138] Much of the Soviet Army in Europe was concentrated along the new western border of the Soviet Union, in former Polish territory that lacked significant defenses, allowing many Soviet military units to be overrun and destroyed in the first weeks of war.[138] Initially, many Soviet units were also hampered by Semyon Timoshenko's and Georgy Zhukov's prewar orders (demanded by Joseph Stalin) not to engage or to respond to provocations (followed by a similarly damaging first reaction from Moscow, an order to stand and fight, then counterattack; this left those units vulnerable to encirclement) by a lack of experienced officers and by bureaucratic inertia.[138]

Stalin's orders not to retreat or surrender led to static linear positions that German tanks easily breached, again quickly cutting supply lines and surrounding whole Soviet armies. Only later did Stalin allow his troops to retreat wherever possible and regroup, to mount a defense in depth, or to counterattack. More than 2.4 million Soviet troops had been captured by December 1941, by which time German and Soviet forces were fighting almost in the suburbs of Moscow. Until the end of the war, more than three million Soviet prisoners were to die from exposure, starvation, disease, or willful mistreatment by the Nazi regime.[143]

In his memoirs, Zhukov summarized the predicament as follows:[78]

two or three years would have given the Soviet people a brilliant army, perhaps the best in the world… [but] history allotted us too small a period of peace to get everything organized as it should have been. We began many things correctly and there were many things we had no time to finish. Our miscalculation regarding the possible time of the fascist Germany's attack told greatly.[78]

Soviet tactical errors in the first few weeks of the offensive proved catastrophic. Initially, the Red Army was fooled by overestimation of its own capabilities. Instead of intercepting German armor, Soviet mechanised corps were ambushed and destroyed after Luftwaffe dive bombers inflicted heavy losses. Soviet tanks, poorly maintained and manned by inexperienced crews, suffered an appalling rate of breakdowns. Lack of spare parts and trucks ensured a logistical collapse. The decision not to dig in the infantry divisions proved disastrous. Lacking tanks and sufficient motorization, Soviet troops could not wage mobile warfare against the Axis.[citation needed]


The climax of Operation Barbarossa came when Army Group Center, already short on supplies because of the October mud, was ordered to advance on Moscow; forward units of the 2nd Panzer Division's 38th Panzer Pioneer Battalion (38PzPi.Abtl.)[144] (armored engineers) came within sight of the spires of the Kremlin when they reached the rail line just south of the town of Lobnya, 16 km (9.9 mi) from Moscow, on 1 December 1941. Soviet troops, well supplied and reinforced by fresh divisions from Siberia, defended Moscow in the Battle of Moscow, and drove the Germans back as the winter advanced. The bulk of the counter-offensive targeted Army Group Center, which was closest to Moscow.

Belarus or Ukraine farmhouse destroyed during the German invasion in 1941

With no shelter, few supplies, inadequate winter clothing, and chronic food shortages, German troops had no choice but to wait out the winter in the frozen wasteland. The Germans avoided being routed by Soviet counterattacks but suffered heavy casualties from battle and exposure.

At the time, the seizure of Moscow was considered[by whom?] the key to victory for Germany. Nowadays, historians debate whether the loss of the Soviet capital would have caused the collapse of the USSR; but Operation Barbarossa failed to achieve that goal.

The outcome of Operation Barbarossa proved a disaster for the Germans, but the Soviets were, initially, at least as badly damaged. Although the Germans had failed to take Moscow outright, they held huge areas of the western Soviet Union, including the entire regions of present-day Belarus, Ukraine, and the Baltic states, plus parts of Russia proper west of Moscow. German forces had advanced 1,050 mi (1,690 km), and maintained a linearly measured front of 1,900 mi (3,100 km).[145] The Germans held up to 500,000 sq mi (1,300,000 km2) of territory with over 75 million people at the end of 1941, and went on to seize another 250,000 sq mi (650,000 km2) before being forced to retreat after defeats at the Battle of Stalingrad (1942–43) and the Battle of Kursk (1943). However, the occupied areas were not always properly controlled by the Germans and underground activity rapidly escalated. Wehrmacht occupation was brutal from the start, due to directives issued by Hitler himself at the operation's start: he regarded the Russians and other Soviet citizens as Untermenschen ("sub-humans") ruled by Jewish Bolshevik masters. This attitude alienated the population, though in some areas (such as Ukraine) some local people had been ready to consider the Germans as liberators helping to rid them of Stalin. Anti-German partisan operations intensified when Red Army units that had dissolved into the country's large uninhabited areas re-emerged as underground forces; and under repressive German policies. The Germans held on stubbornly in the face of Soviet counterattacks, resulting in huge casualties on both sides in many battles.

The war on the Eastern Front went on for four years. The death toll may never be established with any degree of certainty. A 1994 estimate of Soviet military deaths tallies 8.7 million who lost their lives either in combat or in Axis captivity.[146] Numbers of Soviet civilian deaths remain unclear, though roughly 20 million is a frequently cited figure. German military deaths are also to a large extent controversial. The most recent German estimate (Rüdiger Overmans) concluded that about 4.3 million Germans and a further 900,000 Axis forces lost their lives either in combat or in Soviet captivity.[citation needed] Operation Barbarossa counts as the single most lethal military operation in history.

The Soviet Union had not signed the Geneva Convention. However, a month after the German invasion in 1941, Moscow made an offer for a reciprocal adherence to the Hague convention. Third Reich officials left this Soviet "note" unanswered.[147] Ultimately, for those in the Soviet Union, who bore the brunt of the German war machine’s wrath, Operation Barbarossa proved an exemplification of Nazi cruelty and disregard of human life.[148] As historian Gerhard Weinberg explains in his voluminous, A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II, the war on the Eastern Front, subsumed to its greatest measure by Operation Barbarossa, constitutes the majority of fighting for the entire Second World War. Accordingly, more people died fighting on the Eastern Front than on all the other fighting across the globe during World War II.[149]

As a legacy for Germans in later generations came military defeat, occupation by foreign powers, guilt, economic and physical devastation, and the partition of Germany into East and West political entities. Globally however, the impact on the physical landscape, the architecture of Europe, the ethnic composition of nations, the economies of the participant countries, and the reconfiguration of world power make Operation Barbarossa, as German historian Andreas Hillgruber once quipped, "one of the few really fundamental world-history decisions of this [the twentieth] century."[150]

Causes of the failure of Operation Barbarossa

The gravity of the beleaguered German army's situation towards the end of 1941 was due to the Red Army's increasing strength and factors that in the short run severely restricted the German forces' effectiveness. Chief among these were their overstretched deployment, a serious transport crisis and the eroded strength of most divisions. The infantry deficit that appeared by 1 September 1941, was never made good. For the rest of the war in the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht would be short of infantry and support services.

Underestimation of the capacity of Soviet mobilization

The German High Command grossly underestimated the mobilization potential of the Red Army. From the onset of the campaign till the end of 1941, the Soviet Union raised 825 division-equivalents,[2] tapping into its mobilization pool of over 10 million men.[151] Between the onset of the war and the end of June alone 800,000 men were mobilized, and another 600,000 in July. The plan for Barbarossa assumed that the Wehrmacht would emerge victorious if it could destroy the bulk of the Red Army west of the Dvina and Dnieper rivers. By 3 July, Army Group Center had, in the Battle of Białystok–Minsk, destroyed three encircled Soviet Armies (3rd, 4th and 10th) in the vicinity of Minsk. As Army Group Center arrived at the river banks on 7 July, however, they discovered another five Soviet Armies (16th, 19th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd). By 10 July, it became clear that the assumptions regarding the result of destroying the Red Army forces west of the two rivers proved incorrect. Nonetheless, three of these Soviet Armies (16th, 19th, and 20th) were quickly encircled and eventually decimated in the vicinity of Smolensk, while the other two were severely weakened.[57] In just the first six weeks of the invasion, which was between late June and early August, the Red Army had lost as many as 1.5 million soldiers (killed, wounded or captured).[152] By 6 August another row of five Soviet Armies (24th, 28th, 29th, 30th, and Group Iartsevo) were facing Army Group Center, however, and unknown to German intelligence, still another row of Soviet Armies were forming to the rear (31st, 33rd, and 43rd).[153] In comparison, according to Franz Halder the chief of the OKH General Staff, by 2 August Army Group Center had lost 74,500 men (killed, wounded, or missing) and had received only 23,000 replacements.[120] By the end of August the Red Army losses rose to nearly three million (killed, wounded or captured), but that did not hinder it from raising more men for the defense of Moscow.[152] The Soviets also quickly relocated their factories. According to one account by a German soldier, when German troops arrived at the Dnieper River they saw many intact industrial plants; by the time they crossed the river, however, the Russians had emptied every building and taken their contents east.[128]:141 By September it became clear that the mobilization capacity of the Red Army had been severely underestimated.

Franz Halder wrote in his diary in 1941:[154]

The whole situation makes it increasingly plain that we have underestimated the Russian colossus...[Soviet] divisions are not armed and equipped according to our standards, and their tactical leadership is often poor. But there they are, and as we smash a dozen of them the Russians simply put up another dozen. The time factor favours them, as they are near their own resources, while we are moving farther and farther away from ours. And so our troops, sprawled over the immense front line, without depth, are subject to the incessant attacks of the enemy.[154]

The Red Army proved it could replace huge losses quickly, and was not destroyed as a coherent force. When divisions of conscripts trained before the war were destroyed, new formations replaced them. On average, about half a million men were drafted each month for the duration of the war. The Soviets also proved very skilled in raising and training many new armies from the different ethnic populations of the far flung republics. The ability to mobilize vast (if often poorly trained and equipped) forces rapidly and continually allowed the Soviet Union to survive the critical first six months of the war.[citation needed]

Faults of logistical planning

Winter in Russia, 1941

At the start of the war in the dry summer, the Germans took the Soviets by surprise and destroyed a large part of the Red Army in the first weeks. When good weather gave way to the harsh autumn and winter and the Red Army recovered, the German offensive began to falter. The German army could not be supplied sufficiently for prolonged combat; indeed, there was not enough fuel for the whole army to reach its objectives.

This was well understood by the German supply units even before the operation, but their warnings were ignored.[155] The entire German plan assumed that within six to eight weeks they would have attained full strategic freedom due to a complete collapse of the Red Army.[128]:97–98 Only then could they have diverted necessary logistic support to fuelling the few mobile units needed to occupy the defeated state.

German infantry and tanks stormed 300 mi (480 km) ahead in the first week, but their supply lines struggled to keep up. Soviet railroads could at first not be fully used due to a difference in track gauges (Germany used standard gauges while Russia used five-foot Russian gauge), and dismantled railroad facilities in border areas.[156] In addition, road systems that looked impressive on the map, were in reality under-developed.[157] Lack of supplies significantly slowed down the formerly highly effective German tactic of blitzkrieg.


A paper published by the U.S. Army's Combat Studies Institute in 1981 concluded that Hitler's plans miscarried before the onset of severe winter weather. He was confident of a quick victory, so he did not prepare properly for a winter war in the Soviet Union. Moreover, his eastern army suffered more than 734,000 casualties (about 23 percent of its average strength of 3,200,000 soldiers) in the first five months of the invasion, and on 27 November 1941, General Eduard Wagner, Quartermaster General of the German Army, reported "We are at the end of our resources in both personnel and material. We are about to be confronted with the dangers of deep winter."[158]

Horses in mud, March 1942

The German forces were unready to deal with harsh weather and the poor road network of the USSR. In September, terrain slowed the Wehrmacht's progress. Few roads were paved. The ground in the USSR was very loose sand in summer, sticky muck in autumn, and heavy snow in winter. German tanks had narrow tracks with little traction and poor flotation in mud. In contrast, the new generation of Soviet tanks such as the T-34 and KV had wide tracks and were far more mobile in these conditions. The 600,000 large western European horses the Germans used for supply and artillery movement did not cope well with this weather. The smaller horses the Red Army used were much better adapted to the climate and could even scrape the icy ground with their hooves to dig up the weeds beneath.

German troops were mostly unprepared for the harsh weather changes in the rainy autumn and early winter of 1941. Equipment had been prepared for such winter conditions, but the severely overstrained transport network could not move it to the front. Consequently, the troops lacked adequate cold-weather gear, and some soldiers had to pack newspapers into their jackets as temperatures dropped to below −40 °C . While at least some cold weather uniforms were available, they rarely reached the Eastern Front because Hitler ordered that supply lines give more priority to shipments of ammunition and fuel. To operate furnaces and heaters, the Germans also burned precious fuel that was in short supply. Soviet soldiers, in contrast, often had warm, quilted uniforms, felt-lined boots, and fur hats.

German weapons malfunctioned in the cold. Lubricating oils were unsuitable for these temperatures, leading to engine malfunction and misfires. To load shells into a tank's main gun, frozen grease had to be chipped off with a knife. Soviet units faced less severe problems due to their experience with cold weather. Aircraft had insulating blankets to keep their engines warm while parked. Lighter-weight oil was used. German tanks and armored vehicles could not move due to a lack of antifreeze, causing fuel to solidify. The cold was so intense that fires had to be lit under vehicles' engines before they could be started.

Because few Russian roads were paved, most of the main roads turned to mud when the rains and snow came in late October and early November. These quagmires combined with longer supply lines to cause the German advance to stall within sight of the spires of Moscow. The Soviet counteroffensive of December 1941 was led primarily by Siberian troops, who had trained for harsh winter combat. They arrived from the east with numerous T-34 tanks, which had been held in reserve. These Siberian troops advanced up to 100 mi (160 km) in some sectors, proving that mobile warfare was still possible during the Russian winter.

When the severe winter began, Hitler feared a repetition of Napoleon's disastrous retreat from Moscow. He ordered the German forces to hold their ground defiantly in the face of Soviet counterattacks. This became known as the "stand or die" order. Some historians have argued that this order prevented the Germans from being routed; others contend that this order restricted Germany's ability to conduct mobile defensive warfare and led to heavy casualties due to battle and the cold. Whatever the case, the Germans were driven back a short distance but ultimately, their defensive positions stabilized; this served to convince Hitler further that he could ignore the advice of his generals, something that proved disastrous for the Wehrmacht.


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A Soviet World War II poster depicting retreating Nazis, among them Hitler, Mussolini, Goebbels and Göring. It reads : "Death to the German Occupiers!" The small letters on the red flag say:"Forward to the west!"

With the failure of the Battle of Moscow, all German plans of a quick defeat of the Soviet Union had to be revised. The Soviet counteroffensives in the winter of 1941 caused heavy casualties on both sides, but ultimately eliminated the German threat to Moscow. Nevertheless, despite this setback, the Soviet Union had suffered heavily from the loss of large parts of its army, allowing the Germans to mount another large-scale offensive in the summer of 1942, called Case Blue, now directed towards the oil fields of Baku. This offensive failed just as Barbarossa had: the Germans again conquered vast amounts of no-mans-land, but they had again failed to achieve their ultimate goals when they were defeated at Stalingrad. By then, the Soviet war economy was fully operational, so the Soviet Union was able to simply outproduce the Germans, who were not prepared for a long war of attrition. As a result, the Germans' last all-out offensive in 1943 at the battle of Kursk failed. After three years of constant warfare, the Germans were exhausted; thus the Soviets were finally able to defeat the Germans decisively in Operation Bagration during the summer of 1944. This led to a chain of Soviet victories which pushed the Germans back to Berlin in just one year, leading to the surrender of Germany on 8 May 1945.

See also


  1. Note: Finland claimed co-belligerent, rather than allied, status
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Glantz, David, The Soviet‐German War 1941–45: Myths and Realities: A Survey Essay. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "GS" defined multiple times with different content
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Clark, Lloyd, Kursk: The Greatest Battle: Eastern Front 1943, 2012, page 73
  4. Glantz (1995), p. 32.
  5. Bergström, p130
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 Krivosheev, G. 1997, p. 95–98
  7. 7.0 7.1 Bergström 2007, p. 131-2: Uses Soviet Record Archives including the Rosvoyentsentr, Moscow; Russian Aviation Research Trust; Russian Central Military Archive TsAMO, Podolsk; Monino Air Force Museum, Moscow.
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    "As for the air force, it is a matter of freeing up for the eastern campaign as strong forces for the support of the army as can be reckoned with a rapid course of the ground operations and as will minimize the damage to the eastern area by enemy air attacks."
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  78. 78.0 78.1 78.2 Clark, Lloyd, Kursk: The Greatest Battle: Eastern Front 1943, 2012, page 76
  79. 79.0 79.1 A. J. P. Taylor and D. M. Proektor, p. 98
  80. 80.0 80.1 Glantz, David, The Soviet‐German War 1941–45: Myths and Realities: A Survey Essay. p. 9
  81. Meltyukhov 2000:414
  82. Meltyukhov 2000:446 Table composed by the author according to: История второй мировой войны. Т. 4. С. 18; 50 лет Вооруженных Сил СССР. М., 1968. С. 201; Советская военная энциклопедия. T. I. M., 1976, С. 56; Боевой и численный состав Вооруженных Сил СССР в период Великой Отечественной войны (1941–1945 гг.). Статистический сборник № 1 (22 июня 1941 г.). М., 1994. С. 10–12; РГАСПИ. Ф. 71. Оп. 25. Д. 4134. Л. 1–8; Д. 5139. Л. 1; РГВА. Ф. 29. Оп. 46. Д. 272. Л. 20–21; учтены пограничные и внутренние войска: Пограничные войска СССР в годы Второй мировой войны, 1939–1945. М., 1995. С. 390–400; РГВА. Ф. 38261. Оп. 1. Д. 255. Л. 175–177, 340–349; Ф. 38650. Оп. 1. Д. 617. Л. 258–260; Ф. 38262. Оп. 1, Д. 41. Л. 83–84; РГАЭ. Ф. 1562. Оп. 329. Д. 277. Л. 1–46, 62, 139; Д. 282. Л. 3–44.
  83. N.P.Zolotov and S.I. Isayev, "Boyegotovy byli...", Voenno-Istorichesskiy Zhurnal, N° 11: 1993, p. 77
  84. Barnett, Correlli, ed (1989). Hitler's Generals. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. p. 456. ISBN 0 297 79462 0. 
  85. The Russian Front by James F. Dunnigan, Arms & Armour Press 1978, p 82, 88 ISBN 0-85368-152-X
  86. Rayfield 2004, p. 315.
  87. Dunnigan, Russian Front, pp. 93–94
  88. Bergström, p11-12
  89. 89.0 89.1 Glantz & House 1995, p. 42.
  90. Waller 1996, pp. 196–8.
  91. Waller 1996, p. 202.
  92. Roberts 1995, p. 1293.
  93. World at War series: Volume 5. Supported by Grigori Tokaty (1909–2003), who defected to Britain 1947 or 1948.
  94. Roberts 1995, p. 1297-1298
  95. Glantz 1991, p. 96.
  96. Roberts 1995, p. 1212-14.
  97. Roberts 1995, p. 1309-1310.
  98. 98.0 98.1 98.2 Teddy J. Uldricks. "The Icebreaker Controversy: Did Stalin Plan to Attack Hitler?" Slavic Review 58, No. 3 (Autumn, 1999), pp. 626–643
  99. André Mineau. Operation Barbarossa: ideology and ethics against human dignity Rodopi, 2004. ISBN 978-90-420-1633-0
  100. Chris Bellami. Absolute war. Soviet Russia in the Second World War. Vinage, 2007. ISBN 978-0-375-72471-8. p.103.
  101. Stalin: The First In-depth Biography Based on Explosive New Documents from Russia's Secret Archives, Anchor, (1997) ISBN 0-385-47954-9, pp. 454–459 "In view of the fact that Germany at present keeps its army fully mobilized with its rear services deployed, it has the capacity of deploying ahead of us and striking a sudden blow. To prevent this I consider it important not to leave the operational initiative to the German command in any circumstances, but to anticipate the enemy and attack the German army at the moment when it is in the process of deploying and before it has time to organize its front and the coordination of its various arms".
  102. R. C. Raack, "Reviewed work(s): Was the USSR Planning to Attack Germany in 1941? by Joseph Bradley" Source: Central European History 32, No. 4 (1999), pp. 491–493
  103. Bergström 2007, p. 130:Uses figures from German archives. Bundesarchiv-Militararchiv, Frieburg; Luftfahrtmuseum, Hannover-Laatzen; WASt Deutsche Dienststelle, Berlin
  104. Meltyukhov 2000, (electronic version). Note that because Russian archives have been and to an extent still are inaccessible, exact figures have been difficult to ascertain.
    The official Soviet sources invariably overestimated German strength and downplayed Soviet strength, as emphasized by David Glantz (1998:292). Some of the earlier Soviet figures claimed that there had been only 1,540 Soviet aircraft to face Germany's 4,950; that there were a mere 1,800 Red Army tanks and assault guns facing 2,800 German units etc.
    In 1991, Russian military historian Mikhail Meltyukhov published an article on this question (Мельтюхов М.И. 22 июня 1941 г.: цифры свидетельствуют // История СССР. 1991. № 3) with other figures that differed slightly from those of the table here, although they had similar ratios. Glantz (1998:293) was of the opinion that those figures "appear[ed] to be most accurate regarding Soviet forces and those of Germany's allies," although other figures also occur in modern publications.
  105. Keith E. Bonn (ed.), Slaughterhouse: Handbook of the Eastern Front, Aberjona Press, Bedford, PA, 2005, p.299
  106. John Erickson, The Road to Stalingrad, Cassel Military Paperbacks, 2003 edition, p. 172
  107. 107.0 107.1 107.2 Clark, Lloyd, Kursk: The Greatest Battle: Eastern Front 1943, 2012, page 70
  108. Clark, Lloyd, Kursk: The Greatest Battle: Eastern Front 1943, 2012, page 97
  109. Transcript – Stalin's address to the people of the Soviet Union on 3 July 1941
  110. 110.0 110.1 110.2 Clark, Lloyd, Kursk: The Greatest Battle: Eastern Front 1943, 2012, p. 82
  111. 111.0 111.1 Bergström 2007, p. 20
  112. Bergstrom 2007, p. 23.
  113. Glantz & House 1995, p. 49.
  114. Glantz & House 1995, p. 51.
  115. (Lithuanian) Gediminas Zemlickas. Pasaulyje—kaip savo namuose, Mokslo Lietuva, 11 February 1998, No. 3 (161)
  116. Bergstrom 2007, p. 36.
  117. Glantz, David, Barbarossa Derailed: The battle for Smolensk, Volume 2, November 2010, page 560
  118. as cited by Suvorov:
  119. Glantz, David, Barbarossa Derailed: The battle for Smolensk, Volume 2, November 2010, pages 19, 23
  120. 120.0 120.1 Glantz, David, Barbarossa Derailed: The battle for Smolensk, Volume 2, November 2010, page 28
  121. Bergstrom 2007, p. 70.
  122. Clark, Lloyd, Kursk: The Greatest Battle: Eastern Front 1943, 2012, page 92
  123. According to based on German sources (see site reference page)
  124. Główny Zarząd Polityczny WP (1960). Z Dziejów Wojny Wyzwoleńczej Narodu Polskiego 1939–1945. Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Ministerstwa Obrony Narodowej. pp. 255
  125. Tartu in the 1941 Summer War. By Major Riho Rõngelep and Brigadier General Michael Hesselholt Clemmesen (2003). Baltic Defence Review 9
  126. Glantz & House 1995, p. 77.
  127. Knickerbocker, H.R. (1941). Is Tomorrow Hitler's? 200 Questions on the Battle of Mankind. Reynal & Hitchcock. pp. 90. 
  128. 128.0 128.1 128.2 Smith, Howard K. (1942). Last Train from Berlin. Knopf. 
  129. A. Clark 1995, p. 165.
  130. Shirer, William (1964). "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich". Pan. p. 1032. 
  131. Henry Steele Commager, The Story of the Second World War, p. 144
  132. Christopher Argyle, Chronology of World War II Day by Day, p. 78
  133. 133.0 133.1 Kershaw 2007, p. 178.
  134. Shirer 1990[page needed]
  135. See Andreas Hillgruber, Hitlers Strategie. Politik und Kriegführung 1940–1941, 3rd edn., Bonn, 1993, p. 506 n. 26.
  136. "A Day By Day Diary of WWII". Retrieved 13 June 2006.  See also Charles Messenger, The Chronological Atlas of World War Two (New York: Macmillan Publishing 1989), p. 63.
  137. Timothy Snyder (2010). Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. Basic Books. p.173. ISBN 0-465-00239-0
  138. 138.0 138.1 138.2 138.3 Chiari, Bernhard (2011). "Die abgewendete Katastrophe" (in German). pp. 32–37. 
  139. Clark, Lloyd, Kursk: The Greatest Battle: Eastern Front 1943, 2012, page 57
  140. Courtois, Stéphane, The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, 1999, page 198
  141. 141.0 141.1 141.2 Clark, Lloyd, Kursk: The Greatest Battle: Eastern Front 1943, 2012, page 58
  142. 142.0 142.1 "Soviet Defensive Tactics at Kursk, July 1943". p. 1. Retrieved 5 May 2013. 
  143. "Der Krieg, den Hitler wollte" (in German). 2011. pp. 30–31. 
  144. Strauß, Franz Joseph, Die Geschichte der 2. (Wiener) Panzer Division, pg 337. DÖRFLER im NEBEL VERLAG, Eggolsheim DE.
  145. Glantz, David, The Soviet-German War 1941–45: Myths and Realities: A Survey Essay, 11 October 2001, page 7
  146. Michael Ellman and S. Maksudov, "Soviet Deaths in the Great Patriotic War: A Note:", Europe-Asia Studies 46, No. 4, Soviet and East European History (1994), pp. 671–680
  147. Beevor, Stalingrad. Penguin 2001 ISBN 0-14-100131-3 p60
  148. Michael Fahlbusch, "Die Südostdeutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft," and Hans Mommsen, "Der faustische Pakt der Ostforschung," in Winfried Schultze and Otto Gerhard Oexl, eds., Deutsche Historiker im Nationalsozialismus (Franfurt am Main: Fischer, 1999), pp. 265-293.
  149. Weinberg (2005). A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II, p. 243.
  150. Andreas Hillgruber, "Die Bedeutung der Schlacht von Smolensk in der zweiten Juli-Hälfte 1941 für den Ausgang des Ostkrieges," in Felder und Vorfelder russischer Geschichte. Studien zu Ehren by Peter Scheibert, edited by Inge Auerbach, Andreas Hillgruber and Gottfried Schramm (Freiburg: Rombach Verlag, 1985), pp. 266-279.
  151. Glantz, David, Barbarossa Derailed: The battle for Smolensk, Volume 2, November 2010, page 27
  152. 152.0 152.1 Glantz, David, Barbarossa Derailed: The battle for Smolensk, Volume 2, November 2010, page 24
  153. Glantz, David, Barbarossa Derailed: The battle for Smolensk, Volume 2, November 2010, page 19,23
  154. 154.0 154.1 Clark, Lloyd, Kursk: The Greatest Battle: Eastern Front 1943, 2012, p. 118
  155. van Creveld, Martin. Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton, Cambridge, 1977. ISBN 0-521-29793-1
  156. "Deutsche Reichsbahn – The German State Railway in WWII". Retrieved 28 March 2011. 
  157. Glantz, David, Barbarossa Derailed: The battle for Smolensk, Volume 2, November 2010, page 23
  158. "CSI". Retrieved 2 April 2010. 


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