Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during the Second World War. Beginning on 22 June 1941, over 3.9 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front, the largest invasion in the history of warfare. In addition to troops, Barbarossa involved 600,000 motor vehicles and 750,000 horses. The ambitious operation, driven by Adolf Hitler's persistent desire to conquer the Russian territories, marked the beginning of the pivotal phase in deciding the victors of the war. The German invasion of the Soviet Union ultimately resulted in 95% of all German Army casualties from 1941 to 1944 and 65% of all Allied military casualties accumulated throughout the war.
Operation Barbarossa was named after Frederick Barbarossa, the medieval German ruler who, as myth had it, would rescue Germany in her time of need. Planning started on 18 December 1940; the secret preparations and the military operation itself lasted almost a year, from spring to winter 1941. The Red Army repelled the Wehrmacht's strongest blow, and Adolf Hitler did not achieve the expected victory, but the Soviet Union's situation remained dire. Tactically, the Germans won resounding victories and occupied some of the most important economic areas of the Soviet Union, mainly in Ukraine. Despite these successes, the Germans were pushed back from Moscow and could never again mount a simultaneous offensive along the entire strategic Soviet-German front.
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, Operation Nordlicht, and Battle of Stalingrad, among other battles on occupied Soviet territory.
Operation Barbarossa was the largest military operation in human history in both manpower and casualties. 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 3 million Soviet POWs, who did not enjoy the protection stipulated in the Geneva Conventions. Most of them never returned alive. They were deliberately starved to death in German camps as part of a Hunger Plan, i.e., the program to reduce the Eastern European population.
German theory regarding 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. National-socialist racial ideology cast the Soviet Union as populated by "Untermenschen," ethnic Slavs ruled by their "Jewish Bolshevik" masters. 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." Thereafter, Hitler spoke of an inescapable battle against "pan-Slav ideals", in which victory would lead to "permanent mastery of the world", though he said they would "walk part of the road with the Russians, if that will help us." Accordingly, it was Nazi stated policy to kill, deport, or enslave the Russian and other Slavic populations and repopulate the land with Germanic peoples (see New Order). Timothy Snyder wrote that:
1939 1940 German-Soviet relationship
The Soviet Union and Germany signed a non-aggression pact, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, shortly before the German invasion of Poland which triggered the Second World War in 1939 and was followed by the Soviet invasion of Poland . 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. The pact surprised the world because of the parties' mutual hostility and their competing 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.
Despite the parties' ongoing relations, each side was strongly 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. After two days of negotiations in Berlin from November 12 14, Germany presented a proposed written agreement for Soviet entry into the Axis. The Soviet Union offered a written counterproposal agreement on 25 November 1940, to which Germany did not respond. As both sides began colliding with each other in Eastern Europe, conflict appeared more likely, though they signed a border and commercial agreement addressing several open issues in January 1941. The pact was broken of course, when Hitler initiated Operation Barbarossa: arguably the decision that lost Germany the war.
Germany plans the invasion
Balkans Campaign]] and immediately before Operation Barbarossa
Joseph Stalin's reputation 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 weakened and leaderless. 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 pre-emptive.
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. While no concrete plans were made yet, 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", though German generals told Hitler that occupying Western Russia would create "more of a drain than a relief for Germany's economic situation." The F hrer anticipated additional benefits:
- When the Soviet Union was defeated, the labor shortage in German industry could be relieved by demobilization of many soldiers.
Ukraine would be a reliable source of agricultural products.
- Having the Soviet Union as a source of forced labor under German rule would vastly improve Germany's geostrategic position.
- Defeat of the Soviet Union would further isolate the Allies, especially the United Kingdom.
- The German economy needed more oil and controlling the Baku Oilfields would achieve this; as Albert Speer, the German Minister for Armaments and War Production, later said in his interrogation, "the need for oil certainly was a prime motive" in the decision to invade.
Weisung Nr. 21: Fall Barbarossa
On 5 December 1940, Hitler received military plans for the invasion, and approved them all, with the start scheduled for May 1941. 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." 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. In the Soviet Union, speaking to his generals in December, 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."
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. 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?"
Hitler ignored German economic naysayers, and told Hermann G ring that "everyone on all sides was always raising economic misgivings against a threatening war with Russia. From now onwards he wasn't going to listen to any more of that kind of talk and from now on he was going to stop up his ears in order to get his peace of mind." 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.
Beginning in March 1941, G ring'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 Reichskommissariates:
Nazi policy aimed to destroy the Soviet Union as a political entity in accordance with the geopolitical Lebensraum idea ("Drang nach Osten") for the benefit of future generations of the "Nordic Aryan master race" .
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. Hitler thought himself a political and military genius. While planning Barbarossa in 1940 1941, in many discussions with his generals, Hitler repeated his order: "Leningrad first, the Donetsk Basin second, Moscow third." 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. General Franz Halder noted in his diaries that, by destroying the Soviet Union, Germany would destroy Britain's hope of victory.
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.
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 troops were stationed on the Romanian-Soviet border. 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.
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 Berlin Police dept.) 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.
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.
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, the 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.
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.
Hitler, the OKW and the various high commands disagreed about what the main objectives should be. In preparing for Barbarossa, most of the OKW argued for a straight thrust to Moscow, but Hitler kept asserting his intention to seize the resource-rich Ukraine and Baltics before concentrating on the Soviet capital. An initial delay, which postponed the start of Barbarossa from mid-May to the end of June 1941, may have been insignificant, especially since the Russian muddy season came late that year. However, more time was lost at various critical moments as Hitler and the OKW suspended operations in order to argue about strategic objectives.
The Germans also decided to bring rear forces (mostly Waffen-SS units and Einsatzgruppen) into the conquered territories to counter the partisan activity they knew would erupt in areas they controlled.
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. Production of military equipment grew steadily, and in the pre-war years the economy became progressively more oriented toward military production. In the early 1930s, a very modern operational doctrine for the Red Army was developed and promulgated in the 1936 field regulations.
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 months that will be our good fortune, but you yourselves must go off and take measures to raise the combat readiness of our forces".
Development of the armed forces of the Soviet Union
from 1939 to 1941
|!1 January 1939
||22 June 1941
|Guns and mortars
According to Taylor and Proektor (1974), the Soviet armed forces in the western districts were outnumbered, with 2.6 million Soviet soldiers vs. 3.9 million for the Axis. The overall size of the Soviet armed forces in early July 1941, though, amounted to a little more than 5 million men, 2.6 million in the west, 1.8 million in the far east, with the rest being deployed or training elsewhere. These figures, however, can be misleading. 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. The figure does not include the smaller Second Strategic Echelon, which as of 22 June 1941 was in 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 assault.
Total Axis forces available for Barbarossa were therefore in the order of 3.9 million. 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% of its mobile forces, attacking on a front of 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% of stationary Soviet bases were located in the near-boundary districts, many of them in the strip around the border; according to Red Army directive, fuel, equipment, railroad cars, etc. were similarly concentrated there.
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 campaign was fought with a slight Axis numerical superiority in manpower at the front. According to Mikhail Meltyukhov (2000:477), by the start of war, the Red Army numbered altogether 5,774,211 troops: 4,605,321 in ground forces, 475,656 in air forces, 353,752 in the navy, 167,582 as border guards and 171,900 in internal troops of the NKVD.
In some key weapons systems, however, the Soviet numerical advantage was considerable. In tanks, for example, the Red Army had a large quantitative superiority. It possessed 23,106 tanks, of which about 12,782 were in the five Western Military Districts (three of which directly faced the German invasion front). However, maintenance and readiness standards were very poor; ammunition and radios were in short supply, and many units lacked the trucks needed for resupply beyond their basic fuel and ammunition loads.
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, had begun to emulate the Germans and organize most of their armored assets into large armour divisions and corps. This reorganization was only partially implemented at the dawn of Barbarossa, 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. The most advanced Soviet tank models, however, the T-34 and KV-1, were not available in large numbers early in the war, and only accounted for 7.2% 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 decimated by Stalin's Great Purge (1936 1938). Of 90 generals arrested, only six survived the purges, as did only 36 of 180 divisional commanders, and just seven out of 57 army corps commanders. In total, some 30,000 Red Army personnel were executed, while more were deported to Siberia and replaced with officers deemed more "politically reliable." Three 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% 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. Most Soviet units were on a peacetime footing, explaining 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 US newsreel film about the Russian resistance against Germany The Soviet war effort in the first phase of the Eastern front war was severely hampered by a shortage of modern aircraft. The Soviet fighter force was equipped with large numbers of obsolete aircraft, such as the I-15 biplane and the I-16. In 1941, the MiG-3, LaGG-3 and Yak-1 were just starting to roll off the production lines, but were far inferior in all-round performance to the Messerschmitt Bf 109 or later, 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. But 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.
The Red Army was dispersed and unprepared, and units were often separated and without transportation to concentrate prior to combat. Although the Red Army 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 the 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.
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. Stalin's distrust of the British led to his ignoring the warnings, believing it to be a trick designed to bring the Soviet Union into the war. In the spring of 1941, Stalin's own intelligence services and American intelligence made regular and repeated warnings of an impending German attack. However, Stalin chose to ignore these warnings. Although acknowledging the possibility of an attack in general and making significant preparations, he decided not to run the risk of provoking Hitler. He also had an ill-founded confidence in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which had been signed just two years before. Last, he also suspected the British of trying to spread false rumours in order to trigger a war between Germany and the USSR. 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.
Enormous Soviet forces were massed behind the western border 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 Pavlov, a standard linear defence tactic on a line with other nations. Infantry divisions, reinforced by an organic tank component, would be dug in to form heavily fortified zones. Then came the shock of the Fall of France. The French Army, considered the strongest in the world, was defeated in a mere six weeks. Soviet analysis of events, based on incomplete information, concluded that the collapse of the French was caused by 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 defence, the infantry divisions would henceforth be concentrated in large formations. Most tanks would also be concentrated into 29 mechanized corps, each with over 1031 tanks. Should the Germans attack, their armoured spearheads would be cut off and wiped out by the mechanized corps. 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 Centre 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.
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. After the war this view was brought forward by some Wehrmacht leaders, like Wilhelm Keitel.
This thesis was reiterated in the 1980s based on the analysis of circumstantial evidence. Thus, it has been found that a proposal was drawn up by Zhukov and signed by Vasilevsky and Vatutin suggesting secret mobilization and deploying Red Army troops on the Western border, under the cover of training. The proposed operation's objective was to cut Germany off from its allies, and especially Romania with its oilfields that Germany needed to conduct the war.
According to Viktor Suvorov, Stalin planned to use Germany as a proxy (the "Icebreaker") against the West. Stalin's idea was 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 strike. 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 argued that German Barbarossa actually was a 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 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, and has been supported by some historians (examples include Vladimir Nevezhin, Boris Sokolov, Valeri Danilov, Joachim Hoffmann and Mark Solonin), it has not been accepted by the majority of western historians.
Order of battle
Source: Mikhail Meltyukhov "Stalin's Missed Chance" table 47,
Strength of the opposing forces on the
Soviet Western border. 22 June 1941
|!Germany and allies
||1 : 1.1
||1.3 : 1
|Guns and mortars
||1 : 1.4
|Tanks (incl assault guns)
||1 : 3.8
||1 : 2.6
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 Centre (Heeresgruppe Mitte) (Fedor von Bock) staged in Eastern Poland with (49 divisions):
Army Group South (Heeresgruppe S d) (Gerd von Rundstedt) was staged in Southern Poland and Romania with (41 divisions):
Staged from Norway a smaller group of forces consisted of:
Numerous smaller units from all over Nazi-occupied Europe, like the "Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism" (L gion des Volontaires Fran ais contre le Bolch visme), supported the German war effort.
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.
On Zhukov's orders immediately following the invasion 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 the 25 June 1941 from the Odessa Military District.
The first Directions were established on 10 July 1941, with Voroshilov commanding the North-Western Strategic Direction, Timoshenko commanding the Western Strategic Direction, and Budyonny commanding the South-Western Strategic Direction.
The forces of the North-Western Direction were:
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: 16th Army, 19th Army, 20th Army, 21st Army, 22nd Army and the 24th Army that formed, together with independent units, the Stavka Reserve Group of Armies, later renamed the Reserve Front nominally under Stalin's direct command.
Phase 1: The Frontier Battles (22 June 1941 3 July 1941)
German advances during the opening phases of Operation Barbarossa
At 03:15 on Sunday, 22 June 1941, the Axis bombed major cities in Soviet-occupied Poland. 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.
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.
Luftwaffe reconnaissance units worked frantically to plot troop concentration, supply dumps, and airfields, and mark them for destruction. The Luftwaffes 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. Hermann G ring Chief of the Luftwaffe distrusted the reports and ordered the figure checked. Picking through the wreckages of Soviet airfields, the Luftwaffes figures proved conservative, as over 2,000 destroyed Soviet aircraft were found. 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: some 3,922 Soviet machines had been lost (according to Russian Historian Viktor Kulikov). The Luftwaffe had achieved air superiority over all three sectors of the front, and would maintain it until the close of the year. The Luftwaffe could now devote large numbers of its Geschwader (see Luftwaffe Organization) to support the ground forces.
Invasion musical theme
Each German invasion of a foreign country had an official musical theme that was frequently played for the purposes of Nazi propaganda over the totally government controlled radio stations after the invasion was officially announced to whip up enthusiasm for the military operation among the German population. The theme song for Operation Barbarossa was Les preludes by Franz Liszt.
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, the tanks crossed the River Neman and penetrated . Near Raseiniai, the armoured units were counter attacked 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% of its strength. 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 while the infantry formations caught up. The orders to hold would last over a week, giving time for the Soviets to build up a defence 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 on the next day an independent Lithuania was proclaimed. 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" ended on 7 August, when the 18th Army reached the Gulf of Finland coast.
Army Group Centre
Captured Soviet equipment.
Opposite Army Group Centre 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 Bia ystok. Beyond Bia ystok was Minsk, both the capital of Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic and a key railway junction. AG Centre's two Panzer Groups' goal 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. While the Panzer Groups attacked, the Wehrmacht Army Group Centre infantry Armies struck at the salient, eventually encircling Soviet troops at Bia ystok.
Moscow at first failed to grasp the dimensions of the catastrophe that had befallen the USSR. Marshall Timoshenko ordered all Soviet forces to launch a general counter-offensive, but with supply and ammunition dumps destroyed, and a complete collapse of communication, the uncoordinated attacks failed. Zhukov signed the infamous Directive of People's Commissariat of Defence No. 3 (he later claimed under pressure from Stalin), which ordered the Red Army to start an offensive. He commanded the troops "to encircle and destroy the enemy grouping near Suwa ki and to seize the Suwa ki region by the evening of 26 June" and "to encircle and destroy the enemy grouping invading in Vladimir-Volynia and Brody direction" and even "to seize the Lublin region by the evening of 24.6" This maneuver failed and disorganized Red Army units were soon destroyed by the Wehrmacht forces.
On 27 June, 2 and 3 Panzer Groups met up at Minsk, advancing into Soviet territory and a third of the way to Moscow. In the vast pocket between Minsk and the Polish border, the remnants of 32 Soviet Rifle, eight tank, and motorized, cavalry and artillery divisions were encircled.
Army Group South
Ukraine, early days of Barbarossa In the south, opposite Army Group South were three Soviet armies, the 5th, 6th and 26th. Soviet commanders reacted quicker and 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 1,000 tanks mounted a massive counter-attack on the 1st Panzer Group. The battle was among the fiercest of the invasion, lasting over four days; in the end the Germans prevailed, though the Soviets inflicted heavy losses on the 1st Panzer Group.
With the Soviet counter-offensives' failure, the last substantial Soviet tank forces in Western Ukraine had been committed, and the Red Army assumed a defensive posture, focusing on a strategic withdrawal under severe pressure. The Soviet air arm, the VVS, lost 1,561 aircraft over Kiev. The battle was a huge tactical (Hitler thought strategic) victory, but it had drawn the German forces away from an early offensive against Moscow, and had delayed further German progress by 11 weeks. General Kurt Von Tippleskirch noted, "The Russians had indeed lost a battle, but they won the campaign".
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 Bia ystok, the Soviets were still fighting; reducing the pocket was causing high German casualties and many Red Army troops were escaping. The usual estimated casualties of the Red Army amount to 600,000 killed, missing, captured or wounded.
Phase 2: Battle for Smolensk (3 July 1941 5 August 1941)
German advances during Operation Barbarossa, 22 June 1941 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. Army Group Center's 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 counter attack, closed on Smolensk from the north. Trapped between their pincers were three Soviet armies. On 18 July, the Panzer Groups came to within 10 miles 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 but liquidating the pocket took another 10 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 a 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 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 1941 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 in between the Germans 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 Centre, 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.
For its final attack on Leningrad, the 4th Panzer Army was reinforced by tanks from Army Group Centre. 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. By the end of August, 4th Panzer Army had penetrated to within of Leningrad. The Finns had pushed southeast on both sides of Lake Ladoga, reaching the old Finnish-Soviet frontier.
Killing of Jews at Ivangorod, Ukraine, 1942
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 of the city. However, the advance over the last 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 counter-attacks 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 the attack on Moscow could begin, operations in Kiev needed to be finished. Half of Army Group Centre 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. In the end, after ten days of vicious fighting, the Germans claimed over 600,000 Soviet soldiers captured. Actual losses were 452,720 men, 3,867 artillery guns and mortars from 43 Divisions of the 5th, 37th, 26th and 21st Soviet Armies.
Phase 4: Operation Typhoon (2 October 1941 5 December 1941)
The eastern front at the time of the Battle of Moscow:
Armour of KV-1 after battle, Stalingrad 1942
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 Centre 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 2nd Panzer Army returning from the south took Oryol which was south of the Soviet first main defense line. Three days later the Panzers pushed on 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 defence had been shattered. The pocket eventually yielded 673,000 Soviet prisoners, bringing the tally since the start of the invasion to three million Soviet soldiers captured. The Soviets had only 90,000 men and 150 tanks left for the defense of Moscow.
On 13 October, 3rd Panzer Army penetrated to within of the capital. Martial law was declared in Moscow. Almost from the beginning of Operation Typhoon 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 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 re-organized. 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, they also began to recall Napoleon's invasion of Russia. General G nther 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.
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 of Moscow, and could see the spires of the Kremlin, but by then the first blizzards of the winter began. A Reconnaissance-Battalion also managed to reach the town of Khimki some away from Moscow and captured its bridge over the Moscow-Volga Canal as well as its railway station, which marked the farthest advance of German forces on Moscow. The Wehrmacht was not equipped for winter warfare. Frostbite and disease caused more casualties than combat, and dead and wounded had already reached 155,000 in three weeks. Some divisions were now at 50% strength. The bitter cold also caused severe problems for their guns and equipment, and 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 . The invasion of the USSR eventually cost the German Army over 250,000 dead and 500,000 wounded, the majority of whom became casualties after 1 October and an unknown number of Axis casualties such as Hungarians, Romanians and Waffen SS troops as well as co-belligerent Finns.
KV1]] tank at Kaunas
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. However, this was just one of the reasons for the postponement the other was the late spring of 1941 in Russia, compounded by particularly rainy weather in June 1941 that made a number of roads in western parts of the Soviet Union impassable to heavy vehicles. 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 defence of the motherland, was much fiercer 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). German logistics also became a major problem, as supply lines grew very long and vulnerable to Soviet partisan attacks in the rear. The Soviets 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 Soviets prisoner. Kiev was later awarded the title Hero City for its heroic defence.
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 again from the city's approaches in early 1944. The siege resulted in the deaths of some one million of the city's inhabitants. 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 POWs captured near Minsk is marched west. Soviet POWs]], taken to 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 chiefly 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. The Axis had a doctrine of mobility and annihilation, excellent communications, and the confidence of repeated low-cost victories. The Soviet armed forces, by contrast, lacked leadership, training, and readiness. 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. Much of 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 the Soviet territory. Thus the Axis attack came when new organizations and promising, but untested, weapons were just beginning to trickle into operational units. 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. 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.
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 armour, 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. Without tanks or sufficient motorization, Soviet troops could not wage mobile warfare against the Axis.
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, about three million Soviet prisoners were to die from exposure, starvation, disease, or willful mistreatment by the German regime.
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.)(armored engineers) came within sight of the spires of the Kremlin when they reached the rail line just south of the town of Lobnya, 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 was directed at Army Group Center, which was closest to Moscow. Belarus or Ukraine farmhouse destroyed during German invasion in 1941. With no shelter, few supplies, inadequate winter clothing, chronic food shortages, and nowhere to go, 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 the key to victory for Germany. Nowadays, historians debate whether the loss of the Soviet capital would have caused collapse; but Operation Barbarossa failed to achieve that goal. In December 1941, Germany joined Japan in declaring war against the United States.
The outcome of Operation Barbarossa hurt the Soviets at least as badly as the Germans, however. Although the Germans had failed to take Moscow outright, they held huge areas of the western Soviet Union, including the entire regions of what are now Belarus, Ukraine, and the Baltic states, plus parts of Russia proper west of Moscow. German forces had advanced , and maintained a linearly measured front of . The Germans held up to of territory with over 75 million people at the end of 1941, and went on to seize another before being forced to retreat after defeats at Stalingrad and Kursk. 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, according to which Slavic peoples were considered a race of Untermenschen. This attitude alienated the population, while in some areas (such as Ukraine) it seems that some local people had been ready to consider the Germans as liberators helping them to get rid 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 the German repressive 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 recent estimate of Soviet military deaths is 8.7 million that lost their lives either in combat or in Axis captivity. Soviet civilian deaths remain under contention, though roughly 20 million is a frequently cited figure. German military deaths are also to a large extent unclear. The most recent German estimate (R diger 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. Operation Barbarossa is listed as the single most lethal military operation in world history.
The Soviet Union had not signed the Geneva Convention (1929). However, a month after the German invasion in 1941, an offer was made for a reciprocal adherence to the Hague convention. This 'note' was left unanswered by Third Reich officials.
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.
Parallels have been drawn with Napoleon's invasion of Russia.
Underestimated Soviet potential
German war planners grossly underestimated the mobilization potential of the Red Army: its primary mobilization size (i.e. the total number of trained units ready to deploy at a moment's notice) was about twice the expected number. By early August, new armies had replaced destroyed armies. This alone implied Operation Barbarossa's failure, for the Germans were forced to limit their operations for a month to bring up new supplies. This delay left only six weeks to complete the battle before the start of the mud season. On the other hand, 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 conscripts 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. The grave underestimation of this capacity rendered German military operations useless.
Also, data collected by Soviet intelligence excluded the possibility of a war with Japan, which allowed the Soviets to transfer forces from the Far East (troops fully trained to fight a winter war) to the European theater.
The German High Command grossly underestimated the control the central Soviet government exercised. The German High Command wrongly thought the Soviet government was ineffective. The Germans based their hopes of quick victory on the belief the Soviet communist system was like a rotten structure which would collapse from a hard kick. In fact, the Soviet system proved resilient and surprisingly adaptable. In the face of early crushing defeats, the Soviets managed to dismantle entire industries threatened by the German advance. These critical factories, along with their skilled workers, were transported by rail to secure locations beyond the Germans' reach. Despite the loss of raw materials and the chaos of an invasion, the Soviets managed to build new armaments factories in sufficient numbers to allow mass production of needed war machinery. The Soviet government was never in danger of collapse and remained at all times in tight control of the Soviet war effort.
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 Soviet 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 sufficiently supplied 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 disregarded. The entire German plan assumed that within five weeks they would have attained full strategic freedom due to a complete collapse of the Red Army. 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 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 railway gauges and dismantled railroad facilities in border areas. Lack of supplies significantly slowed down the blitzkrieg.
The German logistical planning also seriously overestimated the condition of the Soviet transportation network. The road and railway network of former Eastern Poland was well known, but beyond that information was limited. Roads that looked impressive on maps turned out to be just mere dust roads or were only in the planning stages.
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 so confident of quick victory that he did not prepare for even the chance of winter warfare in the Soviet Union. Moreover, his eastern army suffered more than 734,000 casualties (about 23% of its average strength of 3,200,000 troops) 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."
Horses in sticky muck, March 1942
The German forces were unready to deal with harsh weather and the poor road network of the USSR. In autumn, 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 treads with little traction and poor flotation in mud. In contrast, the new generation of Soviet tanks such as the T-34 and KV had wider 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 autumn and 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 to stay warm while temperatures dropped to below 40 C ( 40 F). 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 misfiring weapons. 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.
Because few Russian roads were paved, when the rains and snow came in late October and early November, most of the main roads turned to mud and with a combination of longer supply lines, the German advance stalled within sight of the spires of Moscow. The Soviet December 1941 counteroffensive led primarily by Siberian troops trained for harsh winter combat recently arriving from the east along with the numerous T-34 tanks held in reserve advanced up to in some sectors, showed that mobile warfare was still possible in 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. While 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 from battle and cold.
Soviet World War II poster depicting retreating Nazis, among them Hitler and G ring. It reads : "Death to the German Occupiers!"
With the failure in the Battle of Moscow, all German plans of a quick defeat of the Soviet Union had to be revised. The Soviet counter offensives in the Winter of 1941 caused heavy casualties on both sides, but ultimately lifted the German threat to Moscow. Nevertheless despite this setback, the Soviet Union 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 again failed in the same way as Barbarossa, the Germans conquering vast amounts of no-mans-land, but ultimately failing to achieve their final goals with the defeat at Stalingrad. With the now fully operational Soviet war economy, the Soviet Union was able to simply outproduce the Germans, who were not prepared for a long war of attrition. This way, the last German all-out offensive in 1943 at the Battle of Kursk failed. After three years of constant warfare the Germans were exhausted and so the Soviets were finally able to defeat the Germans decisively in Operation Bagration in summer of 1944. This led to a chain of fast Soviet victories which pushed the Germans back to Berlin in just one year, leading to the surrender of Germany on 8 May 1945.
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- , . . (2000). . : 1939 1941 ( , , ). scow: . Available online in Russian.
- , . (2003). : . scow: AST. ISBN 5-17-007876-5. Available online in Russian.
- Pictures taken by German soldiers during this operation: http://worldwar2photos.info/
- lt. Kolobanov and KV-2. Notable engagements of KV series against outnumbering enemy forces: http://wio.ru/tank/ww2tank.htm
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