After a five week delay while operations in Greece and Yugoslavia were completed, Operation 'Barbarossa' - named after the all-conquering Medieval Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I - was launched on 22 June Over three and a half million German and other Axis troops attacked along a 1,mile front. A total of divisions - 80 per cent of the German Army - were committed to the enterprise.
Seventeen panzer divisions, formed into four Panzer Groups, formed the vanguard with 3, tanks. They were supported by 2, aircraft of the Luftwaffe. It was the largest invasion force to date. The infantry were expected to cover at least 20 miles per day. However, they still lagged many miles behind the panzer spearheads. The German forces were split into three army groups, each with a specific objective. Hitler expected these all to be attained in approximately ten weeks.
The Soviets had massed large forces on their western frontier, but they were under orders not to provoke the Germans. Although mistrustful of Hitler, Stalin did not believe that he would attack so soon, despite the ominous German build-up and a stream of intelligence warnings. He had some 5 million men available immediately and a total of 23, tanks, but the Red Army was still unprepared when the Germans struck. The Germans got off to a good start, with the panzer groups quickly pushing towards their objectives and Russian forces falling apart in confusion.
They were greatly helped by the Luftwaffe's bombing of Soviet airfields, artillery positions and troop concentrations.
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The Germans quickly established air superiority. On the first day alone 1, Soviet aircraft were destroyed, most of them on the ground. Russian forces in this sector were thinly spread and the panzers covered miles km in three weeks. By mid-July they were only 60 miles 96 km from their objective. A burning T and other vehicles destroyed in the encirclement battles between Bialystok and Minsk.
Soviet tank units were badly handled during 'Barbarossa', and the standard of crew training was poor. The first Ts were also prone to mechanical breakdowns. The two panzer groups then pressed ahead, linking up on the far side of Smolensk on 27 July in another double envelopment. Most of the Russian armour was on this front. But by early July von Rundstedt had pushed out beyond the pre Polish frontier.
These light tanks were completely outclassed, even by older Soviet models, but were used in some numbers during 'Barbarossa' to make up for the shortfall in PzKpfw III and IV production. Most were gone by Up to this point all seemed to be going well, the only major problem being the time needed for the infantry to catch up with the panzers and mop up pockets of Russian defence. But Soviet resistance was now stiffening, despite catastrophic losses.
A German salient around Yelnya, south-east of Smolensk, was recaptured in a costly but successful counterattack. Meanwhile, Army Group Centre's supply situation was becoming critical. The German High Command protested vigorously. The panzers were only miles from Moscow. But Hitler regarded the resource-rich Ukraine as more important. In August, Guderian vigorously protested Hitler's decision to halt the advance on Moscow and divert his forces south towards Kiev.
The Soviets were completely fooled by German moves. As usual, Stalin refused to sanction a withdrawal before the pocket was sealed. By the end of September Kiev had fallen and over , Russian troops killed or captured. In October Kharkov fell, but by now the Germans were exhausted. The fighting had severely depleted their ranks and supply lines were stretched to the limit.
For now, the southern front stayed where it was. In the north too, German forces had reached their limit. In September, with the aid of their Finnish Allies, they cut Leningrad off from the rest of Russia, but lacked the strength to take the city. Instead, Hitler ordered that it be starved into submission. The epic siege would last days.
Despite heavy losses, morale remained high until the autumn when the advance lost momentum, and the weather turned for the worse. Hitler now decided to resume the battle for Moscow. On 2 October he unleashed Operation 'Typhoon'. He believed the Russians had been fatally weakened and lacked the strength to defend their capital - one more push would see it fall and victory would be his.
But the Red Army had been reinforced.
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Almost a million Soviet troops were in place, although they had few tanks and aircraft left. A multi-layered ring of defences had been thrown around the capital and its citizens had been mobilised. The German offensive was carried out by a reinforced Army Group Centre, comprising three infantry armies and three panzer groups - 1 million men and 1, tanks. However the Luftwaffe was weak after over three months of sustained operations.
And the weather was beginning to turn. Once again the initial assault was a success. The Russians were down to about 90, men. But as they reached the approaches to Moscow, the German formations slowed to a crawl. Autumn rains had turned the dirt roads into rivers of mud. The Germans chose to temporarily halt operations. Despite the huge upheavals as industrial plants were relocated eastwards, Soviet war production expanded dramatically during the second half of In mid-November, with the temperature dropping and the ground now frozen hard, the panzers attempted a final pincer attack around Moscow itself.
The delay had given the Soviets time to bring in further reinforcements, including reservists and troops from Siberia and the eastern borders. The northern German pincer was the most successful and got within 12 miles of the city. German officers could see the Kremlin buildings through their field glasses. The Germans also tried attacking in the centre, along the Minsk-Moscow road. On 2 December a reconnaissance unit got within 5 miles of Moscow.
Though tantalisingly close, this was the limit of the entire advance. The depleted German units were exhausted and frozen into inactivity in the deep snow. On 5 December the Soviets launched a surprise counter-offensive. The Germans were forced into a retreat, despite Hitler's call to defend every foot of ground. Guderian and several other senior generals who advised withdrawal were sacked. The Russians succeeded in crushing various German formations in encirclements of their own. The Luftwaffe struggled to operate but performed vital work ferrying supplies to cut off units and harrying the Russian advance.
Army Group Centre was pushed back up to miles from Moscow. The graves of German dead are marked with a simple cross and their steel helmets. The Germans suffered over , casualties during Operation 'Barbarossa', with some , men killed. By comparison, 30, died during the campaign in the west in Operation 'Barbarossa' had clearly failed. Despite the serious losses inflicted on the Red Army and extensive territorial gains, the mission to completely destroy Soviet fighting power and force a capitulation was not achieved.
One of the most important reasons for this was poor strategic planning. The Germans had no satisfactory long-term plan for the invasion. They mistakenly assumed that the campaign would be a short one, and that the Soviets would give in after suffering the shock of massive initial defeats. Hitler had assured the High Command that 'We have only to kick in the front door and the whole rotten edifice will come tumbling down'. Lloyd Clark. Kiev David Stahel. The Germans in Normandy.
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Richard Hargreaves. The Drive on Moscow, Anders Frankson. Stalin's Revenge. Anthony Tucker-Jones. Stalingrad to Kursk. Field Marshal. Daniel Allen Butler. Charles D. The German Campaign in Russia: Department of Defense. Enduring the Whirlwind. Gregory Liedtke. When Titans Clashed. Stalingrad: Hell on Earth.
Edward Watson. Germany Ascendant. Stalingrad The Infernal Cauldron. The Devil's General. Raymond Bagdonas. War And Peace. Leo Tolstoy. Georgy Zhukov. Robert Forczyk. German Order of Battle. Mitcham Jr. War With Russia. General Richard Shirreff. Gregory Feifer. Russell Hart. Napoleon's Invasion of Russia. George Nafziger. Ian F. The Real German War Plan, Terernce Zuber.
Finland at War. Vesa Nenye. The Main Enemy. Milton Bearden. A Foreign Shore. Catrin Collier. Chris McNab. With the Courage of Desperation. A Raw Youth. Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky. Viktor Suvorov. Walter Gorlitz. The Crisis Years.
Michael Beschloss. Pier Paolo Battistelli. Gulag Boss. Fyodor Vasilevich Mochulsky. The Splintered Empires. Berlin Karl Bahm. Fall of the Double Eagle. John R. Revolution In Danger. Victor Serge. Marshal of Victory. The Rzhev Slaughterhouse. Svetlana Gerasimova. The Russian Idea. Nikolai Berdyaev.
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