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Table of contents
- Operation Barbarossa in rare pictures,
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- Operation Barbarossa: The Biggest Military Adventure in History
During the planning phase, they judged an invasion force of 3. In reality, in June the Soviet military could muster five million men in divisions, and this was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Soviet manpower: from June-December , the Red Army was able to field more divisions, essentially creating an entire new army from scratch. Thus Stalin was able to collect over 1. The Soviets continued to suffer huge losses during these operations, but they were better-prepared than the Germans for winter fighting. And as luck would have it, the winter of was the coldest in decades. The temperature plunged to a record degrees Fahrenheit in late December, and by March , , German soldiers had been killed or incapacitated by frostbite.
Most German tanks were damaged and needed to be serviced, and gasoline was scarce. On December 2, , German scouts spotted the spires of the Kremlin through binoculars, but this was as close as they ever came to the enemy capital. In short, Operation Barbarossa had failed. Although German armies would take the offensive again in spring , this time the Red Army would be expecting it.
And while Germany could draw additional manpower from allies like Romania, Finland, Hungary, and Italy, it also faced an ever-growing circle of enemies principally the United States, after Hitler declared war on the U. German officers were apprehensive, and rightly so -- not just about the likelihood of defeat, but also the prospect of violent retribution for the terrible things happening behind the front.
For one thing, almost no provision had been made for feeding or housing prisoners of war. As a result, captured Soviet soldiers were simply left to perish from starvation and exposure in cattle cars or open-air camps. Of the 3. Meanwhile, the four SS Einsatzgruppen embarked on the systematic mass murder of Eastern European Jews, shooting about , by the end of and a total of 1.
In many places, the Nazis found willing accomplices among the local populations, where anti-Semitism ran deep.
Operation Barbarossa in rare pictures,
On September , , Ukrainian collaborators helped Einsatzgruppe C murder 33, Jews in a ravine at Babi Yar, just outside Kiev, and Lithuanian mobs and militias murdered thousands of Jews before German troops even arrived. Cold-blooded as they were, these local killers probably never suspected the murder of the Jews was intended as a preamble to the colonization of Eastern Europe. However, in the vast pocket around Minsk and Bialystok, the Soviets were still fighting; reducing the pocket was causing high German casualties and many Red Army troops were also managing to escape.
The usual estimated casualties of the Red Army amount to , killed, missing, captured or wounded. General Kurt Von Tippleskirch noted, "The Russians had indeed lost a battle, but they won the campaign". On July 3, 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 also stiffened.
The delays gave the Soviets time to organize for a massive counterattack against Army Group Center. The ultimate objective of Army Group Center was the city of Smolensk, which commanded the road to Moscow. Facing the Germans was an old Soviet defensive line held by six armies. On July 6, the Soviets launched an attack with tanks against the 3rd Panzer Army.
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The Germans defeated this counterattack using their 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 in Smolensk from the north. Trapped between their pincers were three Soviet armies. Four weeks into the campaign, the Germans realized they had grossly underestimated the strength of the Soviets.
The German troops had run out of their initial supplies but still not attained the expected strategic freedom of movement. Operations were now slowed down to allow for a resupply; the delay was to be used to adapt the strategy to the new situation. Hitler had lost faith in battles of encirclement as large numbers of Soviet soldiers had continued to escape them and now believed he could defeat the Soviets by inflicting severe economic damage, depriving them from the industrial capacity to continue the war.
That meant the seizure of 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. The German generals vehemently argued instead for 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. However, Hitler was adamant, and issued an order to send Army Group Center's tanks to the north and south, temporarily halting the drive to Moscow. 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. The two Panzer armies now trapped four Soviet armies and parts of two others. The Finns had pushed southeast on both sides of Lake Ladoga reaching the old Finnish-Soviet frontier. However, the pace of advance over the last ten kilometers proved very slow and the casualties mounted. At this stage Hitler lost patience and ordered that Leningrad should not be stormed but starved into submission.
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 September 16th. The encircled Soviets did not give up easily, and 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 , Soviet soldiers captured but that was false, the German did capture , males between the ages of but only , were soldiers, out of which , broke out, netting the Axis , Prisoners of war.
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 , men in 83 divisions, but no more than 25 divisions were fully effective. Operation Typhoon, the drive to Moscow, began on October 2nd.
In front of Army Group Center was a series of elaborate defense lines, the first centered on Vyazma and the second on Mozhaisk. Three days later the Panzers pushed on Bryansk while 2nd Army attacked from the west. Three Soviet armies were now encircled. To the north, the 3rd and 4th Panzer Armies attacked Vyazma, trapping another five Soviet armies.
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Moscow's first line of defense had been shattered. The pocket yielded , Soviet prisoners, bringing the tally since the start of the invasion to three million Soviet soldiers captured. The Soviets had only 90, men and tanks left for the defense of Moscow. Martial law was declared in Moscow. Almost from the beginning of Operation Typhoon the weather had deteriorated. The supply situation rapidly deteriorated. The pause gave the Soviets who were in a far better supply situation due to the use of their rail network time to reinforce, and 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 would come over tanks and aircraft. The Germans were nearing exhaustion, they also began to recall Napoleon's invasion of Russia. They remembered what happened to Napoleon's Army. Most of them began to re-read Caulaincourt's grim account of That had a weighty influence at this critical time in 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 November 15 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 six Soviet armies.
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. However, 4th Panzer Army succeeded in crossing the Moscow canal and began the encirclement. The Wehrmacht was not equipped for winter warfare. Frostbite and disease caused more casualties than combat, and dead and wounded had already reached , in three weeks.
Some divisions were now at 50 percent 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 , men and on December 5 they launched a massive counterattack which pushed the Germans back over miles. The invasion of the USSR would cost the German Army over , dead and , wounded, the majority of whom became casualties after October 1 and an unknown number of Axis casualties such as Hungarians, Romanians and Waffen SS troops as well as co-belligerent Finns.
The Red army and air force were so badly defeated in chiefly because they were ill-prepared for the surprise attack by the armed forces of the Axis, which by were the most experienced and best-trained in the world. The Axis had a doctrine of mobility and annihilation, excellent communications, and the confidence that comes from repeated low-cost victories.
The Soviet armed forces, by contrast, lacked leadership, training, and readiness. Much of Soviet planning assumed that no war would take place before thus the Axis attack came at a time when new organizations and promising, but untested, weapons were just beginning to trickle into operational units. And much of the Soviet Army in Europe was concentrated along the new western border of the Soviet Union, in former Polish territory which 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 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 military units vulnerable to German encirclements , by a lack of experienced officers, and by bureaucratic inertia. The initial tactical errors of the Soviets in the first few weeks of the Axis offensive proved catastrophic.
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Initially, the Red Army was fooled by a complete overestimation of its own capabilities. Instead of intercepting German armor, Soviet mechanized corps were ambushed and destroyed after Luftwaffe dive bombers inflicted heavy losses. Soviet tanks, poorly maintained and manned by inexperienced crews, suffered from an appalling rate of breakdowns.
Lacks of spare parts and of trucks ensured a logistical collapse. The decision not to dig in the infantry divisions proved disastrous. Without tanks or sufficient motorization, Soviet troops were incapable of waging mobile warfare against the Germans and their allies.
Operation Barbarossa: The Biggest Military Adventure in History
Stalin's orders to his troops not to retreat or surrender resulted in a return to static linear positions which German tanks easily breached, again quickly cutting supply lines and surrounding whole Soviet armies. Only later did Stalin allow his troops to retreat to the rear wherever possible and regroup, to mount a defense in depth or to counterattack. More than 2. Most of these captured Soviet troops were to die from exposure, starvation, disease, or willful mistreatment by the German regime.
Despite the failure of the Axis to achieve Barbarossa's initial goals, the huge Soviet losses caused a shift in Soviet propaganda. Before the onset of hostilities against Germany, the Soviet government had stated that its army was very strong. But, by the autumn of , the Soviet line was that the Red Army had been weak, that there had not been enough time to prepare for war, and that the German attack had come as a surprise.
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 came within sight of the spires of the Kremlin in early December 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. 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 managed to avoid 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. Historians currently debate whether or not loss of the Soviet capital would have caused the collapse of the Soviet Union , but Operation Barbarossa failed to achieve that goal.
Within six months from the start of Operation Barbarossa, the strategic position of Germany had become desperate, since German military industries were unprepared for a long war. The outcome of Operation Barbarossa was at least as detrimental to the Soviets as it was to 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. However, the occupied areas were not always properly controlled by the Germans and underground activity rapidly escalated.
Wehrmacht occupation had been brutal from the start, due to directives issued by Hitler himself at the start of the operation, according to which Slavic peoples were considered an inferior race of untermenschen. This attitude immediately alienated much of the population from the Nazis, while in some areas at least for example, Ukraine it seems that some local people had been ready to consider the Germans as liberators helping them to get rid of Stalin.
The grave situation in which the beleaguered German army found itself towards the end of was due to the increasing strength of the Red Army, compounded by a number of factors which in the short run severely restricted the effectiveness of the German forces. Chief among these were their overstretched deployment, a serious transport crisis affecting supply and movement and the eroded strength of most divisions. More info OK. Wrong language? Change it here DW. COM has chosen English as your language setting. COM in 30 languages.
Deutsche Welle. Audiotrainer Deutschtrainer Die Bienenretter. Millions lost their lives during the German invasion. Shared experiences According to Russian historian, Irina Sherbakova, his account of the day war broke out is typical in many Russian families. Many facts were brushed under the carpet in Russia's recollection of the war. Irina Scherbakova says it took decades for Russia to come to terms with the past.
Russia celebrates its triumph over Germany every year. Germany commemorates 66th anniversary of World War II end Germany has commemorated the anniversary of the surrender of the Nazis with a choral symphony in Berlin and the opening of a historic submarine yard in Bremen. Date Related content. Germany Activists in Germany demand legalization of abortion. German Green leader says bans work better than taxes.
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