October 31, 2012

OPERATION BARBAROSSA: CLASH OF THE TITANS - Conclusion




Operation Barbarossa was the greatest battle ever waged in the history of mankind, and the greatest failure.  Hitler's plans for conquering the Soviet Union were doomed from the start.  Despite early victories, German troops were plagued by an interminable series of setbacks, delays, and grievous losses in troops and war materiel, not to mention the fatal hazards of the Russian winter.  It was a turning point which marked Germany's decline and ultimate defeat and one from which it would never recover.

Nazi Germany's trademark, the surprise blitzkrieg attack, earned them the respect of the Axis, and terror of nations throughout Europe.  However, blitzkrieg was a tactic best applied to countries of smaller size, and was less effective against a country the size and span of western Soviet Union. Nevertheless, Soviet troops were literally caught by surprise, and because of their military unpreparedness, inexperience, and obsolete war machines, were virtually annihilated by a constant barrage of German firepower.  It was "every man for himself" as Soviet troops, led by inexperienced leaders (and in many cases, no leaders at all) struggled against a far stronger and skilled enemy.  Soviet casualties were devastating.

That Soviet troops were so easily overpowered was due to several factors, not the least which was the drastic shortfall of officers in the Red Army.  Years earlier, Stalin decimated vast numbers of his own officer corps, during the purges of the interwar years and the Great Purge of 1936-38. 



Moreover, The Soviet campaign against Finland in 1939-40 (The Winter War) was a dismal failure: the Red Army had 30 times the tanks, 100 times the airplanes, and three times the number of troops than the Finnish armed forces and despite their overwhelming numerical superiority, still could not defeat them. This factor more than any other whetted the German appetite that an invasion into Soviet Union would be fast and easy.  Hitler was adamant about launching an attack in 1941 to take advantage of the Soviets weaknesses.  A year later would have been too late.


Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs Finland (Photo taken by © SA-kuva)



Though many Soviet bases were established along the new western border of the Soviet Union, they were not sufficiently reinforced, and hence easily overrun by the invading Germans.  Operation Barbarossa has always been referred to as Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union.  Technically speaking, the Germans had actually invaded Soviet-occupied eastern Poland, and other Soviet occupied territories of the Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania.  Nevertheless, it is not a misnomer that Germany invaded the Soviet Union;  Operation Barbarossa was the spearhead that punctured the "buffer zones", and made an advance possible into the heartland of western Soviet Union - to Leningrad,  to the Caucasus, and finally, an attempt on Moscow herself. 

As if by Providence, heavy rains followed by the arctic cold of a Russian Winter, severely impeded the German advance towards Moscow.  The death toll among German troops began to rise dramatically as they succumbed to frostbite and disease.  On November 27, 1941, General Wagner (Quartermaster General of the German Army) stated:  "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."
 

Though German command made an intensive research into the failures of  the 1812 Napoleon campaign into the Soviet Union, they failed to heed the lessons of the past and shipped their armies on an ill-fated mission. History was about to repeat itself - but this time on a larger scale.  In one of the many directives issued by Hitler, was one compelling his armies to "stand or die", in the face of Soviet counterattacks. 




Nazi Troops in Russia - What They Experienced (00:02:07m)


The consequences were devastating as casualties mounted into the hundreds of thousands of dead German soldiers.  The Red Army was very much in its element and capable of subduing the enemy, launching a myriad of ferocious counterattacks that forced the Germans to ultimately retreat. The tables were turned.

In a series of "what ifs" many historians have long deliberated about Hitler's decision to delay the attack on Moscow.  Hitler postponed the attack on Moscow against the better advice of his generals opting instead to capture Leningrad, and the oil-rich fields of the Caucasus. To have postponed the capture of the capital city, despite the opportunities, was tantamount, I believe, to virtual sabotage. (If the decision to circumvent Moscow had been ordered by a lowly commanding officer of the corps, he would have been court martialed and executed by a firing squad.)    

The failure of Operation Barbarossa marked the beginning of the end for the Nazi Third Reich.  Nevertheless, for the next five years Germany would fight many more battles against the Soviet Union, and lose as many times -  the battles at Stalingrad - Kursk - Kiev - Berlin were among the most ferocious battles fought between the German and Russian forces - the Titans of WW2.  It proved that Soviet armed forces were capable, tenacious, and

The three major causes leading to the failure of Operation Barbarossa were faulty logistical planning, the weather, and underestimating the strength of Soviet troops.  But there was one other factor that proved to be as deadly - Hitler's arrogant over-confidence. The German Wehrmacht had all the resources to virtually pummel the Soviet Union into submission, but German Command made the fateful error of allocating only part of their resources to the Operation.  If all that Germany had to do was "kick in the front door" they hardly needed to take out the big cannons.



Joseph Stalin speech after the Nazi invasion Soviet Union 1941 (00:06:47m)
There are no sub-titles available but English transcript is available on You Tube.




 June 24, 1945 Moscow - Victory Day Parade

Soviet soldiers with flags lowered of the defeated Nazi Reich

Photo by: Yevgeny Khaldei / Waralbum.ru






Operation Barbarossa: Clash of the Titans Index
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OPERATION BARBAROSSA: CLASH OF THE TITANS - Phase Four



WWll in Colour-The Battle of Moscow (00:10:00m)


Operation Barbarossa: Phase 4:  (October 2, 1941 – December 5,1941)
Operation Typhoon

Following the capture of Kiev, the Soviet forces, including trained reserves were significantly diminished. Stalin deployed reinforcements in a desperate attempt to defend Moscow and had been able to assemble eighty-three divisions comprising of 800,000 troops, however, only twenty-five of these divisions were fully effective. 


Red Army troops parade in Red Square before battle

On October 2nd Operation Typhoon was finally launched and the German advance towards Moscow had begun.  The German plan called for the deployment of two pincer offensives:  the 3rd and 4th Panzer armies which were to cross the Moscow Canal and encircle the city from the northeast.  They succeeded in breaching the Kalinin front and simultaneously destroying the Moscow-Leningrad railway. The Germans attacked Vyzama and Bryansk, entrapping the Soviet 18th 20th, 24th, and 32nd armies, effectively shattering Moscow's first line of defense.


Abandoned German military vehicles on road to Moscow 1941
Meanwhile 2nd Panzer Army advanced towards the south of Moscow Oblast against the Western Front (south of Tula).  They had taken Orvol, located 121 km (75 miles) south of the first main Soviet defense line, and succeeded in encircling the Soviet 3rd and 13th armies.  And 4th Army advanced directly towards Moscow.  Another German plan, code-named Operation Wotan was an integral part of the final phase of the German offensive. Incidentally Wotan was the name given to a Germanic God, venerated during the Middle Ages. 

German troops succeeded in capturing another 673,000 Soviet prisoners, raising the cumulative total of Soviets prisoners to an astounding 3 million.  There remained only 90,000 Soviet soldiers and 150 Soviet tanks to defend the capital city against a massive German barrage.


Soviet soldiers in German POW camp 1941
The German government felt assured that their victory was imminent and  had prematurely released public pronouncements that Moscow was on the verge of collapse and that the Soviet Union would soon be conquered.  On October 13th, the 3rd Panzer Army advanced to within 140 km (90 miles) of Moscow when circumstances changed drastically.  The temperature plummeted and amidst a continuous heavy rainfall, the unpaved roads were quickly transformed into muddy traps slowing down the German advance to no better than a snail's crawl.. Despite the elements, German troops struggled to advance but could only manage about 3.2 km (2 miles) per day.  In the meantime, their supplies dwindled rapidly.
By the end of October, German High Command ordered that Operation Typhoon be halted temporarily while the army units scrambled to re-organize itself. Yet another German delay gave the Soviets the invaluable opportunity to strengthen their own defence lines by bringing in new reinforcements.  In just over a month, Soviet command was able to organize eleven new armies which included 30 divisions brought in from Siberia, backed by 1,000 of their own tanks and 1,000 aircraft. 

German troops were on the verge of exhaustion,  besieged by the enemy, and beleagured by the elements.  It was deja vu. That Napoleon's invasion of Russia suffered the same fate was certainly not overlooked by German Command.  General Gunther Blumentritt had written about it in his diary, thus:  

General Gunther Blumentritt

"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."


By  mid-November the temperature had become so cold that ground had hardened, allowing the resumption of the German advance towards Moscow.  The Soviet 5th, 16th, 30th, 43rd, 49th, and 50th Armies had already dug in, and were waiting along the defense lines.

But the plans ultimately did not work out in favor of the Germans.  After two weeks of ferocious battle, the advance of the German troops towards Moscow was reduced to a virtual crawl. The Germans were exhausted and low on ammunition and fuel.  In the south, 2nd Panzer Army could not advance  - they were being blocked. On November 22 the Siberian units, reinforced by the 49th and 50th Soviet Armies, launched an attack on the 2nd Panzer Army with devastating consequences.  German troops were utterly obliterated. 
Then on December 2nd,  part of the 258th German Infantry Division managed to advance to within 24 km (15 miles) of Moscow, and were able to catch a fleeting glimpse of the Kremlin. And just at the crucial moment, the first Russian blizzard hit with a fury that stopped the Germans in their tracks. Despite this setback, a German reconnaissance battalion had reached the town of Khimki only 8 km distance (5 miles) from Moscow and succeeded in capturing the bridge over the Moscow-Volga Canal, and the railway station.  But it was the end of the line. The Germans could not advance any farther.  

German soldier digging out from the snow Dec 1941




German Soldiers in the winter of Operation Barbarossa 1941

In the meantime, Soviet Command had reinforced its units until over 500,000 troops were positioned near Moscow.  On December 5th, they launched a massive counterattack forcing the German lines back to the west for over 320 km (or 200 miles).



German soldiers surrender to Soviets Dec 1941

Operation Barbarossa was ultimately a disaster from which the Wehrmacht never recovered. The failure to take Moscow marked a turning point which plagued German initiatives for the rest of the war.  German casualties in 1941, amounted to over 210,000 KIA or MIA, and 620,000 WIA (a third of which became casualties after the 1st of October). Casualties among the Axis troops (Hungarians, Romanians, and Finns) are unknown. Soviet casualties were in the millions.

German plans were ill-conceived from the start. No consideration was given for the need to equip their troops with adequate winter uniforms and suffficent supplies. As a result German troops suffered considerably from frostbite and disease.  In addition the severe cold weather had extremely detrimental effects on their war machinery; trucks, artillery and planes were literally stranded and inoperative.  Operation Barbarossa had come to a grinding hat.  Not even appeals to the German god of Wotan could restore German fortunes now.



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OPERATION BARBAROSSA: CLASH OF THE TITANS
CONCLUSION
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October 30, 2012

OPERATION BARBAROSSA: CLASH OF THE TITANS - Phase Three




Siege of Leningrad (Part 6/10) (00:09:40m)

Operation Barbarossa: Phase Three  (August 5,1941 – October 2, 1941)

By the middle of July, German troops managed to advance to Kiev short of a few kilometers. While 1st Panzer Army veered south, the 17th German Army charged eastward. In the process they succeeded in trapping three Soviet armies between them near Uman, They then proceeded to eliminate the pocket before veering north and crossing the Dnieper.  In the meantime, the 2nd Panzer Army, splitting off from Army Group Centre, crossed the Desna and joined 2nd Army on its right flank and together they succeeded in trapping four Soviet armies and elements of two other enemy forces.
 


The 4th Panzer Army, reinforced by tanks from Army Group Centre was about to launch its final attack on Leningrad. On August 8th, the Panzers penetrated Soviet defense lines: while the German 16th Army attacked towards the northeast, the 18th Army, backed by an Estonian guerilla formation cleared the area and advanced to Lake Peipus.  By the end of the month, 4th Panzer Army succeeding in advancing within 48 km (30 miles) of Leningrad.
Hitler gave the order to attack Leningrad - and that German forces take no prisoners.  On September 9, Army Group North began its final thrust and in ten days reached as far as within 11 km (7 miles) of Leningrad.  But as the Germans advanced their progress became exceedingly slow and casualties quickly mounted.  




Блокада Ленинграда Leningrad blockade Saint-Petersburg 2/7 (00:08:01m)


Impatient with the lack of progress, Hitler ordered that instead of storming Leningrad, that German forces had to starve it into submission. (The "Hunger Plan" was established to secure ample food sources for the German armies, while simultaneously starving to death tens of thousands of Soviets and Jews. By 1944 over 4 million Soviets had died of starvation.)  Group Center was stranded, deprived of its Panzer forces and was vulnerable to several Soviet counter attacks. The German units suffered their first major defeat at Yelnya Offensive.

German commanders observe attack on Leningrad 1941

Soviet AA guns guard Leningrad sky Oct 1, 1941


Soviet troops in Leningrad 1941

Consequently, Hitler turned his attention back to Army Group Center and its mission to capture Moscow. He reallocated the 3rd and 4th Panzer Armies, which had been advancing on Leningrad, to instead provide support for Army Group Center. But no thrust towards Moscow would be initiated until operations Kiev had been accomplished. Half of Army Group Centre had veered to the south, behind Kiev, while Army Group South, positioned at the Dniepr bridgehead advanced northward.
 
On September 16th, the Germans succeeded in encircling the Soviet forces in Kiev. Ferocious battle ensued during which the Germans unleashed a heavy barrage of fire power by tanks, artillery and aerial bombardment. The Germans won, after ten days of very heavy fighting. Soviet casualties were 452,720 KIA, 600,000 Soviet soldiers taken prisoners, as well as the confiscation of Soviet weapons - 3,867 artillery guns and mortars from 43 divisions of the Soviet 5th, 37th, 26th and 21st Soviet Armies.


Operation Barbarossa - Capture of Kiev September 19, 1941



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OPERATION BARBAROSSA: CLASH OF THE TITANS
PHASE FOUR

OPERATION BARBAROSSA: CLASH OF THE TITANS - Phase Two




Fierce Combats on Eastern Front - WWII in Motion - Leningrad,Smolensk,Stalingrad
Duration: (00:04:17m)


 
Operation Barbarossa: Phase Two: Battle for Smolensk (July 3, 1941 – August 5, 1941)

On July 3rd the German infantry finally caught up with the Panzer division and were given the go-ahead by Hitler to resume their advance eastward.  The timing couldn't have been worse. They were caught in a heavy rainstorm, usual during Russian summers, and were slowed down to a virtual crawl along the muddy roads.  Benefiting from this delay, Soviet troops hastily organized massive troops and launched a ferocious counterattack against Army Group Center.

  
Army Group Center's mission was to reach Smolensk, an important Soviet command post, and were headed straight towards six Soviet armies poised and waiting along the defensive line  On July 6th the Soviets backed with 700 tanks launched an attack on the 3rd Panzer Army but were ultimately repulsed.  The Germans easily defeated the Soviets, backed with overwhelming air superiority.

Operation Barbarossa - city of Smolensk heavily bombed by German JU87s

Operation Barbarossa 1941: Soviet soldiers surrender to the German

The 2nd Panzer Army crossed the Dnieper and advanced on Smolensk from the south, while 3rd Panzer Army (which defeated the Soviet attack) advanced on Smolensk from the north. Caught in the German pincer were three Soviet armies.  By July 18th the Panzers attempted to close the gap, and were within ten miles of accomplishing their objective, however the trap would not close until July 26.  The Germans captured 300,000 Red Army soldiers but it would be another ten days before the pocket could be liquidated.  During that time about 100,000 Red Army soldiers managed to escaped, and quickly repositioned their troops for the defense of Moscow.


                                     Soviet soldiers captures by German army - detained in POW camps



Trainloads of Soviet POWs shipped to Germany. None survived.


It took all of four weeks for German Command to realize that they had seriously underestimated the strength of Soviet armed forces.   German troops had been deployed with insufficient supplies, which had very quickly diminished to alarming levels.  It became imperative for them to slow down operations long enough in order to permit reinforcements to catch up with them.  In the face of such  interminable delays, German troops were faced with the gravity of their predicament, and were desperate in their efforts to strengthen their positions.  The situation was hopeless.

Soviet AA guns aimed at enemy German planes Aug 1941

The original plan of encirclement had failed dismally, as huge numbers of Soviet units succeeded in escaping the German pincers.  Consequently, Hitler was convinced that the only way of defeating the Soviets was to destroy their economic resources and bring enemy forces to a virtual halt.  But in order to achieve that objective, the Germans would have to launch a two pronged attack:  to seize the main industrial zones of Kharkov, the Donets Basin, and the oil fields of the Caucasus in the south, and the capture of Leningrad (a vital military center)  in the north.
Hitler shakes hands with von Bock

Hitler's plans were met with blistering outrage from his generals, in particular Fedor von Bock, who demanded that German troops had to attack Moscow outright. The capital city was a major center for arms production, as well as the vital epicenter of Soviet communications and transportation.  Moreover, the capture of Moscow would have had enormous psychological impact on the enemy's morale.  Reports from German intelligence indicated that Soviet troops had been heavily deployed in and around Moscow.  It would not be an easy invasion.  Irregardless, Hitler stubbornly refused to heed the warnings and, undermined his own Commanding Officer, by giving Guderian the order to dispatch Army Group Centre tanks to the north and south.  Moscow would have to wait for now.




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OPERATION BARBAROSSA: CLASH OF THE TITANS
PHASE THREE


October 29, 2012

OPERATION BARBAROSSA: CLASH OF THE TITANS - Phase One





You Tube (1/6) TANKS!: Barbarossa (00:10:01m)

Operation Barbarossa: Phase One  (June 22, 1941 – July 3, 1941

At 3:15 hours, Sunday, June 22nd, 1941 Operation Barbarossa was launched. Over three million German troops invaded Soviet-occupied Polish territory, bombing major Polish cities. The military campaign was supported by over 500,000 Axis troops from Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia, Italy, a major army division from Finland and a division of Spanish Falangists.

June 22, 1941 Moscovites listen to news that Germany invaded Soviet Union
The Soviets were taken completely by surprise, and ill-prepared for the onslaught that awaited them. By the time reports finally reached the Soviet military staff it was too late to reinforce the few troops that were already stationed at the border.

During the preliminary phase of Operation Barbarossa, the Luftwaffe virtually decimated the Soviet air force. Over 2,00 Soviet aircraft were bombed into oblivion while the Luftwaffe lost only 35 aircraft. German estimates however were conservative. According to Russian historian Kulikov, Soviet losses were considerably higher at 3,922 destroyed aircraft.

Soviet Soldiers Parade June 1941
June 1941 Soviet soldiers ready to leave for the front - not expecting the worst

Army Group North

The 4th Panzer Group was given the mission to advance towards Leningrad.  To do so they would have to overcome two major obstacles, the Neman and Daugava Rivers which lay in their path.  On the first day, German troops crossed the River Neman reinforced by 600 tanks, and succeeded in penetrating 80 km (50 miles) inland.  When the Germans reached Raseiniai, they were met with fierce Soviet counter-attack.  Over 300 Soviet tanks of the 3rd and 12th Soviet Mechanized Corps exchanged fire. But after four days of fighting, the Soviets had run out of ammunition and fuel and were easily encircled and destroyed by German troops. The Soviets had lost 90% of its strength by the end of the first week.

German tanks advance Operation Barbarossa June 1941

From Raseiniai the Panzers crossed the Daugava, located there Daugavpils, and within striking distance of Leningrad.   At this crucial juncture, Hitler suddenly gave the order to hold their position. Apparently the infantry formations had fallen behind and it would be more than a week before they could resume their advance.  In the meantime, this delay gave the Soviets ample opportunity to build a stronger defence around Leningrad as well as the banks of the Luga River.

Operation Barbarossa Army Group North enter  pine grove near Leningrad-Oct 1941
 Operation Barbarossa Army Group North enter pine grove near Leningrad-Oct 1941

To complicate matters for the Soviets, the Lithuanian anti-Soviet Uprising began on June 22nd, proclaiming independence the very next day.  Over 30,000 rebels clashed with Soviet forces, as ethnic Lithuanians in the Red Army abandoned their posts to join the rebellion. Meanwhile, as German forces progressed further to the north, other uprisings broke out against the Soviets in Estonia.




Kovno June 1941: Lithuanian nationalists carry out massacre of Jews right under the watch of the Nazi SS.   At the start of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, SS units rolled into town and goaded anti-partisan leader Klimatis to turn his rebels against the Jews to exert punishment against the "Jewish enemy".


Army Group Centre 

German troops faced four Soviet armies, all which occupied a salient that projected right into German-occupied Polish territory.  The objective of AG Center was to reach Minsk and prevent the Red Army from an escape route from the salient.  The 3rd Panzer Group succeeded in breaking through the junction of two Soviet fronts located north of the salient and proceeded to cross the River Neman.  The 2nd Panzer Group crossed the Bug River in the South.  While the Panzers attacked, the infantry attacked the salient and succeeded in encircling the Soviet troops at Bialystok.


Operation Barbarossa 1941 Army Group Centre
Operation Barbarossa - Germa  Army Group Centre

The Soviets did not know what hit them.  At first, Marshall Timoshenko did not perceive the severity of the attack, and ordered Soviet troops to immediately launch a counter-attack.  It failed due to lack of coordination, ammunition and communication. The supply and ammunition dumps, and communication lines had been destroyed.

Zukov ordered the Red Army to launch an offensive "to encircle and destroy the enemy grouping near Suwalki and to seize the Suwalki region by the evening of 26 June" and "to encircle and destroy the enemy group invading in Vladimir-Volynia and Brody direction" and "to seize the Lublin region by the evening of 24.6".  The Soviet tactic failed miserably. German troops succeeded in destroying the Soviet units.

By June 27 Panzer Groups 2 and 3 rendez-voused at Minsk and advanced 320 km (200 miles) into Soviet territory - virtually a third of the way to Moscow.    Between Minsk and the Polish border, the remainder of the 32 Soviet was completely encircled, as well as eight tanks, and motorized cavalry and artillery divisions.



In the above photograph: Soviet partisans executed by German soldiers September 1941. The war of annihilation would claims millions of civilian deaths.  Photograph from: "Kiev 1941: Hitler's Battle for Supremacy in the East" written by David Stahel, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2012. 

Operation Barbarossa 1941 German soldiers making fun of their hanged victims

Army Group South

The German troops faced three Soviet armies in the south however resistance was much stronger due to more capable Soviet command.  German infantry launched attacks while the 1st Panzer group charged its tanks through the Soviet 6th Army in the attempt to capture Brody.   On June 26th, over 1,000 tanks of the five Soviet mechanized corps launched a massive counter-offensive on 1st Panzer Group.  It was among the most ferocious battle of the entire military campaign, lasting over four days.  Though the Soviet troops were able to inflict heavy losses on the Germans, in the end the German army prevailed.

From then on, the Red Army had to assume a defensive strategy, and faced a withdrawal under severe attack.  The VVS, the Soviet air fleet had lost 1,561 planes over Kiev.  Though Hitler scored his first huge victory, it did not auger well over the long run.  He had drawn away German forces that had been allocated for the advance towards Moscow.  As a result the entire mission was placed in jeopardy, delaying German progress by 11 weeks.

According to General Kurt von Tippelskirch, 'The Russians had indeed lost a battle, but they won the campaign".



OPERATION BARBAROSSA: CLASH OF THE TITANS
PHASE TWO



OPERATION BARBAROSSA: CLASH OF THE TITANS - Introduction

video



German Invasion Of Russia 1941 (in Color) (00:05:50m)


"You only have to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down."   Adolf Hitler


Hitler's declaration was as arrogant as it was delusional. It was his fervent belief that the Soviet Union could be as easily, if not easier to conquer, than had been all of Western Europe. With the exception of the Battle of Britain, Hitler was undefeated, from Western Europe to the Balkans and North Africa.  He was now ready for a massive "showdown with Bolshevism".   Like Napoleon before him Hitler was supremely confident that he could conquer the vast expanse of the Soviet Union,  but history was about to repeat itself.  Despite early victories,  Hitler's dream was doomed to failure.   

On June 22, 1941 more than 4 million troops of the Axis powers amassed along the Eastern front, spanning a distance of 2,900 km or 1,800 miles from the Baltic to the Black Sea.. Supported by over 600,000 motorized vehicles and as many horses, the German Wehrmacht was poised to begin a battle of epic proportions.  Hitler was certain that victory could be achieved easily and quickly by relying on the lightning fast blitzkrieg tactics that proved so effective during previous Campaigns. 



Operation Barbarossa June 22 1941 at dawn German troops begin the march eastward


German panzers mobilize - Operation Barbarossa

The spearhead of the German invasion was named Operation Barbarossa, the namesake of the medieval German Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa. The German arsenal comprised of about 46,000 pieces of artillery,  4,300 tanks and roughly the same number of aircraft. However, only 1,939 or 68% of the Luftwaffe was operational.

Facing the Germans were over 2.9 million Russian troops - supported by 15,000 Soviet tanks and 40,000 aircraft.  Though Russian materiel was numerically superior, their equipment was woefully obsolete and hopelessly inadequate to battle the German War Machine.


Operation Barbarossa - German troops take Soviet prisoners

Never before nor since in the history of warfare had there been a battle that surpassed the staggering magnitude of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, and that resulted in such horrific casualties on both sides of the battlefield.  Operation Barbarossa lasted for over five months. At the end, German casualties amounted to more than 1,000,000 soldiers: 220,645 KIA;  761,825 WIA;  56,348 MIA and the destruction of 2,093 German aircraft and 2,839 German tanks. Soviet casualties were considerably heavier:  465,381 KIA;  101,471 (dead from wounds); 1,256,421 WIA; 2,335,482 Missing; 235,339 non-combat dead (from disease, execution, etc) 79,000 sick and frostbitten and 500,000 taken prisoner.  Over 21,000 Soviet aircraft and 20,500 tanks were destroyed. 




Destroyed Soviet planes in early stages of Operation Barbarossa
Foreground: I-16s  Background: I-15

Hitler envisaged an easy invasion into the heartland of western Russia, and intended to stop just short of the Ural Mountains. He proposed that a hypothetical line, referred to as the A-A line, that would connect Arkhangelsk, located on the White Sea, all the way to Astrakhan located at the mouth of the Volga River, on the Caspian Sea.  German Command anticipated that upon reaching this imaginary line, German troops will have seized all supplies and resources therein, and easily obliterate the Red Army.  According to Hitler's plan, whatever Soviet industrial compounds remained to the east of the A-A line would then be decimated by a barrage of aerial attacks by the entire fleet of the Luftflotte.


Hitler's strategy involved a three-pronged attack at specific areas and cities. (In effect it would trace the "historical" invasion routes).  Army Group North was to invade northern Russia through the Baltics and either capture or destroy the city of Leningrad.  Army Group Center was given the mission to capture Moscow, which could only be reached by first bypassing Belarus and capturing Smolensk. And Army Group South was to invade the Ukraine, capture the city of Kiev, and seize the oil-rich fields of the Caucausus.



Despite considerable planning and preparation on the part of German Command, Operation Barbarossa was doomed to fail from it's very inception.  Usually known for their thoroughness in all matters, the German Wehrmacht researched the history of Napoleon's  failed attempt to conquer Russia in 1812, however they failed to heed the lessons of the past. There was considerable disagreement within the ranks of the OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht), the Supreme German Command of the Armed Forces on the most effective means of achieving victory, and no consensus of opinion could be reached.  Most of the German commanders however approved of a direct attack straight through to Moscow but Hitler had other ideas.  He was adamant in the drive to first capture the Ukraine and the Baltics, for its' vast natural resources, and only then march towards Moscow.  Though Operation Barbarossa was launched with initial success,  it was subsequently mired in disaster.


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OPERATION BARBAROSSA: CLASH OF THE TITANS
PHASE ONE