The Viazma Catastrophe, 1941: The Red Armys Disastrous Stand against Operation Typhoon
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The Soviets decided not to repeat these mistakes. Instead of digging-in for linear defense, the infantry divisions would henceforth concentrate in large formations. Most tanks would also be concentrated into 29 mechanized corps, each with over 1, of them. Should the Germans attack, their ar- mored spearheads would be cut off and wiped out by the me- chanized 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 enve- lopment: after destroying German Army Group South, it would swing north through Poland in the back of Army Groups Center and North.
The Soviet offensive plans theory 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 some Wehrmacht leaders, like Wilhelm Keitel, promoted this view. This thesis was reiterated in the s based on the analysis of circumstantial evidence. Thus it has been found that Zhu- kov drew up a proposal signed by Aleksandr Vasilevsky and Nikolai Fyodorovich Vatutin suggesting secret mobilization and deploying Red Army troops on the western border, under the cover of training.
This proposed operation aimed to cut Germany off from its allies, especially from Romania and its oilfields that Germany needed to conduct the war. According to Viktor Suvorov, Stalin planned to use Germany as a proxy the "icebreaker" against the West. Stalin aimed to fuel Hitler's aggressive plans against Europe, and only af- ter the countries had fought each other—and exhausted themselves to some extent—would the USSR make their mo- ve.
For this reason Stalin provided significant material and political support to Adolf Hitler, while at the same time pre- paring the Red Army to "liberate" the whole of Europe from Nazi occupation. Suvorov saw Barbarossa as a German pre- emptive strike that capitalized on the Soviet troop concentra- tions immediately on the borders.
Some others who sup- port the idea that Stalin prepared to attack, like Mikhail Melt- yukhov, reject this part of Suvorov's theory, arguing that both sides prepared for an attack on their own, not in response to the other side's preparations. More Fronts would be formed within the overall responsibi- lity of the three Strategic Directions commands which corres- ponded approximately to a German Army Wehrmacht Heer Army Group Heeresgruppen in terms of geographic area of operations.
The invasion At a. It is hard to pinpoint the op- posing sides' strength in this initial phase, as most German fi- gures include reserves allocated to the East but not yet com- mitted, as well as several other comparability issues between the German and USSR's figures. Roughly three million Wehr- macht 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 , ordered that the bor- der troops be warned that war was imminent, only a small number of units were alerted in time. At around noon 22 June , the news of the invasion was broadcast to the population by Molotov, as follows: Citizens and Citizenesses of the Soviet Union!
Today, at four o'clock in the morning, without addressing any grievances to the Soviet Union, without declaration of war, German forces fell on our country, attacked our frontiers in many places and bombed our cities The Red Army and the whole na- 7 Stavka is the term used to refer to the high command of the ar- med forces in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.
It was used in Imperial Russia to refer to the administrative staff, and to the General Headquarters in the late 19th Century Imperial Rus- sian armed forces and subsequently in the Soviet Union. Our cause is just. The enemy will be beaten. Victory will be ours. By calling upon the population's devotion to their nation rat- her than the Party, Molotov struck a patriotic chord while allowing a stunned people to absorb the shattering news.
The invasion did not come as a surprise to Stalin but he was com- pletely astounded. It was not until 3 July before Stalin ad- dressed the nation for the first time since the start of the Ger- man invasion, and just like Molotov's announcement of the war on 22 June, he called for a "patriotic war May God aid us, espe- cially in this fight.
Later the same morning, Hitler proclaimed to colleagues, "be- fore three months have passed, we shall witness a collapse of Russia, the like of which has never been seen in history". Aside from the roughly 3. Luftwaffe reconnaissance units worked frantically to plot troop concentration, supply dumps, and airfields, and mark them for destruction. 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 disper- sing them on field landing strips, making them ideal targets. The Luftwaffe claimed to have destroyed 1, aircraft on the first day of operations.
The Luftwaffe lost 35 air- craft on the first day of combat. The Germans claimed to have destroyed only 3, Soviet aircraft in the first three days. In fact Soviet losses were far higher; according to Russian histo- rian Viktor Kulikov, some 3, Soviet aircraft had been lost. The Luftwaffe had achieved air superiority over all three sec- tors of the front, and would maintain it until the close of the year.
The Luftwaffe could now devote large numbers of its Geschwader to support the ground forces. Soviet commanders reacted quicker and the Germans faced determined resistance from the start. The German infantry armies struck at the junctions of these ar- mies while the 1st Panzer Group drove its armored spearhead of tanks right through the Soviet 6th Army, aiming to ta- ke Brody.
On 26 June, five Soviet mechanized corps with over 4, tanks mounted a massive counterattack on the 1st Pan- zer Group. The battle was among the fiercest of the cam- paign and one of the largest tank battles in history, lasting over four days. In the end the poor Soviet logistics and coor- dination, combined with German tactical skill and air supe- riority enabled the Germans to prevail, although the Soviets inflicted heavy losses on the 1st Panzer Group.
With the Soviet counteroffensives' failure, the last substantial Soviet tank forces in Western Ukraine had been decimated, and the Red Army assumed a defensive posture, focusing on strategic withdrawal under severe pressure. The Soviet air arm, the VVS, lost 1, aircraft over Ukraine, with one tenth of its entire strength destroyed on the ground on the first day of the war. With their armored reserves all but destroyed, the Red Army in Ukraine could not conduct any mobile opera- tions and were forced onto the defensive for the rest of the year. Their tactical skill, as well as quick reaction to the invasion meant that the Soviet forces in Ukraine avoided the rapid destruction that befell ot- her army groups in Belarus and the Baltic States.
However without any armored support, and the Luftwaffe dominating the sky, all the Red Army could do was buy time. The door to Kiev was now open. The es- timated casualties of the Red Army amount to , ki- lled, wounded, missing or captured.
Battle of Moscow
Franz Halder summarized the achievements made in the ope- ning phase of the operation in his diary as follow: "The objec- tive to shatter the bulk of the Russian Army this [western] si- de of the Dvina and Dnieper has been accomplished It is thus probably no overstatement to say that the Russian Cam- paign has been won in the space of two weeks. It be- came apparent to everyone that the OKH had grossly unde- restimated the size of Soviet reserves.
Furthermore, the Wehrmacht's officer core consisted of the old German aristo- cracy, primarily Prussian Junkers. These officers were schoo- led in the 19th century style of Clausewitzian theory. According to Clausewitz, wars were won by concentrating your armies at the enemy's focal point, their tactical Schwer- punkt. At the tactical level, this meant that your armies would win a battle by concentrating effort at unexpected loca- tions, then having them converge upon the enemies focal point, leading to a Kesselschlacht, a cauldron battle.
Now su- rrounded, the enemy would be forced to fight a Vernich- tungsschlacht, a battle of annihilation where they would be destroyed. At the strategic level, this meant that your armies after winning their decisive battles would eventually converge on the enemies overall focal point. In the case of Operation Barbarossa, this was Moscow. Thus nearly every German commander treated Moscow as the ultimate prize. However Hitler had a more modern, and according to David Glantz, correct view of modern warfare. Wars were won by making resistance impossible by starving them of indus- trial production, and denying them the raw materials needed to fight.
In this thinking, Leningrad was of vital importance to keep the Baltic Fleet from interfering with deliveries of iron ore from Sweden. Furthermore, Crimea must be captu- red to prevent air raids on Romanian oil fields. Kharkov also must be captured to deny the enemy its deposits of coal and iron, as well as its heavy industry. Finally, Rostov-on-Don must be captured in order to deny access to the Black Sea as well as using it as eventual launching pad for an invasion of the Caucasus, rich in oil and minerals. The 11th Army was ordered south to capture Crimea. The 6th Army was ordered to seize Kharkov and the 1st Panzer Group was ordered to seize Rostov-on-Don with the 17th Army ac- ting as the link between the other two.
This meant that ins- tead of the armies converging on some decisive objective, they were instead spreading themselves out leading to thinly defended sectors and dangerous gaps, areas ripe for counte- rattacks. To the German officer corps, Hitler's decisions were strategic madness. The de- lays gave the Soviets time to organize a massive counterat- tack against Army Group Center. Its ultimate objective was Smolensk, which commanded the road to Moscow.
Facing the Germans was an old Soviet defensive line held by six ar- mies. On 6 July, the Soviets attacked the 3rd Panzer Army with tanks. The Germans defeated this counterattack with overwhelming air superiority. The 2nd Panzer Army crossed the River Dnieper and closed on Smolensk from the south while the 3rd Panzer Army, after defeating the Soviet counterattack, closed on Smolensk from the north. Trapped between their pincers were three Soviet armies. When the Panzer Groups finally closed the gap, , Red Army soldiers were captured; but liquidating the pocket took another ten days in which time , 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 ex- pected strategic freedom of movement.
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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 capa- city to continue the war.
That meant seizing the industrial center of Kharkov, the Donets Basin and the oil fields of the Caucasus in the south and the speedy capture of Leningrad, a major center of military production, in the north. He also wanted to link up with the Finns to the north. Fedor von Bock and almost all the German generals involved in Operation Barbarossa, vehemently argued in favor of con- tinuing the all-out drive toward Moscow.
Besides the psycho- logical importance of capturing the enemy's capital, the gene- rals pointed out that Moscow was a major center of arms pro- duction and the center of the Soviet communications and transportation system. More importantly, intelligence reports indicated that the bulk of the Red Army was deployed near Moscow under Semyon Timoshenko for an all-out defense of the capital.
But Hitler was adamant, and issued a direct order to Heinz Guderian, bypassing his commanding officer von Bock, to send Army Group Centre's tanks to the north and south, temporarily halting the drive to Moscow. The 1st Panzer Army then went south while the German 17th Army struck east and trap- ped three Soviet armies near Uman. The two Panzer armies now trapped four Soviet armies and parts of two others. 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 ad- vanced to Lake Peipus.
By the end of August, 4th Panzer Army had penetrated to within 30 mi 48 km of Leningrad. The Finns had pushed southeast on both sides of Lake Lado- ga, reaching the old Finnish-Soviet frontier. At this stage, Hitler ordered the final destruction of Lenin- grad with no prisoners taken, and on 9 September, Army Group North began the final push which within ten days brought it within 7 mi 11 km of the city. However, the ad- vance over the last 10 km 6.
At this stage, Hitler lost patience and orde- red that Leningrad should not be stormed but starved into submission. Deprived of its Panzer forces, Army Group Cen- ter had remained static and was subjected to numerous So- viet counterattacks in particular the Yelnya Offensive in which the Germans suffered their first major tactical defeat since their invasion began. Half of Army Group Center had swung to the south in the back of the Kiev position, while Army Group South mo- ved to the north from its Dniepr bridgehead. A savage battle ensued in which the Soviets were hammered with tanks, artillery, and aerial bombardment.
After ten days of vicious fighting, the Germans claimed over , Soviet soldiers captured. Actual losses were , men, 3, ar- tillery pieces and mortars from 43 Divisions of the 5th, 21st, 26th, and 37th Soviet Armies. After Kiev, the Red Army no longer outnumbered the Ger- mans and there were no more directly available trained reser- ves. To defend Moscow, Stalin could field , men in 83 divisions, but no more than 25 divisions were fully effective. In front of Army Group Center was a series of elaborate defense lines, the first centered on Vyazma and the second on Mozhaysk.
The first blow took the Soviets completely by surprise as the 2nd Panzer Army, returning from the south, took Oryol which was 75 mi km south of the Soviet first main de- fense line. Three days later, the Panzers pushed on to Bryansk while 2nd Army attacked from the west. The Soviet 3rd and 13th Armies were now encircled. To the north, the 3rd and 4th Panzer Armies attacked Vyazma, trapping the 19th, 20th, 24th and 32nd Armies.
Moscow's first line of de- fense had been shattered. The pocket eventually yielded , Soviet prisoners, bringing the tally since the start of the invasion to three million. The Soviets had only 90, men and tanks left for the defense of Moscow. The Soviets had already survived beyond the few weeks that most experts expected after the Germans invaded; Walter Du- ranty was perhaps the only observer to predict that the USSR could survive for much longer.
The German government now publicly predicted the imminent capture of Moscow, convin- cing foreign correspondents of a pending Soviet collapse. On 13 October, the 3rd Panzer Army penetrated to within 90 mi km of the capital. Martial law was declared in Moscow. Almost from the beginning of Operation Typhoon, however, the weather had deteriorated. Temperatures fell while there was a continued rainfall, turning the unpaved road network into mud and steadily slowing the German advance on Mos- cow to as little as 2 mi 3.
The supply situation rapidly deteriorated. The pause gave the Soviets, who were in a far better supply situation, time to consolidate their posi- tions and organize formations of newly activated reservists. In little over a month the Soviets organized eleven new ar- mies which included 30 divisions of Siberian troops. With the Siberian forces came over 1, tanks and 1, aircraft. The Germans were nearing exhaustion, while they also began to recall Napoleon's invasion of Russia.
Most of them began to re-read Caulaincourt's grim account of That had a weighty in- fluence 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 15 November, with the ground hardening due to the cold weather, the Germans once again began the attack on Mos- cow. Although the troops themselves were now able to advan- ce 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. 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 atta- cked 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 th Infantry Division advanced to within 15 mi 24 km of Moscow, and could see the spires of the Kremlin, but by then the first blizzards of the winter had begun. A Reconnaissance-Battalion also managed to reach the town of Khimki—only about 8 km 5. The bitter cold also caused severe problems for their guns and equipment; weather conditions grounded the Luftwaffe. Newly built-up Soviet units near Moscow now numbered over , men, and on 5 December, they launched a massive counterattack which pushed the Germans back over mi km.
By December , the invasion had cost the German Army over , killed and missing and , wounded in , a third of whom became casualties after 1 October, and an unk- nown number of Axis casualties such as Hungarians, Roma- nians, and Waffen SS troops as well as co-belligerent Finns. This phase of the operation was cut short because of the Rus- sian winter and resulted in the heaviest losses of the war on the German side.
Reasons for initial Soviet defeats The Red Army and air force were so badly defeated in mainly because they were ill-prepared for the Axis surprise attack. By 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 se- cond half of The Axis had a doctrine of mobility, annihilation, excellent communications and confidence caused by repeated low-cost victories. The Soviet armed forces, by contrast, lacked lea- dership, training and readiness.
The officer corps of the Red Army had been decimated by Stalin's Great Purge of — , and their replacements, appointed by Stalin for politi- cal 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 — Of the five marshals appointed in , only two emerged from Stalin's purge with their lives; 50 out of the 57 corps commanders we- re killed, out of the divisional commanders and out of colonels; and many other officers were dismissed.
The commissars held a position equal to that of the commander but with the authority to counter- mand his orders. Nonetheless, the impact of the purges must be seen in con- text of the military strength of the armed forces in , which was far from actualizing the goals set by the military reforms that began in the early s.
By about 80 per- cent of the officers dismissed during the purge had been reinstated. Also, between January and May , new divisions were activated. Therefore, although about 75 percent of all the officers had been in their position for less than one year by , that was because of the rapid increase in creation of military units, and not just because of the pur- ge. Hence, it was the combined effect of the purge and the ra- pid expansion of the army that led to its dilution.
In the interwar years following the end of World War I, much of the effort of the Red Army was put towards the develop- ment of offensive forces, concepts, doctrines, and techniques. Soviet brainpower and resources focused on the creation of elements critical to achieving strategic offensive success through the conduct of deep operations and deep battle.
The Red Army's fixation on offensive combat meant little atten- tion was given to defensive combat. For instance, the Field Regulations devoted only about 20 pages of the pa- ge document to defence, in which it was described as a tem- porary phenomenon designed to economize force, gain time, hold critical areas, or disrupt an advancing enemy, pending a resumption of the all-important offence. This general neglect for the need of defensive combat, combined with other pro- blems, caused the disasters that befell the Red Army in the summer and fall of Much Soviet planning assumed that in case of a German inva- sion, the main forces of each side would need up to two weeks to meet each other and Stalin forbade any ideas of a campaign deep inside Soviet territory.
Initially, many Soviet units were also hampered by Semyon Timoshenko's and Georgy Zhukov's prewar orders deman- ded by Joseph Stalin not to engage or to respond to provoca- tions 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 expe- rienced officers and by bureaucratic inertia.
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 pos- sible and regroup, to mount a defense in depth, or to counte- rattack.
More than 2. Until the end of the war, more than three million Soviet prisoners were to die from exposure, starvation, disease, or willful mistreat- ment by the Nazi regime. In his memoirs, Zhukov summarized the predicament as fo- llows: two or three years would have given the Soviet people a bri- lliant army, perhaps the best in the world… [but] history allotted us too small a period of peace to get everything orga- nized as it should have been.
We began many things correctly and there were many things we had no time to finish.
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Our miscalculation regarding the possible time of the fascist Ger- many's attack told greatly. Soviet tactical errors in the first few weeks of the offensive proved catastrophic. Initially, the Red Army was fooled by overestimation of its own capabilities. Instead of intercepting German armor, Soviet mechanised corps were ambushed and destroyed after Luftwaffe dive bombers inflicted heavy los- ses. Lack of spare parts and trucks ensured a logistical collapse.
The decision not to dig in the infantry divisions proved disas- trous. Lacking tanks and sufficient motorization, Soviet troops could not wage mobile warfare against the Axis. Causes of the failure of Operation Barbarossa The gravity of the beleaguered German army's situation to- wards the end of 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 , was never made good. For the rest of the war in the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht would be short of infantry and support services. Underestimation of the capacity of Soviet mobiliza- tion The German High Command grossly underestimated the mo- bilization potential of the Red Army.
From the onset of the campaign till the end of , the Soviet Union raised di- vision-equivalents, tapping into its mobilization pool of over 10 million men.
Between the onset of the war and the end of June alone , men were mobilized, and another , in July. The plan for Barbarossa assumed that the Wehrmacht would emerge victorious if it could destroy the bulk of the Red Army west of the Dvina and Dnieper rivers. As Army Group Center arrived at the river banks on 7 July, however, they discovered another five Soviet Armies 16th, 19th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd.
By 10 July, it became clear that the assumptions regarding the result of destroying the Red Army forces west of the two rivers proved incorrect. In just the first six weeks of the invasion, which was between late June and early August, the Red Army had lost as many as 1. By 6 August another row of five Soviet Armies 24th, 28th, 29th, 30th, and Group Iartsevo were facing Army Group Center, however, and unknown to German intelligence, still another row of Soviet Armies were forming to the rear 31st, 33rd, and 43rd.
By the end of August the Red Army losses rose to nearly three million ki- lled, wounded or captured , but that did not hinder it from raising more men for the defense of Moscow. The Soviets also quickly relocated their factories. According to one account by a German soldier, when German troops arrived at the Dnie- per River they saw many intact industrial plants; by the time they crossed the river, however, the Russians had emptied every building and taken their contents east. By September it became clear that the mobilization capacity of the Red Army had been severely underestimated.
Franz Halder wrote in his diary in The whole situation makes it increasingly plain that we have underestimated the Russian colossus But there they are, and as we smash a dozen of them the Russians simply put up another dozen. The time factor favours them, as they are near their own resources, while we are moving farther and farther away from ours. And so our troops, sprawled over the immen- se front line, without depth, are subject to the incessant at- tacks of the enemy.
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 forma- tions replaced them. The So- viets 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.
Battle of Moscow - Wikipedia
Faults of logistical planning At the start of the war in the dry summer, the Germans took the Soviets by surprise and destroyed a large part of the Red Army in the first weeks. When good weather gave way to the harsh autumn and winter and the Red Army recovered, the German offensive began to falter. The German army could not be supplied sufficiently for prolonged combat; indeed, there was not enough fuel for the whole army to reach its ob- jectives. This was well understood by the German supply units even before the operation, but their warnings were ignored. The entire German plan assumed that within six to eight weeks they would have attained full strategic freedom due to a com- plete collapse of the Red Army.
Only then could they have di- verted necessary logistic support to fuelling the few mobile units needed to occupy the defeated state. German infantry and tanks stormed mi km ahead in the first week, but their supply lines struggled to keep up. Soviet railroads could at first not be fully used due to a diffe- rence in track gauges Germany used standard gauges while Russia used five-foot Russian gauge , and dismantled rail- road facilities in border areas.
In addition, road systems that looked impressive on the map, were in reality under-develo- ped. Lack of supplies significantly slowed down the formerly highly effective German tactic of blitzkrieg. Weather A paper published by the U. He was confident of a quick victory, so he did not prepare properly for a winter war in the Soviet Union. Moreover, his eastern army suffered more than , casualties about 23 percent of its average strength of 3,, soldiers in the first five months of the invasion, and on 27 November , General Eduard Wagner, Quarter- master 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. Few roads were pa- ved. The ground in the USSR was very loose sand in summer, sticky muck in autumn, and heavy snow in winter. German tanks had narrow tracks with little traction and poor flotation in mud. In contrast, the new generation of Soviet tanks such as the T and KV had wide tracks and were far more mobi- le in these conditions. The , 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 weat- her changes in the rainy autumn and early winter of Equipment had been prepared for such winter conditions, but the severely overstrained transport network could not move it to the front. While at least some cold weather uniforms were available, they rarely reached the Eastern Front because Hi- tler 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 uni- forms, felt-lined boots, and fur hats. Lubricating oils were unsuitable for these temperatures, leading to engine malfunction and misfires. To load shells into a tank's main gun, frozen grease had to be chipped off with a knife. Soviet units faced less severe problems due to their experience with cold weather.
Aircraft had insulating blankets to keep their engines warm while parked. Lighter-weight oil was used. Ger- man tanks and armored vehicles could not move due to a lack of antifreeze, causing fuel to solidify. The cold was so intense that fires had to be lit under vehicles' engines before they could be started. Because few Russian roads were paved, most of the main roads turned to mud when the rains and snow came in late October and early November.
These quagmires combined with longer supply lines to cause the German advance to stall within sight of the spires of Moscow. The Soviet counteroffen- sive of December was led primarily by Siberian troops, who had trained for harsh winter combat. They arrived from the east with numerous T tanks, which had been held in reserve. These Siberian troops advanced up to mi km in some sectors, proving that mobile warfare was still possible during the Russian winter.
When the severe winter began, Hitler feared a repetition of Napoleon's disastrous retreat from Moscow. He ordered the German forces to hold their ground defiantly in the face of Soviet counterattacks. This became known as the "stand or die" order. Some historians have argued that this order pre- vented the Germans from being routed; others contend that this order restricted Germany's ability to conduct mobile de- fensive warfare and led to heavy casualties due to battle and the cold. Whatever the case, the Germans were driven back a short distance but ultimately, their defensive positions stabi- lized; this served to convince Hitler further that he could ig- nore the advice of his generals, something that proved disas- trous for the Wehrmacht.
Muzyrchenko and 12th General Major P. It ushered in a period of military co-operation which allowed Hitler to ignore western men available immediately and a total of 23, tanks, but the Red Army was still past a burning Russian village during Operation Barbarossa, summer But Soviet resistance was now stiffening, despite catastrophic losses. Sixteen hours after the opening of Operation Barbarossa the German army in the Manstein's view was that Panzer Group 4 should be used against Moscow,.
Operation Barbarossa Unternehmen Barbarossa was the German. Bolshevik forces took up arms against the Soviet government and a Civil War.. Operation Barbarossa even before the conclusion ofwar against England. German military preparations but added a fatal qualification that war "stand fast" orders, no repetition of the disasters of Kiev and Vyazma. I am know unto the commencement of Operation Blau and it is would have sustained the fight against the invading Germans given the shock. German propaganda claimed the Red Army was preparing to attack them, and their own invasion on all sides was always raising economic misgivings against a threatening war with Russia.
Operation Typhoon, the drive to Moscow, began on October 2. Operation 'Typhoon', October. The Red Army repelled the Wehrmacht's strongest blow, and forced an. 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.
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. Using archive sources and indirect evidence, it has been claimed that the Soviet command made extensive preparations for a surprise attack on Nazi Germany in the summer of 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.
Suvorov argued that Hitler lost World War II the moment he attacked Poland: not only was he going to war with the Allies , but it was only a matter of time before the Soviet Union would seize the opportune moment to attack him from the rear. This left Hitler with no choice but to launch a preemptive strike on the Soviet Union, while Stalin's forces were redeploying from a defensive to an offensive posture, providing Hitler with an important initial tactical advantage.
Thus, he argued that German Barbarossa actually was a pre-emptive strike that capitalized on the Soviet troop concentrations immediately on the borders. Although this thesis has drawn attention of general public in some countries,  it has not been accepted by majority western historians.
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. The forces of the North-Western Direction were: . At am on Sunday, 22 June , the Axis bombed major Soviet cities. 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 June 22, 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 AM 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. The Allied Summit in Tehran recognized the Finnish separate status on 1 December and decided to negotiate Finland out of the war.
Finland did not attack Leningrad or any other German army target. Luftwaffe reconnaissance units worked frantically to plot troop concentration, supply dumps, and airfields, and mark them for destruction. The Luftwaffe's task was to neutralize the Soviet Air Force. This was not achieved in the first days of operations, despite the Soviets having concentrated aircraft in huge groups on the permanent airfields rather than dispersing them on field landing strips , making them ideal targets.
The Luftwaffe claimed to have destroyed 1, aircraft on the first day of operations. Picking through the wreckages of Soviet airfields, the Luftwaffe's figures proved conservative, as over 2, destroyed Soviet aircraft were found. The Germans claimed to have destroyed only 3, Soviet aircraft in the first three days. In fact Soviet losses were far higher: some 3, Soviet machines had been lost according to Russian Historian Viktor Kulikov. Opposite Heeresgruppe Nord were two Soviet armies. The 4th Panzer Group's objective was to cross the rivers Neman and Daugava Dvina which were the two largest obstacles in the advance to Leningrad.
Near Raseiniai , the tanks were counterattacked by Soviet tanks of the 3rd and 12th Soviet Mechanized Corps. It took four days for the Germans to encircle and destroy the Soviet armour who lacked fuel, ammunition and coordination. By the end of the first week the Soviet Mechanized Corps had lost 90 percent of its strength. 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 river Luga. 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. 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 Armee reached the coast at Kunda. Opposite Heersgruppe Mitte 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 Bialystok.
Beyond Bialystok was Minsk , both the capital of Belorussia and a key railway junction. 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. 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.
From the start, the invaders faced determined resistance. Opposite the Germans in Ukraine were three Soviet armies, the 5th, 6th and 26th. The German infantry Armies struck at the junctions of these armies while the 1st Panzer Group drove its armored spearhead of tanks right through the Soviet 6th Army, aiming to take Brody.
On 26 June five Soviet mechanized corps with over 1, 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.
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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. 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 Bialystok, 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 , killed, missing, captured or wounded. General Kurt Von Tippleskirch noted, "The Russians had indeed lost a battle, but they won the campaign". 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 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. 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. The German generals 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 an order to send Army Group Centre'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 advance over the last ten km proved very slow and 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 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 , Soviet soldiers captured. Actual losses were , men, 3, artillery guns and mortars from 43 Divisions of the 5th, 37th, 26th and 21st Soviet Armies. 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 2. In front of Army Group Centre was a series of elaborate defense lines, the first centered on Vyazma and the second on Mozhaysk. 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.
Moscow's first line of defence 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 [ citation needed ].
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 1, tanks and 1, 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 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 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 fifty 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 kilometers 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. Shirer argues that the fatal decision of the operation was the postponement from the original date of May 15 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 in Russia, compounded by particularly rainy weather in June 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.
Military history of Moscow
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 for weeks. Soviet propaganda later asserted it held out for six weeks. 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. 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 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 Leningrad was the first Soviet city to receive the title of ' Hero City '. In addition to the main attacks of Barbarossa, German forces occupied Finnish Petsamo in order to secure important nickel mines. They also launched the beginning of a series of attacks against Murmansk on 28 June That assault was known as Operation Silberfuchs.
The Red Army and air force were so badly defeated in chiefly because they were ill-prepared for the Axis surprise attack. By the Germans were the most experienced and best-trained troops in the world. 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. Much of Soviet planning assumed that no war would take place before 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 defences, 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.
Lacks 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. Most of these prisoners were to die from exposure, starvation, disease, or willful mistreatment by the German regime. Despite the Axis failure 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 said its army was very strong. But, by autumn , 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.
Viktor Suvorov gives an alternative explanation in his Icebreaker. The larger and better equipped Soviet armed forces, according to Suvorov, were preparing their own surprise offensive against Axis forces, targeting especially their oil supplies in Romania: Suvorov's sources suggest that July 6, — two weeks later than the actual German invasion — had been set as the start of Soviet Operation "Thunderstorm".
In addition, Soviet exports of large amounts of raw materials to Germany provided by agreements during the countries' economic relationship proved vital to the German initial success. Without Soviet exports, German stocks would have run out in several key products by October , within three and a half months.