Operation Barbarossa was the name given to Nazi Germany’s invasion of Russia on June 22nd 1941. Barbarossa the largest military attack of World War Two and was to have appalling consequences for the Russian people.
Operation Barbarossa was based on a massive attack based on blitzkrieg. Hitler had said of such an attack that
|“when the attack on Russia starts the world will hold its breath.”
Three army groups attacked Russia on June 22nd 1941. Army Group North, led by von Leeb, Army Group Centre, commanded by von Bock and Army Group South commanded by von Rundstedt.
Army Group North
|XVIII Army led by von Küchler
IV Panzergruppe led by Hoepner
XVI Army led by Busch
Totalled 20 divisions and Luftflotte I
Army Group Centre
|III Panzergruppe led by Hoth
IX Army led by Strauss
IV Army led by von Kluge
II Panzergruppe led by Guderian
Totalled 51 divisions and Luftflotte II
Army Group South
|VI Army led by von Reichenau
I Panzergruppe led by von Kleist
XVII Army led by von Stülpnagel
Hungarian Army Corps (Carpathian Group)
III Rumanian Army led by Dmitrescu
XI Army led by von Schobert
IV Rumanian Army led by Ciuperca
40 divisions; 14 Rumanian divisions; Hungarian Army Corps and Luftflotte IV.
Russia was defended by four army units. Though Russia had a large army, the purges had wiped out a considerable part of the army’s senior commanders.
|The Baltic Special Military District led by Kuznetsov faced Army Group North
|8th Army led by Sobennikov
11th Army led by Morosov
27th Army led by Berzarin
Totalled 26 Divisions including 6 armoured ones.
The Western Special Military District led by Pavlov faced Army Group Centre
|3rd Army led by Kuznetsov
10th Army led by Golubev
4th Army led by Korobkov
Totalled 36 divisions including 10 armoured ones.
|The Kiev Special Military District led by Kirponos faced Army Group South
|5th Army led by Potapov
6th Army led by Muzychenko
26th Army led by Kostenko
12th Army led by Ponedelin
Totalled 56 divisions including 16 armoured divisions
The Odessa Special Military District led by Tyulenev which faced Army Group South
|9th Army led by Cherevichenko
Totalled 14 divisions including 2 armoured divisions.
In total, Germany amassed 117 army divisions for the attack excluding Rumanian and Hungarian units.
In total, Russia amassed 132 army divisions for the defence of the ‘motherland’, including 34 armoured divisions.
Plans for the attack on Russia had been around since 1940. It is now thought that Hitler lost interest in the Battle of Britain as he was far too focussed on his desired attack on Russia.
The first version of the plan was done by Marcks in August 1940. He envisaged a massive attack on Moscow – his primary target. He also wanted a secondary attack on Kiev and two masking attacks in the Baltic towards Leningrad and in Moldavia in the south. After Moscow had fallen, Marcks wanted a drive south to link up with the attack on Kiev. The attack on Leningrad was also a secondary issue.
The next version of the plan was completed in December 1940 by Halder. He changed Marcks plan by having three thrusts; a major one against Moscow, a smaller attack on Kiev and a major attack on Leningrad. After taking Moscow and Leningrad, Halder wanted a move north to Archangel. After Kiev had fallen, he envisaged a drive into the Don/Volga region.
The third and final variant was Hitler’s plan which he codenamed Barbarossa. This plan was constructed in December 1940. For Hitler, the primary military activity would take place in the north. Hence Leningrad became a vital target as did Moscow. His drive in the south was confined to the occupation of the Ukraine to the west of Kiev.
The attack started at 03.00, Sunday morning June 22nd 1941. In total the Germans and her allies used 3 million soldiers, 3580 tanks, 7184 artillery guns, 1830 planes and
|“It is probable that history will regard June 22, 1941, as the apocalyptic date of the military calendar. No military plan of the scope of Operation Barbarossa had ever before been launched, for never before had techniques of organisation, transport, and communication been available on such a scale.”Barry Pitt
The initial attacks involved numbers never seen before – and the success rate must have even taken Hitler by surprise even if Hitler had proclaimed:
|“We have only to kick in the front door and the whole rotten Russian edifice will come tumbling down.” (Hitler)
By Day 17 of the attack, 300,000 Russians had been captured, 2,500 tanks, 1,400 artillery guns and 250 aircraft captured or destroyed. This was only in the territory attacked by Army Group Centre. To any military observer, the Russian Army was on the verge of a total collapse and Moscow seemed destined to fall.
In fact, the German advance had been so fast that it had compromised the whole army’s supply and communication lines. The Army Group Centre paused on the Desna but it was still thought that it was only catching its breath before moving inexorably on. However, it was now that the German army was compromised by its own leader – Hitler.
He ordered that the Army Group Centre’s Panzer Group led by Guderian should move south-east on to Kiev. 1 Panzer Group was also ordered north. This took away from the Centre group two of its most potent fighting forces. Guderian was very angered by this order but Hitler had always proved himself right in the war, so why argue with the Führer? Who, in fact, had the courage to oppose Hitler?
Hitler had recognised that his most difficult decision was what to do after his forces had broken through the Stalin Line – move north, south or continue east?
The mechanised sweeps north and south had the same massive success as the initial assault on June 22nd. Masses of Russian prisoners were captured and vast quantities of Russian equipment was destroyed. But the orders of Hitler had one dire effect – loss of time. The delay was such that the impact of the winter occurred before the Germans had reached the objectives set by Hitler. Very few in the German Army were equipped to cope with the cold and the army, so used to advancing, found itself very much affected by the freezing temperatures. A war of movement as seen so much in June/July 1941 became an attack blighted by freezing weather that would hinder any army let alone one so ill-prepared for such weather conditions.