OPERATION BARBAROSSAThe invasion of Russia was the largest military campaign of the Second World War. Operation Barbarossa, as it was known, was launched on 22 June 1941 and completely took Russia by surprise.
The widening war raging in Africa and eastern Europe were key distractions for Hitler from his ultimate goal of attacking Russia.
Although the British army remained undefeated in the west, Hitlers goal proved an urgency for him to begin moving on the east. Whilst planning was made throughout 1940 for the invasion of Russia, time was favorable towards the Russians and they continued to mobilize their resources and strengthen their defense forces.
The invasion of the Germans was a complete surprise as Russian dictator, Josef Stalin, had failed to acknowledge the increasing German troop concentrations on the border and he had also ignored British intelligence reports stating that Germany had intended to attack.
Hitler once again used the Blitzkrieg technique with German tanks and air power leading the attack. There were three powerful German armies, made up of over 3 million men which moved into Russia. As one army group headed north towards Leningrad, a center group headed towards Moscow and a southern group moved to capture the food producing area of the Ukraine. By now, the Germans were thrilled with their fast advancements and initial success, including the fact that they had captured over 400 000 Russian soldiers.
In late July, the advance on Leningrad and Moscow slowed, with forces moving south to capture Kiev and the Ukraine. While Germans generals wanted to make Moscow the primary target so that a final battle could take place to crush the red Army, Hitler believed that seizing territory was more important. The German army once again succeeded here, with the Ukraine being captured along with 600 000 Russian prisoners. With this success, the push for Leningrad and Moscow began once again, however the situation began to change with autumn rains slowing advances and winter creeping up.
It was during the Russian winter that German troops entered Leningrad and began a 3-year siege, however the city never fell. At the same time, one army group reached the outskirts of Moscow but by December night temperatures fell to below 50 degrees, German soldiers lacked adequate clothing, fuel froze in the tanks, weapons jammed and the armies were struggling for supplies. It was then that the Russian army, reinforced with troops from the Eastern front, launched a major counter attack and drove the Germans back 150 kilometers back before they stabilized their line.
In the course of the invasion, the Russians had lost over 5 million soldiers and Germany over 1 million, but the German campaign still failed. Though there is not one single causing factor, the Germans had underestimated the Russians who had men to spare and were encouraged by Stalins message of Nationalism where he called on to defend Mother Russia against the invaders. Germanys military strategy was also flawed as there were too many goals at once and not one principal target but three, yet the front was too wide. In their quest for domination, the Germans had also failed to acknowledge the consequences of a winter campaign.
It was in April 1942 that Hitler ordered another attack on Russia. The new plan included capturing the oil fields of the Causcas whilst holding the line everywhere else on the Eastern Front. Once again, the re-supplied and reinforced Germans achieved success and progress, taking the Crimean peninsula and 300 000 prisoners.
Brimming with confidence, Hitler then made an error by dividing his army so that one group would head to the Caucas and another would take Stalingrad.
In late August, the German army did reach Stalingrad and in the weeks that followed, they took most of the city. However, Stalin immediately ordered that the city be defended at all costs and two powerful armies were assembled to the north and south of the city. However, in November 1942, as another Russian winter set in, the Russian armies broke the German lines at their weakest point and encircled the city. With a greater position of supplies, the Russians had now trapped over 330 000 German soldiers. Hitler, fearing that the same would happen to the forces in the Caucas, ordered his army to withdraw but denied permission for the other army to withdraw from Stalingrad. As a result, the German army had to endure the winter, starvation and Russian attacks until January 1993 when the German army surrendered to the Russians. This Russian victory at Stalingrad was one of the major turning points of the war, as the heavy losses of the Germans could not be replaced. The red Army however, was now better supplied and equipped, especially as they had considerably increased the size of their army.
To counter the worsening situation on the eastern front, the Germans launched one more desperate attack on the Russian line at Kursk. In this Battle of Kursk, which raged for eighteen days, the Germans suffered another loss, with over 500 000 casualties. By now, all German hopes of defeating Russia were gone and were lowly pushed back towards Poland and the Reich by the Russian army.
As a result of this crucial battle, by 1943 the German army had lost initiative on all fronts and never regained it. German advancements on territories in Africa were stopped and the soon the Allies began fighting with Germany and they were forced to move essential troops in order to defend themselves. Germany had now lost the war and it was Hitlers last ditch attempt at invading Russia at Kursk that was one of the final nails on the coffin of the German Army and the once-powerful Reich. But more importantly, it had crushed Hitlers dream and ensured that his evil plans would never take shape.