The 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, Hitler’s 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 Stalin’s message of...