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Operation Barbarosa

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        Hitler’s choice to invade the Soviet Union was one of the main causes of Germany’s eventual defeat. By invading the USSR, Germany made basically the same blunder that Japan made by expanding so far across the Pacific. The enormous expanse of the Soviet Union and the vast distances between its major cities required an enormous German invasion force. Germany failed to successfully accomplish Operation Barbarossa because of the lack of German winter preparation beforehand and this can be seen in the contemporary accounts and failures of the German military during the Battle of Moscow.

        In 1939, the German and Russian governments signed a non-aggression pact shortly before their invasion of Poland. This Polish invasion started the hostilities that eventually led to the start of World War 2. Despite the two countries working together to invade Poland, there was always a sense of distrust between Hitler and Stalin. This was evident when Germany refused to answer the Soviet request to join the Axis Pact that included Italy and Japan. Operation Barbarossa was a war of aggression that the Third Reich started out of choice not by necessity. (Kay, pg. 451) Hitler authorized the German invasion of the Soviet Union and on 22 June 1941 Operation Barbarossa officially kicked-off.  

        Despite the massive geographical challenge, Hitler thought that Operation Barbarossa would only take six months. He thought Russia would surrender quickly after the initial shock of Germany’s first devastating wave of attack. Three million German and other troops quickly penetrated Soviet lines along a two-thousand-mile front, and by July, the German army had rolled to within two hundred miles of Moscow. (Hunt, pg. 897) The first mistake Germany made was to postpone the attack on the Soviet Union. They were involved in another situation in an area located in and around the Balkans and decided to delay Operation Barbarossa until the Balkan conflict could be resolved. The original date of the start of the operation was 15 May 1941, but this objective would not be met. The original date would allow for more time for the German’s to defeat the Russian military before the onset of winter. Germany initially positioned 3.2 Million German soldiers and 500,000 Axis soldiers to the Eastern Front. At first Germany won huge victories in the Ukraine and gained very important geographical and economic areas of the Russian countryside. The early weeks of the war exposed Russian unpreparedness together with German overconfidence. (Batty, pg. 298) Germany caused mass Russian casualties in the wake of initial destruction but their offensive advance east soon stalled outside of Moscow. The German war machine underestimated the strength of the Soviet resilience, defense production and military abilities. Before Germany could devote the bulk of their forces to the Battle of Moscow, they had to succeed in the Battle of Uman, Battle of Kiev and the Siege of Leningrad.

        One of the main reasons that the German military was stalled and taking so long to fully attack Moscow was because of the harsh winter that was fast approaching. Historically, Russia experienced horrible winters and armies in the past have failed in defeating Russia, like Napoleons failed invasion of Russia because of them. During the planning stages of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler believed that the operation would only last a few months and didn’t bother issuing any winter military supplies to his advancing army, this was his second mistake. He refused to issue satisfactory provisions like the distribution of warm military clothing and decided not to perform the winterization of vehicles. His armies where not prepared for the upcoming winter and the extreme cold caused problems for the German weapons and equipment. The onset of winter turned Nazi soldiers into frostbitten wretches because Hitler had feared that equipping his army for Russian conditions would suggest to civilians that a long campaign lay ahead.(Hunt, pg. 897) The stalling efforts of the German army in Leningrad frustrated Hitler. He eventually decided to change the orders given for the attack on Leningrad, he decided instead to set up a blockage of the city and starve it to death so this portion of his army could move onto Moscow.

Once the order to invade Moscow was given the German army faced numerous problems. The constant rain and dropping temperatures caused the road to turn into deep mud and slowed the German advance to as little as 2 miles a day. The supply lines that the Germans were using to support their armies advance was also cut off and had to be repositioned. This pause in the attack gave the Red Army time to redistribute their defense positions and also gave them time to activate 30 divisions of reserve forces from the Soviet Far East for Moscow’s defense. Once the temperatures dropped low enough for the muddy roads leading into Moscow to freeze, the Germans were able to begin their advance once again. The German army fought as hard as they could and continued to make very slow progress. They finally crossed the Moscow Canal and were within 15 miles of the Kremlin but the harsh winter blizzards started and by late December 1941, the Germans had lost the Battle for Moscow.  

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