On this day in 1941, over 3 million German troops invade Russia in three parallel offensives, in what is the most powerful invasion force in history. Nineteen panzer divisions, 3,000 tanks, 2,500 aircraft, and 7,000 artillery pieces pour across a thousand-mile front as Hitler goes to war on a second front.
The collapse of defence of France in May 1940 had been sudden, and devastating. The defeat of France left only Britain free of Nazi domination in Western Europe. With the Luftwaffe unable to suppress the RAF, and lacking adequate transport, the Germans eventually abandoned the idea of the invasion of Britain as too risky. However, this was as nothing compared to the risks involved with their leader's increasingly demented designs on Germany's Eastern neighbours. Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece were soon added to the Nazi empire, with varying degrees of resistance. This again was a very quick campaign, but it was fought at the expense of Hitler's plan to invade Russia. By delaying the the German attack on the Soviets, the campaign in the Balkans wasted some of the invaluable good weather needed to secure a quicky victory in the East. This may have saved the Soviet Union- it certainly saved Moscow itself.
In some places the Germans were actually welcomed as liberators- such as in Croatia. This was to be a rare experience for the German aggressors, who normally met the resentment and hatred of the occupied peoples. In Stalin's realm they may well have expected similar welcome, for overthrowing the deadly hand on the party. However, the actions of the Nazis in the Russia would guarantee them the Sovietsí enduring hatred, and resistance.
German industry was hampered in meeting the war needs of the Reich by inadequate planning and consideration, coupled with the intrusive and competitive demands of the individuals in the Nazi hierarchy. Production climbed throughout the war, but critical shortages developed and were never properly rectified. Hitler himself, increasingly intrusive as the war went on, cancelled much of the supplies ordered for the Russian invasion, when he determined that the war had been won in the first summer offensive. By the time production was re-directed his troops were freezing, without adequate winter clothing, and low on munitions and food in the Russian ice and snow.
One of the persistent myths of the war was that the Germans were overwhelmingly stronger, and better organised than their opponents. Certainly, their military organisation was very strong, and their staff officers often out performed their opposing numbers. However, they were quite rightly dubious about Hitlerís adventures in general ship. Certainly, they did not want the attack on Russia, and having failed to have Hitler abandon the idea, they then failed to have the war fought in the most direct and efficient manner. Hitler confused his economic aims with his military aims and concentrated much of his strength were it could not be brought to bear, on the critical struggle in front of Moscow.
Stalin too intruded on his generals- or, at least, those of his generals who had survived the vicious purging on the thirties. It was he who decided that the campaign would be fought progressively. Thus, the Soviets fought were they stood, and withdrew slowly. This gave Hitler the triumphs of the early campaign, with massive encirclements of Soviet forces, and the taking of huge numbers of prisoners. The Furher suffered constantly from the delusion that the war in the East was over- that the inferior soldiery of the barbarian Soviet state could not withstand the power of the panzers and the Luftwaffe. The Red Air Force lost thousands of fighters in the opening weeks of the fighting, and would take time to re-group and re-equip. The Germans smashed army after army- and even the German staff began to believe, like their leader, that the staggering Soviet loses could not be made up. Widespread expectations of Soviet collapse were wide spread.
But the Russians kept fighting.
New divisions appeared in the lines- including some of the most powerful Soviet formations, transferring from Siberia. Also deployed were new tanks- far stronger than anything the Germans had, that defied all but the power of the German anti aircraft artillery. There were signals that the Soviets were far from finished- but it did not sink in until the snow and frost of winter guaranteed a second summer of fighting.
As the summer of 1941 dragged on the German expansion slowed. They had lost some 560,000 men in the opening campaign- about one sixth of their original attacking force. In doing so, they had killed or captured nearly four million Soviet troops. By any standards of military accomplishments, the success of the Nazis in Russia were incomparable- however, their success was insufficient for task of the victory over the Soviet Union.
The army was still largly horse drawn and was very slow in following the panzers over the vast distances and inferior communications network of Western Russia and the Ukraine. It was an inadequate tool for the job- no matter how much the early successes disguise this fact. Many factors disguised the hollowness of the victory from the Germans. One thing that misled them was the preponderance of obsolete material in the Soviet inventory. The Red Air Force had few truly competitive fighters in the 8,000 planes that opposed the Germans at the beginning of the war. This concealed the fact that their new designs were excellent, and that the rate of production was already far higher than the German capacity- even if the Nazis had mobilized their industry for optimum performance. Similarly, of 20,000 Soviet tanks in June 1941, only a combined 1,500 were effective.
Amid the ruins of the conquered territory that Stalin's scorched earth policy left incapable of supporting the invading forces the German drive petered out. Then came the winter. Germany employed 146 divisions at the time of their attack on Russia. There were 19 Panzer divisions, and 12 moterized divisisons that would handle the offensive drives that would bring victory. Supply problems quietly escalated as they went, not only due to increasing distance, but also to the increasingly comprehensive destruction of communications by the retreating forces and increasing levels of Partisan activity. German logistics were to stumble along constantly near the point of disasterous collapse. Critical shortages would cripple the German offensive, as would the un-sutiability of much of their equipment for the extreme cold of winter.
Meanwhile, the Soviets were not only undergoing their own miracles of industrial mobilisation and improvisation, they began to receive supplies from the Allies. While only a trickle of planes and other arms flowed to the Soviet Union, as with tanks and artillery the Russians proved quite capable of producing their own weapons. Where the Alliesí aid became critical was in the thousands of excellent American trucks, the millions of pairs of boots, and so on. The support was selective- being assigned to some areas to free Soviet capacity to deal with others. The handful of Spitfires Britain could initially spare were effectively no more than a gesture. 18,000 Western combat planes were given to the Russia during the war. Though significant, this pails besides the Russian output, which reached 3,000 per month.
In addition to substantial aid from the Britain, the Soviets eventually received over 11 billion dollars in lend lease assisstance. Most of this consisted of medical supplies, transportation, raw materials, and food. There is little doubt that without the aid the death toll would have been even higher, and the war a great deal longer. However, Allied aid was only supplementary to the Soviets' own sacrifice, and achievements.
The Sovietsí new home grown fighters and attack aircraft were a fearsome proposition, revealing the Soviets to be very advanced in some areas. They were the core of a new air force to be employed Luftwaffe style in close ground co-ordination. The German staff was well aware of the prerequisites for success- paramount, of course, was air supremacy. When they could no longer guarantee this factor over the Easterm Front they knew that the only guarantee was of eventual defeat. Their failure was emodied in the factories of the Soviet Union.
Edited by Talkie Toaster, 23 June 2003 - 06:39 PM.