The eastern theater of war



By Thomas Childers, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

German troops began to cross the continent in the summer and spring of 1941: millions of men, horses, all kinds of tanks, planes, artillery pieces. The initial date for the Soviet invasion was set for the spring of 1941, as soon as the spring rains stopped, but the weather did not cooperate. What happened next ?

The Germans had unprecedented success in the first 48 hours of Operation Barbarossa. (Image: National Archives at College Park / public domain)

It was one of the rainiest springs in 20e– century of European history, which made the land in eastern Poland and the Soviet Union difficult to negotiate, especially for tanks.

So the soldiers thought about the possibilities of postponing it. In addition, Mussolini’s misadventures in Greece and, finally, Yugoslavia meant that Germany sent troops south, into Yugoslavia, and finally into Greece, in the spring, pushing back the date of Operation Barbarossa’s invasion to the United States. end of June. It would be a costly delay.

This is a transcript of the video series A History of Hitler’s Empire, 2nd edition. Look at it now, Wondrium.

The invasion of the Soviet Union in June

On June 22, 1941, the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa. It was the largest military operation in human history. “The world,” Hitler said, “will hold its breath. ”

In the first 48 hours, the Germans enjoyed unprecedented success. They took the Russian troops completely by surprise, completely by surprise. They invaded the initial positions of the Red Army; the entire Soviet Air Force was destroyed in 48 hours, almost entirely on the ground, so the Soviet Red Army operated without any significant air cover in these operations.

Learn more about Hitler, Stalin and Operation Barbarossa.

Hitler’s planned movement against the Soviet Union

The Germans, in a matter of days, sank deep into the Soviet Union. There were three army groups: the North Group, pressing towards Leningrad; Army Group Center, pushing towards Moscow; and Army Group South, which was heading towards Kiev.

The real goal of Operation Barbarossa was to destroy the Red Army in western Russia within 3-6 weeks. Then the movement on Moscow would take place against very little resistance. It would be chaos. Hitler was convinced, and so did the military, that the Soviet Union would simply collapse and the Germans could move on.

The Soviets, in the first weeks of Operation Barbarossa – indeed, in the first months of June, July, August, September – suffered absolutely staggering losses. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in a number of gigantic battles. Hundreds of prisoners of war captured as the Red Army appeared to be on the verge of collapse.

The beginning of the problems for Germany

German soldiers surrendering to Russian troops.
The Red Army gave the Germans a fierce battle in Operation Barbarossa. (Image: RIA Novosti archive / Anatoliy Garanin / CC-BY-SA / 3.0 / Public domain)

In early October Hitler ordered the German economy to be put back on peacetime bases. No winter equipment was provided to the German army during the invasion. It was supposed to be over in six weeks. The Red Army, although suffering incredible losses and giving up ground by the tens and twenty miles a day, had not given up. In fact, huge pockets of resistance remained behind the German lines, and the Germans themselves suffered many losses.

And, as the German lines pushed deeper into the Soviet Union, it became more and more difficult to get their supplies. The roads on German maps of the Soviet Union – what looked like main roads, turned out to be narrow, barely paved roads. Other secondary roads turned out to be dirt roads. When the rains started in the fall, the Germans got stuck.

Difficult conditions in the east

In the fall of 1941, Germany attempted to determine what its target should be. He had already failed in his first goal: the destruction of the Red Army and Western Russia in six weeks. October brought the first frosts and the ground hardened again, so the Germans thought, “We can move on. Tanks can drive on this terrain.

It was decided to push towards Moscow. This surge began in the fall, but by that time the Germans had lost about half of the tanks they had started the campaign with, not only to Russian resistance, but simply to maintenance issues. .

Hitler refused to provide winter clothing for his troops. She was finally brought up in November, when it was clear that they were still fighting in the Soviet Union. Hitler feared that if he issued an order to requisition winter equipment, it would send a signal to the German population that the war in the Soviet Union would not end at all in a short period of time.

The Russian counterattack against the Germans

In late November, early December 1941, temperatures on the Eastern Front fell below zero Fahrenheit. German military vehicles froze. They hadn’t brought enough antifreeze; in some cases did not bring any. Tank tracks would not work in cold weather.

Machines began to break down, and German troops wore denim summer uniforms in sub-zero temperatures. Under these circumstances, on December 5 and 6, 1941, the Russians completely surprised the Germans and launched a massive counterattack in front of Moscow.

Soviet anti-aircraft gunners on the roof of the Moscow Central Hotel "Moscow".
The Red Army’s counteroffensive in Moscow halted the German blitzkrieg in 1941. (Image: RIA Novosti archives, image # 887721 / Knorring / CC-BY-SA / 3.0 / Public domain)

The advanced German units reached Moscow. But this counter-offensive of the Red Army on December 5 and 6 stopped the German advance. He ended the lightning phase of the war, making it clear to Hitler and his high command that the long war of attrition, which they had so dreaded, was upon them.

Learn more about the Battle of Moscow.

The world at war

Then, on December 7, 1941, across the world, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor drew the United States into conflict. Germany and Japan had some kind of very vague mutual support agreement. The Japanese certainly hadn’t done anything to support the Germans at this point, and the Germans had no idea the Japanese were going to attack. It was a surprise.

But, on December 11, 1941, Hitler declared war on the United States, solving Franklin Roosevelt’s internal problem, since American public opinion was certainly ready to go to war against Japan. But now what had been a European war and an Asian war merged into one – something that was truly a world war.

Common questions about Operation Barbarossa: the eastern theater of war

Q: What challenges did German troops encounter during Operation Barbarossa?

When temperatures on the Eastern Front fell below zero Fahrenheit, German military vehicles froze. In addition, German troops were poorly dressed for Russia’s harsh winters. These were some of the challenges German troops faced during Operation Barbarossa.

Q: When did the Germans launch Operation Barbarossa?

On June 22, 1941, the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa.

Q: Why did Hitler refuse to provide winter clothing for his troops fighting in Russia?

Hitler feared that if he issued an order to requisition winter clothing, it would send a signal to the German population that the war in the Soviet Union was not going to end in a short time.

Keep reading
The Nazi-Soviet Pact: Hitler’s Ultimate Triumph
Air warfare and the political implications of flight
The intimidating challenge of Nazi Germany in the West


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