was the German
codename for the invasion of the Soviet Union in World War II.
Before Barbarossa, the Germans and the Russians were allies, having
signed the unexpected Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact shortly before the German
and Soviet invasion of Poland. It was a non-aggression pact in which the
Germans and the Russians had agreed how to divide up eastern Europe between
themselves. The pact was unexpected because of their mutual hostility before
that time. But Hitler had long wanted to destroy communism. So the pact
was simply for short term convenience and the Nazis had no qualms about
breaking it to pursue their ideological interests.
Barbarossa was largely the brainchild of Hitler himself. His general
staff advised against fighting a war on two fronts. But Hitler considered
himself a political and military genius, and indeed at this point in the
war he had achieved a whole series of lightning victories against what
appeared to be insurmountable odds. First, his brashness and willingness
to take risks, combined with the discipline of his troops and the Blitzkrieg
tactics, had won him the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia with hardly a struggle,
then Poland with only slightly more trouble. Then he achieved the rapid
collapse of the French armies by running through Belgium and around the
Maginot Line. Britain appeared to be holding out through sheer will. Hitler
thought it was time to turn on his former friend in the East.
Hitler was overconfident after rapid success in western Europe, expecting
victory in a few months and not preparing for a war lasting into the winter.
He did not even equip his troops with cold weather gear . He hoped a quick
victory against the Soviets would encourage Britain to accept peace terms.
In preparation for the attack Hitler moved 2.5 million men to the Soviet
border, launched many aerial surveillance missions over Soviet territory,
and stockpiled vast amounts of materiel in the East. Yet the Soviets were
still taken completely by surprise. This has mostly to do with Stalin's
unshakeable belief that the Germans would not attack only two years after
signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. He also was sure the Nazis would finish
their war with Britain before starting a new one. Despite repeated warnings
from his intelligence system, Stalin refused to give them credence, believing
the information to be British plants designed to spark a war between the
Nazis and the USSR. The Germans also aided in this deception. They told
Stalin that the troops were being moved to bring them out of range of British
bombers. They also explained that they were trying to trick the British
into thinking the Nazis were planning to attack the Soviet Union, while
in fact the troops and supplies were being saved up for an invasion of
Readers of Hitler's Mein Kampf (My Struggle) should not have
been surprised to see him invade the Soviet Union. In that book, he makes
clear his belief that the German people needed land, and that it was to
be looked for in the East. However, Stalin was convinced Hitler would not
The Germans attacked on the morning of June 22, 1941 and were initially
successful, almost reaching Moscow by early December. However, during the
campaign, Hitler ordered the main thrust that had been heading toward Moscow
to be diverted southward in order to help the southern army group capture
the Ukraine. This move delayed the assault on the Soviet capital, although
it also helped to secure the central army group's southern flank. By the
time they turned their sights on Moscow, the autumn rains and eventually
the winter snowfall ground their advance to a halt. Thus they were prevented
from much further gain, although this was also in part to stronger resistance
from the Russians than had been expected. German logistics also became
a major problem as a result of the great length of their supply lines.
The Nazi policy of killing, deporting or enslaving the "inferior" Russian
population and using the land for lebensraum ("living space"), did
not help them gain support from within that population, despite any misgivings
they may have had against their government under Stalin.
The turning point of the operation was when Nazi troops advanced within
sight of the spires of the Kremlin. It was as close as they ever were to
get, for Stalin's troops defended Moscow ferociously, and drove the Germans
back into the frozen wastes of Russia as the winter advanced. The Germans
decided to give up on Moscow for the time being, and focus on Stalingrad(Actually,
Stalingrad was only one of the objective of the german summer offensive
of 1942). But they were to have no more luck in that theater. After months
of bitter hand to hand combat in the ruins of the city, the Germans were
cut off from their supply lines and began to starve. In a brilliant military
manoeuvre, the Soviets performed an encirclement operation, and the Germans
were trapped. Hitler ordered them to fight to the last man, and they displayed
incredible fortitude and bravery under unbearable conditions. Many starved
to death, and many others died of disease.
Near the end of the conflict, Hitler awarded General Paulus, head of
the Stalingrad offensive, with the Field Marshall's baton. No German Field
Marshall had ever been taken alive in war, and it is believed that Hitler
awarded Paulus with the honor to ensure Paulus did not surrender. But after
being the victim of blunder after blunder by Hitler and his General Staff,
Paulus and his troops were demoralized, and the remaining holdouts finally
surrendered to Soviet troops.
The victory by the Soviets at the Battle of Stalingrad was a major influence
on the outcome of World War II. From that day on, the Soviets advanced
from the East, while the United States and Britain advanced from the West.