What events led to Operation Barbarossa?

The attack on the Soviet Union

On June 22, 1941, the German Reich opened the war against the obviously surprised Soviet Union on a broad front between the Baltic Sea and the Carpathian Mountains. The Wehrmacht had 153 divisions with just over three million soldiers, 3,600 tanks and 600,000 motor vehicles available for the propagated "European crusade against Bolshevism". In addition there were 600,000 men from the allied states Hungary, Romania, Finland, Slovakia and Italy. The Red Army comprised 4.7 million soldiers. However, only just under half of them were stationed in the west of the Soviet Union or in the eastern Polish territories conquered in 1939 when the attack began.

Favored by the element of surprise, the three German army groups pushed forward quickly to the east in accordance with the "Barbarossa" attack plan. At the beginning of September the Army Group North Leningrad, advanced from East Prussia through the Baltic States, cut off all land connections. Hitler wanted to starve the city out. Despite a siege that lasted 900 days, however, the will of the trapped could not be broken. For months, fierce fighting raged east of Leningrad on the Volkhov Front.

With the strategy of wedge-shaped tank advances tried and tested in Poland and France, Army Group Center also gained enormous space gains after heavy battles near Bialystok and Minsk as well as near Smolensk. In the late summer of 1941 it formed a continuous front with Army Group South, which had advanced into the Donets Basin after the battles near Uman and Kiev.

At the end of 1941 the Baltic States, Belarus and large parts of the Ukraine were occupied. In the conquered areas, task forces began with their murderous "special tasks": the systematic murder of Jewish residents, communist functionaries and the Sinti and Roma. By the end of 1941, around half a million people were killed in the mass shootings, in which units of the Wehrmacht also took part. The initial joy of the local population, especially the Ukrainian and Baltic population, about the liberation from the "Stalinist yoke" by the Wehrmacht turned into hatred, from which a partisan war led by both sides with extreme brutality developed.

The initial German successes as well as the enormous Soviet losses of war material and soldiers who had fallen or were taken prisoner of war initially seemed to confirm the view of the High Command of the Army (OKH) that the Red Army could be defeated in a few weeks. At the beginning of August, Hitler stopped the attack on Moscow, which was urgently recommended by the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Walther von Brauchitsch, and Chief of Staff Franz Halder, in order to conquer the economically important Ukraine. The offensive against the capital, which only began in October 1941, stalled after the successful encircling battles near Bryansk and Vyazma with the beginning of the autumn muddy season. In early December, snow and freezing temperatures brought the attack to a complete standstill. Hitler blamed the generals alone for the unexpected winter crisis.

In arrogant expectation of a "lightning victory", the majority of German associations were not equipped with winter clothing and armaments technology suitable for winter. Hastily improvised collection of winter clothes and blankets in the German Reich could hardly improve the completely inadequate equipment of the German soldiers. The number of frostbite losses exceeded the combat losses. By the end of 1941, the Wehrmacht had enormous losses that could hardly be compensated, with over 200,000 dead and 620,000 wounded. By May 1945 there were just under 3.5 million German soldiers who lost their lives for the megalomania of the Nazi regime on the Eastern Front.

For the outcome of the war, the extensive resources of the Soviet Union in soldiers and material were decisive. Despite the rapid German advance, the Soviets had safely relocated a large part of their armaments factories to the Urals and Siberia in 1941. In addition, by forming an allied coalition, Josef W. Stalin was able to obtain substantial material support from Great Britain and the USA. In contrast, the Wehrmacht had no material or personnel reserves worth mentioning, despite increased war production. With the offensive of freshly brought up Soviet units in the winter battle of 1941/42 began the retreat of the Wehrmacht to the west, which lasted more than three years. The expansion of German power reached its climax in late summer 1942 after the conquest of Sevastopol and the 1942 summer offensive of Army Group South. The advance into the Caucasus and the Don, however, led to excessive demands on the German troops and ultimately to the encirclement and capture of the 6th Army in the Stalingrad pocket.

Despite the announcement of the "Total War" with the mobilization of all resources in February 1943, the psychological consequences of the defeat at Stalingrad in the German population were devastating. The Wehrmacht not only lost the nimbus of invincibility conjured up by Nazi propaganda. After the decisive turning point of the campaign, the law of action had finally passed to the Red Army. The last major German offensive "Citadel" with the largest tank battle of the Second World War ended in disaster in July 1943 after a few kilometers near Kursk. From the German point of view, the further course of the war was marked by bitter defensive battles. The advance of the Soviets could no longer be stopped by the Wehrmacht units, some of which only had half of their original combat strength, as well as the Waffen-SS divisions, which were strong towards the end of the war.

The summer offensive of 1944 led the Red Army to the border with the Reich until the end of the year. Driving huge trails of refugees in front of it, it reached the Oder and Neisse rivers after the winter offensive of 1945. A few months later, the end of the Nazi regime was sealed after the Battle of Berlin. The war against the German Reich, which lasted until May 8, 1945, cost the Soviet Union over 25 million lives.