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Home Historical events From the Brest fortress to Prohorov's field

The “Barbarossa” Invasion Plan.


In the early hours of June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. That day was the beginning of the bloodiest war ever fought, that lasted nearly four years. Thousands of German guns opened fire on previously reconnoitred targets on Soviet territory. Hitler's aircraft flew 250-300 km deep into Soviet airspace and bombed airfields, railways, naval bases and peaceful cities. The main Wehrmacht ground force entered Soviet territory.

 

Counting on a lightning military campaign and in accordance with the Barbarossa plan, the German High Command had mobilized 190 divisions for the invasion. The German formations comprised 5.5 million troops, about 5 thousand combat aircraft, 4300 tanks and self-propelled guns. At the time, the economic and technological potential of Germany was supported by the resources of the conquered European countries and its allies. The sudden and powerful strike forced the Soviet units to retreat eastwards from their stationary positions in the west.

 

Army Group Center, advancing over difficult terrain from the west, was the most powerful formation of the Wehrmacht, which was composed of 50 divisions, 15 of them armoured. The ground forces were supported by the 2 1st air fleet. The Soviet forces of the Western front under the command of Army General D.G. Pavlov comprised 24 rifle divisions, 12 tank, 6 motorized and 2 cavalry divisions. They were seriously outnumbered and practically twice weaker than their opponent. The troops were deployed over a wide area. On the first day of war, the Soviet air force lost 1200 aircraft on airfields and in air battles alone. The defence of Brest fortress, a small garrison which resisted the enemy for a whole a month, went down in history as an illustrious example of courage and heroism. The Red Army under the onslaught of the Wehrmacht was forced to abandon cities and towns. From June 24 to June 30, German troops captured the cities of Vilnius, Minsk, Lvov and Riga.

 

In June, the whole power structure of the country switched to a military mode of operation. On June 30, it was decided to establish the State Defence Committee ( SDC ), which was given full authority in the State, managed the activities of ministries, organizations and institutions, on which the fighting capability of the army and the efficiency of the economy depended. On the second day of war, on June 23, the General Staff was established, which on July 10, was transformed into the Supreme Command. The country turned into a military camp, and its economy went into a wartime regime. This made it possible to mobilize all forces and means to fight the enemy. General mobilization of reservists significantly built up the strength of the Soviet army and made it possible to form 410 divisions in 1941 alone.

 

Despite a rapid advance, German troops met with increasingly fierce resistance. During the fighting big military units were slowed down, and a number of German divisions had to stop and fight back. During the battle of Smolensk the German Blitzkrieg plan was foiled, however, Wehrmacht units continued their advance deep into Soviet territory. In September 1941, Leningrad was besieged, Kiev was captured and in October our troops left Odessa. The Germans occupied the south-western part of Donbass.

 

Behind Us is Moscow.

 

The nazis were desperate to capture Moscow at all costs. "Typhoon", the code-name for the operation to capture the capital, was meant to be completed before winter set in. So one of the most important battles, the Battle of Moscow, began. October 10, troops of the fronts were joined to make up the Western Front commanded by G.K. Zhukov. The troops, fighting on the front lines along Mozhaisk highway in late October, managed to stop the enemy east of Volokolamsk . German tank divisions headed for the Tarusa-Tula line. October 14, German troops captured Rzhev and Kalinin. However, with each passing day, their progress slowed down and, by early December, it came to a halt. In the capital Martial Law was imposed, Muscovites built defensive positions around the city. Militia units were formed.The military parade on Red Square on November 7 became a demonstration of the Soviet leadership’s determination to defend Moscow. From November 16 to December 5 during the second phase of the offensive, the Germans lost over 155 thousand men killed, wounded or frost-bitten.

 

The troops of the Western, Kalinin and South-western fronts, together with reserves brought in from the Far East, made up a powerful shock group for a counter-offensive near Moscow. The Soviet side had 1.1 million troops against a German-1.7 million. The counter attack of our troops began on December 5 on the line from Kalinin to Yelets. At the beginning of January 1942, as a result of the fighting , Moscow, Tula and part of Kalinin regions were liberated.

 

Heavy casualties among the troops prevented the counter-attack from succeeding along the entire front, and by March, the leading Soviet units were forced to ease the pressure on enemy positions. At the same time, a number of operations failed on other fronts. The siege of Leningrad continued. The 2nd shock army of the Volkhov front was surrounded, and its commander, Lt. General A. A. Vlasov surrendered.

 

The defeat in the Battle of Moscow was the first major setback of the German army, which buried the hopes of Germany for a "Blitzkrieg" and quick victory. The successes of the Soviet troops activated the anti-fascist movement in German-occupied countries, strengthened the role and authority of the USSR as the leading force in World War II, setting the stage for an anti-Hitler coalition.

 

The Battle of Stalingrad

In the spring and summer of 1942, during the campaign to capture the Caucasus and the Lower Volga region, the German forces managed to inflict some serious defeats on the Soviets. By the end of June 1942, the German command had deployed about 900 thousand troops, 1260 tanks and 1640 combat aircraft on line from Kursk to Taganrog. Three Soviet fronts: the Bryansk, Southwest and Southern faced the “South” army group. The overall balance of power in the southern section of the Soviet-German front was in favor of the Germans. Being strategically more flexible and outnumbering their opponents, German troops captured Sevastopol, Rostov-on-Don and Donbass. The Germans saddled the sweeping bend of the Don river, threatening to capture Stalingrad, a major industrial center and transportation hub.

 

 

The military situation of the USSR was ominous. The Germans had overran Kuban, the Crimea, part of the Northern Caucasus and the Volga region. The enemy had occupied a vast territory (1795 000 sq km), where 80 million people lived and had produced one-third of the national GNP before the war broke out.

To overcome panic and defections in the army, the Supreme Commander issued order No. 227 ("Not a Step Back!"), imposing the strictest measures against insubordination and retreat without special orders.

 

August 23, 1942, the vanguard of the 6th German army came to the shores of the Volga River near Stalingrad. Dozens of German tanks were just a kilometre from the shops of the tractor plant. The battle for Stalingrad had begun. September 13, the Germans attempted to storm the city, defended by the troops of the South-East and Stalingrad fronts. There was fighting for every street, every house. The city was almost completely destroyed. It was burning, but did not give in. The whole world learnt about the heroism of the defenders, who turned “Pavlov”’s house into an impregnable fortress. It was in Stalingrad that valuable street-fighting experience was gained, which, consequently, helped in liberating other cities from the enemy. Stalingrad became a symbol of courage and heroism of Soviet soldiers. Worn out in the fighting, German units switched to defence.

In the second half of 1942, the Soviets had gained superiority over the enemy troops. The economy of the USSR continued to increase its potential at an accelerated pace producing modern weapons. The Soviet army was about 6.6 million strong against 6.2 million troops in the Wehrmacht and the armies of its allies. The initiative gradually switched to Soviet troops. In September, preparations for a powerful counter-offensive on the flanks of the enemy was under way. Operation Uranus was to be carried out by three fronts and the Volga military flotilla. It was to be led by G.K. Zhukov on the Stalingrad front and A. M. Vasilevsky on the Southwestern and Don fronts. On November 19, 1942, Soviet troops launched a counter-offensive, and on November 23 units of the Stalingrad and Southwestern fronts met, surrounding 22 German divisions. In early February, the Stalingrad cauldron was sealed, capturing 330 000 German troops and their commanding officer, Field Marshal Paulus. The victory at Stalingrad forced the German High Command to withdraw its troops from the Northern Caucasus. January 18, 1943, the siege of Leningrad was broken by installing an automobile road and railway line. By the summer of 1943, Soviet troops had liberated a large area, including the towns of Vyazma, Rzhev, Rostov-on-Don, Shakhty and Kursk. During the battle of Stalingrad, the Red Army defeated five armies of Germany and its allies. The Battle of Stalingrad strengthened the credibility of the Soviet Union as a decisive force capable of defeating fascism. After the victory on the Volga, the Red Army gained the strategic initiative for further battles against the Wehrmacht.