The invasion of Russia by the Germany during the Second World War had the codename Operation Barbarossa. The operation began on June 22, 1941 after many months of delays and years of preparation. The main objectives of the invasion were to reclaim more land for Germany, eradicate Bolshevism, which was a form of communism, installed by Vladimir Lenin, gain control of the Azerbaijan oils fields, and exterminate the “inferior races” in Stalingrad. Hitler believed that the Soviet Union will fall under the might of the Germany despite the fact that the Soviet Union was superior to Germany. The geographical range of the line of attack was more than 1,000 miles, which necessitated a large force of approximately four million Axis soldiers. Three million, out of four, were German. To manage the vastness of the region, the axis troops were organized into three thrusts: one towards Kiev and the Black Sea, the second through the Baltic region and the third through Central Russia. Hitler hoped to defeat the Soviet Union by the onset of winter in 1941, but the conflict continued throughout the war and contributed to the defeat of the Axis powers by the allied forces, The outcome shaped the course of the Second World War and history of the twentieth century.
Objectives of attacking Russia
In his book, Mein Kampf, Hitler asserted in 1925 that the German people need living space, which is lebensraum in German. This living space comprised the land and raw materials that were abundant in Eastern Europe. The racial ideology, pursued by Hitler, was based on that of National Socialist ideology. He believed that Russia was occupied by ethnic Slavs who were ruled by the Bolsheviks, and attacking Russia will be eradicating these “inferior races.”Another intention of the invasion was to end the dominance of the Jews in Russia, which will lead to the fall of the Russian state. Powered by these objectives, Hitler embarked on his plan of attacking Russia to bring a “permanent mastery of the world.” Although Hitler promised that he would cooperate with the Russians, if they aided the Germans, his intention was to kill and enslave the Russians, and then populate the land with Germans.
Germans used air attacks in the initial stages of the war, and they were focused on the Russian frontline airbases. Considering that Russians had a large, but inferior air force, compared to Germany, destroying the air force in the first stages of the war was critical for the success of the Germans. In the first day of the war, the Russians lost approximately 1200 to 2000 aircraft, which were mainly parked at airbases. In the following week, the Russians lost another two to three thousand warplanes in battle. These were considerable setbacks for the Soviet Union, and it took it a long time to overcome these large losses. The invasion by the Germans caught the Soviet forces in a position that made a quick response impossible. At the beginning of the war, the Soviet military command gave contradictory orders, and it took the Soviet leader Josef Stalin a long time before he issues firm orders. Within a week, the German forces had pushed into the Soviet countryside, capturing the cities of Riga, Minsk, Lviv, and Dvinsk.
Vulnerability of the Soviet Union
In the year before the war, Stalin has instituted some policies that lowered the capacity of his country to respond effectively to external attacks. In the purges of 1930s, Stalin killed or deported his skilled military leaders to labor camps in Siberia. Considering that the top brass of the military were the most skilled officers, the remaining officers lacked the experience to counteract the German attack. The second reason was the Stalin’s failure to follow recommendations of mobilizing forces along the western frontier or implement steps to safeguard airbases from attack.
Although the Soviet Union had difficulties, they resisted the Germans unlike other forces in Europe. The Soviets formed small partisan groups and destruction battalions and they impeded German efforts in several ways. A scorched-earth policy that was established by the soviet troops in July of 1941 denied the German forces the use of any soviet resources. Soviet troops were ordered to remove or destroy infrastructure and facilities before retreating in order to deny the usage of necessary resources by the German forces. Some factories were disassembled and moved to the East where the Germans could not reach easily. This policy worked effectively and it restricted the advancement of the enemy troops.
Although the Western nations, Britain and the United States did not favor soviet communism, they were worried by the likelihood of the Germans overrunning the Soviet Union. A few weeks after the invasion, Britain began supplying the Soviet forces with intelligence gathered by Allied intelligence officers from the German lines. Another support, offered by Britain, was through the intensification of bombings of German cities such as Berlin in order to force Hitler to recall some of his Luftwaffe troops back home. The Allied forces began supplying military supplies and equipment from July, and it comprised military planes, tanks, medical supplies and food. Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt met at sea in Newfoundland to formulate strategies of aiding the Soviets in large scale.
Outcomes of Operation Barbarossa
Hitler estimated that he would defeat the soviets with a few months, but the war in the eastern front continued for four years. There are no clear estimates, but the most recent estimates of soviet military casualties put it at 8.7 million through combat or captivity. Soviet civilian deaths are approximated at 20 million. On the German side, it is estimated that it lost 4.3 million soldiers and a further 900,000 of Axis forces. This military operation is cited as the single most deadly military campaign in history.
Reasons for the failure of operation Barbarossa
One of the main reasons that contributed to the defeat of Germany was the underestimation of the mobilization potential by the Soviets. The Soviet army was able to replace destroyed troops with trained soldiers, which forced the Germans to restrict their operations for supplies to arrive from the west. The Germans also underestimated the effectiveness of the Soviet government. Poor logistical planning by the Germans limited their operations for longer periods. Initially, the Germans planned to defeat the Soviets in six to eight weeks, but as the war became prolonged, the German army could not be sustained fully. The weather conditions in Russia worked to the advantage of the Soviet troops. The Germans had planned for a quick victory; therefore, they did not plan for the harsh winter weather. The road network in the Soviet Union was poorly developed; it was sandy during the summer, muddy in autumn and was covered with heavy snow in winter. German troops were not prepared for the cold winter weather and had to burn vital fuel to warm themselves. German weapons also contributed to the defeat because they could not cope with the cold temperatures. On the other hand, the Soviets had experience with the severe cold weather. The prolonged period of the war, coupled with adverse weather, led to defeat and surrender of Germany.
Despite this operation being the largest in terms of manpower and the casualties, it failed to achieve its objectives. The defeat of Germans determined the course of the Second World War because the Germans could not sustain military operations in the east and west.