Operation Barbarossa Explained

Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/kurai-steppe-grassland-mountains-6690410/
Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/kurai-steppe-grassland-mountains-6690410/

Operation Barbarossa was the codename for Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II. The operation was launched on June 22, 1941. Adolf Hitler had delayed the attack for a few months to allow Mussolini time to join in the war on Germany's side, but it ultimately failed to produce the desired result.


The initial invasion went quite well, with the Nazis capturing major cities and significant numbers of prisoners. However, they were not prepared for the harsh Russian winter, and supplies started running low. The Soviets mounted a counterattack, which eventually led to the end of Operation Barbarossa.

The Nazi-Soviet Pact

Hitler and Stalin signed a non-aggression pact in August 1939. As part of this agreement, they agreed to divide up Poland between them, with the USSR getting the eastern portion. The Nazis also agreed not to interfere with Soviet expansion into Finland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. After these countries were captured by the Soviets during World War II, they became part of the USSR.


However, Hitler knew that he had to betray this pact at some point but did not want to provoke Stalin too early. So, he decided to invade Poland and France first while allowing Soviet forces to occupy Finland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.

Motives for Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union

There were several reasons why Hitler decided to invade the Soviet Union. He saw it as an opportunity to finally defeat communism, and he also wanted to plunder the resources of the Soviet Union. Additionally, he believed that the Soviets would not be able to mount a successful counterattack, due to their inexperience in winter warfare. He also believed in the concept of Lebensraum, or "living space," which called for the expansion of Nazi Germany into Eastern Europe to provide more living space for the German people.


On 18 December 1940 Hitler issued Führer Directive 21 (The "Barbarossa Decree") which called for the invasion of the Soviet Union. The directive stated that the main goals of the operation were to:

-destroy the Soviet armed forces and annihilate communism

-secure Lebensraum in the east for the German people

-seize control of the economic resources of the Soviet Union

-prevent the Soviets from ever again becoming a threat to Nazi Germany.

Hitler's delay to help Mussolini

The invasion was originally slated for May 1941, but Hitler delayed it until June to allow Italy more time to prepare for its war effort against Greece. The delay also allowed Germany more time to finish its preparations as well as provide an opportunity for Finland and Romania to join the invasion as German allies.

The invasion of Russia

On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union with three million troops. The German forces were split into three groups: Army Group North, which invaded Estonia and Latvia; Army Group Centre, which invaded Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine; and Army Group South, which invaded the Crimea and Romania.


Within the first few weeks of the invasion, the Nazis had captured major Soviet cities such as Kiev, Minsk and Rostov. At the battles of Kiev, Vyazma, and Smolensk alone, the Nazis captured over three million Soviet prisoners.


Other battles went well for the Germans as well. Within a few months of the invasion's start, they had reached Leningrad in the north and they reached the outskirts of Moscow by September. Hitler launched Operation Typhoon, a renewed assault against Moscow, on October 30.


In addition, they had captured large amounts of territory and resources. They also succeeded in taking Ukraine's breadbasket away from Russia, which dealt a major blow to the Soviet war effort.

The harsh Russian winter

However, the Germans were not prepared for the harsh Russian winter, which arrived early in December 1941. This led to problems with supplies, as many of the supply trains were not equipped for winter travel. The German advance slowed down significantly due to bad weather and poor road conditions.


Temperatures dropped to as low as -45 degrees Celsius, which affected the war effort significantly, especially on the German supply train.


The unexpected conditions meant that Hitler could see that his initial plan to take Moscow before winter would not succeed.

The Soviet counterattack

On the 5th of December 1941, the Soviet Union mounted a counteroffensive against the Nazis at Moscow. The Soviets were able to push back the Germans and prevent them from capturing Moscow, but it came at heavy cost in human life: over one million people died on both sides during this battle.


In December 1941, Hitler ordered his troops to retreat from Moscow. This was followed by a series of Soviet counteroffensives that pushed the Germans back out of Russia.


By early 1943, the German army was in full retreat and had suffered over one million casualties during Operation Barbarossa. The Soviets were able to push them all the way back into Germany by May 1945, and they captured Berlin in April of that year.