June 22,1941-Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa in progress
â€śThe German nation is sick of principles and doctrines, literary
existence and theoretical greatness. What it wants is power, power, and
more power. And whoever gives it power to him will Germany give honour,
and more honour than he can ever imagineâ€ť- Julius Frobel-1859.
WORLD WAR II: When Adolf Hitler founded his third Reich, most Germans
believed they had found their man of destiny. Humbled, despite their
mighty efforts in the First World War, feeling betrayed by both external
and internal forces, seeing their once strong and orderly country
reduced to chaos and near anarchy it seemed in 1933 to many Germans that
the National Socialist Party of Hitler was the benediction the nation
had prayed for.
By 1939 the discipline and the efficiency of the Germans had once
again created a powerful nation with an awesome military machine. The
capable and martial race was armed and ready.
Led by its extraordinarily able general staff, which both friend and
foe considered a â€ścorps dâ€™eliteâ€ť, Hitlerâ€™s wehrmacht was easily the best
fighting machine in the world at the time. It was said of the German
officer class that they were â€śmen of outstanding intellectual ability
and physical stamina, governed by a code of ascetic self-discipline.
Their strength lay in their complete self-effacement to the point of
anonymity. They were expected in times of peace to devote themselves
wholly to knowledge and education. In war, outstanding bravery and
capability were demanded of them.â€ť
As the war drums rolled across Europe the aggressive German army
triumphed with surprising ease over once vaunted armies of Poland,
France and other European nations. In the case of the French, they out
numbered the Germans in many strategic aspects such as men and tanks.
But in military thinking they were stuck in Napoleonic times when the
cavalry charge won the day. The Germans on the other hand were ready for
mobile warfare fought with mechanised armoured forces supported by
deadly accurate air and artillery power. The French were conquered in a
few short weeks.
The British were never more thankful for the English Channel! After a
halfhearted attempt to subdue the stubborn island with air power alone
Hitler turned his eyes to the east. The stage was now set for the
greatest human conflict in history.
The Soviet Union, the largest country in the world, and which perhaps
maintained the biggest army at the time, was shrouded in mystery. The
Stalinist system did not provide statistics at information bureaus. But
it was obvious that in comparison to Western Europe it was poor and
The Soviet roads were not anything like what the motorized German
army had used in Europe. There were very few all-weather roads in the
country and this proved a terrible obstacle in bad Russian weather
conditions. And unlike other countries the Germans had vanquished in the
previous summers the Soviet Union was much too large to be brought under
in one aggressive dash.
But the German army, full of confidence after its remarkable
achievements in the previous campaigns, had come to believe that nothing
is impossible for the German soldier. Addressing the higher echelons of
the army Hitler boastfully predicted that when Operation Barbarossa, the
name given to the German plan for the impending campaign against the
Soviet Union, commenced, â€śThe world will hold its breathâ€ť.
â€śOne good kick on the door and the entire rotten structure will
collapseâ€ť he further emphasised his conviction that the Soviet Union was
no match for the proven and battle hardened German war machine.
This confidence was reflected in the astonishing fact that the German
army launched the war against the Soviet Union where it was expected to
conquer an area of about one million square miles in one summer campaign
with just a few more divisions more than it had deployed in the previous
summer against France a country of approximately 150,000 square miles.
For the â€śgood kick on the doorâ€ť the Germans gathered in secret almost
four million soldiers on the Russian border. Provided air cover by the
vigorous luftwaffe, supported by nearly four thousand pieces of heavy
artillery and most importantly given the cutting impetus by the
brilliantly led panzer divisions, the German armyâ€™s campaign in the East
was indeed going to open with breath taking fury.
In view of the immense land area it had to conquer with human
resources Germany could not afford to keep in uniform for too long the
Wehrmacht had to gain a decisive result in that summer of 1941.With this
strategic goal in mind its military planners aimed at fatally wounding
the Red army west of the Dnieper River.
The Germans committing themselves to a huge undertaking with limited
resources and a numerically weaker army were gambling on the efficiency
and the capabilities of its soldiers to bring them a quick victory. For
operational purposes they divided their forces into three large army
The Army Group North under the command of Field Marshal von Leeb was
to capture the Baltic area and Leningrad. The Army Group Center under
Field Marshal von Bock was to drive to Moscow through the Russian
heartland. Field Marshal von Rundstedt leading the Army Group South was
to bring the fertile Ukraine under its heel.
After a few nervous postponements the date for the opening of the
campaign was fixed for the 22nd of June, the same day that Napoleon in
1812 launched his fateful invasion of Russia. Starting their Eastward
thrust at about 3 a.m. on that day the Germanic war machine once again
gave an almost flawless display of its awesome prowess.
Within 48 hours more than 2000 Russian fighter planes were down. The
German Panzer divisions exploiting the gaps punched in the defensive
barriers of the Russians by their opening salvos drove on eastward
relentlessly with the aim of achieving strategic dominance while leaving
the task of destroying the shocked and confused stragglers of the enemy
forces to the following infantry divisions.
By mid-July, in just three weeks of fighting, the Russians had lost
3500 tanks, 6000 planes and more than two million men.
The famous German tank commander General Heinz Guderian leading a
powerful armoured corp attached to the Army Group Center noted in a
memorandum that the â€śRussians were severely hampered by political
demands of the State leadership and suffered a basic fear of taking
This, combined with bad coordination meant that orders to carry out
necessary measures, counter-measures in particular are issued too late.
Soviet tank forces were insufficiently trained and lacked intelligence
and initiative during the offensiveâ€ť.
In these early stages of the war to many observers it appeared that
the Wehrmacht had once again delivered a death blow to an adversary well
before it could even comprehend the attackers diabolical intentions.
Although German propaganda portrayed the average Russian as a semi-
Asiatic primitive with sub-human qualities who was no match in the
battle field to the masterful Teutons it did not take very long for the
German fighters to realise that in the Russian vastness they were facing
a fight to the death.
The German skills confronted Russian stubbornness, the attackers
courage was met by the defenders recklessness, and the conquerors
contempt was matched by the hatred of resisters.
The Eastern campaign that began so dazzlingly for the invader on June
22 , 1941 raged on in the mind-boggling hugeness of Russia until early
1945. The young soldiers of the two nations were locked in a war of
savagery on a scale rarely witnessed in human conflict.
Nazism and Communism, the ideologies professed by the two armies that
clashed with such bitterness in 1941, are dead in these countries today.
Germany has rebuilt and is one of the most prosperous nations on the
Russia after her failed experiment with Communism is yet struggling
to find a place in world affairs that befits its size and potential. But
they both surely remember the four years when the best of these two
brave nations fought on a terrible battlefield and often died a
War is a terrible thing. Here in our little island we too have learnt
in our blundering and sputtering separatist war the tragedy and the
waste of it all. But paradoxically, war often brings out some of the
best qualities in men.
The titanic clash that began in that summer of 1941 demanded of the
combatants super human effort, amazing physical endurance, boundless
courage, iron discipline, selfless comradeship and finally the
unflinching sacrificing of oneself. The stage and the human actors of
that bloody drama to this day inspire awe by its sheer scale, intensity,
wickedness and heroism.
â€śTwo things have altered not, since first the world began. The beauty
of the wild green earth, and the bravery of man.â€ť