WW2 Operation Barbarossa

OKW Directive No. 21; Conduct of Operations: Army, Kriegsmarine, Luftwaffe

Operation Barbarossa


Operation Barbarossa (Unternehmen Barbarossa) was the German codename for Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II. It was to be the turning point of the Nazis fortunes, and its failure would arguably result in the capitulation of Germany. The Eastern Front which was opened by Operation Barbarossa would become the biggest theatre of war in World War II, with some of the largest and most brutal battles, terrible loss of life, and miserable conditions for Russians and Germans alike.

Before Operation Barbarossa, Germany and Russia were ostensibly on friendly terms, having signed the unexpected Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact shortly before the German and Soviet invasion of Poland. It was a non-aggression pact in which Germany and Russia had agreed how to divide up Eastern Europe between themselves. The pact was unexpected because of their mutual hostility arising from their diametrically opposed ideologies. But Hitler had long wanted to conquer Russia itself in order to enslave its untermensch Slavic population. So the pact was simply for short-term convenience and the Nazis had no qualms about breaking it to pursue their interests.
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Operation Barbarossa was largely the brainchild of Hitler himself. His general staff advised against fighting a war on two fronts. But Hitler considered himself a political and military genius, and indeed at this point in the war he had achieved a whole series of lightning victories against what appeared to be insurmountable odds. First, his brashness and willingness to take risks, combined with the discipline of his troops and the Blitzkrieg tactics, had won him the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia with hardly a struggle, then Poland, Denmark and Norway with only slightly more trouble. Then he achieved the rapid collapse of the French armies by running through Belgium and around the Maginot Line. Britain appeared to be holding out through sheer determination of will. Hitler thought it was time to turn on his former friend in the East, arguing that for the Wehrmacht it was important to strike before the Red Army commenced the foreseen invasion of Germany.

Hitler was overconfident after rapid success in Western Europe, expecting victory in a few months and not preparing for a war lasting into the winter. He did not even equip his troops with adequate cold weather gear. He hoped a quick victory against the Red Army would encourage Britain to accept peace terms.

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In preparation for the attack, Hitler moved 2.5 million men to the Soviet border, launched many aerial surveillance missions over Soviet territory, and stockpiled vast amounts of materiel in the East. Yet the Soviets were still taken completely by surprise. This has mostly to do with Stalin's unshakeable belief that Germany would not attack only two years after signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. He also was sure the Nazis would finish their war with Britain before opening a new front. Despite repeated warnings from his intelligence services, Stalin refused to give them credence, believing the information to be British misinformation designed to spark a war between the Nazis and the USSR. Germany also aided in this deception. They told Stalin that the troops were being moved to bring them out of range of British bombers. They also explained that they were trying to trick the British into thinking the Nazis were planning to attack the Soviet Union, while in fact the troops and supplies were being stockpiled for an invasion of Britain. It has been established that communist spy Dr. Richard Sorge gave Stalin the exact launch date; also Swedish cryptanalysts lead by Beurling knew the date beforehand.

The ultimate strategy Hitler and his assistants in the German high command decided upon involved three separate army groups assigned to capture specific regions and large cities of the Soviet Union once the invasion began. Army Group North was assigned to march through the Baltics, march into northern Russia, and either take or destroy the city of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). Army Group Center would take the straight line to Moscow, marching through what is now Belarus and through the west-central regions of Russia proper. Army Group South was poised to strike the heavily populated Ukraine region, taking Kiev, continuing eastward toward the steppes of Southern Russia, all the way to the Volga River.

Readers of Hitler's Mein Kampf ("My Struggle") should not have been surprised to see him invade the Soviet Union. In that book, he makes clear his belief that the German people needed land (Lebensraum - "living space"), and that it was to be looked for in the East. However, Stalin was convinced Hitler would not yet attack.

On June 22, 1941, Operation Barbarossa was implemented. It encompassed a total troop strength of 3 million men, making it the biggest single land operation ever. While being initially successful - almost reaching Moscow by early December - it is often proposed that the fatal design flaw of the operation was the postponement from May 15th because Hitler wanted to intervene against an anti-German overthrow in Yugoslavia. This cut 5 weeks off the already short Russian summer to spend midfield. However, during the campaign, Hitler ordered the main thrust that had been heading toward Moscow to be diverted southward in order to help the southern army group capture Ukraine. This move delayed the assault on the Soviet capital, although it also helped to secure the central army group's southern flank. By the time they turned their sights on Moscow, the mud following the autumn rains and eventually the winter snowfall, ground their advance to a halt. Thus they were prevented from much further gain, although this was also due in part to stronger resistance from the Russians than had been expected. German logistics also became a major problem as a result of the great length of their supply lines.

It was the stated policy of the Nazis to kill, deport, or enslave the Russian population, whom they considered inferior, and to use the land for Lebensraum.

The turning point of the operation was when Nazi troops advanced within sight of the spires of the Kremlin. It was as close as they would ever get, for Stalin's troops defended Moscow ferociously, and drove Germany back into the frozen wastes of Russia as the winter advanced. Not surprisingly the bulk of the counter-offensive was directed at Army Group Center, which was closest to Moscow.


OKW's Directive No. 21: Operation Barbarossa

The Fuehrer and Supreme Commander

Fuehrer Headquarters

of the Armed Forces

December 18, 1940

 

9 copies

 

Directive No. 21

"Operation Barbarossa"

The German Armed Forces must be prepared, even before the conclusion of the war against England, to crush Soviet Russia in a rapid campaign ("Operation Barbarossa").

The Army will have to employ all available formations to this end, with the reservation that occupied territories must be insured against surprise attacks.

The Luftwaffe will have to make available for this Eastern campaign supporting forces of such strength that the Army will be able to bring land operations to a speedy conclusion and that eastern Germany will be as little damaged as possible by enemy air attack. This build-up of a focal point in the East will be limited only by the need to protect from air attack the whole combat and arsenal area which we control, and to ensure that attacks on England, and especially upon her imports, are not allowed to lapse.

The main efforts of the Navy will continue to be directed against England even during the Eastern campaign.

In certain circumstances I shall issue orders for the deployment against Soviet Russia eight weeks before the operation is timed to begin.

Preparations which require more time than this will be put in hand now, in so far as this has not already been done, and will be concluded by 15th May 1941.

It is of decisive importance that our intention to attack should not be known.

The preparations of the High Commands will be made on the following basis:

I. General Intention

The bulk of the Russian Army stationed in western Russia will be destroyed by daring operations led by deeply penetrating armored spearheads. Russian forces still capable of giving battle will be prevented from withdrawing into the depths of Russia.

The enemy will then be energetically pursued and a line will be reached from which the Russian Air Force can no longer attack German territory. The final objective of the operation is to erect a barrier against Asiatic Russia on the general line Volga-Archangel.

The last surviving industrial area of Russia in the Urals can then, if necessary, be eliminated by the Luftwaffe.

In the course of these operations the Russian Baltic Fleet will quickly lose its bases and will then no longer be capable of action.

The effective operation of the Russian Air Force is to be prevented from the beginning of the attack by powerful blows.

II. Probable Allies and their Tasks

1. On the flanks of our operations we can count on the active support of Romania and Finland in the war against Soviet Russia.

The High Command of the Armed Forces will decide and lay down in due time the manner in which the forces of these two countries will be brought under German command.

2. It will be the task of Romania to support the attack of the German southern flank, at least at the outset, with its best troops; to hold down the enemy where German forces are not engaged; and to provide auxiliary services in the rear areas.

3. Finland will cover the advance of the Northern Group of German forces moving from Norway (detachments of (Group XXI) and will operate in conjunction with them. Finland will also be responsible for eliminating Hango.

4. It is possible that Swedish railways and roads may be available for the movement of the German Northern Group, by the beginning of the operation at the latest.

III. Conduct of Operations

A. Army (in accordance with plans submitted to me)!

In the theater of operations, which is divided by the Pripet Marshes into a Southern and a Northern sector, the main weight of attack will be delivered in the Northern area. Two Army Groups will be employed here.

The more southerly of these two Army Groups (in the center of the whole front) will have the task of advancing with powerful armored and motorized formations from the area about and north of Warsaw, and routing the enemy forces in White Russia. This will make it possible for strong mobile forces to advance northwards and, in conjunction with the Northern Army Group operating out of East Prussia in the general direction of Leningrad, to destroy the enemy forces operating in the Baltic area. Only after the fulfilment of this first essential task, which must include the occupation of Leningrad and Kronstadt, will the attack be continued with the intention of occupying Moscow, an important center of communications and of the armaments industry.

Only a surprisingly rapid collapse of Russian resistance could justify the simultaneous pursuit of both objectives.

The most important task of Group XXI, even during these eastern operations, remains the protection of Norway. Any forces available after carrying out this task will be employed in the North (Mountain Corps), at first to protect the Petsamo area and its iron ore mines and the Arctic highway, then to advance with Finnish forces against the Murmansk railway and thus prevent the passage of supplies to Murmansk by land.

The question whether an operation of this kind can be carried out with stronger German forces (two or three divisions) from the Rovaniemi area and south of it will depend on the willingness of Sweden to make its railways available for troop transport.

It will be the duty of the main body of the Finnish Army, in conjunction with the advance of the German North flank, to hold down the strongest possible Russian forces by an attack to the West, or on both sides of Lake Ladoga, and to occupy Hango.

The Army Group operating South of the Pripet Marshes will also seek, in a concentric operation with strong forces on either flank, to destroy all Russian forces west of the Dnieper in the Ukraine. The main attack will be carried out from the Lublin area in the general direction of Kiev, while forces in Romania will carry out a wide enclosing movement across the lower Pruth. It will be the task of the Romanian Army to hold down Russian forces in the intervening area.

When the battles north and south of the Pripet Marshes are ended the pursuit of the enemy will have the following aims:

In the South the early capture of the Donets Basin, important for war industry.

In the North a quick advance to Moscow. The capture of this city would represent a decisive political and economic success and would also bring about the capture of the most important railway junctions.

B. Luftwaffe

It will be the duty of the Luftwaffe to paralyze and eliminate the effectiveness of the Russian Air Force as far as possible. lt will also support the main operations of the Army, i.e. those of the central Army Group and of the vital flank of the Southern Army Group. Russian railways will either be destroyed or, in accordance with operational requirements, captured at their most important points (river crossings) by the bold employment of parachute and airborne troops.

In order that we may concentrate all our strength against the enemy Air Force and for the immediate support of land operations, the Russian armaments industry will not be attacked during the main operations. Such attacks will be made only after the conclusion of mobile warfare, and they will be concentrated first on the Urals area.

C. Navy

It will be the duty of the Navy during the attack on Soviet Russia to protect our own coasts and to prevent the breakout of enemy naval units from the Baltic. As the Russian Baltic fleet will, with the capture of Leningrad, lose its last base and will then be in a hopeless position, major naval action will be avoided until this occurs.

After the elimination of the Russian fleet the duty of the Navy will be to protect the entire maritime traffic in the Baltic and the transport of supplies by sea to the Northern flank (clearing of minefields!).

IV. All steps taken by Commanders-in-Chief on the basis of this directive must be phrased on the unambiguous assumption that they are precautionary measures undertaken in case Russia should alter its present attitude towards us. The number of officers employed on preliminary preparations will be kept as small as possible and further staffs will be designated as late as possible and only to the extent required for the duties of each individual. Otherwise there is a danger that premature knowledge of our preparations, whose execution cannot yet be timed with any certainty, might entail the gravest political and military disadvantages.

V. I await submission of the plans of Commanders-in-Chief on the basis of this directive.

The preparations made by all branches of the Armed Forces, together with timetables, are to be reported to me through the High Command of the Armed Forces.

Signed: ADOLF HITLER

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