In December 1940, Hitler issued a directive outlining the planned (since July 1940) attack on
Russia, which was labeled Operation Barbarossa (it was originally called
Operation Fritz. Hitler changed the name to refer to Frederick Barbarossa,
the Holy Roman Emperor who had set out to conquer the Holy Land in 1190).
In the first phase of the attack, the German army was to engage the
main Soviet force as close to the Russian border as possible and destroy
it before the Red Army could withdraw to the vast interior and establish
a defensive position. The second phase aimed at establishing a front
along the north-south line running from the Volga River to Archangel.
German forces were to be divided into three strike forces, one which
would attack north, in the direction of Leningrad, a second in the south
would move against Kiev, and the center force would be directed toward
Smolensk, with Moscow as its ultimate target.
The army and the air force enthusiastically supported
Hitler’s decision to invade the Soviet Union. Few people dared
challenge the Fuhrer’s judgment, but Admiral Erich
Raeder, the navy commander-in-chief, warned Hitler that it was a
mistake to take on the Russians before finishing off the British. Raeder
offered Hitler several alternative plans, but could not dissuade him
from his dreams of colonizing Russia and seizing its resources. Even
as Hitler was planning his campaign to destroy the Soviet Union, he
entered into a new agreement with Molotov on January 10, 1941, in which
the Soviets offered economic concessions to the Germans. It was all
more ironic because Hitler had refused to respond to the Soviet request
to join the Tripartite Pact.
Hitler’s original plan called for the invasion
of Russia to begin on May 15, but logistical problems and the need to
rescue Mussolini’s forces in Africa and the Mediterranean forced
a postponement. When the Blitzkrieg finally came, the Russian people
were surprised; however, Stalin had ample warning of the German attack.
A variety of intelligence sources relayed information
to Stalin that an invasion was imminent. Richard Sorge, his spy in Tokyo,
who had access to the German ambassador’s messages, sent word
of the date of the invasion. Both the British and Americans passed on
a variety of warnings and details about German troop movements. However,
Stalin could not be persuaded that Hitler would turn on him and did
not want to provide an excuse for him to do so. He continued to ship
strategic materials as agreed in his economic treaty with Germany up
until the moment Wehrmacht troops crossed into Russia.
At 4:15 a.m. on June 22, 1941, the Luftwaffe began
to bomb Soviet naval and air bases, destroying roughly one-quarter of
the Russian air force. Before the Russians had time to react, the German
army began its three-pronged attack across the nearly thousand-mile
front. Within a week, Hitler’s allies had also declared war, leaving
the Soviet Union alone to fight Germany, Romania, Italy, Finland, Hungary,
Germany attacked Russia with more than 3 million soldiers.
They had more than 3,000 tanks, 2,500 aircraft, 7,000 artillery pieces,
600,000 motor vehicles, and 625,000 horses. The Romanian army contributed
250,000 men and the Finns 500,000. Initially, the Soviets had 2,500,000
men and another 2,200,000 in reserve to defend Moscow and other key
cities. The Red Army had more tanks and planes than their enemies, but
with the exception of many of the tanks, the equipment was obsolete
The Russians were aided by Roosevelt’s decision
to provide them with equipment according to the terms of Lend-Lease.
Americans were not anxious to help the Soviets. The majority were fiercely
anti-Communist and feared that providing equipment and arms to the Russians
would reduce the amount available to the British. On the other hand,
the public was equally if not more opposed to the Nazis and wanted to
see them defeated. In retrospect, critics argued this aid should have
been conditioned on Soviet behavior and commitments. Stalin, however,
was unwilling to bargain, and the Allies made no great effort to extort
concessions from him. From March 1941 until October 1945, the United
States provided the Russians with 15,000 aircraft, 7,000 tanks, 350,000
tons of explosives, 51,000 jeeps, 375,000 trucks, 2,000 locomotives,
11,000 rail wagons, 3 million tons of gasoline, and 15 million pairs
of boots. Britain contributed another 5,000 tanks and 7,000 aircraft.
No one knew it yet, but this titanic struggle between
Adolf and Joe would become the key to the outcome of the entire war.
For the next four years, most of the fighting would be on the eastern
front, and more people would die in those battles than in all the others