“Rule 1, on page I of the book of war, is: ‘Do not march on Moscow’. Various people have tried it, Napoleon and Hitler, and it is no good. That is the first rule.”
— Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery
Seventy years ago today, nearly 4 million German troops, with 3,350 tanks and 7,200 artillery pieces, and supported by 2,000 aircraft, crossed into the frontier of European Russia in three concentrated armored thrusts. When Operation Barbarossa commenced, 180 Wehrmacht divisions bore down on Soviet Russia with rapacious determination.
It was the beginning of the largest land invasion in history.
Despite Stalin’s crippling purges that denied the Soviets the experienced military leadership they so desperately needed during the invasion’s early days, the Russian people struggled on, eventually defeating their German invaders.
This Soviet victory did not, however, come without tremendous human cost. Historian John Keegan reckons that the Soviets lost 7 million men in battle and an additional 7 million civilians versus 4 million German soldiers and 593,000 civilians. In contrast, the United States suffered only 292,000 war casualties.
Today we remember the sacrifices and tenacity of the Russian people.
I think June 22, 1941 may well be the most important day of the 20th Century. Like France over a century earlier, Germany learned that it was too weak to control all of continental Europe and Russia. Yet the invasion was supposed to be in mid to late May. The Serbs were giving the Italians problems so Hitler delayed the invasion in order to help Italy. One has to wonder what would have happened if the Germans launched their attack a month earlier. I still think they were biting off more than they could chew, but the war might have had a different dynamic. Also it’s ironic that Stalin, who apparently had a break down before addressing the country a week after the invasion, trusted Hitler. A man whose paranoid purges killed up to 20 million (compared to 11 million in Hitler’s holocaust) trusted no one…except Hitler.
World War II is obviously my favorite period of history. The War between Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany is also my favorite part of that war. The scale of it was bigger than anything the world has seen before or since. It was a titanic struggle of quality vs. quantity, and quantity won in the end.
Counter factual history question!
If the US had not entered the war, would the Russians still have prevailed?
I think they would have.
Or what if Japan had attacked the USSR in Siberia?
The terrain and climate of Siberia is inhospitable for a large scale land invasion. The Japanese may have prevailed in 1905 at the Battle of Mukden, but sustaining a Siberian campaign indefinitely would have been the Imperial Army’s undoing.
If the Japanese invaded Siberia, the war would likely have been a lot shorter with an early Allied victory.