Operation Barbarossa


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   Army Group North
   Army Group Center
   Army Group South

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   Battle of Smolensk
   Battle of Kiev
   Siege of Leningrad
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Operation Barbarossa   >   Battles   >   Frontier Battles


Frontier Battles During Operation Barbarossa

The Germans encircled entire Soviet Armies, captured vast numbers of Soviet prisoners, and seized huge quantities of arms and equipment, in the early stages of Operation Barbarossa

Captured Soviet artillery
On June 22nd 1941, roughly three million troops of the Wehrmacht (German Armed Forces) began their assault on the Soviet Union, and achieved near complete surprise. In the following days and weeks, the German attack was joined by forces sent by Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Croatia, Italy, and Finland, as well as a volunteer division from Spain, and units from occupied Europe.

The German attack was announced on morning of the same day on the radio by Reich Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, who said "At this moment a march is taking place that, for its extent, compares with the greatest the world has ever seen. I have decided today to place the fate and future of the Reich and our people in the hands of our soldiers. May God aid us, especially in this fight.".

Vyacheslav Molotov announced the German attack to the stunned Soviet people around noon on the same day: "Citizens and Citizenesses of the Soviet Union! Today, at four o'clock in the morning, without addressing any grievances to the Soviet Union, without declaration of war, German forces fell on our country, attacked our frontiers in many places and bombed our cities... an act of treachery unprecedented in the history of civilized nations... The Red Army and the whole nation will wage a victorious Patriotic War for our beloved country, for honour, for liberty.. Our cause is just. The enemy will be beaten. Victory will be ours."

Once the attack begun, this is what happened in each sector of the massive front:
  • Army Group North launched 4th Panzer Group (Panzergruppe 4) with 600 tanks at the junction of two opposing Soviet Armies. The 4th Panzer Group advanced 50 miles (80 kilometers) on the very first day, but then faced a very fierce but ill-coordinated Soviet counterattack. The Soviet counterattack was defeated in four days with the Soviets suffering a 90% loss among the forces involved, and then the Germans crossed the Daugava River to come within striking distance of Leningrad, however an immediate attack could not be launched because of difficulties with supplies, and because the Panzers had to wait for the infantry to catch up.

    Additionally, the Soviets faced armed anti-Soviet uprisings in Lithuania and Estonia (the Baltic States had only been occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940).

    The Germans reached the Gulf of Finland coast on On August 7th. They had won the frontier battles, but the Battle of Leningrad was yet to come.

  • Army Group Center faced a large concentration of Soviet forces in a salient around Bialystok. Behind the salient was the important city of Minsk, which was key railway junction as well as the capital of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. The plan was that the 2nd and 9th Armies would attack the salient, while 3rd Panzer Group (Panzergruppe 3) would cross the River Neman and head towards Minsk from the North, and the 2nd Panzer Group (Panzergruppe 2) would cross the Bug River and head towards Minsk from the South.

    The 2nd Panzer Group and 3rd Panzer Group met at Minsk on June 27, having already travelled 200 miles (320 kilometers), a third of the way to Moscow. Remnants of 40 Soviet divisions had been encircled between Minsk and the Polish border, and by July 3rd, three encircled Soviet Armies (the 3rd, 4th and 10th Armies) had been destroyed.

    Soviet prisoners captured by the Germans:
    Soviet prisoners captured by the Germans

    Army Group Center's next goal was to cross the Western Dvina and Dnieper Rivers, but they then encountered five more Soviet Armies (the 16th, 19th, 20th, 21st and 22nd Armies). Three of these Soviet Armies were encircled in the Battle of Smolensk, and the other two severely damaged, however the cost of these victories was steep. Army Group Center had lost 74,500 men, and the Panzer divisions were severely weakened, with less than half their tank strength remaining.

  • Army Group South faced perhaps the toughest resistance of the three German Army Groups. The three opposing Soviet Armies (the 5th, 6th and 26th Armies) reacted more quickly than their comrades on other fronts, and on June 26th, five Soviet mechanized corps, with over 1,000 tanks, launched a major counterattack against the 1st Panzer Group (Panzergruppe 1). Although the Germans defeated this counterattack, the 1st Panzer Group suffered heavy losses.

    After the failure of the Soviet counteroffensive, the Soviets had few remaining tanks in this region, so were forced into a defensive posture and strategic withdrawals.

Map of Operation Barbarossa: Frontier Battles


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