Eighty years ago next month, on 22 June 1941, Adolf Hitler unleashed the largest military invasion force in history, when he ordered almost 3,700,000 Axis troops with 3,000 tanks, 7,000 guns and 2,300 aircraft to advance into the Soviet Union along a front that extended from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
Less than six months later, following startling early successes, leading German units would reach almost to the gates of Moscow, before plummeting temperatures and the onset of the Russian winter finally brought their advance to a halt.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can see now that Operation Barbarossa, as the German invasion of the Soviet Union was codenamed, was the decisive event of the Second World War – the watershed moment at which Hitler’s determination to seize lebensraum (‘living space’) for the German people was exposed not only to the huge distances and harsh realities of Russian geography and climate but also to the vast military and industrial capacity of Stalin’s Soviet Union.
This week on The Past and in a new special issue of our sister magazine Military History Matters, David Porter marks the anniversary with a two-part analysis of this most momentous of military campaigns. In the first, he explores the pre-war build-up to Operation Barbarossa; while in the second, he looks at the key factors which determined its outcome, and which resulted in Germany being trapped into fighting a war of attrition that it could not win. Click here to read his analysis in full.
Meanwhile on the latest edition of The PastCast, our unmissable podcast, MHM editor Neil Faulkner gives his take on Barbarossa, and explains how Hitler’s hubris paved the way for the operation’s calamitous military failure. Click here to listen now.
Also on The Past this week, we’ve been delving into the MHM archives to bring you the most insightful in-depth coverage of the Second World War on the Eastern Front: in MHM 104, Anthony Heywood explained how defeat at Stalingrad paved the way for Germany’s final collapse; in MHM 119, Bill Purdue examined the Battle of Prokhorovka, the 1943 clash of armour often described as the ‘greatest tank battle in history’; in MHM 112, Chris Bambery looked at Operation Bagration, the 1944 Soviet offensive that finished off the Nazis; and in MHM 116, David Porter analysed the Battle of Berlin, the Third Reich’s apocalyptic last stand in May 1945.
Finally, please don’t forget to click on the link to our fiendish Friday quiz (from 14 May), which this week is also designed to test your knowledge of Operation Barbarossa. In the meantime, why not have a go at our previous quiz on Hadrian’s Wall? Good luck, and we hope you enjoy The Past!
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