Operation Barbarossa

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Operation Barbarossa

 

(“Barbarossa Fall”; named after Frederick I Barbarossa, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire), conventional name for the fascist German plan for aggressive war against the USSR. The idea of militarily liquidating the Soviet Union was a paramount programmatic task of German imperialism and fascism en route to world hegemony.

After the successful conclusion of the French campaign of 1940, the German fascist political leadership decided to prepare a plan for war against the USSR. By Hitler’s order of July 21, 1940, the chief command of land forces (OKH) was charged with this task. Several variants of the plan were worked out simultaneously between July and December of 1940—a plan by the OKH and plans by generals E. Marx, Sodenstern, and others. As a result of repeated discussions, military staff games, and special conferences in Hitler’s headquarters and within the General Staff for land forces and other high staff organs, a final variant of the plan—Operation Otto—was confirmed on Dec. 5, 1940; it had been presented by General F. Haider, chief of the General Staff for land forces. On Dec. 18, 1940, the high command of the armed forces (OKW) delivered for Hitler’s signature Directive No. 21 (Operation Barbarossa), which laid out the basic idea and strategic conception of the forthcoming war against the USSR. The plan received a detailed treatment in the Directive on the Strategic Concentration and Deployment of Forces, issued on Jan. 31, 1941, by the OKH and signed by the commander in chief of land forces, Field Marshal W. Brauchitsch.

The general strategic problem of Operation Barbarossa was “to crush Soviet Russia in a quick campaign before the end of the war against England.” The basis of the conception was the idea of “splitting the front of the main forces of the Russian army concentrated in the western part of Russia by means of rapid and deep strikes of powerful mobile groups north and south of the Pripet Marshes; and, exploiting this breakthrough, to destroy the disconnected groups of hostile forces.” The plan envisioned the destruction west of the Dnieper and Zapadnaia Dvina rivers of the bulk of Soviet forces, not allowing them to withdraw into the heart of Russia. Furthermore, Moscow, Leningrad, and the Donbass would be captured, and Russia then occupied to the line Arkhangel’sk-Volga-Astrakhan. Particular importance was ascribed to the capture of Moscow. The plan set forth in detail the tasks of army groups and armies, and also the order of cooperation among them and with allied forces, as well as with the air force and navy, the tasks of which were also specified. The initial date for the attack—May 1941—was set back to June 22 (the final order was issued June 17) as a result of the operations carried out against Yugoslavia and Greece. A number of documents were worked out to supplement the directive of the OKH, such as an evaluation of the Soviet Armed Forces, a directive on misinformation, an estimate of the time needed to prepare the operation, and special instructions.

By June 22, 1941, three army groups (181 divisions in all, including 19 panzer and 14 motorized divisions, and 18 brigades), supported by three air fleets, were concentrated and deployed at the borders of the USSR. Army Group South (44 German and 13 Rumanian divisions, nine Rumanian and four Hungarian brigades) was located in the zone from the Black Sea to the Pripet Marshes; Army Group Center (50 German divisions and two German brigades) occupied the zone from the Pripet Marshes to Goldap; and Army Group North (29 German divisions) occupied the zone from Goldap to Memel. They faced the task of attacking in the general direction of Kiev, Moscow, and Leningrad, respectively. Two Finnish armies were concentrated in Finland and the separate German Army Norway in northern Norway (in all, five German and 16 Finnish divisions and three Finnish brigades); their task was to move toward Leningrad and Murmansk. The OKH had 24 divisions in reserve. In all, over 5.5 million men, 3,712 tanks, 47,260 field cannons and mortars, and 4,950 combat planes were massed for the attack on the USSR.

In spite of the initial successes of the German fascist forces, Operation Barbarossa proved a failure because of the adventuristic calculations which it was based upon and which were drawn from false premises about the weakness of the Soviet Union and its armed forces. The failure of the plan can be explained by its underestimation of the political, economic, and military power of the USSR and the moral and political unity of the Soviet people, and by its overesti-mation of the capabilities of fascist Germany.

REFERENCES

Istoriia Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny Sovetskogo Soiuza, 2nd ed., vol. 1. Moscow, 1963.
Sovershenno sekretno! Tol’ko dlia komandovaniia. Moscow, 1967. (Translated from German.)
Hubatsch, W. Hitlers Weisungen für die Kriegführung 1939–1945. Munich, 1965.

I. M. GLAGOLEV