Contributor: C. Peter Chen
When Vyacheslav Molotov, foreign minister of Russia, visited Berlin on 12 Nov 1940, he felt that the prior camaraderie experienced at the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was gone. Of course, he knew that he was not a welcomed guest for that he arrived in Berlin to urge Germany to hold up their end of the bargain. Until this point in the war, Russia had exported oil, grain, and raw materials to Germany as they had promised, but Germany had only been sporadically sending modern machinery and weapons to Moscow. Molotov probably felt the hostility slowly building up by the time he left Berlin on 14 Nov 1940.
On the surface, the seeking of Lebensraum (living space) by Adolf Hitler for the German people gave justification for the invasion eastwards; however, Hitler's personal vendetta against Josef Stalin and Communism had much to do with it as well. The German victories in the west had given Hitler confidence in his military forces, while the Soviet feeble record during the Winter War in Finland reinforced Hitler's belief that the Soviet military were no match for the Germans. The under-estimation of the Red Army was not unfounded. The Soviet military was, by in large, a peace time military at this time. Aircraft were parked in tight clusters, artillery pieces sat in bases without adequate transport or ammunition, and a lack of trained men made the revolutionary T-34 tank ineffective. However, a bulk of the Red Army, backed by mobile armor reserves, were present on the border with Germany; while Russia was in no shape to fight a war at this point, Stalin had his suspicions on Hitler. Massive amounts of German troops and equipment were brought to the German-Soviet border on the excuse that they were being maneuvered out of British air range. Meanwhile, Joseph Goebbels' Propaganda Ministry spread rumors aimed at confusing the outside world on German intensions; words were quickly spread that Berlin was seeing a mass mobilization because of a high-level meeting between Hitler and Stalin in the German capital and low-ranking officers were told to mention that many soldiers were being sent westward in preparation to invade Britain. The Luftwaffe coordinated with Goebbels as well, sending a few reconnaissance aircrafts over the coasts of Britain as if they were scouting suitable landing sites. While some of the deceptions were rather far-fetched, the Soviets seemingly bought at least some of them. To his own military commanders, Hitler justified a potential war with Russia as something of a preventive measure. Hitler believed that Russia, with her seemingly unlimited, though largely untapped, resources, must be taken down before Stalin gained the ability to wield those resources against Germany. Hitler gave three high-level orders to his commanders:
- The commanders must educate their subordinates that the Russians might not respect a gentlemanly conduct of war, as seen in Finland; therefore, if necessary, German soldiers might have to fight likewise.
- There must be no mercy given to the commissars, the political officers, in the Russian forces; they must be shot on sight because they were known to incite commoner uprisings against their enemies.
- No Russians prisoners of war would be brought within German borders for fear of the spread of communist ideologies to the German people.
On the home front, the German government had long been boosting war morale ever since mid-1930s. While the victories in the Low Countries and France raised the fighting spirits of the men, Berlin further instilled the need for continued conquests to the German people. For example, the German government fixed the exchange rate between the Reichsmark and the conquered nation of France so that the German currency had great purchasing power. Soldiers with minimal pay now could afford luxuries in Paris; it was not rare to see soldiers coming back from France burdened with silk stockings and bottles of Chanel No. 5 perfume for their wives and girlfriends. Adolf Hitler molded public opinion so that the country would follow his orders into another war, a war with Russia, where the eventual Germany victory would mean even more luxuries following back into Germany.
Against the stern recommendation against fighting a two-front war by his military commanders, Operation Barbarossa was launched on 22 Jun 1941; artillery pieces opened fire at 0330 hours, and the troops crossed the border at 0445 hours. Surprise was achieved; the stunned Soviet forces did not expect Hitler to betray the non-aggression treaty of Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, at least not this early. The German Army Group North advanced on the northern front marching toward Leningrad, Army Group Center marched east through Byelarus toward Moscow, and Army Group South was tasked to conquer Ukraine and onto the oil-rich Caucasus. The three armies combined 2.6 million men. The other European Axis nations also contributed to the attack. Romanians joined in with General Ritter von Schobert's Eleventh Army, which was a part of Army Group South. In the north, the Finns also invaded Russia on the say day, though under a different operation code name, Operation Silver Fox (please see the article for Operation Silver Fox); Operation Silver Fox was often considered the start of the Continuation War between Finland and Russia. Italy, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia each all contributed small expeditionary forces, though these troops were not all welcomed. Italian officers, for example, were noted by Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel as "far too old and made a sorry sight, and could only have had a bad effect on the value of such dubious auxiliaries. The Hungarian troops, though fierce fighters, were looked down upon by the German troops as an army that lacked discipline; many Hungarian units were known to mercilessly plunder conquered villages and towns.
The immediate result of the invasion was encouraging to the leaders in Berlin. Everywhere the Soviet troops either crumbled in surprise, unable to coordinate any kind of defenses due to lack of communications, or simply overrun by the fast-moving German tactics. The few Soviet mechanized and armor units were soon heavily damaged by German dive bombers. Within three months, great Soviet satellite republic cities fell under German control.
Fall of Brest
22 Jun-29 Jul 1941
The city of Brest in Belarus was among the targets for the initial phase of Operation Barbarossa. German troops attacked the city on 22 Jun 1941 of Brest after heavy bombing and shelling on the previous day. The German 45th Infantry Division moved in expecting a quick resolution, but instead met fierce cover fire while the remaining Soviet troops fled to the north of the city. German troops did not gain complete control of the city until end of Jul. Reserves for Barbarossa were called in to replace the unexpected casualties, something that the German commanders were not planning on doing until later in the campaign.
In the months after German occupation, the Jewish community in Brest was systematically persecuted.
Fall of Minsk
24-28 Jun 1941
On 24 Jun 1941, the German Luftwaffe sent three waves of 47 aircraft each to bomb Minsk, the capital of the Soviet satellite republic of Byelorussia. Minsk was a city poorly prepared for an air raid, and the situation was made worse with the immediate destruction of water systems from the bombing. Fires raged uncontrollably, turning the city into an inferno. When the German troops entered the city four days later after most of the fires subsided, they found a city in ruins. Later studies estimated that more than 80% of the city was destroyed in the bombings.
Battle of Lutsk
25-29 Jun 1941
Near Lutsk, a battlefield of the First World War, Soviet tanks attacked the 1st German Panzer Group which had advanced so fast that it had become detached with its infantry escorts. Soviet tanks moved in two pincers, one column from the north and the other from the south, hitting the German tanks by surprise. The Germans caused serious casualties among the Soviets, though despite the tactical victory they had lost strategically. The German offensive was stopped to defend against the Soviet counteroffensive, which allowed Kiev the much needed time to organize its defenses.
Bessarabia, in present day Moldova, had been a contested region that had changed hands several times since the beginning of the 1800s. Friendly with the Romanians since the 1850s, the region finally joined Romania at the end of WW1. On 26 Jun 1940, as agreed upon in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Soviet troops occupied Bessarabia and northern Bukovina. Many of the 3.75 million Romanians were subjected to deportation to work camps in Siberia and Kazakhstan; those who resisted were executed. The 93,000 Germans living in the region were given the option (which almost all took in fear of Russian oppression) to return to Germany or German-occupied Poland. When Operation Barbarossa was launched, Ion Antonescu of Romania made sure to contribute troops to the German Army Group South to recapture Bessarabia. The Soviet troops were unable to withstand the initial offensive, and employed scorched earth tactics as they retreated. Anything the Soviets could carry, including heavy machinery and other industrial goods, were transported to Russia by rail. Romanian troops declared the region liberated by the end of Jul 1941.
Battle of Smolensk
10 Jul-10 Sep 1941
On 10 Jul, the German Army Group Centre began encircling the Soviet city of Smolensk. Soviet generals Georgi Zhukov, Timoshenko, Kuznetsov, and Yeryomenko led the defending forces. By 15 Jul, the Germans pushed the poorly-equipped Soviet units to the Dneiper river. The Soviet troops blew out the bridges as they retreated into the city to rendezvous with the Soviet 16th Army which had just arrived. On 16 Jul, German forces reached the borders of Smolensk, but Soviet counterattacks were strong and frequent.
The recently unveiled Katyusha rocket launchers saw combat near Smolensk. The three truck-driven multiple-rocket launchers were effective weapons that created a wide attack area and demoralized the German troops, who were convinced that, after the many minor counterattacks, the great Soviet counteroffensive must had taken place. "Stalin's Organs", as the German troops called the Katyusha, were of simple designs. Parallel racks of rails held the 82mm or 132mm rockets in place, while folding frame structure underneath raised the racks to a firing angle. When used in saturation bombardment, the Katyusha was one of the most demoralizing weapons in the Soviet arsenal (though rather ironically these proud Soviet weapons were sometimes found mounted on US-built Studebaker trucks).
Bitter fighting continued as Soviet troops fought fiercely to defend the city. Despite several minor achievements in defeating German advances, the biggest accomplishment was delaying the German war plans by holding Army Group Centre at Smolensk. The Soviet troops held on to the city for nearly another month before surrendering on 13 Aug 1941.
According to German reports, casualties reached 250,000 during the Battle of Smolensk. The Soviet defenders paid a dear price for the resistance as well; the majority of the city lay in ruins as the German victors occupied her.
In 1985, Smolensk was awarded the title Hero City for the fierce resistance.
Battle of Kiev
15 Aug-19 Sep 1941
In mid-Aug 1941, Army Group Center under the command of Gerd von Rundstedt surrounded the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. When the city fell, 665,000 Soviet troops were captured.
The Ukrainian people had been living under Russian oppression, and the German conquerors could have moved in as liberators and could have won a stern ally against Russia, but the anti-Semetic and anti-Slavic Nazi German philosophy prevented this from happening. The conquerors swept through the rest of Ukraine arresting priests, closing newspaper publishing houses, and enslaved the population. Hermann Göring even went as far as suggesting all Ukrainian men should be killed, and the SS men be sent in to re-populate the land with German blood. Erich Koch was appointed as the German governor of Ukraine, carrying out the plans Göring and other Nazi leaders had in mind for Ukraine. Kharkov, for example, had its population deported en masse; in a single month, the population of Kharkov was reduced from 700,000 to 350,000, with most of them relocated west as forced laborers.
While Kharkov suffered dearly, the most notorious event of the Holocaust in Ukraine was the Massacre of Babi Yar, a ravine outside of Kiev. Between 29 and 30 Sep 1941, military governor of the region Major General Friedrich-Georg Eberhardt, SS-Obergruppenführer Friedrich Jeckeln, SS-Brigadefuhrer Dr. Otto Rasch, Paul Blobel, and other Nazi officers rounded up Jews at the ravine and mowed them down with machine gun fire. 33,771 were killed during the two days, and their bodies were burned and buried at the bottom of the ravine. Their valuables were taken and given to the occupation administration of the city of Kiev or to local ethnic Germans. Babi Yar would continue to be the site of mass executions through the entire period of occupation; it was estimated that after the Massacre of Babi Yar, 40,000 to 100,000 more people were killed at the ravine.
The German forces, though behind schedule, were now ready to strike the three primary objectives of the campaign: Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad. With these three cities captured or destroyed, Hitler thought the Russian government would surely collapse. "We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down", he said.
Wilhelm Keitel, In the Service of the Reich
William Manchester, The Arms of Krupp
Anthony Read and David Fisher, The Fall of Berlin
William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
Operation Barbarossa Interactive Map
Operation Barbarossa Timeline
|17 Jun 1937||Red Army planner Valentin Trifonov wrote to Joseph Stalin, noting that Germany was the likely military enemy of the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union should counter this by focusing on a defensive strategy rather than an offensive one (as the defensive strategy would be more cost-effective).|
|18 Oct 1939||Adolf Hitler ordered the German military to plan for the invasion of the Soviet Union, using Poland as a staging point.|
|3 Jul 1940||General Franz Halder, the German Army Chief of Staff, asked his staff to consider a "military blow" in the east, to keep the Soviet armed forces at arm's length.|
|21 Jul 1940||The German Army High Command submitted a plan to Adolf Hitler for an operation in the Baltic States and the Ukraine.|
|29 Jul 1940||At a conference held in a converted railway carriage, Colonel-General Alfred Jodl, Adolf Hitler's Chief of Operations, announced that the Führer had decided "once and for all" to rid the world of the Soviet menace. However, recognizing that the war against the United Kingdom took a higher priority at this point in time, Hitler pushed the invasion date to the spring of 1941.|
|31 Jul 1940||At Adolf Hitler's residence near Berchtesgaden, München-Oberbayern, Germany, German military leaders were advised of Hitler's plan to attack the Soviet Union. Hitler made it clear that an invasion of the USSR was a way of securing mastery of Europe, as the fall of the USSR would certainly force Britain to surrender. The military leaders were told to expect the invasion to start in May 1941, and would likely last about five months.|
|1 Aug 1940||Franz Halder and his staff began planning for the invasion of the Soviet Union.|
|8 Aug 1940||Adolf Hitler ordered Walter Warlimont, Alfred Jodl's deputy, to determine the positions of Soviet troops in preparation for Operation Barbarossa. On the same day, Wilhelm Keitel signed the Aufbau Ost directive, which called for the mobilization of the German military in eastern Germany.|
|26 Aug 1940||Adolf Hitler ordered the transfer of 10 infantry divisions and 2 armored divisions from France to Poland. To avoid Soviet suspicion, he made plans to make this transfer appear as if these fresher troops were coming in to relieve older men who were going to be released back into the work force.|
|5 Dec 1940||Hitler received the military plans for an invasion of the USSR. He duly approved them all, and proposed a timetable for invasion in May of the following year.|
|20 Jan 1941||At Adolf Hitler's Berghof residence near Berchtesgaden, Germany, Hitler mentioned to Benito Mussolini and Galeazzo Ciano that Germany viewed the Soviet Union as a threat, but did not reveal the plan to invade.|
|3 Feb 1941||German military leaders presented detailed plans for Operation Barbarossa to Adolf Hitler.|
|5 Mar 1941||Hermann Göring met with General Antonescu in Vienna, Austria, demanding Romanian participation in the upcoming German invasion of the Soviet Union.|
|20 Mar 1941||Joseph Stalin was assured by this staff that Germany would not attack the Soviet Union until United Kingdom was defeated. Meanwhile, the United States shared the intelligence of a possible German invasion of the Soviet Union with Soviet Ambassador Konstantin Umansky.|
|27 Mar 1941||Adolf Hitler ordered Operation Barbarossa to be postponed due to changing political situations in the Balkan Peninsula.|
|3 Apr 1941||Winston Churchill warned Joseph Stalin (via the Soviet ambassador in London, England, United Kingdom) German troop movements into Poland detected by British intelligence.|
|22 Apr 1941||The Soviet Union protested to Germany regarding border violations by German troops and aircraft. Among the evidence presented was a downed German aircraft in Soviet territory which contained maps of the Soviet Union, aerial photographic equipment, and rolls exposed film. The Soviets, however, remained generally friendly toward Germany.|
|24 Apr 1941||The German Naval Attaché in Moscow, Russia reported back to German Navy headquarters that it had been learned that the British had deduced the German invasion of the Soviet Union to take place around 26 Jun 1941, and the British had shared this information with the Soviet Union.|
|30 Apr 1941||Adolf Hitler set the launch date of Operation Barbarossa to 22 Jun 1941.|
|6 May 1941||Polish doctor Zygmunt Klukowski noted in his diary that, on this date, he observed Germans conscripting Polish civilians to build military airfields and air raid bunkers even though there was no active war in Eastern Europe.|
|13 May 1941||The Red Army commenced the movement of substantial forces to the western frontier, but out of the thirty-three divisions deployed only four or five were fully equipped by the outbreak of war.|
|15 May 1941||In Russia a document from military planners was issued recommending a short strike against any assembling forces threatening Soviet territory.|
|21 May 1941||At a meeting of the Central Committee War Section in Moscow, Russia, the intelligence reports, provided by Communist sympathisers in Germany, that an attack on the Soviet Union was imminent was greeted with much apprehension. Stalin however still refused to accept the intelligence, believing that the reports must be either deliberate provocation of misinformation by the British to get the Soviet Union involved in the war. When General Proskurov, the head of Soviet Intelligence, argued personally with Stalin, he was duly arrested and shot.|
|29 May 1941||The German Navy began to execute its plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union.|
|7 Jun 1941||Polish physician Zygmunt Klukowski's diary entry for this date noted his observation of heavy German military traffic moving east.|
|9 Jun 1941||At Berchtesgaden, Germany, Adolf Hitler issued the summons for his top military leaders to gather for the final planning meeting for Operation Barbarossa.|
|14 Jun 1941||Adolf Hitler met with his High Command regarding Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, including a planned start date; the "Lucy" spy ring in Germany promptly passed along this information. Meanwhile, in Moscow, Russia, Vyacheslav Molotov informed Friedrich Werner von der Schulenburg that the Soviet Union was to publish, on the next day, that the rumors of a German attack on the Soviet Union were all fabricated by the British.|
|15 Jun 1941||German units moved into their start positions for the invasion of the Soviet Union. Likewise, the Soviet Union moved the new conscript units into forward positions.|
|19 Jun 1941||The Soviet Union ordered black-outs in all cities along the border with Germany and the camouflaging of airfields, but still did not deploy for defense; the latter order, the camouflaging of airfields, would be scarcely commenced when the invasion took place.|
|20 Jun 1941||The German troops amassing on the border with the Soviet Union were told that they were undergoing a large scale exercise.|
|21 Jun 1941||Soviet military attaché to France Major General Ivan Sousloparov warned his superiors in Moscow, Russia of a potential German invasion, which Joseph Stalin immediately disregarded as British provocation. Stalin's opinion was agreed by head of Soviet State Security Lavrentiy Beria, who told Joseph Stalin that Germany would not attack the Soviet Union in 1941. Georgy Zhukov disagreed, but it would not be until 1905 hours when the military attaché to Germany Mikhail Vorontsov provided concrete evidence of German movement when Stalin and the Politburo were finally convinced to organize two new wartime fronts (rather than peacetime military districts) to prepare the defenses. By the time the telegrams were deciphered many units would already be bombed by German aircraft. Elsewhere, in the evening, Soviet Foreign Minister Vycheslav Molotov met with German Ambassador Friedrich Werner von der Schulenburg and asked him regarding the rumors of invasion, which Schulenburg denied as false. Within hours, however, to Schulenburg's surprise, he would receive orders from his superiors to destroy documents, code books, ciphers, and communications equipment, and he would receive a declaration of war to be delivered to Molotov in the morning.|
|22 Jun 1941||At about 0100 hours, the Red Army was ordered to assume defensive posture, but it was too late to improve defenses significantly as Germany tore up the non-aggression pact and launched Operation Barbarossa. At 0325 hours, Georgy Zhukov woke Joseph Stalin by phone to inform him of the news of the invasion; initially, Stalin refused to give Zhukov the permission to strike back at the Germans, believing it to be a German provocation. At 0630 hours, Stalin finally realized it was a full scale invasion and gave his authorization for the Red Army to fire back. At a strength of 3.5 million men, Operation Barbarossa was the largest military operation in history, overwhelming Soviet defenses which were further disadvantaged by poor communications. In support, German aircraft destroyed 2,000 aircraft, many on the ground, allowing the Germans to gain air superiority across the entire front.|
|23 Jun 1941||The Soviet Army armored counter attack near Tilsit, Ostpreußen, Germany (now Sovetsk, Russia) was beaten back. Meanwhile, German forces crossed the Bug River, penetrating 50 miles beyond the Soviet lines. From the air, German Luftwaffe aircraft destroyed another 1,200 Soviet aircraft on this day.|
|24 Jun 1941||German Armeegruppe Nord moved into Lithuania and Byelorussia, seizing Vilnius and Kaunas.|
|25 Jun 1941||German Army 1.Panzergruppe captured Dubno and Lutsk in Ukraine.|
|26 Jun 1941||Aircraft of the German Luftwaffe began to bomb Leningrad, Russia.|
|26 Jun 1941||German 56th Panzer Corps reached Daugava River (Western Dvina); 8th Panzer Division and 3rd Motorized Division established bridgehead near Daugavpils, Latvia.|
|26 Jun 1941||German Panzer units closed the Bialystok pocket in Poland.|
|27 Jun 1941||German troops captured Bobruisk in Byelorussia and Przemysl in Poland.|
|28 Jun 1941||German troops captured Minsk, Byelorussia, encircling 27 Soviet Army divisions in the process.|
|29 Jun 1941||Colonel General Vasily Kuznetsov was ordered by Semyon Timoshenko to maintain pressure on the German bridgehead on the Daugava River (Western Dvina) near Daugavpils, Latvia. Kuznetsov would use all his reserves to mount a counterattack that would be repulsed by the Germans.|
|30 Jun 1941||At least 100 of the Soviet bombers attacking German tanks near Minsk, Byelorussia were shot down by aircraft of Oberst Werner Mölders' JG-51.|
|30 Jun 1941||German troops captured Lvov, Ukraine.|
|1 Jul 1941||German 11th Army, Romanian 3rd Army, and Romanian 4th Army crossed Prut River into the Bessarabia and Bukovina regions of Moldova.|
|1 Jul 1941||The German 2.Panzergruppe reached Berezina, Byelorussia.|
|1 Jul 1941||The German 4.Panzergruppe captured Riga, Latvia.|
|2 Jul 1941||Romanian Third Army, Romanian Fourth Army, and German Eleventh Armies attacked out of Moldavia towards Vinnitsa and Odessa, Ukraine. To the north, 4.Panzergruppe breaks through near Ostrov, Russia.|
|3 Jul 1941||In his first public speech of the new war, Stalin ordered a scorched earth policy to be put into effect as German troops were pushed back; meanwhile, the Bialystok pocket in Poland was eliminated by German troops, taking 300,000 prisoners.|
|4 Jul 1941||German troops captured Ostrov in northern Russia.|
|5 Jul 1941||German 6th Army broke through near Lvov, Ukraine, while German 1st Panzer Group drove toward Zhitomir and Berdichev, Ukraine. On the same day, Romanian 3rd Army captured Chernivtsi, Ukraine.|
|7 Jul 1941||German 20th Panzer Division crossed the Daugava River (Western Dvina), threatening to outflank the Polotsk Fortified Region in Byelorussia.|
|7 Jul 1941||Stalin replaced top army commanders, putting Marshal Kliment Voroshilov in command of the Northern Front, Marshal Semyon Timoshenko in the Central Front, and Marshal Semyon Budyonny on the Southern Front. On the same day, the German 4.Panzergruppe captured Pskov, Russia as it moved towards Leningrad.|
|8 Jul 1941||German troops captured Pskov, Russia.|
|9 Jul 1941||Troops of the German 3.Panzergruppe captured Vitebsk, Byelorussia.|
|10 Jul 1941||German 13th Panzer Division captured Zhytomyr, Ukraine. Further east, German troops crossed the Dnieper River.|
|11 Jul 1941||As the German 1.Panzergruppe marched near Kiev, Ukraine, Stalin replaced Army commanders. Marshal Voroshilov was given responsibility in the north, Marshal Timoshenko in the center, and Marshal Budyonny in the south.|
|13 Jul 1941||The German Armeegruppe Nord continued advancing towards Luga in northern Russia.|
|14 Jul 1941||Observing the German forces reaching the River Luga thus expecting a rapid victory in northern Russia., Hitler ordered the arms industry to switch production from guns and tanks to aircraft and submarines.|
|15 Jul 1941||German 228th Regiment cleared four Stalin Line bunkers and crossed the Ljadowa River, a tributary of the Dniester River, in Ukraine.|
|15 Jul 1941||German troops encircled Smolensk, Russia.|
|17 Jul 1941||German Armeegruppe Sud encircled 20 Soviet Army divisions near Uman, Ukraine. Further south, troops of the Romanian 3rd Army reached the Dniester River, captured a row of bunkers on the far bank, and repulsed a series of Soviet counterattacks.|
|19 Jul 1941||Adolf Hitler ordered the German 2nd Panzer Group to move south toward Kiev, Ukraine as soon as the group completed the conquest of Smolensk, Russia. Heinz Guderian, commanding officer of the 2nd Panzer Group, protested and cited Moscow, Russia as the logical primary target, but Hitler would overrule him.|
|21 Jul 1941||Soviet troops evacuated from the positions along the Dniestr River in western Ukraine.|
|23 Jul 1941||German troops captured Brest-Litovsk, Byelorussia after a month-long siege.|
|25 Jul 1941||General Paul von Kleist's 1st Panzer Group clashed with no fewer than six Soviet mechanised corps under the capable General Mikhail Kirponos in Ukraine. A sprawling tank battle, the largest of the war up to that point, swayed backwards and forwards across the steppes for four days, before superior German tactical handling and communications, plus their use of 88-mm guns, won the day. Kiponos was forced to retreat eastward towards Kiev.|
|26 Jul 1941||Three full Soviet armies were trapped and destroyed near Mogilev, Byelorussia.|
|27 Jul 1941||German troops captured Tallinn, Estonia.|
|28 Jul 1941||German troops began crushing the Smolensk pocket in Russia.|
|3 Aug 1941||The battle at Roslavl in Russia ended with 38,000 encircled Soviet soldiers being taken prisoner.|
|4 Aug 1941||Adolf Hitler ordered Hermann Hoth's 3rd Panzer Group to aid Wilhelm von Leeb in the north and Heinz Guderian's 2nd Panzer Group to assist Paul von Kleist in the south.|
|6 Aug 1941||The first German strategic reports on progress in Russia claimed that Germany had taken nearly 900,000 prisioners and destroyed or captured 13,100 tanks, 9,100 aircraft and more than 10,000 heavy guns.|
|8 Aug 1941||The 6th and 12th Soviet Armies in the Uman Pocket in Ukraine were wiped out by German troops; over 100,000 Soviet prisoners were taken.|
|17 Aug 1941||German troops captured Narva, Estonia.|
|19 Aug 1941||German X Corps narrowly averted being encircled near Lake Illmen in northern Russia, saved by a counterattack by LVI Corps.|
|23 Aug 1941||Adolf Hitler rejected Heinz Guderian's advice to attack Moscow, Russia; instead, he moved troops to the south.|
|24 Aug 1941||Romanian forces suffered heavy losses during the Soviet counter attack near Odessa, Ukraine.|
|26 Aug 1941||Soviet forces in Velikije Luki were surrounded and destroyed by the German Armeegruppe Nord.|
|27 Aug 1941||The German Armeegruppe Nord captured Tallinn, Estonia.|
|28 Aug 1941||The Soviet Baltic Fleet departed from Estonia for Kronstadt, Russia under the command of Vice Admiral Vladimir Tributs. En route, the fleet was slowed by a minefield off Cape Juminda, and it was soon targeted by shore-based artillery, German aircraft, and German and Finnish torpedo boats. 15 warships and 15 transports would be sunk.|
|30 Aug 1941||Panzergruppe 1 of Army Group South under Paul von Kleist and Panzergruppe 2 of Army Group Center under Heinz Guderian began to envelope the Soviet Southwestern Front under Mikhail Kirponos at Kiev, Ukraine.|
|7 Sep 1941||The German 6.Armee broke through near Konotop, Ukraine.|
|10 Sep 1941||German Panzergruppe 1 and Panzergruppe 2 completed the crossing of the Dnieper River in southern and northern Ukraine, respectively, and were both heading toward Kiev.|
|12 Sep 1941||German troops reported the first snowfall on the Russian front.|
|14 Sep 1941||The German Armeegruppe Mitte encircled two full Soviet Armies near Kiev, Ukraine.|
|16 Sep 1941||German Generals Guderian and Kleist's Panzergruppen linked up east of Kiev, Ukraine, encircling 5 Soviet Armies.|
|18 Sep 1941||German troops captured Poltava, Ukraine.|
|19 Sep 1941||German troops captured Kiev, Ukraine, along with 600,000 prisoners, 2,500 tanks, and 1,000 artillery pieces.|
|26 Sep 1941||Soviet troops in Kiev, Ukraine were beginning to run out of food and ammunition.|
|27 Sep 1941||The first rains fell on Eastern Front of the European War; mud began to become an issue for the attacking German forces.|
|29 Sep 1941||Soviet resistance prevented the Germans from moving from southern Ukraine into the Krym (Crimea) region of Russia.|
|29 Sep 1941||The German Einsatzgruppen massacred somewhere between 50,000 and 96,000 Ukrainians, 33,771 of whom Jews, at the Babi Yar ravine outside Kiev.|
|31 Oct 1941||Solomon Milshtein reported to Lavrentiy Beria that, from the start of the Russo-German war and 10 Oct 1941, 657,364 troops were arrested for falling back without authorization, 249,969 of whom by agents of UOO and 407,395 by agents of NKVD. The majority of them were returned to the front, while 10,201 were executed, 3,321 of whom were executed in front of their units to set an example.|
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945