Operation Barbarossa: Hitler’s greatest mistake
With the 75th anniversary of Operation Barbarossa approaching, Rob Attar asked Antony Beevor why the German invasion of the Soviet Union ended in chaos and bloody failure...
Launched on 22 June 1941 and named after the 12th-century Holy Roman emperor Frederick Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union represented a decisive breaking of the 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact. The Axis attacking forces of more than 3 million men split into three groups, aimed at Leningrad, Kiev and Moscow.
The Soviets were caught by surprise and suffered appallingly in the early exchanges, losing millions of men, as well as cities such as Kiev, Smolensk and Vyazma. However, the German losses were also high and, a combination of improving Soviet defences and the Russian winter halted the Wehrmacht outside the gates of Moscow in December. Meanwhile, Hitler had opted not to fight for Leningrad, instead subjecting the city to a lengthy siege.