Deception & Surprise
Army Group North
Army Group Center
Army Group South
Battle of Smolensk
Battle of Kiev
Siege of Leningrad
Why Did Barbarossa Fail?
In the Media
The Road to Stalingrad
Background to Operation Barbarossa
Adolf Hitler, German dictator, had long advocated the expansion of German power, by conquering vast empire of lebensraum (literally "living space") conquered in Eastern Europe and from the USSR. He had outlined these ambitions in writing as early as 1925 in his book, Mein Kampf. Additionally, Hitler and the Nazis, also had a profound hatred of communism (during this period, the USSR was the only communist state in the world), and believed Russia was populated by untermensch (literally "subhuman") Slavs, and ruled by Jewish-Bolsheviks.
Hitler and the Nazis gained power in Germany in 1933, and gradually embarked on a program of expansion. Remilitarising the Rhineland in 1936, annexing Austria in 1938 (the Anschluss), and dismembering Czechoslovakia in 1938-1939, and forcing Lithuania to hand-over the# Memel Territory (Klaipeda Region).
Alarmed by German expansion, Britain and France began to issue guarantees to various countries against Germany. They hoped that such guarantees would deter Germany from further aggression. However, Hitler seems to have believed that the guarantees would not be honored, and so in when in September 1939, Germany attacked Poland, he did not expect any British or French action. Instead, however Britain and France declared war on Germany.
Prior to attacking Poland, Germany had however taken care to improve previously bad relations with the USSR. A commercial treaty, and a non-aggression treaty were both signed in August 1939, and the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression treaty actually contained secret clauses regarding the division of Polish territory.
The German army quickly over-ran Poland, although many Polish military personnel did escape to fight again in the West. The final Polish collapse was in part precipitated by Soviet forces entering and occupying the Eastern part of the country.
In 1940, Germany attacked in the West. Conquering Denmark, Norway, and then the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium and France. Italy also entered the war on Germany's side, but Britain remained defiant and unbeaten, after the German failure in the Battle of Britain and the cancellation of Operation Sealion.
Italy's involvement in the war, also led to the addition of a North African front to the war (where Germany eventually was to send Rommel's Afrika Korps), and an Italian war with Greece. Neither front went well: In North Africa, the British inflicted heavy defeats on the Italian Army, and on the Greek front, the Greeks actually drove the ill-prepared Italians back into Italian-controlled Albania.
Meanwhile, Germany was looking for alternatives to bring the war to a successful conclusion, and while some German commanders advocated further attacks on the British Empire, Hitler eventually returned to his old eye of conquering the USSR - he argued that such a conquest would deprive Britain of its last possible continental ally, immeasurably strengthen Germany's position, and prevent US intervention in Europe by strengthening Japan's position in the Far East.
Prior to finally committing to attack the USSR, the Germans did however explore the idea of coming to an accommodation with the country. The obstacles were however formidable - there were disputes about the boundaries between spheres of influence in Eastern Europe, about the Turkish straits (which the USSR wanted to control to gain access to the Mediterranean), and about Finland. Additionally, the Germans were becoming increasingly aware of their dependence on Soviet-supplied raw materials, particularly after the Soviet Union briefly suspended supplies in August 1940, and how they could become subject to blackmail as a result. Moreover, the Germans vastly under-estimated Soviet military, because of the country's poor performance in the Soviet-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940.
The Germans planned to attack in the late Spring or early Summer of 1941 (Hitler's War Directive 21 had specified May 15th as the attack date). The goal was to capture all of European Russia, upto a line from Archangel in the North to Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea (the "A-A line") in a single campaigning season.
Their attack was however somewhat delayed for several of reasons:
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