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The Great Patriotic War: 1939-1943

Discussion in 'Eastern Europe October 1939 to February 1943' started by Comrade General, Mar 18, 2018.

  1. Comrade General

    Comrade General Member

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    Life the Red Army: 1939-1940

    In 1939 the age for conscription in the Soviet Union was nineteen. The newest harvest of new recruits, born at the close of the Russian Civil War, was enlisted that September. Conscription was part of life. Unlike during the Empire, however, new recruits more commonly passed reading tests and identified their political leaders. The very best conscripts joined the rifle divisions of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, the domestic security service, which now enjoyed primacy over the military in the years following the purges. The loyalty of the military was suspect, but not the NKVD.

    [​IMG]

    Conscription was considered a rite of passage, and new conscripts participated in a tradition where they would binge drink before leaving home and on their way to the recruitment point. They would then receive a steam bath, a close-cropped haircut, and a political lecture. The Red Army did not use socks, but instead issued soldiers portyanki (footwraps), pieces of cloth wrapped around the bare foot under boots. Peter the Great had imported their use from Western Europe in the 17th century, and the rags would remain regular issue in many Eastern European armies until the 21st century. Weapons and ammunition, precious commodities, were not issued until soldiers took part in field operations. The Red Army had expanded so quickly in the 1930s that many recruits did not have barracks to sleep in, forcing them to sleep on lice-infested straw mats over dirt.

    Ideological training was a part of daily life for the soldier, perhaps more than military training. The military had its own political administration, represented by commissars at the regimental and battalion level and political officers (politruk) in companies and lower units. These individuals acted as a fusion of propagandist, psychiatrist, chaplain, and hall monitor – in addition to spy for the state. They had the paradoxical responsibility of building bonds and solidarity in their unit while also informing on his comrades. This led to no small amount of resentment. Added to the problem were the fact that many political officers were Jews, who tended to be more educated than the average gentile from the village or the factory. This inflamed the already high currents of anti-Semitism among the enlistees, raised on the same prejudices as their fathers and grandfathers. Many recruits etched or painted swastikas in their barracks to abuse a Jewish officer. In 1939, political officers were not as valued as they would be during the German invasion, when their ability to hold a unit together would come to the fore.

    The purges of the 1930s exacted a heavy toll on the Red Army officer corps. Between 1937 and 1939, a little over 35,000 army officers were removed from their posts. In the last three years of peace, 90 percent of military district commanders lost their jobs to their juniors, leaving recruitment, training, logistics, and the organization of troop movements in chaos before 1941. Nevertheless, no more than 7.7 percent of the Red Army’s leadership were discharged for political reasons. By 1940, around 11,000 of those detained were reinstated to their positions. Konstantin Rokossovsky, who would become a Soviet hero in World War II, was caught up in the purges but survived, and after the 1940 reforms, was once again given commands. Kirill Meretskov, the former Soviet chief of the general staff, also faced NKVD arrest in the summer of 1941, but Operation Barbarossa led to him being spared, as the army needed every experienced commander it could get. Meretskov assumed command of the 4th Army.

    Unsurprisingly, the purges hurt in recruiting and retaining new officers. The depletion of the officer corps reached epic proportions in 1940 as the army expanded to massive proportions. On the eve of the German invasion, the Soviet Union lacked at least 36,000 officers; after war mobilization, this number grew to 55,000. In 1938 Defense Commissar Kliment Voroshilov granted commissions to 10,000 military academy students – before their graduation. These young, inexperienced officers naturally did not immediately gain the respect of rank-and-file troops. They also had to be mindful of political officers, who could undermine orders – or even denounce a military officer as a counter-revolutionary. It was not until the harsh lessons of the Finnish campaign that military officers received higher authority than their political counterparts. The benefits of rank slowly returned, raising miserable morale. Although these changes came too late in Finland, their value would be emphasized following the 1941 German attack.

    Source: Merridale, Catherine (2006). Ivan's War: life and death in the Red Army, 1939-1945. New York: Metropolitan Books
     
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2018
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  2. JJWilson

    JJWilson Well-Known Member

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    Nice thread here Comrade, the Soviets first 4 years of WW2 were pretty bad not just in poor leadership, but sheer cost in men and materials as well.
     
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  3. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    If I am not totally wrong happy looking POW's there in the photo..??
     
  4. gtblackwell

    gtblackwell Well-Known Member Patron  

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    Happy looking POW's are a rarity! But in some cases may be better off with the other side ! :) Good to see you back. You are a mainstay of the forum which multiplies your importance to us.

    F1 does start this weekend. Cannot say I am impressed with Liberty Media, too much NASCAR type hype for me. But I really come more competition comes this year. Be great to have a larger pool of winners.

    Has spring made any sign of an appearance in Finland?

    Gaines
     
  5. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Cheers Gaines!

    Spring was there but now we are back to winter...

    Back to the original program...! Kph
     
  6. Comrade General

    Comrade General Member

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    Indeed, the Red Army recruits mustered in 1939 were a work in progress, their military readiness still under construction. They also did not have strong bonds; 13 of the 46 rifle divisions fielded by the USSR in Finland had been formed for less than a year by the winter of 1939-1940. The others were brought up to strength -- peopled with strangers -- in the weeks before their mobilization to the front. When they went up against the Mannerheim Line and failed to achieve the easy victory they had been promised by their commanders, their morale went through the basement; regular soldiers were expected to simply attack to be slaughtered by Finnish machine guns.
     
  7. Comrade General

    Comrade General Member

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    [​IMG]

    Winter War: 1939–1940

    On November 30, 1939, after a flurry of disputes over border security, Soviet troops invaded Finland. Within a month, nearly 18,000 men, almost half of those who had crossed into Finland that first day, were missing, captured, or dead. Finland mobilized its defenses primarily along the Mannerheim Line, fortifications built along the Karelian isthmus, marshlands 30 miles between the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga on the route from Finland to Leningrad. The Line included pillboxes, barbed wire, and minefields in addition to the natural geographic obstacles of the swampy isthmus. Further north, the near-Arctic conditions meant that most terrain was impassable.

    In 1918, Finland had emerged as an independent state following the collapse of the Russian Empire, although as in Russia, a civil war broke out between conservative Whites and socialist Reds. Unlike in Russia, however, the Germans intervened directly on behalf of the Whites, and the Reds (despite Soviet support) lost the war. Since then, Finland remained within the German sphere of influence, much to the consternation of the Soviet government. With Hitler suddenly at war with Britain and France after conquering Poland, Stalin presumed (incorrectly) that Germany would have its hand full in Western Europe for some time. When Helsinki refused to cede away territory to permit for a buffer zone around Leningrad, the USSR attacked, anticipating victory.

    On paper, the Soviet Union held distinct advantages. It had a large, industrialized economy capable of supporting prolonged warfare. Compared to Soviet vehicles and equipment, the Finnish military used inferior, obsolescent models. Once the invasion was underway, however, a stalemate quickly developed. Soviet attacks were direct and predictable against unknown fortified positions, with troops rapidly deployed from different climates and unprepared for snowy conditions. Entire Soviet divisions were routed and encircled. Despite these setbacks, in December the Soviet Union recognized a provisional government made up of Finnish Reds established in the village of Terijoki.

    Dismayed by the failure of the Red Army to make quick work of the Finns, Moscow made major changes to the campaign. Marshal Kliment Voroshilov, long a friend of Stalin, was replaced with one of the surviving senior leaders of the Civil War, Semyon Timoshenko, as the commander of the Soviet forces, who were trained in winter operations and penetrating entrenched positions. In February, the Finnish defenses were scouted prior to the Soviet assaults. The Soviet troops made steady progress, with the Finns submitting to an armistice on March 13. Moscow had failed to annex Finland or set up a puppet government (if that was its actual goal), but it did succeed the obtaining of even more Finnish territory around Leningrad than it first demanded.

    For the Soviets, however, it was a Pyrrhic victory. The Red Army lost 131,476 soldiers killed or missing, and another 264,908 wounded or sick. The Finns, meanwhile, suffered 22,830 killed or missing with 43,557 wounded. They had held out for over two months and inflicted heavy casualties on the Soviets, who only overcame the Finns after instituting new leadership and adopting tactics better suited for the battlefield. Due to their poor performance, the Red Army would institute major reforms in the years ahead.
     
  8. JJWilson

    JJWilson Well-Known Member

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    Finland is a prime example of preparedness, good leadership, and dominating a foe with less than spectacular weaponry at times. Finland was the only Axis country to fight against the Soviets, capitulate, and ultimately maintain their sovereignty. The Winter War was their finest hour.
     
  9. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    There is a book of the conference in Moscow in April-May 1940 where the generals explain to Stalin why they failed to conquer Finland. The funniest reason was in my opinion that the Finnish bunkers were covered with a meter of rubber so the artillery ammo simply would not destroy the bunkers.
     
  10. Comrade General

    Comrade General Member

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    David Glantz is pretty explicit that on paper the Finns should have been a walkover; their equipment was dated and inferior, and they lacked the mammoth industrial base that the USSR had. While not taking anything away from the Finns, it seems dubious to me that things would have gone the same if the Red Army had been properly organized, had a clear reason to fight, been trained for winter combat, wasn’t still recovering from the purges, etc. of course, it’s all hypothetical, so we’ll never know.

    I don’t think that either the Winter War or the Continuation War were Finland’s finest hours. Both conflicts, like the Finnish Civil War, were marked by extreme brutality. Finland was especially rebuked during WWII for the inhumane conditions faced by Soviet POWs and how many died. Still not 100% sure why the USSR permitted the Finns to try their own war criminals.
     
  11. Comrade General

    Comrade General Member

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    [​IMG]

    “In spite of their own cold winters, Red Army troops had not been trained to fight in the deep snow, and many were unnerved when Finnish ski troops loomed like ghosts out of the fog. They were also surprised to meet resistance. Later, as the first Soviet tanks broke through, the Finns were gratified by the success of their homemade anti-tank device, a bottle – usually an empty from Alko, the state alcohol monopoly – filled with kerosene and lit with a simple wick. The new missiles followed a prototype developed by Franco’s troops in Spain but it would be the Finns who gave them a name. In honor of the Soviet foreign minister, who featured most nights on Finnish radio that year, they were called Molotov cocktails. ‘I never knew a tank could burn for quite that long,’ a Finnish veteran recalled.”

    – Catherine Merridale, Ivan’s War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945
     
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  12. JJWilson

    JJWilson Well-Known Member

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    I can certainly agree with what you're saying comrade, it is of my opinion as an American, someone who has never met a Finn, or thoroughly dived into Finnish history, that Finland's stand against Soviet Russia is the only reason they did not suffer under the Soviets for 50 some odd years, that's quite the accomplishment from such a small, and ill-equipped nation. The struggle for Independence and the short but difficult Civil War that followed is a close second for me in the Nations best moments. Just my opinion though, I'd love to hear a Finns opinion on the matter?
     
  13. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    This is not a simple case. You must remember that in 1939 Germany gave us to Stalin in the secret pact. Hitler stopped the help from other parts of europe from reaching us.The allied had troops but never left as they did not get a promise to get through Norway and Sweden to Finland. During wartime we had Many Soviet Pow's leading Farms but as well unfortunately in pow camps where the treatment was not so good. Perhaps the reason why Stalin did not try his best to get Finland were the facts that Finland stopped 50 kilometers from Leningrad during the continuation war and in 1944 stopped the Red Army in Tali Ihantala. but like said many other reasons as well.
     
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  14. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    My understanding is that the food situation wasn't that great in Finland as a whole and that was the major problem with the treatment of POWs. I.e. that for the most part it wasn't deliberate abuse. Finland also became something of a buffer state which was one of Stalin's objective anyway I believe. The British declaration of war vs Finland may have helped in that regard while the US failure to do so may have counted against Finland. The strong neutral position of Sweden may also have been a positive point. If Stalin could make a neutral Scandinavia more likely by not occupying Finland then he may have judged that as a worthwhile state. Or not.
     
  15. Comrade General

    Comrade General Member

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    Again, I don't think you can talk about either the Winter War or the Continuation War without also discussing the Civil War of 1918 to understand some of the most important meanings given to time period. Despite its relative shortness (Dec 1917 to May 1918), the conflict was extremely brutal. Out of a population of 3 million, roughly 37,000 Finns died because of the war. To make its memory even more painful, the largest share of casualties was caused by the so-called "White terror" in which about 20,000 Reds were executed or starved to death in prison camps.

    As to how the Finns treated POWs...At the onset of and during the war, only Finland's military and political leaders knew how closely they had tied Finland to Germany's plans against the Soviet Union. The German offensive began on 22 June 1941 but Finland, with its troops already mobilized, announced that the country would remain neutral. The Soviet Union commenced hostilities against Finland on 25 June. This provided the Finnish government with the opportunity to explain that the country had fallen victim, for the second time, to its eastern neighbor's aggression. Most Finns (not only the right-wing parties but also the Social Democrats, who had ministers in government throughout the war) willingly accepted this explanation. The victories of the Germans and the Finns gave the impression to many people that the enemy was facing a thorough defeat. Contrary to the Winter War which Finland fought alone, there was now no need to pay attention to the general opinion of Sweden, the Western Allies and other democratic countries. Only Germany counted. Even those who suspected that the Western powers would eventually win the war believed that Germany would defeat the Soviet Union before that. Under such circumstances, the life of a POW often had little value.

    A combination of anti-communist hatred and contempt for the Soviet army and confidence in certain victory by allying with Hitler played a major role in many of the summary killings of POWs in 1941-1942 by the Finns.

    Sources: Kujala, Antti. Illegal Killing of Soviet Prisoners of War by Finns during the Finno-Soviet Continuation War of 1941-44. The Slavonic and East European Review,
    Vol. 87, No. 3 (July 2009), pp. 429-451

    Hana Worthen (2009) Tip of the iceberg? Finland and the Holocaust, East European Jewish Affairs, 39:1, 121-133
     
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2018
  16. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Interestingly enough there were hundreds of Finnish soldìer who did not want to cross the old border of 1939 and Mannerheim was forced to shoot some of these soldiers as an example to make the Army move on to USSR land and cities especially in Northern Carelia.
     
  17. JJWilson

    JJWilson Well-Known Member

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    Wow, I'm learning quite a bit about the not so good side of the Finns here from you guys. Such a same for those poor lads.........they were probably the smartest ones in the Finnish Army.................attacking Russia never goes well.
     
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  18. Comrade General

    Comrade General Member

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    None of the countries involved in WWII were run by angels, sad to say... The British Empire was an empire after all, the U.S. intervened in Latin America all the time, etc. The world in the early 20th century was very politically charged and after the Great Depression especially there was a lot of hate and unrest -- which we are sadly seeing more and more of today.

    Back to our scheduled broadcast:

    The Icebreaker Thesis: Did Stalin Plan a Preemptive Strike?

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    In 1990 former Soviet military intelligence officer Vladimir Bogdanovich Rezun – writing as Viktor Suvorov – started publishing a series of books advancing the argument that Joseph Stalin knew from the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 that Hitler had doomed the Axis to a certain defeat. Consequently he started to plan an invasion of German-occupied Europe (as well as Germany itself), establishing communist regimes across the European continent (as well as against parts of Japanese-occupied Asia). Suvorov claims that the reason Operation Barbarossa enjoyed such early success in 1941 is because the USSR was reorganizing its military for major offensives. This thesis is especially appealing for German apologists because then the German invasion of the USSR becomes less of an aggressive war and more a preemptive attack to prevent the fall of Europe to a continental communist alliance.

    In the fall of 1941, it is doubtful that the Red Army would have felt inspired to conquer Europe. Finland, a smaller country with dated weapons, had just humbled the much more powerful Soviet Union, exposing its disorganization and poor morale. The army was also desperately short of experienced, competent officers due to arrests and executions. Germany, by contrast, had not only made short work of Poland but also forced France to capitulate, subjugated Denmark and Norway, and seemed poised to bomb London into submission. The 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact had meant to buy Moscow time while the Allies and the Axis fought it out; once Germany had weakened, then it could have been possible to “liberate” German-controlled territories for communism. Essentially, however, the Western Front of World War II was resolved in Germany’s favor from the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation until June 1944 with Operation Overlord and the Normandy landings. Far from weakened, Nazi Germany ended 1940 stronger than ever, its armed forces seemingly unstoppable. In Asia, Japan was mired in a grueling war with China, and the Soviet-Japanese border conflicts of the preceding years suggested a preemptive Japanese attack was unlikely. Nevertheless, Stalin must have known that by attacking an overextended Germany, he could potentially overextend his own forces if a second front opened with the Empire of Japan.

    Suvorov cites a May 1941 proposal written by Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov and submitted to Stalin, suggesting a preemptive offensive against Germany in the summer of 1941, where a large Western Front would attack the German forces assembling in Poland while a Southwestern Front swept through Romania and up into Hungary and Slovakia, attacking Germany from its south. These were ambitious, improvised plans, and Stalin declined the proposal. It was a desperate gamble, as things looked desperate for Moscow. War between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union was inevitable; the Nazi political agenda was predicated on destroying Bolshevism, decimating the indigenous populations of Eastern Europe, and repopulating the land with German settlers. One of the defining moments of the Axis powers had been the signing of the Anti-Comintern Pact, a statement of their mutual desire to not just counter communism but to eradicate it as an existential danger to their right-wing, conservative societies. It is unlikely that Stalin knew just how unprepared the Red Army was for Operation Barbarossa, given the incentive for commanders and political officers to lie, but he would have been delusional to think the troops who struggled to take Finland could win against what was now essentially the most successful and undefeated military force in history. He and Zhukov were aware that war was coming sooner rather than later, and the proposal was more a idea – and an ambitious one – than something ironclad. In reality, no one could have truly anticipated just how devastating the early stages of the actual German invasion would be, or just what a monumental logistical challenge the German military would face. Both sides would have to do a great deal of improvising in the early stages of the war because neither side was what the other thought it was.

    Glantz, David M., and Jonathan M. House. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2015.

    Hill, Alexander. "The Icebreaker Controversy and Soviet Intentions in 1941: The Plan for the Strategic Deployment of Soviet Forces of 15 May and Other Key Documents1." The Journal of Slavic Military Studies 21, no. 1 (2008): 113-28. doi:10.1080/13518040801894258.

    Suvorov, Viktor, Hans-Udo Kurr, and Leonid Vladimirov. Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War? Bristol: PL UK Pub., 2009.

    Uldricks, Teddy J. "The Icebreaker Controversy: Did Stalin Plan to Attack Hitler?" Slavic Review 58, no. 03 (1999): 626-43. doi:10.2307/2697571.
     
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2018
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  19. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    The Soviet military policy was to take the battle to enemy ground. So it must have been a disaster to hear after the first 24 hrs that the German army was 100 kms behind the Ussr border and the troops. Zhukov made soon the division to regroup and make the new defence zone some 300-500 kms behind the original line. The troops were sacrified to Germans next to German troops in the border area.
     
  20. Comrade General

    Comrade General Member

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    Operation Barbarossa: First Stage

    Operation Barbarossa began at 0300 hours on June 22, 1941 with Luftwaffe (German air force) squadrons bombing dozens of important Soviet air bases. German bombers destroyed over 1,200 aircraft on the morning of June 22 alone. Special forces disguised as Red Army officers infiltrated Soviet rear areas, cutting telephone lines, capturing bridges, and sowing confusion. Army Group Center succeeded in its initial mission of encircling and destroying the Soviet Western Front in and around Minsk. On the evening of that first day, Joseph Stalin issued a directive for a general counter-offensive. It was not until days later that Soviet officials learned the extent of the German advance.

    [​IMG]

    By the end of June Panzergruppe Guderian and the 3rd Panzer Group under General Hermann Hoth had completely shattered the Western Front; the Front’s unfortunate commander, Dmitry Pavlov, was arrested, and executed on the one-month anniversary of the invasion. Just as the Soviets struggled to believe their early defeats, German high command wavered on how deep to advance. Hitler himself ordered Guderian to stop pushing on Moscow and focus on annihilating already encircled Soviet armies. (Guderian disobeyed the order.) Additionally, even highly motorized German infantry units lacked the trucks, fuel, and other transport materials to surround pockets of Soviet resistance completely and rapidly. As a result, approximately 250,000 Soviet troops managed to escape, although they had to leave vehicles and heavy equipment behind.

    Army Group South, with Kiev as its rough objective, achieved less progress comparatively, partly due to only having one panzer group at its disposal. The Soviet commander, Mikhail Kirponos, contributed to the hindrance of the Germans by not conforming to the prevalent Soviet practice of denying a defensive war against Berlin. He communicated with his border guards and was aware of the German build-up prior to the attack. Conventional Soviet thinking also held that the Germans would focus on seizing the Ukrainian breadbasket, and so the Southwestern Front had more troops than the Western Front. Moreover, the Bug River separated German-occupied Poland from Soviet Ukraine, benefitting the defenders. All these factors led the Soviet high command to focus on a counteroffensive in the southwest. Georgy Zhukov, chief of the Red Army General Staff, along with political commissar and future successor of Stalin Nikita Khrushchev, personally took command of the Southwestern Front to direct a decisive counterattack.

    Panzergruppe Kleist clashed with mechanized corps of the Soviet 5th and 6th armies at the Battle of Brody, one of the largest tank battles of the war. Despite superiority in numbers, the Soviets suffered a major defeat on June 30, 1941, their clumped tank formations easily isolated and destroyed. German air superiority also meant the Soviet tanks were exposed to enemy bomber wings. Nevertheless, Soviet resistance would prove substantial enough for Hitler to later divert elements of Army Group Center southward to help secure the Ukraine. Zhukov soon had to turn his attention to the dire straits of the Western Front. Kirponos would remain commanding troops in and around Kiev until September, when he died behind German lines after the eventual encirclement of the entire Southwestern Front in late summer 1941.

    Slightly before the Battle of Brody, the Soviet Northwestern Front under Colonel General Fyodor Kuznetsov had fought another large tank battle, the Battle of Raseiniai in modern Lithuania. Germany’s Fourth Panzer Group under General Erich Hoepner had crossed the Neman River near the present Belarus-Lithuanian border. The better organized, better led German forces defeated Kuznetsov’s mechanized units and continued on to Riga (capital of modern Latvia). Rather than pushing on to Leningrad, however, Army Group North paused for a week for infantry reinforcements.

    After three weeks, Operation Barbarossa seemed a staggering success for the German military. German army groups had advanced as far as the Daugava and Dnieper rivers, well past the Baltic and Eastern European regions and into Russia proper. Time would show, however, that the Soviet forces would not become passive or reduce their resistance. Stalin, Zhukov and other Soviet leaders would return to attempted counter-offensives again and again, although actual victory would remain elusive at this stage.

    Glantz, David M. Colossus Reborn: The Red Army at War, 1941-1943. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2005.

    Glantz, David M., and Jonathan M. House. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2015.
     

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