Battle of Moscow. 1941-42. It is significant because this was the first time the seemingly unstoppable German Army's advance was stalled. And the Russians counter-attacked ferociously. The myth that the Nazi Blitzkrieg was infallible was broken. The fortunes of Nazi Germany had begun to change. Stalingrad and Kursk followed.
But the Battle of Moscow was when the tide started to turn....
On 18 June Timoshenko and Zhukov tried once again to persuade Stalin and the Politburo to put the army on full alert. The meeting lasted for three hours. The more Zhukov spoke, the more irritable Stalin became. He accused Zhukov of warmongering and became so abusive that Zhukov fell silent.
But Timoshenko persisted. There would be havoc, he said, if the Wehrmacht struck the troops in their present positions. Stalin was furious. ‘It’s all Timoshenko’s work,’ he told the others. ‘He’s preparing everyone for war. He ought to have been shot, but I’ve known him as a good soldier since the Civil War.’ Timoshenko reminded Stalin that he had told the cadets on 5 May that war was inevitable. Stalin replied furiously, ‘I said that so that people would raise their alertness. But you have to understand that Germany on her own will never ﬁght Russia. You must understand this.’ He stormed out, then suddenly put his head round the door and shouted, ‘If you’re going to provoke the Germans on the frontier by moving troops there without our permission, then heads will roll, mark my words.’ In Stalin’s mouth that was not a ﬁgure of speech.
VIDEO: GERMAN SOLDIERS ON THE WAY TO MOSCOW: PART 1 (GERMAN NEWSREEL)
BATTLE OF MOSCOW IN BRIEF
The initial stages of Barbarossa have been seen as massively successful for the Germans and catastrophic for the Russians. Few would deny the success of the German attack - 28 Russian divisions were put out of action in just three weeks and more than 70 divisions lost 50% or more of their men and equipment. Blitzkrieg had ploughed through the Red Army. Hitler's belief that the Red Army would crumble seemed to be coming true. However, the Germans had also suffered in their attacks on Russia. By one month into Barbarossa, the Germans had lost over 100,000 men, 50% of their tanks and over 1,200 planes. With its army split between east and west Europe, these were heavy casualty figures. Hitler's belief that the Red Army would be crushed also meant that there had been little consideration of the Russian winter and very many of the Wehrmacht in Russia had not been equipped with proper winter clothing. The battle that raged around Smolensk had critically held up the advance of the Germans.
Ironically for an army that was to suffer from the Russian winter, 'Operation Typhoon' started off in ideal weather conditions on October 2nd, 1941. Field Marshall von Bock had been given overall command of the attack on Moscow. Hitler had ordered that units in other parts of the Russian campaign be moved to Moscow - General Hoepner's IV Panzer group had been moved from Leningrad - hence why the Germans did not have sufficient men to launch an attack on the city and why it had to be besieged. For the attack, Bock had at his disposal 1 million men, 1,700 tanks, 19,500 artillery guns and 950 combat aircraft - 50% of all the German men in Russia, 75% of all the tanks and 33% of all the planes. To defend Moscow, the Russians had under 500,000 men, less than 900 tanks and just over 300 combat planes.
Hitler had made it clear to his generals what he wanted from them. Chief-of-Staff Halder wrote in his diary:
"It is the Führer's unshakable decision to raze Moscow and Leningrad to the ground, so as to be completely relieved of the population of these cities, which we would otherwise have to feed through the winter. The task of destroying the cities is to be carried out by aircraft."
On October 12th, ten days into the attack by Bock's Army Group Centre, he received a further order from German Supreme Command:
"The Führer has reaffirmed his decision that the surrender of Moscow will not be accepted, even if it is offered by the enemy."
The order went on to instruct Bock that gaps could be left open for people in Moscow to escape into the interior of Russia where administrating them would cause chaos.
The attack started well for the Germans. The Russians found it difficult to communicate with all parts of their defences and infantry divisions frequently had to face tanks without air or artillery support. By October 7th, even Marshall Zhukov was forced to admit that all the major roads to Moscow were open to the Germans. Large parts of the Red Army had been encircled at Vyazma (the 19th, 24th, 29th, 30th, 32nd and 43rd armies) and at two places near Bryansk (the 3rd, 13th and 50th armies) such was the ferocity of the German attack and the state of the Russian army then.
Ironically, it was these armies that had been trapped near Vyazma and Bryansk that caused the Germans their first major problem in the attack on Moscow. The Germans could not simply leave nine Russian armies in their rear as they advanced east. They had to take on these trapped armies. By doing so, they slowed down their advance to Moscow to such an extent that the Red Army was given sufficient breathing space to reorganise itself and its defences under the command of Marshall Georgy Zhukov - the man who 'never lost a battle'. The choice of Zhukov was an enlightened one:
Zhukov organised his defence along the so-called 'Mozhaysk Line'. The Germans attacked this line on October 10th - by which time they had dealt with the Russians at Vyazma. Though on paper the delay to the Germans had been mere days, to the Russians it allowed them time to move their forces to where Zhukov believed they would be needed. Even so, the Germans broke through the Mozhaysk Line at a number of places and for all of Zhokov's work, Moscow was still very much threatened. Parts of the German army got to 45 miles of Moscow's centre before the tide was turned and a stalemate developed with little movement on either side.
On November 13th, senior German commanders met at Orsha. It was at this meeting that the decision was taken to start a second assault on Moscow. During the stalemate, the Russians had sent 100,000 more men to defend Moscow with an extra 300 tanks and 2,000 artillery guns.
Moscow itself had been turned into a fortress with 422 miles of anti-tank ditches being dug, 812 miles of barbed wire entanglements and some 30,000 firing points. Resistance groups had also been organised to fight both in the city, should the Germans enter Moscow and in the area around the city. In all, about 10,000 people from Moscow were involved in planned resistance activities. Lieutenant-General P A Artemyev was given the task of defending the city. Between 100 and 120 trains provided the city with what was required on a daily basis at a time when the Germans could only average 23 trains a day when they required 70 - such was the effectiveness of partisan activity.
The second assault narrowed its target area so that as much fire power could be concentrated in one area as possible. The belief that was held was that if one small part of the city was entered, all the defences surrounding it would fall once the might of the Panzer units fanned out. However, the attack met with fierce Russian resistance. The Germans got as far forward as 18 miles from Moscow's centre (the village of Krasnaya Polyana) but the Russian defence line held out. It is said that German reconnaissance units actually got into the outskirts of the city but by the end of November the whole forward momentum of the Germans had stalled. By December, the Russians had started to counter-attack the Germans. In just 20 days of the second offensive, the Germans lost 155,000 men (killed, wounded or a victim of frostbite), about 800 tanks and 300 artillery guns. Whereas the Germans had few men in reserve, the Russians had 58 infantry and cavalry divisions in reserve. STAVKA proposed to use a number of these divivions to start a counter-offensive against the Germans - Stalin himself made it clear to Zhukov that he expected a counter-attack to start on December 5th in the battle zone to the north of Moscow and on December 6th in the battle zone to the south of the city. The attacks took place at the times decreed by Stalin and they proved highly effective against an enemy that was being hit hard by sub-zero winter temperatures - night temperatures of -20F were not uncomon.
The impact of these attacks so unnerved Hitler that he issued the following order:
However, his call was in vain. The Wehrmacht was pushed back between 60 and 155 miles in places and by January 1942, the threat to Moscow had passed. Hitler's response to this was to move 800,000 men from the west of Europe to the Eastern Front - thus ending forever any chance, however very small it may have been, of 'Operation Sealion' being carried out. He also dismissed 35 senior officers as well - including the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Brauchitsch, and the three army commanders in the field - Bock, Leeb and Rundstedt
MOSCOW 1941: A CITY AND ITS PEOPLE AT WAR
By Rodric Braithwaite
(September 1941. News reached that the Germans broken through and the road to Moscow was clear)
Dr Miller, the historian, described the scene in his diary:
Stalin thought for a bit, and said, ‘Well, that’s not so bad. I thought things would have been worse.’ Then he turned to Shcherbakov and added, ‘We need to sort out the trams and the Metro immediately. Open the bread shops, the stores, the canteens and get the clinics going with whatever doctors are still in the city. You and Pronin must speak on the radio today, appeal for calm, and tell people that you will make sure that all the public services work normally.’
Pronin issued the necessary orders that evening.
STALIN GIVES A SPEECH......
(Nov 7, 1941)
The SovInformBuro communiqué drew a conclusion which stands the test of time:
The Soviet army counter-attacks. Late October, 1941. Tarutino-Kaluga village, Moscow region
For those who had been liberated from the German occupation of the Moscow Region things were particularly miserable. ‘Ragged peasants are walking through the streets in single ﬁle, their hands in their sleeves, obviously not in their own clothes, unshaven, wild-eyed,’ Nikolai Verzhbitski noted in his diary.
I ask them: Who are you? – Prisoners, they answer (that’s what peasants who have been under the Germans call themselves) […] I spoke to a woman ‘prisoner’ (she was from a collective farm from the village of Krasnoe near Tarutino in the Maloyaroslavets Region). The Germans had been in their village. ‘They slaughtered all the cattle and chickens. They ate every two hours. They didn’t let us into our cottages. We had to sleep in the open and cook on bonﬁ res. They did allow some of the mothers with small children to sleep under the beds or in the porches. They did their own cooking on our Russian stoves, but they didn’t know how to […] We were afraid they would burn our houses. They demanded to see the chairman of the collective farm. It was a woman, eight months pregnant. We brought her in, the ofﬁcer saw her belly, roared with laughter, and sent her away in peace. They didn’t touch anyone, they didn’t dig up the ground to see if we had hidden our goods. Two days before they retreated, they told us to go into the woods, and allowed us to take our cows with us. They burned the village as they left. They left two houses at the request of the women, so that there would be somewhere to shelter the children. But three versts away the Germans were hanging and beating people […] They hanged the woman teacher and the chairman of the collective farm and they raped the girls.
Panzer 2 German tank passes by a Soviet tank "Valentine» Mk.III. downed in the area of the river Istra November 1941. This is one of the first tanks, the Soviet Union obtained under Lend-Lease from the UK.
Soviet soldiers in a trench
Kfz. 82 abandoned due to lack of fuel. December 1941
The man responsible for the defense of Moscow. Zhukov (right) with N A Bulganin, a member of the military council
Books And DVDs For Battle Of Moscow