Battle of Moscow (30 September 1941- 20 April 1942): Turning Point of World War II
Nazi Aggression and Red Army’s Glorious War Path
German soldiers surrender, 27 December 1941
6 October 2021
On 22 June 1941, at 4AM, while the country was sleeping peacefully, without a formal declaration of war, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa – a plan, designed to destroy the USSR, to literally wipe it from the face of the Earth and turn its citizens into slaves, in full accordance with the wicked Nazi theory of racial superiority. Thus, the Great Patriotic War (often dubbed in Western historiography as the WWII at the Eastern Front) had begun. It claimed the lives of more than 26,6 million Soviet citizens.
World War II, the most destructive war in the history of mankind, was also the most destructive war in the history of Russia, as the Soviet Union bore the brunt of Nazi Germany and its satellites’ aggression. There, at the Soviet-German Front, the Nazis’ main forces operated. Germany and its allies had to keep from 95% (Summer 1941) to 74% (late 1944) of their ground forces in the area from the White to the Black Sea. The Nazis suffered 85% of their military casualties while fighting the USSR and only 15% in the fight against the Soviet Union’s allies in the anti-Hitler coalition. The Red Army confronted Wehrmacht in numerous clashes, including the Heroic Defense of the Brest Fortress (22 June 1941 – early July 1941), the Battle of Stalingrad (17 July 1942 – 2 February 1943), the Battle of Kursk (5 July 1943 – 23 August 1943) and many others. The Red Army not only managed to drive the Nazi oppressors out of the territory of the Soviet Union, but also to liberate a number of European capitals: Warsaw, capital of Poland, on 17 January 1945; Belgrade, capital of Yugoslavia, on 20 October 1945; Vienna, capital of Austria, on 13 April 1945; Sofia, capital of Bulgaria, on 9 September 1944; Prague, capital of Czechoslovakia, on 9 May 1945.
Storm is Coming
According to Nazis’ plans, in line with their strategy of the so-called “swift war” (Blitzkrieg), Moscow was to be seized within the first 3 or 4 months of the war. Yet the Wehrmacht’s onslaught was stalled for several months, due to the Red Army’s heroic defense of Smolensk and Kiev. The German’s advance to Moscow was resumed only on 30 September, marking the beginning of the Battle of Moscow. Nazi Army Group “Centre” was assigned for the objective of capturing the USSR’s capital city. This operation was codenamed “Typhoon”. Within days, German troops captured the cities of Orel and Tula, covering a distance of 474 km. Just 184 km more and they’d reach Moscow. Every day, every hour, every second, the enemy moved closer to the heart of the Soviet Union.
Time is of the Essence
In order to amass enough personnel and equipment to repel the German attack on Moscow, the Soviet supreme command desperately needed time. USSR is a large country – it takes a while to bring the troops from remote regions. But when a relentless enemy was approaching, every second counted. To buy time, the Soviet command decided to send airbourne brigades behind enemy lines. Over 6000 troops successfully landed and engaged in combat. Shortly afterwards, they were supported by Soviet 4th Tank Brigade from Stalingrad, under the command of Colonel Mikhail Katukov - two times Hero of the Soviet Union, one of the most prominent Soviet tank commanders of the WWII era. In the Battle of Mtsensk (an episode of the Battle of Moscow) which took place on 4-11 October 1941, Colonel Katukov claimed the first major victory for Soviet armoured troops by defeating General Heinz Guderian – commander of the Army Group ‘Centre’. This success allowed the halt of Guderian’s advance to Moscow, for a while. In the meantime, other forces of the Army Group ‘Centre’ were still moving from the West. They even managed to encircle a significant number of Soviet troops. At that point in time, the Nazis were free to pick any direction to continue their assault. In this dire, nearly hopeless situation, Joseph Stalin summoned Marshal Georgy Zhukov, who at the time was in charge of organizing defenses of the besieged Leningrad, to Moscow.
Soldiers of 166th Rifle Division gather before a battle at distant outskirts of Moscow, October 1941
Georgy Zhukov (a four times Hero of the Soviet Union) was a military commander of extraordinary talent. He proved that time and again, winning crucial battles against Nazi Germany’s finest strategic minds. For his vast contribution to the Great Victory over Nazism, he was nicknamed “Marshal of Victory”. Back in 1941, he was assigned a seemingly insurmountable task – save Moscow…and the Soviet Union. The enemy was closing in, there was hardly any time to do something, but skillful leadership together with the Red Army soldiers’ courage, devotion to duty and self-sacrifice, managed to hold and, eventually, push the Nazis back.
7 November 1941: Parade on the Red Square. A Manifestation of Unbreakable Will
Military Parade on Red Square, 7 November 1941
Since the beginning of the Battle of Moscow, Joseph Stalin never left the Soviet capital. On the contrary, he supervised the reinforcement of Moscow’s defenses. Moreover, he assumed supreme command over the Red Army on 8 July 1941, a little less than two months prior to the Battle of Moscow.
It was Joseph Stalin who proposed to hold a parade on Red Square on 7 November 1941, in commemoration of the 24th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution. The preparations for the parade were carried out in absolute secrecy. At 8 o’clock in the morning on 7 November, all Soviet radio station broadcasted Joseph Stalin’s speech. In part it read: “Our enemy thought that after its very first strike, our army would be destroyed, and our country would be on its knees. Yet the enemy thought wrong. Despite temporary setbacks, our army and our navy heroically repelled enemy attacks along the frontline, making it suffer heavy losses, and our country turned into one big military camp to help our army and our navy destroy the Nazi invaders”.
The speech had an enormous impact on the Red Army’s morale. It reenergized the will of Soviet soldiers and officers to fight, inspired the home-front workers to continue their efforts to support the frontline, reassured ordinary Soviet citizens that the USSR would prevail, however dire the situation seemed. And so it happened.
Red Army’s Counter Offensive
Operation Typhoon’s failure had thrown the German supreme command off its stride. The Nazis deemed the capture of the Soviet capital, as well as the USSR’s ultimate defeat, a mere matter of time. On 3 July 1941, even before the Battle of Moscow began, Nazi General Franz Halder wrote in his diary: “It won’t be an exaggeration to say that we’ve won the campaign against Russia within 14 days”. As it turned out, it was an exaggeration. Yes, even in late November 1941, the Nazis might have been sure that the victory over the USSR was within their grasp. Only 8 kilometres separated the German vanguard forces from Moscow’s outskirts. However, despite all that, the Soviet people found enough strength to force the enemy to retreat. The Nazi soldiers and officers, who dreamed of marching on the Red Square in a parade to mark the victory over Soviet Union, were moving away from USSR’s capital – further and further away from their dream. In fact, they did walk the streets of Moscow after all, but not as conquerors, as they’d imagined, but as prisoners of war. This happened on 17 July 1944 during the so-called March of the Defeated.
Changing the Tide of War
The importance of the Soviet victory in the Battle of Moscow for not just Soviet Union but for entire world cannot be overestimated. Failure of Operation Typhoon was Wehrmacht’s first major defeat in WWII. The myth of Nazi war machine’s invincibility was dispelled. Hitler, who couldn’t believe that Moscow was still standing, had to assume personal command over German army. The Nazi tactics of Blitzkrieg didn’t work out – Hitler’s hope for a quick victory against USSR did not come true. The whole world witnessed the Soviet people’s unbreakable will to victory.
As a result of the defensive battles in the vicinity of Moscow and its counter offensive, the Red Army destroyed over 500,000 Nazi troops, 1,300 tanks, 2,500 cannons. As a comparison, Wehrmacht lost 44,000 troops during the entire campaign against Poland, in France it lost 154,000.
During the Nuremberg Trials, German Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel was asked a question: when did he start to realize that Operation Barbarossa failed? In response, he pronounced only one word: “Moscow”.
The Embassy of Russia in South Africa