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Battle of Moscow

A German solider overlooking the Soviet lines during the battle

The Battle of Moscow was a battle fought between the Soviet Union and Germany from September 30th, 1941 to January 7th, 1942. The conflict could be and is often described as of the most pivotal of the war, albeit overshadowed by the far larger Battle of Stalingrad. Success in capturing the city would result in the Soviet loss of perhaps their most important city, a critical victory should the Germans have any hope of continuing their campaign. While there is not definitive cause for defeat in the almost unstoppable German forces, one popular reason is the onset of the harsh, Soviet winter for which the Germans, many still in their summer uniforms were left unprepared. While this is somewhat true, it is a highly oversimplified version of what actually occurred. Cold weather did not aid the German cause, but it certainly did not stop it. Nor did the muddy conditions commonly associated with the Eastern Front during the war. Most of these would arrive after the actual main battle itself and even when they came, German troops were still able to push on with their objectives. [1]

In the end, it was the lack of strategic planning in terms of logistics that would cause the demise of the Wehrmacht in the East. The diverting of manpower and resources to other fronts instead of perhaps the most important goal, Moscow, simply did not leave enough troops to combat the Soviet troops, already regrouping after escaping the Bryansk and Trubchevsk pockets. One final factor was the lack of constant support from the Luftwaffe, further moving resources and manpower away from where it was really needed. However, it can not be understated the effect of the transport of over eighteen infantry divisions and thousands of tanks and aircraft from Siberia for the Soviet counteroffensive.

Preparation and Planning

T-26 Convoy, Moscow 1941

A convoy of T-26 Light tanks moving into Moscow

Much debate had been placed on the decision to take Moscow even ever since the planning phases of Operation Barbarossa. Hitler thought it best to first eliminate Soviet troop concentrations first before moving on to second priority or trophy targets such as Moscow. However, his generals disagreed with this and a compromise was made. Moscow would become a priority for German forces when and only when the Northern city of Leningrad had been secured, clearing the way for German troops to move forward. Though in the official mandate for German commanders, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel had secretly placed Moscow on the priorities list. Hitler was adamant however, issuing a new order reaffirming his views that the Northern and Southern fronts should be given priority over the Center. 

However, the plans for Operation Typhoon where drawn up with a huge force of tanks, aircraft, and men being assembled for the task. In fact, the Germans for once had outnumbered the Soviets. Leading this force would be veteran Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, Heinz Guderian, Günther von Kluge, and Hans Reinhardt. Interestingly enough, the consistent arguments between Hitler and his staff meant the Soviet intelligence had no idea as with who’s plan the Germans would go with, catching Soviet troops unaware and leading to suspicion in Soviet intelligence’s reliability in Stalin himself. To defend Moscow were three different fronts, each with their own Soviet field armies for defense, the Western Front, defended by Ivan Konev who would later be succeeded by Georgi Zhukov, the Reserve Front, defended by Marshal Budenny, and the Bryansk front, defended by Andrei Yeremenko. Also taking part would be Major General Dimitri Lelyushenko and Konstantin Rokossovsky, some of the most successful commanders in fighting off Operation Typhoon, particularly Lelyushenko.
Operation Typhoon Attack, Moscow 1941

German tanks approaching Soviet positions during Operation Typhoon

The Battle

The Battle of Moscow began with the surprise commencement of Operation Typhoon on September 30th in the Bryansk front. While the Germans certainly did have numerous resources to commit to the battle, Guderian in particular had issues getting his 2nd Panzer Group both in position to begin the attack and rested enough from previous fighting in Kiev to the point where they were still combat effective. However, the early engagements were a success, with the Luftwaffe providing necessary air support and crippling the Soviet communication network.[2] Furthermore, a lack of proper reconnaissance and false Soviet intelligence lead commander Yeremenko, defending the Bryansk front to move his attention elsewhere, under the impression that the 2nd Panzer Corps wasn’t as large as it really was and was a diversion.

Meanwhile on the Reserve and Western fronts, the Germans were advancing just as fast if not faster. Stalin refused to believe the quick advances made by the German troops at first, perhaps still occupied with the more troubling events in Leningrad. By October 4th, both the Bryansk and Western fronts were threatening the collapse completely with Konev continuing to throw all his reserves at the Panzer corps. The apparent last line of defense came with the paradrop of 5,000 Soviet paratroopers by aging TB-3 bombers near the town of Orel. The situation got so desperate that Stalin even considered trying to make peace with Germany. Stalin was also quite furious with Konev’s performance in the defense of Moscow, saying ‘Konev has opened up the front to the enemy’. While the Germans marched on towards Orel, behind the front lines was a disaster of monumental proportions. Guderian’s 2nd Panzer Corps had ran out of the limited fuel and ammunition it had to begin with and most if not all the German initiative that had been gained during the campaign was being lost. It would take the length of a day or two before even some fuel could trickle into the German’s reserves. What eventually ended up happening was the division of Soviet forces into numerous pockets of resistance. However, the Germans were quite sloppy in their clean-up operation and thus, hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops achieved a successful breakout, becoming one of Germany’s worst mistakes in the campaign.
German Surrender, Moscow Circa 1941

German troops surrendering outside of Moscow, Circa 1941

By the end of October, Operation Typhoon, while extremely successful had bogged down into a temporary resting period for either side. The simple fact was that not enough fuel could be delivered to the German regiments that needed it most. The Soviets took this opportunity and used it well, the newly empowered Zhukov bringing tens of divisions of men, tanks, and aircraft to the area. While the Germans had barely brought in any reinforcements. Notably, the Luftwaffe units who had initially been so influential to the campaign in the beginning, were now being taken out to be used elsewhere. As the cold set it in late November to early December, the Germans tried desperately for a successful new offensive to no avail. Finally, the Soviets launched their counterattack in early December led by Commander Lelyushenko. By December 20th, the whole of Army Group Centre had been repulsed and the largest part of the Battle of Moscow was over. Now it would only be a matter of pushing the last pockets of resistance from their captured territories.

References

  1. Forczyk, Robert. Moscow 1941: Hitler’s First Defeat. Osprey Publishing (2006), Page 90-91
  2. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/battle_for_moscow.htm

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