Operation Barbarossa: Biggest of the Big

[July 1, 2024]  It doesn’t matter how we measure it, Nazi Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union was the biggest of the big battles in all of World War II.  And it began before America entered the war.  On 22 June 1941, Hitler launched a strategic surprise attack on Stalin with more than 4 million troops.

We in America like to talk about the importance of Britain and America in defeating Germany.  And while that is true, it is also true that 80 percent of German war dead perished on the Eastern Front against the Soviets.  Both U.S. President Roosevelt and Britain’s Churchill knew that it was the Soviets who were killing most of the Germans and preventing Hitler from turning his massive military might toward the West.  Their greatest fear was that Stalin would come to terms with Hitler.

If Stalin had agreed to some compromise with Hitler, Britain would have been defeated, regardless of what America could do.  It was Britain that allowed the U.S. military buildup on their homeland before D-Day in 1944.  Hitler was already entrenched in the rest of Europe, North Africa, and several other lands, which helped him enormously to fend off any effort by the Allies.

By December 1941, six months into Operation Barbarossa, the Soviets were hanging on by their fingernails.  At the end of 1941, the Red Army had suffered four million casualties, three million of whom were in German POW camps.  From the German perspective and most of the West, it was only a matter of time before the Soviet Union collapsed, meaning the Third Reich would win the war.

That changed in front of Moscow when Soviet General G.K. Zhukov amassed 17 fresh armies and sent them slamming into the Germans.  By that time, the Red Army fielded approximately 408 divisions against the Germans.  That is a scale of warfare totally unknown today and was the most extensive military force-on-force effort in the history of mankind.

Hitler lost World War II on the Eastern Front.  We Americans and Brits often take offense at such a comment, but our leaders knew better.  The Soviets alone did not win the war, but they made it possible by grinding down the Nazi Wehrmacht.


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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

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17 thoughts on “Operation Barbarossa: Biggest of the Big

  1. Robin C.

    Thank you, Gen. Satterfield for the little bit of history and the lessons we can take from it. But I also like the idea that Russia/the USSR has added little to the world that is also not to be had without trouble of some kind. What is happening to the Russian people (not “peoples”) is that they are dying out as a ‘race.’ They are under the thumb of a dictator who thinks he can restore their glory. But it won’t happen. The result will not be good.

  2. Willie Strumburger

    Stalin’s part in being unprepared for Hitler’s onslaught is well known. He trusted Hitler and for that reason, his country was nearly destroyed. And yet, for all of that Stalin is the greatest mass murderer in the history of mankind. No one comes even close and sadly, he was allowed to die in his sleep. The man should have been executed for his crimes against humanity but was never held accountable. And the murder he committed, killing 10s of millions, is much more than lost in the war against Germany during WW2.

    1. Good Dog

      True enough, and unfortunate. Still today, Russia has a lingering resentment toward the collective West for not helping them fight Nazi Germany as much as we could have.

  3. North of Austin

    Good article, Gen. Satterfield and for providing a different perspective on the contribution of the allies during world war 2. 👍

  4. Raw Hide

    “Hitler lost World War II on the Eastern Front. We Americans and Brits often take offense at such a comment, but our leaders knew better. The Soviets alone did not win the war, but they made it possible by grinding down the Nazi Wehrmacht.” === Gen. Doug Satterfield. And this point is important for those of us who focus on what we are doing and pay little attention to the other guy who just might be making a bigger contribution.

    1. Doc Blackshear

      Exactly. Thank you Raw Hide. Haven’t heard from you in a while.

  5. Jo Ponte

    Hi guys! The point being made here is that the Eastern Front was much larger and more dramatic and destructive than the fight against Hitler in western Europe. The UK, America, France, and other allies played a much smaller role in winning WWII than we are taught.

  6. ableist mas

    After the fall of France Hitler ordered plans to be drawn up for an invasion of the Soviet Union. He intended to destroy what he saw as Stalin’s ‘Jewish Bolshevist’ regime and establish Nazi hegemony. The conquest and enslavement of the Soviet Union’s racially ‘inferior’ Slavic populations would be part of a grand plan of ‘Germanisation’ and economic exploitation lasting well beyond the expected military victory. Regardless of recent economic and political co-operation, the Soviet Union was regarded as the natural enemy of Nazi Germany and a key strategic objective. On 18 December 1940 Hitler issued Führer Directive 21, an order for the invasion of the Soviet Union.

    1. Lou Schmerconish

      ableist mas, well written and thanks. We actually learn a lot here in the comments section of Gen. S’s blog.

    2. Xerces II

      Thank you for the info. After a five week delay while operations in Greece and Yugoslavia were completed, Operation ‘Barbarossa’ – named after the all-conquering Medieval Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I – was launched on 22 June 1941.

      1. Pink Cloud

        One of the most important reasons for the ultimate failure of Operation Barbarossa was poor strategic planning. The Germans had no satisfactory long-term plan for the invasion. They mistakenly assumed that the campaign would be a short one, and that the Soviets would give in after suffering the shock of massive initial defeats. Hitler had assured the High Command that ‘We have only to kick in the front door and the whole rotten edifice will come tumbling down’. But Russia was not France. The shock value of the initial Blitzkrieg was dissipated by the vast distances, logistical difficulties and Soviet troop numbers, all of which caused attritional losses of German forces which could not be sustained.

  7. Kenny Foster

    Some of the most iconic photos of the war came from this operation. Go this website and see for yourself. Gen. Satterfield’s comment section does not allow for photos or pictures of any kind. So, I’ve provide a link to see.
    Operation Barbarossa: Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union
    Nazi Germany invading the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa, June 22, 1941.
    Contunico © ZDF Studios GmbH, Mainz; Thumbnail NARA/U.S. Department of Defense

  8. Wild Bill

    I had no idea. But in the end, Russia/USSR has never been a good for the world.

    1. Under the Bridge

      … and never will be with Putin in charge. Too bad the Russians are destined to be the international bad guy. China has a chance to pull themselves out of President Xi’s control but so far it looks like that will not happen.

      1. Ron C.

        Well said. Gen. Satterfield’s blog is great. A little history for us today.


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