First Step Towards Final Victory

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On December 5, 1941, the Soviet troops began the counteroffensive in the Battle of Moscow, whose 75th anniversary we are celebrating this year. The Red Army’s operation culminated in the failed blitzkrieg…

“It is a coiled spring ready to explode,” stated Lieutenant General Alexander Vasilevsky, the savvy Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Red Army[1]. Indeed, on November 15-16, 1941, Hitler’s troops relaunched their offensive against the city. The German plan called for two pincer offensives against the Soviet armies defending Moscow, one to the north and the other to the south, thus, encircling and compelling the Soviet capital to surrender. The situation was further complicated by the lack of the impenetrable defensive perimeter as Moscow defenders lacked both forces and resources to erect it.

The War Already Won

On November 29, while Field Marshal von Bock, commander of Army Group Center, spearheaded an all-out assault on Moscow throwing all his reserve troops into the battle, Adolf Hitler was meeting with Gian Galeazzo Ciano, Foreign Minister of Fascist Italy and the son-in-law of Benito Mussolini, at his Wolfschanze headquarters. Hitler told the minister that “on the whole, we have won the war… The aim of Germany was to crush the Soviet troops’ resistance and defeat the central and the southern flank of the Red Army to deal Moscow a fatal blow. The operation is successfully underway. It is the weather that helps Russian mount resistance rather than their forces. Should we have six weeks of good weather, and Russia will be wiped off the map by Germany.”

However, Hitler’s statement was at variance with the truth. These were not the notorious General Mud and General Frost which stood in the way of the Nazi invaders, but the courageous defenders of Moscow. The hope of the Fascist commanders to seize the capital faded as the German offensive to crush the resistance of the Red Army entered its seventh month. Just imagine the desolation of Gefreiter Otto Zahlfinger who finished a letter to his parents by writing, “Moscow is so close. Yet it seems to be lying at an infinite distance from us. We have not made any headway for over a month. An unbelievably large number of German soldiers have been killed! Should we take the bodies of all those Germans killed in this war and put them side by side, we shall have an endless line of bodies, probably as far as up to Berlin. We are marching over dead bodies of Germans and leaving our wounded in snowdrifts. But no one thinks about them. A wounded is a burden. Today we are marching over the bodies of those who marched in front of us and died; tomorrow we will die, and our bodies will be crushed by heavy guns and caterpillar tracks of the tanks.”

Peculiarities of Planned Counteroffensive

Throughout November, while the fighting was raging near the capital, the headquarters of the Main Command of the Armed Forces of the USSR (Stavka of the Soviet Armed Forces) was building up strength. Even though von Bock pointed to the deployment of new Red Army units to the north and to the south of Moscow, neither he nor Hitler or Walther von Brauchitsch grasped the plans of the Soviet commanders. On December 1, Stavka approved the outline plan of the counteroffensive. Despite the enemy’s heavy losses, in the early winter the Red Army did not have any preeminence in men or equipment two months into the Battle of Moscow. “It was the major peculiarity of the Soviet counteroffensive near Moscow”, Zhukov argued. The element of surprise was another distinguishing feature as the Soviet assault began without any operational pause. The partisans of the Moscow, Kalinin, Tula and other regions actively engaged in the fight and their activity was expected to contribute to the Army’s counteroffensive.

 Forward, to the west! 

On December 5, General-Lieutenant Ivan Konev’s troops were the first to launch an attack on the German army.

As Mikhail Myagkov, a Russian historian, puts it, “The strength of Germany’s infantry was its ability to quickly dig foxholes and to effectively prevent the opponent’s troops from advancing. However, in winter 1941, German soldiers had to deal with frozen ground and digging required extra efforts and, naturally, time <…> The rapid advance of the Red Army did not allow German troops to properly prepare a new defense line, with the rear quickly turning into the front line. Besides, Soviet troops started to actively apply the tactic of avoiding Germany’s pockets of resistance”.

Despite the largely successful Soviet counteroffensive, the cautious Kremlin leadership was reluctant to publicly announce the start of the assault. At last, on the night of December 12-13, the radio report about the second thwarted major offensive and the failed plan to encircle and seize Moscow came a week after the Soviet operation was launched. People were happy beyond words as they became aware of the Red Army’s advance. That news quickly spread all across the world, thus inspiring anti-fascist movements. The United States saw its citizens queuing in order to watch a Soviet documentary entitled Moscow Strikes Back. The Soviet Union immediately attracted keen interest worldwide. Since that time, the humankind pinned hopes for the defeat of the Axis powers on the Red Army which, as it is well known, managed to live up to the expectations in the end.

Hitler’s Failed Blitzkrieg

By mid-December the Soviet troops had reached the offensive line, where the Nazi mounted their assault back in November. The Red Army was clearly ready to advance further.

Despite their brief occupation of Moscow’s outskirts, Nazis committed numerous crimes. While retreating, they left behind barren lands. Carrying out the crimes, the enemy was sowing the wind only to reap the whirlwind[2]

In December 1941, Anthony Eden, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, travelled to Moscow and the authorities organized a fact-finding trip to one of the front’s parts for him. On seeing abandoned columns of German tanks, armored vehicles and cars, Eden was shocked by the scale of the Nazi defeat. Meanwhile, the Red Army continued its advance. By February 1, 1942, the Soviet offensive had forced the Germans to retreat 80-250 km away from Moscow. The Battle of Moscow, which shattered the myth of German invincibility, ended on April 20, 1942. Hitler’s failed blitzkrieg pushed Nazi Germany into waging a protracted war which they had earlier considered unlikely, thus, viewing the preparations for such warfare irrelevant.

[1] Traditionally the official name of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army is shortened to the Red Army.

[2] The proverbial phrase “They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind” originates from the Book of Hosea 8-7. It implies responsibility for sins and misdeeds.

Source: историк.рф

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