Failures in Operation Typhoon : Operation Barbarossa
Midway through the year 1941 Nazi Germany began the invasion of the Soviet Union, under the codename ‘Operation Barbarossa’.
This invasion saw the likes of fighting never seen before: an estimated 5.5 million personnel and tens of thousands of machinery from both sides.
The German offensive scored great initial success in pushing deep into the Soviet homeland, and by October of 1941 the Germans were preparing a massive push to take the capital city of Moscow, under the codename ‘Operation Typhoon’.
It is at this point that the tide of the war on the Eastern front sees a massive change — and by the end of Operation Typhoon German advances had completely halted and the devastating Soviet counterattack began. This paper will examine what went wrong during Operation Typhoon, and discuss possible other outcomes of the doomed offensive.
Before Operation Typhoon even began, there was already disagreement on how Operation Barbarossa should transition into Operation Typhoon amongst German high command. The German army was pushing into Russian with three ‘prongs’ — army groups north, center, and south. Army group center was having the most success in gaining ground, and thus outpaced their counterparts to the north and south. By the time the army group center was closing in on the Russian capital, their flanks were left slightly exposed by the other lagging army groups.
The German Army Commander-in-chief Walther von Brauchitsch, along with many other top military generals opted to continue pushing to Moscow to keep up the momentum of the army group center. Although this would mean having exposed flanks, Walther von Brauchitsch believed that if they could swiftly topple Russian forces in Moscow and take the city it would deal a huge blow to the Russian morale before they could respond effectively.
However, Hitler overrode this plan and instead rerouted army group center to aid in army group north and south’s efforts and to protect the flanks. Hitler’s plan proved to be quite effective, and soon German forces completed in taking interests in such as Leningrad in the North and Kiev in the South.
Despite these successes, the extra time spent to take these key cities meant that the calendar was approaching the winter months. Soon the ground turned into mush which bogged down vehicles and slowed the German army down considerably.
Furthermore the German army was ill equipped for the cold Russian winter, and ineffective supply lines meant that the advance had to be halted until more supplies arrived at the front. To add to the severity of the Germans’ situation, the Red Army had finally been reorganized and resupplied, now with T-34 tanks and other supporting vehicles.
When the German finally remobilized winter had begun, and conditions were brutal. The plan to take Moscow revolved around a massive pincer movement, with German forces pushing from the North and South to encircle the city and squeeze out all defending forces.
However the fighting was fierce and German forces had difficulty breaking through the Soviets, who had dug a defensive line in front of the city. Once again the German offensive was halted, and one the same day the Soviets launched a counterattack that pushed the Germans further back. The German army would never again get as close to Moscow as they did in this offensive.
Many argue that had Hitler listened to his generals and given the green light for the army group center to attack Moscow with their momentum instead of rerouting them, that they could have taken Moscow.
While this is true, if army groups north and south hadn’t pushed up in time the rapidly mobilizing Soviet army could have performed an encircling movement on their own capital and isolated any German defenders.
Additionally, Hitler was hoping that pushing quickly into Soviet territory would eventually force a Soviet surrender, which never happened. Many believe that even if the Germans had successfully taken Moscow, a Soviet surrender would be highly unlikely.
Although we may never know what might have conspired if the German high command organized Operation Typhoon differently, it is important we acknowledge the heavy loss of life that occurred throughout the offensive.
It is estimated there were around 1 million Russian casualties, and about 200,000 German casualties.
Hitler murdered the revolting Russian citizens.