Operation Barbarossa
Germany invades Russia
author Paul Boșcu, August 2016
Operation Barbarossa was the codename for the invasion of the Soviet Union by the Axis forces. The operation was named after Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, the leader of the Holy Roman Empire, one of the leaders of the 12th century crusades.
Operation Barbarossa was the codename for the invasion of the Soviet Union by the Axis forces. The operation was named after Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, the leader of the Holy Roman Empire, one of the leaders of the 12th century crusades.

In the two years of war leading up to the invasion, Germany and the Soviet Union had signed political and economic agreements for strategic purposes. One of these was the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of nonaggression. However, Hitler broke these alliances, attacking the Soviet Union mainly for ideological reasons. Another goal was to capture the vast oil reserves in the Caucasus area, which Germany needed to fuel the war.

During the invasion, Germany gained impressive victories on the front. It managed to capture a large part of the territory and economic infrastructure of the USSR. However, due to the arrival of winter, the German Wehrmacht halted its offensive close to Moscow. The Soviet counter-offensive pushed the Germans back and forced them into a war of attrition, which they were not prepared for.

The German failure to capture Moscow proved to be a turning point in the economy of the war. Although the Germans launched new offensives in the following years, they were no longer capable of attacking simultaneously on the whole of the front they had created in the Soviet Union.

The fact that he attacked the Soviet Union without first defeating Great Britain was Hitler’s greatest mistake of the war. Besides underestimating Russia’s ability to take the ‘punishment’ meted out, one of the reasons Hitler acted in this way was his acute consciousness of the fact that he was mortal. ‘I know I shall never reach the ripe old age of the ordinary citizen,’ he confessed to his close circle one evening, explaining why he didn’t spend his life ‘smoking and drinking my time away’.

Hitler was also motivated to invade Russia by each of the three main strands of his political credo. As the British historian Ian Kershaw notes, the Führer had ‘a small number of basic, unchanging ideas that provided his inner driving-force’. Hitler’s worldview was based on Germany’s need to dominate Europe, to win the Lebensraum for itself and to reach a final confrontation with the Jews. Each of these three tenets could be brought to fruition by an invasion of Russia. However, neither of them could be achieved without the fulfilment of the other two.

Fedor von Bock was summoned to the Führer, ‘who received me very warmly’. According to Bock’s war journal, Hitler told him that: ‘The gentlemen in England are not stupid; they just act that way,’ adding that ‘they will come to realize that a continuation of the war will be pointless for them if Russia too is now beaten and humiliated.’ After Bock asked ‘whether it would be possible to force the Russians to make peace’, Hitler replied that, ‘if the occupation of the Ukraine and the fall of Leningrad and Moscow did not bring about peace, then we would just have to carry on, at least with mobile forces, and advance to Yekaterinburg.’

Hitler believed that the huge labor force deficit in Germany could be ended by a combination of slave-like exploitation and the demobilization of soldiers after the victory over Russia. Also, control of the Baku oilfields would meet Germany’s ever-greater need for petrol for tanks, trucks, battle planes and warships. Ukrainian agriculture would feed the Reich.

A great disadvantage was the fact that the invasion only began on the 22nd of June. From that point on, the days were getting shorter. In the Russian campaign, time would become an essential factor in trying to cover the huge distances within the country, before the muddy Russian autumn and the winter snow forced the Germans to halt the invasion. Initially, it had been planned for the 15th of May. Once General Franz Halder assured him that the transport would be ready, Hitler chose the date of the 22nd of June for the commencement of the attack.

The re-equipping of the tanks, which had suffered too much wear and tear on the bad roads from the Balkans, took time. In a certain sense, even the speed with which Greece was defeated led to the delay of Operation Barbarossa. Even though Hitler would blame his defeat on the change of date, his biographer, Ian Kershaw, described this pretension as ‘simplistic in the extreme’. It was too wet to be able to begin the invasion earlier, with heavy tanks and trucks going over basic roads.

Hitler cannot be accused of being alone in his desire to close accounts with the Bolsheviks. He held his last great military conference before the invasion at the Reich Chancellery. There, not a single one of his Generals complained that Hitler’s intention would lead to the initiation of a potentially dangerous war on two fronts. Thus, they followed in the footsteps of the preceding conflict, in which they all, without exception, had fought and had been defeated less than a quarter of a century earlier.

‘All the men of the OKW and the OKH to whom I spoke’, recalled Heinz Guderian, ‘evinced an unshakeable optimism and were quite impervious to criticism or objections.’ Even so, Guderian himself claimed to have glimpsed the possibility of initiating a disastrous war on two fronts, surmising that ‘Adolf Hitler’s Germany was even less capable of fighting such a war than had been the Germany of 1914.’

A person who should have made Hitler aware of the implications of invading the largest country in the world was the OKW Chief of Staff. When asked at Nuremberg why he accepted the plans, Keitel explained by saying that the Führer feared the USSR would cut off the oil ration which Germany received monthly from Romania. ‘The attack on Russia was an act of recklessness,’ he acknowledged later, but ‘I believed in Hitler and knew little of the facts myself. I’m not a tactician, nor did I know Russian military and economic strength. How could I?’

Wilhelm Keitel’s most important duty was just that - to ascertain, before the invasion, Russia’s actual military and economic strength. As Chief of Staff of the OKW, he was one of the three most important strategists of the Reich. Keitel claimed that he often said to Hitler that he should find a better tactician than him for that job. ‘I always wanted to be a country gentleman, a forester,’ Keitel said after the war, ‘and look what a muddle I got into merely because I was weak and let myself be talked into things. I am not cut out for a field marshal.’

General Gunther Blumentritt wrote in 1965 in a letter that: ‘Militarily and politically the war was lost when Hitler attacked Russia in 1941, without having peace in the West.’ Even so, he never said this during the conference, even if he thought it.

After the war, at Nuremberg, Erhard Milch, the Luftwaffe armaments chief, claimed: ‘I tried to dissuade Hitler from a two-front war. I believe Göring did, too. But I failed.’ In fact, Göring believed, as he told his psychiatrist, that ‘The Führer himself was a genius. The plans against Poland and France were also his plans. The plan against Russia was also that of a genius. But its execution was poor. The Russian campaign could have ended in 1941 – successfully.’

Another explanation for the German generals’ lack of a critical eye concerning Operation Barbarossa is that they were ignorant of things outside their own areas of activity. Hitler was able to defeat doubts concerning the Russian adventure with the aid of political ‘information’. This had the goal of convincing them of the necessity of the invasion and of the fact that Russia’s domestic weakness would affect its military power. Hitler had for a long time been the master of disinformation, but this time he used it against his own generals.

Even if Hitler had been surrounded by opponents who openly spoke up, his plan to attack Russia was buried so deep in his Nazi DNA, that it could not be stopped. ‘We National Socialists must hold unflinchingly to our aim in foreign policy,’ he confessed in Mein Kampf, ‘namely, to secure for the German people the land and soil to which they are entitled on this earth.’ This did not just mean Poland. In another place in his book, he wrote about Germany as a country ‘swimming in plenty’ if she were to control the Ukraine’s agriculture, prime materials from the Urals and even timber from Siberia.

An incident through which Hitler could have been discouraged from his intention to invade Russia was the strange flight of the vice president of the Nazi Party, Rudolf Hess, to Great Britain. Hitler feared that Operation Barbarossa might be compromised. Hess landed on British territory with the intention of making peace with the British, who, however, did not accept his offer. Rudolf Hess spent the rest of his life in prison.

Hess was Hitler’s closest confidant and lieutenant during the interwar period. Gradually, however, he had been pushed aside in recent years by a few rivals in the Nazi hierarchy. Ideologically a Nazi from the beginning, Hess believed that Great Britain and Germany should not be at war. Thus, without Hitler’s knowledge, he conceived a bold - if not crazy - plan to bring peace to the Anglo-Saxon nations.

The five-hour flight, in a Messerschmitt Me-110, was a remarkable feat of aviation and navigation. Only when Hess parachuted down close to the village of Eaglesham in Renfrewshire, Scotland, did his plan begin to fall apart. His first problem was to find someone with the authority to negotiate peace talks. He chose Scotland due to his bizarre belief that, due to his title, the Duke of Hamilton had significant political authority in Great Britain. He thought - erroneously - that he had met the Duke at the Olympic Games in Berlin.

After being taken prisoner, Hess was interrogated by, amongst others, Lord Beaverbrook and the Lord Chancellor, Lord Simon. Thus, it rapidly became clear to Hess that Churchill’s government had no intention of listening to peace terms, whatever they may be.

Even though Hitler was overcome by fury at his ‘treason’, Hess did not betray the secret of Operation Barbarossa. For a certain period of the war, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was found guilty at Nuremberg for conspiring against peace, but not for war crimes. For this reason, he received life imprisonment and not the death penalty. Due to the intransigence of the Soviets, who wanted him dead after the end of the war, Hess stayed in the Spandau prison in Berlin until he hanged himself, aged 92, in 1987.

There was an alternative strategy to invading Russia, which was actually much more attractive. Supported by Generals Halder, Brauchitsch and Raeder, this entailed attacking the British military bases in the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East. Malta would be attacked by Karl Student’s troops, flown in by the Luftwaffe. Then, the Mediterranean could be transformed into an Axis lake by an invasion of North Africa. With a small percentage of the number of soldiers involved in Operation Barbarossa, Germany could overshadow Great Britain’s presence in the region, cutting off its source of oil and its direct maritime route, through Suez, to India.

The logistic support of a campaign in the Middle East would have been much more accessible for the Axis, via Italy and Sicily. Instead, Hitler decided to invade Russia in the following spring. While he was willing to consider the Mediterranean strategy as an idea - mostly out of respect for Admiral Raeder - he never strayed from his plan. He rejected the Mediterranean option and an attack on his supposed racial cousins for the momentary satisfaction of his desire to attack those he vehemently considered his political and racial enemies.

In a long conversation with Goebbels at the Reich Chancellery, Hitler told him that it was essential not to repeat Napoleon’s experience in Russia. During this sincere and detailed discussion, the two worked out the ideological and military details of the Russian campaign. Operation Barbarossa would only last four months, and Bolshevism would ‘collapse like a house of cards’. Geographical limits were not imposed on the operation: ‘We shall fight until Russia’s military power no longer exists.’

Together, the two men went over the smallest details of the operation. For example, the printers and those who packaged the manifests which were to be thrown over Russia would live in total isolation up until the beginning of the operation. As a consequence of the predictable success of the operation, ‘Bolshevism must be destroyed. And with it England will lose her last possible ally on the European mainland.’

Hitler told Goebbels that this was the fight he had been waiting for his entire life: ‘And once we have won, who is going to question our methods? In any case, we have so much to answer for already that we must win, because otherwise our entire nation – with us at its head – and all we hold dear, will be eradicated. And so to work!’

During the meeting, the two even created a plan to involve the Christian bishops in supporting the attack against atheist Bolshevism. Cardinal Alfred-Henri-Marie Baudrillart, Archbishop of Paris, joined this plan. He preached a sermon in which he maintained that ‘Hitler’s war is a noble undertaking in defense of European culture.’

Initiative had always been the key to many of Hitler’s spectacular successes up until that moment. For four years, Hitler had played the cards of his enemies’ indecision and weakness. It is possible that the stakes grew exponentially as the years passed; however, his player’s instinct never left him. With four million soldiers, many of which had been tried in battle, and having obtained the victories in Poland, Scandinavia, France and the Balkans, his chances did not seem as bad as they were later shown to be.

For a clear perspective concerning the choice of the method of invading Russia, the Führer’s Directive No. 21 must be read. This was sent to all the important figures of the Reich. Mostly, the Directive spoke of the planning of another Blitzkrieg operation. Armored units would penetrate deep inside enemy lines. Operation Barbarossa was being prepared as a four-month long assault, on a 3,000 km-long front. The Germans would be fighting against a population that was almost double that of Germany and which was even greater than the total population of the Reich’s vassal countries.

It is clear from the Directive that Hitler was not expecting a direct route to Moscow. Leningrad was seen as a key factor of the operation. At the same time, some economic and industrial considerations were at the top of his agenda. The city of Stalingrad was not mentioned. At that time, Hitler told Halder that the capture of Moscow ‘was not so very important’, as the Directive states. This must be taken into consideration when Hitler was criticized by his own generals for not concentrating enough on the capture of the Russian capital.

The planning of the operation lasted several years. The goal of Operation Barbarossa was the rapid capture of the European part of the Soviet Union. This would be carried out in three principal directions of attack. The first attack route was a northern assault towards Leningrad, a symbolic capture of Moscow and an attack in the south, towards the Ukraine, to capture the oil fields in the region.

Hitler and his generals had differing opinions concerning the place Germany should concentrate its attack. The Barbarossa Plan was a compromise of these viewpoints. During the planning of the operation, Hitler often repeated his personal priorities: ‘Leningrad is first, then the Donets Basin, and Moscow is the third priority.’

In preparing for the attack, Hitler brought approx. 3.2 million German soldiers and another 1 million soldiers belonging to Axis forces into the region close to the border of the Soviet Union. At the same time, he launched many aerial reconnaissance missions over the USSR.

For this operation, the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht, the OKW, split the German forces into three groups. These groups had three invasion routes with different objectives. Army Group North was entrusted with marching through the Baltic region. It had the mission of occupying or destroying the city of Leningrad, today named Saint Petersburg. Army Group Center would advance in the direction of Smolensk-Moscow, marching through modern-day Belarus. Army Group South would attack the Ukraine in order to occupy the city of Kiev. It would continue through the steppes of southern Russia, to the river Volga and the rich oil fields in the Caucasus region.

Hitler missed a perfect chance to force the USSR to fight a war on two fronts when the Japanese Foreign Minister, Yosuke Matsuoka, visited Berlin. Instead of sharing his plans with the official from Tokyo and offering the Japanese whatever territories they wanted in the east in exchange for a simultaneous attack on Russia, Hitler did not mention anything about his plan. He didn’t try to involve the Japanese in what he knew would be the greatest enterprise of his life. If Japan had captured Siberia, Russia’s access to the oil reserves there would have been cut off.

Hitler was impatient for the invasion to begin. He was convinced that Great Britain would request peace if Germany were to triumph in the Soviet Union. He was very confident of the campaign’s success due to the rapid victories of the German forces on the western front, and also due to the inaptitude of the Red Army during the Winter War. Expecting, for these reasons, a victory in a few months, Hitler did not prepare his own army for the conditions of winter warfare. His presumption, that the USSR would surrender quickly, proved to be a fatal error.

The USSR had more soldiers and tanks than all of the armed forces of the rest of the world put together. It had the same number of airplanes as all of these together. Hitler, obviously, was perfectly aware of this. However, inherent in Hitler’s vision of the ruling Aryan race was the idea that the Germans were so vastly superior to the Slavs as people, that numerical inferiority meant nothing.

With France as cover for his back, Hitler believed that Russia could be attacked with relative ease. At one of the conferences at Berghof before the war, Hitler stated: ‘We will crush the Soviet Union’. After the defeat of France, Alfred Jodl communicated to the officers of the OKW General Staff the ‘express wish’ of the Führer that they begin at once to plan for the invasion. The objectives were clearly stated in Directive No. 21. In its first sentence, this said: ‘The German Wehrmacht must be prepared to crush Soviet Russia in a quick campaign (Operation Barbarossa) even before the conclusion of the war against England.’

The Soviets were taken by surprise by the German attack, since Stalin thought it would happen later. The leader from the Kremlin believed that the Third Reich would not attack the Soviet Union until the British were defeated, to avoid fighting on two fronts.

The number of Soviet troops in western Russia was less than the number of Axis soldiers. However, the total number of soldiers at the Red Army’s disposition was greater than the armed forces of their attackers. It is estimated that, at the beginning of the attack, the Soviet Union had 5 million troops. Of these, 2.6 million were stationed in the west, 1.8 million in the far east, while the rest were in training camps elsewhere. The Soviets had numerical superiority in tanks. The number of airplanes was also in the Soviet’s favor; however their planes were mostly technologically outdated. Their artillery was lacking in modern fire control techniques.

At the beginning of the conflict, the Soviet army was split between four fronts. The Northern Front was made up of the armed forces of the Leningrad Military District. The North-Western Front was composed of elements of the Special Baltic Military District. The Western Front was made up of the armed forces of the Special Western Military District. The South-Western Front was composed of the Special Kiev Military District. A fifth front, the Southern Front, was created out of the Odessa Military District after the invasion began.

Before the beginning of the war, the Soviets had begun distributing their tanks amongst their infantry divisions, as support. But the experiences of the Winter War with Finland, and observations of the German blitzkrieg in France, made them organize their own mechanized divisions. The reorganization was only partially completed at the start of Operation Barbarossa.

Germany’s armed forces were not in any way threatened by the Red Army, considered to be one of the most poorly trained armies. Although Keitel claimed that Hitler feared an attack by Stalin, there was no such attack being prepared. It is certain that nothing was farther from Stalin’s intentions at that point. Also, according to the Soviet-Nazi Pact, enormous quantities of oil and grains were transported each month from the USSR to Germany.

The best Soviet tank, the T 34 model, was the most modern in the world. The KW series had the thickest armor. However, the Soviets did not have many of these advanced models available. Although these tanks were technically superior to the German Panzers, the Russians lacked means of communication, training and experience, which would have made the weapons more efficient.

At the command level, the Soviets lacked capable officers due to Stalin’s purges. Of the 90 generals arrested, only 6 survived. Of the 180 division commanders, only 36 survived. Of the 57 commanders of army corps, only 7 remained. In total, around 30,000 people from the Soviet military staff were killed.

After the invasion of Poland, the Russians offered the Germans a naval base in the Jokanga Bay - called ‘Base North’ - for repairing and refuelling submarines on sovereign Soviet territory. The following year, they also accorded free passage to an auxiliary German warship, the Komet. This navigated through the Arctic, along the northern Russian coast, through the Siberian Sea, and into the Pacific Ocean. Here it used the element of surprise to sink seven Allied ships.

Even though the war had begun almost two years earlier, the Red Army had not yet managed to group together its 39 armored divisions. It chose, rather, to distribute them evenly amongst the infantry divisions. The Red Army thus demonstrated that it had learned nothing about the dynamics of the new German methods of warfare. Still, even since the Great War, the Russian Generals had gained much more experience than their counterparts in other countries. They had fought the Whites in the Civil War, the Poles and the Japanese in the interwar period, and the Finns in the Winter War.

Some generals, such as Zhukov, Rokossovsky, Budyonny, Konev, Voroshilov and Timoshenko, were not lacking in military experience. However, they were afraid - with well-founded fear - of Stalin’s fury were they to take bold decisions which later led to failure. They were tough men, however each of them had to think about his own preservation. The fact that Hitler was able to use the same tactics three times running in a 20-month period is a direct accusation against the top commanders and strategists of the Red Army.

Stalin snatched eastern Poland and occupied Bessarabia and the Baltic states. This meant that the Red Army had advanced too far west at the start of Operation Barbarossa. At the time of the invasion, 170 Russian divisions had been stationed beyond the USSR’s borders since before the war. This number represented over 70% of the Red Army’s total forces. Further, the Red Army had not spent its time in these advanced positions in training. They had been building fortifications which later proved to be useless, together with the roads and railroads which were rapidly taken over by the Germans.

The unfavorable placement of the Soviet army is all the more inexplicable when it is considered that Barbarossa was the worst-kept secret of World War II. Stalin received no less than 80 warnings about Hitler’s intentions during the 8 months preceding the operation. Even so, Stalin continued to believe that the Germans were simply turning up the pressure and that Churchill was a cheater who was trying to pick a fight. In Stalin’s view at that time, Churchill was spreading disinformation in order to provoke a clash in the east, to save Great Britain from an eventual defeat.

Warnings came from their own spies, such as Richard Sorge, from the German Embassy in Tokyo. This was remarkable due to the fact that it mentioned the exact date when the attack would take place. Stalin also had information from counterintelligence agents in Berlin, Washington and Eastern Europe.

Even the anti-Nazi German ambassador in Moscow, count Friedrich Werner von der Schulenburg, told the Russians what was about to happen.

Churchill needed to get the information obtained through the Enigma device to Stalin without the Russians suspecting their source. This was resolved by Claude Dansey. He was the deputy chief of the Secret Intelligence Services - SIS or MI6. Dansey managed to infiltrate the Soviet spy ring based in Switzerland, codenamed Lucy. These spies, in their turn, warned the Center in Moscow that they should expect an attack.

On the day before the invasion, the NKVD reported no less than 39 ‘aircraft incursions’, ie German reconnaissance flights in Soviet air space. In the end, the Soviet High Command launched a warning. However, many units didn’t receive this until it was too late. Never had ‘group-think’ acted more strongly. ‘We are being fired on,’ a Russian unit reported during the first hours of the invasion. ‘What are we to do?’ The response received from the General Headquarters perfectly illustrates the combination of poor training and bureaucracy which characterized the Red Army at that time: ‘You must be insane! And why isn’t your signal in code?’

The operation began at 3:15 am. The surprise was total. STAVKA, the General Headquarters of the Soviet Armed Forces, ordered the border troops to be alerted. Only a small number of Soviet troops were put in alert in time due to the fact that the Wehrmacht troops were moving fast. The initial shock was due to the large number of Axis troops invading the Soviet Union. The Luftwaffe reconnaissance elements worked at a frenzied pace. They were marking the places where enemy troops, supply positions and Soviet airports were concentrated, so that they could be destroyed.

Army Group North had two Soviet armies to confront. The OKW entrusted the area joining the two Soviet armies to the 4th Panzer Group, made up of 600 tanks. The objective of the German Panzers was to cross the Neman and Dvina rivers, which were the greatest obstacles to Leningrad. During the first day of fighting, the German Panzers crossed the Neman river. However, close to the locality of Raseiniai, they were attacked by 300 Soviet tanks. It took 4 days of fighting before the Soviet armored vehicles were surrounded and destroyed.

Army Group Center had to confront four enemy armies. The Soviets occupied the western part of occupied Poland. The center of this outpost was at Bialystok. After this town, the most important center was Minsk, capital of Belarus, which held an important railway line. The objective of the two groups of Panzers making up Army Group Center was to meet at Minsk, thus cutting off the retreat route of the Red Army.

Crossing the Neman river, the 3rd Panzer Group broke through the point where the two Soviet fronts met to the north of the Russian outpost in Poland. At the same time, the 2nd Panzer Group crossed the river Bug, in the south. The result was the encirclement of the Soviet army stationed in Poland. Marshal Timoshenko ordered a counterattack. However, the counter-offensive failed due to the lack of provisions and communication lines, which had been destroyed by the Luftwaffe.

Army Group South encountered strong resistance from the start, since the Soviet commanders in the area reacted rapidly. Three Soviet armies were stationed in the Ukraine. The German infantry attacked the point where these two armies met. At the same time, Panzer Group 1 attacked the main body of the 6th Army, with the immediate goal of capturing the town of Brody. Five mechanized Soviet bodies executed a massive counterattack. The battle was terrible, lasting several days. In the end, the Germans came out victorious, although the Soviets had caused them heavy losses. By the end of the first week of battle, all the German groups had reached their initial goals.

The German tanks crossed the Dvina river, near Dvinsk. The Germans were now close to their target. Due to the deterioration of the supply line, Hitler ordered the tanks to halt until the infantry reached their position. The wait lasted longer than a week, giving the Soviets time to organize the defense of Leningrad.

The Russian Marshal Georgy Zhukov ordered the beginning of a new offensive, through which the enemy would be surrounded and destroyed in the direction of the localities of Vladimir-Volhynia. This maneuver failed and led to the disorganization of the Red Army units. These were rapidly destroyed by the forces of the Wehrmacht. Complicating things even more, an anti-Soviet revolt began in Lithuania on the very day of the invasion. The following day, the country declared its independence. Around 30,000 Lithuanians began their fight against the Red Army. The two Panzer groups forming the Army Group Center met at Minsk, thus advancing 300 km into Soviet territory.

Hitler ordered the Panzers to continue in their journey, however a summer storm typical to the region slowed their progress. The delay gave the Soviets time to organize a massive counterattack against the Army Group Center. The objective of this group was now the capture of Smolensk, in order to facilitate their advance towards Moscow. The Soviets launched an attack against the 3rd Panzer Army. The Germans defeated the Soviet forces due to their air superiority. The 2nd Panzer Army crossed the Dnieper River, approaching Smolensk from the south. During this time, the 3rd Panzer Army, after repelling the Soviet counterattack, approached the town from the north.

Stalin’s total failure to anticipate the invasion was clear from his incredulous reaction, even after the attack had begun. Zhukov called him at 03:30 to inform him of the attacks. All the general could hear on the other end of the line was heavy breathing, so he had to repeat himself and ask: ‘Did you understand me?’ Again, he was met with silence. When the Politburo met at 04:30, Stalin was pale and seemingly incapable of understanding that Germany had declared war.

His first orders to the army were ridiculous: to attack on the entire front, but not to violate the integrity of German territory without specific orders. More rational was the order for the mobilization of every male Russian aged between 23 and 36, based on the popular levy system. Based on the same system, 800,000 women were also mobilized. In total, five million people were called immediately to arms. Citizens aged between 50 and 60 also made up militia divisions. These reserve divisions later proved to be decisive.

One week after the beginning of the invasion, Stalin suffered something similar to a nervous breakdown. Stalin’s ‘prostration’, as Molotov called it, didn’t last long. This was very welcome, since the entire government machinery was halted in his absence, in fear of initiating actions without his personal approval. During that period, Stalin was not even able to undress himself or sleep. He wandered around his dacha, or vacation home, in Kuntsevo, near Moscow.

In the end, a delegation from the Politburo came to visit him. Initially, Stalin suspected them of coming to arrest him. In fact, they wanted to ask him to lead a new State Committee for Defense, which was Stavka. STAVKA would replace both the authority of the party, and that of the government, which he agreed to do. Two days later, he addressed the Soviet people for the first time over the radio, promising that ‘Our arrogant foe will soon discover that our forces are beyond number.’ He concluded: ‘Forward to Victory!’ He became supreme commander at the moment when the Germans had already covered 645 km in 18 days.

After the first 4 weeks of the campaign, Hitler realized that he had underestimated the Soviet forces. The German troops ran out of provisions. Operations stagnated for a period while waiting for new supplies. Hitler now believed that he could win the war by destroying the Russian industrial centers in the north and the south. He ordered the Panzer formations making up Army Group Center to be split up. They would be sent to strengthen the front in the north and south, thus suspending the advance towards Moscow. In the south, one of the principal objectives was the capture of Kiev.

The 1st Panzer Group led by Rundstedt broke through the Soviet V Army’s defense line and came to within 16 km of Kiev. However, the group was unable to capture the town. It was actually the successes won by the Germans - by heavily stretching their communication lines - that caused grave logistic problems for the Wehrmacht.

Hitler had serious doubts about the wisdom of making the race to Moscow a priority over other goals. ‘Modern warfare is all economic warfare,’ he stated, ‘and the demands of economic warfare must be given priority.’ His desire to obtain the grain crops of the Ukraine, the oil in the Caucasus and the coal from the Donetsk region led him to make his main error: that of not continuing his advance on Moscow.

The march on Kiev was the occasion of one of Hitler’s most controversial war decisions. He opted to capture the Ukrainian capital instead of the Russian one. The Soviet V Army withdrew, but it was still able to threaten the northern flank of the German advance into the Ukraine. Thus, the OKW decided that Panzer Group II led by Guderian and the II Army, from the Army Group Center, should stop their march towards Moscow. They turned directly south, in order to destroy the Soviet V Army and occupy Kiev, together with Panzer Group I. The latter was already fighting in that area.

The German generals vehemently opposed the splitting up of Army Group Center, since the main bulk of the Soviet Army was near Moscow. A decisive attack there would have meant a good chance of winning the conflict. Hitler, however, did not change his decision.

After several weeks of fighting, the Germans arrived a few kilometers from Kiev. The 1st Panzer Army then headed south, while the 17th Army attacked towards the east. Thus it caught three Soviet armies in a pincer movement, close to Uman. While the infantry was eliminating the surrounded Soviet troops, the tanks turned north, crossing the Dnieper. With the aid of the 2nd Panzer Army, redirected from Army Group Center, the 1st Panzer Army flanked and surrounded two other Soviet armies.

Hitler changed his mind about strategy and ordered his generals to resume the attack on Moscow. Before the attack on Moscow could begin, the operations in Kiev must be finished. With the help of half the forces of Army Group Center, the encirclement of Kiev was carried out. The Soviets did not give up. The city suffered heavy bombing. In the end, after ten days of bloody fighting, the captured city lay in ruins.

After the attack on Kiev, the Red Army no longer had a numerical advantage over the Axis forces. To defend Moscow, Stalin had only 83 available divisions. However, of these, only 25 divisions were complete. The fall of Kiev allowed the OKW to concentrate again on the conquest of Moscow. The leadership of the OKW hoped that the Soviet government and the Red Army would thus be forced to retreat beyond the Ural mountains. In this way, the USSR would effectively be taken out of the war.

For the assault on Leningrad, the 4th Panzer Army was reinforced with tanks from Army Group Center. The German Panzers broke through the Soviet defensive lines. The Germans thus began the siege of the city of Leningrad. The Finns had joined the German invasion enthusiastically. They hoped, in this way, to gain revenge for the defeat suffered in the Winter War. The Finns managed to capture Viipuri, together with a good part of the rest of the Karelian Isthmus, laying siege to Leningrad from the north-west. The second-largest city in the Soviet Union was isolated.

The German forces began their final assault on Leningrad, advancing to within 11 km of the city. The last kilometers however proved to be very difficult, with the Germans suffering heavy losses. Hitler ordered the encirclement of the city in order to force its surrender. Thus, the almost 900-day long siege of Leningrad began. The German decision to try to force surrender through starvation and not through a massive attack proved, in retrospect, to have been a crucial one. Leningrad thus managed in some way to survive its torturous trials, in spite of the fact that it suffered over a million victims.

Russian civilians caught in the city also took part in the defense of Leningrad. They helped build fortifications in the northern and southern parts of the city in order to stop the Germans. Russian civilians fought alongside the troops of the Red Army against the Germans. The Soviet troops in this sector were commanded by Marshal Kliment Voroshilov. He was unable to prevent the encirclement of the city. Stalin replaced him with Georgy Zhukov, who was a much better military strategist. He managed to keep the Germans from entering the city.

In order to force the surrender of Leningrad, the Luftwaffe constantly bombed the city, causing grave material and human losses for the Soviets. The German artillery began to attack the city once it had been surrounded. In the following years, the bombing grew in intensity, once new equipment arrived.

The civilians of Leningrad suffered from hunger and cold during the siege, especially in the first winter. It is estimated that the number of deaths in that period reached 100,000 per month, most of whom died of starvation. People often died on the streets of the city. There were also cases of cannibalism, which were punished by the NKVD units present in the city. However, cannibalism was relatively rare, taking into account the widespread starvation in the city. More frequent were murders for the ration cards which were distributed to Soviet civilians.

People ate their pets, shoe leather, pine bark and insects, and also wallpaper paste. In the city laboratories, the guineapigs, hamsters and rabbits were saved from dissection in order to fulfil a much more practical mission. ‘Today it is so simple to die,’ wrote a resident of Leningrad, Yelena Skryabina, in her diary. ‘You just begin to lose interest, then you lie on your bed and you never get up again.’

The Soviets managed to open up a narrow corridor through which to supply the defenders of the city. The siege was only lifted at the beginning of 1944. This was by far the bloodiest siege in history. During the siege, at Leningrad alone, more Russians died than all the American and British soldiers and civilians together, during the entire duration of the world war.

For the German troops to be able to capture Moscow, they first had to capture Smolensk. The city surrendered after an initial stubborn resistance. From that moment, there was no other large urban settlement between the Germans and Moscow. The chief of security in Stavka, Lavrenti Beria, took care of the general panic which took over the capital. He ordered roadblocks on all the roads out of the city. He simply shot those who tried to escape.

The battle for Smolensk was not over when the city surrendered to Hans Guderian. The Soviets launched powerful counter-attacks under the command of Timoshenko and Zhukov. By slowing the German advance towards Moscow, while the weather was about to change, some historians cite Smolensk as a first indication that the war was approaching its turning point. The Battle of Smolensk had been underway for 63 days, on an almost 630 km-long front. The Soviets had retreated 240 km, with 309,959 losses out of 579,400 combattants.

At the Museum of Defense in Moscow, one can see the school registers in which only 3% of the male pupils who graduated in the year of the invasion survived the war. From one point of view, the size of the Soviet losses did not matter. There were always more to fill the gaps, while the Germans could not be replaced as fast.

Operation Typhoon, the march of the Axis troops towards Moscow, began with the arrival of autumn. In front of Army Group Center was a series of elaborate defense lines. The first line was centered on the city of Vyazma, the second on Mozhaisk. The assault on Moscow was formidable. From the south, via Orel, came the Panzer Group of Hans Guderian. Army II came through Kaluga, and Hoepner’s IV Panzer Group came from Roslavl, via Yukhnov. Army Group Center ensured the main attack. In the meantime, Army Group North was collaborating with III Panzer Group commanded by Hoth, which had come through Vyazma and Borodino.

The first attack took the Soviets completely by surprise. The 2nd Panzer Army, which was returning from the south, conquered the city of Orel. This was 121 km from the first Soviet defense line. Three days later, the Panzers advanced towards Bryansk. The 2nd Army attacked from the west, surrounding three Soviet armies. From the north, the 3rd and 4th Panzer Armies attacked the locality of Vyazma, surrounding 5 other Soviet armies. Thus, Moscow’s first line of defense was destroyed. The 3rd Panzer Army reached a distance of 140 km from the capital of the Soviet Union. Martial law was declared in Moscow.

Right from the start of the operation’s launch, weather conditions began to deteriorate. Due to the frequent rain, Russia’s road networks were transformed into piles of mud, slowing the German tanks, which could not advance more than 3 km per day. After almost a month of fighting, the OKW ordered the temporary halt of Operation Typhoon, so that the armies could be reorganized. The break gave the Soviets time to reorganize and bring fresh troops for the defense of the city. The heavy rains which began to fall were the first in a series of climate changes which would, in the end, dispel Hitler’s ambitions in Russia.

As the Germans were approaching exhaustion, they began to remember Napoleon’s catastrophic invasion of Russia. General Günther Blumentritt noted the following lines in his personal diary: ‘They remembered what had happened to Napoleon’s army. Most of them began to re-read the solemn testimonies of Caulaincourt from 1812. This has a strong influence in this critical moment in 1941. I can still see von Kluge struggling through mud to get from his bedroom to his office, and standing in front of the map with Caulaincourt’s book in hand.’

As the weather got worse and the temperature fell, the ground became harder. For a short period of time, this offered the Germans another chance to surround the city. In the meantime, however, their initial superiority, of two to one on the ground and three to one in the air, was melting, as the Soviet state was throwing everything it had into defense. Stalin gave an uplifting speech from the Kremlin, on the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. In his speech he mentioned Aleksandr Nevsky, Mikhail Kutuzov and Lenin, and also the help promised by the British and the Americans.

In weather conditions well below zero degrees Celsius, the Germans once again began their march towards Moscow. Six armies were ranged against the Germans. The OKW intended for the 3rd and 4th Panzer Armies to cross the Moscow Canal, in order to surround the city from the north-east. At the same time, the 2nd Panzer Army would attack Tula and approach Moscow from the south. In this case, the Soviets would have to defend their flanks, so the 4th Army would attack the center.

In two weeks of desperate fighting, lacking fuel and ammunition, the Germans slowly advanced towards Moscow. In the southern area, however, the way was blocked for the 2nd Panzer Army. The Siberian Soviet units attacked this army and defeated it. Still, the 4th Panzer Army managed to cross the Moscow Canal, beginning the maneuver of encirclement. The Wehrmacht allocated 44 infantry divisions, 8 motorized divisions and 14 Panzer divisions for this maneuver.

At the end of the year, the 4th Panzer Army had managed to reach a distance of 24 km from Moscow, but the Russian winter had already arrived. The Wehrmacht was not properly equipped for winter warfare. Sickness and frostbite claimed more victims amongst the German soldiers than actual battles. The intense cold also caused great problems for the German tanks and artillery. German airplanes were forced to stay on the ground. In these conditions, the Red Army launched a massive counter-attack after the New Year, pushing the Germans back as far as 320 km.

During the war, relatively few buildings in Moscow were destroyed by German bombing raids. This was due to the size and precision of the Russian anti-aircraft units, and to the anti-bomber cover operations carried out by the fighter planes Ilyushin and Airacobra. The mobile rocket BM13, Katyusha, was used for the first time in the defense of Moscow. This was launched from the back of a truck.

The 61-K anti-aircraft cannons had a 37 mm caliber. These surrounded Moscow and weighed 2,100 kg each. They shot shells weighing 730 grams, with a speed of over 830 meters per second, with a precision of up to 2,800 meters.

With a 132 mm caliber, a length of 1.41 meters, weighing 42.5 kg and a range of almost 14 km, the Katyushas were a terrifying weapon, especially when 16 of them were fired together. The Germans had great difficulty obtaining one of these in order to examine it. They were more and more determined to give their commandants a way to easily destroy them.

The Soviets were preparing drastic plans, in the case of a German occupation of Moscow. In 2001, during renovation of the Moscow Hotel located near the Kremlin, approx. 123 kg of explosives were discovered. They were placed there in 1941 by the NKVD, in case Moscow must be destroyed, then forgotten about.

Though at first they were disorganised and often lacked coordination, the Soviet partisans came to be much better equipped and better led. They created serious difficulties for the Axis forces during the entire duration of the war on Soviet territory.

Hitler compared fighting the partisans with a fight against fleas in the trenches. ‘A lice-covered soldier’, he maintained, ‘has to start the fight against the lice.’ He believed that gendarmeries stationed in every town should ‘take it by the root… The bands can’t keep forming – even in the towns the bandits have to be fished out individually… But if the British could cope with the nomads in the north-western provinces of India, we can manage this here, too.’

Their best-known martyr was Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya. She was an 18 year-old girl whom the Germans executed because she set light to the stables in the village of Petrishchevo. Under torture, she gave nothing away to the Germans, shouting before she died: ‘You can’t hang all 190 million of us!’

The most dire threats were used in order to prevent the soldiers of the Red Army from surrendering to the Germans. Order no. 227, ‘No step back’, from Stalin, dictated that those who retreated without specific orders, or those who surrendered, must be treated as ‘traitors to the Motherland’. As a result, their families were in danger of imprisonment. There were also cases in which Russian civilians were executed by NKVD units.

Not even Stalin’s son, Lieutenant Yakov Dzhugashvili, who was captured close to Vitebsk, did not constitute an exception to Order 227. His wife spent two years in a labor camp. Yakov was shot in 1943, when he left the prisoner of war camp in which he was interned. The circumstances of his death are not clear. He either died in an escape attempt, or in a suicide attempt by trying to escape.

This explains why, when the Germans arrived in certain areas in western Russia, the Ukraine and the Baltic States, they were met by the elders of the village with bread and salt. These were the traditional welcoming gifts. After the Germans permitted churches that had been transformed into cinemas and exhibition halls to be turned back into Orthodox places of worship, Bock noted in his diary that: ‘The population often came from great distances to clean the churches and decorate them with flowers. They brought out many images of Christ and icons which had lain hidden for decades.’

The NKVD unleashed a series of violent attacks on the citizens of occupied Poland, the Ukraine and the Baltic States. In the areas held by the Russians, terrible scenes took place even before the Wehrmacht arrived. ‘After the prisons were opened, after the Soviet retreat, indescribable scenes were recorded,’ notes historian Richard Overy. ‘Bodies had been savagely mutilated; instead of being executed with the customary bullet in the neck, hundreds of prisoners had been tortured to death. In an incident in the Ukraine, the NKVD blew up two cells full of women with dynamite.’

If the German army had been instructed to embrace the anti-Bolshevik behavior of the Soviet population, the story of Operation Barbarossa could have been completely different. However, this was not the Nazi method. These regions had been assigned as future Lebensraum, vital space. Thus, mass ethnic cleansing followed, forcing the local population to take on an attitude of open opposition and partisanship.

The German spy service, the Abwehr, suggested that the OKW form a Ukrainian army to fight against the Red Army. However, the idea was rejected. Two years later, the strategy was discussed once more. At that point, the Führer said to Keitel that there was no point ‘pretending that all we have to do is found a Ukrainian state and all will be well, and we will obtain a million soldiers. We will not obtain anything - not even a single man. This is a fantasy, as it was before now, and would mean completely giving up our main objective of war’. This objective was the obtaining of Lebensraum, or vital space.

The causes of the Soviets’ initial defeat are multiple. The Red Army had not been trained for the attack, and was taken completely by surprise. Due to the purges made by Stalin, the Red Army lacked competent leaders. Most of the new commanders were weak soldiers, but ‘viable’ from a political viewpoint. Hitler and his generals underestimated the military potential of the Soviet Union. In the belief that the USSR would surrender in a few months, the soldiers were not equipped for winter conditions. Thus, Hitler brought about his own defeat. The too-long supply lines also contributed to the failure of the operation.

The initial failure of the Soviets was also due to Stalin’s order that the troops must not retreat. The Red Army had to resort to a static defense, which the German tanks easily broke through. Only later, when Stalin allowed the troops to retreat to better positions, was the Red Army able to reorganize and efficiently counterattack.

During the first weeks, an overestimation of their own military capabilities proved to be catastrophic for the Soviets. Without sufficient tanks, the Soviet troops were unable to carry out the mobile warfare adopted by the Wehrmacht.

The Soviets’ success was also due to certain commanders, such as Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov. He contributed to the defeat of the Axis forces by organizing an efficient defense of Moscow.

When it came to something as indispensable as suitable clothing for a winter campaign, there simply wasn’t enough such clothing available. This is explained by Hitler’s conviction that, in three months, before the weather changed, the campaign must be over.

To the common German soldiers, the vast expanse of Russia was difficult to understand. There were rivers so wide that the basic German artillery could not even shoot a projectile over to the other side. The weather alternated from melting heat to icy wind, which beat along the endless steppes. The huge distance from home demoralized them all, except for the most fanatic German assault troops. Many were forced to march thousands of kilometers on foot.

In spite of heavy losses, the Germans were able to launch a new major offensive in the summer of 1942. Although the Germans had again managed to capture vast territories in the USSR, they were not able to fulfil their strategic objectives due to the devastating defeat suffered at Stalingrad. With the arrival of 1943, the Soviets had the capacity to rapidly produce war economy. Also aided by the large number of people at their disposal, they were able to launch more and more sophisticated operations. Up until the summer of 1944, they managed to free portions of German-occupied territory, eventually causing the defeat of the Nazis.

Due to the fact that the Soviets were taken by surprise by the German attack, the Luftwaffe obtained air superiority in the first week of fighting. Some Soviet airplanes didn’t even have the opportunity to take off, and were destroyed on the ground. Although the Germans dominated the air, they couldn’t use this efficiently to their advantage, due to the vast territory of the Soviet Union.

The Germans sent four Air Groups, called Luftflotte, into the USSR. Each had its own missions. They had the role of supporting the blitzkrieg carried out by the ground troops.

Luftflotte 2 had the mission of supporting the advance of Army Group Center towards Moscow. In this goal, Luftflotte 2 supported the advance of the 4th Army, and that of Panzer Armies 2 and 3.

Luftflotte 4 had the mission of supporting the 6th and 17th German Armies and Panzer Army 1. Their mission was to capture Kiev and Rostov. This fleet also supported the advance of the 11th German Army and the 3rd and 4th Romanian Armies. These armies had the mission of advancing through the Ukraine, in order to capture the Crimea and reach the Black Sea.

Luftflotte 1 had the mission of supporting the advance of the German forces towards Leningrad. This air fleet supported the advance of the 16th and 18th Armies, and the Panzer Armies 3 and 4.

Luftflotte 5 had the mission of perturbing ground traffic along the Leningrad-Murmansk route and blocking the port of Murmansk. This must be done in order to stop the American aid coming through this port from the Atlantic Ocean.

At the beginning of the campaign, the Luftwaffe first of all destroyed the enemy airports, in order to prevent the Soviets from responding to air attacks with their own planes. The results were devastating. The Soviets lost hundreds of planes which were not able to take off. The Soviet Air Forces, the VSS, were not however completely destroyed. They put up stubborn resistance, and notched up a few successes.

When STAVKA, the General Headquarters of the Red Army, realized the gravity of the situation, it ordered the Russian bombers which were still in one piece to take off immediately to attack the enemy. Without coordination and without escorts, these bombers suffered catastrophic losses. These crews fought courageously down to the last man, winning the respect of even their enemies.

The only Air District prepared for the assault was VSS Odessa District, under the command of Fyodor Michugin, which lost only 23 airplanes. This Air District was attacked by Aerial Corps 1 of the Romanian Air Forces, under the command of Emanoil Ionescu. This corps lost 4% of its troops to the VSS. These were the greatest Romanian losses of the entire campaign, suffered in one day.

At the end of the first day, the Soviets had lost 1,489 airplanes just on the ground. This number was hard even for Hermann Göring, head of the Luftwaffe, to believe. He secretly ordered the statistic to be recounted. However, when the Wehrmacht officers arrived at the Soviet airports, they counted over 2,000 destroyed wrecks. This statistic was later confirmed by the Soviets.

Due to the significant losses of the first day, the balance of air power shifted in Germany’s favor for the following months. The Soviet fleet of bombers was almost completely destroyed. The planes which were still functional were forced to carry out very costly attacks. The surprise attack of the first day, together with the technical superiority of the German planes, led the VSS to the verge of collapse.

The VSS was able to recuperate as soon as the effects of the initial shock began to wear off. This can be observed in the fact that, towards the end of the campaign, the Soviets began to lose less men on the ground than they had at the beginning, and managed to increase the number of losses of the Luftwaffe. Once the cold weather came, the Luftwaffe planes were no longer as efficient. This allowed the Soviets to rebuild their air forces. For this reason, the Luftwaffe was unable to destroy the VSS.

The Baltic District of the VSS lost 56 planes in 11 airports. The VSS Kiev District suffered bombings on 23 airports and lost 192 planes, of which 97 were on the ground. To these losses were added 109 training planes. The Soviet naval air forces lost 336 planes. Entire units were almost completely destroyed. For example, SAD 9 Regiment lost 347 of its 409 available aircraft. The commander of this unit, Sergey Chernykh, was shot for this failure.

On the first day of Operation Barbarossa, the Luftwaffe managed to take more Russian airplanes out of the battle than the number of British aircraft destroyed in the entire Battle of Britain. General-Lieutenant Ivan Kopet, head of USSR Bombing Command, shot himself on the second day of the invasion.

During the battle, the German forces, especially the SS, committed a series of war crimes, both against prisoners of war and against Russian civilians. Many Soviet prisoners were starved to death. Russian civilians were killed in numerous mass executions.

Although the USSR had not signed the Geneva convention regarding the treatment of prisoners of war, Germany had. This meant that the German state was obliged to offer humane treatment to prisoners captured during the campaign. Despite this, Hitler authorized the starvation of the Soviet prisoners, or for them to be put to work until they fell from exhaustion.

Before the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler ordered that all Soviet political commissars taken as prisoners of war must be immediately executed, without any kind of trial.

In contrast to American or British prisoners, Soviet prisoners of war had a very high mortality rate. In total, around 3.4 million Soviet prisoners lost their lives, representing 57% of the total prisoners of war.

The German forces - and also local collaborators of the Germans - organized mass executions of Russian civilians, generally Jews or communists. Taking care of these executions were members of the Einsatzgruppen, a special branch of the SS responsible for these actions.

The most prominent Holocaust historian, Raul Hilberg, estimated that members of the Einsatzgruppen killed approximately 1,400,000 people in these types of executions.

Burning houses suspected as being meeting places for partisans and poisoning wells became standard practices for the soldiers of the 9th Army. At Kharkov, only the civilians who collaborated with the Germans had access to food: the rest were starved.

During the siege of Leningrad, more than a million Russian civilians died from German bombings, cold and general starvation which set in due to the German blockade. Out of the total number of victims, approx. 400,000 were children aged under 14.

Operation Barbarossa still stands today as the largest military operation in the history of mankind. During the operation, a record number of men, tanks, planes and weapons were used. Approx. 75% of the entire military effective of the German Wehrmacht participated in the operation.

The operation opened the Eastern Front of World War II, which was the greatest theatre of operations of the conflict. Here, titanic confrontations of a yet-unseen violence took place. During the four years of fighting, more than 26 million people lost their lives. More people died on the Eastern Front than on all the other fronts of the war put together.

Hitler made a fatal mistake in invading the USSR. Although the Wehrmacht had initial resounding successes, the Soviet Union proved to be an obstacle too large to be conquered. Due to the cold of winter and the vast military resources the USSR had at its disposal, the Germans suffered the same fate as Napoleon in 1812.

Due to their defeat in Operation Barbarossa, the Germans saw themselves in the unfavorable position of being forced to fight on two fronts simultaneously. This was a decisive factor in the war economy. The Wehrmacht could no longer manage fighting on two fronts. At the same time, the German war economy was gravely affected by the constant Anglo-American bombing. These factors led in the end to Germany’s defeat.

The entry of the Soviet Union into the war also had major consequences for the countries in Eastern Europe. After the end of World War II, these countries fell under Russia’s sphere of influence, and communist regimes were installed. Through the signing of the Warsaw Pact and the COMECON, these countries lived under the shadow of the Soviet Union for 45 years.