33 Facts About Hitler’s Invasion of the Soviet Union

T-34 Tanks heading towards the front. By RIA Novosti archive, image #1274 / RIA Novosti / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0,

T-34 Tanks heading towards the front. Photo Credit

17. Among the Russian tanks was the T-34, arguably the best tank of any fielded in the Second World War.

18. At the time of the invasion, the Soviets had 150 divisions in their western territory, able to immediately turn and face the Germans.

19. After two weeks, successful battles on the frontiers led the Nazi command to believe that the campaign was already won, the Soviet forces crumbling.

20. The speedy initial advance allowed the Germans to take in the summer harvest from most of Ukraine, bolstering their food supply and badly depriving the Soviets.

21. The Germans surrounded several Soviet armies, forcing them to surrender. Those cut off at Minsk and Smolensk alone led to nearly 600,000 soldiers becoming prisoners of war. A further 665,000 prisoners were taken at Kiev.

22. By the end of July, just over a month into the invasion, they had seized a chunk of the Soviet Union more than twice the size of France.

German soldiers marching through a village in Russia - Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-208-0027-04A / Nägele / CC-BY-SA 3.0

German soldiers marching through a village in Russia. Photo Credit

23. By mid-August, 200 more Soviet divisions had joined the fray, massively outnumbering the Germans.

24. The Soviets struggled with military leadership, as Stalin had purged the Red Army in the 1930s, getting rid of supposedly anti-Communist officers, and killing many of the best generals in the process.

25. In the Baltic states and parts of Belorussia and Ukraine, the Germans were welcomed as liberators throwing out the Russian Communist oppressors.

26. In Kiev, the Jews welcomed the Nazis. The Germans had treated Kiev’s Jews well during the First World War, and the horrors of the death camps had not yet been revealed. But a terrible shock followed within days, as 100,000 Jews were led out of the city and massacred at the Babi Yar ravine.

27. To keep the war effort going, Stalin had entire factories moved eastwards so that they could keep on manufacturing aircraft, tanks, and other equipment.

British Mk III 'Valentine' destroyed in Soviet Union, January 1944. By Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-277-0850-11 / Jacob / CC-BY-SA 3.0

British Mk III ‘Valentine’ destroyed in Soviet Union, January 1944. Photo Credit

28. Eager to keep Hitler occupied in the east, Britain and America both quickly began providing the Soviets with materials. They helped to build up the military machine that they, in turn, would face off against a decade later – a recurring theme in 20th-century wars.

29. From the 10th of July to the 16th of August, the Finnish army re-took the land they had lost to the Soviets. The German-Soviet Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact had enabled these Soviet conquests, but it was the Germans whose invasion allowed the Finns to retake their lost territory. They stopped at the old border, refusing to join the Germans in their invasion of Russia, but their presence helped to cut off Leningrad from the north.

30. The Siege of Leningrad, one of the most important engagements of the invasion, lasted 900 days. During that time, 200,000 civilians were killed by German bombardment. At least another 630,000 died from the disease and starvation that are constant threats for the targets of any siege.

Antiaircraft guns guarding the sky of Leningrad, in front of St. Isaac's Cathedral By RIA Novosti archive, image #5634 / David Trahtenberg / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Antiaircraft guns guarding the sky of Leningrad, in front of St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Photo Credit

31. With the fall of Vyazma and Bryansk in October, the Russians were left with only 824 tanks and no air support on the front.

32. When foreign diplomats were evacuated from Moscow in preparation for a siege, the embalmed body of former Soviet leader Lenin went with them. His loss was considered too terrible a propaganda blow for the Soviets to risk leaving him there.

33. The winter that halted the German advance was the coldest for 140 years. Oil froze in the engines of tanks. The grease used to pack artillery froze. Almost everyone in the German army suffered from frostbite. The same problems that had stopped the Soviets in Finland now saved them.