Battle of Moscow | World War II

Battle of Moscow | World War II

Overview

During World War II, the Moscow Battle was a military operation that spanned a 600-kilometre (370-mile) stretch of the Eastern Front in two phases of strategically critical conflict. It took place between October 1941 and January 1942. The Soviet defensive effort prevented Hitler's assault of Moscow, the Soviet Union's capital and largest city. Invading the Soviet Union, the Axis forces had Moscow as one of their crucial military and political objectives. The German strategic offensive, code-named Typhoon, called for two pincer offensives: one to the north of Moscow against the Kalinin Front by the 3rd and 4th Panzer Armies, severing the Moscow–Leningrad railway at the same time, and another to the south of Moscow Oblast by the 2nd Panzer Army against the Western Front south of Tula, while the 4th Army advanced directly towards Moscow from the west.

The Soviet forces first constructed three defensive belts deployed freshly built reserve armies, and brought soldiers from the Siberian and Far Eastern Military Districts to strategically defend the Moscow Oblast. As the German offensives came to a standstill, a Soviet strategic counter-onslaught and smaller-scale offensive operations pushed the German troops back to Oryol, Vyazma, and Vitebsk, effectively encircling three German divisions. As a result, the Germans suffered a crushing loss, and their expectations of a speedy triumph over the Soviet Union were dashed. Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch was ousted as supreme commander of the German Army due to the unsuccessful attack, and Hitler took his place.

Background

The German invasion plan, Operation Barbarossa, intended for the conquest of Moscow in four months. On June 22nd, 1941, Axis troops invaded the Soviet Union, annihilated the Soviet Air Force on the ground, and moved deep into Soviet territory, destroying whole Soviet armies utilizing blitzkrieg tactics. Army Group North marched into Leningrad, Army Group South seized Ukraine, and Army Group Centre proceeded towards Moscow. Army Group Centre had crossed the Dnieper River on its way to Moscow by July 1941. Smolensk, an important fortress on the route to Moscow, was seized by German forces on July 15th, 1941. Although Moscow was vulnerable, an attack on the city would have exposed the German flanks. Instead, Hitler ordered the offensive to swing north and south, eliminating Soviet forces at Leningrad and Kiev, in part to handle these threats and to try to capture Ukraine's food and mineral supplies. The German march on Moscow was halted as a result of this. The German forces had been depleted, while the Soviets had recruited additional details to defend the city when the assault began on September 30th, 1941.

German Advance

Plans

The Soviet capital was secondary to Hitler, and he felt that economic loss was the only way to bring the Soviet Union to its knees. He believed he could do this by taking Ukraine's financial riches east of Kiev. When Army Commander-in-Chief Walther von Brauchitsch advocated for a frontal assault on Moscow, he was informed that "only ossified minds could dream of such a concept." After the German Army had inflicted considerable damage on the Soviet forces, Franz Halder, the head of the Army General Staff, was inevitable that a push to conquer Moscow would be successful. Most of the German high command agreed with this viewpoint. However, Hitler overruled his generals to encircle Soviet forces around Kiev in the south, then seizing Ukraine. The operation was adequate, with approximately 700,000 Red Army men dead, arrested, or injured by September 26th, with Axis forces making additional gains. At the end of the summer, Hitler switched his focus to Moscow and assigned Army Group Centre to the job. Three infantry armies, supported by three Panzer (tank) Groups and the Luftwaffe's Luftflotte 2, were committed to Operation Typhoon. Up to two million German troops and 1,000–2,470 tanks and assault guns, and 14,000 artillery were committed to the operation. However, the Luftwaffe's aviation power had been seriously harmed during the summer campaign, with 1,603 planes destroyed and 1,028 damaged. For Operation Typhoon, Luftflotte 2 had just 549 operational aircraft, comprising 158 medium and dive-bombers and 172 fighters. Standard blitzkrieg tactics were used in the attack, with Panzer units plunging deep into Soviet formations and executing double-pincer moves, trapping and killing Red Army divisions.

Three Soviet fronts faced the Wehrmacht, constituting a defensive line that barred the route to Moscow and was based on the cities of Vyazma and Bryansk. The forces that made up these fronts had likewise been fighting hard. Nonetheless, with 1,250,000 troops, 1,000 tanks, and 7,600 guns, it was a powerful force. The Soviet Air Force has sustained horrific losses ranging from 7,500 to 21,200 planes. Extraordinary industrial accomplishments had begun to take their place, and the VVS could muster 936 aircraft at the start of Typhoon, 578 of which were bombers. After eliminating Soviet opposition along the Vyazma-Bryansk front, German forces were to push east, encircling Moscow from the north and south. However, their efficacy had dwindled due to the constant warfare, and logistical problems had worsened. Some of General Guderian's wrecked tanks had not been replaced, and there were fuel shortages at the commencement of the campaign, according to the commander of the 2nd Panzer Army.

Battles of Bryansk and Vyazma

The German offensive went as planned, with the 4th Panzer Group advancing through the centre almost unchallenged, then dividing its mobile troops north to complete the encirclement of Vyazma with the 3rd Panzer Group and other units south to seal the ring around Bryansk with the 2nd Panzer Group. The Soviet fortifications, which were still being built, were overwhelmed, and the 3rd and 4th Panzer Groups met near Vyazma on October 10th, 1941. In a wide pocket immediately west of the city, four Soviet armies were encircled. The Wehrmacht had to use 28 divisions to remove the besieged Soviet forces, utilizing soldiers that could have been used to bolster the onslaught towards Moscow. The remains of the Soviet Western and Reserve Fronts fled to Mozhaisk, where they staffed new defensive positions. Despite the heavy casualty rate, several of the surrounded forces managed to break out in small groups ranging in size from platoons to whole rifle divisions. The Soviet high command used the time gained by the resistance at Vyazma to augment the four armies defending Moscow. From East Siberia, three rifle and two tank divisions were moved, with more to come.

The weather began to shift, posing a challenge for all sides. The first snow came on October 7th and immediately melted, turning roads and open spaces into muddy quagmires, a phenomenon is known in Russia as rasputitsa. The Soviet forces were able to fall back and reorganize when German armoured formations were considerably halted. In several situations, Soviet soldiers were able to retaliate. The 4th Panzer Division, for example, was ambushed at Mtsensk by Dmitri Leliushenko's hurriedly constructed 1st Guards Special Rifle Corps, which included Mikhail Katukov's 4th Tank Brigade. As German armour surged by, newly manufactured T-34 tanks were hidden in the woods; as a scratch squad of Soviet troops held off their advance, Soviet armour struck from all flanks and savaged the German Panzer IV tanks. The shock of the defeat was so tremendous for the Wehrmacht that a special investigation was requested. To their dismay, Guderian and his forces learned that the Soviet T-34 tanks were nearly immune to German tank weapons. "With their short 75 mm guns, our Panzer IV tanks could only destroy a T-34 by striking the engine from behind," the general wrote. In his memoirs, Guderian stated, "The Russians have already learned a few things."Niklas Zetterling disputed the idea of a significant German reversal at Mtsensk in 2012, pointing out that only a battlegroup from the 4th Panzer Division was involved in the fighting, with the rest of the division fighting elsewhere, that both sides withdrew from the battlefield after the battle, and that the Germans only lost six tanks destroyed and three damaged. The action was insignificant to German leaders like Hoepner and Bock; their main concern was resistance from within the pocket, not from beyond. Other counterattacks delayed the German onslaught even further. The 2nd Army, which was encircling the Bryansk Front to the north of Guderian's forces, had come under heavy Red Army pressure, aided by air assistance. According to German estimates of the initial Soviet defeat, the Wehrmacht seized 673,000 troops in the Vyazma and Bryansk pockets, lowering Soviet strength by 41%. Recent research reveals a lower but massive figure of 514,000 prisoners, reducing Soviet power by 41%. The Soviet command estimated 499,001 personnel casualties (including permanent and temporary). In a press conference on October 9th, Otto Dietrich of the German Ministry of Propaganda, quoting Hitler himself, predicted the impending destruction of the soldiers defending Moscow. Because Hitler had never had to lie about a precise and provable military fact, Dietrich persuaded foreign journalists that all Soviet opposition was likely to fall within hours. With tales of soldiers returning home by Christmas and vast riches from the projected Lebensraum in the east, German civilian morale, which had been poor since the start of Barbarossa, greatly improved.

The Wehrmacht had been halted by Red Army opposition. On October 10th, as the Germans got within sight of the Mozhaisk line west of Moscow, they ran across another defensive barrier manned by additional Soviet soldiers. On the same day, Georgy Zhukov, who had been recalled from the Leningrad Front, took command of Moscow's defence and the united Western and Reserve Fronts, with Colonel General Ivan Konev as his deputy. On October 12th, Zhukov ordered the concentration of all available forces on a more robust Mozhaisk line, a move backed by the General Staff's General Vasilevsky. Stuka and bomber units performed 537 sorties, destroying 440 vehicles and 150 artillery pieces, demonstrating that the Luftwaffe still had control of the skies wherever it appeared. On October 15th, Stalin ordered the Communist Party, the General Staff, and some civil government agencies to flee Moscow for Kuibyshev (now Samara), leaving just a few officials behind. The migration terrified the Muscovites. Many citizens sought to escape the city on the 16th and 17th of October, overloading the available trains and jamming the city's roadways. Despite this, Stalin remained in Moscow, which helped to calm the nerves and commotion.

Defense Line of Mozhaisk

By October 13th, 1941, the Wehrmacht had reached the Mozhaisk defensive line, a hurriedly constructed complex of four fortification lines that ran from Kalinin to Volokolamsk and Kaluga and protected Moscow's western approaches. Despite recent reinforcements, only about 90,000 Soviet soldiers were stationed along this line, far too few to halt the German assault. Given the limited resources at his disposal, Zhukov decided to concentrate his forces at four key locations: the 16th Army under Lieutenant General Rokossovsky guarded Volokolamsk, the 5th Army under Major General Govorov guarded Mozhaisk, the 43rd Army of Major General Golubev guarded Maloyaroslavets, and the 49th Army under Lieutenant General Zakharkin guarded Kaluga. In addition, the entire Soviet Western Front, which had been nearly destroyed after being encircled near Vyazma, was being rebuilt from the ground up. Moscow was likewise fortified in a hurry. According to Zhukov, 250,000 women and teens toiled around Moscow to dig trenches and anti-tank moats, moving about three million cubic meters of soil without the use of machinery. In addition, Moscow's enterprises were hurriedly repurposed to military purposes:

  • One automotive manufacturer became a submachine gun armoury.
  • A clock factory produced mine detonators.
  • A chocolate factory became a front-line food producer.
  • Automobile repair stations repaired damaged tanks and military vehicles.

Despite these precautions, German tanks were within striking distance of the capital, and the Luftwaffe launched massive air attacks on the city. Because of robust anti-aircraft defences and competent local fire departments, the airstrikes caused minor damage. According to various accounts, the Wehrmacht started their attack on October 13th, 1941 (October 15th, according to multiple accounts). The German forces first tried to get around Soviet fortifications by pressing northeast towards Kalinin, which was poorly fortified, then south towards Kaluga and Tula, seizing everything but Tula by October 14th. Following these early victories, the Germans began a frontal attack on the fortified line, capturing Mozhaisk and Maloyaroslavets on October 18th, Naro-Fominsk on October 21st, and Volokolamsk on October 27th after fierce fighting. Due to the growing threat of flanking attacks, Zhukov was obliged to retreat east of the Nara River, withdrawing his men. Because the Mozhaisk defence line did not stretch that far south and there were no substantial concentrations of Soviet forces blocking their advance, the Second Panzer Army could march into Tula with relative ease in the south. However, the German force was hindered by terrible weather, fuel shortages, and destroyed roads and bridges, and Guderian did not go to the outskirts of Tula until October 26th. Initially, the German strategy aimed for a quick seizure of Tula, followed by a pincer movement around Moscow. The 50th Army and civilian volunteers repulsed the initial onslaught on October 29th, following a battle within sight of the city. The 1st Guards Cavalry Corps then launched a counter-offensive, with the 10th Army, 49th Army, and 50th Army attacking Tula to secure the flanks. On October 31st, the German Army's high command ordered a stop to all offensive operations until the rasputitsa subsided and serious logistical challenges were handled.

Wehrmacht Advance to the Moscow

Wearing Down

German troops were worn out by late October, with just a third of their motor vehicles still operational, infantry divisions at third- to half-strength, and significant logistics challenges delaying the delivery of warm clothes and other winter equipment to the front. After the expensive seizure of Warsaw in 1939, even Hitler seemed to concede to the concept of a lengthy war since the thought of deploying tanks into such a massive city without substantial infantry assistance looked dangerous. Stalin ordered the regular military parade in Red Square on November 7th (Revolution Day) to strengthen the Red Army's commitment and increase civilian morale. Soviet forces marched straight to the front after passing through the Kremlin. The parade had a significant symbolic value in that it demonstrated the Soviet Union's enduring resolve, and it was frequently referenced as such in the years that followed. The Red Army's situation remained fragile despite this valiant display. Despite the reinforcement of 100,000 Soviet forces to Klin and Tula, where further German offensives were expected, Soviet defences remained frail. Stalin, on the other hand, authorized a series of preemptive counter-offensives against German positions. Despite Zhukov's concerns, which pointed out the utter absence of reserves, they were launched. Most of these counter-offensives were defeated by the Wehrmacht, wasting Soviet resources that could have been utilized to defend Moscow. Because the Germans lacked anti-tank weaponry capable of hitting the new, well-armoured T-34 tanks, the offensive's sole major victory occurred west of Moscow near Aleksino, where Soviet tanks inflicted substantial casualties on the 4th Army. The Wehrmacht high command stood down from October 31st to November 13–15, ready to launch a second onslaught against Moscow. Even though Army Group Centre still had a sizable nominal strength, its fighting skills had significantly deteriorated due to wear and weariness. While the Germans were aware of the constant stream of Soviet troops from the east and the deployment of significant reserves, they did not anticipate the Soviets to wage a relentless resistance given the massive Soviet fatalities. However, compared to the situation in October, Soviet rifle divisions were in a far stronger defensive posture, with a triple defensive ring around the city and remnants of the Mozhaisk line near Klin.

With at least two rifle divisions in second echelon locations, most Soviet field armies now possessed a multi-layered defence. Along main highways that German forces were anticipated to exploit in their advances, artillery support and sapper squads were also stationed. Many Soviet troops were still available in reserve armies behind the front lines. Finally, Soviet forces, particularly officers, had gained experience and were better equipped for the attack. The earth had finally frozen by November 15th, 1941, putting an end to the mud problem. The German Third and Fourth Panzer Groups had to gather their troops between the Volga Reservoir and Mozhaysk, then advance beyond the Soviet 30th Army to Klin and Solnechnogorsk, encircling the capital from the north. The Second Panzer Army planned to bypass Tula, which the Red Army still controlled, and advance through Kashira and Kolomna, eventually joining the northern pincer at Noginsk. The German 4th Field Army's mission in the centre was to "pin down the Western Front soldiers."

Failed Pincer

On November 15th, 1941, German tank divisions launched an advance against Klin, where there were no Soviet reserves due to Stalin's desire to establish a counter-offensive at Volokolamsk, which had forced the movement of all available reserves troops farther south. The 16th Army and the 30th Army were separated by the first German attacks, divided the front in half. After then, there were many days of a fierce battle. "The enemy, ignoring the wounded, was conducting frontal assaults, ready to get to Moscow by whatever means necessary," Zhukov wrote in his memoirs. Despite the Wehrmacht's best efforts, the multi-layered defensive decreased Soviet fatalities as the Soviet 16th Army withdrew slowly and harassed German troops attempting to break through the defences. After a hard battle, the Third Panzer Army took Klin on November 23rd, Solnechnogorsk on November 24th, and Istra on November 24/25. The Soviet resistance was still strong, and the battle's conclusion was far from guaranteed. Stalin is said to have questioned Zhukov if Moscow could be successfully defended and told him to "answer honestly, like a communist." Zhukov said that it was doable but that reserves were required immediately. The German 7th Panzer Division had secured a bridgehead over the Moscow-Volga Canal—the last major hurdle before Moscow—and was fewer than 35 kilometres (22 miles) from the Kremlin on November 27th, the 1st Shock Army counterattacked and pushed them back. The Wehrmacht reached Krasnaya Polyana, just northwest of Moscow, a little more than 29 kilometres (18 miles) from the Kremlin in downtown Moscow; German officers could make out some of the Soviet capital's important structures via their field glasses. Both Soviet and German forces were severely decimated, with regiments sometimes having just 150–200 riflemen remaining—a company's real strength. On November 18th 1941, the battle began near Tula, with the Second Panzer Army attempting to encircle the city. The German soldiers participating had been severely damaged by earlier actions and lacked cold clothes. As a result, the German advance was first limited to 5–10 kilometres (3.1–6.2 mi) every day.

Furthermore, the German tank divisions were susceptible to flanking attacks from the Soviet 49th and 50th Armies, stationed around Tula, delaying the advance even further. Nevertheless, Guderian continued the onslaught, extending his men out in a star-shaped attack that took Stalinogorsk on November 22nd, 1941, and encircled a Soviet rifle division stationed there. Finally, German tanks neared Kashira, a village that controlled a vital route leading to Moscow, on November 26th. The Soviets responded by launching a counter-offensive the next day.

The German advance near Kashira was halted by General Pavel Belov's 2nd Cavalry Corps, 1st Guards Cavalry Division, and 2nd Guards Cavalry Division, which were supported by hastily assembled formations that included the 173rd Rifle Division, 9th Tank Brigade, two separate tank battalions, and training and militia units. Early in December, the Germans were forced back, protecting the city's southern access. Tula was defended by fortifications and tenacious defenders, mainly from the 50th Army, including troops and civilians. The Wehrmacht never went near to the capital in the south. Guderian's 2nd Panzer Army was the initial target of the Western-counter-offensive Front's on the outskirts of Moscow. The Wehrmacht tried a direct onslaught from the west along the Minsk-Moscow highway near Naro-Fominsk on December 1st due to opposition on both the northern and southern sides of Moscow. This operation, which was focused against massive Soviet fortifications, had inadequate tank backup. The German onslaught halted and was forced back four days later in the subsequent Soviet counter-offensive after facing tough resistance from the Soviet 1st Guards Motorized Rifle Division and flank counterattacks organized by the 33rd Army. The French-manned 638th Infantry Regiment, the Wehrmacht's only foreign force that took part in the advance on Moscow, went into battle near the village of Diutkovo on the same day. A reconnaissance battalion arrived in Khimki on December 2nd, some 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the Kremlin in downtown Moscow. It reached the town's bridge across the Moscow-Volga Canal as well as its railway station. This was the German forces' closest approach to Moscow. The winter of 1941–42 in Europe was one of the coldest of the twentieth century.

In a report to Berlin on November 30th, von Bock said that the temperature was 45 degrees Celsius (49 degrees Fahrenheit). General Erhard Raus, commander of the 6th Panzer Division, recorded the daily mean temperature in his battle journal. It reveals a sharp drop in temperature between 4–7 December, from 36 to 38 °C (37 to 38 °F), albeit the manner and accuracy of his readings are unknown. Other temperature reports were all over the place. The freezing temperatures in November, according to Zhukov, were only around 7 to 10 °C (+19 to +14 °F). According to official Soviet Meteorological Service data, the lowest December temperature hit 28.8 °C (20 °F). These figures suggested that the weather was freezing, and German troops were freezing because they lacked winter clothes and were using equipment that was not meant for such low temperatures. More than 130,000 cases of frostbite among German soldiers were documented. Every loaded shell had to have frozen grease removed, and vehicles had to be heated for hours before being used. The same cold weather hit the Soviet forces, but they were better equipped. Clothing was supplemented by Soviet gear and boots, which were frequently better than German clothing due to the owners' shorter time at the front. The articles were removed from frozen corpses; once, when 200 dead were left on the battlefield, the "saw commandos" found enough clothes to equip every member in a battalion. The enemy's power, as well as his stature and climate, were all underestimated by us. Fortunately, I halted my forces on December 5th. Otherwise, the disaster would have been inescapable."

Artificial Floods

Artificial floods, according to certain historians, played a significant part in protecting Moscow. They were designed to break the ice and prevent troops and heavy military equipment from crossing the Volga River and the Ivankovo Reservoir. This began on November 24th, 1941, when the Istra waterworks reservoir dam blew up. As a result, six reservoirs and Ivankovo Reservoir were emptied into the Yakhroma and Sestra Rivers on November 28th, 1941, utilizing dams near Dubna. Even in the harsh winter weather, this resulted in 30–40 communities being partially drowned. Both were the outcome of Soviet General Headquarters Order 0428, issued on November 17th, 1941. Artificial floods were also employed as a novel direct-impact weapon. 

Soviet Counter-Offensive

Even though the Wehrmacht's attack had been halted, German intelligence believed that Soviet troops had exhausted their reserves and would be unable to mount a counter-offensive. Stalin transferred over 18 divisions, 1,700 tanks, and over 1,500 aircraft from Siberia and the Far East, proving this estimate incorrect. By early December, the Red Army had built up a 58-division reserve, and Stalin had finally authorized the operation recommended by Zhukov and Vasilevsky. Despite the addition of these fresh reserves, Soviet troops committed to the process totalled just 1,100,000 soldiers, barely outnumbering the Wehrmacht. Nonetheless, by carefully deploying troops, a two-to-one ratio was achieved at several vital spots. On the Kalinin Front, the counter-offensive to "remove the immediate threat to Moscow" began on December 5th, 1941. The next day, the South-Western and Western Fronts launched offensives. On the 12th and 15th of December, Soviet soldiers retook Solnechnogorsk and Klin after many days of modest advance. Guderian's army "retreated quickly" to Venev and subsequently Sukhinichi.

"The menace that was looming over Tula was lifted." On December 8th, Hitler issued Directive No.39, instructing the Wehrmacht to take a defensive position throughout the whole front. German forces could not form an effective defensive in their initial positions and were obliged to retreat to consolidate their lines. Guderian said the following day, he met with Hans Schmidt and Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen, and both commanders concurred that the current front line could not be held. Without Hitler's agreement, Franz Halder and Günther von Kluge ultimately provided authorization for a limited withdrawal west of the Oka River on December 14th. During a conference with top German leaders on December 20th, Hitler called off the withdrawal and ordered his troops to hold every square inch of land, "digging trenches with artillery rounds if necessary." Guderian objected, claiming that cold-related casualties were higher than battle casualties and that winter equipment was held hostage in Poland by traffic constraints.

Nonetheless, Hitler insisted on preserving the current lines, and Guderian and generals Hoepner and Strauss, commanders of the 4th Panzer and 9th Armies, were fired by December 25th. Fedor von Bock was also fired, ostensibly due to "medical reasons." Hitler's commander-in-chief, Walther von Brauchitsch, had been deposed even earlier, on December 19th.

Meanwhile, the Soviet attack in the north proceeded. The operation freed Kalinin, and the Soviets arrived in Klin on December 7th, overrunning the LVI Panzer Corps' headquarters outside of the city. A bulge formed near Klin as the Kalinin Front moved west. General Ivan Konev, the Soviet front commander, sought to encircle any remaining German forces. To aid Konev in trapping the Third Panzer Army, Zhukov diverted more troops to the southern end of the bulge. The Germans were able to withdraw their men in time. Even if the encirclement failed, it threw the German defenders into disarray. A second effort to outflank Army Group Centre's northern forces was launched, but it was forced to halt near Rzhev due to heavy resistance, producing a salient that would endure until March 1943. The operation in the south was similarly successful, with Southwestern Front soldiers liberating Tula on December 16th, 1941. The tremendous victory was the encirclement and destruction of the German XXXV Corps, guarding Guderian's Second Panzer Army's southern flank. In the second half of December, the Luftwaffe was rendered immobile. The weather was a meteorological record, with a temperature of –42 °C (–44 °F). Until January 1942, technical challenges were caused by logistical issues and frigid conditions.

Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe had nearly departed from Moscow's sky, while the Red Air Force gained stronger, operating from better-prepared bases and benefitting from inside lines. Moreover, the weather improved on January 4th. Hitler felt that by bolstering the Luftwaffe, he might rescue the situation.

The II./KG 4 and II./KG 30 Kampfgruppen (Bomber Groups) arrived from Germany. At the same time, four Transportgruppen (Transport Groups) with 102 Junkers Ju 52 means of transport were dispatched from Luftflotte 4 (Air Fleet 4) to evacuate encircled army units and improve the supply line to the front-line forces. It was a last-minute effort that paid off. The German air force was supposed to keep the Army Group Centre from collapsing entirely. Despite the Soviets' best efforts, the Luftwaffe had contributed to Army Group Centre's survival. Between the 17th and 22nd of December, the Luftwaffe bombed Tula, causing the Red Army's hampered pursuit of the German Army. The Soviet Union's success in the centre was significantly slower. After ten days of intense battle, Soviet soldiers seized Naro-Fominsk on December 26th, Kaluga on December 28th, and Maloyaroslavets on January 2nd. After pushing the weary and cold German soldiers back 100–250 km (62–155 mi) from Moscow, the attack was called off on January 7th 1942, due to a lack of Soviet reserves. Stalin ordered more offensives to trap and destroy the Army Group Centre in front of Moscow, but the Red Army was weary and overstretched, and they failed.

Aftermath

The Red Army's winter counter-offensive forced the Wehrmacht out of Moscow, but the city remained a threat due to the proximity of the front lines. As a result, the Moscow theatre remained a top priority for Stalin, who initially looked stunned by Germany's early triumph. The initial Soviet push, in particular, failed to remove the Rzhev salient, which numerous divisions of the Army Group Centre held. Following the Moscow counter-offensive, a succession of Soviet attacks against the salient was launched, each with severe casualties on both sides. Finally, the Wehrmacht was forced to retreat from the salient in early 1943 as the entire front moved west.

Nonetheless, Army Group Centre was effectively defeated from the Smolensk landbridge and the left bank of the upper top Dnieper at the end of the 2nd Battle of Smolensk in October 1943, securing the Moscow front. Furious that his Army had failed to capture Moscow, Hitler fired his commander-in-chief, Walther von Brauchitsch, on December 19th, 1941, and assumed leadership of the Wehrmacht personally, essentially assuming control of all military decisions. Hitler also surrounded himself with staff officers who had little or no combat experience. For the first time in the beginning since June 1941, Soviet forces had halted and beaten back the Germans. As a result, an overconfident Stalin decided to widen the onslaught even further. During a conference in the Kremlin on January 5th, 1942, Stalin revealed that he was organizing a massive spring offensive that would take place near Moscow, Leningrad, Kharkov, and Crimea at the same time. Despite Zhukov's protests, this idea was approved. Low Red Army reserves, as well as Wehrmacht tactical skill, resulted in the "Rzhev meat grinder," a bloody stalemate near Rzhev, as well as a series of Red Army defeats, including the Second Battle of Kharkov, a failed attempt to eliminate the Demyansk pocket, the encirclement of General Andrey Vlasov's Army in an effort that was unable to lift the siege of Leningrad and thus as a result of this the destruction of the Red Army These defeats would eventually lead to a successful German offensive in the south, culminating in the Battle of Stalingrad. During the struggle, a documentary film titled Moscow Strikes Back was made and widely broadcast throughout the Soviet Union. In August 1942, it was brought to America and shown at the Globe in New York. "The ferocity of that withdrawal is a spectacle to awe the imagination," wrote a New York Times reviewer. The video featured pictures of German crimes done during the occupation, including "the naked and butchered children sprawled out in horrific rows, the teenagers swinging limply in the cold from rickety, but powerful enough gallows."

Legacy

Moscow's defence became a symbol of Soviet resistance to the advancing Axis armies. On the 20th anniversary of Victory Day in 1965, Moscow was given the title of "Hero City" to honour the struggle. In 1995, the Moscow Defense Museum was established. An annual military parade in Red Square in Moscow, Russia's capital, was conducted on November 7th to remember the October Revolution Parade and as a substitute for the October Revolution festivities, which have not been staged on a national level since 1995. The parade is organized as a Day of Military Honour to commemorate the momentous event. The parade features troops from the Moscow Garrison and the Western Military District, with close to three thousand (3,000) soldiers, cadets, and Red Army reenactors in attendance. The march is led by Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, who gives a speech during the ceremony. A historical reenactment of the Battle of Moscow is performed by young students, volunteers, and historical enthusiasts before the commencement of the procession. The parade instructions are always provided by a high-ranking veteran of the armed services (typically with a billet of a Colonel) from the grandstand near the Lenin Mausoleum, who provides the orders for the march past. The parade begins with the command of Quick March! from the parade leader, and the historical colour guards march to the music of Song of the Soviet Army, carrying wartime emblems such as the Banner of Victory and the flags of the numerous battlefronts. Throughout the parade, the Moscow Garrison's Massed Bands include multiple military bands from the Western Military District, the 154th Preobrazhensky Regimental Band, and the Central Military Band of Russia's Ministry of Defense musical support.

Casualties

The number of German and Soviet losses during the Battle of Moscow has been a matter of contention, with estimates varying widely. Not all historians agree on when the "Battle of Moscow" should be included in the World War II timeline. While the start of the conflict is commonly considered September 30th 1941 (or occasionally October 2nd 1941), the end of the attack is marked by two dates. Some sources, for example, Erickson and Glantz, omit the Rzhev assault from the conflict, seeing it as a separate operation and declaring the Moscow offensive "over" on January 7th, 1942, thereby reducing the number of losses. The data from different sources also differ significantly. Between October 1941 and January 1942, John Erickson estimates 653,924 Soviet casualties in his book Barbarossa: The Axis and the Allies. In his book When Titans Clashed, Glantz estimates 658,279 for the defence phase alone, plus 370,955 for the winter counter-offensive until January 7th, 1942. Between October 1941 and January 1942, the official Wehrmacht daily casualty records reveal 35,757 dead in battle, 128,716 wounded, and 9,721 missing in action for the whole Army Group Centre. However, unofficial accounts from individual battalion and divisional officers and commanders at the front, who indicate significantly more deaths than those officially acknowledged, contradict the official report. Discipline grew ruthless on the Russian side. The NKVD blocking units would shoot anyone fleeing without instructions. NKVD teams searched field hospitals for troops who had self-inflicted injuries or self shooters,' who had shot themselves in the left hand to avoid combat. A Red Army physician acknowledged amputating the hands of youngsters who tried this self-shooting' notion to prevent war to protect them from being executed by a punishment squad. Blocking detachments killed 1,000 prison troops and sent 24,993 to penal battalions in the first three months. Regular blocking detachments were discreetly discontinued by October 1942, and the units were formally abolished by October 1944.

Last updated: 2022-January-10
Tags: History World War II
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