Operation Barbarossa in 50 Stunning Images

Operation Barbarossa (German: Unternehmen Barbarossa) also known as the German invasion of the Soviet Union was the code name for the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany and some of its Axis allies, which started on Sunday, 22 June 1941, during World War II. The operation put into action Nazi Germany’s ideological goal of conquering the western Soviet Union so as to repopulate it with Germans. The German Generalplan Ost aimed to use some of the conquered people as slave labour for the Axis war effort while acquiring the oil reserves of the Caucasus as well as the agricultural resources of various Soviet territories. Their ultimate goal included the eventual extermination, enslavement, Germanization and mass deportation to Siberia of the Slavic peoples, and to create more Lebensraum (living space) for Germany.

In the two years leading up to the invasion, Germany and the Soviet Union signed political and economic pacts for strategic purposes. Following the Soviet occupation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, the German High Command began planning an invasion of the Soviet Union in July 1940 (under the codename Operation Otto), which Adolf Hitler authorized on 18 December 1940. Over the course of the operation, about three million personnel of the Axis powers—the largest invasion force in the history of warfare—invaded the western Soviet Union along a 2,900-kilometer (1,800 mi) front, with 600,000 motor vehicles and over 600,000 horses for non-combat operations. The offensive marked a massive escalation of World War II, both geographically and in the formation of the Allied coalition including the Soviet Union.

The operation opened up the Eastern Front, in which more forces were committed than in any other theater of war in history. The area saw some of the world’s largest battles, most horrific atrocities, and highest casualties (for Soviet and Axis forces alike), all of which influenced the course of World War II and the subsequent history of the 20th century. The German armies eventually captured some five million Soviet Red Army troops. The Nazis deliberately starved to death or otherwise killed 3.3 million Soviet prisoners of war, and a vast number of civilians, as the “Hunger Plan” worked to solve German food shortages and exterminate the Slavic population through starvation. Mass shootings and gassing operations, carried out by the Nazis or willing collaborators, murdered over a million Soviet Jews as part of the Holocaust.

The failure of Operation Barbarossa reversed the fortunes of Nazi Germany. Operationally, German forces achieved significant victories and occupied some of the most important economic areas of the Soviet Union (mainly in Ukraine) and inflicted, as well as sustained, heavy casualties. Despite these early successes, the German offensive stalled in the Battle of Moscow at the end of 1941, and the subsequent Soviet winter counteroffensive pushed the Germans about 250 km back. The Germans had confidently expected a quick collapse of Soviet resistance as in Poland, but the Red Army absorbed the German Wehrmacht’s strongest blows and bogged it down in a war of attrition for which the Germans were unprepared. The Wehrmacht’s diminished forces could no longer attack along the entire Eastern Front, and subsequent operations to retake the initiative and drive deep into Soviet territory—such as Case Blue in 1942 and Operation Citadel in 1943—eventually failed, which resulted in the Wehrmacht’s retreat and collapse.

German soldier looking at corpse of Soviet soldier and destroyed tank BT-7 on steppes of Ukraine during Operation Barbarossa. 1941.
Panzer Division enters Minsk. June 1941
Soviet POWs, captured in summer, 1941.
Soviet POWs near Charkov. 1941.
Soviet gun crew in action at Odessa. 1941
Soldiers in the trenches on the Leningrad Front before an offensive.
PzKpfw 35(t) from the Army Group North during ‘Operation Barbarossa’, in the background, a village is on fire. July 1941.
Over 100 years earlier Napoleon also met this obstacle on the same route.
MG-34 team and Panzer IV. 1941.
Latvians welcoming Wehrmacht soldiers in Riga. 7 July 1941.
German vehicles driving across the river near Petsamo during operation ‘Silberfuchs’. 29 June 1941.
German soldier throwing Stg24 stick hand grenade.
German Soldiers inspecting the so-called ‘Stalin Line’, which was a line of fortifications on Polish-Soviet border.
German soldiers on PzKpfw IV during campaign in Crimea. May 1942.
German soldiers passing by Soviet barricades on street in Charkov. October 1941.
German soldiers shoot the Soviet positions on the other side of Dniepr River with anti-tank gun PaK 36. 20th September 1941.
German soldiers with destroyed Soviet tank KW-1 in Kowno.
German Soldiers with Mauser Kar98k carbines, standard infantry rifle. 1941.
German tanks PzKpfw III of 13. Panzer Division during first phase of the Operation Barbarossa.
German tanks PzKpfw IV in Witebsk, July 1941.
German soldier during advance, beside captured french tank Somua S-35. September 1941.
German motorised unit during advance on Smolensk. Note the anti-tank gun PaK 36.
German military engineers of 11th Army during building of floating bridge on Prut river. 1 July 1941.
German infantry during street fights in Charkov. 25th October 1941.
German Cavalry in village burning village, near Mohylev, 16th July 1941.
German assault gun Sturmgeshutz III and light armoured half-track Sd.Kfz.250 on streets in Charkov. October 1941.
German armored fighting vehicle Sd.Kfz.251 in a city in Latvia. June 1941.
Destroyed tanks T-26 of 19. Panzer Division, 22 Mechanized Corps, near Lutsk.
Destroyed Soviet tank T-35.
A jammed road wasn’t unusual for such massive invasion. 1941.
Abandoned Soviet tank KW-2, after the battle of Raseiniai, 1941. A single tank of this type held off the entire sixth PanzerDivisionn for a whole day.
Army Group North enter pine grove near Leningrad. October 1941.
Burning T-34 in 1941.
Captured soviet armour, looted by Germans in early phases of the Operation Barbarossa.
Column of Soviet POWs on the street of Minsk. 2nd July 1941.
Destroyed MiG-3 during first days of the Operation Barbarossa
Destroyed MiG-3 during first days of the Operation Barbarossa.
1st Panzer Group after the Battle of Brody. June 30 1941.
“To fight for Lenin’s – Stalin’s cause be ready!”.
Wehrmacht on the street of destroyed city of Pskov. 1941.
Wehrmacht crossing the border of the USSR at the beginning of the Operation Barbarossa.
Wehrmacht builds floating bridge in Kiev. September 1941.
Waffen-SS troops seeking some cover during fights. 1941.
Two German soldiers during the fight in Ukraine, July 1941.
The fire of anti-aircraft guns deployed in the neighborhood of St. Isaac’s cathedral during the defense of Leningrad, 1941.
Station of German MG-34 during fights on Ukraine, near bridge over Psel River. 2nd September 1941.
Soviet soldiers from units of Leningrad Front along with masked artillery cannon during fights on Leningrad suburbs. 1st November, 1941.
Soviet soldier surrender himself and his tank T-26 to Germans after battle Raseiniai.
Germans battle Soviet defenders on the streets of Kharkov, 25 October 1941

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