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June 22, 1941 is the blackest date in our national history.
June 22, 1941 is the blackest date in our national history. It is a symbol of absolute tragedy. Only defeat, surrender and disappearance of this country could be worse.

But the importance of this date is not limited to the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, or as some revisionists put it, "the start of hostilities on the eastern front of World War II." There are many disputes around June 22. Was this attack a surprise? Who is to blame for the defeat in the border battle, and what could have been done to avoid it? Let's try to answer at least some of these questions.

Modern historians criticize the Soviet leaders for not reacting to the warnings about an early German attack. However, many of them forget that June 22 was one of the numerous possible dates reported by intelligence. Soviet agent Richard Sorge warned that the attack might take place in early May, second half of May, or first half of June. He was not the only one to report these dates, but they passed and nothing happened. By June 20 neither Stalin, nor the Soviet headquarters could be certain of the exact date of an attack.

At the same time, strategically this was not a surprise attack. Aware of the general idea of Operation Barbarossa and watching the concentration of German troops, the Soviet leaders realized that an attack was just a matter of time, and tried to prepare for it. But the Germans could get 50 to 100 percent more trains from the west to the border than the Soviet Union could from the east. As a result, they increased the concentration of troops much faster than the Red Army.

The Soviet leaders did not know the exact date of the attack, and could not afford to keep the whole army in combat readiness all the time. They realized that the war would start on June 22 only in the evening of the previous day. Regrettably, the system of military communications did not leave them any time for alerting all troops of western districts. For the most part, these troops woke up from the thunder of the bombing and artillery shelling.

The role of communications in alerting troops cannot be overestimated. The Red Navy, which had been fully supplied with radios, was notified by Moscow of a German air attack in time, and sustained practically no losses on the first day of the war.

Another heatedly debated factor is the balance of forces in the border battles of 1941. Many historians compare gross numbers, forgetting that far from all armies on both sides were dispatched to the frontline.

Of those groups that did take part in fighting, Germans and their allies in their three groups of armies had 181 divisions, including 19 tank and 14 motorized divisions, and 18 brigades, apart from the forces they had concentrated in Finland and Norway.

The initial German offensive involved 5.5 million troops, 4,171 tanks and self-propelled guns, 47,260 artillery pieces and mortars, and 4,950 aircraft.

The Soviet armies amassed in the country's western regions comprised 3.3 million troops, over 10,000 tanks, 60,000 artillery pieces and mortars, and about 11,000 aircraft.

It seems the Soviet Union had fewer troops, but more weapons. Unfortunately, only 70% of tanks and aircraft could be actually used in battle, because of the ongoing industrialization drive, lack of workers, and the retooling of plants to produce new weapons and equipment, as well as a shortage of technical personnel and repair facilities in the army.

Moreover, available equipment did not guarantee victory, because the army was short on logistics and spare parts. The KV and T-34 tanks had not been adjusted for war conditions and their crews did not know how to use them properly. As a result, Soviet tank groups sustained heavy losses, most of them during the long marches they had to make in the first few days of the war.

The pre-war series of Yak and LaGG aircraft were unreliable either, and there were few of them. The MiG planes, which many pilots could fly well, were also in short supply. Because plants had already switched to building newer aircraft there was a shortage of spare parts for the older planes, which in any case could not match German aircraft in the battle for air superiority.

Because of the acute shortage of motor traction artillery guns were mostly moved around by horses or farm tractors, which were also in short supply, so that the guns crawled rather than moved quickly.

Taken together with an ill-considered deployment of Soviet troops in the western regions, this allowed Germany to make use of its superiority in manpower to take the initiative.

It is difficult, or almost impossible, to say who was to blame for the heavy losses sustained by the Soviet Union in the opening battles of the war. Generals were to blame for the ineffective deployment of troops and forces, while political leaders were guilty of choosing the wrong method of developing the army, which unbalanced military units and resulted in their rapid defeat.

But the main "culprit" was Germany, which had skilled and orderly manpower, reliable modern weapons and equipment, and experienced staff officers. In fact, it could hope to achieve more in those first battles, and we should thank our grandfathers' courage and selfless fighting for foiling the German plans.

Germany's surprise attack and success in border battles largely determined further action. Regular units of the Red Army were forced to retreat, breaking out of encirclements, their strength constantly falling. The German Wehrmacht maintained the strategic initiative from the first day of the war, intensifying its attacks in line with the principles of the Blitzkrieg, aiming at crushing the enemy before he is able to deploy reserves.

However, the Germans did not succeed as much as they had expected. In July 1941, it became clear that the Wehrmacht was no longer able to maintain simultaneous offensive operations in several directions, so the Germans had to choose their priorities. The main goal of Operation Barbarossa - reaching the ‘A-A line' (Arkhangelsk - Astrakhan) - remained beyond their grasp.

The Germans failed both to crush the Red Army, which managed to recover after the first few months' defeats, and to destroy the industrial potential of the USSR. Most of the production assets from the country's western regions had been evacuated, and the industrial areas in the Volga and Ural regions remained out of reach of the Wehrmacht. The Germans still had many successes ahead: the entrapment of Soviet troops in two pockets at Kiev and Vyazma, the breakthrough to Moscow and the 1942 offensive in southern Russia, but the Blitzkrieg was doomed.

At great cost, the Soviet Union stopped the enemy advance and forced a protracted war of attrition. In this kind of warfare, given the steadily growing might of the anti-Hitler coalition, already trying on the abbreviation UN, Germany stood no chance. 

         

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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