Operation Barbarossa in 50 Stunning Images

It is difficult to overstate the miscalculation made by Adolph Hitler when he decided to proceed with Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union.

Whether he imagined taking the huge country would be relatively easy, or whether he simply hated Stalin so much it clouded his thinking can never be truly known.

What is known, and what matters, is that this pivotal decision meant that, almost since he launched the invasion in 1941, Hitler doomed himself and his armies to the ultimate surrender to the Allies that finally happened in 1945.

But when the campaign was begun on June 22nd, 1941, failure was the furthest thing from Hitler’s mind.

German soldier looking at corpse of Soviet soldier and destroyed tank BT-7 on steppes of Ukraine during Operation Barbarossa. 1941.
German soldier looking at corpse of Soviet soldier and destroyed tank BT-7 on steppes of Ukraine during Operation Barbarossa. 1941.

Called Operation Barbarossa, three million soldiers, thousands of tanks and countless planes swarmed over the Soviet Union like a plague of locusts.

But the Germans failed to consider two key points: the vast geography of the country they were desperately trying to conquer, and the stoic determination of the Soviet people to keep Hitler and his troops at bay.

Initially, however, the Germans made progress. They destroyed some places, cities like Pskov, and marched in victory in other places like Minsk. But the glory didn’t last; the Nazi troops were ill-equipped for a sustained battle, lacking in everything from rations for their men to bullets for guns and fuel for tanks.

It looked glorious to Hitler and the folks back home for a brief moment, but soon the reality of fighting the Soviets on their home turf turned hideous, and the Nazis began losing battle after battle.

It wasn’t just combat that didn’t go well. At almost every turn, they encountered obstacles that made fighting nearly impossible. For example, they came upon the “Stalin Line,” the same hurdle that, 100 years earlier, had been impassable for Napoleon.

Panzer Division enters Minsk. June 1941
Panzer Division enters Minsk. June 1941

Even though German troops had enough supplies to get fairly close to Moscow, they were not equipped for the severe Russian winter that was soon upon them. Soldiers had not warm coats or boots. No one had enough food. The campaign was in tatters, an utter failure.

By March of the following year, Operation Barbarossa was doomed and declared over. The German soldiers retreated, and by then their efforts in Europe were under serious threat as well.

There would be three more years of fighting before Hitler committed suicide and his officials surrendered, but Operation Barbarossa was, in some ways, where that long road to failure began.

 

Soviet POWs, captured in summer, 1941. Bundesarchiv
Soviet POWs, captured in summer, 1941. Bundesarchiv

 

Soviet POWs near Charkov. 1941. Bundesarchiv.
Soviet POWs near Charkov. 1941. Bundesarchiv.

 

Soviet gun crew in action at Odessa. 1941
Soviet gun crew in action at Odessa. 1941

 

Soldiers in the trenches on the Leningrad Front before an offensive
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. Bundesarchiv
PzKpfw 35(t) from the Army Group North during ‘Operation Barbarossa’, in the background, a village is on fire. July 1941. Bundesarchiv

 

Over 100 years earlier Napoleon also met this obstacle on the same route. Bundesarchiv
Over 100 years earlier Napoleon also met this obstacle on the same route. Bundesarchiv

 

MG-34 team and Panzer IV. 1941. Bundesarchiv
MG-34 team and Panzer IV. 1941. Bundesarchiv

 

Latvians welcoming Wehrmacht soldiers in Riga. 7 July 1941. Bundesarchiv.
Latvians welcoming Wehrmacht soldiers in Riga. 7 July 1941. Bundesarchiv.

 

German vehicles driving across the river near Petsamo during operation ‘Silberfuchs’. 29 June 1941. Bundesarchiv
German vehicles driving across the river near Petsamo during operation ‘Silberfuchs’. 29 June 1941. Bundesarchiv

 

German soldier throwing Stg24 stick hand grenade. Bundesarchiv
German soldier throwing Stg24 stick hand grenade. Bundesarchiv

 

German Soldiers inspecting the so-called ‘Stalin Line’, which was a line of fortifications on Polish-Soviet border. Bundesarchiv
German Soldiers inspecting the so-called ‘Stalin Line’, which was a line of fortifications on Polish-Soviet border. Bundesarchiv

 

German soldiers on PzKpfw IV during campaign in Crimea. May 1942. Bundesarchiv
German soldiers on PzKpfw IV during campaign in Crimea. May 1942. Bundesarchiv

 

German soldiers passing by Soviet barricades on street in Charkov. October 1941. Bundesarchiv
German soldiers passing by Soviet barricades on street in Charkov. October 1941. Bundesarchiv

 

German soldiers shoot the Soviet positions on the other side of Dniepr River with anti-tank gun PaK 36. 20th September 1941. Bundesarchiv
German soldiers shoot the Soviet positions on the other side of Dniepr River with anti-tank gun PaK 36. 20th September 1941. Bundesarchiv

 

German soldiers with destroyed Soviet tank KW-1 in Kowno. Bundesarchiv
German soldiers with destroyed Soviet tank KW-1 in Kowno. Bundesarchiv

 

German Soldiers with Mauser Kar98k carbines, standard infantry rifle. 1941. Bundesarchiv
German Soldiers with Mauser Kar98k carbines, standard infantry rifle. 1941. Bundesarchiv

 

German tanks PzKpfw III of 13. Panzer Division during first phase of the Operation Barbarossa. Bundesarchiv
German tanks PzKpfw III of 13. Panzer Division during first phase of the Operation Barbarossa. Bundesarchiv

 

German tanks PzKpfw IV in Witebsk, July 1941. Bundesarchiv
German tanks PzKpfw IV in Witebsk, July 1941. Bundesarchiv

 

German soldier during advance, beside captured french tank Somua S-35. September 1941. Bundesarchiv
German soldier during advance, beside captured french tank Somua S-35. September 1941. Bundesarchiv

 

German motorised unit during advance on Smolensk. Note the anti-tank gun PaK 36. Bundesarchiv
German motorised unit during advance on Smolensk. Note the anti-tank gun PaK 36. Bundesarchiv

 

German military engineers of 11th Army during building of floating bridge on Prut river. 1 July 1941. Bundesarchiv
German military engineers of 11th Army during building of floating bridge on Prut river. 1 July 1941. Bundesarchiv

 

German infantry during street fights in Charkov. 25th October 1941. Bundesarchiv
German infantry during street fights in Charkov. 25th October 1941. Bundesarchiv

 

German Cavalry in village burning village, near Mohylev, 16th July 1941. Bundesarchiv
German Cavalry in village burning village, near Mohylev, 16th July 1941. Bundesarchiv

 

German assault gun Sturmgeshutz III and light armoured half-track Sd.Kfz.250 on streets in Charkov. October 1941. Bundesarchiv
German assault gun Sturmgeshutz III and light armoured half-track Sd.Kfz.250 on streets in Charkov. October 1941. Bundesarchiv

 

German armored fighting vehicle Sd.Kfz.251 in a city in Latvia. June 1941. Bundesarchiv
German armored fighting vehicle Sd.Kfz.251 in a city in Latvia. June 1941. Bundesarchiv

 

Destroyed tanks T-26 of 19. Panzer Division, 22 Mechanized Corps, near Lutsk.
Destroyed tanks T-26 of 19. Panzer Division, 22 Mechanized Corps, near Lutsk.

 

Destroyed Soviet tank T-35.
Destroyed Soviet tank T-35.

 

A jammed road wasn’t unusual for such massive invasion. 1941. Bundesarchiv
A jammed road wasn’t unusual for such massive invasion. 1941. Bundesarchiv

 

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. Bundesarchiv
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. Bundesarchiv

 

 

Army Group North enter pine grove near Leningrad. October 1941. Bundesarchiv
Army Group North enter pine grove near Leningrad. October 1941. Bundesarchiv

 

Burning T-34 in 1941. Bundesarchiv
Burning T-34 in 1941. Bundesarchiv

 

Captured soviet armour, looted by Germans in early phases of the Operation Barbarossa. Bundesarchiv
Captured soviet armour, looted by Germans in early phases of the Operation Barbarossa. Bundesarchiv

 

Column of Soviet POWs on the street of Minsk. 2nd July 1941. Bundesarchiv
Column of Soviet POWs on the street of Minsk. 2nd July 1941. Bundesarchiv

 

Destroyed MiG-3 during first days of the Operation Barbarossa
Destroyed MiG-3 during first days of the Operation Barbarossa

 

Destroyed MiG-3 during first days of the Operation Barbarossa. Bundesarchiv
Destroyed MiG-3 during first days of the Operation Barbarossa. Bundesarchiv

 

1st Panzer Group after the Battle of Brody. June 30 1941. Bundesarchiv
1st Panzer Group after the Battle of Brody. June 30 1941. Bundesarchiv

 

“To fight for Lenin’s – Stalin’s cause be ready!”. Bundesarchiv
“To fight for Lenin’s – Stalin’s cause be ready!”. Bundesarchiv

 

Wehrmacht on the street of destroyed city of Pskov. 1941. Bundesarchiv
Wehrmacht on the street of destroyed city of Pskov. 1941. Bundesarchiv

 

Wehrmacht crossing the border of the USSR at the beginning of the Operation Barbarossa. Bundesarchiv
Wehrmacht crossing the border of the USSR at the beginning of the Operation Barbarossa. Bundesarchiv

 

Wehrmacht builds floating bridge in Kiev. September 1941. Bundesarchiv
Wehrmacht builds floating bridge in Kiev. September 1941. Bundesarchiv

 

Waffen-SS troops seeking some cover during fights. 1941. Bundesarchiv
Waffen-SS troops seeking some cover during fights. 1941. Bundesarchiv

 

Two German soldiers during the fight in Ukraine, July 1941. Bundesarchiv
Two German soldiers during the fight in Ukraine, July 1941. Bundesarchiv

 

The fire of anti-aircraft guns deployed in the neighborhood of St. Isaac’s cathedral during the defense of Leningrad, 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. Bundesarchiv
Station of German MG-34 during fights on Ukraine, near bridge over Psel River. 2nd September 1941. Bundesarchiv

 

Soviet soldiers from units of Leningrad Front along with masked artillery cannon during fights on Leningrad suburbs. 1st November, 1941. RIA Novosti archive CC-BY-SA 3.0
Soviet soldiers from units of Leningrad Front along with masked artillery cannon during fights on Leningrad suburbs. 1st November, 1941. RIA Novosti archive CC-BY-SA 3.0

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Soviet soldier surrender himself and his tank T-26 to Germans after battle Raseiniai. Bundesarchiv
Soviet soldier surrender himself and his tank T-26 to Germans after battle Raseiniai. Bundesarchiv