On June 22, 1941, more than 3 million German soldiers invaded Russia in three parallel offensives, in what is the most powerful invading force in history. Nineteen panzer divisions, 3,000 tanks, 2,500 airplanes and 7,000 pieces of artillery fire on a thousand-mile front while Hitler goes to war on a second front.
Despite the fact that Germany and Russia had signed a “pact” in 1939, each guaranteeing the other a specific area of influence without interference from the other, suspicion remained high. When the Soviet Union invaded Romania in 1940, Hitler saw a threat to its oil supply from the Balkans. He immediately responded by moving two armored divisions and 10 infantry divisions to Poland, posing a counter threat to Russia. But what started as a defensive movement has turned into a German first strike plan. Despite advisers’ warnings that Germany could not wage war on two fronts (as Germany’s WWI experience proved), Hitler became convinced that England resisted German attacks , refusing to surrender because she had made a secret agreement with Russia. Fearing to be “strangled” from East and West, in December 1940 he created “Directive No. 21: Barbarossa affair” – the plan to invade and occupy the very nation to which he had actually asked to join the Axis only a month before.
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June 22, 1941, after postponing the invasion of Russia after Italy’s attack on Greece forced Hitler to bail out his troubled ally to prevent the Allies from gaining a foothold in the Balkans, three groups of the German army struck Russia hard by surprise. The Russian army was larger than German intelligence had anticipated, but it was demobilized. Stalin had ignored the warnings of his own advisers, even Winston Churchill himself, that a German attack was imminent. (Although Hitler wired his territorial plans to Russia as early as 1925 – in his autobiography, Mein Kampf.) By the end of the first day of the invasion, the German Air Force had destroyed over 1,000 Soviet aircraft. And despite the tenacity of Russian troops and the number of tanks and other armaments at their disposal, the Red Army was disorganized, allowing the Germans to penetrate up to 300 miles into Russian territory in the coming days.
Exactly 129 years and one day before Operation Barbarossa, another “dictator” foreign to the country he controlled, invaded Russia, going to the capital. But despite this early success, Napoleon would be brought back to France by Russian troops.