Operation Barbarossa

Operation Barbarossa began just before dawn on 22 June 1941. The Germans wrecked the wire network in all Soviet western military districts to undermine Soviet communications.[34] At 03:15 on 22 June 1941, ninety-nine of 190 German divisions, including fourteen panzer divisions and ten motorized, deployed against the Soviet Union from the Baltic to the Black Sea. They were accompanied by ten Romanian divisions, nine Romanian and four Hungarian brigades.[35] On the same day, the Baltic, Western and Kiev Special military districts were renamed to Northwestern, Western and Southwestern Fronts respectively.[34] To establish air supremacy, the Luftwaffe began immediate attacks on Soviet airfields, destroying much of the forward-deployed Soviet Air Force airfield fleets consisting of largely obsolescent types before their pilots had a chance to leave the ground.[36] For a month the offensive conducted on three axes was completely unstoppable as the panzer forces encircled hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops in huge pockets that were then reduced by slower-moving infantry armies while the panzers continued the offensive, following the Blitzkrieg doctrine. Army Group North's objective was Leningrad via the Baltic States. Comprising the 16th and 18th Armies and the 4th Panzer Group, this formation advanced through Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and the Russian Pskov and Novgorod regions. In Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, they were supported by the local insurgents, "liberating" almost the whole of Lithuania, northern Latvia and southern Estonia prior to the arrival of the German forces.[37][38] Army Group Centre's two panzer groups (2nd and 3rd) advanced to the north and south of Brest-Litovsk and converged east of Minsk, followed by the 2nd, 4th, and 9th Armies. The combined panzer force reached the Beresina River in just six days, 650 km (400 mi) from their start lines. The next objective was to cross the Dnieper river, which was accomplished by 11 July. Following that, their next target was Smolensk, wh

ch fell on 16 July, but the fierce Soviet resistance in the Smolensk area and retardation of Wehrmacht advance in North and South forced Hitler to halt a center thrust at Moscow and to divert Panzer Group 3 north. Critically, Guderian's Panzer Group 2 was ordered to move south in a giant pincer maneuver with Army Group South which was advancing into Ukraine. Army Group Centre's infantry divisions were left relatively unsupported by armor to continue their slow advance to Moscow. This decision caused a severe leadership crisis. The German field commanders argued for an immediate offensive towards Moscow, but Hitler overruled them, citing the importance of Ukrainian agricultural, mining and industrial resources, as well as the massing of Soviet reserves in the Gomel area between Army Group Centre's southern flank and the bogged-down Army Group South's northern flank. This decision, Hitler's "summer pause",[39] is believed to have had a severe impact on the Battle of Moscow's outcome, by giving up speed in the advance on Moscow in favor of encircling large numbers of Soviet troops around Kiev.[40] Army Group South, with 1st Panzer Group, 6th, 11th and 17th Armies, was tasked with advancing through Galicia and into Ukraine. Their progress, however, was rather slow, and took heavy casualties in a major tank battle. With the corridor towards Kiev secured by mid-July, the 11th Army, aided by two Romanian armies, fought its way through Bessarabia towards Odessa. The 1st Panzer Group turned away from Kiev for the moment, advancing into the Dnieper bend (western Dnipropetrovsk Oblast). When it joined up with the southern elements of Army Group South at Uman, the Group captured about 100,000 Soviet prisoners in a huge encirclement. Advancing armored divisions of the Army Group South met with the Guderian's Panzer Group 2 near Lokhvytsa in mid September, cutting off large numbers of Red Army troops in the pocket east of Kiev.[39] 400,000 Soviet prisoners were captured as Kiev was surrendered on 19 September.