Alan Clark, in his book on BARBAROSSA, describes the Russian-German conflict of 1941-1945 as the greatest land battle mankind has ever fought. The following outline summarizes his narrative and analysis from the opening invasion to the end of Operation CITADEL, the point at which German defeat became a foregone conclusion.


June 22. Operation BARBAROSSA begins. Over 3 million German soldiers and 3300 tanks cross the Russian border. The Wehrmarcht (German Army) is organized into three Army Groups . Facing them is the world's largest army comprised of 230 divisions of 14,000 men each, with 20,000 tanks (many obsolete.) The Russian Army is organized into four Military Districts.

June 23. The Luftwaffe (German Air Force) destroys over 2,000 Red Air Force aircraft. Many are caught on the ground in the first hours of the assault. The numerically strongest air force in the world is wiped out in 48 hours. The Commander of Russian Aviation, General Rychagov, is given the death sentence for "treasonable activity" (i.e. defeat.)

June 28. The Wehrmarcht captures Minsk, having advanced over 200 miles in a week. 15 Russian divisions are surrounded, and later surrender.

July 3. Stalin calls for scorched earth policy in radio broadcast.

July 10. Germans cross Dnieper River. Guderian, the most aggressive German general, wishes to push on. Kluge, his superior, orders him to hold and wait for the infantry to catch up. Guderian convinces him to allow further penetration, but Kluge worries, "your operations always hang by a thread."

July 15. Smolensk is taken, and another 300,000 Russian soldiers with it.

July 22. The German advance is temporarily halted to allow infantry and supplies to catch up to the Panzer armies.

The German's are experiencing a new kind of warfare. The Russians seem content to trade 10 Russian lives for 1 German. They continually mount reckless counter-attacks. These wasteful attacks have an unnerving effect on the Wehrmarcht.

July 27. Hitler orders Guderian's Panzers to turn south, away from Moscow, in order to conquer Russia's economic centers. Guderian's 2nd Panzer Army is renamed ArmeeGruppe Guderian in recognition of his successes. Further, he is no longer subordinate to Kluge, but answers directly to Bock, Commander of Army Group Centre.

August 3. Guderian, who desires to continue the thrust toward Moscow, disobeys orders and intentionally gets caught up in fighting at Roslavl. Hitler, however, is not to be denied. Guderian is forced to move south.

The German high command grows restless at the growing disobedience of forward commanders. Hitler is haunted by the ghost of Napoleon. He admits to Guderian, "had I known Russian tank strength...I would not have started this war."
August 7. Stalin assumes the title Supreme Commander of military forces.

August 19. German troops under von Leeb surround Leningrad in the north.

August 22. Guderian flies to see Hitler, to convince him of the need to drive on Moscow. Hitler refuses, stating, "my generals know nothing about the economic aspects of war." The drive south continues.

Southern Front

September 12. The first snow slows the Wehrmarcht's advance.

September 13. Russian General Zhukov is sent to oversee defense of Leningrad. He puts the citizens to work creating multiple defensive lines around the city.

September 19. Hitler's drive south nets the city of Kiev. 650,000 Russian soldiers are captured, the largest number ever, in any war.

October 2. Hitler orders the resumption of the attack on Moscow. There is only limited time before the harsh Russian winter "General January" assists the Red Army. Some argue the delay in attacking Moscow cost Germany the war.

October 21. Zhukov moved from the successful defense of Leningrad to take command of Moscow's defenses.

October 24. Kharkov falls to the Wehrmarcht, netting yet another Russian Army Group.

November 25. Operation TYPHOON. The Wehrmarcht's final drive on Moscow begins. The attack reaches to within 20 miles of Moscow before it is halted by stiff resistance and bitter cold.

December 5. Hitler abandons the attack on Moscow. Zhukov begins a counter-attack, utilizing Siberian troops no longer needed against Japan since the April Neutrality Pact with Japan

December 20. Hitler dismisses Guderian from command for disobeying his order not to give up one inch of ground. (Guderian was adjusting his front line in order to shorten it.)

At the end of 1941, Hitler was left wondering what was holding the Red Army together. The Russians had lost 3 million soldiers (its entire strength at the start of the war.) Fully half of its economic base was in German hands. But Russia was still strong. It had 9 million men of military age left, (enough for 400 divisions) and produced 4500 new tanks over the winter. Germany could not match either of these numbers. A sustained battle of attrition strongly favored Russia.


Front Lines in 1942

January 5. Stalin orders new offensive.

January 13. Russians recapture Kiev.

March 30. Russian offensive ends, both sides are much weakened.

May 8. Operation BLUE begins. Germany's summer offensive to the south. Hitler's goal for this offensive is to capture the urgently needed oil fields of the Caucasus.

May 28. German General Paulus' 6th Army closes a trap at Kharkov, capturing 240,000 Russians.

From here on, mass captures of this kind become rare for two reasons. First, Stalin began to allow his troops to retreat when their flanks were threatened. Second, stories of Germany's horrendous treatment of POW's filtered throughout the Russian ranks (of 5.7 million prisoners taken by Germany in the course of the war, 3.3 million died in captivity.) Russians now prefer to die in combat rather than surrender.
July 31. Paulus' 6th Army crosses the Don River and races for Stalingrad. Russian General Chuikov reinforces as fast as his railways allow.

August 25. Zhukov, Russia's only undefeated general, is now put in charge of the defenses of Stalingrad.

September 1. Fierce fighting erupts around Stalingrad.

September 13. Germany's "final offensive" to capture Stalingrad begins.

At Stalingrad, the Wehrmarcht had met its match. The soldiers had an uneasy feeling they were fighting men of nearly superhuman strength and resilience. The wounded Russian rarely cried out. Hoffman, a German officer, confided to his diary that Russian's displayed an "insane stubbornness." He said they are, "fanatics...wild beasts...not men, but some kind of cast iron creatures; they never get tired and are not afraid of fire."
October 14. Hitler orders the second "final offensive" in Stalingrad. Heavy house to house fighting fails to capture the city.

November 17. The Red Army counter-attacks at the flanks of Paulus' 6th Army in Stalingrad.

November 23. The 6th Army is encircled by the Russians.

November 28. German General Manstein assumes command of the under strength Army Group Don, and is assigned the task of rescuing Paulus (Operation WINTER STORM.)

German Mark IV Tank

December 19. Manstein advances to within 30 miles of Stalingrad, asks Paulus to attempt to breakout in his direction. Paulus, fearful of the Fuhrer's wrath, refuses to budge.

At the end of 1942, it is Germany that seems on the edge of collapse. The Wehrmarcht has by now lost half its strength. It is greatly outnumbered and, for the first time, faces soldiers as effective as its own. At this critical point, two men step forward to hold the Army together. Guderian is appointed by Hitler to the new post of Inspector General. He has wide ranging powers over manufacture and deployment of all Panzer forces. He doubles production and oversees development of the new Tiger and Panther tanks. In the field, Manstein manages to hold the Wehrmarcht together by taking desperate gambles and through sheer force of will.


January 8. Paulus' 6th Army refuses the Russian demand to surrender.

January 30. Hitler promotes Paulus to Field Marshal in hopes of stiffening his resolve to fight on. He fails.

January 31. Paulus surrenders the remnants of the 6th Army. 100,000 are already casualties, 110,000 march into captivity. It is the greatest Russian victory of the war, and the tide now turns.

February 6. The Red Army reaches the Sea of Azov, cutting off German Army Group A.

March. The Russians press forward on all fronts. However, they find offensive maneuvers much more difficult to support than defensive. Their supply line now increase, rather than decrease in length, hampering operations.

April. As Guderian gathers Panzer forces behind the lines for an offensive, Germany's high command debates how to proceed. Manstein argues for a "backhand" attack that would allow the Red Army to press forward into the Donetz Basin. He wanted to let them put their head in a noose" so he could deliver the decisive counter blow on their flank. Hitler squashed this plan as too politically risky (he didn't want to give that much ground.)

May. Hitler decides on an offensive at the Kursk salient (i.e. a bulge in the front line.) He gathers nearly all his remaining Panzer strength for a decisive attack. However, against Manstein's advise, he decides to postpone the attack until July when the new Panther tank will be available. The delay allows the Red Army to create successive line of anti-tank defenses in front of Kursk.

July 5. Operation CITADEL begins. At Kursk, the largest tank battle in history takes place. 2700 German tanks and assault guns are arrayed against nearly 4000 Russian. It is greatest collection of Wehrmarcht power yet, and most German generals felt nothing could stop it. But they had given up their greatest asset, their one true advantage over the Red Army. Their strength was always in their ability to out manoeuver, not out slug, the Russian. This mistake would cost them dearly.

Russian T-34

July 10. Due to heavy losses and slow progress by the Panzers, Hoth is obligated to commit his reserves to the battle. They are merely chewed up along with hundreds of other German and Russian tanks.

July 13. Hitler calls and end to CITADEL. Both sides suffered extremely heavy losses of tanks. But the Russians could make up their losses in a few months production. The Wehrmarcht would never again assemble a force capable of taking the initiative back from the Red Army.

July 19. The Red Army begins a counter offensive at Kursk. From here on, the Russians slowly grind the Wehrmarcht under their feet, and relentlessly advance toward the German border, and victory.


first published March 5, 1996; revised July 7, 2002 | Timeline start