This Day in History: Nazi Germany invades the Soviet Union

Posted in American, European, Russian by Alex L. on June 22, 2009

On June 22, 1941, Nazi German armies invaded the Soviet Union, catching the Red Army by surprise and destroying thousands of Soviet airplanes before they even had a chance to take off from the ground. The ensuing battle, known as Operation Barbarossa, lasted until the winter of that year and, according to Wikipedia, “remains the largest military operation, in terms of manpower, area traversed, and casualties, in human history.” I read a few articles (you can tell from which impeccably-reliable source) today about this event and learned a few interesting points.

The mainstream scholarly view of the invasion holds that the Germans caught Joseph Stalin completely by surprise, which explains the heavy Soviet casualties in the beginning of the campaign. A Russian author, Viktor Suvorov, has recently challenged this traditional view with a theory that the Soviets were actually planning an invasion of Germany in 1941 but were beaten to the offensive. This is an ongoing debate among scholars, especially since Suvorov’s theory is largely based on circumstantial evidence (for instance, that the Soviets were developing offensive technologies such as this ridiculous-looking flying tank). Another interesting scholarly controversy I encountered was why the conflict on the Eastern Front of World War II is not well known in America. A recent book, The Myth of the Eastern Front: The Nazi-Soviet War in American Popular Culture, tackles this question. Although my reading on the subject of Operation Barbarossa has been brief today, there are many interesting avenues for further study.

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