FINAL BARBAROSSA PLAN AND OTHER MAJOR BLUNDERS

Barbarossa was a bridge constructed over sand. The ineffective intelligence service of the German Army provided flawed data to the planners who based on it, arrived at erroneous conclusions: first, the size of the Red Army proved to be much greater than anticipated with the consequence that the size of the German army, including projected replacements, was insufficient to completely destroy the Red Army in a short summer campaign, and second, the occupation of western Russia would not prevent the generation of large quantities of new combat formations. The planning process itself, lacked checks and balances to detect and correct these defects on time.

The concept behind Barbarossa was analogous to the Sichelschnitt plan used to defeat France: the rapid destruction of a substantial portion of the enemy’s army to achieve a decisive numerical superiority in subsequent phases

These fundamental errors stacked the odds heavily against the Third Reich even before the firing of the first shot, because their consequence was that instead of a short-lived battle, the Germans would face a long-term attrition campaign for which they were simply not prepared.

The reasons for the ultimate failure of Barbarossa are, firstly, robust preparations for war on the part of the Soviets while German arrangements were inflexible , and secondly, the swift adaptation of the Russians to the actual conditions on the ground once they identified the mistaken expectations they made at the start, while the German corresponding response was sluggish and misdirected . The fog of war renders decision-making a messy affair, but the Russians were a match to the task whereas the Germans were not.

However, against all odds, the initial blows the Wehrmacht delivered, seriously shook the Soviet building to the point that the Red Army’s collapse became a possibility in 1941. It is important to understand how the Germans were trying to accomplish the destruction of the Soviet State, so we can identify where they made intelligent or thoughtless moves, and if they could have changed history.

Based on the plans approved by Hitler on 5 December, OKW set itself to write a directive. The purpose of a directive is to clearly lay out the goals of a specified campaign and the overall strategy that the armed forces would abide by to accomplish such goals. The directive is the foundation over which each of the branches of the armed forces developed their own operational plans ensuring proper coordination. A directive was not a binding order for war, but it gave instructions to start all necessary preparations for their completion in time in case it was necessary to implement it.

On 12 December, days before the approval of the directive, Admiral Raeder issued another report with strong objections to the new campaign, stressing that the defeat of Great Britain should be the priority. He was ardently trying to dissuade Hitler. But by this time, Hitler had made up his mind, and he responded to Raeder that the Navy and Air Force would receive priority after Russia’s defeat.

The dictator received the directive for his approval on 17 December 1940, but he did not sign it until the next day under the title Operation Barbarossa (Unternehmen Barbarossa) . He explicitly modified the original draft adding the important amendment that the capture of Leningrad and Kronshtadt along with the destruction of the enemy forces in the Baltic were the priority. Upon seizing these objectives, the advance on Moscow would resume and not before. He would only allow both forward movements to proceed simultaneously if the Red Army had collapsed already.

This change was not a surprise for von Brauchitsch or Halder since Hitler’s arguments were a restatement of his instructions during the 5 December conference.

The ensuing Army Order, detailing the operational implementation of the directive by the ground army, would suffer an important alteration in the southern sector of operations after intense debate. Both, the Directive, and Army Order took their final form in April 1941, just weeks before the invasion.

The concept behind Barbarossa was analogous to the Sichelschnitt plan used to defeat France: the rapid destruction of a substantial portion of the enemy’s army to achieve a decisive numerical superiority in subsequent phases .

Sichelschnitt contemplated 2 stages: the first was the encirclement and destruction of the British and French troops in northern and northwestern France and Belgium.

After the elimination of the pocket, the Germans, enjoying now a substantial numerical superiority, could more easily pierce the new French defensive line in the Somme-Aisne Rivers, and penetrate deeply in the enemy’s rear areas overrunning the whole country. The plan was overwhelmingly successful and in Barbarossa, the Germans projected to repeat the general formula .

The Germans knew that the Russians, taking advantage of the difficult geography of their country, faced the previous French invaders with a defense that consisted in fighting delaying actions that forced the aggressor to penetrate the country to the limit of their supply lines without engaging in a decisive battle. Once their supply state was unreliable, the Russians mounted counteroffensives to destroy or expel the overextended attackers.
The German Staff considered, that this time, such strategy was unworkable because it would mean the abandonment of their most important industrial centers, situated east of the Dvina and Dnieper Rivers. These centers were necessary to produce munitions to replace losses and continue to fight. Additionally, the German planners believed, incorrectly, that the bulk of the Soviet army had deployed on the frontier, although it was impossible to say if it would defend the border forcefully or if it would retreat slowly until it reached the Dnieper River. Barbarossa attempted to force a decision by using fast-moving, deep armored penetrations strongly supported by the Luftwaffe to prevent a large-scale retreat of the Red Army .

The final directive of April 1941 envisaged the deployment of 3 powerful Army Groups. Army Group North (AGN) and Army Group Center (AGC) to the north of the Pripet Marshes and Army Group South (AGS) to the south of this barrier .

The mass of the German troops would occupy positions in East Prussia and Poland: the two northern Army Groups assembled between Tilsit and Brest-Litovsk, while the bulk of Army Group South deployed between Lublin and Jaroslav (see next map). This remarkable concentrated grouping minimized the distance between the forward troops and the supply centers in Germany, and facilitated force deployment and store distribution because the best road and railroad networks were situated in this area.

The German main force deployment on 22 June 1941. North of the Pripet Marshes, between Tilsit and Brest the Germans deployed the 18th, 16th, 9th, and 4th armies with their attached Panzer groups. South of this obstacle, between Lublin and Jaroslav they placed 6th and 17th armies with an attached Panzer group. In comparison, German forces deployed in Rumania were small.

The remainder of the troops of Army Group South deployed west of the Prut River, along with Romanian troops, but these forces would not join the attack until after Barbarossa had gained momentum and would remain in a defensive stance without crossing the border. The distance from Romania to the German supply centers was considerably longer and over a less well-developed communication network, so only one German army occupied positions there.

The frontage from Memel (north of Tilsit) to Jaroslav was not overly extensive, about 1.100 km (700 miles), making it only 20% longer than the French front a year earlier. This allowed the German divisions allocated to this sector to assemble in depth. Successive waves fed consecutively behind the previous ones as the extension of the front increased.

Nevertheless, this front would surge to over 2.100 km (1.350 miles) very rapidly due to the funnel shape of the Soviet Union. This vast arena would exceed anything experienced by the German arms in previous offensives. If, as expected, the Wehrmacht had achieved numerical superiority over the Red Army by that time, the latter would find it impossible to defend this vast combat zone.

The main objective of the offensive was the destruction of the Red Army troops north of the Pripet Marshes and the mauling of those south of it. The secondary objective was to reach the Volga River from the Caspian Sea to Gorki and from there to Archangelsk by the White Sea in a roughly straight line, preventing any possibility of force regeneration by the Soviet state.

Barbarossa was designed to destroy the Red Army. The capture of Moscow was incidental to the destruction of Soviet military power.

The destruction of the bulk of the Russian forces would occur in three stages followed by a pursuit stage to reach the objective line (see next map). The point of main effort fell in the sector assigned to Army Group Center. This army group divided his forces in 2 powerful clusters into its wings. To the right, 2nd Panzer Group was to form the southern arm of a pincer that would jump off from assembly areas in and around Brest-Litovsk to drive directly in the direction of Baranovichi-Minsk, followed by the infantry divisions of 4th Army.

At the same time, 3rd Panzer Group would attack from the Suwalki area forming the northern pincer of a double envelopment. It would push towards Molodechno to link with 2nd Panzer Group around Minsk. The infantry corps of 9th Army would follow on the tracks of the armored divisions of 3rd Panzer Group and along with those of 4th Army would seal the ring around Minks while simultaneously closing a smaller envelopment around Bialystock. These infantry corps would then proceed to the destruction of the encircled forces of the powerful Soviet Western Front. A complete air fleet, Luftflotte 2, would lend its support to Army Group Center with two Fliegerkorps, the 2nd, earmarked to support 2nd Panzer Group and the 8th, backing the 3rd Panzer Group. This air force was the most powerful of the four air fleets assigned for the invasion and included all the dive bombers and low-altitude fighter-bombers deployed by the Luftwaffe . This conferred Luftflotte 2 the ability to carry out intense and very high-precision attacks in the Soviet rear. The panzers would be defended by fighters and a full anti-aircraft corps.

With the destruction of the larger part of the Soviet Western Army Group completed, a huge gap in the Soviet defensive system would materialize; the two Panzer groups would then renew the advance to reach Smolensk from the southwest and from the northwest, preventing the organization of a solid defensive line in the Dnieper river sector and encircling the remnants of this Soviet army front. After the mop-up operations in the Minsk pocket, the 4th Army would proceed to force a crossing of the Dnieper at Mogilev, via Bobruysk and Borisov, while the 9th Army would cross the Dvina at Polotsk. Both infantry armies would then smash the previously encircled Red Army troops in the new pocket. The Smolensk operation would complete the destruction of the Soviet Western Front (see next map).

At this stage, the German advance in the center should be ahead of the armies left and right of it and Army Group Center would stop, ready to pivot to the north to encircle the Soviet Northwestern Front fighting against Army Group North.

Army Group North focused its main effort in the right wing where the 4th Panzer Group, deployed near Gumbinnen, would push towards the Dvina River at Dvinsk and from there to the south of Pskov in the shores of Lake Peipus. This advance would protect the left flank of Army Group Center by sweeping the Russian forces to the north and would create there a concentration of enemy troops belonging to the Northwestern Front. 16th Army, on the same right-wing, would advance behind 4th Panzer Group to Pskov.

18th Army to the left would push along the Tilsit-Riga highway crossing the Dvina River at Yekabpils and would destroy the forces southwest of Riga. AGN would count with the support of Luftflotte 1 that had reserved 1st Fliegerkorps to help the advance of 4th Panzer Group and Fliegerfuhrer Baltic on the left, to support operations in the Baltic coast.

At this stage 3rd Panzer Group would swivel to the north along with 4th Panzer Group to envelop the corps of Northwestern Front against the Gulf of Finland, capturing Leningrad and Kronshtadt in the process. Meantime, 16th and 18th Armies would clear Estonia and destroy the encircled formations. This second large operation would result in the complete annihilation of the Northwestern Front, the elimination of the Russian Navy and the establishment of a link with the Finns.

With these sequential operations, the German High Command expected to eliminate the bulk of both the Western and Northwestern Fronts. These powerful fronts, it was anticipated, had the greater part of the divisions deployed north of the Pripet Marshes. If successful, these maneuvers promised to confer the Germans overwhelming numerical superiority going forward. The Russians would have enormous problems to reconstruct a defensive line because they would not have enough troops for an adequate defense in depth along such a large frontage.

One peculiarity of the command arrangement of the Panzer Groups in this sector is that these groups were not autonomous armored armies, but they operated as the mobile offensive element of the infantry armies. 4th Army commanded 2nd Panzer Group, 9th Army commanded 3rd Panzer Group and the 18th army commanded 4th Panzer Group. This command organization was not optimum because the infantry army commanders had to divide their attention between the actions of the panzer troops forward and the infantry divisions rearward. The command structure of AGN was even more unusual because the 18th Army was operating in a different axis of attack than 4th Panzer Group’s. The infantry army chiefs had little expertise leading armored troops and would soon clash with the more impetuous Panzer commanders.

OKH appreciated the relative ineffectiveness of this arrangement a few weeks after the onslaught and it changed the command structure, renaming the panzer groups as panzer armies taking their orders directly from the army group they belonged.

To the south of the Pripet Marshes, Barbarossa envisaged a secondary but ambitious operation in the original directive of December 18. Army Group South planned a double envelopment with a northern pincer jumping off from Lublin spearheaded by 1st Panzer Group and a southern pincer launched from Romania spearheaded by a panzer corps attached to 12th Army. These two pincers would close on the west bank of the Dnieper near Dnepropetrovsk. However, intense discussions followed and Hitler and the OKH abandoned this plan on 18 March. The concern was that a frontal attack by the 12th Army against the Dniester River would take too long to develop, making the expected double envelopment impractical. The crossing of the Meuse River in France a year later had required very strong support by the Luftwaffe and the most powerful armored corps available, neither of which would be on hand for this maneuver.

The definitive plan foresaw a single envelopment using a very strong left wing led by 1st Panzer Group that would thrust itself in the direction of Kiev and then would wheel southeastwards along the Dnieper River until it reached the mouth of this river in the Black Sea, trapping the Southwestern Front forces to the west of the waterway. This axis of advance would permit to attack the Russian forces deployed in the Dniester River from the flank instead of frontally.

6th Army would advance rapidly behind the panzer group in the direction of Kiev protecting the armored group’s flank along the Pripet Marshes, and then it would redirect strong forces in a southeasterly direction along the Dnieper River, thus protecting the long-left flank of the panzer group. 17th Army in the center would advance in the direction of Vinnitsa and Berdichev preventing the Russians from breaking contact and from withdrawing rapidly to the East bank of the Dnieper River.

The 12th army initially contemplated to attack from Romania would now stay in Greece after the Balkan campaign to control the occupied territories so the OKH designated the 11th Army to take its place. This latter army would deploy in Romania, in a purely defensive mission, preventing the Russians from capturing the Ploesti oilfields. Once the attack on the left wing gained momentum the 11th Army along with the Romanian Armies would spring from their positions in a northeastward axis to cross the Dniester River and pin the Soviet forces there, helping to delay the retreat of the red forces which would not have time to retreat across the Dnieper . Luftflotte 4 would support Army Groups South effort with 5th Fliegerkorps allocated to 1st Panzer Group and 4th Fliegerkorps buttressing 11th Army and defending the critical Ploesti o strategy

From the beginning, OKH realized that the chances of success of this southern envelopment were much lower than the one planned in the center. If the Russians reacted swiftly, major portions of their forces would escape. But even under this scenario, the Southwestern Front would suffer a nasty mauling. The diverging axis of advance proposed for Army Group Center and Army Group South implied the danger of a large gap developing between these two large forces. Therefore, Barbarossa planned to keep in reserve the 2nd Army with the intention of inserting it between both army groups to act as the linkage between these formations while simultaneously protecting the right flank of 2nd Panzer Group which would otherwise be in the air once the Pripet Marshes were behind.

To keep the momentum and protect against surprises, strong German reserves deployed east of Warsaw (near the area occupied by 2nd Army) and west of Jaroslav (behind 17th Army) and weaker ones around Lublin (behind 6th Army) and East Prussia (behind 18th Army).

The combination of those massive operations, north, and south of the Pripet Marshes, should win the war. Whatever forces remained after these colossal blows they would be insufficient to stop the now numerically superior invaders from overrunning much of the country. The Germans expected to annihilate the last important reserves in a subsequent push to capture Moscow, followed by pursuing operations to liberate the economically important territories of the Donets Basin and the Caucasus oil fields, thus preventing the projection of Russian power for the foreseeable future.

Barbarossa Plan

As explained, the capture of Moscow was incidental to the destruction of the last reserves and in no way was Barbarossa conceived as a race to capture this city.

The deployment of this huge army required 8 weeks and after mid-April, it would be impossible to conceal the assemblage from the Russians. The tentative day for the launching of this campaign was 15 May 1941. Given that Hitler signed this directive on 18 December, he gave the army, air force and navy 5 months to finalize preparations.

The Far North

Compared with Russian defensive plan DP-41, Barbarossa comes out the worse

Barbarossa included subsidiary operations in the Far North. OKH divided Finland, a secondary theater of operations, in a northern sector commanded by the Germans and a southern sector commanded by Field Marshal Gustav Mannerheim, Commander in Chief of Finnish armed forces.

The German forces in the north planned two offensives: one to capture Murmansk, preventing future aid from the British in the form of weapons or troops. The other in the direction of Kandalaksha to cut the lines of communication to the Russian troops stationed in Murmansk.

Finnish forces would attack along three axes: Hanko, eliminating this important base for the Russian Navy and to either side of Lake Ladoga to establish a link with Army Group North.

The Far North Attacks

The Luftwaffe

On 20 February, two months after the approval of the Barbarossa directive, Goering set up a planning staff near Berlin to devise the Luftwaffe operational plan that best supported the Army plan. Colonel Loebel coordinated the planning team and from this group, one of the most successful plans in the history of air warfare would emanate. It is probable that much of the credit belonged to General Otto Hoffman von Waldau who led the Luftwaffe Operations Department under Luftwaffe’s Chief of Staff General Hans Jeschonnek at the time. This was fortunate for the Germans because the success of the blitzkrieg depended decisively in the control of the air.

The strategy of first obtaining air supremacy by defeating the enemy air force and later supporting the ground units through interdiction attacks to roads and railroads in the rear areas and by attacking enemy troops in the battle zone, so effective in the previous campaigns would remain the guiding principle.

Luftwaffe intelligence compiled a precise photo reconnaissance geostatistical study of most of the airfields present in western Russia and also correctly assessed the lower operational skills of the enemy air force.

However, its appreciation of the enemy’s air force strength was very poor, underestimating the actual VVS size by a factor of 2.4.

The Battle of Britain demonstrated that the best way to destroy enemy aircraft on the ground was through dive bombing, low-altitude horizontal bombing, and strafing attacks launched by surprise. Medium and high-level bombing evidenced ineffectiveness. To improve accuracy, the attack had to finish before the enemy intercepted the attackers.

Likewise, the bombs used should be efficient in destroying aircraft on the ground. The 50kg bombs used in 1940, although effective in destroying hangars and light buildings, were not completely satisfactory to destroy dispersed aircraft because they fell along a single line as seen from the bomber. Since the tactic of dispersing airplanes in airfields is to avoid deploying aircraft in rows, wastage of most of the bombs occurred.

The Luftwaffe devised the answer for this problem with the invention of their first cluster bomb, the SD 2, or 2-kg butterfly bomb. Bombers and fighter bombers could carry dozens of these and release them in copious quantities over much wider areas (rather than point locations). Each bomblet had a destruction radius of 12 meters (40 feet) and was powerful enough to destroy or disable an aircraft .

The confidence of the German leadership on their air force was so high that they did not commit the full force of the Luftwaffe to Barbarossa. The directive explicitly stated that the Luftwaffe had to continue carrying out a war against the British while supporting the invasion of Russia, so almost 30% of the Luftwaffe force structure would remain in other fronts, particularly in the Mediterranean where Fliegerkorps X deployed as many aircraft as Luftflotte 1, who supported Army Group North.

Gen. Otto Hoffman von Waldau strongly opposed this dispersion of effort indicating that the Luftwaffe could not support two fronts simultaneously . Time proved him right.

GERMAN STRATEGIC BLUNDERS

Compared with DP-41, Barbarossa comes out the worse. Operationally, while the Soviets overestimated the enemy force and then prepared for it by procuring an army whose size was larger than the minimum necessary to defeat the invasion, and then they set the conditions to sustain a long war with atrocious losses, the German army and leadership did the opposite. They badly underestimated the enemy’s strength, the length of the war and the expected losses.

But war is waged not only at the operational level. Grand Strategy and Strategy help or hinder a country’s fortunes depending on how well the leader plays its cards compared with his opponent. Grand strategically, Stalin followed a bullying doctrine: ready to attack small countries and determined to avoid a war against big Powers, unless he had every advantage .For the same reason, he prudently made every effort to avoid becoming entangled in a two-front war with powerful neighbors.

This policy provoked than when the war came, a host of smaller nations would be on the enemy side, but on the positive side, no big power would support Germany.

The Soviet dictator would also ruthlessly mobilize his military-industrial complex to increase manifold his munitions output.

Hitler had other potent levers at his disposal that could compensate for the errors in his operational planning and solidly place the odds back in his favor.

Unfortunately for him and his people, evidence is consistent with the assertion that he lacked a grand strategic perspective and skills to take advantage of these other openings.

Hitler in a planning conference.

There were four major initiatives, any one which if implemented, would have had a major positive impact in Germany’s fortunes:

First, Germany was a mightier industrial power that the Soviet Union (see Industrial Production). She had the capacity to out produce the USSR in armaments and had an edge in some key technologies (i.e. radar). Hitler had the option to mobilize the whole German population and other European peoples for the benefit of his armies before the invasion.

Second, an invasion in conjunction with Japan would have placed a tremendous strain in the Russian giant and its defeat would have been beneficial for Japan as well.

Third, a strategy for breaking up the Soviet Union was feasible. Clausewitz had recommended this option before, recognizing the challenge that the immense size and population of Russia entailed. The Soviet Union had internal conflicts with Ukraine, Belorussia and other peoples that were quite willing to make an alliance with the Germans if offered independence. At best this would have provided millions of allied soldiers, at worst, supply lines would have been secured.

Lastly, although Hitler attempted an alliance with Moscow, before Stalin rebuffed him, Germany was not forced to invade Russia despite the obvious danger that she posed. A cordial partnership between both dictators, if an alliance was out of the question, would have been preferable for both than war.

Communism and Nazism originated to challenge the Capitalist System, and the status quo. Imperialism however, proved much more astute by driving the two authoritarian systems towards auto destruction. Both dictators detested the western democracies but at the end, neither dictatorship was left standing .

Hitler did not enact any of these initiatives and therefore, the odds remained firmly against him.

German Force Deployment

To implement Barbarossa the Germans assembled a force of unprecedented dimensions: 3.519 Million men, 3.681 tanks (including tanks in smaller formations). It also requires a measure of good luck because there will always be weighty ), 3.433 aircraft, 40.516 mortars, and artillery pieces, more than 588.000 vehicles, and 600.000 horses organized in 151 divisions and several smaller formations (see table below). Adding the forces of their allies, 325.000 Romanians and 500.000 Finns, the total figure of attackers exceeds 4.344 Million men.

Wehrmacht OB and Force Strength on 22 June 1941

There are some discrepancies in the number of troops employed depending on the selected source. This problem is partly the result of the difference in the men the historians choose to count.

In this case, the number of over 3.519 million German soldiers comprises the forces assigned to the three army groups, the troops arrayed in Finland, all the reserves (including those in transit), Waffen SS troops, Luftwaffe ground personnel, naval coastal artillery, and railroad troops. If, for instance, we subtract the last 3 categories, the total number of soldiers involved becomes 2.874 million .

The Heer (or German Army) deployed 101 infantry divisions, 19 armored divisions, 13 motorized infantry divisions (including 3 SS formations), 9 security divisions, and 9 other types of divisions.

Organizational Deployment to the Army Groups
For the initial border battles, OKH assigned Army Group Center, under Generalfeldmarschall Fedor von Bock the responsibility to launch the main attack (Schwerpunkt) and the High Command allocated the best-equipped units to it.

This Army group included the bulk of the German divisions (50 of the 123 for the initial attack, or 41%) and most of the armored divisions (9 out of 17, excluding the ones in reserve, or 53%). These panzer divisions not only had most of the tanks, 2.241 out of 3.681 or 61%, but enjoyed the largest share of the best tanks in the German inventory, 57% of all the Panzer III and IV deployed by the Germans in the Panzergruppen.

Even more important was the support of the Luftwaffe for this Army Group. The two Fliegerkorps assigned to Luftflotte 2 of Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring comprised between them 696 bombers (serviceable and unserviceable) out of 1.438 available for the invasion (48%). Notably, 100% of the low-level fighter-bombers (134) and 87% of the dive bombers (273) belonged to this Luftflotte. This allowed both Fliegerkorps to mount a sustained high-precision attack campaign, a capability denied to the neighboring Luftflotten that only deployed twin-engine bombers. The use of the less maneuverable bi-motor bombers implied a higher losses rate when they operated over the battle zone, so they preferred to attack targets in the rear. Only when the results justified the additional price to pay, would they attack the battle zone.

Without a strong control of the airspace over the zone of operations, the strike force cannot operate effectively. 434 (45%) of the 964 available fighters fought with this Luftflotte to create an air bubble over Army Group Center preventing the intervention of the enemy air force.

Even if some enemy bombers escaped the attention of the Jagdflieger they would find themselves facing an enormous concentration of Flak waiting for them. 1st Flak corps with 16 mixed (light and heavy) AA battalions and 7 light AA battalions were ready to defend the 2 Panzer groups.

Despite having stacked the odds against itself because of faulty planning, the blows the Wehrmacht delivered to the Red Army almost caused its collapse

Even if some enemy bombers escaped the attention of the Jagdflieger they would find themselves facing an enormous concentration of Flak waiting for them. 1st Flak corps with 16 mixed (light and heavy) AA battalions and 7 light AA battalions were ready to defend the two Panzer groups. Aerial reconnaissance was indispensable. Every army corps and every armored division enjoyed the support of 1 reconnaissance Staffel, who provided the sensors to detect opportunities and dangers. In this regard, AGC was no different from the other army groups, but because its divisions were fighting over a proportionately smaller area, its observation capacity was denser.

Overall, the strongest support of the Luftwaffe and best-armored equipment conferred this Army Group a very sharp edge.

Army Group Center & Luftflotte 2 on 22 June 1941

Army Group North was half as big as its powerful southern neighbor and was less well equipped. It contained but 18% of the number of aircraft and 17% of the tanks available for the invasion. The bulk of its tanks were the less formidable Panzer 35(t) and Panzer 38 (t) and its aerial striking force consisted in twin-engine bombers only. However, all its bombers were Ju88, capable of dive bombing.

All combined, the Germans allocated two-thirds of its divisions, three-fourths of its tanks and two-thirds of its aircraft to the forces north of the Pripet Marshes (excluding the small formations in Finland).

Army Group North & Luftflotte 1 on 22 June 1941

With less armor and tactical air support, Army Group South would face a more daunting task. It would have, however a distinct advantage: the terrain devoid of woods was ideal for the German panzers and it did not provide any concealment from the air. If Luftflotte 4 with its 1.020 aircraft in two Fliegerkorps (4th and 5th) proved able to dominate the airspace, the Soviets would fight at disadvantage.

Army Group South & Luftflotte 4 on 22 June 1941

One of the critical decisions that the supreme commander of any army faced when deploying its troops is the number of divisions that would remain in reserve. If every division is forward for the initial attack the supreme commander loses flexibility to respond to sudden emergencies or to take advantage of favorable developments.

A common path to winning a war is to force the enemy to commit its reserves and once he does not have any and he is weak, the adversary can use his carefully kept reserves to launch a major counterblow and gain the strategic initiative. This is a decision that deserves the most careful consideration.

OKW chose to retain 24 divisions in strategic reserve (16% of the total force) while Stavka reserved more than twice as many, 57 or 26% of the total force.

The German reserve was far from insignificant, but neither can it be said that it was sufficient for a theater of war as big as this one. The Soviets showed more wisdom.

OKW strategic reserves on hand 22 June 1941

By comparison with the gigantic forces earmarked to invade the Soviet Union from the western ramparts the forces the Germans arrayed in the Finnish front were minuscule. Only 4 German divisions (2.5% of the whole force), converting this into a secondary theater. The decision to attack simultaneously 2 distant targets meant that none of the forces was powerful enough. This theater would remain under the control of the Finns on the main.

Forces deployed in the Far North on 22 June 1941