Barbarossa, Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union. Part 2
I have just finished writing my third novel in the Devils with Wings series, Devils with Wings: Frozen Sun. The Fallschirmjager, after their successful battle taking Crete in only 10 days, are shipped to Poland to partake in Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union.
They leave temperatures in excess of forty degrees to be used, not in an airborne operation, but as a fire brigade, plugging gaps in the line around Leningrad. They were Army Group North’s strategic reserve. They were quickly placed into the fray, fighting along the River Neva, where temperatures dropped to below -30 degrees, sometimes as low as -40. They were successful at plugging the gaps and preventing the Soviet Union from exploiting their bridgeheads over the River Neva, but at a price. Some units suffered up to 75% casualties. Many who had survived the assault on the Fortress Eben Emael, (Devils with Wings) and the fierce fighting on the Island of Crete (Devils with Wings: Silk Drop) met their fate in this bitter struggle with the atrocious weather and the never ending Soviet hordes.
The German Army, and the Fallschirmjager, were soon to experience the hostile Russian winters.
Opposite Army Group North were two Soviet armies. The Group’s objective was to cross the River’s Neman and Daugava, the two largest obstacles barring their advance towards Leningrad.
At his disposal, Ritter von Lieb, the commander of Army Group North, had three armies and one air fleet, Luftlotte 1. The three armies, 16th Army, 18th Army and the 4th Panzer Army fielded 29 divisions between them.
Some of the types of equipment used in this biggest ever invasion of a country are shown below. Most of the photographs were taken at the Bovington Tank Museum.
Panzer II. Used mainly as a reconnaissance tank. A top speed of 40 kph and a 20mm main gun.
Panzer II. This tank served with 10th Panzer Division in North Africa. It weighed 9.5 tons.
Panzer II. A crew of three with 33mm of armour for protection.
Panzer IV D/H with its 75mm main armament.
Panzer IV. A German medium tank, weighing 25 tons.
Panzer IV. Armour thickness 30mm – D, 80mm – H.
Panzer IV, top speed of 38kph.
Panzer IV. The spaced armour around the turret was to help reduce the effect of Russian anti-tank rifles.
Panzer IV had a crew of 5.
Hetzer Jagdpanzer 38(f). A compact and effective tank destroyer with its 75mm gun
Hetzer Jagdpanzer 38(f). 15.75 tons, armour 60mm, crew 4, speed 42kph.
SU-76M, light mechanised gun. Zis-3, 76.2mm gun mounted on a T-70 chassis.
SU-76M.10.2 tons, crew of 4 and top speed of 45kph.
SU-76M. Armour 33mm. This one is a later model used by the Communist forces during the Korean War.
On the first day, Panzer Group 4′s 600 tanks crossed the River Neman and penetrated up to 80 kilometres. On reaching the area Raseiniai, the armoured units were counter attacked by 300 tanks of the 3rd and 12th Soviet Mechanised Corps. It took the German forces four days to encircle and destroy the Soviet armour. By the end of the first week, the Soviet Mechanised Corps had lost 90% of its strength.
My intention is not to portray a particular message, but just share some of my photographs and information with you and help set the scene for my forthcoming novel.
Photographs are copyrighted to Harvey Black
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Devils with Wings: Silk drop ref=sib_dp_kd
Devils with Wings: Frozen Sun ref=sib_dp_kd