Barbarossa, Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union. Part 1
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.
Beginning on the 22 June 1941, nearly 4 million Axis troops invaded the USSR along a front that extended for nearly 4,000 kilometres.
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 I. Command Tank. Fitted out with communications equipment for use by a senior German Officer
Panzer I. Command Tank. Entered service in 1934. Often seen in large numbers in pre-war parades.
Panzer I. Command Tank. Rear view
SdKfz 251 Armoured Personnel Carrier
SdKfz 251 Armoured Personnel Carrier. Crew of 2 + 10
SdKfz 251 Armoured Personnel Carrier. Designed by Hanomag and Bussing-NAG in 1937
SdKfz 251 Armoured Personnel Carrier. Weight 7.8 tons. Top speed 53kph
Luchs PzKfw II Ausf L, a key reconnaissance vehicle on the Russian Front.
Luchs PzKfw II Ausf L, 30mm of armour and a crew of 4.
Luchs PzKfw II Ausf L, with a top speed of 60kph and weighing 13 tons.
SdKfz 234/3 Heavy Armoured Car
The 234 was unusually diesel powered.
SdKfz 234/3. Crew of 4 and 30mm armour. Markings are for 116th Panzer Division.
SdKfz 234/3. Fitted with a short 75mm gun.
SdKfz 234/3. Used in a close support role.
SdKfz 234/3. Gun mounted in an open barbette rather than a turret.
A technically advanced 8-wheeler.
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
Would these tanks still have been able to operate fully in such cold temperatures?
They suffered quite badly, often having to light fires underneath before they could get the engines to start. When it thawed, the roads, if you could call them that, were just quagmires and the tanks often had to tow 3 or 4 trucks at the same time through the mud. They hadn’t anticipated -40 degree temperatures, so the soldiers had no winter clothing for some time.