Barbarossa, Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union. Part 4

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.

Now across the Daugava near Daugavpils, Army Group North was in striking distance of Leningrad. As a result of their worsening supply situation, Hitler ordered the Panzer Groups to hold their positions, giving the infantry a chance to catch up.

This held Army Group North’s advance up for over a week, giving the Soviets an opportunity to build up their defences around the city of Leningrad, and along the banks of the River Luga.

The delays gave the Soviets time to gear up for a massive counter-attack against Army Group Centre whose ultimate objective was Smolensk, which guarded the road to Moscow, where they faced 6 Russian armies. On the 6th July, the Soviets attacked with over 700 tanks, but it was crushed by overwhelming German air superiority. After defeating the counter-attack, 3rd Panzer Army closed on Smolensk from the north, while 2nd Panzer Army, after crossing the River Dnieper, closed on Smolensk from the south.

By the 18th July, the two Panzer Groups came within 10 miles of closing the gap to trap three Russian armies, but it was a further 8 days before it could be closed. 300,000 Soviet soldiers were captured, 100,000 escaping to help bolster the defences of the road to Moscow.

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 VI Model B, Sdkz 182. 

.

The Royal or King Tiger.

.

Crew of 5, 150mm armour with a top speed of 35kph.

.

1 x 88mm gun and 2 x 7.92mm MGs.

.

68 tons.

.

Not all armoured vehicles were huge. This NSU Springer SdKfz 304, is a mobile bomb on tracks.

.

Crew of 1, armour 10mm, weight 2.4 tons, 330 kilograms of explosives onboard.

.

Drivers compartment, top speed of  42kph.

.

Sd Kfz 303, Leichte Ladungstrager. The Goliath, remote-controlled, tracked mine was even smaller. 1.2m long, o.61m wide and .3m high. It carried up to 100 kilograms of explosives.

.

.

Used for destroying tanks, disrupting infantry formations and demolition of buildings. Powered by a Zundapp 703cc, two-cylinder engine.

Video clip of one in action.

.

88mm Panzerjager. Jagdpanther, SdKfz 177.

.

Hunting Panther, with an 88mm PAK43 gun.

.

Crew of 5, 80mm armour with a top speed of 47kph.

.

45.5 tons. Mantlet 100mm thick, Entered service in the Summer of 1944.

.

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 and Blog is copyrighted to Harvey Black

41BGbEG9IpL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU02_