With all the unpredictable choices Hitler made, this one was by far fairly predictable. Stalin could've almost counted on an attack by Germany sooner or later, but he didn't know when it would come. The only unpredictable nature of the attack was why it was so soon into the war. But when Hitler's forces struck, there was no turning back.
On Sunday, June 22, 1941, Hitler's Nazi forces stormed across the Russian border where the resistance was met almost immediately. Planes flew overhead dropping their payload on Russian troops and German 88's pounded Russians. Artillery was being poured onto the enemy, tanks pounded in... it was a Russian nightmare. The attack was called Operation Barbarossa.
The German's plan was to take Leningrad, Moscow, Stalingrad, and Caucasus. The Germans would then try to cut their supplies by taking the Caucasian oil fields, the granary of Ukraine and other valuable supply routes.
Stalin realized that with one big blow, he had been transformed from an Axis power to an Allied power. Winston Churchill stated that anybody who fights against the German cause shall receive our support. The support wouldn't be received for a while, however.
The Russians had 12,000,000 men in the army to defend the Russian homeland. It was clear that Stalin and his home Russia were losing their country to the Germans, but the Russians had three very reliable allies on their side. Space, Time and Winter. The Russians had a reputation towards invading enemies. Their bitter winters killed Napoleon's conquest for European power in 1812, and against Sweden in the 18th century. If one thing was going to help Stalin win this war, it was winter.
The Germans attack spreaded spearpoints throughout Russia. The Germans should have focused on one point at a time, but instead, they focused their power all over Russia. The Nazis were up against a different kind of war fighting style. The Russians faked retreats, launched guerrilla tactics, and do-or-die resistance. The Germans would have to improvise if they were to win. One thing was against them and it was Hitler. Hitler said to hold fast and never retreat, never. This was indeed a suicidal order by Hitler.
With 135 divisions fighting furiously inside Russia, the German Luftwaffe were roaming the skies freely as Russian fighters scrambled to get out of harms way. The Russian Air Force had almost been completely whiped out. By July 2nd, 1941, the Germans had taken more than 150,000 Russian prisoners. The city Minsk was taken, and Dnieper and Dvina were next.
The Germans had their next challenge - The Stalin Line. The Germans quickly took it, but the Russians grew more resistant. Even with their thick resistance, the Russians couldn't take back the line and were pushed back even more towards one of the German targets, Moscow. On July 10, 1941, Smolensk was taken by the Germans as a massive raid pushed into the city. Moscow was now only about 200 miles away from the Germans. A short distance, but a long one for the Germans.
The Germans were on the eve of victory. If Germany took over Russia, then 200,000,000 slaves would be added to the German war effort. When Hitlers armies approached the cheering Ukranians because they felt free from Stalin's evil ways, Hitler enslaved them and put many to death. Shows how much you can trust a "savior."
Hitler decided that the way to take moscow was to take Leningrad in the north, Ukraine in the south, and then all at once, go straigt at Moscow with everything they had. This was a costly judgement because it delayed their objective(Moscow). Field Marshal Wilhelm von Leeb and his divisions would attack Leningrad, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt would hit Odessa and Kiev in the Ukraine. General Fedor von Bock would hit Moscow with whatever it had: tanks, aircraft, 17 infantry divisions, 2 motorized divisions... Moscow was doomed, right?
By late October, General von Bocks infantry decreased the length of their objective to just 70 miles. The Russian front lines were crippled and now Moscow was surrounded. Then winter came. Hitler decided that this was no big deal. On November 15, 1941 Hitler decided to send his defenses to a railway junction behind Moscow to cut off valuable supplies. By December 2, 1941, some advanced units were inside the suburbs.
The temperatures continued to drop. The German army had to fight in below zero temperatures. Supplies were crippled by the weather, pipes exploded, motorized divisions were stalled... Germans turned on their own animals and rodents for food. The Germans were not dressed for winter... They wore light uniforms fit for summer fighting, no gloves, and shoes that were destined to give a soldier frostbite. The German advance in Russia was an example of an el-cheapo war. Germans froze to death, or were drove weary with their frozen feet and frozen hands. The German civilians tried to give the Nazis warm clothes, but they came too late.
The Russians were used to this weather though. They wore fur jackets, padded boots, wool underclothes, fur caps, and warm gloves. The Germans were easy targets. They were half froze, half starved, half dead. Although Germany was being beat, the people of Berlin were still confident that they could take Moscow. On December 6, 1941, Russian Marshal Georgi Zhukov sent for a counterattack against the Germans. The Germans were heavily surprised. This caused the German threat to Russia to almost cease.
The German casualties were high. 162,314 were killed, and 577,767 were wounded. Hitler wasn't done with Russia, however.
Hitler wanted to take two key Russian cities, Leningrad and Stalingrad. With these two cities, Hitler believed, Russia would beg for mercy. Leningrad was reached on August 1941. The city was completely surrounded during September and October of 1941. Now the standoff began. Would the Germans take Leningrad?
November 1, 1941 was the day of the seige. This seige lasted for 16 months. Hitler ordered his men to cut off supplies and starve Leningrad. Three highways, 12 railroads, the canal system and the port of Leningrad were all taken by the Germans. The only water that went into the city was from Lake Ladoga, which the Russians desperately held onto. The Lake provided a great supply route. The lake was frozen and across it went trucks filled with supplies, ammunition, and other necessities. The lake fed the dying city.
Inside the city was a different story. Ordinary workers strapped a gun on their shoulders and went to the defense. Women and children worked in place of the men. Water was scarce and food was even harder to find. In April of 1942, when everything thawed out, the Germans stepped up on their operations at Leningrad. Luftwaffe pilots poured their payloads on the city destroying blocks of the city at a time, railroads, supplies, everything. The people of Leningrad were determined not to give up. The Germans could try all they wanted to take the city, but they would never give in.
Hitler believed that England was his for the taking. He believed that England was out of the war and would not be a threat anymore. Hitler believed that the Soviet Union would attack Germany sooner or later because Russia wanted to expand her empire. The Russians were at Germany's doorstep and Hitler wanted them away, and didn't want them to be a threat no more. Hitler was determined to conquer Europe, and with Great Britain(so he believed) out of the war, Russia would be his next target.
Hitler wanted to attack Russia before it was too strong, and believed with Russia out of the way, England would be an easy target. Hitler felt he had no choice but to attack Russia, and he did. Now he would have to pay for it.