June 22, 1941 is a day that needs no major introduction to students of World War II. Operation Barbarossa was (and still is) the largest offensive in military history. With most of Western Europe now under the shadow of the swastika, Adolf Hitler turned his legions east in a titanic blitzkrieg of men, tanks, guns, and planes. The gamble he took, unparalleled in history, was that the Russian military was a house of cards that he could overrun it before it could get fully organized.
For Hitler, the gamble had worked on a smaller scale in France and the Low Countries a year before, so he was confident of its success again. And the reality of Stalin’s paranoia-and-power-induced purges of the preceding years had not been lost in the planning. Germany’s military leadership knew they’d be facing not only officers with little experience, but officers that would be more tentative, terrified of making a wrong move that would cost them their lives. Hitler wasn’t being totally unreasonable when he said that “we have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.”
But what might need a bit of an introduction is Operation Reindeer. Initiated along with Barbarossa, the offensive was much smaller in scale, involving a couple of divisions stationed in northern Norway. Their objective was to cross the border into northern Finland, specifically the Petsamo region. The area was known for its nickel mines, and the Germans desired to grab them before the Russians. Reindeer was launched on June 22, 1941 with the 2nd and 3rd Mountain Divisions entering Finland.
And like the 4 million men setting off to the south and east, Reindeer got going without a hitch. In fact, there was no fighting to speak of in Petsamo until they reached the Red Army defenses on the Litsa River. Operation Silver Fox, the follow-up to Reindeer, had as its goal the capture of Murmansk. But strong Russian defenses and political pressures – the U.S. notified Finland that cutting off Lend-Lease’s main supply port with Russia would have very negative consequences – meant that Murmansk would remain in Soviet hands throughout the war.
So in the end, Operation Reindeer was a very minor operation that had little bearing on the war. It was a rather isolated outpost that would, with the turn of fortunes against Germany, eventually be abandoned.