Yesterday, the German army was standing at the edge of Moscow, with victory little more than a dozen miles away. Yesterday, Army Group Centre had reached its goal, bloodied, exhausted, and stretched almost to the breaking point. Yesterday, Adolf Hitler’s intelligence network said the Russians didn’t have enough left in the tank (nor enough tanks) to strike back. Yesterday, warmth for the Wehrmacht and fuel for the Panzers, along with a little rest, were all that was required to surround the Soviet capital and force its surrender.
But that was Yesterday.
Today, December 5, 1941, the Russian army awoke with a shocking roar, as more than a million soldiers, nearly 1,000 tanks, and almost 700 aircraft came crashing against the Germans. Joseph Stalin had taken a desperate gamble and moved many of his troops west from the Far East and Siberia. Small wonder that when the Uritsky found the Japanese fleet heading for Pearl Harbor, the Russian dictator played hardball with the Japanese. Troops that would have been used against Japan were now at war…with Germans.
The nearly 60 divisions that launched to the west still only just outnumbered their German foes, but they had advantages more important than numbers. They were rested and they were well-armed. They fought at the end of a 6-mile supply chain rather than Germany’s 600-mile support system. Their vehicles all ran in the bitter cold and the guns on their tanks and artillery all worked. But most of all, the Russian soldier was warm, being properly outfitted for the deadly Russian winter.
There was no way that Hitler’s order to hold position, given that very day, could be followed. And so the German forces began to fall back, regardless of Der Fuhrer’s commands. Moscow, for the time being, would remain in Soviet hands.
Recommended Reading: Operation Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict, 1941-45