Was This The Biggest Military Operation In The History Of The World?

by Daniel Russ on October 1, 2013

Germans On Captured Russian Armored Train 


There’s never been anything like it. In fact, the sheer numbers of troops and equipment and support personnel and the scale of combined arms operation is not matched anywhere at any time. The staging line for this military operation started at the southern tip of the Baltic Sea and stretched past Bucharest. To get an idea how big this is, trace a line on a map of the United States and imagine over 5 million men and all their equipment lined from Los Angeles to about the middle of Nebraska. Think about how much had to be carried just to create 15 million meals a day for an invasion that Hitler thought would be over in six months. Where would 5 million men sleep, eat, and relieve themselves? And who would feed 700,000 horses and where would they be stabled? Who would watch the prisoners…of which there were millions? How much fuel is needed to drive 600,000 vehicles into another country plus 6500 tanks? The train systems that the German took from the Russians were worn to a nub just ferrying wounded home and supplies into theatre. Right now, the United States has 10 divisions in Iraq. Think about the size of our Army, our total Army today. The Nazis sent 150 divisions into Russia plus about a million forced laborers. Imagine an Army that consisted of more people than live in Puerto Rico, Belize, Mongolia, Iceland and the Islands of the Bahamas put together.


By the way we haven’t even gotten to the Russians.


The numbers themselves are not just astonishing, they are saddening. Because those are the wages of war. People. Millions and millions of nameless faceless people. Young men and women, many of them filled with a mission, millions more filled with revenge, and millions who would take any risk just to go back home, all become a comma in the statistics of the war, a decimal point here and there. Operation Barbarossa was a testament to the anonymity of war, the silence of lives snuffed out, erased instantly, memories, loves, talents, all gone in a moment.  There were no Russians left untouched by the invasion and I dare say there were no Germans left untouched either. Operation Barbarossa was the opening bid in the very last hand that Hitler played. What began at 3:15 AM on June 22nd , 1941 in the cold steppes of Romania in a furious thunder of bombs and explosions ended at the German Chancellery on April 10th 1945.


Total Numbers


The Soviets mobilized 29,574,900 men. Total turnover (casualties) amounted to 21,700,000. The war lasted 1418 days. The Soviets suffered 11,440,00 combat casualties. 376,300 were charged with desertion, and 422,700 were charged with treason.


German rule in occupied territories amounted to 16,350,000 dead citizens. 2 million were deported as slave labor. Total Soviet casualties including soldiers and non combatants were 27 to 28 million. Each minute of this war cost 10 lives. Each hour 587 lives, each day 14,000 perished.


Between 1941 and 1943, German destroyed one third of the Soviet’s 570 rifle divisions. In return the Red Army destroyed 607 Axis Divisions. Red Army materiel losses were five times more than the current number of similar weapons that simply exist in the field or are used or stored in US bases or in the continental United States: 96,500 tanks, 106,400 aircraft, 317,000 artillery guns.



18.2 million Wehrmacht soldiers fought from 1935 until 1945.


During the battle of Uman, Heinz Guderian’s 2nd Panzer Division linked up with elements of Army North’s 19th Mechanized Infantry and effectively cut off the Russian Army Corps in Kiev. From inside this encirclement, the Germans took 665,000 Soviets prisoner. One German writes that “The prisoners march in an unbroken column, eight abreast, and the column stretches across the rolling countryside for more than ten kilometers.” This number itself represent half the total US armed forces personnel in uniform today.


How a Novelist Might Describe Barbarossa


Ando and Renzo and Paulo  huddled around their pack animals, behind rows of idle GM trucks, taken from the British back West,  filled with diesel fuel and ammunition and food and all of it stretched out as far as the eye can see and beyond that. They opened their light coats against a warm June evening in the southern shores of the Baltic Sea, 1941.


It’s six months before Pearl Harbor.


They puffed on the last of their Gauloits, some of them lighting theirs with the tips of other cigarettes. The winds across the Balkans were relentless. They passed around their last bottles of Bordeaux pilfered on the way from the Italian border, saved until now, wrapped in army blankets hidden from the eyes of over zealous SS officers.


“I hear Russian cigarettes are harsh,” Renzo said.


Ando and Paulo smoked down to the very last two centimeters and flicked off the burning embers into tank tracks. Ando said “I don’t know why we smoke going into war. Smoking is supposed to relax you. I don’t feel the slightest bit relaxed.”


“My father took me to Russian when I was a kid. We went to Moscow,” Paulo’s father was university professor who was arrested by Il Duce for some reason. Paulo joined the Italian Army just to try and restore some honor to the family.


“How was Russia?” Renzo asked.


“Big my friends. Bigger than any place you have ever seen.”


They had been waiting for the orders to move east. Few of this labor pool-comprised of literally hundreds of thousands of drivers and loaders and support personnel- had any idea that they were going to be part of the largest combat operation ever planned in the considerably long and rich history of warfare. These drivers were attached to, or rather behind an Italian Armored Division under the Command of an old Prussian Field Marhsall Von Rundsted.


The four Italian truck drivers tucked into their coats and slept in circle beside their vehicle. They would sleep soundly, anesthetized by wine, until 3:15 AM.


The scale of manpower has never been matched. 3,200,000 Germans under arms, and 1,200,000 Axis troops followed by tens of thousands of trucks and train lines, and pack animals and forced labor and prisoners to tote munitions into battle. From the streets and rail yards of Eastern Europe from the Baltic Sea in the north, to the open Romanian steppes in the south. From Konigsberg to Bucharest, this military build up stretched roughly 1100 miles.  Only the Germans had the ability to plan something this big and pull it off.


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