End of the Battle of Moscow – September 30, 1941 – January 7, 1942

As early as Jul 1941, the Russians knew the Germans were going to breach their defenses and threaten Moscow. On 3 Jul, Lenin’s body was moved from Moscow to Tumen to prevent German capture or destruction. Little over two weeks later, on 22 Jul, 127 German bombers raided Moscow, even lightly damaging the Kremlin. As a response, Moscow residents were ordered to build mock houses on Kremlin’s grounds and paint the distinct roof of the building in order to blend it in with the rest of the city. Streets were also barricaded in preparation of a German attack. Moscow was proud, however, aided by Joseph Stalin’s propaganda machine. One such example was the 7 Nov parade in celebration of the anniversary of the October Revolution, where Russian soldiers marched straight through Red Square toward the battlefields to the west.

After a series of attacks and counterattacks from both sides, the German troops were beginning to show signs of fatigue. Replacements came slowly partly due to the unplanned action in the Balkans and Crete, while the brutal Russian winter loomed dangerously near. The Russians, on the other hand, saw relatively fresh reinforcements from the recently arrived Georgi Zhukov and his troops from the Far East; the inability of the Axis powers to negotiate for a joint-attack on Russian had a significant impact on the German ability to quickly bring down Russia, but Adolf Hitler was too egotistical to see.

After a few days of preparations in Moscow’s suburbs, on 2 Oct 1941, Fedor von Bock led German troops to assault directly against Moscow. German advances were slower than they had hoped with a rainy fall season and later a cold early winter. As German vehicles become immobilized, the German army continued to advance, however, the cold weather was affecting the morale and fighting ability of the troops to a high degree. On 15 Nov, another push for Moscow was launched, and within two weeks the Germans reached the 27km marker to Moscow, with some soldiers claiming the sighting of the towers of Kremlin.

The weather also significantly harmed the German ability to supply the Moscow contingent by rail, despite Minister Dorpmüller and the German Reich Railways dramatically expanding its operations during the campaign. The water tanks of the locomotives regularly froze under sub-zero conditions, pushing the number of broken-down locomotives at any given time to the hundreds. Additionally, the Russian railways were of a different gauge, forcing the German engineers to re-bed all the railways before the German locomotives could use them. In Dec 1941, with the transport situation so desperate that a special motor transport organization was formed to alleviate some of the pressure. Despite the superhuman results the Germans had achieved in the arena of logistics, it was just not enough. The German frontlines troops, including the air force, required the equivalent of 120 train loads of supplies daily for normal operations (ie. not counting supplies needed to mount major operations); only about 100 train loads worth of supplies were delivered on a regular day. To make matters even worse, Russian partisans regularly sabotaged railway tracks to slow things further.

The Russians had been launching counteroffensives of various sizes since early Sep to slow the progress of the German army. The counteroffensives were largely planned under the leadership of Zhukov, a man who Stalin feared as a political threat but yet relied on so much to defend his capital. On 5 Dec, Zhukov saw the opportunity to launch a major counteroffensive, while at the same time he knew he could no longer take any chances; the German troops were too close to Moscow for his comfort. He called in his troops of Siberia and the Far East, who had been resting nearby for such a counteroffensive. T-34 tanks and Katyusha rocket launchers led the way for the fresh Russian soldiers, some of whom donned the white winter camouflage that became the subject of nightmares to the freezing retreating German troops. By 7 Jan 1942, the front lines were driven back anywhere between 100km to 250km. German forces would never again threaten Moscow directly for the rest of the war.

The final tally tilted amazingly harsh on the Russian side of the battle. Russia suffered over 600,000 casualties, with some estimates going as high as 700,000. Meanwhile, the German troops suffered a smaller 250,000 casualties, though the German momentum was stopped while the Russians built up their own. For the efforts of Moscow residents to defend the capital city, Moscow was honored with the title Hero City in 1965.