As early as July 1941, the Russians knew the Germans were going to breach their defenses and threaten Moscow. On 3 July, Lenin’s body was moved from Moscow to Tumen to prevent German capture or destruction. Little over two weeks later, on 22 July, 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.
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.
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By the Independent, March 2008
Germany has launched an anguished and widening debate over proposals to reintroduce the Iron Cross – virtually in its original form – as a military decoration that could be awarded throughout the armed services in recognition of “outstanding bravery”.
The Iron Cross still rates as Germany’s most famous military insignia, but its role has been reduced to that of a black and white emblem on the aircraft, tanks and warships of the post-war armed forces. It was dropped as a medal in 1945.
Adolf Hitler claimed it was the happiest day of his life when he received the familiar black and silver cross and, although banned as a medal for the past 63 years, any Second World War film would be unthinkable without the decoration appearing on the tunic of some jackbooted general.
Ernst-Reinhard Beck, who is a conservative MP in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, an army reserve colonel and president of the Army Reservists’ Association, said reintroducing the cross was justified because of Germany’s new military role abroad.
He conceded that “terror and fear” had been inflicted on nations under the sign of the Iron Cross during the Second World War, but added that the symbol was now a “sign of help and solidarity” as a result of the German army’s presence in the Balkans and Afghanistan.
Avoiding mention of the criticism to which Germany is subjected by some of its Nato allies because of its reluctance to commit troops to fight in southern Afghanistan, he added: “Soldiers abroad are always ready to risk their lives and their health to ensure their mission is fulfilled. I can well imagine a new medal taking the form of the Iron Cross as an award for special courage, bravery and achievements.”
He said the desire to see the return of the cross was widespread in the armed forces. Soldiers felt that existing military medals were not good enough as many were simply awarded for length of service. More than 5,000 Germans signed a petition last year which called for return of the Iron Cross.
Although its reintroduction is opposed by the Greens and many Social Democrats, supporters point out that the emblem is not synonymous with Nazism. The award was introduced in 1813 by King Frederick Wilhelm III as an outstanding-bravery medal for Prussian soldiers engaged in a “war of liberation” against Napoleon. The medal was awarded during the subsequent Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 and during the First World War, when its most infamous recipient was Private Adolf Hitler, decorated with the Iron Cross second class for bravery as a dispatch runner in the trenches. Hitler described the day of the award as the happiest of his life and as Nazi leader he was rarely seen without it.
Although the medal fell out of favour after 1918, Hitler revived it in 1939 – albeit with a Nazi swastika embossed on its middle. Despising Germany’s other First World War medal, the Blue Max, as it could only be awarded to officers, he favoured the Iron Cross which was open to all.
Franz Josef-Jung, Germany’s conservative Defence Minister, said yesterday he was in favour of introducing a medal for “extraordinary bravery”. However, politicians from the other parties were less enthusiastic. Rainer Arnold, a leading Social Democrat, dismissed bringing back the cross. “Given the legacy of Hitler and the Second World War, the medal is too burdened by the past for it to be reintroduced,” he said.
Elke Hoff, a military specialist for the liberal Free Democrats party, referred to surveys on the German armed services which showed that many soldiers smoked too much, were unfit and were inadequately equipped in the field: “It would be better to provide soldiers abroad with the equipment they really need,” she said.
Whether German soldiers will soon be sporting the Iron Cross again remains an open question. Although proposals for a medal to reward outstanding bravery were officially sanctioned by President Horst Köhler, the Defence Ministry’s position was unclear. “We have not decided what the new medal should look like,” a spokesman said, “However at no time did we consider reintroducing the Iron Cross that was awarded during the Second World War.”