• Michael Laxer

Photos from the Soviet counter-offensive that saved Moscow in the winter of 1941/42

In the winter of 1941-42 the fate of the world hung in the balance when the Red Army and the people of the Soviet Union stopped the German invaders at the very gates of Moscow.

On June 22, 1941 the Nazis had broken the non-aggression pact that existed between the two countries and launched a massive surprise invasion of the USSR. This invasion was initially devastatingly effective and the Germans and their allies made deep inroads, wiped out dozens of divisions, captured or killed millions of Soviet defenders and civilians, and drove to the outskirts of Leningrad and Moscow after having seized major cities like Minsk, Smolensk and Kiev.

Despite the fact that the Red Army fought far more tenaciously and fiercely than anticipated and despite mounting casualties, the invaders appeared unstoppable and many outside of the USSR felt that the Soviets could not possibly hold out.

On December 2 a German reconnaissance patrol came within 30 kilometres of the Kremlin, the closest they would get. On December 5th the offensive stalled.

Then, to the astonishment of the German leadership and the world the Red Army launched a massive counter offensive. This counter-offensive pushed the Germans back from Moscow and from important nearby cities and towns like Tula, a heavily fortified industrial centre, the outskirts of which saw intense fighting.

Sadly the Soviet counter offensive also eventually ran out of steam and in 1942 the Germans launched a devastating offensive in the south that ultimately led to the Battle of Stalingrad. The siege of Leningrad was not broken until 1944 and cost over a million lives. But Moscow was never in any serious danger of falling again.

It was the first serious defeat of World War II for the Third Reich. German tank general Heinz Guderian wrote at the time "the offensive on Moscow failed ... We underestimated the enemy's strength, as well as his size and climate."

This collection of newsreel style photos are from those fateful days of 1941 / 42 and were clipped out of British news magazines.

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