Adolf Hitler had convinced himself by December 1940 that England lay prostrate before German air power. November had seen the worst of the air attacks; acres of England’s cities were reduced to rubble. Hitler believed she would never rise again to threaten Germany.
Before invading Poland, Germany signed the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, securing the eastern border of Germany. Limited trade, mostly on the part of the Russians, was part of the agreement. But everyone involved knew that it was a measure on both sides to buy time. Ideologically, both nations despised the other. Hitler had devoted much of Mein Kampf to his believe in the menace of Communism. Nazism was against everything Communism stood for.
Part of the operational planning of the German high command involved a possible invasion of the Soviet Union. On July 21, a month after the fall of France, Hitler summoned Generalfeldmarshal Walther von Brauchitsch and instructed him to plan for an invasion of the Soviet Union.
The bad blood between the two countries began to be evident during Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov’s Berlin visit of November 12-13, 1940. Molotov pressed the Nazis to honor their treaty obligation to distance themselves from Finland. Hitler dropped tacit suggestions to look towards Asia and not Europe for the expansion of Soviet interests and power.
The High Command developed plans for an invasion as part of their routine operations. First called Fritz and then Directive 21, Hitler seized on the idea of invading Russia and issued the directive, renaming it Operation Barbarossa in honor of Frederick I, the twelfth century Prussian King who was prophesied to rise from his grave and restore Germany to world power. Operational orders were given in January 1941.
The plan called for a ten-week campaign that would start on May 15, 1941. But events around the world changed the plan; the Afrika Korps landed in North Africa in February; Yugoslavia, a supposed ally of Germany, threw back the offer of German assistance; and Italy needed help to conquer Greece.
The invasion was pushed back five weeks to June 22. Almost everyone knew it was coming except the Red Army soldiers about to meet the onslaught. Josef Stalin was warned by his intelligence services. The buildup of German forces on the Soviet line in Poland was obvious, and even the British warned Stalin, but he stubbornly refused his commanders permission to prepare defenses. Trainloads of iron ore left Russia bound for Germany even hours before the invasion. This came out of a long ideological belief that war should be fought on the enemies’ soil, and a misguided hope that the invasion could be stalled if Hitler was not provoked.