von Runstedt, commander of Army Group South, which included a number of Italian Divisions during Barbarossa. Here photographed in Russia during 1941 with Mussolini and Hitler.

The original plan for Barbarossa had called for a massive central thrust into Russia that would quickly capture Moscow and overwhelm the country. Army Group Centre was the most powerful of the three army groups and it made the quick progress towards Moscow that was expected. Army Groups North and South were also making rapid progress but not quite as quickly. It was now becoming apparent that by diverting some troops away from Army Group Centre they could could link up with the other groups and create vast encirclements around the Russian Army. But this meant deviating from the original plan and delaying the assault on Moscow. Major Gerhard Engel, Hitler’s Army Adjutant, was privy to Hitler’s thoughts at the time the critical decision was made:

28 July 1941

During a short stroll after the situation conference, F. [Fuhrer] spoke with Schm. and myself about further developments in the east. It was on account of these that he was not sleeping at night, since he was uncertain about many things. Within his breast two souls wrestled: the political-strategic, and the economic.

Politically he would say that the two principal suppurating boils had to be got rid of: Leningrad and Moscow. That would be the heaviest blow for the Russian people and the Communist Party. Goring had assured him that it could be done by the Luftwaffe alone, but since Dunkirk he [Hitler] had become a little sceptical. Economically speaking there were quite different objectives.

Whereas Moscow was a big industrial centre, the south was more important, where oil, wheat, more or less everything was located necessary to keep the country going. A land where milk and honey flowed.

One thing at least was absolutely required, and that was a proper concentration of forces. To use Panzers in fighting to demolish cities, that was a sin against the spirit. They had to operate in the open areas of the south. He had already started to hear the cries of those from whom they had been stripped; but that was neither here nor there.

See At the Heart of the Reich: The Secret Diary of Hitler’s Army Adjutant





The last pictures of the Jews of Mogilev

It is likely that these women and children were being marched off to a nearby ghetto on this occasion. however by the end of August 1941 the entire Jewish population of Mogilev had been shot.

About 50% of the inhabitants were Jewish, part of an ancient community that dated back to the 14th century. The Germans undertook a series of measures against them – and in the early stages a German photographer was on hand to take a series of photographs for propaganda purposes.




The Kremlin bombed

One of the iconic images of the war, captured by Margaret Bourke-White on 26th July 1941.

She had arrived in Moscow at the outbreak of war with Germany. On the 26th she took these striking images of the German air attack on the Kremlin, pictures that were soon received world wide attention.




Bomber Command target Hanover

An RAF Whitley bomber undergoing maintenance earlier in the war.

Our Whitley leapt about 200 feet with the release of tons of high explosives. Now we flew straight and level for 30 seconds, the longest 30 seconds anyone will ever know, so that we could get the required photo of the drop for the intelligence officer back at base. Picture taken – now let’s get the hell out of here.




A busy week for Coastal Command

The crewman of a Focke Wulf 200 Condor stands on the wreckage after being shot down by a Lockheed Hudson from 233 Squadron

Several attacks on enemy shipping were made during the week by aircraft of Bomber and Coastal Commands, which were highly successful in spite of intense A.A. fire from Flak ships.




Torpedo attack on Malta convoy

the royal Navy cruiser HMS Manchester was hit by a torpedo while escorting a convoy to Malta on 23rd July 1941.

One, just skimming the sea, burst out of the haze and flew between HMS Eridge and her neighbour. [Leading Seaman] Rayner managed a short burst with the pom-pom. He could clearly see the pale, strained face of her gunner, a man with only seconds to live, as he swung his weapon and peppered the upperworks with a few ineffectual rounds.




Mussolini plays at war

German soldiers manning an anti aircraft gun overlooking an Italian port.

Dummy air raids continue at Rome. It was the Duce who personally ordered an air raid in the capital every time there is one in Naples. He does this because he wants to give the country the impression that a war is taking place. He has also ordered that at the first opportunity anti-aircraft guns should fire in order to make it more exciting.




First German Air Raid on Moscow

A Russian Anti Aircraft position in Moscow, July 1941.

The main objectives were apparently the railway station, industrial areas and aerodromes. Several large fires were caused by enemy aircraft which flew over at a medium height. The Soviet A.A. defences, of which a large proportion were light anti – aircraft guns, put up what was described as ” an impressive show.”




‘V for Victory’ widespread across Europe

Churchill enthusiastically adopted the 'V sign' apparently unaware that this version had different connotations to some people.

Use of fingers is a good idea – and on the 6 p.m. news they gave us a vivid account of how it is being exploited in thousands of ways . . . Morse code signals can be used on typewriters, trains etc. What an annoyance for the Germans.




Trapped in the sunken HMS Umpire

A submarine of the same class as HMS Umpire - a U class British submarine from 1941 proceeding on the surface.

Even if they had not yet left the submarine, they might already have started flooding the compartment in preparation for an escape, and if the flooding had gone beyond a certain point it would be impossible to get that door open again. I listened, but could hear nothing beyond the monotonous, pitiless sound of pouring water.