Operation Barbarossa (German: Unternehmen Barbarossa) was the code name for the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, which started on Sunday, 22 June 1941, during World War II. The operation put into action Nazi Germany's ideological goal of conquering the western Soviet Union so as to repopulate it with Germans. The German Generalplan Ost aimed to use some of the conquered as slave labour for the Axis war effort, to acquire the oil reserves of the Caucasus and the agricultural resources of Soviet territories, and eventually to annihilate the Slavic peoples and create Lebensraum for Germany.
In the two years leading up to the invasion, Germany and the Soviet Union signed political and economic pacts for strategic purposes. Nevertheless, the German High Command began planning an invasion of the Soviet Union in July 1940 (under the codename Operation Otto), which Adolf Hitler authorized on 18 December 1940. Over the course of the operation, about three million personnel of the Axis powers - the largest invasion force in the history of warfare - invaded the western Soviet Union along a 2,900-kilometer (1,800 mi) front, with 600,000 motor vehicles and over 600,000 horses for non-combat operations. The offensive marked an escalation of World War II, both geographically and in the formation of the Allied coalition including the Soviet Union.
It will be the duty of the Air Force to paralyse and eliminate the effectiveness of the Russian Air Force as far as possible. It will also support the main operations of the Army, i.e. those of the central Army Group and of the vital flank of the Southern Army Group. Russian railways will either be destroyed or, in accordance with operational requirements, captured at their most important points (river crossings) by the bold employment of parachute and airborne troops.
In order that we may concentrate all our strength against the enemy Air Force and for the immediate support of land operations, the Russian armaments industry will not be attacked during the main operations. Such attacks will be made only after the conclusion of mobile warfare, and they will be concentrated first on the Urals area.
Extract from Hitler's War Directive No 21: Operation 'Barbarossa'
18 December 1940
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