In the pre-dawn hours of 22 June 1941, German army and aviation detachments numbering more than 3.8 million men-in-arms crossed the frontier of occupied Poland to initiate “Operation Barbarossa,” Adolf Hitler’s master plan to vanquish the USSR and secure total mastery over the European continent.
The invasion could not have come at a worse time for Stalin’s Russia. Caught in a period of institutional transition and still reeling from the bloodletting unleashed by the 1937-38 purge of the officer corps, the Soviet military was disastrously unprepared for war. The attack caught the country’s military commanders, citizens, and political leaders by complete surprise.
In the days and weeks that followed the launch of the invasion, Red Army and Red Air Force units melted away. Chaos reigned along a front stretching for more than 1,000 miles between the Baltic States and the shores of the Black Sea. Within less than two weeks, advance units of the German Wehrmacht had occupied the territories of Lithuania and Latvia, captured the city of Minsk, moved into central Russia, and made rapid progress toward the key agricultural and industrial centers of Ukraine. In the process, they killed or captured hundreds of thousands of Red Army soldiers.
Worse yet, the USSR’s military collapse was accompanied by political paralysis. The country’s “Great Leader,” Josef Stalin, had disappeared…
Historical accounts of Stalin’s activities from 22 June until the first days of July differ. Some have claimed the Soviet dictator was seized by panic and fled to his suburban summer home (dacha / дача) where he took comfort in a drunken binge – while awaiting arrest and summary execution at the hands of his underlings. Others have argued that the “Boss” (vozhd’ / вождь), though shocked by events, continued working diligently in an effort to undo unfolding disaster. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.
One thing is certain. Soviet citizens would not hear from the “Father of Peoples” until the USSR’s war with Hitler’s Germany was eleven days old.
On 3 July 1941, Josef Stalin re-emerged to deliver a radio address that was broadcast to the entire nation.
This is what Soviet citizens heard that day…