On this day in 1941, upon the German army’s invasion of Pskov, 180 miles from Leningrad, Russia, the chief of the German army general staff, General Franz Halder, records in his diary Hitler’s plans for Moscow and Leningrad: “To dispose fully of their population, which otherwise we shall have to feed during the winter.”
On June 22, the Germans had launched a massive invasion of the Soviet Union, with over 3 million men. Enormous successes were enjoyed, thanks in large part to a disorganized and unsuspecting Russian army. By July 8, more than 280,000 Soviet prisoners had been taken and almost 2,600 tanks destroyed. The Axis power was already a couple of hundred miles inside Soviet territory. Stalin was in a panic, even executing generals who had failed to stave off the invaders.
Franz Halder, as chief of staff, had been keeping a diary of the day-to-day decision-making process. As Hitler became emboldened by his successes in Russia, Halder recorded that the “Fuhrer is firmly determined to level Moscow and Leningrad to the ground.” Halder also records Hitler’s underestimation of the Russian army’s numbers and the bitter infighting between factions within the military about strategy. Halder, among others, wanted to make straight for the capital, Moscow; Hitler wanted to meet up with Field Marshal Wilhelm Leeb’s army group, which was making its way toward Leningrad. The advantage Hitler had against the Soviets would not last. Winter was approaching and so was the advantage such conditions would give the Russians.