On this day in 1941, the Germans begin their surge to Moscow, led by the 1st Army Group and Gen. Fedor von Bock. Russian peasants in the path of Hitler’s army employ a “scorched-earth” policy.
Hitler’s forces had invaded the Soviet Union in June, and early on it had become one relentless push inside Russian territory. The first setback came in August, when the Red Army’s tanks drove the Germans back from the Yelnya salient. Hitler confided to General Bock at the time: “Had I known they had as many tanks as that, I’d have thought twice before invading.” But there was no turning back for Hitler–he believed he was destined to succeed where others had failed, and capture Moscow.
Although some German generals had warned Hitler against launching Operation Typhoon as the harsh Russian winter was just beginning, remembering the fate that befell Napoleon–who got bogged down in horrendous conditions, losing serious numbers of men and horses–Bock urged him on. This encouragement, coupled with the fact that the Germany army had taken the city of Kiev in late September, caused Hitler to declare, “The enemy is broken and will never be in a position to rise again.” So for 10 days, starting October 2, the 1st Army Group drove east, drawing closer to the Soviet capital each day. But the Russians also remembered Napoleon and began destroying everything as they fled their villages, fields, and farms. Harvested crops were burned, livestock were driven away, and buildings were blown up, leaving nothing of value behind to support exhausted troops. Hitler’s army inherited nothing but ruins.