German Forces Arrive at the Mozhaisk Defense Line

By October 13, 1941, the Wehrmacht had arrived at the Mozhaisk defense line, a hastily constructed double set of fortifications protecting Moscow from the west and stretching from Kalinin towards Volokolamsk and Kaluga.

However, despite recent reinforcements, the combined strength of the Soviet armies manning the line (the 5th, 16th, 43rd and 49th armies) barely reached 90,000 men, hardly sufficient to stem the German advance. In light of the situation, Zhukov decided to concentrate his forces at four critical points: Volokolamsk, Mozhaisk, Maloyaroslavets and Kaluga. The entire Soviet Western Front, almost completely destroyed after its encirclement near Vyazma, was being recreated from scratch.

Moscow itself was transformed into a fortress. According to Zhukov, 250,000 women and teenagers worked, building trenches and anti-tank moats around Moscow, moving almost three million cubic meters of earth with no mechanical help. Moscow's factories were hastily transformed into military complexes: the automobile factory was turned into a submachine gun armory, a clock factory was manufacturing mine detonators, the chocolate factory was producing food for the front, and automobile repair stations were repairing damaged tanks and vehicles. However, the situation was very dangerous, as the Soviet capital was still within reach of German panzers. Additionally, Moscow was now a target of massive air raids, although these caused only limited damage because of extensive anti-aircraft defenses and effective civilian fire brigades.

On October 13, 1941 (October 15, 1941, according to other sources), the Wehrmacht resumed its offensive. At first, the Germans were unwilling to assault the Soviet defenses directly and attempted to bypass them by pushing northeast towards the weakly protected city of Kalinin, and south towards Kaluga and Tula, capturing all except Tula by October 14. Encouraged by this initial success, the Germans conducted a frontal assault against the fortified line, taking Mozhaisk and Maloyaroslavets on October 18, Naro-Fominsk on October 21, and Volokolamsk on October 27, after intense fighting. Because of the increasing danger of flanking attacks, Zhukov was forced to fall back and withdraw his forces east of the Nara River.
Soviet troops man an antiaircraft gun within Moscow.

In the south, the Second Panzer Army was moving towards Tula with relative ease, since the Mozhaisk defense line did not extend that far south, and because there were no significant concentrations of Soviet troops to slow down the advance. The bad weather, fuel problems, and damaged roads and bridges greatly slowed the Germans; Guderian reached the outskirts of Tula only by October 26, 1941. The German plan initially called for an instant capture of Tula and for a pincer move around Moscow. However, the first attempt to capture the city failed, as German panzers were stopped by the 50th Army and civilian volunteers in a desperate fight. Guderian's army had to stop within sight of the city on October 29, 1941.

During World War II, US armed forces reported a total of about 1 million casualties (292,000 battle deaths). By contrast, 2.5 million Russians and Germans were killed or taken POW in a single battle between August 1941 and April 1942 for control of the Moscow. In The Greatest Battle, Andrew Nagorski argues that the fight for Moscow decided the outcome of WWII. Still, it has drawn less attention than the showdown at Stalingrad (the subject of William Craig's book Enemy at the Gates) or the 900-day siege of Leningrad, with its heartbreaking famine. Nagorski suggests this is not coincidental: This battle did not show the leadership on either side at its best.