Stalin Orders Traditional Military Parade Amidst German Invasion to Strengthen Soviet Morale

November 7, 1941, saw the most unusual military parade in the nation's history.

The Second World War was raging on. Right from Red Square in Moscow, accompanied by the poignant tune of “Slavyanka Farewell”, the soldiers went straight to the frontline…

"Slavyanka Farewell", composed by Vasily Agapkin, a regimental trumpet-major, in 1912, is by far the most popular march in Russia. The year 1912 was the time when the peoples of the Balkans began their war of liberation against the Turkish yoke.

As David Glantz pointed out in his book When Titans Clashed, by late October the Wehrmacht and the Red Army could be compared to "punch-drunk boxers, staying precariously on their feet but rapidly losing the power to hurt each other." The German forces were worn out, with only a third of their motor vehicles still functioning, infantry divisions at one-third to one-half strength, and serious logistics issues preventing the delivery of warm clothing and other winter equipment to the front. Even Hitler seemed to surrender to the idea of a long struggle, since the prospect of sending tanks into such a large city without heavy infantry support seemed risky after the costly capture of Warsaw in 1939.

In his study of the Nazi economy, Adam Tooze contends that the very survival of the Red Army as a fighting force indicated that the Germans had lost the conflict in Russia, and thus the world war itself by pointing out that moving east of Smolensk meant stretching German supply lines beyond their effective limit. He highlights that the colossal loss of material on the eastern front - without having won a decisive victory - was bleeding the German economy to death - reaching "a total impasse". He concludes "It was through the achievement of Lebensraum on American scale that the Third Reich hoped to achieve both the standard of affluence and the encompassing reach of global power already attained by Britain and the United States. As events between June and December 1941 made clear, Nazi Germany lacked both the time and the resources to take this first step."

To stiffen the resolve of both the Red Army and boost the civilian morale, Stalin ordered the traditional military parade on November 7 to be staged in Red Square. Soviet troops paraded past the Kremlin and then marched directly to the front. The parade had a great symbolic significance in demonstrating the Soviet resolve and was invoked as such frequently in the years to come (see picture.) However, despite such a brave show, the Red Army was actually in a very precarious position. Although 100,000 additional Soviet troops had reinforced Klin and Tula, where new German offensives were expected, Soviet defenses were still relatively thin. Nevertheless, Stalin wanted several preemptive counteroffensives to be launched against the German lines, despite protests from Zhukov, who pointed out the complete lack of reserves. The Wehrmacht was able to repel most of these counteroffensives, depleting the Red Army of men and vehicles that could have been used for Moscow's defense. The offensive was only successful west of Moscow near Aleksino, where Soviet tanks inflicted heavy losses on the 4th Army because the Germans still lacked anti-tank weapons capable of damaging the new, well-armored T-34 tanks.

Despite the defeat near Aleksino, the Wehrmacht still possessed an overall superiority in manpower and land forces over the Red Army. The German divisions committed to the final assault on Moscow numbered 943,000 men, 1,500 tanks, while Soviet forces were reduced to a shadow of their former selves, with barely 500,000 men, 890 tanks. However, compared to October, Soviet rifle divisions occupied much better defensive positions, a triple defensive ring surrounding the city, and some remains of the Mozhaisk line still in Soviet hands near Klin. Most of the Soviet field armies now had a multilayered defense with at least two rifle divisions in second echelon positions. Artillery support and sapper teams were also concentrated along major roads that German troops were expected to use in their attacks. Finally, Soviet troops — and especially officers — were now more experienced and better prepared for the offensive.

By November 15, 1941, the ground had finally frozen, solving the mud problem. The armored Wehrmacht spearheads were unleashed, with the goal of encircling Moscow and linking up near the city of Noginsk, east of the capital. In order to achieve this objective, the German Third and Fourth Panzer groups needed to concentrate their forces between the Moscow reservoir and Mozhaisk, then proceed to Klin and Solnechnogorsk to encircle the capital from the north. In the south, the Second Panzer Army intended to bypass Tula, still in Soviet hands, and advance to Kashira and Kolomna, linking up with the northern pincer at Noginsk.