The disastrous beginning of the war
When the war began, there was a deep dislike of Stalinism in many groups of Soviet population. Some people were angry about loss of their land to the collective farms, some were outraged at the suppression of the Christianity, and some had lost members of their families in all kinds of purges that occurred in 1930s. Russian Cossacks could not forgive the destruction of their communities and practically prohibition of their ways and traditions.
That is why in some regions of the USSR Germans were welcomed as liberators. In Ukraine, Belorussia and Western Russia peasants thought that crosses on the German tanks had something to do with bringing the Christianity back. After all, any order was expected to be better than Stalin's order.
Stalin was not very popular in the army either. The Red Army had been cleansed of over 40,000 officers. Army was demoralized. Best marshals of the USSR were killed in 1930s purges, many top generals who were not killed were imprisoned. One of future heroes and best Russian generals in WWII, Rokossovsky, was arrested and tortured as a spy (which was fabricated). Later Konstantin Rokossovsky, who was in a concentration camp when the invasion came, was awarded high commands and sent to the front. It's just a miracle that general (later Marshal) Zhukov was not killed on some fabricated case. The officers who survived the political purges were afraid to show any initiative, because initiative was punished in Stalin's times. The soldiers were not properly trained, and not too motivated.
In 1941, The Red Army was obviously no match for the Germans. Soviet Union made an amazing industrial effort during the years prior to the WWII. But when the war began, there was still at first a shortage even of basic weapons, like rifles and machine guns. The majority of Soviet tanks and planes were obsolete and were destroyed within the first weeks of war. But the situation became even worse when Soviet Union lost its western areas, very important in industrial sense.
On the 22nd of June, 1941, about 3 million soldiers rushed into the Soviet Union. There were 205 German divisions, and over 50 divisions of their satellites. In the beginning of war, there were a lot of Soviet POW's. (although when the Red Army got trained in battles and got some equipment, there began big portions of German POW's)
Germans could easily capitalize on the hatred of the Soviet people to their government and godless ideology. But they did not. And since the Nazis treated the Slavic population as "lesser beings", they quickly lost the sympathy they had at first. The partisan warfare started. But it was later, first weeks and months of the war Germans didn't have that negative image.
German combat troops were soldiers like any other. They did what they were ordered to do. They were the ones who could be actually seen as liberators from stalinism, communism, atheism and all other "ism's". But after the German field troops came SS. And it was SS that started all the public hangings and shootings. At first they were saying that they were targeting communists and Jews, but in reality they went after the general population. Everybody suddenly became guilty until proved innocent. Hitler's order didn't seem to be better than Stalin's. Even German combat troops were disgusted by the "deeds" of SS. One of the most talented German generals, Heinz Guderian (he lead Panzer divisions towards Moscow in 1941), wrote about the SS that they "managed to alienate all sympathy from the Germans and prepared the ground for the horrors of partisan warfare."
The first period of war was a pure disaster for the Red Army. Both the army and Stalin (Stalin WAS the government) were taken by surprise by the sudden German attack (although there were messages from the intelligence sources ignored by Stalin). Neither people, nor the armed forces were ready for war. Red Army training was not equivalent to that of the German Army. During the first months of the war, two thirds of the Red Army strength was in the captivity or died, over million were wounded.
Soviet Command quickly raised new armies, but those were even worse equipped and had no training whatsoever. They were learning on the fly. Many died, but those who survived learned well, from their and others' mistakes. Russian officers were getting their experience too. Soon enough they were as experienced as their German counterparts. Maybe the time of the experience was shorter, but the intensity was definitely as high as it could get.
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