The battle on the Eastern Front in the summer of 1941 was an unmitigated disaster for the Soviet Army.
In the north German forces made good progress through Estonia. As a result, Army Group North ordered I Army Korps, located south of Pskov to move eastward through Porkhov toward Lake Ilmen, allowing XXXVIII Army Korps to shift their thrust along the east bank of Lake Peipus to Narva, completing the conquest of Estonia. By 13 to 16 July Army Group North reached positions on the Luga River only 97 kilometers from Leningrad.
As German forces approached Novgorod the Soviet Air Force launched 1,500 sorties against the 8th Panzer Division driving it back 40 kilometers. MiG 3s and Yak 1s assisted outdated I-16s and I-153s during these attacks.
The thrust toward Leningrad bogged down in heat, difficult terrain, and exhaustion of the German forces. High command called for a thrust through Novgorod by tank forces. VLI Panzer Korps was withdrawn from the front near the Luga River and moved east to join the 56 Panzer Korps and two infantry corps in preparation for an attack northward scheduled for the beginning of August.
Meanwhile, by 31 July, the Finns had advanced to their old frontier on the Karelian Isthmus.
With Army Group Center ordered to go on the defensive, the main action moved south into the Ukraine. There STAVKA issued a new plan. Rather than throw raw troops into battle piecemeal, they elected to establish a defense of the Dnieper River line. Ten new divisions were assigned to Southwest Front, twelve to South Front, and two into Front Reserve.
Industries in the Ukraine were to remove industrial equipment from factories and transport it back behind the Urals, and delaying actions were fought to give time to destroy factory buildings.
To prevent mass surrendering of troops the Head of the Political Propaganda Directorate ordered unit political commissars to direct troops to stand their ground and fight their way out of any pocket. If that proved impossible, they were to join the Partisans and fight behind enemy lines. The Communist Party and the Communist Youth League were charged with providing leadership.
Sources: “Barbarossa: Drive to Leningrad”, Generalleutnant Walther Chales de Beaulieu, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s
“Barbarossa: Drive to Kiev”, Geoffrey Jukes, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s
The Soviet Air Force in World War II, Edited by Ray Wagner, Translated by Leland Fetzer, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, NY, 1973