Stalin decided to stay in Moscow. His train was unpacked and his offices opened up once again at the Kremlin. However, he still faced a crucial problem – how to put an end to panic that by now engulfed almost all civilians and even quite a few men (and women) in uniform.
He took the approach that already worked for him on a number of occasions – to “crush fear with fear”. He started with his closed associates – members of the Politburo of VKP(b) – Soviet Communist Party – and of the State Defense Committee (the latter was a de-facto wartime government of the country).
He immediately convened a meeting of “all of the above” and – without stating his own position – asked everyone for his opinion on whether they should stay and defend Moscow – or leave.
However, everyone knew what his position was – by returning all of his belongings to his office in the Kremlin he announced it loud and clear (actions always speak far better than the words). Hence, everyone voted “stay and fight” (although there is little doubt that everyone would have preferred exactly the opposite – but were too afraid to admit it).
Then he (predictably) declared the “state of siege” in Moscow (far more draconian than a state of emergency, although Moscow was not under siege – not even close). Acting on his orders, the NKVD (Soviet equivalent of RSHA).
Its men were allowed to shoot everyone on the spot – without a trial or even an investigation – at the slightest suspicion of not following the orders of the Soviet government (let alone stealing or, God forbid, spreading panic). No one knows how many were killed and how many of them were innocent of any crime but the panic was suppressed and the order was restored.
By that time (the end of October) the German Army High Command ordered a halt to Operation Typhoon to bring in the necessary supplies and reinforcements (logistics in Russia was a real bitch and the war was consuming men, hardware, fuel, food and other supplies in unheard of quantities).
This was a colossal strategic blunder as it gave the Red Army two crucial weeks to bring in the vital reinforcements (30 divisions, over 1,000 tanks and 1,000 aircraft). These reinforcements (together with artificial floods – a murderous, but necessary measure) saved Moscow, Stalin, the Red Army and the whole Soviet state from all but certain defeat and destruction.
On November 15th, the Wehrmacht resumed an all-out assault on Moscow. But now its situation was radically different – the enemy was far stronger and the supplies of food, ammunition and reinforcements (both in men and hardware) were woefully inadequate.
Still, by December 2nd, the German Army was on the verge of entering Moscow city limits. A reconnaissance battalion managed to reach the town of Khimki (now a Moscow suburb), only about 8 km from the then borders Soviet capital. It captured the bridge over the Moscow-Volga Canal as well as the railway station, which marked the easternmost advance of German forces.
Unfortunately for Germans, terrible weather conditions (blizzards, etc.) grounded the fearsome Luftwaffe – which very probably made all the difference. The Red Army managed to increase its strength fivefold – to half a million men – and on December 5th launched the now-famous Soviet winter counteroffensive.
At an enormous cost (up to 10:1 in personnel) it delivered the first strategic defeat to the previously invincible Wehrmacht and thus put an end to German Blitzkrieg. The war on the Eastern front (and subsequently on both fronts) became a war of attrition – the war that the Wehrmacht and the Nazi Germany in General were ill-equipped to fight (and subsequently not surprisingly lost).
Now imagine that the Wehrmacht launched Operation Typhoon one month earlier – on August 31st, 1941…