The German strategic offensive, named Operation Typhoon, was planned as two pincer movements, one to the north of Moscow against the Kalinin Front by the 3rd and 4th Panzer Armies, simultaneously severing the Moscow–Leningrad railway, and another to the south of Moscow Oblast against the Western Front south of Tula, by the 2nd Panzer Army. Meanwhile, the 4th Army advanced directly towards Moscow from the west.

By 28 November, the German 7th Panzer Division had seized a bridgehead across the Moscow-Volga Canal—the last major obstacle before Moscow—and stood less than 35 km from the Kremlin; but a powerful counterattack by the 1st Shock Army drove them back. Just northwest of Moscow, the Wehrmacht reached Krasnaya Polyana; German officers were able to make out some of the major buildings of the Soviet capital through their field glasses. On 2 December a reconnaissance battalion managed to reach the town of Khimki: this is just 30km (18-19 miles) from the Kremlin and was the closest German advance to Moscow (about the same distance Moscow's main airport today).

A memorial in the form of a giant tank trap is located at the Kilometer-23 point of Leningradskoye Highway, the highway to St. Petersburg, just short of an intersection with the Moscow-St. Petersburg railway.

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