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  #1  
Old 08-29-2007, 07:05 PM
ralph124c ralph124c is offline
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KURSK: Worst German Military Disaster?

I was reading about the June, 1943, battle of Kursk, in the Russian Campaign. It was a disaster for the German Panzer Armies-they ost thousands of tanks, including many of the new Tigers and Leopards. As well, they took severe casualties. The Russians planned well-they waited and anticipatd the German's every move. My question: why were generals of the caliber of Gen. Walter Model taken in by this? Model's army made little progress, and parts of his advance force were wiped out. Outwardly, the Germans held some very good cards-fresh troops, new tanks, and good air support. Yet, the Russians inflicted punishing loses, and seemed to have lured the Germans into a trap.
In many ways, Kursk was a worse disaster than Stalingrad-Hitler never intererfered in the general's strategy.
After Kursk, the Germans found themselves continually outfought-and they had to contend with getting older and older soldiers-they youngest and best had been killed off.
So, was it better Russian intelligence? r German ineptitude. As I say, you can't blame this one on Hitler. Or had Russian technology finally overtaken the Germans?
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Old 08-29-2007, 07:22 PM
elucidator elucidator is online now
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Coupla things. Hitler diverted crucial force to Greece in order to save Mussolini's bacon. Given Greece's insignificance, this was one of a series of Hilter's Greatest Blunders.

And yes, the German armor was vastly superior, tank by tank, to the Russian armor. But the Russians didn't spend their resources on superior tanks but one more of them. They produced as many "bare bones" T-series tanks as they could, and this proved to be an effective strategy. The Germans fielded BMW's, the Russians Volkswagens.

Finally, Hitlerian arrogance: if he had prepared to fight a defensive battle in retreat, he might have done so effectively, perhaps even exhaust the Russians to the point of a seperate peace. But he didn't, he was wholly convinced that German Aryan superiority coupled with a relentlessly aggressive strategy would crush the sub-human Slavs. Duh.
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Old 08-29-2007, 07:56 PM
RickJay RickJay is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ralph124c
I was reading about the June, 1943, battle of Kursk, in the Russian Campaign. It was a disaster for the German Panzer Armies-they ost thousands of tanks, including many of the new Tigers and Leopards. As well, they took severe casualties. The Russians planned well-they waited and anticipatd the German's every move. My question: why were generals of the caliber of Gen. Walter Model taken in by this? Model's army made little progress, and parts of his advance force were wiped out. Outwardly, the Germans held some very good cards-fresh troops, new tanks, and good air support. Yet, the Russians inflicted punishing loses, and seemed to have lured the Germans into a trap.
In many ways, Kursk was a worse disaster than Stalingrad-Hitler never intererfered in the general's strategy.
While Kursk was a setback for the Germans, it wasn't nearly as much of a disaster as Bagration, which was a catastrophe of almost unimaginable proportions. All of Army Group Centre was annihilated. German casualties, including seriously wounded and POWs, are estimated at over six hundred thousand. Soviet casualties were a fraction of that number, so they didn't even lose much in achieving victory. Enormous swaths of land were taken.

It might actually, in raw numbers, have been the most catastrophic military defeat in human history. It's forgotten to the West largely because it started just after the invasion of Normandy.

Quote:
Originally Posted by elucidator
And yes, the German armor was vastly superior, tank by tank, to the Russian armor.
That's not really true, actually.

Until the kinks were worked out of the Panther, the Russian T-34 was better than any German equivalent (those being mainly the Pz III and IV.) The Panther itself was not introduced to the battlefield until the battle of Kursk and it didn't work for shit; it broke down at an almost comical rate - at any given time almost all of them were broken - and proved to have serious vulnerabilities. After the battle the kinks were worked out and it ended up being a hell of a tank, but the Soviets immediately countered with the T-34/85, which matched it in most respects (the main upgrade was a newer, bigger gun) although it was a smaller tank and not quite a perfect comparison - the Panther was somewhere between a medium tank, like the T-34, and a heavy tank, like the Tiger or the IS-2.

The German's biggest tank, the Tiger, on the other hand, was a peice of shit. It was big and scary - and almost never worked and had all the mobility of a parking garage. It was also very cost ineffective even as compared to other German armored vehicles, not just to Soviet vehicles. Just dirving from one place to another caused substantial casualities in a Tiger-equipped unit because you couldn't even drive them from place to place without lots of them breaking down. If you were right in front of it and it actually worked it was a frightening thing to fight, especially if it was in a good defensive position and operated by a skilled commander who knew how to use it, but because it was so slow and prone to not working, that didn't happen as much as the Germans might have hoped.

OVerall, to Soviet armored force was, in any meaningful sense, technically superior to their German counterparts, on average over the course of the war. They were much more reliable and incorporated some critical design elements, such a speed and sloped armor, earlier than the other combatants.

Last edited by tomndebb; 08-29-2007 at 11:45 PM.. Reason: Fixed vB code
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Old 08-29-2007, 09:04 PM
Tamerlane Tamerlane is offline
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Just as an aside, I'd say in terms of sheer level of defeat, Operation Bagration probably trumps Kursk:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Bagration

Last edited by Tamerlane; 08-29-2007 at 09:05 PM..
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Old 08-29-2007, 09:25 PM
RickJay RickJay is offline
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Which I said, but screwed up my coding.

Mods, could you fix my post?
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  #6  
Old 08-29-2007, 10:13 PM
Tamerlane Tamerlane is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RickJay
Which I said, but screwed up my coding.

Mods, could you fix my post?
Ah, so you did. Missed it in there .
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  #7  
Old 08-29-2007, 11:08 PM
John DiFool John DiFool is offline
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Stalingrad was more devastating, at least in terms of morale if not manpower. The Germans did lose more equipment at Kursk at least, but without Stalingrad the next summer's battles
are completely different.
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  #8  
Old 08-30-2007, 09:21 AM
chowder chowder is offline
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I'd venture to suggest that Operation Barbarossa was the greatest military mistake the Germans ever made.

As soon as they stepped into Russia they were as good as fucked

Last edited by chowder; 08-30-2007 at 09:22 AM..
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  #9  
Old 08-30-2007, 10:03 AM
smiling bandit smiling bandit is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RickJay
While Kursk was a setback for the Germans, it wasn't nearly as much of a disaster as Bagration, which was a catastrophe of almost unimaginable proportions.
True, but Bagration was also very nearly the end of the war. German forces had already been worn down and pushed back and suffering under low morale, and the campaign might never have started at all had Kursk not occured.

Quote:
Until the kinks were worked out of the Panther, the Russian T-34 was better than any German equivalent (those being mainly the Pz III and IV.)
I'm not sure I can agree with this. The problem was that the Soviets tanks were even greater disasters. Horrendous manufacturing quality, constant breakdowns. The only reason any of them were on the field was that they made so many, mostly with American and British aid.
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Old 08-30-2007, 11:12 AM
ralph124c ralph124c is offline
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Regarding german morale: i belive that close to 1.2 MILLION germans had been either killed or captured, by the time of Kursk (July 1943). the individual germans MUST have known that the kursk defeat was the beginning of the end. i wonder what the desrtion rates were, after the bad news came out?
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Old 08-30-2007, 11:58 AM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is offline
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But where are you going to desert TO? Surrendering to the Soviets is essentially a death sentence. You can't melt into the civilian population because you're in the middle of the Ukraine, and the partisans will find you. You can't go back to Germany because you won't have papers.

And besides, the Russians are advancing on Germany. At this point it isn't about ideology or lebensraum, it's about hoping that you can somehow keep the Russians from reaching Germany and enslaving and killing everyone.
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Old 08-30-2007, 01:18 PM
David Simmons David Simmons is offline
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Kursk was an important battle and the largest battle of armored units in WWII. However the turning point in the war was the battle of Stalingrad. In that battle the Germans and their allies lost an extimated 850000 total killed, wounded or captured. Not only that, they lost the initiative. From then on the Soviets dictated where and how the action woult take place putting the Germans on continuous defense and retreat.

As to the quality of armor, everything I've read, except here, says the the T-34 Soviet tank was superior to most German tanks if not all. For an example of swamping the enemy with overwhelming numbers of inferior, although more reliable, tanks all you need to point to is the US with the Sherman tank.
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Old 08-30-2007, 01:46 PM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is offline
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When the T-34 was introduced, it mopped the floor with existing German designs. By the end of the war, the T-34 was outclassed by several German tanks, but the Germans only had a few of those tanks and they had very poor reliability. But Stalin's orders were that any design change to the T-34 had to be personally approved by him, which meant that the production lines continued to pour out T-34s uninterupted in enormous numbers, compared to the dozens and dozens of custom German designs and design changes and upgrades and remodels. So the T-34 was not only technically superior but also produced in much higher numbers.

Of course, during the later war the Soviets had heavy tanks that could compete against the newer German tanks, but these were new designs rather than constantly upgrading the T-34 design.
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  #14  
Old 08-30-2007, 01:53 PM
dropzone dropzone is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lemur866
But Stalin's orders were that any design change to the T-34 had to be personally approved by him, which meant that the production lines continued to pour out T-34s uninterupted in enormous numbers, compared to the dozens and dozens of custom German designs and design changes and upgrades and remodels.
So, this was one case when a dictator's micromanagement worked?
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Old 08-30-2007, 02:12 PM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is offline
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Well it wasn't exactly micromanagement, the point was that Comrade Stalin would say "no" to any but the most crucial design changes. And this was done because Comrade Stalin wanted tanks rolling off the assembly line, not assembly lines sitting idle retooling. Once the assembly line was set up, it was expected to pour out the exact same tank non-stop. So the effect of the order was that no one was allowed to tinker with the assembly lines.

German war production was famously hamstrung because designers treated war production as their private playgrounds. Sure, lots of innovative designs were produced, but at a cost of lowered production overall. And this produced products like the Tiger, which had great armor, great weapons, but broke down if you drove it across the street. New innovative technology is great if it works, but usually these things need to have the kinks worked out. So if your brand new tank design is rolling off the assembly line straight to the eastern front, the kinks get exposed during battle. And then the solution is to redesign the product to eliminate the known problems, but now we've got a great new idea, let's add this in, and that in, and change this. You see how this works. Each innovation might be a good idea, but you never get a really good design, because each design contains good innovations and bad innovations. And so the Tiger, which kicked ass but hardly ever got to fight because it was broken down somewhere a couple of miles away, or got the wrong shipment of ammo.
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Old 08-30-2007, 04:26 PM
ralph124c ralph124c is offline
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The "Elefant" Jagdpanzer

Does anybody know how these monsters fared? they were self-propelled guns, sporting a fixed cannon-how often were these things able to hit an enemy tank? I've heard that they were so heavy, they sank into the Russian mud like a stoen in the ocean. Surely NOT one of Germanie's better designs?
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Old 08-30-2007, 04:31 PM
detop detop is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lemur866
<snip>New innovative technology is great if it works, but usually these things need to have the kinks worked out. </snip>
So true, and the Soviets learned it in 1941. During Operation Barbarossa, it was not uncommon to find T-34s going into combat with a spare tranny on their rear deck. If the T-34 had a weak point, the transmission was it (AFAIK, the T-34 was the only tank for which a sledgehammer was a necessary tool for the driver to shift gear).
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Old 08-30-2007, 04:33 PM
detop detop is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ralph124c
Does anybody know how these monsters fared? they were self-propelled guns, sporting a fixed cannon-how often were these things able to hit an enemy tank? I've heard that they were so heavy, they sank into the Russian mud like a stoen in the ocean. Surely NOT one of Germanie's better designs?
They were with Model's 9th Army on the northern shoulder of Kursk. They were good target practice for the Soviet infantry, since they didn't have any machine guns for close in defense
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Old 08-30-2007, 04:35 PM
Mr. Miskatonic Mr. Miskatonic is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ralph124c
Does anybody know how these monsters fared? they were self-propelled guns, sporting a fixed cannon-how often were these things able to hit an enemy tank? I've heard that they were so heavy, they sank into the Russian mud like a stoen in the ocean. Surely NOT one of Germanie's better designs?
One of the bigger problems they had was a lack of any machine gun for anti-infantry defense (at least at Kursk). But they also had so many bugs they mostly broke down after they started in Kursk. The ones that made it to the Soviet lines were swarmed by infantry.

Its an odd duck, since most German Tank Destroyers were quite effective devices.
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Old 08-31-2007, 01:48 AM
Eolbo Eolbo is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ralph124c
I was reading about the June, 1943, battle of Kursk, in the Russian Campaign. It was a disaster for the German Panzer Armies-they ost thousands of tanks, including many of the new Tigers and Leopards. As well, they took severe casualties. The Russians planned well-they waited and anticipatd the German's every move. My question: why were generals of the caliber of Gen. Walter Model taken in by this? Model's army made little progress, and parts of his advance force were wiped out. Outwardly, the Germans held some very good cards-fresh troops, new tanks, and good air support. Yet, the Russians inflicted punishing loses, and seemed to have lured the Germans into a trap.
In many ways, Kursk was a worse disaster than Stalingrad-Hitler never intererfered in the general's strategy.
After Kursk, the Germans found themselves continually outfought-and they had to contend with getting older and older soldiers-they youngest and best had been killed off.
So, was it better Russian intelligence? r German ineptitude. As I say, you can't blame this one on Hitler. Or had Russian technology finally overtaken the Germans?
German casualties at Kursk have been drastically exaggerated for many years and it was common for many historians to write of the destruction of the German panzer divisions. The casualties at Kursk especially in tank losses were actually fairly moderate and the divisions were not only not 'destroyed' by Kursk but continued on with operations throughout the rest of 1943. Recent works by Nipes and Glantz (the latter is probably the best historian of the eastern front) have among other things examined the actual strength returns of the divisions involved and in total they lost less then 200 tanks through Citadel.

What did ultimately destroy the panzer divisions wasn't a single operation like Kursk but the sheer unrelenting scale and tempo of the battles of the last half of 1943. They were ground down in battle after battle.

As for Kursk itself the Russians had very good intelligence pre-warnings of the coming attack from the 'Lucy' spy ring and had ample opportunity to fortify the salient.

Despite it failing in its grand strategic aims Manstein did not percieve the operation as a failure and wished to continue it to engage and destroy Russian armoured reserves. Hitler however ordered a halt to the operation as the western Allies had just invaded Sicily and it was considered that the panzer divisions would need to be redeployed to Italy.

Last edited by Eolbo; 08-31-2007 at 01:50 AM..
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Old 08-31-2007, 02:19 AM
Eolbo Eolbo is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Miskatonic
One of the bigger problems they had was a lack of any machine gun for anti-infantry defense (at least at Kursk). But they also had so many bugs they mostly broke down after they started in Kursk. The ones that made it to the Soviet lines were swarmed by infantry.

Its an odd duck, since most German Tank Destroyers were quite effective devices.
Most Elefant losses were actually due to mines blowing off the running gear and the vehicle then being abandoned, infantry destroyed few and possibly none of them. The other side of the equation is the Elefants at Kursk were crediting with destroying as many as 500 Russian tanks (total Russian tank losses at Kursk being about 1600) for the loss of 40 Elefants from all causes. They were pretty much impervious to most Soviet tanks in 1943 which explains the very lopsided kill ratio.

Elefants at Kursk

Note extracts from German field reports from the battle saying:

Quote:
'The initial fear that the Ferdinand would prove extremely vulnerable to enemy infantry proved unfounded in practice. As a result of the loud report produced when the gun is fired, and the psychological effect on enemy infantry of the Ferdinand, no enemy infantry approached a Ferdinand during any of the days it was committed. The docrinal prohibition against committing the Ferdinand ahead of the infantry therefore appears to be unfounded'
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Old 08-31-2007, 04:36 AM
RickJay RickJay is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by smiling bandit
I'm not sure I can agree with this. The problem was that the Soviets tanks were even greater disasters. Horrendous manufacturing quality, constant breakdowns. The only reason any of them were on the field was that they made so many, mostly with American and British aid.
This statement simply has no basis in fact that I can discern. T-34s were relatively easy, as tanks go, to keep running, and had a much, much higher rate of in-service workability than any German tank.
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Old 08-31-2007, 08:57 AM
Eolbo Eolbo is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by smiling bandit
I'm not sure I can agree with this. The problem was that the Soviets tanks were even greater disasters. Horrendous manufacturing quality, constant breakdowns. The only reason any of them were on the field was that they made so many, mostly with American and British aid.
Following up on Rickjays point this has no basis in fact. The T-34 was a particularly good tank, regarded by many as the finest tank of the war, hardly a 'disaster'. It was fast, reliable, and well armoured with good performance in winter conditions. It was also mechanically simple and easy to construct in huge numbers, almost the perfect tank for WW2 conditions. As for your implication that the Russians built all these tanks 'mostly' with foreign aid this is complete nonsense. The Russians had an enormous industrial base and produced colossal numbers of tanks even in peacetime, at the time of their entry into the war in 1941 they already had more tanks then the rest of the world combined. It is certainly true that much of their initial tank fleet was outdated but their pool of modern tanks exceeded the number of modern tanks available to any other nation. By 1942 they had concentrated production almost exclusively on the T-34 and churned out over 50,000 of them before the war was often. Almost none of the foreign aid supplied was useful for soviet tank production nor was it necessary to provide aid that would have been. They wanted trucks, food and high octane aviation fuel from the west, not help in producing tanks which is about the last thing the Russians would need.
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Old 08-31-2007, 09:03 AM
detop detop is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Eolbo
<snip>Almost none of the foreign aid supplied was useful for soviet tank production nor was it necessary to provide aid that would have been. They wanted trucks, food and high octane aviation fuel from the west, not help in producing tanks which is about the last thing the Russians would need.
Not quite. They considered foreign tanks generally inferior to their own design (although the crews liked the Shermans they received late in the war for their mechanical reliability). In 1941, during the dark days of Barbarossa, Stalin offered the blueprints of the T-34 to Roosevelt (Roosevelt declined) for the Americans to produce it for them. AFAIK, it is the only time the Soviets asked for help from the West in tank production.
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Old 08-31-2007, 09:14 AM
Eolbo Eolbo is offline
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Originally Posted by detop
Not quite. They considered foreign tanks generally inferior to their own design (although the crews liked the Shermans they received late in the war for their mechanical reliability). In 1941, during the dark days of Barbarossa, Stalin offered the blueprints of the T-34 to Roosevelt (Roosevelt declined) for the Americans to produce it for them. AFAIK, it is the only time the Soviets asked for help from the West in tank production.
You got a cite for that?
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Old 08-31-2007, 09:31 AM
Malthus Malthus is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David Simmons
Kursk was an important battle and the largest battle of armored units in WWII. However the turning point in the war was the battle of Stalingrad. In that battle the Germans and their allies lost an extimated 850000 total killed, wounded or captured. Not only that, they lost the initiative. From then on the Soviets dictated where and how the action woult take place putting the Germans on continuous defense and retreat.

As to the quality of armor, everything I've read, except here, says the the T-34 Soviet tank was superior to most German tanks if not all. For an example of swamping the enemy with overwhelming numbers of inferior, although more reliable, tanks all you need to point to is the US with the Sherman tank.
This is pretty well my understanding.

I read somewhere (sorry, no cite handy) that it was generally considered necessary to commit at least 5 Shermans to take on 1 German Tiger. However, this wasn't too difficult to achieve, as the US was able to churn out Shermans in the necessary numbers, and Germany could not produce anywhere near the numbers of Tigers to stop them - even though the US forces needed a 5-to-1 tank advantage.
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Old 08-31-2007, 12:00 PM
smiling bandit smiling bandit is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Eolbo
By 1942 they had concentrated production almost exclusively on the T-34 and churned out over 50,000 of them before the war was often. Almost none of the foreign aid supplied was useful for soviet tank production nor was it necessary to provide aid that would have been. They wanted trucks, food and high octane aviation fuel from the west, not help in producing tanks which is about the last thing the Russians would need.
I may have been unclear: Western economic aid to Russia allowed them to do so. Without new machines, supplies, trucks, and oil, they could never have devoted resources so. Troops need clothing, boots, and so on (and believe me, Russia got over 2 million pairs of boots alone). Factories need trucks and fuel to run them. Russia had neither boots nor trucks, and desperately needed lots of other things as well. (I understand American-made spare parts were a big hit over there). Wuithout them they could never have pumped out military supplies enough, and had they survived at all, would have faced total economic collapse.

I think it would be a mistake also to overplay the Battle fo Stalingrad. The Germans were still on the offense thereafter. It wasn't the the beginning of the end (Kursk or even Bagration itself was). But it was the end of the beginning. Or maybe the beginning of the end of the beginning.
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Old 08-31-2007, 12:21 PM
garygnu garygnu is offline
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Originally Posted by chowder
...As soon as they stepped into Russia they were as good as fucked
They fell victim to one one the classic blunders...
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Old 08-31-2007, 12:47 PM
detop detop is offline
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Originally Posted by Eolbo
You got a cite for that?
I'm at work presently, I will have to check when I get home later on today.
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Old 08-31-2007, 01:15 PM
David Simmons David Simmons is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by smiling bandit
I think it would be a mistake also to overplay the Battle fo Stalingrad. The Germans were still on the offense thereafter. It wasn't the the beginning of the end (Kursk or even Bagration itself was). But it was the end of the beginning. Or maybe the beginning of the end of the beginning.
You have a point. Here is the timeline of 1942-43 action on the eastern front.

After Stalingrad the Germans did attempt one offensive action of consequence but it failed disasterously. That was at Kursk where the Germans attempted to break through but were unsucessful.

Maybe Stalingrad and Kursk should be taken together as the end of the advance into the Soviet Union. The failure at Kursk following on the heels of the disaster at Stalingrad were successive blows from which it would be hard for any army to recover.

Last edited by David Simmons; 08-31-2007 at 01:16 PM..
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Old 08-31-2007, 09:07 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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I'm pretty much in agreement with what others have said. Operation Bagration was a far worse disaster for the Germans than Kursk was. The Germans lost about 650,000 casualties in Bagration as compared to about 230,000 casualties in Kursk.

I also agree with the consensus on Soviet tanks - they were generally better than their German counterparts and the Soviets did build them without foreign aid. The Soviet government made tank production a priority before the war and their efforts paid off. Totalitarian governments have a lot of flaws but they are capable of getting maximum effort focused into specific areas.
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Old 08-31-2007, 09:40 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by smiling bandit
I may have been unclear: Western economic aid to Russia allowed them to do so. Without new machines, supplies, trucks, and oil, they could never have devoted resources so. Troops need clothing, boots, and so on (and believe me, Russia got over 2 million pairs of boots alone). Factories need trucks and fuel to run them. Russia had neither boots nor trucks, and desperately needed lots of other things as well. (I understand American-made spare parts were a big hit over there). Wuithout them they could never have pumped out military supplies enough, and had they survived at all, would have faced total economic collapse.

I think it would be a mistake also to overplay the Battle fo Stalingrad. The Germans were still on the offense thereafter. It wasn't the the beginning of the end (Kursk or even Bagration itself was). But it was the end of the beginning. Or maybe the beginning of the end of the beginning.
You'd radically overstating the importance of lend-lease supplies. First off very little of it arrived in the critical period of 1941 and Russia survived its danger period on the basis of its own resources (which happen to be enormous). Secondly the overwhelming majority of foreign aid arrived in the post-Kursk period by which stage Russia had not only survived but had bled the Wehrmacht white and the outcome of the war was no longer in doubt. With or without foreign aid, Russia was simply too big to be defeated by Germany. Foreign aid was certainly useful in many areas, especially in the trucks (in excess of 400,000) which significantly increased mobility of the Red Army in its final offensives, but Russia was a bigger industrial economy then Germany and was always going to be able to produce enormous quantities of war material in its own right. As for your 2 million pair of boots figure, you should view this in the context of in excess of 20 million men who served in the Red Army in the course of the war (ie maybe one man in 10 ever saw a pair of American boots.)

Stalingrad (and Kursk) is certainly overplayed. They were just signposts on a road to inevitable defeat, in themselves neither was particularly significant. Germany lost an army at Stalingrad, but then the Soviets had already lost many armies, in itself it would have meant little if the underlying strategic balance hadn't already fundamentally changed in Russia's favour. You're right that Germany remained on the offensive after Stalingrad but it wasn't like former German offensives. When Germany invaded Russia in 1941 it was a massive overwhelming offensive along the entire frontier. The following year, after the winter 1941 Russian counter-offensive, Germany resumed its offensive. But she was no longer strong enough to attack along the entire front and was only capable of attacking in the southern sector of the eastern front. Even this had been achieved by stripping units in the northern sectors of men and especially vehicles to restore offensive capability to units in the south. In 1943 the German offensive (at Kursk) was reduced in scale yet again and consisted of an attack in just one area of the southern part of the eastern front.

They weren't beaten by particular battles as much as they were ground down by the massive cumulative losses of the entire campaign. Even the initial 1941 campaign cost the Germans over 900,000 men which in context was more then their cumulative losses on all other fronts for the entire war up to that point. This is equivalent to removing 60 divisions from the field and this is from the comparitively easy and successful opening months of the war against Russia. The effects of such a loss rate (and it continued) were a rapid weakening of German strength. In the French campaign almost every German infantry division had been rated as a category A division, meaning capable of offensive operations in its own right. Every year thereafter the percentage of divisions in this category declined. The German infantry divisions shrunk in strength as replacements were too few to replace losses. They declined in artillery support. They lost their mobility as all mechanised transport was stripped away (replaced by horses) to maintain the mobility of an ever-shrinking pool of first rate units (mainly the panzer divisions). The Germans could have won both at Kursk and Stalingrad and nothing would have changed.
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Old 08-31-2007, 10:56 PM
David Simmons David Simmons is offline
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Originally Posted by Eolbo
The Germans could have won both at Kursk and Stalingrad and nothing would have changed.
Quite so - if the Soviets kept on fighting.

I think that is questionable.

Russia was just as big compared to Germany in WWI but continued defeats discouraged them to the point of giving up with the revolution serving to end their participation in the war..

Last edited by David Simmons; 08-31-2007 at 10:58 PM..
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Old 08-31-2007, 11:59 PM
Lust4Life Lust4Life is offline
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I would treat with extreme caution any figures of Russian losses issued by the Russians themselves.
I have no cite but I recall a T.V. programme about battlefield archaeology on some of the sites at Kursk and the evidence was of much greater Soviet losses then they owned up to even after the war.
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Old 09-01-2007, 06:38 AM
Eolbo Eolbo is offline
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Originally Posted by David Simmons
Quite so - if the Soviets kept on fighting.

I think that is questionable.

Russia was just as big compared to Germany in WWI but continued defeats discouraged them to the point of giving up with the revolution serving to end their participation in the war..

Russia was only as big compared to Germany in WW1 with respect to the population balance. In WW1 the Russian industrial economy was dwarfed by Germany, this situation had radically transformed between the wars with the growth of Russia as an industrial giant. Soviet Russia in WW2 possessed an ability to support a war effort to an extent that just hadn't been available to Czarist Russia. Also needs to be pointed out that Russia had been in revolutionary turmoil even before WW1 (note the 1905 revolution) and while defeats in WW1 had aggravated this and served as a catalyst for revolution, the defeats had not created such turmoil. Imperial Russia also never had the iron grip over the armed forces and society that totalitarian Russia did. With all this in mind I really don't see any possibility of the Soviet Union dropping out of WW2 as a result of hypothetical defeats at Stalingrad and Kursk especially when such a peace could only be at the price of sacrificing much of western Russia to German rule. The Russian General Staff were very well aware that time was on their side and that they were not going to lose, I dont see they were going to give up much of their country just because they weren't going to win as fast as they might have wanted.
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Old 09-01-2007, 08:21 AM
ralph124c ralph124c is offline
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From accounts of the battle (Kursk) it seemed that the German generals were shocked that their carefully prepared offensive was stopped cold. This should have provoked some serious thought-like maybe reverting to defensive warfare. They knew at this point that they couldn't win.
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Old 09-01-2007, 08:45 AM
David Simmons David Simmons is offline
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Originally Posted by Eolbo
Russia was only as big compared to Germany in WW1 with respect to the population balance. In WW1 the Russian industrial economy was dwarfed by Germany, this situation had radically transformed between the wars with the growth of Russia as an industrial giant. Soviet Russia in WW2 possessed an ability to support a war effort to an extent that just hadn't been available to Czarist Russia. Also needs to be pointed out that Russia had been in revolutionary turmoil even before WW1 (note the 1905 revolution) and while defeats in WW1 had aggravated this and served as a catalyst for revolution, the defeats had not created such turmoil. Imperial Russia also never had the iron grip over the armed forces and society that totalitarian Russia did. With all this in mind I really don't see any possibility of the Soviet Union dropping out of WW2 as a result of hypothetical defeats at Stalingrad and Kursk especially when such a peace could only be at the price of sacrificing much of western Russia to German rule. The Russian General Staff were very well aware that time was on their side and that they were not going to lose, I dont see they were going to give up much of their country just because they weren't going to win as fast as they might have wanted.
True but to argue that the great battles on the eastern front are irrelevant
Quote:
Stalingrad (and Kursk) is certainly overplayed. They were just signposts on a road to inevitable defeat, in themselves neither was particularly significant
is pretty extreme. Yes, with the advantage of being able to analyze the affair at leisure and knowing the result it is true that Germany's defeat in the east was inevitable.

I maintain that arguing that is the same as arguing that defeat was inevitable when Hitler took power. In Mein Kampf he stated three main objectives. 1) To unify all German speaking peoples (Ein Volk) in one nation (Ein Reich) under one leader (Ein Fuhrer). 2) To provided this population with adequate space and resources Germany needed additional territory (Liebensraum) and such land was available only to the east. 3) To purify the Aryan race of all lesser bloodlines. There was a subsidiary objective of fighting communism.

Given 2) an attack on the Soviet Union was inevitable once Hitler gained power, given the disparity in resources that attack was bound to fail, ergo the actual combat was just the trival details that confirmed what was preordained..

What is important as far as turning points go is what the people at the time thought and how it affected their morale. This is anecdotal but the Germans I know who were there say that after the loss of the 6th Army at Stalingrad there was a general sinking feeling the pit of the stomach and that they were going to lose.

I agree 100% that many of us greatly exaggerate the contribution of lend-lease to the Soviet success. The trucks were important but I don't believe they were crucial. Yes they greatly improved Soviet mobility however even without them their mobility was probably equal to the Germans. It needs to be recalled that the Germans still used considerable horse drawn transport in WWII. Considering the huge scale of operations in the eastern front the idea that the supplies coming through a couple of ports, both icebound for a considerable part of the year, is a real stretch. However, the claim does bolster our inflated opinion that "we saved the world from Hitler."

Last edited by David Simmons; 09-01-2007 at 08:49 AM..
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Old 09-01-2007, 09:52 AM
Eolbo Eolbo is offline
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Originally Posted by David Simmons
True but to argue that the great battles on the eastern front are irrelevant is pretty extreme. Yes, with the advantage of being able to analyze the affair at leisure and knowing the result it is true that Germany's defeat in the east was inevitable....

What is important as far as turning points go is what the people at the time thought and how it affected their morale.
In clarification I haven't stated and dont believe that the great battles were irrelevant but that in themselves they weren't the causes of German defeat and their significance in this regard is overstated. So I don't share your view that Stalingrad was a turning point, if any single campaign in Russia was a turning point I would class the battle of Moscow as the one. The Germans lost primarily because they had bitten off more then they could chew, were being outproduced in war material, and were sustaining casualties beyond their ability to replace their losses. The German losses at Stalingrad were very heavy as you earlier rightly pointed out and were part of this overall pattern and were significant in this regard. I also agree with you on the demoralising effect that the Stalingrad defeat had for the Germans. But as heavy as the Stalingrad losses were, the cumulative German losses on the eastern front by the time of the surrender of the 6th Army were already equal to several Stalingrads. The losses occured in countless battles that were individually less dramatic then Stalingrad but their combined impact was no less disastrous for that.

Lets suppose that the Germans had captured Stalingrad in November 1942 and the 6th Army was never encircled and destroyed. A city of largely symbolic value would have been taken. Stalingrad was not critical to the Soviet war effort and nothing fundamental would have been lost to the Soviets. Even a victory here would still have left the Germans in a strategically untenable position. They would still have been incapable of effectively supporting forces with such massively extended supply lines. They also would still be incapable of adequately manning such an enormously long front line and would still have needed to have large stretches of the front manned by Rumanian and Italian forces incapable of defending their positions from Russian assault.
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Old 09-01-2007, 10:13 AM
David Simmons David Simmons is offline
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Originally Posted by Eolbo
In clarification I haven't stated and dont believe that the great battles were irrelevant but that in themselves they weren't the causes of German defeat and their significance in this regard is overstated.
In the same fashion, the Battle of Midway and all the battles for islands in the Pacific were not the cause of the Japanese defeat. That happened because Japan didn't have the resources or population to combat the US even in their own back yard. Having superior resources is necessary but not sufficient. You must take advantage of those resources and exploit them properly. That's where the actual action enters the picture.

I suppose in a cerebral analysis of the Soviet-German war in the east, the big battles were not crucial, an equivalent battle at any other place would have done just as well.

It doesn't matter whether or not Stalingrad or Kursk were important places. The German losses at those places were outstanding features of that "wearing down" that you spoke of. As long as morale doesn't crack to the point that one side gives up, all wars are wars of attrition.

Last edited by David Simmons; 09-01-2007 at 10:16 AM..
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Old 09-01-2007, 10:54 AM
ralph124c ralph124c is offline
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To Add To What's Been Said

Germany's ONLY chance to win in Russia was thrown away, very early in the game. Hitler had decided to invest Russian cities-he had 500,000 men tied up (Army Group North) around leningrad. The insane desire to take Stalingrad made NO sense. The only way that the Germans could have won: send the panzer armies deep behind Russian lines, and barrel in to capture Moscow. It is likely that the capture of the capital might have broken the Soviet command structure-and they might have even cptured Stalin!
Second: treat the Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Tartars with respect! Instead, Hitler had the SS come in and treat these peoples like slaves. Third: equip the troops with winter gear! Many German casualties were from frostbite and exposure-leather boots are no good in the Russian winter.
My scenario: Guderian's Panzers drive in through and capture Moscow (November 1941). Soviet resistance falls apart-Stalin is captured and put on trial in Berlin. Russia signs an armistice, and Russia breaks up into seperate regions.
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Old 09-01-2007, 11:39 AM
Eolbo Eolbo is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David Simmons
In the same fashion, the Battle of Midway and all the battles for islands in the Pacific were not the cause of the Japanese defeat. That happened because Japan didn't have the resources or population to combat the US even in their own back yard. Having superior resources is necessary but not sufficient. You must take advantage of those resources and exploit them properly. That's where the actual action enters the picture.

I suppose in a cerebral analysis of the Soviet-German war in the east, the big battles were not crucial, an equivalent battle at any other place would have done just as well.

It doesn't matter whether or not Stalingrad or Kursk were important places. The German losses at those places were outstanding features of that "wearing down" that you spoke of. As long as morale doesn't crack to the point that one side gives up, all wars are wars of attrition.
I don't really disagree about much you have written, losses dont occur in a vacuum they occur at certain places and as a result of combinations of events. Men fought these battles, they didn't just happen by themselves.

I'd quibble with your implication though that the German losses at Stalingrad and Kursk were somehow especially significant features of the 'wearing down'. The frightening thing about the eastern front is that losses of this magnitude had already been repeatedly incurred, and would be again. There is nothing magical about the circa 400,000 men the Germans lost at Stalingrad (you earlier quoted 850,000 men which is roughly correct for the total axis losses including the Rumanians and Italians, the German component was a bit less then half this). There is no inherent quality making the significance of these men's death and injuries more important then the 900,000 men the Germans lost in 1941 or the 300,000 men the Germans lost in the Rzhev salient in 1942 or the hundreds of thousands of men the Germans lost elsewhere in 1942 outside the Stalingrad campaign. The Germans were just relentlessly ground down and Stalingrad was part but only part of that.

Stalingrad was not even the biggest operation occurring on the Russian front at this time. The Soviet offensive strategy for 1942 consisted of two prongs, the Stalingrad counter-offensive (Operation Uranus) and another even larger counter-offensive (Operation Mars) launched at the same time in the north near Moscow, the latter operation led by Zhukov himself. The latter element is largely unknown in the west because it failed with massive losses to the Red Army (up to half a million men were lost in this operation alone) and the Russians have always downplayed it and prefer to celebrate their victory in the south.

From earlier posts:
Quote:
After Stalingrad the Germans did attempt one offensive action of consequence but it failed disasterously

Not only that, they lost the initiative {after Stalingrad}
Actually, highlighting the point that it was not particular operations but cumulative attrition that wrecked the Germans, the Wehrmacht did regain the initiative and was on the offensive again within 3 weeks of the surrender at Stalingrad. Manstein launched his famous backhand counter-offensive on February 21st, destroyed the Soviet offensive spearheads and the Germans advanced, recaptured Kharkov on March 14th and remained on the offensive until the spring thaw put an end to operations. This was what allowed the Germans to be in a position to launch their Kursk offensive in July.
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Old 09-01-2007, 12:15 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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Actually the Soviets considered Stalingrad a failure as well. They hadn't been trying to capture just the Sixth Army in Stalingrad - their plan had been to cut off the entire southern front (which would have cost the Axis seven armies instead of just one). The Red Army came very close but the Germans counterattacked and were able to keep a corridor open long enough for the majority of their troops to withdraw.
Quote:
Germany's ONLY chance to win in Russia was thrown away, very early in the game. Hitler had decided to invest Russian cities-he had 500,000 men tied up (Army Group North) around leningrad. The insane desire to take Stalingrad made NO sense. The only way that the Germans could have won: send the panzer armies deep behind Russian lines, and barrel in to capture Moscow. It is likely that the capture of the capital might have broken the Soviet command structure-and they might have even cptured Stalin!
I doubt it. The Soviets were aware Moscow was vulnerable and had already made plans for its loss.
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Old 09-01-2007, 12:21 PM
Eolbo Eolbo is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Little Nemo
The Soviets were aware Moscow was vulnerable and had already made plans for its loss.
Yep, they had began evacuating government ministries in anticipation of its fall and so forth.

The fall of Moscow would certainly have hurt the Russians though as it was an important industrial centre and the hub of the rail network.
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Old 09-01-2007, 12:29 PM
Captain Amazing Captain Amazing is online now
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Originally Posted by ralph124c
The only way that the Germans could have won: send the panzer armies deep behind Russian lines, and barrel in to capture Moscow.
Well, maybe, but there were armies in the way. Those had to be dealt with. And, by doing what you suggested, you run into two additional problems. First, tanks break down easily, and sending them behind enemy lines means cutting them off from supply and support, and second, tanks aren't good for taking cities.
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Old 09-01-2007, 07:36 PM
David Simmons David Simmons is offline
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Originally Posted by Captain Amazing
Well, maybe, but there were armies in the way. Those had to be dealt with. And, by doing what you suggested, you run into two additional problems. First, tanks break down easily, and sending them behind enemy lines means cutting them off from supply and support, and second, tanks aren't good for taking cities.
Right. On the average you can't advance faster than your supply. Local breakthroughs can be made by units carrying extra supply but that can't last long and the supplies are always subject to being expended faster than you planned.
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Old 05-05-2013, 03:15 AM
AK84 AK84 is offline
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The Soviets were aware Moscow was vulnerable and had already made plans for its loss.
I know that this is a zombie thead (zombie commienazis!!!) but, I mist disagree with this assessment. In 1941, the majority of railway lines went through Moscow and the surrounding countryside. How the hell were the Sovs expected to undertake operations with such a little transport capability after the loss of Moscow? It was moreover the center of the Communist Party and government, moving mi istries is not going to change that.

I think it would have been game, set match and possibly war.
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Old 05-05-2013, 11:44 AM
smiling bandit smiling bandit is offline
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I think it would have been game, set match and possibly war.
Not really. IIRC, they panned to simply back away east along their rail line and continue the fight until the Germans were worn down and worn out.
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Old 05-05-2013, 12:20 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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Originally Posted by AK84 View Post
I know that this is a zombie thead (zombie commienazis!!!) but, I mist disagree with this assessment. In 1941, the majority of railway lines went through Moscow and the surrounding countryside. How the hell were the Sovs expected to undertake operations with such a little transport capability after the loss of Moscow? It was moreover the center of the Communist Party and government, moving mi istries is not going to change that.

I think it would have been game, set match and possibly war.
The rail lines around Moscow were vital for supplying Moscow. If the Soviets had lost Moscow, they wouldn't have needed to worry about supplying it anymore. Considering the regime, they wouldn't have even worried about the Germans being unable to supply the city.

The Germans kept telling themselves that all they had to do was capture Moscow and the Soviets would surrender. It was mainly useful as propaganda to keep the army moving forward - it convince them that they were approaching the end of the fighting.

I'm sure Napoleon told his troops the same thing in 1812, "Just a few more miles and then we'll be in Moscow. And then the war will be over and we can all rest." But the French found you can capture Moscow and the Russians just keep fighting without Moscow.
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Old 05-05-2013, 12:21 PM
Bryan Ekers Bryan Ekers is online now
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I know that this is a zombie thead
Tanks for the memories.
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  #50  
Old 05-05-2013, 12:32 PM
colonial colonial is offline
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Coupla things. Hitler diverted crucial force to Greece in order to save Mussolini's bacon. Given Greece's insignificance, this was one of a series of Hilter's Greatest Blunders.
This occurred in 1941, and is considered by many authorities to have fatally delayed Barbarossa later in the same year. It did not have anything to do with Kursk in 1943.



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Originally Posted by elucidator View Post
And yes, the German armor was vastly superior, tank by tank, to the Russian armor. But the Russians didn't spend their resources on superior tanks but one more of them. They produced as many "bare bones" T-series tanks as they could, and this proved to be an effective strategy. The Germans fielded BMW's, the Russians Volkswagens.
Incorrect. The T-34 was the best tank in the world when first introduced in the summer of 1941. All other tanks were obsolete in comparison. Unfortunately most if not all other USSR models available in 1941 fared poorly in comparison with the Germans, and it was some time before Soviet tank production converted more fully to the T-34. After that constant upgrades and vast numbers allowed the T-34 to hold its own against German armor for the duration. Finally, the JS series heavies introduced in 1944 gave the Soviets a tank which stood a chance one-on-one against the Tiger.



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Originally Posted by elucidator View Post
Finally, Hitlerian arrogance: if he had prepared to fight a defensive battle in retreat, he might have done so effectively, perhaps even exhaust the Russians to the point of a seperate peace. But he didn't, he was wholly convinced that German Aryan superiority coupled with a relentlessly aggressive strategy would crush the sub-human Slavs. Duh.
Germany was forced into a permanent strategic defensive after Kurst, and the USSR was able to weather two more years of heavy losses without suffering anything like exhaustion.
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