OPERATION "Barbarossaa"-Did It Have A Chance of Success?

The Nazi oinvasion of Russia was a mammoth undertaking-accordoing to paul Johnson, the Germans invaded with 3.5 million soldiers, with contributions from Finland, Rumania, Hungary, and Spain. There were also over 1 million Italian troops.
The germans also achieved almost complete surprise…over 1.5 million Russians were captured in the first 3 months of the invasion. It even appeared that Moscow might be captured in the first winter (1941-42) of the war.
So what went wrong? The military experts usually explain it by saying that:

  • Russia was too vast…the German supply lines got too long, and the momentum could not be maintained
    -the Russian army was toobig: even fater the intial victories, the Russians still were able tooutnumber the Germans 3:1
    -the Russians eventually built beter weapons than the Germans (like the Stalin tank)
    -Germany could not fight a two-front war
    It seems to me that the Germans had a 6-month window in which to win…they should have ignored their infantry (much of which was slow and non-motorized), and sent their panzer armies deep into Russia-they could have penetrated far beyonf Moscow, and obliterated all of the Russian defenses.
    So could Germany have pulled it off? Or was Russia too big and pwereful for the Germans to have conquered?
    Imagine if Germany and Japan had coordinated their war startegy? Japan and Germany linking up in Siberia? :confused:

I think the problem of the over-stretched supply lines would have put paid to this tactic.

They did let their panzer units move way in front of the infantry, and made some gigantic encirclements of enemy positions. But the tanks were not so numerous and cannot operate without a steady supply of fuel and ammunition. Since the Russians started to use the burnt earth tactics this could only be gotten through German supply lines maintained by German infantry.

This is a classic Western European misconception. They have no idea how BIG a continental sized nation is.

OTOH, the only exemple they had of Soviet military abilities, was the Winter War with Finland, not one of the USSR’s finest hour to say the least.

Forget the IS family of tanks, the USSR in 1941 had probably the finest tank in the world in the T-34, which was impervious to most German AT weapons at the time.

It wouldn’t have worked. Tanks are great to take ground, not so in holding it.

They probably could have pulled it off if (and it is a big if) :
[li]they hadn’t pursued their racial policies in the conquered territories[/li][li]they didn’t suffer from victory disease (to use a Japanese term)[/li][li]they had prepared for a long campaign[/li][/ul]

Doubtful occurence, since the Soviets had given a bloody nose (that went mostly unnoticed until later) to the Japanese in 1939.

Don’t forget that Hitler got a hair up his ass about Yugoslavia, which delayed the Russian invasion by about two months. Also the ethnic cleansing groups moved in right behind the army, so instead of having a relatively peaceful populace greatly pleased about being relieved from the Russian yoke, an active resistance existed in the occupied areas, diverting manpower and supplies.

Also Stalin did at one time sue for peace offering up the Ukraine, but Hitler turned him down.

After failing to take Moscow in the first campaign season, Hitler turned his attention to the Caucasus and their oil resources, much to the dismay of his generals. I wonder, in hindsight, disregarding the stupidities at Stalingrad, can this be considered a smart move or should they have concentrated on the Moscow front?

I used to believe that also, but after further readings, I found out that the spring of 1941 was especially wet and the rasputitsa season extended to the beginning of June.

I think they should have gone from North (Leningrad) to South in their offensives. They were already at Leningrad’s doorstep, they could have made a junction with the Finns, used that junction to send reinforcements North to cut the Murmansk railway, and then tackle Moscow and the rest of the country (although going after Moscow in 1942 would have made sense also, it would have removed a major transportation hub from the Soviets, alas, the Soviets were aware of this).

They might just possibly have succeeded if they hadn’t had to police almost all of Europe. I’m not sure that the North African operation would be considered as forcing Germany to fight a two-front war in any real sense. It was a sideline to them and I think that the history is that the German north african forces were stinted on supplies almost as if Hitler was wrapped up Russia and couldn’t be bothered with anything else. The two-front war was a problem later on but in fact I think the tide had turned against the Germans in the east quite a while before there was any serious second front. The author of this thesis argues that the turning point could even have been as early as Dec. 1941 at the Battle of Moscow where the German advance was finally stopped in the center. The tide had definitely turned by Stalingrad which ended in Feb. 1943 and the Battle of Kursk in July-August 1943. The Soviets managed to reorganize their army and build up an industrial base that outproduced Germany by the end of the war.

It seems to me that it is likely that the invasion would have failed in any case if the Soviets just kept fighting. The country was just too big and Germany didn’t have the logistical base to support operations over such a distance after the Soviets finally got organized.

The Germans darn near pulled it off. The culminating point (to use the technical term) was at the very gates of Moscow. Had a few butterflies flap their wings the other way around, the Germans could have gotten to Red Square.

With that territorial objective taken, it is not unimaginable that the Soviet government would have collapsed.

The Germans did come close to winning, so there was certainly a chance for them to have done so if only a few things had been different. There was a natural tendency after the war for the surviving German generals to claim the war was unwinnable; it excused their failure to win it, put all the blame for the defeat on Hitler for starting it, and Hitler was conveniently dead. The Soviets had their own reasons for promoting the idea that they were unconquerable and their victory was never in doubt.

I don’t think he was neccesarily wrong there. It makes sense not to move into Russia if you have a hostile Yugoslavia on your flanks.

Reasons why Germany lost the war in the east:

Logistics, logistics, logistics: the German military spared scant energy and resources on logistics - reliable trucks in appropriate (read: American) numbers, repairing/adapting the Russian railroads and rolling stock, real airlift capability. No doubt a combination of the unsexy and bourgeois nature of the field as well as cosmic certainty that the war would be a short one, even though pre-Barbarossa logistical wargames predicted halts in the offensives due to an inability to move supplies to the front. This unwillingness to waste resources on anything except the pointy end of the military ended up hurting the Germans throughout the campaigns in the east. This is also the reason why proposals for sending some greater increment of the military against Moscow are ludicrous - sending twice as many soldiers is of no benefit if only the same quantity of bullets, shells, rations and gasoline are being sent to the front. Similarly, sending just mobile units compounds the logistical burden while leaving flanks wide open for being cut-off.

War production: on the face of it, Germany should have creamed the Soviet Union from a production point of view. Germany was in 1939 had the second highest war-making potential in the world (lagging well behind the US, the leader). The Soviet Union was number three. (UK was #4) By the end of 1941 the Germans had scooped up a huge chunk of Russia’s land, people, and infrastructure. And this is added to the fact that all of Europe’s population and factories were effectively at Germany’s disposal. But Germany had bass-ackwards production systems and no serious attempt was made at rationalizing the system until 1943 under Speer.

Occupation policies: Germany managed to piss of just about everyone under their thumb. It boggles the mind that they were able to get just about zero traction from their crusade against Russia/bolshevism. Add to that the fact that their actions/policies left no doubt that the goal was to screw the occupied territories for Germany’s benefit and you end up with a sizeable chunk of Europe’s productive potiential going to waste. (Similarly Nazi family values ideals prevented utilization of German women in factories).

Overconfidence/refusal to learn: The Germans never seemed to grasp that all of the tactics that won them their empire were no longer terribly effective. Their opponents had learned too many bloody lessons and would no longer cooperate. At the same time their absolute knowledge of the superiority of their own intelligence and intelligence services left them blind to the actual superiority of Russian operational deception (and allied cryptographic superiority in general).

Declaring war on the US: This had two effects. First, it guaranteed a substantial diversion of resources away from the eastern front (whether mobile forces to the Med, numbers of divisions to Norway, Italy, and France, or the preponderance of fighter aircraft and vast quantities of AA to the fatherland). While the majority of forces still fought in the east, efforts were now fractured and the few major offensives in the west saw the annhilation of mobile forces more useful for defense in the east. The second major effect was lend lease. While substantial numbers of aircraft and tanks were contributed, even more important were the immense quantities of rolling stock, railroad engines, aviation fuel, radios, food, explosives, raw materials, and trucks trucks trucks trucks trucks. The fact that such vast quantities of material were available freed up Soviet industry for the production of aircraft, artillery, and tanks. [For the purposes of this paragraph I do not wish to denigrate the contributions of the UK in both the “distraction from the Ostfront” sense and in the lend lease arena (where the UK sent materials they badly needed themselves to shore up the USSR). The US multiplied the ability of the overstretched commonwealth countries in both these arenas.]

Naziism and incentives: Both the Soviet Union and the USA were able to wildly increase production over the course of the war. In the US a combination of underutilization of pre-war capacity with patriotism and the potential for huge profits did the trick. In the Soviet Union hunger and hatred worked wonders. In both cases the bulk of the workforces could hardly be considered skilled before the war. In Germany there was no equivalent success motivation-wise. When Hitler called for a quadrupling of aircraft production industry leaders said it couldn’t be done. IN the US when FDR called for 50k aircraft to be produced the following year capitalists just saw the dollar signs and the race was won.

Naziism and government: Hitler used divide and conquer policies amongst his subordinates. There would always be pointless divisions within the government because Hitler needed them to prevent any of his lieutenants from getting too powerful. The Nazis knew the war was not terribly popular (although the one-sided victories changed that). As a result many policies were based on the necessity for a short war, so that consumer goods production could continue. Again, whenever faced with unrest from Germans the Nazi government seemed far less effective at changing opinion to favor itself than either the USSR or western allies, and gave in.

Naziism and Ideology: Because ideology trumped all else, there was a tendency to supress any unpleasant facts or realities (eclipsed only by the Japanese). Unsuccessful or unenthusiastic generals were sacked. The freedom of action of local commanders was restricted. Resources were wasted on the Final Solution, the resettlement of the Volksdeutsch, and other ideological projects, resources that could have been used to some effect on the war effort.

I do not think that a 1940’s era Russo-German conflict is of necessity a one-sided Russian victory. I just don’t think that Nazi Germany could remain Nazi Germany and still win. To be sure, a negotiated peace was certainly possible until late in '44, and a less self-deceived Hitler may have obtained one.

According to General Guderian (the top german panzer general), the Whermacht had suffered over 300,000 battle deaths by January 1942! This was the period of Germany’s greatest success, so even in winning, the Germans were taking unsustainable casualties. If only the gestapo hadn’t been so stupid-germany could have recruited anti-communist russians to form a “liberation army”-this would have given the germans an additional million men.
I agree that the germans wasted too much time investing cities…instead of besieging Leningrad, they could have put a force into N. Finland, and cut off Murmansk from the rest of Russia…and as for the Stalingrad debacle-what was Hitler thinking??

Though Napoleon took Moscow as well, and it didn’t help him much.

On the other hand, Germany didn’t take Moscow in World War ONE, but crushed Russia anyway. There’s no reason to believe they COULDN’T have done it again had they fought better.

I’m skeptical of the notions that either the Soviet resistance or invading in June had much to do with it. Invading Russia any earlier than June is impractical because the country in spring is largely impassable bog; the Germans also held the initiative for much of 1942, too, and still failed to win. As to the effect of resistance, while I don’t mean to downplay the courage of Soviet resistance fighters, the Wehrmacht was defeated by the Red Army in open battle.

ralph, with respect to Stalingrad, what Hitler was thinking was that he had a chance to inflict as great a blow on the Soviets as was inflicted on him. The defeat, while in retrospect a mistake, was possible in large part due to a failure of German intelligence.

In fact, this is probably the single most underrated reason the Allies won the war; German intelligence failed to determine Allied and Soviet intentions in almost every possible way from 1942 on. In terms of the contrast between theoretical capability and actual effectiveness, Abwehr was probably the worst military intelligence organization in the history of the world. They were responsible for one catastrophic failure after another. The Stalingrad counter-offensive - a counteroffensive of some sixty divisions supported by heavy air power, so we’re not talking about an easily concealed force - came as a near-total surprise to the Germans. Kursk? A rude surprise. Bagration? Complete, total surprise. Normandy? Complete, total surprise. I will grant that the disastrous retreat from Falaise was in large part an operational error, but in that case the Allies could not have made their intent more clear if they’d hired skywriters to spell their plans out in plain view. They hugely overinflated Soviet losses (even beyond their already appalling truth) and absurdly underestimated Soviet reserves, causing them to hugely underestimate the size of their opponent. Time and again, the Germans just didn’t see it coming.

While it’s true Hitler was not a terribly bright man and didn’t really understand war on a strategic level, and it’s also true Germany didn’t really have any sort of planning committee beyond Hitler, it’s hard to understand how they could have won the war when their own intelligence arm failed so miserably to detect their enemy’s true intentions. And it’s easy to understand how they MIGHT have won had their intelligence arm been more competent.

It might have helped to bring heavy winter clothing as well. This may sound kind of lame, but it really hurt the Germans. The elements always take a huge toll on advancing armies and in a place like Russia you had better be damned well ready for the worst. Anyone who lives in a place like Minnesota can try to relate to the predicament the axis soldiers found themselves in. Imagine sleeping outside every night in January and February wearing what amounts to a dress coat and uninsulated boots. The Germans lack of preparedness for the Russian winter could be chalked up to overconfidence, but I think a lack of understanding came into play as well. I think they failed to realize that winter in Germany is a LOT different than winter in Russia. There is a huge difference between a cool, snowy day and an arctic blast that can kill exposed flesh in seconds and freeze engine blocks solid.

Furthermore, the first winter of the invasion was horrible even by Russian standards. It was way below zero (f) in November! That just about ground the Germans to a halt. How might things have been different had the winter been abnormally warm?

Lastly, to add to the mentions of the German supply problems, they lacked the proper vehicles to move their supplies. They were so short of trucks that they used a huge number of horses to move things around. In fact, it is said they used more horses in their invasion than Napoleon did.

I agree that German intelligence was terrible! The germans never seemed to think that the Poles and British could actually crack their vaunted “Enigma” coding machine! Of course, Admiral Doenitz MUST have wondered why a PBY aircraft was waiting when his submarines surfaced!
The german espionage in the USA was laughable! It was like an episode of the Three Stooges…they landed a few agents via submarine…but they were all caught within a few days…the reason? they had been given COUNTERFEIT US currency!In addition, the germans had a great big espionage hole in Tokyo-a man named Richard Sorge had been a soviet agent for years…he gave the russians the details of the Battle of Kursk-which became a major german defeat.
Still, the germans came damn close…as I say, had Hitler let Guderian’s panzers run wild, who knows what would have happened?

It should also be pointed out that, largely due to the intelligence supplied by an extremely capable Russian spy in Tokyo (Richard Sorge), the Russians knew that Japan would not attack them and were able to detach huge forces from the East to send against Hitler’s armies.

Beyond that, the Germans just vastly underestimated the size of the area they’d have to conquer and hold, the number of divisions available to fight them, and the capacity of the Russian soldier. They also had air support only incrementally larger than what they’d used in the blitzkrieg against France.

Barbarossa was doomed even if they’d had enough winter overcoats.

I see belatedly that ralph already mentioned Sorge in a related context.

As long as we’re on the subject, Sorge reportedly was one of those who strenuously warned Stalin ahead of time of plans for the German invasion, but he was too stupid to buy it.