Operation Barbarossa and Germany’s Defeat in the East (Cambridge Military Histories)

David Stahel writes in 2009:

* From a military point of view, the likelihood of a German victory was also shared in Britain, with the Joint Intelligence Committee estimating that the Germans would require just six weeks to occupy the Ukraine and reach Moscow.42 A similarly pessimistic assessment was reached by the US Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, and his Chief of Staff, General George Marshall, who predicted that the German armies would require a minimum of one month, and a possible maximum of three months, to defeat the Soviet Union.43 The Italians, as Germany’s envious junior ally, were so convinced of another sweeping triumph that Mussolini told his foreign minister: ‘I hope for only one thing, that in this war in the east the Germans will lose a lot of feathers.’44 In Japan the head of the army’s military intelligence, General Okamoto Kiyomoto, predicted a campaign would last only a few weeks, not longer…

* The German invasion of the Soviet Union was to begin the largest and most brutal war in history. Given the enormous numbers of men and material involved, the war in the Soviet Union was without question the most decisive battleground of World War II. Even by conservative estimates the fighting in this theatre claimed between 27 and 28 million Soviet lives,52 which dwarf the 700,000 combined war dead of the United Kingdom and the United States.53 To put it another way, the total Soviet war dead alone equalled more than three times the total war dead of all the nations involved in the carnage of World War I.54 Four-fifths of all the fighting in World War II took place on Germany’s eastern front and never less than two-thirds of the German army was engaged in the war against the Soviet Union, even after D-Day.55 The conflict would last almost four years, being fought on an enormous front extending 2,768 kilometres from the Barents Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south.

* In similar fashion the commander of the XXXXIII Army Corps7 in Kluge’s 4th Army, General of Infantry Gotthard Heinrici, wrote home to his family on 24 June that the Soviet solder fought ‘very hard’. Heinrici then concluded: ‘He is a much better soldier than the Frenchman. Extremely tough, devious and deceitful.’

* With every mile of progression eastwards, German strength had to be dissipated vertically, to cover the expanding funnel of Soviet geography, and horizontally to isolate and close the main pocket as well as eliminate bypassed strongpoints and protect supply routes…

* For good reason Goebbels commented at the start of the war: ‘I am refraining from publishing big maps of Russia. The huge areas involved can only frighten our people.’

* Hoth bluntly observed: ‘The expenditure of strength is greater than the success.’

* Germany did not fail in Operation Barbarossa by a crushing defeat in a major battle, nor can the performance of the Red Army take the credit; they failed by losing the ability to win the war. Yet it is for this same reason that the German defeat was not a knockout blow, but rather one which doomed Germany to fighting a war far different from the one the generals had planned and consequently were not prepared for. Caught in the vast Soviet hinterlands, the front promptly started to settle down into gritty positional warfare more reminiscent of World War I, while the war of manoeuvre became more and more limited to specific sectors of the front.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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