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In Mein Kampf and in numerous speeches, Adolf Hitler claimed that the German population needed more living space. Hitler's Lebensraum policy was mainly directed at the Soviet Union. He was especially interested in the Ukraine where he planned to develop a German colony. The system would be based on the British occupation of India: "What India was for England the territories of Russia will be for us... The German colonists ought to live on handsome, spacious farms. The German services will be lodged in marvellous buildings, the governors in palaces... The Germans - this is essential - will have to constitute amongst themselves a closed society, like a fortress. The least of our stable-lads will be superior to any native." (1)
Hitler had made the same point in Mein Kampf (1925): "We take up where we broke off six hundred years ago. We stop the endless movement towards the south and west of Europe, and turn our gaze towards the lands of the east. At long last we put a stop to the colonial and commercial policy of pre-war days and pass over to the territorial policy of the future. But when we speak of new territory in Europe today we must think principally of Russia and her border vassal states. Destiny itself seems to wish to point out the way to us here... This colossal Empire in the east is ripe for dissolution, and the end of the Jewish domination in Russia will also be the end of Russia as a state." (2)
In a series of speeches in the 1920s he talked about the expansion of German "living-space" at the expense of Russia. In a speech in 1922 he argued that only through the destruction of Bolshevism could Germany be saved. At the same time, through expansion into the Soviet Union itself, would bring the territory which Germany needed. As early as December 1922, he talked about the need for an alliance with Britain in its dealing with the Soviet Union. He told Eduard Scharrer, an early supporter of the Nazi Party: "Germany would have to adapt herself to a purely continental policy, avoiding harm to English interest. The destruction of Russia with the help of England would have to be attempted. Russia would give Germany sufficient land for German settlers and a wide field of activity for German industry. Then England would not interrupt us in our reckoning with France." (3)
By the spring of 1941 it became clear that Britain was unwilling to surrender. His strategy of bombing Britain into capitulation had ended in failure. As Alan Bullock has argued: "Forced to recognize that the British were not going to be bluffed or bombed into capitulation, Hitler convinced himself that Britain was already virtually defeated. She was certainly not in a position, in the near future, to threaten his hold over the Continent. Why then waste time forcing the British to admit that Germany should have a free hand on the Continent, when this was already an established fact to which the British could make no practical objection?" (4)
In another speech Hitler argued: "If only I could make the German people understand what this space means for our future! We must no longer allow Germans to emigrate to America. On the contrary, we must attract the Norwegians, the Swedes, the Danes, and the Dutch into our Eastern territories. They'll become members of the German Reich... The German colonist ought to live on handsome, spacious farms... What exists beyond that will be another world in which we mean to let the Russians live as they like. It is merely necessary that we should rule them." (5)
Hitler believed that the Blitzkrieg tactics employed against the other European countries could not be used as successfully against the Soviet Union. He conceded that due to its enormous size, the Soviet Union would take longer than other countries to occupy. However, he was confident it could still be achieved during the summer months of 1941. (6) Hitler's plan was to attack the Soviet Union in three main army groups: in the north towards Leningrad, in the centre towards Moscow and in the south towards Kiev. The German High Command argued that the attack should concentrate on Moscow, the Soviet Union's main communication centre. Hitler rejected the suggestion and was confident that the German army could achieve all three objectives before the arrival of winter. His original idea was to start the campaign on 15th May 1941, but it was delayed to June because Hitler wanted to make sure he had enough German soldiers in German-occupied Poland, to achieve an easy victory. (7)
Hitler believed that after a series of sharp defeats, the government of Joseph Stalin would fall. Hitler suggested to General Alfred Jodl: "We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down." Other leading military figures were also confident of a quick victory. Field-Marshal Paul von Kleist told Basil Liddell Hart after the war: "Hopes of victory were largely built on the prospect that the invasion would produce a political upheaval in Russia... Too high hopes were built on the belief that Stalin would be overthrown by his own people if he suffered heavy defeats. The belief was fostered by the Führer's political advisers, and we, as soldiers, didn't know enough about the political side to dispute it." (8)
Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister, was against the proposed invasion of the Soviet Union: "I can summarize my opinion on a German-Russian conflict in one sentence: if every burned out Russian city was worth as much to us as a sunk English battleship, then I would be in favour of a German-Russian war in this summer; I think though that we can win over Russia only militarily but that we should lose economically. One can find it enticing to give the Communist system its death blow and perhaps say too that it lies in the logic of things to let the European-Asiatic continent now march forth against Anglo-Saxondom and its allies. But only one thing is decisive: whether this undertaking would hasten the fall of England.... A German attack on Russia would only give a lift to English morale. It would be evaluated there as German doubt of the success of our war against England. We would in this fashion not only admit that the war would still last a long time, but we could in this way actually lengthen instead of shorten it." (9)
Joseph Goebbels disagreed with Ribbentrop and Hitler because he expected a quick victory: "The Führer thinks that the action will take only 4 months; I think - even less. Bolshevism will collapse as a house of cards. We are facing an unprecedented victorious campaign. Cooperation with Russia was in fact a stain on our reputation. Now it is going to be washed out. The very thing we were struggling against for our whole lives, will now be destroyed. I tell this to the Führer and he agrees with me completely." (10)
Hitler was aware that the Red Army lacked experienced officers. It is estimated that during the Great Purge an estimated 36,671 officers were executed, imprisoned or dismissed and out of the 706 officers of the rank of brigade commander and above, only 303 remained untouched. The most prominent victim was Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, the leading advocate of mobile warfare. His arrest and execution represented the deliberate destruction of the Red Army's operational thinking. By 1941 most of the sacked officers were reinstated, but the psychological effect had been devastating. (11)
Hitler was aware of the numerical superiority of the Russians, but he was certain that the political weakness of the Soviet government, together with the technical superiority of the Germans, would give him a quick victory. "Once he had extended his power to the Urals and the Caucasus, Hitler calculated, he would have established his empire upon such solid foundations that Britain, even if she continued the war and even if the United States intervened on her side, would be unable to make any impression on it. Far from being a desperate expedient forced on him by the frustration of his plans for the defeat of Britain, the invasion of Russia represented the realization of those imperial dreams which he had sketched in the closing section of Mein Kampf and elaborated in the fireside circle of the Berghof." (12)
Hitler tried to persuade his military commanders that invading the Soviet Union would lead to military success: "It was the same with the other high commanders. We were told the Russian armies were about to take the offensive, and it was essential for Germany to remove the menace. It was explained to us that the Führer could not proceed with other plans while this threat loomed dose, as too large a part of the German forces would be pinned down in the east keeping guard. It was argued that attack was the only way for us to remove the risks of a Russian attack." (13)
Stalin signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact on 23rd August, 1939. He did not trust Hitler but thought it would give him enough time to build up Soviet defences. However, Soviet military planning had been based on the assumption that the German Army would encounter more effective resistance from the French armed forces. After the French surrender in May 1940, Soviet experts suggested that Britain would only survive for a couple of months and that Hitler would turn his attention to the Soviet Union. Stalin told his military leaders: "We're not ready for war of the kind being fought between Germany and England". (14)
Vyacheslav Molotov, the Commissar of Foreign Affairs, pointed out that "we would be able to confront the Germans on an equal basis only by 1943." Stalin main objective was to keep out of a war with Germany for the next two years. He told Hitler that Soviet expansionism was a defunct aspiration. Stalin told Georgi Dimitrov, the head of Comintern: "The International was created in Marx's time in the expectation of an approaching international revolution. The Comintern was created in Lenin's time at an analogous moment. Today, national tasks emerge for each country as a supreme priority. Do not hold on tight to what was yesterday." (15)
Stalin admitted in a speech to graduates of the Military Academy in Moscow: "War with Germany is inevitable. If comrade Molotov can manage to postpone the war for two or three months through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that will be our good fortune, but you yourselves must go off and take measures to raise the combat readiness of our forces... Until now we have conducted a peaceful, defensive policy and we've also educated our army in this spirit. True, we've earned something for our labours by conducting a peaceful policy. But now the situation must be changed. We have a strong and well-armed army." (16)
Stalin's priority in the summer of 1941 was to avoid giving Hitler a reason to start a war. General Georgy Zhukov disagreed with Stalin's policy of appeasement and was in favour of invading Nazi Germany. Stalin angrily replied: "What are you up to? Have you come here to scare us with the idea of war or is it that you really want a war? Haven't you got enough medals and titles?" This remark made Zhukov lose his temper but after a brief argument he was forced to accept Stalin's appeasement policy. (17)
Richard Sorge, a secret member of the German Communist Party (KPD), was recruited as a spy for the Soviet Union. In November 1929 Sorge was instructed to join the Nazi Party and not to associate with left-wing activists. To help develop a cover for his spying activities he obtained a post working for the newspaper, Getreide Zeitung. Sorge moved to China and made contact with another spy, Max Klausen. Sorge also met Agnes Smedley, the well-known left-wing journalist. She introduced Sorge to Ozaki Hotsumi, who was employed by the Japanese newspaper, Asahi Shimbun. Later Hotsumi agreed to join Sorge's spy network. (18)
Artur Artuzov, the head of Government Political Administration (GPU) decided to get Sorge to organize a spy network in Japan. As cover Sorge went to Nazi Germany where he was able to get commissions from two newspapers, the Börsen Zeitung and the Tägliche Rundschau. He also got support from the Nazi theoretical journal, Geopolitik. Later he was to get work from the Frankfurter Zeitung. Sorge arrived in Japan in September 1933. He was warned by his spymaster not to have contact with the underground Japanese Communist Party or with the Soviet Embassy in Tokyo. His spy network in Japan include Max Klausen, Ozaki Hotsumi, and two other Comintern agents, Branko Vukelic, a journalist working for the French magazine, Vu, and a Japanese journalist, Yotoku Miyagi, who was employed by the English-language newspaper. (19)
Sorge soon developed good relations with several important figures working at the German Embassy in Tokyo. This included Eugen Ott and the German Ambassador Herbert von Dirksen. This enabled him to find out information about Germany's intentions towards the Soviet Union. Other spies in the network had access to senior politicians in Japan including prime minister Fumimaro Konoye and they were able to obtain good information about Japan's foreign policy. In 1938 Ott replaced Von Dirksen as ambassador. Ott, by now aware that Sorge was sleeping with his wife, let his friend Sorge have "free run of the embassy night and day" as one German diplomat later recalled. (20)
In 1939 Leopold Trepper, an agent for the NKVD, established the Red Orchestra network and organised underground operations in several countries. Richard Sorge was one of its key agents. Others in the group included Ursula Beurton, Harro Schulze-Boysen, Libertas Schulze-Boysen, Arvid Harnack, Mildred Harnack, Sandor Rado, Adam Kuckhoff and Greta Kuckhoff. Arvid Harnack, who worked in the Ministry of Economics, had access to information about Hitler's war plans, and became an important spy. Harnack had a close relationship with Donald Heath, the First Secretary at the US Embassy in Berlin. (21)
On 18th December, 1940, Adolf Hitler signed Directive Number 21, better known as Operation Barbarossa. It included the following: "The German Wehrmacht must be prepared to crush Soviet Russia in a quick campaign even before the conclusion of the war against England. For this purpose the Army will have to employ all available units, with the reservation that the occupied territories must be secured against surprises. For the Luftwaffe it will be a matter of releasing such strong forces for the eastern campaign in support of the Army that a quick completion of the ground operations can be counted on and that damage to eastern German territory by enemy air attacks will be as slight as possible. This concentration of the main effort in the East is limited by the requirement that the entire combat and armament area dominated by us must remain adequately protected against enemy air attacks and that the offensive operations against England, particularly against her supply lines, must not be permitted to break down. The main effort of the Navy will remain unequivocally directed against England even during an eastern campaign. I shall order the concentration against Soviet Russia possibly 8 weeks before the intended beginning of operations. Preparations requiring more time to get under way are to be started now - if this has not yet been done - and are to be completed by May 15, 1941." (22)
Within days Richard Sorge sent a copy of this directive to the NKVD headquarters. Over the next few weeks the NKVD received updates on German preparations. At the beginning of 1941, Harro Schulze-Boysen, sent the NKVD precise information on the operation being planned, including bombing targets and the number of troops involved. In early May, 1941, Leopold Trepper gave the revised date of 21st June for the start of the Operation Barbarossa. On 12th May, Sorge warned Moscow that 150 German divisions were massed along the frontier. Three days later Sorge and Schulze-Boysen confirmed that 21st June would be the date of the invasion of the Soviet Union. (23)
In early June, 1941, Friedrich-Werner Graf von der Schulenburg, the German ambassador, held a meeting in Moscow with Vladimir Dekanozov, the Soviet ambassador in Berlin, and warned him that Hitler was planning to give orders to invade the Soviet Union. Dekanozov, astonished at such a revelation, immediately suspected a trick. When Stalin was told the news he told the Politburo it was all part of a plot by Winston Churchill to start a war between the Soviet Union and Germany: "Disinformation has now reached ambassadorial level!" (24)
On 16th June, 1941, an agent cabled NKVD headquarters that intelligence from the networks indicated that "all of the military training by Germany in preparation for its attack on the Soviet Union is complete, and the strike may be expected at any time.". Later Soviet historians counted over a hundred intelligence warnings of preparations for the German attack forwarded to Stalin between 1st January and 21st June. Others came from military intelligence. Stalin's response to an NKVD report from Schulze-Boysen was "this is not from a source but a disinformer." (25)
Sam E. Woods, commercial attaché in Berlin, developed excellent contacts in the German army command - contacts which brought him close to high-ranking German staff officers opposed to Hitler who knew of the plans for Operation Barbarossa. Woods was able to follow the German preparations from July 1940 until the plans were finalized that December. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull, agreed that Moscow should be told. Roosevelt ordered, Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles met on 20th March, 1940 with the Soviet Ambassador to Washington, Konstantin A. Umansky, to pass along a warning. (26)
In September 1940, U.S. Army cryptanalysts solved the Japanese diplomatic cipher. Most of the material covered Japanese interests in Asia and the Pacific, but in the last week of March 1941 the cryptanalysts began to produce clear indications of a German invasion. Washington now knew enough about the impending invasion to be very concerned. To reinforce the warning already given to the Soviet ambassador, Welles passed a similar notice through our ambassador in Moscow, who on 15th April, 1941, told a contact in the Foreign Ministry about the plans for Operation Barbarossa. (27)
Winston Churchill sent a personal message to Stalin in April, 1941, explaining how German troop movements suggested that they were about to attack the Soviet Union. However, Stalin was still suspicious of the British and thought that Churchill was trying to trick him into declaring war on Germany. Christopher Andrew points out that he believed this information from Churchill was part of a British political conspiracy: "Churchill's personal warnings to Stalin... only heightened his suspicions... Behind many of the reports of impending German attack Stalin claimed to detect a disinformation campaign by Churchill designed to continue the long-standing British plot to embroil him with Hitler." (28)
General Walter Warlimont issued an order to all military commanders in the German Army about the proposed occupation of the Soviet Union: (i) Political officials and leaders are to be liquidated. (ii) Insofar as they are captured by the troops, an officer with authority to impose disciplinary punishment decides whether the given individual must be liquidated. For such a decision the fact suffices that he is a political official. (iii) Political leaders in the troops (Red Army) are not recognized as prisoners of war and are to be liquidated at the latest in the prisoner-of-war transit camps. (29)
The NKVD reported that there were no fewer than "thirty-nine aircraft incursions over the state border of the USSR that day on 20th June, 1941, Stalin commented that this must all be part of a plan by Adolf Hitler to extract greater concessions. The Soviet ambassador in Berlin, Vladimir Dekanozov, shared Stalin's conviction that it was all a campaign of disinformation being organized by the British government. Dekanozov even dismissed the report of his own military attaché that 180 German divisions had been deployed along the border. (30)
On 21st June, 1941, a German sergeant deserted to the Soviet forces. He informed them that the German Army would attack at dawn the following morning. War Commissar Marshal Semyon Timoshenko and Chief of Staff General Georgy Zhukov, went to see Stalin with the news. Stalin reaction was the alleged German deserter was an attempt to provoke the Soviet Union. Stalin did agree to send out a message to all his military commanders: "There has arisen the possibility of a sudden German attack on June 21-22... The German attack may begin with provocations... It is ordered to occupy secretly the strong points on the frontier... to disperse and camouflage planes at special airfields... to have all units battle ready... No other measures are to be employed without special orders." (31)
Stalin now went to bed. At 3.30 a.m. Timoshenko received reports of heavy shelling along the Soviet-German frontier. Timoshenko told Zhukov to call Stalin by telephone: "Like a schoolboy rejecting proof of simple arithmetic, Stalin disbelieved his ears. Breathing heavily, he grunted to Zhukov that no counter-measures should be taken... Stalin's only concession to Zhukov was to rise from his bed and return to Moscow by limousine. There he met Zhukov and Timoshenko along with Molotov, Beria, Voroshilov and Lev Mekhlis.... Pale and bewildered, he sat with them at the table clutching an empty pipe for comfort. He could not accept he was wrong about Hitler. He muttered that the outbreak of hostilities must have originated in a conspiracy within the Wehrmacht... Hitler surely doesn't know about it. He ordered Molotov to get in touch with Ambassador Schulenburg to clarify the situation. (32)
Stalin was too shocked and embarrassed to tell the people of the Soviet Union that the country had been invaded by Germany. Vyacheslav Molotov was therefore asked to make the radio broadcast. "Today at four o'clock in the morning, German troops attacked our country without making any claims on the Soviet Union and without any declaration of war... Our cause is just. The enemy will be beaten. We will be victorious." (33)
Stalin retreated to his Blizhnyaya dacha and refused to talk to anyone. Molotov eventually came up with the idea of forming a State Committee of Defence. He persuaded Lavrenty Beria (the head of NKVD), Georgy Malenkov (Secretary of the Central Committee), Kliment Voroshilov (People's Commissar of Defence), Nikolai Voznesensky (State Planning Committee) and Anastas Mikoyan (People's Commissar for External and Internal Trade). It was the first great initiative for years that any of them had taken without seeking his prior sanction. (34)
The group went to see Stalin at his dacha. They found him slumped in an armchair. "Why have you come?" Mikoyan thought Stalin suspected that they were about to arrest him. Molotov explained the need for a State Committee of Defence. Stalin asked: "Who's going to head it?" Molotov suggested that Stalin should be the chairman of the committee. Stalin said: "Good". (35) Beria believed that sooner or later the visitors to the dacha would pay the price just for having seen him in a moment of profound weakness. (36)
On 3rd July, 1941, Stalin gave his first radio broadcast since the invasion: "The Red Army, the Red Navy, and all citizens of the Soviet Union must defend every inch of Soviet soil, must fight to the last drop of blood for our towns and villages, must display the daring, initiative and mental alertness characteristic of our people. In case of forced retreat of Red Army units, all rolling stock must be evacuated, the enemy must not be left a single engine, a single railway truck, not a single pound of grain or gallon of fuel. Collective farmers must drive off all their cattle and turn over their grain to the safe keeping of the state authorities, for transportation to the rear. lf valuable property that cannot be withdrawn, must be destroyed without fail. In areas occupied by the enemy, partisan units, mounted and on foot, must be formed; sabotage groups must be organized to combat enemy units, to foment partisan warfare everywhere, blow up bridges and roads, damage telephone and telegraph lines, set fire to forests, stores and transport. In occupied regions conditions must be made unbearable for the enemy and all his accomplices. They must be hounded and annihilated at every step, and all their measures frustrated." (37)
The first objective of the German was to destroy the Red Army stationed on the western border of the Soviet Union. An estimated 3.6 million German and allied soldiers (Finnish and Romanian units) with 600,000 vehicles, 3,600 tanks, 7,100 artillery pieces, and 2,700 aircraft crossed the frontier. Hundreds of troops were hidden in the birch and fir forests of East Prussia and occupied Poland. Opposing these forces were 2.9 million Soviet soldiers of the Western Military District with 15,000 tanks, 35,000 artillery pieces, and approximately 8,500 aircraft. (38)
The invasion of the Soviet Union stretched from Finland to the Black Sea. A massive artillery barrage was followed by rapid advances of the armored and mechanized units. The ultimate objective was "to establish a defence line against Asiatic Russia from a line running from the Volga river to Archangel". Once this had been established the last industrial area left to Russia in the Urals could then be destroyed by the Luftwaffe. (39)
The German Army was accompanied by the Schutzstaffel (SS). Sepp Dietrich, was the commander of the SS Leibstandarte Division. Military commanders were told that captured Soviet political officers, Jews and partisans were to be handed over to the SS. They were told that the war was "the final encounter between two opposing political systems". A "Jurisdiction Order" was issued that deprived Russian civilians of any right of appeal, and effectively exonerated soldiers from crimes committed by them, whether murder, rape or looting. This order was justified on the grounds "that the downfall of 1918, the German people's period of suffering which followed and the struggle against National Socialism - with the many blood sacrifices endured by the movement - can be traced to Bolshevik influence." (40)
Ulrich von Hassell, a former German ambassador to Rome, was shown an order to carry out collective reprisals against civilians. He wrote in his diary: "It makes one's hair stand on end to learn about measures to be taken in Russia, and about the systematic transformation of military law concerning the conquered population into uncontrolled despotism - indeed a caricature of all law. This kind of thing turns the German into a type of being which had existed only in enemy propaganda." (41)
Although a few army commanders were reluctant to distribute the instructions on dealing with the Soviet people, several others added their own racist comments. Field Marshal Walter von Reichenau declared: "The annihilation of those same Jews who support Bolshevism and its organization for murder, the partisans, is a measure of self-preservation." (42) General Erich von Manstein commented: "The Jewish-Bolshevik system must be rooted out once and for all." He then went on to justify "the necessity of harsh measures against Jewry." (43)
Adolf Hitler told his generals that this was to be a "battle between two opposing world views", a "battle of annihilation" against "Bolshevik commissars and the Communist intelligentsia". The military went into Operation Barbarossa with the idea that it was acceptable to carry out these war crimes: "Many historians now argue that Nazi propaganda had so effectively dehumanized the Soviet enemy in the eyes of the Wehrmacht that it was morally anaesthetized from the start of the invasion. Perhaps the greatest measure of successful indoctrination was the almost negligible opposition within the Wehrmacht to the mass execution of Jews, which was deliberately confused with the notion of rear-area security measures against partisans." (44)
On hearing of the early success, Adolf Hitler told his colleagues, "Before three months have passed, we shall witness a collapse of Russia, the like of which has never been seen in history." (45) Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, was then given permission to make a radio broadcast. He told the German nation: "At this moment a march is taking place that, for its extent, compares with the greatest the world has ever seen. I have decided today to place the fate and future of the Reich and our people in the hands of our soldiers. May God aid us, especially in this fight!" (46)
In the first nine hours of the operation the Luftwaffe carried out pre-emptive sorties that destroyed 1,200 Soviet aircraft, the vast majority on the ground. German pilots could not believe their eyes when they saw hundreds of enemy planes neatly lined up at dispersal beside the runways. Those aircraft that did manage to get off the ground, or arrived from airfields further east, proved easy targets. One squadron officer admitted: "Our pilots feel they are corpses already when they take off." Antony Beevor pointed out: "Some Soviet pilots who either had never learned aerial combat techniques or knew that their obsolete models stood no chance, even resorted to ramming German aircraft. A Luftwaffe general described these air battles against inexperienced pilots as infanticide." (47)
The Luftwaffe also attacked Soviet troops and supply dumps. It reportedly destroyed 1,489 aircraft on the first day of the invasion and over 3,100 during the first three days. Hermann Göring, Minister of Aviation, was so surprised by this news he ordered the figures checked. The Soviets later admitted that they lost 3,922 Soviet aircraft in the first three days against an estimated loss of 78 German aircraft (German Federal Archives suggested the Luftwaffe's lost 63 aircraft for the first day. (48)
The German forces advanced in three main army groups. The north group headed for Leningrad, the centre group for Moscow and the southern forces towards Kiev. Field Marshal Heinrich von Brauchitsch, Commander-in-Chief of the German Army, and Franz Halder, Chief of General Staff, argued that the attack should concentrate on Moscow, the Soviet Union's main communication centre. Hitler rejected the suggestion and was confident that the German Army could achieve all three objectives before the arrival of winter. (49)
Hitler decided to weaken this central thrust, in order to bolster what they saw as subsidiary operations. Hitler believed that once he seized the agricultural wealth of the Ukraine and the Caucasian oilfields, Germany's invincibility was guaranteed. Army Group South under Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, supported on his right by Hungarians and Romanians was entrusted with this task. The Romanian dictator, Marshal Ion Antonescu, had been delighted when told of Operation Barbarossa ten days before its launch. "Of course I'll be there from the start. When it's a question of action against the Slavs, you can always count on Romania." (50)
The Blitzkrieg tactics in the Soviet Union was a spectacular success. The advance on all fronts was rapid, with most units advancing almost fifty miles a day and a number of encirclement battles ensued. The battles at Bialystock and Minsk were concluded on 9th July with two Soviet armies being destroyed (the 3rd and the 10th). Over 300,000 prisoners were taken; 1,400 guns and 2,500 tanks were also destroyed or captured. When he heard the news Joseph Stalin told Lavrenty Beria: "This is a monstrous crime. Those responsible must lose their heads" and immediately instructed the NKVD to investigate the matter. (51)
General Demitry Pavlov, the Commander of the Soviet Western Front and Major-General Vladimir Efimovich Klimovskikh, were recalled to Moscow. After a meeting with Kliment Voroshilov the two men were charged with being involved in an "anti-Soviet military conspiracy" that had "betrayed the interests of the Motherland, violated the oath of office and damaged the combat power of the Red Army". It was reported that: "A preliminary judicial investigation and determined that the defendants Pavlov and Klimovskikh being: the first - the commander of the Western Front, and the second - the chief of staff of the same front, during the outbreak of hostilities with the German forces against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, showed cowardice, failure of power, mismanagement, allowed the collapse of command and control, surrender of weapons to the enemy without fighting, willful abandonment of military positions by the Red Army, the most disorganized defense of the country and enabled the enemy to break through the front of the Red Army." Both men were executed on 22nd July, 1941. (52)
General Georgy Zhukov issued a directive that set down "a number of conclusions" following "the experience of three weeks of war against German fascism". His main argument was that the Red Army had suffered from bad communications and over large, sluggish formations, which simply presented a "vulnerable target for air attack". Large armies "made it difficult to organize command and control during a battle, especially because so many of our officers are young and inexperienced". Zhukov therefore suggested it was "necessary to prepare to change to a system of small armies consisting of a maximum of five or six divisions." (53)
The first phase of Operation Barbarossa was concluded with the capture of Smolensk. The Soviet casualties were high (about 300,000 men were taken prisoner) but resistance was incredibly fierce. For the first time the Red Army were able to conduct counter-offensives to blunt the German drive and it took until 10th September, before the city was completely controlled. It has been argued that the battle of Smolensk effectively derailed the German Army's timetable for the capture of Moscow and made it much more difficult to conclude the war before the coming of winter. (54)
General Andrey Yeryomenko, who had replaced General Pavlov, in charge of the Soviet Western Front later wrote: "Having covered every inch of ground with corpses the Nazis broke through to Smolensk. Stubborn fighting for the town proper raged for almost a whole month. The city repeatedly passed from hand to hand. More than one German division found its last resting place in the approaches to Smolensk and in the town itself. Every street and every house was contested by severe fighting and the Nazis paid very heavily for every yard of their advance. Hundreds of German soldiers and officers perished in the waters of the Dnieper River." (55)
German commanders underestimated the fighting ability of the Red Army. "They quickly found that surrounded or outnumbered Soviet soldiers went on fighting when their counterparts from western armies would have surrendered." There were cases of Soviet soldiers fighting for over a month after a town or city had been occupied by the German Army. Although unusual, some of the wounded Soviet soldiers captured managed to survive Nazi prisoner-of-war camps until liberated in 1945. Instead of being treated as heroes, they were sent straight to the Gulag, following Stalin's order that anyone who had fallen into enemy hands was a traitor. (56)
Stalin even disowned his own son, Yakov Dzhugashvili who was captured on 16th July, 1941. He was especially angry that his son was used in an anti-Soviet propaganda campaign. A leaflet was dropped by German aircraft showing a group of German officers talking to Yakov. The caption read: "Stalin's son, Yakov Dzhugashvili, full lieutenant, battery commander, has surrendered. That such an important Soviet officer has surrendered proves beyond doubt that all resistance to the German army is completely pointless. So stop fighting and come over to us." (57)
The German Army managed to trap Soviet troops in the vicinity of Kiev. This encirclement is considered the largest encirclement in the history of warfare. It was an unprecedented defeat for the Red Army. The battle lasted until 26th September, and the Soviets suffered 700,544 casualties, including 616,304 killed, captured or missing during the battle. Nikita Khrushchev, was the political commissar in Kiev and served as an intermediary between the local military commanders and the political rulers in Moscow. He managed to escape from the city but this upset Stalin: "Suddenly I got a telegram from Stalin unjustly accusing me of cowardice and threatening to take action against me. He accused me of intending to surrender Kiev. This is a filthy lie... Kiev fell, not because it was abandoned by our troops who were defending it, but because of the pincer movement which the Germans executed from the north and the south in the regions of Gomel and Kremenchug." (58)
Joseph Stalin now took control of the Soviet war effort. Yakov Chadaev, chief administrative assistant to the Council of People's Commissars, later commented that "Stalin concerned himself, for instance, with the choice of design for a sniper's automatic rifle, and the type of bayonet which could most easily be fixed to it - the knife-blade or the three-edged kind... When I went into Stalin's office I usually found him with Molotov, Beria, and Malenkov... They never asked questions. They sat and listened... Reports coming in from the front as a rule understated our losses and exaggerated those of the enemy." (59)
Marshal Alexander Vasilevsky complained that Stalin was not an easy person to deal with: "Stalin was unjustifiably self-confident, headstrong, unwilling to listen to others; he overestimated his own knowledge and ability to guide the conduct of the war directly. He relied very little on the General Staff and made no adequate use of the skills and experience of its personnel. Often for no reason at all, he would make hasty changes in the top military leadership. Stalin quite rightly insisted that the military must abandon outdated strategic concepts, but he was unfortunately rather slow to do this himself. He tended to favour head-on confrontations." (60)
Although the Soviets had enjoyed a series of victories, German commanders began to feel uneasy about the situation. Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt commented "the vastness of Russia devours us". (61) They were conquering huge territories, yet the horizon seemed just as limitless. By August, 1941, the Red Army had lost over two million men, yet still more Soviet armies appeared. General Franz Halder wrote in his diary: "At the outset of the war, we reckoned on about 200 enemy divisions. Now we have already counted 360." (62)
Field Marshal Heinrich Brauchitsch, Commander in Chief of the German Army, wanted to concentrate on the Moscow line of advance - not for the sake of capturing the capital but because they felt that this line offered the best chance of destroying the mass of Russia's forces which they "expected to find on the way to Moscow". In Hitler's view that course carried the risk of driving the Russians into a general retreat eastwards, out of reach. Brauchitsch agreed this was a danger but thought it was a risk worth taking as Moscow was not only the capital of the Soviet Union, but was a major centre for communications and the armaments industry." (63)
Ferdor von Bock, the Commander-in-Chief of the Centre Army Group and his two panzer commanders, Heinz Guderian and Hermann Hoth, also supported Brauchitsch, in his view that they should concentrating not dispersing, the German effort against the Soviet Union. This was rejected by Hitler, who insisted on ordering part of Bock's mobile forces to assist the northern army group's drive on Leningrad and the rest to wheel south and support the advance into the Ukraine. (64)
General Paul von Kleist argued: "The main cause of our failure was that winter came early that year, coupled with the way the Russians repeatedly gave ground rather than let themselves be drawn into a decisive battle such as we were seeking." Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt added that they had other problems: "It was increased by the lack of railways in Russia - for bringing up supplies to our advancing troops. Another adverse factor was the way the Russians received continual reinforcements from their back areas, as they fell back. It seemed to us that as soon as one force was wiped out, the path was blocked by the arrival of a fresh force." (65)
It was now clear that the German Army was not strong enough to mount offences in three different directions at once. Casualties had been higher than expected - over 400,000 by the end of August. Engines became clogged with grit from the dust clouds, and broke down constantly, yet replacements were in very short supply. The further they advanced into Russia, the harder it was to bring supplies forward. Panzer columns racing ahead frequently had to stop through lack of fuel. The infantry divisions were marching between 20 and 40 miles a day. According to one source: "The infantry was so tired trudging forwards in full kit that many fell asleep on the march." (66)
It was only on 26th September, 1941, that Hitler gave permission to General Franz Halder to launch Operation Typhoon, the drive to Moscow. However, precious time had been lost. It started well with German forces winning overwhelming victories at Vyazma and Bryansk by the 20th October. Eight Soviet armies commanded by Marshal Semyon Timoshenko were destroyed and 650,000 prisoners taken. The road to Moscow seemed open. (67)
In a speech in Berlin, Hitler boasted: "Behind our troops there already lies a territory twice the size of the German Reich when I came to power in 1933. Today I declare, without reservation, that the enemy in the east has been struck down and will never rise again." (68) Six days later Otto Dietrich, the Reich Press Chief, announced that the war in the east was over: "For all military purposes, Soviet Russia is done with. The British dream of a two-front war is dead." (69)
The German Army was accused of treating Russian prisoners of war very badly. Hermann Göring talked about this to Count Galeazzo Ciano, the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs: "In the camps for Russian prisoners they have begun to eat each other. This year between twenty and thirty million persons will die of hunger in Russia. Perhaps it is well that it should be so, for certain nations must be decimated. But even if it were not, nothing can be done about it. It is obvious that if humanity is condemned to die of hunger, the last to die will be our two peoples." (70)
Members of the Schutzstaffel (SS) were instructed to wipe out all aspects of communism in the Soviet Union. Communist officials should be executed and, as the Russians were "sub-human", ordinary conventions of behaviour towards captured soldiers did not apply. It is estimated that during the first year of invasion, over a million communists were executed by the SS. Senior officers objected on tactical as well as humanitarian grounds. They argued that knowledge that they faced death or torture would encourage the Soviets to carry on fighting instead of surrendering. (71)
As German troops moved deeper into the Soviet Union, supply lines became longer. Joseph Stalin gave instructions that when forced to withdraw, the Red Army should destroy anything that could be of use to the enemy. The scorched earth policy and the formation of guerrilla units behind the German front lines, created severe problems for the German war machine which was trying to keep her three million soldiers supplied with the necessary food and ammunition. The Soviet soldiers polluted wells during the retreat, while collective farm buildings were destroyed. Food supplies which could not be moved in time were rendered unusable. They poured petrol over the grain supplies and Soviet bombers dropped phosphorus bombs on crops. (72)
In Moscow over one hundred thousand men were mobilized as militia and a quarter of a million civilians, mostly women, began to dig anti-tank ditches. On 15th October, 1941, Stalin told Vyacheslav Molotov, Lazer Kaganovich and Anastas Mikoyan that he proposed to evacuate the whole Government to Kuibyshev, to order the army to defend the capital and keep the Germans fighting until he could throw in his reserves. Molotov and Mikoyan were ordered to manage the evacuation, with Kaganovich provided the transport. Stalin proposed that all the Politburo leave that day and, he added, "I will leave tomorrow morning." (73)
On 17th October changed his mind and decided that he would live in a bomb-proof air-raid shelter positioned under the Kirov Metro Station, while the General Staff worked in the Belorusski Metro Station. On the anniversary of the Russian Revolution, Stalin decided that reinforcements for Zhukov's armies would march through Red Square. He knew the value that newsreel footage of this event would have when distributed round the world. Stalin made a speech where he stated: "If they want a war of extermination they shall have one!" (74)
As they approached Moscow the Germans discovered that the Soviets was deploying a new unconventional weapon. "They found Russian dogs running towards them with a curious-looking saddle holding a load on top with a short upright stick. At first the panzer troops thought that they must be first-aid dogs, but then they realised that the animals had explosives or an anti-tank mine strapped to them. These 'mine-dogs', trained on Pavlovain principles, had been taught to run under large vehicles to obtain their food. The stick, catching against the underside, would detonate the charge. Most of the dogs were shot before they reached their target, but this macabre tactic had an unnerving effect." (75)
The Germans continued their attack, but the autumn rains washed away Russian roads, causing trucks, tanks, and artillery to sink into the mud. Then it began to snow. Confident that the campaign would be finished before winter arrived, Hitler and his staff had made no provision for winter clothing to be issued to the troops. "From early November, the Germans were fighting in sub-zero temperatures, intensified by a bitter wind, the few hours of daylight and the long nights, and fighting in an unfamiliar land far from home against an enemy inured to the conditions, warmly clothed and equipped for winter operations." (76)
By 27th November 1941, some German forces reached the Volga canal, a mere nineteen miles from the northern outskirts of the Russian capital. German patrols had even reached the outer suburbs. All the German advances were halted on 5th December, and preparations were made to retire to defensive positions for the winter. Neither of the primary objectives, Leningrad and Moscow, had been captured. (77)
Field Marshal Ferdor von Bock, was forced to acknowledge at the beginning of December that no further hope of "strategic success" remained. The German's close-fitting, steel-shod jackboots simply hastened the process of frostbite, so they had resorted to stealing the clothes and boots of prisoners of war and civilians. German soldiers "were exhausted and the cases of frostbite - which reached over 100,000 by Christmas - were rapidly outstripping the numbers of wounded." (78)
Lazer Kaganovich was busy arranging for 400,000 fresh troops, 1,000 tanks and 1,000 planes across "the Eurasian wastes, in one of most decisive logistical miracles of the war". (79) On 6th December, 1941, General Georgy Zhukov, commander of the central Soviet forces, launched his winter counter-offensive with fresh divisions transferred from Siberia. Zhukov declared that he would see to it that the troops would "shrink from no sacrifices for the sake of victory." Edvard Radzinsky pointed out: "More than one hundred divisions were involved in the battle. The Germans could not withstand the shock." (80)
Most of the Red Army were equipped for winter warfare, with padded jackets and white camouflage suits. Their heads were kept warm with round fur caps with ear flaps at the side, and their feet with large felt boots. They also had covers for the working parts of their weapons and special oil to prevent the action from freezing. Also, for the first time, the Red Army enjoyed air superiority. The Russians had protected their aircraft from the cold, while the weakened Luftwaffe, operating from improvised landing strips, had to defrost every machine by lighting fires under its engines. (81)
Partisan detachments, organized by officers of NKVD frontier troops, were sent behind enemy lines. Red Army cavalry divisions, mounted on resilient little Cossack ponies. These units would "suddenly appear fifteen miles behind the front, charging artillery batteries or supply depots with drawn sabres and terrifying war-cries". It now became clear that the Soviets planned to encircle the German soldiers. Field Marshal Ferdor von Bock therefore gave orders for the German Army to pull back anything up to a hundred miles. (82)
On 7th December, 1941, 105 high-level bombers, 135 dive-bombers and 81 fighter aircraft attacked the the US Fleet at Pearl Harbour. In their first attack the Japanese sunk the Arizona, Oklahoma, West Virginia and California. The second attack, launched 45 minutes later, hampered by smoke, created less damage. In two hours 18 warships, 188 aircraft and 2,403 servicemen were lost in the attack.The following day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and a united US Congress declared war on Japan. On 11th December, 1941, Hitler declared war on the United States. (83)
On December 18, 1940, Hitler signed Directive Number 21, better known as Operation Barbarossa. The first sentence of the plan was explicit: "The German armed forces must be ready before the end of the war against Great Britain to defeat the Soviet Union by means of Blitzkrieg."
Richard Sorge warned the Centre immediately; he forwarded them a copy of the directive. Week after week, the heads of Red Army Intelligence received updates on the Wehrmacht's preparations. At the beginning of 1941, Schulze-Boysen sent the Centre precise information on the operation being planned; massive bombardments of Leningrad, Kiev, and Vyborg; the number of divisions involved.
In February, I sent a detailed dispatch giving the exact number of divisions withdrawn from France and Belgium, and sent to the east. In May, through the Soviet military attaché in Vichy, General Susloparov, I sent the proposed plan of attack, and indicated the original date, May 15, then the revised date, and the final date. On May 12, Sorge warned Moscow that 150 German divisions were massed along the frontier.
The Soviet intelligence services were not the only ones in possession of this information. On March 11, 1941, Roosevelt gave the Russian ambassador the plans gathered by American agents for Operation Barbarossa. On the 10th June the English released similar information. Soviet agents working in the frontier zone in Poland and Rumania gave detailed reports on the concentration of troops.
He who closes his eyes sees nothing, even in the full light of day. This was the case with Stalin and his entourage. The generalissimo preferred to trust his political instinct rather than the secret reports piled up on his desk. Convinced that he had signed an eternal pact of friendship with Germany, he sucked on the pipe of peace. He had buried his tomahawk and he was not ready to dig it up.
I can summarize my opinion on a German-Russian conflict in one sentence: if every burned out Russian city was worth as much to us as a sunk English battleship, then I would be in favour of a German-Russian war in this summer; I think though that we can win over Russia only militarily but that we should lose economically. But only one thing is decisive: whether this undertaking would hasten the fall of England.
That we will advance militarily up to Moscow and beyond victoriously, I believe is unquestionable. But I thoroughly doubt that we could make use of what was won against the well known passive resistance of the Slavs.
A German attack on Russia would only give a lift to English morale. We would in this fashion not only admit that the war would still last a long time, but we could in this way actually lengthen instead of shorten it.
The Red Army, the Red Navy, and all citizens of the Soviet Union must defend every inch of Soviet soil, must fight to the last drop of blood for our towns and villages, must display the daring, initiative and mental alertness characteristic of our people.
In case of forced retreat of Red Army units, all rolling stock must be evacuated, the enemy must not be left a single engine, a single railway truck, not a single pound of grain or gallon of fuel. lf valuable property that cannot be withdrawn, must be destroyed without fail.
In areas occupied by the enemy, partisan units, mounted and on foot, must be formed; sabotage groups must be organized to combat enemy units, to foment partisan warfare everywhere, blow up bridges and roads, damage telephone and telegraph lines, set fire to forests, stores and transport. They must be hounded and annihilated at every step, and all their measures frustrated.
Stalin was unjustifiably self-confident, headstrong, unwilling to listen to others; he overestimated his own knowledge and ability to guide the conduct of the war directly. He tended to favour head-on confrontations.
In the zone of operations, divided by the Pripet marshes into a southern and a northern sector, the main effort will be made north of this area. Two army groups will be provided here.
The more southerly of these two army groups - the Centre one of the front as a whole - will be given the task of annihilating the enemy's forces in White Russia by advancing from the area around and north of Warsaw with specially strong armoured and motorized forces. This will make it possible to switch strong mobile formations northward to co-operate with Army Group North in annihilating the enemy's forces fighting in the Baltic States - Army Group North operating from East Prussia in the general direction of Leningrad. Only after having accomplished this most important task, which must be followed by the occupation of Leningrad and Kronstadt, is there to be a continuation of the offensive operations which aim at the capture of Moscow - as a focal centre of communications and armament industry.
Only a surprisingly quick collapse of Russian resistance could justify aiming at both objectives simultaneously.
The Army Group employed south of the Pripet marshes is to make its main effort from the Lublin area in the general direction of Kiev, in order to penetrate deeply into the flank and rear of the Russian forces and then to roll them up along the Dnieper River.
The Führer thinks that the action will take only 4 months; I think - even less. We are facing an unprecedented victorious campaign.
Cooperation with Russia was in fact a stain on our reputation. I tell this to the Führer and he agrees with me completely.
Molotov's speech sounded hesitatingly and hastily, as if he was out of breath. His encouraging appeal seemed quite inappropriate. Immediately I had the feeling as if a monster was approaching slowly, threateningly, frightening everybody to death. After the news I ran out to the street. Panic was spreading around the city. People hastily exchanged a couple of words, then rushed to the shops, buying anything they saw. They were running in the streets like mad. Many went to the savings banks to take out their deposits. This wave absorbed me too. I also tried to receive cash from my savings book. But I came too late. The bank was empty, payments had been stopped. The crowd around was shouting and complaining. The June day blazed, the heat was unbearable. Somebody fainted, others were cursing. The day passed in a tense and uneasy mood. Only in the evening everything became strangely quiet. It seemed that everybody has hidden somewhere, possessed by terror.
The Nazis have occupied the town. People are crying and talking about the Nazis' hatred of Jews and Communists. And we, we are both. And on top of it all, Papa has been working very actively for the Soviets.
New decrees have been posted in the town: all the Jews - adults and children - must wear insignias, a white piece of cloth, ten square centimeters, and in the middle the yellow letter "J". Is it possible that the invaders no longer regard us as human beings and brand us just like cattle? One can not accept such meanness. But who dares oppose them?
Having covered every inch of ground with corpses the Nazis broke through to Smolensk. Hundreds of German soldiers and officers perished in the waters of the Dnieper River.
All three realized the difficulties presented by the nature of the country from their experiences in the 1914-18 war - above all, the difficulties of movement, reinforcement, and supply. Field-Marshal von Rundstedt asked Hitler bluntly: "Have you weighed up what you are undertaking in an attack on Russia?"
It was the same with the other high commanders. It was argued that attack was the only way for us to remove the risks of a Russian attack.
We did not underrate the Red Army, as is commonly imagined. The last German military attaché in Moscow, General Kostring - a very able man-had kept us well informed about the state of the Russian Army. But Hitler refused to credit his information.
Hopes of victory were largely built on the prospect that the invasion would produce a political upheaval in
Russia. Most of us generals realized beforehand that if the Russians chose to fall back there was very little chance of achieving a final victory without the help of such an upheaval. The belief was fostered by the Führer's political advisers, and we, as soldiers, didn't know enough about the political side to dispute it. There were no preparations for a prolonged struggle. Everything was based on the idea of a decisive result before the autumn.
1. Political officials and leaders are to be liquidated.
2. Insofar as they are captured by the troops, an officer with authority to impose disciplinary punishment decides whether the given individual must be liquidated. For such a decision the fact suffices that he is a political official.
3. Political leaders in the troops (Red Army) are not recognized as prisoners of war and are to be liquidated at the latest in the prisoner-of-war transit camps.
In view of the vast size of the occupied areas in the East the forces available for establishing security in these areas will be sufficient only if al resistance is punished not by legal prosecution of the guilty but by the spreading of such terror by the occupying power as is appropriate to eradicate every inclination to resist among the population. The competent commanders must find the means of keeping order not by demanding more security forces but by applying suitable Draconian methods.
1. All the Jews of both sexes from the city of Vilno must wear a yellow Zion star for identification on the left side of the chest and on the back.
2. The Jewish population is forbidden to use sidewalks. They must walk along the right side of the road and walk one after another.
3. The Jewish population is forbidden to stay in the boulevards and all public parks. The Jewish population is also forbidden to use street benches for rest.
4. The Jewish population is forbidden to use any kind of public transport, such as taxis, cabs, buses, steamboats etc. The owners or holders of all means of transport facilities should put a poster saying "Jews not allowed" on their vehicles so that they are clearly visible.
5. Anyone violating this order should be punished in the strictest way.
General provisions on the treatment of Soviet POWs. Bolshevism is a deadly enemy of National Socialist Germany. For the first time the German soldier is facing an enemy, who has not just received military training, but is indoctrinated in the spirit of Bolshevism. Struggle against National Socialism is in his flesh and blood. He wages this struggle using all means: sabotage, subversive propaganda, arson, murder. Therefore the Bolshevik soldier has lost the privilege to be treated as a genuine soldier according to the Geneva Convention.
(1) The faintest manifestations of protest or disobedience should be met with ruthless reprisals.
(2) Weapons should be used ruthlessly to suppress resistance.
(3) The escaping POWs should be shot at without warning and with the determination to hit the target.
9th September, 1941: The situation with the personnel is very bad, practically the whole army consists of men, whose homes have been captured by the Germans. They want to go home. The passivity at the front, immobility in the trenches demoralise the soldiers. There are some cases of drinking among the officers and political Commissars. Sometimes people do not come back from reconnaissance missions.
14th October, 1941: The enemy has encircled us. Incessant gunfire. Cannon, mortar and submachine gun exchanges. Danger and fear all day long. And this is not to mention the swamp, the forest, and the problem of passing the night. I have not slept since the
15th October, 1941: Terrifying! I wander around, dead bodies, was horrors and permanent bombardment everywhere. I am hungry and had no sleep again. Took a bottle of alcohol. Went to the forest for reconnaissance. Our total destruction is obvious. The army is beaten, its supply train is destroyed, am writing sitting in a forest by a bonfire. In the morning lost all my Cheka (KGB) officers, and now I am alone among strangers. The army has disintegrated.
16th October, 1941: I spent the night in the forest, had no bread for three days. There are a lot of soldiers in the forest, but no officers. Throughout the night and the morning the Germans were firing at the forest from all kind of weapons. At about 7 a.m. we got up and marched north. The gunfire continues. During a halt I managed to wash my face and hands.
19th October, 1941: All night long we were marching through the rain across marshlands. Pitch dark. I was wet to the bone, my right foot has swollen; very difficult to walk.
At dawn on 4 July, Mekhlis arrested Pavlov for treason: "We ask you to confirm arrest and prosecution," Mekhlis reported. Stalin welcomed it "as one of the true ways to improve the health of the Front". Under torture, Pavlov implicated General Meretskov who was immediately arrested too. ..
On 22nd July, the four commanding officers of the Western Front were shot. So many telegrams flooded in asking permission to shoot traitors, they blocked up the wires in Mekhlis's office. That day, he told them to sentence and shoot their own traitors.
Hitler had not interfered in the Polish campaign, but the immense public acclaim of 'his' strategy there, and still more after the French campaign, had given him a swelled head. He had a taste for strategy and tactics, but he did not understand the executive details. He often had good ideas, but he was stubborn as a rock - so that he spoilt the fulfillment of his own conceptions.
What we had was good enough to beat Poland and France, but not good enough to conquer Russia. The space there was so vast, and the going so difficult. We ought to have had twice as many tanks in our armoured divisions, and their motor-infantry regiments were not mobile enough.
The original pattern of our armoured division was ideal - with two tank regiments and one motor-infantry regiment. But the latter should be carried in armoured tracked vehicles, even though it entails more petrol. In the earlier part of the Russian campaign it was possible to bring them up in their lorries close to the scene of action before they dismounted. They were often brought up as close as a quarter of a mile from the fighting line. But that ceased to be possible when the Russians had more aircraft.
The lorry-columns were too vulnerable, and the infantry had to get out too far back. Only armoured infantry can come into action quickly enough for the needs of a mobile battle. Worse still, these clumsy lorries easily became bogged. France had been ideal country for armoured forces, but Russia was the worst-because of its immense tracts of country that were either swamp or sand. In parts the sand was two or three feet deep. When the rain came down the sand turned into swamp.
We pass through village after village, most of them mere hamlets. Standing at the gates are collective-farm peasants who greet us enthusiastically. In the still evening these shouts of greetings are mingled with the sound of women and children weeping as they contemplate the charred ruins where their homes once stood. Behind us are a series of low hills and before us - in the valley lies the town of Yelnia.
Yelnia is burnt to the ground and its destitute inhabitants pass through the streets covered with ashes and chaired ruins. The Nazis here were helped by one Rozalinsky, whom they appointed commandant of the town of Yelnia. Rozalinsky proved to be a Nazi agent who had for many years lived in Smolensk and paraded as a modest book-keeper. The Germans were also helped by Dombrovsky and his wife, former local landowners. In the villages the Nazis appointed rural elders, who helped them to loot and oppress the population.
I haven't written for a long time. So much has happened! was not mistaken: this copy-book will see a great deal. Particularly remember the events of 19 June. At night a large punitive detachment approached our village very, very close. The exchange of fire continued throughout the night. In the morning, when we woke up, villages burned all around us. Soon the first casualty was brought to me. My hands were covered with blood, then took this seriously wounded man to a doctor, 6 kms away. When I returned, we had to execute a certain village elder, a collaborator. We went to get him; we read him the sentence and led him to the pace of execution. I felt awful.
In the evening, about eleven, just as was getting ready to go to bed, another wounded man was brought in. Again dressed his wounds, and again had to deliver him to a doctor. And the weather was terrible; it was cold, dark, raining, and windy. I dressed warm and we went. My sick man instantly froze; I had to give him at first my rain cape and then my jacket. I had only a blouse on, and was terribly chilled. On the way, the cart broke down and I fixed it, and then we got lost. In short, it took us four hours to get to our destination, barely had time to warm up a bit when had to start back. I returned in the morning; I had quite a night!
We are approaching the end of a year signalised by the magnificent triumphs of Germany and her allies which have laid the sure basis of their victory, a year in which the Führer and the forces under this command have made a great advance towards final victory ... as the year draws to a close we are witnessing the dramatic spectacle of the Soviet Union dissipating its forces, squandering its reserves and smashing its war potential to pieces on the adamant rock of German resistance. Next year, when the German offensive is resumed, we shall see the real significance of the desperate and prodigious sacrifices which Stalin is now making. Even before that time comes, the world may well be able to perceive the tremors which will precede the earthquake of economic collapse in the Soviet Union, and before the German and allied forces move forward in their next great attack, there will probably be much strife and discord between the Soviets and the Allies, for even if shipping space were available in plenty to Britain and the USA, as it certainly is not, the war production of the two countries combined would not yield a sufficient quantity of arms and munitions to replace the losses the Bolsheviks have suffered during the last month.
The war policy of the Soviet Union has so far been that of a fighting retreat. We have defended every district and every point so as to wear down gradually the German forces. The moment has now arrived when the wearing-down process has reached the point where the Germans feel the pinch. The German soldiers are tired. Their Commanders hoped to finish the war before the winter and they made no preparations for a winter campaign.
This December the German army has shown itself tired and ill-clad and just at this time new Soviet armies and formations reached the front. These reinforcements created the possibility for the change over at the front which you have noticed during the last two weeks. The Germans attempted to dig themselves in, but were not inclined to make very strong fortifications. Our troops were able to break through and now we have the possibility of attacking; counter-attacks have gradually developed into counter-offensives. We shall try and carry this on all through the winter.
We have now the air superiority, but not a very great one. The Germans still have a great superiority in tanks, and tanks are vitally necessary for us, especially Valentines, which we have found to be much better for use in the winter. The Matilda will be all right in the summer weather, but the engine is too weak for winter conditions. We shall go ahead on all fronts. In the south the position is quite satisfactory. The bringing in of fresh reinforcements was the cause of the recent successes. The German army is not so strong after all. It is only because it has an enormous reputation.
Long before winter came the chances had been diminished owing to the repeated delays in the advance that were caused by bad roads, and mud. The 'black earth' of the Ukraine could be turned into mud by ten minutes rain - stopping all movement until it dried. That was a heavy handicap in a race with time. If was, increased by a lack of railways in Russia - for bringing up supplies to our advancing troops. It seemed to us that as soon as one force was wiped out, the path was blocked by the arrival of a fresh force.
The extent of the enemy's sacrifices has been colossal and cannot be maintained. In the Stalingrad Sector, above all, the Soviets have been employing heavy forces and their losses have been proportionately high. Day after day, more Soviet tank losses have been reported and at the same time, the ratio between the German and Soviet air losses is incomparably in favour of the Luftwaffe. For example, it was reported yesterday that sixty-seven Soviet aircraft had been shot down as against four German losses; on Tuesday, the ratio was fifty-two to one in our favour. As might be expected, the Luftwaffe's superiority has dealt a hard blow at the enemy and it is now reported that the Soviets are being compelled to use untrained personnel in their larger bombers.
It was appallingly difficult country for tank movement - great virgin forests, widespread swamps, terrible roads, and bridges not strong enough to bear the weight of tanks. The resistance also became stiffer, and the Russians began to cover their front with minefields. It was easier for them to block the way because there were so few roads.
The great motor highway leading from the frontier to Moscow was unfinished - the one road a Westerner would call a 'road'. We were not prepared for what we found because our maps in no way corresponded to reality. On those maps all supposed main roads were marked in red, and there seemed to be many, but they often proved to be merely sandy tracks. The German intelligence service was fairly accurate about conditions in Russian-occupied Poland, but badly at fault about those beyond the original Russian frontier.
Such country was bad enough for the tanks, but worse still for the transport accompanying them - carrying their fuel, their supplies, and all the auxiliary troops they needed. Nearly all this transport consisted of wheeled vehicles, which could not move off the roads, nor move on if the sand turned into mud. An hour or two of rain reduced the panzer forces to stagnation. It was an extraordinary sight, with groups of them strung out over a hundred miles stretch, all stuck - until the sun came out and the ground dried. Hoth, who was advancing from the Orsha-Nevel sector, was delayed by swamps as well as bursts of rain. Guderian made a rapid advance to Smolensk, but then met similar trouble.
A number of the generals declared that a resumption of the offensive in 1942 was impossible, and that it was wiser to make sure of holding what had been gained. Halder was very dubious about the continuance of the offensive. Von Rundstedt was still more emphatic and even urged that me German Army should withdraw to their original front in Poland. Von Leeb agreed with him. While other generals did not go so far as this, most of them were very worried as to where the campaign would lead. With the departure of von Rundstedt as well as von Brauchitsch, the resistance to Hitler's pressure was weakening and that pressure was all for resuming the offensive.
There was a "battle of opinion" between Halder and him. The Intelligence had information that 600 to 700 tanks a month were coming out of the Russian factories, in the Ural Mountains and elsewhere. When Halder told him of this. Hitler slammed the table and said it was impossible. He would not believe what he did not want to believe.
Secondly, he did not know what else to do-as he would not listen to any idea of a withdrawal. He felt that he must do something and that something could only be offensive.
Thirdly, there was much pressure from economic authorities in Germany. They urged that it was essential to continue the advance, telling Hitler that they could not continue the war without oil from the Caucasus and wheat from the Ukraine.
The German offensive against our Russian allies is now at its height, and it would be stupid to disguise the fact that the situation is very serious. The main German drive, as we foretold in earlier newsletters, is south-east towards the region of the Caucasus. The Germans have now crossed the upper reaches of the River Don, and fighting is now going on around and inside the important town of Voronezh. They are also making fierce attacks further south in the direction of Rostov, the important city near the south of the Don and the Donets which the Russians recaptured from the Germans last year, and in the direction of Stalingrad on the Volga. Both Rostov and Stalingrad are in danger.
In these attacks the Germans' aim is evidently twofold. The final aim is, of course, to capture the oilfields of the Caucasus and the Middle East, but the more immediate aim is to cut communications between this area and the more northerly parts of Russia. By crossing the Don near Voronezh, they have already cut one important route northward, since this move has put them across the railway between Voronezh and Rostov. A further advance might leave only one railway line from this area open to the Russians, while if the Germans could get as far as Stalingrad all direct railway communication between the Caucasus region and the northern fronts of Moscow and Leningrad would be cut. This does not, of course, mean that the Russian oil would not any longer be transported, but it would mean that it would have to be transported by roundabout routes and largely by river, putting an enormous extra strain on the Russian transport system.
This phase of the war is essentially a struggle for oil. The Germans are trying to win for themselves the fresh supplies of oil that would allow them to continue their campaign of aggression, and at the same time trying to strangle the Russian people by cutting their supplies of oil and thus starving both their war industries and their agriculture. Taking the long view, we may say that either the Germans must reach the Caspian Sea this year or they have lost the war, though they might be able to go on fighting for a considerable time.
Leningrad could have been taken, probably with little difficulty. But after his experience at Warsaw in 1939 Hitler was always nervous about taking big cities, because of the losses he had suffered there. The tanks had already started on the last lap of the advance when Hitler ordered them to stop - as he had done at Dunkirk in 1940. So no genuine attack on Leningrad was attempted in 1941, contrary to appearances - although all preparations had been completed, including the mounting of long-range artillery that had been brought from France.
Hitler gave another fateful halt order just when the armoured vanguards of Army Group North had reached the outskirts of Leningrad. Apparently he thereby wanted to avoid the losses of human life and material to be expected from fighting in the streets and squares of this Soviet metropolis against an outraged population, and hoped to gain the same ends by cutting off the city from all lines of supply.
Reports about the termination of the Battle of Stalingrad have shaken the entire people once again to its depth. The speeches of January 30 and the proclamation of the Fuhrer have taken a backseat in view of this event, and play a lesser role in serious conversations on the part of our fellow Germans, than do a number of questions connected with the events at Stalingrad. First of all it is the number of casualties which the population wants to know. Conjunctures fluctuate between 60,000 and 300,000 men. It is being assumed that the great majority of those who fought at Stalingrad have perished. Regarding those troops who have become prisoners of the Russians there are two popular conceptions. On the one hand there are those who say that imprisonment is worse than death because they are bound to treat those soldiers who have fallen into their hands alive in an inhumane manner. Others believe in turn how fortunate it is that not all of them have perished; this way there remains the hope that some of them might eventually return to the homeland. Especially the relatives of those who fought at Stalingrad suffer much under this ambiguous situation and the uncertainty that results from it.
Furthermore, large segments of the population are debating whether the developments at Stalingrad were inevitable and whether the immense sacrifices were necessary. Our fellow Germans are specifically concerned with the question whether the retreat to Stalingrad was at the time promptly recognised. Air reconnaissance should have spotted the concentration of Russian armies that were then moving against Stalingrad.
Furthermore, the question is being discussed why the city was not evacuated when there was still time. The third issue around which the conversations of our fellow Germans resolve right now is the importance of the Battle of Stalingrad seen in the context of the war as a whole.
The most difficult days were when my mother could not get up from bed to go to work. She was too weak from hunger. I went to the kindergarten by myself. With my steps as a man, it is not a far distance. To a man, they are snow heaps. To me, this little boy, they were snow mountains.
In this silent city, there came these sudden bursts of sound. The explosions. I was very frightened, and it was such a long distance to school.
We ate what you give to horses. Oats. In the summer, we picked up grass, boiled it, and ate it. It was food on our minds all the time. Morning was the best time of the day, when you get up. You think something might turn up, you might get something to eat. All the days became one long day and night. Imagine nine hundred such days. It seemed forever.
Victory day? On the ninth of May, 1945, we went to a small opera theater. It was lolanthe. Suddenly the performance stopped and the director came out and said that the Germans surrendered. Everybody in the theater went to the square. I saw hundreds of thousands of people dancing, embracing each other. Tossing the soldiers in the air. They were crying and kissing each other. I was nine years old.
It would be a profound, a cardinal error to suppose that the German nation does not know how to take one defeat after so many victories. Nor, if the truth must be told, am I convinced that Stalingrad was, in the worst sense of the word, in the most essential, in the psychological sense, a defeat. Let us look at the facts. I think it was Napoleon who said, 'In warfare the moral is to the physical as three to one'. So far as divisions, brigades and battalions are concerned, Stalingrad was a German defeat. But when a Great Power like the National Socialist Reich is waging a total war, divisions and battalions can be replaced. If we review the position in sober and cold calculations, all sentiment apart, we must realise that the fall of Stalingrad cannot impair the German defensive system as a whole. Whatever individuals have lost, whatever they may have sacrificed, there is nothing in the position as a whole to controvert the view that the main objectives of the enemy offensives have been frustrated. Stalingrad was a part of the price which had to be paid for the salvation of Europe from the, Bolshevik hordes.
In early January 1941 the State Department Informed the President that it had received a startling report from its Berlin embassy. The disbelieving secretary of state, Cordell Hull, had already asked J. Edgar Hoover to evaluate the information provided by Sam Woods. FBI agents checked the names Woods had mentioned in various German ministries and on the General Staff. They were, the bureau reported back, men in a position to know what was going on, and some were believed to be anti-Nazi. Woods's intelligence appeared authentic.
Roosevelt's quandary now was how best to handle this information vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. FDR chose to be direct. He would simply have the American ambassador in Moscow, Laurence Steinhardt, inform Stalin. However, Steinhardt advised against this course. He was well aware that Stalin distrusted Churchill and Roosevelt. Britain and the United States had both sent troops to Russia in 1918-19, after the revolution, to try to strangle the Bolshevik regime in its cradle. The Soviet dictator was convinced that the capitalists would spread any canard to drive a wedge between him and his new ally, Germany. This partnership, he believed would keep his country safe from attack while Hitler went about swallowing up the rest of Europe.
Finally, on March 1, nearly two months after FDR had first seen Woods's report, Sumner Welles was dispatched to sound the alarm to the Soviet ambassador in Washington, Konstantin Oumansky. An encounter with Oumansky was not something looked forward to with pleasure. The Russian's background was in Soviet police work and capitalist-baiting journalism. His manner was universally characterized as boorish. Still, Welles did his duty and reported the impending danger to the Soviet Union. In describing the meeting he recalled, "Mr. Oumansky turned very white. He was silent for a moment and then merely said: 'My government will be grateful for your confidence and I will inform it immediately of our conversation.' " What Oumansky actually did was to follow the Stalin line. He called Hans Thomsen, the charge d'affaires at the Germany embassy, and told him that the Americans were spreading vicious rumors to undermine the friendship between their two countries.
Reports of a German invasion, however, began to reach Moscow in a crescendo. Even before Welles's warning, on February 18, Sir Stafford Cripps, Britain's ambassador to Moscow, had held a press conference and declared that Germany would attack Russia before the end of June. On April 3, Churchill asked Cripps to deliver his personal note to Stalin warning of a German troop buildup in the East, information based on intercepted codes, the source, however, not revealed to Stalin. From Tokyo, the Soviets' legendary spy, the German Richard Sorge, pinpointed the invasion date. The hard-drinking, womanizing Sorge, working undercover as a journalist, had the run of the German embassy, where he was treated like a fellow staff member and made privy to the choicest secrets. On May 15, Sorge cabled his Moscow controllers that the invasion would begin on June 22. The Soviets' best source in Switzerland, a well-connected publisher, Rudolf Roessler, code-named Lucy, confirmed that date and, in addition, provided the Wehrmacht's order of battle.
The Soviet Union was the beating heart of world communism, as feared by most Americans as it was loathed by Churchill. Yet, the Prime Minister knew where Britain's advantage lay. As the rumored invasion date approached, he told his dinner guests at Chequers Anthony Eden, John Colville, his private secretary, and John Winant, the American ambassador who had replaced Joe Kennedy what he intended. "Hitler was counting on enlisting capitalist and Right Wing sympathizers in this country and the U.S.A.." Churchill said. But Hitler was wrong. If the anticipated attack did occur, "We should go all out to help Russia." Winant now felt free to reveal earlier guidance he had received from FDR: Roosevelt would support "any statement Churchill might make welcoming Soviet Russia as an ally." After dinner, with the other guests gone, Colville tweaked Churchill about the arch anti-Communist making favorable noises about the Soviet Union. It was on this occasion that Churchill made his memorable response: "Not at all. I have only one purpose, the destruction of Hitler, and my life is much simplified thereby. If Hitler invaded Hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons."
Over a hundred warnings of the pending invasion are estimated to have reached the Kremlin. Operation Barbarossa had become the worst-kept secret of the war. Why, when it appeared that every Moscow factory worker had heard of the threat, was it disregarded by Stalin? Whatever else he may have been, the Soviet leader was not naive. As late as May 1941, Stalin addressed graduates of the Soviet military academies in the Kremlin. Almost certainly, he told them, there would be war with Germany by 1942, even possibly with the Soviet Union taking the initiative, since "Nazi Germany as the dominant power in Europe is not normal," he warned. But the Red Army currently was not strong enough either to repel or launch an attack. Therefore, Russia had to try by diplomacy to stall German aggression. Besides, Stalin did not believe that Hitler was mad enough to start fighting Russia before he had defeated England and thus saddle himself with a two-front war. He did not deny that German armies were massing on his border. But that was only Hitler's way of pressuring him to give in to Germany's economic demands. All these reports that Hitler planned to invade, loot his country, enslave his people, and crush communism were capitalist provocations designed to goad him into a conflict against Germany while Russia was still unprepared. Then the British would make peace with Germany, and he would be left to fight the Nazis alone.
On the night of June 21, a German soldier deserted to the Russian army and told his interrogators that an attack would take place at 3 A.M. the next morning. Within three hours Stalin had the report, but rejected it and supposedly ordered the bearer of the news shot. The invasion that FDR had known about for over five months began when the deserter said it would. Like the husband who is the last to know that his wife is faithless, Stalin was stunned by the invasion. As the depth of Hitler's deceit and his country's debacle sank in, Stalin went into a depression approaching a nervous breakdown. For several days, at the moment of its greatest peril, Russia was leaderless.
(1) Hugh Trevor Roper, Hitler's Table Talk 1941-1944 (1953) page 24
(2) Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (1925) part II, chapter 14
(3) Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1889-1936 (1998) page 247
(4) Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962) page 651
(5) Hugh Trevor Roper, Hitler's Table Talk 1941-1944 (1953) page 41
(6) John Simkin, Hitler (1988) page 60
(7) Colin Cross, Adolf Hitler (1973) page 355
(8) Basil Liddell Hart, The Other Side of the Hill (1948) page 259
(9) Joachim von Ribbentrop, letter to Ernst von Weizsäcker, State Secretary at the Foreign Office (29th April, 1941)
(10) Joseph Goebbels, diary entry (July 1941)
(11) John Erikson, The Road to Stalingrad (1975) page 7
(12) Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962) page 652
(13) General Paul von Kliest was interviewed by Basil Liddell Hart about Operation Barbarossa in his book The Other Side of the Hill (1948) page 257
(14) Gabriel Gorodetsky, Grand Delusion: Stalin and the German Invasion of Russia (2001) pages 129-135
(15) Georgi Dimitrov, Diary: The Years in Moscow (2003) page 302
(16) Joseph Stalin, speech to the Moscow Military Academy (5th May, 1941)
(17) Robert Service, Stalin: A Biography (2004) page 409
(18) Richard Sorge, confession after being interrogated by the Japanese police (October 1941)
(19) Leopold Trepper, The Great Game (1977) pages 73-75
(20) Christopher Andrew & Oleg Gordievsky, KGB: The Inside Story of Its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev (1990) page 239
(21) Susan Ottaway, Hitler's Traitors: German Resistance to the Nazis (2003) pages 68-72
(22) Adolf Hitler, Directive Number 21 (8th December, 1940)
(23) Leopold Trepper, The Great Game (1977) page 126
(24) Christopher Andrew & Oleg Gordievsky, KGB: The Inside Story of Its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev (1990) page 212
(25) Christopher Andrew, The Mitrokhin Archive (1999) page 122
(26) Waldo Heinrichs, Threshold of War: Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Entry into World War II (1988) pages 21-23
(27) Stephen Budiansky, Battle of Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II (2000) page 196
(28) Christopher Andrew, The Mitrokhin Archive (1999) page 122
(29) General Walter Warlimont, order issued to the German Army (12th May, 1941)
(30) Antony Beevor, Stalingrad (1998) pages 3-4
(31) Adam B. Ulam, Stalin: The Man and his Era (2007) page 537
(32) Robert Service, Stalin: A Biography (2004) page 410
(33) Vyacheslav Molotov, radio broadcast (22nd July, 1941)
(34) Anastas Mikoyan, That's How It Was (1999) page 390
(35) Robert Service, Stalin: A Biography (2004) page 415
(36) Anastas Mikoyan, That's How It Was (1999) page 391
(37) Joseph Stalin, radio speech (3rd July, 1941)
(38) Michael Olive & Robert Edwards, Operation Barbarossa (2012) page vi
(39) Antony Beevor, Stalingrad (1998) page 87
(40) Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Jurisdiction Order (13th May, 1941)
(41) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (8th April, 1941)
(42) Paul Addison and Angus Calder (editors), Time to Kill, The Soldier's Experience of War (1997) page 270
(43) General Erich von Manstein, memorandum (20th November, 1941
(44) Antony Beevor, Stalingrad (1998) page 15
(45) Lloyd Clark, Kursk: The Greatest Battle (2012) page 12
(46) Joseph Goebbels, radio broadcast (22nd June, 1941)
(47) Antony Beevor, Stalingrad (1998) page 19
(48) Christer Bergström, Barbarossa - The Air Battle (2007) pages 20-23
(49) John Simkin, Hitler (1988) page 60
(50) Paul Schmidt, Hitler's Interpreter: The Secret History of German Diplomacy (1951) page 233
(51) Adam B. Ulam, Stalin: The Man and his Era (2007) page 543
(52) Simon Sebag Montefiore, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2003) page 377
(53) General Georgy Zhukov, Stavka Directive (15th July, 1941)
(54) Michael Olive & Robert Edwards, Operation Barbarossa (2012) page vii
(55) Andrey Yeryomenko, Strategy and Tactics of the Soviet-German War (1943) page 16
(56) Antony Beevor, Stalingrad (1998) page 26
(57) Edvard Radzinsky, Stalin (1997) page 458
(58) Nikita Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers (1971) page 153
(59) Edvard Radzinsky, Stalin (1997) page 451
(60) Marshal Alexander Vasilevsky, The Matter of my Whole Life (1974) page 7
(61) Charles Messenger, The Last Prussian: A Biography of Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt (1991) page 150
(62) General Franz Halder, diary entry (11th August, 1941)
(63) Antony Beevor, Stalingrad (1998) page 32
(64) Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962) page 653
(65) Basil Liddell Hart, The Other Side of the Hill (1948) page 265
(66) Antony Beevor, Stalingrad (1998) page 32
(67) Michael Olive & Robert Edwards, Operation Barbarossa (2012) page vii
(68) Adolf Hitler, speech in Berlin (3rd October, 1941)
(69) Otto Dietrich, press release (9th October, 1941)
(70) Count Galeazzo Ciano, Diplomatic Papers (1948) pages 464-465
(71) John Simkin, Hitler (1988) page 60
(72) Antony Beevor, Stalingrad (1998) page 87
(73) Simon Sebag Montefiore, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2003) page 404
(74) Alexander Werth, Russia at War (1964) page 246
(75) Antony Beevor, Stalingrad (1998) page 36
(76) Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962) page 660
(77) Michael Olive & Robert Edwards, Operation Barbarossa (2012) page vii
(78) Antony Beevor, Stalingrad (1998) page 40
(79) Simon Sebag Montefiore, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2003) page 410
(80) Edvard Radzinsky, Stalin (1997) pages 468-469
(81) Robert Service, Stalin: A Biography (2004) page 424
(82) Antony Beevor, Stalingrad (1998) page 42
(83) Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962) page 661
Operation Barbarossa (Unternehmen Barbarossa) was the German codename for Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II, which commenced on June 22, 1941. It was to be the turning point for the fortunes of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich, in that the failure of Operation Barbarossa arguably resulted in the eventual overall defeat of Nazi Germany. The Eastern Front, which was opened by Operation Barbarossa, would become the biggest theater of war in World War II, with some of the largest and most brutal battles, terrible loss of life, and miserable conditions for Russians and Germans alike. The operation was named after the emperor Frederick Barbarossa (1122–1190). Mein Kampf (My Struggle) was a book written by Adolf Hitler, which spelled out his political ideology, National Socialism. Readers of Hitler's screed should not have been surprised to see him invade the Soviet Union. In that book, he made clear his belief that the German people needed lebensraum (living space), an idea that was used to justify the expansionist policies of Nazi Germany, and that it was to be looked for in the East. It was the stated policy of the Nazis to kill, deport, or enslave the Russian population, whom they considered to be inferior, and to colonize the land with German stock. The Hitler-Stalin Pact, or Nazi-Soviet pact, was a non-aggression treaty between the Soviet Union and the Third Reich. It was signed in Moscow on August 23, 1939, by the Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and the German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. A few days later, Hitler attacked Poland on September 1, 1939. Britain stepped in to honor its allegiance to Poland and gave Hitler an ultimatum: If he did not withdraw in the next two days, Britain would declare war on Germany. World War II had begun.
The Nazi-Soviet pact lasted until Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941, when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Operation Barbarossa was largely the brainchild of Hitler himself. His general staff advised against fighting a war on two fronts, but Hitler considered himself a political and military genius. Indeed, at that point in the war, he had achieved a series of lightning victories against what appeared to be insurmountable odds. Hitler was overconfident because of his rapid success in Western Europe, as well as the Red Army's ineptitude in the Winter War against Finland (1939-1940). He expected victory in a few months and did not prepare for a war lasting into the winter soldiers lacked adequate clothing. He hoped a quick victory against the Red Army would encourage Britain to accept peace terms. In preparation for the attack, Hitler moved 2.5 million men to the Soviet border, launched many aerial surveillance missions over Soviet territory, and stockpiled vast amounts of material in the East. Yet the Soviets were still taken completely by surprise. That had mostly to do with Stalin's unshakeable belief that the Third Reich would not attack only two years after signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. He also was sure the Germans would finish their war with Britain before opening a new front. Despite repeated warnings from his intelligence services, Stalin refused to give them credence, believing the information to be British misinformation designed to spark a war between the Nazis and the U.S.S.R. The German government also aided in this deception. They told Stalin that the troops were being moved to bring them out of range of British bombers. They also explained that they were trying to trick the British into thinking they were planning to attack the Soviet Union, while in fact the troops and supplies were being stockpiled for an invasion of Britain. It has been established that Communist spy Dr. Richard Sorge gave Stalin the exact launch date also Swedish cryptanalysts led by Arne Beurling knew the date beforehand. The ultimate strategy Hitler and his assistants in the German high command decided upon, involved three separate army groups assigned to capture specific regions and large cities of the Soviet Union, once the invasion began.
“Racial Struggle Without Mercy”
The invaders struck against Soviet Jews with particular force, convinced as they were that every Jew on Soviet soil carried the Bolshevik plague. Whenever German units encountered strong resistance, they reflexively blamed the Jews. Police leaders in the occupied territories trained their men in seminars entitled: “Where there is a partisan, there is a Jew, and where there is a Jew, there is a partisan.” After a series of bombs planted by Soviet agents went off in Kiev five days into the city’s occupation, killing several hundred Germans, the occupiers carried out a revenge massacre among Kiev’s Jewish population.
Over the course of two days, they executed 33,771 Jewish men, women, and children. As they reported the mass killings in Kiev’s Babi Yar ravine, SS officials cast them as a sweeping political operation to destroy the mainstays of Soviet power. About the victims they remarked: “It can be stated positively today that the Jews without exception served Soviet Bolshevism.”
While focusing in particular on Soviet Jews, German wrath against the enemy in the East extended further. Military leaders believed most soldiers of the Red Army to be infected by Bolshevism. In advance of the campaign, they made no provisions to build barracks or hand out food to the millions of enemy soldiers that they expected to capture. Rolls of barbed wire were the only items supplied to military districts for the purpose of detaining the captured “Bolshevik hordes.”
When the Wehrmacht brought convoys of captured Soviet soldiers to the improvised camps, the guards had orders not to share food with the prisoners. A delegation of Ukrainian women who wanted to feed the POWs in a camp near Zhitomir pleaded with the Austrian commander for permission. He turned down their request, citing a directive by Hitler to “exterminate Bolshevism, including the people spoiled by it.”
An instruction for camp guards issued in September 1941 labeled every Red Army man a Bolshevik and “Nazi Germany’s mortal enemy.” Using language that likened the Soviet captives to wild animals, the instruction ordered German guards to always keep their eyes on the prisoners. They were to subdue them with gestures and glances that conveyed German “pride and superiority,” in addition to speaking with their guns.
The policy of stamping out the supposed Bolshevik threat was brutally effective. By early 1942, more than two million Soviet POWs in German captivity had died from starvation, disease, and a range of innovative murder techniques first tested on Soviet citizens, such as stationary gas chambers, gas vans, and “neck shooting facilities.” The death rate then slowed down somewhat as the Germans began to use Soviet prisoners as an expendable labor force.
The war against Bolshevism continued with undiminished rage. When German forces failed to take Stalingrad in fall 1942, a German newspaper offered the following explanation. If Stalingrad were defended by Britons or Americans, it claimed, Germans would have conquered the city in a matter of days. The difference was that the foe confronting the Germans did not consist of fellow humans, but Bolsheviks — bestial creatures who fought “with the power of unchained inferiority” because they did not treasure life.
After their catastrophic rout at Stalingrad in February 1943, the Germans only managed to defeat the Red Army one more time, when they retook Kharkov the following month. As they entered the city, soldiers of the Waffen SS division Adolf Hitler came upon four hundred severely wounded Soviet soldiers in an army hospital. The Germans shot scores of the wounded, before locking the building and setting it on fire.
Days later, speaking in Kharkov’s university, SS leader Heinrich Himmler reminded his men about the stakes. According to Himmler, Germany’s gigantic clash with “with Asia and Jewry” was “necessary for evolution” and the flourishing of the Third Reich. It was “here in the East” that the world war was being decided:
Here must the Russian enemy, this people numbering two hundred million Russians, be destroyed on the battlefield and person by person, and made to bleed to death . . . we have only one task, to stand firm and carry on the racial struggle without mercy.
Molotov signs the Nazi-Soviet Pact in September 1939 as Stalin looks on.
The German plan was aided by Stalin’s refusal to believe that it was coming. He was reluctant to entertain intelligence that suggested an impending attack and so distrusted Churchill that he dismissed warnings from Britain.
Although he agreed to bolster Soviet western borders in mid-May, Stalin remained adamantly more concerned with the Baltic states through June. This remained the case even when German diplomats and resources rapidly disappeared from Soviet territory a week before Barbarossa began.
Through inverted logic, Stalin retained greater faith in Hitler than his own advisors right up to the point of attack.
The defeat of Nazi Germany at the Gates of Moscow meant one thing for the German War Machine, the Blitzkrieg strategy in Russia failed, the short campaign of 3-5 months for the conquest of the USSR has now become a brutal war of attrition for which the Third Reich was now prepared. Even though Hitler will try to replicate the blitzkrieg strategy in the following year against Stalingrad, practically the fate of the war was decided at the Gates of Moscow in the winter of 1941. From now it was only a matter of time before the final collapse of Nazi Germany. Hitler’s “1000 year Reich” will only last 12 years.
Operation Barbarossa was the name given to Nazi Germany’s invasion of Russia on June 22nd 1941. Barbarossa the largest military attack of World War Two and was to have appalling consequences for the Russian people.
Operation Barbarossa was based on a massive attack based on blitzkrieg. Hitler had said of such an attack that
Three army groups attacked Russia on June 22nd 1941. Army Group North, led by von Leeb, Army Group Centre, commanded by von Bock and Army Group South commanded by von Rundstedt.
|Army Group||Consisted of?|
Army Group North
|XVIII Army led by von Küchler|
IV Panzergruppe led by Hoepner
XVI Army led by Busch
Totalled 20 divisions and Luftflotte I
Army Group Centre
IX Army led by Strauss
IV Army led by von Kluge
II Panzergruppe led by Guderian
Totalled 51 divisions and Luftflotte II
Army Group South
I Panzergruppe led by von Kleist
XVII Army led by von Stülpnagel
Hungarian Army Corps (Carpathian Group)
III Rumanian Army led by Dmitrescu
XI Army led by von Schobert
IV Rumanian Army led by Ciuperca
40 divisions 14 Rumanian divisions Hungarian Army Corps and Luftflotte IV.
Russia was defended by four army units. Though Russia had a large army, the purges had wiped out a considerable part of the army’s senior commanders.
11th Army led by Morosov
27th Army led by Berzarin
Totalled 26 Divisions including 6 armoured ones.
10th Army led by Golubev
4th Army led by Korobkov
Totalled 36 divisions including 10 armoured ones.
6th Army led by Muzychenko
26th Army led by Kostenko
12th Army led by Ponedelin
Totalled 56 divisions including 16 armoured divisions
Totalled 14 divisions including 2 armoured divisions.
In total, Germany amassed 117 army divisions for the attack excluding Rumanian and Hungarian units.
In total, Russia amassed 132 army divisions for the defence of the ‘motherland’, including 34 armoured divisions.
Plans for the attack on Russia had been around since 1940. It is now thought that Hitler lost interest in the Battle of Britain as he was far too focussed on his desired attack on Russia.
The first version of the plan was done by Marcks in August 1940. He envisaged a massive attack on Moscow – his primary target. He also wanted a secondary attack on Kiev and two masking attacks in the Baltic towards Leningrad and in Moldavia in the south. After Moscow had fallen, Marcks wanted a drive south to link up with the attack on Kiev. The attack on Leningrad was also a secondary issue.
The next version of the plan was completed in December 1940 by Halder. He changed Marcks plan by having three thrusts a major one against Moscow, a smaller attack on Kiev and a major attack on Leningrad. After taking Moscow and Leningrad, Halder wanted a move north to Archangel. After Kiev had fallen, he envisaged a drive into the Don/Volga region.
The third and final variant was Hitler’s plan which he codenamed Barbarossa. This plan was constructed in December 1940. For Hitler, the primary military activity would take place in the north. Hence Leningrad became a vital target as did Moscow. His drive in the south was confined to the occupation of the Ukraine to the west of Kiev.
The attack started at 03.00, Sunday morning June 22nd 1941. In total the Germans and her allies used 3 million soldiers, 3580 tanks, 7184 artillery guns, 1830 planes and
|“It is probable that history will regard June 22, 1941, as the apocalyptic date of the military calendar. No military plan of the scope of Operation Barbarossa had ever before been launched, for never before had techniques of organisation, transport, and communication been available on such a scale.”Barry Pitt|
The initial attacks involved numbers never seen before – and the success rate must have even taken Hitler by surprise even if Hitler had proclaimed:
|“We have only to kick in the front door and the whole rotten Russian edifice will come tumbling down.” (Hitler)|
By Day 17 of the attack, 300,000 Russians had been captured, 2,500 tanks, 1,400 artillery guns and 250 aircraft captured or destroyed. This was only in the territory attacked by Army Group Centre. To any military observer, the Russian Army was on the verge of a total collapse and Moscow seemed destined to fall.
In fact, the German advance had been so fast that it had compromised the whole army’s supply and communication lines. The Army Group Centre paused on the Desna but it was still thought that it was only catching its breath before moving inexorably on. However, it was now that the German army was compromised by its own leader – Hitler.
He ordered that the Army Group Centre’s Panzer Group led by Guderian should move south-east on to Kiev. 1 Panzer Group was also ordered north. This took away from the Centre group two of its most potent fighting forces. Guderian was very angered by this order but Hitler had always proved himself right in the war, so why argue with the Führer? Who, in fact, had the courage to oppose Hitler?
Hitler had recognised that his most difficult decision was what to do after his forces had broken through the Stalin Line – move north, south or continue east?
The mechanised sweeps north and south had the same massive success as the initial assault on June 22nd. Masses of Russian prisoners were captured and vast quantities of Russian equipment was destroyed. But the orders of Hitler had one dire effect – loss of time. The delay was such that the impact of the winter occurred before the Germans had reached the objectives set by Hitler. Very few in the German Army were equipped to cope with the cold and the army, so used to advancing, found itself very much affected by the freezing temperatures. A war of movement as seen so much in June/July 1941 became an attack blighted by freezing weather that would hinder any army let alone one so ill-prepared for such weather conditions.
Timeline of Operation Barbarossa
|June 22, 1941||Germany begins invasion of USSR with three armies namely, Army Group North, Army Group Center, and Army Group South.|
|June 26, 1941||The city of Brest-Litovsk falls after 4 days. At the same time, Army Group North enter the city of Daugavpils.|
|July 1||Germany occupies the Soviet towns of Riga, Minsk, and Lvov.|
|July 3||Stalin orders scorched-earth policy and burns down factories and industries that may aid the Germans in their battle.|
|July 10-11 1941||All three divisions cross the Dnieper and surround the city of Smolensk.|
|September||Hitler shifts priority of attack to southern Russia.|
|September 8||Germans begin the Siege of Leningrad.|
|September 19||Kiev falls to German forces.|
|September 26||Germany begins Operation Typhoon with a single objective of capturing Moscow.|
|October 8||Heavy rains set in and demobilize the ground units except the tanks.|
|November 27||The advance on Moscow is halted with heavy counter-attack from the Soviet Union Army|
|December 8||Hitler orders all forces in USSR to shift from offensive to defensive operations.|
|June 30, 1942||The town of Sevastopol is evacuated after 24 days of nonstop fighting. Stalin awards a special medal to the city’s defenders.|
|July 27, 1942||German troops cross the Don river.|
|August 23||German troops reach the Volga the Luftwaffe bombs Stalingrad.|
|November 19-20||USSR launches two offensives against Germans, Operation Uranus and Operation Saturn.|
|October 14, 1942||Hitler orders all forces to assume a defensive stance and protect Stalingrad.|
|December 12||Germany launches Operation Winter Storm to relieve the Sixth Army.|
|February 2, 1943||The German Sixth Army surrenders.|
What if Operation Barbarossa had never happened?
It’s said that 'Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it', a point that is well proven by Adolf Hitler when he ordered the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. During the same month 129 years prior, Napoleon had crossed the border into Russia with similar lofty ideals of conquering the Red Army. That invasion famously ended in catastrophic failure, as would Hitler's a century later.
Operation Barbarossa, the codename for Hitler’s invasion of the USSR, has gone down in history as one of the greatest military mistakes ever. It is estimated that during WW2, 80% of German casualties came on the Eastern Front, equating to more than three million lives. Hitler’s two-front war proved too much for his fascist state and ultimately the decision to invade the Soviet Union cost him the conflict.
Read more about: Russia
Operation Barbarossa: Hitler’s Failed Invasion of the Soviet Union
But what if Hitler never went east? What if Germany’s military generals had convinced the Führer not to invade? How might the war have turned out differently?
Diving into the world of alternate history is a fascinating and explorative endeavour that opens up a multitude of possibilities. However, there is a gleamingly obvious tether surrounding our question, limiting the number of realistic avenues that we can consider when it comes to answering this particular question.
Simply put, Hitler always planned on invading the Soviet’s as communism was the natural ideological enemy to fascism. Hitler intended to conquer the country, enslave or exterminate the ‘subhuman’ native Slavic people, exploit the country’s vast resources and ultimately provide his ‘master race’ the Lebensraum (‘living space’) they needed.
So for us to consider a world where Operation Barbarossa never happened, it would have to be one that didn't include Hitler. A more realistic approach to this question should therefore contemplate the scenario of Barbarossa being delayed and how things might have turned out had that occurred.
During planning for Barbarossa, Hitler’s generals attempted to convince the Führer that such an operation would likely be a vast drain on Germany’s economy and resources. Hitler ignored them but let’s pretend that in this new timeline he accepts their words of caution and temporarily puts a halt to the planned invasion of the east.
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What if Stalingrad had fallen?
Where might he turn his attention to instead? By mid-1941, Hitler had all but given up on any plans to conquer Britain after losing the Battle of Britain. Could he possibly turn his attention back towards Blighty? The argument 'for' is a strong one considering the amount of manpower and resources that went into the Eastern Front. Without such a drain, efforts could be effectively piled into Operation Sea Lion, Germany's codename for the planned invasion of Britain. However, the argument 'against' is perhaps even stronger.
Germany's military might was in its army it was a land-based force that could not compete against the might of the Royal Navy. For any invasion across the Channel to be successful, Hitler needed to not only control the skies but also the waves. Hitler would have had to significantly bolster and upgrade his navy (the Kriegsmarine) if any amphibious assault on Britain was to occur.
Even if they had done this, Britain still had its RAF intact as well as American Land-Lease support. Hitler also had no real drive to conquer and invade Britain. Ultimately, he just wanted Britain out of the war so he could focus his efforts eastwards. He never intended on fighting a two-front war, in fact, he always hoped Britain and Germany could be allies.
So after postponing Barbarossa, Hitler would be more likely to use the time to squeeze Britain further, tightening the noose and forcing them into a peace treaty. To do that, Hitler would probably turn his attention to the Mediterranean and North Africa.
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What if D-Day had failed?
In our reality, Hitler didn't give the North African theatre the kind of attention and resources it required to secure a Nazi victory. However, in our altered timeline resources are now not going east, in fact, supplies are flooding in from that direction as agreed in the Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact signed in 1939. The Führer now decides to send his men and might southwards. Erwin Rommel and his Afrika Korps receive reinforcements, aiding them in their push across Libya and Egypt towards the Suez Canal, which they capture in late 1941/early 1942.
With the Suez now under Nazi control, the British have lost a major logistical supply route and their position in the Middle East has been compromised. With his economic and military might still in the west, Hitler then conducts successful invasions of Malta and Gibraltar putting further pressure on the British. The Brits are then either forced to the negotiating table or at the least hampered from making any efforts that might cause Hitler significant concerns in the west.
With British capabilities now limited, Hitler perhaps provides assistance to Japan in South East Asia, aiding its ally's attempts to control the region. If successful, and it is a big 'if' considering America still had interests in the area, it would leave Japan in a promising position to open up another front against the Soviets when Hitler decides to invade them.
Read more about: WW2
What if Japan never attacked Pearl Harbor?
The gains in North Africa and the Middle East have provided Hitler with the oil resources his Wehrmacht so desperately crave. One of the key parts of Operation Barbarossa was the capturing of the Soviet oil fields in the Caucuses. Without the pressure for a fuel supply, Hitler's new invasion east would take on a different look, one that is perhaps more effective.
The next question to ask is whether Hitler declares war on the Soviets or whether Stalin gets there first and declares war on Nazi-Germany. In our reality, Stalin was completely unprepared for Hitler’s invasion in 1941. In the first few days of the assault a demobilised and disorganised Soviet army, still reeling from Stalin’s purges, was caught on the back foot and forced to retreat hundreds of miles.
However, in this altered timeline, Hitler’s delayed invasion gives Stalin time to bulk up his forces as well as ramp up the war economy, which begins to pump out numerous tanks and planes. Like Hitler, Stalin was always under the same belief that the two ideologies would be forced into a fight eventually. The pact they signed in 1939 was meant to last ten years, whilst that was always a stretch, the idea was to give each other enough time to prepare for the coming war.
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The lives of Hitler and Stalin: Two sides of the same coin
With the USSR now better organised for the fight, Stalin could well be the one to instigate it and order the invasion of Germany, especially after witnessing Hitler’s gains in North Africa, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. What happens next is anyone’s guess.
Would the better-prepared Soviet’s eventually conquer Germany and the rest of Eastern Europe or would Hitler’s gains in the south be enough to drive through a victory for the Wehrmacht? Or would it all end in a stalemate, with the two sides carving out a new geopolitical landscape in Europe? Or would the American atomic bomb still have something to say about things?
The Dukhovshchina Offensive Operation
From mid to late August the Stavka issued directives to Western and Reserve Fronts to conduct major offensives towards Dukhovshchina and against the Elnya salient. The cumulative effects of these attacks was to apparently force Army Group Centre to keep its mobile forces (3rd and especially 2nd Panzer Groups) pinned down and prevent them conducting dangerous operations further north and south. However the scale of these attacks, their persistence in the face of horrendous casualties, and released archival command documents (command directives), indicate that these offensives were deliberate attempts to forestall any German offensive eastwards and severely damage Army Group Centre in the process.
The Dukhovshchina Offensive Operation involved the Western Front’s 30th, 19th, 16th and 20th Armies (deployed from north to south) attacking towards Dukhovshchina, north of Smolensk. The 22nd and 29th Armies (further north) were to support the main offensive by attacking towards Belyi and Velizh. Western Front’s aim was to ultimately sever German communication lines with Smolensk and recapture the city. The first stage of the Dukhovshchina Offensive Operation commenced on 17th August and initially 19th Army made good progress: forcing the Vop River and penetrating 10kms into the German infantry defences. Note, 3rd Panzer Group’s 39th Panzer Corps was already moving northwards to join Army Group North at this time. Nevertheless stiffening resistance by 9th Army’s infantry divisions stalled any further advance.
In the meantime 3rd Panzer Group’s 57th Panzer Corps (19th and 20th Panzer Divisions) supported by two infantry divisions prepared to launch a counter-attack against the Soviet 22nd and 29th Armies and retake Velikiye Luki. This attack was unleashed on 22nd August and rapidly sliced through the Soviet defences, outflanking the forces in Velikiye Luki. By 25th August the Germans had isolated large elements of the 22nd Army in Velikiye Luki. By 29th August the 57th Panzer Corps and supporting infantry corps had forced the remaining elements of the 22nd and 29th Army back over the Western Dvina River. Despite a series of counter-attacks, most notably by the newly mobilised and adjacent 30th Army, the 22nd Army forces left in Velikiye Luki were not relieved and were eliminated by early September.
Despite the setbacks further north, the 19th, 16th and 20th Army re-launched their attacks along the Dukhovshchina-Iartsevo line on 28-29th August. These extremely bloody attacks continued for nine days and one has to wonder why, given the overall situation and obvious failure to make any significant progress against dug in German infantry. On 8th September, Marshal Shaposhnikov finally ordered Western Front to go over to the defence. By any standards the Dukhovshchina Offensive Operation was a very costly military failure, and only served to weaken Western Front and help facilitate its collapse in October 1941 during Operation Typhoon.
Soviet Air Force 1941/1942 – Defeat & Recovery
The Soviet Air Force in World War 2 got a very rude awakening, it endured one of the most devastating defeats in aviation history. At the time of the German attack the force consisted of about 400 000 personnel, and 10 000 to 15 000 aircraft, of which 7 500 were deployed in the Soviet’s Western theatre. Whereas the German Air Force had around 2800 aircraft deployed for Operation Barbarossa. The Germans achieved total surprised and launched an attack with about 1000 bombers against 66 airfields in the Russian border districts. (p. 272)
Aircraft Losses during Operation Barbarossa
The reported losses on these initial attacks vary, but the 1970s Soviet official history states the loss of 800 aircraft destroyed on the ground and a total loss of 1200 aircraft. This basically crippled the Soviet air force stationed near the front lines. These attacks also inflicted significant damage and chaos on the logistical side. Thus, by day three of operation Barbarossa the Luftwaffe was free to focus mainly on supporting the ground troops, who captured the Russian airfields.(p. 273)
In Mid July 1941 the Soviets admitted to the destruction of almost 4000 (3985) aircraft, whereas the German air force claimed around 6900 (6857) planes destroyed. The kill claims were probably a bit higher than the real ones, but the official war time number probably lower. Yet, most importantly both numbers are substantial.
These losses were during the initial phase of operation Barbarossa and are based on war time claims by both side. Now according to post-war Soviet and German records between the beginning of the operation and the end of the year 1941 ( 22nd of June 1941 and the 31st of December 1941), the losses were approximately as follows:
A total of 21 200 aircraft were lost on the Soviet side. With 17 900 combat aircraft and the loss of 3300 support aircraft. (Greenwood: p. 67/ p.88) Yet, only 50 % of these losses were combat losses. The German side lost a total of 2500 (2505) combat aircraft and 1900 (1895) damaged. (Greenwood: p. 67)
Note: That these numbers may be quite off and shouldn’t be compared 1:1, because both sides counted losses differently, the problem is I haven’t found a proper article on this topic yet. Although a knowledgeable user indicated that German losses were usually total losses, whereas Russian losses seemed to include damaged vehicles.
Reasons for the Disaster
The reasons for the disaster are many, some of them were the result of ongoing processes, some were structural shortcomings and others were definitive failures in leadership. In any way Stalin played a major role in most of these factors.
Although the Soviet Air Force was successful in the Far East in 1938 and 1939. During the Spanish Civil War the German Bf 109 outclassed the Russian planes like the I-15. The performance of the Red Air Force in the Winter War against Finland was a disaster, thus a major reorganization was started in February 1941 which would at least take until Mid-1942, thus it wasn’t finished when the Germans attacked and made the force even more vulnerable. (p. 274)
Additionally, the Soviet expansion into Eastern Poland and the Baltic States required many resources that would have been needed elsewhere, about two thirds of built or renovated air fields were located in these regions. (p. 275) Thus, many units were still located on unsuited air fields, which were too small or unfinished, which also made camouflage and dispersal more difficult. Unlike the British the Soviets lacked a proper early warning system, which resulted in a total surprise combined with Stalin’s reluctance to prepare properly to the upcoming German attack. (p. 275)
Another major structural problem was created by Stalin purges. In 1937 the Air Force had 13000 officers, of those 4700 (4724) were arrested. Followed by another 5600 (5616) in 1940. (75 % of the most senior and experienced commanders were among those.) Although some of the arrested officers were later released it were only around 15 % (about 900 (892) or 16 percent of those in 1940). This of course had a severe impact on morale and effectiveness, because the Air force consisted of to a large degree of purge survivors, promoted inexperienced young officers and fresh recruits. (p. 276)
The purges also affected the design bureaus for weapons and aircraft. Some were dismissed, some were arrested, which often lead to the execution and some were put in special prison bureaus like Andrei (Nikolayevich)Tupolev.(p. 277-278)
Furthermore the drastic measures and understandable fear surrounding the purges also inflicted the production of aircraft, because changing the production line from one aircraft to another can be quite complicated and usually includes a severe reduction in efficiency for adapting machinery and processes, this “loss” or better investment of time could be easily seen as sabotage. So most factories were reluctant in switching over to new models.(p. 278)
This meant that in 1940 7300 (7267 old fighters and bombers) old designs were produced whereas only around 200 of newer models.(186 new fighters and ground attack “machines” (p. 277))
The numbers especially for newer models increased in 1941, yet the training on the new aircraft was kept to a minimum due to fear of losses caused by accidents, which could also lead to “sabotage” or other charges. I guess Stalin would have been a huge Beastie Boys fan or maybe the other way round, that would at least explain all those moustaches… Oh, well I digress.
Recovery Summer 1941 to Winter 1942
Let’s take a look at the recovery of the Soviet Air force, although the German losses were way lower than the Soviet ones, the Luftwaffe also had far fewer aircraft available in the beginning. Furthermore, the logistical system of the Luftwaffe was unsuited for a long war in Russia, something I discussed already in one of my previous videos. Already in October and November the Russians ordered attacks against Luftwaffe airfields. Additionally, since the Japanese were no longer a threat, more than 1000 aircraft from the Far East arrived, all this helped to slowly tip the balance.
Whereas in end of September (30th) 1941, the Russians could oppose the 1000 Luftwaffe air planes with only 550 (545) of their own. In mid-November the situation was quite different with 670 Luftwaffe planes versus 1140 (1138) Russian planes. (p. 279) Yet, the numbers alone didn’t win the battle for the Red Air Force, but the balance was slowly changing and in fall 1942 the Luftwaffe got seriously challenged. (p. 279)
After Hitler denied the 6th Army to break out of Stalingrad it was supplied only by the Luftwaffe, the Soviet established a so called “aerial blockage” and after two months of intensive fighting the Luftwaffe’s air superiority was finally lost. (the Germans could only field 350 fighters vs. 510 (509) Russian fighters in November 1942 (19th))
Important Factors in the Recovery
Let’s take a look at the major factors that contributed to the resurrection of the Soviet Air Force. One aspect was the mostly successful evacuation of the air craft industry and the lack of German attacks on this industry. Furthermore, the successful creation of a talented command staff and successful reorganization, which was supported by Stalin. (p. 280) The restructuring efforts included the transformation into air divisions, whereas each division consisted of one type of aircraft, which improved the logistics and command efficiency.(p. 281)
Additionally, the use of on-board radios grew, which allowed better coordination with ground stations for warning and command-and-control. (p. 281) There were also tactical changes like the creation of special ace units and the use of free hunts with experienced pilots. The Soviet Air doctrine focused strongly on fighters in order to achieve air superiority, thus a considerable effort was spent to develop the fighter arm into an elite force. (p. 75 Greenwood)
All these changes and the continuous Luftwaffe losses, allowed the Soviet Air Force to break the air superiority of the Luftwaffe and subsequently force it into the defensive role. Thus, within a mere 18 months the Soviet Air Force was able to recover and deal a severe blow against its enemy.
Additionally, the Soviet Air Force was starting to receive more and more planes, due to the lend-lease program which supplied around 18000 (18303 p. 280) planes during the whole war.