Operation Barbarossa Essay, Research Paper
The Cause of Hitler’s Ultimate Defeat
In the midst of darkness of the early Sunday morning on June 22, 1941, three million German soldiers marched into Russian territory launching the largest attack in the history of warfare and the last of the German blitzkriegs. Russia’s initial shock allowed the German tanks to move more than fifty miles inside the Soviet Union by sundown. Stalin had received prior warning by both President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill of Hitler’s plan to attack Russia, entitled “Operation Barbarossa”, but refused to accept this fact because of an earlier agreement known as the Non-aggression Pact between Russia and Germany. It was not long after the attack that Stain reacted to eventually overthrow the German armies. Hitler’s ideological crusade and its failure may ultimately be regarded as one of the most significant factors in Germany’s eventual defeat. Hitler denied all factors going against his plan such as the delay of the Balkan campaign and he ignored his generals who advised him to not invade Russia. While the initial thrust was fast and rewarding, it still spread the German formations thin allowing the Russians to strike at the flanks of these columns. His stubbornness to regroup and ill-preparations for
Russian winters contributed to his defeat as well as his stupidity of murdering and enslaving the Ukrainians who fled from Moscow to the Germans as their allies. Russia’s mentality assisted in helping them to drive the Germans out of their territory.
In 1939, Stalin had signed a nonaggression pact with Hitler. Although some may believe Stalin did this in order to side with Hitler, it was actually his way of misleading him. Stalin was planning his own offensive war against Germany and the rest of Europe as well. His true motive in joining forces with the Nazis in the fight against the west was to keep the Soviet Union out of the fray while the Allies and Axis destroyed one another. (Weeks, 15)
Prior to the invasion, Hitler had received many warnings by his generals not to declare war on Russia. Fighting on a two-front war would cause definite defeat as was determined during World War I. Hitler’s fear of a two-front war helped to initiate Operation Barbarossa and he reasoned that this would eliminate that possibility. His generals disagreed, however, and Colonel General Heinz Guderian said, “When they spread out a map of Russia before me I could scarcely believe my eyes. I made no attempt to conceal my disappointment and disgust.” He believed that Hitler’s present Germany was less capable of fighting a two-front war that had
been of Germany in 1914. (Bethell, 24)
If Hitler’s plan for an invasion of the Soviet Union was to succeed he could not afford to have hostile forces operating on the southern flank in the Balkans. He initiated a campaign in the Balkans which became a success in itself but lasted longer than planned. Operation Barbarossa was originally set for May 15, 1941 but was delayed because of the extension of the Balkan campaign. The effects of this delay will appear later on when the Germans are faced with a Russian winter.
The whole success of this operation depended on speed. The Germans had to knock out major Soviet centers quickly in the opening rush. The initial progress was rapid apart from a slight check to the southern army groups. In one week, the Luftwaffe has knocked the Soviet Air force from the skies and by July 2, Germany captured 150,000 Russian soldiers, 1,200 tanks, and 600 guns. Eighteen days after the invasion began, the central German thrust had carried 400 miles to Smolensk. Moscow was now 200 miles away. The Ukrainians, who hated being ruled by Moscow, flocked towards the German conquerors in thousands and Hitler, foolishly, ordered their death and enslavement. While the Russians were shocked in the beginning, it was only temporary. Many factors were at work for Stalin, one of which was that the German successes had forced them to spread their formations
thin. This allowed the Russians to strike at the flanks of these far-flung columns. Bartov argues that “it must be stressed that what actually saved the Soviet Union during the first phases of ‘Barbarossa’ was precisely the fact that with its relatively limited material the Wehrmacht could not carry out a successful Blitzkrieg campaign over the huge spaces of Western Russia as it had done on the far more restricted battlefields of Flanders” (31). It is also important to recognize that following an order from Hitler, the German 11th Army (7 divisions), which had not been concentrated in Moldavia, did not join battle on June 22. This allowed the Russians to assemble part of the forces they had aligned along the Rumanian frontier and use them profitably in Galicia. (Bauer, 455)
The Russian mentality proved as one factor towards the defeat of Germany. The Russian soldier, once he had overcome his initial shock, he fought with a stubbornness and bravery admitted by most German combatants. For example, General Boldin had managed to blast his way through the German lines with 2,000 men of his XIII Corps.
In November of 1941, the Nazi troops were headed for Moscow. Again Hitler’s generals argued with him to hold off until spring because the Russian winters were rapidly approaching and the German’s were extensively ill-prepared
for it. Hitler’s over-confidence in the campaign taking only eight to ten weeks convinced him that most of the Army would be back home long before the arrival of winter. Therefore, winter clothing was ordered for only one-fifth of the invasion force. (Bethell, 24) The German soldiers were equipped with light clothing and accustomed to nothing like the bitter Russian winter. Weapons, food, and flesh froze. Still, Hitler said there would be no retreats. The Russians, however, were equipped for winter. The front-line troops held Germans at arm’s length. Prevented by the Fuhrer’s order from withdrawing and regrouping, German generals found it difficult to meet stiffening Russian resistance. The Nazis became sitting ducks as the Russians began their counterattack. A huge reserve of troops were being built up in the rear. On December 6, 1941, Marshal Georgi Ahukov sent the Soviet force surging forward against Germany. This sent the Germans back about 200 miles. (Leckie, 64-6)
The failure to take Moscow marked the death of the plan and Germany was now committed to a prolonged hard-fought campaign on the Eastern Front which was to cost them drearly in troops and resources. Russia tied down huge sectors of the German fighting capacity, denying the Germans the flexibility they had previously been able to deploy in their Blitzkrieg campaigns. The most important
factor in Germany’s eventual defeat was the failure of Operation Barbarossa. Hitler’s losses after five months of fighting totaled nearly 800,000 casualties. “Had the USSR been defeated in 1941 the world would have been subjected to ten long years of horrific warfare. No cost, even then, could have been too great to secure the defeat of Fascism but the losses would have exceeded any conceivable level” (Oleinikov, 70).
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