Operation Barbarossa Essay, Research Paper
Operation Barbarossa ;
Why did it fail?
At the height of his power, Adolf Hitler had the world by the throat. His reign of terror was known in every country around the globe. His strengths as a leader were based mainly in politics; charisma mixed with intelligence. People would follow his lead, run blindly into battle, commit atrocities the likes of which the world had never seen, and not think twice about it. An uncanny ability to sway millions to follow, does not however constitute ability as a military general. Hitler s eventual decline begun with the invasion of Russia, code named “Operation Barbarossa”. After this military blunder, the tide of the war began to sway, and the power of Nazi Germany decreased with each passing day. Why did Operation Barbarossa fail so terribly? Hitler s generals had tried desperately to talk him out of it, but he was convinced Russia would fall to the Werhmarcht (German Army). Breaking his non-aggression pact with Stalin, to invade Russia was the most costly mistake Hitler ever made. It seems that fate is not without irony, as it would be the advancing Russians that eventually brought Germany to its knees.
The ultimate ideological goal for Operation Barbarossa was to destroy Communist Russia, but Germany s original intent for invading Russia was to gain control of the oil and
wheat regions in the Crimea territory. At this point in the war shortages of petrol, oil, and
lubricants were hindering German war efforts. The strategy for invasion however was flawed with many lapses, and uncertainties. The German Army High Command, the German Armed Forces High Command, and even Hitler himself had contradictory ideas. This combined to lead to a number of blunders, unresolved conflicts, and unmet objectives. Hitler was basing his invasion on his delusional belief that the bulk of the Soviet forces could be trapped and destroyed by the time his armies reached the Dneiper River. He also was certain that Stalin s “Great Terror”, the attempt to merge the social classes had left the Russian armies battered and weak. To Hitler, it seemed like the right moment to invade.
On Sunday, June, 22, 1941, elements from 148 divisions were mobilised and ready to invade. They totalled 3 300 000 German soldiers, 3 500 tanks, 7 184 artillery pieces, 600 000 vehicles, 625 000 horses, and 2 000 aircraft. There was also support from the German navy, and support from the Finnish, Rumanian, Italian, Hungarian, Slovak, Croatian, and Spanish armies. Hitler had divided the army into three separate divisions. The northern division marched to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), the central division marched to Moscow, and the southern division invaded the Ukraine and Caucasus regions (both rich in wheat and oil). The amount of troops Hitler sent is quite significant in understanding the reasons for Operation Barbarossa s failure. At the time Hitler was already in a war with the Allies on one front. Starting a war on a second front meant Hitler
could not dedicate the numbers of troops that he otherwise could have. The timing was terrible as the army s vital needs desperately required restocking. If an invasion of Russia was to take place, supplies would be needed there as well. Hitler had sound reason to invade the Ukraine and Caucasus area.
Operation Barbarossa opened with the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) taking out most of the Russian air support. It was a well rehearsed attack using Hitler s method of blitzkrieg. This was one of the more intelligent moves that was made during the invasion. This tactic to eliminate any support the Russians could have had from the air was a clever use of making a good offence one s best defence. The problem following this strike was that Hitler failed to send in more aircraft as support to his 3 300 000 troops. The added support of aircraft from the Luftwaffe could have been the edge the Germans needed to defeat the Russians. If the German Air Force losses had not been so great in the Battle of Britain, then perhaps Hitler would have made more effective use of the air power he had under his control.
On July 15 1941, the central division under the command of General Guderian proceeded as planned to Smolensk, where the city was captured and 300 000 Russia
troops were taken prisoner. The northern division had reached Leningrad (present day St. Petersburg) but found it heavily defended, and laid siege to the city. The siege of Leningrad lasted an incredible 28 months, beginning in September 1941. The Wehrmarcht (German Army) trapped 3 000 000 civilians inside the city. In the first few weeks the food ran out, and civilians were forced to eat whatever they could. General Zhukov of the Russian military was sent to oversee defence of the city. He put the civilians to work creating multiple defensive lines around the city. Zhukov successfully defended the city and with the help of the cruel Russian winter, the Germans suffered a serious setback with the loss at Leningrad.
In September of 1941 the southern division had also run into trouble in Kiev – they found themselves opposed by a formidable Russian army. General Guderian and his central division had almost reached Moscow by this point. This is when Hitler made one of the largest military blunders of the invasion of Russia, and perhaps World War 2. He ordered the Panzer divisions to abandon the drive to Moscow, and instead to turn south and aid in the combat and siege of Kiev. The commanding general of this division, General Guderian, was appalled by Hitler s decision. This was a sign of Hitler s troubled relationship with his generals. Guderian was so angry that he flew from the battlefield to talk with Hitler. Guderian hoped to convince Hitler that the drive for Moscow should be the goal of Operation Barbarossa. Hitler disagreed, and during the heated exchange Hitler openly criticised his generals for lack of competence. He stated, “My generals know nothing of
the economic aspects of war.” This angered Guderian even more, but upon his return to Russia he was still forced to move south. Hitler orders were followed, and worked quite brilliantly as a short term goal, as the Russians found themselves pinched from either side. The south and central divisions caught 600 000 Russian troops at Kiev. But the military error was that Hitler had lost Moscow, as the delayed siege had yielded precious time for Stalin to rally his army around the city. What Hitler failed to realise was that Russia would have surely crumbled without its capital, Moscow.
If Hitler had listened to Guderian, the German forces could have taken Moscow without much of a fight. The city was unprepared for any attack, and would have been rendered helpless. The capital of Russia was the nervous system for the communications of the military. Hitler failed to grasp this and it cost him the invasion. Had Guderian s division marched on to Moscow, and captured the city, the German Forces could have easily been able to hold out for the winter. The centre point of the Russian military would have been under German command, and Hitler would have controlled Stalin s political centrepiece. The trump card would have now been held by Hitler, and Stalin would have been forced to back down. Instead Hitler s interference allowed Stalin time to amass an army large enough to counter the Germans.
The strategic significance of Kiev was actually minuscule compared to Moscow even at the time, so why would he have chosen Kiev? Hitler felt that Moscow did not have
the economic resources and strategic qualities of Kiev, because of its proximity to the oil fields of the Caucasus. Had Hitler s interests at this time been set purely on world domination, Moscow would have been a more likely initial target. This was not the case however, because Hitler desperately needed the oil and wheat.
Overall invasion of Russia was influenced far to much by Hitler s political convictions to be militarily successful. If the primary objective was to seize control of Moscow then, expand from there, the result would likely have been in favour of the Hitler and the Nazis.
After General Zhukov s successful defence of Leningrad, Stalin moved him to protect Moscow. Hitler s Wehrmarcht had just taken Kiev, and Hitler now decided Moscow was to be taken. The army headed for Stalin s capital were halted 20 miles outside of the city by the army which Hitler s incompetence had allowed to amass outside. The German Army was beaten severely here by the combination of the Russian Army and the harsh Russian winter. Poor prioritising by Hitler and his generals cost the invasion of Moscow, and ultimately the Russian campaign. If Kiev had been the secondary choice to Moscow, it would not have been able to generate an army to defend itself. Poor communication and terrible relationships within the German Army cost them this battle. Ultimately, their defeat came from within.
In December of 1942, major events in Operation Barbarossa took place immediately after Moscow was deemed “lost”. Hitler dismissed General Guderian from his command for disobeying orders against strategic relief. Both sides had suffered massive losses, but somehow Stalin was able to put more troops in place of the fallen. Hitler was left wondering what was keeping the Russian army together. In early January of 1943 the Russian armies retook Kiev from the Germans. Hitler s Wehrmarcht had been beaten back by the cold Russian winter and forced to hibernate.
The original plan of Operation Barbarossa was to invade Russia beginning in June 1941, and have the troops out by winter. By this point the German Army had been in Russia for 3 months longer than expected. This meant the Germans were not equipped for the Russian winter at all. Hitler had left his Wehrmarcht ill-equipped and ill-clothed for the winter. German troops were forced to wrap themselves in whatever could be found, and huddle close to the mess halls at night. If the German armies had been able to fight through the winter, there may have been a different result. The time wasted by the Wehrmarcht waiting out the winter, left the Russians amble time to restock their armies. The Russians were also given enough time to produce 4 500 more tanks, tanks that were far superior in sheer power than anything the Germans had. If Hitler had not been so over-confident of Operation Barbarossa s success, then the Wehrmarcht could have been better prepared. The Germans would then have been able to fight through the winter months, meaning the Russians would have never had time to recuperate from any losses. Ultimately Hitler fell to the same mistake as Napoleon. As proof that history does tend to repeat itself, Hitler s downfall would mirror that of the great French emperor s.
Hitler s last offensive for Operation Barbarossa began on May 8 1942. Hitler desperately needed the oil fields in the Caucasus region, which is located between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. All remaining armies were ordered to head in this direction. This began well enough for Germany as their forces caught 240 000 Russians near Kharkov. This was the last of any of the mass captures, as Russians began to hear of the German treatment of prisoners of war. The major battle of Hitler s new offensive took place at Stalingrad (now Volgograd), just north of the Caucasus oil fields.
The conflict for Stalingrad between the Wehrmarcht and the Russian armies began on September 13, 1942. Hitler had again met his match at Stalingrad as Russia s only undefeated general, General Zhukov, was again put in charge of the defensive strategies. For three months, into the winter, the Russians and Germans engaged in street to street combat. The German soldiers complained that the Russians were “super-human”. Never crying out when injured, and never tiring. The Russians may have appeared this way to the weary Germans because they had now been behind enemy lines for 17 months without relief. The fighting lasted for three months until the ground became hard enough to bear the weight of heavy guns. Stalin then ordered Stalingrad to be surrounded by 1 000 000 troops. The German army held out until February of 1943, when they surrendered, losing
around 800 000 troops to the Russians.
The failed attack on Stalingrad can be attributed to the German s own internal conflicts about the true objectives for Operation Barbarossa. Capture of Stalingrad had never been in the plans for Hitler until he lost Moscow. The sudden change in the orders and movement of his armies lowered their moral even more. Hitler had treated the Wehrmarcht like a machine, driving it around Russia with no regard for what effects it might have on the soldiers themselves. If Hitler had better rapport with his generals, perhaps the most basic needs of the armies could have been dealt with. Instead the majority of the soldiers were left to die in Russia.
Operation Barbarossa is well classified as a failure, because it ultimately sparked the end of Nazi Germany. Hitler ended up paying the highest price for his treachery in violating the non-aggression pact. If he had waited until England had fallen, Russia would have tumbled too. Hitler had decided to fight on two fronts, which limited him to being able to only send three quarters of his army to Russia. The failure of Operation Barbarossa could be attributed to a number of things: General Zhukov of the Russian army was one of the most brilliant generals Hitler ever faced. Hitler s arrogance and belief of Aryan supremacy left him unable to conceive that anyone of that military genius could reside in Russia. Also “General January” as it came to be called, the Russian winter, was a critical factor. Hitler had ordered the Wehrmarcht to invade Russia unprepared for any of the adverse conditions that they would encounter. The incredible cold lowered moral within the ranks, killed many soldiers due to disease and hypothermia, and destroyed many of the tanks and vehicles that had been sent along.
Hitler s ultimate defeat was his appalling relationship with the high ranking officers. He often refused to listen to his generals, countermanded their orders, and dismissed their militarily sound objectives. Had Hitler listened to the information coming back from the front, the chances for the success of Operation Barbarossa would have been raised significantly. Why did Operation Barbarossa fail? Despite early success in Operation Barbarossa, Hitler was incompetent as a military leader.
“If you want a thing done well, do it yourself.”
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)