Barbarosa


     On the night of June 22, 1941, more than 3 million German soldiers, 600 000
vehicles and 3350 tanks were amassed along a 2000km front stretching from the

Baltic to the Black Sea. Their sites were all trained on Russia. This force was
part of 'Operation Barbarossa', the eastern front of the greatest military
machine ever assembled. This machine was Adolf Hitler's German army. For Hitler,
the inevitable assault on Russia was to be the culmination of a long standing
obsession. He had always wanted Russia's industries and agricultural lands as
part of his Lebensraum or 'living space' for Germany and their Thousand Year

Reich. Russia had been on Hitler's agenda since he wrote Mein Kampf some 17
years earlier where he stated: 'We terminate the endless German drive to the
south and the west of Europe, and direct our gaze towards the lands in the
east...If we talk about new soil and territory in Europe today, we can think
primarily only of Russia and its vassal border states'. Hitler wanted to
exterminate and enslave the 'degenerate' Slavs and he wanted to obliterate their

'Jewish Bolshevist' government before it could turn on him. His 1939 pact with

Stalin was only meant to give Germany time to prepare for war. As soon as Hitler
controlled France, he looked east. Insisting that Britain was as good as
defeated, he wanted to finish off the Soviet Union as soon as possible, before
it could significantly fortify and arm itself. 'We only have to kick in the
front door and the whole rotten edifice will come tumbling down'ii he told his
officers. His generals warned him of the danger of fighting a war on two fronts
and of the difficulty of invading an area as vast as Russia but, Hitler simply
overruled them. He then placed troops in Finland and Romania and created his
eastern front. In December 1940, Hitler made his final battle plan. He gave this
huge operation a suitable name. He termed it 'Operation Barbarossa' or 'Redbeard'
which was the nickname of the crusading 12th century Holy Roman emperor,

Frederick I. The campaign consisted of three groups: Army Group North which
would secure the Baltic; Army Group South which would take the coal and oil rich
lands of the Ukraine and Caucasus; and Army Group Centre which would drive
towards Moscow. Prior to deploying this massive force, military events in the

Balkans delayed 'Barbarossa' by five weeks. It is now widely agreed that this
delay proved fatal to Hitler's conquest plans of Russia but, at the time it did
not seem important. In mid-June the build-up was complete and the German Army
stood poised for battle. Hitler's drive for Russia failed however, and the
defeat of his army would prove to be a major downward turning point for Germany
and the Axis counterparts. There are many factors and events which contributed
to the failure of Operation Barbarossa right from the preparatory stages of the
attack to the final cold wintry days when the Germans had no choice but to
concede. Several scholars and historians are in basic agreement with the factors
which led to Germany's failure however, many of them stress different aspects of
the operation as the crucial turning point. One such scholar is the historian,

Kenneth Macksey. His view on Operation Barbarossa is plainly evident just by the
title of his book termed, 'Military errors Of World War Two. Macksey details the
fact that the invasion of Russia was doomed to fail from the beginning due to
the fact that the Germans were unprepared and extremely overconfident for a
reasonable advancement towards Moscow. Macksey's first reason for the failure
was the simply that Germany should not have broken its agreement with Russia and
invaded its lands due to the fact that the British were not defeated on the
western front, and this in turn plunged Hitler into a war on two fronts. The

Germans, and Hitler in particular were stretching their forces too thin and were
overconfident that the Russians would be defeated in a very short time. Adolf

Hitler's overconfidence justifiably stemmed from the crushing defeats which his
army had administered in Poland, France, Norway, Holland, Belgium and almost
certainly Great Britain had the English Channel not stood in his way.iv Another
important point that Macksey describes is the lack of hard intelligence that the

Germans possessed about the Russian army and their equipment, deployment
tactics, economic situation and communication networks. They had not invested
much time and intelligence agents in collecting information from a country which
was inherently secretive by nature and kept extremely tight security. He also
states that it was far from clever that the General Staff officer in charge of
collecting information about the Soviet Union had many other duties, was not an
expert on Russia or the Red Army and he couldn't even speak Russian.v Therefore
it was hardly surprising that the only detailed intelligence reports concerned
the frontier regions of Russia that were frequently patrolled by German patrols
and spied upon by airborne reconnaissance. These were the products of
over-confidence. The German army plunged into Russia under the impression that
there were 200 Russian divisions in total; only to discover in the following
months that there were 360 and this figure was later revised to over 400
divisions. The Germans also knew that the Russian roads were inferior for their
vehicles and that the Russian railway tracks were of a different size than what
they were using yet, no department or planning logistics ever took these factors
into account before the invasion took place. Before the German army was poised
to strike towards Moscow, one of the vital units of Operation Barbarossa was
diverted. Army Group South, which was to secure the Ukraine and Romania was
partly diverted to join in the theatres of battle in the Balkans and the

Mediterranean. Initially, the Army Group South had been safeguarded by Hitler as
he used power diplomacy instead of force to take Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria
into the German fold yet, now he was unwittingly using these countries as a
spring board for the diplomatic takeover of Yugoslavia and an invasion of

Greece. At the same time, two mechanized divisions know as the Africa Corps (Lt.General

Erwin Rommel) were sent to Tripoli to help the defeated and panicking Italian

Army in North Africa, and later, a costly invasion of the island of Crete would
further detract from the German effort because of the heavy losses suffered by
thousands of elite troops. These deployments were significant because each
expansion to the south was a subtraction from the troops of Barbarossa as well
as a cause of delay in its execution. This troop subtraction was brought to
alarming levels when the British, through diplomatic intrigue, managed to ins
tigate a coup d'etat in Yugoslavia which overthrew the government and canceled
out the agreement the country had with the Germans for unresisted submission.

With every indication that British bombers and troops would be within range of

Romania and the Barbarossa supply lines, a major invasion of Yugoslavia as well
as Greece had to take place at short notice.vi This invasion however
distracting, added fuel to Hitler's confidence when his forces conquered both

Yugoslavia and Greece in a matter of weeks, but, these delays would eventually
prove costly as the unprepared and poorly supplied German troops marched on
towards Moscow. While Macksey gives several valid reasons for the failure of

Barbarossa before the action is conducted, other historians stress the fact that
the operation failed due to the Russian peoples tenacity and the harsh weather
and terrain conditions during the invasion. They do not agree that the attack
was doomed from the start as Macksey contests. For example here are reasons why
otherís feel the operations wasnít doomed from the start. The first was the
ferocious fighting zeal of the Russian troops. This fighting spirit had little
to do with the communist regime's inspiration but with the fact that the Russian
people had been so used to intimidation and suffering under Stalin's iron fist
that they had absolutely nothing to lose by fighting to the death, particularly
if your only alternative was to be executed by your own government for treason.

When Stalin addressed his people, he spoke to them as fellow citizens and
brothers and sisters and not with the demands of obedience and submission which
was commonplace in earlier times. He spoke of a 'national patriotic war...for
the freedom of the motherland' and he initiated his scorched earth policy which
would not leave 'a single railway engine, a single wagon, a single pound of
grain, for the enemy if they had to retreat. His staunch and often suicidal
determination was unnerving and it had a negative effect on their fighting
morale. Stories of this Russian tenacity spread widely among the Germans. Tales
of Russian fighter pilots who wouldn't bail out if shot down but would crash
into German fuel trucks; of tanks that were on fire but the burning troops
driving would press on into battle. It was said that Russian women had even
taken up arms and that troops would find pretty teenage girls dead on the
battlefield still clutching weapons. The Germans started to complain about

Russians who were fighting unfairly. They said soldiers would lie on the ground
and pretend they were dead and then leap up and shoot unsuspecting Germans who
were passing. Or they would wave white flags of surrender and then shoot the
soldiers who came to capture them. Having heard these actions, many Germans
would kill anyone who tried to surrender. These tales became battlefield horror
stories and raised the wars already high level of hatred and barbarity. Hitler
wrote to Mussolini shortly after the invasion and said: " They fought with
truly stupid fanaticism...with the primitive brutality of an animal that sees
itself trapped" As a result, in the opening weeks of Barbarossa the Germans
lost some 100 000 men which was equal to the amount lost in all their previous
campaigns so far. Another significant factor was the fact the Russian troops
were well aware of the advantages they had in their climate and rugged terrain.

Excellent examples of this are in the dense Forests of Poland and the soggy
lands of the Pripet Marshes. No German tanks could operate in these hazardous
areas and there was ample cover for small groups. Russian infantry would
superbly camouflaged themselves and infiltrate the German positions through the
forests and they even displayed their resourcefulness by communicating to each
other by imitating animal cries. They would dig foxholes and dugouts which
provided a field of fire only to the rear and when the unsuspecting German
infantry walked pass them , the Russians would pick them off from behind. In
open battle, the Russian people would devise ingenious weapons with what little
resources they had available. They made 'Molotov cocktails' which were flammable
liquid in bottles which were lit and thrown at German tanks. The glass would
break and the flaming liquid would flow into the tank and ignite the interior.

Combined with the willingness to fight at any odds and the intimate knowledge of
their own terrain it is plain to see that the Russian were definitely not going
to fall as easily as Hitler had first thought. Besides the brutal tenacity of
the resistance, Germany had another problem, the climate. In the summer of 1941,
the Ukraine was suffered a scorching summer which saw a large amount of
rainfall. In the intense heat, the German tank tracks ground the baked earth to
powdery fine dust which clogged machinery, eyes and mouths and made it hard for
troops to function. When it rained, it brought short relief to the heat but, the
roads turned into axle-deep mud paths that halted all movement while horses got
stuck in mud and troops had their boots sucked right off them only to stay in
the ground. Thousands of vehicles had to be left as they were because they ran
out of fuel to get out of the mud and the supply paths were choked as well.

These road conditions combined with partisan forces behind German lines stifled
supply lines by destroying railway tracks and making all kinds of re-armament
and food delivery impossible. While the Germans were being delayed and they
struggled to get a solid foothold, figuratively and literally, in Russia, the
months passed by and eventually gave way to the harsh "general winter" which
froze everything to the core. As Germany pressed on towards Moscow, the cold
weather really took its toll. All too often the Germans didn't have enough
supplies to survive let alone fight. Some units only had about 1/4 of their
ammunition while shipments of coats used to combat the cold, only provided 1
coat per crew. The food supplied was often frozen solid in the -40(C cold and
one night spent by German soldiers in their nail studded boots and metal helmets
could cripple a man for life. Machine guns froze, oil turned thick, batteries
died and vehicle engines had to be kept running which wasted precious fuel
supplies. One German officer wrote home to his wife: "We have seriously
underestimated the Russians, the extent of the country and the treachery of the
climat! e...th is is the revenge of reality." At this stage, the Russians
had the obvious advantage. On December 5 1941, with troops that were used to the
cold weather all their lives and had the proper clothing to stay outdoors for
days on end, the Russians counter-attacked along a 960 km front and had great
success. The "do-or-die" Russian troops would send out groups of darkly clad
men to sacrifice themselves and draw German fire while white-clad, camouflaged

Russian troops would come in along the snow and attack. While the German
suffered great losses, they were able to hold on to key towns that they had
previously occupied and the war in Russia swung back and forth. As the front
settled into a stalemate, the Red Army could be satisfied with what it had
accomplished. Despite the numerous defeats it had suffered in the early part of
the invasion, Russia had managed to somehow survive, pulling back and regrouping
long enough for the German Army to overextend itself and allow the winter to
take its toll. It is said that hindsight is 20/20, and it is simple to point out
the many factors which led to the failure of Barbarossa and we can see that

Macksey and otherís all had valid points but they just emphasized different
aspects and time frames which all fit together to construct a much larger
picture. It is fair to say that not one particular circumstance contributed to
the failure but, a culmination of all the events mentioned. Hitler truly was
confident that the delay in launching the invasion was of no consequence and he
had no way of knowing just how fiercely the Russians would oppose him. The
combination of! these factors led to the failure. Near the end, Moscow and

Leningrad had been saved, and enough reinforcements had been scraped together to
enable the Red Army to go on the offensive. Operation Barbarossa had been
halted, and the myth of German military invincibility had been shattered
forever.

Bibliography

Macksey, Kenneth, "Military Errors Of World War II", Stoddard

Publishing Co., Ontario, Canada, 1987 Bethell, Nicholas, "Russia

Besieged", Time-Life Books, Canada, 1977 pg. 72