When Germany invaded Russia in 1941, they did so neither near-sighted or as a
back-handed diplomatic ploy. While Russia remained a key objective to
Hitler, it was also seen as a necessity for long-term victory and survival in
Europe for Germany. Plan Yellow, as developed by Field Marshal Erich von
Manstein, called upon the pre-emptive strike against an imperialistic Russia,
using speed and superior leadership as keys to victory. To always remember the
axiom: History is written by the conquerers, is key to the history of the
German-Russian War 1941-1945.
This paper intends to not only convey the necessity and the upside of a
German attack and subsequent victorys but also the Russian Armys offense
stance of 1941. As Field Marshal Fedor von Bock wrote in his diaries A sense
of fright came over the OKH (German High Command) With no more enemies, who
do we wait for to fight? Alas they had been waiting for us.
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Germany in 1941 had reached a high point. The German economy, bolstered by
its newly conquered lands, stood by itself with no equal. The citizenery had
notwitnessed victory like 1939-1941 since the day of Fredrich the Great.
Germany, bolstered by such a booming economy and national morale, had yet to
truly begin its witch-hunts, nor had any of its concentration camps. While
Jews were politically and often violently blamed and attacked for Germanys
ills, Hitler and the Nazi regime had at this point not begun the holocaust nor
the mass killings. Most of Europe belonged to the Axis powers and Field
Marshal Erwin Rommels Afika Korps, and the Italian Army had beaten the Allies
to the far reaches of Africa. Mexico was being courted by the Axis diplomats
and Brazil had remained nuetral, but swayed to Germany, (its imperialist
conquerer). Japan had taken much of China and had moved towards Australia.
Germany had no equal: economically, militarily, and no threat of one.
The reasons for an invasion of Russia are many, but very simply, in all
respects it made perfect sense to retain and protect the security and future
of Germany. Contrary to most opinions, Germany was not embroiled in a
two-front war in 1941, mainly because of Britains inability to bring
significant pressure to bear on Germany by land, sea, or air during the
proposed time period of Plan Yellow. The naval blockade of German sea ports
was failing miserably as the German empire was overly sufficient without
imports. Britains traditional trump card: sea power and naval blockades of
German ports would be rendered obsolete by a victory in European Russia.
If Germany defeated or eliminated Russia from the war, any British posture,
even with the support of their empire would be meaningless in the face of
German control of the fuel, iron, ore and agricultural resources of the entire
continent. Britain would be at a complete loss and it would be her economy to
collapse. Britains only option for obtaining critical materials, or victory
of any sort, would appear to be in Africa. However, German air and ground
forces freed from the continent (inner France, Germany, Austria,
Czechoslavakia), could easily be diverted to Africa to prevent this. The
destruction and conquest of European Russia would not only provide Germany
with immense resources and capabilities to expand those resources, but it
would also make Britain unable to carry on a fruitless war.
Hitlers Lebensraum, or literally living space, is misleading as Germany
was not overcrowded and had conquered an immense buffer zone against her
enemies and neighbors. Lebensraum sought resources- iron, ore, fuel, food,
factory space- it did not have inside the boundaries imposed in the Versailles
Treaty of 1917. Hitler, in each of his military endeavors sought out these
necessary resources above military strategy, even above diplomatic means.
Hitler had so handily conquered Poland, annexed both Austria and
Czechoslavakia, defeated Belgium, and a large British Expeditionary Force, and
France so quickly.The entire armed forces working brilliantly enough to
overrun Norway, nuetralize Britain, and their U-Boats disrupting sea supply
lines from America, Hitler turned to the showdown with Soviet Russia. In late
1940 Hitlersuggested to a friendly Russia that she enter and join the
German-Italian Pact of Steel. The negotiations over the spoils of war in the
Balkans and Greece were bogged down, and a mutual distrust ended the
negotiations. A war against Russia, while touted as a religious, ideological
showdown, was really a spatial war that would either win the entire war and
insure an all German Europe, or cost dearly and end in a withdrawl to the 1941
borderso Hitler believed.
In the week of July 22, 1940, chief of the general staff, Generaloberst Franz
Halder, began to develop the strategy for an invasion of Russia. Under great
pressure from Hitler, Halder turned to the pre-eminent strategist in Germany.
A lower ranking general who was reknown in the military circles of the world,
and would always remain a silent secret because of his anti-nazi beliefs:
General Erich von Manstein. Manstein had developed, and drawn out to the
smallest detail, the strategy for the invasion of France and the Low
Countries, as well as the landings in Norway.
Manstein developed a similar plan to the invasion of France, instituting the
German tactics of encirclement and pincher movements. However, unlike his
strategy in France, cities and space werent the objective, destruction of the
Red Army was. The plan depended heavily on the Russian reaction and the
individual judgement and talent of the German field commanders. The field
commanders of the time were experienced, finely-tuned, well educated and
possessed as their greatest strength an extreme adaptability to enemies,
strategy, terrain and goals. Manstein knew that the Russian reaction to the
invasion remained paramount. If the Soviet High Command had a plan of
immediate and systematic withdrawl into the east, the German invasion would
only fail. The war would drag on in White Russia to the detriment of Germany.
To Germanys advantage and to Russian dispair, they stood, fought and died.
The German High Command (OKH) did not enter the war blindly, if anything,
they were very cautious and knowledgable. The pre-invasion planning was
meticulous to the finest details, including the purchase of 15,000 light
wagons and horses from a mountainous region of Poland, which were perfectly
suited for the muddy and treacherous Russian terrain. Calculations of the
Russian forces were at most overestimates of their tank and air capabilities,
qualities and quantities. The invasion was well thought out. The most capable,
competent and best-suited commanders were chosen, and the armies were
well-trained, experienced and possessed high morale. As it has been stated,
Germany knew the risks, yet had finally envisioned the key to total victory.
The OKHs goal during the invasion of France and the Low Countries was To
defeat the larghest possible elements of the French and Allied armies, and
simultaneously occupy as much territory as possible in Holland, Belgium and
Northern France. Memories of the stand-off in World War I, relating to the
battle plan, are simply a directive to capture as much land as possible before
the Germans were stopped. It was a half-measure plan only to succeed in buying
time and space, and to close the gap so that the Luftwaffe could operate
defensively as well as offensively against England. No one had planned for or
expected the conquest of Fra…..nce, or the speed of it (six weeks). The Balkan
campaign which followed lasted only 18 days, and again with the armed forces
of two states and a quality British Expeditionary Force routed, with light
German casualties, (6,000). Germany had no reason to believe that the Russian
campaign would last past its planned period (six to twelve weeks).
When Germany attacked, they had assembled three million personnel, of which
almost two million were battle formations. The Russians had two and half
million soldiers all in battle formations, within 100 miles of the border. The
Germans prepared 120 divisions, 17 armoured, and called upon five Finnish
divisions, 14 Rumanian, and two Hungarian: a total of 141 divisions. The
Russian army, directly across the border, consisted of 144 divisions, of which
35 were armoured divisions. The Red Army, in total, within 350 miles of the
border to counter the Germans, had 245 infantry divisions, 74 aroured
divisions, 13 motorized, and nine cavalry divisions: a grand total of 342
divisions to counter Germanys invasion force of 144 divisions.
To examine the order of battle is to understand the depth of planning and
Hitlers belief in a victory. Hitler chose his best-suited generals, units and
formations for the tasks laid out in the invasion strategy. The order of
battle was broken into three groups: Army Group North, Center, and South. Army
Group North, led by Field Marshall Ritter von Leeb, was by far the smallest
force (29 divisions) and was aided by a Finnish Army attacking from Finland.
The Russians had at the boundary, 24 divisions, four of which were tank
divisions to counter the initial invasion. Their objective was to drive at a
blitz pace to Leningrad (the spiritual capital of Russia), seize the city,
destroy the Pacific fleet stationed there, and secure themselves east of the
Balkans. Army Group South, led by Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, consisted
of 42 divisions. They were aided by 14 Romanian divisions and two Hungarian
divisions, which were almost entirely infantry units used as support and
security. Army Group South faced a superiormass of Soviet forces and had to
at the minimum, pin down and deny operational freedom of maneuver to those
forces. Army Group South, and its 58 divisions, faced 62 divisions in the
Ukraine, over 15 of which were armored divisions. Army Group Center was the
centerpiece of the battle and key force. It was led by Germanys best general
(at the time) Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, and perhaps the greatest tank
leader in history, Heinz Guderian. The Russians had clogged the border with
battle formations, (58 divisions, of which 16 were armoured divisions)
directly opposing Army Group Center. Their mission was to destroy the Russian
army and advance towards Moscow.
ARMY GROUP NORTH: 29 divisions; 3 Armoured, 2 Motorized
Commander: Field Marshal Ritter von Leeb
16th Army: Col. General Busch
18th Army: Col. General von Kuechler
Panzergruppe IV: Col. General Hoeppner(570 tanks)
ARMY GROUP CENTER: 49 divisions; 9 Armoured, 6 Motorized
Commander: Field Marshal Fedor von Bock
4th Army: Field Marshal von Kluge
9th Army: Col. General Strauss
Panzergruppe II: Col. General Guderian (930 tanks)
Panzergruppe III: Col. General Hoth (840 tanks)
ARMY GROUP SOUTH: 42 divisions; 5 Armoured, 3 Motorized
Commander: Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt
11th Army: Col. General Schubert
17th Army: Col. General Stupnagel
6th Army: Field Marshal von Reichenau
Panzergruppe I: Col. General von Kleist (750 tanks)
The immense numbers and fighting quality of the Soviet armed forces in the
Ukraine and Belorussia remains an interesting question in World War II. Many
historians, especially Russian, have held and protected the stance that Russia
was playing for time as early as August 1939. Using this defensive logic, they
seek to explain the vast territories seized in Eastern Europe 1939-1941, as a
supposed buffer zone against Nazi Germany. Hitler is portrayed as the
aggressor in the invasion of Russia, yet the Soviet aggression and troop
build-up leads to many unanswered and unsatisfactory questions. Were the
Russians planning an attack on Germany? Were the Russians militarily and
economically prepared for a war with Germany?
The Russians had seized 180,000 square miles: half of Poland, the Baltic
republics, most of Finland, and Bessarabia, as a buffer against Germany. The
Soviet manpower, resources, and weaponary dwarfed Germany and therefore, could
do more than just protect itself. The Russian tanks had superior firepower,
stronger armor, traveled faster and were easier to repair. (See Spreadsheet
#1: Comparison of German-Russian Armor) Not only did the Germans have inferior
artillery and tanks, but they were simply outnumbered, over 6/1. (See Graph
#1: Tanks Available Operation Barbarossa)
If the Germans were so vastly outnumbered and outgunned, why would they
attack in 1941, if only for military and ideological reasons? The Russian
defensive posture does not ring true, as their aggressive nature of
1939-1941 attests. The Russians were not playing for time, they consistently
did business with Nazi Germany economically and politically. The Soviets were
bargaining with the Nazis and Italians into forming an alliance, yet they
sought more war booty than their adversaries were willing to give.
The massing of the Soviet Red Army directly on the border as a defensive
measure is not supported by fact. After the invasion, the German forces found
no real fortifications, trenches, tank traps or defenses of any sort on the
Russian side. The best trained and experienced Soviet Army at the border had
all of the latest equipment and weaponary. The heavy tanks (KV-1 and KV-2) all
had fuel drop tanks for long distances.
The only explanation for the troop concentration was a planned invasion of
Romania in late 1941. However, that offensive was seven months away, it was
too early for a mobilization. Also, the size of the invasion force was
ludricrous, the entire Romanian army had less than forty divisions of
substandard troops and equipment, with little armor. The gas tanks on the
heavy tanks were not needed for the short invasion of Romania and the Soviet
rail line was more than adequate for the resupply of the proposed invasion.
The Russians had not supposedlyfallen prey to the Nazis as had other
countries; they knew full well that Germany would not stand stagnant. They not
only took advantage of the opportunities and gifts Germany and Hitler gave to
them, they asked for more. At the German-Italian Pact of Steel negotiations,
Germany had stated their case and their ultimatum. Ribbentrop, the German
diplomat stated on his last visit to Moscow before the invasion Either stand
with us or stand against us, the Fuehrer doesnt mind.
The Germans who had gained so much in so little time did not see standing
pat as a victory. Rightfully so, the Germans knew that in order to win the
war they needed either Britain or Russia out of it. When Russia did not stand
firm on the Pact of Steel, Germany no longer trusted its neighbor.
Envisioning great wealth and opportunity in Russia, Hitler knew that without
Russia, Britain was lost. However, if Britain was conquered, Russia would
still exist and would pose a greater threat. If Hitler had not acted first,
would the Soviets have launched an attack against him? The facts that are
uncovered definately point to this possibility. However, history has shown
that Germany did attack before these questions were to be answered.