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Where did The Germans Go Wrong In Russia?

“Many of our leaders greatly underestimated the new enemy. This happened partly because they knew nothing either of the Russian people, or even the Russian soldiers. Some of our commanders were always on the Western Front during World War I, and never fought in the East, so they had no idea about the geographical features of Russia and the persistence of the Russian army. At the same time they ignored the repeated warnings of prominent military experts on Russia… 
The behavior of Russian troops, even in this first battle (for Minsk), is strikingly different from that of the Poles and the troops of the Western Allies in defeat. Even being surrounded, the Russians did not depart from their borders.” 
General G√ľnther Blumentritt

Hitler always thought he knew best. He preferred to appoint toadies and could not stomach the brutal truth that competent and gutsy generals in the Wehrmacht told him. Guderian was a good example.. 

If only had Hitler listened to his good generals more, the outcome of the Second World War would have been different.

Hitler said before Barbarossa "You only have to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down."

He was wrong.

Below General Guenther Blumentritt gives an analysis of what war in Russia meant. It is adapted from THE FATAL DECISIONS: Six Decisive Battles of the Second World War from the Viewpoint of the Vanquished by William Richardson and Seymour Freidlin

Russia and Russian. An estimate of the enemy should be approached very cautiously. It is better to overestimate them than underestimate. It is necessary to assume that the enemy can actually be much stronger than we imagine. Failure to properly assess the enemy can lead to unpleasant surprises. The Oriental is much different from Westerners. . His lifestyle is very simple, even primitive compared to our standards. Easterners attach little importance to what they eat and what they wear. It's amazing how long they can live on which for a European would mean starvation. A Russian is close to nature. Heat and cold have almost no effect on him. In winter, he protects himself from severe cold with  anything that comes his way.
“The Russian remains a good soldier everywhere and in all circumstances…Field kitchen, almost sacred in the eyes of the soldiers of other armies, is just a pleasant surprise for the Russians, and they can spend days and weeks without it. The Russian soldier is completely satisfied with a handful of millet or rice adding to it what nature gives him. The soldier of the Russian army is an unsurpassed master of disguise, self-entrenching and field fortifications… The strength of the Russian soldier is due to his extreme closeness to nature. For him, there are simply no natural barriers: in heavy forest, swamps and marshes, in road less steppe – he feels like home everywhere. He crosses a wide river using the most elementary improvised means and can pave a road everywhere. It takes few days for the Russians to build a many-kilometer causeway through an impassable swamp.”
Major-General von Mellenthin 

“Russian troops have always fought bravely and sometimes made incredible sacrifices.”
 Field Marshal Erich von Manstein 

“The Russians held themselves with unexpected firmness and perseverance, even when they were bypassed and surrounded. In this way they won more time and drew up more and more new reserves for the counter-attacks from the depths of the country, which by the way were stronger than anticipated… The enemy has shown an absolutely incredible ability to resist.” 
General Kurt von Tippelskirch 

 He is a master of imagination. To warm up, he does not need complex equipment. Strong and healthy Russian women work the same way as men. Close contact with nature allows a Russian to move freely at night in the fog, through forests and swamps. They are not afraid of the dark, of endless forests and cold. They are no stranger to winter, when the temperature drops to minus 45o C. A Siberian, who can partially or completely be considered Asian, has more endurance, is stronger and has a much greater resistance than a European national. We had already experienced this during the First World War, when we had to deal with the Siberian Army Corps. For Europeans from the West, who are used to small areas, the distances in the East seem endless.

An U.S. citizen is accustomed to think in terms of huge steppes and prairies, and thus he does not share that feeling which is close to horror. The horror is a aggravated melancholy, caused by the monotonous character of the Russian landscape, which is depressing, and especially the gloomy autumn and painfully long winter. The psychological impact of that country on the average German soldier was very strong. He felt worthless, lost in these vast expanses. The natives of East Germany find it much easier to acclimatize in this strange new world, as East Germany is geographically a link between Russia and the West.

Soldiers from other German states, as well as their fathers in World War I, too, had learned to adapt to local conditions. Russia was a true test for our troops. It was a hard school. The man who survived after a meeting with Russian soldiers and Russian climate, knows what war is. All wars waged by Russia, were brutal and bloody. During the Seven Years War, Frederick the Great learned to respect the fighting qualities of the Russian soldier. Napoleon considered the Battle of Borodino as the bloodiest of all battles.

“When I remember that Frederick the Great confronted the enemy possessing the twelvefold superiority in strength, I seem just a simpleton to myself. At this time we do have the superiority in strength! Is not that a shame?”
Hitler (recorded on 28.1 1942) 


The Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878 was as brutal as the Russian-Japanese war in the early twentieth century. In these two wars losses were enormous. During the First World War, we got to know the Russian Imperial Army. I will give a little-known but significant fact: Our losses on the Eastern Front were much more than the losses incurred by us on the Western Front from 1914 to 1918. Russian generals then were qualitatively inferior to their German counterparts, and the tactics of huge armies in the attack was inflexible.

In the end the humble "subhuman" Ivan proved more than a match for the Fritz
But in defense the Russian army showed remarkable durability. It expertly and quickly built fortifications and equipped the defenses. Their soldiers showed great ability to fight at night and in the woods. Russian soldiers prefer melee. His physical needs are small, but the ability, without flinching, to bear hardship is a true surprise. Such is the Russian soldier, about whom we learned and who imbued us with respect a quarter-century ago.
“Widely and skillfully conceived operations of the Red Army led to numerous encirclements of the German units and destruction of those who resisted.”
General Otto von Lasch 

Since then, the Bolsheviks had systematically re-educated the youth of the country. And it would be logical to assume that the Red Army was a tougher nut to crack than the imperial army. The Russians carefully studied the previous campaigns, and we expect their senior commanders learned from past experience.
“Their commanders instantly learned the lessons of the first defeats and in a short time began to operate surprisingly effectively.”
 Field Marshal General Georg von Kleist 

The difference between the Russian Imperial Army during World War I and the Red Army in the days of the German invasion was simply colossal. During the last war the Russian army was more like an amorphous mass, physical inactive and devoid of individuality. This time, the spiritual uplift caused by the ideas of communism already started to affect them in the summer of 1941.”
General Eric Rouse 

 But the middle and junior commanders, according to our observers, were poorly trained and had no combat experience. It was very difficult to get a clear idea of equipment of the Red Army. The Russians take thorough and effective security measures. Hitler refused to believe that the Soviet industrial production could be equal to that of Germany. We had little information about the Russian tanks. We had no idea of how many tanks a month the Russian industry could churn out. It was hard to get even a card, as the Russian held them in great secrecy. The cards at our disposal were often incorrect and misleading. About the combat power of the Russian army also, we did not have accurate data. Those of us who fought in Russia during the First World War, believed that it is large, and those who did not know the new enemy, were inclined to underestimate her. How should we react to the civilian population of Russia, we did not know. In 1914-1918 the Russian population treated us gently and loyally. No one could say how much that had changed over the years.

From Spartacus

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.

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Anonymous said...

you must also remember that the invasion of russia was delayed by more than a month while the wehrmacht pulled italy out of the mess they made in the invasion of greece and albania.if it had been begun on time or preferably earlier in the year the ussr would have fallen as moscow and leningrad would have been taken quickly.

Jagdtiger14 said...

Germany was in no way prepared for Barbarossa logistically. It was a miracle that they did what they were actually able to do. Moscow was the key, and not for political the capitol...because Stalin would have moved his government to the Urals anyway. Moscow was the key because of the Russian rail lines. If you wanted to go anywhere in Russia, you had to switch in Moscow. Case Blue should not have been for the oil in the south, but for Moscow...concentrate as far north and south as you have to, to avoid fortified positions and encircle Moscow all the way to Gorki if you have to (or can). The other benefit would have been to stop any support being sent to Russia from the west (Murmansk/Archangel) by cutting that rail line as well. Additionally, pushing (if possible) from Gorki to Astrakhan would have isolated (minus Caspian Sea shipping, which easily could have been interdicted) the oil/Caucus Mt's. which the original Case Blue sought to do. All easy for me to say;-)

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