Why The Wehrmacht Overwhelmed The Russians At Barbarossa.

Josef Stalin
Josef Stalin




If Stalin was anything, he was paranoid. Some of his paranoia was well founded. He was a murderous, obstreperous tyrant who saw the world through only his own eyes.  His police state apparatus was filled with informers and he was tipped off to a plot at the top of his officer corps to oust him. Perhaps there was. He acted before they could act and if this was the case, the plot was foiled. Kangaroo Court is an understated way of describing the iniquitous trials that put an end to the alleged conspirators. In 1936 Mikhail Tukhachevsky, the Chief of Staff of the Red Army was executed after a trial that lasted only a single day. The court martial assembled consisted of eight other high command officers that were there to condemn Mikhail Tukhachevsky. Six of those commander were themselves tried and executed shortly afterwards.



Only five command level Marshals were left. Three of them were also caught up in the conspiracy and executed. The rest of the Red Army high command was still in for a shock. Eleven Deputy Commanders were executed. Seventy Five of 80 high commanders were executed, and every single military district commander was executed. Thirteen of 15 Army commanders and 50% of all the Red Army Corps commanders and 30% of officers below the brigade level were also executed. The problem here was that a lot of these Russians who were at the business end of Stalin’s obloquy also knew how to fight. Included in this group were 90% of the tank commanders



And if you’re wondering why the Russians were overwhelmed by German armor, the problem wasn’t all personnel and leadership issues. In 1940, Russia invaded Finland and in the first phase of the operation the Finnish won. It was an incredible embarrassment and midwifed Hitler’s notion that the Russians were so incompetent that invading Russian would be a cakewalk. The commanders who lost in Finland were winners in Stalin’s roulette trials. So these weak combat veterans were the ones expected to hold off the Wehrmacht in June 1941. Of the 23,000 tanks that the Russians brought to the battlefield, only 8000 were combat ready. There were no spare parts, so entire tank battalions were cannibalized to keep a few tanks running. There was no real training. Most of the drills were little more than PR stunts staged just for the Politburo during visits from party leadership. Most of the divisions were around 6000 men short. One in six mechanized infantry lacked any armor. Only 75% of the motorized tank groups had tanks at all. The vehicles that were left were mostly out gunned by the new Panzers. The reason the Russian were overwhelmed at Barbarossa is simple: Stalin.



Soviet POWs
Soviet POWs

5 thoughts on “Why The Wehrmacht Overwhelmed The Russians At Barbarossa.”

  1. Sorry, I can’t agree with this.

    Stalin was a nut job, but the main reason the Germans moved through the Ukraine and European Russia so easily is the same reason they marched through western europe just as quickly all the way to the English Channel.

    They had learned the lessons of WWI and they were ready for WWII, and the first countries they attacked allowed them to get experience and find out what worked and what didn’t, so by the time they took on the Soviets they knew what they were doing.

    Certainly the stupid purges by Stalin led to a culture where leaders wouldn’t lead unless they had permission, and with Stalin non functional for the first few days and irrational for many of the rest a lot of decisions weren’t made that should have been and a lot of other decisions that were made were wrong. When Stalin started listening to Zhukov I think he started to realise (unlike Adolf) that he could be a figurehead and let his senior staff take the real decisions in the war.

    What happened in Barbarossa is pretty much what happened in western europe in the years before. The difference is that what stopped the Germans in the east was the length of their supply lines. In the west is was a large body of water called the English Channel.

    The other difference was that for the next four years the Soviets grinded out a terrible conflict on the ground with the Germans… there was no channel to hide behind so the Soviets ended up losing 10 million soldiers and another 20 million citizens, while the west fought in Africa and other places and the UK and US lost less than 1.5 million between them.

    The irony is that if Britain had initiated D-Day in 1941 the Soviets would not have lost 30 million people, but then the west would have lost a lot more.

    The Soviets might have been a bit more respectful to the west if it had spilled more of its own blood to defeat Germany, and more importantly the west could have liberated more than just France and the low countries… they could have liberated eastern europe and the cold war might have been avoided.

    Instead they sat by and let the Soviets do most of the fighting and dying and still claim that D-Day and Strategic Bombing and of course lend lease won the war.

  2. I hate to say it but we were doing all we could do. The US had its hands full just with the massive war in the Pacific which we also fought alongside the British. I always scratch my head when I hear people say we sat back and let this happen. We did no such thing. Pearl Harbor happened six months after the Germans invaded Russia. Think about that. We didn’t even have a blooded army at the time the largest event in history took place (Barbarossa). We also had to learn to fight.

    We also had to produce the enormous amount of war material and use it and distribute it to allies. The US produced the weapons the allies fought with. But as far as ground combat, the US was all in.

    I also don’t think people understand that Stalin’s purge of the military leadership wasn’t a few people. In western USSR, he removed the leaders of all the major army corps, the divisional and regimental heads. He took out the air force flight officers, the naval leaders. That leaves millions of men in the hands of hundreds of sergeants and lieutenants. So yes, the purges did have a lot to do with the collapse of the Red Army in the west at the outset of the invasion.

    The Russians did most of the destruction of the Wehrmacht on the ground. But when added to our manufacture of war materials, our destruction of the Imperial Japanese Empire and our help around the world, we can rest assured that the US never sat back and let anything happen.

  3. Sorry if I gave the impression that they sat back and did nothing.

    What I meant to say is that they chose to do certain things, and chose not to do others.

    The things they chose not to do, they largely chose not to do because they knew it would result in enormous western casualties and they clearly preferred to leave the brunt of the fighting to the Soviets.

    They were happy to provide material to the Soviets, though very little actually arrived before the Germans were stopped at the gates of Moscow in December 41.

    The thing to keep in mind about the purges too is that even without them the Germans were a formidable force.

    The Soviets started out with high numbers of men in each unit but as the war progressed and the mechanisation and firepower of each unit increased the size of the units decreased, yet the firepower and mobility increased too.

    Another thing to keep in mind about the purges is that not everyone was killed… most were sent to Sibera and quite a few exiles returned in early 1942.

    The Soviets had to learn to fight WWII, but they had no channel to hide behind, and lend lease would have been much more useful if they got what they asked for, like B-17s instead of B-25s.

    The B-25 is a good aircraft but they already had good twin engined bombers… Pe-2 and Pe-3 and of course the Tu-2 being obvious examples.

    Of course not that I am blaming the west… I am pretty certain that if Hitler had decided to invade the UK that he would have sat on the sideline till both sides were exhausted and then sweep in and take the spoils.

    I just think it is very duplicitous of the west to try to pretend that strategic bombing and D-Day won the war in Europe… and lets face it… to most europeans the war in the Pacific was a sideline… WWII is described as being from 1939 (invasion of Poland) to 1945 (fall of Berlin). In the Pacific many countries see WWII starting with the Japanese actions in China in 1933, but the 39-45 mantra remains.

    Personally I think WWII was Hitlers was and think it really began at the end of WWI, or 1933 when he took power.

  4. Appreciate the clarification.

    I don’t look at the war in the Pacific as a sideline for one reason. From the Meiji Restoration to Pearl Harbor, the Japanese were in the East almost what Hitler was in the West. They were maniacal, power mad racists who saw themselves at the apex of some human generational development. They had expanded from their xenophobic island kingdom to an empire that conquered China, French Indochina, the British East Indies, all assets of large and august global empires themselves. If the United States had not eradicated the Japanese military machine, they would have been a scourge in the same was the Nazis were a scourge and some other group of nations would have had to do it.

    I agree with you that the Wehrmacht was the best modern army of the 20th century. No doubt about that.

  5. The Wehrmacht were the only modern army and it took a while for everyone to catch them.

    The Soviets had no choice… they had to learn to fight… it was pretty much learning to swim by being thrown into a stormy sea. Swim or drown.

    I don’t see the Pacific War as an incidental war either… I am from the South Pacific… 🙂

    The Japanese were brutal and got away with quite a few war crimes simply because the west was focussed elsewhere… is the new cold war in which Japan was going to become an important US ally.

    It transpired that the war on the eastern front was gradually revealed to the west from West German sources, where any Soviet source or information was considered to be disinformation unless it was very negative, while telling of the conflict in the Pacific largely revolved around the US and critical points, it generally didn’t dwell on aspects like comfort girls or treatment of POWs etc.

    For much of Asia of course it was one colonial power replaced by another and then back again.

    It is an aspect of the war that is largely ignored by western history books.

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