Why Barbarossa Was Doomed To Failure.

by Daniel Russ on October 17, 2013



Probably the biggest reason Operation Barbarossa failed was an old military problem that even Hitler wouldn’t remember and couldn’t allow to get in the way of a quick victory: an attenuated supply line. Much of the steppes and valleys between the Baltic Sea and Bucharest were large semi sandy areas with partially paved or totally unpaved roads that kicked up dust that stopped vehicles from moving. Often this was followed by flash rains that turned the ground into an impenetrable quicksand that was as deadly to a tank force as well as anti tank guns. To the southwest of Leningrad a few hours of rain transformed the ground into a kind of sludge that brought tanks, trucks, cars, horses, and infantry to a grinding halt.


Hitler probably did hear some of the complaints but probably took the bet that it would be better to win quickly and piece meal rather than lose momentum and get caught in a quagmire.


At many points along the staging line, large segments of the infantry were over a week behind the panzer divisions. Hitler probably didn’t have quite a grasp of the vast territories his armies would have to conquer. Some of the blitzkrieg victory in the initial stages of Barbarossa had to be credited to the fact that the Western Soviet frontier was sparsely occupied territory. Huge steppes and forests stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Siberia. Towns were small, spare and often sat miles from the nearest rail depot. Think of the shtetl, the little Jewish village you may have seen in Fiddler On The Roof. This would not be much against the German juggernaut. What was left to defend the territory in Russia was an Army that was ready to fight a war like WWI.  They were no match for Blitzkrieg. Yet this was three times the territory of Germany itself. After fighting eastward for nine months, troops felt the psychology of the vast distance between themselves and home. Fighting your way in, seeing friends die, and then knowing you will likely have to fight your way out. Consider how unprepared the German Army was for the first winter. How could you march men over a thousand miles East in the beginning of the summer and not even consider that they might not be home by winter? It’s an astonishingly arrogant notion that so much territory and so many people could be subdued and controlled. Then just as the German Army began to bog down, the Soviet winter arrived, and worse, just at that moment, the Americans entered the war. German Army Chief of Staff refused to allow planners to pack Wehrmacht winter gear because it would send the wrong message to an army that had been told that the war would be over before the winter only 6 months off.



There were other significant tide changes in the war effort.  Look to a map of Soviet Russia and trace a line from the Baltic Sea to Leningrad. Now imagine that over two million of your men are infantry, and each one carried somewhere from 50 to 70 pounds of equipment, and so these same men who reached Leningrad had fought their way in on foot for three months. The Wehrmacht was the top Army in the world at the time, but they were worn out, their equipment was worn out and they were unprepared for the bane of all Armies who march in Russia: Winter. The Panzer tanks they rode into Russian were in worse shape than the Germans had planned for. Guderian, under Von Bock and in Army Group Center drove into Germany with 1000 tanks and now 250 of them were in top battle condition. Guderian desperately waited for replacement tanks but they were not to come. Hitler told him he would send replacement engines. Three hundred tank engines were delivered but that consignment had to cover tank units from Leningrad to the Ukraine. The Army Group North war machine alone required some 30 trainloads of supplies a day. That said, all the Soviet railways the German took from the Russians had to be reguaged to fit German trains. So resupply was slow, and the task had to be completed by trucks in the first year of the war, a distance of over 400 miles. On top of this, German casualties from June to August amounted to 440,000 men, and only about 200,000 recruits were trained and available to go back into theater. By late September casualties grew to 534,000 men. As an example, armored divisions throughout Von Bock’s Army Group Center, tasked with taking Moscow were 75% at best.





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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

J T February 19, 2014 at 11:32 pm

It was a logisticians nightmare.

Louis September 29, 2017 at 3:17 am

During the planning of Barbarossa, in 1940/1941, under the direction of General Paulus (he of Stalingrad fame), it was wargamed several times. Each time it turned out that, even with more Soviet resistance than encountered eventually, the troops would outrun their supply lines after about two to three months. This was put in the finaly evaluation, but was ignored by GröFaZ (Größter Feldherr aller Zeiten, Greatest Fieldmarshall of all times, which was one of the less flattering names for Hitler).
Also the Soviet army was definitly NOT a WWI army. Between the wars it was one of the most inovative armies in existence. They pioneered Airborne operations, better Close Air Supprt, and were leading theorists in both Armored and Mechanised warfare, although this was largely unknown in the west at that time. However, Stalin got rid of a lot of the inovators, who were starting to think a little too independent for his taste.
But although the equipment was obsolescent in 1941, lessons during the battles with the Japanese at Khalkin-Gol in 1939, and the Winter war with the Finns in 1940, were already taken in to account, which resulted in the T34, and the KV1, and better tactical handling of the armored units, which, together with the supply plroblems, stategic indecision at the Führer HQ, and the advent of mud, and then snow, season, broke the back of the Wehrmacht.
And Stalin, for political reasons, forbade the Red Army to fall back on the old border (as the borderline from where Barbarossa started was in the middle of what used to be Poland) where there was the Stalin line of border fortifications, prepared in the 1930’s, which would have given the germans more trouble than the fieldworks that they did encounter on the border.

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