Operation Barbarossa – Update

I’m about 2/3 finished with this book, a review of the initial stages of the Barbarossa invasion of Russia in World War II.  The author, David Stahel, is showing that there were serious problems with the operation almost from the first days, despite the dramatic initial haul in prisoners and in ground taken.

The first issue is that the planning for the operation was almost comically bad.  The estimates of the force opposing the invasion apparently missed about half the Russian Army, as well as their tanks like the T-34 and KV-1, both of which so outclassed many of the German tanks and anti-tank guns as to render them useless going forward.  The logistic planning was equally poor, ignoring the fact that it would be very difficult to supply the spearheads of the invasion over the poor roads and with the rails being unusable until the gauge had been changed to German standards.

The goals of the offensive were confused. The three levels of command – Hitler, the General Staff, the Army Group leaders, and the Panzer leaders each had different agendas and tried to fool the others in order to gain their point.  Hitler was relatively uninterested in political goals and wanted to seize the Baltic Coast and the Ukraine.  The Staff, while pretending to follow orders, was bent on driving on Moscow. The Army Group command wanted to avoid the Panzers outstripping supplies and the infantry that was reducing the encirclements.  The Panzer Leaders wanted to drive forward to avoid giving time for the enemy to regroup.  At every level the Germans were spending effort trying to spin the situation in order to convince the high command of their view.

In the meantime, everyone was avoiding the real issue, that the opposition was not fading out, that the rear area confusion of scattered Russians was making the supply situation even worse than the original rickety estimates, and the units that pre-war planning had missed were gathering ahead of the isolated spearheads as they drove toward Smolensk.  Instead of the free movement in the rear that Blitzkrieg wanted, a new attritional war was about to start that Germany would not be able to win.

It is interesting how this turns on its head the usual idea that Germans were great planners.  From my recent reading of the two World Wars, it seems that strategy and planning is where they fell down in a major way.  They could fight the battles tactically, but choosing who to fight and where to fight was where they made major mistakes that led to them losing both.


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