Barbarossa 1941; what was the need?

Nineteen Kilo

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Over the years I've read many times that the Balkan Campaign cost the Wehrmacht 5 or 6 weeks of good campaigning weather (from May 15th to June 22nd). And thereby was a contributing factor in the failure of Barbarossa.

I have never read why it was so imperative for the Germans to launch the campaign in 1941. Can anyone tell me what was so pressing that the Germans couldn't have said, "Ok we'll kick this thing off next year on May 15, 1942."

Kurious Kev
 
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Brian W

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They no longer had money to buy the resources that the USSR was selling them.
 

Paul M. Weir

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While I don't have specific enough information to really argue the point, the Balkans adventure might not have the adverse effect that might be otherwise be implied. Any source that mentioned it have said that that period was wetter than normal in the western USSR. So though the Germans might have had an extra month, the less favourable ground conditions could well have resulted in a slower initial advance. That in turn might have allowed the Soviets to react a little better. The sheer speed and shock of the initial German advance was a very powerful weapon in its own right, so the additional but slower 4-5 weeks might have had the Soviets a little less off balance and may even have the Germans behind their the historical performance. In addition more of the previous year's conscription wave might have been on hand for the Soviets. As I said, take that with a small grain of salt, but things aren't as simple as at first look.

The Germans already were months behind with their payments to the USSR but Stalin was dead set on avoiding war until '42 at the earliest, so the Germans would have eked out some more raw materials from them.

While I regard Barbarossa as a big crazy, indeed suicidal, gamble at best, I feel that '41 was the German's best chance. The Soviets were barely out of the Purges and were introducing a whole slew of new organisations and weapons. For example, the brand new T-34 was supposed to be replaced in the production line by the T-34M in September '41, a fairly drastic redesign. That would have had torsion bar suspension replacing the Christie version, a 3 man turret with cupola and more hull space (in ASL terms a T version of the T-34 m43). You might have seen KV-3 with 107mm guns, more 107+mm in infantry divisions and definitely a new generation of fighters forming the majority of the Soviet fighter arm rather than the '30s I-153 and I-16. A '42+ Soviet army might have been often beaten, but routed, fairly unlikely.

If you think about it, the historical '42 Soviet army stopped and completely rolled back the German '42 offensive (Fall Blau) and that's after being gutted in '41. Imagine a fresh, reorganised and re-equipped '42 Soviet army?
 

Nineteen Kilo

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While I don't have specific enough information to really argue the point, the Balkans adventure might not have the adverse effect that might be otherwise be implied. Any source that mentioned it have said that that period was wetter than normal in the western USSR. So though the Germans might have had an extra month, the less favourable ground conditions could well have resulted in a slower initial advance. That in turn might have allowed the Soviets to react a little better. The sheer speed and shock of the initial German advance was a very powerful weapon in its own right, so the additional but slower 4-5 weeks might have had the Soviets a little less off balance and may even have the Germans behind their the historical performance. In addition more of the previous year's conscription wave might have been on hand for the Soviets. As I said, take that with a small grain of salt, but things aren't as simple as at first look.

The Germans already were months behind with their payments to the USSR but Stalin was dead set on avoiding war until '42 at the earliest, so the Germans would have eked out some more raw materials from them.

While I regard Barbarossa as a big crazy, indeed suicidal, gamble at best, I feel that '41 was the German's best chance. The Soviets were barely out of the Purges and were introducing a whole slew of new organisations and weapons. For example, the brand new T-34 was supposed to be replaced in the production line by the T-34M in September '41, a fairly drastic redesign. That would have had torsion bar suspension replacing the Christie version, a 3 man turret with cupola and more hull space (in ASL terms a T version of the T-34 m43). You might have seen KV-3 with 107mm guns, more 107+mm in infantry divisions and definitely a new generation of fighters forming the majority of the Soviet fighter arm rather than the '30s I-153 and I-16. A '42+ Soviet army might have been often beaten, but routed, fairly unlikely.

If you think about it, the historical '42 Soviet army stopped and completely rolled back the German '42 offensive (Fall Blau) and that's after being gutted in '41. Imagine a fresh, reorganised and re-equipped '42 Soviet army?
As usual you have good analysis there Paul, but as Devil's Advocate I'll state your analysis does not include what new weaponry the Germans would have introduced over the next year. Even if it was merely trucks (to create more motorized divisions) and stock piles of artillery shells I think they would have been in better shape as well.

But all this begs the question, What was the burning need to launch the Eastern Front in 1941? Both you and Brian postulate it was debt owed to the Soviets, but if you knew you were going to war with them anyway, what's the problem with defaulting?
 
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My view is that Hitler felt that time was running out for him because of the attitude of the USA. Hitler always accepted that Germany would eventually have to fight the US. Unfortunately continued British resistance had emboldened Roosevelt who throughout 1940 edged the US closer to full belligerency. Hitler rationalised that if he could defeat the USSR by 1942 not only would he have removed the threat to the east and deprived Britain of a potential ally but he would have secured the continental resources necessary to prevail against the US or at the very least deter it from becoming involved in a European conflict. Delaying the invasion of the Soviet Union any longer would risk being faced with a fully mobilised US much better prepared to take on the Nazi's continental block.
 

Paul M. Weir

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Personally I don't think that Hitler's mounting debt to the USSR really contributed much to the decision to go in '41. In effect the trade was Stalin paying protection money to Hitler. Hitler's Drive To The East was an absolute core belief, the domination of the Slavs by the Übermensch. Without that Hitler, would not have been the Hitler we grew to love. The only question was when. While Hitler put forward the idea of depriving GB of a potential ally to his generals, it really was an inversion of his own priorities, a plausible reason/excuse to get the military onside.

War production? Hitler's Germany more resembled a feudal state than a modern industrial machine. He deliberately encouraged competition between his minions to prevent rivals gaining power. Post France German war production slacked off, Hitler did not want to have shortages of consumer goods to cause unrest (memories of 1918), it wasn't until '43 before Germany made the industrial transition that GB had made quite early on. Indeed Hitler's Germany is a classroom example of how not to run a war economy, even after '42 (eg giving priority to extermination camp train transport over military and industrial needs). A slightly creepy modern example is of the current White House with its collection of warring, leaking and backstabbing actors led by a narcissist praise seeking leader.

Yes the Germans could have built up stocks of ammo and the like and got a year's worth of other existing armaments, but there is little that I know of in the development pipeline that would have inspired great hope. As an example there were many prototype panzers, but these were in effect heavy armour versions of the stubby armed Pz IV. One line, the VK3601 did eventually emerge as the VK4501 (H) aka Tiger I after uparmouring and upgunning but it was the only one. The Pz III would still have had the 5cm L/42 at the start of a '42 campaign. The upgunning to the 5cm L/60 was ordered by Hitler before the historical Barbarossa (I think just after France), but that order was ignored by the ordnance professionals as the L/42 had just been ordered by them. In the autopsy of Barbarossa, Hitler found out and blew a gasket. So I would expect that situation would be no different prior to a '42 invasion.

I must most strongly emphasise that due to Hitler's contempt for the Slavs and the USSR in particular, reinforced by the Winter War, a Barbarossa in any year would have been treated as more a smash and grab raid than the siege that was required. He always had the view of "Kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will collapse" and no extra time would have been sufficiently used to build up to the required level, greater but still not enough. Don't forget the Red Army was reorganising and reequipping all this time. So any German force requirement was a rapidly receding target. Before Barbarossa, Hitler dismissed the Foreign Armies East section's estimate of Soviet numbers as fantasy even though the FAE actually underestimated Soviet numbers by roughly a factor of two

Due to Germany's experience in WW1, Hitler was utterly determined to avoid a long war. That combined with his contempt for the Slavs meant that he had little idea of what was required, a major strategic blindness. So in such a delusional state, why not go now? It was simply not a cold military decision, but an ideological fury within Hitler's head, never forget that.
 

von Marwitz

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I think that several factors played a part.

Germany needed resources from the Balkans, the oil from Rumania in particular. Russia was very focused on the Balkans with regard to access to the Mediterranean and the mouth of the Danube.

The Germans wanted a sphere of influence in which it controlled western Europe. The sphere for the Russians earmarked by the Germans was down south towards Iran, Pakistan, and India. The Japanese were to handle the far east. And the Italians most of the Mediterranean.

Unfortunately for the Germans, the Russians did not like to play 'their part' and were much more foucssed on the Balkans and especially alarmed about German influence in Bulgaria. The differing interests could not be reconciled and might have been one of the most important factors in Hitler's decisions to attack Russia in 1941. In this, we have to take into account, that the UK was meddling on the Balkans and in general, Germany, Great Britain, and Russia weren't not quite sure of each other, who could/would pair with whom.

Militarily, the chances of Germany to do harm to Russia, the window of opportunity was closing. The Red Army was severely inhibited by the purges and the extensions of the Soviet Union's borders to the West (Ribbentrop-Molotov pact over the division of Poland) made strategic redeployment of the Red Army and new design of border fortifications necessary. This was all in full swing and yet incomplete in 1941. The Russians were painfully aware of their vulnerability and this was one reason why Stalin frantically avoided any provocation of Germany up to the very last minute, severly restraining the military to react appropriately to the mounting warnings of the German built up. The Russians expected the Germans to deal with Britain first to avoid what the Germans dreaded - a two front war like in WW1. They expected them to either strike at the British mainland or in North Africa, conceivably through Turkey which would bring access to the Mediterranean unter German control and only after that deal with Russia.

In turn, the military deployment the Russians chose was quite heavily focussed on the area rather close to the German borders. Including many airfields etc. This was not exactly a defensive deployment, while it has to be acknowledged that the rear echelons of the Red Army were not yet in place. There has been some debate whether the German attack was a preemtive strike vs. Russia. This theory can safely be discarded for 1941. At this point, Russia was simply not ready but rather the opposite and (still) vulnerable. Throughout 1942 at the earliest, however, this would have been quite another story and Russia could have been ready to commence a war vs. Germany itself. If that would have happened and been successful is another story. Still, it was something to keep in mind for the Germans.

Furthermore, Hitler would have been glad to end the war with the UK. The deal would have been that the UK would be left a free hand with their Empire while the Germans would have been left a free hand in Europe. Churchill was not ready for such a deal, but there were others in the UK that were. We have to keep in mind that the UK was quite strongly opposed to Russia and was at times very close to initiate bomings of the Baku oil region for the fear of a "Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact part II" regarding the Balkans and Far East. Up to 1941, the UK had not many successes to show militarily: Humiliating defeat in France, kicked out of Greece, stalled in Norway, under severe pressure in North Africa, having to deal with a pro-German coup in Iraq. The German U-Boot Waffe was yet on the rise. On the other hand, the British had managed to stand-off the German Lufwaffe over Britain. So in 1941 Britain was under a lot of pressure under which an agreement might have been appealing, with the added prospect of Germany going after Russia that Britain did not like at all.

And IF the Germans, which underestimated the Russian forces very significantly (as Paul has pointed out) and were quite overconfident from their recent successes would have been able to blitz the Russians as they had France (which would be easier in 1941 than in 1942), this might convince the UK to reach an agreement with Germany, too.

In fact, the attack on Russia in 1941 was less about the Übermensch/Untermensch theory but much more about Realpolitik.

von Marwitz
 

Philippe D.

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Keep going guys; I have no idea myself, but I like to read your debate.
 

Paul M. Weir

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I won't dispute the Realpolitik aspect having it's weight and the idea of depriving GB of a potential ally helped in Hitler's mind but I see the idea as mainly a selling point to his generals, most of whom viewed Barbarossa as a potential nightmare. The problem is trying to put oneself in Hitler's mind frame. Few of us can do that properly and likely those that can are incarcerated or under treatment. The corest of core beliefs of Hitler was that the jews and their Bolshevik offshoots were the root of the world's and Germany's, in particular, problems. Success against France reinforced his messianic self image. He alone decided to risk war with Case White (Poland), picked the Ardennes as the focal point against France and had beaten France in a one month campaign, never mind his bloodless successes against Austria and Czechoslovakia.

His "Final Solution" was such a central part of his thinking that it was to be implemented despite the cost in knowledge and potential war work (by half decently fed as opposed to starved jews). I have already mentioned the priority given to shipping jews to concentration camps over industrial and war transport, so Hitler putting off his assault on the "Jewish-Bolshevik Untermensch" would be uncharacteristic.

One of his minor character quirks was that he felt that he had little time on earth to carry out his crusade, so patience was not one of his virtues.

While he could be quite calculating, the delusional root of his beliefs and the strength of same often precluded rational decisions. While his "No Retreat" orders might, indeed likely, have served the Heer well in '41, such success reinforced his self belief and led to disaster most of the time. Such failures seemed to have little effect on him issuing subsequent similar orders.

We must never, ever forget that Hitler was off his rocker. He might not have been the Propeller Tinfoil Hat wearing, screaming about his microwave spying on him (™ Kellyanne Conway) while wandering about the streets dressed in fresh cat skins, type but he was limited by his deluded world view, massive will and grossly inflated self image. The man was insane, I repeat the man was insane.
 

Nineteen Kilo

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(1)...his generals, most of whom viewed Barbarossa as a potential nightmare.... (2) The corest of core beliefs of Hitler was that the jews and their Bolshevik offshoots were the root of the world's and Germany's, in particular, problems....The man was insane, I repeat the man was insane.
#1 above is why I posed this question in the first place because I've always read his generals were not on board, hence they saw no burning "need" to kick off the war in 1941.

So I'm forced to agree with #2, as it appears to me (as someone who is admittedly not deeply read on this subject) there was no "need" to start the war in 1941 other than simply what was going on in one man's mind - unfortunately that man was in charge.
 

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I've seen this debated before.
One factor that most ignore is that the Luftwaffe airfields in Poland were not ready earlier. Barbarossa could have been launched earlier with less air support.

As to launching the war in 1942, I really think that the Axis really would have been fucked. Add 6000 T34s and KV1s to the Soviet OoB and flesh out most of the 60 tank divisions and 30 mech divisions they had planned. Give a guy like Katukov a solid year to train his tank division on their new toys and they'll be a force to be reckoned with.

IIRC from Glantz, most Soviet divisions were short on comms gear, trained specialists and NCOs. Most division commanders had less than a year's experience. A year will go a long way to fixing that.

The Soviets were in the middle of a partial mobilization in June 1941 and those forces will be ready and dug in. They won't be overrun on the way to the call up centers like historical.

The Red Airforce was also modernizing.

When you couple the above with historical German arrogance and "victory disease", I think its clear that 1942 would have been a disaster.
 

bendizoid

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What the Nazis needed was a Japanese attack/two front war for the Russians. That would have meant operation Typhoon could have held its gains.
 

Paul M. Weir

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AdrianE, thanks for the tit bit on LW airfields, it's yet another thing I was not aware of. As for 6000 T34 and KV-1, you might have a good chunk of those 6000 replaced by T-34M (a complete redesign) and KV-3+. The switch over to T-34M (scheduled Aug-Sep '41) might have imposed a reduction in overall production, but still there would have been very good numbers of superior tanks, likely more 76+mm armed tanks than the whole German armour pool available for a '42 Barbarossa.

The modernisation of the Red Airforces (VVS and PVO) is often overlooked by us ground pounding players. Like the Italians, the Soviets suffered from a half generation design lead in the '30s. IE for most of the '30s they were fairly far ahead with excellent designs like the I-15, I-15bis and I-16. By '40 their newest bulk service design was the I-153, a biplane. I suppose one way to look at it is to take a peacetime aircraft generation as 10 years, so in the '30s they were 5+ years ahead but by '40 they were 5- years behind.

Aircraft going into service in '41.
MiG-3: An excellent high altitude interceptor, unfortunately not suited to the low level combat that was the hallmark of historical EF air combat.
LaGG-3: Not too bad but dogged by bad build quality and weight creep. It had the advantage in using non strategic materials (wood) for much of it's airframe. By '43 it was to be dropped but the replacement of the inline M-105 engine by the M-82 radial led to the La-5 and LA-7 which were very competitive to war's end. The original LaGG-3 might be considered equivalent to a Hurricane or P-40, the later La-5/7 to a Fw-190.
Yak-1: Competitive from the start and led to the Yak-7, Yak-9 and finally the Yak-3 which I consider the best low to medium altitude dog fighter of WW2.
IL-2: What else can I say, a nightmare for any ground convoys.

Overall, I whole heartedly agree that though the Germans would have made some gains (simple momentum), a German '42 invasion would have been far, far worse for them than the historical Barbarossa.

What the Nazis needed was a Japanese attack/two front war for the Russians. That would have meant operation Typhoon could have held its gains.
A few years ago in another thread I outlined my views in http://www.gamesquad.com/forums/index.php?threads/t-34-the-best-tank-of-the-war.118625/page-6#post-1697711, rather than me cutting and pasting and taking up Don's disk space have a look there. Other than rereading the forces held in the Soviet Far East and upping the numbers from 0.5-1.0 M to 1.0-1.5 M, bigger than I remembered at the time I posted, my views remain unchanged.

As a general aside, the Germans seemed to lack a coherent high level strategic vision. Before and for quite a time after Barbarossa, the Germans could not agree on something even as basic as "To Moscow or not to Moscow". Everything seemed to be decided on the fly, on the cheap, "It'll be allright on the night". As AdrianE said "victory disease". They just simply never seemed to think things fully through.
 
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ecz

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Over the years I've read many times that the Balkan Campaign cost the Wehrmacht 5 or 6 weeks of good campaigning weather (from May 15th to June 22nd). And thereby was a contributing factor in the failure of Barbarossa.

I have never read why it was so imperative for the Germans to launch the campaign in 1941. Can anyone tell me what was so pressing that the Germans couldn't have said, "Ok we'll kick this thing off next year on May 15, 1942."

Kurious Kev
while as others have said I agree that economic reasons were decisive to try the hit on 1941 (not forgetting also the oil in Caucasus, too much important for German army ) I would add that Hitler aimed to a surprise attack capable to end the war in the east by December. With this goal in mind an year of delay would be useless and dangerous if not openly suicidal. One month less at disposal in 1941, according his sick mind, was negligible.
 

daniel zucker

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Hear is what I find strange about the whole 'Attack Russia" thing. If oil was _SO_ important to the German war effort, then why didn't the Germans put a bigger push into that front? Even when taking into account the political implications of capturing Moscow and cutting off the supply ports in the north; I think the German Army would have been able to wrangle ,by a little stealth, more units and a faster pace to the attack towards Baku.
(fixed)
 
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RandyT0001

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Hear is what I find strange about the whole 'Attack Russia" thing. If oil was _SO_ important to the German war effort, then why didn't the Germans put a bigger push into that front? Even when taking into account the political implications of capturing Moscow and cutting off the supply ports in the north; I think the German Army would have been able to wrangle ,by a little stealth, more units and a faster pace to the attack towards Baku.
(fixed)
Hitler believed that the Soviet Union was weak and once you kick in the door, the whole house of cards would fall. Hitler did divert mobile forces from the central group to assist the southern group in their push beyond Kiev to the Don River. If the Soviet Union did collapse like Hitler thought it would then Germany could dictate terms, Ukraine would be ceded to Germany for living space and Germany would depend on Romanian oil as the attack shifted back to the British.
 

Yuri0352

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Hitler believed that the Soviet Union was weak and once you kick in the door, the whole house of cards would fall. Hitler did divert mobile forces from the central group to assist the southern group in their push beyond Kiev to the Don River. If the Soviet Union did collapse like Hitler thought it would then Germany could dictate terms, Ukraine would be ceded to Germany for living space and Germany would depend on Romanian oil as the attack shifted back to the British.
This theory ignores Hitler's insane core beliefs of racial superiority and his quest for living space, which could be argued were the primary purposes of the invasion of the Soviet Union.

Regardless of whether or not the Soviet Union would have been defeated at any level in 1941, Hitler would not have offered 'terms' nor would have Stalin been likely to have agreed to any. Certainly by the end of 1941, both sides would have been fully aware that a Soviet defeat would have resulted in the eventual extermination or enslavement of every person in Nazi occupied territory...probably also including the Ukrainian turncoats who naively regarded the Nazis as liberators. Certainly even Hitler could not have been deluded enough to believe that after Stalin 'ceded' eastern Poland and the agricultural territory of Ukraine the Russians would have been content to sit behind their new borders hoping for the best. I wouldn't disregard the human (and in particular, Russian) predilection for retribution either.

Hitler's priority was always the destruction of the Bolsheviks/Soviet Union, conquering territory for living space, and ethnic cleansing over that of a military defeat of the British empire.
 

RandyT0001

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This theory ignores Hitler's insane core beliefs of racial superiority and his quest for living space, which could be argued were the primary purposes of the invasion of the Soviet Union.

Regardless of whether or not the Soviet Union would have been defeated at any level in 1941, Hitler would not have offered 'terms' nor would have Stalin been likely to have agreed to any.
If the Soviet government had collapsed because of the high losses of material and men as Hitler envisioned and requested terms, then Hitler would have probably given his terms, Stalin ousted, Ukraine is his, demilitarization of Soviet forces within 200km of the border, over-flights, etc. The Soviets probably would have accepted them. Hitler's belief in racial superiority are vindicated and 'knowing' that he has defeated his greatest enemy so quickly Hitler probably would have returned to attacks on England and offered peace terms to Churchill, cede all African and Mediterranean territories to the Axis, keep the rest if the British Empire. If the British agree, then Germany never goes to a war economy and production and armor upgrades are never undertaken.

Certainly by the end of 1941, both sides would have been fully aware that a Soviet defeat would have resulted in the eventual extermination or enslavement of every person in Nazi occupied territory...probably also including the Ukrainian turncoats who naively regarded the Nazis as liberators. Certainly even Hitler could not have been deluded enough to believe that after Stalin 'ceded' eastern Poland and the agricultural territory of Ukraine the Russians would have been content to sit behind their new borders hoping for the best. I wouldn't disregard the human (and in particular, Russian) predilection for retribution either.
After signing the peace treaty, the Soviets double down on production and training for 1943 when that retribution crosses the border. The Soviet Union would have renewed the fight to recover the Ukraine. The Germans not having ever switched to a war economy finds itself facing thousands of T-34 tanks and over a hundred divisions while still equipped with panzer IIIs and IVs.

If the only way to survive was to make (short term) peace with the devil, the Soviets would have done it.
 

Yuri0352

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Lots of 'probably's and 'ifs' in that theory. At any rate, actual history notwithstanding, this sounds like the makings of an alt-history miniseries for Amazon.
 
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