Hitler as Military Commander (5)

AH19Instead, he (actually, Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS) continued to do what they knew how to do (and do very well) – destroy the armed forces of their opponent and capture vast (enormous, actually) areas of its territory.

They were highly successful in these endeavors – by the end of November, 1941 they have all but completely destroyed the First Strategic Echelon of the Red Army (the invasion army that was ready to attack Germany and Europe literally hours after it was prevented from doing so by the Germans).

Ultimately (in 1941 and 1942) they occupied the whole Ukraine, Belarus, Baltic countries, Moldova and 13 regions of Russia. Which constituted 8.7% of the whole territory of the Soviet Union (34.8% of its European Part – the most developed by far) that was home to 44.5% of its population (over 85 million – more than the population of Greater Germany at that time).

And thus achieved the most spectacular victory in the history of warfare… which, alas, did not lead to victory on the Eastern front. Actually, it ultimately led to exactly the opposite.

Due to a significant extent to a colossal strategic blunder committed by Adolf Hitler. He did not realize the strategic importance of Moscow and thus did not focus all military efforts on capturing this all-important city. Instead, his activities were all over the place – from Kiev to Leningrad (Hitler overestimated strategic importance of the latter).

However, he still achieved a victory that (at least temporarily) placed him among the greatest military commanders in human history.

The multimillion – lives question is: How he did it? How on Earth did Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS achieve such an incredible (literally), seemingly impossible victory over the enemy who had an enormous advantage over them (3:1 in troops, 5:1 in tanks and aircraft; 8:1 in artillery pieces and mortars) while the military theory insisted that for a successful offensive exactly the opposite has to be true?

Especially given the fact that the Soviet Union had over 1,500 T-34 and KV tanks which were far superior to all German tanks (and all but impenetrable to all but the most powerful 88-mm anti-tank guns).

The short answer is simple – German Wehrmacht was a far better military machine than the Red Army, had the initiative, knew the weaknesses of its opponent and managed to very efficiently exploit them. These advantages turned out to be far more valuable than enormous numerical superiority of the Red Army in personnel and military hardware.

Although Wehrmacht was created by professional soldiers (generals of Reichswehr), the overall project was managed by The Führer Adolf Hitler. Who richly deserves an A++ for his contribution to making the German Armed Forces the most powerful, efficient and fearsome military machine in the world.

Now the longer answer. Wehrmacht was far more efficiently organized (structured) and managed than the Red Army. Its equipment, although not always superior, was far more convenient and comfortable to use on the battlefield (often a decisive factor in battle).

German soldiers, NCOs and officers were far better trained, fed, clothed and supplied. And far more disciplined than their Soviet vis-à-vis. They were far better motivated during the initial months of the war – fighting the war for the very existence of your homeland was a much, much more powerful drive than “liberation of foreign workers from the bourgeois yoke”.

Desertion was never a problem in Wehrmacht but was a very serious one in the Red Army. As was drinking, theft and the overall corruption. Consequently, the fighting spirit in Wehrmacht (and especially in Waffen-SS) was much stronger and more powerful than in Red Army.

To put it simply, practically all German soldiers, NCOs and officers were eager to fight while most of their Soviet vis-à-vis were not. Germans were eager to fight for their Führer because during the previous six years he performed genuine miracles for them, radically improving their quality of life.

The situation in the Red Army was drastically different. After forced collectivization, Great Purge and other campaigns of Soviet terror, well-known horrors of the Gulag the majority of the Soviet individuals had no desire to fight for the “Red Tamerlane” and his tyrannical and murderous Bolshevist regime.

And only the extremely distorted and highly incorrect perception of the world by the Nazis (national-sociopaths) prevented them from using this tremendous opportunity – and winning the war on the Eastern front.

Wehrmacht had far superior organization, strategy and tactics – the blitzkrieg – based on highly efficient utilization of combined units of infantry, artillery, tanks, armored personnel carriers and, of course, the Luftwaffe. Soviet officers and generals had no clue on how to efficiently use their units (whose organization left a lot to be desired).

German soldiers were trained to perform the functions of NCOs; its NCOs –of junior officers; junior officers – of senior officers. Consequently, death or serious injury of a German commanding officer was far less of a problem for Wehrmacht than a similar event for the Red Army.

German officers and NCOs had a far more freedom in executing orders (they were ordered what to do – how to do it was left to them). And even allowed to make creative changes to these orders, if it led to superior results.

Superior training and the Führerprinzip (much wider authority in executing orders and performing their duties) created a much higher level of self-confidence. Which was further reinforced by a much more extensive military experience.

While Red Army had a very limited one (much fewer Soviet officers and soldiers fought in Spain; Khalhin-Gol and Khasan battles and even the Winter War with Finland could not compare with Polish and French campaigns of Wehrmacht that also had Battle of Britain, Norway, North Africa, Benelux, Denmark, Greece and Yugoslavia under its belt).

Wehrmacht had unique military hardware that created an often decisive advantage in battle. First and foremost, the famous Junkers 87 Stuka dive bomber – one of the key blitzkrieg tools. A much less-known (but in some ways superior) tool was another dive bomber – the Henschel 123 biplane.

German infantry had MG-34 – the first Universal Machine Gun (now a standard infantry weapon worldwide) which was far superior to both Soviet DP-27 light machine gun and a water-cooled (!) Maxim mounted machine gun.

Other unique military hardware (compared to Red Army, of course), were Stug III self-propelled guns, tank destroyers, armored personnel carriers and flamethrowers. And last but not the least, standard German rifle (Mauser 98k) was a much better weapon than Mosin-Nagant 91/30 – its Soviet counterpart.

Wehrmacht had far better communication equipment – all of its tanks and aircraft were equipped with two-way radios (few Soviet ones were). True, the Red Army had far superior tanks but they suffered from mechanical problems and Soviet commanders were not trained to use them efficiently.

Soviet officer corps (especially its top levels) was decimated by the Great Purge which resulted in most competent generals (and many officers) either executed or sent to Gulag or prisons where many of them were incapacitated by beatings and torture.

Their replacements were simply unable to competently command their troops – especially under tremendous pressure and in the total chaos of the German invasion.

Another devastating result of the Great Purge was that Red Army – top to bottom – was consumed by fear. Feat that was intensified tenfold by the totally unexpected – and an extremely powerful emotional blow delivered by the German invasion. This fear predictably led to disastrous blunders – including a number of strategic ones.

Contrary to a popular misconception, on July 22nd, 1941 Red Army was very much ready for war. But for another war – an all-out attack on Germany and subsequently on the whole Europe.

The configuration of Soviet units (armies, divisions, regiments, etc.) at or near the border with German-controlled territories was ideal for a preventive strike… and extremely vulnerable to a surprise attack by its opponent (Wehrmacht had the same vulnerability)

Consequently, it was woefully unprepared for a defensive war – and when it found itself under an attack by Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS, its officers and generals simply did not know what to do. Which predictably led to the worst military disaster in the history of warfare.

Using a far superior field intelligence system, Wehrmacht (and Waffen-SS) skillfully exploited this crucial vulnerability of their opponent. And thus delivered a devastating blow – the most overwhelming and destructive blow in military history.

Alas, even this spectacular success did not lead to the victory on the Eastern front. Adolf Hitler and his Wehrmacht continued to do the only thing they knew how to do – destroying the Red Army and occupying vast stretches of Soviet territory.

Ultimately, they destroyed the whole First Strategic Echelon of the Red Army… but it had two more. They occupied and controlled 8.7% of the Soviet territory (and 35% of its European part)… but it still had 65% left. 44% of the Soviet population was under their control… but the Soviet Union still had 56%. And all key military production facilities were evacuated far to the East – out of range of Luftwaffe bombers. German victory was still nowhere in sight.

And then Wehrmacht predictably ran out of resources (in other words, it had insufficient resources to continue the two abovementioned endeavors). Which gave the Red Army the much-needed respite.

Respite that they used to prepare and on December 5th, launch the Moscow counter-offensive. At a horrendous cost (personnel losses were up to 1:10 in Wehrmacht’s favor) the Red Army delivered to the Germans its first strategic defeat in World War II, pushing the exhausted and freezing German armies back 100–250 km from Moscow.

The blitzkrieg on the Eastern front was over. It failed. The war of attrition has begun.


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