The Invasion of the Soviet Union Was the Key Turning Point of WW2

 

OperationBarbarossaMapOperation Barbarossa was the name given to Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June 22, 1941. The battle aims of the German forces under the command of Adolf Hitler were the following: the complete annihilation of the Soviet Union’s armed forces, the collapse of communism, and primarily the conquest of lebensraum (living space) for the Third Reich and its people.

To achieve such aims the Germans created one of the largest and least well known coalitions in history, assembling an army of 4 million men (3 million being German) and hundreds of thousands of cars, trucks, planes, and horses. They came from Finland in the far north to Romania in the far south and invaded the USSR on a 2,000 mile frontier. At approximately 3:00 in the morning on Monday 74 years ago began what many historians believe was the decisive event of the Second World War. I would concur with such a view and here is why.

First, the decision by Hitler to attack the Soviet Union in 1941 opened up an Eastern Front in the war in Europe and thus created a two-front war. This was the mistake many German generals believed had cost Germany the First World War; the surviving generals’ assessment blamed the Nazis’ decisions here for Germany losing the Second.

By May 1941 Hitler was master of continental Europe. Had Hitler decided to go with the smart options, he would have concentrated on bringing Britain to peace terms and thus ending any possible American entry into the European war. Yet he did not, thank God. As Andrew Roberts points out in his brilliant book The Storm of War, blinded by Nazi ideology (i.e., lebensraum), Hitler chose to follow the goals of the party, rather than what was “rational.” In doing so he signed his death warrant. The German Empire simply could not sustain a war in the long run on two fronts once the allied powers mobilized their full economic, political, and military resources.

Second was the sheer savagery and cost of the new front on Nazi forces. Most importantly, the operation opened up the Eastern Front, to which more forces were committed than in any other theater of war in world history. The Eastern Front became the site of some of the largest battles, most horrific atrocities, and highest casualties for Soviets and Germans alike.

The numbers that fought on the Soviet soil were daunting but the amount that died there was even more horrifying. Nearly 25 million people (and this is a conservative figure) died on this front in a four-year period. Not just soldiers but millions of civilians as well. Hitler did not call it a war of annihilation for nothing.

Fortunately for the Russian people and the world, his war had a downside for Nazi ambitions. For you see, out of every four German soldiers killed in the entire war, three died on the Eastern Front. Since German armed forces lost close to 3 million men, that is a startling figure but a telling one. In this figure, one can see how the Second World war came to be lost for Germany.

The other allied nations did not inflict such casualty rates on Germans until late 1944 when Germany was already fatally weakened. It was the ordinary Russians — ill-equipped, terrified, and fused with both hatred and patriotism — who won against their invaders at a terrifying cost. Statistically speaking, it took three to four Russian soldiers to die in order to inflict same result on one German soldier. Now you can imagine why so many Russians died and why their deaths were so crucial to the end victory.

Third, and this is crucial, was the make up of the Russian government. The USSR was a totalitarian communist state which since 1927 had been led by a genocidal communist lunatic. Joseph Stalin had wiped away several millions of his own people and others he controlled during the years leading up to WW2. He ruled with an iron fist and a vicious communist police state which had just finished purging its imagined enemies and rivals in the military and the party.

However, going up against the equally frightening totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany, perhaps it was better that Russia had such a cruel but tight, centralized police state. For no democratic government, not even the U.S., could have sustained and kept fighting against Hitler while losing the millions the Russian people did. If you doubt me, keep in mind the growing disquiet in current generation of American public when Iraq war dead of U.S. soldiers rose to 4,000.

Modern democracies and the ones in the 1940s could not have sustained the casualty rates that Russia endured then and still remained free societies or combatants. They would have sued for peace or stayed out of confrontation. While I personally believe the U.S. and U.K. could have defeated the Nazis without Soviet Union, millions more of their men would have paid with their lives and the war would not have ended in 1945 (or without a mushroom cloud in Europe).

Fourth, the resources that Russia had at its disposal proved crucial to victory. The Russians’ sheer territory meant that it was impossible for the Germans to fully conquer and police it effectively. As the initial fighting ended, the USSR armed forces learned to retreat in an orderly fashion dragging the Germans deeper and deeper into Russia and playing havoc with their very thin supply lines. This would prove crucial as the war went on and the Germans became too few on the ground.

The mineral and productivity resources of the Stalinist regime were left intact behind the Ural Mountains, easily out of reach of Stuka bombers. The Soviet war capacity could be kept alive and allowed to grow, turning out new and ever more effective tanks, armaments, and rockets. However, the biggest resource that ensured Russia’s survival was it vast population. The Russians had a population then of over 100 million people and could put millions to arms, something the Germans found out later. For all the thousands the Nazis killed, more kept coming. This sapped German morale and allowed the Russians to regroup and plan strategies and attacks with more men. This was crucial to winning the war in the East.

I probably have more reasons why Soviet entry into the war changed the course of history but, alas, as of right now I cannot think of them. But as you can see, it was necessary that they did. The outcome of the war in Europe was decided not on the beaches of Normandy but in the steppes, forests, and hill country of the Eastern Front. The greatest and cruelest conflict in history had its worst and most awful confrontations here and the results changed the history of the globe.

Hope you read it and like or comment below. I am not working for RT by the way. As of yet anyway.

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  1. Jason Rudert Inactive
    Jason Rudert
    @JasonRudert

    In the conversations I had with old Germans, they barely spoke of anything other than the Eastern Front, the Russians, Siberia, etc. About the only mention of the Western Allies were the bombing raids. The American way of retelling the stories always puts us at center stage, but yes, WWII was German-Russian war. We chose the Russian side.

    • #1
  2. TKC1101 Inactive
    TKC1101
    @TKC1101

    Very well done analysis. I always wondered what would have happened had Hitler let his generals preserve their armies with tactical retreat, regroup and supply. The kill ratios would have become very lopsided. He basically wasted a large amount of his manpower with stupid ‘no retreat’ orders.

    • #2
  3. user_1100855 Member
    user_1100855
    @PaddySiochain

    TKC1101:Very well done analysis. I always wondered what would have happened had Hitler let his generals preserve their armies with tactical retreat, regroup and supply. The kill ratios would have become very lopsided. He basically wasted a large amount of his manpower with stupid ‘no retreat’ orders.

    Andrew Roberts said in the Storm of War that the Germans were the best (not in moral terms) fighters of the second world war as they killed the most. But they had the training and knowledge of when it was going to happen so its obvious why. Max Hastings in his book on last year of the war I think stated it wasnt till late 1944 that Americans were as well trained. Although it could be Andrew Roberts.

    Am bit tired. I enjoyed post and I wrote it.

    • #3
  4. Max Knots Member
    Max Knots
    @MaxKnots

    Thanks for the history lesson Paddy.  If you enjoy this subject you should download “Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History”.  They’re long – 1 to 1.5 hours each, but they give you a perspective you won’t find elsewhere.  Terrific for long commutes!

    • #4
  5. Mark Coolidge
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    It’s also interesting that Hitler’s primary motive in the invasion was to bring England to the negotiating table!  He believed that the British were only resisting because they were hoping the Soviets would eventually go to war.  Hitler was confident he could quickly knock out the Soviets and then, with their last hope gone, the British would finally negotiate.  Along with that, with the elimination of the Soviets threat, the Japanese could hold the Americans in check.

    • #5
  6. user_2505 Contributor
    user_2505
    @GaryMcVey

    Great post, Paddy. And true: as much as it’s still hard for we Americans to admit it, without the fatal distraction of the Russian offensive, the Nazis would almost certainly have beat the British, alone and outnumbered. And then that mushroom cloud would have risen over the US.

    The Serbs didn’t exactly get a good press or fair treatment during Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright’s war in the Nineties, but they too deserve a lot of credit for stalling Nazi ambitions in 1941, and Serbia knew damn well they didn’t have a chance in the long run against the Wehrmacht.

    Gore Vidal (I know, I know…) was one of the many writers who’ve conceived alternative WWII scenarios, and his alternative was (for Vidal) surprisingly realistic and down to earth: Hitler never rises, but oppressive WWI reparations cause the rise of a less flamboyantly murderous and anti-Semitic German leader, a reasonable-sounding man who proceeds to do most of the same things, for the same nationalist and political reasons. WWII breaks out, not with a spectacular Pearl Harbor-type attack, but when German harassment of shipping in the Panama Canal becomes intolerable in late 1940. Like many SF and fantasy What If stories, after these initial deviations from history, slowly the path of events becomes more and more familiar to us, an ancient bit of time travel wisdom (or a copout, depending on your taste): in the end you can’t escape destiny.

    • #6
  7. user_989419 Inactive
    user_989419
    @ProbableCause

    I was greatly informed by Nazi Germany: A New History by Klaus Fischer.  As I recall, that Nazi ideology included not just antisemitism, but also a racial disdain for Slavs.  The idea behind the invasion of Russia was to exterminate the Slavs and re-settle the East, thus providing that “lebensraum” for the master race.

    I agree the turning point of the war was the invasion of the Soviet Union.  As an aside, I argue the pivotal man was Winston Churchill.  Stalin had the war thrust upon him; in fact, Hitler’s actions surprised him.  But Churchill stayed the course in the critical period between the fall of France and the invasion of Russia.  Any other man would have come to terms.

    • #7
  8. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    Actually the turning point of the ” war” was the attack on Pearl Harbor.

    • #8
  9. user_2505 Contributor
    user_2505
    @GaryMcVey

    Only in the Pacific, Cheese. Without the Russians we wouldn’t have won the war in Europe. The OP is correct: despite our memories of the seemingly infinite power of the US in the war, if Roosevelt had delivered three million casualties, we would have negotiated a truce. And he wouldn’t have run in 1944 on a “win the war” ticket; he probably would have been impeached.

    • #9
  10. Mark Coolidge
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    More on Hitler’s motives from Ian Kershaw’s biography Hitler: Hubris which is fresh in my mind because I wrote a blogpost yesterday about both Hitler and Napoleon’s invasions of Russia.  The statements were made to his military leaders in January 1941.

    Stalin was shrewd, said Hitler and would increasingly exploit Germany’s difficulties.  But the crux of his case was, as ever, the need to pull away what he saw as a vital prop to British interests. ‘The possibility of a Russian intervention in the war was sustaining the English‘ he went on. ‘They would only give up the contest if this last continental hope were demolished‘.  He did not think ‘the English were crazy.  If they saw no further chance of winning the war, they would stop fighting, since losing it would mean they no longer had the power to hold together the Empire.  Were they able to hold out, could put together forty to fifty divisions, and the USA and Russia were to help them, a very difficult situation for Germany would arise.  That must not happen.  Up to now he had acted on the principle of always smashing the most important enemy positions to advance a step.  Therefore Russia must now be smashed.  Either the English would then give in, or Germany would continue the fight against England in more favorable circumstances.  The smashing of Russia would also allow Japan to turn with all its might against the USA‘ hindering American intervention.

    • #10
  11. user_2505 Contributor
    user_2505
    @GaryMcVey

    If Hitler had the discipline to bypass Stalingrad and lunge directly for the oil fields at Baku in Azerbaijan, he probably could have strangled the Russian tank armada, especially if he’d been able to hold onto Romania’s oil at Ploesti. Many think that if the city had been named something like “Nizhny Novgorod” it wouldn’t have had such iconic attraction.

    • #11
  12. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    Gary, my point is that without Pearl Harbor perhaps we would not have entered the war. Also without the arms we gave the USSR the Russians would have been a lot less of a foe. In America there was a huge isolationist block, many being German and to a lesser degree Irish.

    • #12
  13. user_2505 Contributor
    user_2505
    @GaryMcVey

    OK, PHC, I misunderstood your first comment. We actually agree. I’m not imputing any cowardice or softness in our country when I claim we would have pulled out if it got too tough, for the simple reason that like the isolationists said, we did have a choice, at least in the medium run. The USSR faced extinction and had no choice but to fight to the last man.

    • #13
  14. user_989419 Inactive
    user_989419
    @ProbableCause

    Churchill was perhaps begrudging in his assessment at the time of Hilter’s invasion of Russia:

    Without in the slightest degree challenging the conclusions which history will affirm that the Russian resistance broke the power of the German armies and inflicted mortal injury upon the life-energies of the German nation, it is right to make it clear that for more than a year after Russia was involved in the war she presented herself to our minds as a burden and not as a help.  None the less we rejoiced to have this mighty nation in the battle with us, and we all felt that even if the Soviet armies were driven back to the Ural Mountains Russia would still exert an immense and, if she persevered in the war, an ultimately decisive force.

    The Grand Alliance, p. 352.

    Caveats:

    1. He wasn’t happy that Stalin sat by for so long and watched Britain take a beating at the hands of the Germans.

    2. He wasn’t thrilled that they needed to divert precious supplies to the Russians.

    3. He wrote his memoir at the beginning of the cold war.

    4. His is a distinctly British (and somewhat American) view.

    • #14
  15. Mark Coolidge
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    Probable Cause:Churchill was perhaps begrudging in his assessment at the time of Hilter’s invasion of Russia:

    Without in the slightest degree challenging the conclusions which history will affirm that the Russian resistance broke the power of the German armies and inflicted mortal injury upon the life-energies of the German nation, it is right to make it clear that for more than a year after Russia was involved in the war she presented herself to our minds as a burden and not as a help. None the less we rejoiced to have this mighty nation in the battle with us, and we all felt that even if the Soviet armies were driven back to the Ural Mountains Russia would still exert an immense and, if she persevered in the war, an ultimately decisive force.

    The Grand Alliance, p. 352.

    That reminds me of what Churchill said when reproached by some in Parliament for his supportive statements for the Soviet Union after the German invasion:

    “if Hitler invaded Hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons”

     

    • #15
  16. user_989419 Inactive
    user_989419
    @ProbableCause

    In contrast, Churchill’s response to Pearl Harbor was effusive:

    No American will think it wrong of me if I proclaim that to have the United States at our side was to me the greatest joy.  I could not foretell the course of events.  I do not pretend to have measured accurately the martial might of Japan, but now at this very moment I knew the United States was in the war, up to the neck and in to the death.  So we had won after all!  …  Hitler’s fate was sealed.  Mussolini’s fate was sealed.  As for the Japanese, they would be ground to powder.  …  Being saturated and satiated with emotion and sensation, I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful.

    P. 539, 540

    However, it is fair to wonder — had the events occurred in opposite order, would his exuberance still have gushed forth upon the second event?

    • #16
  17. Limestone Cowboy Coolidge
    Limestone Cowboy
    @LimestoneCowboy

    Gary McVey: I was greatly informed by Nazi Germany: A New History by Klaus Fischer.  As I recall, that Nazi ideology included not just antisemitism, but also a racial disdain for Slavs.  The idea behind the invasion of Russia was to exterminate the Slavs and re-settle the East, thus providing that “lebensraum” for the master race.

    I’ve always wondered what might have happened if Germany had suppressed their disdain for the Slavs and entered the Baltic states, the northern Caucasus,  and especially Ukraine as liberators. There was little affection for the Soviet Union in these client states.  In 1932-33 Ukraine had been subjected to a terrible, planned genocide by Stalin (the so called Holodomor).  Millions of people in Ukraine and the northern Caucasus died.  Andrei Vlasov ( a Ukrainian former Red Army general ultimately raised an army of over 100,00 (mainly Ukrainian) men to fight as German allies.
    Had Germany entered these lands with reasonably humane treatment of local populations and promises of post-war autonomy who knows?  Germany would have had better intelligence from local populations, and more secure supply lines, just for starters.

    • #17
  18. Arizona Patriot Member
    Arizona Patriot
    @ArizonaPatriot

    I agree with PHC almost completely, and disagree with the OP.  The “turning point” of WWII was December 11, 1941, when Hitler declared war on the US.

    I say this because in my opinion, once the US was in the war against Germany, Allied victory was essentially inevitable.  The only major danger was a premature break in the alliance.

    This is not meant to detract in any way from the heroic struggle of the Russians and other people of the FSU (Former Soviet Union – boy I love that phrase!).  It is absolutely true that the Russians killed far more Germans than everybody else combined, and in other ways contributed the majority of the overall effort needed to defeat the Germans.  I also doubt that the allies would have beaten the Germans without the enormous Russian contribution.

    But these facts do not a “turning point” make.

    I think that, absent US involvement, the Germans probably would have beaten the Russians.  Thus, Barbarossa is not the “turning point.”  The US entry into the European war was the “turning point.”

    On the overall contribution to the defeat of the Axis powers, my rough estimates are:

    • Germany: 55% Russian, 30% American, 10% British, 5% other
    • Italy:  10% Russian, 40% American, 40% British, 10% other
    • Japan:  80% American, 5% British, 15% other (mostly Chinese)
    • Overall:  40% Russian, 40% American, 10% British, 10% other
    • #18
  19. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Well, before Barbarossa, there was operations Sea lion. Had Britain & her empire fallen, would not Hitler have had far greater resources to devote to the destruction of the USSR?

    Also, Churchill was for fighting, whereas Stalin was attacked, surprised although he had the intel of what would come, & eventually started fighting back, but not after an initial collapse.

    Hitler attacked the USSR for ideological rather than strategic reasons. & he waited–rather insanely–until late June–I guess, because of Mussolini’s Greek imbroglio. & he devoted his shock troops to mass murder behind his own lines; & he massacred the local populations instead of using them against the hated Soviets; & he massacred the Russians, who were not at all patriotic about the Soviets. All this, because he was not thinking straight about how to end Soviet rule & because he underestimated Russian numbers terribly.

    • #19
  20. user_358258 Member
    user_358258
    @RandyWebster

    One of the reasons the Germans failed to take Moscow, Leningrad, and Stalingrad is that the German soldier traveled the same way a French soldier did under Napoleon:  he walked.

    • #20
  21. user_357321 Inactive
    user_357321
    @Jordan

    Even without Barbarosa I still think Germany loses WW2.  It takes longer, but, assuming the US still enters the war, the Allies still are ultimately victorious.  The wartime economy of the United States was fully mobilized.  The Germans were not.

    For all of Germany’s industrial might, it was never fully leveraged until the last part the war, by which time most of its industrial capacity was ruined by bombing raids.  This simple fact, I believe, sealed Germany’s fate from the early days of the war.  I do not believe Germany could have sustained WW2 for much longer, even with all the troops and equipment they lost in Barbarosa.

    It also would have gone far better for history had Russia never had the opportunity to seize control of several satellite states, especially Poland and East Germany.  If anything, Germany’s attack on Russia was the primary enabler of the Soviet Empire.

    I agree that Barbarosa sealed Germany’s defeat earlier than it would have happened otherwise, but I think Germany was essentially defeated the moment the US entered the war.

    • #21
  22. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    Randy, actually the French rode horses until the had to eat them.

    • #22
  23. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    PHCheese:Randy, actually the French rode horses until the had to eat them.

    How many horses could they have had? There were a million men–I think Napoleon is responsible for two million dead horses in some twenty years…

    • #23
  24. Mark Coolidge
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    Titus Techera:

    PHCheese:Randy, actually the French rode horses until the had to eat them.

    How many horses could they have had? There were a million men–I think Napoleon is responsible for two million dead horses in some twenty years…

    Napoleon began the campaign with about 590,00o soldiers (not all were with his army that advanced on Moscow) and about 160,000 horses.  Immediately upon entering Russia both men and horses faced a shortage of foot and in the aftermath of a huge rainstorm just 5 days after the start of the campaign a large number of horses (perhaps up to 40,000),were dead. During the course of the campaign the French  received thousands of additional horses but almost all died during those six months.

    • #24
  25. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    Titus, I was sort of joking about the horses but as always Ricochet comes across with good information.

    • #25
  26. Mark Coolidge
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    PHCheese:Titus, I was sort of joking about the horses but as always Ricochet comes across with good information.

    Yes, we are an odd bunch, aren’t we?

    • #26
  27. viruscop Member
    viruscop
    @Viruscop

    Has anyone here read Adam Tooze’s The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy? I think it was the single greatest book on Nazi Germany I have ever read. Britain wasn’t even close to defeat before Barbarossa. It’s economy,  even measured against a Germany that dominated Europe, was still powerful. It’s navy had an overwhelming advantage over the Kriegsmarine. Barbarossa was merely a precondition to ending the war with Britain. Britain was not in such a bad state that defeat was assured if only Hitler had just concentrated on Britain.

    • #27
  28. user_1100855 Member
    user_1100855
    @PaddySiochain

    Okay Okay people who edited my post again?

    Just kidding.

    • #28
  29. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Alternative possibility.  What if the Japanese opened up fighting in Eastern Russia, starting a second front for Russia?  Stalin would have had to split his resources.  If I recall right, Stalin wasn’t able to throw his all at the Germans until his spies told him that Japan didn’t intend to do anything on Russia’s East.

    • #29
  30. user_2505 Contributor
    user_2505
    @GaryMcVey

    Correct–that was Richard Serge, attache at the German Embassy in Tokyo, and a dedicated Communist. The Japanese caught him. It wasn’t fun.

    • #30
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