The Failure of Operation Barbarossa: Truth versus Fiction

UNCP Author/Contributor (non-UNCP co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Vincent Castano (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNCP )
Web Site:
Bruce DeHart

Abstract: As of July 1940, the European phase of what would ultimately become the Second World War had been underway for some ten months. Having defeated Poland, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Holland, Belgium and France in a series of swift, decisive campaigns, Nazi Germany reigned supreme in Europe west of the Soviet Union. Yet, all was not well in the Nazi camp. Despite the enormous military successes won by Germany's armed forces since September 1939, Adolf Hitler faced a strategic dilemma, a strategic dilemma caused by Great Britain's obstinate refusal to make peace. Ultimately, Hitler--believing that Britain's refusal to come to terms was based, in large part, on the hope that Russia would eventually enter the war as an ally--chose to solve Germany's strategic dilemma with an invasion of the Soviet Union. Codenamed Operation Barbarossa, the German attack on soviet Russia commenced on 22 June 1941. Achieving complete tactical and strategic surprise, German forces, numbering more than three million men, quickly penetrated Soviet defenses, scored a series of impressive victories, and advanced rapidly into the heart of European Russia. By the beginning of December 1941, German forces had conquered approximately five hundred thousand square miles of territory, had inflicted several million casualties, and sat in position to capture Moscow. In the end, however, a quick, decisive victory over soviet Russia, which had been the chief strategic objective of Barbarossa, eluded Hitler, the result being a war of attrition that Germany, in retrospect, had little chance of winning. In the years following the Second World War, numerous German soldiers, officers in particular, who survived Barbarossa spent a considerable amount of time trying to explain why the Wehrmacht failed to achieve victory over soviet Russia in 1941. These explanations pinpoint, among other things, tactical and strategic mistakes committed by Hitler, the harsh nature of Russia's climate, Soviet numerical superiority, and even the seemingly superhuman nature of the Russian peasant soldier. In the pages that follow, I will examine Operation Barbarossa and the German failure to win the expected quick, decisive victory in 1941. Special attention will be devoted to German explanations of this defeat and how these explanations have influenced the historiography of Barbarossa and the fighting on the Eastern Front. Finally, I will offer my own analysis of why Hitler's military machine failed in its endeavor to defeat the Soviet Union in 1941.

Additional Information

Honors Project
Language: English
Date: 1997
World War, 1939-1945, Operation Barbarossa, German Occupation, Soviet Union, Germany, Eastern Front, Nazi, Adolf Hitler, Wehrmacht, History

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