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John Clifford Pemberton


(August 10, 1814-July 13, 1881) Confederate General

Despite his Northern roots, Pemberton became a high-ranking Confederate military officer. He served capably and diligently but could not defend the all-important river city of Vicksburg, Mississippi. He ended up being a pariah in the North and South alike.

John Clifford Pemberton was born in Philadelphia on August 10, 1814. His father was personally acquainted with President Andrew Jackson, who helped the young man secure an appointment to the U. S. Military Academy in 1833. Pemberton graduated four years later midway in his class of 50 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Fourth U. S. Artillery. He served in Florida’s Second Seminole War until 1839 before commencing a wide-ranging tour of garrison duty. Following the onset of the Mexican-American War in 1846, he joined Gen. Zachary Taylor’s Army of Occupation in Texas and fought well at the Battles of Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, and Monterrey. His good service landed him a position as an aide-de-camp to Gen. William Jenkins Worth. The following year he transferred with Worth to Gen. Winfield Scott’s army in the drive toward Mexico City, winning additional praise for his performance at Churubusco, Molino del Rey, and Chapultepec. Pemberton received two brevet promotions to captain and major for bravery in battle, and citizens of his native Philadelphia voted him an elaborate sword. A turning point in his life occurred while he was serving at Fortress Monroe, Virginia, in 1848, when he met and married Martha Thompson, the daughter of a Southern shipping magnate. Over the next 12 years he continued acquitting himself well at various posts along the western frontier, receiving high marks as an administrator and rising to captain in 1850. In 1858, he marched with Col. Albert S. Johnston from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to Utah as part of the Mormon Expedition. He was serving at Fort Ridgley, Minnesota, in the spring of 1861 when the tide of Southern secession precipitated the Civil War.

Pemberton favored neither slavery nor secession, but he was a strong advocate of states’ rights. That stance, coupled with his wife’s ardent sectionalism, convinced him to resign his commission in April 1861 and fight for the Confederacy. This decision was roundly condemned by Pemberton’s family back in Philadelphia, and two of his brothers subsequently served in the Union folk and the James River. That November he transferred south to the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, to serve under Gen. Robert E. Lee. A skilled engineer, Pemberton labored long and hard with limited resources to improve the security of Charleston Harbor. He was responsible for the construction of Fort Wagner, which later proved invaluable to the defenses of the city. However, Pemberton also undermined his usefulness by declaring, from an engineering standpoint, that Fort Sumter was hopelessly obsolete and might as well be abandoned. That bastion, enshrined in Confederate annals as the starting point of the war, carried great emotional attachment, and the general was assailed in the press for his lack of respect. Worse, Pemberton also declared that if it were up to him he would abandon his department entirely rather than let his small army be captured by the enemy. The very notion of yielding an inch of Southern soil without fighting further alienated public sentiment against him. Pemberton was also rebuked by General Lee for his impolitic remarks, at which point President Jefferson Davis removed him from so sensitive a posting.

Pemberton may have been unpopular, and many Southerners continued viewing his Northern origins with suspicion, but Davis acknowledged his military value to the Confederacy. In October 1862, he arranged Pemberton’s transfer to the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana with the rank of lieutenant general. His overriding mission was to keep the Confederate bastion of Vicksburg, astride the Mississippi River, from falling into enemy hands. This was strategically essential for two reasons. First, from its position high on a cliff overlooking the river, Vicksburg’s cannons prevented Northern vessels from reaching either New Orleans or Memphis. It thus functioned as an immovable obstacle to Union generals trying to shift forces along the western theater. Second, with the recent capture of both those cities by Union forces, Vicksburg was the last remaining rail link to Richmond. As a railhead it was the sole communications junction with Texas, Arkansas, and western Louisiana. Vicksburg’s fall would literally cut the Confederacy in two and hasten its demise.

Pemberton arrived at the city in November and took immediate steps to strengthen its already formidable defenses. That month he dispatched Gen. William W. Loring to a bend in the Tallahatchie River to construct Fort Pemberton. The following March, “Old Blizzards” was instrumental in repelling a Union movement down that waterway. In December 1862, Pemberton dispatched cavalry under Nathan Bedford Forrest and Earl Van Dorn, who ravaged Union communications and supply lines at Holly Springs. The losses incurred there forced Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to postpone an overland march upon Vicksburg for several weeks. That same month, Union forces under Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman advanced against the north-side defenses of the city but were badly repulsed at Chickasaw Bayou. Over the next few months, Pemberton skillfully deployed his forces and thwarted every move by Grant to advance upon Vicksburg in force. It appeared that the Confederates, after months of bloody reverses in the West, would finally prevail.

In April 1863, Grant commenced his Big Black River campaign, arguably one of the most brilliantly fought offensives in all military history. He secretly marched his army down the western bank of the Mississippi River below Vicksburg while directing a gunboat flotilla under Cmdr. David Dixon Porter to run past the city’s defenses at night. This was successfully accomplished, as was a major cavalry raid deep inside Mississippi by Col. Benjamin H. Grierson. With Pemberton’s attention directed elsewhere, Grant then boarded Porter’s gunboats and landed on the eastern bank of the river several miles below Vicksburg. Moving inland with 41,000 men, he quickly drove Gen. Joseph E. Johnston out of Jackson, the state capital, severing the Vicksburg rail link. Pemberton, who had been ordered to assist Johnston, also sortied from the city and engaged Grant at Champion Hills and Big Black River on May 16 and 17. The Confederates were totally defeated and driven back into Vicksburg’s fortifications. Johnston repeatedly ordered Pemberton to abandon the city, lest he become trapped within its works, but President Davis countermanded him to remain and fight to the last. Before Pemberton had a chance to sort through these conflicting orders, Grant surrounded the city and commenced a formal siege. In the course of 46 days, Pemberton’s pent-up forces bloodily repulsed two determined Union attempts to storm the works. Grant then sat back and calmly let the defenders run out of supplies. By July 4, the garrison had all but been starved; with no chance of being reinforced by Johnston, Pemberton surrendered mighty Vicksburg, 30,000 men, and 600 cannons to Grant. In accordance with the surrender terms, Pemberton was paroled and released. This debacle, coming on the heels of Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg the previous day, was a critical point in the course of military events. With the Mississippi River now firmly in Union hands, a corner had been turned, and the Confederacy began its slow descent into ruin. As Abraham Lincoln’s eloquently declared, “The Father of Waters now flows unvexed to the sea.”

Pemberton had performed well, considering the odds, but his failure to defend the last Confederate bastion in the West made him an object of public loathing. His standing as an outcast was reinforced by General Johnston’s public accusations that he disobeyed orders and was directly responsible for the disaster. Worse still, his demonstrated talent for administration could have been valuable elsewhere, but the political climate throughout the South made such an appointment impossible. After waiting eight months without an assignment, Pemberton tendered his resignation and asked to be appointed a lieutenant colonel of artillery somewhere. His request was granted, and he demonstrated his loyalty to the South by spending the next year and a half as inspector of ordnance in Richmond. In the spring of 1865, he was reunited with Johnston in North Carolina, where he surrendered.

After the war, Pemberton settled down on a farm in Fauquier County, Virginia, where he farmed for several years. In 1876, he relocated with his family back to Philadelphia. He died in nearby Penllyn on July 13, 1881, a talented leader but, by circumstance, one of the most vilified figures of Confederate military history.

Bibliography Ballard, Michael B. Pemberton: The General Who Lost Vicksburg. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1991; Gallagher, Gary W. Lee and His Generals in War and Memory. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998; Grabau, Warren E. Ninety- Nine Days: A Geographer’s Views of the Vicksburg Campaign. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2000; Howell, H. Grady. Hill of Death: The Battle of Champion Hill. Madison, MS: Chicasaw Bayou Press, 1993; Stanberry, Jim. “A Failure of Command: The Confederate Loss of Vickburg.” Civil War Regiments 2, no. 1 (1992): 36-68; Winschel, Terrance J. Vicksburg: Fall of the Confederate Gibralter. Abilene, TX: McWhiney Foundation Press, 1999; Woodworth, Steven E. Civil War Generals in Defeat. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1999; Woodworth, Steven E. Jefferson Davis and His Generals: The Failure of Confederate Command in the West. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1990; Woodworth, Steven E. No Band of Brothers: Problems of Rebel High Command. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999.

War of the Spanish Succession in Spain


Battle of Almenar (27-July-1710)

British troops were also engaged in Iberia, supporting opposition to Philip V. By 1707 there were nearly 29,000 subject troops in Iberia: initial success had led to an increase in the British commitment. However, despite the intervention of British troops and warships and of German and Portuguese troops, and the support of Catalonia and Valencia, the attempt to establish Archduke Charles as Charles III failed. It proved far easier to intervene on the littoral than to control the interior. Amphibious forces failed at Cadiz in 1702, but captured Gibraltar in 1704, Barcelona in 1705, and Minorca in 1708, and the British navy helped to raise the French siege of Barcelona in 1706.

Nevertheless, Castile was the key. Madrid was occupied briefly in 1706 and 1710, but Castilian loyalty to Philip V, and Louis XIV’s support for his neighbouring grandson, proved too strong. Philip’s cause became identified with national independence, despite his heavy reliance on French troops who badly defeated the Allies under Henry, Earl of Galway at Almanza (15 April 1707). The Portuguese cavalry and infantry fought poorly and were driven from the field, leaving the British and Dutch infantry to be defeated by Marshal Berwick’s far more numerous Franco-Spanish forces.

In 1710 James Stanhope defeated Philip at Almenara (28 July) and Saragossa (19 August), before occupying Madrid, but few Castilians rallied to Charles III, and his communications became hazardous. As a result, he withdrew from Madrid. At Brihuega (9 December), part of his retreating army, commanded by Stanhope, was attacked by a larger army under Vendome and forced to surrender. On the following day, another section of the retreating force, under Guido von Starhemberg, fought off a French attack at Villaviciosa, but Charles had now lost Castile and his forces retreated into Catalonia. The British and Dutch withdrew their fleets from the Mediterranean in December 1712 and Charles left Spain the following December.

The Spanish Succession War was one of several conflicts in the period 1688-1815 in which the British fought in Iberia, and the least successful. It is important to consider why, not least for the light that it throws on success in the Peninsula War. In 1762, when the Portuguese were helped to repel a French-supported Spanish invasion, and 1808-13, the British enjoyed the majority of local support in the areas within which they campaigned, not least because in 1762 there was no advance into Spain. Thus, the obvious contrast is provided by Castilian hostility during the War of the Spanish Succession. Catalan support in that conflict was insufficient, because Catalonia could not be protected effectively from Castile, as had been earlier demonstrated in 1648-52 when French support for Catalonia had proved inadequate to preserve its independence from Castile.

Yet, local opinion was not everything. The course of the conflict was itself important and, in that, the Allies lost a number of major battles, in part due to French intervention. Partly thanks to the ability of James, Duke of Berwick, illegitimate son of James II and Arabella Churchill, and therefore Marlborough’s nephew, the French benefited from a level of generalship higher than that they had shown in the Low Countries, Germany and Italy. Berwick was especially effective in manoeuvre and had a fine grasp of logistics.


James FitzStuart, Duke of Berwick

Furthermore, none of the British generals were as able as Marlborough, although the difficulties they faced with both logistics and obtaining cooperation between the Allies were greater than those he encountered. Claiming his opponent’s army “much superior and in better condition than ours”, Galway was manoeuvred out of Madrid by Berwick in 1706 and defeated a year later at Almanza. Complaints about allies, especially the Portuguese, were frequent. Their artillery was seen as terrible, but there was also a serious problem of trust. There was concern that the Portuguese would simply use British units as garrisons. Wightman, then a colonel, wrote in 1704,

We have but an ill prospect of affairs. Our generals disagreeing, the army mouldering away and having to do with a proud, senseless sort of people which have depended upon the revolt of the Spaniards without making any reasonable preparations against any accident that might happen to the contrary.

In June 1711, with allied Spanish troops mutinying for lack of pay and his own forces short of cannon and powder, the Duke of Argyll, who four years later was to face Mar at Sheriffmuir, was obliged to write from Barcelona:

having with greater difficulty than can be expressed found credit to keep the troops from starving in their quarters all this while, which for my part I do not see how we shall be able to do any longer, for the not paying the bills that were drawn from hence the last year, has entirely destroyed her Majesty’s15 credit in this place; but though the troops could be supplied in quarters, that will not now do the business, for the enemy is already in motion. so that if we remain in quarters, we shall be destroyed en detaille, and to get together is not in nature till we have money, for the whole body of troops that were here last year are without all manner of necessarys, having both officers and soldiers lost all their tents, baggage and equipage at the battle of Villa Viciosa, besides that the contractors for the mules to draw the artillery and ammunition and carry the bread will by no means be persuaded to serve any more till we have money to pay them.

Such problems underlined Wellington’s achievement a century later. He was more successful in maintaining cohesion among the allies, supplying the army and winning battles. Finance posed problems even for as wealthy a state as Britain and this was far more serious in Spain than in the Low Countries, not only because of the relative poverty and shortage of food of Spain, but also because the British ally in the Low Countries (the Dutch) was far better able to support its own forces and to pay a portion of the cost of financing allied troops.


The Battle of Cape Passaro (or Passero) was the defeat of a Spanish fleet under Admirals Antonio de Gaztañeta and Fernando Chacón by a British fleet under Admiral George Byng, near Cape Passero, Sicily, on 11 August 1718, four months before the War of the Quadruple Alliance was formally declared.

Forgotten War, 1718-20

Britain was at war again before the decade was over. Opposition to Philip V’s Italian ambitions led to an attack on the Spanish fleet off Sicily in 1718, and, the following year, Britain and France, now allies, attacked Spain. The bulk of the fighting was done by France. However, the British followed the pattern set in the War of the Spanish Succession by launching an amphibious attack on Spain. An expedition under Lieutenant-General Richard Temple, Viscount Cobham, who had served under Marlborough, was ordered to attack Corunna. Judging it too strong, Cobham, instead, attacked and captured Vigo without opposition on 29 September, destroying the shipping and military stores that had been accumulated there. Two Spanish warships at Ribadeo were destroyed and the shore batteries dismounted. On 12 October a force of 1,000 men from Vigo under Major-General George Wade captured Pontevedra. The garrison abandoned the position and the British destroyed the arsenal, barracks and stores, as well as blowing up a nearby castle at Marin. On 24 October Wade evacuated Pontevedra, the following day the cistern in Vigo Castle was destroyed and the British re-embarked, and on the 27th the fleet sailed. 18 This expedition was a clear response to Spanish support for the Jacobites. In 1720, a Spanish invasion of the Bahamas was beaten off and peace was negotiated.

British naval power had played a major role in the conflict, but it was a French army, under Berwick, that had invaded the Basque country and captured Fuentarabia and San Sebastian. The British army was simply too small for the task. It could play a role in amphibious operations, but the peacetime army was too small for campaigning on the Continent.

The Armies Holy Roman Empire and Poland were anachronisms late 17th century


Imperial defenders Vienna, 1683


In southern Slavic languages, husar was a mounted knight. Polish hussaria (‘winged horsemen’) dominated Central and Eastern Europe battlefields throughout the century and were central to the relief of Vienna, 1683.

Until the mid-17th century, while the core of all Polish armies continued to be noble heavy cavalry and units of hussars. From the early 16th century, a force of 3,000 Polish cavalry and a few infantry served the “General Defense” (“Obrona Potoczna”) against Tatar raids into the south. This was not a true standing army, as its soldiers were part-timers who owed labor service to local lords or the king. From 1566-1652, it was known as the “Quarter Army” (“wojsko kwarciane”). Until 1648, Polish medium cavalry, regardless of origin or ethnicity, were known as “Cossack cavalry” (“jazda kozacka”). These units painted their horses with red dye, dressed in wildly irregular ways, and used many types of weapons. They liked sabers in preference to lances, but they also used bows and short spears. After 1648, they were known as “jazda pancerna,” or “Pancerna cavalry.” Polish hussars were modeled on Hungarian hussars, except that most Polish cavalrymen hailed from the szlachta, or higher nobility, and their retainers. Polish hussars comprised one “comrade” (“towarzysz”) and four retainers (“pacholeks”). This was reduced to two pacholeks in the late 17th century. Over time, Poland’s hussars grew heavier in horses and weapons and evolved into medium cavalry.

The predominance of cavalry in eastern European warfare spoke to greater requirements for mobility on the steppes and northeastern plains, especially compared to the confined and fortified frontier zones of France, the Rhineland, Italy, Hungary, or the Netherlands. Tension between cavalry and infantry was high in Polish armies. This reflected a unique strategic dilemma faced by the Commonwealth: the light cavalry it needed to deal with the Tatars in the south were mostly useless against Swedish or Russian infantry, artillery, and field fortifications in the north. Conversely, Polish infantry and artillery needed to fight Swedes and Russians were highly vulnerable when facing fast-moving Tatars and Cossacks.

Between 1500 and 1512 the empire was divided into ten military districts or circles, kreise – the Franconian, Swabian, Bavarian, Upper Rhenish, Electoral Rhenish, Westphalian, Lower Saxon, Upper Saxon, Austrian and Burgundian. When the emperor required a German army he summoned the Army of the Circles, which, according to an edict of the Diet of Worms in 1521, was fixed at a minimum of 4,000 cavalry and 20,000 infantry, each circle making pro rata contributions in troops, money and equipment. This basic establishment of 24,000, known as the simplum, was revised upwards to 12,000 horse and 28,000 foot in 1681; when more troops were required, the simplum was doubled (duplum) or, more rarely, tripled (triplum). The duplum was invoked in 1683 when the Turks besieged Vienna and again in the winter of 1688-9 during the Devastation of the Palatinate. Some small states commuted their obligations into a money payment that was used to raise additional men from the larger polities. Being impermanent, the Army of the Circles was normally ill-trained, badly disciplined and indifferently commanded. Larger states donated their worst regular units because they were usually under some political obligation or mercenary treaty opposed to Imperial interests.

Poland’s vast territories stretched from the Baltic in the north to the borders of Hungary in the south and from Muscovy in the east to Austria and Brandenburg-Prussia in the west. Paradoxically, Polish society was substantially militarized, yet the state was unable to defend itself adequately against a ring of predatory neighbours. The principal difficulty was the size and political independence of the Polish nobility: by 1773, 12 per cent of Poles claimed noble status, and in the provinces of Podlasia and Mazovia there were more aristocrats than peasants. Not that there was much to distinguish one from the other: most nobles were as poor as peasants and sought protection by joining the private armies of the few rich magnates. The king could not compete, hence in Poland the ‘monopoly of violence’ remained with the nobility and did not migrate to the sovereign. Although royal rents financed a standing force, founded in 1564, the Sejm (the noble diet), fearful that – the elected monarch would institute military rule, ensured that he was starved of additional funds. Thus this ‘Crown Army’, rarely larger than 30,000 men and formally established at 24,000 in 1717, was confined to frontier defence and never grew sufficiently to enhance royal authority When John III Sobieski (1674-96) raised an army to help raise the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683, his 25,000 troops were accumulated very slowly from amongst the feudal noble cavalry, foreign mercenaries, and the infantry of the Crown Armt. A feature of Polish armies was their preponderance of cavalry, recruited from the ubiquitous nobility, instead of cheaper and more flexible infantry. By the early eighteenth century the ratio was as high as four horsemen to each foot soldier, when most European armies enjoyed an inverse proportion.

Homer’s great epic -Siege of Troy

The Trojan Horse stands inside the city of Troy in Warner Bros. Pictures' epic action adventure "Troy," starring Brad Pitt, Eric Bana and Orlando Bloom.  PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE USED SOLELY FOR ADVERTISING, PROMOTION, PUBLICITY OR REVIEWS OF THIS SPECIFIC MOTION PICTURE AND TO REMAIN THE PROPERTY OF THE STUDIO. NOT FOR SALE OR REDISTRIBUTION.




The chief source on the siege of Troy is Homer’s great epic, the Iliad. Its 24 chapters treat the last year of the siege; however, it was composed two or three centuries after the siege. Modern archaeological excavations have revealed a series of strata that identify a number of different cities built on the site. The one associated with the siege is the seventh stratum (from the bottom). It bears traces of a fire, and according to Homer, a great fire ended the siege. Scientific experts agree that the fire in the seventh stratum occurred in 1184 BCE. Homer tells us that the siege of Troy by the Mycenaeans (the mainland Greeks) went on for 10 years, hence the starting date of 1194 BCE.

The siege was undoubtedly motivated by economics. Located at the southern entrance to the Hellespont (present-day Dardanelles), Troy controlled the important trade between East and West, that is, from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. Along this route flowed such commodities as grain, precious metals, and timber to construct ships. Troy was allied with a number of other neighboring city-states, and the Mycenaeans saw this as a threat to their position in the Mediterranean. Homer tells us that the cause of the conflict was the rape of Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, by Paris, the son of King Priam of Troy. Helen fled to Troy with Paris, possibly taking part of Menelaus’s treasure. Another account has the Trojans turning an official visit to Sparta into a raid of revenge for something done to them by the Greeks.

In any case, according to Homer the city-states of Greece were outraged and provided both contingents of troops and 1,200 ships, which then came under the command of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and the brother of Menelaus. Homer tells us that on the Greek side the greatest heroes of the fighting were Achilles, king of the Myrmidons of Thessaly, and Ulysses, king of Ithaca. On the Trojan side there were Hector, son of Priam, and Aeneas, son of Venus and Anchises.

Following an unsuccessful effort to take Troy by assault, the Greeks settled in for a siege, which apparently was not complete. The Trojans were able to communicate by land to the interior most of the time. Homer indicates that the ships were brought up on land, where they were protected by entrenchments. Quarreling between Agamemnon and Achilles served to divide the Greeks, allowing Hector and the Trojans to attack and destroy a number of the beached Greek ships. Following the deaths of a number of prominent figures on each side (including Hector and Achilles), the Greeks found themselves in desperate straits. Both sides, however, were exhausted by the long siege.

At this point Ulysses came up with the ruse of an enormous wooden horse. Left on the field, it contained Ulysses and a number of other Greek warriors. The remaining Greeks boarded their ships and sailed away. The Trojans, believing that the Greeks had given up, thought that the trophy had religious significance and brought it inside the city. At night Ulysses and his warriors climbed down out of the horse, signaled to the fleet offshore, and opened the city gates. The Trojans were taken by surprise, and the city was burned.

Some have suggested that the alleged Trojan horse that ended the siege was instead a great movable siege tower of wood covered by horse hides for the protection of those working it, which the Greeks set against the western, and weakest, part of the great wall that protected the fortress. Others believe that the wooden horse refers to some type of battering ram or to the image of a horse painted on one of the gates of the city, which was opened by a Trojan traitor. In any case, as a consequence of their victory, the Greeks secured control of the important trade through the Dardanelles and the Black Sea.

VVS versus Luftwaffe


During the first days of the war between Germany and. the Soviet Union in June 1941, there were a number of cases when Luftwaffe units on the Eastern Front were dealt relatively heavy losses in a single day. But with the loss of the cream of experienced VVS pilots and unit commanders, heavy single day losses did not happen again on the Eastern Front (except for the Ju 52 transport units at Demyansk) until later in the summer of 1942. Instead, there was a steady rate of attrition of generally two or three combat losses in each Luftwaffe Geschwader on the Eastern Front each week during the first half of 1942. Thus many German airmen apprehended the air war over the Eastern Front during this period as less hazardous compared to the air war over Western Europe with the Murmansk sector as the only exception. But statistics show that the accumulated effect of relentless combat sorties carried out in the East brought the chances of survival down to the same level as in the West at this stage. Thirty- seven pilots of JG 26’s three Gruppen, operating against the RAF over the English Channel, were killed or reported as missing during the first half of 1942. JG 54, operating three Gruppen on the Eastern Front, lost exactly the same number of pilots – thirty-six – pilots during the same period. I./JG 27 lost seven pilots in the North African skies, and II./JG 5 lost thirteen pilots in the Murmansk sector of the Eastern Front.

The increasing experience accumulated by the Luftwaffe veterans further increased the gap in quality between the core of Luftwaffe aces and the majority of the fliers on the Soviet side. Nevertheless, the VVS, also predominantly hobbled by an outmoded tactical doctrine, gave a relatively good account of itself in many types of combat despite its shortcomings. Soviet bombers and most significant – ground- attack planes dealt heavy blows against Army Group Center early in 1942 and at Kharkov in May 1942. German accounts particularly underline the efficiency of the II- 2- equipped Shturmovik units. Summarizing the appraisal of several Wehrmacht commanders in 1942, Luftwaffe Generalleutnant Walter Schwabedissen wrote: “As early as the beginning of 1942 Russian ground- attack aviation had, for the most part, Twice Resurgent recovered from the defeat of 1941. During the course of the 1941 – 1942 winter operations, it proved to be even superior to the Luftwaffe on several occasions. From then on the Germans observed the gradual strengthening of Russian ground- attack aviation despite the personnel and materiel losses suffered.” Schwabedissen also noted that during the initial phase of the Kharkov battle in May 1942, Soviet ground- attack aircraft “operated in conjunction with attacking infantry and armor. These offensive operations were properly coordinated with regard to time and space, and the targets were well selected, plans were effectively executed and correlated so that the operations produced a considerable effect on the Germans, especially on their morale.”

Although it was designed as a long- range bomber fleet, the ADD contributed to the VVS’s tactical achievements; it did carry out some limited strategic raids, but in general, the uninterrupted crisis at the front forced its deployment mainly in the tactical role.

The Soviet airmen continued to challenge the Luftwaffe for superiority in the air throughout the difficult period of January through June 1942. Just as in 1941, the VVS was able to secure local air supremacy on a number of occasions during the first half of 1942: in the central combat zone in January, over the Crimea in February, and at Kharkov during the opening of Marshal Timoshenko’s ill- fated May offensive.

The VVS fighters maintained a predominantly defensive footing throughout the period, and they also gained their most significant achievements during the first half of 1942 in the task of local air cover. VVS and PVA fighters, in cooperation with powerful antiaircraft concentrations, managed to prevent any successful German air raids against Moscow and Leningrad, and against the supply line to Leningrad across Lake Ladoga. But the Soviet fighters largely failed to provide VVS bombers, ground- attack planes, and ground troops with enough air cover against Luftwaffe attacks in sectors where the Germans had concentrated their air forces. The most successful offensive operation by VVS fighters in the period January through June 1942 was achieved against the German airlift operation to Demyansk. Nevertheless, the air force involved – VVS- Northwestern Front – almost bled itself white in the process.

The widening qualitative gap between the Luftwaffe aces and the mass of the Soviet airmen also had its equivalent within the VVS. Veterans such as Podpolkovnik Boris Safonov, Mayor Aleksandr Zaytsev, Mayor Vasiliy Zaytsev, Mayor Ivan Kleshchyov, and Kapitan Mikhail Avdeyev rose high above the average aviators of both the VVS and the Luftwaffe. The twenty individual and six shared victories Boris Safonov attained by the time of his death in late May 1942 placed him in the lead of the Soviet fighter aces.

In all air forces at war, a relatively small number of aces have been responsible for a large proportion of all aerial victories, but this tendency was particularly accentuated in the VVS during the early stages of the war. For instance, 402 IAP claimed 26 aerial victories during the first half of 1942. Of this total, Leytenant Ivan Likhobabin scored 12 individual and shared victories. On the German side, II./JG 77 provides a good example. The most successful pilot in this Jagdgruppe, Hauptmann Heinrich Setz, contributed 36 victories to the total of 262 amassed by this Gruppe on the Eastern Front during the first half of 1942. In III./JG 52, Oberleutnant Hermann Graf was responsible for about 1 in 4 of this Gruppe’s victories from January through June 1942.

Although the size of the Luftwaffe on the Eastern Front grew from about fifteen hundred aircraft in January 1942 to approximately twenty–five hundred a half year later, 1942 was the year in which the Luftwaffe’s state as 212 a mere supplement to the army became permanent. While the Luftwaffe went into a long–term decline, the Soviet air forces experienced a gradual but steady growth in both numbers and quality.

That the Red Army was able to recover from heavy losses had been painfully demonstrated to the Germans, and it was clear that new powerful Soviet offensives would again be staged unless the Germans could strike a devastating blow against the USSR. Western Lend-Lease deliveries of military equipment increased each month, and – even more important – the industries that had been evacuated east from the western parts of the USSR in the fall of 1941 were coming on line at a surprisingly fast pace. By mid-1942 the crisis emanating from the hasty redeployment of entire factory complexes in the eastern areas of the Soviet Union had been largely overcome. Although German intelligence reported an output of 600 to 700 Soviet tanks each month, the actual figure was three times higher; an average of 1,863 Soviet tanks were produced monthly during the first half of 1942. The output of Soviet combat aircraft increased from 3,301 in the period January through March 1942 to 4,967 in the period April through June 1942.

Time was running against Hitler, and the crisis deriving from the disastrous winter battles had been far from overcome when on April 5, 1942, he issued his instruction for the next major offensive. The new offensive plan, Operation Blau, intended to deal a decisive strike against the most vulnerable point of the Soviet economy: the oil fields in the Caucasus.

By the time German troops were marching up into position to launch their summer offensive, the Red Army was entering an amazing resurgence. New and better war equipment – not least new and better aircraft – were arriving at the front at an increasing pace. The restructuring of the VVS was in full swing, and Soviet aerial tactics were being reappraised.

The German fighter pilots of I./JG 53 Pik As, who returned to the Eastern Front from Sicily at the end of May 1942, immediately noted that Soviet opposition in the air had grown far more dangerous than it had been the previous year. One month later the Wehrmacht embarked on the fateful road that would lead it to the city that carried Josef Stalin’s name – Stalingrad. To the airmen of the Luftwaffe, the summer of 1942 on the Eastern Front would be completely different than anything they had previously experienced, much less expected.

Germany to the East I




With his decision for war with the Soviet Union, Hitler had closed off other strategic options. The Soviet Union, he stressed, posed a long-term threat to Germany that had to be eliminated, and, in any case, the time was right as at the moment the Red Army was poorly trained, inadequately led, and badly equipped. Besides, as Halder recorded his revealing admission, “Once England is finished, he would not be able to rouse the German people to a fight against Russia; consequently, Russia would have to be disposed of first.” The Wehrmacht would launch a mighty blow that would catch the Red Army by surprise and force it to fight as far to the west as possible, thus exposing it to annihilating encirclement battles. After this initial sledgehammer blow, Hitler simply expected the Soviet state, a colossus of clay, to collapse. The resulting operation would merely be to follow up and destroy the broken remnants of the Red Army, a “railroad advance” reminiscent of 1918.

Between July and December 1940, the OKH, and principally General Erich Marcks, had developed a series of ideas on how to conduct a campaign against the Soviet Union. Marcks assumed that the Red Army would have to stand and fight west of the rivers Prut, Dniester, Dnieper, and Dvina in order to defend their main economic and industrial areas as well as the key cities of the western Soviet Union. Since the capture of Moscow, which was seen as the political, economic, and spiritual heart of the Soviet Union, would eliminate a major part of the armaments industry as well as shatter the Soviet command and control system, Marcks made it his main operational goal. The sheer size of the front, however, and the presence of the Pripet Marshes in the middle dictated a second offensive directed toward Kiev, which would then link up with the right flank of the northern force east of the marshes for a joint thrust on Moscow. While agreeing in principle with the Marcks Plan, Hitler also stressed the economic importance of seizing the Baltic states. General Friedrich Paulus, the newly appointed deputy chief of the General Staff, resolved the conflicting visions by distributing much of the army’s reserve units among three army groups, North, Center, and South, each of which would now fight its own separate envelopment battle. What had begun as a single main thrust with a central focus had, by the autumn of 1940, evolved into a three-pronged attack with no clear Schwerpunkt and insufficient forces for any of the three army groups to accomplish their tasks.

During this period, in fact, German planning reflected an odd combination of hubris and wishful thinking as the hope that the enemy would act in the desired manner replaced rational assessment of relevant factors. OKH planners, for example, simply assumed that the Red Army would stand and fight in order to safeguard the principal Soviet economic and industrial centers, thus allowing the Wehrmacht to encircle and destroy it. The General Staff was also aware that the Soviets had built new industrial centers in the Urals that could be strengthened and reinforced by an evacuation of machines and equipment from the western borderlands but never pursued this consideration further. The German military leadership, in fact, displayed a woeful lack of understanding of economic factors. By training and tradition focused almost exclusively on the operational-tactical aspects of planning, the OKH designed a plan based on the lessons of the 1940 French campaign that emphasized a swift, decisive, concentric thrust toward the enemy capital, unconcerned by the fact that the economically vital regions lay in the south.

They thus chose to launch a blitzkrieg not over ground favorable for mobile tank warfare, the rolling countryside of Ukraine, and toward the vital oil supplies of the Caucasus, but through the endless expanse of forest and marsh in central Russia, an area of few roads and unsuitable for motorized warfare. The OKH also defined an operational plan that ignored the fact that it would be impossible to supply the army with the necessary rations, munitions, spare parts, and material for an extended period over long distances and the fact that there was insufficient manpower to safeguard these long, exposed supply lines. Shortages of oil, gasoline, and vehicles, German planners realized, would of necessity reduce German striking power in Russia while demands elsewhere would drain troop strength even as, virtually all the prime manpower having already been conscripted, no large available reserves remained. As a result, the relative punch of German formations available for the Russian campaign would in some respects be lesser than the previous year in the west, even though the army had embarked on a crash program to increase offensive firepower. Moreover, because of production bottlenecks, a large percentage of the troops assembling in the east suffered from noticeable deficiencies in armaments and equipment. Only about a fifth of the available forces possessed capabilities suitable for the envisioned rapid, wide-ranging war of movement. Because of the lack of vehicles, over half the units entered Russia the way Napoléon’s Grand Army did, on foot with horse-drawn supply wagons. The traditional German bias against the intelligence function, as well as the generally poor quality of information coming out of the Soviet Union, also posed a problem. German planners consistently underestimated Soviet strength, Stalin’s ability to maintain control after the initial German blows, the problems of space, terrain, and climate, the difficulties of supply and logistics, and the problems of waging a blitzkrieg in a vast area with few good roads.

More critically, the OKH suffered from a lack of imagination. By and large, operational planners simply took the lessons learned from the successful French campaign and applied them to the completely different context of the Soviet Union. This resulted in a clever tactical scheme but not a clear strategy for achieving a war-winning victory. Significantly, the German approach to Barbarossa overlooked or ignored a number of key factors that contributed to the success of the Sickle Cut plan. The French had been routed because Manstein had delineated a clear focal point for the German attack and advance, one that, if successful, would pin enemy forces against a natural obstacle and give them no possibility other than surrender. It depended for success on daring thrusts deep into the enemy flanks, a risk that could be taken because of the stationary nature of French forces on the Maginot Line. The distances to be covered in the decisive, initial thrust were manageable, while supply posed no insurmountable problems given the excellent road and rail network of Western Europe. In addition, the Germans enjoyed the great advantages of speed and surprise against an enemy that had never encountered the methods of mechanized warfare. Nor were the German forces markedly inferior to those of the enemy in terms of either quality or quantity. Vitally, with no threat to its rear and small distances, the Luftwaffe had been able to concentrate all its forces to provide a decisive edge. Moreover, the French system of command and control faltered almost immediately, while political leaders failed to maintain their nerve or to mobilize the full resources of the French state. Crucially, none of these factors would apply in the Soviet context. Most importantly, perhaps, Sickle Cut had been designed as a war-winning operation, an all-or-nothing gamble in which the outcome rested on German ability to gather all available strength for a stunning knockout blow at the beginning of the campaign. Failure meant not just the loss of a battle but outright disaster, a stark fact that the planners of Barbarossa chose to ignore.

Although these various plans agreed on two broad notions—that Soviet forces needed to be encircled and destroyed as quickly as possible and that the ultimate goal was a line running roughly from Archangel on the Arctic Sea to Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea—the main direction of the attack had been left unresolved, a lapse that reflected fundamental disagreement over the purpose of the operation. To Hitler, the key objective of the campaign, despite his justification of it on strategic grounds, remained the winning of Lebensraum, especially food, oil, and industrial resources, so he gave priority to economic objectives. For Halder, crushing the Soviet state with a single blow in a short campaign took precedence, which meant seizing Moscow. A powerful thrust toward Moscow—the economic, political, ideological, and communications center of a tightly controlled totalitarian regime—would force the Soviets to concentrate their forces, thus assuring their destruction. Hitler, however, dismissed Moscow as “not very important.” He agreed with the aim of rapidly enveloping Soviet forces but suggested that this could best be accomplished by diverting troops from the center to the north and south, rather than merely driving Russian forces back toward Moscow. This would achieve the additional purpose of opening the Baltic coast as a supply route and securing economic and industrial resources in Ukraine but would result in a dispersal of forces.

Typically, given their strained relationship, Hitler and Halder neither discussed nor clarified the points of conflict in their differing operational conceptions. Instead, Hitler assumed that his army chief would simply follow his guideline, while Halder believed that the development of the operation would confirm the correctness of his ideas. Army planners, in fact, seemed to have succumbed to the blitzkrieg myth, fully expecting the campaign to be decided after the first few weeks, and, thus, elected not to choose between the two conflicting views. Instead, they simply assumed that a quick military decision would deny the Soviets the ability to mobilize their resources, that the Wehrmacht could be fed off the land, and that the rapid collapse of the Soviet Union would allow for the easy conquest of the foodstuffs and raw materials vital to the German war economy.

Despite their apparent confidence and resolve, however, both Hitler and his army leaders harbored persistent doubts about the strength of the Soviet Union and the ability of the Wehrmacht to carry off a successful offensive. Goering, too, appeared ambivalent, dreading the extension of the war, the enormous size of Russia, and the probable entry of the United States, but hungering for the economic spoils to be gained. The period between January and March 1941, then, as operational plans were prepared and approved by Hitler, was a time of disturbing uncertainties. As preparations intensified, German planners became aware of numerous problems. The presence of the Pripet Marshes dictated that the Ostheer (the Eastern Army) had to be deployed in two largely uncoordinated groups, making a single decisive encirclement battle, such as achieved in France, virtually impossible. The terrain and primitive road network of Russia argued against any rapid thrusts into the interior, while the increasing breadth of the front as the Germans advanced eastward and diverging locations of key targets such as Leningrad, Moscow, and Ukraine threatened a dispersal of forces. The enormous size of Russia put in question the Luftwaffe’s ability to accomplish its tasks. Nor had a clear decision been made as to the Schwerpunkt of the attack: Halder still favored a concerted strike directly at Moscow, while Hitler gave priority to economic targets in the Baltic and Ukraine. Supply and logistic problems also arose, even as the Germans became uncomfortably aware that Soviet strength was considerably greater than expected. In the end, the generals began to suspect that, as in 1914, they did not have sufficient forces to achieve their goals.

As in 1914 and 1940, everything would depend on deciding the battle in the first weeks of the campaign through a rapid thrust and encirclement operation that would trap the Red Army west of the Dvina-Dnieper River line. Unlike Manstein’s encircling blow in 1940, which had not exceeded 150 miles in depth, the Germans would now have to advance some 300 miles in order to bag the Russians. This would tax their rather small and rudimentary supply system to the limit. Organizationally, the German army had always accorded priority to combat formations rather than the administrative tail, but this left a supply system suited only to limited campaigns of short distance and duration. Unlike the French campaign, which had already strained the Germans to the limit, in this campaign supplies could not simply be shuttled to the front by trucks from depots in Germany. The deeper the advance, moreover, the larger amounts of gasoline the trucks would use themselves just to deliver decreasing amounts of supplies. As a result of these greater distances, the German quartermaster corps thus decided to split its motor pool into two segments: one set of trucks would accompany the panzer units and shuttle fuel and supplies from intermediate dumps that themselves would be resupplied by the remainder of the fleet. Since the gauge of the Russian railways differed from the German, little could be expected initially from use of rail transport, and everything depended on the use of trucks. This, however, was a system of diminishing efficiency, as between two-thirds and three-fourths of the truck space would be filled with fuel and rations and the rest with ammunition.

To compound the problem, despite images of a motorized blitzkrieg force, the German army lacked adequate motor vehicle capacity. Halder, in fact, had toyed with the idea of demotorizing the army after the Polish campaign because of a serious lack of vehicles and fuel. Amazingly, the German army used almost twice as many horses in World War II as it had in the previous war, 2.7 million as compared to 1.4 million. The Wehrmacht that attacked Russia was essentially composed of a steel tip mounted on a brittle wooden shaft as only a quarter of the invading force consisted of motorized units. The great mass of German soldiers advanced into Russia in June 1941 as soldiers had done for centuries, on foot and supported by horse-drawn transportation; indeed, the Germans employed some 650,000 horses in their blitzkrieg into Russia. The Wehrmacht, as Adam Tooze has stressed, was essentially a “poor army,” as the Versailles restrictions and years of economic hardship in the 1920s and early 1930s had stifled the development of a large motor vehicle industry.

In order to make good their shortages, the Germans had come to rely on booty from their earlier successes. As a result, they possessed a bewildering variety of vehicles, some two thousand in all, which meant that for their repair a single army group had to stockpile a million different spare parts. Since the Germans could not assume that they would capture large stocks intact, the entire supply system depended crucially on trucks, a fact that preoccupied Halder. “Space—no pause; that alone guarantees victory,” he noted in late January. “Continuous movement is a supply issue. . . . Complications through differing equipment types. . . . Since the railroad . . . cannot be counted on for the desired tempo, the continuous operation depends on motor transport. . . . We must destroy the Russian army without pause over the Dnieper-Dvina line.” If serious fighting extended beyond this initial period, the problems would only multiply as the Wehrmacht would then be dependent on the inadequate Soviet rail system, the speed with which it could be converted and maintained, and the increasingly primitive road network.

Germany to the East II


Clockwise from top left: German soldiers advance through Northern Russia, German flamethrower team in the Soviet Union, Soviet planes flying over German positions near Moscow, Soviet prisoners of war on the way to German prison camps, Soviet soldiers fire at German positions.


Just as worrisome was the growing realization of the serious materiel deficiencies facing the German armed forces. Following the defeat of France, Hitler had ordered a redirection in armaments production to favor the navy and air force, but with the decision for Barbarossa the priority had to shift, at least somewhat, back to the army. To compound problems, in expectation of a quick victory in Russia only part of German war production was targeted at the needs of the Russian campaign, with the remainder continuing to produce for the anticipated confrontation with Britain and America. Since German industry could not quickly or easily convert from one type of production to another, delays were inevitable, with one result being a serious deficiency in ammunition. Between July and December 1941, that is, the first six months of Barbarossa, the production of army weapons actually fell by an average of 38 percent. The German war economy also suffered from a lack of skilled labor. To free workers for a return to industry, an elaborate system had been worked out in the winter of 1940–1941 whereby experienced soldiers were given an “armaments holiday” while new recruits were trained for the army. In this way, soldiers would manufacture the weapons they and their comrades would later use in the Soviet Union. Once these worker-soldiers returned in large numbers to the army, however, production would suffer, a potential for disaster that could be averted only if the campaign in Russia was short and did not involve above-average losses in men and materiel. Further compounding the problem, armaments industries attempted to delay the release of soldiers back to the army as long as possible, which cut into the time available for the training of the new divisions.

Nor were production problems the only concern. In late December, General Friedrich Fromm, head of the Reserve Army, informed Halder of existing shortages in key raw materials and warned that food requirements could be met only by “swindling ourselves through 1941.” A month later, OKW economic staffers reinforced this message, pointing out that an invasion of the Soviet Union would interrupt deliveries of key raw materials and accelerate the depletion of already inadequate stocks of fuel and rubber. At a conference on 28 January called by Halder to address the economic situation, General Georg Thomas, the economic expert in the OKW, presented a devastating picture: tire requirements were deficient by some 50 percent, while sufficient fuel existed for only about two months of combat. Halder observed soberly in his diary, “Purpose [of Barbarossa] not clear. We do not hit the British that way. Our economic potential will not be substantially improved. Risk in the west must not be underestimated. It is possible that Italy might collapse. . . . If we are then tied up in Russia, a bad situation will be made worse.” Halder’s spirits certainly did not improve three days later when he met with his army group commanders, all of whom voiced misgivings about the operation. In a meeting with Hitler on 1 February, Field Marshal von Bock gave voice to these anxieties, agreeing that “we would defeat the Russians if they stood and fought,” but worrying that it might not be possible to force them to make peace. Hitler, visibly upset, replied, “If the occupation of the Ukraine, and the fall of Leningrad and Moscow did not bring about peace, then we would just have to carry on . . . and advance to Yekaterinburg.” In any case, Hitler insisted angrily, “I will fight. . . . Our attack will sweep over them like a hailstorm.”

Despite Hitler’s protestations, the key dilemma had been voiced by Halder—that a conquest of Russia would not improve German economic potential—for it called into question Hitler’s fundamental assumptions about the gains to be realized from military conquest. As early as 10 August 1940, a study completed by the Military Geography Branch of the General Staff warned that the capture of Moscow, Leningrad, and Ukraine would not necessarily compel Russia to make peace as, beyond the German reach in the Urals, the Soviets had built a significant armament industry along with a solid industrial and agricultural base. In October, Gebhardt von Walther, a staffer at the German embassy in Moscow, sent an even more pessimistic assessment to Halder, warning against the expectation of Soviet collapse or any immediate economic benefits from Ukraine, especially foodstuffs. The German occupation in 1918 had yielded meager results, Walther argued, and the area was now even more overpopulated and impoverished. Furthermore, Thomas pointed out, maintaining or increasing agricultural production in Ukraine depended on using a huge fleet of tractors and trucks. This would be impossible without simultaneously seizing the oil fields of the Caucasus, which were beyond the initial German reach. Reich minister of finance von Krosigk also noted that the Russians would likely burn their fields and storage facilities, with the result that less grain would actually be collected through an invasion. Since the mid-1920s, Hitler had justified an inevitable showdown with Russia on economic and racial grounds; now, the former assumption seemed to be put in serious doubt.

Despite this gloomy prognosis, Halder and the army leaders, perhaps remembering their falsely pessimistic assessments in spring 1940, could not bring themselves to confront Hitler. At a conference on 3 February, Halder mentioned supply and economic difficulties only briefly, preferring instead to stress the means by which these could be overcome as well as the poor quality of Russian troops and equipment. Still, on 5 February, Hitler called for a study of the various Soviet industrial areas to gauge their ability to sustain centers of resistance. The War Economy and Armaments Office under Thomas had already prepared such a study, one that again pointed to serious economic deficiencies. Keitel, however, informed Thomas that Hitler would not be influenced by such arguments, so Thomas began to modify his conclusions to better suit the Führer. On 13 February, Thomas issued a larger report, “The Effects of an Operation in the East on the War Economy,” that now predicted Germany’s food and raw material situation would be markedly improved if a rapid conquest should succeed in capturing large stocks intact. In the event of a longer war, Germany would have to solve a number of problems, among them transportation, securing oil supplies, and guaranteeing delivery of food and raw materials. The collapse of the Soviet Union, moreover, could be expected only by the loss or destruction of the industrial areas of the Urals. Still, Thomas predicted that the campaign would overrun 75 percent of the Soviet war industry, a conclusion that would hardly discourage Hitler. Indeed, if anything, the urgent economic needs outlined in Thomas’s report served to justify an invasion as a solution for Germany’s problems, a point Hitler could hardly miss.

What transpired now was indicative both of the amorphous decisionmaking process in the Third Reich and of the incremental way in which Barbarossa took on the dimension of an ideological and racial war of destruction. Nazi occupation policy in Poland and the various proposals for solving the Jewish question already assumed, in a rather inchoate fashion, the deaths of large numbers of people. In thinking through the economic imperatives of the invasion, economic planners, ministerial officials, and others now adopted a merciless pragmatism, independent of direct orders from the Führer, that helped set in motion a process of escalating radicalization and mass murder. As it became clear that Hitler was determined to achieve Lebensraum in Russia, that for him the question was not whether to proceed but how to achieve maximum profit, Thomas began to collaborate more closely with the one economic official, State Secretary Herbert Backe in the Agriculture Ministry, who had long been an advocate of expansion in the east on economic grounds. Given Germany’s experience in World War I, Backe’s main priority was securing the food situation of the Greater Reich. By the end of 1940, this necessity loomed even larger since occupied Western Europe also faced substantial net grain deficits. Furthermore, the massive Ostheer, numbering some 3 million men, would also have to be fed. Since the British blockade precluded the importation of additional foodstuffs from outside Europe, Germany faced the bitter prospect, as in 1917–1918, of food shortages, hunger, and political upheaval. Worryingly, Belgian miners had already gone on strike in the winter of 1940–1941 to protest the meager food supplies, while on 1 May 1941 German civilians had to face a drastic reduction in their own rations. Nazi leaders, obsessed by the example of World War I, would not again allow domestic convulsions to undermine a war effort, so Ukraine had to be exploited as a source of grain. Backe, however, knew full well that Ukraine was not the limitless granary of myth, that, as a result of backward Soviet agricultural methods and rapid population growth, it barely produced a surplus of grain. The problem, then, was that even a successful German invasion would result in little immediate benefit.

For Hitler, the conquest and immediate exploitation of food supplies and raw materials was the key priority, so a solution had to be found. Steps in that direction came in February 1941, when Thomas’s office broached the idea that not the entire occupied territory, but only its economically important parts, should be sustained. Territories that were of “no economic importance for the conduct of operations, or for the greater German war economy” were to be “economically neglected after the most extensive exploitation.” Special importance was attached to attaining surpluses in foodstuffs and oil. Even the experts in Backe’s office, however, had to admit that any invasion would disrupt normal harvests for at least two years: “These losses can only be made good over several years. . . . For that reason, no surpluses should be expected . . . for several years.” His agricultural experts, however, had calculated that Germany and occupied Europe needed 8–10 million tons of grain, which had to be collected from Russia. Backe had promised Hitler that possession of Ukraine would end all economic worries, so a way out of the conundrum had to be found. The solution worked out by Backe’s staff was breathtakingly radical: a deliberate strategy of hunger and starvation. The agricultural surpluses of southern Russia would be diverted to Central Europe, while the areas of deficiency in central and northern Russia, especially the big industrial cities, would be cut off from their food sources. A double burden, in fact, would be imposed on these “deficit areas,” for the army’s supply plan was based on the assumption that the troops would live off the land for the duration of the campaign. Not only would the local population of these areas receive no incoming foodstuffs, but their own inadequate supplies would also first be used to feed the German forces.

At a 2 May conference of state secretaries representing the ministries involved in the occupation, Thomas and Backe spelled out with remarkable clarity what this “hunger policy” meant:

  1. The war can be continued only if the entire armed forces are fed from Russia in the third year of the war.
  2. Tens of millions of people will undoubtedly starve to death if that which we require is taken out of the country.
  3. Of greatest importance is the securing and removal of oil crops . . . , with grain occupying a lower priority. Available fat and meat will presumably be consumed by the troops.

Amazingly, with no evidence of protest or disagreement, key representatives of the German state agreed with a proposal that sentenced millions to death as an acceptable price to pay for the acquisition of maximum food “surpluses.” In order to serve the needs of the German Großraumwirtschaft, the Soviet Union was to be exploited as a colonial possession, with the only question being, “How does this help Germany?” The consequences for the affected areas were inescapable and discussed in detail. “The gradual death both of the industry and of a large portion of the population in the former deficit areas” was indispensable, concluded one report: “Many tens of millions will become superfluous in those areas and will have to die or emigrate to Siberia. Any attempts to save the local population from death by starvation through the importation of surpluses . . . can only be at the expense of the food supplies for Europe. They would undermine Germany’s and Europe’s immunity to blockade.”

How many “tens of millions” would be affected? Backe himself put the figure for the “surplus population” at between 20 and 30 million. Practical implementation, not concern for their fate, dominated discussions, as Goering dismissed their starvation as essential to the German war effort. Indeed, to top Nazis a beneficial side effect of the hunger policy would be the elimination of precisely those elements of the population that were considered racially unworthy or politically threatening. Their starvation would then create a colonial land open to settlement by racially valuable German colonizers. Himmler certainly understood this, remarking, “It is a question of existence . . . , a racial struggle of pitiless severity in the course of which twenty to thirty million Slavs and Jews will perish through military actions and crisis of food supply.” In his instructions to agricultural administrators, Backe stated dismissively, “Poverty, hunger, and frugality have been borne by the Russian individual for centuries. His stomach is elastic—therefore, no false pity.” Alfred Rosenberg on 20 June put it more brutally, saying, “The feeding of the German people undoubtedly holds the top place now on the list of German demands in the east. . . . We certainly do not see that we have any duty to feed the Russian people.” For Rosenberg, in fact, both economic policy and racial policy justified the starvation of millions. German rule was to be ensured, and vast lands opened for German settlement, by the annihilation of millions of racially inferior peoples. “The Russians,” he conceded, “will have some very hard years ahead of them.”

Not as well understood but no less significant, the material gains secured by the seizure of Lebensraum in the east would profit not only the state and heavy industry but everyone in Germany as well. Nazi propaganda had long promoted the notion that the key to increasing the German standard of living was securing resources commensurate with the racial value of the Volk. The war for Lebensraum was, thus, not one for “throne and altar,” as Goebbels put it dismissively, but one

for grain and bread, for a well-rounded breakfast, lunch, and dinner, a war for the achievement of the material prerequisites for the solution of the social question, the question of housing and street construction, the construction of a military, commercial, and cruise fleet, the construction of automobiles and tractors, of theaters and cinemas for the people even in the tiniest village, a war for raw materials, for rubber, for iron, and ores. . . . We want finally, just once, to cash in. . . . In the immense fields of the east sways the golden grain, enough and more than enough, to nourish our people and all of Europe. . . . That is our war aim.

Goebbels expressed well the feeling, as Adam Tooze has put it, of “beleaguered poverty” that afflicted Germans in the interwar period, a fierce resentment at economic inequality and the stranglehold the “Anglo-Saxons” had on the resources of the world. Hitler had long insisted that the German people deserved better, that the principal domestic goal of National Socialism was to raise the individual’s living standard. Ultimately, however, this could be accomplished, Hitler believed, only through conquest of the vast resources of European Russia. That had been the lesson of World War I. Only by securing Lebensraum within the “area of our own weapons” could Germany become economically secure and prosperous.


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