While Stalin continued to place his faith in the complex mechanisms of his foreign–political axioms, the German preparations rolled on undisturbed. By June 1941, the Wehrmacht’s leaders had gathered 3.3 million soldiers on the borders with the Soviet Union. The total number of German soldiers deployed during the course of the war in the East is estimated at around ten million. In other words, it was the largest military force Germany had ever assembled. But it would not be large enough.
The explanation for this is simple. The economic and demographic resources available within the German area of control were simply too small for a war on multiple fronts against a coalition as strong as the Allies. But can the course of a war really be explained with only a handful of statistical comparisons? Military reality is often far more complex. Suffice it to mention only the German campaign in the West and that, in the Soviet Union, too, the Wehrmacht was initially triumphant. Why was that?
The majority of the German soldiers believed that the war was for a good cause, at least at first. They were also experienced, hardened, reasonably solidly equipped, well trained, and excellently led at the tactical level; benefiting also from the element of surprise made their initial success secure. These soldiers were used to fighting a land war, something that applied equally to most members of the Luftwaffe, which made up 27 per cent of the invasion force. By contrast, the German Navy was never more than peripheral to the Eastern campaign. Its deployment was restricted to the Baltic and Black Seas.
Although Operation Barbarossa was primarily a land war and although this was where the German Armed Forces had felt at home since time immemorial, the war also rapidly exposed the weak links in the Wehrmacht’s professionalism. It was in this endurance test that it became apparent how improvised the German forces truly were. They had been shrunk to merely 115,000 men between 1919 and 1933, after which a rearmament programme had begun in which those cadres were divided again and again so as to have their numbers supplemented with hundreds of thousands of conscripts, volunteers, and reactivated veterans of the First World War, all furnished with first German and then increasingly captured military equipment, which, however, proved less and less equal to demand, in both quantity and quality. The result was ultimately a complex conglomerate of units and divisions that differed greatly in professionalism, equipment, and attitudes.
The backbone of the German Eastern Army consisted of the Infantry Divisions, thoroughly capable units of over 17,000 men whose provision with vehicles, anti-tank guns, and heavy weapons was, however, all too limited. Since the Infantry Divisions soon lost their modest pool of vehicles, they marched and fought as in the Napoleonic era—on foot or by horse and cart, with rifles and artillery. The German Eastern Army began Operation Barbarossa with 750,000 horses; during the course of the war, the demand for this archaic form of transport grew steadily, along with the concomitant need for carts.
The Eastern Army’s 3,350 panzers and 600,000 motor vehicles (in June 1941) had instead been concentrated largely in the Motorized Divisions. These few elite groups were to tear open the enemy’s front line and so make a blitzkrieg possible. The German armies at the time were rightly compared to a lance—a piercing, hard, short point on a long wooden shaft. With a relatively small arsenal of modern weapons—that is, armoured vehicles of all sorts, motorized artillery, rocket launchers, modern radio and permanent air support—the Wehrmacht was able to produce the local superiority that swung battles—rapid raids independent of the infantry’s marching speed. But this potential was soon exhausted, actually as soon as autumn 1941.
Also insufficient right from the first were the units intended to control the enormous occupied zone. The soldiers deployed here were those who were no use at the front: the older year groups or those with some slight physical impairment. Their training was poor. ‘The great mass of the battalion has never fired live rounds,’ complained the leader of one of these divisions in spring 1942. And these Security Divisions, which were weaker than their regular Infantry equivalents in both men and material, were supposed to patrol a gigantic occupied zone the majority of which was completely undeveloped. A Security Division of around 10,000 men could be responsible for an area of around 40,000 square kilometres, an area half the size of Scotland. It is easy to see that their mission was a futile one.
The best way to visualize the organization and proportions of the Eastern Army is perhaps a breakdown of the forces in June 1943. At that point, there were 217 German divisions deployed on the Eastern Front, of which 154 were infantry, 37 motorized, and only 26 allocated for maintaining the military occupation. Truly modern battle groups able to call on the whole repertoire of modern armaments remained the exception. This also draws attention to something else that would be important later: most German soldiers experienced the war at the front and not in the hinterland.
The Eastern Army had to absorb terrible losses as early as summer 1941. For an army that was lacking strength in depth and particularly reserves of personnel, that was catastrophic. Without the help of Germany’s allies, even the summer offensive of 1942 would not have been possible. Nonetheless, from 1943 the Eastern Army was supposed to experience a kind of ‘second spring’ after the beginning of the ‘armaments miracle’ presided over by Albert Speer. It was only then that the heavier and technologically modern panzers were put into action—the Tiger, the Panther, and the various tank hunters. With the introduction of assault rifles and the anti-tank panzerfaust in 1944–5, the infantry also began to hit harder. But by then it was too late for this modernization drive to alter the course of the war.
From winter 1941–2 onwards, the Eastern Army was living from hand to mouth both militarily and logistically. Its situation was defined by the continuous improvisation with which it managed to postpone the great military catastrophe until summer 1944. What rescued the divisions fighting in the East time and again were their cohesion and their professional ability, along with good troop leadership. That compensated for a lot—for their horrendous losses, their increasing immobility, the ever more bizarre instructions from the Führer headquarters, and, finally, the growing superiority of their opponent. As early as 1941, a German regimental commander found the battles so fierce that ‘the German soldiers who survived were hardened into as powerful a troop such as we have rarely had’. They were unusually cohesive, and desertions remained very rare on the Eastern Front until the winter of 1944–5. The reasons for that were doubtless a tough diet of authority and obedience, along with an enemy whom most of the Landsers, the ordinary troops, rightly feared. Even more effective were the attitudes that ensured their continued commitment to such ideals as comradeship, courage, and the fatherland, and so also to the world of military organization. On top of that, the lie disseminated by German propagandists, that the attack on the Soviet Union had been a pre-emptive strike, was long believed, particularly under the influence of a Nazi ideology whose mechanisms of social engineering had succeeded in leaving their imprint especially on the younger soldiers.
In general, the perspectives of the Wehrmacht soldiers were far more diverse than one would initially imagine, often simply because it consisted of differing generations. Of greater consequence was that these men’s attitudes necessarily changed under the pressure of a war whose reality corresponded ever less closely to the grandiloquent promises of German propaganda. In the end all this was outweighed by the knowledge or suspicion of their own guilt, whether individually or nationally, and also by the conviction that their homes had to be defended against the ‘Bolsheviks’, simply because the front now ran right through their own homeland. That, too, explains why the German Eastern Army never disintegrated. But soldiers do not usually have the opportunity to determine their own actions, and those actions cannot be explained just by the soldiers’ thinking. The external factors were far more powerful: the army, the dictatorship, and a war by which the soldiers were held captive—no less so than their Soviet enemies.
It is often overlooked that the German invaders did not fight alone in the Soviet Union; by their side stood many allies from throughout Europe. In 1943, every third man in uniform on the German side was not a German. ‘It can hardly have been more colourful in the medieval armies,’ as one German medic said of his ‘Cavalry Squadron East’, which recruited from Red Army prisoners of war. There were various reasons why the Eastern Army became an international force; it was a consequence of both state agreements and individual decisions, and so there were allied troops, European volunteers, and local collaborators.
This had not been envisaged. Particularly in a war such as this one, Hitler wanted to retain the maximum possible freedom of decision, which entailed not having to take account of allies whom experience had shown to be often weak or difficult. Only two states were supposed really to participate in the great Eastern conquest: Finland and Romania. Although both pursued territorial interests within the Soviet Union, they did not infringe on the German sphere because they were engaged only at the furthest peripheries of the Eastern Front, in regions that would have anyway presented problems for the Wehrmacht. The Romanian and especially the Finnish armies thus maintained a relatively high level of autonomy. The other partners Hitler desired, Turkey and Bulgaria, were sufficiently perspicacious to keep themselves out of this undertaking, Turkey entirely, Bulgaria on the whole.
There was little room for any other allies in Hitler’s plans for his future Lebensraum. This made things far from simple, not least because the German invasion of the USSR was very popular in some parts of Europe; it tapped into a significant anti-Bolshevik impulse, a passion for war, and a naked greed for the spoils of conquest. ‘Your decision to take Russia by the throat has met with enthusiastic approval in Italy,’ Mussolini telegraphed to Hitler in summer 1941. Italy, Hungary, Slovakia, and Croatia, all official German allies, did not miss the opportunity to be among the first divisions entering the Soviet theatre of war. Mainly third rate in their training and equipment, these troops were initially left in the lee of larger military events.
Only in 1942, when the German leadership realized how dependent it was on outside help, were whole armies of Romanians, Italians, and Hungarians included in the second German offensive. They were to pay a high price for being so hopelessly out of their depth, and their German partners seldom showed any gratitude for their contribution. After the debacle of Stalingrad, it was bitterly recorded on the Italian side that their own soldiers had starved while the Germans provided them with ‘not the slightest assistance’. ‘If an Italian soldier approached a German kitchen and asked for a little food or water, he was greeted with pistol shots.’ In total, 800,000 Hungarians, 500,000 Finns, 500,000 Romanians, 250,000 Italians, 145,000 Croats, and 45,000 Slovakians fought in the Soviet Union. Most of them were there because they had been ordered to go.
The rest of Europe, by contrast, was represented by volunteers. Their contingents were far smaller and more heterogeneous, but, as a rule, also more motivated. For them, taking up arms on behalf of Germany—out of political conviction, a lust for adventure, or a need for belonging and social advancement—was a personal choice. The Germans first reacted reluctantly, despite the lip service they paid to shared ideology. But opinions soon changed as German losses mounted, and they began to overlook the fact that the racial criteria of Nazism were supposed to apply equally to foreign volunteers. The German recruiters initially distinguished between ‘non-Germanic’ volunteers, such as Spaniards, Croats, or Frenchmen, who mainly became part of the Wehrmacht, and ‘Germanic’ volunteers, Danes, Norwegians, or Dutchmen, who were usually assigned to the Waffen SS so as to form the core of a future ‘Pan-Germanic Army’. This was also the destination for the huge supply of ethnic Germans living outside Germany, most of them in south-east Europe. The majority, however, ended up in the army, not as volunteers, but because of international bilateral agreements. Although the Germans significantly intensified the propaganda aimed at recruitment, not least because of the great symbolic and political value of a united Europe fighting against Russia, the results fell far short of what they hoped. The numbers of foreign volunteers deployed on the Eastern Front between 1941 and 1945 are estimated as the following: 47,000 Spaniards, 40,000 Dutchmen, 38,000 Belgians, 20,000 Poles, 10,000 Frenchmen, 6,000 Norwegians, and 4,000 Danes, as well as smaller groups of Finns, Swedes, Portuguese, and Swiss.
The final group, of a quite different military and political significance, was made up of the collaborators. The figures alone make that clear. It is estimated that 800,000 Russians, 280,000 people from the Caucasus, 250,000 Ukrainians, 100,000 Latvians, 60,000 Estonians, 47,000 Byelorussians, and 20,000 Lithuanians bore arms on the German side. This happened, again, for a range of varied reasons. For the soldiers from the Baltic, the Caucasus, and the Ukraine, nationalist and anti-Bolshevik motives played an important role; while the appearance of Russians, mainly as ‘Hiwis’ (Hilfswillige, voluntary assistants), was often the result of coercion or straightforward need, and only secondarily as a consequence of personal conviction or political commitment.
Just as heterogeneous as the origins and mentalities of these military collaborators were their willingness and ability to fight. Looking back on them, one of their German commanders wrote that a fifth ‘were good, a fifth bad and the other three-fifths inconsistent’. This became even more obvious because they were grouped together by nationality, first the Baltic soldiers, then the people of the Caucasus, the Ukrainians, and, by the end of the war, the Russians, too, in the so-called Russian Liberation Army. Nevertheless, odd remnants of an imagined European crusade against Bolshevism were able to outlive the downfall of Nazi Germany. There were exiles and right-wing extremists who continued eagerly to propagate these fantasies after 1945, as well as a number of scattered anti-Bolshevik guerrilla groups that maintained their activities in the Baltic countries and the Ukraine until well into the 1950s.
The real problem with all of this was that any form of military or political power-sharing was in diametrical opposition to the course plotted by the Nazi leadership. Their plans would have alienated even the most enthusiastic collaborators, because Hitler remained fundamentally indifferent to the ‘hearts and minds’ of his helpers from Eastern Europe, though it was precisely those Eastern Europeans who could have been the most important. The Führer, despite all propaganda material to the contrary, was stubbornly unwilling, right to the last, to make use of the opportunity they presented and come up with a viable political concept to underpin the oft-trumpeted ‘New European Order’. Although elements of the Wehrmacht, the ministerial bureaucracy, and even the SS High Command increasingly came to rely on them, the Eastern European collaborators were kept on a short leash, entirely dependent on German instructions.
Nevertheless, the fight against the Soviet Union was not Hitler’s war alone. Ultimately, it was a German war that was also, to some extent, a European one, in which many expectations and intentions were bundled together, some of them entirely incompatible with one other.
The Soviet Union’s land and people
It seemed almost endless, the country that the Wehrmacht invaded in summer 1941, and that was another reason for the German defeat: 21.8 million square kilometres, a sixth of the earth, as Soviet propaganda used proudly to announce. Just as sobering for the Wehrmacht as the size of the Soviet Union was its climate. Its greater part was classified as within the temperate zone (alongside smaller arctic, subarctic, and subtropical areas), which meant that the summers, at least, were sometimes bearable for the combatants, but then summer could also bring sweltering heat, choking dust, and drought, or otherwise cataclysmic downpours, unending mud, and myriads of mosquitoes. The winter, however, was uniformly horrific. It bit into all the soldiers, regardless of whether they were deployed in Lapland or the Crimea, and was especially difficult to endure because large parts of the Soviet Union were still almost wild and far more sparsely inhabited than the German Reich. In Germany, there were 131 people per square kilometre, in the Ukraine there were 69, in Belorussia 44, and in Russia itself just 7.
In total, however, the Soviet population was enormous. In 1939, there were 167 million people; in 1941, this had grown to 194 million, largely as a result of annexations. That in itself presented the Wehrmacht with a grave problem: how to win a war against an enemy whose resources of manpower were practically inexhaustible. The nature of Soviet society did, on the other hand, also offer the German strategists one great advantage and possible solution to the problem—it was not ethnically homogeneous, but was instead divided between around 60 peoples and 100 smaller groups. In the First World War, the German side had tried, not without success, to turn the Russian Empire’s own peoples against it by adopting policies that supported national independence movements. This was a strategy the German High Command could have employed once again. Could have, that is, since Hitler and his followers had quite other plans for these people. Nonetheless, particularly in the farther-flung corners of the Soviet empire, there existed a latent readiness to cooperate with the Germans that was not the result solely of nationalism. Another reason was what the people had experienced of their Bolshevik rulers. The Bolsheviks had had twenty years to make a reality of the new kind of society they had promised, though the conditions could hardly have been more difficult. The proletarian revolution had occurred in the country that Marxist orthodoxy would perhaps have judged least ready for it—in a vast, technologically underdeveloped empire that was extremely backward both socially and politically as well as deeply marked by the Tsar, the aristocracy, the Church, and an ancient peasant culture whose daily round was almost untouched by the goings-on in Moscow or St Petersburg. There were additional obstacles, first among them the inheritance of defeat in the First World War and of the Civil War in Russia itself, one long tragedy of violence, hunger, and deprivation that, between 1914 and 1921, had cost the lives of some 11.5 million people. Another was the ethnic fragmentation of a Soviet Union that placed too little worth on the internationalism that formed part of its doctrine; and, lastly, there was the long, painful coming-of-age of the Bolsheviks themselves after Lenin’s early death (17 January 1924), a process at the end of which stood what Lenin had warned against from his deathbed: the dictatorship of Stalin.
It was Stalin who was truly to revolutionize the country. Under his rule, the peasantry, the largest social group, shrank significantly, from 72 per cent (1926) to 51 per cent (1941). Even more momentous was that almost all peasants simultaneously lost their independence. During the programme of enforced collectivization, they became ‘agricultural workers’ on almost 250,000 kolkhozy (collective farms) or sovkhozy (state farms). The tremendous haste with which agricultural nationalization was driven along had a fundamentally damaging effect on living and working conditions. In the former breadbasket of Europe, many basic foodstuffs were rationed until 1935. The privation was worst in the countryside, where between five and seven million people starved to death in the early 1930s. This catastrophe was accompanied by the deportation and execution of those whom the Soviet terror apparatus believed to be standing in the way of Stalin’s ambitious advance towards modernity.
The focus of his politics was the industrial sector, not the agricultural. The latter’s collectivization was seen as merely a first step. The old village culture was to disappear; the people were to move to the towns and there be transformed into industrial workers, while the remaining ‘agricultural factories’ finally managed to guarantee sufficient food supplies and even use a new surplus to finance the growth of heavy industry. That was the grand project. Stalin wanted to make up in one decade for an economic lag that he himself estimated at ‘fifty to a hundred years’. How to do so was detailed in the Five Year Plans, first announced in 1929. As if it were possible simply to command that the economy grow, Soviet society was mobilized, made responsible for reaching the targets dictated to it, and thrown into ever more productivity drives, which did indeed give some parts of the country a modern appearance. New industrial concerns and factory towns appeared, along with blast furnaces, canals, tractors, and vast water reservoirs. One statistic after another celebrated the ‘construction of socialism’, and, even if that was still limited to a single country, victory over capitalism was declared nonetheless. Much of that was unfounded propaganda, but not all, as Soviet gross domestic product increased by 50 per cent between 1928 and 1940, and a basis was laid for the growth of heavy industry. Not only did the economy change; there emerged a new breed of proletariatians, young and mobile, with a high ratio of women and far more open to the slogans of socialism than their peasant parents had been. Between 1926 and 1937, the proportion of industrial workers in Soviet society was multiplied tenfold, from 3 per cent to 31 per cent. It was a huge effort, almost ex nihilo, and it allowed the Soviet Union gradually to become an industrial and then a military power, as well as turning it into a country that corresponded at least in outline to the Bolshevik conception of what society ought to be. It was enough to make many believe in the utopian vision of a new, equitable world to come. Despite all the bungling and the profligacy, the economic trend was directed very distinctly upwards.
But the price was high. This huge effort to which almost everything was sacrificed—capital, workers, resources—came at the cost of sustainability, quality, and individual consumer goods, as well as doing unprecedented structural damage to the Soviet economy. Even more serious was the abyss of violence in which the socio-economic revolution was forced through. There is no question that the Bolshevik regime had been accompanied by violence from the first and that its use was not a new phenomenon. During the Civil War, the Red Terror had already claimed 280,000 victims. Its conception of the enemy had even then been a broad church: spies, counter-revolutionaries, saboteurs, the bourgeoisie, ‘enemies of the people’, priests, kulaks, and all members of all non-Bolshevik parties or national autonomy movements.
But it was under Stalin that the politics of repression, murder, and ‘liquidation’ reached their height. Between five and seven million people lost their lives during the enforced collectivization of agriculture at the start of the 1930s, particularly in the Ukraine, along the Don and Kuban rivers, an area from around which a further 1.8 million people were deported. This was followed after 1935 by the deportation of individual ethnic groups and the continuing persecution of the kulaks, relatively affluent farmers, 273,000 of whom were killed. Then came the Great Terror of the years 1937–8, which was directed primarily at administrative and military officials. Some 1.5 million people were arrested and at least 680,000 executed. Finally, 480,000 people from the Sovietized western provinces were deported or murdered between 1939 and 1941. These were undoubtedly extreme examples of Stalin’s governance, but a permanent war against his own society was an essential characteristic of the regime. He demanded, this was the crux, that society be the way he imagined it, a way that in reality it never was. The consequence was an uninterrupted series of inspections, show trials, arrests, deportations, and ‘purges’ of his own administration, accompanied by the construction of a gigantic network of prison camps, the notorious Gulag Archipelago. The Gulag became a dark parallel society living in the shadow of the Bolshevik upswing that Stalin announced in 1935 had made life ‘better’ and ‘happier’. For the eighteen million people who passed through the Gulag under his dictatorship, it was certainly neither; as early as 1941, two million had succumbed to the inhuman conditions. Taking these into account, there is a large body of evidence to suggest that, between 1927 and 1941, Stalin’s politics claimed the lives of some ten million people.
At the outbreak of war, Stalinist Russia thus had far more on its conscience than Nazi Germany. The latter would, however, do much throughout the rest of its short existence to make up the deficit. To understand this as a reaction to Soviet atrocities would be fundamentally misguided. The criminal character of both regimes was inherent in their ideologies, their mentalities, and also in their organizations; they were two separate and self-contained systems with their own sets of historical and political preconditions. In Poland alone, the German occupiers had shot more than 60,000 people by the end of 1939. That these two totalitarian regimes would then reciprocally influence and radicalize each other in their fight to the death was almost an inevitability. However, their actions were still generally determined by what they had brought with them into the war: ideologies that treated such principles as tolerance, individuality, and the rule of law with nothing but contempt.
The Soviet Armed Forces also found themselves in a period of upheaval. By the early 1940s, little remained of their origins in the dramatic years of the Bolshevik Revolution and the Civil War: the political symbolism, perhaps, and the system of having commissars shadow the officers, as well as a few commanders whose careers had begun in 1917. But it was precisely in the officer corps that it was evident how much the Red Army had changed. The officers had been among the first victims of the purges that took place between 1937 and 1940. Of the 5 Marshals of the Soviet Union, 3 ‘disappeared’, along with 29 of the thirty army commanders and commissars, and 110 of the 195 division commanders. In total, of the 899 highest-ranking officers, 643 were persecuted and 583 killed. In all, about 100,000 ordinary soldiers were subject to some form of repression. This was no coincidence. Although the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, as it was officially called, had been at the disposal of a dictatorship since its inception, it had still been allowed a certain professional autonomy. Now, however, the guiding mentality made an abrupt about-turn. Now it was important above all to toe the political line and that meant total orientation on the vozhd, Stalin.
That was not the only change. What is also striking about the period before the war is the Soviet Armed Forces’ exponential growth. From 529,000 men (1924) to more than 1.3 million (1935–6), it had reached a total of 5.3 million men by 1941, around half of whom were stationed on the western border. Another twelve million men were available as reserves. This explosive expansion was accompanied by an acceleration of material provision in which, it has to be said, sheer volume of equipment was prized above its efficacy. Nonetheless, at the outbreak of war, the Red Army had an enormous arsenal at its disposal: 23,000 tanks, more than 115,900 heavy guns and mortars, and 13,300 usable aeroplanes. There is no doubt that it had become one of the most powerful armies in the world, even if the Soviet leadership continued to make the mistake of confusing quantity with quality. But at that point—and this was the salient fact—they did not really expect to be fighting a major war, not least because the record of the few Soviet deployments before summer 1941 was decidedly patchy. In the small Manchurian border disputes, they had gained the upper hand against the Japanese (1938–9) and just about managed to succeed in conquering the half of Poland allocated them, but the war against Finland had very nearly ended in fiasco. This, too, seemed to indicate that the Red Army could not be considered battle ready before summer 1942 at the earliest.
The German invasion struck them with a terrible shock. The dominant sentiment of the Soviet defenders in the first months of the war can have been nothing but fear: fear of the apparently invincible supremacy of the German invaders; fear of control by the political cadres, who initially thought it would be possible to manage an army like a party organization; fear of the officers, who callously threw away the lives of their troops; fear of the indolence in the supply lines that meant what was really needed did not reach the front; and, not least, fear of death, which soon became terribly familiar to the Soviet troops. More than 3.5 million of them did not survive the first year of the war. One officer of the German High Command wrote in his diary that ‘the Russians sacrifice their people and they sacrifice themselves in a way that Western Europeans can hardly imagine’.
And yet, the Red Army was collectively able to bring the Wehrmacht to a halt. There were many reasons for that: the Soviet Union’s almost inexhaustible reserves, the steadily improving quality of their armaments from autumn 1941, the knowledge that they were fighting a just cause, and, finally, the lessons learned in the hard school of war in which the soldiers of the Red Army had no choice but to enrol. Although their losses were horrendous, although the Red Army lost the majority of its heavy weaponry in the first months of the war, a new army emerged that was vastly superior, in both quantity and quality, to that of 1941. A proud Soviet political officer wrote of the army’s operations in 1943 that ‘even the Germans in 1941 were never as good as this’. Two years earlier, he had ended up among the partisans after the destruction of his unit and had lived to see regular Soviet divisions fight their way through to him and his comrades.
At that moment, in autumn 1943, the Soviet Armed Forces consisted of 13.2 million people in total, 5.5 million of them fighting on what for the Soviet Union was the Western Front. By the end of the war, the Soviet Union had mobilized 30.6 million soldiers, 820,000 of them women. Their equipment, too, changed beyond recognition. The Red Army became more mobile, largely because of the tens of thousands of vehicles that arrived from the USA and Great Britain, but, most important of all, it learned to hit harder. The most feared Soviet weapons of the Second World War were the T-34 tank, the heavy guns, the PPSh-41 submachine gun with its distinctive drum magazine, the Katyusha rocket launcher, the mortars, and an artillery that grew into a rolling thunder of regiments, divisions, and even whole artillery armies the like of which the world had never seen. Stalin thought of them as embodying the god of war. Finally, there was the air force; in 1941, its machines were swept from the sky by their German enemies or destroyed while still on the ground. At the beginning of 1943, the tide turned, and aerial dominance became the privilege of the Soviets. That was not simply because of their new machines, which were stronger and more modern. ‘Against ten of us there were often three hundred Russians,’ remembered one German fighter pilot. ‘You were just as likely to have a mid-air collision as to be shot down.’
The fatal blow, however, was struck on the ground. By that point, the Red Army’s soldiers were professional, confident, and highly motivated. ‘I can be proud’, wrote a lieutenant in October 1942, ‘that the battlefield is covered in Krauts I’ve personally killed and counted off …’. What came to matter in the army was no longer class background and political loyalty, but ability and action. The Party and the state also learned to make use of the deeply rooted patriotism that had lain dormant in Soviet society. They created Guards Regiments, uniforms reminiscent of the old Russia, and an elaborate system of honours. There was little talk of internationalism in this hour of need. Confronted with the nature of the German occupation, most of the soldiers must have been entirely convinced of the reason for their deployment—most, but not all, because Soviet society always remained politically and ethnically far more heterogeneous than its leadership would have cared to admit. A sophisticated surveillance apparatus, the system of assigning certain battalions for punishment or using them to prevent others retreating, as well as summary executions, all remained part of the military everyday, along with a High Command that used the people entrusted to it with a shocking wastefulness. Even at the beginning of 1945, one in sixteen Red Army soldiers captured by the Wehrmacht was a deserter. This ambivalence—boundless devotion and enthusiasm, but also indoctrination, control, terror, and an unprecedented profligacy with human life—all these characterized the situation of the Soviet military. The sole aim was to win the war—regardless of the price that would be paid, above all, by its soldiers.
The war from above: overview
There are few subjects as historiographically difficult and challenging as the description of war. That applies particularly to its epicentre, to the actual fighting. There are a great many people involved, as well as enormous, complex organizations; there is a permanent alternation between high drama and phases of crushing tedium; there are the intensely emotive subjects of death, defeat, and blame; and there are necessarily two contrary perspectives that often seem incommensurable. In the case of a war as large and also as extreme as the German–Soviet one, merely sketching an overview of the military operations presents a challenge. In 1942, these took place on a front that stretched 3,000 kilometres through the Soviet Union. Of the innumerable engagements that were played out, many have by now been entirely forgotten, even though tens or even hundreds of thousands of soldiers were involved.
In the midst of this apparent chaos, however, it is possible to make out certain patterns. One is determined by the seasons. The great German offensives always took place in summer, those of the Red Army initially only in winter. And there is something else that catches the historian’s eye: German offensive capabilities shrank from year to year. Whereas the Wehrmacht attacked along the whole length of the front in 1941, in 1942 it did so with only one Army Group; in 1943, with two smaller armies, and, finally, in summer 1944, none of the German forces in the East was able to advance from its position. Now that its opponent had seized the initiative during the Germans’ favoured season, it could no longer be recovered. Casting an eye over the Soviet operations, on the other hand, rapidly makes clear the extent to which the war was a learning process for the Red Army, on all levels of military thinking—tactically, strategically, and operationally. It continued to make dreadful errors right until the end, and those errors contributed as much as anything to the horrendous losses that it suffered.
A second organizing idea in this tremendous military struggle is that of territory. War is always partly a geographical phenomenon. Territory, in a sense, provides the parameters; it gives an unmistakable indication of the two opponents’ successes or failures. This is particularly true of a war such as that in the Soviet Union. Of course, it is often overlooked that this conflict was not only a war of manœuvre. Long stretches of the front fought a war of attrition that outwardly at least was reminiscent of the First World War. But, even then, the military events were not confined to the comparatively narrow band of two parallel front lines. In a contest characterized by limitless violence, it was inevitable that the hinterland, too, would become a war zone. Nevertheless, the war was decided by what happened at the front, along the main lines of battle. Everything else was dependent on that. That is why an operational history remains indispensable to understanding the course of the war. The thin line of the front formed the axis around which all else turned.
1941: the German invasion
Bright and early on 22 June 1941, a sunny Sunday morning, the Wehrmacht crossed the border. There had not been a declaration of war; it was a surprise attack. That was one of the key reasons why it seemed that the German troops would soon add the Soviet Union to their list of conquests. Stalin had repeatedly been warned about the build-up to Operation Barbarossa but had consistently refused to put the Red Army into defensive readiness. Instead, his High Command had concentrated the majority of its forces on the border, because Soviet doctrine stipulated that, in the event of an attack, the army was immediately to carry the war onto enemy soil. Nonetheless, or in fact precisely for that reason, the four German panzer groups quickly succeeded in breaking through the Soviet positions, forming the first ‘cauldrons’, encirclements of enemy armies, and managed to advance 400 kilometres into Soviet territory within a single week. For the German infantry armies following along behind in that hot, dusty summer, that meant: marching, more marching and then ‘clearing’ one cauldron after another. Soviet prisoners were soon being counted in the hundreds of thousands.
The German leadership was triumphant. Before the outbreak of war, it had had a nagging fear that the enemy units would—as in 1812—fall back into their country’s interior and refuse to give battle. That had obviously not come to pass. On the contrary, the toughness of Soviet resistance seemed to confirm the assumptions on which the German strategy was built. On 28 June, German troops conquered Minsk, the capital of Belorussia; on 15 July, they were already at the gates of Smolensk. In three weeks, the distance between Army Group Centre and Moscow had thus shrunk from over 1,000 to around 350 kilometres. ‘In our mind’s eye, we can already see the towers of the Kremlin,’ exulted the members of one German infantry regiment. Even the head of the German General Staff, Franz Halder, believed at the start of July that ‘the campaign against Russia will be won within a fortnight’. He was not the only one of this opinion. In Great Britain and the USA, the Soviet military had already been written off. One British general wrote, ‘I fear they will be herded together like cattle.’
But this belief ran counter to all military experience. According to the old rule of thumb, it is only with a three-to-one advantage that victory is assured. Since in this case the defenders in fact retained numerical superiority and continued on the whole (though not always) to fight hard and bitterly, the German troops, pushing ever farther into the unending emptiness of the steppe, began to win their victories on the point of exhaustion. This could be seen in their losses, which were particularly dire in the battles to break through Soviet lines as a prelude to encirclement, and it could be seen in what was happening to their equipment. Before long, more German vehicles were being lost to dust, mud, and the catastrophic roads than to the enemy. In August 1941, an officer in a German Infantry Division noted that the East was now beginning ‘to show its true face’. The German armies were not prepared for what they now encountered. Reserves of everything were short, and the supplies of fuel, rations, ammunition, and spare parts, to say nothing of vehicles proper, began to run out after only the first weeks. A decisive battle no longer seemed probable, and the Germans began to lose their taste for the word Blitzkrieg, the lightning war. When Chief of Staff Halder was forced to confess, on 11 August, that ‘we have underestimated the Russian colossus’, the consternation among the leadership was already palpable. Even then, they were no longer really sure what to do next.
What followed were heated discussions in the Führer HQ about the future focal points of the German offensive. This question, like so much else, had initially been left unresolved. While Hitler wanted above all to occupy the Soviet centres of industry and raw material, and thus favoured the two wings of the three more-or-less equally strong Army Groups—that is, ‘North’ and ‘South’—it was clear to his military advisers that that could not happen before a decisive victory had been won in the field. Only an attack on Moscow, on the centre of the enormous Soviet empire, seemed likely to provide it. There is no doubt that the loss of the capital would have been a powerful blow to the Soviet enemy. However, it does also seem questionable whether a war of this scale and kind could have been ended with a single ‘decisive’ manœuvre. It was almost as though the German military, in near desperation, were clutching at this one tangible goal merely so as to make sense of an increasingly unmanageable campaign. And not only that. For the exhausted and disillusioned soldiers who were already ‘thoroughly sick of Russia’—as one soldier wrote as early as August—Moscow presented a large and apparently convincing target. Its name was a promise of victory, and even perhaps of a speedy end to the conflict.
Hitler’s ability to assert himself over his advisers in the making of these plans demonstrates the extent to which he by now also dominated operational strategy. When he, in August, switched the focal point of the German offensive from Moscow to the south-east, it resulted in another great success for the Wehrmacht—at least on the face of things. In a cauldron outside Kiev, a further 665,000 Red Army troops had laid down their arms by the end of September. It was one of the Red Army’s largest and most comprehensive defeats. But neither that nor the conquest of the Ukrainian capital provided a military turning point. In September, the increasingly perplexed Führer therefore decided to attack Moscow after all, even though the conditions had altered and it was now far later in the year.
It was only on 2 October 1941 that the Eastern Army was in a position to launch its supposedly final onslaught. Seventy-eight divisions, nearly two million men, had been gathered in the centre for Operation Typhoon. Chief of Staff Halder wrote that it was finally time to ‘break the back’ of the Red Army. And, indeed, by 20 October the Soviet side had lost 673,000 soldiers and almost 1,300 tanks in the twin battles of Vyazma and Bryansk. By December, individual German units had managed to fight their way to within 30 kilometres of the Soviet capital. But now it was also becoming unmistakable how severely the German Eastern Army had been depleted by the offensive. The change of weather in autumn had already made things difficult: rain and then snow transformed the Russian roads into a grey, bottomless morass into which whole armies sank. By mid-October, the entire Army Group Centre was stuck fast ‘in mud and sludge’, as their Commander in Chief, Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, noted with chagrin.
In November came winter, bringing catastrophe in its wake. Since the High Command had organized winter provisions for only a small occupying army, most of the German soldiers continued to fight in their tattered summer uniforms. One of them described their everyday existence as follows: ‘The men wake up at around three or four in the morning and get ready to move out, usually without washing, because the water is too far away and there’s no time and no light. The marching then goes on all day until late on, again in the dark, often at nine or ten o’clock, when the men reach their quarters and have to care for the horses and set up the stalls before they have their mess at the field kitchen and then lie down to sleep.’ Nevertheless, the soldiers were driven ever further east by their commanders—in the putative hope that the Soviet enemy had already been essentially beaten and that all that was now required was a last, decisive ‘battle of annihilation’.
Map: The Eastern Front in 1941
A battle of this type did indeed begin on the 5–6 December 1941, albeit moving in the other direction. German intelligence had completely failed to notice that the Red Army had brought up new troop reserves after realizing, in November, that Japan would attack the USA rather than the USSR. The Soviet offensive struck the German units, already thinned out and dead tired, in the moment of greatest weakness, that of a stalled offensive. The consequences were as one would expect. In temperatures that fell to −52 °C, Army Group Centre was propelled a distance of between 150 and 300 kilometres to the west. Nothing was as strongly reminiscent of Napoleon’s Russian campaign, the military disaster par excellence, as the image of German columns struggling westwards through snow and ice. ‘For days on end, the wind whipped up the fine, powdery snow and drove it into our eyes and faces, so that one had the feeling of having stumbled into a rain of needles,’ wrote a German military chaplain about the retreat of his division. ‘Since the storms came mainly from the east, the enemy usually had them at his back. It was easy for him to move his troops forward under the cover of snow clouds so that they would be noticed only at the last moment.’ By the end, in his unit ‘approximately 70 per cent of the troops had frostbite, partly third degree’. Their commanders’ prognosis was equally bleak: ‘Fighting capability of the troops is zero, as completely exhausted.’
This was no ‘straightening of the front’, as was claimed by the Reich’s propagandists. The whole German Eastern Front was in danger of collapse. That it did not come to that was not only because of the cohesion, skill, and toughness of troops who knew that they were fighting for their lives. It was also due to the grave errors still being made by the Stavka, the Soviet High Command. It did not manage to gather its forces and concentrate them on a small number of crucial targets. From February onwards, the Soviet attacks were increasingly ragged and ever more Red Army troops died pointlessly in front of the German lines. It was not rare to find that battles were reduced to a ‘fight for an oven’, a scrap over the few villages that remained intact in the desert of snow. When the fronts then sank into the bottomless mud of spring 1942, both sides were equally glad of the break. It lasted long enough for the German front, which now ran straight across Russia and the Ukraine, from the area around Leningrad to the Black Sea, to be at least partly consolidated. That, however, was the only gain made. Hitler’s strategy, the plan of a worldwide blitzkrieg, had definitively failed, so definitively that the German Reich had almost gone under—as early as that, in winter 1941–2. The prospects for the future were not much brighter. Instead of winning itself strategic freedom of action, the German High Command now found itself having to manage a war on two fronts at a time when it was already evident how overextended its forces were. ‘We have been punished for overestimating our strength and for our hubris,’ read the assessment of an officer in the German General Staff in December 1941. ‘If only we can distil some lessons from the events of the last months.’
1942: the second German offensive
Learning lessons was something Hitler would not do. He would not be wrested from his principle of escalating the odds in the face of risk. After the Eastern Army had, by 1942, suffered losses of over a million killed, wounded, and missing, an attack along the length of the front was no longer possible. Instead, there would be an attack along one section in the south. All reserves and all supplies were scratched together; where they were insufficient, the Germans’ allies had to make up the shortfall. Time was short because, since 11 December 1941, the German Reich had also found itself at war with the USA. If there was to be any chance at all for the Reich, Hitler thought it would lie in the Caucasus. Before American armament production could start to run at full capacity, the German Reich would annex the military potential of the Soviet Union. In order to do so, the summer offensive was planned in two phases: it would first advance onto the Volga at Stalingrad, then—after building up an east-facing front—wheel around towards the Caucasus so as to take possession of the Soviet oilfields. Without them, the Soviet Union—so hoped the Germans—would collapse.
The German offensive began on 28 June 1942. After a number of preliminary battles—around Kharkov, Izium, and on the Crimean Peninsula, which the Germans had occupied by 1 July—four German armies, supported by Hungarian, Romanian, and Italian divisions, initiated Operation Blue. Again, the attackers made rapid territorial gains. But now, and increasingly often, their offensives ran on and on into an enormous void, because Stalin, after long hesitation, had eventually given his commanders permission for a tactical withdrawal. Given the paltry numbers of Soviet prisoners taken, Field Marshal von Bock remarked that there was danger of having ‘struck at thin air’. Hitler was not receptive to such doubts and permitted less and less outside involvement in his operational leadership. Believing that the enemy had now been beaten at last, he split the German offensive and directed the armies simultaneously, rather than one after the other, towards Stalingrad and the Caucasus. At first, this fateful decision could hardly slow the pace of the German advance. Churning up thick clouds of dust, the troops marched ever further east across the shadowless steppe, crossing the border into Asia at the end of July and reaching the burning, destroyed refineries of Maykop at the start of August. On the 22nd of that month, German alpine troops raised the Reich’s war flag above the Elbrus, the highest mountain in the Caucasus. Days later, the Sixth Army’s first reconnaissance units were standing on the banks of the Volga, north of Stalingrad. Never before had the Germans ruled over such an enormous territory.
And then everything stopped. Now, if not before, the German leadership had indubitably expended or worn out the last of its resources; one German major wrote that his troops had already been ‘stripped of all but their shirts’. The tormenting question of the previous weeks, of how long the Soviet Union would hold up against this renewed onslaught, began to be answered slowly and almost imperceptibly. At first the Germans noticed only that the battles in the ancient forests of the Caucasus moraine and in the stone deserts of Stalingrad were beginning to bite. The battle on the Volga, in particular, developed into a duel between the dictators, a matter of prestige that sucked in more and more troops. On 28 July, Stalin gave his famous order: ‘Not one step back!’ In a public speech on 8 November, Hitler replied that the battle for Stalingrad had basically already been decided. But that victory could not be talked into existence. The German intelligence service again failed catastrophically. On 19 and 20 November 1942, two Soviet attacks broke through the brittle and overstretched German lines in the icy steppe to the north and south of Stalingrad. Those posts were manned above all by the Germans’ allies; badly led, miserably equipped, and simply unequal to the task, they had little to set against the advancing Soviet tank wedges. The inevitable happened. By 22 November, the German Sixth Army was locked in; 200,000 men sat in the trap, in an enormous ruin surrounded by a frozen waste and by seven Soviet armies; 25,000 German soldiers were flown out of the encirclement, 110,000 went into Soviet captivity, only 5,000 returned to Germany. ‘This is the last letter that I’ll be able to send you,’ wrote one German corporal. ‘We’ve just been unlucky this time. If these lines are at home, then your son isn’t here any more, I mean, on this earth …’. On 2 February 1943, the last German units capitulated. ‘Temperature thirty-one degrees below, fog and red haze over Stalingrad. Weather station signing off. Regards to the homeland,’ was the last German radio signal the Wehrmacht received from Stalingrad.
Despite all the drama, despite all the consequences, this was not the turn of the tide for the Second World War as a whole. The overall reversal of fortunes, which had already begun in the winter of 1941–2 and which can be tracked particularly closely on the Eastern Front, was, rather, a dynamic process. The Soviet odds of victory shortened as the German odds lengthened. Nevertheless, many contemporaries felt that the battle for Stalingrad was the turning point of the war, because the slow, torturous, and ultimately pointless extinction of the entire Sixth Army took on a tremendously powerful symbolic value. According to a secret service report, the Germans were ‘profoundly disturbed’. Germany’s partners began to reconsider their role, and hope grew for the Allies. At that point, the Greater German Reich still held sway over almost all of Europe, at least on the map. The northern and central sections of the Eastern Front, where a grinding but inconclusive war of attrition was being waged, still seemed comparatively secure. But in the south there now yawned an enormous gap that threatened to widen ever further, and nor was that the only crack in ‘Fortress Europe’. Around the Mediterranean, the Allies had succeeded in doing precisely what the Germans had tried to prevent: they had launched a Western offensive. The British had won at El Alamein (23 October to 4 November 1942), and Allied troops had landed in Morocco and Algeria (7–8 November 1942). All at once, the collapse of the German empire seemed close at hand.
Map: The Eastern Front in 1942
The war from below: soldiers and civilians
Every war demands blood, sweat, and tears from its participants. To bear that in mind is anything but banal—it is, if nothing else, a moral necessity. Moreover, that reflection gives an idea of the conditions under which war is actually fought. Nevertheless, like every military undertaking, the German–Soviet War had its own unique characteristics—its extreme radicalization, for instance, which was something felt first by those at the bottom of the military pyramid.
Given the extent to which the war was shaped by wider factors such as the landscape and the weather, it was by no means rare for the experiences of the German troops to resemble those of the Soviets. Their letters, diaries, and memoirs habitually circle around a few central subjects: the unimaginable strain of war, but also the anecdotes derived from it; the exhilaration of battle, of victory, and adventure; the deeply felt comradeship that allowed them to endure more than seems possible; the humiliations at the hands of the military apparatus, but also its protective function; the killing and being killed; the loss of close friends and the resultant guilt; and finally apathy, despair, and naked fear. In these conditions, the soldier’s life was concentrated for long stretches of time solely on surviving the day or on the microcosm of his unit. Everything else seemed secondary by comparison. For that reason if no other, soldiers had no sense of ‘the big picture’ and knew little or nothing about what their Commanders-in-Chief really wanted. ‘We only see our little section of the front,’ wrote a lance-corporal in January 1943, ‘and don’t know what’s being planned on a larger scale’.
That is not to say that the deployment of these soldiers was without political implications or that they were indifferent to the military, political, and ideological superstructure of the war. On both sides, it was not unusual to fight with an extraordinary, almost religious devotion, not least because both believed themselves to have right on their side. On one side: the propaganda lie of a preventative strike; on the other: an appeal for unconditional dedication in the defence of the homeland. A Soviet recruit in January 1943 revealed that he had ‘only a single thought: to become a marksman and destroy the fascists as quickly as possible, so that we can live happy and free again and see our dear mothers, sisters and girlfriends’. There is what reads almost like a direct response in a letter sent home from the Eastern Front in November 1944 by a young German Red Cross nurse: the war would be lost ‘only in the moment in which we lay down our weapons. As long as a corner of Germany is still free of the enemy, I will not believe that history has sentenced my people to death.’
But nothing could be less accurate than explaining the position the soldiers were in and the actions they took solely with regard to their personal convictions. These were overwhelmingly determined by something else. Dirty, obedient, and overstrained, the troops felt hopelessly at the mercy of the war and of a vast system of labour division that was built on orders and submission, for which nothing counted but military rationale. It is unquestionable that individuals also had a degree of personal responsibility within this system. Sometimes this responsibility was large—as a result of a situation, of a mission, or simply because of their military rank. But it was far more common that individuals had little opportunity to voice their opinions or to take decisions. Most soldiers were in subaltern posts or performing subaltern functions, and their responsibility for what occurred remained correspondingly limited. It was this context that shaped their thinking and their actions more than anything else.
Contrary to widely held opinion, neither fighting nor war crimes were constant on the Eastern Front. The soldiers’ everyday life was characterized by comparatively uneventful experiences: endless transports or marches; digging into positions or searching for something to eat, for somewhere to rest, or for a little privacy; keeping watch at distant posts; receiving orders; going on trips to the field hospital or even just waiting around for something to happen. This was then repeatedly interrupted by phases of drama and intensity in which much could be decided in the briefest time—one’s own fate, that of the enemy, and also that of the civilian population. In fact, the military events proper were relatively unlikely to result in war crimes. Although battle was dynamic and necessarily characterized by both contact with the Soviets and a destabilizing unpredictability that could potentially lead to war crimes, these operations were nevertheless focused on engagement with a military enemy, and so the violence at least possessed a certain symmetry and equality. During periods of fighting, the individual soldiers were also borne by forces beyond their control. The situation was quite different once the battle had moved on; it was then that individual responsibility came to the fore. It is no coincidence that most of the crimes committed during the war took place far behind the front line.
These were not the only similarities in the daily existences of the German Landsers and the Red Army troops. Both learnt a new toughness and a huge capacity for suffering, another reason why they gave so little ground in battle. Both armies also bore an enormous weight of expectation from their supreme political and military commanders, whose all-too-often amateurish leadership did precious little to offset. Typical of the Wehrmacht as of the Red Army was a close consensus between the front and homeland, as was a fear of the enemy that made it impossible for many soldiers to imagine ‘opting out’ of the war. Indeed, desertion or captivity brought with them the grave dangers of being caught between two totalitarian dictatorships. Prisoners of war often ended up in places with a striking similarity to concentration or even death camps.
Of course, there were differences as well as similarities between the two sets of troops. Their behaviour bears the imprint of the different systems under which they operated. One cause of the Germans’ initial military success was surely the fact that the German soldiers, at least when it came to military tasks, were accorded a relatively high degree of autonomy. The bleaker the outlook became, however, the more extensive became Hitler’s mania for control. In the Red Army, an opposite development can be traced, eventually resulting in what was almost an emancipation of the troops. Almost, because, on the whole, the Soviet Union handled its soldiers with an unimaginable indifference to human life; no army ‘liquidated’ so many of its own troops as the Red Army. When it comes to the war crimes of the Wehrmacht and the Red Army, there, too, the differences weigh more heavily than the undoubted similarities, something rapidly borne out by a closer analysis of the mentalities and reasoning behind these crimes, as well as of their scale. Finally, the two sides’ military positions developed in opposite directions. While the German soldiers’ lot continually worsened, the overwhelming experience of victory ameliorated some, though certainly not all, of what their Soviet opponents suffered.
At the end of the day, those who took part in this war did, after all, have one thing in common: those who survived the war would never forget it.
1943: the turn of the tide
Stalingrad, the great battle that raged as 1942 became 1943, was a historical caesura, and for many contemporaries it was also a powerful symbol, but one thing it was not was a mortal blow to the German military. Even after the capitulation of the German Sixth Army (which was drawn out from 31 January to 2 February 1943), the war continued. This was because the Red Army substantially failed to exploit the crisis on the southern flank of the German front. In February 1943, there was suddenly a 300-kilometre-wide gap stretching across that front, and a Soviet advance to the Black Sea seemed likely, in the direction of Rostov. This ‘super-Stalingrad’ would have destroyed the German Army Group Don while simultaneously cutting off Army Group A, which was still fighting in the Caucasus. It was only a counterattack led by Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, who took the strategic risk of allowing the Soviets to advance beyond their lines of supply before engaging them, that prevented a complete collapse of the southern section of the front. In truth, it was a military miracle; the Soviet units freed up by their victory in the Battle of Stalingrad outnumbered their German opponents by seven to one. Nevertheless, in the battles around Dnipropetrovsk and Kharkov, the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS won the last German victories in the East, managing to patch the front into a kind of stability before the onset of spring brought impassable mud and the opportunity for some rest.
Map: The Eastern Front in 1943
The German leadership was unwilling to draw any political conclusions from this—or even military ones. Instead of working towards a long-term consolidation of the Eastern Front—which would have required, in particular, a shift to mobile, defensive tactics and the building-up of reserves—Hitler, along with a whole series of advisers, decided literally to pulverize his own military resources in another large-scale offensive. The idea was to use a pincer movement to cut off the outward bulge of the Soviet front at Kursk, where it had expanded westwards into the join between the German Army Groups Centre and South. But the problems were already starting to multiply during preparations for Operation Citadel, for it seems likely that politics and propaganda rather than military rationale were again the guiding principles. Again, far too much time passed in the planning, and, worse, the Soviet side knew all about it in advance. ‘Every valley is bursting with artillery and infantry,’ a Soviet officer noted in his diary. On 5 July 1943, the Germans began their assault on the well-fortified Soviet positions, but had to call it off only eight days later, at the climax of the battle. After a Soviet relief offensive in the Donets Basin and the Anglo-American landings in Sicily, a German offensive on this scale was no longer possible. What remained was something that has gone into the history books as ‘the largest ever tank battle’: 2,900 German tanks fought 5,000 Soviet ones. ‘The air roars, the earth shakes, you think your heart is going to shatter in your chest and tear you open,’ was how one Red Army soldier described the experience. Kursk was a battle of numbers, one that in its dimensions and strategies was reminiscent of the First World War, the difference being that it was fought with Second World War technology. The losses were accordingly high. In the eight days of their offensive, the Germans lost 57,000 men, of whom 15,000 were killed, and their opponents lost 70,000 men killed, missing, or taken prisoner. The losses during the operations connected to the battle around Kursk were higher still. By the end of August, 170,000 Germans had been killed, wounded, or gone missing in action, and the equivalent losses on the Soviet side are also estimated in the hundreds of thousands.
With that the German leadership had again thrown away everything that it had managed to gather for that year: reserves, material, the new heavy panzers, time, and—what will have been most sorely missed—the initiative. The tank battle ended not with the German conquest of Kursk, but with the liberation of Kharkov and Orel by the Red Army. After that, the southern and to a certain extent also the central section of the German front could no longer be held. In the second half of 1943, the Red Army was able to push the Wehrmacht step by step back towards the West; daily retreats of between 10 and 20 kilometres were no rarity. But at that point the Soviet armies still did not manage really to engage and destroy their opponents. What they gained in lieu were ever greater swathes of territory, including such cities as Kiev and Smolensk, as well as a number of bridgeheads on the western bank of the Dnieper, which the Wehrmacht had actually been supposed to use as a defensible natural barrier. In other words, by the end of 1943, the Red Army had not managed to drive the German occupiers out of the Soviet Union entirely, but there could no longer be any doubt that precisely that was about to occur. It was now only a question of when and of what would happen afterwards.
1944: the collapse of the Eastern Front
Soviet propaganda afterwards referred to 1944 as the ‘year of ten victories’. This a somewhat contrived claim—and it has been repeatedly criticized ever since, quite rightly. Reference to one Soviet victory in particular should, in any case, have been enough. Operation Bagration began on 22 June 1944. In a few short days, this onslaught of more than 2.5 million Soviet troops, supported by more than 45,000 mortars and heavy guns, 6,000 tanks, and 8,000 aeroplanes, destroyed the entire German Army Group Centre. Consisting of 500,000 men with 3,200 heavy guns, 670 tanks, and 600 aeroplanes, its position had been hopeless from the start. ‘Our troops storm forwards like a mighty torrent that bursts over all barriers, sweeps away all obstacles and washes a wide area clean of dirt and muck,’ wrote a Soviet war correspondent. For the other side, it was one single inferno. A German artillery officer reported that the impacts of the Soviet shells and bombs had come so close together that explosions, smoke, and fountains of earth had prevented them from seeing anything at all. Operation Bagration became by some distance the heaviest of all German defeats, a defeat involving such comprehensive losses that the memory of it was long overshadowed by that of the Battle of Stalingrad, for the simple reason that there were so few left on the German side to describe the destruction that Bagration had wrought. Although thousands of isolated German troops managed, after personal odysseys sometimes lasting several weeks, to fight their way back to their own lines, the ranks of eyewitnesses were extremely thin, at least in Germany. The Army Group Centre had lost 400,000 men dead or captured—that is, 32 of its 40 divisions.
The opportunities that now presented themselves to the victorious, vastly superior Soviet armies were correspondingly extensive. Advancing right into the heart of the German Reich and ending the war in 1944 seemed thoroughly realistic. The Soviet leadership, however, was half-hearted in capitalizing on the situation. The Red Army instead halted on the borders of East Prussia and on the eastern bank of the River Vistula, in the suburbs of Warsaw. The Soviet soldiers in Poland watched, their guns lying idle, while the Polish Home Army’s improvised uprising was miserably crushed. In August and September 1944, the Soviet advance on the borders of the Reich came to a complete stop. There are a number of reasons why this happened. In the case of Warsaw, the motives for not engaging the Germans were transparently political. The losses and efforts of the previous months were also an important factor, as were the overextended lines of supply and communication and also the way that discipline had sharply deteriorated among the units that had already marched onto German soil. However, another consideration weighed far more heavily than these: the Soviet military commanders were still extremely wary of their German opponents. That they were not invincible had long been established, but the Soviets had experienced again and again in the previous winters that the Wehrmacht had an astonishing capacity for regeneration. At that point, in summer 1944, that capacity had finally been exhausted. Nonetheless, the idea of the Germans’ almost uncanny military abilities, the ‘Wehrmacht Myth’, was to exert its influence one last time. That was why the Soviet leadership lacked the courage and decisiveness to take advantage of this unprecedentedly opportune position and strike Nazi Germany a final, fatal blow by seizing the Reich’s almost undefended capital city. This trepidation should not diminish the significance of the victories that the Red Army did win in 1944. That was the year in which German occupation ended throughout the Soviet Union, something achieved largely through Operation Bagration.
The course of the war ran parallel in the northern and southern sections of the German–Soviet front. Between 14 and 27 January, 1.2 million Soviet soldiers broke through the German blockade to the east of Leningrad. In that moment, the isolated metropolis’s slow martyrdom came to an end after 880 days of encirclement, by some distance the longest siege that a modern city has had to withstand. On the evening of 27 January, 324 guns fired a salute over the Neva. In the following weeks, the German front was pushed back to the area east of Estonia and Latvia. These were areas where the Red Army was no long arriving simply as liberator. By the end of the year, the Soviets had reoccupied the Baltic states with the exception of the western part of Latvia, where the remaining German forces, still 500,000 men, were to hole up as Army Group Kurland until the end of the war.
The Soviet troops gained even more ground in the south. By as early as spring 1944, they had managed to push the collapsing German units in the Ukraine back for more than 300 kilometres. The German troops were repeatedly encircled and, if they were not completely destroyed, often used the last of their strength to break out again towards the West. The events in the Crimea took on an even more dramatic aspect. The peninsula had become a trap for its German occupiers after Hitler had obstinately refused to withdraw them in time. The Soviet assault that began on 8 April could not be resisted for long. Of the 230,000 German and Romanian soldiers, 60,000 died there while the other 150,000 were rescued in boats, under what were generally apocalyptic conditions. This is just another example of the catastrophic consequences for the German military of Hitler’s insistence on having operational command. After that, the Red Army could not be stopped in the south either. Soviet troops mounted a major assault on 20 August against Army Group Southern Ukraine and thereafter occupied a number of territories in quick succession, first Romania, then the eastern part of Hungary, and, by the middle of October, also Bulgaria, which had, of course, not actually been at war with the Soviet Union. The Balkans started to become Soviet.
Map: The Eastern Front in 1944
Hitler’s almost hallucinatory fixations were not in the least affected by these developments. Untouched by this cascade of defeats, he informed his officers in December 1944 that the enemy could ‘never count on capitulation, never, never’. How many Germans at that point were still following him out of conviction, how many out of habit, out of coercion, or out of fear of the ‘Bolshevik hordes’, is hard to estimate. What is certain is that the mentality of the German populace began to change fundamentally in the light of the momentous events being reported by the military. Also certain is that the increasing domestic brutality of the Nazi regime prevented this shift in mentality from being communicated to the outside world. In the end, only one course of action seemed open to either side: carrying on as before.
1945: the Soviet victory
The German–Soviet war did not run out of momentum, its armies did not tire of the struggle, and it was not decided, as in the final phase of a game of chess, by a few brilliant moves. Instead, the intensity of this ruinous, brutal, and merciless fight for existence stayed constant throughout its final days, and hundreds of thousands continued to go to their deaths. Only when there was literally nothing left to fight over, when almost all of Germany, right down to the Command Headquarters, had been occupied and Hitler himself had finally abdicated responsibility by means of suicide (30 April 1945), only then did the shooting stop.
The Red Army initiated this final act between 12 and 14 January by mounting an unstoppable offensive along the great curve of the Vistula. Their numerical superiority was again overwhelming, not least because Hitler had thrown the last German reserves—even at this late stage still numbering seven Armoured and fourteen Infantry Divisions—into action on the Western Front, where they staged a strategically pointless and militarily futile operation in the Ardennes (16 December 1944 to 21 January 1945). The Soviet side could not be seriously resisted; in only two weeks, the entire mass of soldiers, equipment, and weapons was able to advance another 300 kilometres west. ‘The whole frontline is a sea of flames’ was the impression of one Soviet artillerist. By the start of February 1945, the Soviet front was pushing into the Reich like an enormous spearhead; in central Germany, it was already at the Oder, fewer than a hundred kilometres from Berlin itself. But the attackers, too, had now temporarily expended much of their force, and there was a lull while they had gathered themselves for the final assault. Moreover, the battles raging to the sides of this giant spearhead had not yet burnt out—in Pomerania, they continued into March, in East Prussia and Silesia even into April. Another military crux point had formed on the Hungarian plains. Here, too, the Red Army was victorious. Budapest, which had fortified itself and defied the attackers for two months, fell on 11 February, followed on the 13 April by Vienna.
The war eventually ended in the place where it had been planned, in Berlin. Hitler was able to bring his idea of collective suicide to its conclusion with a ‘final battle’ for the Reich’s capital. His influence on military decisions was evident to the last. He set himself up for a last stand in Berlin, the centre of the Reich, a metropolis in which almost three million people were still living, around two million of them women. The Soviet storm broke on 16 April 1945. Again there was very bitter fighting, especially on the Seelow Heights, where the German defenders initially managed to bring the Soviet shock troops to a standstill. But that was merely a short delay. A week later, Berlin was encircled. What followed was a disaster, a renewed orgy of killing that extended for another fortnight. ‘Berlin is burning, there are only ruins left, there are weeping men and women walking on the roads to the East. So what, let them weep, after all they’ve had four years to laugh in,’ wrote a Soviet artillery officer. In the smashed houses, ruins, and cellars of the dying city, the fighting ended only when the soldiers of the Red Army had fought their way into the centre of power and then down into the subterranean bunkers of the Reich Chancellery. After the signing of the German capitulation in the night between 8 and 9 May—in an officers’ casino in the former school for sappers in Berlin Karlshorst—the guns finally fell silent.
The German’s Reich’s attempt, as reckless as it had been criminal, to subjugate the European continent and become a global power had ended in its own total ruin. Germany was occupied, the Nazi state demolished, Europe laid waste. The storming of Berlin alone had cost the lives of another 350,000 Soviet soldiers, 100,000 German soldiers, and an estimated 150,000 civilians. The centre of the Reich’s capital city was 70 per cent destroyed; eyewitnesses described kilometre-long stretches of smoking rubble in which nothing had been left habitable. Nor was it by any means the only German city that the war reduced to this condition. All that was left of Hitler, who had first conceived Operation Barbarossa and then driven it onwards like no one else, were a few charcoaled bits of corpse, heaped together and thrown into a shell crater outside the bullet-riddled Reich Chancellery.
Map: The Eastern Front in 1945
A military reckoning
Why did the German Reich lose this war? Why did the Soviet Union, in the archaic but precisely accurate formulation of one German general, become ‘an agent of fate’ for the Wehrmacht? Historians can make it easy for themselves and point to the overwhelming superiority in men and resources at the disposal of the vast Soviet empire. But the reality of war is far more than a simple matter of arithmetic and statistics. In the first weeks of the war in the East, there were moments when it was not at all certain which way the scales would tip. That applies particularly to the period of June and July 1941, which Andreas Hillgruber has rightly described as the ‘zenith of the Second World War’. At that point, the Japanese High Command was seriously considering whether to catch the Soviet Union with a second pincer from the East. On 2 July 1941, the Japanese leaders decided to concentrate on the South-East Asian theatre instead. Whether the Soviet Union could have resisted a Japanese assault at that moment is highly doubtful.
Moreover, the Wehrmacht had already proved more than once how quickly it could deal with numerically superior opponents, even in difficult conditions. For instance, in the Balkan campaign, which many military officials at the time had considered a sort of dress rehearsal for Barbarossa, it was the precise combination of military professionalism and technological modernity, of speed, ideological dynamism, and totalitarian rigour that made the German Army so successful and so dangerous. Why, then, did it founder in the Soviet Union? Was it really only the weather—that they invaded too late in the year—or even just that the distances involved were on such a different scale?
In a military analysis, the obvious place to begin is at the top, with the High Command. As Commanders-in-Chief, both Hitler and, to an even greater extent, Stalin were complete amateurs. That did not prevent either from trying his hand as field marshal. Sometimes they made the right decisions, sometimes of course they had no option but to make the decision they did, but on other occasions they came to conclusions that—without taking the ideological dimension into account—could not have been more wrong, the most glaring example being the senseless and costly doctrine of holding military positions at any price. ‘Is this common lack of wit and inspiration any wonder?’, reflected Hellmuth Stieff (a major and later one of the 20 July conspirators, in January 1942), in the light of this style of command. Put simply, these two commanders-in-chief could do whatever they wanted, even when it came to the sensitive business of military management. In this, there was one telling difference between the two sides, in that the Soviet Union’s resources meant that it could allow itself many more command errors than the German Reich.
It is also striking how poorly the German side had prepared for Operation Barbarossa. Everything was lacking: knowledge of the enemy, provisions, the correct weapons and equipment, stocks of fuel, ammunition, and spare parts and, above all, proper planning of the operation itself. This was not the fault solely of the upper echelons of the German military. Their fault was, rather, that they offered too little resistance to Hitler’s demands and that they placed their hope in ‘military logic’ reasserting itself once things were underway. This was particularly evident in the overall strategy of the German campaign. The frontal offensive by three Army Groups was nothing better than a compromise between the notions put forward by Hitler, whose aims were primarily economic or ideological, and those of the German military leadership. To them it was clear that in this case, as in all others, Clausewitz’s famous maxims must apply: an offensive operation can never be too strong, and it must be directed at a single, decisive point. No single point seemed to present itself quite so well as Moscow, the heart and brain of the Soviet empire. Instead, however, of concentrating the numerically inferior German offensive forces on this (or at least on some other) single goal, the Army Groups were pulled wide apart and distributed along a broad front. ‘A strategy without a focal point is like a man without a character,’ General Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg once wrote. He knew what he was talking about.
There is another striking difference between the German and Soviet leaderships. While the Soviet Armed Forces were kept under almost prison-like control by the Stalinist apparatus, they gained an increasing freedom of action during the course of the war, albeit within the parameters of Stalin’s dictatorship. The reverse happened to their German opponents, who were subjected ever more closely to Hitler’s mania of control. Ultimately, it made its presence felt at every level of the Army. ‘There are actually only two possibilities,’ wrote a German soldier towards the end of the war, ‘death from an enemy bullet or from the henchmen of the SS’. That description is very similar to the conditions in which the Red Army had been living in 1941. This keeping on a short leash would also have a deleterious effect on the operational level. Naturally, it would be completely wrong to follow the many generals who after 1945 attributed all responsibility for failures of leadership to Hitler individually, for completely obvious motives. But it is undeniable that many of the military catastrophes in the second half of the war bear the fingerprints of the Führer. What was more serious, however, was that, after winter 1941–2, he was no longer able, nor in fact even willing, to develop so much as the rough outline of a convincing strategic and operational approach.
Let us now widen our view to take in the German and Soviet commanders on the ground. Any comparison quickly shows the excellence of the German professional soldiers in tactical leadership. It was no accident that four Soviet soldiers were killed for every one German. After the Purges in the Red Army, the officer corps initially contained little in the way of military competence. Only 10 per cent had been in the Army long enough to be able to draw on the experience of the First World War. The new officers, who had been promoted into positions of command after the Purges, were at first completely out of their depth. But they learned: they had no choice but to learn in an effort to catch up with their opponents.
There were, however, branches of the Wehrmacht that were criminally neglected, first among them military intelligence and logistics. For many of the German military, the Soviet Union remained no more than an unknown vastness whose capabilities were alternately over-and underestimated. One of the main figures in the German resistance, the well-informed Ulrich von Hassell, wrote on 15 June 1941 that the military assessed the prospects for a ‘rapid victory over the Soviets’ as ‘reassuringly favourable’. The supply of the million-strong German Army was equally unprofessionally handled, as was starkly demonstrated, if it had not already been before, during the first winter of the Soviet campaign. ‘That it gets cold in Russia at this time of year’—as one officer on the German General Staff wrote sarcastically—‘should actually be the ABC of an Eastern campaign.’ These were not the only shortcomings of the German High Command; suffice it to mention the military and psychological errors made in the war against the partisans or in the politics of their occupation. Naturally, the central policies came directly from the Führer HQ, but too many military leaders accepted them or even thought along similar lines, despite there being groups within the Wehrmacht who wanted to bring the local populations on side by granting limited concessions. The inability of these reformers to assert themselves was not simply a consequence of the totalitarian nature of the Nazi regime nor one of the internal dynamics of the war against the partisans. Its roots also lay in the self-conception of an army that had little experience of administering occupied areas and colonies, or of dealing with indigenous uprisings.
A technological comparison is also very telling. Although both armies found themselves in the middle of a radical shift during the war, the Red Army was significantly quicker off the mark. What is more, the Soviets also succeeded in modernizing both qualitatively and quantitatively. While the German side may well have been superior to its opponents in the development of certain high-tech weapons systems, the production numbers of those weapons remained small. The Soviet Armed Forces had relatively few types of modern, effective weapons available to them, but those they did have, they had in masses. This situation was precisely reversed for their German opponents: an endless array of types, but no strength in depth.
This was compounded by the Soviet advantage of having lines of supply that were ‘internal’ and hence comparatively short. Not only were the Germans’ supply lines far longer; they also failed to build up an adequate transport system in the occupied Soviet territories. Supply by means of lorries broke down as early as the first months of the war and was subsequently possible only over short distances, while the railway network was limited to a small number of trunk lines that were very vulnerable to disruption. Even more amateurish, to say nothing of the moral implications, was the German High Command’s idea that the troops would simply take all they needed from the country they were passing through. In the final analysis, Operation Barbarossa lacked a solid material and logistical basis right from the beginning, and here, too, it was ideology that was supposed to make up the shortfall.
Ironically enough, ideology did ultimately tip the balance, but in a quite different way from the one expected by the German planners. Long before, Clausewitz and Caesar knew that there are three things one needs to master in winning a war: the enemy’s armed forces, his territory, and, lastly, his people’s will to resist. The armed forces had to be destroyed and the country occupied, but it was only when the opponent’s will to resist had been broken or won over that the war would truly be at an end. The German leadership, by contrast, were so foolhardy that they waged war from the beginning, not only against the Soviet Union with its superior resources, but also against almost all of its peoples at the same time. Hitler and his entourage did not think it necessary to make even tactical allowances for the scale of the task, and steadfastly ignored the enormous political opportunities that presented themselves, especially in summer 1941, when the Wehrmacht was often being joyfully received in the Soviet Union’s westernmost territories and desertion was threatening to undermine the very existence of the Red Army. The German leaders, however, were determined not to make any alteration to their idea of how the war would be conducted, which meant destruction, exploitation, and oppression. Only once it was already too late, in autumn 1944, were they prepared to open the door—as with the Vlasov Army—to a certain political flexibility.
It is hardly surprising that their enemies’ concept of a Great Patriotic War would prove far more powerful—not least because justifications of defence always seem more plausible than those of invasion. The German campaign of annihilation left little room for questions, interpretations, or alternatives, with the result that only a minority of Soviets ever collaborated with the Germans, in spite of the fact that so many in Soviet society might otherwise have been predisposed towards collaboration with the invaders for manifold political, ethnic, personal, or ideological reasons. Instead, they fought for their freedom, even if that was something of a relative term under Stalin’s regime—or they fought simply to survive. The Great Patriotic War was far more than a propaganda construct; it became a political reality. It became the central concern of millions of Soviet citizens, and that alone made the foundering of the German strategy inevitable.
This list contains not only the newest major publications in the field. I have also included a number of older works of significance. A number of these works have never been translated into English, but are included as vital sources that will be of interest to anyone who can read German.
Armstrong, John A. (ed.), Soviet Partisans in World War II (Madison, WI, 1964).
Baberowski, Jörg, and Doering-Manteuffel, Anselm, Ordnung durch Terror: Gewaltexzesse und Vernichtung im nationalsozialistischen und im stalinistischen Imperium (2nd edn; Bonn, 2007).
Barber, John, and Harrison, Mark, The Soviet Home Front 1941–1945: A Social and Economic History of the USSR in World War II (London, 1991).
Böll, Heinrich, and Kopelew, Lew, Warum haben wir aufeinander geschossen? (Bornheim, 1981).
Burleigh, Michael, The Third Reich: A New History (London, 2000).
Chiari, Bernhard, Alltag hinter der Front: Besatzung, Kollaboration und Widerstand in Weißrussland 1941–1944 (Düsseldorf, 1998).
Courtois, Stéphane, Bartosek, Karel, and Paczkowski, Adrzej, The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (Cambridge, 2004).
Creveld, Martin van, Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance, 1939–1945 (repr.; Westport, CT, 2007).
Dallin, Alexander, German Rule in Russia: A Study of Occupation Policies (London, 1957).
Dunn, Walter S., Jr., The Soviet Economy and the Red Army, 1930–1945 (West-port, CT, 1995).
Èrenburg, Ilja, and Grossmann, Vassili S., The Black Book: The Ruthless Murder of Jews by German–Fascist Invaders throughout the Temporarily Occupied Regions of the Soviet Union and in the Death Camps of Poland during the War of 1941–1945 (New York, 1981).
Erickson, John, The Soviet High Command: A Military–Political History, 1918–1941 (London, 1962).
Erickson, John, Stalin’s War with Germany, i. The Road to Stalingrad (London, 1975).
Erickson, John, Stalin’s War with Germany, ii. The Road to Berlin (London, 1983).
Europa unterm Hakenkreuz. Die Okkupationspolitik des deutschen Faschismus (1938–1945), v. Die faschistische Okkupationspolitik in den zeitweilig besetzten Gebieten der Sowjetunion (1941–1944), ed. and with an introduction by Norbert Müller et al. (Berlin, 1991).
Fritz, Stephen G., Frontsoldaten: The German Soldier in World War II (Lexington, KY, 1995).
Fritz, Stephen G., Ostkrieg: Hitler’s War of Extermination in the East (Lexington, KY, 2011).
Gerlach, Christian, Calculated Murders: German Economic Policies and the Politics of Annihilation in White Russia, 1941–1944 (Hamburg, 2000).
Germany and the Second World War, ed. Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt (Research Institute for Military History) (Potsdam, Germany; 8 vols; Oxford 1990–2008).
Glantz, David M., Colossus Reborn: The Red Army at War, 1941–1943 (Lawrence, KS, 2005).
Glantz, David M., Stumbling Colossus. The Red Army on the eve of World War (Lawrence, KS, 2008).
Glantz, David M., Operation Barbarossa: Hitler’s Invasion of Russia 1941 (Brimscombe Port, 2011).
Glantz, David M., and House, Jonathan M., When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler (Lawrence, KS, 1995).
Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung (ed.), Verbrechen der Wehrmacht: Dimensionen des Vernichtungskrieges 1941–1944, Ausstellungskatalog (Hamburg, 2002).
Hartmann, Christian, Halder: Generalstabschef Hitlers 1938–1942 (2nd edn; Paderborn, 2009).
Hartmann, Christian, Wehrmacht im Ostkrieg: Front und militärisches Hinterland 1941/42 (2nd edn; Munich, 2010).
Hartmann, Christian, Hürter, Johannes, Lieb, Peter, and Pohl, Dieter, Der deutsche Krieg im Osten 1941–1944: Facetten einer Grenzüberschreitung (Munich, 2009).
Herbert, Ulrich, Hitler’s Foreign Workers: Enforced Foreign Labour in Germany under the Third Reich (Cambridge, 1997).
Hilberg, Raul, The Destruction of the European Jews (Chicago, 1961).
Hildermeier, Manfred, Geschichte der Sowjetunion 1917–1991: Entstehung und Niedergang des ersten sozialistischen Staats (Munich, 1998).
Hilger, Andreas, Deutsche Kriegsgefangene in der Sowjetunion, 1941–1956: Kriegsgefangenenpolitik, Lageralltag und Erinnerung (Essen, 2000).
Hillgruber, Andreas, Hitlers Strategie: Politik und Kriegführung 1940–1941 (Frankfurt am Main, 1965; 3rd edn, 1993).
Hillgruber, Andreas, Der Zweite Weltkrieg 1939–1945: Kriegsziele und Strategien der großen Mächte (Stuttgart, 1982).
Hürter, Johannes, Ein deutscher General an der Ostfront: Die Briefe und Tagebücher des Gotthard Heinrici 1941/42 (Erfurt, 2001).
Hürter, Johannes, Hitlers Heerführer: Die deutschen Oberbefehlshaber im Krieg gegen die Sowjetunion 1941/42 (2nd edn; Munich, 2007).
Jackel, Eberhard, Hitler‘s World View: A Blueprint for Power (Cambridge, MA, 1981).
Jäger, Herbert, Verbrechen unter Totalitärer Herrschaft. Studien zur nationalsozialistischen Gewaltkriminalität (Olten, 1967).
Jarausch, Konrad H. (ed.), Reluctant Accomplice: A Wehrmacht Soldier’s Letters from the Eastern Front, with contributions by Klaus J. Arnold and Eve M. Duffy and foreword by Richard Kohn (Princeton, 2011).
Kershaw, Ian, and Lewin, Moshe (eds), Stalinism and Nazism. Dictatorships in Comparison (Cambridge, 1997).
Kluge, Alexander, Schlachtbeschreibung (Olten, 1964).
Koenen, Gerd, Der Russland-Komplex: Die Deutschen und der Osten 1900–1945 (Munich, 2005).
Krausnick, Helmut, and Wilhelm, Hans-Heinrich, Die Truppe des Weltanschauungskrieges. Die Einsatzgruppen der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD 1938–1942 (Stuttgart, 1981).
Krivosheev, Grigori F. (ed.), Soviet Casualities and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century (London, 1997).
Kühne, Thomas, Kameradschaft: Die Soldaten des nationalsozialistischen Krieges und das 20. Jahrhundert (Göttingen, 2006).
Ledig, Gert, The Stalin Front: A Novel of World War II (New York, 2005).
Lexikon der Vertreibungen: Deportation, Zwangsaussiedlung und ethnische Säuberung im Europa des 20. Jahrhunderts, ed. Detlef Brandes, Holm Sundhausen, und Stefan Troebst (Vienna, 2010).
Lumans, Valdis O., Himmler’s Auxiliaries. The Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle and the German National Minorities of Europe 1939–1945 (Chapel Hill, NC, 1993).
Mawdsley, Evan, Thunder in the East: The Nazi–Soviet War 1941–1945 (London, 2007).
Meier-Welcker, Hans, Aufzeichnungen eines Generalstabsoffiziers 1939–1942 (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1982).
Megargee, Geoffrey P., Inside Hitler’s High Command (Lawrence, KS, 2000).
Melvin, Mungo, Manstein: Hitler’s Greatest General (London, 2010).
Merridale, Catherine, Ivan’s War: The Red Army, 1941–45 (London, 2005).
Müller, Rolf-Dieter (ed.), Die deutsche Wirtschaftspolitik in den besetzten sowjetischen Gebieten 1941–1943. Der Abschlußbericht des Wirtschaftsstabes Ost und Aufzeichnungen eines Angehörigen des Wirtschaftskommandos Kiew (Boppard am Rhein, 1991).
Müller, Rolf-Dieter, Der letzte deutsche Krieg 1939–1945 (Stuttgart, 2005). Müller, Rolf-Dieter, The Unknown Eastern Front: The Wehrmacht and Hitler’s Foreign Soldiers (London, 2012).
Müller, Rolf-Dieter, and Ueberschär, Gerd R., Hitler’s War in the East 1941–1945: A Critical Assessment (Providence, RI, 1997).
Musial, Bogdan, ‘Konterrevolutionäre Elemente sind zu erschießen’, in Die Brutalisierung des deutsch–sowjetischen Krieges im Sommer 1941 (Berlin, 2000).
Musial, Bogdan (ed.), Sowjetische Partisanen in Weißrussland: Innenansichten aus dem Gebiet Baranoviči 1941–1944. Eine Dokumentation (Munich, 2004). 176
Neitzel, Sönke, Tapping Hitler’s Generals: Transcripts of Secrets Conversations, 1942–45 (Barnsley, 2007).
Oldenburg, Manfred, Ideologie und militärisches Kalkül. Die Besatzungspolitik der Wehrmacht in der Sowjetunion 1942 (Cologne, 2004).
Osteuropa-Handbuch: Sowjetunion, Außenpolitik, i. 1917–1955, ed. Dietrich Geyer (Cologne, 1972).
Otto, Reinhard, Wehrmacht, Gestapo und sowjetische Kriegsgefangene im deutschen Reichsgebiet 1941/42 (Munich, 1998).
Overmans, Rüdiger, Deutsche militärische Verluste im Zweiten Weltkrieg (Munich, 1999).
Overy, Richard, Russia’s War (London, 1998).
Philippi, Alfred, and Him, Ferdinand, Der Feldzug gegen Sowjetrussland 1941 bis 1945: Ein operativer Überblick (Stuttgart, 1962).
Pohl, Dieter, Verfolgung und Massenmord in der NS-Zeit 1933–1945 (Darmstadt, 2003).
Pohl, Dieter, Die Herrschaft der Wehrmacht: Deutsche Militärbesatzung und einheimische Bevölkerung in der Sowjetunion 1941–1944 (Munich, 2008).
Pospelov, P. N., et al. (eds), Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union, 1941–1945: A General Outline (6 vols; Moscow, 1961).
Reese, Willy Peter, A Stranger to Myself: The Inhumanity of War, 1941–44 (New York, 2005).
Reinhardt, Klaus, Moscow—the Turning Point: The Failure of Hitler’s Strategy in the Winter of 1941–42 (Oxford, 1992).
Rürup, Reinhard, and Jahn, Peter (eds), Erobern und Vernichten: Der Krieg gegen die Sowjetunion 1941–1945. Essays (Berlin, 1991).
Salisbury, Harrison E., The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad (Cambridge, 2003).
Schieder, Theodor, et al., Documents on the Expulsion of the Germans from Eastern-Central Europa (Bonn, 1960).
Schlögel, Karl, Moscow, 1937 (Cambridge, 2012).
Schulte, Theo J., The German Army and Nazi Policies in Occupied Russia (Oxford, 1989).
Seaton, Albert, The Russo-German War, 1941–45 (New York, 1971).
Shepherd, Ben, War in the Wild East: The German Army and Soviet Partisans (Cambridge, MA, 2004).
Shils, Edward, and Janowitz, Morris, ‘Cohesion and Disintegration in the Wehrmacht’, Public Opinion Quarterly, 12 (1948), S.280–315.
Snyder, Timothy, Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin (New York, 2010).
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander, Gulag Archipelago, 1918–1956. An Experiment in Literary Investigation (3 vols; New York, 1974–8).
Streim, Alfred, Die Behandlung sowjetischer Kriegsgefangener im ‘Fall Barbarossa’: Eine Dokumentation (Heidelberg, 1981).
Streit, Christian, et al., Die Wehrmacht und die sowjetischen Kriegsgefangenen 1941–1945 (3rd edn; Bonn, 1997).
Suny, Ronald Grigor, The Soviet Experiment: Russia, the USSR and the Successor States (New York, 1998).
Ueberschär, Gerd R., and Wette, Wolfram, ‘Unternehmen Barbarossa’, in Der deutsche Überfall auf die Sowjetunion 1941: Berichte, Analysen, Dokumente (Paderborn, 1984).
Die Verfolgung und Ermordung der europäischen Juden durch das nationalsozialistische Deutschland 1933–1945, vii. Sowjetunion und annektierte Gebiete I, compiled by Bert Hoppe (Munich, 2011).
Wegner, Bernd, From Peace to War: Germany, Soviet Russia, and the World, 1939–1941 (Providence, RI, 1997).
Weinberg, Gerhard L., A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II (Cambridge, 1994).
Zellhuber, Andreas, ‘Unsere Verwaltung treibt einer Katastrophe zu …’, in Das Reichsministerium für die besetzten Ostgebiete und die deutsche Besatzungsherrschaft in der Sowjetunion 1941–1945 (Munich, 2006).