IBDP History Papers on Operation Barbarossa

IBDP History Extended Essay

The Turning Point of Hitler’s War with the Soviet Union; August-October 1941

Abstract (word count: 255)
This essay concerns one of the greatest military reversals in history. After half a year of stunning victories, a dominant army was forced into retreat for the first time in its history. Being a German history enthusiast, the question of why the German Wehrmacht failed in its invasion of the Soviet Union by December 1941 has always been a topic I was very interested in, as I believe Operation Barbarossa to be one of the 20th, if not the 20th century’s greatest and most important military campaigns. The orthodox explanation for Hitler’s defeat in this crucial venture always seemed “too easy” to me. I knew there must have been more to the defeat of the Wehrmacht than simply mud, snow and logistical shortcomings. As I dove deeper and deeper into the mountains of research that has been made on this topic, I came across a book called Hitler’s Panzers East: WW2 reinterpreted, written by R.H.S Stolfi. This book explored a theory for Hitler’s defeat in the east that intrigued me. Coupled with the well researched and presented nature of the book, I came to take this theory to be the truth. The thesis of this book is that Adolf Hitler is the sole culprit of Germany’s failure to win the war in Russia, and as a consequence WW2 as a whole. At the focal point of this failure by Hitler lie a number of decisions he made from July to September 1941 (the turning point of Hitler’s War with the Soviet Union) which doomed the operation to failure. This is the thesis my essay follows.

The “turning point” of a war is the point, after which, the course of the rest of the war is pre-determined and one side is assured victory. The Ostfront, or Eastern Front was, in my mind, the most important theatre of the Second World War in Europe. Inspired either by aspirations of world dominance, racial ideology or economic necessity, Adolf Hitler and the German High Command set in motion with their invasion of the USSR a conflict that would last four years, would take the lives of roughly 4,300,000[1] German and 11,500,000[2] Russian soldiers, and would feature some of the harshest fighting conditions and worst acts of brutality and savagery in history. Fall Barbarossa or Operation Barbarossa was the codename given to Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22nd. Named after the crusading German King Frederick I of the Holy Roman Empire, this was the single greatest land invasion in history with regard to the amount of personnel and war material involved. This essay will answer the question of when the turning of this war was.
Start of Blitzkrieg in the East
On June 22nd approximately 4 million soldiers of Germany and her allies (most notably Hungary, Bulgaria, Finland and Italy) crossed the 2,900[3] km long frontier between Nazi Germany and Soviet-occupied Poland. The majority of this gargantuan force was organized into three army groups; Army Group North, Centre and South, with objectives Leningrad, Moscow and the capture of the Ukraine respectively (Appendix 3). By 1941, the German Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe had established themselves as being the most co-efficient and effective combined armed force in all of Europe, defeating and occupying Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Netherlands, France, and crushing the British Expeditionary Force. As the ferocity of Barbarossa unfolded to the eyes of the world, it looked as if the German war machine would again achieve success with their innovative use of deep-thrusting armoured spearheads independent of slow-moving infantry combined with superbly coordinated tactical air support offered by the Luftwaffe.
Mud, snow and bad weather
Despite numerous early warnings to Stalin, tactical surprise was absolute on the morning of June 22nd. Border defences were easily overrun and Soviet forces were thrown into disarray and confusion. By 3 October, when Operation Typhoon, the final assault on Moscow began, German armor had encircled huge Red Army forces at Minsk, Kiev, Smolensk and Uman, each time destroying or forcing the surrender of numerous Soviet field armies. The Kiev encirclement alone had yielded the massive number of roughly 600,000[4] prisoners, comprising four Soviet armies and virtually erasing an entire Soviet Front (1 Front consisted of roughly three armies). In light of these astronomical achievements, how was it possible that Hitler’s armies were stopped and eventually defeated by the Red Army at the gates of Moscow and beyond? Over the past 70 years following the conflict, most historians have come to agree that a combination of bad weather (mud, snow and freezing temperatures), Russian manpower and material stockpiles, and German economic shortcomings brought the formerly “invincible” German war machine to a standstill with reconnaissance units in December 1941 looking at the glinting spires of the Kremlin.[5]
My thesis
My thesis is not to discredit these reasons completely. In my opinion, these factors all contributed to the eventual German defeat in 1945. It was indeed the freezing cold and snow that played a major role in stopping Hitler from seizing both Moscow in 1941 and Stalingrad in 1942. Also, it was the vast reserves of manpower and industrial resources that made a German victory impossible after 1941. Lastly, I do believe that the very limited and underutilized German economy did prevent Germany from ultimately supplying their troops on the front lines of the Eastern Front with what they needed, and eventually the ability to fight a war on multiple fronts and in multiple theatres of operations. The thesis of this essay is that Barbarossa and the opening stages of this campaign were the turning point of the war and that they were of the utmost importance when considering the possibility of a German victory against the Soviet Union, and a favorable conclusion of the war as a whole.
Führer Directive 33-35
When considering turning points in the war in the East, turning points after which it is believed that Germany could not have won the war, the battles of Stalingrad (1942), Kursk (1943) and Moscow (1941) come to mind. These were all decisive battles in their own right that helped crush Hitler’s ambitions, but I believe the turning point of this war to be much earlier. I believe the turning point of this war to be in the period between August-October 1941, in the immediate wake of Barbarossa. In this brief time period, Hitler made what I believe to be the greatest strategic blunder in 20th century military history. On 19th July to 21st August Hitler issued his directives 33-35, dictating that the advance on Moscow was no longer to be the Schwerpunkt or focus of the army’s effort (as it had been before with most of Germany’s tank and mechanized forces being deployed in Army Group Center) and that the seizure of Leningrad and the Ukraine were now the priorities.[6] What this meant on the battlefield was that insurmountably valuable time and effort was wasted with, in my mind, fruitless ventures that did nothing to improve Germany’s strategic position in its war with Russia. With General Heinz Guderian’s 2nd Panzer Group (The Panzer Groups held between 4 and 5 Panzer Divisions, and roughly 5 motorized infantry and regular infantry divisions) being diverted to the Ukraine and General Hoth’s 3rd Panzer Group being diverted to Leningrad, Army Group Centre would not continue its advance on Moscow until early October[7], having given Stalin two whole months to prepare for the resumed German onslaught, and wasted valuable men and equipment as a result of Hitler’s lack of strategic understanding and foresight. The simple delay of these two months meant Soviet defences around Moscow could be improved and prepared in more depth. I believe this to be the turning point of the Second World War’s Eastern Front since after this particular strategic folly Hitler’s and his armies would not be able to seize the heart of the Soviet Union in Moscow due to Soviet preparations and the onset of winter. This meant that all impetus and momentum gained from Barbarossa’s early successes was lost hereafter, making a German victory impossible.
Hitler disperses his forces
Having established the fact that the opening stages of the war were crucial, I believe the battle outside Moscow in the winter of 1941 to be the most important battle of the Nazi-Soviet war, although I believe its outcome was pre-determined by preceding events i.e. Directives 33-35 and Hitler’s meddling in military matters of which he knew little. As already discussed, the German war machine had made short work of all Soviet forces the Stavka (Red Army High Council) had thrown against it in the opening stages of Operation Barbarossa. Since the beginning of the campaign, Army Group Centre had always been the focus of the main German effort in Russia. It had been the most successful army group in terms of the number of Soviet units it destroyed and encircled, and the distance it had advanced into the USSR. Military wisdom dictates it also had the most important strategic objective; Moscow. Unfortunately for Germany, Adolf Hitler who had made himself the de facto supreme commander of the Wehrmacht, disagreed with the OKH (German Army High Command) and his generals over the strategic and operational objectives multiple times throughout the war. Most importantly, he suddenly, in the middle of the campaign, disagreed on the matter of Moscow as being the primary strategic object of Barbarossa..Hitler, instead, stressed and lectured his generals on the importance of seizing Soviet industry and economic assets to assist Germany’s already ailing economy, and depriving the Soviets of these same assets.[8] He therefore thought the objectives of the seizure of the Leningrad industrial region and the agriculturally rich Ukraine to be of more importance than, in his mind, the mere “trophy city” of Moscow. This culminated on July 30, 1941, with Führer Directive 33. It instructed the OKW to switch Army Group Centre to the defensive and for nearly all armoured elements of this army group to be transferred to assist in the seizure of Kiev and Leningrad. Bypassing military structure and professional military advice, Hitler personally ordered Generals Heinz Guderian and Hermann Hoth[9] to move their Panzer Groups 2 and 3, which were already exhausted and depleted from the heavy fighting around Smolensk, to the South and North respectively to satisfy Hitler’s thirst for economic conquest. Specifically, on the 15th of August Hitler ordered that Army Group Center’s advance on Moscow be halted and the 39th Motorized Corps to be diverted from the 3rd Panzer Group in the Centre to Leningrad. By the 24th of August, after both Guderian and Halder (head of the OKH) had tried in vain to persuade Hitler to reconsider his orders, Guderian had been forced to direct the whole of his 2nd Panzer Group to help Army Group South in its encirclement of Kiev. This is the decision which ultimately caused Hitler and Germany to lose its struggle with Joseph Stalin and the USSR.
The Kiev Encirclement
At the end of July, Army Group Center was stopped dead in its tracks just east of Smolensk and the Desna River, unable to advance and forced to switch over to the defensive.[10] This was not due to stiff Soviet resistance, mud, snow, cold or lack of fuel or supplies. No, this tragic waste of a golden opportunity to advance further and to capture Moscow after the Soviets had been so soundly beaten and routed after the Smolensk fiasco[11] was Hitler’s fault alone. But did Hitler’s economic obsession pay off? Some would say “yes”, as it did create one of the greatest military feats in history. The mechanized divisions which were dispatched to Army Group North played a largely minimal role, only helping to defend against increasing Russian counterattacks in the Staraia Russa region East of Leningrad and not bringing about the capture of Leningrad for which Hitler had hoped. 2nd Panzer Group, on the other hand, achieved astounding success on an operational level. After reluctantly starting his offensive to the south, Guderian met relatively light resistance penetrating the point between the Soviet Briansk and Southwestern Fronts. General von Kleist’s 1st Panzer Group had already gotten behind the Soviet Southwestern Front and on the 16th of September, both armored spearheads met in the town of Lokhvitsa, approx. 120 miles behind Kiev, encircling a force of roughly 5 Soviet armies and their equipment.[12] Despite a few thousand Russian soldiers escaping the ever-thin panzer defensive perimeter around the “Kiev Pocket” (See Appendix 4), this was the single largest encirclement and was one of the most spectacular single victories in history. 616,304 Red Army soldiers were either captured or killed in the encirclement[13] (compared with the comparatively feeble 90,000 German prisoners captured at Stalingrad in November 1942)[14]. As spectacular as the victory had been, encircling battles take time. As had been the case with previous encirclements at Minsk, Smolensk and Uman, once the enemy had been completely encircled, the mobile panzer and motorized infantry units had to wait and defend a defensive perimeter around the encirclement, as not to let any enemies escape, until the regular infantry units could march up with their artillery and reduce the trapped foe until he forced himself into suicidal frontal assaults or surrender. Although Hitler’s Southern venture and the ensuing battle won a clear victory for the Wehrmacht, I believe it was a victory that was at the wrong place and the wrong time.
The dangers of a war of attrition
With my argument claiming that this period was the turning point of Hitler’s war with the USSR, I must also disprove the arguments that the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk were the turning points of the war. Both battles were confrontations of huge proportion, but as in the case of the battle of Moscow, their outcomes were already determined before the first German soldier ever entered Stalingrad or the first tiger tank attacked at Prokhorovka. What we know today as “Blitzkrieg”, which more accurately was the way in which the Wehrmacht drastically and decisively destroyed (and not simply routed) its enemy’s armies in the opening battles was Germany’s secret to success in the Second World War. It was a way of waging war in which operational success, the art of winning battles, was everything and the economic effects of a drawn out, prolonged war were negated to a point where it did not matter that Germany had less industrial capacity compared to her enemies. What this meant was that in 1941, when the boost offered by “Blitzkrieg” was most needed by Germany to defeat the industrial giant that was the USSR, Hitler wavered and sought, instead of pursuing strategic goals such as the destruction of Soviet Armies and the capture of the Soviet capital, to pursue economic goals which would help him in the long term (a point at which Germany would lose the war anyway), he made the decisive mistake of the war. As soon as Hitler slipped into this mindset in which he was no longer trying to crush his enemy, but only trying to improve Germany’s long term economic position, victory was virtually impossible for the Wehrmacht, as Germany could not hope to match the USSR’s industrial capacity, let alone the massive support offered by “Lend-Lease” from Great Britain and the USA. The impact this had on the battlefield was that Russian superiority in both men and machines became apparent as early as 5 December when the Russians launched their own Winter offensive, immediately after six whole months of almost uninterrupted German offensive actions, which pushed Army Group Centre practically back to the positions where it had started Operation Typhoon in early October. As a consequence of this failure by Hitler, all future German offensive operations hereafter (Fall Blau (the 1942 Summer Offensive), Fall Zitadelle (Kursk)), were doomed to failure.
Failure of Operation Typhoon
During the generous time period of two months given to the Soviet High Command by Hitler through his diffusion of strategic objectives, the Stavka was able to raise and place no less than nine armies opposite Army Group Centre and mobilize thousands of peasant reserves (an ability the USSR had which would inexorably doom Germany’s efforts in the future) dedicated to the defence of Moscow. Knowing full well that an assault on Moscow was soon to commence, Stalin also employed thousands of Moscow civilians to dig anti-tank ditches, pillboxes, bunkers and trench systems for the defense of the capital. During this time the German tanks and mechanized units that would eventually be used to assault Moscow were being progressively worn down in strategic military sideshows in the north and south. The Germans did achieve notable success during Operation Typhoon, creating yet another enormous encirclement of Russian soldiers at Briansk-Vyazma and coming within artillery range of Moscow, but the Russian defenders had been given too much time to prepare and withstood the German onslaught. Guderian’s 2nd Panzer Army, which was the southern arm of the planned encirclement of Moscow, was repulsed three times from the key town of Tula and was then forced to give up the offensive.[15] Hoepner’s 4th Panzer Army fared slightly better and reached as far as Istra and a motorcycle patrol from Reinhardt’s 3rd Panzer Army reach as far as the town of Khimki (6km from Moscow outskirts) but came no further, condemning the northern pincer of the offensive to failure as well.[16]
Hypothetical outcome of earlier German advance
But what if the Germans had started their offensive on Moscow in early August, instead of October, and not diverted Army Group Centre’s tanks north and south? On 5th August, the Soviets could field an estimated 63 divisions in front of Moscow, 28 of which were fresh conscripts and 35 were remnants and escapees from the previous failures of Smolensk and Minsk[17]. Opposed to this were roughly 60 well-equipped, victorious and veteran German divisions poised to advance. Whereas on 2nd October the Russians fielded 100+ divisions supported by numerous tank brigades opposed to 70 German divisions, most of which had just arrived from the south or north and the rest of which had been sitting in waiting for the last two months[18]. Taking into account the contribution that mud, snow and the freezing cold had on the German offensive of October, which would not have been present in August, based on these figures it is hard to escape the conclusion that a German offensive launched in August 1941 would have fared far better than the one in October, and most probably would have captured the Soviet Capital and destroyed the 60 odd divisions defending it.
Significance of Germany capturing Moscow
What this would have signified for Joseph Stalin’s USSR is another question. Moscow is the quintessential heart of European Russia. It had been the Russian seat of Government since 1917, and housed the Politburo and the dictator, Stalin himself, in the Kremlin.  The Soviet State Committee of Defence and the General Staff of the Red Army were also located in Moscow during this time, including most other essential military organs of the country. Compared with Moscow’s infrastructural and industrial significance, the damage to the governmental structure and dictatorship of Stalin appear negligible. In 1941, Moscow was the communication and transportation hub of the USSR, being used to receive and re-direct most resources from the Far East and Asia and through its central position being the nucleus of the intricate web of rail lines that connected Leningrad, Moscow and the Ukraine. Besides it and its surrounding area accounting for more than 18%[19] of the industrial output of the entire Soviet Union, Moscow was also the most populated city. The psychological shock to government and people alone is worth taking into account when considering the effect the fall of Moscow would have on the USSR and its war-fighting capability. Undoubtedly, the fall of Moscow would have been a catastrophic blow to the Soviet Union and a monumental victory for the Wehrmacht. A blow that I do not think the USSR would have easily recovered from and might have spelt its demise as a free nation.
The reasons for Hitler’s August-October 1941 folly are mostly unclear, although it is clear from examining the decisions he made all throughout the war, most significantly in August-October 1941, Russia, but also in France (failure at Dunkirk) the year before and in the latter part of the war that Hitler was simply not the strategic mastermind of war he has been made out to be. He understood the necessities of starting wars while his Wehrmacht was in a dominant position, but did not grasp the necessity of clear objectives and deliberate aggressiveness on the battlefield, something his generals on the battlefield (Von Bock, Guderian, Hoth, Hoepner) and high command (Halder, von Brauchitsch) grasped very well, but whose efforts where ultimately undermined by Hitler’s paranoia and stubborn ignorance. Either because of his arrogance or his racial ideology, Hitler came to believe he had the leisure on the Eastern Front to pursue goals that would improve his own economy, while the enemy was left unbeaten! This was a mistake the Supreme-Commander of any armed force cannot make, especially considering the scale and gravity of the war with the USSR. Barbarossa was meticulously planned in every detail. I wholly disagree with the common belief that Germany’s invasion of the USSR was a mistake. The Wehrmacht was a superb fighting machine whose peak was July 1941, when innovative use of tactics and technology had made total domination of Europe a possibility by virtually opening the road to the Soviet capital Moscow and dealing blow after blow to the colossus that was the Red Army. It had the chance to defeat Stalin’s Union of Socialist Republics after the fall of Smolensk, and where it for one fateful decision probably would have done so. After August 1941, when Hitler had, perhaps inadvertently, changed the nature of the Eastern Front from a war of aggressive advance, into a war of attrition, the possibility of victory was lost forever and the turning point of the war with the Soviet Union had passed.
1. “After previous findings the importance of Moscow to the survivability of the Soviet Union has been put in third place.” – Adolf Hitler (translated) Conversation between Hitler and Chiefs of Staff at Army Group Center HQ 4. August 1941.[20]
2. “…1.The most important missions before the onset of winter are to seize the Crimea and the industrial and coal regions of the Don, deprive the Russians of the opportunity to obtain oil from the Caucasus and, in the north, to encircle Leningrad and link up with the Finns rather than capture Moscow.” – Adolf Hitler Order from the OKW to the OKH 21 August 1941[21]
3. German movements from June-September
4. The Kiev Encirclement
Carell, Paul. Unternehmen Barbarossa. Frankfurt/M: Verlags Ullstein GmbH, 1963
Downing, David. The Moscow Option. London: New English Library, 1980
Forczyk, Robert. Moscow 1941. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2006
Glantz, David M. Barbarossa Derailed Solihull: Helion & Company, 2010
Glantz, David M. Before Stalingrad. Gloucestershire: Stroud, 2003.
Kirchubel, Robert. Operation Barbarossa 1941 (1). Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2003
Kershaw, Ian. Hitler 1936-1945 Nemesis. London: Allan Lane The Penguin Press, 2000
Kirchubel, Robert. Operation Barbarossa 1941 (2). Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2005
Kirchubel, Robert. Operation Barbarossa 1941 (3). Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2007
Magenheimer, Heinz. Hitler’s War - Germany’s Key Strategic Decisions. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2003
Mitcham, Samuel W. The Men of Barbarossa Havertown: CASEMATE, 2009
Schramm, Percy E. Kriegstagesbuch des Oberkommandos der Wehrmacht 1940-1941. Berlin: Bernard & Graefe Verlag GmbH, 1976
Stahel, David. Kiev 1941: Hitler’s Battle for Supremacy in the East Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012
Stolfi, R.H.S. Hitler’s Panzers East. Norman: Publishing Division of the University of Oklahoma, 1993
Swanston, Alexander/ Swanston, Malcolm. The Historical Atlas of World War II. New York: Chartwell, 2010
Overhues, Bernd. Die Wehrmacht – 5 Jahrgang, Nr. 10-20. Berlin: Eisnerdruck Berlin, 1941
Piekalkiewicz, Janusz. Der Zweite Weltkrieg. Duesseldorf and Wien: ECON Verlag GmbH, 1985
Piekalkiewicz, Janusz. Die Schlacht um Moskau. Regensburg: Gustav Luebbe Verlag, 1981
DVD. Through Enemy Eyes – A Newsreel History of the Third Reich at War Volume 5-6. Chicago: International Historic Films, 1995

[1] Overmans, Rudiger: Deutsche Militarische Verluste im Zweiten Weltkrieg. pg. -
[2] Swanston, Alexander & Malcolm: The Historical Atlas of World War II. pg. 382
[3] World War II Chronicle, 2007. Legacy/ Publications International, Ltd. Page 146
[4] Stahel, David: Kiev 1941: Hitler’s Battle for Supremacy in the East pg. 209
[5] Carell, Paul: Unternehmen Barbarossa pg. 186
[6]Carell, Paul: Unternehmen Barbarossa pg. 96
[7] Glantz, David M. Barbarossa Derailed pg. 396
[8] Carell, Paul: Unternehmen Barbarossa. Pg. 100.
[9] Mitcham, Samuel W. The Men of Barbarossa pg. 165
[10] Schramm, Percy E. Kriegstagesbuch des Oberkommandos der Wehrmacht pg. 546
[11] Glantz, David M. Barbarossa Derailed pg. 329
[12] Carell, Paul: Unternehmen Barbarossa. Pg. 117
[13] Glatz, David M. Before Stalingrad. pg. 129
[14] Stolfi, R.H.S. Hitler’s Panzers East. pg. 225
[15] Piekalkiewicz, Janusz. Die Schlacht um Moskau pg. 234
[16] Piekalkiewicz, Janusz. Die Schlacht um Moskau pg. 222
[17] Stolfi, R.H.S. Hitler’s Panzers East. pg. 182
[18] Forczyk, Robert. Moscow 1941. Pg. 28-29
[19] Magenheimer, Heinz. Hitler’s War – Germany’s key strategic decisions. Pg. 143
[20] Piekalkiewicz, Janusz: Die Schlacht um Moskau pg. 58
[21] Glantz, David M. Before Stalingrad. pg. 281
[22] Opening stages of Barbarossa (14.11.2011)
[23] The Kiev Encirclement (14.11.2011)

Was  Operation Barbarossa was a Pre-emptive Strike?

Plan of the Historical Investigation
Was Operation Barbarossa a preemptive strike? This Internal Assessment will analyse whether Operation Barbarossa was a preemptive strike on Germany’s part. The controversial Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War by Viktor Suvorov will be used as it argues that Operation Barbarossa, contrary to the widely accepted view, was a preemptive strike. A lecture from 2010 by Suvorov will be used to gain an overview of the newest developments on the ‘Icebreaker-Theory’. In addition the article Der Sinn des Kampfes published in the Nazi propaganda magazine Signal will provide Hitler’s reason as to why the USSR was attacked as well as providing an account from the time . The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact will help put the conflict between the two powers into perspective. Furthermore, accounts from other historians such as Klaus Hildebrand’s Das Dritte Reich and Wolfgang Michalka’s Deutsche Geschichte 1933-1945: Dokumente Zur Innen- Und Aussenpolitik, will be used to gain a variety of viewpoints.

Summary of Evidence
Between 3:00 and 3:30 on Sunday, 22 June 1941 Operation Barbarossa was initiated with the bombing of Soviet-occupied cities in Poland. 3.2 million German ground troops invaded the USSR1. There were also 600,000 horses, 2000 aircraft and 3350 tanks 1. With this Operation Barbarossa was the largest military operation of its type in history.
On 23 August 1939 the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was signed by the USSR and Germany2. According to article 1 of the pact, both nations would refrain from attacking the other country3. Article 2 stated that in the event of a third power attacking either the USSR or Germany the attacked country would not be helped by the other 3. In the ‘Geheimes Protokoll’ it was agreed that if the borders of Poland were to be redrawn, the Germans and the USSR would divide the country among themselves, establishing later, whether Poland was to keep its own government or become part of the invading powers 3. On 1 September 1939 Germany invaded Poland4 starting the Second World War. Days later, on 17 September 1939 the Soviet Union invaded Poland5. Both countries now occupied their territory of Poland according to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.
In Mein Kampf Adolf Hitler stated that he wished to gain ‘Lebensraum’ for the German race6 As early as 1933 Hitler had publicly spoken of wishing to gain ‘Lebensraum’ in the East and freeing Russia of the Jews that had gained control through Bolshevism7. Hitler promised that the USSR would first be invaded and then be turned into the leading state in Asia, guided by the Nazis. With Russia and Europe under national socialist rule the whole of the world would be conquered8. In December of 1940 Hitler created a plan to invade the USSR9. The plan was that the German troops were to attack the Red Army on Russian territory and destroy it before they could retreat and establish a defensible position. On June 31 1940 this plan was created and in the autumn of the same year it was integrated into the ‘Gesamtkriegsplan’10. Hitler reported, on 5 December 1941, to Brauchitsch and Halder that the USSR would be easy to beat11. No military leader, under Hitler’s command raised objections or challenged Hitlers views12. Hitler wished to invade the USSR to carry out his vigorous programme13 and eradicate Bolshevism14.
After signing the the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact Stalin did not believe that Hitler would keep his promise and refrain from attacking the USSR. However, he believed that before Britain was defeated, Hitler would not strike the USSR unless forced to. Stalin believed that the war between Germany and Britain would prevent Hitler from engaging in two conflicts15. During the time leading up to the German invasion Stalin refused to see the signs of Hitler’s upcoming attack16. The USSR chief of state for army, Boris Shaposhnikov, predicted what the attack from Germany might look like. He forecast a ‘three prong assault’, which closely resembled the actual attack17. The Soviets built up a thin line of defence along the border. They were confident that this would prevent a full invasion on Germany‘s part 17. It would also give the USSR time to mobilise its troops, drive Germany back and destroy the German army on its own territory17.

Evaluation of Sources
The article Der Sinn des Kampfes was published on 1 August 1941, in the Signal, a magazine released twice a month. It served as propaganda for the Nazi party. It was mainly published in other languages18 to justify German control over other European nations and gain support from them19. The purpose of this article was to convey to the readers why Stalin had not yet attacked Germany but had signed  the Molotov-Rippentropp Pact. In addition, the intention of the article was to show that Europe was behind the advance on the German enemy. It states that the plan for the USSR to attack the Third Reich had existed for a long time. Overall the source gives an accurate view of the public’s motive and shows the general attitudes expressed towards other nations, especially Russian. The article is limited as it speaks of Stalin’s plans for war, for example: ”Stalin's calculations were wrong”18 without giving any reason as to how the Germans were able to obtain this information. It also states, that “England and the United States are attempting to cut off all of the European continent from oceanic commerce”18. Again, how this information was found out remains unknown and in retrospect it did not come true.
The book Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War, published in 1987, written by Viktor Suvorov, examines the causes of the Second World War and blames the USSR, who wished to gain control over Europe and then conquer the whole world. He worked as a military leader and for military intelligence in the Soviet government20. He then defected to the United Kingdom, where he then wrote Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War20. Therefore, the book will be of value for the investigation, as Suvorov has had access to documents that others may never have had the chance to come into contact with. A limitation of his viewpoint is that he goes against the common view that the Nazis started WWII and that throughout the book the Nazi involvement in the starting in the war is largely ignored.

The common belief on the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is that Stalin thought that most Western Powers could not be counted on for support if war arose. This could be seen with the repeated failures of Appeasement. To Stalin it seemed that the West was avoiding a war at all cost and would certainly not help him if Hitler were to attack the USSR. To be able to survive a war, Stalin wanted a non aggression pact. This would postpone a conflict between the USSR and Germany and allow for more time to make preparations21. Suvorov, however believes that the USSR wanted Hitler to start a second World War22. This war would then engulf and weaken all capitalist powers22. Using the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Stalin wished to prevent an immediate war between himself and Hitler22.
According to Suvorov the Soviet Union was instigating a war by destroying the buffer zone between himself and the Nazis by signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact23. As soon as Germany had gained ‘their’ half of Poland, Stalin’s enemy was closer to the USSR. Later, when Stalin invaded Poland, the enemy was on the Soviet border. Thus, Suvorov concludes that the Soviet Union was planning on attacking Germany. However, had Stalin not signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Hitler would have most likely taken all of Poland. According to claims made as early as February 1933, he wished to expand the German Reich in the East24. In Czechoslovakia, Hitler had shown that he was would do anything to carry out this expansionist policy, even ignore western agreements. It also showed that he was not just content with half of a country. Once a nation is attacked and their army virtually destroyed, it would take hardly any effort taking the rest of the country for land and resources. With the potential threat of having Hitler on the actual border to the USSR, it was a clever move to still have a buffer zone between himself and German territory. While this buffer zone was no longer another country, it still was newly gained territory for Stalin.
Suvorov’s statement that the Soviet Union had betrayed Hitler22 by not invading on the same day, is untrue as the ‘Geheimes Protokoll’ of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact only states where Poland would be divided and that it would be decided later whether Poland was to keep its own government or become part of the invading powers25. In addition, one fact that also contradicts Suvorov’s theory was that the full plan for Soviet mobilization was not finished by the start of the German invasion26. During the time leading up to Barbarossa, Stalin refused to recognize the signs that Hitler would attack27. For example, the evacuation of most German citizens out of Soviet territory long before the attack on the USSR was initiated28. Valentin Bereschkow claims that Stalin’s refusal to evacuate any of his citizens in Germany is a clear sign that the USSR was not planning on invading Germany28.
The type of Soviet forces positioned on the border to Germany, according to Suvorov, were for aggressive, not defensive, purposes28. The article, Der Sinn des Kampfes, generally agrees with Suvorov’s theory stating that the Soviets had built up an offensive army along the border to Germany29. This propaganda does its best in portraying Russians as negatively as possible: “the nightmare of Bolshevism” 29. According to the article, there were 70% of all infantry divisions, 60% of all cavalry divisions and 85% of all motorized and tank units of the USSR positioned along the front29. However, according to Anthony Beevor, Hitler was lying in the the official numbers he presented to the public 30. Also Hitler and the other military leaders believed that the USSR would be easy to beat. As early as Mein Kampf, Hitler claimed he wanted to invade and conquer Russia. Hitler’s motive was never to attack the USSR to prevent it from attacking but rather to gain “Lebensraum” and crush Bolshevism31. To Hitler the war on the USSR was a war on Jews, Bolshevism and Slavs 32. He had on numerous occasions claimed that he wished to expand and eradicate Bolshevism 31, to rid Russia of the Jews who had taken power 33. Hans-Ulrich Thamer, in his account of the Second World War, also states that Operation Barbarossa was not initiated by Hitler to prevent a pre-emptive strike but rather to carry out his vigorous policies in the East 34.

Operation Barbarossa was not a preemptive strike. Stalin did not plan to trick Hitler into invading Poland and neither was the USSR provoking a war by having Germany on its border. Stalin saw the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as an opportunity to postpone a German-Russian war. This would give him more time to to ready his army for the inevitable German attack, for him to regain his land lost in the Great War easily and to take land that Germany would have otherwise occupied. Hitler had long planned to invade and conquer Russia. As early as June 1940, when a strategic plan was integrated into the ‘Gesamtkriegsplan’, Hitler had planned to attack Russia, making Operation Barbarossa an attack planned well in advance rather than a pre-emptive strike. Although Hitler may claim that he was acting to prevent a Soviet attack, he had also stated, ever since the National Socialists came to power, that he wished to attack the USSR. Even if Stalin had planned to attack Germany first as Suvorov claims, to Hitler Operation Barbarossa was never a pre-emptive strike. It was a war of aggression. He had always planned on taking ‘Lebensraum’ from Eastern Europe.

List of Sources
Bedürftig, Friedemann. Lexikon III. Reich. Hamburg: Carlsen, 1994. Print.   Beevor, Anthony. Stalingrad. Munich: C.Bertesmann Verlag, 1999. Print.   Harenberg, Bodo. Chronik Des 20. Jahrhunderts. Dortmund: Chronik-Verl., 1988. 541. Print.   Hildebrand, Klaus. Das Dritte Reich. München: Oldenbourg, 1980. 65. Print.   Kershaw, Ian. Hitler. London: Penguin, 2001. 334. Print.   Knopp, Guido. Der Verdammte Krieg: Stalingrad 1942-43. München: Bertelsmann, 1998. Print.   Müller, Helmut M. Schlaglichter Der Deutschen Geschichte. Bonn: Bundeszentrale Für Politische Bildung, 1986. 283. Print.   Overy, Professor Richard. "BBC - History - World Wars: The Soviet-German War 1941 - 1945." BBC - Homepage. Web. 03 Oct. 2011. .  Overy, R. J. The Dictators: Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2004. Print.  Thamer, Hans-Ulrich. Verführung Und Gewalt: Deutschland 1933-1945. Berlin: Siedler, 1986. Print.  Michalka, Wolfgang. Deutsche Geschichte 1933-1945: Dokumente Zur Innen- Und Aussenpolitik. [Frankfurt Am Main]: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1993. Print.  "The Nazi Invasion of Russia Justified." The Bytwerk Page. Web. 06 Nov. 2011. .  Schreiber, Gerhard. Der Zweite Weltkrieg. München: C.H. Beck, 2002. Print.  Signal Magazine 1940 - 1945. Web. 13 Nov. 2011.  Suvorov, Viktor. Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War? London: H. Hamilton, 1990. 11. Print.  Suvorov, Victor. "Who Started World War II." United States Naval Academy. 5 Nov. 2011. Lecture.  Valentin, Veit. Geschichte Der Deutschen. München: Knaur, 1984. 782. Print.  "Viktor Suvorov - ENotes.com Reference." ENotes - Literature Study Guides, Lesson Plans, and More. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. 

Was The Soviet Union Planning to Attack Germany in 1941?

Plan of Investigation The conventional view is that Germany invaded an innocent Soviet Union with Operation Barbarossa. This investigation will explore the revisionist theory1 – “Was the Soviet Union planning to attack Germany in 1941?”. Viktor Suvorov’s Icebreaker: Who started the World War, which renewed debate on the question, and his more recent findings will be challenged to evaluate the hypothesis. Contrasting views of western and Russian historians will be investigated to gather perspectives of various sides of the argument. Primary militaristic and propagandistic sources from both Soviet and German authorities are examined in search of evidence regarding Soviet offensive plans, German officials having kept such records throughout the war on their apparent enemy. An article justifying Operation Barbarossa from the Nazi propaganda magazine Signal will also be analyzed as it made use of these records and had a substantial impact on public opinion due to its wide European readership.

Summary of Evidence
Germany attacked the Soviet Union early in the morning of 22 of June, not two years after German and Soviet foreign ministers signed the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact on August 23, 1939. Article I forbade any aggression between the two nations for 10 years.2 The Pact divided Poland between the nations and for the first time in the life of each regime, the USSR and Germany shared a common border. Along a 1800-kilometer front, this was the greatest military operation Germany had ever tackled.3
Hitler issued formal orders on 18 December 1940 stating the Wehrmacht must be prepared to crush the Soviet Union.4 The Nazi propaganda magazine Signal justified the act as a defensive, pre-emptive strike against Soviet invasion.5 Additionally it states that there were from 1 of May 118 Soviet infantry divisions, 20 cavalry divisions, and 40 motorized and tank units mobilized along Germany’s eastern border with offensive intentions. On 17 June 1941 Russian soldiers crept into Germany territory to be quickly stopped by German forces and retreated.6 Since the beginning of 1941, 41 Russian frontier violations were recorded by the Germans.7 A report from the same time showed that Russia had increased the amount of Red Army divisions on the western frontier while other areas decreased in their amount of army divisions.8 As early as the first day of 1941, Germany saw 71% of Russia’s forces on the western front. 9 A week before the attack, Stalin broadcasted on public radio that there was no threat from the Nazi Regime.10 One day before, Stalin ordered a German man, who crossed the border to warn of the impending attack, be shot.11 When Stalin was made aware of the attack, he remarked, “Hitler surely does not know about it”.12
The Soviet Union cleared all defensive weapons, such as mines, which would have sufficiently hindered a German invasion by means of the railway lines, from its eastern border.13 On the same day of Stalin’s radio announcement, orders in secret were sent out to all divisions in the Ural district to mobilize to the western frontier,14 138 divisions in total,15 yet soldiers expected no offensive plans of either side.16 On May 5, Stalin gave a speech proclaiming “...now it is necessary to go from defence to offence...The Red Army is a modern army and a modern army is an offensive army.”17 The Chief of the German High Command of Armed Forces Alfred Jodl testified in the Nuremberg Trials that “Russia was fully prepared for war” when they attacked with Barbarossa.18 Hitler proclaimed on the day Operation Barbarossa commenced to the German people that the German Reich possessed evidence which proves that Russia is supplying Serbia with arms for the intention of entering the war against Germany.19
Defence minister Timoshenko proposed to Stalin and Molotov tactical war plans (Plan MP-41) against Germany, which were approved by the Politburo on 14 October 1940 and frequently revised and improved through until May 1941.20 MP-41 would increase military equipment procurement by January 1942; however, projections predicted insufficient supplies by the end of 1941.21 The final plan created in May was more offensive than defensive, as it envisioned a surprise attack led by the Red Army against Nazi-occupied lands.22 A specified date for commencement was not given. The Red Army’s personnel, divisions, guns, mortars, and Combat aircraft were more than doubling in the period between 1939 and the day of Barbarossa; the production of tank units increased much less: only 21%.23
On 15 March 1941, Soviet propaganda posters captioned with “Forward to victory”24; and “The Motherland calls!” called for soldiers for the Red Army.25 A Russian military handbook published on 29 May 1941 translates phrases like “which village is this?” from Russian to German.26

Evaluation of Sources
The Nazi propaganda magazine Signal, released twice monthly, published an article on 1 August 1941 titled Der Sinn des Kampfes.27 The article was intended to justify Operation Barbarossa which had begun a month before by revealing to the readers that Germany was supported by much of Europe because of their common enemy: Russia, who was planning to attack. Because Signal was published for foreign readers in Europe and became highly popular with a maximum circulation of 2.5 million copies per issue28, it is valuable as its message was not only popular under the Nazi flag but was in fact also read widely across Europe. Signal was a publication of the Wehrmacht, independent of Goebbels’ propaganda,29 which allowed for the direct access of militaristic information. As a German source, this provides a valuable perspective on a nation which the German government kept a watchful eye on, as an attack against the USSR was in the making. Because the magazine was intended to promote Nazi ideas, facts could be skewed. However, the data pertaining to the amount of Soviet divisions on the front corresponds with private governmental documents at the time.30 Nonetheless, some statements lack evidence: The author claims to know the plans and intentions of the Bolsheviks in Romania as well as “Stalin’s calculations” when it can only be speculation.
Vladimir Rezun, under the pseudonym Viktor Suvorov, published his book, Icebreaker: Who Started World War II? in 1990 in English. The author is an ex-KGB agent who fled to the UK in 1978 and wrote this book while being pursued by the USSR. The purpose of his book was to counter the common view that Hitler attacked an innocent USSR and express the revisionist view that Stalin was planning his own invasion against the Third Reich.31 This source is valued in that the author had valuable knowledge and access to sources in Russia while western historians didn’t. Because Suvorov’s thesis was published before the Soviet archives were open, Suvorov uniquely used his hands-on knowledge of Soviet Military strategy and the habits of Stalin, stating that he preferred to execute operations on Sundays, both of which would be difficult for a non-Russian historian without Soviet military experience to notice at the time.32 However, there are only minimal footnotes and statistical evidence. Assertions like “at that moment the Soviet Union stopped producing anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns”33 are stated but not proven with evidence. Also, due to his inability to return to the USSR, a large amount of his cited sources were unable to be verified.

Had Stalin also been preparing for war against Germany in 1941, the blame for the outbreak of war would rest not only on German shoulders. This great controversy has led heated debate since the 1980s34, sparked by ex-KGB agent Suvorov (Rezun) who claimed Stalin used the Molotov- Ribbentrop Pact to provide himself with an attacking border.35 The Nazi military magazine Signal states that Russian military divisions at the German border were dangerously increasing. Normally such a potentially partial source would be questioned for its reliability, however, private governmental documents, with no need to fabricate evidence, confirm the high numbers.36 However, if it is agreed the Soviet Union would eventually attack, it is important whether the USSR was planning to execute the offensive in 1941.
Suvorov claims two events as a result of Barbarossa only occurred because the Red Army was preparing offensively: (1) the line-up of troops along the Romanian border prevented the German spearhead of tanks from being any more catastrophic;37 and (2) the placement of Soviet troops in the forest rather than defensive positions in the ground contributed to great losses in the initial onset of Barbarossa.38 In both cases, Suvorov is speculating on subjunctive events which could have turned out a number of ways.
The Wehrmacht decimated the Red Army in the onset of the attack. As Suvorov argues, they were planning for offense which makes defensive maneuvers unachievable and yourself vulnerable.39 Professor Mawdsley illustrates the Soviet military plan MP-41 was offensive and being crafted in the months before Barbarossa and Glantz agrees the plans were offensive40. Meltyuhov shows that the production of more defensive weapons, like tanks, was not increased, while offensive weapon production was.41 Russian military historians V. A. Anfilova, B. N. Petrov, and V. A. Semidetko agree the forces set up were better able to attack than defend.42 Normally, an army preparing to defend itself would dig anti-tank trenches, build cover, or set up barricades. The Red Army did nothing like this, in fact, the Soviet troops were organized in the same type of offensive formation as the Germans were right before the attack.43 V. A. Anfilov claims the Red Army could have taken all the necessary defensive precautions but did not.44 Additionally Ilya Starinov, Colonel during the “Great Patriotic War”, remembers entire defensive installments being abandoned and even dismantled.45
Suvorov in fact calculates an exact date for the planned Soviet offensive attack: 6 July 1941, coinciding with typical habits of Stalin as well as a quote from General Ivanov: “The German troops succeeded in forestalling us by literally two weeks.”46 In this estimate, Suvorov is using something a western historian does not have in his arsenal, knowledge of Soviet military strategy and habits Suvorov has noticed in studying Stalin. However, like most of his other claims, the evidence is circumstantial. MP-41 was also a defensive plan as Mawdsley explains, and the Soviet war generals knew the supplies for the plan would not be sufficient by the end of 1941.47 The Military statistics referenced in Suvorov and Meltyuhov’s works are only statistics from which assumptions are made.
The Soviet war propaganda calls for soldiers, even before the war started, implying the presence of Soviet military preparations. Because all defense installations were being dismantled, these plans must be offensive. The Soviet soldier phrasebook published May 1941 translates phrases like “Which city is this?” into German.48 In defensive war, Soviets would be fighting on Soviet territory and would certainly know their country at least better than a German. Also, phrases like “stop, or I’ll shoot” show the aggression towards Germans. This phrasebook was thus created to prepare soldiers to fight Germans in German lands. “Anti-Suvorov” historians published their rebuttals before Suvorov publicized this evidence.
According to the evidence provided in this investigation, Stalin was planning to attack Germany in 1941. Despite strong criticism of Suvorov, his thesis is correct as it is supported by various other historians and evidence. Since 1939, the Red Army had been more than doubling its offensive forces and creating a plan which both revisionist and orthodox historians agree was offensive towards Germany. Russian historians with valuable access to Soviet documents, statistics and knowledge of military strategy have agreed the military showed it was preparing for offensive war. Stalin did not believe Hitler would attack and thus Soviet war propaganda calling for soldiers shows the offensive preparation of the Red Army. Additionally, Soviet Russo-German phrasebooks for soldiers reveal the intention that Russians would be engaged in German lands. Although it is still debated whether Stalin signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as a strategy to become closer to Germany, he planned to take advantage of the situation and attacking Germany. Hitler however acted faster and, because Stalin was preparing offensively and not defensively, inflicted great damages to the USSR.
47 Mawdsley, Evan. "Crossing the Rubicon: Soviet Plans for Offensive War in 1940-1941."The International History Review 25.4 (2003): 828. JSTOR. Web. 13 Nov. 2012.
48 Suvorov, Viktor. "Who Started World War II?" United States Naval Academy, Annapolis. 7 Oct. 2009. Lecture. 8

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