German War Machine - The German Army of World War II

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Operation Barbarossa: Conclusion

Heinz Guderian (right), brilliant panzer commander

"Ivan" - the ordinary Russian civilian turned fighter - would be the agent of the Third Reich's destruction. Between 20-25 million Russians died during World War II, but their sacrifice ensured the defeat of one of the most infamous regimes in history.

The failure of Barbarossa meant that Germany faced a war of attrition on the Eastern Front unless Hitler could achieve victory in mid-1942. But the omens for success were not good, and the Soviet Union was growing in strength.

The failure of Barbarossa did not augur well for the German Army's war on the Eastern Front. Germany simply did not have the manpower or industrial capacity to replace the huge losses suffered in Russia. For example, 75,000 motor vehicles were lost during the campaign, yet between 1 November 1941 and 15 March 1942 only 7500 vehicles arrived at the front as replacements. The panzer arm was in a worse state. Losses in tanks between June 1941 and March 1942, in all theatres, amounted to 3424, yet during the same period only 2843 rolled off the production lines. And the figures became even more dire when the Panzer IIs and 38(t)s were declared officially obsolete.

With regard to manpower, owing to growing responsibilities on other fronts, such as North Africa, the number of German soldiers on the Eastern Front actually declined from over three million in June 1941 to 2,847,000 in June 1942. No less than 1,101,000 troops were deployed elsewhere. To compound the problem, the army was experiencing shortages of fuel oil and ammunition. No wonder Hitler talked of defeating the Soviet Union before it got its "second wind", specifically acquiring the Caucasus oil fields. Of course, he still wanted "to obliterate Moscow and Leningrad".

Objectively, the Germans had to deliver a mortal blow against the Soviet Union in mid-1942, because Stalin's factories were starting to out-produce those of their adversary, notwithstanding the massive industrial dislocation of 1941. Prior to May 1942, Soviet factories in the Urals and Transcaucasus turned out 4500 tanks, 14,000 artillery pieces and over 50,000 mortars. With such hardware, plus the material being supplied by the Western Allies, Stavka was able to create new tank corps and even tank armies. The latter averaged a strength of 35,000 men, up to 500 tanks and up to 200 large towed artillery pieces. Four such formations had been formed by July 1942.

Of course war is not just a matter of out-producing an adversary. Material superiority has to be allied to effective leadership, strategies and tactics to produce ultimate victory. And in early 1942 the Red Army was inexperienced in offensive operations at all levels. Thus the badly planned and executed Second Battle of Kharkov in May 1942 cost the Soviets three rifle armies and a tank army, and did not interrupt German plans for their own summer offensive.

The supreme irony was, though, that in a war Hitler characterized as being a trial of national and racial willpower, it was the Soviet people who were coming out on top. A major factor that had contributed to the failure of Barbarossa had been the sacrifice and tenacity of the Soviet population. In the face of losses that are difficult to comprehend, the people had rallied behind Stalin's appeal to defend the Motherland - and they would see it through to the end.