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Barbarossa - Horse Drawn Blitzkrieg

Blackadder1916

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One thing often overlooked in the story of the Soviets bouncing back from invasion was the evacuation and relocation of a significant part of their industrial capacity. The majority of their manufacturing (including armaments) was in the west. As the Germans advanced, a good portion of the plants in the path were dismantled (sometimes only hours before the Germans reached it) and moved east (along with workers) where they were reassembled and put back into production in short order. While somewhat hyperbolic, it would be comparable to packing up most of the industrial plants in 1940s Eastern Canada, right down to every nut, bolt and washer and moving them to Alberta and BC and getting them back to normal production within a few months.
 

medic5

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Yeah, Soviet production was truly impressive. After Germany was defeated, instead of crews bringing their vehicles to Manchuria, they just got new ones straight out of the factory.
 

FJAG

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One thing often overlooked in the story of the Soviets bouncing back from invasion was the evacuation and relocation of a significant part of their industrial capacity. The majority of their manufacturing (including armaments) was in the west. As the Germans advanced, a good portion of the plants in the path were dismantled (sometimes only hours before the Germans reached it) and moved east (along with workers) where they were reassembled and put back into production in short order. While somewhat hyperbolic, it would be comparable to packing up most of the industrial plants in 1940s Eastern Canada, right down to every nut, bolt and washer and moving them to Alberta and BC and getting them back to normal production within a few months.
The Soviets used the practice they'd had in doing that to disassemble and remove all the industry from the parts of Eastern Europe, including East Germany, that they had overrun and moving it back into Russia after the war.

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GR66

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Zooming out a bit, the Soviet technology also provided an advantage in terms of production. From trucks to tanks to radios to planes, the idea was to find a good design and go with it. Contrast this to the Germans, with an essentially boutique system of various models from competing industries and a huge variety of platforms from conquered countries.
Slight derail...any lessons here?
 

Infanteer

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I mostly meant to say that the Germans fielded better equipment then and had better doctrine especially around the flexibility and initiative on the part of junior officers than the Soviets. Yes, the T-34 and KV were amazing designs and could put the Pz 3/4 to shame even with the long barreled 75, but out of the 26,000 or so tanks the Red Army fielded, how many were amazing designs?
My books are unavailable to me at the moment, but a quick search tells me that Soviet production of T34 and KV tanks in 1940 and 1941 was at around 5,000 vehicles, greater than the total German tank totals in the Eastern Front. The loss of tens of thousands of obsolete models is irrelevant when you still field more technologically superior vehicles than your opponent.

But I did notice that the Soviet Air Force was pretty much destroyed on the ground and didn't gain back superiority till much later. Whether that is because of the surprise of the Germans or better tech, I have no idea.
It wasn't. While much of its air forces in the forward Military Districts were destroyed in the first few days, the Soviet Air Forces were able to start contesting air superiority once the Germans moved deep into Russia. Stahel cites numerous primary German sources indicating the problems posed by Soviet air attacks as early as August 1941. The Luftwaffe in the east was, like the panzer forces, largely at the end of its tether when a quick victory didn't manifest itself.

Don't feel like I'm trying to pick on you, but your understanding of the Eastern Front is based on older scholarship (1950-1995). It's understandable, as this was the dominant narrative for over a generation, but it is a narrative that suffered from the fact that the Soviet sources were closed to the West, the Germans wrote the first histories and covered their tracks, and the Allies accepted it because in the 1950s, the Germans were the good guys and the Soviets were bad. Basically, the German generals got to put lipstick on their pig and sell it to English-speaking readers.

In the last 20 years, there has been a tremendous revision of Eastern Front scholarship and understanding, led by Glantz's focus on the Soviet sources and Stahel's efforts in the last 10 years for the German side. There is a reason the Eastern front basically turned into a grinding war of attrition from about August 1941 on - the Germans weren't as good as the previous historical paradigm purports, and the Soviets weren't as bad as they've been made out to be.

You indicated you desire to read more, which is great. A good first read is Glantz's 2001 monograph which can be found online. Many readers here will like the "historical debates" sections of this paper as they speak to the ahistorical musings. As for books, start with the Stahel and Glantz books I linked to above - in my view, they are essentials in any East Front library. Make sure to scan the endnotes for both these authors, as they both do a good job with their citations and you can uncover numerous other tidbits and sources in the notes.

If you want to move out of 1941, Glantz wrote a massive 4-volume series on Stalingrad which is now the definitive source in the English language. It takes patience to get through those volumes, especially due to the poor maps, but the source gathering, especially on the Soviet side, is impressive. I'm starting to scratch the 1943 operations, and have Demolishing the Myth on my shelf, but have yet to get to it. It scores high marks from the right scholars.
 

Infanteer

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Slight derail...any lessons here?
The lessons are obvious, and I've seen them brought up in a modern context. Hyper-exquisite forces look great on Day 1 of a conflict, but may not be around on week 4. What then? How do you replace sophisticated platforms that depend on numerous production lines and lead times of months as opposed to weeks or days. I've seen literature citing cases where U.S. operations basically ran out of precision guided missiles for spells of time.

I suspect that if a conflict erupted between two conventional powers, it'd dumb down pretty quickly as all the high priced stuff broke or was destroyed. What happens then is a good exercise to go through.
 

Colin Parkinson

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I have crawled around an early T34/76, it's certainly is not as good as people think. The ergonomics are awful, the visibility out of the tank is terrible. Driving them was unfun. Even the Soviets thought so and initially rejected it, however there was no time to change the design. It certainly had some good elements, mainly a decent gun with a good sight, enough armour and wide tracks. The planned tank was to be the T34M. The Pz III was in many ways a better tank, it was an excellent tank to fight in for the crew, but by 1941 was becoming dated even with the 50mm. The Pz III stayed around throughout the war, acting as a scout/security squadron for the Tiger Battalions.
It's impressive just how fast tank technology changed between 1939-1945, where you go from the Pz I,T26, Cruiser I to Tiger II, IS-3, Centurion and T-44. Had the Brits gotten the Lee/Grant 6 months earlier, things in the desert might have gone differently.
 

Weinie

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I have crawled around an early T34/76, it's certainly is not as good as people think. The ergonomics are awful, the visibility out of the tank is terrible. Driving them was unfun. Even the Soviets thought so and initially rejected it, however there was no time to change the design. It certainly had some good elements, mainly a decent gun with a good sight, enough armour and wide tracks. The planned tank was to be the T34M. The Pz III was in many ways a better tank, it was an excellent tank to fight in for the crew, but by 1941 was becoming dated even with the 50mm. The Pz III stayed around throughout the war, acting as a scout/security squadron for the Tiger Battalions.
It's impressive just how fast tank technology changed between 1939-1945, where you go from the Pz I,T26, Cruiser I to Tiger II, IS-3, Centurion and T-44. Had the Brits gotten the Lee/Grant 6 months earlier, things in the desert might have gone differently.
Is that simply because of the 75mm gun?
 

TangoTwoBravo

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Putting aside whether Germany should have taken the first punch against the Soviet Union, Barbarossa does give a fascinating look into war on a massive scale. Looking at the German plan, I think we can see the tyranny of distance. The distance from the German border to Paris is around 300 km. The distance from the Line of Departure in Poland to Moscow is about 1,100 km without a very well developed road/rail network. Then consider the width of the front which the Germans seemed intent on covering.

The German plan itself couldn't seem to decide on the aim. Defeat the Soviet Union - sure. But how? Cripple it economically by seizing key territory? Sure, but there is lots more terrain in the Soviet Union. Cripple it militarily by destroying the army in the field? Sure, but there are lots more armies in Reserve and with a focus on quantity over quality the Red Army could regenerate quite quickly. Seize Moscow? That's an idea - Napoleon tried that one. Given that the German plan was not to conquer all of the USSR then I think that Moscow would have made the best objective: politically crippling to the will of the USSR and its a major transportation hub.

The execution of Barbarossa saw the main effort/objective shift several times. It seems the Germans tried to do everything and while they had some spectacular victories in terms of territory seized and Armies destroyed they gave the Red Army the time it needed to always have fresh reserves to counter the exhausted Germans (1,100 km as the crow flies). The campaign against France, on the other hand, while admittedly on a much tighter scale at least had an inspired design to defeat the French. For the next two years in the East the Germans couldn't nest their tactical and operational excellence (we could debate that I suppose) into a coherent strategic plan. Was it even possible? Who knows.
 

SeaKingTacco

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What I said was not correct, I mostly meant to say that the Germans fielded better equipment then and had better doctrine especially around the flexibility and initiative on the part of junior officers than the Soviets. Yes, the T-34 and KV were amazing designs and could put the Pz 3/4 to shame even with the long barreled 75, but out of the 26,000 or so tanks the Red Army fielded, how many were amazing designs? Almost all were useless BT/T26 series tanks that were useless in anything outside of reconnaissance. I don't put much weight on small arms, but I doubt submachine guns were particularly useful on the steppe, and superior German squad level weapons mostly would have negated that advantage.

Regarding aircraft, I know absolutely nothing about aircraft, so I won't even try to form an opinion. But I did notice that the Soviet Air Force was pretty much destroyed on the ground and didn't gain back superiority till much later. Whether that is because of the surprise of the Germans or better tech, I have no idea.

My original point was that the Germans were the strongest they would ever be in comparison to the Soviets in 1941, and that if time were to pass the Germans would grow weaker and weaker while the Soviets rebuilt. About mechanization, following 1942 the German Army actually demobilized (I don't have a source to back this up, remember seeing a graph somewhere, so call me out if I'm wrong), and the number of Panzergrenadier divisions actually decreased on the official table of organization. Yes, the Heer was horse drawn, but in 1941 they did not feel the brunt of oil shortages yet, and they would only grow more horse reliant over time.

Basically what I am saying is regardless whether the Germans were stronger than the Soviets in 1941, this was their best chance to win. Not quite sure how good that chance was though.

I'm going make a reading list, any other books about the Eastern Front (or WW2 in general) you would recommend?
I have a couple of books that I could recommend:

1. The German Army 1933-1945 by Matthew Cooper. Not specifically about the Eastern Front, but gives you a good overview of how and why it was organized and equipped the way it was, the problems it faced on all fronts and the internal politics of the General Staff.

2. Stalingrad by Anthony Beevor. Probably not as scholarly as the works cited by Infanteer, but I found it readable.

3. Hitler’s Army by Omar Bartov. Kills the myth, perpetrated by many German Army veterans in the west in the 1950s, that they were not Nazis and had nothing to do with with the excesses of the SS. You really get sense of how good that whitewash job was, when you read something like Otto Carius’ “Tigers in the Mud”, which is useful for what it leaves out, as much as for what he talks about in terms of fighting on the Eastern Front.
 

SeaKingTacco

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Putting aside whether Germany should have taken the first punch against the Soviet Union, Barbarossa does give a fascinating look into war on a massive scale. Looking at the German plan, I think we can see the tyranny of distance. The distance from the German border to Paris is around 300 km. The distance from the Line of Departure in Poland to Moscow is about 1,100 km without a very well developed road/rail network. Then consider the width of the front which the Germans seemed intent on covering.

The German plan itself couldn't seem to decide on the aim. Defeat the Soviet Union - sure. But how? Cripple it economically by seizing key territory? Sure, but there is lots more terrain in the Soviet Union. Cripple it militarily by destroying the army in the field? Sure, but there are lots more armies in Reserve and with a focus on quantity over quality the Red Army could regenerate quite quickly. Seize Moscow? That's an idea - Napoleon tried that one. Given that the German plan was not to conquer all of the USSR then I think that Moscow would have made the best objective: politically crippling to the will of the USSR and its a major transportation hub.

The execution of Barbarossa saw the main effort/objective shift several times. It seems the Germans tried to do everything and while they had some spectacular victories in terms of territory seized and Armies destroyed they gave the Red Army the time it needed to always have fresh reserves to counter the exhausted Germans (1,100 km as the crow flies). The campaign against France, on the other hand, while admittedly on a much tighter scale at least had an inspired design to defeat the French. For the next two years in the East the Germans couldn't nest their tactical and operational excellence (we could debate that I suppose) into a coherent strategic plan. Was it even possible? Who knows.
Seizing Moscow was probably the only realistic option for anything like a victory. Maybe, if they had have avoided both Stalingrad and Leningrad, that would have helped, too.

Even with Moscow in German hands (and maybe a deposed/dead Stalin), I still don’t see how you don’t get Zhukov and a bunch of others rebuilding the Russian Army behind the Urals and coming out swinging in the summer of 1942.
 

Colin Parkinson

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The 76mm was a all round good gun for 1941, with decent AP and HE performance. The biggest issues though with the T34, was the ability to fight from it and the doctrinal use of it. While everyone focus on the tanks, a lot of the real power of the Soviets was their infantry and artillery. Reports I read is that the Germans knew they could not let Soviet infantry dig in once they gained an objective and that they would quickly bring up AT guns and ATR to fend off German armour. We look down at Anti-tank Rifles in the West, because ours were lacklustre, but the Soviet ATR's were a significant threat and even forced the Germans to refit the Panther to protect it's flanks from them. Carius reported his Tiger 1 was disabled by a ATR round that penetrated into his cooling system and that the hail of fire from them was effective at destroying vison blocks and making it difficult for the crew to effectively fight the tank. The Germans had a great deal of respect for AT guns which were considered more of a threat than Soviet tanks.
 

Infanteer

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Seizing Moscow was probably the only realistic option for anything like a victory. Maybe, if they had have avoided both Stalingrad and Leningrad, that would have helped, too.

Even with Moscow in German hands (and maybe a deposed/dead Stalin), I still don’t see how you don’t get Zhukov and a bunch of others rebuilding the Russian Army behind the Urals and coming out swinging in the summer of 1942.
The Soviets planned to move the capital to Kuybyshev in 1941. Taking Moscow then would have been as useful as when Napoleon occupied it in 1812.

I can't help but wonder what the capture of Leningrad may have led to. Freeing up two Armies, linking up with the Finns and being able to eliminate Murmansk as an Allied supply pipeline would have presented the Soviets with a big problem.
 

medic5

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Don't feel like I'm trying to pick on you, but your understanding of the Eastern Front is based on older scholarship (1950-1995). It's understandable, as this was the dominant narrative for over a generation, but it is a narrative that suffered from the fact that the Soviet sources were closed to the West, the Germans wrote the first histories and covered their tracks, and the Allies accepted it because in the 1950s, the Germans were the good guys and the Soviets were bad. Basically, the German generals got to put lipstick on their pig and sell it to English-speaking readers.
Yeah, you're right on this one. Most of the very few books I've read were older ones, and my opinions are probably tainted from reading more memoirs from the German side as opposed to more modern histories.

Thank you to both you and SeaKing's book recommendations, I really do appreciate it.
 

FJAG

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My books are unavailable to me at the moment, but a quick search tells me that Soviet production of T34 and KV tanks in 1940 and 1941 was at around 5,000 vehicles, greater than the total German tank totals in the Eastern Front. The loss of tens of thousands of obsolete models is irrelevant when you still field more technologically superior vehicles than your opponent.

Soviet armoured vehicle production is here.

T-34 production was 115 and 3016 for those years and KV 1 production was 141 and 1,121 so 4,393 in total. In 1942 it went to 12,661 T-34 and 1,753 for KV 1.

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Kirkhill

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I still stipulate that the Germans were beaten by the inability to secure their flanks. There is just too much space in Russia. Russia could always fall back over the Urals, as it did with its factories, and then envelop Germany's open flanks and encircle them. No matter what the Germans did space (and the weather - Generals Mud and Snow) always gave the Russians time.

And the cold wore down their people and the kit.
 

medic5

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I still stipulate that the Germans were beaten by the inability to secure their flanks. There is just too much space in Russia. Russia could always fall back over the Urals, as it did with its factories, and then envelop Germany's open flanks and encircle them. No matter what the Germans did space (and the weather - Generals Mud and Snow) always gave the Russians time.

And the cold wore down their people and the kit.
Manpower is definitely a big part too. What other army could have taken the losses the Soviets did and still continue to fight?
 

SeaKingTacco

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The Soviets planned to move the capital to Kuybyshev in 1941. Taking Moscow then would have been as useful as when Napoleon occupied it in 1812.

I can't help but wonder what the capture of Leningrad may have led to. Freeing up two Armies, linking up with the Finns and being able to eliminate Murmansk as an Allied supply pipeline would have presented the Soviets with a big problem.
That is an excellent point. But, how much of a factor was lend-lease, ultimately, given the above mentioned Russian tank production figures? Was it more for propaganda purposes than actually affecting the strategic calculus?

I also wonder about the mindless brutality in the Ukraine with the civilian population. Initially hailed as liberators, the Germans quickly “out brutaled” the Soviets, which is saying something. Instead of being able to rely on a newly “liberated and allied” nation state of Ukraine, the Germans turned that into a 700km wide guerrilla war theatre in their rear area.

I still cannot think of a way that the Germans could have won in the East.
 

FJAG

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The German plan itself couldn't seem to decide on the aim. Defeat the Soviet Union - sure. But how? Cripple it economically by seizing key territory? Sure, but there is lots more terrain in the Soviet Union. Cripple it militarily by destroying the army in the field? Sure, but there are lots more armies in Reserve and with a focus on quantity over quality the Red Army could regenerate quite quickly. Seize Moscow? That's an idea - Napoleon tried that one. Given that the German plan was not to conquer all of the USSR then I think that Moscow would have made the best objective: politically crippling to the will of the USSR and its a major transportation hub.
Fuehrer Directive 21 speaks about the destruction of the Soviet Army and then this "The ultimate objective of the operation is to establish a cover against Asiatic Russia from the general line Volga-Archangel." which would therefore include the capture of and advance beyond Leningrad in the north, Moscow in the centre (more properly the southern portion of the northern thrust) and Stalingrad in the south. The key element which is repeated throughout is to create a buffer/security zone which would prevent any interference from the Soviets (principally their air forces) from harming eastern German territory.

The frequently repeated methodology (and you almost have to translate it into German in your head to get its full effect) is that the objectives will be achieved through bold and violent action by mechanized spearheads with follow-up consolidation by the remaining force thus preventing withdrawal by Soviet formations. Basically Blitzkrieg 101.

I think the aim and the plan were clear. The question is was it ever achievable or too ambitious in the first place?

... The Germans had a great deal of respect for AT guns which were considered more of a threat than Soviet tanks.

A lesson which we seem to have troubles either remembering or implementing, and that the Germans and to a large extent the Soviets were very good at, was the incorporation and cooperation of tanks, assault guns, anti-tank guns and infantry in seizing and then stabilizing positions during the attack and then in consolidating and holding against the counter attack.

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