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Modern German History

The road to World War II broke out when Germany unleashed its Blitzkrieg or ‘lightning war’ unto Poland 1939 (Divine et al 726). By 1940, Germany had already conquered Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands and France (Raff 298). But the Fuhrer, as Adolf Hitler was called, wanted to conquer more of Europe. His eyes settled on the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic or USSR. In line with Hitler’s desire of creating more living space for the Germans, he envisaged Russia as an extension of Germany, from Volga to Arkhangel’sk adjacent to the White Sea (“Operation Barbarossa” 2008).

Franz Halder, the Chief of General Staff for Hitler, jotted down Hitler’s view on invading USSR as vital since a Russia takeover would crash down England’s position in the war and further put Germany as the “master of Europe and the Balkans” (304). It must be noted that Britain was seen as the last barrier to Germany’s supremacy in Western Europe (727). In fact, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was firm in the country’s stance to battle it out at all cost (727). At that England had the U. S. and Russia as its strongest allies.

What Hitler must have thought was if Russia, one of England’s remaining pieces of hope, gets torn, America would also fold up and Britain would be left to wave the white flag. Thus, the Fuehrer started to plot a Russia attack. This plan was called Operation Barbarossa. Operation Barbarossa was laid out on December 13, 1940 (Churchill 461). But operational studies for the attack had already began in the summer of 1940 (Ueberschar 2008). The embittered relationship of Germany and the U. S. S. R. may have aided Hitler’s decision to attack the country.

In November that same year, Hitler proposed to Russian Foreign minister Vyachaslav Molotov to join forces with the Axis (Raff 305). The Axis was an alliance formed by Germany, Italy and Japan (Divine et al 725). However, Molotov was not keen on joining the Axis. In fact, what he wanted was the removal of possible sources when it comes to Russia-Germany friction (305). Furthermore, Molotov was looking forward to including Turkey, Bulgaria and Finland in the Soviet “sphere of influence” (305). Arguably, Hitler did not want this to happen.

He was already worried about the increasing Russian control over Finland, the Baltic States and even those in the Romanian border (305). However, it was not this growing discord that was the main driver in Operation Barbarossa; Russia was already in Hitler’s map for Germany’s Lebensraum or living spaces (305). With the natural resources that Germany could get from the Soviet Union, such as oil, Hitler rationalized that it would be able to aid in the Third Reich expansion (“Operation Barbarossa” 2008).

The Fuehrer also believed that Stalin was planning a war with Germany especially after Stalin flushed out the Red Army officer class in the 30s and its poor performance in the Winter War of 1939-1940 against Finland (“Operation Barbarossa” 2008). Likewise, Hitler believed that the Russian-Jewish Bolsheviks would be vulnerable in the long run (2008). The Fuehrer was convinced that it was a war of opposing ideologies and “race hatred” (2008).

When the Fuehrer was informed of the map exercises in the autumn of 1940, the Germany troops was faced with a major concern- would the attack be against Moscow or the north and south side of the field (Ueberschar 2008). While Hitler wished for sweeping the north and south sides, the Army High Command or OKH wanted to overtake Moscow (2008). Directive No. 21 Operation was finally handed down on December 18, 1940 while the Army High Command Deployment Directive was released on January 31, 1941 (Churchill 461, Ueberschar 2008). The primary task of Operation Barbarossa was to “crush Soviet Russia in a swift campaign” (2008).

At that time, the total German troops on the Eastern Front (461). It was planned that the deployment of troops was to be concluded by May 15, 1941 (Raff 305). The OKH thought that it would be able to crush the Red Army near the Dvina-Dnieper Rivers (2008). Then, there was also the question of how the war was to ended upon reaching the line Volga if the Red Army would not be destroyed (2008). To prepare, Hitler had finished its alliances with Hungary, Slovakia and Croatia and had hinted to Japan the existence of a possible Soviet Union rift (Raff 305).

However, Germany was shocked to find that Japan had already “concluded a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union (305). The pact was something both countries promised to fulfil even after the German capitulation by 1945. Finally, on June 20, 1941. Hitler dropped the codeword DORTMUND, signalling the invasion of the Soviet Union (Ueberschar 2008). The first attack occurred between 0300 and 0330 hours on June 22, 1941 (2008). The German troops, numbering around 3. 6 million, equipped with 3,600 tanks and more than 2,700 aircraft, were undoubtedly the biggest force in Europe (2008).

The Luftwaffe (air) overtook the skies while German troops forced an entry into Russian ground (306). The German troops was commanded by Field- Marshal von Brauchitsch, and was broken down into 3 groups- North, Center and South, led by Field Marshals von Leeb, von Bock and von Rundstedt, respectively (2008). The North group was assigned to invade the Baltic States and proceed to Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg); the Center group was delegated in Moscow; and the South group was set to seize Ukraine and the Caucasus (2008). Hitler also maintained that conquering Ukraine and Leningrad was more important than that of overtaking Moscow (2008).

The air forces were navigated by General Alfred Keller, Field Marshal Kesselring and General Lohr (2008). To say that the Soviet High Command was ill-equipped was an understatement. The Red Army, totalling to about 140 divisions and 40 brigades comprised 2. 9 million men, was clearly the underdog (Ueberschar 2008). It also had around 15,000 tanks, most of which were already old (2008). During the invasion, German armies SS Einsatzgruppen (killing formations) tortured Soviet commissars or Communist Party officials, followers and Jews (“Operation Barbarossa” 2008).

By early autumn, the German troops had seized Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital (2008). The North group had also managed to score victories. The group had crossed the Baltic States and was on its way to seizing Leningrad (2008). The initial victories were enough for Hitler to deem that celebratory parade would happen in Moscow by end of August (Ueberschar 2008). In fact, Hitler had already issued an order for Moscow and Leningrad residents to be “annihilated or driven out by starvation” (2008). Hitler’s plan of a General Plan East was slowly materializing.

The plan was for a giant resettlement comprising some 30 million people to be “exchanged for German and Germanic people” (2008). In a July 16 conference, Hitler reiterated the German occupation policy which consisted of three things: to rule, administer, and exploit (2008). He was also quick to point out that Germany would stay in USSR (2008). In case there would be reactions, violent ones, coming from civilians, a “simple solution” were put forward- “shoot anyone dead” (2008). Instructions were also prepared for a quick annihilation of the Jewish people (2008). The Germans were callous.

Hitler initiated a “ruthless Germanization” of all territories (Ueberschar 2008). Part of Hitler’s commanded included executing all Red Army political commissars and the Barbarossa jurisdiction Decree which freed German solders if they perpetrated crimes against Soviets (2008). By August, the Center army group had conquered Smolensk (“Operation Barbarossa” 2008). Stalin was already trying his best to defend Moscow. He had even brought troops from Manchuria (2008). By November, continuous fights between German troops and the Soviet army were advancing on the ground near the outskirts of Moscow.

The weather also made the battle worse as the bitter cold left the engines of German tanks frozen and the German troops unprepared for frost bite and other winter maladies (Raff 306). The Russians took advantage of this scenario. They were prepared and were kitted out in winter clothing. On December 5, with Russian General Georgy Zhukov on the forefront, the Russians attacked the German, forcing them to retreat about 100 miles away (2008). The German defense had started to crack. By December 15, the Soviets were able to go back to Moscow. Hitler, still unyielding, refused to surrender.

In fact, during the course of the next days, some Commander in Chiefs and generals were either fired or asked to be replaced (Ueberschar 2008). Four days after, Hitler took on the role of Commander in Chief (2008). What he did not anticipate was that surprise attack on the US fleet in Pearl Harbor (2008). Before the year ended, the Red Army had managed to thwart the German invasion of Moscow. Operation Barbarossa was unsuccessful. It more or less shattered the invincibility of the German troops and Germany in general. Germany had lost about 918,000 men or 28. 7% of its total military (2008).

Soviet Union also suffered a big loss- an estimated 3. 35 million of the Red Army were captured by the Germans (2008). Despite the loss, the Moscow victory formed the cornerstone of USSR’s military importance. The fact that the country was able to stop Nazi terror boosted the confidence of not just the Red Army but the entire country as well (2008). Moreover, it gave a big push to the international reputation of the country that by 1942, USSR was one of the major co-signatory of the United Nations Declaration (2008). For Hitler, the Moscow defeat proved to be a turning point.

With back-to-back victories in most Europe, he had invariably did not see a setback coming. Spreading a wave of destruction and annihilation, Hitler’s plan was starting to recoil. At the time Germany was fighting the Soviet Union, it was also attacking England and the US (following the Japan attack). It proved to be a true world war in the sense that it was not just focused on Europe alone. Dragging Japan and US may have been perhaps the best move (although at that time, it definitely was not). it paved the way for countries to unite and reverse the fortune of war.

Works Cited

Churchill, Winston. Memoirs of the Second World War. Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1959. Divine Robert et al. America The People and the Dream. Illinois: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1991. Operation Barbarossa. “Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. 2008. Encarta Encyclopedia. 3 November 2008 <http://www. encarta. msn. com>. Raff, Diether. A History of Germany. United Kingdom: Berg Publishers Limited. Ueberschar, Gerd. “ About the German Invasion of the Soviet Union. ” Modern American Poetry. 2000. 3 November 2008 < http://www. english. uiuc. edu/maps/ww2/barbarossa. htm>.

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