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German strategic planning for the campaign in the east, 1939-1941 Leach, Barry Arthur

Abstract

Since 1945 a number of historical controversies have arisen over the German leadership in the Second World War. Hitler has been described both as an astute opportunist and as a fanatic relentlessly following a preconceived plan. Thus his decision to turn east in 1941 has been regarded as the result of frustration in the West and also as the ultimate step in a great plan for eastern conquest which he followed throughput his career. Most of the German military leaders have supported the idea that Hitler had no "war plan." They have depicted themselves as subordinates hopelessly attempting to avert the worst effects of Hitler's irresponsible opportunism and amateurish interference in military strategy. Thus they have attributed most of the blame for the failure of the Blitzkrieg in the East to Hitler’s errors. This study re-examines these controversies in the light of the planning for the invasion of Russia. It shows that Hitler consistently followed a broad plan for the conquest of Lebensraum. Thus in 1940 his decision to attack Russia even if the war was still unfinished in the West was the result of his determination to fulfill his plan while Germany still held the initiative in Europe. Most of Hitler's military leaders shared his anti-Bolshevism and favoured a policy which would revive the situation created by the Treaty of Brest Litovsk in 1918. These attitudes made them willing to attack Russia. However, the optimism fostered by their defeat of France and their serious underestimation of Russia's strength caused them to omit careful consideration of the logistic and operational difficulties in the East. While accepting Hitler's more cautious plan they neglected to make the necessary preparations to implement it and instead attempted to adhere to their own simpler plan for a battle of destruction near the frontier followed by a thrust on Moscow. By the time it had become clear that the initial battles had failed to yield a decisive victory it was too late to revive Hitler's plan and the campaign deteriorated into a series of improvised operations. These served only to show that the Wehrmacht lacked the range and striking power to defeat the Soviet Union by military force alone. Hitler might have compensated for this deficiency by developing a coalition grand strategy capable of exerting further pressure on Russia from the Far East or the South. But instead, he failed to win the trust and cooperation of the Japanese by concealing his intention of attacking Russia and by directing them and the Italians towards the war against Britain. Furthermore, the Nazi terror and exploitation in Russia precluded the development of a positive policy which might have caused an internal collapse of Stalin's regime. The basic flaws of Hitler's Lebensraumpolitik as presented in Mein Kampf, his misjudgement of the British and his contempt for the Russians, were major political and grand strategic causes of his ultimate defeat. But on the military strategic level the German generals bear a far greater share of the responsibility for the failure of the Blitzkrieg in the East than has previously been recognised.

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