Hitler's tragic mistake
By Anjali Sharma | ENS | Published: 25th October 2012 12:10 PM |
Hitler failed to learn any lessons from Napoleon’s fatal error of invading Russia and launched a foolish operation to conquer Russian territories. This decision was the turning point in World War II and was the deciding factor in who would be victorious.
Operation Barbarossa, named after Frederick Barbarossa, the medieval Holy Roman Emperor, was the code name for Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union. On June 22, 1941, over four million troops of the Axis powers invaded the Soviet Union along a 2,900 km front which is the largest invasion in the history of warfare. It also involved 6,00,000 motor vehicles and 7,50,000 horses. This ill-fated invasion resulted in 95 per cent of all German army casualties from 1941 to 1944 and 65 per cent of all Allied military casualties throughout the war.
The Soviet Red Army fought valiantly and managed to repel the Wehrmacht’s strongest blow and Adolf Hitler could not achieve the victory that he so meticulously planned. Although, the Soviet Union was fighting back, they were doing so with their backs to the wall. Tactically, the Germans managed to win resounding victories and occupied some of the most important economic areas of the Soviet Union, mainly in Ukraine.
The Red Army and air force suffered huge defeats in 1941 chiefly because they were ill-prepared for the Axis surprise attack. By 1941, the Germans troops were the most experienced and best-trained in the world for the rapid, blitzkrieg-style warfare launched on the Eastern Front during the second half of 1941. The Soviet armed forces lacked leadership, training, and readiness. Furthermore, the officer corps of the Red Army had been decimated by Stalin’s Great Purge of 1936-1938, and their replacements, appointed by Stalin for political reasons, often lacked military prowess.
However, despite these victories, the Germans were unable to grab Moscow. The Russians managed to keep the invading army at bay and repelled them from Moscow. Subsequently, the Germans could never mount a simultaneous offensive along the entire strategic Soviet-German front. Without shelter, meagre supplies, inadequate winter clothing, chronic food shortages, like Napoleon’s army a century back, German troops had no choice but to wait out the winter in the frozen wasteland. The Germans avoided being routed by Soviet counterattacks but suffered heavy casualties from battle and exposure to sub-zero temperatures. Despite the huge losses and the failure of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler failed to see reason and kept up his demands for continuing further operations inside the USSR. All the subsequent operations were doomed to fail such as continuing the Siege of Leningrad, Operation Nordlicht, and the Battle of Stalingrad besides other smaller battles on occupied Soviet territory.
Thus, the huge failure of operation Barbarossa was the turning point in the Third Reich’s fortunes. This campaign also opened up the Eastern Front to which even larger forces were committed than in any other war in world history. Regions affected by the operation became the scenes of some of the largest battles, deadliest atrocities, highest casualties, and most horrific conditions for Soviets and Germans alike, all of which influenced the course of both World War II and ultimately, the history of the 20th century.
The German forces managed to capture three million Soviet POWs (prisoner of war), who were imprisoned in horrific conditions and never enjoyed the protection for POWs that had been stipulated by the Geneva Convention. Most of them never returned home alive. They were deliberately starved to death in German camps as part of a Hunger Plan, a strategy employed by the Nazis to reduce the Eastern European population. In December 1941 Germany joined Japan in declaring war against the USA and the rest, as they say, is history.