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What was the major mistake made on the Eastern Front?

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March 27, 2013 3:58PM

I would say that the major mistake, and it was almost entirely Hitler's alone, was not realizing that the front was just too big and the German resources were streetched too thin to achieve every strategic objective simultaneously. The Germans tried to capture Leningrad and Moscow and Stalingrad and all the ground between them even though those cities were thousands of miles apart. If Hitler had been willing to accept a defensive posture in two of those places while concentrating resources to attack the third he might have been able to do them one at a time. All three simultaneously was just impossible. No, the Soviets would not have surrendered if Moscow had fallen. The government evacuated Moscow and moved east when it looked like it might fall so they were already operating from a different city and could have continued to do so if necessary. Michael Montagne

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actually stalingard was not a key objective in the opening phase of the eastern front. army group south's misson was to attack kiev and move south to crimea towards karkov and rostov. army group center was stopped in august 1941 in its drive to moscow to help out army group south when they ran into oppostion unexpectly. they were released to resume the attack on moscow in November 1941 they then ran into a early snow and a Russian counter attack in dec.1941. army group south after taking kiev was supposed to push on into the true objective the oilfields of the caucasus. stalingard was attacked to protect the left flank as they moved into the caucasus oilfields. after that stalingard became a contest of wills between Hitler and Stalin. the Germans never understood the Russian love of mother russia or the true vastness of the country. many German soldiers commented on the endless steppes of russia. some even went mad while contemplating this aspect.

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Dear Meee,

It's a great question, and suitable for a major motion picture, much less scholarly books and HistoryChannel episodes!

All of the insurmountable mistakes of the Eastern Front came gushing forth together at once in the first six months, so it is almost not worthwhile to speculate on one major factor being more critical than the others.

As a former infantry officer myself, if forced to choose, I'd pick number one below:

(1) Starting the operation too late. The interdiction, the pre-emptive strike (as it's commonly called today) into the Soviet Union, was delayed several times (for valid, difficult circumstances). The "ripple effect" was a world of trouble to the Wehrmacht.

(2) Extremely poor, if not unacceptable and incompetent, intelligence estimates. The German leadership, from Fuhrer to battalion commander, was misled and misdirected with grossly inadequate Soviet strength reports, for just about all of the Eastern Front action.

(3) The inherent weakness of the Luftwaffe. Good here and there, especially in the early weeks of invasion. Some cases of unbelievable valor by individual pilots, such as Rudel. Also, losing air superiority fairly early and in certain zones. Re-supply value got worse and worse. An overall grade of D- for the critical air corps on the Eastern Front. Bad leadership and bad reliability in air operations, long-term.

(4) Permitting the USA to resupply Stalin in a huge and uninterrupted way through the Arctic port near Finland. From what I've studied of the 6th Mountain Division and FDR's alleged threat to Germany over this one rail line, this is still a controversial area and wide open to scholars and researchers. I believe the Germans had the ability to cut this line (through which huge numbers of American tanks and Ford trucks were coming, endlessly), but nonetheless did not. As leader of the Wehrmacht, I would have insisted on it, as an absolute top priority. Any infantry leader, seeing the troop losses in front of his nose, would have cut this line, unless there were express orders not to do so.

(5) The unusually early winter. Who can we blame this "mistake" on, the weather forecasters? Nonetheless, it was not planned for, as is proven by the fact that the Wehrmacht had not been issued any winter clothing as late as November. I can also blame the General Staff. Such men should know better (or not be on my General Staff!).

We could of course list another two pages of factors that led to the immediate first-year reversal and stalling of Operation Barbarossa, but the factors begin to decline in relative criticality, I believe, after these that I have listed above.

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The one biggest mistake the Germans made on the Russian front is they were certain it would be another quick victory like their previous campaigns. The German generals knew the vastness of Russia and what an extended campaign would mean. They knew many roads were not all season, they knew Russian railroad gauges were different from German and would require building new lines or trans-loading cargo to Russian railcar. They knew great distances traveled would result in excessive wear to equipment and require many repairs. They knew the difficulties protecting a long supply line in hostile territory. But then none of this would matter in a short campaign. However, as the campaign worn on, even without preparation for a long term conflict, the Germans could have prevailed had they (1) befriended the citizens they liberated rather than treating them worst than the Russians and (2)had not allow the destruction of an entire German army at Stalingrad or whatever they call the place these days.

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starting the barbarossa campaign June 21 and running smack dab into cold weather without winter clothing/supplies was one issue - (that's what i read somewhere but don't know where). German troops had no winter clothing/ at least a good number of them didn't -alot of casualties due to frostbite - as a few responders said - the sheer size of russia and the massive German casualties made it impossible to police even if moscow was captured - i read the winter of '41 in russia was one of the worst -

of interest - one Russian mother lost 9 sons in wwii - another German mother lost 4 - the latter all on the eastern front

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The mistake in the campaign in Russia was the invasion itself. The Germans particularly the Generals, OKW,OKH and Hitler clearly were not focusing their power on one goal. Their original invasion plans called on the destruction of the Red army, the taking of Moscow and other cities like Leningrad and the rapid taking of the rest of the USSR. Regarding the Germans preperation plans for the invasion of Russia, I think a line from the show Seinfeld can sum it up greatly. " Jumbalia", said Wayne. Other than the preparation, the overstretched supply lines, the infantry being unable to keep up with the panzers, and the leadership of Germany by Hitler. But despite all this crap of German pussyfutting the army could still have acheived great victory's if they had capitalized on Russian mistakes. The Germans during each summer '41 and '42, the Germans could've taken Moscow and Stalingrad.

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In my opinion the major mistake made on the eastern front was the failure of Hitler to listen to his field marshalls. Runstedt, Leeb, and von Bock all advised Hitler to ignore the south and go smashing toward Moscow. Had Moscow fallen the Luftwaffe could have controlled a crucial area of about 250 mi. around the city. Moscow was also Russia's central rail hub. Seizing it would have crippled Russia's supply and reinforcment system. All the other shortcomings in planning and logistics aside, in the early start of Barbarossa Germany had far superior weapons, training and leadership. Hitler ultimately beat Germany by being a meglomaniac.

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Very quickly:

1) Invading in the first place. Had Germany not reneged on its treaty with the Soviets, there is no question that the war would have not only been a lot longer but probably have swung in the Axis' forces favour. The huge battles for Stalingrad, Leningrad and at Kursk (among others) tied up rediculously large amounts of Nazi resources that could have been used to not only maintain its' grip on western Europe but perhaps even to have launched an invasion of Britain.

2) Oil. Conquering a huge land mass such as Russia is foolhardy unless you have the oil reserves to do it. Without the security of middle-eastern oil supplies, and with the oilfields in the Caucasus seemingly out of reach,

3) Supply lines. An invasion force of the magnitude that was required to conquer Russia has to have huge arteries of supply lines between it and manufacturing/industrial plants.

4) The numbers game. This is by far the main reason that the Nazi invasion failed. The Russians were going to fight for every scrap of land. They shot their own soldiers if they retreated. An individual soldier was just a number to the Russian high command. They had no regard for human life. All that mattered was that Russia won. In one battle, over ONE MILLION Russian soldiers were captured...this staggering number would have crippled any other army on earth. But where one soldier fell, another 10 were there to replace him.

Of course this is totally just my opinions that I have drawn from my readings on the subject...please feel free to correct me and find holes in my opinions....discussion is healthy, because what is past is prologue!!!

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The are number of factors which contributed to the total defeat of Hitler armies In the Eastern Front. 1. Germans had inadequate information about the Red army, its morale, accurate numbers & its morden weapons (hence T34, KV 1 & KV 2 tanks came as nasty suprise). 2. German arrogance & bruality made Ruussians to be determined to fight until the end. In Ukraine & other Soviet Republics, German soldiers were treated as heroes & liberators, but as soon as the natives were given a subhuman treatment, most would join the partisan movements or aid them. 3. The Nazi regime assumed that as soon as the Red Army start losing ground, citizens would start another revolution to remove Stalin & his cronnies, but that never happened which meant the war was going to be prolonged. 4. After the disasters of 1941, the Red army learned to mordenised their strategies & approach,Stalin left the duty of commanding the army to his generals, while Hitler took total control, which had disasterous ramifications. 5.Russian bravery & tenacity shocked German soldiers & generals alike & what was even more concerning was their will to engage in close quarter combat. 6.Logistics problem ensured that the war in the East was not going to be won. Shortage of men & material alike meant that the Wehrmacht would not be able to replenish her depleting rescources. 7.Russians had a brilliant intelligence network which supplied them with accurate information about German intentions, this was especially apparent during the Kursk campaign, which sealed the fate of the Wehrmacht. In my view this is what caused the Germans the war in Russia.

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Germany lost the Eastern front only because of Stalins determined efforts of sending millions of Russian troops to their doom. This blood thirsty tactic worked in stoping the German advance on Moscow and in Stalingrad. As well as the bravery of Russian troops near Lenningrad and Murmansk.

Hitler failed to realized that Stalin was not afraid to fight to the last man even if Moscow would have to burn once again. The Russian tactic has always been retreat and let the enemy supply lines break. Stalin knew this and just to make sure that Soviet Union would not be defeated, he instituded a policy of "NOT ONE STEP BACK". This prevented the German hopes of millions of Russian people and soldier deserting the motherland.

To add insult to injury, Hitler started to murder civillians in areas where he had occupied. This quickly turned the views of the people from acceptance of German rule to sheer hatred for the Nazi "pigs". If Hitler was smart about his actions, he would have waited until Russia fell, even though it was a hopeless dream.

All in all, it was the unexpected tactics of Stalin and the Red Army Communist Party along with Hitlers pointless goals of murder that made the progress of the German Army impossible. The blame clearly lies on Hitler and the Nazi murderers alone for the failure of Barborosa.

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I agree with many of the points posted by Sifiso Ntshangase. But, the more I learn about the war on the Eastern Front, the more convinced I become that the Wehrmacht could not have possibly won. They simply made too many misassumptions and mistakes. A few key mistakes were:

1 - Delaying the launch of Barbarossa in favor of bailing out Italy in the Balkans.

2 - Estimating Red Army strength at 200 divisions, when in actuality there were closer to 360.

3 - Hitler failing to heed the advice of his generals that the Soviets likely had a more advanced tank than the PzIV. Upon a Soviet visit to a German tank center prior to Barbarossa, Russian emissaries repeatedly demanded to see the most modern German tank- after continuously offered up the PzIV. This led some German authorities to believe that the Russians must possess a superior tank already. Hitler himself said he would never have attacked Russia if he'd known about the T-34.

4 - The lack of a clear objective that could be understood by the troops and supported by the generals - namely destroying the Red Army. This meant Moscow should have been the #1 priority in 1941.

5 - German Army reliance upon wheeled vehicles that became stuck in the mud, and a lack of motorized infantry transport that led to exhausted foot soldiers - even before battle.

6 - Mistreatment of Ukranians and those living in the Baltic states, who initially welcomed the Germans as liberators.

7 - The lack of a strategic bombing arm to pressure Soviet factories.

8 - Being ill-prepared for winter.

There were other significant mistakes too, like Kleists panzer group being diverted to Caucasus where it wasn't needed in 1942, when it probably could have taken Stalingrad. By the time it was turned that direction, Stalingrad was significantly more fortified. But, German casualties were around 650,000 prior to General Winter, and another 650,000 due to the disatrous effects of the 1941-42 winter. These 1.3 million men were about half of the cream of the Werhmacht, never to be replaced.

Germany should have unleashed its military against Africa, the Mediterannean, and the Middle East instead of Russia. We can all be thankful they didn't.

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Stalin's subjects hated him and his regime. Fomenting a civil war would've brought the Soviet Union crashing down. Instead the Germans treated Soviet citizens even worse than Stalin did.

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Nazi operations failed in Russia due to a poor grasp of the limits of their capabilities. Using a three pronged attack was correct because of the oportunites this approach offered by forcing the Soviets to defend an superlarge front, moving the Soviet military away from the German frontier, and allowing the German army to best utilize its blitzkrieg tactics. Success could have been achieved in many ways, but perhaps the best oportunity was to conduct the invasion as a two year plan. After the fall of Rostok on the Don, Army Grp So should have moved into a defensive posture in preperation for winter. Armor should have been shifted north to secure a jump off point to on the Volga for the next spring to threaten Moscow from the south. The opportunity to take Leningrad was there, Hitler chose to lay seige to the city and starve it. A better option would have been to take Leningrad, link up with German and Finnish forces fighting for Karelian peninsula. Then attack Moscow from three directions in spring of 42. With the taking of Murmansk, Leningrad, and Archangel there would be no northern resupply route for the Russians. The next spring once Moscow was taken the Soviets could be beaten back to the east side of the Urals.