What was the major mistake made on the Eastern Front?
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
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.
of interest - one Russian mother lost 9 sons in wwii - another German mother lost 4 - the latter all on the eastern front
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!!!
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.
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.
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.