WWII–The Era of German Victories, 1939-1943

August 22, 2016

German soldiers penetrating deeply into Soviet territory during Operation Barbarossa, June 1941

When the German army crossed the border of Poland and pushed into the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, the largest land battle in history had begun. Hitler boasted:  “The world will hold its breath and fall silent when BARBAROSSA is mounted.” Indeed, the massed army and fury of the Nazi assault was breathtaking, and Western leaders predicted an imminent collapse of the Russian bear, slain by the German huntsman like so many other nation-states during the early years of WWII. But the victories of the Wehrmacht would come to a grinding halt at the gates of Moscow a mere six months later. Historians would later call it Hitler’s blunder, an act of arrogance and inability that was doomed to fail in the monstrous lands, manpower, and industrial might of the Soviet Union. 

Some historians have taken exception to this view, and assert that the possibility of a German victory was indeed real. R.D. Hooker, Jr., writing in the prestigious Parameters journal, noted:

Yet the truth may be altogether different. Distorted not only by the Allied victory in the west, but also by Russia’s eventual, crushing victory in the east, the cold evidence suggests something quite different. In fact, the German army stood on the threshold of a shattering victory in August 1941. Only Hitler’s decision to send the Panzers of Army Group Center away from Moscow and into the Ukraine robbed the Wehrmacht of a victory that would have changed the world for generations. For five decades, a skewed interpretation has led American military thinkers to ignore and denigrate the wellsprings of German military power. The best lessons of World War II may well lie, largely ignored, in the ashes of history. ( Parameters, Spring 1999, pp. 150-64.)

Moreover, Barbarossa is re-evaluated by another significant fact.  Hitler was right: The Soviets were planning an invasion of Europe. Modern scholarship benefiting from an openness of post-Cold War relations and historical archives have learned much about Stalin’s aggressive designs on Western Europe. Had Hitler not attacked as he stated, the Soviets would no doubt have done so at a later date when they had consolidated power and recovered from the great purges of the times.

Image result for winston churchill

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill

Yet, the very day of the assault in June 1941 revealed a significant factor in Germany’s defeat, an action easy to overlook in the smoldering ruins of Soviet tanks and cities: a powerful coalition of nations was coming together to defeat Nazi Germany. Soviet Russia, Great Britain, and the United States were willing to ally against Hitler’s genocidal plan for lebensraum (living space) and conquest of Europe.  

The United States Government uses the acronym DIME (Diplomacy, Information, Military, and Economics) to identify the national instruments of power that can determine not only the strategic outcomes of nations, but the destiny of an era.  The “D” for diplomacy is certainly significant, and a valuable area essential for developing analytic frameworks. Diplomatic partnering allows the communication, resources, weaponry, manpower, technology, logistics, and finances to be leveraged directly against an enemy. Ultimately, Hitler’s plans were frustrated in large part to Soviet manpower and ingenuity, as well as Western leadership that utilized its immense diplomatic skills to move manpower and resources to the strategic points of the fight. The outcomes were historic.

Diplomacy can be a frustrating process leading to lengthy and painful engagements with the most unlikely of partners–like Soviet Russia. But the outcomes justify the efforts. Even though the Grand Alliance immediately broke down in the aftermath of World War II leading many to question its integrity and utility, the victory over Fascism would not have been achieved without it.

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