Myths of the Eastern Front

The Raputitza

“You will not find it difficult to prove that campaigns have been lost because of logistics”

Dwight Eisehower

By Chistopher C.L. Custer, MD

If there is one thing I don’t like about studying military history is the preponderance of myths on the subject. I look at these myths as getting in the way of the truth. The problem is that both teacher and student often accept the myths completely on faith, without looking into the truth. It’s much easier to believe myths than looking for the truth.

Two such myths concerned the eastern front during World War ll. The first was the myth is why did Hitler delayed Operation Barbarossa. Historians have told us how important the timing of Germany’s final thrust to take Moscow was. Most military historians think the delay was due to the diversion of the Wehrmacht to the Balkans to secure their southern flank. Even Sir John Keegan, a groundbreaking military historian was of this opinion (1). However, this explaination in exclusion of other factors is pure myth. Two other factors come into play on what caused the delay is poor logistics and the poor weather (2) (3) (4). Poor logistics of resupplying the low supplies, used up in the Balkans Campaign and moving the troops from the Balkans to their starting position for Barbarossa, contributed to the delay. So indirectly, the Balkans diversion did help to delay Barbarossa for bad logistics plagued the Germans during the whole war and the effect of poor logistics delayed Barbarossa, but the weather was not the primary factor. Some historians, me included, said thought the weather made a significant contribution to the delay. They explained that the late thaw extending into late May decreased the mobility of the Wehrmacht by creating impassable muddy roads ( most russian roads were unsurfaced dirt roads) and spring flooding of rivers. The german practice of combined arms and mobility, ie. blitzkrieg was rendered impotent. Thus offensive operations had to wait until the roads dried out in June to commence operations. However I reasoned, if Barbarossa had started in May, during the Rasputitza of 1941, the rainy weather would have greatly impeded the germans and would still have reached Moscow at the same time as the start on June 22, 1941. So in reality at least 2 factors contributed to the delay in the start of Operation Babarossa, the Balkans Campaign and poor logistics. Poor logistics occurred before the Balkans Campaign was finished(5). German generals after the Battle of France recommended to Hitler they would need more time to transport the troops from France to the Eastern Front. In summary the story of the Balkans Campaign being the sole reason for the delay of Operation Barbarossa, is inaccurate. Logistics, an often forgotten factor, played a major role on the Eastern Front.

Another myth was the great importance historians gave the hard winter 1941-1942 and the diversion of the german right flank to take Kiev before taking Moscow to explain the german defeat at Moscow. The effect the diversion to Kiev on the outcome of the Battle of Moscow is not yet been settled(6). Again weather (the rasputiza), and poor logistics caused germany’s inability to take Moscow(7))(8). General Winter played its role only because logistics delayed the german attack so General Winter could have its effect. In otherwords General Winter did have an effect, but ultimate reason for that effect was poor logistics and the Raputiza. An example of poor logistics was the fact that there was plenty of warm clothing for the troops- in warehouses in Germany. The problem was getting them to the frontline soldiers by an overextended Riechsbahn ( German railroads) (9). Hitler used the concept of social darwinism in managing the armament industry. The same phenomena took place in the Riechsbahn( german state railroad ),with over 5 organizations bickering over what was their place and responsibility in the Riechsbahn. The result was decentalization as the various organizations develop their own way of doing things. Decentralization can affect the efficiency of a company detrimentaly and affected the railroad system, in a negative way. The Reichsbahn had to prioritized what had to be transported- fuel and ammunition took priority over food, clothing, replacement troops and equipment(10). Shipping supplies to the front that was just enough for the troops already in front of Moscow. The Reichsbahn did not have the capacity to, at the sametime, ship replacements to bring the Wehrmacht’s divisions up to full strength. An example was the strength of the german divisions preparing for the Battle of Moscow. The Werhmacht had only 50% of its fighting strength, armour was 75% below its nominal strength, the Luftwaffe 50% below theirs. Trucks had their own problems with the wide variety of models pirated from conquered countries, getting spare parts for these trucks was problematic(11). Supplying the germans on the Eastern Front was a logistical nightmare. Germans, with the tactical philosophy of blitzkrieg counted on a quick victory where the effect of good logistics was considered to be minimal.

One common thread runs through these myths is ignoring the importance of logistics. Military officers take courses on logistics so they know its importance. Hitler was a corporal in the german army in World War l, not trained in logistics. He was more known by his ignoring the advice of his generals of the OKW ( german high command). Let’s face it, logistics is not 'sexy’, it’s boring, it doesn’t hold the attention of most readers of history and thus is not on the radar screen of many military historians, and it is often ignored. That and the unwillingness to consider new ideas interfered with considering logistics. Frontline tactics using schwerpunkt (hammer blows at specific locations, and bewegungkrieg ( maneuver) methods of attack are far more interesting than historians applying neglected concepts of logistics. Logistics doesn’t lend itself to creating bestsellers.

Logistics- panther tanks on a railroad car

REFERENCES

1) Keegan, J., World War ll, 1989

2) Operation Barbarossa:Timing and the Logistics to Resupply, Children of History, 4/27/2012

3) Stahel, D., Operation Barbarossa and Germany's Defeat in the East, 2009

4) Davies, N., Ten Myths About Operation Barbarossa, Quadrant Online, 8/25/2018

5) Bradley and Buell, Why Was Barbarossa Delayed.., The Second World War: Europe and the Mediterrean, 2002, pg 35-40

6) Ed. Deutsch, H., and Showalter, D., What If: Strategic Alteratives of WWll, 1997, pg 75-77

7) Ruzza, M., The Failure of Operation Barbarossa, Military History Online, 2006

8) Uebetschat, G., About the German Invasion of the Soviet Union, Modern American Poetry,

retrieved 6/28/2019 from https://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/ww2/barbarossa.htm

9) Davies, N., Ten Myths About Operation Barbarossa, Quadrant Online, 8/25/2018

10) Davies, H., The Influence of Railways to the Military Operations in the Russo-German War 1941-1945

11) Ruzza, M., The Failure of Operation Barbarossa, Miltary Online,2006logistics- a panther tanks on a railroad car

REFERENCES
1) Keegan, J., World War ll, 1989
2) Operation Barbarossa:Timing and the Logistics to Resupply, Children of History, 4/27/2012
3) Stahel, D., Operation Barbarossa and Germany's Defeat in the East, 2009
4) Davies, N., Ten Myths About Operation Barbarossa, Quadrant Online, 8/25/2018
5) Bradley and Buell, Why Was Barbarossa Delayed.., The Second World War: Europe and the Mediterrean, 2002, pg 35-40
6) Ed. Deutsch, H., and Showalter, D., What If: Strategic Alteratives of WWll, 1997, pg 75-77
7) Ruzza, M., The Failure of Operation Barbarossa, Military History Online, 2006
8) Uebetschat, G., About the German Invasion of the Soviet Union, Modern American Poetry,
retrieved 6/28/2019 from https://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/ww2/barbarossa.htm
9) Davies, N., Ten Myths About Operation Barbarossa, Quadrant Online, 8/25/2018
10) Davies, H., The Influence of Railways to the Military Operations in the Russo-German War 1941-1945
11) Ruzza, M., The Failure of Operation Barbarossa, Miltary Online,2006