WAR CAMPAIGNS: Operation Barbarossa
Hitler explains his strategy for the Russian Campaign
Translated from Hermann Giesler’s Ein Anderer Hitler by Carolyn Yeager and Wilhelm Mann
Copyright 2010 Carolyn Yeager
Translators' Introduction: In the discussions pertaining to the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Herman Giesler, in Ein Anderer Hitler, presents Adolf Hitler speaking at length in the first person. Therefore, we have not used quote marks or indentation to indicate Hitler’s voice, but instead have distinguished the two voices by using italic for Giesler’s words.The scene opens on an evening in the late summer of 1942 at Hitler’s headquarters in Winninza (called Werwolf) where Giesler is staying as a guest of the Fuehrer. Hitler begins one of several talks with his architect as they work on building plans for German cities.
I planned the preventive stroke against Russia with still more care than the West campaign. The threat from the east was too obvious. After the French campaign, I declared to the Reichstag that there was no reason to continue the senseless war against England. The answer to that peace gesture was a rude denial. England wanted to go on with the war; Churchill was serious with his “Germany must perish!”
From then on I spent long nights over the maps of East Europe, full of sorrow, pondering and reviewing England’s typical conduct toward a conflict-free Europe. Looking for her advantage, England had always interfered in continental affairs—provoking or inflaming disputes via middlemen. She always tried to find a continental saber to fight for her and spare her own strength.
With France now eliminated, England—sure of the support of Roosevelt’s America—would try with all means available to let Russia fight for her.
I paid dearly for the pact with Stalin in August 1939. It cost me a lot for a pragmatic friendship for the sake of a pretended limitation of the war or, if the conflict expanded, to avoid facing Soviet bayonets at my back.
Stalin turned agreed-upon spheres of interest into the brutal occupation of the Baltic States, the separation of Bessarabia, and the forcing of Finland to its knees by a war of deceit.
After the military occupation of the Baltic, Bessarabia and Bukovina, Stalin’s goal was clearly recognizable—to become ruler over northeastern Europe and the Balkans. He wanted free access to the Mediterranean and an all-important starting position against Europe.
Stalin saw those possibilities at a time when we were tied up in the West. He had the constellation England-United States in view; he had made up his mind and was preparing to attack Germany, the only nation that could block both aims. The threat could be seen; the Soviet deployment began.
The military deployment of the Soviets on our Eastern border would soon be followed by political blackmail. I was convinced of that. It was also obvious to me that the Pan-Russian sphere-of-interest thrust was increased toward the West because of the demand of Bolshevism—it had already earlier jumped over its natural eastern border at the Pacific.1
Soon, Stalin would be found on the side which offered him the greatest advantage—elimination of the only power that could resist the further advance of Bolshevism into European areas: National Socialist Germany.
I not only saw the threat in the ready positioning of Russian armies at our Eastern border, with only a thin veil of a few divisions opposing them, but my concern was much more for our dependence on raw material—such as oil from Romania, but also ore, bauxite, molybdenum, manganese, chromium, and nickel from Finland—the supply of which could be blocked at any time by the Russians.
I again negotiated with Russia; it was an honest effort. Molotov, however, arrogantly delivered Stalin’s demands: a free hand for Russia in Romania, Bulgaria, Finland, and, in addition, free access to the Baltic Sea and the Dardanelles. That meant abandoning Europe.
My only alternative was the defense by a preventive stroke. Not only Germany was at stake, but the existence of Europe. The decision for me was not an easy one.
Regardless of all other matters, it meant the postponement of the realization of the social part of the tasks I set for myself and which required a secure time of peace; to those tasks, as you know, belonged the reconstruction of the German cities.
When I ordered the beginning of the preparations, that sinister treason occurred again that we experienced during the campaign against Poland, before the operation Weseruebung (in Norway and Denmark) and the French offensive.2 Nevertheless, great initial success occurred due to the unique strengths and élan of the German soldier, the strategic planning, and the supreme tactical leadership.
After the stormy successes, the wear and tear of men and material came to light. The vast spaces for which we had to fight hard tired out the troops. We had to take a breather—the supply problem forced it also—before we could take up the decisive moves incorporated in my strategic ideas.
Egoism and the one-track thinking of my generals crossed that strategic planning. In that month of August, so decisive for the Barbarossa operations, I fell ill and was so weakened that I could not gather the necessary insistence and steadfastness to push my plans through against my generals. (See side story “Strategy” following this article.)
Twice I thought to be close to victory. I was mistaken and it turned out to be deceptive.
Giesler: We were sitting on stools at the working table, drawing details of the Linz City house. Adolf Hitler, however, was soon at the war scene again in his thoughts. He said:
I talked with you already about my strategy because I knew you, as a talented architect of multi-faceted city projects, could appreciate the importance and the scope of complex planning.
Above all, a sober, mathematical thinking is needed, not only for various military dimensions, but more so for the immense distances, estimates of timing, and transport routes for securing supply. Specifically in the wide-open Russian space, one has to think about locations of raw materials and food; also regions of concentrated armament industries. All these things determine the basic idea for strategic planning, and at the same time influence the order of military targets, which again demand the ability for imagination, intuition, invention and audacity.
One can pretty well figure out one’s own forces, its battle strength and battle experience. But judging your adversary? Evaluating the enemy strength?
A complete failure of intelligence by our general staff and the military information service, and by the spy-agents and all the way up to the military attache at the embassy in Moscow—nothing of real information! During the occupation of Poland and the winter offensive in Finland, our military experts were outsmarted by the Russians.
We did not know anything about the strength of their divisions. We knew what was opposite us, but nothing of what we had to expect in the depth of the Russian space.
During battle, it was revealed that the shells of our PAK only caused a knock on the steel protection of the T34.3 Only our 8.8 cm Flak (Flieger Abwehr Kanone - anti-aircraft gun) shells were able to pierce the strong armor of the 50 and 100-ton tanks.
An impenetrable camouflage made the build up of an incredible military and armament force possible. (See side story “The Day M” following this article.) In the struggle for information, we were, and remained, hopelessly beaten.
I remembered a remark from December 1941, when Adolf Hitler told me:
Giesler, we just got away and escaped destruction by the Bolshevism—Stalin was nearly ready to pounce upon us.
Now he explained to me the connection between the Russian campaign planned by him, and his experiences after the invasion.
Added to the complete under-estimate of the enemy, the wrong reports about its reserves and armament strength, its deceits and confusions, was that incomprehensible treason. The preventive stroke was really no surprise at all for the enemy; it was reported on time and exact to the day and the hour. But that’s not all: every detail, every offensive plan was given to the enemy by German traitors!
I expected the treason of the X day. The surprise had to be rooted in the strategic development of our offensive. That strategy had been carefully thought out. In order to keep it secret and be sure of the surprise, I kept my plans only to the smallest circle. The orders for the development of the strategic tactical operations had to depend on the given situation of the offensive, the factors space – time – weather, and above all, on the forces of the adversary.
Now to the strategic structure: The armies were organized in three Army Groups: North, Center and South. Main emphasis lay with Army Group Center’s thrust towards Moscow. That was an intentional deception; I did not have Moscow in mind at all. The enemy forces should be confronted with our thrust, they should be tied down and not evaded. Then they should be destroyed by massive encirclement.
Adolf Hitler sketched on drawing paper the arrows of the attacking directions of the Army Groups, between the outlined Baltic and Black Seas. In front of the arrows he put 3 points and circled each one.
Leningrad-Moscow-Rostow, he said. The arrow of Army Group Center, he reinforced on both sides by additional arrow lines. Big circles between those five lines indicated the encirclement of enemies’ armies. A fat cross line he drew in front of Army Group Center, marking Moscow.
The attacking thrust should stop there, the tank forces with their rapid units should turn to Army Group North and South. That primary order was now decisive for the further necessary operations. Moscow was not my goal. It was necessary to encircle Leningrad, to establish the connection with the Finns at Lake Ladoga, to eliminate Leningrad as a center of the armament industry and to deprive the Russian navy of its base at Kronstadt. It was very important to pacify the Baltic Sea in order to secure the supply line.
Still more important was the thrust of Army Group South. The spreading out of the tank and rapid-unit forces into the distant space had to be executed twice. We had to obtain the harvest of the fertile Ukraine, the wheat and the oil from the giant sunflower fields, for our troops and the nation.
The second North-South thrust from Army Group South was aimed toward the raw materials—the coal, iron ore, chromium and manganese, and the important power plants at the Dnieper and Donez region all the way to Rostow and the Black Sea. There, right at the raw material sources, were also located the industrial centers, a concentration of the Russian armament industry and its economic power.
At the same time we could gain the take-off position for the thrust toward the Caucasian oil. And we also would win a critical region to protect the war-important supply of the Romanian oil from Ploesti against surprise attacks.
The political rewards of such a surprising, successful military operation would have been quite significant.
Giesler: When speaking, Adolf Hitler pointed his pencil to the marks of his strategic planning and completed the sketches with energetic lines. He quickly shaded the border areas around the Baltic Sea in the North and the Black Sea in the South, he drew circles around the raw material, industrial, and armament centers, and once more around the encirclement of the Russian armies.
Then the arrow points of Army Group Center pierced through the heavy marked “stop line” in front of Moscow, and out of the operative areas of all Army Groups, he drew dotted bow-shaped lines that encircled Moscow completely:
If strength, time and space made it possible, it should be the finale. Only a wide, all-encompassing scissor movement would give us the possibility to take Moscow and smash the Russian forces decisively at the same time!
Strategically and tactically, I considered those flank and encirclement operations as the only possibility to destroy the enemy; to avoid a frontal confrontation with heavy losses, we neither could match the enemy with the number of our divisions nor, as it later turned out, with our tanks and heavy weapons.
In order to overcome the massive Russian formations and tear up rigid fronts, we should concentrate on mobile units—taking advantage of the fighting strength of our soldiers and the tactical supremacy of our leadership.
The generals reported to me that the panzer divisions and rapid forces are completely exhausted, the tanks have to be overhauled; they are not fit for battle. They told me how many weeks they will need for it. Thus, they wanted to block my flanking thrusts Northwards towards Leningrad and to the South into the Ukraine and the Donez.
I was sick and without any willpower—weakened I could not get anywhere against their ego sense and ego will. “We generals”—that’s how they were stubbornly thinking—“can judge the military situation much better.”
Way back, a military personality once gave me the advice that, from an army general upwards obedience decreases and any order is subject to a personal critique. I often had the same experience.
Again and again I noticed that my generals, in their deliberations, completely disregarded the political, geo-political and economic matters. Mostly, they kept to a purely military viewpoint, and that turned out to be traumatic when directed towards Moscow in the Russian campaign.
As I found out later, my generals insinuated that I reflected a Napoleon-related Moscow shyness. Yet, by no means did I misjudge the military and political importance of taking Moscow; but first, the prerequisite for that were successful attacks toward the North and South, those two strategic pillars. Then, Moscow might be the last stage of the gigantic Russian undertaking.
The time favorable for mobile warfare ran out—the valuable time—it was always too little time and too much space in this war.
At the end of September, when I was healthy again, I could still push through one of the flank-and-encirclement thrusts toward the South. That operation I had to literally wrestle from my generals—yes, I had to enforce it by harsh orders. The result: four Russian armies were destroyed, and 650,000 prisoners taken. Even that success did not convince my generals of the only possible strategy within the vast Russian distances.
Against my inner conviction, they set up the frontal offensive against Moscow. Moscow was never in my mind, but they would or could not understand that.
To carry the great strategy through, it was, however, too late. The offensive toward Moscow met an increasingly stiffened Russian defense. Our divisions, tired and weakened by the month-long hard battles, had the target before their eyes and clashed against fresh Siberian forces continually moving in from the far regions.
The frontal offensive toward Moscow lost it’s momentum against the massive Russian defense. Soon afterward, the front froze in snow and icy cold; the winter equipment, ordered in time, never reached the troops.
Now my generals were for retreat, which meant a Napoleon-like end. The catastrophe. ~
1) Referring to the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05, and specifically the result of Russia’s far-east expansionist policy to gain control of Manchuria and Korea, and the warm water Port Arthur.
2) See previous articles, “Fateful Decisions, Irreversible Consequences,” TBR March/April 2010, p. 50 and “With Hitler in Paris,” TBR Jan/Feb 2009, p. 60
3) The Soviet medium tank produced from 1940 to 1958, credited by some as the single most effective, efficient and influential design of WWII. It was the mainstay of Soviet armored forces, more heavily armored than previous models, and the most-produced tank of the war.
By Wilhelm Mann
By early August 1941, five weeks after the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, opinions among the OKW, the OKH and some of the field generals diverged.
The first idea of Hitler and OKW was for Field Marshal von Leeb, leader of Army Group North, to move northeast and take Leningrad with a strong, decisive thrust that would cut the city and its immediate hinterland from Moscow, join with the Finnish forces and secure the supply for his army group through the Baltic Sea. The larger part of Army Group Center would then support the move south to obtain the treasures of the Ukraine; then conquer Moscow without too great military risks.
Colonel Rudolf Schmundt, Hitler’s chief adjutant, had relayed this to Col. General Heinz Guderian at their July 29 meeting on the east bank of the Dnieper River, on the occasion of rewarding him with the Oakleaf of the Knight’s Cross. With all his power as Germany’s tank expert, convincingly successful in the Polish and French campaigns, Guderian argued for the thrust toward Moscow.
Guderian’s Panzergruppe 2 and Colonel General Hermann Hoth’s Panzerkorp 3 were the powerful spearheads of Army Group Center. It was known that Field Marshal Guenther von Kluge, commander-in-chief of the Fourth Army and Guderian’s superior, sided with the OKW, advising more caution. Further complicating matters—the relationship between the two was rather estranged.
OKH’s chief of staff Col General Franz Halder and his chief of operations, Col. Adolf Heusinger, were at first uncommitted, but then pleaded with the generals for the Moscow thrust, as also did their Chief, Field Marshal Fedor von Bock.
A DECISION HAD TO BE REACHED
On August 4th, at the headquarters of Army Group Center in Novy Borrisow, northeast of Minsk, the decisive meeting took place. Hitler, accompanied by Schmundt, requested reports and opinions from von Bock, Guderian, Hoth, and Heusinger.
In von Bock’s map room, the Fuehrer met, one on one, first with Heusinger, then von Bock, followed by Guderian and Hoth. Assembling all again after the individual meetings, Adolf Hitler announced his decision: first the thrust North to take Leningrad; then, depending on the military situation, either east to Moscow or South to Kiev and the heart of the Ukraine.
This was at the time that Hitler became incapacitated by severe stomach and sleeping problems.
It was on August 18 that Hitler issued Directive No. 34, pressed by the surprising Soviet offensive in the North that was endangering Col. General Erich von Manstein’s offensive toward Narva—and Manstein’s request for help from Panzerkorps Hoth. Army Group Center’s offensive power moved to the Southeast, to Kiev.
On the 24th of August, three weeks after Hitler’s original decision and six days since the Directive was issued, Guderian was called by his superior von Bock to attend a meeting at Headquarters that Halder also attended. The three discussed how Hitler’s “irrefutable decision” could be changed, and after hours long deliberation, von Bock suggested that Guderian and Halder should visit Hitler at Wolfsschanze.
Guderian describes the scene in his book Erinnerungen Eines Soldaten:
… after the landing I reported to C&C Army, Field Marshal von Brauchitsch. He received me with the words: “I forbid you to discuss with the Fuehrer the question of Moscow. The offensive toward the South is ordered and it is only a question of the How. Any argument is useless.” I then requested to fly back to my Panzergruppe because any argument with Hitler is, under the given conditions, of no avail. But Brauchitsch did not like this either and gave me the order to see Hitler and report the situation at my Panzergruppe, but without mentioning Moscow.1
I then went to Hitler and reported in the presence of a large group of officers—Keitel, Jodl, Schmundt and others, but regretfully without Brauchitsch or Halder and no representative of the OKH—the situation at, and condition of, my Panzergruppe. Hitler asked, “Do you think your troops will, after all your achievements, still be able to endure great efforts?”
I answered: If the troops are told of a great goal, understandable to each soldier, yes.
Hitler replied: “You naturally mean Moscow.”
I: Permit me to present my reasons since you touched the subject.
Hitler agreed and I argued my case. He let me finish and did not interrupt once. Then he talked and explained why he arrived at a different decision. For the first time, I heard the sentence: “My generals do not know anything about war economy (Kriegswirtschaft).”
Once the final decision was made, I supported the offensive to the Ukraine with all my power and asked Hitler to issue an order to keep my Panzergruppe together as a solid unit. He agreed to issue that order.”2
A few days later, Army Group Center moved with decisive force towards Kiev … and was successful.
Guderian, Heinz, Erinnerungen Eines Soldaten (Memoirs of a Soldier), Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart, 13th edition, 1994. P.180
If there is any proof strong enough to correct and revise the traditional “court” historiography of World War II, which names Adolf Hitler’s regime in Germany as the sole aggressor, it can be found in Victor Suvorov’s excellent book The Chief Culprit (Der Tag M in its German publication)1. It follows Suvorov’s first book Icebreaker, published in 1990, which became a sensation in Russia, Germany and also in Israel.
In both books he outlines how Stalin and his General Staff, well
in advance of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, planned to attack
Germany. New detail and documentary evidence have been brought into Chief Culprit.
“M-Day”—the mobilization—fell on June 13, 1941, but the preparations went back to early February the same year, and
even further back into 1939 and 1940 when, shortly after the end
of Germany’s campaign in Poland, the Soviet army occupied the eastern part of that country.
Marshal G.K. Zhukov and Marshal A.M.Vasilevsky—both major generals at that time—and staff officers at high army commands were planning, on Stalin’s orders and in deep secrecy, the attack on Germany.
Suvorov quotes Vasilevsky: “Since May 1940, the deputy head of the Operations Directorate of the General Staff worked on the operational part of a plan of strategic deployment of Soviet armed forces in the northern, northwestern and western directions.”2 That meant war preparations against Germany.
If Maj. Gen. Vasilevsky worked on such plans at that time for his operational section, from the Baltic Sea to the Pripet marshes in White Russia, one has to assume—and Suvorov indicates it—that similar plans were developed at the other four military districts on the Russian west border. At the Kiev Military District, one of special importance because of its strategic position vis-à-vis the new eastern borders of Germany, those military operations are described in detail.
On “M-Day” (June 13), orders marked “Top Secret, Special Importance”3 were received at the Kiev military district for the
“transfer (of) all deep-rear divisions and corps commands with
the corps formations to new camps closer to the state border.”
It was signed by Marshal Timoshenko and Maj. Gen. Zhukov.4
Immediately, massive troop movements of the First Strategic
Echelon, consisting of 170 divisions, began. Fifty-six divisions moved clandestinely all along the five military districts from the Baltic to Odessa, mostly at night, to areas within 20 km of the borderline, in
an operation camouflaged as summer maneuvers. The remaining
114 divisions moved into the deeper territories of the western border area, fully equipped and ready to attack.
In the meantime, forces of the Second Strategic EchelonFar-East in the Siberian Baikal andAltai military districts, received similar “Top Secret, Special Importance” orders to move to new camps westward. It was an immense logistical task—thousands of railway cars transported those masses of rifle, tank and artillery corps, and
with or behind them their ammunition, food, sanitary and
But not only the army moved; the airplanes of the Russian air forces —not an independent branch of the Soviet forces but attached to army units—flew in, landed and parked on fields close to the border, cramped and looking like busy ant hills. Also the navy submarines and mine sweepers, destroyers and torpedo boats left the ports of
Kronstadt and Narva, taking positions farther west.
This gigantic deployment was nearly completed when, in the early morning hours of June 22, Hitler executed his preventive masterstroke. The military disaster for the Soviet forces that followed within the next four weeks brought the worst that can happen to a deploying, marching force: encirclement. The Blitzkrieg pincer movements of the Heeresgruppe North in the Riga-Luga-Staraja areas, the Heeresgruppe Middle in Bryansk-Minsk-Smolensk region and the Heeresgruppe South at Kiev-Uman smashed the Soviet armies.
More than three-quarters of a million prisoners were taken; 10,000 tanks, artillery pieces, trucks, machine guns and thousands of tons of ammunition were destroyed or taken over. Yet, in spite of this auspicious beginning, the massive size, huge population, raw materials and great industrial strength of the Soviet Union eventually asserted themselves—as Suvorov insists they were destined to do from the start.
1. Suvorov,Viktor, The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to StartWorldWar II,
Naval Institute Press, Maryland, 2008.
2. VIZh=Voenno-istorichesky Zhournal (“Military History Journal”), Marshal
A.M.Vasilevsky,VIZ7 (1979), p. 43.
3. Only one classification was higher than “Top Secret, Special Importance”—that
was “Top Secret, Special File,” which meant that only one copy was produced and could not leave the premises of the Kremlin. Thus Top Secret, Special Importance was the highest level of secrecy used beyond the Kremlin. (Culprit, p. 208.)
4 Culprit, pp. 208-9.