Nazi Germany's Defeat on the Eastern Front, 1941-1945

Nazi Germany's Defeat on the Eastern Front, 1941-1945

This is a guide to the fighting on the Eastern Front during World War II. It goes through the events leading to the conquest of Berlin by Soviet forces in April-May 1945.


Introduction: Pseudo-Reality and the Führerprinzip

“Hitler is Germany and Germany is Hitler. What he does in necessary. Whatever he does is necessary. Whatever he does is successful. Clearly the Führer has divine blessing.” -- Rudolf Hess [1]

When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 he had three main goals: (1) Seizure of territory for the use of Germans; (2) The murder of the Jews; and (3) The destruction of Communism. The three goals were essentially separate. Hitler's seized territory in 1939 from Poland and Czechoslovakia, neither of which were ruled by Communists. He killed Jews all over Europe regardless of whether those Jews lived in a Communist country or were Communists themselves. He starved and mistreated even anti-Communist Ukrainians, alienating them to the detriment of his other war aims. A study of his writings and speeches, beginning with his book Mein Kampf (written in the mid-1920s) shows that he intended to conquer the USSR and destroy the Jews irrespective of his stated antipathy to Communism.

Hitler claimed he was creating a "1000-Year Reich" but it only lasted twelve years. On April 30, 1945, not even four years after his invasion of the USSR, he shot himself in his bunker in Berlin in order to avoid capture by advancing Soviet troops. His surviving troops in Berlin surrendered two days later, and all of what remained of Nazi Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945. When we today study World War Two we know how it ends. We know that the vast majority of Germans had abandoned their former allegiance to Nazism within a few generations after 1945. Today National Socialism aka Nazism, the ideology which once held sway not only in Germany and Austria but among sympathizers among much of Europe from Finland to Italy, can hardly be said to exist.

It is easy to forget the astonishing extent to which Germans themselves, even late in the war, actually believed that they could defeat the combined forces of the US, Britain and the USSR. How it was that the citizens of Germany and Austria, two advanced nations, came to believe such nonsense naturally preoccupies us. It is worth noting that it was Hitler who declared war on the USA, not the other way around, a disastrous decision by the Nazis that brought the industrial might of the United States fully into the war against Nazi Germany. It was surely one of history's most significant examples of hubris.

Much of Hitler's success in motivating the German population to continue an impossible two-front war against the entire English-speaking world and the Soviet Union was a result of Hitler's one unquestionable triumph: his popularization of an infallible image of himself and of the state he largely created.

In the decades since his death, the world has largely come to realize the remarkable falsity of the Fuehrerprinzip, the claim by the Nazi leadership that all power flowed from Hitler and that his decisions were infallible. There are still die-hard apologists for Hitler's wartime decision-making skills, and not only in Germany, but they are pretty much placed in the same category as Holocaust-deniers.

A complete history of Hitler's propagandistic triumphs, and their slow unraveling, is outside the scope of this book. However, an understanding of it is necessary in order to comprehend the reality of the German people's devotion to Hitler and willingness to accept and believe in decisions that would otherwise appear insane. Hitler's great trick was to convince the world, even after the mass surrender of the German 6th Army at Stalingrad in early 1943, that its forces were the equal of those of the USSR and that it wasn't actually losing the war on the Eastern Front. At that task he succeeded brilliantly within the borders of Nazi Germany itself. In reality it was as a result of Hitler's own flawed decisions the war was lost almost two-and-a-half years before it ground to a halt in Berlin. The only question then was who would get to Berlin first, the US and the UK, or the USSR.

But among the senior Nazis themselves in 1945, the notion that the war was lost at such an early date was realized imperfectly if at all. Some ascribed the collapse of the Nazi state to Germany's defeat at the Battle of the Bulge in early 1945, or on the beaches of Normandy in 1944, or even the huge disparity between Allied and German military and industrial production during the year 1943. There was a vague realization of Nazi German failures on the ground in 1941 and 1942, but a rather imperfect understanding of the logistical and strategic aspects of those failings.

  1. The Four Phases Of The War On The Eastern Front
    1. Up to the battle of Moscow
    2. Moscow to Stalingrad
    3. Stalingrad to Kursk
    4. Kursk to Berlin
  2. Initial advances obscure difficulties Nazis faced in ever defeating Soviets
  3. Nazi propaganda promoted Germans' self-image as victorious even when marching towards defeat
    1. Claims Soviets were brutish and subhuman
  4. An elaborate set of falsehoods promoted view that Germany was on the verge of victory on the Eastern Front
  5. Much of what the Americans at the time thought they knew about German combat capabilities turned out to be false.
    1. The Lindberghs
  6. Postwar German Generals version
    1. Almost conquered Moscow thanks to superior fighting skill over the brutish Russian oafs
    2. Done in by bad weather
    3. Size of country and population
    4. Hitler's interference
  1. Reasons For The Longevity Of Nazi Propaganda
    1. It appeals to Germans' sense of pride
    2. Nazis killed those Germans who disagreed with it
    3. For awhile it looked as if it might be so
    4. A Simple Compelling Narrative
  1. Claims That It Was The Nazi Party, Not The German Military, That Mistreated Soviet Civilians
    1. The Notion That Any Claim By German Generals Regarding Atrocities Can Be Accepted As True Is Dubious
  1. Undercounting Of Axis Casualties
    1. Ignoring Losses Of Axis Allies
    2. Ignoring Mass Surrenders Near End Of War
    3. Incompleteness Of Nazi Medical Records

Soviet and German Preparations For War

Extra Information

  1. Bibliography