The End of the Wehrmacht

This cartoon depicts the German Wehrmacht being halted by the newly established Russian defensive fortifications.  Originally rolling right over them, the Wehrmacht was faced with a crucial decision, whether or not it thought it would be able to defeat the Russians.

As World War II raged on, Hitler began to press his luck seeing how to world wide conflict had no clear end in sight.  Ambitiously, Hitler decided to invade Russia and attempt to capture the city of Stalingrad as his ultimate goal.  However, this was not the case.  For many reasons, the German Wehrmacht was unable to achieve its goal, and lost many troops, resources, and fighting spirit within the frigid landscape of Russia.

At first, it looked like the German forces had a great chance at success.  After Stalin’s unrelenting cleansing of many of Russia’s highest ranking officers and commanders of the Russian army, the German advance was (at first) almost unopposed.  Along with this, the Russian army was in a since outmatched from the beginning, as the German Wehrmacht was considered to be one of the best fighting forces in the globe (Freeze, page 376).  Both of these factors also limited the number of defensive fortifications that were able to be set up by the Russian forces.  Thinking the invasion would happen at a later time, Stalin believed he had ample time to set up the needed fortifications (Freeze, page 378-379).  However, due to miscalculated timing and a slovenly crippled (due to the military purges) army, the Russian defensive fortifications were (at first) mediocre at best.

This picture depicts the many Russians who lost their lives during the conflict.  As more and more land was lost to the Germans, not only were material resources lost, but the loss of human life was detrimental.

However, as the conflict drew on and German captured more Russian held lands, the Russians began to rethink their strategy.  The lands captured by the Germans suspended Russia of many needed materials and resources, such as iron deposits, and other elements needed to create machines of war and ammunition.  Also, along with the material loss, the loss of agricultural lands began to put a strain on Russia with the production of food for the army and the people of Russia.  For a start, the Russian people, while they held a truly vast amount of land altogether, realized their constant movements backward from the fronts only made it easier for the Germans to continue moving forward.  The strategy then became to unify and “hold the line” as it were, to not give up any more land to the advancing Wehrmacht (McNeal, Order No. 227).  The Russians recognized that their major drawback was due to the level of disorganization within the ranks of the military divisions.  Commanders who were deemed unworthy were replaced with more courageous ones, and strict discipline was enforced throughout the army at all points, in order to maintain the fronts and defensive fortifications (McNeal, Order No. 227).  Something I found particularly interesting was the extent to which the utterance of the word “retreat” was treaty harshly.  The Russians were effectively removing the meaning of retreat from their soldiers to hold their lines (McNeal, Order No. 227).

In the end, the Russians were able to hold their lines and stop/defeat the world renowned German Wehrmacht.  Ironically, even though Stalin’s military purges and constant authoritarian policies at first gave the Russians the disadvantage, this was one of the reasons for the Russian victory.  The entire country was mobilized together and production centered around furthering and ending the war effort (Freeze, page 385).  In the end however, the overarching reason for the Russian victory can be seen with the actual people.  Russians did in fact band together and upheld the “No Step Back” slogan, and gave nothing the the Germans.  With the people’s determination in the factories, fields, and battlefields, the Russians defeated the most advanced military of the world (Freeze, page 390).

Another interesting website I found helpful was http://www.thehistoryreader.com/modern-history/stalins-order-227-step-back/.  This source held much of the same materials, but in more detail.  It showed that Stalin literally meant there will be no more retreats, that the soldiers were to fight for their land or die trying (Merridale).  It is interesting to what lengths the Russian command went to literally erase the meaning of the word retreat.  However, their persistence paid off in the end.

 

 

Sources:

Robert H. McNeal, ed. Resolutions and Decisions of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974).

Stalin’s Order No. 227: “Not a Step Back”

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