Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler, both were leaders who had complete authoritarian control over their countries. Because of their authoritarian control, they also controlled the military. Hitler and Stalin both made mistakes in the war between Germany and the Soviet Union and in the end, the Soviet Union won due to their resilience and Germany’s lack of planning. In my blog, I will examine why Germany failed to beat the Soviet Union and how the Soviet’s managed to make a comeback when all hope seemed lost.
At first, Germany and the Soviet Union were not enemies, but rather, were somewhat allies. According to the Britannica, the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact was signed August 23, 1939. Stalin agreed to it in order to build up the Red Army’s strength after the officer purge and Hitler agreed to it to gain Poland without interference and focus mainly on Britain and France ( par. 2). Both sides signed the pact for strategic reasons, not because they liked each other. The point of the pact was to assure each side that they would not attack each other.
Stalin’s mistakes were not preparing for a war with Germany and not realizing that one would occur. According to Freeze, “the Soviet Government received over eighty discrete warnings of a German attack… aware of the massing of German forces but unwilling to accept the truth… Stalin issued orders to Soviet military commanders not to shoot even if the Germans penetrated Soviet territory” (375). It is easier to deal with a problem earlier rather than later. If Stalin took action when the first sign of German aggression happened, then the Soviet Union would have not suffered as it did later on. Another mistake Stalin made was purging the officers in his military. According to Freeze, Stalin feared a coup which would replace him with a military dictator so in order to prevent that from happening, Stalin ordered a purge of military officers (376-377). Another statistic says “it would appear that some 35,000-40,000 officers were removed from their commands (many of them shot or condemned to hard labour in the camps)… at least 35 per cent of the officer corps was purged” (Freeze, 377). Because of Stalin’s paranoia, he cost his military experienced leadership. This helped Germany invade Russia because instead of facing against veterans, Germany battled against officers who may have never fought a war before or were inexperienced.
Finally, Stalin made matters worse by his foreign policy with Nazi Germany. According to Freeze, “after the signing of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact in 1939, Stalin had constructed a foreign policy based on co-operation and collusion with the Nazis” (379). Stalin was willing to help Germany and because of that, it made Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union even easier. Stalin’s control over the military was also terrible. An example of his actions include “his command that the Red Army cede no territory and his refusal to countenance withdrawal squandered tons of equipment and material consigned hundreds of thousands of troops to death or captivity” (Freeze, 379-380). Stalin was not a military genius and these actions clearly show that.
Hitler’s mistakes were underestimating the Soviet Union and making terrible military choices. Hitler viewed everyone who was not German or Nordic to be inferior. This can be seen from Freeze who notes “Nazi racist ideology also contributed to this depreciation of the enemy. Regarding the Russian as Untermensch, Hitler was supremely confident that the Germans would conquer the Soviet Union to the Urals in three months” (383). Hitler underestimated the Soviet Union. He believed that the German Army would be in and out of the Soviet Union in no time at all. Hitler did not also take into account that he was now fighting two fronts, the Soviets in the East and the Allies in the West. Hitler had limited resources and now he had to hold both fronts.
Another mistake Hitler made was not using the resentment of the majority of Soviet citizens to his advantage. Instead of recruiting them or welcoming their hospitality, the Nazis killed or imprisoned those they conquered. The Nazis also diverted manpower and vehicles in order to deal with those they deemed inferior (Freeze, 384). If Hitler was less focused on his ideology and paid attention to common sense, he would have used the anti-communist peasants to his advantage in order to win against Stalin. Instead, Hitler wanted to round up everyone who he thought was inferior, thereby wasting soldiers and vehicles he could have used to fight against the Soviets.
Finally, Hitler made the mistake of fighting against the Soviet Union when Winter would occur. According to Freeze, Hitler was supremely confident that the Germans would conquer the Soviet Union to the Urals in three months… the battle of Moscow, however, soon demonstrated that the war was not going to be brief (383). A reason why it is bad to invade the Soviet Union during the winter is that “in October and November a wave of frostbite cases had decimated the ill-clad German troops, for whom provisions of winter clothing had not been made, while the icy cold paralyzed the Germans’ mechanized transport, tanks, artillery, and aircraft (Smith and Graham, par. 11). If the Nazis had anticipated that the war with the Soviets would drag into the winter and prepared for the cold and snow, then the Nazis would have held out longer or have been able to beat the Soviets. Hitler thought his war with the Soviet Union would be done in a short amount of time, he did not anticipate a long war. Due to the lack of planning, the German army was not equipped for the Russian winter which was the reason why Napoleon failed to conquer it as well.
The Soviet Union won because the Soviet people were willing to make sacrifices and were strong. One such strategy was the Scorched Earth Strategy. According to Walter Sanning, the Scorched Earth Strategy had soviets destroy anything that could be useful for the Germans which included farms, factories, machinery, mines, etc (par. 5). Since the German strategy was to live off of the land and peasants, the Soviets decided to cut the Germans off from their source of supply. Farmers would burn down their farms, factories would be destroyed, and munitions would be destroyed as well. The people got through this from hatred of the Nazi’s actions and the wanting of Russia’s survival (Freeze, 391). If the people still have hope, then there is still a chance.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Third ed., Oxford University Press, 2009.
Royde-Smith, John Graham. “Later Actions.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 23 Aug. 2019, www.britannica.com/event/Operation-Barbarossa/Later-actions.
Sanning, Walter N. “INSTITUTE FOR HISTORICAL REVIEW.” Soviet Scorched-Earth Warfare: Facts And Consequences, www.ihr.org/jhr/v06/v06p-91_Sanning.html.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 8 Jan. 2020, www.britannica.com/event/German-Soviet-Nonaggression-Pact.