We do not yet fully understand why the Germand decided on June 22 to launch Barbarossa. We do not yet have full details as to the timing of Barbarossa. Given how close the NAZIs came to taking Moscow, the timing seems critical. We are not yet sure if a firm earlier invasion date was set. Of course the Germans had to wait for good weather. It does seem they could have launched the invasion in late May or early June. Military historians generally agree that given a few more weeks of good weather that the Germans could have taken Moscow which would not only have been of propaganda impotannce, but was a critical coomunications center. Many historians point out that the need to invade the Balans to resolve the mess created by Mussolini delayed the invasion 6 critical weeks. This may have well been the case, but some historians cintend that the Germans did not really plan to invade much earlier anyway.
We do not yet fully understand why the Germand decided on June 22 to launch Barbarossa. We do not yet have full details as to the timing of Barbarossa. Given how close the NAZIs came to taking Moscow, the timing seems critical. We are not yet sure if a firm earlier invasion date was set. There were postponements. What is not clear to us is just what caused those postponements. Many historians cabilerly refer to the Balkans campaign (April 1941), but there were many postponments of Case Yellow (the Western Offensive) for a range of reasons.
Of course the Germans had to wait for good weather. The crucial German advantage was in mobility, both air power and armored Panzer forces on the ground. Bad weather would impair both air and ground operations, negating the German advantage. Thus the Germans had to wait until warm sunny and dry weather arrived. Dry weather was important because the Soviet Union had virtually no paved roads and few improved roads which the Germans would find toi their determent when the
Fall rains came. Some sources insist that rains in the Ukraine resulted in the postponement of Barbarossa, We can not yet confirm this. (In contrast when these advantages were with the Americans after D-Day, the Germans waited until bad weather arrived to launch their attack in the West--the Bulge--December 1944.)
It does seem they could have launched the invasion in late May or early June. Military historians generally agree that given a few more weeks of good weather that the Germans could have taken Moscow which would not only have been of propaganda impotannce, but was a critical coomunications center. A GI posted in Gwrmany on occpation duty after the War wtites, "I knew from talking with the Germans in 1947 in Germany that they were not successful against the Soviets, because of the Russian winter. They told me that Hitler was upset for going to war to save Mussoline in Albania. He wanted to invade the Soviets earlier and he was delayed, because he had to move his Armies south to the Balkans. Then in 1948 I was stationed in Vienna which was a four power city like Berlin. My work in Vienna placed me in every day contact with the Soviets Kommandtura's office. I was with the Special Investigation Section for the Provost Marshal and I was told by a number of Soviet officers that if Hitler invaded earlier, they would have defeated the Soviets. They indicated Stalin thanked the Russian winter which stalled the Germans to a halt at the gates of Moscow. It was Deja vu again, Napolean was stopped at the gates of Moscow, but the Winter was Russia greatest ally."
Many historians point out that the need to invade the Balkans to resolve the mess created by Mussolini delayed the invasion 6 critical weeks. Germany and Italy had signed the Axis alliance (1939). Mussolini was piqued at Hitler's failure to consult him on his major decessions. As a result, he took decessins without consulting Hitler. After seizing Albania (1939), Mussolini invaded Greece (1940). Besides being a military failure, the invasion destabilized the Balkans from Hitler's point of view. Greece at the time was governed essentially by the Metaxas Fascist dictatorship. Although not an Axis member, Greece was neutral. Mussolini's invasion changed this and Greece accepted British aid. This thus presented a danger to Barbarossa's southern flank. The hard-pressed British could not present a serious ground threat, but from Greek bases they could threaten the Romanian oil fields around Ploesti. Oil was Germany's major weakness and without Romanian oil, Barbarossa would have been impossinle..
Political and military leaders as well as historians provide different assessments of the German reasons for delaying Barbarossa. These are often difficult to assess because the individuals involved often do not explain their source of information. And the leaders at the time often have mixed motives which may affect the accuracy of their claims.
The final decesion on the timing of Barbarossa was of course made by Hitler. NAZI film-maker and personal friend, Leni Riefenstahl reports that Hitler told her, "if the Italians hadn't attacked Greece and needed our help, the war would have taken a different course. We could have anticipated the Russian cold by weeks and conquered Leningrad and Moscow. There would have been no Stalingrad". [Riefenstahl, p. 295.] This would seem to settle the question. And there is not reason to doubt that Riefenstahl accurately reported what Hitler told her. There is, however, considerable reason to doubt Hitler's account. Barbarossa was from the beginning Hitler's idea and principal proponent. After it failed he had to find scapegoats. The principal scaegoats were the Wehrmacht generals who he dismissed. (Stalin also blamed the general, but he shot them rather than dismissed them.) And blaming Mussolini was another way of reducing his personal responsibility for failure. Churchill in his memoirs suggests that the German Balkan adventure may have caused a fatal delay in Barbarossa. "In Januaryand February the Balkan advebture into which the Fuhrer allowed himself to br drawncaused a drain-away from the East to the cSouth of fivec divisions, of which three were armoured. In May the German deployment in the East grew to eightt-seven divisions, and there were no mless than twenty-fivec absorbed in the Balkans. Considering the magnitude and hazard of the invasion of the East by so serious a divdersion. We shall now see how aelay of five weeks was imposed upon the sumpreme operation as aesult of our resistance in the Balkans , and especuially the Yugoslave revolution. No one can measure exactly what consequences this had before winter set in upon the fortunes of thge German-Russian campaugn. It usreasinable to believe that Moscow was saved thereby.' [Churchillp. 461.] British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden under churchill's orders helped arrange the intervention in Greece cwith the Greek Government. He argued that the fighting in Greece delayed the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union. [Richter, pp. 638-39.] Eden like Churchill, however, were under cinsiderable pressure cto justify vthe costly Greek intervention.
Besides Hitler, the two military commanders who could conclusively describe the timing of Barbarossa were the two commanders at the heart of OKW--Keitel anf Jodl. One source tells us that OKW Chief, Field Marshal
Keitel, complained that the Barbarossa had to nbe delayed 4 weeks because of the Balkans campaign. [Stevenson, p. 22.] Keitel of course was the biggest German tody of the War and despised by competent Wehrmacht commanders. This may be an accurate assessment or it could be another case of scapegoating. We have not yet found Jodl's assessment.
Field Marshal Alan Francis Brooke was the Chief of the Imperial General Staff during the Second World War and was critical of theChurchill's Greek intervention. He did concede, however, that the Balkans Campaign delayed Barbarossa. [Broad, p. 113] Broke does not, however tell us on just what he based that conclusion. He of course had access to Ultra, but we are not sure yet just what Ultra revealed.
Many historians insist that the German Balkans campaign delayed Barbarossa a critical 4-6 weeks. One such historian is John Keegan, a historian we respect very much. He contends that Greek resistance may have been a turning point in the War. [Keegan, p. 144] He does not, however detail his sources for this assessment. Other historians are more skeptical. two historians looked more crefully at the evidence about the delay. They conccluded, "although no single segment of the Balkan campaign forced the Germans to delay Barbarossa, obviously the entire campaign did prompt them to wait." [Bradley and Buell, p. 101.
The Historical Branch of the British Cabinet Office deveral years after the War concluded that the Balkan Campaign had no influence on the timing of Barbarossa. [Richter] One historian insists that "the main causes for deferring Barbarossa's start from 15 May 15–22 June were incomplete logistical arrangements, and an unusually wet winter that kept rivers at full flood until late spring." [Kirchubel, 16.]
The Balkans campaign may have well been the case, but some historians contend that the Germans did not really plan to invade much earlier anyway and that there were other causes of the various delays. Here we are not yet sure.
Bradley, John N. and Thomas B. Buell. "Why Was Barbarossa Delayed" in The Second World War: Europe and the Mediterranean<.i> The West Point Military History Series. (Square One Publishers, Inc., 2002). .
Broad, Charlie Lewis. Winston Churchill: A Biography (Hawthorn Books, 1958).
Churchill, Winston S. Memoirs of the Second World War (Bonanza Books: New York, 1978), 1065p.
Keegan, John. The Second World War (Penguin, Reprint edition 2005).
Keitel, Wilhelm. "Prelude to the Attack on Russia, 1940–1941" in Walter Görlitz. In the Service of the Reich Translated by David Irving. (Focal Poiny, 1965).
Kirchubel, Robert. Opposing Plans. Operation Barbarossa 1941: Army Group North (Osprey Publishing, 2005).
Richter, Heinz A. Greece in World War II (in German).
Riefenstahl, Leni. Leni Riefenstahl: A Memoir (Picador: New York, 1987).
Stevenson, William. A Man Called Intrepid.
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