In the end, it all depended on petroleum

Friday, July 20th, 2018

The failure of Barbarossa is really quite straightforward, Philip Andrews argues:

In the end, it all depended on petroleum.

Moscow was not important to Stalin. He was quite prepared, and had indeed planned, to retreat with as much industry as possible behind the Urals, and continue the fight from there — so long as he was able to receive petroleum supplies from the Caucasus across the Caspian.

The Germans knew about Moscow’s unimportance to the Soviets (Leningrad was far more symbolic, having been the birthplace of the Revolution). The German military attaché in Moscow had told the German high command as much, but they ignored him. The German high command had a fixation with major cities, and was determined to waste time and resources besieging cities that had no intrinsic military value to Stalin.

The Germans never had enough resources for the kind of war they went to fight in the Soviet Union. Firstly, most of their army was horse-drawn, and most of the transport that was mechanised was requisitioned from the occupied countries. Germany, at the start of the war, had the lowest level of transport mechanisation of any Western power. They relied far more on horses than France, Britain or the US. They did not have resources to mechanise their army sufficiently to launch a strategic war against Russia.

Secondly, in order to cripple Soviet industry and the transport infrastructure, they would have had to have developed a strategic bomber force on the lines of the British and Americans. After the death of General Wever, just before the war, they abandoned the idea of the strategic bomber altogether in favour of the Ju 88, which was never intended for strategic bombing. Thus, they never had the ability to bomb behind the Urals or to reach the Caucasus.

Thirdly, they would have needed a much stronger armoured mechanised force than the mere 20 or so panzer divisions with which they invaded Russia. Also, they should have designed their armour with wide tracks for Russia’s road-less conditions, and with sufficient armament to have taken on the T-34 and the KV-1. As it was, their intelligence on the Soviet Union and its resources, especially manpower potential, was abysmal to non-existent.

One possible winning strategy for them would have been to have invaded only the Ukraine, with a blocking force at the Pripet marshes. They could have granted independence to the Ukrainians, set up an anti- Communist puppet government, and used the Ukrainians to help fight the Soviet army. Meanwhile, German armoured and mechanised forces could have had to make a dash for the Caucasus and the oilfields.

The strategic bombers the Germans never had, could have been used to destroy the oil transfer points on the Caspian to prevent Stalin from receiving oil supplies — without, however, destroying the fields themselves. Once the panzer forces had arrived in the Caucasus, say about six months after the invasion, they may have been able to capture the fields intact, or at least to deny them to the Soviets.

At that time, the Caucasus oilfields were the only source of oil the Soviets had. If this ‘Ukrainian’ strategy had been planned for from the outset — with an appropriate build-up of bomber and panzer forces — the Germans may have been able to force Stalin to the negotiating table by denying him his oil supplies. They should have done this rather than waste good pilots and aircraft in futile battles over Britain.

This at least is my take on Barbarossa. I believe that Hitler had a very strong intuition about the importance of going for the Caucasus straightaway, but his tunnel-visioned and hidebound generals believed in conventional warfare and conventional targets like cities. It was they, rather than he, who believed that the Russians would collapse under the weight of the blitzkrieg and that the war would be over in a few months.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    They almost got the Ukrainian strategy by accident. In western Ukraine, the site of the Kulak genocide, Ukrainians enthusiastically sided with the Germans. But the Nazis despised Ukrainians as Slavs and planned their annihilation.

    There are still Ukrainian Nazis of the old school. There are even Nazi militias in Ukraine. They have successfully prevented implementation of the Minsk accords, prolonging Ukraine’s misery.

  2. Candide III says:

    Rubbish. So-called Ukrainian “Nazis” are no more Nazi than AFD or FN or any other European populist right. That is to say, if you go looking for it, you might find a few Hitler-loving individuals in any of these, but most of them aren’t. Ukrainian nationalists remember that the Nazis suppressed all pro-Ukrainian elements, and that the Ukrainian underground army UPA was fighting both Nazis and Soviets (and later Poles). As quoted above, Germany might have made them an ally – there was enough enthusiasm in Western Ukraine to make it work and even in Center and East the memories of the great hunger and mass deportations to Siberia during collectivization were still fresh – but the Nazis chose to stick to their untermenschen ideology. As for Minsk agreements not working, I don’t see what our nationalists have to do with it – one of the points of the agreements being local elections in the currently Russian-occupied territories under Ukrainian control, which requires Russian withdrawal. The political weight of those militias is now minimal and what activities they engage in, e.g. their recent attacks on gypsy camps, tend to be counterproductive in the standard pattern of folk activism.

  3. Kirk says:

    Mmmm… Gotta disagree with the idea laid out, here. Barbarossa failed because the Germans got cocky, and lost focus on what they were doing. Had they picked a friggin’ strategic plan, and then stuck to it…? Central Europe would have been German until we nuked all of its major cities in late ’46, or so.

    Even with all the disadvantages they had going, most of which stemmed from logistical issues, the Germans were doing very well for themselves. Had Hitler and his generals kept focused on a pathway, they might have won in the short term. Problem was, they got overconfident, and thought that they had way more margin than they really did.

    Had they kept Japan going as a legitimate threat to the Far Eastern Siberian theater, and then focused on either the Moscow or the oil target, they might have won — until the B-36s started taking out cities deep in their territories. The multiple shifts in priorities, and the loss of the strategic distraction represented by Japan enabled the Soviets to gain the upper hand. The German grand strategy should have been to work with the Japanese to keep those Siberian divisions tied down, and to go after one strategic target at a time, not shift from one to another like a kid who can’t make up his mind about which toy to buy at the store.

    Hitler had to do Barbarossa when he did, or the rebuilt Red Army steamroller was going to head west in ’42 or ’43. Germany likely could not have won that one, and the fighting would have been on their territory. Unfortunately for the Germans, the lack of focus and failure to get the victims of the Soviets on board with the German cause doomed them. Had they possessed the wisdom to coopt the Ukrainians, and concentrate on one strategic target at a time…? They might have won — until FDR started dropping nukes on their cities.

  4. Bruce says:

    Just read Alanbrooke’s diaries, the Brit WWII Cheif of Staff. He describes flying Iran to Moscow during the battle of Stalingrad, looking out the window for defenses south of the Caspian, and seeing one undefended antitank ditch. He thought that if the Germans had sent one of those 50,000 man armies they kept losing at Stalingrad, they’d have broken Russia’s oil line for sure and maybe just plain conquered Iran. He warned Stalin.

  5. Kirk says:

    Yeah…Prefisely what I was getting at. Had Hitler ignored the cities, focused on maneuver where appropriate, and kept from playing to the Soviet strengths? He might have won the campaign, and then lost the war to having thrown the “Jewish science” baby out with bathwater.

    Of course, had we followed that path, odds are that an awful lot of Central Europe would have wound up heavily irradiated…

  6. Graham says:

    A lot to agree with in Kirk’s comments but one interesting assumption keeps recurring.

    If we’re busy retconning Germany’s, and /or Hitler’s big mistakes, how about the one he made in December 1941, not June?

    He had a balance to strike-

    if he wanted Japanese help against the Russians, he ideally would have wanted them to dedicate themselves to a northern not southern strategy. SO no war against the US right away. If Japan is not fighting the US, it can fight Russia, albeit not that well. OTOH, then the US is free to evaluate its position objectively. Can FDR bring the US into a European war without either Pearl Harbor or a German declaration of war on the US?

    If Hitler thinks he can use a Caucasus/Ukraine strategy to beat Russia maybe he doesn’t need Japan’s help, so it’s OK if they go to war in the Pacific, which better suited their needs anyway. So now there has been Pearl Harbor and the US is at war with Japan. Hitler is not under any obligation to declare war on the US, ever or anytime soon. ANd his doing so provided no actual benefit to Japan anyway.

    So, this Hitler has a smarter idea of how to wage war on Russia. No reason he can’t have been magicked a similarly smarter idea about the problem the US poses.

    So he doesn’t declare war on the US.

    A lot can happen between 1941 and 1946. And the US will beat Japan in the Pacific slightly faster, probably, in this scenario. If it gets to the point of needing to invade Japan and nukes aren’t ready, maybe the US has to actually do that invasion. SO now it’s 1945 or 1946 and the US has beaten Japan under one of multiple scenarios that include having to carry out an invasion at great cost.

    How do we guarantee there is a war in that timeframe between Germany and the US that results in those B-36s nuking Central Europe?

  7. Adar says:

    German army plans to defeat the Soviet in 1941 very much came to fruition. All based on the assumption of a knock-out blow in six weeks or so with a collapse of the Soviet government and chaos in the rest of Russian and beyond. Soviet enormous reserve forces, the divide-by-two divisional type of military mobilization organization and stubborn staying power of the Russian just too great for the German.

  8. Zerwikaptur says:

    Germans did not set up a Ukrainian puppet state because unlike territories of today’s Croatia, territories of today’s Ukraine were supposed to be part of Lebensraum. Hence the in 1941 the Ukrainian fascists from OUN were given a cold treatment by Germany.
    UPA, the military wing of OUN, was not very busy fighting Germans, as the latter were happy to control major settlements leaving the countryside to whoever had more guns. UPA, enforced with deserters from the Ukrainian auxiliary police who just had gained experience in mass murders while conducting Holocaust, was very busy with genocide of Poles and murder of Ukrainians who did not sign up to OUN/UPA ideology. Even when the remaining Poles left for Poland in new borders then OUN/UPA was busy mainly with murdering civilians while fighting Soviets took the second place.

  9. Kirk says:

    One of the points I’m looking at more than a little askance is that bit about Moscow being unimportant… The place was a near-irreplaceable central rail hub, not to mention factory center and extremely political symbol. Had Hitler taken Moscow, or even just done significant damage to the rail lines that ran through it, he’d have been a lot closer to victory than he got.

    We are never going to know what a “winning Barbarossa” would have looked like, but you can pick out a bunch of errors, like getting lured into Stalingrad. Had the Germans stayed the hell out of those fights, the ones where their elite infantry and armor got ground up on the millstone of Soviet disregard for casualties, the course of the war would have gone differently. I’m not going to say they’d have won, but the cost to the Soviets would have been a lot higher and Stalin might not have survived into the 1950s.

    Had Hitler been a bit more astute, given the way Stalin froze there at the beginning, he could have played the cards a bit differently, and gotten more of the Soviet apparatus on-board with him. Instead, he and his minions had to be the “Ubermensch”, and lord it over the “sub-human Slavs…”. What he should have been doing was going through the massive accumulations of Soviet prisoners, point out the way they’d been betrayed by the Communists and Stalin, and then gotten them on-board with fighting for the “liberation” of Mother Russia from the Communists under a National Socialist flag. Witness the power of that idea, even today: They could have made it work, had they just tried.

    Hell, play the cards right, and you could have gotten your depopulation of the East out of it, too–Use up the converted former Soviet prisoners in a war of liberation, and then casually move in on the lands they left empty after dying in job lots for your cause. Hitler was, I’m afraid, a parvenu with no real idea of how to accomplish his aims. If he had been the Machiavellian super-genius he thought he was, and that the Nazi regime painted him as, the bastards would still be running Europe. Hell, if it had been me, and I was a sociopathic mass-murderer, I’d have been in those huge camps of Soviet POWs running a “Let’s start a civil war between the Communists and everyone we’ve captured…”, and then played the whole thing as a liberation movement from the nasty, nasty Communists. Hell, the gulags alone, along with all the massive purges that took place…? You could have sold the whole thing very easily. Treat those POWs right, offer them the opportunity to rally to your side, and awaaaaaay you go. Only thing is, Hitler and the rest of his cabal of idiots weren’t smart or humble enough to think that way.

    Idiots wanted to build a “Thousand-Year Reich”, but tried doing so with a very short-term view. The really scary thing is, just how close they came to managing it in real life. Which is a testimony to the general incompetence and stupidity of the people running the rest of Eurasia at the time…

  10. Candide III says:

    > UPA, enforced with deserters from the Ukrainian auxiliary police who just had gained experience in mass murders while conducting Holocaust, was very busy with genocide of Poles
    No people of Eastern Europe has its hands clean on the Jewish issue. There were Ukrainian collaborators in the Holocaust, just as there were Polish and Belorussian collaborators. Others refused to collaborate or helped Jews out. UPA had Jew members – here’s a Jew writing about this for other Jews (in Russian). As for UPA making war on the Poles, both feeling and action was mutual – Armija Krajowa was just as bad as UPA, though it got better press because they were useful to the Allies – but have you ever wondered why there were so many Poles in Volyn? The Poles don’t like to talk about it much these days, but the answer is that the interwar Polish government had an official policy of polonization and settlement in the region and i.a. gave its WWI veterans the best land there that had been confiscated from Russian Empire nobility. The land in Poland proper is not good for much besides potatoes and strawberries.

  11. Kirk says:

    RE: The Jewish “issue” in Eastern Europe.

    Most Americans simply don’t understand the reason for the visceral hatred of the Jews across Central Europe, and why things went the way they did with regards to them.

    First thing you have to understand is that the Jew was used by the various aristocracies as convenient cut-outs for their financial interests. Those aristocrats could not be seen to soil themselves with commerce, so they hired the Jews as intermediaries and cut-outs. The face that the peasant saw, when it was tax or rent time was generally Jewish, not the aristos. As well, the aristos essentially “cropped” the Jews, letting them grow money and wealth, then instituting a pogrom or two when they needed some extra cash or to zero out their debts to the Jewish traders and financiers. Since the Jew couldn’t own land, well… They had to keep their wealth in an easily looted format.

    So, you have this situation where the Jew was simultaneously the victim and the oppressor; quite the same little game was played out in Turkish territories, with regards to the locals who converted to Islam–Why do the dirty work, when you can hire the Jews or some of the locals to do it for you, and then “tax farm” them.

    This whole thing is why the Jew is viscerally hated by nearly everyone across Central Europe. It’s not their fault, per se–They had to play the cards they were dealt, and the way the iniquitous system built up over the years, well… You got what you got. You hear “pogrom”, and you’re like “Oh, dear… The poor, poor innocent Jews…”. What you didn’t see was the aristos behind the scenes, playing the peasants and Jews alike as patsies and whipping boys. “Oh, dear, my good Kulak… I’m so sorry you’re losing your farm, but you know these damnable Jews and their usury…” “Oh, Moishe… I know you need the money I owe you, to pay your taxes to the Tsar, but those damnable, lazy peasants simply won’t produce enough grain for me to sell at market…”.

    The whole thing was a system of damnable exploitation, at all levels. You could even, were you of a mind (which I am not, being an anti-aristocrat…) find plenty of things to serve as apologia for the nobility.

    It also didn’t help matters that the Jews got on board the Communist train early on, and were ideological fellows with the whole Bolshevik cause and socialism in general. When you’re in the Ukraine, and look back at the Holodomor, what you remember is those damn Jews among the ranks of the Commissars, and since you’re predisposed towards blaming them anyway, due to tradition…? Is it any wonder that when the Germans showed up, with their anti-Jewish ideology and policies, the Ukrainians joined in wholeheartedly? As did a lot of other Eastern Europeans?

    I am not saying they were right, or that the Holocaust was justified, but there is a hell of a lot more context to the whole thing than is generally taught in the schools here in the US. It’s just like with the Serbs and the Moslems in what was Yugoslavia–You can’t understand the situation unless you know the history, and why particular “buttons” are there in the culture. What sounds totally innocuous, even laudatory, to an American diplomat…? To a Serb, those words are code for “Let’s start making money by selling little Serbian girls and boys on the open market in Istanbul, again…”.

    We pay a price for our shitty educations in history, and failure to grasp the realities of things in the rest of the world. I honestly could never “get” why my stepdad, a Slovene who you would think never met or knew any Jews in his rural area growing up, had such a visceral, unthinking hatred of them as a group. It wasn’t just “Nazi propaganda” from the war that led to that, either–There was significant history behind it all, and “folk memory” like you wouldn’t believe. The roots of anti-Semitism run deep, across much of Eastern Europe, and some of it stemmed from good reasons, at least to the participants.

  12. Candide III says:

    EE Jews didn’t have to be tax farmers, manor managers or gin house tenants (another obnoxious occupation) though. In fact, if one thinks about it for five seconds, it is obvious that the overwhelming majority of them never were any of these, and made their living in the stetls by various cottage industries. But these were invisible to the Christian peasant population, whose opinions of the Jews were formed through contact with the manor manager and the gin house tenant. One interesting question is to what extent the stetl populations and the rabbis endorsed and condoned tax farming and similar occupations, for the Jewish Law contains a commandment (Ex. 22:21, repeated in Deut. 10:19) that can be construed as an injunction against such. Did stetl Jews consider these occupations to be prestigious, or disreputable?

  13. Zerwikaptur says:

    @Candide III

    “> UPA, enforced with deserters from the Ukrainian auxiliary police who just had gained experience in mass murders while conducting Holocaust, was very busy with genocide of Poles
    No people of Eastern Europe has its hands clean on the Jewish issue. There were Ukrainian collaborators in the Holocaust, just as there were Polish and Belorussian collaborators. Others refused to collaborate or helped Jews out. UPA had Jew members – here’s a Jew writing about this for other Jews (in Russian).”

    I was stating the facts explaining where UPA got the know-how of genocide from. The know-how was brought from the apprenticeship of Ukrainian policemen in the service of Nazi Germany.
    You immediately want into non-relevant, Soviet-like what-aboutism (more about your cultural connections later).

    “As for UPA making war on the Poles, both feeling and action was mutual – Armija Krajowa was just as bad as UPA, though it got better press because they were useful to the Allies – but have you ever wondered why there were so many Poles in Volyn? The Poles don’t like to talk about it much these days, but the answer is that the interwar Polish government had an official policy of polonization and settlement in the region and i.a. gave its WWI veterans the best land there that had been confiscated from Russian Empire nobility.”

    UPA was a military wing of a fascist OUN. OUN already before the war was planning a genocide of Poles (work of Mikhailo Kolodynski). The IIWW gave them the opportunity and Ukrainian deserters from the auxiliary police brought the know-how.

    Armia Krajowa (AK/Home Army) gathered people from the left to the right of the pre-war Poland’s political spectrum and was the underground arm of the Polish government in exile.

    So, what’s your question about the difference between UPA and AK?

    Poles in Volhynia – for your information, Volhynia joined of Kingdom of Poland in 1569 when it was given by Zygmunt II August, King of Poland, who had the hereditary right as Grand Duke Lithuania to do whatever he wanted with that piece of land. That piece of land was in Kingdom of Poland till partitions (roughly 200 years) so nothing surprising that some Poles moved to that place, pretty empty at that time as it was exposed to constant Crimean Tatar incursions. Some of the Poles were actually settled there by the local, Ruthenian nobility.
    You brought up the Russian Empire – good choice, as it was that state that started the program of depolonization of Volhynia, closing Roman Catholic churches, confiscating Polish property and settling other nationalities, like Czechs (the latter were not spared from UPA primary/favorite activity – murder of civilians).

    “The land in Poland proper is not good for much besides potatoes and strawberries.”

    Enough to get GDP per capita 4 or 5 times higher than in Ukraine.

    Now about your cultural connections. You are a good example of what I have been saying about Ukrainians for years: no difference vs Russians. Both enemies of Poland, both lying through teeth about crimes against Poles (Russians – Katyn, Ukrainians – Volhynian genocide). Truly bandit brethren from Ruskiy Mir. The more and bloodier you fight against each other the better.

    I am looking forward to the next round of war in Donbas – popcorn is ready.

  14. Dan Kurt says:

    Read Stolfi’s Hitler’s Panzers East (go to Amazon and get it used, as there were many printed copies for the Military Book Club).

    Stolfi was a Ph.D.-level historian (Stanford) and had access to the German archives of WW2. Stolfi was bilingual as his mother was Prussian. He also was trained as an engineer and attacks his subject with an engineers organization of the topic. Separate chapters explain for example the logistics, the plan, Hitler’s prime mistake, why Moscow had to be captured (Schwerpunkt), and the scenario had the plan been followed.

    It is an astounding analysis. The war was won by the Germans by the end of July 1941 and then lost the next day, August 1, by not driving for Moscow and instead diverting to the Ukraine as per Hitler’s orders. The leading Army officers ranked from number 2 through 1001 all signed a letter to Hitler urging him to make the attack to take Moscow as per the original plan.

  15. Candide III says:


    Yes, polonization in Volyn has been going on since the XVI century (i.a., Ukrainian schlachta didn’t have the same privileges as Polish (Catholic) schlachta, and that’s partly what got you 1648; if you’d kept your promises, maybe Poland wouldn’t have suffered the three partitions.) Does that somehow make it better than if it had started just in XX century? You people had even renamed Western Ukraine “Eastern Small-Poland” after WWI, cf. Pacyfikacja Malopolski Wschodniej, and you have the gall to say that you’re somehow better than us or Russians for that matter? Pfui! Get off your high horse!

  16. lucklucky says:

    Moscow was a very important transport hub, besides the political impact of it.
    Would Turkey remain neutral if Germans take Moscow?

    Kirk do you know that one of less anti-semitic – even with Fascist racial law of 1938 – countries in WW2 was in the Axis side: Italy

    And that Italy does not have the word Jew, But Ebrei=Hebraic , does a simple word might carry such weight?

    But i think it is much deeper and instead have to do with this:

    I am not like most people. Most people are upset that they are not accepted into a club whatever it is.
    Me, i am upset that people want to force me to belong to a club.
    I am upset that my government forces me to be socialist.

    Today, the whites(and males) are the Jews for the same socialistic reason: non conformable to socialism…
    Marx was an anti-semitic and it is very interesting why he wanted that Jews disappeared from face of earth: Because they did not conformed that was a threat to Socialism and equality.
    That is the problem with nationalism it is most of time socialism because it is not made willingly but enforced.

  17. Mike says:

    Barbarossa might have been a 100% success if Hitler had decided to go ahead with the back channel negotiations with Stalin via an Eastern European intermediary called Edgar Clauss. Stalin was apparantly open to negotiations with Hitler, whom he considered more trustworthy than the Western Capitalists Churchill and Roosevelt.

    This all happened in 1943 from June to September according to John Toland in his magnum opus ‘Adolf Hitler’, page 750-752.

  18. Sam J. says:

    There a couple of things I think of import to all these ideas. One is I don’t believe Hitler had any choice but to attack as Stalin would have attacked him. I got this from “The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II” by Viktor Suvorov.

    The second is that reading David Irvings books on Hitler and Goering both emphasized that Goering told Hilter that he could deliver so many tons of supplies by air when he KNEW he could not. He just refused to take the heat for his incompetence, Hitler was in awe of Goring and took his word for it. This would account for the loss at Stalingrad and Hitlers insistence on staying there. If he would have known that he would never have enough supplies he might have withdrawn in good shape.

    Another thing Hitler could have done was to take the oil in the middle east and attack Gibraltar making the Med. a German lake. It would have doomed the USSR but slower. I think Hitler wanted a knock out. One last change in history if he could have had less trouble in Greece he could have attacked before the weather turned bad in Russia. He might have been able to prevail.

  19. Sam J. says:

    Maybe no one will see this but here’s a great link on how the lack of oil defeated Germany.

Leave a Reply