The eastern front is like a house of cards

Saturday, December 9th, 2023

The Red Army’s astonishing advances during the summer of 1944 had come to a standstill, Bevin Alexander explains (in How Hitler Could Have Won World War II), because the vastly overextended Russian supply line finally snapped:

Red Army commanders held up the final assault on Nazi Germany until the railways behind the front could be repaired and converted to the Russian wider-gauge track.


Soviet superiority was eleven to one in infantry, seven to one in tanks, and twenty to one in artillery and aircraft. Most important was the great quantity of American trucks delivered to the Russians by Lend-Lease. Trucks transformed a large part of the Red Army into motorized divisions able to move quickly around the Germans, whose mobility was shrinking by the day due to extreme shortages of fuel.

When Heinz Guderian, army chief of staff, presented the figures of Soviet strength, Hitler exclaimed, “It’s the greatest imposture since Genghis Khan! Who is responsible for producing all this rubbish?”


Hitler had not used the long stalemate in the east to build a powerful defensive line of minefields and antitank traps—such as Erwin Rommel had urged immediately after the battle of Kursk in 1943. His defensive system remained what it had been all along: each soldier was to stand in place and fight to the last round.


“The eastern front is like a house of cards,” Guderian told Hitler on January 9. “If the front is broken through at one point all the rest will collapse.” But Hitler merely responded: “The eastern front must help itself and make do with what it’s got.”


Hitler also turned down requests of field commanders that German civilians be evacuated from East Prussia and other regions likely to be overrun by the Russians. He said evacuation would have a bad effect on public opinion.


On January 25 Guderian tried to get Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop to convince Hitler to seek an armistice on the western front, while continuing to fight the Russians in the east. Ribbentrop replied that he did not dare approach the Fuehrer on the subject. As Guderian departed, Ribbentrop said, “We will keep this conversation to ourselves, won’t we?” Guderian assured him he would do so. But Ribbentrop tattled to Hitler, and that evening the Fuehrer accused Guderian of treason.


Speer requested a private interview to explain Germany’s desperate straits. But the Fuehrer declined, telling Guderian: “I refuse to see anyone alone anymore. Any man who asks to talk to me alone always does so because he has something unpleasant to say to me. I can’t bear that.”


Hitler now turned on his own people. On March 19 he issued an order that the entire German economy was to be destroyed—industrial plants, electric-generating plants, waterworks, gas works, bridges, ships, locomotives, food, clothing stores. His aim was to produce a “desert” in the Allies’ path.

Albert Speer, Nazi armaments chief, immediately petitioned Hitler. “We have no right at this stage of the war to carry out demolitions which might affect the life of the people,” he said. But Hitler, his own fate sealed, was not interested in the continued existence of the German people.

“If the war is lost,” he told Speer, “the nation will also perish…. It will be better to destroy these things ourselves because this nation will have proved to be the weaker one.”


  1. Bruce says:

    ‘It will be better to destroy ourselves because this nation will have proved to be the weaker one’.

    Merkel’s East German heritage is straight from Adolph.

  2. Bomag says:

    Bruce, yeah, I’ve made that comment about Merkel.

    Something here about the human desire to destroy; seems to be an instinct that there is a better thing out there to replace the current iteration; time has given us knowledge and reflection to improve the current state, so out with the old, and in with the better new.

    Our current age shows us the sinusoidal nature of these things. The new generation is jealous of the current state; they can’t copy or improve things, so the current must be destroyed to quit reminding them of their failings.

  3. Jim says:

    “If the war is lost,” he told Speer, “the nation will also perish…. It will be better to destroy these things ourselves because this nation will have proved to be the weaker one.”

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