Hitler and Invasion of USSR

Jim Tent writes: You ask why Hitler, an avid reader, did not take to heart the lessons from Napoleon's failure and avoid war with the Soviet Union. A proper answer requires explaining several factors and they must necessarily be brief in the context of this forum. First, the mere reading of history hardly made Hitler immune to the errors of others. He could misread historical lessons or precedents with the best of them. Throughout his adult life he viewed Germans as a special race (ideas that he gleaned from rogue anthropologists, etc. from the 19th century) who were naturally superior to Slavs, Jews, etc. Hitler had observed the incredibly poor military performance of the Soviet armed forces in Finland in the Winter War of 1939-40, and that in combination of the Wehrmacht's astonishing victories in Poland, Scandinavia, and then in the West in spring 1940, convinced him that his Operation Barbarossa would destroy the ineptly led and foolishly exposed Soviet forces in European Russia within a matter of weeks. Lebensraum in the East was always his sacred goal. His military intelligence about the USSR was skimpy at best, and he completely underestimated the size and ability of the Soviet armed forces once his invasion began, especially since the cruel actions of the Wehrmacht gave Stalin's forces no other choice than to resist. Finally, Hitler's growing megalomania tempted him to start interfering in operations, actions that revealed him to be a military amateur, no matter how avidly he read. Yet, his system of political control, the Fuehrerprinzip that he had erected allowed no opposition or honest debate. Like Napoleon before him, he thought he had amassed the necessary forces and materiel for a rapid victory. His assumptions proved fatally wrong.

Ronald Hilton 2005


last updated: April 13, 2005