POSTED RESPONSE TO A BOOK REVIEW IN THE TELEGRAPH
Hitler suffered several setbacks to his invasion, including the Greek situation. These were important, and might have made the difference, but there were other essential ingredients to the failure of Operation Barbarossa.Hitler unquestionably believed that his army would wrap up the campaign in three months, and he might have been right under ideal conditions. After all, his victories in the West had stunned the world, and he genuinely believed the Russians were untermensch, incapable of competing with Germans. And, as it proved, Stalin went into a drunken stupor after the initial success of the Germans, and no Russian general dared make a major move not approved by Stalin.
Hitler started the invasion believing in a fantasy idea of the abilities of Russians, and anyone who undertakes a great destructive task motivated by fantasy usually fails, just as the Crusaders centuries before. But it is important to keep in mind that Hitler’s racial fantasies were perhaps no sillier or less factual than the religious beliefs of many: he was not mad – several psychiatric studies have said so – but he had a foolish, superstitious, and destructive faith.
Germany’s taking over the best Russian lands – without their people or with the people reduced to slaves – was unquestionably Hitler’s great mission in life. All else was prologue. He believed he was a kind of savior for the German people in achieving their destiny.
Germany’s destiny, as he saw it, was to be able to do what America had done in building a vast empire that ultimately created the kind of economies of scale in its markets to be a great economic force in the world. Hitler understood these principles, and he knew America had had a relatively easy time of it, facing weak opponents like native people and Spanish settlers.
That is why he insisted on absolute ruthlessness in the Russian invasion: while he had contempt for Russians as people, he knew the numbers were not on his side.
He knew the invasion would be very bloody, and that is why he used it as a cover for the beginning of the Holocaust. He not only believed that the death camps would be lost in the noise and horror of the greatest battle of all time, but his strange religion caused him to believe that, with young Germans dying in the East, it was somehow right that the Jews’ numbers should be reduced.
Hitler’s underrating of the Russians included military technology, but, while Germany was in many areas more advanced, the Russians produced some very effective weapons, including perhaps most importantly the T-34 tank. Stalin also kept vast armored reserves hidden in the East, reserves of which Hitler was not fully aware. They proved decisive when the Germans had expended their first great energy.
Winter played a role in Hitler’s defeat of course, but the fierce heroism of the Russians stunned the world as well as Hitler.