Could the Soviet Union have continued fighting World War II without Caucasus oil?

Could the Soviet Union have continued fighting World War II without Caucasus oil?

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In 1942, Germany's Fall Blau was initially aimed at capturing or interdicting shipments of oil from the Caucasus to the rest of the Soviet Union. Even though armies were diverted to Stalingrad and even Leningrad, the Germans managed to capture Maikop, and came within 50 miles of Grozny.

Where would the Soviet Union have gotten its oil from, if Germany instead had pursued and succeeded in an all-out attempt on the "Caucasus?" Perhaps Army Groups A and B would have moved in parallel to the lower Volga, bypassed Stalingrad, captured Astrakhan on the Caspian, and move far enough beyond to interdict oil shipments. Or Germany could have sent Manstein's 11th Army and Hoth's 4th Army along with Army Group A to the Caucasus, (leaving Paulus between the Don and the Volga for flank protection), thereby capturing Grozny and isolating Baku.

Early in the war, the Soviet Union had moved hundreds of factories to the Urals from soon-to-occupied territory to Sverdlovsk and Magnitogorsk. My sense is that they would have had adequate, though not ample supplies of oil to fight a war from around the Urals, and east of Moscow, without the Caucasus. After all, Germany managed to continue fighting with "only" Romanian oil supplies (and beyond 1944 without them).

But one of my history teachers taught that without Caucasus oil, the Soviet Union would have had to make a "Carthaginian" peace. Could someone with a knowledge of Soviet geography tell whether I or my teacher was right about the Soviet Union's ability to continue fighting World War II without Caucasus oil?

"Hitler had a big point though. In 1940 Baku was producing 22.2 million metric tons of oil, comprising 72% of total Soviet oil production. In 1941, it produced 25.4 Mt"

Source:, which sources in turn from "The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power" by Daniel Yergin

I'll need to see if 1941/42 estimates exist, but 72% loss would likely cripple USSR.

As far as Soviets migrating oil production East, the same article continues:

All the nine drilling offices, oil-expedition and oil-construction trusts as well as various other enterprises with their staffs were transferred to an area near Kuybishev, (Russia Federation in Tartarstan near the Ural Mountains north of Kazakhstan). This city soon came to be known as "the Second Baku".

Despite the severe frost the drillers started searching for oil and thanks to day and night working, the Bakuis in the region of Povolzhye increased the fuel extraction in "Kinelneft" trust that first year by 66% and by 42% in entire region of Kuybishev. As a result, five new oil and gas fields were discovered and huge oil refinery construction projects were undertaken, including the first pipe line between Kuybishev and Buturslan was built that same year.

No numbers are given for totals, but if Baku was 72%, plus Grozny and Maikop probably adding up to at least 5-10% more, the rest of Eastern USSR was at most 20-25% - and even nicreasing that WHOLE by 66% would only get you 40% of pre-caucasus-capture totals.

I've read quite a bit about WW2 on the Eastern Front. I think that the Soviets would've included Baku in their scorched earth strategy if the Germans got within 50-100 miles and seemed poised to take the city. If they destroyed the wells, the Germans never would've gotten them operating. Just destroying the refineries may have been enough to foil the Germans, as described below.

But even if they captured the fields relatively intact, how would they have gotten the oil to Germany? Germany's transport was inadequate. They didn't have the rolling stock available to ship that oil by rail, or enough tankers to cross the Black Sea.

As for what Russia would do without Baku production, no doubt US Lend-Lease would have changed priorities. The US was the largest oil producer and exporter at that time. I also think that the US would've sent teams of geologists over to help find and exploit new fields within parts of the Soviet Union that were far from the fighting, and the Soviets may have even welcomed experts who could improve refinery and pipeline operations, as the Russian operations and processes were probably inefficient.

Also, if this still wasn't enough, a portion of Russian agriculture could've been redirected to produce crops that could be distilled into fuel. The great GM engineer Kettering said this would probably work in the US if it ran low on oil (which, incredibly, was a concern in the 1920s in the US). A command economy system like the Soviet one could have imposed something like this easier than most countries could.

In 1945 the oil production of the Caucasus was down by 50 % compared to 1940 : 13 million to 27 million,and still the Soviets were in Berlin . What is decisive is not how much oil the Soviets produced, but how much oil they needed and what were their reserves (the oil reserves for the military were in 1945 some 1,2 million ton )

Yes,the Red Army would have continued fighting without Baku oil.

Germany could not have extracted much Baku oil - they could never have shipped it to the Reich. But they could have use demolitions and wrecked the Baku oilfields for years. But the Russians had plenty of alternative sources. Under any set of facts, the Russians had an almost unlimited source of strategic supply thru Vladivostok.

By 1945, German fuel manufacturing was kaput from Allied bombing, and the Western Allies were deep inside Germany. It would not have mattered if the Red Army was near or far from Berlin or with or without oil. Germany was a bombed wreck by 1945. Even an extra million more well equipped German troops would not have mattered. German haf no gas by April, 1945.

This is the most important reason why Hitler was a fool to attack Russia. After the failed attack on Moscow,the Germans could never win b/c they didn't have fuel.

I agree with comments made by Schwern. No need to ship the oil back to Germany (more likely back to Polesti since they had refining capacity for double the production of the oil fields at that time). If refining capability existed near the wells, the best logistical solution is to use Russian oil in Russia as long as needed there.

This could create three scenarios that in combination may have been significant for the German war effort at the time:

1) A close, possibly plentiful, supply of fuel and oil for the Nazi war effort in Russia. This closer supply would require less milage for tankers to get to the front as well as less "Injun country" for shipments to move through, freeing up more soldiers, equipment and arms and decreasing wasted fuel and longer transit times.
2) A higher percentage of current production in the Polesti oil fields could be used in Germany or by the axis' oil starved allies. And again, less waste of fuel, equipment, arms and soldiers for trannsit. 3) Denial of the current supply lines of oil to the Russian war effort. Who knows what additional difficulties this could have caused the Russians after a few months as their strategic reserves dwindled? Who knows for sure if they would have had the ability to acquire, refine and distribute from other sources in time?

If the oil fields could have been captured relatively intact (a big if, i know. But, this is a question about ifs) who knows where it would have led? It is a certainty that the German offensive in Summer '42 could have been expanded to include other objectives that lack of fuel did not allow at the time. More importantly with plentiful fuel supplies the Southern offensive could have continued indefinitely, possibly changing everything.

The loss of those oil fields would have been crippling and severly reduced Russia's ability to operate. Do not forget that, at the same time, it would boost Germany's abilities and resources massively.

Even if you import oil that is going to take time, resources, planning, negotiation - those well fueled German tanks etc that are driving at your infantry who are all desperately piling on the only working lorry will be arriving far sooner!

Imagine if you were in charge of Russia and you lost 3/4 of you oil at the same time as your enemy gained it. Yes, you can stall them for a short while but the end result is pretty inevitable. If you negotiate now you might get a better deal than if you hopelessly fight for a year or so?

An interesting online source:

Would USSR and Europe stand the fascism if Baku oil had been lost?, Sultanov, Ch.A.

Transporting fuel tankers by sea from Baku to Krasnovodsk, 1942.

An oil-train ready for dispatch to the front, 10 August, 1942, Baku.

Written by Azeri geologist and oil engineer, Sultanov Chapay Ali oglu, who lived in Baku during the war and has written several books on the Soviet oil industry and the wartime experience. He claims that the evacuation of Baku oil technology and personnel in the face of the German advance in 1942 was a serious strategic mistake by the Soviet government which reduced output from Baku by around 40,000,000 tonnes while only producing about 4,000,000 tonnes from the entire "Second Baku" operations established in the east. He concludes that the direct loss of production from Baku had a significant real impact on the Red Army and the Soviet War effort, while the new production generated elsewhere would have been completely insufficient to enable the Soviet Union to survive had Baku actually been lost.

Oil is is a very attractive target for insurgents; about half Iraq's oil in certain areas is still being used by various rebel groups, for example. It's impossible to say what would happen, but most likely, the Wermacht would not be able to maintain effective control and the hypothetical is moot.

Realistically, the Soviets would just relocate their equipment and it would not even get to that point.

It's possible that there would not be an insurgency, or that the Wermacht could effectively control it. But in practically all cases of a major resource center being occupied by a hostile power - Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen - the result was a morass of instability that made the occupation barely if at all worthwhile. If anything, the Caucusus would be harder to hold than those examples, because the technological gap between modern states and poorly armed insurgents has widened.

One more important point - Stalin genocided the Chechens so that they would not assist the Nazis in controlling the Caucusus. He thought that they would otherwise give the Wermacht a base of support in the area.

Soviet refineries were making diesel; Germans used gasoline. The Germans found this out after they captured an oil reserve with millions of gallons of diesel. They torched it so the Soviets could not used it or fight to regain it. So the Germans would have had to move the oil the gasoline refineries or build gasoline refineries near Baku. However Great Britain the U.S. and Soviets had already a plan to mass bomb the oil fields if the Germans got close to capturing it. It is known also that the Soviets could not continue without the oil from Baku. By continue I mean with mobile units, tanks trucks etc… But it would have only slowed them down. Their troops would have still overcome German forces because their supply lines were done. The German would not have benefited from any captured oil in time before being out run by Russian forces and lend lease oil from U.S. getting the Russian mobile forces moving again.

'We Would Have Lost': Did U.S. Lend-Lease Aid Tip The Balance In Soviet Fight Against Nazi Germany?

On February 24, 1943, a Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport aircraft with serial number 42-32892 rolled out of a factory in Long Beach, California, and was handed over to the U.S. Air Force.

On March 12, 1943, the plane was given to the Soviet Air Force in Fairbanks, Alaska, and given the registration USSR-N238. From there, it flew 5,650 kilometers to the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, one of some 14,000 aircraft sent by the United States to the Soviet Union during World War II under the massive Lend-Lease program.

This particular C-47 was sent to the Far North and spent the war conducting reconnaissance and weather-monitoring missions over the Kara Sea. After the war, it was transferred to civilian aviation, carrying passengers over the frozen tundra above the Arctic Circle. On April 23, 1947, it was forced to make an emergency landing with 36 people on board near the village of Volochanka on the Taimyr Peninsula.

On May 11, 1947, 27 people were rescued, having spent nearly three weeks in the icebound wreck. The captain, two crew members, and six passengers had left earlier in an ill-fated effort to get help. The body of the captain, Maksim Tyurikov, was found by local hunters about 120 kilometers from the wreck in 1953. The others were never found.

The plane spent 69 years on the tundra before a Russian Geographical Society expedition rescued it in 2016 and returned the wreckage to Krasnoyarsk.

"I knew that its place was in a museum," Vyacheslav Filippov, a colonel in the Russian Air Force reserve who has written extensively about the Lend-Lease program's Siberian connection, told RFE/RL at the time. "It was not just some piece of scrap metal. It is our living history. This Douglas is the only Lend-Lease aircraft that remains in Russia."

An estimated 25 million Soviet citizens perished in the titanic conflict with Nazi Germany between June 1941 and May 1945. Overcoming massive defeats and colossal losses over the first 18 months of the war, the Red Army was able to reorganize and rebuild to form a juggernaut that marched all the way to Berlin. But the Soviet Union was never alone: Months before the United States formally entered the war, it had already begun providing massive military and economic assistance to its Soviet ally through the Lend-Lease program.

From the depths of the Cold War to the present day, many Soviet and Russian politicians have ignored or downplayed the impact of American assistance to the Soviets, as well as the impact of the entire U.S.-British war against the Nazis.

A Soviet report by Politburo member Nikolai Voznesensky in 1948 asserted that the United States, described as "the head of the antidemocratic camp and the warrior of imperialist expansion around the world," contributed materiel during the war that amounted to just 4.8 percent of the Soviet Union's own wartime production.

The Short History Of The Great Patriotic War, also from 1948, acknowledged the Lend-Lease shipments, but concluded: "Overall this assistance was not significant enough to in any way exert a decisive influence over the course of the Great Patriotic War."

Nikolai Ryzhkov, the last head of the government of the Soviet Union, wrote in 2015 that "it can be confidently stated that [Lend-Lease assistance] did not play a decisive role in the Great Victory."

Such assessments, however, are contradicted by the opinions of Soviet war participants. Most famously, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin raised a toast to the Lend-Lease program at the November 1943 Tehran conference with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt.

"I want to tell you what, from the Russian point of view, the president and the United States have done for victory in this war," Stalin said. "The most important things in this war are the machines. The United States is a country of machines. Without the machines we received through Lend-Lease, we would have lost the war."

Nikita Khrushchev offered the same opinion.

"If the United States had not helped us, we would not have won the war," he wrote in his memoirs. "One-on-one against Hitler's Germany, we would not have withstood its onslaught and would have lost the war. No one talks about this officially, and Stalin never, I think, left any written traces of his opinion, but I can say that he expressed this view several times in conversations with me."

The Lend-Lease act was enacted in March 1941 and authorized the United States to provide weapons, provisions, and raw materials to strategically important countries fighting Germany and Japan -- primarily, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and China. In all, the United States shipped $50 billion ($608 billion in 2020 money) worth of materiel under the program, including $11.3 billion to the Soviet Union. In addition, much of the $31 billion worth of aid sent to the United Kingdom was also passed on to the Soviet Union via convoys through the Barents Sea to Murmansk.

Most visibly, the United States provided the Soviet Union with more than 400,000 jeeps and trucks, 14,000 aircraft, 8,000 tractors and construction vehicles, and 13,000 battle tanks.

However, the real significance of Lend-Lease for the Soviet war effort was that it covered the "sensitive points" of Soviet production -- gasoline, explosives, aluminum, nonferrous metals, radio communications, and so on, says historian Boris Sokolov.

"In a hypothetical battle one-on-one between the U.S.S.R and Germany, without the help of Lend-Lease and without the diversion of significant forces of the Luftwaffe and the German Navy and the diversion of more than one-quarter of its land forces in the fight against Britain and the United States, Stalin could hardly have beaten Hitler," Sokolov wrote in an essay for RFE/RL's Russian Service.

Under Lend-Lease, the United States provided more than one-third of all the explosives used by the Soviet Union during the war. The United States and the British Commonwealth provided 55 percent of all the aluminum the Soviet Union used during the war and more than 80 percent of the copper.

Lend-Lease also sent aviation fuel equivalent to 57 percent of what the Soviet Union itself produced. Much of the American fuel was added to lower-grade Soviet fuel to produce the high-octane fuel needed by modern military aircraft.

The Lend-Lease program also provided more than 35,000 radio sets and 32,000 motorcycles. When the war ended, almost 33 percent of all the Red Army's vehicles had been provided through Lend-Lease. More than 20,000 Katyusha mobile multiple-rocket launchers were mounted on the chassis of American Studebaker trucks.

In addition, the Lend-Lease program propped up the Soviet railway system, which played a fundamental role in moving and supplying troops. The program sent nearly 2,000 locomotives and innumerable boxcars to the Soviet Union. In addition, almost half of all the rails used by the Soviet Union during the war came through Lend-Lease.

"It should be remembered that during World War I, the transportation crisis in Russia in 1916-17 that did a lot to facilitate the February Revolution [which lead to the abdication of the tsar] was caused by a shortage in the production of railway rails, engines, and freight cars because industrial production had been diverted to munitions," Sokolov wrote. "During World War II, only the supplies brought in by Lend-Lease prevented the paralysis of rail transport in the Soviet Union."

The Lend-Lease program also sent tons of factory equipment and machine tools to the Soviet Union, including more than 38,000 lathes and other metal-working tools. Such machines were of higher quality than analogues produced in the Soviet Union, which made a significant contribution to boosting Soviet industrial production.

American aid also provided 4.5 million tons of food, 1.5 million blankets, and 15 million pairs of boots.

"In order to really assess the significance of Lend-Lease for the Soviet victory, you only have to imagine how the Soviet Union would have had to fight if there had been no Lend-Lease aid," Sokolov wrote. "Without Lend-Lease, the Red Army would not have had about one-third of its ammunition, half of its aircraft, or half of its tanks. In addition, there would have been constant shortages of transportation and fuel. The railroads would have periodically come to a halt. And Soviet forces would have been much more poorly coordinated with a constant lack of radio equipment. And they would have been perpetually hungry without American canned meat and fats."

In 1963, KGB monitoring recorded Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov saying: "People say that the allies didn't help us. But it cannot be denied that the Americans sent us materiel without which we could not have formed our reserves or continued the war. The Americans provided vital explosives and gunpowder. And how much steel! Could we really have set up the production of our tanks without American steel? And now they are saying that we had plenty of everything on our own."

10 Germany Invaded Britain Instead Of The Soviet Union

Germany&rsquos invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 proved to be the undoing of Hitler&rsquos military campaign. Hitler sent 4.5 million troops to invade a country that had signed a nonaggression pact with him. This was a fatal mistake because Britain, Germany&rsquos most bitter enemy, was close to powerlessness at that time.

Following the defeat of France, Britain made a pragmatic decision to withdraw its troops from France due to intensive land and air assaults from Germany. As British forces withdrew, they had to leave a substantial percentage of their heavy armory behind. At the moment that Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the British Army was lacking in heavy weaponry and motor transport. They also lacked the operational concept and experience to resist a German invasion.

Hitler made the costly mistake of not going for the kill. [1] Instead, he opted to engage the Soviet Union, a decision that eased the pressure on Britain. This allowed the country to remobilize its military forces to continue fighting Germany throughout World War II.

The invasion of the Soviet Union created a huge dent in the German military machine as Hitler did not prepare for a winter war. German forces never recovered from the Soviet&rsquos winter counteroffensive. By late 1942, the Germans were fighting defensively in the Soviet Union.


John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York. John Wojcik es editor en jefe de People's World.

Soviet Union invades Afghanistan

On December 24, 1979, the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan, under the pretext of upholding the Soviet-Afghan Friendship Treaty of 1978.

As midnight approached, the Soviets organized a massive military airlift into Kabul, involving an estimated 280 transport aircraft and three divisions of almost 8,500 men each. Within a few days, the Soviets had secured Kabul, deploying a special assault unit against Tajberg Palace. Elements of the Afghan army loyal to Hafizullah Amin put up a fierce, but brief resistance.

On December 27, Babrak Karmal, exiled leader of the Parcham faction of the Marxist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), was installed as Afghanistan’s new head of government. And Soviet ground forces entered Afghanistan from the north.

The Soviets, however, were met with fierce resistance when they ventured out of their strongholds into the countryside. Resistance fighters, called mujahidin, saw the Christian or atheist Soviets controlling Afghanistan as a defilement of Islam as well as of their traditional culture. Proclaiming a “jihad”(holy war), they gained the support of the Islamic world.

The mujahidin employed guerrilla tactics against the Soviets. They would attack or raid quickly, then disappear into the mountains, causing great destruction without pitched battles. The fighters used whatever weapons they could grab from the Soviets or were given by the United States.

The tide of the war turned with the 1987 introduction of U.S. shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles. The Stingers allowed the mujahidin to shoot down Soviet planes and helicopters on a regular basis.

New Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev decided it was time to get out. Demoralized and with no victory in sight, Soviet forces started withdrawing in 1988. The last Soviet soldier crossed back across the border on February 15, 1989.

It was the first Soviet military expedition beyond the Eastern bloc since World War II and marked the end of a period of improving relations (known as détente) in the Cold War. Subsequently, the SALT II arms treaty was shelved and the U.S. began to re-arm.

Fifteen thousand Soviet soldiers were killed.

The long-term impact of the invasion and subsequent war was profound. First, the Soviets never recovered from the public relations and financial losses, which significantly contributed to the fall of the Soviet empire in 1991. Secondly, the war created a breeding ground for terrorism and the rise of Osama bin Laden.

Soviet Hammer

In 1969, a Soviet dissident named Andrei Amalrik wrote an essay called “Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?” It predicted the demise of the Soviet system, most likely in a conflict with China. Amalrik, as it turned out, was wrong about a war with China, but he was only off about the end of the USSR by a few years. No one took Amalrik very seriously at the time I was assigned his book, like most young graduate students in Soviet affairs, primarily to critique it. Today, people with almost no memory of the period accept the Soviet collapse as just another inevitable historical moment.

But did it have to happen? Could the Soviet Union have won the Cold War? Or at the least, could the Soviet Union have survived until today, and remained a viable competitor to the United States while celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution in 2017, or the centennial of the founding of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 2022?

Counterfactual history, the game of “what if,” is an intellectually hazardous exercise. No one can really explain what didn’t actually happen. And in any case, why bother? Maybe the Persians could have beaten the ancient Greeks maybe Columbus could have taken a wrong turn and been lost at sea maybe the first atomic bomb could have been a dud and convinced everyone to go back to the drawing board. But the Persians did lose, Columbus did make it across the Atlantic, and the Trinity test did light the sky with nuclear fire. It would take a lifetime to imagine the alternatives, none of which are real.

The reason we even think about these alternate possibilities, however, is to prevent us from making the mistake of believing in inevitability. The inability to see alternatives leads to lazy strategic thinking, which is why so many programs—including the department I once chaired at the Naval War College, Strategy and Policy—use counterfactual history. Otherwise, we risk failures of strategic imagination. I will never forget, for example, the military student I had many years ago who insisted that the American victory in the War of Independence was inevitable. What would it even look like, he sputtered, if North America had stayed British?

There was a long silence in the room until one of his classmates quietly suggested the alternative with two words: “Like Canada?”

Especially for many of my younger students, the victory of the American-led coalition of democracies now seems like a natural end to a struggle that really wasn’t all that dangerous, and whose outcome was foreordained. But to the people who fought the Cold War, there were many days where it all seemed to be a lot more tenuous. There were many moments where this planetary conflict—as I called it in a 2003 book, the fight to “win the world”—with the Soviet Union seemed a near-run thing. With that in mind, let’s consider five historical periods where different choices could have led, if not to global victory, at least to survival and a fighting chance for the since-departed Land of the Soviets.

1938: Stalin doesn’t kill all the smart Communists
Was Stalinism an inevitable outcome of the Soviet experiment? This is one that historians of the Soviet period have long loved to argue about, and it won't be settled here. But it is undeniable that Stalin's purges of the Soviet military and the Communist Party struck down some of the best and brightest from the generation of the Revolution. Shortly after leading Bolshevik Sergei Kirov was gunned down (on Stalin’s secret orders) in Leningrad in 1934, Stalin initiated a cyclone of murder and repression that exterminated mostly imaginary enemies in the Party and the military.

To replace all this slaughtered talent, Stalin promoted younger people with little experience (but whose loyalty was now beyond question) into positions of great authority. Western Sovietologists used to call these people "The Class of '38," because they leapfrogged into senior jobs when the purges ended in 1938 to replace the men who'd been shot. This resulted in bizarre personnel situations in the military, for example, Stalin wiped out so many officers that the military academies had to be graduated early when the Nazis attacked in 1941. Young twenty-somethings who might have been lieutenants were suddenly given senior commands as majors, colonels, even generals.

In the Party, the young civilians who were brought to the fore not only lacked expertise, they lacked courage and initiative. They had, really, only one important skill: they knew how to survive in Stalinist Russia. Their sense of self-preservation would serve them well in the daily grind of Soviet life, but they had no vision and no ability to deal with crises. Stalin, like the ancient Greek solons, cut down the tallest stalks of wheat in his field, and all that was left was the kind of mediocrity that led to Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev and a host of lesser, deservedly forgotten incompetents.

Could the murdered generation of Bolsheviks have saved the USSR? If you read Stephen Cohen's classic book, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution, you certainly might think so. Others counter that without Stalin, the Soviet Union would never have survived World War II. (A few of us might argue, of course, that Stalin's idiocy and misplaced egomania also helped spark that war.) Still, assuming Hitler was defeated, the Soviet Union would at least have entered the 1950s with battle-hardened revolutionaries at the helm, instead of the cautious bureaucrats who rammed the whole thing into the ground.

Before he died, Stalin warned his inner circle that without him, they would be as helpless as kittens. He had a point—but only because he had taken every step to ensure it.

1947: Truman loses his nerve
In early Cold War history, 1949 looks like a really bad year: the Soviets exploded their first nuclear bomb, and China emerged from the wreckage of world war and civil struggle in Asia as the world’s largest communist power. The West by this point had endured repeated Soviet challenges: Stalin, now in control of several conquered European states (including a quarter of Germany) had already tried to leave troops in Iran in 1946, among other daring plays. No one needed convincing that NATO, formed during the West’s annus horribilis in 1949, was a good idea. Leaders in the U.S. policy establishment, such as Paul Nitze, were already warning of doom while drafting documents like NSC-68, and the North Korean attack on South Korea a year later made such warnings seem prescient.

The real test of American nerve, however, came two years earlier. In 1947, President Harry Truman had to decide whether America really was going to step into Britain's shoes as Europe's postcolonial police officer. Greece was in the middle of a civil war with Communist rebels. Other parts of Western Europe, broken in spirit and bankrupt from two world wars in thirty years, were also ripe for revolution and conquest. Soviet ideology chief Andrei Zhdanov had proclaimed the "two camps" thesis, in which there were only two choices—socialism or capitalism—for the rest of the world. The pieces were in place. All that was necessary for a Soviet advance was an American retreat.

Imagine that in 1947, Truman abandons the Greeks. He pulls America home, politically as well as militarily. That means, among other things, the Marshall Plan is never implemented. It also means that Truman will never have to respond to the Berlin Blockade, because the Blockade never happens: without American leadership, the currency reforms in Germany's western zones never take place. The Federal Republic of Germany is never created, and with the western zones left to rot in economic ruin, they likely fall prey to Soviet "aid" over time.

Likewise, Truman decides that America's disengagement from Europe means no CIA meddling in the Italian elections in 1948. Italy (like unfortunate Czechoslovakia the same year) gets pulled into the Soviet orbit by electing Communists. France, already home to a strong Communist party, follows suit. The Greek Communists, unopposed, complete their conquest, and the Iron Curtain now extends from the English Channel to the Aegean, and across to the Sea of Japan.

NATO is never formed. Some version of America’s "special relationship" with the United Kingdom remains, with America and the British Commonwealth facing a Europe ruled, either overtly or by proxy, from Stalin's chambers in the Kremlin. Awash in Europe's resources, Stalin builds an empire that lasts, and America remains a naval power left to patrol the seas with its British, Canadian, and Australian friends—mostly to make the world safe for Communist shipping.

Of course, Truman actually did plunge into the Cold War competition, and the Soviet chance for victory slipped away for another quarter-century. Democrat or Republican, U.S. presidents after Truman were all dedicated Cold Warriors. America and Europe, taking their halting first steps in 1949 as an alliance, soon became a nuclear-armed porcupine the Soviets could attack only at their own peril.

In the 1970s, the window would open again.

1976: Operation RED DAWN
What better way to help the Americans celebrate their bicentennial than by attacking and destroying their global alliances and then defeating them in a no-kidding shooting war?

It is, I admit, a pet peeve to hear younger people talk about how anything in America in the twenty-first century "is just the worst ever," a whine that instantly identifies the speaker as someone who either did not experience, or cannot remember the 1970s. If the Soviets were going to take us down, the mid-1970s would have been the time to do it.

Consider the Western landscape in 1976. For two years, America was governed by Gerald Ford, a very nice and able man whom no one elected, and whose name at the time was inextricably linked to the pardon of his nearly impeached predecessor, Richard Nixon. Although Ford retained Nixon's secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, the Nixon-Kissinger policy of detente with the USSR was so widely regarded by other Americans as a failure—one that emboldened, rather than restrained Moscow—that Ford eventually banned the word from the White House.

Come to think of it, no one elected Ford's vice president, either, since Ford himself assumed that office when Nixon's number two, Spiro Agnew, likewise resigned in disgrace. The White House was thus occupied by two men whose only link to the American people were some Senate confirmation hearings. (As the fictional Frank Underwood says upon taking the Veep's oath of office in the series House of Cards: "Democracy is so overrated.")

At home, the U.S. economy was a wreck. Oil embargoes and deindustrialization, among other problems, created "stagflation," the condition of high inflation, high unemployment and low-growth that is so rare we don't even use the word anymore. From the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, interest rates stayed startlingly high, peaking in 1980 at a breathtaking 21 percent, or roughly six times as high as they are today, placing house and car loans out of the reach of ordinary Americans. (Note to my students: my first student loan in 1979 was at 13.5 percent, which today would be considered usury. I shed no tears for you.)
Overseas, the United States had been driven out of Vietnam in 1975 by a coalition of Communist states, including the USSR. That same year, President Ford had to fly to Brussels literally to plead with NATO to stay together. The U.S. military, the great fighting force that stormed the beaches of France only thirty years earlier, was a hot mess, rife with drugs and crime, and burdened by too many people whose only other option was jail. (One of my friends, now retired, was a company commander in the U.S. Army in Germany in this period things were so bad that officers did not enter the barracks of the men they commanded at night without wearing a sidearm.) Many men and women served with distinction in the U.S. armed forces in the 1970s, but we couldn't pick and choose which ones would be on the front lines if the Soviets rang the bell.

So why not attack? It was not beyond the Soviets to create some kind of false premise, perhaps involving their blood feud with the Germans, and to strike into the heart of Central Europe, preferably in the dead of winter. One violent, short, brutal shock, and NATO shatters like spun glass. The Americans fall back. The Germans retreat into a house-by-house defense against the invading Soviets. (How'd that go the last time?) The Poles and East Germans, although no friends of Russia, are fed Warsaw Pact propaganda and are led by officers who wouldn't mind getting a little payback against the West Germans for their own reasons, and they fight.

The Belgians fold, the French want no part of it, the Danes and Norwegians are warned not to interfere. The Greeks and Turks, busy fighting each other since 1974, hardly notice. Only the British Army of the Rhine holds on—and not for long.

America stands alone.
But wait, you say: Ford would never have allowed it. We'd have used nuclear weapons and taken down those invading Soviet tank columns, and then let Moscow think hard about whether this was worth Armageddon.

Maybe. Or maybe, with NATO unraveling, allies deserting, and the Soviets pointing thousands of highly-accurate nuclear warheads at North America, we'd have done what had to be done, and taken the deal, handing over Europe to its new masters. The U.S. president, elected by no one, might not have felt he had the authority to release nuclear devastation on millions of people who had little voice in his authority.

And after Vietnam, the tumult of the 1960s, and the crash of the American dream in the 1970s, maybe we'd have surrendered because deep down, we felt like we deserved to lose.

In 1985, a man named Grigorii Romanov made a run at becoming Soviet leader. A ghastly and vicious Soviet hawk (and apparently, an unstable alcoholic), he could well have triggered World War III and for a time, he seemed intent on doing it. He was too late: by then, America and its allies had regained their confidence—and their strength—while the USSR lost its way, politically and militarily. As the 1970s came to an end, so did the last clear chance at a Soviet military victory over the West.

1979: Lenin stays out of the jungles
Leonid Brezhnev wasn't the brightest man. When we finally cracked open his journals, they were mostly about things like his weight and his hunting trips. (By contrast, Ronald Reagan, long caricatured as a dunce, wrote in a journal daily and produced a historical record of his administration.) Brezhnev also wasn't much of a Communist: he collected cars and jewelry, chased girls, and generally partied hard. A Soviet joke of that era has Brezhnev's mother surveying all of his luxuries with a worried eye, and when her son asks what's wrong, she says: "Leonid, this is all very nice, but what will you do if the Communists come back?"

Like most of the mediocre men who ascended to power in the postwar Soviet Union (see "The Class of '38," above), Brezhnev believed in the Soviet system, insofar as he seemed to understand it. It had been pretty good to him, after all, and after the U.S. defeat in Vietnam and the subsequent collapse of U.S. foreign policy in the mid-1970s, he and his lieutenants led the USSR through a dramatic and ill-advised period of imperial overextension, culminating in the disastrous decision to invade Afghanistan in 1979.

In some ways, the invasion of Afghanistan was far worse than the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Washington waded into a slow-motion escalation that bogged us down in a war we thought, at first, we could win. The Soviet invasion, by contrast, was completely hopeless, and the Soviet leaders knew it before they went in. We have the records of their meetings, and we know exactly what they said: they worried that somehow Afghanistan (like Egypt in the 1970s) would flip and join the Western team. They knew an invasion wouldn’t work, but they also had no idea what else to do, so they ordered one anyway.

Again, the Soviet economy could afford none of this. Most estimates of Soviet economic growth suggest that the Soviet economy came to a halt in the mid-1970s—in other words, just as they were feeling their expansionist oats and, in the words of a former top Soviet policy advisor, "binging like drunks" on weapons. Perhaps a period of consolidation, reform, and internal reorganization would have been a better idea. But that would have required that the Soviet Union at the time be led by men of vision and capability (and women, too, of whom there were none, ever, in the Soviet leadership). And since Stalin killed all those guys earlier. well, you get the idea.

1988: The China Syndrome
China does everything better, right?

When protesters assembled in Tienanmen Square in 1989, China's old Reds called it "counter-revolution," and sent in the tanks. Meanwhile, they made it clear that economic liberalization could continue everywhere else, thus offering the Chinese people a deal: stick with us and get rich, or oppose us and get shot. Couldn't Mikhail Gorbachev have tried the same thing?

Well, in a way, he did. Unfortunately, "in a way" pretty much describes how Gorbachev did everything during his brief stint as Soviet leader. He tried a little repression, and a little liberalization, a little of this and a little of that. Western admirers hate to admit this, but the basic problem is that Mikhail Gorbachev didn't know what he was doing. Mentored by the men who were left after Stalin—have I mentioned the Class of '38 yet?—he was and is, to his very bones, a product of the Soviet system.

In fairness, by 1985, it may have been too late for Gorbachev and for the USSR. And Gorbachev had a unique problem that the Chinese did not: an Eastern European alliance system chafing under socialist oppression and mismanagement. But it is at least notionally possible that after the Soviet Communist Party plenum meeting of early 1987, or later during the 19th Party Conference in 1988, Gorbachev might have laid down the law: I will use force, and I will use the market, and you people out there can take your pick of which one I use more.

The problem for Gorbachev was that some of his worst enemies in the Soviet regime were also the guys in the military and the cops who'd have to get out there and start shooting people if he gave the order. Clearly, they were willing to do it, as they showed by killing demonstrators in the Baltics and in Georgia, incidents over which Gorbachev now claims he had no control. (Well, who was running the place then, Mikhail Sergeevich?) Whether they were willing to do it for Gorbachev is another matter.

Could the Soviet Union have defeated Germany without the help of lend-lease?

During the Second World War the USA and UK shipped a total of 17,499,861 tons of material to the Soviet Union.

Included in this figure are:

+25000 armored vehicles (including +10.000 tanks)

1,911 steam locomotives (+ additional rail stock consisting of 9,920 flat cars, 1,000 dump cars, 120 tank cars, and 35 heavy machinery cars)

2,670,371 tons of petroleum products (kerosene, gasoline and oil) 4,338 radio sets 15 million pairs of boots 5,000+ anti-tank guns 27 naval vessels

It is generally accepted among modern historians that the USSR could not have withstood the German onslaught of 1941-45 without Allied help.

However, a minority claims that Russia could have defeated Nazi Germany on its own.

Do you agree? If so how would this have been the case?

The opinion of some high ranked Soviets who would know and Russian Historians was that the Lend-lease made the difference in their fight against Nazi Germany.

Nikita Khrushchev: "I would like to express my candid opinion about Stalin’s views on whether the Red Army and the Soviet Union could have coped with Nazi Germany and survived the war without aid from the United States and Britain. First, I would like to tell about some remarks Stalin made and repeated several times when we were “discussing freely” among ourselves. He stated bluntly that if the United States had not helped us, we would not have won the war. If we had had to fight Nazi Germany one on one, we could not have stood up against Germany’s pressure, and we would have lost the war. No one ever discussed this subject officially, and I don’t think Stalin left any written evidence of his opinion, but I will state here that several times in conversations with me he noted that these were the actual circumstances. He never made a special point of holding a conversation on the subject, but when we were engaged in some kind of relaxed conversation, going over international questions of the past and present, and when we would return to the subject of the path we had traveled during the war, that is what he said. When I listened to his remarks, I was fully in agreement with him, and today I am even more so."

Operation Barbarossa And Germany's Failure In The Soviet Union

In August 1939, as Europe slid towards another world war, Germany and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression treaty. The Nazi-Soviet Pact came as a complete surprise to other nations, given the ideological differences between the two countries. It ushered in a period of military co-operation which allowed Hitler to ignore western diplomatic moves and invade Poland. Stalin's forces then attacked from the west and completed the subjugation and partition of the Polish state. For the next year and a half Germany also benefitted economically from the arrangement, with Russia exporting grain and oil in return for manufactured goods.

Soviet cooperation allowed Hitler to expand his plans for European domination. In May 1940 the Blitzkrieg rolled westwards and France was conquered in six weeks. But peace with Russia would not last. Hitler had always wanted to see Germany expand eastwards to gain Lebensraum or 'living space' for its people.

After the fall of France Hitler ordered plans to be drawn up for an invasion of the Soviet Union. He intended to destroy what he saw as Stalin's 'Jewish Bolshevist' regime and establish Nazi hegemony. The conquest and enslavement of the Soviet Union's racially 'inferior' Slavic populations would be part of a grand plan of 'Germanisation' and economic exploitation lasting well beyond the expected military victory. Regardless of recent economic and political co-operation, the Soviet Union was regarded as the natural enemy of Nazi Germany and a key strategic objective.


On 18 December 1940 Hitler issued Führer Directive 21, an order for the invasion of the Soviet Union. The German military plan called for an advance up to a hypothetical line running from the port of Archangel in northern Russia to the port of Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea – the so-called 'A-A line'. This would bring the bulk of the Soviet population and its economic potential under German control.

After a five week delay while operations in Greece and Yugoslavia were completed, Operation 'Barbarossa' - named after the all-conquering Medieval Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I - was launched on 22 June 1941. Over three and a half million German and other Axis troops attacked along a 1,800-mile front. A total of 148 divisions - 80 per cent of the German Army - were committed to the enterprise. Seventeen panzer divisions, formed into four Panzer Groups, formed the vanguard with 3,400 tanks. They were supported by 2,700 aircraft of the Luftwaffe. It was the largest invasion force to date.

The German forces were split into three army groups, each with a specific objective. Army Group North was to head through the Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia and take Leningrad. Army Group South would attack into the Ukraine towards Kiev and the Donbas (Donets Basin) industrial region. Between them, Army Group Centre's objective was Minsk, Smolensk and then Moscow itself. Hitler expected these all to be attained in approximately ten weeks.

The Soviets had massed large forces on their western frontier, but they were under orders not to provoke the Germans. Although mistrustful of Hitler, Stalin did not believe that he would attack so soon, despite the ominous German build-up and a stream of intelligence warnings. He had some 5 million men available immediately and a total of 23,000 tanks, but the Red Army was still unprepared when the Germans struck.

The Germans got off to a good start, with the panzer groups quickly pushing towards their objectives and Russian forces falling apart in confusion. They were greatly helped by the Luftwaffe's bombing of Soviet airfields, artillery positions and troop concentrations. The Germans quickly established air superiority. On the first day alone 1,800 Soviet aircraft were destroyed, most of them on the ground. Army Group North, under Field Marshal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb, plunged towards Leningrad, with General Erich Hoepner's Panzer Group 4 in the lead. Russian forces in this sector were thinly spread and the panzers covered 500 miles (804 km) in three weeks. By mid-July they were only 60 miles (96 km) from their objective.

Army Group Centre, under Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, also made rapid progress. By 28 June Panzer Group 2, led by General Heinz Guderian, and General Hermann Hoth's Panzer Group 3 had encircled three Russian armies and captured over 320,000 men in the Bialystok-Minsk pockets. The two panzer groups then pressed ahead, linking up on the far side of Smolensk on 27 July in another double envelopment. Two more Russian armies were trapped and destroyed, and another 300,000 troops taken prisoner.

Army Group South, under Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, had the furthest to go and his attack also faced the stiffest Soviet resistance. Most of the Russian armour was on this front. But by early July von Rundstedt had pushed out beyond the pre-1939 Polish frontier. General Ewald von Kleist's Panzer Group 1 was slowed by Soviet flanking attacks as it headed for Kiev, the capital of Ukraine and key to the coal-rich Donets Basin. On 8 August the Germans surrounded two Soviet armies, capturing 100,000 men in the Uman pocket, and reached the Dnieper River. The naval port of Odessa on the Black Sea was also besieged.

Up to this point all seemed to be going well, the only major problem being the time needed for the infantry to catch up with the panzers and mop up pockets of Russian defence. But Soviet resistance was now stiffening, despite catastrophic losses. A German salient around Yelnya, south-east of Smolensk, was recaptured in a costly but successful counterattack.

Meanwhile, Army Group Centre's supply situation was becoming critical. Hitler decided to halt the advance on Moscow and reinforce Army Groups North and South. Hoth's Panzer Group 3 was sent north to support the drive on Leningrad while Guderian's tanks were despatched to help Army Group South take Kiev. The German High Command protested vigorously. The panzers were only 220 miles from Moscow. But Hitler regarded the resource-rich Ukraine as more important. On 21 August he ordered that the conquest of the Crimea and the Donets Basin be given priority.

The Soviets were completely fooled by German moves. Five Soviet armies were trapped in a vast salient around Kiev. As usual, Stalin refused to sanction a withdrawal before the pocket was sealed. By the end of September Kiev had fallen and over 650,000 Russian troops killed or captured. The Germans pushed along the Black Sea coast and into the Crimea, laying siege to Sevastapol. In October Kharkov fell, but by now the Germans were exhausted. The fighting had severely depleted their ranks and supply lines were stretched to the limit. For now, the southern front stayed where it was. In the north too, German forces had reached their limit. In September, with the aid of their Finnish Allies, they cut Leningrad off from the rest of Russia, but lacked the strength to take the city. Instead, Hitler ordered that it be starved into submission. The epic siege would last 890 days.


Hitler now decided to resume the battle for Moscow. On 2 October he unleashed Operation 'Typhoon'. He believed the Russians had been fatally weakened and lacked the strength to defend their capital - one more push would see it fall and victory would be his. But the Red Army had been reinforced. Almost a million Soviet troops were in place, although they had few tanks and aircraft left. A multi-layered ring of defences had been thrown around the capital and its citizens had been mobilised. The German offensive was carried out by a reinforced Army Group Centre, comprising three infantry armies and three panzer groups - 1 million men and 1,700 tanks. However the Luftwaffe was weak after over three months of sustained operations. And the weather was beginning to turn.

Once again the initial assault was a success. The panzer divisions stormed ahead and over 600,000 Russian soldiers were captured in two more huge encirclements near the cities of Bryansk and Vyazma. The Russians were down to about 90,000 men. But as they reached the approaches to Moscow, the German formations slowed to a crawl. Autumn rains had turned the dirt roads into rivers of mud. It was the Rasputitsa - the 'quagmire season' - and wheeled and horse-drawn transport became hopelessly stuck. The Germans chose to temporarily halt operations.

In mid-November, with the temperature dropping and the ground now frozen hard, the panzers attempted a final pincer attack around Moscow itself. The delay had given the Soviets time to bring in further reinforcements, including reservists and troops from Siberia and the eastern borders. The northern German pincer was the most successful and got within 12 miles of the city. German officers could see the Kremlin buildings through their field glasses. The Germans also tried attacking in the centre, along the Minsk-Moscow road. On 2 December a reconnaissance unit got within 5 miles of Moscow. Though tantalisingly close, this was the limit of the entire advance. The depleted German units were exhausted and frozen into inactivity in the deep snow.

On 5 December the Soviets launched a surprise counter-offensive. The Germans were forced into a retreat, despite Hitler's call to defend every foot of ground. Guderian and several other senior generals who advised withdrawal were sacked. The Russians succeeded in crushing various German formations in encirclements of their own. The Luftwaffe struggled to operate but performed vital work ferrying supplies to cut off units and harrying the Russian advance. Army Group Centre was pushed back up to 150 miles from Moscow. A furious Hitler dismissed the commander-in-chief of the German Army, Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch, and appointed himself in his place.

Watch the invasion unfold

Watch the invasion unfold


Operation 'Barbarossa' had clearly failed. Despite the serious losses inflicted on the Red Army and extensive territorial gains, the mission to completely destroy Soviet fighting power and force a capitulation was not achieved.

One of the most important reasons for this was poor strategic planning. The Germans had no satisfactory long-term plan for the invasion. They mistakenly assumed that the campaign would be a short one, and that the Soviets would give in after suffering the shock of massive initial defeats. Hitler had assured the High Command that 'We have only to kick in the front door and the whole rotten edifice will come tumbling down'. But Russia was not France. The shock value of the initial Blitzkrieg was dissipated by the vast distances, logistical difficulties and Soviet troop numbers, all of which caused attritional losses of German forces which could not be sustained.


Hitler's input has been heavily criticised, not least by his generals at the time. Moscow was always a more important objective to the German High Command than it was to Hitler, who was more concerned with destroying Soviet field armies and capturing vital industrial resources. His switching of the main thrust from the central front to Leningrad in the north and Ukraine in the south was to an extent militarily sensible given the weakness of Army Group Centre after the Smolensk battles and the threats to its flanks. Indeed, the diversion actually worked in the Germans’ favour since it surprised the Soviets and resulted in the destruction of huge Soviet forces around Kiev. But it also threw away Germany's only real chance of outright victory.

The early capture of Moscow would have had an undeniable psychological impact and may have been the tipping point. Guderian in particular believed that using the panzers in traditional encirclement battles played into Russian hands and gave them chances to bring forward fresh reserves. He had advocated an all-out drive on the capital. But when Hitler resumed the assault with Operation 'Typhoon' it was too late. The German Army was now fatally weakened, the weather had worsened and Soviet reinforcements had arrived.


German intelligence failures played a large part on several levels. The Red Army had been viewed with distain, especially because Stalin’s purges of the late 1930s had removed thousands of its officers - albeit temporarily in most cases. Its poor performance against the Finns in the winter of 1939-1940 also encouraged the Germans. Soviet industry was deemed incapable of producing modern weapons. Most importantly, Russian troop numbers and fighting strength were continually underestimated, so that despite the losses inflicted in early encirclement battles, the Germans always faced yet more reinforcements. The High Command had only considered the Soviet western army groups in their planning, and the presence of reserve forces and uncommitted formations in the Russian interior or on the eastern borders were disregarded. Even after Operation 'Typhoon' ground to a halt in early December, the Germans still chose to believe that the Soviets had nothing left to stage a counterattack.


While the Germans underestimated the military potential of their opponents, they also exaggerated the capabilities of their own forces, most significantly the four Panzer Groups. The panzer divisions were the principal weapon of Blitzkrieg and at that time were far superior to the Soviets in training, leadership and tactical ability. But they were relatively weak in numbers and equipment.

German tank strength had been halved in 1940 so that the number of divisions could be doubled. Over half the tanks committed to 'Barbarossa' were obsolescent light tanks and Czech-built models, rather than the more capable PzKpfw III and IV. And there were virtually no reserves available. Hitler had so far refused to fully mobilise the German economy and so weapons production was inadequate. Even in mid-1941 only 250 new tanks were being built each month, insufficient to properly equip the army on the eve of a major new campaign, or keep up with the inevitable mechanical and combat losses. Hitler even chose to divert some of these to France and other theatres, when the demand was greatest in Russia.

The vast majority of the 10,000 or so Russian tanks facing the Germans in June 1941 were light BT series tanks or obsolete T-26 models. Huge numbers were destroyed in poorly planned and executed counterattacks. But Soviet tank development and production was already superior to that of the Germans. A new generation of tanks had entered service, namely the T-34 and KV-1. The T-34 in particular was a major leap in tank design and came as a complete shock to the Germans when it was first encountered in July 1941. It had sloping armour - which effectively doubled its strength - and a powerful 76.2mm gun. Its reliable diesel engine gave it a good range and turn of speed, and its wide tracks could cope with mud or snow. Russian industry was already gearing up to turn it out in huge numbers.

Less than a thousand T-34s were available at the start of 'Barbarossa' and most were squandered in piecemeal actions by half-trained crews. But the Red Army could absorb significant losses of equipment as well as men. The mass mobilisation of Soviet industry had been set in train, which included relocating vital tank, aircraft and munitions factories eastwards to the Urals. This huge logistical undertaking was already bearing fruit. It meant that despite the early defeats, the Soviet Union was far better prepared for a long war than the Germans, whose own production of tanks and other weapons would be feeble by comparison.


Logistics was another hugely important factor in the German defeat. No matter how fast or far the fighting formations advanced, they were dependent on timely supplies of fuel and ammunition. This became an ever greater problem as the army progressed deeper into Soviet territory and further away from its own railheads. Not only were the distances much greater than they had been during the French campaign, but the Soviet transport infrastructure was much poorer. German engineers struggled to convert the Russian railway gauge to one which their own locomotives and rolling stock could use. Meanwhile the multitude of lorries and horse-drawn wagons in which the supplies were transported were forced to negotiate Russian dirt roads, which became virtually impassable after prolonged rain.

The debilitating effects of the weather and terrain were not properly taken into account when planning the campaign. The numerous forests, marshes and rivers slowed the advance during the summer. The autumn Rasputitsa and the onset of the brutal Russian winter brought it to a halt during Operation 'Typhoon'. Tank and vehicle lubricants froze as temperatures plunged to record lows. Winter clothing supplies were held up in Poland, as fuel and ammunition took priority. If anything symbolises the failure of 'Barbarossa' it is the image of inadequately equipped German troops shivering in the snows before Moscow.


Perhaps the most important reason of all for the defeat of Operation 'Barbarossa' was the tenacious resistance of the defenders. The Germans completely underestimated the Soviet will to fight. Hitler's announcement that the war in the east was one of 'annihilation' and Stalin's astute call to defend 'Mother Russia' rather than his own regime gave the ordinary Russian soldier - no matter how coerced or badly led - every reason to battle to the death. Hitler's infamous 'Commissar Order', which sanctioned the execution of all captured political officers, also stiffened Russian resolve. The Russian soldier was found to be a hardy and implacable foe, and quickly gained the respect of the majority of German front-line troops. No western enemy would come close to the Soviets in sheer staying power.

Despite the failure and huge losses of 'Barbarossa', Hitler launched another major strategic offensive in June 1942, this time towards the Caucasus mountains and the oil fields of Baku beyond. Morale was still generally high and German forces maintained the capacity to inflict further massive losses on badly handled Soviet formations. In fact 1942 would be an even worse year than 1941 for the Russians. But the factors that caused 'Barbarossa' to fail now conspired to doom this new enterprise as well. As the German columns advanced across the seemingly infinite spaces of the steppe towards their distant objectives, including a city named Stalingrad, the victory in the East that had once seemed so certain receded even further from sight.

4 Winston Churchill Was the Universally Beloved Leader of the Good Guys

Biographers, [English] historians, skewed opinion polls and people who have never heard of British Raj

Churchill was great at giving wartimes speeches, and no doubt was an effective cheerleader for England while the Nazis were bombing the shit out of London. But his popularity didn't extend very far beyond a psychological concept called the "rally round the flag" effect, which significantly reduces criticisms of a character/government post-crisis. Remember when George W. Bush's approval ratings shot past 80 percent after 9/11?

It didn't last, and Churchill immediately was booted from office just months after Germany surrendered. Why?

Churchill suffered from an insatiable urge similar to "bloodlust" in Warcaft to keep fighting WWII for as long as he felt like it. Since this meant millions of men would be dying for his ego, it made him quite unpopular within the British military. Churchill's craziest scheme: A preemptive invasion of Russia on July 1, 1945 with the help of re-armed German forces. Yes, he wanted to start World War III before we had even started shoveling the rubble of WWII. It was his aptly-named Operation Unthinkable, and even his closest supporters thought it was batshit insane.

As for Churchill the Prime Minister, Brits began experiencing a bit of an "oh shit" feeling when it hit them that they might be stuck with the nutcase in peacetime. Winnie didn't make this anxiety any easier for himself, calling his Labour opponents "Gestapo" even though they served key posts in his war cabinet. Thus Britons promptly responded in 1945 by kicking his enormous ass out of office in one of the most spectacular electoral defeats in history.

Nevertheless, Churchill did enjoy high approval ratings from his people. that is, if you ignore the 400 million inhabitants of British Raj, present-day Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and, the big one, India. By Churchill's own standards, these people were part of the British Empire (including all those poor villagers in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), yet he was a fierce opponent to any kind of Indian autonomy.

7. The July 1944 Plot to Assassinate Hitler Succeeds

The 20 July 1944 plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler was a tragedy on multiple levels. Not only did it fail in its primary objective, but it led to the capture of 7,000 people, of which 4,980 were executed. Worse, it resulted in a retrenched and further radicalized Nazi party. Called Operation Valkyrie, the plot was organized by Wehrmacht officers who wanted Hitler out of the picture. They were hoping to make a separate peace with the Allies and continue the war against the USSR. It's highly unlikely, however, that the Western Allies would have gone for it (recalling Roosevelt's infamous "unconditional surrender" speech — and the fact that the Allies already had an agreement in place stating no separate peace under any circumstances).

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