«Военная Литература»
Военная история

Chapter 2.

German Plans For The Invasion Of The USSR

Preliminary Strategic Planning

Jerman strategic planning for the invasion of the Soviet Union, which was referred to under the code names Otto, Fritz, and finally, Barbarossa, began in early July 1940, or shortly after the fall of France{1}. It is unclear exactly when Hitler decided to wage war against the USSR, but it can be said that by July 21, 1940, the German army was committed to finding a military solution for the growing series of problems posed by the Soviet Union{2}. On this date. Hitler held a conference with his service chiefs Brauchitsch (army), Jeschonnek (Goring's representative from the Luftwaffe), Raeder (navy), Keitel, and Jodi (Armed Forces High Command, or OKW) in attendance. During this conference the general framework was established for a future eastern campaign.

There is some question as to who brought up the idea for an invasion of Russia at this conference; it seems that after the war none of the services wanted to take responsibility for it. Certainly Admiral Raeder should not; he left the room before Russia was really discussed.

In the words of an old Irish proverb, "Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan." It is true that at this meeting Brauchitseh first received official notice from Hitler to begin preparations for a Russian campaign, but there are reasons for believing that the army commander in chief's interest in this had some [62] background. It is likely that it was Brauchitsch and not the other service chiefs who delivered this initial report concerning Russia. In the first place, the Army High Command (OKH) had been discussing the Russian problem since at least July 3, 1940. In the second place, it would have been unusual for the other service chiefs to bring up a proposal of this nature, especially since a few days later, on July 29, the OKW rejected the idea that the invasion take place in the fall of 1940 on the grounds of insufficient time to carry out the necessary preparations and the approach of the Russian rainy season{3}. Apparently, the thought of carrying out a four-to six-week campaign in Russia with only eighty to a hundred German divisions against the "fifty to seventy-five good divisions" the Russians supposedly possessed, had given the OKW a severe case of mental indigestion. The figures regarding Soviet strength used in the July 21 conference (presumably by Brauchitsch) were provided by Colonel Kinzel's General Staff Intelligence Department (Fremde Heere Ost) and are indicative of the almost total failure of the German intelligence service to supply accurate information about the Soviet Union{4}.

The bad feelings that existed between the OKW and OKH date back to early 1938, when Hitler assumed the title Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and created the OKW under Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel as his own personal military staff. The army had suffered great loss of prestige when Field Marshal von Blomberg, the minister for war, and Werner von Fritsch, head of the army, had both been dismissed from their posts in disgrace. Blomberg was tricked into marrying a notorious prostitute, largely through Goring's doing. The flihrer himself was publicly embarrassed by this incident, since he had attended the wedding, and he cashiered Blomberg without hesitation. Fritsch's turn came when fabricated evidence supplied by Goring and Himmler showed him to have a homosexual past and to be, therefore, unfit for service in the Nazi regime (although there had been such types in high places in the earlier days of the party). Needless to say, the army felt beleaguered and threatened both by its political masters, the Nazis, and by its military archcompetitor, the OKW. The spirit of jealousy and rivalry between the two German high commands would assume important proportions by the time of the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. [63]

On July 29, 1940, the chief of the general staff, Franz Halder, informed Maj. Gen. Erieh Marcks, then chief of staff of the Eighteenth Army with headquarters in Bromberg, West Prussia, that he had been selected to perform a special duty for the OKH and the general staff. Marcks's assignment was to "prepare the theoretical groundwork for an eastern campaign strictly on his own, without reliance on any other department of the general staff." Although Marcks was the first general outside the OKH to be charged with this responsibility, he was by no means the only officer to be working on the project. Marcks's study was duly reported to Halder in early August 1940, but even before then, separate reports had been made by Colonel Kinzel and by Colonel Greiffenberg, who was chief of the Operations Section of the general staff, and Greiffen-berg's subordinate. Lieutenant Colonel Feyerabend{5}.It is interesting to note that none of these proposals favored pushing directly into the center of the Soviet Union toward Moscow. Colonel Kinzel's study called for the taking of Moscow but only by first maintaining a strong link with the Baltic Sea and then turning southward to force the enemy units in the Ukraine to fight on a reversed front. The Greiffenberg-Feyerabend study called for a total German strength of one hundred divisions, with the main thrust coming in the south because of the particularly strong concentration of the Red Army in the Ukraine{6}.

Halder, however, refused to listen to the proposals of his own operations staff and insisted that the main blow should be in the direction of Moscow; after the fall of the city, a turn to the Ukraine could be made. In advocating such a ramrod push right to the capital of the Soviet Union, Halder betrayed neither a sense of caution nor a feeling for originality. The idea of a single main blow with the goal of taking Moscow above all else is usually referred to either as the "OKH plan" or (less often) as the "general staff plan." It would be more accurate to term it the "Halder plan," for no one else in the general staff originally agreed with it, and Brauchitsch, as commander in chief of the army, was totally under Halder's sway. Apparently, the two men had personalities that were similar to those of Ludendorff and Hindenburg during the First World War, with Ludendorff-Halder providing the brains and Hindenburg-Brauchitsch providing the representation before the head of state{7}. It would not be accurate to say that the OKH and [64] the general staff wanted to invade the Soviet Union while the war against Britain continued in the west, yet the conclusion is inescapable that the underestimates of Soviet strength and the inflated belief in the power of one hundred German divisions to storm Russia in four to six weeks had much to do with influencing Hitler's ultimate decision to begin his campaign in the east{8}.

The final step in making the Soviet Union a military target was taken by Hitler at a conference with the OKH and OKW staffs at his palatial Berghof command post high in the Bavarian Alps on July 31, 1940. Far from exhibiting the rash characteristics often attributed to him. Hitler put forward a plan calling for a five-month campaign beginning in May 1941 that could be considered more conservative than that proposed by the OKH. Hitler saw the need for an eastern army of no less than 120 divisions to be launched in two main directions: (1) in the south toward Kiev and the Dnepr and (2) in the north along the Baltic, then in the direction of Moscow. The last stage of the operation would be undertaken as a giant enveloping movement toward the center of the vast country from the north and south{9}. No one at this conference offered any objections whatsoever to the flihrer's proposals, although it became known later that the army leaders remained silent in order to delay, at least for a time, a hard-and-fast commitment on Hitler's part to a strategy that placed the flanks above the center in order of importance{10}. Halder's wisdom in waiting to offer his criticisms until after his own studies had been thoroughly completed is not in dispute, although it was of critical importance that all disagreements over basic planning be ironed out as soon as possible. But the continued proscrastination and subterfuge of the OKH and the general staff in regard to the question of a flank versus a central attack on the Soviet Union eventually resulted in not one but two plans being carried out simultaneously. In this respect, the generals must share with Hitler a major proportion of the responsibility for the strategic calamities that resulted from this unresolved conflict.

On August 4, 1940, General Marcks presented to Halder his famous study, which received little notice at the time but has since attracted considerable attention and generated some controversy as well. Marcks, who was the son of the noted historian and biographer of Bismarck, devoted intense effort to his work and managed to complete it within a week{11}. Marcks's so-called Operation [65] East proposal consisted of twenty-six typewritten pages in two parts: (1) general characteristics of the theater of battle, general order of battle, and certain operational considerations and (2) tasks of the army groups and the armies, Luftwaffe, and navy. Further suggestions for solving specific problems in preparation for the campaign were contained in the second part{12}.

The Operation East proposal contained several interesting features that are also to be found in the other German strategic studies of 1940{13}. Marcks was compelled to divide the operational area into two separate and distinct parts, at least for the beginning phase of the assault. This was because the Pripet swamp and forest region acted as a natural barrier between White Russia and the Ukraine. Thus, from the very first, the German push eastward would lack full coordination and unity of action on either side of the swamps (see Figure 3). This enforced division of forces proved to be virtually an insoluble problem throughout the war but particularly during the first few crucial weeks. Marcks attempted to overcome this difficulty by reuniting the southern wing of the front with the main, central group of armies on the eastern side of the marshes, an idea that would have made the German southern wing essentially a subordinate part of the major force that was to strike directly at Moscow through White Russia. The southern wing was supposed to take Kiev and cross the Dnepr, then move either due east toward Kharkov or northeastward, if necessary, to protect the southern flank of the force moving on Moscow from the west. Marcks did not give much attention, however, to the northern flank of the central group of armies, providing only for a "special task force" to move over the lower Dvina toward Pskov and Leningrad.

For Marcks, the push southward into the Ukraine was unavoidable due to the necessity of protecting the Rumanian oil fields. That he viewed the southern theater as having great importance can be seen in his observation that "if it were possible for the main force of the German army to strike from Rumania along with other forces from northern Hungary, Galicia, and southeastern Poland, then the major assault on Moscow could perhaps be carried out east of the Dnepr, which would decide the war." This statement has led some historians to conclude that Marcks believed a southern approach into the Soviet Union offered the best chance for winning the war in a single decisive stroke and that [66] [Fig.3] [67] Moscow should not be taken until after most of the Ukraine had been occupied{14}. More recently, German historians have taken great pains to deny that Marcks's real intention was anything of the sort, pointing out that in the next sentence Marcks stated:

"Neither the political situation in the Balkans nor the rail or road communications in Hungary and Rumania will allow the deployment of large German forces before the war begins. Only an attack from Galicia and southern Poland toward Kiev and the middle Dnepr can be undertaken [in the south] with safety"{15}.

This controversy over Marcks's real intentions is a matter of more than purely academic interest, for if the Operation East proposal is taken as advocating a maneuver on the southern flank of the Soviet Union as opposed to a major push through White Russia, this would be one more bit of evidence to show that the disagreements over strategy between Halder, the cool, calculating theorist, and Hitler, the impetuous, ignorant meddler, were not at all as one-sided as they have been made to appear in postwar German writings. In order to unravel this tangle, it should be pointed out that Halder had an interview with Marcks on August 1, 1940, that is, four days before Marcks presented his full report. Their discussion revolved around the possibility of a two-pronged attack being launched toward Moscow and Kiev simultaneously, but Halder rejected this suggestion because of the political situation in Rumania and because of his unwillingness to place any other goal in Russia on an equal footing with Moscow in strategic significance{16}. In other words, Marcks's plan as presented on August 5 could not, in strict terms, be considered a study prepared under conditions free from all outside influences, as Halder himself had requested. On the contrary, it appears that Halder's own set of imposed conditions weighed down Marcks's proposals and led to their somewhat contradictory and muddled character. Marcks apparently wanted to give the southern flank an emphasis equal to that of the central sector, but Halder refused to consider the idea even before it was set down on paper.

As for the political situation in Rumania, there were no longer any difficulties to be encountered by September 7, because of the revolt against King Carol. Shortly after the revolt Hitler signed an agreement with the new government under Antonescu, which allowed' German troops to take over the reorganization of the Rumanian army and protect the oil fields. Preparations soon began [68] to ready Rumania for use as a staging area against the USSR{17}. This plan was known as Construction East and was put into effect by Jodi on August 9.

The question of the roads and railroads in Hungary and Rumania must also be put in the proper perspective. The highways and railroads in Poland, including western Poland, were not a great deal better than in Hungary and Rumania, and the Germans were forced to commence extensive improvements of Polish communications as early as August 1940{18}. Although Halder's refusal to accept Marcks's original proposal was justifiable at the time, the changed political conditions in the Balkans by early fall of 1940 ought to have led to a serious reconsideration by the chief of the general staff of the whole subject of a southern strategy, yet nothing of this kind took place.

Viewed from a general standpoint, the Marcks plan contained not a trace of pessimism or doubt that the USSR could be speedily defeated by the qualitatively and quantitatively superior German forces. This optimism was fostered by the reports of the general staff intelligence department in early August, which reckoned Soviet strength in the western regions at ninety-six infantry and twenty-three cavalry divisions, plus twenty-eight mechanized brigades. According to these reports, the Russians would not be able substantially to increase their strength before the first of the year. Against this Soviet force the Germans should have thirty-five divisions in the south (eleven motorized or armored) and sixty-eight divisions north of the Pripet Marshes (seventeen motorized or armored).

This optimism and confidence in a rapid victory are two of the areas of agreement between Halder and Marcks; another was the idea that the coming operations had to be separated into northern and southern parts, with the Pripet Marshes dividing them. Fundamental to the concept of the blitzkrieg, which both Marcks and Halder accepted, was the conviction that the mass of the Red Army would be forced to stand and fight in the western Soviet Union and could, therefore, be destroyed by a great battle or series of battles of encirclement and annihilation. Marcks believed that the Red Army could not afford to retreat beyond the line Dvina-Berezina-Pripet swamps in the north and beyond the Pruth or Dnestr rivers in the south. He also believed that the campaign would be over within seventeen weeks. The persistence of this false [69] optimism, fanned by erroneous intelligence information about the enemy, until weeks after the invasion had actually begun will be seen time and again. The awakening would come on the banks of the Dnepr River, but even then the OKH would not admit its mistakes.

While the OKH and the general staff were engaged in their labors, the OKW was not content to play a passive role in the planning for the eastern campaign. The head of the OKW Operations Department (later Operations Staff), Col. Gen. Alfred Jodi, first informed his subordinates of the impending invasion on July 29, 1940. Shortly after this date Section "L" (Landesverteidung) of the Operations Department, headed by Walter Warlimont, began preparing a plan for the invasion of the Soviet Union that became known as "the Lossberg study" after the name of its author. Lieutenant Colonel Lossberg (see Figure 4){19}.

The OKW proposal differed in several major respects from those considered and eventually approved by the OKH. Like Marcks, Lossberg was forced to come to grips with the "Pripet problem" at an early stage in the operational planning. Lossberg considered it to be advantageous to position most German forces north of the swamps, primarily because conditions there for deployment were better and because the Russian railway network in the north ran truer to the axis along which the operations were to be carried out. Lossberg also put much emphasis on a closer cooperation with the Finns, anticipating the willingness of Sweden to allow its railroads to move German troops into Finland. Whereas Marcks had envisioned the formation of only two basic army groups, Lossberg foresaw the need for three, two in the north and one in the south, with the Central Army Group being the strongest. In order to prevent the withdrawal of the Red Army to the east along a continuous front, Lossberg advocated the halting of Army Group Center east of Smolensk and the turning of part of its armored strength northward, thereby threatening the rear of the Russians facing Army Group North. After the turning maneuver, an operational pause would be necessary in order to replenish the exhausted army. Lossberg saw this turn to the north not as being rigidly predetermined in the schedule of events but rather as depending on the development of the general situation—that is, on whether Leningrad fell rapidly enough. Thus, for the first time, a German strategic planner considering the eastern problem [70] [Fig.4] [71] stepped into the true realm of strategy by applying Moltke's dictum: "No operations plan can predict the turn of events after initial contact is made with the enemy's main force," although it is conceivable that Marcks's thinking would have progressed along similar lines had Halder not interfered with his effort{20}.

As for the situation south of the Pripet Marshes, Lossberg was particularly concerned about the possibility of the Russians themselves taking the initiative by leading off with an attack in the direction of the vital Rumanian oil fields. In order to counter this threat, he considered it imperative that forces be sent to Rumania as soon as feasible; first to organize the Rumanian army for defense and then to serve as a nucleus for a larger buildup prior to the German invasion. Once hostilities had begun. Army Group South was to execute a double envelopment maneuver between the marshes and the Black Sea.

It is not clear today how much influence the Lossberg plan had on Hitler, who never actually saw it, but it is evident that several features of the plan were incorporated into what became known as Directive Number 21 or the Barbarossa directive of December 18, 1940. It is possible that the soundness of the OKW study was impressed upon Hitler by Jodi, but this is unlikely because, for reasons of his own that will be explained later, Warlimont apparently kept it out of his superior's hands until mid-November. It is doubtful anyway that the OKW alone could have had a decisive influence over the fiihrer at this time without outside help. There is evidence to show that Goring might have played a part here. Reich Marshal Hermann Goring is best known in his principal role as commander in chief of the Luftwaffe, but he wore other hats as well. As chairman of the Ministerial Council for the Defense of the Reich, in November 1940 Goring commissioned a report from General Thomas, who was chief of the Economic and Armaments Section of the OKW. In this report Thomas advocated a rapid occupation of European Russia for economic purposes (shortages in the Reich) as soon as possible after the start of hostilities, with the Ukraine and the Caucasus being particularly important{21}. It is easy to see how Goring, reinforced by the Lossberg report and the work by Thomas's staff, could have persuaded Hitler to reduce the city of Moscow to secondary importance in the strategic plan for the war against Russia. Halder and the general staff were still working on a solution that would put Moscow ahead as the single most important [72] goal for the coming campaign, but in all probability Hitler's mind had been made up since the end of November. The general staff would now have to offer more evidence favoring Moscow than the OKW could offer against it.

On September 3, 1940, Halder obtained the appointment of Maj. Gen. Friedrich Paulus as Head Quartermaster 1 (OQ1) in the general staff, a post that made Paulus his deputy. This was the same position that Halder himself had occupied before succeeding Ludwig Beck as chief of the general staff after Beck resigned in the fall of 1938 (in a disagreement with Hitler at the time of the Munich crisis over Czechoslovakia). Erich Ludendorff had been OQI during the First World War, but by 1940 the general staff no longer enjoyed the prestige it had once known{22}. Immediately after moving into his office at Army Headquarters in suburban Zossen, fifty-five kilometers southwest of Berlin, Paulus set to work on his new assignment, "to prepare a study, independent of the operational plans of General Marcks and Lieutenant Colonel Feyerabend, dealing with the problems of the distribution and deployment of forces in the east{23}".

The initial work on this project, which envisioned an eastern force of ninety-six infantry, thirty-one mobile, and one cavalry division, was completed and brought before Halder on September 17{24}. Later, at the end of November and early December, the OKH conducted a series of war games under Paulus's direction in which several general staff officers took part. During this time also the staff chiefs of the future army groups conducted games and undertook independent studies of their own. It was Paulus's conclusion, confirmed by the other studies as well, that in case of war with the Soviet Union, provision should first be made for reaching the general line Dnepr-Smolensk-Leningrad. Operations could then be conducted beyond this point only if the supply situation developed favorably. Paulus's appreciation of the supply difficulties was in accord with a study undertaken in November 1940 by the new general quartermaster of the army (this post was functionally different from the one held by Paulus, who was attached to the general staff). Major General Wagner. Wagner believed transportation problems would force a temporary halt in the operations after a line due east of Minsk was reached{25}. The consensus in the Quartermaster's Branch seemed to be that the Red Army would have to be brought to battle and defeated west of the Dnepr line or else the [73] German forces, spreading out in a fan shape into the interior of the Soviet Union, would lack the density to defeat the Russians{26}.

In any case, Paulus warned against allowing the Red Army to retreat intact into the depths of Russia. The great expanse of the country and the broad fronts meant that opportunities would exist for executing breakthrough maneuvers to prevent this withdrawal. On the other hand, Russia had few natural barriers, such as mountain ranges or large bodies of water, that could be utilized in pinning the enemy down after the breakthroughs had been effected. As a result, Paulus envisioned the possibility of further campaigns that would lead to a final battle to be fought on the basis of a "strategy of annihilation." His plan provided for the military occupation of the important parts of the Ukraine, White Russia, and the Baltic states for use as staging areas and as bargaining chips in future peace negotiations.

Although Paulus's studies were not yet complete (with other war games to be analyzed in mid-December) and although the staffs of the various army groups had not yet made their full reports, the stage was now set for Halder to present the general staff proposal to Hitler. This presentation was made at a conference held on December 5, 1940. Before a detailed discussion of the Halder plan, it would be well to examine briefly the theoretical foundations on which the plan rested.

The three major studies (by Greiffenberg-Feyerabend, Marcks, and Paulus) of an invasion of the Soviet Union that were conducted by the OKH and the general staff during the period from late July to early December 1940 all held two basic premises in common. The first premise was that the Wehrmacht was qualitatively far superior to the Red Army. The second was that there should not be an attack primarily along the traditional or Napoleonic route into Russia. Neither of these common threads of thought should be particularly surprising, though it must be said that Halder's insistence on a direct approach to the Soviet capital amounted to nothing less than a rejection of work done by his own staff and men commissioned by him.

The belief that the Wehrmacht was superior to the Red Army was almost universal in German military circles. This conviction was not just a stock-in-trade of Nazi propaganda but was given wide currency by most serious German military thinkers{27}. Taken in the context of the times, Brauchitsch's estimate that only about [74] half of the Soviet divisions had any fighting ability was not unusual; this opinion had been reinforced by reports from General Kostring, the military attache in Moscow, and from Colonel Rossing in Helsinki. A report by Guderian about his experiences with the Red Army in September and October 1939 at Brest Litovsk was also held in high regard, especially by Hitler. Guderian characterized the Soviet armaments, particularly the tanks, as "old and antiquated; in particular the communications equipment is very outdated." Guderian, however, neglected to mention this report in his memoirs, where he speaks well of the quality of Soviet tanks. In this regard, certainly. Hitler cannot be blamed for believing what his own experts, including Halder and Guderian, were telling him. In retrospect one should not attempt to find fault here with either Hitler or the generals for believing too strongly in their own technical and tactical superiority. After all, nothing they had seen in Poland or in France could have convinced them otherwise. Britain, of course, was a different matter, but Britain was hardly a threat to Germany's power on the continent in late 1940. It is true that the physical size of the Soviet Union and the country's immense population, over 170 million people{27a}, should have given pause to any German connected with military planning, but they all. Hitler and the generals alike, believed that a rapid surprise attack would balance Germany's inferiority in numbers{28}.

There were several factors besides faulty intelligence information that misled the Germans into believing that Russia was a colossus with feet of clay, including the 1937-1938 purge of the officer corps in the Red Army, the Red Army's lamentable performance in the 1939-1940 war with Finland, impressions from contact with Soviet troops in the 1939 campaign in Poland, the older officers' experience with the Russian army in World War I, the Nazi view that the Russian people were "subhuman," and the belief that the Bolshevik state lacked the organizing ability and the stability to fight a large-scale war{29}. Viewed from the outside, the Soviet Union and its peoples offered a set of paradoxes for Hitler and his generals that they were unable to understand until it was [75] too late. The narrow-minded Nazi prejudice about the Russian people was perhaps the biggest problem to overcome, but it was certainly not the only one. Critical errors were made also in the areas of strategy and tactics which were more readily apparent though, in the long run, less fatal.

The idea of retracing Napoleon's march to Moscow through White Russia and Smolensk after crushing the Red Army (which would conveniently mass itself right along the newly erected frontier in eastern Poland, an area that included the tactically indefensible Bialystok salient) will have to rank as the most unimaginative and shortsighted plan for war ever produced by the German general staff. The mistakes made by Count Schlieffen and the younger Moltke before and during 1914 are more understandable, for they at least were ploughing new ground in attempting to make work a unique plan for finding a way out of a strategic impasse. It is a fact, however, that Halder had already shown himself unequal to the task of finding the answer to problems that demanded original solutions. The campaign in Poland, which turned out to be a surprisingly easy task for the Wehrmacht, had presented no difficulties at all. France, though, offered more of a challenge, and here Halder contented himself with presenting Hitler a proposal calling for a strong German right wing to push through central Belgium into the northern part of the country—in other words a maneuver that was nothing more than a reworked version of the old Schlieffen plan. The rapid strategic victory over France was made possible by Manstein{29a} and, on a tactical level, Guderian, who together planned and executed the brilliant armored breakthrough in the Ardennes forest{30}.

For Hitler in December 1940 to have had expectations of much else from Halder beyond his past level of performance seems unlikely, and this undoubtedly is one reason why Hitler was disinclined to place much trust in the general staff{31}. Another reason was that Halder's proposal on December 5 for operations against Russia had no appeal for a man who always had an eye for his opponent's weaknesses. This proposal had not made any good use of the lessons put forth in the studies compiled by men in Halder's own organization; still less had it considered the possibility of [76] unforeseen difficulties on the flanks, something the Lossberg OKW study had not failed to do.

Halder began his presentation to Hitler on December 5, 1940, with a short geographical description of the future theater of war{32}. The entire front was divided into northern and southern zones by the Pripet Marshes. As the roads and railroads in the direction Warsaw-Moscow were better then those in the south, the approaches into the Soviet Union north of the swamps offered more advantages. Continuing with this train of thought, Halder then said that the mass of the Red Army was apparently deployed north of the swamps{33}. This, of course, was pure conjecture on his part and was intended to support his argument that Moscow was the most vital target. As has been noted, the previous Greiffenberg-Feyerabend plan had taken the strong Soviet presence in the Ukraine into account. This same fact was also recognized in a study submitted on December 7, 1940, by General Sodenstern, the chief of staff of the future Army Group South. In Sodenstern's words, "Insofar as we can see, the main buildup of Russian forces has taken place in the Kiev Military District." Halder also noted that so many Soviet units had pulled up westward, close to the current demarcation line in Poland, that their supply bases could not lie too far behind, presumably just beyond the line of fortifications along the old pre-1939 Soviet-Polish border. In more general terms, Halder concluded that "the Dnepr and the Dvina rivers represent the easternmost line behind which the Russians will have to position themselves. If they retreat further eastward, they will no longer be able to protect their industrial areas." In order to prevent the Russians from carrying out a cohesive defensive battle west of the two rivers, Halder recommended the use of mass armored encirclements, especially on the central part of the front in the area Minsk-Smolensk. Finally, Halder proposed the formation of three army groups, two north and one south of the Pripet, which should push toward Leningrad, Moscow, and Kiev. The end goal of the campaign was to be the Volga-Archangel line, and it was to be reached with a force of 105 infantry and 32 armored and mobile divisions, with two armies being held in reserve for the beginning phase (see Figure 5).

In response to Halder's report, Hitler agreed with the general plan but added that the situation on the flanks of Army Group Center would need to be taken care of as the first order of business. [77] [Fig.5] [78] This could be done by encirclements in the Baltic region, aided by forces turned to the north from Army Group Center, if necessary, and encirclements in the south in the Ukraine. After these encirclements were completed, a decision could be made either to take Moscow or to push to the east of the city if circumstances warranted. The choice, at least in Hitler's mind, had now been made. He had elected to place the Baltic and the Ukraine ahead of Moscow in terms of their strategic importance (see Figure 6). In accepting this alternative Hitler also agreed with the innovation first put forward in the Lossberg study, that part of Army Group Center be used to aid Army Group North in securing the Baltic flank before the final drive on Moscow. It seems likely, however, that Hitler could have been more precise in phrasing his rebuttal to Halder's speech. In declaring himself "in agreement with [Halder's] proposed operational considerations" Hitler may have unintentionally given Halder an out for salvaging his own scheme{34}.

In spite of all the propaganda to the contrary. Hitler did not try early in the war to run roughshod over his generals. It could be that here he was trying to be diplomatic and avoid offense to Halder in front of his colleagues. When the war in the east began to develop unfavorably, time and again Hitler shied away from head-on confrontations with his generals. Typically, he would defer a decision for further study, allowing time for people close to him that he trusted to muster their forces and bend his supposed stubborn will to their own whims. This tendency of Hitler's was known by those privileged to have close contact with him and was used to their advantage. This characteristic of the fuhrer had a decisive impact on the way the war was conducted in the east, in particular in the decision-making process in July-August 1941, as will be seen in later chapters.

It is difficult to say what actually passed through Halder's mind at this point, for he let Hitler's comments pass in silence, but actions speak louder than words and we shall see that Halder was a man intent on his purpose. Hitler and the OKW could go to blazes, but Halder would do all he could to see to it that his strategic plan for Russia and no one else's was put into action.

From this point on Halder and his colleagues in the OKH would devote most of their efforts to subverting Hitler's intentions instead of acting in accordance with them. After the war, this [79] [Fig.6] [80] attitude would be justified on the basis of Hitler's total irrationality in placing economic goals ahead of purely military concerns in planning the eastern campaign{35}. This justification is only partly valid, however, as Hitler's fears for the flanks of Army Group Center were soundly based on strategical and operational considerations, not economic priorities. As for worrying about the economic aspects of the war in the east. Hitler could hardly be blamed for placing a high priority on the occupation of the Ukraine and the Caucasus, with all their resources{36}. In the year 1940 Germany was dependent on the ten million tons of iron ore imported from Sweden. Germany produced no chrome or nickel, both essential for producing steel of armaments grade. Neither did the country have any tungsten, necessary to make high-speed machine tools, and the supply of molybdenum and manganese could easily be cut off should Stalin decide to end economic cooperation with Germany. Moreover, most of Germany's national stockpiles of copper and tin had been used up in the spring of 1939{37}. Hitler and the Economics and Armaments Branch of the OKW were acutely aware that the only resource Germany had in abundance was coal and that a protracted war, either in the east or the west, would end in a German defeat unless these deficiencies were permanently remedied{38}. To say that Hitler's plan in 1940 was more concerned with economics than strategy is not correct, as an examination of the Lossberg study will prove, yet the plan did not ignore economics, and this feature of it made Hitler's conception of the future campaign more deserving of the name "strategy" than was the proposal put forth by Halder{39}.

After December 5, 1940, the rest of the year was anticlimactic, with little progress being made toward solidifying the basic goals of the Russian plan, let alone finding a way to translate the operational theory compiled in the various studies into a definite scheme of action. Yet, the year 1940 should not be allowed to recede into oblivion without an examination of one other event regarding the Russian problem that occurred shortly before its end; in mid-December the head quartermaster of the general staff, Friedrich Paulus, conducted his final war game{40}.

The second phase of the Paulus games was held between December 17 and 20 and was concerned with two major questions: (1) How would it be possible to coordinate the movements of the mechanized units and the marching infantry, taking into account [81] their differing rates of speed? (2) How would it be possible to supply an army of 3-3.5 million men deep in the interior of the Soviet Union{41}? It should be noted that these questions were fundamental to the whole concept of blitzkrieg warfare. If no satisfactory solutions to these problems could be found, the entire premise that a rapid victory could be won over the Soviet Union would have to be scrapped. In testing this premise, Paulus essentially was exploring new ground, for never before had the general staff been called to expand the blitzkrieg concept into such a vast geographical area. The general staff was now dealing with a problem of truly continental dimensions, and a way had to be found to take a set of strategies and tactics that had been designed for use in countries the size of Poland and France and apply them in a land of virtually limitless space. That the results of Paulus's efforts were not deemed conclusive by Halder and the OKH was not the fault of Paulus; it was, rather, due to their own shortsighted inability to perceive the difficulties wkh respectJo time and space that faced them in the east. The Russians knew perfectly well what time and space meant for military operations in their huge country and were able to use it to their advantage. For the German accustomed to living within the cramped confines of central Europe, the real meaning of distance would have to be learned the hard way.

Despite the fact that the fuhrer had expressed a preference for a lank strategy against the Soviet Union at the December 5 conference, Paulus's last war game was conducted on the basis that Moscow, not Leningrad or the Ukraine, should be the main objective. It is obvious from the summation of the maneuvers written down by Paulus after the war that it was Halder's general staff plan that was being tested and that Hitler's wishes were being disregarded. The participants took the general staff instructions as their starting point, with no independent effort being made to question certain precepts that by now had become articles of faith accepted by everyone connected with Halder and the OKH. It was, for example, assumed for purposes of the maneuvers (1) that the Russians would have to give battle west of the Dnepr-Dvina line in order to protect their vital production centers; (2) that the Russians would commit a significant part of their army to battle close to the frontier in order to protect recently acquired territories and to slow down the German offensive from the very first; (3) that it was necessary to concentrate the largest possible force in the [82] area of Army Group Center in order to take Moscow as rapidly as possible; (4) that the Wehrmacht was decisively superior to the Red Army in artillery, tanks, signals and communications, and in the air. It was taken for granted that the German infantry division was one-third stronger than the Russian in heavy weapons{42}.

The objective posed during the war game was to reach the upper Dnepr-Dvina-Lake Peipus line, not actually to take Moscow itself, although Moscow was considered to be the keystone of the entire operation. Army Group South was to push from Rumania and southern Poland toward Kiev. Army Group Center was to attack from southern East Prussia and from around Brest Litovsk in order to cut off the Russians in the Bialystok salient, which protruded sharply westward. Army Group Center was then to send panzer columns rapidly ahead to a line east of Orsha and Vitebsk, establishing bridgeheads across the Dnepr. Army Group North was to advance from East Prussia toward Leningrad, with the line Velikie Luki-Staraia Russa-Lake Peipus as its first objective. Army Group North was also given the responsibility of protecting the left flank of Army Group Center.

After reaching these objectives on the twentieth day of the theoretical invasion, everyone agreed to call a three-week halt in order to refresh the armored units, bring up supplies, and regroup forces in general. In an evaluation of the situation at this point, the commander of Army Group South, which had been held up in front of Kiev, asked for the loan of some armored units from Army Group Center to aid in cutting off the Russians defending Kiev from the rear. Army Group South would strike northeastward from a bridgehead south of Kiev while Army Group Center would send help from an area near Gomel across the Dnepr and the Desna rivers to Nezhin. The OKH reserve armor near Gomel would also be committed in this maneuver. The commander of Army Group North came forward with a similar request for the loan of Army Group Center's and the OKH's armor in order to stabilize the front held by his right (southern) wing north of Velikie Luki-Lake Ilmen. These requests were argued against by the commander of Army Group Center, who maintained that side issues would not determine the outcome of the war and that his group must preserve its strength intact if a successful assault on Moscow were to be carried out.

The end result of these deliberations was that Army Group [83] Center was given the go-ahead to carry out its mission while the other two army groups were restricted to more or less supporting roles. Army Group South was to surround Kiev with no outside help while at the same time concentrating the bulk of its forces on its left (northern) wing and cutting off the Russians west of the line Kharkov-Kursk. Once the line Kharkov-Kursk had been reached, the southern flank of Army Group Center would be secured. In regard to Army Group North, Halder himself insisted that the capture of Leningrad and the destruction of the Soviet forces along the Baltic would wait until the task of Army Group Center had been accomplished{43}. In the meantime. Army Group North was to beef up its right wing connecting with the central front in the area of Velikie Luki-south of Lake Ilmen-Lake Peipus.

In his summary of the lessons learned in the war game study, Paulus concluded that the German forces "were barely sufficient for the purpose" assigned to them. Paulus demonstrated that the Wehrmaeht would be shorn of its reserves by the time it reached Moscow and that the final assault on the city would have to be undertaken by forces already engaged on the front lines without any follow-up reinforcements at all. Paulus also noted that reaching the Volga-Archangel line was beyond the power of the Wehrmacht to achieve.

Another factor that emerged in varying guises as the biggest problem to be overcome during these exercises was, as has been mentioned, the difficulty associated with time and space in a country as large as the Soviet Union. In order to make the accepted German theory of blitzkrieg warfare serve in this wholly unprecedented situation, the participants in the exercise quickly discovered that some sort of compromise had to be reached between the fast-racing armored units and the slower-moving infantry. It was finally decided to allow the armor to forge ahead in independent thrusts, leaving the infantry alone to mop up the enemy cutoff by the freewheeling pincer movements of the mobile columns. This, of course, left unanswered the serious reservations some commanders had about the lack of flank protection for these independent armored thrusts, but this problem was not solved in 1940. Indeed, it was not adequately dealt with in 1941, either.

The facts of the supply situation seemed to wreak even worse havoc with theory. The distance from the Bug River to Smolensk was seven hundred kilometers, and to Moscow a full one thousand [84] kilometers by air. The games demonstrated that the German supply depots located close behind the original starting point would be adequate to sustain a drive eastward only to the Dnepr-Dvina line. If new supply areas were to be built, they would be dependent on the sparsely connected, mostly one-track, wide-gauge Russian railway system. Even after the destroyed railway lines were rebuilt, taking into account the extra difficulty of correcting the track gauge, the calculation was that shortages and interruptions in supply could not be prevented. In summary, it was concluded that, with the materials available, improvisation would have to be relied upon and that no concrete solution could be found beforehand for the problem of supply{44}.

The Paulus war maneuvers were amazingly accurate in foreshadowing the actual course of events after June 22, 1941. The collapse of the blitzkrieg method of warfare was only a matter of time after the eastern campaign began, as Paulus's exercise demonstrated beyond a doubt. It is to be wondered why, taking all the information at his disposal into account, Halder did not discard his previously submitted operational scheme and offer new, more realistic proposals to Hitler early in 1941, based on the likelihood that the campaign would require a minimum of two seasons in Russia instead of one. Paulus had proven the general staff plan of December 5, 1940, to be bankrupt, devoid of any chance of success. It was now up to Hitler to use what few hard bits of information he had in order to mold a solid cast for an eastern operational directive. This was done on December 18, 1940, in the form of Order Number 21{45}.

Directive Barbarossa And Its Implementation

The similarities of Order Number 21, or Directive Barbarossa to the earlier discussed Lossberg study have already been mentioned, but two of these points should be singled out. First, after the enemy forces in White Russia were crushed. Army Group Center was to prepare to turn northward with strong mobile units and help Army Group North clear the Baltic area of any Soviet threat. Second, with regard to Moscow, "Only after the fulfillment of this first essential task, which must include the occupation of Leningrad and Kronstadt, will the attack be continued with the intention of occupying Moscow." It was further stated that "only a surprisingly rapid collapse of Russian resistance could justify the simultaneous [85] pursuit of both objectives [i.e., Leningrad and Moscow]." In most other respects, however, Directive Number 21 did not differ materially from Halder's proposal of December 5, especially on the tactical level. Plan Barbarossa agreed with the general staff that deeply penetrating armored spearheads could effectively lead to the destruction of the bulk of the Red Army in western Russia. It also incorporated the idea that the main weight of the entire offensive, a force composed of two army groups, should fall north of the Pripet Marshes. The third army group. Army Group South, was to push in the direction of Kiev while seeking to destroy all Soviet forces in the western Ukraine by means of concentric operations (see Figure 7).

An examination of Directive Number 21 reveals nothing to support the contention that Hitler was obsessed with economic goals while neglecting the necessary, purely military measures. The only direct reference to the economic ends of the campaign is contained in the following passage:

When the battles north and south of the Pripet Marshes are ended, the pursuit of the enemy will have the following aims: in the south the early capture of the Donets Basin, important for war industry; in the north a quick advance to Moscow. The capture of this city would represent a decisive political and economic success and would also bring about the capture of the most important railway junctions.

Directive Barbarossa closed with the statement that the fuhrer awaited submission of the final plans by his service chiefs in accordance with the guidelines laid down by the directive. The fateful year 1941 was now at hand, and the initial mid-May target date for Barbarossa was but a short time away. Much had to be done to prepare for the new war; Halder and Brauchitsch immersed themselves in the tedious but necessary mass of details that had to be sorted out if the army in the east were to have a coherent organization and a sense of purpose. It has been said of Halder, however, that his "bureaucratic diligence" was excessive and that he should have devoted more time to the broader concepts of strategy and planning{46}. Halder's diary overflows with remarks about petty details that would hardly seem to come within the province of the chief of the general staff.

On January 31, 1941, Halder and Brauchitsch presented the [86] [Fig.7] [87] Deployment Directive Barbarossa to Hitler. This document outlined the basic areas of deployment and operational objectives for all army groups, panzer groups, and armies on the eastern front{47}. The OKH had been compelled, no matter how grudgingly, to go along with Hitler's wishes as expressed at the December 5, 1940, conference. For this reason the deployment directive provided that, after Smolensk was reached by Army Group Center, "a strong portion of its mobile strength should cooperate with Army Group North in order to destroy the enemy forces along the Baltic and in the area of Leningrad." A provision was made for an immediate assault on Moscow only if there came about "an unexpected and total collapse of enemy resistance in northern Russia obviating the necessity of turning [armored forces to the north]."

Actually, however, the deployment directive was a compromise, because the distribution of forces it dictated shows that the army leadership was trying to prevent a watering down of its own "guiding concepts." Army Group South was given three armies and one panzer group in order to achieve its mission of destroying the Red Army in Galicia and the western Ukraine, but one of these armies, the Eleventh, was ordered at Hitler's insistence to stand on the defensive in Rumania. The German force north of the Pripet Marshes, composed of fifty infantry and twenty-two mobile or armored divisions, was much stronger than the southern force of thirty infantry and only eight mobile or armored divisions. The OKH hoped that Army Group North, with its twenty-one divisions (five mobile), would do well enough against the estimated thirty enemy divisions on its front so that it could get along without any outside help. In this way, the OKH calculated that Army Group North would be able to not only control the situation on the Baltic but also cover the left flank of Army Group Center's push to Moscow{48}.

The situation in the south, however, continued to be a vexing problem. Since the end of 1940 an increasing amount of intelligence information had been filtering out of the Soviet Union that indicated beyond a doubt that a major shift in the deployment of the Red Army was taking place{49}. The new area of concentration was the Ukraine, with the buildup there placing Army Group South decisively in a numerically inferior position. Geographically, too, squeezed as it was between the Pripet Marshes on its left flank [88] and the four hundred-kilometer-long barrier of the Carpathian Mountains on its right. Army Group South could not hope to score well in the early battles along the frontier. In March 1941, von Rundstedt, the commander of Army Group South, proposed forming a "Carpathian Group" drawn from the Seventeenth Army that would use Hungarian territory as its base for the attack against Russia. This strategy would avoid clashing head-on with the three Soviet armies in the Galician-Podolian bottleneck between the Pripet swamps and the eastern Carpathians. Hitler refused, however, citing the political reservations of the Hungarian government. Thus, after the German forces in Rumania had been weakened by the Balkan campaign, and contrary to the original plan. Army Group South was to have only one wing of encirclement and the Seventeenth Army would have to advance straight into the enemy's front{50}. The growing feeling of uneasiness about the situation in the Ukraine was manifested in a conference held at the Berghof on February 3, 1941, shortly after the issuance of the Barbarossa deployment directive.

On that occasion, Halder noted, in his report to Hitler dealing with the conduct of operations during Barbarossa, that signs of Russian military activity were on the increase in both the Baltic and the Ukraine{51}. Halder discounted the significance of this new Soviet initiative in strengthening their defenses, however, by downgrading the fighting capability of the Red Army. Halder produced the latest general staff Intelligence Department figures, which estimated the Soviet forces opposing Germany at only one hundred infantry and twenty-five cavalry divisions, plus thirty mechanized brigades{52}. The enemy was credited with having more tanks than the Wehrmacht, but the Russian mechanized units were described as being substantially inferior to the German. As for the tank units operating in the Soviet combined-arms rifle divisions, the chief of the general staff described them as being "wretched, slapped together material." The Russians were conceded to be well provided with artillery, but their equipment was belittled as "of small value." Halder also believed it was pointless even to talk about the leadership of the Red Army, saying only Marshal Timo-shenko had any talent to speak of. It would appear from the general tenor of Halder's address that he was going beyond the usual ridicule of the Soviet armed forces, so fashionable in high army circles, and was earnestly trying to convince Hitler that all the [89] Wehrmacht had to do was walk into Moscow and demand the keys to the Kremlin. The continued attempts by Halder and the OKH to erode Hitler's sense of judgment by supplying him misleading information did not have an immediate effect, but later, after June 1941, the cumulative pressure on the fuhrer from all directions would become very great, and his stubborn will would break with telling results.

In response to Halder's report. Hitler refused to take the bait offered him and said that he was still of the opinion that the Russians would not be easily driven out of the Baltic and the Ukraine. He continued to maintain that the Red Army must not merely be driven back but destroyed wholesale, and that the best way to do this would be by anchoring the strongest German forces on the flanks while holding defensively on the central front. Then after the flanks were secure, the remaining enemy forces in the center could be dealt with by means of concentric operations. Again, and . the point must be reemphasized. Hitler based his arguments solely on strategic considerations, not on long-range economic plans or abstruse political dogma as has so often been charged.

The lines of conflict now were firmly drawn between Hitler and the OKH. No further changes in basic goals or strategy were to take place before June 22, 1941. The only major alteration in planning came as a result of the coup in Yugoslavia in late March 1941, which made it necessary for Hitler to clear the southern flank in the Balkans before turning to the main target, the Soviet Union. The Balkan operations, which began on April 6, caused Barbarossa to be postponed by five weeks, from May 15 to June 22, 1941{53}. Hitler agreed to the new timetable in a conference with Warlimont on April 30, 1941. Some have said that this delay was a vital factor in the failure of the German blitzkrieg in Russia to achieve a decisive victory before the onset of winter, but this is not really likely{54}. It is improbable that the attack could have taken place earlier, because of difficulties in deploying the German forces and also because of weather conditions inside the Soviet Union that produced unusually late and extensive spring floods. Nevertheless, it is generally agreed that the wear and tear on the German armored vehicles was severe in the mountainous Balkan region, and this would have an important effect later{55}. The most important reasons for the failure of the blitzkrieg, however, had little to do with the five-week delay, as will be seen. [90]

German Strategic Planning In Retrospect

For their part, the generals in the OKH and the general staff maintained a sullen silence about their real plans and intentions regarding Barbarossa. Halder and Brauchitsch chose not to provoke a clash with Hitler over the question of Moscow versus the flanks in the Soviet Union, but there can be no doubt that a gulf in understanding existed between the two opposing camps—Hitler and the OKW on one side and the OKH, along with its general staff, on the other. It should be said, though, that Warlimont, as head of Section "L" in the OKW was friendly to Halder and the OKH. As has already been noted, it may have been he who attempted to suppress the Lossberg study by preventing Hitler from seeing it; he may also have been responsible for keeping the study out of his superior's (Jodl's) hands for two months in 1940{56}.

It has been argued that the generals were justified in not clearing up the contradictions with Hitler before the campaign because Moscow could be held steadfast as a goal in the political and military sense without formulating the exact operational plans to get there. It was considered, moreover, bad form to plan the latter stages of a campaign even before the war had started{57}. In other words, the OKH and Hitler chose to interpret Moltke's dictum in different ways. Hitler elected to leave the strategic goals undecided until the strategy and power of resistance of the enemy had been tested and to wait until Smolensk and the Dnepr had been reached before making a final commitment. Halder and the OKH wanted to put one basic goal above all else, a strategy that ignored any real possibility of the enemy taking effective countermeasures on the flanks of the Central Army Group. According to this last view, only minor adjustments would have to be made to deal with difficulties on the flanks, whereas the main thrust of the offensive was to be carried out without worrying about enemy concentrations on the Baltic or in the Ukraine. Time would tell which of these views best suited the realities of combat on the eastern front.

Throughout the course of German strategic planning for the eastern campaign in 1940-1941, and especially after the abortive visit by Molotov to Berlin in November 1940, it became a consistent theme in the discussions of high-level military figures with Hitler that Germany had to settle conclusively with the Soviet Union in the immediate future. The necessity for starting a preventive [91] war against the Bolsheviks was something that was not in dispute, either by the OKH, the OKW, or Hitler{58}. On the diplomatic front, the swift Soviet action against the Baltic states and Rumania in June-July 1940, coupled with Molotov's demands for more Soviet influence in Finland and the Balkans in November 1940, convinced Hitler and the German military that the USSR was not going to be content with expansion toward the south and toward the Persian Gulf at the expense of the British Empire, as Ribbentrop and Hitler had wished{59}. Stalin was determined to play a leading role in European affairs, and he had done much since the German-Soviet nonaggression pact in the summer of 1939 to consolidate his country's strategic position in Poland, Finland, the Baltic states, and Rumania.

On the purely military front, by late spring 194), the Germans had a clearer picture, literally, of the scope of Russian preparations for war in the western areas. A group of specially equipped high-altitude Luftwaffe reconnaissance planes, "Squadron Rowehl," for some weeks had been conducting flights across the German-Russian demarcation line in depths of up to three hundred kilometers{60}. Although the information gathered from these flights was not conclusive, it became obvious that in the event of war the Soviet threat to Rumania and the Wehrmacht's oil supply would become very great. The decision, then, to deal a heavy blow to the USSR before its potential threat could grow much beyond the existing level was one that found easy acceptance among German military leaders. They certainly were not motivated by abstract ideas of "living space" in the east, nor were they dedicated to the grander concept of a "Greater German Reich" stretching from western Prance to the Black Sea{61}. This is not to deny that the non-Nazigenerals favored territorial expansion for Germany, but none of them are on record as having endorsed Hitler's most extreme proposals in this respect. They did believe, however, that after 1941 the relative strength of the USSR, economically, diplomatically, and militarily, could only increase, whereas Germany's could only decline as long as the war dragged on in the west, a war that eventually might well mean the involvement of the United States{62}. Halder himself said after the war that no nation should be denied the ultimate right to launch a preventive war if that is the only alternative left open to it{63}. The Russians, too, are not loath to admit that their country, already under a massive war-oriented economic program [92] inaugurated by Stalin in 1929, would have been in a much stronger position in 1943 than in 1941{64}. The Third Reich's best chance was in 1941, albeit a slender one.

If there is any lesson to be learned from studying the German efforts at developing a plan for war against the Soviet Union, it is that the absence of harmony among the military and political leaders, and among the various military branches as well, produced an atmosphere in which the formulation of a smoothly coordinated program of action was quite impossible. It would be easy to single out one or more individuals—Halder, for example—as blameworthy for having brought this about, but to do so would be an oversimplification. The entire social, political, economic, and military system of the Third Reich can be viewed as an assortment of personal empires and spheres of influence that existed in a state of eternal and sometimes ferocious competition with one another. This point was driven home quite effectively by Albert Speer in his memoir, Inside the Third Reich {65}.

The OKH was one of many organizations that had to struggle for a measure of autonomy against the growing spheres of interest of Himmler, Goring, and Bormann. The OKH was also pitted in a struggle against a rival military organization, the OKW, which rightly or wrongly was regarded merely as an extension of Hitler's ego. In the poisoned atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion, rivalry and jealousy, that prevailed in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and early 1940s, it is easy to understand how Halder and his colleagues could work themselves into a subversive and conspiratorial frame of mind against anything or anyone, including Hitler, who dared encroach upon their own private bailiwick{66}. To go to war under such conditions meant, however, to court disaster. It would also be wrong to condemn the OKH and the general staff out of hand for their slipshod and amateurish handling of Russia as a strategic problem, for they, as has been seen, were operating in an informational vacuum with regard to the prospective enemy. But history is a cruel judge and ignorance cannot be allowed to serve as an excuse.

The real test of the wisdom and good sense of the OKH and its leaders would come on the banks of the Dnepr, Dvina, and Desna in the summer of 1941, at Smolensk, Yelnia, and Kiev. By then enough would be known of the enemy and his tactics for them to [93] make an honest appraisal of a situation that had proven to be a good deal more complex and perilous than they had originally imagined. By drawing the correct conclusions after reaching the Dnepr, the German army could have been spared a catastrophe for another year; precious time could have been won for gearing the country and its economy for total war. But this was not to be. [94] [95]