Operation Barbarossa are two words that emnate pure terror to any European. It would start a war between Germans and Russians that would end with tens of millions dead (either on the battlefield, massacre or as POWs). On the 68th anniversary of this battle I figured I’d talk a little bit about it. This particular post and map focuses on the military aspects of the campaign (in the future I’ll talk about the horrifying aspect of Barbarossa involving the Nazi death squads).
After Hitler could not subjugate Britain by either air supremacy or coastal invasion (Operation Sea Lion was postponed, and eventually cancelled), he turned his sights eastward toward Russia.
There were definitely huge advantages for Germany if they did win. The Soviet Union had the largest army and air force in Europe, some of the richest territory in terms of resources, and the last great meance to Nazi dominance of the continent. If Germany were to crush the Russians in combat, they could be overlords of the European mainland for years to come.
They also believed they would have the superior tacticians on the field, thanks largely in part due to Stalin’s Great Purge. The embarrassing performance by the Soviet Union against Finland in 1939 reinforced that notion. It would bear out during the early months of Barbarossa, when Soviet commanders, afraid of the NKVD squads if they gave ‘retreat’ orders, would rather they and their soldiers face encirclement and imprisonment from the German Panzers.
However war against Russia needed to be won swiftly. The German economy was not in the shape to fight a long, protracted war, which was certainly what Barbarossa would entail. A decisive military victory would have to come in the first year or two of the invasion if Germany was going to have any chance to win in the Eastern Front.
Moreover, while he respected the British as a people and longed for a coalition of both the empires, Hitler expressed malice for the Russians almost as tantamount as his hatred for the Jews. Indeed, the main reasons for the invasion were probably ideological, which overruled strategic orthdoxy from the outset. Hitler outlined his stark and frightening thoughts on Russia early on in his famous testament, Mein Kampf:
Here Fate itself seems desirous of giving us a sign. By handing P ussia to Bolshevism, it robbed the Russian nation of that intelligentsia which previously brought about and guaranteed its existence as a state. For the organization of a Russian state formation was not the result of the political abilities of the Slavs in Russia, but only a wonderful example of the state-forming efficacity of the German element in an inferior race.
For centuries Russia drew nourishment from this Germanic nucleus of its upper leading strata. Today it can be regarded as almost totally exterminated and extinguished. It has been replaced by the Jew. Impossible as it is for the Russian by himself to shake off the yoke of the Jew by his own resources, it is equally impossible for the Jew to maintain the mighty empire forever. He himself is no element of organization, but a ferment of decomposition. The Persian I empire in the east is ripe for collapse. And the end of Jewish rule in Russia will also be the end of Russia as a state. We have been chosen by Fate as witnesses of a catastrophe which will be the mightiest confirmation of the soundness of the folkish theory.
Indeed, the campaign would be full of such barbaric overtones, and would eventually rob the Germans of the strategic advantages they had enjoyed in their biggest battles in Europe (we can talk about that later).
As for the Soviets, they were in good shape to anticipate the attack; they received NUMEROUS intelligence reports that indicated, even a report that indicating an attack for June 22. However, Stalin refused to believe any of this; whether he had wholly deluded himself to believe this or simply shrank from the moment can be debated for ages.
As you can see from the map above, the plan was for the Germans to center their attacks on Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev, with one army group in charge of each case. The northern most group (Army Group North) would advance through the Baltic states with minimal help from the Finns looking to recapture lost territory from the Winter War. The southern most group (Army Group South) attacking the Ukraine would advance with the help of Rumanian and Hungarian satellite troops. The middle group, Army Group Centre, would be assigned the most tanks (two of the four Panzer groups), charged with encircling the bulk of the Soviet troops and opening the road to Moscow. Eventually they would try to take the territory between the Russian cities of Astrakahan in the Caucasus, which would occupy practically all of European Russia.
The Germans would engage nearly four million soldiers to the initial attack with 3600 tanks and 4400 aircraft; although they’d be outnumbered 4 to 1 in tanks and 3 to 1 in aircraft, those numbers would mean less compared to the inability for the Red Army troops to manuever, the fear of Stalin by Red Army commanders, and the inferiority of the equipment to defend with (the Soviets would not start producing T-34s en masse until very late in 1941, and Soviet aircraft was of barely average quality throughout the Second World War and was generally outclassed by the Luftwaffe until late in the European campaign).
Ultimately, each side (one fueled with ideological motivations, the other wandering with willful ignorance of the situation about to unfold) would collide into circumstances that would ensure the maximum number of casualties. It would leave a generation of men from Europe’s largest countries ravaged. To think it could all have been avoided.
1. Germany should not have prosecuted the war in Russia until they had finished off Britain. Had Hitler finished off the British by either overwhelming the Royal Air Force or achieving total economic blockade with the U-Boat campaign, the worry of persisting in a two-front War would have dissipated. Unfortunately, Hitler remained deluded that the British would welcome a partnership with Germany to help govern the world. This viewpoint seemingly made even less sense considering their leader Winston Churchill was one of the most vehmently anti-Nazi leaders BEFORE the war even begun.
2. Hitler’s paranoia about Jews and Bolsheviks ultimately led to his undoing. Hitler’s inability to reconcile his perceptions of the ‘Jewish conspiracy’ would force him to conduct the war with Russia from ideological rather than pragmatic purposes (although he did turn the war into an economic one). It would end tragically for the Jews in Eastern Europe, especially in the Ukraine and Belarus, but it would also ultimately lead to the destruction of their Gideon.
The ideology against Slavs would alienate and antagonize many Baltics, Ukranians and White Russians. These peoples were no friends of Stalin and Communism; they weren’t even very friendly to the Jews. However, instead of collaborating, recruiting local troops from these territories, and setting the resources of these occupied territories to the Third Reich, the Nazis would treat those occupied as inferior peoples not worthy of anything but slave labor or extermination. Thus a potential pool of soldiers and resources was severly drained and those who survived were lost to the partisan movement or the prisoner camps of the East.
3. Stalin’s stubbornness to reconcile himself with reality would end up costing Russia millions of its finest soldiers. The Red Army would only mobilize in the hours before the invasion when it was far too late to face the attack head-on. Interestingly, while Hitler’s personal feelings about Russia would color the portrait of the war that was about to unfold, without Stalin’s co-operation (by his ignoring all warnings of war coming to the Motherland) the Red Army would never have been brought as close as it was to near breaking point.
4. Germany would have to win quick. Letting the war drag on would ultimately lead to a war of attrition, one the Soviet Union was bound to win. The Germans would have to rely more than ever on their Panzers to outmanuever and envelop the slower, plodding Russian armies.
5. Germany still had a decent shot to destroy Russia. I’ll talk about this later on.
In the next few posts I’ll get into the nitty gritty of Operation Barbarossa, and then in a post after that I’ll talk more about the darker side of the battle.
Source: John Keegan, The Second World War (The best one volume novel on World War II around. I’m sure there are better books out there, but this books does a great job of breaking down the big picture, of how these stories fit into broader history and gets us deep into the mindsets of the people prosecuting the war. There are probably fine books breaking down the intricacies of warfare, but if you want the best book to learn about the overaching nature of World War II, Keegan is for you. Keep in mind he does not like Clausewitz.)
For those wanting a visual depiction of the Xenophon story, click on the picture of the map to go to the actual Google Map.
~The blue markers represent where the mercenaries originated from.
~The red territory marks the extent of the Persian Empire during the time of the march; the Greeks would have to make it to the Black Sea to sail their way to Greece.
~The blue line….is well…yeah, the line they marched on.
~The fire represents where the battle of Cunaxa took place and all that jazz. There aren’t many details outside of the book of Anabasis; click on the link to check it out via Project Gutenburg!
For those not familiar with the story, Xenophon was a Greek philosopher/adventurer back in those ancient times. He accompanied Greek mercenaries under Cyrus into the heart of the Persian empire to march on Babylon to overthrow Cyrus’s brother, the Persian king Ataxerxes. The attack failed, Cyrus was killed, and the Greek commander was ambushed and beheaded by Persian soldiers on the trek back to Greek territory. As the Greek soldiers began to fall into despair, Xenophon began to cast himself into the spotlight.
“That night Xenophon, who had stayed mostly on the sidelines during the expedition, had ad ream: a lightning bolt from Zeus set fire to his father’s house. He woke up in a sweat. It suddenly struck him: death was staring the Greeks in the face, yet they lay around moaning, despairing, arguing. The problem was in their heads. Fightin for money rather than for a purpose or a cause, unable to distinguish between friend and foe, they had gotten lost. The barriers between them ”
Eventually Xenophon would help inspire the Greeks to forget about these internal battles and turn their fight outward onto the Persians. He told them to focus on one goal: Getting home to Greece. Inspired by this call to arms, the Greeks managed to elude the Persian army and get back to Greece in reduced, but still healthy numbers.
Now, what does that have to do with the Big Cactus? Let’s take a little look at his personal taste in movies:
“Remember, Shaq’s favorite movie is “The Warriors,” the ’70′s classic where the top gang leader in New York City (Cyrus) holds a gang summit and tries to organize the first-ever gang revolution. As Cyrus points out, the total number of gang members doubles the number of police officers in the city, which logically means that they can overpower them and take over everything. Apparently, he didn’t know about the National Guard, the FBI, the Army and the Marines. Anyway, Cyrus gets assassinated at the gang summit — one of the most devastating screen deaths ever, right up there with Sonny Corleone and Hooch — and everyone incorrectly blames the Warriors, an unassuming gang from Coney Island.”
Sound familiar? The Warriors is actually based off of Xenophon’s Anabasis. The struggle, the despair, the leader stepping up (Swan taking the place of Xenophon).
What is striking is that despite this being Shaq’s favorite movie, he doesn’t seem to have learned the deeper meaning behind the message of the film. If he did, he might very well be most dominant center ever. Simmons wrote a fascinating paragraph about Shaq’s reaction in the 2006 NBA Finals, that even with Shaq playing the Robin role he still couldn’t cede the spotlight. The victory had to be about him, in some form or the other.
Shaq has struggled with internal drama his entire career, to the detriment of his team and perhaps his legacy. That he could never show up and lead his team to big victories (and it’s still debatable whether he’s ever shown up). That the NBA had to change the rules so teams could defend him. That he never put in the work to make his damned free throws. That everyone was out to get him. That his coaches were never good enough or masters of panic. That his teammates didn’t get him the ball enough. That his centers That his sidekicks (Penny, Kobe, Wade) were selfish and immature.
Perhaps there’s some truth to that. Shaq is candid like that. But what does it tell us about Shaq that he says such things? Is he just trying to make excuses for his narcissism and self-indulgence? He could’ve had at least seven to eight dominant seasons rather than three (imagine that 2000 season replicated six to seven times over), like Bill Russell and Kareem, and left the game as undoubtedly one of the greatest to ever play the game. Right now he’s sitting somewhere in the top 20, with two of his sidekicks (Kobe and Wade) on their way to surpassing him.
Shaq could’ve overcome all of this if he had the foresight of Xenophon or the will of Swan. Instead of being ruthless and destroying his opponents on the court after winning his first title, he retreated and did just enough to squeak his way to titles. If he had battled his inner insecurities and turned the inner drama into an external battle he waged to get to the top.
But he could never truly crush his insecurities. His career won’t be a disappointment, but it’ll be diminished from what it could’ve been. Shaq can say he’s the greatest center ever all he wants. We all know the truth. He didn’t do quite enough to get out of Persia.
This is only the first prototype of a series of maps I’m trying to make utilizing stories from the Fark main page. What I’m trying to do is utilize Google Maps to help catalog current Fark events. For now the process is manual, since I’m trying to be as precise as possible. We’ll have to see what happens when it gets larger.
Hopefully this’ll make it easier for fans of Fark and those looking for the funniest news of the day more easily. Here’s the description of how the categories are bunched up:
Dumbass: Blue Marker
FAIL: Blue Marker w/o dot
Stupid: Blue Pin
Cool: Sky Blue Marker
Caption: Sky Blue Marker w/o dot
Spiffy: Sky Blue Pin
Scary: Purple Marker
Strange: Purple Pin
Weird: Green Marker
Followup: Green Marker w/o dot
Sappy: Green Pin
Interesting: Red Marker
Unlikely: Red Marker w/o dot
Asinine: Red Pin
Amusing: Light Red Marker
Ironic: Light Red Marker w/o dot
Sad: Light Red Pin
Hero: Flag Marker
Florida: Sunshine Marker
Obvious: Yellow Marker
Silly: Yellow Marker w/o dot
Sick: Yellow Pin
PSA: Information button
The next step will probably be to separate the maps into categories so people can find events based on the event they’re looking for. This is far from a perfect project but I think it’s a pretty good start.
Two main ideas I have right now:
- Separating the maps by day, finding a way to combine them into one.
- Separating the maps by category, allowing the users to filter the events they want to see.
If you guys have any ideas how I can improve this, just comment away or shoot me an email: ramanujanredux at gmail dot com.
I originally created a map of the events of the Battle of Cannae on Concharto, then modified it for Google Maps. For some reason it’s not appearing quite right on initial load up. If you just click on any of the events on the right though, the map should appear and you can adjust it as you need to.