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Some contend that Hitler order Operation Barbarossa because there was the threat of imminent Soviet aggression toward Germany. This claim has been dismissed, for the most part, as Nazi propaganda. Whether or not Russia was going to attack Germany and whether or not Hitler's reasoning for wanting to preemptively strike or simply he had his eyes on the prize, both of these thoughts are make-believe thoughts. What this shows in the terms of war is that discourse is not just between two nations or territories, but discourse often goes on inside the minds of individuals in a somewhat abstract way. Thus, Hitler was obeying his own inner rules by choosing to go forward with Operation Barbarossa. It was attack or be attacked; kill or be killed. Take or be taken. "Thus reasoning in the abstract, the mind cannot stop short of an extreme, because it has to deal with an extreme, with a conflict of forces left to themselves, and obeying no other but their own inner laws" (Clausewitz & Maude 6).
Operation Barbarossa was supposed to last a mere 6 to 10 weeks, but it went on for almost four years and it ended in the complete defeat of the German nation. "…war is not a mere act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political activity by other means" (Clausewitz 84). The fact that Operation Barbarossa lasted so long was undoubtedly one of the causes of its failure. Clausewitz notes that a conquest cannot be carried out too quickly, but to spread it out over a period of time longer than what is needed makes the conquest much more difficult rather than easier. Hitler's plan was that 120 to 130 divisions would defeat Russian by summer's end in a very efficient and decisive campaign. This way of going about the operation was most definitely in keep with Clausewitz's approach to war. Yet, there is always chance in war -- or rather -, chance is the very nature of war itself and via the element of chance, "guesswork and luck come to play a great part in war " (85).
Hitler did not consider chance with Operation Barbarossa as the German soldiers were not even outfitted with appropriate winter clothing. There were about 14,000 German soldiers who had to endure amputations because of frostbite during the winter of 1941 to 1942. The whole plan was to create great forces under this veil of secrecy and then strike with swift and efficient force, defeating the Red Army in the process (Ziemke 11).
The Russians were to be thrown off balance at the start and remorselessly pressed from that moment on; they were never to be permitted a breathing spell, a chance to gather their strength (Ziemke 11).
Hitler described what the intention of Operation Barbarossa was in his Directive #21: "The bulk of the Russian Army stationed in Western Russia will be destroyed…Russian forces still capable of giving battle will be prevented from withdrawing into the depths of Russia" (Trevor-Roper 49).
The attack was meant to be 3-pronged in that massive groupings would destroy the Red Army, which would leave the way to Leningrad, Moscow and the Ukraine completely open. This large forward area was meant to push the enemy forward while spreading him quite thin at the same time. This would also allow the protection of German lines of communications all the way to the very rear.
Hitler used three very important strategic principles of smaller though still great significance: size, shock, and speed. These characteristics are oftentimes considered to be tactical concepts, but Hitler was able to develop and execute them on a whole different level, which turned them into strategic tactics. They were so effective at the onset of Operation Barbarossa that it gave them a great importance -- strategically speaking.
Size, first of all, created a giant surprise -- or shock -- effect. Hitler worked with Clausewitz theories in mind: "…superiority varies in degree…it can obviously reach the point where it is overwhelming…it thus follows that as many troops as possible should be brought into the engagement at the decisive point" (Clausewitz 94). Clark (46) views this as:
The head-on crash of the two greatest armies, the two most absolute systems, in the world. In terms of numbers of men, weight in ammunition, length in front, the desperate crescendo of the fighting, there will never be another day like 22nd June, 1941 (Clark 46).
There was almost complete security surrounding Barbarossa. Hitler's top men were even told from the beginning that the operation was simply going to be precautionary. Hitler as well as Ribbentrop denied -- despite gossip -- that there was any truth in the rumors that Germany was going to invade the Soviet Union. but, both British and American intelligence gave forewarning to the Kremlin directly. Stalin refused to consider those warnings, believing that American and England were simply capitalists merely trying to mislead him. Rather, Stalin transformed and carried on the laborious work of meeting the agreed export levels of strategic material to Germany at a large forfeit to Russia. In fact, the last trainload of strategic material reached Germany in the same hour that Hitler began Operation Barbarossa. (Austin 11). A while after the onset of war, German radio operators were still checking on messages to Moscow: "We are being fired upon; what shall we do?" (Clark 44). It was, perhaps, because of Stalin's stubbornness that the Russians were completely ill-prepared for the German invasion. However, their ill-preparedness would not turn out to be a problem for Russia -- but rather for Germany.
The Germans perfected Blitzkrieg warfare in Poland, France and the Balkans. Clausewitz (Clausewitz 358) notes that "…the defensive form of warfare is intrinsically stronger than the offensive," however. Clausewitz appears to have predicted the course of the Russian campaign when he notes:
If defense is the stronger form of war, yet has a negative object, it follows that it should be used only so long as weakness compels, and be abandoned as soon as we are strong enough to pursue a positive object. Bonaparte may have been wrong to engage in the Russian campaign at all; at least the outcome certainly shows that he miscalculated (358).
Looking at Operation Barbarossa, it is imperative that it is remembered that Hitler was an accomplished politician. Hitler knew, as Clausewitz insisted, that war is simply an expansion of policy. The German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939 gave Hitler the ability to carry out his goals in Poland and Western Europe by stopping an alliance with Russian, Britain and France from occurring. However, when Europe was finally under Hitler's power, it was then time for Stalin to make his emergence onto the scene. When the orders were mandated to prepare for an invasion of the U.S.S.R., the German General Staff decided that they had to plan for Operation Barbarossa. Looking at it from today's perspective, it is a perfect example of Clausewitz's theory of how to approach war. There was a perfectly defined political objective -- to destroy Soviet Russia, as well as a very well-defined "center of gravity" (as Clausewitz aptly called it) -- the Russian Army needed to be crushed as well. There was, finally, a strategic application of size, efficiency and shock (Austin 9).
There may be some who would argue that the political objective -- the taking over of Russia -- was wrong from the get go; but Clausewitz would say that that would remain that it is up to Hitler, just as he did not have any opinions when it came to Napoleon's determination to attack Russia. "…we argue that if he was to aim at that objective, there was, broadly speaking, no other way of gaining it" (Clausewitz 628).
If Hitler and Clausewitz would have been able to talk about Operation Barbarossa during the initial plotting stage of Barbarossa, Clausewitz most likely would not have been against the invasion once the political choice had been decided upon. Clausewitz said of Napoleon approximately 100 years earlier, "The risk of losing his army in the process had to be accepted; that was the stake in the game, the price of his vast hopes" (Clausewitz 268).
Crushing the Red Amy was Hitler's main objective and his extension of political policy -- or discourse. The Red Army was Russia's "center of gravity." The Red Army stood in Hitler's way in some very real ways -- security of his regime most importantly. Hitler completely understood the very hearty association between the Red Army and the despotic regime of Stalin. In fact, Hitler believed that the Russian lower-class -- or peasants -- would probably revolt even before he could have invaded Russia.
Undoubtedly, Hitler was looking at the enormous potential…[continue]
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