Eastern Front in the Context of the Second World War Term Paper

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World War II -- Eastern Front

While the personality of any dictator may significantly influence the military decisions of his/her dictatorship, perhaps the clearest instance of this phenomenon occurred in World War II's Barbarossa, an invasion of Russia in the Eastern Front. Obsessed with his messianic delusions, Hitler's personal flaws resulted in the ultimate failure of the greatest invasion in recorded history. The failure of that invasion, in turn, directly resulted in Germany's loss of World War II.

Hitler's Personal Flaws Caused the Failure of Barbarossa

Synthesis of reputable historical sources, some of which stress Adolf Hitler's personal flaws while others minimize or ignore them, reveals that Adolf Hitler's personal shortcomings caused the failure of Barbarossa and, therefore, caused Germany's loss of World War II. Hitler's warlike personality was apparently dominated by "the three p's": prejudice, paranoia, and perplexity. Though Hitler was famously prejudiced against Jewish people, his prejudice against all non-Aryan people, including the people of Russia, was equally intense and costly. This deep-seeded prejudice is perhaps best described by Richard Overy, who asserts that when wedded with his messianic complex, Hitler's "savage prejudices" made him an explosive force in world politics[footnoteRef:1], in this case reflecting a nearly mythic contest between Slavs and Germans for the 7 prior centuries.[footnoteRef:2] Matthew Cooper shares Overy's vision, believing that Hitler was confident of victory due to the qualitatively inferior enemy.[footnoteRef:3] Though minimizing its effect, Gerhard Weinberg touches on the effects of this longstanding prejudice, stating that that Hitler and his army deemed non-Aryans Untermenschen, or subhuman[footnoteRef:4] and John Keegan speaks of the resulting policy whereby Germans oppressed and exploited "inferior" people.[footnoteRef:5] Unfortunately, though focusing on the doctrine and training of the German Army, Robert Citino essentially ignores the importance of this prejudice in formulating German policy toward all non-Aryan races, including the Russian people. As a result of this prejudice and underestimation of the people of Russia to endure and eventually beat back the Germans, Hitler seriously miscalculated the ultimate effectiveness of Barbarossa. [1: Richard Overy, Why the Allies Won (New York, NY W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1997), 10.] [2: Ibid., 219] [3: Matthew Cooper, The German Army, 1933-1945: Its Political and Military Failure (New York, NY: Stein and Day, 1978), 215.] [4: Gerhard L. Weinberg, A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 756.] [5: John Keegan, The Battle for History: Re-Fighting World War II (New York, NY: First Vintage Books Edition, 1996), 115.]

Hitler's paranoia also apparently significantly contributed to the failure of Barbarossa. Cooper speaks extensively of Hitler's inherent distrust of his own generals. As Citino states, a well-trained German military leader understood through training that victory depended not only on his own army's intentions but also on the terrain and enemy's attitude.[footnoteRef:6] Knowing these factors through the benefit of training, Hitler's generals warned him of the probably failure of Barbarossa; however, Hitler refused to listen due to his distrust of his own generals. Though the most notable instance of distrust is focused on Heinz Guderian[footnoteRef:7], who was led Hitler's 2nd Panzer Group taking part in Barbarossa, Cooper points out that Hitler's distrust of his generals shocked and dismayed them[footnoteRef:8], and that distrust grew in the course of Barbarossa.[footnoteRef:9] Weinberg also speaks of Hitler's distrust of his military leadership[footnoteRef:10], a crippling doubt that grew with each defeat.[footnoteRef:11] However, Citino, Keegan and Overy do not mention the paranoia/distrust that compelled Hitler to formulate his plans and ignore the warnings of his own generals. [6: Citino, 50.] [7: Cooper, 530.] [8: Ibid., 189.] [9: Ibid., 444.] [10: Weinberg, 686.] [11: Ibid., 454.]

Finally, though Hitler's forces enjoyed several significant early victories[footnoteRef:12], ultimately suffered defeat due to Hitler's perplexity as to which way his forces should be directed once they were in Russia. After his initial easy victories during Barbarossa, Hitler was unsure of whether to plunge ahead or split and disperse his forces. Hitler decided to split his forces to pursue economic targets, which is deemed his worst, fateful misjudgment, which spread his forces over an increasingly huge expanse within Russia, particularly toward the south.[footnoteRef:13] Though Citino examined the indoctrination and training prior to Barbarossa, rather than the actual invasion, Cooper speaks of the indecision and delays that proved fatal to Barbarossa, ultimately dooming the invasion.[footnoteRef:14] Weinberg wholeheartedly agrees, stating that once the assault had failed to cause the quick collapse of Russia, the Germans could no longer defeat Russia.[footnoteRef:15] Meanwhile, a major flaw of Keegan's work is the fact that he disregards Hitler's indecision as a direct cause of Barbarossa's failure. The impact of Hitler's personal flaws -- his prejudice, paranoia and perplexity -- all certainly resulted in the failure of Barbarossa. [12: Robert Michael Citino, The Path to Blitzkrieg: Doctrine and Training in the German Army, 1920-1939 (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1999), 2.] [13: Overy, 67.] [14: Cooper, 281.] [15: Weinberg, 269.]

The Failure of Barbarossa Caused Germany's Loss of World War II

The failure of Barbarossa, a defeat of the largest invasion force in history, resulted in Germany's eventual loss of the entire War. As Overy discusses at length, Hitler was obsessed with Russia on the Eastern Front and it was only his preoccupation with the invasion and conquer of Russia that shifted massive forces and equipment from certain victory over Great Britain.[footnoteRef:16] Ignoring the advice of at least some of his generals, Hitler believed that a blitzkrieg concentrating a huge force in a lightning strike of war would conquer Russia in 4 months.[footnoteRef:17] Hitler's belief was initially borne out in the early, rapid victories of his forces in Russia; however, after extending into Russia on the Eastern Front, Hitler mistakenly split his forces toward the north and south, immensely overextending them[footnoteRef:18] and extending the time of the war into the dreaded Russian Winter, resulting in huge German casualties from wounds, frostbite and starvation.[footnoteRef:19] Cooper and correctly carries his analysis even further, calling Barbarossa "The Failure"[footnoteRef:20] and "The End." [footnoteRef:21] Keegan not only joins the chorus but also point to the growing hostility toward Hitler by his generals following the defeat.[footnoteRef:22] Weinberg, in turn, cites this great loss as a major reason for Hitler's deepened distrust of his generals.[footnoteRef:23] While these sources concentrate on some differing aspects of the invasion, all agree that the failure of Barbarossa inexorably changed the fortunes of the Third Reich, ultimately ending in its defeat by turning Germany's focus from the Western to the Eastern Front, spreading German forces too thin and inflicting huge casualties on the Germans. In sum, Hitler's personal foibles directly led to the failure of Barbarossa, which directly led to Germany's loss of World War II. [16: Overy, 14.] [17: Overy, 19.] [18: Overy, 71.] [19: Overy, 83.] [20: Cooper, 311.] [21: Cooper, 460.] [22: Keegan, 61.] [23: Weinberg, 454.]

Conclusion

History is often the story of one person's flaws afflicting whole populations. This truism was never truer than in World War II. A man obsessed with a messianic delusion fed off his personal foibles, rising to great power over a revitalized nation but then causing himself and that nation to crash in utter defeat. The greatest invasion on Earth was devised but ultimately doomed by this man: Hitler's prejudice, paranoia, and perplexity defeated the invasion of Russia, known as Barbarossa. Hitler's rabid prejudice against all non-Aryan people, including the people of Russia, was intense and costly. Deeming these people Untermenschen, or subhuman, Hitler simultaneously planned to oppress and exploit these "inferior" people while clearly underestimating their abilities to endure and ultimately defeat him. Hitler's paranoia was also a major factor in the failure of Barbarossa, for his distrust of his own generals led him to ignore their advice and experience, crippling Germany's military future through his unrealistic plan to defeat Russia in merely 4 weeks. Finally,…[continue]

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