The floodgates in Luftwaffe planning finally opened in the summer of 1941 with the completion of the army's Barbarossa programme and thelong-awaited decision to shift priority to the air war. In June 1941 the Air Ministry proposed a doubling of output to 20,000 aircraft per yearover the following three years.
To implement this expansion, Göring' staff came to an agreement with Fritz Todt to carry out the reallocation of resources from the army to the Luftwaffe in a 'consensual fashion'.Todt himself was to oversee the identification of spare capacity and to ensure continuity of employment for army contractors.
Days after the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Luftwaffe revealed the full urgency and ambition of its new plans. At a meeting with representatives of the OKW, State Secretary Milch announced that, as of 1 May 1941, German intelligence believed that combined British and American output had exceeded that of Germany and Italy. The United States alone was turning out 2,800 high-performance aero-engines per month. On current trends, Anglo-American output would be twice that of the Axis by the end of 1942. 'There is not a minute to lose...', Milch declared. By the summer
of 1942 Germany needed to increase its production of aircraft by 150 percent, to roughly 3,000 planes per month.
The precise target set by Milch was new, but not the basic thrust of his comments. As we have seen, the expansion in productive capacity had already begun in the autumn of 1940. Milch's new target of 3,000 aircraft per month, however, requireda further scaling up. Since earlier in the year Krauch had been envisioned a medium-term increase in the production of air fuel from 1 to1.5 million tons. Now he raised his target to no less than 3 million tons. Given the cost of the hydrogenation process, it was unrealistic to assumethat this could be produced from German coal. Hydrogenation was simply too expensive. Krauch's promise therefore hinged on the assumption that the Wehrmacht would conquer the Caucasus in the next few months and that Germany by 1942 would be importing Russian oil at the rate of at least one million tons per annum.
Here was the perverse logic of Barbarossa in a nutshell. The conquest of the oilfields of the Caucasus, 2,000 kilometres deep in the Soviet Union, was not treatedas the awesome military-industrial undertaking that it was. It was inserted as a precondition into another gargantuan industrial plande signed to allow the Luftwaffe to fight an air war, not against the Sovie Union, but against the looming air fleet of Britain and the United States. However optimistic the Wehrmacht may have been in the assessment of its own capacities, the sheer size of the task facing them in the Soviet Union could not be denied. Most fundamentally, the Germans were grossly outnumbered. Even allowing for the unreliability of Stalinist statistics, the population of the Soviet Union cannot have been less than 170 million in 1941. The population of Germany was less than half that: 83.76 million people in 1939.
Though the German army tha tinvaded the Soviet Union probably outnumbered the Red Army troops stationed in the western sectors, the Germans had already conscripted virtually all their prime manpower. By contrast, the Red Army could call up millions of reservists. From the outset, therefore, it was clear that the Wehrmacht must not be sucked into a battle of attrition. And this imbalance of manpower was compounded by the enormous expanse of Soviet territory and the sheer impassability of the terrain. If the Red Army were able to withdraw in good order this would present Germany with insuperable problems. If on the other hand the coherence of the Soviet force could be broken, then the difficulty of maintaining com-munications would hamper their efforts to restore coherence no less than it impeded the German advance.
Everything depended on decidingthe battle, as in France, in the first weeks of the campaign. This was the assumption on which Barbarossa was premised.
A massive central thrust towards Moscow, accompanied by flanking encirclements of theSoviet forces trapped in the north and south, would allow the Red Army to be broken on the Dnieper-Dvina river line within 500 kilometres of the Polish-German border. The Dnieper-Dvina river line was critical because beyond that point logistical constraints on the German army were binding.
These limitations on Germany's new style of 'Blitzkrieg' had not been obvious in 1940, because the depth of operations required by Manstein's encircling blow (Sichelschnitt) had never exceeded a few hundred kilometres. The entire operation could therefore be supplied by trucks shuttling back and forth from the German border. On the basis of their experience in France, the Wehrmacht's logistical staff calculated that the efficient total range for trucks was 600 kilometres, giving an operational depth of 300. Beyond that point the trucks themselves used up so much of the fuel they were carrying that they became inefficient as a means of transport. Given the vast distances encountered in the Soviet Union, an operational depth of 300 kilometres was absurdly restrictive. To extend the range of the logistical system, the Wehrmacht therefore split its motor pool into two segments. One set of trucks would move forward with the Panzer units and would ferry fuel andammunition from intermediate dumps that would be resupplied by the main fleet operating from the borders of the General Government. By this expedient, it was hoped that the initial logistical range could be extended to 500 kilometres. By happy chance, this coincided exactly with the Dnieper-Dvina line. Halder, the army's chief of staff, was clearly aware of the fundamental importance of this constraint. In his diary at the end of January 1941 he noted that the success of Barbarossa depended on speed. 'Speed! No stops! Do not wait for railway! Do everything with motor vehicles.' There must be 'no hold ups', 'that alone guarantees victory'.
If serious fighting were to extend beyond this initial phase of the assault, it was clear from the outset that the Wehrmacht's problems would progressively multiply. If the Red Army escaped destruction onthe Dnieper-Dvina river line, the Wehrmacht would not be able to engage in hot pursuit, because it would first need to replenish its supply bases closer to the front line. After that, all operations would ultimately depend on the capacity of the Soviet railway system and the speed with which the Wehrmacht could build up forward supply bases to support a second 500 kilometre advance. The problems the Germans encountered in adapting Russia's narrow-gauge railway lines are well known.To make matters worse, the retreating Red Army became extremely proficient at evacuating rolling stock and sabotaging bridges, tracks andother railway installations. However, the problems were more fundamental than this and were evident already at the planning stage. The existing Russian rail infrastructure, even if it had been captured intact,was insufficient to support the German army. As a rule of thumb,German logistical experts liked to assign at least one high-capacity railway line to each army-sized unit. But for the ten armies with whichthey invaded the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht was able to assign only three main railway lines, one for each army group.
And the situation for Army Group Centre, where the bulk of the German forces were tobe concentrated, was particularly bad. From the outset, therefore, the German army had to assume that not all units would be equally well supplied. Critical stores were to be reserved above all for the main strikeforce of 33 tank and motorized infantry divisions. If the battle extended much beyond the first months of the attack, the fighting power of the rest of the German army would dwindle rapidly. Red Army might escape beyond the Dnieper-Dvina line. What wouldhappen in this eventuality was the key question. One of the earliest wargames done to test the Barbarossa plan concluded that unless both the destruction of the Red Army and the capture of Moscow could be accomplished within a matter of months, Germany would face a 'long-drawn-out war, beyond the capacity of the German armed forces towage'.
Generalmajor Marcks, the officer commissioned to prepare the first draft for the plan of attack, also prepared a wide-ranging strategic assessment of the campaign, in which he considered the possibility that the Red Army might be able to prolong the battle beyond the autumnof 1941. Then, Marcks conceded, Germany would need to prepare itself for a war on two fronts against a coalition consisting of the Soviet Unio and the British Empire, backed by the economic potential of the United States. Faced with this unappealing prospect Marcks consoled himself with the belief that if Germany could take possession of the grain lands of the Ukraine and secure complete control of the Baltic, it would have little to fear from the overwhelming economic might of its enemies.
It is at this key point, however, that the real fragility of Barbarossabecomes apparent. Following the same logic as Marcks, Hitler consistently prioritized the need to secure the industrial and economic resourcesof the western Soviet Union at the earliest possible opportunity.
Forthis purpose he envisioned the possibility that large elements of Bock'sArmy Group Centre might have to be diverted both north to secure theBaltic coastline and south into the Ukraine. Only after these essential economic objectives were achieved would the main body of the Germanarmy turn eastwards towards Moscow. This was the priority inscribedin Hitler's Weisung Nr 21, which reached final draft on 17 December1940. Prioritizing economic objectives, however, was seriously at oddswith the plan of the campaign as envisioned by Haider. For Haider, thepriority of Moscow was absolute. Only by concentrating all forces onthis objective, he believed, could the Red Army be brought to battle anddecisively defeated. So fundamental an issue was this for Haider thatHitler's decision to water down the priority of Moscow caused him toquestion the rationale of the entire campaign. On 28 January 1941,Haider noted in his diary: 'Barbarossa: purpose not clear. We do nothurt the English. Our economic base is not significantly improved. Risk in West should not be underestimated. It is possible that Italy mightcollapse after the loss of her colonies, and we get a southern front in Italy, and Greece. If we are then tied up in Russia, a bad situationwill be made worse.'
As in the autumn of 1939, therefore, Hitler andHaider were fundamentally at odds. As in 1939-40, Germany's entirefuture was at stake. But unlike in 1939, Haider did not force the issueto the point of near mutiny. After the spectacular success of the Frenchcampaign, the army high command could no longer assert absoluteauthority in military matters. Hitler could claim at least as much creditfor the victory in France, and Haider knew it. He may also have believedthat, once battle was joined with the Red Army, his version of thecampaign would prevail. Above all, however, everyone agreed in hopingthat the main work of destruction could be done on the Dnieper-Dvinariver line.Another latent disagreement is revealed by Haider's comment thatthe conquest of the Soviet Union would not 'significantly improve'Germany's 'economic base'. This is remarkable because it flies in theface of Hitler's fundamental assumption about the profits to be gainedfrom conquest, particularly of the Ukraine. Until the middle of February1941, however, it was Haider's pessimistic assessment that reflected themainstream view in Berlin. The army's military-geographic study of theSoviet Union, finished on 10 August 1940, expected much from the con-quest of the Ukraine, but it ruled out any consideration of the Caucasusoilfields as being beyond the immediate reach of even the Panzer divisions.It also emphasized the considerable Soviet industrial potential beyondthe German reach in the Urals.
In October, a staffer at the Moscowembassy, Gebhardt von Walther, forwarded an even more pessimisticassessment to Haider. This warned against expecting any immediateSoviet collapse following a German attack and played down the benefitsto be expected from the Ukraine. The territory was even more overpopu-lated and impoverished that it had been when it fell into German handsin 1917, and it had been a disappointment then.
In January 1941, boththe military-economic staff of the Wehrmacht and the offices of the FourYear Plan were hard at work on negative assessments. On 22 January1941 General Thomas's staff pointed out that an invasion would inter-rupt deliveries of alloy metals such as manganese, for which the SovietUnion was currently Germany's only source of supply.
Furthermore,any major offensive would accelerate the depletion of Germany's alreadyinadequate stocks of fuel and rubber.
Similar conclusions had beenreached by the offices of the Four Year Plan. The only significant exception was State Secretary Backe of the Agriculture Ministry, who had long been an advocate of expansion towards the east. What precisely Backe said to Hitler in January 1941 was not clear even to insiders such as General Thomas. As one OKW memo put it: 'It is said that StateSecretary Backe has informed the Fuehrer that possession of the Ukraine would relieve us of any economic worry. Actually what Backe is sup-posed to have said is that if any territory could help us, it was the Ukraine.Only the Ukraine was a [grain] surplus region, European Russiaas a whole was not.'
As we shall see, this distinction was soon to takeon an ominous significance. In any case, in the light of reports he was receiving about Hitler's own view of the campaign, General Thomasengineered an abrupt about-turn in the view taken by his staff.
On 22 January 1941 Thomas had informed his boss, Keitel, that hewas planning to submit a report urging caution with regard to themilitary-economic benefits of the invasion. Now he reversed direction.As it became clear that Hitler was justifying Barbarossa first and fore-most as a campaign of economic conquest, Thomas began systematically working towards the Fuehrer. He instructed his staff to collaborate closely with Backe in formulating plans for the agricultural exploitation of the Soviet Union, a decision that was vindicated in the second week of February by the Fuehrer's initial response to staff papers on possible shortages of fuel and rubber. The Fuehrer let it be known that he wouldnot be swayed in his strategic judgement by such short-term concerns.In 1940, too, he had been warned of the impending exhaustion of Germany's stocks and his high-risk strategy had been triumphantly vindicated. The attack on the Soviet Union, with the Ukraine as its immediate objective, would go ahead regardless. Responding to this lead, Thomas submitted a report to Hitler on 20 February that was completely unprecedented in its optimism. The OKW now claimed that in its first thrust the Wehrmacht would be able to seize control of atleast 70 per cent of the Soviet Union's industrial potential. This would render long-term resistance by the Red Army hopeless. And the profits of occupation would be huge. Together with Backe, Thomas's staff hadworked out a plan to 'free up' at least 4 million tons of grain from the Ukraine. And Thomas went further than any previous analyst in insisting that the conquest of the Caucasus was a natural complement to the occupation of the Ukraine. In fact, without the conquest of the Caucasusthe Ukraine would be of little value, since Germany would need a huge fleet of tractors and trucks to bring in the harvest, for which the fuel could only come from the Soviet Union itself. Astonishingly, Thomas made no comment on the logistical and operational considerations involved in extending Germany's invasion 2,000 kilometres to the east.
The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi-Economy.
I got tired of this discussion. Overy's point is interesting as it points the basic (rather obvious) need that a country must always be prepared to not count with other. Having said that, what he says doesn't have much to do with WWII. WWII was the bloodest conflict in history, but wasn't a war were the outcome was decided by little. The Axis defeat was predestined. They were simply counting that the enemies would act in the way they painted them, and they didn't. This was much more a factor of their military-industrial conditions (as well as those of Germany), than of decisions made during the battles. In actual fact, the decisions made in combat were totally connected with the industrial-military supremacy enjoyed by the Allies. For example, the Russians using their numbers and mobility to attack at several places and deny the Germans hability to effectively respond.