The primary difference is a much smaller initial force delta: The Heer has 5 additional panzer divisions and motorizes 5 standard infantry divisions. Total manpower delta should be ~85,000 (panzer divisions plus a non-divisional slice).
The point of this modification from my last ATL is to demonstrate that Germany was much closer to having sufficient forces to beat the SU; adding not quite 100,000 men instead of 400,000 makes that point better.
Others are invited, as always, to suggest their own minimal conditions for a successful Barbarossa.
High-level description of ATL
This ATL argues that Germany's war with the Soviet Union was the hinge of WW2 and that Germany was much closer to winning in that theater than commonly supposed. Clarification: My metric for "closer to winning" is not the OTL outcomes in either 1941 or 45. I believe Germany was doomed by June 22, 1941 at the latest and that none of the controversial strategic/operational decisions (Moscow/Kiev, Stalingard/Blau options, Kursk) could have influenced the outcome. Rather, this ATL argues that (1) better German strategy combined with (2) slightly stronger initial forces could have won the war in the East, and thereby (most likely but with less confidence) could have won the overall war.
[I will also clarify that what I see as Hitler's opportunity for victory came not because of the strength and superiority of the German Nation, but because of diplomatic/strategic choices by the eventual Allied coalition that allowed Hitler the opportunity to pick off his enemies piecemeal instead of facing an insuperable coalition earlier. Hitler simply blew his opportunity by assuming the SU would be a cakewalk. The eventual Allied coalition could have - should have - nipped Hitler's insanity in the bud long before the well-known horrors. That's all I'll say about the pre-war coalition topic in this thread; it's discussed at length elsewhere.]
In June 1941 the Germans caught the SU in the midst of transformation from peasant backwater to superpower. The fundamental demographic and economic signs existed to alert Hitler to this Eastern danger; arguably he recognized this danger but only too late (and too irresolutely). Nonetheless, the Germans nearly succeeded at foreclosing the SU's transformation. What the Germans needed to do is conceptually simple: Kill/capture/wound Soviet soldiers and caputre territory fast enough to foreclose Stalin's creation of an army strong enough to beat Hitler's. This was not beyond Germany's capacity in 1941, had it played its cards right.
Hitler had the right general strategic conception for the initial stages of his war on the SU: destroy its armies in quick encirclement battles and prioritize capturing key industrial and agricultural resources. Hitler was, however, a weak (and lazy, petty, impulsive, etc.) leader who lacked the ability to impose his strategic vision on close associates (he was better on camera/radio at addressing masses). As a result, army leadership entered Barbarossa with a strategic conception divorced from the Fuehrer's: Halder and crew envisioned a quick drive to Moscow as settling the matter. This partially - not entirely - explains Barbarossa's failure: The Heer supposed itself political experts and focused on a political objective (capture of Moscow and supposedly attendant Soviet state collapse) rather than putting its head down to the job of destroying opposing armies and letting state leadership determine the political goals. Again, Hitler's personal weakness bears much blame for this state of affairs.
In addition to the wrong target (Moscow vs. armies/economies), however, Barbarossa was doomed by the ridiculous assumption of a quick campaign followed by, if necessary, a "railway advance."
Summary of changes to OTL
Additional forces because The opening weeks of Barbarossa were a failure and a strategic disaster for Germany. This opinion contravenes Hitler and Halder as well as most historians but it's obvious based on Hitler's strategic goals (Fuehrer Directive #21: "The bulk of the Russian Army stationed in Western Russia will be destroyed by daring operations led by deeply penetrating armoured spearheads. Russian forces still capable of giving battle will be prevented from withdrawing into the depths of Russia."). Regardless of Army Group Center's success, 90% of the SU's pre-war army was intact after the border battles. Per Army Group North's own estimates, Leeb had inflicted only 36,000 killed/captured by August 6, 1941, despite conquering most of the Baltics. Army Group South failed to execute any large-scale encirclements until Uman in August - and even then bagged only ~100,000 Red soldiers (~3% of RKKA frontline strength). The surviving pre-war formations exacted a heavy toll on the Ostheer throughout the summer/fall and most of its leadership cadre was in Germany in 1945.
What could have changed this picture of failure? It's instructive to look at the one successful portion of Barbarossa's first stages and consider a modification inverse to that proposed by my ATL: AGC's operations minus Hoth's 7 divisions. Remove from AGC only the 7 mobile divisions of Hoth's Panzergruppe and the Kesselschlachten of Minsk/Bialystok and Smolensk are impossible. In that ATL, AGC faces ~700k more Red soldiers outside Smolensk (if it gets that far). Whereas OTL AGC barely held its front against August counterattacks, an AGC facing 700k more men is in serious trouble. There's no Kiev encirclement, no Vyazma-Bryansk, and Barbarossa barely reaches Russia proper.
I hope it's obvious that removing one panzer group from Army Group Center massively degrades Barbarossa. Same but opposite with adding one panzer group to Army Group South: So equipped, AGS could have executed a double envelopment of Southwest Front (from Romania and Poland) during the border battles, removing 3 armies and ~600k soldiers from the map. AGS would be able thereafter to execute additional large-scale encirclements without assistance from Army Group Center. Dramatic effects cascade from this simple early modification to the Barbarossa operational plan; this thread will explore them below.
The additional forces are as follows:
- 5 standard infantry divisions converted to motorized infantry divisions. 3 come from the June 22, 1941 OKH/AGN reserve, 2 come from the west (Norway/France/Balkans).
- 5 additional panzer divisions created. Ration strength of these divisions is ~68,000; with non-divisional "slice" included it's ~85-90,000 additional Heer personnel.
- up to 2 additional infantry divisions moved from West to support AGS in Romania.
Besides an additional panzer group, the ATL specifies strategic planning for a two-year campaign towards approximately the A-A line. This strategic conception conception implies long-term planning for logistical issues attendant to supplying 3 million men far from the Reich, a consideration that was ignored based on the assumption of a quick campaign. As a result, the Eisenbahntruppen have additional equipment for signals, communications, and other railway infrastructure. The Reichsbahn as a whole is stronger than OTL. Better strategic planning also implies progressive mobilization of manpower and economic resources throughout the campaign as opposed to de-prioritizing army programs shortly after Barbarossa's launch. The takeaway is that while the Ostheer is only slightly stronger than OTL in June 1941, it's ~30% stronger, better-equipped, and better-supplied in ATL May 1942 than OTL.
Strategic coherence from 1938
The ATL assumes a slightly-more-strategically-coherent Hitler. OTL Hitler expressed, at times, serious anxieties about Barbarossa and it's disputable whether the famous "kick in the door" quote is genuine. It's not too far a stretch, IMO, for Hitler to have received better information about the SU's strength and to have better prepared for the campaign. The idea that Hitler planned only short wars is a giant myth: Once WW2 started, he was prepared for a very long war. He just miscalculated on the Russian portion of that war. I also have to posit a Hitler who can impose his vision on close associates. If anything in history is contingent it's the weaknesses of individual leaders; we probably got lucky that Hitler was a weak, lazy leader and often incoherent.
That strategic posture is as follows:
Germany is a continental power surrounded by enemies who can only be defeated, if at all, by maximal concentration on the Heer. Germany cannot hope to challenge the UK, let alone the US, at sea and defeat it via air power until and unless its continental enemies have been subdued. To marshal the resources necessary for dominant strategic air and naval power before subduing both France and the USSR would invite defeat by either or both land powers. Given the fundamentals of the USSR - millions of men and the third largest industrial base in the world - Stalin is the foremost threat facing Germany. Accordingly, Germany must focus on its army and build only those air and naval forces necessary to defend the Reich and interfere in the Atlantic.
Path to the additional forces
This will be probably the most controversial part of the ATL. To discuss this topic properly, I've realized that I have to explicitly address fundamental questions about the German war economy. What follows is a long but necessary discussion of the issues, though even this discussion will remain above the weeds.
Even today, historians disagree about the basics of the German war economy prior to ~1942. Was it an under-mobilized and "peace-like" (USSBS view)? Inefficient and under-mobilized (Speer et. al.)? Was it mainly constrained by structural flaws related to the Wehrmacht procurement system and German industrial culture (part of Richard Overy's view)? Was it straining to maximum degree even in the early war years while its later production increases came mainly from ruthless exploitation? (arguably Tooze's view, though it's complicated). I'll address some of the leading arguments about the early-war economy to show that, even on their own terms, revisionist historians like Tooze and Overy do not say and cannot say that Germany was incapable of producing additional armaments at the level envisioned by my ATL, which have a production cost of ~1% of German GDP.
Summary of my take:
The early-war German economy had some slack but not to the extent supposed by the USSBS authors, which last century's historians largely accepted. The economy was inefficient and needed rationalization but not to the extent claimed by Speer in post-war memoirs that sought to glorify his own achievements. Tooze and Overy provide compelling and needed revisions to the USSBS's simplistic narrative of under-mobilization and to Speer's self-serving narrative of later rationalization, but neither author rebuts - nor actually claims to rebut - that Germany could have built more military forces in '39-'41.
Let's take Tooze's Wages of Destruction first. The best parts of his book relate to German rearmament programs 1933-1939. I'm concerned with only the tail end of this period. Tooze argues - rightly IMO - that Germany's pre-war economy had strained to its maximum extent towards rearmament, a fact reflected in the balance of payments crisis of early 1939 that forced cuts to many planned Wehrmacht programs (I'll have much, much more to say about how those cuts were made later). To rebut claims of an inefficient early-war economy, Tooze seeks to explain the statistical drop in German armaments labor productivity during 1941, which is reflected in this chart from Overy:
That productivity decline, says Tooze, is "in large part a statistical illusion." Pg. 667. Hold that quote for now. Regarding Speer and his supposed "Armaments Miracle," Tooze very convincingly argued that Speer lied repeatedly both to avoid the gallows and to glorify his role in the war. Tooze's argument, however, should not be construed as rebutting an argument that Germany could have produced more earlier. Here's his conclusion regarding Speer and Germany's post-42 production increases:
Note what is NOT in Tooze's argument: There's no discussion of whether Germany could have mobilized ("ruthlessly") more inputs during the early war years nor a contention that rationalization did not play a role in later production increases. Tooze does not consider alternate history. Rather, Tooze's bone is picked with Speer and his post-war narrative."A cold-eyed examination of the statistics suggests that the increases achieved after February 1942 were far less exceptional than is commonly believed. The sudden upsurge in German armaments production was far from miraculous. It was due to perfectly natural causes: reorganization and rationalization efforts begun long before Speer acceded to power; the ruthless mobilization of factors of production; the coming on stream of investments made earlier in the war; and a deliberate sacrifice of quality for an immediate increase in quantity. Tooze, Adam. The Wages of Destruction (p. 556).
The true giant of this field is Richard Overy, whose name appears 131 times in Wages of Destruction. Overy's is the original [AFAIK] and most prominent revision of the simplistic USSBS narrative that Germany's pre-war economy was dramatically under-mobilized. Overy instead focuses on the inefficiency of the German economy, stating, "If rationalization might have achieved more under different political and military conditions, there can be little doubt that it was the chief factor responsible for transforming Germany's war economic performance from 1942 onwards." As an example he cites tank production as particularly inefficient, noting that man-hours required for a PzIII dropped 50% after rationalization steps (War and Economy in the Third Reich, p.374).
Besides Tooze and Overy, recent scholarship has also emphasized an "investment boom" in early-war Germany. https://economics.yale.edu/sites/defaul ... 060329.pdf
While an important contribution, the investment boom elucidated in this paper doesn't fundamentally shift the picture of economic mobilization: the delta between the author's "hidden" investments and previous estimates is less than 1% of German GDP. What's most salient from that paper is that it's another nail in the coffin of the "Blitzkrieg economy" narrative. Germany's investment patterns in early war years evidence long-term planning for a long-term war. Barbarossa was the only instance of Germany actually planning a short war, despite the hype about blitzkrieg as a global strategy.
Between Tooze and Overy I see an argument whose resolution accommodates my ATL's requirement for stronger initial Barbarossa forces and a much stronger '42 Ostheer: Both Overy and Tooze see rationalization as part of the German production increases. Tooze, however, refines Overy's picture by describing the intensive mobilization of (mostly foreign and forced) labor as contributing to production increases from 1942 onwards, whereas Overy places less emphasis on this factor. Either way, whether through earlier rationalization or earlier ruthless mobilization, Germany took steps from 1942 that it did not take - or took less stridently - earlier in the war. Germany took those steps because it realized its strategic crisis; my ATL moves forward Germany's realization of its strategic crisis.
I am NOT suggesting, as some on this board and some naive authors have done in the past, that Germany should have reached its production peak early in the war as did the UK/SU (i.e. that it could have built 45,000 planes and 20,000 tanks in 1941). The structural reasons for Germany's armaments under-performance are too deep to fix them all before Barbarossa. The additional armaments required by my ATL are a small fraction of a percent of German munitions production: ~1,000 tanks, ~20,000 trucks, plus 5 panzer divisions' worth of artillery/MG's/rifles etc. Rationalization and mobilization opened up a three-fold increase in German armaments production, my ATL supposes ~1% increase by value prior to Barbarossa.
The extra tanks come from not cutting the panzer program from 1,200 to 600 by mid-1940 during the 1939 financial crisis. Instead, cuts are made to the Z-plan and, if necessary, to the Ju-88 program. Projecting that higher rate of production forward, it's quite easy to get to 1,000 more tanks by mid-1941. A bigger panzer program should be attended by greater oversight and analysis. To that end I specify that the Germans begin rationalization of panzer production earlier than OTL by taking later-war steps such as using flow production instead of station production and by loosening up the Wehrmacht's counterproductive quality standards. Labor costs for a Panzer III declined by 50% OTL due to these steps; it's a matter of historical contingency that they did not happen earlier. The extra trucks represent ~6% of those available for Barbarossa. They can come from (1) greater production flowing from greater strategic priority for the Heer, (2) greater overall production from rationalization and better use of occupied Europe (i.e. for labor primarily), (2) the civilian economy, (3) sending only one division with Rommel to Africa, (4) some combination of the foregoing.
What the extra forces do
Ten mobile divisions join Schobert's 11th Army (6 divisions) in Rumania. From there, they strike north/northeast as the second pincer enveloping Southwest Front in Ukraine, meeting somewhere between Shepetivka and Zhitomir. For reference:
The "arrow" represents the added thrust. German generals were hoping to execute something like this during AGS's OTL battle by linking up with 11th army east of the Dniestr; AGS just didn't have to punch to make it happen. As the map shows, PzGr1 was near to the point of the arrow (dotted lines around Rovno and Ostrog on the map) by July 7 even with Southwest Front concentrating all of its reserves to stop it. In the ATL, Southwest Front's Kirponos would have to divert forces against the Romanian pincer and Kleist would make even better progress. The pincers would meet in early July and the battle would be over by mid-July at the latest. Three SU armies (6th, 12th, 26th) plus large reserves would be trapped. For reference, here's the initial RKKA dispositions:
Following this initial encirclement, AGS would execute additional encirclements on the Ukrainian steppe west of the Dniepr. With 19 mobile divisions they'd have the ability to execute double envelopments of any forces that Stalin committed west of the Dniepr. If the Soviets retreat all the way to the Dniepr without fighting then they lose a ton of industrial plant and the harvest of western Ukraine. For reference, here's AGS's OTL progress across Ukraine:
As the maps show, AGS was barely into the Dniepr bend by August and barely east of the river by mid-September. By destroying Southwest Front by mid-July, AGS can accelerate its conquest of Right Bank Ukraine by 5-6 weeks. During that conquest, it will successfully encircle more Soviet units than OTL because of its stronger mobile forces. OTL AGS had a lot of difficulty closing the trap in attempted encirclements of Southwest/South fronts, as Halder repeatedly bemoaned in his diary.
After clearing the Dniepr bend by early August, AGS can execute a single-envelopment of the Kiev salient, if it exists (if the Russians haven't withdrawn). Alternatively or in addition, it can begin the drive into Eastern Ukraine much earlier than OTL and with far greater strength. It can envelop any force thrown against it in the open Ukrainian steppe. In the first Battle of Kharkov, for example, AGS succeeded in taking the city but was unable to encircle significant RKKA forces due to lack of mobile units. For reference:
An AGS with 10 extra mobile divisions could have blocked retreat from the city. Or it could send those divisions to AGC to ensure Moscow's fall...
AGS finishes in November on a line roughly Voronezh-Rostov, capturing all of the Donets basin and a huge portion of the Black Earth region. These losses will seriously impact SU's capabilities in 1942.
Elsewhere it's mostly as in the OTL except one huge difference: Having lost Southwest Front and 3 whole armies in the border battles, AG's North and South face significantly weaker opposition. Unlike OTL, Stavka cannot concentrate 90% of its reserves against Bock during August, preventing Timoshenko's massive attacks and saving AGC tens of thousands of casualties - as well as saving logistical strain. The encirclement at Smolensk goes more cleanly given fewer counterattacking formations to hold open the escape route from the Smolensk pocket. AGC can go back on the offensive in mid-late August, executing something like the Vyazma portion of Taifun.
Army Group North likewise faces weaker opposition, retains all of PzGr4 (probably reinforced by the two reserve panzer divisions), and is therefore able to join the Finns on the Svir river by October at the latest, thereby closing the noose on Leningrad and most of Volkhov/Northwest Front.
to be continued...