What if Hitler aimed *only* for Leningrad and Stalingrad in 1941?

  • '21 '20 '19 '18 '17 '16

    The conventional wisdom is that Hitler overreached in autumn 1941 by trying to conquer Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad all during the first six months of the war in eastern Europe, and that instead he should have focused on Moscow and let the Ukraine and the Caucasus wait until 1942. There are some good points in support of that argument, and I think it probably would have worked better than what Hitler actually did, although I can understand his reluctance to leave a narrow supply corridor sticking out across 800 miles of swamp between Warsaw and Moscow that would have been exposed to Russian raids from both the north and the south.

    What if, instead of focusing on Moscow, and instead of trying to attack in three directions at once, Hitler had focused exclusively on capturing Leningrad and Stalingrad during the first season of the war? I’m imagining a two pronged offensive – a northern campaign of Germans and Finns would seize a corridor stretching from Vilna to Novgorod in support of an attack on Leningrad, and push on to Murmansk if they got the opportunity. Meanwhile, a central task force of Romanians, Hungarians, and Italians would garrison a central line running from Konigsburg through Brest to Lvov, staying within fifty miles of the 1940 border. Finally, a southern group of Germans would seize a corridor running from Lvov through Dnepropetrovsk, and Donetsk on the way to Stalingrad.

    The idea would be that in spring of 1942, the Germans could carry on to Archangel, Armenia, and Turkestan, thereby cutting off almost all of Russia’s Allied Lend-Lease and the majority of its oil supply. Then, in the autumn of 1942, the Germans could attack Moscow from both the north and the south, without fear of being flanked, and with Russia running low on fuel, trucks, and heavy ammunition.

    I’m not an expert, but as I understand it, central-western Russia in 1941 wasn’t very important on either strategic or industrial grounds – it was mostly forests and marshes. The attacks in the north and south could have been supplied for much of the way via the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, and the north and south corridors both contained highly populated, highly developed industrial towns located in relatively flat river basins. The only reason to bother with west-central Russia in wartime is to get to Moscow faster – but there was no special need to take Moscow in 1941. I don’t think the Russians would have surrendered in 1941 if the Russians held Kiev, Odessa, Stalingrad, Archangel, Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, the Urals, Siberia, and Vladivostok but had lost Leningrad and Moscow.

    Yes, Moscow would have been useful as both a propaganda victory and as a strategic hub of industry, rail, and population – but was it really more useful than corridors stretching to Murmansk and Baku? What about corridors stretching to Archangel and Ashkhabad? Would those corridors really have been harder to take in 1941 than Moscow? What do you think?

    (I probably don’t need to bother with this type of disclaimer on this forum, but just in case: Hitler was evil, the war was horrible for the people who suffered in it, and I’m glad the Nazis lost. I’m picking apart Hitler’s strategy purely because I’m interested in history and strategy.)

  • '21 '20 '19 '18 '17 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    Stalingrad was never an objective of Germany in 1941.  The southern prong of the German offensive was aimed at the Ukraine and the Crimea, not at the Caucasus or the Volga.  And the objective of that southern offensive wasn’t to cut off Lend-Lease aid to Russia because that aid didn’t yet exist; Lend-Lease was extended to Russia after the German invasion, not before.  As for the 1942 offensive against Stalingrad, it was originally supposed to be just a limited-objective operation conducted in support of the main German offensive into the Caucusus region, whose purpose was to secure the oil fields there.  The 6th Army and the 4th Panzer Army were originally only supposed to go as far as the Volga and cut off Stalingrad (in order to protect the flank of the Caucusus offensive), not capture the city itself.  At any rate, Hitler lost sight of this and became obsessed with capturing the city – with the results that we all know.  And as for the Caucasus offensive, it was misguided in 1942 and it would have been equally misguided in 1941 for the same reason: topography.  The Caucasus region consists almost entirely of mountainous terrain, with only a narrow strip of flat terrain on the shores of the Caspian Sea; in other words, excellent terrain for a defender and terrible terrain for an attacker.


  • @Argothair:

    The conventional wisdom is that Hitler overreached in autumn 1941 by trying to conquer Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad all during the first six months of the war in eastern Europe, and that instead he should have focused on Moscow and let the Ukraine and the Caucasus wait until 1942.

    This is no way near conventional wisdom. The only reason people seem to think it is is because this stems from the books written by the generals that where in charge of the situation, trying very hard to shift blame.

    One of the major differences between hitler and his generals was that hitler actually understood that production actually would matter in this war.

    There have been many discussions if it was good to have 2 or 3 targets for 1941. If I where to remove one from the list, I would definilty not remove ukraine or wester russia (Armgroup south and armygroup center) I would remove Leningrad from the objectivelist. Hands down.

    West russia is not what you think it is. There is a marshland there, but there are huge areas of flatlands to the north of it. The path from germany, to minsk to smolensk to moscow is all flatland with big population, many factories and alot more resources than the baltics and the area around leningrad.

    It is also extremely important to note that ALL of the major german victories and encirclements in 1941 happend in ukraine, belorussia and the flat area in western russia.

    Russia lost an area that cointaind between 40 and 60 % of its prewar population and prewar factories. It had huge mineral and coal reserves. Almost all of that valuable area was un westrussia, ukraine and belorussia.

    If germany only had focuses on leningrad and ukraine in 1941, they would have faced a russian beast in 1942 with 1-2 million extra soliders with their tanks and a much more productive economy. The only reason there was a 1942 offensive was that the russian economy hadent really been producing that much in the first 8 months of the war. They had been busy evacuating what they could and calling up reserves.

    anotherone of these “Conventional misstakes” that the generals complained about was hitlers desicion to attack sevastapool. The reason hitler asked for that was that the russians was crippeling the german oilproduction by bombing plolesti. The german generals didn’t care. the thought they would win the war in 4 weeks at that point, even tho, they most definitly wasn’t going to do that. The german generals wanted to sacrefice their ability to conduct war in 1942 to try for a slim hope of taking moscow in 1941. If they had attacked moscow in september instead of encirceling kiev, it is doubtful that they would have been able to take it at all. The germans where never good at taking cities. In kiev, they had been stuck for 2 months at that point, they where back at their startingpoint. They where getting pushed back around oddessa, unable to take that. At this point, the german generals wanted to try to get into another cityfighting situation in moscow. There where a huge discussion between the german command and hitler weighed in supporting the faction that wanted to encirfle kiev. The result was the single biggest encirclement of the entire war, and the fall of kiev (which fell to encirclement). Over a million russian soliders was captured here. If the germans had instead of trying to encircle kiev had tried for moscow, they would probably have ended up in a cityfightingscenario which it is very uncertain that they would win. The would also have left a so massifve well equipped force on their souther flank (around moscow) that it would be doubtful they could defend against it if it shifted focus. This force was some of the last of the well equiped russian prewar army. Extremely dangerous formations.

    If I where to suggest an only. I would suggest "Only rostow and moscow for 1941. Stalingrad is so far away it is not even worth mentioning.


  • In case you ask me, Adolf should aim only for Moscow.

    When Moscow was captured, then Leningrad and Stalingrad would soon fell by themselves. Its like a cutthroat victory, cut the head off the snake, and the body die. Moscow was a main railroad junction, and if taken then Leningrad would not get any supply. And as they say, 100 soldiers with no food is 100 dead soldiers. And I bet the Russian fighting spirit and morale would get ruined too, with Stalin on his run as a refugee.

    Funny thing is, Hitlers generals wanted to go straight for Moscow with Operation Otto, but Hitler declined that and launched his own Operation Barbarossa with more aim at the industry in the southern Don basset, because he “understood” that production would matter in this war.

  • '21 '20 '19 '18 '17 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    @Narvik:

    Funny thing is, Hitlers generals wanted to go straight for Moscow with Operation Otto, but Hitler declined that and launched his own Operation Barbarossa with more aim at the industry in the southern Don basset, because he “understood” that production would matter in this war.

    He also had a habit of coming up with rationalizations for whatever impulse he wanted to follow at any given moment.  He once misquoted Clausewitz (during Barbarossa, I think) by saying something along the lines of, “Like Clausewitz, I understand how to defeat an enemy: you must first destroy his armies in the field and then occupy his capital.”  He was right about the first part, but Clausewitz apparently considered capitals to have only a secondary importance.


  • @Narvik:

    In case you ask me, Adolf should aim only for Moscow.

    When Moscow was captured, then Leningrad and Stalingrad would soon fell by themselves. Its like a cutthroat victory, cut the head off the snake, and the body die. Moscow was a main railroad junction, and if taken then Leningrad would not get any supply. And as they say, 100 soldiers with no food is 100 dead soldiers. And I bet the Russian fighting spirit and morale would get ruined too, with Stalin on his run as a refugee.

    Funny thing is, Hitlers generals wanted to go straight for Moscow with Operation Otto, but Hitler declined that and launched his own Operation Barbarossa with more aim at the industry in the southern Don basset, because he “understood” that production would matter in this war.

    In general, I belive it is very difficult to know these things. The main problem with this plan is that there are three really good objectives on offer, with extremly good arguments for all of them.

    1. Leningrad. Leningrad itself is a good population center, have alot of factories but not too much natural resources. It has (at least) three major advantages. 1. it is the easiest front to supply. The railroad in the baltic countries have the same railgauge as the german railroad system. This is actually a huge advantage logisticly. 2. The baltic population is probably the most pro german in ussr. occupation will therefor be easier and you will get lots of voulenteers. 3. It can persuade finland to join the war.  It has some disadvantages also. 1. it is difficult terrain around it, alot of marshes and deep forests. 2. The german army have very few advantages over the ussr in cityfighting. 3. taking leningrad would actually not be a knockout punch at all for the ussr, it is not the ussr heartland.

    2. belorussia/smolensk/moscow. quite alot of population, and natural resouces. alot of flat terrain, danger of exposing the right flank if you dont have an armygroup in ukraine. Strikes at soviet heartland and railroad junction.

    3. Ukraine. A HUGE populationcenter, many of the great cities of ussr is here… Very urban. it has 30% of tho black soil in the world, Massive foodproduction, massive coalproduction espcially in kirov rog, massive steel production and mines around Donetsk (used to be named Stalino, not after the leader, but after the steel production. 40% or more of soviet industry is here. alot of the soviet electical production is done in the great dams in ukraine. Very flat land, perfect for panzers.  It is important to take to protect the rumanian oilfields. It is also important to be active here to help the flank of amygroup center.

    As you can see, there are advantages and disadvantages to all of the goals. Armygroup north was the single most successful (if you define success as reaching your objectives) armygroup, it basically reached most of its objectives. However the other army groups attacked more important things and destoryed alot more soviet forces.

    It is impossible to know what the correct plan should have been, or even if it was possible at all for the germans to win that war in 1941, if ever.

    It is also abit wrong to blame the 1941 plan on hitler. he was only supporting one of the sides of the general staff in 1941.

  • '17 '16

    Well you can start by tossing out the “aimed only for Stalingrad in 1941” thing, because as previously mentioned, Stalingrad was NEVER an aim or objective of the 1941 Barbarossa invasion.

    I’ll assume for argument’s sake, he’s speaking of the three Army Group approach of North, Center and South, and axing (or greatly curtailing) the Army Group Center objective of Moscow.

    My short answer is “no, wouldn’t have changed anything”… because the truth is, Germany (or Hitler in particular) damn near did have a North and South strategy at the cost of Army Group Center…

    The long answer, Hitler’s constant misdirection of Army Group Centers Panzers to the South, then back north to Center again pretty much destroyed Army Group Center’s ability to reach Moscow before the Russians had time to entrench and before the fall mud and winter frost set in.  While one can argue if Moscow’s capture would have doomed Russia or not, one has to take into consideration many factors… rail heads, rally points, winter quarters, sundries, factories, and one important factor… Stalin himself… when the Germans literally had the Kremlin within binocular range, the Russian government and Stalin’s advisors urged Stalin to flee the city to a safer local… Stalin refused outright, as he basically had a “bunker mentality” with Moscow… much the same that Hitler did 4 years later in Berlin… he was going to stay no matter what.  If the Germans had arrived earlier to the gates of Moscow and had been able to take the capital, i’d say it’s a good chance that Stalin would have stayed and died, like Hitler did in Berlin.  This could have had profound effects on both the Soviet Union and the course of the war… hard to say, but I think it likely Stalin would have gone down with Moscow… he showed no sign of leaving when the Germans were close to the Kremlin, so I don’t think if the Germans arrived earlier and could take the city, things would have been any different.  The military impact of the loss of Moscow would have been significant in its own right… the political hit, would have likewise been great, if not catastrophic.

    I firmly believe, Moscow was doable by the Germans within the planning of Barbarossa, if not for the massive blunders Hitler intervened with during the conduct of the operation.  The planing and execution of Barbarossa by the German High Command, was pretty much spotless… what doomed the operation, was not the three pronged assault, but rather Hitler’s constant interference in the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht.

  • '21 '20 '19 '18 '17 '16

    Everyone makes very strong points – it’s intimidating how intimately you all know the Barbarossa campaign!

    As Wolfshanze figured out, my argument isn’t really about Stalingrad – it’s more about what would have happened if Army Group Center had been stripped down to a small garrison and its assets divided among Army Groups North and South. How far could the reinforced Army Groups North and South have advanced in 1941 if Hitler allowed both groups to press forward to the limits of their abilities? Would the hypothetical territory they could conquer have been more or less valuable than what the Germans actually did occupy in 1941? Why? I take CWO Marc’s point that Lend-Lease didn’t start until after the war, and I take Kreuzfeld’s point that western Russia was a lot more industrialized than you might guess by looking at a satellite image in 2016, but is it just obvious that western Russia was one of the two best regions of the Soviet Union for the Germans to occupy, or were there other plausible candidates?

    Finally, assuming the Germans did split north and south while ignoring the center – would the hypothetical territory they conquered be a useful staging ground for a 1942 assault on Moscow, or would it leave the Germans out of position?


  • When we talk about the economic regions of russia there is a few ways we can start to grasp it.

    The first way is to look at the size of the legal dvisions. This works well for most countries.  Go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_subjects_of_Russia . Here what you need to do is to look at the actual size of the oboloast. you can see that in general, around moscow, and west of moscow, the obolasts are small, while they become bigger and bigger the futher east they are. Small obolasts is a sign of much denser population. This effect was much more pronounced in 1941 before they evacuated alot of people to the east to avoid the whermacht.

    The second way is to look at the infrastructure at the beginning of the war. More infrastructure = more people. USSR had a grand total of ONE paved highway in 1941. it was the highway from moscow to smolensk to minsk. This highway is there because it was the road which was deemed to give the highest return for people and industry. Which again points to how densly populated the region was. The second type of infrastructure to look at is the railnetwork. The soviet union had a very dense railroad network on some areas. The general area with good railroad network was the area around moscow (limited by kalinin in the north, yaroslav in the northeast, gorki in the east. From gorki you could either take the train to astrakan or to moscow (more or less).  If you then look south of moscow, the basically eastern limit of the railnework runs from tula, to voronezh to stalingrad and back west again to rostow.  In conclusion, the area occupied by germany in 1942 more or less only had a few north/south raillines east of it. The third infrastructure to look at is the rivers. There are three major rivers that had a lot of transport (facilitating industry) and waterpower. Those rivers where dnjepner, don and volga. Of these rivers, volga was the only one germany didn’t occupy both banks off. So in total, the germans ended up taking more than half of the russian prewar infrastructure.

    The third way is to look at russia today, and figure our what actually constitutes russia, and what is the republics. you will very quicky see that the “russia” part of the russian federeation is an entirely european thing, while the republics is the area outside of europe, and some of the area inside europe.

    The fourth ways is to have a guy like me guessing where the economic and populational center of gravity for russia was. If I where to guess, I would guess somewhere between smolensk, kursk and kiev :).

    The general thing is that moscow was one of the easternmost russian states, and it ended up dominating the entire russian region.

  • '17 '16

    @Argothair:

    Finally, assuming the Germans did split north and south while ignoring the center – would the hypothetical territory they conquered be a useful staging ground for a 1942 assault on Moscow, or would it leave the Germans out of position?

    As I briefly pointed out in my initial response, I believe Germany more or less came out of Barbarossa with a large AG North/AG South push, because AG Center was bungled badly by Hitler’s interference, making an otherwise capture-able Moscow an unobtainable objective. In the end, AG Center’s panzers were mostly misused because of a lot of wasted travel back and forth uncalled for except for Hitler’s interference.

    For the sake of your argument, lets say AG Center’s panzers and extra formations were more evenly split between AG North and AG South and Center was left more or less to “hold” or “stay a tad behind” advances in the North and South. I really don’t see anything to gain for Germany with this strategy… lets say with more forces in the North Leningrad would have fallen instead of being surrounded and besieged… what does that give Germany? Not much really… Leningrad was for all intents and purposes completely taken out as a factor in the war as a result of the siege which began in 1941… so not much gained there… had they pressed on further after sacking Leningrad in your scenario, what then? Maybe the Soviet ports to the NE of Leningrad? In 1941, that would have mattered little as there wasn’t any real Lend/Lease occurring at that time, so the Northern push ends with a fizzle after Leningrad is taken… the elimination of Leningrad as a factor happened in 1941 with or without actually taking the city.

    If Moscow is not a factor, that leaves us with a pronounced push in the south… with little change in the center or north… hmmm… this sounds familiar… Case Blue anyone? So the Germans push further in the south in 1941 then historically happened… given their starting position for a southern push would have been the Balkan/Soviet border in 1941, and not hundreds of miles further in as was the start of Case Blue in 1942, I don’t really see the Germans succeeding in pushing to the Caucasus oil fields in 1941 (or Stalingrad, not that it held any real importance to the war). Personally… I just don’t see your proposal of focusing North/South at the expense of Center being a viable strategy to end the war in 1941 against Russia (or give them a vastly superior position in 1942).

    Your final argument would be to put them in a great position to take Moscow in 1942… I don’t see this as an option… a LOT changed over the winter of 1941 into 1942… massive fortifications and defenses around Moscow that did NOT exist in the summer/fall of 1941 were by the spring of 1942 massively improved and prepared… Extra armies and divisions of tough soldiers from Siberia that were not present in summer/fall of 1941 were by the spring of 1942 in place. Production of the T-34 tank, which was in very limited numbers in 1941, were far more greatly available by the spring of 1942. Finally, Soviet strategy, at the behest of Stalin, who was OBSESSED with Moscow, made sure that almost everything the Soviets had to spare was sent to the defense of Moscow to prepare for the assured attack on Moscow that was to happen in 1942… this in large part was why the Germans chose Case Blue into the Caucasus instead of going for Moscow in 1942 as it was… and because of Russia’s drive to protect Moscow, was why Case Blue was so successful at its launch because most Soviet forces were committed to the defense of Moscow.

    Simply put, the best chance (and maybe the ONLY chance) the Germans had at seizing Moscow was in 1941, and preferably before the fall mud and winter frost set in. This could have occurred in two different scenarios, #1, the delay of Barbarossa caused by the German invasion of the Balkans in spring 41, and #2, as I had mentioned earlier, the interference of Hitler with AG Center’s panzers during Operation Barbarossa. Either alone or both combined spelled doom for the chance of taking Moscow before it was too late. I don’t see your proposed change in strategy bearing any fruit for Germany in 1941 or 1942.

  • '21 '20 '19 '18 '17 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    @Argothair:

    is it just obvious that western Russia was one of the two best regions of the Soviet Union for the Germans to occupy, or were there other plausible candidates?

    “Occupying a position” and “occupying a position which is strategically defensible over the long term” aren’t the same thing.  To save myself some typing, I’ll paste here…

    http://www.axisandallies.org/forums/index.php?topic=36148.0

    …a link to an earlier thread in which (in my Reply #10) I talked at some length about whether Barbarossa (in any form) had any reasonable prospect of putting the USSR into the same “not dead, but not much more than that” position in which Britain found herself in 1940 after Germany reached the Channel and occupied France.

  • '17 '16

    I’m firmly in the belief that Barbarossa as initially planned had obtainable goals, including Moscow, which to be honest, was really about the only part of Barbarossa that didn’t come to fruition in historical terms.  Yes, Russia had issues to be dealt with, but none were insurmountable.  I am also a firm believer that just because you invade Russia, doesn’t mean you’ve automatically doomed your country to failure… no nation is impossible to conquer, and yes, this includes Russia.

    I’ve read tons on the 1941 invasion… things that impacted it, variables that could have changed things, timetables, troop positions, defenses that were or were not in place… simply put, there were many mistakes made on the German’s part, that, under the right set of circumstances, could very easily have been avoided or dealt with in a manner that would have allowed Barbarossa to succeed on all levels.  Russia is not invincible simply because one invades Russia… it could have been done, and Germany had favorable conditions for a successful campaign… in the end, they blew it, and it eventually led to Germany’s defeat… but just because Germany invaded and eventually failed, does not mean that was the only outcome that could have come from invasion.

  • '21 '20 '19 '18 '17 '16

    CWO_Marc, I think your concept of a strategically defensible front line is very important. I enjoyed all of your replies in the other thread – as always, they are very informative and well-organized. I want to build on your concept of a defensible front line by distinguishing between a line that you can hold for two years (i.e., a line that you can hold during wartime against a known counter-attack), and a line that you can hold for twenty years (i.e., a line that you can hold even in peacetime, with only a small garrison force protecting against surprise attacks).

    In my opinion, neither the Ural Mountains nor the Archangel - Astrakhan line you mention would be a viable twenty-year line. They’re both thousands of miles wide without any sharply defined bottlenecks. Yes, it’s challenging to cross the Urals against a hostile force, but it’s not like the Andes, where you have a long, straight, tall mountain chain with only a couple of narrow passes. The Urals are more like the Appalachians: rugged terrain over all, but with many plateaus and many moderately hilly areas that would require hundreds of miles of guard towers and active patrols. This is a pretty good topographical photo: https://ceipntrasradelapiedad.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/europe-map-of-europe-physical-relief-wikipedia.png. You can see that the Urals are a much weaker boundary than the Balkan Mountains or the Carpathian Mountains, both of which were successfully crossed by hostile forces during World War II.

    Wolfshanze, I agree with you that things could easily have turned out differently during Barbarossa. I’m posting a couple of graphics – one showing the actual front line in December 1941, and the other showing my proposed alternate goal for a front line in December 1941. I don’t think my line requires the penetration of much more land area or many more miles than Hitler’s line did – it could have happened! The line I’m proposing gives up the chance to take Moscow in 1941, but I think it could have offered a much greater chance of seizing the Caucasus oilfields in 1941, or at least in the spring of 1942. My line isn’t a defensible twenty-year line either, but I think it would more likely than not have given Germany access to the oil it needed to keep fighting a mobile war with tanks and planes.

    Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 6.08.45 PM - Edited.png
    Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 6.10.52 PM.png


  • @Wolfshanze:

    r… hard to say, but I think it likely Stalin would have gone down with Moscow…

    Like in chess, when you capture the King, you win the game. Its kind of like that in real wars too, especially with dictators like Stalin and Hitler. We must assume that if Stalin or Hitler were killed, then the war would stop. This is a general pattern in history. When a King, a Dictator or his capitol is taken, then the war ends. This was true when Hitler and Berlin fell, the rest of the nazis surrendered, they could not keep on fighting for the nazy cause, because the Head was cut off. The same was true with Mussolini and Italy. When the Russian Tsar was killed in 1917 and his capitol St. Petersburg captured, then the Russian empire was out of the war. Or look to France, every time Paris fell, then the rest of France surrender, always, even if the French rulers are still alive, or the French Army is still undefeated on the Battlefield.

    Base on this, it is obvious that if Stalin was killed, then all Russians would surrender. And I don’t think Stalin would survive losing Moscow. So the conclusion is, that Moscow was the decisive object that needed to be taken to win the war. I say that to take Moscow was the only victory condition for Germany. Hitler did not have to beat the Red Army in the battlefield, or capture the Baku oilfields, or bomb Russian industry. He just had to take Moscow. Simple as that. Hitler failed doing this, just because he found it more important to kill Jews.


  • @Argothair:

    , but I think it would more likely than not have given Germany access to the oil it needed to keep fighting a mobile war with tanks and planes.

    I figure a better way to get oil would be to conquer the Middle East oilfields in Iraq and Persia. The Germans had already established both railroads and pipelines through Turkey during WWI, so the infrastructure needed were in place. They just needed to kill a tiny British guard in Palestine, and then they would get plenty of oil. Stalin would even support Germany in doing this. The only reason Hitler attacked Russia was to kill Jews and Commies, as he had promised in his infamous book Mein Kampf.

  • '17 '16

    @Narvik:

    Base on this, it is obvious that if Stalin was killed, then all Russians would surrender. And I don’t think Stalin would survive losing Moscow. So the conclusion is, that Moscow was the decisive object that needed to be taken to win the war. I say that to take Moscow was the only victory condition for Germany. Hitler did not have to beat the Red Army in the battlefield, or capture the Baku oilfields, or bomb Russian industry. He just had to take Moscow. Simple as that. Hitler failed doing this, just because he found it more important to kill Jews.

    Agreed with everything you said about Hitler, Moscow and Stalin, up till the “more important to kill Jews” line.  Hitler, of course, was a terrible man in regards to his treatment and extermination of the Jews under his control, but his failure to take Moscow in 1941 had little to do with prioritizing the killing of Jews over seizing Moscow.  The Final Solution had not yet been in play in 1941 (certainly terrible treatment of military and civilians on the Eastern Front was occurring in 1941, but the full blown, all hands on deck, lets kill every jew and tie up every rail system moving Jews about, was not in play in 1941).  Moscow was not seized during Barbarossa because of multiple military blunders, mostly caused by Hitler’s constant meddling in priorities over what OKW had planned. I really think 1941 was Germany’s best shot at taking Moscow… much had changed in the defense of Moscow by Spring 1942 and the sideshow in the Caucasus in 1942 ended up costing Germany the war in Russia.  Germany’s best chance to take out Moscow was in 1941… so much had changed by Spring 1942, I think few realize just how much stronger Russia was, and the defense of Moscow just a few months after Germany failed at the gates of Moscow, I think by then, seizing Moscow was a slim-to-nil affair no matter what Germany did… regardless, the failure to seize Moscow in 1941 was attributed directly to military and strategic blundering by Germany… not by the Holocaust.

    Similarly, putting up maps of proposals of what the lines could have looked like after 1941 had come and gone is fine and all, but I honestly think by then, the war in Russia was lost.  I agree with Narvik, Moscow was indeed the key… and that opportunity was ripe for taking in 1941, and could have, with the right mistakes having not occurred, or had been avoided in 1941, Moscow would have fallen.  I sincerely believe, by 1942, the war in Russia was lost by all accounts… oh sure, they could have done better here or there, prolonged the war they could, but by 1942, the writing was on the wall… Germany’s chances of seizing Moscow in 1941 were far greater than most people assume… and similarly, no matter where the front lines were drawn up, Germany’s chances of seizing Moscow in 1942 or beyond were far less than most people assume.

  • '21 '20 '19 '18 '17 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    @Narvik:

    Like in chess, when you capture the King, you win the game. Its kind of like that in real wars too, especially with dictators like Stalin and Hitler. We must assume that if Stalin or Hitler were killed, then the war would stop. This is a general pattern in history. When a King, a Dictator or his capitol is taken, then the war ends. This was true when Hitler and Berlin fell, the rest of the nazis surrendered, they could not keep on fighting for the nazy cause, because the Head was cut off. The same was true with Mussolini and Italy. When the Russian Tsar was killed in 1917 and his capitol St. Petersburg captured, then the Russian empire was out of the war. Or look to France, every time Paris fell, then the rest of France surrender, always, even if the French rulers are still alive, or the French Army is still undefeated on the Battlefield.

    Base on this, it is obvious that if Stalin was killed, then all Russians would surrender. And I don’t think Stalin would survive losing Moscow. So the conclusion is, that Moscow was the decisive object that needed to be taken to win the war. I say that to take Moscow was the only victory condition for Germany. Hitler did not have to beat the Red Army in the battlefield, or capture the Baku oilfields, or bomb Russian industry. He just had to take Moscow. Simple as that. Hitler failed doing this, just because he found it more important to kill Jews.

    The chess king analogy only partially works when it’s applied to real warfare.  In chess, victory or defeat depend entirely on just one factor which can exist in just one of two possible conditions: whether or not the opponent’s king is still in play.

    Real warfare isn’t like that.  In a real war, continued resistance by the enemy depends on four things: 1) to what extent the military forces retains the physical ability and psychological willingness to keep fighting; 2) to what extent the nation’s economic and industrial infrastructure can keep supplying the war effort with the resources it needs; 3) to what extent the political leadership retains the will, the skill, and the command-and-control mechanisms it needs to keep fighting; 4) and to what extent the civilian population retains its ability and its willingness to keep producing (because they are a part of the  economy mentioned in my second point) and to maintain their consent to be governed (because they are a part of the overall political situation that related to the third point).

    The concept that “When a King, a Dictator or his capitol is taken, then the war ends” correlates with a number of historical examples, but doesn’t correlate with others.  The war between Napoleonic France and Tsarist Russia didn’t end when the French occupied Moscow – and in fact France ended up losing it.  The war between Germany and Russia in WWI didn’t end with the February 1917 which overthrew the Tsar; the armistice only came in December 1917.  In WWII, Germany didn’t surrender when Hitler committed suicide on April 30th 1945, nor when  Berlin capitulated to the Russians on May 2nd; it ended a week later.

    Also keep in mind that, even if capturing the enemy’s capital and/or overthrowing (or killing) the enemy’s leader does sometimes mark the end of a war, you usually can’t reach that point unless you’ve already pretty much defeated the enemy’s armies in the field.  During the US Civil War, Richmond eventually fell and the Confederate government scattered, both events occurring shortly before the end of the war…but it took four years of hard slogging for the Union to achieve those two results, and by that point the Confederacy was at the end of its tether militarily and economically.  And those two results aren’t generally regarded as the end-point of the war; the surrenders of the main remaining Confederate forces in the field, notably the armies of Lee and Johnston, were arguably more decisive.

  • '17 '16

    The correlation isn’t correct, but the fact that Moscow was critically important on multiple levels is… 1812 and 1941 are very different years with very different circumstances, and cannot be compared equally.  Napoleon made a straight drive for Moscow… he didn’t invade all of Russia, he didn’t even really bother holding anything other than the immediate vicinity around his army… when he finally did reach Moscow… nobody was there… they all packed up and left, including the Tsar of Russia.  Napoleon occupied a few buildings, didn’t hold any part of Russia, beyond a toehold on a supply line (that was usually broken) and didn’t capture the Tsar.  This just is NOTHING like the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.  Germany invaded with millions across a very wide front from the Baltic to the Black Sea, and it was an invasion to sieze, destroy and hold territory.  Entire armies were annihilated, cities across all of Russia were being captured, the Germans had a pretty solid control of what they were seizing (certainly in comparison with Napoleon), and Moscow was not going to be an empty trophy if captured… it was more than just a symbolic seat of power, it was the most important rail hub, it was an important industrial and communications center, it had stocks of food and munitions and supplies for the Russians, and, as previously mentioned, Stalin was there… and it is my firm belief, that he would not have fled.  When Moscow was under fire and looked doomed, and Stalin was begged to leave for safety, he had the same attitude Hitler did about Berlin and refused to leave… I don’t think Stalin would have left if the Germans had arrived earlier and with a better chance to capture the city… in that case, Stalin most likely would have been captured or killed, and the Soviet Union was very much STALIN’S RUSSIA… as much as the Third Reich was HITLER’s GERMANY.

    Moscow was not the only objective of Barbarossa… it was not going to be taken in a vacuum like Napoleon did to Tsarist Russia in 1812… The Soviet Union was being dismembered by Nazi Germany… they were encircling and destroying entire armies, seizing vast swathes of land and capturing city after city from the Baltic to the Black Sea, and Moscow would have been the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle, with Stalin likely to go down with the city… this is an entirely different scenario than Napoleon, and they simply cannot be compared in the same light.


  • When I talk about the King in chess, I don’t necessary talk about a person, but rather an abstract decisive issue that will make or brake a specific nations ability to survive. In German its named a Schwerpunkt, this strategically important point that the King in chess is supposed to represent. Lets call it a weakness, and if you successfully target this weakness, then that nation will die. In some cases this will be a dictator like Hitler or Stalin, or a king or other authorian ruler. Like when Alexander the Great died, the day after all of his vast empire vanished. In a democracy things are a bit different, like when Roosevelt died in 1945, USA was not knocked out of the war, they just replaced him with Truman. Now who could replace Hitler or Stalin ? I guess that if Churchill died or London got captured, then the Brits would keep on fighting, maybe from a government in exile in Canada and with some other guy as a new leader. In a Dictatorship the Leader is the weak spot, but in a Democracy the opinion is the weak spot. As in the Vietnam war, USA was military supreme in the battlefield, but still lost the war because the commies was able to target the US domestic opinion and create resistance against the war. Other weak spots can be industry, production, lack of oil, food or supply, convoy routes over the sea, international trade and 100 other things. Even the army or navy can be a weak point, if out of supply or with poor leaders.

    So back to my statement. I stress that in this case, Stalin was Russias weak point that Hitler had to hit if he wanted to win the war. As others have already said, to conquer Leningrad, Stalingrad, Murmansk or Siberia would not matter, that would be like killing a lot of cheap prawns in chess. A lot of fun but don’t make a victory. But Hitler failed to recognize this. Hitlers aim, or national objective if you want, that he published with his book Mein Kampf in 1920, and won the 1933 election on, was to colonize the Eastern Europe to the Ural mountains, and simoultanesly ethnical cleanse about 30 million of the local people living there, making living space for the Ubermensch farmers. And this is basically why Hitler lost the Eastern Front, and in the end the war. Now, if Hitler had been cunning, skilled and smart, he would have gone directly for Moscow, with full strength and all resources, captured Moscow, jailed Stalin and demobilized the Red Army. Now Germany would have won the war, and with less then a half million germans as casualties, no cities in ruins, dominated all of Europe, and then Hitler could have started to kill Jews and Slaves and probably succeeded, much in the same way that Stalin succeeded in killing 30 million of his own population during the Great Terror in the 1930 ies. Its a lot easier to kill people when they are not armed and shooting back. Luckily to my family and country, Hitler was narrow minded and stubborn.

    The Napoleon campaign 1812 was another kind of war, since Napoleons national objective was to win honor in the battlefield by chasing and beating the Russian Army. If Napoleon had wanted to conquer and govern Russia he could just have invaded the capitol, St. Petersburg, that was almost adjacent to his staging point, which would give him short supply lines, and the city was light defended too since the Tsar had his army around Moscow.

    King Karl XII campaign in 1700 was different too, since his objective was to capture Tsar Peter I and steal his money, so he followed him to an ambush outside Poltava.

  • '17 '16 '15 Organizer '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    Leningrad first should be taken, only to shorten the front and allow Finnish forces ( and German) to further reach Archangel and cut about 25% of lend lease shipments. Moscow is obviously the #1 target, but taking Leningrad and shortening the front would allow forces to bear from the northern flank and cut rail lines, which Moscow is the main hub for all areas. Stalingrad offers very little prospects for any military value w/o Moscow being taken. You might say Germany poked her head too far into protected Soviet support lines ( not much different than Kursk) and her offense got bogged down.

  • '17 '16

    I think most of us are in agreement here that Moscow was a very important target, both militarily and politically, and should have been more of a focus of Nazi Germany than dabbing around the northern and southern fronts… which while important for not making a linear drive to Moscow without securing the flanks, doesn’t hold as much importance as Moscow itself.  We may all have slightly different opinions on what makes Moscow the important target and why it failed, but in the end, back to the original point of this thread, it would seem most of us agree that Moscow was indeed very important, and aiming only for Leningrad and Stalingrad/Caucasus, would have been a mistake.

  • '21 '20 '19 '18 '17 '16

    Fair enough! Thanks, everyone, for your expert analysis.


  • @Imperious:

    Leningrad first should be taken, only to shorten the front and allow Finnish forces ( and German) to further reach Archangel and cut about 25% of lend lease shipments. Moscow is obviously the #1 target, but taking Leningrad and shortening the front would allow forces to bear from the northern flank and cut rail lines, which Moscow is the main hub for all areas. Stalingrad offers very little prospects for any military value w/o Moscow being taken. You might say Germany poked her head too far into protected Soviet support lines ( not much different than Kursk) and her offense got bogged down.

    Army Group North would need more infantry divisions to seriously take Leningrad. The 4th Panzer Army would have been better used in Army Group South; replacing the terrain of lakes and swamps with the wide open wheat fields of the Ukraine. Germany could have pulled twenty divisions from the West in a quest to take Leningrad.


  • Very good thread. Thanks to everyone who took the time to create well thought-out contributions. Before getting into my own recommendations, I think it’s important to review the background.

    The Soviet Union was not expecting a German invasion. Therefore, the Soviet military was in a purely offensive posture. Also, Germany was more ready for war than Soviet military planners had realized. This created a window of opportunity, during which Germany was able to achieve a 10:1 exchange ratio against Soviet soldiers. (10 Soviets killed or captured for every German.) However, that situation didn’t last forever: the Soviets eventually got their act together, after which the exchange ratio declined to 3:1. At Stalingrad, the Soviets achieved nearly a 1:1 exchange ratio against the Germans. However, there were a number of times when General von Manstein achieved a much better than 3:1 ratio against the Soviets, well after Barbarossa had ended. For example, in the Third Battle of Kharkov (fought in the aftermath of Germany’s defeat at Stalingrad), von Manstein and the Germans achieved a 10:1 exchange ratio. The Soviet Union had a prewar population of 169 million, compared to just 69 million for prewar Germany. The Soviets could afford many more losses than could the Germans.

    Any operation against the Soviet Union necessarily had two phases. During phase 1 (quick gains), Germany’s main objective should have been to advance as quickly as possible wherever possible, while capturing or destroying as much Soviet strength as possible. Phase 2 begins once the quick, easy gains end. Phase 2 would be slower and more deliberative than phase 1.

    The gains Germany could make during phase 1 were limited not just by the Soviet military, but also by Germany’s supply situation. Germany was a coal-rich, oil-poor nation. Romanian oil production helped offset that, as did Germany’s synthetic oil facilities. But ideally from an oil conservation perspective, Germany’s soldiers would be supplied via coal-powered trains, and horses carrying food from train drop off sites to the soldiers in the field. However, the Soviet rail network was far more limited than Germany’s, the Soviets used a different rail gauge than the Germans, and Stalin had ordered Soviet rail lines destroyed as part of his scorched earth policy. The Wehrmacht was therefore far more dependent on petroleum than it would liked to have been. Germany had only enough petroleum for 2 - 3 months of active operations, after which its operational tempo would slow due to lack of oil. Lack of oil also implied an inability to deliver to German soldiers the things they needed: ammunition, food, medical supplies, and winter uniforms.

    I agree with the OP that the Caucasus oilfields were of absolutely vital importance to both Germany and to the Soviet Union. However, Germany’s reach during Barbarossa was shorter than Germans would have liked. (Due to lack of oil.) The closer any given objective was to the front, the easier it would be for Germany to take. The Caucasus oilfields were considerably farther from Germany’s “starting line” than were any of the objectives it actually took during Barbarossa. The conquest of those oilfields would have fundamentally altered both the German and Soviet war efforts. But the capture of those oilfields was not an achievable goal for 1941.

    Hitler had initially chosen to de-emphasize Moscow as an objective, preferring instead to focus on territory in the southern portion of the Soviet Union. That southern advance proved fruitful, and resulted in the capture of large numbers of Soviet soldiers. It did not, however, prove decisive. Hitler later changed his mind, and decided to go after Moscow. In an operation such as this, it is typically better to commit to one objective, than it is to vacillate between two different (individually tempting) options. Moscow almost certainly could have been taken, had taking it been a central focus from day one.

    I’m skeptical of claims that the capture of Moscow would have resulted in the capture or death of Stalin. Yes, Stalin had remained in the city after the government had been evacuated. But I think the theory there was that it was easier to quietly evacuate one man than a whole government. My understanding is that there was a contingency plan to evacuate Stalin from Moscow if the situation had required it. Had Stalin been killed while trying to evacuate, that obviously would have been a tremendous bonus for the Germans. But the chance of that happening was probably well under 50% even if the city fell, so they would have been rather foolish to rely on it.

    However, the capture of Moscow would have deprived the Soviet Union of a major source of industry and of population. It would also have been deprived of its most vital rail network hub; making it extremely difficult for the Soviets to concentrate their soldiers in preparation for an offensive. From a military and industrial perspective, Moscow was the single most valuable target Germany could have taken in 1941, even assuming Stalin escaped. There was also a good opportunity to have taken it in '41–an opportunity which would no longer exist in '42. Germany had also wasted an opportunity to take Leningrad in '41. Once that opportunity slipped away, Leningrad became much better-defended.

    Germany needed to have come away from phase 1 owning Moscow, Leningrad, the Ukraine, and a lot of other territory in the western Soviet Union. With that territory in hand, it would then have been well positioned to launch a good summer offensive in 1942.

  • '17 '16

    @KurtGodel7:

    I’m skeptical of claims that the capture of Moscow would have resulted in the capture or death of Stalin. Yes, Stalin had remained in the city after the government had been evacuated. But I think the theory there was that it was easier to quietly evacuate one man than a whole government. My understanding is that there was a contingency plan to evacuate Stalin from Moscow if the situation had required it. Had Stalin been killed while trying to evacuate, that obviously would have been a tremendous bonus for the Germans. But the chance of that happening was probably well under 50% even if the city fell, so they would have been rather foolish to rely on it.

    Yes, there were also contingency plans to evacuate Hitler from Berlin if the situation had required it… oddly enough, neither Hitler nor Stalin acted on either contingency plan when the situation required it.  The Soviet government LEFT MOSCOW… except that one guy named Stalin… You see, there’s something Hitler and Stalin both shared, besides messed up families… they were both megalomaniacs who were stubborn and refused to listen to the advice of anyone around them… they both had bunker mentalities and neither had any intention of leaving their capitals… both of them just KNEW that their capitals would not fall, and if they did, well then they didn’t deserve the greatness that was Hitler or Stalin.

    Neither Stalin nor Hitler were going anywhere… Stalin ignored his contingency plan… Hitler did too… one city was a little better defended than the other, so one survived while the other did not… but if you think for one moment either megalomaniac was going to abandon his capital after everyone else and left and begged him to come too, you’re crazy for thinking they would.

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