Defeat in the East: Russia’s Final Offensive

In Red Storm on the Reich: The Soviet March on Germany, 1945, English historian Christopher Duffy conveys the importance of logistics, movement, unit structure, and the technical aspects of warfare without being tedious. It is only by appreciating these factors that one understands why armies win or lose. Although the Germans held the upper hand in mobile warfare in the early years of the war against Russia, by 1945 the Soviets had not only matched but surpassed their enemies. The Germans still relied heavily on horse drawn transport and suffered increasing fuel shortages, which meant that the once famed panzer divisions were now pitiful under-strength formations subordinated to the landser (infantry) and last-ditch Volksturm (people’s army) units. The Russian divisions were fully motorized and benefited from increasing numbers of heavy tanks and powerful assault guns backed by immense artillery formations. Nevertheless, despite these odds, Germany retained certain advantages—superior training and cohesion of veteran units, fanatical resistance in the face of a merciless opponent, and the widespread use of new personal antitank weapons (e.g., the Panzerfaust recoilless rocket) which accounted for perhaps three-fourths of tanks lost by the Soviets.

As Duffy explains, the Germans obtained a momentary respite with the spring thaw. The Russians were halted by mud and ironically by overextended supply lines due to their initial rapid advances. Lacking good forward airfields, the Soviets could not prevent the Luftwaffe from returning to the air and inflicting considerable damage even in these final months of the doomed Reich. While the Allies were bound to conquer in the long run, the sheer suddenness of the collapse in the east was not a foregone conclusion. Germany had significant fuel supplies and production facilities, but its military suffered from Hitler’s strategic interference and the bureaucratic ineptitude of the Nazi leadership which led to the misallocation of valuable supplies. The brutal and cowardly activity of the party Gauleiters (political leaders) prevented a timely evacuation of German civilians. Millions would perish at the hands of the Soviet invaders. Fortunately there were a handful of capable and humane German commanders, like von Saucken and Lasch, who spared many from a similar fate and who conducted a brave resistance despite their disillusionment with Hitler’s increasingly incoherent policies.

See related post: Soldiers of Destruction

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