The cost of Barbarossa

Operation Barbarossa: a silly name for one of the most devastating invasions in history. The Germans should have read up on Napoleon before charging into Russia. Land war in Asia is a longstanding paradox with a terrible cost.

June 22, 1941 was a big day for Germany. The most successful army to date was going to break into Russia. The Germans were skilled at this sort of mechanized onslaught. It worked well in the conquest of France. Three days into the invasion, their forces had pushed 300 miles into enemy territory. But the Soviet Union had a couple of things that Germany never anticipated:  lots and lots of citizen-soldiers and a merciless Russian winter.

Only fools expect to finish a war in “the good weather”. For the Germans, Barbarossa fell to the mercy of the elements. Winter slowed everything down and the casualties went sky-high. The city of Stalingrad held a world record for longest siege at the cost of two million lives. Russia eventually rebuilt her defenses, mobilized the troops, hardened supply lines with the Allies and launched a counter-offensive. The conflict also unleashed the toughest Russian commander of the war–Marshall Zhukov–who took his soldiers all the way to Berlin.

Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812 and lost more than 400,000 soldiers in the campaign. Hitler had many more troops to waste on the Eastern Front. . . recent statistics put German losses in the millions. The ambition of these warlords was easily drained in a vast and daunting continent. Their offensives are now examples of humiliating defeats and solemn reminders of the terrible loss of war.

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