The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

H207: The Failure of Barbarossa

Russland-Süd (Don, Stalingrad), Panzer IIIGerman army doctrine in World War II, famously known as Blitzkrieg, contributed to rapid and decisive victory in Poland and France, 1939-1940.  Encouraged by the validation of their doctrine, German leaders embarked on a campaign to conquer the Soviet Union in 1941:  Operation Barbarossa.  Begun in June 1941, the campaign to defeat the USSR was a failure by December 1941 when the Soviet counterattack drove the Germans back from the approaches to Moscow.  A number of reasons are cited for the failure of the campaign:  lack of a clear strategic end state; lack of a clear military objective; failures of intelligence to understand the size and adaptability of the Soviet Army; the logistics failure to support the troops rapid movement, bridge the geographic distances, and support winter operations; a cultural inability of the German high command to think in global strategic terms; and the ability of the Red Army to trade space for time to replenish losses of the opening months of the war.  Which reason do you think is the single most important to the failure of the German campaign and why?


January 30, 2017 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. One of the elements of war is Objective. According to this principle, warring forces need a clear goal or target to help orient and focus their efforts along a shared end state. Lacking objective, forces run the risk of never truly knowing what success looks like and therefore condemning themselves to long campaigns characterized by whimsical changes in the mission and related tasks. A lack of a cleat objective is the principle reason why Operation Barbarossa failed in Russia. German strategists never articulated a clear goal for their forces in Russia and, therefore, the campaign lacked a coherent strategy. As an example, after early successes put the German Army in position to capture Moscow, the Germans halted their advance and swung south to attack locations further in the interior. German leaders argued over whether the goal should be to capture the political hub of Russia (Moscow) or attack other population and industrial centers such as Lenningrad or Stalingrad. These competing objectives were never definitively resolved by German leaders. Consequently, the German Army slowly culminated in Russia even while capturing significant territory and defeating massive Russian forces.

    Comment by Scott Harr | January 31, 2017

  2. As I stated before, the lack of a clear objective, or end state, directly contributed to the failure of the German army as they attempted to conquer Russia.

    As far as the single most important failure of the German army is concerned, I would say that they failed to realize the type of war that was necessary in order to successfully defeat Russia. Had they learned from one of their own – Clausewitz, they would have realized that the type of warfare necessary to conquer Russia would be that of total war. Instead, Germany attempted to use the doctrine and logistical support that had brought them success against France and several other European countries. By failing to take into account the size and population of Russia, the Germans did not allow for the fact that Russia could pour their overabundance of resources (namely people) at them until they could successfully develop technology to defeat the Germans. Comparable to the tactics used near the end of the American Civil War by Grant, Russia was able to keep throwing its resources at Germany until it eventually wore them down. While certainly costly for Russia (millions of lives lost) it ultimately proved successful.

    Comment by Justin Reddick | January 31, 2017

  3. I would argue the biggest reason for failure was a sense of invulnerability on the part of the Germans. The Germans had planned for years to defeat France and did so with relative ease. This was based on doctrine they wrote and revised during the interwar years. With that in mind they decided to take on Russia. They knew they had superior tactics versus the Russians and figured it would only be a matter of time until they could drive Russia into a decisive battle. What they didn’t understand was Russia was not the same as far in terms of culture and military tactics. Russia’s resolve never wavered and they eventually beat back Germany out of Russia. If the Germans did not have that sense of invulnerability following the defeat of France they may have planned better to invade Russia or decided against attacking at all.

    Comment by Jeffery Hoover | January 31, 2017

  4. I agree with the above arguments and would also like to share a thought or two. While reading about the German efforts to invade and conquer Russia, I felt the German leadership failed to learn from history (Napoleon) and the logistical commitment required to sustain momentum. The under-appreciation of the vast size of Russia as compared to the size of France (as Jeff mentions above), led further complications with sustaining LOCs. While the German army exhibited an increased optempo during the early part of the invasion, it could not maintain the initiative due to an impaired operational reach. Another issue I noticed was the changing and unclear objectives. Instead of marching straight into Moscow, the army diverted to Stalingrad, during which time enabled Moscow to establish a defensive posture.

    Comment by William Edmonds | February 7, 2017

  5. There were several reasons which caused the failure of the German campaign to conquer the Soviet Union in 1941. From my perspective, the main reason that I think is the single most important to the failure of the German campaign is the lack of a clear strategic end state. The other reason like lack of a clear military objective; failures of intelligence to understand the size and adaptability of the Soviet Army; or even the cold weather increased the chances of this failure. The German strategy focus since WWI was in western Europe, all of their training and analysis focus were there but suddenly and because of their lack of the resources they entered an unplanned war in eastern Europe. The Germans did not plan for this war from a strategic level. They won the tactical battles and took a big part from land but it was small in comparing wit size of the Soviet Union. They did not destroy the strategic COG of Soviet Union, they only affected the operational COG which was the army. They did not learn from history, Napoleon, invasion to Russia. The changing of command also affected negatively on the operation of Barbarossa. In addition, there was no clear end state, intent, goal to be accomplished. All of these reasons caused tr failure of Barbarossa.

    Comment by mohamed ibrahim | February 10, 2017

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