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Barbarossa by Jonathon Dimbleby

Another pacy and engrossing narrative history from Jonathon Dimbleby. My notes switch in and out of being prep for a future lesson on the topic and just general notes on interesting topics.


The lesson starts with a pic of Molotov Ribontrop, flags side by side. Think - why is this a bit weird?

Stalin quite "I have tricked Hitler".

Why did the Germans have such fortune at the beginning?

1. Soviet troops not equipped properly (digging trenches with helmets)

2. A reluctance to pass bad intelligence up the chain of command.

3. tanks used to support troops spread across the front - not in large packs like the Panzers were.

4. German commandos went ahead and cut phone and electric lines.

5. Stalin had ordered a "No Provocation Law" before the invasion, so Soviet trucks and tanks were not allowed to use camouflage.

6. a double counting of soldiers - Soviet recruiters under such pressure to get men into the army they first drafted men via conscription and then when asked to create "volunteer battalions" they got many of those that were waiting to join the draft - to volunteer instead. This made the generals think they had more men coming then they did as they'd double counted the same people.



1. A well-organised dismantling and moving East of important heavy industry factories.

2. The German advance was so quick they struggled to keep their supply lines connected to the front. German soldiers found themselves stealing food and oil from local Russians as their own supplies had not caught up.



US made official recognition of the USSR in the 1930s. Ford opened a tractor factory and many American workers went to the USSR to work. Moscow had its own English newspaper and all the major cities had opened English schools. The first US ambassador became well-liked and famous for lavish parties at the embassy. However, the more he learned the more he turned on the Soviet Union and he spent the rest of his life an ardent anti-Communist.

Many of the British intelligentsia were besotted with the USSR and deliberated courted with tours and lavish events in their honour.

Disputes broke out in Western papers between those journalists and intellectuals who favoured the USSR and those that visited without the same ceremony shown to the chosen few. They argued over the existence of mass starvation, that was to claim 10 million lives and began as an attack on the richer Peasants, the Kulaks.

Just as Hitler was preparing for Barbarossa the Italians faltered in the Balkans against the Greeks. He had to deal with this first as it gave the British an opportunity to seize a foothold in Europe and threaten his Romanian oil fields. Aware to this same opportunity Chuchrill ordered 3 divisions from the African Army north to help Greece. This was, in retrospect, a mistake - despite the very real advantage should it have paid off. The advancing Brits met the troops Hitler sent to support the Italians and ended up retreating once again. Meanwhile, in Africa - the very day the British divisions left (and squandered an opportunity to deliver a knockout blow to the Italians) Rommel showed up with the Africa Korps and turned the tide against the British (momentarily).

However, despite losing over 15,000 British soldiers and the loss of Greece (and with it the rest of the Balkans, including Yugoslavia which Churchill had previously held out high hopes for) it had an intended consequence. Hitler had to relocate his gathering Barborosa units to the Balkans. It took them 4 weeks to get back into their positions. He missed the May starting date. This would prove crucial. 4 weeks less of good weather fighting in Russia may have been the deciding factor.


Mitigating factors to the disaster...

The saving of the industrial base.

Order 270 - a no-surrender order - weakening the German advance.


The hunger plan to wipe out the slavs. POWs were given almost nothing, only minimal calories for those working hard labour for the Nazis. Most were open air, only their torn uniforms to survive sub zero temperatures.

3 mil soldiers taken prisoner in early stages.

650k of these die from exposure in the camps.

1.35mil are simply executed.

1 mil make it out alive.


Why did the Germans lose?

The T34 - armour was too thick for German guns. Only a direct hit to the engine from behind worked - and that was difficult to achieve in the muddy conditions.

Long supply lines.

Bad weather- killed the horses pulling German spare parts and Artillery. The Russians called it "General Mud" - an ally in the fight.

No step back rule - Commissar shooting retreating soldiers.

Stalin's Organs (Katyusha Rocket Launchers).

Molotov Cocktails - hand-to-hand fighting.

Home advantage - both local knowledge and the motivation to fight to protect their homes.

Hitler ordered his army to split off during the attack on Moscow, to seize other targets to the North and South. This gave Moscow's defenders time to regroup and build defences.

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