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HITLER'S PANZERS EAST
- by R.H. Stolfi

Paperback Reprint edition (September 1993)
Univ of Oklahoma Pr (Trd)
ISBN: 0806125810
Dimensions (in inches): 0.78 x 8.51 x 5.46

Decription:
"Stolfi makes an excellent case...His book is a work of scholarship, backed to the hilt by contemporary sources."--Rapport If you believe most experts, Germany's chances of winning World War II effectively ended with their invasion of Soviet Russia in June 1941. They claim that Russia was simply too vast, its army too huge, its weather too forboding. ...In this intriguing book, R.H.S. Stolfi, Professor Emeritus of Modern European History at the Naval Postgraduate School, offers a fascinating new hypothesis: the German Army had the men, the materials, and the generalship to achieve a complete and total victory in the East by October 1941. It was Adolf Hitler's inability to leave the World War I siege mentality behind or to fully understand blitzkrieg tactics that cost his army its momentum toward Moscow and doomed Operation Barbarossa. ...Stolfi looks at the battle for Russia as it might have been, backed by original Wehrmacht operational records and other documentation, using detailed overlay maps to illustrate that distance was not a major reason for defeat. He shows how the Germans could have captured Moscow and the transportation hub of Gorky to effectively throttle Soviet re-mobilization. A truly fascinating "what-if" scenario!


Review (Indepth Review and description)

Could Hitler have won? You can't tell by this book!, September 1, 2000
Reviewer: Daniel R. Baker (see more about me)


R.H.S. Stolfi is here to tell you that Hitler lost World War II with one blunder in August, 1941. Stolfi argues that an immediate, all-out drive by the German Army Group Center against Moscow on the eighth week of Hitler's massive invasion of Soviet Russia (Operation Barbarossa) would ultimately have destroyed the Red Army. Instead, Hitler halted Army Group Center in August and ordered Guderian's 2nd Armored Group southward toward Kiev, losing the opportunity to take Moscow, and with it the war.

Had Moscow fallen, Stolfi believes that Germany would inevitably have conquered Russia. His thesis is that the Leningrad and Kiev fronts would have been isolated and annihilated, a decisive portion of Soviet industry would have fallen into German hands, and the Wehrmacht would have driven on to Gorki and the Volga by December, forcing Stalin's government to surrender or else be overthrown by a populace unwilling to keep fighting a lost war.

Stolfi's thesis is interesting and provocative, but he argues it ineptly. His research is impressive in its depth, but far too limited in scope. While he has done excellent work with the German primary sources, he has ignored the vast majority of the Soviet sources. While the German sources suffice to support many of Stolfi's points, it is inexcusable to rely exclusively on German intelligence (Abwehr) reports to evaluate the Soviets' losses, armed strength, plans and intentions. Stolfi also ludicrously relies on postwar statistics to judge how much Soviet industrial capacity Germany could have captured.

The thesis that the Wehrmacht could have taken Moscow rings true. Given that Operation Typhoon (October 2, 1941) did in fact carry the Germans into the suburbs of Moscow against fierce resistance, encircling and destroying vast Soviet forces at Vyasma and Bryansk, one may plausibly suppose that an earlier German attack against less prepared defenses, in the more favorable weather conditions of August, could have taken the capital. Also convincing is Stolfi's claim that Hitler's decision to send Guderian southward reflected the German tyrant's inability to understand the blitzkrieg method, and that Hitler as a military leader had a siege mentality rather than a blitz mentality.

But Stolfi is not nearly so persuasive in arguing that the fall of Moscow would inexorably entail the fall of Soviet Russia. The author consistently analogizes the campaign in Russia to Germany's earlier campaign in France, concluding that Russia was "no more than a bigger cat in a bigger bag." A fundamental difference between the two campaigns appears to have escaped him; the Germans' crushing victory over the French and British in May 1940 was accomplished in the absence of any Allied strategic reserve. Once the Germans broke through at Sedan, the Western Allies had no uncommitted forces to throw at Guderian's armored corps as it raced to the sea, and thus could only hurl uncoordinated piecemeal attacks at him with whatever units they could pry loose as he trapped their armies in Flanders.

In contrast, the Soviets had a strategic reserve vastly larger than the Abwehr realized. And Stolfi, dependent on German sources, appears no more cognizant than the Abwehr of those reserves' size. Total Red Army strength with reserves at the start of Barbarossa is estimated at 12 million, but Stolfi suggests that his hypothetical assault on Moscow, by causing an additional 1 million casualties beyond those the Russians actually incurred historically, would have destroyed Soviet Russia's strategic reserve. In reality, the Soviet reserve was large enough to fight on.

Stolfi also posits the likely political collapse of Stalin's government had Moscow fallen. This is possible, but a corresponding collapse of the Russian will to fight is unlikely. The Russians were confronted with an invader whose words and deeds plainly proclaimed its intention to enslave all Russians to the "master race." Whoever might have replaced Stalin at the helm, he would certainly be chosen above all for his determination to drive the enemy from Mother Russia.

Stolfi also argues, unpersuasively, that the Germans had accurately assessed the rigors of war in Russia, citing a few accurate Abwehr estimates of Russian numbers in certain arms, and claiming that the Germans, out of respect for Russian strength, massed as much strength as practical against the enemy. This is not true. Germany left 51 divisions in the western theater, 22 of which could easily have been used in Barbarossa, the Western Allies being in no condition to invade Europe in 1941. The Abwehr's gross underestimation of Soviet air strength is not mentioned. Even by Stolfi's own calculations, the campaign would have lasted through December had Moscow fallen, yet Stolfi claims the Wehrmacht was right not to burden its supply system by providing winter clothing to the troops. Accepting Stolfi's own appraisal of the ultimate progress of the Wehrmacht after taking Moscow, one notes that the predicted final advance is still well short of the line Archangelsk-Kotlas-Gorki-the Volga-Astrakhan, which Barbarossa proposed to achieve. I accept Guderian's verdict over Stolfi's: "We have severely underestimated the Russians, the extent of the country and the treachery of the climate. This is the revenge of reality."

So could Operation Barbarossa have succeeded? Maybe, but Stolfi has not proven it. Illogical argument, selective evidence, and research tunnel-vision make for an unconvincing final thesis. At best, Stolfi has established that, if Germany ever had a chance, it was likelier by taking Moscow in 1941 than Stalingrad in 1942. But too often Stolfi's strident insistence that the blitzkrieg war machine was literally unstoppable by anything other than Hitler himself dredges up bad memories of the World War I cult of the offensive, which killed millions pointlessly with its vapid nostrum that imprudence assures victory, and the enemy's capabilities do not matter.


No War in a Vacuum, please, August 29, 2000
Reviewer: Bryan Gibby (see more about me) from Columbus, OH

Almost alone of all WWII historians, Stolfi takes up the cause of the German Army's tactical and operational abilities, and by inference their faults (see M. Cooper, THE GERMAN ARMY for the best argument). He also clearly demonstrates what few arm chair strategists and many military members fail to grasp: no military operation EVER takes place in a political vacuum. The German style of fighting, effective as it was, was completely incompatible with Hitler's political/strategic thinking. That is why this book is so important to fairly evaluate Hitler's interference in the conduct of military operations. Fortunately for Humanity, he did, and was one of the Allies' greatest assets. But that obscures the point that the German Army knew its business in conducting war winning battles and campaigns. Contrary to conventional belief, the Germans did not attack Russia to get to Britian, they did not underestimate the magnitude of Soviet military power, they did not neglect the logistical matters of decisive campaigning, and they did not fall prey to superior tanks. On the contrary, the German Army from 22 June 41 until the end of Sep of the same year demonstrated that they had the ability to go the distance and win the battle at the gates of Moscow. Whether that would have been enough to win the war, given Hitler's penchant to fight everyone, is cause for another book.

There are some weaknesses to keep in mind. The author states that he has relied on German sources; upon contemplation, this sort of makes sense since he is evaluating the victorious Wehrmacht, not the one that lost. It is doubtful that Soviet materials would shed much light on operations during the first few weeks of combat. In some cases by the time the Russians figured it out, the Germans were 60 miles past. The author does assume a "monolithic" panzer mentality in the German Army. With the exception of Guderian, Hoth, and Rommel, no one above the rank of Colonel in 1941 KNEW what to do with a tank. Manstein is taken to task for failure to exploit a tank victory, but the author ascribes no other but local significance to this. This assumption is important, because those mentioned above were not calling the shots at OKH or OKW. Further, as stated in other review, the case for final collapse is not there. The author attempts to show that hundreds of thousands of Russians would surrender when they figured out that the Germans wouldn't shoot them on capture. What is not mentioned, is that the fate of a Russian POW was not that heartening anyway. Finally, the author fails to give credit to the Soviet tactical response of attacking wherever in contact. This was the correct response to the German blitz tactics. Anything that would cost time and wear and tear was bound to have some influence on German decision makers. The Americans did it in the Bulge. Imagine if the French had adopted the same attitude. Things would have turned out different

In balance, though, it is a very good read. It presents a different perspective, a "what-if", and some good analysis of military power and its relationship to the political master.

 

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