A simplified view on WW2 Eastern Front


There are occasionally distorting publications that overemphasize certain things or pieces of equipment in conventional warfare, and WW2 in particular. I will try to guide the reader's thoughts about such subjects to certain essentials.

From the German perspective, this is what was a must-have (beyond mere sustainment and trivial things) to defeat the Soviet forces in WW2:

#1: Capture many POWs

The primary tool for this were highly mobile (enough suitable vehicles and fuel) "fast divisions" (not just tank divisions) that enabled encirclements with not too porous pocket walls.

#2: Kill or maim many Red Army soldiers

The tool for this was ~80% indirect fires; howitzers and mortars. The quantity of available HE munitions was more important than qty of guns. The conflict saw much more KIA than POW in 1942-1945, as the Germans had lost the combination of factors that enabled grand encirclements.

#3: Reduce Red Army operational mobility and reduce its supply throughput

The tool for this was (night) bombing or railway infrastructures and especially "railheads" (where supplies were unloaded). The venerable He 111H of 1940 was fine for this even as late as 1945 on the Eastern Front.

#4: Stall Red Army attacks

Post-WW2 literature recounted that more losses were inflicted on Red Army assault troops by shelling marshalling locations prior to the assault than during the assault. About half of the defeated Red Army attacks were stalled before the small arms fields of fire of the German infantry. So this is in part about #2, but also very much about military intelligence.

#5: Break tank attacks

The most important tools for this were by far two basic types of long 7.5 cm cannons; one anti-tank gun (L/46 barrel) and one for AFVs (L/48), which foolishly used different cartridge formats. They proved to be effective enough even in 1945.

Such armaments could have been available in the mid 30's (two such guns existed then) already.

#6: Keep friendly losses bearable

A steel flak vest would have helped greatly, as would have a widespread availability of APCs for infantry assaults and general transportation on the last mile. Most important was proper infantry training, though. 6 month training binds many NCOs, but it leads to much lower casualty rates than 6 weeks training.

 #7: Good quality leadership that doesn't waste personnel and material with gross violations of operating principles (Einsatzgrundsätze).

This included to some degree good communications including radio tech.


This may all seem terribly obvious, but it wasn't obvious enough. Different compromises were made, and that led to military disaster.

You can deduct the importance of things during that campaign from these 7 (8 with sustainment) pillars. I suppose that they are still relevant.



  1. "This may all seem terribly obvious, but it wasn't obvious enough. Different compromises were made, and that led to military disaster."

    So what went wrong in 1941? The operational plan was in hindsight too optimistic, not enough Soviet units were destroyed in the first weeks of the operations.

    The important strategic mistake was of course that Germany tried to fight at the same time against western powers and the SU, a decision that allowed very few operational mistakes....

    1. #1 Fast divisions didn't get enough good motor vehicle replacements.
      #2 Munition production was too small, had even been reduced after May 40.
      #3 The bomber wings became less and didn't ever again bomb Red Army lines of communication as much as in '41 ever again.
      #4 Difficult due to poor quality of many German infantry divisions after Winter 41/42, also see #2.
      #5 Much too slow introduction of longer 7.5 cm guns. Germany had bet on specialised squeezebire ATGs, but lacked tungsten to provide enough munitions for them.
      #6 Ever shorter training due to lacking self-discipline at top leadership.
      #7 SS leaders were ignoramuses and learned by doing. The ever-expanding (nominally mode divisions) army could not maintain leadership quality due to high officer attrition.

    2. I meant to write "nominally more divisions".

      I'm typing on a phone, typos galore!

    3. My issue is, that the German procedures at the tactical and operational level were in many cases sound, the mistakes happened at the strategic level, something that is not explicitly dicussed.

      Without the pressure to defeat the SU in one season the situation would have been different. The mistake in WW1 and much more in WW2 was on the German side to ignore the limitations Germany's strategic situation imposes on operations.

  2. Do you have any more thoughts on the steel flak vest and how it could have looked? I've always thought something like that could only be the size of a modern plate, or smaller, before weight became a problem.

    1. https://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.com/2011/08/helmets-and-body-armor-in-modern.html

  3. "This may all seem terribly obvious, but it wasn't obvious enough. Different compromises were made, and that led to military disaster."

    It very much *was* obvious to the German and other military leaders. Those compromises were made because one can't just simply snap one's fingers and receive everything one desires, not because the military establishment somehow failed to see the requirements. If the industrial capacity or trained manpower isn't there, you can demand a modern mechanized and motorized force with well trained line troops and officers all you want, you still won't get it.

    Frankly speaking, for an army that had to build up and expand more or less from nothing from 1935 onwards, the Wehrmacht and its Heer turned out shockingly well trained and equiped. Bear in mind that the German army was not only not allowed to build up stocks of modern weapons or significant ammounts of ammunition, but also prevented from conscription for 16 years (1919-1935); meaning it lost out on 16 whole conscription cycles of trained soldiers and much of the infrastructure to train them. Industrial capabilities such as airplane manufacturing and related engine development too were effectively limited to the civilian market, considerably limiting manufacturing capability and experience in that regard.

    1. "If the industrial capacity or trained manpower isn't there, you can demand a modern mechanized and motorized force with well trained line troops and officers all you want, you still won't get it."

      To simplistic: The industrial capacuity was there but not used in 1939/40, because the German government did not expect a war. The war which happened too early was a result of political gambling, a startegic mistake.

      Sober analysts like Beck assumed that Germany would be ready for war around 1942.

    2. None of that explains the waste of trucks and tanks and transport aircraft in Africa, the SKG10 and Baby Blitz follies, the reduction of munitions production in 1940, the neglect of AT-capable light field guns.

    3. Africa happened because Italy was falling apart and Steinbock was an attempt at retaliation for the allied bombings; both were wasteful but are entirely unrelated to the points made in the blog post.

      The reduction of ammunition production in 1940 was due to high command gearing industrial production for a war with the UK which didn't require large amounts of artillery shells. As for the last point: what are you even talking about here? The amount of PaKs, both light and heavy, was not small at all. The large caliber anti air canons such as 88mm and 37mm further increase that number.

    4. Well, I can't help you if you cannot see the link to the blog post.
      Your remark about ATGs is unrelated and irrelevant. There weren't enough 7.5 cm L/43 to L/48 guns in service 1940/45, period. Nobody claimed that there weren't many guns.

  4. One of the great techniques the Germans constantly used on the Defense: Large, consolidated mine fields.

    They did not allow each little unit to randomly scatter them around their positions. Mine fields were controlled by higher headquarters as part of an operational plan to funnel attackers towards massed German AT units. The mines were intended to be placed ABOVE ground so they would be very visible to attackers. Many of the mines were dummies to increase the panic in attacking units, and to make recollection easier.

    Not "high tech" but every army should remember this technique. It worked!

    1. Such things existed in a Panzerabwehrplan (anti tank plan) at division level, but I have also seen many illustrations of defensive positions with barbed wire and mines around the combat trenches.

      Also keep in mind that obstacles need to be defended tl be effective. You cannot 100% concentrate AT on gaps.

    2. ^That was me on a phone that's too stupid to log in with blogger for some reason.