Did the Germans not learn from History?

Discussion in 'The Eastern Front' started by Drew5233, May 31, 2012.

  1. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    I was catching up on some old recorded TV this morning and was watching 'Bullets, Boots and Bandages'. Episode Two covered Napoleon's advance into Moscow only to find the city burnt to the ground.

    Now I know the Germans only got close to Moscow (50ish miles I think) but the Russians did burn everything as they retreated-surely they could have learned from history?

    Perhaps a more general thread could be discussed about incidents (success and failed) in WW2 where history was ignored?
     
  2. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Hot air manufacturer

    Logistically there is or should be quite a large difference between 1812 and 1940, so the lessons from the Napoleonic wars should not really apply. The German Army had adapted since the Industrial Revolution, say, the Franco-Prussian War, to wage war inside a strategic universe defined by a close network of railway connections, less than that on a road network. As we know logistical movement is far more effective by rail than by road, and besides contrary to propaganda German road ability by motor transport was rather limited.

    When they invaded the Soviet Union in a matter of speaking they were indeed back to Napoleonic conditions, as the Soviet rail network was much more sparse, on a different gauge, most lines were single and badly maintained at that. Upgrading and adapting it would be a major effort for any great power in peacetime, let alone to a shoestring Germany in wartime!

    The alternative was roads, but again the network was sparse, qnd surface quality oscillated from bad to nightmarish. Also major highways at times were a thick red line on the map but nowhere to be seen on the ground. Also as the German Army was always deficient in motor transport, much less on all-terrain, they had to revert more and more to horse transport, denuding in the process the Continental European of its sole source of motive power.

    Remember, this was supposed to be a short war, a "house of cards". It wasn't. Why this came about fills up quite a number of books.

    As the joke goes, which nation managed to start and lose two world wars in a row? ;)
     
  3. Gerard

    Gerard Seelow/Prora

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing and looking at the German's decision to invade in 1941 its easy to be critical of it. At the time though, the Wehrmacht was at the height of its success; most of Western and Southern Europe was occupied by Germany or within its sphere of influence. The Soviet Armies seemed to be in disarray having just performed terribly in the Finnish Campaign. They seemed leaderless following the purges (of which the Germans were very aware) and it seemed a great opportunity for a strike.

    As Za has pointed out so well, they seemed to ignore the risks and problems thinking that the Soviet Union would collapse in the manner of France and so many other countries. Hitler read his history, he knew that he was gambling everything but he thought that with the advent of Blitzkrieg, he could do what Charles XII of Sweden and Napoleon had tried and failed to do.

    Ironically the Germans caught the Soviets at a time when they were in the midst of re-organisation, timing wise they caught the Soviets at the right time. Unfortunately their own deficiencies meant that they had only one shot at it, and it failed.
     
  4. Alan Allport

    Alan Allport Senior Member

    I'm not sure who are the most dangerous: those who ignore the lessons of history (whatever they are), or those who are convinced they're applying them. Churchill, who probably knew a bit more history than was good for him, tended to fall into the latter camp. He justified many of his more alarming strategic follies on historical precedents, not always well thought-out. For instance, his argument that a second BEF ought to be dispatched to France after Dunkirk to hold a 'Breton Redoubt' seems to have been inspired by Wellington's Lines of Torres Vedras, though without much thought as to whether the military conditions of 1810 were really relevant in 1940. It took a bracing argument with Alan Brooke to finally, sulkingly convince him that the whole plan was absurd.

    Best, Alan
     
  5. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Hot air manufacturer

    ...they seemed to ignore the risks and problems thinking that the Soviet Union would collapse in the manner of France and so many other countries...

    Initial strategy pointed out to enveloping movements by the armoured spearheads up to a 300km depth, calculated after several factors including logistics, enemy advanced deployment, etc. And guess what: they won! They had to defeat the mass army within this depth before they got themselves dragged down by the comm lines primitiveness and this they did.

    It all worked. Problem was that the Soviet government was logically supposed to seek terms, but the house of cards was a hell of a lot more substantial than initially thought, courtesy of Fremde Heere Ost, and Stalin was, well, Stalin. So it went on and on, tactical victory after tactical victory, until strategy became what was expedient.

    As for the Lines of Torres as they are locally known, they depended on a geographical particularity that is hard to replicate elsewhere: a rectangle of land bounded on the sides by the sea and a major river, the short exposed side made up of a range of more or less steep hills allowing the setup of a number of cheaply made forts (earth and local stone) with interlocking fields of fire, transverse roads to allow troop movement, very fertile soil allowing easy resupply, and in the rear a number of ports able to handle any number of naval and logistical ships.
     
  6. Gerard

    Gerard Seelow/Prora

    Initial strategy pointed out to enveloping movements by the armored spearheads up to a 300km depth, calculated after several factors including logistics, enemy advanced deployment, etc. And guess what: they won! They had to defeat the mass army within this depth before they got themselves dragged down by the comm lines primitiveness and this they did.

    Problem was that the Soviet government was logically supposed to seek terms, but the house of cards was a hell of a lot more substantial than initially thought, courtesy of Fremde Heere Ost, and Stalin was, well, Stalin. So it went on and on, tactical victory after tactical victory, until strategy became what was expedient.
    so, the Germans won but no-one actually told the Soviets! Thats probably the best summing up of Barbarossa I've heard in many a year!

    Alan, interesting point you make about Churchill. I'm wondering if this is where his obsession with Southern Europe and the Balkans stems from, i.e. "The soft underbelly of Europe".
     
  7. Alan Allport

    Alan Allport Senior Member

    Alan, interesting point you make about Churchill. I'm wondering if this is where his obsession with Southern Europe and the Balkans stems from, i.e. "The soft underbelly of Europe".

    Two words explain it, I think: Peninsular War.

    Best, Alan
     
  8. Wills

    Wills Very Senior Member

    Failure to learn! I am not into history in the sense of who did what when or where. I am interested in the tactics. The Napoleonic wars evolved tactics and one that Wellington used was the reverse slope defence. Many a mess painting showed the 'Jocks jumping up to engage the unsuspecting French'. The British army met these tactics again, and at Tunisia the German used it to good effect. The British took this 'new' form of tactics home and training units took it on board. Yet the whole idea was met with apathy. The armoured doctrine was open, if you want to train if not OK................Again in 1944 British units were caught by this form of defence. My battalion fought at Waterloo where these tactics were used. We were also thankful that at Tumbledown the Argentines had not learned the lesson as they defended the forward slope and not so heavily on the reverse. Mainly down to ability and personality of commanders. I can only talk of my time, the most dangerous type of soldier was the 'I have done it all' A very good friend of mine spent little time on any form of active service yet he was a brilliant trainer. The smart soldier listened to him. Failure to learn! It is interesting to hear the difference placed on 1812 and 1940 warfare evolves and the 'engines' of war change the principles remain constant from the Roman legion to today the principles must be imposed first.


    In Fairness, Major General Roberts tried to impress on his contemporaries the need to train and came out of the post war 'wash up' very well. As did the COs of 6th Royal West Kents and 5 DCLI who had taken on board the tactics and modified them. We got more right than wrong,


    St. Petersburg Times - Google News Archive Search


    11 October 1899 – 31/May/1902 End of the Second Boer War.
     
  9. At Home Dad (Returning)

    At Home Dad (Returning) Well-Known Member

    it's what worries me most about the silent nocturnal slow marches
    with torches of fire that some German people are participating in ...

    but you cant find reports of them on the net, or at least it seems that way..
     
  10. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Hot air manufacturer

    so, the Germans won but no-one actually told the Soviets! Thats probably the best summing up of Barbarossa I've heard in many a year!

    Yes they did.

    At least the first phase. The subsequent phases were going fine and dandy up until the oops moment in front of Leningrad, the detour of that AGC Panzer group to close up Kiev thereby giving up on Moscow - the other one going up North! After that it went all the way down the drain. Big time.
     
  11. Gebirgsjaeger

    Gebirgsjaeger Senior Member

    It was more the " He failed, i won´t fail" menthality they had! And remember it was not a normal thinking man who planned the crusade, it were men which thought in the way of "We are the winner race the others are only stupid Untermenschen!" Otherwise they must had learned a lesson from Napoleon.
     
    Za Rodinu likes this.
  12. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    Yes they did.

    At least the first phase.


    The point being, of course, that going by the "normal rules" - there shouldn't have been a second phase! :p

    And that's where WWII differs from earlier wars, including those that ultimately shaped the Hague Conventions regarding how wars were declared and fought and ended...ideology ;)

    On both sides, at various times, the war between competing ideologies and what was considered the "manifest destiny" of the particular nations/nationalities involved...carried events on FAR beyond the point where, in earlier conflicts, terms would have been sought by one party or another for its ending.
     
  13. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Hot air manufacturer

    Yes sir, no Fontenoy spirit here.
     

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