Take the 2-minute tour ×
History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

This has always bothered me. Everyone knows that having to fight on two opposite fronts at once is bad... and it's also a well known fact that every European country which tried to invade Russia has always been thouroughly beaten.

So, apart from the standard "he was a crazy guy bent on taking over the world" answer, what was the rationale behind launching a full-scale attack on the Soviet Union when still actively fighting the British Empire?

share|improve this question
14  
Just to nitpick: it should be "United Kingdom", not "England". –  Steve Melnikoff Oct 11 '11 at 22:55
6  
If the Japanese hadn't messed things up when they bombed Pearl Harbor, the US could easily have sat out the war as a non-belligerent. Under those conditions it is not inconceivable that Germany could have conquered Russia and Britain. Especially if Japan had chosen to attack Russia instead of the US. –  JoeHobbit Oct 14 '11 at 5:26
2  
@JoeHobbit: FDR was trying to get the US into the war against Germany, and the USN was actively at war in the North Atlantic by Fall 1941. –  David Thornley Oct 18 '11 at 1:09
12  
Charles XII of Sweden: "OK, so let's invade Russia! Oh, bad idea! Bad idea!" Napoleon: "I admire Charles XII, he was a frigging genious, I'll Invade Russia! Oh, merde! Bad idea! Bad idea!" Hitler: "I admire Charles XII and Napoleon. Absolute geniuses! I'll invade Russia! Oh, scheisse,bad idea! Bad idea!" I wonder when they'll learn... –  Lennart Regebro Nov 26 '11 at 19:26
14  
WWI: successful invasion of Russia. –  Richard Gadsden Dec 7 '11 at 19:58
show 6 more comments

25 Answers 25

I'm not sure there is any direct evidence that it was strategically a bad idea. Strategically it made sense to attack the Soviet Union while they were weak and unprepared for war. Hitler knew that as he made progress on the Western front that Stalin grew more and more nervous everyday about the growing power of Nazi Germany.

What must be remembered is that Hitler almost won the war with the Soviet Union. Hitler felt the army was not moving fast enough towards Moscow. If Hitler's commanders had done what Hitler had wanted, which was rush as fast to Moscow as possible, then it is possible the Soviet Union would have fallen without time to prepare a massive infantry army. Germany's army was also not prepared for fighting in cold weather. It was not expected that the Soviet Union was even close to capable of fighting back. The Soviet Union's army was in shambles throughout the entire war. It was ill-equipped and all it had to offer was quantity over quality.

The combination of the cold, unexpected resistance and the amount of time it was taking to get to Moscow because of cold weather and resistance was setting back Germany. The whole strategy was to get in and occupy Moscow and take the leadership. It took about 6 months for the Germans to get nearly to the gates of Moscow, when the tide finally started to turn at Stalingrad. Hitler most importantly underestimated the sheer will of the the country to defend itself no matter how much the cost in blood. The Soviet Union lost a whopping 13.5% of it's population to the war.

So in short, strategically a lot of it made sense at the time. The operation was blundered because the blitzkrieg was not fast enough, the underestimation of the kind of force the Soviet Union could pull together and an underestimation of the cold winter. The plan was also delayed because of setbacks in the Balkans and helping the Italians out where they had failed.

It's hard to find actual strategic proof of what was going on through Hitler's mind and his advisers to take on this risky operation. We do know however that these had been a part of Hitler's plans for years. In my opinion it was probably thought at the time the the odds were in Nazi Germany's favor. In all reality the Germans had pretty good chance of winning the war within 6 months, perhaps if just a few variables had changed they might have actually pulled it off. If they could have gotten there a month earlier, they probably would have won.

Also Great Britain was absolutely in no position to put up any kind of resistance except for the occasional bombing run, which was producing much larger losses than they could keep up with equipment wise.

Also Stalin and Hitler were not real allies, they only had a non-aggression pact, and both were not exactly known to be trustworthy. Stalin was also at many times gullible and Hitler took advantage of this diplomatically. Even when warned that Germany was going to invade, Stalin dismissed his advisers.

Taking in all these factors, the thought probably never occurred to Hitler and his officers that the Soviet Union would ever be able to launch any kind of counter attack. It took quite some time and the United States to intervene for the Soviet Union to really begin it's successful counter-offensive.

share|improve this answer
29  
What makes you think that Moscow was important? Napoleon invaded Moscow and it didn't do him any good. The Soviet Union relocated factories to Ural and eventually restored production to the previous levels, relocating the government would have been even easier. So I am not really convinced that the plan made sense strategically, I am rather thinking that the whole operation was doomed from the start despite the initial success. So I expect more serious reasons on Hitler's side than "just because he could". –  Wladimir Palant Oct 12 '11 at 9:40
11  
This wasn't the Napoleonic era, taking Moscow would have meant doom to the what little centralization the Soviet Union had in organizing any type formal resistance. What must be understood is that war was inevitable between the two sides. Hitler took the offensive option. It can be argued he would have been better off just defending what he had already gained, and you would probably be right. Weather it was ego or a strategic crap shoot, war was inevitable. We can only guess at why Hitler went on the offensive. My guess is that he thought he could cripple the Soviet Union with one blitz. –  Caimen Oct 12 '11 at 16:25
4  
I hope you can find sources to support your claims. Particularly the idea that Hitler knew the U.S. would intervene - given that at this point the isolationists in the U.S. were still very strong. –  Wladimir Palant Oct 12 '11 at 18:43
5  
Wow, we are getting into really wild speculations now. How did Hitler know that? Do you think that Japan trusted its ally with such sensitive plans even though there was no reason why Germany needed to know? But even if they did, U.S. going into war with Japan didn't mean that U.S. would also be foolish enough to declare war to Germany. While U.S. might have had a strong navy in 1941, their land forces were no match for the German army - it took the U.S. three years to get to the point where they were prepared to attack a severely weakened Germany. –  Wladimir Palant Oct 12 '11 at 19:27
3  
This entire question is based on speculation. We can't know for sure what was going through Hitler's mind during this time. But to say Hitler was completely unaware of the coming clash between the U.S. and Japan, is pretty much ridiculous in my opinion. Japan and the U.S. had been on a collision course for decades. To say Hitler was unaware of the political situation in Asia and the West would I think be vastly underestimating his intelligence and strategic thinking. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… –  Caimen Oct 12 '11 at 19:35
show 12 more comments

By this time, Germany controlled the entire European peninsula, and it was very hard to see the Allied forces coming back from that.

Hitler told one of his generals in June 1940 that the victories in western Europe "finally freed his hands for his important real task: the showdown with Bolshevism" [from here].

Reasons to attack the Soviet Union include:

  • Because having a massive military power right next door when you're fighting a war a thousand kilometers away made Germany nervous.
  • To exterminate Communism
  • Capture oil fields and other strategic resources.
  • Lebensraum, or "living space", a core ideology of the Nazis.
share|improve this answer
4  
All of these were perfectly good reasons for Germany to attack the SU. But my question is about why they attacked it while still fighting England, instead of focusing on England, beating it down and then pointing eastward. –  Massimo Oct 11 '11 at 22:53
1  
Added some more information. Basically, England was finished. –  Harley Holcombe Oct 11 '11 at 23:01
5  
It seems it was not actually so finished... –  Massimo Oct 12 '11 at 6:25
1  
@HarleyHolcombe Hitler lacked a Navy big enough to achieve a successful invasion of England. –  quant_dev Oct 12 '11 at 12:43
3  
Germany controlled far from the entire European peninsula. Switzerland, Spain, Ireland, and much of Scandinavia, not to mention all of European Russia were free from German control (albeit weak). So was Italy, technically, as it was an ally of Germany, though militarily much inferior. –  Noldorin Oct 18 '11 at 1:58
show 5 more comments

Germany always wanted to attack and defeat Soviet Russia. There is an ideological battle between Fascism and Communism. Germany really thought that Russia was the enemy of the world. Some Germans believed, such was the evil of Communism, that when they started the eastern front, the English would come over to there side to fight Communism rather than continue fighting.

The western front was secure. Invasion of England was off the cards but equally counter invasion by England was thought unlikely and at that time it was not possible for England to counter attack in Europe. There was some expectation that the English would make a deal for the status quo in the west and not fight on further.

Russia was getting stronger. Every month delayed saw Russia prepare better, building more tanks, more airplanes and stockpiling arms. Any delay would have made the war in the east more difficult. Russia new a major war was coming, either with Germany or Japan, and had been working as fast as it could to rebuild its armies.

Germany expected the war in the East to be quick and decisive, just as the wars in central Europe and the West had been. They did not expect to be pulled deep into Russia and into the winter of Russia. They also made mistakes in strategy during the advance that meant that they couldn't achieve the goals that would ensure quick victory, but were sidetracked.

Russia contained significant resources of oil, coal, gas, steel, etc. Germany needed these to continue its war efforts. Without securing Russian resources, Germany could have been starved out.

share|improve this answer
1  
Germany wanted to expand. Has nothing to do with Fascism-vs-Communism. Before taking on Russia, Germany attacked and occupied numerous European countries with which Germany had no ideological battle. They were just obsessed with occupying territiories and to make up for the loss in WWI. –  Andrei Oct 14 '11 at 21:20
4  
@Andrei We don't need one hammer for every screw. The reasons for attacking European neighbours need not the same as the reason for attacking Russia. To say they were just obsessed with occupying more territory is too simple and generalised. –  Rincewind42 Oct 15 '11 at 14:40
5  
@JoeHobbit: WWII in Europe didn't exterminate Communism, but rather extended and legitimized it. The Germans made Stalinist rule look good, and in the final part of the war the Red Army advanced deep into Central Europe. Moreover, the actions of the Communists in resistance movements in various occupied countries made them seem heroic. –  David Thornley Oct 18 '11 at 1:14
3  
@Noldorin - I am Scottish. I use the words English and England quite correctly in the above passage. –  Rincewind42 Oct 18 '11 at 15:40
5  
Scotland is a country. There are four countries in the UK. Scotland, England, N. Ireland and Wales. The attack across the channel would have come from England. There may have been other nations involved but it was from England that they attacked. –  Rincewind42 Oct 19 '11 at 4:33
show 6 more comments

After Soviet performance in the Winter War in Finland, it was believed that the Soviet army could be rapidly and easily defeated. The Red Army had started to undergo significant reforms based on its experiences, as well as modernizing much of its equipment, particularly tanks. While Germany was unlikely to become significantly stronger over time, the Red Army would get better prepared, the longer the Germans waited

share|improve this answer
add comment

Unfortunately, we cannot ask Hitler about that and he didn't leave any written notices about his reasons. So every answer to that question is a speculation and I've seen a number of such speculations.

  • The official Soviet version states an ideological war between fascism and communism that prompted Hitler to attack the Soviet Union without considering logic. A common "proof" are references to "Mein Kampf" where Hitler discusses the possibility of expanding the German Lebensraum to the east. This version is actually pure non-sense: there never was any such ideological war, with the fascist and communist ideologies being very similar Germany and USSR cooperated closely, especially after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The local conflicts between fascists and communists in Spain and Germany were rather due to the fact that both parties addressed mostly the same electorate. Also, by 1941 the Germans already occupied more territories than they could possibly process in the next decades.
  • Then there is the version that Hitler and his generals got megalomaniac after all the victories. They knew perfectly well from WWI experience (not exactly ancient history at that point, all of them were there) that a war on two fronts is deadly. But they simply expected that the war against USSR would be over similarly fast as the war against France. This is a pretty ridiculous assumption: even occupying Moscow doesn't mean that the war is over (as Napoleon already discovered), the USSR offers plenty of room for the troops to retreat while the supply channels of the German army get too long. In fact, conquering USSR was obviously strategically impossible and Hitler could have been driven only by the assumption that the Soviet regime is too unstable and would immediately collapse (an assumption that he supposedly expressed but that turned out to be wrong as we know).
  • In addition to the points above, Daniil Proektor brings up an additional point in his book "Aggression and Disaster": a defeat of the Soviet Union would have demoralized Great Britain that supposedly only continued fighting because it hoped to get help from Soviet Union and USA. I think that I've seen other historians mention that possibility as well.
  • I'm not sure whether anybody considers this as a reason for the German attack on the USSR but once Germany went into war in 1939 it had to continue fighting and winning. Any lengthy period of peace would have made the German economical problems obvious and could have led to the collapse of the regime. The German external debt was already astronomical in 1939 and the war wasn't cheap. With the Battle of Britain lost, the victory in the war against Great Britain wouldn't happen any time soon - so Germany had to find somebody else to invade. However, USSR was a very illogical choice: at that point it was an ally of Germany and there was little reason to expect an easy victory.
  • Another explanation is actively propagated by Victor Suvorov in many of his books. He describes facts speaking for his theory that Soviet Union intended to attack Germany and the German attack was indeed a preventive one. This isn't a new theory, the Germans actually used it already in their declaration of war on the Soviet Union. I'm not aware of any serious historians favoring this theory, and Suvorov unfortunately isn't one - he seems to be willingly omit or even falsificate facts in his books by misquoting and quoting out of context.
share|improve this answer
6  
Fascism and Communism were not similar. Yes, they look similar from the democratic side, but the Communists saw the others as the imperialist and fascist capitalist countries, and the Nazis saw both Communism and democratic capitalism as materialist ideologies. –  David Thornley Oct 18 '11 at 1:15
2  
@DavidThornley: This didn't stop them from signing a non-aggression pact and cooperating while invading Poland. You have to distinguish propaganda (which can go either way depending on what the current situation demands) and what was actually done. Foreign politics weren't dictated by ideology and pragmatically speaking Soviet Union and Germany had much in common which made cooperation easy. –  Wladimir Palant Oct 18 '11 at 6:26
4  
That Nazism and Commonism were similar is a common liberal assumption which is mostly wrong. Actually Nazism unlike any other regime before and after had two faces: it externally pretended to be a left-center force, a left-centrist socialist pro-workers, progressive, anti-monarchist, anti-religious, pro-women rights, pro-animal rights, anti-capitalist, anti-monarchist party. But in reality it turned out that Nazism was actually far more right than any monarchists, Russian "black-hundreds" and conservatives were before. It was hiding its ultra-right face for a while to achieve popular support. –  Anixx Dec 26 '11 at 10:50
    
@Anixx: By "liberal" I assume you mean "economic liberal", or what would be called "conservative" in the U.S. Liberals in the sense of leftists, generally understood that Fascism was the opposite of Communism, and designed to stop it in the face of pressure from lower-classes for massive state meddling in the economy. –  Ron Maimon Mar 29 '12 at 5:43
    
Ron, by "liberals" I mean people who call themselves liberals, called pro-human rights activists, libertarians, economic liberals, dissidents in non-US-allied countries, etc. This includes most of the US politicians. Note that the both major US parties are liberal according to Wikipedia. I know that those parties confusingly most likely would not call themselves "liberal" in the US, though. –  Anixx Mar 29 '12 at 10:07
add comment

The two big Nazi goals were the extermination of Jews and the conquest of land in the East, to be settled by Aryans, with the native populations drastically reduced in number and existing as uneducated servants. Hitler had to invade the Soviet Union. Also, I don't think anybody thought the peace between Germany and the Soviet Union was going to last: the Soviets considered that period as "creeping up to war".

The Soviet Union looked vulnerable. The Russian Empire had collapsed in 1917, despite not being the main target of the Central Powers in 1914 and 1916. Hitler thought the Communist regime would be weaker, and the German attack stronger (they'd conquered France in six weeks, after all), and that the Soviet Union would therefore collapse given a serious attack. Their performance in the Winter War against Finland didn't promise effective resistance, nor the purging of the Soviet officer corps. Both of those were potentially fleeting advantages. (Indeed, if the Germans had attacked in 1942, they would have faced 40 tank divisions, many of them well equipped and fairly well trained.)

Conquering the Soviets would also be very useful in the medium term. The Germans were suffering from the Allied blockade, and the Soviet Union had a great many useful resources.

Also, there was no good way of attacking Britain. The plans discussed seemed to revolve on conquering the Mediterranean first, and then bringing submarine and air power to bear in a long slow process. Once master of all of Europe, the Germans could start building an unbeatable navy, but that would take a long time. Better to have Soviet economic resources first. In the meantime, the British weren't going to hurt the Germans much.

Hitler knew that Churchill was looking for allies, and thought that the conquest of the Soviet Union would at least be a morale blow, leaving the British facing a long hard struggle with little hope of victory.

So, the plan was to attack hard by surprise, destroy Soviet border forces, and watch the Stalinist regime collapse. Once the hard fighting was over, and the German Army occupying vast stretches of land, troops could be demobilized to aid in the economy while war production switched to supporting the Navy and Air Force. (Some of this switchover actually happened, when the attack seemed wildly successful.) Britain could then be dealt with, if they weren't asking for peace terms yet.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Hitler turned his attention from Britain to the Soviet Union because he lost the Battle of Britain and because Nazi ideology left him no other choice.

In the summer of 1940, Hitler launched a massive air campaign to destroy the RAF and pave the way for Operation Sea Lion, the invasion of Britain. Hitler believed that to get past the Royal Navy he needed air superiority and so ordered a campaign of concentrated bombing to destroy the RAF. He almost succeeded, but Churchill calculated that if he bombed Berlin Hitler would be forced to respond in kind to preserve his reputation and credibility. Thus Hitler, not knowing just how close he had come to destroying the RAF and under pressure by his own military to retaliate, was finally forced to switch targets to London, effectively ending the campaign against the RAF.

The change of targets was damaging to the Luftwaffe in two ways. First, pressure was lifted from the RAF, which allowed it recover, and second, with the increased range demanded for bombing London, Luftwaffe bombers were often left without fighter cover and thus became easy targets for the RAF. On 15th of September, 1940, two massive Luftwaffe attacks were completely defeated by the RAF with 60 German aircraft shot down. After this defeat, Hitler had no option but to postpone the invasion of Britain indefinitely.

This, Hitler's first defeat, turned opinion in the United States. Up to this point many Americans had assumed that Britain was bound to fall, but after Hitler lost the Battle of Britain, Americans started believing that Britain would survive and the United States began supporting Britain much more aggressively. The help from America, the rapid rebuilding of the RAF, and the strength of the Royal Navy, made the invasion of Britain next to impossible.

With invasion of Britain no longer a possibility, Hitler turned his attention to the only other obvious venue for expansion: the Soviet Union. It must be noted that Hitler had promised in Mein Kampf (1925) to invade the Soviet Union, asserting that the German people needed living space (Lebensraum) and that this space lay to the East. Also Nazi racial ideology considered the Soviets subhuman (Untermenschen) ruled by the despised Jews. According to Nazi thinking, mere subhumans would be no match for the superior qualities of the German race and the Jews had to be eradicated everywhere. Thus, there was almost a religious mission to liberate land from Jews and subhumans and prepare it for the supposedly superior German race. Hitler had to invade Russia because this was the only way to deliver the ultimate goal of Nazi ideology: to establish Germans in their rightful place as the masters of the world.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Germany wasn't "still busy" fighting Great Britain at the time.

The conflict against the GB was never really likely to develop onto a full-scale battle as Germany lacked the basic resources to attack mainland GB.

Hitler had no landing craft, the "Rhine barges" that have often been mentioned a being possibly used as landing craft would have been hopeless in such a situation as they would have capsized in anything but the calmest of waters.

The Royal Navy was also far too strong for the Kriegsmarine to have afforded any lasting protection to such landing forces, while they may have managed to land on the beaches of southern England they would not have been able to maintain naval supremacy to allow reinforcements or supplies to arrive in the coming days.

Even had the Luftwaffe managed to subdue the Royal Air Force, a feat that they came fairly close to achieving, this would have had little effect on sea actions. It's been well documented how bad the Luftwaffe were at engaging warships, look at how little damage they did to British forces evacuating at Dunkirk for example. Dunkirk was a good trial run for the Luftwaffe to see how they would fair against the Royal Navy and yet they had extremely poor results against ships that were often sitting ducks, not moving but tied up to the harbour wall while the troops embarked.

Hitler's last desperate gamble in changing the focus of the attack from the Royal Air Force and onto the cities was a vain attempt to get Britain to surrender or at least sue for peace.

So Hitler knew he had to attack Russia, before Russia attacked Germany. Britain at this time was not a major problem to Germany, Hitler knew they couldn't mount any serious opposition other than a few air-raids and even those were limited to night attacks as the Luftwaffe could mount a good defence of mainland Europe in those days.

The Russian Army was in a terrible state at the start of the war due to Stalin's purges where many of his best commanders were executed or sent to the Gulags in Siberia for not being Communist enough, to paraphrase.

Their armed forces were generally badly trained and equipped too, while the T34 was available it was only in small numbers and they had only a few modern aircraft and the ones they did have generally did not have trained pilots to fly them

Arguably Hitler should have attacked even sooner, but he got bogged down helping the Italians in the Balkans conflicts and so Barbarossa did not start until June 1941, a month or so earlier might have made a big difference to the outcome.

So, the reality is that the Germans weren't actually fighting on two fronts as the war with Great Britain was limited to the Luftwaffe providing air-defence of the Reich. Most of the troops deployed to defend the coastline were poor quality conscripts and even prisoners.

share|improve this answer
    
+1 entirely for the first sentence. After that you stray into debatable territory. –  T.E.D. Apr 4 '12 at 18:03
3  
"Even had the Luftwaffe managed to subdue the Royal Air Force, a feat that they came fairly close to achieving, this would have had little effect on sea actions." Downvote because WW2 actually demonstrated how a single fighter equipped with a single large bomb can destroy a battleship, aircraft carrier, whatever. And the only way to counter it until 1955 when SAM's came along was another fighter aircraft. –  john Jul 17 '12 at 15:37
    
@HermannIngjaldsson - Agree with you here. He compares with Dunkirk, but that was an action that used massive amounts of small craft. A better comparison for the Luftwaffe's capability against proper naval vessels would be the actions around Crete –  T.E.D. Jul 16 '13 at 15:33
    
-1 "while the T34 was available it was only in small numbers" please check the current research on this! –  kubanczyk Jun 30 at 4:47
add comment

This is from my World War II manuscript: "Because the defeat of Britain was not an objective in itself, but rather the means to the end of global domination... Germany was not interested in a fight to the death that would have enabled her to conquer Britain but leave her too weak to pursue her further aims."

Basically, Germany had a bare preponderance of strength against Britain. It sought to increase that preponderance by first conquering the Soviet Union, then dealing later with Britain, (and the United States). The idea was that Britain could be "contained" while Germany conquered the Soviet Union. Also Hitler had the totally wrong notion that such a war would be "easy," and successfully completed in about six months.

share|improve this answer
    
Hitler wanted the British (of fellow Germanic descent after all) as allies, even after the invasion of Poland and the declaration of war. He wasn't after "world domination"; he was after a Germany that had "Lebensraum" (in the east) and a position where it was not threatened from multiple sides (and blockade on the seas). I don't say he wouldn't have turned on Britain eventually, after conquering Russia, but his goal from the first day on was Russia, not Britain. Even during the Battle of Britain, his main forces were assembling in the east, and Barbarossa couldn't be delayed another year. –  DevSolar Apr 8 at 12:32
add comment

Ok here is the real answer. The entire purpose of the War was to fight Russia. Russia was Hitlers main foe and ultimate objective from the start. He did not want to destroy the United Kingdom or United States per say, he wanted to build a Germany centered Europe and trade with them (ironically kind of how it is today). Basically he wanted Germany to become what the English Empire was. He had to take care of the other European powers (France, Poland and the UK) first either through conquest or treaty specifically so he wouldn't be fighting a two front war with Russia. Something he pretty much accomplished.

Thus he cuts out a deal with the Italians, Fins, Japs and Soviets (sneaky sneaky) and takes Poland, France, Norway and a large chunk of North Africa. He runs into trouble with England and has to jump ahead in his plan. Note that after the Battle of Britain, the UK and Germany were at a stand off. Neither could invade the other do to the logistical problems of crossing the channel with an invasion force. Germany figured the UK was no longer a threat by building the Atlantic Wall and moved its resources to the East. It is important to note that Hitler didn't think much of the United States at the time. He did not foresee the production capability of the country when he declared war.

Germany then turned to Russia (its "big" enemy) and launched the war Hitler dreamed of. The War to destroy the Soviet Union for Lebensraum.

The Soviet Union military had just been purged by Stalin and done very poorly in the Winter War. Germany had no reason to believe they would be a problem. A combination of larger population, harsh winter, and massive lend lease from the United States allowed the Soviet Union the ability to win four main battles. Battle of Moscow, Battle of Leningrad, Battle of Stalingrad and the Battle of Kursk. After these battles the majority of the German military machine was spent.

Most historians don't consider the two front war to have started until the United States and United Kingdom broke the Atlantic Wall in France on D-day. Hitler knew that the invasion would come from the West eventually, but thought that he would have defeated the Soviets long before and be able to then focus on the Western defense. Obviously not the case, he fell into his worst nightmare and had to split his resources like in the first World War.

Fun fact: Hitler thought his biggest danger would be France (as it was in the first World War) and that the Soviet Union would fall like a "house of cards". Ironically it was the complete opposite.

share|improve this answer
    
But why? You say "He did not want to destroy the United Kingdom or United States per say ..." Why was his main goal Russia? I can understand the two front theory, but what was it about Russia that made him so brazen in his attack. Was it just an attempted power grab or was there something more? –  gerdi Apr 4 at 12:28
    
@gerdi It depends on which "why" you mean. Why did Hitler want to invade Russia? No one knows. How did he rationalize it? Well, that's largely what Mein Kampf is about. It basically boils down to Hitler thinking that Germans are superior, and therefore has the right to land, and in fact must grab land and expand to protect itself. And Germany should of course do that primarily east, because the slavs were less worthy than "aryans". So Hitler outlined all this already in 1923-1924 or so. –  Lennart Regebro Jul 17 at 21:22
    
@bob-know-all This is indeed the correct answer. –  Lennart Regebro Jul 17 at 21:22
add comment

Basically, he had no choice. He knew Stalin is preparing for war. Ribentrop-Molotov Pact was just meant to give Soviet Russia more time.

You could read more on this in Victor Suvorov's books (i.e. "Icebreaker"). However, he is not a historian and many people regard this as a controversy.

share|improve this answer
    
Unfortunately, not only isn't he a historian, the "evidence" that he presents mostly isn't any. He has a habit of omitting facts that conflict with his theory, quoting out of context and even changing quotes to better support his claims. I recommend Alexey Isaev's response to his books. –  Wladimir Palant Oct 17 '11 at 15:40
1  
@Wladimir: Thanks, I will certainly take a look. For now I only read Mark Solonin's books, which presented fairly different point of view, but I am always keen to learn more... Unfortunately, it seems that history will always be subjective as we people tend to be biased... –  Paweł Dyda Oct 17 '11 at 17:03
    
Solonin is the man, enough said. Too bad there are apparently no proper translations to English. –  kubanczyk Dec 4 '11 at 17:53
add comment

I think it primarily came done to Germany's dwindling oil supply. They were mostly running on a large stock pile that was running out. Invading the SU meant access to large oil fields which would have fueled the Nazi's for a long time. I think if they had got to the oil, the world would have been in for a hell of a showdown even with the Americans having the atomic bomb. Lets not forget that the Nazi's had the knowledge of fission, had some of the greatest scientist's of the time and controlled a plant that processed heavy water.

share|improve this answer
    
The USSR was shipping oil to Germany right up until June 22, 1941. –  Oldcat Jun 30 at 21:45
add comment
  1. There was little action taking place between Britain and Germany at the time. And Germany just single handedly decided that they were at peace with Britain and the States.
  2. There was very little oil to be found on the entire european continent, meaning germany desperately needed to capture an oil field somewhere. The choice was between going into the middle east, or going into Russia. Russia had been a long time foe and hitler had already declared it an enemy in his book "mein kampf". So by invading Russia Germany could potentially solve two problems at the same time, Russia and access to oil.
  3. The soviet union had just been humiliated in its invasion of Finland making them appear very weak. And also Stalin had killed millions of Soviet citizens already, making them again appear weak.
  4. Germany was very concerned about a war on two fronts and figured it would be better to have already dealt with the Soviets by the time the allies attack.

    And at last, this thing about the oil cannot be overemphasized. Without oil all wars are automatically lost and it was the main reason for why Germany lost. As late as april 1945 Germany still had massive amount of, for instance, U boats. But they just didn't have any oil to operate them so they were utterly useless.
    When they lost in Russia the rest of the war was just formality. That's why Hitler was so persistent on not retreating from Russia, giving up the Russian oil fields ment the fighter aircrafts, bombers, tanks, ships and u boats would soon all stop operating.
    The war was lost.

share|improve this answer
    
That oil was not usable nor even known in 1940. and regarding stalin its here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…. –  john Dec 26 '11 at 20:11
    
Wikipedia is not a reliable source. Seems people there just dislike Stalin. For example they cite Solzhenitsin which is not a historian but a writer. –  Anixx Dec 27 '11 at 2:54
    
There was some oil in Romania but it wasn't enough and those fields depleted fast. source: karbuz.blogspot.com/2006/10/… In that article it is pretty much the oil that happened, the tanks and all just ran out of gas. Game Over. –  john Mar 16 '12 at 19:14
add comment

First of all, I don't think the reason was primarilie a political one. I think it was a decision of a military-strategical viewpoint.

In 1940-41 Germany/England weren't able/strong enough to deal each other the final blow. Both Sides were in the curiously military situation (because of the might of the "Royal Navy" und the numerous/technically advantage of the continental german "Heer").

To march to Berlin, the UK needed a strong continental/economical Power at her side (for example Sovjetunion or USA). To land in or sucessfully besiege the UK, Germany needed to build a lot of naval/air vessels (Bombers, Uboats), and for that enough ressources.

With the elimination of the Sovejetunion, Germany would had loss a potential continental threat (alliance between UK and Sovjet) and would have gained enough ressources to even can fight the seapowers UK/USA.

share|improve this answer
add comment

As this Naval War College study on Barbarossa points out, Hitler was initiating plans for an invasion of Russia as early as July 21, 1940:

Whatever the thought process, on July 21, 1940 Hitler directed Field Marshal Walter von Brauchitsch (Commander-in-Chief of the Army) to develop a plan for the invasion of Soviet Russia to begin in the fall of that year. The staff was able to dissuade (sic) Hitler regarding that time frame, and then began to plan for an invasion which would take place during 1941.

These studies occurred simultaneous to the heady days of the Luftwaffe's highly successful attacks on British airfields (during the Battle of Britain) and the Kriegsmarine's first U-Boat Happy Time, before the initial cracking of U-boat Enigma codes.

This was the direst period of the war for England, with completely unsupportable losses of aircraft, pilots, merchant marine and escorts occurring daily. U.S. isolationism was still strong, and Lend-Lease (March 1941) still far in the future. If Dolphin (Kriegsmarine's U-boat ENIGMA cipher) had not been cracked in early 1941 using captured German code books, allowing convoys to be routed around U-boat wolf packs, a forced capitulation of the UK is quite conceivable:

Nothing frightened me during World War II except the U-boat peril. - Winston S. Churchill

Against this background, a decision to invade the USSR before it's recuperation from the purges of 1938 could be completed and simply await an inevitable surrender of the UK seems almost sensible. Fortunately the code-breakers at Bletchley Park received the pinches they needed and the UK survived after all.

And from the Chapter 2 of Bryan Fugate's Strategy and Tactics on the Eastern Front, 1941:

Although the information gathered from these flights was not conclusive, it became obvious that in the event of war the Soviet threat to Rumania and the Wehrmacht's oil supply would become very great. The decision, then, to deal a heavy blow to the USSR before its potential threat could grow much beyond the existing level was one that found easy acceptance among German military leaders. They certainly were not motivated by abstract ideas of "living space" in the east, nor were they dedicated to the grander concept of a "Greater German Reich" stretching from western Prance to the Black Sea{61}. This is not to deny that the non-Nazi generals favored territorial expansion for Germany, but none of them are on record as having endorsed Hitler's most extreme proposals in this respect. They did believe, however, that after 1941 the relative strength of the USSR, economically, diplomatically, and militarily, could only increase, whereas Germany's could only decline as long as the war dragged on in the west, a war that eventually might well mean the involvement of the United States{62}. Halder himself said after the war that no nation should be denied the ultimate right to launch a preventive war if that is the only alternative left open to it{63}. The Russians, too, are not loath to admit that their country, already under a massive war-oriented economic program [92] inaugurated by Stalin in 1929, would have been in a much stronger position in 1943 than in 1941{64}. The Third Reich's best chance was in 1941, albeit a slender one.

share|improve this answer
add comment

"Everyone knows that having to fight on two opposite fronts at once is bad..." It can be, for sure. Everyone looks back to 1812 and Napoleon rather than 1918. Germany fought a two-front war and effectively won in the East with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The Germans also believed (somewhat correctly) that the resources gained from their occupied territories in the East had enabled them to keep fighting in the West. Hitler intended to apply and expand that "lesson" from the first war.

Now, to think of invading Russia as "opening a second front" is to overestimate the UK's status as a "front". It was a "front" insofar as Germany chose to make it a front. When they decided not to invade in 1941, it did not become a "front" again until June 6, 1944. Yes, bombers and all that, but those weren't really a factor until 1943, at least a year after which the war against Russia was supposed to have been won.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Germany and Russia were never truly friends, and merely exchanged "agreements" every now and then. They have a history of mistrust. But more importantly it is a myth that it was a "bad idea" to invade Russia when they did. It was actually a very brilliant idea for the time. Don't forget Stalin was totally under Hitlers spell and did not even believe his own advisors Germany was planning to attack. I agree with others who state it was not executed quick enough. And it came down to a few small minor details that changed the out come. It could have just as easily gone in favor of Germany. I think if Germany could do it over again, they would do it again too, but perhaps only sooner :)

share|improve this answer
    
Interesting thesis. Good answers on H:SE are supported by evidence & references. Do you have any evidence? –  Mark C. Wallace Jun 19 at 13:25
    
In my opinion all the evidence and references are used by every argument and totally objective or opinionated, just as mine is. I draw heavily to the timing being a crucial element for Germany to invade Russia, as Russia was perceived in a weak and vulnerable state at the time. There was never a strong alliance there and Stalin was totally fooled or perhaps wanted to avoid a direct battle with Germany and was in denial? If Germany could improve on their plan it should have been done sooner and quicker. –  user5004 Jun 20 at 3:06
add comment

I think the best approximation to a true answer is that he wanted to kill all Jews as quickly as possible. Britain had little Jews, while the western part of the USSR and Poland had the highest population of Jews in the world due to pale of settlement of the former Russian Empire which mandated Jews to live only in the western parts of the country.

In 1939 Gestapo made a research and concluded that the western parts of the USSR were a biological base of the Jewry.

share|improve this answer
    
Do you have a citation for the last sentence? I haven't heard of that factoid before –  DVK Mar 6 '13 at 20:41
    
He also thought that Britain was in the thrall of world capitalist Jewish conspiracy, because he believed Britain to be dishonest to their own geopolitical interests by fighting their "war of choice" with Germany. He preferred England to have the seas, and Germany the continent -- on German terms of course. –  davidfurber Apr 10 at 2:16
add comment

Because Finland was never a puppet state ,it was one of the axis countries .Red army invaded Finland in 1941 . Secondly,In 1941 there were highs and lows between Nazi Germany and soviet russia . Thirdly , Red army came near the east polish border . Fourthly , when greece and yugoslovia were invaded by third reich ,soviets supported greece and yugoslovia and aided them .

share|improve this answer
add comment

It boils down to Sea Power, or rather, Germany and Russia's lack of it.

Germany and Russia are both Land powers. They tried to establish sea power, but their navies got destroyed. (Germany in WWI, Russia in the Russo-Japanese War).

As long as the British had free reign in the Mediterranean, Hitler must go east to seek sources of materials (oil, gas, metal).

Hitler also knew Russia is going for him, since they lost badly in the east and there's no power in middle Asia that they'd need to fight anyway.

So he attacked while the Soviet Union wasn't ready. It was a gamble that he ultimately lost, but he had no other choice.

share|improve this answer
add comment

The direct reason for Germany to attack Soviet Union was Soviet advanced preparations to invade ('liberate') central and western Europe. The Soviet Union had the most powerful army in the world at that time and began to concentrate the troops along the new soviet -German border. Effectively Germans stopped Stalin plan to establish communist rule in Europe. This view is not popular among historians cause Nazi Germany committed horrendous crimes against humanity and Soviet Union for some time was western ally. Listen to Hitler speech dated October 3, 1941.

share|improve this answer
    
+1 although the argument has long been deemed "invalid" because Nazi used it, and then even more "invalid" because some pseudo-historians used it, it has been shown by Mark Solonin that it is quite well supported by Soviet sources. There is no more question "if Stalin had offensive plans", the only question left is "1941 or 1942?" –  kubanczyk Jun 30 at 4:56
add comment

In one of the most stunning examples of misplaced over-optimism in history, Hitler blithely assumed the British were a broken force, unable to do him any meaningful harm from where he had them pent up in their little island. Remember, perhaps the singular most important pillar of Hitler’s ideology was the “drive to the East” to obtain “living space” (lebensraum) for the German master race. And that meant conquering first Poland and then Russia. As has been stated elsewhere by respected historians, the only two wars Hitler really wanted were the wars against Poland and Russia. When France and Britain went to war in the name of responding to Hitler’s aggression against Poland, Hitler regarded it as an irritating distraction from his true overriding passion to conquer all that good farmland and natural-resource rich land to the east. Hitler would never have invaded the Low Countries and France, he never would have tangled with the British Empire, if he could have avoided it. But by going to war over Poland, France and the U.K. forced Hitler to invade Western Europe even though he didn’t want to. Hitler felt enormously relieved that France was overrun so quickly and Britain reduced to such apparent impotence because it freed him to refocus on his real target, Russia. When Hitler invaded Russia while Britain was still alive behind him, it was a supreme example of ideology being given precedence over strategic common sense. (It makes one wonder how history would have gone if the French and British had acquiesced in letting Hitler take whatever he wanted as long as he was heading east.)

share|improve this answer
    
It is standard practice in SO to not use greetings, salutations, thank yous or other self-conscious clap trap. Just post your question/answer. –  Tyler Durden Jun 30 at 21:54
    
Understood, thank you for your advice. –  Stephen W. Richey Jun 30 at 23:11
add comment

One possible cause, put forth by Viktor Suvorov, was that Germany became aware that Soviet Union was planning invasion of Germany as soon as Germany would exhaust most of its resources in the West. In his books "Ice-breaker" and "Mobilization" he provided some evidence to that, such as concentration of Soviet troops at the border, removal of mine fields along the border, production of primarily offensive weapons, propaganda slogans aimed at "liberating the workers worldwide", etc.

share|improve this answer
    
Suvorov may be an interesting read, but should not be considered a reliable source for German intentions in attacking the Soviet Union. –  davidfurber Apr 10 at 2:28
    
@davidfurber: the same was claimed by general Jodl. –  Michael Apr 10 at 4:04
    
In the Nuremberg trials after the war, when he had every reason to present Barbarossa as a preventive war? –  davidfurber Apr 10 at 19:20
    
@davidfurber: yes. :) Therefore I mentioned that as a "possible cause". –  Michael Apr 10 at 22:38
    
I understand. But it's also the same reason that Nazi propaganda used to justify the invasion to Germans and their occupied Europe. See bytwerk.com/gpa/signal-1aug1941.htm for example. But from Hitler's standpoint, the timing was more one of "all dressed up and nowhere to go", "the main goal of this war is Lebensraum in Russia", and "we can't take England but they can't take us either". Not "if I don't go now, Stalin's gonna get me." –  davidfurber Apr 10 at 23:50
add comment

The problem was that the attack on England had failed. This meant that there was no way to relieve the blockade on Germany. Hitler was bankrupt with no options other than attacking Russia. They were literally ripping up hand railings in Berlin to get scrap metal. Everyone was on rations which were growing more stringent by the month. The Soviet Union was the only attackable place with anywhere near the resources necessary to affect the economic situation in the Reich.

The ideal would have been to conquer Britain and take control of the Atlantic. That would have opened up trade and improved the situation, but with the English in firm control of the channel and Germany's navy far too weak to challenge England, a land war against the Soviet Union was only option left.

Do not put faith in anecdotes and people's words about their motives. When push comes to shove your wallet dictates your actions, and Hitler's wallet was empty.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Because Hitler was crazy. He was not normal by any standards.

Had he anticipated that US will join Britain and Russia against Germany, and that US will send practically unlimited military help to Russia -- even then he'd invade Russia, but he was doomed the day he invaded. Although it took 4 long years for Hitler to fall.

share|improve this answer
2  
Meanwhile it was Hitler who declared war on US, not other way around. One can similarly ask why he entered war with the US before defeating the USSR and Britain. –  Anixx Dec 26 '11 at 11:10
    
The united states had been waging war on germany for a long time in december 1941. The nations were already at war anyways. –  john Mar 16 '12 at 23:44
1  
I prefer "differently logical". :-) –  T.E.D. Apr 4 '12 at 18:02
    
The answer is wrong. Hitler has serious issues of getting the real picture of the world only in the last days of war. In the early years of war he was sane and were fully capable to make strategic decisions. –  CsBalazsHungary Apr 3 at 13:37
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.