Sign up ×
History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Wikipedia says in the article on the Winter War:

Perhaps more importantly, the very poor performance of the Red Army encouraged Hitler to think that an attack on the Soviet Union would be successful.

This statement makes ample sense but it is not backed by any citation of documentary evidence. Do you know of such evidence?

share|improve this question
Apparently Albert Speer says something to that effect when interviewed on "The World at War" episode Barbarossa. – Nathan Cooper Mar 30 '13 at 10:51
OTOH, you could argue that Hitler and his crowd already believed Slavs were next to worthless in a fight, particularly compared to Germans (no matter how they ended up doing against Finns). I'm interested to see the answers on this one. – T.E.D. Mar 30 '13 at 16:03
@NathanCooper@ Can you find a link to a transcript or something? – Felix Goldberg Apr 1 '13 at 21:21
To be fair the Germans made it within 45 miles of Moscow before sputtering out and this was largely due to poor logistics planning at the beginning of the operation (due in large part to the views of the Hitler on the operation). – Joshua Aslan Smith Sep 17 '13 at 19:09
To attack the Sovietunion was important part of Hitler's original plan. He was actively searching allies against the Sovietunion for years, and this was the main motivation to drop china and choose Japan as the main ally in Asia. Also, it wasn't that unrealistic as it seemed: without the huge help of the Allies, Sovietunion could have been collapsed or willing to take a peace offer. – Greg Jan 15 at 3:53

3 Answers 3

Antony Beevor's Stalingrad contains some supporting material on perceived weaknesses of the Red Army esp. following Stalin's domestic purges:

Such confidence [in the success of Operation Barbarossa] was, in many ways, understandable. Every foreign intelligence service expected the Red Army to collapse. The Wehrmacht had assembled the largest invasion force ever seen [...]

Hitler's conviction that the Soviet Union was a 'rotten structure' that would come 'crashing down' was shared by many foreign observers and intelligence services. Stalin's purge of the Red Army, which had begun in 1937, was fueled by an inimitable mixture of paranoia, sadistic megalomania and a vindictiveness for old slights dating back to the Russian civil war and the Russo-Polish war.

Altogether, 36,671 officers were executed, imprisoned or dismissed, and out of the 706 officers of the rank of brigade commander and above, only 303 remained untouched [...]

The most prominent victim was Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, the leading advocate of mobile warfare. His arrest and execution also represented the deliberate destruction of the Red Army's operational thinking, which had encroached dangerously upon Stalin's preserve of strategy [...]

Two and a half years after the purge began, the Red Army presented a disastrous spectacle in the Winter War against Finland. Marshal Voroshilov, Stalin's old crony from the 1st Cavalry Army, displayed an astonishing lack of imagination. The Finns outmaneuvered their opponents time after time. Their machine gunners scythed down the massed Soviet infantry struggling forward through the snowfields. Only after deploying five times as many men as their opponents, and huge concentrations of artillery, did the Red Army begin to prevail. Hitler had observed this lamentable performance with excitement.

Japanese military intelligence took rather a different view. It was about the only foreign service which did not underestimate the Red Army at this time. A series of border skirmishes on the Manchurian frontier, which culminated in the battle at Khalkin-Gol in August 1939, had shown what an aggressive young commander, in this case the forty-three -old General Georgy Zhukov, could achieve.

As for the key sentence ("Hitler had observed ...") Beevor does not point to further sources, so you would have to believe his word as an expert that he certainly is.

share|improve this answer
+1 to you, but not, I'm afraid, to Beevor. – Felix Goldberg Mar 31 '13 at 15:00
-1 for using Beevor. – Anixx Apr 1 '13 at 19:57
Hmm .. so you have an axe to grind with Beevor. That's okay. I guess, but please leave me out of it. I was quoting him because I happen to have this book in my library, not because I have any agenda on the topic, as some obviously have. Downvoting citations of mainstream published books which happen to be not of universal liking is quite bad practice indeed IMHO (i.e. assuming I have not missed any major scandal around Beevor :) – Drux Apr 1 '13 at 20:13
@Drux Anixx downvotes anything even remotely negative about the USSR or communism in general. – jwenting Apr 2 '13 at 6:06
Okay, I see now. So from now on I shall apply a somewhat higher level of caution when encountering Beevor's arguments (I noticed and mentioned that he did not provide a IMO relevant source re Hitler's stance) as well as to possible contributions to historic scholarship even from Dr. Putin's diplomatic corps ... :) – Drux Apr 2 '13 at 7:37

Albert Speer speaking in the 1973 documentary The World at War: "Barbarossa (June – December 1941)"

"In August 39, when Hitler had signed the pact with Russia, in the evening there was a movie, and this movie showed the parade of the Russian troops before the Kremlin. He was very much impressed and was relived that now with the pact this army is neutralised. But afterwards when the German troops met the Russian ones in occupied Poland, officers reported to Hitler said the equipment of those Russian units were very poor. He first didn't believe it so much but then when the Russians attacked the Finns and they didn't have any progress he was convinced that this was really the truth and he was now considering the Russian army no more as strong as before."

So it would seem the questioner assertion is justified, the Winter War was important to changing Hitler's view of the Russian Army. I believe this source carries a lot of weight due to Speer's familiarity with Hitler. Also, the contention some historians have with Speers seems mostly to be over the extent to which he was aware or involved with the regime's atrocities, which I don't see being relevant here.

This is my own transcript. He's speaking at about 5:30 into the documentary. I'm sure it's available online, but I'm also sure I can't link that sort of thing.

share|improve this answer
But how well was Speer informed about 1939? I gathered he wasn't that close to Hitler back then (at least not as close as he wanted people to think he had been). – Felix Goldberg Apr 2 '13 at 20:19

However one should never forget that conditions in Finnish-Russo Winter War were hard, fighting was fierce, both Finns and Russians took quite a few POW's and partly the "poor level of Red Army" was a myth.

Think about this one: 30 times more Soviet soldiers died than was captured. 40 times more Finns were killed than captured.

Finnish-Winter War was just like battle in Rhzev meat grinder (1942-43) a battle scene those surviving front line soldiers remembered with special horror.

As a Finn i have several times wondered how successful western allies (or Germans) have been there in cold horror battlefields in Finland. Later Finns noticed how poorly many Germans were fighting in similar conditions. That's the "poor Red Army" during Winter War is partly a myth. They fought better than generally have believed.

share|improve this answer
This would be improved by references. – Mark C. Wallace Sep 17 '13 at 13:05
Well, these are the real reasons, but that's not what the question is about. The question is if the Winter war and the Soviets not winning contributed to Hitler underestimating them. – Lennart Regebro Sep 17 '13 at 14:32

Your Answer


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.