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Are there any sources or reports which explain how close the country was to collapsing under the Nazi assault? By 'collapse' I mean 'completely lacking either the willpower (as seen by France in 1940 after the fall of Paris and the collapse of the line on the Somme) or ability (as seen by Poland as they ran out of territory to defend) such that they would not be able to amount any effective defense and need to sue for peace as soon as possible'?

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It is very difficult to speculate about December '41, but I remember reading a comment that by late spring '45 the Soviets had run out of men, and could not have maintained the same intensity of fighting if the war had stretched into '46. –  Pieter Geerkens Aug 6 '13 at 2:54
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Everyone was running out of men in 1945, it's what happens when you're fighting for 4+ years. The 'same intensity' would not have been needed since the Germans would have been that much closer to defeat. –  Kunikov Aug 6 '13 at 3:44
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How do you measure "closeness"? On what scale? –  Lennart Regebro Aug 6 '13 at 8:14
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1) request for reference (2) subjective –  Mark C. Wallace Aug 6 '13 at 10:41
    
@FelixGoldberg: I provided that definition. –  Tom Au Aug 6 '13 at 13:09

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

In the "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," historian William Shirer contended that the Soviet Union was close to collapse at the end of 1942, because it was on the verge of losing either the Caucasus oil, or at least access to it, via the Caspian Sea and Volga. Only the failure of the German offensives at Stalingrad and the Caucasus prevented this result.

The collapse might not have been total, but Russia would have been forced into a purely defensive war for local "strongpoints," Leningrad, Moscow, and the oil between the latter and the Urals.

I would challenge this on two grounds. First, Lend Lease could have given the Soviet Union enough oil to resume the offensive. And two, even if the Soviet Union fought a defensive war until 1945, that would have been "good enough" for Anglo-American victories in North Africa, Italy, and Normandy to win the war, with the Anglo-Americans linking up with the Soviet army well east of where they actually did, possibly on Soviet soil.

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agreed, it's always been my understanding Germany needed the Caucasus oil more than the Russians did ... –  Tea Drinker Aug 6 '13 at 13:35
    
@Tea Drinker:In a sense, the Caucausus oil was almost a non-issue for Germany, because the Russians destroyed the oil wells before capture. By the time they could get back up and running, it would be about 1945. And that's if the Allies didn't bomb them from Iran. –  Tom Au Aug 6 '13 at 14:00
    
OTOH, and that's going into different what-if scenarios than you do, had the Soviet Union collapsed in 1942/3 that would have freed up a lot of German forces for operation Sea Lion, the UK would likely have collapsed, and the US never entered the war in Europe in strength. They'd likely have made a separate peace with Germany after whipping Japan in the Pacific. –  jwenting Jun 1 at 10:25
    
@jwenting: "The English Channel is the world's largest anti-tank ditch." –  Tom Au Jun 1 at 13:53
    
@TomAu yes, but there's things that can float on water, and fly over it... Not saying it would have happened, but without the Luftwaffe being tied up for 75% in the USSR it'd be available for a far more extensive campaign against the UK. We're talking what-if scenarios anyway, no saying what'd happen if the USSR were to fall in late '41 or early '42. –  jwenting Jun 1 at 14:04

Stalin himself officially declared for the whole nation that very close, in the famous Order No 227 ("Not one step back!"). This unlikely to be a very good propaganda so probably true.

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Are there any sources or reports which explain how close the country was to collapsing under the Nazi assault? By 'collapse' I mean 'completely lacking either the willpower (as seen by France in 1940 after the fall of Paris and the collapse of the line on the Somme) or ability (as seen by Poland as they ran out of territory to defend) such that they would not be able to amount any effective defense and need to sue for peace as soon as possible'?

No. Knowing how 'close' they were would mean knowing what variables would be needed to bring them over into collapsing. Only conjecture exists in the form of taking Moscow in 1941 or the Caucasus in 1942. Comparable is the idea that the Germans were defeated before the war even began due to their lack of planning and foresight, as well as their failure of securing the encirclement at Smolensk spelled their eventual defeat.

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A lot of history books give the impression that Germany could have defeated Russia if they had just captured Moscow or Leningrad, or done some other thing. These books feature cliff hanger-like statements like, "The Wehrmacht came within so-and-so many kilometers of Moscow" and so forth.

In reality, the Germans were fighting a losing battle and had no chance of defeating the Soviet Union. This can be ascertained by a close reading of military analyses of the subject. One of the most detailed accounts is Alan Clark's book "Barbarossa", however, Clark was more of a historian, not a soldier. I have found accounts such as Von Manstein's "Lost Victories" to be much more useful, although be forwarned it is very dry reading. Earl Ziemke's "Stalingrad to Berlin" is another good source. Among more modern authors, Albert Seaton's "Battle of Moscow" is useful and Eastern Front specialist John Erickson's books such as "The Road to Stalingrad". Once again, Erickson is a highly technical scholar, so do not expect adventure stories. Like Manstein, it is mostly about unit movements and interactions.

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Well done. For a change. –  CGCampbell May 30 at 21:55
    
the Germans could indeed have won "if" they'd done a lot of things they didn't. IF everything fell together in their favour, IF the winter of 41/42 and the one 42/43 hadn't been as bad, IF Stalin hadn't pulled forces from the Chinese border to shore up those in Stalingrad and elsewhere, IF the Kriegsmarine had been more successful in interdicting the Murmansk convoys, etc. etc. In the end, what happened happened and everything else is tainted. –  jwenting Jun 1 at 10:29

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