To try to get an answer to this question, I would like to explore its factual bases, including, but not limited to the following:

1) How did the road/railroad communication network west of Smolensk back to German "staging" points in Poland (e.g. Warsaw) compare to communications between Smolensk and Moscow?

2) The Soviets defended themselves in part by practicing a scorched earth policy.How effectively was this policy applied west of Smolensk as opposed to east of Smolensk?

3) Germany occupied western Poland for 20 months (October 1939-May 1941), before the invasion of the Soviet Union, and presumably upgraded the infrastructure to support the future invasion. Does this suggest that the Germans could have done something in the ten months from August, 1941 to June 1942 to upgrade the lines of communication from the 1939 border to Smolensk? Or was the communications across western Poland part of the problem, meaning that the line of communications basically went all the way back to Germany?

I'm assuming that Germany's problems east of Smolensk were mainly logistical (including weather related), because she actually faced better trained/armed Soviet armies west of Smolensk than east of it.

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    To what end? The whole plan for Operation Barbarossa was to defeat Russia in 1941. When they could not defeat them at Moscow, it turned into a war of attrition, which Germany had only minute chances to win in early 1942, and none at all after that. Stopping at Smolensk was not a strategic option.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 10:50
  • I believe the Polish rail system was much more compatible with the German than the Soviet one was. There were several issues in converting Soviet rail lines for use by German trains, including rail gauge and distance between watering points. Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 16:42
  • @DevSolar you are 100% correct. The principle goal of operation Barbarossa was to "prevent" a two front war! Germany's plan was to knock Russia out of the war in 6 weeks (which was the then generally accepted estimates among the 'experts'). Oddly enough, the experts did not appear to have maps back then, or just one look at the map would have been enough to reveal no army can hope to conquer russia in 6 weeks. Couldn't even do it without resistance. Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 19:29
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    @sofageneral: Err... you're gotten several things backwards in that comment. I suggest you turn that into a question, or better yet, re-study the material you have available...
    – DevSolar
    Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 19:33
  • Hmmm if you didn't know hitler's principle justification for war with russia was to prevent a two front war.... you are missing something... because that was the goal from the horse's mouth ... thus keeping that goal in mind, you were correct that stopping in Smolensk would have served 0 strategic purpose. Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 19:38

2 Answers 2


Bellow is the map of Soviet railways in 1941. As you can see, there is no much difference up to Smolensk then from Smolensk to Moscow. Moscow is major railway hub and Smolensk-Moscow railway is of huge importance. Map is taken from here. Problem of different gauges has already been discussed here. Even before the invasion Germans were preparing to convert the tracks to their standard. Eventually, they kept some railways as they were, because they captured lot of Soviet rolling stock.

What is important to notice, although of huge strategic importance, railways were relatively sparse in vast Soviet Union. You simply cannot advance using only railway, your army had to move using poor country roads . There are huge what-if debates what would happen if Germans didn't go for Kiev in summer of 1941 (moving instead directly to Moscow) , what would happen if Barbarossa stared earlier etc ... Without going into these, it is clear to anyone that seasons of Rasputitsa are not good for advance, and Russian winter is already legendary. Germans did know about that, original plan for Barbarossa was to eliminate Red Army in huge border battles during the summer when the weather was good. Then, rapid advance would ensure victory - Soviet Union was not deemed as a stronger opponent then let's say France, partially because Germans despised Soviet system, partially on experience from WW1 (France was harder opponent then) . What they didn't expect was resilience of Communist regime in mobilizing whole population for war, and willingness of that population to fight and die stubbornly and stoically.

As for scorched earth policy, it was much hyped but implemented on case to case basis. For example , there was that episode with Orel's trams still running when Germans entered the city in October 1941 (war was going on for more then 3 months then). It is certain that Germans had no problems supplying Army Group Centre and they held Smolensk till October 1943. Most of supplies, of course, came by rail . Railways were easy to damage, but comparatively ease to repair to, especially if you have abundance of enslaved workforce.

Railways SU 1941


Yes, the Germans struggled mightily in Fall of 1941 after encircling the Soviet forces around Kiev. However it had much more to do with the season, and in particular General Mud's Rasputitsa. If you haven't lived in either Western Russia or Northern Canada, during the spring thaw or winter freeze-up, you have no conception of the difficulties that all forms of transportation encounter.

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[Rasputitsa] is applied to muddy road conditions in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, which are caused by the poor drainage of underlying clay-laden soils found in the region. Roads are subject to weight limitations and closures during the period in certain districts of Russia. The phenomenon was a hindrance in the early 20th century in the Soviet Union since 40% of rural villages were not served by paved roads.

This is the same situation as on the Belgian portion of the Western Front in World War One, except in Flanders the clay soils do not run as deep as in Russian and Canada.


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