During World War 2, Hitler was fighting a war with Great Britain, but while fighting that war, he attacked the Soviet Union. 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 thoroughly 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 while still actively fighting the British Empire?

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    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.
    – Dale
    Oct 14 '11 at 5:26
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    @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. Oct 18 '11 at 1:09
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    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... Nov 26 '11 at 19:26
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    WWI: successful invasion of Russia. Dec 7 '11 at 19:58
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    "every European country which tried to invade Russia has always been thouroughly beaten" - Poland in 1611 has encompassed Moscow, after that Russian tsar paid tribute to Polish king, Sigismund III Vasa.
    – enedil
    Jun 15 '14 at 15:22

34 Answers 34


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.


Short Answer: Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was always going to end badly. Staling hated Hitler and Hitler hated Stalin like no other leader in Europe. That Hitler struck first is probable not as big a mistake as it seems. Germany and the Soviet Union were always going to mix it up. Hitler's big mistake in attacking the Soviet Union was not advancing on Moscow in a timely manner and getting distracted. Most Historians split on whether the German General Staff would have been successful in Russia without Hitler's meddling. Hitler's delays in attacking Moscow meant the poorly outfitted German army had to fight through one of the coldest Russian Winters in History and the German army never recovered.

Longer Answer: Hitler was capable of great innovative ideas, but he was also capable of huge mistakes. Most of Hitlers generals believed invading Poland was a mistake because at the time Germany didn't have much left guarding the boarder with France. Then most of his generals thought invading France was a mistake, given WWI's experience and conventional wisdom being that the French Army was the strongest on the continent, not to mention Great Britains forces. In each of these instances Hitler had proven correct despite his generals objections. One of the great debates in WWII is whether left to their own devices, without hitlers meddling could the German General staff had been successful in Russia. It's unclear, but what is clear is without Hitler they likely wouldn't have attacked the Soviet Union in June of 1941, and with Hitler they couldn't be successful.

Hitler had gained popularity in the 1920's upon four foundational points.

(1) attacking the Treaty of Versailles (2) promoting Pan-Germanism, (3) anti-semitism (4) anti-communism

Hitler who was actually incredible poorly informed on many subjects which he liked to talk like an expert on, like internal American politics.. and like how influential Jewish citizens were in every country he wanted to invade. Hitler often equated anti-communism and anti-semitism as he believed communism was a jewish plot to control the world.(**) That Hitler hated communists more than the British came to news to nobody. Hitler and the Nazi's had fought street fights against communists in Germany before coming to power. He hated communism with a passion and stated as much in 1000 speeches and prominently in his own biography Mein Kamf ( my struggle). Hitler dreamed of purging Russia from Jews and Communists and capturing all that land for German use, probable in that order too.

So why did Stalin align himself with Germany. why did the Soviet Union agree to the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in August 1939. Because the Soviet Union was totally unprepared for war and was buying time. Stalin was trying to prepare as quickly as he could, as all of Europe was preparing. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact bought Russia two years, which was probable worth it for Stalin. Hitler betrayed Stalin attacking in June of 1941, because he saw an opportunity which probable didn't exist to take the Soviet Union out quickly before they could fully prepare. Which brings us back to colossal mistakes which Hitler was capable of. Yes it was a mistake to invade the Soviet Union because it caused Germany to be again be trapped in a two front war. The real fatal miscalculation was when Hitler paused and diverted forces from Army Group Centre to the south towards Kiev Ukraine. The delay stalled the attack on Moscow and forced ill-equipped(winter clothing) German troops to fight in one of the worst Russian winters ever recorded. Germany never recovered. The Wehrmacht was not able to sustain its pressure on Moscow, instead fighting, and eventually retreating, across all Russian teritory.

(*)Why was Moscow so important? I saw a previous comment about Napoleon took Moscow and it didn't help him avert a catastrophe in Russia's winter. The answer is Trains. Moscow was the central train hub for all of the Soviet Union. If Hitler had controled Moscow he would have controled all the train systems which Russia used to transport not only troops but all their military and civilian logistics. If Hitler had taken Moscow it would have been game over.

(**) Hitler also believed capitalism was a jewish plot to control the world so go figure.


To add on the answers that already exist, in the traditional strategic order that existed before nukes.

land under control = K* men for war = k2* resources for war

This was the foundation for the traditional military order.

Hitler's conquest of France and Poland, was exactly mirrored in a way by Stalins actions in Romania, Finland and Baltic. This was natural, and the aim was to give away no strategic gain.

But Germany was still very dependent on Soviet trade for crude and others such vital resources. Here lay the necessity in going after Russia. The ideological element wouldn't have mattered much if Hitler did not feel Russia had an effective 'kill switch' over German industry which he knew it did.

But one of the earliest German plans, I think, wanted Russia to be pushed over the Urals, and creating a new status quo around everything to the west of the Urals. This would have made Germany predominantly self sufficient, and was obviously a sound doctrine. The tipping of the balance, in my view, was the entry of the United States, and the fact there was an winning war of attrition that the allies could pursue, which they finally did.


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.

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    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.
    – user202
    Mar 16 '12 at 23:44
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    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. Apr 3 '14 at 13:37
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    Ah, here it is. The answer that says because he was an idiot.
    – Mazura
    Aug 11 '15 at 1:37

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