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
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    @PieterGeerkens Hitler and Hitler loyalists had the Russians "running out of men" and on the verge of collapse for most of the period 1941 to 1944 – Tea Drinker Aug 6 '13 at 13:32

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
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    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 '15 at 10:25
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    @jwenting: "The English Channel is the world's largest anti-tank ditch." – Tom Au Jun 1 '15 at 13:53
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    @jwenting The 3rd Reich tried that in 1940, before ever invading USSR, and failed. That was when it was a one-front war. (So naturally, Hitler opened a second front.) BTW, even if USSR fell, that doesn't free up everything. You have to occupy the region to hold it, and it was a pretty big region. Yes maybe the entire luftwaffe would be freed up, but like I said, they already tried that in 1940 when they could use the entire luftwaffe, and failed. – DrZ214 May 14 '16 at 6:14
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    @DrZ214 The Germans never really tried to invade the UK. The battle of Britain was NOT taking control of Britain, but coerce the Brits into a peace plan ... "On the German side, no plans had been made for an invasion of Britain before the Germans launched their offensive against France, nor were any made even when the collapse of France was assured. German leader Adolf Hitler evidently counted on the British government’s agreeing to a compromise peace on the favourable terms he was prepared to offer, and so he had no desire to press the conflict to a decisive conclusion." Britannica – thecarpy Oct 30 '17 at 7:50

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 '15 at 21:55
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    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 '15 at 10:29

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.


Updated answer, based on research found on Russian site "Military history" (in English) regarding attack on Moscow in August 1941:

  • Logistics of Barbarossa - Germans very aggressively build railroads to supply attack, regauging 20 km of rails per day from Russian (wide) to German gauge in summer 41 (on multile railroad lines)
  • Consequences of attack on Moscow on August 41 - taking over Moscow would isolate northern Red army in Leningrad, which would disintegrate and allow German armies continue East, destroying remains of Red army by summer 42.
  • Hitler's mistake - most important military decision of 20th century.

Please note that above analysis is Russian military research.

Above link suggest that Germany lost the war because of a single strategic mistake: As panzer armies were closing to Moscow in August 41, Hitler redirected his panzer armies south to Kiev, then moved them back, losing time and operational tempo. In August, defense of Moscow has only 26 new untrained divisions (facing 60 veteran German divisions). Continuing on Moscow (which was most important transportation and communication (telephones) hub), Germany would split railroad transportation and communication, and Kiev defenses would collapse anyway.

It is entirely possibly that if Germans would take over Moscow in August 41, Japan could attacked USSR during battle for Moscow (or possibly Stalingrad), opening second front from Manchuria, instead of attacking USA in Pearl Harbor (or delaying that attack for few months).

When Soviet spy Richard Sorge find out in mid-september 41 about no imminent plans of attack of USSR, it allowed Stalin to move divisions from Siberia (used and trained to winter warfare) to (soviet) western front, defend Moscow. This was real case when a spy changed history (and paid for it with his life).

Especially close to collapse (best time for attack) was first war winter, when industry just moved to Ural (production was not restarted), and German submarines ruled North Atlantic, sinking much of the supplies to Murmansk.

There were 3 routes for supplies from Allies to reach USSR:

  • via Murmansk (could be blocked by submarines and ships from Norway), and untenable if Lenigrad fell
  • via Vladivostok (would be cut if Japanese cut trans-Siberian railway), and
  • southern route via Iran. Cut 2/3rds of the supply routes, and you prevent building army reserves which led to winter victory in Stalingrad (first defeat of Germany).

Fortunately, Ribentrop-Molotov secret pact allowed Stalin (and Zhukov) to move enough resources to Far East, sufficiently trounce Japanese Army in Khalkin-Gol in 1939, which decreased Japanese Army's standing, prevented that attack, and instead allowed Japanese Navy to prevail on focusing on navy-related war, resulting in attacking USA in Pearl Harbor. Without Pearl Harbor attack, it could take another year to start mobilization of US manufacturing (or it would be much slower), so Germany (and Axis) would have better chance to win in this war of attrition.

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    There would be no need to keep from sending troops to Moscow even if the Japanese invaded, and weren't routed as they had been in 1939 at Nomonhan. There's nothing near the Manchurian border that was valuable and ground could always be retaken. – Oldcat Aug 18 '15 at 18:20
  • If Japanese took over Trans-Sibirian railroad (which goes close to south border of Russia), whole Siberia would be lost. And those Siberian divisions, trained and equipped to fight in cold, were the key to both winter counter-offensives (Moscow and Stalingrad). – Peter M. - stands for Monica May 9 '16 at 13:40

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.


When the Soviet Union collapsed it was revealed that the Stavka had ordered a general retreat after the failed Red Army Spring Offensive of 1942 so my personal view is not only could the Wehrmacht have defeated the Red Army in the summer of 1942 but in fact they SHOULD have defeated the Red Army with Case Blue.

There are a multitude of reasons why this didn't happen...not least being Hitler was in charge. Stalingrad was not even a primary objective ironically....so the Red Army truly made the German military pay for a series of truly incredible blunders not the least being their complete contempt for the "Ostlanders" and ignorance of "Ost Politik."

Militarily speaking "taking Crimea as a Christmas Gift", wiping Sevatstapol off the map, dividing Army Group South into two, failing to heed the lessons of the Battle of Vorehnez, then bombing Stalingrad into a defenders paradise..?against Hitler's express orders actually...all just added up to a bunch of losses from which Germany has never recovered from...even today.

  • Only the first paragraph even tangentially addresses the question. Then it drifts off into German strategic blunders. – Schwern Oct 4 '16 at 21:50

hitler never intended to enter a war of attrition with the soviets,he knew their resources and manpower were too much for the reich.it became clear to hitler in his speech to the reichstag (on youtube) that stalin was riding roughshod over the ribentrop/molotov agreement by going to war in finland,annexing baltic states and the final straw was invading bukovina romania.german hopes of any chance was blitzkreig which doesnt really work on a country the size of russia.the point is ribentrop/molotov pact was created to remove the need for germany to fight soviets as hitler was well aware they could never come close to collapsing the red army even if moscow was taken,hitler rolled the dice in 41 his hoping a pre emptive strike would mean the war was fought away as far from german borders as that first thrust would take them so the red army was never close to defeat at any time of ww2 as stalin said czar alexander got to paris.i do think the wermacht put a dent in stalins overall plan.

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    This does not answer the question. – SMS von der Tann May 7 '16 at 18:53
  • So Stalin started the war but the wehrmacht pout a dent in his plan? I only heard this version of history from Nazis. – mart May 7 '16 at 20:57
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    This answer would benefit from sources. And normalized spelling/grammar. – Mark C. Wallace May 8 '16 at 2:32

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