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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
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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
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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
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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 '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
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    @TylerDurden, Moscow was the most strategic city in the Soviet Union. It was the primary supply depo for the Soviet Army, the primary transportation (rail and road) hub of the entire country. If the Germans had taken Moscow in Oct-Dec of 1941 The Soviet Union's logistically would have faced a significantly harder war. Their ability to absorb and distribute western lend lease aid would also have been under threat. And it was the timely appearance of the Russian Winter which made the assault on Moscow pause long enough for soviet re-enforcements to arrive. – JMS Jan 26 at 2:02
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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 multiple 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. Also, because they moved on own tracks (and not on trains), tanks needed track replacement after return (and were not operational - repairing them in the field was logistical nightmare).

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. Even now, all trains from north to south go through Moscow.

It is entirely possible 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
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    The links from the Russian website are actually chapters from the book 'Hitler's Panzers East: World War II Reinterpreted', by R.H.S. Stolfi, which appears to be fully available on the site. I'm not sure whether this counts as "Russian military research" or not... :) – Agent Orange Jan 26 at 12:37
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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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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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  • IMO it was good propaganda, in the sense of helping achieve the desired result, to impress the life-and-death situation upon the citizenry. – Amorphous Blob Feb 21 at 15:17
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Acknowledging the other answers which have indicated that there is no way of really knowing how close the Soviet Union came to collapsing during the Second World War, mainly because there is no way of knowing what might have been the key or critical variables that would have brought about a collapse with any certainty. Nevertheless, both the Axis and Allied leadership were necessarily vitally interested in the question at the time and there are some measures which can be speculated upon based on the planning and policies of the time which were inevitably directed towards causing or preventing just such a regime collapse.

There are two broad ways to look at the question which mirror the planning options considered by the German High Command, and which perhaps coincidentally, also address the two kinds of Soviet collapse mentioned in the original question.

  • The first is the possibility of a political collapse resulting in the Soviet state ceasing to function and thereby losing its ability to organize further effective resistance.

  • The second is the possibility of the Soviet state losing access to essential resources needed to maintain stability and offer a viable defense.

Which of these two approaches offered the surest path to success was a point of contention among the German leadership at the time, and has continued to remain a subject of vigorous discussion since. The key strategic question of whether the objective of Operation Barbarossa itself should have been directed towards political targets such as Moscow and Leningrad, or towards more economically critical objectives to the south rests upon which of the above approaches is given priority, and the wavering of German strategic direction during the 1941 campaign can be directly attributed to their changing assessment of the utility of each approach.

How close was the Soviet state to political collapse in WWII?

This is the most difficult part of the question to address. There is no real evidence of imminent political collapse of the Soviet state in the Second World War, and a collapse of this kind is very likely to occur very rapidly and in a non-linear and chaotic fashion. So it is difficult to even speculate just how close things might have been at various times - a dramatic event at a key moment could have made all the difference. The Fuhrer Directive for Operation Barbarossa(1) stipulated that the campaign in the East was to be won by destroying the Red Army decisively in the first weeks of operations. Hitler's declaration to his generals that they had "only to kick in the front door and the whole rotten Russian edifice will come tumbling down"(2) indicated his belief that a political collapse would follow directly from the Red Army's rapid demise. However despite the dramatic early German successes driving their armies deep into Soviet territory and destroying the Soviet border armies and Red Air Force, the Soviet regime held firm. Reports that Stalin suffered a mental collapse in those first disastrous days are exaggerated(3), and by the time the United States President's special envoy Harry Hopkins visited the Soviet Union in August 1941 to investigate the situation he was convinced that the Soviet leadership were resolute and had matters under control. Hopkins was granted full access to the Soviet leadership and was persuaded by Stalin's personal conviction that the German Army would be unable to sustain it's blitzkreig style of warfare in the trackless wildernesses of the Soviet Union(4). Stalin appears to have had a rational appreciation of the German limitations and was fully aware of the scale of military mobilization underway in the Soviet interior working to replace the massive losses already sustained, so even in the darkest days it does not appear that the Soviet leadership lost faith in their ability to withstand the German invasion. Coupled with the growing understanding of the Soviet people of what defeat at the hands of the Nazi invaders implied, the Soviet regime was able to maintain control and authorize whatever means were required to meet the German threat.

German planners, such as Chief of the Army's General Staff, General Franz Halder, who continued to favor the effort to engineer a direct political collapse of the Soviet Union, urged an immediate attack towards Moscow as the best means to quickly draw the Red Army into battle and defeat the relentless waves of Soviet reserves which were appearing in unexpected numbers despite the spectacular early German successes. However by this stage, the attrition of the German spearheads and the onset of poor weather, caused the German leadership to begin directing their attention towards economic objectives in the south, which were gaining greater significance as the prospect of a more drawn-out campaign loomed.

How close was the Soviet state to economic collapse in WWII?

The A-A Line: Operation Barbarossa's objective

The question of economic collapse has a more empirical aspect which lends itself to a more scientific approach. In the preparation of plans for the German invasion of the Soviet Union the chief German economic strategists produced a study of the Soviet economy which resulted in the determination of an objective line for the operation, known as the A-A Line, extending from Archangel in the Arctic, to Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea, which if attained by the German invasion would deny any surviving Soviet state to the east an economic base deemed capable of threatening the German occupation west of the line for the foreseeable future. As a simplistic first answer, it might be assumed that if the German intelligence was sound, and the historical German invasion fell far short of attaining anything near the A-A Line, then the Soviet state historically should have retained access to the resources it needed to both maintain itself and continue to present a military challenge to the invaders.

A more nuanced study of the mechanisms and possibilities of a collapse of the Soviet economy in the Second World War can be found in Mark Harrison's The USSR and Total War: Why didn't the Soviet economy collapse in 1942? His thesis describes how the Soviet economy might have collapsed due to human failure, even where access to resources had not been completely denied. In short it reflects a trade-off between the willingness of the participants in the economy to continue to support the war effort versus the temptations and pressures they may have felt to abandon their efforts. Harrison claims that this process is non-linear with an accelerating potential for collapse as the rewards for loyalty become less dependable, and the possible rewards for defection become greater and more realistically attainable. Historically, according to Harrison, the Soviet state was able to only barely meet the basic needs of its population, but the potential payoff of allowing the Soviet state to fail, with the horrific prospect of Nazi subjugation, was never an attractive option to the Soviet people despite their hardships. His analysis also demonstrates the importance of the Lend-Lease support provided by the Western powers and how its significance extended well beyond the relatively few tanks and planes sent, with food, fuel and transportation shipments having a key role, as outlined in Food and other strategic deliveries to the Soviet Union under the Lend-Lease Act, 1941-45.

Conclusion.

The available evidence does not seem to support the idea that the Soviet Union was ever facing an imminent prospect of either political or economic collapse during the Second World War. German assessments made in the planning of the operation appear to have been unrealistic, due in part to inadequate intelligence, and more significantly, due to a complete failure to understand the implications of their policy of fighting a War of Annihilation in the east which gave the Soviet people little option but to support their regime and redouble their efforts on the battlefields, farms and factory floors, despite all the hardships they faced.

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    They say that generals always fight the last war. In WWI, Germany won on the Eastern front due to Tsarist Russia's political collapse. – Gort the Robot Jan 28 at 20:18
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How close was the Soviet Union to collapsing during WW2?

Short Answer
If not for heroic action by the Soviet Army at Moscow, the coldest European winter of the 20th Century, a poor German logistics line, and massive western aid the Soviet Union might have collapsed. We know this because Stalin made peace overtures to Hitler through Sweden and gave orders to evacuate his Capital Oct 15, 1941. If Moscow had fallen the Soviet war effort would have been exponentially more difficult.


Detailed Answer
Stalin had made an alliance with Hitler in the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact Aug 23, 1939. Hitler broke that agreement June 22, 1941 when he invaded the Soviet Union Operation Barbarossa.

Operation Barbarossa was code name for the German invasion of the Soviet Union which was the largest military offensive in the history of warfare. From June to Dec of 1941 it claimed the lives of 5 million Soviet Soldiers or about 10 times as many lives as America lost in the WWII, European and Pacific theatres. The Soviet Union was pretty close to collapse after that onslaught. On Oct 15, Stalin ordered the Communist Party, the Army Leadership, and the Civilian Government to evacuate Moscow.

Hitler invaded in June, by Sept they were at the outskirts of Moscow. In the opening action in the Battle of Moscow Sept 1941, the Germans shattered the Soviet's first line of defense and took 500,000 soviet soldiers prisoners. Leaving only 90,000 Soviet soldiers and 150 tanks with no reserves to defend the Soviet Capital. Then the Russian Winter hit along with the German supply problems caused the Germans to halt their advance on the city for a month. By the Time the Germans continued their assault they were facing 30 new divisions and a greatly inforced Soviet defense. The Germans were turned away from Moscow, and then their advance was shattered in their defeat at Stalingrad, the turning point in the war in Europe.

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Joseph Stalin
Stalin was convinced of Hitler's integrity and ignored warnings from his military commanders that Germany was mobilizing armies on its eastern front. When the Nazi blitzkrieg struck in June 1941, the Soviet Army was completely unprepared and immediately suffered massive losses.

Stalin was so distraught at Hitler's treachery that he hid in his office for several days. By the time Stalin regained his resolve, German armies occupied all of the Ukraine and Belarus, and its artillery surrounded Leningrad. To make matters worse, the purges of the 1930s had depleted the Soviet Army and government leadership to the point where both were nearly dysfunctional.

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battle of Moscow
The first blow took the Soviets completely by surprise when the 2nd Panzer Group, returning from the south, took Oryol, just 121 km (75 mi) south of the Soviet first main defense line.[248] Three days later, the Panzers pushed on to Bryansk, while the 2nd Army attacked from the west.[276] The Soviet 3rd and 13th Armies were now encircled. To the north, the 3rd and 4th Panzer Armies attacked Vyazma, trapping the 19th, 20th, 24th and 32nd Armies.[248] Moscow's first line of defense had been shattered. The pocket eventually yielded over 500,000 Soviet prisoners, bringing the tally since the start of the invasion to three million. The Soviets now had only 90,000 men and 150 tanks left for the defense of Moscow.[277]

The German government now publicly predicted the imminent capture of Moscow and convinced foreign correspondents of a pending Soviet collapse.[278] On 13 October, the 3rd Panzer Group penetrated to within 140 km (87 mi) of the capital.[248] Martial law was declared in Moscow. Almost from the beginning of Operation Typhoon, however, the weather worsened. Temperatures fell while there was continued rainfall. This turned the unpaved road network into mud and slowed the German advance on Moscow.[279] Additional snows fell which were followed by more rain, creating a glutinous mud that German tanks had difficulty traversing, whereas the Soviet T-34, with its wider tread, was better suited to negotiate.[280] At the same time, the supply situation for the Germans rapidly deteriorated.[281] On 31 October, the German Army High Command ordered a halt to Operation Typhoon while the armies were reorganized. The pause gave the Soviets, far better supplied, time to consolidate their positions and organize formations of newly activated reservists.[282][283] In little over a month, the Soviets organized eleven new armies that included 30 divisions of Siberian troops. These had been freed from the Soviet Far East after Soviet intelligence assured Stalin that there was no longer a threat from the Japanese.[284] During October and November 1941, over 1,000 tanks and 1,000 aircraft arrived along with the Siberian forces to assist in defending the city.

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Turning Point of World War II in Europe
More than four million combatants fought in the gargantuan struggle at Stalingrad between the Nazi and Soviet armies. Over 1.8 million became casualties. More Soviet soldiers died in the five-month battle than Americans in the entire war. But by February 2, 1943, when the Germans trapped in the city surrendered, it was clear that the momentum on the Eastern Front had shifted. The Germans would never fully recover.

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Stalingrad at 75, the Turning Point of World War II in Europe
Hitler and the German High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres, or OKH), were confident that the Soviet Union would fall within six weeks. At first, their prediction seemed correct: the attack in June 1941 caught Stalin unawares, and the Red Army unprepared. By December, the Red Army had suffered nearly five million casualties.

But despite enduring staggering losses, the Red Army continued to resist. In August 1941, senior members of the Wehrmacht began growing increasingly uneasy. The Chief of the OKH staff, General Franz Halder, noted in his diary that ““It is becoming ever more apparent that the Russian colossus…. Has been underestimated by us…. At the start of the war we reckoned with about 200 enemy divisions. Now we have already counted 360… When a dozen have been smashed, then the Russian puts up another dozen.”

In October, the Wehrmacht launched Operation Typhoon, the effort to take Moscow and end the war by Christmas. But as the weather grew bitterly cold, the German offensive ground to a halt, and was then pushed back by a Soviet counteroffensive. The front line froze in place some two hundred kilometers west of Moscow – and 1400 kilometers east of Berlin.

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Lend-Lease: How American supplies aided the USSR in its darkest hour
"Now they say that the allies never helped us, but it can't be denied that the Americans gave us so many goods without which we wouldn't have been able to form our reserves and continue the war," Soviet General Georgy Zhukov said after the end of WWII.

"We didn’t have explosives, gunpowder. We didn’t have anything to charge our rifle cartridges with. The Americans really saved us with their gunpowder and explosives. And how much sheet steel they gave us! How could we have produced our tanks without American steel? But now they make it seem as if we had an abundance of all that. Without American trucks we wouldn’t have had anything to pull our artillery with."

Hitler vs. Stalin: How Russia Defeated Nazi Germany at the Gates of Moscow
Would the capture of Moscow have altered the outcome of World War II? Losing their capital has often led nations to seek peace. Moscow was more than the administrative capital of the Soviet Union: it was also a vital rail hub and production center. There was also the symbolic value: totalitarian dictators, like Hitler and Stalin, crafted images of themselves as all-knowing leaders of their nations. Losing Moscow would certainly have dented popular confidence in Stalin. In fact, Stalin apparently did put out discreet peace feelers to Germany through Sweden, which Hitler ignored. In October 1941, the Second World War teetered on a knife edge.

From Comments

from Agent Orange The essence of your argument seems to be that the Soviet Union was close to collapse because German propaganda convinced some journalists that it was so.

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So Moscow is about 800 miles from Warsaw the kicking off point for the German Invasion. It took three months for the Nazi's to drive through the meat of the Soviet Defenses. And as I said, the front line of the Soviet defenses of Moscow collapsed Oct 1941 with 500,000 soviet soldiers surrendering, leaving only 90,000 soviet defenders with no reserves and 150 tanks left to face off against the Germans.

Also Stalin did order the evacuation of the Communist Party, the General Staff and civil government offices from Moscow Oct 15 1941. Which caused panic among Muscovites. As told in "When Titans Clashed" by David M. Glantz chapter 6, pg 74

from Agent Orange #2
We know that the Wehrmacht was depleted and exhausted at the gates of Moscow, and we know that fresh Soviet troops were arriving in waves. You need to demonstrate that these historical facts are compatible with your thesis that Soviet collapse was in fact imminent (or nearly so). Why would the Soviet leadership be broken when they had clearly weathered the 1941 storm and had the situation under control around Moscow? –

It is true that the Battle of Moscow was the single largest battle of WWII. A Battle in which the Soviet's lost 4x the number of troops (killed, missing, captured) than the Germans. To put it in perspective the Soviet's lost more troops during the Battle of Moscow than the United States, Britain, and France combined in all of WWII. It was frankly the most important battle of the entire war.

What you left out is that the Germans had to stop their advance for a month due to weather and their own logistics problem. Without that pause the German force which had just taken 500,000 Soviet defenders of Moscow prisoners and killed 5 million soviet soldiers (total soviet losses in Battle of Moscow) would have only had to deal with the remaining 90,000 defenders with almost no remaining Soviet armor support. It's true the Soviets were re-enforced, but it was the weather which turned the roads into impassible gelatinous mud and then froze the Germans and finally buried them in snow which gave the Soviet's the time to transfer 30 divisions of Siberian Troops along with armor and logistics via rail to buttress Moscow.

By the time the Germans renewed their attack they were facing an entirely different Soviet defense.

Also I think it's important to note that Moscow was of vital strategic importance to the Soviet Union. It's not like in Napoleon's days when Moscow was lost and the Russians were able to come back. In Napoleon's days there weren't any railroads. Moscow was not only the Soviet's most populous city, but was also it's manufacturing, communications and transportation center. One of the few advantages the Soviet's had over Germans was the ability to use railroads to move troops and logistics efficiently, while the Germans had to rely on undependable roads. If moscow fell the Soviet's ability to use it's railroads would have been dramatically effected because Moscow was the central railroad hub of the entire country. Logistics, reinforcements, and western aid three important assets which allowed the Soviets to recover and eventually turn the table on the Nazi's would have been impacted.

I will preface all my comments on the heroism of the Soviet soldiers, that cannot be overstated.

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  • The essence of your argument seems to be that the Soviet Union was close to collapse because German propaganda convinced some journalists that it was so. We know that the Wehrmacht was depleted and exhausted at the gates of Moscow, and we know that fresh Soviet troops were arriving in waves. You need to demonstrate that these historical facts are compatible with your thesis that Soviet collapse was in fact imminent (or nearly so). Why would the Soviet leadership be broken when they had clearly weathered the 1941 storm and had the situation under control around Moscow? – Agent Orange Jan 26 at 13:11
  • Much of what you say is true, but I think what you are describing are perceptions. There is little doubt that there were many people at different times who THOUGHT the USSR was (or might be) close to collapse, but I think the questioner is asking whether this WAS in fact the case. Now obviously we can't really know, but we can look at some facts and try to make a case. I'm not convinced that any of the facts you mention indicate that the Soviet government HAD lost control of the situation (or were even close to doing so) around Moscow in 1941. The Germans were spent - that is also a fact. – Agent Orange Jan 29 at 13:21
  • @AgentOrange The facts are that Stalin faced the largest military offensive in the history of warfare, that this offensive shattered his army and left him hiding in his bedroom for days. That the fall of Moscow was an existential crisis and from Stalins actions we know he thought Moscow would fall. We also have a source which claims Stalin was looking for terms from Hitler via Sweden. Given all this you offer no source to support your claim that Stalin had the Germans right where he wanted them 10 miles from the kremlin prior to the all important German pause. – JMS Jan 29 at 14:13
  • It will be interesting to see Kotkin's new volume on Stalin when it comes out later this year (hopefully). It should shed some new light on some of these issues. The story of Stalin hiding is exaggerated, and many of the alleged peace negotiations are extremely dubious, at best. Stalin's actions at Moscow in 1941 show he thought the city could be attacked and might even fall, but nothing more. The alleged "existential crisis" is your own assumption, although it was wishfully believed by some others at the time too. The Soviet counterattack was planned and coordinated, not a desperate last act. – Agent Orange Jan 30 at 10:10
  • @AgentOrange Again, I hear what you are saying, but if the Germans hadn't been hit with the weather and hadn't had to pause their offensive; It does seem to me they would have taken Moscow. The several week pause beginning end of Oct 1941 is what permitted Stalin to improvise the counteroffensive. Transferring over 18 divisions, 1,700 tanks, and over 1,500 aircraft from Siberia and the Far East . Claiming Stalin predicted his defenses would collapse with 5 million casualties and 500,000 Russian prisoners taken Oct 7 1941 (Vyazma and Bryansk pockets), seems unrealistic. – JMS Jan 30 at 15:48
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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.

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