Abstract: This paper goes over the most popular myths of the Wehrmacht superiority showing that the widespread belief about the superior martial qualities of its soldiers and the captainship of its generals have been grossly overrated, while their treatment of prisoners of war (POWs) and civilians in occupied territories was nothing short of criminal.
Publications of the Russian falsifiers of the Great Victory are imbued with contempt and hatred (in particular, the Red Army), as well as admiration and worship for everything foreign – the Wehrmacht in this case.
It is not surprising that they support the “bright” myths of the Wehrmacht with obsequiousness and servility, which were born in the depths of Western ideological structures with the beginning of the cold war. These myths are based on materials from German generals and officers involved by the Americans in analyzing and summarizing the actions of the Wehrmacht during World War II, as well as the memoirs of Hitler’s military leaders. When assessing such materials, General M.A. Gareyev noted: “In Germany, 60 years after the war, a book was published, which said: ‘It is clear that the German Wehrmacht lost the World War, but achieved a triumph after 1945, namely, in the struggle for the self-image in the eyes of the German and international public….’”1 The rosy picture of the Wehrmacht is certainly present in the books of Boris Sokolov, Vladimir Beshanov, Mark Solonin, Andrei Zubov, and other authors of “sensational” books about the Great Patriotic War.
We will single out the following myths from the many peddled by Russian falsifiers: the unsurpassed military skill and high fighting spirit of Wehrmacht soldiers; the “noble” Wehrmacht being out of relation to Nazi crimes; the superiority of German military thought and practice of command and control. Let us consider these myths in the indicated sequence.
As a rule, the military skill of German soldiers is highly appreciated in the recollections of Wehrmacht generals. Thus, General Field Marshal Erich von Manstein states in his wartime memoirs that “the German troops … always held superiority over the enemy in their fighting skill.”2 General of the Infantry Kurt von Tippelskirch had the same view.3
The assessments of these and other German participants in the events on the Eastern Front have been leaked to the books of many foreign researchers. For example, Trevor Dupuy and Paul Martell, American researchers, write about “amazing military prowess of German troops.”4
The domestic apologists of the Wehrmacht did not overlook such assessments either: V. Beshanov states that “…the level of good organization, duty performance, and professional training of the Wehrmacht was beyond our reach.”5 B. Sokolov: “…the level of combat training and command and control of the Red Army was significantly inferior to the Wehrmacht both in the prewar period and throughout the war.”6
These assessments do not correspond to the true situation on the Soviet-German Front. However, one cannot deny the fact that the Soviet Union was invaded by a powerful German army, consisting of well-trained soldiers with combat experience, who had learned the taste of victory and were confident in their superiority over the adversary.
However, the combat experience gained in the wars against European countries was clearly insufficient in the fight on the Eastern Front. This is evidenced by the Wehrmacht commanders’ concern over the development of the offensive. The Army Groups’ chiefs of staff summed up the implementation of the Barbarossa plan for the month at the meeting on July 25, 1941: Army Group North acted in accordance with the plan, Army Group Center performed the tasks before the Battle of Smolensk, then the pace of attack slowed down, Army Group South did not withstand the given pace of attack.
In August 1941, the Combat Training Department of the Wehrmacht Supreme Army Headquarters studied and summarized the experience of combat use of units and formations on the Soviet-German Front, and on September 22, 1941, the analytical report Experience of the March to the East was presented to the Land Forces Command. Among other issues related to combat actions (operations), the participation of units in night fights was considered as well. It was recognized that such battles ended in most cases unsuccessfully: “…at this time of day, the fighting breaks down into separate battles in which Russian soldiers surpass German soldiers. German soldiers are only marginally able to use their superiority in numbers and automatic weapons in these battles….”7
These myths are based on materials from German generals and officers involved by the Americans in analyzing and summarizing the actions of the Wehrmacht during World War II, as well as the memoirs of Hitler’s military leaders.
As the resistance of the Soviet troops intensified and German losses increased, the mood of the Wehrmacht soldiers also changed, although most of them continued to believe until mid-November 1941 that the war would end in Germany’s victory by the new year 1942.
But even before the beginning of the Soviet counteroffensive near Moscow, the Wehrmacht troops had experienced their first serious disappointment: the war was dragging on. However, the German soldiers still fought with great persistence. It is fair to say that their perseverance near Moscow, and in other battles of the war, was largely due to the fear of being executed by shooting if captured by the Russians, which was constantly asserted by Goebbels’ propaganda. According to the prisoners, since the summer 1942, the German soldiers enthralled by that propaganda “did not yield themselves prisoners because they were afraid of being executed….”8
The counteroffensive of the Red Army, which began on December 5, 1941, had a strong impact on the morale of the Wehrmacht troops. General of Tank Forces Ferdinand Shaal, Commander of the 56th Motorized Corp, has described a typical situation in the retreating troops of Army Group Center: “The discipline began to fall apart. More and more soldiers were making their way West without arms, leading a calf on a rope or pulling sleds with sacks of potatoes – they were just straggling West without commanders. The soldiers who died in the air raids were never buried…. Whole convoys of logistics were heading for the rear in fear. Logistical support units were overwrought, probably because they were used to constant offensives and victories in the past. Shivering with cold, without food, soldiers marched West in complete dismay…. The tank corps had not yet had such a hard time.”9
Impressive are the German soldiers’ assessments of the situation in the Wehrmacht troops after the beginning of the Red Army counteroffensive near Moscow,10 what the book is about: “Our division began to retire on December 5. It wasn’t a stepback, but a fleeing in panic. The Russian attack was so sudden that we threw down our guns, shells, and other weapons” (from the deposition of a prisoner soldier Oscar Gomel).
“Confusion makes itself felt everywhere due to the backtrack, the troops are a mess. Orders are controversial, commanders do not know what to do” (from the deposition of a prisoner soldier Alfred Tortantz).
It should be noted that the number of all kinds of military offences and crimes, including intentional self-maiming and desertion, increased, which until then was not typical for the personnel who had stormed their way through half of Europe. The Wehrmacht Command took a number of stringent measures to maintain discipline and morale in the troops. penal companies and battalions were formed from soldiers and officers who had committed military offences and crimes. “Retreat-blocking detachments” were created, which had the right to shoot German soldiers for unauthorized leaving of positions, i.e. for violation of Hitler’s order of December 16, 1941. According to M.Yu. Myagkov, a military historian, the Wehrmacht field court-martials condemned 62,000 soldiers and officers for desertion, unauthorized stepback, disobedience, and other military misdemeanor in winter 1941-1942.11
Along with the deterioration of discipline in the German troops, their combat efficiency was decreasing due to a heavy death toll of experienced Wehrmacht soldiers. Paul Carell (alias Obersturmbannführer SS Paul Schmidt, Executive Director of the Third Reich News Service and Head of the press Department of the German Foreign Ministry) noted that by the end of November 1941 “the number of combat personnel of the regiments in the formations of Army Group Center decreased by more than half. The worst situation was with officers and noncommissioned officers, as well as experienced chief-corporals – their ranks were especially damaged by losses of personnel in combat, cold weather injuries, and other diseases. Lieutenants happened to command battalions, often companies were led by noncommissioned officers….”12
During the Red Army counteroffensive, the situation became even more acute. Only for the period from January 1 to January 31, 1942, the attrition of officers of Army Group Center was 4544 people. By the end of March 1942, in the 10th Motorized Division according to the report of its commander, “the number of the older personnel was reduced to a minimum (in combat companies: 2 noncommissioned officers and 9 soldiers, in machine gun companies: 5 noncommissioned officers and 18 common soldiers) …”13
The reinforcement that arrived in Army Group Center was much worse prepared. In the report of the General Staff of the Land Forces representative, who was in the 20th and 57th Army Corps from December 2 to December 6, 1941, the low level of combat characteristics of the reinforcement was noted: young soldiers had only a snap course, their competence and morale did not meet the requirements of the combat situation on the Eastern Front. The Commander of the 19th panzer Division Lieutenant General Otto Knobelsdorf reported to the headquarters of the 40th Motorized Corps on March 29, 1942: “The combat efficiency of the reinforcement was low…, …most of them are completely incapable of handling a machine gun….”14
The incoming replacement did not show the necessary persistence in combat. Lieutenant General Friedrich-Wilhelm Lesner, the Commander of the 10th Motorized Division, reported to the headquarters of the 57th Motorized Corps in March 1942: “At the first artillery attack, the new reinforcement plunged into the snow, burrowed in it, and was unable to conduct combat…. When the Russian armored attack began, such soldiers jumped to feet and fled….15 With the employment of T-34 tanks en masse by the Red Army, tank sickness came up in German troops. The Commander of Army Group Center, General Field Marshal Günter von Kluge, noted in winter 1941: “…as soon as Russian tanks appear our troops immediately take flight.”16
When summarizing the Battle of Moscow, General Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of Staff of the Wehrmacht’s Supreme Command, wrote about the state of the German army: “The reserve army gave all recruits, including the contingent born in 1922. …But all these measures could not at least approximately compensate for the losses suffered by the Land Forces in the East …The military usefulness of the army, which had long lost its bravest officers and the best noncommissioned officers, was increasingly declining, because it did not receive a full replacement…. So, there is nothing to be surprised by the fact that the morale and willingness to sacrifice were constantly degrading….”17
Fierce battles in Stalingrad, the defeat and capture of the 6th German Army, heavy fighting in the spring 1943 were accompanied by heavy losses of experienced soldiers of the Wehrmacht, which affected the fighting capabilities of German divisions. In July 1943, it was no longer the same as in 1941. Valery Zamulin, a historian, writes about it: “Heavy losses forced the Wehrmacht Command to set looser standards for recruits….”18 The battle handling and holding power of these recruits was low. The American historian Stephen Newton gives a typical example: “During the offensive against Kursk, Major General Carl Wilhelm von Schlieben (the Commander of the 18th Panzer Division of the Wehrmacht – Authors note) reported that the following had happened in his division: “It happened that entire companies, hearing the roar of enemy tanks, jumped into their cars and ran rearward in a wild panic….”19 The situation with the Wehrmacht troops performance worsened after the Battle of Kursk. General Friedrich Mellenthin, the former commander of the 48th Tank Corps, who had taken part in the Battle of Kursk, wrote: “The best parts of the German army were killed in the Battle of Kursk where the troops were attacking with desperate determination to win or die….”20
Along with the decline in fighting ferocity, the discipline in the German troops also deteriorated. After Stalingrad catastrophe, the morale of the German troops lowered. There were more and more events of desertion, absence without leave, self-harm, and suicide. Valery Zamulin writes that “captured adversary documentary sources indicate an upward trend dangerous for the Wehrmacht in the number of German deserters to the Red Army. For example, on June 17, 1943, the operations office of 9A Army Staff reported to the Army Group that in the 78th Infantry Division there was an emergency incident: six Germans had run to the Russians, among them there were four former Soviet citizens immigrated to Germany (‘Volksdeutsch’) …. It’s hard to imagine something like that, say, in 1942.”21 The German Command was taking increasingly harsh measures against soldiers who had committed military offences. In addition to the capital punishment by hanging and shooting, Hitler’s order as of March 4, 1943, introduced the death penalty by guillotining for the guilty military. Thus, 42 men were executed between 1943 and 1944 in the 253rd Infantry Division, most of them guillotined.22
When assessing the last phase of the war, the German historian Christoph Rass indicates “…a sharp increase in events of desertion both from active and reserve units. …Only from the end of August to the beginning of October 1944, when the replacement troops of the 253rd Infantry Division took part in the battles in the area of Aachen, the court considered 78 cases of absenteeism….”23 In 1944-1945, “a total of 168 soldiers from the reserve units were charged with absenteeism … and another 17 soldiers were charged with desertion….”24 It should be borne in mind, however, that by then a trend had taken shape in army courts, as Christoph Russ points out, “…to treat individual events of desertion as absenteeism and thus not to increase the number of harsh sentences handed down to Germans….”25
In 1945, Hitler’s agonizing Command in its death throes resorted to large-scale deterrent actions to maintain the fighting capabilities of the German troops.
Günter Kune, a soldier of the SS division Hitlerjugend, which was part of the 9th German Army in 1945, recalls: “During the retreat from the Oder, there was the so-called ‘Hitler’s Oak’ in each village – a tree on the market square. Soldiers who had deserted from the army were hanged there with a sign on their chest: ‘I was too coward to fight for the people and the homeland….”26 The American researcher Earl Simke writes about the last battles in Berlin: “The corpses hanging in the streets were the work of the flying courts martial consisting of one officer, which imposed a death sentence only…. It was possible to hang individuals, but entire units were in hiding….”27
It must be said that in 1945, the Nazi top of Germany no longer had high hopes for the Wehrmacht. The German historian Werner Picht wrote that in the last months of the war, the Wehrmacht was humiliated, first, by subordinating the reserve army to Himmler, second, by forming people’s grenadiers’ divisions “as the basis of a truly national-socialist army” and, third, by the contempt of the country’s leadership (during calls for the deployment of guerrilla warfare) for “outdated views of the Wehrmacht on the methods of the so-called civil warfare.”28 The Wehrmacht’s morale was undermined, but as already noted, the resistance of the German troops was stubborn until the very surrender.
On the “Noble” Wehrmacht Being Unrelated to Nazi Crimes
At the Nuremberg Trials, numerous documents were provided on crimes committed by the German occupation regime against Soviet prisoners of war and civilians in the captured territories of the U.S.S.R. During and after the process German generals, their advocates and apologists tried and are trying to prove that all atrocities in the occupied territories were committed by specially created units of the SS troops, the Gestapo, and other Nazi organizations. Army units and formations of the Wehrmacht are presented as military units fighting only on the battlefields.
Domestic fans of the Wehrmacht actively support and develop this version.
V. Beshanov writes that “German soldiers showed heroism, were devoted to duty, and were loyal to their oath … they had an idea of honor of a soldier.”29 In one of the 60 Minutes TV programs, Grigory Amnuel, a film director and journalist, called to distinguish the Wehrmacht from the criminal forces of the SS and claimed that the soldiers and officers of the Wehrmacht accomplished feats.
In fact, the soldiers of the Wehrmacht were not innocent participants in the war. Their stay in the occupied territories of the U.S.S.R. was accompanied by many crimes and atrocities against civilians and prisoners of war, * which can be classified into four groups.
* Crimes of the Wehrmacht on Soviet soil were recorded by the Extraordinary State Commission on the detection and investigation of the atrocities of the Nazi invaders and their accomplices causing damage to citizens, collective farms, public organizations, state enterprises, and institutions of the U.S.S.R. The documents of the Commission have been published in numerous collections. For example, in 1945, a collection of writings, The Atrocities of the Nazi Invaders in the Stalingrad Region. Documents was published in Stalingrad (under general editorship of A.S. Chuyanov, Chairman of the Stalingrad Regional Commission for Assistance to the Extraordinary State Commission).
Cruelty of German troops to Soviet prisoners of war. The verdict of the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal stated that the treatment of Soviet prisoners of war was characterized by special inhumanity. The death of many of them was the result of a systematic plan of killings.30
During the Great patriotic War, up to 4.5 million Soviet servicemen (including the draftees captured by the Germans before their arrival to the troops) were taken prisoner by the Nazi, of which at least 1.5 million died.
During the war, the Red Army captured 3.7-3.8 million German soldiers, of whom about 0.5 million died. These figures indicate that the Soviet prisoners of war died threefold times more than the German ones. Various methods were used to kill prisoners of war, but, as noted at the Nuremberg Trials, the most common means of mass destruction of Soviet prisoners of war was hunger. The so-called rations were remarkably poor. For example, in Ukrainian prisoner camps, the daily norm was 100 g of millet and half a liter of water.31
In September 1942, the Germans established the Dulag-205 concentration camp for 1,200 prisoners of war in the village of Alekseyevka near Stalingrad.32 Within a few months, more than 5000 Soviet prisoners of war passed through a terrible ordeal of this camp. The mortality rate from bullying, hunger, and cold was between 50 and 60 per day. A total of about 4,500 prisoners of war were tortured to death, with only a few hundred surviving.33
Wehrmacht units played an active role in the destruction of Soviet prisoners of war. Recall that Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya was hanged not by the SS, but by soldiers of the 332nd Infantry Regiment of the 197th Infantry Division of the Wehrmacht. The British journalist Alexander Werth describes his impressions of the fate of Soviet prisoners of war:34 “The German attitude to the Russians was based on a common ‘philosophy’ about ‘subhuman beings’. This philosophy is illustrated by Field Marshal von Reichenau’s instructions on the behavior of the German army in the Soviet Union in 1941 or by Himmler’s infamous speech in Poznan when he said: ‘I’m not interested if ten thousand Russian women will die or not from exhaustion when creating an antitank ditch. The only fact that matters to me is whether antitank ditches will be ready for Germany….’ There were issued special orders, such as the order instructing the troops not to treat the Red Army Commissars (and in fact everyone who was recognized as a communist, a Jew, or a suspicious person at all) as prisoners of war, but simply to shoot them … there is no evidence that the Wehrmacht Command did anything to oppose the policy of destroying prisoners of war…. Moreover, some of these ‘chivalrous reared’ German generals were deliberately starving prisoners of war to death. At the Nuremberg Trials an order of Field Marshal von Manstein (Commander of Army Group South in the Battle of Kursk – Authors note.) was given to the public. Originally, it was issued at the beginning of the Russian campaign and stated the following: ‘The Jewish-Bolshevik system must be destroyed…. The food situation in the country requires the troops to feed on local resources…. Guided by a false sense of humanity, they should not give anything to prisoners of war or the population, unless they are in the service of the German Wehrmacht….” Although Manstein finally had to admit at the Nuremberg Trials that he had signed the order, he began by saying that he had “completely forgotten about it.” There is no doubt that he and his friends, the generals, had “completely forgotten” many other circumstances, including the facts of the army’s frequent and very close cooperation with Einsatz groups and other professional assassins. *
* A large number of examples of close “cooperation” of the Wehrmacht with the SS, the Gestapo, and other Nazi organizations in the destruction of Soviet prisoners of war and civilians are given in the books of German historians Norbert Müller The Wehrmacht and the Occupation. (1941–1944) and Christian Schreit They are not comrades to us.
Brutal attitude of German troops toward civilians in temporarily occupied areas. The Nazi aggression took the lives of more than 15 million civilians of our country. The Nuremberg sentences of the Nazi criminals say that massacres and atrocities were committed in the East not only for the purpose of suppressing the opposition and resistance to the German occupation troops. In Poland and the Soviet Union, such crimes were part of a plan to break away from the entire local population by expelling and exterminating them in order to colonize the liberated territory by the Germans.35
The Nazis used various methods of extermination of civilians: mass shooting, hanging, gas poisoning, killing hostages, bringing to death through hard work and starvation.
Here are some examples of the atrocities of the German occupiers on Soviet soil, given in the documents of the Nuremberg Trials. Near the village of Kholmets (Sychevsky district, Smolensk Region), German soldiers forced the local residents to clear the road from mines on the order of General Fisler, Commander of the 101st German Infantry Division. As a result of the explosion of mines, all residents were killed. At the Teberda resort, the Germans exterminated 500 children suffering from bone tuberculosis who were treated in a sanatorium. In Crimea, civilians were submerged on barges, taken to the sea, and sunk. In this way, more than 144,000 people were killed.36
The fact cited in the materials of the Nuremberg Trials is indicative. The American prosecutor Jackson asked the Commander of the Anti-Guerrilla Forces Brigadenführer SS Bach-Zelewski: “On what grounds were the people killed? What was the excuse?” The SS General replied: “What does this have to do with an excuse? We had a mission to destroy at least 30 million Slavs. We weren’t looking for any excuse, we were doing the planned work.”37
Deportation of non-combatants to slave labor in Germany. In order to meet the labor needs of the German economy at the expense of the enslaved peoples, the Office of the General Plenipotentiary for Labor Deployment was established in Germany in 1942, headed by SS Obergruppenführer Friedrich Ernst Christoph Sauckel. As a result of his intensive work, the use of slave labor in German industry took on enormous proportions. And Wehrmacht troops were involved in forced recruitment in the occupied countries. Such “activity” of the German troops was described by the German historian Norbert Müller: “…the activities of the German military governing bodies refute the claim that the Wehrmacht was not directly involved in the program of forced recruitment of workers and was not responsible for it….”38
The Nazi aggression took the lives of more than 15 million civilians of our country. The Nuremberg sentences of the Nazi criminals say that massacres and atrocities were committed in the East not only for the purpose of suppressing the opposition and resistance to the German occupation troops. In Poland and the Soviet Union, such crimes were part of a plan to break the entire local population by expelling and exterminating them in order to colonize the liberated territory by the Germans.
In total, according to Alexander Werth, “almost three million Russians, Belarusians, and especially many Ukrainians were taken to Germany for use as black labor. They were treated much worse than citizens of other countries, who were in Germany on forced labor….”39
The “scorched-earth” policy of German troops when retiring from the occupied territories. Norbert Müller writes: “…the systematic devastation of the Soviet territory … the policy of “scorched earth”, carried out in the Soviet territory, is nothing but a carefully designed system of measures, which, being planned at various stages, were to ensure the complete robbery and destruction of the entire economy of the occupied regions of the U.S.S.R.40 …In subsequent confessions of Nazi warlords attempts are made to cover up the last fact with various fabrications and lies. Thus, Manstein and his former chief of staff Busse claim that the policy of ‘scorched land’ was carried out only in a narrow strip on the eastern bank of the Dnieper and was limited only to the most important economic objects that were there. In reality, back in January 1943, that is, when retreating from the bend of the Don, the headquarters of Army Group Don, commanded by Manstein ordered the Task Force led by Hollidt (which later became the new 6th Army) to prepare the complete destruction of all economic buildings and immediately push all the cattle deeper into the rear….”41
On Superiority of German Military Thought and Practice of Command and Control
According to the American historian Trevor Dupuis: “… despite the fact that the German armies lost the war, in its course they showed such military virtuosity, which was never surpassed and left the Russians far behind in terms of military art on the battlefield.”42
Our “armchair experts” also believe that the military art of German generals was unsurpassed. Thus, B. Sokolov notes “the undoubted German superiority in the field of military art.”43 V. Beshanov writes with admiration about German commanders: “Manstein created a strategic miracle,” “no doubt, the German tank commanders acted more effectively than the Soviet,” “German commanders have demonstrated an undeniable tactical superiority.”44
In fact, already in the Battle of Moscow there were major shortcomings in the planning and conduct of operations by the Wehrmacht leadership. For a number of reasons Hitler, as Supreme Commander-in-Chief, and the Wehrmacht Command as a whole, overestimated the operational capabilities and combat efficiency of the troops that attacked Moscow.
The Wehrmacht’s Supreme Command, guided by the 10-day reports of losses, believed that the losses of Army Group Center were insignificant, and its force performance remained high. In reality, the losses were much greater, and by the end of November 1941 the Group had no strength not only to attack, but also to successfully defend.
The American prosecutor Jackson asked the Commander of the Antiguerrilla Forces Brigadenführer SS Bach-Zelewski: “On what grounds were the people killed? What was the excuse?” The SS General replied: “What does this have to do with an excuse? We had a mission to destroy at least 30 million Slavs. We weren’t looking for any excuse, we were doing the planned work.”
The Wehrmacht leadership mistakenly considered that the Soviet armies were practically destroyed near Vyazma and Bryansk and the remaining forces could not put up serious resistance, and therefore, Army Group Center will capture Moscow even with the reduced fighting capabilities. The Wehrmacht Command had a completely wrong idea about the real state of the Soviet troops and continued to live under the illusion that Germans were invincible. Hitler demanded to name the date when it would be possible to officially announce the complete closure of the ring around Moscow and the destruction of the Soviet troops. In this regard, the Wehrmacht’s Land Forces Commander, Field Marshal General Walter von Brauchitsch said on November 30, 1941, when hearing the Army Group Center Commander: “Führer is convinced that the Russians are on the verge of total collapse. He wants to hear specific words from you, Field Marshal von Bock, when this collapse becomes a reality.”45
Colonel General Franz Galder, Chief of the Land Forces General Staff, wrote in his diary on December 2, 1941: “The resistance of the enemy has reached its climax. He no longer has any new forces at his disposal.”46
Three days before the beginning of the Red Army counteroffensive, it was concluded in the intelligence assessment of the Department for the Study of Foreign Armies in the East, concerning the situation in the area of responsibility of Army Group Center: “The withdrawal (of the enemy) forces from the front of the defense and their use in especially threatened areas once again confirm the assumption that the Russian Command currently has no reserves and, therefore, tries, introducing all available forces into battle, to suspend the German offensive….” The day before the beginning of the counteroffensive, the department confirmed the conclusion made earlier: “In general, the enemy’s combat capability is not so great that it would be possible to launch a major offensive without significant reinforcements….”47
In his memoirs, Colonel General Heinz Guderian, the Commander of the 2nd German panzer Army, sized up the activities of the Wehrmacht Command in the Battle of Moscow as follows: “The attack on Moscow failed. All the sacrifices and efforts of our valiant troops were in vain. We suffered a serious defeat, which led to fatal consequences in the next few weeks due to the stubbornness of the Supreme Command. Being in East Prussia, far from the front, the Land Forces’ Supreme Command had no idea about the real situation of its troops in winter conditions, although it received numerous reports about it….”48
It should be noted that in November 1941, both the High Command of the Army and the Command of Army Group Center accepted the Wehrmacht Supreme Command adventurous stance. On November 12, a meeting was held in Orsha at the headquarters of the Army Group Center Commander Field Marshal General, Fedor von Bock with the participation of the Commander-in-Chief of the German Land Forces, Field Marshal General Walter von Brauchitsch, the Chief of the Land Forces General Staff Colonel General, Franz Galder, Chiefs of Staff of the Army Groups, and other senior German officers. At the meeting, the representatives of the Land Forces General Staff and the headquarters of Army Group Center insisted on the completion of Operation Typhoon, the purpose of which was to seize Moscow.
Thus, in assessing the combat capabilities of German troops in the Battle of Moscow, the leaders at all levels of the army hierarchy (the Command of the Wehrmacht, the Command of the Land Forces, and the Command of Army Group Center) were mistaken. The former Chief of the Land Forces General Staff Organization Department, Major General Burkhart Müller-Hillebrand wrote: “The failure (!!!) of the summer campaign of 1941 against the Soviet Union should have led to the recognition that only the full mobilization of all material assets and manpower could achieve decisive success against the Soviet Union…. However, by that time this was not understood by the German side. Instead, the Command denied the troops the necessary assets. They were given unfulfilled tasks….”49
For the failure of the attack on Moscow, Hitler discharged the Wehrmacht Land Forces Commander Field Marshal General Walter von Brauchitsch and dismissed other 35 German generals. *
* On December 17, 1941, the Commander of Army Group Center Field Marshal General Fedor von Bock reported himself sick and was placed on long-term leave. On December 23, 1941, the Commander of the 27th Army Corps, Infantry General Alfred Wagner was removed from his post. On January 1, 1942, the Commander of the 2nd panzer Army, Colonel General Heinz Guderian was sent to the reserve of the Wehrmacht Land Forces General Command. On January 15, 1942, the Commander of the 9th German Army Colonel General Adolf Strauss had to retire. On January 20, 1942, the Commander of the 4th Army General of Mountain Forces Ludwig Kübler was enlisted in the reserve, and on January 8, 1942, the Commander of the 4th Tank Army Colonel General Erich Hepner was stripped of his rank and dismissed from the army without the right to wear the uniform. In total, from December 1941 to January 1942, Hitler replaced the commanders of three Land Forces armies and of two tank armies, almost all the commanders of the corps of the 4th, 9th Land Forces armies and of the 2nd Tank Army, and also replaced the chiefs of staff of the 4th and 9th Land Forces and of the 2nd and 4th Tank Armies.
In the Battle of Stalingrad, Hitler, as Supreme Commander, and the Wehrmacht Command, once again overestimated the combat capabilities and operational efficiency of the troops, mistaken in the belief that the losses of German troops were insignificant and their fighting capabilities remained high, and that the Red Army had suffered such heavy losses that it was unable to make any serious resistance.
Major General Burkhart Müller Hillebrand stated: “In the summer of 1942, it might have been enough to organize and conscript previously not conscripted soldiers without much difficulty. However, the leadership did not want to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation, moreover, it would have been contrary to the public information and the vociferous victorious propaganda of the time….”50
B. Sokolov assesses the outcome of the Battle of Kursk as a failure for the Red Army Command: “German superiority in the art of war was unconditional. Soviet troops, despite their two-or threefold superiority in men and arms, almost obeyed the will of the enemy and had to attack in those sectors of the front, where the Germans had the easiest to hold defense, based on the disposition of their forces…. The mode of action chosen by the German Supreme Command, was the most optimal in the existing conditions. The Wehrmacht won the Battle of Kursk tactically and to some extent operationally….”51
Actually, in the field of military art, everything was on the contrary: not German, but Soviet armies dictated conditions of conducting combat operations in the Battle of Kursk. The Germans convulsively swung their mobile forces from one direction to another in order to somehow stabilize the situation. The SS Totenkopf motorized division changed its subordination five times within one month. It fought with both the 4th Tank Army, and the Kempf operational group, and with the 6th Army, and it was also in the reserve of the Army Group South for some time.52
The American historian Dennis Showalter assessed the level of military art of the commanders opposing on the northern facade of the Kursk Bulge as follows: “The commander’s best friend is an agreeable enemy. This is not the one who makes mistakes, but the one who acts as if the enemy gave orders to him. Rokossovsky found or, rather, his soldiers created exactly such a kind enemy in Walter Mordell.”53
In the Battle of Kursk, the German Command made a number of grave mistakes. D. Showalter reasonably writes that “a long list of mistakes made by the Germans can be divided into two groups and labeled as ‘underestimation’ and ‘overestimation’”54
The errors of the German Command have been analyzed in detail by the American military historian Stephen Newton. Thus, he wrote about the battles of July 5, 1943: “The 19th Tank Division of Lieutenant-General Gustav Schmidt had a somewhat greater success.
Breit (General of Tank Forces Hermann Breit, the Commander of the 3rd German Tank Corps, which included the 19th Tank Division. – Authors’ note) and Schmidt pinned their hopes on 14 Tiger tanks which were to lead the attack of the 429th Regiment Group and the 74th Grenadier Regiment. Unfortunately, the 168th Infantry Division regiment commander and the 19th Tank Division headquarters were unable to establish a telephone connection between themselves. Captain Klement von Kaganek, the Commander of the 503rd Tiger Tank Battalion, reported that ‘there was not a single map of minefields deployed by German units on the approaches to the crossing site. There were two conflicting maps, but they were also inaccurate.” Kaganek’s company lost nine tanks on mines, and seven of them were blown up by land mines laid by Germans themselves! * By night, only one Tiger tank out of 14 ones that had been put into battle to support the 19th Tank Division’s offensive, was left intact. “The loss of the entire Tiger Tank Company, that was the main core of the attacking division, – Bright said two weeks later, – determined the further course of the battle….”55 Near Kursk, the Soviet armies had built up the defense in depth, and the Soviet reconnaissance had deprived the German armies of the effect of surprise…. The Soviet Command at all levels conducted a war tactically competently, that allowed to use the numerical superiority both in manpower and in heavy hardware to the full extent. However, none of these reasons should distract from the fact that the German Command itself tactically ensured the defeat of its troops.”56
* This example is an excellent negative illustration of the assertion of Vladimir Beshanov: “In 1943, no one knew how to interact better than Wehrmacht officers….”
On summarizing the activities of the German Command and Headquarters in the Battle of Kursk, S. Newton concludes: “At present, many archival evidence question the semi-mythical image of the superiority of the German operational-tactical thought … the operational-tactical errors made by the commanders (German – Authors’ note) at all levels, from division to army, and their staff officers, explain in many respects why the war ended in the capture of Berlin and not Moscow….”.57
General of the Land Forces Kurt von Tippelskirch wrote the following about the gross mistakes of the Wehrmacht High Command in 1944-1945: “…the realization of the Russian plans (in the summer of 1944 – Authors’ note) was promoted by the fact that the German Command proceeded from the biased opinion that the main blow of the enemy would be aimed at Army Group Northern Ukraine in order to throw it to the Carpathians and break the whole Eastern Front. The Command didn’t refuse this biased opinion even when in the middle of June there were obvious signs of deployment of large enemy forces in the section of Army Group Center. It was already impossible to correct this mistake in the assessment of the enemy forces… after the losses incurred in the summer and fall campaign of 1944… the prerequisites for the successful conduct of even defensive actions did not remain at all with the German army. In the last nine months before the surrender, many operational mistakes had been made, resulting in a lot of extra blood being spilled. …The German army’s operations were ultimately devoid of any reasonable force….”58
The articles published in the Facts vs. Lies section consider the most common speculations and myths that distort the real picture of confrontation between the Red Army and the Wehrmacht. It should be said that the authors of speculations and myths are trying to convince readers of the truth of their thoughts. They claim that their books are designed to conduct “objective research into the history of 1939-1945” (B. Sokolov),59 give a “final diagnosis” of the actions of the Red Army at the beginning of the war (M. Solonin),60 “tell the truth about the life of the peoples of Russia in the twentieth century” (A. Zubov),61 “undoubtedly prove” the low level of professional training of Soviet generals and officers (V. Beshanov).62
In our opinion, these statements are tricks designed to hide the true goals of falsifications, frauds, and forgeries: discrediting the combat strength and grandeur of the Red Army, as well as diminishing its role in the liberation of European states from the brown plague of the 20th century – German fascism, in achieving the Great Victory, the 75th anniversary of which the whole world celebrated in May 2020.
The slanderous fabrications of falsifiers of the Great Victory represent the spiritual poison dangerous for moral health of the population of the country. The pernicious consequences of such poison are clearly visible in Ukraine. Many years of work of Ukrainian Nazis to erase the historical memory of the population have caused a catastrophic destruction of morality of the Ukrainian society, increase in radical nationalism and revival of Nazism. It led to bloody civil war, barbarization and brutality of a significant part of the people. Under the reign of the Bandera adherents, Ukraine is rapidly sinking into barbarism. The main instrument of reformatting the memory, especially of the young population, is the vilification of the Soviet period in the country’s history, including the Great patriotic War. It is such vilification that allows the ideas of Bandera to take root in Ukraine, to create a situation where those that destroyed their own people for many years, carried out genocide against Jews and poles are being lauded to the skies as “ideological fighters” for national independence, to introduce the traitors Ivan Mazepa, Stepan Bandera, and Roman Shukhevich as heroes. Monuments and memorials to Soviet soldiers-liberators are being destroyed all over Ukraine, other acts of vandalism and forgetfulness are multiplying.
In Russia, too, a fire of desovietization is periodically burning, and there are many people who want to burn the memory of heroism of the people in the Great patriotic War in this fire. Falsifiers of the history of the Great Patriotic War continue to insistently throw mud at the Great Victory. * Attempts to justify collaborationism continue without ceasing. The former Moscow mayor Gavriil Popov and the priest (!) Georgy Mitrofanov are trying to make a hero out of the traitor Andrey Vlasov. And Kirill Aleksandrov, a liberal historian, even managed to defend his doctoral thesis in 2016, which positively evaluated the activities of the Vlasovites. (The Higher Attestation Commission gave a negative assessment of the thesis, and the decision to award the degree was canceled in July 2017.) Sociological surveys record the poor level of knowledge about the Great Patriotic War among a significant number of schoolchildren and students. Now and then there are reports of the desecration of monuments to war participants in various regions of the country.
Over the past three years, a number of books that denigrate and belittle the heroism of the people in the Great Patriotic War have been published by Solonin (11 books, six of them in 2019), by B. Sokolov (8 books), and by Beshanov (5 books). In addition, V. Rezun, A. Zubov, and other haters of the Great Victory published their books in this period.
All this suggests that there are influential forces in the country that hate the Great Victory and are interested in distorting the history of the Great patriotic War, actively supporting falsifiers and providing them with all-round assistance. Counteraction to these forces should be adequate. In our opinion, in the context of an increasingly aggravating tough information war being waged against Russia by the collective West (including its persistent attempts to revise the results of World War II and downplay the role of the Soviet Union in defeating Hitler Germany), it is no longer possible to counter falsifiers with the efforts of only public organizations and individual enthusiasts. We need a nationwide program with a significant administrative resource and sufficient funding to ensure that the fight against falsifications of the Great patriotic War history assumes an active, offensive character.
There are influential forces in the country that hate the Great Victory and are interested in distorting the history of the Great Patriotic War.
Only joint efforts by the state, public organizations and movements, mass media can curb falsifiers, put a reliable barrier in the country to distribution of a lie about our centuries-old history, to keep and strengthen a sense of pride in the Great Victory of 1945, which is proper to the peoples of Russia and which “is one of the major integrating factors of modern Russian nation,” as noted by the 18th Russian people’s Oecumenical Council.
1. Gareyev, M.A., Bor’ba s fal’sifikatsiyey istoriyi Velikoy Otechestvennoy voyny – vazhneyshaya zadacha patrioticheskogo vospitaniya [The fight against falsification of the history of the Great Patriotic War is the most important task of patriotic education], Materialy Mezhdunarodnoy nauchno-prakticheskoy konferentsiyi veteranskikh organizatsiy SNG [Materials of the International Scientific and Practical Conference of CIS Veteran Organizations], Moscow, 2014, p. 7.
2 Manstein, E., Uteryanniye pobedy [Lost Victories], Algoritm Publishers, Moscow, 2014,
3.Tippelskirkch, K., Istoriya Vtoroy mirovoy voyny [History of the Second World War], Poligon, AST publishers, Spb., Moscow, 1999, p. 282.
4. Pron’ko, V.A., Srazheniya istorikov na frontakh vtoroy mirovoy i Velikoy Otechestvennoy voyn [Battles of historians on the fronts of World War II and the Great Patriotic War], Dashkov i Ko Publishing and Trading Corporation Moscow, 2016, p. 411.
5. Beshanov, V.V., God 1943 – “perelomniy” [1943 – The “Watershed” Year], Yauza publishers, Eksmo publishers, Moscow, 2008, 510 pp.
6. Sokolov, B.V., Tsena pobedy i mify Velikoy Otechestvennoy [The price of Victory and Myths of the Great Patriotic War], Velikaya voyna: trudniy put k pravde. Interv yu, vospominaniya, statyi. Seriya “AIRO – nauchniye doklady i diskussiyi. Temy dlya XX veka [The great war: the hard way to the truth. Interviews, memoirs, articles. Series “AIRO – scientific reports and discussions. Topics for the 20th century”], # 17, AIRO-XX, Moscow, 2005, p. 9.
7. Myagkov, M.Yu., Vermakht u vorot Moskvy, 1941-1042 [Wehrmacht at the Gates of Moscow, 1941-1942], OLMA-PRESS, Zvezdniy mir publishers, Moscow, 2005, p. 221.
8. Ibid., p. 228.
9. Kershaw, R., 1941 god glazami nemtsev. Beryozoviye kresty vmesto zheleznykh [1941 through the eyes of the Germans. Birch bark crosses instead of iron ones], Yauza-press publishers, Moscow, 2009, p. 530.
10. Razgrom nemtsev pod Moskvoy. Priznaniye vraga [The defeat of the Germans near Moscow. Confessions by the Enemy], Patriot publishers, Moscow, 2011, 143 pp.
11. Myagkov, M.Yu., Op. cit., p. 236.
12. Carell Paul, Vostochniy front. Kniga pervaya. Gitler idyot na Vostok. 1941-1943 [Eastern Front. Book One. Hitler goes to the East. 1941-1943], Izografus, Eksmo publishers, Moscow, 2003, pp. 273-274.
13. Myagkov, M.Yu., Op. cit., p. 204.
14. Ibid., p. 203.
15. Ibid., p. 235.
16. Ibid., p. 234.
17. Otkroveniya i priznaniya. Natsistskaya verkhushka o voyne “Tretyego Reikha protiv S.S.S.R. Sekretniye rechi. Dnevniki. Vospominaniya [Revelations and confessions. Nazi top about the war of the Third Reich against the U.S.S.R. Secret speeches. Diaries. Memories], Rusich publishers, Smolensk, 2000, pp. 372-374.
18. Zamulin, V.N., Severnaya udarnaya gruppirovka vermakhta pod Kurskom nakanune Operatsiyi “Tsitadel” [Northern strike group of Wehrmacht near Kursk on the eve of Operation Citadel], Novaya i noveyshaya istoriya, # 3, 2015, p. 68.
19. Nyuton Stiven X., Kurskaya bitva: nemetskiy vzglyad [The Battle of Kursk: German View], Yauza, Eksmo publishers, Moscow, 2006, p. 538.
20. Mellenthin, F., Tankoviye srazheniya 1939-1945 gg. Boyevoye primeneniye tankov vo Vtoroy mirovoy voyne [Tank Battles of 1939-1945. Battlefield application of tanks in World War II], Voyenizdat publishers, Moscow, 1957, p. 202.
21. Zamulin, V.N., Ibid., p. 70.
22. Rass, K., Chelovecheskiy material. Nemetskiye soldaty na Vostochnom fronte [Human material. German soldiers on the Eastern Front], Veche publishers, Moscow, 2013, p. 164.
23. Ibid., p. 175.
24. Ibid., p. 171.
25. Ibid., p. 172.
26. Drabkin, A.V., Okopnaya pravda vermakhta. Voyna glazami protivnika [The foxhole truth of the Wehrmacht. War through the eyes of the enemy], Yauza-press publishers, Moscow, 2014,
27. Simke, E., Ot Stalingrada do Berlina. Operatsiyi sovetskikh voysk i vermakhta. 1942-1945 [From Stalingrad to Berlin. The operations of the Soviet troops and the Wehrmacht. 19421945], ZAO Tsetrpoligraf, Moscow, 2010, p. 583.
28. Itogi Vtoroy mirovoy voyny: sb. statey / per. s nem. [The Results of World War II: a collection of articles / Translated from the German], Moscow, Foreign Literature publishing House, 1957, p. 66.
29. Beshanov, V.V., Ibid., 512 pp.
30. Nyurnbergskiy protsess: sbornik materialov, T. 2 [Nuremberg Trials: Compendium, Vol. 2], State Publishing House of Juridical Literature, Moscow, 1954, p. 998.
31. Idem., p. 935.
32. CAFSS RF, Folio 14, List 5, File 1, Sheets 228-235.
33. Chuyanov, A.S., Krovaviye zlodeyaniya gitlerovtsev v sele Alekseyevka Stalingradskoy oblasti [The Nazi bloody crimes in the village of Alekseyevka in the Stalingrad Region], Pravda, # 73, March 17, 1943.
34. Werth, Alexander, Rossiya v voyne 1941-1945 g. [Russia in the war 1941-1945], progress publishers, Moscow, 1967, pp. 505-511.
35. Nyurnbergskiy protsess: sbornik materialov, T. 2 [Nuremberg Trials: Compendium, Vol. 2],
36. Ibid., Vol. 1, pp. 54-55.
37. Ognev, A., Yedinstvo sovetskogo naroda [The Unity of the Soviet people], Pravda, # 31, 2012.
38. Müller, N., Vermakht i okkupatsiya (1941-1944) [Wehrmacht and the occupation (19411944)], Voyenizdat publishers, Moscow, 1974, p. 224.
39. Werth, Alexander, Ibid., p. 505.
40. Müller, N., Ibid., p. 301.
41. Ibid., p. 307.
42. Pron’ko, V.A., Srazheniya istorikov na frontakh Vtoroy mirovoy i Velikoy Otechestvennoy voyn [Battles of historians on the fronts of World War II and the Great patriotic War], Dashkov i Ko publishing and Trading Corporation Moscow, 2016, p. 412.
43. Sokolov, B.V., Tayny Vtoroy mirovoy [Secrets of World War II], Veche publishers, Moscow, 2000, p. 190.
44. Beshanov, V.V., God 1943 – perelomniy [1943 – The “Watershed” Year].
45. Turney, Alfred, Krakh pod Moskvoy. General-feldmarshal fon Bok i gruppa armiy Tsentr. 1941-1942 [The Crash near Moscow. Field Marshal General von Bock and the Army Group Center, 1941–1942], ZAO Tsentrpoligraf, Moscow, 2015, p. 147.
46. Galder, F., Voyenniy dnevnik (iyun 1941 – sentyabr 1942) [War Diary (June 1941 – September 1942)], Astrel’ publishers, Moscow, 2012, p. 485.
47. Myagkov, M.Yu., Bitva pod Moskvoy v dokumentakh Gruppy Armiy Tsentr [The Battle of Moscow in the documents of Army Group Center], Vtoraya mirovaya voyna: aktualniye problemy [World War II: Topical problems], Moscow, 1995, p. 261.
48. Guderian, G., Vospominaniya soldata [Memoirs of a Soldier], Rusich publishers, 2001, Smolensk, p. 351.
49. Müller-Hillebrand, B., Sukhoputnaya armiya Germaniyi. 1933-1945 gg. / per. s nem.[The German Land Forces. 1933-1945 / Translated from the German], Voyenizdat publishers, Moscow, 1976, T. 3, Voyna na dva fronta [War on Two Fronts], p. 58-59.
50. Ibid., p. 64.
51. Sokolov, B.V., Tayny Vtoroy mirovoy, p. 190.
52. Sbornik materialov po sostavu, gruppirovke i peregruppirovke sukhoputnykh voysk fashistskoy Germaniyi i voysk yeyo byvshikh satellitov na sovetsko-germanskom fronte za period 1941-1945 gg. Vyp. 5 [A Collection of Materials on the composition, grouping, and regrouping of the Land Forces of fascist Germany and the troops of its former satellites on the Soviet-German front for the period 1941-1945. Issue 5], VNU GSh, Moscow,1958, pp. 100-102, 120-121.
53. Showalter, Dennis, Bronya i krov’ . Bitva na Kurskoy Duge [Armor and Blood. The Battle of Kursk], AST publishers, Moscow, 2013, p. 174.
54. Ibid., p. 8
55. Nyuton, Stiven X., Op. cit., p. 504-505.
56. Ibid., p. 508.
57. Ibid., p. 512.
58. Tippelskirch, K., Operativniye resheniya komandovaniya v kriticheskiye momenty na osnovnykh sukhoputnykh teatrakh Vtoroy mirovoy voyny [Operational decisions of the command at critical moments in the main land theaters of the Second World War], Foreign Literature Publishing House, Moscow, 1957, pp. 86-88.
59. Sokolov, B.V., Pravda i mify Vtoroy mirovoy, Veche publishers, Moscow, 2018, p. 4.
60. Solonin, M.S., Iyun 1941 g. Okonchatel’niy diagnoz [June 1941. Final diagnosis], Yauza, Eksmo publishers, Moscow, 2013, p. 4.
61. Istoriya Rossiyi. XX vek: 1939-2007 [The 20th Century: 1939-2007], Astrel’, AST publishers, Moscow, 2010, p. 2.
62. Beshanov, V.V., Kadry reshayut vsyo!: Surovaya pravda o Krasnoy Armiyi [Human resources is key: the harsh truth about the Red Army], Eksmo publishers, Moscow, 2017, p. 2.
Translated by Valery Samoshkin