Since the early eighteenth century, Russia has been a major power in Europe, but its influence on a global scale has consequently made Russia a matter of desire for power hungry oppressors. However, history has shown that Russia possesses certain traits that have acted as a deterrent to invading forces.
Most notably, Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812 and its association with Hitler’s failed Operation Barbarossa are prime examples; their failures were caused by a number of factors such as; faulty logistics, Russian weather and geography, which led to the overall downfall of their invasions.The word logistics originated from the Greek word logistikos; meaning “skilled at calculating”. In military terms it can be defined as the supply, movement and maintenance of an armed force.
The importance of military logistics can be verified through both Napoleon and Hitler’s failed invasions of Russia. Napoleon and Hitler took advantage of the summer by commencing their invasions in June. Like previous operations in central Europe, Napoleon acquired a method to supply his massive Grand Army; by foraging the farms to feed his troops.This method worked very well as the sluggish supply lines often slowed down mass marches which gave the enemy ample time to assemble a counter-attack or mount a defence. Napoleon’s method of foraging provided a rapid and swift concentration of troops, allowing him to commit a decisive blow to the enemy. Central Europe also provided a stable network of roads that could be used in conjunction with his foraging tactic for maximum speed.Hitler’s tactics were quite the same; the blitzkrieg was used to great effect throughout central Europe.
A turn of the 20th century obviously introduced new technology which hadn’t existed in Napoleon’s time; but the underlying idea of their tactics were very much the same, as they were centred around massive troop concentration alongside speed and mobility. However, unlike central Europe, Russian terrain and agriculture was very different. Their roads were in a terrible state of denial.Almost no paved roads existed. For Hitler’s armoured divisions, dust plagued their machinery.
A young German, Lt August Von-Kaganek describes how the dust infected their armoured divisions “We advance in our armoured cars and the dust envelops us, were in Russia, where roads and asphalt don’t exist”. During the autumn rains, the dirt roads turned into thick mires which further slowed down Hitler’s armoured divisions; Von-Kaganek again describes how the mud was a significant nforseen factor, delaying the invasion “we suddenly had to deal with the most frightful adversary, endless mud, so gluey and sticky that it sucks and holds onto everything” these unforseen factors had further delayed the advancement and contributed to the overall failure of the invasion. For Napoleon, his consequences were much graver. A lack of food and water and the poor Russian agriculture exposed his troops to diseases which often led to death.French General Count Philip De Segur describes “The infection of the air by the putrid carcasses of men and horses that screwed the roads, sprang two dreadful epidemics, the dysentery and typhus” the diseases that developed throughout the campaign as a result of decomposing bodies had significantly diminished Napoleon’s army, thus contributing to the overall failure if his invasion. Napoleon and Hitler had also miscalculated Russian counter to the invasion.Czar Alexander I deliberately retreated, luring Napoleon deeper and deeper into Russian territory; whilst at the same time, implementing a scorched earth policy which was essentially aimed at destroying anything that would benefit the enemy.
Thus, as Napoleon pursued the retreating Russians, his troops were left with almost nothing to forage, further diminishing his troops. This was the same in 1941, as the Russians were being pushed back by the Germans.Joseph Stalin also imposed his scorched earth policy, ordering to leave not “a single railway carriage, single wagon, a single pound of grain for the enemy”. Although these mistakes and miscalculations were wrought upon by the generals who implemented them, it was the unfamiliarity of Russia and its difference to central Europe in which Hitler and Napoleon’s troops weren’t suited to. For over five hundred years, Russia has covered more than a ninth of the Earth’s land area.The vastness of Russia had played a major role in both Napoleon and Hitler’s failed invasions of Russia. In 1963, an economist by the name, Kenneth Boulding published a book titled Conflict and Defense: A General Theory. It was essentially the strategies and tactics behind warfare.
Within this book, Boulding devised a theory called Loss of Strength Gradient (LSG). Kenneth argued that “the amount of a nation’s military power that could be brought to bear in any part of the world depended on geographic distance”.Military- wise, this essentially meant that the further away the enemy target, the less strength could be applied. This is important to consider as the distance to Moscow which Napoleon and Hitler faced was enormous. Hitler’s divisions would often march for hundreds and hundreds of kilometres without a single village in sight. This makes it increasingly difficult for the supply, ammunitions and fuel to keep up with the front lines because the distance stretched them out; this situation was very much the same for Napoleon.His heavy supply wagons would struggle to keep up for they couldn’t cope with the massive distances. The vastness of Russia also took its toll on the morale of Napoleon and Hitler’s men.
An extract from Count Philip Comte Segur depicts the fatigue Napoleon’s soldiers endured through the long march to Moscow, he says; “By what an extraordinary distance, then, must they be separated from France, since they had already reached unknown regions, where everything presented to them an aspect of gloomy novelty? ”.In 1941, once Operation Barbarossa was in full flight; the Germans soldiers from the Wehrmact had also soon realized how vast Russia is. As Colonel Hans Von Luck, German tank commander recalled in his memoirs; we were still more than 200 kilometres from Moscow, our first objective, not to mention the “major objective”, the Ural Mountains, which lay some 2000 kilometres further east. ” Another piece of evidence that demonstrates the importance of distance in military tactics is Sun Tzu’s military treatise, The Art of War.
Sun Tzu talks about how the terrain is an important factor in military affairs. He says; “if you are situated at a great distance from the enemy, and the strength of the two armies is equal, it is not easy to provoke a battle, and fighting will be to your disadvantage. ” This essentially means the defender always has an advantage when the aggressor has travelled a long distance.
This can be identified with both Hitler and Napoleon’s failed invasions of Russia. Hitler’s allies were also beginning to doubt his Russian campaign.Benito Mussolini, Hitler’s Italian ally had concluded that the failure of Hitler’s Russian campaign was due the immense size of Russia, he says “In my opinion, Russia can never be annihilated; she is defended by her very size, a territory so vast that it can be conquered or held”. It obvious that the size of Russia played a significant role in the failed invasions of Napoleon and Hitler, this can be seen through a number of supportive claims such as, Kenneth Boulding’s theory of LSG, the eye-witness accounts and Sun Tzu’s military treatise.The Russian winter, or as it’s nicknamed “General Winter” has been a successful defence mechanism for the Russians. An example of this was the defeat of Charles XII of the Swedish Empire in the early 18th century.
Napoleon and Hitler were to receive the same fate over a hundred years later. Some would argue that the weather was probably the main reason for Hitler and Napoleon’s failed invasions of Russia. For the Germans, the temperatures first dropped below zero degrees on the fourth of December 1941, the temperature hit a bone-chilling -35 degrees Celsius.Their tanks, trucks, weapons and fuel had frozen and their engines malfunctioned. Colonel Hans Von Luck describes below how the German armoured divisions were severely unsuited to the cold conditions causing their tanks and armoured divisions to breakdown, thus delaying the invasion; he says “To be unprepared for the extreme cold had disastrous effects on our tanks and wheeled vehicles.
The summer oil was too thin and the cooling water froze at once”. During the first winter, the Germans were still issued with their summer uniforms that they used during their campaigns in central Europe.This had a disastrous effect on the soldiers “It was a sight to see those half starved, insufficiently clothed men fight over a poor shelter” General Heinz Guderian describes how important even the smallest shelters were for staying alive. Russian soldiers were much better equipped to face Germany because they were accustomed to the winter conditions, their uniforms were very warm, they were provided with winter pants and jackets along with woollen overcoats. Their boots were either leather or rubber and they were issued with fur hats.Their equipment was also better maintained in the cold conditions; they used insulating blankets for their aircraft and tanks, thinner oil and better suited lubrication oils were used.
All this advantages was used to great effect, turning the Russians into a formidable force capable of defeating the Germans. General Ewald Von Kleist, commander of the German First Panzer Army describes how the winter conditions turned the Russians into a strong fight force “They became first-rate soldiers with experience.They fought most toughly, had amazing endurance, and could carry on without most of the things other armies regarded as necessities”. Napoleon was faced with a similar situation in 1812. Like Hitler, Napoleon had little experience in the freezing conditions of Russia. The cold conditions had killed the weak and exhausted ones, many soldiers deserted in search of food, water and shelter and the stragglers were picked off by the ruthless Cossacks.
In conclusion, it is obvious that faulty logistics, Russian geography and weather had each taken a devastating toll and were unquestionably the main causes of both Hitler and Napoleon’s failed invasions of Russia. Faulty logistics had accounted for many grave mistakes which were caused by the unpredictability of Russia. The enormity and vastness of Russia was also a main cause of their failed invasions; as made evident through Kenneth Boulding’s theory of LSG and Sun Tzu’s Art of War. One could state that weather, of the three main causes had the most devastating effect Hitler and Napoleon’s failed invasions of Russia.