Let’s go from the black Hitler to the real Hitler. Of course, Adolf Hitler needs no introduction in the world of dictators, as he stands above all others, except for maybe Stalin, in terms of brutality and a bad reputation. Hitler’s body count has been put in the tens of millions if you consider World War II itself, along with the concentration camps and the others who died as he rose to power in the Nation Socialist German Workers’ Party and later in the German government.
Hitler was known for his oratory skills and his fanatical hatred of the Jews, and he was full of many crazy ideas.
But what was the craziest thing Hitler did and why?
There are a lot of things that could fit this category, but from a purely objective, strategic perspective, Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, known as “Operation Barbarossa,” was the craziest thing.
It was so crazy because from Hitler and Nazi Germany’s perspective there was no need to do so. Hitler had just made peace with the USSR in the Nazi-Soviet Pact and Stalin showed no signs of wanting to attack Germany.
Sure, the two dictators were diametrically opposed politically, and their egos were bound to brush against each other sooner or later, but from 1939, when the two countries signed the pact, to 1941, when Operation Barbarossa took place, the Soviet Union was in no position to wage a protracted war against a capable enemy.
Do you remember reading about the Holodomor? That disaster effectively crippled Stalin’s Red Army?
So, if the Soviet Union posed no threat to Hitler and Germany, why did the German dictator make the crazy decision of invading? After all, surely Hitler knew about Charles XII and Napoleon, right? Well, he did know about them but his visions of an Aryan utopia were just more important. You see, Hitler hated people of Slavic background almost as much as the Jews and he saw Eastern Europe, where the Slavs live, as the location for future colonization and part of his visionary “Greater Germanic Reich.”
Hitler’s brash decision to invade the Soviet Union turned all of Europe into a battlefield and was one of the major factors in the dictator’s demise.
From Vienna to Berlin
Adolf Hitler’s early life has been examined and re-examined by countless historians and psychologists, so I’ll do you a favor and not add to the list here. Suffice to say, some of the ideas he learned in his youth shaped who he became later and played a role in his crazy decision to invade Russia.
Hitler was born in 1889 in what was known as at the time as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The part he was born in is today the German-speaking and ethnically German Austria, but back then the country was a mix of many different European nationalities.
And Hitler didn’t like it!
When he lived in Vienna as a student, he wrote that he grew to detest the Jewish and Slavic populations of the city and that he yearned to know what it was like to live in a true Germanic country.
So when World War I began in 1914, instead of fighting for his native-born Austria-Hungary, he volunteered to fight in the army of that country’s ally, Germany.
Hitler’s time in the trenches of World War I only seemed to harden his resolve to build a German utopia and the experience also apparently gave him a newfound militancy.
After the war, as is the case with many modern war veterans, Hitler had a difficult time adjusting at first, but he eventually found his place in politics with the fledgling German Workers’ Party, later to be renamed the National Socialist German Workers’ Party or the Nazi Party for short.
When Hitler and his buddies failed to take over the German state of Bavaria in a 1923 putsch, he landed in prison for just over a year.
But the year gave Hitler time to write Mein Kampf and to reflect on the direction of his party. He rebranded the National Socialists, took advantage of current economic and social problems, and came to power in 1932.
Once Hitler and the Nazis were in power, they immediately began the program on which they had campaigned. The Jews were persecuted, communists and other political opponents were killed and put in concentration camps, and the entire country began mobilizing for war.
Hitler envisioned the Germanic countries of Norway, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Belgium being part of his Germania—whether they wanted to or not, of course—and the Slavic lands east of Germany being ethnically cleansed for a colonizing population of Germanic peasants. The Baltic peoples would be “allowed’ to stay, although they would eventually be “Germanized.”
The USSR and Stalin stood in the way of Hitler’s Germanic utopia, so he had to make the crazy decision and became yet another leader who thought invading the giant country was a good idea.
Russia Will Be Easy to Conquer: Part II
Although most of Hitler’s military high command didn’t necessarily share his political and racial views, they knew that speaking out against him was bad for their health. But they were also career military men who loved a good war and knew that there could be some promise to invading the Soviet Union.
If they were able to capture the Caucus oil fields, they would have nearly unlimited fuel to fight the British, and possibly the Americans in the future.
So, the generals began plotting with Hitler how best to invade Russia.
When Germany invaded and conquered Poland in September 1939, the Soviet Red Army moved in on the eastern half of that country. Outwardly, it seemed as though the two dictators had come to an agreement, but make no mistake, they were diametrically opposed to each other. Stalin considered that Germany would invade, but he reasoned that he had more than enough men to deter any such thoughts.
We’ve already seen that Stalin had plenty of crazy ideas before the war, but by 1941, Hitler overtook him in the crazy department.
Planning for the invasion of the Soviet Union began in 1940 and, by the end of that year, it was codenamed “Operation Barbarossa” for the Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick I the “Red Beard” (1122-1190).
Hitler sure loved history and the glories of Germany’s past, but if he were a true student of history, he would’ve studied Charles XII’s and Napoleon’s failed invasions of Russia. Hitler believed that the situation in 1941 was different, as Germany’s technological superiority would allow them to win the war quickly.
So, on June 22, 1941, Hitler made perhaps the craziest decision of his life when he ordered the invasion of the Soviet Union. At first, things went well, with the combined Axis forces of Germany, Hungary, Romania, Italy, Finland, Croatia, and volunteers from Spain numbering close to four million men.
They attacked along a nearly 2,000-mile front, quickly moving into Russia and getting near their objectives within months.
But by December 1941, the Axis forces faced the same problems encountered by Charles XII and Napoleon: overextension of supply lines, difficult weather, the vastness of Russia, and an underestimated enemy resolve.
When the Axis were unable to capture their objectives in early 1942, they initiated a slow retreat back west. The Axis committed numerous atrocities on enemy soldiers and civilians alike, so the Red Army returned the favor. There were very few prisoners of war on the Eastern Front during World War II.
By the time Hitler met his final demise in his Berlin bunker on April 30, 1945, there were several crazy things he had done, but probably none stood out more than Operation Barbarossa.
In the end, though, there were plenty of people around the world who were glad that Hitler made that crazy move because it was ultimately what brought down his regime.
Did You Know?
- The Axis Powers suffered more than one million casualties during Operation Barbarossa. The Romanian Army was all but destroyed and the other smaller Axis Powers began changing sides as soon as the Axis retreat began.
- Besides having the element of surprise and being better equipped, the early Axis victories in Barbarossa were partly the result of some other crazy sh*t Stalin did. Remember how he sent thousands to the prisons known as gulags? Well, many of the old-school officers from the Imperial Russian Army were among those executed or sent to the prisons, generally referred to as “purged,” so the leadership of the Red Army was initially weak and “green” in World War II.
- Thankfully for Stalin, General Georgy Zhukov was not purged. Zhukov was one of the best overall generals in World War II and is considered to be the savior of the Soviet Union.
- Operation Barbarossa was originally planned to commence in May, but for reasons unknown, it was delayed for over a month. Whether that extra month would’ve given the Axis forces victory is a source of debate.
- Walther von Brauchitsch was the commander-in-chief of the German military during Barbarossa. He was blamed for its failure and dismissed from service, although he was allowed to live!