On April 30, 1945, the following Thursday, 75 years ago, Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his Führerbunker in Berlin. The capital of his “Reich” was about to surrender to the Red Army. How a German attack in 1941 actually sealed the fate of the “Führer” and millions of others.
With the start of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion by Nazi Germany of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Hitler opened the Eastern Front. The mass slaughter that followed is best expressed in figures:
Civilian and military losses WWII (estimated)
- Soviet Union: 27,917,000
- Third Reich: 8,665,500
- United States: 418,500
- United Kingdom: 363,360
Of the estimated 4.4 million to 5.3 million German military dead in the entire war, at least 3.5 million Germans lost their lives on the Eastern Front. In total there were also more military deaths than in all other battles of the Second World War combined.
The purpose of that invasion in the summer of 1941 was to establish Generalplan Ost. Part of the Slavic population could be used as a forced laborer. The oil fields of the Caucasus and the vast agricultural areas of the Soviet Union were an end in themselves. And eventually the Slavic people had to be destroyed in order to Lebensraum for the Aryan race. This immediately eliminated the Bolsheviks, as the communists were then mainly called.
A German soldier with his head in his hands after a Russian missile attack, 1941 (Photo: Getty)
Hitler had a deal with the Soviets
Hitler had first made a deal with Soviet dictator Jozef Stalin in order not to attack each other and in particular to divide Poland. Not that they really trusted each other, but Nazi Germany could invade countries like France, the Netherlands and Denmark without worrying about retaliation by Stalin. In turn, he was able to proceed undisturbed with the annexation of parts of Eastern Europe and an attack on Finland.
This pact, also known as the Molotov – Ribbentrop Pact and the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland, gave Hitler the feeling that he had to hurry up with his ultimate goal: the invasion of the Soviet Union. “All we have to do is kick in the door,” Hitler reportedly told his generals. “Then that rotten building will collapse.”
And at first he seemed to be right. The Red Army was surprised and had no answer for the three million soldiers crossing the border. Huge groups of Soviet soldiers were captured or killed. Two months after the raid, 2.5 million casualties had occurred among Stalin’s troops.
Tank production (1939-1945)
- Germany: 46.857
- Soviet Union: 105,251
Amateur strategist Hitler interferes with everything
But in the end, Nazi Germany lost the war mainly on the Eastern Front. Hitler’s invasion proved to be a fatal mistake due to the weather conditions, the enormous distances and ultimately the resilience of the Red Army.
This had almost inexhaustible resources and could constantly throw new groups of men and women into battle. In addition, the Soviets managed to fully mobilize their war production much better than the Nazis, who strangely did not peak their industry until 1944. The Red Army also received support from the United States, including in the form of over 7,000 tanks and 357,000 trucks.
As a self-proclaimed strategist, Hitler often thought he knew better than his excellent generals, who often had to change their plans. The native Austrian was involved in military action in detail, often with negative results. The dictator especially disliked strategic retreat.
An important example is the encirclement of the sixth army in Stalingrad: attempts to break out there were prevented by Hitler, who saw Stalingrad’s abandonment mainly as a political defeat. 91,000 German soldiers were captured by the Soviets.
When the interests of the Wehrmacht (and thus Germany) and the fascist Nazi interests diverged, Hitler always chose political Nazi interests.
German losses per front
- Eastern Front: 3,543,009
- Western Front: 740,007
- Otherwise: 546,195
Did Nazi Germany lose the war in December 1941?
‘Stalingrad’ is often seen as a turning point on the Eastern Front, but to really defeat the Soviets, the German Wehrmacht had to conquer Moscow in 1941. Unprepared for the Russian winter and facing sudden supremacy against Soviet troops, Nazi Germany lost the battle.
On December 5, 1941, the Red Army launched a successful counter-attack. A few days later, Hitler declared war on the United States, confronting Nazi Germany against two superpowers. Many historians see this time frame of a few days as the moment when Germany lost the war, although it would last for years to come.
After Moscow, heavy German defeats followed in Stalingrad (1943), in Kursk (1943) and during the Soviet summer offensive (Operation Bagration), and tanks of the Red Army led by Field Marshal Georgy Zhukov rolled towards Berlin. In all these battles, the Soviets also lost enormous numbers of soldiers and equipment, but they were able to absorb that much better than the Germans.
Interestingly enough, the German troops were very strong in the strategic retreat so hated by Hitler. This is why it was not until April 1945 that the bloody Battle of Berlin started.
Soviet troops limed their names on the walls and stairs of the Reichstag, 1945 (Photo: Getty Images)
1409 days between Operation Barbarossa and Hilter’s suicide
Hitler “celebrated” on April 20 his 56th birthday in Berlin, the day before the opening bursts of an artillery bombardment of the Red Army, which only stopped when the city surrendered. 1409 days after the dictator decided to attack the Soviet Union, he and his wife committed suicide. On May 2, the capital of Hitler’s former Third Reich surrendered from both sides by the Soviets and the Western Allies.
In many countries, including the Netherlands, the films and books that have appeared about the American and British struggle against Nazi Germany often give the impression that D-Day in Normandy was decisive for defeating Nazi Germany. Still, 75 to 80 percent of German troops fought on the Eastern Front. The Wehrmacht was defeated there by the Red Army.