Germans learn of the reality of the ‘Ostfront’

The German advance was progressing swiftly for all of the three Army Groups - North, Centre and South.

Whatever the propaganda images said some German officers were complaining that they had not prepared for the scale of casualties they received.

In Germany the general population were beginning to learn something of the war in Russia. The Newsreels reported never ending success. But a slightly different picture of unexpectedly high casualties was emerging from letters written home and those returning from the front. Marie Vassiltchikov was a Russian emigre with a Lithuanian passport, living in Berlin. Her language skills found her work with the German Foreign Ministry Information Department. She wrote to her brother in Rome:

1 July 1941

Burchard of Prussia was just here, after being sent back from the Russian front because he is a ‘royal’.

He says it is absolutely beastly. Hardly any prisoners are being taken by either side. The Russians fight and torture like criminals, not soldiers, putting up their hands and then, when the Germans come up to them, shooting them “a bout portant”; they even shoot from behind the German medical orderlies who try to help their wounded.

However they are very courageous and the fighting everywhere is very heavy. All three Clary boys are now out there, which must be ghastly for their poor parents.

Met the Wrede girls, who have just heard that their brother Eddie has been killed. He was only twenty and always so bursting with beans. In general, the losses this time are incomparably greater than during the earlier campaigns. Nevertheless the German advance is progressing well, as was to be expected . . .

See Marie Vassiltchikov: The Berlin Diaries, 1940-45.

A rare official image of a German soldier killed on the Russian front. Even if they were inflicting massive losses on the Russians the scale of German losses was unexpected.

The German advance through Lithuania was now complete and the newsreel of the advance was released in Berlin at the beginning of July:

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William W. Quinn July 1, 2011 at 10:31 pm

A question to fans of parallel history books- one often reads various accounts of the more major errors made by Hitler, accompanied by reflections on how the war could have ended differently. So, two questions for fellow followers of this blog:

1. As Pavel commented a couple of days ago, the Germans treated the Ukrainians very badly after occupying their territory. How much of an impact would it have had if the Germans had not been so overconfident, and had treated the Ukrainians and the Byelorus folks better, and made promises to them for after the war (even if they planned to sell them out later for the sake of Lebensraum)? Couldn’t the Germans have gained an advantage, possibly even to the tune of recruiting Ukrainian divisions? Has anyone ever gamed this out in a parallel history novel?

2. As this blog has repeatedly emphasized, Hitler was totally uninterested in a Mediterranean strategy. Now, I happen to have on my bookshelf something by Bevin Alexander called “How Hitler could have won World War II.” In this book the author makes the argument that for a fraction of the resources commited to Barbarossa, Hitler could have mastered the Mediterranean and in short order extended German influence all the way to Iran. From Iran he could have come up to Baku and cut off the Russian oil without having to fight the Battle of Stalingrad. With this advantage, he could have defeated the Russians. Does anyone here want to offer a critique or endorsement for this alternate strategy?

Needless to say, this is all armchair general stuff, I am certainly not rooting for the possibly quite awful alternate outcomes. The actual history of this is quite awful enough.

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