Andrew Roberts: Frozen to death by the Fuhrer

Roundup: Talking About History

[In an extract from his new book, historian Andrew Roberts shows how Hitler's troops were fatally ill-equipped for the 1941 invasion of Russia in 1941.]

The Russians have a saying that there is no such thing as cold weather, only the wrong kind of clothing. Prior to Operation Barbarossa, the Nazis could have been certain that their invasion of Russia, which began on June 22, 1941, was in for a very cold winter.

It was a matter of simple statistical analysis, the kind at which Adolf Hitler's High Command was supposed to excel. But the German commissariat had hubristically not transported anything like enough woollen hats, gloves, long johns and overcoats to Russia.

Suddenly, there was a desperate need for millions of such items, over and above what could be looted from the Russians and the Poles. On December 20, 1941, Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, broadcast an appeal for warm clothing to send to the troops, saying:"Those at home will not deserve a single peaceful hour if even one soldier is exposed to the rigours of winter without adequate clothing." Yet two years of clothes rationing meant that there was little to give.

In October 1941, Hitler let drop a number of remarks that might provide a clue to why he had not sufficiently concerned himself with his men's welfare when it came to the great Russian freeze."One can't put any trust in the meteorological forecasts," he told Martin Bormann and others during table-talk at Berchtesgaden.

Believing himself to be as much an expert in meteorology as in everything else, Hitler, a world-class know-all, went on to state that"weather prediction is not a science that can be learnt mechanically. What we need are men gifted with a sixth sense, who live in nature and with nature – whether or not they know anything about isotherms and isobars. As a rule, obviously, these men are not particularly suited to the wearing of uniforms. One of them will have a humped back, another will be bandy-legged, a third paralytic. Similarly, one doesn't expect them to live like bureaucrats."...

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