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Barbarossa: The War in the East

January 18, 2024
Notes
Transcript
Eric and Eliot welcome David Stahel, Senior Lecturer at the University South Wales, Canberra and author of a multivolume history of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union and other works on World War II on the eastern front. They discuss the historiography of World War II on the eastern front, the new primary sources he has tapped for his historical work, the sheer scale of the combat operations and the virtues of writing operational military history (as opposed to concentrating at the grand strategic level), the tensions inside the German high command between Hitler and the Army command as well as the rivalries among the army commanders on the eastern front. They cover the issue of how professional vs. how ideologically committed to Nazism the military commanders were, how the war turned from a war of maneuver to a war of attrition that doomed Nazi Germany to military failure and the echoes of history that can be found in the war that Russia is waging in Ukraine today.

Operation Barbarossa and Germany’s Defeat in the East:
https://a.co/d/egI7OKv

Kiev 1941: Hitler’s Battle for Supremacy in the East:
https://a.co/d/5xRmorZ

Hitler’s Panzer Generals: Guderian, Hoepner, Reinhardt and Schmidt Unguarded:
https://a.co/d/8d3Xw2F

The Battle for Moscow:
https://a.co/d/h9Idyjf

Shield of the Republic is a Bulwark podcast co-sponsored by the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia.

This transcript was generated automatically and may contain errors and omissions. Ironically, the transcription service has particular problems with the word “bulwark,” so you may see it mangled as “Bullard,” “Boulart,” or even “bull word.” Enjoy!
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:06
    Welcome to Shield of the Republic Secret Podcast sponsored by the Bulwark and the Miller Center of public affairs at the University of Virginia, and dedicated to the proposition articulated by Walter Littman during World War two that strong and balanced foreign policy is the essential shield of our Democratic Republic. Eric Edelman, counselor at the center for strategic and budgetary assessments, a Bulwark contributor and a non resident fellow at the Miller Center, and I’m joined as always by my partner in all things Strategic Elliott Cohen, the Robert e Ozgood professor of strategy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and the Arleigh Burke chair and Strategy at the Center for strategic and international studies in Washington. Elliott, great
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:49
    to see you. Well, it’s great to see you. I’m, very appropriately given what we’ll be discussing today, looking out at a snowy landscape. And, thinking how good it is that we’ll finally be doing some honest to god military history.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:07
    Indeed. Last, last week, we had Yara Trofimov, the Wall Street Journal’s correspondent in Ukraine, but, we’re gonna do some, deep dive into the military history of World War two, not irrelevant to the subject of Ukraine, and our our special guest is David Stahl, senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales in Canbra, who is a student of the Eastern front in World War two and has written, five volumes, specifically, addressing the German campaign in, in Soviet and Ukraine, during World War two in incredible depth and detail. So brilliant work of of history. I I believe. He’s also edited, and contributed to a number of edited volumes.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:59
    David, welcome to shield of the Republic.
  • Speaker 3
    0:02:01
    You very much for having me on. It’s a pleasure to be here.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:03
    So let me kick off, before, Elliot gets into his favorite subject, which is military history. But why why did you decide to take on this subject? I mean, at seventy five years removed with the number of studies that have been, written on the second world war. It it would seem that everything, has been said. Yet, you have found all sorts of, I think, fascinating and interesting new things to say about it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:36
    What what attracted you to this subject and how did you go about attacking it?
  • Speaker 3
    0:02:42
    Well, it might be that the answer is tied up with your introduction there. You’re right. I was doing a first World War, or sorry, a second World War course as a first year undergrad. And a lot of the story that I got on the Anglo American component was somewhat familiar to me as a teenager who’d been reading some of this, What I found utterly fascinating and completely unknown to me back then was this whole war in the east, and what I couldn’t get over was scale I couldn’t understand how does it that I know about Tbrooke, and I know about Ella Lamaine, and I know about Monte Castino, and so on, But I’ve never heard of these other battles, and these are million person battles. It seemed to me that there was a bit of an issue with How are we representing this war in the Anglo American world?
  • Speaker 3
    0:03:30
    If we, even people who, you know, I thought at that age, I’ve done a bit of reading, I know a thing or two about World keep keeping in mind I’m only eighteen. I didn’t know very much at all. But I just couldn’t understand this war in the east, and I started going to the library and reading it was just one of those things, the old expression, you know, the more you know, the more questions you have. And I started to have this idea that if we really wanna understand what’s going on, we we have to look at the war in the east because scale is so huge, and I actually started thinking the same about the Pacific War. I started to dawn on me that there’s this whole second sino Japanese war, which we won’t be covering today.
  • Speaker 3
    0:04:07
    But again, that loom so large, the scale is so huge and so vast and at the same time I knew so very little about it, which just allowed me to revisit this idea. If we do know so much about World War two, it’s really rather targeted and I would say even today, even, you know, this is thirty years later. I’m in my late forties, I can still sit there and think if a PhD student said to me today, oh, David, I’m interested in doing this, but hasn’t it all been done? I can think of major books that could be written in this area. That have simply not been done.
  • Speaker 3
    0:04:40
    So it’s, it’s very much the the the unknown war. For all that we know, there’s still a lot that we don’t, and maybe some of that will come out today.
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:48
    Dave, David, could I just ask a a quick follow-up on that? I think one of the other things that’s interesting is that you decided to write operational history. There there is a a lot of military history that gets written today, but a lot of it is either grand strategic or it’s about war and memory or war and society. And you’ve written a a series of books. So those so the first one, which I gather was your dissertation on Barbar Rosa and Correct.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:15
    The initial invasion, then there’s One of the Battle of Kiev in nineteen forty one. Then on, Typhoon, the assault on, Moscow, and then several other books, which we’ll discuss. But you made the decision to really invest the effort in talking about operational history. Could you talk to us a little bit about why did you decide to plunge into that because it’s not a popular topic, I think, in mainline history departments. It’s extremely important and very interesting.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:44
    But it’s it’s unusual. Maybe if you could talk, why why got into it and what some of the the challenges but also some of the rewards of writing operational history are.
  • Speaker 3
    0:05:55
    Yeah. Good question. Look, I think if you’re a PhD student going into this, you do need to have a strategic focus. You are always going to be graded on your contribution to historiography, right? And you hit on it right there, Elliot.
  • Speaker 3
    0:06:08
    There are these top down narratives. That’s what I started reading. I was aware of the general course of events. I was aware of the general idea of what the German army was doing, that’s because everyone who had gone before me, it seemed, was using a lot of the same top level sources Certainly, when I first started, there was still some people using in a lot of the older histories from the sixties and seventies had used German generals memoirs, deeply problematic the big overviews. People have used published sources like helder’s diary and and the OKW diary.
  • Speaker 3
    0:06:41
    So it won’t go into any of those details. I know a lot of people are thinking what what are those, but these are the overarching, very accessible sources. And some people who had gone to the archive were just interested in what we call OKH, that’s the high command of the army. It struck me that if you wanna make a contribution and really find out what’s going on, you have to go to these next levels down. You have to look at the pens of groups.
  • Speaker 3
    0:07:04
    You have to look at the cause. You have to look at the divisions. Keeping in mind, as I said before, this is a vast war. So don’t get the idea that this is some where, you know, down in the weeds, we are still talking, you know, a division in Germany still has fifteen thousand men at this time, and these are full strength divisions. That’s the smallest unit I’m looking at.
  • Speaker 3
    0:07:22
    So if you concentrate on that level, the ability to contribute something original, even to someone who had read a lot seem much greater. And what I would also add is as I did the research, it started to become apparent to me that the narrative you had from the grand strategic, was contradicted by what you were getting in this middle area. In other words, these are core and divisional commanders who cannot escape the reality of this war. The reality of this war is very different from what is in the command files of guys sitting way behind the front and understanding it on a different level.
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:01
    Could you elaborate on that?
  • Speaker 3
    0:08:02
    Yeah. Sure.
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:03
    How is it different?
  • Speaker 3
    0:08:04
    It’s different because they are, and, inescapably, they are confronting the losses They are confronting all the operational problems. There are a lot of operational problems. We can probably impact those as we go on. So logistical the the attrition, even on the German forces. People assume that in operation barbarossa, they’re the ones driving forward, they’re the ones, enacting these large encirclements, So they are the ones inflicting all of the damage and destruction, and that is true.
  • Speaker 3
    0:08:35
    It’s disproportionate what the Soviets are suffering but we shouldn’t think these are cheap victories. The Germans are suffering a great deal, both in what people understand the the attrition of fighting, but they’re actually suffering much more simply by moving in the east. The infrastructure is extremely poor. The roads are very sandy and dusty. It means that if you drive a nineteen thirties vehicle, whether it be a tank, a truck, anything across this landscape, the dust that’s being thrown up, the air filters are very, poor.
  • Speaker 3
    0:09:08
    Well, they’re just built for central European conditions. This overwhelms the engines, it’s sort of things you don’t really think you’re gonna pick up. If you read a book on Operation Barbara, I’ll end up talking about these technical matters, but I started to realize if you’ve got six hundred thousand vehicles, this is going to have a very real implication for you longer term. And that’s exactly what happens. Within days, you start seeing large fallouts of vehicles.
  • Speaker 3
    0:09:34
    In just one panzer division, they lose seventy five percent of their tanks in the first ten days. You’re not broken down irreparably, but that’s a real problem deep inside the Soviet Union to get all these things repaired. So, you know, I I started to spend a lot of time looking at these kinds of issues, issues I’d never read about much before. And I guess the bottom line would be, how does that impact this campaign longer term? I think Eric hit on it when he was talking about the fact that this, you know, is something that I’ve argued is the failure of operation Barbarossa is quite catastrophic German proposition, the German proposition to win the war.
  • Speaker 3
    0:10:16
    Now that’s not hyperbolic. That’s because in a war of this scale, if Germany doesn’t knock out the Soviet Union reasonably quickly, a lot of other factors come in that we might even be picking up later on about attrition in war on Crain and where are the parallels in all of this, but that that is not something the Germans have a contingency for. Their operational forces are actually a very finite resource. We talk about three million men invading the Soviet Union, but actually out of that hundred and fifty divisions, only thirty of them are motorized or panzer divisions. That means if you’re suffering large amounts of technical, losses for whatever reason in that elite core, that is going to transform your chances of ending this war because all of the rest of those divisions, the other hundred and twenty literally marching infantry and horse drawn wagons.
  • Speaker 3
    0:11:07
    These are not going to win you a war with rapid movement. They’re not the shock and awe of the German army. That’s a very finite resource, and they’re losing it quickly.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:16
    One of the things David that I found remarkable was your ability to as you were sort of suggesting, to contrast and to weave together the story of the high command, both the armed forces high command, where Hitler and his entourage are sitting and then the the, the army command where, generals with a different conception, perhaps, and Hitler had of how this fight ought to be ought to be fought. So at the one level, you you have this, debate and discussion at the kind of grand strategic level, but you’re wonderful at being able to weave together how it interacts with, the folks at the pointy end of the spear, and you you draw on the war diaries of the the units, but also letters home from commanders, from from soldiers, and what comes across as you were just saying is the vastness of of the terrain that they’re in and how terrible the roads are, and the heat because there are obviously the operations starting at the at the height of, summer, the heat, the dust, the consequences of that, both for vehicles, but also for horses. I mean, I was really struck by the number of horses you describe dying, and then, of course, the logistical implications of all that.
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:49
    Talk a little bit about, you know, how that story emerged for you as you were doing your research?
  • Speaker 3
    0:12:56
    Yeah. Look, I don’t mind saying, while I did obviously pick this topic, I was shocked myself, partly because I was a product of the books I’d always read, and I didn’t know If when I went into the archive, I’d be looking for a long time to discover what problems were there, were there in the east. And I have to say it didn’t really matter what war diary I picked up, whether it be a divisional diary, core, pencil group, or getting into those command files, or as you say some of the private papers, the problems were everywhere. I didn’t have to look hard at all to find it, and I was also shocked by how forthright, a lot of these, certainly the commanders could be. In some ways, I would even describe it not just as forthright when they’re writing this, but almost in a bit of a panic.
  • Speaker 3
    0:13:45
    I remember one of the divisional commanders in early July, so keep in mind this is barely two weeks into the campaign. Wrote, and I can’t remember if it was in a letter or in a, in a ward area or so, but he wrote, we have to be extremely careful that we get this message across of what’s happening inside the division because if we don’t, we are in danger of, and this is the key. Keyphrase, we will be destroyed by winning. In other words, what he’s saying is we are by all those class call military indicators who’s driving forward, who’s doing the encircling, who’s how many Soviet, you know, reports we’re sending in a POWs, People know that story of Barbara Ross. Germany is very successful.
  • Speaker 3
    0:14:26
    There’s no question. What what he’s understanding though is he’s watching his his unit declining in front of him, destroyed by winning because, yeah, we’re driving forward, but we must keep that operational edge. A good analogy that I read somewhere on remember who to attribute this to. They talked about the German army as being a spear. And think about that motorized element, the one that I was talking about before the thirty divisions as tip of that spear, and the shaft of the spear is all the rest.
  • Speaker 3
    0:14:55
    The backbone of the German army is artillery and infantry. They need all of that. But if that spear tip breaks off, your spear is nowhere near as effective. And I think these commanders know that. And you talked about tensions, and very quickly what starts to happen as this campaign rolls forward is there’s a lot of orders about where we’re going to go next and what we’re gonna do and where you guys should go, but keep in mind as well, the Soviet Union is a funnel that expands out from central Europe.
  • Speaker 3
    0:15:25
    So as you go forward, it’s not just that you are having to deal with the depth of your advance, which brings in ideas of logistics and how good are those, not very good in the German army. It turns out, but you’re also pulling your forces apart. So the front is becoming longer as you go in. And if what I said before is correct, that is a lot of attrition, you can see how week by week, in spite of all their success, the German commanders are confronting at the sharp end of war, this idea that we haven’t got much left if we keep doing this. If the losses continue and we keep expanding into this open space, And the fact that for all that the original Barbar Rosa plan hoped that encirclements near the border would destroy the Red Army and then it just become what they call sometimes a railroad advance, like in, nineteen seventeen, nineteen eighteen as the German army broke the Russians and then they just started actually writing the the Russian rail Bulwark into the interior, that’s what they kind of hoped Barbarossa would become, and that never transpired as they encircled these Soviet armies, they thought, okay.
  • Speaker 3
    0:16:26
    Well, that’s kinda done. As they went for the exploitation phase driving further in, they kept encountering major formations. The other thing I would just briefly mention to try and illustrate this for your audience is when I make that distinction between the motorized and panzer element, and in this long shaft, the infantry divisions, that’s a very profound operational problem in the early weeks of Barbara Ross because There is a separation between these two forces. The panzer groups drive in and those marching infantry cannot keep up. They are in the rear, they’re dealing with the the shattered remnants of Soviet forces.
  • Speaker 3
    0:17:01
    They’re having to enact the the edges of these large encirclements. They are marching as fast as they can. It is brutal for the German infantry in this summer of nineteen forty one because they are being expected to go long distances, fight, carry all their equipment, and it’s obviously very hot, but the German panzer forces are always way out in front. That means as these operational reserves are arriving from the Soviets and they’re in their second encirclement. The first big one in the center is at Minsk, but they start immediately with the second one thereafter.
  • Speaker 3
    0:17:29
    We’re in July by this point. And it’s as the Soviets come from the East to try and break into this second encirclement, it’s the very finite forces of the of the second Panzer group, and the third Panzer group were Darien and a man named Court, who were having to fend off all these Soviet attacks the Soviets might be on the defensive, but it’s a very, aggressive doctrine in the Red Army. So they constantly attacking it. You don’t really see it on the operational maps because it’s the Germans advancing, but the Germans are having to defend themselves And there’s a lot of attrition, there’s a lot of fighting across the front. This is not a, by any means, a sort of, a lightning advance as you’re man imagine it and maybe with people know about the Western campaigns and or Polish campaign and so on, where the armies, the opposing armies kind of disintegrate once they’re encircled or they they don’t always fight terribly well.
  • Speaker 3
    0:18:21
    Some French units do fight actually very well, but others do do nothing and basically give up. This is not that typical of the Red Army. There are elements of the Red Army that do disintegrate, but there are others who are encircled and fight fanatically. The losses in Barber, even for the Germans are extraordinary. I’ll give you one quick statistic then we’ll go to another question.
  • Speaker 3
    0:18:42
    The most expensive month on the eastern front for the Germans before they get to the encirclement of Stalin grad is July nineteen forty one. I can’t remember off the top of my head exactly what that figure is, but we’re talking tens of thousands of lost men. And again, that that is nothing. Some people in your audience might be inclined to say, oh, but don’t you know how many Soviets being killed and captured in that month. That is correct, but it’s a different starting point.
  • Speaker 3
    0:19:08
    Germany is in a global war against the Anglo Americans, And I know the Americans aren’t involved, but I always think they kind of are because once lend lease is coming in, the American industry is in. And that’s a huge problem for Nazi Germany, as well as the whole British empire. So Germany has to confront this and it always has to win it very considerable, you know, by a very considerable margin because they don’t have the reserve in industry or in manpower?
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:37
    You know, one of the things that that strikes me is there’s this disjunction, which I think you really capture very, very well. Between the wars that’s being experienced at the divisional sort of pencil group core level. And the picture that you get from the halder diaries, halder being the basically, the head of the army, or the, in general, the kind of higher level picture. And I think one of the things that you you do very, very effectively is to kind of raise some doubt and quite serious doubts about some of the most senior levels of the German command. And, you know, the a, a late friend of mine williamson Mario.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:20
    It was a well known military historian who you quote, and I don’t know if you knew him. But he he always used to talk about the, German general’s memoir literature as being the, if the Fuhrer had only listened to me school of historiography, But but that in in fact, actually, they were at some level out of touch and it’s in some ways incompetent. And in some ways, actually, even inferior to Hitler on certain occasions in terms of their kind of operational and strategic judgment. Could you speak to that?
  • Speaker 3
    0:20:55
    Sure. Yeah. Look, you know, in some ways, I think it’s helpful sometimes to go back a little bit because, WIC was completely correct. That is very much how, I think, a lot of that memoir literature reads. And if people asked me, so in fact, one of you guys was telling me just before we we began the recording that, you had heard Jurgen Foster, talking about this phenomena back in the eighties and American colonels at that time had really pushed back on this idea.
  • Speaker 3
    0:21:25
    But I think we have to understand where does that come from, in defense of the colonels, and I’m certainly not agreeing with them, but in defense of why they believe that Keep in mind after the second World War, we do not have what people like I have today. We did not have access to all these German files. So the only thing we really had as a primary resource came out very quickly with these German generals memoirs. And, you know, the historiography wasn’t that critical back then. I mean, maybe because of the cold war, maybe because history just didn’t ask a lot of those difficult questions yet.
  • Speaker 3
    0:21:55
    And the German generals have to say they sold themselves very well. I mean, I have students today who sometimes come in and know, they’re only young undergrads, but they, they, I’ve done my reading, sir. I’ve read Munstein. I’ve read Guderian, and I sometimes have to think, oh god, I’m gonna have to teach you out of that, and it’s gonna be You think you know know a thing or two, but these guys were selling themselves, and they’re selling themselves in a post war world where they’ve probably got a lot of blood on their hands, and they’re now trying to get past that also their operational decisions. So it wasn’t until the sixties that we actually got those archives, and I think it’s in the mid sixties.
  • Speaker 3
    0:22:27
    It doesn’t mean that every historian after that is now going into the archives, I would still say today, there’s relatively few who’ve really spent many, many months for their books in that archive, So in the seventies and eighties, the historiography, especially on operational questions, was very poor, and there was a lot given to these German generals as these operational experts, or don’t you know blitzkrieg and how successful they all were? They knew what they were talking about. It was Hitler that was problem. It was the OKW Hitler’s immediate circle of commanders, Yodel, and Kaitl, and all these guys, who were the lackeys. And what a lot of very good work many, not mine, many people who went before me or who are writing today have revealed that as we’ve gone through different battles again, This picture of the German general starts to disintegrate.
  • Speaker 3
    0:23:14
    I mean, one of the basic questions we might ask just to make that point is For all they are good at, and I think we have to understand that people always want black and white answers, there are aspects to the operational practice of war, that the German generals can be extremely good at, I would concede this, but it It doesn’t count in my book to tell me I’m, I’m really good at seventy five percent of my job. If you can’t understand how perhaps something as basic as logistics worked, And that’s true of Rommel, but it’s true of a lot of these guys in the east. It’s part of the culture of the Panzatrupa. It is all about forward forward forward. And if you understand how the culture works, The the I won’t go into the details, but the irons are the the the operation commander, if you understand that the most senior man in that command he decides on the objective.
  • Speaker 3
    0:24:04
    The supply the chief supply officer is a is kind of a secondary guy. It’s also secondary, not just because he’s subordinate, but it’s secondary because, well, you obviously didn’t make it into command school. You are a lesser officer. That’s how it goes. And all you have to do is make what I tell you happen.
  • Speaker 3
    0:24:23
    Now in a modern operation, what would happen is the guys would sit together and plan together and the operations officer is not secondary and just invited in afterwards to now make this happen. This is a very real problem if you’re going to try and extend yourself thousands of kilometers into the east. If that guy’s only been bought in after the fact, there’s a big problem there, and it’s a problem also for that operations officer. But they don’t see it. They tend not to have that culture, and you’re deferring the problem.
  • Speaker 3
    0:24:50
    So while on one level, yes, German, generals were very good at their craft. They understood, you know, the Castle Shluck and this encirclement idea, and they’re very good at practicing it. You can see how they might get away with that in Denmark and Poland in the Bulwark, sorry, in, in the, in the low countries or in France. Because the operational depth is not that great, but suddenly those same problems are gonna fall apart in a vast operational space. And you could even ask, You know, you you talked about Hilda, how were they planning this campaign without seeing it?
  • Speaker 3
    0:25:23
    And part of the reason why I was so interested in doing Barbarrosa is because that seemed very apparent to me, and I had no military training. These were just basic questions I was asking. If a lot of the books I read in the nineteen nineties that came from the seventies and eighties talked about, oh, how successful the German army is. Isn’t that amazing? That was very much the historiography of the time.
  • Speaker 3
    0:25:44
    It always struck me as, but How are they gonna solve all these logistical problems? And as I finally got into all those files and I’d done my German, the answers were not there. In fact, they would allude to the problem and then say things like these pithy little comments in the files like, well, you know, by that point, we’ll have won anyway. Because we don’t have answers, but that struck me, and this is a little bit later in my intellectual development, as a form of what I’ve sort of started calling and it’s It’s been circulated a little bit now as an idea that if we have national socialist thinking, I mean, what allows people to kill vast numbers of Jews in the east and not complain about it? We’ve always understood that this is a Nazi army, right?
  • Speaker 3
    0:26:24
    But is it possible that a a national socialist perspective, which if you think about it, that appregates the early modern enlightenment, doesn’t it? I mean, they’re not motivated by the traditional ideas of law or morality and so on. This is a revolutionary idea Is it possible that a national socialist perspective also rewrites clausewitz? These classic ideas of what is warfare based on because it seems that they are making all kinds of to an irrational person crazy conclusions I don’t think you would be able to substitute an American or British or anyone else into that army and not have them asking a lot of questions and say, yes, but that’s you just can’t ignore some of these problems, not just morally, but operationally.
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:06
    In my two tours in the Pentagon, my military colleagues always reminded me that amateurs talk about strategy and professionals, you know, talk about logistics and I think you have just sort of tried over that, you know, ground, once again. I David, you’re terrific in the books at discussing two kinds of kind of rivalry intention that are going on simultaneously, in this huge fight. One is between Hitler and and holder and and others in the army command about what the objectives of the operation should be, which seems crazy that you would launch such a massive military, operation and, you know, still days into it be debating. What are the objectives? You know, should it should it be, a strike against Moscow, the capital to decapitate essentially the Soviet regime, or should it be an economic target, whether it’s the Ukraine or, the the caucuses and oil, etcetera.
  • Speaker 1
    0:28:11
    At the same time, among the commanders, you talked about Guderian and Haft are others. There’s a competition for for resources going on as well who gets to have, you know, what mechanized forces who gets the priority for getting refueled first, etcetera. Could you talk about both those sets of rivalries and and the interaction between them? Because that’s really sort of fascinating to me.
  • Speaker 3
    0:28:38
    No sure. Yes. I mean, the the first one, perhaps just to set it up for the audience a little bit. There is a grand strategic goal. I mean, there’s no ambiguity about who runs the third reich.
  • Speaker 3
    0:28:50
    It’s very much Hitler, and he is setting the terms of this war. There are three army groups that invade. There is a large army group that’s gonna go into the Ukraine. That’s the second largest army group South. There is the central army group that is by far the biggest that’s going to go through sort of modern day Bulwark and an on toward toward Moscow nominally, But Hitler, even at those planning stages, foresees it taking a big bite out of the center, the central part of the Soviet Union, and then diverting because it has two of the four panzer groups, which are the the parts that are gonna drive the German army forward, then diverting north toward leningrad and south into the Ukraine.
  • Speaker 3
    0:29:33
    That’s a key point. And then there’s an army group north, which is the smallest of the three army groups that’s driving up through the Baltic States. Now, Hitler is very clear that and he says it many times, and he gets no pushback from the army command who are in charge of the planning and doing all the writing up, but they are being told by Hitler, Army Group Centre is gonna divert. Once it gets past the first operational phase, they never push back. In that sense, the question for me was, and I’m quite critical of the army.
  • Speaker 3
    0:30:03
    If you wanna have that strategic discussion, unsure, but you have to have it. You can’t just go into this thinking, well, we disagree with the Fuhrer, but we’re not gonna say anything about it. We’ll wait till campaign begins. And the reason they do that is because they believe, it’s all gonna be a big border battle anyway. Right?
  • Speaker 3
    0:30:19
    We’re gonna win at the border. Everything will just fall into place, and we’ll have that discussion with Hitler and convince him that we should actually go on to Moscow with the central army group. The invasion begins. It is very successful. They are encircling a lot of forces and they are driving forward and they’re doing all those things, but there is also attrition.
  • Speaker 3
    0:30:36
    And by the end of the second large encirclement in the center, first one at Minsk, second one at Smolensk. At that point, There’s, an operational pause. Now, in the older historiography, it was always explained that this strategic debate came up and everything was frozen while they tried to sort it out, and it took them a month to do it. That’s actually not the case. It’s frozen because they are, a very long way into the Soviet Union.
  • Speaker 3
    0:31:04
    I’m not very good with miles, but we’re talking five, six hundred kilometers into the Soviet Union. So they’re a long way in. And before they do anything, whether they go south or north or east toward Moscow, and they they are having this debate. The real reason why they’re having to wait is because and we’ve already heard about this, with the whole logistical thing, Part of the problem with sustaining a German army at this kind of depth are those supplies. Now where did supplies come from?
  • Speaker 3
    0:31:31
    Unambicuously, they must come on rail. But one of the things that the German army had to plan for to be a little bit more specific is, well, how do we adapt our rail network to the east because the gauge is wider in the east. They build bigger trains. It’s the Soviet Union. They have longer distances.
  • Speaker 3
    0:31:48
    So they’ve got a bigger gauge Now German planners thought, this is actually really simple. Don’t complicate it. You just knock the pins up of where these rails sitting on the rail beds are, push them closer together, nail them back down, and off you go with your train, it’s not complicated. So this railroad trooper that they come up with are basically gonna be doing these conversions aren’t particularly well resourced. There’s not a lot of them because, hey, don’t you know it’s gonna be really simple?
  • Speaker 3
    0:32:13
    Besides in the interim, we’ll have all the Soviet Bulwark, and we’ll capture all these Soviet trains, and we can just run them until we convert them to bring all the central and Western European trains into the Bulwark, it’s gonna be really simple. What you can’t really do is sustain an army of this size. Keep in mind it’s More than three million men at this kind of depth with trucks because trucks just aren’t efficient. Trucks just take you from the rail head to wherever the armies are. And while it’s three six hundred thousand trucks or vehicles might sound like a lot in context of a war like this.
  • Speaker 3
    0:32:45
    It’s not the case. The problem is A vast amount of this rail network is either destroyed by the Lufwaffe themselves or the Soviets are very good at a scorched earth campaign. They are destroying this network. And it just means that when we marry this operational problem with the the question I’m being asked here about the the the strategic debate, They are caught. We can’t really do anything because we’re waiting for supplies before we launch that next phase.
  • Speaker 3
    0:33:11
    We need to get all of this equipment up. We need fuel. We need ammunition. They don’t really need food because they are living off the land, which is to say they’re going into impoverished villages and basically taking whatever they need. Which is part of this, you know, one of these ideas of the war of annihilation that the Germans are perpetrating.
  • Speaker 3
    0:33:28
    That dispute though is running in the background. It’s not the dispute that’s delaying everything, it’s very technical matters, military matters, but there is a very, very, Rankerous dispute going on. Basically, the army high command that’s held at that’s a man named Brokerch who’s nominally the head, but held as the real driving force and then army group center run by field marshal named Bock, and then these, various army commanders, even down to core commanders, they are largely convinced We need to go to Moscow. Moscow is cut the head off of the of the beast. Right?
  • Speaker 3
    0:34:01
    That’s where we’re gonna go. Hitler has a different view. And he is very much pushing. We’re gonna go into the Ukraine for economic resources largely, but there’s also a tremendous operational opportunity down in the Ukraine because basically army group south has only gotten as far as it’s gotten, which is not as far as army group. Center, and the whole central part of the Ukraine is exposed.
  • Speaker 3
    0:34:24
    And if Army Group Centre was to drive down into that exposed area, you would encircle the single largest Soviet front, which is like an army group, has multiple armies, and that front would be destroyed. If you look on the Soviet side, they are having a similar strategic debate where Zhukov is the chief of the Soviet general staff is basically saying to Stalin, we’ve gotta pull out of the central Ukraine, and he loses his job because he’s basically advocating to give Kiev and Central Ukraine, what are you doing? Who’s side are you on? So Stalin fires him. Of course, then they stay there.
  • Speaker 3
    0:34:58
    And to make a long story short, Hitler wins the dispute, they are not going to Moscow. There was never really much doubt about it, but there is a long debate about this. Then Guderian’s Panzer Group drives into the Central Ukraine, that becomes what we call the Battle of Kyiv, and it’s a catastrophe for the Soviets. We’re talking six hundred and fifty thousand POWs and probably about a million all up, men written off the Soviet order of battle because a lot are killed as well. And a lot of just disappear.
  • Speaker 3
    0:35:25
    You know, they’re they’re never really captured, or they’re just, you know, now in the in the populous it’s a disaster, and it unlocks the Ukraine, really, for Germany, and then Army Group South continued their drive. And, and then, and then we have, you know, subsequent operations that do actually follow in the autumn toward Moscow. So that there’s these disputes going on. There’s also this dispute you were talking about, you know, at the command level. One of the ways that has only really recently come about in my mind, and I’ve been working on this for many years, My most recent book was a very deep dive into the individual, lives of Penzer generals.
  • Speaker 3
    0:36:02
    And one of the things that I only really started to think about, and the course of that book is Think of the eastern front, especially from a German, army or panzer group commander. So not the top tier on the eastern front, but the next tear down. These are still very powerful men in command of hundreds of thousands of troops. Think of them as independent filedoms. You would think an army officer at that level would be working together with his colleagues.
  • Speaker 3
    0:36:25
    Hey, we got finite resources. We’re all unified by a single goal, but that’s not what’s happening in practice. If the Panzer generals are deeply competitive, they’re not interested in they don’t discuss the grand strategic goal. They discuss themselves. And they are very focused on their own celebrity and how much glory they’re getting.
  • Speaker 3
    0:36:44
    They’re constantly looking at the German propaganda. Am I in the in the newsreels, am I in the illustrated magazines? They all have propaganda companies that are at their level, taking photos of them. So they’re always trying to win their support And there’s an enormous amount. If you I’ve got all their private letters or at least the ones I’ve included in that book, they are bitter about their colleagues.
  • Speaker 3
    0:37:04
    Oh, this guy’s always getting more and he always Sizzies, but I’m at the worst place in the Eastern front. I have to do the most. They’re extremely self focused. In some ways, I guess, and I don’t know enough about other Charlie Sykes the one I’ve studied the most. I wonder in some ways if you only get to that position by being this kind of extreme alpha male, maybe especially in the third Reich, right?
  • Speaker 3
    0:37:26
    But now that they’re there, this is is not there’s a lot more division than unity inside the German army. And I really am hopeful that more people can follow-up. I looked at Pennzer generals at this level. I would hope that maybe at some point, or maybe myself, if I can find the letters infantry commanders, because there’s obviously infantry armies, which is a large part of the Eastern front, if there’s a similar phenomena or or is what I’m describing very much the culture of the Panzatrupa, which is kind of seen itself as an elite and as a particularly aggressive form of war. In fact, some people who know this area very well will say, oh, isn’t there disputes between Horton and especially Guderian?
  • Speaker 3
    0:38:03
    And some of these infantry commanders like Kluge Yes, there is. That’s what makes me ask these questions, and that’s probably getting into too much detail for the audience, but but that idea is there. That problem is there. And so there’s an enormous amount of bitterness and fighting over. Who’s getting the that that the very finite reserves that are coming up three hundred thousand in the German reserve, and everyone wants them, everyone wants to fuel.
  • Speaker 3
    0:38:25
    Why is that guy getting engines for his tanks? And I’m not is a lot of bitterness in this. And then as things start to go wrong, as people, the the front is starting to stall, that bitterness increases. By the time we get to the winter when there’s, Soviet defensives, Oh, it’s it’s, it’s, it’s a real fly business.
  • Speaker 1
    0:38:41
    Reminds me a little bit of precautions, comp complaints about him off and shoygu and and You see
  • Speaker 3
    0:38:47
    the same things I do. I can’t escape my past.
  • Speaker 1
    0:38:50
    We’ll we’ll get to that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:38:51
    You know, and one one thing I was I was thinking, Eric and I have known a few generals who don’t mind having photographers, and journalists around. Although, to be fair, there are also a lot who don’t want to have anything to do with them. So it’s a somewhat different culture, but since since you went down that path, that that book, Hitler’s panzer generals is fascinating. And I wonder if I could just take it in a a slightly different direction, which is I mean, I think one of your points, and it’s a point that I I do pick up from, some of the people who’ve written in the German official history, which maybe you could also discuss a little bit because I I just think it’s a phenomenal piece of historical scholarship. That the generals are not the A political professionals that some of my students when I taught at the Naval War College wanted to believe.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:43
    They wanted to believe that these are You know, at the Vermont. It’s not like the SS, you know, they they didn’t know what’s going on. But actually, you know, I think the at least my impression, the more I read about the German military during world war two is they certainly went along with the regime and many of them actually kind of believed in the ideology, embraced it. We’re all in favor of it. And again, I think the German official history particularly that that part by European first or on on Barbara Ross really really does demonstrate that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:40:17
    And I wonder if you could reflect on that. I mean, he these Therefore, you give them a sort of a hint when you look at, when you talk about their experiences right after World War one in the so called Fry Court, which you might want to discuss. But, you know, how did these guys who did after all grow up in a very professional military, which was by and large pretty apolitical and which was, you know, had been part of an authoritarian, you know, sort quasi monarchical regime. How did they become, you know, either outright Nazis or people who were sort of Nazi sympathizers? In a way?
  • Speaker 2
    0:40:56
    Or am I exaggerating that? Do you think? No.
  • Speaker 3
    0:40:58
    I think you’re quite correct. And and again, it it reflects the the the the changes in the historiography because people from an earlier generation did not have access to that. There was a lot of a lot of people gave the German army a big pass, and and let’s understand why German generals are unambiguous. There’s a vast memoir literature, and almost two are men. They are, no, no, no, no, we weren’t Nazis, and we didn’t do all of that.
  • Speaker 3
    0:41:22
    To pick up on two of the most famous for people in the audience just to make the point of how how untrustworthy those sources are. And I don’t wanna say that across the board, some people completely reject them. In fact, I’ve more than once been told David, why are you citing the memoir? Don’t you know they’re all full of bogus lies? And I’m like, don’t go too far with that.
  • Speaker 3
    0:41:43
    It’s not like everything they ever wrote is wrong, and someone like me, if you’re getting into the files can check and balance to find out what’s correct and what’s not. The other thing there though is, is to check and balance those, those claims. Now, something that Munchstein says, something that Guderian says, those are probably the two best selling memoirs that are two most known they both categorically say that in Operation Barber also when that army order came down, it’s called the commissar order. We did not implement that. We did not pass it on because that would be stain on the German army, and that’s not who we are.
  • Speaker 3
    0:42:14
    That order comes from the army high command, right? So first of all, that’s written by the army and passed on to the army. Now, a guy, about fifteen years ago a German historian did a phenomenal amount of work. Keep in mind, I’ve never met anybody other than this particular guy, I named Felix Fruma, who has literally made the claim. Now, I read it all.
  • Speaker 3
    0:42:35
    I sat in the archive for two years to read all the files, saying that about Guadal Canal is absolutely possible. Right? You can probably I’ve never tried, but and I don’t know exactly how many files. Maybe I’ll ship you careful, but there’s only a finite number of forces there because it’s a smaller campaign, you could probably sit there with a certain amount of time, maybe weeks months, and read it all. Certainly, that’s the case with many campaigns Bar Barossa, when I say one hundred and fifty divisions and forty four corps and thirteen armies and three army groups, do not underestimate how many pieces of paper that is.
  • Speaker 3
    0:43:06
    It is a warehouse filled with with files, but Felix’s rumor went through and decided I’m not going to accept any of these claims, I’m gonna read everything to find out how ubiquitous is the implementation of the commissar order, make a long story short was it implemented in all three army groups? Yes. In all the forty four Charlie Sykes. In all of the, sorry, in all the thirteen armies, the forty four cores evidence, evidence, evidence. When you get to a hundred and fifty divisions, it is categorical that eighty percent implemented.
  • Speaker 3
    0:43:36
    There is suggestive evidence for another ten percent, and for the last ten percent, there is just no evidence. Doesn’t mean they didn’t do it. In other words, if we start looking at the formations that Munstein and Guderian are in charge of, there are hundreds of cases. So they absolutely pass this on, and they absolutely have records of doing it. This is a blatant lie, and it’s now very much proven.
  • Speaker 3
    0:43:59
    So we start to see how untrustworthy these these memoirs are, and how that has potentially perverted the story of who the German generals are. So the question is about, you know, How do we account for? How national socialist are they? We also have, or, you know, I’ve been looking a lot at Guderian’s letters. Guderian is relieved, clearly relieved when Hitler comes to power.
  • Speaker 3
    0:44:25
    We have his letters from that time. He’s been writing to his wife that Hitler is saving us from Bolshevism, because, keep in mind, there’s a lot of communists in Germany at that time. And there’s a lot of factors people have done a lot of work on about, you know, the German army is the poor cousin. It’s only the the hundred thousand. It’s all limited, and there’s no funding for it in the nineteen twenties.
  • Speaker 3
    0:44:44
    Once Hitler comes to power, funding is there, and social status is coming in. They’re now brought into these state parades, and there’s all these days in the calendar where the military come out they’re energized toward, being what they felt they always should be. It’s a pride of place of the, in the society. And they see Hitler as restoring that. Not to mention Hitler’s rhetoric talks about redressing the ills of verseai, right?
  • Speaker 3
    0:45:10
    He’s going to reunite German lands, and he’s has been doing that successfully through his political machinations. And They foresee themselves getting, more back through force of arms, and they are very much on board for it. We can see that up to and including when they finally get into these campaigns, when these orders come down, that’s they’re accepting them. I mean, if you ask the question most basic, with all these terrible orders coming and and much worse besides. In Barbara Oscar, of course, that’s where we also see the Holocaust beginning.
  • Speaker 3
    0:45:42
    We ask the question of all these commanders, many of whom have never heard of, and even people like me, some of them, these divisional commanders, we don’t know much about them. But how many of them ever voice real dissent, much less resign and disgust at the stain on the German army for mass murdering women and children, all of zero percent that says a lot about what army this is. And how much they believe in the cause, they write about it in their letters. Bulshevism is the great threat and all of this. So, you know, I think there’s a there’s a there’s a a very close association generally between the German general staff and the German rankin filed generals and the Nazi regime.
  • Speaker 3
    0:46:23
    And there’s a lot of works looking at the criminality that confirm that, but also just looking in the self interest. Maybe one quick last question on that or one quick point on that. Hitler is also bribing the generals to no small extent. So for example, if you reach Colonel general, you get an extra two thousand reichmarks every month. If you make it to field marshal, you get four thousand.
  • Speaker 3
    0:46:46
    That is a phenomenal amount of money. That is like four times someone’s wage. An average worker’s wage on top of your German wage, your, your, your, your field marshals wage. And that means that at that top tier, If you push back on Hitler or you don’t tow the line, not only are you in danger of losing your status in your position, but you are getting major financial rewards, and it goes much beyond that. People like Kluge, people like Guderian, get given estates vast estates in the east.
  • Speaker 3
    0:47:16
    So there’s all kinds of, motivations beyond just professional ones. These are very personal ones, that you stand to benefit from, and these are not public. Nobody knows that these things are being paid. This is not something that is sort of known. It’s just sort of privately paid money, but generals, obviously, you know, they’re getting it.
  • Speaker 3
    0:47:35
    But it’s not something that, there’s much oversight on. In fact, it was only in the nineteen nineties that someone came out and said, Hey, look, they’re actually paying off all the German general so there’s a lot of motivations. Hitler was carrot and stick with these guys. He he could understand their cast and what that would motivate them and he played to that. But it it that it wasn’t just that.
  • Speaker 3
    0:47:53
    There was a lot of rewards, and you also stood to lose enormously if you didn’t tow the line. Was there another part to your question earlier, or was that is that?
  • Speaker 2
    0:48:03
    Well, we were been roaming all over the place. I was wondering, actually, maybe if you could talk a little bit about some of the continued talk a bit about the historiography, the and in particular, I think I mentioned the German official history of the war, which people A lot of people are familiar with, the so called US army green books, these wonderful visual histories, which were written by some of the the finest historians in the United States. Parenthetically, actually, one one thing that just occurred to me while you were talking. I think wondered One of the things that may have misled us is, you know, the United States had this incredible program of having German officers, particularly the generals write all kinds of monographs
  • Speaker 3
    0:48:47
    in
  • Speaker 2
    0:48:47
    in in the sort of seven to eight years immediately after the war. It’s a huge corpus of literature. A lot of it, I think, formed the basis for the memoirs. These people eventually wrote, but but they also, I think, shaped a lot of our understanding of what the war was and was a distorted understanding. But in any case, the the the question I’d, sort of the secondary question I wanted to ask Quebec was the the official histories.
  • Speaker 2
    0:49:13
    And then as long as I’ve got the floor and before Eric takes this off somewhere else, If you could talk a little bit about what are the big questions that you think remain to be resolved, as you suggested there are. So those two things, the German official history, and then what are some of the big issues that you think are left out there?
  • Speaker 3
    0:49:31
    Sure. Perhaps in in, in in louding that, official history, I should probably at the disclaimer that my PhD supervisor or as the German say, my doctor Farter, I always love that idea, my my doctoral father, but, was Rolfi to Mueller, who is one of the authors of particularly volume four. Volume four is the German attack on the Soviet Union. So and Jurgen Forster, and and and some of these great men of German history. You know, one of the things that I I would say about that that that series beyond just being remarkably authoritative is it’s way ahead of its time.
  • Speaker 3
    0:50:05
    I mean, the volume that I, you know, we’ve been speaking to today is is the is the the fourth volume. I think that came out in nineteen eighty three in German. The English version took much longer, but, A lot of these ideas that we’ve talked about, Ug Foster was really breaking through and talking a lot about how this German army isn’t just a you know, it’s very close to the regime. He talks a lot about, how they’re, engaging with the German allies, which is a, you know, it’s a huge part of Barbara. So people sort of forget.
  • Speaker 3
    0:50:36
    I talked about three million German soldiers, but you can almost if you take the fins, you are very much into another million. Right? Is extraordinary because people say, hang on a second. How many German allies? But, you know, there’s four hundred and fifty thousand Finnish forces fighting in the extreme north.
  • Speaker 3
    0:50:51
    They’re not even part of Army Group north. They’re their own front. You got three hundred and twenty thousand romanians, sixty thousand Hungarian, sixty thousand Italians, forty thousand Slovakia, And then volunteers from all over Europe, all over occupied Europe, there are volunteers, and a whole division from Spain, which is nominally neutral. They’re all on the eastern front fighting against Bolshevism. And a lot of great work was done there.
  • Speaker 3
    0:51:11
    This is an amazing series. And as I say, as the volumes came out, I think it very often in every seat in each edition, and some of the areas I’m not as across, there’s a whole thing on the bombing campaign and so on. It’s not really my area. But there’s a lot of really targeted work there. The other thing that I would say that is special about that series is from an Anglo American perspective, probably a lot of people imagine Well, there was all these German military historians who’ve been doing all the works in German on this war, really not at all.
  • Speaker 3
    0:51:41
    And there’s a reason for that. It’s not the typical reasons that people might say in the Anglo American reason, in the Anglo American world. Keep in mind if you ask the question, what kind of history was being done in Nazi Germany? Military history. And it was very you know, rah rah, Germany’s great and wonderful campaigns and glory glory glory.
  • Speaker 3
    0:52:02
    So you can well imagine that after the Nazi regime is gone, Military history is somewhat taboo. It’s seen for a long time to be kind of, oh god, that’s Nazi history. And a lot of people even if they’re not thinking that way, naturally worried in a devastated country that if you studied military history, is that not just learning the lesson so we can fight the next for better? I mean, what are we learning out of this? When I started at the Hamburg University, did my doctorate in Germany, I got some of those questions.
  • Speaker 3
    0:52:31
    And that’s in the early two thousands. People, other students, even I don’t mind saying what’s one or two staff members are kinda like, what is this? You know, this is, is this what are you doing? In my professor, Rolfi Tamala had said to me, it’s actually a good thing that you come from Australia. If you want to look at this war on this level, because people will not understand it.
  • Speaker 3
    0:52:50
    They don’t mind people researching the Second World War, but the topics that you’re supposed to engage with are much more war of annihilation or but operational history is just not there. I think things are changing in Germany. There is more appetite understanding that just because you do operational history doesn’t make you someone problematic politically. You haven’t got some agenda to, you know, redirect the conversation away from the criminality into other issues. I think there’s more and more understanding of that.
  • Speaker 3
    0:53:20
    And in fact, the perhaps my final point on this when we’re talking about historiography is my my my my piece to I’m thinking about how I can say this very succinctly, my my my discussion with those colleagues who are doing the Holocaust or War of annihilation is Do you think all of that exists in a vacuum? I mean, I’m a I would like to think I am a better military historian because I don’t just read military history. I read all those books. They’re wonderful. They tell me a lot.
  • Speaker 3
    0:53:49
    They give me other insights into who these men are, how this army works. They do wonderful research. So I learn from that in order to inform a lot of my operational ideas. When I say things like national socialist military thinking, I get a lot of those ideas because national socialism has been re researched, but please don’t tell me as a Holocaust researcher, that you can’t learn anything from military history. Of course, you can.
  • Speaker 3
    0:54:13
    It’s the Nazis who burn books. Do not do that. You can learn that stuff and not everyone’s trying to justify anything. And, you know, it it’s it’s a big in my world, it’s a big happy world where we all learn from each other. And, and I, and I, and I think there’s just so much a lot of understanding for that too, I have to say.
  • Speaker 3
    0:54:29
    I’m not suggesting that everyone out there is looking to, you know, lincher military historian, but I have encountered people occasionally who have written reviews of my book saying, oh, once again, we have to get onto the tanks and drive through Russia. Which is besides the point, why does he not talk about and then they go into whatever they research, right? Which, you know, that everyone’s got their gripes in the academia.
  • Speaker 1
    0:54:49
    We are running, overtime, which I think testifies to the degree to which Elliot and I are completely entranced by your work and and what you do, and we could go on for hours. I wanted to get on to two questions, with, you know, which I hope we can wrap up with. You basically say that once it became clear that Barbara had failed and that the Germans are are not gonna be able to knock the Russians out quickly that this moves from a war of, of movement and maneuver to a war of attrition in which the two sides are locked in a contest of resources and production which the Germans were bound to lose, both because of the internal dysfunctions of, of the, Nazi economy and the, and the multitude of problems you outline that the that the military campaign had actually inflicted on the on the economy and vice versa. We’d love for you to talk a little bit about that as a way of transitioning into something I adverted to earlier with my, comment about Pregozian. As I read your books, I was reading them in the context of the ongoing war in Ukraine.
  • Speaker 1
    0:56:09
    And, you know, I I just am I’m hearing as I read your books, these echoes of contemporary discussions. Although, you know, some of the discussion is clearly inverted because Putin is arguing that the Ukrainians are Nazis when in fact as I read your books and looking at the military problems, he is creating with his interference, in the campaign with the generals, the breadth of the of the front, the armor outrunning the infantry in the early days, the logistical problems so much of this seemed very familiar from reading your book, your books. And I was wondering if you could comment on whether that’s just me or whether you have felt the same kinds of sense of of deja vu all over again as Yogi Barra would say.
  • Speaker 3
    0:56:57
    No. I I I I often when this war started in Ukraine, I often used to think, well, of course, I’m seeing all the parallels. I can’t escape my my everyday reading, but it’s kind of a It’s very interesting to hear you say that, and and and and some have, said that to me that they’ve, they’ve, they’ve seen these parallels based on a knowledge of the past. And in in some ways, I’m not trying to give plug for history or for history or for studying history, but for all those that are out there who if they were very honest with me might say, Oh, you know, history is all very well and good to study, but let’s be honest. It’s it’s not it’s just nice to know.
  • Speaker 3
    0:57:32
    I don’t know how applicable it is. This war has underlined that for me on a personal level in a lot of ways. Even to the point of second guessing myself, I’ve always said to people, I work in a military academy, and I’ve always said, well, I’m a historian, first and foremost. I don’t claim to know much about modern operations. I certainly have never served.
  • Speaker 3
    0:57:51
    But I, like everyone else watched this war unfold in real time. And one of the things I could not escape at the time, which really illustrates this point, was And I don’t know what media people are are consuming, but the media I was seeing constantly talked about this massive Russian deployment on the Ukrainian borders that was one hundred and fifty to two hundred thousand men. Now my context, as a non military professional, is only my history. And all I could think was Army Group South had a million guys in it, and Army Group South gets all those allies I was talking about all the romanians, all the hungarians, all the Italians, they all go to Army Group South. Now Army Group South to conquer the Ukraine in the second World War, takes from the twenty second of June nineteen forty one till about the middle of November to get through the Ukraine.
  • Speaker 3
    0:58:38
    And that’s in context of another much larger war that the Russians are having to fend off further north with many more German soldiers. So when I was hearing about, oh, the you know, it was always styled as well, sometimes by the journalists, sometimes by their guests as this huge Russian buildup, and I just kept thinking Yes, but geography hasn’t changed at all. In fact, what has changed is those Ukrainian cities are much bigger today. They’re much more built out. This is not I don’t know how the Russians are going to do this in such a short time.
  • Speaker 3
    0:59:07
    Shortly, they’re planning a rapid war. They’re not planning a months or years long war. I just don’t know how these numbers add up, especially since one of the things military professionals will always tell you is, yeah, if you talk about two hundred thousand guys, that’s not two hundred thousand fighters. Modern army has a big tail. So there’s a finite number of guys who actually do the fighting.
  • Speaker 3
    0:59:25
    And when this all unfolded and it became a bit of a fiasco, not that I’m client trying to claim that I’m I’ve got any prescience because I really don’t. I’m not a military guy. But it became very apparent to me that those doubts I had had about the numbers, I I sometimes wondered maybe the numbers being reported are just wrong. Maybe we don’t know how many they’ve got. But, no, it turns out that was probably correct.
  • Speaker 3
    0:59:46
    It was just a massive underestimation and coming back to Eric’s point there, yes, that’s a parallel. You could say that Germany massively underestimates the the task at hand, and yet they prepared much more for it. So It is a remarkable thing to watch this war in Ukraine, and not just on that level, on many levels. I think the the one that strikes me most, again, if we’re trying to do a World War two versus today, parallel is there are two wars going on in both instances. There is a conventional war as we understand it with military formations opposing each other.
  • Speaker 3
    1:00:21
    But in both wars, there is a war of annihilation. When we have gotten access to what has happened to, and, you know, when they Buted them out of the Kiev sector, and Buka came about. My god, just one small town, and what had happened there. And and just how ubiquitous in a very short period of time. Clearly, not just at the the soldiers doing running a mark, but clearly there was understanding, even perhaps we don’t know enough yet, support even for this kind of behavior.
  • Speaker 3
    1:00:49
    I mean, how are these people just machine gunned in the streets and no one’s even picking them up. Clearly, there’s understanding by the officers, and clearly there’s no problem with it. Not to mention mass graves. Now that’s also Barbara. There’s a lot of mass murder going on here.
  • Speaker 3
    1:01:04
    The parallels in the irony that then the Russians turn around and start talking about the Ukrainians as Nazis. But then if you look at Hitler, he started talking about, well, the, the Soviets with their, you know, all the killing that they do and what they would do if they ever came into cultured Europe, and the the parallels are remarkable. What what I can’t get over as well is that this isn’t just some state that’s doing this. This is Russia, which makes a a fetish of World War II and talks about it and has vast histories, it’s almost as though they’ve completely missed the point. So, I don’t mind saying I, I have been quite shocked by what has taken place.
  • Speaker 3
    1:01:43
    I think a lot of people use that word, perhaps even overuse that word, but for someone with a knowledge of this past to see what’s happening and in Europe and in our age, and you know, the whole nuclear component of if we are talking about a lot of parallels and such extreme behavior on behalf of the Nazis, I just hope that somewhere along the line, these parallels don’t continue because I wonder how far they go with it. Not that I wanna get all alarmist or anything, but it it it it does sometimes give me a cold shutter. Maybe we’ll leave it at that.
  • Speaker 1
    1:02:13
    Elliot, I’m gonna let you take us home.
  • Speaker 2
    1:02:16
    Okay. What’s the next book? That’s always always the unfair question that one academic asks of another after, you know, they’ve just published a wonderful piece of things. That that’s great. Okay.
  • Speaker 2
    1:02:29
    What’s the next one?
  • Speaker 3
    1:02:31
    Well, I have been the most predictable historian, because I did my PhD as you said. And I’m not trying to plug my books here, but I just did it. And I came away from it thinking, gosh, there’s so much in this, and I’m finding so much in these files. I’ll continue on. So I wrote this Kiev book.
  • Speaker 3
    1:02:42
    Then I carried on with, because, you know, I the same thing, you know, the more, you know, the more questions you have, and I sort of ended up with this five volume. One follows on from the other, and it was a bit of a a moment whenever anyone asks that question, they’d say, oh, hang on a second. Let me guess. What month did you end on? And I’d say, January nineteen forty two.
  • Speaker 3
    1:03:00
    Let me guess the next book just follows on. Well, I’ve bucked the trend because the one that came out this, oh, sorry, twenty twenty three was, a biographical book on the Hitler’s generals, which But it that didn’t get me out of it because it was still a lot of nineteen forty one and so on. I’d say a lot of new stuff in that book, this was German generals letters. But now I am completely bucking the trend, and I’m actually writing on the summer of nineteen forty four. And this is when there is a great collapse on the Eastern front Army Group Centre is completely destroyed by a major Soviet attack in the in the summer of forty four.
  • Speaker 3
    1:03:28
    And we have a lot of books on that, but they’re all from the Soviet perspective because that’s where the files are. And without, going into it, I have a lot of files that, let’s just say people didn’t really know existed because, you know, that’s what historians dig out, that give you that story from the German perspective from the inside. And, I’m very excited by the book and using all my spare time to work on
  • Speaker 2
    1:03:48
    fascinating. I, you know, I’ve I’ve my my guess was going to be Cursk, but although my understanding is people also think Cursk may have been overrated as a, in terms of really having dealt, a death blow to the to the German army that it really is the destruction of army group center. But that that could take us back back into the weeds. I’m I’m a
  • Speaker 3
    1:04:09
    I’m a reasonably young man, so I would say nothing’s out. I mean, I’m also very fascinated people say, I didn’t do stuff on the Western front and so on. I am quite fascinated with military history generally, even beyond the second World War, but But, yeah, one book at a time.
  • Speaker 2
    1:04:23
    Well, we’ll look forward to it. Thanks very much.
  • Speaker 3
    1:04:25
    Thank you.
  • Speaker 1
    1:04:27
    Our guest has been David Stahl, the senior lecturer at University of New South Wales Canborough, and he is the author of, a terrific series of books that we’ve just been discussing on on the second World War and the German invasion of the Soviet Union and its consequences. David, thank you so much for joining us.
  • Speaker 3
    1:04:46
    Thank you all.