Why didn't the Germany build soviet style train tracks near the USSR?

Why didn’t Germany build soviet gauge train tracks near USSR in occupied Poland? They had trouble invading USSR and had to carry most of the goods by roads as they couldn’t use trains because tracks were different. So why not build some near the border and then war material would come in from (say) Berlin on German gauge tracks, be offloaded near the border, put into trains running on the Soviet gauge and then sent off to the frontlines?


In Christian Wolmar’s Engines of War: How Wars Were Won and Lost on the Railways, he outlines the troubles the Germans faced after launching Operation Barbarossa with regard to logistics on the railway network. Each of the main Germany axes of advance had only one Soviet rail line to provide the bulk of the transport, but the Soviets had successfully withdrawn or destroyed the majority of the locomotives and rolling stock. German industry could have been assigned the task of producing new locomotives to fit the Russian gauge, but re-gauging the existing track was significantly faster.

This meant a significant labour requirement to unload incoming German trains at the furthest point of conversion and re-loading onto the few Russian trains that were able to be put back into service. This was a major task for the German army even before Partisan activity began in earnest. The available coal to fuel the engines in Russia was of inferior thermal quality to the coal the German locomotives were designed to use, so in addition to all the military supplies that had to be carried, the Germans also had to supplement the Russian coal with significant amounts of better coal from elsewhere in Europe.

The next problem didn’t show up until late in 1941, but it was the same problem the fighting troops had to contend with: the Russian winter. Russian railway locomotives were engineered to operate throughout the year, but German locomotives almost never faced the low temperatures that happen in Russia, so any German locomotive allowed to freeze was almost certainly lost to permanent mechanical failure (the locomotive’s entire boiler would need to be replaced, which was not a repair that could be made in the field).

Compounding the problems for the Germany railway troops was that the military planners failed to give the railway troops any priority for supplies and reinforcements, which meant that the higher priority troops (the front-line soldiers) often had to wait longer and/or receive less because the railways weren’t able to repair damaged track or rolling stock or increase the speed of re-gauging the Russian railways.


This is amazing. If my ADD would let me, I would read this book cover to cover. Sadly there doesn’t seem to be an audiobook for this one. There’s never an audiobook for histories.


Those are all great reasons- but which one of them were truly unknown going into Barbarossa?

While the USSR and Germany were not friendly at all- the quality of the coal should have been known, the degree of cold should have been known, and for sure the gage of the track was known. Although, given the supplies to the troops, they seemed to want to ignore the winter- even though “winning” in the USSR meant permanent occupation- so there was no choice but to plan for the harsh winter.

And while there would be labor needed to change the track gage, it had been done before on a large scale in the world- in the US post the US Civil war, the entire south was changed quickly. By WWII track building technology had changed from pure labor to some mechanical aid. Planning to specifically do that could have been done.

As I posted in another thread, it’s really hard to avoid the benefit of hindsight, but looking at the issues, it’s curious that the critical need of supplies and how to move them was so overlooked, as was the lack of reasonable planning for the harsh cold. There was no way at all to avoid the latter.


You’re quite correct that the military planners must have been aware of these issues and a rational army staff would have taken them fully into account in their war plans. It’s possible that they expected to capture a much larger proportion of the Russian locomotives and rolling stock in the initial attacks, but they should have made contingency plans that didn’t absolutely depend on all of them falling into German hands … which is what appears to have been their “plan”.

I agree that it would have been a sensible thing to take into consideration that even if everything went off perfectly – and it never does in wartime – large parts of the German military were going to be staying in Russia for a very long time. Russian winter is, thanks to the historical experiences of Charles XII and Napoleon, proverbial. Hitler’s interventions in the planning process can only account for so much of the irrational optimism: the rest is clearly staff failure at many different levels.

Historical changes of gauge in peacetime have been achieved in amazingly short periods of time … but that was with the advantage of advance planning and having vast numbers of workers available on a tight timetable to get it done. My personal sense (not derived from Christian Wolmar’s book) is that the German military as a whole put too much emphasis on the “teeth” and no where near enough on the “tail” for anything other than a “short, victorious war”.

Railways in North America had certainly tried to adopt as many mechanical aids to track maintenance as they could afford, but I’m not sure if that was equally true of European railways at that time. I recall watching a late 1940s promotional film by one of the “Big Four” British railways showing the innovative way they were now doing track work, and even with some quite modern mechanical aids, there were still dozens of workers clustered around the work (in that time period, not wearing any of what we’d now consider essential safety gear), because labour was still relatively cheap and plentiful.

As I posted in another thread, it’s really hard to avoid the benefit of hindsight, but looking at the issues, it’s curious that the critical need of supplies and how to move them was so overlooked, as was the lack of reasonable planning for the harsh cold. There was no way at all to avoid the latter.

There’s a hoary old saying about amateurs plan strategy, but professionals plan logistics. Despite having the benefit of basically inventing the modern military staff system, German plans in WW2 appear in hindsight to be very amateurish once you get to the strategic scale.


So, Germany still could not have taken Moscow? Because of the bad planning of the staff, different coal and engines for the locomotives and a lack of manpower both for workers and the military.


From the get go, Operation Barbarossa was and would be a logistical nightmare, which was very much underestimated by Halder and his staff.
As Hitler wanted to retain the surprise effect to, as he said, break down the house of cards, it was not an option to change gauges right in front of the Soviets, being a tell tale sign of invasion. Remember that Stalin actually was surprised, regardless of al warnings he got, by Lucy and other reliable sources, that German invasion was imminent.


Given the constraints, I think the Germans did far better than they should have done to get as close to Moscow as they did.


Human psychology plays a large part in explaining both the Germans’ incredible over-confidence (aka “Victory disease”) and Stalin’s willing self-delusion that the Germans wouldn’t attack him while his forces weren’t ready.


You are right on the money!
Appreciate your addition to the topic!:+1:


I think the south is probably smaller than what the Germans were dealing with. Not that that is an excuse for poor planning.

I also think the Germans planned on complete collapse of resistance within 3 months at which point they just take the Russian rail equipment. Silly optimism but victory disease is real.

Also could the Germans take Moscow? I think if that had been the plan, they could have but the cost elsewhere would have been huge. A lot more Soviet troops would have Been not captured.


The honest answer is yes, but not at Barbarossa but by dumb luck. What they need to do is at start Lunge with nearly everything at the Donnets, where the vast majority of the Soviet coal is and then lunge at the Caucuses. In theory, rail stock can be moved, factories moved, fuel cannot. Russia always depends on big armies, quality over quatity, that’s it’s weakness. You get the Donnets, they might blow it up they might not, the Soviet rail system runs out of coal in six months. Oh there plenty of coal left, but only to run the civilian transport network or the military one, not both. So what’s gonna starve? The factories? The workers? Or the reinforcement pipeline?

And the Caucuses? Doesn’t matter again if you get it or not, they’ll slit their throat either way. tank or tractor? The truth is the rest of the USSR can’t support either.

You take away their fuel base, it doesn’t matter whether you storm Moscow or not, they will logistically collapse. You will have food riots in Soviet cities that make Petrograd 1917 look like the bank run in It’s a Wonderful Life.


Fascinating idea of how to win. I just don’t know of any Germans believed it was necessary to win the economic war. They believed the could destroy the Russian army and it couldn’t be rebuilt and that it would happen before winter.


Hey if you want I can link the TIK video I found I based this off of. Hell I’ll link it anyway, I think it’s this one

TIK I think is sometimes absolutely ideologically flawed and biased but he’s generally well sourced, and even when I disagree with him, it’s usually in degree to which his point is salient. He talks about the Germans actually taking the Donnetz and how devastating it was IRL for the Soviets even with the Lend Lease starting to pour in. Plus all the food problems.


I can live with TIK’s bias I’m that he actively doesn’t like Germans. Most of those guys were kinda impossible to like. I do find it interesting when he points out German generals who make themselves look good at Hitler’s expense I.e. Halder.

I do like his economic studies of war. And it feels very hindsight. I don’t see many generals or leaders emphasizing economics. I think that is much more of a today thing.


It’s not his dislike of the Nazis and bureaucrats which includes the generals, I haven’t gotten much about his feelings about nationalities in general. It’s a lot of his Austrian school conciets towards a rather radical Murray Rothbard right libertarianism I think he goes off track. That’s less to do with the WW2 analysis itself and more to do with teaching people how to think about meta-analysis. His logistics video and the need for accurate price signals I think is a keen insight but without a more thorough understanding of then-era thinking on the matter and current era thinking, he’s only giving the most radical Austrian perspective.

Obviously, in wartime conditions, you CANNOT use market forces to reward and punish major commands, because that means some will be annihilated, in a game where numbers and material matter more than efficiency.

The problem with the Austrian perspective is that it holds empirical data in utter contempt so it’s not really interested in how things actually worked out compared to the theory and refuses to consider that economy and society are more than the sum of a bunch of individual interactions, so it’s hard not to see it as a theory as bad as most strains of Marxism as both are more philosophies than analyses, although it is a fair assumption that accurate data is hard to get and then measured properly and then understanding what that means is something that’s all but gotten me banned on other forums when I point out the production numbers don’t mean what you think it means and the Soviet fanboy happens to be an ill-tempered admin and when I dispute his “impossibilities” I’m being a Wehrboo, and not because I’m well-read on war and have a passion for weird shit outta nowhere stories.

So TLDR, TIK always has thoughtful things to say, but I’d be a BIT humbler about things because there’s always plenty of knowledge gaps and sometimes even fantastical things, including stuff that clearly seems to be bullshit in Lost VIctories, which can later turn out to be true. The ability to be humble and be surprised is kinda important when being a historian. And scientists, especially a paleontologist for much the same reason.


It’s been a long, long time since I read Lost Victories … can you point me to some of these later revelations online? I’d be curious to re-examine these incidents.

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No. Not read Lost Victories. I was actually thinking of a tendency to dismiss other accounts, the bible come to mind only for archeology to prove them exactly right.

My point of view of view is that the clean Wehrmacht is a myth but so is the Myth of the Clean Wehrmacht. So much of what we see as history is propoganda and highly biased that even when the facts are right, the conclusions are dead wrong.

Right now Lost Victories is a revisionist bete noir a thing of revilement as an embodiment of untruth, as if Soviet achieve material was in any way more truthful. It will at some point, be rehabilitated in part or in full.

For my part I can’t blame NATO and the Bundeswhr for creating the Clean Wehrmacht image because one thing I’ve learned about people is that many of them are unworthy of truth, and will only use the truth to hurt those who come clean. Because as political animals we want vengeance, recrimination and control, not understanding and not reconciliation. Manstein probably had problems with the truth but even if he didn’t there were vocal parts of the powers that be that still wanted him dead or career dead on principle. The 20th century was a shit 100 years for far more than the body counts.

The condemnation of the German Generals who looked the other way while the SS and the Nazis did terrible things is and continues to be about the condemnation of Prussian Militarism, Sartre’s politics is war by other means of keeping the German state and the German people controllable. History is a front of political struggle, and as much as I hate that I understand human corruption pride and power lust will allow nothing else.

That’s why I very much do not trust the modern revisionists. They are too eager to dismiss or call liar rather than synchronize.

They just found solid evidence of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, something respectable historians said never happened for decades, at least not the way it was written in the Bible, and now there’s confirmation. They said the same about King David and his entire kingdom. Them then found evidence of him, his coins, his fortresses in that order.


Sum it up to S.P.A.G.G.L.E.


Pride results in the other 6 being chosen.


The National Geographic Channel has this very interesting issue covered in it’s own programme in the Nazi Megastructure series.