Why Nazi Germany Lost WW2 - an analysis

Originally published at: http://timeghost.tv/why-nazi-germany-lost-ww2/

WWII in Europe was not decided on the battlefields, it was lost and won in the hearts, minds and bank vaults on both sides. Or as they say; “it’s the economy, stupid!” I know that this isn’t what anyone wants to hear – the suspenseful, dramatic, terrifying and yet captivating back and forth of a…


I think this map goes some way to explaining why the Axis lost WW2.

German industrial output was on approximately the same level as Britain or the Soviet Union alone. They ended up taking on almost the entire world. I think the question should not be how they lost but how they managed to keep it going as long as they did.

A very interesting read on this BTW is Adam Tooze’s The Wages of Destruction - basically an analysis of the Nazi war economy.

In a way, Germany and Japan faced the same problem before WW2. Both were lacking in natural resources and were basically faced with a choice. They could either take their place in the global economy, which at the time was basically run by Britain and America, or they could try and grab the resources they needed by military conquest - leibensraum and the Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere were basically resource grabs in the style of the other great European powers. The success of both of those countries’ economies post war rather suggests that they’d have been better off taking the former approach rather than the latter but both countries had at least semi-rational reasons for taking the other option. Both countries managed to run riot for a couple of years, basically because they started preparing for war before their enemies but neither managed to deal the knockout blow they needed before their enemies got their act together.


Another good read is Why The Allies Won. It basically argues that while an allied victory was ultimately inevitable due to vastly superior manpower and resources, the allies started to win, or at least turn the tide, a bit before they should have done, based solely on material considerations alone.

I think a good, if slightly glib summary is basically this: The allies won because they did all the boring stuff better than the Axis.

What I mean by that is that while the Axis had cool stuff like Tiger tanks or seemingly unstoppable naval air power, the Allies did all of these kind of things way better than the Axis.

Technological development
Code breaking and in fact intelligence gathering in general
Unified command
War production

In the long run, these are the kind of things that win you a world war.


I have a question about the Public Support Bankruptcy. I read in a book, I think it was “Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” by William L Shirer or “Adolf Hitler” by John Toland that life in totalitarian, “big brother is always watching” Nazi Germany, that the public does not get any real news about the war at all until the allies started bombing strategic targets after the US declared war on Germany (correct me if i’m wrong on the timeline here). Additionally, the media (thanks to Goebbels), kept fanning the idea that the initial German aggressions towards Czechoslovakia, Poland and even France was a “defensive” one to protect German nationals, German properties or German “brethen” living outside of Germany.

Also, I read that even in the last years of the war, the Germans were still clinging on to the hopes that Hitler would save them from the Russian and allied forces juggernaut. Judging from this public fervor, wouldn’t you say that public support was still high during and up till the end of the war, in spite of the drop in naming kids after Nazi figures?

Before I start answering this: none of the following exonerates the German electorate of the 1930s from the responsibilities they share in Nazi atrocities, To some degree you could argue that it makes it worse as it shows that they were well aware of what the Nazis were doing, contrary to the oft repeated “we had no idea!” statement furnished during one denazification interview after the other.

That was the official state of affairs - since the NSDAP controlled all media they chose what to tell the public and how to tell it. However, we know from the Nazis themselves and their secret internal report “Meldungen aus dem Reich” that this wasn’t working. Information from the front, regarding the activities of the SS, Gestapo and the party in general was leaking out in masses. If you consider the millions serving in the armed forces who were on regular leave at home, this is not astonishing. Every indication that we have is that the German public were fairly well informed throughout the war, albeit not through the official news (propaganda) organs.

Absolutely correct and many, many probably bought into that. Nevertheless; defensive or not the majority of the population did not want another war. Again we know this from the Nazis themselves and the “Meldungen aus dem Reich” report.

This is not quite correct. The German population was hoping that the Western Allies would save them from the wrath of the Red Army. This we know from a multitude of sources collected by the Allies after the invasion and from the German records before and during the invasion. As it turned out the German population mostly received the US and GB invaders with open arms - the Soviets, not so much. The German population quickly heard of the mass pillage, rape, and murder revenge tactics of the Red Army. Moreover most Germans knew that the war was lost at least by late 1944, if not earlier so a hope for a miracle on the field was probably only held by hardcore party members and Hitler himself (maybe not even by Hitler, but that’s a huuuuge other topic that we will cover in our reporting on Hitler during the WW2 series).

Post D-Day, for most generals and the majority of the population the war was only about getting the best possible conditions for surrender, but Hitler shot that hope down again and again. The conspiracy leading to Stauffenberg’s attempt on Hitler’s life in July 1944 was the most public display of frustration that the Führer seemed hellbent on fighting to the last drop of blood.

Recent studies of source material and interviews with surviving Western Allied soldiers has shown that the personal relationship between the Allied forces and the Germans were excellent, as it was with the Dutch, and the Italians, while the relationship with the liberated population in France and Belgium was everything else than sunny. Beyond possible cultural differences it seems that in Italy, Holland and Germany the Western Allies were received with relief and open arms, while in France and Belgium there was a lot of resentment for the destruction wrought upon them during the invasion campaigns. Several first hand records also show that the Allied soldiers reciprocated that resentment when they understood that they weren’t as welcome as they had assumed. Moreover housing millions of teenage men filled with fear of death, booze, and testosterone blowing off steam between battles seems to have led to some serious friction. By the time they arrived in Germany it seems that they felt that war was over and they seem to have cooled down and behaved significantly better.

The study in question goes much further than that correlating several data sets, this is one of the easiest ones to understand. Again it exonerates no-one - the same people that didn’t like what happened in the end had helped put those who did it into power and only some years earlier supported them wholeheartedly. I will write a separate article with more details about that study in a few days.


I agree with article

However, i have questions as follows:

That Hitler wanted consumer products still being made for home front during the war, as Hitler was worry about protests and such, like the ones in later stages WW I?
This above idea lead to not going to Total war production?
A. Speer was able to do some improvements, but was hindered by the above? Though I heard finally in 43 or 44 they may have started to cut way back on consumer products, but that was to late?
The Germany really did not get into real mass production? By this I think they mean like the U.S. mass production?

Regarding Hitler being liked, I agree with the article, but I have questions, as follows:

I heard communist and Nazis were have at times running street fights in some cities? one city the fight last three days straight I thought?
The communist and Nazis had the biggest following at one point, but there were many other parties beside those two?
That some Industrialist backed in the end or supported the Nazis? Not as they liked Nazis, but just wanted to stop the communist problem? As of the fighting in the streets I mentioned above, also as the communists cause problems in the factory(ies)? By problems in factory(ies) I think that means like strikes, unions, and/or other labor issues not fighting in factories?
Many communist were got rid of after Hitler got to power? And ones that did live on, maybe had acted like Nazis to keep living on?

Looking forward to seeing the series and how and what is done on above by TimeGhost and the contributors on this and on all other matters / subjects.

@mars510 I think it’s easiest to try to answer all of that in one go (we will go into much detail on these topics in Between-2-Wars and the WW2 series, so I’ll try to keep it relatively short, although the topic deserves much more).

There wasn’t really a problem with consumer goods early in the war beyond what happened on all sides pulled into the war. Yes, there were shortages of all kinds of things and some of it was planned, but the German population endured and carried on. Albert Speer definitely had a strong role in keeping both civil and military industry going, sometimes despite Hitler’s unreasonable ideas.

It wasn’t a problem of gearing up for a wartime output though. The Nazis had done a pretty good job of that already in the 1930s and were way ahead of both the US and Great Britain in this respect. This contributed to the initial advantage that they had in the war. However, by summer of 1941 they had stretched beyond their resource capacity. The biggest shortage was for fuel. Capturing oil fields in Eastern Central Europe was not enough and they needed badly to get either the Middle Eastern, or the Caucasian oil fields to keep the war machine running properly - as we know that failed in both cases.

When the US entered the war and the British had won the Battle of Britain the Allies wer able to turn their air forces towards increased bombing raids towards German industry. Fantastically this didn’t cripple Germany… they were very resilient, but it did force them to divert their attention to defence and rebuilding. In combination the lack of natural resources (again; especially oil) and the disturbance by constant bomb raids meant that the German industry couldn’t reach maximum capacity at any time after early 1942. Even the added resources through captured industry in occupied territories failed to close the gap. Even if they could have closed that gap they never stood a chance to keep up with the US production capacity, once this reached full war footing in early 1943. Consider that the US economy was much larger than the German. Perhaps even more importantly the US was producing undisturbed by a war on their own mainland territory full of natural resources.

As for the Communist vs. Nazi struggle before 1933, there is no doubt that this played a significant role in garnering support for the Nazis; especially from the middle and upper classes. For a while in the early twenties it looked more likely than not that Germany would either become a soviet state as a whole, or break up again into smaller states, with several of them under Soviet style communist leadership. The Communists were not very well organise though and didn’t have recourse to the same kind of financial support as the Nazis. And as for street fights it went much further than that. On several occasions in the early twenties the democratic leaders, desperate to stop Socialist revolutions turned to the extreme right wing para military organisations called the Freikorps to violently squash strikes, uprisings, and protests. At this point the Freikorps were however disparate organisation that had no Germany-wide coordination.

Hitler’s main tour de force was exactly in the area that you’re inquiring about. He rallied strong support even from moderate forces with deep pockets who saw the Nazis as the lesser of two inevitable evils. Hitler then used the power base this gave him to start rolling up the diverse extremist groups on the right wing into the Nazi party. In the same time the Nazis fuelled the conflict with the Communists in a clever move to increase the perceived threat from the left. This drew more and more sympathisers and as the movement grew the moderates and conservative forces right of the center moved closer and closer to the NSDAP, or continued to believe that Hitler could be controlled. They were deeply mistaken.

As for other parties, Germany was an ever changing quilt of political parties during the Weimar Republic. These parties (both right and left) were so fragmented and at odds with each other that it was hard to form coalitions that could govern with majority. Under the pressure of the Versailles treaty reparations and the world financial crisis one government after the other collapsed. By 1932 the NSDAP was the major party, but had no majority and cleverly stayed on the sidelines letting the coalitions fail. In 1933 they finally orchestrated the terror arson attack on Reichstag and blamed it on the Communists. With no government and a perceived threat of a pending Communist revolution, Hitler was able to pass the Ermächtigungsgesetz that empowered him to pass laws without the support of the parliament in the Reichstag. So in the end, yes it was very much the fear of Communism that fed Hitler’s popularity and enabled his rise to power. But let’s not forget that this Communist threat, although not baseless, was largely aggravated and exaggerated by Hitler and the NSDAP.

In the end he had managed to rally a majority of the population behind his agenda, by making them believe that it would solve all perceived problems and threats (many, such as blaming everything on the Jews were complete insane fabrications, while some like the fear of Communist revolution had some basis, but were extremely exaggerated and enlarged). It was a textbook example of beckoning to base, populist fears using gaslighting.

There are a couple of factors worthy of consideration here.

First of all, according to Nazi planning, the war with the Soviet Union was going to be over by Christmas. German war production at the time was adequate to sustain a 6 month blitzkreig against the Soviets. The Grand Plan was that they would attack the USSR, the USSR would collapse and Germany could acquire all the leibensraum and resources it needed to sustain itself in the longer conflict against the USA and British empire. Maintaining some level of consumer goods production didn’t really matter in this scenario.

Secondly, Tooze is quite scathing of Albert Speer and his “armaments miracle”. A lot of the increased German war production after 1942 was really due to increased production capacity that had been planned for pre-war coming on line.

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There is this common view among Wehraboos that the Germans were heroes because they were outnumbered. Whilst that might be true on the surface, we mustn’t forget that the Germans were outnumbered because they decided to invade most of the World. If they found themselves in an untenable situation, it was because they had put themselves there.

They weren’t heroes for fighting whilst outnumbered, they were strategically short-sighted to have found themselves in such a situation to begin with.

Anywho, on this specific topic, I am off the same mind as TIK, namely that the answer to “Why did Germany lose World War II?” is simple. Oil.

When we think of the impact of oil, we think of it in terms of the military always. We think of Rommel not being able to launch counter-attacks in North Africa because he had no fuel, we think of how German tanks had to be towed to the frontline by horses in 1945 to conserve what little fuel they had left. But oil isn’t just military important, but it’s also economically vital. As Britain decided to stay in the war and keep up the blockade on Germany in 1940, the Germans found themselves in the unenviable position of having to supply all their new-conquered territory with oil.

Even before war broke out, with oil imports being unrestricted, and the Germans only having to worry about their own economy, they were still constantly being limited by oil. With oil shipments cut off from them in 1940, and having to supply almost the entirety of mainland Europe, they had no where near enough oil. And as a result, the German economy suffered badly. According to Walther Funk, the German economy was receiving less than 18% of it’s peacetime oil quantities.

Before Barbarossa, General der Infanterie Georg Thomas, the head of the war economy and armaments office, warned the OKH that when war broke out with the Soviet Union, fuel supplies would only last for two months of major offensive operations. It got so bad that General Adolf von Schell, the head of the Motor Vehicle industry, proposed a partial demotorization of the Wehrmacht to cut down on fuel consumption.

This is what led to the infamous situation that when Germany initiated Operation Barbarossa, they had more horses than trucks.

This picture sums up the entirety of Operation Barbarossa1cba3cf014f72d21cb886d23ee209897

So yeah, in my opinion, Oil was the biggest reason Germany lost the war. Not only because it heavily restricted their military options, but also because it doomed their economy to sluggishness and severe rationing.

To this day, Wehraboos from all across the Internet will insist that if Germany would had just continued building Panzer IVs instead of Tigers and Panthers, they would have won the war!

Aside from the fact that World War II was a mass infantry and artillery war, and though tanks were important, they were not the end all be all, and they couldn’t win the war alone, even if Germany had produced nothing but Panzer IVs, it would had changed nothing. Because without the fuel to run it, a tank is just a very expensive metal box.

Strategically speaking, the Germans were probably correct to develop high quality tanks, because they simply didn’t have the fuel or the crews to be able to deal with many “good enough” tanks.

Modern Wars are Economical Wars above all else. You can have the most kickass commanders with the coolest weapons and the most badass of tactics, but if you do not have a strong economy to be able to back up their efforts, you are doomed.

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Not just oil either. They were critically short of almost any raw material you’d care to mention. The Germans showed remarkable ingenuity in producing synthetic replacements for things like oil, rubber or nitrates but there’s a reason why the rest of the world didn’t do this - it was far cheaper both in financial and energy terms, to just produce or trade for the real thing. Hitler was determined that Germany was going to stand on its own though and not engage with what today would be called the global economy.

There were a few reasons for thinking like this, beyond simple jingoistic nationalism. Germany got screwed over massively by the great depression and by protectionism which followed. They had huge reparations to pay after WW1 and these had to be paid for by trading with other countries. When they couldn’t trade they were screwed. Behind the global economy there is the global banking system and viewed through Hitler’s rabidly antisemitic eyes, the presence of a large number of Jews in this banking system meant that the entire system of global trade was part of the Jewish conspiracy against the Master Race.

These factors are vital in understanding why German industrial output of things like tanks lagged so badly behind the allies and behind the USSR in particular, which pre-war had approximately the same GDP as Germany.

The West, with virtually unlimited access to raw materials, including oil, saw a huge boom in the production of motor vehicles and mechanization in general. The USSR wanted to play catch up and constructed, or had built for them by the West, vast factories of their own to produce motor vehicles such as tractors to help with their own plans for rapid industrialization.

The German economy, by contrast, with none of the cheap resources available to both rival economic blocks, and an unwillingness to trade for what it lacked, remained relatively backwards and undeveloped. To our eyes, used to the industrial might of modern Germany, this seems remarkable but the very foundations of the post-war German economic miracle are the the very things that Hitler shied away from. German workers lagged behind those in the UK, not to mention the USA in almost every measure of economic success - be it wages, consumer goods or motor vehicles.

The German government tried all manner of work-arounds for this. The good old VW beetle, for example, was an attempt to mass produce a cheap car that would be affordable for the relatively impoverished German workforce. There were any number of similar “volks” products produced in prewar Germany with a similar philosophy, the volksempfanger radio being a good example.

The knock on effects of all this were felt when Germany started seriously gearing up for war production. Both the West and the USSR had access to vast natural resources, true, but they also had a far greater production capacity that could be converted to war production. A lot of those T-34s that were banged out in such vast quantities were made in factories that had been built before the war, sometimes with Western help, to produce tractors or locomotives for the civilian economy. The same is true for Sherman tanks or P-51s or Studebaker trucks. Because of its basket case economy and low level of mechanization, the German economy did not have that kind of production capability, nor did they have the steel mills to supply those factories even if they had had them in the first place.

The same can be seen with agricultural production. British farms had access to machinery and chemical fertilizers that allowed them to be more productive than their German equivalents. Germany is often criticized for not mobilizing more women into the wartime economy but, Nazi ideology aside, many of those women were stuck on farms, trying to keep them going using antiquated farming methods, while their men were away at the front.

The Germans were certainly aware of these issues. The various four year plans were attempts to correct these issues but they were always playing catch up. Had they been producing nearly 1000 tanks and assault guns in 1941 like they managed in 1944, for example, the outcome of Barbarossa could have been very different.

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Just throwing this in the middle of things…
It’s for conversations on this level that we created this forum - humble thanks to all of you in this thread!


I broadly agree but with:

I respectfully disagree.

Germany didn’t have enough fuel to run their tanks in 1941 to begin with. Adding 1000 tanks wouldn’t increase the performance of the Wehrmacht, because they wouldn’t have the fuel to run them. They would probably just have ended up collecting dust somewhere.

I do agree that many of the issues Germany faced came from how limited their economy was during the 20’s and 30’s, meaning they had no real base to build up an advanced industry from.

It is pretty important to remember that the Nazis only had six years of time to build up before the war started, which is probably why Germany was ill-prepared for a long war.

Raeder and the Kriegsmarine come to mind especially; They had been promised that war wouldn’t break out until 1946, so when the Allies declared war in 1939, they were completely and utterly unprepared for even limited military action.

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Well thank you to you and Indy for producing all this great content and for making such a great place for us history nerds to hang out.


Fair enough actually and that is a good point.

Barbarossa was carried out on a logistical basis that can be best described as woefully inadequate so it would be a huge challenge to get the fuel, ammo and spares to the front for these tanks too, especially for the crucial advance on Moscow, even if they had all that stuff, which they didn’t!


Actually, the breakdown of the German supply system is another good example of the problems caused by the weak prewar German economy. To supplement the dodgy Russian rail system, the Germans commandeered trucks from all over occupied Europe (this screwed up the economy even more too, but what the hell). This meant that maintenance and finding spare parts was a complete nightmare but also that a huge number simply broke down because they were not meant to be used as military vehicles and couldn’t handle the conditions in Russia. Without the same prewar motor industry as the USA in particular, there was no way to get the trucks they needed to keep the Wehrmacht mobile.

On the German timetable for going to war, another interesting point that Tooze makes is that Germany was facing a critical shortage to foreign exchange to pay for imports and that had they not gone to war in 1939, their economy would have started to collapse.

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I noticed that we’ve been talking a lot about the economic aspect of why Germany lost the war. How about from the military strategic and tactical aspect of it? Would the Nazis have won the war if Barbarossa was scheduled to be executed on the original schedule instead of being derailed by the Balkan punishment campaign?

And how did German’s WW2 economic woes compare to WW1 conditions? I mean both wars are prolonged wars and also in both wars the Germans fought in several theatres at once (Africa, Western and Eastern front) but was Nazi Germany in a better economic position compared to the German Empire in WW1?

Well… first of all the timing for Barbarossa wasn’t the problem. Second of all it wasn’t really derailed by the campaign in the Balkans. The problem was that the Germans (well Hitler and some German generals, most of them were not happy at all about the idea of invading Russia) had vastly underestimated the resources needed to take Moscow, to not mention going beyond Moscow and actually taking Russia. Remember that Moscow is in the far western part of the country, and as we know from the Russian Civil war, retreating into Siberia, regrouping and striking back to the west is an effective tactic. Moreover the Germans were terribly ill equipped for winter so when it came their equipment froze, and their soldiers succumbed to hypothermia, while the Russians were very well prepared for winter and just kept on striking back. As it was, the Germans were close to Moscow when winter struck, but even if they had gone beyond, they would never have been able to take the whole country before winter struck - it’s logistically impossible to travel that far while fighting in that time.

A comparison to WWI makes little sense due to the different nature of the wars. WWI was a static war while WWII was a highly mobile war that depended on transportation and logistic. Like @Jen, @adamsnook and I have pointed out in different ways, the main problem was fuel and adequate vehicles to keep the troops moving. In WWI the main resources needed were armaments, trench equipment , general supplies, and people. Although both sides faced shortages, but the outcome lay more in the total situation than that Germany broke down (this is very complicated and Indy will explain that in the next months on TGW).

So in the end, like I posit in the article, for WWII there’s no tactical and strategic way out for Nazi Germany, except the political decision to not pursue the policy of isolationism in the 1930s that @adamsnook described in detail. That on the other hand would mean that Germany would enter the fold of the global economy and the war would not have been necessary. As @adamsnook also points out, such a reversal would have been totally contrary to the Nazi ideology.

As I said in the article, Nazi Germany was more, or less doomed to lose the war from the get go due to exactly these facts. However, there is of course one scenario were the Germans stand a fighting chance, that is if the US doesn’t enter the war, but that is a not only not what happened, it’s also highly unlikely that the US would have been able to stay out forever. Once the US economy is thrown in, the war in Europe is only a prolonged final battle with an obvious outcome. Obviously the Allies can’t stop fighting though, then Germany will succeed against the odds. So as long as Hitler keeps on throwing his armies at the frontlines, the war goes on. Not only do we know that today, all of them knew this too - even Hitler - there’s ample evidence that starting December 1941, Hitler’s only objective is the extermination of the Jews, other ‘undesirables’ and (however absurd it sounds) the utter destruction of Germany (more on that during the series - it’s way too complicated to explain here).

The Wehrmacht figured that they would have the logistics to get as far as about Smolensk and that would be about as far as they could get until they had converted the rail network to run on German gauge. As it turned out they were about right. Hitler himself was decidedly ambivalent about going for Moscow and was more interested in capturing economic resources and destroying Red Army units in the field, hence the diversion of Guderian’s panzergruppe South to support Army Group South’s massive envelopment in the Ukraine.

Operation Typhoon, the advance on Moscow, was the German army’s baby and despite some fresh tanks from Germany was carried out with worn out units at the end of a very tenuous supply line. Contrary to popular belief, the German army did in fact have at least some winter equipment but getting it to the fighting troops at the front was nearly impossible. Casualties among the vital panzers from mechanical breakdown were also extremely high.

Realistically, the German army could possibly have made it to Moscow but in order to do so it would have had to forgo sending panzer units South to support the campaign in the Ukraine and North to support the advance on Leningrad. Typhoon couldn’t have kicked off much earlier anyway because the infantry were busy mopping up pockets of bypassed Soviet troops but a delay would have given the panzer troops a chance to refit and bring their equipment back up to some level of serviceability and to stockpile some supplies of fuel, spares and ammo.

Whether or not the capture of Moscow would have led to the surrender of the Soviet Union is debatable but it does highlight the fundamental problem faced by both Napoleon and Hitler of how to compel the Soviets/Russians to surrender. IMO, going all out for Moscow would be the best bet for this, although surrender is still far from guaranteed. The Soviets have almost limitless territory and men, so you’ll never compel them to surrender by taking land or destroying armies. Going for the centre of the entire state in Moscow might have brought about some kind of negotiated settlement although that is still a long shot.

I think the issue with the debate about Moscow and Typhoon and all of that is that many people base their knowledge on this issue by reading the memoirs of their favourite generals, such as Manstein or Guderian. The issue with that is that, while those two were both perfectly competent, their job was deal with the military aspects of the war, and even then, on a relatively small section of the front. The result is that they often miss the big economic picture of the war.

Guderian’s endless rant about how Hitler lost the war by not hyperfocusing on Moscow is a prime example:
Hitler made the right call when he ordered Guderian to head South. The Red Army would be sure to fiercely defend Moscow, and even if the Germans managed to take it, it would have been reduced to ruins just like Kiev and Stalingrad where. If the Germans would had captured Moscow, it would be a great symbolic victory to be sure, but strategically, they would just have wasted time they couldn’t afford to waste.

If Hitler had done what Guderian wanted to do, and continued pushing towards Moscow, then the Germans would have lost the war even quicker then they actually did. Because Hitler didn’t listen to Guderian, at least Germany managed to take some Caucasian oil fields and extract some oil from them before they were pushed back.

The Oil from the Caucasus was absolutely necessary to continue the war. If the Caucasus didn’t fall by late 41/ Early 42, then the German war machine would be grounded to a halt and they would lose almost all offensive striking capability.

As the situation stood in 1941, the Caucasus were vital to continue the war effort. Moscow wasn’t.

Hitler personally considered Moscow to be “not very important.” and he was, as much as I hate to admit it, absolutely correct in that assessment. Moscow was a sideshow, symbolically important but strategically nonessential.

"If Germany succeeds in taking Moscow that is obviously a grave disappointment for us, but it by no means disrupts our grand strategy. Germany would gain accommodation, but that alone will not win the war. The only thing that matters is oil. As we remember, Germany kept harping on about her own urgent oil problems
in her economic bargaining with us from 1939 to 1941. So we have to do all we can to make Germany increase her oil consumption, and to keep the German armies out of the Caucasus.
- Soviet Field Marshal Semyon Timoshenko

That Caucasus were all that mattered; Moscow, Leningrad, Smolensk, they were just a waste of time and effort. To put it a bit bluntly, the OKH was strategically and economically illiterate. They focused on symbolic nonsense rather than strategic necessities.

The Stavka, unlike the OKH, understood modern war and it’s economic realities. You can kill a hundred million enemy soldiers, eviscerate a hundred enemy armies, and capture four dozen capitals, but to actually win the war, you need resources, you need oil. The OKH didn’t understand that, and as such, they lost the war.

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Germany failed to capture a significant portion of the Caucasian oil fields and those it did were so effectively sabotaged by the Russians as to render them useless, forcing the Germans to essentially start over from scratch. From The Caucuses 1942-1943 Kleist’s Race for Oil by Robert Forcyzk, the Technical Brigade Mineralöl, the organisation set up by the Germans to extract oil from the captured oil fields managed to extract a grand total of about 1,000 tons of oil before they were forced to abandon the region due to the Soviet victory at Stalingrad. It was estimated that it would take until the end of 1943 to restore significant production to the region.

Another factor that was starting to seriously affect Germany’s ability to wage war on the Eastern Front by this time was a shortage of manpower. Germany had already mobilised around 85% of its available manpower at the start of Barbarossa. By 1943, replacements could only come from returning recovered wounded soldiers to the front, by taking skilled workers from the war economy or by conscripting young men turning 18. The latter gave them around 600,000 recruits per year but the Soviets, with a larger population and a high birth rate in the 1920s could count on around 4 times that number. Any plan involving capturing resources to sustain a long war of attrition had to deal with the fact that just to maintain the status quo, the Wehrmacht had to inflict a 4:1 loss ratio on the Red Army.

Just as capturing land or wiping out armies will not knock the Soviets out of the war, neither will capturing natural resources as the place is so vast they can simply find new sources of production or increase output from existing ones elsewhere. While the Germans never captured Grozny or Baku, the main centres of oil production, they did cause enough disruption to dramatically reduce production there. The Soviets responded by expanding drilling operations in the Urals and Siberia instead and the Soviet war economy kept ticking along. See http://karbuz.blogspot.com.au/2006/10/oil-logistics-lesson-from-wwii-3.html.

The Germans needed some way to knock the Soviets out of the war before their superior numbers and resources simply ground them down. This may well have been impossible but the Germans needed to find something that they could capture or destroy that would hurt the Soviets badly enough to compel them to negotiate. Taking Moscow might not be enough, and indeed it may well have been beyond the capabilities of the Wehrmacht to get there in 1941, but IMO it was the best bet they had.

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