Hitler’s military operations against the Nemeses

Through Thomas Childers, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

When Winston Churchill succeeded Neville Chamberlain, the Germans began planning the invasion of England. They knew they had to achieve air superiority over the English Channel, and so, an air battle between the German Air Force and the RAF ensued, called the Battle of Britain. Who won in this battle? What was Hitler’s next move?

The Germans carried out systematic bombardments of London during their military operations during World War II. (Image: Everett Collection / Shutterstock)

The Germans were unable to establish the necessary air superiority, although the bombing of Britain continued. It went from establishing air superiority over the English Channel to a systematic bombardment of London, and later other major cities in Britain.

However, the war against England was not Hitler’s main objective, and he quickly lost patience.

This is a transcript of the video series A history of the Hitler Empire, 2nd edition. Look at it now, Wondrium.

Operation Barbarossa

In the summer of 1940, Hitler asked his military to start thinking about the possibilities of an invasion of the Soviet Union. In December, the army’s high command began very serious preparations for an operation called Operation Barbarossa, named after the German Emperor of the Middle Ages who drove to the East to establish territory for the German Empire.

Nazi ideology viewed the Soviet Union as the center of the global Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy. Thus, the war against the Soviet Union would not only have geopolitical objectives – the seizure of territory, endowing the German nation with a living space – but it was also a major ideological objective. It would be a crusade against Judeo-Bolshevism, to save Western civilization, as Hitler said, from this great threat.

Learn more about the Bolsheviks in power.

Hitler’s assumptions during the war

Hitler was also convinced of two things. One was that although Germany was unable to invade Britain, it wouldn’t really be a two-front war. Britain was eliminated as a power factor in Europe.

The British were holding on, but the only way they could play a significant role now would be for the United States to go to war somehow. Therefore, a turn to the East would not be committing the sin of a war on two fronts.

Finnish soldiers maneuvering a machine gun.
The small Finnish army had waged a winter war by waging a terrible struggle against the Red Army. (Image: Military Museum of Finland / Public domain)

He also believed, like his soldiers, that the Red Army was weak. The Soviet Union had invaded Finland with almost disastrous results; the small Finnish army had waged a winter war, frustrating the Red Army. The Red Army did not look like a serious military force.

Hitler believed that the Red Army – and the Soviet Union, more broadly – was rotten to the core. It was enough to kick the door, Hitler said, and the whole rotten structure would crumble in a matter of weeks.

The rhetoric of war

Hitler warned his generals that this was not going to be a war like the war against France or against England – it was a war to be waged with unusual rules beyond the traditional practices of warfare.

Its main military commanders received an order, known as the “Commissioner’s Order”. This order was followed by a series of other directives, which made it very clear how different this war in the East would be. Here is a passage from this Commissioner’s Order:

In the struggle against Bolshevism, we must not assume that the conduct of the enemy will be based on principles of humanity or of international law. The initiators of the barbaric Asian methods of warfare are the political commissars of the Bolshevik Party. Consequently, measures must be taken against them immediately and with all severity.

In case this message was unclear, a set of guidelines was issued to the troops:

Bolshevism is the mortal enemy of the German National Socialist people. Germany’s struggle is directed against this destructive ideology and its carriers. This struggle demands ruthless and energetic measures against the Bolshevik agitators, guerrillas, saboteurs, Jews, and the complete elimination of all active or passive resistance.

Obvious targets of war

It goes without saying that the Bolshevik agitators, saboteurs and guerrillas were not going to be very easy to round up. But the Jewish community in what had once been eastern Poland and western Russia would become obvious targets.

An additional order made it clear to commanders and troops on the ground that there would be no legal repercussions for actions taken in this extraordinary theater of war. In addition, special units of SS commandos, the Einsatzgruppen, would accompany troops to the Soviet Union and be given “special tasks”.

Learn more about Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa.

The special tasks of the Einsatzgruppen

These Einsatzgruppen had received similar special tasks during the invasion of Poland in September 1939. In Poland they moved alongside the troops and gathered members of the Jewish community – committed all kinds of atrocities, to the shock of the military commanders and German troops.

There were many complaints during the Polish campaign, from the German high command and German troops on the ground, that these SS commando units were interfering with military operations.

But the military was told in no uncertain terms, before the invasion of the Soviet Union, that the Einsatzgruppen had received their orders for special activities from the highest levels of the German government, i.e. Hitler.

The SS had undertaken not to interfere. They would not interfere with military operations, but the military should also make room for them and try not to interfere in their operations either. Hitler did not want to miss this opportunity.

Common questions about Hitler’s military operations against the Nemeses

Q: What was significant about the name of Operation Barbarossa?

Operation Barbarossa was named after the German Emperor of the Middle Ages who drove to the East to establish territory for the German Empire.

Q: What is the Einsatzgruppen to do during the invasion of Poland in 1939?

During the invasion of Poland in 1939, the Einsatzgruppen installed himself alongside German troops and committed all kinds of atrocities against members of the Jewish community.

Q: What was the Order of Commissioners?

During the Second World War, HitlerThe main military commanders were given an order, known as the “Commissioner’s Order”. This order was followed by a series of other directives, which made it very clear how different the war in the East against the Soviet Union would be.

Keep reading
The Making of Lenin: The Beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution
The Impacts of the Russo-Japanese War on World Wars and History
Nazi propaganda and racial politics


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