What Would’ve Happen If the Germans Had Captured Moscow in 1941?
One of the classic “what ifs” of the Second World War centers on how—or if—the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, code-named Operation Barbarossa, could have achieved a quick victory. Hitler certainly believed that it could. All one had to do, he insisted, was to “kick in the door” and the “whole rotten structure” of Stalin’s Communist regime would come tumbling down. In many respects Barbarossa was a stunning success. The Germans took the Soviets completely by surprise, advanced hundreds of miles in just a few weeks, killed or captured several million Soviet troops, and seized an area containing 40 percent of the USSR’s population, as well as most of its coal, iron ore, aluminum, and armaments industry. But Barbarossa failed to take its capstone objective, Moscow. What went wrong?
Some historians have pointed to the German decision to advance along three axes: in the north toward Leningrad, in the south toward Ukraine, and in the center against Moscow. But the Wehrmacht had force enough to support three offensives, and its quick destruction of so many Soviet armies suggests that this was a reasonable decision. Others have pointed to Hitler’s decision in August to divert most of the armored units attached to Field Marshal Fedor von Bock’s Army Group Center, whose objective was Moscow, and send them south to support an effort to surround and capture the Soviet armies around Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. The elimination of the Kiev pocket on September 26 bagged 665,000 men, more than 3,000 artillery pieces, and almost 900 tanks. But it delayed the resumption of major operations against Moscow until early autumn. This, many historians argue, was a fatal blunder.
Yet, as historian David M. Glantz points out, such a scenario ignores what the Soviet armies around Kiev might have done had they not been trapped, and introduces too many variables to make for a good counterfactual. The best “minimal rewrite” of history must therefore focus on the final German bid to seize Moscow, an offensive known as Operation Typhoon.
Here is how Typhoon might have played out:
When the operation begins, Army Group Center enjoys a substantial advantage over the Soviet forces assigned to defend Moscow. It has at its disposal 1.9 million men, 48,000 artillery pieces, 1,400 aircraft, and 1,000 tanks. In contrast, the Soviets have only 1.25 million men (many with little or no combat experience), 7,600 artillery pieces, 600 aircraft, and almost 1,000 tanks. The seeming parity in the number of tanks is misleading, however, since the overwhelming majority of Soviet tanks are obsolescent models.
Initially, Army Group Center runs roughshod over its opponents. Within a few days, it achieves the spectacular encirclement of 685,000 Soviet troops near the towns of Bryansk and Vyazma, about 100 miles west of Moscow. The hapless Russians look to the skies for the onset of rain, for this is the season of the rasputitsa—literally the “time without roads”—when heavy rainfall turns the fields and unpaved roads into muddy quagmires. But this year the weather fails to rescue them, and by early November frost has so hardened the ground that German mobility is assured. With Herculean efforts from German supply units, Army Group Center continues to lunge directly for Moscow.
Thoroughly alarmed, the Stalin regime evacuates the government 420 miles east to Kuybyshev, north of the Caspian Sea. It also evacuates a million Moscow inhabitants, prepares to dynamite the Kremlin rather than have it fall into German hands, and makes plans to remove Lenin’s tomb to a safe place. Stalin alone remains in Moscow until mid-November, when the first German troops reach the city in force. And in obedience to Hitler’s order, Fedor von Bock uses Army Group Center to surround Moscow, instead of fighting for the city street by street. Nonetheless, the Soviet troops withdraw rather than fall prey to yet another disastrous encirclement, and on November 30—precisely two months after Operation Typhoon begins—it culminates in the capture of Moscow.
The above scenario is historically correct in many respects. The three major departures are the absence of the rasputitsa, which did indeed bog down the German offensive for two crucial weeks; the headlong drive toward Moscow rather than the diversion of units to lesser objectives in the wake of the victory at Bryansk and Vyazma—a major error; and, of course, the capture of Moscow itself.
But would the fall of Moscow have meant the defeat of the Soviet Union? Almost certainly not. In 1941 the Soviet Union endured the capture of numerous major cities, a huge percentage of crucial raw materials, and the loss of four million troops. Yet it still continued to fight. It had a vast and growing industrial base east of the Ural Mountains, well out of reach of German forces. And in Joseph Stalin it had one of the most ruthless leaders in world history—a man utterly unlikely to throw in the towel because of the loss of any city, no matter how prestigious.
A scenario involving Moscow’s fall also ignores the arrival of 18 divisions of troops from Siberia—fresh, well-trained, and equipped for winter fighting. They had been guarding against a possible Japanese invasion, but a Soviet spy reliably informed Stalin that Japan would turn southward, toward the Dutch East Indies and the Philippines, thereby freeing them to come to the Moscow front. Historically, the arrival of these troops took the Germans by surprise, and an unexpected Soviet counteroffensive in early December 1941 produced a major military crisis. Surprised and disturbed, Hitler’s field commanders urged a temporary retreat in order to consolidate the German defenses. But Hitler refused, instead ordering that German troops continue to hold their ground. Historically they managed to do so. However, with German forces extended as far as Moscow and pinned to the city’s defense, this probably would not have been possible. Ironically, for the Germans, the seeming triumph of Moscow’s capture might well have brought early disaster.
What does Larry Page do every day at Google?
My answer comes from my own direct experience, back when Larry was CEO of Google. He’s now CEO of Alphabet, and handed day-to-day Google operation over to Sundar.
Larry works hard. What he does every day is to stay on top of the latest product development, and to make key decisions for the company. He tries very hard to stay on top of things, but given the size of the company, what he sees is only through a lens. He can only pay attention to the most critical things at each moment.
Anyway, here’s the real story I experienced.
Back then, every Monday afternoon, Larry had his entire L-team staff (basically the SVPs who directly reported to him, and other execs like Sergey, Coach Bill, Eric Schmidt, etc) meet together to discuss key strategic topics. This normally meant one division would be presenting something, and everyone else gave their input/feedback, and the debate could be very heated.
There was a period when my project was in that hot seat, so I had the “luxury” of being invited to that meeting and presenting my project to try to win the L-team blessing. Once I even sat right next to him.
It was not a comfortable setting for me. My team had worked very hard to push a project from zero to being launch ready in 3 months (for Google, that’s lightning-fast speed), and there, I had to persuade 15 or so SVPs to get the approval for launch.
I can’t go into details about the exact debate (for obvious confidentiality reasons), but I remember it was very heated. The various SVPs had drastically different opinions. Larry for the most part was quiet and listening. In the end, he had to make a decision, because the SVPs couldn’t reach agreement. The decision wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for, nor what any of the SVPs was arguing for. It was more of a compromise than I’d wanted to see or any of the SVPs in the debate wanted to see. It made none of us happy.
Nonetheless, it was Larry’s decision and everyone got some work to do to support Larry’s tweak to the product for launch.
On that day, I felt sympathy for Larry. Yes, he is CEO of one of the most powerful and respected companies on this planet. We’d all expect him to be powerful. Yet, his decision was a compromise, because the overall system and the overall dynamics are very complex. I’m sure that’s not what he wanted; his hands were tied too.
Observing Larry’s hands being tied, in his own company, gave me an extra layer of appreciation for checks and balances. Now several years later, at my own startup Leap.ai, there are constantly moments where I’d remember Larry’s face on that day when I sat right next to him.
– Yunkai Zhou
According to the Bible, how did Jesus’s death save humanity?
Imagine you’re in a courtroom, and you’re guilty of a crime. You owe an exorbitant fine, and you can’t pay it.
Then a man comes along and offers to pay it for you. This is the only man with enough money to pay that fine, and he pays it in your place, satisfying the legal requirement.
That’s what Jesus did.
Every human who sins is guilty, and (according to the bible), deserves death. One of us cannot take on the death sentence for another, as we all have our own death sentence. In other words, I can’t die for your sins because I have to die for mine.
Jesus is the only human who never sinned, being God in human flesh. Since He had no sin, he could take the place of others. He willingly was tortured and killed, and God placed our sins on Him. His physical death paid the ‘fine’ for us, freeing us from court and from everlasting death.
Jesus was a perfect scapegoat, without any spot or blemish, and by accepting him and respecting his wishes for what he did, we are saved by his payment.
What was the alternative to dropping the atomic bomb on Japan?
The alternative to bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have been Operation Downfall. Operation Downfall would be split into two parts: Operation Olympic and Operation Coronet.
Operation Olympic was scheduled for November 1st, 1945. It’s goal was the invasion of the southern part of Kyushu, the southernmost of the four Japanese main islands. It was to involve forty-two aircraft carriers, twenty-four battleships and over four-hundred cruisers, destroyers and destroyer escorts. By comparison today’s US navy only consists of 271 deployable combat ships. Fourteen Army and Marine Corps divisions would have invaded the beaches. The Fifth, Seventh and Thirteenth Air Forces would have provided tactical air support for the troops on the beaches, with the Twentieth Air Force continuing their strategic bombing of Japanese infrastructure, in the hopes of slowing down the Japanese main counterattack.
Operation Coronet was scheduled for March 1st, 1946. Twenty-five Army and Marine divisions would have landed on two opposing beaches, with the plan being to take Tokyo in a large pincer movement. By comparison, the entirety of all American, Canadian and British forces landing on D-Day amounted to twelve divisions.
The Japanese also had some plans of their own. Operation Ketsugō would employ five thousand kamikaze aircraft. They planned to target the troop carriers ferrying troops to the beaches, which alone could have destroyed one third of the invasion force before it even arrived. They would also employ over four-hundred submarines and over two-thousand suicide boats to attack Allied transports. They also planned on using “human mines” – men in diving gear who would swim out and detonate bombs as the American transports passed overhead.
The Japanese moved one million soldiers to Kyushu. They also forced civilians into the fight, training women, schoolchildren and old men to kill Americans with muskets, longbows and bamboo spears. Casualty predictions varied widely but were extremely high for both sides. Depending on the degree to which Japanese civilians resisted the invasion, estimates ran into the millions for Allied casualties, and tens of millions for Japanese casualties.
Nearly 500,000 Purple Heart medals were manufactured in anticipation of the casualties resulting from the invasion of Japan. To the present date, all the American military casualties of the sixty years following the end of World War II—including the Korean and Vietnam Wars—have not exceeded that number.
The irony however, is that some plans for Downfall called for the usage of atomic bombs anyways. Numbers vary from seven up to twenty bombs. Hiroshima and Nagasaki would be bombed either way, but they were planning on using the bombs on the beaches to soften up Japanese defenses as well. Considering the lack of knowledge about radiation at the time, the troops would be marching through the still glowing impact zone, possibly killing every single one of them.