Germany’s Invasion of the Balkans Delayed and Doomed the Invasion of the USSR
This myth has it that Germany’s invasion of the USSR, which supposedly ground to a halt because of Russia’s winter, would have succeeded if it had only started a month or two earlier than its actual launch date of June 22, 1941. The reason it did not start earlier, goes the myth, is because Hitler got entangled in the Balkans, invading Greece and Yugoslavia in April of 1941, which delayed the launch of Operation Barbarossa.
The first flaw in the myth’s logic is that it gives winter top billing for stopping the German advance. However, other factors such as fierce Soviet resistance, the over-extension of German supply lines to the snapping point as the Wehrmacht plunged ever deeper into the USSR, and autumn rains had already brought the German advance to a halt before the first snowstorms. The Germans had to regroup, giving the Soviets a needed breather, before resuming the advance on Moscow. Hitler’s soldiers were unprepared for the terrible Russian winter when it arrived, but that was only one factor, and not the main one, for the German advance’s halt.
The myth’s main flaw is that, if Barbarossa had been launched two months earlier, in April instead of June, it would have been even less successful and ground to a halt earlier, after advancing a shorter distance. The Germans advanced as rapidly and plunged as deeply into the USSR during the summer of 1941 because the months-long dry weather perfectly suited their Blitzkrieg style of maneuver warfare, of breakthroughs followed by aggressive exploitation via deep armored thrusts, with supplies hurried forward to maintain the advance, and infantry rapidly following to consolidate the gains.
If the Germans had invaded in April 1941, their advance would have churned to a standstill after only a few weeks because of the Rasputitsa, the Eastern European mud season when unpaved roads – nearly all of the USSR’s roads – become useless. Caused by rain in the fall and snow melt in the spring, the Rasputitsa would have brought an early Barbarossa to a stop or crawl as attackers and their supply chain struggled to move through a sea of mud, while the Luftwaffe was grounded by the transformation of its dirt airfields into fields of mire. That would have given the Soviets time to regroup while waiting for the roads to dry and the German offense to resume. The need to account for the Rasputitsa dictated the invasion’s start date, not Hitler’s Balkans entanglement.