## Gauge Transformation

As a reader pointed out, you don’t need to to have a flypaper memory to be a physicist.  There you can go a long way with a few basic facts and a long chain of mathematical reasoning.  You can see that the equation of state is going to go soft when things turn relativistic, and suddenly the star collapses.  Whee!

But many subjects are not like that. Understanding, to the extent that it is possible at all,  requires mastery of many facts.  Consider Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union.  More than three million Germans invaded, with hundreds of thousands of motor vehicles and even more horses.  The Germans had the initiative and were tactically superior: the Russians had greater numbers and resources, if they could survive long enough to bring them into play.  The Germans had to win quickly, if they were to win at all.

Modern armies require enormous amounts of supply, mostly gas and ammo. In those days, supply mainly meant railroads. In Germany, and in most of Europe, the separation between the rails, the rail gauge,  was 1,435 mm (4ft 8 1/2 in).   So when the Germans invaded France, they could immediately make use of the French railnet.  In Russia, the Germans faced a problem: the gauge was different, 1528 mm (5 ft).  German locomotives could not use those tracks until they had been converted.  As Pravda used to say, this was no coincidence:  it is thought that the Czarist government made this choice for defensive reasons.

It was difficult for a WWII-style army to operate for any length of time when more than 100 km from a rail head or port.   After the initial lunge, the Germans could not advance faster than the rate of gauge conversion.  Maybe they  couldn’t find enough railway engineers. Maybe Hitler thought his unconquerable will could trump mere logistics.  Maybe the Wehrmacht high command underestimated the difficulty of working in the rasputitsa and the Russian winter.  Whatever the reason, they couldn’t rebuild the railroads fast enough to take Moscow in 1941.

You can’t really understand the War in the East without understanding rail gauges –  assuming a spherical Soviet Union is not the way to go.

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### 56 Responses to Gauge Transformation

1. bob says:

I find it’s argument – that Hitler’s diversion of resources to the northern and southern parts of the eastern front cost him 6 weeks that would have gotten him into Moscow and
irreparably damaged the Soviets – fairly convincing.

It’s a matter of history that Hitler’s diversion of the air war in Britain from the southern aerodromes to the bombing of London cost him the Battle of Britain.

2. MikeP says:

Consider the effort that the Germans expended to get their Dora rail gun to the siege of Sevastopol. A unique twin track had to be laid down all the way from Germany just for this purpose. Manstein considered the effort a complete waste.

3. Sean says:

See here p173, “An un-told unusual situation almost immediately after Barbarossa began supports the view that, logistically, the Germans had the capacity to defeat the Soviet Union “[…] By 26 June 1941 the 7th Panzer division was 300 miles into the Soviet Union from its start on the Lithuanian border and on the following day the 3rd panzer Division reached Glunsa 350 miles into Russia. Current literature has not asked how the Germans could resupply tow panzer divisions at that distance from rail heads in German territory Obviously they succesfully organised truck columns with enormous capacities to run the supplies from the Geman border to the advancing armies”. Clever people, the Germans.

• gcochran says:

There were specific reasons that the German logistics task was easier in the former Baltic Republics. Why don’t you tell us what they were?

• Sean says:

von Leeb was not fast and could have gone faster. Army Group Centre did just as good “On 3 July, Bock′s forces were once again advancing eastward, with Guderian’s tanks crossing the Beresina and Hoth′s tanks crossing the Duna. This day marked the furthest distance covered by Bock′s troops in a single day, with over 100 mi (160 km) traveled. Four days later, Guderian′s tanks crossed the Dnieper, the last great obstacle before Smolensk” Map just look at the ground covered by 9 July. Sure they did not have the officially recomended amount of supplies.

• patinoklahoma says:

“There were specific reasons that the German logistics task was easier in the former Baltic Republics. Why don’t you tell us what they were?”

I assume you were suggesting that the invasion went easier in the Baltic states because they used the same gauge as Western Europe. This is only partly true, See “Military Railroads in the Baltic States 1940 to 1945” at http://www.feldgrau.com/articles.php?ID=9. Much of the tracks were left over from the days when the Baltic states where in the Russian empire. However the was a fair amount of “standard” gauge which the Germans could immediately use.

On the other hand you may be referring to the fact the many in the Baltic states preferred German rule to Russian rule.

• gcochran9 says:

Some standard gauge, and ports.

• Sean says:

http://www.carlisle.army.mil/usawc/parameters/Articles/99spring/hooker.htm
Logistics is important but what about the Soviet army? The Soviet dispositions in the north were far deeper and more defence orientated. Army Group North did not manage a big encirclement.

The original plan was one thrust straight to Moscow , after a war game they decided to have army groups north and south of von Bock’s Army Group Center which went along the main highway to Moscow. von Leeb’s orders were to lay siege to Leningrad, not to take it. Stalin sent powerful additional forces to defend Leningrad. That had the effect of weakening the army defending Moscow, which the Germans were trying to take.

4. Sean says:

“Hitler’s diversion of the air war” Yes it was a diversion all right – and Stalin fell for it hook line and sinker. Stalin understood that he was freeing Hitler to strike in the west by making a pact with Hitler. In effect he facilitated it. The British considered the Soviet Union to be the real problem,Stalin had already grabbed the Baltic states plus parts of Finland and Rumania. The British were mobilizing against the USSR over the war with Finland even after declaring war with Germany.The British guarantee to Poland originally covered only their independence; the British thought allowing Germany to take Polish land was acceptable and it would make war between Germany and the USSR quite likely (Chamberlain’s strategy). Only after the Nazi-Soviet Pact was anounced was the guarantee extended to Polands territory because at that point the British decided war was necessary; Germany and the USSR being friendly was not acceptable.

Clearly Stalin wanted to sit the war between the capitalists out and reap the rewards. Neville Chamberlain wanted to see the fighting done by the Germans and Bolshies, we know he thought that because he said so to a meeting of important Tories.With the the Nazi-Soviet pact the powerful Soviet deterent to any aggression was out of the equation and the British realized the balance of power had moved against them, which was unacceptable in a way that war between the Nazis and Soviets was not. If Hitler didn’t have to worry about the Soviets at his back that suddenly made all the previous calculations obsolete.

Although Stalin may have anticipated territorial demands or military pressure such as border incidents he was astounded when Hitler subjected the USSR to an all out attack with the promethean goal of conquering the soiet state. Everybody underestimated the effectiveness of the combination of Hitler decisiveness and the German army’s fighting power. There was nothing Stalin could do at that point because his forces were out of position, being in an offensive posture for they were too far forward. Stalin’s orders, when they came, were to stand and fight. That played into the Germans hands and allowed then to cut off and destroy much of the huge Soviet forces that Stalin had so foolishly concentrated along the border, especially in the south opposite Romania.

It was only because Hitler – against the advice of every military professional – decided to halt the drive to Moscow that the Soviet state was not overthrown in 1941.

That’s not to say the British wanted a German dominated Eurasia, like everone else they never expected the Germans to do as well as they did. Hitler threw away victory in Europe after his troops had crushed the Soviet field armies defending Moscow by August 1941. The Nazis were defeated by a combination of the Allied bombing and the Soviet army 50/50. the Soviets got a vast amont of materiel (eg 400,000) trucks from the US; they’d never have been able to beat Nazi Germany by themselves

• tschafer says:

No, if it had just been a straight-up fight between Nazi Germany and the USSR, there’s no doubt that Germany would have won. The traditional commie/liberal line that the USSR essentially defeated Nazi Germany single-handed is (surprise!) bullshit. As it stood, though, Hitler massively underestimated the USSR, and his failure to deal with the railway gauge problem effectively is emblematic of that. Hitler seemed to think the Red Army would just fold, and after their performance in the Winter War against Finland, this was not an untenable opinion. The U.S. military actually had contingency plans for what to do if the USSR collapsed in 1942, so Hitler was not alone in this assessment…

• gcochran says:

It’s not bullshit. It’s not dead on, but it’s not bullshit.

• gcochran says:

“they never expected the Germans to do as well as they did”

False. The majority of semi-informed opinion at the time expected the Germans to win.

Allied bombing was as important as the Soviet war effort? No. That’s wrong.

• Sean says:

It’s clear that Chamberlian hoped to encourage a conflict between the Soviet and Nazis. Of course that strategy was contingent on the Germans not achieving total success. But there was no reason in 1939 to think that the Germans would be capable of conquering Russia. Only after the fall of France did people understand power of the combination of Hitlers’s decisiveness and the German army . Stalin and Chamberlain both tried to pass the buck , or if you prefer, each wanted to set the Germans on the other.

Bombing led to Germany’s defeat though not directly. The bombing forced a huge diversion of resources to the air defences, aircraft were very very expensive (and the Germans lacked the trained pilots to make the investment pay off) . They only had one fighter school if remember rightly from ‘Brute Force’

• tschafer says:

It wasn’t as important as the eastern Front, but it certainly wasn’t nothing, either. And as for my above comment, I suppose that it depends on how you define “bullshit” but there is no doubt that in a straight-up, one-on-one combat situation, Germany would have defeated the USSR, at least as the situation stood in 1941. So I personally would call the claim that the USSR defeated Germany single-handed bullshit, but your milage may vary. And yes, the difference in railway gauges certainly played some role in Germany’s defeat.

• bob says:

My comment on the “Hitler’s diversion of the air war” related to Hitler’s decision in 1940 to stop attacking aerodromes in southern England, and to bomb London instead.

It was offered as an additional, separate, example of Hitler snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, rather than as an issue in Barbarossa.

• Sean says:

Britain never faced the full weight of the Luftwaffe (BTW the Germans had the capacity to take out the entire radar system by destroying the masts , it seems they did not understand their significance).
The “Battle Of Britain’ was Hitler’s deception operation against Stalin, not a genuine effort to crush Britain. In fact during the height of the BoB the British were losing more pilots in raids on the German barges assembling in French ports than over Britain

• gcochran9 says:

“The “Battle Of Britain’ was Hitler’s deception operation against Stalin”

Sean, you are indeed an idiot. You have one last chance to refrain.

• Sean says:

Well sometimes I do put net comments about things based on nothing more than I have read in the newspaper, and later I find out what I believed was totally wrong. I was rather foolish to doubt that tularemia could work as a weapon . I was basing that on those anthrax letters not killing many people. Tularemia could have worked, at Stalingrad there was an unusual opportunity for to be successful. I don’t know if it was used.

Re deception, I’m not saying Hitler knew what he was doing in advance. But in effect the air war against Britain worked to kid Stalin. Hitler turned his failed offensive to his advantage. I think it is reasonable to say Hitler kept the air war (but not the BoB, that was putting it too strongly) going long after he had decided to not to try an attack on Britain and attack the Soviet Union instead. Let’s face it all Hitler’s early writings make it clear he wanted to conquer land in the East

CIA official site review of What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa (I’ve read it, like almost all books I cite,) ” Murphy reprints two secret letters from Hitler to Stalin that he found in the published Russian sources, hitherto unknown in the West. In these, the Führer seeks to reassure the Soviet dictator about the scarcely concealable German military buildup in eastern Europe. Hitler confides to Stalin that troops were being moved east to protect them from British bombing and to conceal the preparations for the invasion of the British Isles. He concludes with an assurance “on my honor as a head of state” that Germany would not attack the Soviet Union.[2] Some may question the authenticity of these letters, but they are difficult to dismiss out of hand. Assuming they are genuine, they add to what is perhaps the most bewildering paradox of the Soviet-German war: Stalin, the man who trusted no one, trusted Hitler.”

5. Sean says:

Everyone who dealt with Hitler was amazed by his incredibly powerful and retentive memory, according to ‘The psychopathic god: Adolf Hitler’ (Waite)

• gwern says:

In a psychology paper on the downsides to high working memory, the intro mentioned an anecdote that Napoleon Bonaparte, preparing for the invasion of Russia, dictated from memory 92 (IIRC) consecutive letters giving orders about various detail.

6. Jim says:

Although having a great memory is not necessary in a mathematical field some people in these
fields do have one. I once read a commemorative article on Carl Siegel by Wilhelm Magnus in which Magnus told of a course on analytic number theory taught by Siegel that Magnus had taken.
Magnus said that Siegel went through the entire course without using any notes and never had to pause to recall anything. On the first day of class Siegel wrote down on the blackboard the largest known prime number then which was a number of about 30-40 digits (this was back in the early thirties). He did this casually from memory without any pause in the flow of his lecture.

7. John Kundrat says:

re: Sean says: February 24, 2012 at 4:36 am
re: gcochran says: February 24, 2012 at 10:24 am

Thanks Sean for knowing about and referencing the Stolfi book.

G. Cochran and lurkers do yourself a favor and buy a copy of the book Hitler’s Panzers East: World War II Reinterpreted by R.H. S. Stolfi. There is nothing like it in the WWII literature. Stolfi was trained as an engineer before he got his Stanford history Ph.D. so the book is clear, not wordy and organized.

Amazon has it here used for less than \$6.00 delivered:
or
http://tinyurl.com/7sv2scm

• dave chamberlin says:

thanks, I appreciate when people plug a good book on these subjects.

8. Rachelle says:

Of course, the Germans could have taken Moscow.

Hitler famously refused his generals’ request to take Moscow but he chose to elevate strategic targets over purely symbolic targets.

In hindsight that may have been a mistake. On the other hand, in the American Civil War similar decisions were made for sound reasons. Come to think of it, weren’t there also problems with varying rail gauges in the Civil War? I think there may have been.

Probably equally fatal to his invasion of Russia was Hitler’s earlier need to send resources south, through a combative Yugoslavia, to help Mussolini in Greece. The delays it caused to Barbarossa pushed the invasion later in the year and increased the risk of being caught out in winter weather.

I read Guderian’s “Panzer Leader” a few months ago, and while he complains of many problems, I do not recall that railway gauges were particularly prominent among them. Certainly they were a problem, but an invading army expects surprises…so should the invaded.

In any event, they did not lose the war in the East because of railroads.

• dave chamberlin says:

Railroads were the primary means of transport during the Rasputitsa (time without roads) that occurred twice anually in Russia. The muddy roads were turned into impassable mud pits every spring and fall. October 1941 and April 1942 were such months and greatly aided the Solviets.

• Sean says:

Maybe they did, if you believe they could have won in 1942 or even 43, as Mosier seems to (haven’t read, but I liked his WW1 book), then maybe they did lose because of railroads. There was an issue with German locomotives not being able to cope with the cold because they had a mass of vulnerable pipes on the outside. The Russian locomotives didn’t have the problem, they also had a water pipe that ran though the furnace.

• gcochran says:

For example, Mosier says that “Hitler’s forces were increasing at a more rapid rate than Stalin’s”, say from 1942 to 1943. Not true for available combat power. An increasing fraction of German resources had to be set aside for other purposes: naval and air warfare against the Western Allies, an increasing number of troops in France against possible invasion, and actual ground fighting in North Africa. On the other side, Soviet combat power was increasingly far more rapidly than those numbers indicate, since experience had greatly improved unit effectiveness, doctrine had improved, and Soviet armor was becoming more and more powerful. In 1942 the Soviets produced about 12,000 medium tanks (T-34s), about 2000 heavy tanks (KV1 and KV1S). All were superior to the German tanks made in 1942 ( about 5500, mostly PZ-IIIs or worse) .

The Soviets produced more and better weapons with a smaller industrial base.

Mosier’s WWI book looks to be at least as inaccurate. Special pleading. There oughtta be a law.

• Sean says:

“An increasing fraction of German resources had to be set aside for other purposes: naval and air warfare against the Western Allies, an increasing number of troops in France against possible invasion, and actual ground fighting in North Africa.” That is true but Mosier emphasises the importance of North Africa . (‘Brute Force’ mentions the Germans sent very significant airpower to North Africa in 1941. so that theatre played a part from the begining) . Was the Russians’ strength increasing relative to the Germans’ because of what was happening on the Eastern Front is the question for me. The Russians had good weapons but read ‘National suicide: military aid to the Soviet Union’ to find out where the technology came from, and who designed those big factories in the USSR.

• Sean says:

“In a few words: there is no such thing as Soviet technology. Almost all — perhaps 90-95 percent — came directly or indirectly from the United States and its allies” Here.

The Russians’ heavy tanks were destroyed by a variety of German weapons because the Germans used combined-arms, not just a load of tanks. Concentrating on the quality and quantity of Russian tanks verses German tanks is misleading. The Russian ‘technological advantage’ was they did not have metaled roads, ( still don’t on some ‘highways’). That did make railways vastly more important, I’ll admit.

Nail Ferguson in Pity Of War says (wikipedia) ” the Allies made the best use of their economic resources … the German Army was superior… that the Germans were more efficient at killing the Allies” Is it so ridiculous to say as Mosier does that the Germans were winning WW1, when the US came in . In fact a case could be made that the US entered both wars because it looked like the Germans were going to win. Britain would have been knocked out of both WW1&2 without help from the US . The 1918 storm trooper offensive came very close to total breakthrough, was that because of the weapons they used? No, it was new and superior tactics. Unfortunately for the offensive the storm troopers captured huge quantites of alcohol in British stores. (capture of alcohol played a big part in halting offensives during the American Civil War too, so I’m told)

9. gcochran says:

Judging from Mosier’s central claims in his book, he’s a loon. If he thinks that the Germans still had any chance of a win in 1943, he’s worse than a loon.

• Sean says:

I’m exaggerating again. I’ll put it better – he doesn’t seem to think the Germans were losing because of what was happening on the Eastern Front. From what I can make out Mosier going by attrition; he claims that it did not favour the Russians. There is support for that view being shared by some German generals, Stolfi says Von Manstein wanted to keep Kursk going as a rolling battle of attrition.

• MikeP says:

Stalin considered a deal with Germany as late as the spring of ’43 after Manstein’s “backhand blow” destroyed much of the Soviet army in the south.

• gcochran says:

Not that much.

10. Nanonymous says:

You can’t really understand the War in the East without understanding rail gauges – assuming a spherical Soviet Union is not the way to go.

Absolutely! Germans clearly underestimated this particular problem. Which is strange considering a large role German engineers played in laying down those railways in Tsarist Russia.
Minor nitpick: Russian gauge is 1524 mm.

• saintonge235 says:

Before WWI, the Germans had really good information on the roads and railroads of Belgium and northern France. They had good information on how far their troops could be expected to march in a day, and fight on top of it. There’s an anecdote in The Schlieffen Plan where a wargame of a German invasion of France was taking place, and the ‘French’ player said it looked like he was done for, Paris would be taken. ‘No,’ replied Chief of Staff von Schlieffen, ‘just use that hub-and-spoke rail system to redeploy troops to defend Paris.’

You put the information they had before the war, and evaluate the idea of going through Belgium to knock out Paris and win the war quickly, and it just does not work. It doesn’t matter how many troops Germany has or devotes to the effort, the rail net, the road net, the expected damage as the Allied forces retreat, the Paris rail hub, and the sheer distances involved come together to say IT CAN NOT BE DONE WITH MARCHING MEN AND HORSE-DRAWN CARRIAGES.  But by early 1913, the Great General Staff had decided that in the event of any war, they would go for a fast capture of Paris via the Belgian route.  Only madness seems like an adequate explanation.

11. CMC says:

There’s a great scene in Neal Stephenson’s novel “The Big U” where some new nerd at the university totally destroys some upper class nerd in this huge WWII board game that the nerds play. The board, a map of the world, takes up a couple of ping-pong tables and there are thousands of little pieces and putting in and getting the results from move and attack orders takes like an hour. Anyway, the game is heavily tilted towards the Allies but this new genius nerd, like I said, whales on the older nerd. To the amazement of the nerd clique.

“”Incredible,” someone yelled, “you conquered Stalingrad and Moscow and defeated D-Day and landed in Scotland and Argentina all at the same time!”

“A tremendous victory.”…
“Oh, not really,” said Virgil, bored. “It’s more a matter of good memory than anything else.”

• gcochran9 says:

Once upon a time, I wasted time in exactly that way. The game covered several tables. We were left undisturbed because the whole floor was empty: it had been intended to house a supercomputer tied to some silly thing called the Arpanet, but rioting students had persuaded the Navy to put it in San Diego. I met an interesting girl there (she was just walking through): I told people later we’d met in Kursk.

• bob says:

Well, welcome back to Arpanet.

I guess those student sure showed the authorities who’s who.

• MikeP says:

Speaking of Kursk, I’ve been working on a redo of the southern pincer using 1:300th scale miniatures. Unfortunately, now I want to switch to a new 1:600th range made by a Polish company.

12. Rachelle says:

“Lost Victories” by Field Marshal Erich von Manstein (Zenith Press, 2004) 176-177.

“Hitler’s strategic aims were based primarily on political and economic considerations:” Leningrad and the Ukraine. “OKH, on the other hand rightly contended [they must first defeat] the Red Army, which would be met “on the road to Moscow, since that city was the focal point of Soviet power.”

“It was on this divergence of basic strategy that the German conduct of operations ultimately foundered.”

Railroad gauge does not merit his notice.

• patinoklahoma says:

I will admit that Manstein was probably the best German general of WWII, but it should be noted that every Germain memoir from the war seems to have 2 main points (1) “I didn’t know anything about any Holocaust” and (2) If Hitler had only listened to me we would have won. All these memoirs have one main objective, which is to try and leave a favorable view of the author in the history books. I would be a lot more impressed if there was any evidence that any of the German General Staff had argued against a Russian invasion in the manner that Yamamoto argued against a Japanese attack on the US.

I am not sure the Russians would have fought the pivotal battle “on the road to Moscow.” I suspect Stalin had finally learned the Russians would lose a battle of maneuver with the Germans and the battle would have been in suburbs of Moscow, where the German competence was not as important as the Russian ruthlessness and toughness.

I think the biggest risk was when Stalin almost lost his nerve and evacuated the government from Moscow, which I think would have signaled that it was “every man for himself.”

13. patinoklahoma says:

On the issue of whether the Germans could have captured Moscow in August 1941. . .Martin Van Creveld argued in “Supplying war: logistics from Wallenstein to Patton” that the Germans would not have been able to supply an army large enough to take Moscow in August 1941 because the road network leading to Moscow from their raid “heads” was insufficient. The Russians relied on railroads for long distance transport and as is the central point of this post, the Germans conversion of the track gauge lagged far behind the front.

• Sean says:

Patton’s Red Ball Express used more fuel than it delivered at one vital point. Anyway, it is possible that Russian ‘roads’ would not have supported the logistics effort. However, see Stolfi’s 2003 letter to the Journal of Military History.

“By 7 August 1941, for example, German transportation troops were handling 24 trains with approximately 12,000 tons of supplies daily at railheads around Smolensk. Army Group Center, on 12 August 1941, literally at the pivot point in the European war, stood with a rail, railhead, and truck logistics system that was capable of projecting it in full strength to Moscow. This awe inspiring but apparently invisible historical achievement was based on the German reconstruction, i.e., not simply repair, of 14,000 miles of the Russian rail system under its control to conform to western rail gauge and repair of 10,000 additional miles during Barbarossa.” Clever people the Germans. But it is their national game.

14. gcochran says:

Concentrating on the central point of a post seems to violate one of the central tenets of the Internet. Are you sure you’re quite all right?

15. patinoklahoma says:

Well this is only the 2nd blog posting I have ever made in my life so maybe there is hope for me. (I am a long time “lurker” on Sailer’s blog.)

My first post was my query on your thoughts about stuttering . . .genetic vs pathogen? I was hoping you or Dr. Harpending might have some thoughts.

16. dearieme says:

p-p-p-pathogen.

• dave chamberlin says:

what’s wrong with you

17. Will says:

Some locomotives on the Prussian state railways had two-piece smokestacks–the top part could be removed to fit the restricted loading gauges of certain areas, i.e., France. So the Germans had at least given some thought to the question of how to use one’s enemy’s infrastructure for logistical support. On the other hand, the Russians had a device that was essentially an enormous plowshare that, dragged behind a retreating locomotive, split the ties that supported the rails. Relaying rails on an intact roadbed is easy enough (in fact it seems to me that that just makes it easier to relay the track to standard gauge); replacing the ties as well, less so. The US Army, it should be noted, developed in the late forties or early fifties a convertible-gauge locomotive that could switch between standard- and Russian-gauge. (BTW, Russia’s choice of gauge is generally credited to George Washington Whistler, an American. In the U.S., the five-foot gauge was known as “Southern gauge,” as many lines in the South were originally built to it.)

• s.cutca@gmail.com says:

(Hitler planned to have a ten foot gauge for the new railways of his empire in the East.)The Soviet road network behind the border going west was upgraded in the run up to the war, they’d carried out a lot of work, improving roads, strengthening bridges ect. There were also purely military roads that did not appear on the maps. The Germans could use those improved roads to go east. The Germans arrived in Smolensk (on the land bridge to Moscow) so quickly that they captured the Commmunist Party headquarters intact , with the complete party records and archives (Davies, Europe: A History. p. 1013) . So you think the Soviets had time to, and hung around to, destroy the rail network? The Soviet troops were told, and seriously believed, that the Germans would skin them alive if they captured them.

• Will says:

What I was attributing to the Red Army was called a “Schienenwolf” or “Schwellenpflug”–and as the names suggest, it was a tool used by the Germans. My mistake.

18. lg70 says:

I think that Hitler attacked the USSR because he underestimated Russians as a people. It’s true that Russians are not as fussy, detail-oriented or hardworking as Germans. However, unlike the vast majority of the non-fussy peoples of the world, Russians ARE extremely altruistic and able to trust and sacrifice for entities that are larger than their families. The latter traits have always been needed for armies to succeed. The Russian combination of laziness and altruism is unusual. Not everyone picks up on it. Europeans are used to the two north-south gradients of work ethic and the ability to trust non-relatives being seemingly identical. I can easily see WWII-era Germans thinking “how can a country with such roads be a threat?” But Russia is not like all the other countries in the world with bad roads. Russians can trust strangers, and therefore can form large, effective organizations in a crisis.

I think that another factor in USSR’s victory was Hitler’s unwillingness to divide and conquer. If he promised Ukrainians a state of their own after the war, many of them would have been willing to join his attack on Russia. Same with the Poles. A refusal to divide and conquer during an attack on a multi-ethnic country is extraordinary.

• Greying Wanderer says:

“I think that another factor in USSR’s victory was Hitler’s unwillingness to divide and conquer.”

Absolutely.

• pconroy says:

@Ig70.
“However, unlike the vast majority of the non-fussy peoples of the world, Russians ARE extremely altruistic and able to trust and sacrifice for entities that are larger than their families.”

Very true of the Russians, but also of the Irish – it’s part of what made the latter outstanding politicians. Not that that’s a recommendation or anything…

• saintonge235 says:

Guderian said the same: ‘We lost the war the day we marched into Kiev, and hoisted the German flag.  If we’d raised the flag of the independent Ukraine, we’d have attracted enough support to win.’

19. pconroy says:

In terms of railways, as anyone who has ever been a winning player of the game Civilization knows , they are essential.

I’ve played Civilization – and it’s free version FreeCiv.org – on and off for years, and a long time ago learned that railways are key to winning. I usually play against 7 to 10 others players. My strategy is to befriend and then do anything it takes, to make allies of those civilizations that border me. Then declare war on all remote (non-bordering) civilizations, as this compels my Allies to also declare war on these civilizations. Then I cease all fighting, change government to Democracy, research technology and expand demographically as much as I can, as my Allies fight a constant war of attrition against my enemies. As soon as I have discovered Railroads, I build railroads in my territory and also send engineers into my Allies territory and build there too – this stops them from breaking our alliance, due to my not fighting our enemies.

Then when I’m building the Railroads for myself and Allies, I switch government to Communism, which allows me to build up a vast military. Then in a about face, I make a truce with my enemies and declare war on each Ally in turn, and obliterate them quickly – DUE TO RAILWAYS!!!

At which point I usually have 50% of the land and resources under my control, and the rest is just a mopping up exercise.

For any armchair general, Civilization of FreeCiv are an awesome way to game-play various scenarios. Though be warned, it can be addictive…

20. saintonge235 says:

Hitler probably could have gotten those railways switched over if he hadn’t been an idiot racist.  While I’ve never worked on a rail gang, I read a letter once from someone who did, and he said it was pure physical effort, effectively mindless.  Hitler had millions of potential slave laborers available in occupied Europe, and hundreds of thousands of captured Soviet soldiers on the spot on the Eastern Front.  He could have put them to the task of converting the gauge.  It doesn’t seem to have occurred to him.

BTW, on the subject of “low hanging fruit”, two things occur to me.  First, Hy-rails, the gadgets that track maintenance vehicles use to switch from road to rail and back again.  They would have significantly improved fuel economy (one truck tows several; one train tows many trucks), and they’d have vastly sped up transfer of goods from road to rail.  Second, wood gas fuel for supply vehicles, and winter vehicle starting.  Russia had lots of trees, and gaseous fuel will get an Otto cycle engine going at -50◦ C.