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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: November 2011

9 - The calm before the storm


The final roll of the dice – ‘The spell is broken’ (Joseph Goebbels)

As more and more details of Germany's unprecedented victory in the Ukraine streamed into Hitler's headquarters the mood at the Wolf's Lair was jubilant. On 24 September Goebbels noted that Hitler ‘is exceptionally happy about this development and radiates real joy’. Goebbels also voiced a smug satisfaction with Hitler's ultimate triumph over the generals of the OKH, who had opposed Hitler's proposals so bitterly. There was a sense that the war in the east had at last turned in Germany's favour. ‘The spell is broken,’ Goebbels wrote. ‘The Führer believes that heavy fighting will last until about 15 October; after that, he believes, the Bolshevik will be on the run.’ Nor was Hitler the only one who saw final victory on the horizon. His rival in the July–August strategic dispute, Franz Halder, while not prepared to utter a word of acknowledgement for what was indisputably Hitler's triumph, nevertheless now envisioned rapid gains with little resistance. Referring to newspaper reports that erroneously claimed the British were applying pressure on the Soviets to surrender parts of southern Russia, Halder revealed an extraordinary naivety: ‘It is possible that Stalin, even if against his will, may have to take this advice. The result for us would be that we rapidly reorient Army Group South to the pursuit and above all not wait too long to free Panzer Group 1.’ Indeed the sense of triumph at Kiev pervaded the German high command and not only in terms of the future outcome of the German–Soviet war. Weichs attributed to it a more profound importance alongside the greatest battles in history: ‘I believe this victory was one of the most outstanding operations in the history of warfare, and for the skill in which its strategy was executed it can take proud place alongside other great encirclement battles of the past at Cannae and Tannenberg.’ It might well have been prudent to point out to Weichs that while Hannibal certainly won a crushing victory at Cannae, Carthage went on to lose the Second Punic War against the Romans. By the same token, Hindenburg may have humiliated the Russians at Tannenberg, but imperial Germany likewise lost World War I. Yet almost no one in Germany at the time considered the prospect of an eventual Soviet victory; instead the focus was squarely on how long Germany's own conquest in the east would take. To that end Goebbels's propaganda campaign had certainly achieved a remarkable reversal in public opinion.

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