Why did Hitler order the invasion of the Soviet Union?

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Initially the German army was successful in occupying vast tracts of Russia and the Balkans; thousands of prisoners were taken. However, Hitler regarded the Soviets (Slavs) as sub-human.

The war in the East was aimed not merely at conquest but at the destruction of millions of Soviets and Jews.


Why did Hitler order the invasion of the Soviet Union?

To what extent might the following reasons be relevant:

  • The history of Nazi invasion, occupation and control of lands between 1938 and 1941.
  • The traditional emnity between the Nazis and communism.
  • Lebensraum - living space in the lands controlled by the Soviet Union.
  • The number of Jews within the Soviet Union.

Hitler had long vowed to regain the lands Germany had lost in 1919. He dreamed of creating a great Germany that would provide living space and colonies for the ‘master race’.

On 23 August 1939, the two traditional enemies, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, made a pact to divide the independent state of Poland. The Germans would conquer the West, whilst the Soviets attacked from the East.

This agreement was made by Hitler to give him time to conquer western Europe. The Nazis were fighting an ideological war. Hitler regarded communism as Jewish Bolshevism. Hitler believed as part of his racial fantasies that communism had been invented by the Jews as part of a plan to take over the world. Consequently it was inevitable that he would invade Russia.

Operation Barbarossa

As early as 18 December 1940, Hitler issued Directive No.21, which decreed that German forces must be prepared to subject the Soviet Union to a crushing defeat. Hitler believed that German forces could use Blitzkrieg tactics with the same level of success, as they had against Poland, France and the low countries.

The invasion of the Soviet Union was delayed whilst, in April 1941, the German army invaded Yugoslavia and Greece in order to secure Germany’s southern flank. Finally, on 22 June 1941 the Germans broke their agreement and invaded the Soviet Union in ‘Operation Barbarossa’.