German troops, June 1941.
Wikimedia Commons

UNTIL the summer of 1941 the German Wehrmacht had gone from success to success; all of the operations which it had launched were brilliant in conception and execution. Poland, Norway, France and the Balkans were the scenes of great triumphs. It is true that Hitler had cast longing eyes across the English Channel and had directed preparations for an invasion of England. Yet the fact that this was not attempted appeared to confirm that the German High Command knew the measure of the attainable and weighed carefully the chances of victory. Then like a bombshell came the news on June 22, 1941, that Germany had launched a surprise assault on her treaty partner, the Soviet Union.

All long-range preparations for this campaign, which had received the code name Barbarossa, had been made for a target date in the middle of May 1941. This time for launching the operation remained unchanged during the winter 1940-41 while the German Balkan campaign (Marita) was planned. Marita was limited originally to the occupation of northern Greece, to support the bogged-down Italian offensive in Albania; and in accordance with the Adolf Hitler directive of March 17, the forces provided for it were not to be considered in the deployment against

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  • VICE ADMIRAL KURT ASSMANN, former head of the Historical Section of the German Naval High Command, editor of the official history of German naval operations in World War I and lecturer on strategy at the German Naval Academy; now employed on research work by the British Admiralty (the views expressed in his article are personal and not those of the Admiralty).
  • More By Vice Admiral Kurt Assmann