decision to attack the Soviet Union
in June 1941 has generated considerable historical controversy. Among the most controversial “What ifs” concerns the timing of the German Attack.
What if the Germans had delayed Barbarossa until after dealing with Great Britain (in 1942 or 1943)?
A German delay of up to two years in launching Operation Barbarossa could have had a significant effect on immediate conditions surrounding the attack & on the initial course of operations. It is not likely, however, that such a delay would have altered the outcome of the war. German postponement of Operation Barbarossa until 1942 or 1943 presumes that Germany would have been able to defeat or neutralize Great Britain. Although a direct German invasion of the British Isles was thwarted in 1940 & would probably have been unlikely in 1941, a broad German thrust through the Balkans into the Middle East (an expanded Mediterranean strategy) in time could have brought Britain to its knees. Such an outcome would have cleared Germany’s southern flank & rear & permitted German military planners to adhere to their schedule for an invasion of the Soviet Union in May of 1942 or 1943, thus avoiding the delay which they experienced in 1941.
On the other hand, one must recognize that expanded German military operations in the Middle East & Mediterranean basis could conceivably have tied down large German forces, or done damage to German units, which would have required repair by the time Barbarossa actually began: recall German casualties in the Crete operation.
Assuming the Germans succeeded in clearing their southern flank, neutralizing Britain & assembling an imposing military host to conduct Barbarossa, the delay of one or two years would have posed other problems for the Germans. First, it is unlikely that the Germans could have achieved in 1942 or 1943 the degree of surprise they achieved in 1941, in particular since they would not have benefited from the deceptive effect which the Balkan operation had on the Soviet government in spring 1941.
Second & even more important, by 1942 the Soviet military reorganization & re-equipment program, which had begun in 1940, would have been close to completion, if not fully complete. The Soviet armored force of 29 mechanized corps, so woefully deficient in requisite tanks in June 1941, & so poorly trained & equipped with the 1,443 model T-34 & KV tanks in 1941, surprised the Germans & locally slowed the German attack. By 1942 most of the ten Soviet mechanized corps in the border military districts, & the six which ultimately reinforced them, would have possessed a sizeable compliment of the new tanks, enough to disrupt seriously German operations.
The restructuring & re-equipment program began in 1940 after the end of the Soviet-Finnish War, during which the Soviets did so poorly. It involved the streamlining of rifle forces (divisions), creation of mechanized corps, airborne corps, & a host of other measures. Soviet analysis of German operations in Western Europe spurred the efforts on. According to Soviet sources the program was to be completed by the summer of 1942.
By June 1941, T-34 & KV-1 & 2 strength was just short of 1,500, most in the border military districts. By summer, 1942, this figure should have risen to over 16,000. Realistically, the figure should not have exceeded 5,000, but that number would have had a sizable impact on operations. Regarding surprise, 6th Panzer Division’s harrowing experiences with several battalions of Russian T-34 & KV-1 tanks was indicative of what an even larger & better prepared Russian force would have achieved.
Had German intelligence detected the existence of the new models, & had Hitler sought to delay the attack until comparable German tanks were available, further delay was a technological race the Germans could not have won.
Given greater Soviet military capabilities, it is also more likely that Stalin wold have considered some sort of preemptive action against Germany. If preemption did not occur, Soviet forces would have been better prepared than they were in 1941 to meet & defeat the actual German invasion.