1941 - Eastern Front, Directive 21 written as an Op Order

Directive 21 – Operation Barbarossa

As I would like to understand the conflict on the Eastern Front, and in particular Army Group South during the months of June to August 1941, it is necessary to understand the orders that Army Group South was operating under. Directive 21 was the order that initiated planning for Operation Barbarossa. This directive was signed 18 December 1940, and its signature accelerated the process by which preparations were made to invade Soviet Russia. To better understand the initial instructions, and thereby assess the success or failure of Army Group South I have attempted to transpose this directive into an orders format to aid in my understanding of the various groups, tasks, and objectives at this point in the planning process. Comments or feedback would be appreciated.

For those who wish to read the original text of Directive 21 is available online at http://www.alternatewars.com/WW2/WW2_Documents/Fuhrer_Directives/FD_21a.htm  or a copy can be received through the archives in the United States Department of State, “Documents on German Foreign Policy: From the Archives of the German Foreign Ministry.” Series D (1939-1945), The War Years, Volume 11: February 1 – June 22, 1941.  Document 532, pp 899-902.


18 Dec 1940





2. The German Wehrmacht must be prepared to crush Soviet Russia in a quick campaign before the conclusion of the war against England in order to …


3. Concept of Ops. My intent is to have the Army, supported by the Air Force, employ all available units to destroy the Russian army in Western Russia. This will be accomplished through daring operations led by deeply penetrating armoured spearheads. This penetration will encircle Russian forces preventing them from withdrawing into the depths of Russia. The main effort is the destruction of the Russian Army. The end state being the advancement of German borders to the Volga-Archangel line at where the Asiatic Russians Air Force will be unable to interfere with German production.

4. Army.

a. Overview (in accordance with plans submitted to me). The theatre of operations will be divided into a Southern and a Northern sector by the Pripet Marshes, the main weight of attack will be delivered in the Northern sector where two Army Groups will be employed.

b. Northern Sector.

i. Phase 1 – Stage 1. Army Group Centre will have the task of advancing with powerful armoured and motorised formations from the area around and north of Warsaw, routing the enemy forces in White Russia.

ii. Phase 1 – Stage 2. Commenced upon destruction of the enemy forces in White Russia, strong mobile forces will advance northwards and, in conjunction with Army Group North operating out of East Prussia in the general direction of Leningrad, to destroy the enemy forces operating in the Baltic area.

iii. Phase 2. Only after destruction of enemy forces in White Russia and the Baltic area, including of the occupation of Leningrad and Kronstadt, will the attack be continued with the intention of occupying Moscow. While Moscow is an important centre of communications and of the armaments industry, only a surprisingly rapid collapse of Russian resistance could justify the simultaneous pursuit of both objectives (Leningrad and Moscow).

c. Southern Sector.

i. Phase 1. The Army Group operating south of the Pripet Marshes will also seek, in a concentric operation with strong forces on either flank, to destroy all Russian forces west of the Dnieper in the Ukraine. The main attack will be carried out from the Lublin area in the general direction of Kiev, while forces in Rumania will carry out a wide enclosing movement across the lower Pruth. The task of the Rumanian Army to hold down Russian forces in the intervening area.

ii. Phase 2. With the enemy forces west of the Dnieper destroyed, the pursuit of the enemy will seek an early capture of the Donets Basin which is important for the war industry.

d. Scandinavia.

i. Protection of Norway. The most important task of Group XXI, even during these eastern operations, remains the protection of Norway.

ii. Murmansk. Any forces available after carrying out this task will be employed in the North (Mountain Corps), at first to protect the Petsamo area and its iron ore mines and the Arctic highway, then to advance with Finnish forces against the Murmansk railway and thus prevent the passage of supplies to Murmansk by land. The question whether an operation of this kind can be carried out with stronger German forces (two or three divisions) from the Rovaniemi area and south of it will depend on the willingness of Sweden to make its railways available for troop transport.

iii. Finland. The Finnish Army, in conjunction with the advance of the German North flank, will hold down the strongest possible Russian forces by an attack to the West, or on both sides of Lake Ladoga, and to occupy Hangö.

5. Air Force.

a. The Air Force will have to make available for this Eastern campaign supporting forces of such strength that the Army will be able to bring land operations to a speedy conclusion and that Eastern Germany will be as little damaged as possible by enemy air attack. This build-up of a focal point in the East will be limited only by the need to protect from air attack the whole combat and arsenal area which we control, and to ensure that attacks on England, and especially upon her imports, are not allowed to lapse.

b. It will be the duty of the Air Force to paralyse and eliminate the effectiveness of the Russian Air Force as far as possible. It will also support the main operations of the Army, those of the central Army Group and of the vital flank of the Southern Army Group. Russian railways will either be destroyed or, in accordance with operational requirements, captured at their most important points (river crossings) by the bold employment of parachute and airborne troops.

c. In order that we may concentrate all our strength against the enemy Air Force and for the immediate support of land operations, the Russian armaments industry will not be attacked during the main operations. Such attacks will be made only after the conclusion of mobile warfare, and they will be concentrated first on the Urals area.

6. Navy.

a. The main efforts of the Navy will continue to be directed against England even during the Eastern campaign.

b. The Navy will protect our own coasts and to prevent the break-out of Soviet Russian naval units from the Baltic. As the Russian Baltic fleet will, with the capture of Leningrad, lose its last base and will then be in a hopeless position, major naval action will be avoided until this occurs.

c. After the elimination of the Russian fleet the duty of the Navy will be to protect the entire maritime traffic in the Baltic and the transport of supplies by sea to the Northern flank.

7. Coordinating Instructions.

a. Probable Allied Participation. Participation by Romania and Finland is to be expected. Their tasks are:

i. Romania is to pin down Russian forces where Germans are not committed and otherwise act as auxiliary service in the rear;

ii. Elimination of Hango by Finland; and

iii. Use Swedish railroads and highways for the concentration of German North Group.

b. Timings.

i. Preparations are to be completed by May 15, 1941.

ii. In certain circumstances orders for the deployment against Soviet Russia will be issued eight weeks before the operation is timed to begin.


8. The Command Relationship with Finish and Romanian Forces is undefined.

9. Orders are need to know and transmission of the directive kept secretive so as to avoid discovery of these preparations against Russia.

10. Commanders-in-Chief are directed to submit their plans of on the basis of this directive.


“Operational Readiness” vs “Irrecoverable Losses”

“Operational Readiness” vs “Irrecoverable Losses”

Often historians will examine a battle or campaign and use “irrecoverable losses” as the measure of effectiveness when evaluating the performance of each side.  A person dead, captured, or permanently disabled can no longer fight.  A tank lost to the enemy or burnt out on the battlefield cannot be recovered and is likewise lost.  As such, this statistic is easily defined and measurable.  However, just examining “irrecoverable losses” does not provide the whole story of combat effectiveness of a unit.  “Irrecoverable Losses” as a tool of measurement favours the attacker, who is often in control of the battlefield, and doesn’t accurately reflect the attrition of the unit due to repairable combat losses and the resulting decrease in Operational Readiness.  To more accurately reflect the combat ability of a unit or formation the actual operational readiness of the unit should be measured and tracked and from this information losses incurred by transport or combat can be tracked.  This measure will provide greater fidelity to historians in understanding why decisions were made by commanders.

Operational Losses

Each day, and sometimes several times in a day, depending upon the reporting cycle, every unit would report their operational strength in an administrative report or a situation report  Typically, this report would include a summary of the major weapon systems, personal, fuel, rations, and ammunition held by the unit.  The intent of this information is to provide the commander with an overview as to the status of the unit on a recurring and regular basis to contribute to the decisions he will make.  It feeds the administrative chain to determine where supplies are required.  These reports are required on a regular basis as changes in operational readiness could occur through any of the following actions:

  1. Arrival of new equipment, supplies, or personal;
  2. Repair or recovery of equipment and personal;
  3. Combat losses;
  4. Administrative losses; and
  5. Ordered transfers of equipment.

There are many different factors that could affect a unit or formations status on any given day which would change the losses incurred even if the activity was the same.  Conducting the same activity but in different months would have differing effects.  A unit operating in severe weather degrades quicker due to higher consumption of resources and higher levels of mechanical failure then one operating in fine weather.

Every action conducted by the formation would result in changes to this value.  A day of travel would result in losses to equipment, through driver fatigue or equipment wear amongst other reasons.  The majority of these losses would be easy to fix, but some would be, or could be irrecoverable.  A day of combat would result in typically a higher loss of operational readiness as tanks are destroyed or knocked out.  The intensity of the fighting, the mission, and the opposition would determine the number of losses suffered.  Conversely, a day of rest would typically produce time for the unit to recover, conduct repairs and maintenance thereby increasing its strength.  The amount of strength recovered would demonstrate the resiliency and recovery capabilities of the unit.

Repair and Recovery

Each nation during World War 2 conducted and defined repair and recovery differently.  The Germans classified damaged vehicles as either Short Term (under a month to repair), Long Term repair (greater than a month), or requiring factory overhaul.  Furthermore a vehicle could move from one category to another making it difficult to track the extent of damage due to combat.  The Soviet Union classified damaged vehicles as requiring minor repairs, light overhaul, or a major overhaul.

Regardless of the level of damage, a vehicle requiring repair is out of combat.  Its time out of combat is dependent upon not only the repair capabilities of the unit, but the parts that the unit holds.  If the repair parts are unavailable, a repair may only take an hour cannot be conducted and the vehicle remains out of combat.  While a talented repair team may be able to make do with sub-standard, or non-regulation parts they cannot completely make up for a lack of regulation components.

Historical Example of Issues with Irrecoverable Losses

In Tomb of the Panzerwaffe by Aleksei Isaev and Maksim Kolomiets conclusion is that the 3rd Ukrainian Front, in 10 days of combat, claimed 324 German tanks & SPs, and 120 Half Tracks burned on the battlefield and a similar number knocked out.  The German Panzer Army stated that their “irrecoverable losses” were 42 tanks and 1 half track with 396 tanks in repair for short and long term and 228 half tracks in repair.

Regardless of how irrecoverable losses are measured, Russian photographs from the battlefield in mid March clearly picture 279 individual German tanks and SP guns with unique soviet trophy numbering.  In my mind, and looking at the pictures it is clear that the Germans lost, irrecoverably, at least 279 tanks and SP guns but the more telling is the fact that the German Panzer Army was not positioned to stop the Soviet offensive to Vienna.

A Modern Example of Operational Readiness

Having served in Afghanistan, I am aware that a vehicle may be damaged in combat and classified as follows:

1st Line – In unit repair capabilities.

2nd Line – In formation repair capabilities

3rd Line – Theatre level repair capabilities

4th Line – Return to Canada for repair.

Beyond Economic Repair

While the number of LAVs Canada had destroyed in Afghanistan is reported to be 13, and less than 34 vehicles of all types destroyed, there were 359 vehicles damaged including 159 LAVs.  The result of the damaged LAV’s is that the Canadian Army deployed to Afghanistan had to regularly rotate the LAVs from Canada to Afghanistan to ensure that the required number of operational LAVs (including operational spares) were present at any given point in time.  The effect was that the Canadian LAV fleet was completely engaged over the course of the conflict in Afghanistan.  Post Afghanistan, Canada is upgrading and overhauling our LAV fleet.

Using “Irrecoverable Losses”, the Canadian losses in LAV would be minimal, however the real impact from our 7 years of LAV use in Afghanistan is that Canada needed to replace and repair their whole fleet.


Loss in readiness is the superior measuring tool when analysing the impact of combat decisions made during World War 2.  It is the tool used by the commanders on the ground to identify their strengths and weaknesses when they made the decisions they did.  While these numbers do change over time that change this change is indicative of the regenerative powers of the unit.  As I examine the actions of Army Group South in 1941 and the Soviet Forces countering them, I will endeavour to use Operational Readiness as my measuring tool to determine the impact of the various actions undertaken by both forces.

Future Questions

In the 21st century it may be easier to repair then replace, but during World War 2:

  1.  Was it easier for the Soviet Union and Allies to replace then repair?
  2. To what extent did the German lack of steel necessitate repairs on vehicles which would otherwise be written off?
  3. Finally even if the tanks could be recovered from the battlefield what was the repair capability and doctrine of the various forces during World War 2?

A conversation with Nigel Askey concerning operational losses on the Eastern Front

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I had the pleasure of having some email correspondence with Nigel Askey, the author of http://www.operationbarbarossa.net/, and several works on the readiness and operations that occurred in the Eastern Front in 1941.

Issue – Operational Readiness vs Irrecoverable Losses

We had an interesting discussion on operational readiness, vice irrecoverable losses.  Personally, I have had difficulties in understanding the German “irrecoverable” tank losses, and indeed their “irrecoverable” losses when compared to the change in their actions often do not appear to make sense.  I asked myself if each nation defined all tank losses equivalently?  Did the Germans and Allies have the same definition of “Beyond Economic Repair” and “irrecoverable” or were the Germans more willing to repair their tanks as the cost of shipping and repair was less then building a new tank?  Were the allies more willing to simply replace a broken tank as it was cheaper then repairing?  

Discussion – Loss in Readiness

In all of Nigel’s articles, he only ever uses ‘irrecoverable tank of AFV losses’. In this sense irrecoverable can be defined as ‘the vehicle is permanently destroyed or written off, or is captured by enemy forces’.  When developing ROCP (Relative Overall Combat Proficiency) calculations he treats both sides both sides are treated the same (i.e. measuring irrecoverable losses only).  Nigel defines the term ‘loss in readiness’ as something that could be corrected by internal supply and repair which contrast with irrecoverable losses which could not.

A clear example of an irrecoverable loss.

For example, if a unit with 100 tanks moves 100 miles from point A to B had 10 tanks break down so in simplistic terms the unit has only 90%  of its tanks ‘operational’. This is without coming close to any enemy forces at all. The unit has not ‘lost’ 10 tanks at that point in time but lost 10% of its ‘operational readiness’. Depending on the ‘operational ROCP’ level of the unit (i.e. its trained support infrastructure) and the level of supplies and spares available, the unit will recover its readiness. A high ROCP unit will fully recover in a day, but a lower ROCP unit will recover much slower.  No matter what a combat unit does, as soon it moves or attacks it will suffer significant operational readiness loss (and fatigue, which is a whole separate issue).

Therefore, in his view, in the early tank battles in Barbarossa, and indeed, up until Kursk when the Germans typically remained in control of the battlefield their tank losses were insignificant by there measure, but the operational effectiveness of their divisions greatly decreased.  Nowhere is this more apparent then the initial weeks of Barbarossa.  The German Panzer Divisions began at full strength, but by August, 5 short weeks latter, most Army Group Centre German Panzer Divisions tank elements were near, or below 50% due to a combination of combat and mechanical losses.

He postulates, that any individual unit report on its % operational readiness is almost useless in establishing any sort of ‘actual irrecoverable loss’.  A unit continually defending against overwhelming forces had no choice but to remain even if its ‘operational readiness’ has drooped to almost zero. This would not necessarily mean the division has taken particularly heavy ‘irrecoverable losses’. This can only be determined by divisional strength reports, and replacement sent or/and received reports, to HQs at a later date.


In Nigel’s view, we should forget unit operational readiness loss percentages if you want to talk about irrecoverable losses. Especially if this is the only data available. You have to go beyond individual unit reports and short time frames to get the real numbers for battles and campaigns from higher level command reports (eg corps or higher, or totals over a campaign) over longer periods.  I would like to express my thanks to Nigel Askey for his insights and sharing his opinion.  While I may not completely agree with his view to only consider irrecoverable losses I believe that this discussion has provided me with a new perspective to consider and shown the knowledge and extent of consideration he has given to this issue.

With Sincere Thanks,