Operation Barbarossa – The Major Errors and Blunders


Well, this is basically a follow-up video on my second video that I originally wanted to release quite early on, well more than 50 videos, 800 000 views and 20 000 subscribers later, here we go. The major error and blunders of the Hitler and his generals during the planning and execution of Operation Barbarossa.

Hitler & His Generals

First off, some words about Hitler and his generals, Barbarossa was basically their baby, thus both of them were responsible, yet similar to some parents, they constantly blamed the other side for all the shortcomings of their little brat in the Russian steppe. I think, both of them had their fair share of bad decision, hence none of them is above scrutiny.#


Since, we have dealt with the initial family issues, time to get started, I structured this video into two parts, the first part covers all the planning and preparation errors, the second part deals with errors during the ongoing military operations.

Preparation and Planning

Now, a large amount of errors occurred during the preparation and planning of Barbarossa.

Military Intelligence – or lack thereof

First off, Military Intelligence. The German intelligence service for the Eastern Front “Fremde Heere Ost”, which means “Foreign Armies East” had major problems providing substantial insights about the Red Army and this was a well-known problem at the time.

In general, military intelligence faces two key challenges, first the gathering of information and second the analysis of this information. Due to the closed nature of the Soviet Union the means to gather information were severely inflicted, yet according to a recent phd thesis the German efforts in analysis were sometimes also limited. For instance from 1923 to 1933 the German Armed Forces and Red Army cooperated quite closely, thus many German officers were trained in the Soviet Union. [REFER to HOI 4 – national focus] Yet, there is no evidence that suggests that those officers were ever questioned systematically. (Pahl: Fremde Heere Ost: S. 68)

Ultimately the state of the intelligence was quite shocking, it was assumed that the Soviet Army had around 150 divisions, but only about 100 could be accounted for. (S. 75) In terms of reserves it was assumed that the Soviets would have enough manpower to raise another 50 divisions, but would lack the equipment to arm them properly, thus the total of 150 divisions was the assumption for German planning. (S. 69) Now according to the American Military Historian David Glantz, the Soviets raised more than 800 division equivalent. that is more than 16 times what the Germans assumed.
(around 821 division equivalents of those were 73 tank and 32 mechanized (Glantz: Soviet-German War – Myths and Realities: p. 17 ))

The lack of information was widely known, here is an excerpt of the handbook on the Soviet Armed Forces from January 1941, which was printed around 2000 times:
“At the top of the entire Armed Forces probably is the Chairman of the Defence Committee (about comparable to our OKW) the council of People’s Commissars, currently Marshal Voroshilov, who in 1940 was people’s commissar for defense until the summer. He probably has a general staff at his disposal. Details are unknown ”
“An der Spitze der gesamten Kriegswehrmacht steht wahrscheinlich der Vorsitzende des Verteidigungs-Komitees (etwa unserem OKW vergleichbar) beim Rate der Volkskommissare, z. Zt. Marschall Woroschilow, der bis zum Sommer 1940 Volkskommissar für die Verteidigung war. Ihm steht wahrscheinlich ein Wehrmachts-Generalstab zur Seite. Einzelheiten sind unbekannt.” (zitiert nach Pahl S. 77)
So basically, the German military intelligence didn’t even know the upper echelons of the Soviet Military Forces and completely underestimated the Soviets ability in raising and outfit new divisions. This lack of information was still a problem in 1942 for Case Blue, which ended in the disaster at Stalingrad. Even at that time of the war the German military intelligence also assumed that the Red Army was mostly beaten and had limited abilities to regenerate itself. (Wegner, Bernd: Hitlers zweiter Feldzug gegen die Sowjetunion. Strategische Grundlagen und historische Bedeutung”; in: Michalka, Wolfgang (Hrsg): Der Zweite Weltkrieg – Analyse, Grundzüge, Forschungsbilanz. S. 659)


Now, the next one, probably everyone was expecting anyway, logistics. The main problem was that the German army had not a sufficient amount of trucks nor trains even before the beginning of Barbarossa. The main problem with a lack of transport capacity is that the existing vehicles are used more often and sometimes in ways they are not fully suited, this results in additional wear and tear, which ultimately puts further strain on the supply lines. Basically, any major shortcomings in a logistical system can develop into a death spiral.
There was already a lack of train engines and rail cars in Germany even before the attack on the Soviet Union was started, this was clearly noted by the chief for transportation in January 1941. Operation Barbarossa would thus make the situation even more problematic. (Kreidler: Eisenbahnen: S. 116)
Another major problem was that the rail gauge in the Soviet Union was different to that in continental Europe, thus the reconstruction of all railways was necessary, even if they could be captured in operational conditions. Originally it was assumed that enough Russian rail engines and cars would be captured and a reconstruction wouldn’t have been necessary, but this clearly was not the case. Although the German High Command ordered its troops to advance along the Soviet railway lines they didn’t comply this allowed the Soviet forces to evacuate or destroy a large amount of equipment. (Kreidler: Eisenbahnen: S. 126) As a result, there was both a lack of construction workers and trains. (Kreidler: Eisenbahnen: S. 121-126)
In order to cope with the lack of trains, trucks were used, yet due to the dire conditions of the roads this lead to severe breakdowns. In the beginning of August 1941 the Army Group Center – Heeresgruppe Mitte had lost 25 % and the Heeresgruppe North (Army Group North) had lost 39 % of its supply truck capacity. (Kreidler: Eisenbahnen: S. 127) Furthermore, you need to consider that the situation got even worse during the muddy season, when it was nearly impossible for even tracked vehicles to move properly. Additionally, the Soviets had established special local services to keep the railways in operational conditions during the Winter, such a service needed to be reestablished by the Germans.(Kreidler: Eisenbahnen: S. 124)
In short the transport capabilities of German in both trains and trucks was insufficient and it was known prior to the conflict. There was not enough personnel to handle the rail transportations and there was a lack of construction crews to improve the state of the destroyed rail way infrastructure. At least the lack in crews could have been planned more properly without too much strain on the German industry or manpower.

Missing Grand Strategy – No Two Front War

Now, next is the missing Grand Strategy. One major difference between the Axis and Allied forces was the lack in cooperation and Grand Strategy. The Western Allied Forces, which had a far higher amount of resources, industry and manpower available settled on the Grand Strategy “Germany First”. Now the Axis forces, which had limited economic capabilities couldn’t agree on a grand strategy and usually not even on smaller agreements.

Let’s take a closer look, although in 1936 Germany and Empire of Japan signed, the anti-comintern pact, this pact was lacking and furthermore the German Historian Martin Bernd states:
“Lack of substance and great propaganda should be characteristic for all subsequent German-Japanese agreements.” .(Martin, Bernd: Das deutsch-japanische Bündnis im Zweiten Weltkrieg S.124)
“Mangelende Substanz und großartige Propaganda sollten für alle weiteren deutsch-japanischen Abmachungen charakteristisch werden.” (Martin, Bernd: Das deutsch-japanische Bündnis im Zweiten Weltkrieg S.124)

When looking at the Axis and the Soviet Union relations the situation was quite ironic. In 1939 the Germans were basically partially cooperating with the Soviet Union due to their cooperation against Poland, the large trade agreements and establishment of sphere of influences. Whereas the Japanese were engaged in serious border conflicts with the Soviet Union, most notably the Battles of Khalkhin Gol.

Those border conflicts went badly for the Japanese Army and after the defeats in 1939, the Japanese choose the so-called “South Strategy”, which was favored by the Japanese Navy. The Japanese discussed a German proposal for a military alliance against the Soviet Union several times and it was rejected again and again between January and August 1939. The Japanese Navy was against a military alliance against the Soviet Union and also against Western Forces. The Japanese didn’t want to commit to any alliance. As a result Germany and the Soviet Union established the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which was seen as treachery by the Japanese and they recalled their ambassador. (Martin, Bernd: Das deutsch-japanische Bündnis im Zweiten Weltkrieg S.124-125)
After the successes of the German Army in Poland and the Battle of France, the Japanese tried to reestablish contacts with Germany. Yet, Hitler would have preferred a compromise with the British, only after the British declined all German proposals and the Battle of Britain was lost, the Germans reacted positively towards the Japanese.

Yet, the following negotiations didn’t establish a proper unified strategy, thus the military alliance was basically a weak defensive pact, which became even more apparent when in April 1941 signed the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact. After the start of Barbarossa, only the German and Japanese ambassador wanted a Japanese attack immediately. Yet, both the German and Japanese leadership were against an involvement of the Japanese in the attack against the Soviet Union. (Martin, Bernd: Das deutsch-japanische Bündnis im Zweiten Weltkrieg S.125-129)

Missing on improving the anti-tank capabilities

Now, since we covered diplomatic aspect, let’s take a look at a more tactical matter. During Operation Barbarossa the German forces several times came in contact with tanks what were almost invincible to most of their weaponry, most notably these tanks were the T-34, the KV-1 and the KV-2. The German Army should have been better prepared for these encounters and they shouldn’t have come as surprises.

Although the Soviets didn’t use the T-34 during the Winter War against the Finns, they used prototypes of KV-1 and the similar heavy tank the SMK in the conflict. (Source: Zaloga, Steven J. : KV-1 & 2 Heavy Tanks 1939-1945,.p. 7) Thus, the German High Command should have been aware that the Russian might have quite strong tanks. Furthermore, German Panzer tropps themselves had severe problems destroying the French Char B-1 bis in the Battle of France several times, most notably at the Battle of Stonne, where one French Tank managed to destroy 13 German ones. Yet, despite the Finnish and German experience, there were no proper actions taken to prepare the German divisions to deal with heavy or well-armored tanks.

Only Planning for a Short Campaign – The Core Problem

Now, let’s take a look at the biggest blunders of all and also the one that was foundation for most of the others. Namely, the wrong assumption that Operation Barbarossa would be a short campaign like the Invasion of Poland and the Battle of France. It should be noted that Operation Barbarossa was planned as a short campaign, unlike the Battle of France.
The military planning was mostly done by the German general staff and Hitler gave them free reign. He reviewed the plans in December 1940 and agreed mostly, but he had a different view of the situation. He wanted to focus on the North and South to capture resources and deny the enemy its ability to regenerate forces. Whereas the head of the General Staff “Generaloberst Halder” wanted to achieve a decisive blow by attacking Moscow. There was a consent about the first part of the plan, which was the aimed destruction of the Red Army in the Western parts of the Soviet Union. Yet, both parties didn’t settle for how the second part should be executed. As a result up to this day people are still arguing about the decision of Hitler in Summer 1941 to push towards Kiew instead towards Moscow. A problem that was already apparent in December 1940. (Förster, Jürgen: Der historische Ort des Unternehmens “Barbarossa”; in: Michalka, Wolfgang (Hrsg): Der Zweite Weltkrieg – Analyse, Grundzüge, Forschungsbilanz. S. 631)

Now, the assumption of a short campaign was rooted in the over-confidence of the German Army in its capabilities after the tremendous victory against its Arch-Enemy France in 1940, furthermore the underestimation of the Red Army and the stability of the Soviet Union. After all, many assumed that the Red Army would be beaten early on and the Soviet Union collapse. Most people in 1940 were thinking in World War 1 terms, when the Russian Empire collapsed and the French Army was one of the most formidable in the world. This view was not limited to Germans, many non-Axis politicians and military professionals also assumed that Barbarossa would be a quick victory for the German Army. Although the Germans assumed that the Red Army would break, they acknowledged the fierceness of the Russian soldiers even before the attack, yet the clearly underestimated the Soviet leadership, cohesion and capabilities to learn from their experience in the Winter War and early defeats during Barbarossa.

Not an error – War of Annihilation/Extermination – “Vernichtungskrieg”

Now, the next point is not an error in my opinion, but some people often note it as one. Operation Barbarossa was not just a military operation, it was also a “Vernichtungskrieg” or “War of Annihilation”. I don’t consider it a blunder, because it was an inherent part of pre-requisites of the operation itself, yet I think it is paramount that it is mentioned. In this case, I go with a short quote from the Historian Jürgen Förster:

“Operation ‘Barbarossa’ shows clearly – unlike any other campaign – the indissoluble connection of ideological and power-political goals of the social-darwinistic values of the Third Reich.” (Förster, Jürgen: Der historische Ort des Unternehmens “Barbarossa”; in: Michalka, Wolfgang (Hrsg): Der Zweite Weltkrieg – Analyse, Grundzüge, Forschungsbilanz. S. 639)

“Im Unternehmen ‘Barbarossa’ wird wie in keinem anderen Feldzug die unauflösbare Verbindung von ideologischen und machtpolitischen Zielen mit den sozialdwarinistischen Wertvorstellungen des Dritten Reiches deutlich.” (Förster, Jürgen: Der historische Ort des Unternehmens “Barbarossa”; in: Michalka, Wolfgang (Hrsg): Der Zweite Weltkrieg – Analyse, Grundzüge, Forschungsbilanz. S. 639)

To put it as simple and clear as possible for the Nazis the Jews were the real enemy and their annihilation as also the direct or indirect annihilation of many civilians in the occupied territories was part of the plan. Thus it is hard to argue that the various deadly operations and harsh treatment against non-combatants in the occupied area were blunders, because on the Eastern Front the distinction between pure military operations and ideological warfare is extremely difficult or even impossible. Thus calling this issue a blunder would mean to not fully acknowledge the inherent genocidal aspects of Operation Barbarossa.

Errors during the Execution

Now, let’s move to the next section the errors during the execution. The mistakes that occurred during the Operation itself are less, but also crucial and they seem to be in line with the chronic optimism that plagued the mistakes in the planning stage.

Not an error – Kiew instead of Moscow

Now, first I will address an error that was mainly a preparation error, namely the dissenting opinions if Moscow should be the primary target or not. This decision is highly debated, because Generaloberst Guderian wo is considered as the founder of the German Panzer Force, noted in his memoirs that he wanted to go for Moscow instead of Kiew, but Hitler insisted on conquering the Ukraine. Once I also assumed that Guderian was right, but most military historians for quite some time think otherwise and I changed my opinion.
Now, the military historian David Glantz notes the following about an early attack against Moscow:

“Had Hitler launched Operation Typhoon in September, Army Group Center would have had to penetrate deep Soviet defenses manned by a force that had not squandered its strength in fruitless offensives against German positions east of Smolensk.” (Glantz: Myth & Realities: p. 24)

“Furthermore, Army Group Center would have launched its offensive with a force of more than 600,000 men threatening its ever-extending right flank and, in the best reckoning, would have reached the gates of Moscow after mid-October just as the fall rainy season was beginning.” (Glantz: Myth & Realities: p. 24)

Additionally, there around 10 reserve armies ready that were used for the Soviet counter-attack in Winter 1941, these units would have been ready for the defense of Moscow while at the same time the troops spared at Kiew would have threatened the over-extended flank of the Germans.(Glantz: Myth & Realities: p. 24)

Not adapting nor acknowledging the resilience of the Soviet troops and repeatedly assuming they were beaten
As mentioned in preparation part the German High Command and Hitler completely underestimated the Soviet Army and Soviet Union to equip and raise new troops. As Halder noted:
“The Russian colossus…has been underestimated by us…whenever a dozen divisions are destroyed the Russians replace them with another dozen.” -Franz Halder

Nevertheless, there was no change in strategy nor did it prevent the Germans to repeatedly assume that the Soviet Army was beaten. (S. 91-92: Source Hitlers Krieg im Osten Ueberschär)

Not adapting after the reserves were used up early on and major exhaustion

That mistake goes hand in hand with the next one, namely the lack of adapting to the losses the German Army sustained in a short amount of time. Within a few weeks the German losses were so high that the reserves were all used up, nevertheless the German Army pushed on and overextended its lines and furthermore overstretched logistics. In overall the number of reserves were too low, the German Army only had about 400 000 trained reserves in June 1941. By the end of November 1941 these troops were all used up and furthermore, there was a lack of 340 000 men even after using local volunteers for non-combat roles and many other optimizations. Yet, the number alone is already staggering enough, another problem is that of those more than 740 000 casualties many were experienced and well trained combat troops that got replaced by inexperienced men. (End of November 1941: 340k Fehlstellen (Hillebrand: Das Heer: S. 19)) Additionally, these men had been fighting for months, they were exhausted and badly supplied. Which brings us to the next point.

Not listening to front commanders

Although, the dire situation was apparent to the front commanders. In Mid November(13th) 1941 at the conference at Orsha near Smolensk the Chief of Staff of German Army High Command met with the leadership of the Army Groups, Armies and Panzer Armies. All front commanders argued against continuing offensive operations, yet, Hitler and Halder insisted on continuing to push towards Moscow. In early December 1941 the Germans finally halted its advance, one day later the Soviets started their counter-offensive. (Castano, Vincent: The Failure of Operation Barbarossa: Truth versus Fiction p. 27-29) At this point, Operation Barbarossa, judged by its initial goals of achieving a quick victory against the Soviet Union, had cleared failed.

Summary – The Underlying and Continuous Problems

To conclude, the main underlying problems for the German mistakes were basically, a strong optimism that prevented any worst-case scenario planning, an underestimation of the enemy and an overestimation of the Germans Army capabilities. Ironically or unsurprisingly, depending on your view on the German leadership, this didn’t really change in 1942. Although in 1942 unlike to 1941, there was no real alternative, thus these underlying problems turned into severe habits that continued til the end of the Second World War and maybe even beyond, because quite many people still to this day claim that the mud and the Winter stopped the Wehrmacht and not the Red Army.


Books & Articles

Pahl, Magnus: Fremde Heere Ost

Ueberschär, Gerd (Hrsg.): Hitlers Krieg im Osten

Förster, Jürgen: Der historische Ort des Unternehmens “Barbarossa”; in: Michalka, Wolfgang (Hrsg): Der Zweite Weltkrieg – Analyse, Grundzüge, Forschungsbilanz. S. 626-640

Wegner, Bernd: Hitlers zweiter Feldzug gegen die Sowjetunion. Strategische Grundlagen und historische Bedeutung”; in: Michalka, Wolfgang (Hrsg): Der Zweite Weltkrieg – Analyse, Grundzüge, Forschungsbilanz. S. 652-666

Martin, Bernd: Das deutsch-japanische Bündnis im Zweiten Weltkrieg; in: Michalka, Wolfgang (Hrsg): Der Zweite Weltkrieg – Analyse, Grundzüge, Forschungsbilanz. S. 120-137

Kreidler, Eugen: Die Eisenbahnen im Zweiten Weltkrieg. Studien und Dokumente zur Geschichte des Zweiten Weltkrieges

Glantz: The Soviet-German War 1941-1945: Myths and Realities: A Survey Essay

Müller-Hillebrand, Burkhart: Das Heer – Band 3 – 1941-1945

Castano, Vincent: The Failure of Operation Barbarossa: Truth versus Fiction

Zaloga, Steven J. : KV-1 & 2 Heavy Tanks 1939-1945

David M. Glantz Jonathan M. House: When Titans Clashed – HOW THE RED ARMY STOPPED HITLER

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Online Resources

Wikiquote – Franz Halder

Battles of Khalkin Gol

Kriegstagebuch des Oberkommandos der Wehrmacht

Logistics of the Luftwaffe in World War 2

for a more thorough look check my video on why the Luftwaffe Failed in World War 2.


In order to understand the logistics of the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) in World War 2, we must take a look at the rearmament process, the military control of the industry, the attitude towards logistics and the dominance of the operational-tactical approach.

The Type/Sub-type Madness

The German re-armament focused on a fast build-up of arms and equipment. To achieve this many different models were produced by a wide range of companies. Yet, such an approach increases the cost of maintenance and supply due to the wide range of different vehicles and weapons.

This problem becomes apparent, if you look at the numbers in 1943: the US Army Air Force has 18 types of aircraft, whereas Germany had 50. This problem was prevalent in other areas too, like the armament of planes.

Take the B-17, it had one type of defensive gun, the 0.50 cal machine gun, whereas the He-111-H6 had three different types [SHOW 7.92 mm, 13mm and 20mm]. Nearly every German plane usually had a combination of at least two different types of guns throughout the war, whereas the US Forces usually used only one type of gun at all.

Luftwaffe in charge of its own industry

This problem was to a certain degree due to the control of the arms industry by the Luftwaffe. Until 1944 as the only branch of the German Armed Forces, it controlled its own industry. Which was in contrast to the United States, where the industry delivered the units most suited for mass production to the military.

Now, these circumstances were already problematic, but although German engineering is usually highly regarded throughout the world. The relationship of the military and engineering was “complicated” at best.

Disdain for Engineering

Many officers had a lack of technical understanding and were fine with it, some were even blatantly ignorant. Technology for them and thus the engineers were basically “meager”/mere servants.

This is divide between military and engineering is well illustrated by the debate about special insignias for technical officers. It was assumed that a technical officer would be perceived as less valuable by normal officers.

The attitude of the military towards technological and logistical matters manifested itself in the overall doctrine and principles.

Primacy of the operational-tactical approach vs. logistics

For instance, the primacy of the operational-tactical thinking was codified in the directive for the quartermaster. It clearly states that the supply chain management acts as a servant to the operational and tactical command.

“Alle im Versorgungsdienst tätigen Offiziere und Fachbearbeiter müssen sich bewußt sein, daß die Versorgung stets Dienerin der operativen und taktischen Führung ist und niemals zu deren Hemmschuh werden darf.” (Horst Boog, S. 242-243; referring to Quartiermeister-Vorschrift, Berlin 1936)

“All officers and clerks working in the supply services must be aware that the supply chain management is always servant of operational and tactical leadership and must never become the stumbling block.”

This is again in contrast to the Allies, in the RAF War Manual on operations, it is stated that every operational commander had to be aware of the supply/logistical situation. Yet, there is nothing similar in the German directive.

The Result

To conclude, the German Air Force was well suited for small and short wars with its operational (and military) focus, but the fast buildup and military dominance in industrial matters lead to a logistical nightmare as the war prolonged and turned into a war of attrition. Whereas other air forces usually adapted their logistical approach, the German Air Force command was reluctant due to disregard for anything outside of the operational and tactical realm. Thus, to a certain degree the Luftwaffe resembled very well the so called “Knights of the Skies”, yet in a time when the outcome of a war was mostly determined by “mere servants”.



Boog, Horst: Luftwaffe und Logistik im Zweiten Weltkrieg; in: Vorträge zur Militärgeschichte 7: Die Bedeutung der Logistik für die militärische Führung von der Antike bis in die neueste Zeit.

Further Reading and Recommendation

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Amazon Associates Program: “Bernhard Kast is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.”

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Online Resources

Heinkel He 177

The Logistics of Alexander the Great

Script & Notes

Intro – Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great started in 334 BC his series of conquests that would last for ten years. He successfully invaded and conquered the First Persian Empire. In 326 BC he invaded India, but eventually had to stop the campaign, because his troops wouldn’t carry on. In 323 BC he died in Babylon at the age of 33.

As you can clearly see the territory covered is even quite extensive for any modern army. The question arises how even a small army could be properly supplied in such a vast area. Which brings us to the question of military logistics.

[Sadly, the sources on this topic are sparse. They usually focus on less mundane aspects like feeding the troops and requisition of supplies within the Empire.]

Definition of (Military) Logistics

Now, logistics is a modern term, but many logistical operations were also performed in Alexander’s time. Let’s take a look at a simple and a bit modified definition of military logistics.
Military logistics is the provision of all means to perform military operations.

To put it simply, logistics concerns everything from the fuel for your tank, to the food for your stomach and the guy, who cleans the shitter.

Or in a more sophisticated way: Military logistics deals with the determination of demand, requisition and distribution, of men, material, facilities and services.

Main Areas of Military Logistics

Hence, the main areas of military logistics are

  • Recruitment and Reinforcements
  • provision and acquisition of materiel
  • Acquisition and construction of facilities
  • services

Note that the common definitions of modern military logistics (usually) wouldn’t include recruitment. But due to Alexanders extensive campaigns and different organizational structure, recruitment is included in our definition.


Initially Alexander fielded around 30000 infantry and 5000 cavalry. These troops consisted mainly of Macedonians and allies. Yet, around 5000 men were mercenaries.
To reinforce his army Alexander had three possibilities:

  1. Recruitment in Macedon
  2. Hiring Mercenaries in Greece and in the Balkans
  3. Recruitment in conquered territories

Recruitment in Macedon was limited, there are only two accounts of it. One about 3000 infantry and another one about 6000 infantry and 500 cavalry. This recruitment was problematic, because it is known that the recruitment unit had to use force in order to complete their operations.

The main source for reinforcements were Mercenaries. Although the initial financial situation only allowed a minimum amount of mercenaries. After capturing the Persian camp and baggage-wagons at Issus, Alexander had a large quantity of gold and silver at his disposal.

To recruit mercenaries’ special recruitment officers were used at known assembly areas. Whereas in an early battle Alexander killed and enslaved a large amount of captured Greek mercenaries who fought on the Persian side, he later recruited such units into his own army. In total it is estimated that around 60 to 100 thousands mercenaries served in Alexander’s army during his campaigns. (Bosworth p. 60, Wirth p. 100)

There is only limited information available about the recruitment in the conquered Persian territories. One account describes a force of around 30.000 men that were trained and equipped similar to the Macedonians. These troops weren’t ready until Alexanders return from India, thus they never saw any combat.

Transportation of reinforcements

In the first years of his campaign Alexander had to transfer reinforcements on the land route, because he disbanded his fleet due to financial problems. This changed in 332 after large parts of the Persian fleet joined Alexander. In general, the reinforcements were transported by sea and marched to the destination on the Persian Royal Roads. Alexander also took over the Persian communication network to coordinate the reinforcements with his main army. There is only one known account when the reinforcements arrived earlier than the main force.
Overall, Alexander’s reinforcements had to cover vast distances to reach his army. The longest distance covered was by a Thracian unit that transferred from the Balkans to India. It should be noted that these long marches had several benefits. The served as a show of force in the newly conquered regions and also provided security operations along the way.
Now every army needs to be supplied with materiel.

Provision and Acquisition of Materiel

This part is limited in comparison to modern times. It is important to note that the Macedonian soldiers, the allied soldiers and the mercenaries had to bring their own weapons and armor. But due to the extensive distances and duration of Alexander’s campaign this wasn’t always feasible. There is an account of the delivery of around 25 000 pieces of armor to India.
The three main areas for Provision and Acquisition in ancient times were:

  • The provision of siege equipment
  • The construction and transport of ships
  • The transportation of loot

The Provision of siege equipment

Was performed by a distinct unit in Alexander’s army. We know it had its own commander, Diades of Pella, but we have no information about its size. Diades was in charge of the construction and improvement of siege towers, battering rams and scaling equipment. If possible the equipment was transported on ships. Some equipment that would have been impractical to transport was constructed at a location close to the siege itself. For example…

We know from the siege of Tyros that some craftsmen were ordered from Cyprus and Phoenicia. The lumber was from Mount Lebanon and delivered to Sidon where the construction took place. Finally, the equipment was transported with ships to Tyros.

Which brings us to the next part the construction and transportation of ships.

Construction and transportation of ships and bridges

Ships and pontoon bridges were used to traverse large rivers and streams. It was important that those ships could be disassembled into smaller parts in order to transport them to the next river. For instance after crossing the Indus, the ships were disassembled into several parts and then transported to the River Hydaspes.
Now, comes the part that most of us have at least virtual experience with, the transportation of loot.

Transportation of Loot

Loot and its transportation was important for several reasons. Now, Soldiers had to take care of their own loot, which could result in over-encumbrance. So, basically Alexander’s soldiers faced the same problem modern gamers face in Skyrim or Fallout. According to the ancient Greek historian Plutarch when Alexander reached the mountains of India, he realized his army was too slow. Thus, Alexander burned his baggage-wagons, those of his companions to set an example and finally gave orders to burn those of his soldiers too, which resulted not solved the problem of over-encumbrance but also raised the morale of most soldiers.
Yet, the more important part is about the major spoils of war. Large amounts of silver and gold had to be transported to mints in order to finance Alexander’s campaign and his Empire. In order to properly haul these precious metals, a large amount of mules and camels was necessary, according to some sources around 10.000 mules and 5000 camels for the larger convoys. Additionally, several thousand troops were used to provide sufficient security.
Early on those transports were sent back to Macedon, but Alexander established several mints along his conquest.

Acquisition and Construction of Facilities

Most facilities Alexander took over from the Persian Empire, mainly the bureaucracy, the excellent Royal Road system, the good courier service and a network of signal beacons. These facilities were crucial in Alexander’s campaign, because they allowed him to efficiently coordinate reinforcements, loot and his Empire. Alexander also established new facilities, mainly the founding of new cities and the construction of mints.

The first and most notable city founded was Alexandria. Many more cities followed, especially in the eastern regions. These founding’s may appear as basic efforts of colonization with economic and cultural motivations, but their main aim was to ensure the military dominance in the regions. Furthermore, they were used to settle wounded and incapacitated soldiers. Additionally, fortresses and other fortifications were built.

Alexander also established several mints in the conquered territories, e.g., in Asia Minor, Cyprus, Phoenicia, Alexandria and Babylon.


The three main services were the provisioning of food, medical service and recreation.
The primary concern was of course the provisioning of food. Alexander was well aware of this fact, and probably for this reason he chose his routes mainly along food sources. Sometimes this lead to some extensive detours, e.g., when crossing through Mesopotamia. Also Alexander put his most able commanders in charge of foraging operations. If possible he organized the construction of supply depots along his marches. Nevertheless, sometimes a lack of supplies couldn’t be avoided.

Little is known about the medical services in Alexander’s army. We can assume that there was something like a medical corps due to the sources mentioning the transport of medicine to India. Another indication is that ancient historians made a clear distinction between dead and wounded soldiers in their records.

Recreation was done mostly in the form of festivals with contests in athletics and horse racing accompanied with music and other forms of entertainment.


Alexander the Great is well known for his tactics, but we can assume that his capabilities concerning military logistics were also fundamental for his success on the battlefield.

Sources & Recommendations


In this case my sources were mostly German, but from what I have seen these books are also about this topic, although I didn’t use the English book.

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