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Thread: 70 Years Ago: Operation Case Blue - Offensive for Stalingrad

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    Lightbulb 70 Years Ago: Operation Case Blue - Offensive for Stalingrad

    70 years ago, from June 28 onward the Germans launched Case Blue, the summer offensive heading for Stalingrad and the Caucasus. Here is a relative detailed and factual overview by the US-Army War College Historical series.


    Operation Fall BLAU
    "The Enemy Is Defeated"
    Breakthrough

    At daylight on 28 June, General Weichs, the commander of Second Army, ascended a low hill slightly east of Shchigry. From the top, he saw, on either side, lines of artillery and rocket launcher emplacements still partly obscured by the morning haze. Looking ahead through field glasses, he could make out Fourth Panzer Army's tanks standing in attack formations with their motors off. The troops were nearly as immobile as their vehicles and weapons. For the moment, everything that needed to be done had been done. Then, timed to a second, the artillery opened fire with a shattering crash and salvos from the rocket launchers screamed away trailing plumes of white flame behind them. The preliminary barrage lasted only half-an-hour, which was long enough, though, to give Weichs a clue as to how the battle would go. The Soviet artillery's response was slow and ragged; the enemy might have been taken by surprise after all. When the guns paused to lay their fire deeper, the armor rolled forward, and in the few minutes it took for the new ranges to be set, the second wave of tanks began to file between the artillery positions.1

    The morning was cloudy and warm, promising rain. Soon most of the action was not visible from where Weichs stood. The offensive swept east without a hitch, and the armor disappeared into the distance. Fourth Panzer Army's spearhead, XXXXVIII Panzer Corps, had gone ten miles to the Tim River by 1200. There it captured and crossed an undamaged railroad bridge. That afternoon it moved another ten miles to and across the Kshen River. (Map 30.) Passing the Kshen put it on the so-called land bridge to Voronezh, a five- to ten-mile-wide divide between the basins of the Oskol and the Sosna rivers. Soviet resistance was spotty--determined in some places, feeble in others. One thing was certain: the enemy had not pulled out beforehand. Battlefield evidence, prisoners, dead, abandoned command posts, and so forth, showed that all the units previously identified were still there fighting, at least they were trying to. Before dark, XXXXVIII Panzer Corps covered another ten miles, the last of these in heavy rain. By then its neighbor on the left, XXIV Panzer Corps, had drawn up to the Kshen.2 For Sixth Army the code word again was Aachen, which meant another twenty-four-hour postponement. The rain in the Sixth Army sector had almost stopped during the day, but the roads were still impassable.

    At General Golikov's Bryansk Front, Thirteenth and Fortieth Armies were hard-hit, but his reserve tank corps and brigades were intact. The IV and XXIV Tank Corps were on the way from Southwest Front, and the Stavka was sending in the XVII Tank Corps from its reserve, which would bring the total complement of tank corps to seven. During the day, the front's air support was increased by four regiments of fighters and three of Shturmovik dive-bombers. At the day's end, Golikov gave Fortieth Army two tank brigades and ordered the I and XVI Tank Corps to the Kshen River. The trouble was, Kazakov says, that the front did not know how capable of "decisive action" the tank corps were, and there was not enough fuel for the fighters and Shturmoviks.3


    Panzer III-J ON THE ATTACK

    The rain lasted until 1200 the next day. In the mud, XXXXVIII Panzer Corps made just enough headway to confirm its breakthrough onto the land bridge. The XXIV Panzer Corps worked on bridgeheads across the Kshen. On Fourth Panzer Army's right, Hungarian Second Army could not get past the Tim River. It was being held up less by the rain or by the enemy than by its command's inability to stage a coordinated attack. Sixth Army canvassed its corps in the afternoon; all of them reported their roads passable; and Field Marshal Bock, the commander of Army Group South, then issued the code word Dinkelsbuehl for Sixth Army, effective at daybreak on the 30th.4

    While Fourth Panzer Army was held up again by rain on the 30th, Sixth Army behaved like a panzer army and made a clean, twenty-mile-deep breakthrough to the Korocha River.5 The code name BLAU, which had been compromised by the Reichel affair, went out of official existence on the 30th and was replaced by BRAUNSCHWEIG for the whole offensive. BLAU II became CLAUSEWITZ and BLAU III, DAMPFHAMMER ("steam hammer"). None of the three was going to be much used, however. Plans previously made were about to be overrun by events.


    Map Operation BLAU-BRAUNSCHWEIG
    28 June-11 July 1942

    On the 30th, Golikov had a blunt wedge driven into his line. It was bisected by the Kursk-Voronezh railroad. The I and XVI Tank Corps were on the north side, but the main weight of the German armor, XXIV and XXXXVIII Panzer Corps, was ranged on the railroad and south of it. The position of the panzer corps and Sixth Army's developing breakthrough on the south presaged an encirclement that would engulf Fortieth Army's left flank. Talking to Stalin late in the day, Golikov reported that IV and XXIV Tank Corps were moving "extremely slowly," and the front did not have any regular contact with them. The XVII Tank Corps, he added, was coming west from Voronezh but running out of diesel oil because the corps staff had not organized its fuel supply properly. Golikov believed it would be best to take Fortieth Army's left flank back and out of the way of the developing encirclement. But Stalin insisted on a counterattack by IV, XXIV, and XVII Tank Corps near Gorshechnoye, to stop the German armor south of the railroad and to drive it back. General Leytenant Ya. N. Fedorenko, the army's chief of tanks, had arrived at the front during the day to organize the counterattack. Finally, Stalin admonished Golikov to "keep well in mind" that he had "more than a thousand tanks and the enemy not more than five hundred," that he had over five hundred tanks in the area of the proposed counterattack "and the enemy three hundred to three hundred and fifty at the most," and that "everything now depends on your ability to deploy and lead these forces."6 During the night, elements of IV Tank Corps engaged the enemy near Gorshechnoye, and XVII Tank Corps "maneuvered" in the area south of the railroad without getting into the fighting. All of the XXIV Tank Corps was miles away, at Novyy Oskol.7

    In the morning, on 1 July, Bock went to the Fourth Panzer Army command post, where he and General Hoth, the army commander, agreed the army would have to head straight for Voronezh, "without looking to either side." Because the roads were clogged with supply columns bogged down in the mud, Bock could not get close to the front.8 It was, to say the least, not good weather for tanks, and during the day, the Grossdeutschland Division's infantry took the lead at XXXXVIII Panzer Corps and passed the headwaters of the Olym River, forty miles west of Voronezh. Meanwhile, the 16th Motorized Infantry Division, operating on the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps right flank, had come abreast and, in the afternoon, turned south toward Staryy Oskol.9

    By late afternoon, Sixth Army had smashed the whole right half of Southwest Front west of the Oskol River and had a bridgehead across the river. Early in the day, however, the Stavka had realized that the counterattack by the tank corps was not likely to accomplish anything and had given Fortieth and Twenty-first Armies permission to take their forces out of the pocket.10 In the afternoon, the Soviet units west of the Oskol were going back so fast that Bock did not think enough of them could be trapped by closing the pocket at Staryy Oskol to make it worthwhile to turn Sixth Army north, and he talked to Hitler about letting the army go northeast, instead, "to cut off what is still to be cut off" by trapping the Russians between the flanks of Sixth Army and Fourth Panzer Army somewhere farther east.11 General Paulus, the commander of Sixth Army, believing the Russians were in full retreat and would not let themselves be caught anywhere west of the Don, wanted to head due east.12

    On 2 July, Kazakov says, "The road to Voronezh was, in effect, open to the enemy."13 To close it on the Don, the Stavka, during the day, shifted two armies, Sixth and Sixtieth, out of its reserve, while at the same time ordering another reserve army, Sixty-third, up to the river behind Southwest Front. Fifth Tank Army, which had been under Stavka control, was released and ordered to assemble near Yelets. Golikov, leaving his headquarters in Yelets under General Leytenant N. Ye. Chibisov, his deputy, went to Voronezh to take command of Sixth, Sixtieth, and Fortieth Armies.14 He would not have much time. Vasilevskiy says, "By the end of the day on 2 July, conditions had drastically deteriorated in the Voronezh direction."

    STURMGESCHUETZ III F-2 ASSAULT GUN AND MOUNTED TROOPS CROSSING THE OSKOL RIVER

    Hitler at Poltava

    At 0700 on the 3d, Hitler's Condor transport, carrying him, General Halder (chief of the General Staff), Field Marshal Keitel (chief of the OKW), General Schmundt (Hitler's chief adjutant), and others of his retinue landed at Poltava. The plane had taken off from Rastenburg at 0400, an unusual hour for Hitler to be abroad, particularly on a mission that later appeared to have had no discernible purpose.

    All Hitler did of any substance was to put Bock "at liberty" to refrain from taking Voronezh if doing so would involve "too heavy fighting." Months afterward, Keitel told Bock that this had been the reason for the trip.16 However, Halder had given Bock the same instruction about Voronezh by telephone the night before.

    During the meeting, Halder revived a proposal that had been made before, namely, to give Field Marshal List's Army Group A command of First Panzer Army for BLAU II/CLAUSEWITZ. Bock, as he had before, objected because he believed it would do nothing but complicate the lines of command. Hitler said nothing; nevertheless, Halder's proposal may well have been the original reason for the flight to Poltava. On the 2d, the OKH had instructed Coastal Staff Azov (Army Group A) to prepare to take command of the panzer army on 5 July or any time thereafter.18 Perhaps Hitler had expected a more complaisant reaction from Bock, and when none was forthcoming, his nerve failed. He could at times be quite diffident about taking up unpleasant matters with the older senior generals.

    To Bock, who one may suspect was not an exceptionally acute judge of the Fuehrer's moods, Hitler seemed in high good humor. Apparently having in mind the recent relief of Lieutenant General Neil M. Ritchie as commanding general, British Eighth Army, in North Africa, Hitler joked about what he saw as a peculiarly British tendency "to saw off every general for whom things do not go exactly right."19 At 0900 he reboarded his aircraft, and by 1200 he was back at the Wolfsschanze.

    The day was gratifying for Bock. He could assume he had the Fuehrer's full confidence, and the reports from the front registered nothing but successes. In only occasional light rain, XXXXVIII Panzer Corps was making its final push to the Don, with just a few miles left to go. The pocket west of the Oskol was almost closed at Staryy Oskol. Sixth Army was pursuing an enemy who was not making even a pretense of coherent resistance. After the day's reports were in, Bock sent a teletyped message to Weichs and Paulus. The opening sentence read, "The enemy opposite Sixth Army and Fourth Panzer Army is defeated." For Paulus, he included an order to turn XXXX Panzer Corps east to cover Fourth Panzer Army's right flank. It would then drive to Korotoyak on the Don and Ostrogozhsk on the Tikhaya Sosna River. Paulus, Bock added, was to swing the infantry on XXXX Panzer Corps' right flank east and southeast to clear the line of the Tikhaya Sosna upstream from Ostrogozhsk.20 In the morning, on learning that Paulus had all of XXXX Panzer Corps headed due east, Bock ordered him to divert 23d Panzer Division to the northeast toward Hoth's flank.21


    Hitler and German Army generals at Army Group South headquarters at Poltava.
    Source German Federal Archive
    Identification Code Bild 183-B24543

    Friedrich Paulus
    Fedor von Bock
    Adolf Hitler
    Adolf Heusinger
    "Stampede to Voronezh"

    The offensive was rolling at full speed on the ninth day, 5 July. The XXXXVIII Panzer Corps had three solid bridgeheads across the Don in the morning, one reaching to within two miles of Voronezh. The XXXX Panzer Corps was bearing in on Ostrogozhsk and approaching Korotoyak. Bock, seeing himself as master of the battlefield, issued Directive 2 for Operation BRAUNSCHWEIG. In part it read:

    The enemy has not succeeded in organizing a new defense anywhere. Wherever he was attacked his resistance collapsed quickly and he fled. It has been impossible to discern any purpose or plan in his retreats. At no point thus far in the campaign in the East have such strong evidences of disintegration been observed on the enemy side.22

    Specifically, the object was "to exploit the present condition of the Soviet Army for the furtherance of our operations and not to permit the defeated enemy to come to rest." Sixth Army was to "stay on the enemy's heels," and Armeegruppe Weichs was to release Fourth Panzer Army "at the earliest possible time" and put it at the disposal of the army group.23

    While Bock was preparing to continue what he considered to be his display of virtuosity, his performance was being judged differently in the OKH and at Fuehrer Headquarters. Hitler and Halder believed that turning 23d Panzer Division north was a waste of time and effort. Both thought Bock and Hoth were launched on a mindless "stampede" toward Voronezh. Hitler, moreover, querulously asked Halder to find out why XXXX Panzer Corps had not yet reached the Don. Bock's high-handed reply that much of the reason why was the firing of the two best generals in the corps because of the Reichel affair probably did not the atmosphere at the upper levels.24

    During the evening, the OKH liaison officer with Fourth Panzer Army raised another doubt. (Liaison officers were attached to every army headquarters, and they reported independently to Hitler via the OKH.) The officer, a general staff major, radioed, "Coup de main at Voronezh has failed. 24th Panzer Division opposed by strong enemy south of the city. Grossdeutschland also strongly opposed in its bridgehead. Concerted attack being planned for tomorrow." The reality was not quite so dramatic. On the outskirts of Voronezh, the 24th Panzer Division's lead elements had encountered Soviet troops and workers' militia with mortars but no artillery and only a few tanks. Grossdeutschland Division was having to beat down some resistance to expand its bridgehead.25 At Fuehrer Headquarters, however, the liaison officer's message raised a vision of street-fighting and a debilitating battle for the city, and Hitler thereupon forbade using the "fast" divisions, Grossdeutschland or 24th Panzer, and instructed Bock and Hoth to leave Voronezh to less valuable divisions.26

    One more day brought BLAU I/BRAUNSCHWEIG to a superficially glorious and profoundly anticlimactic conclusion. Voronezh was taken on the 6th with hardly a shot having to be fired. The 24th Panzer Division patrols ranged through the streets in the morning without seeing an enemy. A motorcycle battalion from the 3d Infantry Division did the same in the afternoon. In acrimonious telephone calls to Halder, Bock asked permission to occupy the city, which Hitler granted late in the day.

    By then the Germans had had another, greater surprise: Southwest Front was retreating all along the Sixth Army front on the Tikhaya Sosna River even though the army was stopped on most of its line west of Ostrogozhsk. No one knew for certain what this highly untypical Soviet behavior meant, but if the Russians were in full retreat, it was time to be heading south. That, however, was to have been Fourth Panzer Army's job, and Hoth's panzer divisions and the Grossdeutschland Division were still at Voronezh and north of it. Paulus only had one panzer division and one motorized infantry division.

    The victory was turning sour, and the whole offensive was on the verge of being thrown into disarray. While Bock and Halder exchanged "enervating" telephone calls, Hitler talked about every hour being important, and Keitel showered "ill judged" pronouncements on all. Halder longed for "time to contemplate quietly and then give clear orders." He also believed he knew the cause of the problem--Bock's generalship: Bock, Halder concluded, had let himself be taken in tow by Hoth and had piled too much of his armor into the north flank.27
    -part 1-

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    Thanks for the info, MCP3 - as thorough as ever!

    However, I'm currently reading a book called "In Deadly Combat" by Gottlob Herbert Bidermann and am fast forming the opinion that the invasion of the Soviet Union could only ever have ended in tears

    Even halfway through the Ukraine it was becoming clear that supply lines were stretched and the Wehrmacht would have probably have been out of ammo but for the Russian weapons they took from prisoners. Food rations were also scarce and they were having to improvise by using such things as army coats as stretchers for the wounded.

    Basically, it's a tribute to them that they go as far as they did but I don't think they'd ever have taken out Russia due to its sheer vastness! I also had the privilege of knowing an elderly German lady back in the 1980's and her husband concurred with this view - it was a hopeless task! He was involved in Operation Typhoon but, despite getting to within 20 kms. of the Kremlin, he was never convinced that Russia could be conquered. Even Napoleon (who DID enter Moscow) could not win the war and many of his troops were massacred during their retreat.

    I now tend to read all accounts about Operation Barbarossa within this pessimistic context, knowing that the outcome was inevitable, but there were at least some stirring victories for the Wehrmacht along the way

  3. The Following User Says Thank You to SaxonPagan For This Useful Post:


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    Quote Originally Posted by Godwinson View Post
    Thanks for the info, MCP3 - as thorough as ever!

    However, I'm currently reading a book called "In Deadly Combat" by Gottlob Herbert Bidermann and am fast forming the opinion that the invasion of the Soviet Union could only ever have ended in tears

    Even halfway through the Ukraine it was becoming clear that supply lines were stretched and the Wehrmacht would have probably have been out of ammo but for the Russian weapons they took from prisoners. Food rations were also scarce and they were having to improvise by using such things as army coats as stretchers for the wounded.

    Basically, it's a tribute to them that they go as far as they did but I don't think they'd ever have taken out Russia due to its sheer vastness! I also had the privilege of knowing an elderly German lady back in the 1980's and her husband concurred with this view - it was a hopeless task! He was involved in Operation Typhoon but, despite getting to within 20 kms. of the Kremlin, he was never convinced that Russia could be conquered. Even Napoleon (who DID enter Moscow) could not win the war and many of his troops were massacred during their retreat.

    I now tend to read all accounts about Operation Barbarossa within this pessimistic context, knowing that the outcome was inevitable, but there were at least some stirring victories for the Wehrmacht along the way
    I owe you still 2 replies in two German language threads, the 22.6.1941 thread and the Stalingrad thread. However the answers have to be sourced quite well , also from my expirience as a "combatant" in international simulation convents (where the English are quite numerous btw, right after the Americans in numbers) .

    Barbarossa was and always is a "All or Nothing" gamble, from the German perspective. And if you do it , you have to do it while the US is not actively involved yet. So time pressures in 1941. If you succeed (e.g. taking the Volga line roughly, thus Leningrad, Moscow and Stalingrad fall in that order) then you have a fair chance to repulse the Anglo-American onslaught onto Europe in 1943/44. If not, thus get bogged down in a quagmire, always too little and to late , then defeat is sure. The alternate of not striking per-emptive is to become depended omn Uncle Joe Stalin's good will, who likely is going to invade at one time sooner or later, but as i laid out quite often, not before the US is not safely in the war. So i don't buy the July 41 planned invasion of the Reich theory by Suchorow and others.

    To archive Victory in the East requires a complete different concept than Hitler actually went in. It requires a "Russification" of the war, benevolent promises to Russian and Ukrainian Nationalists and so forth. Hitler relied solely on the German armed forces initially, perhaps because of the Blitzkrieg victories of Poland , France and the Balkan, and that was his mistake . But the USSR is not France, at that time it had literally no infrastructure, no asphalt roads, even the railroad tracks were different (thus the Russian track is wider, so all railroads had to be renailed and rebuild).
    The miscalculations , the mistakes Hitler and his staff perpetuated are short of being grotesque, amongst them the continuous underestimation of the enemies potential. And what the Soviets really lacked off America would bring in. Stalin is the only combatant in WW2 who is able to switch Industry Output to 100% on war productions. Consumer goods, equipment , even railroad locomotive he would get from the USA, as well as the necessary corn after the Ukraine was lost and in Axis control.

    Notice in the wiretapped Hitler-Mannerheim (Finnish president) conversation when Hitler complains about the number of tanks the Soviets were able to field ("we destroyed 30.000 by now....if someone had said this number before the war i would have called him an idiot...i even called my chief of intelligence (Gehlen) an idiot for stating that the Red Army has 15.000 tanks..i just couldn't believe it").

    The Wehrmacht Panzer units were able to field 3.000 light Panzers on 22.6.1941, roughly 3.300 were lost until 22.6.1942, thus in one year war in the east the whole arsenal of Panzers was lost, plus 300 replacements.


    Case Blue in the end suffers under the same shortages Barbarossa as a whole did: Too little for too many goals in a sheer endless country. You will read in the next chapters that the 6th Army suffered constant fuel shortage, so it arrives as late as mid August in the Stalingrad era (original plan: 3 weeks, archive able if fuel supply is fair).

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    Back to Case Blue:

    Hitler's views about the campaign and the coming summer offensive as laid out to President Mannerheim of Finland (was not published to not cause awe in the German public opinion) of June 1942.(English subtitles)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=


    Hitler:*sighs* " We did not understand ourselves...just how strong this state (USSR) was armed."

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    Operation Case Blue

    part 2

    A Strategic Retreat
    The Soviet Dilemma

    While the Germans were finding their success awkward, the Soviet forces were running more deeply into genuine trouble. On 2 July, the best initial move seemed to be to bring Bryansk Front's still powerful armor into play against the enemy spearhead aimed for Voronezh. To do that, the front was able to gather, under Headquarters, Fifth Tank Army, five tank corps (the army's two plus I and XVI and VII Tank Corps from the Stavka reserves) and eight rifle divisions. This brought together about six hundred tanks, at least twice the number of Hoth's two panzer corps. But Golikov's departure to Voronezh and, apparently, a drop in confidence in him and his staff in Moscow created a hiatus in command. Kazakov says the General Staff and the Stavka took over on the night of 3 July and issued orders directly to Fifth Tank Army. The next day, Kazakov adds, General Vasilevskiy, who had become chief of the General Staff, came in person, explained the mission to the army staff "in very cautious terms," and departed again (on the 5th) before the counterattack began.28 Vasilevskiy maintains that he and the Stavka had to intervene because Bryansk Front was not giving any orders. According to Kazakov, only Golikov could make decisions concerning the counterattack, and he was away at Voronezh.29

    The 4th through the 6th of July were days of high crisis in the Soviet Command, which, no doubt, accounts for Vasilevskiy's abrupt coming and going at Bryansk Front. The Soviet literature is more than usually sparing in its treatment of the decisions taken at this stage. Nevertheless, it leaves a clear impression that Stalin, the Stavka, and the General Staff saw themselves as having to deal with a dangerous tactical surprise that confirmed their previous strategic estimates, specifically, that the march on Moscow had begun. In one version of his memoirs, Vasilevskiy said that the Stavka, in considering Voronezh as a possible German objective, "believed the subsequent development of the offensive would not be to the south, as actually occurred, but to the north, in a deep encirclement of Moscow from the southeast."30 Consequently, the primary Soviet strategic concern was directed to the area north and northeast of the line Kursk-Voronezh. Although the prospect of a successful deception had appeared vastly diminished after the Reichel affair, Operation KREML, had continued and the OKW had announced, on 1 July, that an offensive had begun "in the southern and central sectors" of the Eastern Front.31 (The History of the Second World War describes both as having been important in the German scheme but does not attribute any significance to them from the Soviet standpoint.)32

    Against a drive on Moscow, the Soviet Command, apparently, saw itself as having two strong trumps still to play: the Orel offensive and the Fifth Tank Army's counterattack. These could change the picture swiftly and mightily. They would, in fact, do that, but not in the way expected.

    General Zhukov, whose West Front initially had a share in the Orel operation, had taken it over entirely after Bryansk Front was hit. On 5 July, three of his armies, Tenth, Sixteenth, and Sixty-first, hurled a massive attack against the Second Panzer Army line from north of Orel to Kirov. Second Panzer Army, which had not anticipated such earnest evidence of its status as a threat to Moscow, was shaken but, with much luck, managed to bring the attack to a standstill within a day and, thereby, to give the impression of much more strength than it actually had.33

    Owing to the mix-up at the higher levels, responsibility for planning and executing Fifth Tank Army's counterattack fell almost entirely to the army commander, General Lizyukov, and his staff. Lizyukov had been one of the first officers to win the decoration Hero of the Soviet Union in the war, and he was, Vasilevskiy says, "a very energetic and determined" commander, but neither he nor his staff were experienced in leading large armored forces.34 In Kazakov's account, Lizyukov coordinated his tanks, artillery, and Shturmovik air support "weakly" and gave his corps commanders their instructions in superficial map briefings that they, in turn, repeated to their subordinate commanders.35

    By the time the tank army went into action on the 6th, it was already too late to save Voronezh. Moreover, Lizyukov and his corps commanders, unable to manage a quick thrust, reverted to tactics of attrition that were highly inconvenient to the enemy but more costly to themselves. During the day, 9th Panzer Division smashed two of the tank army's brigades in a single encounter.36

    On the 6th, the Soviet Command faced a dilemma. The prospects of halting a thrust toward Moscow in the first stage were evaporating. In fact, the attempts seem to have disclosed greater enemy strength than had been anticipated. On the other hand, the actual situation was worse on the south flank than in the center. Southwest Front was dislodged, floating loose between the Donets and the Don, and being shoved into and behind the flank of its neighbor, South Front. Under these two pressures, the Stavka, for the first time in the war, ordered a strategic retreat. Unlike the previous year, when armies and fronts had been riveted in place regardless of the consequences, the whole south flank was allowed to pick up and pull out to the east.

    The History of the Second World War gives the date of the decision as 6 July and says the retreat started on the night of the 7th. German Sixth Army, however, observed a general withdrawal in full swing during the day on the 6th, which leaves open the possibilities that the decision was made earlier or that it was not as deliberate as the Soviet accounts present it. A captured officer from Southwest Front's Twenty-first Army had told his interrogators on the 2d that by then control had slipped entirely from the army's command.37

    The actual order must be pieced together from a half-dozen sentences in three sources. The History of the Second World War, while it is specific as to time, merely says that the Stavka undertook to "extricate" Southwest and South Fronts "from the enemy's blows."38 The History of the Great Patriotic War states that Southwest Front and the right flank of South Front were ordered to withdraw to the line of Novaya Kalitva (on the Don)-Popasnaya (on the Donets), a distance of roughly 60 miles (100 kilometers), and dig in there.39 The Popular Scientific Sketch states, " . . Supreme Headquarters ordered Southwest and South Fronts to retreat to the Don. . . ."40

    The decision to retreat did not apply in the Voronezh area or anywhere to the west and north. Golikov had orders to clear the enemy off the entire east side of the Don "at all costs" and to establish a solid defense on the river "in the whole sector."41 On the 7th, Golikov's three armies became Voronezh Front, and General Rokossovskiy, who had been one of Zhukov's best army commanders during the winter, was appointed to command Bryansk Front. Golikov had with him as Stavka representatives, General Vatutin, the deputy chief of the General Staff, and Army Commissar Second Rank P. C. Stepanov, the chief air force commissar. General Vatutin was designated to take over the front command and would do so in a week.42 Zhukov's Orel offensive ran for five days and then stopped as abruptly as it had begun. Lizyukov was killed on 24 July while fighting to beat off German efforts to improve their line that apparently the Russians had taken as having had farther reaching objectives.43


    General Hoth in Voronezh after 10 days: Panzer III-J of Panzergroup 4 in the downtown

    "BLAU II Is Dead"

    That the Soviet Command might go over to a flexible defense was not exactly a surprise to the Germans. They had talked about it as a possibility since WILHELM and FRIDERICUS II and during BLAU I, which, for all its apparent success, produced a disappointing bag of 70,000 prisoners. Bock had told Hitler on 3 July that the Russians were "gradually getting smart" and had learned to evade encirclements.44 Nevertheless, the entire BLAU concept had assumed a repeat of the Russians' 1941 performance. BLAU's small, tight, deliberate envelopments were fine against an enemy who stayed put, but one inclined to disappear over the far horizon required different handling not easily administered by demotorized infantry and rebuilt armor.

    This was the Germans' problem, but to deal with it, they had to believe it really existed, and on that they could not make up their minds.45 Halder could not see Southwest and South Fronts' abandoning defenses they had worked on for half a year without a fight. Hitler, going by foreign news reports, was "inclined" to think the Russians might be attempting an "elastic" defense, but apparently saw no profound implications in that.46 Bock came closest to the point in a teletyped message he sent to Halder on the afternoon of the 8th. In it he said BLAU II was "dead"; if the armies maneuvered as they were required to under existing plans, they would "most likely strike into thin air"; therefore, the OKH needed "to consider" what the objectives ought to be and, in particular where the armored forces should go.47

    Bock would have to wait for his answer. The Soviet retreat, whatever else it might yet do, had at its outset created a monumental distraction. In the week after 6 July, almost the whole German command effort was absorbed by the accelerating pace of the offensive. To switch the main effort from north to south, Bock ordered Headquarters, Fourth Panzer Army, XXXXVIII Panzer Corps with 24th Panzer Division and Grossdeutschland, and XXIV Panzer Corps with 3d and 16th Motorized Infantry Divisions away from Voronezh. On reaching the vicinity of Rossosh-Novaya Kalitva, Hoth was also to pick up and take command of VIII Corps and XXXX Panzer Corps on Sixth Army's left flank. The latter two corps were already in motion south, toward the headwaters of the Derkul and Kalitva rivers. The others would first have to cross 110 miles of previously occupied territory on their own tracks and wheels. On the 6th, the OKH had transferred First Panzer Army, which was in the midst of refitting its panzer divisions, to the Coastal Staff Azov. To List it had given orders to have First Panzer Army ready to start on the 12th. These had been canceled within hours, and List then had been told to get First Panzer started on the 9th, at which time the Coastal Staff would become Army Group A.48 Bock, who had not been consulted, had observed wryly that the battle was now "sliced in two."49

    By the 9th, when the second phase went into full swing, the offensive was a good two weeks ahead of its projected schedule and nearly as much behind in terms of current readiness. The 23d Panzer Division, after having run out of motor fuel two or three times, was just catching up to Sixth Army; 24th Panzer Division and the Grossdeutschland Division were stopped halfway between Voronezh and Novaya Kalitva, waiting to be refueled; and the 3d and 16th Motorized Infantry Divisions could not depart from Voronezh until infantry divisions arrived to relieve them. First Panzer Army had to lead off with its infantry. The panzer divisions were still in bivouac areas thirty or forty miles behind the front. Hitler, moreover, had begun to worry about a British landing in the West and was holding back Army Group A's best equipped motorized division, the SS Leibstandarte "Adolf Hitler," for transfer to the Channel coast.

    AN INFANTRY DIVISION HEADS EAST AT THE PACE OF ITS HORSES

    Strike at Millerovo

    Meanwhile, BLAU II was all but dead, and it had no successor. First Panzer Army put its right flank in motion on the morning of the 9th with instructions to strike across the Donets at Lisichansk, then veer sharply north, crossing the Aydar River at Starobelsk, and meet Fourth Panzer Army at Vysochanovka. The assumption was that Sixth Army would tie the enemy down north and west of Vysochanovka and so set the scene for an envelopment from the south.50 First Panzer Army, if it held to the assigned course, would likely run into Sixth Army's left flank about the time it reached Starobelsk.

    During the day on the 9th, it became apparent that while First Panzer Army would probably be across the Donets in another twenty-four hours, Sixth Army, with nothing ahead of it but long columns of Soviet troops heading east, would by then have passed the line of the Aydar from Starobelsk north, and XXXX Panzer Corps would be well south of Vysochanovka. Obviously there was no point in having First Panzer Army continue past Lisichansk on its assigned course, and in the early morning hours on the 10th, the OKH issued a new directive which, in its general concept, reverted to the BLAU II plan. First Panzer Army was to head due east past Lisichansk toward Millerovo. Fourth Panzer was to aim its right flank at Millerovo, its left at Meshkovskaya between the Don and upper Chir, and to take a bridgehead on the Don at Boguchar as a springboard for a subsequent thrust left of the Don toward Stalingrad.51

    On the morning of the 11th, Hoth had command of XXXX Panzer Corps and VIII Corps, which were heading south and east, but XXXXVIII Panzer Corps and XXIV Panzer Corps were strung out behind. The Grossdeutschland Division and 24th Panzer Division were stalled, as they had been for two days, in the valley of the Tikhaya Sosna waiting to be refueled, and the two motorized divisions were still at Voronezh, where Soviet counterattacks and the inexperience of the infantry, mostly "young" troops sent to relieve them, slowed their disengagement. During the day, the 29th Motorized Infantry Division passed through Boguchar, and the OKH dropped the idea of taking a bridgehead after the division reported the bridge there over the Don destroyed. The offensive was now moving over open steppe in searing heat and choking clouds of fine dust. First Panzer Army reached the Aydar River during the day, and Seventeenth Army reported the enemy pulling away from its north flank.

    After 2400, fresh OKH orders came in over the teletype machines at Army Groups A and B. First Panzer Army was to aim its left flank at Millerovo, its right toward the Donets crossing at Kamensk-Shakhtinskiy. Bock was to put all the forces he "could lay hands on" into a drive via Millerovo (which
    Fourth Panzer Army's advance elements reached during the day) to Kamensk-Shakhtinskiy and finally to the confluence of the Donets and the Don. He was to use any remaining strength to provide flank cover on the east and to "create conditions for an advance to Stalingrad." To Bock's protests that this was going to create a useless pileup of First and Fourth Panzer Armies' armor around Millerovo and scatter his other panzer divisions "to the winds," the OKH replied that his mission was now in the south. Halder further admonished General Greiffenberg, Bock's chief of staff, by telegram "to avoid any unnecessary commitment of mobile forces toward the east." Fourth Panzer Army, he added, had to be ready "at any time" to turn southwest and strike behind the Soviet forces holding north of Rostov.52

    From "a variety of reports," the OKH believed the Russians were going to make a stand on the line Millerovo-Kamensk-Shakhtinskiy-Rostov.53 Bock knew differently, and after grumbling about it to himself for a day, he could not resist telling Halder so in a telegram on the morning of the 13th. The enemy ahead of Fourth and First Panzer Armies, he said, was retreating to the east, southeast, and south, particularly the south. An operation centered on and past Millerovo would to some extent plow into the midst of the Soviet columns but would not accomplish a substantial encirclement. The place for Fourth Panzer Army's right flank to go was to Morozovsk, seventy-five miles east of Kamensk-Shakhtinskiy. There it might still catch some of the enemy, and from there it could turn either southwest or east as conditions required.54
    Bock Goes Home

    By then, the same or similar conclusions were beginning to come to mind at Fuehrer Headquarters--with consequences for Bock that he had not anticipated. Hitler opened the afternoon situation conference with "expressions of utmost indignation" over the delays in getting 23d and 24th Panzer Divisions and the Grossdeutschland Division headed south. He also suddenly recalled that back in May, Bock had originated the "unfortunate proposal" to oppose the Soviet attack south of Kharkov frontally instead of pinching off the gap at Izyum.55 In an hour, a message was on the wire transferring Fourth Panzer Army to Army Group A and telling Bock to turn over the Army Group B command to Weichs.

    Over the telephone, Keitel "advised" Bock to report himself sick and added that Army Group B was now "practically shut down" anyway. To Bock's question why he was being dismissed just when he "presumed" he had produced a great success, Keitel said it was because the mobile divisions were too slow coming away from Voronezh, and their fuel supplies were "not in order." When Bock protested that his dispositions around Voronezh had been "clear as the sun" and pointed out that the OKH, not the army group, was responsible for the motor fuel supplies, Keitel urged him not to "make a racket right now." Things were not irreparable, he said, and there would be time later to straighten them out. For the moment, though, he hurriedly added, any kind of discussion with the Fuehrer was out of the question.56

    Later it would appear that the most consequential charge to be raised against Bock was that he had involved too much armor on the advance of Voronezh and thereby delayed the turn south. At the time, however, even Halder, who was the first to raise it, saw it as, at most, a tactical blemish, not as a major failing. As of 13 July, Hitler, in particular, with his armies seemingly on the edge of their greatest victory, had no compelling reason to resurrect the irritations of the past two weeks unless he was responding to some far more deep-seated impulse. One possibility is that he had become uneasy as he saw the enemy repeatedly slip from his grasp. The haul of prisoners, 88,000 thus far, was relatively low, and the unexpected Soviet retreat had unhinged his plans, but his subsequent actions indicate that his premonitions, if any, could not have been very strong. The 13th was for him a day of minor misgivings and great opportunity. In getting rid of Bock, he was not disposing of a failed general but of a rival in credit for the victory.

    Weichs caught a glimpse of that the first time he went to Fuehrer Headquarters as commanding general, Army Group B. Talking to Schmundt, he suggested that Hitler be persuaded to take notice of Bock's accomplishments in some form "for the sake of public opinion and troop morale." Schmundt replied that Hitler would never do any such thing because he had developed "a distinct antipathy for Bock." On the same occasion, in talking to the Reich press chief, Weichs learned that Hitler would not allow the General Staff to be mentioned in newspaper articles about himself because he believed it detracted from his image and his military reputation.57

    On 15 July, Bock relinquished his command and, having been told his presence at Fuehrer Headquarters would not be welcomed, went to Berlin. He would divide his time between there and his estate in East Prussia for the rest of the war, brooding about his downfall, searching for the reason, and more than half hoping the cloud would one day lift and the Fuehrer would find employment for him again.

    Footnotes

    1. Maximilian Freiherr von Weichs, Tagesnotizen, Band 6, Teil I, p. 1, CMH X-1026 file.

    2. A0K 2, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Teil VI, 28 Jun 42, AOK 2 23617/2 file.

    3. Kazakov, "Na voronezhskom napravlenii," p. 34.

    4. AOK 6, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 12, 29 Jun 42, AOK 6 2394811 file.

    5. Ibid, 30 Jun 42.

    6. Kazakov, "Na voronezhskom napravlenii," pp. 34-36; IVMV, vol. V, p. 150.

    7. Kazakov, "Na voronezhskom napravlenii," p. 36.

    8. Bock Diary, Osten II, 1 Jul 42.

    9. AOK 2, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Teil VI, 1 Jul 42, AOK 2 23617/2 file.

    10. AOK 6, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 12, 1 Jul 42, AOK 6 2394811 file; Kazakov, "Na voronezhskom napravlenii," p. 37.

    11. Bock Diary, Osten II, 1 Jul 42.

    12. AOK 6, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 12, 1 Jul 42, AOK 6 22855/1 file.

    13. Kazakov, "Na voronezhskom napravlenii," p. 38.

    14. IVMV, vol. V, p. 151; Vasilevskiy, Delo, p. 220; Kazakov, "Na voronezhskom napravlenii," p. 39.

    15. Vasilevskiy, Delo, p. 220.

    16. Bock Diary, Osten II, 21 Mar 43.

    17. Ibid., 2 Jul 42.

    18. H. Gr. A, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Band I, Teil I, 2 Jul 42, H. Gr. A 75126/1 file.

    19. Bock Diary, Osten II, 3 Jul 42.

    20. H. Gr. Sued, Ia Nr. 1934/42, an AOK 6, und A. Gr. Weichs, 3.7.42, AOK 6 30155/39 file.

    21. AOK 6, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Nr. 12, 4 Jul 42, AOK 6 22355/1 file.

    22. H. Gr. Sued, Ia Nr. 1950/42, Weisung Nr. 2 zur Operation "BRAUNSCHWEIG," 5.7.42, AOK 6 30155/39 file.

    23. Ibid.; H. Gr. Sued, Ia Nr. 1956/42, 5.7.42, AOK 6 30155/39 file.

    24. Halder Diary, vol. III, p. 473; Bock Diary, Osten II, 5 Jul 42.

    25. AOK 2, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Teil VI, 5 Jul 42, AOK 2 23617/2 file.

    26. Bock Diary, Osten II, 5 Jul 42.

    27. Halder Diary, vol. III, p. 475.

    28. Kazakov, "Na voronezhskom napravlenii," p. 39.

    29. Vasilevskiy, Delo, p. 220; Kazakov, "Na voronezhskom napravlenii," p. 39.

    30. A. M. Vasilevskiy, "Delo vsey zhizni," Novy Mir, 5 (1975), 251. While the excerpts printed in Novy Mir are otherwise identical with the book, this passage does not appear in the book (See Delo, p. 219).

    31. OKW KTB, vol. II, p. 73.

    32. See IVMV, vol. V, p. 243.

    33. Pz. AOK 2, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 2, Teil IV, 5-7 Jul 42, Pz. AOK 2 28499/4 file; Zhukov, Memoirs, p. 375. See also IVMV, vol. V, p. 243, which implies that the purpose of the offensive was to draw away German reserves, and Bagramyan, Tak shli my k pobede, p. 141, who says the purpose was to prevent the enemy from using Army Group Center as a reservoir of reinforcements for the offensive in the south.

    34. Vasilevskiy, Delo, p. 221.

    35. Kazakov, "Na voronezhskom napravlenii," p. 40.

    36. Bock Diary, Osten II, 6 Jul 42.

    37. IVMV, vol. V, p. 152; AOK 6, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 12, 2 and 6 Jul 42, AOK 6 22855/1 file.

    38. IVMV, vol. V, p. 152.

    39. IVOVSS, vol. II, p. 421.

    40. VOV, p. 148f.

    41. IVMV, vol. V, p. 152.

    42. Ibid., p. 152; Vasilevskiy, Delo, p. 223.

    43. Pz. AOK 2, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 2, Teil IV, 10 Jul 42, Pz. AOK 28499/4 file; Vasilevskiy, Delo, p. 222; Rokossovskiy, Soldier's Duty, pp. 120-22.

    44. Bock Diary, Osten II, 3 Jul 42.

    45. The first documented evidence of the retreat Army Group South had was an order of the day signed by Timoshenko, captured on 12 July, that instructed commanders to evade encirclements and not to make it a point of honor to hold their positions at all costs. (Apparently, some Soviet commanders also did not comprehend what was going on.) H. Gr. A, Ia Nr. 317/42, an Pz. AOK 1, 12 Jul 42, Pz. AOK 1 24906/1 file.

    46. Halder Diary, vol. III, p. 475.

    47. Bock Diary, Osten II, 8 Jul 42.

    48. H. Gr. A, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Band I, Teil I, 6 Jul 42, H. Gr. A 75126/1 file.

    49. Bock Diary, Osten II, 5 Jul 42.

    50. H. Gr. A, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Band I, Teil I, 7 Jul 42, H. Gr. A 75126/1 file; Pz. AOK 1, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 8, 7 Jul 42, Pz. AOK 124906/16 file.

    51. Ibid., 10 Jul 42.

    52. Bock Diary, Osten II, 12 Jul 42.

    53. Halder Diary, vol. III, p. 478.

    54. Bock Diary, Osten II, 13 Jul 42.

    55. Halder Diary, vol. III, p. 480. See p. 275f.

    56. Bock Diary, Osten II, 13 Jul 42.

    57. Maximilian von Weichs, Nachlass des Generalfeldmarschalls Freiherr von Weichs, Band 6, 15 Jul 42, CMH X-1026 file.
    Source: US-Army War College Historical Series
    " Moscow to Stalingrad: Decision in the East"

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    Hitler's Grand Design
    "A Certain Crisis"

    BLAU II/CLAUSEWITZ, such as it had been, came to an end between 13 and 15 July under clouds and in oppressive heat broken by intermittent rainstorms that settled the dust over the moving columns but turned the ground beneath them to mud. Within a 25-mile radius of Millerovo, First and Fourth Panzer Armies' tanks hit line after line of Soviet columns headed east. In the melee, some were dispersed and some smashed. Others slipped through or veered south away from the onslaught. During the day on the 15th, First Panzer's 14th Panzer Division and Fourth Panzer's 3d Panzer Division met south of Millerovo thereby technically completing the encirclement, but they did not form a pocket. With gaps in all directions, the armies were slicing through, not enveloping, the enemy. (Map 31.) Fourth Panzer Army reported 21,000 prisoners taken, First Panzer did not stop to count. It certainly took as many, and it may have taken two or three times as many; nevertheless, the greater part of the potential catch escaped. The most remarkable capture was twenty-two trainloads of American and British lend-lease tanks and supplies taken on the railroad between Millerovo and Kamensk-Shakhtinskiy.1

    Tactically, what Field Marshal Bock had predicted was happening; Army Group A was developing a knot of mostly superfluous armored muscle around Millerovo and on a line to the south. Shoulder to shoulder, First and Fourth Panzer Armies were punching into thin air. Twenty-fourth Army, South Front's reserve army, made a feeble and short-lived attempt to stand at Millerovo on the 13th. Southwest Front which had its headquarters east of the Don, had lost control of its armies. They were turned over to South Front, but after the Germans reached Millerovo it had troubles enough of its own and did not succeed in establishing contact with any of them except Ninth Army.2 One thing the German armies did have was command of the field, and that at a low price. After better than two weeks in action, General Hoth, the commander of Fourth Panzer Army, rated the condition of his motorized and panzer divisions and the Grossdeutschland Division as very good. Their main deficiencies were mechanical breakdowns and fuel shortages. General Kleist put First Panzer Army, after six days, at 30 percent of its optimum efficiency, but it had started at below 40 percent because most of its troop and equipment replacements were still en route from Germany.3

    Map 31 Operation BLAU-BRAUNSCHWEIG 14-31 July 1942
    New Missions

    Late in the night on 13 July, Army Groups A and B received orders "for continuing operations on the lower Don." The objective would be to prevent South Front and whatever was left of Southwest Front from escaping by closing the line of the Don down to Rostov. BLAU II had died, and BLAU III was forgotten. The orders did not mention Stalingrad, the original BLAU III objective. The whole offensive was to be reoriented to the south and somewhat to the west to accomplish one grand encirclement inside the great bend of the Don. Field Marshal Keitel, chief of the OKW, had not exaggerated when he had told Bock that Army Group B was being shut down. Sixth Army's missions would be to establish a front on the Don from northeast of Meshkovskaya to Pavlovsk and to turn over all units not needed to do this to Fourth Panzer Army. First Panzer Army was to turn south, cross the Donets at Kamensk-Shakhtinskiy, and bear in on Rostov from the northeast. Fourth Panzer Army, running parallel to First Panzer east of the Donets, would keep its main weight on its right flank, but (as Bock had proposed) would let its left sweep east to Morozovsk. From the line between Kamensk-Shakhtinskiy and Morozovsk, it would drop south to the Don, take bridgeheads at Konstantinovskiy and Tsimlyanskiy, and prepare to run along the south bank of the Don westward toward Rostov.4

    A day later, Hitler shifted the Fuehrer Headquarters from East Prussia to Vinnitsa in the western Ukraine. This Fuehrer compound at Vinnitsa, code-named Werwolf, in contrast to the fortress-like Wolfsschanze, consisted, except for two concrete bunkers, of prefabricated wooden buildings erected in a patch of pine forest half-a-dozen miles outside the town. General Halder, chief of the General Staff, and the OKH occupied quarters in Vinnitsa. The move appeared to lend emphasis to a statement in the orders of the 13th in which Hitler assigned control of the offensive to Headquarters, Army Group A "subject to my directives." Actually, he could have exercised just as close supervision from Rastenburg as from Vinnitsa. The Werwolf, however, did not place him symbolically on the battlefield and, as he liked to claim, at the head of his troops, which possibly enhanced his psychological leverage and undoubtedly would give him a personal claim to the victory when it came.

    Coincident with the move to the Werwolf Hitler released a strategic directive written four days earlier, Directive 43 for Operation BLUECHER. It gave Eleventh Army the mission of crossing the Kerch Strait to the Taman Peninsula, from which it was to take the Soviet naval bases at Anapa and Novorossiysk and to strike along the northern fringe of the Caucasus to Maykop. General Manstein, the army's commander, was to be prepared to execute BLUECHER in early August.5

    Armored Reconnaissance Abteilung of Hoth in the Steppe.

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    Case Blue, part 4

    Stalingrad Front

    For the Stavka, the German entry into the great bend of the Don opened the contest for Stalingrad regardless of what Hitler's intentions for the moment might be. The Popular Scientific Sketch says, "Already in mid-July 1942, the Soviet leadership had discerned the enemy's aim to advance to the Volga in the Stalingrad area to occupy this important strategic point and at the same time, seize the country's largest industrial region. On 14 July, a state of war was declared in the Stalingrad area."6

    Whether the Soviet leadership had altered its fundamental assessment of German strategy, however, remains in doubt. Stalin's official biography published in 1949, undoubtedly written with his approval and possibly with his help, maintains, "Comrade Stalin promptly divined the plan of the German command. He saw that the idea was to create an impression that the seizure of the oil regions of Groznyy and Baku was the major and not the subsidiary objective of the German summer offensive. He pointed out that, in reality, the main objective was to envelop Moscow from the east. Consequently, the biography continues, he anchored the defense on Stalingrad.7 It appears that again, as he had earlier in the month, Stalin drew the best possible conclusion for the long-term from a mistaken premise.

    On 12 July, the Stavka created the Stalingrad Front, using Marshal Timoshenko's Headquarters, Southwest Front, and three reserve armies, Sixty-second, Sixty-third, and Sixty fourth, plus what was left of the former Southwest Front's Twenty-first Army. Timoshenko's mission was to defend the left bank of the Don from Pavlovsk to Kletskaya and, from Kletskaya south, to hold a line inside the Don bend to the point at which the river turned west forty miles east of Tsimlyanskiy. North Caucasus Front's Fifty-first Army was stationed on the river's left bank between Stalingrad Front's flank and the Sea of Azov.8

    The armies were far from being in full-fighting trim. General Leytenant V. I. Chuikov, acting commanding general of the Sixty fourth Army, stopped at Headquarters, Twenty-first Army on the 15th and observed that although it was supposedly defending the Don between Kletskaya and Serafimovich it was "living on wheels," that is, operating out of trucks and vehicles as if to be ready to pick up and move at any moment. A day later, his own army, which was assigned to the southern half of the front inside the Don bend, was only beginning to detrain between the Volga and the Don. Another week would pass before all of it arrived. His neighbor on the north, Sixty-second Army, was in position and, in accordance with orders from the front, had a picket line on the Chir River, but it was keeping its headquarters well behind the Don, fifty miles from the troops.

    Stalingrad Bypassed

    For the moment, Stalingrad Front had almost as little bearing on the Germans' real concerns as Voronezh Front had had a week before. Hitler's attention and the efforts of his generals were directed elsewhere.

    South of the Donets, opposite Seventeenth Army's center and right flank, South Front held tight to its original positions until the 15th, when it began to pull away from Voroshilovgrad to the southeast. Seventeenth Army was ready to attack, but the day before, Field Marshal List, the commander of Army Group A, had told General Ruoff, the army's commander, to wait until the pocket was closed on the east between the lower Donets and Rostov. By 1200 on the 16th, South Front's right flank was clearly in full retreat, and List, after giving Ruoff permission to let infantry follow, scheduled the general attack for the morning of the 18th. Ruoff believed that even though the Russians appeared to be standing firm on the southern half of the front in their heavily fortified line on the Mius River, he was not going to catch many of them if he waited another day and a half. The infantry advancing along the south bank of the Donets was hardly seeing a trace of the enemy. When it took Voroshilovgrad on the 17th the city was empty.

    In the Don bend, all the Sixty-second and Sixty-fourth Armies were to see for some days after the 15th were stragglers, not just single soldiers but frequently whole staffs--thirsty, dirty, and demoralized--coming out of the west over the steppe.11 The Germans were not all that far away, forty to fifty miles, but Sixth Army had slowed down, and General Paulus, the commander of Sixth Army, was dutifully turning his attention north toward the Don. And Fourth Panzer Army was running due south, parallel to the Soviet line that was forming off its left flank. By 1200 on the 16th, Fourth Panzer Army's tanks were in Tatsinskaya and Morozovsk, and before nightfall, Hoth had a spearhead standing at Tsimlyanskiy on the Don. By then, First Panzer Army was across the Donets and headed toward Rostov. During the day on the 17th, advance detachments of two of Paulus' divisions after meeting only light resistance entered Bokovskaya on the upper Chir River.12 The appearance of the Germans on the Chir on 17 July is taken in the Soviet literature as the beginning of the defensive battle for Stalingrad.13

    An encirclement was forming on the lower Don, but an eighty-mile stretch of the river from the confluence of the Donets to the Gulf of Taganrog was still open, and to reach the crossings, particularly at Rostov, the Russians in the pocket had shorter distances to go than did the Germans. Hitler was determined not to let the quarry escape although there was reason to suspect it had in part already done so. On the night of the 17th, disregarding Halder's protest that all he would accomplish would be to create a useless pileup of armor, Hitler set all of List's armies on the shortest courses to Rostov. He instructed List to stop Fourth Panzer Army at Tsimlyanskiy and Konstantinovskiy and to turn it west along the north bank of the Don. Ruoff was to shift Seventeenth Army's attack, which had not yet started, fifty miles south, from the upper Mius to the coast just north of Taganrog. When List and Ruoff both objected that while the distance to Rostov was somewhat shorter, the regrouping would waste three or four days, Colonel Heusinger, the OKH operations chief, said he shared their opinion, but the Fuehrer had given the order "and it is not to be supposed that he will alter his decision."14

    Hitler included in the night's dispatches, also, an order to Army Group B. Sixth Army's mission would remain as it had been, to cover the flank on the Don, but it would be expanded. The two divisions whose advance detachments had reached Bokovskaya during the day would press on to the east, "advance detachments ahead!," occupy the whole northeastern quarter of the Don bend, and "by gaining ground in the direction of Stalingrad make it difficult for the enemy to build a defense west of the Volga."15





    GENERAL HOTH (center) GIVES AN ORDER AT THE DON CROSSING

    Encirclement at Rostov

    While the orders were being written in Vinnitsa, it was raining in the great bend of the Don, not just in local showers but as a continuous downpour that had begun in the early afternoon. The rain lasted through the night and the entire next day. No motor vehicles moved. The panzer divisions were "paralyzed." Seventeenth Army's redeployment could not begin, and Sixth Army's drift along the Don came to a standstill. The only significant change reported came from the Grossdeutschland Division that reached the lower Donets with its infantry and put some troops across. Hitler's mood matched the weather. Halder and Heusinger were on the phone to all the armies repeatedly during the day on the 19th voicing the Fuehrer's impatience.16

    In between times, they transmitted notices of impending changes in the army group's directives to List and General Weichs, the Army Group B commander, and their chiefs of staff. To Halder's professional relief--intermingled with personal annoyance at having had his advice to the same effect coldly ignored two days earlier--Hitler had decided to hedge on the Rostov encirclement.17 Hoth was to send four of Fourth Panzer Army's panzer and motorized divisions, including Grossdeutschland, toward Rostov along the north bank of the Don; but another four were to cross the river at Tsimlyanskiy and other places downstream to the mouth of the Donets "as fast and in as much strength as road conditions and fuel supplies in any way permit." Those four would strike east twenty-five miles to cut the Salsk-Stalingrad railroad and to take possession of the Sal River valley between Bolshaya Orlovka and Remontnaya. There they would position themselves "to proceed either southwest or west with the object of destroying forces the enemy has withdrawn south of the river."18

    The greater change was in Army Group B's and Sixth Army's mission. Paulus was to leave light security on the Don and "take possession of Stalingrad by a daring high-speed assault." He would get as reinforcements from Fourth Panzer Army, the LI Corps with three infantry divisions, and XIV Panzer Corps with two motorized divisions and one panzer division.19 The LI Corps was northeast of Morozovsk and XIV Panzer Corps north of Millerovo. Their transfers were accomplished by shifting the Army Group B boundary south to the line Millerovo-Morozovsk and switching their heading from south to east.

    The stage was set on the 20th for the last act around Rostov. Seventeenth Army finished regrouping north of Taganrog, and First Panzer Army's point, slowed a little by Soviet rear guards, crossed the Kundryuchya River forty-five miles north of the city. When Seventeenth Army jumped off the next morning against what had been the strongest sector of the whole Soviet south flank, the Russians were gone. They had pulled out during the night. After picking their way through minefields, Ruoff's lead divisions had
    covered thirty miles to the western arc of the Rostov defenses, which had been considered exceptionally strong, by 1200 on the 22d and had broken through before dark. First Panzer and Seventeenth Armies both drove into the city on the 23d and secured it during the day after sporadic house-to-house fighting. In less than another twenty-four hours, Seventeenth Army, which had brought bridging equipment in its train, had parts of three divisions across the Don; and on the 25th, it had a five-mile-deep bridgehead on the south bank reaching past Bataysk.20

    The Rostov pocket had never developed. At the last, nobody expected it to. First Panzer Army's tally showed 83,000 prisoners taken in the whole 200-mile drive, not anywhere near enough to have cut decisively into the Soviet Union's supply of manpower. Several months later a First Panzer Army souvenir history featured the Don bridgehead as the big achievement of the campaign thus far.21 Halder's expectation of a traffic jam at Rostov, however, was amply fulfilled. On the 25th, twenty divisions were standing within a fifty-mile radius of the city, most with nothing useful to do.

    Fourth Panzer Army took bridgeheads at Tsimlyanskiy, Nikolayevskaya, and Konstantinovskiy on the 21st and a day later had one at the mouth of the Sal River, taken by the Grossdeutschland Division. The two at Nikolayevskaya and Konstantinovskiy were joined on the 23d and expanded south twenty miles to Bolshaya Orlovka on the Sal, but Hoth was still short of being ready to make a long sweep to the west and south. Losing two corps headquarters and six divisions had weakened his flank on the east, and on the 22d, Hitler had also transferred Headquarters, XXIV Panzer Corps and the 24th Panzer Division to Sixth Army.22 The Germans were beginning to feel the effects of operating simultaneously in two directions.



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    extract from the book - Lost Victories by Field Marshal Eric von Manstein


    P 65

    Anyone seeking to fix the responsibility for the tragedy of Stalingrad already has the answer from Hitler’s own lips. On the 5 th February I was summoned to Supreme Headquarters, all my pleas to Hitler to come and see the situation on our front for himself, or at least to send the Chief-of-Staff or General Jodl failed to move him.

    Hitler opened the interview with these words: ‘I alone bear the responsibility for Stalingrad! I could perhaps put some blame on Goring by saying that he gave me an incorrect picture of the Luftwaffe’s potentialities. But he has been appointed by me as my successor, and as such I cannot charge him with the responsibility for Stalingrad.’

    It was certainly to Hitler’s credit that he accepted responsibility unreservedly in this instance and made no attempt whatsoever to find a scapegoat. On the other hand, we are confronted by his regrettable failure to draw any conclusions for the future from a defeat for which his own errors of leadership were to blame.

    Yet there is one fact that overshadows the question of responsibility and all that the ruthlessness of captivity, brain washing and justified bitterness may have subsequently done to affect the attitude of many an individual member of the sacrificed army:

    By their incomparable bravery and devotion to duty, the officers and men of the army raised a memorial to German arms which, though not of stone or bronze, will nonetheless survive the ages. It is an invisible memorial, engraved with the words prefacing this account of the greatest of soldier tragedies.

    The following are the headquarters staffs and formations of the Sixth Army which perished at Stalingrad:
    H.Q. 4, 8 and 11 Corps and H.Q. 14 Panzer Corp; 44, 71, 76, 79, 94, 113, 295, 297, 305, 371, 376, 384, and 389.
    Infantry divisions; 100 Rifle (Jäger) Division and 369 Croatian Regiment;
    14, 16, and 24Panzer Divisions;
    3, 29, and 60 Motorized Divisions;
    As well as numerous army and army-group troops, anti-craft units and ground units of the Luftwaffe.

    Finally there was 1 Rumanian Cavalry Division and 20 Rumanian Infantry Division.


    P 441

    One thing must not be forgotten. It was the valiant Sixth Army which, by loyally fighting on to the last, snatched the palm of an annihilating victory against the German southern wing from the enemy’s hand. Had it instead of resisting till early February, given up the struggle as soon as the position became hopeless, the Russians could have thrown in such an extra weight of forces at the crucial spots that their aim to encircle the whole southern wing of the German front would most probably have been achieved. Such was the Sixth Army’s vital contribution to our success in once more stabilizing the situation on the Eastern Front in 1943. Though the self-sacrifice of these men of the Sixth Army may have been in vain so far as the final outcome of the war was concerned, this can never annul its moral worth.

    That is why, the name of the Sixth Army shines forth. This Army fulfilled the highest demand that can ever be made on a soldier – to fight on to the last in a hopeless situation for the sake of his comrades.

    P 524

    enormous numbers of Americian trucks made their appearance on the Russian side




    The German 6th army, around 400,000 strong at the beginning of the battle of Stalingrad. 91,000 German soldiers were taken prisoner at the time of surrender in February 1943. (In addition, there were soldiers from many other European countries.) Less than 5,000 German soldiers came back from Siberia after Stalingrad.

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    Sees all, knows all Chlodovech's Avatar
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    TIK and Military History Visualized (YouTube) create military history videos for adults and destroy myths about WW2 on a weekly basis.















    "If we were going to stand in darkness, best we stand in a darkness we had made ourselves.” ― Douglas Coupland, Shampoo Planet

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    David Irving - by far the world's best WW2 historian - made the correct call in his Göring biography.

    Manstein would have known very little about decisions being taken ≈2.000 km. away.

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