The Kuban and the Caucasus
"Sunflower" would have been a more appropriate code name than EDELWEISS, if such had been desired. The region Army Group A had entered into south of the Don was one of sunflowers, grain, and oil--but also of desert, mountains, few railroads, and hardly any roads worthy of the name. Between the Kuban River and the Don and from the Black Sea coast inland to the headwaters of the Kuban the land was as productive as any in Europe. At first glance, the agricultural specialists attached to the army group estimated the crops standing in the fields would be enough to feed the troops and the population and leave a substantial surplus for export to Germany. Not easily impressed by Soviet farming methods, they were awed by the model state farm "Gigant," located near Salsk, which had three-quarters of a million acres and its own laboratories, shops, and processing plants.1 From the upper reaches of the Kuban and east of Salsk to the Caspian shore, however, the land shaded off rapidly into desert where survival, even for a modern army, could depend on widely scattered wells and water holes. Much of the territory, particularly in the east and south of the Kuban and in the mountains was inhabited by non-Slavic peoples, the Kalmyks, Adygei, Cherkess, Kabardins, Chechens, Ingush, Karachai, Balkars, and Ossetians. They were fiercely independent Moslem tribes who had not been brought into the Russian empire until the nineteenth century, had been restive under the tsars, and for religious and other reasons had no taste at all for the Soviet regime.2
The oil, which Army Group A hoped would sustain its own operations and from which Hitler expected to fuel the entire Wehrmacht, was produced in fields situated at and to the southwest of Maykop, around Groznyy, and near Baku on the Caspian coast. These were the summer's ultimate strategic objectives because of their value to the German war effort and the presumed effect of their loss on the Soviet ability to resist. Although after the march to the Don they appeared to be easily within grasp, the actual distances the Germans would have to go to reach them were enormous. In straight lines, not taking into account mountains, rivers, deserts, road conditions, or tactically required twists and turns, Maykop was 180 miles from Rostov; Groznyy was 400; and Baku 700. The last was somewhat more than the whole distance of the advance across the Soviet Union to Rostov.
SOVIET MACHINE GUNNERS DUG-IN OUTSIDE NOVOROSSIYSK
North Caucasus Front
The greatest advantage Army Group A had at the beginning of August was that the Soviet grip on this vast area, for the moment, was weak. The armies defending it were, in the most part, shattered remnants of past defeats. On 28 July, the Stavka had merged what was left of South Front into the North Caucasus Front under Marshal Budenny. He then had the Twenty-fourth, Ninth, Thirty-seventh, Fifty-sixth, Twelfth, Eighteenth, Fifty-first, and Forty-seventh Armies and one independent infantry corps and a cavalry corps. Six of the eight armies had made the retreat to the Don, and two, Ninth and Twenty-fourth, were so far gone that they had to be sent to the rear to be rebuilt. Two, Forty-seventh and Fifty-first Armies, had been resurrected after the defeat on the Kerch Peninsula in May.
Having better than 250 miles on an almost quarter-circle arc to cover, Budenny had been compelled to divide his forces into a Maritime Operational Group under General Cherevichenko and a Don Operational Group under General Malinovskiy. The Maritime Group, with Eighteenth, Fifty-sixth, and Forty-seventh Armies and the two separate corps, was considerably the stronger, and its mission was to cover Krasnodar and the Black Sea naval bases at Novorossiysk and Tuapse. The Don Group had Fifty-first, Thirty-seventh, and Twelfth Armies and theoretical responsibility for the whole sweep of territory east of Krasnodar. By 31 July, Fifty-first
31 July-10 October 1942
Army had been pushed away to the northeast, and it was then transferred to Stalingrad Front.3
Behind North Caucasus Front, General Tyulenev's Transcaucasus Front had Forty-fifth and Forty-sixth Armies and another of the Kerch armies, Forty-fourth, with which to hold the Black Sea coast from Tuapse to Batumi, the mountain passes, and the Turkish border and to defend the approaches to Baku on the Caspian. To do the latter, Tyulenev proposed to install Forty-fourth Army in a line on the Terek River and back it with a second line on the Sudak River.4
To the Caucasus
Even though Fourth Panzer Army broke contact and turned away toward Stalingrad, Army Group A only had one real problem in the first week of August, and that was to get enough gasoline and diesel oil to sustain the speed it was capable of achieving. On the 4th, General List, the commander of Army Group A, submitted a sweeping optimistic prediction: the enemy command most likely had in mind making a stand south of the Kuban River to protect Maykop and the naval bases, but the troops were "dispensing with any sort of unified command," and it could be assumed "that a fast thrust to the southeast with sufficient mobile forces will not encounter serious enemy resistance anywhere forward of Baku."5 The succeeding days seemed to bear him out convincingly. Seventeenth Army, which had Rumanian Third Army coming along behind it to guard the coast, reported the enemy retreating faster than before. First Panzer Army had a bridgehead on the Kuban; on the 5th it threw a bridge across the river and captured fifty-one loaded trains on the Kropotkin-Armavir railline south of the river. (Map 32.) The army group readied the Headquarters, XXXXIX Mountain Corps to take over the advance into the mountains south of Armavir. On the 6th, Seventeenth Army's infantry gained an astonishing thirty miles. In crossing the Kuban, First Panzer Army forced Twelfth Army westward into the area of the Maritime Group, thereby reducing Malinovskiy's Don Group to a single army, Thirty-seventh.6
In one respect, however, List's prediction was already beginning to break down. Off his left flank, on the Terek River, at the behest of the Stavka, Transcaucasus Front was building a North Group, under General Maslennikov, around Forty-fourth Army and Headquarters, Ninth Army. The North Group was not a force of much consequence for the moment, but seven divisions and four brigades were coming north from the Turkish border, and the Stavka was sending two guards rifle corps (seven brigades) and eleven separate rifle brigades by rail to Astrakhan and thence by sea to Makhachkala.7 Army Group A's race to the sea would not be uncontested.
But what the Russians were doing on the Terek could not help them on the Kuban. First Panzer Army was across the river in strength and bearing west toward Maykop, guided night and day
by sheets of flame thousands of feet high: the oil refineries and tank farms were burning. The 9th was a day of almost nothing but good news for Army Group A. In hundred-degree heat and a swirling dust storm, Seventeenth Army took Krasnodar on the north bank of the Kuban while First Panzer Army passed through Maykop and into the oil fields, where it was disappointed to find the above ground equipment thoroughly wrecked but relieved to see that the wells were not on fire. Air reconnaissance reported heavy Soviet columns streaming south, and List concluded that the enemy had probably given up all thought of staging strong resistance anywhere north of the main Caucasus range. Seventeenth Army was encountering more of a fight on the Kuban than it had anywhere else on the 140-mile march from Rostov; nevertheless, the army group's most urgent problem had nothing in particular to do with the enemy but resulted from its orders under Directive 45. Almost the whole weight of First Panzer Army was being drawn to its right flank, and, as had happened at Rostov two weeks earlier, this development was creating a pileup of divisions around Maykop.8
This time, though, List and his staff, who earlier had let themselves be governed entirely by instructions from the OKH, had ready a plan of their own: one which would preserve the "intent" of Directive 45, stop the westward pull on First Panzer Army, under General Kleist, and make it possible to go after the opportunities beckoning in the east. It would also create another major division in the offensive, but that appeared to be an acceptable price for the advantages gained. The plan was to reorganize and, by transferring LVII Panzer Corps and XXXXIV Corps, both of which were in the Maykop area, from First Panzer to Seventeenth Army, to make General Ruoff responsible for cleaning out the Black Sea coast and release Kleist to head east to Groznyy, Makhachkala, and Baku.
The mountains presented the one complication. The passes to the west of Mount Elbrus offered shortcuts, although somewhat arduous ones, to the coast between Tuapse and Sukhumi, and opening them would both assist and secure Seventeenth Army's advance. East of Elbrus, the Grusinian and Ossetian Military Roads gave potential access to the Transcaucasus, and First Panzer Army would have to control them before it could continue past Groznyy to Makhachkala and Baku. To make the march into the mountains, the army group had Headquarters, XXXXIX Mountain Corps, two German mountain divisions, and one Rumanian mountain division. List wanted to put the corps headquarters, one of the German divisions, and the Rumanian division west of Elbrus and leave the other German division for the military roads. The OKH approved the plan in general, but Hitler insisted on having both German mountain divisions west of Elbrus, which left First Panzer Army, as Kleist later put it, with "a single untried foreign division" to execute a very critical mission.9
The reorganization was to take effect
as soon as First Panzer Army had full possession of the Maykop oil fields and Seventeenth Army had cleared the lower Kuban, which apparently would happen in a few days but turned out to take longer. Both armies found the going slower as they hit into the outlying mountains, which although they were not nearly as high as the main range, were steep and cut by heavily wooded gorges. South of Krasnodar and along the Kuban River east of the city, Seventeenth Army not only had to contend with mountainous terrain but, for the first time since it crossed the Don, met concerted Soviet resistance and had to go over to a methodical attack.
But the unexpected slowdown was accompanied by an unanticipated success. On the 12th, XXXXIX Mountain Corps plunged into the mountains south of Armavir and in four days was engaging Soviet rear guards at the important Klukhorskiy Pass, thirty miles west of Mount Elbrus, and was forming a party to climb Elbrus (18,481 feet) and plant a swastika flag at the summit (which was done on 21 August). If the mountain troops reached the coast near Sukhumi, they would undermine the entire Soviet defense north to Novorossiysk. To assist in exploiting that prospect, the army group dispatched two battalions of special high-mountain troops in motor buses from Stalino.10
The advance into the mountains was a tremendous shock for the Soviet Command. They had been presumed to be reasonably easy to defend. Transcaucasus Front had Forty-sixth Army to man the passes and the military roads, and it had supposedly been at work fortifying them since June. According to all the postwar Soviet accounts the blame for the failure to make a better initial showing rested with Transcaucasus Front--for complacency--and on Forty-sixth Army--for general ineptitude in mountain warfare.
Another, and different, problem is seldom alluded to and then obliquely as follows:
The Fascist invaders placed great hopes in the instability of the Soviet rear area in the Caucasus. They estimated that as soon as the German forces broke through into the Caucasus, violence and uprisings would begin among its inhabitants. In order to facilitate this, Hitler's intelligence attempted to establish agent operations among the nationalistic elements in the Caucasus both prior to and during the offensive.11
There were, as far as the Germans knew, no actual uprisings, but many of the mountain peoples welcomed the invaders as liberators. No doubt, a good part of the German mountain troops' early success depended upon the availability of willing native guides. Some men from the region, who had been taken prisoner earlier in the war, were already enlisted in the German service, and the high-mountain battalions had with them platoons of Cherkess, Chechens, and Dagestani.12
The crisis in the Caucasus brought a sinister figure to Transcaucasus Front, People's Commissar of Internal Affairs, Lavrenti Beria, the head of the secret political police. Beria came as a
Stavka representative. For a time, he apparently tried to take personal command of the mountain defenses, but his primary job was to hold the population in line, which he and his NKVD troops, of whom many were stationed in the Caucasus border area, did thoroughly and ruthlessly.13
Tuapse and the Terek
The Tempo Slows
When Seventeenth Army reached Krymsk, halfway between the Kuban and Novorossiysk, on 17 August, List issued a directive putting the army group reorganization into effect the next day. Seventeenth Army then became responsible for all of the territory west of Mount Elbrus, and it acquired three interim missions. One was to complete the advance to Novorossiysk with its original forces; another to thrust along the road running southwest out of Maykop to Tuapse with the two corps taken over from First Panzer Army; and the third to push XXXXIX Mountain Corps through the passes and down the south slope of the mountains to Sukhumi. First Panzer Army, which had XXXX Panzer Corps approaching the Terek River and III Panzer Corps coming in from the northwest, had as its next missions to cross the Terek, take Ordzhonikidze and Groznyy, and open the Grusinian Military Road.14
None of the missions looked impossible or even very difficult. Seventeenth Army had twenty-five miles to go to
GERMAN 75-MM. ANTITANK GUN IN THE CAUCASUS FOOTHILLS
Novorossiysk and about the same to Tuapse. The approach to Sukhumi depended on which of a dozen passes was used. List and Ruoff preferred the Klukhorskiy Pass which was roughly fifty miles northeast of Sukhumi and necessitated a substantial bend to the east but offered a route that could be used by motor vehicles over most of its length while the others were only accessible to men and pack animals. First Panzer Army's point nearing the Terek was about sixty-five miles from Ordzhonikidze, ninety from Groznyy.
But the tempo was changing. By the 18th, the days of thirty-mile advances were already just a memory, and five miles a day or less was the rule. Thereafter, local gains of a mile or two began to be considered significant, particularly in the Seventeenth Army area.
GERMAN MOUNTAIN TROOPS IN THE SANCHARO PASS
The V Corps had been at Krymsk on the 17th and was still fighting there on the 20th. The LVII Panzer Corps and XXXIV Corps were completely tied down in seesaw battles in the mountains south and west of Maykop. The XXXXIX Mountain Corps was into the Sancharo Pass northeast of Sukhumi and through the Klukhorskiy, but the going was getting slower. First Panzer Army, constantly pinched for motor fuel, reached Mozdok on the north bank of the Terek on the 24th and then had to contemplate crossing the fast-flowing river that, being the last natural line forward of Groznyy and Makhachkala, was certain not to be given up without a fight.15
The Soviet forces, although they were to some extent still on the retreat everywhere, were beginning to benefit from being pushed into shorter lines, especially since these also traversed areas that were almost ideal for the defense. North Caucasus Front had Forty-seventh and Fifty-sixth Armies around Novorossiysk, Twelfth and Eighteenth Armies north and east of Tuapse. Transcaucasus Front's North Group had Thirty-seventh, Ninth, and Forty-fourth Armies in the line on the Terek and Fifty-eighth Army being raised at Makhachkala.16
Army Group A, on the other hand, was being relegated piecemeal to a supernumerary status. As General Halder, chief of the General Staff, put it,
the "tempo" of the army group's operations was having to be permitted to decline to cope with demands in other sectors. The Grossdeutschland Division and the 22d Panzer Division left Army Group A in the second week of August, Grossdeutschland to go to the Western Theater via a detour to Army Group Center, 22d Panzer to go to Sixth Army. By the time they had departed, the army group was under notice to relinquish a Flak ("antiaircraft") division and two rocket launcher regiments. The Italian Alpini Corps, with the mountain divisions Tridentina, Cuneense, and Julia, appeared briefly in the Army Group A area at midmonth and then was diverted to Italian Eighth Army without having gotten near the front. General Richthofen, who was commanding Fourth Air Force, the air support arm for Army Groups A and B, told List on the 20th he was having to switch all of the planes, "except for very small remnants," to the attack on Stalingrad. It was "regrettable," he said, but the order had come from Hitler. He thought the planes could be back in "six to ten days." Two days later, Hitler, who was worried about what he thought might be a strong Soviet concentration west of Astrakhan, ordered List to station the 16th Motorized Infantry Division at Elista on First Panzer Army's extreme left flank. To get fuel to move the division 150 miles from Voroshilovsk to Elista, General Kleist, the army's commander, had to drain the tanks of one panzer division.17
On the 24th, List went to Armavir to consult with Ruoff, Kleist's chief of staff and the commander of XXXXIX Mountain Corps. Later he sent a summary to the OKH. In it he said the army group's operations had "lost their fluidity"; the fuel shortage and losses of troops and air support had given the enemy opportunity to dig in and bring up reserves. As a result, the "whole progress of the fighting" was being retarded, which in view of the long distances and advanced season was "a cause for serious thought."18 The extent of the retardation became more apparent the next day when First Panzer Army had to give up its attempt to strike to Groznyy by way of Ordzhonikidze--because it did not have enough fuel for the tanks--and to begin regrouping for a frontal attack across the Terek via Mozdok.19
List, on the 26th, returned to the subjects he had raised with the OKH two days before. When it crossed the Kuban, he said, the army group had anticipated having Seventeenth Army in control of the Black Sea coast and First Panzer Army on the Caspian by the end of September; but, for the reasons given earlier, the operations so far had taken more than the time "justifiably allotted to them." Consequently, unless they could still reach the objectives, which would take substantial reinforcements and air support, they would soon have to be allowed to take up winter positions. "Unfortunately," he added, the time for doing that was almost at hand as far as XXXXIX Mountain Corps was concerned. There had already been several snowstorms at the higher elevations, and the decision
could not be put off past 15 September.20
List at the Werwolf
List's communications did have an effect but not the one he wanted. He did not get even a hint about reinforcements, and when his chief of staff tried to find out when the army group could expect to have air support again, he was told the planes would return "when Stalingrad is taken or given up as impossible."21 In the situation conference on the 29th, though, Hitler made "very irritated remarks" about the conduct of operations at Army Group A and asked to have List report in person.22 The trouble, he insisted, was not in the original plan but that List had not regrouped when he saw hitches developing.23 Later Halder told List that Hitler had also raised several specific complaints. For one, he had heard through the air force that the terrain north of Novorossiysk was "comparable to the Grunewald [a parklike woods outside Berlin]" and therefore believed "a vigorous attack" ought to take it easily. He also thought XXXXIV Corps had failed to concentrate its forces sufficiently for the attack on Tuapse, and XXXXIX Mountain Corps ought not to have gone into the eastern mountain passes, the Sancharo and Klukhorskiy, but should have confined itself to those farther west.24
When List arrived at the Werwolf on the 31st, however, the reception was altogether different from what he had been led to expect. In the meantime, Seventeenth Army had made some progress toward Novorossiysk, and List had begun putting more weight on the approaches to Novorossiysk. Hitler's mood was so good that he invited List to lunch, and the atmosphere was so relaxed that later it was difficult to determine what, if anything, had been decided. Hitler told List he really did not have any objections to the way Army Group A had deployed its forces, although he would "rather have had the mountain corps somewhat closer to the Tuapse road."
Hitler apparently believed that List, who had come armed with aerial photographs from which to show why the mountain corps ought to be stopped, had undertaken to keep the corps going and to shift its main effort west. List, on the other hand, apparently believed Hitler had agreed to let the mountain corps' future operations be contingent on whether the army group could find an airfield from which its supplies could be flown in. Rechecking through the OKW did establish one solid result of the meeting: Hitler had authorized BLUECHER II, the amphibious attack across the Kerch Strait. It would eliminate a pocket of Soviet troops holding out against Rumanian Third Army on the Taman peninsula and would bring over a German infantry division and a Rumanian mountain division.25
BLUECHER II was executed on 2 September. Hitler had diverted enough
aircraft from Stalingrad to give support on the beach and to hold off the Soviet Black Sea Fleet. On the same day First Panzer Army established a bridgehead on the Terek at Mozdok, and on the 6th, Seventeenth Army broke into Novorossiysk, taking the center of the city and the naval base. List then wanted to concentrate on Tuapse and commit all of XXXXIX Mountain Corps there except for light security screens to be left in the passes, but Hitler demanded that advances be continued both toward Tuapse and through the western passes toward Sukhumi.26
Hitler Takes Command
On the 7th, General Jodl, chief of the OKW Operations Staff, who seldom left the Fuehrer Headquarters unless Hitler did, went to Army Group A's command post in Stalino on an urgent request from List. There, with General der Gebirgstruppe Rudolf Konrad, commanding general, XXXXIX Mountain Corps, present, List using aerial photographs and captured Soviet maps, showed him what continuing the mountain corps' operation as Hitler wished would entail: a long march over a single mountain trail, having to transport all supplies by pack animals of which the corps had 1,900 less than would be required, and exposure to attacks on both flanks. Jodl returned to the Werwolf carrying a "unanimous" recommendation against continuing the mountain corps' operations.27
Captain Helmut Greiner, keeper of the OKW War Diary, made the following entry in his notes for 8 September:
The Chief of the Armed Forces Operations Staff [Jodl], following his conference with the Commanding General, Army Group A, at the latter's headquarters on 7 September, has declared himself in agreement with Field Marshal List's contention that XXXXIX Mountain Corps, after leaving screening detachments in the passes, should be withdrawn to the north and recommitted in the Maykop area.
The Fuehrer is extremely put out at General Jodl's taking this position which is diametrically opposed to his own. He has demanded that all the records pertaining to Army Group A's conduct of operations since it crossed the Don River be brought to him.28
To List, Hitler "declined" to give any further orders, saying that if List was convinced he could not get the mountain corps through to the coast, then he should "leave it go."29
In the afternoon on the 9th, Keitel called on Halder, at Hitler's bidding, to tell him List ought to resign his command and to "infer" changes in other high posts, including Halder's and Jodl's.30 Afterward, Keitel told Jodl's deputy, General der Infanterie Walter Warlimont, whose status also was in doubt, that he too expected to be relieved. The morning after he talked to Halder, Keitel had a "private interview" with List at the latter's headquarters, and List thereupon "withdrew from his command."31
As far as can be told from Greiner's
notes or the Army Group A records, all of the fuss was raised over the deployment of one mountain corps. Warlimont recalled later that Hitler had also accused List of having consistently not followed orders and Jodl, who would have been responsible for detecting any such lapses, had maintained that List had scrupulously executed all of the orders given to him--hence, perhaps, the request for Army Group A's records. Jodl, according to Warlimont, believed--and regretted--that he put Hitler into the position of either doing what he did or taking the blame himself for the errors he imputed to List. Warlimont's own opinion, not made a matter of record until a number of years later, was that Hitler, knowing he was on the edge of a severe crisis in the war, resorted to a tactic he had used before and sacrificed his subordinates to protect himself.32
The atmosphere of the situation conference at the Werwolf on 11 September was, as Halder described it, "icy." Hitler, who otherwise did most of the talking, barely said a word. For the next two weeks, he transacted very little business through either the OKW or the OKH. He also did not name a successor to List. Instead, he ordered Ruoff and Kleist to submit to him, every other day, situation reports and maps detailed down to the battalions. Tactical proposals and requests were to be sent to him by telegraph through the OKH.33 In effect, he assumed command of the armies himself and left Headquarters, Army Group A, to do the housekeeping.
"Stand to the Death"
The frustrations of fighting in the Caucasus had, meanwhile, also brought command changes on the Soviet side, though not nearly as radical ones. On 1 September, as the Germans were drawing up to Novorossiysk, the old cavalryman, Budenny, had been relieved as commanding general, North Caucasus Front, thereby ending for good his career as a field commander. At the same time North Caucasus Front went out of existence, and Budenny's replacement, General Cherevichenko, took over its staff and armies as commanding general of the Black Sea Group, Transcaucasus Front.34
For the first time in that summer, it began to look as if the game could go either way, but the stakes were still far from even. Hitler had come to the point of having to contemplate a major disappointment and possibly a massive failure. What confronted the Soviet Union, however, was no less than a national catastrophe. On 6 September, Moscow Radio broadcasted the following appeal from Stalin to the troops on the south flank:
The enemy is slowly advancing toward the ancient Russian river, the Volga, and the riches of the Caucasus. Our existence depends on the outcomes of the battles now being fought. Not a step back! Stand to the death! This is the summons of our country. The fate of the Fatherland, the future of our families, and the destinies of our children lie in our hands.35
Army Group B published the appeal to the troops of Sixth and Fourth Panzer Armies as evidence of Soviet desperation,
but Army Group A let it pass in silence, possibly because the interpretation of it by Kleist's and Ruoff's troops was somewhat uncertain. On the 11th, Seventeenth Army, indeed advancing slowly, came to a full stop at the wall of a cement factory on the southern outskirts of Novorossiysk. (And, in fact, the front would stay in that exact spot for just five days short of a year, that is, until the Germans withdrew from the Kuban entirely.)36 In the morning on the 14th, X Guards Rifle Corps hit First Panzer Army's open left flank north of the Terek River and came close to cutting off the bridgehead at Mozdok.37
In Slow Motion
At midmonth, First Panzer Army and Seventeenth Army both needed either to complete their missions fast or to find tenable positions for the winter, and both were at a standstill. First Panzer was having to make its flank secure and clean out the Terek bend west of Mozdok to give itself a solid hold on the river before heading toward Ordzhonikidze and Groznyy. Hitler was sending the SS Viking Division from Seventeenth Army to give Kleist some additional weight when he started up again. Seventeenth Army was bringing two mountain regiments west out of the passes and preparing to direct its main effort to Tuapse, when and if it could get enough air support to make a start.
In a "special" report on the 16th, Kleist told Hitler, through the OKH, that "in the gigantic fields of sunflowers and corn and in the ravines and nooks and crannies of the mountains," the infantry he had would be "just barely enough" to keep on fighting until the SS Viking Division arrived. Two days later, however, LII Corps staged a tentative push against the west face of the Mozdok bridgehead and suddenly found itself plowing at a run through the lines of Soviet fortifications. The next eight days were almost like those of early August. Along the valleys and on the ridges inside the Terek bend, wherever the Germans turned the Russians gave way. On the 21st, Kleist made up his mind to commit the SS Viking Division as soon as it arrived and then strike south to Ordzhonikidze, with the 13th Panzer Division going along the west bank of the Terek through the Elkhotovo Gate and SS Viking Division and the 111th Infantry Division going to Malgobek and south along the northern extension of the Grusinian Military Road.
The SS Viking Division crossed the Terek after dark on the 25th and moved into the line north of Malgobek during the night. To the division commander, Kleist sent the message, "All eyes are on your division. The whole operation depends on its being unsparingly committed." The division went into action the next morning and in the course of a day and half got to within a mile of Malgobek, but it stalled there without getting onto the heights to the south from which it might have made a clean breakthrough. By then 13th Panzer Division was at Elkhotovo and also stopped. Kleist believed the Viking Division had the numbers and the weapons to have gone the thirty-five miles to Ordzhonikidze but lacked the internal cohesiveness. (The division had close to two thousand non-German
SOVIET MORTAR SQUAD FIRING EAST OF TUAPSE
troops, half Dutch and Belgian, the others, except for a few Swiss, Scandinavian.)
On 3 October, through the OKH, Kleist asked "to be informed when and in what strength the army can expect to get reinforcements to continue the advance to Makhachkala via Ordzhonikidze and Groznyy."38 A week later, after repeated inconclusive statements from the OKH, Hitler answered that depending on developments at Stalingrad, the army would get either one or two mobile divisions later in the month. Until then its mission would be "to create the best possible conditions for an advance after the reinforcements arrive."39
While First Panzer Army was maneuvering in the Terek bend, Seventeenth Army began its advance on Tuapse along the Maykop-Tuapse road on 23 September, with LVII Panzer Corps, and two days later with XXXIV Corps. The straight-line distance was about thirty miles. On the ground, across the western end of the main Caucasus range, it was somewhat more than that. Shaumyan, twenty miles from Tuapse, was the first objective. From there the march would be more downhill than up. The mountain regiments as the Division
"Lanz," under Generalmajor Hubert Lanz, took the east flank where the distance was longer and the terrain the roughest.40 Richthofen provided adequate, but not lavish, air support. Ruoff had insisted that he could not start without it.41 The Soviet main force on the defense was Eighteenth Army.
The advance on Tuapse went slowly from the start. Without the benefit of enemy lapses such as had occurred in the Terek bridgehead, momentum was hard to generate and quickly lost. The Russians were dug in everywhere, and squad and platoon actions were the rule. The weather was nightmarish: late summer, with tropical downpours, in the valley and near winter on the mountains. On the sixth day, Ruoff reported that the experienced troops, having been on the march for more than two months, were either gone or worn out, and the replacements were undertrained and not sufficiently hardened. "What is missing," he said, "is the old, battle-tested private first class whom nothing can shake."42 After ten more days, the battle was rolling in on Shaumyan, and Ruoff thought the defense might be weakening, since there had not been any counterattacks in the past day or two even though Shaumyan was endangered.
On 10 October, at the same time that he told Kleist to wait for reinforcements, Hitler ordered Ruoff to "push ahead toward Tuapse forthwith" after taking Shaumyan.43 On the 11th, the Stavka relieved Cherevichenko from command of the Black Sea Group and appointed General Petrov in his place. Ruoff said he proposed to do as Hitler had ordered, but he reminded the army group and the OKH that the Tuapse operation, so far, had cost him 10,000 casualties.44
1. Pz. AOK 1, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 8, 5 Aug 42, Pz. AOK 1 24906 file.
2. See R. Conquest, The Soviet Deportation of Nationalities (London: Macmillan & Co., 1960), pp. 1-41.
3. IVMV, vol. V, p. 209.
4. Grechko, Gody voyny, p. 234.
5. H. Gr. A, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Band I, Teil II, 4 Aug 42, H. Gr. A 75126/2 file.
6. Ibid., 4-6 Aug 42; Andrei Grechko, Battle for the Caucasus (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1971), p. 67.
7. Grechko, Gody voyny, p. 239.
8. H. Gr. A, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Band I, Teil II, 7-9 Aug 42, H. Gr. A 75126/2 file.
9. H. Gr. A, Ia Nr. 656/42, an Pz. AOK 1, 11.8.42, Pz. AOK 124906/1 file; H. Gr. A, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Band I, Teil II, 9-12 Aug 42, H. Gr. A 75126/2 file.
10. H. Gr. A, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Band I, Teil I, 12-17 Aug 42, H. Gr. A 75126/2 file.
11. IVOVSS, vol. II, p. 455.
12. Pz. AOK 1, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 8, 16 and 18 Aug 42, Pz. AOK 1 24906 file.
13. Erickson, Road to Stalingrad, p. 378; Seweryn Bialer, Stalin and His Generals (New York: Pegasus, 1969), p. 451.
14. H. Gr. A, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Band I, Teil II, 17 Aug 42, H. Gr. A 75126/2 file.
15. Ibid, 17, 18, 20, 24 Aug 42.
16. Grechko, Gody voyny, p. 245.
17. H. Gr. A, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Band I, Teil II, 13, 16, 20, 22 Aug 42, H. Gr. A 75126/2 file.
18. Ibid., 24 Aug 42.
19. Pz. AOK 1, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 8, 25 Aug 42, Pz. AOK 1 24906 file.
20. Der Oberbefehlshaber der H. Gr. A, Ia Nr. 174/42, 26.8.42, Pz. AOK 1 24906/1 file.
21. H. Gr. A, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Band I, Teil II, 28 Aug 42, H. Gr. A 75126/2 file.
22. Halder Diary, vol. III, p. 513.
23. Helmuth Greiner, Die Oberste Wehrmachtfuehrung, 1939-1943 (Wiesbaden: Limes Verlag, 1951), p. 407.
24. H. Gr. A, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Band I, Teil II, 29 Aug 42, H. Gr. A 75126/2 file.
25. Ibid., 31 Aug 42; OKW, KTB, vol. II, p. 662.
26. Helmuth Greiner, Greiner Diary Notes From 12 Aug 42 to 17 Mar 43, 2-4 Sep 42, C-065a CMH file.
27. H. Gr. A, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Band I, Teil III, 7 Sep 42, H. Gr. A 75126/3 file.
28. Greiner Diary Notes, 8 Sep 42, C-065a CMH file.
29. Halder Diary, vol. III, p. 519.
30. Ibid.; Greiner Diary Notes, 9 Sep 42, C-065a CMH file.
31. H. Gr. A, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Band I, Teil III, 10 Sep 42, H. Gr. A 75126/3 file.
32. OKW, KTB, vol. II, pp. 697, 702.
33. H. Gr A, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Band I, Teil III, 12 Sep 42, H. Gr. A 75126/3 file.
34. Grechko, Battle for the Caucasus, p. 125.
35. H. Gr. B, Ia Nr. 2965/42, Fernspruch vom 10.9.42, Pz. AOK 4 28183/5 file.
36. Grechko, Battle for the Caucasus, p. 129.
37. Ibid., p. 108; H. Gr. A, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Band I, Teil III, 11 Sep 42, H. Gr. A 75126/3 file.
38. Pz. AOK 1, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 8, 16 Sep-3 Oct 42, Pz. AOK 1 24906 file.
39. H. Gr. A, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Band I, Teil IV, 10 Oct 42, H. Gr. A 75126/4 file.
40. Ibid., 23-25 Sep 42.
41. A0K 17, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 4, 18 Sep 42, AOK 17 25601 file.
42. Ibid., 28 Sep 42.
43. H. Gr. A, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Band I, Teil IV, 9-10 Oct 42, H. Gr. A 75126/4 file.
44. Grechko, Battle for the Caucasus, p. 156; H. Gr. A, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Band I, Teil IV, 12 Oct 42, H. Gr. A 75126/4 file.