Hitler And Stalin
Hitler Orders a Retreat
1 January 1942
After 2400 on New Year's Eve, Radio Berlin broadcasted the sounds of bells from German cathedrals. Few on the Eastern Front had the time to listen, and to those who did they brought little cheer. Among the latter was the Fourth Panzer Group who saw the new year in while waiting for an order to withdraw. The army group had told the staff members earlier in the night that they, along with Ninth and Fourth Armies, could expect it soon. After 2400, General Hoepner, Fourth Panzer Group's commander, attempted to do what was expected of a panzer general and spoke briefly about the past year's successes. In honesty, however, he could not avoid expressing what he and the others present most deeply felt, that at the turn of the year the forces in the east lay under "a deep shadow." The shadow deepened an hour later when he and his staff read off the pale violet print on the teletype tape that the Fuehrer had forbidden all withdrawals.1
At dawn on New Year's Day the temperature stood at -25° F., and the moisture in the air had frozen to form a cold white fog.The waist-deep snow blanketing central Russia was cut only by a thin network of roads cleared enough to take slow-moving, single-lane traffic. Soldiers and Russian civilians, men and women of all ages, shoveled, widening the lanes and opening new ones to keep the front from strangling. When and if the order to retreat came, whole armies would have to march westward along these narrow tracks that could be drifted shut again in an hour or two. On the roads, the armies calculated that infantry could cover six to eight miles a day, trucks sixteen or twenty miles. Shifting an infantry battalion a distance of twelve miles from one point on the front to another could take as much as four days. Tanks could do the same distance in two days, but as many as half could be expected to break down before they reached the destination. In the cold, machine guns jammed, and tank turrets would not turn. Truck and tank motors had to be kept running continuously. Consequently, vehicles that did not move at all burned one normal day's load of fuel every forty-eight hours.2
On New Year's Day, no doubt to raise their morale, the Third and Fourth Panzer Groups were elevated to army status. The commanding generals would henceforth be addressed as
CIVILIANS SHOVEL SNOW TO OPEN THE ROAD THROUGH A VILLAGE
"Oberbefehlshaber" instead of "Befehlshaber," but the advancement, General Reinhardt observed, came at a time when Third Panzer Army's actual strength was more nearly that of a corps than an army.
In the Nazi party newspaper, the Voelkische Beobachter, Hitler gave a New Year's proclamation to the German people, and he sent an order of the day to the troops through Wehrmacht channels. In both he talked about the past year's victories and promised more to come, and he portrayed himself as a man of peace who had war forced upon him.3 His private mood was dominated by the previous night's exchanges with Field Marshal Kluge, commander of Army Group Center. The generals were coming close to disputing his authority. General Strauss, commander of Ninth Army, had actually attempted to issue an order that contradicted both the word and the spirit of his instructions. The Army was being "parliamentarized."4
During the day, Hitler undertook to make his will finally and unmistakably clear. To Kluge and the army commanders he wrote that the Soviet leadership was using the last of its resources in men and material to exploit the "icy" winter and defeat the German forces. If the Eastern Front stood against this assault, it would assure the final victory in the summer of 1942. Therefore, the
existing lines were to be held "even if they appear to those occupying them to have been outflanked." Gaps in the front were to be filled by divisions coming from Germany and the West, and columns of trucks with supplies and replacement battalions were on the way. "In the meantime," he concluded, "to hold every village, not give way a step, and fight to the last bullet and grenade is the order of the hour. Where single localities no longer can be held, the flames blazing from every hut must tell the neighboring units and the Luftwaffe that here courageous troops have done their duty to the last shot."5
When Hitler talked about new divisions to plug the gaps, he was, from his point of view, not merely trying to create an illusion. Help for Army Group Center was on the way. When it would arrive was another question. The OKH had authority to mobilize a half-a-million trained men for the Eastern Front by the end of April and had two programs, code named WALKUERE and RHEINGOLD, underway. The first would produce four divisions from troops in the Replacement Army that could possibly be ready by late January or early February. The second would draw previously deferred men from industry to make up six divisions, and those would take longer to outfit and train. WALKUERE, RHEINGOLD, and the additional men to round out the half million would cut into the German work force and would thereby mitigate one shortage, while aggravating another.6
The OKH did not know where it could find the weapons, particularly artillery, mortars, and machine guns, to equip the WALKUERE and RHEINGOLD divisions. Current production of these was insufficient to cover the recent losses on the Eastern Front. The OKH also had two movements going, ELEFANT and CHRISTOPHORUS, the first to provide 1,900 trucks and the second to supply 6,000 vehicles of other kinds for Army Group Center; and the Reichspost was assembling 500 buses to transport troops into Russia. But the vehicles were having to be collected from all over Germany and as far away as Paris and driven east, and most would probably need repairs by the time they reached Warsaw. All across Germany, under Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels' sponsorship, Nazi party offices were collecting furs and woolen garments, and Goebbels was about to open a drive to requisition restaurant tablecloths for use in making camouflage snow pants and jackets. The OKH, however, seeing a public relations coup for the party in the making, insisted that the fighting troops had adequate clothing and consigned the collected goods to storage until they could be issued to replacements going out later in the winter.7
A Thrust Past Sukhinichi
The Soviet second phase objective, to encircle the Army Group Center main force, was only becoming faintly discernible to the Germans at the beginning of 1942. The first indication, not
The Fanatical Resistance
1-14 January 1942
yet actually taken for what it was, had come on Christmas Day when the Tenth and Fiftieth Armies' thrusts that had been directed toward Belev and Kaluga in the gap between Fourth and Second Panzer Armies began to bear westerly and north-westerly toward Sukhinichi and Yukhnov.8 The second, Thirty-ninth Army's southward drive toward Rzhev that had begun in full strength on 27 December, was still obscured four days later by wild fighting along the entire Ninth Army front. (Map 9.)
On Army Group Center's right flank, circumstances were changing the Soviet plan. Zhukov's left flank armies, Tenth and Fiftieth, were moving faster and in better position to pursue an envelopment from the south than was Bryansk Front. Of the latter's three armies, only Sixty-first Army, by riding on Tenth Army's flank, attained some momentum. Third and Thirteenth Armies were becoming "exhausted" by the end of December.9 Consequently, Army Group Center's right flank was being left outside the southern arm of the projected encirclement, which would bring quick changes for Armeegruppe Schmidt and its two armies, Second and Second Panzer.
In late December, Second Army was straining to hold onto its "new winter line" on the Zusha and Tim rivers, some miles behind the original winter line although still thirty to thirty-five miles west of the Kursk-Orel railroad. General Schmidt gave Kluge notice on 30 December that Second Army could have to give up both Kursk and Orel and the railroad in-between. If it did, it would have to split in two parts to follow the railroads west. Doing so would open a sixty-mile-wide hole in the front, but the army could not survive in the snow-covered wilderness away from the railroads.10 The Bryansk Front, however, could not accomplish a breakthrough to force Second Army into another retreat, and by the end of the first week in January all of its armies were stopped. Bryansk Front's part in the counteroffensive ended at the Tim and the Zusha, leaving Mtsensk, Kursk, and Orel in German hands.11 By mid-January, the new winter line was solid, and to reduce Kluge's span of control Hitler then transferred Second Army to Army Group South. General Weichs, who had commanded the army in the summer and fall and had been on sick leave since early November, resumed his command; and Schmidt moved from Kursk to Orel to become commanding general of the Second Panzer Army.
During the first week in January, Second Panzer Army's front facing east also stabilized. But at the same time the army was acquiring a long and acutely unstable north front. The gap between Fourth Army and Second Panzer Army was fifty miles wide and had become the mouth of a great bulge ballooning westward past Sukhinichi and arching northwestward almost to Yukhnov and southwestward toward Bryansk. Second Panzer Army was having to stretch its left flank west from Belev across seventy and more miles of roadless country. Headquarters, XXIV Panzer Corps, which had been assigned--without troops--to defend
the Oka River north of Belev, was shifting eighty miles west to Bryansk, still without troops, to try to stop the Soviet drive past Sukhinichi. It acquired a second mission on 3 January when Soviet Tenth Army trapped 4,000 German troops in Sukhinichi. Hitler refused to let the garrison break out and demanded that the town be defended to the last man "as the Alcazar had been held during the Spanish Civil War."12
When Headquarters, XXIV Panzer Corps arrived in Bryansk on the 4th, it had command of a clutch of odds and ends, 2 infantry battalions, 1 engineer battalion, assorted construction troops that had been stationed in the towns around Sukhinichi, and an armored train. The latter had been involved in the fighting at Sukhinichi and had only its locomotive and one car still serviceable. An infantry division and a security division were coming into Bryansk by rail from the west, but Army Group Center had already diverted a regiment from each, and the infantry division had left its motor vehicles in Poland. At Bryansk everything going to the front had to be unloaded and reloaded from German to Soviet-gauge trains.
Meanwhile, Tenth Army's cavalry, assisted by partisans and some Soviet soldiers who had hidden in the forests since the October 1941 battles, were fanning out rapidly west and south of Bryansk. On the 7th, after air reconnaissance reported two Soviet divisions headed southwest away from Sukhinichi, Schmidt, to protect the army's lifeline, the railroad through Bryansk, stripped the Armeegruppe's front on the east of its last reserves, the 4th and 18th Panzer Divisions, and sent them to XXIV Panzer Corps. Having done that, he tried for the next several days to secure Hitler's permission to bend the east front back slightly and thus acquire some reserves. Instead, Hitler, on the 13th, ordered him to keep the east front where it was, take more troops out of it if possible, and use the troops XXIV Panzer Corps had and was getting to mount a counterattack toward Sukhinichi. Occasional airdrops of ammunition and food interspersed with messages of encouragement from Hitler were keeping the Sukhinichi garrison fighting.
A breakout from Sukhinichi had become impossible after 9 January when Tenth Army reached Kirov, forty miles to the west, and Zhizdra, thirty-five miles to the southwest. Having such distances to go, a relief also appeared impossible, particularly since XXIV Panzer Corps' infantry were mostly recent arrivals not hardened either to the weather or the fighting in the Soviet Union. On the 15th, XXIV Panzer Corps expected to start the attack in another four days--"at the earliest."13 Whether XXIV Panzer Corps would be driving toward Sukhinichi in four more days or fighting to hold Bryansk was actually still open. For more than a week, the Stavka had been shifting troops into the gap from the stalled Bryansk Front, and on the 13th it had moved the Headquarters, Sixty-first Army more closely in on Tenth Army's left.14
AN ARMY COMMANDER (Weichs, fourth from left) SETS OUT FOR THE FRONT
The Grand Envelopment
By comparison with the center and left flank armies, Army Group Center's right flank armies, Second and Second Panzer Armies, were, nevertheless, in a virtually ideal situation. The storm of the Soviet offensive was passing away from Second and Second Panzer Armies as it mounted assaults of greater intensity against Fourth and Fourth Panzer Armies in the center and Ninth Army and Third Panzer Army on the left. While the armies on the right faced threats, those of the center and left confronted outright destruction, both piecemeal and en masse. At the beginning of the year, each one of the four had good reason to assume that given its circumstances and the orders it was receiving, it was on an accelerating descent into oblivion. Their peril was in fact so great and appeared so imminent that it obscured for a time the grand Soviet design to encircle and destroy them all. Consequently, the conflict assumed a dual character as the German armies, on Hitler's orders, each fought for survival of its own area while the Soviet Kalinin and West Fronts concentrated on a second objective, Vyazma.
Vyazma, a small city on the Moscow-Smolensk road and railroad, was 125 miles west of Moscow and 90 miles east of Smolensk. It was a railroad junction from which lines ran due north and south to Rzhev and Bryansk, northeast to Moscow, and southeast to Kaluga and Tula. The line to Rzhev carried all
of the supplies for Third Panzer Army and most of those for Ninth Army. The Vyazma-Moscow line and road sustained Fourth Panzer Army, and Fourth Army depended on the Vyazma-Kaluga line for its supplies. The railroad to Bryansk had provided an alternate route for Fourth Army, but lost much of its usefulness when the Russians passed to the west of Sukhinichi. At the turn of the year, Kalinin Front's right flank armies were 90 miles from Vyazma. West Front's left flank operating in the gap between Fourth and Second Panzer Armies had about 55 miles left to get there via Yukhnov. The farthest easterly extensions of Fourth and Fourth Panzer Armies' fronts were 90 miles from Vyazma. Except possibly at Kiev, the Germans themselves had not attempted an envelopment on such a scale.
The Soviet effort also differed markedly from the German in its combining of maneuver and brute force. The Germans had designed the so-called pincers movement to be accomplished with minimum effort; not so the movements of the Soviet forces. Zhukov, for one, appears to have had greater confidence in the frontal assaults that had served well enough on the approaches to Moscow than in the more elegant but also more demanding envelopment.15 Regardless of the envelopment being attempted, his command, the West Front, never ceased battering the whole length of the Fourth, Fourth Panzer, and Third Panzer Armies' lines. Konev's Kalinin Front did the same against Ninth Army. To the German commands, riveted in place by Hitler's orders, the weight of the Russian forces bearing in on them from the east, therefore, made the envelopment almost an academic concern.
In the toe-to-toe contest that had gone on along nearly the whole front, both sides had had a month's experience in winter warfare, and patterns had emerged. The Germans clung to the villages. The peasant cottages, verminous as they invariably were, provided shelter where no other existed. In ground frozen like rock six to eight feet deep, to dig or to build was impossible. The izbas, the cottages, were no small asset, and to deny their comfort to the Russians, the Germans destroyed any left standing when they retreated. Consequently, the Russians usually had to stay in the open which, although they were more accustomed to and better prepared for the winter, was only relatively less hazardous for them than for the Germans, particularly when the temperature reached -30° F. or -40° F. The villages the Germans held, on the other hand, were islands in a sea of snow, stationary and frequently jammed with ill-assorted troops whose presence in them was dictated by the elements rather than by any tactical purpose. The villages had the additional disadvantage of being acutely vulnerable, as the Russians were quick to appreciate, to standardized assault patterns. A single man who knew the lay of the land could direct fire from the back of a tank and smash a village from a distance with high explosives. At night, in snowstorms, or in fog, one or two tanks with infantry could drive straight into a village, blasting the buildings one by one. If the defenders came out into the open, the Soviet infantry occupied local
GERMAN INFANTRY ENTER A VILLAGE
houses. If they stayed indoors, their position was equally hazardous since thatched roofs and wooden construction offered little protection against 76-mm. shells. The German 88-mm. guns and field howitzers with Rotkopf hollow-charge ammunition, which Hitler had released in December, could knock out Soviet T-34 tanks. A direct hit with a Rotkopf shell could generally be counted on to kill the whole tank crew and any infantry riding on the vehicle. But the Germans guns were not maneuverable and were vulnerable to the tanks' cannon and, at close range, to the weapons of the Soviet infantry as well. The 88s, nicknamed "elephants," had a particularly high profile. In using field artillery as antitank guns, the Germans had to contend with a loss ratio of close to one for one and a consequent decline in their artillery strength.
The German troops, particularly the infantry and artillery, had not been accustomed in the war thus far to accepting losses equal to those of their opponents, and they had not even imagined anything like the apparent Soviet disdain for life evidenced in a seeming unconcern for casualties either from cold or from enemy fire. Soviet forces could take the villages but not usually cheaply, and their commanders always seemed willing to pay the price no matter how high it might be. The Russian "tramplers," for instance, were unarmed men whose sole function was to trample paths through the snow to German positions. By the time
an attack began, the field was often littered with the bodies of these humble contributors to its success.16
General Hoepner Does Not Obey
At the turn of the year, Army Group Center's newest crisis was at Fourth Army where on 2 January the Soviet Forty-third Army, after punching at the XX Corps-LVII Panzer Corps boundary for several days, opened a ten-mile gap between Borovsk and Maloyaroslavets. Therewith, Fourth Army, having already lost contact with Second Panzer Army, was practically cut adrift. Fourth Panzer Army was hardly any better off: V Panzer Corps' hold was steadily weakening west of Volokolamsk, and as the armies on their outer flanks were driven back, Fourth Panzer and Third Panzer Armies' fronts were being left on the eastern face of a dangerous outward bulge. When Hoepner asked the army group, on the afternoon of 2 January, to review the latest standfast order in light of these conditions, he received an expression of "the Fuehrer's greatest trust in the Fourth Panzer Army and its leadership," a "categorical" refusal to permit any kind of withdrawal, and an order to transfer two infantry regiments and an artillery battalion to help XX Corps. Kluge then also gave Hoepner command of XX Corps.17
In placing XX Corps under Hoepner, Kluge converted what had been a gap in an army front into one between two armies. Technically the decision was absolutely correct. The corps had contact with Hoepner's Fourth Panzer Army and no longer had any with Kuebler's Fourth Army. Therefore, Hoepner could give it support, and Kuebler could not. On the other hand, as had happened west of Tula, the gap now became the concern of two commands both of which had equally serious problems elsewhere. On the 3d, Kluge ordered Hoepner to stage an attack from his side to close the gap between Barovsk and Maloyaroslavets. To do so Hoepner had to move one of his divisions out to the XX Corps right flank. That took two days, and on the morning of the 6th, when the division was in place and ready, Fourth Army reported that its flank had been pushed back during the night thus opening the gap to eighteen miles but leaving the point at which Hoepner's attack was aimed under Russian control.18 Also during the night, three Soviet divisions had turned north behind the XX Corps flank. In the morning, Hoepner proposed bending his flank back, which Kluge, because of Hitler's orders, instantly forbade, countering with an order to begin the attack anyway. Fourth Army, he said, would help from its side--with one battalion.
For two days Hoepner's one division on the XX Corps right flank attacked south while the Soviet division pushed north behind it and XX Corps, until finally on the morning of the 8th General der Infanterie Friedrich Materna, commanding XX Corps, told Hoepner he could no longer be responsible for the corps' situation. The Russians, he said, had cut his one cleared road to the west. He could no longer get any supplies in, and if they fastened their
hold tighter, he would never get the corps out. Hoepner then told Kluge that XX Corps would "go to the Devil" in a short time if it were not allowed to pull back. Kluge insisted the corps was "still a long way from going to the Devil," but said he would call General Halder. Two hours later, at 1200, Kluge said he had "categorically" demanded a decision on XX Corps and Halder was on his way to Hitler to get it. Hoepner was to alert the corps because the order could come at any minute. An hour and three-quarters later, after having tried several times and failed to reach Halder directly, Hoepner, on his own responsibility, issued the order for the corps to pull back.
After nightfall, having been out of touch with Hoepner's army for seven hours, Kluge, who apparently had learned of the order, called and confirmed that Hoepner had given it. Kluge then said an order to retreat was "impossible"--not because it was wrong but because it went against Hitler's orders. Kluge saw this case as being the same as the one involving Guderian, and he hastened to dissociate himself from responsibility for it by pointing out that at 1200 he had specifically used the word "prepare" and not the word "order." Kluge called again at 2330. Hitler, he told Hoepner, had disapproved the order given to XX Corps in the afternoon and had relieved Hoepner as commanding general, Fourth Panzer Army, effective immediately.19
Fourth Army Adrift
After XX Corps passed from Fourth Army to Fourth Panzer Army, four of Fourth Army's five remaining corps, outflanked on the north and the south, were caught in a detached loop of the front touching the Oka River west of Kaluga and reaching north thirty-five miles not quite to Maloyaroslavets, which the Soviet Forty-third Army had taken on 2 January. What might befall the four corps from the north depended entirely on the Russians and on Fourth Panzer Army. The northernmost corps, LVII Panzer Corps, barely had the strength to cover the flank. The same was true of XXXXIII Corps on the south. The danger was greater at the moment on the south because Fiftieth Army's spearheads northwest of Sukhinichi were forty miles behind the eastern face of the loop and less than ten miles from the Rollbahn, the highway used by Fourth Army as its one good road.20
By the 5th, Fourth Army had mustered enough strength at Yukhnov to deflect the Russians from the Rollbahn there, but since the road ran across rather than away from the Russian line of advance, they had merely to shift their attack on the highway southward a few miles to cut it. The Fourth Army chief of staff told Hitler's adjutant, General Schmundt, "If the Russian
thrust gets through, it will be deadly."21 All the army had on the whole western rim of the Sukhinichi bulge was the Headquarters, XXXX Panzer Corps, with parts of two divisions and several Luftwaffe construction battalions.
On the night of the 5th, General der Infanterie Gotthard Heinrici, the commanding general of the XXXXIII Corps, called the Fourth Army chief of staff and asked whether the army was being deliberately sacrificed and whether it was being treated the way the Soviet Command had treated its troops during the summer encirclements. His men and officers, Heinrici added, were well aware that the Russians were many miles behind them on the south, and they would have to be told what was in store for them. When the report on what Heinrici had said reached army group headquarters, which it did less than ten minutes after Heinrici stopped talking, Kluge came on the telephone to admonish the whole Fourth Army to keep its nerves under control. He would not leave his old army in the lurch, he insisted, but things had not gone that far yet. If the army stood fast, he believed a "state of balance" could be achieved.22 If it "marched off the field," the consequences would be incalculable.
Two days later, on the afternoon of the 7th, XXXX Panzer Corps reported that with the forces it had, it could not keep the Russians off the Rollbahn anywhere along the fifty-mile stretch southwest of Yukhnov. Giving up on achieving a "state of balance," Kluge then tried to persuade Hitler to allow Fourth Army's east front to go back thirty miles or so to the vicinity of Yukhnov, which would shorten the front and release troops to defend the Rollbahn. After a long telephone conversation late in the night, Kluge believed Hitler's "mind was no longer closed to the reasons for such a withdrawal."23 But in the morning Hitler was full of ideas for small shifts that he insisted could solve the problem on the Rollbahn by themselves.
Throughout the day, Hitler engaged Kluge and Halder in a tug-of-war, refusing time after time to be pinned down to a decision while the reports from Fourth Army became progressively darker. At 1200, the Fourth Army chief of staff told Kluge that Soviet columns were behind both flanks of the four corps in the east, and the corps could no longer just withdraw; they would have to fight their way back. Kluge told him he was expecting a "big decision" from Hitler soon. Six hours later the decision had not come, and the army's chief of staff told him the time was close when Kluge would have to give the order himself, which Kluge had earlier said he would do if necessary to save Fourth Army. Finally at 2200 General Jodl, chief of the OKW Operations Staff, called Halder, and Halder called Kluge. Hitler had agreed to let Fourth Army's four corps on the east go back ten miles in stages and not the thirty miles the army and army group had proposed.24
"On the Razor's Edge"
In the order put out on New Year's Day, Hitler had attempted to rivet
Army Group Center's left flank tight where it stood: Third Panzer Army facing east on the Lama River and Ninth Army in a 120-mile-long line running almost due west past Rzhev along the upper reaches of the Volga River to the junction with Army Group North south of Ostashkov. Rzhev was Army Group Center's northern cornerpost. Lying on the Volga at the junction of a north-south and east-west railroad, it gave the army group left flank something to hang onto in what was otherwise a wilderness of forest and swamp in all directions for many miles.
The sector north and east of Rzhev was the most threatened spot on the left flank. There, VI Corps was being battered by the Soviet Thirty-ninth, Twenty-ninth, and Thirty-first Armies and being made an example of by Hitler. On 29 December, after some airplane pilots had drawn a much more favorable picture of the situation around Staritsa than had VI Corps' reports, Hitler had dismissed the corps commander and appointed in his place for several days General der Flieger Wolfgang von Richthofen, who was also commanding general of the VIII Air Corps, Army Group Center's air support command.25
During the night on 1 January Hitler forbade any except "local evasive movements," and in the morning he ordered the words "KOENIGSBERG Position" abolished because they represented a "dangerous myth." Twenty-four hours later, he commanded Ninth Army--VI Corps and its neighbor on the left, XXIII Corps, in particular--not to retreat a "single step" for any reason.26
Having been told that Hitler was highly annoyed by his attempt to order a retreat and having also been promised 300 JU-52 transports to fly in reinforcements for Ninth Army, General Strauss passed on Hitler's order to VI and XXIII Corps with his own emphatic endorsement. Privately, he and his staff believed Ninth Army was "on the razor's edge" and that it could not stand where it was more than a few days. Generalleutnant Eccard von Gablenz, commanding general of the XXVII Corps that held an exposed sector between VI Corps and the Third Panzer Army left flank, was even less confident. Fearful that VI Corps would collapse no matter what orders it was given and that his own corps would follow, Gablenz repeatedly asked Strauss on the 2d to disregard Hitler's order. The troops, he insisted, knew their position was hopeless, and he "could not put a policeman behind every soldier."27 After his corps and VI Corps lost more ground during the day, and Strauss ordered him again to hold, Gablenz sent a radio message that read, "I cannot carry the responsibility for my command any longer and therefore ask to be relieved of my post." Strauss ordered him to relinquish his command immediately and to proceed by air to the army group headquarters in Smolensk at daylight the next morning.28
Before nightfall on the 2d, a gap had
opened northwest of Rzhev between XXIII Corps and VI Corps, but when it did not widen the next day, the Ninth Army staff took heart. In -40° F. weather and snow the troops were fighting well; Richthofen's fighters and dive-bombers were flying; and a battalion of reinforcements arrived in Rzhev by air during the day. The army also congratulated itself on having overcome the worst of the deficiencies it had experienced during the winter warfare. Frostbite casualties were still high, but the troops were outfitted with furs and felt boots requisitioned from the Russian civilians, and they had devised ways of keeping their machine guns and other automatic weapons working in low temperatures.
When Thirty-ninth Army widened the breach northwest of Rzhev to several miles on the 4th, Strauss thought he could close it by attacks from the east and the west. He had a reserve of sorts, the SS Cavalry Brigade, stationed behind XXIII Corps on security duty. The SS Cavalry Brigade was noteworthy on two counts: it was one of only two active cavalry units in the Wehrmacht, and it was commanded by Brigadefuehrer ("Brigadier General") Otto Hermann Fegelein, who was married to Hitler's mistress' sister. As a regiment and later a brigade, it had been in the Eastern Front since early in the campaign as an anachronistic showpiece for the SS. Its commander was an impassioned horseman with minimal military qualifications. To it, Strauss assigned the mission of attacking from the west while VI Corps created an infantry assault group to make the effort from the east.
So flimsy a German effort could hardly have been expected to succeed without more cooperation from the enemy than the Soviet commands were likely to give. Three Soviet armies were bearing in on Rzhev, and air reconnaissance had for several days been reporting a new Soviet buildup on the XXIII Corps left flank south of Ostashkov. Early in the day on the 5th, Thirty-ninth Army opened the gap northwest of Rzhev to eight miles and began "pouring" troops through to the south. Strauss could not have the SS Cavalry Brigade into position for another day, and the mood at the army group and in the OKH was close to being hysterical. Kluge ordered Strauss to "tell every commander that Rzhev must be held." Halder pronounced Rzhev to be "the most decisive spot on the Eastern Front" and added, "There must be a man who can put things to rights there, if not the division commander then some colonel and if not he then a major who has the necessary energy and determination."29
Concurrently, Strauss and Reinhardt fell to arguing over a division sector. On the 3d, to let Hoepner's Fourth Panzer Army concentrate on the Borovsk-Maloyaroslavets breakthrough, Hitler and Kluge had transferred Third Panzer Army from Kluge's command and V Panzer Corps from Hoepner's to Strauss' Ninth Army command. To Reinhardt's huge annoyance, Strauss had refused to give him command of V Panzer Corps because General der Infanterie Richard Ruoff, the corps' commanding general, was somewhat Reinhardt's senior. (The seniority question was resolved ten days later when Ruoff replaced Hoepner at Fourth Panzer Army, and V Panzer
Corps then passed to Third Panzer Army.) Partly out of pique but also partly with reason, Reinhardt then claimed that his Third Panzer Army, sandwiched between two Ninth Army corps, was going to be robbed of strength through both flanks, and he refused an order from Strauss to take over a division sector from XXVII Corps on Third Panzer Army's left flank. Kluge finally broke into the quarrel, threatened Reinhardt with a court-martial if he did not obey orders, and for good measure extended the threat to all commanding generals under Ninth Army.30
The SS Cavalry Brigade and VI Corps attacked at Rzhev on the 7th and were forced to a stop by the afternoon of the 8th. The next day two Soviet divisions rolled over the thin line south of Ostashkov opening a gap on the army group boundary, and the gap west of Rzhev widened by several miles because the SS Cavalry Brigade ran out of ammunition and had to pull back. Four Soviet divisions were ranging south parallel to the Vyazma-Rzhev railroad with nothing between them and it. Strauss told Kluge and the OKH, "The Fourth Army, Fourth Panzer Army, Third Panzer Army and Ninth Army are double-enveloped. The absolutely last possibility to prevent their destruction is to take them into the Gzhatsk-Volga Position [the KOENIGSBERG Line that Hitler had declared nonexistent] which may free enough strength to eliminate the northern arm of the envelopment west of Rzhev." Strauss added, "It is the last minute."31 Kluge agreed but would not give an order unless Hitler approved it.32 Halder and Kluge talked to Hitler, but Hitler insisted on seeing Kluge in person first.
"A Sigh of Relief"
During the night on the 9th, a blizzard blew down on Army Group Center and for twenty-four hours all but stopped the war. Kluge's airplane could not get off the ground the next morning for his flight to Fuehrer Headquarters, and nothing changed at the front during the day because even the Russians could not move. From Smolensk east, trains on the railroads and trucks on the roads were buried in snowdrifts. When Kluge finally arrived at the Fuehrer Headquarters on the 11th, he found Hitler, who apparently had drawn encouragement from the temporary paralysis caused by the weather, eager to talk about anything but a withdrawal--snowshoe battalions, the method of getting more men into a train, and the coming spring and summer campaigns. And Hitler insisted that as far as withdrawal was concerned, "every day, every hour" it could be put off was a gain, and if the front could be made to stand, "all the acclaim" would fall to Kluge.33
Kluge arrived back in Smolensk on the afternoon of the 12th. A few hours later, following a procedure he had recently established to eliminate any misunderstandings, Hitler reinforced his previous day's remarks via teletype to Army Group Center under the superscription, "The Fuehrer and Supreme
Commander of the Wehrmacht has ordered." "Every day of continued stubborn resistance," the message read, "is decisive. It provides the possibility of bringing reinforcements into action to buttress the front. Therefore the break-ins must be eliminated." As if there were no other causes for concern than the wide-open gaps west of Rzhev and between Fourth Panzer and Fourth Armies, the message went on to order that German forces close them. Fourth Panzer Army would be allowed to take its front back about ten miles on the condition that in doing so it released enough units to restore contact with Fourth Army. Ninth Army would have to strip the rest of its front to get troops to counterattack and close the gap at Rzhev.34
Hitler's effort to uphold the standfast doctrine was now hopelessly at odds with reality. The order to Fourth Panzer Army only permitted it to complete the movement Hoepner had started four days earlier. During those days the troops had been fighting in the open in below-zero weather and snow, unable to go forward and forbidden to go backward. They were discouraged, confused, and exhausted. Surprise had been lost. The Russians knew what was afoot and would be on the army's heels all the way. Ninth Army did not merely have one gap to contend with as Hitler pretended. XXIII Corps had breakthroughs on both its flanks, and Ninth Army did not know for certain what was happening to this corps because all the telephone and telegraph lines were out. On the Third Panzer Army right flank, V Corps was crumbling as Soviet armor and infantry chewed through its front, village by village. Reinhardt at Third Panzer Army was running out of ammunition, rations, and motor fuel, and he threatened, because of this and V Corps' trouble, to give the order to retreat himself.35 Snow stalled traffic on the railroad north of Vyazma, and the Russian railroad men who operated the trains had disappeared.
On the 12th, as they had for several days, Soviet airplanes bombed Sychevka on the railroad halfway between Vyazma and Rzhev. During the intervals when bombers were not overhead and at night, Strauss and his staff at the Ninth Army headquarters in Sychevka could hear the noise of battle coming from the northwest. After nightfall on the 12th, it grew louder and more distinct every hour.36
In the early morning hours of the 13th the Fuehrer order, dutifully forwarded by Army Group Center, reached the armies. Its tenor was already known to them, and the dismay it occasioned was overshadowed within hours by the events of the day. In the morning, the Soviet I Guards Cavalry Corps pressing north toward Vyazma crossed the Rollbahn on Fourth Army's right flank. By nightfall the army was having to evacuate Medyn, its anchor on the left and Fourth Panzer Army's intended target for its attempt to close the gap. During the afternoon, Strauss and the Ninth Army staff could see as well as hear the battle then being fought in the Sychevka railroad yards. One last supply train for Ninth and
Third Panzer Armies, however, did escape north toward Rzhev. When the next one would get through nobody could tell. Strauss sent part of his staff south to Vyazma before 1200 but stayed in Sychevka with his chief of staff until late in the afternoon to keep contact with V Panzer Corps and XXIII Corps, both of which reported themselves near collapse.37
The OKH wrote up two "solutions" to the Vyazma-Rzhev problem for Hitler. The one, to have Army Group Center stand fast as it had been doing, could still produce about a division and a half in ten days or so for another try at closing the Rzhev gap. But if it failed in this effort, the Russians would also get Vyazma. The other, to order the retreat to the KOENIGSBERG Line, would give Fourth Army and Fourth Panzer Army a chance to eliminate the gap between them and yield three divisions for a counterattack at Rzhev.38
Kluge struggled through the day on the 13th, trying to convince the army commands in Army Group Center that the latest Hitler order was workable and relaying his mounting troubles to the OKH in a succession of desperate telephone calls. For the next two days he did the same, making himself the instrument for imposing the Fuehrer's will on the armies while trying to extract small concessions from Hitler. On the afternoon of the 14th, he talked at length to Hitler about the necessity for holding Rzhev as the army group's northern bastion to prevent a lateral collapse of the front. Hitler said he wanted to wait another day. Later, after the day's situation conference, Halder observed that Hitler knew a retreat was necessary but simply could not bring himself to make the decision.39 What came finally, transmitted by Halder twenty-four hours later, was a grudging "agreement in principle" to a general retreat to the KOENIGSBERG Line.40 As the Third Panzer Army war diary put it, "A sigh of relief swept the whole front."41 Hitler's own feeling found its way into the confirming order issued the next day, in which he wrote, "This is the first time in this war that I have issued an order for a major withdrawal."42 It was undoubtedly for him the most difficult order he had yet given.
Stalin Projects a General Offensive
The Look of the New Year
The war had taken on a new aspect for the Soviet Union by 1 January 1942. From the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea the Russians had stopped the enemy. At Rostov, at Tikhvin, above all, at Moscow, the Germans had been driven back. In the dead cold of winter, the enemy was not likely to advance again soon. Japan had turned away into the Pacific. Turkey, an old opponent and doubtful neutral, would not move, nor would the Finnish Army, experienced though it was in winter warfare and standing on the doorstep of Leningrad. Life had returned to Moscow in December as government
agencies reopened, and the German retreat from Tikhvin had vastly improved Leningrad's chances for survival. Stalin could receive British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden in December and not only talk about a second front in western Europe, which he had been doing since summer, but begin to lay down his terms for the postwar settlement, which, to Eden's dismay, included Soviet retention of the Baltic States, Bessarabia, and territory taken from Poland and Finland before 1941 and certain territorial changes in Germany. For the last five days of the old year, the Soviet Information Bureau claimed the capture of 60 German tanks, 11 armored cars, 287 artillery pieces, 461 machine guns, 2,211 rifles, a trainload of ammunition, and a trainload of clothing.43
In its New Year's Day editorial, the government newspaper, Pravda, predicted victory in 1942. Pravda said that Soviet forces had reached the turning point of the war, and with their own "inexhaustible reserves" as well as tanks and aircraft from Britain and America, they would accomplish the "complete defeat of Hitlerite Germany" during the year. The editorial also pointed out, as would all future Soviet writing on the war during Stalin's lifetime, that Stalin had correctly observed the true basis for a successful strategy, namely, the "permanent operating factors," which were stability, morale, and quantity and quality of manpower and equipment. These, according to the newspaper, far outweighed the "temporary factors," such as surprise, on which the Germans had relied.44
The counteroffensives brought to an end the evacuation of industries, made it possible to concentrate on developing the war economy, and in places, such as the Moscow region and the Donets Basin, made it possible to resume production in areas that had been evacuated. Weapons and ammunition production thereby increased during the first quarter of 1942. On the other hand, these successes of the new year retrieved very little of what had been lost. Moscow's gross industrial output in January 1942 was two-thirds less than it had been in June 1941. The Moscow Basin coalfield east of Tula, which before the war had yielded 35,000 tons of coal a day, in January 1942 yielded less than 600 tons a day. An equally drastic decline occurred in the Donets Basin. In comparison with the first six months of 1941, electricity output from January to June 1942 would be down by nearly half, coal by nearly two-thirds, and pig iron and steel by close to three-quarters.45
At Leningrad, in the dead of winter, one of the war's bitterest tragedies had begun. Two million civilians--men, women, and children--and the troops of two armies were trapped between the Finnish front, ten miles to the north, and the German front, somewhat closer on the south. New Year's Day was the 123d day of this siege. Trucks had begun to travel across the
BEFORE A SIGN READING, "DEFEND MOSCOW FOR YOURSELVES AND FOR THE WHOLE SOVIET PEOPLE," Women Work on Artillery Shells
ice on Lake Ladoga on 22 November, but in the first weeks it was a perilous trip. A two-ton truck could not carry more than two or three hundred pounds added weight, and many broke through the ice. Moreover, as long as the Germans held the railroad through Tikhvin, all the supplies going across the lake had to make a long, roundabout, overland trip by truck from the interior.
The December victory at Tikhvin had saved Leningrad, but it came too late to prevent a winter of misery, starvation, and death. The railroad through Tikhvin was single-track, much of which, along with several bridges, had been destroyed during the fighting. When the first train passed through to Volkhov and Voibokalo Station on 1 January, its benefit was mostly psychological. The freight still had to be hauled thirty miles to the lake shore by truck over a snow-covered, makeshift road and then across the ice, and the traffic control was not organized. The city's food stocks, including such marginal substances as oil cake, bran, and flour mill dust, had been exhausted in mid-December, and the population thereafter subsisted on the supplies that came across the lake each day. The daily minimum freight requirement was 1,000 tons of provisions, not including gasoline, ammunition, and other military supplies. A good day's haul in December after the railroad was opened was 700 to 800 tons, never 1,000, and it always included one-third or more inedible supplies.
At the turn of the year, the civilians particularly were not just going hungry; they were starving and dying in rapidly growing numbers; and a third of the work force was too weak to work.46
The Soviet Union had gained a reprieve, not a release, from destruction. The enemy had clearly underestimated the Soviet capacity to absorb punishment and to keep on fighting, and he had compounded his error by drifting into a winter campaign for which he was totally unprepared. He was trapped in a raw struggle with the elements that drained his strength and neutralized his advantages in military skill and experience. For the first time in the war, the initiative, the precious ability to make an opponent fight on one's own terms, had slipped from his grasp. To the Soviet Union it was a gift beyond price. It could not be refused, but it did not come free. It exacted a mortgage on the future: next year's armies with next year's equipment were marching into the winter's snow, and winter, though powerful, was a temporary ally. In four months the snow would melt and the ground would thaw. Then a balance would be cast. How it would read would depend on how the intervening four months had been used. That was the Soviet strategic problem.
On 11 December 1941, the Stavka instructed Marshal Timoshenko, as Southwestern Theater commanding general, to plan a winter operation by Southwest and South Fronts that would smash the Army Group South right flank and restore the entire Donets Basin to Soviet control. On the following day, in Moscow, Stalin and Marshal Shaposhnikov, chief of the General Staff, instructed General Meretskov and General Leytenant M. S. Khozin, the commanding general of Leningrad Front, also to prepare a winter offensive on the north flank. Meretskov was appointed to command a newly created Volkhov Front, which, with Fourth, Fifty-second, Fifty-ninth, and Second Shock Armies, would occupy a line from Kirishi on the Volkhov River thirty-five miles south of Lake Ladoga to Lake Ilmen. Meretskov and Khozin were to employ their forces to destroy the Germans besieging Leningrad and to liberate the city.47
During the night of 5 January 1942, the Politburo met with members of the Stavka to consider a projected general offensive. It was to consist of a continuing and expanded drive in the center and offensives to liberate Leningrad, the Donets Basin, and the Crimea. Two of the offensives, in the center and on the Crimea, were already in progress; and the Stavka scheduled the other two to begin in two days (on the north flank) and within two weeks (on the south flank).48 Stalin, who, as always, presided, said, "The Germans are in confusion as a result of their setback at Moscow. They are
badly prepared for winter. Now is the best moment to go over to the general offensive."49 General Zhukov spoke against the general offensive, arguing that the entire effort should concentrate in the center where the Germans were off-balance and should not divert to the flanks where they were solidly dug-in. Nikolai Voznesenskiy, a member of the State Defense Committee and the chief of war production, added that there would not be enough weapons and ammunition to sustain offensives on all fronts. Finally, Stalin observed, "We must pound the Germans to pieces as soon as possible so they won't be able to mount an offensive in the spring"; and when no one else asked to speak, he adjourned the meeting. Afterward, Shaposhnikov told Zhukov he should not have argued because "the supreme commander had that question settled." When Zhukov asked why then had his opinion been sought, Shaposhnikov replied, "That, my dear fellow, I do not know."50
Soviet postwar assessments of the idea of the general offensive vary. Zhukov regards it as a mistake brought on by the optimism that the success at Moscow had generated in Stalin's mind.51 At the Twentieth Party Congress, Zhukov cited the general offensive as evidence of Stalin's obsession with "ceaseless frontal attacks and the capture of localities one after the other."52 One account treats it as an accident that occurred in late December 1941 when the Moscow counteroffensive "transformed itself" into a general offensive.53 The History of the Great Patriotic War states:
The Soviet Supreme High Command calculated that the defeat which had been inflicted on the German-Fascist troops in the course of the counteroffensive had created the necessary prerequisites for the Red Army's fulfillment of this task. The Soviet Command's certainty of success was based on the high morale of the Soviet people and the Red Army, on the uninterruptedly growing possibilities of the Soviet economy, and on the steady rise of the strength and military mastery of the Soviet troops.54
The History of the Second World War hedges its comment as follows:
The Soviet leadership's certainty of success in the general offensive was based on the high morale of the troops, on the enhanced possibilities of the Soviet war economy, and on the increased numbers and military skill of the troops. As subsequent events demonstrated, however, to support simultaneous offensives by all the fronts fully, larger reserves and more armament were required than the Soviet Union possessed at this time.55
The Popular Scientific Sketch says that "the planning of such grandiose missions" did not conform "to the capabilities of the Soviet Army and Navy at that time."56
Soviet sources attribute the flaw in the concept of the general offensive to the absence of a significant Soviet numerical advantage. By the Soviet count, the troop strengths (4.2 million men, Soviet, and 3.9 million, German and Allied) were almost equal. The Germans
are said to have had an advantage in mortars and artillery pieces (35,000 to 27,000) while the Soviet forces had an advantage in tanks (1,784 to 1,500) and in reserves (14 divisions and 7 brigades to 8 divisions and 6 brigades). According to the History of the Second World War, the Russians were counting mostly on an increase in their strength and a decline in the Germans' as the offensive progressed. These figures, however, do not reflect the whole Soviet status, particularly concerning reserves. At the beginning of the 1941-1942 winter campaign, which includes the Moscow counteroffensive (and perhaps also the efforts at Rostov and Tikhvin), the Stavka had total reserves of 123 divisions, 31 brigades, and 16 independent regiments. During the campaign it created or rebuilt 128 divisions, 158 brigades, and 209 independent regiments. Of the total of 665 units (251 divisions, 189 brigades, and 225 independent regiments), the Stavka committed only 181 (99 divisions, 82 brigades, and no independent regiments) during the winter campaign.57
The general offensive would set in motion nine of the ten Soviet fronts, that is, all of those between the Gulf of Finland and the Sea of Azov. The one not included was Karelian Front, which was holding the line from Lake Onega north to the Barents Sea. Four massive encirclements were to be accomplished initially: one southeast of Leningrad on a north-south span of 150 miles, one west of Moscow spanning over 200 miles, and one reaching west 120 miles from the Donets River near Izyum to Dnepropetrovsk and thence south, about again as far, to the vicinity of Melitopol. Liberation of the Crimea, already begun, constituted the fourth mission.
The main force for the offensive in the north around Leningrad was the Volkhov Front. It had two new armies, Fifty-ninth, which was brought forward from the Stavka reserve, and Second Shock, which was the Twenty-sixth Army renamed and shifted from the reserve in the Moscow area. Meretskov's other two armies, Fourth and Fifty-second, had been engaged at Tikhvin and stayed in action there until late December against the Germans retreating to the Volkhov River. Leningrad Front would be able to take to the offensive only with one army, Fifty-fourth, which was on the east face of the bottleneck, between Lake Ladoga and Kirishi.
The tactical plan, and apparently almost all other segments of the general offensive were worked out by the General Staff under Stalin's supervision and given to the fronts for execution. Meretskov's assignment was to cross the Volkhov with Second Shock and Fifty-second and, after they had broken through the German front, to send Second Shock Army on a wide sweep north toward Leningrad while Fifty-second Army pushed south to Novgorod and then turned west to Luga. Fifty-fourth Army was to bear in toward Leningrad south of Lake Ladoga.58
The most unusual role in the general
offensive went to General Kurochkin's Northwest Front. Prior to the offensive, Kurochkin had three armies, Eleventh, Twenty-seventh, and Thirty-fourth. During the past fall their function had been to tie together the Leningrad-Tikhvin and Moscow sectors of the front by holding a line across the almost roadless stretch of swamp and forest from the southeastern tip of Lake Ilmen to Ostashkov. For the general offensive, Kurochkin was given the newly activated Third Shock Army, and his Twenty-seventh Army was rebuilt with units from the reserves and renamed Fourth Shock Army, and his front was given three missions. On the north, Eleventh Army was to drive west along the south shore of Lake Ilmen and past Staraya Russa to Dno, then turn north and join Fifty-second Army's advance on Luga. On the south, Third and Fourth Shock Armies were to break through near Ostashkov and make two, long, parallel thrusts to the west and south, Third Shock going via Kholm to Velikiye Luki and Fourth Shock past Toropets and Velizh to Rudnya. At Rudnya, Fourth Shock Army would have Army Group Center half-encircled and would stand about thirty-five miles northwest of Bock's headquarters in Smolensk. Between the two thrusts would be left what remained of the German Sixteenth Army's main force, which Thirty-fourth Army was to "pin down" at its center around Demyansk.59
The "western direction," that is, west of Moscow and opposite Army Group Center, was the designated area of the main effort in the general offensive. What the Stavka proposed was to execute two envelopments, an outer one aimed at Smolensk and an inner one that would close at Vyazma. The inner envelopment would be accomplished by the operations Kalinin Front and West Front already had under way, the former going via Rzhev and Sychevka to Vyazma and the latter, from Kaluga past Yukhnov to Vyazma. In addition to those, the Stavka projected a vertical envelopment to be carried out by the IV Airborne Corps, which would be landed southwest of Vyazma in position to cut the Smolensk-Vyazma railroad.60 The outer envelopment would trap whatever was left of the Ninth, Third Panzer, Fourth Panzer, and Fourth Armies and would push the front at least another seventy-five miles away from Moscow, if not all the way to the Dnepr-Dvina line.
While Fourth Shock Army could be expected to provide the northern sweep of an outer envelopment, what was to be done on the south was, apparently, much less certain. The History of the Great Patriotic War states that originally Bryansk Front was to carry out "the deep envelopment of the enemy . . . which was operating before Moscow" by reaching a line from Bryansk to Sevsk and sending a force to Sumy. That would have turned Bryansk Front to the southwest, behind Second Panzer and Second Armies, rather than the northwest, but, according to the History, "more moderate tasks had to be assigned" to the front because the Stavka could not supply it with the reinforcements it would have required. Therefore, Bryansk Front was ordered to collaborate with the two right flank armies
of Southwest Front, Fortieth and Twenty-first Armies, to capture Orel and Kursk.61 The History of the Second World War gives Bryansk Front's mission as having been to cover West Front on the south by active operations toward Orel and Bryansk.62 Moskalenko says Bryansk Front, together with Fortieth Army, was to advance to Bryansk, Orel, Sevsk, and Sumy and, thereafter, "depending on conditions, operate toward Smolensk and westward."63 What appears to have happened is that Bryansk Front, like Northwest Front, was given missions in two directions, one toward Smolensk and the other toward Orel, Sevsk, and Sumy, and not given the assured strength to complete either one. Bryansk Front's being under the Southwestern Theater, however, added a complication for Zimoshenko who also had a second mission in another direction.
The History of the Great Patriotic War gives the original objectives on the south flank, for the Southwestern Theater forces, as having been to retake the Donets Basin and advance to the line of the Dnepr River. These plans, it says, also had to be "moderated" and, consequently, were changed to an assignment to Southwest Front, under General Leytenant F. Ya. Kostenko, to take Kharkov and one to South Front, under General Leytenant R. Ya. Malinovskiy, to advance from the Donets near Izyum to Dnepropetrovsk and Zaporozhye on the Dnepr.64 Bagramyan, Grechko, and Moskalenko, however, describe more extensive long-term missions. Bagramyan says South Front was to have encircled First Panzer Army, and parts of Seventeenth Army, in the Donets Basin by driving to the Sea of Azov and cutting off their retreat routes to the west. Moskalenko says the advance was to have gone south past Zaporozhye to Melitopol and that the plans included a late winter push to the lower Dnepr and a spring campaign across the river to take Nikopol, Krivoy Rog, and Nikolayev.65 Grechko states the intent as having been "to improve the operational-strategic position of our forces in the entire Southwestern Theater, to force the enemy to give up the Crimea and the territory east of the lower Dnepr River, and to make it possible for our troops to cross the Dnepr and to carry their later operations in the directions of Kiev and Odessa."66
Transcaucasus Front, having been charged with liberating the entire Crimea in December, submitted a plan on 2 January. In it, Kozlov projected thrusts from the vicinity of Feodosiya to Perekop and Simferopol and landings at Alushta, Yalta, Yevpatoriya, and Perekop. The Independent Maritime Army had orders to attack to the northeast out of the north face of the Sevastopol perimeter.67
In sum, the Stavka, indeed, planned a general offensive. It appears to have been designed specifically not to leave a single German army untouched. Its execution would also involve practically all of the Soviet front and army commands, most of which had little or no experience in conducting offensives.
On 10 January, the Stavka sent all fronts and armies a directive on the principles of offensive operations. In part, it read:
It is necessary that our forces learn how to break through the enemy's defense line, learn how to break through the full depth of the enemy's defenses and open routes of advance for our infantry, our tanks, and our cavalry. The Germans do not have a single defense line; they have and can quickly build two and three lines. If our forces do not learn quickly and thoroughly how to break enemy defense lines our forward advance will be impossible.
What is necessary to guarantee breaking through the enemy defense lines in their full depth?
To do that two conditions are necessary above all: first, it is necessary for our armies, fronts, and divisions . . . to adopt the practice of concentrating in a single direction, and, second, it is necessary to convert the so-called artillery preparation into an artillery offensive.
An offensive will have the best effect if we concentrate the larger part of our forces against those of the enemy on one sector of the front. To do that it is necessary for each army to undertake to break through the enemy defenses, to set up a shock group of three to four divisions, and to concentrate the attack on a specific part of the front.68
This was good advice but, on its face, somewhat elementary for senior commands embarking on a major offensive. Actually, however, for most of the commands that received it, it was far from being redundant. Vasilevskiy says the General Staff regarded the instructions, which were Stalin's idea, as "extremely important," although in some respects "insufficient."69 The History of the Great Patriotic War states that the guidance was based on the experience of the 1941 counteroffensives and was intended to correct "serious operational and tactical deficiencies in troop operations."70 Grechko says that "owing to lack of strength and of experience in directing offensive operations, our commands did not always mass strength and effort at the point of breakthrough and, consequently, did not fulfill their assignments. Many commanders attempted to organize simultaneous attacks in several directions. This dispersed the strength and effort along the front and did not produce the required superiority over the enemy in the direction of the main blow."71 In the general offensive, then, the commands were going to be expected to apply a body of operational doctrine many of them had not yet mastered.
1. Pz. AOK 4, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Tiel III, 31.12.41, Pz. AOK 4 22457/35 file.
2. Pz. AOK 4, Ia Nr. 58/42, Notizen ueber jetzige Fuehrungs-u. Kampfgrundlagen, 5.1.42, Pz. AOK 4 22457/39 file.
3. Domarus, Hitler, vol. II, pp. 1820-23.
4. Halder Diary, vol. II, p. 372.
5. H. Gr. Mitte, Ia Nr. 11/42, Lage und Kampffuehrung im Osten, 1.1.42, Pz. AOK 4 22457/36 file.
6. Der Chef der Heeresruestung und Befehlshaber des Ersatzheeres, Der Chef des Stabes, Tagebuch, 5 Jan 42, CMH X-124 file.
7. OKH, GenStdH, Org. Abt. Kriegstagebuch, 1-5, 6-9 Jan 42, H1/213 file; Der Chef der Heeresruestung und Befehlshaber des Ersatzheeres, Der Chef des Stabes, Tagebuch, 1 Jan 42, CMH X-124 file.
8. H. Gr. Mitte, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Dezember 1941, 25 Dec 41, H. Gr. Mitte 26974/6 file.
9. VOV, p. 120.
10. AOK 2, Ia Nr. 709/41, Ueberlegungen fuer des Zurueckgehen der 2. Armee von Kursk-Orel nach Westen, 31.12.41, H. Gr. Mitte 65005/7 file.
11. IVOVSS, vol. II, pp. 294, 295, 320; VOV, p. 120.
12. Hofmann, MS P-114b, vol. III, p. 45.
13. Pz. AOK 2, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Abschnitt b, 1-15 Jan 42, Pz. AOK 2 25034/162 file; AOK 4, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. II, 9 Jan 42, AOK 4 17380/1 file.
14. IVOVSS, vol. II, p. 326.
15. Zhukov, Memoirs, p. 351ff.
16. Pz. Div, Ia Bericht ueber russische und deutsche Kampfesweise, 30.1.42, Pz. AOK 3 21818/7 file.
17. Pz. AOK 4, Ia Besprechungsnotizen, 2 Jan 42, Pz. AOK 4 22457/45 file.
18. Pz. AOK 4, Ia, Nr. 72/42, an H. Gr. Mitte, 6.1.42, Pz. AOK 4 22457/39 file.
19. Pz. AOK 4, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Teil III, 6-8 Jan 42, Pz. AOK 4 22457/35 file; Pz. AOK 4, Ia, Besprechungsnotizen, 6-8 Jan 42, Pz. AOK 4 22457/45 file. Hitler also ordered that Hoepner be expelled from the army with loss of pay, pension, and the rights to wear the uniform and decorations. The military courts, however, upheld Hoepner's contention that he could not be deprived of those rights and benefits without a court-martial; and he continued on inactive status with rank and full pay until he was arrested and subsequently tried and executed as a member of the 20 July 1944 plot against Hitler's life.
20. Fourth Army's Rollbahn (the Germans also used the term for other through roads) was the Moscow-Warsaw Highway, one of the best in the Soviet Union and one of the few all-weather roads in the occupied territory.
21. A0K 4, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. II, 5 Jan 42, AOK 4 17380/1 file.
23. Ibid., 7-8 Jan 42.
24. Ibid., 8 Jan 42; Halder Diary, vol. II, p. 377.
25. H. Gr. Mitte, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Dezember 1941, 29 Dec 41, H. Gr. Mitte 26974/6 file.
26. A0K 9, Kriegstagebuch, 1.1-31.3.42, 1-2 Jan 42, AOK 9 21520/1 file.
27. Pz. AOK 3, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 2, 2 Jan 42, Pz. AOK 3 16911/1 file.
28. Frhr. von Gablenz, an den Herrn O.B. der 9. Armee, 2.1.42, AOK 9 21520/14 file.
29. AOK 9, Notizen der Abt. Ia, 5 Jan 42, AOK 9 21520/14 file.
30. Ibid.; Pz. AOK 3, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 2, 5 Jan 42, Pz. AOK 3 16911/1 file.
31. A0K 9, Ia Nr. 62/42, 9.1.42, Pz. AOK 3 16911/8 file.
32 AOK 9, Notizen der Abt. Ia, 9 Jan 42, AOK 9 21520/14 file.
33. General Halder's Daily Notes, vol. I, 11 Jan 42, EAP 21-g-16/4/0.
34. H. Gr. Mitte, Ia Nr. 0455/42, an AOK 9, 13.1.42, AOK 9 21520/11 file.
35. Pz. AOK 3, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 2, 12 Jan 42, Pz. AOK 3 16911/1 file.
36. AOK 9, Ia Kriegstagebuch, 1.1.-31.3.42, 12 Jan 42, AOK 9 21520/1 file.
37. AOK 4, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 11, 13 Jan 42, AOK 4 17380/1 file; AOK 9, Ia Kriegstagebuch, 1.1.-31.3.42, 13 Jan 42, AOK 9 21520/1 file.
38. Halder Diary, vol. III, p. 383.
39. Ibid., p. 385.
40. AOK 4, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 11, 14 Jan 42, AOK 4 17380/1 file.
41. Pz. AOK 3, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 2, 15 Jan 42, Pz. AOK 3 16911/1 file.
42. H. Gr. Mitte, Ia Nr. 423/42, an AOK 9, 16.1.42, AOK 9 21520/1 file.
43. Winston S. Churchill, The Grand Alliance (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1950), pp. 328-32; Embassy of the USSR, Washington, D.C., Information Bulletin No. 1, 3 Jan 42.
44. Pravda, January 1, 1942. See also G. F. Aleksandrov, et al., Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin, Kratkaya biografiya, 2d ed. (Moscow: Izdatelstvo Politicheskoy Literatury, 1949), p. 195.
45. IVMV, vol. IV, p. 326; Voznesenskiy, Economy of the USSR, pp. 30-32; Tyushkevich, Vooruzhennye sily, p. 269.
46. Dimitri Pavlov, Leningrad 1941 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965), pp. 136-51: Harrison E. Salisbury, The 900 Days (New York: Harper & Row, 1969), pp. 412-15; IVOVSS, vol. II, p. 334.
47. A. A. Grechko, Gody voyny (Moscow: Voyennoye Izdatelstvo, 1976), p. 85; K. A. Meretskov, "Na volkhovskikh rubezhakh," Voyenno-istoricheskiy Zhurnal, 1 (1965), 54f.
48. Meretskov, "Na volkhovskikh rubezhakh," p. 184; I. Kh. Bagramyan, Tak shli my k pobede (Moscow: Voyennoye Izdatelstov, 1977), p. 10.
49. Zhukov, Memoirs, p. 352; IVMV, vol. IV, p. 306.
50. Zhukov, Memoirs, pp. 352-53.
51. Ibid., p. 352.
52. Congressional Record, 4 Jun 56, p. 9395.
53. P. A. Zhilin, ed., Vazneyshye operatsiy Velikoy Otechestvennoy Voyny (Moscow: Voyennoye Izdatelstvo, 1956), p. 142.
54. IVOVSS, vol. II, p. 317.
55. IVMV, vol. IV, p. 306.
56. VOV, p. 122.
57. IVMV, vol. IV, p. 305; Golubovich, "Sozdaniya strategicheskikh," p. 17.
58. Meretskov, Serving the People, p. 180; IVMV, vol. IV, p. 314; Meretskov, "Na volkhovskikh rubezhakh," p. 55.
59. V. Zhelanov, "Iz opyta pervoy operatsii na okruzheniye," Voyenno-istoricheskiy Zhurnal, 12(1964), 20-22; IVOVSS, vol. II, p. 321; IVMV, vol. IV, p. 314.
60. IVMV, vol. IV, p. 307.
61. IVOVSS, vol. II, p. 339.
62. IVMV, vol. IV, p. 307.
63. Moskalenko, Na yugo-zapadnom napravelenii, p. 134.
64. IVOVSS, vol. II, pp. 339-40. See also IVMV, vol. IV, p. 387.
65. Bagramyan, Tak shli my k pobede, p. 8; Moskalenko, Na yugo-zapadnom napravlenii, p. 134.
66. Grechko, Gody voyny, p. 86.
67. IVOVSS, vol. II, pp. 343-44; IVMV, vol. IV, p. 390; Vaneyev, Geroicheskaya oborona, p. 204.
68. Grechko, Gody voyny, pp. 91-92.
69. Vasilevskiy, Delo, p. 169.
70. IVOVSS, vol. II, p. 318.
71. Grechko, Gody voyny, p. 91.