The Front, February 1942
Every day, cartographers in the Operations Branch of the OKH drew and printed on a scale of 1:1,000,000 the Lage Ost, a map depicting the Eastern Front as it appeared from the latest situation reports. Classified Geheime Kommandosache, Chef-Sache, ("top secret controlled"), copies of the seven-by-five-foot map showing, in blue, the front and all German units down to the divisional level and, in red, the known Soviet units, went to Hitler and the service high commands. They were used in the situation conferences at the Fuehrer Headquarters, sometimes with baneful results because there was no way of making a line in a map convey the actual strength of the positions it represented.
Of those Lage Ost maps that survived the war, the most remarkable are those for the month of February 1942. They look like the work of an operations corporal gone mad. From the Black Sea coast north to the boundary between Army Groups South and Center, even with the deep, square-cornered chunk carved out west of Izyum, the front appears conventional enough. At Belev, 80 miles north of the South-Center boundary, however, it veers west, then south, then north nearly to Sukhinichi and then west again to a hairpin loop south of Kirov 80 miles west of Belev. (Map 13.) To the north of Kirov it becomes a train of intermittent squiggles bending 50 miles north and east along the Fourth Army's Rollbahn to Yukhnov. Between Yukhnov and Rzhev, Ninth, Fourth Panzer, and Fourth Armies stand back to back and in places face to face in a welter of fronts going in all directions that look from a little distance like a specimen in a Rorschach test. Beyond Ninth Army's north flank, which is also its center because the army has another front facing west, a void bisected by the Army Group Center-Army Group North boundary extends north to the edge of the Demyansk pocket and west 130 miles. What passes for a Third Panzer Army front are blue circles and hooks around Velikiye Luki, Velizh, and Demidov. North of the army group boundary, Sixteenth Army is represented by a scattered tracery of curves and clashes around Kholm, the same marks covering a broader area around Demyansk, and a short tail hanging off the southern tip of Lake Ilmen. The Eighteenth Army front on the Volkhov River has only one gap, about 5 miles across, but behind it red numerals denoting Soviet units range 40 miles to the north and west. Behind all of the armies the word Partisanen ("partisans") appears printed in red, and red question marks indicate the probable presence of some kind of enemy forces. The maps more than
Army Group Center
18 February-20 April 1942
GERMANS DUG-IN: FOUR KNOCKED-OUT SOVIET TANKS IN THE DISTANCE
bear out the words of the officer who noted in Ninth Army's war diary, "This is the strangest front the army ever had."1
The front was also extraordinary in another way. Convoluted as it was, the Soviet forces were in a sense as dangerously snared in its coils as the Germans were. At the critical points they were still operating through gaps that were potentially subject to enemy control. A German advance of five miles or less would close the front on the Volkhov behind Second Shock Army. Farther south to achieve similar effects the patches would have to be bigger: ninety miles of new front between Staraya Russa and Rzhev and sixty-five miles between Yukhnov and Belev. But these were distances the Germans had at other times often negotiated easily, and successes in all three places could potentially decide the war since a dozen or more Soviet armies might be trapped, and the Germans could then restore a solid front ninety miles west of Moscow. In the worst of the winter, Hitler had an eye on those possibilities. When he authorized the retreat to the KOENIGSBERG Line on 15 January, he ordered Second Panzer Army to narrow and eventually "tie off" the Sukhinichi bulge east of the Yukhnov-Sukhinichi road.2 Two days after Ninth
Army closed its front west of Rzhev, he was asking Ninth and Sixteenth Armies for estimates as to how soon they could repair the breach between them by making thrusts to Ostashkov.3
As Hitler was beginning to see the germ of a victory, the Soviet commands were becoming desperate for the victory that was almost in their hands. The History of the Great Patriotic War says a "complicated situation had formed," and this caused "serious alarm" in the Stavka.4 The History of the Second World War says, "The situation of the Soviet troops in the western direction became decidedly worse. Weakened by extended battles, they lost their offensive capabilities."5 As had happened to the Germans in December, suddenly the Russians had no good choice as to what to do next. To go ahead would probably be futile, and to stop might well be disastrous. Army Group Center's retreat had ended. Twenty-ninth and Thirty-third Armies were cut off. Thirty-ninth Army, two cavalry corps, and sundry airborne units were in trouble.
On the other hand, the Germans still appeared to be in relatively much poorer shape, and the Stavka's appetite for victory was strong. On 16 February, it directed General Zhukov "to mobilize all the strength of Kalinin and West Fronts for the final destruction of Army Group Center." He was to smash the enemy in the Rzhev-Vyazma-Yukhnov area and drive west another sixty miles by 5 March to the line of Olenino, the Dnepr River, and Yelnya. The armies of his left flank were to "liquidate" the enemy in the Bolkhov-Zhizdra-Bryansk area and take Bryansk.6
Zhukov's implementing order was less categorical as to objectives and time but, in essence, only slightly less ambitious. He ordered Kalinin Front to smash the Ninth Army flank west of Rzhev; Forty-third, Forth-ninth, and Fiftieth Armies to break through at Yukhnov; and Sixteenth and Sixty-first Armies to advance toward Bryansk. Following these assaults, Kalinin Front and West Front would proceed to surround and destroy Ninth, Fourth Panzer, and Fourth Armies in the Rzhev-Vyazma area.7
Any fresh effort was going to demand new muscle, and both sides were at the point where every move was already an exertion. The Stavka again reached into its reserves. Kalinin Front got a guards rifle corps, 7 rifle divisions, and some air units. West Front was given 60,000 replacements, a guards rifle corps, 3 rifle divisions, 2 airborne brigades, and 200 tanks.8 The reinforcements probably did not add strength commensurate with their numbers. The quality of the Soviet reserves, which had not been high in December, had declined progressively during the winter. They would also be facing an enemy whose morale was picking up simply because he had survived thus far.
Hitler had been engaged since early January with various programs for reinforcing the Eastern Front. He had directed the OKH to supply 500,000 replacements, but these were to be deferred men who would have to be recalled to active duty and given some
training.9 In February, Army Group Center received nearly 70,000 replacements, three and one-half times as many as in the previous month, but the number was still 40,000 short of those needed to cover the month's losses, and the army group was left with a total deficit of 227,000 men for the period since December. The armies had received new men and returnees from hospitals as replacements for about one in four of their casualties.10
During January and February the army group also was given nine infantry divisions. Three were WALKUERE divisions. The others came from occupation duty in France and the Low Countries, and all were untrained for winter warfare. Most had to be committed piecemeal by battalions and regiments as they arrived, and their artillery and other noninfantry components were left to make their way forward "on foot," which meant by whatever means they could devise other than on the already swamped and all but paralyzed railroads. The ELEFANT and CHRISTOPHORUS programs that were supposed to have brought in thousands of trucks and other vehicles from all over Europe had been completed, but only about 25 out of every 100 vehicles reached the front.11 The other three-quarters had broken down and were awaiting repairs or had become snowed or frozen in on the roads back to Poland.
With the winter's end approaching, all plans, no matter whose, were subject to a primeval force of nature, the rasputitsa. The Germans had had a taste of it in October 1941--but only a taste, as they learned from talking to the inhabitants. During the fall, heavy prolonged rain made the mud. How much depended on the amount of rainfall and on when the freeze came. The spring rasputitsa was something else: it was as inevitable as the change of seasons and varied little from year to year. During the winter the ground froze to depths of eight or nine feet locking in much of the previous fall's rain. Several feet of snow and ice accumulated on the surface. The spring thaw worked from the top downward, first turning the snow and ice to water over the still frozen ground, then creating a progressively deepening layer of watery mud above the frozen subsoil. In the generally flat and at best poorly drained terrain, the water had no place to go until the thaw broke completely through the frost. The process usually took five or six weeks and included three weeks or more in which the mud was too deep for any kind of vehicular traffic other than peasant carts. The Panje wagon's high wheels and light weight enabled it to plow through mud several feet deep while riding on the frozen stratum beneath, and its wooden construction allowed it to be used almost as a boat. Exceptionally heavy snow and low winter temperatures assured a full-blown rasputitsa for 1942 but also made its onset difficult to predict. In normal years the thaw could be depended upon to begin in about the third week of March at the latitude of Moscow, a week or two earlier in the Ukraine, and at least a week later in the north.
Army Group Center
Second Panzer Army's "Small Solution"
As Hitler had anticipated in the 15 January directive, the Sukhinichi bulge afforded the first practicable opportunity for a counterstroke. In spite of the Kirov gap and Fourth Army's troubles along the Rollbahn and at Yukhnov, it had a comparatively stable configuration and at least theoretically manageable distances. Second Panzer Army's unexpected success at the start of the Sukhinichi relief operation fueled Hitler's imagination, and on 21 January he tried to get General Schmidt, the army's commander, to convert the relief into a drive past Sukhinichi to the northeast and to have General Heinrici, Fourth Army commander, stage a quick thrust south out of Yukhnov. The meeting of the two forces would have closed the northern two-thirds of the bulge, eliminated the problems of the Kirov gap and the Rollbahn, and trapped three Soviet armies. But XXIV Panzer Corps did not have the strength to go past Sukhinichi, and Heinrici declared that Fourth Army could not begin an attack south before the second week in February, if then.
After XXIV Panzer Corps reached Sukhinichi, three potential "solutions" presented themselves. Hitler continued to want a "big" one, a push to Yukhnov, and, therefore, insisted on keeping a foothold close to Sukhinichi. Field Marshal Kluge, commander of Army Group Center, and Schmidt tried to substitute as an intermediate solution an attempt to extend the left side of XXIV Panzer Corps' line north to the Spas-Demensk-Sukhinichi road, which would reduce the bulge by about half and close off the Kirov gap. The third solution was to close the Kirov gap. It was talked about as "small" because either of the other two would accomplish as much automatically, but it was the most feasible in terms of means available to achieve a solution. In the first two weeks of February, XXIV Panzer Corps received a succession of orders to prepare for or to cancel one or the other of the three movements, and at last the corps' chief of staff was moved to comment on the absurdity of the situation by acknowledging one transmission with the words, "Difficile est, satiram non scribere." ("The difficulty is not to write satire.")12
Because partisans who were being supplied through the gap were endangering Fourth Army's Rollbahn, Second Panzer Army, at Kluge's insistence, began an attack toward Kirov on 16 February. The succeeding days exposed the Germans' quandary. The drive toward Yukhnov and the "intermediate solution," attractive as they might be, could not be attempted without reinforcements that were nowhere in sight. The army was down to forty-five tanks that were operational, about a quarter of one panzer division's normal complement. At the same time, XXIV Panzer Corps, because it was having to hold the exposed salient reaching toward Sukhinichi, could not bring enough strength to bear toward Kirov, and the attack there wavered and limped, and at the end of the month, while still nominally in progress, was all but forgotten. As long as the three solutions were kept on the docket, none of them would be executed. On
the other hand, however, Second Panzer Army's situation may have been better than it knew since the Soviet advance toward Bryansk also did not materialize. The Russians' activity stepped up after the middle of the month, but as long as the Germans were standing close to Sukhinichi and pushing toward Kirov the Soviet commands were not disposed to attempt any sweeping maneuvers of their own.
At the turn of the month the rasputitsa was possibly no more than a few weeks away, and time was running short. In a conference at the Fuehrer Headquarters on 1 March, Schmidt persuaded Hitler that an attack from Sukhinichi toward Yukhnov could not start until after the rasputitsa. Hitler also agreed to let Schmidt prepare to move back the front projecting toward Belev since the possibility of a thrust from there toward Yukhnov had become even more remote.13
On the 9th, Kluge, who had avoided personal contact with Second Panzer Army since the Guderian affair in December, met with Schmidt and his corps commanders at the army headquarters in Orel.14 In an hours-long discussion the generals concluded that the "small solution" at Kirov was the only one that could succeed and therefore the Sukhinichi and Belev salients were worthless. Kluge said he would take the matter up with Hitler. Three days later he told Schmidt that Hitler "did not attach as much value as before" to the Sukhinichi salient and would not object to the army's pulling back from Sukhinichi and Belev as soon as adequate lines were built to the rear.15
In the meantime the attempt to close the Kirov gap had continued sporadically. On 20 March, Kluge told Schmidt that Kirov would "have to be cleaned up definitively" before the rasputitsa, which meant within the next two or three weeks at most; but on that same day he told Heinrici not to commit any Fourth Army forces to the Kirov operation until after the Rollbahn and the army's rear area were secure.16 In another week the daytime temperatures were above freezing; the snow and ice were melting; the two salients were being evacuated; and the Kirov operation was still in progress mainly because no one had had as good a reason to stop it as the weather would soon provide.
Fourth and Fourth Panzer Armies
Fourth Army's and Fourth Panzer Army's prospects for the future looked somewhat brighter after they bridged the gap between them on 3 February even though the bridge was narrow, and the enemy was behind as well as in front of them. They now had a continuous front for the first time in weeks, which was a relief for them and apparently a disconcerting surprise to the Russians. Soviet radio traffic disclosed that Thirty-third Army and the airborne units and cavalry behind the two armies had believed their mission was to block a demoralized German retreat. They had not expected to have to deal
with determined opposition, and they showed it. Thirty-third Army stopped and seemed at a loss about what to do next. The airborne troops, youthful but undertrained, stayed scattered and became preoccupied with their supply shortages. Some who were captured said that they were often not aware of their actual situation.17 Encouraged, Fourth Panzer Army first shifted the 5th Panzer Division in position to set up a perimeter defense around Vyazma and then brought in the Headquarters, V Panzer Corps.
At midmonth, having temporarily acquired elements of another panzer division and two infantry divisions, V Panzer Corps was getting ready to encircle and drive inward on Thirty-third Army which was standing still southeast of Vyazma; but by then the Stavka had issued its order to renew the offensive. Forty-third Army thereafter tried desperately day after day to break down the German bridge between it and Thirty-third Army. Forty-ninth and Fiftieth Armies battered Fourth Army around Yukhnov and along the Rollbahn; and waves of transports, flying day and night--in weather the Luftwaffe considered too dangerous for flying--and frequently landing within sight of the Germans, delivered more airborne troops behind the front. Estimating twenty men to a plane and counting the planes, Fourth Panzer Army figured at least 3,000 troops were landed south of Vyazma in two days, 19 and 20 February.18 Fortunately for the two German armies the Soviet units inside the front were not as aggressive as those outside. The V Panzer Corps was reduced again to defending Vyazma, but it could do that since the new Soviet arrivals appeared to have much the same uncertainty about their mission as the forces already there had.
The decision hinged on the outer front where a Soviet breakthrough anywhere could be deadly. Fourth Army was the more vulnerable: both its flanks were weak, and its center was jammed into a round-nosed bulge around Yukhnov. Beset everywhere and enmeshed in a constant battle for the Rollbahn, Heinrici on 18 February proposed giving up Yukhnov in favor of a shorter line behind the Ugra River ten miles to the west. Any attempt to close the Sukhinichi bulge, his chief of staff added, was going to be made farther west anyway, and the Yukhnov-Gzhatsk road, which had been the original reason for holding Yukhnov, was "a fiction."19 However, nobody was eager to pass the idea onto a higher level. Kluge's operations officer said permission was going to be difficult to get because the Yukhnov-Gzhatsk road was shown as a major thoroughfare on the maps and would, therefore, appear valuable to Hitler.
Some days later, the OKH gingerly agreed to let Fourth Army start building a line on the Ugra, and after several more days, Kluge made an appointment for Heinrici to see Hitler. At the Fuehrer Headquarters on 1 March, no doubt to Heinrici's considerable astonishment, Hitler gave his approval at once, explaining that before he had been "deliberately obstinate" but now whether the army went five miles forward
SOVIET INFANTRY FIRE ON A VILLAGE IN THE ENEMY REAR
or backward was no longer important to him.20 The decision having been made, Kluge added a requirement of his own: to "rescue" a particularly old and valuable icon of the Virgin Mary from the Sloboda monastery near Yukhnov.21 The latter done, Fourth Army evacuated Yukhnov on 3 March and went behind the Ugra on the 6th, which did not solve its problems but raised its prospects of at least surviving after the onset of the rasputitsa.
While Fourth Army withdrew to the Ugra--which also shortened its bridge with Fourth Panzer Army--5th Panzer Division was mopping up part of I Guards Cavalry Corps in a pocket south of Vyazma. Looking to build on that success, V Panzer Corps was again beginning to lay an encirclement around the Thirty-third Army. The 5th Panzer Division finished its movement on the 10th in the midst of a snowstorm and started to turn to move in on Thirty-third Army from the west. Although snow was not a novelty by then, this late winter downfall was an event not even the local people had ever seen before. It began on the 10th and by 1200 on the 12th reached such an intensity that every kind of movement stopped. Drifts piled up in minutes and made plowing and shoveling totally useless. The 5th Panzer Division was buried in its tracks. The Fourth Panzer Army
staff could barely keep contact between its sections which were housed in separate buildings along the village street in Boznya, eight miles east of Vyazma. Drifts covered the street and the buildings to beyond the tops of the doors.22
The storm at last subsided enough for the digging out to begin on the 16th. Eight days later, when the roads were about cleared, the thaw set in. Under warm sunshine the snow melted. The roads became torrents of water, their surfaces broken by potholes as much as several feet deep that froze at night into sheets of slick ice. Corpses of men, animal cadavers, garbage, and human waste that had been frozen for weeks and could not have been buried in any case began to thaw thus adding to the troops' discomfort and raising the threat of an epidemic.
Since the full-blown rasputitsa could not be long in coming it appeared that the active phase of the winter's operations was over, especially after Army Group Center ordered 5th Panzer Division to begin assembling at Vyazma on the 24th for transfer to Ninth Army. But as melting snow and ice filled the low areas, of which there were many, with waist-deep water, the fighting flared up once more.23
On 20 March, the Stavka gave Zhukov a new directive. He was ordered to stay on the offensive for another thirty days and, in that time, drive Fourth, Fourth Panzer, and Ninth Armies back to a line about halfway between Vyazma and Smolensk. Zhukov proposed to use Forty-third, Forty-ninth, and Fiftieth Armies to break through again from the east and to concentrate I Guards Cavalry Corps, IV Airborne Corps, and Thirty-third Army south and west of Vyazma. To General Belov, I Guards Cavalry Corps commander, who, having the most mobile force, was to maintain contact between the airborne troops, the partisans, and Thirty-third Army's infantry, the Inspector of Cavalry, General Polkovnik O. I. Gorodovikov, sent Belov a message congratulating the I Guards Cavalry Corps on its accomplishments thus far.24
On the 28th, Army Group Center decided to leave 5th Panzer Division at Fourth Panzer Army to restore control over the road west of Vyazma, which was again threatened by the renewed Soviet offensive, and, after that, to complete the long-projected encirclement of Thirty-third Army. Contrary, probably, to original Soviet and German expectations, the fighting rolled on as the thaw continued into the rasputitsa, and with the warming nights the ground turned rapidly to mud during the second week of April. The Soviet attacks, coming as they did at places that had already been held under the extreme winter conditions that had been less favorable for a defense, added to the general misery of the season for the Germans and delayed their long overdue rest and refitting but otherwise served only to mark the definitive end of the winter campaign.
The V Panzer Corps, on the other hand, managed at the last minute to bring 5th Panzer Division to bear against Thirty-third Army on 10 April. During the next five days in rapidly
MELTING SNOW HAS TURNED ROADS INTO RIVERS
deepening mud, the army was squeezed out of existence. At the end, on the 15th, an estimated five hundred to a thousand troops, among them Yefremov, the commanding general, escaped from the pocket into the woods along the Ugra River. Several days later, the Germans saw a single plane with a fighter escort attempt a landing, possibly to pick up Yefremov, but it failed to do so.25 When the last of his command was trapped and destroyed before it could make its way through the front to Forty-third Army, Yefremov committed suicide.26
Ninth Army's Bridge to Ostashkov
Of the late-winter possibilities to recoup his fortunes, the Ostashkov operation was the one that most firmly held Hitler's attention, and it could, indeed, have been the most profitable. As its code name BRUECKENSCHLAG ("bridging") suggested, its first objective was to bridge the gap between Army Groups Center and North. If Ninth Army and Sixteenth Army could do that they would entrap six, possibly seven, Soviet armies and deprive the Russians of a good third of all the territory they had reoccupied in the winter offensive. General Model, the new Ninth Army commander, was the man to attempt the 65-mile drive to Ostashkov if anyone was. Nevertheless, the army's first
GERMAN OUTPOST LINE WEST OF RZHEV
response to Hitler's 7 February request for an opinion on the operation was noncommittal: the army would be occupied for some time to come with the encircled Twenty-ninth Army and with the ferocious attempts Kalinin Front was making to reopen the Rzhev gap. On the 12th, Kluge and Model and their chiefs of staff concluded that Ninth Army's next concern after finishing with Twenty-ninth Army and stabilizing its north front would have to be Thirty-ninth Army that was "twisting and turning in the army's bowels" west of Sychevka. Then, they agreed, it would be too late to start toward Ostashkov before the rasputitsa. Furthermore, the railroad from Vyazma to Rzhev would have to be renailed to the standard gauge to accommodate German locomotives because the Soviet-built locomotives on the line were nearly all broken down. The time required to make this change would delay the logistical buildup.27
After several desperate attempts to break out, Twenty-ninth Army collapsed on 20 February, but by then Kalinin Front, under Stavka orders to renew the offensive, was hammering at the curve of the front around Olenino trying to get direct contact with Thirty-ninth Army for the drive to Vyazma. Hitler postponed a decision on the Ostashkov operation while making it clear,
however, that preparations for it were to be carried out at the highest possible priority. Meanwhile, 6th Panzer Division had begun pushing Thirty-ninth Army away from the Vyazma-Sychevka section of the railroad by what it called a "snail offensive," namely, by occupying villages one by one at random along a 25-mile front wherever doing so was easiest. The 6th Panzer Division found that it could advance a mile or two a day without much effort, and Thirty-ninth Army, appeared to be becoming progressively more nervous and uncertain. After almost daily exchanges between the army, army group, OKH, and Hitler, Kluge and Hitler gave Ninth Army a "basic order" on 1 March to encircle and destroy Thirty-ninth Army, but Hitler stipulated that the preparations for the Ostashkov attack had to continue and both operations were to be completed before the rasputitsa.28
Ninth Army sent orders for the attack on Thirty-ninth Army to the corps on the 1st, but because Kalinin Front redoubled its effort to smash the Olenino bulge, the orders could not begin to have any effect for another week. By then time was getting perilously short; the army group had set the 20th as the latest date before the rasputitsa on which active operations could continue. On the 8th the pressure on the bulge eased, but two days later the great snowstorm began. In the midst of deepening snow, Model managed to secure a flight to the Fuehrer Headquarters on the 11th. There the next day, while reports from the front were describing the snowfall as "a catastrophe of nature," he promised Hitler to pursue the Ostashkov preparations "with force," which, characteristically, he did after needing another two days to get back to his army.
In spite of the snow and the rapid thaw that followed, Model had assembled 56,000 troops and 200 tanks for BRUECKENSCHLAG by the fourth week in March. In the meantime, however, the Stavka had issued the 20 March directive to Zhukov that included orders for Kalinin Front. General Konev was to cut off Olenino and take Rzhev and Belyy. He was not, in fact, going to be able to do any of those, but he had been given reinforcements in infantry and tanks, and those did make their presence felt.29
Finally, on the 27th, frustrated by "two imponderables, the enemy and the weather," Model had to concede that BRUECKENSCHLAG was not possible. Hitler rejected a substituted plan for a truncated version of the operation that Model and Kluge had proposed and called them to the Fuehrer Headquarters on the 29th. By then, as elsewhere along the front, the roads became rivers during the day and were only passable at night and for a few hours in the early morning, and BRUECKENSCHLAG had become too daring even for Hitler. He shifted the objective of the German assault to Thirty-ninth Army, but that could only mean prolonging the snail offensive for a week or so until the weather completely overtook it as well.30
Army Group North
The Stavka Faces the Rasputitsa
In the last week of February, the Soviet commands opposite Army Group North faced the unpleasant possibility that in a matter of weeks they might have no more to show for their winter's efforts than some thousands of square miles of forest and swamp. Northwest and Kalinin Fronts had torn the Army Group North right flank completely loose from its moorings west of Ostashkov, encircled Kholm, and trapped one German corps plus half of another around Demyansk; but the key point south of Lake Ilmen, Staraya Russa, stayed in German hands. North of the lake, Second Shock Army had cut deep behind Eighteenth Army's line on the Volkhov River without affecting thus far the German grip on Leningrad. The general offensive was swimming in successes on the one hand and promising little evidence of durable accomplishment on the other. (Map 14.)
The Stavka's problems, aside from the escalating pressure of time, were two: the wide dispersion of command effort inherent in the general offensive from the start and the local offensive efforts occasioned by the operating methods of the field commands. The first, if it were perceived, which is by no means certain, was past the stage at which it could be reversed. The second, apparently, could not be eliminated, but it could be mitigated, and to do that, the Stavka applied what had become its standard correctives, fresh orders, exhortations, and reinforcements.31
On 25 February, the Stavka put all of the units operating against the Demyansk pocket under Headquarters, Northwest Front. It then also gave General Kurochkin, the front's commander, an order to "squeeze" the pocket out of existence "in four or five day's time" and get on with the drive past Staraya Russa.32 A week later, it gave him five artillery regiments, three mortar regiments, and air reinforcements and then followed with orders to intensify the offensive and not only "squeeze" the pocket but also "crush the enemy in the directions of the main effort."33
Volkhov Front, which had, by the last week in February, not yet managed to get Second Shock Army turned north toward Lyuban in spite of repeated admonishments to do that, was an even more difficult problem for the Stavka. Unless the Russians could cut the Leningrad-Lyuban-Chudovo railroad, their prospects of accomplishing anything toward the relief of Leningrad were small. After sending Marshal Voroshilov to act as its representative on the spot, the Stavka, on 28 February, ordered General Meretskov, commander of Volkhov Front, to get an attack toward Lyuban going without, as he proposed, a pause to regroup. It also ordered General Khozin, at Leningrad Front, to set Fifty-fourth Army in motion toward Lyuban from the northeast and promised strong air support for both of the thrusts.34
The View From Fuehrer Headquarters
In the last week of February, 3,500
Army Group North
20 February-8 May 1942
troops, commanded by Generalmajor Theodor Scherer were beginning their second month under siege in Kholm, and the perimeter that they held around the town had shrunk to the point at which supplying them by air became difficult and exceedingly dangerous. On 25 February, four out of ten planes flying to Kholm were shot down, bringing the Luftwaffe's losses of tri-motored JU-52 transports during the airlift to fifty. After the 25th, only gliders could land and then only on a cleared strip of ice on the Lovat River. Henceforth, planes making airdrops had to come in at very low altitudes to hit the target and in doing so were exposed to ground fire from all directions.35
In the Demyansk pocket, II Corps needed 300 tons of supplies a day which required a full-scale, sustained airlift, the first such in aviation history. To mount the airlift the Luftwaffe had to divert almost all of the transports assigned to Army Group Center and half of those stationed in the Army Group South area. The slow JU-52s had to fly in groups of twenty to forty with fighter cover, and Soviet bombing of the airstrips in the pocket scrambled the flight schedules and created additional hazards for the planes and crews. Total deliveries up to 28 February were short by 1,900 tons, about one-half of the requirement.36
German I Corps, holding the northeastern face of the Volkhov pocket, was shaken on 25 February when Soviet ski troops pushed north through frozen swamps along the Tigoda River to within five miles of Lyuban. The army group's intelligence had known for several days that the 327th Rifle Division was on the march northward from near Spaskaya Polist. Also knowing how deliberately the Soviet commands generally operated, Army Group North had expected an attack, but not so soon.37 What it had not known was that Meretskov and Second Shock Army were then under "categorical instructions" from the Stavka to get an attack going without delay.38
Nevertheless, when Hitler met with General Kuechler, the Army Group North commander; the commanding generals of Sixteenth and Eighteenth Armies; and the I, II, X, and XXXVIII Corps commanders at the Fuehrer Headquarters on 2 March, he spoke about initiatives with some confidence. Although Army Group North's situation had not improved, it had for more than two weeks balanced on the edge of disaster without going over, which in itself gave encouragement to Hitler.
On the other hand, the conference disclosed that no substantive improvement in the army group's position had yet occurred. At Kholm, half of the original garrison were dead or wounded. Replacements could be brought in by glider, and enough to make up for about half the losses were, but each of these men reduced the space available for carrying supplies and increased consumption of those supplies transported in the remaining
space. A relief force of half-a-dozen mixed battalions under Generalmajor Horst von Uckermann had cut through from the southwest almost to within sight of Kholm, but it was stalled in deep snow and practically encircled. General von Brockdorff, the commander of II Corps in the Demyansk pocket, told Hitler that his force depended completely on each day's supply flights. For the Scherer and Uckermann groups at Kholm and II Corps at Demyansk, the margin of survival was thin. South of Lyuban, I Corps was having an expectedly easy success. Goaded by the Stavka, Meretskov had hastily pushed the 80th Cavalry and 327th Rifle Divisions into the breach the ski troops had opened on 25 February, and I Corps had then closed the gap in its front, trapping about 6,000 Soviet troops.39 But if Second Shock Army on the south and Fifty-fourth Army in the northeast one day made good their bids to reach Lyuban, I Corps would be locked in a pocket exactly like the one at Demyansk.
Hitler received the generals' gloomy reports with sympathetic detachment. He promised a regiment of reinforcements to get Uckermann's relief force back in motion, and he gave instructions to have an order of the day written honoring the Kholm garrison. To von Brockdorff, he made the limp observation that the hardships II Corps was having to endure resulted from having to defend the Demyansk pocket as if it were a fortress even though it was not. "On the other hand," he added, this imposed a moral obligation on the troops outside the pocket to come to the corps' aid.
When the conference turned to its main concerns, plans to close the Volkhov River line behind Second Shock Army and to restore contact with II Corps, Hitler's tone changed. After General Busch, commander of Sixteenth Army, and General der Kavallerie Georg Lindemann, commander of Eighteenth Army, offered tentative proposals for counterattacks toward Demyansk and at the Volkhov gap, he set approximate starting dates for both--7 to 12 March for the Volkhov operation and 13 to 16 March for the one toward Demyansk. To compensate for shortages of ground forces, he said the Luftwaffe would employ aircraft as "escort artillery," using the heaviest demolition bombs it had to blast the bunker systems the Russians had built in the forests. The Demyansk operation, he indicated, would also have to be coordinated with Ninth Army's proposed thrust from the south toward Ostashkov.40
One item in the discussion took the generals completely by surprise. In the midst of talking about the Demyansk and Volkhov operations, Hitler had offhandedly given the army group a new mission. With spring coming, he had observed, it would be necessary to tighten the siege of Leningrad and, particularly, to keep the Soviet Baltic Fleet from steaming out into the Baltic after the ice had melted. To do that, Army Group North would have to provide troops to take and occupy a group of islands at the eastern end of the Gulf of Finland. The islands, Suursaari,
Lavansaari, Seiskari, and Tytarsaari, had Soviet garrisons on them, which presumably were small, but the Germans could not be certain of that.41
The army group and army staffs, working against time, the enemy, and a clutch of uncertainties, were given between five and ten days to get the Volkhov operation, code-named RAUBTIER ("beast of prey"), going. The thaw was beginning in the Crimea, and it would spread northward in the coming weeks. It had to be taken into account. On the other hand, air support could only be effective if it went one place at a time; therefore, Volkhov had to come before Demyansk, and a delay with the former operation could cripple the latter. Hitler's talk about taking the islands in the Gulf of Finland added a complication. That mission would also require troops and air support. No date had been set for it, and the army group regarded it as a waste of time. The OKH insisted, however, that Hitler took it most seriously because he believed he would be made a "laughing stock" if the Soviet warships steamed out into the Baltic after the ice melted.42
That the Russians were not going to allow the Germans to carry out their plans without opposition went without saying. In the first week of March, Politburo and State Defense Committee member G. M. Malenkov joined Voroshilov at Volkhov Front headquarters, and the Stavka sent General Vlasov, who as commander of Twentieth Army had been one of the heroes of the Moscow counteroffensive, to be Meretskov's deputy. Before the week's end, Second Shock Army was regrouping for another push toward Lyuban, and Fifty-fourth Army was hammering at Pogostye, twenty miles northeast of Lyuban.43 At Kholm, the Russians were using tanks. One 52-tonner stopped the Uckermann relief force for a day until it could bring up an 88-mm. gun, and the Soviet T-34s were dueling with the strongpoints on the perimeter of the pocket.
Eighteenth Army was ready on the 7th to start RAUBTIER two days later if the air support Hitler had prescribed could be given by then. The "if" was substantial. The Luftwaffe was engaged at Kholm, trying to help the Uckermann force across the last few miles to the pocket at Kholm before it was overrun by Soviet tanks. At the moment, the air support was keeping the pocket in existence but was doing less to carry the Uckermann group forward. German planes could pin the Russians down when they were in the open, but they were not effective against the Soviet prepared defenses, which were concealed under the snow. On the 7th and for the next several days, Hitler could not bring himself to withdraw the air support for Kholm in part because he was afraid the pocket would collapse if he did and in part because he was casting about for a replacement for Uckermann whom a Luftwaffe liaison officer had accused of lacking confidence. By the 11th, the Luftwaffe, also, was demanding
postponements because the weather was causing icing conditions on planes that made it too dangerous for the German Stuka dive-bombers to carry the extra heavy bombs they were supposed to use.
Meanwhile, Soviet Fifty-fourth Army was beginning a drive from the northeast toward Lyuban that could cut off I Corps completely if, as one army group report put it, "RAUBTIER remained a rubber lion." Kuechler and Lindemann were ready to go ahead on the 12th, without air support, but Hitler would not agree to this action because he feared the losses would be too high. By then, the delays in RAUBTIER were beginning to cut into the time allotted for the Demyansk operation and to threaten the projected attacks on the islands in the Gulf of Finland. Internally the army group staff now regarded the latter assaults as "insane," but Hitler insisted they had to be carried out while the ice was still thick enough to be crossed. The Finns, who were to join in from their side of the gulf, had said that they would be ready to attack on the 20th. Fog and low-hanging clouds forced another postponement on the 13th, but the Luftwaffe reported that it expected the weather to clear by the next morning, and then its planes could start sometime between 0900 and 1200.44 During the night, however, the temperature fell to -30° F. Anticipating having to choose between the effects of letting the troops stand in the open while waiting for the planes in such ferocious cold or letting the attack start before the planes arrived and having the bombs possibly drop on his own men, Kuechler decided to wait another day.
The mouth of the Volkhov pocket was, as it had been since January, about six miles wide. The Novgorod-Chudovo road and railroad crossed the pocket from north to south, but there were no east-west roads. Approximately at its center, about a mile apart, the Russians had cut two 100-foot-wide lanes running east to west through the trees and underbrush. Inside the lanes, they had laid down several feet of compacted snow, enough to cover the tops of the tree stumps, and these had served as Second Shock Army's supply and communications lines. To distinguish between these lanes, the Germans named the northern one Erika and its southern twin Dora. At nightfall on 14 March, the cold had not abated, but the Luftwaffe was certain its planes could make their first strikes at daylight the next morning, and Eighteenth Army had tents and stoves ready to be moved along with the troops. Because of the cold, the risks were still extraordinarily high. In such weather, weapons, machine guns especially, jammed, and men lost the will to fight. But Kuechler decided that RAUBTIER could not be delayed again.
At 0730 the next morning, the planes arrived over the front. After the Stukas had hit their targets, XXXVIII Corps and I Corps troops pushed into the gap from the south and north. During the day, 263 planes flew missions for RAUBTIER, and, by dark, XXXVIII Corps had gained a half mile and I Corps slightly more than two miles. In the next two days, RAUBTIER went ahead but without gaining the distance it had on the first day. The
planes were not living up to Hitler's expectation in their role as escort artillery: when they laid their barrages close to the line of advance some of their bombs generally fell among their own troops; when they allowed a safe margin, the Russians usually had time to recover before the Germans, who were moving through deep snow, could reach them.
The Russians, on the other hand, were defending static strongpoints, and each one that fell narrowed the mouth of the pocket somewhat. On the 18th, I Corps crossed the Erika Lane, and the following day both corps reached the Dora Lane where their spearheads made contact late in the day.45 Second Shock Army, which had had trouble enough keeping the Lyuban operation going, now was going to have to fight for survival. On the 21st, Vlasov went into the pocket to take command of the army.
BRUECKENSCHLAG at Demyansk
In the meantime, Sixteenth Army's attack toward the Demyansk pocket had fallen five days behind the date originally set for its latest possible beginning. Although, owing to their experiences at Kholm and in RAUBTIER, the field commands had concluded that it was not worthwhile to sacrifice time, which was becoming precious, for the sake of air support, Hitler had insisted on keeping all available planes committed to RAUBTIER until that operation was finished and on holding the Demyansk operation in abeyance until he could shift full air support to it. At the same time, he had also insisted that the effort at Demyansk be part of the grand design to close the Ostashkov gap that had been given the code name BRUECKENSCHLAG, the same name which had been assigned to Ninth Army's projected drive to Ostashkov. The code name again was not inappropriate because Sixteenth Army's share of this larger BRUECKENSCHLAG effort was in fact also to build a bridge--across the twenty miles between X Corps' front south of Staraya Russa and the western face of the Demyansk pocket.
The plan, as approved during the 2 March conference at Fuehrer Headquarters, was to have five more-or-less full-strength divisions strike east from the X Corps line to the Lovat River. When they reached the Lovat, the distance to the pocket would be somewhat under five miles, and at that point II Corps would join in with a push from its side. During the conference, Halder had concluded that Busch and the II and X Corps commanders were "not sufficiently firm personalities," and afterward he prevailed on Kuechler to shift control of BRUECKENSCHLAG away from Sixteenth Army by constituting the forces for this operation as separate combat teams with authorization to communicate directly to the army group and the OKH outside the normal channels. Command of the main force went to Generalmajor Walter von Seydlitz-Kurzbach and that of the secondary force in the pocket to Generalmajor H. Zorn, both of whom were senior division commanders.
Seydlitz, working under the eye of the OKH, exercised his troops in loose order infiltration tactics modeled on tactics the Finnish Army had used during
the Winter War of 1939-1940. To exploit these tactics, he laid the line of advance through woods and swamp south of the Staraya Russa-Demyansk road. The questions were whether the Germans could be as effective fighting in the forest as the Finns had been, whether they could beat the oncoming thaw, and how much longer the pocket could survive. The answers to the latter two became critical as soon as RAUBTIER began consuming the time allotted to BRUECKENSCHLAG.
On the 16th, Kuechler made a somewhat hazardous flight into the pocket to reassure Brockdorff, who was talking about staging a breakout. During the flights in and out, Kuechler had the opportunity to observe firsthand what would be a positive circumstance for BRUECKENSCHLAG: from an altitude of about 4,000 feet in clear weather he could see no evidence of combat between the pocket and the X Corps front. The Russians, by being set on breaking the pocket open from the north and south, at which they might well succeed, were thereby allowing the Germans to have a stable basis from which to launch BRUECKENSCHLAG.46
In midafternoon on the 19th, after he knew the Dora Lane was cut and the Volkhov gap was being closed, Hitler gave the order for the final deployment for BRUECKENSCHLAG. The Luftwaffe would shift its full force south the next morning, and Seydlitz would have one day to bring his units, which were dispersed behind the X Corps front, up to their line of departure.
When the advance began at daylight on the morning of the 21st, the objectives were a succession of diminutive villages, some with imposing names--Ivanovskoye, Noshevalovo, and Vasilievshchina, all otherwise insignificant except as reference points in the wilderness of trees and snow. The Russians responded with determination and confusion, holding fanatically to some places and giving way in others. After two days, the temperature rose above freezing. On the fourth day, several regiments reached the Redya River, halfway to the Lovat. By then, too, the three feet of snow on the ground had turned to slush, and aerial reconnaissance had reported Soviet reinforcements moving along the valleys of the Redya and Lovat from the north and the south. Two Soviet parachute brigades had landed inside the pocket not far from Demyansk and the airfield. Like the paratroops who had landed behind Army Group Center, however, once on the ground they appeared uncertain as to what to do next.
East of the Redya, Seydlitz's advance slowed almost to a stop. Ahead, all the way to the Lovat the forest was dense, unbroken by roads or settlements, and matted with underbrush. Against the Soviet troops dug-in there the German Stukas were useless: they could not spot the enemy positions through the trees and brush. By the 26th, a foot and a half of water covered the ice on the Redya, and if the thaw continued the entire stretch between the rivers would soon be swamp. On the 30th, Seydlitz told Kuechler that he was going to stop, regroup, and shift his line of attack north to the Staraya Russa-Demyansk road.47
At the end of the month, the Stavka also was engaged in planning a fresh start. It had, for two weeks, had Politburo member N. A. Bulganin as its representative at Northwest Front, but Bulganin's competence in military affairs was "small," and his presence had done more to complicate than to facilitate the front's conduct of operations. On 29 March, the Stavka gave command of all troops on the perimeter of the pocket to General Leytenant N. F. Vatutin, who had, until then, been the front's chief of staff, and made Kurochkin, the front's commander, solely responsible for the defense against Seydlitz's relief operation. At the same time, it gave Kurochkin five regiments of antitank guns and "four divisions" of light antiaircraft artillery.48
A Month of Mud and Crises
For both contestants, the Germans and the Russians, the final lap in the race with the rasputitsa was on. The stakes were high. If BRUECKENSCHLAG failed, the Germans would not be able to hold the Demyansk pocket through the spring nor would Second Shock Army be able to survive if its lines to the rear remained cut. The rasputitsa could save the German effort at Kholm and it might be all that could save I Corps from being cut off the way II Corps already was. While the rasputitsa was certain to have an effect, what that might be at any one place was entirely uncertain. From Kholm, for instance, where the Soviet lines were long and the roads poor at best, Scherer reported on 26 March that some of the Russians appeared to be withdrawing. His own position, however, was getting worse. The sudden and rapid thaw had completely melted the snowbanks that had given his troops concealment; the entrenchments had become mudholes half-filled with water; and the felt boots, indispensable as protection against the cold, were useless to the troops who now spent their days submerged to the hips in mud and melted snow. One half-way determined Soviet attack with artillery and tanks, he predicted, could well be enough to finish off the pocket.49
Eighteenth Army's grip on the Volkhov pocket was desperate but uncertain. Fifty-fourth Army had pushed a wedge past Pogostye to within five miles of Lyuban on the northeast, and Second Shock Army had no more than seven or eight miles to go to reach Lyuban from the south, which it appeared determined to do even after the RAUBTIER operation had closed the mouth of the pocket. On 23 March, the day the thaw began, the army group chief of staff told the OKH chief of operations that it was "gradually" becoming impossible for Eighteenth Army to keep the Russians from taking Lyuban because the army did not have enough men to do it. The thaw slowed the Russians as it did the Germans, but they were clearly not going to let it stop them. By keeping tanks in position to rake the Erika Lane with fire, they had managed to prevent the Germans from actually taking possession of it and to convert the lane into a no-man's-land. On the 27th, the tanks, with infantry behind them, drove through the lane and reopened it as a supply road for
Second Shock Army. At the end of the month, Eighteenth Army did get one small bit of relief: Finnish troops, with some Estonian auxiliaries supplied by Eighteenth Army took the islands Suursaari, Lavansaari, and Tytarsaari, thus ending the army's worry that it would have to divert men of its own to those enterprises.
BRUECKENSCHLAG resumed on 4 April. Seydlitz had regrouped his force, and his Soviet opposition had been regrouped and reinforced. Soviet infantry were not only dug in on the ground but were firing from the treetops. Airplanes, mostly slow, single-engine biplanes, cruised over the German bivouac areas all night long dropping bombs from altitudes of from one to two hundred feet. On the softening ground, Soviet tanks were again showing their superiority, and the tank crews had discovered that the trees and underbrush gave them excellent protection because the Rotkopf hollow-charge shells frequently exploded when they struck branches. The Germans were using a new weapon, the Panzerschreck. It fired a rocket-propelled, hollow-charge grenade and could knock out a T-34, but Seydlitz observed that manning it required nerve "and a generous endowment of luck" because it was not effective at ranges over fifty yards.50 The night-time temperatures were staying above freezing, and the roads, including those the Russians had surfaced with layers of packed snow and sawdust, were thawing. Maneuvering was out of the question. The only way BRUECKENSCHLAG could succeed was by punching through to the Lovat by the most direct route.
The six-mile distance to the Lovat was an ordinary two-hour walk. It took Seydlitz's troops eight days to get within 500 yards of the river and to begin a slow turn upstream toward Ramushevo. The II Corps force under Zorn began its attack out of the pocket on the 14th. It was a gamble. Zorn was not supposed to have begun moving until Seydlitz had Ramushevo, but Seydlitz had over ten thousand casualties, and by the time he reached Ramushevo--if he did--the rasputitsa was certain to be in full swing.
April was a month of mud and crises. Army Group North and the OKH considered having II Corps attempt a breakout. Since Army Group Center was giving up on its share of BRUECKENSCHLAG, the Demyansk pocket was at best a doubtful tactical asset, but no one wanted to argue that point with Hitler. Kuechler did tell Hitler that with three more divisions he could wipe out the Volkhov pocket. Hitler responded that henceforth Army Groups North and Center would be on their own because all troops and material not already committed would be going into the summer offensive. Kuechler then scraped together five battalions that he could have used to pump strength into BRUECKENSCHLAG but that he had to put into the Kholm relief "because humanity and comradeship make it unthinkable to abandon the Scherer Group."51 The Luftwaffe had a battalion of paratroops to land in Kholm. To drop them there, however, would necessitate diverting transports from the Demyansk airlift
MACHINE-GUN NEST ON THE VOLKHOV FRONT
which would probably result in substantial losses. The army group predicted dourly that if the drop were attempted half the men would land among the Russians and the others would "break all the bones in their bodies" coming down among the buildings in the town.52
The Luftwaffe, discontented with its support role, wanted to withdraw the Stukas from BRUECKENSCHLAG for operations against the Soviet naval vessels at Leningrad to assuage Hitler's concern about the ships. To capture Hitler's interest and circumvent the army group's objections to this action, the Luftwaffe raised the project's status to that of an air offensive under the grandiloquent code name GOETZ VON BERLICHINGEN. The first raid, on the 24th, scored hits on the battleship October Revolution and the cruisers Maxim Gorkiy and Marty and drew down heavily on the ammunition for Eighteenth Army's long-range artillery then employed in suppressing Soviet antiaircraft fire. Subsequent raids, continuing into the first week in May with reduced artillery support, met more intensive antiaircraft fire than the pilots had experienced before, even in the London blitz.
In and around the Volkhov pocket a disaster was almost certainly developing. The only real question was, for whom? After the Russians broke open the Erika Lane, Kuechler relieved the XXXVIII Corps commander. At the
Fuehrer Headquarters, the feeling was that the 58th Infantry Division commander, in whose sector the mishap had occurred, should also be relieved because he was "more a professor than a soldier." While Kuechler protested in vain for two days that being "educated and well-read" did not necessarily make an officer ineffectual, the Russians also retook the Dora Lane.53
The benefit the Russians gained from retaking the two lanes, however, did not quite equal the pain the loss occasioned for the Germans. The XXXVIII Corps and I Corps held the corridor formed by the lanes to a width of less than two miles, and, by mid-April, the thaw and constant air and artillery bombardment had turned the lanes into cratered ribbons of mud. Second Shock Army was not strangled but it was choking. Eighteenth Army, for its part, reported that its continuing hold on Lyuban owed entirely to "luck and entirely unfounded optimism" both of which could be dispersed at any time by Soviet infantry "and a few tanks."54
All of Army Group North was indeed, as it put it to Hitler and the OKH, "living from hand to mouth and on an almost indefensible optimism."55 On the other hand, the rasputitsa, at least, was nobody's ally. It was impartial. The winter had not been; it had given the Russians the initiative; but that was inexorably melting away with snow and ice. Second Shock Army and Fifty-fourth Army held low ground, swamp, and bottomland. The Germans expected the Russians to know how to deal with the rasputitsa better than their own commands did, and the Soviet armies, no doubt, did know how to deal with the inevitable thaw as well as anyone.
Stalin, however, wanted more. The Leningrad Front commander, General Khozin, had declared that if he were given full command, he could still bring off a victory despite the rasputitsa. Marshal Shaposhnikov, chief of the General Staff, did not believe Khozin was capable of controlling operations by ten armies and several independent corps, but Stalin was for giving him a chance. On 23 April, the Stavka relieved Meretskov and abolished Volkhov Front, turning it over as an operational group to Headquarters, Leningrad Front. Khozin then was given orders to step up the offensive and break the Leningrad siege.56 The job that had been too big for Meretskov and Khozin together was not likely to be mastered by one of them alone, and the time was poor for experimenting with ad hoc commands--the Volkov River had an open channel down its center; the Erika and Dora lanes were underwater; and Second Shock Army's perimeter in the pocket was starting to shrink.
On the afternoon of the 29th, Kuechler talked by telephone to Brockdorff in the Demyansk pocket. Seydlitz's and Zorn's troops standing opposite each other on the Lovat had strung a telephone line across the river. Northwest Front would be denied its final victory over II Corps.
At Kholm, Third Shock Army mustered artillery and tanks and broke into the pocket from the south on 1 May,
the ninety-sixth day of the siege. The relief force under Generalmajor Werner Huehner, Uckermann's successor, was stalled a mile to the west where it stayed for three more days while the infantry probed for an opening and the Stukas rained bombs on the Russians. Hitler claimed that more bombs were dropped during this attack than in all of World War I. During the morning of the 5th, a predawn tank and infantry attack reached the western edge of the pocket at daylight.57
The winter had ended. The occasional snow that continued to fall was heavy and wet. The mud on the roads was a yard or more deep, and horses sometimes drowned in the potholes. Every gully and dip was filled with water. The woods were submerged, and in them and the swamps, which during this season were actually shallow lakes, populations of vipers were coming to life. As if in competition for a doubtful honor, Sixteenth and Eighteenth Army units lavished craftsmanship and some artistry on signs asserting, "The arse of the world begins here."
1. AOK 9, Fuehrungsabteilung Kriegstagebuch, 1.1.-31.3.42, 27 Jan 42, AOK 9 21520/1 file.
2. H. Gr. Mitte, Ia Nr. 423/42, an Pz. AOK 2, 15.1.42, Pz. AOK 2 25035/2 file.
3. AOK 9, Fuehrungsabteilung Kriegstagebuch, 1.1.-31.3.42, 7 Feb 12, AOK 9 21520/1 file.
4. IVOVSS, vol. II, p. 328.
5. IVMV, vol. IV, p. 311.
7. IVOVSS, vol. II, p. 328.
9. A0K 9, Fuehrungsabteilung Kriegstagebuch, 1.1.-31.3.42, 21 Jan 42, AOK 9 21520/1 file.
10. Counted in the losses were the frostbite cases and the dead, wounded, missing, and sick. AOK 4, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 11, 27 Feb 42, AOK 4 18710 file.
11. AOK 9, Fuehrungsabteilung Kriegstagebuch, 1.1.-31.3.42, 21 Jan 42, AOK 9 21520/1 file.
12. Pz. AOK 2, Ia Kriegstagebuch, 27.12.41-31.3.42, 21 Jan-16 Feb 42, Pz. AOK 2 25034/162 file.
13. Ibid., 1 Mar 42.
14. Kluge said during the meeting that he "regretted the loss of so outstanding an army commander," and he implied that the reasons for Guderian's dismissal were too sensitive a matter to be discussed (Ibid., 9 Mar 42).
15. Ibid., 12 Mar 42.
16. Ibid., 20 Mar 42; AOK 4, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 11, 20 Mar 42, AOK 4 17380/1 file.
17. Pz. AOK 4, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 8, 5 Feb 42, Pz. AOK 4 24932/17 file.
18. Ibid., 20 Feb 42.
19. AOK 4, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 11, 18 Feb 42, AOK 4 18710 file.
20. Ibid., 2 Mar 42.
22. Ibid., 14 Mar 42.
23. Ibid., 16-22 Mar 42.
24. IVOVSS, vol. II, p. 331; Belov, "Pyatimesyachnaya borba," p. 65.
25. Pz. AOK 4, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 8, 15 Apr 42, Pz. AOK 4 24932/17 file.
26. Zhukov, Memoirs, p. 358.
27. AOK 9, Fuehrungsabteilung Kriegstagebuch, 1.1.-31.3.42, 2, 7, 12 Feb 42, AOK 9 21520/1 file.
28. Ibid., 21 Feb-1 Mar 42.
29. IVOVSS, vol. II, p. 331.
30. AOK 9, Fuehrungsabteilung Kriegstagebuch, 1.4-30.6.42, 1 Apr 42, AOK 9 28504 file.
31. See IVMV, vol. IV, p. 327.
32. Zhelanov, "Iz opyta," p. 30.
33. Ibid., p. 31; IVOVSS, vol. II, p. 337f.
34. IVOVSS, vol. II, p. 335; Meretskov, Serving the People, p. 199.
35. H. Gr. Nord, Ia Kriegstagebuch, 13.2-12.3.42, 25 Feb 42, H. Gr. Nord 75128/7 file.
36. Hermann Plocher, The German Air Force Versus Russia, 1942, USAF Historical Division, USAF Historical Studies, no. 154, pp. 78-81; H. Gr. Nord, Ia Kriegstagebuch, 13.2-12.3.42, 28 Feb 42, H. Gr. Nord 75128/7 file.
37. H. Gr. Nord, Ia Kriegstagebuch, 13.2.-12.3.42, 25 Feb 42, H. Gr. Nord 75128/7 file.
38. Meretskov, Serving the People, p. 199.
39. H. Gr. Nord, Ia Kriegstagebuch, 13.-31.3.42, 1 Mar 42, H. Gr. Nord 75128/8 file.
40. Ibid., 2 Mar 42; Halder Diary, vol. III, p. 408.
41. H. Gr. Nord, Ia Kriegstagebuch, 13.-31.3.42, 2 Mar 42, H. Gr. Nord 75128/8 file.
42. Ibid., 2, 4 Mar 42.
43. Meretskov, Serving the People, pp. 200-02; Meretskov, "Na volkhovskikh rubezhakh," p. 65.
44. H. Gr. Nord, Ia Kriegstagebuch, 13.-31.3.42, 5-14 Mar 42, H. Gr. Nord 75128/8 file.
45. AOK 18, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Band II, 14-15 Mar 42, AOK 18 19601/6 file; AOK 18, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Band III, 16-20 Mar 42, AOK 18 19601/7 file.
46. H. Gr Nord, Ia Kriegstagebuch, 13.-31.3.42, 2-16 Mar 42, H. Gr. Nord 75128/8 file.
47. AOK 16, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Band III, 21-30 Mar 42, AOK 16 23468/4 file.
48. Zhelanov, "Iz opyta," pp. 31-33.
49. H. Gr. Nord, Ia Kriegstagebuch, 13.-31.3.42, 26 Mar 42, H. Gr. Nord 75128/8 file.
50. H. G. Nord, Ia Kriegstagebuch, 1-30.4.42, 3 Apr 42, H. Gr. Nord 7:5128/9 file.
51. Ibid., 12-14 Apr 42.
52. Ibid., 14 Apr 42.
53. H. Gr. Nord, Ia Kriegstagebuch, 1.-31.3.42, 29 Mar 42, H. Gr. Nord 75128/9 file.
54. Ibid., 16 Apr 42.
56. Vasilevskiy, Delo, p. 184f; Meretskov, Serving the People, p. 207.
57. H. Gr. Nord, Ia Kriegstagebuch, 1.-31.5.42, 1-5 May 42, H. Gr. Nord 75128/10 file.