As the war passed into its fourth year in early September 1942, Adolf Hitler, the German Fuehrer, Commander in Chief of the German Armed Forces and Commander in Chief of the German Army, was totally absorbed in his second summer campaign against the Soviet Union.1 For the last month and a half he had directed operations on the southern flank of the German Eastern Front from a Fuehrer headquarters, the WERWOLF, set up in a small forest half a dozen miles northeast of Vinnitsa in the Ukraine. With him, in the closely guarded headquarters community he rarely left, one of pleasantly laid out prefabs and concrete structures, he had his personal staff, through which he exercised the political executive authority in Germany and the occupied territories; the chief of the Armed Forces High Command (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW)), Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel; and a field detachment of the Armed Forces Operations Staff (Wehrmachtfuehrungsstab (WFSt)) under its chief, Generaloberst Alfred Jodl. In Vinnitsa, a hot, dusty provincial town, the Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH)), had established its headquarters under the Chief of Staff, OKH, Generaloberst Franz Halder.2 Through it Hitler commanded the army groups and armies in the Soviet Union.

During the summer German Army groups A and B had made spectacular advances to the Volga at Stalingrad and into the western Caucasus. In August mountain troops had planted the German flag at the top of Mount Elbrus, the highest peak in the Caucasus. But before the month ended, the offensive had begun to show signs of becoming engulfed in the vast, arid expanses of southern USSR without attaining any of its strategic objectives; namely, the final Soviet defeat, the capture of the Caucasus and Caspian oil fields, and the opening of a route of debouchment across the Caucasus into the Middle East. Hitler had become peevish and depressed. At the situation conferences his specific objections to how the offensive was being conducted almost invariably led on to angry questioning of the ability of the generals and their understanding of the fundamentals of military operations.3

On the afternoon of 9 September, after a particularly vituperative outburst the day before against Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm List, whom he had repeatedly accused over the past weeks of not following orders and of not properly deploying his troops, Hitler sent Keitel to Vinnitsa to tell Halder that List should submit his resignation as


Commanding General, Army Group A. Hitler intended to take command of the Army group in person. To Halder, Keitel "hinted" that changes in other high posts were in the offing, including Halder's own.4 In fact, Hitler had already decided to dismiss Halder, who, he claimed, was "no longer equal to the psychic demands of his position." He also considered getting rid of his closest military adviser, Jodl, who had made the mistake of supporting List.5

Germany in August 1942 was at the peak of its World War II military expansion. It held Europe from the Pyrenees to the Caucasus, from Crete to the North Cape, and Panzer Army Africa had pushed into Egypt. During the summer's fighting in southern USSR mistakes--for which Hitler was trying to give the generals all the blame--had been made, but these mistakes alone were not enough to account for the massive frustration that was being felt. It was rooted in a more fundamental miscalculation.

In the directive for the 1942 offensive Hitler had established as the paramount objective, ". . .the final destruction of the Soviet Union's remaining human defensive strength."6 He had assumed that the Soviet Union would sacrifice its last manpower reserves to defend the oil fields and, losing both, would be brought to its knees. That had not happened. In late August the Eastern Intelligence Branch, OKH, had undertaken to assess the Soviet situation as it would exist at the close of the German offensive. It had concluded that the Soviet objectives were to limit the loss of territory as much as possible during the summer, at the same time preserving enough manpower and matériel to stage a second winter offensive. It had assumed that the Soviet command had resigned itself before the start of the German offensive to losing the North Caucasus and Stalingrad, possibly also Leningrad and Moscow and that consequently the territorial losses sustained, though severe, had not been unexpectedly so. Moreover, the Soviet casualties had fallen considerably below what might have been anticipated on the basis of the German 1941 offensive. In sum, the Eastern Intelligence Branch had judged that the Soviet losses were "on an order leaving combat worthy forces available for the future" and that the German losses were "not insignificant."7

The German Command

On 24 September 1942 General der Infanterie Kurt Zeitzler replaced Halder as Chief of Staff, OKH. In his farewell remarks to Halder, delivered in private after that day's situation conference, Hitler said that Halder's nerves were worn out and that his own were no longer fresh; therefore, they ought to part. He added that it was now necessary to educate the General Staff in "fanatical faith in the Idea" and that he was determined to enforce his will "also" on the Army, implying thereby--and by his lights no doubt with some justification--that under Halder's stewardship the Army had clung too stubbornly to the shreds of its independence from politics and to its traditional command principles.8

Zeitzler's appointment surprised everyone,


including himself.9 He was a competent, but not supremely outstanding, staff officer. As Chief of Staff, Army Group D, defending the Low Countries and the Channel coast, his energy and his rotund figure had earned him the nickname "General Fireball." In one of the long evening monologues that have been recorded as table talk, Hitler, in June 1942, had remarked that Holland would be a "tough nut" for the enemy because Zeitzler "buzzes back and forth there like a hornet and so prevents the troops from falling asleep from lack of contact with the enemy."10 Apparently, Hitler had decided that he preferred a high level of physical activity in the Chief of Staff to the, as he saw it, barren intellectualism of Halder and his like among the generals.

The Evolution of the Command

The dismissal of Halder and Zeitzler's appointment as Chief of Staff, OKH, marked another stage in an enforced evolution that Hitler had imposed on the German command structure since early 1938. At that time, also to an accompaniment of dismissals in the highest ranks, he had abolished the War Ministry and personally assumed the title and functions of Commander in Chief of the German Armed Forces. To take care of routine affairs and to provide himself with a personal staff as Commander in Chief, he had created the Armed Forces High Command and placed Keitel at its head with the title Chief, OKW. As the country moved toward and into the war, the Armed Forces Operations Staff, one of the sections within the OKW, under its capable chief, Jodl, would assume staff and planning functions paralleling and often competing with those of the service staffs. Seeking a more pliant top leadership in the Army High Command, Hitler had at the same time appointed Generaloberst (later Generalfeldmarschall) Walter von Brauchitsch, Commander in Chief, Army, and Halder, Chief of Staff, OKH. As Chief of Staff, OKH, Halder also headed the most exclusive and influential group within the Army, the Army General Staff.

Very early in the war Hitler had revealed that he was going to take an active part in directing military operations. His formal instrument for exercising control was the Fuehrer directive, which laid down the strategy and set objectives for a given operation or a major part of a continuing operation. At least in the early years, it usually embodied the thinking of the staffs as approved or amended by Hitler. The Fuehrer directives were issued through the Operations Staff, OKW, which gave that organization a voice in all crucial, high-level decisions even though it did not bear direct command responsibility.

The invasion of Norway and Denmark in April 1940 had introduced new planning and command procedures and had set precedents that were to be followed on a larger scale in the future. The Operations Staff, OKW, under Hitler, had then assumed direct planning and operational control, and the service commands had only supplied troops, equipment, and support. That change in the long run affected the Army most because land operations could be more easily parceled out among the commands and because neither Hitler nor Jodl and the Operations Staff, OKW, were competent


to handle the technical aspects of air or naval operations and were therefore inclined to leave them to the appropriate service staffs. By the summer of 1941 the OKW commanded--usually through theater commanders--in Norway, the West (France and the Low Countries), the Balkans, and North Africa. The OKH bore command responsibility for the Eastern Front (USSR) only and not for the forces in northern Finland or for liaison with the Finnish Army, both of the latter being included within the OKW's Northern Theater.11

The Plan for Invasion

By the time the campaign against the Soviet Union came under consideration in the late summer of 1940, Hitler and the German Army had three brilliant victories behind them--Poland, Norway and Denmark, and France. The German Army appeared invincible, and even to the skeptics Hitler had begun to look like an authentic military genius. In that atmosphere there probably was more fundamental unanimity in the upper reaches of the German command than at any other time, either before or later.

The main problems associated with an operation in the Soviet Union appeared to be geographical, and they were obvious, if not necessarily simple, of solution. One such was the climate, which was markedly continental with short, hot summers, long, extremely cold winters, and an astonishing uniformity from north to south, considering the country's great expanse. The climate, unless the Germans wanted to risk a long, drawn-out war or a winter campaign for which the Wehrmacht was not trained or equipped, imposed on them a requirement for finishing off the Soviet Union in a single summer offensive of not more than five months' duration. Consequently, in the very earliest planning stage, at the end of July 1940, Hitler had put off the invasion until the following summer.12 The rasputitsy (literally, traffic stoppages) brought on by the spring thaw and the fall rains, which turned the Soviet roads into impassable quagmires for periods of several weeks, imposed additional limitations on the timing.

The paramount problem was the one which had also confronted earlier invaders, how to accomplish a military victory in the vastness of the Russian space. Apart from the Pripyat Marshes and several of the large rivers, the terrain in European USSR did not offer notable impediments to the movement of modern military forces. But maintaining concentration of forces and supplying armies in the depths of the country presented staggering, potentially even crippling, difficulties. The whole of the Soviet Union had only 51,000 miles of railroads, all broader gauged than those in Germany and eastern Europe. Of a theoretical 850,000 miles of roads, 700,000 were no more than cart tracks; 150,000 miles were allegedly all-weather roads, but only 40,000 miles of those were hard surfaced.13

Hitler and the generals agreed that the solution was to trap and destroy the main Soviet forces near the frontier. In December 1940, however, when the strategic plan was being cast into the form of a Fuehrer



directive, the generals disagreed with Hitler on how to go from that to the next stage, the final Soviet defeat. Halder and Brauchitsch proposed to concentrate on the advance toward Moscow. In that direction the roads were the best, and they believed the Soviet Union could be forced to commit its last strength to defend the capital, which was also the most important industrial complex and hub of the country's road and railroad networks. Hitler, however, was not convinced that the war could be decided at Moscow, and he had his way. Fuehrer Directive 21 for Operation BARBAROSSA, the invasion of the Soviet Union, when it was issued on 18 December 1940, provided for simultaneous advances toward Leningrad, Moscow, and Kiev and for a possible halt and diversion of forces from the Moscow thrust to aid the advance toward Leningrad. For the moment, the difference of opinion on strategy cast only the slightest shadow on the prevailing mood of optimism. Staff studies showed that the Soviet Union would be defeated in eight weeks, ten weeks at most.14

The Army operation order for BARBAROSSA was issued in early February 1941, and the build-up on the eastern frontier began shortly thereafter, gradually at first. (Map 1) The OKH assigned 149 divisions, including 19 panzer (armored) divisions, to the operation. The total strength


Map 1
The 1941 Campaign and the Soviet Winter Offensive


was 3,050,000 men. Army of Norway was to deploy another 4 divisions, 67,000 troops, in northern Finland. The Finnish Army eventually added another 500,000 men in 14 divisions and 3 brigades, and Rumania furnished 14 infantry divisions and 3 brigades, all of them understrength, about 150,000 men. The BARBAROSSA force initially had 3,350 tanks, 7,184 artillery pieces, 600,000 motor vehicles, and 625,000 horses.15

The most significant assets of the German Army on the eve of the Russian campaign were its skill and experience in conducting mobile warfare. The panzer corps, employed with great success in the French campaign of 1940, had been succeeded by a larger mobile unit, the panzer group. Four of these were to spearhead the advance into the Soviet Union. The panzer groups were in fact powerful armored armies, but until late 1941, conservatism among some senior generals prevented them from getting the status of full-fledged armies.

Seven conventional armies and four panzer groups were assigned to three army groups, each responsible for operations in one of the main strategic directions. Army Group North, commanded by Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm von Leeb, was to attack out of East Prussia, through the Baltic States toward Leningrad. Army Group Center, under Generalfeldmarschall Fedor von Bock, assembled on the frontier east of Warsaw for a thrust via Minsk and Smolensk toward Moscow. Army Group South, Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt commanding, was responsible for the sector between the Pripyat Marshes and the Black Sea and was to attack toward Kiev and the line of the Dnepr River. The Finnish Army, operating independently under its own Commander in Chief, Marshal Carl Mannerheim, was to attack south on both sides of Lake Ladoga to increase the pressure on the Soviet forces defending Leningrad and so facilitate Army Group North's advance. An Army of Norway force of two German and one Finnish corps, under OKW control, was given the mission of attacking out of northern Finland toward Murmansk and the Murmansk (Kirov) Railroad. The Rumanian forces, Third and Fourth Armies, attached to Army Group South, had the very limited initial mission of assisting in the conquest of Bessarabia.

The German Air Force High Command (Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL)), assigned to BARBAROSSA some 2,770 aircraft out of a total Air Force first-line strength of 4,300. Planes for the invasion of the Soviet Union were nearly 700 fewer than the number used in the much smaller French campaign; and the Air Force was, in the first five months of 1941, almost totally committed against Great Britain and would have to continue so on a reduced scale after BARBAROSSA began. Because of the strain the fighting in two widely separated theaters would impose on his resources and organization, the Commander in Chief, Air Force, Reichsmarschall Herman Goering, had strongly opposed the operation against the Soviet Union. The campaign in the Balkans in the spring of 1941, added a further complication, as it also did for some of the ground forces.

Because of the danger of giving the operation


away by a sudden drop in the intensity of the attacks against Great Britain, the flying units could not be shifted east until the latest possible moment and then only after an elaborate radio deception had been arranged to give the impression that they were being redeployed for an invasion of England. In spite of that and the other problems, however, the German Air Force looked forward to the campaign with confidence. It had the advantage of first-rate equipment, combat experience, and surprise.

The air units deployed on the eastern frontier, between the Baltic and the Black Sea, were organized as First Air Force, supporting Army Group North; Second Air Force, supporting Army Group Center; and Fourth Air Force, supporting Army Group South.16 Fifth Air Force, its main mission the air defense of Norway, was to give modest support to the Army of Norway and Finnish Army forces operating out of Finland. In accordance with standard German practice, the relationship between the air forces and the army groups was strictly limited to co-operation and co-ordination.

The German Navy's first concern in BARBAROSSA was to be maintaining control of the Baltic Sea. It had additional limited missions in the Arctic Ocean and the Black Sea, both of which the Navy High Command, (Oberkommando der Kriegsmarine (OKM)), believed could not be executed until after the air and land operations had eliminated the Soviet naval superiority.17 The Navy was also heavily engaged in operations against Great Britain, and the Commander in Chief Navy, Grossadmiral Erich Raeder, like Goering, would rather have avoided further commitments.


When Operation BARBAROSSA began on 22 June 1941, the military and political centers of gravity in Germany moved from Berlin to the forests of East Prussia. There, beside the railroad running east from Rastenburg, an elaborate Fuehrer headquarters, the WOLFSSCHANZE (Wolf's Lair), of painstakingly camouflaged concrete bunkers protected by rings of steel fences, palisades, and earthworks, had been constructed. In one closely guarded compound Hitler lived and worked with his intimate military and political advisers; another a short distance away housed the Operations Staff, OKW, and the communications center. The OKH was located just outside Rastenburg, a half hour away by rail. The railroad was closed to all traffic east of Rastenburg except that between the OKH headquarters and the WOLFSSCHANZE and the courier trains that shuttled back and forth to Berlin.18

From the outset Hitler demonstrated that he did not mean to let the conduct of operations rest entirely in the hands of the professionals. During the first weeks his interference took the form mostly of nervous meddling and random attempts to impose on the battlefield tactical conceptions that occurred to him in his remote position. Halder, possibly with more trenchant insight than he realized, characterized Hitler's behavior as symptomatic of a lack of confidence in the executive commands and



a failure to grasp the essential feature of the German command system--its reliance on training in a common body of doctrine to make each command level capable of performing its functions with a minimum of interference from above.19 Unfortunately for the German Army, Brauchitsch was no longer, if indeed he ever had been, the man to defend this principle. Conscious that he was both used and despised by Hitler, he vacillated futilely between complete subservience to the Fuehrer and the urgings of his professional conscience and most often ended by trying to suppress the latter with the excuse that he could not oppose his commander in chief.

In the field the invasion forged ahead more rapidly even than the staff and command post exercises had forecast. Before the end of the second week it appeared that the first-phase objective, destruction of the Soviet Army main force close to the western frontier, had been accomplished. In twin pockets at Bialystok and Minsk, Army Group Center estimated that it had taken over 300,000 prisoners. After a comparatively slow start by Army Group South, all three German army groups were advancing at high speed. By mid-July, Army Groups North and Center reached and crossed the Dvina and Dnepr Rivers, the easternmost lines on which, according to German calculations, the Russians could defend their chief industrial areas. Army Group Center was completing another vast encirclement near Smolensk, and Army Group South


had begun a gigantic enveloping operation in the Ukraine west of the Dnepr.

Halder even looked forward hopefully to the time when the front would become so fluid that the battles would outrun Hitler's capability as a tactician. That was not going to happen. In fact, Hitler had arrived at the stage where he was prepared to free himself entirely from professional tutelage. On 19 July 1941 he completed a directive about which the OKH had not been consulted at all and which, although it was initialed by Jodl and Keitel, apparently did not reflect any significant consultation with the Operations Staff, OKW. In it Hitler reaffirmed his conviction that Moscow was not the primary strategic objective. He directed that in the next phase Army Group Center, the strongest of the three army groups in the Soviet Union, was to continue toward Moscow with its infantry alone and was to divert its armor to help Army Group North toward Leningrad and Army Group South in the conquest of the Ukraine.20 In effect the advance on Moscow was to be stopped. He had revealed that intention in the original BARBAROSSA directive, but the generals had assumed that the logic of events, particularly--after the invasion began--the indications that the Russians were massing their main forces in front of Moscow, would force him to change his mind.

In the ensuing month Halder and Brauchitsch marshaled all the arguments they could and enlisted backing from Jodl and two of the army group commanders to help oppose the strategic change. Hitler from time to time showed signs of attempting to form a decision based on the realities of the situation and at one point revised his directive. But in the directive as issued on 21 August, he stated, "The proposals of the OKH for the continuance of the operation in the East do not conform with my intentions," and ordered that Moscow was not to be considered the principal objective but was to be ranked after the Crimea and the Ukrainian coal fields in the south and Leningrad in the north.

Two small incidents revealed how far the OKH had lost ground. Hitler, also on 21 August, accused Brauchitsch of having failed all along to conduct the offensive on the lines he, the Fuehrer, desired. Three days later Generaloberst Heinz Guderian, who would have to execute the maneuver and who claimed that turning the armor south from Army Group Center was impossible, was called in to make a last-ditch attempt to dissuade Hitler. In the Fuehrer's presence he reversed himself completely, later lamely explained that confronted with the Fuehrer's resolve he had had "to make the impossible possible."21

By 6 September Hitler, concluding that the army groups on the flanks had been helped enough, decided to renew the Army Group Center advance toward Moscow. Army Group North in the meantime had closed up to Leningrad on the south but had yet to complete the encirclement on the east by joining hands with the Finns. Hitler had decided literally to starve the city out of existence. Army Group South, reinforced by Guderian's tanks, was completing an enormous encirclement east of Kiev but still had long distances to go to take the Donets Basin and the Crimea. Hitler ordered both army groups to complete the operations with their own resources and


return the units they had received from Army Group Center.22

Army Group Center jumped off on 2 October and within a week had broken open the Soviet front west of Moscow and formed two massive encirclements. The victory then appeared so near that the OKW canceled the expeditions out of northern Finland aimed at cutting the Murmansk Railroad, the supply line for outside aid to the Soviet Union.23 Then, at the end of the first week in October, in the Army Group Center and Army Group North areas, it began to rain. Relentlessly, through the rest of the month and into early November, rain, snow, and alternate freezing and thawing turned the roads into oozing ribbons of mud. Between 2 and 10 October Army Group Center's armies gained 30 miles a day. In the next twenty days their advance fell off to 2 to 5 miles a day; in the first two weeks of November they remained practically at a standstill on the line Kalinin-Tula, 54 miles west of Moscow.

In mid-November, after several cold, bright days, Army Group Center began to roll again. From the first it was apparent that the army group was not the fighting machine it had been. After five months' combat the troops were tired, and, if not discouraged, the troops and command both were becoming uneasy over the offensive that dragged on without a satisfactory end in sight. The equipment was showing wear and supplies and parts now had to come over long and unreliable lines. Losses in the campaign were approaching three-quarters of a million, no more than half of them replaced. Infantry companies were down to 25 and 30 percent of authorized strengths; first lieutenants were commanding battalions.24

At the beginning of the fourth week of the month Army Group Center had put its every man and weapon into the attack. The best hope was that the Russians had done the same.25 That they had not, began to become apparent at the end of the month when Soviet forces launched heavy counterattacks against Army Group South that forced the Germans to give up Rostov, the gateway to the Caucasus.

On 5 December Army Group Center, which had a spearhead on the north within sight of Moscow, reported that it was at the end of its strength; it could go no farther.26 The next morning, in snow and fog and forty below zero temperature, the Russians counterattacked.

Hitler in Command

The month of December 1941 ended the three-and-one-quarter years' string of German victories with a jolt that shook the German Army to its boot soles. Hardest hit in the long run was the Army command. Brauchitsch, who had had a heart attack in November, decided in early December to ask for retirement. By then he had been reduced to nothing more than a "messenger boy"; on important matters Hitler communicated directly with the army groups.27 On 19 December Hitler assumed the post of Commander in Chief, OKH, himself, and thereby wiped out the Army's last vestige of service independence.

Ignoring his advisers, Hitler ordered the


field commands to stand fast and called for fanatical resistance by the troops. In fact, they had no other choice. No positions existed in the rear, and none could be built in ground frozen so hard that impacting heavy artillery shells chipped out craters only inches deep. No one had given thought to fighting in the Russian winter. Weapons not conditioned for severe cold jammed; and lack of winter clothing, antifreeze, and low-temperature lubricants immobilized both men and vehicles. Commanders who lacked the stamina or the stomach for fanatical resistance as Hitler conceived it were removed. Von Rundstedt, the senior field marshal, had been dismissed as Commanding General, Army Group South, in Hitler's first pique over the retreat from Rostov. In mid-December, von Bock relinquished command of Army Group Center, pleading illness. Later, von Leeb, whose Army Group North had been stopped and turned back at Tikhvin in an attempt to join hands with the Finns and then was caught up in the Soviet counteroffensive, asked to be relieved. Making examples of generals who ordered retreats, Hitler dismissed Guderian and Generaloberst Erich Hoeppner and deprived the latter of his rank and privileges, including the right to wear the uniform.

Hitler's determination and repeated appeals to the troops for fanatical resistance were not enough to prevent the expanding Soviet offensive from chopping deep into the front at numerous places in the Army Group Center and Army Group North sectors. At the turn of the year a breakthrough on the Army Group Center north flank and a deepening dent on its south flank brought the Germans to the astonished, horrified realization that the Russians were trying nothing less than to encircle the whole Army Group Center. On 15 January 1942, Hitler for the first time in the war ordered a major withdrawal. He authorized Army Group Center to take its front opposite Moscow back to a north-south line eighty-five miles west of the capital. That was not enough to escape the threatening encirclement; it only shortened the Army Group Center front somewhat and thus freed some troops for the flanks. The orders to stand and fight remained in full effect.

From mid-January until well into February the crisis at the front deepened. Although Army Group Center regained some control on its south flank, it was for weeks nearly helpless against the thrust on the north and barely managed to keep open its lifeline, the road and railroad running east from Smolensk. Astride the Army Group North-Army Group Center boundary the front was torn open on a 160-mile stretch between Rzhev and Lake Ilmen. At Demyansk, south of the lake, two German corps, 100,000 men, were completely encircled and had to be supplied by air.

After mid-February the Soviet offensive began to lose momentum and appeared no longer to have any other objective than to gain some additional ground and inflict random damage on the Germans. In the first week of the month Army Group Center had managed to anchor its north flank around Rzhev, and in the second and third weeks fresh divisions from Germany began moving in from the west to narrow the gap to Army Group North. In March the gradual German recovery continued until the spring mud and floods brought operations on both sides to a temporary halt.28

The winter crisis of 1941-42 gave Hitler a personal triumph: he had ordered his armies to stand, and they had stood. His


decision not to permit a general retreat, some suggest, was made less on military grounds than out of a desperate necessity to protect his image as an infallible leader; nevertheless, even his harshest critics later had to concede that the German armies, caught as they were without prepared positions to fall back on or even adequate winter equipment and clothing, might well have disintegrated if the command had conceded a necessity to retreat.29 Hitler not only did not lose but probably gained stature in the eyes of, at least, the rank and file. His confidence in his own military judgment was strengthened--this at a time when the terms on which the war was being fought were undergoing a drastic alteration. As a consequence, the German conduct of the rest of the war was dominated by a conflict between the military professionals' principles, flexibility and mobility, and Hitler's rigidity--between command initiative and blind execution of the Fuehrer's will.

Operation BLAU

A Promise, Doubts, and a Plan

On 15 March 1942 Hitler delivered a Memorial Day (Heldengedenktag) address in Berlin. He promised that "Bolshevism" would be destroyed in the coming summer and that "the Bolshevik Colossus" would not thereafter "again touch the sacred soil of Europe."30 Privately he and his confidants did not look to the future with assurance quite that strong. The Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, and Goering had nagging qualms, chiefly on the score of Soviet capabilities. Hitler talked to Goebbels about the coming campaign and declared that he intended only to take the Caucasus, Leningrad, and Moscow--one after the other and not simultaneously. He was determined whatever the circumstances, he said, to go into winter quarters in time. He blamed Brauchitsch, whom he described as "a nincompoop and a coward," for overextending in 1941.31

On 26 April Hitler undertook to present an accounting to the Reichstag. Grandly, he claimed that in the days of crisis during the winter he had felt compelled to place his "own person at the forefront in meeting whatever Fate had in store." He thanked the soldiers, noncommissioned officers, and officers "up to those generals who, recognizing the danger, risked their own lives to urge the soldiers onward." The only other reference to the generals was that "in a few individual cases, where nerves gave way, discipline broke down or insufficient sense of duty was displayed" he had found it necessary to intervene severely. He asked and was automatically granted sweeping authority to dismiss or demote any civil servant or officer as it suited him. That in effect swept away the remnants of administrative independence in the German Government and the armed forces. Ominous as this strengthening of the dictatorship was, however, it attracted less attention than the almost offhand remark: "Next winter, no matter where it finds us, will find us better prepared."32

The directive for the 1942 summer campaign, Operation BLAU, provided for a full-


Map 2
The Situation
1 May and 18 November 1942


scale offensive only on the south flank of the Eastern Front, toward the Don River, Stalingrad, and the Caucasus oil fields. (Map 2) Hitler was in complete command. Halder and his staff assistants had drafted the directive in accordance with Hitler's detailed instructions, and Hitler had then dictated the final version, revising and expanding as he went along.

The advance into the Caucasus had the characteristics of an expedition, albeit a massive one. In fact it had been regarded as such when it was first considered in the late fall of 1941. In the directive for BLAU Hitler elevated it to the level of a strategic, decision-seeking, offensive.33 It was to be executed in two stages. First, several successive enveloping thrusts, beginning on the north along the Kursk-Voronezh axis, were to smash the Soviet south flank and carry the front out to the Don River. After that the advance would proceed to Stalingrad and across the lower Don into the Caucasus. For the operation, Army Group South was to be split to form two army groups designated as A and B. Army Group B, to be under von Bock, who now found himself well enough to command, would open the attack on the north. Army Group A, under List, would start somewhat later and be primarily responsible for the thrust across the lower Don and into the Caucasus.

In the regroupment Army Group B took command of Second, Fourth Panzer, and Sixth Armies, the first two detached from Army Group Center. Army Group A was assigned First Panzer, Eleventh, and Seventeenth Armies. For the first time in the East, the German allies, Italy, Hungary, and Rumania, took to the field in earnest, each providing an army. All three of the allied armies were deficient in equipment and training; and the Rumanians and Hungarians would much rather have fought each other than the Russians. But then, the allied armies were expected only to lend substance to Hitler's claim that he was conducting a selfless "crusade against Bolshevism" and occasionally to provide cover on the German flanks.

Hitler's decision to limit the 1942 campaign was not a free choice. After the strains and drains of the 1941 offensive and the winter battles just ended, even Operation BLAU as planned bore discernible marks of austerity. Of the 65 to 67 divisions that were to participate in the offensive, fully two-thirds had to be rebuilt and rehabilitated while committed at the front and only one-third were new or rebuilt behind the front. As of 1 May 1942 the infantry divisions were at 50 percent of their authorized strengths. They were brought up to 100 percent by the time the offensive started, but, as a consequence, the divisions of Army Groups Center and North would not attain more than 55 percent of authorized strengths before August 1942. The panzer divisions in the offensive would have three tank battalions apiece, but those of the other army groups only one. The spearhead divisions in BLAU would have 85 percent of their organic motor vehicle allowances, but the other divisions would have far less. Artillery, antitank, and antiaircraft weapons could be brought to authorized levels for the units in the offensive--in some instances only by reaching into stocks of captured equipment--but an ammunition drought had set in during the winter and was expected to continue through the autumn of 1942.


Only in the air did the German strength fully equal that of the 1941 campaign. During the winter, the transfer of Second Air Force to the Mediterranean to participate in the attempted reduction of Malta and to support operations in North Africa had reduced air strength on the Eastern Front to 1,700 planes. The necessity for flying supply missions to numerous cut-off and encircled forces had further reduced the flying units' combat effectiveness. In the spring, in anticipation of the summer offensive, the air strength in the East had been raised to a total of 2,750 aircraft. Fourth Air Force on the southern sector of the front received by far the largest share--1,500 planes.34

The Campaign, 1942

At dawn on 28 June Second Army and Fourth Panzer Army opened the offensive. They smashed through the Soviet front east of Kursk and pushed east toward Voronezh, reaching the outskirts of the city in four days and taking it on 6 July. Fourth Panzer Army then turned southeast along the Don to meet Sixth Army, which had moved out east of Kharkov on 30 June. The German armies again held the upper hand; but the first two thrusts, to Voronezh and east of Kharkov, which had been planned as great encirclements on the 1941 pattern, brought in less than 100,000 prisoners. Disappointed, Hitler on 13 July replaced von Bock as Commanding General, Army Group B, with Generalfeldmarschall Maximilian von Weichs.

Hitler had originally intended to execute a third encirclement inside the Don bend that would have cleared the entire line of the Don before the offensive was carried toward Stalingrad and the Caucasus. On 13 July he changed his mind and ordered Army Group A, to which he attached Fourth Panzer Army, to turn south, cross the lower Don, and force the Russians into a pocket around Rostov. Rostov fell on 23 July, without bringing in the expected large bag of prisoners.

On that day Hitler issued the order that set the final stamp of failure on the summer offensive. He put the two army groups on courses that took them away from each other at a right angle, Army Group B going east toward Stalingrad, Army Group A going south past Rostov to the Caucasus. At the same time, he ordered Army Group A to give up the headquarters, all of the artillery, and about half the divisions of Eleventh Army, which was then getting ready to join the army group main force after taking Sevastopol. Eleventh Army was to go north for an attempt to take Leningrad and thereby pave the way for a later German-Finnish thrust to cut the Murmansk Railroad. As he had at the same stage of the 1941 offensive, Hitler was dispersing the German effort.

Army Group A was on the threshold of the Caucasus, but the distances were tremendous, 200 miles to the Maikop oil fields, nearly 400 to those at Grozny. To reach Baku and Tiflis the mountains themselves had to be crossed. On 29 July the army group cut the last Soviet rail line into the Caucasus. Two days later Hitler issued another directive. The Russians, he reasoned, could do nothing more about defending the Caucasus, but they could be forced to expend their last reserves defending Stalingrad and their lifeline, the Volga. He ordered Fourth Panzer Army to make



a 180° turn and advance on the city from the south.

Through August and September the offensive continued--without attaining any of the major objectives. Army Group A took Maikop but found the oil fields destroyed. Two panzer corps headed for Grozny but were slowed and finally stopped for several weeks by gasoline shortages. The trucks making the long trip from Rostov were burning nearly as much gasoline as they could haul. Spearheads pushed into the Caucasus, but the Russians continued to hold all the passes. Sixth Army and Fourth Panzer Army closed in on Stalingrad from the west and south but had to spread their forces thin to cover their flanks and so lost momentum.

The Manpower Squeeze

On 8 September 1942 the Organizational Branch, OKH, reported, "All planning must take into account the unalterable fact that the predicted strength of the Army field forces as of 1 November 1942 will be 800,000, or 18 percent, below established strength [approximately 3,200,000] and that it is no longer possible to reduce those numbers."35


It had already predicted that the best to be expected was that the available manpower reserves would cover the next winter's losses and prevent a further decline before the spring of 1943.36 "False impressions will result," the report continued, "if units continue to be carried as before with this great loss of strength." The Organizational Branch proposed reducing better than half the divisions on the Eastern Front from three regiments to two.37

The larger and far more difficult problem was finding actual relief from the manpower squeeze. Since May 1942, General der Infanterie Walter von Unruh, armed with the authority to order irrevocable transfers to the Eastern Front, had been combing the rear areas as Hitler's personal representative. Unruh, whose visits generally met with dismay if not terror and who earned the nickname "General Heldenklau" (hero snatcher), had succeeded in paring down some of the rear echelon staffs; but after three or four months it had become apparent that the results, though worthwhile, would not be decisive.38 The Organizational Branch, OKH, in the fall of 1942 proposed to release some 180,000 men from the rear echelons by using Hilfswillige (army auxiliaries) recruited among the Russian prisoners of war to take over service and supply jobs behind the lines and thought it might gain another 80,000-90,000 by tightening the tables of organization.39

A potential source of relief for the Army's manpower problem was the Air Force, which had a sizable surplus. In September 1942 Hitler agreed to tap that surplus, but at Goering's insistence decided not to use the men as Army replacements but to form Air Force field divisions manned and officered exclusively by Air Force personnel. In September and October Hitler ordered twenty such divisions created with a combined strength of about 200,000 men. From the Army point of view a more unsatisfactory arrangement would have been difficult to devise. The Air Force troops had no training in land warfare and, because Goering restricted the Army's influence on them to the absolute minimum on the ground that the "reactionary" attitudes of the Army would impair his troops' National Socialist indoctrination, were not likely to be given enough to make them anywhere near suitable for employment on the Eastern Front. Worse yet, the Army had to scrape together enough new equipment to outfit the twenty divisions, and the diversion of vehicles alone forced postponement of plans to bring four or five panzer divisions up to strength.40

One other promising palliative was the employment of larger numbers of heavy and automatic weapons. The Operations Branch, OKH, proposed to supply the front-line units with new and more efficient weapons as they became available without withdrawing the older weapons and so wind up with both more and better firepower.41 Germany's newest and most


promising weapon, however, the Tiger tank, was slow getting into production. Tests of two prototypes in July 1942 had revealed that the tanks would not be battleworthy before the end of the year.42

A Command Shake-up

Hitler could hardly have expected to solve or greatly mitigate any of his immediate problems by changing chiefs of staff in September 1942. The tighter personal hold he got on the command apparatus of the Army by the shift from Halder to Zeitzler was also not very significant and took the form mainly of a symbolic downgrading of a very senior post by the appointment to it of a very junior general. Nevertheless, by the change, Hitler proposed more than merely to give vent to his personal animosity against Halder. What he had in view--probably motivated by even deeper seated animosities--was nothing less than a recasting--to his mind rejuvenation--of the whole German officer corps, the General Staff and general officer ranks in particular. To enable himself to do this--and to get close control of all officer appointments as well--he assumed personal supervision of the Heerespersonalamt, Army officer personnel office, and placed it under his Chief Adjutant, Generalmajor Rudolf Schmundt. To Schmundt he outlined a policy of rapid promotion, particularly of younger, battle-tested officers, to the highest ranks. Zeitzler, forty-seven years old and a general officer less than a year at the time of his appointment, was an example. He also proposed to break the General Staff's hold on the higher appointments by training good line officers to qualify for advancement to the top positions and by requiring General Staff officers to acquire experience as troop commanders. He talked about eventually abolishing the General Staff's distinctive red trouser stripes and silver collar tabs.43

As Chief of Staff, OKH, Zeitzler quickly demonstrated that he did not intend to be merely a yes-man, and during his first days in the post he secured a major victory in the intramural cold war that was a part of the functioning of the German command. The Army had long regarded as unfortunate, if not baneful, the influence of the Operations Staff, OKW--Jodl--on the drafting of Fuehrer directives, many of which although ostensibly strategic were primarily concerned with tactical operations on the Eastern Front. The irritation had increased after Hitler became Commander in Chief, Army, and thereby converted the Army staff into a second personal staff. It had been sharpened by the freewheeling criticism Keitel and Jodl had indulged in from their technically loftier positions on the command chain. Taking advantage of Jodl's having fallen into disfavor, Zeitzler, immediately upon his appointment, demanded and secured the OKW's exclusion from the drafting of Fuehrer directives applying solely to the Eastern Front. Henceforth such directives were to be issued as "operations orders" through the OKH. He also succeeded in having the reporting procedure at the daily situation conferences changed. Instead of Jodl's reporting on all theaters, the Chief of Staff, OKH, opened the conference with a report on the East and then Jodl followed with a report on


the other theaters.44 Subsequently, on the ground that the "need to know" no longer existed, Zeitzler managed, further, to cut off the OKW Operations Staff's access to detailed information concerning Eastern Front operations. In the long run, he achieved another effect in no way less important for its being inadvertent, namely, the hardening of the concept of OKH and OKW theaters that made the Eastern Front the OKH's exclusive and only operational concern and bred competition and rivalry with the OKW theaters, the West, the Balkans, Italy, and northern Europe, where earnest co-ordination would doubtless have served the German cause better.

Operations Order I

On 14 October 1942 Hitler issued Operations Order I in which he announced, "This year's summer and fall campaign, excepting the operations under way and several local offensives still contemplated, has been concluded." The order was purportedly aimed at initiating a shift to the defensive before winter set in; its effect was the opposite. Hitler ordered Army Group North, Army Group Center, and Army Group B to get ready for winter in the lines they held; but Sixth Army was to continue the attack at Stalingrad and Army Group A was to stand by for further orders, which meant that in the two sectors where German forces were still in motion he was going to continue the offensive.

In Operations Order I and a supplement issued some days later, Hitler elevated to the level of doctrine the fanatical resistance formula he had employed during the Soviet 1941-42 winter offensive. He ordered that: the winter positions were to be held under all circumstances; there would be no evasive maneuvers or withdrawals; breakthroughs were to be localized and any intact part of the front was "absolutely" to be held; cut-off and encircled elements were to defend themselves where they stood until relieved. He made every commander responsible to him personally for the "unconditional execution" of those orders.45 In the supplement he extended the orders down to the lowest leadership level. "Every leader," the supplement read, "down to squad leader must be convinced of his sacred duty, to stand fast come what may even if the enemy outflanks him on the right and left, even if his part of the line is cut off, encircled, overrun by tanks, enveloped in smoke or gassed." That order was to be repeatedly "hammered into all officers and noncommissioned officers."46


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1. As the Fuehrer, Hitler exercised the combined functions of President, Chancellor, and head of the National Socialist Party.

2. Helmuth Greiner, Die oberste Wehrmachtfuehrung, 1939-1943 (Weisbaden, 1951), p. 397.

3. Franz Halder, Kriegstagebuch des Generalobersten Franz Halder (hereafter cited as Halder Diary), vol. VII, 23 Jul, 22, 29, 30 Aug, 8 Sep 42, transl. OCMH files.

4. Ibid., 9 Sep 42.

5. Greiner, Die oberste Wehrmachtfuehrung, 1939-43, p. 409.

6. Der Fuehrer and Oberste Befehlshaber der Wehrmacht, OKW, WFSt Nr. 55616/42, Weisung 41, 5.4.42, OCMH files.

7. OKH, GenStdH, Fremde Heere Ost (I) Nr. 2492/42, Gedanken zur Weiterentwicklung der Feindlage im Herbst und Winter, 29.8.42, H 3/190 file.

8. Halder Diary, vol. VII, 24 Sep 42.

9. Kriegstagebuch des Oberkommandos der Wehrmacht (Wehrmachtfuehrungsstab), Band II1, Andreas Hillgruber, ed., p. 707.

10. Henry Pickert, ed., Hitlers Tischgespraeche (Bonn, 1951), p. 166.

11. Fritz Freiherr von Siegler, Die Hoeheren Dienststellen der Deutschen Wehrmacht, 1933-1945 (Munich, 1953), p. 10.

12. Halder Diary, vol. IV, 31 Jul 40.

13. Georges Jorre, The Soviet Union (London, 1961), pp. 183-84, 192.

14. DA Pamphlet 20-261a, The German Campaign in Russia Planning and Operations, 1940-1942 (Washington, 1955), pp. 17-25.

15. Throughout the war, the German and Soviet forces used horses extensively for moving supplies and artillery and, on the Soviet side, in cavalry units. The horses were a means of conserving gasoline and rubber, did not require complicated and expensive maintenance, and under the Soviet road conditions were frequently more reliable than motor vehicles.

16. Air Ministry (British) Pamphlet 248, The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force (London, 1948), pp. 162-66.

17. Earl F. Ziemke, The German Northern Theater of Operations, DA Pamphlet 20-271 (Washington, 1959), p. 131.

18. Percy Ernst Schramm, ed., Kriegstagebuch des Oberkommandos der Wehrmacht (Wehrmachtfuehrungsstab) (Frankfurt a. M., 1961), Band IV2, 1752-53.

19. Halder Diary, vol. VI, 3 Jul 41.

20. Der Fuehrer und Oberste Befehlshaber der Wehrmacht, WFSt, Abt. L (I Op.) Nr. 441230/41, Weisung Nr. 33, 23.7.41, OCMH files.

21. Halder Diary, vol. VI, 23-31 Jul 41; vol. VII, 1-24 Aug. 41.

22. Der Fuehrer und Oberste Befehlshaber der Wehrmacht, OKW, WFSt, Abt. L (I Op.) Nr. 441492/41, Weisung Nr. 35, 6.9.41, OCMH files.

23. Ibid., Nr. 441696/41, Weisung Nr. 37, 10.10.41, OCMH files.

24. DA Pamphlet 20-261a, p. 88.

25. Halder Diary, vol. VII, 18-22 Nov 41.

26. Ibid., 5 Dec 41.

27. Ibid., 7 Dec 41.

28. DA Pamphlet 20-261a, pp. 101-07.

29. Kurt von Tippelskirch, Geschichte des Zweiten Weltkrieges (Bonn, 1956), pp. 209, 215.

30. Max Domarus, ed., Hitler Reden und Proclamationen, 1932-1945 (Neustadt a. d. Aisch, 1963), II, 1850.

31. Joseph Goebbels, The Goebbels Diaries, edited and translated by Louis P. Lochner (New York, 1948), pp. 129, 137, 142.

32. Domarus, ed., Hitler Reden und Proclamationen, 1932-45, II, 1871-74.

33. Der Fuehrer and Oberste Befehlshaber der Wehrmacht, OKW, WFSt Nr. 55616/42, Weisung 41, 5.4.42, OCMH files.

34. Air Ministry (British) Pamphlet 248, Rise and Fall of the German Air Force, p. 178.

35. As of the first week in September 1942 the German strength on the Eastern Front totaled 2,490,000 men in 163 divisions, not including the Twentieth Mountain Army in northern Finland which had 6 divisions. The attached forces of Germany's allies, Italy, Rumania, and Hungary, totaled 48 divisions (including one Spanish and one Slovakian division) and 648,000 men. The Finnish Army, which operated independently, had some 17 divisions and brigades, slightly less than 400,000 men. OKH, GenStdH, (III) Nr. 420743; OKW, WFSt, Op. (H), 27.9.42; OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. (III) Pruef Nr. 75940, Zahlenmaessige Uebersicht ueber die Verteilung der Divisionen, Stand 77.9.42, H 22/235 file.

36. OKH, GenStdH, Org. Abt. Kriegstagebuch, Band IV, 10 Aug 42, H 1/214 file.

37. OKH, GenStdH, Org. Abt. Kriegstagebuch Nr. 922/42, Organisatorische Planungen, 8.9.42, H 22/235 file.

38. OKH, GenStdH, Org. Abt. Kriegstagebuch, Band IV, 21-31 Aug 42, H 1/214 file.

39. Ibid., 1-10 Oct 42.

40. Ibid., 1-10, 25 Oct 42.

41. OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. (III) Nr. 34149/42, Planung fuer Ausbau der Heerestruppen im Winter 1942/43, 3.9.42, H 22/235 file.

42. General der Schnellen Truppen beim Ob.d.H. Nr. 459/42, Panzerkampfwagen "Tiger," 6.7.42, H 22/235 file.

43. Taetigkeitsbericht des Chefs des Heerespersonalamts, 1-5 Oct 42, H 4/12 file.

44. Hillgruber, ed., Kriegstagebuch des Oberkommandos der Wehrmacht, Band II1, p. 13.

45. Der Fuehrer, OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. (I) Nr. 420817/42, Operationsbefehl Nr. 1, 14.10.42, AOK 6 30155/49 file.

46. OKH, Chef des Generalstabes des Heeres, Abt. (I) Nr. 428858/42, I. Ergaenzung zum Operationsbefehl Nr. I, 23.10.42, AOK 6 30155/49 file.

Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation