All-Out Offensive on All Fronts

At a meeting of STAVKA on 5 January, 1942, Stalin called for an “all-out offensive” against the Germans. The proposal consisted of attacks by all nine fronts against all three German army groups.

In the north the objective was the freeing of Leningrad from encirclement. In the center Stalin wanted liberty for the Donbas region. In the south an assault to retake the Crimea.

General Zhukov, honored as the savior of Moscow, and Voznesensky objected based on the weakened condition of the Soviet Army. With the support of Timoshenko, Beria, and Malenkov, Stalin overrode the objections.

The attacks started on 7 January. Northwest Front struck north from south of Lake Ilmen but failed to take Staraya Russa. On 13 January the Volkov Front on the Volkov River found itself unable to move against the Germans. Lack of ammunition, food, and fuel prevented the troops from passing into and through Lyuban.

On 9 January 3rd and 4th Shock Armies cut south behind Army Group Center. Short of food, the troops knew the only way to succeed was to take the German supply dump at Toropets.

Kalinin Front worked to surround the German IX Army near Sychevka while cavalry attacked to surround German forces in Rzhev. General Zhukov’s forces moved through the ‘Kaluga Gap’ and attacked north toward Vyazma to surround Sukinichi.

The Luftwaffe flew in supplies for seven German divisions surrounded in Demyansk.

Fifteen hundred Soviet paratroops were dropped on Zhelanye and operated behind German lines with the assistance of partisans.

The less than spectacular results of these operations prompted Stalin to take command. He transferred the 3rd and 4th Shock Armies to the Kalinin Front. First Shock Army was detached from Kalinin Front and assigned to Northwest Front. He then directed 16th Army detached from Zhukov’s forces and sent to Bryansk Front to take Sukhinichi.

Govin’s spearheads were on the road to Minsk when Army Group Center, itself nearly surrounded, cut off those forces near Vyazma.

Casualties during this offensive were high. By late January Kalinin Front had 35 tanks remaining. High Command Reserve Artillery had only six guns. Rifle divisions had 3,000 to 3,700 soldiers each. 13th Army, originally assigned 11,500 soldiers, had been reduced to the size of a division. Tank brigades possessed 15 to 20 tanks, and artillery regiments had 12 guns.

Air support for ground forces vanished as the front moved out of the range of fighters.

General Model surrounded the Soviet 39th and 29th Armies at Rzhev.

In Army Group South’s area General Timoshenko crossed the Donets River and drove a wedge 97 kilometers deep into the German positions near Izyum.

In the Crimea Soviet troops crossed from the Kerch Peninsula and moved as far west as Feodosiya before the Germans forced them to a stop.

Sources: “The Russian Recovery,” John Erickson, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

“The Moscow Counterblow,” Marshal Zhukov, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

The Soviet Air Force in World War II, Edited by Ray Wagner, Translated by Leland Fetzer, Doubleday & Co, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1973

The Battle for Moscow – Part 1

With the invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June, 1941, a state of threat existed in Moscow. The Soviet Army began building 12 divisions for the defense of the city. Twenty-five battalions of militia patrolled the outskirts of the city against the chance of parachute troop assaults. Firefighting units were established. Citizens camouflaged the Bolshoi Theater to look like small houses. Larger buildings were made to appear like parks from the air.

German night air raids on the city began on the night of 21-22 July. Thirty-six took place during the period from July through September.

The citizens of Moscow built the Vyazma Defense Line and, on 16 July work on the Mozhaysk Defense Line began. One hundred thousand citizens of the city, 2/3rds women and children, built three lines of defenses around the city. These were known as the Ring Road, the Sadovoye Ring, and the Boulevard Ring. Six hundred eighty kilometers of anti-tank ditches, 447 kilometers of breastworks, 383 kilometers of anti-tank barriers, 30,000 firing points, 1,306 kilometers of barbed wire, and 1,537 kilometers of wooden obstructions in wooded areas were built.

Obstacles including metal spikes, barbed wire entanglements, and minefields were placed in the streets.

In the factories of Moscow workers repaired 263 guns, 1,700 mortars, 15,000 rifles and 2,000 lorries.

Partisan groups were organized and armed with rifles, grenades, warm uniforms, and food. Forty detachments formed in Moscow with another 30 in Tula.

On 8 October heavy rain slowed the movement of the German forces. IV Army reached the area east of Kaluga, their left on the Borovsk – Mozhaysk Line. IX Army reached the Volga at Kalinin and Rzhev. General Guderian’s forces established positions on either side of the Bryansk Pocket but the weather and fuel and supply shortages hindered his operations.

Marshal Zhukov, hero of the battle at Kalkin Gol in Mongolia, took command of the Western Front. General Konev commanded the Kalinin Front.

Fighting around Vyazma ended on 14 October. The Germans liquidated the Bryansk Pocket on 20 October. Field Marshal von Bock, in his report of 19 October, claimed the destruction of eight Soviet armies, but he worried about his southern flank where a gap between Army Group South opened near Belgorod due to the slow advance of II Army.

OKH issued new orders on 14 October. II Panzer Army was to move on Moscow from the south and east while IV Army and IV Panzer Gruppe were to close in from the north and west. II Army was released from Bryansk. II Panzer Army received orders to move on the Orel – Kursk – Yelets line to protect Army Group Center’s southern flank.

The season of mud began in the second half of October. The only paved road in Byelorussia connected Smolensk and Moscow. This road, torn up by traffic and Soviet bombing forced the Germans to form road crews to fill the craters. Traffic bogged down. Horses died from overwork and starvation. Communications were cut and air support was unavailable.

Sources: “Battle for Moscow: The Soviet View,” Colonel D. Proektor, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

“Battle for Moscow: The German View,” Generalmajor (AD) Alfred Phillippi, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

Sevastopol, The Beginning

As part of Army Group South’s operations in Ukraine, the German 11th Army and the Romanian 3rd and 4th Armies invaded Crimea on 26 September, 1941, through the Isthmus of Perikop. The Soviet 51st Army and the Black Sea Fleet proved unable to prevent the occupation of Crimea by the Germans. Kerch and the Kerch Peninsula were lost and the Soviets were pushed across the Kerch Strait to the Taman Peninsula.

Sevastapol, though isolated, avoided conquest. Army Group A took over occupation duties. The Balaklava Hills south of Sevastopol were taken 30 October, 1941. In mid-December the German’s second offensive took place and they pushed to within eight kilometers of the city.

At the end of 1941 the Soviets retook Kerch with an amphibious operation and the German attack on Sevastopol was called back to oppose them.

General von Manstein, commanding the offensive against Kerch, examined the Soviet defenses and found an anti-tank ditch nearly four meters deep and ten meters wide filled with water, and guarded by a field of mines, barbed wire obstacles and pillboxes.

On 8 May, 1942, Manstein’s first attack, of three divisions with Luftflotte IV support, was on the stronger northern flank. This feint was pushed back. The main attack took place on the weaker southern front. Assault boats entered the anti-tank ditch from the Black Sea. Portal bridges, thrown across the ditch, allowed assault troops to advance. By 17 May the battle was over. One hundred seventy thousand Russian soldiers were captured, as well as 250 tanks, and 1,100 artillery pieces.

The remainder of the Soviet forces again withdrew to the Taman Peninsula. Eighty-six thousand soldiers were evacuated, including twenty-six thousand wounded. The reasons given for the loss included lack of communication and leadership.

During the winter of 1941-42 Sevastopol underwent continuous shelling and bombing. The defenders of the fortress of Sevastopol were commanded by General I. E. Petrov’s Coastal Army with seven rifle divisions, four brigades, two Marine regiments, two tank battalions and an armored train: 106,000 men, 600 guns, 100 mortars, 38 tanks, and 55 aircraft.

The German forces numbered ten infantry divisions and 120 batteries of guns: 204,000 men, fifty-six heavy guns of 190 to 420 mm, super heavy 615 mm mortars, and 800 mm railway guns, 670 lighter guns of 76 to 420 mm, 655 anti-tank guns, 720 mortars, 450 tanks and 600 aircraft. The Naval blockade possessed 19 motor torpedo boats, 30 patrol boats, eight anti-submarine boats, and 150 anti-shipping aircraft.

The bombardment began on 2 June. The first infantry attacks began on 7 June with the main assault against the Kamyshly-Belbec sector with an auxiliary attack from the south, up the Yalta highway. Luftwaffe supported with 600 to 1,000 sorties per day.

Sources: ‘The Siege of Savastopol,’ Colonel Vasili Morozov, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

Red Army Resurgent, John Shaw and the Editors of Time-Life Books, Time-Life Books, Inc., Chicago, IL, 1979

Kharkov: Spring 1942

Kharkov was taken by the Germans 24 October, 1941. It would be taken three more times during the Great Patriotic War, also known as World War II.

By spring 1942, the Soviet people worked to restructure their economy. Aircraft production plants, relocated far to the east, began ramping up production. Soon types such as the Yak-1, Il-2, and Pe-2 entered service, and production of the La-5 began. But the Soviet Air Force had been nearly destroyed in the early days of the campaign and replacements from the Western Allies only totaled 249 machines of earlier types such as the Hurricane, Kittyhawk, and the early Warhawks.

Training of Soviet aircrews now used the experience gained since the June invasion began. The Air Force formed air divisions equipped with one type of machine.

Aircraft produced in the factories relocated to the east were of an inferior quality. Air engineering services, formed to improve the quality, worked tirelessly.

Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe, strengthened with new advanced types, called on their allies to provide additional pilots and machines. The majority of the Luftwaffe, nearly 75%, now operated against the Soviet Union.

In April, 1942, STAVKA ordered South Front and Southwest Fronts to retake Kharkov. The main blow of the two pronged thrust featured 6th Army of the South Front attacking from the south out of the Barvenkovo salient supported by an attack toward Krasnogrod. Southwest Front’s attack, comprised the 28th Army accompanied by formations of the 21st and 38th Armies, formed the northern pincer, and thrust from Volchansk toward Kharkov to encircle that city from the north and northwest.

Not surprisingly, the Germans also had a plan which included the liquidation of the Barvenkovo salient and seizing a bridgehead across the Donets River with an eye toward Voronezh. Army Group Kleist would attack from Slavyansk and Kramatorsk heading northwest. VI Army would strike south from Balakleya.

On 12 May the Southwest Front’s 28th Army attacked, breaking through the German lines north and south of Kharkov, and advancing 26 kilometers. The 38th Army attacking toward Zmiyev advanced 19 to 32 kilometers. By 14 May mobile forces were ordered to encircle Kharkov, but these forces were not advanced because of a German armored force discovered in the neighborhood of Zmiyev. The mobile forces were activated 17 May, but it was too late.

On that date German VI Army attacked from north of Volchansk and from Zmiyev working to encircle the Soviet 28th and 38th Armies. In the south Army Group Kleist attacked the Soviet 9th Army of South Front from the Kramatorsk area. The Soviet 9th Army, ordered to cut off the Germans advancing from Barvenkovo, proved unable to do so and 9th Army executed a fighting retreat toward the northern Donets.

As the German attack developed, the Southwest Front requested permission to cease their offensive toward Kharkov. Stalin refused the request.

The Soviet 28th Army was driven back to its start line by 22 May.

The Soviet 6th Army of South Front was ordered to drive back the German attack but was unable to comply. By 23 May Army Group Kleist joined up with VI Army to close off the Barvenkovo salient encircling 6th Army and 57th Army. Some of the surrounded Soviet forces broke through the German encirclement during the period 24 May to 29 May and crossed to the eastern bank of the Donets River.

Southwest Front was assigned defensive duties at the end of May.

Sources: “The Kharkov Offensives,” Colonel Vasili Morozov, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

The Soviet Air Force in World War II, Edited by Ray Wagner, Translated by Leland Fetzer, Doubleday & Co, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1973

The Soviet Offensive Bogs Down

The Soviet winter offensive in the south began on 18 January, 1942. Southwest Front’s 6th and 57th Armies attacked the Germans on a line between Balakleya and Slavyansk advancing 26 kilometers. The 37th Army made advances south of Slavyansk but were unable to penetrate the German defenses. 1st and 5th Cavalry assisted 57th Army’s advance to take Barvenkovo on 24 January. 6th Army turned north toward Kharkov.

An ad hoc German unit, ‘Mackensen’ Group, blocked the Soviet 57th Army north of Krasnoarmeyskoye. 6th, 57th, and 9th Armies with the assistance of a Cavalry Corps held a salient at Balakleya, Lozovanya, and Slavyansk 88 kilometers deep and 113 kilometers across. The attempt to defeat the Germans in the Donbass failed.

Against Army Group North the 2nd Shock Army penetrated the German line moving toward Lyuban. This fighting continued through February. The salient gained there could not be extended or widened. Ultimately, the Germans surrounded Vlasov’s 2nd Shock Army in March.

Returning to Army Group Center the Soviet 5th and 33rd Armies liberated Ruza, Mozhaysk, and Vereya on 20 January while the paratroops dropped on Zhelanye straddled the enemy routes to the rear. The Soviet 33rd Army, assisted by cavalry blocked the Warsaw road on 27 January striking for Vyazma, but German forces restored their line along the Ugra River. This success cut off Soviet forces near Zhelanye. They continued to fight alongside the partisans until April.

Shortage of shells prohibited an artillery offensive on 14 February. STAVKA’s directive of 20 March insisted on a more energetic prosecution of the German-held Rzhev, Gzhatsk, Vyazma triangle. The spring thaw finally forced STAVKA to accept a defensive posture. It also allowed the Germans to attack the concentration of partisans near Zhelanye inflicting severe casualties on them.

The winter offensive smashed the myth of the invincibility of the German Army. German losses included 500,000 men, 1,300 tanks, 2,500 guns and 15,000 assorted vehicles.

For the Soviets, the block on the German advance allowed the completion of the transfer of most of Soviet industry to the east and production began ramping up.

By 1 May Hitler’s plans for the Soviet Union solidified. He focused on the southern sector. Donbas would be removed from the Soviet military/economic balance. Transportation on the Volga would be cut off. He intended a siege on oil supplies and a conquest of Stalingrad as a hold on the Soviet military forces. The taking of the Caucasus oilfields would draw Turkey into the war.

Additionally, psychological operations ensured Stalin believed the capture of Moscow remained of high importance in German strategy.

For the summer offensive the Soviet Army possessed 5,500,000 men, 5,000 tanks, 41,000 guns and 2,500 combat aircraft.

The Germans possessed 217 divisions, and 20 brigades at 89 to 90% strength, and three air fleets. This force consisted of 6,200,000 men, 57,000 guns, 3,200 tanks and assault guns, 3,400 combat aircraft, 300 surface ships, and 44 submarines.

The next phase of the battle was about to begin.

Sources: “The Russian Recovery,” John Erickson, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

“The Moscow Counterblow,” Marshal Zhukov, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

“The Kharkov Offensives,” Colonel Vasili Morozov, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

The Soviet Riposte

The Germans entered the Moscow suburbs on 5 December, 1941, as the Soviets went on the offensive. But the Soviets had suffered greater losses in six months than any army in history. Stalin commanded an attack against a German Army unprepared for the Russian winter.

With the occupation of Minsk and Riga, with Moscow nearly surrounded and factories moving east, the Soviet Union saw a drop in the production of war materials. Electric generation stations shut down. Coal supplies were lost. Kharkov’s production of tanks stopped. Aircraft production was reduced from July’s output of 2,000 to 627 in November. Leningrad, though surrounded, continued production of guns and ammunition and sent the products to Moscow by air.

Losses among Soviet fighting units reduced their effectiveness. The population, fleeing German occupation, reduced available manpower for the military. The Army resorted to conscription of the available population. Barely trained recruits received a few lectures on warfare and were thrown into the front line against accomplished German adversaries. Experienced soldiers from the far eastern Kwantung Army traveled by train across Siberia into the west.

Stalin called General Zhukov to ask if he felt Moscow could be held.

Severe frost and deep snow enveloped central Russia, but the Soviet troops possessed high morale.

On 2 December the 65th Ground Attack Air Regiment destroyed 100 vehicles near Solnechnogorsk. That night the air force of Moscow Military Air District destroyed 20 enemy aircraft on the ground near Klin.

Kalinin Front launched their attack 5 December and on 6 December penetrated the German defenses south of Kalinin. Solnechnogorsk was entered on the evening of 9 December and the Germans were driven out by the 12th. Kryukovo was taken on 8 December. Klin was taken on the 15th.

Guderian’s II Panzer Army retreated from Tula beginning on 3 December intending to stand at Venev. However, on 6 December II Panzer Army’s flank at Mikhailov was attacked and the Germans fell back from Venev and Mikhailov toward Uzlovaya, Bogoroditsk, and Sukhinichi.

On 9 December reconnaissance aircraft detected the German retreat. The Soviets advanced 130 kilometers. By 12 December the German flank forces had been defeated.

Soviet paratroops were dropped west of Teryayeva Sloboda on 15 December.

From 13 December to 24 December the Western Front moved their right wing to the Zubtsov—Gzkatsk line and the left wing to Polotnyany—Zavod-Kozelsk with the center on Mozhaysk—Maloyaroslavets.

All of this was accomplished with the assistance of the Air Defense Forces and the Long Range Air Force which attacked artillery positions, tank units, and command posts.

In the north the Kalinin front reached the area of Staritsa on 17 December.

By 1 January, 1942, the only front still moving was Western Front. The right wing met German resistance on the Lama and Ruza Rivers. The center, on the Ruza, Nara, and Oka Rivers struck toward Mozhaysk, Borovsk, and Maloyaroslavets, while the left wing pursued the enemy in the direction of Yukhnov, Mosalsk, and Kirov. A request for fresh forces to continue the pursuit of the Germans was refused.

Sources: “Battle for Moscow: The Russian View,” Colonel D. Proektor, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

“The Russian Recovery,” John Erickson. History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

“The Moscow Counterblow: The Russian View,” Marshal G. K. Zhukov, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

The Soviet Air Force in World War II, Edited by Ray Wagner, Translated by Leland Fetzer, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, NY, 1973

The Battle for Moscow – Part 2

As October ended the German IV Army advanced along the Oka River north of Aleksin to the Nara River above Serpukov. The goal was to form along the Naro-Fominsk/Volokolamsk line. IX Army established a front north of Rzhev. II Panzer Army advanced from Mtsensk along the road from Orel to Tula but the road broke down forcing soldiers to lay a log road enabling transportation of supplies and reinforcements. II Army covered the assault’s right flank reaching Kursk with their left wing at Yefremov.

On 30 October II Panzer Army was attacked by cavalry. During several days of intense combat the Germans were stopped just short of Tula.

At the beginning of November the temperature dropped below zero degrees Celsius. With firmer roads transportation became more mobile.

Lack of supplies, including warmer clothing for the soldiers forced several generals to suggest falling back to the Smolensk area for the winter. Hitler prohibited such action.

A new plan was formulated. IV Army on the north, halted by Soviet counter attacks, was to send III and IV Panzer Gruppen forward to the Volga Canal. IX Army was to advance to the Volga Dam southeast of Kalinin. To the south II Panzer Army was to occupy Kolomna on the Moskva River.

The German Chiefs of Staff met on 13 November. IX Army and III Panzer Gruppe’s attacks were to jump off on 15 November while IV Panzer Gruppe and II Panzer Army were to attack on 17 November.

During the German pause the Soviet Army added infantry, cavalry, and tanks on the Western Front including 100,000 men, 300 tanks, and 2,000 guns. By mid-November the Germans exceeded Soviet strength 2.5 – 1 in guns, and 1.5 – 1 in tanks. The Soviet Air Force outnumbered the Luftwaffe 1.5 – 1.

The German attacks kicked off on time, but on 18 November temperatures dropped to -20 degrees Celsius. On 25 November XVII Panzer Division reached Kashira. On 27 November II Panzer Division was 30 kilometers from Moscow. VII Panzer Division gained a bridgehead over the Volga south of Dmitrov. II Army reached a line marked by Tim, Yelets, and Yefremov.

During this period the Luftwaffe suffered a serious fuel shortage complicated by problems with starting the aircraft engines, and the freezing of machine guns and cannon due to frozen lubricant.

By contrast the Soviet Air Force flew 9,400 sorties in the Kalinin region, Volokolamsk, Mozhaisk, Tula, and Yefremov. Dozens of German tanks were destroyed.

On 29 November Bock filed a report to the Chiefs of the General Staff confessing the German Army had failed to achieve strategic success. On 4-5 December German high command approved a withdrawal to the Istra/Klin line for III and IV Panzer Gruppen. II Panzer Army fell behind the Don – Shat line and IV and IX Armies took defensive positions.

The Germans had 800,000 men, 10,000 guns and mortars, 1,000 tanks and 600 aircraft at the beginning of November. Soviet Forces included 719,000 men 5,700 guns and mortars, 720 tanks, and 1,170 aircraft. Kalinin and Western Front’s offensive action began on December 5/6.

Sources: “Battle for Moscow: The Soviet View,” Colonel D. Proektor, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

“Battle for Moscow: The German View,” Generalmajor (AD) Alfred Phillippi, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s The Soviet Air Force in World War II, Edited by Ray Wagner, Translated by Leland Fetzer, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, NY, 1973

Operation Typhoon

After the completion of the battle for Kiev, General Guderian hurried the movement of II Panzergruppe to its next jump off point near Glukhov.

Field Marshal von Bock held a planning session on 24 September, 1941, at Smolensk. Supreme Army Commander Brauchitsch and his chief of staff, General Halder, attended along with commanders of the involved armies and Panzergruppen.

The plan directed IV Army and IV Panzergruppe commanded by General Kluge to advance on the line of the Roslavl – Moscow road. IX Army, commanded by General Strauss, would attack north of the Smolensk – Moscow road. These two armies were to surround Soviet troops west of Vyazma.

To the south, II Army was assigned the breaking of the Desna line north of Bryansk. Additionally, II Panzergruppe was to attack the Desna position from the south to contain and destroy Soviet forces in the Bryansk area with the cooperation of II Army.

Army Group Center, up to now, had already suffered considerable losses and, though on the defensive since August, had expended almost as much in supplies and personnel as if they had been on the offensive. Their units were at 2/3rd strength, though morale remained good.

During the second half of September Luftflotte II struck railroad targets, troops, and airfields. Eleven attacks took place on Moscow. The Soviet Air Force defended Moscow with 364 aircraft, 50% being older models. Five divisions of long-range bombers were reinforced by 6th Fighter Air Corps. During a nine-day period the Moscow Military District Air Force flew 1,340 sorties.

Soviet forces opposing the drive on Moscow included Western Front, Reserve Front, and Bryansk Front. German armor possessed a 2 – 1 advantage. The Luftwaffe possessed a 3 – 1 superiority.

General Guderian’s jump off point was farther from his goals so he was given additional two days to advance to put his forces in position for the attack on Moscow. II Panzergruppe jumped off 30 September. The general attack began 2 October.

Deep penetrations were made by the Germans. Forces of the Western and Reserve Fronts were surrounded near Vyazma.

During the first eleven days the Bryansk Front Air Force flew 1,700 sorties against II Panzergruppe. Even during a period of poor weather conditions they flew 100 – 200 sorties per day. Bryansk fell on 6 October.

Tula became II Panzer Army’s next objective. They advanced toward the Moskva River then turned toward Moscow’s southern limits. IV Army crossed the River Protva at Maloyaroslavets and Borovsk, then followed the motor road through Mozhaysk.

The Mozhaysk Defense Front Air Force, from 30 September to 10 October, flew 8,500 sorties defending Moscow.

Supreme Army Commander von Brauchitsch directed IX Army via Gzhatsk – Rzhev toward Kalinin to guard the flanks of Army Groups North and Center.

By 10 October fierce fighting took place around Kalinin and Tula. The Soviet government moved to Kuibyshev. Kaluga was taken on 12 October and Kalinin was taken on 14 October. On 19 October a state of siege was declared in Moscow.

Sources: “Battle for Moscow: The German View,” Generalmajor (AD) Alfred Pilippi, History of the Second World War, 1970s

“Battle for Moscow: The Russian View,” Colonel D. Proektor, History of the Second World War, 1970sThe Soviet Air Force in World War II, Translated by Leland Fetzer, Edited by Ray Wagner, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, NY, 1973

Army Group South Enters Eastern Ukraine

With Leningrad surrounded and cutoff from resupply and General Guderian gathering his forces for the drive on Moscow, only General Kleist’s I Panzergruppe tanks remained for the assault on Eastern Ukraine. This Panzergruppe was worn down to 300 tanks, half its original strength.

Eastern Ukraine possessed 60% of Soviet coal, 30% of its iron, and 20% of its steel. It provided 75% of electrical power, 1/3rd of chemical production and 3/5th of the Soviet rail transport system.

The German plan was to launch I Panzergruppe from the Dniepropetrovsk – Novomoskovsk area toward Osipenko on the Sea of Azov and, with the anvil of Manstein’s XI Army, trap the Soviet 9th, 12th, and 18th Armies between them.

Meanwhile, to the north, VI Army and XVII Army were to attack toward Kharkov. A portion of XVII Army was to drive toward Slavyansk near the Donets River.

General Kleist’s forces jumped off on 30 September, cutting the Kharkov – Zaporozhye railroad – the only supply route available to Soviet forces to the south.

Early autumn rains hindered the Soviet forces from rearranging their lines to prevent encirclement. I Panzergruppe penetrated the Soviet defense lines brushing back the 12th Soviet Army and meeting up with von Manstein’s XI Army on 6 October.

The Soviet 12th Army withdrew to the northeast while the 9th and 18th Armies were trapped in the area between Orekhov and Osipenko. More than 100,000 prisoners fell to the Germans. Many Soviet soldiers escaped the trap, falling back. Portions of the 9th Army, with a reinforcement of infantry and cavalry, blocked the approaches to Rostock while STAVKA shortened the southernmost part of the line using these remnants to build the 37th Army at Krasnodon, northeast of Rostov.

To the north the Southwest Front deployed in front of Kharkov. Old French and British tanks formed static firing points while 90,000 citizens of Kharkov formed a militia. Armament consisted of one rifle for every two or three men. The weapons of transport and supply soldiers were requisitioned for this militia.

General von Rundstedt’s VI Army approached Kharkov while XI Corps of XVII Army took a bridgehead over the Uda River 8 kilometers south of the city.  STAVKA evacuated Kharkov allowing VI Army to take the city on 24 October.

Around Rostov the Soviet Army showed they had learned from previous defeats. They built defensive belts with interlocking fields of fire to provide defense in depth. Revetments housed guns able to fire in various directions. Narrow trenches were dug. These trenches allowed the German tanks to cross over without the trenches collapsing. Russian soldiers sheltered in these trenches and, after the German tanks passed over, they attacked the infantry following the tanks. Tank traps were dug on the flanks of the defensive belts and road junctions were mined.

I Panzer Army’s assault began on 1 November in the mud and ice of an early winter. They advanced seven kilometers by 14 November reaching the south bank of the Tuzlov River. Realizing the difficulty his force experienced penetrating the Soviet position, von Rundstedt regrouped I Panzer Army to strike along the coast leaving a guarding force to contain the Soviet 37th Army. His attack began on 17 November and, in two days reached the northern limit of Rostov.

Source: “Barbarossa: Drive to Kharkov,” Geoffrey Jukes, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

Germany Breaks the Dnieper River Line—1941

Hitler’s fascination with the riches of the Ukraine and the Caucasus didn’t sit well with his generals. General Guderian, commander of Army Group Center’s Panzers, saw Moscow as his objective. He didn’t want to go back to deal with the Soviet 5th Army in the Pripet Marshes. General Reichenau, commander of the German VI Army, in Army Group South, remained reluctant to attack Kiev with the Soviet 5th Army behind him.

Soviet General Budenny requested permission to pull the 5th Army and the 27th Independent Corps back to plug the gap between Central Front and Reserve Front and form a block preventing Germany’s Army Group Center from sliding south behind his Southwest Front, isolating it from its supply line. STAVKA, instead, dissolved Central Front, gave its forces to General Budenny, and formed the Bryansk Front to prevent a German strike to Moscow, leaving 5th Army as a thorn behind the Germans.

On 18 August Marshal Zhukov, commanding Reserve Front guarding Moscow, wrote STAVKA suggesting he also thought the Germans would strike south behind Southwest Front and Kiev. The following day STAVKA allowed Budenny to withdraw Southwest Front behind the Dnieper River except for General Kirponos’ 37th Army, which was to remain in Kiev. General Yeremenko, assigned to command Bryansk Front, had instructions not only to block Army Group Center from striking south into Ukraine, but also to block any attempt of Army Group Center from striking for Moscow.

When General Guderian reluctantly launched his move south as the Soviets expected, General Budenny’s Southwest Front received instructions to use the forces from Central Front to thrust west against the flank of Guderian’s XLVII Mechanized Corps. This attack began on 30 August, but was blocked by II Army which pushed back, halting the drive. Guderian’s Panzers move southeast cut off Yeremenko’s 21st Army from contact with Bryansk Front. On 2 September Stalin advised Yeremenko he was not pleased that Guderian had not been stopped.

As General Guderian drove south behind Southwest Front, General Kleist’s I Panzer Gruppe and XVII Army, now across the Dnieper north of Kremenchug, drove north, to meet Guderian’s forces at Lokhvitsa.

General Budenny requested permission to withdraw Southwest Front east to avoid encirclement. On 14 September STAVKA was notified that Colonel General Kirponos’ unit would soon be cut off, but STAVKA insisted that Kiev be held at all costs. Kirponos suggested to Stalin his unit should be moved behind the River Psel. Stalin refused that request, removed Budenny from command of Southwest Front and appointed Marshal Timoshenko.

On 15 September, as Guderian’s forces met Kleist’s forces, they surrounded four Soviet Armies. On 17 September the surrounded forces were permitted to withdraw. Kirponos advised his army to fight their way out, but he lost contact with all of his commands within hours. 37th Army never received those orders. Only small groups accomplished their escape. 21st Army, led by General Kuznetsov, emerged with 500 survivors. Over 500,000 men, two thirds of Southwest Front, were dead or imprisoned.

During this period, operating against the overwhelmingly superior Luftwaffe, the Soviet Air Force flew 10,000 sorties, 80% against the First and Second Panzer Gruppen. They destroyed crossings over the Desna and Dnieper River.

Kiev was taken on 19 September and the encircled Russian forces were defeated by 26 September.

Sources: “Barbarossa: Drive to Kiev,” Geoffrey Jukes, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

The Soviet Air Force in the Second World War, Edited by Ray Wagner, Translated by Leland Fetzer, Doubleday & Co., Inc., Garden City, NY, 1973