“The Russian is finished,” Hitler told Colonel General Halder on 20 July, 1942. Thus was born a new plan. With Field Marshal von Bock gone Directive 45, issued on 23 July, ordered Army Group A, commanded by General List, south to take the Caucasus and the oil reserves there. Army Group B, commanded by General Weichs, was to take Stalingrad and cut off the isthmus between the Don River and the Volga.
The battle for Rostov, fought by XVII Army, began on 22 July. It ended on 24 July and the first German units crossed the Don.
Kleist’s I Panzer Army was to take the Don River crossings. OKH, however, felt the Soviet forces in the Donets River basin would hold up Kleist’s panzers, so IV Panzer Army, commanded by General Hoth, was diverted to assist Kleist. The Russian forces seemed to evaporate, so Kleist and Hoth arrived at the Don River crossings at about the same time. Kleist got his panzers across the river between 25 and 27 July due to congestion. General Hoth got his panzers across on 29 July at Tsimlyanskaya. General Hoth was then directed through Kotelnikovo, to strike north taking Stalingrad in the rear.
Von Paulus. on his way to the Don at Kalach, ran out of fuel 240 kilometers from his goal. Soviet General Timoshenko took advantage of the delay by filling the Don bend with Soviet troops.
While von Paulus waited for fuel for his tanks General Kleist took Prolettarskaya on 29 July and Salsk on the Manych River on 31 July. Weichs moved south toward Krasnodar while XI Army in Crimea crossed the strait from Kerch to the Kuban Peninsula to assist him.
Hoth’s Panzers reached Kotelnikovo on 31 July, threatening the flank of the 62nd and 64th Soviet armies in Stalingrad. The Soviet Air Force was not idle. On 1 August LaGG 3 fighters armed with 37 mm cannon attack the tanks. Two hundred sixty-four sorties were flown on 5 August against the Germans at the Abganerovo and Plodovitoye railroad stations as the Germans moved on Tinguta. Another Soviet attack hit the airfield at Bolshaya Donshchina.
On 9 August Kleist took Maikop.
Meanwhile, von Paulus finally made his move. Using his 14th Panzer Korps and the 24th Panzer Korps on loan from Hoth he used a double envelopment to surround the troops at Kalach on 8 August. The haul included 35,000 soldiers, 270 tanks and armored vehicles, and 600 guns. Von Paulus forces faced Stalingrad on 10 August.
In the rush to take Kalach, and as a result of his lack of forces, von Paulus did not occupy the small bend in the Volga River at Kletskaya. He left to the Rumanians the guarding of Russian forces in that space. He would later regret that choice.
Hoth’s IV Panzer army arrived on von Paulus southern flank on 19 August. On 21 August the VI Army crossed the Don.
The Soviet Air Force, realizing the situation developing in the south, sent five divisions of the AFLRO (Air Force Long Range Operations) from Moscow to Stalingrad. The 8th Air Army received fighter units equipped with the new La 5.
XVI Panzer Korps penetrated the Soviet perimeter at Stalingrad on 22 August and reached the Volga through the northern suburbs. The railroad bridge over the Volga at Rynok came within mortar range.
On the night of 23/24 August the Luftwaffe delivered a night attack in three waves against the Soviet 64th Army. Half of the bombs dropped were incendiaries.
Sources: Red Army Resurgent, John Shaw and the Editors of Time-Life Books, Time-Life Books, Inc., Chicago, IL, 1979
“Drive to the Don,” Alan Clark, 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