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

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

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

Cutting Off Leningrad

Units of XVI Army had been diverted to assist Army Group Center’s thrust toward Moscow. Difficulties at Nevel and Novorzhev finally being resolved at the end of July 1941, Army Group North expected the return of those forces.

XVIII Army’s thrust through Latvia and Estonia had been quick, so Field Marshal von Leeb, Commander of Army Group North, requested XXXIII Army Corps be diverted east to assist XLI Panzer Corps’ thrust to Sabsk on the Luga River, in the same manner as I Army Corps had been diverted to assist 56 Panzer Corp’s attack on Soltsy at the end of July.

The plan was for XLI Panzer Corps to advance out of the two bridgeheads across the Luga River, which they had captured and held since 14 July, while 56 Panzer Corps attacked toward Luga on the Luga River with the object of following the Luga-Leningrad Road through the forest to take Krasnogvardiesk.

Two issues were considered as these attacks were ordered. Soviet forces fleeing XVIII Army’s thrust toward Narva retreated toward Leningrad, threatening XLI Panzer Corps’ left flank. The other problem was the Soviet 31st Corps blocking 56 Panzer Corps’ crossing of the Luga River.

Both the Soviets and the Germans intended to begin their offensives on the same date: 8 August.

Rain on 8 August canceled Luftwaffe support for the German attacks. As XLI Panzer Corps began the offensive out of their bridgeheads they came under heavy artillery fire. The initial assault was repulsed with heavy losses. After two days of fighting they penetrated the forest belt and broke into open terrain. The panzers turned east heading toward Leningrad while the infantry turned northwest toward Narva to block the Soviets retreating from Estonia.

On 14 August vehicles approaching Soltsy to reinforce 56 Panzer Corps’ thrust were attacked by Soviet aircraft for three hours. 56th Panzer Corps had no success. They were blocked by the Soviet 31st Corps.

On 15 August X Army of XVI Army Corps’ began their drive toward Staraya Russa south of Lake Ilman. This thrust was opposed by the Soviet 11th and 34th Armies supported by 460 sorties by the Soviet Air Force operating against German troops and reserves moving up to the front. Novgorod was taken by the Germans on 16 August, and a bridgehead was established over the River Volkhov. Chudovo fell to the Germans on 20 August. In this sector of Army Group North only the XXVIII Army Corps was making progress, taking Lyuban on 28 August.

The area southeast of Leningrad proved to be difficult terrain. XVIII Motorized Infantry Division secured XVI Army’s right flank on the River Volkhov. XII Panzer Division, XVI Army’s spearhead, reached the outskirts of Leningrad at Ishora on 28 August and XX Motorized Infantry Division extended the right flank to Lake Ladoga.

XLI Panzer Corps’ attack reached the Kasnogvardiesk-Krasnoye Selo line on 20/21 August, at which time they directed IV Panzer Gruppe to turn south to attack the rear of Soviet units north of Luga blocking 56th Panzer Corps. This action cut off supplies to the Soviet 41st Corps which withdrew into the swamps to the east of the Luga-Leningrad Road. The ‘Luga Pocket’ was liquidated in the first fortnight of September.

XVIII Army’s XVI Corps cleared Estonia of Soviet forces by the end of August.

Sources: Drive to Leningrad, Generaloberst Walther Chales de Beaulieu, 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

Eastern Front: Summer 1941 Continued

The battle on the Eastern Front in the summer of 1941 was an unmitigated disaster for the Soviet Army.

In the north German forces made good progress through Estonia. As a result, Army Group North ordered I Army Korps, located south of Pskov to move eastward through Porkhov toward Lake Ilmen, allowing XXXVIII Army Korps to shift their thrust along the east bank of Lake Peipus to Narva, completing the conquest of Estonia. By 13 to 16 July Army Group North reached positions on the Luga River only 97 kilometers from Leningrad.

As German forces approached Novgorod the Soviet Air Force launched 1,500 sorties against the 8th Panzer Division driving it back 40 kilometers. MiG 3s and Yak 1s assisted outdated I-16s and I-153s during these attacks.

The thrust toward Leningrad bogged down in heat, difficult terrain, and exhaustion of the German forces. High command called for a thrust through Novgorod by tank forces. VLI Panzer Korps was withdrawn from the front near the Luga River and moved east to join the 56 Panzer Korps and two infantry corps in preparation for an attack northward scheduled for the beginning of August.

Meanwhile, by 31 July, the Finns had advanced to their old frontier on the Karelian Isthmus.

With Army Group Center ordered to go on the defensive, the main action moved south into the Ukraine. There STAVKA issued a new plan. Rather than throw raw troops into battle piecemeal, they elected to establish a defense of the Dnieper River line. Ten new divisions were assigned to Southwest Front, twelve to South Front, and two into Front Reserve.

Industries in the Ukraine were to remove industrial equipment from factories and transport it back behind the Urals, and delaying actions were fought to give time to destroy factory buildings.

To prevent mass surrendering of troops the Head of the Political Propaganda Directorate ordered unit political commissars to direct troops to stand their ground and fight their way out of any pocket. If that proved impossible, they were to join the Partisans and fight behind enemy lines. The Communist Party and the Communist Youth League were charged with providing leadership.

Sources: “Barbarossa: Drive to Leningrad”, Generalleutnant Walther Chales de Beaulieu, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

“Barbarossa: Drive to Kiev”, Geoffrey Jukes, 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

Army Group South Invades the Ukraine

The Soviet Army did not fortify the border of the territory they captured from Poland in 1939. As a consequence Lvov was captured on 30 June, 1941. What the Germans called the ‘Stalin Line’, the original Soviet border, was breached with fierce fighting and Zhitomir was taken on 9 July.

Ordered to hold in place, Soviet forces were already bypassed by the Germans when the orders were received. As the disaster developed, Stalin appointed Marshal Semyon Mikhailovich Budenny commander of the Southwest Front, the South Front, and the Black Sea Fleet. Lieutenant General Nikita Krushchev became his political deputy.

The northern end of Army Group South consisted of Colonel General von Kleist’s 1 Panzer Gruppe and VI and XVIII Armies. The southern end of the front, from the Carpathians to the Black Sea coast belonged to Colonel General Ritter von Schobert’s XI Army and motorized brigade ‘Adolf Hitler.’ These units were accompanied by two Rumanian armies and a Hungarian Corps armed with captured French equipment.

German air support was Luftflotte 4 and the Rumanian Air Force with a combined strength of 1150 aircraft. Soviet air opposition consisted of approximately the same number of machines, but 75% of the force was older types. By the end of June the Soviet Air Forces in the Ukraine had lost 911 aircraft: 697 to enemy action, 304 on the ground, 276 machines abandoned, and 214 destroyed in accidents. These numbers include machines called up from repair facilities. Of the 568 remaining, 50% were unserviceable. Despite these losses, the Soviet Air Force flew 600 sorties per day to the end of June.

The Germans considered the Pripet Marshes unsuitable for modern armies, but the Soviet 5th Army used it to great advantage, attacking the German spearhead from the north, while the Soviet 6th Army attacked from Vinnitza and Kazatin from the south-west attempting to pinch off the German spearhead thrust between Zhitomir and Berdichev. The swift German counterattack imposed severe armored losses on the Soviets, though the armor allowed three Soviet Armies to avoid encirclement. It was during this battle that Kampfgruppe 51, a twin-engine Ju-88 unit used for ground support, lost 92 of their bombers. Only after 29 June did the Germans have Stukas to provide this service.

By 9 July Soviet movement west of the Dnieper River had stopped, and the Germans reached the Dnieper opposite Kiev the next day.

Soviet forces in the Pripet Marshes, behind German lines, attracted the attention of Adolf Hitler, who, during a conference on 19 July, ordered II Panzer Gruppe from Army Group Center to eliminate this threat. Moscow was no longer Hitler’s prime prize. He looked toward Kiev, Ukrainian coal, industry, and agriculture. General Guderian, commander of II Panzer Gruppe, became alarmed by the appearance of new Soviet Armies in front of Army Group Center. Already, on 23 July, German infantry was down to 80% of strength, and armor down to 50%. Guderian argued for an attack toward Bryansk, if not Moscow on 27 July. But Hitler ordered Army Group Center to go on the defensive on 29 July to deal with a Soviet attack on Gomel.

On 30 July I Panzer Gruppe attacked Soviet forces leaking back from the Uman pocket. At last, the I Panzer Gruppe met up with Colonel General von Stulpnagel’s XVIII Army near Pernomaisk to enclose the Soviet 6th and 12th Armies and parts of the 18th Army.

Guderian, forbidden from advancing on Bryansk, ordered an attack on Roslavl on 1 August, which was taken on 3 August.

By 8 August the Soviet South Front, being weak on the ground, fell back behind the Dnieper River to prepare a defensive line on the east bank.

Sources: “Barbarossa: Drive to Kiev”, Geoffrey Jukes, 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

War Over the Steppes: The Air Campaigns on the Eastern Front 1941-45, E. R. Hooton, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, 2016

Army Group North Strikes For Leningrad

The attack aiming for Leningrad began when German troops entered Lithuania on 22 June, 1941. Finding little resistance initially, 56th Panzer Corps advanced nearly 60 kilometers on the first day, supported by the First Air Fleet. Soviet air opposition consisted of North Air Army, and Northwest Air Army. Their attacks began on day one. Bombers and ground attack aircraft in groups of 10 to 18 machines struck at German tanks at Tilsit, Taurage and Palukne, and at the Niemen River crossings. During that first day more than 2000 sorties were flown and 20 enemy aircraft were claimed destroyed.

Soviet ground forces advanced from Wilno to oppose the Germans at Raseynyay, where they were then surrounded. Front Air Force used all available aircraft to support counter attacks toward Sauliai and Tilsit from 23 June to 25 June. Bombers struck at railroad lines and stations, and destroyed tanks and troops moving toward the front. Although they flew 2100 sorties, the attacks were not well coordinated due to lack of communication with Soviet troops on the ground.

On 25 June Northern Front Air Army launched attacks on 19 Finnish and northern Norwegian airfields from which 5th Air Fleet operated in support of German ground attacks toward Leningrad. The Soviet force of 236 bombers and 224 fighters caught the enemy unprepared, destroying 41 German aircraft with no losses.

56th Panzer Corps took Daugavpils (Dvinsk) on the Dvina River on 26 June. Yekabpils, to the north, and also on the Dvina River, was taken on 30 June by IV Panzer Gruppe and XLI Panzer Corp.

North and Northwest Front Air Armies remained active during the early days of July. Air attacks against Finnish ports on the Gulf of Bothnia, and bridges, dams, power plants and railroads took place over six days, from 1 July through 5 July. Second Composite Air Division flew 530 sorties and dropped 250 tons of bombs. During the first 18 days of the war Northern Front Air Army flew 10,000 sorties. By 10 July only 837 aircraft remained to them. During the same period the Long-range Air Force flew 2112 sorties.

By this point, on this front, the Soviets possessed 1300 outdated aircraft, while the German First and Fifth Air fleets possessed 1900 machines.

On the left flank of the main thrust for Leningrad was the XVIII Army, while XVI Army guarded the right flank.

I Panzer Division captured Ostrov on 4 July. VI Panzer Division broke through the ‘Stalin Line’ 29 kilometers south of Ostrov. 56th Panzer Corp crossed the old Russian/Latvian border on the same day.

Soviet counterattacks against 56th Panzer Corp in the neighborhood of Pskov on 5 July were brushed aside. But the way ahead for 56th Panzer Corp consisted of swampy, wooded terrain for which they were not equipped.

By 10 July the Germans had advanced 500 kilometers toward Leningrad and Pskov. Here their plan began to come undone. XVI Army was ordered to provide two infantry divisions to Army Group Center to support them in a battle near Nevel. This required Army Group North to deflect X Corps south-east to assist XXVIII Corps in the surrounding of Soviet forces near Novorzhev.

Sources: ‘Drive to Leningrad’, Generalleutnant Walther Chales de Beaulieu, 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 Nazi Drive: From Minsk to Smolensk

In the first weeks of Operation Barbarossa the Soviet Air Force lost thousands of aircraft. Any repairable aircraft damaged either in the air or on the ground had to be left behind as the Germans overran Soviet airfields.

German forces crossed the Bug River on 26 June, 1941. Soviet Army units were encircled at Bialystok, Novogrudok, and Volkovysk. With possession of air superiority Army Group North crossed the Dvina River, Army Group Center crossed the Berezina River, and concentrated on crossing the Dnieper River near Rogachev. Army Group South burst through the Stalin Line. By 11 July the Panzer divisions of Army Group South were 16 kilometers from Kiev.

However, from June 29 onward the Germans observed Soviet reinforcements moving westward by road and rail from Smolensk toward the front lines.

Western Front Air Forces launched attacks on 40 airfields and destroyed or damaged 54 German aircraft on 8 July. Stavka ordered all air forces to target tanks, troops, fuel supplies, air bases, and concentrations of enemy forces. Many attacks by heavy bombers took place at high altitudes with strong fighter escort, or at night.

In response to the German air superiority, the Soviet Air Force instructed air fields to house only nine to twelve aircraft. Upon landing the aircraft were to be dispersed, camouflaged, and put under cover.

On 10 July Stalin appointed new commanders for the various fronts. Marshal Semen Budenny took command of South and Southwest Front. Marshal Semyon Timoshenko received command of the Central West Front, while Marshal Kliment Voroshilov was assigned the North West Front.

To combat complacency and carelessness among air crew and support staff, the Communist Party sent officials to air units to assist the commanding officers. This encouraged many pilots and support personnel to join the party.

The German Air Force attacked Moscow for the first time on 12 July.

As II Panzer Gruppe advanced toward Rogachev, Soviet forces began attacking its right flank from the Pripet Marshes beginning 15 July. The Soviet Fifth Army was also attacking Army Group South in its drive toward Kiev. General Heinz Guderian, commander of II Panzer Gruppe, received orders to attack the Fifth Soviet Army to stop those attacks. Army Group Center’s remaining Panzer unit, 3rd Panzer Gruppe, was assigned to assist Army Group North in its drive toward Leningrad, leaving Army Group Center with no Panzer units This loss brought the drive to Moscow to a the halt.

Finally the Soviet Air Force had the strength to attack German airfields. On 19 July Intensive air attacks took place against enemy forces at Vitebsk. The Western Front Air Force was so weakened it could no longer launch attacks. It possessed a mere 370 machines compared to the German 2nd Air Fleet’s 1000 aircraft.

Smolensk fell to the Germans on 19 July. After that time, due to diversion of 50% of their tanks to Army Groups North and South, and the reduction of motorized vehicles to 20% due to wear and tear, Army Group Center took a defensive stance.

In response, the Soviets formed a line before Army Group Center using the 22nd, 19th, and 13th Armies. Soviet aviators attacked river crossings, tank columns, troops, and enemy aircraft on the ground.

From 23 to 25 July the Soviet Western Front counter-attacked near Roslavl, Beloye, and Yartsevo, with support from the air, pinning down large German Forces.

Barbarossa: Drive to Smolensk, Generalmajor Alfred Philippi, 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, New York, 1973

World War II: Day by Day, Anthony Shaw, MBI Publishing Company, Osceola, WI, 2001