The Drive to Stalingrad

“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

Prokhorovka: Part 1

World War II, Eastern Front, Russian and German Battle for the Kursk Salient.

The climax of the battle for the Kursk Salient took place near the city of Prohorovka on 12 July 1943. After the Allied landing on Sicily on 10 July Hitler gave tentative approval for the continuation of the drive on Kursk, but everyone involved in the decision knew that the resources needed to meet both threats exceeded Germany’s capabilities.

By now II SS Panzer Corps possessed fewer than 300 armored vehicles and III Panzer Corps had fewer than 200. General Rotmistrov’s 5 Guards Tank Army had five corps with a total of 830 tanks and self-propelled guns. The long eastern flank held by II SS Panzer Corps absorbed much of the armored vehicles of both armies, so the number of tanks, tank destroyers, and self-propelled guns involved in the action at Prokhorovka probably did not exceed 570.

General von Manstein’s orders for 12 July directed 48 Panzer Corps to capture the Psel River crossings south of Oboyan.  III Panzer Corp and Army Group Kempf were to move north to divert Soviet forces from Prokhorovka and, if possible, to join with II SS Panzer Corps to surround the Soviet forces in the pocket between them. II SS Panzer Corps was ordered to move northeast the last few kilometers to take Prokhorovka.

General Vatutin ordered attacks all along the front. Tenth Tank Corps was ordered to move down both sides of the Oboyan road with 100 tanks. Additional forces, including 70 tanks, were directed to strike Grossdeutschland from the west attacking toward Syrtzewo and Lukhanino. On the east General Vatutin ordered General Rotmistrov, commanding the 5th Guards Tank Army, to attack II SS Panzer Corps and III Panzer Corps while holding 212 tanks in reserve.

The heat and humidity of the previous days continued. Increasing clouds and light showers did not initially interfere with movement. German operations began at dawn. In the southeast 6th Panzer Division drove north to take Rzhavets, immediately sending forces across to the northern bank of the Donets by 0500 hours.  The 19th Panzer Division advanced along the south bank of the Donets to take Krivisovo. Vatutin, recognizing the danger to the Prokhorovka position, directed Rotmistrov to send his reserves to the northern Donets to block that threat. Luftwaffe fighters cleared the skies at 0630 and bombers began close support all along the front beginning at 0700. This air activity attracted Soviet fighter response.

The Soviet creeping artillery barrage began at 0810 hours in preparation for Vatutin’s assaults scheduled for 0900.

Sources: David M. Glantz & Jonathan M. House, The Battle of Kursk, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS, 1999

Ludwig Heinrich Dyck, “Showdown a Krokhorovka and Oboian”, WW II History, September 2006

George M. Nipe, Jr., “Ribbentrop at Prokhorovka”, WW II History, July 2009

Kursk: The German Plan Delayed

The Kursk Bulge thrust westward out from the front line nearly 150 kilometers. Centered on Kursk, the bulge extended 280 kilometers north to south. The most obvious operation to eliminate the bulge and straighten the front line was concentric attacks from the north and south to pinch off the bulge at the base. The Germans expected to slice through the Soviet defenses, meet at Kursk itself and cut off and surround all Soviet forces within the bulge. The Germans used this technique effectively at Minsk, Smolensk and Kiev in the 1941 attacks. Hitler’s operational order, issued 15 April, 1943, outlined the plan, but no effective date was given. Hitler advised his generals to expect the execute order anytime after 1 May.

Hitler wanted significant numbers of the new Panzerkampfwagen V Panther, and the VI Tiger tanks for the planned attack. The weapon for the Tiger tank was the legendary 88 millimeter anti-tank gun,  and Hitler wanted the Tiger fitted with a longer barreled variant of the gun, but problems fitting the modified gun into the turret of the Tiger proved to be impossible. The answer was to place the longer barreled gun on a Porsche chassis yielding the Elephant. Hitler insisted that this weapon be made available for the Kursk offensive.

The initial start date of 1 May became 12 June, and then 1 July, then 3 July and finally 5 July. Even with these delays only 347 of the Panthers, Tigers, and Elephants were available out of a total of 1,866 armored vehicles available for use in the battle. The majority of the German tanks turned out to be Panzerkampfwagen IIIs and IVs. Both of these armored vehicles had been updated with improved armor and guns. The Mark IV was equivalent to the primary Soviet medium tank, the T-34 model 1943.

Source: The Battle of Kursk, David M. Glantz and Johathan M. House, University Press of Kansas, 1999