With Kursk, Kharkov, and Sevastopol taken, Hitler’s eyes turned to the oil fields of the Caucasus. The General Staff ordered Field Marshall von Bock to send General Herman Hoth’s Fourth Panzer Army from Kursk to Voronezh on the Don River. Second Army followed them.
Lieutenant General Friedrich von Paulus’ Sixth Army, with eleven divisions, and General Stumme’s 40th Panzer Corps attacked from Kharkov northeast to Voronezh to trap the Soviet armies between the Oskol and the Don Rivers.
These actions began on 28 July, 1942.
STAVKA noted the high concentration of armor in the south, but with the renewal of the attack on Leningrad, they estimated the German southern action could be directed through Yelets and Tula toward Moscow. Any reserves in the south, moved toward Moscow, could be trapped. They ordered Marshal Timoshenko to maintain two ‘hinges.’ One at Voronezh and the other at Rostov to threaten the German’s southern flank.
By 30 June, the German thrust from Kursk reached the halfway point to Voronezh, meeting no resistance.
STAVKA ordered 40th Army to fight at Voronezh while Timoshenko fell back on Stalingrad.
Hitler flew to von Bock’s headquarters on 3 July. He advised von Bock to bypass Voronezh and go south instead. On 4 July that order was reversed. Von Bock was to take Voronezh despite the occupation of the city by the 40th Army.
Hoth’s panzers reached Voronezh, straddling the city on 5 July. STAVKA, meanwhile, established the Voronezh Front on the same day, naming General Vatutin as commander, reporting directly to Moscow, rather than to Timoshenko.
By 12 July the Soviets woke to the threat of the German advance. The Stalingrad Front was established naming the 63rd, 21st, 62nd, and 64th Armies as its compliment. General Chuikov, commander of the 64th Army, located at Tula, advised the Soviet command he could not reach his required position before 23 July. Air support for the Stalingrad Front was the 8th Air Army commanded by T. T. Khryukin.
Von Bock’s forces cleared Voronezh on 13 July and Hitler ordered his advance on Stalingrad, sealing off the city with one arm, while the other would capture Rostov near the Sea of Azov.
Soviet air operations supporting the 62nd and 64th Armies on the Chir and Tsimlya Rivers began on 17 July. The long range bombing operation concentrated on German crossings over the Chir and Don Rivers. The 8th Air Army possessed 300 aircraft consisting of 150 to 200 long range aircraft, and 50 to 60 fighters of the 102nd Fighter Air Division and the Air Defense Force. This opposed the Luftwaffe‘s 1,200 aircraft.
Von Kleist’s First Panzer Army, originally directed as the southern prong against Stalingrad, was now ordered straight to Rostov. Herman Hoth’s Fourth Panzer Army, originally to stiffen von Paulus’ Sixth Army was now ordered to assist von Kleist.
When Field Marshal von Bock protested, wanting to use Weich’s unit and part of von Paulus’ to deal with Vatutin at Voronezh, he was sacked. Weich’s forces were to guard the Don River from Voronezh to the Don bend.
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