Tag Archives: Army Group Center

A Week Of Momentous Historical Events


D-Day, June 6th 1944

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am posting a small thought to begin the week. For those that do not know, the next several days are full of the anniversaries of many historical events which still reverberate to our time.

The Evacuation Of Dunkirk

On June 3rd 1940, the British finished the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force and some French forces from Europe at Dunkirk, though defeated, the British action preserved the British Army and kept Britain in the war.


The Battle Of Midway 

From June 4th through June 6th 1942 a small American fleet defeated a much larger, more experienced and better equipped fleet at the Battle of Midway. The battle did not end the war, but it ensured that Japan never could win the war against the United States in the Pacific. It was a turning point. It has rightly been called an “Incredible Victory” as all the elements that make war what it is, the element of chance, the element of friction, and the  element of surprise all broke the American way. The Japanese leaders, and for that matter many if not the vast majority of their soldiers and sailors were full of hubris, believing themselves invincible they were decisively defeated.

Two Years later on June 6th 1944, Allied forces landed on the Normandy Peninsula of France to begin their long awaited attack on Nazi occupied Europe. The invasion, code named Operation Overlord did not end the war, but coupled with the Soviet offensive against the German Army Group Center which began just two weeks later, Operation Bagration, it was the beginning of the end for Hitler’s Germany.

Battle of Belleau Wood, 1918

Twenty-six years earlier U.S. Marines and Army soldiers turned back the Germans at the Battle of Belleau Wood near Chateau-Thierry France. The effort blocked a German drive on Paris, giving the Allies the time to begin a counter-offensive that would end the war.


Senator Robert F. Kennedy lays Mortally Wounded after being shot by Sirhan Sirhan 

But in addition to the battles other important events shook the world, in 1919 the Congress passed the 19th Amendment, which when ratified gave women the right to vote. In 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down by the assassin Sirhan Sirhan in Los Angeles after winning the Democratic Party primary. He would have been the odds on favorite to defeat Republican Richard Nixon in the general election. On June 8th 1789 James Madison introduced twelve amendments to the U. S. Constitution, of which ten were ratified by the states to become known as the Bill of Rights. 

On June 8th 1967, the USS Liberty, a surveillance ship, was attacked by Israeli ships and aircraft during the Six Day Warthe attack resulted in the death of 34 American sailors and the wounding of 171 more.

Of course there are numerous other events that took place at different times on these days, some which were very important, and others which are interesting but less important in terms of their historical impact. I’ll be writing about some of these events in the coming days.

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Disaster at Stalingrad

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On November 22nd 1942 the Commander of the German 6th Army radioed Berlin that the Red Army had surrounded his army, as well as portions of the 4th Panzer Army. Tonight I am posting what was a paper for one of my Masters degree classes dealing with the German 1942 summer offensive, Operation Blau, which ended when the Red Army began its counter-offensive on November 18th 1942. The German offensive ended in a disastrous defeat at Stalingrad which could have been even worse had it not been for the superb improvisation of Field Marshal Erich Von Manstein who extricated the rest of Army Group South from the Caucasus and stuck a counterblow that halted the Soviet advance.

German and Soviet Plans

Following the Soviet winter offensive and the near disaster in front of Moscow the German High Command was faced with the strategic decision of what to do in the 1942 campaign.  Several options were considered and it was decided to seize the Caucasus oilfields and in the process capture or neutralize the city of Stalingrad on the Volga.  River.

However, the German High Command was divided on the actual objectives of the campaign. The OKH (Oberkommando Des Heeres) under the guidance of Army Chief of Staff General Franz Halder, which was in charge of the Eastern Front, assumed that Stalingrad was the objective of the campaign. They believed that the advance into the Caucasus was to be a blocking effort.[i] On the other hand, Hitler and his OKW (Oberkommando Der Wehrmacht) envisioned that Army Group South would capture the Caucasus oil fields and capture or neutralize Stalingrad to secure the left flank.[ii]

Both the OKH and OKW considered Stalingrad significant but OKW “initially regarded it as a weigh station en route to the Caucasus oil fields.”[iii] The conflict between OKH and OKW apparent in the ambiguity of Directive No. 41. The directive “included the ‘seizure of the oil region of the Caucasus’ in the preamble concerning the general aim of the campaign, yet made no mention of this in the main plan of operations.”[iv]

At the planning conference held at Army Group South in early June “Hitler hardly mentioned Stalingrad. As far as his Generals were concerned it was little more than a name on the map. Hitler’s obsession was with the oil fields of the Caucasus.”[v] Manstein noted that “Hitler’s strategic objectives were governed chiefly by the needs of his war economy….”[vi] Anthony Beevor notes that at this stage of planning “the only interest in Stalingrad was to eliminate the armaments factories there and secure a position on the Volga. The capture of the city was not considered necessary.”[vii] German planners “expected that the Soviets would again accept decisive battle to defend these regions.”[viii]

Knocked out T-34 Tanks

In Moscow Stalin and his Generals attempted to guess the direction of the impending German offensive.  “Stalin was convinced that Moscow remained the principle German objective…Most of the Red Army’s strategic reserves…were therefore held in the Moscow region.”[ix]

With this in mind the Red Army attempted to disrupt the German offensive and to attempt to recover the key city of Kharkov. The Red Army launched three offensives against the Germans under the direction of Stavka. The largest of these, an attempt to take Kharkov was defeated between 12-22 May with the loss of most of the armor in southern Russia. This compounded by an equally disastrous defeat of Red Army forces in Crimea by Von Manstein’s 11th Army. The heavy losses meant that the Red Army would face the German offensive in a severely weakened condition.[x]

Operation Blau

The German offensive began on 28 June under the command of Field Marshal Fedor von Bock. Von Bock’s command included two separate army groups, Army Group B under Field Marshal Maximillian Von Weichs. Army Group B was comprised of 2nd Army, 6th Army, and the 4th Panzer Army. It also had three allied armies, the Italian 8th Army, the 2nd Hungarian, and 4th Romanian. These forces operated in the northern part of the operational area. Army Group A, under command of Field Marshal Wilhelm List was comprised of The 17th Army, 11th Army, and 1st Panzer Army.[xi] One allied Army, the Romanian 3rd Army was attached to it.

The allied armies which had few armored or motorized forces and little heavy artillery were being depended on to filled the gaps that the Germans could no longer fill with their own troops. The reliance on these units would prove to be a key factor in the German defeat.

Army Group B provided the main effort and its offensive quickly smashed through the defending Soviet armies. By July 20th Hitler believed that “the Russian is finished.”[xii] One reason for the German success in the south was that until July 7th Stalin believed that Moscow was still the primary objective.[xiii] Despite his success, Von Bock was prevented by Hitler from destroying Soviet formations left behind his advance. He protested and was relieved of command by Hitler. Von Bock was replaced by Von Weichs which created a difficult command and control problem.  Manstein noted that this created a “grotesque chain of command on the German southern wing” with the result that Army Group A had “no commander of its own whatever” and Army Group B had “no few than seven armies under command including four allied ones.”[xiv]

Panzer IV Ausf F Medium Tank

This decision proved fateful.  Hitler decided to redirect the advance of the 4th Panzer Army to support an early passage of the lower Don, diverting it from its drive on Stalingrad.  Additionally, the army groups became independent of each other when Bock was relieved of command.  They were “assigned independent-and diverging-objectives” under the terms of Directive No.45.[xv] This combination of events would have a decisive impact on the campaign.  The decision prevented a quick seizure of Stalingrad by 4th Panzer Army followed by a hand over to 6th Army to establish the “block” as described by Directive No.41.  Field Marshal Ewald Von Kleist, now commanding Army Group A noted that he didn’t need 4th Panzer Army’s help to accomplish his objectives and that it could have “taken Stalingrad without a fight at the end of July….”[xvi]

The result of Hitler’s decision doomed the campaign. Air support and fuel needed by Army Group A was transferred to 6th Army, denuding Army Group A of the resources that it needed to conclude its conquest of the Caucasus.[xvii] At the same time it denied Army Group B of the Panzer Army that could have quickly seized Stalingrad when it was still possible to do so.  Beevor calls Hitler’s decision a disastrous compromise.[xviii] Halder believed the decision underestimated the capabilities of the Red Army and was “both ludicrous and dangerous.”[xix]

All Eyes on Stalingrad

On July 22 as the Wehrmacht ran short on fuel and divisions to commit to the Caucasus, and the 6th Army fought for control of Voronezh, the Soviets created the Stalingrad Front to control operations in that city. Stavka moved an NKVD Division to the city,[xx] and rapidly filled the new front with formations transferred from the Moscow Front.[xxi]

Stalin issued Stavka Order 227, better known as “No Step Back” on 28 July. The order mandated that commanders and political officers who retreated would be assigned to Penal battalions[xxii]. It directed that each field Army was to form three to five special units of about 200 men each as a second line “to shoot any man who ran away.”[xxiii] Russian resistance west of the Don stiffened and slowed the German advance.

German commanders were astonished “at the profligacy of Russian commanders with their men’s lives.”[xxiv] Von Kleist compared the stubbornness of Russians in his area to those of the previous year and wrote that they were local troops “who fought more stubbornly because they were fighting to defend their homes.”[xxv] Additionally, Stalin changed commanders frequently in the “vain hope that a ruthless new leader could galvanize resistance and transform the situation.”[xxvi] General Vasily Chuikov brought the 64th Army into the Stalingrad Front in mid-July to hold the Germans west of the Don.[xxvii]

German Soldier in Stalingrad

The attacking German armies were weakened when the OKW transferred several key SS Panzer Divisions and the Grossdeutschland Division to France. The supporting Hungarian, Italian and Romanian allied armies lacked motorization, modern armor or anti-tank units and were unable to fulfill the gaps left by the loss of experienced German divisions and the unrealistic expectations of Hitler.[xxviii]

General Friedrich von Paulus

6th Army was virtually immobilized for 10 days due to lack of supplies. This allowed the Russians to establish a defense on the Don Bend.[xxix] To the south the Germans were held up by lack of fuel and increased Soviet resistance which included the introduction of a force of 800 bombers.[xxx]

Glantz and House noted that following the capture of Rostov on July 23rd, “Hitler abruptly focused on the industrial and symbolic value of Stalingrad.”[xxxi] Undeterred by warnings from Halder that fresh Russian formations were massing east of the Volga and the those of Quartermaster General Eduard Wagner, who guaranteed that he could supply either the thrust to the Caucasus or Stalingrad, but not both.[xxxii]

Again frustrated by slow the slow progress of the offensive, Hitler reverted to the original plan for 4th Panzer Army to assist 6th Army at Stalingrad. However, the cost in time and fuel necessitated by his changing of the plan in the first place were significant to the operation. Now the question for the Germans was whether “they could make up for Hitler’s changes in plan.”[xxxiii]

Strategic Implications

The changes in the German plan had distinct ramifications for both sides.  General F. W. Von Mellenthin wrote of Hitler’s meddling, that “the diversion of effort between the Caucasus and Stalingrad ruined our whole campaign.”[xxxiv] The Germans were able not secure the Caucasus oil fields which Hitler considered vital to the German war effort. While they advanced deep into the region and captured the Maikop oil fields, the vital wells and refineries were almost completely destroyed by the retreating Red Army.[xxxv]

Army Group A was halted by the Russians along the crests of the Caucasus on August 28th.[xxxvi] This left Hitler deeply “dissatisfied with the situation of Army Group A.”[xxxvii] Kleist and others attributed much of the failure to a lack of fuel[xxxviii] and General Günther Blumentritt noted that Mountain divisions that could have made the breakthrough were employed along the Black Sea coast in secondary operations.[xxxix]

Fuel and supply shortages delayed 6th Army’s advance while General Herman Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army was needlessly shuttled between Rostov and Stalingrad. By the time it resumed its attack, the Russians “had sufficiently recovered to check its advance.”[xl] As 6th Army advanced to the East, the “protection of Army Group B’s ever-extending northern flank was taken over by the 3rd Rumanian, the 2nd Hungarian and the newly formed 8th Italian Army.”[xli] The allied armies were neither equipped for the Russian campaign nor were they well motivated for a campaign that offered them or their countries much benefit.[xlii]

The supply shortage in both army groups was not helped by a significant logistics bottleneck. All supplies for Army Group A and Army Group B had pass over a single crossing over the Dnieper River. Manstein noted that this prevented the swift movement of troops from one area to another.[xliii]

General Friedrich Von Paulus’ 6th Army now attempted to rush Stalingrad between the 25th and 29th of July, while Hoth milled about on the lower Don.  However, Paulus’s piecemeal commitment of his divisions and failure to concentrate his army in the face of unexpectedly strong Soviet resistance caused the attacks to fail.  Paulus was forced to halt 6th Army on the Don so it could concentrate its forces and build its logistics base [xliv] as well as to allow Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army to come up from the south.

The delay permitted the Russians to build up their forces west of Stalingrad, to reinforce the Stalingrad front, and to strengthen the defenses of the city. [xlv] Ince the Germans were now operating far from their logistics center, and. The Red Army was closer to its supply centers and due to the distances involved it was now far easier for the Russians to reinforce the Stalingrad front than it was for the Germans to supply their armies.[xlvi] The delay also allowed the Russians to fill a number of key leadership positions with the Generals who would skillfully fight the battle.[xlvii]

German Mountain Troops planting Swastika Flag on Mount Elbrus

Hitler now focused on the capture of Stalingrad despite the fact that “as a city Stalingrad was of no strategic importance.”[xlviii] Strategically, its capture would cut Soviet supply lines to the Caucasus,[xlix] but this objective could be have been achieved without its capture. The success of the Soviets in checking Army Group A’s advance in the Caucasus began to give Stalingrad a moral importance to Hitler , which was enhanced by its name. This came to outweigh its strategic value.”[l] To Hitler Stalingrad would gain “a mystic significance”[li] and along with Leningrad, still besieged by the Wehrmacht, became “not only military but also psychological objectives.”[lii]

The Germans mounted a frontal assault on Stalingrad with the 6th Army, supported by elements of the 4th Panzer Army, despite air reconnaissance that indicated “the Russians are throwing forces from all directions at Stalingrad.[liii] Paulus as the senior General was in charge of the advance, with Hoth subordinated to him, but the attack had to wait until Hoth’s army could fight its way up from the south.[liv] Von Mellenthin comments rightly that “when Stalingrad was not taken on the first rush, it would have been better to mask it….”[lv]

It is clear that the German advance had actually reached its culminating point with the failure of the advance into the Caucasus and Paulus’s initial setback on the Don, but it was not yet apparent to many involved.[lvi] The proper course of action would have been to halt and build up the front and create mobile reserve to parry any Russian offensive along northern flank while reinforcing success in the Caucasus. Manstein wrote that “by failing to take appropriate action after his offensive had petered out without achieving anything definite, he [Hitler] paved the way to the tragedy of Stalingrad!”[lvii]

Transfixed by Stalingrad

Luftwaffe Ju-52 Transport

On August 19th Paulus launched a concentric attack against the Russian 62nd and 64th Armies on the Don.  The attack ran into problems, especially in Hoth’s sector.[lviii] Yet, on the 22nd the 14th Panzer Corps “forced a very narrow breach in the Russian perimeter at Vertyachi and fought its way across the northern suburbs of Stalingrad,”[lix] and reached the Volga on the 23rd. That day 4th Air Fleet launched 1600 sorties against the city dropping over 1,000 tons of bombs On the city. [lx]

The German breakthrough imperiled the Soviet position as they had concentrated their strongest forces against Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army.[lxi] The Germans maintained air superiority in the sector and the Luftwaffe continued its heavy bombing attacks.

During the last days of August the 6th Army “moved steadily forward into the suburbs of the city, setting the stage for battle.”[lxii] As the Soviets reacted to Paulus, Hoth finally achieved a breakthrough in the south which threatened the Russian position.  However, the 6th Army was unable to disengage its mobile forces from the fight in the city to link up with the 4th Panzer Army and thus another opportunity had been missed.[lxiii]

As 6th Army moved into the city, General Andrey Yeromenko ordered attacks against General Hans Hube’s 16th Panzer Division. Soviet resistance increased, and as more Red Army formations arrived the Germans suffered “one of their heaviest casualty rates.”[lxiv] Though unsuccessful, the counterattacks “managed to deflect Paulus’s reserves at the most critical moment.”[lxv]

Despite this, the Germans remained confident the first week of September as 6th Army and 4th Panzer Army linked up, but Yeremenko saved his forces by withdrawing and avoided encirclement, and retired to an improvised line close to the city.[lxvi]

“Time is Blood”

General Vasily Chuikov at Stalingrad

On September 12th Chuikov was appointed to command 62nd Army in Stalingrad.  Chuikov understood that there “was only one way to hold on. They had to pay in lives. ‘Time is blood,’ as Chuikov put it later.”[lxvii] Stalin sent Nikita Khrushchev to the front “with orders to inspire the Armies and civilian population to fight to the end.”[lxviii] The 13th Guards Rifle Division arrived on the 14th saved the Volga landings but it lost 30% casualties in its first 24 hours of combat.[lxix] An NKVD regiment and other units held the strategically sited high ground of Mamaev Kurgan, keeping German guns from controlling the Volga.[lxx]

The defenders fought house to house and block by block. Red Army and NKVD divisions were reinforced by Naval Infantry.  Chuikov conducted the defense with a brutal ferocity, relieving senior commanders who showed a lack of fight and sending many officers to penal units.  Chuikov funneled the massed German attacks into “breakwaters” where the panzers and infantry could be separated from each other causing heavy German casualties.[lxxi]

Communism Must be Deprived of Its Shrine

Now the “city became a prestige item, its capture ‘urgently necessary for psychological reasons,’ Hitler declared on October 2nd. A week later he declared that Communism must be ‘deprived of its shrine.’”[lxxii] Paulus’s troops continued to gain ground, however slowly and at great cost, especially among their infantry. Casualties were so heavy that companies had to be combined.

Chuikov used his artillery to interdict the Germans from the far side of the Volga where it was immune from ground attack. The fight in the city was fought by assault squads with incredible ferocity, and the close-quarter combat was dubbed “’Rattenkrieg’ by German soldiers.”[lxxiii]

Von Paulus brought more units into the city and continued to slowly drive the Russians back against the river, and by early October Chuikov wondered if he would be able to hold.[lxxiv] By early November Chuikov “was altogether holding only one-tenth of Stalingrad-a few factory buildings and a few miles of river bank.”[lxxv] Paulus now expected “to capture the entire city by 10 November,”[lxxvi] despite the fact that many of his units were fought out. The 6th Army Staff judged that 42% of the battalions of 51st Corps were fought out and no longer combat effective.[lxxvii] Even so, on November 9th, the 19th anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler declared “No power on earth will force us out of Stalingrad again!”[lxxvi.]

Operation Uranus, the Soviet Counter Offensive

On September 24th Hitler relieved Halder as Chief of Staff of the Army for persisting in explaining “what would happen when new Russian reserve armies attacked the over-extended flank that ran out to Stalingrad.”[lxxix] Many Officers on the German side now recognized the danger. Blumentritt said “The danger to the long-stretched flank of our advance developed gradually, but it became clear early enough for anyone to perceive it who was not willfully blind.”[lxxx] Warnings of the danger were also given by Rumanian Marshall Antonescu and the staff sections of Army Group B and the 6th Army[lxxxi]. Despite this Hitler remained transfixed on Stalingrad and failed to allow his commanders to conduct operations that might be more successful elsewhere. In doing so the Germans gave up the advantage of uncertainty and once the German “aim became obvious…the Russian Command could commit its reserves with assurance.”[lxxxii]

In the midst of Stalin’s concern about Stalingrad Stavka planners never lost sight of their goal to resume large scale offensive operations as soon as possible in order to destroy at least one German Army Group.[lxxxiii] Unlike Hitler, Stalin had finally begun to trust his Generals. In September, Stavka under the direction of Marshal Aleksandr Vasilevsky produced a plan to cut off the “German spearhead at Stalingrad by attacking the weak Rumanian forces on its flanks.”[lxxxiv]

At first Stalin “showed little enthusiasm” for the attack, fearing that Stalingrad might be lost, but on 13 September he gave his full backing to the proposal. [lxxxv] Zhukov, Vasilevsky, and Vatutin developed into a plan involving two operations, Operation Uranus to destroy the German and allied forces at Stalingrad, and Operation Saturn to destroy all the German forces in the south, along with a supporting attack to fix German forces in the north, Operation Mars which was aimed at Army Group Center.[lxxxvi]

Soviet Armor Advancing to the Cheers of Civilians

To accomplish the destruction of 6th Army and part of 4th Panzer Army, Stavka employed over 60% of the “whole tank strength of the Red Army.”[lxxxvii] Strict secrecy combined with numerous acts of deception were used by the Red Army to disguise the operation.[lxxxviii] The plan involved an attack against 3rd Rumanian Army on the northern flank by 5th Tank Army and two infantry armies with supporting units.[lxxxix]

In the south against the 4th Rumanian Army and weak elements of the 4th Panzer Army, another force of over 160,000 men including 430 tanks were deployed.[xc] Despite warnings from his Intelligence Officer, Von Paulus did not expect a deep offensive into his flanks and rear and made no plans to prepare to face the threat.[xci] Other senior officers at OKW believed that the attack would take place against Army Group Center.[xcii] Warlimont notes that there was a “deceptive confidence in German Supreme Headquarters.”[xciii]

The storm broke on 19 November as Soviet forces attacked, rapidly crushing Romanian armies in both sectors[xciv] and linking up on November 23rd.[xcv] The 48th Panzer Corps which was deployed to support the Romanians was weak and had few operational tanks.[xcvi] It attempted a counterattack, but was “cut to pieces” in an encounter with 5th Tank Army.[xcvii]

A promising attempt by 29th Motorized division against the flank of the southern Russian pincer was halted by the Army Group and the division was ordered to take up defensive positions south of Stalingrad.[xcviii] Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe was neutralized by bad weather.[xcix] Von Paulus, in Stalingrad continued to do nothing since the attacks were outside of his area of responsibility, and waited for instructions from the Army Group. [c]

As a result the 16th and 24th Panzer Divisions which could have assisted matters to the west remained “bogged down in street-fighting in Stalingrad.”[ci] Without support 6th Army units west of Stalingrad were forced to,retreat in horrific conditions.  By the 23rd, the 6th Army was cut off along with one corps of 4th Panzer Army and assorted Romanian units, a total over 330,000 men.  The entrapped force would require the Soviets to use seven rifle armies and devote much staff attention to eliminate.[cii]

The Death of 6th Army

Hitler ordered Von Manstein to form Army Group Don to relieve Stalingrad. Hitler would not countenance any attempt by 6th Army to break out of the pocket and wanted Manstein to break through and relieve 6th Army.[ciii] Hitler refused a request by Paulus on 23 November to move troops to prepare for a possible a break out attempt, assuring him that he would be relieved.[civ]

Albert Speer notes that General Kurt Zeitzler, who replaced Halder insisted that the Sixth Army must break out to the west.”[cv] Hitler told Zeitzler that “We should under no circumstances give this up. We won’t get it back once it’s lost.”[cvi] Hermann Goering promised that the Luftwaffe would be able to meet the re-supply needs of 6th Army by air, even though his Generals knew that it was impossible with the number of transport aircraft available.[cvii]

Hitler took Goering at his word and exclaimed “Stalingrad can be held! It is foolish to go on talking any more about a breakout by Sixth Army…”[cviii] A Führer decree was issued ordering that the front be held at all costs.[cix] Walter Goerlitz wrote that “Hitler was incapable of conceiving that the 6th Army should do anything but fight where it stood.”[cx] Likewise Manstein had precious few troops with which to counterattack and he also had to protect the flank of Army Group A, which was still deep in the Caucasus and in danger of being cut off.

Field Marshal Erich von Manstein

His army group was only at corps strength and was spread across a 200 mile front.[cxi] Any relief attempt had to wait for more troops, especially Panzers divisions. Manstein too believed that the best chance for a breakout had passed and that it was a serious error for Paulus to put the request to withdraw through to Hitler rather than the Army Group or act on his own.[cxii] Many soldiers were optimistic that Hitler would get them out.[cxiii] Other generals like Guderian, Reichenau or Hoeppner might have acted, but Paulus was no rebel.[cxi]

Operation Saturn began on 7 December. The Red Army destroyed the Italian 8th Army and forced the Germans to parry the threat.[cxv] A relief attempt by 57th Panzer Corps under Hoth on 12 December made some headway until a massive Soviet counterattack on 24 December drove it back.[cxvi] This attack was hampered by OKW’s refusal to allocate the 17th Panzer and 16th Motorized divisions to Manstein,[cxvii] and by 6th Army not attacking out to link with the relief force.[cxviii]

By January 6th, Von Paulus signaled OKW “Army starving and frozen, have no ammunition and cannot move tanks anymore.”[cxix] On 10 January the Soviets launched Operation Ring to eliminate the pocket and despite all odds German troops fought on. On the 16th Paulus requested that battle worthy units be allowed to break out, but the request was not replied to by OKW. cxx] On January 22nd the last airfield was overrun, and on January 31st Paulus surrendered.[cxxi]

Analysis

Stalingrad had strangely drawn the attention of both sides, but the Russians never lost sight of their primary objectives during the campaign. The Germans on the other hand committed numerous unforced errors mostly caused by Hitler or Paulus. After the fall of Stalingrad as the Soviets attempted to follow up their success by attempted to cut off Army Group “A” Manstein was permitted to wage a mobile defense while Von Kleist managed to withdraw with few losses.[cxxii]

The superior generalship of Manstein and Von Kleist prevented the wholesale destruction of German forces in southern Russia, and Manstein’s counter offensive inflicted a severe defeat on the Soviets. However, the German Army had been badly defeated.  The seeds of defeat were laid early, the failure to destroy bypassed Soviet formations in July, the diversion of 4th Panzer Army from Stalingrad, and the divergent objectives of trying to capture the Caucasus and Stalingrad at the same time.  This diluted both offensives ensuring that neither succeeded.  Likewise the failure to recognize the culminating point when it was reached and to adjust operations accordingly was disastrous for the Germans.

The failure create a mobile reserve to meet possible Russian counter offensives and the fixation on Stalingrad took the German focus off of the critical, yet weakly held flanks. The hubris of Hitler and OKW to believe that the Russians were incapable of conducting major mobile operations even as Stavka commenced offensive operations on those flanks all contributed to the defeat.  Clark notes these facts, but adds that the Germans “were simply attempting too much.”[cxxiii]

Soviet numbers allowed them to wear down the Germans even in defeat.[cxxiv] At the same time Stalin gave his commanders a chance to revive the mobile doctrine of deep operations with mechanized and shock armies that he had discredited in the 1930s.[cxxv] Throughout the campaign Zhukov, Chuikov and other commanders maintained both their nerve even when it appeared that Stalingrad was all but lost. They never lost sight of their goal of destroying major German formations though they failed to entrap Army Group A in the Caucasus.

Notes

[i] Clark, Alan. Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict:1941-45. Perennial Books, An imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY 1965. p.191

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titan’s Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. The University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS, 1995. p.111

[iv] Ibid. Clark. p.191

[v] Beevor, Anthony. Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943. Penguin Books, New York NY 1998. p.69

[vi] Manstein, Erich von. Forward by B.H. Liddle Hart, Introduction by Martin Blumenson. Lost victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler’s Most Brilliant General. Zenith Press, St Paul MN 2004. First Published 1955 as Verlorene Siege, English Translation 1958 by Methuen Company. p.291 This opinion is not isolated, Beevor Quotes Paulus “If we don’t take Maikop and Gronzy…then I must put an end to the war.” (Beevor pp. 69-70)  Halder on the other hand believed that Hitler emphasized that the objective was “the River Volga at Stalingrad. (Clark. p.190)

[vii] Ibid. Beevor. p.70.

[viii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.106

[ix] Ibid. p.105-106

[x] Ibid. Clark. p.203.  The offensive did impose a delay on the German offensive.

[xi] Ibid. Clark. p.191 Each group also contained allied armies.

[xii] Ibid. p.209.

[xiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.119

[xiv] Ibid. Manstein. p.292.

[xv] Ibid. Clark. p.209

[xvi] Ibid. Clark.  p.211

[xvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.120. There is a good discussion of the impact of this decision here as 6th Army’s advance was given priority for both air support and fuel.

[xviii] Ibid. Beevor. p.74

[xix] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964. p.249

[xx] Ibid. Beevor. p.75 This was the 10th NKVD Division and it took control of all local militia, NKVD, and river traffic, and established armored trains and armor training schools.

[xxi] Ibid. Clark. p.212

[xxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.121

[xxiii] Ibid. Beevor. p.85

[xxiv] Ibid. p.89

[xxv] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishers, New York, NY 1979. Originally published by the author in 1948. p.202

[xxvi] Ibid. Beevor. p.88

[xxvii] Ibid. Beevor. p.90

[xxviii] Ibid. Beevor. p.81

[xxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.121

[xxx] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. p.202

[xxxi] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.120

[xxxii] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff. Westview Press, Frederick A. Praeger Publisher, Boulder, CO. 1985 p.416

[xxxiii] Ibid. Beevor. pp.95-96.

[xxxiv] Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated H. Betzler, Edited by L.C.F. Turner. Oklahoma University Press 1956, Ballantine Books, New York, NY. 1971. p.193

[xxxv] Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. A Touchstone Book published by Simon and Schuster, 1981, Copyright 1959 and 1960. p.914

[xxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.122

[xxxvii] Ibid. Warlimont. p.256

[xxxviii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. p.203

[xxxix] Ibid. p.204

[xl] Ibid. Shirer. p.914

[xli] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.416

[xlii] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.416

[xliii] Ibid. Manstein. p.293

[xliv] Ibid. Clark. p.214

[xlv] Ibid. Beevor. pp.97-99. The mobilization included military, political, civilian and industrial elements.

[xlvi] Liddell-Hart, B.H. Strategy. A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY. 1974, Originally Published by Faber and Faber Ltd., London. 1954 & 1967. p.250

[xlvii] Ibid. Beevor. p.99.  Two key commanders arrived during this time frame, Colonel General Andrei Yeremenko, who would command the Stalingrad Front  and General Chuikov commander of 64th Army who would conduct the defense of the city.

[xlviii] Carell, Paul Hitler Moves East: 1941-1943. Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, German Edition published 1963. p.581

[xlix] Ibid. Shirer.  p.909.

[l] Ibid. Liddell-Hart, Strategy. p.250

[li] Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 1954.  p.531

[lii] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. p.531

[liii] Ibid. Beevor. p.96

[liv] Ibid. Clark. p.216.

[lv] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. P.193

[lvi] See Von Mellinthin pp.193-194.  Von Mellinthin quotes Colonel Dinger, the Operations Officer of 3rd Motorized Division at Stalingrad until a few days before its fall. Dingler noted that the Germans on reaching Stalingrad “had reached the end of their power. Their offensive strength was inadequate to complete the victory, nor could they replace the losses they had suffered.” (p.193) He believed that the facts were sufficient “not only to justify a withdrawal, but compel a retreat.” (p.194)

[lvii] Ibid. Manstein. p.294

[lviii] Ibid. Clark. p.216

[lix] Ibid. Clark. p.217

[lx] Ibid. Beevor. p.107

[lxi] Ibid. Beevor. p.107

[lxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.122

[lxiii] Ibid. Carell. P.601

[lxiv] Ibid. Beevor. p.118

[lxv] Ibid. Beevor. p.118

[lxvi] Ibid. Carell. p.602

[lxvii] Ibid. Beevor. p.128

[lxviii] Ibid. Carell. p.603

[lxix] Ibid. Beevor. p.134

[lxx] Ibid. Beevor. pp.136-137

[lxxi] Ibid. Beevor. p.149

[lxxii] Fest, Joachim. Hitler. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich Publishers, San Diego, New York, London. 1974. p.661

[lxxiii] Ibid. Beevor. pp. 149-150

[lxxiv] Ibid. Beevor. p.164

[lxxv] Ibid. Carell. p.618

[lxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.123

[lxxvii] Ibid. Beevor. p.218

[lxxviii] Ibid. Carell. p.623

[lxxix] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.418

[lxxx] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. The German Generals Talk. p.207

[lxxxi] Ibid. Manstein. p292

[lxxxii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. History of the Second World War. p.258

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.129

[lxxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.130

[lxxxv] Ibid. Beevor. pp.221-222 Glantz and House say that Stalin gave his backing in mid-October but this seems less likely due to the amount of planning and movement of troops involved to begin the operation in November.

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.130

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Beevor. p.226

[lxxxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.132

[lxxxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.130

[xc] Ibid. Beevor. p.227

[xci] Ibid. Beevor. p.228

[xcii] Ibid. Clark. p.235

[xciii] Ibid. Warlimont. p.274

[xciv] Ibid, Carell. p.627 3rd Rumanian Army lost 75,000 men in three days.

[xcv] Ibid. Clark.pp.247-248

[xcvi] The condition of the few German Panzer Divisions in position to support the flanks was very poor, the 22nd had suffered from a lack of fuel and maintenance and this many of its tanks were inoperative. Most of the armor strength of the 48th Panzer Corps was provided by a Rumanian armored division equipped with obsolete Czech 38t tanks provided by the Germans.

[xcvii] Ibid. Clark. pp.251-252. The designation of 2nd Guards Tank Army by Clark has to be wrong and it is the 5th Tank Army as 2nd Guards Tank was not involved in Operation Uranus.  Carell, Beevor and Glantz properly identify the unit.

[xcviii] Ibid. Carell. p.630

[xcix] Ibid. Beevor. p.244

[c] Ibid. Beevor. p.247

[ci] Ibid. Beevor. p.245

[cii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.134

[ciii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.134

[civ] Ibid. Clark. p.256

[cv] Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Collier Books, a Division of MacMillan Publishers, Inc. New York, NY 1970. p.248

[cvi] Heiber, Helmut and Glantz, David M. Editors. Hitler and His Generals: Military Conferences 1942-1945. Enigma Books, New York, NY 2002-2003.  Originally published as Hitlers Lagebsprechungen: Die Protokollfragmente seiner militärischen Konferenzen 1942-1945. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt GmbH, Stuttgart, 1962. p.27

[cvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.135 Glantz and House note that the amount of aircraft estimated to successfully carry out the re-supply operation in the operational conditions was over 1,000.  The amount needed daily was over 600 tons of which the daily reached only 300 tons only one occasion.

[cviii] Ibid. Speer. p.249

[cix] Ibid. Carell. p.636

[cx] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.426

[cxi] Ibid. Clark. p.252

[cxii] Ibid. Manstein. p.303

[cxiii] Ibid. Beevor. p.276

[cxiv] Ibid. Carell. p.640

[cxv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.140

[cxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.140

[cxvii] Ibid. Clark. p.264

[cxviii] Ibid. Manstein. p.337

[cxix] Ibid. Beevor. p320

[cxx] Ibid. Beevor. p.365

[cxxi] Of the approximately 330,000 in the pocket about 91,000 surrendered, another 45,000 had been evacuated.  22 German divisions were destroyed.

[cxxii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. The German Generals Talk. p.211

[cxxiii] Ibid. Clark. p.250

[cxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.124

[cxxiv] Ibid. Beevor. p.221

Bibliography

Beevor, Anthony. Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943. Penguin Books, New York NY 1998

Carell, Paul Hitler Moves East: 1941-1943. Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, German Edition published 1963.

Clark, Alan. Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict:1941-45. Perennial Books, An imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY 1965.

Fest, Joachim. Hitler. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich Publishers, San Diego, New York, London. 1974

Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titan’s Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. The University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS, 1995.

Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff. Westview Press, Frederick A. Praeger Publisher, Boulder, CO. 1985

Heiber, Helmut and Glantz, David M. Editors. Hitler and His Generals: Military Conferences 1942-1945. Enigma Books, New York, NY 2002-2003.  Originally published as Hitlers Lagebsprechungen: Die Protokollfragmente seiner militärischen Konferenzen 1942-1945. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt GmbH, Stuttgart, 1962.

Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishers, New York, NY 1979. Originally Published by the author in 1948.

Liddell-Hart, B.H. Strategy. A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY. 1974, Originally Published by Faber and Faber Ltd., London. 1954 & 1967

Manstein, Erich von. Forward by B.H. Liddle Hart, Introduction by Martin Blumenson. Lost victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler’s Most Brilliant General. Zenith Press, St Paul MN 2004. First Published 1955 as Verlorene Siege, English Translation 1958 by Methuen Company

Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. A Touchstone Book published by Simon and Schuster, 1981, Copyright 1959 and 1960

Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Collier Books, a Division of MacMillan Publishers, Inc. New York, NY 1970.

Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated H. Betzler, Edited by L.C.F. Turner. Oklahoma University Press 1956, Ballantine Books, New York, NY. 1971.

Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964.

Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 1954

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Filed under History, Military, nazi germany, world war two in europe

Manstein’s Counter Stroke: Turning Certain Defeat into Victory

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’m pullings something out of my archives today. It’s actually a paper I wrote for one of my Masters Degree Classes back in 2009 that I decided to post on the site. I have been reading Paul Carrell’s Unternehem Barbarossa Im Bild (Operation Barbarossa in Pictures) in German I decided to repost it today.  I could probably do more with it but except for more biographical work on Von Manstein I don’t expect that I will. For me character matters more than battlefield brilliance.

The article deals with the crisis that the German armies faced following Stalingrad and how Field Marshal Erich von Manstein succeeded in talking Adolf Hitler out of certain defeat and inflicting a massive defeat on the now overconfident and over extended Soviet armies.

Von Manstein was a brilliant strategist, his bold plan to conquer France in 1940 was a masterpiece, and his conduct of combat operations on the Eastern Front until his relief in March of 1944 for withdrawing (and saving) his armies from Soviet destruction without Hitler’s approval. Von Manstein was a brilliant commander at the operational level of war, but he also gave his approval and support to war crimes committed by the SS Einsatzgruppen against the Jews and others in his area of operations. He believed that Bolshevism and the Jews were linked, thus in his codicil to Von Reichenau’s Severity Order in November 1941 stated:

“Jewish Bolshevik system must be wiped out once and for all and should never again be allowed to invade our European living space … It is the same Jewish class of beings who have done so much damage to our own Fatherland by virtue of their activities against the nation and civilisation, and who promote anti-German tendencies throughout the world, and who will be the harbingers of revenge. Their extermination is a dictate of our own survival.”

He is a complex character, he defended German Jews in the Reichswehr yet went on to cooperate in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews in Russia. There is a decent possibility that he had some Jewish ancestry, he opposed the Aryan Paragraph which banned Jews from serving in the German armed forces telling General Ludwig Beck that anyone who had volunteered to serve had already proved their worth. Though tried and convicted of war crimes he was given an early release from prison at the behest of Winston Churchill, Konrad Adenauer and other notables; and went on to advise the German government on the organization of the new Bundeswehr. His post war writings were highly critical of Hitler and for the most part he succeeded in rehabilitating himself. When he died in 1973 at the age of 85 he was the last surviving German Field Marshal and was buried with full military honors .

He was a brilliant commander and strategist, but he aided and abetted one of the most criminal regimes in history. The German magazine Der Spiegel wrote of him: “He assisted in the march to catastrophe—misled by a blind sense of duty.”

My concern today is if American Generals will be misled by their blind sense of duty and assist in a march to catastrophe.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Introduction

After Stalingrad the Soviets followed up on their success and attempted to entrap the rest of Army Group South. Field Marshall von Manstein attempted to save the Army Group and perhaps prevent the Soviets from collapsing the entire German front.

Bild 101I-209-0086-12Manstein (center) planning at the front

Chaos and Peril in the South

As 6th Army died at Stalingrad field Marshall von Manstein was faced with one of the most challenging situations faced by any commander in modern times.  He faced strategic and operational “problems of a magnitude and complexity seldom paralleled in history.”[i] Manstein had to deal with a complex military situation where he had minimal forces to counter the moves of a superior enemy force that was threatening to entrap all German forces in southern Russia. Additionally Manstein had to deal with the “Hitler’s obstinate opposition to a maneuver defense and a Red Army flushed with the victory of Stalingrad.”[ii]Facing him were the six Russian armies of the Voronezh and Southwestern Front’s led by Mobile Group Popov[iii]. These Armies had broken through the Hungarian and Italian armies “making a breach 200 miles wide between the Donetz and Voronezh, and were sweeping westward past Manstein’s flank.”[iv]

flak in caucasus

The most dangerous threat that Manstein faced was to Army Group A in the Caucasus. This Army Group “found itself in danger of being cut off, forcing an immediate withdraw.”[v] Disaster was averted by the desperate holding actions of Manstein’s meager forces, Army detachment’s Fretter-Pico and Hollidt, and winter conditions that made “offensive operations extraordinarily difficult, even for the hardiest Soviet troops.”[vi] A smart withdraw executed by General von Kleist managed to extricate the Army group “just as the Stalingrad forces collapsed.”[vii] To parry the Soviet thrusts the Germans lacked forces to “establish a deeply echeloned defense” and “instead combined maneuver… with stubborn positional defense to give artificial depth to the battlefield.  In this way the Germans were able to break major Soviet attacks, preventing catastrophic breakthroughs….”[viii] The timely introduction of a battalion of Tiger tanks prevented the Russians from breaking through to Rostov and “cutting the rail and road lines on which First Panzer Army’s retreat depended.”[ix] Even so the escape of the Army Group was narrow. “In terms of time, space, force, and weather conditions it was an astonishing performance-for which Kleist was made a field-marshal.”[x] With the Russians only 70 kilometers from Rostov and his own forces 650 kilometers from that city Kleist executed a withdraw “which had appeared hardly possible to achieve.”[xi] The divisions extricated by Kleist would be instrumental in the coming weeks as Manstein moved to counter the Soviet offensive.

Ostfront, Adolf Hitler, Erich v. Manstein

Hitler and Manstein

Despite the successful withdraw the situation was still precarious in early February, Manstein had no effective contact with his left wing, the bulk of which was tied to Kharkov, The Russians had “virtually complete freedom of action across a fifty-mile stretch of the Donetz on either side of Izyum.”[xii] Manstein was hard pressed to “halt the raids of Mobile Group Popov and other exploiting Soviet tank corps in Operation Gallop.”[xiii] Manstein’s forces in the eastern sector had been divided by Russian penetrations, which threatened 1st Panzer Army’s western flank and blocked the Army Group’s main railway line.[xiv] On 15 February “the SS Panzer Corps withdrew from Kharkov-in spite of orders from Hitler…that the city was to be held to the last.”[xv] SS General Paul Hausser, the corps commander realized that the order to hold Kharkov was impossible and requested permission to withdraw. This was was refused by General Lanz. Under pressure from encircling Russian forces outside and from partisans inside the city, Hausser disobeyed the order and extricated his troops,[xvi] thereby saving thousands of German soldiers and preserved the SS Panzer Corps as a fighting unit.[xvii] Lanz was relieved by Hitler for the loss of Kharkov and although Hausser would escape immediate censure, “Hitler did see it as a black mark against his name.”[xviii] With Kharkov in Soviet hands the gap between Manstein’s army group and Field Marshal von Kluge’s Army Group Center increased to over 100 miles.[xix] It appeared that the entire German southern flank was disintegrating.  Manstein estimated the ratio of German to Soviet forces in his area at 1:8.[xx] He believed that the Soviets could advance and subsequently “block the approaches to the Crimea and the Dnieper crossing at Kherson” which would “result in the encirclement of the entire German southern wing.”[xxi] Popov’s Mobile Group crossed the Donets and reached Krasnoarmeiskaia by 12 February. Vatutin committed two additional fresh tank corps toward Zaporozhe, a critical transport node which was also the location of Manstein’s headquarters.[xxii]

SS-Tiger-LSAH-01Tiger Tanks assigned to 1st SS Panzer Division

Hitler arrived to consult with Manstein on 17 February and remained for three days with Soviet forces perilously close.  Manstein only had some flak units and the Army Group Headquarters Company between him and Popov’s advanced elements. On Hitler’s last day “some T-34’s approached to within gun range of the airfield.”[xxiii]

The conference of Hitler with Manstein at Zaporozhe as well as a previous conference at the Wolfsschanze on 6 February was critical to the development of Manstein’s plan to restore the front. Manstein had now gotten both the 1st and 4th Panzer Armies across the Don, and “with this striking force, he felt confident of smashing the Russian offensive if he was given a free hand to withdraw from the line of the Donetz, evacuate Rostov and take up a much shorter front along the Mius river.”[xxiv] The conference on the 6th was one of the “rare moments in the war where Hitler authorized a strategic withdraw on a major scale.”[xxv] Yet as the Russians continued to advance Hitler became concerned and came to Zaporozhe.  At first Hitler would not concede to Manstein, as he wanted to assemble the SS Panzer Corps for an attack to recapture Kharkov.[xxvi]Manstein explained the need for a counter stroke and through much explanation was able to convince Hitler that the capture of Kharkov was not possible unless “we first removed the danger of the Army Group being cut off from its rear communications.”[xxvii]

T34_Stalingrad-Offensive-px800Soviet formations advance

The Russian aim was now obvious[xxviii] and Manstein had correctly discerned their strategy.  Manstein knew that his Army Group had to hold the line on the Mius and then quickly defeat the enemy between 1st Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf[xxix] in “order to prevent its own isolation from the Dnieper crossings.”[xxx] The Soviets had outrun their logistics support and had suffered heavy losses of their own and had serious equipment shortages.[xxxi] Manstein explained to Hitler the opportunity offered as it was now the Russians who “were worn out” and far from their supply dumps as the Germans had been in November 1942.  Manstein “foresaw an opportunity to seize the operational initiative with a counter offensive of his own.  Manstein’s target was the Soviet armored spearheads, still careening southwestward between Kharkov and Stalino.”[xxxii] Manstein believed that when the Russian “spearhead lunged, as it must toward the crossings on the upper Dnieper,” then Hoth’s Army would be let loose again.  The three SS Panzer divisions could then “play their rightful role as avengers, and strike southeast to meet 4th Panzer Army, catching the Russian armour in a noose.”[xxxiii] Hitler agreed to Manstein’s plan and Manstein shifted 4th Panzer Army to assume control of the SS Panzer Corps, now reinforced by 3rd SS Panzergrenadier Division “Totenkopf.” Hitler reinforced Manstein and released 7 battle worn Panzer and motorized divisions for his attack.[xxxiv]

Soviet Miscalculation

It was now Stalin’s time to miscalculate. He and his subordinates “continued to believe that they were on the verge of a great victory. German defenses in southern Russia appeared to be crumbling and the Stavka sought to expand that victory to include Army Group Center.”[xxxv] To this end they diverted armies to the north and launched attacks in that direction.  However German defenses were stiff and the plan was “predicated on the assumption of continued offensive success further south.”[xxxvi] Reinforcements from Stalingrad failed to deploy and “Army Group Center’s defenses, prepared for the past year and a half proved formidable.”[xxxvii]

In the south Stalin saw the Dnieper and almost “heedlessly drove his armies towards what he thought would be the decisive victory on the banks of this huge Russian river,”[xxxviii] but, Soviet “ambitions exceeded their available resources and the skill of their commanders.”[xxxix] The SS Panzer Corps withdraw from Kharkov “further heightened the Soviet’s intoxication with victory”[xl] and confirmed their beliefs that the Germans were withdrawing.  Stalin believed that “it was inconceivable that Hitler’s Praetorian Guard would abandon Kharkov except as part of a general order to retreat.”[xli] He believed that the encirclement of Army Group South would lead to a chain reaction and quick way to victory over German forces in the east.  Believing that there was no way for the Germans to recover and establish a solid front on the Mius,[xlii] Stalin continued to drive his forces to attack, yet the Russian offensive in the south had reached what Clausewitz had called the “culminating point” and Stalin’s armies were now extremely vulnerable. “The weather, the devastated communications, and their own inexperience in maintaining the traffic density required to support a deep penetration on a narrow front had combined to force a dangerous dispersal of effort on the Russian advance which had broken down into four separate groups.”[xliii]

panzer ivfPanzers assembling to attack

The Soviet forces were now in a dangerous predicament being spread out across the entire south of Russia.  One group, composed of the 69th Army and 3rd Tank Army pushed against Army detachment Kempf west of Kharkov.  To the south the badly depleted 6th Army and 1st Guards Army were now “strung out down a long corridor they had opened between Izyum and Pavlograd,”[xliv] Mobile Group Popov was lagging further east near Krasnoarmeiskaia.   Additional units were isolated behind the front of Army Detachment Fretter-Pico and near Matveyev.  Soviet commanders believed that the Germans were in worse shape and that “the risks of dispersal were justified.”[xlv] They had not anticipated or made allowance for Manstein’s coolness under pressure and actions to preserve his armor while thinning his front “well past the accepted danger limit.”[xlvi]Likewise the Soviets did not know that the Germans had cracked the code used by the Southwest front and from 12 February on “were now privy to Popov’s and Vatutin’s thoughts,” now knowing precisely where the Russians would attack.[xlvii] Manstein had withstood temptation and Hitler’s pressure to use his reserves “for a direct defense of the Dnieper line.”[xlviii] As such he was prepared to launch a devastating counter-stroke against the dispersed and weakened Russian armies which were still advancing into the trap he planned for them. He had managed to “save his counteroffensive plan from Hitler’s shrill demands that the new reserves be thrown into battle piecemeal to prevent further territorial losses.”[xlix] The stage was now set for a two classic mobile operations.[l]

The Destruction of Mobile Group Popov, 6th Army and 1st Guards Army

Manstein launched his counter-stroke on 21 February against Popov’s Mobile Group using XL Panzer Corps under the command of General Henrici composed of the 7th and 11th Panzer Divisions and SS Motorized Division Viking. Popov’s Group was exposed. Popov had “succeed in cutting the railway from Dnepropetrovsk to Stalino and was itching to push further south to Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.”[li] The Soviets once again had failed to discern German intentions, believing that the Germans were retreating.[lii] Likewise the Soviet high command did not fully understand Popov’s situation. His force was weak in tanks and low on fuel and his Mobile Group was defeated in detail by the German Corps.  Popov’s immobilized tank and motorized rifle formations resisted desperately but were bypassed by the panzers.  The 330th Infantry Division mopped up the remnants of these formations.[liii] The key battles took place around the town of Krasnoarmeiskaia and the battle became a running battle between that town and the Donets River.[liv] Popov requested permission to retreat, but still believing the Germans to be retreating Vatutin gave a categorical “no.” The terrain in the area was “almost completely open”[lv] and “Popov’s proud Armoured Group was cut up like a cake.”[lvi] Popov extricated some of his units but “only after serious losses in manpower and equipment.”[lvii] Despite this it would not be until the 24th that Vatutin would order a halt to offensive operations.[lviii]

kharkovSS Panzers in Kharkov

As Popov sought to get his units out of the German scythe Manstein set his sights on 6th Army, 1st Guards Army and 25th Tank Corps which was approaching Zaporozhe.[lix] He assigned the task to Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army and its XLVIII Panzer Corps under General Knobelsdorf composed of the 6th and 17th Panzer Divisions and the SS Panzer Corps comprising SS Divisions LiebstandarteDas Reich and Totenkopf.[lx] Manstein gave Hoth a brief but explicit order: “The Soviet Sixth Army, now racing towards Dnepropetrovsk through the gap between First Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf, is to be eliminated.”[lxi] The XLVIII Panzer Corps and SS Panzer Corps were unleashed against the exposed flank of the 6th Army and 1st Guards Army.   XLVIII Panzer Corps quickly “seized bridgeheads over the Samara River, and prepared to move north into the rear of the exhausted Soviet Sixth Army.”[lxii] The two Panzer Corps then made a coordinated concentric attack northwest which “came as a complete surprise to the Russians.”[lxiii] Das Reich thrust deep into the flank of 6th Army supported by Stukas from Richthofen’s 4th Air Fleet.  This attack dislodged one Soviet Rifle Corps and destroyed another allowing the division to capture Pavlograd while XLVIII Panzer Corps led by 17th Panzer Division pushed from the south linking up with the SS Corps. This cut off the Soviet 25th Tank Corps and threatened 6thArmy.[lxiv] What followed was a disaster for the Russians.        Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary the Stavka and Front commanders still believed that the Germans were retreating.  6th Army was ordered to continue its advance by the front commander who believed that the two German Panzer Corps were withdrawing.[lxv] In a few days the 17th Panzer Division “gained the Izyum-Protoponovka sector on the Donetz River, while the SS Panzer Corps took Losovaya and established contact with Army Detachment Kempf, which had joined the attack from the west.”[lxvi] XL Panzer Corps with the 3rd and 7thPanzer Divisions and 333rd Infantry Division joined in the attack on Popov’s remaining forces completing their destruction.[lxvii] As Hoth and Hausser converged on Pavlograd, Das Reich and Totenkopf “swung left to the east and then wheeled back north again running parallel to the Russian divisions fleeing from Forty-eighth Panzer Corps. What ensured was a turkey shoot.”[lxviii]Fleeing Russian forces on the open steppe were visible and engaged at long range.[lxix] Leibstandarte helped by holding the left flank against Russian counter attacks from the units now isolated in the west,[lxx] and Totenkopf’sgrenadiers fanned out supported by Stukas to “kill or capture as many Russians as possible.”[lxxi] By 1 March the Russian penetrations had been eliminated. Popov’s Mobile Group was smashed, 6th Army and 1st Guards Army badly mauled. 25th Tank Corps and three Rifle divisions had to be completely written off and numerous other corps and divisions took heavy casualties.  Two additional corps, encircled before the offensive began were eliminated by German forces.[lxxii] The Germans counted 23,000 Russian dead on the battlefield, and Manstein noted that “the booty included 615 tanks, 354 field pieces, 69 anti-aircraft guns and large numbers of machine guns and mortars.”[lxxiii] The Germans only took 9,000 prisoners as they were too weak, especially in infantry to seal off the encircled Soviet forces.[lxxiv] Yet the forces that escaped they were in no condition to “block the continued progress of the Panzers and SS.”[lxxv] Now there was a 100 mile gap in the Russian lines with nothing no troops to fill it and only “General Mud” could stop the Germans.[lxxvi] Manstein was not yet finished and the next phase of his operation against the Soviet formations west of Kharkov and that city were about to commence.

The Destruction of 3rd Tank Army

With the immediate threat to his Army Group eliminated and having regained the initiative, Manstein and Army Group South now “proceeded to deliver the stroke against the ‘Voronezh Front’– i.e. the forces located in the Kharkov area.”[lxxvii] But the Russians had not been idle. In order to attempt to assist 6thArmy 3rd Tank Army moved two tank corps and three Rifle divisions south and these ran into Manstein’s advancing panzers.[lxxviii] Manstein’ noted his objective now was “not the possession of Kharkov but the defeat-and if possible the destruction of the enemy units located there.”[lxxix] Between March 1st and 5th his forces advanced on Kharkov. Not knowing the Germans dispositions[lxxx]3rd Tank Army made the mistake of moving between the Leibstandarte’s defensive positions and the attacking divisions of the SS Panzer Corps. Hausser wheeled Totenkopf around and completed an encirclement of these units near Bereka on 3 March.[lxxxi] The Russians made futile attempts to break out but the SS Divisions tightened the noose around them and they were eliminated by the SS Panzer Corps which “engaged in concentric attacks during the three days of hard fighting.”[lxxxii] Even Regimental commanders like Heinz Harmel of Das Reich’s Der Fuhrer regiment became engaged in close combat with the Russians.[lxxxiii] The battle was fought in “snowstorms whose intensity caused the SS severe privations.”[lxxxiv] Totenkopf and Das Reich slammed the Russians “back against the Tiger tanks and assault guns of the Leibstandarte.”[lxxxv] The elimination of these units netted another 12,000 Russians killed,[lxxxvi] knocking “out the last remaining obstacle between the Germans and Kharkov.”[lxxxvii]

Return to Kharkov and Controversy

Manstein turned his attention to Kharkov, supported by Richthofen’s 4th Air Fleet which for the last time in Russia “provided undisputed air superiority for a major German mechanized operation.”[lxxxviii] He decided to “roll up the enemy from the flank and force him away from Kharkov in the process.”[lxxxix]He ordered a “pincer on the town, sending Grossdeutschland around to the north with a reinforced Kempf detachment and the combined force of Hoth and the SS to attack the town from the south and rear.”[xc] Manstein planned to make a wide envelopment to avoid embroiling his panzers in costly urban combat stating “that at all costs the Army Group wished to avoid Kharkov’s becoming a second Stalingrad in which our assault forces might become irretrievably committed.”[xci] To this end he sent Das Reich and Totenkopfapproaching from the south to west of the city[xcii] while XLVIII Panzer Corps swung east toward the Donetz.[xciii] As Hoth’s forces came up from the south to envelope the city, Grossdeutschland and the XI and LI Corps fought the Russians to the north and west,[xciv] eventually moving up to Belgorod.  By 8 March lead elements of the SS Panzer Corps were on the outskirts of the city.

At this point there is some controversy as to German actions. As noted Manstein wished to avoid urban combat and desired to surround the city and force its surrender.  According to one writer Hoth ordered Hausser “to seal off the city from the west and north and to take any opportunity to seize it.”[xcv] Others including Glantz and House and Murray and Millett state that Hausser “ignored a direct order” and attacked into the city.[xcvi] Manstein does not explicitly say that there was a direct order but notes that the Army Group “had to intervene vigorously on more than one occasion to ensure that the corps did not launch a frontal attack on Kharkov.”[xcvii] Sydnor states that Hausser ignored a direct order by Hoth on the 11th by detailing a battalion of Totenkopf to assist Das Reich and Leibstandarte in retaking Kharkov by direct assault. The order entailed pulling Das Reich out of the city and taking it to the east.[xcviii] Lucas adds that this order came in the midst of hard fighting in the city and could not be carried out by the division.[xcix]Carell notes that on 9 March Hoth instructed Hausser that “opportunities to seize the city by a coup are to be utilized,”[c] and goes into detail regarding how Hoth’s 11 March order applied to Das Reich. It was to be pulled out of action and brought east, but division was heavily engaged and in the process of breaking through Soviet defenses “quicker in fact than if he had pulled “Das Reich” out of the operation and led it all the way round the city along those terrible muddy and time wasting roads.”[ci] In the end the SS took Kharkov, Manstein said that the city “fell without difficulty”[cii] while others note the difficulty of the action and the casualties suffered by the SS.  Kharkov’s capture; the defeat of Rokossovsky’s campaign against Orel and the beginning of the spring Rasutitsa ended the winter campaign and stabilized the front.

Analysis

The Russian winter offensive following Stalingrad had great potential.  Manstein said: “the successes attained on the Soviet side, the magnitude of which is incontestable.”[ciii] The greatest Soviet shortcomings were inexperience in conducting deep mobile operations and the inability of their logistics system to keep up with their advance.  Clark notes that this was their “first experience of an offensive war of movement on a large scale.[civ] Glantz and House are not alone in noting that the “Stavka continued to undertake operations that were beyond its resources.”[cv] Murray and Millett state that they “lacked the operational focus that had marked the Stalingrad offensive.”[cvi] Had they had the resources and ability to execute their plans they might have destroyed all German forces in the south.  They misread German intentions based on their own over-optimistic expectations opened their forces to Manstein’s devastating counter stroke.  Von Mellenthin, possibly showing some prejudice commented that the Russian soldier “when confronted by surprise and unforeseen situations he is an easy prey to panic.”[cvii]

The Germans snatched victory out of what appeared to be certain defeat aided by Russian mistakes and operational shortcomings.  Manstein refused to panic and conserved his forces for his counterattack.[cviii] Kleist brought his Army Group out of what might have been encirclement worse than Stalingrad.  Hitler for the most part gave Manstein operational freedom which he had not provided other commanders.  German Panzer forces conducted mobile operations against superior enemy armored forces and bested them.  Landsers held their own in at critical junctures, especially on the Mius and gave Manstein the opportunity to employ the panzers in the mobile defense.[cix] The Luftwaffe recovered its balance and the coordinated operations between it and German ground forces gave them an edge at a point where the Red Air Force was unable to support the Red Army.[cx] Above all the Germans still maintained the edge in both overall quality of generalship, especially that of Manstein and Kleist, but not to exclude Hoth, Hausser and lower level commanders.  Additionally the average German soldier still maintained an edge over his Soviet adversary in the confusion of mobile operations in open terrain.   Manstein and his forces gave Hitler breathing room on the eastern front.[cxi] As Clark notes: “few periods in World War II show a more complete and dramatic reversal of fortune than the fortnight in February and the first in March 1943…it repaired its front, shattered the hopes of the Allies, nipped the Russian spearhead. Above all it recovered its moral ascendancy.”[cxii]

Notes 


[i] Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956. p245

[ii] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995. p.143

[iii] Ibid. Glantz. P.143. These units include 3rd Tank Army, 1st and 3rd Guards Armies and the 6th, 40th and 69th Armies.

[iv] Liddell-Hart. B.H. Strategy.  A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY 1974, first published by Faber and Faber Ltd. London, 1954 and 1967. p.253

[v] Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operation: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003. p.185

[vi] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. 2000. pp.291-292

[vii] Liddell-Hart, B.H. History of the Second World War. G.P. Putnam’s Son’s, New York, NY. 1970  p.478

[viii] Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986. p.161

[ix] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.292

[x] Ibid. Liddell-Hart, Second World War. p.479

[xi] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart. pp.211-212.

[xii] Clark, Alan. Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict, 1941-45.Perennial, an Imprint of Harper Collins Books, New York, NY 2002. Originally published by William Morrow, New York, NY 1965. pp.299-300

[xiii] Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999. p.11

[xiv] Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Translated by Anthony G. Powell, Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, St Paul, MN. 2004. First Published as Verlorene Siege Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, GE 1955, English edition Methuen & Company Ltd. 1958  p.417

[xv] Ibid. Clark. p.300

[xvi] Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company. pp.196-199

[xvii] Lucas, James. Das Reich: The Military History of the 2nd SS Division.Cassell Military Paperbacks, London, UK, 1999. First published by Arms and Armour, 1991. p.91  Glantz and House criticize Hausser saying that the SS Panzer Corps Staff lacked the experience to perform its mission.  (Titans Clashed p.144) Most other commentators agree with the necessity of his withdraw.

[xviii] Messenger, Charles. Sepp Dietrich: Hitler’s Gladiator. Brassey’s Defence Publishers, London, 1988. p.113

[xix] Ibid. Clark. p.300

[xx] Ibid. Manstein. p.419

[xxi] Ibid. Manstein. pp.418-419

[xxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.144

[xxiii] Ibid. Clark. p.300

[xxiv] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.251

[xxv] Ibid. Carell. p.191

[xxvi] Ibid. Manstein. p.424.

[xxvii] Ibid. Manstein. p.428

[xxviii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. Second World War. p.481

[xxix] This had previously been Army Detachment Lanz, but Lanz had bee relieved over the loss of Kharkov.

[xxx] Ibid. Manstein. p.429

[xxxi] Ibid. Murray and Millet. p.292

[xxxii] Ibid. Wray. p.162

[xxxiii] Ibid. Clark. p.302.

[xxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.145

[xxxv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed . pp.144-145

[xxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.146

[xxxvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.293

[xxxviii] Ibid. Carell. p.191

[xxxix] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.292

[xl] Ibid. Carell. p.199

[xli] Ibid. Carell. p.199

[xlii] Ibid. Carell. p.193

[xliii] Ibid. Clark. p.303

[xliv] Ibid. Clark. p.304

[xlv] Ibid. Clark. p.304

[xlvi] Ibid. Clark. p.304

[xlvii] Ibid. Carell. p.210

[xlviii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. Strategy p.253

[xlix] Ibid. Wray. p.163

[l] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.147. Note comments by Glantz and House in footnote 31 on relative strengths of forces involved, especially the weakness of German forces.

[li] Butler, Rupert. SS Wiking: The History of the Fifth SS Division 1941-45.Casemate, Havertown, PA. 2002. p.93

[lii] Ibid. Carell. p.211

[liii] Ibid. Carell. p.210

[liv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.147

[lv] Ibid. von Mellenthin. p.253

[lvi] Ibid. Carell. p.210

[lvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.293

[lviii] Ibid. Carell. p.213

[lix] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.147

[lx] There is difference in various accounts as to which units composed these Panzer Corps. Von Mellenthin adds 11th Panzer to the XLVIII Panzer Corps and some accounts do not list the Liebstandarte as part of the SS Panzer Corps.

[lxi] Ibid. Carell. p.211

[lxii] Sydnor, Charles W. Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death’s Head Division 1933-1945. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1977. p.268

[lxiii] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.252

[lxiv] Ibid. Carell. p.212

[lxv] Ibid. Carell. p.212

[lxvi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.252

[lxvii] Ibid. Carell. p.213

[lxviii] Ibid. Sydnor. pp.268-269

[lxix] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.253

[lxx] Meyer, Kurt. Grenadiers. Translated by Michael Mende and Robert J. Edwards. J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc. Winnipeg, Manitoba. Canada. 2001. pp.180-181

[lxxi] Ibid. Sydnor. p.269

[lxxii] Ibid. Manstein. p.433

[lxxiii] Ibid. Manstein. p.433. Sydnor lists an addition 600 anti-tank guns and notes that the tanks were almost all T-34s. (Sydnor. p.269)

[lxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.147

[lxxv] Ibid. Clark. p.306

[lxxvi] Ibid. Carell. p.216

[lxxvii] Ibid. Manstein. p.433

[lxxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.187

[lxxix] Ibid. Manstein. p.433

[lxxx] Ibid. Meyer. p.181

[lxxxi] Ibid. Carell. p.216

[lxxxii] Ibid. Meyer. pp.181-182

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Lucas. p.95

[lxxxiv] Ibid. Lucas. p.95

[lxxxv] Ibid. Sydnor. p.277

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Manstein. p.434

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Sydnor. p.277

[lxxxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.13

[lxxxix] Ibid. Manstein. p.435

[xc] Ibid. Clark. p.306

[xci] Ibid. Manstein. p.435

[xcii] Ibid. Sydnor. p.278

[xciii] Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)  p.75

[xciv] Ibid. Raus. pp.189-192

[xcv] Ibid. Messenger. p.114

[xcvi] See Glantz and House p.187 and Murray and Millett p.293

[xcvii] Ibid. Manstein. p.436

[xcviii] Ibid. Sydnor. p.278

[xcix] Ibid. Lucas. p.96

[c] Ibid. Carell. p.216

[ci] Ibid. Carell. p.219

[cii] Ibid. Manstein. p.436

[ciii] Ibid. Manstein. p.437

[civ] Ibid. Clark. p.303

[cv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.143

[cvi] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.292

[cvii] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.254

[cviii] A comment by Von Mellenthin commenting on Manstein’s coolness in the conduct of his operations compares him to Robert E. Lee. “To find another example of defensive strategy of this caliber we must go back to Lee’s campaign in Virginia in the summer of 1864. (Von Mellenthin. p.245)

[cix] For some additional comments along these lines see vn Mellenthin who notes four points in regard to the counter stroke: 1. High level commanders did not restrict the moves of armored formations, but gave them long range tasks. 2. Armored formations had no worries about their flanks because the High Command had a moderate infantry force available for counterattacks. 3. All commanders of armored formations, including corps, conducted operations not from the rear, but from the front. 4. The attack came as a surprise regarding the time and place. (Von Mellenthin p.254)

[cx] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.293

[cxi] Despite his success Hitler was not happy with Manstein in regard to giving up ground for operational purposes and Manstein would lose much of the freedom that he enjoyed by March. Wray has a discussion of this.  See Wray. pp.162-163.  The Nazi hierarchy actively promoted the exploits of the SS Panzer Corps and its leaders, especially the commander of the Leibstandarte Sepp Dietrich. (see Weingartner pp. 76-77) The recognition of Hausser would be delayed, some speculate as a result of his disobedience in giving up Kharkov in February.

[cxii] Ibid. Clark. p.306

Bibliography

Butler, Rupert. SS Wiking: The History of the Fifth SS Division 1941-45.Casemate, Havertown, PA. 2002

Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company

Clark, Alan. Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict, 1941-45. Perennial, an Imprint of Harper Collins Books, New York, NY 2002. Originally published by William Morrow, New York, NY 1965

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

Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995

Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart.

Liddell-Hart, B.H. History of the Second World War. G.P. Putnam’s Son’s, New York, NY.

Liddell-Hart. B.H. Strategy.  A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY 1974, first published by Faber and Faber Ltd. London, 1954 and 1967

Lucas, James. Das Reich: The Military History of the 2nd SS Division. Cassell Military Paperbacks, London, UK, 1999. First published by Arms and Armour, 1991

Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Translated by Anthony G. Powell, Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, St Paul, MN. 2004. First Published as Verlorene Siege Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, GE 1955, English edition Methuen & Company Ltd. 1958

Messenger, Charles. Sepp Dietrich: Hitler’s Gladiator. Brassey’s Defence Publishers, London, 1988

Meyer, Kurt. Grenadiers. Translated by Michael Mende and Robert J. Edwards. J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc. Winnipeg, Manitoba. Canada. 2001

Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operation: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003

Sydnor, Charles W. Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death’s Head Division 1933-1945. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1977

Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956

Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)

Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986

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Filed under History, leadership, Military, nazi germany, war crimes, world war two in europe

What if Hitler was assassinated in 1943? An Alternative History of Kursk and the End of World War II in Europe

This is an alternative history of how the Germans might have avoided the disaster at Kursk. It looks at what might have happened if an actual assassination attempt on Hitler had succeeded in March 1943 and how Manstein might have been able to execute the “backhand” strategy that he favored using a mobile defense.  This is predicated by Hitler’s death, based on Hitler’s actions and control of operational decisions Manstein would never have been allowed the freedom to conduct operations in this manner.  In eliminating Hitler I have also included personnel changes and the overall strategy for the German High Command, and the probable response of Stalin to Hitler’s death had it occurred in the spring of 1943. I have tried to be faithful to known historical opinions and actions of the participants and likely reactions to such a situation although one cannot predict precisely what people would have done.  Thus I have documented the article with footnotes as if it were an actual history. It would have been interesting to be able to lengthen this and included sections on tactical actions based on memoirs of German and Russian soldiers. I wrote it as at the behest of one of my Master’s Degree Professors and first published it in August of 2009 on this site under the title of Operation “Dachs” My First Foray into the Genre “Alternative History.” I believe that history is history and this despite what the term “alternative history” implies is fiction.  Though it is based on my belief of how German leaders might have reacted in the spring of 1943 and references actual events that I have altered for the sake of the story it is not history. But one has to wonder what would have happened had the plot to kill Hitler by blowing up his aircraft on its return to Germany from a conference with the commanders of Army Group Center succeeded.

 

Background: The Strategic Situation Spring 1943

In April 1943 the German High Command faced a decision on which the fate of Nazi Germany would hinge, but for the first time in the war it was not under the thumb of Adolf Hitler. Following Manstein’s counter-stroke following the Stalingrad disaster there was considerable pressure to follow up with that success with a continued offensive. Manstein himself had proposed this but Field Marshal Von Kluge refused to agree to an immediate offensive because he felt his troops needed rest and refitting.

Hitler’s Fw-200 “Condor” before its fatal flight

On March 13th Hitler flew out to meet with Von Kluge at Army Group Center HQ at Smolensk.  On the flight back Hitler’s FW-200 was racked by an explosion crash landing near Minsk, taken down by a bomb planted on the plane by Colonel Henning Von Trescow of Kluge’s staff.[i] While Hitler survived, he remained in critical condition, barely alive at a SS hospital until his death on 20 April 1943, his 54th birthday. The crash landing was reported by the escorting ME-109s of JG-53, and a Alarm Company from a Security Division at Minsk rescued Hitler but were driven off the crash site by a large force of Soviet Partisans who destroyed the aircraft and any evidence to the cause which the escorting fighters attributed to mechanical problems. 

There were no other survivors. Von Kluge, expecting to be implicated the Fuhrer’s death committed suicide after visiting troops on the front line, and was succeeded at Army Group Center by Field Marshal Model the commander of 9th Army. The other conspirators were frozen into inaction when Hitler survived the crash and made no attempt to take over the government, realizing that “our plans for seizing power in Berlin and other large cities were still not adequate to the task.”[ii] In the absence of Hitler Reichsmarschall Goering, Hitler’s designated successor, took action to secure his power and using contacts in the GESTAPO accused Himmler of treason for making contact with Neutral intermediaries in Sweden[iii] and replaced him with SS General Kurt Wolfe, and reappointed Rudolf Diels, the former head of the GESTAPO when it was still under his control[iv], to head it again.  Himmler attempted to flee and was caught near Luneburg when he committed suicide with a cyanide capsule before he could be interrogated. Other potential rivals were eliminated; Martin Bormann, who Goering hated, was arrested on charges of exceeding his authority, embezzlement, and harming the war effort and was executed.[v] Joseph Goebbels swore his loyalty to Goering even before Hitler’s death.  He and Albert Speer were directed to arrange the state funeral for the late Fuhrer. Berlin Radio announced the Fuhrer’s death on the 21 April, Hitler’s body was prepared and lay in state at the Chancellery.   A period of mourning was declared 21 April to 1 May on which the State Funeral took place. On 2 May Goering announced that Field Marshal Von Rundstedt was the new Chief of OKW and would coordinate strategy on all fronts. The next day Goering called together a meeting of the heads of OKH, OKW, the Inspector General of Panzer Troops, and the commanders of the Eastern Front Army Groups, Western Europe and Africa as well as Reichsfuhrer Karl Wolff, Admiral Donitz and Field Marshal Von Richthofen[vi] representing the Luftwaffe to decide on a course of action for the summer. It was the first time that all had been called together to discuss the overall situation since Barbarossa began in 1941, and the first true attempt to formulate a grand strategy during the war.

Options and Decision: The Zossen Conference 3 May 1943[vii]

Goering meeting Diplomats following Hitler’s State Funeral

Herman Goering looked up from the maps spread out on the conference table.  He looked surprisingly fit, somehow between the crash of Hitler’s aircraft and his death he had pulled himself together and out of his drug induced malaise.  It was as if he again had a purpose. Field Marshal Von Rundstedt now Chief of OKW following Goering’s relief of Field Marshal Keitel, and General Jodl had just finished briefing the situation in western and southern Europe, following briefings by Colonel General Zeitzler of OKH, the Inspector General of Armored Troops, General Guderian and Field Marshal Von Manstein of Army Group South.  Albert Speer briefed tank and aircraft production numbers while the Chief of the Army personnel office noted the requirement for 800,000 replacements “but even the most ruthless call-up was able to produce only 400,000.”[viii] Looking from the table he spoke: “Gentlemen, the situation is critical and I have to admit that I have thought so for a number of months but have been unable to speak out.   Our political situation is perilous, the Italians are ready to abandon our cause. Our forces in North Africa will soon be unable to hold out as our Italian friends have let us down again.[ix] I expect that if Jodl and Kesselring are right about Allied intentions that we will have our hands full in the west shortly.  Kesselring and Arnim, you need to evacuate as many German soldiers from Africa as possible,[x] use all air and naval forces that you can, I know it will be difficult, especially with the heavy losses we have taken in transport aircraft and the pathetic Italian Navy.”  Goering paused, his gaze passing around the room.  “In the west we need to assume that the Allies will invade and the ‘very real danger that the enemy may turn against Brittany and Normandy,’ Field Marshal Rommel will take command of OB West to build up the Atlantic Wall in these sectors.”[xi] “Zeitzler, Manstein, we need to shore up the eastern front.”

“Herr Reichsmarschall, the Fuhrer had approved the plan called ZITADELLE, to attack the Russians here in the Kursk salient.” responded Zeitzler.[xii] “We should be ready to begin the offensive this month.”  Goering raised his hand stopping Zeitzler.  “I know, but I have considered that plan and I cannot support it. Richthofen briefed me on it prior to the Fuhrer’s death and general, we must have another plan, and an attack on Kursk is so obvious the Russians will be ready to meet it.  I have considered what the General Guderian and Minister Speer said regarding tank production and the state of the Panzer arm.  I cannot approve Zitadelle, but we must find a way to deal the Russians a defeat without squandering our strength attacking such an obvious target. Model too is dubious of the prospects; he believes that the Russians know our intentions and has requested a delay to strengthen his forces.”[xiii] “Reichsmarshall.” chimed in Jodl. “You are correct, the premature commitment of central reserves in such an offensive will not help our cause, in fact only local success is what can be expected from Zitadelle.”[xiv]

Colonel General Heinz Guderian 

“But Reichsmarshall, we must recapture the initiative in the east, we must take the offensive!” retorted Zeitzler. “Our new units of Panthers and Tigers will give us a decisive technical advantage.”[xv] Guderian now joined in. “But the Panthers still have many technical problems, it would be better to wait until they are worked out before we commit them to a major offensive, and besides, how many people do you think even know where Kursk is?”[xvi]

“Zeitzler, I appreciate your zeal.” Interrupted Goering, “But Jodl and Guderian are correct, even a successful attack at Kursk will not alter the strategic situation. We must work to stave off defeat.  Manstein has a plan that may help, there is some risk, but I see no other way. An offensive at Kursk would require tanks and aircraft that must be used to combat the Allied bombing of the Reich and to safeguard withdraw of our units from Africa, it would force us to commit everything with little gain.” Goering paused and said to Manstein, “Go ahead Manstein.”

“Reichsmarshall, Gentlemen.  Our situation in the east is not hopeless, in March I felt that an immediate offensive would succeed in pinching off the Kursk bulge, but I think now that the moment of opportunity has passed for such an attack.  Instead we should fight a defensive battle of maneuver as called for byTruppenführung that we have developed from the days of the Reichswehr.  We should build up our forces; give ground where we can, and when we have the chance strike the enemy on the backhand, as we did at Kharkov.”[xvii]

Zeitzler jumped in. “But how can we do that? If we don’t strike now while we have the opportunity the Russians will grow stronger, and how can we know where they will strike?”[xviii]

“General Zeitzler, the Russians are already building up heavy armored forces in the area of Kursk, and diverting forces from other sectors of the front to that area.  The south offers them the best opportunity to finish what they started in the winter.  They will come and it will be in the south, they will want Kharkov and they will again attempt to envelop our forces in the south. If they succeed they will follow up and rapidly move into the Balkans, Romania and Hungary will turn on us and it will be a disaster, we cannot afford that.”  Manstein looked up, Jodl nodded and Model said “Once that is done they will push to Kiev and Poland.” Goering interjected “Thank you Model, you are right, Field Marshal Manstein; please go on with your plan.”

Field Marshal Erich Von Manstein at the Front

Motioning to the map Manstein continued. “We will concentrate the majority of our Panzer forces here, just west of Kharkov and another group here west of Orel.  We will also build fall back positions for our infantry forces here along the Dnieper.  We should be ready to withdraw from the Crimea should the need arise, we cannot afford another encirclement.  When the Russians attack we will give ground, even Kharkov if needed. Our infantry divisions will fight a delaying action supported by Jagdpanzer and Sturmgeschutzen, the Luftwaffe will need to give us good close air support from Stukas and as the Russians outrun their supply depots and their offensive loses momentum we will attack, like a badger defending itself.  Our Panzers will cut off their spearheads west of Kharkov while we bleed them dry in the north; we will then roll them up, stabilize the line and prepare for the winter.”  Manstein sounded confident; those in the room began to sense that his plan could work.  Rundstedt spoke up: “That will give us the chance to transfer forces to other fronts and, maybe, since Hitler is dead there might be a chance for Reichsmarschall to negotiate a settlement,[xix] otherwise gentlemen the Allies will destroy our cities from the air and grind our armies down until we have no recourse but surrender.”

“Right” added Goering, making eye contact with each man in the room. “We must have success in the defense, we must buy time and we must work to end this war before Germany is destroyed. ‘We will have reason to be glad if Germany can keep the boundaries of 1933 after the war.”[xx] He paused and said “General Zeitzler, you are relieved of your duties at OKH, General Guderian, you are now the Chief of OKH.[xxi] Manstein, you will command the East, General Hoth will take your Army Group. You will work with Guderian and Model to flesh out this plan.  We must get the Panther, Tiger and Ferdinand units operational as soon as possible.  I believe that the Russians will attack by June. Richthofen, I need you to look to the Luftwaffe. We have not had a good year and we have to succeed in defending the Reich from Allied bombers and provide support to the ground forces. Of course flak needs to be built up. The Luftwaffe Field Divisions with the exception of the Fallschirmjaeger and Herman Goering Panzer Division need to be transferred to Army control.”  He looked at Speer: “Herr Speer, the Fuhrer entrusted you with our war production program, you must increase production of tanks and aircraft. Speed the production of the ME-262 and cancel all programs that take away from the panzers, fighters and ground support aircraft that we need now.” He put his hands on his hips and took a deep breathe. He looked at Wolfe, Himmler’s successor.  Wolff, the Reich needs the Waffen SS, the Panzer troops are exceptional, but I want all Waffen SS Formations, with including the Panzers turned over to Army control, we cannot keep dividing our resources. With the personnel from the Luftwaffe Field Divisions we should be able to provide the Army with excellent troops to rebuild experienced formations.”  Goering looked around the room; “Are there any questions Gentlemen?” Putting his arm across Manstein’s soldier and said: “I think that Badger is a fitting name for your plan. Our little Dachs will tear them to pieces.”   Later, Goering met with Foreign Ministry officials emphasizing the need to strengthen German Allies and seek peace with the west. He “admitted that he was worried about the future. ‘It’s not quite clear to me how we are going to end this war.’”[xxii] Those present could not believe how Goering had conducted himself, and all left the meeting thinking that it might be possible to stave off defeat.  It was an incredible performance. After Hitler’s crash he had secretly undergone a “systematic withdraw cure which had ended his drug addiction.”[xxiii] The change was marked.

STAVKA Headquarters Moscow: 7 May 1943

Josef Stalin was ecstatic.  His agents reported that Hitler was dead even before the announcement from Berlin.  Partisans had confirmed that it was Hitler’s aircraft that they found and recovered some of Hitler’s personal belongings, including his cap, which they presented to Stalin.  Intelligence reported that Goering had taken power, and Stalin was sure that his position was weak and many believed that Goering, was not up to the task, and that a renewed offensive could bring down the Nazi regime.  Now was the time to bring the Nazi terror to an end and Stalin called his key leaders together.  While Stalin wanted an immediate offensive his generals wanted to wait just in case the Germans attacked Kursk.  “Zhukov, Vasilevsky, and various General Staff officers urged caution and recommended that the Red Army remain on the defensive until the Germans expended their offensive strength.”[xxiv] Stalin supported by commanders, like Vatutin, “argued for a resumption of offensive action in early summer to preempt German action and regain the momentum lost in March 1943.”[xxv] In the end a compromise was reached and despite the temporary defensive stand “Russian strategic planning in the summer of 1943 was inherently offensive in nature.”[xxvi] The new offensive would be launched on 15 June if the Germans had not attacked before.  It would be named Operation Kutuzov[xxvii] and be aimed at the Orel salient and Kharkov.  The northern prong under Rokossovsky’s Central Front would destroy the Germans around Orel and drive west while Vatutin’s Voronezh and Konev’s Steppe Front would take Kharkov and drive toward the Dnieper.[xxviii] The Southwest Front and South Fronts would attack and destroy the German forces along the Mius, the goal: “collapse of the German defenses and an advance to the line of the Dnieper River from Smolensk in the north southward to the Black Sea.”[xxix]

Sturmgeschutzen and SdKfw 251 APCs moving into position

Manstein met with Model, Hoth and Guderian to develop DACHS. They had  to play for time and deceive the Russians as to their true intent so they could build up their forces.  Deception operations were mounted on both sides of the Kursk bulge to give the impression of attack preparations.  1st Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf  were to launch a diversion called Operations HABICHT and PANTHER southeast of Kursk  “designed to push the Soviets back from the industrial area of the Donets River.”[xxx] The defensive plan called for the infantry supported by tank destroyers, assault guns the heavy Ferdinands as well as mobile Pioneer units to conduct a withdraw to delay and disrupt the Russian attack.  Bridges were prepared for demolition, defensive positions constructed at choke points which would be defended and then abandoned when no longer defensible, and minefields laid to slow the Russian advance.  This was critical for 9th Army now commanded by General Henrici in the Orel salient north of Kursk.  Henrici, a defensive master constructed a series of defensive belts to allow his army to withdraw from the bulge without being cut off and inflict heavy casualties on the Russians through skillful deployment of anti-tank weapons, especially self propelled guns.[xxxi] In the south 4th Panzer Army, now commanded by SS General Paul Hausser[xxxii] and Army detachment Kempf made preparations to allow the Russians to advance past Kharkov using the same defend and delay tactics and then counterattack. As the armies prepared, Speer and Guderian’s efforts to rebuild the Panzer force were bearing fruit.  By 15 May the first brigade of Panther tanks was activated and began training west of Kharkov.[xxxiii] Two battalions of Ferdinands, one for 9thArmy and one for 4th Panzer Army were activated.[xxxiv] Sturmgeschutzbattalions were assigned to each infantry corps. Panzer divisions built up so that all had an average of 130 tanks, with the SS Divisions and Gross Deutschland receiving more.  Tiger battalions were assigned to each Panzer Corps.

The Summer Campaign

German Infantry

On 1 June Operations PANTHER and HABICHT hit the unfortunate Soviet 6thArmy, which had been victimized by Manstein’s counter-stroke in March.  III Panzer Corps of Army Detachment Kempf supported by Corps Raus (IX Corps) linked up with 1st Panzer Army at Kupiansk on 3 June.  The Russian counterattacked with 8th Guards Army and the 2nd and 23rd Tank Corps. The battle of Kupiansk resulted in the destruction of 6th Army and the 23rd Tank Corps which was surprised by the 503rd Panzer Detachment’s Tigers. 2nd Tank Corps received a similar mauling at the hands of the 6th Panzer Division.  On 9 June the Germans returned to their start positions.

Soviet Tanks and AT Guns at Kupiansk

The attack at Kupiansk surprised STAVKA which had been deceived by the build up of Panzers around the Kursk salient.  Stalin continued to hound his generals to begin Kutuzov on time, but the generals were “chastened” by the defeat at Kupiansk and “earlier experiences”[xxxv] and wanted to delay. Stalin forced them to begin Kutuzov on 22 June, the 2nd Anniversary of Barbarossa.  Manstein and his Eastern Front commanders held their breath.  Teams of Brandenburger commandos operating in the Soviet rear and Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft reported Russian units moving to advanced positions to the north and south of Kursk.  Vatutin commanding the Voronezh Front was ambushed and killed by a Brandenburger detachment supporting Ukrainian irregulars[xxxvi] as he returned from visiting 69th Army near Prokhorovka station on 19 June and was replaced by Lieutenant General Katukov of 1st Tank Army.  Katukov “was one of the Red Army’s most accomplished and experienced armor officers.”[xxxvii]

Manstein with Tigers

In the north Rokossovsky’s Central Front and Popov’s Bryansk Front supported by 11th Guards Army[xxxviii] began concentric attacks on the German 9th and 2nd Panzer Armies and ran into Henrici’s labyrinth on 22 June.  They hit the first line they found it empty, the Germans having repaired to secondary positions,[xxxix] German 88’s and self propelled guns took a heavy toll on the tanks of 2nd Tank Army.  The 3rd Tank Army under General Rybalko’s army committed after the initial assault “attempted a fresh penetration instead of exploiting the earlier efforts of the 3rd and 63rd Armies… Rybalko’s force included 698 serviceable tanks…but lacked the artillery and engineers for such a deliberate assault.”[xl] Popov telephoned Stalin at noon on 25 June “to report that Rybalko was practically stalled and suffering heavy losses in tanks.”[xli]The Germans committed the 5th and 8th Panzer divisions[xlii] against 3rd Tank Army. The fresh Panzers inflicted painful losses on Rybalko.  On 27 June Stalin called to complain about the handling of the army, demanding a direct assault.[xliii] The battle turned into a “grinding battle of armored attrition.”[xliv] After “a few bloody days bereft of any success, Rybalko’s tank formations had to be pulled out of the line into reserve.”[xlv] The “battle for the Orel salient ended three weeks later with a German defensive victory, as Army Group Center extricated its two armies from the box prepared for them while inflicting heavy casualties on three Soviet Fronts.”[xlvi] The Soviets lost over 629,000 men and 3,500 tanks.[xlvii] In comparison German losses were light and by falling back they shortened their line freeing units for other operations.  Stalin had Orel but failed to destroy the Germans and lost heavily in the attempt.

Panzer IV’s engaging Soviet forces

In the south Konev’s Steppe and Katukov’s Voronezh Fronts prepared their assault on Kharkov.  They attempted to deceive the Germans by simulating the massing of a “notional tank and combined-arms army” in the western side of the Kursk bulge.[xlviii] The deception was unsuccessful as reconnaissance by Luftwaffe aircraft and Brandenburgers failed to uncover any troop concentrations and Russian deserters, talked of a strike at Kharkov. The offensive “Rumiantsev” was opened by the 5th and 6th Guards armies supported by 53rd and 69th Armies on 21 June; a day later 7th Guards Army jumped off, two additional armies supported the west flank of the offensive.[xlix] The Russians in the two fronts began the operation with 980,000 men and 2,500 tanks.[l] Opposing them were 4th Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf’s 350,000 men and 1,750 tanks and assault guns including 100 Tigers and 192 Panthers.[li]

T-34 towing disabled T-34 near Orel

STAVKA “chose to strike the strongest portion of Hoth’s defense head-on, to engage and defeat the German force and avoid the problems of flank threats.”[lii] Unfortunately they complicated the attack by focusing it at “precisely the boundary between the Voronezh and Steppe Fronts, causing increased coordination problems from the start of the operation.”[liii] The Germans used Ferdinands, Jagdpanzers and Sturmgeschutz in a mobile defensive role, as infantry fought delaying actions as they withdrew to successive defensive lines, inflicting brutal losses on the Russians.  Aided by massive artillery preparation the Russians broke through the weakened Army Detachment Kempf near Belgorad[liv] taking the city on 24 June.  Corps Raus’ 167th Infantry Division was taken on its exposed left flank forcing Raus to “fight a delaying action…until the withdraw reached Kharkov.” [lv] The Germans reacted to the threat by committing the “veteran 5th SS Panzer Grenadier Division Wiking” to reinforce Army Detachment Kempf.[lvi] Despite the success “the German defenses proved so tenacious that the leading brigades of the two tank armies had to enter the fray.”[lvii]

Destroyed column of T-34s

As the Russians advanced the German fell back.  Hoth directed Hausser to wait before counterattacking with XLVIII Panzer Corps and II SS Panzer Corps.  Katukov pushed the 1st and 5th Tank Armies into the hole in the German lines and moved toward Kharkov which was liberated by the 89th and 183rd Guards Divisions[lviii] on 2 July.  The liberation of Kharkov and Belgorad while exhilarating had cost Katukov over 250,000 casualties.  Skillful employment of mobile defense and local counterattacks by mixed Panzer battlegroups, such as one by Grossdeutschland on the flank of 5th Tank Army caused panic and some units withdrew “leaving behind masses of equipment of every description.”[lix]The tank armies had lost upwards of 50 percent of their tanks, infantry divisions were now down to half strength, some down to 3000 men.[lx] Yet the Soviets attempted to drive south to trap the Germans.  They were hit by XLVIII Panzer Corps and II SS Panzer Corps, both of which had seen little action thanks to Hoth’s conservation of strength. XLVIII Panzer Corps hit the 1st Tank Army at the “key road junction of Bogodukhov, 30 kilometers northwest” of Kharkov “severely mauling the leading three brigades”[lxi] forcing 1st Tank Army to withdraw towards Kursk. 5th Tank army moved to support but was taken in the flank by II SS Panzer Corps.  The SS Corps encircled the remainder of 5th Tank Army. Hunted by the SS on the open steppe the survivors slipped through gaps in the encirclement but both armies were ravaged.  By 15 June 1st Tank Army was down to 120 tanks and 5th Tank Army had “50 of its original 503 tanks and self-propelled guns serviceable.”[lxii] XLVII Panzer Corps took Kharkov on 18 July.

SS Panzer Grenadiers and Panzertrüppen Tigers of 3rd SS Panzer Division prepping for battle

The victory paid dividends for the Germans. The Front held and the Russians had taken nearly a million casualties and lost almost 6000 tanks and self-propelled guns.  Three Tank Armies had been smashed, 5th Tank Army would not be fit for field duty for two months.[lxiii] 3rd Tank Army earned a Guards designation but was withdrawn from combat.[lxiv] 6th Army, victimized by PANTHER was destroyed while the 5th, 6th and 7th Guards Armies were shattered. Additionally, the Germans decimated two independent tank corps.  Stalin reacted by halting operations, cancelling follow on offensives and rebuilding the Red Army’s tank armies and mechanized forces.  He realized that his Generals had been right in not wanting to undertake offensive operations until the Germans had been weakened, but the German insistence on not going on the offensive caused him to ignore their arguments. He decided to wait until winter to launch his next offensive, but that offensive would never be launched as by the time he was ready the war was over.

German Tank Commander as Panzers mop up

The elimination of the Russian threat enabled Italy to be reinforced as well as the reinforcement of the Atlantic Wall.  The Salerno landings were a disaster, the Allies driven into the sea by Panzer Divisions released from the Eastern Front.  The disasters at Salerno and the Russian debacle brought overwhelming domestic political pressure on Roosevelt and Churchill to end the war. Clandestine talks began in Switzerland between Avery Dulles and Karl Wolff[lxv] while Walter Schellenberg met with Count Bernadotte.[lxvi] Despite the previous demand for unconditional surrender the Allies decided to negotiate with the new German leadership might end the war in Europe.  Goering surrendered power to General Beck and gave himself and other accused war criminals up to the Allies. Beck took power, withdrew to 1939 borders, dismantled the death camps and disbanded the Nazi Party, and its police apparatus.[lxvii] Peace came to Europe on 9 November 1943, 25 years after Kaiser Wilhelm’s abdicated his throne.

Goering Surrenders to the Allies


[i] Clark, Alan. Barbarossa: The Russian German Conflict, 1941-45. Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY 1965. Pp.307-311. There was an attempt on Hitler’s life on his return from Kluge’s headquarters.  Only the bomb did not go off, all components had worked but the detonator did not fire.  Clark notes that “the Devil’s hand had protected Hitler.” (p.311)

[ii] Galante, Pierre. Operation Valkyrie: The German Generals’ Plot Against Hitler. Translated by Mark Howson and Cary Ryan. Harper and Row Publishers, New York, NY 1981. Originally published as Hitler est il Mort? Librairie Plon-Paris-Match, France. 1981. p.167

[iii] Padfield, Peter. Himmler. MJF Books, New York. 1990. p.474.  Himmler had a number of contacts and intermediaries who he used to attempt contact with the Allies as early as 1943.

[iv] Höhne, Heinze. The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS. Translated by Richard Barry. Penguin Books, New York and London, 2000. First English edition published by Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd. London 1969. Originally published as Der Orden unter dem Totenkopf, Verlag Der Spiegel, Hamburg 1966.  Diels remained an ally of Goering even marrying his sister in 1943.

[v] Von Lang, Jochen. The Secretary: Martin Bormann: The Man Who Manipulated Hitler. Translated by Christa Armstrong and Peter White. Random House Inc. 1979. Originally published as Der Secretär. Deutsche-Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart. 1977 p.9.  At his trial Goering remarked to other defendants. “If Hitler had died sooner, I as his successor would not have had to worry about Bormann. He would have been killed by his own staff even before I could have given the order to bump him off.”

[vi] Irving, David. Göring: A Biography. William Morrow and Company, New York, NY 1989. Richthofen had succeeded Jeschonnek in March when Goering relieved him. Goering believed that Jeschonnek “was too pliable at the Wolf’s Lair.” Goering had actually considered this a number of times but postponed it several times. p.388

[vii] Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957. pp.244  Hitler conducted a similar conference involving many of the same people in Munich.

[viii] Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company. p. 336

[ix] Ibid. Irving. pp. 377-379.

[x] Ibid. Guderian. p.243

[xi] Ibid. Irving. p.378

[xii] Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999. pp.21-25.  Operations order 5 had been approved by Hitler on and issued by OKH on 13 March. It was followed by Operations Order 6 on 15 April.

[xiii] Ibid. Clark. p.324.

[xiv] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964. p.334 These objections of Jodl were from June, but indicate the feeling of Jodl for the Zitadelle as planned and when would have likely been his response in such a situation.

[xv]Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995. p.157 Zeitzler had been a consistent advocate for Zitadelle since he heard Manstein’s initial proposal in March.

[xvi]Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY 1975 p.206

[xvii] Ibid. Clark. p.322

[xviii] Ibid. Clark. p.323.  Zeitzler made this argument with Jodl during a briefing in April 1943.

[xix] Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. A Touchstone Book published by Simon and Schuster, 1981, Copyright 1959 and 1960. p.1115.  Hitler had told Keitel and Jodl that “When it comes to negotiating [for peace]…Goering can do much better than I. Goering is much better at those things.”

[xx] Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Collier Books, a Division of MacMillan Publishers, Inc. New York, NY 1970. p.245.  From a conversation with Speer in late 1942.

[xxi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Clash of Titans. pp. 216-217. Hitler would replace Zeitzler with Guderian in June 1944.

[xxii] Ibid. Irving. p.379 From a conversation with State Secretary Ernst von Weizäcker 11 February 1943.

[xxiii] Ibid. Speer.  p.512. The ending of the addiction took place at Nurnberg and Goering surprised many of his co-defendants with his “remarkable energy.”

[xxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.28

[xxv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.28.

[xxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.264

[xxvii] Overy, Richard. Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet War Effort: 1941-1945. Penguin Books, New York NY and London, 1997. pp.211

[xxviii] Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin. Cassel Military Paperbacks, London, 2003. First Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1983. p.76

[xxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.265

[xxx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.23.

[xxxi] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart. p.215  Henrici describes the methods that he used in 1944 as Commander of 1st Panzer Army and as Commander of Army Group Vistula during the defense of Berlin.

[xxxii] Hausser would actually command 7th Army in Normandy in 1944.

[xxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House Kursk. p.53 This was the 10th Panzer Brigade assigned to XLVIII Panzer Corps.  Additionally Clark notes production figures for Panthers from Speer that indicate that 324 Panthers would be available by 31 May. (Clark. p.325)

[xxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.52.  At Kursk the two Ferdinand detachments were both assigned to 9th Army.

[xxxv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.28.

[xxxvi] Ibid. Carell. p.510.  Vatutin was killed by Ukrainian irregulars in April 1944.

[xxxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.62

[xxxviii] Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General. DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005. p. 256

[xxxix] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. p.215.

[xl] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.236

[xli] Ibid. Erickson. p.113. At Kursk the call took place on 20 July when Rybalko was in this situation.

[xlii] Ibid. Newton. p.256

[xliii] Ibid. Erickson. p.114

[xliv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.236

[xlv] Ibid. Erickson. p.114

[xlvi] Ibid. Newton. p.256

[xlvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.345. The actual losses were 429,000 men and 2,500 tanks against a German force significantly weakened by Zitadelle.  Had the Russians attacked the Germans rather than receiving the German attack first their losses in men and machines would have been far higher.  I have reflected that in the alternative numbers.

[xlviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.168  The Soviets did try this in their counter offensive following Zitadelle.

[xlix] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.169

[l] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.344. Actual figures for beginning of offensive.

[li] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.338.  Figures from beginning of Zitadelle.

[lii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.244 The actual text reads “Manstein’s defense” not Hoth’s.

[liii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.244

[liv] Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956. p.286

[lv] Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operations: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003. p.214

[lvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.247

[lvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.169

[lviii] Ibid. Erickson. p.121  These were the actual divisions that liberated Kharkov.

[lix] Ibid.  Von Mellenthin . p.287

[lx] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.252

[lxi] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.170

[lxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.252

[lxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.252

[lxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.237

[lxv] Ibid. Hohne. p.572

[lxvi] Ibid.  Hohne. p.570

[lxvii] Ibid. Galante. pp 69 and 207

Bibliography

Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company

Clark, Alan. Barbarossa: The Russian German Conflict, 1941-45. Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY 1965

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Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Collier Books, a Division of MacMillan Publishers, Inc. New York, NY 1970.

Von Lang, Jochen. The Secretary: Martin Bormann: The Man Who Manipulated Hitler. Translated by Christa Armstrong and Peter White. Random House Inc. 1979. Originally published as Der Secretär. Deutsche-Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart. 1977

Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956.

Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964.

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Filed under alternative history, Military, world war two in europe

Stalingrad: Disaster on the Volga

Madonna of Stalingrad: Drawn by a German Chaplain and physician the piece was taken out of the city by one of the last officers to get out. It is now displayed in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin

Sunday the 31st of January marks the surrender of the remnants of the German 6th Army to the Soviets at Stalingrad. The focus of this article is on how the Germans and Russians fought the Stalingrad campaign. In particular it is an analysis of the way the governments and military’s of both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union planned and executed strategy during the course of the campaign adjusted to the situation and how the campaign ended. It is also a reminder of the price that ordinary soldiers can pay when a country commits them to war. I conclude with a potential modern application for the US and NATO in Afghanistan.

Stalingrad: Primary or Secondary Objective

The mistakes began early in the planning and conduct of the operation

Following the Soviet winter offensive and the near disaster in front of Moscow the German High Command was faced with the strategic decision of what to do in the 1942 campaign.  Several options were considered and it was decided to seize the Caucasus oilfields and capture or neutralize the city of Stalingrad on the Volga.  However, the High Command was divided on the actual objective of the campaign.

OKH under the guidance of General Halder assumed that Stalingrad was the objective and the advance into the Caucasus was a blocking effort.[i] Hitler and OKW planned to capture the Caucasus oil fields and capture or neutralize Stalingrad to secure the left flank.[ii] Both OKH and OKW considered Stalingrad significant but “German commanders initially regarded it as a weigh station en route to the Caucasus oil fields.”[iii] The conflict echoed in the ambiguity of Directive No. 41 which “included the ‘seizure of the oil region of the Caucasus’ in the preamble concerning the general aim of the campaign, yet made no mention of this in the main plan of operations.”[iv] At the planning conference held at Army Group South in early June “Hitler hardly mentioned Stalingrad. As far as his Generals were concerned it was little more than a name on the map. His obsession was with the oil fields of the Caucasus.”[v] Manstein noted that “Hitler’s strategic objectives were governed chiefly by the needs of his war economy….”[vi] Anthony Beevor notes that at this stage of planning “the only interest in Stalingrad was to eliminate the armaments factories there and secure a position on the Volga. The capture of the city was not considered necessary.”[vii] German planners “expected that the Soviets would again accept decisive battle to defend these regions.”[viii]

In Moscow Stalin and his Generals attempted to guess the direction of the impending German offensive.  “Stalin was convinced that Moscow remained the principle German objective…Most of the Red Army’s strategic reserves…were therefore held in the Moscow region.”[ix] To disrupt the German offensive and to attempt to recover Kharkov three offensives were launched by Red Army forces under the direction of Stavka. The largest of these on Kharkov was defeated between 12-22 May with the loss of most of the armor in southern Russia. This coupled with an equally disastrous defeat of Red Army forces in Crimea by Von Manstein’s 11th Army meant that the Red Army would face the Germans in a severely weakened condition.[x]

Operation Blau: Opening Moves and Divergent Objectives

Panzers cross the Don

The German offensive began on 28 June under the command of Field Marshal von Bock. Bock’s command included two separate army groups, Army Group B under General Von Weichs with 2nd Army, 6th Army and 4th Panzer Army operated in the northern part of the operational area. Army Group A was to the south with 17th Army and 1st Panzer Army.[xi] Army Group B provided the main effort and quickly smashed through the defending Soviet armies and by the 20th Hitler believed that “the Russian is finished.”[xii] One reason for the German success in the south was that until July 7th Stalin believed that Moscow was still the primary objective.[xiii] Bock was prevented by Hitler from destroying Soviet formations left behind and was relieved of command by Hitler. He was replaced by Von Weichs which created a difficult command and control problem.  Manstein noted that this created a “grotesque chain of command on the German southern wing” with the result that Army Group A had “no commander of its own whatever” and Army Group B had “no few than seven armies under command including four allied ones.”[xiv]

Destroyed Soviet T-34s

This decision proved fateful.  Hitler’s decided to redirect the advance of the 4th Panzer Army to support an early passage of the lower Don, diverting it from its drive on Stalingrad.  Additionally the army groups became independent of each other when Bock was relieved of command.  They were “assigned independent-and diverging-objectives” under the terms of Directive No.45.[xv] This combination of events would have a decisive impact on the campaign.  The decision prevented a quick seizure of Stalingrad by 4th Panzer Army followed by a hand over to 6th Army to establish the “block” as described by Directive No.41.  Kleist noted that he didn’t need 4th Panzer Army’s help to accomplish his objectives and that it could have “taken Stalingrad without a fight at the end of July….”[xvi]

Field Marshall Von Paulus

The result was damning. Air support and fuel needed by Army Group A was transferred to 6th Army, denuding Army Group A of the resources that it needed to conclude its conquest of the Caucasus.[xvii] At the same time it denied Army Group B of the Panzer Army that could seize Stalingrad when it was still possible to do so.  Beevor calls Hitler’s decision a disastrous compromise.[xviii] Halder believed the decision underestimated the enemy and was “both ludicrous and dangerous.”[xix]

Focus on Stalingrad

Sturmgeschutz Battalion Advancing toward Stalingrad

On July 22 as the Wehrmacht ran short on fuel and divisions to commit to the Caucasus, and 6th Army fought for control of Voronezh the Soviets created the Stalingrad Front. Stavka moved an NKVD Division to the city,[xx] and rapidly filled the new front with formations transferred from the Moscow Front.[xxi] Stalin issued Stavka Order 227, better known as “No Step Back” on 28 July. The order mandated that commanders and political officers who retreated would be assigned to Penal battalions[xxii] and armies were to form three to five special units of about 200 men each as a second line “to shoot any man who ran away.”[xxiii] Russian resistance west of the Don slowed the German advance. German commanders were astonished “at the profligacy of Russian commanders with their men’s lives.”[xxiv] Von Kleist compared the stubbornness of Russians in his area to those of the previous year and wrote that they were local troops “who fought more stubbornly because they were fighting to defend their homes.”[xxv] Additionally, Stalin changed commanders frequently in the “vain hope that a ruthless new leader could galvanize resistance and transform the situation.”[xxvi] General Chuikov brought the 64th Army into the Stalingrad Front in mid-July to hold the Germans west of the Don.[xxvii]

German Militarpfarrer (Chaplain) leading field service in August 1942

Further weakening the Germans OKW transferred key SS Panzer Divisions and the Grossdeutschland Division to France. Supporting Hungarian, Italian and Romanian allied armies which lacked motorization, modern armor or anti-tank units were unable to fulfill the gaps left by the loss of experienced German divisions and the expectations of Hitler.[xxviii] 6th Army was virtually immobilized for 10 days due to lack of supplies allowing the Russians to establish a defense on the Don Bend.[xxix] To the south the Germans were held up by lack of fuel and increased Soviet resistance including the introduction of a force of 800 bombers.[xxx] Glantz and House note that with the fall of Rostov on July 23rd “Hitler abruptly focused on the industrial and symbolic value of Stalingrad.”[xxxi] Undeterred by warnings from Halder that fresh Russian formations were massing east of the Volga and Quartermaster General, Wagner, who guaranteed that he could supply either the thrust to the Caucasus or Stalingrad but not both.[xxxii] Again frustrated by slow progress Hitler reverted to the original plan for 4th Panzer Army to assist 6th Army at Stalingrad, but the cost in time and fuel were significant to the operation and the question was whether “they could make up for Hitler’s changes in plan.”[xxxiii]

Strategic Implications

General Chuikov who directed the defense of Stalingrad during the battle

Soviet Naval Infantry and Political Officer

The changes in the German plan had distinct ramifications for both sides.  Von Mellenthin wrote that “the diversion of effort between the Caucasus and Stalingrad ruined our whole campaign.”[xxxiv] The Germans could not secure the Caucasus oil fields which Hitler considered vital to the German war effort.  They advanced deep into the region and captured the Maikop oil fields, though they were almost completely destroyed by the retreating Russians.[xxxv] Army Group A was halted by the Russians along the crests of the Caucasus on August 28th.[xxxvi] This left Hitler deeply “dissatisfied with the situation of Army Group A.”[xxxvii] Kleist and others attributed much of the failure to a lack of fuel[xxxviii] and Blumentritt noted that Mountain divisions that could have made the breakthrough were employed along the Black Sea coast in secondary operations.[xxxix]

JU-87 Stuka over Stalingrad

Fuel and supply shortages delayed 6th Army’s advance while Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army was needlessly shuttled between Rostov and Stalingrad. By the time it resumed its advance the Russians “had sufficiently recovered to check its advance.”[xl] As 6th Army advanced the “protection of Army Group B’s ever-extending northern flank was taken over by the 3rd Rumanian, the 2nd Hungarian and the newly formed 8th Italian Army.”[xli] The allied armies were neither equipped for the Russian campaign nor well motivated.[xlii] The supply shortage in both army groups was not helped by a logistics bottleneck. All supplies came over a single Dnieper crossing, which Manstein noted, prevented swift movement of troops from one area to another.[xliii]

Reconnaissance Battalion of 24th Panzer Division near Stalingrad

Von Paulus’ 6th Army now attempted to rush Stalingrad between the 25th and 29th of July, while Hoth milled about on the lower Don.  However, Paulus’s piecemeal commitment of his divisions and failure to concentrate in the face of unexpectedly strong Soviet resistance caused the attacks to fail.  Paulus halted 6th Army on the Don so it could concentrate its forces and build its logistics base,[xliv] and to allow Hoth to come up from the south. This delay allowed the Russians to build up forces west of Stalingrad and reinforce the Stalingrad front and strengthen the defenses of the city,[xlv] and due to the distances involved it was easier for the Russians to reinforce the Stalingrad front.[xlvi] It also allowed the Russians to fill a number of key leadership positions with Generals who would skillfully fight the battle.[xlvii]

Russian Naval Infantry during early phase of battle

Hitler now focused on the capture of Stalingrad despite the fact that “as a city Stalingrad was of no strategic importance.”[xlviii] Strategically, its capture would cut Soviet supply lines to the Caucasus,[xlix] but this could be achieved without its capture. The checks in the south “began to give Stalingrad a moral importance-enhanced by its name-which came to outweigh its strategic value.”[l] To Hitler Stalingrad would gain “a mystic significance”[li] and along with Leningrad became “not only military but also psychological objectives.”[lii]

Red Army Armored troops using Lend-Lease American M3 Stuart and M3 Grant tanks

The Germans mounted a frontal assault with 6th Army and elements of 4th Panzer Army despite air reconnaissance that “the Russians are throwing forces from all directions at Stalingrad.[liii] Paulus as the senior General was in charge of the advance, with Hoth subordinated to him, but the attack had to wait until Hoth’s army could fight its way up from the south.[liv] Von Mellenthin comments rightly that “when Stalingrad was not taken on the first rush, it would have been better to mask it….”[lv] It is clear that the German advance had actually reached its culminating point with the failure of the advance into the Caucasus and Paulus’s initial setback on the Don, but it was not yet apparent to many involved.[lvi] The proper course of action would have been to halt and build up the front and create mobile reserve to parry any Russian offensive along northern flank while reinforcing success in the Caucasus. Manstein wrote that “by failing to take appropriate action after his offensive had petered out without achieving anything definite, he [Hitler] paved the way to the tragedy of Stalingrad!”[lvii]

Transfixed by Stalingrad

German Stug III at Stalingrad

On August 19th Paulus launched a concentric attack against the Russian 62nd and 64th Armies on the Don.  The attack ran into problems, especially in Hoth’s sector.[lviii] Yet, on the 22nd the 14th Panzer Corps “forced a very narrow breach in the Russian perimeter at Vertyachi and fought its way across the northern suburbs of Stalingrad,”[lix] and reached the Volga on the 23rd. That day 4th Air Fleet launched 1600 sorties against the city dropping over 1,000 tons of bombs.[lx] The breakthrough imperiled the Soviet position they had concentrated their strongest forces against Hoth.[lxi] The Germans held air superiority and continued heavy bombing attacks.  During the last days of August 6th Army “moved steadily forward into the suburbs of the city, setting the stage for battle.”[lxii] As the Soviets reacted to Paulus, Hoth achieved a breakthrough in the south which threatened the Russian position.  However 6th Army was unable to disengage its mobile forces to link up with the 4th Panzer Army and another opportunity had been missed.[lxiii]

German unit crossing the Don

As 6th Army moved into the city Yeremenko ordered attacks against Hube’s 16th Panzer Division and Soviet resistance increased as more formations arrived the Germans suffered one of their heaviest casualty rates.”[lxiv] Though unsuccessful the counterattacks “managed to deflect Paulus’s reserves at the most critical moment.”[lxv] The Germans remained confident the first week of September as 6th Army and 4th Panzer Army linked up, but Yeremenko saved his forces by withdrawing and avoiding encirclement west of the city, retiring to an improvised line close to the city.[lxvi] On September 12th Chuikov was appointed to command 62nd Army in Stalingrad.  Chuikov understood that there “was only one way to hold on. They had to pay in lives. ‘Time is blood,’ as Chuikov put it later.”[lxvii] Stalin sent Nikita Khrushchev to the front “with orders to inspire the Armies and civilian population to fight to the end.”[lxviii] 13th Guards Rifle Division arrived on the 14th saved the Volga landings but it lost 30% casualties in its first 24 hours of combat.[lxix]

T-34 in Stalingrad

An NKVD regiment and other units held the strategically sited Mamaev Kurgan, keeping German guns from controlling the Volga.[lxx] The defenders fought house to house and block by block, Army and NKVD were reinforced by Naval Infantry.  Chuikov conducted the defense with a brutal ferocity, relieving senior commanders who showed a lack of fight and sending many officers to penal units.  Chuikov funneled massed German attacks into “breakwaters” where the panzers and infantry could be separated from each other causing heavy German casualties.[lxxi]

Street Fighting


Now the “city became a prestige item, its capture ‘urgently necessary for psychological reasons,’ as Hitler declared on October 2. A week later he declared that Communism must be ‘deprived of its shrine.’”[lxxii] The Germans did continue to gain ground, however slowly and at great cost, especially among their infantry, so much so that companies had to be combined.   Chuikov used his artillery to interdict the Germans from the far side of the Volga and the fight in the city was fought by assault squads with incredible ferocity and the close-quarter combat was dubbed “’Rattenkrieg’ by German soldiers.”[lxxiii] Paulus brought more units into the city and continued to slowly drive the Russians back against the river, by early October Chuikov wondered if he would be able to hold.[lxxiv] By early November Chuikov “was altogether holding only one-tenth of Stalingrad-a few factory buildings and a few miles of river bank.”[lxxv] Paulus expected “to capture the entire city by 10 November,”[lxxvi] despite the fact that many units were fought out. The 6th Army judged that 42% of the battalions of 51st Corps were fought out.[lxxvii] On 9 November Hitler declared “No power on earth will force us out of Stalingrad again!”[lxxviii]

Soviet Counteroffensive: Disaster on the Flanks

Soviet offensive on the flanks

Hungarian withdraw

Hungarian dead

On September 24th Hitler relieved Halder for persisting in explaining “what would happen when new Russian reserve armies attacked the over-extended flank that ran out to Stalingrad.”[lxxix] Many in the German side recognized the danger. Blumentritt said “The danger to the long-stretched flank of our advance developed gradually, but it became clear early enough for anyone to perceive it who was not willfully blind.”[lxxx] Warnings were also given by Rumanian Marshall Antonescu and the staff’s of Army Group B and 6th Army[lxxxi] but Hitler was transfixed on Stalingrad.  In doing so the Germans gave up the advantage of uncertainty and once their “aim became obvious…the Russian Command could commit its reserves with assurance.”[lxxxii]

Chuikov and his staff

In the midst of Stalin’s concern about Stalingrad Stavka planners never lost sight of their goal to resume large scale offensive operations and destroy at least one German Army Group.[lxxxiii] Unlike Hitler Stalin had begun to trust his Generals and Stavka under the direction of Marshal Vasilevsky produced a concept in September to cut off the “German spearhead at Stalingrad by attacking the weak Rumanian forces on its flanks.”[lxxxiv] At first Stalin “showed little enthusiasm” for the attack, fearing that Stalingrad might be lost, but on 13 September he gave his full backing to the proposal[lxxxv] which Zhukov, Vasilevsky and Vatutin developed into a plan involving two operations, Operation Uranus, to destroy the German and allied forces at Stalingrad, Operation Saturn to destroy all the German forces in the south and a supporting attack to fix German forces in the north, Operation Mars aimed at Army Group Center.[lxxxvi]

Soviet Katusha Rockets

To accomplish the destruction of 6th Army and part of 4th Panzer Army the Red Army employed over 60% of the “whole tank strength of the Red Army.”[lxxxvii] Strict secrecy combined with numerous acts of deception was used by the Red Army to disguise the operation.[lxxxviii] The plan involved an attack against 3rd Romanian Army on the northern flank by 5th Tank Army and two infantry armies with supporting units.[lxxxix] In the south against 4th Rumanian Army and weak element of 4th Panzer Army another force of over 160,000 men including 430 tanks were deployed.[xc] Despite warnings from his Intelligence Officer, Paulus did not expect a deep offensive into his flanks and rear and made no plans to prepare to face the threat.[xci] Other senior officers believed that the attack would take place against Army Group Center.[xcii] Warlimont notes that there was a “deceptive confidence in German Supreme Headquarters.”[xciii]

Luftwaffe JU-52s made many resupply runs into the pocket but suffered great losses

The storm broke on 19 November as Soviet forces attacked rapidly crushing Romanian armies in both sectors[xciv] linking up on the 23rd.[xcv] 48th Panzer Corps supporting the Romanians was weak and had few operational tanks.[xcvi] It attempted a counterattack but was “cut to pieces” in an encounter with 5th Tank Army.[xcvii] A promising attempt by 29th Motorized division against the flank of the southern Russian pincer was halted by the Army Group and the division was ordered to defensive positions south of Stalingrad.[xcviii] German airpower was neutralized by bad weather.[xcix] Paulus continued to do nothing as since the attacks were outside of his area of responsibility and waited for instructions.[c] As a result the 16th and 24th Panzer Divisions which could have assisted matters to the west remained “bogged down in street-fighting in Stalingrad.”[ci] Without support 6th Army units west of Stalingrad were forced back in horrific conditions.  By the 23rd 6th Army was cut off along with one corps of 4th Panzer Army and assorted Romanian units, over 330,000 men.  This now entrapped force that would require seven rifle armies and much staff attention to eliminate.[cii]

The Death of 6th Army

Paulus Surrenders

Hitler ordered Manstein to form Army Group Don to relieve Stalingrad. Hitler would not countenance a break out and wanted Manstein to break through and relieve 6th Army.[ciii] Hitler refused a request by Paulus on 23 November to move troops to prepare for a possible a break out attempt, assuring him that he would be relieved.[civ] Albert Speer notes that Zeitzler who replaced Halder insisted that the Sixth Army must break out to the west.”[cv] Hitler told Zeitzler that “We should under no circumstances give this up. We won’t get it back once it’s lost.”[cvi] Goering promised the Luftwaffe would be able to meet the re-supply needs of 6th Army by air, even though his Generals knew that it was impossible with the number of transport aircraft available.[cvii] Hitler took Goering at his word and exclaimed “Stalingrad can be held! It is foolish to go on talking any more about a breakout by Sixth Army…”[cviii] and a Führer decree was issued ordering that the front be held at all costs.[cix] Goerlitz states that “Hitler was incapable of conceiving that the 6th Army should do anything but fight where it stood.”[cx] Likewise Manstein had precious few troops with which to counterattack and had to protect the flank of Army Group A deep in the Caucasus. His army group was only corps strength and was spread across a 200 mile front.[cxi] Any relief attempt had to wait for more troops, especially Panzers.  Manstein too believed that the best chance for a breakout had passed and that it was a serious error for Paulus to put the request to withdraw through to Hitler rather than the Army Group or act on his own.[cxii] Many soldiers were optimistic that Hitler would get them out.[cxiii] Other generals like Guderian, Reichenau or Hoeppner might have acted, but Paulus was no rebel.[cxiv]

German POWs only 5000 of some 90,000 would see home again

Operation Saturn began on 7 December destroying the Italian 8th Army and forcing the Germans to parry the threat.[cxv] A relief attempt by 57th Panzer Corps under Hoth on 12 December made some headway until a massive Soviet counterattack on 24 December drove it back.[cxvi] This attack was hampered by OKW’s refusal to allocate the 17th Panzer and 16th Motorized divisions to Manstein,[cxvii] and by 6th Army not attacking out to link with the relief force.[cxviii]By 6 January Paulus signaled OKW: Army starving and frozen, have no ammunition and cannot move tanks anymore.”[cxix] On 10 January the Soviets launched Operation Ring to eliminate the pocket and despite all odds German troops fought on. On the 16th Paulus requested that battle worthy units be allowed to break out, but the request was not replied to.[cxx] On the 22nd the last airfield had been overrun and on 31 January Paulus surrendered.[cxxi]

Analysis: What Went Wrong

Stalingrad had strangely drawn the attention of both sides, but the Russians never lost sight of their primary objectives during the campaign. The Germans on the other hand committed numerous unforced errors mostly caused by Hitler and or von Paulus. These mistakes began early in the planning and After the fall of Stalingrad as the Soviets attempted to follow up their success by attempted to cut off Army Group “A” Manstein was permitted to wage a mobile defense while Von Kleist managed to withdraw with few losses.[cxxii] The superior generalship of Manstein and Von Kleist prevented the wholesale destruction of German forces in southern Russia and Manstein’s counter offensive inflicted a severe defeat on the Soviets. However the German Army had been badly defeated.  The seeds of defeat were laid early, the failure to destroy bypassed Soviet formations in July, the diversion of 4th Panzer Army from Stalingrad, and the divergent objectives of trying to capture the Caucasus and Stalingrad at the same time.  This diluted both offensives ensuring that neither succeeded.  Likewise the failure to recognize the culminating point when it was reached and to adjust operations accordingly was disastrous for the Germans. The failure create a mobile reserve to meet possible Russian counter offensives, and the fixation on Stalingrad took the German focus off of the critical yet weakly held flanks. The hubris of Hitler and OKW to believe that the Russians were incapable of conducting major mobile operations even as Stavka commenced offensive operations on those flanks all contributed to the defeat.  Clark notes these facts but adds that the Germans “were simply attempting too much.”[cxxiii] Soviet numbers allowed them to wear down the Germans even in defeat.[cxxiv] At the same time Stalin gave his commanders a chance to revive the mobile doctrine of deep operations with mechanized and shock armies that he had discredited in the 1930s.[cxxv] All through the campaign Zhukov and other commanders maintained both their nerve even when it appeared that Stalingrad was all but lost. They never lost sight of their goal of destroying major German formations though they failed to entrap Army Group A with 6th Army.

A Modern Application

It is well and good to attempt to remain on the offensive.  The U.S. currently has forces spread thinly over two combat theaters with possibilities that other threats in the same region could flare up.  Like the Germans the U.S. is operating in areas, especially Afghanistan where overland supply lines are vulnerable and where weather can and does affect resupply operations by both ground and air.  The fact that the U.S. is operating with just barely enough forces in areas where others have met disaster calls for a circumspect look at what our enemy’s capabilities really are and not allowing ourselves to be surprised when they do things that have worked for them in the past against the Russians.  While it is unlikely that the U.S. and NATO would face a Stalingrad type situation in Afghanistan it is possible that isolated forces could be overrun as the Afghans reprise tactics used so successfully against the Soviets and as they begin to operate in larger units, concentrate them quickly and with more firepower to catch NATO forces when they are most vulnerable.  It is true that they will not mass large numbers of tanks and artillery as the Soviets did against the Germans, but the principle of speed, concentration at the critical point and surprise can inflict defeats, even small ones like the attack on the US outpost in Wanat that can turn public sentiment in the U.S. and Europe against further commitments and against the war and force the NATO governments as well as the U.S. to give up the effort.

Notes

[i] Clark, Alan. Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict: 1941-45. Perennial Books, An imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY 1965. p.191

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titan’s Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. The University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS, 1995. p.111

[iv] Ibid. Clark. p.191

[v] Beevor, Anthony. Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943. Penguin Books, New York NY 1998. p.69

[vi] Manstein, Erich von. Forward by B.H. Liddle Hart, Introduction by Martin Blumenson. Lost victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler’s Most Brilliant General. Zenith Press, St Paul MN 2004. First Published 1955 as Verlorene Siege, English Translation 1958 by Methuen Company. p.291 This opinion is not isolated, Beevor Quotes Paulus “If we don’t take Maikop and Gronzy…then I must put an end to the war.” (Beevor pp. 69-70)  Halder on the other hand believed that Hitler emphasized that the objective was “the River Volga at Stalingrad. (Clark. p.190)

[vii] Ibid. Beevor. p.70.

[viii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.106

[ix] Ibid. p.105-106

[x] Ibid. Clark. p.203.  The offensive did impose a delay on the German offensive.

[xi] Ibid. Clark. p.191 Each group also contained allied armies.

[xii] Ibid. p.209.

[xiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.119

[xiv] Ibid. Manstein. p.292.

[xv] Ibid. Clark. p.209

[xvi] Ibid. Clark.  p.211

[xvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.120. There is a good discussion of the impact of this decision here as 6th Army’s advance was given priority for both air support and fuel.

[xviii] Ibid. Beevor. p.74

[xix] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964. p.249

[xx] Ibid. Beevor. p.75 This was the 10th NKVD Division and it took control of all local militia, NKVD, and river traffic, and established armored trains and armor training schools.

[xxi] Ibid. Clark. p.212

[xxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.121

[xxiii] Ibid. Beevor. p.85

[xxiv] Ibid. p.89

[xxv] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishers, New York, NY 1979. Originally published by the author in 1948. p.202

[xxvi] Ibid. Beevor. p.88

[xxvii] Ibid. Beevor. p.90

[xxviii] Ibid. Beevor. p.81

[xxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.121

[xxx] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. p.202

[xxxi] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.120

[xxxii] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff. Westview Press, Frederick A. Praeger Publisher, Boulder, CO. 1985 p.416

[xxxiii] Ibid. Beevor. pp.95-96.

[xxxiv] Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated H. Betzler, Edited by L.C.F. Turner. Oklahoma University Press 1956, Ballantine Books, New York, NY. 1971. p.193

[xxxv] Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. A Touchstone Book published by Simon and Schuster, 1981, Copyright 1959 and 1960. p.914

[xxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.122

[xxxvii] Ibid. Warlimont. p.256

[xxxviii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. p.203

[xxxix] Ibid. p.204

[xl] Ibid. Shirer. p.914

[xli] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.416

[xlii] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.416

[xliii] Ibid. Manstein. p.293

[xliv] Ibid. Clark. p.214

[xlv] Ibid. Beevor. pp.97-99. The mobilization included military, political, civilian and industrial elements.

[xlvi] Liddell-Hart, B.H. Strategy. A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY. 1974, Originally Published by Faber and Faber Ltd., London. 1954 & 1967. p.250

[xlvii] Ibid. Beevor. p.99.  Two key commanders arrived during this time frame, Colonel General Andrei Yeremenko, who would command the Stalingrad Front  and General Chuikov commander of 64th Army who would conduct the defense of the city.

[xlviii] Carell, Paul Hitler Moves East: 1941-1943. Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, German Edition published 1963. p.581

[xlix] Ibid. Shirer.  p.909.

[l] Ibid. Liddell-Hart, Strategy. p.250

[li] Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 1954.  p.531

[lii] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. p.531

[liii] Ibid. Beevor. p.96

[liv] Ibid. Clark. p.216.

[lv] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. P.193

[lvi] See Von Mellinthin pp.193-194.  Von Mellinthin quotes Colonel Dinger, the Operations Officer of 3rd Motorized Division at Stalingrad until a few days before its fall. Dingler noted that the Germans on reaching Stalingrad “had reached the end of their power. Their offensive strength was inadequate to complete the victory, nor could they replace the losses they had suffered.” (p.193) He believed that the facts were sufficient “not only to justify a withdrawal, but compel a retreat.” (p.194)

[lvii] Ibid. Manstein. p.294

[lviii] Ibid. Clark. p.216

[lix] Ibid. Clark. p.217

[lx] Ibid. Beevor. p.107

[lxi] Ibid. Beevor. p.107

[lxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.122

[lxiii] Ibid. Carell. P.601

[lxiv] Ibid. Beevor. p.118

[lxv] Ibid. Beevor. p.118

[lxvi] Ibid. Carell. p.602

[lxvii] Ibid. Beevor. p.128

[lxviii] Ibid. Carell. p.603

[lxix] Ibid. Beevor. p.134

[lxx] Ibid. Beevor. pp.136-137

[lxxi] Ibid. Beevor. p.149

[lxxii] Fest, Joachim. Hitler. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich Publishers, San Diego, New York, London. 1974. p.661

[lxxiii] Ibid. Beevor. pp. 149-150

[lxxiv] Ibid. Beevor. p.164

[lxxv] Ibid. Carell. p.618

[lxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.123

[lxxvii] Ibid. Beevor. p.218

[lxxviii] Ibid. Carell. p.623

[lxxix] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.418

[lxxx] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. The German Generals Talk. p.207

[lxxxi] Ibid. Manstein. p292

[lxxxii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. History of the Second World War. p.258

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.129

[lxxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.130

[lxxxv] Ibid. Beevor. pp.221-222 Glantz and House say that Stalin gave his backing in mid-October but this seems less likely due to the amount of planning and movement of troops involved to begin the operation in November.

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.130

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Beevor. p.226

[lxxxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.132

[lxxxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.130

[xc] Ibid. Beevor. p.227

[xci] Ibid. Beevor. p.228

[xcii] Ibid. Clark. p.235

[xciii] Ibid. Warlimont. p.274

[xciv] Ibid, Carell. p.627 3rd Rumanian Army lost 75,000 men in three days.

[xcv] Ibid. Clark.pp.247-248

[xcvi] The condition of the few German Panzer Divisions in position to support the flanks was very poor, the 22nd had suffered from a lack of fuel and maintenance and this many of its tanks were inoperative. Most of the armor strength of the 48th Panzer Corps was provided by a Rumanian armored division equipped with obsolete Czech 38t tanks provided by the Germans.

[xcvii] Ibid. Clark. pp.251-252. The designation of 2nd Guards Tank Army by Clark has to be wrong and it is the 5th Tank Army as 2nd Guards Tank was not involved in Operation Uranus.  Carell, Beevor and Glantz properly identify the unit.

[xcviii] Ibid. Carell. p.630

[xcix] Ibid. Beevor. p.244

[c] Ibid. Beevor. p.247

[ci] Ibid. Beevor. p.245

[cii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.134

[ciii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.134

[civ] Ibid. Clark. p.256

[cv] Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Collier Books, a Division of MacMillan Publishers, Inc. New York, NY 1970. p.248

[cvi] Heiber, Helmut and Glantz, David M. Editors. Hitler and His Generals: Military Conferences 1942-1945. Enigma Books, New York, NY 2002-2003.  Originally published as Hitlers Lagebsprechungen: Die Protokollfragmente seiner militärischen Konferenzen 1942-1945. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt GmbH, Stuttgart, 1962. p.27

[cvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.135 Glantz and House note that the amount of aircraft estimated to successfully carry out the re-supply operation in the operational conditions was over 1,000.  The amount needed daily was over 600 tons of which the daily reached only 300 tons only one occasion.

[cviii] Ibid. Speer. p.249

[cix] Ibid. Carell. p.636

[cx] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.426

[cxi] Ibid. Clark. p.252

[cxii] Ibid. Manstein. p.303

[cxiii] Ibid. Beevor. p.276

[cxiv] Ibid. Carell. p.640

[cxv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.140

[cxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.140

[cxvii] Ibid. Clark. p.264

[cxviii] Ibid. Manstein. p.337

[cxix] Ibid. Beevor. p320

[cxx] Ibid. Beevor. p.365

[cxxi] Of the approximately 330,000 in the pocket about 91,000 surrendered, another 45,000 had been evacuated.  22 German divisions were destroyed.

[cxxii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. The German Generals Talk. p.211

[cxxiii] Ibid. Clark. p.250

[cxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.124

[cxxv] Ibid. Beevor. p.221

Bibliography

Beevor, Anthony. Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943. Penguin Books, New York NY 1998

Carell, Paul Hitler Moves East: 1941-1943. Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, German Edition published 1963.

Clark, Alan. Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict:1941-45. Perennial Books, An imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY 1965.

Fest, Joachim. Hitler. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich Publishers, San Diego, New York, London. 1974

Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titan’s Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. The University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS, 1995.

Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff. Westview Press, Frederick A. Praeger Publisher, Boulder, CO. 1985

Heiber, Helmut and Glantz, David M. Editors. Hitler and His Generals: Military Conferences 1942-1945. Enigma Books, New York, NY 2002-2003.  Originally published as Hitlers Lagebsprechungen: Die Protokollfragmente seiner militärischen Konferenzen 1942-1945. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt GmbH, Stuttgart, 1962.

Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishers, New York, NY 1979. Originally Published by the author in 1948.

Liddell-Hart, B.H. Strategy. A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY. 1974, Originally Published by Faber and Faber Ltd., London. 1954 & 1967

Manstein, Erich von. Forward by B.H. Liddle Hart, Introduction by Martin Blumenson. Lost victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler’s Most Brilliant General. Zenith Press, St Paul MN 2004. First Published 1955 as Verlorene Siege, English Translation 1958 by Methuen Company

Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. A Touchstone Book published by Simon and Schuster, 1981, Copyright 1959 and 1960

Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Collier Books, a Division of MacMillan Publishers, Inc. New York, NY 1970.

Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated H. Betzler, Edited by L.C.F. Turner. Oklahoma University Press 1956, Ballantine Books, New York, NY. 1971.

Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964.

Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 1954

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The Impact of Technology on the Organization, Strategy and Tactics in the Second World War

Introduction

World War II saw some of most rapid technological advances impacting military forces in history. The advances in technology impacted the organization and tactics of major power military forces, especially those of the United States, Germany, the Soviet Union and Great Britain.  These advances combined to revolutionize the way wars were fought and military forces have been organized to the current day.

Heinz Guderian’s Theories of Mechanized and Combined Arms Warfare and His Organizational Genius Revolutionized  Land Warfare

The technical developments and their relationship to military organization and tactical applications began in the years following World War I as various writers began to analyze that war and formulate ways not to repeat the grist mill of trench warfare that dominated it.  The writers looked at tactical innovations, new technology and enunciated ways that technology and tactics could be combined with organizational changes to revolutionize the ways that wars were fought.  Chief among these writers were General Fuller and Captain B.H. Liddell Hart in Britain, Colonel Heinz Guderian and Erwin Rommel in Germany.  Airpower theories were dominated by the strategic bombing theories of Italy’s Guido Douhet and tactical air theories of American Marine General Roy Geiger as well as the pioneers of tactical air support in the Luftwaffe.   In the United States General George C. Marshall helped initiate doctrinal changes that would change the way that the U.S. Army would fight.

Among the common elements found in the works of these men was the necessity to apply technology to overcome the pitfalls that all of the armies which fought in the First World War found themselves.

The Mechanization of Ground Forces

Mass Speed and Firepower: The Germans Would Pioneer the New Style of Warfare

There were a number of major technological advances between the wars and during the war that helped change the nature of warfare.  One of the earliest was the mechanization of armies which began toward the end of the First World War and continued between the wars to varying degrees in each country.  All the major armies experimented with mechanized forces to one degree or another. In Britain these got the earliest start with some formations being 100% mechanized by the early 1930s.  France was more circumspect about mechanization only slowly converting forces as they were focused on a defensive strategy based on the Maginot Line.  Many in the German high command resisted Guderian and other innovators regarding the mechanization of the Wehrmacht as well as the development of the Panzerwaffe.

The Soviet Union Would Turn the Tables on the Germans using their own Tactics

The Soviet Union had a large number of mechanized and armored formations prior to the war though they were not proficient in their use and had not developed doctrine to match the forces that they controlled.  The Untied States also resisted efforts to mechanize its Army but seeing the results of the German Blitzkrieg quickly overcame years of resistance to become an Army that save for 2 Cavalry Divisions was 100% mechanized.  The development of Airborne formations added the possibility of vertical envelopment to ground operations. These developments impacted nearly every campaign in Europe and North Africa and to a much lesser degree the Pacific theater. German performance in the early Polish, French, North African and Balkan Campaigns as well as the initial foray into the Soviet Union were all successful due to the proficiency of their combined mechanized, Panzer and tactical air forces.  The Soviets would develop and become very effective at this type of warfare on a much large scale than the Germans could have imagined beginning with the Stalingrad counteroffensive and especially in the destruction  of the German Army Group Center in the summer of 1944.

Though Using Lighter Armored Forces the Americans Would become Proficient in the New Type of Warfare by the Summer of 1944

The Americans became proficient at mobile operations during the war, especially during the “dash across France” and the breakout in the Saar-Palatine campaign in 1945,  but many times uninventive commanders squandered the advantage and allowed themselves to be sucked into battles of attrition that their forces were not made for.

Communications

A key development that accompanied and accentuated the mechanization of ground forces were advances in tactical wireless communications which made it possible for commanders to keep up with fast moving formations and react in near real time to changing tactical situations.  The Germans were the first to become very proficient in this as they not only developed communications for ground forces but also for coordination between tactical air forces and ground forces.  This made the German Blitzkrieg the first example of modern air-ground combat cooperation.  The Americans, British and Soviets would follow suit but it was the German Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe that pioneered the communications revolution.  As the war went on communications capabilities increased and armies became more dependent on tactical and long range wireless communications.  The dependency of military forces on communications networks became a major factor in operational planning and the success of the Allies in breaking Japanese and German codes gave them an advantage in anticipating German or Japanese moves.

Armor, Firepower and Mobility: The Tank Comes into its Own

World War Two Saw Tanks become Deadly Instruments of Modern Warfare

Mechanization was a major factor in the war and the most decisive component of the mechanization of ground forces was the development of the tank as well as specialized formations which employed tanks in close cooperation with other arms, such as mechanized infantry and artillery.  The development of such forces really began with the British but the best example of this was the German Panzer Division.  The Panzer Division was a totally mechanized and integrated force of all arms which was employed in mass and capable like all German units to be task organized into Kampfgruppen to optimize tactical flexibility.  British Armored Divisions were tank heavy and infantry light which made them far less flexible organizations.  Soviet Armored forces were slow to develop but they became masters of large level operational maneuver using mechanized and tactical air forces to a deadly effect against the Wehrmacht.  The Americans delivered a light and flexible armored formation and became very proficient in combined arms warfare though the divisional structure often proved too light and not as resilient as German formations.  It was in this environment that the tank truly came into its own to dominate the battlefield in a way that many could not have imagined prior to the war. Firepower, protection and mobility advantages gained through technological advances increased the lethality and survivability of the tank and forced each side to develop better ways of neutralizing tanks through more powerful anti-tank guns, sabot rounds and shaped charges.

Tactical and Strategic Air developments

The Americans and the British Would Develop the Concept of Strategic Bombing against Germany

With the technical revolution came revolution in the skies both at the strategic and tactical levels.  Modern bombers with good navigational gear guided by radar and assisted by modern bombsites such as the Norden developed by the United States would wreak havoc on industrial and civilian centers. Advances in aircraft technology saw fast and more lethal aircraft being fielded by all powers as the war progressed and while Jet propulsion developed during the war would doom piston powered aircraft as first line assets.

The P-47 Thunderbolt Would Serve as both a Long Range Bomber Escort and as Seen Here as an Excellent Ground Attack Aircraft

Tactical air developments would be led by the Germans but as the war went on the Allies developed sophisticate tactical air forces that dominated battlefields when the weather permitted. The Germans pioneered the use of ballistic missiles as well as the cruise missile while the United States and Britain developed the Atomic Bomb.  Specialized types of tactics and organizations were developed for strategic, tactical and naval air forces. At the strategic level there were the dueling schools of precision versus area bombing while at the tactical level the developments were as much predicated on air-ground communications as they were the aircraft flown.  Specialized aircraft were developed or modified as tank-killers while fighter forces became more specialized to into interceptors, bomber escorts and night fighters.

The Obselecent Junkers JU-87 found New Life on the Eastern Front as a Tank Killer armed with 2 37mm FLAK cannon

The influence of air assets, especially at the tactical level would become more pronounced as the war went on.  Allied air superiority ensured that the landings in France and the breakout in Normandy succeeded and tactical air dominance by US Navy and Marine air forces in the Pacific aided ground operations as well as sea battles.

Amphibious Warfare developments

The US Navy and Marine Corps Would Perfect Amphibious Operations in the Pacific

Technology came to the fore in amphibious operations with the development of specialized landing craft, beach clearing equipment and naval gunfire support.  This effort was led by the United States with the most advanced force being the Marines.   The combined use of air, land, sea and naval air forces to include the use of Aircraft Carriers revolutionized how the campaign in the Pacific would be fought to a conclusion long before anyone thought that it could be.

General Naval Developments

At sea ship design advanced new and better classes of warships as technologic advances in radar, sonar, gunnery systems, torpedo and ant-aircraft technology made warships far more formidable than those built only years before the war.  This was nowhere more apparent than in submarine development especially that of Germany’s U-boat arm with the development of streamlined hulls and “schnorkel” technology.  The use of U-Boats and later American submarines in the Pacific into “Wolf Packs” increased the lethality of submarine forces to a near decisive state in the war.  Naval tactics were influenced by the use of air and surface search radar as well as sonar.

US Fast Carrier Task Forces Would Dominate the Pacific War and Naval Warfare to the Present Day

The development of the US Navy into the dominant Naval Power of the next 65 years was built upon the success of the Navy in the Second World War.  The largest and some of the bloodiest sea battles in history were fought in the Pacific with decisive results in that theater of operations.  Operationally the major Navies all were influenced to one degree or another by the theories of Alfred Thayer Mahan.

Summary and Conclusion

The course of World War Two was determined by the strategic and operational theories developed in the inter-war years. These were applied correctly by some powers and not by others.   The use technological advances and more effective organizational structure developed in the inter-war years and refined by the experience of war impacted the war on land, at sea and in the air in every theater of war.  The use of combined arms and joint operations revolutionized the manner in which wars would be fought.  If the technology, theory and force structure had not come together when it did the war might have been fought much as the First World War.  Instead warfare became faster and more lethal than ever and would lead to even more advances in the years to come.

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Filed under History, Military, world war two in europe, world war two in the pacific

Manstein’s Counter-Stroke: Pulling Victory from Certain Defeat

Introduction

After Stalingrad the Soviets followed up on their success and attempted to entrap the rest of Army Group South. Field Marshall von Manstein attempted to save the Army Group and perhaps prevent the Soviets from collapsing the entire German front.

Bild 101I-209-0086-12Manstein planning at the front

Chaos and Peril in the South

As 6th Army died at Stalingrad field Marshall von Manstein was faced with one of the most challenging situations faced by any commander in modern times.  He faced strategic and operational “problems of a magnitude and complexity seldom paralleled in history.”[i] Manstein had to deal with a complex military situation where he had minimal forces to counter the moves of a superior enemy force that was threatening to entrap all German forces in southern Russia. Additionally Manstein had to deal with the “Hitler’s obstinate opposition to a maneuver defense and a Red Army flushed with the victory of Stalingrad.”[ii] Facing him were the six Russian armies of the Voronezh and Southwestern Front’s led by Mobile Group Popov[iii]. These Armies had broken through the Hungarian and Italian armies “making a breach 200 miles wide between the Donetz and Voronezh, and were sweeping westward past Manstein’s flank.”[iv]

flak in caucasus

The most dangerous threat that Manstein faced was to Army Group A in the Caucasus. This Army Group “found itself in danger of being cut off, forcing an immediate withdraw.”[v] Disaster was averted by the desperate holding actions of Manstein’s meager forces, Army detachment’s Fretter-Pico and Hollidt, and winter conditions that made “offensive operations extraordinarily difficult, even for the hardiest Soviet troops.”[vi] A smart withdraw executed by General von Kleist managed to extricate the Army group “just as the Stalingrad forces collapsed.”[vii] To parry the Soviet thrusts the Germans lacked forces to “establish a deeply echeloned defense” and “instead combined maneuver… with stubborn positional defense to give artificial depth to the battlefield.  In this way the Germans were able to break major Soviet attacks, preventing catastrophic breakthroughs….”[viii] The timely introduction of a battalion of Tiger tanks prevented the Russians from breaking through to Rostov and “cutting the rail and road lines on which First Panzer Army’s retreat depended.”[ix] Even so the escape of the Army Group was narrow. “In terms of time, space, force, and weather conditions it was an astonishing performance-for which Kleist was made a field-marshal.”[x] With the Russians only 70 kilometers from Rostov and his own forces 650 kilometers from that city Kleist executed a withdraw “which had appeared hardly possible to achieve.”[xi] The divisions extricated by Kleist would be instrumental in the coming weeks as Manstein moved to counter the Soviet offensive.

Hitler and Manstein

Despite the successful withdraw the situation was still precarious in early February, Manstein had no effective contact with his left wing, the bulk of which was tied to Kharkov, The Russians had “virtually complete freedom of action across a fifty-mile stretch of the Donetz on either side of Izyum.”[xii] Manstein was hard pressed to “halt the raids of Mobile Group Popov and other exploiting Soviet tank corps in Operation Gallop.”[xiii] Manstein’s forces in the eastern sector had been divided by Russian penetrations, which threatened 1st Panzer Army’s western flank and blocked the Army Group’s main railway line.[xiv] On 15 February “the SS Panzer Corps withdrew from Kharkov-in spite of orders from Hitler…that the city was to be held to the last.”[xv] SS General Paul Hausser, the corps commander realized that the order to hold Kharkov was impossible and requested permission to withdraw. This was was refused by General Lanz. Under pressure from encircling Russian forces outside and from partisans inside the city, Hausser disobeyed the order and extricated his troops,[xvi] thereby saving thousands of German soldiers and preserved the SS Panzer Corps as a fighting unit.[xvii] Lanz was relieved by Hitler for the loss of Kharkov and although Hausser would escape immediate censure, “Hitler did see it as a black mark against his name.”[xviii] With Kharkov in Soviet hands the gap between Manstein’s army group and Field Marshal von Kluge’s Army Group Center increased to over 100 miles.[xix] It appeared that the entire German southern flank was disintegrating.  Manstein estimated the ratio of German to Soviet forces in his area at 1:8.[xx] He believed that the Soviets could advance and subsequently “block the approaches to the Crimea and the Dnieper crossing at Kherson” which would “result in the encirclement of the entire German southern wing.”[xxi] Popov’s Mobile Group crossed the Donets and reached Krasnoarmeiskaia by 12 February. Vatutin committed two additional fresh tank corps toward Zaporozhe, a critical transport node which was also the location of Manstein’s headquarters.[xxii]

SS-Tiger-LSAH-01Tiger Tanks assigned to 1st SS Panzer Division

Hitler arrived to consult with Manstein on 17 February and remained for three days with Soviet forces perilously close.  Manstein only had some flak units and the Army Group Headquarters Company between him and Popov’s advanced elements. On Hitler’s last day “some T-34’s approached to within gun range of the airfield.”[xxiii]

The conference of Hitler with Manstein at Zaporozhe as well as a previous conference at the Wolfsschanze on 6 February was critical to the development of Manstein’s plan to restore the front. Manstein had now gotten both the 1st and 4th Panzer Armies across the Don, and “with this striking force, he felt confident of smashing the Russian offensive if he was given a free hand to withdraw from the line of the Donetz, evacuate Rostov and take up a much shorter front along the Mius river.”[xxiv] The conference on the 6th was one of the “rare moments in the war where Hitler authorized a strategic withdraw on a major scale.”[xxv] Yet as the Russians continued to advance Hitler became concerned and came to Zaporozhe.  At first Hitler would not concede to Manstein, as he wanted to assemble the SS Panzer Corps for an attack to recapture Kharkov.[xxvi] Manstein explained the need for a counter stroke and through much explanation was able to convince Hitler that the capture of Kharkov was not possible unless “we first removed the danger of the Army Group being cut off from its rear communications.”[xxvii]

T34_Stalingrad-Offensive-px800Soviet formations advance

The Russian aim was now obvious[xxviii] and Manstein had correctly discerned their strategy.  Manstein knew that his Army Group had to hold the line on the Mius and then quickly defeat the enemy between 1st Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf[xxix] in “order to prevent its own isolation from the Dnieper crossings.”[xxx] The Soviets had outrun their logistics support and had suffered heavy losses of their own and had serious equipment shortages.[xxxi] Manstein explained to Hitler the opportunity offered as it was now the Russians who “were worn out” and far from their supply dumps as the Germans had been in November 1942.  Manstein “foresaw an opportunity to seize the operational initiative with a counter offensive of his own.  Manstein’s target was the Soviet armored spearheads, still careening southwestward between Kharkov and Stalino.”[xxxii] Manstein believed that when the Russian “spearhead lunged, as it must toward the crossings on the upper Dnieper,” then Hoth’s Army would be let loose again.  The three SS Panzer divisions could then “play their rightful role as avengers, and strike southeast to meet 4th Panzer Army, catching the Russian armour in a noose.”[xxxiii] Hitler agreed to Manstein’s plan and Manstein shifted 4th Panzer Army to assume control of the SS Panzer Corps, now reinforced by 3rd SS Panzergrenadier Division “Totenkopf.” Hitler reinforced Manstein and released 7 battle worn Panzer and motorized divisions for his attack.[xxxiv]

Soviet Miscalculation

It was now Stalin’s time to miscalculate. He and his subordinates “continued to believe that they were on the verge of a great victory. German defenses in southern Russia appeared to be crumbling and the Stavka sought to expand that victory to include Army Group Center.”[xxxv] To this end they diverted armies to the north and launched attacks in that direction.  However German defenses were stiff and the plan was “predicated on the assumption of continued offensive success further south.”[xxxvi] Reinforcements from Stalingrad failed to deploy and “Army Group Center’s defenses, prepared for the past year and a half proved formidable.”[xxxvii]

In the south Stalin saw the Dnieper and almost “heedlessly drove his armies towards what he thought would be the decisive victory on the banks of this huge Russian river,”[xxxviii] but, Soviet “ambitions exceeded their available resources and the skill of their commanders.”[xxxix] The SS Panzer Corps withdraw from Kharkov “further heightened the Soviet’s intoxication with victory”[xl] and confirmed their beliefs that the Germans were withdrawing.  Stalin believed that “it was inconceivable that Hitler’s Praetorian Guard would abandon Kharkov except as part of a general order to retreat.”[xli] He believed that the encirclement of Army Group South would lead to a chain reaction and quick way to victory over German forces in the east.  Believing that there was no way for the Germans to recover and establish a solid front on the Mius,[xlii] Stalin continued to drive his forces to attack, yet the Russian offensive in the south had reached what Clausewitz had called the “culminating point” and Stalin’s armies were now extremely vulnerable. “The weather, the devastated communications, and their own inexperience in maintaining the traffic density required to support a deep penetration on a narrow front had combined to force a dangerous dispersal of effort on the Russian advance which had broken down into four separate groups.”[xliii]

panzer ivfPanzers assembling to attack

The Soviet forces were now in a dangerous predicament being spread out across the entire south of Russia.  One group, composed of the 69th Army and 3rd Tank Army pushed against Army detachment Kempf west of Kharkov.  To the south the badly depleted 6th Army and 1st Guards Army were now “strung out down a long corridor they had opened between Izyum and Pavlograd,”[xliv] Mobile Group Popov was lagging further east near Krasnoarmeiskaia.   Additional units were isolated behind the front of Army Detachment Fretter-Pico and near Matveyev.  Soviet commanders believed that the Germans were in worse shape and that “the risks of dispersal were justified.”[xlv] They had not anticipated or made allowance for Manstein’s coolness under pressure and actions to preserve his armor while thinning his front “well past the accepted danger limit.”[xlvi] Likewise the Soviets did not know that the Germans had cracked the code used by the Southwest front and from 12 February on “were now privy to Popov’s and Vatutin’s thoughts,” now knowing precisely where the Russians would attack.[xlvii] Manstein had withstood temptation and Hitler’s pressure to use his reserves “for a direct defense of the Dnieper line.”[xlviii] As such he was prepared to launch a devastating counter-stroke against the dispersed and weakened Russian armies which were still advancing into the trap he planned for them. He had managed to “save his counteroffensive plan from Hitler’s shrill demands that the new reserves be thrown into battle piecemeal to prevent further territorial losses.”[xlix] The stage was now set for a two classic mobile operations.[l]

The Destruction of Mobile Group Popov, 6th Army and 1st Guards Army

Manstein launched his counter-stroke on 21 February against Popov’s Mobile Group using XL Panzer Corps under the command of General Henrici composed of the 7th and 11th Panzer Divisions and SS Motorized Division Viking. Popov’s Group was exposed. Popov had “succeed in cutting the railway from Dnepropetrovsk to Stalino and was itching to push further south to Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.”[li] The Soviets once again had failed to discern German intentions, believing that the Germans were retreating.[lii] Likewise the Soviet high command did not fully understand Popov’s situation. His force was weak in tanks and low on fuel and his Mobile Group was defeated in detail by the German Corps.  Popov’s immobilized tank and motorized rifle formations resisted desperately but were bypassed by the panzers.  The 330th Infantry Division mopped up the remnants of these formations.[liii] The key battles took place around the town of Krasnoarmeiskaia and the battle became a running battle between that town and the Donets River.[liv] Popov requested permission to retreat, but still believing the Germans to be retreating Vatutin gave a categorical “no.” The terrain in the area was “almost completely open”[lv] and “Popov’s proud Armoured Group was cut up like a cake.”[lvi] Popov extricated some of his units but “only after serious losses in manpower and equipment.”[lvii] Despite this it would not be until the 24th that Vatutin would order a halt to offensive operations.[lviii]

kharkovSS Panzers in Kharkov

As Popov sought to get his units out of the German scythe Manstein set his sights on 6th Army, 1st Guards Army and 25th Tank Corps which was approaching Zaporozhe.[lix] He assigned the task to Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army and its XLVIII Panzer Corps under General Knobelsdorf composed of the 6th and 17th Panzer Divisions and the SS Panzer Corps comprising SS Divisions Liebstandarte, Das Reich and Totenkopf.[lx] Manstein gave Hoth a brief but explicit order: “The Soviet Sixth Army, now racing towards Dnepropetrovsk through the gap between First Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf, is to be eliminated.”[lxi] The XLVIII Panzer Corps and SS Panzer Corps were unleashed against the exposed flank of the 6th Army and 1st Guards Army.   XLVIII Panzer Corps quickly “seized bridgeheads over the Samara River, and prepared to move north into the rear of the exhausted Soviet Sixth Army.”[lxii] The two Panzer Corps then made a coordinated concentric attack northwest which “came as a complete surprise to the Russians.”[lxiii] Das Reich thrust deep into the flank of 6th Army supported by Stukas from Richthofen’s 4th Air Fleet.  This attack dislodged one Soviet Rifle Corps and destroyed another allowing the division to capture Pavlograd while XLVIII Panzer Corps led by 17th Panzer Division pushed from the south linking up with the SS Corps. This cut off the Soviet 25th Tank Corps and threatened 6th Army.[lxiv] What followed was a disaster for the Russians.        Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary the Stavka and Front commanders still believed that the Germans were retreating.  6th Army was ordered to continue its advance by the front commander who believed that the two German Panzer Corps were withdrawing.[lxv] In a few days the 17th Panzer Division “gained the Izyum-Protoponovka sector on the Donetz River, while the SS Panzer Corps took Losovaya and established contact with Army Detachment Kempf, which had joined the attack from the west.”[lxvi] XL Panzer Corps with the 3rd and 7th Panzer Divisions and 333rd Infantry Division joined in the attack on Popov’s remaining forces completing their destruction.[lxvii] As Hoth and Hausser converged on Pavlograd, Das Reich and Totenkopf “swung left to the east and then wheeled back north again running parallel to the Russian divisions fleeing from Forty-eighth Panzer Corps. What ensured was a turkey shoot.”[lxviii] Fleeing Russian forces on the open steppe were visible and engaged at long range.[lxix] Leibstandarte helped by holding the left flank against Russian counter attacks from the units now isolated in the west,[lxx] and Totenkopf’s grenadiers fanned out supported by Stukas to “kill or capture as many Russians as possible.”[lxxi] By 1 March the Russian penetrations had been eliminated. Popov’s Mobile Group was smashed, 6th Army and 1st Guards Army badly mauled. 25th Tank Corps and three Rifle divisions had to be completely written off and numerous other corps and divisions took heavy casualties.  Two additional corps, encircled before the offensive began were eliminated by German forces.[lxxii] The Germans counted 23,000 Russian dead on the battlefield, and Manstein noted that “the booty included 615 tanks, 354 field pieces, 69 anti-aircraft guns and large numbers of machine guns and mortars.”[lxxiii] The Germans only took 9,000 prisoners as they were too weak, especially in infantry to seal off the encircled Soviet forces.[lxxiv] Yet the forces that escaped they were in no condition to “block the continued progress of the Panzers and SS.”[lxxv] Now there was a 100 mile gap in the Russian lines with nothing no troops to fill it and only “General Mud” could stop the Germans.[lxxvi] Manstein was not yet finished and the next phase of his operation against the Soviet formations west of Kharkov and that city were about to commence.

The Destruction of 3rd Tank Army

With the immediate threat to his Army Group eliminated and having regained the initiative, Manstein and Army Group South now “proceeded to deliver the stroke against the ‘Voronezh Front’– i.e. the forces located in the Kharkov area.”[lxxvii] But the Russians had not been idle. In order to attempt to assist 6th Army 3rd Tank Army moved two tank corps and three Rifle divisions south and these ran into Manstein’s advancing panzers.[lxxviii] Manstein’ noted his objective now was “not the possession of Kharkov but the defeat-and if possible the destruction of the enemy units located there.”[lxxix] Between March 1st and 5th his forces advanced on Kharkov. Not knowing the Germans dispositions[lxxx] 3rd Tank Army made the mistake of moving between the Leibstandarte’s defensive positions and the attacking divisions of the SS Panzer Corps. Hausser wheeled Totenkopf around and completed an encirclement of these units near Bereka on 3 March.[lxxxi] The Russians made futile attempts to break out but the SS Divisions tightened the noose around them and they were eliminated by the SS Panzer Corps which “engaged in concentric attacks during the three days of hard fighting.”[lxxxii] Even Regimental commanders like Heinz Harmel of Das Reich’s Der Fuhrer regiment became engaged in close combat with the Russians.[lxxxiii] The battle was fought in “snowstorms whose intensity caused the SS severe privations.”[lxxxiv] Totenkopf and Das Reich slammed the Russians “back against the Tiger tanks and assault guns of the Leibstandarte.”[lxxxv] The elimination of these units netted another 12,000 Russians killed,[lxxxvi] knocking “out the last remaining obstacle between the Germans and Kharkov.”[lxxxvii]

Return to Kharkov and Controversy

Manstein turned his attention to Kharkov, supported by Richthofen’s 4th Air Fleet which for the last time in Russia “provided undisputed air superiority for a major German mechanized operation.”[lxxxviii] He decided to “roll up the enemy from the flank and force him away from Kharkov in the process.”[lxxxix] He ordered a “pincer on the town, sending Grossdeutschland around to the north with a reinforced Kempf detachment and the combined force of Hoth and the SS to attack the town from the south and rear.”[xc] Manstein planned to make a wide envelopment to avoid embroiling his panzers in costly urban combat stating “that at all costs the Army Group wished to avoid Kharkov’s becoming a second Stalingrad in which our assault forces might become irretrievably committed.”[xci] To this end he sent Das Reich and Totenkopf approaching from the south to west of the city[xcii] while XLVIII Panzer Corps swung east toward the Donetz.[xciii] As Hoth’s forces came up from the south to envelope the city, Grossdeutschland and the XI and LI Corps fought the Russians to the north and west,[xciv] eventually moving up to Belgorod.  By 8 March lead elements of the SS Panzer Corps were on the outskirts of the city.

At this point there is some controversy as to German actions. As noted Manstein wished to avoid urban combat and desired to surround the city and force its surrender.  According to one writer Hoth ordered Hausser “to seal off the city from the west and north and to take any opportunity to seize it.”[xcv] Others including Glantz and House and Murray and Millett state that Hausser “ignored a direct order” and attacked into the city.[xcvi] Manstein does not explicitly say that there was a direct order but notes that the Army Group “had to intervene vigorously on more than one occasion to ensure that the corps did not launch a frontal attack on Kharkov.”[xcvii] Sydnor states that Hausser ignored a direct order by Hoth on the 11th by detailing a battalion of Totenkopf to assist Das Reich and Leibstandarte in retaking Kharkov by direct assault. The order entailed pulling Das Reich out of the city and taking it to the east.[xcviii] Lucas adds that this order came in the midst of hard fighting in the city and could not be carried out by the division.[xcix]Carell notes that on 9 March Hoth instructed Hausser that “opportunities to seize the city by a coup are to be utilized,”[c] and goes into detail regarding how Hoth’s 11 March order applied to Das Reich. It was to be pulled out of action and brought east, but division was heavily engaged and in the process of breaking through Soviet defenses “quicker in fact than if he had pulled “Das Reich” out of the operation and led it all the way round the city along those terrible muddy and time wasting roads.”[ci] In the end the SS took Kharkov, Manstein said that the city “fell without difficulty”[cii] while others note the difficulty of the action and the casualties suffered by the SS.  Kharkov’s capture; the defeat of Rokossovsky’s campaign against Orel and the beginning of the spring Rasutitsa ended the winter campaign and stabilized the front.

Analysis

The Russian winter offensive following Stalingrad had great potential.  Manstein said: “the successes attained on the Soviet side, the magnitude of which is incontestable.”[ciii] The greatest Soviet shortcomings were inexperience in conducting deep mobile operations and the inability of their logistics system to keep up with their advance.  Clark notes that this was their “first experience of an offensive war of movement on a large scale.[civ] Glantz and House are not alone in noting that the “Stavka continued to undertake operations that were beyond its resources.”[cv] Murray and Millett state that they “lacked the operational focus that had marked the Stalingrad offensive.”[cvi] Had they had the resources and ability to execute their plans they might have destroyed all German forces in the south.  They misread German intentions based on their own over-optimistic expectations opened their forces to Manstein’s devastating counter stroke.  Von Mellenthin, possibly showing some prejudice commented that the Russian soldier “when confronted by surprise and unforeseen situations he is an easy prey to panic.”[cvii]

The Germans snatched victory out of what appeared to be certain defeat aided by Russian mistakes and operational shortcomings.  Manstein refused to panic and conserved his forces for his counterattack.[cviii] Kleist brought his Army Group out of what might have been encirclement worse than Stalingrad.  Hitler for the most part gave Manstein operational freedom which he had not provided other commanders.  German Panzer forces conducted mobile operations against superior enemy armored forces and bested them.  Landsers held their own in at critical junctures, especially on the Mius and gave Manstein the opportunity to employ the panzers in the mobile defense.[cix] The Luftwaffe recovered its balance and the coordinated operations between it and German ground forces gave them an edge at a point where the Red Air Force was unable to support the Red Army.[cx] Above all the Germans still maintained the edge in both overall quality of generalship, especially that of Manstein and Kleist, but not to exclude Hoth, Hausser and lower level commanders.  Additionally the average German soldier still maintained an edge over his Soviet adversary in the confusion of mobile operations in open terrain.   Manstein and his forces gave Hitler breathing room on the eastern front.[cxi] As Clark notes: “few periods in World War II show a more complete and dramatic reversal of fortune than the fortnight in February and the first in March 1943…it repaired its front, shattered the hopes of the Allies, nipped the Russian spearhead. Above all it recovered its moral ascendancy.”[cxii]


[i] Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956. p245

[ii] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995. p.143

[iii] Ibid. Glantz. P.143. These units include 3rd Tank Army, 1st and 3rd Guards Armies and the 6th, 40th and 69th Armies.

[iv] Liddell-Hart. B.H. Strategy.  A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY 1974, first published by Faber and Faber Ltd. London, 1954 and 1967. p.253

[v] Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operation: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003. p.185

[vi] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. 2000. pp.291-292

[vii] Liddell-Hart, B.H. History of the Second World War. G.P. Putnam’s Son’s, New York, NY. 1970  p.478

[viii] Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986. p.161

[ix] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.292

[x] Ibid. Liddell-Hart, Second World War. p.479

[xi] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart. pp.211-212.

[xii] Clark, Alan. Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict, 1941-45. Perennial, an Imprint of Harper Collins Books, New York, NY 2002. Originally published by William Morrow, New York, NY 1965. pp.299-300

[xiii] Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999. p.11

[xiv] Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Translated by Anthony G. Powell, Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, St Paul, MN. 2004. First Published as Verlorene Siege Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, GE 1955, English edition Methuen & Company Ltd. 1958  p.417

[xv] Ibid. Clark. p.300

[xvi] Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company. pp.196-199

[xvii] Lucas, James. Das Reich: The Military History of the 2nd SS Division. Cassell Military Paperbacks, London, UK, 1999. First published by Arms and Armour, 1991. p.91  Glantz and House criticize Hausser saying that the SS Panzer Corps Staff lacked the experience to perform its mission.  (Titans Clashed p.144) Most other commentators agree with the necessity of his withdraw.

[xviii] Messenger, Charles. Sepp Dietrich: Hitler’s Gladiator. Brassey’s Defence Publishers, London, 1988. p.113

[xix] Ibid. Clark. p.300

[xx] Ibid. Manstein. p.419

[xxi] Ibid. Manstein. pp.418-419

[xxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.144

[xxiii] Ibid. Clark. p.300

[xxiv] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.251

[xxv] Ibid. Carell. p.191

[xxvi] Ibid. Manstein. p.424.

[xxvii] Ibid. Manstein. p.428

[xxviii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. Second World War. p.481

[xxix] This had previously been Army Detachment Lanz, but Lanz had bee relieved over the loss of Kharkov.

[xxx] Ibid. Manstein. p.429

[xxxi] Ibid. Murray and Millet. p.292

[xxxii] Ibid. Wray. p.162

[xxxiii] Ibid. Clark. p.302.

[xxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.145

[xxxv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed . pp.144-145

[xxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.146

[xxxvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.293

[xxxviii] Ibid. Carell. p.191

[xxxix] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.292

[xl] Ibid. Carell. p.199

[xli] Ibid. Carell. p.199

[xlii] Ibid. Carell. p.193

[xliii] Ibid. Clark. p.303

[xliv] Ibid. Clark. p.304

[xlv] Ibid. Clark. p.304

[xlvi] Ibid. Clark. p.304

[xlvii] Ibid. Carell. p.210

[xlviii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. Strategy p.253

[xlix] Ibid. Wray. p.163

[l] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.147. Note comments by Glantz and House in footnote 31 on relative strengths of forces involved, especially the weakness of German forces.

[li] Butler, Rupert. SS Wiking: The History of the Fifth SS Division 1941-45. Casemate, Havertown, PA. 2002. p.93

[lii] Ibid. Carell. p.211

[liii] Ibid. Carell. p.210

[liv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.147

[lv] Ibid. von Mellenthin. p.253

[lvi] Ibid. Carell. p.210

[lvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.293

[lviii] Ibid. Carell. p.213

[lix] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.147

[lx] There is difference in various accounts as to which units composed these Panzer Corps. Von Mellenthin adds 11th Panzer to the XLVIII Panzer Corps and some accounts do not list the Liebstandarte as part of the SS Panzer Corps.

[lxi] Ibid. Carell. p.211

[lxii] Sydnor, Charles W. Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death’s Head Division 1933-1945. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1977. p.268

[lxiii] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.252

[lxiv] Ibid. Carell. p.212

[lxv] Ibid. Carell. p.212

[lxvi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.252

[lxvii] Ibid. Carell. p.213

[lxviii] Ibid. Sydnor. pp.268-269

[lxix] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.253

[lxx] Meyer, Kurt. Grenadiers. Translated by Michael Mende and Robert J. Edwards. J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc. Winnipeg, Manitoba. Canada. 2001. pp.180-181

[lxxi] Ibid. Sydnor. p.269

[lxxii] Ibid. Manstein. p.433

[lxxiii] Ibid. Manstein. p.433. Sydnor lists an addition 600 anti-tank guns and notes that the tanks were almost all T-34s. (Sydnor. p.269)

[lxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.147

[lxxv] Ibid. Clark. p.306

[lxxvi] Ibid. Carell. p.216

[lxxvii] Ibid. Manstein. p.433

[lxxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.187

[lxxix] Ibid. Manstein. p.433

[lxxx] Ibid. Meyer. p.181

[lxxxi] Ibid. Carell. p.216

[lxxxii] Ibid. Meyer. pp.181-182

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Lucas. p.95

[lxxxiv] Ibid. Lucas. p.95

[lxxxv] Ibid. Sydnor. p.277

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Manstein. p.434

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Sydnor. p.277

[lxxxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.13

[lxxxix] Ibid. Manstein. p.435

[xc] Ibid. Clark. p.306

[xci] Ibid. Manstein. p.435

[xcii] Ibid. Sydnor. p.278

[xciii] Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)  p.75

[xciv] Ibid. Raus. pp.189-192

[xcv] Ibid. Messenger. p.114

[xcvi] See Glantz and House p.187 and Murray and Millett p.293

[xcvii] Ibid. Manstein. p.436

[xcviii] Ibid. Sydnor. p.278

[xcix] Ibid. Lucas. p.96

[c] Ibid. Carell. p.216

[ci] Ibid. Carell. p.219

[cii] Ibid. Manstein. p.436

[ciii] Ibid. Manstein. p.437

[civ] Ibid. Clark. p.303

[cv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.143

[cvi] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.292

[cvii] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.254

[cviii] A comment by Von Mellenthin commenting on Manstein’s coolness in the conduct of his operations compares him to Robert E. Lee. “To find another example of defensive strategy of this caliber we must go back to Lee’s campaign in Virginia in the summer of 1864. (Von Mellenthin. p.245)

[cix] For some additional comments along these lines see vn Mellenthin who notes four points in regard to the counter stroke: 1. High level commanders did not restrict the moves of armored formations, but gave them long range tasks. 2. Armored formations had no worries about their flanks because the High Command had a moderate infantry force available for counterattacks. 3. All commanders of armored formations, including corps, conducted operations not from the rear, but from the front. 4. The attack came as a surprise regarding the time and place. (Von Mellenthin p.254)

[cx] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.293

[cxi] Despite his success Hitler was not happy with Manstein in regard to giving up ground for operational purposes and Manstein would lose much of the freedom that he enjoyed by March. Wray has a discussion of this.  See Wray. pp.162-163.  The Nazi hierarchy actively promoted the exploits of the SS Panzer Corps and its leaders, especially the commander of the Leibstandarte Sepp Dietrich. (see Weingartner pp. 76-77) The recognition of Hausser would be delayed, some speculate as a result of his disobedience in giving up Kharkov in February.

[cxii] Ibid. Clark. p.306

Bibliography

Butler, Rupert. SS Wiking: The History of the Fifth SS Division 1941-45. Casemate, Havertown, PA. 2002

Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company

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

Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995

Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart.

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Liddell-Hart. B.H. Strategy.  A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY 1974, first published by Faber and Faber Ltd. London, 1954 and 1967

Lucas, James. Das Reich: The Military History of the 2nd SS Division. Cassell Military Paperbacks, London, UK, 1999. First published by Arms and Armour, 1991

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Messenger, Charles. Sepp Dietrich: Hitler’s Gladiator. Brassey’s Defence Publishers, London, 1988

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Sydnor, Charles W. Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death’s Head Division 1933-1945. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1977

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Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)

Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986

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