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Kursk: The Death Ride of the Panzerwaffe

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am reposting an older article today which was a paper that I wrote for a class as part of my second Masters Degree program. 

The Battle of Kursk was the climactic battle on the Eastern Front from which the Germans never recovered. It was a battle that should not have been fought, at least at the time that it was fought. It was high risk operation with minimal payoff should it succeed. It did not and combined with the Allied landings in Sicily and other setbacks suffered by German forces in 1943 was the battle that doomed Germany to defeat. It was the last time that the German military had a chance to score a major victory against the Soviets and their defeat ensured the defeat of the Third Reich. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

The German Situation and Dilemma in April 1943

Battle_of_Kursk_(map)

The Germans faced a dilemma in April 1943.  Manstein’s brilliant counter-stroke had turned what could have been disaster into an opportunity to salvage prospects for the Eastern Front. The German action had “repaired its front, shattered the hopes of the Allies, and nipped the Russian spearhead.”[i]Unfortunately for the Germans the spring thaw meant that Manstein could not continue immediately and eliminate the Kursk bulge which had been formed by Rokossovky’s offensive and Manstein’s own counter-stroke.  With the Germans stalled by the weather Stavka cancelled “other significant planned offensives to dispatch reinforcements to the Kursk region.”[ii] Despite the weather Manstein pushed Kluge for an immediate attack on both sides of the bulge but was rebuffed by Kluge who “insisted that his troops needed to rest and refit.”[iii] This rebuff combined with the onset of the Russian mud meant that in “March 1943 the war on the ground came to an end….The front was immobilized.”[iv]

manstein with tanksField Marshal Erich von Manstein with Tiger I Tanks

Manstein’s offensive had “enabled the Germans to consolidate a firm position in the East, and build up strength afresh- not to its former level, but sufficient to provide a good prospect of holding the Russians at bay.”[v] As a result German armies in the south “held again nearly the same positions from which the Blau offensive had begun the previous spring.”[vi] Now the Kursk bulge some 250 Kilometers wide and 160 Kilometers deep[vii] protruded menacingly into the German lines and drew the attention of both sides, to the Germans it appeared to be designed for an encirclement battle.[viii] Thus it appeared that the Kursk bulge was the obvious place for the Germans to resume the offensive and maintain the initiative on the Eastern Front.

But was the Kursk necessary?  Was Operation ZITADELLE as obvious as it seemed to be to Hitler, Zeitzler and others?  The battle is the subject of many books and articles which often focus on tactical and operational details of the German offensive, particularly the battle on the southern side of the bulge and the clash of armor at Prokhorovka.  This essay will focus less on the battle and more on the strategic situation faced by the Germans in the spring of 1943. Key to this are the arguments for and against the operation, the operations timing and the option that the Germans had to conduct a mobile defense.   It is the strategic situation that must be looked at to determine whether Operation ZITADELLE was necessary at all. Manstein believed that had the offensive been launched early enough that it might have succeeded provided it “we launched it early enough we could hope to catch them in a state of unpreparedness.”[ix]Williamson Murray and Allan Millett agree with Manstein’s assessment but note that an early offensive was “riskier…but greater the prospect for a major success.”[x] Guderian on the other hand saw that nothing good could come of ZITADELLE and opposed it from the beginning.[xi] Glantz and House in their detailed study argue that “there is absolutely no basis for assuming that Citadel would have succeeded had it been launched in spring 1943.”[xii]

battle_kursk t 34The Soviets Reinforced and Fortified the Kursk Salient

The Germans faced a number of major problems in early 1943.  First, among them was manpower.  The armed forces had been mauled on the Eastern Front, “after continuous operations from June 1942 to March 1943, most German units were worn out.”[xiii] Many infantry divisions “were reduced to two thirds of their original strength, with declining mobility and anti-tank defenses.”[xiv] Had the Germans only faced the Russians this might have been overcome, however they not only faced a rejuvenated Red Army, but challenges brought about by multi-theater operations and their weak, ineffective and reluctant allies.  The Allied air offensive which though it “did not decisively effect German arms production it nevertheless prevented a great deal of work from being carried on and had profound moral effects which communicated themselves to all the fronts.”[xv] Likewise the U-Boat campaign had been effectively defeated by May 1943 allowing for increasing numbers of American troops and supplies to reach Europe, including significant Lend-Lease aide for the Soviet Union.  Manpower became a major issue for the the German Army and industry.  Both the military and industryhad difficulty in getting the required number of personnel to meet their personnel needs, in January 1943 the German High Command “demanded 800,000 men-but even the most ruthless call-up was able to produce only 400,000” who were lost to the civilian war economy.[xvi] Even the “belated industrial mobilization of Germany, fueled by slave labor and directed by the organizational genius of men like Speer and Guderian, could do little beyond patching together existing units.”[xvii]

Bild 101I-139-1112-17General Heinz Guderian, Inspector of Panzer Troops was one of Few Senior German Officers to Oppose ZITADELLE from the Beginning

There were other challenges. The German and Italian armies in North Africa had surrendered, and about 330,000 Axis soldiers entered captivity.[xviii] Added to the heavy losses on the Eastern Front, the disasters in North Africa and Stalingrad had “effectively destroyed the Axis military alliance, such as it was.”[xix] Italy, Hungary and Romania all began to pull their forces out of the Eastern front after having them shattered by the Soviet Winter offensive.[xx]Italy, shaken by its losses in North Africa and the Russian front was wavering in its support for Germany; Mussolini’s government itself was on the verge of falling.  Likewise the Hungarian government sought contact with the Allies;[xxi]as did the Romanians.[xxii] Finland too was looking for a way out and limiting its participation in German offensive operations.[xxiii] As her allies looked for a way out, the British and Americans were about to open a new front in Southern Europe, while another had effectively been opened by partisans in Yugoslavia and Greece.[xxiv] The crisis in the south was great enough that OKW under General Jodl began to look at ways of shoring up those fronts in case Italy withdrew from the war including the use of units that would have to be withdrawn from the Eastern Front.[xxv] The Balkans drained German reserves such that the number of German divisions deployed there increased from 5 to 15 between July 1942 and July 1943.[xxvi] Additionally many units had to be created by the Replacement Army to build up the Western Front knowing that an Allied strike there would eventually take place, further depriving the Eastern Front of badly needed infantry replacements and divisions.

Benito_Mussolini_and_Adolf_HitlerHitler Felt Regaining the Initiative in the East was Critical to Keeping his Allies in the War

The German Options and Decision

The question for the Germans now was whether they “had any strategic options that would allow them to avoid defeat.”[xxvii] It is from this perspective that the necessity of Kursk must be examined. Most in the German High Command now realized that strategy in the east could no longer be “based on the illusion of conquering the vast Soviet Union.”[xxviii] As such the discussion turned to what direction the new strategy should take.  Political considerations came into play: Since the German allies were looking for ways to exit the war it was felt that “it was politically impossible for Germany to surrender the initiative on the Eastern Front.”[xxix] Realistically there were two options available: Wait and counterattack or launch a limited attack on the Kursk salient. The general impression among many German commanders in the East was that they had ended the last campaign “with a relative advantage over the Reds, an advantage that should be exploited as soon as the rasputitsa ended in April or early May.”[xxx] But the only strategy that looked feasible balancing the political and military goal of maintaining the initiative was what Manstein originally had in mind after Kharkov, to continue on, pinch out the Kursk bulge with the cooperation of Kluge’s Army Group Center.  As noted the opportunity to do so was lost with Kluge’s refusal and the onset of the spring thaw.  Yet this idea captured Zeitzler at OKH and Kluge at Army Group Center, though by April and May Manstein was more inclined toward “the ‘backhand’ stroke, which involved giving up the whole Donetz basin and staging a major Panzer offensive southeast from Kharkov.”[xxxi] However, this was too bold for Hitler who was “unwilling to give up the Donetz Basin with its industrial and mineral resources.”[xxxii]

battle_kursk_tiger advancingThe New Tiger Tanks Were to Play a Critical Role in the Attack

Manstein felt that the “moment of opportunity had passed, but his counterpart at Army Group Center…Kluge, was enthusiastic about the proposal.”[xxxiii]Zeitzler believed that an “attack at Kursk would be less risky”[xxxiv] than Manstein’s “backhand” and pushed the plan to Hitler.  There were advantages to this strategy if it could be carried out successfully. The Germans would encircle and destroy Russian forces in the salient and “shorten their own defensive lines after such an encirclement.”[xxxv] Yet the plan was opposed by others. Jodl at OKW argued against ZITADELLE “because he believed that it was dangerous to empty the strategic reserve when so many new crises threatened to develop in the Mediterranean.”[xxxvi] Zeitzler countered that because of German weakness in the east that they could not “wait to be hit.”[xxxvii] Guderian did not believe that either Army Group could be ready to mount the offensive that Zeitzler envisioned and “declared that the attack was pointless…if we attacked according to the plan of the Chief of the General Staff, we were certain to suffer heavy tank casualties, which we would not be in position to replace in 1943.”[xxxviii]Guderian asked Hitler at a separate conference “why he wanted to attack at all in the East in 1943.” When Keitel expressed that the reasons were political, Guderian asked Hitler “How many people do you think even know where Kursk is? It’s a matter of profound indifference to the world whether we hold Kursk or not…”[xxxix] Guderian and Speer both pointed out technical problems in producing the Tigers and Panthers but were overruled.[xl] Hitler himself reportedly had misgivings about the attack at one point reportedly stating that “the thought of the Zitadelle operation ‘made [his] stomach turn over’”[xli] In spite of Jodl and Guderian’s warnings, his own misgivings and those of Manstein and Model in April and May, Hitler “allowed himself to be tempted once more into taking the offensive. The Kursk salient…lured him into mounting his great pincer operation known as Citadel.”[xlii] Glantz and House maintain that he could “see no alternative politically and agreed to the plan.”[xliii]

The Facts on the Ground

Kursk_T34_and_Fieldgun-px800Soviet Forces Expected the Attack and Were well Prepared to Meet it

Once the decision to attack was made the question that remained was the timing of the attack. Manstein had preferred an early attack in May, but the operation was postponed to mid-June and then to July due to the request of Model who believed that his forces were too weak and needed reinforcements.[xliv] The attack was to be one of several “limited offensives designed to consolidate the German defenses while inflicting sufficient damage on the Red Army to delay any Soviet offensive.”[xlv] But the delays insisted on by Model and agreed to by Hitler were a fatal error.  The Germans failed to “factor into their decision was the unpalatable reality that Soviet strength in the Kursk salient was growing much faster than the Wehrmacht could muster forces to attack it.”[xlvi] Not only were the Soviet forces growing they knew about the German plans and could deploy their forces to counter them and for their own offensive.[xlvii] Stalin’s generals were able to convince him not to launch an attack and instead wait on the Germans so they could attack as the Germans exhausted their strength.[xlviii] They knew of it since April and reinforced the flanks of the salient with guns and armor at a faster pace than the Germans opposite them.[xlix] At Kursk “improved intelligence collection and analysis permitted the Red Army to predict almost exactly the strategic focal point of a major German offensive.”[l] Into the bulge “Vatutin and Rokossovsky crammed seven armies.”[li] The Russians deployed in depth in heavy fortified zones and minefields along the very sectors of the bulge that the Germans intended to attack, successfully masking their preparations from the Germans. It was “a measure of Soviet self-confidence that the senior commanders were looking beyond the German attack, beyond its failure, to the first major Soviet summer offensive.”[lii] Had the Germans succeeded in pinching off the salient “they would have faced several additional defensive belts constructed to the east of the salient.”[liii]

Typically when one launches an offensive it is desirable to have numeric advantage over the defender, 3:1 is normally assumed to be sufficient. At Kursk the Germans were outnumbered by the Russians 2.3:1 in men and 1.6:1 in tanks[liv] yet somehow the offensive had now morphed from a spoiling attack into a strategic offensive, albeit with more limited objectives attacking one of the strongest points in the Russian line.  General Raus, commanding a corps in Army Detachment Kempf noted: “Considering Russian dispositions, defenses and terrain, German strength could be considered only minimally sufficient for the assigned mission.”[lv] The Chief of Staff of XLVIII Panzer Corps called Kursk “the strongest fortress in the world.”[lvi]

Danger Signs: Requests for Cancellation

keitel-jodl-hitlerGeneral Alfred Jodl at OKW Protested the Offensive Verbally and in Writing

As more delays occurred Manstein “came out in the open and protested that the operation was no longer feasible and must be abandoned, but it was too late.  The united stand of orthodox General Staff opinion, Keitel, Zeitzler, Kluge, had persuaded the Führer, whose mind, once made up, was never altered.”[lvii]Manstein felt that the idea had been to “attack the enemy before the enemy had replenished his forces and got over the reverses of the winter.”[lviii] He felt there was great danger to the Mius line and to the northern Orel bulge with each delay; and the felt the threat of an attack by the Allies in Western Europe.[lix] On 18 June Jodl and the OKW Operations Staff “recommended to Hitler that he abandon Operation Citadel in order to free strategic reserves for defense in both East and West.”[lx] Warlimont writes that Jodl “raised empathic objection to the premature commitment of the central reserves to the East; he pointed out both verbally and in writing that a local success was all that could be hoped from Operation Citadel and that it could have no strategic significance for the overall situation.”[lxi] Hitler again refused the request.  “The doubts of certain Chiefs of Staff of the attacking armies were disregarded, and in the case of Colonel von Schleinitz, answered with dismissal.”[lxii]

The Battle

battle_kursk tigersTigers Advancing

The attacking forces for ZITADELLE involved units of Army Group Center and Army Group South.  Spearheading the assault for Army Group Center was Model’s 9th Army.  2nd Army from the same Army Group took a defensive role in the center of the bulge while Army Group South’s 4th Panzer Army under Hoth and Army Detachment Kempf composed the Southern attack force.  Von Mellenthin noted that to muster the necessary divisions for the attacking armies “neighboring fronts were to be thinned out beyond the limits of prudence” and from a strategic point of view likened Citadel “to be a veritable ‘death ride.’”[lxiii]Manstein worried about stripping the Mius-Donetz salient which “had to hand over all their available forces.”[lxiv] The Germans sent 17 panzer divisions against Kursk including the elite 2nd Panzer, Grossdeutschland, Leibstandarte, Das Reich and Totenkopf. Hoth’s army was the “strongest force ever put under a single commander in the German Army.”[lxv] While the Germans assembled the Russians waited, and beginning on 1 July the “Red Army defenders were on constant alert, waiting in their bunkers for the first sign of attack.”[lxvi]

battle_kursk_0020Panzers on the Advance

ZITADELLE began on 4 July with a reconnaissance in force, the main blow scheduled for 0300 5 July. The Russians learned of the timing from a prisoner and quickly launched an artillery counter-preparation an hour prior to the German attack, disrupting it while air strikes were ordered against Luftwaffe airfields.[lxvii] Model’s 9th Army on the northern flank attacked the Russian “13th and 70th Armies on a frontage of 50 kilometers”[lxviii] with the focus being a 16 kilometer front where he concentrated 6 infantry divisions, a panzer division and all his Tiger and Ferdinand units.[lxix] He intended to break the Soviet defensive system “by constantly feeding in new units to grind down the defenses.”[lxx] The attack stalled by the 9July making minimal progress of “8 to 12 kilometers into the massive Soviet defenses.”[lxxi] A good deal of his problem was due to limited infantry strength which was  “far below established strength….moreover, the Ninth Army’s infantry- even the veterans- lacked experience in conducting set-piece attacks against prepared positions.”[lxxii]The Russians defined the battleground and forced Model into a battle determined by superior firepower on a constricted battlefield, “a game that the Wehrmacht could not win.”[lxxiii] This nullified any advantage the Germans might have had in mobility for their panzer divisions.  In savage battles to take the high ground at Ponyri station and Ol’khovatka Model’s assaults faltered.  9thArmy sacrificed about 50,000 men and 400 tanks to the god of war.”[lxxiv]Model continued to attack until 12 July when the Russians launched their offensive against the Orel bulge forcing him to redeploy to counter the Russian advance.  The battle in the north became “a savage defensive battle in which considerable parts of the offensive wing of Ninth Army were involved.”[lxxv]Model’s defeat made Hoth’s task “much more challenging.”[lxxvi]

battle_kursk_t-34s and infantryT-34’s and Infantry

The Fourth Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf made better progress, nearly breaking through the Russian defenses after hard fighting. They penetrated “into the third Soviet defensive belt, a depth of 35 kilometers, but were stopped by Katukov’s 1st Tank Army.”[lxxvii] The critical point was reached on 11 and 12 July at Prokhorovka station when 5th Tank Army collided with 4thPanzer Army. “Over 1200 tanks from both sides were engaged in this struggle.”[lxxviii] It was the largest tank engagement of the war, over 700 tanks were destroyed and “German losses were too great to allow a decisive breakthrough.”[lxxix] Both sides took heavy casualties but the Germans could not replace theirs while the Russians still had formidable uncommitted reserves.  On 13 July the battle in the south drifted into a stalemate as XLVIII Panzer Corps and Hausser’s II SS Panzer Corps failed to break the Soviet line[lxxx] as the Russians “kept on throwing in fresh troops, and their reserves seemed inexhaustible.”[lxxxi] Manstein desired to continue the offensive as he believed that for his Army Group “the battle was now at its culminating point, that to break it off at this moment would be tantamount to throwing victory away.”[lxxxii] Although Manstein and Hoth felt that they could continue on and break the Russian line, they were now not in a position to do so. Model’s forces were in no shape to assist in the north and Manstein and Kluge were called to the Wolfsschanze by Hitler who, now preoccupied with the Allied invasion of Sicily necessitating withdraws of strong panzer forces from the east to face the threat in the west.[lxxxiii] Hitler rejected Manstein’s counsel to continue and ordered him to withdraw II SS Panzer Corps,[lxxxiv] effectively ending the ZITADELLE as the Russians launched their offensive on 17 July.

battle_kursk_destroyed panzersDestroyed Panzers

Analysis of the Decision: Zitadelle Was Not Obvious, Necessary nor Well Executed

To Hitler and the supporters of ZITADELLE the operation seemed obvious.  In the two previous years the Germans had dealt punishing blows against the Red Army and the belief of Zeitzler and others was that the Wehrmacht was still qualitatively superior to the Soviets and that even a limited offensive would succeed in its objectives.  But the conditions on the ground had changed and the Germans failed to take the change into account.  The German Army did not have the resources for an offensive of the scope of Barbarossa or Blau. However this lack of resources did not lessen the optimism of some for ZITADELLE; particularly Zeitzler and Kluge. From their perspective the offensive to pinch out the Kursk salient seemed likely to succeed.  Yet as Clark notes the offensive was defined by a “lack of imagination and adaptability….Where the old Blitzkrieg formula….was fed into the computer, with little regard for the changed conditions….” [lxxxv] Von Mellenthin comments that by attacking Kursk, the “German Army threw away all their advantages in mobile tactics, and met the Russians on ground of their own choosing.”[lxxxvi] Glantz and House attribute this to the fact that the Germans “clung to outmoded assumptions about their own superiority over their opponents” due to their previous success. They point out that the Red Army had systematically reviewed its performance after every failure,” so that “Soviet doctrine, organization, and expectations were closer to battlefield reality than were those of the senior German leadership.”[lxxxvii] The German intelligence services failed them[lxxxviii] as they failed to detect the large strategic sized force that the Soviets had concentrated in the spring of 1943.  This was a force that Glantz and House believe would have caused ZITADELLE to fail even had it occurred in May, particularly in regard to the comparatively weak German forces fielded by Manstein.[lxxxix]

An offensive with what appeared to be reasonable objectives that were believed to be within the capabilities of the Wehrmacht failed.  Hitler according to Carell “gambled away not only victory but all hope of a draw.”[xc] Manstein categorized the offensive as a “fiasco.”[xci] Guderian called it “a decisive defeat” that made it “problematical” whether the armored formations could be “rehabilitated in time to defend the Eastern Front.”[xcii] Warlimont who served at OKW commented: “Operation Citadel was more than a battle lost; it handed the Russians the initiative and we never recovered it again right up to the end of the war.”[xciii]Guderian’s biographer Kenneth Macksey wrote that “the failure at Kursk was due to the employment of a faulty plan which lacked the element of strategic as well as tactical surprise.”[xciv] Raus lists several factors for this.  However, his argument is summarized: “once we learned in May and June that this was the area in which the Russians were prepared to offer their stiffest resistance, we should have modified our plans.  Either we should have refrained from attacking at all, or the operation should have been carried out to strike the enemy not at his strongest, but at his weakest point.”[xcv]

Hitler felt that a decisive victory was needed for political and propaganda reasons, yet even a significant victory was unlikely to keep Italy in the war, even if it swayed the lesser allies to stay the course.  ZITADELLE was conducted too late to save the Italians, success in May might have given German supporters in Italy some leverage but the invasion of Sicily and the failure at Kursk emboldened Mussolini’s opponents. The Fascist Grand Council “voted to have Mussolini removed as prime minister” and King Vittorio Emmanuaele “dismissed Mussolini” who was then placed under arrest.[xcvi] Finland refused to take offensive action that might have cut the Murmansk railway[xcvii] and engaged the Americans in a round of “abortive negotiation”[xcviii] while the Hungarians and Romanians provided little assistance to the Germans, partially due to the German reluctance to assist in modernizing and rebuilding their armies.[xcix]

Of the German Generals involved it was only Guderian as Inspector of Armored Troops and Jodl at OKW who consistently opposed ZITADELLE, citing realistic assessments of strengths, risks and dangers in other theaters.  Manstein opposed it when he felt the opportunity had passed, though it was unlikely to succeed had it been launched in May as he desired.  Guderian and Jodl’s arguments proved correct in every respect. ZITADELLE engaged German the preponderance of German forces in a battle that had at best chances of local success. The offensive itself weakened and endangered the German position on all fronts.  In the end, despite the belief and decision of Hitler, Zeitzler Kluge and others in the High Command, Operation ZITADELLE was neither obvious nor necessary and played out with the disastrous results expected by those who opposed it.

Notes


[i] Clark, Allan. 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. p. 306

[ii] Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999. p.14

[iii] Ibid. Glantz and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  p.14

[iv] 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. 335

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

[vi] 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.163

[vii] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995. p.157

[viii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157

[ix] 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.447

[x] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 2000. p.295

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

[xii] Ibid. Glantz and House. The Battle of Kursk. p.261

[xiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. The Battle of Kursk. p.14

[xiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Clash of Titans. p.174

[xv] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945.Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers. p.441

[xvi] Ibid. Carell. p.336

[xvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Clash of Titans. p.174

[xviii] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964. p.312

[xix] DiNardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005. p.174

[xx] Ibid. DiNardo. p.174. By the summer all Italians units had been withdrawn, all but two Hungarian divisions which were used in anti-partisan operations and nine Romanian divisions.

[xxi] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.441

[xxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxiii] Ibid. DiNardo. p.180

[xxiv] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.441

[xxv] Ibid. Warlimont. pp.317-318

[xxvi] Dunn, Walter S. Jr. Heroes or Traitors: The German Replacement Arm, the July Plot, and Adolf Hitler. Praeger Publishers, Westport CT and London, 2003. p.53

[xxvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.294

[xxviii] Ibid. Carell. p.339

[xxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxxi] Ibid. Clark. p.322

[xxxii] 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.280

[xxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157

[xxxiv] Ibid. Clark. p.322

[xxxv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.157

[xxxvi] Ibid. Clark. p.323

[xxxvii] Ibid. Clark. p.323

[xxxviii] Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957. pp.245-246

[xxxix] Ibid. Clark. p.325.

[xl] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157.

[xli] Ibid. Clark. p.325

[xlii] Ibid. Carell. p.341

[xliii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.158

[xliv]Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General. DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005. pp.218-219

[xlv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.21

[xlvi] Ibid. Newton. p.219

[xlvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.295

[xlviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.158

[xlix] Ibid. Clark. p.326

[l] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.63

[li] Overy, Richard. Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet War Effort: 1941-1945. Penguin Books, New York NY and London, 1997. pp.200-201

[lii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.159

[liii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kurskp.64

[liv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.65 This reference contains a listing of each sector and the force ratios of men, tanks and guns in each sector.

[lv] 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.197

[lvi] Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)  p.81

[lvii] Ibid. Clark. p.327

[lviii] Ibid. Manstein. p.447

[lix] Ibid. Manstein. pp.447-448

[lx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.55

[lxi] Ibid. Warlimont. p.334

[lxii] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.445

[lxiii] 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.262

[lxiv] Ibid. Manstein. p.448

[lxv] Ibid. Clark. p.328

[lxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.78

[lxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.81-84

[lxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxix] Ibid. Erickson. P.99

[lxx] Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin. Cassel Military Paperbacks, London, 2003. First Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1983. p.99

[lxxi] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxii] Ibid. Newton. p.222

[lxxiii] Ibid. Newton. 234

[lxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.121

[lxxv] Ibid. Carell. p.342

[lxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.121

[lxxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxix] Ibid. Overy. p.209

[lxxx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.215-217

[lxxxi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.274

[lxxxii] Ibid. Manstein. p.449

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.217-218.

[lxxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.167

[lxxxv] Ibid. Clark. pp.329-330

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.264

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.269

[lxxxviii] Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War. Greenhill Books 1996, Barnes and Noble, New York,  2006. p.227

[lxxxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p. 261

[xc] Ibid. Carell. p.342

[xci] Ibid. Manstein. p.449

[xcii] Ibid. Guderian. p.251

[xciii] Ibid. Warlimont. p.334

[xciv] Ibid. Macksey. Guderian p.206

[xcv] Ibid. Raus. p.211

[xcvi] Ibid. DiNardo. p.178

[xcvii] Ibid. DiNardo. p.181

[xcviii] Ibid. Erickson. p.91

[xcix] Ibid. DiNardo. pp.182-188

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, Allan. 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

DiNardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse.University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005

Dunn, Walter S. Jr. Heroes or Traitors: The German Replacement Arm, the July Plot, and Adolf Hitler. Praeger Publishers, Westport CT and London, 2003

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

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

Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945. Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers

Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957

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

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

Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY 1975

Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War. Greenhill Books 1996, Barnes and Noble, New York, 2006

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

Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 2000

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

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

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

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

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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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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Stalingrad At 75

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Wednesday the 31st of January marks the 75th anniversary of  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. In all nearly two million Axis and Soviet personnel, including civilians were killed, wounded, or captured during the campaign.

That being said, it is a reminder to all of us of the consequences of how xenophobic and racist politics of self-anointed leaders, and their followers can lead nations into disaster.

Peace 

Padre Steve+

Stalingrad: Primary or Secondary Objective

 keitel-jodl-hitler

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 German High Command was divided on the actual objective of the campaign.

operation blau map

The Oberkommando des Heer or the OKH (Army High Command) under the guidance of General Franz Halder assumed that Stalingrad was the objective and the advance into the Caucasus was a blocking effort.[i] Hitler and Oberkommando des Wehrmacht or the 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, “Hitler’s strategic objectives were governed chiefly by the needs of his war economy….” [vi] Historian Anthony Beevor noted 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]The Soviet High Command, Stavka attempted to disrupt the German offensive and to recover Kharkov by launching three offensives three offensives of their own. The largest of these, an attack on Kharkov was defeated by the Germans between the 12th to the 22nd of May, with the loss of most of the armor in southern Russia. This disaster was accompanied by an equally disastrous defeat of Red Army forces in Crimea by Erich Von Manstein’s 11th Army, and the combination meant that the Red Army would face the Germans in a severely weakened condition. [x]

Operation Blau: Opening Moves and Divergent Objectives

panzers_across_the_don

Panzers cross the Don

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 General Maximilian Von Weichs with 2nd Army, 6th Army and 4th Panzer Army operated in the northern part of the operational area. Army Group A under Field Marshall Wilhelm List was to the south with 17th Army and 1st Panzer Army, with the goal of driving into the Caucasus. [xi] Army Group B provided the main effort for the offensive and its forces 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 for any German summer offensive. [xiii] Despite his success, Hitler prevented Von Bock from destroying the Soviet formations that had been left behind and was relieved of command by Hitler. This enabled many of those units to escape the German onslaught. For his trouble 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]

Bild 169-0894

Destroyed Soviet T-34s

This decisions made next 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 had a decisive impact on the campaign.  Hitler’s 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]

 general-paulus

Field Marshall Von Paulus

The result was damning. The Luftwaffe 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 seized Stalingrad when it was still possible to do so.  Anthony Beevor called Hitler’s decision a disastrous compromise, [xviii] while Halder believed that Hitler’s decision underestimated the enemy and was “both ludicrous and dangerous.” [xix]

Focus on Stalingrad

battle-stalingrad-ww2-second-world-war-two-russian-eastern-front-unseen-pictures-photos-images

Sturmgeschutz Battalion Advancing toward Stalingrad

On July 22nd 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 then issued Stavka Order 227, better known as “No Step Back” on July 28th. The order mandated that commanders and political officers who retreated would be assigned to Penal battalions[xxii] and 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 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 his 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]

The OKW further weakened the German offensive by transferring several key SS Panzer Divisions and the Grossdeutschland Panzer Division to France. The Hungarian, Italian and Romanian armies that were part of the army group lacked motorization; modern armored and anti-tank units, and were unable to fulfill the gaps left by the loss of the experienced German divisions that had been transferred and the expectations of Hitler. [xxviii] The German 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, which took away the total domination of the air that the Germans had previously enjoyed.[xxx] David Glantz and House note that after the fall of Rostov on July 23rd “Hitler abruptly focused on the industrial and symbolic value of Stalingrad.” [xxxi] Hitler was undeterred by warnings from Halder that fresh Russian formations were massing east of the Volga and those of Quartermaster General Erich Wagner, who guaranteed that he could supply either the thrust to the Caucasus or Stalingrad but not both operations simultaneously. [xxxii] Again frustrated by the slow progress to take Stalingrad, Hitler reverted to the original plan for the 4th Panzer Army to assist the 6th Army at Stalingrad, but the cost in time and fuel to move that army from the Caucasus to Stalingrad were significant to the operation and the question 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.  Friedrich Von Mellenthin wrote, “the diversion of effort between the Caucasus and Stalingrad ruined our whole campaign.” [xxxiv] The Germans could not secure the Caucasus oil fields that Hitler considered vital to the German war effort.  The Germans advanced deep into the region and captured the Maikop oil fields, though the drilling and refining facilities were almost completely destroyed by the retreating Russians when they withdrew.[xxxv] Due to the lack of fuel and increased Soviet resistance Army Group A was halted along the crests of the Caucasus on August 28th[xxxvi] This setback 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] while Gunther Blumentritt observed that Mountain divisions that could have made the breakthrough were employed along the Black Sea coast in secondary operations. [xxxix]

battle_stalingrad65

JU-87 Stuka over Stalingrad

Meanwhile on the Stalingrad front, fuel and supply shortages hampered 6thArmy’s advance while Hermann Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army was needlessly shuttled between Rostov and Stalingrad. By the time the 4th Panzer Army resumed its advance the Russian forces around Stalingrad “had sufficiently recovered to check its advance.” [xl] As the 6th Army advanced into Stalingrad 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 had to occupy overextended fronts, and these formations were neither trained equipped for the Russian campaign, nor well motivated to die for Germany. [xlii] The supply shortage in both German army groups was not helped by a logistics bottleneck. All supplies for both army groups had to transit over a single crossing on the Dnieper River, which Manstein noted, also prevented swift movement of troops from one area to another. [xliii]

 pzdiv-24-motorcycle-stalingrad

Reconnaissance Battalion of 24th Panzer Division near Stalingrad

Von Paulus’ 6th Army attempted to capture Stalingrad with a swift attack between the 25th and 29th of July, even as Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army 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 then halted the 6th Army on the Don so it could concentrate its forces and build its logistics base, [xliv] and to allow Hoth’s army to come up from the south. This further delay allowed the Russians to build up even more forces west of Stalingrad, to reinforce the Stalingrad front, and to strengthen the defenses of the city. [xlv] Likewise, due to the distances involved it now was easier for the Russians to reinforce the Stalingrad front than it was for the Germans. [xlvi] As they strengthened their positions, the Soviets filled a number of key leadership positions with competent and tough Generals who would skillfully fight the coming battle for the city.[xlvii]

russian marines stalingrad

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 check of the German advance in the Caucasus “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]

battle_stalingrad79

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

Despite the risks the Germans now mounted a frontal assault using the 6th Army and elements of 4th Panzer Army despite having intelligence reports supported by airiel reconnaissance that “the Russians are throwing forces from all directions at Stalingrad.” [liii] Friedrich von 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, “when Stalingrad was not taken on the first rush, it would have been better to mask it….” [lv] Such a decision would have enabled the Germans to strengthen their lines and prepare for the inevitable Soviet counter-offensive. In retrospect 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, “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

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German Stug III at Stalingrad

On August 19th Paulus launched a concentric attack against the Russian 62ndand 64th Armies.  The attack ran into problems, especially in Hoth’s sector. [lviii]Yet, on the 22nd the 14th Panzer Corps of 6th Army “forced a very narrow breach in the Russian perimeter at Vertyachi and fought their way across the northern suburbs of Stalingrad,” [lix] reaching the Volga on the 23rd. That day 4th Air Fleet launched some 1600 sorties against the city dropping over 1,000 tons of bombs. [lx] The breakthrough by the 6th Army imperiled the Soviet position as they had concentrated their strongest forces against Hoth. [lxi] For the moment 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’s army achieved a breakthrough in the south that threatened the Russian position.  However the 6th Army was unable to disengage its mobile forces from inside Stalingrad to link up with the 4th Panzer Army and another opportunity to defeat major Soviet forces in the area and secure the city was missed. [lxiii]

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German unit crossing the Don

As the 6th Army moved into the city General Yeremenko ordered attacks against General Hube’s 16th Panzer Division. Soviet resistance increased as more formations arrived the Germans suffered one of their heaviest casualty rates. [lxiv] Though unsuccessful the Soviet 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 the 4th Panzer Army linked up, but Yeremenko saved his forces by withdrawing and avoided encirclement west of the city, retiring to an improvised line closer to the Stalingrad. [lxvi] On September 12th Vasily Chuikov was appointed to command 62nd Army in Stalingrad.  Chuikov understood that for the Soviets in Stalingrad 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] In the next few days the 13th Guards Rifle Division arrived and saved the Volga landings, which allowed the Soviets to continue to resupply Stalingrad, but the division last 30% of its troops as casualties in its first 24 hours of combat. [lxix]

t-34 stalingrad

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

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Now for Hitler 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 continued to gain ground in the city, but slowly and at great cost, especially among their infantry, so much so that decimated companies had to be combined to form combat effective units.

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Chuikov used his artillery to interdict the Germans from the far side of the Volga while assault squads with incredible ferocity fought the fight in the city.   The close-quarters combat in the city was dubbed, “Rattenkrieg by German soldiers.” [lxxiii] Paulus continued to bring more units into the city, further thinning his flanks, but his troops continued to slowly drive the Russians back against the river, and by early October Chuikov wondered if he would be able to hold. [lxxiv] It appeared that the Germans might finally capture Stalingrad, and by 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 causalities had been massive; an analysis by 6th Army determined that 42% of the battalions of 51st Corps were fought out. [lxxvii] Even so on November 9th, a confident Hitler declared “No power on earth will force us out of Stalingrad again!” [lxxviii] However, that boast was misplaced.

Soviet Counteroffensive: Disaster on the Flanks

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soviet infantry attacking

Soviet Forces Advancing

As 6th Army fought its way into Stalingrad some officers in the German High Command attempted to warn Hitler of the danger. Hitler now tolerated no interference, and on September 24th he relieved Halder for persisting to explain, “what would happen when new Russian reserve armies attacked the over-extended flank that ran out to Stalingrad.” [lxxix] Many on others 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] Rumanian Marshall Antonescu, and the staffs of both Army Group B and Paulus’s 6th Army warned Hitler too, [lxxxi] but Hitler was transfixed on Stalingrad.  By their sole focus on Stalingrad 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]

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Chuikov and his staff

Despite Stalin’s concern about Stalingrad the 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, the ever suspicious 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 Marshals Zhukov, Vasilevsky and Vatutin developed into a plan involving three operations; Operation Uranus, to destroy the German and allied forces at Stalingrad, and 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]

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Soviet Katusha Rockets

To accomplish the destruction of 6th Army and at least a part of 4th Panzer Army around Stalingrad the Stavka planners 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 the Soviet 5th Tank Army and two infantry armies and their supporting units. [lxxxix] In the south another force of over 160,000 men and 430 tanks were deployed against 4th Rumanian Army and weak element of 4th Panzer Army. [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] Walter Warlimont who served at OKW noted that there was a “deceptive confidence in German Supreme Headquarters.” [xciii]

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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 to the north and the south of Stalingrad [xciv] linking up to encircle the Germans in the city on the 23rd[xcv] The German 48th Panzer Corps supporting the Romanians was weakened by the exhausting campaign and had few operational tanks. [xcvi] It attempted a counterattack but was “cut to pieces” in an engagement against the 5th Tank Army. [xcvii] A promising attempt by the German 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] To compound German problems the Luftwaffe was neutralized by bad weather. [xcix] Inside the city Paulus continued to do nothing as since the attacks were outside of his area of responsibility and rather than taking the initiative to extricate his forces, waited for instructions. [c] As a result the 6th Army’s 16th and 24th Panzer Divisions that could have assisted matters to the west remained “bogged down in street-fighting in Stalingrad.” [ci] Without support of the army’s Panzer formations, the 6th Army units west of Stalingrad were forced back in horrific conditions.  By the 23rd of November the 6th Army was cut off along with one corps of the 4th Panzer Army and assorted Romanian units, over 330,000 men.  Though they had the Germans surrounded, the entrapped force would require the Soviets to use seven rifle armies and much staff attention to eliminate. [cii]

von Paulus surrenders to the Soviets

Paulus Surrenders

Hitler ordered Von Manstein to form a new, composite, Army Group Don, to relieve Stalingrad. Hitler would not countenance a break out by the encircled forces and wanted Manstein to break through and relieve the 6th Army.[ciii]Hitler refused a request by Paulus on 23 November to move troops to prepare for a possible a break out attempt, and assured him that he would be relieved. [civ]Albert Speer noted that General Kurt Zeitzler who replaced Halder at OKW insisted that the Sixth Army “must break out to the west.” [cv] Hitler, completely obsessed with capturing Stalingrad told Zeitzler, “We should under no circumstances give this up. We won’t get it back once it’s lost.” [cvi] The ever boastful Herman Goering promised that his Luftwaffe would be able to meet the re-supply needs of 6th Army by air, even though his own Generals knew that it was impossible with the number of transport aircraft available. [cvii] However, Hitler took his Luftwaffe chief 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] Hitler then issued a Führer decree ordering that the front be held at all costs. [cix] Walter Goerlitz stated, “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, as he also had to protect the flank of Army Group A, which was still deep in the Caucasus.

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hungarian dead stalingrad

Hungarian Dead and Wounded

Manstein’s “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 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] and many soldiers, long conditioned to believe in the promises of their Hitler were optimistic that Hitler would get them out of the caldron. [cxiii] Other German generals like Guderian, Reichenau, Heinrici, Hoeppner, or even the Waffen SS General Sepp Dietrich might have acted to save their army, but Paulus, surrounded in the city, was knew nothing but obedience.[cxiv]

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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 drawn the attention Hitler and Stalin and the lives of their soldiers into a giant vortex of death. However, the Soviet Stavka, even when facing disaster 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. The German mistakes began early in their planning process and continued throughout the campaign. Overconfident, they failed to follow up success, and allowed the Soviets to regroup and then smash their forces at Stalingrad.

Russland-Nord, Erich von Manstein, Brandenberger

Von Manstein

After the fall of Stalingrad as the Soviets attempted to follow up their success by attempting to cut off Army Group “A.” Manstein, with the meager forces at hand was permitted by Hitler to wage a mobile defense while Von Kleist managed to withdraw his army group 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, showing them that the German army, though wounded was not without the power to fight back.

But the German Army had suffered a massive defeat.  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 massive offensive operations on the thinly held flanks all contributed to the defeat.  Alan Clark notes these facts but adds that the Germans “were simply attempting too much.” [cxxiii] Likewise, the Soviet advantage in numbers allowed them to wear down the Germans even early in the campaign when they were suffering defeat after defeat. [cxxiv] Stalin, whose decisions had nearly lost the war in 1941 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.

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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Stalingrad at 73

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Sunday the 31st of January marked 73rd anniversary of  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. In all nearly two million Axis and Soviet personnel, including civilians were killed, wounded, or captured during the campaign.

That being said, it is a reminder to all of us of the consequences of how xenophobic and racist politics of self-anointed leaders, and their followers can lead nations into disaster.

Peace 

Padre Steve+

Stalingrad: Primary or Secondary Objective

 keitel-jodl-hitler

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 German High Command was divided on the actual objective of the campaign.

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The Oberkommando des Heer or the OKH (Army High Command) under the guidance of General Franz Halder assumed that Stalingrad was the objective and the advance into the Caucasus was a blocking effort.[i] Hitler and Oberkommando des Wehrmacht or the 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, “Hitler’s strategic objectives were governed chiefly by the needs of his war economy….” [vi] Historian Anthony Beevor noted 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] The Soviet High Command, Stavka attempted to disrupt the German offensive and to recover Kharkov by launching three offensives three offensives of their own. The largest of these, an attack on Kharkov was defeated by the Germans between the 12th to the 22nd of May, with the loss of most of the armor in southern Russia. This disaster was accompanied by an equally disastrous defeat of Red Army forces in Crimea by Erich Von Manstein’s 11th Army, and the combination meant that the Red Army would face the Germans in a severely weakened condition. [x]

Operation Blau: Opening Moves and Divergent Objectives

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Panzers cross the Don

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 General Maximilian Von Weichs with 2nd Army, 6th Army and 4th Panzer Army operated in the northern part of the operational area. Army Group A under Field Marshall Wilhelm List was to the south with 17th Army and 1st Panzer Army, with the goal of driving into the Caucasus. [xi] Army Group B provided the main effort for the offensive and its forces 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 for any German summer offensive. [xiii] Despite his success, Hitler prevented Von Bock from destroying the Soviet formations that had been left behind and was relieved of command by Hitler. This enabled many of those units to escape the German onslaught. For his trouble 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]

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Destroyed Soviet T-34s

This decisions made next 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 had a decisive impact on the campaign.  Hitler’s 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]

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Field Marshall Von Paulus

The result was damning. The Luftwaffe 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 seized Stalingrad when it was still possible to do so.  Anthony Beevor called Hitler’s decision a disastrous compromise, [xviii] while Halder believed that Hitler’s decision underestimated the enemy and was “both ludicrous and dangerous.” [xix]

Focus on Stalingrad

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Sturmgeschutz Battalion Advancing toward Stalingrad

On July 22nd 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 then issued Stavka Order 227, better known as “No Step Back” on July 28th. The order mandated that commanders and political officers who retreated would be assigned to Penal battalions[xxii] and 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 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 his 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]

The OKW further weakened the German offensive by transferring several key SS Panzer Divisions and the Grossdeutschland Panzer Division to France. The Hungarian, Italian and Romanian armies that were part of the army group lacked motorization; modern armored and anti-tank units, and were unable to fulfill the gaps left by the loss of the experienced German divisions that had been transferred and the expectations of Hitler. [xxviii] The German 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, which took away the total domination of the air that the Germans had previously enjoyed.[xxx] David Glantz and House note that after the fall of Rostov on July 23rd “Hitler abruptly focused on the industrial and symbolic value of Stalingrad.” [xxxi] Hitler was undeterred by warnings from Halder that fresh Russian formations were massing east of the Volga and those of Quartermaster General Erich Wagner, who guaranteed that he could supply either the thrust to the Caucasus or Stalingrad but not both operations simultaneously. [xxxii] Again frustrated by the slow progress to take Stalingrad, Hitler reverted to the original plan for the 4th Panzer Army to assist the 6th Army at Stalingrad, but the cost in time and fuel to move that army from the Caucasus to Stalingrad were significant to the operation and the question 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.  Friedrich Von Mellenthin wrote, “the diversion of effort between the Caucasus and Stalingrad ruined our whole campaign.” [xxxiv] The Germans could not secure the Caucasus oil fields that Hitler considered vital to the German war effort.  The Germans advanced deep into the region and captured the Maikop oil fields, though the drilling and refining facilities were almost completely destroyed by the retreating Russians when they withdrew.[xxxv] Due to the lack of fuel and increased Soviet resistance Army Group A was halted along the crests of the Caucasus on August 28th. [xxxvi] This setback 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] while Gunther Blumentritt observed that Mountain divisions that could have made the breakthrough were employed along the Black Sea coast in secondary operations. [xxxix]

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JU-87 Stuka over Stalingrad

Meanwhile on the Stalingrad front, fuel and supply shortages hampered 6th Army’s advance while Hermann Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army was needlessly shuttled between Rostov and Stalingrad. By the time the 4th Panzer Army resumed its advance the Russian forces around Stalingrad “had sufficiently recovered to check its advance.” [xl] As the 6th Army advanced into Stalingrad 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 had to occupy overextended fronts, and these formations were neither trained equipped for the Russian campaign, nor well motivated to die for Germany. [xlii] The supply shortage in both German army groups was not helped by a logistics bottleneck. All supplies for both army groups had to transit over a single crossing on the Dnieper River, which Manstein noted, also prevented swift movement of troops from one area to another. [xliii]

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Reconnaissance Battalion of 24th Panzer Division near Stalingrad

Von Paulus’ 6th Army attempted to capture Stalingrad with a swift attack between the 25th and 29th of July, even as Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army 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 then halted the 6th Army on the Don so it could concentrate its forces and build its logistics base, [xliv] and to allow Hoth’s army to come up from the south. This further delay allowed the Russians to build up even more forces west of Stalingrad, to reinforce the Stalingrad front, and to strengthen the defenses of the city. [xlv] Likewise, due to the distances involved it now was easier for the Russians to reinforce the Stalingrad front than it was for the Germans. [xlvi] As they strengthened their positions, the Soviets filled a number of key leadership positions with competent and tough Generals who would skillfully fight the coming battle for the city.[xlvii]

russian marines stalingrad

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 check of the German advance in the Caucasus “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]

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

Despite the risks the Germans now mounted a frontal assault using the 6th Army and elements of 4th Panzer Army despite having intelligence reports supported by airiel reconnaissance that “the Russians are throwing forces from all directions at Stalingrad.” [liii] Friedrich von 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, “when Stalingrad was not taken on the first rush, it would have been better to mask it….” [lv] Such a decision would have enabled the Germans to strengthen their lines and prepare for the inevitable Soviet counter-offensive. In retrospect 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, “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

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German Stug III at Stalingrad

On August 19th Paulus launched a concentric attack against the Russian 62nd and 64th Armies.  The attack ran into problems, especially in Hoth’s sector. [lviii] Yet, on the 22nd the 14th Panzer Corps of 6th Army “forced a very narrow breach in the Russian perimeter at Vertyachi and fought their way across the northern suburbs of Stalingrad,” [lix] reaching the Volga on the 23rd. That day 4th Air Fleet launched some 1600 sorties against the city dropping over 1,000 tons of bombs. [lx] The breakthrough by the 6th Army imperiled the Soviet position as they had concentrated their strongest forces against Hoth. [lxi] For the moment 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’s army achieved a breakthrough in the south that threatened the Russian position.  However the 6th Army was unable to disengage its mobile forces from inside Stalingrad to link up with the 4th Panzer Army and another opportunity to defeat major Soviet forces in the area and secure the city was missed. [lxiii]

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German unit crossing the Don

As the 6th Army moved into the city General Yeremenko ordered attacks against General Hube’s 16th Panzer Division. Soviet resistance increased as more formations arrived the Germans suffered one of their heaviest casualty rates. [lxiv] Though unsuccessful the Soviet 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 the 4th Panzer Army linked up, but Yeremenko saved his forces by withdrawing and avoided encirclement west of the city, retiring to an improvised line closer to the Stalingrad. [lxvi] On September 12th Vasily Chuikov was appointed to command 62nd Army in Stalingrad.  Chuikov understood that for the Soviets in Stalingrad 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] In the next few days the 13th Guards Rifle Division arrived and saved the Volga landings, which allowed the Soviets to continue to resupply Stalingrad, but the division last 30% of its troops as casualties in its first 24 hours of combat. [lxix]

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

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Now for Hitler 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 continued to gain ground in the city, but slowly and at great cost, especially among their infantry, so much so that decimated companies had to be combined to form combat effective units.

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Chuikov used his artillery to interdict the Germans from the far side of the Volga while assault squads with incredible ferocity fought the fight in the city.   The close-quarters combat in the city was dubbed, “Rattenkrieg by German soldiers.” [lxxiii] Paulus continued to bring more units into the city, further thinning his flanks, but his troops continued to slowly drive the Russians back against the river, and by early October Chuikov wondered if he would be able to hold. [lxxiv] It appeared that the Germans might finally capture Stalingrad, and by 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 causalities had been massive; an analysis by 6th Army determined that 42% of the battalions of 51st Corps were fought out. [lxxvii] Even so on November 9th, a confident Hitler declared “No power on earth will force us out of Stalingrad again!” [lxxviii] However, that boast was misplaced.

Soviet Counteroffensive: Disaster on the Flanks

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Soviet Forces Advancing

As 6th Army fought its way into Stalingrad some officers in the German High Command attempted to warn Hitler of the danger. Hitler now tolerated no interference, and on September 24th he relieved Halder for persisting to explain, “what would happen when new Russian reserve armies attacked the over-extended flank that ran out to Stalingrad.” [lxxix] Many on others 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] Rumanian Marshall Antonescu, and the staffs of both Army Group B and Paulus’s 6th Army warned Hitler too, [lxxxi] but Hitler was transfixed on Stalingrad.  By their sole focus on Stalingrad 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]

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Chuikov and his staff

Despite Stalin’s concern about Stalingrad the 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, the ever suspicious 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 Marshals Zhukov, Vasilevsky and Vatutin developed into a plan involving three operations; Operation Uranus, to destroy the German and allied forces at Stalingrad, and 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]

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Soviet Katusha Rockets

To accomplish the destruction of 6th Army and at least a part of 4th Panzer Army around Stalingrad the Stavka planners 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 the Soviet 5th Tank Army and two infantry armies and their supporting units. [lxxxix] In the south another force of over 160,000 men and 430 tanks were deployed against 4th Rumanian Army and weak element of 4th Panzer Army. [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] Walter Warlimont who served at OKW noted that there was a “deceptive confidence in German Supreme Headquarters.” [xciii]

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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 to the north and the south of Stalingrad [xciv] linking up to encircle the Germans in the city on the 23rd. [xcv] The German 48th Panzer Corps supporting the Romanians was weakened by the exhausting campaign and had few operational tanks. [xcvi] It attempted a counterattack but was “cut to pieces” in an engagement against the 5th Tank Army. [xcvii] A promising attempt by the German 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] To compound German problems the Luftwaffe was neutralized by bad weather. [xcix] Inside the city Paulus continued to do nothing as since the attacks were outside of his area of responsibility and rather than taking the initiative to extricate his forces, waited for instructions. [c] As a result the 6th Army’s 16th and 24th Panzer Divisions that could have assisted matters to the west remained “bogged down in street-fighting in Stalingrad.” [ci] Without support of the army’s Panzer formations, the 6th Army units west of Stalingrad were forced back in horrific conditions.  By the 23rd of November the 6th Army was cut off along with one corps of the 4th Panzer Army and assorted Romanian units, over 330,000 men.  Though they had the Germans surrounded, the entrapped force would require the Soviets to use seven rifle armies and much staff attention to eliminate. [cii]

von Paulus surrenders to the Soviets

Paulus Surrenders

Hitler ordered Von Manstein to form a new, composite, Army Group Don, to relieve Stalingrad. Hitler would not countenance a break out by the encircled forces and wanted Manstein to break through and relieve the 6th Army.[ciii] Hitler refused a request by Paulus on 23 November to move troops to prepare for a possible a break out attempt, and assured him that he would be relieved. [civ] Albert Speer noted that General Kurt Zeitzler who replaced Halder at OKW insisted that the Sixth Army “must break out to the west.” [cv] Hitler, completely obsessed with capturing Stalingrad told Zeitzler, “We should under no circumstances give this up. We won’t get it back once it’s lost.” [cvi] The ever boastful Herman Goering promised that his Luftwaffe would be able to meet the re-supply needs of 6th Army by air, even though his own Generals knew that it was impossible with the number of transport aircraft available. [cvii] However, Hitler took his Luftwaffe chief 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] Hitler then issued a Führer decree ordering that the front be held at all costs. [cix] Walter Goerlitz stated, “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, as he also had to protect the flank of Army Group A, which was still deep in the Caucasus.

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Hungarian Dead and Wounded

Manstein’s “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 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] and many soldiers, long conditioned to believe in the promises of their Hitler were optimistic that Hitler would get them out of the caldron. [cxiii] Other German generals like Guderian, Reichenau, Heinrici, Hoeppner, or even the Waffen SS General Sepp Dietrich might have acted to save their army, but Paulus, surrounded in the city, was knew nothing but obedience.[cxiv]

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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 drawn the attention Hitler and Stalin and the lives of their soldiers into a giant vortex of death. However, the Soviet Stavka, even when facing disaster 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. The German mistakes began early in their planning process and continued throughout the campaign. Overconfident, they failed to follow up success, and allowed the Soviets to regroup and then smash their forces at Stalingrad.

Russland-Nord, Erich von Manstein, Brandenberger

Von Manstein

After the fall of Stalingrad as the Soviets attempted to follow up their success by attempting to cut off Army Group “A.” Manstein, with the meager forces at hand was permitted by Hitler to wage a mobile defense while Von Kleist managed to withdraw his army group 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, showing them that the German army, though wounded was not without the power to fight back.

But the German Army had suffered a massive defeat.  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 massive offensive operations on the thinly held flanks all contributed to the defeat.  Alan Clark notes these facts but adds that the Germans “were simply attempting too much.” [cxxiii] Likewise, the Soviet advantage in numbers allowed them to wear down the Germans even early in the campaign when they were suffering defeat after defeat. [cxxiv] Stalin, whose decisions had nearly lost the war in 1941 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.

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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Filed under History, Military, world war two in europe

“Unparalleled Bestiality” Hitler’s Racial and Ideological War in Poland and Russia

babi yar

 

As part of my academic work I teach military ethics as related to the Just War Theory. In the class on jus post bellum or justice after war I deal with the implication of participating in war crimes. It is a serious subject and in the class I attempt to make my students, all relatively senior officers as uncomfortable as possible. I use a number of examples from the major war crimes trials at Nuremberg as well as the Generals Trial. I had an exceptionally good class over the past several weeks and that caused me to go back and do some revisions to a number articles that I have written in the past. I have published a version of this before but I have made some additions and expect that like my work on Gettysburg that this work too will be an ongoing project.

I think part of why I write about this is that the witnesses of and those who confronted these crimes and tried the criminals are dying. Very few are left, and those still alive were very junior and very young. For years there has been a closet industry of Holocaust deniers and in many places neo-Nazi and other anti-Semitic groups are rising up. It is something that causes me great concern.

As I went through previous notes and research I felt a tenseness and revulsion for the actions of those that ordered, committed or condoned these crimes, men who were like me professional officers. I realize how easily it is that as Spencer Tracy playing an American justice at the Judges trial at Nuremberg in the movie Judgment at Nuremberg said: “under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination.”

September 29th 2014 will be the 73rd anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre. It was committed by members of the SS Einsatzgruppen C near Kiev shortly after the German Army captured that city. 33,771 Jews were exterminated by the members of Sonderkommando 4b of Einsatzgruppen C as well as Police battalions. About 10,000 others, mainly Communist Officials and Gypsies were rounded up and killed in the same operation. The victims were stripped of all of their belongings taken to a ravine and shot. It was the second largest killing action by Einsatzgruppen in the war. It was committed by men who either believed that the people that they were killing were sub-human, or did not have the courage to stand up and say no.

Babi Yar is just one example of how civilized people can get can commit great atrocities in the name of ideology and race, and it does not stand alone. The tragic fact is that it really doesn’t take much to condition people to go commit such crimes; just teach people from childhood that people of certain races or religions are less than human. Then subjugate them to incessant propaganda and then turn them loose using the pretext that they are killing terrorists or insurgents.

The article deals with the ideological as well as military reasons that brought about Babi Yar and so many other atrocities committed by the Nazis during the campaigns in Poland and the Soviet Union.

einsattzgruppen map

Einsatzgruppen Massacre sites (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org)

Introduction

The German war against the Soviet Union was the first truly race-based ideological war in history with the campaign against Poland its precursor.  Adolf Hitler’s racial theories and beliefs played a dominant role in Germany’s conduct of the war in the East in both the military campaign and occupation.  This has become clearer in recent years as historians have had the opportunity to examine Hitler’s writings, those of senior Nazi officials and military officers and documents which had been unavailable until the end of the Cold War.  Understanding the Nazi ideological basis and the underlying cultural prejudice against the Jews and eastern Europeans in general is foundational to understanding Hitler’s conduct of the war and why the destruction of the Jews figured so highly in his calculations.  One must also understand the military and police cultures and doctrines that enabled them to cooperate so closely in the conduct of the war.

The German war in the east would differ from any previous war.  Its underlying basis was ideological. Economic and geopolitical considerations were given importance in relationship to the understanding of the German “Master Race.”  Race and Lebensraum was the goal of the State that “concentrates all of its strength on marking out a way of life for our people through the allocation of Lebensraum for the next one hundred years…the goal corresponds equally to the highest national and ethnic requirements.” [1]

Hitler believed that Germany was “entitled to more land…because it was the “mother of life” not just some “little nigger nation or another.”” [2] The Germans planned to “clear” the vast majority of the Slavic population and the “settlement of millions of hectares of eastern Lebensraum with German colonists” complimented by a short term exploitation of the land to “secure the food balance of the German Grossraum.” [3] Joachim Fest notes that Hitler called it a “crime” to wage war only for the acquisition of raw materials. Only the issue of living space permitted resort to arms. [4]

Following the Peace of Westphalia wars in Europe typically emphasized conquest of territory and natural resources either to expand empires or promote some kind of self-sufficiency. The Thirty Years War, which was ended by the Treaty of Westphalia had a heavy religious component which added to its brutality. However the root of much of this conflict was about increasing the power of emerging nation states led by men not necessarily loyal to their religious brethren. [5]

The American and Russian Civil wars had some ideological basis and helped usher in the brutality of total war. Both had major effect in these nations’ development and both were bitterly contested with the winners imposing to various degrees political changes on their vanquished brothers they were civil wars. [6]

Adam Tooze sees the Holocaust as the first step of the “last great land grab in the long and bloody history of European colonialism…” [7] This does have merit, Hitler’s desire for Lebensraum or living space was a type of colonialism. However, Tooze’s argument does not take away from the basic premise that Germany’s war in the east was at its heart motivated by ideological factors.

hitler

Adolf Hitler

German Anti-Semitism and Adolf Hitler

The root of this war was in the mind of Adolf Hitler himself. Hitler was born in Linz Austria during a time when various Pan-German and Ant-Semitic groups, publications and propaganda were widespread. As a young man Hitler moved to Vienna hoping to become an artist, something that he found little commercial success. While struggling to make a living in Vienna he was exposed to a culture far different from the provincial city of his youth, a city that had much culture but was also a meeting ground for the various peoples that populated the Austro-Hungarian Empire, including Slavs and many Jews. While many of the Germanic or Austrian Jews were outwardly little different from their Christian neighbors the Jews from Eastern Europe repulsed Hitler.

Hitler’s lack of success, struggle with poverty and resentment of others led him to the writings of the Pan-Germanic and Anti-Semitic movements. His years in Vienna were foundational as he as he absorbed the ideas of these Pan-German, anti-Semitic groups through newspapers like the Deutsches Volksblatt. [8] In Vienna Hitler began to connect the Jews with Marxism.[9] Joachim Fest notes that in Vienna Hitler became obsessed by the fear of the Slavs and Jews, hated the House of Hapsburg, the Social Democratic Party, and “envisioned the end of Germanism.” [10]

Hitler’s racial views were amplified after the war in turbulent Weimar Germany where he became a member of the NDSAP, rising rapidly within it, eventually taking over party leadership, reorganizing it so that it “became the instrument of Hitler’s policies.” [11] Following the unsuccessful Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 Hitler wrote Mein Kampf while imprisoned in the Landsberg prison in which he enunciated his views about the Jews, Slavs and Lebensraum. Hitler believed that Imperial Germany had been “hopelessly negligent” in regard to the Jews [12] and that the Jews in conjunction with the Catholic Center Party and Socialists worked together for “maximum damage to Germany.” [13]

Likewise he saw the Jews as heading the “main ideological scourges of the nineteenth and twentieth century’s.” [14] It was the ideology of Hitler’s “obsessive anti-Semitism” [15] that drove Nazi Germany’s policy in regard to the Jews and against Jewish-Bolshevism.  By the 1920s Hitler had “combined his hatred of the Jews and of the supposedly Jewish dominated Soviet state with existing calls to conquer additional Lebensraum, or living space, in the east.” [16] Hitler wrote: “The fight against Jewish world Bolshevism requires a clear attitude toward Soviet Russia. You cannot drive out the Devil with Beelzebub.” [17] Richard Evans notes that Mein Kampf clearly enunciated that “Hitler considered racial conflict…the essence of history, and the Jews to be the sworn enemy of the German race ….” And that the “Jews were now linked indissolubly in Hitler’s mind with “Bolshevism” and “Marxism.” [18]

When Hitler became the dictator of Germany “his ideology and strategy became the ends and means of German foreign policy.” [19] His aims were clear, Hitler remarked to Czech Foreign Minister Chvalkovsky on 21 January 1939: “We are going to destroy the Jews.” [20]It was clear that Hitler understood his own role in this effort noting to General Heinrici that “he was the first man since Charlemagne to hold unlimited power in his own hand. He did not hold this power in vain, he said, but would know how to use it in the struggle for Germany…” [21]

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Wilhelm Keitel: “war was a fight for survival….dispense with outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare…” Bundesarchiv Bild

Race, Anti-Semitism and the German High Command

This study will focus on the German policy of ideological-racial war in Poland and Russia. The German war against the Soviet Union and to a certain extent Poland was waged with an unforgiving ferocity against Hitler’s enemy, the Jewish-Bolshevik state and the Slavic Untermenschen.

The campaigns in Poland and the Soviet Union were characterized by the rise of a “political-ideological strategy.” [22] Operation “Barbarossa showed the fusion of technocracy and ideology in the context of competitive military planning.” [23] Hitler’s “ideological and grandiose objectives, expressed in racial and semi-mystical terms, made the war absolute.” [24]

Field Marshal Keitel noted a speech in March 1941 where Hitler talked about the inevitability of conflict between “diametrically opposed ideologies” and that the “war was a fight for survival and that they dispense with their outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare.” [25] General Halder, Chief of the OKH in his War Dairy for that meeting noted “Annihilating verdict on Bolshevism…the leaders must demand of themselves the sacrifice of understanding their scruples.” [26]

Based on Lebensraum and race, the German approach to war would combine “racism and political ideology” for the purpose of the “conquest of new living space in the east and its ruthless Germanization.” [27] Hitler explained that the “struggle for the hegemony of the world will be decided in favor of Europe by the possession of the Russian space.” [28] Conquered territories would be “Reich protectorates…and that these areas were to be deprived of anything in the nature of a Slav intelligentsia.” [29]

This goal was manifest in the “Criminal Order” issued by OKW which stated that the war was “more than mere armed conflict; it is a collision between two different ideologies…The Bolshevist-Jewish intelligentsia must be eliminated….” [30] Other displaced inhabitants of the conquered eastern lands would be killed or allowed to starve. [31] Part of this was due to economic considerations in the Reich, which gave Germans priority in distribution of food, even that from the conquered lands. Starvation was a population control measure that supplemented other forms of annihilation. [32]As Fest notes in Russia Hitler was “seeking nothing but “final solutions.”” [33]Despite numerous post-war justifications by various Wehrmacht generals, the “Wehrmacht and army fell into line with Hitler because there was “a substantial measure of agreement of “ideological questions.”” [34]

ss recruiting poster

Waffen SS Volksdeutsch Recruiting Poster

Hitler’s racial ideology was central to his worldview and fundamental to understanding his actions in the war. [35] However twisted Hitler’s ideological formulations were his ideas found acceptance beyond the Nazi faithful to the Army and Police, who would execute the campaigns in Poland and Russia in conjunction with the Einsatzgrüppen and Nazi party organizations.  In these organizations he found allies with pre-existing cultural, political and doctrinal understandings which allowed them to be willing participants in Hitler’s grand scheme of eastern conquest.

Doctrinal and Ideological Foundations

While Hitler’s racial ideology was more extreme than many in the German military and police, these organizations had cultural beliefs and prejudices as well as doctrinal and ideological foundations which helped them become willing accomplices to Hitler.  These factors were often, consciously or unconsciously, excluded from early histories of World War II. The Allies relied on German officers to write these histories at the beginning of the Cold War, developing the “dual myth of German military brilliance and moral correctness.” [36] British historian and military theorist B.H. Liddell-Hart makes the astounding statement that “one of the surprising features of the Second World War was that German Army in the field on the whole observed the rules of war than it did in 1914-1918-at any rate in fighting its western opponents….” [37]

While Liddell-Hart might be excused by lack of knowledge of some German army atrocities he could not have been ignorant. It was not just the SS who he blamed the atrocities but many of the men who he interviewed. In doing this Liddell-Hart and others presented a myth as truth. [38] The myths were helped by the trials of Manstein and Kesselring where “historical truth had to be sacrificed…to the demands of the Cold War.” [39] British military historian Kenneth Macksey confronted the myth that only the “Waffen SS committed barbaric and criminal acts” noting: “Not even the Knights of the Teutonic Order and their followers in the Middle Ages sank to the depths of the anti-Bolshevik Wehrmacht of 1941.” [40]

Germany had a long running history of anti-Semitism before Hitler.  German anti-Semitism often exhibited a “paranoid fear of the power of the Jews,” [41] and included a “fashionable or acceptable anti-Semitism” [42] which became more pronounced as the conditions of the Jews became better and Jews who had fled to Eastern Europe returned to Germany. [43] Sometimes this was tied to religious attitudes, but more often focused on the belief that the Jews “controlled certain aspects of life” and presented in “pseudo-scientific garb” the “myth of a secret Jewish plot for world domination which was simultaneously part of the internationalism of Freemasonry.” [44]

Admiral Wilhelm Canaris provides an example as he “had grown up in the atmosphere of “moderate” anti-Semitism prevailing in the Ruhr middle class and in the Navy believed in the existence of a “Jewish problem”” and would “suggest during 1935-1936 that German Jews should be identified by a Star of David as special category citizens….” [45] Wehrmacht soldiers were “subject to daily doses of propaganda since the 1930s” and that with the “start of the Russian campaign propaganda concerning Jews became more and more aggressive.” [46]Some objected to Nazi actions against Jews. Von Manstein protested the “Aryan paragraph” in the Reichswehr on general principal.” [47]Yet some who planned and executed the most heinous crimes like Adolf Eichmann had “no fanatical anti-Semitism or indoctrination of any kind.” [48]

anti-jewish poster

Anti-Jewish Poster: He is guilty for the war

The military “looked to the regime to reshape society in every respect: political, ideological, economic and military…Propaganda would hammer home absolute nature of the struggle…” [49] Ideological training began in the Hitler Youth and Reichsarbeitsdienst and produced a soldier in which “Anti-Semitism, anti-communism, Lebensraum – these central tenants of Nazism were all inextricably linked with the Landser’s conception of duty, with his place and role in the vast machinery of war.” [50]

Following the dismissal of General Fritsch in 1938, General Brauchitsch promised Hitler that “he would make every effort to bring the Army closer to the State and the State’s ideology.” [51] Alfred Novotny, a Austrian soldier in the Gross Deutschland division noted how training depicted the Russians as Untermenschen and how they were “subjected to official rantings about how the supposedly insidious, endless influence of the Jews in practically every aspect of the enemy’s endeavors…Jews were portrayed as rats, which were overrunning the world….” [52]

This ideological component added to the already “harsh military discipline” which had a long tradition in Germany conditioning soldiers to violence and brutalization of their enemy. Similar programs existed in the Order Police which would play a large part in the eastern campaign, the “image of “treasonous” leftists and Jews helped shape the personal and political beliefs of many policemen throughout the interwar period.” [53] Even ordinary police training before the war in German speaking Europe was brutalizing.” [54] These troops were recipients of an ideological formation which “aimed at shaping the worldview of the police leading to the internalization of belief along National Socialist lines.” [55] Waffen SS soldiers, especially those of the Totenkopf division were subjected to even more systematic political indoctrination on the enemies of National Socialism, the Jews, freemasonry, Bolshevism and the churches. [56]

Along with cultural anti-Semitism and the Nazification of German thought in the 1930s, there were aspects of military doctrine which helped prepare the way for the eastern campaign. The most important were the Army’s anti-partisan and rear area security doctrine.  The history of security anti-partisan operations dated back to the Prussian Army’s Ettapen, which began in 1813 with the Landwehr’s role in security against looters and others. [57] These units supported and supplied offensive operations from the rear to the combat zone with a secondary mission of countering partisans and preventing disruptions in the rear area. The Ettapen would be reformed and regulated in 1872 following the Franco-Prussian War. [58]

The German experience fighting guerrillas and partisans, the francs-tireurs in the Franco-Prussian War, “scarred the Army’s institutional mentality.” [59] Von Moltke was “shattered,” writing his brother that “war was now taking on an ever more hate-inspired character.” [60] He was “appalled by improvised armies, irregular elements, and appeals to popular passion, which he described as a “return to barbarism.” [61]He wrote: “Their gruesome work had to be answered by bloody coercion. Because of this our conduct of the war finally achieved a harshness that we deplored, but which we could not avoid.” [62]

The brutal German response to the franc-tireurs found its legal justification in Franz Lieber’s principles for classification of belligerents and non-belligerents, which determined that guerrillas were outlaws or bandits. [63] Leiber’s principles were written for the Federal Army of the United States during the U.S. Civil War. Propagated as General Order 100 and signed by Abraham Lincoln the sections dealing with irregular forces and partisans dealt with this in section IV of that code:

Article 82 stated: “Men, or squads of men, who commit hostilities, whether by fighting, or inroads for destruction or plunder, or by raids of any kind, without commission, without being part and portion of the organized hostile army, and without sharing continuously in the war, but who do so with intermitting returns to their homes and avocations, or with the occasional assumption of the semblance of peaceful pursuits, divesting themselves of the character or appearance of soldiers – such men, or squads of men, are not public enemies, and, therefore, if captured, are not entitled to the privileges of prisoners of war, but shall be treated summarily as highway robbers or pirates.”

Article 84 stated: “Armed prowlers, by whatever names they may be called, or persons of the enemy’s territory, who steal within the lines of the hostile army for the purpose of robbing, killing, or of destroying bridges, roads or canals, or of robbing or destroying the mail, or of cutting the telegraph wires, are not entitled to the privileges of the prisoner of war.”

Article 85 stated: “War-rebels are persons within an occupied territory who rise in arms against the occupying or conquering army, or against the authorities established by the same. If captured, they may suffer death, whether they rise singly, in small or large bands, and whether called upon to do so by their own, but expelled, government or not. They are not prisoners of war; nor are they if discovered and secured before their conspiracy has matured to an actual rising or armed violence.” [64]

The German Army adapted that code and incorporated it in its doctrine for dealing with partisans. In response to their experience in France during the Franco-Prussian War the Germans systematically reorganized the Ettapen to include railroad and security troops, special military courts, military police, intelligence and non-military police, including the Landespolizei and the Grenzschutzpolizei. [65]

von trotha

Pre-Nazi Exterminator: General Lothar Von Trotha led the Genocide against the Herero in Namibia

The doctrinal response to partisans, or as they would become known in German writings as “bandits,” was that bandits should be encircled and destroyed. This was employed in the Southwest Africa German colonies.  The Germans, influenced by the experience in France, “displayed a ferocity surpassing even that of the racially brutalized campaigns of its imperialist peers.” [66] The campaign against the Herero tribes which resisted the occupation of Namibia from 1904-1912 utilized encirclement operations, racial cleansing and what would become known as Bandenkämpfung operations. [67]

This was further developed in the First World War, especially in the east where General Fritz Gempp described the security problem as a “ruthless struggle” in which German pacification policy “was in reality the application of terror to galvanize the population into accepting German rule.” [68]Anti-partisan doctrine was codified in the Truppenführung of 1933 which stated that “area defense against partisan warfare is the mission of all units” and that the preferred method of combating partisan bands was that they be surrounded and destroyed. [69]General Erhard Rauss later described active and passive measures used to deal with partisans, focusing on the tactic of encirclement to destroy the enemy. [70]

Anti-partisan doctrine focused on the destruction of the partisans, was coupled a total war philosophy and provided fit well with Hitler’s radical ideology.  The “propensity for brutality in anti-guerrilla warfare was complimented by officers’ growing preoccupation, both during and after World War I, with the mastery and application of violence.” [71] Michael Geyer notes: “ideological mobilization for the creation of a new national and international order increasingly defined the parameters of technocratic planning.” [72] The acceptance of long used brutal tactics to destroy the enemy combined with Hitler’s radical racial animus against the Jews could only be expected to create a maelstrom in which all international legal and moral standards would be breached.

Beginnings in Poland

The Polish campaign was a precursor to the Russian campaign and was not totally race driven. It contained elements of Germany’s perception of the injustice of Versailles which gave Poland the Danzig corridor and Germany’s desire to reconnect East Prussia to the Reich, as well as the perceived necessity to remove a potential enemy from its rear as it faced France, yet it was a campaign steeped in Nazi racial ideology.  Poland resisted German efforts to ally itself with Germany in 1939, thus Hitler determined it “would be crushed first.” [73]

Meeting with military leaders on 23 May 1939 Hitler “made it plain that the real issue was not Danzig, but securing of Germany’s Lebensraum….[74] On 22 August he enjoined the generals to “Close your hearts to pity! Act brutally! Eighty million people must obtain what is their right.” [75] Even so, most military leaders failed to appreciate what Hitler was calling on them to do; Manstein would note that “what Hitler had to say about an eventual war with Poland, could not, in my opinion, be interpreted as a policy of annihilation.” [76]

Others such as Canaris was “utterly horrified” as he read his notes to his closest colleagues “His voice trembled as he read, Canaris was acutely aware that he had witnessed something monstrous.” [77]General Johannes Blaskowitz, commander of 8th Army who would be the military commander in Poland did not leave any notes about the meeting, but his biographer notes that he “may have naively attached a military meaning to these terms since he was busy with military matters and soon to begin operations.” [78] This was the interpretation of Manstein as well. [79] Keitel noted that the speech was “delivered in the finest sense of psychological timing and application,” molding “his words and phrases to suit his audience.” [80]

In light of the mixed interpretations by military leaders, it is possible that many misinterpreted Hitler’s intent and did not fully appreciated his ideology as they went into Poland, carefully secluding themselves in the narrow confines of their military world. While such an explanation is plausible for some, it is also true that many others in light of subsequent actions were in full agreement with Hitler. One author notes that “no man who participated in the Führer Conferences….and there were present the highest ranking officers of the three services, could thereafter plead ignorance of the fact that Hitler had laid bare his every depth of infamy before them, and they had raised no voice in protest either then or later.” [81] In July, General Wagner, the Quartermaster General issued orders that “authorized German soldiers to take and execute hostages in the event of attacks by snipers or irregulars.” [82]

Regardless of the meaning ascribed to Hitler’s speech by his generals, Hitler had already laid plans to destroy the Jews in Poland and decimate the Polish intelligentsia and leadership.   Hitler gave Himmler the task of forming “Einsatzgrüppen to follow the German troops as they advanced into Poland and liquidate Poland’s upper class wherever it was to be found.” [83] While senior party leaders remained at Hitler’s side following the conference, Himmler worked to coordinate his troops, including the reinforced Totenkopf battalions and Einsatzgrüppen with the Army. [84]

einsatzgruppe troops and victims

Einsatzgruppen Troops gathering Ukrainian Jews for Execution Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden

Himmler began planning in early May and the Army decided to “use SS and police units to augment their own forces for security tasks.” [85]Himmler established “five Einsatzgrüppen to accompany each of the numbered German armies at the start of the campaign.” [86] Placed under the aegis of Reinhard Heydrich the groups were broken down into smaller units of 100-150 men and allotted to army corps.  All senior posts were occupied by officers of the Sicherhietsdienst. [87]

Two additional Einsatzgrüppen were formed shortly after the invasion. [88]Additionally 3 regiments of the SS Totenkopfverbande, under the direction of SS General Theodore Eicke were deployed in the rear areas of the advancing armies. These regiments were formed from the Concentration Camp guard units and eventually became the nucleus of the 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf.  [89] The purpose of these units was shielded from the Army in the planning stages, [90] although Heydrich worked with the Army to develop lists of up to 30,000 Poles to be arrested including intellectuals, political leaders and clergy. [91]

To eliminate the Polish elites without disturbing the Army, Himmler and Heydrich gave the Army “only the bare minimum of information.” [92] The deception was initially successful.  Blaskowitz’s 8th Army defined the mission of the Einsatzgrüppen in the traditional doctrinal terms of the Ettapen, noting their mission as “the suppression of all anti-Reich and anti-German elements in the rear of the “fighting troops, in particular, counter espionage arrests of politically unreliable persons, confiscation of weapons, safeguarding of important counter-espionage materials etc…” [93] General Wagner issued orders in July 1939 that “authorized German soldiers to take and execute hostages in the event of attacks by snipers or irregulars.” Despite the deception, there was no way to disguise the murder of Polish intelligentsia and Jews, and had the Army had the political acumen and moral courage it could have considerably restricted or even halted the terror campaign. [94].

himmler1

Heinrich Himmler: Implementer of Hitler’s Ideas Authorizes formation of Einsatzgruppen

The ensuing campaign in Poland demonstrated Hitler’s true intent. Heydrich talked about “murdering the Polish ruling class” of the aristocracy, Catholic clergy, communists and Jews on 7 September barely a week after the beginning of the invasion. [95] As the German armies advanced into Poland slicing through the badly deployed and inadequately equipped Polish Army the Einsatzgruppen and Totenkopf Verbande followed in their wake, conducting mass arrests and executions of those Poles deemed to be a threat.

Many army leaders were worried about Polish soldiers left behind in rear areas as the armies advanced. In some cases that concern became a paranoid mindset and some generals believed that a “brutal guerilla campaign has broken out everywhere and we are ruthlessly stamping it out.” [96]

Yet some of the actions by Einsatzgruppen and Totenkopf Verbande against the Polish elites and the Jews drew Army reactions. The unit commanded by SS General Woyrsch “behaved with such unparalleled bestiality that it was thrown out of the operational area” by General List of 14th Army.” [97] Another unit, the Totenkopfverbande Brandenburg came to Army attention when its commander remarked that the “SSVT would not obey Army orders.” The conclusion drawn by the Army General was that “the SSVT commander was following orders from some non-military authority to terrorize the local Jews.” [98]

These atrocities as well as those of other Waffen-SS units were hard to hide and brought reactions out of army commanders who sought to punish the offenders. Blaskowitz and others attempted to put a halt to SS actions against Poles and Jews, [99] but most officers turned a blind eye to the atrocities or outright condoned them.  It is believed that General Walter Model and others “not only knew what was occurring in Poland but actually took part in what Colonel General Franz Halder himself described in October as “this devilish plan.”” [100]

It appears that many who objected were not motivated so much by humanitarian, moral or legal considerations, but rather by the effect on good order and discipline. [101]Likewise it is clear that many officers, even if they did not participate in the actions probably approved of them.  Many biographies and histories of this period written by authors influenced by surviving German officers make no or little mention of the Army’s part in these actions. Himmler and Heydrich were sensitive to the perception of the Army and resented the fact that the Army believed them to be responsible for actions that they were carrying out under the direction and order of Hitler and that their troops were “undisciplined gangs of murderers.” [102]

After the establishment of the Government General led by Hans Frank there was conflict between the Army under Blaskowitz the military commander, the SS, Police and the Nazi administration. Blaskowitz made an “elaborate report on the atrocities of the SS,” [103] expressing concern about his “extreme alarm about illegal executions, his worries about maintaining troop discipline under those circumstances, the failure of discussions with the SD and Gestapo and their assertions that they were only following SS Orders.” [104]

While it is unclear if the memorandum made it to Hitler, it is clear that Hitler did know about the protest and Blaskowitz fell into disfavor and was reassigned after a period of continued conflict with the Nazi administration. Hitler’s reaction to Army objections according to his adjutant was that the Army’s leaders used “Salvation Army” methods, and called their ideas “childish.” [105] others that objected were also relieved of their commands or reassigned. General Georg von Külcher was relieved of command for protesting SS and police atrocities. [106]

SS Officers convicted by Army courts-martial were given amnesty by Hitler on “4 October 1939 who two weeks later removed SS units from the jurisdiction of military courts.” [107]While the army remained, it was no longer in charge and would actively assist the SS and Police in combat and further atrocities against civilians. One German officer, later a conspirator in the July 20th plot, remarked in November 1939 about the killings that he “was ashamed to be German! The minority are dragging our good through the mud by murdering, looting and torching houses will bring disaster on the whole German people if we do not stop it soon…” [108]

ordungspolizei

Ordungspolizei in Action: Street Cops Become Executioners

The Army was relieved of responsibility for policing Poland which fell on the Ordungspolizei battalions and Gendarmerie.  These units were composed of mobilized city police and rural constabulary police and would wreak their own devastation on Poland in the coming months and years. [109] Poland would also be the first Nazi driven shift in population to exploit the newly won Lebensraum as Poles were driven into the newly formed Government General and ethnic Germans moved into previously Polish occupied territories. By 1941 over 1,200,000 Poles and 300,000 Jews had been expelled and 497,000 ethnic Germans brought into provinces lost in 1919. [110] Prior to the war about 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland. After the war 50-70,000 were found to have survived in Poland, the Polish Army and camps in Germany. A further 180,000 were repatriated from the Soviet Union. [111]

Russia

The Nazi war against Russia was the ultimate test of Hitler’s ideological at war. Planning for the war with the Soviet Union began after the Fall of France and during the beginning stages of the Battle of Britain. On 21 July 1940 Hitler made “his intentions plain” to the Army leadership and “von Brauchitsch set his planners to work.” [112] Detailed preparations for the offensive began in the winter of 1940-41 following the Luftwaffe’s failure against Britain and postponement of Operation Sea Lion.  Hitler intended to “crush Soviet Russia in a quick campaign which was to begin no later than March 15, 1941, and before the end of the war with England.” [113] Field Marshal Keitel noted the final decision came in “early December 1940” and from then he had “no doubt whatsoever that only some unforeseen circumstance could possibly alter his decision to attack.” [114]

The military plan initially focused on the destruction of “the Red Army rather than on any specific terrain or political objective,” [115]although the political and geographic objectives would arise in later planning and in the campaign. Hitler stated: “What matters is that Bolshevism must be exterminated. In case of necessity, we shall renew our advance whenever a new center of resistance is formed. Moscow as the center of doctrine must disappear from the earth’s center….” [116]

Besides preparations aimed at the destruction of the Red Army and overthrow of the Soviet State, the “war against the Soviet Union was more openly ideological from the start.” [117] Hitler set the stage on March 3rd 1941: “the forthcoming campaign is more than a mere armed conflict; it is a collision between two different ideologies…this war will not be ended merely by the defeat of the enemy armed forces” and that “the Jewish-Bolshevist intelligentsia must be eliminated….” [118]

Hitler noted that “this is a task so difficult that it cannot be entrusted to the Army.” [119] Reichskommissars would be appointed in the conquered areas, but since normal civilian powers would be insufficient to eliminate the Bolshevists, that it “might be necessary “to establish organs of the Reichsführer SS alongside the army’s Secret Field Police, even in the operational areas….” [120] The “primary task was to liquidate “all Bolshevist leaders or commissars” if possible while still in the operations zones,” [121] yet the orders did not contain “a syllable that in practice every Jew would be handed over to the extermination machine.” [122]

This was followed on 13 March by an agreement between the Army represented by General Wagner and the SS, which stated in part that “the Reichsführer SS has been given by the Führer special tasks within the operations zone of the Army…to settle the conflict between two opposing political systems.” [123]  Likewise the agreement dictated that Himmler would “act independently and on his own responsibility” while ensuring that “military operations are not affected by measures necessary to carry out his task.” [124]

A further instruction of 26 March issued by Wagner gave the Army’s agreement to the use of the Einsatzgrüppen in the operations zone, specifying coordination between them and army authorities in the operational zone and communications zones to the rear.  Cooperation was based on the “principals for co-operation between the State Secret Police and the Field Security organization of the Wehrmacht agreed with the Security branch of the War Ministry on 1 January 1937.” [125]

The most significant act for the Army in this was the Commissar Order. This order is sometimes known as the “Criminal Order” which was used war as evidence at Nurnberg as against Keitel, Jodl and High Command of the Wehrmacht during the later Generals Trial.  The order specified the killing of Soviet Political Commissars attached to the Red Army and as “they were not prisoners of war” and another order specified that “in the event that a German soldier committed against civilians or prisoners, disciplinary action was optional….” [126] The order noted regarding political commissars that “in this struggle consideration and respect for international law with regard to these elements is wrong.” [127] The “Guidelines for the Conduct of Troops in Russia” issued on May 19, 1941 called for “ruthless and vigorous measures against Bolshevist inciters, saboteurs [and] Jews.” [128]

Shortly before the order was issued, Hitler previewed it to the generals saying that the war in Russia “cannot be conducted in a knightly fashion” and that it would have to be waged with “unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness…” [129] and that they would have to “dispense with all of their outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare: the Bolsheviks had long since dispensed with them.” [130] He explained that his orders were beyond their comprehension stating “I cannot and will not change my orders and I insist that that they be carried out with unquestioning and unconditional obedience.” [131]

General Franz Halder, Chief of the OKH, or the Army High Command took notes on Hitler’s speech. They are chilling to read as none present could have understood them in any other way than Hitler meant:

“Clash of two ideologies. Crushing denunciation of Bolshevism, identified with asocial criminality….We must forget the comradeship between soldiers. A Communist is no comrade before nor after the battle. This is a war of extermination….We do not wage war to preserve the enemy….War against Russia: Extermination of the Bolshevist Commissars and of the Communist intelligentsia….this is no job for military courts. The individual troop commanders must know the issues at stake. They must be leaders in the fight….This war will be very different from war in the West. In the East harshness today means leniency in the future. Commanders must make the sacrifice of overcoming their personal scruples.”[132]

Hitler’s speech was protested by some according to Von Brauchitsch. [133] Von Brauchitsch refused to protest to Hitler but issued an order on his own authority “threatening dire penalties for excesses against civilians and prisoners of war” which he maintained at Nurmeberg “was sufficient to nullify the Commissar Order.” [134] Yet Von Brauchitsch later would tell commanders to “proceed with the necessary hardness.” [135] Warlimont noted that Von Bock, who would “later emerge as an opponent of the Commissar Order…makes no special comment on the meeting or the restricted conference that followed.” [136]

At Nuremberg Keitel said that he “stubbornly contested” the clause “relating to the authority of the SS-Reichsführer… in the rearward operational areas.” [137]Keitel blamed the Army High Command OKH under Halder, but the order came out with his signature on behalf of Hitler, which was key evidence against him at Nurnberg. He stated that “there was never any possibility of justifying them in retrospect by circumstances obtaining in the Russian campaign.” [138]

Some commanders refused to publish the orders and “insisted that the Wehrmacht never implemented such policies…” blaming them instead on the SS. One writer states “such protests were undoubtedly sincere, but in practice German soldiers were far from innocent. The senior professional officers were often out of touch with their subordinates.” [139] The orders were a “license to kill, although not a great departure from German military traditions….” [140] The effect was terrifying, for in a sense the Einsatzgruppen, “could commit ever crime known to God and man, so long as they were a mile or two away from the firing line.” [141] Security Divisions were “instructed to give material and logistical support to…units of the Einsatzgruppen.” [142] Even worse, army units in rear areas “could be called on to assist Himmler’s SS police leaders.” [143]

einsatzgruppen executions

Einsatzgruppe troops finishing off Jewish Women

For the campaign in the Soviet Union the SS formed four Einsatzgruppen composed of SD, Waffen-SS and Police troops designated A-D. Einsatzgruppe A was assigned to Army Group North, Einsatzgruppe B to Army Group Center, Einsatzgruppe C to Army Group South and Einsatzgruppe D to the 11th Army.  The Einsatzgruppe were not standardized in manpower or equipment. In size they were battalion equivalents the largest Einsatzgruppe being A in the North with 990 assigned personnel [144]while Einsatzgruppe D had only 550 troops assigned. [145] These units had SS, SD or Police commanders. Additionally nine Ordnungspolizei battalions were initially assigned to the invasion forces to supplement the Einsatzgruppen. [146]

The police contingent would grow over time so that by 1943, these units would be grouped under regiments and number about 180,000 men assisted by 301,000 auxiliaries. [147] These units would act in concert with nine Army Security Divisions which handled rear area security. [148] Himmler initially did not reveal their intent and planned use to Einsatzgruppen commanders, only speaking of a “heavy task…to “secure and pacify” the Russian area using Sicherheitspolizei and SD methods.” [149] Understanding the effect of these operations, Himmler would state that “in many cases it is considerably easier to lead a company in battle than to command a company responsible to…carry out executions, to deport people…to be always consistent, always uncompromising-that is in many cases far, far harder.” [150]

The actions of these units are well documented; the Einsatzgruppen, Police, Army and locally recruited Schutzmannschaft battalions [151] ruthlessly exterminated Jews and others in the operational area. No sooner had an Einsatzgruppe unit entered a city, a “deadly stranglehold” would grip the “Jewish inhabitants claiming thousands and thousands of victims day by day and hour by hour.” [152] Non-Jewish Russians were encouraged to conduct programs which Heydrich noted “had to be encouraged.” [153] Einsatzgruppen D report number 153 noted: “During period covered by this report 3,176 Jews, 85 Partisans, 12 looters, 122 Communist functionaries shot. Total 79,276.” [154]   By the spring of 1942 Einsatzgruppe A had claimed “more than 270,000 victims, the overwhelming majority of whom were Jewish.” [155] The total killed for all groups then was 518,388 people, mostly Jews. [156] Germany’s Romanian ally acted against Jews in Odessa as well; “on 23 October 1941 19,000 Jews were shot near the harbor… probably 200,000 Jews perished either at Romanian hands or after being turned over by the Romanians to the Germans.” [157]

ordungspolizie officers

Many Anti-Jewish Massacres were Labeled “Anti-Partisan” Operations

Operations against Jews were often called anti-partisan operations.  Himmler referred to Einsatzgruppen as “anti-Partisan formations [158] while Wehrmacht Security divisions “murdered countless Soviet civilians and burned Russian settlements to the ground under the pretext of subduing partisan resistance.” [159] The attitude by 1941-1942 was that “’all Jews are partisans and all partisans are Jews.” From 1943, all armed resistance was “banditry” and all Jews irrespective of circumstances were treated as “bandits.”” [160]

General Von Reichenau issued an order in which he stated:

“The soldier in the Eastern territories is not merely a fighter according to the art of war but also a bearer of a ruthless national ideology and the avenger of the bestialities which had been inflicted upon German and racially related nations. Therefore the soldier must have full understanding for the necessity of a severe but just revenge on subhuman Jewry.” [161]

Russland, Generale v. Bock, Hoth, W. v. Richthofen

Herman Hoth

Likewise the distinguished Panzer commander General Herman Hoth issued his own order of 17 November 1941 urging his troops to exact revenge on the Jews and Communists:

“Every trace of active or passive resistance or of any kind of machinations by the Bolshevik -Jewish agitators are [sic] to be immediately and pitilessly rooted out. The necessity of severe measures against elements foreign to people and kind must be understood precisely by the soldiers. These circles are the spiritual pillars of Bolshevism, the tablebearers [priests] of its murder organization, the helpers of the partisans. It consists of the same Jewish class of people which have done so much to harm our Fatherland and by its hostile activity…and anti-culture, which promotes anti-German currents in the whole world and which wants to be the bearer of revenge. Their annihilation is a law of self-preservation. Any soldier criticizing these measures has no memory of the former traitorous activity lasting for years carried on among our own people by Jewish-Marxist elements.” [162]

The commander of the 221st Security Division endeavored to persuade his “subordinate units that the Jews were carriers of Bolshevik contamination and, therefore, the ultimate source of any sabotage or difficulty the division faced.” [163] The extermination of the Jews and partisan war were closely intertwined with the Reich’s economic policies designed to exploit the natural resources of the Russia. This included the “hunger plan” which German authorities seemed to imagine that “millionfold starvation could be induced by requisitioning off all available grain and “shutting off” the cities.” [164]

The Wehrmacht’s complicity in these measures is demonstrated in the order drafted by Warlimont and signed by Keitel on 13 May 1941. That order, the “Decree on Exercising Military Jurisdiction in the Area of Barbarossa and Special Measures by the Troops” made it clear that international conventions regarding the treatment of civilians would not be observed in the Soviet Union. The order, relying on the historic precedent of German military law in regard to partisan activity stated:

I. “Treatment of crimes committed by enemy civilians “1. Until further order the military courts and the courts martial will not be competent for crimes committed by enemy civilians. “2. Francs-tireurs will be liquidated ruthlessly by the troops in combat or while fleeing. “3. Also all other attacks by enemy civilians against the armed forces, its members, and auxiliaries will be suppressed on the spot by the troops with the most rigorous methods until the assailants are finished (niederkaempfen) “4. Where such measures were not taken or at least were not possible, persons suspected of the act will be brought before an officer at once. This officer will decide whether they are to be shot. Against localities from which troops have been attacked in or treacherous manner, collective coercive measures be applied immediately upon the order of an officer of the rank of at least battalion etc., commander, if the circumstances do not permit a quick identification of individual perpetrators.

II. “Treatment of crimes committed against inhabitants by members of the Wehrmacht and its auxiliaries “1. With regard to offenses committed against enemy civilians by members of the Wehrmacht or by its auxiliaries prosecution is not obligatory, even where the deed is at the same time a military crime or misdemeanor….” [165]

Hitler was quite clear in his intent when he told General Halder that in 1941 that he “intended to level Moscow and Leningrad, to make them uninhabitable, so there would be no need to feed their populations during the winter.” [166]Economic officials held life and death power over villages. Those that met agricultural quotas were “likely to be spared annihilation and evacuation…the culmination of this process, during 1943, would be the widespread creation of “dead zones.”” [167]All told during the campaign against the Soviet Union the Germans killed nearly 1.5 million Russian Jews. [168]

By 1942, over two million Soviet POW’s had been killed.  600,000 shot outright, 140,000 by the Einsatzkommandos. [169]Eventually about 3.3 million Soviet POWs died in German captivity through starvation, disease and exposure, [170] are included in a total of over 10 million Red Army Combat deaths. [171] Bracher notes: “The reality and irreality of the National Socialism were given their most terrible expression in the extermination of the Jews.” [172]

arthur nebe

The Killer Becomes a Victim: Arthur Nebe’s experience commanding an Einsatzgruppe so traumatized him that he would be reassigned and then become active in the attempt to kill Hitler and lose his life

Himmler and others continued to use euphemistic language to describe their efforts talking in terms of “Jewish resettlement.” [173] Terms such as special actions, special treatment, execution activity, cleansing and resettlement were used in place of the word murder. [174]At the same time these operations led to problems in the ranks, one SS trooper observed: “deterioration in morale among his own men who had to be issued increasing rations of vodka to carry out their killing orders.” [175]

Even commanders of the Einsatzgruppe were affected. Arthur Nebe would say “I have looked after so many criminals and now I have become one myself.” Nebe became an active participant in the July 20th plot against Hitler [176]and a fellow conspirator would describe him as a “shadow of his former self, nerves on edge and depressed.” [177] Erich Bach-Zelewski, who led the SS anti-partisan operations, would suffer a nervous breakdown which included “hallucinations connected to the shootings of Jews” which hospitalized him in 1942. [178] Himmler would state in his Posen speech given in October 1943 that “to have gone through” the elimination of the Jews had “and remained decent, that has made us tough. This is an unwritten, never to be written, glorious page in our history.” [179]

Conclusion

The German war against Poland and the Soviet Union was heavily dependent on the racist ideology of Adolf Hitler.  He was the true spirit behind the atrocities committed by his nation as one noted in Russia: “Here too the Führer is the moving spirit of a radical solution in both word and deed.” [180]He saw the partisan war as “the chance to stamp out everything that stands against us.” [181]Belief in Germany’s right to Lebensraum the superiority of the German Volk and necessity to settle the Jewish problem provided a fertile ground for Hitler’s plans.  German military doctrines, especially those of anti-partisan and total warfare abetted Hitler’s goals.

It is quite clear that many in the Wehrmacht were in agreement with Hitler’s ideology of racial-war. Prepared by cultural prejudice and long traditions of thought, the “Prussian and in later German military must be regarded as a significant part of the ideological background of the Second World War.” [182] General Walther Von Reichenau’s orders to his troops are revealing: “The most important goal of the campaign against Jewish-Bolshevism is the complete destruction of its grip on power and the elimination of the Asian influence from our European cultural sphere.” [183] Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt appeared to agree with Reichenau to “use the partisan threat as excuse for persecuting Jews, so long as the dirty work was largely left to SS Einsatzgruppen.” [184]

The Army command…on the whole acquiesced in the extermination of the Jews, or at least closed its eyes to what was happening.” [185] Even if the Generals had been more forceful in their opposition, they would have been opposed by the highly nazified youth that made up the bulk of their Army, especially junior officers and then there was the matter of their oath to Hitler and what they saw as personal honor. General Alfred Jodl told American Army psychologist Gustave Gilbert at Nuremberg that “In war the moral pressure of obedience and the stigma of high treason are pretty hard to get around.” [186]

Jodl’s superior Keitel stated his helplessness before Hitler saying to Gilbert “What could I do? There were only 3 possibilities: 9a) refusal to follow orders, which naturally meant death; (b) resign my post, or (c) commit suicide. I was on the point of resigning my post 3 times, but Hitler made it clear that he considered my resignation in time of war the same as desertion. What could I do?” [187] This was obviously an after the fact excuse by Keitel who had been present in Hitler’s headquarters since the beginning and had witnessed the explosive General Heinz Guderian explode in rage against Hitler in 1945.

SS leaders fanatically executed Hitler’s policies aided by the civil administration. Genocide was to bring the Reich “long term economic gains and trading advantages” and was seen as a way of “financing the war debt without burdening the German taxpayer.” [188] Many in the Army as it has been shown were not only knowledgeable about the crimes committed but urged their soldiers to participate in these crimes.

Otto Ohlendorf, commander of Einsatzgruppe D testified at the Einsatzgruppe Trial that “Einsatzgruppen reported all of their tasks to the army commanders, and that together, they and the army agreed on the time, place, and possible support of the troops for any particular “liquidation action[s].” [189]

Some individuals did attempt to resist the most brutal aspects of the Nazi campaign against the Jews. Wilhelm Kube, Reichskommissar for White Russia and a virulent anti-Semite was shocked at the murders of the Jews calling them “unworthy of the German cause and damaging to the German reputation” and would later attempt to spare Jews by employing them in war industries, would be “defeated by Himmler’s zealots.” [190]Army officers who objected like Blaskowitz and Külcher were relieved, or like Von Leeb, told by Hitler to “in so many words told to mind his own business.” Leeb stated: “the only thing to do is to hold oneself at a distance.” [191] Field Marshall Erwin Rommel knew of crimes being committed against the Jews and others through Blaskowitz but blamed the crimes “on Hitler’s subordinates, not Hitler himself.” [192]

einsatzgruppen trial

Partial Justice: The Einsatzgruppen Trial

Hitler’s ideology permeated German military campaigns and administration of the areas conquered by his armies. No branch of the German military, police or civil administration in occupied Poland or Russia was exempt guiltless in the crimes committed by the Nazi regime. It is a chilling warning of the consequences awaiting any nation that allows it to become caught up in hate-filled political, racial or even religious ideologies which dehumanizes opponents and of the tragedy that awaits them and the world. In Germany the internal and external checks that govern the moral behavior of the nation and individuals failed. Caught up in the Nazi system, the Germans, especially the police and military abandoned the norms of international law, morality and decency, banally committing crimes which still reverberate today and which are seen in the ethnic cleansing actions in the former Yugoslavia, Syria and other nations.

It is something that we should not forget.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gilbert, Gustave Nuremberg Diary DaCapo Press 1995 copyright G.M. Gilbert 1947

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[1] Weinberg, Gerhard L. Ed. Hitler’s Second Book: The Unpublished Sequel to Mein Kampf by Adolph Hitler. Translated by Krista Smith, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2006. Originally published as Hitlers zweites Buch, Gerhard Weinberg editor, 1961 p. 159

 

[2] Davidowicz, Lucy S. The War Against the Jews 1933-1945 Bantam Books, New York, NY 1986. p.91

[3] Tooze, Adam. The Wages of Destruction Penguin Books, New York, NY, 2008. First Published by Allen Lane Books, Penguin Group, London UK, 2006. p.463

[4] Fest, Joachim, Hitler. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston.Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, San Diego, New York, London, 1974.  German Edition by Verlag Ullstein 1973 pp. 607-608

[5] Note the actions of Cardinal Richelieu in France who worked to expand French power at the expense of other Catholic nations and the Vatican itself.

[6] In the United States the Reconstruction policies produced great resentment in the south with decidedly negative results for the newly freed slaves which lasted another 100 years, while in the Soviet Union great numbers of “opponents of Socialism” were killed, imprisoned or driven out of the county

[7] Ibid. Tooze. The Wages of Destruction p.462

 

[8] Ibid. Davidowicz, The War Against the Jews pp.8-9

[9] Ibid. Davidowicz. The War Against the Jews p.12

[10] Ibid. Fest  Hitler. p.47

 

[11] Bracher, Karl Dietrich. The German Dictatorship: The Origins, Structure, and Effects of  National Socialism. Translated by Jean Steinberg, Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York, NY 1979. Originally Published under the title Die Deutsche Diktatur: Entstehung, Struktur,Folgen des Nationalsocialismus. Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch. Koln and Berlin, 1969 p.93

[12] Weinberg, Gerhard L. Germany Hitler and World War II . Cambridge University Press, New York, NY 1995 p.61

[13] Ibid. Weinberg, Hitler’s Second Book p.60

[14] Friedlander, Saul Nazi Germany and the Jews 1939-1945: The Years of Extermination. Harper Perennial, New York, NY 2007 p.xviii

[15] Ibid. Friedlander, The Years of Extermination p.xvii  Friedlander called this anti-Semitism “Redemptive anti-Semitism” in which “Hitler perceived his mission as a kind of crusade to redeem the world by eliminating the Jews.

[16] Megargee, Geoffrey P. War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front 1941.Bowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc. Lanham, Boulder, New York. 2007 p.4

[17] Hitler, Adolf Mein Kampf translated by Ralph Manheim. Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, NY 1999. Houghton Mifflin Company 1943, copyright renewed 1971. Originally published in Germany by Verlag Frz. Eher Nachf. GmbH 1925. p.662.

[18] Evans, Richard J. The Coming of the Third Reich Penguin Books, New York 2004.  First published by Allen Lane 2003 p.197

[19] Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews pp. 88-89

[20] Rhodes, Richard. Masters of Death: The SS Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust. Vintage Books a division of Random House, New York, NY 2002 p.37

[21] Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Collier Books, a Division of MacMillan Publishers, Inc. New York, NY 1970 p.166

[22] Geyer, Michael. German Strategy 1914-1945 in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Peter Paret, editor. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1986. p.582

[23] Ibid. Geyer. German Strategy p.587

[24] Strachan, Hew. European Armies and the Conduct of War. George, Allen and Unwin, London, UK 1983 p.174

[25] Goerlitz, Walter. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel: Chief of the German High Command 1938-1945.  Translated by David Irving. Cooper Square Press 2000,  First English Edition 1966 William Kimber and Company Ltd.  German edition published by Musterschmnidt-Verlad, Gottigen 1961 p. 135

[26] Ibid. Fest, Hitler.  p. 649

[27] Ibid. Megargee, War of Annihilation p.7

[28] Trevor-Roper, H.R. Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-1944 with an introduction by Gerhard L Weinberg,  Translated by Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2000. Originally published in Great Britain by Weidenfeld & Nicholoson, London 1953 p. 27 Goebbels notes a similar theme in his recollection of Hitler’s reasons for destroying Russia a power .  See Taylor, Fred, Editor and Translator. The Goebbels Diaries 1939-1941, Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth UK and New York NY 1984 pp. 413-415.

[29] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff.” Translated by Brian Battershaw, Westview Press, Boulder and London, 1985. Originally published as Die Deutsche Generalstab Verlag der Frankfurter Hefte, Frankfur am Main, 1953 p.390

[30] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964 p. 150

[31] Weinberg, Gerhard L. Visions of Victory: The Hopes of Eight World War II Leasers. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY 2005. p. 24

[32] Aly, Gotz and Heim, Susanne. Architects of Annihilation :Auschwitz and the Logic of Destruction Phoenix Paperbacks, London, 2003, Originally published as  Vordenker der Vernichtung, Hoffman und Campe, Germany 1991, English translation by Allan Blunden.  First published in Great Britain Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 2002 pp. 245-246

[33] Ibid. Fest. Hitler p.649

 

[34] Wette, Wolfram. The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality. Translated by Deborah Lucas Schneider. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2006. Originally published as Die Wehrmacht: Feindbilder, Vernichtungskreig, Legenden. S. Fischer Verlag, GmbH, Frankfurt am Main, 2002 p.93

[35] This understanding is different than many historians who as Friedlander notes advocate something like this: “The persecution and extermination of the Jews of Europe was but a secondary consequence of major German policies pursued toward entirely different goals.” See Friedlander p.xvi

 

[36] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.xii

[37] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart p.22

[38] It has to be noted that Liddell-Hart published this work in 1948 and was limited in the materials available, his primary sources being German officers who he viewed with sympathy because he saw them as exponents of his theory of the indirect approach. The time was also around the beginning of the Cold War and the Berlin Blockade when many American and British leaders were trying to end the war crimes trials and bring the West Germans into the new anti-Communist alliance.

[39] Ibid. Wette. The Wehrmacht p.224

[40] Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War: The Myth of German Military Superiority. Barnes and Noble Books, New York 2006, originally published by Greenhill Books, 1996. p.139

[41] Stern, Fritz. Gold and Iron: Bismarck, Bleichroder and Building of the German Empire. Vintage Books a division of Random House, New York 1979 First published by Alfred a Knopf 1977.  p.495

[42] Ibid. Stern. Gold and Iron p.494

[43] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.34

[44] Ibid. Bracher The German Dictatorship pp.34-35

[45] Höhne, Heinze. Canaris: Hitler’s Master Spy. Translated by J. Maxwell, Brownjohn. Cooper Square Press,New York 1999. Originally published by C. Bertelsmann Verlag Gmbh, Munich 1976, first English edition by Doubleday and Company 1979 p. 216.  Canaris would later protest the Kristalnacht to Keitel (p.334) and become convinced of the crime of the Nazis against the Jews.

 

[46] Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.98

[47] Ibid Witte The Wehrmacht, p.73

[48] Arendt, Hannah, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Revised and Enlarged Edition. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England and New York, NY 1965. Originally published by Viking Press, New York, NY 1963 p.26

[49] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.6

[50] Fritz, Stephen G. Frontsoldaten: The German Soldier in World War II.  The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 1995 p.195

 

[51] Craig, Gordon A. The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945. Oxford University Press, London and New York, 1955 p.495

[52] Novatny, Alfred. The Good Soldier. The Aberjona Press, Bedford, PA 2003 p.40

[53] Westermann, Edward B. Hitler’s Police Battalions: Enforcing Racial War in the East. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005 p.64  Westermann also notes the preponderance of SA men who entered the Order Police in the 1930s, a factor which helped further the politicization of that organization.

[54] Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death p.23

[55] Ibid. Westermann Hitler’s Police Battalions p.103

[56] Sydnor, Charles W. Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death’s Head Division, 1933-1945. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NY 1977 p. 28

[57] Shepherd, Ben. War in the Wild East: The German Army and Soviet Partisans. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2004 p.41

[58] Blood, Philip. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters: The SS and the Occupation of Europe. Potomac Books Inc. Washington, DC 2008 p.11

[59] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.42

[60] Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff p.93

[61] Rothenburg, Gunther. Moltke, Schieffen, and the Doctrine of Strategic Envelopment in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Peter Paret, editor. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1986 p.305

[62] Hughes, Daniel J. editor. Moltke on the Art of War: Selected Writings, translated by Harry Bell and Daniel J Hughes. Presidio Press, Novato CA 1993. p.32

[63] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.6   Lieber was a Prussian emigrant to the US who taught law at Columbia University.

[64] Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field, prepared by Francis Lieber, LL.D., Originally Issued as General Orders No. 100, Adjutant General’s Office, 1863, Washington 1898: Government Printing Office. Retrieved from http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/lieber.asp 6 May 2014

[65] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters pp.12-13

[66] Ibid. Shepherd Wild War in the East p.42

[67] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters pp.16-19

[68] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.22

[69] Condell, Bruce and Zabecki, David T. Editors. On the German Art of War: Truppenführung, Lynn Rienner Publishers, Boulder CO and London 2001. p.172

[70] Tsouras, Peter G. Editor, Fighting in Hell: The German Ordeal on the Eastern Front The Ballantine Publishing Group, New York, 1998. First published 1995 by Greenhill Books pp. 142-146.  It is interesting to note that Rauss does not describe any actual anti-partisan operation

[71] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.45

[72] Ibid. Geyer. German Strategy p.584

[73] Ibid. Weinberg. Visions of Victory p.8

[74] Ibid. Goerlitz, History of the German General Staff p.346

[75] 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 p.259

[76] 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.29

[77] Ibid. Hohne. Canaris p.347

[78] Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz. Hppocrene Books, New York 1997 p.119

[79] Ibid. Manstein. Lost Victories p.29

[80] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.87

[81] Wheeler-Bennett, John. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press Inc. New York, NY 1954 p.448

[82] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.13

[83] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.297

[84] Padfield, Peter. Himmler. MJF Books, New York 1990 p.264

 

[85] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.13

[86] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.127

[87] Ibid.  Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.297

[88] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.127

[89] Ibid. Sydnor Soldiers of Destruction p.37

[90] Ibid. Giziowski Blaskowitz p.120

[91] Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.100

[92] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head pp. 297-298

[93] Ibid. Giziowski Blaskowitz p.120

[94] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.298

[95] Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.100

[96] Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model-Hitler’s Favorite General Da Capo Press a division of Perseus Books Group, Cambridge MA 2005. p.74

[97] Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz pp.165-166

[98] Ibid. Sydnor, Soldiers of Destruction pp. 42-43 Note SSVT is the common abbreviation for Verfügungstruppe which was the early designation of the SS Totenkopf Verbande and some other Waffen SS Units.

[99] Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff p.359

[100] Ibid. Newton. Hitler’s Commander p.78

[101] Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

[102] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.298

[103] Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff .p.359

[104] Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz p.173

[105] Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz p.173

[106] Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

[107] Burleigh, Michael and Wippermann, Wolfgang. The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945 Cambridge University Press, New York NY and Cambridge UK 1991. p.100

[108] Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

[109] For a good account of one of the Police Battalions see Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher Browning Harper Perennial Publishers, San Francisco CA 1992

[110] Reitlinger, Gerald.  The SS: Alibi of a Nation. The Viking Press, New York, 1957. Republished by Da Capo Press, New York, NY p.131

[111] Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews pp.395-397

[112] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.24

[113] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett The Nemesis of Power p.511

[114] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel. P.132

[115] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995 p.31

[116] Trevor-Roper, H.R. Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-1944 with an introduction by Gerhard L Weinberg,  Translated by Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2000. Originally published in Great Britain by Weidenfeld & Nicholoson, London 1953 p.6

[117] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.10 The campaign against the Soviet Union was to be much more openly ideological as compared to the campaign in Poland.

[118] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.150

[119] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.151

[120] Ibid. Reitlinger, The SS p.175

[121] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 354

[122] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 354 Again another deception.

[123] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.153

[124] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.153

[125] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters pp. 158-159

[126] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed p.56

[127] Ibid. Davidowicz. The War Against the Jews p.123

 

[128] Ferguson, Niall. The War of the Worlds: Twentieth Century Conflict and the Descent of the West. The Penguin Press, New York, 2006 p.442

[129] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. Nemesis of Power p.513

[130] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.135

[131] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. Nemesis of Power p.513

[132] Hebert, Valerie Genevieve, Hitler’s Generals on Trial: The Last War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg University of Kansas Press, Lawrence Kansas 2010 pp.77-78

[133] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett Nemesis of Power p.513 and footnote. He cites the three Army Group commanders, Leeb, Rundstedt and Bock. However Von Rundstedt’s biographer notes that “no evidence exists as to what Von Rundstedt’s to this was at the time.” Messenger, Charles, The Last Prussian: A Biography of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt 1875-1953 Brassey’s (UK) London England 1991. p.134

[134] Ibid. Reitlinger, The SS p.176

[135] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.33

[136] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.162

[137] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.136

[138] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel pp.136-137

[139] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed p.56

[140] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.52

[141] Ibid. Reitlinger The SS p. 177

[142] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.54

[143] Ibid. Reitlinger The SS p. 177

[144] Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death pp.12-13

[145] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.167

[146] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.164

[147] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.141

[148] Ibid. Shepherd Wild War in the East p.48. Shepherd notes the deficiencies of these units in terms of organization, manpower and equipment which he calls “far short of the yardstick of military excellence with which the Wehrmacht is so widely associated

[149] Ibid.  Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 356 Only one of the Einsatzgruppen commanding officers was a volunteer, Arthur Nebe who was involved in the conspiracy to kill Hitler. It is believed by many that Nebe volunteered to earn the clasp to the Iron Cross to curry favor with Heydrich and that initially “Nebe certainly did not know that “employment in the east” was synonymous with the greatest mass murder in history.

[150] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.422

[151] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.55

[152] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 360

[153] Ibid.  Friedlander The Years of Extermination p.207

[154] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 360

[155] Ibid. Tooze The Wages of Destruction p.481

[156] Ibid. Ferguson. The War of the World p.446

[157] Di Nardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005 p.133 The Hungarians would also engage in ant-Jewish operations. Only the Italian army would not conduct operations against the Jews

[158] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 369

[159] Ibid. Wette The Wehrmacht p.127

[160] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.117

[161] Ibid. Hebert p.94

[162] Ibid. Hebert pp.94-95

[163] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East pp.90-91

[164] Ibid. Tooze The Wages of Destruction p.481

[165] Ibid, Hebert p.86

[166] Ibid. Magargee. War of Annihilation p.64

[167] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East pp.127-128

[168] Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews from the table on page 403. This included 228,000 from the Baltic republics (90%) 245,000 from White Russia (65%) 900,000 from the Ukraine (60%) and 107,000 from Russia proper (11%)

[169] Ibid. Rhodes. Masters of Death p.241

[170] Ibid. Glantz and House When Titans Clashed p.57

[171] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed table on p.292

[172] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.431

 

[173] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.430

[174] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 367

[175] Ibid. Rhodes. Masters of Death p.225

[176] Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death p.225

[177] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 363

[178] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 363

[179] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.423

[180] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.430

[181] Ibid. Megargee War of Annihilation p.65

[182] Ibid. Wette. The Wehrmacht p.293

[183] Ibid. Wette. The Wehrmacht p.97

[184] Messenger, Charles. The Last Prussian A Biography of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt 1875-1953 Brassey’s London, 1991 p148

[185] Ibid. Bracher The German Dictatorship pp.430-431

[186] Gilbert, Gustave Nuremberg Diary DaCapo Press 1995 copyright G.M. Gilbert 1947 p.290

[187] Ibid. Gilbert p.26

[188] Ibid. Aly and Heim Architects of Annihilation p.242

[189] Ibid. Hebert p.92

[190] Ibid. Padfield Himmler pp.341-342

[191] Ibid. Megargee War of Annihilation p.97

[192] Fraser, David. Knight’s Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel Harper Perennial, New York 1995, first published by Harper Collins in Britain, 1993. p.536

 

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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

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

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.

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

Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957

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.

Irving, David. Göring: A Biography. William Morrow and Company, New York, NY 1989

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

Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY

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

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

Padfield, Peter. Himmler. MJF Books, New York. 1990

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

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 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

The Battle that Wasn’t Necessary: Kursk 1943

The Battle of Kursk was the climactic battle on the Eastern Front from which the Germans never recovered. It was a battle that should not have been fought, at least at the time that it was fought. It was high risk operation with minimal payoff should it succeed. A while back I posted an “alternative history” of this entitled “Operation DACHS.” I have also posted articles on events leading up to Kursk, one on Stalingrad and the other on Manstein’s counter-stroke.  In a sense this is a trilogy with an alternative scenario included.

 

The German Situation and Dilemma in April 1943

Battle_of_Kursk_(map)

The Germans faced a dilemma in April 1943.  Manstein’s brilliant counter-stroke had turned what could have been disaster into an opportunity to salvage prospects for the Eastern Front. The German action had “repaired its front, shattered the hopes of the Allies, and nipped the Russian spearhead.”[i] Unfortunately for the Germans the spring thaw meant that Manstein could not continue immediately and eliminate the Kursk bulge which had been formed by Rokossovky’s offensive and Manstein’s own counter-stroke.  With the Germans stalled by the weather Stavka cancelled “other significant planned offensives to dispatch reinforcements to the Kursk region.”[ii] Despite the weather Manstein pushed Kluge for an immediate attack on both sides of the bulge but was rebuffed by Kluge who “insisted that his troops needed to rest and refit.”[iii] This rebuff combined with the onset of the Russian mud meant that in “March 1943 the war on the ground came to an end….The front was immobilized.”[iv]

manstein with tanksManstein with Tiger I Tanks

Manstein’s offensive had “enabled the Germans to consolidate a firm position in the East, and build up strength afresh- not to its former level, but sufficient to provide a good prospect of holding the Russians at bay.”[v] As a result German armies in the south “held again nearly the same positions from which the Blau offensive had begun the previous spring.”[vi] Now the Kursk bulge some 250 Kilometers wide and 160 Kilometers deep[vii] protruded menacingly into the German lines and drew the attention of both sides, to the Germans it appeared to be designed for an encirclement battle.[viii] Thus it appeared that the Kursk bulge was the obvious place for the Germans to resume the offensive and maintain the initiative on the Eastern Front.

But was the Kursk necessary?  Was Operation ZITADELLE as obvious as it seemed to be to Hitler, Zeitzler and others?  The battle is the subject of many books and articles which often focus on tactical and operational details of the German offensive, particularly the battle on the southern side of the bulge and the clash of armor at Prokhorovka.  This essay will focus less on the battle and more on the strategic situation faced by the Germans in the spring of 1943. Key to this are the arguments for and against the operation, the operations timing and the option that the Germans had to conduct a mobile defense.   It is the strategic situation that must be looked at to determine whether Operation ZITADELLE was necessary at all. Manstein believed that had the offensive been launched early enough that it might have succeeded provided it “we launched it early enough we could hope to catch them in a state of unpreparedness.”[ix] Williamson Murray and Allan Millett agree with Manstein’s assessment but note that an early offensive was “riskier…but greater the prospect for a major success.”[x] Guderian on the other hand saw that nothing good could come of ZITADELLE and opposed it from the beginning.[xi] Glantz and House in their detailed study argue that “there is absolutely no basis for assuming that Citadel would have succeeded had it been launched in spring 1943.”[xii]

battle_kursk t 34The Soviets Reinforced and Fortified the Kursk Salient

The Germans faced a number of major problems in early 1943.  First, among them was manpower.  The armed forces had been mauled on the Eastern Front, “after continuous operations from June 1942 to March 1943, most German units were worn out.”[xiii] Many infantry divisions “were reduced to two thirds of their original strength, with declining mobility and anti-tank defenses.”[xiv] Had the Germans only faced the Russians this might have been overcome, however they not only faced a rejuvenated Red Army, but challenges brought about by multi-theater operations and their weak, ineffective and reluctant allies.  The Allied air offensive which though it “did not decisively effect German arms production it nevertheless prevented a great deal of work from being carried on and had profound moral effects which communicated themselves to all the fronts.”[xv] Likewise the U-Boat campaign had been effectively defeated by May 1943 allowing for increasing numbers of American troops and supplies to reach Europe, including significant Lend-Lease aide for the Soviet Union.  Manpower became a major issue for the the German Army and industry.  Both the military and industryhad difficulty in getting the required number of personnel to meet their personnel needs, in January 1943 the German High Command “demanded 800,000 men-but even the most ruthless call-up was able to produce only 400,000” who were lost to the civilian war economy.[xvi] Even the “belated industrial mobilization of Germany, fueled by slave labor and directed by the organizational genius of men like Speer and Guderian, could do little beyond patching together existing units.”[xvii]

Bild 101I-139-1112-17General Heinz Guderian, Inspector of Panzer Troops was one of Few Senior German Officers to Oppose ZITADELLE from the Beginning

There were other challenges. The German and Italian armies in North Africa had surrendered, and about 330,000 Axis soldiers entered captivity.[xviii] Added to the heavy losses on the Eastern Front, the disasters in North Africa and Stalingrad had “effectively destroyed the Axis military alliance, such as it was.”[xix] Italy, Hungary and Romania all began to pull their forces out of the Eastern front after having them shattered by the Soviet Winter offensive.[xx] Italy, shaken by its losses in North Africa and the Russian front was wavering in its support for Germany; Mussolini’s government itself was on the verge of falling.  Likewise the Hungarian government sought contact with the Allies;[xxi] as did the Romanians.[xxii] Finland too was looking for a way out and limiting its participation in German offensive operations.[xxiii] As her allies looked for a way out, the British and Americans were about to open a new front in Southern Europe, while another had effectively been opened by partisans in Yugoslavia and Greece.[xxiv] The crisis in the south was great enough that OKW under General Jodl began to look at ways of shoring up those fronts in case Italy withdrew from the war including the use of units that would have to be withdrawn from the Eastern Front.[xxv] The Balkans drained German reserves such that the number of German divisions deployed there increased from 5 to 15 between July 1942 and July 1943.[xxvi] Additionally many units had to be created by the Replacement Army to build up the Western Front knowing that an Allied strike there would eventually take place, further depriving the Eastern Front of badly needed infantry replacements and divisions.

Benito_Mussolini_and_Adolf_HitlerHitler Felt Regaining the Initiative in the East was Critical to Keeping his Allies in the War

The German Options and Decision

The question for the Germans now was whether they “had any strategic options that would allow them to avoid defeat.”[xxvii] It is from this perspective that the necessity of Kursk must be examined. Most in the German High Command now realized that strategy in the east could no longer be “based on the illusion of conquering the vast Soviet Union.”[xxviii] As such the discussion turned to what direction the new strategy should take.  Political considerations came into play: Since the German allies were looking for ways to exit the war it was felt that “it was politically impossible for Germany to surrender the initiative on the Eastern Front.”[xxix] Realistically there were two options available: Wait and counterattack or launch a limited attack on the Kursk salient. The general impression among many German commanders in the East was that they had ended the last campaign “with a relative advantage over the Reds, an advantage that should be exploited as soon as the rasputitsa ended in April or early May.”[xxx] But the only strategy that looked feasible balancing the political and military goal of maintaining the initiative was what Manstein originally had in mind after Kharkov, to continue on, pinch out the Kursk bulge with the cooperation of Kluge’s Army Group Center.  As noted the opportunity to do so was lost with Kluge’s refusal and the onset of the spring thaw.  Yet this idea captured Zeitzler at OKH and Kluge at Army Group Center, though by April and May Manstein was more inclined toward “the ‘backhand’ stroke, which involved giving up the whole Donetz basin and staging a major Panzer offensive southeast from Kharkov.”[xxxi] However, this was too bold for Hitler who was “unwilling to give up the Donetz Basin with its industrial and mineral resources.”[xxxii]

battle_kursk_tiger advancingThe New Tiger Tanks Were to Play a Critical Role in the Attack

Manstein felt that the “moment of opportunity had passed, but his counterpart at Army Group Center…Kluge, was enthusiastic about the proposal.”[xxxiii] Zeitzler believed that an “attack at Kursk would be less risky”[xxxiv] than Manstein’s “backhand” and pushed the plan to Hitler.  There were advantages to this strategy if it could be carried out successfully. The Germans would encircle and destroy Russian forces in the salient and “shorten their own defensive lines after such an encirclement.”[xxxv] Yet the plan was opposed by others. Jodl at OKW argued against ZITADELLE “because he believed that it was dangerous to empty the strategic reserve when so many new crises threatened to develop in the Mediterranean.”[xxxvi] Zeitzler countered that because of German weakness in the east that they could not “wait to be hit.”[xxxvii] Guderian did not believe that either Army Group could be ready to mount the offensive that Zeitzler envisioned and “declared that the attack was pointless…if we attacked according to the plan of the Chief of the General Staff, we were certain to suffer heavy tank casualties, which we would not be in position to replace in 1943.”[xxxviii] Guderian asked Hitler at a separate conference “why he wanted to attack at all in the East in 1943.” When Keitel expressed that the reasons were political, Guderian asked Hitler “How many people do you think even know where Kursk is? It’s a matter of profound indifference to the world whether we hold Kursk or not…”[xxxix] Guderian and Speer both pointed out technical problems in producing the Tigers and Panthers but were overruled.[xl] Hitler himself reportedly had misgivings about the attack at one point reportedly stating that “the thought of the Zitadelle operation ‘made [his] stomach turn over’”[xli] In spite of Jodl and Guderian’s warnings, his own misgivings and those of Manstein and Model in April and May, Hitler “allowed himself to be tempted once more into taking the offensive. The Kursk salient…lured him into mounting his great pincer operation known as Citadel.”[xlii] Glantz and House maintain that he could “see no alternative politically and agreed to the plan.”[xliii]

The Facts on the Ground

Kursk_T34_and_Fieldgun-px800Soviet Forces Expected the Attack and Were well Prepared to Meet it

Once the decision to attack was made the question that remained was the timing of the attack. Manstein had preferred an early attack in May, but the operation was postponed to mid-June and then to July due to the request of Model who believed that his forces were too weak and needed reinforcements.[xliv] The attack was to be one of several “limited offensives designed to consolidate the German defenses while inflicting sufficient damage on the Red Army to delay any Soviet offensive.”[xlv] But the delays insisted on by Model and agreed to by Hitler were a fatal error.  The Germans failed to “factor into their decision was the unpalatable reality that Soviet strength in the Kursk salient was growing much faster than the Wehrmacht could muster forces to attack it.”[xlvi] Not only were the Soviet forces growing they knew about the German plans and could deploy their forces to counter them and for their own offensive.[xlvii] Stalin’s generals were able to convince him not to launch an attack and instead wait on the Germans so they could attack as the Germans exhausted their strength.[xlviii] They knew of it since April and reinforced the flanks of the salient with guns and armor at a faster pace than the Germans opposite them.[xlix] At Kursk “improved intelligence collection and analysis permitted the Red Army to predict almost exactly the strategic focal point of a major German offensive.”[l] Into the bulge “Vatutin and Rokossovsky crammed seven armies.”[li] The Russians deployed in depth in heavy fortified zones and minefields along the very sectors of the bulge that the Germans intended to attack, successfully masking their preparations from the Germans. It was “a measure of Soviet self-confidence that the senior commanders were looking beyond the German attack, beyond its failure, to the first major Soviet summer offensive.”[lii] Had the Germans succeeded in pinching off the salient “they would have faced several additional defensive belts constructed to the east of the salient.”[liii]

Typically when one launches an offensive it is desirable to have numeric advantage over the defender, 3:1 is normally assumed to be sufficient. At Kursk the Germans were outnumbered by the Russians 2.3:1 in men and 1.6:1 in tanks[liv] yet somehow the offensive had now morphed from a spoiling attack into a strategic offensive, albeit with more limited objectives attacking one of the strongest points in the Russian line.  General Raus, commanding a corps in Army Detachment Kempf noted: “Considering Russian dispositions, defenses and terrain, German strength could be considered only minimally sufficient for the assigned mission.”[lv] The Chief of Staff of XLVIII Panzer Corps called Kursk “the strongest fortress in the world.”[lvi]

Danger Signs: Requests for Cancellation

keitel-jodl-hitlerGeneral Alfred Jodl at OKW Protested the Offensive Verbally and in Writing

As more delays occurred Manstein “came out in the open and protested that the operation was no longer feasible and must be abandoned, but it was too late.  The united stand of orthodox General Staff opinion, Keitel, Zeitzler, Kluge, had persuaded the Führer, whose mind, once made up, was never altered.”[lvii] Manstein felt that the idea had been to “attack the enemy before the enemy had replenished his forces and got over the reverses of the winter.”[lviii] He felt there was great danger to the Mius line and to the northern Orel bulge with each delay; and the felt the threat of an attack by the Allies in Western Europe.[lix] On 18 June Jodl and the OKW Operations Staff “recommended to Hitler that he abandon Operation Citadel in order to free strategic reserves for defense in both East and West.”[lx] Warlimont writes that Jodl “raised empathic objection to the premature commitment of the central reserves to the East; he pointed out both verbally and in writing that a local success was all that could be hoped from Operation Citadel and that it could have no strategic significance for the overall situation.”[lxi] Hitler again refused the request.  “The doubts of certain Chiefs of Staff of the attacking armies were disregarded, and in the case of Colonel von Schleinitz, answered with dismissal.”[lxii]

The Battle

battle_kursk tigersTigers Advancing

The attacking forces for ZITADELLE involved units of Army Group Center and Army Group South.  Spearheading the assault for Army Group Center was Model’s 9th Army.  2nd Army from the same Army Group took a defensive role in the center of the bulge while Army Group South’s 4th Panzer Army under Hoth and Army Detachment Kempf composed the Southern attack force.  Von Mellenthin noted that to muster the necessary divisions for the attacking armies “neighboring fronts were to be thinned out beyond the limits of prudence” and from a strategic point of view likened Citadel “to be a veritable ‘death ride.’”[lxiii] Manstein worried about stripping the Mius-Donetz salient which “had to hand over all their available forces.”[lxiv] The Germans sent 17 panzer divisions against Kursk including the elite 2nd Panzer, Grossdeutschland, Leibstandarte, Das Reich and Totenkopf. Hoth’s army was the “strongest force ever put under a single commander in the German Army.”[lxv] While the Germans assembled the Russians waited, and beginning on 1 July the “Red Army defenders were on constant alert, waiting in their bunkers for the first sign of attack.”[lxvi]

battle_kursk_0020Panzers on the Advance

ZITADELLE began on 4 July with a reconnaissance in force, the main blow scheduled for 0300 5 July. The Russians learned of the timing from a prisoner and quickly launched an artillery counter-preparation an hour prior to the German attack, disrupting it while air strikes were ordered against Luftwaffe airfields.[lxvii] Model’s 9th Army on the northern flank attacked the Russian “13th and 70th Armies on a frontage of 50 kilometers”[lxviii] with the focus being a 16 kilometer front where he concentrated 6 infantry divisions, a panzer division and all his Tiger and Ferdinand units.[lxix] He intended to break the Soviet defensive system “by constantly feeding in new units to grind down the defenses.”[lxx] The attack stalled by the 9July making minimal progress of “8 to 12 kilometers into the massive Soviet defenses.”[lxxi] A good deal of his problem was due to limited infantry strength which was  “far below established strength….moreover, the Ninth Army’s infantry- even the veterans- lacked experience in conducting set-piece attacks against prepared positions.”[lxxii] The Russians defined the battleground and forced Model into a battle determined by superior firepower on a constricted battlefield, “a game that the Wehrmacht could not win.”[lxxiii] This nullified any advantage the Germans might have had in mobility for their panzer divisions.  In savage battles to take the high ground at Ponyri station and Ol’khovatka Model’s assaults faltered.  9th Army sacrificed about 50,000 men and 400 tanks to the god of war.”[lxxiv] Model continued to attack until 12 July when the Russians launched their offensive against the Orel bulge forcing him to redeploy to counter the Russian advance.  The battle in the north became “a savage defensive battle in which considerable parts of the offensive wing of Ninth Army were involved.”[lxxv] Model’s defeat made Hoth’s task “much more challenging.”[lxxvi]

battle_kursk_t-34s and infantryT-34’s and Infantry

The Fourth Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf made better progress, nearly breaking through the Russian defenses after hard fighting. They penetrated “into the third Soviet defensive belt, a depth of 35 kilometers, but were stopped by Katukov’s 1st Tank Army.”[lxxvii] The critical point was reached on 11 and 12 July at Prokhorovka station when 5th Tank Army collided with 4th Panzer Army. “Over 1200 tanks from both sides were engaged in this struggle.”[lxxviii] It was the largest tank engagement of the war, over 700 tanks were destroyed and “German losses were too great to allow a decisive breakthrough.”[lxxix] Both sides took heavy casualties but the Germans could not replace theirs while the Russians still had formidable uncommitted reserves.  On 13 July the battle in the south drifted into a stalemate as XLVIII Panzer Corps and Hausser’s II SS Panzer Corps failed to break the Soviet line[lxxx] as the Russians “kept on throwing in fresh troops, and their reserves seemed inexhaustible.”[lxxxi] Manstein desired to continue the offensive as he believed that for his Army Group “the battle was now at its culminating point, that to break it off at this moment would be tantamount to throwing victory away.”[lxxxii] Although Manstein and Hoth felt that they could continue on and break the Russian line, they were now not in a position to do so. Model’s forces were in no shape to assist in the north and Manstein and Kluge were called to the Wolfsschanze by Hitler who, now preoccupied with the Allied invasion of Sicily necessitating withdraws of strong panzer forces from the east to face the threat in the west.[lxxxiii] Hitler rejected Manstein’s counsel to continue and ordered him to withdraw II SS Panzer Corps,[lxxxiv] effectively ending the ZITADELLE as the Russians launched their offensive on 17 July.

battle_kursk_destroyed panzersDestroyed Panzers

Analysis of the Decision: Zitadelle Was Not Obvious, Necessary nor Well Executed

To Hitler and the supporters of ZITADELLE the operation seemed obvious.  In the two previous years the Germans had dealt punishing blows against the Red Army and the belief of Zeitzler and others was that the Wehrmacht was still qualitatively superior to the Soviets and that even a limited offensive would succeed in its objectives.  But the conditions on the ground had changed and the Germans failed to take the change into account.  The German Army did not have the resources for an offensive of the scope of Barbarossa or Blau. However this lack of resources did not lessen the optimism of some for ZITADELLE; particularly Zeitzler and Kluge. From their perspective the offensive to pinch out the Kursk salient seemed likely to succeed.  Yet as Clark notes the offensive was defined by a “lack of imagination and adaptability….Where the old Blitzkrieg formula….was fed into the computer, with little regard for the changed conditions….” [lxxxv] Von Mellenthin comments that by attacking Kursk, the “German Army threw away all their advantages in mobile tactics, and met the Russians on ground of their own choosing.”[lxxxvi] Glantz and House attribute this to the fact that the Germans “clung to outmoded assumptions about their own superiority over their opponents” due to their previous success. They point out that the Red Army had systematically reviewed its performance after every failure,” so that “Soviet doctrine, organization, and expectations were closer to battlefield reality than were those of the senior German leadership.”[lxxxvii] The German intelligence services failed them[lxxxviii] as they failed to detect the large strategic sized force that the Soviets had concentrated in the spring of 1943.  This was a force that Glantz and House believe would have caused ZITADELLE to fail even had it occurred in May, particularly in regard to the comparatively weak German forces fielded by Manstein.[lxxxix]

An offensive with what appeared to be reasonable objectives that were believed to be within the capabilities of the Wehrmacht failed.  Hitler according to Carell “gambled away not only victory but all hope of a draw.”[xc] Manstein categorized the offensive as a “fiasco.”[xci] Guderian called it “a decisive defeat” that made it “problematical” whether the armored formations could be “rehabilitated in time to defend the Eastern Front.”[xcii] Warlimont who served at OKW commented: “Operation Citadel was more than a battle lost; it handed the Russians the initiative and we never recovered it again right up to the end of the war.”[xciii] Guderian’s biographer Kenneth Macksey wrote that “the failure at Kursk was due to the employment of a faulty plan which lacked the element of strategic as well as tactical surprise.”[xciv] Raus lists several factors for this.  However, his argument is summarized: “once we learned in May and June that this was the area in which the Russians were prepared to offer their stiffest resistance, we should have modified our plans.  Either we should have refrained from attacking at all, or the operation should have been carried out to strike the enemy not at his strongest, but at his weakest point.”[xcv]

Hitler felt that a decisive victory was needed for political and propaganda reasons, yet even a significant victory was unlikely to keep Italy in the war, even if it swayed the lesser allies to stay the course.  ZITADELLE was conducted too late to save the Italians, success in May might have given German supporters in Italy some leverage but the invasion of Sicily and the failure at Kursk emboldened Mussolini’s opponents. The Fascist Grand Council “voted to have Mussolini removed as prime minister” and King Vittorio Emmanuaele “dismissed Mussolini” who was then placed under arrest.[xcvi] Finland refused to take offensive action that might have cut the Murmansk railway[xcvii] and engaged the Americans in a round of “abortive negotiation”[xcviii] while the Hungarians and Romanians provided little assistance to the Germans, partially due to the German reluctance to assist in modernizing and rebuilding their armies.[xcix]

Of the German Generals involved it was only Guderian as Inspector of Armored Troops and Jodl at OKW who consistently opposed ZITADELLE, citing realistic assessments of strengths, risks and dangers in other theaters.  Manstein opposed it when he felt the opportunity had passed, though it was unlikely to succeed had it been launched in May as he desired.  Guderian and Jodl’s arguments proved correct in every respect. ZITADELLE engaged German the preponderance of German forces in a battle that had at best chances of local success. The offensive itself weakened and endangered the German position on all fronts.  In the end, despite the belief and decision of Hitler, Zeitzler Kluge and others in the High Command, Operation ZITADELLE was neither obvious nor necessary and played out with the disastrous results expected by those who opposed it.


[i] Clark, Allan. 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. p. 306

[ii] Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999. p.14

[iii] Ibid. Glantz and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  p.14

[iv] 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. 335

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

[vi] 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.163

[vii] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995. p.157

[viii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157

[ix] 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.447

[x] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 2000. p.295

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

[xii] Ibid. Glantz and House. The Battle of Kursk. p.261

[xiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. The Battle of Kursk. p.14

[xiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Clash of Titans. p.174

[xv] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945. Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers. p.441

[xvi] Ibid. Carell. p.336

[xvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Clash of Titans. p.174

[xviii] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964. p.312

[xix] DiNardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005. p.174

[xx] Ibid. DiNardo. p.174. By the summer all Italians units had been withdrawn, all but two Hungarian divisions which were used in anti-partisan operations and nine Romanian divisions.

[xxi] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.441

[xxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxiii] Ibid. DiNardo. p.180

[xxiv] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.441

[xxv] Ibid. Warlimont. pp.317-318

[xxvi] Dunn, Walter S. Jr. Heroes or Traitors: The German Replacement Arm, the July Plot, and Adolf Hitler. Praeger Publishers, Westport CT and London, 2003. p.53

[xxvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.294

[xxviii] Ibid. Carell. p.339

[xxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxxi] Ibid. Clark. p.322

[xxxii] 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.280

[xxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157

[xxxiv] Ibid. Clark. p.322

[xxxv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.157

[xxxvi] Ibid. Clark. p.323

[xxxvii] Ibid. Clark. p.323

[xxxviii] Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957. pp.245-246

[xxxix] Ibid. Clark. p.325.

[xl] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157.

[xli] Ibid. Clark. p.325

[xlii] Ibid. Carell. p.341

[xliii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.158

[xliv]Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General. DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005. pp.218-219

[xlv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.21

[xlvi] Ibid. Newton. p.219

[xlvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.295

[xlviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.158

[xlix] Ibid. Clark. p.326

[l] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.63

[li] Overy, Richard. Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet War Effort: 1941-1945. Penguin Books, New York NY and London, 1997. pp.200-201

[lii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.159

[liii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.64

[liv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.65 This reference contains a listing of each sector and the force ratios of men, tanks and guns in each sector.

[lv] 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.197

[lvi] Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)  p.81

[lvii] Ibid. Clark. p.327

[lviii] Ibid. Manstein. p.447

[lix] Ibid. Manstein. pp.447-448

[lx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.55

[lxi] Ibid. Warlimont. p.334

[lxii] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.445

[lxiii] 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.262

[lxiv] Ibid. Manstein. p.448

[lxv] Ibid. Clark. p.328

[lxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.78

[lxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.81-84

[lxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxix] Ibid. Erickson. P.99

[lxx] Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin. Cassel Military Paperbacks, London, 2003. First Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1983. p.99

[lxxi] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxii] Ibid. Newton. p.222

[lxxiii] Ibid. Newton. 234

[lxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.121

[lxxv] Ibid. Carell. p.342

[lxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.121

[lxxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxix] Ibid. Overy. p.209

[lxxx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.215-217

[lxxxi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.274

[lxxxii] Ibid. Manstein. p.449

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.217-218.

[lxxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.167

[lxxxv] Ibid. Clark. pp.329-330

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.264

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.269

[lxxxviii] Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War. Greenhill Books 1996, Barnes and Noble, New York,  2006. p.227

[lxxxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p. 261

[xc] Ibid. Carell. p.342

[xci] Ibid. Manstein. p.449

[xcii] Ibid. Guderian. p.251

[xciii] Ibid. Warlimont. p.334

[xciv] Ibid. Macksey. Guderian p.206

[xcv] Ibid. Raus. p.211

[xcvi] Ibid. DiNardo. p.178

[xcvii] Ibid. DiNardo. p.181

[xcviii] Ibid. Erickson. p.91

[xcix] Ibid. DiNardo. pp.182-188

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, Allan. 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

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Dunn, Walter S. Jr. Heroes or Traitors: The German Replacement Arm, the July Plot, and Adolf Hitler. Praeger Publishers, Westport CT and London, 2003

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

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

Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945. Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers

Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957

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Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War. Greenhill Books 1996, Barnes and Noble, New York, 2006

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

Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 2000

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

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

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

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

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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