Monday, May 27, 2013



Reluctantly Hitler gave in on the urging of Brauchitsch, Halder and Bock
and consented to the resumption of the drive on Moscow. But too late!
Halder saw him on the afternoon of September 5 and now the Führer, his
mind made up, was in a hurry to get to the Kremlin. 'Get started on the
central front within eight to ten days', the Supreme Commander ordered.
("Impossible!" Halder exclaimed in his diary.) "encircle them, beat and
destroy them", Hitler added, promising to return to Army Group Centre
Guderian's panzer group, then still heavily engaged in the Ukraine, and
add Reinhardt's tank corps from the Leningrad front. But it was not
until the beginning of October that the armoured forces could be brought
back, refitted and made ready. On October 2 the great offensive was
finally launched. "Typhoon" was the code name. A mighty wind, a cyclone,
was to hit the Russians, destroy their last fighting forces before
Moscow and bring the Soviet Union tumbling down.
But here again the Nazi dictator became victim of his megalomania.
Taking the Russian capital before the winter came was not enough, He
gave orders that Field Marshal von Leeb in the north was at the same
time to capture Leningrad, make contact with the Finns beyond the city
and drive on and cut the Murmansk railway.. Also, at the same time,
Rundstedt was to clear the Black Sea Coast, take Rostov, seize the
Maikop oil fields and push forward to Stalingrad on the Volga, thus
severing Stalin's last link with the Caucasus. When Rundstedt tried to
explain to Hitler that this meant an advance of more than four hundred
miles beyond the Dnieper, with his left flank dangerously exposed, the
Supreme Commander told him that the Russians in the south were now
incapable of offering serious resistance. Rundstedt, who says that he
"laughed aloud" at such ridiculous orders, was soon to find the contrary.
Evidence of Soviet resistance in the streets of Rostov, a scene in late 1941, 
encountered by the Germans as they entered the heavily besieged city'
The German drive along the old road which Napoleon had taken to Moscow
at first rolled along with all the fury of a typhoon. In the first
fortnight of October, in what Blumentritt called "textbook battle," the
Germans encircled two Soviet Armies between Vyazma and Bryansk and
claimed to have taken 650,000 prisoners along with 5,000 guns and 1,200
tanks. By October 20 German armoured spearheads were within forty miles
of Moscow and the Soviet ministries and foreign embassies were hastily
evacuating to Kuibyshev on the Volga. Even the sober Halder, who had
fallen off his horse and broken a collarbone and was temporarily
hospitalised, now believed that with bold leadership and favourable
weather Moscow could be taken before the severe Russian winter set in.
The fall rains, however, had commenced. 'Rasputiza', the period of mud ,
set in. The Great army, moving on wheels, was slowed down and often
forced to halt. Tanks had to be withdrawn from battle to pull guns and
ammunition trucks out of the mire. Chains and couplings for this job
were lacking and bundles of rope had to be dropped by Luftwaffe
transport planes which were badly needed for lifting other military
supplies. The rains began in mid-October and, as Guderian later
remembered, "the next few weeks were dominated by mud." General
Blumentritt, chief of staff of Field Marshal von Kluge's Fourth Army,
which was in the thick of the battle for Moscow, has vividly described
the predicament.
German  infantrymen in heavy winter gear march next to horse-drawn vehicles as 
they pass through a district near Moscow, in November 1941. Winter 
conditions strained an already thin supply line, and forced Germany to 
halt its advance - leaving soldiers exposed to the elements and Soviet 
counter-attacks, resulting in heavy casualties and a serious loss of 
momentum in the war.'

'The infantryman slithers in the mud, while many teams of horses are 
needed to drag each gun forward. All wheeled vehicles sink up to their 
axles in the slime. Even tractors can only move with great difficulty. A 
large portion of our heavy artillery was soon stuck fast... The strain 
that all this caused over already exhausted troops can perhaps imagined.'
For the first time there crept into the diary of Halder and the reports 
of Guderian, Blumentrit and other Generals signs of doubt and then of 
despair. It spread to the lower officers and troops in the field, or 
perhaps it stemmed from them. "and now, when Moscow was already almost 
in sight, " Blumentritt recalled, "the mood both of commanders and 
troops began to change, Enemy resistance stiffened and the fighting 
became more bitter... Many of our companies were reduced to a mere sixty 
or seventy men." There was a shortage of serviceable artillery and 
tanks. "Winter", he says, " was about to begin, but there was no sign of 
winter clothing... Far behind the front the first partisan units were 
beginning to make their presence felt in the vast forests and swamps. 
Supply columns were frequently ambushed..."

Rapidly advancing German forces encountered serious guerilla resistance 
behind their front lines. Here, four guerrillas with fixed bayonets and 
a small machine gun are seen in action, near a small village'
Now Blumentritt remembered, the ghosts of the Grand Army, which had
taken this same road to Moscow, and the memory of Napoleon's fate began
to haunt the dreams of the German conquerors. The German generals began
to read, or reread, Caulicourt's grim account of the French conqueror's
disastrous winter in Russia in 1812. Far to the south, where the weather
was little warmer but the rain and the mud were just as bad, things were
not going well either. Kleist's tanks entered Rostov at the mouth of the
Don on November 21 amidst much fanfare from Dr. Goebels' propaganda band
that the "gateway to the Caucasus" had been opened. It did not open very
long. Both Kleist and Rundstedt realised that Rostov could not be held.
Five days later Russians retook it and the Germans, attacked on both the
northern and southern flanks, were in headlong retreat back fifty miles
to the Mius River where Kleist and Rundstedt had wished in the first
place to establish a winter line. The retreat from Rostov is another
little turning point in the history of the Third Reich. Here was the
first time that any German army had ever suffered a major setback. "our
misfortunes began with Rostov," Guderian afterwards commented, "that was
the writing on the wall." It cost Marshall Rundstedt, the senior officer
in the German Army, his command. As he was retreating to the Mius:
'Suddenly an order to me (he subsequently told Allied interrogators)
from the Führer:"Remain where you are, and retreat no further." I
immediately wired back: 'It is madness to attempt to hold. In the first
place the troops cannot do it and in the second place if they do not
retreat they will be destroyed. I repeat that this order be rescinded or
that you find someone else." That same night the Führer's reply arrived:
I am acceding to your request. Please give up your command."
"I then," said Rundstedt , "went home."
This mania for ordering distant troops to stand fast no matter what
their peril perhaps saved the German Army from complete collapse in the
shattering months ahead, though many generals dispute this, but it was
to lead to Stalingrad and other disasters and help to seal Hitler's fate.
Heavy snows and subzero temperatures came early that winter in Russia.
Guderian noted the first snow on the night of October 6-7, just as the
drive on Moscow was being resumed. It reminded him to ask headquarters
again for winter clothing, especially for heavy boots and heavy woollen
socks. On October 12 he recorded the snow still falling. On November 3
came the first cold wave, the thermometer dropping below the freezing
point and continuing to fall . By the seventh Guderian was reporting the
first "severe cases of frostbite" in his ranks and on the thirteenth
that the temperature had fallen to 8 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit, and
that the lack of winter clothing "was becoming increasingly felt." The
bitter cold affected guns and machines as well as men.

Ice was causing a lot of trouble (Guderian wrote) since the calks for
the tank tracks had no yet arrived. The cold made the telescopic sights
useless. In order to start the engines of the tanks fires had to be lit
beneath them. Fuel was freezing on occasions and the oil became
viscous... Each regiment (of the 112th Infantry Division) had already
lost some 500 men from frostbite. As a result of the cold the machine
guns were no longer able to fire and our 37-mm antitank guns had prove
ineffective against the ( Russian) T-34 tank. "The result," says
Guderian, "was a panic which reached as far back as Bogorodsk. This is
the first time that such a thing had occurred during the Russian
campaign, and it was a warning that the combat ability of our infantry
was at an end." But not only of the infantry. On November 21 Halder
scribbled in his diary that Guderian had telephoned to say that his
panzer troops "had reached their end." This tough aggressive tank
commander admits that on this very day he decided to visit the commander
of Army Group Centre, Bock, and request that the orders he had received
be changed , since he "could see no way of carrying them out." He was in
a deep mood of depression, writing on the same day:
"The icy cold, the lack of shelter, the shortage of clothing, the heavy
losses of men and equipment, the wretched state of our fuel supplies,
all this makes the duties of a commander a misery, and the longer it
goes on the more I am crushed by the enormous responsibility I have to
In retrospect Guderian added: "only he saw the endless expanse of
Russian snow during this winter of our misery and felt the icy wind that
blew across it, burying in snow every object in its path, who drove for
hour after hour through that no-man's land and who saw by contrast the
well-fed, warmly clad Siberians, fully equipped for winter fighting...
can truly judge the events which now occurred."

Wehrmacht soldiers pulling a car from the mud during the rasputitsa period, 
November 1941'
Terrible as the Russian winter was and granted that the Soviet troops
were naturally better papered for tit than the German, the main fighting
of the Red Army troops and their indomitable will not to give up. The
diary of Halder and the reports of the field commanders, which
constantly express amazement at the extent and severity of Russian
attacks and counter-attacks and despair at the German setbacks and
losses, are proof of that. The German generals could not understand why
the Russians, considering the nature of their tyrannical regime and the
disastrous effects of the first German blows, did no collapse, as had he
French and so many others with less excuse. "With amazement and
disappointment," Blumentritt wrote, "we discovered in late October early
November that the beaten Russians seemed quite unaware that as a
military force they had almost ceased to exist."
Yet, as November approached its end amidst fresh blizzards and continued
sub-zero temperatures, Moscow seemed within the grasp to Hitler and most
of hi generals. North, south and west of the capital German armies had
reached points within twenty to thirty miles of heir goal. To Hitler
poring over the map at his headquarters off in East Prussia the last
stretch seemed o distance at all. His armies had advanced five hundred
miles, they had only twenty to thirty miles to go. "one final heave," he
told Jodl in mid-November, " and we will triumph." On the telephone to
Halder on November 22, Field Marshall von Bock, directing Army Group
Centre in its final push for Moscow, compared the situation to the
battle of the Marne, "where the last battalion thrown in decided the
battle." Despite increased enemy resistance Bock told the General Staff
Chief he believed "everything was attainable." By the last day of
November he was literally throwing in his last battalion. The final
all-out attack on the heart of the Soviet Union was set for the next
day, December 1, 1941.
Winter in Russia, 1941'
It stumbled on the steely resistance. The greatest tank force
concentrated on one front: General Höpner's Fourth Tank Group and
General Herman Hoth's Third Tank Group north of Moscow and driving
south, Guderian's Second Panzer Army just south of the capital and
pushing north from Tula, Kluge's great Fourth Army in the middle and
fighting its way due east through the forests that surrounded the city,
on this formidable array were pinned Hitler's high hopes. By December 2
a reconnaissance battalion of the 258th Infantry Division had penetrated
to Khimki, a suburb of Moscow, within sight of the spires of the
Kremlin, but was driven out the next morning by a few Russian tanks and
a motley force of hastily mobilized workers from the city factories.
This was the nearest the German troops ever got to Moscow, it was their
first and last glimpse of the Kremlin.
Already on the evening of December 1, Bock, who was now suffering severe
stomach cramps, had telephoned Halder to say that he could no longer
"operate" with weakened troops. The General Staff Chief had tried to
cheer him on. "one must try," he said, "to bring the enemy down by a
last expenditure of force. If that proves impossible then we will have
to draw new conclusions." The next day Halder jotted in his diary:"enemy
resistance has reached its peak." On the following day, December 3. Bock
was again on the phone to the Chief of General Staff, who noted his
message in his diary:
'Spearheads of the Fourth Army again pulled back because the flanks
could not come forward...The moment must be faced when the strength of
our troops is at an end."
When Bock spoke for the first time of going over to the defensive Halder
tried to remind him that "the best defence was to stick to the attack."
It was easier said than done, in view of the Russians and the weather.
The next day, December 4, Guderian, who's Second Panzer Army had been
halted in its attempt to take Moscow from the south, reported the
thermometer had fallen to 31 degrees below zero.The next day it dropped
another five degrees. His tanks, he said, were "almost immobilized" and
he was threatened on his flanks and in the rear north of Tula. December
5 was a critical day. Everywhere along the 200-mile semi-circular front
around Moscow the Germans had been stopped. By the evening Guderian was
notifying Bock that he was not only stopped but must pull back, and Bock
was telephoning Halder that "his strength was at an end,"he was quitting
as Commander of the Army. It was a dark and bitter day for the German
Soviet troops fighting near Moscow, Russia, 21 Sept 1941'
'This was the first time (Guderian later wrote) that I had to take a
decision of this sort, and none was more difficult... Our attack on
Moscow had broken down. All sacrifices and endurance of our troops had
been in vain. We had a grievous defeat.'
At KLuge's Fourth Army headquarters, Blumentritt, the chief of staff
realized that the turning point had been reached. Recalling it later, he
wrote:"Our hopes of knocking Russia out of the war in 1941 had been
dashed at the very last minute." The next day, December 6, General
Georgi Zhukov, who had replaced marshal Timoshenko as commander of the
central front but six weeks before, struck. On the 200-mile front before
Moscow he unleashed seven armies and two cavalry corps, 100 division in
all, consisting of troops that were either fresh or battle-tried and
were equipped and trained to fight in bitter cold and deep snow. The
blow which this relatively unknown general now delivered with such
formidable force of infantry, artillery, tanks, cavalry and planes,
which Hitler had not faintly suspected existed, was so sudden and so
shattering that the German Army and the Third Reich never fully
recovered from it. For a few weeks during the rest of that cold and
bitter December and on into January it seemed that the beaten and
retreating German armies, their front continually pierced by Soviet
breakthroughs, might disintegrate and perish in the Russian snows, as
had Napoleon's Grand Army just 130 years before. At several crucial
moments it came very close to that. Perhaps it was Hitler's granite will
and determination and certainly it was the fortitude of the German
soldier that saved the armies of the Third Reich from complete debacle.
But the failure was great. The Red Army had been crippled but not
destroyed. Moscow had not been taken, nor Leningrad nor Stalingrad nor
the oil fields of the Caucasus, and the lifelines to Britain and
America, to the north and to the south, remained open. For the first
time in more than two years of unbroken military victories the armies of
Hitler were retreating before a superior force. That was not all. The
failure was greater than that. Halder realized this, at least later.
"The myth of the invincibility of the German Army,"he wrote, "was
broken." There would be more German victories in Russia when another
summer came around, but they would never restore the myth. December 6,
1941, then, is another turning point in the short history of the Third
Reich and one of the most fateful ones. Hitler's power had reached its
zenith, from now on it was to decline, sapped by the growing
counter-blows of the nation against which he had chosen to make
aggressive war.

Marshal Georgy Zhukov, along with Colonel-General Nikolay Voronov and 
Marshall Kliment Voroshilov, inspecting a captured Tiger I heavy tank'
A drastic shake-up in the German High Command and among the field
commanders now took place. As the armies fell back over the icy roads
and snowy fields before the Soviet Union counter-offensive, the heads of
the German generals began to roll. Rundstedt, as we have already seen,
was relieved of his command of the southern armies because he had been
forced to retreat from Rostov. Field Marshall von Bock's stomach pains
became worse with the setbacks in December and he was replaced on
December 18 by Field Marshal von Kluge, whose battered Fourth Army was
being pushed back, forever, from the vicinity of Moscow. Even the
dashing General Guderian, the originator of massive armoured warfare
which had so revolutionized modern battle, was cashiered, on Christmas
Day, for ordering retreat without permission from above. General Höpner,
an equally brilliant tank commander, whose Fourth Armoured Group had
come within sight of Moscow on the north and then been pushed back, was
abruptly dismissed by Hitler on the same grounds, stripped of his rank
and forbidden to wear a uniform. General Hans Count von Sponeck, who had
received the Ritterkreuz for leading the airborne landings at The Hague
the year before, received a severer chastisement for pulling back one
division of his corps in the Crimea on December 29 after Russian troops
had landed by sea behind him. He was not only summarily stripped of his
rank but imprisoned, court-martialed and, at the insistence of Hitler,
sentenced to death.[He was not executed until after the July 1944 plot
against Hitler, in which he was in no way involved, sic]
Even the obsequious Keitel was in trouble with the Supreme Commander.
Even he had enough sense to see during the first days of December that a
general withdrawal around Moscow was necessary in order to avert
disaster. But when he got up enough courage to say so to Hitler the
latter turned on him and gave him a tongue-lashing, shouting that he was
a "blockhead." Jodl found the unhappy OKW Chief a little later sitting
at a desk writing out his resignation, a revolver at one side. Jodl
quietly removed the weapon and persuaded Keitel, apparently without to
much difficulty, to stay on and to continue, to swallow the führer's
insults, which he did, with amazing endurance, to the very end.

Hans Count von Sponeck, leaving a briefing .[On 20 July 1944, Sponeck 
heard on his radio of the bomb attempt on Hitler's life. Heinrich 
Himmler was given the position of Reichs Security Official and Sponeck 
was one of the first on his list as a suspected anti-Nazi. Himmler gave 
the order for Hans Graf von Sponeck to be executed by firing squad. This 
was carried out at 7:13 am on 23 July 1944 in Germersheim, Germany. 
Sponeck was allowed Holy Communion before his execution. In a letter to 
his wife he wrote "I die with firm faith in my Redeemer". Pleading the 
innocence of his actions in the Kerch peninsula, he went to the firing 
squad boldly, as witnessed by the priest present, and requested not to 
be bound or to be blindfolded. Facing the firing squad his last words 
were "For forty years I have served Germany, which I have loved with my 
entire heart, as a soldier and an officer. If I must let myself die 
today, I die in the hope of a better Germany!" Sponeck was buried in 
Germersheim and while no citations or speeches were permitted at his 
grave, they did allow the Lord's Prayer to be said. After the war, 
Sponeck's mortal remains were exhumed and his last resting place was the 
Soldiers' Cemetery at Dahn in the Palatinate forest. On 23 July 1999, 
the 55th anniversary of the execution, Sponeck's son by his second 
marriage, Hans-Christof Graf Sponeck, who was just six years old when 
his father was executed, held a requiem at his father's grave. 
Hans-Christof Graf Sponeck served as Assistant Secretary General and 
Diplomat, United Nations, until his retirement a short time ago.sic]
The strain of leading an army which could not always win under a Supreme
Commander who insisted that it always do had brought about renewed heart
attacks for Fieldmarshal von Brauchitsch, and by the time Zhukov's
counter-offensive began he was determined to step down as Commander in
Chief. He returned to headquarters from a trip to the receding front on
December 15 and Halder found him "very beaten down". Brauchitsch no
longer sees any way out," Halder noted in his diary, " for the rescue of
the Army from its desperate position." The head of he Army was at the
end of his rope. He had asked Hitler on December 7 to relieve him and he
renewed the request on December 17. It was formally granted two days
later. What the Führer really thought of the man he himself had named to
head the Army he told to Goebels three months later: 'The Führer spoke
of him (Brauchitsch) only in contempt. (Goebels wrote in his diary on
March 20, 1942). a vain, cowardly wretch... and a nincompoop.
To his cronies Hitler said of Brauchitsch, "He's no soldier, he is a man
of straw. If Brauchitsch had remained at his post only for another few
weeks, things would have ended in catastrophe. There was some
speculation in the Army circles as to who would succeed Brauchitsch, but
it was wide of the mark as the speculation years before as to who would
succeed Hindenburg. On December 19 Hitler called Halder and informed him
that he himself was taking over as Commander in Chief of the Army.
Halder could stay on as Chief of the General Staff if he wanted to, and
he wanted to. But from now on, Hitler made it clear, he was personally
running the Army, as he ran almost everything else in Germany.

Walther von Brauchitsch' Heinrich Alfred Hermann Walther von 
Brauchitsch was a German field marshal and the Oberbefehlshaber des 
Heeres (Commander of the Heer (Army)) in the early years of World War 
II. When Germany turned east and invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the 
Army's failure to take Moscow earned Hitler's enmity. Things went 
further downhill for Brauchitsch as he endured a serious heart attack, 
and Hitler relieved him on 10 December. He was transferred to the 
Officers Reserve (Führerreserve) where he remained without assignment 
until the end of the war. Brauchitsch spent the last three war years in 
the Tři Trubky hunting lodge in the Brdy mountains southwest of Prague. 
One of the few public comments he made after his retirement was a 
statement condemning the attempt on Hitler's life.
After the war, Brauchitsch was arrested and charged with war crimes, but 
died in Hamburg in 1948 before he could be prosecuted.
Hitler's triumph over the Prussian officer corps was thus completed. The
former Vienna vagabond and ex-corporal was now head of state, Minister
of war, supreme Commander of the Armed forces and Commander in Chief of
the Army. The generals, as Halder complained, in his diary, were now
merely postmen purveying Hitler's orders based on Hitler's singular
conception of strategy. Actually the megalomaniac dictator soon would
make himself something even greater, legalizing a power never before
held by any man, emperor, king or president, in the experience of the
German Reich. On April 26, 1942, he had his rubber-stamp Reichstag pass
a law which gave him absolute power of life and death over every German
and simply suspended any laws which might stand in the way of this. The
words of the law have to be read to be believed:
... In the present war, in which the German people are faced with a
struggle for their existence or their annihilation, the Führer must have
all he rights postulated by him which serve to further or achieve
victory. Therefore, without being bound by existing legal regulations,
in his capacity as Leader of the Nation, Supreme Commander of the Armed
Forces , Head of Government and supreme executive chief, as Supreme
Justice and Leader of the Party, the Führer must be in a position to
force with all means at his disposal every German, if necessary, whether
he is a conman soldier or officer, low or high official or judge,
leading or subordinate official of the party, worker or employer, to
fulfil his duties. In case of violation of these duties , the Führer is
entitled after conscientious examination, regardless of so-called
well-deserved rights, to mete out due punishment and to remove the
offender from hid post, rank and position without introducing prescribed
Truly Adolf Hitler had become not only the Leader of Germany but the
Law. Not even in medieval times nor further back in barbarous tribal
days had any German arrogated such tyrannical power, nominal and legal
as well as actual, to himself. But even without this added authority,
Hitler was absolute master of the Army, of which he had now assumed
direct command.. Ruthlessly he moved that bitter winter to stem the
retreat of his beaten armies and to save them from the fate of
Napoleon's troops along the same frozen snow-bound roads back from
Moscow. He forbade any further withdrawals. The German generals have
long debated the merits of his stubborn stand, whether it saved the
troops from complete disaster or whether it compounded the inevitable
heavy losses. Most of the commanders have contended that if they had
been given freedom to pull back when their position became untenable
they could have saved many men and much equipment and been in a better
position to re-form and even counter-attack. As it was, whole divisions
were frequently overrun or surrounded and cut to pieces when a timely
withdrawal would have saved them. And yet some of the generals later
reluctantly admitted that Hitler's iron will in insisting that the
armies stand and fight was his greatest accomplishment of the war in
that it probably did save his armies from completely disintegrating in
the snow. This view is best summed up by General Blumentritt:
' Hitler's fanatical order that the troops must hold fast regardless in
every position and in the most impossible circumstances was undoubtedly
correct. Hitler realized instinctively that any retreat across the snow
and icemust, within few days, lead to the dissolution of the front and
that if this happened the Wehrmacht would suffer the same fate that had
befallen the Grande Armee... The withdrawal could only be carried out
across the open country since roads and tracks were blocked with snow.
After a few nights this would prove too much for the troops, who would
simply lie down and die wherever they found themselves. There were no
prepared positions in the rear into which they could be withdrawn, nor
any sort of line to which they could hold on.'
General von Tippelskirch, a corps commander agreed: 'It was Hitler's one
great achievement. At that critical moment the troops were remembering
what they had heard about Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, and living
under the shadow of it. If they had once begun a retreat, it might have
turned into a panic flight'. [During my own short period from the Rhein
to the border of Czechoslovakia, the whispered comment each morning or
night was: "Vorwärts Kameraden, es geht zurück!' (Forward comrades, it
goes back) sic]
There was panic in the German Army, not only at the front but far in he
rear at headquarters, and it is graphically recorded in Halder's diary.
"Very difficult day!" he begins his journal on Christmas Day 1941, and
thereafter into the new year he repeats the words at the head of many a
day's entry as he describes each fresh Russian breakthrough and the
serious situation of the various armies.
'January 3.:" The situation has become more critical as the result of
the breakthrough between Maloyarsolavets and Borovsk. Kübler and Bock
very exited and demand withdrawal on the north front, which is
crumbling. Again a dramatic scene by the Führer, who doubts the courage
of generals to make hard decisions. But troops simply don't hold their
ground when it's 30 below zero. Führer orders: He will personally decide
if any more withdrawals necessary..."

Soviet troops fighting in snowy terrain near Moscow, Russia, late 1941'

Not the Führer but the Russian Army was by now deciding such matters.
Hitler could force the German troops to stand fast and die, but he could
no more stop the Soviet advance than King Canute could prevent the tides
from coming in. At one moment of panic some of the High Command officers
suggested that perhaps the situation could be retrieved by the
employment of gas. "Colonel Ochsner tries to to talk me into beginning
gas warfare against the Russians," Halder noted in his diary on January
7. Perhaps it was too cold. At any rate nothing came of the suggestion.
January 8 was "very critical day noted Halder in his journal. The
breakthrough at Sukhinichi (south-west of Moscow) is becoming unbearable
for KLuge. He is consequently insisting on withdrawing the 4th Army
front." all day long the Field Marshall was on the phone to Hitler and
Halder insisting on it. Finally, in the evining the Führer reluctantly
consented. Kluge was given permission to withdraw, "step by step in
order to protect his communications," Step by step and sometimes more
rapidly throughout that grim winter the German armies, which had planned
to celebrate Christmas in Moscow, were driven back or forced by Russian
encirclements and breakthroughs to retreat. By the end of February they
found themselves from 75 to 200 miles from the Russian capital. By the
end of that freezing month Halder was noting in his diary the cost in
men of the misfired Russian adventure. Total losses up to February 28,
he wrote down were 1,005,636, or 31 per cent of his entire force. Of
these 202,251 had been killed, 725,642 wounded and 46,511 were missing.
Casualties from frostbites were 112,627. This did not include the heavy
losses among Hungarians, Romanians and Italians in Russia.

German soldiers treating a wounded comrade, near Moscow, Russia, Nov-Dec 1941
With the coming of the spring thaws a lull came over the long front and
Hitler and Halder began making plans for bringing up fresh troops and
more tanks and guns to resume the offensive, at least on part of the
front. Never again would they have the strength to attack all along the
vast battle line. The bitter winter toll and above all Zhukov's
counter-offensive doomed that hope. But Hitler we now know, had realized
before, that his gamble of conquering Russia, not only in six months but
ever, had failed. In a diary entry of November 19, 1941, General Halder
notes a long "lecture" of the Führer to several officers of the High
Command. Though his armies are only few miles from Moscow and still
driving hard to capture it, Hitler has abandoned hopes of striking
Russia down this year and has already turned his thoughts to next year.
Halder jotted down the Leader's ideas.
'Goals for next year. First of all the Caucasus. Objective: Russia's
southern borders. Time: March to April. In the north after the close of
this year's campaign, Vologda or Gorki, but only at the end of May.
Further goals for next year must remain open. They will depend on the
capacity of our rail-roads. The question of later building an "East
Wall" also remains open.'
No East Wall would be necessary if the Soviet Union were to be
destroyed. Halder seems to have mulled over that as he listened to the
Supreme Commander go on. 'On the whole (he concluded) one gets the
impression that Hitler recognizes now that neither side can destroy the
other and this will lead to peace negotiations.
'The winter of 1939-1940 in Finland was exceptionally cold. In January, 
temperatures dropped below -40° in some places. Frostbite was a constant 
threat, and the corpses of soldiers killed in battle froze solid, often 
in eerie poses. This January 31, 1940 photo shows a frozen dead Russian 
soldier, his face, hands and clothing covered with a dusting of snow. 
After 105 days, the Finns and Russians signed a peace treaty, allowing 
Finland to retain sovereignty, while it ceded 11 percent of its 
territory to the Soviets.'
This must have been a rude awakening for the Nazi conqueror who six
weeks before in Berlin had made a broadcast declaring "without any
reservation" that Russia had been "struck down and would never rise
again." His plans had been wrecked, his hopes doomed. They were to be
beaten back from the suburbs of Moscow. The next day, Sunday, December
7, 1941, an event occurred on the other side of the round earth that
transformed the European war, which he had si lightly provoked, into a
world war, which, though he could not know it, would seal his fate and
that of the Third Reich. Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbour. The
next day Hitler hurried back by train to Berlin from his headquarters at
Wolfsschanze, He had made a solemn secret promise to Japan and the time
had come to keep it, or break it.
View YouTube:
Continued under Part 3

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