Tuesday, May 21, 2013



There is a curios notation in Halder's diary for the first day of the attack on Russia. After mentioning that at noon the Russian radio stations, which the the Germans were monitoring, had come back on the air, he writes: "They have asked Japan to mediate the political and economic differences between Russia and Germany, and remain in serious contact with the German Foreign Office". Did Stalin believe, nine hours after the attack, that he somehow might it called off?.
By the beginning of autumn 1941,  Hitler believed that Russia was finished. Within three weeks of the opening of the campaign, Field Marshal von Bock's Army Group Centre, with thirty infantry divisions and fifteen panzer or motorized divisions, had pushed 450 miles from Bialistock to Smolensk. Moscow lay about 200 miles further east along the high road which Napoleon had taken 1812. To the north Field Marshal von Lebb's army group, twenty-one infantry and six armoured division strong, was moving rapidly up through the Baltic States toward Leningrad. To the south Field Marshal von Rundstedt's army group of twenty-five infantry, four motorised, four mountain and five panzer divisions was advancing toward the Dnieper River and Kiew, the capital of the fertile Ukraine, which Hitler coveted.
So planmäßig (according to plan), as the OKW puts it, was the German progress along a thousand mile front from the Baltic to the Black Sea, and so confident was the Nazi dictator that it would continue at an accelerated pace as one Soviet army after another was surrounded or dispersed, that on July 14, a bare three weeks after the invasion had begun, he issued a directive advising that the strength of the Army could be 'considerably reduced in the near future' and that armament production would be concentrated on naval ships and Luftwaffe planes, especially the latter, for the conduct of the war against the last remaining enemy, Britain, and, he added, 'against America should the case  arise'. BY the end of September he instructed the high Command to prepare to disband forty divisions so that this additional manpower could be utilized by industry.
 Ruins of Minsk - July 1941 'The Soviet troops trapped in the gigantic pockets continued fighting, and concluding operations resulted in high German casualties. Many Soviet troops escaped due to the lack of German infantry troops' motor transport that slowed the encirclement process.The Polish institute of National remembrance claims that withdrawing Soviet troops committed regular crimes against the inhabitants of Białystok and its areas, including cases of whole families being executed by firing squads.On conclusion, 290,000 Soviet soldiers were captured, and 1,500 guns along with 2,500 tanks were destroyed, but 250,000 Soviet troops managed to escape (most of the prisoners would be dead within a few months because of inhumane conditions at the POW enclosures).
The quick advance East created the possibility for the Wehrmacht to advance rapidly towards the land bridge of Smolensk, from which an attack on Moscow could be planned. It also created the impression in the OKW that the war against the Soviet Union was already won, within days of its start.

Russia's two greatest cities, Leningrad, which Peter the Great had built as the capital on the Baltic and Moscow, the ancient and now Bolshevik capital, seemed to Hitler about to fall. On September 18 he issued strict orders: 'A capitulation of Leningrad or Moscow is not to be accepted, even when offered'. What was to happen to them he made clear to his commanders in a directive of September 29:
"the Führer has decided to have St. Petersburg (Leningrad) wiped off the face of the earth. The further existence of this large city is of no interest once Soviet Russia is overthrown...The intention is to close in on the city and raze it to the ground by artillery and continuous attack...Requests that the city be taken over will be turned down, for the problem of the survival of the population and of supplying it with food is one which cannot and should not be solved by us. In this war for existence we have no interest in keeping even part of this great city population. [A few weeks later Göring told Ciano. 'This year between twenty and thirty million persons will die of hunger in Russia. But even if it were not, nothing can be done, certain nations must be decimated.  It is obvious that humanity is condemned to die of hunger, the last to die will be our two peoples...In the camps for Russian prisoners they have begun to eat each other".(Ciano's Diplomatic Papers pp 464-65), sic]
This photo, taken in the winter months of 1942, shows citizens of Leningrad as they dip for water from a broken main, during the nearly 900-day siege of the Russian city by German invaders. Unable to capture the Leningrad (today known as Saint Petersburg), the Germans cut it off from the world, disrupting utilities and shelling the city heavily for more than two years.
That same week, on October 3, Hitler returned to Berlin and in an address to the German people proclaimed the collapse of the Soviet Union. 'I declare today, and I declare it without any reservation'. he said, ' that the enemy in the East has been struck down and will never rise again...Behind our troops there already lies a territory twice the size of the German Reich when I came to power in 1933'. When on October 8, Orel, a key city south of Moscow fell, Hitler sent his press chief, Otto Dietrich, flying back to Berlin, to tell the correspondents of the world's leading newspapers there the next day that the last intact Soviet armies, those of Marshal Timoshenko, defending Moscow, were locked in two steel German pockets before the capital, that the southern army of Marshal Budenmy were routed and dispersed, and that sixty to seventy divisions of Marshal Voroshilov's army were surrounded in Leningrad.  For all military purposes', Dietrich concluded smugly, 'Soviet Russia is done with. The British dream of a two-front war was dead'. These public boasts of Hitler and Dietrich were, to say the least, premature. In reality the Russians, despite the surprise with which they were taken on June 22, their subsequent heavy losses in men and equipment, their rapid withdrawal and the entrapment of some of their best armies, had begun in July to put up a mounting resistance such as the Wehrmacht had never encountered before. Halder' diary and the reports of such front line commanders as General Guderian, who led a large panzer group on he central front, began to be peppered, and then laden, with accounts of server fighting, desperate Russian stands and counter-attacks and heavy casualties to German as well as Soviet troops.
December 1941. Soviet troops in winter gear, supported by tanks, counter-attack German forces.
'The conduct of the Russian troops', General Blumentritt wrote later, 'even in the first battle (for MInsk) was in striking contrast to the behaviour of the Poles and the Western Allies in defeat. Even when encircled the Russians stood their ground and fought'. And there proved to be more of them, and with better equipment, than Adolf Hitler had dreamed was possible. Fresh Soviet divisions which the German intelligence had no inkling of were continually being thrown into battle.  'It's becoming ever clearer', Halder wrote in his diary on August 11, that we underestimated the strength of the Russian colossus not only in the economic and transportation sphere but above all in the military. At the beginning we reckoned with some 200 enemy divisions and we have already identified 360. When a dozen of them are destroyed the Russians throw in another dozen. On this broad expanse our front is too thin. It has no depth. As a result , the repeated enemy attacks often met with some success'. Rundstedt put it bluntly to Allied interrogators after the war. 'I realized', he said, 'soon after the attack began that everything that had been written about Russia was nonsense'.
Seveal generals, Guderian, Blumentritt and Sepp Dietrich among them, have left reports expressing astonishment at their first encounter with the Russian T-34 tank, of which they had not previously heard and which was so heavily armoured that the shells from German anti-tank guns bounced harmlessly off it. The appearance of this panzer, Blumentritt said later, marked the beginning of what came to be called the 'tank terror'. Also for the first time in the war, the Germans did not have the benefit of overwhelming superiority in he air to protect their ground troops and scout ahead. Despite the heavy losses on the ground in the first day of the campaign and in early combat, Soviet fighter planes kept appearing, like he fresh divisions, out of nowhere. Moreover, the swiftness of the German advance and the lack of suitable airfields in Russia left the German fighter base too far back to provide effective cover at the front. "At several stages in the advance", General von Kleist later reported, "my panzer forces were handicapped through lack of cover overhead". There was another German miscalculation about the Russians which Kleist mentioned to Liddell Hart which, of course, was shared by most of the other peoples of the West that summer: "Hopes of victory", Kleist said, "were largely built on the prospect that the invasion would produce a political upheaval in Russia... Too high hopes were built on the belief that Stalin would be overthrown by his own people if he suffered heavy defeats. The belief was fostered by the Führer's political advisers.
Indeed Hitler told Jodl. "We have only to kick in  the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down".
T-34 Russian Tank'. The USSR was able to produce T-34s in a seemingly endless stream. Between 1940 and 1945 some 40,000 T-34 tanks were manufactured.
The opportunity to kick in the door seemed to the Führer to be at hand halfway through July when there occurred the first great controversy over strategy in the German High Command and led to a decision by the Führer, over the protests of most of the top generals, which Halder thought proved to be " the greatest strategic blunder of the Eastern campaign". The issue was simple but fundamental. Should Beck's Army Group Center, the most powerful and so far the most successful of the three main German Armies, push on the two hundred miles to Moscow from Smolensk, which it ha reached on July 16? Or should the original plan, which Hitler laid down in December 18 directive, and which called for the main thrust on the north and south flanks, be adhered to? In other words, was Moscow the prize goal, or Leningrad and the Ukraine? The Army High Command, led by Brauchitsch and Halder and supported by Bock, whose central Army group was moving up the main highway to Moscow, and by Guderian, whose panzer forces were leading it, insisted on an all-out drive for the Soviet capital. There was much more to their argument that merely stressing the psychological value of capturing the enemy capital. Moscow they pointed out to Hitler, was a vital source of armament production and communication system. Take it, and the Soviets would not only be deprived of an essential source of arms but would be unable to move troops and supplies to the distant fronts, which thereafter would weaken, wither and collapse.
But there was a final conclusive argument which the Generals advanced to the former corporal who was now their Supreme Commander. All their intelligence reports showed that the main Russian forces were now being concentrated before Moscow for an all-out defence of the capital. Just east of Smolensk a Soviet army of half a million men, which had extricated itself from Bock's double envelopment, was digging in to bar further German progress toward the capital.
German sources described the gloomy looking officer at the right as a captured Russian colonel who is being interrogated by Nazi officers on October 24, 1941'
The centre of gravity of Russian strength (Halder wrote in a report prepared for the Allies immediately after the war) was therefore in front of Army Group Centre... The General Staff had been brought up with the idea that it must be the aim of an operation to defeat the military power of the enemy, and it therefore considered the next and most pressing task to be to defeat the forces of Timoshenko by concentrating all available forces at Army Group Centre, to advance on Moscow, to take this nerve centre of enemy resistance and to destroy the new enemy formations. The assembly for this attack had to be carried out as soon as possible because the season was advanced. Army Group North was in the meantime to fulfil its original mission and try to contact the Finns. Army Group South was to advance farther East to tie down the strongest possible enemy force.... After oral  discussion the General Staff of the Supreme Command (OKW) had failed, the Commander in Chief of the Army (Brauchitsch) submitted a memorandum of the General Staff to Hitler. This was done on August 18. "The effect", says Halder. "was explosive". Hitler had is hungry eyes on the food belt and industrial areas of the Ukraine and on the Russian oil fields just beyond the Caucasus. Besides he thought he saw the golden opportunity to entrap Budenmy's armies east of the Dnieper beyond Kiew, which still held out. He also wanted to capture Leningrad and join up with the Finns in the north. To accomplish these twin aims, several infantry, and several infantry and panzer divisions from Army Group Centre would have to be detached and seer north and especially south. Moscow could wait. On August 21, Hitler hurled a new directive at his rebellious General Staff. Halder copied it out word for word in his diary the next day.
'The proposals of the Army for the continuation of the operation in the East do not accord with my intentions. The most important objective to attain before the onset of winter is not the capture of Moscow but taking the Crimea, the industrial and coal-mining areas of the Donets basin and cutting off of Russian oil supplies from the Caucasus. In he north it is the locking up of Leningrad and the union with the Finns'.
Adolf Hitler, centre, studies a Russian war map with General Field Marshal Walter Von Brauchitsch, left, German commander in chief, and Chief of Staff Col. General Franz Halder, on August 7, 1941'
The Soviet Fifth Army on the Dnieper in the south, whose stubborn resistance had annoyed Hitler for several days, must, he laid down, be utterly destroyed, the Ukraine and Crimea occupied, Leningrad surrounded and a junction with the Finns achieved. "only then", he concluded, "will the conditions created whereby Timoshenko's Army can be attacked and successfully defeated". Thus (commented Halder bitterly) the aim of defeating decisively the Russian armies in front of Moscow was subordinated to the desire to obtain a valuable industrial area and to advance in the direction of Russian oil... Hitler now became obsessed with the idea of capturing both Leningrad and Stalingrad, for he persuaded himself that these two 'holy cities of Communism' were to fall, Russia would collapse. To add insult to injury to the field marshals and the generals who did not appreciate his strategic genius, Hitler sent what Halder called a "counter-memorandum" (To that of the Army of the eighteenth), which the General Staff Chief as "full of insults', such as stating that the Army High Command was full of "minds fossilized in out-of-date theories".
"Unbearable! Unheard of! The limit!' Halder snorted in his diary the next day. He conferred all afternoon ans evining with Field Marshall von Brauchitsch about the Führer's "inadmissible" mixing into the business of the Army High Command and General Staff, finally proposing that the head of the Army and he himself resign their posts.  "Brauchitsch refused", Halder noted, "because it wouldn't be practical and change nothing". The gutless Field Marshall had already, as  on so many other occasions, capitulated to the one-time corporal. When General Guderian arrived at the Führer's headquarters the next day, August 23, and was egged on by Halder to try to talk Hitler out of this disastrous decision, though the hard bitten panzer leader needed no urging, he was met by Brauchitsch. "I forbid you", the Army Commander in Chief said, "to mention the question of Moscow to the Führer. The operation south has been ordered. The problem now simply how it is carried out. Discussion is pointless".
Hitler let me speak to the end (Guderian later wrote). He then described in detail the considerations which had led him to make a different decision. He said that the raw materials and agriculture of the Ukraine were vitally necessary for the future prosecution of the war. He spoke of the need of neutralizing the Crimea, "the Soviet aircraft carrier for attacking the Rumanian oil fields". For the first time I heard him use the phrase: "My generals know nothing about the economic aspects of war"...He had given strict orders that the attack on Kiew was to be the immediate strategic objective and all actions were to be carried out with that in mind. I here saw for the first time a spectacle with which I was later to become very familiar: all those present, Keitel, Jodl and others, nodded in agreement with every sentence that Hitler uttered, while I was left alone with my point of view....
With a burning bridge across the Dnieper river in the background, a German sentry keeps watch in the recently-captured city of Kiev, in 1941
But Halder at no point in the previous discussions nodded his agreement. When Guderian saw him the next day and reported his failure to get Hitler to change hiss mind, he says the General Staff Chief "to my amazement suffered a complete nervous collapse, which led him to make accusations and imputations which wee utterly unjustified". [Halder, in his diary of August 24, gives quite a different version. He accuses Guderian of "irresponsibly" changing his mind after seeing Hitler and muses how useless it is to try to change a man's character. If he suffered, as Guderian alleged, " a complete nervous breakdown,' his pedantic notes indicate that he quickly recovered.sic]

German mechanized troops rest at Stariza, Russia on November 21, 1941, only just evacuated by the Russians, before continuing the fight for Kiev. The gutted buildings in the background testify to the thoroughness of the Russians "scorched earth" policy.
This was the most severe crisis in the German Military Command since the beginning of the war. Worse were to follow, with adversity. In itself Rundstedt's offensive in the south, made possible by the reinforcement of Guderian's panzer forces and infantry divisions withdrawn from the central front, was, as Guderian put it, a great tactical victory. Kiev itself fell on September 19, German units had already penetrated 150 miles beyond it, and on the twenty-sixth the battle of Kiev ended with the encirclement and surrender of 665,000 Russian prisoners, according to German claims. To Hitler it was "the greatest battle in the history of the world", but though it was a singular achievement some of his Generals were sceptical of its strategic significance. Bock's armour-less army group in the centre had been forced to cool its heels for two months along the Desna River just beyond Smolensk. The autumn rains, which would turn the Russian roads into quagmires, were drawing near. And after them, the winter, the cold and the snow.

     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIqINNdqvCU&feature=em-subs_digest-vrecs                                                                                                           Continued under Part 2

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