Why didn't the imperial fleet bomb Hoth?
Table of Contents
1939-41: Germany before the outbreak of war
- The raid - "Operation Barbarossa"
- The Kremlin in sight
1942-43: Stalingrad - the turning point
- Soviet and German infantry types
- We are still moving forward ...
1943-45: Operation Citadel
- Wehrmacht weapons
- The red tide to the west
- Germany surrendered
1939-45: epilogue \ review
Preface: In this work I tried to describe part of one of the darkest chapters of humanity, especially Germany. Here I tried to describe the eastern campaign of the Wehrmacht as soberly as possible from the perspective of the Germans and to give a brief overview of the brutality with which this war was fought on both sides and how far the consequences of this devastating war went.
1939-41: Germany before the outbreak of war:
After Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, within six years he led Germany out of the predicament it had been in since 1918. At least that is what the majority of the German population believed. Due to the defeat in World War I and the Versailles Shameful Treaty, which was unbearable for many citizens and which trimmed the power of the German Reich, right-wing and conservative forces had an easy time first turning the masses against the Weimar Republic and later using them for themselves. With the emergence of the stabbing legend, it was easy for the nationalists to eliminate their main opponents, democrats and communists. The global economic crisis that began in 1929 suddenly left thousands unemployed and poor. This was a welcome situation for nationalists and leftists to act against the Weimar Republic. The forces on the left were quickly eliminated. After an Austrian private from World War I took over the leadership of the Bavarian NSDAP and after a failed coup attempt finally took power in Germany through elections in 1933, no one suspected what a terrible catastrophe was developing.
With his rhetoric and his anti-Semitic opinion, Adolf Hitler was very well received by the people. Of course, Hitler eliminated unemployment, but the fact that many worked in the arms industry bothered very few. He also enlarged Germany and incorporated the areas annexed by the Allies such as the Saarland into the newly emerging, now “third”, German Empire. By skillful diplomatic means he enlarged the armed forces and created one of the most modern armies in the world. With hollow phrases and rhetorically skillful speeches he made the people submissive and gave them back their national feeling. Under the motto “Home in the Reich”, for example, he incorporated Bohemia and Austria into the German Empire. The Allied appeasement policy was very helpful to him. At the same time, the persecution of the Jews began in the “Third” Reich - these are supposedly to blame for Germany's situation after the First World War. Jews were disreputed by the people anyway and a welcome reason for Hitler to present a scapegoat and now, without justification, to vent his deep hatred against them and the Slavs. He had all Jews and Slavs, as well as the disabled, whom he dubbed “sub-humans”, persecuted, locked up and finally murdered as planned from 1942. This happened in concentration camps. The population ignored this. There was no turning back for Germany anyway. Hitler's power apparatus had already taken hold of the population; the Gestapo was everywhere. In the world he pretended to be peace-loving, but this was all plan. In reality, the course had already been set for war. The armament was running at full speed to implement his dream of a new Europe, under the rule of Germany, and the annihilation of Bolshevism and the subhuman. Slowly he began to prepare the people for war. At first Hitler was looking for allies, because without them a war would be impossible.
He found these allies in likewise fascist Italy and in imperial Japan. The Rome-Berlin-Tokyo axis was formed. There was also rapprochement with Moscow. Although the Russian was described as a subhuman, the border and friendship treaty between the Soviet Union and Germany was sealed on September 28, 1939. It contained the division of Poland between the two countries. Hitler's aim was to have his back free for war against France and England. Stalin knew that it was too early for a war with Germany and wanted to buy some time.
Historians agree that sooner or later Stalin would have attacked Germany too. In addition, Russia ran the risk of being isolated, because previously treaties between England and France had failed. Since Germany now had a modern, excellently armed army in 1939 and his back was free, Hitler was sure to start a war now.
Eight days after the signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, the Wehrmacht invaded Poland.
Within four weeks, the eastern neighbor was defeated. German soldiers and Soviet Red Army soldiers shook hands at the new frontier, the Bug. Shortly after the Wehrmacht invaded Poland, the Red Army occupied their part of the country, according to the agreements.
The Blitzkrieg in the east was followed by the conquest of Denmark and Norway in April 1940. On May 10th, there were attacks on France, Belgium and the Netherlands. As early as June 14, 1940, German associations moved into Paris. On June 22nd, in the forest of Compiègne, the French had to declare their surrender in the same railway carriage in which the imperial army had surrendered on November 11, 1918. Moscow politely congratulated them on this success and broke off all diplomatic relations with the occupied countries. Meanwhile, the Russian newspapers celebrated the friendship treaty between Germany and Russia, excluding war. Nobody suspected that even while the operations against England were beginning, a plan with the code name "Fritz" for the invasion of Russia was being worked out. Moscow was Hitler's next target. A short time later, after "only" a few bombardments of London, Hitler decided against invading England. First, he wanted to defeat Russia as quickly as possible in a blitzkrieg and make his dreams of living in the East and the annihilation of subhumans come true. On the other hand, he wanted to persuade America not to enter the conflict by a quick victory over Russia.
The Führer had several plans drawn up for conquering Russia. After some displeased him, a strategy was now chosen that envisaged a major advance with three army groups, each with its own goal. The plan was christened "Operation Barbarossa" and should begin on June 22, 1941 after several postponements. Slowly practically all available forces of the Wehrmacht were stationed in the east. The Eastern Army comprised around three million soldiers, 600,000 vehicles, 3,580 tanks and 7,184 artillery pieces. These enormous troop concentrations did not go unnoticed by the Soviet secret service, and reports were made to Stalin. However, he did not believe that Hitler would attack. Even when “Operation Barbarossa” was in full swing, Stalin did not want to admit that Hitler had come to live to create living space in the East and to save Europe from a “Bolshevik conspiracy”. With Stalin's suppression of the events, the organization of the defense and preparation for war proceeded only very slowly. Hitler, however, was so convinced of the Wehrmacht and the SS that he decided not to wear equipment for a winter war. He believed that he could defeat Russia before the onset of winter. A fatal overestimation that caused many compatriots to freeze to death. "It only takes 8 weeks," Hitler said in one of his speeches. So the story took its course - very few suspected what would happen in the near future. On December 18, 1940, "Instruction No. 21" was drawn up, in which the goals for the individual army groups were specified. The directive states: "The ultimate goal of the operation is to shield against Asiatic Russia on the general Volga-Arkhangelsk line." Hitler expected a victory in eight to ten weeks. When the Fiihrer flew to the Western Front to celebrate Christmas with his soldiers, no soldiers suspected what Christmas present their Fiihrer had intended for them.
The raid - "Operation Barbarossa"
The German armed forces were divided into three army groups. There was Army Group North under the leadership of Field Marshal Ritter von Leeb. This army included the 18th Army of Colonel General von Küchler and the 16th Army of Colonel General Busch. In addition, Army Group North was assigned Panzer Group 4 under Colonel General Hoepner and Luftflotte 1 under Colonel General Keller. According to “Directive No. 21”, Army Group North had the order to smash the Soviet units in the Baltic States and to conquer Leningrad. The Army Group South under General Field Marshal von Rundstedt included the Sixth Army under General Field Marshal von Reichenau, the 17th Army under General von Stülpnagel and the 11th Army under Colonel General von Schobert as well as Panzer Group 1 under Colonel General von Kleist and Air Fleet 4. Army Group South had orders to destroy Russian forces in Galicia and western Ukraine. After crossing the Dnieper River, Army Group South was supposed to conquer Kiev.
The main focus of the invasion of Russia, however, was north of the Pripet swamps and stretched over Brest-Litovsk to the Rominten Heath. Right here was the combat area of Army Group Center. The Second Army under General Field Marshal Strauss and the Fourth Army under General Field Marshal von Kluge competed over a length of 400 km. The two armies were supported by Panzer Group 2 under Colonel General Guderian, one of the most famous and best tank generals of World War II, and Panzer Group 3 under Colonel General Hoth, who was also a very capable general. The Luftflotte 12 under Field Marshal Kesselring ensured the air superiority in this section of the front. The Army Group Center was commanded by Field Marshal von Bock. The Army Group was of particular importance: although it had relatively few soldiers with only two armies, there were two armored groups. These provided the iron force for a "blitzkrieg". They should advance as quickly as possible via Brest, Minsk and Smolensk to Moscow, which should be conquered before the onset of winter. "The capture of this city means a decisive political and economic success," it said in "Directive No. 21". Before the attack, all preparations were made for a quick advance. On the evening of June 21, small advance teams began to remove explosive charges from strategically important bridges, which were essential for a quick advance. In addition, pioneer units with pontoon bridges were provided in the event that a bridge was blown up. The Luftwaffe attack was also coordinated as a precautionary measure. Squadrons of bombers, which were equipped with special engines so that they could fly even higher and were therefore not noticeable to the Soviets, left shortly after midnight on the day of the attack in order to reach their targets in time. You should destroy the Soviet air power on the ground. The attack time for "Operation Barbarossa" was set at 3:15 pm German time. In addition to the bombing, the Air Force had to drop off paratroopers so that they could weaken the Russian defense through acts of sabotage.
On the 1800 km long front that night, June 22nd, Germans and allies stood ready to attack Russia. The Luftwaffe circled over its targets and raiding parties waited for orders to secure strategically important bridges. The artillery was loaded and geared towards the targets. Three million soldiers were waiting for the order to attack. Everything was still quiet, only the rustling of the wind could be heard, but the clock was running. 3, 2, 1, fire free. Exactly at 3:15 pm the artillery began their barrage. At the railway bridge at Brest, German special commandos began to defuse the blasting landings and infiltrate guards. The first bridge fell into the hands of the Germans unharmed. A flare was enough and the tank units attacked. This spectacle was repeated on all the bridges along the front. The surprise effect was achieved on all bridges. The Air Force also began to throw off its deadly burden on time. Approximately 1,800 Soviet aircraft were successfully destroyed on the ground. The Air Force stated its losses as 35 aircraft. This is how the Luftwaffe secured air sovereignty in the first days of the war. The tank units pushed far into the Russian hinterland and rolled over the troops stationed at the front. The 3rd Panzer Division under General Model needed only six days to cover 440 km, proof of the Soviet surprise and impotence. The first steps were successfully taken, now the initial successes did not have to be given away. Other bridges had to fall intact into German hands. The eighth Panzer Division under General Brandeberg was to advance 350 km into the enemy country alone and without flank protection in order to conquer bridges on the Daugava. The risk was successful. In one operation, German commandos, disguised as Red Army soldiers, fell into their hands almost unscathed by bridges over the Daugava. Despite the successes, one must not assume that these successes were lossless or easy to achieve. The Wehrmacht had to fight with soldiers who defended their homeland and who did so until their death. Many died and preferred to offer bitter resistance than surrender. The Wehrmacht also suffered losses. Thus, associations of the Soviets in Brest-Litovsk maintained their incessant and bitter resistance, although the city had long been surrounded by German-occupied territory. The defenders, around 3,000 soldiers with some artillery and no tank support, had holed up in the citadel at Brest. As early as March 1, 1918, the defeated armies of Russia had to declare their surrender here, this time the Germans were supposed to pay bloodily for the capture of the city. The resistance was only broken by heavy bombing. The surviving defenders of Brest were not commemorated until after Stalin's death; During Stalin's lifetime they were interned in labor camps in Siberia. Army Group South in particular had to struggle with such fanatical resistance, since most of Russia's troops were ready there. Stalin had expected an attack in the south. But still there was steady progress. However, there was no longer any question of a blitzkrieg.
On the morning of June 22, 1941, the German population was roused from their sleep with a special report. On this Sunday, a message from Hitler rang out from the Volksempfänger that shocked many Germans. "I have decided to put the fate of the German Reich and our people back in the hands of our soldiers." Hitler presented the attack to the people as necessary because Stalin had prepared an attack on Germany. The fact that the advances into the Russian country only got so well because Stalin's army was totally surprised and weak is proof that Hitler's justifications turned out to be unfounded, which the German people could not have known. On the same day the phone rang at the Defense Commission in Moscow. The commander of the Black Sea Fleet was on the line: at 3:15 pm he reported: "German planes are attacking the naval port of Sevastopol." Defense Commissioner Tymoshenko and Party Secretary Malenkov refused to believe this. When further reports of German attacks came in, Stalin was finally informed. The officer in charge of the watch called Stalin in his villa outside Moscow:
“Stalin, I am calling on the orders of the Defense Commissioner. The Germans are bombing our cities. ”Silence. "Do you understand me?" Another long silence. "Come to the Kremlin with Tymoshenko, have the Politburo convened !!!"
At 4.30 a.m. the Politburo met in Stalin's study. Tymoshenko summed up the situation at the border. When Tymoshenko had finished, Stalin still asked incredulously whether this might not have been misinformation. But all doubts were excluded. The war had started. The first thing he did was tell the Defense Commissioner to stop the Germans. Then he withdrew and was absent for days. The troops at the border felt the consequences of his actions. Without direct orders and measures, they were overrun in the first days of the war. This was a great advantage for the Wehrmacht. It took a while before the Russian government was able to inform the population. Molotov announced to the population at 12:15 pm on the first day of the war: “Citizens of the Soviet Union. Today at four o'clock in the morning, German troops invaded our country without a declaration of war.This outrageous attack represents an unprecedented breach of loyalty in the history of civilized peoples. This war was not forced upon us by the German people, not by the workers, peasants and intellectuals, but by the clique of Germany's bloodthirsty fascist rulers. ”After this Communication was all silent, no one could grasp it. After a while there was activity, people bought empty groceries, and a state of siege was declared in Moscow. Meanwhile, a roller of fire pushed inexorably towards Moscow. The advance entered the first decisive phase on June 28th. The Germans were only 80 km from Minsk. Minsk and Smolensk had been a stage destination for Army Group Center on the way to Moscow. But first they had to pass Bialystok, where German associations first encountered massive resistance. Bialystok protruded into the German front like a balcony. Around six armies and seven motorized army corps were stationed in it, with them over half a million soldiers and seven thousand tanks. That was twice as many tanks as the Wehrmacht had to offer on the entire Eastern Front. This was the perfect opportunity for Bialystok's commander, Pavlov, to counterattack. For the Germans, this was the opportunity to include the Russian units. Now it came down to who was faster.
These were the Germans. Colonel-General Guderian took the initiative with the following order: "The 29th motorized division should turn as quickly as possible to strike Minsk-Smolensk." This was the basis for the first encircling action, the double battle of Bialystok and Minsk.
On June 26th, parts of Guderian's armored spearheads reached Minsk. The tanks were approaching Hoth from the north. Four days after "Operation Barbarossa" began, a cauldron was created in which four Russian armies were enclosed. What sounds so simple was a tremendous show of strength. Slowly the ring was pulled tighter. The German associations met stubborn resistance. On July 8th the boiler was cleaned. 323,898 soldiers were taken prisoner in Germany. After this disaster a restructuring of the Soviet army took place. Many old officers either committed suicide or were deported. After the leadership and Stalin gradually recovered from the initial shock, a renewal of the front began. New troops were raised and commanders replaced. Meanwhile, the advance of the Germans continued. On July 3, the Germans crossed the Berezina - the way to Smolensk was now free. In
In the meantime, the resistance was organized in Smolensk. Bulwarks were built. But the German troops simply bypassed these massed positions. Instead of attacking from the south, Guderian's units crossed the Dnieper and attacked the city from the southeast. Napoleon's army was defeated in Smolensk in 1812, but the Germans did not. As a result of the conquest of Smolensk, a new basin was created between Smolensk and Orsha. Again the Soviets lost 300,000 soldiers and 3,000 tanks and artillery. Now 700 km had already been covered and to Moscow it was "only" 300 km to overcome. German armies were advancing on all fronts. Soon, so Hitler believed, the Russians would be finished.
Due to the momentous "Directive No. 33" issued by Hitler on July 19, 1941, priority was no longer given to Moscow, but to Leningrad and the Donets Basin, in which Stalingrad was located. For Hitler, Leningrad was the actual capital of Russia, the original city of Bolshevism, the Venice of the North, from here the red revolution spread. From a military point of view, these ideological views were completely unfounded and meaningless. For Hitler's generals, Moscow was the goal: if Moscow fell, an important transport hub would be captured. If the capital were to fall, the rest would be a breeze. The Donets Basin was so important to Hitler because of its enormous quantities of raw materials. Stalingrad was a transshipment point for industrial goods. So the forces of Army Group Center were divided. Hitler's generals tried by all means to change his mind. At first it looked as if Hitler was understanding, but then he made the decision, despite all objections to his generals. Many historians still wonder today whether Hitler would have won the war if he had turned all his efforts on Moscow. Leningrad had been the main target of Army Group North; however, initially not so much military resources were made available. On July 14, 1941, Army Group North had crossed the last natural obstacle, the Luga, and was preparing to march into Leningrad. On August 8th, 54 divisions had advanced through moors and vast forests to attack. While the German units were approaching from the south, the Finnish allies attacked from the north. Four weeks later, on September 8th, Shlisselburg was conquered and Leningrad was cut off from the Soviet empire. On September 5, German Bober unloaded their deadly load over Leningrad. Only minor damage was recorded, and no war-essential facilities were destroyed. Only the food stores were destroyed. At that time, it didn't bother very much, as everyone still had enough to eat, but that should change quickly. This sad spectacle was repeated on September 8th. In some cases, German soldiers had even penetrated the suburbs of Leningrad, they could have taken the tram to the center, so to speak.
"Only hours separate us from the case of Leningrad," reported the large German radio. But then came the order to stop fighting. Hitler had changed his tactics. The Wehrmacht High Command announced on September 24, 1941: "We are first hermetically sealing Leningrad and beating the city with artillery and airplanes." The German troops were confused, had they covered the distance from East Prussia to here in vain? However, Hitler's order did not mean a withdrawal, but now Hitler needed new troops for his "Operation Typhoon", the conquest of Moscow. Leningrad was to remain locked in. The winter, the cold and the hunger were supposed to wipe out Leningrad for Hitler, since Hitler could not afford to supply a million city over the winter. Hitler sentenced two million people to death. In Leningrad, in addition to the civilian population, 30 divisions of the Russian army were also included. General Zhukov had the supreme command of the troops at Leningrad, and also of the city itself. First, Zhukov had the food rationed after a list of the amount of food available had been drawn up. She only predicted food for a maximum of 30 days. It was now clear to everyone how hopeless the situation was if the ring around Leningrad was not broken.
Zhukov relied on the navy, which he hoped would be of great help in retaking Shlisselburg. Meanwhile, the Germans tightened the ring around Leningrad and holed up. In Leningrad itself the hunger became more and more noticeable: after sheep, cattle and pigs had been eaten, horses, cats and dogs were also slaughtered in order to have at least something. The quality of the bread deteriorated noticeably. Even electricity was running out. The number of deaths caused by winter and hunger rose steadily. Epidemics slowly began to break out. 11,000 civilians died in November, 53,000 in December 1941. Death became an everyday occurrence. On December 5, the Soviets tried to break the bolt between Leningrad and Lake Ladoga. With a huge concentration of troops, including the Russian miracle weapon T-34, it was possible to recapture the important Tikhvin railway junction. But Leningrad was by no means liberated. However, winter also had its good sides. Lake Ladoga froze over from the cold. The German besiegers hadn't expected that. The result was a vital road that would become known as the “road of life”. The Soviets supplied Leningrad through them and evacuated the seriously injured. In addition, one began to supply Leningrad from the air. With spring the connection disappeared again, but Leningrad was at least somewhat supplied for the first time. But the siege lasted two years. The city was not finally liberated until January 18, 1943. More than half a million people died from starvation. Even today there are memorial plaques in Leningrad that commemorate this cruel time.
The Kremlin in sight
While Leningrad was enclosed and Army Group South was moving on inexorably, it was dark in the Soviet capital. The streets were empty and Moscow was like a construction site. The state of siege lay over the city. Everything was darkened, everything was quiet, only a faint thunder could be heard in the distance. This came through from German artillery. On September 24, 1941, "Führer Instructions No. 35" was discussed in the command post of Army Group Center. In it, Hitler had roughly laid down his further course of action: "In the middle of the army, the operation against Army Group Tymoshenko must be prepared in such a way that the attack can begin as early as possible with the aim of destroying the enemy in the general direction of Vyazma." In addition, the code name "Typhoon" was specified for the attack on Moscow. The operation was scheduled for October 2nd. In the north, the Ninth Army under General Strauss with Panzer Group 3 was to lead the attack via Kalinin and the Moskva-Volga Canal to Moscow. From the south, Panzer Group 2 was to push past Moscow via Tula in order to unite with Panzer Group 3. This would have closed a ring around Moscow. At the same time, von Kluge's Panzer Group 4, supported by the Fourth Army, had to drive a wedge into Moscow. A total of 78 divisions were set up in this plan. Field Marshal von Bock had the supreme command. On the Russian side, however, Generals Konev, Zhukov and Tymoshenko had 19 armies at their disposal. In addition, the German armies no longer had their full nominal strength.
A beautiful autumn day broke on October 2, 1941, "Clear and sunny weather" was noted in the OKH's war diary. But as beautiful as this day seemed to be, at 5.30 a.m. a terrible storm broke out: three armies made the decisive advance against Moscow. The advance went according to plan, the German units crossed the Desna without much resistance. To the surprise of the Germans, the Soviets were ill-prepared. At noon on October 3rd, the Wehrmacht captured Orel. A day later, the important Kirov-Vyazma railway line was in German hands. Everywhere Russian resistance was unusually weak. On October 6th, the first stage destination, Bryansk, was captured. On the day of October 7th, the German tank spearheads had achieved a masterpiece. Tanks had broken through the front in some places, bypassed the greatest resistance, and had united behind enemy lines. Now three boilers had been formed. In view of the many victories, many now believed in an ultimate victory. Even the most sober observer would have been impressed by these figures: 55 divisions were locked in the Vyazma pocket. That would have been Moscow's defense. On October 13 and 14, the enclosed divisions surrendered. However, this was the last great successful battle for the Germans.
663,000 prisoners, 1,242 tanks and 5,412 guns were captured. On October 14th, the Ninth Army reached Borodino, another historic battle site. It was here that Napoleon defeated the tsarist army in 1812. Now two elite units faced each other: the Waffen SS division “Das Reich” and the 32nd Rifle Division of the Red Army from Siberia. What happened here cannot be described in words. The battles quickly turned into hand-to-hand combat and were fought with brutality and doggedness. Ultimately, the Germans won and the number of prisoners rose to 673,098 men, eight Soviet armies had been defeated since the start of the new offensive. The first phase of Operation Typhoon has now been successfully completed. In Moscow itself panic spread, it was said everywhere: “The Germanski are coming”. Moscow was declared a fortress and martial law was introduced. Deneral Georgi K. Zhukov was appointed as the new military strategist to head the defense of Moscow. However, the Russians were in dire need of supplies that they could not produce themselves. This time help came from a completely different source. The Americans and British supplied the besieged with 3,000 aircraft, 4,000 tanks and 30,000 trucks to compensate for the fact that the second front demanded by Stalin was still not established. But weapons alone could not help Moscow. Zhukov had his troops retreat to the Kalinin-Wolokolamsk-Moshaisk-Tula line. Here he used the geographic conditions for defense. The Germans captured Kalinin on October 13 and were only 130 km from the front. However, the associations were not yet strong enough to carry out an attack on the city. The defenders used this to further entrench themselves. The result was one of the most effective defense systems of modern warfare against which the Germans were to fail.
In addition, the onset of weather made the German advance difficult, which stifled the attack. So the Germans had to wait until the weather improved - time the Russians used to further entrench themselves. The Germans had ever greater supply problems and unexpectedly high losses. On November 19, the waiting period was over and the attack continued. The German soldiers were still able to advance, but now the cold made it difficult for them. The number of those who were frozen rose. Nonetheless, we made progress, only 40 km to the Kremlin, despite stubborn resistance, despite the cold. But the further the Germans advanced, the greater the resistance became. On December 3, the pressure was so great that General Hoepner had the attack stopped, for the time being, as it was said. This order was a military necessity. Of course, Hitler saw it differently again, he did not recognize that the German troops were exhausted and no longer fully ready to fight. He dismissed Hoepner from the Wehrmacht with disgrace and disgrace. On December 4, Hitler let the fighting begin again, but despite reinforcements in the form of the Fourth Army, the attack failed at the outset. From November 16 to December 4, 55,000 soldiers fell on Germans. For weeks the troops had been fighting without a break, the soldiers had to spend the freezing winter without appropriate clothing. On December 4th, what no one thought possible happened: for the first time the Soviets took the initiative and launched a counter-offensive. Of course, the Soviets had noticed the weakness of the Germans, and they wanted to take advantage of this. In addition, the Soviets had a constant supply of fresh troops. At the same time, something crucial was happening elsewhere in the world. Pearl Habour had been attacked by the Japanese. Now the Axis Powers had a new powerful enemy.
Meanwhile, on December 6th, the Russians attacked the western front off Moscow. With concentrated wedges, the Soviets pierced the German front and forced the Germans to retreat. Army Group Center threatened to be completely annihilated unless something happened quickly. But Hitler gave his famous stop order. But the German associations had to withdraw inexorably. On December 8th, the Germans had to give up the Kalinin Front. The Soviets relentlessly continued their attacks, forcing the Germans to withdraw even further. Moscow could breathe a sigh of relief. The units of Army Group Center had withdrawn to the Oka-Ukra-Volga line, which Hitler believed they could defend. But in reality it didn't look good at all. Hitler gave his order to stop again. This time the German troops were able to resist Russian pressure, but the losses were enormous. Stalin, who after the success of his counter-offensive now believed to push the enemy aggressors out of Russia, made a huge mistake by splitting up his troops in order to crush as many opponents as possible. But they were not as weakened as Stalin thought the Germans were. Due to the division of the Russian attack units, they lost their superiority and could be smashed. Stalin, who like Hitler wanted everything at once, got nothing. Hitler himself had once again escaped a catastrophic defeat. He had lost the conquered areas around Moscow again, but this, he said, was solely the fault of his incompetent generals. After the defeat at Moscow and the unnecessary losses caused by Hitler's halt order, the Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht, Field Marshal von Brauchtisch, resigned - he did not want to answer for the deaths of so many soldiers who only came about because of the stubbornness of a corporal in World War I. After Generalfeldmarschall von Brauchtisch resigned from the Wehrmacht, Hitler himself took over the supreme command of the German troops. Custom table was not the first general to be replaced by Hitler. Already on 12.December 1941, General Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, Commander in Chief of Army Group Center, had to give up his post in favor of Hans Günther von Kluge. The search for scapegoats for the failure off Moscow continued. Anyone who did not obey Hitler's orders without objection was dismissed or replaced. It was worse for General von Sponeck, who commanded the German troops in the south in the Crimea. This had opposed Hitler's order to halt, thus avoiding losses and still gaining a victory. A court martial sentenced Sponeck to death. After protests, Hitler converted the sentence to imprisonment for a fortress.
The clearing of Hitler's generals went even further. On December 25, the most successful tank general, Guderian, had to leave after trying to convince Hitler to shorten the front. With the departure of excellent officers, the Wehrmacht not only lost good tacticians but also the last doubters who recognized Hitler's mistakes and tried to change his mind again and again. The new generals were convinced “Nazi generals” who followed the Führer unconditionally.
The defeat at Moscow was not only a catastrophe for the Wehrmacht on a material level, but much worse, it destroyed the reputation of the German soldiers as an invincible army. This gave the Soviets back their lost confidence.
This was the prerequisite for the final defeat of the Nazi empire. But until then it was three and a half years full of death, destruction, suffering and horror.
While Leningrad was still under siege and the German troops had failed in Moscow, German units fought in the south for the Crimean peninsula. The conquest of the Crimea required a summer offensive towards Stalingrad. It should be the requirement. In “Directive No. 41” Hitler demanded: “The next tasks are to clean up the Kerch peninsula in Crimea and to bring Sevastopol down.” The actions were to be carried out by two important personalities, Paulus and Manstein.
The planned offensive to carry out Hitler's plans in the Crimea was to begin on April 17, 1942. However, this date had to be postponed, and everything now took on completely new dimensions. Because the Soviets got ahead of the Germans and took the initiative. Stalin believed that it was time to launch a counter-offensive.
On May 9th, three armies with massive tank support began the attack. In a pincer movement they wanted to enclose and destroy the Germans near Kharkov. The Germans had nothing to counter the force of attack by the Soviets. The defense minister was already triumphing. But he was happy too soon.
Because the Wehrmacht fought back.
With strong armored units, the Germans wanted to cut off and enclose the long Russian wedges. On May 18, Generalfeldmarschall von Kleist's tanks succeeded in doing this.
Tymoshenko asked Stalin to withdraw the trapped troops. Stalin refused. The encircled troops were lost. Thus, after two weeks of fighting in the Crimea and near Kharkov, Stalin came up with the following balance sheet: Six armies were lost, 1,500 tanks, 3,000 artillery pieces and 400,000 Red Army soldiers were taken prisoner and owned by Germany.
These were numbers that the National Socialist press was able to exploit for its propaganda. Now almost the whole of Crimea was under German control again. Only in the back did Europe's strongest fortress defy the besiegers - Sevastopol. Sevastopol has shown in the past how steadfast it was. If any city deserves the name “fortress”, it is Sevastopol. 100,000 Red Army soldiers were stationed in Sevastopol. The supply could be maintained by the Black Sea. 1,600 artillery pieces and grenade launchers were in position and trenches were dug. The aim of Operation Störfang, which began on June 2, 1942, was to crack this bulwark. Manstein was entrusted with the conquest. Manstein knew that storming the fortress was impossible. So he brought in artillery, everything the Wehrmacht had to offer. These included the latest developments, such as the Odin, Thor and Dora mortars. Dora was 80 cm in diameter. Dora could shoot 40 km. A tank shell weighed seven tons. 4000 soldiers were necessary for this gun. On June 3rd, a real firestorm broke out from 1,300 pipes. This sad spectacle lasted four days. The city sank to rubble and ashes. On June 7th, German soldiers took to the storm. But despite this enormous artillery preparation, the Germans found pockets of resistance everywhere. The Red Army men didn't even think about surrendering. Sometimes only 40 prisoners were taken. On July 3, the carnage ended. Once again the Russians had proven what the alleged "subhuman" was capable of. Even if they had lost this battle, the Red Army had shown the German compatriots what will and patriotism were capable of. In many Wehrmacht reports, the Germans paid their respects to the besieged Sevastopol. Preparations for the "blue" case were already being made during the siege of Sevastopol. Here the area up to the Donets should be conquered and secured. Furthermore, the river had to be crossed and bridgeheads built. The Sixth Army under General Paulus was entrusted with this. On June 28, the offensive began, with the Second Army, the Second Hungarian Army and the 4th Panzer Army from the north wing of Army Group South, as well as the Sixth Army and the 40th Panzer Corps under General Paulus in the south. The first stage destination was Voronezh, the city on the Don. After a few days the Don was reached and the first bridgeheads were formed. Voronezh should now be taken. The Soviets were aware of the Wehrmacht's deployment plans, but the Germans did not encounter any resistance worth mentioning.
"Enemy completely surprised," read the reports. After several fighting, the western part of Voronezh was under German control on July 7th. Due to the new situation, Hitler began to change the plan of attack. The Army Group South, under General Field Marshal List, was split up. The new Army Group A, consisting of the 17th Army and the 1st Panzer Army, was supposed to conquer the oil fields in the Caucasus. Army Group B, under General Paulus, in which the Sixth and Second Armies, the 4th Panzer Army and the 2nd Hungarian and 8th Italian Armies were integrated, were to conquer Stalingrad. Hitler wanted two goals at once and split up his troops. This had already been a mistake with fatal consequences. Army Group A should first include the enemy forces in the Rostov area: “After the enemy force group has been destroyed, the most important task is to take possession of the entire east coast of the Black Sea. Another group of forces has to force the passage over the Kuban and take possession of the heights of Maikop and Armavir.  At the same time, the area around Grozny is to be won. ”The code name for this concentrated range of tasks was“ Edelweiss ”, whereas the tasks for Army Group B were relatively modest. "In addition to building up the defense of the Don, the forces under construction there must be smashed in the advance against Stalingrad, the city itself must be occupied and the land bridge between the Don and the Volga must be closed." This operation was called "Heron". It is noticeable that an army group had to fulfill several objectives at the same time, even then these operations were classified as unrealistic. If the Wehrmacht had been successful, they would have had a front area of almost 4,000 km to defend. The Führer ordered the operations to be completed before the onset of winter, regardless of the geographical conditions. Of course Hitler knew about the gorges and mountains, but his mistake lay IN the overestimation of his armies and the underestimation of the enemy.
Operation “Blue” had been going on for two weeks, and the Germans had still not succeeded in engaging the Soviets in a decisive battle. The Soviets had seen through Hitler's plans and began to withdraw as planned.
Hitler drew the wrong conclusions from this, namely that the Soviets were trying to break away because they no longer have any significant forces. On July 21, the 4th Panzer Army under Colonel General Hoth crossed the Don east of Rostov. Rostov, the city at the mouth of the Don, a railway junction and an important transport center for Soviet supplies. Rostov had already been conquered once in 1941, but had to be evacuated again. Now the Germans took another push against the city that had been converted into a fortress. On July 25th, after fifty hours of struggle, the city was captured. Now the gate to the Caucasus was open and Operation Edelweiss could begin. German soldiers advanced in the direction of Maikop and Grozny. 500 km of steppe lay ahead of them and temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius.
On July 31, units of the Wehrmacht crossed the Manytsch Depression, German soldiers thus set foot on Asian soil for the first time. The 1st and 4th Panzer Army advanced on Stravopol, which fell on August 4th. It continued until August 9th. On that day, German tanks reached Maikop and captured the city. The real goal of conquering the oil rigs was denied them because the Soviets had set them on fire. In addition, the German offensive lost momentum. Nevertheless, a sensational success was achieved: On August 21st, twenty-one German mountain troops climbed the top of Elbrus: the highest peak in the Caucasus at 5633 meters. Nevertheless, the Germans were at the end of their tether. The front was hopelessly overstretched. There was no replenishment. The armed forces made no further progress. While the troops got stuck in the Caucasus, the Sixth Army made very sluggish progress towards Stalingrad. Nevertheless, advance detachments reached the Don on July 26, northwest of Kalatsch, and Stalingrad was barely more than 70 km away. At Kalatsch, the 62nd Army of the Sixth Army blocked the shortest route to Stalingrad. In one of the last encircling operations, the 62nd Army was trapped and destroyed. The fight for the only 60 km wide headland was decided. On August 23, the heads of the 16th Panzer Division reached the Volga near Rynok. The soldiers of the 16th Panzer Division were able to see the city at their feet. However, the Red Army offered resistance for two more weeks, which would later be of great importance. Immediately after reaching the Volga, the Germans began to form a bridgehead. Soldiers of the 16th Panzer Division had torn a 3 km wide corridor in the Soviet defense and had penetrated into the northern suburbs of Stalingrad. That was the first time that German tanks stood on the banks of the Volga. Now the soldiers were waiting for their comrades to come and for the imminent Soviet attacks. The bridgehead was defended against the Soviets for a week. The 22nd Soviet Army tried to cut off the bridgehead with increasing strength. On the night of August 24th, the first concentrated air raids on Stalingrad began. 600 machines unloaded their deadly load. First the industrial district burned. The bombing caused 40,000 deaths, but the defenders decided not to evacuate. The telephone network had collapsed. Only radio traffic was maintained, about which Andrei I Yeremenko discussed with the Kremlin about the evacuation of the residential area. But Stalin categorically rejected the request of his commander-in-chief in Stalingrad: “We don't want to talk about that at all. You have to understand that when we start evacuating and preparing to detonate the objects, everyone thinks we want to give up Stalingrad. The high command therefore forbids the evacuation. ”Yeremenko obeyed. The suburbs of Stalingrad were declared a defensive zone. Like Moscow a year earlier, Stalingrad was now preparing to defend the city. Mine belts were laid, trenches dug. At the same time, the Germans were still defending their bridgehead. Over 30 km long, but only 5 km wide, the city stretched along the banks of the Volga. Stalingrad was the industrial heart of the south. The “Red October” steel foundry alone employed 20,000 workers. Stalingrad was the center of heavy industry, but also an important transport hub. In August 1942, the city on the Volga had symbolic significance for both sides. With the conquest of Stalingrad in August 1942, the Führer wanted to force the final decision. However, the situation of the Wehrmacht was extremely precarious - with high losses, supply problems and a totally overstretched front. The situation on the part of the Soviet Union was exactly the opposite. The Sixth Army under General Paulus had lined up for the battle for Stalingrad. She was supported by General Hoth's 4th Panzer Army. The German armed forces were opposed by the 62nd Army under Major General Kolpaktschi, the 63rd under Lieutenant General Kuznetsov and the 64th Army under Lieutenant General Tschuikow. One German army against four Soviet armies - a power ratio of four to one? It wasn't that simple, of course. You have to know, of course, that a Soviet army was much smaller than a German one. A Soviet army was made up of four to five divisions. A German army usually consisted of four corps, each of which comprised three to four divisions. So a Soviet army was like a German corps. In order to conquer Stalingrad, Hitler had used the best that the Wehrmacht had to offer. "I can storm the sky with the Sixth Army," declared Hitler. "The city is to be taken by August 25th." In Stalingrad, however, the Sixth Army went to hell. On August 25, 1942, the day the city should have long been in German hands, German advance commandos reached the Volga for the first time and formed a bridgehead at Rynok that they had to hold against the Soviet soldiers. In the south, the 4th Panzer Army was preparing for a final conquest of the city. At Abganow, Hoth's tanks had already reached the outer defensive belt, which they broke through to advance to the inner defensive belt. However, the Germans not only had to fight against resistance, deep crevasses shaped the terrain everywhere, tributaries of the Don and the Volga cut the country. These geographical conditions created brilliant conditions for the defenders. Red Army soldiers holed up in this inhospitable area, so the Germans dropped small paratroopers behind the front to clear these pockets of resistance. In Wehrmacht reports one often finds words such as “strong defense”, “brave resistance”, evidence of the stubborn resistance of the Soviets. Time was running against the Germans, they only had 5 weeks until the onset of the autumn storms and the following muddy season. The Wehrmacht had known since Moscow what the consequences would be. But at the end of August, Hoth's tanks were still standing in front of the defensive ring and could not progress. Hoth realized that he had to redistribute his powers. Hoth regrouped his tanks from Abganow to Gawrilowka, where the breakthrough took place. The 62nd Army and the 64th Army of the Soviets were threatened with encirclement. So Yeremenko let these armies withdraw, giving up the outer defensive belt, but he saved two armies.
Both armies withdrew into the city center. The two German pincer armies met on September 3rd. One day after the withdrawal of the two Soviet armies, Paul had given the order to advance. To ensure a quick advance, he had Hoth's armored spikes split into two pincers, which bypassed heavy defenses and thus encircled the city.
“Comrades from Stalingrad! We will not give up our hometown to the Germans as a mockery.  We turn every house, every street into an impregnable fortress ... "
It was August 25th - the day on which German advance commandos reached the Volga, on which this appeal by the defense command was forwarded to the Stalingraders.
At the same time, the state of siege was imposed on the city. The defense in Stalingrad was organized by Colonel General Andrei I Yeremenko. Political commissioner was Nikita Khrushchev, who later became General Secretary of the CPSU and the first man in the Soviet Union.
Stalin's slogan to those trapped was “not one step back”. So the besieged prepared for a hard fight, here the decision was made whether victory or defeat.
On September 9, the Astrakhan-Moscow railway line was captured by the Wehrmacht. Thus the supply of the city from the outside was cut off. On September 12th, the German soldiers had pushed the bravely fighting Red Army soldiers back into the center. Two days later, units of the 71st Infantry Division had fought their way into the center of Stalingrad. In mid-September, after the toughest fighting, the defenders had their backs to the Volga. One could really not speak of a blitzkrieg like in France, every meter fought that the German soldiers conquered was paid in blood. In the situation report of the Wehrmacht it says on 13.September: "The attack against Stalingrad is slowly advancing against the tough defensive fortifications on the edge of the southern suburbs." On the same day the offensive against the city center, the Mamai hill and the banks of the Volga began. At the beginning of October the BBC described the fighting, which was still fought with undiminished severity, to its listeners: “Poland was conquered in 28 days. In 28 days the Germans captured a few houses in Stalingrad. France was overthrown in 38 days. In Stalingrad the Germans need 38 days to get from one side to the other ”. The battle for Stalingrad was not an open field battle. The battle for Stalingrad was a material battle, a trench warfare and trench warfare. At that time Stalingrad was called "Russian Verdun", "Red Verdun", and not without good reason. The fighting was truly cruel, attacks on enemy positions were carried out by Stukas (dive bombers). They bombed the city to rubble and ashes. The Soviets tried in vain to break German air sovereignty. The pilots of the 8th Air Corps flew an average of up to 1000 sorties. On the ground, the positions were soon only a meter or two opposite each other. With bayonets attached, hand-to-hand combat took place. The gain in territory was small. If German commandos had captured a building, they were often back in Russian possession after just two hours. The main train station changed hands four times in one day. While the Germans continued to advance, apparently unstoppable, but also slowed down by the urban warfare, the situation of Army Group A became increasingly precarious. The front was totally overstretched, the forces weren't enough at all ends and corners. This was a sign that Hitler's goals in the Caucasus and on the Don could no longer be achieved. The differences between his generals and the “greatest general of all time” grew bigger and bigger. "It doesn't work anymore when I hear that," Hitler grumbled. Due to constant criticism of the Fuehrer's actions, Hitler changed his officers with serious consequences. His chief of staff, Halder, one of Hitler's greatest critics, was replaced by Major General Zeitzler, who was totally subordinate to Hitler. Through Hitler's substitutions, the last officers who still criticized a little were removed and replaced by a bunch of dreamers who, like the Führer himself, still believed in the final victory. On September 13, the chief of staff, Alexander Vasilevsky, and the deputy commander-in-chief Georgi Zhukov were summoned to the Kremlin. While the German Mamai offensive was just starting in Stalingrad, the two generals presented Stalin plans for a counter-offensive in the Stalingrad area.
The counter-offensive was given the provisional code name "Uranium". The plans envisaged encircling the Germans in Stalingrad with a pair of tongs consisting of two armies. Besiegers become besieged. From Serafimovich on the upper Don, a Soviet wedge was to be driven through the German lines in order to cut off the route of retreat for the Sixth Army. The German troops in Stalingrad had to hurry if they wanted to have Stalingrad under their control before the onset of winter. In a decisive offensive Paul was able to record great territorial gains. But on October 6th the offensive had to be stopped. A short respite followed, and a new offensive began on October 14th. Now the entire northern part of Stalingrad was in German hands. Most of the defenders were pushed back. The last remnants had clung to it, but it was only a matter of time before the Germans would overrun these positions. In the meantime the Germans controlled 90% of Stalingrad, but no one recognized what was happening outside of Stalingrad. While the German soldiers overshadowed the last remnants of the defenders, the Soviet march in the forests of Kremskaya began, "Operation Uran" began. The deployment was to be carried out with the greatest of secrecy, but General Paulus found out about the Soviet undertaking. He wanted to end the fighting in Stalingrad, withdraw the Sixth Army and stabilize the flanks. But Hitler refused Paulus to take back the troops. Meanwhile, the attack date for “uranium” was set for November 9th. The High Command of Wehmmacht was unable to draw the right conclusions from the signals that were being played out in the south. On November 19th the time had come. In an order to the troops, the War Council of the Stalingrad Front addressed the soldiers: “The hour of reckoning with the common enemy has come. I order the decisive attack against the German-fascist occupiers. Destroy the enemy and do your duty to the homeland ”. The Soviet counter-offensive began in the thick snowstorm. The Red Army attacked from two sides. It was 5:50 a.m. On the day that Stalingrad fell into the hands of the Wehrmacht, the offensive began. The far superior Russian troops overtook the Italian and Romanian units that supported the Wehrmacht in this section of the front. After only four days of rapid advance, the tips of the two forceps arms met. The ring around the 6th Army was closed. The Führer was at a loss, “wait and see” were his orders. The only supply line to Stalingrad ran over a bridge near Kalatsch. Should this bridge fall, it would have fatal consequences. This was of course also known to the Soviets. That's why they sent two tank corps there. The Romanians stationed there had no chance. They were overrun and the bridge fell to the Soviets. Now the Sixth Army was cut off from supplies. While she was locked in, the Führer was on vacation in the Berchtesgadener Land. For four days there was alarm in the high command of the Wehrmacht. Colonel-General von Weichs had given orders to end the fighting in Stalingrad. Around 300,000 men with 1,800 guns and 10,000 transport vehicles were encircled over an area of 1,500 km. Paul had asked for an attempt to break out, which would have meant giving up Stalingrad and the northern front. Everyone agreed that this would be the most sensible solution, but Hitler disagreed. Meanwhile, the ring tightened, the supply was catastrophic. Paul asked again for the outbreak, this time with the support of his commanding generals and his staff. Zeitzler promised to talk to Hitler and was optimistic that Hitler would change his mind. However, on the morning of November 24th, a message arrived from the Führer that dashed all hopes. In the Fuehrer's decision it was said that the front had to be held. That was the prohibition of withdrawal. “Giving up Stalingrad would mean foregoing the essential success of this year's offensive. We must therefore strive with all available means to hold Stalingrad and to re-establish links with the Sixth Army ”. Generalfeldmarschall von Manstein was to carry out this order. He was able to fall back on the remnants of the 3rd and 4th Romanian armies, the 4th Panzer Army and the Sixth Army. The prerequisite was that the Sixth Army could hold out. To ensure this, it was supplied from the air. But the air supply didn't help either, as the air force was far too small to supply 300,000 soldiers. But Göring was of a different opinion and boasted to Hitler that his air force could solve the problem. Attempts were still being made to change Hitler's mind, always without success. Hitler ordered the Sixth Army to curl up. But one man disregarded Hitler's order, General von Seydlitz. The 51st Army Corps was subordinate to him. The fought on the Volga and city fronts. On the night of November 23rd, he withdrew his soldiers to a more defensible position. But Seydlitz ‘action ended in disaster. Red Army soldiers immediately followed suit, occupied the positions and inflicted heavy losses on the 94th Infantry Division. This strengthened Hitler in his belief not to give up Stalingrad. Meanwhile, Göring had to struggle elsewhere to find out how to solve the Stalingrad problem. The fact was that the Luftwaffe had far too few planes. Even after the old machines were floated, the situation barely improved. In addition, the Soviets had installed anti-aircraft batteries on the Air Force's flight routes and thus disrupted air traffic considerably. Many machines failed, and supplying the Sixth Army was becoming increasingly difficult. In addition, more and more airfields fell into the hands of the Soviets. Finally, on December 2nd, preparations began for a relief attack. The order to Colonel-General Hoth reads: "Establish the connection to the Sixth Army by the shortest route east of the Don". For this operation, Hoth was able to fall back on the 4th Panzer Army and remnants of the 4th Romanian Army. In addition, new "Tiger" tanks were made available to Hoth. In the early hours of December 12th, German tanks advanced from Kotelnikow towards Stalingrad. They had to cover around 120 km. When the tanks reached the front and attacked, the Soviets were initially surprised by the force of the attack. The first resistance was overrun, in three days 50 km could be covered. The advance continued unstoppably. But after five days this stalled, because Colonel-General Yeremenko had opposed Stalin's elite unit, the 2nd Guard Army, Hoth's tanks. Nevertheless, Hoth's tanks reached the meeting point where they wanted to unite. One only waited for Hitler's orders for the Sixth Army to come towards the tanks. Manstein radioed the Fiihrer headquarters three times, but Hitler hesitated. However, on December 24th, Hoth's tanks had to give up and withdraw. So the last chance to save the Sixth Army was wasted. With the dawn of a new year, the Soviets prepared for a definitive smashing of the enemy forces. On January 8, Paulus was offered to surrender, but Hitler had given orders to hold out in order to keep the Russian forces concentrated at Stalingrad. On January 10, the Soviet attack began, which split the cauldron in two. Pitomnik, the main airport, fell into the hands of the Soviets. The Wehrmacht could not offer the Red Army any resistance. The Sixth Army was close to being dissolved. Everywhere only individual groups fought. On 22.
January the last Gumrak airfield fell. On January 31, Soviet units approached the headquarters of the Sixth Army. Paul sent one last radio message: "The Sixth Army, true to its oath of flag for Germany to the last man and to the last patrons, bearing in mind its high and important mission, held the position for Führer and Fatherland to the end". Then he went into captivity. Hitler raged that a German field marshal would not surrender. Two days after Paul's surrender, the southern cauldron also surrendered. Three quarters of an hour later, one last sign of life from the Sixth Army left the boiler: "The Russian enters the tractor factory fighting, long live Germany". In isolated cases, the fighting was still going on, but when a German supply plane circled over Stalingrad on February 3, its crew found everything calm on the ground. The guns were silent in the ruins of Stalingrad.
More than 300,000 soldiers had come to conquer Stalingrad in the summer of 1942, 110,000 soldiers held out the two and a half month siege. 45,000 wounded and specialists were flown out. But 145,000 men were left lying on the battlefield. 90,000 men went into captivity, but ultimately only 6,000 out of 300,000 ever returned to Germany. Moscow was the end of the beginning in 1941/42, Stalingrad was the beginning of the end.
There is still progress
Stalingrad was more than just a battle. Stalingrad was the end point of the German war of aggression. The victory in Stalingrad was a tremendous boost in motivation for the Red Army. On January 18, there was even a small triumph to celebrate in Leningrad. A small corridor to Leningrad had been created. Leningrad was still besieged, but it could be supplied. In the south, the Soviets also took the initiative, and in an offensive the Soviet troops threatened the units of Army Group A in the Caucasus. Even Hitler saw that they were in serious danger. So he let his troops withdraw to "The great skull position". Finally, the Soviets also launched an attack on Voronezh, in Ukraine. The situation for the troops on the Caucasus front became increasingly precarious. Parts of Army Group B were included and the gate to the Caucasus was only a small crack open. A total of 7th Army were threatened, and a much larger Stalingrad was emerging. In a great pincer movement, the Soviets wanted to seize the opportunity. On February 12, the Germans had to evacuate Krasnodar on the Kuban, only two days later the Wehrmacht finally withdrew from Rostov. With the allies of the Wehrmacht, the Romanians and Italians, a 300 km gap had been torn in the front, through which more and more Red Army soldiers stormed. Stalin now finally wanted to force the decision. “This is our hour,” Stalin made clear to his generals. The Wehrmacht continued to withdraw. The generals of Stalin were convinced that the armies of Army Group South had been smashed and were in full retreat. Accordingly, the order to the Red Army soldiers was to "prevent the retreat, throw the enemy forces back on the Crimea, block the access to the Crimea and cut off the German units in the south". Kharkov was quickly locked in, but Hitler wanted to keep this city in any case and gave his nonsensical "stop order". The commander responsible for Kharkov, SS-Gruppenführer Paul Hausser, knew that this order would be the death of the units stationed in Kharkov, including elite units such as the SS Panzer Division "Das Reich", "Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler", "Totenkopf" and the Panzer Grenadier Division "Greater Germany" were stationed. At the last minute he had his troops withdrawn. “In order to keep the troops from being locked in and to save material, an order is given to penetrate at 1 p.m. The Soviet units entered the city without great losses. Thereupon Hitler flew furiously to Mannstein's headquarters, there he saw that his plans were not feasible and he gave Mannstein a free hand.
Mannstein's first order was to the troops of the 4th German Panzer Army under Colonel General Hoth, "The 6th Army that is storming Dnepropetrovsk must be defeated". The German counterattack began on February 18. The 7th and 11th Panzer Divisions and the 5th SS Panzer Grenadier Division "Wiking" broke through enemy lines from the east and south-east and cut off the supply routes for the far advanced Soviet units. In the north, the 17th and 6th Armored Divisions pushed towards Pavlograd on February 23, to block the retreat of the 25th Soviet Armored Corps. Stalin and his generals, in their sure belief in victory, did not notice the imminent danger. When Popov asked for permission to withdraw his far advanced troops and thus avoid being encircled, the Commander-in-Chief of the Southwest Front, Nikolai Watutin, rejected the request of his 21st Panzer General. “The enemy is on the retreat. He is not allowed to escape across the Dnieper ”. The Soviet military leadership still believed that the Germans wanted to retreat across the Dnieper, but they had taken the initiative and, thanks to Mannstein, had once again escaped a catastrophe.
On February 28, barely three weeks after the start of the German offensive, the Soviet military command had to pay by evacuating the conquered areas between the Dnieper and the Don. A new Stalingrad took place in Kharkov, but this time on the Russian side. The Wehrmacht had been able to turn the tables and inflicted a painful defeat on the Red Army. At first it seemed as if the Germans would have to experience a second major defeat after Stalingrad, then all the lost territories had been recaptured. The world seemed all right again for Hitler, only a drop of sadness clouded the joy: a balloon-like front arch still protruded into the German lines near Kursk. The so-called "Orelbogen", or "Kurskerbogen" called front section. The chance of straightening the front had been wasted. Now "General Schlamm" stepped on the scene and turned the battlefield into a mud desert. On the Heroes' Remembrance Day in March 1943, he made clear what goals Hitler was pursuing after this turning point: "The Bolshevik hordes, which the German and allied soldiers were unable to defeat this winter, will be defeated by us to the point of annihilation next summer" .
Hitler placed enormous hopes in the newly developed tanks such as the "Tiger", "Panther" and the "Elefant". The "Tiger" and "Panther" were the best tanks of World War II. They were the culmination of German war developments. The heavily armored "elephant", on the other hand, still had a few teething troubles that slowed the tank's success. With these weapons Hitler wanted to prove to the world that the German army could still win.After the thaw, which turned the battlefield into a mud desert, a time of planning and preparation began on both sides.
1943-45: Operation Citadel
A picturesque picture could be the landscape, small villages, gentle elevations and deep gorges that interrupt the flat black earth. A river called Oka that meanders through the land that is planted with wheat fields. An idyll that was deceptive, however. Here, 600 km away from the Soviet capital, was Kursk.
Here two enemy armies faced each other in the ravines. The largest tank battle in the world was supposed to take place here. North of Kharkov and Bjelgorod on the Donets, the Russian front bent sharply to the west, 240 m into the area held by the Wehrmacht, and then at Sumy 100 km again sharply to the north, where the curve again at Malo-Archangelsk lock. The area was roughly the size of Bavaria. For the Soviets, the Kursker-Bogen was an ideal ski jump to launch a large-scale offensive, as large German forces were tied up here and two army groups were divided. But for the Wehrmacht this half boiler was just an invitation to close the boiler in a pincer movement and thus to destroy the trapped troops. This “small” section of the front moved into the focus of the strategists on the German and Soviet sides. In Operation Order No. 5 of March 5, Hitler had laid down principles for conducting combat in this section: "It is important to dictate the law of action to the enemy in at least one section of the front and let him run at the other and let him bleed to death." Thus, contrary to his principles, Hitler did not want to start a huge offensive, as at the beginning of the Eastern campaign, because the Wehrmacht was simply too weak for that. On the contrary, he wanted to advance with as large a concentration of troops as possible over a small area. With this in mind, Hitler went to Kiev on March 13th to make the first decisions with his Army Chief of Staff, Colonel General Zeitzler and the Commander of Army Group Center, Field Marshal Kluge. The code name was already fixed: "Operation Citadel".
In it, Kursk was chosen as the first target. The deadline was May 4th. On April 9th, Colonel General Model, Commander in Chief of the 9th Army, presented his plan of attack: two tank corps were to advance from the north on Kursk while another tank corps protected the right wing and an army corps was available to secure the left wing. A classic pincer attack with the goal: Kursk. But Hitler was already planning further, he was already preparing an offensive in the south called "Panther". Hitler set May 3rd as the earliest date for the attack, and Hitler urgently urged his officers: “This attack is of decisive importance. He has to give us the initiative for this spring and summer. The victory of Kursk must act like a beacon for the world. ”The“ Operation Citadel ”was by no means undisputed in the German General Staff. Above all, it was discussed that the personnel and material equipment of the attacking army was insufficient. Colonel-General Model in particular pleaded for the attack to be postponed, as his army had to bear the brunt of the attack. But he lacked staff and material. Hitler was finally persuaded to move the date of the attack to June 12th in order to supply Model with new material.
There was no talk of refreshing staff. Hitler relied too much on Speer's cocky promise to deliver large quantities of the new tanks. It was typical of Hitler's paladins, however, that they mostly could not keep their promises. Zeitzler pointed out, however, that the attack should begin as early as possible because the Russians were expanding the Kursker arc more and more. This meant increasing losses for the Germans. More and more generals tried to persuade Hitler not to postpone the date of the attack. Colonel-General Guderian, the inventor of the Blitzkrieg, who was now in the Fuehrer's reserve after the attack on Moscow had failed, rejected the attack on principle. He predicted high tank losses and pointed out that the new tanks had many teething troubles and that the required amount could not be delivered. Despite these arguments, Hitler stuck to his plan. Only after several postponements the date was set for July 5th.
This new delay gave the Soviets even more time to barricade themselves. In addition, the Soviet Army was restructured. New weapons, supplies, new soldiers, etc. In addition, the armies were now equipped with their own air fleet based on the German model. Whole divisions were now motorized, which led to better mobility. A crucial advantage in a war of movement. The front was also occupied by new commanders-in-chief, almost all of whom had fought in Stalingrad. Stalin gave them an aura of success. The planning and procedure of the Soviets in the Kursk area was taken over by Marshals Zhukov and Vasilevsky. The basic idea had already been formulated by Zhukov on March 4th: "The enemy offensive is to be intercepted in a deeply staggered defense, to be worn down and then to be smashed with a counterattack." Eight defensive strips were laid out covering a width of 3000 km. A bulwark was built with anti-tank trenches, mine belts and barbed wire, machine gun nests, bunkers, etc. There were about 100 artillery pieces, 200 anti-tank mines, 2200 rifle mines per kilometer of the front. In addition, a tangle of moats ran through the Russian lines. From this defensive zone it can be concluded that the Russians had learned from past mistakes. This time the Russians not only relied on their numerical superiority, but had thoroughly thought through all the preparations. Time worked against the Germans and for the Soviets. The Red Army had assembled the largest collection of people and material here on the Kursker Arch since the beginning of the “Great Patriotic War”. The only question is, where did the Russians get the certainty that Hitler would try to break through right here at the Kursker Arch? Why did the Russians weaken other sections of the front and strengthen this one?
The Kursker Arch caught the eye of anyone who looked at the map. The Soviets suspected that Hitler would try to straighten this section of the front. But they were more than mere premonitions: they knew the Germans' plans.
After the war, Colonel General Franz Halder declared: “Almost all German acts of aggression became known to the enemy through the betrayal of a member of the OKW after they were planned in the OKW. It was not possible to clog this source during the entire war. ”To this day, only the traitor's contact, with the code name“ Werther ”, is known, a German who emigrated to Switzerland. It is believed that two OKW secretaries, who were aware of deployment plans, were behind the name of Goethe's tragic hero. “Big idiots” could use this as a reason to judge that the Germans only lost because the Russians, through betrayal, had plans leaked; they could spin it into a new “stab in the back” legend. The failure is not due to the Russian sources of information, but the Wehrmacht simply no longer had the strength to carry out Hitler's plans.
In the first days of July there was an oppressive sultriness in Rastenburg. But it wasn't just the weather that lay over the Führer’s headquarters, the “Wolfsschanze”. Hitler had invited to one of the last big meetings, where he informed his generals that the date of the attack would be postponed to July 5th. The company was due to start two months later than planned. The goals remained the same. The push would be a pincer motion. The blow was to be carried out by Hoth's 4th Panzer Army, the 9th Army Models and the Kempf Army Group. Like the Soviets, the Germans also used their entire armed forces to force victory. Two thirds of all units of the German armed forces on the Eastern Front were mobilized. 30 divisions of the Wehrmacht and 3,000 tanks, 10,000 guns, supported by an air armada of almost 2,000 aircraft. In addition, there were also Waffen-SS units such as the elite units "Wiking" and "Das Reich". 90,000 soldiers on a front length of 100 km. Two years ago, Germany invaded the Soviet Union with almost the same equipment over an area of 1,800 km. The Red Army countered 1.3 million soldiers, twice the number of guns and aircraft, and considerably more tanks. In addition, the soldiers of the Red Army had an almost inexhaustible source of reserves. A victory over the Red Army could only be recorded if the element of surprise was preserved. The Soviets must have been completely in the dark about the timing of the attack.
The largest tank battle in world history was to begin on July 5th at 3:30 a.m. During the night, the Wehrmacht mine clearance units began to do their work. Dawn cast a ghostly image on the still dormant battlefield. A final appeal went to the German soldiers: "Your victory must strengthen the conviction around the world, even more than before, that any resistance against the German armed forces is ultimately in vain." Shortly afterwards, the soldiers moved into the staging rooms. At around 3.30 a.m. the Stukas, the bombers and battle units flew over the Soviet lines to unload their deadly load. Wave after wave, the Soviet positions were showered with bombardments. Shortly afterwards the German artillery started to fire. After two hours of continuous bombardment, the two arms of the German attack forceps started moving at 5:30 a.m. punctually. But despite this massive artillery preparation from 10,000 barrels, the advancing Germans had a nasty surprise.
The German soldiers got caught in a terrible barrage. After only six hours, a report from the 6th Panzer Division arrived at the headquarters: “Snipers and minefields only permit a break-in with low forces. Even “tigers” cannot move forward. Procedure discontinued. Troop withdrawn. ”The planned rapid advance failed right from the start. The German tanks were able to advance barely 10 km in the first two days. German tanks had managed 100 km a day in the first days of the war, and now this. This was due to the good defense positions of the Soviets, but was also due to the teething problems of the new tanks, many of which were left lying around. Even so, the Soviets lost nearly 6,000 tanks in the first days of the battle. Here, at the Kursker Arch, a huge battle of materials took place, reminiscent of the First World War. The Germans suffered enormous losses, but the casualties also increased on the Russian side. But at least it was moving forward, slowly but forward. In the early morning hours of July 9th, the units of Army Group South formed. Von Manstein bet everything on one card, with a massed attack he wanted to achieve a breakthrough. He deployed 500 tanks on a ten-kilometer section. The advance began with the support of the Air Force. The associations with strong associations managed to reach the Prokhorovka Strait and take two strategically important heights. The first major target, Obojan, was now within easy reach. The Soviets recognized the danger and sent the 1st Panzer Army and the 6th Guard Army to stop the Germans. This is where the decision should be made. If the Russians lost here, the entire defense system would collapse.
Two columns of tanks rolled towards each other in the early morning hours of July 12th. It rained. 850 tanks of the 5th Guards Armored Army rolled against 700 tanks of the 1st SS Panzer Division "Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler" and SS Division "Totenkopf". Among the 700 tanks there were always 100 "Tigers" and "Panthers". Colonel-General Hoth was in command on the German side and Lieutenant General Rotmistrow on the Soviet side. At 8:30 a.m. the Soviet guns began to fire. A short but violent artillery preparation. Then the Soviet T-34 advanced in two squadrons. The armed forces associations had also formed and attacked. The world had never seen what was going on around the sleepy town of Prokhorovka in the eight hours or so, and it shouldn't be seen again. 1,500 Soviet and German tanks were wedged together. A dark cloud of dust filled the battlefield. Attack aircraft on both sides fought bitter air battles over the battlefield. At first it looked as if the German units would emerge victorious in this battle, but then Lieutenant General Rotmistrow brought in new reserves that seemed to turn the outcome of the battle. Then the tide turned again in which von Manstein played his last trump card and threw the fresh formations of the SS division "Wiking" into battle. In the evening there was still no end in sight. The landscape was no longer recognizable. Scorched earth, corpses, shot down tanks. Ultimately, the battle ended in a draw. But in war there are only winners and losers. The Wehrmacht had not reached its destination that day. The Red Army had stopped the German advance, but was too weak to attack itself. So the climax of "Operation Citadel" only had losers? Not quite; The Germans had lost, but also the Soviets, and above all the soldiers who were burned in this battle had lost.
Stalin had once again proven to the world that his armies could stop the "fascist hordes". But now an event occurred which completely sealed the defeat of Kursk. The Allies landed in Sicily on July 10th. In order to stop the Allies, Hitler decided to withdraw troops from Kursk. Von Manstein and Kluge tried to change Hitler's mind once more, because if the Germans had given up at Kursk now, all those who had fallen at Kursk would have been even more pointless. However, the 9th Army was now facing a counter-offensive by the Russians. Operation "Kutuzov" started on July 12th and 15th. Here Orel, one of the most important supply lines for the Germans, was to be conquered. Orel was, so to speak, the counterpart to Kursk. Hitler had to decide: continue fighting or break off. As always, he wanted everything at once. Von Mannstein was supposed to continue the fight, but had to surrender troops. Hitler shouldn't get anything. What the full troops at Prokhorovka could not do that a weakened troop could certainly not do. Although some SS units succeeded in advancing to the Donets, all fighting had to be ended here too. The Soviet offensive, on the other hand, gained more and more momentum. Russian units broke into the German front more and more often and gained 20 km of territory. The German associations were forced to withdraw more and more and only barely escaped encirclement. But then Hitler's pointless “Halt.Beehl” followed, which has so often ended fatally. The withdrawal order was issued on July 28th. In four stages, the Germans settled on the "Hagenlinie".
The Battle of Kursk was the last major offensive that the Wehrmacht could carry out during the war. Now the Soviets started a storm that was only to end in Berlin.
The red tide to the west:
With the failure in Kursk, the war on the home front intensified. Hamburg was the first city in Germany to feel this. There had already been air alarms several times, but the clearing was repeated again and again. But on the night of July 24th to 25th, 1943, the residents experienced the worst air raid in the history of the Hanseatic city. More than 600 British bombers bombed Hamburg. This was the prelude to the British and American bombing raids on German cities. Now the war had also become a reality for the people in Germany. At the same time in Italy the Duce was deposed on July 25th and forcibly quartered in a mountain hotel. The Duce was freed by German paratroopers, but the latter no longer wanted to rule. So Italy was occupied by the Wehrmacht. Italy became a state by Hitler's grace. While the Allies were marching on Rome in Italy, bad news from the Eastern Front piled up at Hitler's headquarters. After the failure of the German offensive at Kursk, the Red Army itself attacked in order to capture Orel, where the front described a situation similar to that at Kursk. On July 17th, the offensive of the Soviet Southwest Front under General Malinowski and on the South Front under Colonel General Tolbuchin began in the Donets Basin. The Red Army units managed to establish a bridgehead on the west side of the Donets relatively quickly. The Germans had little to counter the attacks of the Red Army. Whenever German units were relocated to participate in hot spots, they were missing elsewhere. The numerical superiority of the Soviets was now more evident than ever. Later estimates put a ratio of five to one and even seven to one in favor of the Soviets. In the reports to the OKW there were completely different messages such as:
"New attacks to the northwest of Orel after strongly superior enemy attacks", the heavy defensive battles in the Oral section continue ". Now the OKW had to speak publicly for the first time about front movements and shortening, straightening and sales movements. After serious break-ins in the Orel section, this section was cleared and the 9th Army and the 2nd Panzer Army withdrew to the "Hagen Line". For the first time there was talk of "elastic defense". But the retreat of the Germans was constantly disturbed and hindered by strong partisan attacks. On August 5, one month after the start of the Kusker offensive, the 89th Guards Rifle Division captured Byelgorod. At the same time the Orel, abandoned by the Germans, was occupied. A salute was shot in Moscow for this. This should lead to a tradition. Even Hitler began to reflect and think in other categories. He even allowed a new line of defense, the "panther line" to be established. The areas won in the course of "Operation Citadel" had long been lost. The Crimea was lost and now the Donets Basin also had to be evacuated. Kharkov was captured by the Red Army on August 23. It shouldn't change hands again. Soviet divisions advanced along the entire eastern front. In a conversation with Hitler, von Mannstein was allowed to withdraw behind the Dnieper. The Dnieper should be a natural barrier. The so-called "Ostwall" was supposed to stop the attacking Russians. But the Wehrmacht was faced with another problem, a logistical one. After all, the Wehrmacht still had over a million soldiers under arms. And these had to be brought across the river, which is sometimes 100 km wide. The scorched earth tactic was also ordered. That meant everything had to be burned, rails dismantled, mines laid, streams poisoned, and so on. The advancing Red Army was to find nothing more habitable. But in the end this order was never carried out as the Nazi politicians imagined. Whether because of a lack of time or better insight, factories were blown up and villages burned, but this was rather a rarity.
Ultimately, only a narrow strip of the Destroy ran along the east bank of the Dnieper. Four weeks after Kharkov, the Red Army marched into Smolensk. Now the Russian armies were preparing to “jump” over the Dnieper. For this purpose the army was reorganized. Ultimately, 70 armies with 330 divisions were ready to attack. They tried to break up the last German units on the east bank of the Dnieper and to form their own bridgeheads on the west bank. With increasing success the Soviet units succeeded in pushing back the Wehrmacht. The greatest success so far was the capture of Kiev on November 6, 1943.
Hitler, however, did not seem to be particularly affected by the twists and turns on the front lines.
Instead, in a speech in the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich on the occasion of the coup attempt in 1923, he made the following comment: “It is a natural necessity that only the strongest survive in the selection. And I would like to say it calmly here: If my own people were broken by such a trial, then I would not be able to cry a tear over it. It deserved nothing else, it would be its own fate that it would have to be ascribed to itself ”. Here it became clear that Hitler's hatred of everything weak began to be directed against his own nation as well. If Hitler did not achieve a “total victory” he would also accept a “total defeat”. Three weeks later, Germany's opponents of the war met in Tehran to discuss the further course and the post-war period.
At the beginning of the fifth year of the war, Hitler appealed to the German people to be ready to fight. In the south, the Allies landed on Sicily in 1943 and marched on Rome. On July 4th, the "Eternal City" was conquered.
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