Heinz Guderian during the opening stage of the Operation Barbarossa, 1941
This study will chiefly be concerned with the operations of the Second Panzer Army which were commanded by the author. The theme will also be illustrated with examples from other Panzer Armies.
In July 1941, Panzer Group 2 (since 5 October - Second Panzer Army) was ordered to cross the Bug on D-Day on both sides of Brest-Litovsk, to break the Russian Front and to reach the Roslavl - Yelnya - Smolensk area in rapid exploitation of the initial success.
Panzer Group 2 was to receive new directives after reaching this objective. The Panzer Group was assigned to Army Group Center,
The CG [Commanding General - AWW], on the basis of experiences gained during the campaign in the West, decided to have four armored divisions spearhead the crossing of the Bug. The commander requested the cooperation of the infantry for the attack as well as for the blocking of Brest-Litovsk (XII Corps). The armored attack had to be conducted south and north of the fortress of Brest-Litovsk,
After having crossed the Bug, Panzer Group 8 had the impassable Pripet swamps to its right. Only small infantry elements of Fourth Army were to advance in this terrain.
Elements of Fourth Army attacked at the Panzer Group's left. The infantry of Ninth Army attacked subsequently.
To provide uniform command as soon as the Offensive started, the commander requested and obtained the attachment of XII Corps and of infantry divisions stationed in the zone of attack. At the same time, the Panzer Group became subordinate to Fourth Army, Field Marshal von Kluge commanding.
In the wake of the successful armored attack, open flanks on both sides would necessarily develop from the start. Those flanks had to be protected. It was chiefly the left flank which was threatened due to the heavy Russian concentration near Bialystok. This concentrated force, after recognizing the danger caused by the tanks in its rear, could be expected to attempt an escape from the threatening encirclement. The Russians might push along the main road via Volkovisk - Slonim.
The Commanding General decided to socure flank protection by two measures:
a. distribution in depth, especially on the most severely threatened left flank;
b. employment of the 1st Cavalry Division belonging to the Panzer Group on the right flank in this swamp area which was hardly passable for motorized units.
Further protection was provided by the infantry divisions following the armored divisions as well as by far-reaching air reconnaissance.
With the start of the offensive on 22 June 1941, the following units moved up:
XXIV Panzer Corps (General of the Panzer Troops, Baron Geyr von Schweppenburg) with 255th Infantry Division (subordinate for crossing the river) from Vlodava toward Maloryta; First Cavalry Division from Slavatishche via Maloryta toward Pinsk; Fourth Panzer Division from Koden toward the road Brest-Kobryn; Third Panzer Division from north of Koden toward Brest-Kobryn; Tenth Motorized (Division) behind as. second wave;
XII Corps (General Schroth) with 45th and 31st Infantry Division from the line north of Koden - Neple for the encirclement of Brest - Litovsk, with the forces not needed for this operation, in order to advance between the roads Brest - Kobryn - Bereza Kartuska and Motykaly - Pellshche - Pruzana - Slonim for mopping up the terrain between XXIV Panzer Corps and the XXXXVII Panzer Corps, adjacent to the left, to protect the inner flanks of these two Corps;
XXXXVII Panzer Corps (General of the Panzer Trops Lemelsen) with 18th and 17th Panzer Divisions in the front lines from Legi and Pratulin via the Lesna sector on both sides of Vistizhche toward Vidomla - Pruzana - Slonim, with the 29th Motorized Division behind as second wave; with the 167th Infantry Division subordinate for crossing the river to the left of the panzer divisions.
XXXXVI Panzer Corps (General of the Panzer Troops Baron von Vietinghoff) with 10th Panzer Division, SS Division "Das Reich" and Infantry Regiment "Gross Deutschland" were at first held back in the area Radzyn - Lukov - Deltlin in order to be added as reserves for the Panzer Groups to the XXXXVII Panzer Corps, following the clearing of the Bug bridges.
The crossing of the Bug succeeded at the entire front, because the surprise of the enemy was complete. South of Brest, the bridges across the river fell undamaged into the hands of XXIV Panzer Corps; northwest of Brest, the bridges had been destroyed earlier and had to be replaced by an emergency bridge at Legi.
The enemy, however, recovered quickly from his surprise and defended himself bravely in his shelters. Tne important oitadel of Brest was held with special tenacity for several days, thus blocking the main highway, the railroad and the bridges across the Bug and the Muchaviec,
In the evening, the Panzer Group fought for Maloryta, Kobryn, Brest and Pruzana, where the 18th Panzer Division engaged its tanks for the first time.
Model and Guderian discuss details of the operation. June 1941
In the course of tne following days, XXIV Panzer Corps advanced fighting with its three panzer and motorized divisions - three panzer divisions ahead, along the highway Kobryn - Bereza Kartuska toward Slutsk, where strong resistance had to be broken by committing both panzer divisions, while the Tenth Motorized followed in reserve. The 1st Cavalry Division protected the right flank by advancing via Antopol - Drohiczyk toward Pinsk.
Russian flank attacks from the swamp region of Kowel were parried off between 23 and 26 June near Maloryta by Fourth Army's LIII Corps (enclosure I). On 24 June XXXXVII Panzer Corps reached Slonim where it fought together with the l8th Panzer Division south of Slonim, and with the 17th Panzer Division in that town and east of it against the enemy facing our front; and against constantly increasing pressure from the direction of Volkovisk. The 29th Motorized Division, from our zone of depth, was employed for flank protection against enemy forces retreating to the east. The 29th Motorized Division in the Zevlianka sector had to contend for several days with violent defense, into which the advance elements of XXXVI Panzer Corps, having moved up in the meantime, were also dragged (Panzer Regiment of the 10th Panzer Division); furthermore, parts of LIII Corps (167th and 55th Infantry Division, see special report of L111 Corps, enclosure 1), The intensity of this fighting is being exemplified by 36,000 prisoners whioh the 71st Infantry Regiment of the 29th Motorized Division alone captured from 26 to 30 June.
The 17th Panzer division reached Stolpce on 26 June, and on 27 June the southern edge of Minsk, which Panzer Group 3 of Col. Gen. Hoth had entered the previous day. His Group had arrived from the northwest thereby completing the encirclement of the Russian forces in the Bialostok -Volkowysk area.
Executing the order to bear open the enemy first and quickly to reach the area Roslavl - Yelnya - Smolensk, the Panzer Group endeavored to seal, off the pocket around Bialystock with a minimum of forces, and to continue relentlessly the eastward push with the bulk of the forces.
Accordingly, XXXXVII Panzer Corps was ordered to advance without delay and, together with the 10th "Panzer Division along the highway Minsk - Borisov, to follow the 18th Panzer Division with all the elements of the 17th not needed for sealing off the pocket, so as to have the 29 Motorized Division intercept Russians who attempted to escape the encirclement by fleeing eastward. XXXXVI Panzer Corps was inserted via Baranowicze - Niecwiez, between XXIV and XXXXVII Panzer Corps, with the order to advance via Cherven and Smilovichi toward the Beresina sector near and to the south of Beresino.
XXIV Panzar Corps was supposed to continue its forward march in the direction of Bobruisk - Rogachev.
The Commanding General of Fourth Array, to whom the Panzer Group was again attached after Minsk had been reached, was more apprehensive on behalf of the safety of the Panzer Group's left threatened from the pocket of Bialystok, than was the leader of the Panzer Group himself. The Fourth Amy's CG therefore ordered a halt of the 17th Panzer Division south-weut of Minsk, front west, and the commitment of strong elements of the 10th Panzer Division and of the Regiment "Gross Deutschland" north of Slonim. Furthermore, strong units of XII Corps were engaged in order to seal off the pocket.
The 17th Panzer Division did not receive this order in opportune time and therefore remained with the bulk of its forces on the march toward Borisov. No damage was caused through this procedure.
On about 3 July the capitulation of the Russians retreating from Bialystok was terminated and the menace to the flanks and the rear lifted. The relieved motorized troops followed their Corps to the east. A distance of several days developed between those troops and the infantry divisions which also advanced on the two principle routes of advance. The Russians were under the impact of the surprise as far as the Berezina. From there onwards they regained their composure and caused considerable delay for the German advance by destroying roads and establishing new positions which the Russians manned with fresh troops. Here and there, the conscientious ground and air reconnaissance detected concentrations for attack. The Dnepr Line was fortified (Stalin Line) and the bridges at Rogachev, Mogilev and Orsha were protected by strongly manned bridgeheads.
XXIV Panzer Corps had to commit both panzer divisions for the seizure of Bobruisk. After the capture of that city on 28 June, the 3d Panzer division advanced on Rogachev and the 4th Panzer Division on Stary Bykhov towards the Dnepr, while the 10th Motorized Division was employed to the right and the rear of the 3d Panzer Division in direction Zhlobin, the 1st Cavalry Division protecting the right flank and the rear of Corps south of the main road. Attempts failed to take Rogachev and Mogilev by surprise. LIII Corps of Fourth Army followed XXIV Panzer Corps in some distance,
XXXXVI Panzer Corps forced the crossings of the Beresina at Beresino and then advanced toward the Dnepr in direction of Shklov. The Corps thus advanced with the 10th Panzer Division at its right, with the 2d SS Division "The Reich" at the left and with the "Gross Deutschland" Regiment behind. Reconnaissance toward Mogilev was undertaken.
XXXXVII Panzer Corps, with the 18th Panzer Division ahead, crossed the Beresina on 30 June over tne Borisov highway bridge which had remained intact. The Corps then deployed to the left. It was at Borisov that the Russian tanks T 34 an KW I appeared for the first time. On 6 July, the 17th Panzer Division reached Senno where its northwestern flank was counter¬attacked by the 13th Siberian Mechanized Division and another Russian division. Between 7 and 9 July, violent fighting broke out. In the course of these engagements, 138 Russian tanks were tut out of action. The enemy attack was repelled. Components of the 17th Panzer Division which the Russians had encircled in Oboltsi could be relieved on 10 July. Russian tank attacks against the 18 Panzer Division at Olochino were repulsed,
Russian resistance stiffened from day to day, and the danger of powerful counterattacks from the strongly manned bridgeheads of Zhlobin - Rogachev, Mogilev and Orsha increased. Therefore, the Commanding General had to decide whether to continue the impetuous advance across the Dnepr in order to reach his objectives quickly and to disrupt the new Russian front which was in formation, or whether it was more advisable to stop west of the Dnepr and await the infantry Corps, The arrival of that Corps would have required about two weeks. Upon its approach, the river crossing would then be forced in accordance with a prepared plan of attack.
Of the two possible decisions, the first was the more daring. It meant that the flanks and rear would definitely be exposed to serious risks, because the Panzer Group's forces were by no means adequate to overpower the Russian forces at the bridgeheads. ln case of success, however, it would be this decision alone which offered prospects for reaching the designated objectives Roslavl - Yelnya - Smolensk in time. In the course of this operation, the enemy front would be torn open and the basis prepared for the campaign's successful termination during 1941.
The other possible decision of this alternative entailed no risk at all, but it meant granting a two week delay to the Russians who would have used it to strengthen the river defenses. The success of the attack across the fortified river may have become doubtful and the good fortune of the summer campaign questionable.
The Commanding General decided therefore on the immediate attack.
He ordered a strong concentration of the scattered forces on two main crossing points:
XXIV Panzer Corps was ordered to force the river crossing on 10 July. The Corps was to seek cover while pushing on the right against Zhlobin - Rogachev and toward Mogilev on the left near Stary Bykhov. Maintaining bilateral flank protection, the Corps had then to reach the highway from Propoysk to Roslavl. XXXXVI Panzer Corps was supposed to cross the river and south of Shklov. While protecting its left flank, the Corps had than to advance against the enemy at Mogilev via Gorki - Pochinok toward Yelnya. Finally, XXXXVII Corps had to concentrate its forces on the sector of Kopys south of Orsha. After the river crossing on 11 July had succeeded, Corps had to advance south of the Dnepr toward Smolensk. Near Orsha, the enemy was merely to be observed. Fighting in the Shuravlya - Obolzy - Senno area was to be discontinued while enemy reconnaissance had to be maintained.
All movements were to be camouflaged carefully. Marching was only permitted at night time.
Excellent air supremacy over the zone of attack was provided through the outstanding commitment of fighter airplanes under Colonel Moelders, who always kept his jump-off airfields in immediate vicinity of the fighting front, and who cooperated with the panzer in genuine comradership. The close combat airplanes under General Viebig, attached to the Panzer Group, were just as effective. The air reconnaissance under the command of Lt. Col. von Barsewisch. constituted the ever alert eye of the Panzer Corps.
After the movements were initiated as ordered, the Commanding General of Fourth Army visited the Panzer Group in the afternoon of 9 July. He disapproved the decision made and he wanted to await at the Dnepr the arrival of the infantry Corps. His doubts were only overcome by the fact that the assembly of the attacking troops, especially of XXIV Panzer Corps, had already been affected and could not be concealed much longer. The Commanding General wan finally convinced by the confidence with which the commander of the Panzer Groups expressed his belief in the success of the operations.
On 10 July XXXV Panzer Corps established a bridgehead at Stary Bykhov.
On 11 July XXXXVI and XXXXVII Panzer Corps succeeded in changing shores near Shklov and Kopys. Only the 17th Panzer Division's crossing elements, which had already reached the east bank, were taken back from the strongly occupied crossing point south of Orsha in consideration on of the danger of heavy casualties. However, a serious threat to the left flank of the 18th Panzer Division developed subsequently on account of this withdrawal.
The three Corps commenced the forward march without delay, and they deployed their forces, in the course of the next days of fighting, from the bridgeheads gained to greater breadth. The enemy had been successfully taken by surprise and his front was again disrupted.
The Russians, however, were not willing to abandon so readily this most important river line. Marshal Timoshenko, commanding the front, decided on a large-scale counterattack against the flanks of the panzer troops which had crossed over. The center of gravity, about 20 divisions, vas to grow out of the Gomel sector along the line Krichev - Rogachev - Zhlobin and further west, and with elements from the Mogilev area on both aides of the Dnepr to the south against Rogachev, Dovsk, Propoyak and Chernikov.
Tho forces originating from the Orsha sector were apparently to be united with those from Mogilev, the former also attacked to the south and southeast.
The Russian offensive started on 13 July. On this day, headquarters of the Panzer Group moved from Tolochino to Syakhody on the east bank of the Dnepr, southeast of Shklov. The situation of the Panzer Group was approximately the following:
XXIV Panzer Corps with four panzer divisions advancing via Propoysk - Chernikov on Kriychev;
with three panzer divisions via Chausy - Weremeyka on Koschany;
with ten motorized divisions behind four panzer divisions on Propoysk;
Wlth one Cavalry Division via Selets on Dovsk.
XXXXVI Panzer Corps with 10 Panzer divisions and the Second SS Division "Das Reich" following it via Gorki on Monastyrshchina; with Infantry Regiment "Gross-Deutschland" south of Syakhody fighting the enemy from Mogilev, weak elements of XXIV and XXXXVI Panzer Corps, also for the encirclement of Mogilev.
XXXXVII Panzer Corps with 18th Panzer Division advancing on Gusino - Krasnoye on the Dnepr east of Orsha, with 17th Panzer Division st a bridgehead south of Orsha, with 29th Motorized Division advancing behind the 18th Panzer Division via Gorki on Lenino; with Kampfgruppe (combat teem) stretch west of Orsha in order to seal off the enemy forces to the west. It came to numerous clashes, unexpected by either side, in the rear of the eastward driving German divisions, which wore seriously hit in various points. The 18th Panzer Division lost thus part of its rear echelon services through enemy tank attack. The forward divisions, however, succeeded everywhere in continuing the advance.
The 3d and the 4th Panzer Division of XXII Panzer Corps reached the Sozh sector between Krichev and Koshany and established bridgeheads. The 10th Motorized Division, whioh was already engaged in violent defensive combat at Zhlobin, became involved in new, heavily defensive fighting near Propoyak, after having been relieved by LIII Corps, while the 1st Cavalry Division covered the right flank between Seles and Dovsk. The Russian push from Zhobin - Rogachev against the deep flank could be completely repulsed by LXXX Corps which had quickly followed our panzer (see: Special Report of LIII Corps, Enclosure 1).
XXXXVI Panzer Corps was not seriously hindered, except for a temporary tie-up of the Infantry Regiment "Gross-Deutschland" near Mogilev, Russian attacks against the flanks of the divisions advancing on Choslavlchi and Monastryshchina, tie 10th Pander Division to the right and the Second SS Division "Das Reich" to the left, were repelled.
XXXXVI Panzer Corps encountered greater difficulties in its advance, Both panzer divisions became tied up in flank protection between Guslno and 0rsha after having crossed the Dnepr. The fighting was rather fierce. However, behind those two divisions, the 29th Motorized Division pushed vin Lenino - Krasnoye toward Smolensk, entered that city on 15 July, took the Dnepr crossing in town during the night nf 15 to 16 July and conquered on 16 July also the part of the city north of the river. The target of the Panzer Group had been reached on the left wing in surprisingly short time. It now became a question of holding that had been won and to enlarge the gains made.
As early as 17 Ju1y and lasting until 20 July the Russians launched heavy counterattacks against the northern part of Smolensk. At the same time, fresh Russian forces attacked the city from the southeast. On 18 July, the 17th Panzer Division, relieved of the flank protection east of Orsha, started from Lyady in the direction of Smolensk andl attacked toward Trebinskaya, 7 kilometers southeset of Smolensk, thus relieving the 29th Motorized Division. On 19th and 20 July the area southeast of of Smolensk was cleared of the enemy. After the commander of the 17th Panzer Division, General von Arnim, was already wounded before Slonim, his Deputy, General Rltter von Weber wes mortally wounded,
During the following days, the 17th Panzer Division covered the left flank of XXXXVI Panzer Corps advancing on Yelnya.
On 20 July, the 10th Panzer Division of XXXXVI Panzer Corps stood in Yelnya after having broken through a" Russian position which was about to be established. To the left of the 10th Panzer Division, the Second SS Division "Das Reich" closed the gap of the 17th Panzer Division. The Infantry Regiment "Gross Deutschland," and after 24 July the 18th Panzer Division too, were ordered to protect the right flank of Corps, and at the same time cover Shatalovka airfield situated at the extreme right wing directly behind the front. Shtalovka airfleld had to be occupied by the close support airplane group, in order to safeguard an effective air support for the panzer.
Panzer Group 3 (Hoth), advancing north of Smolensk, had meanwhile succeeded in reaching the highway and the old main road, thereby cutting off strong enemy forces. It now became incumbent on XXXXVI Panzer Corps and on XXXXVII Panzer Corps' I7th Panzer Division to prevent the enemy fron escaping. The Second SS Division "Das Reich" advanced with part of its forces northward in direction Dorogobuzh in order to seal off the Russian units encircled east of Smolensk, but the SS Division got stuck in the swampy forests.
The main threat, however, was not against the left but rather against the right flank of the Panzer Group, where the Russian Marshal Timoshenko tried to change the situation by concentrated attack on the Yelnya segment which bulged far to the east with the center of gravity on either side of the road Roslavl - Smolensk. Headquarters of the Panzer Group were therefore transferred on 24 July to this road to Prudki just west of Pochinok.
On 27 July, the Commanding General of Panzer Group 2 flew to Army Group at Borisov, in order to request new directives for the continuation of the operation. He expected orders directing the thrust toward Moscow, or possibly Bryansk, but he learned to his surprise that the Fuehrer had ordered a thrust of Second Army and of Panzer Group 2 toward Gomel, there to encircle the Russian forces, which were estimated at eight to ten divisions. The Fuehrer was said to believe large scale envelopments were operations resulting from an incorrect general staff theory justified in the west, but not in Russia, where the fighting power of the enemy had to be crushed through the formation of small pockets. All participants at that conference were of the opinion that such tactics would grant the enemy new breathing spells in which to improve his rear lines with his inexhaustible reserves, and that in this manner the war would never be brought to the much needed early end.
Regardless of the decision finally made, Panzer Group 2 had first to beat the enemy at the right flank. The CG therefore reported to the Army Group commander about his decision to attack Roslavl. Seventh and Ninth Corps were put under his command for this attack; else Twentieth Corps in order to relieve the divisions of XXXXVI and XXXXVII Panzer Corps at the Yelnya bend and at Smolonsk. These divisions were in need of rest and rehabilitation.
VII Corps commanded: the 7th, 23d, 76th find 197th Infantry Divisions;
IX Corps commanded: 263d, 292nd and 137th Infantry Divisions;
XX. Corps conmanded: the 15th and the 268th Infantry Divisions.
The attack to eliminate the threat to the flanks was scheduled as follows; XXIV Panzer Corps had to protect the deep right flank against the enemy forces in the Klimovlchi -Miloslavichi sector; their task was performed by two Corps divisions: the 10th Motorized and the 7th Infantry division of VII Corps.
XXIV Panzer Corps had to employ the 3d and tho 4th Panzer Divisions for the capture of Roslavl. From there, Corps was to safeguard liaison with Ninth Corps committed between the Oster and the Desna.
The 1st Cavalry Division had in the meantime become attached to Second Army.
Seventh Corps had to advance with the 23d and 197th Infantry Divisions via Petrovichi - Khlslavichi toward the highway Roslsvl - 5todolishche, following the 3d Panzer Division. The 78th Infantry Division followed in second line.
Ninth Corps was to advance with the 263d Infantry Division between the above-mentioned highway and the Oster river, with the 232d and 127th Infantry Division between Oster and Desna from north to south with the main effort to the left against the road Roslavl - Yekimovichi. For this purpose, Ninth Corps was reinforced by components of XXXXVII Panzer Corps, especially by artillery.
The offensive was to start on 1 August for XXIV Panzer Corps and VII Corps and on 2 August for Nlnth Corps; the attack started on time. XXIV Panzer Corps and VII Corps made good progress. The Sozh River was crossed. In the night of 2 to 3 August, the 4th Panzer Division took Roslavl and advanced with panzer on 3 August on the Moscow highway up to the destroyed Oster bridge at Kosaki. VII Corps crossed the Roslavl - Stodolishche highway after hard fighting. The situation of IX Corps became more difficult. On 2 August the 292d Infantry Division, earmarked for the advance between Oster and Desna, groped slowly ahead; the 263d Infantry Division, committed west of the 292d, did not advance at all. On 3 August, the commander himself led the spearhead of the 292d lnfantry Division as far as to the road Roslavl - Kosaki and closed the pocket at the Oster bridge through contact with the 4th Panzer Division.
In the morning of 4 August, the commander flew to Army Group at Borisov in order to report to the Fuehrer.
The Army Group commander, and the Commanding Generals of Panzer Groups 3 and 2 were ordered to report one after another, so that nobody knew what the previous speaker had said. Everyone explained his point of view regarding the pursuit of the operations. All three considered the continuation of the push toward Moscow the decisive factor. The Fuehrer designated the industrial zone of Leningrad as target number 1; however, he did not definitely decide whether in second place the push should be continued toward Moscow or against the Ukraine and Crimea. He seemed to favor the latter possibility as Army Group South appeared to become successful, and because he wanted to see the Russian air base against Rumania eliminated in the south. He believed to have Kharkov and Moscow in hand before the winter.
The commander, emphasized that a continuation of large-scale panzer operations could only be practicable after arrival of new panzer and new panzer motors, seeing that the wear and tear had become unexpectedly great on account of the bad roads and the emery-like grinding action of the enormous dust. The commander reported that he would be ready for Operation Moscow on 15 August. Panzer Group 3 announced 20 August for thls operation.
Back at his headquarters, the commander learned that IX Corps, contrary to orders, had given up the road Roslavl - Yekimovichl for fear of an enemy breakthrough further north near Yermolino. In the morning of 5 August, the commander went to Roslavl and gathered parts of the 23d Infantry Dlvision and panzer units of the 4th Panzer Division which were already in the process of being relieved. He put the components of the 23d Infantry Division on a Flak unit's trucks leading them against the withdrawing enemy across the Oster bridge at Kosaki which temporarily had been made passable. After a short engagement, the pocket was closed again. At this decisive spot alert Gen. Martinek took over. Up to 8 August, 38,000 prisoners had surrendered. Two hundred guns and about the same number of tanks were captured.
After elimination of the main danger around Roslavl, a new front facing east was formed on either side of the Roslavl - Moscow highway along the Desna and adjoining the Yelnya bend, while the 78th and 197th Infantry Divisions southwest of Roslavl assumed the protection toward Bryansk.
The thoughts of the whole Panzer Group turned toward the big, forthcoming decision on the continuation of the campaign. Everyone down to the lost private, wanted the thrust on Moscow. According to this general feeling, the attack was prepared for 15 August from the line Roslavl - Smolensk against Vyazma, with strong right wing via Spas - Demensk. These preparations were reported to Army Group.
In the meantime XXIV Panzer Corps' Commanding General, Baron Geyr von Schweppenburg wanted to attack of his own accord. He intended to envelop and annihilate the enemy forces, which stood precariously close to the left flank of the Corps around Klisiovichi - Miloslavichi. This intention was approved by Panzer Group.
The attack succeeded and, up to 14 August, brought 16,000 prisoners and a great number of guns, while three infantry divisions and one cavalry brigade were destroyed. The 4th Panzer Division took Kostryukovichi.
Henceforth, tne question of continuing the operations became predominant. As a first measure, the higher authority prohibited the prepared attack. In direction Moscow as well as, preventively, an advance toward Bryansk. Subsequently, the advance of one panzer division on Chechersk and then on Gomel was demanded. Seeing that one panzer division alone could not roll through the enemy forces, which still stood in considerable strength in tne southern flank of the Panzer Group, XXIV Panzer Corps decided to advance with the 4th Panzer Division on Novosybkov, with the 3d Panzer Division on Starodub, leaving the latter as flank protection, and continue pushing with the right column on Gomel. The 10th Motorized Division was to follow behind the center.
The weakness of the enemy which resulted from the battle at Klimovichi - Miloslavichi was however not to be exploited by the left wing of Second Army. Rather was the left wing, on orders from above, to be kept as pivot for a subsequent wheeling maneuver eastward.
It transpired on 16 August that Army Group thought of Panzer Group 2 as being used subsequently on both sides of the Roslavl - Moscow highway.
On 17 August, the 4th Panzer Division stalled south of Kostyukovichi in the face of strong enemy forces, while farther eastward the 10th Motorized Division and the 3d Panzer division could make good advances via Unecha. The important railroad Gomel - Bryansk was thus interrupted.
On 20 August it became clear that the left wing of Second Army marched in northeasterly direction (34th Infantry Division on Kostyukovichi), thereby marching far behind the front of XXIV Panzer Corps which, in turn, was engaged in heavy fighting at Starodub - Unecha, Application was made with Army Group to order the march of Second Army's left wing toward Surazh, in order to pin down at least the enemy forces opposite XXIV Panzer Corps. Such an order was promised by Army Group but was not issued.
During a telephone conversation in the evening of 20 August, the Army Group commander thought further advances not indicated, He mentioned reorganization of XXIV Panzer Corps in the area south of Roslavl.
n 22 August Panzer Group headquarters were transferred to Shumyachi west of Roslavl,
Army Group inquired in the evening whether a concentration of employable panzer units was feasible in the Klintsy - Pochep sector in order to advance at the left wing of Second Army in southern direction for cooperation. With Sixth Army of Army Group South. On this same evening, Army Group had already orders to the affect that a fast task force should participate in the attack of Second Army to the south. The commander warned emphatically against commitment of the Panzer Group in that direction, and deemed its partition impossible.
On 23 August, the commander flew to Army Group which ordered on the same day the preparation of four fast task forces toward the south.
A discussion took place at Army Group about the continuation of the operations. The participants at the conference were the Chief of Staff of the Army, Colonel General Halder, the Army Group's Commanding General, Field Marshal von Bock, and the Commander of Panzer Group 2. All present agreed that it would be appropriate to execute the thrust against Moscow during the summer. Hitler, however, had already decided on the seizure of the Ukraine before advancing on Moscow. The three generals therefore believed that the road to success would be obstructed by considerable difficulties in the fall, when the bad weather period was due and the troops' attrition would doubtlessly have begun. Following the suggestion of Field Marshal von Bock, the Commanding General of Panzer Group 2 flew to Hitler's headquarters at Loetzen, there to present to him once more, prior to the start of the operation the contrary viewpoint of the front. Before reporting to Hitler, the Commanding General of Panzer Group 2 called on the Commander-in-Chief of the Army who received him as follows: "I forbid you specifically to talk to the Fuehrer about Moscow, The matter has been settled and any further discussion is superfluous."
The General replied that his report would be pointless in these circumstances and requested permission to fly back to his Panzer Group. Nevertheless, the Army Commander-in-Chief ordered the General to raport to Hitler about the situation of the Panzer Group but not to mention Moscow.
The oral situation report was delivered. After the General had ended, Hitler asked: "Do you consider your Panzer Group capable of another great effort following the earlier accomplishments?"
The General's answer was: "Yes, if a great objective is pointed out to the troops, and if every soldier o»n recognize it."
Thereupon Hitler: "You mean of course Moscow!"
The Panzer Group Commander: "Yes, Please permit me to substantiate my point of view, after you broached the subject
Hitler consented and the Commander of Panzer Group 2 outlined in detail the reasons which had convinced troops and staffs of Army Group Center unanimously, that the movements should be continued without delay in the direction of Moscow, and that all other considerations should be deferred in favor of the operational necessity of a military decision,
Hitler listened to the explanations without interrupting. He then explained his own dissenting opinion with outlines on food economy and war potential and refused, in conclusion, to continue the operation against Moscow.
He rather ordered the preliminary seizure of the Ukraine by Army Group South in cooperation with Second Army and with Panzer Group 2 of Army Group Canter, The movements were to begin on 25 August.
The last attempt toward an immediate offensive in direction Moscow had failed, The front line troops had not harbored any doubt that Moscow could have been reached by August or September. Without having the assurance that Army Group South and Second Army would be able to protect them, the front line troops were willing to put up with the danger of on open flank of 400 kilometers which would have developed between Moscow and Roslavl as a result of such an offensive. These troops firmly believed that their offensive's probable success, the seizure of the traffic hub Moscow, would limit the operational move ability of the enemy to such an extent that the menace in the flank could be overcome.
After the Supreme Commander had decided differently, one had to adjust oneself to this new situation. The mission now was the quick conquest of the Ukraine and the elimination of the strong Russian forces there. After this mission was accomplished, we could still proceed in the fall of 1941 to the last, decisive task: the main attack on Moscow. The Panzer Group was confronted with the problem of breaking through an enemy front, which was but loosely echeloned, and then to push into the rear of the Soviet Army which fought around Kiev. From the first day of attack, open flanks on both sides were bound to develop in the course of this operation. The protection of these flanks was decisive for the quick accomplishment of the mission. By now, the 29th Motorized Division covered an area of 80 kilometers on the Desna and the upper Sudost. East of Starodub, enemy forces stood west of the Sudost sector in the flank of XXIV Panzer Corps. After Infantry had relieved the 29th Motorized Division, the flank from Prochep to Konotop — the first objective of the attack — measured 130 kilometers. The principal phase of the operation began afterwards, and it was only there that the real impact of the danger would be felt. The enemy's strength in the east flank had been reconnoitered in parts only. In any event, the total involvement of the forces of XXXXVII Panzer Corns had to be counted on for the protection of this flank. Shortly after the breakthrough, however, a successful advance was bound to cause an open west flank, which was threatened by the Russians re-treating from Gomel. This flank required at least parts of the XXIV Panzer Corps. So much less was left for the spearhead beyond Konotop, because XXIV Panzer Corps had not had the benefit of any rest or reorganization. Instead, the Corps had to contend with incessant, heavy fighting,
After Hitler had decided to renounce the push in direction of Moscow and rather had the Ukraine conquered first, the commander saw himself prompted to request the entire Panzer Group for carrying out his assignment in lieu of only four task forces as authorized on 23 August in the morning. The Fuehrer approved this request. Nevertheless, Army Group withheld for its own use XXXXVI Panzer Corps near and south of Smolensk. That Corps consisted of the 10th Panzer Division, 2d SS Division "Das Reich" and the Infantry Regiment "Gross-Deutschland."
The Panzer Group's objection against this disposition remained unheeded. The Corps was being subordinated to Fourth Army.
The movements were initiated on 25 August, XXIV Panzer Corps was being committed in direction of the Desna together with the 10th Motorizod Division via Kholmy and Avdyeevka and with the 3d Panzer Division via Kostobobr - Novgorod-Severskiy, while the 4th Panzer Division was supposed to mop up the west shore of the Sudost and then to follow the 3d Panzer Division aftsr having been relieved by parts of XXXXVII Panzer Corps.
XXXXVII Panzer Corps received orders to attack via Pochep on the east bank of the Sudost, in order to protect the left flank of XXIV Panzer Corps. XXXXVII Panzer Corps was then to cross to the east bank of the Desna via Trubchevsk, in order to facilitate the river passage of XXIV Panzer Corps.
On 26 August Panzer Group's headquarters were transferred to Unecha.
On this day the 3d Panzer Division's quick action made it possible to seize the undamaged 700 meter long wooden bridge across the Desna south of Novgorod-Severskiy. The 3d Panzer Division exploited this surprising success at once and created a big bridgehead into v/hich the 4th Panzer Division could soon be pulled.
The 17th Panzer Division within XXXXVII Panzer Corps had crossed the ROG south of Pochep. South of the river, the division encountered freshly arrived strong armored enemy forces against which fierce fighting began.
In the evening of 26 August, the left wing of Second Army stood just south of Novozybkov. The boundary line to Second Army ran from Klintsy via Kholmy to Sosnitsa (north-east of Makoshino on the Desna); the boundary to Fourth Army ran from Surazh via Unecha - Pochep - Bransovo.
Of the components of XXIV Panzer Corps, the 10th Motorized Division stood near Kholmy and Avdeevka, the 3d Panzer Division at the Desna bridge south of Novgorod - Severskiy, and the 4th Panzer Division still in battle with the enemy southeast of Starodub.
Within XXXXVII Panzer Corps, the 17th Panzer Division fought near Semtsy south of Pochep and the 29th Motorized Division protected the left flank of Panzer Group between Pochep and Shukovka. As the Infantry divisions of XII and LIII Corps ware arriving, the 29th Motorized Division concentrated its forces on the right flank. The 18th Panzer Division, approaching from the north, had passed with Its forward elements through Roslavl.
Perpendicularly to the movements of Panzer Group 2, the following units marched from west to east: I67th Infantry Division via Meglin, 31st Infantry Division north of the former, 34th Infantry Division via Kletnya, 52d Infantry Division via Perelasy, and the 267th and 252d Infantry Divisions on the road Krlchev - Cherikov - Propolsk.
By 31 August the bridgehead over the Lesna with considerably enlarged, and the 4th Panzer Division had moved across the river. The 10th Motorized Division succeeded in going over the Desna north of Korop but was thrown back by a violent Russian counterattack; moreover, strong enemy forces attacked the 10th Motorized Divlsion's right flank. A catastrophe of the right flank was avoided by committing the last reserves - the troops of the bakers company. The Russian 108th Armored Division, and after 1 September also the 110th, attacked XXXXVII Panzer Corps from Trubchevsk toward the west and northwest; the brave 17th Panzer Division was hard pressed. The 29th Motorized Division had advanced northeast across the Novgorod-Severskly bridge In order to protect the northern flank of the bridgehead built by XXIV Panzer Corps and to help the 17th Panzer Division to advance. The 18th Panzer Division had relieved the 4th Panzer Division at the Sudost sector between the estuary of the Sudost into the Desna, and Pochep.
XXIV Panzer Corps had so far captured 7,500 prisoners and XXXXVII Corps had brought in twelve thousand.
Army High Command insinuated that it considered an advance on the east bank of the Desna superfluous. The commander of the Panzer Group advocated not to leave the armored enemy forces undefeated in the deep left flank west of Trubchevsk, as one could not expect them to remain passive behind the Sudost sector. The commander requested the renewed employment of XXXXVI Panzer Corps, in order to prelude a let-up of the operation. Only the Infantry Regiment "Grosa-Deutschland" was sent to him at first.
On 1 September, a radio message to Army Group requested again the subordination of XXXXVI Panzer Corps and of further elements, especially of the 1st Cavalry Division. The result
was the arrival from Smolensk of the Second SS Division "Das Reich" which became again subordinate to the Panzer Group.
On 2 September the Infantry Regiment "Gross-Deutschland" reached the bridgehead of Novgorod-Severskiy. The 17th Panzer Division was engaged in heavy fighting.
Information was received on 3 September, that the Borsna - Konotop line remained the objective for the Panzer Group. The decision as to whether the push from that line should be directed to the west or the southwest was still in abeyance.
Headquarters of XXXXVI Panzer Corps together with half of the Corps' troops became again subordinated. The gradual subordination rendered the clear and well-timed disposition of the forces more difficult.
This day brought 6,200 prisoners.
The continued advance to the south and the Southwest caused further elongation of the flanks and steady weakening of the spearhead, so that XXIV Panzer Corps dutifully reported that the order for the 3d Panzer Division, which was fighting as the advance element, amounted to an all-out gamble.
Moreover, bad weather set in on that day. The roads were washed out in few hours. This condition resulted in endless march delays. Only one regiment of the approaching SS Division "Das Reich" arrived in opportune tine; the arrival of the bulk was drawn out over a period of seven days. In hilly spots the motorized vehicles had to be tugged individually by prime covers. Now the price had to be paid for not having heeded the warning, prior to initiating the operation, that the roads were in bad condition and for not having secured sufficiently strong forces.
The 2d SS Division "Das Reich" became subordinate to XXIV Panzer Corps with the mission to eliminate the threat to the right flank end then to force the Desna crossing at Makoshino.
On 4 September, the Panzer Group received information that OKW was dissatisfied with the Parser Group's operations, especially with the commitment of forces east of the Desna (this observation probably referred to XXXXVII Panzer Corps) which was not according to the Supreme Command's ideas. This information was followed at night by the order for XXXXVII Panzer Corps to cease its attack on the east bank of the Desna and to continue on the west bank. This order had a devastating effect on the troops. Corps Headquarters and the Division were close to the final success. The captured materiel amounted to 155 guns, 120 tanks; 17,000 prisoners had been made. XXIV Panzer Corps had made 13,000 prisoners. No word of appreciation arrived but rather a reproach. Under the bad road conditions, the delay required more time than the continuation of the offensive would have cost.
The 1st Cavalry Division which had just arrived at the right flank of Panzer Group, to which it had again become subordinate, was transferred on 6 September to the left flank by order of the Army High Command, for the purpose of protecting the flank of the Sudost sector on either side of Pogar. The 1st Cavalry Division was fighting at the right wing in order to remove the threat to the flank which was not yet eliminated. The pulling out of the unit caused great difficulties.
On 6 September, the motorcycle battalion of the 2d SS Division "Das Reich" captured the railroad bridge at Makoshlno by a swift attack. An additional Desna crossing was thereby gained.
On 7 September in the evening, Army Group ordered an advance against the Mezhin - Monastirshchino line, with the main effort toward Nezhin.
On 8 September at 5.25 a.m. this order was changed to "New direction Borsna - Romny, main effort to the right." A conference of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army took place on this day at Second Army Headquarters in Gomel. The new operation in direction Moscow, planned for early October, was being discussed.
On 9 September XXIV Panzer Corps crossed the Seim at Baturin. The 1st Cavalry Division departed northward to Fourth Army; consequently the 18th Panzer Division had co remain at the Ludost for flank protection.
Panzer Group transferred its headquarters to a forest camp 10 kilometers northwest of Krolevets.
XXIV Panzer Corps reported toward the evening, that the attack between Baturin and Konotop had hit a weak spot of the enemy front, and that the advance detachment of the 3d Panzer Division was approaching Romny. Thus the division arrived in the enemy's rear area.
It now became a question of quickly exploiting this success. Such undertaking was no easy task, considering the lack of strength, the bad roads and especially the almost open east flank of 240 kilometers.
At 9 a.m on 10 September, the advance parties of the 3d Panzer Division under Col. Kleemann reached Romny, the objective of the Group. There the Division met rear echelons of several Russian divisions.
The moving up of additional forces proved very difficult on account of the bottomless roads. Moreover, the bad weather hindered our own flying activity considerably. Air reconnaissance brought no results for several days. This condition in-creased the insecurity of the east flank. The Me 109 fighters could not take off, while the Russian low-flying airplanes, starting from the better weather zone in the south, could attack more effectively and harass our troops.
The 2d SS Division "Das Reich" and the 4th Panzer Division joined at Bakhmach; the 17th Panzer Division reached Voronej -Glukhov.
Army Group reported on 11 September, that Panzer Group 1, committed on Romny from the south, advanced but slowly because of bad roads. Panzer Group 2 was urged to advance still farther to the south, in order to seal off the pocket around the Russian Army Group Kiev.
The 17th Panzer Division reached Glukhov. On 13 September Army Group disapproved a request for relieving the 18th Panzer Division through infantry at the Sudost sector, because the preparation for the attack on Moscow had been declared more important by the Army High Command than the closing of the Kiev pocket.
On 14 September, the Panzer Group transferred its headquarters to Konotop. Bad weather continued. Air reconnaissance failed completely. Ground reconnaissance got stuck in the mud.
The insecurity in the long east flank increased from one day to another, because the three weak divisions of XXXXVII Panzer Corps, drawn out over a stretch of more than 300 kilometers, could hardly master their task, since they had become almost immobilized.
On 15 September, the southward push was continued with a weak advance detachment of the 3d Panzer Division which took Lokhvitsa. The 17th Panzer Division had been lined up in the direction of Putivl.
On 16 September the advance battalion of the 3d Panzer Division under Major Frank established contact with Panzer Group 1 at the Udai sector north of Lubni. The ring around the Russian Aimy Group in Kiev was thus closed.
At the same time, the 17th Panzer Division met strong enemy forces near Putivl; the Division attacked. Heavy fighting that lasted several days, developed here from 16 to 19 September.
Advanced headquarters of Panzer Group were transferred to Romny,
The alert communication commander Col. Praun succeeded in connecting the telephone line from Romny to Panzer Group 1 via Lokhvitsa - Lubni. The encirclement became tighter.
The 2d SS Division "Das Reich" entered Khvostovtsi, and the 4th Panzer Division reached the Udai sector near Schuravka-Ladin, The left wing of the 3d Panzer Division was relieved by the 25th Motorized Division of Panzer Group 1.
On the same day heavy fighting flared up east of Konotop between the 10th Motorized Division and the Infantry Regiment "Gross-Deutschland" under the command of XXXXVI Panzer Corps on one side and strong Russian forces on the other side. Those fights brought the Russians temporarily close to the gates of Konotop. The enemy gained visible strength before the bridge-head of Novgorod - Sevrskiy. The Luftwaffe was asked to destroy the railroads from the east continuously in order to protect the increasingly threatened flank. The Russians, however, showed an extraordinary skill in repairing the railroads, so that no complete protection of the flank could be implemented through the Luftwaffe alone.
The Kiev pocket was considerably tightened through the capture of Priluki by the 2d SS Division "Das Reich" and of Piryatin by the 3d Panzer Division. The Second Army advanced so rapidly on that day, that doubts arose whether strong Russian forces were actually still in the pocket.
The next days brought a crisis in the depth of the east flank. There was rain in the morning hours of 18 September as lively shooting suddenly arose east of Romny. Now the attack began which had been in the offing for a long time.
Strong enemy forces advanced from the east in three columns, amongst them the Russian 9th Cavalry Division and tanks. The enemy was within 800 meters of the city and of Panzer Group1 s headquarters. At the same time, a strong air attack on Romny took place. With difficulty this attack could be stopped by committing forces which had been gathered hastily; two battalions of the 10th Metorized Division, one Flak battalion, some panzer and the Luftwaffe.
On that day, the air reconnaissance reported a long railroad transport move on the line Kharkov - Sumi, detraining at Shuravka and at Seredina Buda in front of XXXXVII Panzer Corps.
XXIV Panzer Corps' principal objective was the envelopment of the Russian Army Group Kiev. As a further mission, XXIV Panzer Corps was ordered to concentrate all forces which could be dispensed with for the defeat of the enemy in the east flank. The rapid execution of this order suffered however under the lack of fuel.
At first 2d SS Division "Das Reich" and the 4th Panzer Division could only put small forces in eastward march, and were unable to score a decisive success on 19 September. On this day, the enemy continued to detrain at Seredina Buda. Further arrivals via Sumi to the north were observed.
On 20 September, the units of the 2d S3 Division "Das Reich" which advanced from Romny on Nedrigailov gained small, initial successes. The 17th Panzer Division, in attaoking southeastward from Putivl, reached Vorojba.
A high echelon staff (Fifth Russian Army) became recognizable during the fighting which still took place at the 3d Panzer Division encirolement front of Kiev. Further south, at the 25th Motorized Division of Parser Group 1, the Russians tried to break through.
On 21 and 22 September, fresh Russian forces, detrained at Shuravka, made themselves felt. They attacked XXXXVlI Panzer Group and encircled the garrison of Glukhov, By quickly wheeling around the 17th Panzer Division, Glukhov was relieved on 23 September, and in the course of the following days the terrain to the northeast and the southwest of this city was cleared of the enemy.
By 26 September the fighting in the Kiev pocket could be brought to a close. The Russians capitulated. The Commanding General of the Fifth Russian Army become a prisoner of war. The commander of the Russian Army Group was killed in the final actions when trying to break through. At Smolensk on that day, a conference was held on the forthcoming operation toward Bryansk - Vyazma, This meeting, at which the commander of Panzer Group 2 participated, was irider the direction of Army High Command.
For this new operation XXXXVI Panzer Corps Headquarters together with the 2d SS Division "Das Reich" were pulled out of the lines during the preceding days and were put in march toward Roslavl to join Panzer Group 4, In the meantime, XXXXVIII Panzer Corps (General of the Panzer Troops Kempff) transferred from Panzer Group 1 to Panzer Group 2; the 9th Panzer Division, the 16th Motorized Division and the 25th Motorized Division belonged to XXXXVIII Panzer Corps.
Furthermore, two higher commands - XXXXIV and XXXV (Panzer Corps) with a number of infantry divisions as well as the 1st Cavalry Division became subordinate to Panzer Group 2.
Panzer Group 2 received the order to attack starting from the line Nedrigailov (eastward of Romni) - Glukhov - Yampol - Sudost Sector on both sides of Pogar in northeastward direction toward Orel - Bryansk. At the right of Panzer Group 2, Sixth Army of Army Group South and at the left the Second Army (the latter with right wing) were to advance on Brvansk.
The start of the new operation was scheduled for 2 October. Upon his request the commander of Panzer Group Z was permitted to line up his troops as early as 30 September, because the Panzer Group could thus receive on its first day of attack ample support through the Luftwaffe. Moreover the commander wanted to benefit by the dry weather which was not likely to last long Not a single paved road existed in his sector of attack, and rain would bring the whole advance to haIt in a few hours. Detouring the narrow strip of land between the rivers Seim and Desna was then no longer possible.
Panzer Group 2 intended to launch the attack with the main body of the panzer forces starting from the line Putivl-Gluknov - Shostka toward Orel and to have the flunks covered at the right by the Senior Command XXXIV, at the left by the Senior Command XXXV and the 1st Cavalry Division.
Infantry Regiment "Gross-Deutschland," resigned tn Panzer Group 4, could still be counted on for a short time in order to protect this concentration west of Belopole (on-the-Vir).
In order to permit disengagement of XXXXVIII Panzer Corps, fighting in the Gadyach - Nedrigailov sector, this Corps was to try to rid Itself of the enemy by attacking in the direction of Sumy and then to be drawn into the area of attack of the Panzer Group either via Sumy to the north or via Nedrigailov - Putlvl, depending on the success of the advance. Before Lebedin and eastward of Shtepovka, the attaching troops were net by enemy forces which were so strong that the battle had to be discontinued and the Corps was recommitted via Nedrigailov.
On 30 September, the following Panzer Corps jumped off:
XXXXVIII Panzer Corps from the Gadyach - Shtepovka area via Nedrigailov on Putlvl, with the 9th Panzer Division ahead followed by the 25th and 16th Motorized Division.
XXIV Panzer Corps with the 3d and 4th Panzer division in the front line, followed by the 10th Motorized Division from Glukhov along and southeast of the Sevsk - Orel road.
XXXXVII Panzer Corps with the 18th and 17th Panzer Division from Yampol with right wing on Sevsk. The 29th Motorized Division followed in echelons to the left rear toward Seredina Buda.
The flank protection by both higher commands approached via Romny, and Kostobobr respectively. The 1st Cavalry Division stood on the west bank of the Sudost sector on both sides of Pogar.
Fuel was in rather short supply. The allotment of panzer replacements arrived too late, so that the integration into the much weakened regiments could not be carried out prior to the attack. Furthermore, 50% of this essential aid were misrouted to Orsha.
The attack on 30 September struck the enemy by surprise, XXIV Panzer Corps advanced especially well as far as the Shlnel line. XXXXVII Panzer Corps took Shuravka and advanced farther to the north.
On 1 October, XXIV Panzer Corps captured Sevsk. The penetration of the enemy lines had succeeded, the forward push was continued with emphasis as long as there was fuel.
On the other hand, the disengagement from the enemy presented great difficulties to XXXXVIII Panzer Corps, because the enemy kept pushing and attacked the 25th Motorized Division from three sides, so that the 9th Panzer Division had to make an about face and free the 25th Motorized Division. Two battalions of the 119th Infantry Regiment, which had been out off, could only fight their way through by abandoning their vehicles. The advance elements of Sixth Army, destined to relieve XXXXVIII Panzer Corps, did not arrive quickly enough.
Headquarters of the Panzer Group were transferred to Glukhov.
On 2 October, XXIV Panzer Corps took Dmitrovsk, on 3 October Kromy and on 4 October Orel. Lack of fuel had made a rapid advance impossible.
On 5 October, headquarters of the Group, which on that day became expanded to Panzer Army, was transferred to Sevsk.
Once the breakthrough was accomplished, the problem of flank protection become again acute to Its full extent on both sides. The newly developed right flank was as much as 200 kilometers deep. The fierce battles In the Gadyach - Belopole area had just proven how strong the enemy was In this flank. In addition to XXXIV Corps advancing in the direction of Rilsk, the wain body of XXXXVIII Panzer Corps was needed for flank protection. The bulk of XXXXVIII Panzer Corps was launched against Dmitriyev with the objective of reaching the road Kursk - Orel at Fatezh, while the 25th Motorized Division of this Corps was ordered to Sevsk for the disposal of Army. The left
flank of XXXXVII Corps pushing toward Karachev, was threatened in the Trubchevsk - Bryansk sector by enemy forces of unknown strength which soon attacked XXXV Corps north of Susemka.
On 4 October, XXXXVII Panzer Corps succeeded in capturing Bryansk, employing tlio 17th and 18th Panzer Division via Karachev. The enemy, still holding his positions around Trubehevsk, was thus split from his main forces. The 17th Panzer Division and the 29th Motorized Division formed the northern and northeastern front of encirclement, while the 18th Panzer Division advanced from Karachev in direction Khvastovichi - Lovat, in order to prevent an escape of the enemy still holding out north of Bryansk. Parts of the 18th Panzer Division however had .to be committed later on, from 18 to 25 October toward Fatezh via Orel, in order to make it possible for XXXXVIII Panzer Corps, advancing east-west from Dmitriyev, to ranch the highway at Fatezh. The formation of the southeastern and southern front of the Trubohevsk pocket became incumbent on XXXV Corp«, whereas the 1st Cavalry Division had orders to advance from the west across the Sudost toward Trubchevsk. The 1st Cavalry Division however had so far not resumed its movements.
On 8 October, there was indication of an enemy attack on Susemka in the sector of the 93d Infantry Division of XXXV Corps. This attack led on 9 October to considerable tension, because the 25th Motorized Division, ordered to Sevsk, was still far off. In its place, a regiment of the 10th Motorized Division was committed in the breech between the 29th Motorized Division and the 293d Infantry Division.
The 293d Infantry Division reported in the morning that its right wing would fall back. Susemka and Shilinka were lost. The danger of a Russian, breakthrough became imminent. The danger was banished through commitment of parts of the 25th Motorized Division which arrived at the right moment. Only weak enemy elements succeeded in escaping; it was to be regretted that the Russian Thirteenth Army's Headquarters were probably among those escaped.
The Luftwaffe contributed through reconnaissance and combat considerably to the success of the day.
On 8 October, the 1st Cavalry Division had established a bridgehead across the Sudost at Pogar. From this bridgehead, the Division advanced on 9 October eastward and took
Trubchev without firing a shot. The enemy having fallen back, had deceived the Division.
Army Headquarters were transferred to Dmitrovsk on 9 October. On the same day and during mild weather, snow flurries set in, which rendered all roads impassable within a few hours and delayed the movements to an incalculable extent. The next weeks passed during the mud period. The vehicles on wheels could only be moved by track-laying vehicles, each of which towed 4 or 5 other vehicles. The track-laying vehicles became excessively attrited through this job for which they had not been constructed. Lacking chains to the two vehicles together, bundles of ropes wore dropped from airplanes over the so-called highway. Supplies for hundreds of stuck vehicles had to be delivered by air.
The winter preparations were deplorable anyhow. Antifreeze for the winter in the radiators had not arrived, neither had the winter clothing: for the troops. The last-mentioned fact caused the greatest though easiest avoidable difficulties for the soldier during the following hard months.
On 10 October this situation was topped by the order to capture the pocket of Trubchevsk, to seal off the pocket northeast of Bryansk, to advance on Tula and to seize Kursk, everything at the same time. Army requested a priority list.
On 11 October the Russians tried to break out on either side of Navlya. The enemy pushed against a hole gaping between the 29th and the 25th Motorized Divisions and which was blocked in only a makeshift manner by 5th Machine-gun Battalion. At the same time, fierce local fighting developed in Mzensk, northeast of Orel, which 4th Panzer Division had entered. On account of the mud, however, the Division could not be supported with sufficient speed. Numerous Russian tanks of the T-34 type appeared and caused heavy panzer losses. The material superiority of our tanks, which prevailed up to then, was reversed. The prospects for quick, efficacious successes became thus considerably impaired.
The Infantry Regiment Gross-Deutschland became again attached to Army and, upon the Fuehrer's request, was committed north of Khvastovichi in order to seal off the pocket north of Bryansk.
12 October brought new, heavy snow fall at a time when the weather was mild, so that all movements came to a halt.
On 13 October, the Russians continued their breakthrough attempts between Navlya and Borshchevo. XXXXVII Panzer Corps was reinforced by elements of the 3d Panzer Division and the 10th Motorized Division of XXIV Panzer Corps. Nevertheless, a group of 5,000 Russians succeeded In reaching the Dmitrovsk area.
During the period ending 21 October, the movements on both sides were negligible on account of the mud. Only with difficulties could XXIV Panzer Corps be assembled together with the 3d and 4th Panzer Division at Msensk and northwest of that city for the attack across the Suzha, while XXXXVII Panzer Corps, after termination of the battle of encirclement, could be readied and organized along the Orel - Karachev - Bryansk road.
The infantry Regiment "Gross-Deutschland" was subordinate to XXIV Panzer Corps and moved to Mzensk.
XXXXVIII Panzer Corps prepared for the attack on Kursk from the northwest after Fatezh had been captured. XXXIV Corps was to advance simultaneously from the west on Kursk and to defeat the strong Russian forces under General Yefremoff in that area. That Russian group represented a continuous threat to the right flank of the Panzer Army.
XXXV Corps received orders to mop up the wooded terrain of what had hitherto been the battlefield and to take the last pockets of resistance. Following the 22 October offensive of XXIV Panzer Corps which did not score a decisive success, the repetition of the attack succeeded on 23 October, after all available tanks were concentrated by the 3d Panzer Division northwest of Mzensk. Chern was taken on 24 October during the immediately following pursuit.
On 25 October Army Group Center ordered the forces to be reorganized In consideration of Second Panzer Army's present task, the thrust against Tula:
XXXXVIII Panzer Corps with the 9th Panzer Division, the 16th Motorized Division and XXXIV and XXXV Corps wore put under Headquarters Second Army.
In place of these units, Second Panzer Army received LIII Corps with the 112th and 167th Infantry Division, as well as XXXXVIII Corps with the 31st and the 131st Infantry Division. The 25th Motorized Division of XXXXVIII Panzer Corps stayed with Second Panzer Army. The 1st Cavalry Division was transferred to East Prussia in order to be converted into an armored
Meanwhile, XXIV Panzer Corps had continued the advance along the Orel - Tula highway. An advance guard was formed by the bulk of the Army's tanks. Colonel Eberbach commanding, together with the Infantry Regiment "Gross-Deutschland." With this advance guard the commander-in-chief reached Plavsk on 28 October and on the following day the southern outskirts of Tula. At last fuel could only be furnished to one armored tank battalion on whose tanks one battalion "Gross-Deutschland" rode along. The attempt to capture Tula by a surprise raid failed under heavy losses in the face of strong defense.
The only highway In the Army's area, leading from Orel to Tula, could not withstand the demand by tanks and other vehicles during the wet season, A few days later the road bed collapsed. The Orel - Bryansk highway suffered the same fate. Dense minefields obstructed the advance along the highway. The forward movement slowed down gradually. The throat increased against the right flank, which was only insufficiently protected as a consequence of poor reconnaissance results, particularly since 27 October when reports came in regarding the arrival by rail of fresh Russian forces against this right flank.
In order to eliminate this menace to this flank, LIII Corps approaching from the west received on 30 October orders to advance against the line Yepifan - Stalinogorsk. This Corps moved up on 10 October, following; the battle of encirclement of Bryansk together with the 167th Infantry Division via Bolkhov - Gorachevo and with the 112th Infantry Division via Belev - Arsenyevo - Tsarevo. Corps suffered on this march under the inclement mud period and could not take along all of its heavy vehicles, especially not its entlie artillery. The motorized elements had to take the detour via Orel - Mzensk.
When approaching Tyoploye on 2 November, the advanced elements of LIII Corps made contact with the enemy by surprise. The forces Involved consisted of two cavalry divisions, five Infantry divisions and one armored brigade which advanced on the road Yefremov - Tula with the intention to push into the rear of our XXIV Panzer Corps in front of Tula. It came to a battle which lasted from 3 to 13 November in the Tyoploye sector. In the course of the battle, LIII Corps succeeded through heavy fighting, after being reinforced by tanks of the Eberbach Brigade, to defeat the enemy and to throw his forces back in direction Yefremov. The enemy lost ninety guns, (Compare report of LIII Cops, Enclosure 1),
The movements of the troops were facilitated by the front which set in during the night from 4 to 5 November. The deep flank in the Mzensk - Chern area and east of it was protected by unarmored elements of the 17 Panzer Division which had followed in the meantime. Engineers construction battalions and groups of the Reich Labor Service worked on improvements of the
worn out road. The first severe frost damages appeared (7 November.)
On 9 November the enemy's intent of attack became noticeable west and eastward of Tula. XXIV Panzer Corps changed to the defensive, deferring its own intentions of attack and after having ceded Panzer Brigade Eberbach to LIII Corps. The 17th Panzer Division became subordinate to XXIV Panzer Corps and was moving to Plavskoye, after having been relieved of flank protection in the Mzensk -Chern sector by other components of XXXXVII Panzer Corps. New enemy forces showed up east of Chern.
The fact that the 4th Panzer Division with four weak infantry battalions had to cover on area of 35 kilometers west of Dedilovo, in order to maintain liaison between the LIII Corps and the 3d Panzer Division fighting at Tula indicates the tenseness of the situation in these days.
On 13 November, the temperature dropped to minus 22 degrees (-7,6 Fahrenheit).
On this day, a conference of the army commanders of Army Group Center took place in Orsha under the direction of the Army's Chief of Staff who issued the order for the "Autumn Offensive 1941." This order marked the city of Gorki, formerly Nizhni-Novgorod, as the objective for Second Panzer Amy, The Chief of Staff of Second Panzer Army reported immediately that his Arny, under the prevailing circumstances could only advance as far as Venev. The commander of the Second Panzer Army shared the opinion of his Chief of Staff and advised Army Group of the impracticability of executing the ordered autumn offensive in view of the troops' condition and of the climate and also on account of new enemy concentrations observed on the east flank. He suggested to refrain from the offensive.
On 14 November, and after the termination of the battle of Tyoploye, LIII Corps began to advance on Donskoy and Stalinogorsk in order to protect the right flank of XXIV Panzer Corps against the enemy between Bogorodisk and the Shat river. The fighting power of the infantry suffered severely under the cold weather. Four hundred men per regiment had become casualties of the frost. The automatic weapons failed. The antitank defense proved inadequate against the Russian T-34. Due to the favorable results of the victory of Tyoploye, Corps succeeded on 16 November to take Volovo and Bogorodisk. Enemy cavalry held out in the Corps' right flank.
On 17 November, a division freshly arrived from Siberia gave battle to the 112th Infantry Division of LIII Corps at Uzlovaya. Simultaneously, enemy tanks advanced from Dedilovo against the Division. The troops were no longer equal to this strain. A panic arose which spread as far as Bogorodisk. This panic, occurring for the first time in the Russian campaign, was a warning signal that the fighting power of the German infantry had reached its end and could no longer withstand heavy demands. LIII could restore the situation for the 112th Infantry Division by swinging, the 167th Infantry Division toward Uzlovaya.
Meanwhile, the deep flank of Army was protected through the approach of elements of XXXXVII Panzer Corps.
On 18 November, Second Panzer Army lined up for the attack which had been ordered In Orsha on 13 November. The following components of XXXXVII Panzer Corps advanced.
18th Panzer Division in direction of the factory town of Yefremov, which was taken on 20 November after heavy street fighting and was held against strong counterattacks;
10th Motorized Division on Yepifan - Mikhallov;
29th Motorized Division on Spaskoye - Gremyacheye with the mission to protect the east flank of Army against the fresh Russian troops expected from the Ryazan - Kolomna area.
From LIII Corps:
167th Infantry Division via Stalinogorsk on Venev;
112th Infantry Division into the Stalinogorsk region where the Division, because of its inadequate condition stopped in order to be relieved by the 56th Infantry Division, which was to be moved from the Karachev area.
The 112th Infantry Division was supposed to establish a bridgehead across the Don in the Stalinogorsk area.
Ahead of this Corps, a combat team of the 17th Panzer Division, belonging to XXIV Panzer Corps, advanced on Kashira in order to take possession of the Okra bridge and to prevent the arrival of enemy reinforcements from the Moscow sector.
XXIV Panzer Corps -- with the 17th, 3d and 4th Panzer Division, the Infantry Regiment "Gross-Deutschland" and the 296th Infantry Division approaching from the south — was ordered to take Tula by double-envelopment.
XXXXIII Corps with the 31st and 131st Infantry Division, approaching vla Likvin and Kaluga was commissioned to mop up the terrain between Upa end Oka arid to safeguard the communication between Second Panzer Army and Fourth Army between Tula and Aleksin.
For this attack Second Panzer Army lacked every support in the deep, right flank, because Second Army had orders to stop east of Orel. To the left of Second Panzer Army,. Fourth Army was to attack across the Oka north of Aleksin and in direction of Serpukhov. Fourth Army, however, did not get across the river.
The forces of Second Panser Army -- 12 very exhausted divisions, the infantry without winter clothes and almost enable to move, daily marches of 5 kiiometers - or 10 were the maximum -- did not match the demands. The engagements of the next days proved this fact convincingly.
Aided by effective support, of the Luftwaffe, the capture of Yepifan, Dedilovo on 18 November and of Uzlovaya on 21 November still succeeded as did the crossing of the Shat and on 24 November the occupation of Venev, at which time 50 enemy tanks were put out of action. New enemy forces then emerged: the Russian Fiftieth Army with the 108th Panzer Division, the 299th Infantry Division and the 31st Cavalry Division. The situation became again serious.
The commander of Second Panzer Army decided therefore to call again in person on the commander-ia-chief of Army Group Center in the evening of 24 November, in order to request a modified, practicable mission.
He reported the seriousness of Second Panzer Army's situation to Field Marshal von Book, described the exhaustion of the troops, especially of the infantry, the lack of winter clothes, the failure of the supply service, the small number of tanks and guns, the deep, insufficiently protected east flank and the menace caused by the arrival of fresh Russian troops transported from the Far East to the Ryazan - Kolomna area.
Field Marshal von Bock replied that he had already reported verbatim the opinions of Second Panzer Army to Army High Command, while inviting the commander of Second Army to listen into the conversation. After describing the situation, he requested a change of the mission, cancellation of the order to attack and shifting to the defensive in appropriate winter positions.
The Commander-in-Chief of the Army was obviously no longer free in his decisions. He refused the requests and ordered the continuation of the offensive. Following renewed insistence on indication of an attainable and defensible objective, he finally mentioned the line Mikhailof - Zaraisk end declared the destruction of the railroad line Ryazan - Kolomna as important.
This result of the flight to Army Group was unsatisfactory. In the meantime, LIII Corps, together with the 29th Motorized Division, hed succeeded in encircling the 239th Russian Infantry Division. However, the ring was too thin, especially to the northeast. Reinforcements were therefore put in march with destination Spaskoya.
On 25 November, XXIV Panzer Corps and XXXXIII Corps were ordered to advance on Tula in double envelopment.
LIII Corps was to protect the northern flank and XXXXVII Panzer Corps the east flank of this undertaking. The missions were orally explained by the commander-in-chief to the commanding generals of LIII Corps, XXXXVI and XXIV Panzer Corps.
On 27 November the 10th Motorized Division reached Mikhailov and drove reconnaissance detachments and demolition squads toward the Ryazan - Kolomna railroad. These divisions, however, did not reach their target. The advanced patrols reached Skopin and Stenkino.
The 239th Russian Infantry Division succeeded during the night In breaking through the thin lines of the 29th Motorized Division. The Russians abandoned their gear end artillery during that operation but rescued their men. The 29th Motorized Division had serious losses.
The fighting force of the 3d and 4th Panzer Division had slacked considerably; the artillery of XXIV Corps still counted eleven guns.
Part of the 18th Panzer Division broke down on the march to Yefremov. On 29 November, Skopin had to be evacuated In the face of superior enemy forces. The enemy air force was active. On 30 November, the OKW uttered its doubts as to the sufficient concentration of the forces for the attack on Tula. Their reinforcement could have been implemented only at the expense of the flank protection of XXXXVII Panzer Corps, and such a solution appeared too risky.
The preparation for tne attack on Tula was carried out in a manner permitting the line-up with a simultaneously intended advance of Fourth Army adjacent to the left. Although it became known on 1 December that Fourth Army wanted to pull into line only on 4 December, XXIV Corps, densely massed in its preparatory positions, was deployed for attack at the originally ordered time. The 3d and 4th Panzer Divisions were successful in breaking through the forward enemy positions. The attack come as a surprise to the enemy and was continued under strong snow fall find wind on 3 December.
The roads were covered with ice and the movements difficult. The railroad Tula - Moscow was blown up by the 4th Panzer Division, six guns were captured, and finally the road Serpukhov - Tula was reached. At that point the troops were at the end of their strength and the fuel was exhausted. The enemy retreated northward; the situation remained tense.
Reconnaissance on 4 December reported strong enemy forces north and south of the wedge pushed toward the Serpukhov - Tula road.
Heavy fighting developed In the 3d Panzer Division's wooded area east of Tula. Progress was insignificant. However the decisive question for the general situation around Tula was whether XXXXIII Corps still possessed sufficient aggressiveness in order to close the ring around the town and to establish contact with the 4th Panzer Division north of Tula. It was also essential, whether Fourth Army's attack would at least exercise enough pressure upon the enemy to prevent his from withdrawing his forces In direction Tula.
On 4 December, XXXXIII Corps deployed its forces between Upa and Oka for the attack. The 296th Infantry Division continued its difficult march and reached the Yasnaya Polyana region. It did not come to an attack on that day. The thermometer dropped to minus 35 Celsius (-31 Fahrenheit).
Air reconnaissance reported enemy forces advancing from Kashira in southern direction. Strong Russian fighter escort asserted itself over Kashira.
On 5 December XXXXIII Corps tried to attack but did not get beyond initial successes of the 31st Infantry Division. The 296th Infantry Division reached the Upa river only toward evening.
The Russians attacked with tanks in the sector of the 29th Motorized Division northeastward of Venev. The threat of the flanks and the rear of the XXIV Panzer Corps' components, standing almost immobile under severe frost north of Tula, increased and forced the issue whether the continuation of the endeavors for an offensive was still worthwhile. This could only be the case, if the neighboring Fourth Army also attacked successfully. However, that was out of the question. By contrast, the cooperation of Fourth Army at the Okra was limited to a raid with two companies which, after having carried out their mission, were taken back from across the river. This episode did not influence the enemy facing XXXXIII Corps; Fourth Army had changed to the defensive.
In view of the threat to flank and rear and on account of the immobility caused by the abnormal cold, the commander of Second Panzer Army decided for the first time in this war to discontinue the isolated attack and to turn to the defensive on the general line Shat - Upa by taking back the
far advanced elements.
In the course of the following days, XXIV Panzer Corps succeeded in disengaging from the enemy, while the strong pressure from Kashira affected LIII Corps. Mikhailov was lost through a Russian raid in the night from 7 to 8 December.
The Army's intention of holding the line Stalinogorsk - Shat - Upa proved fallacious because the 112th Infantry Division did no longer possess the necessary forces to resist the offensive of fresh Russian troops. The withdrawal had to continue behind the Plava sector.
On 14 December, the CG met the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and the CG of Fourth Army in Roslavl. Afler the critical situation was described to him, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army decided: "Second Army will be subordinate to Second Panzer Army. Both Armies shall hold the position forward of Kursk, forward of Orel - Plavskoye - Aleksin, if necessary, the Oka,"
On this day, however, a deep Russian penetration initiated on 13 December via Livny in direction of Orel made itself felt also with Second Army. The 45th Infantry Division became thus encircled and partly annihilated. Slippery ice rendered all movements more difficult. The lack of winter . uniforms caused numerous casualties through frost.
XXVII Panzer Corps find to be taken back, because of its neighbor to the right, the 293d Infantry Division of Second Army, retreated from Yefremov.
The CG talked on 16 December to the Fuehrer's First Adjutant, General Schmundt, at Orel airfield. The CG described ia great detail the situation of the two Armies under his command, and he asked the First Adjutant to enlighten Hitler about the true front line situation, of which judging from his orders - he did not seem to have any notion. At this occasion, Schmundt informed the CG of the resignation of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army High Command.
At 3 a.m. on 17 December, and aa a reaction to this discussion, Hitler telephoned instructions to stand put. He prohibited withdrawals and promised replacements by air. These telephone cells repeated themselves under very bad audibility. The CG therefore decided to fly on 20 December, with permission of Army Group, to Hitler's headquarters, in order to report about the situation of Second Panzer Army orally, after written explanations and those by telephone had
The discussions with Hitler lasted, with two short interruptions, five hours and ended without understanding. Second Pander Army received orders "to hug the ground and, if necessary, to shell crater positions by means of heavy howitzers, just as we did it in 1917 in Flanders." The disengagement move into the Susha - Oka position, which was under construction since October following permission by Army Group and the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, was prohibited.
The CG flew back on 21 December. On 22 and 23 December he transmitted In person the new orders of the Fuehrer to the divisions most concerned. However, the fate of this unfortunate offensive on Moscow could not be turned by orders alone.
The 10th Motorized Division lost Chern at the night from 24 to 25 December. XXXXVII and XXIV Panzer Corps had to be taken back to the Susha and LIII Corps to the Oka between the mouth of the Susha and Velev.
Meanwhile, XXXXIII Corps had retreated to the west between Upa and Oka, but it had lost contact with LIII Corps. This separation of the two Corps caused a gap of 40 kilometers width through which the Russians could push in direction of Sukhlnlchi.
The danger developing anew for tho Army's left flank could only be eliminated through forces of XXIV Panzer Corps (4th Panzer Division), which were to be moved up on the highway via Orel - Bolkhov and Karachev - Khvastovichi. The occupation of Kosiolsk succeeded and the Army flank could be protected in a makeshift manner.
The war of movement of the year 1941 thus reached its end.
By way of comparison with the events described, attention should be called to Report # 728 on XXXXI Panzer Corps during the battle of Moscow from September 1941 to mid-January 1942. The operations of this Corps show the same problems as those of Second Panzer Army.
A few weeks after Its beginning, World War I in 1914 became a war of position. The flanks of the belligerents were protected by the sea or by borders of neutral countries. In a strategic sense, the problem of flank protection did not even occur. In a tactical way, the problem attained only limited importance in connection with the fruitless breakthrough attempts of both parties. World War II was different.
The endeavor of the German leader to force an early campaign decision by the strategic units of large, fast units demanded grouped commitment of the forces in a main effort in order to break through connected fronts be they frontier security positions as in Poland or fortress lines as in Belgium and France. Following G successful breakthrough, the attacker offered regularly open flanks on both sides and had to concern himself with that problem already during the planning stage of the offensive.
The campaigns in Poland in 1939 and in France in 1940 consisted of offensives on limited objectives due to the small size of the enemy countries. Not so the campaign in Russia. Once the Bug was crossed, the end of the operations could not be foreseen. Only one thing was
certain: The German forces were less in a position to cover the area of Russia with connected fronts than they were able to do in Poland or France. This area grew in breadth with every kilometer of penetration into this huge country. Since the beginning, the German forces were unable to achieve that distribution in depth which in France had eliminated any threat to the flanks and rear of advanced units. They had to reckon with large intervals between the advancing armies, especially between the mobile units, and thus faced to a greater degree the problem, how the open flanks of those spearheads could be protected. The Germans soon ran out of operational reserves effective enough to forestall reverses. The little developed highway and railroad network of Russia, limited as it was through destructions, rendered quick troop movements difficult. The German Luftwaffe, although superior to the Russian, was still not strong enough to compensate fully the shortcomings of the ground warfare, especially since the Luftwaffe remained tied down with considerable contingents at all other fronts in the west, north
While the Germans could count with a superiority against Poland in 1939 and with an approximate balance of forces during 1940 in France, they ran In 1941 in Russia against an enemy several times superior in number. The enemy’s reserves, especially of troops, were no doubt bigger than those of the Germans. Regarding materiel and the economic warfare potential, the German High Command indulged, in spite of adequate documentation, in an optimism which soon after the beginning of the campaign proved pernicious and had a detrimental influence on the operations.
This paper merely hints at all the circumstances which should have led to a tight concentration of the German forces, in order to reach the essential objectives quickly, i.e. before the approach of winter. Originally the High Command had this intention when beginning to occupy the Baltic countries and to establish the connection with allied Finland through the conquest of Leningrad, thus securing a protected northern flank with safe rear communications across the Baltic area. Pursuant to this intention, Panzer Croups 2 and 3 of Army Group Center received instructions, prior to the beginning of the movements to be ready for total or partial swinging to the north after having reached their first objective the Smolensk area.
However, before this objective had been reached, the first decision was already abandoned. Panzer Group 4 did not succeed in conquering Leningrad. The connection with the Finns by land was not established, but no alternate decision was made either.
Already in mid-July, the Supreme Commander Hitler, concerned himself for reasons of war economy with the occupation of the Ukraine. Army High Command, on the other hand, considered the seizure of Moscow more important. The ensuing difference in opinion paralyzed the operations during four decisive weeks. This split also impaired the execution of the orders finally issued for the capture of Kiev, inasmuch as sufficient forces were not detached for this undertaking in opportune time, thereby causing additional delay in carrying out the overall operation.
The discord among the highest authorities of the Wehrmacht was the reason why the great final goal of the 1941 campaign was not attained despite the devotedness of the troops. The German Army in the east because of overtaxing its forces got through a hopeless autumn and winter campaign into an extremely unfavorable situation. As a consequence of the increasing immobility of all troops, more especially of the motorized units, the operations could no longer be carried out swiftly. Gaps could not be closed again nor could enemy penetrations always be stopped in mobile combat. The German Army adopted the pattern of position warfare which had proved so futile in World War I. The German Army's defeat became only a question of time.
The examples ea described from the experience of Panzer Group 2 illustrate the above trains of thought.
1. The planned attack across the Bug, after having succeeded, caused on both sides open flanks, of which the one to the right remained probably open, because of the Pripet marshes situated between Army Groups South and Center as far as to the Dnepr, whereas the left flank could be protected in the Minsk area through a fusion of Panzer Group 2 with Panzer Group 3 arriving from the northwest.
The flank protection was already firmly secured prior to the beginning of the operations, and this was due to the following measures: Deployment of the 1st Cavalry Division on the right wing in the northern part of the Pripet marshes, the disposition in depth within the Panzer Corps' front line through tho bringing up of XXXXVI Panzer Corps as reserve of the Panzer Group behind the left wing, and finally through Fourth Army's infantry divisions which first advanced with the tanks and later followed them. The extended disposition in depth precluded detrimental effects of the Russian flank thrusts originating from the Pripet marshes as well as of the Russians returning eastward from the Bialystok area.
The insertion of XXXXVI Panzer Corps into the front line became necessary as early as in this first sector of operations when the zone of combat widened considerably due to the road network in the vicinity of Baranowichi. The speed of the advance of the tanks toward the Dnepr led to a separation from the slowly following infantry. The flanks of the Panzer Group became more vulnerable as the Russians attacked at the right from Zhlobin and at the left on Senno against flanks and rear.
Generally however the disposition in depth had sufficed as far as to the Dnepr in order to protect the flanks for this quick advance.
2. The forced crossing of the Dnepr: The safe principles by which the Bug could have been crossed had to be foregone. The arrival of the infantry divisions could not be awaited, least the Russians gained sufficient time for the establishment of a new front on the east bank of the river.
The forces of the Panzer Group were therefore intensively concentrated on two crossing areas, and the enemy in flank and center was tied down with a minimum of forces. His troops were In party only observed, A certain depth developed again within the corps, at least for the time immediately following the change to the other bank. However, the subsequent pressure on the flanks demanded the rapid commitment of all reserves in the front lines, so that the movements in the Krichev - Yelnya - Smolensk sector came to a halt. The surprise of the enemy had led to success. The forces of the Panzer Group, however, did no longer suffice in order to eliminate the threat, originating from the Roslavl region against the right flank, which constituted an extreme nuisance.
The first operational objective of Panzer Group 2 was quickly reached.
Now, however, the arrival of the infantry had to be awaited, in order to wake the possession secure and to relieve the Panzer Division for new, mobile operations. Lack of depth of reserves called for temporary standstill.
3. Flank protection south of Smolensk could only be carried out effectively after the arrival of the infantry divisions. These were moved up by surprise and under the protection of the Panzer Corps which camouflaged their approach. The infantry divisions were concentrically committed against the most important objective, Roslavl. They partly cooperated closely with the tanks. After the victory of Roslavl, tanks and infantry continued successfully the mopping up of the
Krlchev flank by concentric surprise attacks.
4. Moscow or Kiev
During the battles of Roslavi and Krichev, the main front of the Panzer Group at the Desna, at Yelnya and Smolensk was already organized for the advance in direction of Moscow. The frontal assault with the infantry divisions was to be conducted in the general direction of Spas-Demensk and Vyazma, while the armored divisions were to be concentrated on the right wing and moved up in direction of Yukhnov. They were destined for the attack against flank and rear of the enemy, after having broken through the Desna position, as well as for the protection of our own right flank.
This intention could not be carried out because it was prohibited by the higher command.
The thrust toward Moscow in August 1941 would undoubtedly have been a hazard, because Second Army in the Gommel area was confronted with a strong enemy, and the entire Army Group South fought in the Kiev area against about equally strong enemy forces. The flanks of the attacks on Moscow would have become very deep and their protection would have presented a problem difficult to solve. Nevertheless, the front troops of Army Group Center were convinced of their ability to cope with the task. Through resolute action at the front and the assignment of all reserves still existing in Germany - especially the 2d and 5th Panzer Division - the menace to the flanks would have been checked. The decision of the Supreme Commander fell in favor of continuing the operations in the Kiev sector. The certainty of bringing the campaign as a decision in 1941 thus vanished. Autumn with its mud period an winter had to be considered, and we were exposed to all the vicissitudes and incalculable delays which the seasons presented to warfare in Russia.
5. The Thrust on Kiev.
Pernuant to the successes of the fighting around Roslavl and Krichev, the penetration of such enemy forces, still holding out loosely organized In the southern flank of Panzer Group 2, offered no difficulties. However, this continuation of the southward push In order to merge with Panzer Group 1 of Army Group South could only be carried through with the desired energy and speed, if sufficiently strong forces were committed from the beginning. This prerequisite did however not exist. The Army High Command kept in August one third of Panzer Group 2 in the Smolensk area, in an endeavor to push on Moscow during the fall of 1941. Less importance was attributed to the thrust on Kiev as compared with the push toward Moscow. The conflict of opinion between Hitler and the Army High Command became evident. Consequently, soon after the first breakthrough, the elements detached from Panzer Group 2 for the protection of its flanks weekend the spearheads so much, that the push came to a standstill after the Desna crossing. Now it became necessary to grant reinforcements, which only were released unwillingly and piecemeal, thereby preventing the leaders of the Panzer Group from acting systematically. The Panzer Group got into the first fall rains, which slackened to a hitherto unknown degree the pace of the motorized units in this country without paved roads. It was the merit of the devoted, indefatigable troops and their courageous lower level leadership that these operations wwre nevertheless successful.
6. The Breakthrough in Dlrection of Orel - Bryansk.
While autumn weather had impaired the thrust on Kiev by turning the roads muddy and by hampering air reconnaissance, the ensuing attack on Orel - Bryansk was completed, under the effects of inclement weather. After 9 October, the rivers and brooks became insurmountable obstacles. The movements of the motorized units remained dependent on the highways. Since there existed no paved roads in the area of attack of Second Panzer Army, its forces came temporarily to an almost complete standstill. Had the enemy not been affected by the same difficulties, their consequences would have proved still more detrimental especially so through the threat to the right flank by the Russian Yefremov Group. As a consequence of the described drawbacks, vehicles of all sorts were lost in such great numbers that the mobility of the motorized units was for a long period considerably curtailed. The units suffered especially from the immobility and lack of fuel, when the frost set in and made the roads again passable.
It became clear at the end of the Bryansk - Vyazna double battle, that the Army's offensive strength had suffered too much to suffice for far reaching winter operations. The deficient mobility jeopardized especially the protection of the flanks, when distant objectives were again ordered to be reached. When frost set in, the flanks increased on account of the greater winter mobility of the Russians and because of their superiority In using the railroads in their own country. For German use, the Russian railroad tracks had first to be converted to small gauge. Even after that transformation, the frost caused considerable damage to the German locomotives not constructed for Russian cold climate. The possibility of better exploiting the railcade contributed essentially to the menace to the open German flanks.
After Japan did not decide to declare war on Russia, the Russian Far Eastern troops were transferred to the European theater of operations thus providing the Russians with numerous
On 14 November. 1941, the new offensive was ordered with Gorki as the first objective for the Second Panzer Army. From the beginning It was clear that the strength of the troops was no longer on a par with these demands.
Ground and air reconnaissance were greatly hampered - at times even paralysed.
The marching capacity of the motorized and of the foot troops sank considerably. Supplies were by no means sufficient. The railroads broke down. Winter uniforms were not available,
The offensive was begun, when all reasoning with the higher authorities had remained in vain. After heavy fighting and great sacrifices, the offensive collapsed, because the protection of the flanks did not succeed under these circumstances. Any prolonged stay in the Tula area would have caused the encirclement of the isolated Second Panzer Army and would have ended with the loss of 180.000 men.
By withdrawing the advanced spearheads in opportune time, it became possible to eliminate the threat to the deep, open flank, to preserve the troops, to recover the bulk of the still existing, mobile materiel and to save all wounded.
The Importance of the Luftwaffe for Flank Protection:
Operations as those described under #11 can only be successful, if adequate support is secured by the Luftwaffe, which becomes the incumbent of three principal tasks;
1. Reconnaissance - Long-range reconnaissance as well as local and combat reconnaissance.
The long-range reconnaissance has to keep the command of the armored units always informed about the overall enemy situation opposite our front and about conditions at both flanks. The operational decisions of the commander of the armored units are based on this long-range reconnaissance.
Local and combat reconnaissance furnish the bases for the tactical decisions and for the commitment of the own combat teams on the battlefield.
2. Fighting the enemy troops (arrival of transports, detraining, assembling, billets, headquarters, combat area) by committing the bombers and dive bomber formations in direct cooperation with the own ground forces.
3. Gaining and maintaining air supremacy over the area of advance of the armored units through the commitment of fighters.
The last-mentioned task ia the decisive one on which depends the success or failure of flank operations as far reaching and aadacinua as those repeatedly demonstrated under #11.
From the beginning of the operations, the Russian air force was considerably inferior to the German, so that the Luftwaffe dominated the battlefield, made the most daring operations possible and lead to the desired success through its aid and support. By way of contrast to the overwhelming superiority of the Allied air forces at the time of the invasion of the Atlantic coast - a superiority which consisted primarily in quantity - the German superiority lay principally in its quality. Russlan fighter formations could not make any headway against an ace like Moelders. Reconnaissance and bomber unita, commanders and troops too competed in exemplary achievements, which multiplied the formations relatively weak in number.
Decisive importance has to be attributed to the outstanding cooperation on illustrated through the fact that the air forces for direct support had always their air fields closely behind our own front lines. Shatalovka air field, for instance, from which the pIanes took off for the heavy fighting
around Roslavl - Yelnya, was situated near enough to the front line for the Russians to fire with mortars on the field.
The ultimate importance of on all out air support evinced immediately, whenever it failed to appear for one reason or another.
The tank formations, starting from Roslavl in the Konotop - Romni area on a 240 kilometer flanking march in order to encircle the Russians in the Kiev pocket, got into distress, because our aircraft could not take off for days on account of bad weather. By contrast, the Russian fliers were able to take off from their bases, located in a more favorable weather zone, and to inflict considerable damage to our troops in the absence of German fighter units.
A similar situation arose during the final phase of combat to the Tula region where, contrary to the rule and due to the beginning winter, it became impossible, to base our own aircrafts close to the front line. Air support which became so necessary in just that moment was therefore missing. This had an unfavorable influence on the course of combat and became partly responsible for the withdrawal from action.
During the retreat in the Russian winter, which now hit with all its rigor, the disengagement from the enemy succeeded primarily thanks to the sacrifices of the airplane formations. Through the incessant commitment of bombers, dive bombers and fighter formations, it was possible to delay the pursuing enemy repeatedly, thus permitting our columns to move to the rear. Reconnaissance gave outstanding performances despite the inclement weather and enable the leadership to take its dispositions far in advance, thereby preventing catastrophes, which could have easily occurred in the convoys which by now moved very slowly.
Summarizing, it can be ascertained that without the superiority of the German Luftwaffe, it would not have been possible to carry out the described operations. Our air supremacy had to be guaranteed in this instance from the beginning of such far-reaching operations which aimed at quickly ripping the enemy front after the breakthrough and to push far into enemy territory. The greater that superiority is in number and quality, the deeper the thrust can be launched, even if we noticed on both flanks strong enemy forces, the encirclement and destruction of which became thereby possible.
However, two factors remain to be considered:
1. The number of the formations to be committed for direct cooperation with the ground forces must not surprise a definite maximum, because the effectiveness - as mentioned before, depends on commitment from a base as close as possible behind the front lines, thereby always appearing over the battlefield without long approach flights and in opportune time to help our own troops in precarious situations. This holds especially true for the front line fighter formations. They can be on the spot to defend our own troops at the right moment against enemy air attacks, only if the formations are near enough for take-off and approach flight not requiring much time. Otherwise the enemy would have left the battlefield by the time our fighter formations appeared. The aircraft warning service could not give advance notice to our fighter formations at the front as this is the rule in the home air defense. ln the face of a well disciplined enemy, one can only seldom expect results of the radio intercept service for advance warning.
The tactically necessary move of' our own air force formations to the front lines also required the inclusion of' the air force ground organizations and of the most indispensable supplies, which were to be moved hard behind the advance elements of the tank formations. Herein lies the limitation in the number of formations of close support airplanes to be utilized in such maneuvers. As long as one belligerent has no such numerical air supremacy he cannot afford organizing parts of his 'ground installation and the most necessary supplies by means of organic transportation unit. These in turn have necessary to be protected by fighter formations escorting them and flying back when the transportation units return.
2. When planning such operations, one has to consider from the beginning that the Luftwaffe can be completely paralyzed by bad weather periods. This state of affairs is at present not oven changed by the modern hick frequency technique. On the battlefield the photo and eyesight reconnaissance is the preliminary condition for reconnaissance. The fighters and close support airplanes need a certain lower ceiling limit as a prerequisite for their commitment.
The base of cloud depends on the type of airplane used and on the ability of the crews. It has its last natural limit when the overcast and radius of visibility are less than 1000 meters. Finally, fog and clouds over the sortie airfield precluded the formations' coming out, even if weather conditions outside of the air base permitted a commitment. Just for this reason the moving up of the close-combat formations to the own front line is specially important, because the exploitation of the weather condition, as it just prevails over the own front, is thereby best guaranteed in the offensive as well as in the defense.
However, for so long a period of time the weather conditions, as they existed from June to December during the described operations, cannot be foreseen. On the other hand, the operations did not take a course of uninterrupted advances. Longer Intervals came to pass, as for instance after reaching the first big objective of attack Roslavl - Yelnya - Smolensk. It is therefore only possible to bring the beginning of a new phase of movement in agreement with the necessity of a favorable weather period for the Luftwaffe. If in the course of such a phase of movement a prolonged period of bad weather sets in, as this was the case just during the critical situation of the fianking march of 240 kilometers length from Roslavl to the south in direction Romni, serious crises can develop, which eventually may become catastrophes. The most unfavorable situation arises, as was the case in this example, if the own formations of airplanes cannot make their sorties on account of bad weather, while the enemy — taking off from bases with favorable weather conditions — can inflict considerable damage on the ground forces. Despite the precariousness of our own situation, it did not come to a catastrophe in this instance but rather to the success of the operations: encirclement and destruction of the very strong enemy forces in the Kiev area under a Russian command which at that time was not up to the German leadership.
When tne operations toward Tula with Moscow as the objective were continued, the weather factor was not taken correctly into account neither for the ground forces nor for the Luftwaffe. It should have been understood from the beginning that with the progressing season, weather conditions had to set in which at least rendered the commitment of the air forces extremely difficult. This actually happened, causing the abandonment of the operational objective and an Incredibly difficult retreat.
[T-11. Foreign Military Studies]