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Unformatted text preview: Operation Barbarossa and Germany’s Defeat in the East Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, began the largest and most costly campaign in military history. Its failure was a key turning point of the Second World War. The operation was planned as a blitzkrieg to win Germany its Lebensraum in the east, and the summer of 1941 is well known for the German army’s unprecedented victories and advances. Yet the German blitzkrieg depended almost entirely upon the motorised panzer groups, particularly those of Army Group Centre. Using previously unpublished archival records, David Stahel presents a new history of Germany’s summer campaign from the perspective of the two largest and most powerful panzer groups on the eastern front. Stahel’s research provides a fundamental reassessment of Germany’s war against the Soviet Union, highlighting the prodigious internal problems of the vital panzer forces and revealing that their demise in the earliest phase of the war undermined the whole German invasion. DAV I D S TA H E L is an independent researcher based in Berlin. Cambridge Military Histories Edited by HEW STRACHAN, Chichele Professor of the History of War, University of Oxford, and Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford GEOFFREY WAWRO, Major General Olinto Mark Barsanti Professor of Military History, and Director, Center for the Study of Military History, University of North Texas The aim of this new series is to publish outstanding works of research on warfare throughout the ages and throughout the world. Books in the series will take a broad approach to military history, examining war in all its military, strategic, political and economic aspects. The series is intended to complement Studies in the Social and Cultural History of Modern Warfare by focusing on the ‘hard’ military history of armies, tactics, strategy and warfare. Books in the series will consist mainly of single-author works – academically vigorous and groundbreaking – which will be accessible to both academics and the interested general reader. Titles in the series include: E. Bruce Reynolds Thailand’s Secret War: OSS, SOE and the Free Thai Underground during World War II Robert T. Foley German Strategy and the Path to Verdun: Erich von Falkenhayn and the Development of Attrition, 1870–1916 Elizabeth Greenhalgh Victory through Coalition: Britain and France during the First World War John Gooch Mussolini and his Generals: The Armed Forces and Fascist Foreign Policy, 1922–1940 Alexander Watson Enduring the Great War: Combat, Morale and Collapse in the German and British Armies, 1914–1918 Mustafa Aksakal The Ottoman Road to War in 1914: The Ottoman Empire and the First World War J. P. Harris Douglas Haig and the First World War Operation Barbarossa and Germany’s Defeat in the East David Stahel CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, S˜ao Paulo, Delhi Cambridge University Press The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York Information on this title:  C David Stahel 2009 This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published 2009 Third Printing 2010 First paperback edition 2010 Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication data Stahel, David, 1975– Operation Barbarossa and Germany’s defeat in the East / by David Stahel. p. cm. – (Cambridge military histories) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-521-76847-4 (hardback) 1. World War, 1939–1945 – Campaigns – Eastern Front. 2. World War, 1939–1945 – Tank warfare. 3. Soviet Union – History – German occupation, 1941–1944. I. Title. II. Series. D764.S795 2009 2009016993 940.54 217 – dc22 ISBN 978-0-521-76847-4 hardback Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate. Contents List of illustrations List of maps Acknowledgements Glossary of terms Tables of military ranks and army structures Introduction page vii ix xi xiii xv 1 Part I Strategic plans and theoretical conceptions for war against the Soviet Union 1 Fighting the bear The evolution of early strategic planning Two ways to skin a bear – the Marcks and Lossberg plans Crisis postponed – from war games to Directive No. 21 2 The gathering storm The army deployment directive The dysfunctional order – delusion as operative discourse Barbarossa – the zenith of war 3 Barbarossa’s sword – Hitler’s armed forces in 1941 Carrying fear before them and expectation behind – Hitler’s panzer arm Standing before the precipice – the infantry and Luftwaffe on the eve of Barbarossa The impossible equation – the logistics and supply of Barbarossa 4 The advent of war ‘Welcome to hell on earth’ 33 33 39 54 70 70 84 95 105 105 117 127 139 139 v vi Contents Part II The military campaign and the July/August crisis of 1941 5 Awakening the bear Indecisive border battles and the surfacing of strategic dissent The Belostok–Minsk pocket – anatomy of a hollow victory Straining the limits – Bock’s race to the rivers 6 The perilous advance to the east Forging across the Dvina and Dnepr – the threshold to demise ‘The Russian is a colossus and strong’ (Adolf Hitler) Caught in the hinterlands 7 The battle of Smolensk The end of blitzkrieg Crisis rising – the German command at war ‘I am on the brink of despair’ (Franz Halder) 8 The attrition of Army Group Centre The killing fields at Yel’nya Sealing the Smolensk pocket and Army Group Centre’s fate Victory at Smolensk? The paradox of a battle 9 In search of resurgence The arduous road to renewal ‘Today is the beginning of positional warfare!’ (Fedor von Bock) Embracing world war and apocalypse – Hitler reaches resolution 10 Showdown Hitler’s triumph in defeat 153 153 170 186 209 209 228 245 260 260 273 290 306 306 324 344 361 361 380 400 423 423 Conclusion 439 Bibliography Index 452 474 Illustrations FIGURES 1.1 2.1 3.1 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 6.1 6.2 7.1 Hitler rewarding his generals after the Polish campaign, 1939. Ullstein bild – ullstein bild. page 36 Hitler, Halder and Brauchitsch planning operations in the east. Ullstein bild – SV-Bilderdienst. 80 Panzer models available for Operation Barbarossa on ¨ 22 June 1941. Rolf-Dieter Muller, ‘Von der Wirtschaftsallianz zum kolonialen Ausbeutungskrieg’, p. 185. 116 The German advance into the Soviet Union. Milit¨argeschichtliches Forschungsamt, Potsdam. 157 Soviet roads and the problem of dust. Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-136-0882-12. 168 German motorised divisions quickly outpaced the slow moving infantry divisions. Milit¨argeschichtliches Forschungsamt, Potsdam. 171 German infantry marching into the Soviet Union. Ullstein bild – SV-Bilderdienst. 197 A field conference on 8 July 1941 between Bock, Hoth and Richthofen. Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-265-0048A-03, Photographer: Moosdorf. 205 Summer downpours slow the speed of the advance. Ullstein bild – SV-Bilderdienst. 207 Many bridges in the Soviet Union could not support German tanks. Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F016208-0012. 225 Soviet ambushes were common on the narrow forest roads. Milit¨argeschichtliches Forschungsamt, Potsdam. 245 A German war cemetery from the early days of the campaign. Milit¨argeschichtliches Forschungsamt, Potsdam. 267 vii viii Illustrations 7.2 Exhausted German infantry after weeks of hard marching. Ullstein bild – SV-Bilderdienst. Combat readiness of Panzer Group 3 on 21 July 1941. ‘Panzerarmeeoberkommandos Anlagen zum Kriegstagesbuch “Berichte, Besprechungen, Beurteilungen der Lage” Bd.IV 22.7.41 – 31.8.41’ BA-MA RH 21–3/47. Fol. 112 (23 July 1941). The thin German lines east of Smolensk, July/August 1941. Ullstein bild – SV-Bilderdienst. Roadside graves mark Army Group Centre’s summer advance. Ullstein bild - ullstein bild. A 1941 Soviet propaganda poster. Ullstein bild – SV-Bilderdienst. Combat readiness of Panzer Group 2 on 29 July 1941. ‘KTB Nr.1 Panzergruppe 2 Bd.II vom 22.7.1941 bis 20.8.41’ BA-MA RH 21–2/928. Fols. 78–79 (29 July 1941). Captured Red Army soldiers. Milit¨argeschichtliches Forschungsamt, Potsdam. Public hangings were a common feature of Germany’s war of annihilation. Ullstein bild – SV-Bilderdienst. Positional warfare in the summer of 1941. Milit¨argeschichtliches Forschungsamt, Potsdam. Halder and Brauchitsch discussing operations for the east. Ullstein bild. Guderian with his troops in the east. Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-139-1112-17, Photographer: Knobloch, Ludwig. Combat readiness of Panzer Group 3 on 21 August 1941. ‘Panzerarmeeoberkommandos Anlagen zum Kriegstagesbuch “Berichte, Besprechungen, Beurteilungen der Lage” Bd.IV 22.7.41 – 31.8.41’ BA-MA RH 21–3/47. Fols. 78–79 (21 August 1941). Combat readiness of Panzer Group 3 on 4 September ¨ 1941. Burkhart Muller-Hillebrand, Das Heer 1933–1945, Band III, p. 205. Combat readiness of Panzer Group 2 on 4 September ¨ 1941. Burkhart Muller-Hillebrand, Das Heer 1933–1945, Band III, p. 205. 7.3 7.4 7.5 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 272 282 294 304 312 316 318 351 364 389 399 418 420 421 TA B L E 1.1 Division of forces in Marcks’ plan. Erhard Moritz (ed.), Fall Barbarossa, p. 126. 43 Maps 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Dispositions of Army Group Centre 22 June 1941. Glantz, David M., Atlas and Operational Summary The Border Battles 22 June–1 July 1941 Dispositions of Army Group Centre 27 June 1941. Glantz, David M., Atlas and Operational Summary The Border Battles 22 June–1 July 1941 Dispositions of Army Group Centre 1 July 1941. Glantz, David M., Atlas and Operational Summary The Border Battles 22 June–1 July 1941 Dispositions of Army Group Centre 7 July 1941. Glantz, David M., Atlas of the Battle of Smolensk 7 July–10 September 1941 Dispositions of Army Group Centre 10 July 1941. Glantz, David M., Atlas of the Battle of Smolensk 7 July–10 September 1941 Dispositions of Army Group Centre 13 July 1941. Glantz, David M., Atlas of the Battle of Smolensk 7 July–10 September 1941 Dispositions of Army Group Centre 16 July 1941. Glantz, David M., Atlas of the Battle of Smolensk 7 July–10 September 1941 Dispositions of Army Group Centre 20 July 1941. Glantz, David M., Atlas of the Battle of Smolensk 7 July–10 September 1941 Dispositions of Army Group Centre 22 July 1941. Glantz, David M., Atlas of the Battle of Smolensk 7 July–10 September 1941 Dispositions of Army Group Centre 24 July 1941. Glantz, David M., Atlas of the Battle of Smolensk 7 July–10 September 1941 page 154 172 192 218 224 238 258 265 284 287 ix x Maps 11 Dispositions of Army Group Centre 26 July 1941. Glantz, David M., Atlas of the Battle of Smolensk 7 July–10 September 1941 Dispositions of Army Group Centre 28 July 1941. Glantz, David M., Atlas of the Battle of Smolensk 7 July–10 September 1941 Dispositions of Army Group Centre 30 July 1941. Glantz, David M., Atlas of the Battle of Smolensk 7 July–10 September 1941 Dispositions of Army Group Centre 1 August 1941. Glantz, David M., Atlas of the Battle of Smolensk 7 July–10 September 1941 Dispositions of Army Group Centre 8 August 1941. Glantz, David M., Atlas of the Battle of Smolensk 7 July–10 September 1941 Dispositions of Army Group Centre 15 August 1941. Glantz, David M., Atlas of the Battle of Smolensk 7 July–10 September 1941 12 13 14 15 16 310 314 321 325 370 397 Acknowledgements This book constitutes a revised version of my doctoral dissertation, which was submitted to the Philosophical Faculty I of the HumboldtUniversit¨at zu Berlin with the title: And the World Held its Breath. The July/August 1941 Crisis of Army Group Centre and the Failure of Operation Barbarossa. The process of researching and writing this study was enormously rewarding, for which a good deal of thanks belongs to my ¨ supervisor Professor Rolf-Dieter Muller of the German Military Research Institute in Potsdam. His patience and selfless devotion to the project allowed me the benefit of his years of research and tremendous knowledge in the field. The end result is, I hope, a reflection of his faith in me and the project. A number of others deserve special mention for their time, services and friendship. The distinguished American historian Colonel David M. Glantz provided useful commentary and promptly replied to all my questions during the research process. He also kindly agreed to allow the reproduction of his own privately produced maps for publication in this study. They are the most detailed and comprehensive maps available on the German/Soviet war, and an invaluable asset to my work. Historians Dr Alex J. Kay and Dr Jeff Rutherford both read drafts and provided much critical commentary and useful feedback. Their respective expertise in the area of Germany’s eastern front also led to many enlightening discussions of the field. During my first year of postgraduate studies at Australia’s Monash University I wrote my first substantial research project on the eastern front under the skilled tutelage of Dr Eleanor Hancock. She went on to recommend future study at King’s College Department of War Studies and throughout my time in England and Germany has remained a constant source of both helpful advice and encouragement. My deepest gratitude also extends to two German families without whom my desire to undertake this research would not have been possi¨ took in a ble. Upon my arrival in Germany the Mogge family in Koln simple friend of the family and made me feel like one of their own. The xi xii Acknowledgements whole family tirelessly taught me German throughout my initial year in Germany and even supported me financially in that period. Furthermore, I would like to thank the Graichen family originally from Bonn, whose great kindness has provided an education in itself. They provided me with accommodation to do the bulk of my primary research at the military archive in Freiburg. More particularly, to my old friend Jakob Graichen, who provided technical assistance and cast a critical eye over my many translations, I owe a special debt of thanks. I should also like to add my thanks for the many years of friendship, good humour and countless travel adventures. Likewise, his lovely wife Mariana, who never failed in her interest for this project leading to much support and, at times, welcome distraction. Anna Held did some excellent last-minute translations for which I was very grateful. Thanks also to Isabella Kessel for providing me with accommodation in Freiburg at short notice and to Stefan Sonneberger for numerous favours. On a more personal note, I should like to thank my aunt Priscilla Pettengell for her thorough correction and commentary on the draft, as well as for all the years of loving dedication she has devoted to my education. To my father Warren and my brother Andy, my heartfelt thanks for all the blissful memories together in Cheltenham and everything else since. Finally to Paddy Stahel who passed away in 1998. An extraordinary woman of strength, wit and compassion, who never failed to recognise the important things in life. I was privileged to call her my mother. This work is dedicated to her. Glossary of terms BA-MA Bundesarchiv-Milit¨ararchiv (German Military Archive) Einsatzgruppen ‘Action groups’ of the SD and Security Police, used mainly for mass killings Eisenbahntruppe Railroad troops ¨ ¨ FHQ Fuhrerhauptquartier (Fuhrer Headquarters) Gestapo Geheime Staatspolizei (Secret State Police) Grossdeutschland ‘Greater Germany’ Infantry Regiment Grosstransportraum ‘Large transport area’. Referring to the transport regiment responsible for bridging the gap between front-line divisions and railheads Kleinkolonnenraum ‘Small column area’. Referring to the transportation unit belonging to a division KTB Kriegstagebuch (War Diary) Landser German infantry man Lebensraum Living space Luftwaffe German Air Force MGFA Milit¨argeschichtliches Forschungsamt (Military History Research Institute) NCO Non-commissioned officer NKVD Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennych Del (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) NSDAP Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers Party) OKH Oberkommando des Heeres (High Command of the Army) OKW Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (High Command of the Armed Forces) Panzerj¨ager Anti-tank unit POW Prisoner of war Pz. Div. Panzer Division RAF Royal Air Force xiii xiv Glossary Das Reich Reichsbahn SD SS Stavka UK USA USSR Wehrmacht ‘The Reich’ 2nd SS Division German railways Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service) Schutzstaffel (Protection Echelon) Soviet High Command United Kingdom United States of America Union of Soviet Socialist Republics German Armed Forces Tables of military ranks and army structures Table of equivalent ranks German Army/Luftwaffe Translation used in this study Equivalent US Army ranks Officer Ranks Generalfeldmarschall Generaloberst General der Infanterie der Artillerie der Flakartillerie der Flieger der Kavallerie der Luftwaffe der Panzertruppe der Pioniere Generalleutnaut Generalmajor Oberst Oberstleutnant Major Hauptmann Oberleutnant Leutnant Field Marshal Colonel-General General of Infantry of Artillery of Flak Artillery of Aviation of Cavalry of the Luftwaffe of Panzer Troops of Engineers Lieutenant-General Major-General Colonel Lieutenant-Colonel Major Captain 1st Lieutenant Lieutenant General of the Army General Lieutenant General Major General Brigadier General Colonel Lieutenant Colonel Major Captain 1st Lieutenant 2nd Lieutenant Enlisted Ranks Stabsfeldwebel Oberfeldwebel Feldwebel Unterfeldwebel Unteroffizier Gefreiter Soldat Master Sergeant Technical Sergeant Staff Sergeant Sergeant Corporal Private Private Master Sergeant Technical Sergeant Staff Sergeant Sergeant Corporal Private 1st Class Private 2nd Class Source: Karl-Heinz Frieser, The Blitzkrieg Legend. The 1940 Campaign in the West (Annapolis, 2005) p. 355. xv xvi Tables of military ranks Structure and size of the German Army Germany Army English formation translation Number of subordinate units Average number of personnela Heeresgruppe Armee Korps Division Brigade Regiment Bataillon Kompanie Zug Two or more armies Two or more corps Two or more divisions Two or more brigades Two or more regiments Two or more battalions Two or more companies Two or more platoons From 100,000 to over a million From 60,000 to 250,000 From 40,000 to 70,000 From 12,000 to 18,000 From 5,000 to 7,000 From 2,000 to 6,000 From 500 to 1,000 From 100 to 200 From 30 to 40 Army Group Army Corps Division Brigade Regiment Battalion Company Platoon Note: a Wide variations of these figures occurred especially after 1941 Source: Own records. Introduction On 3 February 1941 Hitler hosted an important military conference in preparation for Operation Barbarossa – Nazi Germany’s upcoming invasion of the Soviet Union. Although Hitler was determined to crush the Soviet Union in a short summer campaign, this was destined to become a titanic clash between two ruthless empires, leading to the largest and most costly war in human history. Hitler was sufficiently aware of the profound scale of the conflict and the momentous consequences it would induce, even in the shortened form that he conceived for it that by the end of the conference he ominously pronounced: ‘When Barbarossa begins the world will hold its breath.’1 Nor was this just another bombastic outburst, typical of Hitler’s unrestrained hubris. In a radio address on the day of the invasion (22 June 1941) the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, told his people: So now this bloodthirsty guttersn...
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