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Victory places in Moscow
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|• For Hitler, the Soviet capital was secondary and believed the only way to bring the Soviet Union to its knees was to defeat it economically. He felt this could be accomplished by seizing the economic resources of the Ukraine east of Kiev. When Walther von Brauchitsch, Commander-in-Chief of the Army, supported a direct thrust to Moscow, he was told that "only ossified brains could think of such an idea." Franz Halder, head of the Army General Staff, was also convinced a drive to seize Moscow would be victorious after the German Army inflicted enough damage on the Soviet forces. This view was shared by most within the German high command. But Hitler overruled his generals in favor of pocketing the Soviet forces around Kiev in the south, followed by seizure of the Ukraine. The move was successful, resulting in the destruction of 660,000 Red Army personnel by September 26 and further advances. |
• With the end of summer, Hitler redirected his attention back to Moscow and assigned the well-equipped Army Group Center to this task. The forces committed to Operation Typhoon included three infantry armies (the 2nd, 4th and 9th) supported by three Panzer (tank) Groups (the 2nd, 3rd and 4th) and by the Luftwaffe 's Luftflotte 2. Overall, more than one million German troops were committed to the operation, along with 1,700 tanks and 14,000 guns. German aerial strength, however, had been severely reduced over the summer's campaigning as the Luftwaffe had lost 1,603 aircraft destroyed and 1,028 damaged. Luftflotte 2 had only 549 serviceable machines, including 158 medium and dive-bombers and 172 fighters, available for Operation Typhoon. The attack relied on standard Blitzkrieg tactics, using Panzer groups rushing deep into Soviet formations and executing double-pincer movements, pocketing Red Army divisions and destroying them.
• Facing the Wehrmacht were three Soviet fronts forming a defensive line between the cities of Vyazma and Bryansk which barred the way to Moscow. The armies comprising these fronts had also been involved in heavy fighting. Still, it was a formidable concentration consisting of 1,250,000 men, 1,000 tanks, 7,600 guns. The Soviet Air Force/Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily (VVS) had suffered appalling losses of some 7,500 or 21,200 aircraft. Extraordinary industrial achievements had begun to replace these, and at the outset of "Typhoon" the VVS could muster 936 aircraft, 578 of which were bombers.
• Once Soviet resistance along the Vyazma-Bryansk front was eliminated, German forces were to press east, encircling Moscow in similar fashion by outflanking it from the north and south. However, before plans got underway the continuous fighting had reduced their armies in fighting effectiveness. Logistical difficulties became more acute as well. Guderian, for example, wrote that some of his destroyed tanks had not been replaced along with fuel shortages at the start of the operation.
• The German attack went according to plan, with 3rd Panzer Army pushing through the middle nearly unopposed and then splitting its mobile forces north to complete the encirclement of Vyzama with 4th Panzer Army, and other units south to close the ring around Bryansk in conjunction with 2nd Panzer Army. The Soviet defense, still under construction, was overrun and spearheads of the Second and Third Panzer Groups met at Vyazma on 10 October 1941. Four Soviet armies (the 19th, 20th, 24th and 32nd) were trapped in a huge pocket just west of the city.
• The encircled Soviet forces continued their resistance and the Wehrmacht had to employ 28 divisions to eliminate them, using troops which could have supported the offensive towards Moscow. The remnants of the Soviet Western and Reserve Fronts retreated and manned new defensive lines around Mozhaisk. Although losses were huge, some of the encircled units escaped in small groups ranging in size from platoons to full rifle divisions. Soviet resistance near Vyazma also provided time for the Soviet high command time to bring reinforcements up to the four armies defending Moscow (namely, the 5th, 16th, 43rd and 49th). Three rifle and two tank divisions were transferred from the Far East with more to follow.
• The German offensives during operation Typhoon
• In the south near Bryansk, initial Soviet performance was barely more effective than Vyazma. The Second Panzer Group executed an enveloping movement around the city, linking with the advancing 2nd Army and capturing Orel by 3 October and Bryansk by 6 October.
• But the weather began to change against the Germans. By 7 October, The first snow fell and quickly melted, turning roads and open areas into muddy quagmires, a phenomenon known as rasputitsa in Russia. German armored groups were greatly slowed allowing Soviet forces to fall back and regroup.
• Soviet forces were able to counterattack in some cases. For example, the 4th Panzer Division fell into an ambush set by Dmitri Leliushenko's hastily formed 1st Guards Special Rifle Corps, including Mikhail Katukov's 4th Tank Brigade, near the city of Mtsensk. Newly built T-34 tanks were concealed in the woods as German armor rolled past them; as a scratch team of Soviet infantry contained their advance, Soviet armor attacked from both flanks and savaged the German Panzer IV tanks). For the Wehrmacht, the shock of this defeat was so great that a special investigation was ordered. Guderian and his troops discovered, to their dismay, that the Soviet T-34s were almost impervious to German tank guns. As the general wrote, "Our Panzer IV tanks with their short 75 mm guns could only explode a T-34 by hitting the engine from behind." Guderian also noted in his memoirs that "the Russians already learned a few things."
• Other counterattacks further slowed the German offensive. The 2nd Army which was operating to the north of Guderian's forces with the aim of trapping the Bryansk Front, had come under strong Red Army pressure assisted by air support.
• According to German assessments of the initial Soviet defeat, 673,000 soldiers had been captured by the Wehrmacht in both the Vyazma and Bryansk pockets, although recent research suggests a lower—but still enormous—figure of 514,000 prisoners, reducing Soviet strength by 41%. The personnel losses (permanent as well as temporary) calculated by the Soviet command are smaller but still massive, namely 499,001. On 9 October Otto Dietrich of the German Ministry of Propaganda, quoting Hitler himself, forecast in a press conference imminent destruction of the armies defending Moscow. As Hitler had never had to lie about a specific and verifiable military fact, Dietrich convinced foreign correspondents that the collapse of all Soviet resistance was perhaps hours away. German civilian morale—low since the start of Barbarossa—significantly improved, with rumors of soldiers home by Christmas and great riches from the future Lebensraum in the east.
• However, Red Army resistance had slowed the Wehrmacht and the brutally cold Russian winter was only weeks away. When, on 10 October 1941, the Germans arrived within sight of the Mozhaisk line west of Moscow, they encountered another defensive barrier manned by new Soviet forces. That same day, Georgy Zhukov was recalled from Leningrad to take charge of Moscow's defense, with Colonel General Ivan Konev as his deputy. On 12 October, he ordered the concentration of all available forces on a strengthened Mozhaisk line, a move supported by Vasilevsky. The Luftwaffe still controlled the sky wherever it appeared and the Stukageschwader and Kampfgruppen (Stuka and bomber groups) flew 537 sorties, destroying some 440 vehicles and 150 artillery pieces.
• On 15 October, Stalin ordered the evacuation of the Communist Party, the General Staff and various civil government offices from Moscow to Kuibyshev (now Samara), leaving only a limited number of officials behind. The evacuation caused panic among Muscovites. On 16–17 October, much of the civilian population tried to flee, mobbing the available trains and jamming the roads from the city. Despite all this, Stalin publicly remained in the Soviet capital, somewhat calming the fear and pandemonium.
• By 13 October 1941, the Wehrmacht had reached the Mozhaisk defense line, a hastily constructed double set of fortifications protecting Moscow's western approaches that extended from Kalinin towards Volokolamsk and Kaluga. Despite recent reinforcements, only around 90,000 Soviet soldiers manned this line - far too few to stem the German advance. Given the limited resources available, Zhukov decided to concentrate his forces at four critical points: the 16th Army under Lieutenant General Rokossovsky guarded Volokolamsk, Mozhaisk was defended by 5th Army under Major General Govorov, the 43rd Army of Major General Golubev defended Maloyaroslavets, and the 49th Army under Lieutenant General Zakharkin protected Kaluga. The entire Soviet Western Front—almost destroyed after its encirclement near Vyazma—was being recreated almost from scratch.
• Moscow itself was also hastily fortified. According to Zhukov, 250,000 women and teenagers worked building trenches and anti-tank moats around Moscow, moving almost three million cubic meters of earth with no mechanical help. Moscow's factories were hastily converted to military tasks: one automobile factory was turned into a submachine gun armory, a clock factory manufactured mine detonators, the chocolate factory shifted to food production for the front, and automobile repair stations worked fixing damaged tanks and military vehicles. Despite these preparations, the capital was within striking distance of German panzers, with the Luftwaffe mounting massive air raids on the city. The air raids caused only limited damage because of extensive anti-aircraft defenses and effective civilian fire brigades.
• On 13 October 1941 (15 October, according to other sources), the Wehrmacht resumed its offensive. At first, the Germans attempted to bypass Soviet defenses by pushing northeast towards the weakly protected city of Kalinin and south towards Kaluga and Tula, capturing all except Tula by 14 October. Encouraged by these initial successes, the Germans launched a frontal assault against the fortified line, taking Mozhaisk and Maloyaroslavets on 18 October, Naro-Fominsk on 21 October, and Volokolamsk on 27 October after intense fighting. Because of the increasing danger of flanking attacks, Zhukov was forced to fall back, withdrawing his forces east of the Nara River.
• In the south, the Second Panzer Army initially advanced towards Tula with relative ease because the Mozhaisk defense line did not extend that far south and no significant concentrations of Soviet troops blocked their advance. However bad weather, fuel problems, and damaged roads and bridges eventually slowed the Germans, and Guderian did not reach the outskirts of Tula until 26 October. The German plan initially called for the rapid capture of Tula, followed by a pincer move around Moscow. The first attack, however, was repelled by the 50th Army and civilian volunteers on 29 October, after a desperate fight within sight of the city. On 31 October, the German Army high command ordered a halt to all offensive operations until increasingly severe logistical problems were resolved and the rasputitsa subsided.
• Wearing down
• By late October, the German forces were worn out, with only ⅓ of their motor vehicles still functioning, infantry divisions at ⅓ to ½ strength, and serious logistics issues preventing the delivery of warm clothing and other winter equipment to the front. Even Hitler seemed to surrender to the idea of a long struggle, since the prospect of sending tanks into such a large city without heavy infantry support seemed risky after the costly capture of Warsaw in 1939.
• To stiffen the resolve of the Red Army and boost the civilian morale, Stalin ordered a traditional military parade on 7 November (Revolution Day) to be staged in Red Square. Soviet troops paraded past the Kremlin and then marched directly to the front. The parade carried a great symbolic significance by demonstrating the continued Soviet resolve, and was frequently invoked as such in the years to come. Despite this brave show, the Red Army's position remained precarious. Although 100,000 additional Soviet soldiers had reinforced Klin and Tula, where renewed German offensives were expected, Soviet defenses remained relatively thin. Nevertheless, Stalin ordered several preemptive counteroffensives against German lines. These were launched despite protests from Zhukov, who pointed out the complete lack of reserves. The Wehrmacht repelled most of these counteroffensives, which squandered Soviet forces that could have been used for Moscow's defense. The offensive's only notable success occurred west of Moscow near Aleksino, where Soviet tanks inflicted heavy losses on the 4th Army because the Germans still lacked anti-tank weapons capable of damaging the new, well-armored T-34 tanks.
• From 31 October – 15 November, the Wehrmacht high command stood down while preparing to launch a second offensive towards Moscow. Although Army Group Centre still possessed considerable nominal strength, its fighting capabilities had thoroughly diminished because of combat fatigue. Although the Germans were aware of the continuous influx of Soviet reinforcements from the east, as well as the presence of large reserves, given the tremendous Soviet casualties they did not expect the Soviets to be able to mount a determined defense. But in comparison to the situation in October, Soviet rifle divisions occupied a much stronger defensive position: a triple defensive ring surrounding the city and some remains of the Mozhaisk line near Klin. Most of the Soviet field armies now had a multilayered defense with at least two rifle divisions in second echelon positions. Artillery support and sapper teams were also concentrated along major roads that German troops were expected to use in their attacks. There were also many Soviet troops still available in reserve armies behind the front. Finally, Soviet troops—and especially officers—were now more experienced and better prepared for the offensive.
• By 15 November 1941, the ground had finally frozen, solving the mud problem. The armored Wehrmacht spearheads were unleashed, with the goal of encircling Moscow and linking up near the city of Noginsk, east of the capital. To achieve this objective, the German Third and Fourth Panzer Groups needed to concentrate their forces between the Moscow reservoir and Mozhaysk, then proceed to Klin and Solnechnogorsk to encircle the capital from the north. In the south, the Second Panzer Army intended to bypass Tula, still in Soviet hands, and advance to Kashira and Kolomna, linking up with the northern pincer at Noginsk.
• On 15 November 1941, German tank armies began their offensive towards Klin, where no Soviet reserves were available because of Stalin's wish to attempt a counteroffensive at Volokolamsk, which had forced the relocation of all available reserves forces further south. Initial German attacks split the front in two, separating the 16th Army from the 30th. Several days of intense combat followed. Zhukov recalled in his memoirs that "The enemy, ignoring the casualties, was making frontal assaults, willing to get to Moscow by any means necessary." Despite the Wehrmacht 's efforts, the multi-layered defense reduced Soviet casualties as the Soviet 16th Army slowly retreated and constantly harassed the German divisions trying to make their way through the fortifications.
• The Third Panzer Army finally captured Klin after heavy fighting on 24 November, and by 25 November Solnechnogorsk as well. Soviet resistance was still strong, and the outcome of the battle was by no means certain. Reportedly, Stalin asked Zhukov whether Moscow could be successfully defended and ordered him to "speak honestly, like a communist." Zhukov replied that it was possible, but that reserves were desperately needed. By 28 November, the German 7th Panzer Division had seized a bridgehead across the Moscow-Volga Canal—the last major obstacle before Moscow—and stood less than 35 km (22 mi) from the Kremlin; but a powerful counterattack by the 1st Shock Army drove them back across the canal. Just northwest of Moscow, the Wehrmacht reached Krasnaya Polyana, little more than 20 km (12 mi) from Moscow; German officers were able to make out some of the major buildings of the Soviet capital through their field glasses. Both Soviet and German forces were severely depleted, sometimes having only 150–200 riflemen—a company's full strength—left in a regiment.
• In the south, near Tula, combat resumed on 18 November 1941, with the Second Panzer Army trying to encircle the city. The German forces involved were extremely battered from previous fighting and still had no winter clothing. As a result, initial German progress was only 5–10 km (3.1–6.2 mi) per day, reducing the chances of success. Moreover, it exposed the German tank armies to flanking attacks from the Soviet 49th and 50th Armies, located near Tula, further slowing the advance. Guderian nevertheless was able to pursue the offensive, spreading his forces in a star-like attack, taking Stalinogorsk on 22 November 1941 and surrounding a Soviet rifle division stationed there. On 26 November, German panzers approached Kashira, a city controlling a major highway to Moscow. In response, a violent Soviet counterattack was launched the following day. General Belov's 2nd Cavalry Corps, supported by hastily assembled formations which included 173rd Rifle Division, 9th Tank Brigade, two separate tank battalions, and training and militia units, halted the German advance near Kashira. The Germans were driven back in early December, securing the southern approach to the city. Tula itself held, protected by fortifications and determined defenders, both soldiers and civilians. In the south, the Wehrmacht never got close to the capital.
• Because of the resistance on both the northern and southern sides of Moscow, on 1 December the Wehrmacht attempted a direct offensive from the west along the Minsk-Moscow highway near the city of Naro-Fominsk. This offensive had only limited tank support and was forced to assault extensive Soviet defenses. After meeting determined resistance from the Soviet 1st Guards Motorized Rifle Division and flank counterattacks staged by the 33rd Army, the German offensive stalled and was driven back four days later in the ensuing Soviet counteroffensive. On 2 December a Reconnaissance-Battalion managed to reach the town of Khimki—some 8 km (5.0 mi) away from Moscow—and captured its bridge over the Moscow-Volga Canal as well as its railway station, which marked the farthest advance of German forces on Moscow.
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