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The German campaign in Russia; planning and…
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The German campaign in Russia; planning and operations, 1940-1942

by George E. Blau

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R. Gordon Grant's text is a short book covering the operational and strategic aspects of the German invasion of Russia during the first two years of the war. Written in a terse style, it is matter of fact and to the point, but it gives you a good feel for the alternatives considered and the reason for the choices taken.

Throughout the summer and autumn of 1941, Hitler seems to be channeling Hamlet when it comes to Moscow. Should he attack Moscow? Yes! No! Maybe! It isn't the goal. The goal is to destroy the Red Army and seize the industrial and agricultural regions of European Russia, particularly the Donets Basin and the Caucasus oil fields. But the Red Army is protecting Moscow. To destroy the Soviet army, he has to seize Moscow. In the late summer and early autumn Hitler vacillates, moving troops around from one army group to another. His army is spread thin on the ground, and he wastes time moving Panzer armies hundreds of miles to support the periphery and then back to Army Group Center, delaying the inevitable push towards Moscow.

Hitler's goals are economic and political. He wants to push the Russian military far enough away from Germany to prevent them from launching bombing raids on the heart of his industry. He wants to grab the oil fields of the Caucuses to fuel his army and economy. He wants the rich agricultural regions of the Ukraine. Finally, he wants to seize enough of the Soviet's manufacturing capacity to make it impossible for them to rebuild their army after it is crushed by his army.

The goals of Germany's military commanders are necessarily focused on the fighting. The political and economic goals are secondary to the crushing of the Red Army. It must be hunted down, encircled and destroyed. But the Soviet army is vast and the land is even larger. Large sweeping encirclements envelope and destroy massive numbers of troops. Hundreds of thousands are trapped, captured and killed. Large encirclements are too big to be completely sealed. The Red Army leaks through the gaps in the lines, avoiding the final death blow. The size of Russia is beyond their grasp. The German High Command's prewar estimate of some 200 divisions in western Russia turns out to be a gross underestimate. By autumn, German intelligence has identified some 360 divisions opposing them. The German army is like a snake unhinging its jaw to swallow it prey only to discover that its hapless victim is much larger than believed and still very much alive.

The expanse of the Russian territory is as great an enemy as the Red Army. By the time Army Group Center is nearing Moscow, its tanks have traveled so far that most are in need of new engines, a situation made worse by Hitler's constant reshuffling of his Panzer armies. But there are insufficient numbers of engines available in theater. Those which exist are in Germany and must be transported through occupied territory over railroads which must be relaid to match the European gauge and defended against partisan attacks. As supply lines stretch, their vulnerability to attack increases proportionally. The length of time required to deliver supplies increases, and thus more resources are required to transport those supplies. More trains, more guards, more petroleum, oil and lubricants.

As winter closes in, the German advance sputters to a halt short of Moscow. In the original war plan, the Red Army was supposed to have been defeated by now. German troops were to have been withdrawn back to central and western Europe. Only winter clothing sufficient for 60 divisions had been produced. Almost twice that remain in Russia.

With the spring of 1942, Hitler returns to his original political and economic goals. His army is too weak to directly challenge the Red Army around Moscow. Instead, he focuses on the Donets basin and the Caucuses oil fields. The Russians, expecting the final blow to come at Moscow are caught off guard. Throughout the spring and summer, Germany makes slow but steady progress through the Crimea and Donets. But this is not the summer of 1941. The German army is much weaker and the Soviet army is growing.

By the end of August, only a fraction of Hitler's goals have been met. The Sixth Army is out the outskirts of Stalingrad. Frustrated and desperate, Hitler loses his self control. The previous year he had forbidden the army to directly attack Leningrad. He didn't want them wasting efforts in street fighting. Now he batters the city of Stalingrad doing more damage to himself than he ever is able to inflict on the Soviets.

My one complaint with the book is that I'm never really sure if the author is quoting documents or paraphrasing them. When discussing an operational directive outlining the missions for the various army groups at a particular date, the author seems to retain the structure of the original document, suggesting that he is translating verbatim what was written. However, in many places the phrasing suggests that he has summarized and interpreted the contents of many sections and subsections of the documents. Interpretation is certainly acceptable. It's his job as an historian. It would just be nice if the line between the documentary evidence and the interpretation were clearer. ( )
1 vote fredbacon | Feb 22, 2009 |
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