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Stalin’s Winter Offensive

Discussion in 'History of Russia during World War II' started by Jim, Dec 22, 2006.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Stalin’s Winter Offensive

    Never having visited the Front himself, Stalin decides on a wholesale offensive from Finland to the Black Sea.

    By mid-December some of the effects of the gigantic Soviet mobilisation system were being seen. The Red Army now had more than four million men under arms, though there were not always weapons for them and a large proportion of the soldiers were totally untrained: no matter - they could be fed into battle, pick up arms where they found them and, to use one of Churchill's expressions, 'always take one with them'. And they had one advantage over the German enemy: they were warmly clad, for every Soviet citizen knows about the Russian winter, which was coming as such a shock to the invaders.

    Confident of victory before winter; the German army had pitifully little warm clothing. Boots stuffed with straw and newspaper, and suffering from snow blindness and frostbite, the German troops suffered badly.

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    On 5 December, on Stalin's instructions, the Red Army went over to the offensive on both the Kalinin and West Fronts in order to push the German Army Group Centre back from Moscow. On the following day they were joined on their left flank by the armies of South-West Front 15 armies’ altogether, plus one cavalry corps, and if the Soviet army of those days barely exceeded a German corps in manpower, this first counter-offensive was nonetheless conceived on a grand scale. And because it was attacking forces at the end of lengthy communications and supply lines that were tired, ragged and freezing, the counter-attacks succeeded despite the lack of heavy weapons or armour to support them.
    Gradually German armies were levered away from the outskirts of Moscow, the pincers on each side bent back. And if the distances the Red Army advanced during those days were minuscule compared with those of the German army in the summer, this did not affect the fact that the Red Army was going forwards, the Wehrmacht backwards with inevitable effects upon their morale. On 17 December Stalin issued orders to armies of the Leningrad Front and to the Volkhov and North-West Fronts beside them. They were to drive south-west against German Army Group North, both to check the encirclement of Peter the Great's city and to prevent a link-up between German and Finnish forces. Stalin also planned to drive a wedge between Army Groups North and Centre with a drive by the 4th Shock Army, aimed at Smolensk.

    The Orel sector, March 1942:
    German soldiers help civilians out of a bunker during the last phase of Stalin's ill-conceived offensive. They did not know it but Stalin's rigid insistence on attacking was doing to the Red Army what Hitler's 'no retreat' orders had done to the German army.


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    Far to the south Stalin's directives also launched 20,000 men in 14 transports and a Force Eight gale across nearly 160km (100 miles) of the Black Sea, from Novorossiisk to the Kerch Peninsula, where they landed to pose what General Erich von Manstein admitted was a serious threat to his 11th Army besieging Sevastapol. Then on 5 January, at a suddenly convened meeting of STAVKA (Soviet high command), Stalin announced an all-out offensive along the entire front from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
    It was certainly a grandiose plan. The main blow was to be delivered in front of Moscow by the armies of the Western, Kalinin and Bryansk Fronts with the left wing of North-Western Front, all against Army Group Centre. Army Group North was to be defeated by the Leningrad Front, the right wing of the North-Western Front and the Baltic Fleet; Army Group South was to be flung out of the Donbass by the South-Western and Southern Fronts, while the Crimea was to be liberated by the Caucasus Front and the Black Sea Fleet.

    The Soviets had husbanded the bulk of their T-34/76 tanks in readiness for the winter counter offensive. They had their greatest impact in the counter-attack launched from Moscow that drove the Germans back from the capital. Fast, well-armed and well-armoured, the T-34 had only one serious weakness, its lack of a radio.

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    General Georgi Zhukov had a number of comments to make on these strategies. At both the northern and southern ends of the proposed offensive line, he claimed, German forces had had time to build and occupy strong defences; in the centre, however, the present pressure on Army Group Centre had not only pushed the Germans back, it had also thrown them into considerable organisational chaos. Here, undoubtedly, lay chances for great Red Army gains should it be possible to supply them with sufficient reinforcement and re-equipment but it was certainly not possible to reinforce and resupply the entire length of the front; therefore the proposed actions on the wings should be abandoned, and everything concentrated in the centre. His words fell on deaf ears; Stalin held to his plans.
     
  2. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Grinding to a halt

    Zhukov was, of course, right. Stalin by dictatorial decree might be able to produce another three or four armies from the apparently limitless population of the USSR, but that decree would not produce weapons of quality or weight with which to arm them. Nor within days would it provide the training those armies needed to use the weapons with expertise. Nevertheless, attacking across 1600km (1000 miles) of front, they did push the Germans back between 80 and 320km (50 and 200 miles), partially cleared the Kalinin, Moscow, Orel and Kursk regions, and below Kharkov drove in a deep salient (known later as the Izyum Bulge) between Balakeya and Slavyansk that penetrated nearly 130km (80 miles) to reach the banks of the Orel River in the north and Lozovaya in the south.

    The air support, which had played such an important role in the German advance, was as badly affected by the winter conditions as the rest of the army. Many German aircraft, such as the
    Junkers Ju 878 2, were redeployed to the West and Mediterranean, reducing air strength from 2400 to 1700 machines.


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    But these gains were made almost as much by the willingness of the German forces to go back as by Soviet pressure, and as soon as conditions favoured a stubborn German defence, then Soviet lack of experience and supply shortages compelled a halt to the advance. At times, according to Zhukov, their main purpose in attending STAVKA meetings was literally to wheedle out of Stalin 10 or 16 more antitank rifles, a hundred light machine-guns or, even more vital, mortar and artillery shells. At times guns were limited to one or two shells a day - and that when the Red Army was supposed to be conducting a vigorous counter-offensive along a 1600 kilometre front!
    A few more small but terribly expensive gains were made, but by March even Stalin had to admit that the winter offensive was over. Until Soviet industry could produce armaments in vast quantities the best that could be expected of the Red Army was that it might hang grimly on and, in doing so, gather experience at all levels. It was a lesson, but a costly one indeed.

    Womens voluteers in Moscow head out to the front line. Female combatants tended to be used in skilled roles such as snipers, pilots and tank drivers.

    [​IMG]
     
  3. Dave War44

    Dave War44 Member

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    I needed some mention of Kursk at this point in time to crobar this in. Again from Vasily Grossman With the Red Army 1941-45. It is reportage from early 1942 and so dates from the time of the partial clearing as described above, not to the great tank battle the following spring:

    A quick google/wiki check and sure as hell Kursk is a giant iron-ore basin, and the largest magnetic anomaly on earth.

    Bad luck or what !! :lol:
    It seems the poor sods on the front line (Grossman included) had more than Stalin to deal with. This makes the quote above even more amazing when you think about it, told in the language of humour and with comic timing.
     
  4. Cabel1960

    Cabel1960 recruit

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    At least the Russians had an understanding to what the Germans meant when they said that the Katyushas was one of the most feared weapons used on them.. :silly:
     

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