Welcome to the WWII Forums! Log in or Sign up to interact with the community.

The drive on Smolensk 1941

Discussion in 'History of Germany during World War II' started by Jim, Dec 21, 2006.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

    Joined:
    Sep 1, 2006
    Messages:
    3,324
    Likes Received:
    8
    via War44
    "When Barbarossa is launched, declared Hitler, the whole world will hold its breath!", and indeed the forces massed along the Soviet frontier from the Arctic Circle to the Black Sea during that early summer of 1941 represented the greatest concentration of military force the world had seen to that date. Three German army groups had under command 80 infantry divisions, 18 Panzer divisions and 12 motorised divisions, while behind them waited another 21 infantry, two Panzer and one motorised divisions; in reserve: some two million men, 3200 tanks and 10,000 guns. Already in position by mid June to supply them were enough stores dumps, fuel and ammunition reserves to feed them over a 565 to 645km (350 to 400 mile) advance, and 500,000 lorries waited in massed parks from East Prussia to Romania to rush it forward on demand. To the modern mind the only questionable (indeed alarming) figure to emerge from the tables of statistics among the planning memoranda for Operation "Barbarossa" is that for stabling: 300,000 horses were to play an apparently essential part in this monumental military exercise.

    A 10.5-cm (4.1 in) gun fires on isolated Soviet troops fighting on 129km (80 miles) west of Kiev. As Guderian and Hoth's Panzer divisions raced north of the Pripet Marshes, vast numbers of Red Army soldiers were left in the Ukraine, exposed to encirclement.

    [​IMG]

    The disposition of the army groups (and the directions of their advances) were dictated to a large extent by one inescapable geographical factor, namely the Pripet Marshes, a virtually uncrossable swamp nearly 160km (100 miles) from north to south and 480km (300 miles) from east to west, dividing Belorussia from the Ukraine. Because of this, there could be little contact during the first stage of the operation between Army Group South launched from Lublin towards Kiev and the lower reaches of the River Dniepr, and the two groups to the north. These were Army Group Centre aimed first at Smolensk and then (at least in the minds of the military leaders) at Moscow, and Army Group North launched out of East Prussia first towards Lake Peipus and then Leningrad.
    Victory in eight weeks It was in the northern sector that the greater weight of the attack lay: 50 infantry, 13 Panzer and nine motorised divisions between the groups and, of the two, Army Group Centre was the stronger. Under the command of the icily aristocrat tic Generalfeldmarschall Fedor von Bock were two infantry armies, the 9th and the 4th, and two Panzer formations, Panzergruppe 3 under General Hermann Hoth and Panzergruppe 2 under General Heinz Guderian. These were the armies whose commanders intended to reduce Napoleon's feat of arms of 129 years earlier to historical obscurity, for they planned to reach Moscow in less than eight weeks and to annihilate the Soviet army in the process.

    Captured Russian Prisoners. If any of the captives were identified as communists they would have been executed on the spot.

    [​IMG]

    In this hope they were encouraged by Hitler, who had assured them 'We have only to kick in the front door and the whole rotten Russian edifice will come tumbling down!' Guderian's first task was to throw his Panzergruppe across the River Bug on each side of the fortress of Brest-Litovsk, capture the fortress and then drive precipitously forward towards the city of Minsk, curving up to it from the south to meet Hoth's spearheads coming down from the north. Thus would the Soviet forces immediately behind their attack fronts be isolated in a huge cauldron in which, once their supplies had run out, they would have little alternative but to surrender.
     
  2. Jim

    Jim New Member

    Joined:
    Sep 1, 2006
    Messages:
    3,324
    Likes Received:
    8
    via War44
    Optimism of leaders

    This was all achieved in five days of breathtaking exhilaration, which seemed to confirm Hitler's pronouncements and the optimism of the Wehrmacht leaders. On the afternoon of 27 June the leading tanks of the 17th Panzer Division drove into Minsk to meet the spearheads of Hoth's Panzergruppe 3, which had covered 320km (200 miles) in five days and accomplished the first stage of their mission. But behind them they had left pockets of Soviet troops who, unlike those enemy forces similarly encircled the year before in France, showed little inclination to lay down their arms and surrender. There were four of these pockets: the fortress at Brest-Litovsk, six divisions around Bialystok, six more at Volkovysk, and another 15 between Novogrudok and Minsk itself.

    The task of first containing and then destroying and capturing them was assigned, in Hoth's and Guderian's minds, to the German infantry of the 4th and 9th Armies trudging stolidly behind the Panzer divisions. Not surprisingly, arguments arose. Guderian and Hoth were convinced that they must immediately race further ahead, first to Smolensk and then to Moscow, confident that speed would prove the decisive factor in this campaign. And with a burst of insubordination, on 1 July Guderian and Hoth released Panzer units towards the next obstacle, the River Beresina, and were threatened with court martial for so doing by their immediate superior, General Gunther von Kluge. On the same day, Guderian's Panzers met for the first time a Soviet T-34 tank, which blocked their advance for three hours, knocked out five PzKpfw III tanks and was only removed by an attack from the rear with an 88mm (3.46in) gun. Fortunately no more T-34s were encountered in the area and then, on 3 July, the order came for the next stage of the advance.

    Ju 87 Stukas over the USSR, July 1941. Just as in Poland and France, the Stuka dive-bombers proved extremely effective in the USSR. The Soviet fighters were all but driven from the sky by the Luftwaffe, allowing the bombers to wreak havoc on the Red Army, which had no answer to well coordinated tank and airpower.

    [​IMG]

    So from his illicit bridgehead over the Beresina, Guderian launched the 18th Panzer Division towards the River Dniepr, which was reached on 5 July. The next three weeks were occupied with the hardest fighting Panzergruppe 2 had yet experienced, for although advanced units of the 29th Motorised Division reached Smolensk on 16 July, fierce fighting still raged behind them and there was as yet no sign of Hoth's Panzergruppe 3 spearheads. For 10 days Panzergruppe 2 had three separate objectives to pursue: to bar the Soviet forces it had bypassed since crossing the Dniepr from escape south or east; to seek contact with Panzergruppe 3 fighting its way down from the north-west; and to widen its hold on the land east of Smolensk (towards Roslavl and the River Desna at Elnya) into a solid bridgehead for the final thrust towards the Germans' great goal, Moscow.

    But on 29 July Hitler's adjutant, Colonel Schmundt, arrived at Guderian's headquarters, bringing with him Hitler's felicitations and the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross (Guderian was only the fifth man in the army to receive them) and also the first hint of changes of plan and emphasis. Moscow was perhaps not so important after all. The rolling wheat lands of the Ukraine would provide the granary from which the ever-growing Axis armies could be fed and, moreover, down in that direction lay the Bakr oilfields. Moscow could wait. Guderian for the moment must go no further east.
     

Share This Page