Friday, December 25, 2009

Decisive Battles: Moscow 1941-1942

Moscow Dates: October 2, 1941 through January (the close of the Russian counteroffensive) or June (the conclusion of the Battles around Rzhev), 1942. The period we’re most concerned with here is December, 1941, from the end of Operation Barbarossa on 12/5/41 thru the end of the Soviet winter counteroffensive on 1/9/42.

Forces Engaged: German – Primarily Heeresgruppe Mitte (Army Group Centre, GEN Bock) composed of five armies: Ninth Army (GEN Model), Fourth Army (GEN Heinrici), Second Armored (GEN Guderian – relieved 12/25/41, thereafter GEN Schmidt), Third Armored (GEN Hoth, then Reinhardt) and Fourth Armored (GEN Hoepner). Approximately 940,000 troops all arms, 1,500 armored vehicles. Also most of Luftflotte (Air Fleet, roughly similar to an American Air Division) 2, approximately 550-600 operational aircraft of all types.(We’ll discuss this in more depth a bit later, but the men and machines of AGC were dead beat by late November and early December, 1941. Fighting nearly continuously since the first days of the invasion in June, most of the formations were reduced to 50% of their authorized strengths, and the German armor – the beating heart of the Heer (Army) – was in real trouble, with less than half the authorized machines available and a significant repair and replacement problem developing…)

Soviet – Primarily the West Front (MAR Zhukov) composed of nine armies:
1st Shock Army (GEN Kuznetsov)
5th Army (GEN Govorov)
10th Army (GEN Golikov)
16th Army (GEN Rokossovski)
20th Army (GEN Vlasov)
30th Army (GEN Lelyushenko)
33rd Army (GEN Efremov)
49th Army (GEN Zakarin)
50th Army (GEN Boldin)

As well as units from the Bryansk Front (three armies, MAR Cherevichenko) and the Koniev Front (three armies, MAR Konev). About 500,000 troops all arms, 850-900 armored vehicles. Aircraft available varied widely in effectiveness and type, but generally rose from about 500 in late September to nearly 1,500 in early December.

Keep in mind that the Soviet Army and Air Force had taken a hell of a beating in the summer and early fall of 1941, a bloodletting that still resonates with Russians today. Many of these formations and the air assets supporting them were survivors of the cruelest of Darwinian selections. The Soviet Army had not recovered from Stalin’s purges in the late Thirties, and their tactical and technical competence had never been particularly high to begin with. Add to that the effects of the personal command of Stalin, whose military instincts were typically pretty awful, and you had an organization with its back, almost physically, to the walls of Moscow.

The Campaign: German military plans for the invasion of Soviet Russia had been first circulated in the late summer and fall of 1940. A great deal of discussion about German motives have centered on Hitler’s hatred and contempt for the Slavs to the east, but more concrete factors probably pushed the German Army leaders to stop trying to hold the Fuhrer back. Probably the most crucial was seizing the oilfields in the Soviet Caucausus. Germany in 1940 was already beginning to feel the lack of petroleum products. Albert Speer told his interrogators in 1945 that oil was probably one of the largest factors in the decision to invade.

Probably the most important element of the plans that eventually became Unternehmen (Operation) Barbarossa was time. The original plan called for the three German Army Groups to destroy the Soviet Red Army in battles along the 1940 frontiers, then strike out to seize Leningrad along the east edge of the Baltic, the Baku oilfields in the south, and in the center; Moscow.

It should be noted that, for Hitler at least, Moscow was third of the three; his paragraph outlining operations for Operation Barbarossa reads as follows:
“The southern of these two army groups - in the center of the whole front - will have the task of breaking out the area around and to the north of Warsaw … and of destroying the enemy forces in White Russia. This will create a situation which will enable strong formations of mobile troops to swing north; such formations will then co-operate with the northern army group - advancing from East Prussia in the general direction of Leningrad - in destroying the enemy forces in the area of the Baltic states.Only after the accomplishment of these offensive operations, which must be followed by the capture of Leningrad and Kronstadt, are further offensive operations to be initiated with the objective of occupying the important center of communications and of armaments manufacture, Moscow.”
This is said to be in response to Hitler’s obsessive fear of duplicating Napoleon’s failure and a single thrust towards Moscow. One problem was that Army leadership - concentrated in the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW, in effect the German Joint Chiefs and Joint Staff less the Navy) - is said to have wanted a single drive to Moscow. This lack of operational agreement would slow the progress of the invasion.

German planning, in both world wars, suffered from a curious parochialism. Masters of technical war material design and tactical battlefield proficiency, brilliant at grand tactics and the operational art, the German political leaders and their highest military advisors never seemed to grasp the wider implications of their military maneuvers. Logistics, for all that Germany had pioneered the militarization of the state and the complete control of private production in the Thirties, was an everlasting weak point. The Nazi Party higher-ups, in particular, seemed to thrive on personal feuding and plotting, and one of Hitler’s many failings as a leader was his unconcern about the lack of coordination between his national war aims, his armed services, and the economic engine that provided for them.Barbarossa exposed all these weaknesses.

On the eastern side of the Polish armistice line the Soviet Army was widely considered to be a mess.

Stalin had decapitated the Army in the Thirties with a series of insanely brutal purges that removed the most able of the officers that had survived the Civil Wars, as well as many of those who had returned with tactical experience from Spain. Despite a reputation for hardiness, the Soviet soldier also retained many of the well-understood failures of the Czarist troops; poor fieldcraft, the sort of stultified personal and tactical capacity that often accompanies poor education and political oppression. Russian technical incompetence was legendary. Officers were often prone to panic, poorly schooled (many could not read a map) and the influence of the commissar system was pernicious.At the very top, Stalin remained unconvinced that Hitler would turn on him in 1941. The idea that Stalin trusted Hitler is nonsense; Stalin trusted no one. But Stalin considered Germany too deeply committed to its western European and north African operations against Britain to shift forces east. He was aided in this by his own incomprehensibly fierce disregard of the intelligence that revealed the German preparations in the spring of 1941. In his 2005 book David Murphy details the careers of three Soviet officers responsible for intelligence operations against Germany in 1941.

The NKVD’s chief of foreign intel, Pavel Fitin, passed on his case officer’s accurate reports of the preparations for Barbarossa until H-hour. He was disgraced and dismissed as soon as Stalin could manage it (in the late Forties). Filipp Golikov, head of MVD (military intelligence) after 1941, altered or suppressed anything that he knew Stalin would dislike and grew great in the dictator’s favor.

Ivan Proskurov, head of MVD during 1939–40, persisted in reporting accurately to Stalin about German operations.

He was shot in October 1941.

So the Soviet armies in the west were as poorly prepared and poorly informed as they could have been going into May of 1941. The original start date was May 15.

But before we start, we should address a perennial chestnut that seems to come up every time the German invasion of Russia is discussed; was the Battle of Moscow won on the playing fields of Athens?One of the most commonly heard ideas about Barbarossa is that Hitler fatally delayed his jump-off day to send his Twelfth Army south into Greece in April of 1941, thus delaying operations against the Soviet Union until early summer. Several British sources, including Winston Churchill, made this claim during the war and several more have insisted on it since. Leni Riefenstahl (hardly a biased source) claims that Hitler himself told her
“...if the Italians hadn't attacked Greece and needed our help, the war would have taken a different course. We could have anticipated the Russian cold by weeks and conquered Leningrad and Moscow. There would have been no Stalingrad"
.However, this increasingly appears to be a minority opinion, and an incorrect one at that.

The charge seems unlikely on the face of it; one army more or less was hardly critical to the success of Barbarossa; 600,000 out of more than 3 million troops. Later researchers also cast doubt on this assertion. The British Cabinet Office conducted an investigation in the early Fifties that concluded that the Balkan Campaign had no influence on the launching of Operation Barbarossa. At this point many historians agree that logistical problems and the weather (the wet winter and heavy spring rains kept rivers in Poland and western Ukraine at full flood until late spring) pushed Barbarossatag back from mid-May to mid-June.

Once the campaign started on June 22, 1941 the course was fairly straightforward and rather exceptionally one-sided for the course of the summer. The Soviet “Western Special Military District” – the Soviet forces in eastern Poland – was overrun within hours. Five days after the first artillery landed on Soviet troops Hoth’s Third Panzer and Guderian’s Second Panzer groups met beyond Minsk, having encircled two entire Armies (Third and Tenth) of the Soviet Western Front. After a brief pause in early July to let the infantry catch up the same armored attackers looped forward and met at Smolensk, this time trapping the Soviet 16th and 20th Armies; four entire armies swallowed up in almost a month.The bulk of the Red Air Force was destroyed on the ground within the first days. The Soviet Army reeled backwards wherever possible, desperately trying to stop the invaders where they could but more often being destroyed in place or bypassed and left for the plodding infantry to capture or kill. The mad decision of STAVKA (Stalin’s Soviet General Headquarters) to order the Red Army to attack where and whenever possible usually just made things worse. Soviet troops were wasted in pointless, often tactically uncoordinated and unsupported attacks. The only bright spots, if they could be called that, were the fierce fighting within the Smolensk and Minsk pockets, which slowed the German infantry outfits and killed many landser.And the German commanders must have, if they were at all reflective, had the first frisson of fear at the immense size and power of the land they had challenged. For one thing, the Soviets were proving entirely tougher than the old czarist Russian authorities had been. Brutal force and fear were part of it, yes, but the Russian soldiers and the Russian people, believing that they were fighting for their country (and not for an imperial abstraction) refused to dissolve as Hitler had predicted.

For another, the ad hoc and underpowered German logistical tail was being exposed. Tank and troop numbers dropped precipitously as men and machines were broken and could not be replaced.

Guderian, in his memoirs, says that tank repair was so badly organized and undersized that most of the maintenance units almost immediately began cannibalizing the worst damaged machines because spare parts were just not obtainable and transport to send the recovered tanks to Germany for rebuilding was overwhelmed with other demands.

Photos of the late summer and early fall often show German transport columns with large numbers of impressed civilian vehicles and even Russian sledges and carts, pressed into German service by desperate logisticians.This, and the extremely slow progress of the railway construction (Russia had always used a narrower gauge than western Europe and the depredations of cut-off soldiers acting as partisans had begun) caused a brief halt in late July. Another delay took place in reducing the Smolensk Pocket and securing the area around Smolensk, which took more than a month – from late July to early September - proved difficult, and the encirclement porous. As many as 200,000 Soviet troops escaped east.

Hitler at this point intervened. He wanted to destroy the economic center of Kiev, and sent part of Army Group Center – Guderian’s Second Panzer Group – south to assist in the destruction of the four Soviet armies eventually encircled there.There seems to be some disagreement about this move. Several authors consider it a needless diversion that further delayed the German drive east, while others point to the immense quantity of Soviet equipment destroyed (as many as 2,000 tanks, 3,867 artillery pieces) and horrendous slaughter of people – reported as 452,720 dead or captured. After Kiev, the Red Army no longer outnumbered Hitler’s forces.Whatever the impact, Army Group Center was reunited to drive on Moscow in late September. Operation Typhoon, the drive to Moscow, was scheduled for October 2. The plan was a straightforward “blitzkrieg” attack, with Third and Fourth Panzer Groups looping east from Smolensk into the Soviet Western Front around Vyazma and Second Panzer Group swinging northeast through Orel through the Bryansk Front and pocketing the Soviet troops around Bryansk.From that point, the plan called for another quick pincer north and south of Moscow to encircle the city.

On October 2, 1941, the first German tankers crossed the LD. The Battle for Moscow began.

The Sources: Both the German and Russian archives have released official accounts of the first year of the Great Patriotic War (as the Soviets and now Russians call it – the Germans, when they talk about it at all, probably refer to it as “that fucking disaster east of the Memel”). Both are backed up by millions of documents, and, of course, the Battle of Moscow is still, barely, in human memory. We just lost our last veterans of the Argonne and the Kaiserschlacht, however, and we probably have less than twenty or at most thirty years before the last veterans who fought before Moscow are gone.

Among the better books discussing the Battle includes Murphy’s What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa, Intelligence in Recent Public Literature, which contains a terrific amount of Soviet intelligence declassified in the early 2000’s. The historical accounts seem to be heavily influenced by the linguistic background and experience of the authors, for example, Seaton’s The Battle for Moscow, written in 1971 by a Canadian officer and heavily reliant on German sources, gives a much better account of the German side of Operation Typhoon. David Glanz, writing after the Soviet collapse with access to previously unavailable Russian sources, provides a more balanced portrayal in his many works on the subject, particularly “Barbarossa 1941”.As always, the Osprey campaign series provides a quick and accessible overview. In this case you’d be looking for “Operation Barbarossa 1941 (3) Army Group Center

The Engagement: For the first week the German troops made excellent progress. Near Vyazma, 3rd and 4th Panzer groups punched quickly through the Red Army lines – still unfinished - and met at Vyazma on October 10, trapping four Soviet west of the city. In the south near Bryansk, Second Panzer Group circled around the whole Bryansk Front, pushed through Orel on October 3 and Bryansk by October 6. The Soviet 3rd and 13th armies were encircled in this pocket.This time the encircled Soviet forces didn’t just lay down. The Soviets were starting to get pissed, and it’s likely that the effects of the Einsatzgruppen and the general brutality of the German invaders was starting to turn against them. Army Group Center had to divert armored forces to help the infantry reduce the pockets, a total of 28 divisions, which allowing the remnants of the Soviet Western and Reserve Fronts to reconsolidate around Mozhaisk and many of the Bryansk Front troops to infiltrate out to the intermediate defense lines around Poniry and Mtsensk. By October 23, the last remnants had escaped from the pockets.

But worse had already occurred. By October 7, 1941, the first snow fell.

The ground was warm and the snow quickly melted. But the effect of the first snows was immediate and appalling to the Germans, who had been lulled by the long, unusually warm, dry autumn of 1941. The dirt Russian roads became bottomless ribbons of mud in the first part of the season called rasputitsa – “roadlessness” - in Russian.The German soldiers still lacked Arctic gear, shunted to sidings or still not loaded back in Poland and Germany. Special winterizing kits for engines and delicate equipment like artillery sights was scanty or missing altogether.Another nasty surprise awaited the German tankers. On October 5, a Soviet tank brigade armed with the new KV-1 heavy and T-34c medium tanks ambushed the 4th Panzer Division and 35th Panzer Brigade. The Soviet tanks proved deadly to the lighter German Mark 3 and 4 tanks. Guderian wrote
“Our T-IV tanks with their short 75 mm guns could only explode a T-34 by hitting the engine from behind...the Russians already learned a few things.”
Although German command and control as well as their far better crew drill more than evened the odds much of the time, this was the first time that German tankers had encountered someone with machines technically superior to the rather sad WW1 relics, light tanks and infantry bowsers since the Char B back in 1940.

They didn’t like it.Sometime between October 13 and October 15, 1941, Army Group Center began pushing at the Soviet fortified lines around Mozhaisk, north of Moscow. In about two weeks of fighting the northern elements of AGC pushed through the lines, although with some difficulty. By October 27th Marshal Zhukov, called to the defense of Moscow by Stalin, ordered a withdrawal east of the Nara River.

Although the defenses were thinner and the Soviet numbers smaller, Guderian’s Second Panzer reached Tula only a day earlier. The main reasons for the delay were a combination of bad weather, fuel problems, and damaged roads and bridges greatly slowed the Germans; Guderian reached the outskirts of Tula only by October 26, 1941. Guderian’s plan to “bounce” the city failed, stopped by the Soviet 50th Army and civilian volunteers. After three days Second Panzer ground to a halt outside Tula.In a classic demonstration of Soviet military theatre, Stalin ordered the traditional military parade in Red Square to emphasize that the march units parading past the Kremlin marched directly to the front.About one hundred thousand additional Soviet troops had reinforced Klin to the north, and Tula to the south, of Moscow where the next Army Group Center offensives were expected as soon as the ground froze. Foolishly, Stalin wanted counterattacks; Zhukov pointed out the complete lack of reserves to the sound of crickets chirping.

The German forces killed most of these soldiers and destroyed their equipment, now lost to the defense of Moscow. Again the T-34s and KVs did their damage, punishing the German 4th Army around Aleksino, the only noticeable success of the November counterattacks.

Between November 15 and November 24, German tank armies battered their way towards Klin in a series of brutal headon assaults. Zhukov remembered this as;
"The enemy, ignoring the casualties, was making frontal assaults, willing to get to Moscow by any means necessary."
By November 28, the German 7th Panzer Division assaulted across the Moscow-Volga Canal. Army Group Center was now across the last major terrain feature before Moscow. The lead recon troopers were less than 20 miles from the Kremlin.The 1st Shock Army counterattacked and threw them back across the canal.

Northwest of Moscow, the Wehrmacht got to Krasnaya Polyana, about 14 miles from Moscow; German officers could see some of the tallest buildings through their field glasses.

Starting on the 18th, Second Panzer Group ground out 3 to 6 miles a day against in tough fighting. Counterattacks by the Soviet 49th and 50th Armies near Tula made Guderian’s life more difficult.

Although Second Panzer approached Kashira, a city controlling a major highway to Moscow, on November 26th, a violent counterattack by a cavalry corps, a rifle division, a tank brigade and two independent tank battalions, military training and militia units halted the German tanks and drove them back to Tula by early December. The city itself never fell, and Guderian would never get closer to Moscow.

On December 1 Army Group Center tried a push down the Minsk-Moscow highway near the city of Naro-Fominsk. Von Kluge’s Fourth Army had little tank support and the defenses were well prepared. In four days Fourth Army lost 10,000 troops and 20-some tanks without significant progress.

And perhaps the worst, worse than the Soviet tanks, worse than the stiffening defenses, was the cold.The weather turned in the first week of December. As I mentioned, the autumn and early winter of 1941 were quite mild, especially by Russian expectations. In the first week of December a howling cold front moved down from off the Arctic Ocean, dropping temperatures into the teens to twenties below zero Farenheit – forty to fifty degrees of frost. More than 130,000 cases of frostbite were reported among German soldiers. Aircraft were grounded, vehicle engine blocks froze solid, ammunition had to be scraped clean of frozen packing grease.

The Axis offensive on Moscow was over.

Guderian wrote;
"the offensive on Moscow failed…. We underestimated the enemy's strength, as well as his size and climate."

On December 5, Hitler signed his Fuhrer Directive 39, ordering his force to the defensive on the entire Ostfront.

German intelligence believed that the Soviet troop reserves were exhausted, and that a counteroffensive would be unlikely for several weeks, or possibly not even until spring.

But Red Army had 58 divisions in reserve by early December 1941, the result primarily of raising, equipping, and training new units. On the same day Hitler signed his directive, the counteroffensive started on the Kalinin Front. After several days of fighting Soviet troops retook Krasnaya Polyana and several other cities in the immediate vicinity of Moscow.The German positions as of December 5th were poorly sited for defense; they were nothing but the last point of forward movement of the defunct Operation Typhoon. The German commanders besieged their higher headquarters for permission to move to better defensive lines, and by December 14, OKW chief Halder gave permission for a limited withdrawal to the west of the Oka River. Hitler was not consulted. Six days later, in a meeting with the senior Army commanders and staff, Hitler canceled the approval and gave his famous “no-withdrawal” orders, telling his troopers to "dig...trenches with howitzer shells if needed."

Guderian protested, and was dismissed by Christmas, along with GEN Hoepner, GEN Strauss, and the commander of Army Group Center, GEN von Bock.

The soldiers freezing and dying at Klin and Tula would not have cared, but between those two dates a representative of the German Foreign Ministry delivered a note to the American Chargé d'Affaires that concluded;
“The German Government, consequently, discontinues diplomatic relations with the United States of America and declares that under these circumstances brought about by President Roosevelt, Germany too, as from today, considers herself as being in a state of war with the United States of America.”
Back in June, a young American had made note that Hitler might already have too much to do......and this new enemy certainly wouldn't help.

All of this drama did nothing to stop the Soviets, who retook Klin and Kalinin on December 15th and December 16th. The commander of the Kalinen Front, GEN Konev, attempted to envelop Army Group Center, but was halted near Rzhev. This Rzhev Pocket would grind up German and Russians by the job lot until early 1943.

Southwestern Front forces relieved Tula on December 16th, 1941. Soviet troops retook Naro-Fominsk on December 26th and Maloyaroslavets on January 2nd, 1942, after ten days of hard fighting. The Winter Counteroffensive ground to a halt on January 7th, 1942. The exhausted, freezing, miserable German armies had been shoved back 60 to 150 miles from Moscow.The German Wehrmacht had suffered its first defeat – an event that heartened every single one of the Allies. Germany was now looking at an awful campaign of attrition against an immense and ruthless enemy while it faced a new and dangerous factor in the West; the United States.

Operation Barbarossa had failed.

The Outcome: Grand tactical Soviet victory, with strategic implications.

The Impact: The only way the armed forces of Germany could have succeeded in 1941 was by swiftly defeating and, in fact, dismantling the Soviet state.

Even the capture of Moscow would not have guaranteed victory; the land was vast, the Soviet dictatorship every bit as ruthless as the Nazi in using every possible tool of war, and the German war production and logistical apparatus almost ridiculously unprepared for a task the magnitude of subduing the entirety of European Russia. But as it happened, the high water-mark of the German conquests of World War Two occurred before Moscow in the autumn and early winter of 1941.

Probably the other disaster for the German Army was the immense loss of infantrymen. The German Army was always balanced on a precarious point, depending on its artillery and armor for much of its fighting strength. But until the winter of 1941-42 German infantry was the prop that kept that balancing act from toppling over, a base of support and the hard rock of the German Army. The landser, the German grunt, was as key to the success of the blitzkrieg as the more glamorous tankers and Stuka pilots. The great killing on the road to Moscow bled the German infantry. It was never the same afterwards.And even the blitzkrieg itself was headed for the scrap heap. Other nations were learning to fight the mobile tank columns with tanks of their own, and more of them. German production meant that German tankers could kill 3 and 4 Shermans and T-34s for every Pzkpfw 4 or Panther lost and still lose. By 1943 a combination of deep antitank defenses comprised of land mines, handheld antitank rockets and mobile antiarmor hunter-killer teams would spell the end of the heyday of the panzertruppe.

Now the outcome would be determined by not operational military brilliance but crude slogging, access to petroleum, and the output of the assembly lines. And for that Germany had no answer.

As Churchill would say less truthfully about another battle: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

The Battle of Moscow, and Operation Barbarossa, are perhaps one of history's best illustrations of what happens when tactics drives strategy. In 1941 the German Wehrmacht was the master of the battlefield - no Allied field force had found a solution to the combined arms formula of vernichtungskrieg, schwerpunkt, and auftragstaktik. What Barbarossa proved was that you could win and win on the ground...and still lose.

Hitler's East Front war was founded on three basic errors:

The strategic error that battlefield victory would always lead immediately to political success,

The economic error that the small, high-quality German force could defeat the large, poor quality Soviet force quickly enough to negate the Soviet advantage in economic depth, and

The political error that one's belief about another (in this case, that the Soviet system was fragile and would topple as the Polish and French had after battlefield disaster) trumped what the other believed about itself.

You can argue about the battles of the pockets, the turn south to Kiev, the political interference from Hitler. But the real bottom line is that, short of an immediate and complete Soviet political collapse in June, 1941, European Russia was simply too big, the Russian people too stubborn, and the German war machine too small, to do what Hitler wanted.

Barbarossa, and the Battle of Moscow, was probably doomed from the start.

Touchline Tattles: One irony here is that we think of this as the battle that “saved” Moscow. But only from Hitler’s Nazis. The man inside the Kremlin was as great or perhaps even greater a monster than the man he defeated – and he DID defeat him, make no mistake; we and the British just helped out. It was that very monstrosity that enabled the Soviets to keep fighting in 1941 - they feared their master as much or worse than they feared the invader.

But the men who kept the Nazi horrors from the gates of Moscow in 1941 would, many of them, be devoured by the very horror that they fought to protect.The other most enduring tale about the fight for Moscow is the Siberians.

Stalin is said to have transferred tens of divisions from the Soviet Far East for the defense of Moscow. Supposedly the German Army was terrified by these white-coated phantoms of the deep East, swinging out of the night and the snow roaring “Urra!”, virtually immune to the cold and misery that paralyzed the German soldiers in their filthy holes.And the Siberians, in turn, were there only because Stalin had impeccable intelligence – mainly from Richard Sorge, his agent in Japan, that the Japanese Kwantung Army would not move against the Soviet possessions in Kamchatka or along the border with Manchuria.

But while researching this article I came across what appears to be a well researched refutation of this tale, which begins to appear to be a military urban legend. The author looks at the records of units transferred from the east of the Urals. This included five Soviet military districts; Urals, Siberia, Central Asia, Transbailkal, and the Far Eastern Front.

Between June 1941 and January, 1942, 28 divisions were transferred west. Of these, 11 divisions were moved in June and 9 in October.

He concludes:
“Only six rifle divisions arrived in October and only four of these went to any Army that could be even remotely linked to defending Moscow against Army Group Centre. These were the 32nd, 93rd, 78th and 238th Rifle Divisions. Of these only the 32nd and 93rd Rifle Divisions had a significant proportion of Siberian personnel, while the 238th had only started forming in March 1941 in Central Asia. In short, of all the divisions transferred west after August 1941, only three rifle divisions originated with Siberian personnel and only two went into the Western Front defending Moscow.”

So where did these heroes come from?

From Russia. From Ivan and Semyon Lunchpail, called out of the fields, the factories and the ships. The average Russian, mobilized in one of the most massive wartime mobilizations in history.

It wasn’t the “Siberians” that saved Moscow. The soldiers were plain old Russian guys, and they saved themselves


Pluto said...

Another well done post. Any idea of what you are going to do for January yet?

rangeragainstwar said...

FD Chief,
I'm on a roll.
Your post is a great read for anybody that thinks that the US is a military giant. If our Army of 1945 were to fight the German machine of 40/41 it would/ve been a dark day in Yuma.
One can't help but ponder the futility of warfare when reading articles like this.
I've always felt that a person should not eat for 3 days and be forced to sit in a meat cooler for a week before reading such tales as you've outlined.
Magnificent work Spitz.

Ael said...

Excellent work as usual Chief.

The scope of the battle always takes my breath away.

It is interesting that even though Stalin was a horrible monster feared by everyone in the land the invading Germans could not shake Stalins grip on the Russian body politic.

FDChief said...

Pluto: the plan is Isandlhwana for January.

Jim: Ta. I always shiver a little reading or writing about this. Talk about the Clash of the Monsters; maybe the best arguments for democracy are the actions of the despots. I'm not sure where you find anything redeeming in the collision of two sociopaths that ends up killing millions for nothing. Pure horror, really.

Ael: That, to me, was the ultimate cause of the German failure. Hitler completely misunderstood the grip that Stalin had on Soviet Russia - ironic, given the man's own ruthless despotism. In the words of Emerson, Lake & Palmer: "Bennie was the bouncer at the Palais de Dance/'E'd slash your granny's face off given 'alf a chance/'E'd sell you back the pieces, all for less than 'alf a quid./'E thought 'e was the meanest - until 'e met with Savage Sid."

Big Daddy said...

Thanks for another great analysis. Regarding German military fail, Kenneth Macksey has a good analysis of both world wars in Why The Germans Lose At War.
The Russian Front is a true horror, between the cold, the mud, and the savagery of both sides.

Barry said...

FDChief, aside from the delay in moving Siberian troops west, I've also doubted the story that Stalin only did that because he knew that the Japanese Army wasn't planning on an attack.

Given the desperation of the situation around Moscow, it'd have made great sense to let the Japanese Army run amok in the Soviet Far East, to preserve the USSR. Japan could always be ejected later, but a successful German invasion in '41-42 would have destroyed the USSR. And Stalin was never sentimental about cutting losses.

FDChief said...

Barry: Extremely good point. There was a hell of a lot of (to Stalin, anyway) worthless taiga between the Kwantung Army and the Urals. Add to that that the Japanese Imperial Army was possibly the least advanced army in terms of logistics and the operational art of the major powers of WW2. They made their bones fighting the British in the Far East, another militarily sterile organization. They didn't have to be that good to look like geniuses against the friggin Brits in Singapore. I doubt if the Japanese even had the capability to mount a winter offensive from Manchuria.

So; good catch.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree on certain points and especially the title :the battle of Moscow was not decisive,in fact there was no decisve battle in the east :the war was a war of attrittion.
The aim of Barbarossa was to defeat the SU before it could mobilize its superior manpower :at last before september,but in september Barbarossa had already failed:the Germans had lost 400000 men and the Russian strength had increased from 2.7 million to 3.4 million and in december there were 4.6 million Russians to 2.7 million Germans .In fact the Russian mobilisation began from the first day :in 6 months the Russians send 6 million men to the front .
About the Russian winteroffensive (from december till april):it was a failure,the Russians lost 2 million men ,and ...the Germans were not destroyed,not that weakened,not that driven back ,they were still threating Moscow and in these 4 months they had lost 20000 men a week ,from june to december 30OOO a week .

FDChief said...

Anon: All valid points. As I pointed out, Hitler's drive to the east was a) a gamble to begin with and b) predicated on several mistakes or errors. I don't think he could have ever won, given the disparity of the national economies and the military age men available, the German logistical problems and the sheer viciousness of Stalin's dictatorship.

But the "decisive" part of the entire war in the east WAS between June and December, 1941. If there WAS a chance for Hitler's Wehrmacht to win, it was then. And the final throw of the dice was between October, 1941 and January, 1942. If the German Army had managed to take Moscow...or the winter counteroffensive had ACTUALLY failed (I wouldn't call driving your enemy back and killing 200-300,000 of his troops a "failure" - sure, the Soviets lost more, but the Soviets ALWAYS lost more - even in 1945 they were losing 3-4 tanks to every German tank and probably the same in troops. They had the lives and tanks and aircraft to waste, and Stalin knew that) there might still have been a slight glimmer of hope for the German plan.

And more to the point, the failure before Moscow caused the dismissal of some of the German Army's best officers and the total assumption of command within the person of the Fuhrer. THAT was a disaster that the German war effort could never recover from.

So, yes, after the summer and early fall the ear in the East was a war of attrition that the Germans could not hope to win. But, no, is wasn't fated to become that. The Germans had a chance, and that chance ended before Moscow in December, 1941.

doughelo said...

Great post and comments. It seems that a critical Soviet advantage was not the dictatorship (which made vast costly mistakes) but the fact that the Germans were undisputedly worse. To me, the only reasonable path to victory would be if Hitler had the sense and the psychological makeup to give (or at least promise) nationalist autonomy to the Ukrainians, Byelorussians, etc., they might have been induced to turn against Stalin. As it was, even late in the war Hitler did recruit some Russians to fight against their homeland. But then again, without his raging hatred of all Slavs he wouldn't have been Hitler in the first place. Thoughts?

Anonymous said...

The German attitude to the captured populations in the east was a mistake,but one should not exagerate the military importance for the Germans of the occupied populations :it was not that there was waiting an enormous reservoir of men willing to fight against Stalin :most of them did not like Stalin,but most of them were not willing to risque their lives .Af if there were hundreds of thousands willing to fight,were would the Germans get the weapons,artillery , equip that army ?
An other point :the exploitation of the occupied territories in the east was necessary for the Germans :the Wehrmacht had to be fed by these territories :the logistics made it impossible to transport food from Germany to the east and if one ad the destructions by the war and by the retreating Soviet army (on Stalin's order ),hunger and even famine was inevitable