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Chapter 6.

Hitler Versus The Generals

The Failure Of The German Command And Control System

According to the interpretation usually favored by historians and memoirists of the war on the eastern front, the strategy pursued by Hitler in 1941 was erratic and inconsistent, based less on sound military reasoning than on a confused political, social, and economic ideology. By contrast, the policies of the general staff and the OKH are portrayed as having been clear and consistent, but continuously frustrated by incompetent interference from Hitler and from the OKW{1}. However, careful examination of the events that led up to the postponement of the advance on Moscow until after the battle of Kiev in September 1941 does not support the conclusion that Hitler alone was responsible for the confused strategy that led to the German army's shocking reversal of fortunes at the gates of the Soviet capital in December. The general staff, the OKH, the OKW, and some generals in the field, most specifically von Bock and Guderian, must also bear a heavy share of the blame for the blunders that produced the Wehrmacht's first major setback at Yelnia and then the later one at Moscow. Some of these errors and the reasons for them have been discussed in the previous chapters, now close attention must be given to the question of why Panzer Group 2 was sent from Army Group Center to the Ukraine to aid in the closing of the encirclement around Kiev. [206]

The answers to these questions are complex and lie rooted in the unworkable command structure of the German army and in the personalities of the German military and political leaders. In many ways, the errors in strategic planning made by the German high command and the tortured convolutions of policy and underhanded dealings that typified the German military leadership were a reflection of the contradictions that rested deep inside the fabric of the Nazi system.

When Halder first analyzed the strategic problem posed by the Soviet Union during the last half of 1940, Moscow seemed to be the only objective in the country worthy of consideration. In remaining faithful to his first plan to achieve victory, Halder ignored the best advice given to him by members of his own general staff organization (such as Greiffenberg, Feyerabend, and Paulus) and also made bad use of the other strategic studies done by Marcks and Lossberg. Throughout 1941, Halder did not waver from his opinion that Moscow should be considered the primary goal in Russia; but he did, as the battlefront situation deteriorated, modify his operational plans a great deal, and his outlook changed significantly in regard to how the resilient opponent should be defeated.

Before June 22 and the beginning of the war in the east, Halder made it known in no uncertain terms that a consideration of economic objectives had no place in the formulation of strategy{2}. The campaign in Russia was to be a purely military exercise, army against army, which would be conducted with the view that the enemy's main force could be destroyed by vast armored encirclements, with infantry bringing up the rear of the advance to secure the pockets of surrounded enemy formations. These tactics would be effective, he thought, because the Russians supposedly would be compelled to draw up the bulk of their defensive forces along the main approaches to their capital from the west and to give battle west of the Dnepr-Dvina line in order to protect their vital industrial bases{3}. By July 13, however, during the third week of the war, Halder's opinion about the toughness of the Red Army had undergone a fundamental change. It had by then become clear that the Red Army had not exhausted its reserves, as more units were known to have arrived in the Smolensk, Orsha, and Vitebsk areas from the Ukraine. This fact, plus the strong Russian pressure [207] from the direction of Velikie Luki on the northern flank of Army Group Center, compelled Halder to advise Hitler to postpone the direct advance on Moscow until after the problems on the flanks of the Central Army Group had been rectified{4}. The troubles that began after July 13 for Panzer Group 2 and the Second Army on the southern flank of Army Group Center confirmed Halder in his change of mind.

The chief of the general staff had taken great pains before and during the campaign in the east to see that no one interfered with his plans. The OKH's Deployment Directive Barbarossa in January 1941 had set the stage for a major push through White Russia directly toward Moscow, and the creation of the Fourth Panzer Army command under von Kluge in early July had been designed to give the panzer generals Guderian and Hoth the maximum amount of freedom to forge eastward as rapidly as possible{5}. Even though by July 13 Halder was willing to postpone the assault on Moscow for the time being, he was still determined to carry the project through to the finish, although his desire to delay the push on the Soviet capital was increased after the failure of the Fourth Panzer Army to close the gap around Smolensk.

On the morning of July 21, Brauchitsch and Heusinger visited von Bock at Army Group Center headquarters and agreed with him that the army group should continue to press east until the last enemy reserves were crushed, but instead of insisting that Guderian and Hoth have the free rein they had enjoyed in the past, Brauchitsch established the precondition that, first and above all else, the Smolensk pocket would have to be secured and eliminated. The OKH was not in the mood to order Guderian to abandon the Yelnia salient completely, but Brauchitsch and Halder were prepared by the third week in July to exercise a restraining hand over the panzer groups to prevent any further extension of their already badly exposed flanks. Following this explanation of the OKH's policy, the army commander in chief told von Bock and von Kluge essentially what Halder had told Hitler on July 13: after the closing of the Smolensk pocket and after the refitting of Panzer Groups 2 and 3, Guderian should prepare to turn south and east toward the Ukraine; Hoth's Panzer Group 3 alone would remain as Army Group Center's armored force, to support the drive on Moscow by pressing ahead toward the east or the [208] north-east. According to the OKH timetable. Panzer Groups 2 and 3 should have been readied for their new tasks by the beginning of August{6}.

This alteration in the OKH strategic plan was reaffirmed by Halder in a conference held after Brauchitsch returned from his visit. This conference on July 21 was summarized in the communique of July 23, a document that convinced Guderian that the OKH was preparing to throw overboard the entire plan of placing Moscow above all other objectives{7}. This was not, however, the truth of the matter. Halder wished to form a special task force composed of Panzer Group 2 along with part of the Second Army, to be commanded by Field Marshal von Kluge, that would be sent to the Ukraine with Stalingrad on the lower Volga as its ultimate objective. But the main target of Halder's plans was-as it had always been-Moscow. The Soviet capital could be taken, he believed, by the remaining part of Army Group Center along with some help from one army and a panzer group from Army Group North.

On July 23, the day the communique so despised by Guderian was issued, Halder laid his case before Hitler. In his discussion with the filhrer Halder noted that the infantry of the Second and Ninth armies alone would not be enough to take Moscow after von Kluge's group had been diverted to the southeast. That objective could only be accomplished by Panzer Group 3 first clearing its own flank toward the northeast and then aiding the final drive on both sides of Moscow that could begin between August 5 and 10. Army Group North could continue its advance to the north and east, but with the Sixteenth Army moving its southern wing along the line Kholm-Bologoe, a maneuver that would cover from the north Army Group Center's approach to Moscow.

The chief of the general staff justified his new proposals to Hitler on the basis that it was proving to be impossible to eliminate Russia's military forces without eliminating its economic base. For this reason, he submitted, the Volga line in the south must be reached by von Kluge's group, a force of about ten infantry divisions plus Panzer Group 2. This group would have the mission of moving through Briansk and Gomel toward Kharkov. In terms of territorial objectives, Halder called for reaching the Caucasus-Volga line, a line that could perhaps be extended to Kazan if the situation warranted. In the Army Group North area the territory [209] between Rybinsk and Lake Onega was considered particularly important. Army Group North would have to consolidate its hold here and prepare to send an expedition into the Urals{8}.

In presenting his case to Hitler on July 23, Halder appealed to the fuhrer's sense of reason in terms that, for him, were unusual. Halder had finally realized that Russia's inexhaustible reserves of manpower could not be defeated by the methods heretofore used. The chief of the general staff now advocated the shattering of Russia's economic capacity to make war instead of concentrating simply on destroying the enemy's armed forces{9}. It might be thought that here Halder was resorting to a subterfuge, engaging Hitler's sympathies by advancing a consideration dear to his heart-that is, the importance of economic strategy in winning a victory over the Soviet Union-but there is other evidence to show that this was not the case. The earnestness of Halder's newfound interest in economic matters was manifested in a conference held at OKH headquarters on July 25. In this conference Brauchitsch, who never deviated far from Halder's way of thinking, addressed the chiefs of staff of the three eastern army groups:

Our main task remains to shatter Russia's capacity to resist. A further goal is to bring their population and production centers under our control. The Russians have a wealth of manpower; we must seize their armament centers before the onset of winter...

Although their armament production is high, it is limited, nevertheless. If we succeed in smashing the enemy strength before us, their superiority in manpower alone will not win the war for them{10}.

Halder now genuinely believed, in contrast to his earlier and narrower philosophy of war, that economic considerations must be taken into account if the enemy were to be brought to its knees within a reasonable length of time. This change of mind on Halder's part was not, however, a complete departure from the past, for he still had not abandoned the strategy that placed Moscow above all other objectives. In other words, although he now recognized the importance of economic factors in the war in the east, he still stopped short of recommending to Hitler that measures be taken to prepare Germany for a protracted war instead of one short and swift campaign.

Although Hitler was willing to listen to Halder's arguments, [210] he was disinclined to change the wording of a new directive. Directive 33-A, that he caused to be issued that same day, July 23. This directive was a supplement to the Directive 33 that had appeared on July 19, an order that called for armored units from Army Group Center to be used to cover from the south Army Group North's advance on Leningrad and that also made provision for the thrust of part of Army Group Center, mainly Panzer Group 2, into the Ukraine to help Army Group South{11}. Halder badly wanted Hitler to change this directive to assign Moscow priority over Leningrad, although Halder did not disagree with the fiihrer about the necessity of sending Panzer Group 2 to the Ukraine. For this reason, Halder had sent Brauchitsch to Hitler to ask for a clarification of Directive 33. This clarification was ready by July 23 and it did not please Halder. Hitler, however, was adamant, so Directive 33-A stood, providing for the diversion of Panzer Group 2 to the south and the movement of Panzer Group 3 to the north to aid in the capture of Leningrad. The advance on Moscow, according to the directive, would be carried out with only the infantry of the Second and Ninth armies until such time as Panzer Group 3 could be spared from the Leningrad operations{12}.

Although Hitler could not have been more explicit about his wishes, Halder was not a man who could be easily rebuffed, so he sent his minion, Brauchitsch, to Keitel, the head of the OKW, to see what could be done to save the Moscow project there-an undertaking that the chief of the general staff must have known would increase his own sense of frustration-but he realized that he could not now move Hitler save through the OKW. The reaction Brauchitsch encountered in Keitel's office was blunt. Keitel told Brauchitsch that he could do nothing for him and suggested that the army commander in chief himself see Hitler if the matter still needed straightening out{13}. So, for the second time on July 23, Hitler received a representative from the OKH who pleaded with him to reverse his decision placing Leningrad ahead of Moscow.

The path that Brauchitsch took in his audience with the fiihrer was less oblique than that chosen by Halder{14}. Whereas the chief of the general staff had stressed both the need for pressing forward rapidly in the south, thereby striking at the Russian economic capacity to make war, and the importance of taking Moscow ahead of Leningrad, Brauchitsch shifted ground somewhat and put all of his emphasis on the importance of taking Moscow. The army [211] commander in chief backed down from Halder's earlier claim that it was necessary to send Panzer Group 2 and part of the Second Army to the Ukraine. In fact, he even denied that an encirclement operation around Gomel was necessary. Instead of suggesting, as Halder had done a few hours earlier, that one panzer group-that is, Panzer Group 3-was needed in the attack on Moscow, Brauchitsch asserted that, to be safe, both panzer groups would be required. He contended that success would be produced only by continuing the tried and proven tactics of using far-reaching panzer thrusts ahead of and on either side of the advancing infantry armies.

Hitler was unmoved by Brauchitsch's argument and told him that he believed the Russians apparently did not care whether their flanks were endangered by broadly sweeping tank maneuvers or not. The examples of Bialystok, Minsk, and Smolensk were clear to Hitler-the Russians would not surrender even if the German armor cut off their units from the east by wide encirclement operations. Hitler's final comment was that from then on it would be better to plan operations that relied more on the ability of the infantry to close and eliminate the pockets of trapped Russians, rather than to use up the striking power of the armored units for this purpose. In the case of Smolensk, he pointed out, the pocket had not been sealed, nor had it been possible to ready the panzer groups of Army Group Center for further operations{15}. The clash of wills between Hitler and the OKH had temporarily ended, but Hitler would find that Halder would surrender his principles no more easily than the Russians did their lives.

On July 25 Keitel visited Army Group Center headquarters and elaborated on what Hitler had told the army commander in chief two days before. Hitler thought that the tanks were being used up too quickly by Russian flank assaults and that too great a distance separated the tanks from the infantry. The distance had to be shortened if the pockets of trapped Russians were to be eliminated effectively. The fuhrer's "ideal solution," reported Keitel, would be to finish with the Russians on the southern flank of Army Group Center in the area of Gomel-Mozyr by forming several small pockets, as the scope of previous operations planned by the general staff had been beyond the limits of the army to execute. It was also Hitler's view that strongly fortified areas such as Mogilev must be taken with the use of more artillery in order to [212] avoid heavy casualties. Finally, Keitel noted, the fuhrer had become convinced that smaller, more tightly planned operations were needed because Goring had reported to him about the large numbers of Russians escaping from the Smolensk pocket.

The commander of Army Group Center protested this decision charging that Goring's reports were exaggerated and that the enemy had lost considerable materiel at Smolensk. Von Bock also denied that the operation around Smolensk had been carried out on an unmanageable scale, maintaining that the delays in moving the Second Army across the Dnepr to relieve the panzer divisions on the flanks of Army Group Center were responsible for the failure to close the gap at Dorogobuzh. It should be remembered, however, that von Bock himself had been responsible for the decision not to allow the XIIth Army Corps to relieve the XXIVth Panzer Corps along the Sozh{16}. For the moment, von Bock was in the same position as the OKH, powerless to take any direct action to rectify a decision that he considered to be a fatal mistake. But von Bock, like Halder, was a tenacious man, and he would not forfeit his objective, Moscow, without a fight.

When Guderian was told on July 27 that the next goal for he panzer group might be Gomel, he insisted that his tanks would be unable to carry out such a mission in a southerly direction. Although the panzer general's reluctance to move south could perhaps be useful to the OKH in forcing a delay in the implementation of Directive 33-A, such tactics did not fit well with Halder's longer-range plans at this time, for his still believed that Panzer Group 2 would have to go to the Ukraine; it was the departure of Panzer Group 3 to Army Group North that he badly wanted to prevent. On July 26 von Bock had telephoned Brauchitsch to inform him about the results of Keitel's visit the day before, and Brauchitsch used this occasion to ask the commander of Army Group Center to formulate a plan for sending all of Panzer Group 2 to the Kiev area. On the following day, the army commander in chief flew to Borisov and asked von Bock personally to order Guderian to begin his move toward Gomel as soon as possible. Brauchitsch did not, however, tell the commander of Army Group Center that this idea had the approval of the OKH{17}. Halder did not actually want Panzer Group 2 to be used against Gomel-Kiev was his real objective-but he thought it was necessary that Guderian begin his march to the south quickly. Brauchitsch tried [213] to leave von Bock with the false impression that he was merely transmitting Hitler's orders, although his speech to the army group chiefs of staff on July 25 should have tipped off von Bock as to the OKH's intentions. Regardless of whether or not von Bock accepted Brauchitsch's explanation of the order to dispatch Panzer Group 2 to Gomel, he relayed this order to Guderian, saying only that it had Hitler's approval{18}. It is unlikely, however, that Guderian was misled by the attempt to blame Hitler alone for the order for his panzer group to move southward. The panzer general had been attuned to the real feelings of the OKH ever since the general staff communique of July 23.

On July 26 Halder again took his plea before Hitler and argued for conducting broad operations around Moscow and Kiev and not just small maneuvers as had been envisioned around Gomel. On this point Hitler did not yield, and neither did he yield on the question of Army Group Center pressing on to Moscow with infantry alone, although he now altered his previous plan somewhat and no longer spoke of sending Panzer Group 3 all the way to Leningrad. Instead, Hitler came closer to Halder's viewpoint and said that Hoth could concentrate his attack in the direction of the Valdai Hills and cooperate here with the southern wing of Army Group North (see Figure 32).

The debacle at Velikie Luki on July 20, the failure to close the Smolensk pocket, the threat facing Panzer Group 2 from the direction of Roslavl, and the danger to the southern flank of the Second Army from the direction of Gomel, as well as the continued unhealthy situation farther south around Mozyr and Korosten, had all taken their toll on Hitler. The fuhrer now believed that the army groups should strive to effect smaller encirclements than they had in the past, and the areas around Gomel and Lake Ilmen seemed to offer good opportunities for such tactics. Halder did not take this small shift in the wind from Hitler as being very significant and still lamented that Hitler's proposals ignored the importance of Moscow{19}. Nevertheless, it seemed possible to Halder that a delay in the carrying out of Directive 33-A might be brought about now that Hitler was insisting on operations of a smaller scope. Since the fuhrer wanted to send Panzer Group 3 no farther north than the Valdai Hills between Lake Ilmen and Kalinin, an excellent chance existed for retaining Panzer Group 3 close in to the northern flank of Army Group Center and for using it against [214] Moscow and not to aid the objectives of Army Group North. The chief of the general staff was soon to receive help for his project from an unexpected source.

On July 26, Paulus, the OQI of the general staff, paid a visit to Army Group North to collect information firsthand about the conditions pertaining to the use of tanks against Leningrad. The panzer generals Hoepner, Manstein, and Rheinhardt all told Paulus that the area between Lake Ilmen and Lake Peipus, that is, [Fig.32] [215] the approach to Leningrad from the south, was not suitable for armor in any respect because of the rugged terrain, the many lakes and thick forests. Manstein's advice was to turn Army Group North's armored units to Moscow instead of Leningrad, saying that a further move northward by his LVIth Panzer Corps would have to be undertaken with massive infantry support in order to clear the enemy from the forests in his path of advance. Paulus agreed that the prospects for employing armor against Leningrad appeared very bad{20}.

In the absence of certain key parts of Jodl's diary and also of the necessary Wehrmacht Operations Staff documents it is impossible to say for certain that Paulus's report to the general staff was made known to the OKW{21}. Jodl's actions on July 27, however, the day following Paulus's visit, would indicate that he had direct knowledge of the conference at Army Group North headquarters. On this day, Jodi met with Hitler and told him that he had now changed his mind about the future course of strategy. Jodi advised the fuhrer to undertake an immediate assault on Moscow after the conclusion of the battles around Smolensk, "not because Moscow is the Soviet capital, but because here will be located the enemy's main force"{22}. This alteration of views by Jodi represented a basic deviation from the course of action he had recommended ever since he had been made aware of the Lossberg study in mid-November 1940. It had been an important element of the Lossberg plan that Army Group Center should be halted east of Smolensk and that armored strength should be diverted from it to the north against the flank and the rear of the Russian armies confronting Army Group North. Jodi had gone on record as early as June 29 that he thought the approaches to Leningrad from the west and south would be very difficult for tanks, and by July 27 he had become convinced of the unworkability of this plan, although he was unable effectively to counter Hitler's argument against pushing on to Moscow until the Russian economic base in the Ukraine had been removed from enemy control{23}. Hitler in the past had taken Jodl's advice, however, in fact it was probably Jodi, with some help from Goring, who persuaded Hitler not to carry out the Leningrad operation without aid from Army Group Center. Jodi had favored a provision included in the original Barbarossa directive of December 18, 1940, that called for turning armor from Army Group Center to Army Group North after the Red Army [216] forces in White Russia had been crushed, and now when the chief of the Wehrmacht Operations Staff shifted ground on this matter, the effect on Hitler was profound.

On July 28 Hitler informed Brauchitsch that he had decided to suspend the Leningrad and Ukraine operations as ordered in Directive 33-A. The fuhrer's feelings about the future were so uncertain that, at this point, he was unprepared to order anything other than that the situation on the southern flank of Army Group Center around Gomel be taken care of as soon as possible. Hitler did not give up entirely the idea of sending Panzer Group 3 to help Army Group North, but now, instead of calling for Panzer Group 3 to participate directly in the encirclement of Leningrad, he believed that the panzer group should only screen the southern flank of Army Group North from the direction of the Valdai Hills and move in a northeasterly direction to cut communications between Moscow and Leningrad. An advance to Moscow, according to Hitler, would still have to wait until the successful conclusion of the Leningrad operation{24}. The OKH had not yet won a complete victory for the cause of Moscow, although the confidence of Hitler and the OKW in the feasibility of the original Barbarossa plan, to place Leningrad ahead of the capital in terms of its strategic importance, had been shaken.

The uncertainty that existed in Hitler's mind about future strategy was clearly revealed in his Directive 34 issued on July 30{25}. This new directive officially canceled Directive 33-A and postponed the movement by Panzer Group 3 into the Valdai area for at least another ten days. Army Group Center was ordered to go over to the defensive along its entire front and prepare only for a further operation against Gomel, while the push by Panzer Group 2 into the Ukraine was likewise delayed until proper repairs could be made to the armored vehicles. In discussing the meaning of Directive 34 with Halder, Heusinger, the chief of the general staff Operations Department, described the new directive as being "in conformity with our views"; he commented also that "this solution delivered us all from the nightmare [that the] fuhrer's stubbornness would ruin the entire eastern operation-finally a point of light!"{26} For his part, Brauchitsch was so afraid that Hitler might reconsider Directive 34 that he declined to make any written comment on it whatsoever lest it fall into the wrong hands{27}. Now that Jodi and the OKW seemed to be gradually coming to accept [217] OKH strategy, Halder could sense that Hitler would sooner or later be forced to give in under the pressure from both command organizations. Hitler had at least decided to delay-for the moment-a firm decision about Moscow, and this was all that Halder needed to make another attempt to regain control of strategic planning for the general staff. Hitler had previously shown himself inclined to defer important decisions if they appeared likely to cause disagreement among his advisors, and it was this weakness in his character that Halder could use to his advantage.

Hitler's tendency to postpone unpleasant decisions was evident in a conference held at Army Group Center headquarters on August 4, with Keitel, Jodi, Schmundt, von Bock, Heusinger, Guderian, and Hoth, in addition to Hitler, all present{28}. The atmosphere surrounding this conference was extremely tense, especially since some officers on von Bock's staff, including his first general staff officer, Henning von Treschkow, had hatched a plot to kidnap the fuhrer, a plan that was forestalled by tight SS security measures{28a}. According to Alan dark, "The officers privy to this conspiracy were so numerous and occupied positions so close to the army group commander that it is impossible to believe von Bock was unaware of what was going on".

True to his consistent philosophy of divide and rule, each of the participants in the conference was given a private audience with Hitler without being able to know what the others had said{30.html# target="app" class="showTip L29).

True to his consistent philosophy of divide and rule, each of the participants in the conference was given a private audience with Hitler without being able to know what the others had said{30">{29).

True to his consistent philosophy of divide and rule, each of the participants in the conference was given a private audience with Hitler without being able to know what the others had said{30}. In his memoirs Guderian noted that all the generals of Army Group Center advocated resumption of the offensive against Moscow. He further stated that he told Hitler that the number of tank motors that the fuhrer had promised Panzer Groups 2 and 3 for replacements was inadequate. In his account of the conversation, Guderian recorded that Hitler offered only three hundred tank motors for the entire eastern front, but the fuhrer actually promised four hundred motors for Panzer Groups 2 and 3. There were also two other topics of discussion that Guderian brought up in his interview with Hitler that were not completely or accurately recorded. Regarding the question of Yelnia, as has been mentioned, Guderian advocated holding the salient for reasons of [218] prestige. In regard to the question of resuming the offensive against Moscow, he told Hitler that the Russian front around Roslavl was very thin and that he believed his panzer group should press north and east through Spas-Demensk toward Viazma. He also told the filhrer that his panzer units and infantry corps had succeeded in overrunning the Russian positions around Roslavl with ease. Guderian gave Hitler the impression on August 4 that the Russians had committed their last "proletarian reserves" and that the enemy henceforth would be unable to offer effective resistance. The panzer general was convinced that he had achieved a full breakthrough of the last line of the Russian main defense force and that the way to the east and to Moscow was now relatively free and open{31}.

This fanciful commentary by Guderian was reminiscent of Halder's speech of February 3, 1941, when the chief of the general staff attempted to persuade Hitler that the Red Army was no worthy opponent for the Wehrmacht and that Moscow could be taken almost with impunity by an assault through White Russia from the west. At that time Hitler had refused to believe that the enemy could be rapidly driven out of the Baltic area and the Ukraine, and he declined to accept Halder's version of a strategic plan. Guderian's testimony on August 4 meant more to Hitler, however, because the panzer general was a front-line soldier and had seen combat at first hand. Deep down. Hitler mistrusted the sophisticated and highly trained staff officers of the OKH, but Guderian was a man of action, a soldier who, in some ways, had experienced the kind of life he himself had known in face-to-face combat with the enemy. A noted historian has written the following words about Hitler:

The German officer corps was the last stronghold of the old conservative tradition, and Hitler never forgot this. His class resentment was never far below the surface; he knew perfectly well that the officer corps despised him as an upstart, as "the Bohemian Corporal" and he responded with a barely concealed contempt for the "gentlemen" who wrote "von" before their names and had never served as privates in the trenches{32}.

The panzer general was aware of this quirk in Hitler's character and was not above using it to his advantage should an opportunity occur. [219]

After listening to Guderian's report, it seemed possible to Hitler that the Russians were indeed approaching the limit of their ability to conduct large-scale operations after suffering such heavy losses during the first six weeks of the war-although he was still unable to free himself entirely from the conviction that Leningrad and the Ukraine should come before Moscow. Despite the fuhrer's reservations about Moscow, however, Guderian's representations had brought about a change in his attitude. Toward the end of the conference. Hitler announced that he would again consider the possibility of a further-limited-advance eastward by Army Group Center. After hearing a final appeal by von Bock about the necessity of destroying the enemy's main force in front of Moscow, Hitler put off a final decision until a later date{33}. The OKH and the generals of Army Group Center could sense imminent victory in their struggle to force Hitler to accept their view, insofar as they all agreed on the importance of Moscow. There would, however, be disagreements among the generals themselves, particularly between Halder and Guderian, about the Ukraine.

On August 5, the day following the conference with Hitler at Borisov, Halder, Brauchitsch, Heusinger, and Paulus held a meeting at OKH headquarters. In this discussion Halder's opinion held sway: that Moscow would have to be reached before the end of the year if the German forces were to attain full freedom of maneuver. Along with the important goal of Moscow, Halder considered it vital that the Russian economic base in the south be eliminated, "We must penetrate the oil region with strong forces all the way to Baku"{34}. Halder was still pursuing the same course he charted in the communique of July 23 and that Brauchitsch had reempha-sized in the chiefs of staff conference on July 25, that is, that the economic and manpower reserves of the Soviet Union made the country too strong to defeat by purely military means, that the enemy's power to make war must be reduced by depriving Russia of its resources and war industry. In persevering in this line of thought, Halder was placing himself in a position where he would come into a head-on collision with Guderian. Halder and Guderian could agree on Moscow and Hitler and Halder could agree on the Ukraine, but Guderian would not be prepared to sacrifice Moscow for the Ukraine, for he was positive that the Soviet capital could not be taken without his tanks riding in the vanguard. In the end, the chief of the general staff would try to reach a compromise with [220] Hitler and Jodi whereby the problem of Moscow and the Ukraine could be solved to everyone's satisfaction-except Guderian's. The last compromise on strategy in 1941, however, would be made without Halder's approval and in a way that would come as a crushing blow to him.

Later in the day on August 5, Brauchitsch conferred with Hitler and subsequently reported to Halder on the results of his conversation. He told the chief of the general staff that Hitler had come to realize that the present tactics would lead to a stabilization of the front as had been the case in 1914. The fuhrer now envisioned three possibilities for a future course of action: (1) the capture of the Valdai highlands by a coordinated maneuver of Army Group North and Panzer Group 3; (2) the clearing of the southern flank of Army Group Center, combined with elimination of the strong Russian force around Korosten; and (3) an operation to eliminate all enemy forces west of the Southern Bug River.

In his discussion with Brauchitsch about the second alternative, Hitler left open the question of a further advance by Army Group Center directly toward Moscow, and he also maintained that the carrying out of the Korosten operation could lead to a solution of the problems east and south of Mogilev and at Kiev. In his diary Halder put special emphasis on the words Mogilev-Kiev, and it would be accurate to say that he was excited about the possibility of being able to take Moscow and the Ukraine simultaneously{35}. Halder described the joint Moscow-Kiev plan as "a salvation," although he thought that the inclusion of an attack against the enemy forces around Korosten would be too wasteful in terms of tying up strength. Halder did not want to squander time on winning what he described as tactical victories of the kind that Hitler desired at Gomel and Korosten{36}. Instead, he wished to concentrate on broad grandiose possibilities like those that had seemed to be offered around Bialystok-Minsk and at Smolensk. Halder believed that once the Wehrmacht gained freedom of movement and operations again became fluid, Hitler would give up his notions about concentrating on tactical successes.

Guderian, too, wished to continue wide-ranging maneuvers, but not in the same way that Halder envisioned. The panzer general's stern threat on August 6 to refuse to give up even one panzer division from his command to aid in the Rogachev-Zhlobin operations by the Second Army should have shown Halder the mettle of [221] the man he was dealing with, but he continued to underestimate Guderian's resourcefulness until it was too late{37}. For his part, Guderian was content for the moment to mark time at Roslavl and at Gomel and wait for Hitler to make up his mind about Moscow. Guderian's protest against the OKH decision about Rogachev-Zhlobin on August 6 afforded Halder a chance to confront the panzer general and force him to back down and obey orders, but this was not Halder's way. Instead, Guderian had won a small but important victory over his superiors and he would not be discouraged from seeking bigger successes in the future.

The sign of approval for the Moscow project that Jodi had hesitantly given on July 27 stimulated Halder to renew his attempt to assert his influence over the OKW, an effort he had first made by sending Brauchitsch to visit Keitel on July 23. The chief of the general staff contacted Jodi on August 7 in order to reinforce the latter's already favorable attitude toward an advance on Moscow and to convince him that Russia's economic base in the south must be eliminated at the same time. Halder told Jodi that the forces already in motion in the direction of Leningrad were sufficient and that Hoth's Panzer Group 3 should not be taken from Army Group Center and given to Army Group North. In the first place, Panzer Group 3 was needed to carry out the assault on Moscow, and secondly, Halder insisted that there was no danger to the southern flank of Army Group North from the direction of the Valdai Hills. Finally, the chief of the general staff said that instead of deciding between Moscow or the Ukraine, a decision must be made for Moscow and the Ukraine. "This must be done or else the enemy's productive strength cannot be vanquished before the fall{38}".

This conversation on August 7 between Halder and Jodi was of critical importance in influencing the final outcome of events in 1941. In his diary Halder noted: "Overall impression: Jodi is impressed with the correctness of this plan and will move along in this direction{39}. Halder would continue to work on Jodi, who was ever more inclined to accept the OKH view of strategy. By the third week in August Jodi would play a vital role in Halder's plan to gain influence over Hitler. Halder had done his work well in convincing the chief of the Wehrmacht Operations Staff that both Moscow and the Ukraine had to be taken before the onset of winter in 1941. The chief of the general staff now expected Jodi to [222] remain on his side, but Halder's cleverly laid scheme would soon be endangered, for at the end of August conditions would change and Halder would attempt to undo the impression he had made on Jodi about the economic importance of the Ukraine. This attempt would fail, and Halder would be forced to take a new tack with Jodl. For a while, however, after August 7, Halder's confidence in his ability to manipulate the OKW was very great, for now not only had Jodl apparently become a convert to the OKH strategy but Halder also had an important ally within Jodl's own organization, the deputy chief of the Wehrmacht Operations Staff and head of Department "L," Walter Warlimont, a man who had worked diligently on behalf of the Moscow project since the fall of 1940.

On August 10, Warlimont's Department "L" produced a study that called for a resumption of the Moscow offensive at the end of August after first eliminating the immediate threats to the flanks of Army Group Center around Gomel and Velikie Luki-Toropets with the help of Panzer Groups 2 and 3. The study called for using both panzer groups subsequent to the flank operations in a thrust toward Moscow that would "crush the last, inferior, newly formed replacement divisions that the enemy had apparently brought up along the line Rzhev-Viazma-Briansk." After the Rzhev-Viazma-Briansk line had been cracked, Warlimont anticipated that the progress of Army Group Center would take the form of a "pursuit" of the beaten enemy. Thereafter Army Group Center would be able to send support to help the neighboring army groups to the north and south. In particular, Warlimont stated that the forces for the assault on Moscow should be so arranged that during the pursuit stage of the advance Guderian's Panzer Group 2 would be in a position to move along the Don River to the southeast{40}. This study was tailored to fit closely with the OKH viewpoint as it was presented to Jodl by Halder on August 7, and there can be little doubt that Warlimont was acting in accordance with Halder's wishes in preparing it to influence his superior, Jodl.

The impression that Warlimont's study was looked upon with favor by the OKH is enhanced by the fact that on August 8, two days before the Department "L" study, Halder issued a general staff appraisal of the situation confronting the German army{41}. In this report Halder stated that it was clear that the Russians were deploying all of their available strength along the line Lake Ilmen-Rzhev-Viazma-Briansk. The chief of the general staff compared [223] the position of the Red Army to that of the French in the second phase of the campaign in 1940, when the enemy relied on strong "defense islands" located along a new defense line. Halder believed that the Russian attempt to push back the German front in the Smolensk area by counterattacks was on the verge of complete collapse. In his words:

My old impression is confirmed, Army Group North is strong enough to carry out its mission alone. Army Group Center must concentrate its forces in order to destroy the enemy's main force [in front of Moscow]. Army Group South is strong enough to fulfill its task, but even so Army Group Center can perhaps lend assistance [by sending Panzer Group 2 to the southeast{42}.

In early August Jodl found himself surrounded both within and without the OKW by generals who were all giving him the same advice, advice he was prone to accept after he had been made aware of the problems confronting the armored units in the hill and forest region on the approaches to Leningrad. Jodl could not know that the Red Army was far from finished in front of Army Group Center, although the battles raging around the periphery of the Yelnia salient should have convinced him otherwise. He also could not know that the Rzhev-Viazma-Briansk line did not represent the last Russian line of defense in front of Moscow. He could not know that an advance by Army Group Center beyond this line would not take the form of a pursuit and that thus the entire premise of the OKH strategy and also of Warlimont's study was wrong. Halder's general staff appraisal of August 8 listed the relationship of forces in divisions as follows: in front of Army Group North 23 Russian (including 2 motorized) versus 26 German (including 6 motorized); Army Group Center, 70 Russian (8.5 motorized) versus 60 German (17 motorized); Army Group South, 50.5 Russian (6.5 motorized) versus 50.5 German (9.5 motorized). No more than three days later, on August 11, Halder had to admit that these figures were awry. Instead of the 200 divisions that he believed the Russians had originally deployed, 360 divisions had been identified on the entire eastern front. Halder also noted that although the enemy forces were badly armed and badly led, their preparation to meet the German invasion had been good and the military strength of their economy had been seriously underestimated. Halder remarked pessimistically that the Wehrmacht was moving farther [224] away from its sources of supply while the Red Army was drawing back closer to its own.

On August 12, most probably because of an inquiry from Jodi, now that he had promised Halder that he would work to see the general staff plan carried through. Hitler issued further instructions, Directive 34-A{43}. Its language was optimistic because Army Group South had just concluded the Uman battle of encirclement southwest of Kiev, netting some 103,000 prisoners{44}. This battle was a spur to Hitler's desire to finish with the Russians in the western Ukraine, seize the Crimea, and occupy the Donets Basin and Kharkov. About the army groups north of the Pripet, Hitler stated that the primary goal in the immediate future was for Army Group Center to rectify the situation of its Hanks by striking the Russian Fifth Army in the south around Mozyr and using armored units to suppress the enemy in the north around Toropets. The fuhrer also ordered the left Hank of Army Group Center, that is, Panzer Group 3 and the Ninth Army, to move northward only far enough to secure the southern flank of Army Group North and enable this army group to shift some infantry divisions toward Leningrad. The directive called for concluding the operations against Leningrad before an advance on Moscow was resumed, but Hitler thought that Leningrad could be dealt with in fairly short order{45}.

Halder's first impression of Directive 34-A was unfavorable, for he disliked Hitler's assertion that the city on the Neva must come ahead of Moscow, and he described the directive as being restrictive and not allowing the OKH the latitude it needed{46}. Two days later, however, he modified his tone somewhat and said that the directive essentially was in agreement with the OKH point of view, namely, that Army Group Center should undertake only two basic tasks. One was to resolve the situation on its flanks and prepare to push on to Moscow, and the second was to make ready to send forces to aid the advance of Army Group South{47}. Halder, a bit late, had come to recognize the subtle change in Hitler's thinking and he could see how the fuhrer's insistence on effecting smaller encirclement operations could be used to the benefit of his plan.

Now that the OKH had gathered new strength by winning over Jodi, and now that Hitler appeared to be on the verge of changing his mind about Leningrad, Halder was emboldened to mount a two-pronged offensive against the fuhrer's negative attitude [225] toward Moscow. This renewed effort by Halder took the form of two studies presented to Hitler on August 18. The first was submitted by Warlimont's Department "L," and the other was delivered by Brauchitsch, the commander in chief of the army. A comparison of these documents leads to the inescapable conclusion that by mid-August the coordination between the OKH and Department "L" of the Wehrmacht Operations Staff had been developed to a high degree.

Warlimont's "Assessment of the Eastern Situation" of August 18, which was probably prepared without Jodl's approval, laid down the goals for the remainder of 1941 as the capture of the Donets Basin, Kharkov, Moscow, and Leningrad{48}. In setting forth the procedure for reaching these objectives, Warlimont deviated from the line most recently espoused by the OKH. The chief of Department "L" described the situation of Army Group South after the battle of Uman as healthy enough so that the turn of Panzer Group 2 all the way to the Ukraine was no longer essential in order to defeat the Russian Fifth Army. The crossing of the Dnepr would also be likely on both sides of Cherkassy, south of Kiev, by early September after the rapid movement eastward of the German Seventeenth Army. The capture of the Crimea, an objective that would soon loom larger in Halder's plans, was not deemed necessary in the near future, a screening force sufficing in that direction. The key to all subsequent operations, according to Warlimont, was to be Moscow, and the approach to this city by Army Group Center had been rendered easier by the successful operations at Roslavl, Krichev, Rogachev-Zhlobin, and Gomel, the latter battle then being in its final stages. On the northern flank, the second attack on Velikie Luki was scheduled to begin on August 21, and it too, Warlimont anticipated, would be brought to a successful conclusion. As a result of the approaching completion of the operations on the flanks of Army Group Center, the resumption of the Moscow offensive was set for early September, this time with the aid of both Panzer Group 2 and Panzer Group 3, not just Panzer Group 3 as Halder had earlier specified.

The reason for the change in plans by the Halder-Warlimont partnership was that Panzer Group 3 had been weakened by the loss of the XXXIXth Panzer Corps, which Hoth had been forced to give up to Army Group North{49}. The XXXIXth Panzer Corps had been sent northward at Jodl's request on August 15 to help [226] prevent a Russian breakthrough on the southern wing of Army Group North south of Lake Ilmen in the region of Staraia Russa. After the crisis around Staraia Russa had passed, Hitler had used the opportunity to dispatch the panzer corps farther north despite Halder's wishes to the contrary. Now, on August 18, both the OKH and Department "L" staffs had to take cognizance of the fact that after being deprived of two panzer and one motorized divisions. Panzer Group 3 alone was too weak to spearhead a drive on Moscow from the northwest. Actually, as will be pointed out, the entire panzer group would have been hard pressed to undertake this task, but the loss of the XXXIXth Panzer Corps to Army Group North was a major factor in compelling Halder to readjust his strategy.

The new OKH proposal was presented by Brauchitsch to Hitler also on August 18{50}. On July 23, as noted earlier, Halder told the fuhrer that it was important to seize both Moscow and the Ukraine before the onset of winter. At that time the chief of the general staff had strongly emphasized the economic necessity of occupying the Ukraine, and it was his opinion that this could best be done by sending a group under von Kluge's Fourth Army command, composed of Panzer Group 2 and part of von Weichs's Second Army, to the south and east. By August 18, however, Halder realized it would be impossible to send all of Panzer Group 2 to the Ukraine and take Moscow at the same time. When thus faced with a choice, Moscow or the Ukraine, Halder, true to his basic conclusion, chose Moscow. The problem that he now faced was, however, a serious one. Hitler had not really needed any convincing prior to June 22 that the economic war was vital and that the south of the Soviet Union was crucially important for Russia's armaments industry. Halder had agreed with the fuhrer on July 26 that the Ukraine must be taken rapidly for economic reasons and had assigned it a priority equal to that of Moscow. Now he would have to backtrack and disassemble the arguments he had made earlier for both objectives.

The chief of the general staff attempted to accomplish this by continuing to place a certain emphasis on economic considerations, though weakening his tone in this respect. He now described the capture of the Moscow industrial area as equal in importance to the economic objectives in the Baltic area and in the south in preventing the Russians from rebuilding their shattered armies{51}. [227]

Beyond this, Halder repeated the case he had made many times before that the enemy's main force was positioned in front of Moscow and that once these units were destroyed, the Russians would no longer be capable of maintaining a continuous line of defense. In order to fortify his point further, Halder made use of Hitler's disinclination to carry out any more wide-ranging maneuvers of the kind that had brought less than desirable results in White Russia around Smolensk.

The ability of the armored units to carry out long-range operations was characterized by Halder as limited, even after repair measures were completed. As a result of the panzer groups' lessened capability to maneuver, Halder advocated using them to traverse shorter distances than had previously been expected of them. It was, therefore, essential that the armored units be used only for decisive and strategic goals and that their strength not be wasted on nonessential tasks. In his operations plan section of the August 18 proposal, Halder set forth restricted goals for Panzer Groups 2 and 3, which would remain positioned on the flanks of Army Group Center. Guderian would move from the area Roslavl-Briansk toward Kaluga and Medyn, west of Maloyaroslavets, while Hoth would push from southeast of Beloe and Toropets toward Rzhev. It should be noted here that the first phase of this planned armored thrust would not have gone far enough to crack the main Russian defense lines running through Mozhaisk and Naro-Fominsk, as will be pointed out in the next chapter{52}. The middle of Army Group Center's front, the infantry armies, were to remain in defensive positions until the enemy began to pull back eastward due to the pressure exerted by the two panzer groups. In any case, Halder called for the infantry in the center of the front to cooperate closely with the armored units in order to achieve maximum results against surrounded pockets of enemy soldiers, for, as he said, "Experience has taught us that infantry alone can perform this task successfully only under exceptional conditions"{53}.

In regard to the missions of Army Groups South and North, Halder's new proposal was less clearly defined and objective than his plan for the renewed assault on Moscow. Army Group South was considered by Halder strong enough by itself to force the Dnepr with the Seventeenth Army by September 9, if not, in fact, sooner. After the Dnepr was crossed. Army Group South would be able to speed up its push eastward. As for Army Group North, it [228] would be able to complete the Leningrad encirclement by the end of August and also forge a link with the Finns. Subsequently, Army Group North would be in a position to move into the Valdai Hills and thus protect the northern Hank of Army Group Center's drive on Moscow. It was considered possible that Army Group North could send some units of Panzer Group 4 all the way south to Ostashkov, due north of a line from Velikie Luki to Rzhev, and thereby link up directly with the northern flank of Panzer Group 3. The only preconditions set forth by the August 18 study for the offensive against Moscow were that the operations around Gomel, then in progress, and around Velikie Luki, which would begin in three days, should be brought to a successful conclusion{54}.

In announcing his conviction that Moscow and the Ukraine could be taken simultaneously, Halder was remaining true to the plan that he had agreed upon with Jodi on August 7. At this conference, Halder had said that unless both objectives were taken "the enemy's productive strength cannot be overcome before fall"{55}. The plan that he had outlined on July 23 and presented to Hitler on July 26 called for the sending of Panzer Group 2 into the Ukraine and, if need be, all the way to Stalingrad. Halder had again, on August 14, expressed approval of the idea of sending Guderian to the Ukraine after Hitler in his Directive 34-A of August 12 had said that the southern flank of Army Group Center would have to cooperate with Army Group South in order to eliminate the Russian Fifth Army's stronghold around Mozyr and south of the Pripet. The proposal of August 18 did not, however, provide for sending any armor from Army Group Center farther south than Novgorod-Severskii, a city on the Desna River south of Briansk in the extreme northern Ukraine (see Figure 33). Even so, Halder wanted no more than two divisions from the XXIVth Panzer Corps to move so far away from the path of the main drive on Moscow. "All thoughts that the crossing of the Dnepr by Army Group South should be hastened by these armored units [from Army Group Center] must be given up, otherwise Army Group Center will not be able to mount a proper assault [in the direction of Moscow] along its southern flank"{56}.

The OKH proposal of August 18 represented an about-face by Halder insofar as it made no provision for Army Group Center to help Army Group South in any substantive way. In conceding that two armored divisions could be sent from the XXIVth Panzer" [229] Corps into the Ukraine, Halder was opening up the possibility that Guderian's Panzer Group 2 could be divided if the need arose. This particular feature of the proposal made not the slightest difference to Halder, but it would to Guderian, a man who would go to any length to prevent armored units from being removed from his command. This was a potential difficulty that Halder should have [Fog.33] [230] been aware of, but for one reason or another, he ignored it until it was too late.

The OKH proposal of August 18 was permeated with optimism that Army Group South could not only effectively handle the enemy on its own front and cross the Dnepr to regain freedom of movement but also play a role in tying down Russian forces that might otherwise be in a position to oppose Army Group Center. The same, or even greater, optimism could be seen in the task assigned to Army Group North. It was not only supposed to complete the encirclement of Leningrad by the end of August, but it was also expected to support actively the northern flank of Army Group Center. It is very difficult to understand what the source of Halder's optimism was, for on August 11, as has been noted, he lamented the fact that the Red Army was much stronger than had previously been believed and that the economic power of the Soviet Union had been seriously underestimated{57}. The OKH proposal was highly contradictory of practically everything that Halder had preached since the third week in July, and the conclusion is inescapable that the proposal was designed, not to fit the facts, but rather to mislead Hitler. Once the XXXIXth Panzer Corps had been removed from Panzer Group 3 and once the chief of the general staff realized that its remaining strength would be insufficient for Army Group Center to take Moscow, he was prepared in essence to sacrifice the Ukraine project in favor of the assault on the Soviet capital. In order to justify this change in his strategy, Halder did not resort to the truth or to straightforward arguments. Instead, he tried to cloud the issue and win Hitler over with optimistic arguments that he himself must have known were false. This was the same technique that Halder had used before, and it was to be no more successful at this point than it had been earlier, although now the war was two months old and Halder should have seen the impending disaster ahead and warned Hitler that the war was going to last a long time.

The Role Of Hermann Goring

The chief of the general staff might have had his way with the fuhrer, now that Warlimont was on his side, had there not been a loftier personage than anyone in either the OKH or OKW who had to be taken into account. The role of Reichs Marshal Hermann Goring in the planning and carrying out of the Russian campaign [231] has never been properly investigated, but several bits of evidence indicate that his influence over Hitler was of crucial importance with respect to several key strategic decisions. Some of Goring's handiwork has already been noted in the planning phase of Barbarossa. Goring at that time, November 1940, may have demonstrated to Hitler through a report that he had commissioned from the chief of the Economic and Armaments Section of the OKW, Georg Thomas, that it was imperative for the Wehrmacht to occupy the Ukraine and the Caucasus as soon as possible after the beginning of the eastern campaign.

It is difficult to judge the significance of Goring's intervention in the strategic decisions made in 1941 in the absence of any personal records that he may have kept; however, as the designated number two man in the state, as the deputy chairman of the Council for the Defense of the Reich, chief of the Luftwaffe, director of economic programs under the Four-Year plan and, after June 29, 1941, economic director of the occupied eastern territories. Goring wielded political, military, and economic power that enabled him to intervene with advice on almost any important question that came up during the campaign in Russia{58}. At first, the marshal concerned himself only with the role and deployment of the Luftwaffe in the east, but gradually, especially at the time of the battles around Smolensk, he began to take a strong interest in the way the entire war was being conducted.

In the opening stages of the Russian campaign, Goring entertained the optimistic idea that his pet project, the so-called Goring Program for the strengthening of the Luftwaffe by a factor of four, could still be put into effect. Among other things, this program as presented on June 26 called for an increase in the labor force allocated for the building up of the Luftwaffe from 1.3 million to 3.5 million men{59}. As the war wore on, however, Goring's hopes for this undertaking began to fade. On August 17 Thomas had to report that the best that could be hoped for would be a doubling of the Luftwaffe's strength, due to the shortage of aluminum and fuel. Also, no increase in the labor force for expansion of the Luftwaffe was possible unless other industries were reduced or unless men were recalled to the factories from the army{60}. By mid-August Goring could see the economic and military ruination of the Luftwaffe if strategy and tactics were not changed.

The marshal's first attempt to exercise some sort of control [232] over strategy in Russia came after Army Group Center seriously delayed closing the Smolensk pocket in the latter days of July. The head of the OKW, Keitel, visited von Bock on July 25 and told him that Hitler believed that the scope of the operations planned by the OKH had been too large and, for this reason, the battle around Smolensk had not been successful. Keitel reported that the fuhrer had been particularly upset after Goring had supplied him information about the numbers of Russians who had escaped toward Dorogobuzh east of the city{61}. The problem that had most concerned Goring and Kesselring at Smolensk was that the fronts were so broad that the Luftwaffe could not be concentrated effectively in any one given area{62}. Goring believed that the army and the Luftwaffe could cooperate better if smaller operations were carried out and goals were set that would not permit dispersion of the ground and air forces over wide distances. The marshal's advice thus may have been decisive in persuading Hitler to undertake smaller and more tightly controlled operations than had been the case at Bialystok-Minsk and at Smolensk.

In regard to the Moscow question, Goring's influence is less evident in the early stage of war, although he did seem to have a certain prediliction for Leningrad, possibly because this objective had been given a higher priority in the original Barbarossa plan and he may have wished to concentrate on as limited a number of goals as possible{63}. The situation in the south of Russia was, however, a different matter, and here Goring's interest became more pronounced after mid-August.

The first time the marshal intervened to favor a southern objective over Moscow came on August 14 when, despite von Bock's protest. Goring withdrew the air units covering Yelnia and sent them to aid the Second Army's push across the Dnepr at Rogachev-Zhlobin{64}. The second intervention came after August 18 when Goring succeeded in imposing his ideas on Hitler and convincing him that it would be a mistake to follow the plan outlined in the latest OKH proposal.

There were actually two rejoinders to the OKH proposal of August 18, one dated August 21 and the other August 22 and both signed by Hitler, although the first, which was short and directly to the point, was drafted by Jodl{65}. The chief of the general staff had been worried about Jodl's reaction to the proposals of August 18, [233] and this was why he dispatched Heusinger to the OKW headquarters at Rastenburg on August 20{66}. Heusinger attempted to convince the chief of the Wehrmacht Operations Staff that it was now impossible to capture Moscow and the Ukraine simultaneously for the reasons outlined in the OKH and Department "L" studies. Halder on August 7 had accomplished his task only too well, however. Jodl was now thoroughly convinced that the goals in the south must be pursued, not only because of the economic importance of the region, but also because the enemy appeared to be very strong east of Kiev and, unless these forces were eliminated, the southern flank of Army Group Center's advance on Moscow would be endangered. Jodl could not be dislodged from the belief that Army Group South alone was too weak to achieve the objectives in the Ukraine that he and Hitler and also, in the last analysis, Halder himself realized were vital. In order to reestablish an area of agreement with Halder, Jodl came to visit the chief of the general staff at his office in the Mauerwald camp in East Prussia on August 21. When this conversation failed to yield anything positive, Jodl drafted on that same day the above-mentioned formal rejoinder to the OKH{67}.

The substance of Jodl's -counterproposal was that Army Group Center would have to send forces, meaning Panzer Group 2 and part of the Second Army, to aid Army Group South in the destruction of the Russian Fifth Army around Korosten south of the Pripet. Once Jodl had gone so far as to put his objections into writing, Halder had no choice. He would either have to compromise with Jodl on the Korosten issue, an undertaking that he considered to be too restrictive and wasteful of time, or he would have to forfeit the advance on Moscow in the fall of 1941. Halder now had only a limited amount of time; he would have to work fast if the Moscow project were to be saved for that year.

Halder's problems were multiplied after Jodl submitted his report to Hitler on the OKH proposal. Hitler seized upon Jodl's objections and personally wrote a much longer reply, completed on August 22{68}. In this document Hitler made several revealing comments that demonstrate that his disinclination to accept the proposals of the OKH and Warlimont had been stimulated by Goring. Hitler repeated his conviction that the capture of the Crimea would be vital for the war effort: [234]

Apart from the fact that it is important to capture or destroy Russia's iron, coal and oil resources, it is of decisive [entscheidend] significance for Germany that the Russian air bases on the Black Sea be eliminated, above all in the region of Odessa and the Crimea.

This measure can be said to be absolutely essential [lebenswichtig] for Germany. Under present circumstances no one can guarantee that our only important oil producing region [that is, Rumania] is safe from air attack. Such attacks could have incalculable results for the future conduct of the war{69}.

There can be little doubt that the commander in chief of the Luftwaffe and Hitler's head economic advisor had been instrumental in stiffening the fuhrer's determination to give the south of Russia the highest priority. Once Hitler had grasped the danger to the Rumanian oil fields, he made the idea his own and held fast to it.

Goring's influence is not only marked in regard to the Crimean question but can also be traced to the remainder of Hitler's answer to Halder. After first setting down the strategic objectives of the war in the east. Hitler then turned to the problem of tactics. The flihrer was dissatisfied with the way the wide-ranging encirclements had progressed, and he criticized these maneuvers for allowing many Russians to escape the pockets and rejoin other units farther east. The distance between the fast German mobile columns and the slower infantry in the encirclements had been used by the enemy to its advantage, and much time had been lost in trying to contain and destroy the surrounded Russian formations. This impression had originally been conveyed to Hitler by Goring at the time of the battle of Smolensk, and Hitler now firmly believed that smaller operations afforded a better chance of success. Another complaint that Goring voiced about the conduct of the Smolensk operation was also repeated by Hitler: The fuhrer accused the OKH of failing to understand that the panzer groups and the Luftwaffe had to be used in a concentrated fashion in the decisive areas of attack, that is, on the flanks of the entire Soviet Union, against Leningrad in the north and the Crimea in the south not directly on the path to Moscow. The distances in Russia made it impossible for infantry units to be quickly shifted from one area to another wherever reinforcements were needed for an assault. Such distances could only be overcome by the Luftwaffe and the panzer groups, so it was essential that these means of mobile warfare remain under the exclusive control of the highest commanders and [235] not be split up among the various armies and army corps along the front, as, said Hitler, would be the ease if the plans of the OKH went into effect.

Hitler's August 22 reply singled out Goring for the highest praise for his ability to understand how the Luftwaffe and the panzer groups should be used, that is, in a unified, concentrated fashion along the main path of attack. He contrasted this "correct" understanding with the rather clumsy efforts that had been made by the OKH{70}. Not surprisingly, Halder took the reply as a personal insult: "The memorandum is full of contradictions and gives prominence to the marshal at the expense of the commander in chief of the army." After the reading of the memorandum, Halder told Brauchitsch that they both should resign at the same time, but Brauchitsch pointed out that this would accomplish nothing as Hitler's policies would remain unchanged{71}.

The third and final section of Hitler's August 22 reply was designated to refute all the remaining arguments that the generals had made in favor of Moscow. Hitler was unable to agree with Halder that Army Group South alone could force the Dnepr and control the situation in the eastern as well as the western Ukraine. It was far better, he believed, to make use of the fact that the bat-tiefront in the Ukraine was three hundred kilometers to the west of the front of Army Group Center; once this Russian "triangle" was eliminated, the advance to Moscow would be made much safer. As for Leningrad, Hitler expected the massed strength of Goring's Luftwaffe, plus some help from Army Group Center along the southern flank of Army Group North, to turn the tide, although he now classified the objectives in southern Russia as being more important. (The Luftwaffe units were already being shifted to the north by the end of August, when they were used against the Russian forces in the area of Smolensk and around Lake Ilmen and east of Velikie Luki){72}. With Hitler's statement in the second half of August, Goring had reached the peak of his power to manipulate Hitler. The Luftwaffe would be as unable to fulfill his promises about Leningrad as it had been unable to force England to its knees, and his influence could thus only decline in the future. Goring's last major inflation of the capabilities of the Luftwaffe would come at Stalingrad. Although the August 22 memorandum had brought Halder to the depths of despair, the chief of the general staff still had one more trump to play for, as has been seen, he [236] was a determined man and did not give up easily. Holder's last hope for 1941 now rested in the hands of Alfred Jodl.

The Hinge Of Fate-The Halder-Jodl Compromise

In order to accomplish what he now had in mind, the splitting up of Panzer Group 2, the chief of the general staff had to undertake yet another visit to Army Group Center headquarters, a visit that he saw fit to give only the briefest mention in his diary{73}. After his arrival in Borisov during the afternoon of August 23, Halder presented to von Bock a copy of Hitler's memorandum of the previous day and told the field marshal that at least part of Panzer Group 2 would now have to be sent to fight against the Russian Fifth Army and thereby aid Army Group South in its push across the Dnepr. Halder sought to disguise his true intentions and said that the only recourse was to obey Hitler's orders. This was a trick that the OKH had already tried to use on von Bock, and he was no less wise to Halder on August 23 than he had been to Brauchitsch on July 27. Previously, the chief of the general staff had done nothing to encourage anyone at Army Group Center to knuckle under to Hitler's will, and so such sympathies must have sounded strange emanating from Halder. Von Bock was horrified at the thought of trying to advance on Moscow without all of Panzer Group 2 under his command. The battles then in progress around Yelnia were clear proof to him that the enemy was far from beaten along this front. The commander of Army Group Center decided to muster all the resources at his disposal to force Halder to come to his senses, and so he hurriedly summoned Guderian from the front to participate in this makeshift conference.

The panzer general and von Bock discussed with Halder at some length how Hitler's attitude toward Moscow could perhaps be changed. The chief of the general staff gave the appearance of agreeing that the diversion of Panzer Group 2 to the south would be a great mistake and that to use it in an operation east of Kiev would be folly. Guderian told Halder that his tanks, especially those of the XXI Vth Panzer Corps, which had not had a day's rest since June 22, were incapable of carrying out a broad mission to the south. Also, he said, the road and supply situation would make such a maneuver virtually impossible. The real purpose of Guderian's soliloquy on this occasion could be seen in the following comment: [237]

These facts provided leverage which the chief of the general staff could bring to bear on Hitler in still another attempt to make him change his mind. Field Marshal von Bock was in agreement with me; after a great deal of arguing back and forth he finally suggested that 1 accompany... Halder to the Fuhrer's headquarters; as a general from the front I could... support a last attempt on the part of the [OKH] to make him agree to their plan{74}.

When Guderian finished his explanation of how he would deal with Hitler and persuade him to see the light about Moscow, Halder must have believed that he had the panzer general right in the palm of his hand. Once it was decided to use Guderian in this fashion, von Bock telephoned Schmundt, Hitler's adjutant, and arranged an interview for Guderian at the Wolfschanze bunker that same evening. The chief of the general staff had prepared a surprise for Guderian at the Wolfschanze, but it was Halder, in the end, who would find that tables could be turned in more than one direction.

It can, at present, be only a matter of conjecture, but several bits of circumstantial evidence point to the fact that Halder and Jodl finally succeeded in ironing out a compromise on strategy sometime during the period August 22-23, probably on August 22. The Halder-Jodl agreement called for the pursuit of both objectives, Moscow and the Ukraine, at the same time, an idea that both generals had agreed upon earlier. This time, however, since Panzer Group 3 had been weakened by one Panzer Corps, the XXXIXth, it was decided to make up this deficiency by removing one panzer corps from Guderian's Panzer Group 2-the XLVIth, then still in the area around Yelnia-and withdraw it behind the front for rest and refitting for use later in von Kluge's Fourth Army command as a spearhead in a renewed thrust against Moscow{75}. The remainder of Guderian's force, the XXI Vth and the XLVIIth panzer corps, would then be sent to aid Army Group South in the destruction of the Russian Fifth Army, an undertaking that had been termed essential by Hitler on August 22. The formation of this new Kraftgruppe (task force) under von Kluge, a force that included some other infantry units as well as the XLVIth Panzer Corps, would have meant the splitting up of Guderian's panzer group, with two of his panzer corps being sent to the Ukraine (see Figure 34).

This compromise had several features that appealed to Halder [238] and Jodi and, it could be hoped, would appeal to Hitler as well. Aside from answering all of Hitler's objections against renewing the thrust on Moscow and ensuring substantial help for Army Group South, the new strategy would allow the southern flank of Army Group Center's advance on Moscow to enjoy the support of an entire panzer corps. Had the Halder-JodI compromise been put into effect, von Kluge's Fourth Army could have formed an integrated combined-arms task force, with both armor and infantry [Fig.34] [239] cooperating in joint objectives. The same would have been true for the operation against Korosten; there, Guderian's armor would be able to concentrate upon a limited goal along with the infantry of von Weichs's Second Army. Halder had called for this kind of cooperation in his proposal of August 18, at that time perhaps cynically, but by August 23 he, too, like Hitler and Goring, may have had enough of Guderian's wide-ranging thrusts by large masses of armor. Another feature of the compromise would have been that parts of the XLVIth Panzer Corps could have been used to brace up the Yelnia salient where, as has been seen, by the end of August severe Soviet pressure was being exerted and where the infantry units were in sore need of armored protection. The Halder-JodI compromise was the closest thing to good planning that the Wehrmacht was privileged to enjoy in 1941, although it is open to speculation how successful it might have been, since the Russians had plans of their own. Nevertheless, the new plan represented careful thought and was a real effort to deal with tangible facts, not just wishful thinking. The trouble was that Holder's past and continued reliance on intrigue would now ensnare him, and he would be unable to put the new plan into action.

The order for the breaking up of Panzer Group 2 was issued on August 23 before Guderian went to the Wolfschanze, but Halder did not inform Guderian of this in the meeting that afternoon at Borisov. It was for this reason that Brauchitsch instructed Guderian not to mention Moscow in Hitler's presence, that he told the panzer general that the decision about the Ukraine had already been made, and that it would be useless for him to object. It was true, the decision had already been made by the OKH and the OKW that Guderian's command would, in essence, be sacrificed. It had probably also been agreed that Jodi would assume the responsibility for persuading Hitler of the need for the compromise, and probably for this reason no one from the OKH bothered to appear at the last conference on August 23. Guderian's assigned role in all this was simply to go before Hitler and state his case about the condition of his armored units. This speech would confirm the impression that Jodi presumably had already planted in the fuhrer's mind, that Panzer Group 2 could pursue only limited objectives south of the Pripet and that at least part of the panzer group should be retained by Army Group Center and refitted for use later as a spearhead against Moscow. [240]

The possibility exists that von Bock may have received advance warning about the Halder-JodI agreement and that he may have briefed Guderian about this danger before the panzer general's flight to East Prussia. At 10:30 on the morning of August 23, before the Borisov conference, Greiffenberg, the chief of operations of Army Group Center, telephoned Guderian and told him that some of his units might have to go south toward Nezhin and Konotop. Greiffenberg: "What if this is required of you?" Guderian: "Then I will ask to be relieved." Greiffenberg: "What if your supplies can be sent through Roslavl-Gomel, then could you do it?" Guderian: "That is still too far. ... By going only half that distance I could be in Moscow. I could take the whole panzer group there. ... I hope this thing has not been ordered already." Greiffenberg: "It has not been ordered yet"{76}.

Actually, by August 23, Guderian's visit to Hitler was superfluous as far as Halder was concerned, and he only agreed to this idea because of von Bock's adamant insistence{77}. Halder may have been afraid to push von Bock too far on this issue, and he may have yielded to the commander of Army Group Center and allowed Guderian to make his fateful journey, hoping that Guderian would be caught unawares by the turn of events. Or he may have believed that the panzer general would merely speak his piece and leave. Yet, knowing that Hitler was highly sympathetic to the views of "front soldiers," he should have been aware of the risk. Brauchitsch's warning to Guderian before his conference with Hitler was another sign that Halder was worried about what the panzer general might do. It is open to conjecture what compelled Halder to go along with von Bock on this matter; it was a decision that Halder would regret for the rest of his life.

Guderian's Coup In East Prussia

When Guderian arrived at the Wolfschanze, he was ushered into a room where he met Hitler in the presence of a large number of officers, including Keitel, Jodi, and Schmundt. It struck him as peculiar that no one from the OKH was in attendance, not Brauchitsch, Halder, or anyone else. It would not have taken an overclever man to figure out that something very strange was in the wind, and Guderian must have known from the moment he stepped into the conference room that Halder was trying to use [241] him as a tool. The chief of the general staff had, however, met his match in Guderian.

The panzer general began the evening with a report to Hitler about the condition and the situation of his panzer group{78}. When he finished. Hitler asked him if he still thought his units could undertake yet another important task, and Guderian replied that "if the troops are given a major objective, the importance of which is apparent to every soldier, yes." Then Hitler asked whether Guderian meant Moscow when he used the phrase "major objective," and Guderian launched into a long explanation of why he thought Moscow should be the primary target. The panzer general told Hitler that he knew the troops in the field and that it was important for their morale that they be given Moscow as their goal. Guderian also used some other military and economic arguments to support his position as to the importance of the Soviet capital. But it was probably Guderian's insistence on the necessity of taking Moscow in order to bolster the morale of the ordinary soldiers that really affected Hitler. He, too, had been in the trenches and he knew how important morale was, and thus he was not inclined to ignore Guderian's comments.

After listening patiently to the panzer general, not interrupting him a single time. Hitler then repeated some phrases that he must have gotten from Goring about the danger of the "Crimean aircraft carrier" to the Rumanian oil fields. He also charged that his generals knew nothing about the economics of war. Finally, the filhrer stated that Kiev must fall, and that the capture of this city would be the next primary goal. According to Guderian, "All those present nodded in agreement with every sentence Hitler uttered, while I was left alone with my point of view"{79}. The panzer general then recorded that he asked Hitler for permission to keep his panzer group intact so that he could carry out his task in the Ukraine quickly before the beginning of the fall rainy season. Hitler gladly acceded to Guderian's request.

The following day Guderian reported to Halder on the results of the last evening's conference, whereupon the chief of the general staff, according to the panzer general, "suffered a complete nervous collapse" and began to heap all sorts of abuse on his head. Then Halder telephoned von Bock and cursed Guderian for his un-willingness to split up his panzer group{80}. It was very hard for [242] Halder to believe that Guderian had not pleaded the weakness of his units and insisted to Hitler that Panzer Group 2 was not strong enough to carry out a wide-ranging maneuver around Kiev:

Guderian's report of yesterday [at the meeting at Borisov on the afternoon of August 23] was designed to give the OKH leverage to restrict the operation to the south. After he saw that Hitler was convinced about the necessity of the operation, he believed that it was his duty to perform the impossible and carry out Hitler's wishes.

This conversation showed with shattering clarity how irresponsibly official reports have been used.

The army commander in chief has issued a sharply worded order regarding truthfulness in reports, but this will do no good. A person's character cannot be altered by orders{81}.

On June 29 Halder had boldly stated that he hoped officers like Guderian would disobey orders, if need be, in order to do "the right thing," that is, push ahead to Moscow as rapidly as possible{82}. The command structure that Halder had created in Army Group Center in early July had been intended to give Guderian and Hoth the maximum amount of freedom to forge ahead eastward without interference from above. Halder may have been right about Guderian's character, but the chief of the general staff was himself largely responsible for encouraging him to act in the way that he did. The British historian Alan dark is correct in writing that Guderian's refusal to allow even a part of his armored strength to stay in Army Group Center while he carried out the Kiev encirclement may have been crucially important during the final push on Moscow, which began only at the end of September. Clark pointed out that Guderian's conference with Hitler on August 23 finished off his relationship with Halder, for the chief of the general staff believed that Hitler's promise to the panzer general not to divide his command amounted to nothing more than a bribe on the part of the fuhrer that Guderian accepted{83}.

Goring and Jodi would still be able to convince Hitler to resume the thrust on Moscow after Kiev, but then it would be too late in the year for the attempt to have any real chance of success. It seems safe to say also that Hitler's final decision about Moscow in September would not have been made had Guderian not given [243] voice to his emotions regarding the intangible importance of the Soviet capital. The damage that had been done to the formulation of strategy and the conduct of the war simply could not be repaired. The mistakes that had already been made up to August 23 would only be compounded later. A major catastrophe, vaster by far than what was in progress at Yelnia, could not be postponed for long. [244]

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