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Chapter 7.

Stalin And Kiev, Hitler And Moscow

Stalin's Mistake

By the end off July, Zhukov considered the situation along the western approaches to Moscow to be well in hand. Not only had additional forces been sent to the Western Front from the Supreme Command reserves, but units had also been transferred to the Smolensk, area from the Ukraine and the Orel Military District. Beyond this, the Germans had been temporarily checked at Velikie Luki, Velnia, and Gomel and, after July 14, the Supreme Command had ordered the construction of another line of defense for Moscow with three new armies: the Thirty-second, Thirty-third, and Thirty-fourth. These armies would occupy the line Volokolamsk-Mozhaisk-Maloyaroslavets and later Kaluga. This barrier would become known as the Mozhaisk line of defense. The units deployed here, for the time being, were directly subordinated to the command staff of the Moscow Military District headed by Lt. Gen. P. A. Artemev{1}. The Mozhaisk line of defense was thinly manned in Auguist and September, but as the Red Army began to fall back eastwaifd in October, the density of the forces along the line began to increase significantly.

On July 29, Zhukov reported to Stalin in the presence of L. Z. Mekhlis, the chieff of the Main Political Administration of the Red Army (PRU) and informed him that a continued German advance [246] from the Smolensk area toward Moscow was not likely. The chief of the general staff knew that the German losses around Smolensk had been heavy and he did not believe that Army Group Center had any remaining reserves to strengthen its northern and southern flanks{2}. Zhukov correctly saw that the weakest and most dangerous Russian sector was in the area of F. I. Kuznetsov's Central Front, then covering the approaches to Unecha and Gomel with the Thirteenth and Twenty-first armies{3}. He told Stalin that the Central Front should be given three additional armies, one each from the neighboring Western and Southwestern fronts and one more from the Supreme Command reserve. These units would also have to be given extra artillery, presumably from the reserves. Stalin, however, was opposed to any weakening of the direct route to Moscow, even though Zhukov pointed out that within twelve or fifteen days another eight full divisions, including one tank division, could be brought up from the Far East, which would result in an overall strengthening of the Western Front in a short time. Furthermore, Zhukov said that the entire Central Front should be pulled back behind the Dnepr and no less than five reinforced divisions deployed in a second echelon behind the junction of the Central and Southwestern fronts. In conclusion, Zhukov said, "Kiev will have to be surrendered." He also expressed his opinion that the Yelnia salient ought to be eliminated right away in order to prevent any possibility of a renewed German thrust against Moscow in the near future.

The suggestion to surrender Kiev probably cost Zhukov his position as chief of the general staff. Stalin had no intention of giving up Kiev without a fight, and moreover, he was still convinced that the Wehrmacht was not yet through with Moscow. In order to show his displeasure with Zhukov and at the same time demonstrate his determination not to weaken the Western Front, Stalin dismissed Zhukov from his post and replaced him with Marshal B. M. Shaposhnikov, who was then the representative of the Supreme Command attached to Timoshenko's staff. The demoted Zhukov was sent to command the Reserve Front and given the personal assignment by Stalin to eliminate the Yelnia salient, a task that was, as we have seen, performed with some finesse.

Stalin's preoccupation with the defense of Moscow, despite the push of Panzer Group 2 and the Second Army southward, appeared in a conversation that he had on August 12 with [247] A. I. Eremenko, then deputy commander of the Western Front{4}. Summoned to the Supreme Command headquarters in Moscow late at night, Eremenko was first given a briefing by the new chief of the general staff. Shaposhnikov explained that the Supreme Command expected a Crimean offensive in the immediate future and also a push by Panzer Group 2 from Mogilev and Gomel toward Briansk, Orel, and Moscow. Stalin then asked Eremenko which assignment he preferred, Briansk or the Crimea. Eremenko replied that he wanted to be sent where the enemy was most likely to use armor, for he himself had commanded mechanized forces and understood mobile tactics. Eremenko was thus dispatched to command the Briansk Front, which was created on August 16, and he was given the specific orders to prepare to stop the resumption of the German offensive against Moscow expected momentarily. The Briansk Front was formed from the Fiftieth and Thirteenth armies and had about twenty divisions, although the Thirteenth Army was far under strength. To the north of the Briansk Front was Zhukov's Reserve Front with the Twenty-fourth, Thirty-first, Thirty-second, Thirty-third, Thirty-fourth, and Forty-third armies, and to the south of it was Kuznetsov's Central Front, now composed of the Third and Twenty-first armies. The original Third Army had been virtually wiped out in the Bialystok salient in June, but it was reconstituted from the Supreme Command reserves in August and assigned to the Central Front. The Fiftieth Army also was a new unit making its appearance for the first time in August, as was the Forty-third Army of Zhukov's command. Altogether, the Briansk Front was assigned a stretch of 230 kilometers, roughly from south of Smolensk to Novgorod-Severskii{5}.

Zhukov's anxiety about the German's intentions grew after Guderian sent the XXIVth Panzer Corps south toward Starodub and Unecha on August 16, after the encirclement at Krichev. On August 17, Guderian broke through the front of the weak Thirteenth Army of Maj. Gen. K. D. Golubev and cut the Briansk-Gomel rail line, placing the entire Briansk Front in a difficult position{6}. Panzer Group 2 had exploited the success at Kriehev after August 12 to drive a wedge between the Reserve and the Central fronts, and this gap in the Russian line widened as a result of the pullback of the Twenty-first Army from Gomel. The Supreme Command had created the Briansk Front on August 16 in order to prevent Guderian from passing between the Reserve and Central [248] fronts and pushing straight to Moscow from the south through Bnansk, as indeed the German panzer general wanted to do, but contrary to Stalin's expectations, Panzer Group 2 continued its drive to the south against the hapless Thirteenth Army (see Figure 35){7}.

Eremenko's armies had been supposed to hit the southern flank of Guderian's panzer group as it moved north and east toward Moscow, but now the Briansk Front itself and the weakest army in that front had become the direct object of Guderian's assault{8}. Zhukov sent a warning telegram to Stalin on August 18, spurred by the threat of disaster to the entire Southwestern Front in the Ukraine with its Fifth, Sixth, Twelfth, and Twenty-sixth armies-in all some forty-four divisions{9}. Although Zhukov had been demoted and was no longer chief of the general staff, he still was an official member of the Supreme Command staff, and he now used this position to try to convince Stalin again that his assessment of the situation on July 29 was correct: that Kiev and the Southwestern Front were in imminent danger of encirclement{10}.

In his message to Stalin, Zhukov contended that the enemy knew that the main force of the Red Army was now being deployed on the approaches to Moscow and that the Germans considered it to be too dangerous to proceed directly toward the capital while a threat existed to the flanks of Army Group Center from the direction of Velikie Luki in the north and from the Central Front in the south. Zhukov predicted that Army Group Center would go over to an active defense against the Western and Reserve fronts and would turn Panzer Group 2 to the south to hit the Central, Southwestern, and Southern fronts. The goal of the enemy would be to destroy the Central Front and push to the region of Chernigov, Konotop, and Priluki and hit the Southwestern Front, defending Kiev, from the rear. After the fall of Kiev, German mobile units would be able to bypass the Briansk forests and push on Moscow from the south and also, at the same time, strike toward the Donets Basin. In order to foil the enemy's plans, Zhukov proposed that a powerful group be concentrated in the area Glukhov-Chernigov-Konotop in the northern Ukraine along the Desna and Seim rivers, which would thus be in a position to land a hard blow on Guderian's eastern flank as his panzer group moved south. This additional force was to be supplied by the Far Eastern Front and Moscow Zone of Defense (MZO) and other internal military [249] districts and should have eleven or twelve rifle divisions, two or three cavalry divisions, no less than a thousand tanks and four hundred to five hundred aircraft. The size of the reinforcements requested by Zhukov show clearly how far the mobilization of the strategic reserve had progressed by mid-August, and there can be little doubt that the thousand tanks and the divisions asked for by him [Fig.35] [250] were not all that the Supreme Command had at its disposal. The German high command, of course, had no idea of the magnitude of the Russian reserves they would be facing soon and, needless to say, the Wehrmacht could not match the quantities of personnel and material replacements that had begun to appear on the eastern side of the fronts.

Not long after the dispatch of his telegram, Zhukov received an answer from Stalin that said that the Central and Southwestern fronts could be saved from the danger of encirclement by the formation of the new Briansk Front under Eremenko. The return wire ended with the comment that other measures would be taken{11}. Zhukov's uncomfortable feelings did not desert him, however, and within two days he telephoned Shaposhnikov to find out exactly what the "other measures" were. The reply from Moscow was that the northern wing of the Southwestern Front, a force including the Fifth Army and the XXVIIth Rifle Corps, would be pulled back over the Dnepr, but Kiev would be held for as long as possible. Zhukov said that he doubted that the Briansk Front would be able to accomplish all that was expected of it, and Shaposhnikov tended to agree, but according to the new chief of the general staff, Eremenko had promised Stalin that the Briansk Front would be able to prevent Guderian from hitting the flank and the rear of the Southwestern Front and this promise had apparently made a good impression on Stalin. Zhukov was troubled by what he had heard from Shaposhnikov, so he contacted Stalin directly over the high-frequency telephone line. Stalin affirmed his conviction that Kiev must be held, and he said that the military and political commanders of the Southwestern Front, Kirponos and Khrushchev, were in agreement with this point of view. It is interesting to note that in Eremenko's record of his conversation with Stalin on August 12, no mention was made of Panzer Group 2's threat to the Southwestern Front and the Ukraine. According to Eremenko, the Briansk Front was established solely to prevent a drive by Guderian toward Moscow from the south. This version is repeated in the account given by the Soviet official history of the war. It is also a matter of interest that Zhukov recorded a conversation held on August 8 between Stalin and Kirponos in which the commander of the Southwestern Front gave his assurances that Kiev could be defended{12}. [251]

Stalin had made an iron-clad decision about Kiev and he would not yield an inch on the question. Like Hitler, Stalin would take advice from those he trusted, but the Soviet dictator, once his mind was made up, would not waver on important issues. In this way, Stalin's leadership was much stronger than Hitler's; the fuhrer was unable to adhere for long to one plan.

By the second week in July the Russian Supreme Command had come to believe that a greater amount of coordination was needed between the various army fronts that were facing three large German army groups. As a result, on July 10 the Supreme Command ordered the creation of three special "front groups": (1) the Northwestern Direction under Marshal K. E. Voroshilov and Commissar A. A. Zhdanov, which had control over the Northern and Northwestern fronts plus the Northern and Baltic fleets; (2) the Western Direction under Marshal Timoshenko and N. A. Bulganin, which controlled the Western and later the Reserve fronts (Timoshenko still retained direct command over the Western Front); and (3) the Southwestern Direction under Marshal Budenny and N. S. Khrushchev, which controlled the Southwestern, Southern, and later the Central fronts plus the Black Sea Fleet{13}. This command structure would prove to be troublesome in the near future, as friction grew between Moscow and the directional and front staffs and opportunities for misunderstandings multiplied, now that another level of organization had been created.

It was Budenny who convinced Stalin to pull back all of the Southwestern Front to the eastern bank of the Dnepr. The Supreme Command order issued on August 19 directed the Southwestern Front to defend the Dnepr line from Loev to Perevolochna and to prevent the enemy from advancing toward Chernigov, Konotop, and Kharkov{14}. Stalin's assent to Budenny's request demonstrated that he realized the potential threat to the rear of the Southwestern Front posed by Guderian. But in his telephone conversation with Zhukov a few days later, the Soviet dictator reaffirmed his decision not to yield Kiev. Neither Zhukov nor Budenny believed Kiev could be held if Panzer Group 2 continued its march to the south, but for better or worse, Stalin insisted that the Southwestern Front do everything it could to defend the Ukraine. In the meantime, Stalin and Shaposhnikov were mainly concerned about [252] the danger to Moscow, and the Supreme Command continued to do everything it could to protect the capital from the west and the southwest.

In order to allow the Briansk Front more latitude for maneuver, Stalin telephoned Eremenko on August 24 and asked him if he agreed that the Central Front should be abolished and its forces added to those of his command. Eremenko concurred and so the Central Front's Third and Twenty-first armies were combined into one army, the Twenty-first, and subordinated to the Briansk Front. In addition, the Briansk Front received two new rifle divisions made up of about twenty-seven thousand men that had just been brought up to the Desna River. Also on August 24, Shaposhnikov informed the commander of the Briansk Front that Guderian's main blow would fall upon the northern flank of the front, against the 217th and 279th rifle divisions of the Fiftieth Army, probably the next day-first toward Briansk, then Moscow. Guderian's continued movement southward, however, struck at Pochep or at the southern flank of the Fiftieth Army, not at the northern, as Eremenko had expected (see Figure 36). These developments forced him to conclude that the Supreme Command had been taken by surprise by the switch of Panzer Group 2's thrust to the south. This impression was strengthened by the fact that on August 30, the Supreme Command ordered an attack by the Briansk and Reserve fronts that was to begin with an advance of the Fiftieth Army on Roslavl. An attack against Starodub and Guderian's main force was also ordered, but this was to be carried out by the weak Thirteenth Army, and no good result could have been expected from it{15}. Eremenko had been ordered to prepare a defense of the approaches to Moscow from the southwest, not to stop a German push toward Chernigov-Konotop-Priluki and against the northern flank of the Southwestern Front. It was for this reason that the Briansk Front "permitted" Guderian to push southward largely unmolested. Eremenko had been told by the Supreme Command to expect Panzer Group 2 to turn to the north and east, to hit Briansk and then move toward Moscow, and this was what he was trying to prevent.

When the Fifth Army of the Southwestern Front began its withdrawal over the Dnepr, the commander of the army, Maj. Gen, M. I. Potapov, elected not to turn his northern flank toward the north to defend Chernigov-a serious mistake, as von Weichs's [253] [Fig.36] [254] Second Army began a push toward that city after August 25{16}. This advance by the German Second Army endangered the rear of the entire Fifth Army, which was trying to establish defenses along the eastern bank of the river from Loev to Okuninov. At the end of August, the Southwestern Front ordered Potapov to protect Chernigov, but by August 31 the Fifth Army was able to send only weak units of the XVth Rifle Corps to this city. Maj. Gen. K. S. Moskalenko was named commander of the XVth Rifle Corps on September 3{17}.

The order that the Supreme Command issued on August 19 for the withdrawal of the Fifth Army behind the Dnepr was not the only action taken to save the Southwestern Front and Kiev from disaster. Soon thereafter the Supreme Command directed the Southwestern Front to create a new army, the Fortieth, which was to be made up, in part, from units first brought to the Kiev area around August 10{18}. The commander of this new army was Maj. Gen. K. P. Podlas, and he was given the task of blocking Guderian along a defense line that ran from north of Bakhmach and Konotop to Shostka and from there along the Desna River to Stepanovki. The problems faced by the Fortieth Army were, however, severe.

On August 26 Panzer Group 2 succeeded in establishing a bridgehead over the Desna near Novgorod-Severskii, and the eastern flank of the Twenty-first Army was thus imperiled (see Figure 37). The commander of the army, Kuznetsov, subsequently ordered his units to continue the retreat begun on August 15 from around Gomel. The first stage of the retreat had carried the Twenty-first Army over the Dnepr, and now it would cross the Desna, seeking to avoid encirclement. Kuznetsov, however, did not inform his neighbor to the east and south, Podlas, the commander of the new Fortieth Army, about his decision{19}. As a result, the Fortieth Army was unable to advance against Guderian's bridgehead near Novgorod-Severskii from Konotop, and Podlas was forced to order a withdrawal toward the southeast. The Twenty-first Army was now completely cut off from the Briansk Front, and on September 6 it was transferred to the command of the Southwestern Front. In this way, a large gap opened between the two fronts.

Kirponos ordered the Twenty-first Army on September 6 to stop its retreat and attack the rearward areas of the 3rd and 4th [255] [Fig.37] [256] Panzer Divisions, but the Briansk Front was unable to support this attack{20}. Since August 28 the Thirteenth Army on the southern flank of the Briansk Front had been trying to form a line from Pochep to south of Starodub and then along the River Sudost, but it had been badly mauled by the XLVIIth Panzer Corps and had been forced to pull back behind the Desna{21}. On September 2 the Briansk Front launched a series of counterattacks against Guderian's eastern flank that had been ordered by the Supreme Command. These counterattacks lasted until September 12 and were supposed to have been carried out in two main directions: toward Starodub in cooperation with the Twenty-first Army to the south and toward Roslavl with the help of four rifle divisions from Zhukov's Reserve Front to the north. Eremenko has criticized this decision, which he claimed was made by Zhukov, because it frittered away the Briansk Front's strength by sending the Fiftieth Army toward Roslavl instead of concentrating the counterattacks against Guderian's main force around Starodub (see Figure 38){22}. Eremenko still believed that Panzer Group 2 was striving to bypass the Briansk Front from the south and then push toward Moscow:

Here it must be said that we regarded the German attack south of Trubchevsk as an attempt to envelop Moscow during the summer of 1941...

During this period we did not have complete information about the enemy's plans. Therefore, the push southwards by Guderian's tank units in August and September was regarded by us strictly as a maneuver to strip the [southern] flank of the Briansk Front{23}.

The root of all this trouble was that Stalin and the Supreme Command had been caught off guard by the movement of Panzer Group 2 to the Ukraine. The Soviet dictator knew in his heart that Moscow was Army Group Center's prime target for the fall of 1941; after all, had not the OKW and the OKH, with its general staff, agreed on this priority? The ability, however, of a general in the field, Guderian, to manipulate Hitler and essentially carry out his own strategy independent of the OKW and OKH had thrown Stalin into confusion. Even if the underhanded dealings in the German high command had been explained to him, it is doubtful that he would have understood or believed what was going on. Stalin's political police apparatus inspired a wholly different kind [257] [Fig.38] [258] of "loyalty" in the Red Army. He probably could not have imagined that Hitler and the Nazis did not have the same kind of control over the German armed forces.

As for the certainty that Stalin had about the plans of the German high command, there can be little doubt. The Rote Kapelle ("Red Choir") Soviet spy network was functioning in high gear inside the OKW, with Hans Schulze-Boysen in the Air Ministry, among others, transmitting streams of high-level intelligence to Moscow. Much of this information was gleaned from OKW cypher clerks who had access to information dealing with military movements and plans at all levels. The penetration of the Luftwaffe staff by Soviet agents was particularly valuable to them since, as we have seen. Goring and his subordinates, such as Kesselring, were not only aware of strategy but were in fact active in making it. The German Abwehr, or counterintelligence agency, under Admiral Canaris was not aware of the Rote Kapelle until late 1941 and did not effectively begin to break it up until early to mid-1942, but by then much of the real damage had already been done. One Soviet spy station was caught transmitting details of the Stalingrad operation a month before it was to be carried out. After the war, Abwehr officers admitted that only the surface of the Soviet spy net had been scratched. Other sources, such as "Lucy," who may have been Hitler's party chief, Martin Bormann, continued to function throughout the war and no doubt after the war{24}. Stalin's mistaken belief in the course of German strategy for 1941 would, however, be set right before the end of the year. The German attempt on Moscow would not come in September and October, but rather in November and December, thus the Wehrmacht would play right into Stalin's hands. But first the Red Army would have to suffer for Stalin's error, and suffer it did at Kiev.

The Fall Of Kiev

Guderian's continued drive southward in the first part of September produced an ever-growing level of uneasiness in the Soviet Supreme Command, but Stalin still could not accept the fact that all of Panzer Group 2 was being used in the Kiev operation and that, temporarily at least, Moscow was in no danger. On September 7 the Southwestern Front had flashed another warning to the Supreme Command and asked for permission to pull back the Fifth Army behind the Desna. Shaposhnikov then contacted [259] Budenny and found him of the same opinion{25}. The next day Zhukov was summoned to Stalin's office, where he was told that he would be sent to Leningrad; upon Zhukov's recommendation, Stalin selected Timoshenko as Budenny's replacement as commander of the Southwestern Direction. Lieutenant Gen. I. S. Konev was to occupy Timoshenko's position with respect to the Western Front. Just as Zhukov was preparing to take his leave, Stalin queried him about what he thought the Germans would do next. The former chief of the general staff replied that, since Guderian and von Weichs had already advanced as far as Chernigov and Novgorod-Severskii, it would not be long before the Twenty-first Army was shoved back even farther, and the Germans would thus be able to penetrate to the rear of the Southwestern Front. He also prophesied that the bridgehead established by the Seventeenth Army of Army Group South on the eastern bank of the Dnepr near Kremenchug, below Kiev, could be used as the starting place for a mobile strike force that would move to the north and east to link up with Panzer Group 2 (see Figure 39). Zhukov advised Stalin to transfer all Russian forces over to the eastern bank of the Dnepr and deploy all available reserves in the Konotop area for use against Guderian. Stalin then asked, "What about Kiev?" and Zhukov answered, "Sad as it may be, Kiev will have to be given up. We have no other way out." Stalin then telephoned Shaposhnikov and told him what he had just heard. Zhukov did not listen to the entire conversation, but Stalin said that the problem would be discussed later with the Southwestern Front staff{26}.

It is obvious that Zhukov's words had an effect on Stalin, for on the next day, September 9, Shaposhnikov informed the Southwestern Front that the Supreme Command had decided that the Fifth Army and the right wing of the Thirty-seventh Army, defending Kiev, must withdraw to the eastern bank of the Dnepr and turn their fronts to face Panzer Group 2 coming down from the north. This maneuver, however, proved to be very difficult, as on September 7 Guderian crossed the Seim River and drove southward toward Bosna and Romny{27}. Kirponos now called Budenny on September 10 (at a time when the whole northern wing of the Southwestern Front appeared to be caving in) after Chernigov had fallen to the Second Army on September 8, and asked for immediate reinforcements, especially for Podlas's Fortieth Army, which [260] [Fig.39] [261] was now in a desperate situation along the Seim River in the Konotop sector. Already on this day, September 10, the 3rd Panzer Division had taken Romny on the Sula River, well to the south of the Seim and almost due east of Kiev{28}. Budenny had to reply, however, that the Supreme Command had placed no more reserves at the disposal of either the Southwestern Direction or the Southwestern Front. As a stopgap, Shaposhnikov authorized the movement of two rifle divisions from the Twenty-sixth Army, immediately to the south of Kiev, toward the Fortieth Army in order to help stop Guderian's breakthrough in the region of Baehmach and Konotop. Budenny and Kirponos, however, considered this tactic to be wholly unsatisfactory, as this would leave the Twenty-sixth Army with only three rifle divisions to hold a 150-kilometer front. The situation below Kiev was now also worsening rapidly because the Twenty-sixth Army's neighbor to the south, the Thirty-eighth Army, had been unable to eliminate the German bridgehead near Kremenchug between the Psel and Vorskia rivers on the eastern bank of the Dnepr. It was expected that at any moment Panzer Group 1 would burst out of this bridgehead and plunge north and east to meet Guderian{29}.

In the early morning of September 11 the Southwestern Front sent the following telegram to the Supreme Command:

A tank group of the enemy has penetrated to Romny and Graivoron [not far west of Belgorod]. The 40th and 21st armies are not able to check this group. We request that forces be sent immediately from the Kiev area to halt the enemy's movement and that a general withdrawal of the front [to behind the Psel River line] be undertaken. Please send approval by radio{30}.

Around 2:00 A.M. Shaposhnikov telephoned Kirponos and told him that the Southwestern Front had to remain in position, not one division could be removed from Kiev. Kirponos then immediately contacted Budenny. Some hours later, Budenny conversed with Shaposhnikov, but the chief of the general staff was unmoved, describing the requested pullback of the Southwestern Front as "premature." Budenny thereupon dispatched another telegram to Stalin saying that only strong forces could prevent the Southwestern Front from being cut off and surrounded, an eventuality that the front did not have the means to avoid. If the Supreme Command could not deploy the necessary reserves in the [262] area of the Southwestern Front, said Budenny, the front must be permitted to retreat to the east{31}.

Somewhat later in the morning Stalin, Shaposhnikov, and Timoshenko telephoned the staff of the Southwestern Front, Kirponos, Burmistenko, and Tupikov. Stalin said that if the front withdrew from the Dnepr, the Germans would rapidly secure strong footholds on the eastern bank. Consequently, the Southwestern Front, during its withdrawal, would have to face enemy pressure from three directions instead of two; from the west as well as from the north around Konotop and from the south around Kremenchug. Then, he said, the encirclement of the front would follow if the Germans coordinated the thrusts of their panzer groups east of Kiev. Stalin recalled that the earlier withdrawal of the Southwestern Front from Berdichev and Novgorad-Volynskii to behind the Dnepr had resulted in the loss of two armies at Uman, the Sixth and the Twelfth; the retreat had turned into a rout, allowing the Germans to cross the Dnepr on the heels of the fleeing Red Army. A debacle of this sort must not be repeated. Stalin explained that, in his opinion, the proposed retreat of the Southwestern Front would be dangerous for two reasons. In the first place, the Psel River line had not been prepared for defense, and in the second place, any withdrawal would be risky unless something were done first about Guderian's panzer group around Konotop. Instead of an immediate retreat, Stalin made three proposals: (1) that the Southwestern Front use all available forces to regroup and cooperate with Eremenko to hit toward Konotop; (2) that a defense be prepared on the eastern bank of the Psel with five or six rifle divisions and that the front artillery be brought behind this line and positioned to face the northern and southern approaches; and (3) that after the first two conditions had been fulfilled, preparations be made to abandon Kiev and to destroy the bridges over the Dnepr. While the withdrawal was actually underway, a screening force would have to remain on the Dnepr to protect the front from the west{32}.

In his answer to Stalin, Kirponos said that no withdrawal would take place without first discussing the situation with the Supreme Command. However, he did hope that since the front now exceeded eight hundred kilometers the Supreme Command would see fit to send him some reserve forces. Kirponos referred to. what Shaposhnikov had said on September 10, that two rifle divisions [263] from the Twenty-sixth Army should be sent northward to help Podlas and Kuznetsov fight Guderian's panzers pushing toward Romny. He stated further that the Southwestern Front had no more units to spare for this task as another two and a half rifle divisions had been sent in the direction of Chernigov to help the Fifth Army. In regard to reinforcements, Kirponos only asked that promises already made by the Supreme Command be fulfilled. Stalin's final statement was that though Budenny favored a pull-baek to the Psel, Shaposhnikov opposed it, and that for the present Kiev was not to be evacuated or the bridges destroyed without the approval of the Supreme Command. He announced his decision to replace Budenny with Timoshenko as commander of the Southwestern Direction. Budenny's career, however, was far from finished. He was assigned command over the Reserve Front defending the approach to Moscow in the Yelnia-Roslavl region. In 1942 he took charge of the operations in the Caucasus{33}.

Timoshenko had been present when Stalin ordered Kirponos by telephone not to withdraw from Kiev, and the new commander approved of this decision. His optimism on September 11 was partly based on the fact that he knew some reinforcements were on the way. These reserves were, however, inadequate to stem the German tide: only one rifle division and two tank brigades with one hundred tanks. Timoshenko may also have believed that the coun-teroffensive by the Briansk Front ordered by Stalin against Panzer Group 2 might bring good results, but it is hard to imagine how he could have put much faith in such an operation. The counterattacks by the Briansk Front ordered on August 30 had brought scanty returns because the front had been expected to push in two different directions, toward Starodub and Roslavl, simultaneously. A new counteroffensive ordered by Stalin to begin on September 14 was to be directed solely toward Roslavl and the southern flank of Army Group Center, not toward Konotop at all, as he had promised Kirponos over the telephone on September 11{34}. On September 10 the gap between the Briansk and the Southwestern fronts had widened to sixty kilometers, and Eremenko was correct in saying that the Supreme Command knew there were no forces at hand strong enough to close this breach. All of Eremenko's tank brigades together had only twenty machines remaining in running condition{35}. The question now must be asked: Why did Stalin, Shaposhnikov, and Timoshenko order the Southwestern Front to [264] hold Kiev at all costs, what purpose could this act of mass sacrifice possibly have served?

Stalin had now been forced to use Kiev in the same way that he had used the Bialystok salient in June, only this time the gamble was far more risky. The large hole that would soon be torn in the Red Army's defenses in the Ukraine simply could not be patched up. Too much of the strategic reserve had already been used to bolster the front along the Dnepr and the Dvina ahead of Army Group Center to allow the Supreme Command to save Kiev and Moscow at the same time. The sacrifice of Kiev would, however, exact from the Germans a very high price, greatly exceeding that of the Bialystok encirclement in lives, material, and most importantly, time. Stalin was right when he pointed out to Kirponos on September 11 the impossibility of withdrawing the entire Southwestern Front with its 677,000 troops behind the Psel River line in time to prevent its encirclement by Guderian and by von Kleist's Panzer Group 1. The Southwestern Front would have to stand and fight in the same way that the Third, Tenth, and Fourth armies had fought in the Bialystok salient.

Pavlov, prior to the earlier catastrophe, had not been told what the true task of his forces was to be. Stalin was always a man who played his cards very close to his chest, and he would not tell Kirponos, or for that matter Eremenko, what he really expected of them. Zhukov, Budenny, and Timoshenko, however, were in a position to know Stalin's true intentions and thus Zhukov lost his position as chief of the general staff in late July and Budenny was sacked on September 11. Timoshenko, who had apparently agreed with Stalin in early September, would lose his nerve by September 13 and place Stalin under an intense strain. Stalin could have Pavlov shot, but Zhukov, Budenny, and Timoshenko were men of a different sort. Stalin could put them in their place, but he could not liquidate them.

What if the Germans continued their offensive in the south, through the eastern Ukraine, to the Donets Basin and the Caucasus? What if the entire southern flank of the Red Army were to be rolled up and the offensive against Moscow by Army Group Center postponed until the following spring? What if all the careful defensive preparations to the north, west, and south of Moscow, the massing of the strategic reserves around the capital, had all been for naught? How could the Soviet Union survive [265] without its industrial base in the south while Army Group Center remained intact east of the Dnepr, poised for a spring offensive against Moscow with the aid of three panzer groups? These were questions that Zhukov and the other generals must have put to Stalin, and for them he had no effective answer. His only hope must have been that the Germans would somehow choose to rupture themselves in a final assault on Moscow before the end of 1941. A vain hope, it would seem, after nearly all of Guderian's panzer group had been committed to the Ukraine in early September. If the XLVIth Panzer Corps had remained in Army Group Center, as Halder and Jodi wished, then Stalin's strategy would have seemed unquestionably correct to his generals. But as has been seen, Guderian had his way with Hitler on August 23, and all of his tanks were sent to the south except the 18th Panzer Division of the XLVIIth Panzer Corps, which Halder managed to retain in the rear near Roslavl as an Army Group reserve{36}. In this way, by mid-September, Stalin's plans were placed in extreme jeopardy, for it could not be certain that a German assault on Moscow would be carried out during the remainder of the year. As it turned out, what were probably the Soviet dictator's fondest dreams were realized.

On September 12 von Kleist unobtrusively sent his tanks across the Dnepr near Kremenchug, at a point a considerable distance downstream from Kiev. Panzer Group 1 then unleashed its fury against the 297th Rifle Division of the Russian Thirty-eighth Army and pushed north and east toward Khorol. As Guderian's units were already south of Romny, there could be no doubt about the German intentions (see Figure 40). Altogether on September 12 Army Group South had twenty divisions concentrated against the five rifle and four cavalry divisions of the Thirty-eighth Army on the southern flank of the Southwestern Front. There was no way now for that front to stop von Kleist; all available forces had been sent to the north in a futile effort to block Guderian{37}. North of Kiev, also, the situation had deteriorated badly during the previous two days. Under heavy pressure Potapov's Fifth Army had begun pulling back across the Desna, but when several divisions reached the river, it was discovered that the Germans already held the eastern bank. Some units, such as Moskalenko's XVth Rifle Corps, managed to cross the Desna south of Chernigov relatively unscathed, but for the most part, the Fifth Army suffered heavy [266] [Fig.40] [267] losses. The steadfastness of the Thirty-seventh Army around Kiev saved the Fifth Army from being cut off from the south{38}.

Now that the encirclement of Kiev and the entire Southwestern Front had become all but an accomplished fact, the front staff dispatched telegrams on the evening of September 13 presenting the situation in the gravest possible terms{39}. Somewhat later, in the early morning hours of September 14, the chief of staff of the front, Maj. Gen. V. I. Tupikov, on his own initiative sent a personal wire to Shaposhnikov that ended, "The catastrophe has begun and it should be obvious to you within a couple of days{40}". The chief of the general staff's reply, sent to both the front and directional commands, was immediate and harsh:

Major General Tupikov has sent a panicky report to the general staff. The present situation demands calmness and self-control at all levels of command. It is necessary not to yield to panic. It is important that all vital positions be defended, especially the flank areas. It is necessary to stop the retreat of Kuznetsov [Twenty-first Army] and Potapov [Fifth Army], It is vital to impress upon the entire staff of the front the need for continuing the battle. You must not look backwards, you must fulfill comrade Stalin's order of September 11{41}.

Shaposhnikov's answer was nothing less than a death sentence for the Southwestern Front. Now that two German panzer groups were actually linking up east of Kiev, there could be no question about the fate that was close at hand for the forces defending the middle Dnepr, yet faced with the indisputable fact that a disaster of enormous proportions was about to take place, Stalin and Shaposhnikov stood fast. The Southwestern Front would have to stand and fight, to die, in order to drain the Germans of material and deprive them of time-all in order to permit the deployment of the strategic reserve around Moscow to proceed unimpeded. But what if Hitler chose not to attack Moscow in 1941? Would all of Stalin's plans then collapse in ruins? Now that all of Panzer Group 2 had been sent to the Ukraine, it seemed as though Hitler had found the perfect antidote to the strategy that had proven so fruitful at Velikie Luki, Yelnia, Roslavl, and Gomel.

Since July, Stalin and Zhukov had been painstakingly preparing a strong defense of Moscow, a strategy that now appeared to be useless. Zhukov and Budenny believed that Army Group [268] South, strengthened by an additional panzer group, would have no trouble in overrunning all of the Soviet Union in the south up to the Volga, including the Caucasus. It was for this reason that they broke with Stalin and refused to agree with his adamant insistence not to allow a retreat of the Southwestern Front. Zhukov and Budenny could not accept a strategy that required that the 677,000 troops of the Southwestern Front be used in the same fashion as the three armies that had been sacrificed in the Bialystok salient. The first disaster had cost the Red Army about three hundred thousand casualties, a heavy price, yet not unbearable, but the prospective losses at Kiev might be intolerable. Unless the Germans chose to put around their own necks the noose that had been so carefully prepared for them around Moscow, there could be little hope of winning the war.

At the beginning of the Kiev catastrophe Stalin had relied on Shaposhnikov, Zhukov's replacement, and Timoshenko, Budenny's replacement, to do his bidding, but by September 15 Timoshenko also had begun to break under the strain. On that date the commander of the Southwestern Direction told Shaposhnikov in Moscow that he favored an immediate withdrawal for the front, an attitude that represented a complete reversal of the position he had taken on September 11 when he, Stalin, and the chief of the general staff had telephoned Kirponos and ordered his units to remain in place. The extent of Timoshenko's influence over Shaposhnikov at this point is uncertain, but the next day he returned to the Southwestern Direction headquarters near Poltava and called in I. Kh. Bagramian, chief of the Operations Staff of the Southwestern Front, for a conference{42}. At this conference, with N. S. Khrushchev also present, Timoshenko announced that a decision to allow the Southwestern Front to withdraw behind the Psel River would have to be made without delay while the enemy's ring of encirclement was not yet tight. After pacing the floor for a time, Timoshenko asserted that he was certain the Supreme Command would go along with such a decision, but there was simply no time to waste in securing confirmation from Moscow. Bagramian noted in his memoirs that Timoshenko appeared deeply troubled when he made this statement and obviously doubted the truth of what he had just said, as well he might, considering the language of Shaposhnikov's above-mentioned telegram. [269]

When he finally managed to get hold of himself, Timoshenko ordered Bagramian to fly to Piriatin and give Kirponos an oral command to "abandon the Kiev fortified region and, leaving covering forces along the Dnepr, to begin immediately the pullback of the main force to behind the rearward line of defense [along the Psel River]"{43}. Kirponos was also to be instructed not to attempt the withdrawal without first carrying out counterattacks in the Lubny and Romny areas in order to slow down Panzer Groups 1 and 2 as much as possible. There can be no question that Timoshenko lacked the authority to issue such an order, for it clearly violated Stalin's wishes. Hence he refused to give Bagramian any sort of written document, explaining to him that the flight would be very dangerous and no important written orders should be allowed to fall into enemy hands. Timoshenko was right on one point, the flight would be risky and the mission nearly came to grief when German patrol planes gave pursuit, but Bagramian was not fooled by the marshal's artificial excuses. Timoshenko could have been executed for contravening Stalin's orders and Bagramian could have shared his fate for relaying an unauthorized command. It was better not to incriminate oneself any more than necessary, so Timoshenko decided not to commit his order to paper. In the end, Timoshenko was not punished for his disobedience. The Southwestern Direction was abolished at the end of September, and he was made commander of the new Southwestern Front with the Fortieth and the recreated Twenty-first and Thirty-eighth armies{44}.

When the front chief of operations finally met with his commanding officer on September 17 in a forest grove north of Piriatin, Bagramian duly delivered Timoshenko's orders, but Kirponos decided not to act hastily. He asked Bagramian to produce a written command from headquarters. None existed, of course. Then, brushing aside Bagramian's objections, he chose to send a wire to Moscow requesting confirmation of the order instead of accepting his subordinate's word at face value. According to one Soviet general, this action by Kirponos was a fatal mistake{45}. Undoubtedly Timoshenko's order had come too late to save the bulk of the Southwestern Front, but the approval from the Supreme Command did not come for another full day, during the night of September 18 two days after the German encirclement of [270] Kiev had already occurred (see Figure 41){46}. Stalin had purposely delayed the withdrawal of the Southwestern Front until the German trap had been sprung. What appeared to Eremenko and Kirponos as uncertainty and procrastination and to the Germans as sheer stupidity actually was a desperate gamble on Stalin's part to win the war. The elimination of the Southwestern Front would cost the Germans much in terms of personnel, material, and time Stalin was now certain that the strategic reserve could be mobilized and deployed in strength around Moscow, but all would depend on the enemy's next move. Stalin's willingness to sacrifice the Southwestern Front may have been foolhardy, as Zhukov believed but if so, the Soviet dictator was easily surpassed in this respect by the German command. Guderian notes that Potapov, the commander of the Russian Fifth Army, was captured and that he himself had the opportunity to question him. When asked why his army had made no attempt to abandon Kiev until it was too late, the Russian general answered that such an order had been issued but later rescinded (presumably on September 11) and his forces were ordered to defend Kiev at all cost. Guderian and the other generals were amazed at this seeming ineptness on the Soviet side. Although wounded, Potapov survived the war, was freed by the Americans in 1945, and returned to Moscow{47}.

Despite the fact that by September 26 the Southwestern Front would largely cease to exist, some elements of the beleaguered armies did manage to escape eastward. A group of fifty men under Bagramian escaped to Godiach on September 24 Several thou sand soldiers of the Fifth and Twenty-first armies also made their way to safety, including five hundred men of the Twenty-first Army staff headed by Kuznetsov. The commander of the Twenty-sixth Army, Lt. Gen. F. la. Kostenko, also escaped with a large group, as did a cavalry unit with four thousand men led by A B Bonsov. Several corps commanders, including major generals K S. Moskalenko and A. I. Lopatin, evaded the German trap as well Kirponos and his staff, however, were not so lucky. They were all killed near Shumeikovo on September 20{48}. The Red Army had suffered its worst defeat of the war, but Guderian was right when he said that Kiev was only a tactical, not a strategic, victory even though the Russian losses had been enormous. The official German count of Russian prisoners taken around Kiev was 665,212 but Russian figures are in disagreement with this toll. According to [271] [Fig.41] [272] the Soviet official history, the Kiev Military District had 677,085 troops at the beginning of the war. Of this number 150,541 were in the rearward areas, beyond the encirclement, or were among those who managed to escape. The Soviets claim that since the Southwestern Front suffered heavy losses prior to September 26, the day the battles ended around Kiev, it is unlikely that more than 222,000 soldiers were actually taken prisoner. German losses before and during the battle of Kiev were also heavy. From June 22 to September 28 the Wehrmaeht suffered 522,833 casualties, or 14.38 percent of its total strength of 3.4 million. On September 26, the Organization Department of the general staff reported to Halder that the forces in the east lacked two hundred thousand replacements{49}.

The Wehrmaeht could perhaps have won a strategic victory in 1941 had the upper-level leadership been decisive and resolute in consolidating the German gains in the southern part of the Soviet Union, but this was not to be. In early September the German high command undertook the planning of an operation that was guaranteed to save Russia-an assault on a strongly fortified Moscow in the fall of 1941.

Guderian-Kiev And Moscow

Once Guderian had made his pact with Hitler regarding the inviolability of his panzer group, von Bock and Halder were powerless to control the situation. The operation east of Kiev would take place on Guderian's terms, with the use of nearly his entire panzer group, and there was nothing his superiors could do now that the panzer general had Hitler's backing. Jodi and Goring were, however, in a different position; they could influence Hitler to change his mind about Moscow, and the evidence shows that they were prepared to so do.

A major alteration in Hitler's mood became apparent during a conversation he had with Brauchitsch on August 30, a week after Guderian's coup at the conference in East Prussia{50}. The army commander in chief's talk with the fuhrer went so well that Halder could say that "all was again love and friendship. Now everything is fine." On August 22 Halder had been on the verge of handing in his resignation and on August 24 Guderian had practically provoked him into a nervous breakdown, but within a few days a thaw had become perceptible in Hitler's attitude. Brauchitsch was [273] informed by the fuhrer on August 30 that the strength of Army Group Center then operating in the Desna area should not be'em-ployed for the operation in the Ukraine but rather should be readied for action against Timoshenko in the direction of Moscow. It should be noted here that although Lt. Gen. I. S. Konev took over Marshal Timoshenko's command of the Western Front on September 11, subsequent German documents still referred to the Western Front as "Army Group Timoshenko"{51}. The forces on the Desna that Hitler and Brauchitsch discussed were the units of the XLVIth Panzer Corps that had been promised to Guderian on August 23. Hitler had begun to have second thoughts about releasing the XLVIth Panzer Corps to Guderian, for as Halder correctly pointed out, once these divisions were committed to such an operation they would be tied down for some length of time and it would be the enemy who would determine how and when they could be used again for other missions{52}. Guderian, however, would not relent so easily. No matter how much Hitler might vacillate or how hard Halder and von Bock might struggle against him, the panzer general was determined to have his way.

The role of Jodi in bringing about the gradual shift in Hitler's opinion regarding Moscow is not easy to trace. The chief of the Wehrmaeht Operations Staff had been convinced of the importance of taking Moscow ever since August 7, and although he had not always agreed with Halder on exactly how this task should be accomplished, nevertheless he had remained dedicated to the project (as his conversations with Halder and the studies produced by his department show). Jodi had found that his compromise with Halder over strategy had been brought to ruin on August 23, but he had not ceased to work to try to change Hitler's viewpoint. On August 31, Halder conferred with his chief of operations, Heusinger, and they discussed a telephone conversation that Halder had just held with Jodl{53}. The chief of the Wehrmaeht Operations Staff had referred to the Kiev operation as an "Intermezzo" and said that after the task in the south was fulfilled, the Second Army and Panzer Group 2 should be used against Timoshenko, perhaps in the second half of September. This possibility was also discussed with the view in mind that the northern wing of Army Group Center could be strengthened by some units from Army Group North. It is obvious that Halder was not wholly surprised at Jodl's breakthrough with the fuhrer. On [274] the previous day the OKH had dispatched an order to Army Group Center that declared that all units from Panzer Group 2 and the Second Army that crossed the Desna would come under the command of Army Group South, but it is clear from the way Halder phrased this command that he believed that not all of Panzer Group 2 would have to cross to the southern bank of the Desna{54}. Brauchitsch's talk with Hitler on August 30 seemed to give some substance to this desire. The information Halder received from Jodi the following day appeared to be even more encouraging, although the situation was still indefinite and the chief of the general staff had to tell Heusinger "these things are so unclear that we cannot give Army Group Center any concrete plans{55}".

Von Bock, however, had other sources of information, and he was not left in the dark about the shifts in position of the high command. During the afternoon of August 31, the same day that Halder conferred with Jodi, Kesselring appeared at Army Group Center headquarters with news that probably emanated from Goring{56}. Von Bock was informed that Hitler was considering halting the push southward of the Second Army and of Panzer Group 2 at the Nezhin-Konotop railroad and then allowing all of Army Group Center and part of Army Group North to move eastward toward Moscow. Kesselring advised the commander of Army Group Center that the OKH order of August 30 would now not be put into effect. Considering the problems that von Bock had been having with Guderian over the disposition of the XLVIth Panzer Corps, it is no wonder that he saw the change in orders as a chance to bring Guderian "back under rein."

After listening to Kesselring, von Bock immediately telegraphed Guderian and ordered his units to move no farther to the south or east than the line Borana-Bakhmach-Konotop{57}. But the forceful panzer general had ideas of his own. Guderian had given Hitler a promise that Panzer Group 2 would link up east of Kiev with Panzer Group 1 to destroy the Russian Southwestern Front, and he held to his promise. By fulfilling his end of the bargain, Guderian hoped that Hitler would keep his word and not allow his panzer group to be split. The panzer general had astonished von Bock on August 24 when he told the commander of Army Group Center, rather flippantly, how he had consented to Hitler's wishes and informed the flihrer that his panzer group could take part in the Kiev operation; in fact, he had insisted that all of his units be [275] sent to the Ukraine{58}. Now Guderian would continue to torment both von Bock and the OKH with constant requests for the release of "his" XLVIth Panzer Corps from Army Group Center. The chief of the genera) staff was prepared for big trouble from the panzer general, and on August 28 he cautioned von Bock to try to keep Guderian strictly under control{59}.

Guderian had first asked for the release of the XLVIth Panzer Corps from the OKH on August 26 and had received a flat refusal, even though he claimed the spearheads of his panzer group were running into heavy resistance in their push southward{60}. Failing in this approach, the panzer general then turned to Army Group Center on August 27, after the XLVIIth Panzer Corps crossed the Desna near Obolonie and Novgorod-Severskii. During the evening he repeatedly telephoned Greiffenberg, the army group chief of staff, and cursed the Second Army, which, he said, was marching in the wrong direction, that is, due east, perpendicular to his own axis of movement{61}. Guderian again demanded that the XLVIth Panzer Corps, then being held in reserve southeast of Smolensk, be sent immediately to rejoin the main part of his panzer group. Von Bock finally telephoned Halder for instructions, and they agreed, temporarily at least, to do nothing. The commander of Army Group Center referred to Guderian's request as "light headed" ("ieichtsinnig") because the 18th Panzer Division was located south of Roslavl, so far behind Guderian's front that he could not help but wonder what use the panzer general could make of it. Matters were complicated even more when Paulus appeared at Army Group headquarters on the evening of August 28. Paulus had been on a short visit to Panzer Group 2 and during this time he had been won over to Guderian's cause{62}. Halder's deputy now went so far as to telephone his chief in East Prussia and plead that, not only should the XLVIth Panzer Corps be returned to Panzer Group 2, but all of the Second Army should be turned to the south and be subordinated to Guderian's command. Halder's decision was emphatic:

I see the difficulties of the situation but this whole war is made up of difficulties. Guderian wants no army commander over him and demands that everyone in the High Command should yield to his limited point of view. Unfortunately, Paulus has been taken in by him, but I won't give in. Guderian agreed to this mission, now let him carry it out{63}. [276]

The next day, August 29, Guderian again repeated his demands, this time maintaining that the western flank of his XXIVth Panzer Corps was seriously threatened, but von Bock found this difficult to believe, because the panzer corps had already "incautiously" ("unvorsichtigerweise") reported to the Second Army that its flank was not in danger. Von Bock again contacted Halder for advice, but the chief of the general staff seemed to relish Guderian's predicament. Halder believed that Panzer Group 2 would soon be subjected to attacks from three sides and that Guderian would find himself in a great deal of trouble{64}. In order to ease the situation as much as possible for von Bock, and also to facilitate the splitting up of Panzer Group 2, the OKH issued the directive of August 30 (already mentioned) that would have subordinated the main part of Guderian's force to Army Group South. It was an order, however, that von Bock was happy not to have to put into effect. Kesselring's visit on August 31 had given him new hope that Moscow might once again become the main goal of the German advance. Halder, too, seemed to think things would again be brought onto what he considered the right track. When von Bock queried him about what he had heard from Kesselring about Moscow, the chief of the general staff replied, "I can't confirm it, but it has been talked about!{65}.

Despite the fact that the attacks on the Yelnia salient were growing in intensity and that on August 30 the 23rd Infantry Division of the VIIth Army Corps along the Desna front south of the salient suffered a rupture in its lines up to ten kilometers in depth, Guderian continued his demands for all of the XLVIth Panzer Corps to be sent to the south{66}. Von Bock was of the opinion that the penetration in the area of the 23rd Infantry Division had to be taken seriously and ordered the 10th Panzer Division of the XLVIth Panzer Corps to stand by for an immediate counterattack, which was indeed successfully launched the next day{67}. Although it is hard to imagine what the fate of the 23rd Infantry Division would have been without the timely aid of the 10th Panzer, on August 31 Guderian told the commander of Army Group Center that he would appeal directly to Hitler unless this panzer division and all other units of the XLVIth Panzer Corps were dispatched southward immediately. Halder was further infuriated by Guderian's cheek, which he labeled "unheard-of impudence"{68}.

When Halder and Brauchitsch called on von Bock on [277] September 2, the visit that led to the abandonment of the Yelnia salient, there was still a great deal of uncertainty about when the offensive against Moscow could be resumed{69}. Von Bock did not think that his Army Group could renew the offensive unless both Panzer Group 2 and the Second Army were turned toward the east and unless some help was also received from Army Group North. The situation was still unclear, since Guderian had succeeded in so thoroughly wrecking everyone's plans. Halder, Brauchitsch, and von Bock could all agree that Moscow should be taken before the winter of 1941, but as the commander of Army Group Center pointed out, "The Intermezzo, as General Jodi of the OKW referred to the turning of my right flank to the south, can cost us the victory"{70}. Until it was decided what to do about Guderian, and about Hitler, no definite plans could be made regarding Moscow. The consensus was that in any event another push toward the Soviet capital could not take place before the end of September.

When Halder returned to headquarters on September 4, he found, to his delight, that the prospects for the Moscow project looked a good deal brighter. Hitler had become very irritated with the way Guderian had carried out his drive to the south, especially his allowing the XLVIIth Panzer Corps to move far to the east of the Desna, causing a big gap to develop between his armored units and the infantry of the Second Army{71}. Keitel finally telephoned von Bock and said that Hitler would personally intervene to bring Guderian back farther west if neither Army Group Center nor the OKH would do so. By this time von Bock had become so fed up with Guderian that he asked Brauchitsch to replace him, but the panzer general still retained too much popularity with the fuhrer for this to be done{72}. Hitler had decided to allow Guderian to continue his movement southward to link up with Panzer Group 1, which would erupt from the Kremenchug pocket south of Kiev on September 12.

Nevertheless, Jodi and Goring had done their work well. Von Bock found out once more what Hitler's future strategy would be from Kesselring, who appeared at Army Group Center headquarters on September 6. In the words of von Bock: "How curious it is that I get all my news first from the Luftwaffe"{73}. Hitler was about to make what may well have been the most momentous decision of his life, a decision that would lead directly to the sharpest setback the German army had suffered since 1918 and a defeat of such [278] magnitude that it crippled Germany's chances for victory over the Soviet Union. By September 5 Hitler had become convinced that Russia could not be beaten unless Moscow were taken in 1941.

Shortly before 6:00 P.M. on September 5, Hitler summoned Halder for a conference and revealed to him his plans for the future:

1. The goal of encircling Leningrad had already been achieved; that sector would now become of "secondary importance".

2. The attack against Timoshenko (that is, the Russian Western Front guarding the shortest path to Moscow) could begin within eight to ten days. Army Group North would aid this attack by sending one panzer and two motorized divisions to Army Group Center. Some help could also be provided by Army Group North's Sixteenth Army.

3. After the conclusion of the battles in the Ukraine ("history's greatest battle"), Panzer Group 2 was to be turned north toward Moscow{74}.

This new plan, of course, suited Halder, for he still believed that Moscow was of primary importance if the war were to be won in blitzkrieg fashion, although he thought that the advance eastward could not possibly be resumed for at least three more weeks. That evening Halder conferred with Heusinger and Paulus about the plans for the coming operation. The order for the renewed Moscow offensive, which took the name Operation Typhoon, was issued by Hitler on September 6:

1. On the Central Front, the operation against the Timoshenko Army Group will be planned so that the attack can begin at the earliest possible moment [end of September] with the aim of destroying the enemy forces located to the east of Smolensk by a pincer movement in the direction of Viazma with strong concentrations of armor on the flanks.

2. On the Northeastern Front ... we must ... so surround the enemy forces fighting in the Leningrad area that by 15 September at the latest substantial units of the motorized forces and of the 1st Air Fleet... will be available for service on the Central Front. Before this, efforts will be made to encircle Leningrad more closely, in particular in the east, and should weather permit, a large-scale air attack on Leningrad will be carried out{75}. [279]

Goring had promised Hitler that the Luftwaffe could undertake the destruction of Leningrad, a promise that he felt was necessary after the air arm had failed to force England to its knees in 1940. The genesis of the idea that large metropolitan areas in the Soviet Union could be subdued with air power alone goes back to Hitler's conference with Halder on July 8; the idea was further developed in Directive 34 of July 30, which stated that the VIIIth Air Corps was to be transferred from Army Group Center to support Army Group North's advance on Leningrad{76}. Clearly, this was done with Goring's approval. On August 8, Hitler's press secretary. Otto Dietrich, released a statement for publication that said in part, "It is the first time in world history that a city of two million [Leningrad] will literally be leveled to the ground." This statement was made three days after the elimination of the Smolensk pocket and the capture of over 309,000 Russian prisoners, which no doubt contributed to the atmosphere of euphoria in the Reich's Chancellery. Later, on October 7, shortly after the commencement of Typhoon, an OKW directive signed by Jodi stipulated that large Soviet cities such as Leningrad and Moscow were not to be assaulted by infantry or tanks but rather were to be "pulverized" by air raids and artillery. The population of the large cities was to be impelled to flee into the interior of the country: "The chaos in Russia will become all the more pronounced and our administration and utilization of the occupied eastern lands will thus become easier. This desire of the fuhrer must be communicated to all commanders"{77}.

This was not the last time that Goring would overestimate the capabilities of the Luftwaffe; the next occasion would come in late 1942 and early 1943 during the battle of Stalingrad. In the summer of 1941 Hitler believed that the air force could neutralize Leningrad, and it was for this reason that he was willing to order the resumption of the Moscow offensive before the metropolis on the Gulf of Finland had actually fallen. That Hitler should have known better, that he should have realized the gravity of the situation should the Luftwaffe be unable to carry out its mission, seems all too clear in retrospect. But Hitler was too dependent on his closest advisors and he was under too much pressure from the [280] army generals to resist the temptation of Moscow in the early fall of the first year's campaign. Goring, like Jodi, had initially been against beginning the Moscow operation so soon, and this had had a telling effect on the fuhrer, but after Jodl's conversion on August 7 and after Goring's reeonsideration of strategy somewhat later. Hitler could not deny his generals any longer. On September 10 Kesselring visited von Bock and assured him that Hitler was strongly in favor of all available forces being concentrated against Moscow, including units from Army Group North{78}. By the end of the summer of 1941 Moscow had ceased to be a military target-or even a political or economic goal. The Soviet capital had taken on an air of magical enchantment, it had become the Lorelei that would lure unwary navigators to their death on the rocks.

Once the decision had been made to assault fortress Moscow, all else flowed from the disastrous mistakes that the German leadership had already made. The serious bloodletting at Yelnia had cost the German infantry of von Kluge's Fourth Army heavily, a factor that would become more evident as the fronts moved farther east. Also, the significance of Guderian's refusal to allow one panzer corps of his panzer group to remain behind near Smolensk while the rest of his units were sent to the Ukraine cannot be forgotten. Had the XLVIth Panzer Corps with the 10th Panzer Division, the SS division Das Reich and the infantry regiment Gross Deutschland remained in the Smolensk-Yelnia area, the battles at Yelnia and along the Desna might have turned out differently. Zhukov's reserves might have been mauled badly in trying to reduce the Yelnia salient, so badly that the defense of Moscow could have been seriously impaired. As it was, however, Guderian had his way, but by the end of September his armor had five hundred to six hundred kilometers to traverse before reaching Moscow instead of the three hundred kilometers that stretched between the capital and Yelnia. Had Moscow fallen in late 1941, the war would have been far from ended. It would have been better for the Wehr-macht to first conquer the south of Russia, then Moscow in the spring of 1942. By the early fall of 1941, however, German strategy had fallen between two stools. The German army could have taken all of the Ukraine or Moscow in 1941, but not both. After Hitler's change of mind about the Ukraine in September, however, and after Guderian's refusal to allow the splitting up of his panzer group, neither goal was attainable. The Red Army was too strong [281] to be so casually bent to its opponent's will. Stalin had done all he could to make Moscow impregnable, a task that might not have succeeded without Guderian's help.

The twin battles of encirclement at Briansk and Viazma in early to mid-October seemed to open the way to Moscow, but von Bock knew that other Russian reserves were positioned even farther to the east{79}. Hitler and the OKH had learned enough from the experiences of Bialystok-Minsk and Smolensk to know that close encirclements that afforded a good opportunity for cooperation between infantry and armor offered the best chance for success. The Briansk-Viazma operation produced spectacular results; the twin battles ended on October 19 with 657,948 Russian soldiers taken prisoner (see Figure 42){80}. But von Bock could sense the troubles that lay ahead. In his view, deeper panzer thrusts were needed in order to cut to the rear of the Russian fortifications and reserves massed to the west of Moscow. In all likelihood, however, such tactics would have led to a worse disaster for the Germans than actually occurred. In the first place, the pockets of surrounded Russians at Briansk-Viazma could not have been effectively contained had the German armored units been sent farther to the east. In the second place, deeper thrusts would have meant longer and more exposed flanks for the armor, dangers that Hitler and the OKH were no longer willing to risk. The toughness of the opponent, too, was obviously growing instead of becoming weaker. The fate of some of the prisoners captured at Briansk-Viazma illustrates why the Red Army would not surrender. On the march route back to a POW camp near Smolensk some five thousand prisoners were machine-gunned before they reached their destination. At Smolensk Camp 126 it is estimated that some sixty thousand Soviet prisoners were killed, mostly under the direction of SS "Special Commander" Eduard Geyss{81}. Why not fight to the death, what was there to lose?

The battle for Moscow in the winter of 1941-1942 did not end the war for Germany in the east, but this colossal defeat went a long way toward sealing the fate of the Wehrmacht. Although the battle served as dramatic proof that Germany's era of rapid victories had come to an end, the actual collapse of the blitzkrieg method of warfare had come during the struggles along the Dnepr River in the summer of 1941. The German high command had not been able to make its strategy and tactics conform to reality. The reality [282] [Fig.42] [283] of the battles at Smolensk-Yelnia, Gomel, Velikie Luki, and Kiev all pointed to the fact that the war would be a long trial. In the last analysis, however, no one in either of the two military command organizations was willing to take the final step and advise Hitler about the truth of the matter. The ultimate responsibility for Germany's debacle must belong to Hitler, but he should not shoulder this blame alone.

It can only be said that Stalin was right about Moscow, although the price he paid for the victory, the loss of the Southwestern Front, was fearful. Stalin had the ability to force his generals to bow to his will, a task that Hitler, by contrast, would not attempt, however halfheartedly, until Rundstedt, Brauchitsch, and Guderian were dismissed or resigned in November and December 1941. Clearly, much more must be learned about the mechanism of leadership of the Red Army during the war. On the surface it would appear that Russian leadership at the lower levels was inferior to the German, but at the higher strategical-political level, the Soviets were a long distance ahead of their antagonists. [284] [285]

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