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«Военная Литература»
Военная история

Chapter Six.

Army Group Center Destroys the Soviet Field Armies on the Road to Moscow in June and July 1941, Dragging a Reluctant Hitler Toward Victory

Point: "The situation supports the assumption that the enemy does not have sufficient forces left for a sustained defense of [White Russia]. This theory is borne out also by a Russian order, intercepted yesterday, to the effect that the Dvina River will be held only by groups concentrated at the crossings."

Chief of staff German army on 4 July 1941.
Franz Halder. The Haldei Diaries.

Point: "Only in one place on the eastern front-in front of Army Group Center-is the enemy really smashed,... Now is the time to attack with all of the mobile troops toward Moscow."

Commander of Army Group Center on 13 July 1941.
Fedor von Bock. Tagebuchnotizen Osten 1.

On the flanks in Russia, Army Groups North and South routed the opposing Soviet forces and allowed Generalfeldmarschall von Bock to push forward with Army Group Center uninhibited by lesser events. Unlike in the Baltic and Ukraine, where Germans were outnumbered by opposing Soviet field armies. Army Group Center was stronger than the powerful Soviet forces confronting it and by 2 July 1941 had smashed them. The two biggest pieces emerged as the Bialystok pocket, eliminated by 29 June 1941, and the pocket west of Minsk, which was near surrender by 2 July.

These pockets caught the attention of Adolf Hitler and reduced him to quavering concern over their sealing and elimination.{1} Hitler ordered strong lines of encirclement around the Soviet pockets and cautioned against sending the German armor east.{2} Almost perversely, with extraneous alarms, excursions, and halts. Hitler did more than any man to prevent the Germans from smashing the main concentration of the Soviet armed forces in front of Moscow. He attempted to ensure more certain half-successes in the early weeks of the war and did irreparable damage by preventing the Germans from fighting a timely, decisive engagement before the Soviet capital.

Army Group Center Defeats Both Hitler and the Russians at Bialystok and Advances Toward Moscow,


June, July 1941

In Barbarossa's opening encounters in the Bialystok-Minsk battles, Bock, Guderian, and Hoth formed the most effective offensive command team of the war. It was so effective from 22 June to 3 July that it not only routed the Soviet forces blocking the way to Moscow, but also won the first battle of Hitler in the Russian campaign-the battle to overcome Hitler's self-destructive fear of decisive victory. With political aggressiveness and daring that were unmatched in his generation, Hitler looked with contempt on the generals' cautions in the risky advances and narrowly averted wars in the Rhineland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. Once he found himself in war, he discovered that the politically timid generals included war-fighting lions whose military aggressiveness and daring were unexcelled.

After Bock and Hoth had considered the complexities and requirements of the Russian campaign, and until German seizure of the high ground northeast of Minsk on 26 June 1941, the two generals visualized Army Group Center executing the first great encirclement of the Russians all the way to Smolensk.{3} For boldness, daring, and fearlessness, the projected battle of decision has few peers in war. One can test the success of his move by asking if the panzer commanders were capable of the projected task. If the Germans had the technical capabilities to succeed, the greater human factor assuring success would be the self-confidence of the commanders, staffs, and troops. With Guderian and Hoth commanding the panzer groups, Bock may well have succeeded in an opening super-battle, and the answer to the question is a tentative yes. Major Klaus Graf von Stauffenberg provided a highly informative report on his visit to Guderian's group on 17 July 1941, when he noted: "Troops subject to great strain. Striking power is gradually diminishing, self assurance is continually growing."{4}

In projecting the first great battle all the way to Smolensk, Bock proved he could keep the battle at the necessary blitz pace beyond Minsk. Bock defeated the Soviets in the Bialystok and Minsk battles not so much by capturing 324,000 Russians and 2,500 tanks as by doing so decisively. Did it make a difference that Bock won decisively? Those Russians and tanks were the same whether taken vigorously or lackadaisically. Bock conceived a victorious drive through Smolensk into the Moscow-Gorki space and decisively extracted the bulk of his mobile troops from the encirclement and retained operational freedom for the panzer groups to drive on to Moscow. Bock won at Bialystok and Minsk while simultaneously moving toward Moscow on 3 July 1941.{5} He presented Germany on that fateful Thursday with the immediate collapse of the Soviet Union. While Hitler fixed on the fanatical resistance of the Russians in the pockets and probably slept fitfully,{6} perhaps imagining Russians jumping over fences and escaping, Bock ordered his mobile forces to converge on the high ground east of Smolensk.

With the elimination of the Bialystok-to-Wolkowysk pocket, the near capture of the Novgorod-to-Minsk pocket, and the resumption of the attack to the east by the panzer groups on 3 July 1941, the Germans completed the first phase of the planned lightning war against the Soviet Union. Under Hitler Directive Number 21 for the attack on the Soviet Union or the very different directive issued by Army Group Center, the Germans had achieved decisive success, maintaining a blitz schedule and breaking up the Soviet field armies in White Russia.{7} In the Hitler directive. Army Group Center had the task of "routing the enemy forces in White Russia," making it possible for strong mobile formations to advance northwards and, in conjunction with Army Group North, destroy enemy forces in the Baltic area. The Bock directive for Army Group Center directed the immediate destruction of the Soviet forces in White Russia, seizure of the Smolensk land bridge in the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, and continuation of the drive for Moscow. The success of both Army Group Center and Army Group North by 3 July brought both the Hitler directive and the Bock directive (representing essentially the German army position) on the campaign in the east into enough congruence to keep the German offensive moving at a blitz pace. They focused on a single decisive objective-the Moscow-Gorki space and the forces massing to defend it. Bock had been so successful by 3 July, and Army Group North had also done so well, that even Hitler with his nervous urge to dissipate the drive of the Army Group Center could not divert Bock from moving toward Moscow.

Bock fought a furious battle with Hitler and Halder to continue the drive to the east. Halder noted as late as 2 July that success measured in large numbers of prisoners had to be shown the Fdh-rer to allow continued movement east. Halder explained that Hitler did not feel that success would develop and asked, "Where are the prisoners?" Frustrated, Bock replied he had already locked up more than 100,000-which was not a trifle-and the number growing daily. He exclaimed, "Haven't the colossal amounts of material been reported to the Fuhrer?" He noted that on 2 July they had already waited too long to move out from Minsk and pleaded with Halder not to let Hitler stop the panzer divisions.{8}

The Soviets In Extremis:


Stalin and the Communist Party Call for a Great Patriotic War

As the Germans pressed on toward Moscow on 3 July 1941, Josef Stalin called on the Russian people to participate in a great patriotic war against the invading Germans. It is tempting to generalize that Army Group Center's drive toward Moscow was so successful and menacing that Stalin was forced at the highest level of political strategy to extract the national (bourgeois) energies of the Russian people to defend the world's leading socialist state. Stalin was impressed by the German drive to Minsk when he made the decision to fight a national, patriotic war and was probably also impressed by his own decision as the Germans moved out again with their mobile forces toward Moscow on 3 July. Less than two weeks later, the Soviets would implant war commissars in every regiment, division, staff, and training and materiel command of the Soviet armed forces. War commissars were civilian communists. responsible for the political loyalty of the Soviet armed forces. They countersigned every order issued and signed by military commanders, down to regimental or equivalent level.{9} These Soviet actions paralleled extravagant lies about Germans shooting all military prisoners and deserters and were correlated with Soviet shooting and maiming of German prisoners, so commonplace as to suggest policy. The Soviets launched tactically senseless attacks and accepted catastrophic losses to slow the Germans and convince their people that they could halt the invader. The actions support a view that the Communist party considered its political and military situation in July 1941 as in extremis.

At this crucial juncture. Hitler had the initiative in the war and the ability to render the military decision to end it successfully. One man launched the Germans into the Second World War in Europe; one man positioned the Germans to win the war in Europe through his timely political decision to invade Soviet Russia, and now he could win or lose by his military decision in July 1941. Hitler had played his politico-strategic cards brilliantly in 1939-1941 by his unexcelled political press into one campaign after another, each contributing to a better position for Germany in a final showdown with the Soviet Union. Even the controversial Balkans campaign removed any realistic chance that the British could rekindle a land war on the continent during Barbarossa. Politically, Hitler committed Germany to a war against the Soviet Union under extremely favorable circumstances-a one-front war during the planned duration of approximately six to seventeen weeks and a timely struggle that prevented further Soviet military buildup,

With the War Won in the East, Hitler Lapses Into a Fortress Mentality

Having decided to commit Germany to a short war against the Soviet Union, Hitler faced a problem akin to putting the fabled bell around the cat's neck. Although the metaphor is strained-Hitler and Germany are unlikely mice and the Soviet Union a somewhat weak cat-it illustrates the abused relationship among politics, war, and the armed forces in any state. Hitler, the pohtical leader of Germany, had plunged the state into a war with the Soviet Union, in accordance with Clausewitz's dictum that war is the continuation of politics by other means. In effect, having decided to establish German hegemony over Europe by defeating the Soviet Union, Hitler now needed the army and the military operations to succeed. Hitler's war, a political decision against the Soviet Union, could succeed politically only through military victory. It was a decisive political idea to bell the Soviet cat, but it could be placed only by the German army.

Unlike political questions of why, where, and when to fight wars, winning wars revolves almost entirely around military means and military strategy. Wars are politically determined but once begun are the province of armed violence and the uncertainty and chance associated with violence. Once a civilian government has determined to use the logic of war to achieve its political policy, it must employ military grammar effective enough to win. By 3 July 1941, Hitler had planned and executed a war against the Soviet Union, but did the grammar on which he now depended for success promise victory? The German army had the numbers, qualities, position, direction of advance, and time to win against the Soviet Union,{10} but the strategy controlling events from that point on was coming up for final determination.

Since 4 February 1938, Hitler had worn two hats, one political and one military, as head of state and commander of the armed forces. From July 1940 to June 1941. he intruded into the military planning for Barbarossa and diluted the army plan presented to him on 5 December 1940 into the indecisive half-measure of 18 December. In accordance with the more decisive army plan for defeating the Soviet Union, Bock moved out Army Group Center on 3 July 1941 to seize the high ground northeast of Smolensk and continue the drive against the remnants of the Red Army defending Moscow. At the same time. Hitler continued his own strategy of time-consuming half-measures on the flanks, a military strategy out of keeping with his political goal of a short war against the Soviet Union.

Well before the Russian campaign. Hitler had developed a style of strategic military thinking that could be described as a fortress mentality-stubborn concern with the securing of areas contiguous with fortress Germany. The term is useful to characterize his military thinking about the Russian campaign, but it also describes his pattern of military leadership beginning with decisions from the end of the Polish campaign to the ena of the war. An important example of Hitler's fortress orientation in strategy before Barbarossa was his insistence in October 1939 on an immediate attack in the west. Hitler was seized by fear that the Allies were planning a preemptive military occupation of Belgium,{11} and he reacted by ordering a great general attack.{12} The general staff, still unaware of the enormous potential of the mobile divisions and the tactical air force,{13} and facing difficult problems of redeployment and late autumn campaigning weather after Poland, saw little chance of a successful advance in 1939.{14} Hitler stubbornly insisted on an attack in the west that he intended primarily to secure Belgium. This style of great, general attack with hmited goals would repeat itself in the Russian campaign.

In 1940, well before the campaign in the Soviet Union had begun, Hitler was transfixed by the importance of Leningrad and started to devise a military strategy for seizing that city.{15} In the months before Barbarossa, he also began to harp on the importance of the Don River basin and the Crimea, noting the raw materials and industrial plants of the former and the strategic location of the latter. The Germans would have to take Leningrad early in any successful campaign against the Soviet Union, but taking that city would not cause the collapse of the Soviet Union. Its fall would give Germany control over the sea communications in the Baltic. Seizure of the second largest industrial city in the Soviet Union would be an impressive achievement but not equal to the defeat of the Soviet Union or the focus of a vast but short campaign in the east. Yet, in late March 1941, in discussions with his higher military commanders in Berlin, Hitler stated, "The Panzer Armies' push on Leningrad is to be regarded as the ideal solution of the strategic problem."{16} Halder referred to such statements as "the same old refrain,"{17} and they show that Hitler never intended to win the war in Europe immediately and decisively. In the planning for Russia, this fortress mentality comprises the Leningrad syndrome-a rejection of the grand risk of the immediate seizure of Moscow and flight to the more assured but still uncertain half-success of Leningrad.

Army Group Center Advances Toward Moscow and Victory over the Soviet Union

To compound a developing set of contradictions, in his Barbarossa directive Hitler had approved the concentration of German strength in Army Group Center to rout the Soviet forces in White Russia while advancing on Moscow. German army planners had accurately pinpointed Moscow as the confluent focus of the Soviet nation, which it could not afford to lose and would be forced to defend with its main armed forces. The same planners had been disabused by Hitler's Barbarossa directive but assumed until 3 July 1941 that Army Group Center would be given the green light to move on Moscow. Privy to the Barbarossa directive of Hitler and OKW and the army order of OKH with its halt of Army Group Center to allow mobile forces to seize Leningrad, Bock makes no mention of a possible diversion in his Army Group Center order for Barbarossa.{18} At the high level of leadership of Panzer Group 3, Hoth makes the astounding comment that he assumed-based on his orders from Army Group Center-that the only objective of Panzer Group 3 and Army Group Center was the destruction of the Soviet forces defending Moscow and its capture.{19}

As Panzer Groups 2 and 3 (now organized under a new headquarters designated 4th Panzer Army) moved out from Minsk on 3 July 1941, followed by the 2d and 9th Armies, the German rank and file believed they were headed singlemindedly for Moscow. At the same time. Brauchitsch (the only senior to Bock in the army chain of command). Bock, and Halder hoped that Army Group Center would continue its spirited drive into the courageous but disintegrating Soviet armies and reach Moscow by the end of August 1941. Simultaneously, with his staff having no influence on him, Hitler operated under the premise that he would halt Army Group Center after it seized the Smolensk land bridge and, in yet a further twist, redirect the largest elements south to ensure control of the eastern Ukraine and Crimea. Explaining these circumstances recasts the existing interpretation of the Second World War in Europe into more realistic propositions and clarifies the Soviet achievement. It also highlights the full potential of modern lightning war from 1939 to 1941 and more dearly exhumes facets of the giant historical figure, Adolf Hitler.

Strong cases can be made for German victory over the Soviet Union in summer 1941. Directed politically by Hitler to defeat the Soviet Union in a quick military campaign, the German army, dominant service of the German armed forces, planned to do exactly that.{20} It is difficult to believe that, with the collective experience it brought to bear on an attack against the Soviet Union, the German army could have deluded itself into making an attack that had little chance of success. The army was a determined proponent of war games, especially since the First World War,{21} and played them at theater, army group, held army, and panzer group levels during planning and concentration for Barbarossa. These games confirmed that the German army could quickly defeat the Soviet armed forces. Every game played by OKH and subordinate army units was based on the assumption of an uninterrupted drive by Army Group Center on Moscow, and the Soviet armed forces' then being forced to fight with reversed fronts in the Baltic and Ukraine. German forces would also use the Moscow communications net against them. The German war games showed the Germans successfully carrying out the advances necessary to capture Moscow. During the campaign, Army Group Center advanced in accordance with the army plan for the first five weeks of the war, evidence that the advances played out in the games by competent, battle-tested professionals would match advances actually achieved in combat against a determined enemy.

In the first phase of Barbarossa, from 22 June to 3 July 1941, Hitler and the Russians had done everything possible to slow the forward progress of Army Group Center, but it had been difficult to restrain. The Germans had achieved tactical and operational surprise along the entire frontier. Every bridge on the Bug River-and on the entire river frontier between Germany and the Soviet Union-was taken intact.{22} On the first day of the war (approximately 0305-2200, 22 June 1941) 1,811 Soviet aircraft were shot down or destroyed on the ground according to Luftwaffe daily reports.{23} Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring rejected these claims as exaggerated and ordered an investigation by damage teams and observers into the areas hit on the first day to prevent subsequent embarrassment to the Luftwaffe. The investigation revealed that the number of Soviet aircraft destroyed was actually higher than the compiled reports, approximately 2,000 aircraft.{24} During the same period, the Germans lost approximately 17 aircraft to enemy action,{25} representing an astonishing exchange ratio of 123 Soviet aircraft to 1 German. The Germans achieved air supremacy along the front of Army Group Center, adding an another potentially decisive element to support its advance toward Moscow.

The Most Important Operational Question for the Germans In the Attack on the Soviet Union

The most important operational question of the projected war against the Soviet Union is one infrequently discussed in existing literature. It was whether the Red Army would disengage from the Germans along the border and reengage at a time and place of its own choosing, deep in the hinterland. The question was crucial because had the Soviets disengaged opposite Army Group Center, dropping off powerful rear guards to slow the Germans, they would have retired intact to the great natural obstacles of the Dvina and Dnieper rivers.

The escape of Soviet forces opposite Army Group Center was the great fear of both Hitler and the army. The escape would have been a disaster for Hitler, considering his deep-seated fear of missing those half-measures, exemplified by the quick seizure of Leningrad, He was determined to achieve those half-successes by multiple diversions of Army Group Center in three directions after it destroyed the Soviet field armies west of the upper Dnieper. Had it been forced to engage Soviet field armies that had retired unscathed to the Dnieper and Dvina, Army Group Center would not have been available for diversion to Leningrad or the Ukraine. For Army Group Center, Soviet escape would have been a disaster because it would confront intact Soviet field armies behind natural defenses 500 km inside the Soviet Union. The Germans would have had scant chance of breaking through these defenses to reach Moscow quickly with the mobile divisions of Army Group Center. They would have been forced to wait for the horse-drawn, foot-marching infantry armies en route to the upper Dvina and Dnieper rivers. These armies would require two weeks just to march there without resistance from Soviet rear guards. They also would need time to prepare for an attack against an enemy with no flanks, with at least three weeks to prepare the area for defense, with reserves and levies fed from the interior to reinforce the frontier armies.

In- the great war game run by Bock on 9 and 10 April 1941 in Posen, where Army Group Center headquarters lay disguised as an eastern area defensive command, he, his staff, and senior commanders agreed that a quick victory over the Soviets would be chancy if the Soviets traded space for time and made their first stand on the upper Dnieper.{26} Not knowing what Soviet strategy would be, the German leadership determined that the panzer groups would have to move rapidly in anticipation of the worst case, to prevent the escape of major Soviet forces trying to disengage under predetermined strategy. In his dairy. Bock notes as the high point of his entry for 22 June 1941, "The question of whether the Russians planned to get away was not yet to be answered."{27} The OKH was equally concerned, and Halder agonized for two days, noting darkly on 23 June 1941 that all the reports to that time "indicate that an enemy attempt at disengagement must be expected." He added, "Army Group North even believes that the enemy may have made this decision as far back as four days ago."{28} Then, on 24 June 1941, Halder wrote: "Generally speaking it is now clear that the Russians are not thinking of withdrawal but are throwing in everything they have to stem the German invasion.{29} The assistant operations officer of Army Group Center, instrumental in setting up the April 1941 war game, noted even more emphatically: "We were astonished, in the war that the Russians fought on the border.{30}

Uncertain whether the Soviets would run for it, trade space for time, or fight and trade casualties for space and time, OKH and Army Group Center sketched out the battle for White Russia. Somewhat optimistically, but accurately as events proved, the army assumed that it could outrun the Soviets and pondered where to complete the encirclement, creating the first great Kessel in the east. Bock's problem of the campaign was whether the Soviets would run or fight, but within that heavy uncertainty he saw the great initial decision was where to encircle the Russians in White Russia. At OKH, Brauchitsch and Halder with similar concern had decided by late March 1941 that the destruction of the Soviet forces in White Russia would follow an encirclement at Minsk.{31} Bock and his remarkable panzer group leaders, Guderian and Hoth, personified the energy and will to defeat the Soviets, and they were uncomfortable with the decision. Bock believed the encirclement at Minsk would allow the Russians who escaped to set up the defenses that the Germans were so anxious to avoid on the Dvina and Dnieper.

Bock and Hoth favored the possibility of only incidentally smashing the enemy west of the rivers and driving immediately into the area east of the upper Dvina and Dnieper.{32} That drive promised to put all the Russians fighting in White Russia in the bag while simultaneously blocking a Russian stand on the rivers. Bock glimpsed in that advance a pace of operations that would disintegrate the Soviet field armies, cut off their escape into the hinterland, and prevent the buildup of any significant defensive front before Moscow. The strategic possibilities of the drive were enormous, and had the Germans been successful in an initial drive, they would have reached the area around Smolensk only nine days into the campaign. The disruption of Soviet command and control would have incalculably great consequences, implying rapid Soviet military collapse before Moscow. Still, the Germans would have difficulty providing the ammunition and probably also the fuel for the panzer groups.{33} The Germans also would have monumental problems capturing the Soviets in the super- Kessel notwithstanding the disruption of the Soviet rear area and probable fragmentation of the withdrawing enemy field armies.

At OKH, Brauchitsch and Halder held firmly to the Minsk encirclement, and the war-winning possibilities of the wider drive remain, of course, conjectural. However, it is not conjecture that Bock and Hoth, setting their sights on operational targets far beyond Minsk, were successful in achieving them despite determined but disorganized Soviet resistance and the overweaning restraining influence of Adolf Hitler.

The Soviets Commit the Red Army to the Defense of Moscow; 22 June-27 July 1941

Toward the end of March 1941, thus, as OKH decided to link up the two panzer groups of Army Group Center at Minsk, Bock railed at the limited scope of the encirclement and voiced concern about maintaining the advance to the east after the two panzer groups set the outer lines of encirclement.{34} Bock, not lacking self-confidence, was genuinely dismayed when the army leadership would not opt for a greater victory on the frontier. From 22 June to 16 July, the divisions of Army Group Center would take Minsk and Smolensk. They stood on the latter date with the morale, logistics, weapons, and advanced position to destroy the shattered Soviet forces before them. The Soviets lay operationally helpless in White Russia, essentially incapable of launching attacks or conducting defensive operations under adequate control. This devastating situation has remained obscure because Soviets under general, desperate orders to stop the Germans launched numberless local attacks, which eventually merged into the self-imposed German halt beyond Smolensk. The hiatus stretched to an extravagant seventy-eight days and led some historians to misconstrue that "Russian resistance stiffened" and the "exhausted" Germans took the time to recover and only then press on toward Moscow.

Army Group Center inflicted casualties and havoc on the opposing Soviet forces from 22 June to the end of July 1941 that are difficult to exaggerate. The Soviets moved most of their armed forces opposite Bocks's army group with instructions to halt the Germans, prevent the loss of Moscow, and disregard casualties. By 19 July, the Soviets had situated their defensive forces in a way that reflects the striking power of German Army Group Center and its successes on the Central front. Between 22 June-19 July 1941, the Soviets had committed the following forces to defend the state:{35}

Table 1. Red Army Forces Committed to the Defense of the Soviet Union (22 June-19 July 1941)
German Front Infantry Divisions Tank Divisions Mechanized Brigades {36} Cavalry Divisions Totals
North 46 7 2 1 56
Central 123 24 10 3 160
South 74 23 1 5 103

Table 1 shows that the Soviet leadership had committed most of the Red Army division- and brigade-level formations against German Army Group Center. From the beginning, the Russians had fought almost instinctively for every foot. The Communist army commissars reinforced the instinct by compelling resistance regardless of the tactical situation or losses to maintain control and prevent the distintegration of forces held together initially by iron disciphne. Psychologically shocked and physically displaced by the German advance, and without effective control over their divisions, the Soviet corps and army headquarters enforced a formula of movement to the sound of guns and unquestioned, immediate attack against the advancing Germans. The capacity of the Russians to absorb losses, the strengths of the commissar system in enforcing discipline, the impracticality of coordinating significant disengagement, and the lack of space to survive against the mobile enemy led the Soviet high command to make a virtue of the inflexible dictum to hold on to every inch of Russian soil.

Of the German army groups. Army Group Center made the most dramatic advance and attracted the most Soviet forces. It also advanced directly on Moscow. The Soviet government policy of holding every inch of territory forced it to defend the capital, and once committed, the government could give it up only at risk of losing credibility with its people. If a tough dictatorship could not defend the Soviet capital, approximately 1,000 km from the German border. it could scarcely hope to force the Russian people to resist farther to the east against an obvious winner.{37}

Moscow was the communications and transportation plexus of European Russia and the core of a surrounding area accounting for more than 18 percent of the industrial production of the Soviet Union.{38} Independently of the political and psychological shock associated with losing Moscow, these factors would have forced the Soviets to defend it. This defense would have presented the German army with the opportunity to destroy the Red Army west of that great city. By 19 July 1941, the Soviets had poured in 160 division-level formations to halt Army Group Center, which had started the war with a strength of fifty-one divisions, only modestly exceeding that number in later months, and then including three rear "security divisions."{39}.

What was the result of the Soviet bid for political and military survival after the Soviet high command committed to combat the bulk of its armed forces? Army Group Center had advanced 650 km into the Soviet Union (along the route of advance of Panzer Group 2) and destroyed or severely punished (schweranzuschlagen ) and removed from the front approximately 114 Soviet division-level formations, which had inserted themselves between the army group and Moscow. Based on wireless interceptions, captured maps, orders, and prisoner interrogation, the 4th Panzer Army, deployed along almost the entire front of Army Group Center, reported that it was in combat against "about 35 infantry divisions and 9 panzer divisions" on 19 July 1941.{40} Army Group Center had become an insatiable consumer of Soviet divisions and Russian space. Virtually any analysis by 19 July 1941 would have had to forecast annihilation of most Soviet armed forces and the impending seizure of Moscow. Bock's army group was not held up by excessive losses. On 16 July 1941, the day it captured Smolensk, it had suffered a modest 43,000 casualties.

How had this come to pass, and what details can flesh out the picture sketched above? The German army achieved complete tactical and operational surprise against immensely powerful Soviet ground and air forces strategically massed to take advantage of any opportunity offered by the war between Britain and Germany. Attacking out of the edge of darkness into the first twilight of 22 June 1941, the Germans caught the Soviets at the tactical level asleep in and around barracks, out of bunkers, and without ammunition for combat.{41} In peacetime, ammunition, even for infantry weapons, is kept out of the hands of troops due to the danger of accidental bring. As the first day wore on, the Russians, comprising the overwhelming majority of the Soviet peoples, fought with characteristic tenacity in prepared defenses and determined attacks that would characterize their combat style for the war. Similarly, the Germans would attack with matchless elan based on individual initiative and a flexible sense of the general mission to be accomplished in any combat situation. In Army Group Center, German infantry would march and fight 40 km into Lithuania and White Russia,{42} and the armored spearheads would drive 80 km by midnight of the first day. These deep advances splintered the Soviet telephone communications network, displaced command centers. broke up Soviet army formations, and caused a breakdown of command and control in the Soviet army on the central front. Opposite Army Groups North and South, relatively stronger Soviet forces held together more effectively except for the extraordinary advance of the 8th Panzer Division, 56th Panzer Corps, in the north, which presented the Germans with an unforseen opportunity-immediate penetration to Leningrad.

Stubborn Courage of the Russian Soldier


Despite the Germans' Taking Three Million Prisoners

On the darker side, in the first hours of the campaign, without similar provocation. Red Army soldiers committed atrocities against German ground and air force personnel. The accounts of murder, mutilation, and maiming come entirely from German sources but are so general, from so many different observers and commentators, and in so consistent a pattern as to be exempt from serious question.{43} In the second volume of his memoirs. Manstein comments, "On this very first day of the war... our troops come across, a German patrol which had been cut off by the enemy.... All of its members were dead and gruesomely mutilated."{44} He added that he and his aide, who spent much time on the road in un-deared territory, agreed they would never allow the Russians to capture them alive-an astounding comment by a General der Infanterie (equivalent to a three-star American general). Manstein also commented that in a counterattack made by his troops on 28 June 1941 near Dvinsk, his men recovered the bodies of three wounded officers and thirty men who had been overrun the previous day in a field dressing station. All the wounded Germans bad been mutilated and killed by their captors.{45} German units from every army group reported this pattern of behavior.{46} The Russian actions have been muted by the Allied victory in the war, the activities of the German General SS Sicherheitsdienst (security service) units in systematically searching out and killing Jews in the Soviet Union, and the enormous casualties incurred by the civilian population and armed forces in the east.

Killing captured and often wounded Germans was so pervasive that it raises the question of whether it was an inherent, spontaneous characteristic of the Russians, who dominated the field armies, or part of a systematic policy by the Soviet Communists to encourage resistance and maintain control over the Red Army. Since German units discovered incidents from the first day of the campaign, before commissars and selected officers could have been carrying out an officially encouraged policy, it is tempting to generalize that the unprovoked mutilation and killing was an intrinsic characteristic of the Russian and the social conditions under which he lived.{47} Also, overzealous commissars and some military officers directed the killings to encourage fanatical resistance, suggesting that the Germans were committing similar acts, and to incite similar, self-defeating German reaction.

Shortly after the war began, German combat units reported incidents that seemed staged for the brutalizing effects on the perpetrators, perhaps even as a psychological ploy to control the troops by threatening to reveal the killings to the Germans should they attemp to surrender under future German attacks.{48} On 30 June 1941 reconnaissance troops of the German 64th Motorized Rifle Regiment in the Ukraine found six "missing in action" from the regiment. The Soviets had maimed, mutilated, and then killed the Germans, and arranged the bodies in a circle about ten meters in diameter.{49} This and similar incidents indicate that some killings were staged for effect and had become part of a conscious Soviet policy to foment psychological conditions to keep their troops in the fight.

Soviet political commissars and officers told their troops from the start that the Germans would shoot all Soviet soldiers who either surrendered in battle or deserted later. The Soviets realized enormous effects from their conscious policy of claiming the Germans would shoot all their prisoners. The Germans interrogated large numbers of Soviet prisoners in Barbarossa and found that these factors virtually excluded all others addressing the tenacious resistance of the Russian soldier. Soviet political commissars and commanders commonly shot Russian soldiers unwilling or slow to move forward in attacks and those showing signs of surrender or desertion in defensive situations in bunkers and field fortifications.{50} The Russian soldier lived in an unenviable psychological state, knowing he would be shot if he hesitated to attack or wavered on defense, believing he would be shot by the Germans if he surrendered, and confronting death in combat as an uncomfortable third alternative.

The Germans achieved remarkable results with surrender passes dropped by air over and in the rear of the Soviet lines. The passes apparently nullified the intense fear of the Russian soldier that the Germans would shoot him. Once they had the surrender leaflets, the Russian troops tended to desert in large numbers{51} and shoot their commanders and commissars who attempted to force them to fight in hopeless situations.{52} The intelligence officer, German 6th Army in the Ukraine, noted in his report of 8 July 1941 that the previous day the army had taken "about 2300 prisoners, the greater part deserters coming across with air-dropped safe conduct passes."{53} The leaflets were a most effective antidote to the fear of immediate shooting that the Soviet soldier had been manipulated into believing awaited him at the hands of the Germans. Observing Soviet prisoners taken in the Ukraine after tenacious resistance, Germans noted-with intriguing insight-that the prisoners exhibited no sign of bitter disappointment or sullen anger at being prisoners, rather undisguised elation in escaping their own leaders and not being shot by the Germans.

Psychological research conducted in the First World War on the western front among soldiers immediately after they had been taken prisoner showed that, generally, they were euphoric at having been released from the fear of death in combat. Soviet prisoners probably showed the similar effect, intensified by their release from the additional fear of Draconian punishment. The observations on the deserters, as reported by the Germans in the Ukraine, go a long way toward explaining the apparent contradiction between verifiable, tenacious, Russian resistance and equally verifiable Russian prisoners in the millions.

The Russians also surrendered without air passes in great numbers out of the Kessein created by the German advance as late as October 1941. In these encirclements and other engagements, the Russian soldier displayed definite levels of tolerance for German pressure, being particularly affected by simultaneous artillery fire and air attack.{54} Russian prisoners, from general officer to private ; soldier, also voiced respect for the great volume of fire the Germans generated with their bipod-mounted MG-34 light machine guns in the infantry squads.{55} The Germans also employed the guns mounted on tripods in machine gun battalions, an interesting holdover from the First World War for special defensive situations against the Russians. In the last great encirclement in Barbarossa-the double encirclement of Vyasma and Bryansk in October 1941-Army Group Center claimed in its summary of the completed battle that it had taken 673.098 prisoners.{56} Most of these prisoners surrendered under pressure of German gunfire and air attack, but only after tough resistance.

A German lieutenant commanding a light infantry gun platoon of the 67th Infantry Regiment, 23d Infantry Division, wrote an instructive account of the battle from the front line and the psychology of the Russian in combat.{57} Breaking through Soviet lines И west of Vyasma, his division moved close to that city to join with other German divisions encircling vast Soviet forces cut off by the linkup of German panzer forces farther east. The lieutenant, with his infantry cannons, supported a German infantry company fighting against strong Soviet forces trapped in one of the large forests near Vyasma. He remembers vividly the fanatical resistance of the Russians in the forests, where great underground bunkers had been constructed. They refused to give up or to give much ground, and the Germans took virtually no prisoners in a battle that seemed endless. The lieutenant noted that in the early evening of the sixth day of battle, at the edge of the forest, the Russians suddenly began to surrender, inundating the single company he was supporting with the astonishing total of approximately 5,000 prisoners. Although the Germans were engulfed in Russians, the lieutenant remarked: "They had no fight left in them.{58}

This comment is particularly revealing of the strengths and weaknesses of the Russian soldier because the lieutenant referred to Soviet troops whom the Germans had allowed to regain their composure. In the earlier Bialystok-Minsk and Smolensk battles, the Germans established and maintained a pace that kept the Soviets off balance. The Russian soldiers fought tenaciously, especially in prepared positions, and attacked with determination, especially when given time to understand orders and rehearse the particulars of an assault. The Russian soldier rarely counterattacked at the tactical level, a style demanding initiative, and preferred to defend himself stubbornly from his individual position in accordance with orders to hold to the last round. In lower and intermediate commands. Soviet officers preferred to follow orders to the letter and adopt rigid formulas for their own operations. Major attacks by those commanders were carried out with great determination and even dash, including, for example, troops in trucks alongside tanks in the attack, firing from their vehicles, recorded by German units in the Ukraine on several occasions in June and July 1941. Thus, the Soviets found themselves at a severe disadvantage against the Germans in the Bialystok-Minsk and Smolensk battles. The Russian combat soldier was surprised by the speed and direction of the German advances, often surrendering when surprised tactically. Allowed to regain his composure, the Russian would often fight stubbornly to the death in improbable tactical situations in which the Germans took few casualties while inflicting disproportionally heavy losses on the Soviets.

In the great cauldrons, the Soviets were sometimes the attackers for significant periods. Under these desperate circumstances, the Soviet command ordered attacks carried out rigidly, with great determination by the Russian infantry, but often under frightfully adverse tactical conditions resulting in enormous casualties in killed and wounded. Even German private soldiers noted a frantic breakdown and panic in the Soviet attacks on the lines of encirclement. They also noted other ill-coordinated attacks launched from the march by newly arriving, newly raised Soviet formations. A German private soldier in the reconnaissance battalion of an infantry division in Army Group Center, holding a line of encirclement around Soviet forces near Gurki, recounts:

Twigs were breaking on the ground ... [German] antitank guns, cavalry carbines, and machine guns went to the ready ... the Russians for their part were only 15 yards away ... machine gun and rifle fire hit directly into their ranks ... more and more Russians appeared out of the darkness storming forward into certain destruction. It was senseless dying.... The bodies of dead or dying Russians towered in heaps in front of the German positions ... But the Reds still would not quit from their insane purpose. They would break through under any circumstances. After about two hours it first became evident that there was no way out of the tightly closed German cauldron. Those of the Russians who were not lying dead or wounded began to ask for quarter.{59}

The German private rendered a clear, almost analytical account of the combat, in which he appears as a cool and thoughtful soldier and the Russians as tough and determined fighters but men with definite tolerances when balancing death against surrender. A Russian infantry regiment conducted the attempt recounted above, unable to escape after being pushed eastward from the Dvina River. It must have already been punished, harried, and largely off balance from the pace and violence of the German advance. This situation was repeated in varying levels of Soviet formations hundreds of times, with the Soviets fighting hard but pressed off balance and surrendering in the hundreds of thousands. It is important for understanding the German chances of success in Bar-barossa that Hitler froze Army Group Center for the entire months of August and September 1941, giving the Soviet command time to regain its composure and form new divisions in the interior. The Russian soldier simultaneously recovered his equilibrium. Yet the Germans retained so much striking power that even after allowing the Soviets more than two months respite east of Smolensk, Army Group Center repeated the scenes of late July in October 1941.

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