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Chapter Eight.

Reevaluating the German Advance Through White Russia in June and July 1941

Point:

"The situation at the front is not even known by the higher leadership."

Interrogation of Soviet Generalmajor Dimitri Sakutny, commander 21st Army Corps, U.S. National Archives. Records German Field Commands.

"It would have to be reckoned that the German Army would take Moscow. The capital would fall despite further hard fighting."

Digest of Russian officer prisoner opinion.
U.S. National Archives, Records German Field Commands.

Counterpoint:

On 22 July 1941 "Brauchitsch called and said the Fuhrer has ordered that the further advance of the armor to the east is no longer a matter for discussion."

Fedor von Bock, Tagebuchnotizer Osten I.
entry of 22 July 1941.

It is conceivable that the Germans had been mauled so badly in July 1941 by the Soviet defenders that they could not have advanced toward Moscow later in the summer. What had the Germans accomplished in July, and was it possible for them to attack in August? The answers lie in analysis of the German advance from 3 to 27 July 1941 on the front of Army Group Center.

On 3 July 1941, Bock and Army Group Center were so successful that they continued toward Moscow on a schedule calculated to win the war before the winter of 1941. Using curiously effective arguments. Bock assured Hitler that he would personally guarantee that the mobile divisions on the lines of encirclement on 2 July 1941 would stay until the Minsk-Novogrodek pocket was completely "burned out."{1} By exhibiting such concern for Hitler's fears over elimination of the pocket. Bock relaxed Hitler enough that he approved the earlier order of 30 June 1941 by OKH to advance on Smolensk.{2} Too early for Hitler, but too late for Bock, the panzer groups of Army Group Center set out to smash through the Soviet forces around Smolensk, then reorganize briefly for the attack on Moscow.{3}

The Germans Seize the Land Bridge to Moscow

At this juncture, Guderian noted that the Germans had to hurry to prevent the buildup of Soviet defenses on the Dnieper, which he intimates might have denied a German win in 1941, On his own Initiative, with no encouragement from OKH or Bock, Guderian decided not to wait for the following horse-drawn infantry armies but to cross the Dnieper with his motorized infantry. Generalfeldmarschall Gunther von Kluge, commander of the 4th Panzer Army and Guderiaris immediate superior, ordered Guderian not to cross the river but to await the following infantry. Despite this tough commander and the expected tenacious resistance{4} along the last great natural barrier to Moscow, Guderian attacked and successfully crossed the Dnieper by 11 July 1941.{5} He maintained the momentum of Army Group Center, and his successes in early July 1941 led toward the political and military collapse of Soviet Russia. At this moment, though, the German army was fighting two wars. As Guderian was defeating the main body of the Soviet armed forces, fighting on the Dnieper River for the immediate political and military survival of Soviet Russia,{6} Hitler launched an attack of his own that would accomplish what the Soviets were incapable of doing. He would halt and disperse Army Group Center, Halder notes in his diary of 13 July 1941: "1230 report to Fuhrer ... next objectives. We shall halt the dash towards Moscow by Armored Groups 2 and 3.... To this end Armored Groups 2 and 3 will be headed for the areas northeast and southeast of Smolensk," i.e' in roughly opposite directions and away from Moscow toward Velikie Luki in the north and the eastern Ukraine in the south.{7}

In the meantime the Germans in Army Group Center had achieved such great success that Halder could remark accurately that the war against the Russians-in contradistinction to the war with Hitler-had been won in the first two weeks. During this time the German armor had shown that it could move across the primitive Russian road system and through Russian resistance at a pace that would reach the Volga River at Gorki in a campaign extending through September 1941. Even more than previously suspected. the story is dominated by the advances and combat performance of the panzer groups. The 7th Panzer Division of Panzer Group Hoth reached the high road to Moscow at Smolevici, 40 km east of Minsk, on 25 June 1941. The panzer division penetrated approximately 275 km into the Soviet Union, only a little more than four days into the campaign. Two days later, on 28 June, the following German infantry armies would be close to locking the inner wings of the encirclement around major Soviet forces east of Bialystok, By the same day, the two panzer groups would have converged south of Minsk, and the 3d Panzer Division of Panzer Group Guderian would have advanced to Bobruisk, almost 400 km from where Panzer Group 2 entered Russia less than a week earlier.

The Pace of German Operations in White Russia

Few interpreters of the Russian campaign deny that the Germans moved at an extraordinary pace during these days and demolished any hopes the Soviets may have had of successfully defending White Russia. Amazingly, in less than five days, Army Group Center pushed the 7th Panzer Division into a position that not only ended the Russian defensive possibilities but also threatened to annihilate the Soviet forces deployed in the Special Western Military District-an immense force totalling approximately fifty-two rifle, armored, motorized-mechanized, and cavalry divisions,{8} By their linkup south of Minsk on 27 June 1941, Panzer Groups 2 and 3 had cut off almost this entire force from the rest of the Soviet Union. The Russians were in the panzer bag on 29 June, but could the tautly stretched German mobile divisions hold them there? The answer: largely yes, but partly no.

The situation was dangerous and complicated, particularly for Panzer Group 2, which lay directly east of the Soviet forces compressed around Bialystok by the 4th and 9th Infantry Armies. As early as 24 June, Panzer Group 2 found itself under attack from the west by badly coordinated but determined Soviet forces already cut off by its tanks half way to Minsk. Four days later, the German infantry armies completed a tight ring around a pocket of Russians stretching approximately 100 km from north of Bialystok to west of Volkowysk. During those four days, scores of thousands of Russians moved out of the open eastern end of the Bialystok-Volkowysk pocket and up against the outer lines of investment of German mobile divisions linking up at Minsk. Unsurprisingly, the Germans blocked the eastern end of the Bialystok pocket with one of Guderiaris motorized infantry divisions. Then, as the horse-drawn infantry divisions and the 29th Motorized Infantry Division forced the surrender of the Russians in the first pocket, panzer forces blocked the escape of huge, shattered Russian forces streaming eastward, attempting to move through Minsk. The Germans formed a second great pocket west of Minsk around which they pressed horse-drawn infantry divisions freed from the Bialystok Kessel, liquidated by 1 July 1941.

Dual Role of the German Mobile Divisions In the Battles of Encirclement

As at the Bialystok cauldron, the German command at Army Group Center used precious mobile divisions to block the eastern end of the Minsk pocket. It was not enough for Guderian to advance to the Dnieper and keep the mass of the Soviet armed forces off balance and headed toward defeat on 5 July 1941. He had to leave behind his 29th Motorized Infantry Division, which shifted northeast from the Bialystok pocket to blocking positions at the eastern end of the Minsk pocket. Guderian also contributed his 5th Machine Gun Battalion and the Infantry Regiment Gross-deutschland. Army Group Center simultaneously ordered Hoth to keep his 12th Panzer Division, 14th Motorized Infantry Division, and 900th Panzer Brigade-the latter a unique force of tank warfare instructors getting practical experience of war-east of the Minsk pocket. The Russians made their strongest bids to break out of the Bialystok and Minsk encirclements toward the east. Mobile units of Panzer Groups Guderian and Hoth found themselves engaged in perhaps the lion's share of the short, intense, positional combat on the lines of encirclement. It was ironic and surprising that the panzer groups not only penetrated so deeply into White Russia that within five days they rendered the Soviet position untenable, but also that they did most of the fighting to hold the Russians in the encircled areas.{9} The following data in Table 2 support this generalization.

Table 2. Soviet Prisoners and Booty. Bialystok-Minsk (22 June-7 July 1941){10}
German Unit Prisoners Tanks Artillery Aircraft
Panzer Group Guderian 157,176 1,233 384 0
Panzer Group Hoth 102,433 405 313 140
2dArmy 40,003 90 87 90
9thArmy 25,170 375 383 114
4thArmy 2,210 1,085 663 0
Headquarters 5,019 0 0 0
Totals 332.111 3,188 2,830 344

The German infantry armies captured the considerable total of 67,483 Soviet prisoners, but the panzer groups dwarfed that figure with 259,609. Data are based on reports submitted by the various units of Army Group Center through the period of the fighting and can be considered accurate. The apparent misleading mathematical accuracy to six places, 259,609 rather than 260,000 in the panzer group numbers, reflects the system of consistently adding numbers exactly as reported from the combat units-staff officers did not tamper with reports by rounding numbers. The listing supports a view that the panzer groups did proportionately more fighting than the infantry armies. That must be handled with care because the 4th Army, which took only 2,210 prisoners, captured or destroyed the huge total of 1085 tanks. These data indicate that the foot infantry in the 4th Army fought violent engagements against powerful Soviet forces early in the fighting, especially to form the Bialystok pocket. The fighting took place when the Soviets were responding fiercely with local tank attacks and were not prepared to surrender.{11} Apparently. Russian soldiers surrendered in large numbers only when unable to force their way through German forces to obvious safety in the east. The mobile units of Panzer Groups 2 and 3, on the eastern lines of encirclement, and some infantry divisions under their operational control experienced the more desperate attacks by the greatest number of Soviet troops-those giving ground to the west, north, and south and compressed against the German mobile units on the eastern sides of the Kesseln.

The Complexity and Style of Fighting In the Russian Campaign

The complexity and style of the fighting are illustrated by the actions of 12th Corps, under Panzer Group 2, from 27 June to 1 July 1941. The corps was reinforced by the 29th Motorized Infantry Division in the fighting at the eastern end of the Bialystok pocket. The corps' two infantry divisions and the assigned mobile division blocked the most desperate attempts of the Soviets to break out eastward and experienced massive uncoordinated charges of Soviet troops. The fighting peaked on 30 June 1941, when the Soviets broke into German positions. The corps called on its last reserves and then took German troops, passing by on the great Minsk highway just to the east, and used those troops in the battle. In front of the 31st Infantry Division, the Russian infantry attacked in eight waves. "One wave after another was annihilated by light and heavy machine gun fire ... farther north the corps advanced detachment also fought against a superior enemy force."{12} Reporting on the combat results, corps headquarters gives the following numerical measure of the destruction caused the Soviet armies in White Russia (Table 3).

Table 3. Representative Combat in the Opening Stages of Barbarossa,
White Russia, Bialystock Pocket
(27 June-1 July 1941){13}
12th German Corps Losses Inflicted on Russians by German Unit Total German Losses
(prisoners) (tanks) Men Weapons
31st Infantry Division 5900 35 - -
34th Infantry Division 4300 40 - -
Corps Advanced Detachment 4500 30 359 killed 1 105-mm Howitzer
610th Antiair Battalion 307 8 629 wounded 1 150-mm
1st Antiair Battalion 200 4 60 missing Gun
26th Antiair Regiment Corps Staff 204 0 - -
Totals casualties 15000 117 1028 2 Guns

The corps did not estimate the number of Russian troops killed on its front during this intense combat. Because those were permanently lost to the Soviet command, it is important to estimate. at least generally, the number of Russians killed. This would provide a sense of the chances of Soviet survival at this crucial juncture of the initial, and possibly final, push of the German army into the Soviet Union. The corps reported annihilating eight "thick waves" of attacking Russian infantry by light and heavy machine gun fire within the sector of one German division.{14} This attack suggests similar ones throughout the brief period-but particularly towards the end-in a suicidal style characterized by masses of infantry attacking repeatedly at the same spot with little or no artillery support from the fragmented and uncoordinated Soviet commands.{15} Local Soviet commanders and commissars forced these senseless tactical charges, apparently fearing criticism and punishment. To this must be added a special fanaticism and fear of the consequences of capture by the commissars. Masses of docu mentary evidence by Russian prisoners show that the Russian soldier was convinced that he would be shot immediately by the Germans, whether he surrendered or deserted. His fear of being shot probably counterbalanced all other motives together in his suicidal attacks and embittered defense of individual positions and bunkers.

The circumstances are curiously similar to those in the Pacific theater during World War II during ground combat between U.S. soldiers and marines and the Japanese imperial army, reflecting profound cultural differences. Although the Japanese never surrendered in significant numbers and fought in different terrain and tactical circumstances, they fought with similar tenacity and launched impressive but suicidal attacks when pressed at crucial battles. The casualty ratio showed approximately 10 Japanese killed for each American, a staggeringly high ratio in favor of the American forces but tempered by virtually no Japanese wounded or prisoners in the overall roster of casualties. Tenacious resistance and tactically inept attack against high-quality, high-firepower western armies, American and German, result in extremely high casualties for those unfortunate enough to be opponents. Regarding the German 12th Corps east of Bialystok, the American experience in the Pacific suggests that no one should be surprised by the extremely adverse ratios for the Russians killed in Barbarossa.

The Germans rarely presented figures on enemy killed. When they did, they seemed to illustrate exceptional cases. The figures in Table 4 support a view that exchange ratios would be extraordinarily adverse when Russian troops, jammed into pockets and fearful of being shot by their own officers and political commissars, were forced into tactically suicidal attacks against veteran German combat formations.

The single German infantry company, which counted 700 Russian dead in front of its position at Dubrowka (near Smolensk), had a strength of about 90 men. Had the company fought to total destruction, resisting desperate Russian attempts to break the encirclement, the German company could have suffered casualties in a pattern: 23 killed, 10 missing (presumed dead or captured), and 57 wounded. The company was not overrun by the Soviets but stood its ground and inflicted the Russian casualties with its own weapons and the help of powerful supporting arms. Had the German company been destroyed, as hypothesized above, to get the least adverse ratio of Russian casualties, the result is 30 Russians killed for each German. The German reconnaissance battalion engaged at Besenjata, Russia (north of Vitebsk) inflicted casualties in a ratio of 48 Russians killed for each German.

Table 4. German Reports of Russian Casualties (killed in action)
Type Combat Location Date Russian Losses German Losses
Soviet attacks{16} Dobryn 4 July 1941 1000 30
Soviet attacks Dubrowka 17 July 1941 700 1 company engaged
Soviet attacks Besenjata 20 July 1941 95 2

The exchange ratios at a higher operational level were also extremely adverse for the Russians, for example, in the Uman encirclement in the Ukraine in late July and August 1941. The Germans did most of the fighting in the Uman operations, especially the thinly stretched Panzer Group 1, blocking Russian attempts at breakout to the east. During the three weeks of the Uman encirclement, the Germans could not have suffered much more than 7,000 killed based on established and verifiable German casualty figures for the eastern front and estimates of percentages for German units engaged around Uman. Halder estimated 200,000 Russians killed during the three weeks of combat, and the Germans thus inflicted losses in a ratio of approximately 29 Russians killed for each German.{17} Such ratios are associated with the cauldrons formed at Uman and six other locations on the eastern front by the Germans in 1941. The cauldrons characterized the operational style in Barbarossa and caused Russian casualties so great in killed and captured that the Germans could scarcely be accused of gross underestimation of their enemy.{18} While a tough Soviet dictatorship was willing and able to force Russian soldiers to absorb immense casualties, conversely, the veteran German combat formations were capable of inflicting them.

The German 12th Corps on the dangerous eastern encirclement of the Bialystok cauldron, taking 359 casualties killed, probably inflicted casualties in some high ratio, similar to those noted above. In the cauldron battles the Germans consistently observed inebriated Russian troops attacking, sometimes with arms locked together, without rifles. Such moves were observed in the cauldrons by Army Groups Center and South, along with motorized troops attacking in trucks and, in Army Group Center, cavalrymen charging with drawn sabers. Artillery support was lacking for Soviet troops unnerved by the fluid and dangerous escape from encirclement and for hastily mobilized units from the interior. It can reasonably be assumed that for the cauldron battles approximately 20 Russians were killed for each German. That ratio is extremely high and does not, of course, apply to noncauldron situations. These were proportionately more costly to the Germans, and included prepared positions of the "Stalin Line" attacks against fortresses such as Brest-Litovsk, and fighting in more stable conditions against psychologically composed Russian troops. Using the 20:1 ratio, the aftermath of a representative cauldron engagement should reflect the results shown in Table 5.

The Germans formed the cauldrons during fluid combat, in which German panzer and motorized infantry divisions drove through powerful but disintegrating Soviet forces. The Soviets were overrun by advancing German armor and motorized riflemen and suffered adverse ratios in casualties and damage similar to those noted by the Germans defending the lines of encirclement.

Table 5. Representative Cauldron Engagement (Barbarossa 1941), Approximately One Week of Combat (rounded and generalized figures)
German Unit Engaged Russian Losses German Losses
Infantry corps with 2 Infantry Divisions 15.000 prisoners
7,000 killed
120 tanks
1.000 killed, wounded, and missing 2 guns

The German 4th Panzer Division reported that from 28 to 30 June, it "destroyed in uninterrupted combat the mass of the Soviet IVth Army Corps (with three divisions) and one cavalry brigade and 62 tanks of which eight were heavy."{19} The division based its report on the statements of the captured Soviet commanding general, his situation maps, statements by prisoners, and the "enormous figure of 15,000 enemy dead and 12.000 wounded" abandoned along the route of the German armor.{20} The division noted losses during the same period of only 9 killed and 12 wounded,{21} figures that suggest extraordinary loss ratios for the Soviets even if significant numbers of their casualties were shared with other German spearhead formations sharing the same route.

The outlook for the Soviets was bleak. As long as the Germans used this fighting style in operations, involving entire army groups, they would defeat the opposing Soviet forces. If those Soviet forces represented most of the armed forces available to defend the state and were concentrated to defend terrain considered indispensable for survival of the government and further prosecution of the war, then the Germans would win the campaign in Russia and the war in Europe. It should be noted that the 12th Corps had operational control over the 29th Motorized Infantry Division and employed it directly in the path of Russian attempts to break out. The 71st Motorized Rifle Regiment of this division took 36,000 Russian prisoners during the same period, implying more violent fighting on the front of the mobile division, greater casualties, and possibly a more adverse ratio than 20-30 Russians to one German, suggested previously.

The Breakdown of Soviet Command, Control, and Communications

In the first hours of the campaign, Soviet command and control broke down, particularly at higher levels in the corps, army, and district/front headquarters. The Germans shattered Soviet command and control by the general violence of the attack, not by some formula of operations targeted specifically at Soviet commanders and technical instruments of communication.{22} The German mobile divisions advanced so rapidly that the Soviet command lost them on their operational maps. German infantry divisions moved proportionally even faster considering their movement largely on foot or by draft horse. The mobile divisions' deep penetrations and the infantry divisions' surge broke the Soviet telephone system and simultaneously displaced for days the Soviet field armies' headquarters and command posts. The Germans destroyed the phone system, displaced headquarters, and jostled Soviet units with particular effect opposite Army Group Center. Under interrogation, captured Soviet Major General Jegorow, commander 4th Rifle Corps, stated that "right from the beginning," he and his staff had no further communication with their units and that "on the first day the formations of the corps ... began to disintegrate."{23}

As Jegorow lost track of his divisions and regiments, Army headquarters lost track of Soviet corps and divisions.{24} Strain- indeed, disintegration-is shown on 25 June 1941, when "in the command net of the Western Military District Staff in Minsk around 0100 a lower level station reported that the Und Rifle Corps could not be located." Not being able to locate a corps headquarters or the divisions under its command was a considerable failure for the Soviet staff beginning to conduct the defense of Moscow, even under the impact of the opening stages of Barbarossa. A German major serving as battalion commander in 3d Panzer Division, Panzer Group Guderian, observed that the "Russian troops seemed to have no communication among themselves." He and other officers in the division noticed that when a Russian unit found itself in the wrong place, hopelessly adrift from the tactical situation, it "took up an offensive stance and immediately attacked the Germans."{25} The German major linked the Russian behavior to ignorance of the German unit's location, associated surprise, and resultant "panic." He noted specifically that the Poles had better leadership and panicked later than the Russians in similar situations.{26}

The commanders of Panzer Groups 2 and 3 pushed their forces with such speed and elan that their mobile divisions fragmented the Soviet forces, inflicting casualties, occupying telephone exchanges in the larger towns, cutting lines to interfere with Soviet communications, and physically overrunning headquarters in the field and in towns. When Hoth placed the 7th Panzer Division astride the main highway between Moscow and Minsk on 25 June, he simultaneously cut the great rail line and telephone trunk line between those cities.{27} Hoth had thus physically severed the primary communications and transportation network between the capitals of White Russia and the Soviet Union approximately four days into the campaign. On the same day, from the south, Guderian cut most of the remaining roads, railroads, and telephone lines into the Bialystok area, where gigantic Soviet forces-most of the combat forces located in the Special Western Military District in June 1941-were already trapped. The Soviet forces, with little effective direction from the highest level command in Moscow during this time, and without effective control by the commander of the (Soviet) western front, moved instinctively eastward. They launched powerful but uncoordinated infantry and tank attacks against Guderiaris forces. With impressive nerves, Guderian ignored the approximately 700,000 armed Russians streaming back toward his panzer group, anxious about getting to safety farther east. He felt that the infantry armies could pin down, intercept, and pen those Russians with help from a division or two of his own forces. He ordered the 24th Panzer Corps to continue east and, from the morning of 27 June to the morning of 28 June 1941, the 4th Panzer Division advanced a further 250 km into the Soviet Union.{28}

No historian can justify a claim that the Soviets were in control of events in White Russia in June 1941. The Germans not only overran the technical means and physical avenues of command and control of the Soviet leadership, but they also exceeded the capacity of the Soviets to cope psychologically with the advance. Without adequate historical style and capability to match the speed and violence of the German advance, the Soviet government and military leadership embraced a tactical formula for survival;

All military formations were ordered by the Soviet command to resist to the death (or the "last cartridge"){29} in defensive positions and to attack in more fluid situations, notwithstanding tactical circumstance. Battlewise German troops at all levels observed that Soviet attacks came from illogical directions, repeated with mulish obstinacy at locations and times that made them self-destructive, German accounts of combat in the Ukraine, where they initially met larger, more powerful, confident Soviet forces, repeatedly describe violent attacks, sometimes involving coordinated divisions. Repeatedly, the accounts end with the words "bloody losses," euphemism in the south for enormous numbers of Russian dead and. until the great encirclement at Uman, modest numbers of prisoners taken by the Germans day to day, but which added up impressively as the weeks went by.{30}

Unable to match the speed of movement and command reaction of the Germans, the Soviet high command was clearly unable to match the Germans operationally, especially in large-scale maneuvers across an entire front. Almost forgotten today, the Soviets could not escape the Germans. It was soon apparent to the Soviets that the Germans could move so fast that there was not enough space between the German border and the most crucial terrain for survival, the Moscow-Gorki space. It followed that without effective control opposite Army Group Center, unable to match the Germans in operational level maneuver, and lacking space to trade for time against the fast-moving Germans, the Soviets made a virtue out of the necessity to hang on blindly everywhere. Still, the Soviets tried to maneuver out of several pockets created by the Germans near Bialystok, Minsk, Smolensk, and several subpockets around the latter city. The degree to which the Soviets lost control over events is illustrated by statements of captured Russians just after the heaviest fighting in the Bialystok cauldron: "Russian forces received the order on 29 June 1941 in Novogrodek {where another great pocket was forming} to retreat to Baranowicze. If Baranowicze were occupied by German troops, they were to go east to Stolpce and Minsk."{31} The order was remarkable for its especially presumptuous directions about what Russian troops would accept as a move into the punishing unknown and its sheer ignorance about the course of the war in White Russia. The Soviet command evidently was unaware that the Germans had already cut the main road out of Minsk 40 km farther east four days earlier, seized both Baranowicze and Stolpce on the same day, and taken Minsk by noon one day earlier. The Soviet command had totally lost control over events in central Russia and ordered forces around Novogrodek to retreat through cities already occupied by the Germans for several days to seek haven in the capital, which had fallen the previous day.

As the Germans pressed on in the great operational offensive of 3 July 1941, the Soviet command had not recovered its equilibrum. On 10 and 11 July, Guderian's divisions crossed the Dnieper at several locations with only light casualties. The successful crossing was a tour de force by Guderian on his mission to seize Moscow. He immediately ordered exploitation of the success by directing his 47th Panzer Corps to move against Smolensk. The familiar lack of Soviet command and control soon showed up, as air reconnaissance aircraft supporting the panzer corps reported a big Soviet column moving south through Gorodek (west of Smolensk) on the morning of 10 July, apparently intending to attack the German panzer force. By afternoon the same day, the corps intelligence officer observed that the column was "on its way back in a northeast direction towards Newel {and} the aimlessness of this movement leads to the conclusion that the Russian leadership is already confused."{32}

Guderian had impressed on the commander of his corp's 29th Motorized Infantry Division the necessity to reach Smolensk with all speed, and after the division crossed the Dnieper on the morning of 11 July it immediately exploited its success with a drive toward Smolensk. The Soviets were so surprised and confused that German motorized infantry of the division overran them conducting air operations at Sobowa air field, destroying or capturing twenty operational fighters on the ground. Later in the day, evidently out of touch with the operational situation, two Soviet staff officers, carrying maps of the headquarters 20th Army and the 23rd Air Division, landed on the field. German infantry disabled the aircraft, rushed it, and captured the crew, the staff officers, and the documents.{33} Soviet officers from the headquarters of a ground army and air division had lost contact with their own forces. Perhaps this is an overly harsh judgment; after all, the Soviet officers had found the unit and the air field they were looking for. As in Barbarossa, the Soviets had lost the German 15th Motorized Rifle Regiment and its parent division, which were wreaking havoc in the Soviet rear area.

The same German 29th Motorized Infantry Division had been the bane of Soviet field armies in White Russia from 22 June to 11 July, and its experience typifies Barbarossa. Moving fast, it arrived at Slonim on 25 June, where it stood in an ideal position with its strong (motorized) infantry to block the path of more than seventeen Soviet divisions attempting to escape east from Bialystok. Fortunately for the division, a web of German infantry divisions gripped the Soviet forces strongly enough to prevent the motorized rifle division from being overrun, while it inflicted immense casualties on the disintegrating Soviets. Assigned a blocking mission, the motorized division stood largely on the defensive from 25 June to 6 July, moving slowly northeastward to ensure the containment of the Soviet forces that slipped out of the Bialystok pocket only to be trapped again to the northeast in a second pocket between Novogrodek and Minsk. The 47th Panzer Corps, to which the 29th Motorized Infantry Division was assigned, took 7,600 prisoners on 28 June in the Kesselschlacht (the fighting on the lines of encirclement around a pocket)-an impressive achievement, but one that would become routine in the next few days.{34}

By 29 and 30 June 1941, the Germans noted fear and desperation in the Soviet forces. The independent 5th Machine Gun Battalion, fighting on the left flank of the motorized division, noted one Russian attack that penetrated to Rollbahn 2, the great road from Brest to Baranowicze and Minsk. In his combat report the battalion commander stated that the attack was contained: "The retreating Russian riflemen were almost annihilated by our machine guns {and} among the dead we found many Russians who had stabbed or shot each other to avoid being captured."{35} This astounding statement lends additional credence to a view that the embittered Russian resistance was based less on the traditional tenacity and sense of national patriotism of the peasant-based Russian soldier and more on a morbid, consuming fear of being shot by the Germans upon capture.{36} One must also suspect a monumental, primitive naivete in the belief of the Russian soldier that he would be shot. Yet in defense of his stubborn innocence, it must be reaffirmed that he was shot by his own officers, political commissars, and military police on straggler interception lines to keep him in the fight, and he could hardly expect better treatment from the enemy. The 5th Machine Gun Battalion nevertheless would take in 8,000 Russian prisoners on 4 July 1941 in the Minsk pocket, showing definite limits to naivete and fear among Russian troops.

In the meantime, the 29th Motorized Infantry Division in hard fighting along the Bialystok pocket from 26 June to 30 June had taken 36,000 prisoners, with a single regiment taking almost all of them. The division then held the main share of the front of Panzer Group Guderian on the eastern part of the Minsk pocket and, on 3 July, as the cauldron was rapidly burning out, took 11,000 more prisoners.{37} On 7 July, the division set off as rapidly as possible through Minsk to participate in the assault across the Dnieper, having taken 48,000 prisoners in the defensive combat of 26 June-6 July 1941. The flexibility of panzer group operations is exemplified by the 29th Motorized Infantry Division. After standing on the defensive for 11 days. the division nimbly shifted to the advance on 7 July and, after an extremely successful assault, crossed the Dnieper on 11 July and seized the city of Smolensk on 16 July. The division had to cross the Dnieper again to take Smolensk, in a daring coup involving the seizure intact of a peacetime bridge. By the latter date-16 July, a little over three weeks into the Russian campaign-the 29th Motorized Rifle Division had advanced 650 km through the heart of White Russia and taken Smolensk. From here strategic geography dictated that Army Group Center would attack directly toward Moscow. By 16 July, the division had captured 60,000 prisoners, an extraordinary accomplishment in modern war.

If there were a point or a lesson in Barbarossa, it would probably be that the successes of the 29th Motorized Infantry Division, against the brutally disciplined, hard-fighting, but continually collapsing Soviet field armies, were the rule rather than the exception. At the same time, in Panzer Group Hoth, the 7th Panzer Division had destabilized the Soviet military position in White Russia by its move to block the main road between Minsk and Moscow, only four days into the campaign. When the fighting began, Army Group Center advanced against four Soviet field armies deployed in the Special Western Military District, a grouping of forces under a single command equivalent to a German army group. The commander of the Soviet western front deployed three of his four armies well forward near Brest and into the Bialystok salient, projecting into German territory to the west. The Soviet armies in the west were well forward, centered roughly at the city of Bialystok, headquarters of the Soviet 10th Army. To grasp the war-winning mobility and casualty-inflicting power of the panzer groups, it is worth noting that the 7th Panzer Division stood 40 km east of the headquarters of the entire Soviet armed forces on the western, or Moscow, front only four days into the war. The same German division also stood 340 km east of where the center of mass of the Soviet armed forces had been only four days earlier. And on 26 June 1941, the other German forces, the unsung horse-drawn infantry divisions, and other mobile divisions, had formed a giant pocket between Bialystok and Volkowysk, whose center of gravity lay approximately 300 km behind the 7th Panzer Division,

In what condition was the panzer division after its four-day push to the train station at Smolevici? The answer is instructive for an accurate assessment of Barbarossa. The division was physically exhausted and mechanically strained by its accomplishment and had temporarily lost a significant number of tanks and trucks to the hazards of the primitive Soviet road system. In contrast, the division had suffered only light casualties and lost few tanks to Soviet gun fire. Four days later, after tough but relatively static combat around Minsk, in which the division took significant casualties but had time to repair and maintain its armor, it could report that it had 149 tanks ready for combat in the few days after its arrival near Minsk.{38}

The 7th Panzer Division fought from 26 June to 2 July 1941 to seize Minsk, effect the linkup with Panzer Group Guderian to the south, and block any Soviet attempts at relief of the encircled field armies. On 3 July, the division set off to the northeast, still in the 39th Panzer Corps and part of Panzer Group Hoth. The latter had the grand mission to join with Panzer Group Guderian in the heights around Jarcevo, northeast of Smolensk, to break up the last great Soviet defensive front before Moscow, encircle the Soviet divisions they hoped still lay to the west, and be prepared to continue to advance toward Moscow after a brief rest. Moving within this great stream of armed violence, the 7th Panzer Division now slipped south of Vitebsk on 10 July 1941 and projected itself onto the main road between Smolensk and Moscow on 15 July. As had occurred near Minsk nineteen days earlier, the 7th Panzer Division, now on the road and railroad between Smolensk and Moscow, destabilized the Soviet armed forces defending Moscow, most in disarray to the west of Smolensk. Unlike the earlier case near Minsk, the Germans were now 300 km closer to Moscow, and a psychological elation began to charge the German troops as they anticipated the decisive drive to Moscow. The Germans analyzed a host of interrogation statements by Soviet officer prisoners by mid-July 1941 and systematically asked the captured officers their opinions on the outcome of the war. The Soviet officers agreed, almost without exception, in June and July that the Germans would take Moscow-there would be a terrific battle, but the Germans would take the city and win the war.{39}

On 16 July, the day after the 7th Panzer Divisions arrived at Jarcevo, 50 km east of Smolensk, German motorized infantry of the 29th Motorized Infantry Division seized Smolensk. Army Group Center had trapped or partly trapped a huge number of Russian troops between the panzer groups and the following infantry armies moving up quickly using Vorausabteflungen, strong advanced detachments of battalion strength, the motorized elements of the largely horse-drawn German infantry divisions.{40} Although the German infantry division moved primarily at the speed of walking infantrymen and horses, pulling supply and equipment wagons, they contained motorized elements that could be used to form combat groups to close the great gap between the marching infantry and the panzer groups. These included a motorized pioneer company, armored car company, and antitank battalion (completely motorized). The Germans combined these elements into unlikely but strong combat teams that swept up enemy stragglers In the path of the armor and closed in on the more coherent Soviet units trapped in pockets. By 16 July 1941, Army Group Center had encircled or partly encircled vast Soviet forces west of Smolensk and, as occurred earlier at Minsk, would take approximately two weeks to get the advancing infantry around the several small. cauldrons in the rear areas of Panzer Groups Guderian and Hoth and the great pocket on the boundary between them just north of Smolensk.

Faced with the destruction of three more armies in several small cauldrons and a super pocket near Smolensk as the Germans broke into Smolensk, the Soviets fought desperately. However, the best they had to offer was ferocious but blind resistance to the last cartridge in defensive positions and attack without regard to losses to escape through lines of encirclement. The Soviets had lost control of their own forces.{41} Aided, however, by the impressive toughness and stubbornness of the Russian soldier and his fear of being shot or "skinned alive"{42} by the Germans, the Soviet command managed to get scores of thousands of troops out of the eastern end of the Smolensk pocket. The chief of staff of the German 4th Panzer Army, Oberst Guenther Blumentritt, discouraged by the escape of many Russian troops at Smolensk, Minsk, and Bialystok through the thinly held lines of the mobile divisions, made the exaggerated statement that the Germans "did not succeed in seriously apprehending the enemy west of the Dnieper and Duna, he always managed to evade swiftly and smoothly to the east... thus we had not gained much when we reached the Dnieper and the Duna."{43} This pessimism of a responsible high-level participant illustrates the misinformation that surrounds Barbarossa. For Blumentritt to write that the Russians always managed to evade swiftly and smoothly to the east is difficult to take seriously, considering the 634,000 prisoners, 5,537 tanks, and 4,929 guns left behind, and additional casualties in dead estimated at approximately 200,000 and a greater number of wounded evacuated. The relevant facts of the combat in front of Army Group Center in June and July 1941 are that the Russians swiftly lost well over one million men killed, wounded, and captured. They also lost staggering quantities of war material while being smoothly shoved back 700 km into the Soviet Union, directly toward Moscow.

The Soviets fought back stoutly in the several pockets around Smolensk and formed a coherent line of resistance approximately 80 km east of the city. Along that line, particularly'around the road junction of Yelnya, they launched typical frenetic attacks to hold the Germans at any cost by profligate expenditure of lives traded for space and time. By 31 July 1941, the outlook was bleak for the Soviet government.{44} Except for the last part of the great Smolensk pocket, just north and east of the city, the Soviets had been cleared out of all encirclements. In despair, expecting the worst-that the Germans would gather themselves for the next great leap through Moscow-the Soviets could offer no more than a thin front. Behind that line they gathered virtually every reserve and new formation they could call to the colors, arm, and transport to the central front. The Germans rested and rehabilitated some of their formations for the anticipated push to Moscow, while several divisions cleared out the Smolensk pocket (by 4 August 1941). Other forces in Panzer Group Guderian and the 2d Army reorganized to assure potential German communications through Roslavl for the attack east and to eliminate any threat from a Soviet concentration around Gomel, farther south.

While German forces were regrouping, the Soviet co,mmand, desperately fearful of the next German move, used endless attacks as its tactical formula for survival against the German forces east of Smolensk, in positions to mount an attack against Moscow. As early as 30 July, the Soviets launched 13 ill-coordinated tank and infantry attacks against the German salient around the communications center of Yelnya. Although the attacks were badly led, the Russian troops advanced with determination, and, since the Germans remained static, the Soviet command developed impressive artillery support for its less impressive ground attacks. Halder made the extraordinary observation that "the German troops laugh off the tank and infantry attacks but are becoming concerned about the growing mass of artillery."{45} Several books on the Second World War interpret these attacks as "stiffening Soviet resistance," which forced the Germans to halt well short of Moscow and showed that they had severely underestimated the challenges of a campaign in Soviet Russia. The interpretation is a mistaken one. The Army Group Center forces halted, as planned and ordered by Bock, to reorganize briefly and launch the final attack on Moscow or advance south into the Ukraine.{46}

An important operational circumstance arose that demanded attention and would influence the timing of the final attack on Moscow. Army Group Center had driven from positions on the Polish border lying somewhat south of the latitude of Moscow. It had advanced not east, but east northeast, toward Moscow, and tended to block and ignore moderately strong Soviet formations in the southeast part of its sector. Those Soviet forces posed a latent threat to continued advance eastward and toward the end of July they still held Roslavl, the natural communications center for the advance of Panzer Group Guderian to Moscow. The Soviet command also maintained strong forces southwest of there, around Gomel. Bock faced a crucial operational decision that brings into focus the German war-winning dilemma in Barbarossa. The Germans unquestionably had the capabilities to reach Moscow and far beyond, but time was intuitively realized as the great dilemma (although never articulated in memoir or diary) by the army leaders from Halder (OKH) through Bock (army group), Hoth (panzer group), and even Generalmajor Walter Model (division). In a conversation with officers before Barbarossa. Hoth said that if the campaigns in the west had been blitzkriegs, then the campaign in the east would be a "blitz blitzkrieg."{47} Model had also remarked in preparations for Barbarossa that if the Germans were not in Moscow by Christmas, then they would never be and would lose the war.

Bock entertained similar thoughts and had already complained bitterly in his diary that the Minsk battle, swiftly as it had been completed, had taken too much time. Halder felt that Army Group Center would take until at least 5 July 1941 to continue the attack beyond Minsk and that the Germans would be ahead of themselves on that schedule. Bock managed to advance on the morning of 3 July. noting irascibly that the armor should have moved off two or three days earlier. Bock knew through a sixth sense, an extrasensory feel for military operations that helped select him as leader of the Schwerpunkt army group for the attack on the Soviet Union, that his command could defeat anything the Soviet government could put between him and Moscow. Yet he was aware that the accomplishment depended on ruthlessly continuing the drive into the forces defending Moscow, Bock and his panzer group leaders knew that the army group could not allow the Soviet command and the Russian soldier opposite it time to recover.{48} Bock penned the first sentence of the first paragraph of the directive for concentrating Army Group Center: "Every leader and soldier is to have hammered into him for this eastern campaign the foremost order: above everything else swiftly and ruthlessly forward!"{49} If one assumes that Bock meant this informative opening statement on Barbarossa, he is telling his troops (and the future world of historical interpretation) that the Soviets could be defeated in the summer of 1941. In the statement, there is not a hint of denigration or underestimation of the Russian soldier and the Red Army.

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