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Chapter Eleven.

German Logistics: Could the Germans Support an Advance into the Moscow-Gorki Space in the Summer of 1941?

IN the campaigns of 1939-1941. the Germans emphasized numbers and logistics differently from the characteristic extremes of western and Soviet operations. The German high regard for numbers was illustrated in the attack on Poland, when they stripped the western front-with impressive operational nerve-to achieve decisive numbers for success{1}. The Germans had an equally high regard for logistics. Yet their style would not allow logistics, in the subtle ways developed in the west, to set the spirit, style, and pace of military operations. Western writers contributed to misinterpretation of the course and possibilities of the war in Russia by criticizing the German logistical system from the Allied attrition viewpoint. In a recent (1977) well-documented study, which indudes German operations on the eastern front, the writer posits that the German logistical system was inherently incapable of supporting successful mihtary operations in the east{2}. That thesis is tenable. and original, applied to the period from September 1941 to May 1945, but it obscures the point that the Germans intended to win the campaign by August 1941 with a logistic plan and system capable of supporting the victory.

A Logistical System for Victory In Summer 1941

The German army did not lose in the east because of its logistical system, developed to support the attack on the Soviet Union. Halted, then misdirected for two months of late summer campaign weather, the German field armies relinquished virtually certain victory to almost certain defeat through recovery time presented the Soviets while German physical strength and psychological dominance were frittered away. What is important about the German logistical system is how it was designed so successfully to support Barbarossa in June, July, and August 1941. not its irrelevant (to victory in the Russian campaign) frailties from September 1941 to May 1945. The statement's validity depends on the thesis that the Germans won the Russian campaign by August 1941. For analysts disturbed that the Germans went on to lose the Russian campaign and the Second World War by May 1945, the author suggests that the June-August 1941 German victories were so decisive that the issue is not so much that the Soviets came close to defeat but that the Soviet recovery must be regarded as a resurrection from operational death. It is more important to understand the logistical system that came so close to supporting victory in August 1941 than the one that supported defeat in May 1945.

Accepting the thesis that the Germans subjected themselves to certain defeat from the moment they attacked the Soviet Union because they could not cope with the demographic, psychological, and economic dimensions of the country and its people, one could seek and accept evidence that the German armed forces logistical system was incapable of supporting the war. From the alternative viewpoint, that the Germans had won the struggle by August 1941, having calculated the logistical capabilities required to support successful attacks toward Leningrad and Kiev, and Moscow late in the summer of 1941, it is not surprising that the Germans constructed 14,000 miles of German-gauge railways and repaired 10.000 additional miles for use by their armed forces in Barbarossa. The Germans were aware of the challenges and necessities of a campaign in the Soviet Union, performed this rarely noted achievement, and did so by imaginative use of the Reich Labor Service and the Todt Organization. The lesson appears to be that the Germans, who launched Barbarossa to defeat the Soviets by a series of successful great, opening battles, had constructed a logistical system adequate to support the planned military operations. Further, these actually proved to be ahead of schedule at several crucial junctures in June and July 1941 in a schedule that most commentators have denigrated as hopelessly optimistic.

Winter Clothing and Supplies for the Germans In 1941

Winter clothing for the German field armies is a useful topic for considering the realities of the opening stages of the Russian campaign. Commentaries, both primary and secondary, note ad inftni-tum that the Germans were ill prepared for the Russian winter of 1941-1942. Commentators point out accurately that the Germans possessed neither adequate winter clothing and footwear for the troops nor suitable lubricants and fluids for the weapons and equipment of the ground forces and Luftwaffe. They illustrate the inadequate preparations for cold weather with examples, particularly during the onset of the extreme cold of late November-December 1941. They note the failure to fire of the German family of light and heavy machine guns (the famed MG-34 series), not too surprising for automatic weapons. They also note large-scale functional failures in the German standard service rifle (the also famed Gewehr 98, or Rifle Model 1898), very surprising for a proven, bolt-action rifle. German artillery pieces with hydraulic recuperators and/or recoil mechanisms also failed in the extreme cold. The engines of motor vehicles and aircraft could not be started or were damaged because of thickened lubricating oils and frozen liquid coolants. In extreme cases, caused by collective embrittlement of rifle firing pins, lubricant-seized bolts, and "frozen" machine guns and artillery, the Germans engaged in combat with hand grenades, entrenching tools, and rifle butts.{3} These practical details tend to focus attention on German underestimation of the Russian theater of operations and can also be seen as harbingers of the defeat of the Germans in the east. They support, of course, the conventional interpretation of Moscow (December 1941), Stalingrad, and Kursk as turning points in a war characterized by the gradual dedine of the Germans.

Such details of winter warfare in the Soviet Union and effusive German self-criticism obscure the combat style of the German phase of the war and hence the course and turning point of the Second World War. What is important is not that the Germans naively underestimated the strength of Soviet Russia and found themselves without socks in summer jackboots, wearing cold-transmitting hobnails and using kerosene with some imagination to lubricate machine guns and rifles in and around Moscow (e.g., the northwest suburb of Khimki and at Skopin, 150 km to the east), but that Moscow had not fallen months earlier in the warm and relatively dry August of 1941. The lack of winter clothing and cold-weather lubricants and fluids for weapons and engines focuses attention on the situation around Moscow in late November-December 1941 and away from the truly epic German possibilities of the summer of 1941. In the winter of 1941-1942, the battle for Moscow was the first of a long, drawn-out series of anticlimactic battles incidental to the summer of Barbarossa-in which the Germans fought with the near certainty of victory and immediately afterward faced the near certainty of defeat, something for which they had neither planned nor prepared.

German Logistics in Barbarossa: Rail Lines, Rail Heads, and Truck Columns

In June and July 1941, the Germans suffered neither personnel casualties nor tank losses that could inhibit their further advance on a like scale toward Moscow in August. In that brief time the Germans had proven unstoppable with the logistical system they had developed for war in the Soviet Union. But what kind of system did the Germans have? Was it capable of supporting the German drive into the Moscow-Gorki space in August 1941? It is likely that the same Germans who played numerous operational war games to calculate the chances of success in a campaign would have worked just as soberly to assess their capabilities to supply a blitz in the east. But the thought must nag at many interested in sorting out the turning point of the war in Europe: Did the operationally oriented Germans neglect logistics in some way that would prevent them from taking Moscow in August 1941?

In 1941. German industry and inter-European imports would supply enough food, fuel. and ammunition to support a partly motorized army of about three million men in a great field campaign, planned to last about seventeen weeks. The German armaments effort had been thin in many ways because it was geared by Hitler more or less instinctively to support his preferred style of relatively heavy consumer production. With almost a year to prepare, produce, and stockpile for Barbarossa, the Germans had enough fundamental materials of war to win in the Soviet Union in 1941. The German logistical problem was how to transport material from adequate stockpiles to an army operating under difficult circumstances in a large country without normal-gauge railways and with unpaved roads. The Germans would center logistics on the construction of rail lines and station installations. They would also organize great truck forces to move materials from stockpiles on the frontier until the new rail lines could be completed and rail heads (i.e., train stations where supplies were stockpiled) could be established in the Soviet Union.

In essence, the German logistical system in the east could be likened to a rail line at the end of which was a station with facilities for unloading and areas for stockpiling materiel. The field armies sent trucks to pick up supplies and carry them closer to the corps and divisions, which, in turn, picked them up at smaller and more advanced stockpiles. In the fluid operations the Germans had to build a railroad system quickly into European Russia to maintain rail heads at satisfactory distances from the advancing field armies. On 22 June 1941, the German rail heads stood at the German border in East Prussia and the so-called Government General of Poland. The Germans organized great logistical truck forces behind each army group to pick up supplies from the frontier rail heads and deliver them into truck dumps as close as possible to the advancing field armies. The truck forces, broken down into flexible 60-ton-capacity columns of vehicles to move supplies, would operate back and forth from the frontier stockpiles until the new train stations and German-gauge rail lines could support traffic into the Soviet Union to forward rail heads.

The German Concentration of Forces Against the Soviet Border

From the moment Hitler alerted the armed forces in late July 1940 for an attack on Soviet Russia, the army general staff thought in terms of rail schedules to execute the Aufmarsch (concentration) for Barbarossa and regauging or rebuilding the Soviet rail system for logistical support of the advance. Generalleutnant Rudolf Gercke, chief of German army transportation, began to oversee the railroad tasks under the first important OKW order for Barbarossa, the Ausbau Ost (Eastern Buildup) order of 9 August 1940, directing the improvement and expansion of eastern Poland's rail system. The Reichsbahn (State Rail Service) and the Ostbahn (Eastern Rail Service) began to build up the eastern rail facilities under the codeword, Program Otto. Concomitantly, Gercke was largely responsible for coordinating the transfer of thirty-five German infantry divisions from France to Poland and East Prussia, using existing facilities, at a leisurely pace from July to October 1940. By 17 January 1941, Gercke informed OKW that of the 8,500 km of rail lines to be improved or rebuilt to concentrate forces for Barbarossa, 60 percent had been completed, most double track.{4} On 2 February 1941, Brauchitsch and Halder began the concentration of forces for Barbarossa, intended to be in four waves of rail movement lasting through 15 May 1941.

Due to unexpected circumstances, including the Balkan campaign and the severe winter of 1940-1941, the German concentration of forces continued until 22 June. Amazingly, the OKH moved some 17,000 trains over and above the normal traffic in the east after the battle of France.{5} Through secrecy and deception, the German command achieved almost complete tactical and operational surprise against the Soviet armed forces and a large measure of strategic surprise against the high political leadership. Stalin and his advisors received warnings of German aggressive intent months before, but they reasonably discounted most of such warnings based on alternate explanations and the vast deceptive circumstance that Germany was at war with Britain. The Soviets must also have had aggressive intentions of their own. Retrospectively, it appears possible that they were preparing to attack Germany or dient states of Germany possibly as early as autumn 1941, and probably no later than summer 1942. Finally, although Stalin was prepared for German political pressure in the summer of 1941, and possibly even military incidents, he was caught totally off guard by a full-blooded military invasion with the Olympian mission to defeat the Soviet state immediately. The unobtrusive movement of 17,000 extra trains to the east and the deceptive explanation of unconcealable activity associated with the concentration of forces made possible the surprise on 22 June 1941, which could have translated into the defeat of Soviet Russia.

Gercke executed the eastern movement in waves beginning with the more innocuous infantry divisions and only a few mobile divisions at a maximum of twelve trains daily along each of the six main rail lines established under Program Otto. The chief of army transportation moved seven infantry and two mobile divisions in the first wave (relatively few), among which it was possible to disguise one panzer and one motorized infantry division. The Germans were extremely sensitive about transferring mobile divisions to the east. They were operating according to the doctrine that panzer divisions and closely associated motorized infantry divisions were to be employed exclusively for deep strategic offensive missions. The Germans assumed with a mirror-image mentality that the Soviets would immediately recognize danger regarding the excessive number of panzer divisions in the east. Accordingly, they left the overwhelming mass of the mobile divisions until the last possible moment for movement eastward. Table II illustrates the German sensitivity to ensuring surprise and the magnitude of the Aufmarsch for Barbarossa:

Table 11. Barbarossa Concentration of Forces (Aufmarsch)*
German Wave and Time Divisions Trains
Wave 1, 2 February-14 March 1941 9 . 14,000 trains divisions
Wave 2, March 1941 18
Wave 3, 8 April-20 May 1941 17 . 3,000 trains for Luftwaffe, army troops, supply and reserve forces
Wave 4a, 23 May-2 June 1941 9
Wave 4b, 3 June-23 June 1941 24
Beginning 21 June-24 July 1941 24
Totals 101 17,000 trains
* Prior to the concentration, the Germans had 47 divisions in the east that eventually took part in the invasion: 12 divisions from the Polish campaign and 35 divisions emplaced between July and October after the French campaign.

In Wave 4b, the last wave of the divisions that launched the attack across the frontier on 22 June 1941 (a day later in a few cases because of the relatively narrow attack fronts), the Germans moved twenty-four panzer and motorized infantry divisions. These, with their tracked and wheeled motor vehides, were difficult to move and even more of a challenge to conceal. The Germans took major precautions to screen the movement of these divisions, then make them disappear into the countryside after offloading. Once this movement began, they considered it would have significant chances of being detected, and it could not be explained by any subterfuge. The Germans also delivered to the border by train an additional twenty-four divisions, which would not take part in the initial attacks but would move into former Soviet territory toward the front from 26 June 1941 onward.

German Rail Lines, Rail Heads, and Truck Columns In the Soviet Union

The trains that moved the German army and the Luftwaffe ground organization to the border could not deliver the armed forces farther east. The Germans would have to move tactically from the frontier and depend for support on the distance between their rail heads and the infantry divisions in the front lines. For the mobile divisions, it was the distance between the German railway system and the finger-like projections deep into Soviet territory. In Barbarossa, the Germans advanced rapidly into territory having no normal-gauge railroads. Logistics would depend on the German capabilities to advance their own rail system into the Soviet Union while simultaneously connecting German rail heads with their troops, disappearing over the horizon into Soviet Russia. An untold, unusual situation almost immediately after Barbarossa began supports a view that, logistically, the Germans had the capability to defeat the Soviet Union. In Army Group Center, seventeen German panzer and motorized infantry divisions did everything in their power to distance themselves from the German railheads. By 26 June 1941, the 7th Panzer Division was 300 km into the Soviet Union from its start on the Lithuanian border, and on the following day the 3d Panzer Division reached Glusa. 350 km into Russia. Current literature has not asked how the Germans could resupply two panzer divisions at that distance from rail heads in German territory. Obviously, they successfully organized truck columns with enormous capacities to run the supplies from the German border to the advancing armies.

By 26 April 1941, the quartermaster general of the German army and the chief of transportation had collected 25,020 tons (freight capacity) of trucks for Army Group Center and smaller amounts for the remaining two army groups.{6} When the campaign opened, the high command of the army provided Army Group Center with approximately 45,000 tons of trucks to deliver supplies from the rail heads on the border to the advancing armies. After a complex transition, their new rail heads were at various distances from the border in Soviet territory.{7} The Germans considered that the 60-ton (freight capacity) truck columns could bridge approximately 400 km between rail heads and the advancing field armies.{8} As the normal-gauge rail lines were constructed along the most important logistics routes into White Russia from Brest to Minsk, the Germans expected on 17 July to take off most of the 60-ton truck columns from the frontier to Minsk between 20 and 30 July 1941. The columns continued to run from the border in decreasing numbers until finally stopped on 5 August 1941.{9} By then, the rail lines were completed beyond Minsk, and the Germans would be operating from rail heads approaching Smolensk.

German Logistics: Quantity of Material and


Mode of Operations Required to Reach the Moscow-Gorki Space

To advance on Moscow in August 1941. the Germans depended logistically on the capacity and location of the rail system they had built by that time. The army high command massed strong forces of railway pioneer troops, battalions of the Reich Labor Service (Reich Arbeits Dienst, or RAD). and Organization Todt () immediately behind the field armies to ensure construction of the normal-gauge rail lines, train stations, and marshalling yards. In Army Group North, the high command inserted 18,219 men for railway construction during June-August 1941,{10} The construction troops were organized along military lines, armed with rifles, pistols, and light machine guns, and advanced so aggressively behind the German combat formations that they reported 84 combat incidents with scattered Soviet troops. These resulted in 162 combat casualties to themselves. The Germans placed similar construction troops and special railway reconnaissance detachments with the panzer group spearheads to estimate damage and help pull the construction process forward. The details of German-gauge railway construction into the Soviet Union and the exploitation of undamaged Russian-gauge lines, locomotives, and rail cars support" a conclusion that the Germans accurately forecast the logistical necessities for Barbarossa and effectively executed the operations.

Gercke, chief of German army transportation, estimated that one railway battalion could change tracks from Russian to German gauge at a rate of 20 km per day.{11} Railway pioneer units also quickly employed Russian-gauge lines to help bring supplies forward even before they completed the German lines. They used both simultaneously, as long as Russian locomotives and rolling stock held out. On 24 June 1941, Railway Operations Company 203 took over the intact Soviet wide-gauge rail line from Brest to Zabinka, 30 km from the border. The company observed that the Russian-gauge line was intact for an additional 25 km eastward to the station at Tevii. The company began to reduce the haul of the 60-ton truck columns, already running far to the east to support Guderian's panzers, now 220 km on the road to the upper Dnieper at Rogachev.

The German railway pioneer and other construction troops simultaneously built normal-gauge rail lines at a fierce pace. advancing by 25 June some 80 km toward Minsk.{12} By 29 June, they extended normal-gauge track from the frontier at Brest to Oranczyce and, by I July. onto Baranovice.{13} As Gercke commented, a German railway pioneer battahon could replace wide-gauge line with normal at 20 km per day. The distance from Brest to Bara-novice is 210 km, a httle longer using the rail line. The Germans took eleven days to construct the new line, uncannily close to Gercke's estimate despite violent fighting on the southeastern lines of encirclement around the Bialystok pocket. Contrary to conventional interpretation of underestimating the challenges of a campaign in the Soviet Union, the Germans mastered logistics and built their own rail system into the Soviet Union.

Blitz Logistics: Normal Gauge Rail, Brest to Minsk

To operate the rail lines, the Germans had to regauge rail sidings and marshalling areas and, depending on battle damage, to repair buildings and equipment at the train stations.{14} On the most important rail line in Barbarossa, the tracks from Brest directly toward Moscow, the Germans completed the line from Brest to Oranczyce by 29 June 1941 and began to move German trains on normal-gauge track on 30 June. That day. four supply trains arrived at Oranczyce, 85 km into the Soviet Union, with approximately 2,000 tons of supplies. Meantime, regauging of Russian lines continued with work being completed to Baranovice junction by 2000, I July, and three trains reaching that city, 210 km into the Soviet Union. The Germans continued their impressive pace of building a normal-gauge rail system into White Russia and completed regaug-ing from Brest to the capital, Minsk, at noon on 5 July. Army Group Center ran four supply trains there the same day, more than 330 km into the Soviet Union.{15} By 5 July, the Germans began to develop a great rail head at Minsk, which capably supported the lightning panzer advance to Smolensk that overran the city on 16 July. In a historic performance, the Germans regauged the Russian rail system from Brest to Minsk by early July and extended construction to Smolensk before the end of the same month. Their performance established a logistical system able to support an offensive toward Moscow before the middle of August 1941 and bridge the gap between Smolensk and Moscow in a single offensive, similar in style to the earlier leaps to Minsk and Smolensk.

That generalization derives from the actions of Army Group Center from the middle of July to early August 1941. On 15 July 1941, the quartermaster general reviewed the supply status of, Army Group Center in terms of its capabilities to continue offensive operations. He made it clear that the great rail head for continuing operations lay in the cities of Minsk and Molodecno, no longer on the prewar frontier. The army group then had 45,450 tons of 60-ton truck columns and, deducting one-third as inoperable at any time and in repair, still had approximately 30,700 tons available for continuous operations.{16} In mid-July 1941 the German army transportation chief guaranteed the substantial total of fourteen trains and 6,300 tons of supplies daily for the Minsk-Molodecno base. The quartermaster general averred that, based on the logistical situation of 15 July 1941, Army Group Center could conduct an offensive on Moscow with four panzer, three motorized infantry, and ten infantry divisions with appropriate army reserves, maintaining the remainder of the army group in static fighting around Smolensk. This logistical feat was moderately impressive for the middle of July, with enough trains arriving at the Minsk-Molodecno railroad and more than enough trucks to move a panzer group and an infantry army to Moscow. Meanwhile, the Germans were fighting the battle of Smolensk and would take two more weeks to finish the job and another week to tidy up operationally. The Germans used this time to build up logistic stockpiles at the rail head in the center of White Russia and regauge the main rail line from Minsk through Orsha into Smolensk{17}.

By the second week of August 1941, Army Group Center regained operational freedom of movement. If the army group had been directed by Hitler and OKH at the end of July 1941 to continue operations toward Moscow as soon as possible, it would have eliminated remnants of Soviet forces in the great pocket just north of Smolensk and cleared the communications zone of Panzer Group Guderian to the south. Unhampered by Hitler's stubborn attempt to diffuse the combat strength of Army Group Center about the Russian countryside, and the battle between the Fuhrer and OKH over one decisive objective rather than many indecisive ones. Army Group Center would have entered a period of rest, rehabilitation, and stockpiling on approximately 5 August 1941. Regarding the logistical possibilities for an advance a little over a week later, on 13 August 1941, Army Group Center would receive almost double the number of trains daily it had received a month earher{18} - approximately twenty-four trains rather than fourteen. With time to establish larger stockpiles, and with rail heads advanced to Orsha and Smolensk, Army Group Center obviously had the logistical system to support its advance on Moscow with its entire strength{19}.