Study of Armoured Formations’ Organisation & Employment, following Gen Guderian-type of Thought Process
Hitler had chosen the June 1888 born Col Gen Heinz Guderian1 who was doing the duties of Inspector General of Panzer Troops, as the new Chief of the Army General Staff, after the failed Plot to assassinate him on 22 July 1944, at ‘Berchtesgarden’ in East Prussia. He was neither an all-out Nazi nor an old-line Prussian officer, but an adroit military tactician. He was the Wehrmacht’s No. 1 tank general, the kind of officer (Hitler hoped) who would not break no matter how sure was ‘defeat’, and how insurmountable the attempts of the Nazi Party high command, to stave it off.
WW II had started on 1st Sep 1939 because Hitler was wrongly advised by Ribbentrop that France & Britain would not declare War against Germany, if Poland was attacked. Guderian was then given command of ‘19 Army Corps’ consisting of one Pz Div & two Mot Divisions and placed under the ‘German 4th Army’ commanded by Gen von Kluge. The task given to the newly formed Corps was to smash the Polish opposition in the ‘Polish Corridor’ leading Northto the port-city of ‘Danzig’, which was defended by three Polish Infantry Divisions and a Cavalry Brigade. Subsequently 19 Army Corps was to get across the main Vistula River obstacle, so that operations could be progressed for the early capture of Warsaw. Guderian’s Corps achieved this feat in 8 days, advancing some 70 kms against fierce opposition. He was then put directly under German ‘Army Group North’ commanded by Gen von Bock. 19 Army Corps then became a Pz Corps having two Pz Divs and two Mot Divs. It was tasked to advance East of the Main Offensive towards Warsaw, along the River Bug and take the Fortress of ‘Brest-Litovsk’. This was achieved on Sep 17th by relentless mobile offensive actions. The retreating Poles were never given the chance to build up another Defensive Line along the RiverBug. Contact was established with the German 16 Pz Corps commanded by Gen Hoeppner at ‘Luboml’, who were doing the enveloping-Force action from the Southwest. On 22nd Sep, Guderian’sforces moved back to the West side of the BugRiver as per the demarcation agreement reached between the German and Russian Govts. Guderian’s efficient Chief of Staff then was Col Nehring. On 27th October, Hitler bestowed on Guderian the “Knight’s Cross” of the “Iron Cross”, for achieving outstanding military success during the Polish Campaign. This in no small measure was due to the hallmark fact that German Panzer Leaders’ Tactical Hq Groups including that of the Corps Cdr, were always present and located very close to the place of crucial fighting, and they could take the right decisions quickly. Germany had obtained the capitulation of Poland2 in a mere 30 days, mainly by correctly employing all its Pz Forces consisting of just ‘five Pz Divs’ in a concentrated offensive manner grouped as 1-2 Pz Divs which acted as the front-runners on different Thrust-lines, and they were independent of Infantry-dominant Corps which acted as the follow-on echelon.
The French Campaign
Hitler kept insisting for an offensive against France, after the successful Polish Campaign. But the German generals were realistic and persuaded him that time was required for more thorough preparations. The Light Divisions (MechDiv) of the German Army were not found useful enough, so they got them converted into Panzer Divs. Thus Germany had just ‘Ten PzDivs’ by May 1940. None of the German Divisions had more than 1500 total number of All-types of vehicles.
Maj Gen Erich von Manstein who was the Chief of Staff to Army Group ‘A’ Cdr Gen von Rundstedt was the originator and mover of the New German Offensive Plan against France. He consulted Guderian and put up his Memo on 4th December 1939 with the recommendation of his Army Group Cdr, for a concentrated blow using all Ten Pz Divs through the Ardennes Forest region towards the Meuse River Valley. This Plan had the element of ‘surprise’ as the strong French Maginot Line petered out near Sedan. The French High Command expected the Germans to spring the ‘Schliefen Plan’ and strike through Belgium to the North Sea Coast. So they concentrated their best mobile formations in the 1st French Army Group to forestall the Germans, by occupying the “Dyle Line” (starting from ‘Givet’ to ‘Namur’ across the ‘Gembloux Gap’, then extending to ‘Wavre’, ‘Louvain’ and further along the Dyle River upto‘Antwerp’). When War actually happened, the Franco-British Force had expected to complete occupation of this line by the 7th Day, but to their surprise the Germans were able to reach this line by the 4th Day of their Offensive!
At a War Game conducted at ‘Koblenz’ on 7th Feb 1940 by Major Generals Kurt von Tippelskirch, the Chief of German Army Intelligence and Oberst Ulrich Liss of ‘Fremde Heere West’ (FHW – Foreign Armies West), Guderian got into an argument with the Chief of German Army General Staff Gen Halder. He clearly expounded “the War-winning strategy of using the available Offensive Power of the combined German Panzer Forces in one surprise blow at one decisive point; then to drive a ‘Wedge’ so deep and wide that the Attacker need not worry about their ‘Flanks’ if momentum is maintained; then immediately exploit the success gained by changing the direction of the unleashed Panzer Forces – towards the rear of the French Armies by heading for ‘Amiens’ and thereafter towards the Channel Ports and thereby cutting off all the escape routes of the trapped Allied Armies in Belgium.”
At the subsequent War Game held at ‘Mayen’ on 14th February 1940 it was decided to group the 19 Pz Corps under Guderian (1st, 2nd& 10th Pz Divs plus SS Mot Inf Bde Group [MIBG] Gross Deutchland) and 41 Pz Corps under Reinhardt (6th& 8th Pz Divs plus SS MIBG Leibstandardte), both Corps coming under the command of Pz Group Kleist for the decisive Thrust across the Ardennes Forest. Another Pz Corps, the 15th under Gen Hoth (5th& 7thPz Divs) was tasked to cross the Meuse River further North at ‘Dinant’; and the 16thPz Corps under Gen Hoepner (3rd& 4thPz Divs) was to operate still further North under command of the German 4th Army, with focus restricted to the ‘Gemboux Gap’ located South of Brussels. The 16th German Army under Gen Busch was tasked to launch the ‘Holding Attacks’ onto the French positions situated on the Maginot Line to the East of PzGpKleist, for deception purpose.
The combined Anglo-French Forces in France in May 1940 disposed of nearly 4000 armoured vehicles. Whereas, the Germans had only 2200 armoured vehicles for this Offensive. Of these, only 278 were the state of the art Pz IV tanks and 349 were the still-acceptable Pz IIIs (thus totaling 627). The shortcomings on the French side which the Germans hoped to exploit were:
- French obsession with “Methodical Warfare”, a hangover from WW-I days. Their commanders would not commit their troops to offensive actions, unless they had the full picture of their Opponent’s ‘strength, deployment and intentions’.
- French Army’s Tank Units were distributed to Infantry Corps, and the French Armies had a Mechanised Division (DLM). Only four French Armoured Divisions existed, and three of them (2nd, 3rd& 4th DCMs) were kept as Army HQs Reserve in the region of ‘Reims’, and they subsequently fought as separate entities.
- The Germans had a good picture of the French Dispositions and Intentions.
Guderian then proceeded to train his troops in every aspect of the coming Operation. He established excellent liaison and tied up the required procedures with the Two Close-support Luftwaffe Dive-bomber Wings (under Gen von Stutterheim) &Nine Bomber Wings for depth-area interdiction (under Gen Lorzer), who were supporting this Operation.
“Fall Gelb” (Plan Yellow)3, the initial German Invasion of France started on 10 May 1940 at 5.30 hrs. The 600 tanks of Guderian’s 19 Pz Corps traversed through Luxembourg and reached the Belgian fortifications on 11 May 1940 morning, on three different Axes. Their Engineers bypassed the extensive road demolitions and minefields by working throughout the night. By the evening of 12th May 1940, Guderian’s 1st Pz& 10 Pz Divs had reached the Northern Bank of the Meuse River and had captured ‘Sedan’. On 13 May evening, 1 Pz Division’s Infantry Brigade & Assault Engineers attacked across the Meuse and succeeded in establishing a vital Bridgehead by the 14th morning. The first batch of 1stPz Div’s tanks were transhipped to the other side of the Meuse using powered rafts. By mid-day, the Divisional Engineers had succeeded in erecting the Bridge across the Meuse and both Panzer Regiments of 1 Pz Div could get across the River obstacle by the evening and start their ‘Breakout’ actions. Guderian concentrated all his Corps Anti-aircraft resources for the defence of the emerging German Bridges (one per Pz Div). Though the Allies mounted nearly 100 sorties to destroy these Assault Bridges and they lost over 150 aeroplanes in this effort, all three Bridges escaped destruction.
On 14th May evening, Guderian issued orders to the 1st& 2nd Pz Divisions which had crossed the Meuse, to change the direction of the ‘Shwerpunkt’ of the Panzers; by turning West along the Somme River Valley, then cross the Ardennes Canal, and head for the Channel Ports. He detached 10 Pz Div & Gross Deutchland MIBG to move South-west and occupy the ‘Stonne Plateau’, which was the likely concentration area of French Counter-attacks towards the ‘Sedan’ Bridgeheads. Here bitter fighting continued till the 17th May as the French 2nd Army (Gen Huntziger) committed the 3rd DCR (Armoured Div). The Germans ultimately prevailed, and were replaced by their follow-up 14th Mot Inf Corps. On 15 May, Guderian’s Panzer Forces fought their way through the newly arrived reinforcements of the French Reserve 6th Army, in their assembly areas West of ‘Sedan’, also undercutting the southern flank of the French 9th Army, which had already advanced into Belgium. Elements of the French 9th Army thereafter started collapsing and surrendering.
German 41 Panzer Corps under Gen Reinhardt operating to the North of Guderian’s 19 Pz Corps had similarly seized a Bridgehead over the RiverMeuse at ‘Montherme’ on the 13th May. Their 6th & 8thPz Divisions and 20th Mot InfDiv resumed the advance Westwards. Further North was Gen Hoth’s 15 Pz Corps (5th& 7th Pz Divs, and 2nd Mot Inf Div) which had seized a Bridgehead on the Meuse at Dinant. On 16th May, Guderian coordinated the operating boundaries between 19 & 41 Pz Corps when he met the 6th Pz Div Cdr Gen Kempff at ‘Montcornet’. The same day, 10 Pz Div having been relieved at the ‘Stonne Plateau’ by the 29th Mot Inf Div, resumed their move Westwards to join up with Guderian’s 19 Pz Corps. North of Hoth’s 15 Pz Corps was the 16th Pz Corps commanded by Gen Hoepner having the 3rd&4th Pz Divs. It fought the stiffest tank battle of the War involving nearly 800 tanks, in the Battle of Gemboux Gap and prevailed over the French 2 Cavalry Corps (having the 2nd&3rd DLMs- Mechanised Divisions) by 13 May 1940.
On 20th May, 1 Pz Div raced towards ‘Amiens’ and established a Bridgehead on the South Bank of the Somme. It captured ‘Amiens’ and expanded the Bridgehead by the afternoon. 2 Pz Div was tasked to move through ‘Albert’ to ‘Abbeville’, and seize another bridgehead across the Somme. 10 Pz Div was to provide the Flank Guard in the South from the Avre-SommeJn to ‘Perrone’. On 21st May morning itself, the Reconnaissance Unit of 2 Pz Div reached the Atlantic Coast near ‘Noyelles’.
19 Pz Corps then changed direction and resumed the advance Northwards on 22 May with the 1 & 2 Pz Divs, in order to seize the Channel Ports. 1 Pz Div with Gross Deutchland was tasked to advance via ‘Samer-Desvres’ and capture ‘Calais’, and 2 Pz Div was tasked to move along the Coast to capture ‘Boulogne’. On, 10 Pz Div also being made available to Guderian on 22nd May evening, 1 Pz Div was redirected on 23 May to advance via ‘Bourbourgville-Gravelines-Bergus’onto ‘Dunkirk’. 10 PzDiv was tasked to advance from ‘Doullens-Samer’, and capture Calais. By 24th May, 1 Pz Div reached the Aa Canal between ‘Holque’ and the Coast and seized Bridgeheads across it. The 2ndPzDiv captured the ‘Boulogne Port’the same day. 7 Pz Div of Hoth’s 15 Pz Corps had also seized bridgeheads across the Aa Canal in the area of ‘St Omer’. The SS Leibstandarte MIBG was also allotted to 19 Pz Corps on 24th, and it was placed under command of 1 Pz Div. They together with Gross Deutchland, continued advancing towards ‘Wormhoudt’ & ‘Bergues’. By 26th May, 10 Pz Div captured Calais and took about 20,000 PWs including 4000 British. The advance onto ‘Dunkirk’ was stopped by Hitler on the 24th, who gave the task to the Luftwaffe to destroy this last Allied bastion. When attacks were renewed on the 26th, Wormhoudt & ‘Bourgbourgville’ were taken. On 29th May, 1 Pz Div seized ‘Gravelines’. Thereafter 16 Pz Corps was relieved by 14 Mot Inf Corps, for the final capture of ‘Dunkirk’. Overall the Allies lost 61 Divisions as a result of Fall Gelb.
In the next Phase of Operations – “Fall Rot” (Plan Red), to the East Army Group ‘A’ was tasked to encircle and capture the French forces deployed on the Maginot Line from the South (ie. from the rear). The goal of the operation was to envelop the ‘Metz’ region with all its fortifications, and to prevent a French counter-offensive or transfer of forces from the ‘Alsace’ region against the German line on the Somme (ie. against Army Group ‘B’). 39 Pz Korps (Schmidt) having 1st& 2nd Pz Divs and the 29th MID was to advance Southwest to the French border with Switzerland, and trap the French forces in the ‘Vosges’ Mountains, while the 41 Pz Korps (Reinhardt) having 6 & 8 Pz Divs and the 20th MID attacked the Maginot Line from the West, into its vulnerable rear to take the cities of ‘Verdun’, ‘Toul’ and ‘Metz’. Both Pz Corps were placed under the newly formed “Pz Group Guderian” on 28 May. The French had moved the 2nd Army Group from Alsace & Lorraine to the ‘Weygand Line’ on the Somme, leaving only small forces guarding the Maginot Line. After Army Group ‘B’ had begun its offensive against Paris and into Normandy on June 5th, Army Group ‘A’ began its advance to the rear of the Maginot Line on 9th June. On 15 June, Army Group ‘C’ launched “Operation Tiger”, a frontal assault across the Rhine and into France.
The new French Front along the Somme and the Aisne was dubbed the “Weygand Line”. It was longer than the original Franco-Belgian frontier, while the forces available to hold it were greatly diminished both in numbers and morale. The French under Marshal Weygand mustered 49 Divisions to cover the new Front, leaving 17 to hold the Maginot Line. The Germans had brought their 10 seasoned Pz divisions back up to strength with relays of fresh tanks. For the new offensive, German forces were redistributed with two fresh Armies (the 2nd and the 9th) being inserted along the Aisne Sector (between the Oise and the Meuse). Guderian was given command of a group of two Pz Corps (39th& 41st) that were moved into readiness near ‘Charleville’. Panzer Group Kleist was also given two Pz Corps (16th& 19th), to strike from the bridgeheads over the SommeRiver at ‘Amiens’ and ‘Péronne’ respectively, in a pincer move aimed to converge on the lower reach of the OiseRiver near ‘Creil’. The remaining Pz Corps (15th) was to advance between ‘Amiens’ and the sea.
At 4:00 AM on June 5, 1940 the Final German Offensive was launched, initially on the western stretch between ‘Laon’ and the Channel with a barrage of dive-bombers and a powerful thrust of mechanized and armoured troops. It was soon evident that the immediate German objective was not simply the capture of Paris but the wholesale destruction of the remaining French Armies in the field. Resistance along the Somme was stiff for the first two days, but on June 7 the most westerly armoured Corps broke through on the roads to ‘Rouen’, with Rommel leading. By June 8 German armies had crossed the Avre at ‘Roye’, and the capture of ‘Noyon’ gave the Germans passage over the Oise. The French were forced to carry out a general retreat from the sea to a point east of ‘Soissons’, along a Front of some 100 miles (160 km).
The French defence then collapsed in confusion, and the Germans met no serious resistance in crossing the Seine on June 9. Kleist’s pincer stroke, however, did not go according to plan. The left pincer, from ‘Peronne’, was hung up by tough opposition north of ‘Compiègne’. The OKH then decided to pull back Kleist’sPz Group and switch it East to back up the breakthrough achieved by Guderianin ‘Champagne’. The offensive there had not opened until June 9, but it made quick progress. Infantry secured crossings on the Aisne, and Guderian’s tanks swept through the breach toward ‘Chalons-sur-Marne’ and then eastward. On 17 June, 39 Pz Corps smashed through strong resistance capturing ‘Besancon’ and reached the Swiss border, thus cutting off the French Forces deployed on the Maginot Line. The same day after the capture of ‘Pontarlier’, Guderian issued orders for his Pz Group to turn 90 degrees to the left, change direction and head North-east. 29th MID was to head for ‘Pruntrut’ and 1 Pz Div was to head for ‘Montbeliard’ and then to ‘Belfort’. 2 Pz Div being given priority of road-space, was to cut across the logistics routes of 29 MID & 1 Pz Div and head for ‘Remiremont’ on the Upper Moselle River.
Of the 58 main fortifications on the Maginot Line, ten were captured by the Wehrmacht by attacking from the rear. Most French units started surrendering by 25 June, and the Germans took 500,000 prisoners!
Meanwhile Reinhardt’s 41 Pz Corps was inducted across the Aisne River on 10 June, and they started advancing to the East of 39 Pz Corps. They had to fight tough Tank Battles against the French 3rd DLM & 3rd DCM launched from the ‘Argonnes’ &‘Verdun’ regions. Ultimately by 12 June the Germans prevailed, due to better wireless communications and consequent speedy re-deployments & manoeuvrability of their Combat Groups. 41 Pz Corps then resumed its advance Southwards. It captured ‘Machault’ and thereafter ‘Souain’, ‘Tahure’and ‘Manre’. 20th MID captured ‘Vesoul’on 15th June, thereby enhancing flank-protection. It further captured ‘Bourbonne’ on the 16th. 41 Pz Corps was then ordered to turn left and head for ‘Epinal’&‘Charme’.
To the West of 39 Pz Corps, on 15th June, Pz Group Kleist’s 16 Pz Corps was advancing towards ‘Dijon’.In Army Group B’s Area, German troops began to enter Paris without meeting any opposition on 14th June 1940, as it had been declared an “Open City” by the French Govt in order to avoid wanton destruction.
The French PM Reynaud resigned on 16 June. He was succeeded by Pétain, who delivered a radio address to the French people announcing his intention to ask for an armistice with Germany. This armistice was signed on 22 June 1940 at 18:36 (French time) by General Keitel the Chief of Staff of OKW, for Germany and Gen Huntziger the new French Army Chief, for France. The armistice and cease-fire went into effect two days and six hours later, at 00:35 on 25 June, once the Franco-Italian Armistice had also been signed, at 18:35 on 24 June.
“Operation Barbarossa” as viewed by Guderian
In October 1940, Hitler paid a visit to Italy to consult his friend Mussolini on the future course the War should take. To his surprise he was informed at Bologna Railway Station that Italy had started a War against Greece! He did not approve of it, as it re-opened the complex “Balkan Problems”. The Soviet Foreign Commissar then was Vyacheslav Molotov, and he was invited to Berlin on 14 Nov 1940 for consultation and coordination. Stalin put forward demands for a Soviet role in both Rumania and Bulgarian affairs, which was very irritating to Hitler. After a week, Hitler ordered the Chief of German General Staff GenHalder to start making secret Plans for a massive Invasion of the Soviet Union within six months. This Project was given the code-name “Op Barbarossa”. Following a pro-Soviet coup in Yugoslavia on 27 March 1941, Hitler ordered the Balkan Campaign4 to start on April 6th, 1941. Only after the capture of Crete using Paratroopers in end-May 1941 could the bulk of the invading German Formations be switched back to Poland for the subsequent Russian Campaign. This caused a crucial delay of four weeks for Op Barbarossa.
Three German Army Groups were formed for carrying out the Attack on the Soviet Union4, as follows:-
|German Attacking Forces
Army Group North–von Leeb
· Panzer Group 4 – Hoepner
· 56Pz Corps – Manstein – (1,1)
· 41Pz Corps – Reinhardt – (2,0)
|Opposing Frontline Soviet Forces
Soviet Northern Front–M Popov
· 7th Army (German Corps-size)
o 10th Mechanized Corps (German MechDiv+ size)
|Army Group Center–von Bock
· 9th Army
· 4th Army
· 2nd Army
· Panzer Group 3 – Hoth
· 39Pz Corps – Schmidt – (1,2)
· 57Pz Corps – Kuntzen– (2,2)
· Panzer Group 2 – Guderian
· 24Pz Corps – FreiherrGeyr – (2,1)
· 46Pz Corps – Scheel – (1,1)
· 47Pz Corps – Lemelsen – (2,1)
|Soviet NW Front– Timoshenko
· 8th Army
· 5th Airborne Corps
Soviet Western Front – D Pavlov
· 3rd Army
· 4th Army
|Army Group South–von Runstedt
· 6th Army
· Panzer Group 1 – Kleist
· 3Pz Corps – Mackensen – (2,1)
· 14Pz Corps – Wietersheim – (1,2)
· 35Pz Corps – Kempf – (2,1)
|Soviet South-Western Front –Kirponos
· 5th Army
· 6th Army
· 26th Army
· 12th Army
· 16th Army
· 19th Army
· 19th Mechanised Corps
· 24th Mechanised Corps
The broad intention was that the three German Attacking Army Groups should break through the Soviet Frontier Deployments, and then encircle and destroy them. However the Pz Groups were to push forward deep into Russia and prevent the formation of New Defensive Lines.
Guderian’s Pz Group was tasked to advance from either side of ‘Brest’ Fortress after crossing the Bug River and advance to the area of ‘Roslavl’, ‘Elnya’ and ‘Smolensk’ in Byelorussia.
- The Right Wing was led by 24 Pz Corps under Gen FreiherrGeyr. It had the 3rd Pz Div (Gen Model), 4th Pz Div (Gen Langermann) and 10th MID (Gen Loeper). Further as Flank Guard along the Pripet Marshes was the 1st Cavalry Div advancing to ‘Pinsk’.
- The Left Wing was led by 47 Pz Corps under Gen Lemelsen. It had the 17th Pz Div (GenArnim), 18 Pz Div (Gen Nehring), and 29th MID (Gen Boltenstern).
- Giving Flank support to 47 Pz Corps against the Soviet armour Reserves located at ‘Bialystok’ was the 46 Pz Corps under Gen Scheel having 10th Pz Div (Gen Schaal) and SS Das Reich MID (GenHausser), following behind the Left Wing.
The German High Command was supremely confident of attaining Victory before the onset of Winter. The correct estimates of Russian military strength and deployment sent by the German Military Attache in Moscow GenKostring was disregarded by “All”. So much so, the German OKH did the logistics for providing only 20% of the attacking troops with Winter Clothing for ‘garrisoning’ duties in Russia. But the ‘smart’ Waffen SS & Luftwaffe, had catered for 100% Winter Clothing for their personnel!
Hoth’s Pz Group 3 captured ‘Minsk’, the capital of Byelorussia on 26th June 1941. 17 Pz Div of Lemelsen’s 47 Pz Group established link-up from the South with Hoth’s Panzers at Minsk on 27 June 1941, thus effecting a classic meeting of mobile ‘Pincers’ behind Enemy territory for the subsequent ‘Kesselshact’ operation, by the following-up Infantry Corps.
The next major ‘objective’ was ‘Smolensk’. On July 10th, the Dnieper River was crossed by 24 Pz Corps at ‘StaryeBichov’, South of ‘Mogilev’. It then headed for ‘Roslavl’. On 11 July, 47 Pz Corps too crossed the Dnieper River at ‘Kopys’, South of ‘Orsha’. 46 Pz Corps too crossed the Dnieper River at ‘Shklov’between the other two Pz Corps on 11th July. Meanwhile Hoth’s 3 Pz Group had reached ‘Vitebsk’, further North. Further in the South, Pz Group 1 of Army Group South had reached the line of the Dniester River. On July 16th, the 29 MID of 47 Pz Corps, raced ahead and captured Smolensk before the Russians could consolidate there. 46 Pz Corps took ‘Elnya’ on the Desna River by the 20th. By 25 July, the Russians had started to deploy on the Novgorod – Severski – West of Bryansk – Elnya – Rzhev – Ostashkov Line with four New Armies. The Russian 21st Army was identified to be at ‘Gomel’, their 13th Army at ‘Rodnia’, and their 4th Army to the South of Roslavl. Attempts to again link up with Pz Group Hoth’s spearheads at ‘Dorogobush’ did not succeed, as 18 Pz Div of 47 Pz Corps was held back at ‘Gusino’, South of the Dneper River as a Flank Guard, on the 4th German Army Cdr von Kluge’s orders. But Hoth’s 3 Pz Group succeeded in encircling 10 Russian Divisions East of Smolensk by 26th July without the help of 47 Pz Corps.
While Guderian expected to push onto ‘Bryansk’ next, on the way to Moscow before the Russians could organise their defences there, Hitler according to his peculiar wisdom ordered on 27 July that 2 Pz Group will push in a Southerly direction towards ‘Gomel’ and be placed under 2nd German Army for this operation, in order to encircle the 10 Russian Divisions there. Guderian was convinced that this major ‘diversion’ of his Pz Group would prevent the rapid conclusion of the Russian Campaign, with the early capture of Moscow. This new operation started with the attack on the Russians in the ‘Roslavl’ Areaon 1st August. This task was given to 24 Pz Corps (3 & 4 Pz Divs) alongwith 7& 9 Army Corps. Roslavl on the Oster River was fully captured by 8th August. Guderian’s Plan to capture ‘Viasma’ next was not accepted by OKW, as Hitler directed on 15 August that 24 Pz Corps was to capture ‘Gomel’ next.
On 16 August, 39 Pz Corps of Hoth’s Pz Group 3 was transferred to Army Group North/ 4 Pz Group in order to intensify the struggle to capture Leningrad. German 2nd Army captured ‘Gomel’ by August 19.
On 23 August the decision of the Fuehrer was announced to direct Panzer Group 2, South to aid Army Group South for the capture of Kiev, instead of heading for the obvious ‘strategic objective’ of Moscow. Guderian tried to change Hitler’s mind by asking for an interview with Hitler the same day. Hitler gave out the following reasons for his new decision:-
- The raw materials and agriculture of the Ukraine were vitally necessary for the future prosecution of the War. This included the industrial & coal-mining region of the Donetsk Basin, and cutting off Russian access to the Caucasian oilfields.
- The Rumanian oilfields at ‘Ploesti’ needed to be protected. Therefore capture of the Crimean peninsula was vital.
- The ‘economic aspects’ affecting the continuation of the War outweigh even vital ‘strategic considerations’, when it comes to choosing Objectives to be captured.
- The Russian 5th Army opposite German 6th Army (AGS) must be destroyed, and not be allowed to occupy a new defensive line along Desna – Konotop – Sula.
Guderian impressed upon Hitler the dire effect autumn rains will have on mobile operations. So he wanted the full Pz Group to be committed to ensure an early completion of this task. This was agreed to by Hitler, but it angered the Chief of General Staff Gen Halder who had planned on splitting up Pz Group 2. Nevertheless, 46 Pz Corps was withdrawn and placed under the German 4th Army. Later they were again released back with additional Mot InfRegtsDass Reich&Gross Deutchland, as heavy resistance was met and flank protection became a problem. The operation which had started on 25 August was also impeded by the Autumn rains which started on 10th September. On 19 Sep, Kiev was taken by 1 Pz Group/ 6th German Army. Even though 24 Pz Corps made first contact with elements of Kleist’s 1 Pz Group (Kempf’s 35 Pz Corps) on 16 Sep South of ‘Priluki’, it was not until 20 Sep that both the two armoured Pincers could make a tight encirclement which trapped the Russian 21st, 5th, 37th, 26th and 38th Armies around Kiev5 yielding 665,000 PWs.
Panzer Group Guderian thereafter became part of AGC’s major offensive towards Moscow6. Three quarters of the available German Panzer Forces on the Eastern Front were committed to this undertaking. 2 Pz Group started its operations from the ‘Konotop’ Area two days prior on 30 Sep (in order to get total air support and to make best use of the few days of favourable weather to hit a proper road near ‘Orel’, to ensure proper logistics thereafter) – with the 47 Pz Corps (2,1) from ‘Yampol’, 24 Pz Corps (2,1) from ‘Gluchov’ and 48 Pz Corps (1,3) from ‘Romny’.
Orel was taken by 24 Pz Corps on 3 October. AGC was now in Russia-proper! Partisan activity started behind the German Front. ‘Bryansk’ was captured by 17 PzDiv of 47 Pz Corps in a ‘rush-operation’ on 6th Oct. The first snow-fall of the Winter happened on night 06/07 October. From 10th October, the intensity of the Russian winter set in, making cross-country mobility very difficult. The 4 PzDiv of 24 Pz Corps managed to capture ‘Mzensk’ with great difficulty by 22 October, after having been mauled by a Russian Tank Brigade equipped with T-34 tanks. ‘Chern’ was also taken by 24 October. On 14 October, 48 Pz Corps was directed towards ‘Kursk’ to secure the Right Flank of the Pz Group. Russian 50th Army caught in the encirclement North of Bryansk by German 2nd Army & 47 Pz Corps surrendered on October 17th. Remnants of the Russian 13th Army who were trapped in the ‘Trubchevsk’ area surrendered on 20th October. With the victorious battles of Bryansk & Vyasma, AGC had achieved whatever was possible in the Winter-weather. The next objective for 2ndPz Group was ‘Tula’ on the Bryansk-Moscow highway. But road connectivity and logistics to support this massive effort failed. 3 Pz Div of 24 Pz Corps could reach only up to 4 kms short of Tula by October 29th, due to effective Soviet resistance and density of anti-tank guns. The Russians also counter-attacked strongly from the direction of ‘Yefremov’, which was repulsed by 13 November. By 4 November, 48 Pz Corps had managed to capture ‘Kursk’. Frost-bite cases started to occur from November 7th.
The final push to Moscow started on 18 November. It mainly consisted of:-
47 Panzer Corps
- 18 Pz Div attacked the industrial town of ‘Yefremov’ and captured it by 20 November.
- 10th& 29th MIDs attacked to the East of ‘Tula’, to guard the Flank.
24 Panzer Corps
- Battle Group ex 17 Pz Div to rush to ‘Kashira’ in order to capture the bridge on the Oka River.
- Balance of 17 Pz Div, 3 & 4 Pz Divs were to capture ‘Tula’.
43 Army Corps
- Advance between Upa & Kaluga Rivers and maintain contact with the 4 German Army on its left & 2 Pz Gp on its right.
The planned attacks could not make progress due to the freezing weather and stiff Russian opposition. The same was the case in Reinhardt’s 3 Pz Group area further North and Hoeppner’s 4th Pz Group’s front North of Moscow. Gudedrian proposed on night 5/6 December, withdrawal to the Susha River–Oka River Line, for better defensibility during the harsh Winter. This was reached by December 10th. Due to continued Russian pressure and limited breakthroughs, Guderian was forced to withdraw further. On December 19th, 47 Pz Corps and its supporting 53 Army Corps (Infantry) had to fall back to the line of the Plava River. 47 Pz Corps had to be brought to the line of ‘Oserki’ – NW of ‘Podissiniovke’; and 24 Pz Corps moved to the ‘Orel’ Area as Mobile Reserve, by December 19th. Differences arose between the new Army Group Centre commander Field Marshal von Kluge and Guderian regarding the loss of ‘Chern’ by 10 MID of 47 Pz Corps on 25 December, due to encirclement by strong Russian Forces. The AGC Commander wrongly concluded that it was a deliberate withdrawal. He requested Hitler to relieve Guderian immediately from the command of 2 Pz Group. Gen Rudolf Schmidt relieved Guderian on 26 December 1941.
Lessons to be Learnt from “Op Barbarossa”
- Throughout 1941, the Russians employed for the attack/ counter-attack, Tank Formations of ‘Tank Brigade’ strength. These were easily decimated by the German Panzer Corps which usually had a 2 x Pz Divisions & 1 x MID in its organisation. The German Pz Division had a lean organisation with only 200 tanks & 1500 assorted vehicles. This ensured that the supply roads for the mobile Combat Commands were not cluttered up. Germany started ‘Op Barbarossa’ with 19 x Pz Divsie. 3800 tanks! The Russians quickly learnt from their defeats, and by the time of launching “Op Uranus” ie. the encirclement Operation of the German 6th Army attacking Stalingrad in Nov 1942, they had only ‘Tank Corps’ for the ‘Break-in Battle(s) and the ‘Mechanised Corps’ for the ‘Exploitation Battle(s), both (equivalent to a normal Armoured Division) having about 200 tanks.
- Maintenance of the ‘Strategic Aim’ has to be given the highest consideration in War! This should over-ride even major Economic considerations, however important they may be. Hitler’s fateful order on 24 Aug 1941 to postpone the attack on Moscow and go for completion of the conquest of Ukraine by diverting 2 Pz Group southwards, was in hindsight a grievous error which prevented Germany from concluding the War quickly and favourably.
- The Break-in Battles in the German Army during ‘Op Barbarossa’ including crossing of River obstacles was conducted by the PzDivs, using their organic Mot. Infantry. This helped them save time and increase the chances of success. This was an important lesson learnt from the French Campaign of 1940 and implemented. The concept of Infantry Corps creating bridgeheads for Pz formations, finished!
- German Pz Combat Commands carried two days Immediate Replenishments on wheels, which was located about 15 kms behind the area of fighting. A further quantity of Contact-rate Three days of Replenishments were also carried on wheels under Divisional arrangements, 30 kms behind the Front. This enabled non-stop movement of Fighting echelons.
The campaigns fought by Gen Guderian during WW II amply prove that correct organisation & training of Mechanised Forces and their proper tactical employment will surely bear results out of all proportion. The organisation of Panzer Divisions improved from year to year, based on battle-experience gained.
It is worth studying the German PzDiv Organisation7 during Op Barbarossa. This is given at Appendix ‘A’. No counter-attack could succeed against a German Pz Division having 200 tanks. Similarly, nothing the Opponents fielded could usually stop the purposeful and mostly-evasive advance (‘running torrent’) by 400 tanks of a Pz Corps!
The Organisation8 of a Soviet ‘Tank Corps’ which is the equivalent of an Armoured Division of other Armies is given at Appendix ‘B’. The Russians followed the ‘Quadrangular Pattern’ for structuring their formations.
In view of the above successful examples, serious thought needs to be given to the urgent need for restructuring India’s Mechanised Forces within the overall context Availability of resources, Budget constraints, and Deployment matrices for various contingencies. A suggested ‘Force Structure’9 catering to these vital aspects is given at Appendix ‘C’.Then, we cannot be ridiculed for “Arming without Aiming!” We must ramp up the production of BMP-2/its successor APC. All Divisions must have strong Anti-Aircraft & Anti-Drone Defence Units. Self-propelled Artillery voids of Mechanised Formations should be addressed. Robust Electronic Warfare & real-time Intelligence Collection capabilities need to be made functional, at Div-level.
Refer Time Magazine Archives, August 7, 1944 issue.
Refer book ‘KampaniaWrzesniowa w Polsce September 1939’ by Lt Gen M. NorwidNeugebauer, translated by Peter Jordan and published in March 1942 by I. Kolin Publishers Ltd, London. https://felsztyn.tripod.com/germaninvasion/id11.html.
Refer Chapter III of ‘Panzer Leader’ by Heinz Guderian, Palit&Dutt Publishers, Dehradun, 1970.
Walther Hubatsch, ‘HitlersWeisungenfuer die Kriegfuehrung 1939-1945’, Weisung Nr. 20, 2nd Edition, Bernard &Graefe,Verlag, 1983 (as translated).
Fugate, Bryan &Dvoriecki, ‘Thunder on the Dnepr’,Presidio Press, Novato, 1972.
‘The Moscow Campaign, October – December 1941’ by Larry A. Hartig, Robert P. Harn, Ronald W. Linville & Hartman Wilkins, May 1994, US Defence Technical Information Centre – https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/AD1121532.pdf
University of Nebraska – Lincoln DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska – Lincoln, 3-1-1946, Handbook on USSR Military Forces: Chapter III, Field Organizations, Page 18, Robert L. Bolin – https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1022&context=dodmilintel