The Drive on Moscow 1941 – Zetterling & Frankson

This book is about Operation Typhoon, the lunge towards Moscow by the German Army Group Center from around October 1 to December 1 of 1941.  In a way, it was like a replay in miniature of the entire Barbarossa – initial smashing success that tapered off at the end due to the German’s inability to overcome the problems of sustaining an offensive against mounting resistance.

The book. while not a long one, does a good job of following the action.  It does pay some attention to the Soviet side of the front, which is often neglected.  But it does more or less accept the conventional view of the campaign that it was a ‘reasonable idea’.   At this point the Germans had been through this several times – the three opening campaigns of Barbarossa (North, Center, South), Uman, Kiev. Each time there was initial success followed by stalemate as the gain was consolidated. In the end a new front was rebuilt and the process needed to be begun again. To expect this campaign to be different lacks sense.

The justification usually goes like this – “well, they have to do something.  And the losses did disrupt the Soviets for a while”.  But if you are discarding the aim of the strategy, how does it make sense to keep the rest intact?

If the purpose of the operation was to kill Russians, then there was little need to advance the front so extensively after pocketing the original line.  What was Moscow really going to mean if they took it?  A surrender?  Not likely, given what they had in mind.  One can’t help but think that the lunge forward was done on instinct more than rational analysis.

Instead, the troops were overextended and at the end of a tenuous supply line when the winter set in, ripe for the counterattack. Spending that last month or so building a winter line seems to be more sensible than having to scuttle back there in midwinter conditions.

Even with a change in plan, the Germans were probably going to lose this war.  The Soviets just had the advantage that these wild lunges deeper into nowhere set them up for a damaging counterblow.  And in the next year they would repeat the error, and the Soviets again would make them pay.


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