Hitler’s March on Moscow, October 1941
This is the third book in Stahel’s series on the War in the East, following “Operation Barbarossa” and “Kiev 1941”. Together they paint a picture of an operation that was coming apart well before its actual stopping point. The continual problem of too much space to cover with too few men and tanks, coupled with the steady if not increasing ability of the Soviets to put up resistance and the decreasing ability of the Germans to supply the far-flung units was the “handwriting on the wall”. But rather than pay heed to the warning signs, both the government and the army leaders decided that one more offensive would change it all, thus digging a deeper hole.
This volume only covers the first month of the offensive, from the opening until when the fall rains locked the region in mud. Presumably the final lunge for Moscow after the freeze and the Soviet counteroffensive are for future books.
Like Barbarossa, the attack met with initial success. Germany’s decreasing armor forces were more or less concentrated on a single front, and one that had weakened itself in savage attacks during the earlier operations around Smolensk and the opening of the Kiev encirclement. The result was a pair of large pockets that netted a lot of prisoners and also a lot of dispersed enemy soldiers in the rear area. As was becoming common, the pockets were difficult to close, as the tank forces outran the infantry and were forced to man the lines themselves rather than move on.
The next phase, however, showed some warts in the plan. Guderian’s forces started far to the south and were having trouble getting back to the Moscow region, as they had a long exposed flank to cover. In the north, a lunge to take the city of Kalinin took troops off on a tangent – while it looked good on the map, the forces there ended up no closer to Moscow and defending a narrow corridor with Russians on both sides. The Germans were having enough problems with a long front without adding a salient to it!
As October advanced, the weather began to cool and the need for shelter and winter clothing began to increase. With no preparations having been done, and any preparations that might have been done negated by the long supply chain and lack of transport, the troops had to try to make do by stealing the homes of the locals and the winter clothes of them, or from captured or slain troops.
And as before, the ‘success’ of Typhoon still showed no sign of ending Soviet resistance. One doubts that even the taking of Moscow would have changed this. But despite signs that once again an operational success brought the war no closer to being over, the plan for the first winter was to undertake yet another offensive with even weaker, more stretched out forces, in another futile attempt to end all resistance.
Instead, what would happen is that with time, the Soviets would learn enough to be able to keep the field with the Germans and from that point on, the continual offensives would be moving the front in the other direction, back towards Berlin.