The Viaz’ma Catastrophe, 1941 – Lev Lopukhovsky

The Red Army’s Disastrous stand Against Operation Typhoon

In late September, 1941, the German invasion of the USSR was in the curious position of succeeding massively in some ways and failing miserably in others.  The losses of the Russians were stupendous, the land gained was impressive on the map.  On the ground, though, the army was stretched to cover an increasing front and could no longer support offensives in all directions.  Instead the eroding panzer forces had to be concentrated in one section of the front to break through.  And rather than having opposition fade with time as the plan required, Russian resistance seemed to be holding steady, or even growing. And winter was coming.

Unwilling to change any of the premises behind the invasion, the Germans instead decided to repeat the same plan that had merely given them impressive gains but no final resolution when tried in June at the borders or at Kiev in August.  And this time their forces were weaker.  Operation Typhoon was set up to lunge in the center of the front, towards Moscow.

The forces in this area had spent most of the summer attacking the Germans and were worn down and not in a position of defense.  In a matter of days, the front was shattered and most of the men in it killed or captured.  The reduction of the pockets continued for a month until the Autumn rains caused a pause in the offensive to work out supply difficulties.  This gave the Soviets time to build up a new defensive line to contest the next phase of Typhoon as the weather declined into full winter.  Again, the offensive had produced impressive victories without winning the war.

This is an immensely detailed look at a campaign that usually gets about as much explanation as I just gave it.  The view is from the Soviet side, and doesn’t spare anyone from the mistakes that led to the disaster.  It also provides evidence that the USSR has understated the actual losses by about half, and that a million men were killed or captured.

Another thread in this history is of the survivors of the fallen.  The author lost his own father in this battle and explains that body recovery and identification of the fallen in these battles is still going on today.  Former POWs are still being ‘rehablitated’ when these studies can prove that they did not surrender without cause.  Part of the reason for the author wanting an accurate list of losses is to keep the process going until all the fallen are recognized.  It adds a sobering thought that the impact of these battles isn’t over even so long afterward.



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