The Germans neglect the Soviets, surprised by the defeat of Moscow | The Second World War
(December 17, 2021) Eighty years ago this week, the Red Army drove the Wehrmacht from the gates of Moscow. Begun on December 5, 1941, this Soviet counter-offensive came as a total surprise to the Germans. A German intelligence report from December 4 said that “… at present the enemy in front of the Armeegruppe center is not capable of carrying out a counteroffensive without significant reservations.”
The Soviet Union had lost millions of men killed and captured and tens of thousands of planes, tanks and artillery destroyed. Yet the Red Army was still able to muster such a force to attack the one-million-man Armeegruppe center, commanded by Marshal Fedor von Bock, and push it away from the city. The Wehrmacht was never able to approach Moscow again.
The “Battle of Moscow” – one of the most important of World War II – is widely regarded as one of the most important battles of the war, mainly because the Red Army succeeded in preventing a determined attempt to the Wehrmacht to capture the Soviet capital. The battle also marked a turning point, as it was the first time that the German army had been forced into a major retreat.
Stalin, realizing that the Germans were determined to take Moscow and eliminate the Soviet Union from the war, ordered General Georgii Zhukov to come to Moscow and organize the defense of the city. The city has been turned into a fortress. According to Zhukov, 250,000 women and adolescents worked, digging trenches and anti-tank ditches around Moscow, moving nearly four million cubic meters of earth without any mechanical assistance.
In early December, the leading Panzergruppes were within 30 kilometers of the Kremlin, and German officers were able to see some of the buildings in Moscow with their binoculars, but, crippled by the cold and exhausted, the Germans were unable to advance. any further.
The overwhelmed and exhausted Germans were unprepared for the harsh Russian winter. They must have spent hours warming up panzer and airplane engines to use them. The Red Army was better prepared for the cold weather. In terms of training and experience, the Germans held the advantage.
With so many armies destroyed and men killed or captured in the summer, new Soviet recruits and reserve troops went directly into battle under the direction of inexperienced officers. With the blitzkrieg contained, the German-Soviet war had become a war of attrition, and the Soviet strategy was to push back the Germans before they could dig or strengthen, starting around Moscow.
From Kalinin, north of Moscow, to Yelets in the south, the Soviet plan was to cut and destroy the panzers of the Armeegruppe center, surrounding Moscow, then to go deep behind the German lines through the flanks.
After the Soviet high command, “Stavka”, received intelligence reports from Soviet spy Richard Sorge, who was in Tokyo, that the Japanese would not attack the Soviet Union, Stalin transferred 18 divisions, 1 700 tanks and more than 1,500 planes from Siberia and the Far East to Moscow.
The Germans did not realize that the Red Army had built up a reserve of 58 divisions and nine new armies for its next offensive, giving it numerical superiority over the Wehrmacht. At the same time, the temperature around Moscow fell to -20 ° F. Soviet commanders knew that such temperatures would render German tanks and artillery ineffective, and the German Luftwaffe would be grounded. Even the percussion caps of the rifles and machine guns broke.
German soldiers had to rely, in some cases, on hand grenades alone to keep the Soviets at bay. However, Soviet airplanes, tanks, and vehicles were designed from the start to operate in harsh winter conditions. Alcohol, which has a much lower freezing temperature, was used for hydraulic fluid.
Two days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Red Army launched its massive counteroffensive against Armeegruppe Center. This counteroffensive involved the Kalinin fronts, west and south-west, which together numbered 14 armies, two groups of cavalry and an operational group, numbering nearly one million men, 1,000 tanks and 1,300 planes. The Soviets believed that the demoralized and defenseless Germans were going to collapse.
The town of Kalinin was invaded and liberated on December 7. The next day, Hitler signed Directive 39, ordering the German army to take a defensive position. However, the German troops failed to organize a solid defense and were forced to fall back to consolidate their lines.
The Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch suffered a mild heart attack on December 10 and was relieved of his command for “reasons of health”, and replaced by der Führer on December 19. The authorization to withdraw had been given by Colonel.-Gen. Franz Halder, Chief of Staff of the Army High Command, December 14.
In a meeting with senior officers on December 20, Hitler called off the withdrawal and ordered the Wehrmacht to “stand firm.” General Heinz Guderian, commander of the Second Panzerarmee, protested, pointing to the German losses due to the harsh Russian winter which were much greater than the losses in combat.
On December 25, he, with Gens. Erich Hoepner and Adolf Strauß, commanders of the Fourth Panzergruppe and the Ninth Army, are all dismissed. Marshal von Bock was also dismissed for “health reasons”. Hitler’s Directive # 39 likely saved the Armeegruppe center from total collapse. By ordering his troops to hold on, he prevented the retreat of the Armeegruppe Center from becoming a complete rout, like Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in 1812.
The Soviet offensive continues unabated. In the south, the Soviet offensive went well, Tula being relieved on December 16 and the XXXV Armeekorps surrounded and destroyed. The third Panzergruppe was severely maimed, losing most of its heavy equipment.
In mid-December, the temperature dropped to -44 ° F. In that record cold, the Luftwaffe was grounded, although it carried out a few missions in an attempt to stem the Soviet tide.
As of January 1, 1942, the Wehrmacht had killed, wounded and captured 830,000 since Operation Barbarossa began. In addition, 174,194 others were killed, wounded and captured since the Soviet offensive. This total of one million men represents almost a third of all Germans who were enlisted on June 22, 1941. As a result, the German army had to reorganize its infantry, motorized and panzer divisions with less. men and equipment.
In addition to the massive losses that the Red Army had suffered until the start of the offensive on December 5, 1941, it suffered another 370,955 killed, wounded and captured until January 20, 1942. No country in history could not have suffered such losses and again emerged with millions of men on the ground, and will launch such an offensive.
The Soviet offensive marked the end of Operation Barbarossa and its complete failure. He failed to achieve the goals set by Hitler – the destruction of the Red Army, the capture of Leningrad, Moscow, Rostov-on-Don and the Crimean Peninsula after four months of fighting. The war will last more than three years.
Next week: the Hong Kong surrenders