Germans neglect Soviets, surprised when Moscow lost | 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 completely surprised the Germans. A German intelligence report, dated December 4, stated that, “…at the present time the enemy in front of the Armeegruppe center is not capable of carrying out a counter-offensive without significant reserves”.

The Soviet Union had lost millions killed and captured and tens of thousands of aircraft, 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 Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, and push it back from the city. The Wehrmacht could never approach Moscow again.

The “Battle of Moscow” – one of the most important of World War II – is generally considered one of the most important battles of the war, mainly because the Red Army was able to prevent a determined attempt by the Wehrmacht to capture the Soviet capital. The battle also marked a turning point, as it was the first time the German army had been forced into a major retreat.

Stalin, realizing that the Germans were determined to take Moscow and get the Soviet Union out of the war, ordered General Georgii Zhukov to come to Moscow and organize the defense of the city. The city is transformed into a fortress. According to Zhukov, 250,000 women and teenagers worked, digging trenches and anti-tank moats around Moscow, moving almost four million cubic meters of earth without any mechanical help.

By early December, the leading Panzergruppes were within 30 km of the Kremlin and the German officers could see some of the Moscow buildings through their binoculars, but, crippled by the cold and the exhausted troops, the Germans were unable to advance further. .

The overwhelmed and exhausted Germans were unprepared for the harsh Russian winter. They had to spend hours warming up panzers and aircraft engines to use them. The Red Army was better prepared for the severe cold. In terms of training and experience, the Germans had the advantage.

With so many armies destroyed and men killed or captured over the summer, new Soviet recruits and reserve troops went straight into battle under inexperienced officers. With the blitzkrieg contained, the German-Soviet War had become a war of attrition, and Soviet strategy was to push back the Germans before they could dig in or reinforce, starting around Moscow.

From Kalinin, north of Moscow, to Yelets in the south, the Soviet plan was to cut and destroy the Armeegruppe center panzers, surrounding Moscow, and then drive 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 over 1,500 aircraft from Siberia and the Far East to Moscow.

Little did the Germans realize that the Red Army had accumulated a reserve of 58 divisions and nine new armies for its next offensive, giving it a numerical superiority over the Wehrmacht. At the same time, the temperature around Moscow fell to -20°F. Soviet commanders knew such temperatures would render German tanks and artillery ineffective, and the German Luftwaffe would be grounded. Even the firing pins of 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 aircraft, tanks and vehicles were designed from the outset 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 counter-offensive against Armeegruppe Center. This counter-offensive involved the Kalinin, Western and South-Western fronts, which alone had 14 armies, two cavalry groups and an operational group, numbering almost a million men, 1,000 tanks and 1,300 aircraft. The Soviets believed that the demoralized and defenseless Germans would crumble.

The town of Kalinin was invaded and liberated on December 7. The next day, Hitler signed Directive No. 39, ordering the German army to take up a defensive position. However, the German troops failed to organize a solid defense and were forced to withdraw to consolidate their lines.

Army Commander-in-Chief Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch suffered a mild heart attack on December 10 and was relieved of duty for “health reasons” and replaced by the Führer on December 19. Authorization to withdraw had been given by Colonel .-Gen. Franz Halder, Chief of Staff of the Army High Command, on 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 out German losses from the harsh Russian winter which were far greater than combat losses.

On December 25, he, along with People. Erich Hoepner and Adolf Strauß, commanders of the Fourth Panzergruppe and the Ninth Army, were all dismissed. Marshal von Bock was also fired for “health reasons”. Hitler’s Directive No. 39 probably saved the Armeegruppe center from total collapse. By ordering his troops to hold their ground, he prevented the retreat from 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 badly maimed, losing most of its heavy equipment.

By mid-December, the temperature dropped to -44°F. In this record cold, the Luftwaffe was grounded, although they flew a few missions to try to stem the Soviet tide.

By January 1, 1942, the Wehrmacht had suffered 830,000 killed, wounded and captured since the start of Operation Barbarossa. Added to this are another 174,194 killed, wounded and captured since the Soviet offensive. This total of one million men is equivalent to almost a third of all Germans who were engaged on June 22, 1941. As a result, the German army had to reorganize its infantry, motorized and panzer divisions with less of men and equipment.

In addition to the massive losses suffered by the Red Army until the start of the offensive on December 5, 1941, it still suffered 370,955 dead, wounded and captured until January 20, 1942. No country in history has could have suffered such losses and still emerged with millions of men on the ground, and launched 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: surrender of Hong Kong

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