The code name of the Wehrmacht offensive operation launched toward Moscow in the autumn of 1941. Army Group Center, led by Field Marshal Fedor von Bock , had broken the main Soviet defenses 200 miles from Moscow in the middle of July, during the first phase of the long Battle of Smolensk ( July–September, 1941). Adolf Hitler and the OKW then turned the bulk of mobile forces against the flanks, reinforcing a thrust to Leningrad in the north and two great Kesselschlacht (“cauldron battles”) at Uman and Kiev in the south. Hitler did not order a resumption of the advance on Moscow until September 6, when he issued Führer Directive #35. Army Group Center was strongly reinforced with the addition of 3rd Panzergruppe under General Hermann Hoth and with a Fliegerkorps drawn from Army Group North and more combat aircraft advanced from the Luftwaffe reserve. General Heinz Guderian arrived with 2nd Panzergruppe, returned to Bock’s command after spectacular successes in Ukraine. Along with Colonel General Erich Hoepner’s 4th Panzergruppe, Bock had available the largest concentration of German armor to date—three full Panzergruppen— and over 1.9 million men as he prepared a second lunge at Moscow.
To reach Moscow the Germans would have to smash through the Ostashkov– Pochep Line 200 miles west of the city. Three Red Army Fronts stood opposite Army Group Center. Western Front, under General Ivan S Konev, fielded six armies holding the north end of the Ostashkov–Pochep Line. Marshal Semyon Budyonny was at the critical center, commanding two armies designated Reserve Front. General Andrei I. Yeremenko commanded the three armies of Briansk Front holding the southern end of the Line. In all, 1.25 million Red Army krasnoarmeets , with supporting artillery and tank forces, defended the most vital and central few hundred miles of the Eastern Front. However, Stalin and the Stavka did not anticipate that the main German blow would fall on this central section of the Eastern Front. They were preoccupied with the ongoing German drive to take Leningrad and with the aftermath of the disasters at Uman and Kiev, which had ripped open the south, and a new calamity pending in the Crimea. Lack of command attention at the top reinforced the Soviet weakness of divided command along the frontlines, notably at the Schwerpunkt where the Germans were about to strike at Budyonny’s Reserve Front. Command confusion among Soviet leaders, civil and military, was one of the underlying reasons for early German success in TAIFUN.
Bock’s first move came on September 30 with a diversionary attack in the south by Guderian against Yeremenko’s position. Bock intended to pull Soviet forces away from the main blow to be landed some 400 miles farther north. That assault came three days later, as 4th Panzergruppe sliced right through Budyonny’s dispositions, racing ahead 100 miles in a sweeping northeastern arc to take the critical rail junction at Viazma on October 7. Meanwhile, 3rd Panzergruppe broke through in the north. Hoth’s Panzers and motorized infantry curled southeast and linked with Hoepner at Viazma: the Wehrmacht had achieved another vast encirclement, with four Soviet armies trapped inside the “Kessel.” The Red Army suffered another catastrophic defeat as over 650,000 of its troops surrendered, including a large number of senior officers. Worse was to come: a second successful German encirclement was carried out at Briansk, where an additional 120,000 or more surrendered. The casualties were truly staggering: perhaps as many as one million officers and men were lost to death, wounds, or captivity, as well as thousands of tanks and guns and masses of other war matériel. Only General Georgi Zhukov’s personal intervention with Stalin prevented the arrest and execution of Konev as yet another scapegoat for the dictator’s own failings as supreme commander. As early as October 5th, before the fall of Viazma, Stalin and the Stavka agreed to pull back to a fourth defensive position: the Mozhaisk Line. It was poorly manned with NKVD police battalions, opolchentsy (“People’s Militia”), and other scratch forces. The first Panzers touched the Mozhaisk Line on October 10. They were through it just eight days later. The road to Moscow lay wide open, with almost no effective Red Army formation standing in the way. Stalin panicked: the government was ordered to evacuate Moscow for the Urals; Zhukov later reported that week as the most harrowing of the war. Yet, Moscow never fell. What happened?
The Germans were slowed by the mud sea of the October rasputitsa, but there was more in play than that. Hitler paused the offensive, falsely confident that the Viazma–Briansk encirclement—added to the earlier and highly successful Kesselschlacht and mass Soviet surrenders at Uman and Kiev—had already broken the back of the Red Army. He was certain that the Soviet had no more reserves to block the path to Moscow. The delay lasted six weeks, during which lingering resistance behind German lines was ruthlessly crushed. Even then, Hitler and the OKW waited. It was not until the cold of mid-November froze mud roads and permitted resumption of wheeled movement that Bock was ordered to continue the advance to Moscow. That was the second major error made by Hitler and his generals: the Wehrmacht resumed offensive operations into the teeth of a building Russian winter, rather than going into winter quarters to husband strength for a spring offensive. Most importantly, the long delay permitted the Stavka to find still more troops to hurl into the battle: five fresh divisions from Siberia and others pulled from the Volga Line, about which Hitler, OKW, and the Abwehr had not the slightest inkling. The final German surge was made starting on November 15, but Army Group Center did not have the logistical legs to carry it the last few dozen miles to Moscow. Weapons and equipment wore down, men were exhausted, and bitter cold made every step an ordeal. By December 4 forward movement by the Germans ceased. The next day, the Red Army struck back with a wholly unexpected and massive counteroffensive led by the fresh Siberians. It stunned the Wehrmacht. Within three days even Hitler understood that TAIFUN had failed and ordered all German forces in the east to “transition to the defensive.” Instead of taking Moscow, Army Group Center thereafter found itself reeling away from the capital, defending against a ferocious Moscow offensive operation that lasted into January 1942. The Wehrmacht would never be so close to Moscow again.
HOKUSHIN “northern advance.”
The geostrategic strategy pursued by the Imperial Japanese Army until July 1940. It sought to secure autarky within a context of Japanese total war theory by directly seizing the raw materials of Manchuria and Northern China. It looked also to Siberia, until the Guandong Army was bloodied by the Red Army at Nomonhan (July–August, 1939). The full slogan was “nanshu hokushin,” or “defense in the south, advance in the north.” It still took the grand distraction of a general war in Europe, the fall of France in June 1940, and BARBAROSSA against the Soviet Union in 1941 to persuade the Army to instead seek autarky through joining the Imperial Japanese Navy in a “southern advance,” or nanshin, with the recognized condition that would mean war with the United States. On June 24, 1941, two days after Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union, the two services agreed to postpone any invasion of the Soviet “Maritime Province” bordering Manchuria until a more “favorable” moment. This strategic shift was confirmed by all decision-making bodies at an Imperial Conference in Tokyo on July 2. Still, the Japanese built up over 850,000 men in Manchuria, ready to strike north should the Wehrmacht assault on Moscow—Operation TAIFUN —succeed. But the Red Army withdrew only five divisions to reinforce its Moscow offensive operation in December. That left too many highly trained and well-armed Soviet troops in the Far East for the Japanese to confidently assault.