Caspian Sea Monsters I

Rostislav Evgenievich Alexeyev

Wing-in-ground-effect craft making use of a dynamic air cushion are vehicles operating in close proximity to a supporting surface. This is usually water, but basically it makes no difference whether a WIG craft is operating over water or over land – provided that the ground surface is sufficiently even and flat.

A feature common to an aircraft and a WIG craft is wings generating lift due to aerodynamic forces. However, in the case of the WIG craft this lift is augmented owing to the ground effect created by compression of the ram air stream between the wings and the supporting surface. A higher lift/drag ratio enables a WIG craft to obtain the same lift at lower speeds and lower engine power compared to aircraft. As a result, the WIG craft are, in principle, more fuel-efficient compared to aircraft.

Since large flat areas on land are not a common occurrence, WIG craft are in most cases intended for use over water. Operation from the surface of lakes, rivers or seas of necessity introduces some features of waterborne vessels into the design of WIG vehicles. Historically, a number of WIGs emerged as a kind of attempt to lift water-borne craft out of the water for the purpose of achieving greater speeds, and in many cases WIG craft were built at shipyards. Small wonder that the question is posed sometimes whether one should regard these new craft as very low-flying aircraft or as ships that have lifted themselves out of the water.

It would appear that both definitions might be appropriate, since the concept of WIG vehicles embraces a wide variety of craft featuring quite substantial differences. They may tend to be closer to one or the other of the two extremes, but, generally speaking, they are always something of a hybrid. On the one hand, a WIG vehicle in cruise flight is subjected to aerodynamic forces, much in common with conventional aircraft, while the hydrodynamic forces act on it only during take-off and landing – or rather alighting. On the other hand, WIG craft operating in close proximity to the water surface in a marine environment have to be subjected to the same rules and requirements as conventional marine vessels in terms of traffic safety.

The latter consideration has played an important role when it came to establishing a formal classification of WIG vehicles with a view to adopting rules concerning their certification and safety regulations. Three basic categories have been formally adopted for this purpose.

The first of them (Type A) encompasses vehicles that can be operated only within the height of the surface effect. They usually feature wings of low aspect ratio (up to 1) and are fitted only with a rudder, there being no elevator; the ‘driver’ (or should we say helmsman?) does not have to possess piloting skills and steers the vehicle in much the same way as an ordinary speedboat. In Russian parlance, such vehicles are termed Dynamic Air Cushion Vessels, or WIG vessels (ekranoplan boats). Among Russian designs, such examples may be cited as the Volga-2, Amphistar and Raketa-2.

The second category (Type B) includes vehicles which are capable of leaving the surface effect zone for a short while and making brief ‘hops’. The altitude of such a ‘hop’ shall not exceed the minimum safe altitude of flight for aircraft, as prescribed by International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) regulations (150 m/500 ft). In Russian parlance such vehicles are regarded as WIG craft (ekranoplans) proper; they feature wings with an aspect ratio of up to 3 and are provided with elevators. They are controlled by pilots. Among Russian designs this category is represented by the Orlyonok, KM, Strizh, ESKA-1 etc.

The third category (Type C) covers WIG vehicles capable of flying outside the surface effect zone for a considerable time and of climbing to altitudes in excess of the minimum safe flight altitude for aircraft, as prescribed by ICAO regulations.

This classification subdividing the WIG vehicles into types A, B and C was formulated by Russian organisations and submitted by Russia to the International Marine Organisation (IMO) and ICAO for their consideration. Thanks in no small degree to determined efforts of the Russian side it has proved possible to reach within the framework of IMO an agreement on a number of basic issues pertaining to legal, technical and operational aspects of WIG craft. For the first time international documents were evolved that provide rules for commercial operation of WIG craft and for their safety. These documents represent an important milestone. For the first time they have given an expression at a high level for an international recognition of WIG craft as a new and promising means of maritime transport and provided a legal basis for its further development and commercial operation on international sea routes.

The early research on ground effect and of efforts aimed at creating practicable WIG vehicles dates back to the 1920s and 1930s when work in this field was started in several countries (as is well known, the first self-propelled WIG vehicle was built by T. Kaario, a Finnish engineer, in 1935). The Soviet Union was among these countries. Theoretical and experimental work in this direction was started in the USSR in the 1920s (experimental work by B. N. Yur’yev, 1923). Further work followed in the late 1930s, when a whole set of theoretical studies and experiments in the field of ground effect research was performed by Yakov M. Serebriyskiy and Sh. A. Biyachuyev. The results of this work were published in specialised literature.

In the late 1930s the first steps in practical design of WIG craft in the USSR were made by Pavellgnat’yevich Grokhovsky, an aviation engineer and inventor renowned for his energy and innovative ideas.

However, it is Rostislav Yevgen’yevich Alexeyev (1916-1980), an outstanding scientist and designer, who must be credited with having played a paramount, decisive role in shaping the course of research, design and construction of WIG vehicles in Russia. His was the conceptual approach and design philosophy; he may truly be regarded as the founder of the Russian wingship construction. Alexeyev started his activities as a builder of hydrofoil ships in his capacity of the chief of the Central Hydrofoil Design Bureau (TsKB po SPK – Tsenfrahl’noye konsfrooktorskoye byuro po soodahm na podvodnykh kry/’yakh) set up in Nizhniy Novgorod. An impressive range of highly successful hydrofoil vessels designed under his guidance was developed 4 and put into operational service. Yet, it was precisely his work on WIG craft – work veiled in utmost secrecy for many years – that was destined to become the most prominent and significant part of his creative activities and represented a major contribution to the world’s technical progress.

The Central Hydrofoil Design Bureau has been actively engaged in WIG craft design since the early 1960s. The work was based on the concept of autostabilisation of the wing of a WIG vehicle relative to the interface between the supporting water surface and the air. This concept proved sound and was subsequently incorporated in all WIG projects issued by the design bureau. On its basis a search was initiated for suitable aero-hydrodynamicallayouts; initially, one of these featured two sets of wings arranged in tandem. The first 3-ton (6,600-lb) ekranoplan built in 1961 was fitted with two sets of wings. Research revealed that the tandem layout is practicable only in a very close proximity to the surface and is unable to ensure the necessary measure of stability and safety, once the craft leaves this close proximity. Experiments with one of these tandem-wing machines ended in a crash. R. Alexeyev arrived at the decision to make use of a classic aircraft layout (one set of wings and a tail unit) which was to be subjected to modifications designed to ensure stability and controllability during cruise flight in ground effect. In particular, low-set or mid-set wings of much lower aspect ratio (around 3) were adopted. An important feature was the use of an outsize horizontal tail; it was to be placed sufficiently far aft and high up relative to the main wings so as to minimise the influence of downwash induced by the wings depending on the flight altitude and pitch angle. Ten experimental WIG vehicles featuring this layout were built by the Central Hydrofoil design Bureau, their weight and dimensions growing with every successive machine. These were the machines in the SM series (SM stands for samokhodnaya model’ – self-propelled model), with an all-up weight of up to 5 tonnes (11,000Ib).

Design experience gained by R. Alexeyev in developing these machines enabled him to take a bold decision to initiate the design of gigantic WIG vehicles with an all-up weight of more than 400 t (880,000 Ib). In 1962 the Central Design Bureau was engaged in project work on a combat WIG craft intended for ASW weighing 450 t (990,000 Ib); two years later the design team in Nizhniy Novgorod started designing the T-1 troop transport and assault WIG craft.

It should be noted that the very considerable scope attained by the activities of the Central Hydrofoil Design Bureau was due to the fact that the new means of transport had attracted much interest on the part of the military. As a consequence, for many years this work was highly classified. Thus, construction of WIG vehicles in the Soviet Union got a boost from military programmes. In the opinion of military specialists both in the Soviet Union (and nowadays in Russia) and in the West, large WIG vehicles can be employed for a wide range of missions in the armed forces, notably in the Navy. These include troop transportation, anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-shipping strikes with guided missiles etc. The most ambitious projects envisaged the use of WIG craft as flying aircraft carriers! An inherent advantage of WIG vehicles when used in warfare is their ability to remain undetected by enemy radar thanks to the low altitude of their flight; the lack of contact with the sea surface makes them undetectable by acoustic means (sonar devices). WIG vehicles are capable of operating not only over water expanses but also over snow-covered stretches of land and over ice fields. This makes them eminently suitable for use in Polar regions. Their high speed ensures their quick response to the changing battlefield situation, and their high load-carrying capacity enhances their capability for accomplishing various missions and carrying a wide range of weapons.

In assessing the suitability of WIG craft for ASW, one should bear in mind that, owing to their low flight altitude, WIG vehicles cannot be equipped with sonobuoys. However, they possess a wider range of capabilities for making use of a dunking sonar when afloat. Moreover, thanks to their big dimensions they can, in principle, be fitted with ASW weapons normally carried by surface ships, to be used without getting airborne.

WIG vehicles are superior to amphibious aircraft in sea-going capabilities and endurance; they can be armed with more potent missiles possessing longer range. However, they have their limitations associated with the need for target designation from an external source (amphibious seaplanes can provide target designation for their weapons when flying at high altitude).

The projects of an ASW WIG vehicle and the T-1 troop-carrying WIG vehicle never left the drawing board. On the other hand, in 1966 the Design Bureau built, in response to an order from the Navy, the KM WIG craft (KM stands korahbl’-makef – a ‘mock-up’, ie, prototype ship). With its fuselage length of nearly 100 m (330 ft), wing span of nearly 40 m (130 ft) and all-up weight of 430 t (948,000 Ib), this gigantic machine was a unique piece of engineering. In a record-setting flight its weight reached 540 t (1,190,000 Ib), which was an unofficial world record for flying machines at the time. The KM ekranoplan, dubbed ‘Caspian Sea Monster’ in the West, underwent comprehensive testing in the course of 15 years of operation. It marked the completion of a whole range of research and practical design tasks associated with approbation of the WIG concept as a whole and evolving the scientific basis for their design, construction and testing. The results of this work made it possible to create a theoretical and methodological basis for designing and building practicable examples of WIG vehicles.

One of these was the Orlyonok (Eaglet) troop transport/assault ekranoplan with a take-off weight of 140 t (309,000Ib). It was capable of transporting a 20-tonne (44,000-Ib) cargo at a speed of 400 km/h (248 mph) to a distance of up to 1,500 km (930 miles). Three examples of the Orlyonok (Project 904) were delivered to the Navy for evaluation. Their service career proved to be far from an unqualified success. Normal operation was hampered, above all, by circumstances of bureaucratic nature. The WIG machines were operated by the Navy, yet their crews had to include pilots because in certain operational modes they had to be piloted like aircraft. However, neither the Air Force nor the Naval Aviation showed any enthusiasm for these machines and sought to ‘prove’ in every possible way that they could not be regarded as flying machines – unabashed by the fact that provision was made for operating them also out of surface effect and there were plans for long-range ferrying flights at high altitude. Yielding to this pressure, the Navy top brass then decided that WIG craft should be classed as ‘ships with aircraft-like properties’. In turn, the Central Hydrofoil Design Bureau clearly underestimated the ‘aviation’ aspect of 6 the matter and had failed to consult the Air Force on the methods of testing, which gave rise to justifiable complaints. Arrangements required to facilitate operational use of the machines delivered to the Navy suffered setbacks and delays. Series production of WIG craft for the Navy was expected to amount to several dozens of examples, but these plans failed to materialise. Introduction of new types of weaponry in the USSR, following a pattern common to many countries, depended heavily on lobbying on the part of this or that person in the top echelon. The Soviet Minister of Defence, Marshal of the Soviet Union Dmitriy F. Ustinov supported the idea of WIG vehicle construction, but he died in 1985. Sergey L. Sokolov, the new Minister of Defence, influenced by the newly appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Navy V. N. Chernavin , ordered that all the funds available to the Navy be used for the construction of submarines. A crash suffered in 1992 by one of the Orlyonok machines was hardly conducive to improving the atmosphere around their integration into the armed forces. This was further aggravated by the transfer of the WIG machines from ordinary Naval units to the Naval Aviation – airmen were not overly enthusiastic about the new hardware. Deprived of the necessary attention and supplies, the base where the WIG craft were stationed began to fall into decay. Eventually the three surviving machines (two Orlyonoks and one Loon’) were struck off charge on the pretext of difficulties associated with maintenance and repairs. That marked, for the time being, the end of operational use of transport and combat WIG vehicles in the Russian Navy.

There is an episode in the story of the Orlyonok which eloquently bears witness to the character of both the machine and its creator, Rostislav Alexeyev. During one of the test flights Alexeyev was on board. The pilot, who had little experience with this type of vehicles, impacted the machine heavily right on the crest of a wave. The crew did not grasp the situation. Only Alexeyev, who had taken a look from the upper hatch, knew what had happened. Without a word, he took over the controls, gave full throttle to the nose-mounted booster engines and steered the machine to its base which was situated 40 km (25 miles) away. Only then could the crew take a look at the machine. They were stunned by the sight: the vehicle had lost its tail! The rear fuselage complete with the tail unit and main engine had simply broken off on impact and sunk! The fact that the Orlyonok still made it safely back to base bore witness both to the designer’s presence of mind and to the machine’s qualities. However, this episode placed a welcome tool in the hands of Alexeyev’s detractors and those who were intent on closing down the work on WIG vehicles. The episode was followed by ‘administrative measures’ (ie, repercussions) which boiled down to victimising the designer. He was deprived of the possibility to make full use of his creative potential, which affected very adversely the development of the WIG-vehicle construction in the USSR and present-day Russia.

An important stage in the activities of the Central Hydrofoil Design Bureau was marked the creation of the Loon’ (Hen harrier) – a 400- tonne missile carrier armed with Moskit (Mosquito) anti-shipping missiles. It was launched in 1987. Construction of a second example of this machine was envisaged, but the collapse of the Soviet Union drastically affected the programme. The second example, already under construction, was to be completed as a search-and-rescue machine. Accordingly, conversion work was started (progress reports appeared in the press in 1994), but this project, too, stranded for a long time due to various political and economic reasons. Only quite recently was the conversion work resumed and, hopefully, has a prospect of successful completion which would result in creating an unorthodox and highly effective maritime SAR vehicle.

Rostislav Alexeyev died in 1980. Earlier, after the crash of the prototype Orlyonok, he had to relinquish the post of chief of the Central Design Bureau of Hydrofoils, and then of Chief Designer.


Caspian Sea Monsters II


The SM-8 [ekranoplans, or wing-in-ground-effect (WIG) craft] WIG vehicle built in 1967 became the second 1/4th scale analogue of the KM ekranoplan; it reflected the changes introduced into the layout of the KM in the course of its design. The SM-8 became the last in the family of SM experimental flying vehicles, the tests of which furnished results essential for the creation of theory and for evolving the methods of designing and developing new models of heavy WIG vehicles for military and civil applications. The testing of the SM-8 proceeded in parallel with the testing of the KM; the analogue served for checking the methods of testing its bigger stablemate.

The SM-8, having an all-up weight of 8,100 kg (17,860 lb), was powered by one turbojet located in the upper part of the fuselage ahead of the fin. Its air intake was protected from spray by a special U-shaped guard. To emulate the blowing (booster) engines of the KM, the SM-8 was provided with a special nozzle device in the front fuselage intended to direct part of the gases bled from the engine under the wings. The vehicle had a cruising speed of 220 km/h (137 mph).

The construction and testing of the SM series (SM-1 through SM-8) were directly connected with the creation of designs that marked the apex of the Central Hydrofoil Design Bureau’s achievements – the vehicles known as KM, Loon’ and Orlyonok.


In 1963, in response to an order placed by the Navy, construction was started at the ‘Volga’ shipyard near Gor’kiy (now Nizhny Novgorod) of a gigantic WIG vehicle which was designated KM (korahbl’-maket – ‘mock-up ship’, or rather prototype ship). It was a machine of staggering dimensions, the length of the hull exceeding 90 m (295 tt). It was launched in March 1966 and the first flight took place on 18th October of that year. Further testing of the WIG vehicle took place on the Caspian Sea. Its optimum flight altitude in ground effect proved to be 4 to 14 m (13 to 46 tt). At that time the KM (sometimes referred to as KM-1 in Western sources) was the biggest flying vehicle in the world – its weight in one of the flights reached 544 tonnes (1,299,300 Ib)! Small wonder that it was nicknamed ‘Caspian Sea Monster’ in the West (later some Russian journalists, too, deciphered KM as Kaspeeyskiy monstr). This huge machine was powered by 10 Dobrynin VD-7 turbojets with a thrust of 13,000 kgp apiece; of these, two engines located at the fin leading edge served as cruise engines, while the remaining eight engines were mounted in two packages of four on the forward fuselage sides, performing the role of booster engines for power-augmented takeoff. The machine reached a maximum speed of 500 km/h (310 mph), the cruising speed being 430 km/h (267 mph).

The KM had good manoeuvrability, stability and controllability; it could perform tight turns with large bank angles, the wingtip float touching the sea surface. This machine flew for 15 years and earned a reputation for being a very reliable means of transport. Unfortunately, in 1980 the KM crashed due to pilot error. The pilot, who had not been at the controls of the big machine for a long time, overdid the pitching-up at take-off. The machine began to rise steeply. Losing his head, the pilot throttled back abruptly and applied the elevator in a fashion contrary to flight manual. The winged ship started banking to port, impacted the water surface and sank; the crew escaped unhurt.

In the course of its testing the KM underwent a number of modifications some of which were rather substantial. For example, in 1979 the cruise engines placed on the fin were transferred to a pylon mounted over the forward fuselage so as to lessen spray ingestion. The cruise engines were provided with spray deflectors on the intakes.

 Orlyonok (Project 904)


A Soviet BTR-60PB eight-wheel armoured personnel carrier is about to roll off the Orlyonok. This view shows the design of the double-hinged loading ramps, the overhead actuating cylinder and the many securing clamps around the hatch perimeter; the latter is natural, considering the high stresses in the area.

This troop-carrier/assault WIG vehicle designed in response to an order from the Navy made its first flight from one of the channels of the Volga river in 1972. After this, disguised as a Tupolev Tu-134 airliner, the prototype was transported on a barge to Kaspiysk (a naval base on the Caspian Sea) to be tested in sea conditions. It was the first WIG vehicle intended for speedy transportation of troops and materiel. Its cargo hold measuring 21 m (68 ft 11 in) in length, 3.2 m (10ft 6 in) in height and 3.0 m (9 ft 10 in) in width made it possible to transport self-propelled vehicles that were on the strength of the Soviet Marines.

The Orlyonok features an aircraft layout. It is an all-metal cantilever monoplane with a fuselage provided with hydrodynamic elements in its lower portion (planing steps, hydroskis etc.); it has low-set wings and a T-tail with a horizontal tail of considerable dimensions. Its powerplant comprises two Kuznetsov NK-8-4K booster turbofans rated at 10,500 kgp (23,148 Ib st) for take-off (provision was made for their eventual replacement with 13,000-kgp/28,660-lb st NK-87 turbofans) and one 15,000-ehp NK-12MK cruise turboprop (a version of the NK-12M used on the Tu-95 bomber) driving AV-90 eight-blade contra-rotating propellers. All the engines are maritime versions of the respective aircraft engines. The booster engines are fitted with special pivoting nozzles and used not only for creating an air cushion on take-off by directing their efflux under the wings (blowing mode) but also for acceleration to cruising speed. The air intakes of the NK-8-4K engines are blended into the contours of the forward fuselage, which reduces drag and helps protect the engines from corrosive sea spray. The cruise engine is located at the junction of the fin and horizontal tail; being placed so high, it is less vulnerable to spray ingestion at take-off and landing and to salt contamination from aerosols whose density depends on the height over the sea surface.

The fuselage of the Orlyonok is of beam-and-stringer construction; it is divided into three sections – forward, centre and aft. The centre fuselage accommodates the cargo hold accessed by swinging the hinged forward fuselage 92° to starboard. The hinged part of the fuselage houses the flight deck, the booster engines and a radar in a ‘thimble’ radome. The aft fuselage houses a compartment for auxiliary power units and accessories required for starting the main engines and operating the vehicle’s electrical and hydraulic systems. Placed dorsally on the hull are a turret with twin cannons, the antenna of a navigation radar, direction finder aerials, communication and navigation equipment aerials. To reduce shock loads in the take-off and landing mode the designers introduced hydroskis shaped as simple deflectable panels. The craft is equipped with a wheeled undercarriage intended for beaching the machine and rolling it along paved taxiways on the shore.

The low-set wings of trapezoidal planform comprising an integral centre section and outer wing panels of torsion-box construction are fitted with flaperons. The lower surface of the wings along the leading edge, closer to the wing tips, incorporates special hinged panels which are deflected 70° during takeoff. The wingtips carry floats doubling as endplates. The wing high-lift devices are used for creating an air cushion which lifts the vehicle out of the water. During take-off the efflux of the jet engines is directed under the wings; the pilot lowers the flaps and leading-edge panels, thus barring the way for the gas tending to escape fore and aft. The increased gas pressure under the wings lifts the machine out of the water. The main part of the wings, with the exception of the flaps and leading-edge panels, is manufactured watertight. The wing is divided into 14 watertight bays, two of which are used for fuel.

The sharply swept T-tail comprises a fin/rudder assembly and large-span stabilisers with elevators.

Here are some basic characteristics and performance figures: the machine measures 58.1 m (190 ft 7 in) in length and 31.5 m (103 ft 4 in) in wing span, the width and height of the hull being 3.8 m (12 ft 6 in) and 5.2 m (17 ft) respectively; it has an all-up weight of 125,000 kg (275,600 Ib) and an empty weight of 100,000 kg (220,500 Ib). The Orlyonok’s maximum speed is 400 km/h (249 mph), the cruising speed being 360 km/h (224 mph). The height of flight over the supporting surface can vary from 0.5 m to 5 m (1 ft 8 in to 16 ft), the optimum height being 2 m (6 ft).

To relieve the crew workload in flight, provision is made for automatic stabilisation of the altitude (by deflecting the flaps), the pitch angle (by deflecting the elevators), the heading (by deflecting the rudder) and the bank angle (by deflecting the ailerons). In addition to the first prototype which crashed in 1975, an initial batch of three Orlyonoks was manufactured; they were adopted for squadron service by the Navy and underwent evaluation from 1979 onwards. Each of the three examples had its own factory designation; these three Project 904 machines were designated 8-21, 8-25 and 8-26 (as can be seen on photos, the machines were serialled 21 White, 25 White and 26 White for the greater part of their service career). In the Navy they were known as the MDE-150, MDE-155 and MDE-160 respectively (MDE presumably means morskoy desahnfnyy ekranoplahn – seagoing transport and assault WIG vehicle). They were taken on charge by the Navy on 3rd November 1979, 27th October 1981 and 30th December 1981 respectively. The Naval Command presumed that the WIG vehicles would demonstrate high effectiveness (considerable speed and ensuing capability for surprise actions, capability for overcoming anti-assault obstacles and minefields) and would ensure the seizure of bridgeheads at a coastline defended by the enemy. There were plans in hand for manufacturing 11 Orlyonok (Project 904) machines during the 12th and 13th five-year plan periods (1981-1990), to be followed by the construction of transport and assault WIG craft of a new type (with a new project number) possessing greater cargo carrying capacity. Preparations were made for establishing a WIG vehicle-operating unit in the Red Banner Baltic Fleet. However, for several reasons these plans did not come to fruition. The Orlyonok WIG craft were doomed never to leave the Caspian Sea.

Initially they were operated by the specially established 236th Squadron of WIG vehicles within the brigade of transport and assault ships of the Red Banner Caspian Flotilla. Later an idea cropped up of transferring the WIG vehicles under the authority of headquarters of the Naval Aviation, but these plans met with much opposition on the part of the latter. An end to these disputes was formally put by Order No. 0256 issued by the Minister of Defence on 12th November 1986 under the terms of which ekranoplans became part of the aviation element of the Navy’s Fleets. The document prescribed that WIG vehicles, as well as aircraft and helicopters, must be regarded as a class of the Naval Aviation’s weaponry. In accordance with directive No. DF-035 dated 21st April 1987 the WIG craft operating unit, renamed 11th Air Group, was formally placed under the command of the Black Sea Fleet, albeit it retained its former base on the Caspian Sea the town of Kaspiysk.

The incorporation of the WIG vehicles into the normal activities of the armed forces was not trouble-free and was not pursued all too vigorously. Much time was spent on repairs and modernisation (albeit the machines were almost brand-new!). There were difficulties with crew training. By 1983 four crew captains had received sufficient training; all of them had previously flown the Beriyev Be-12 Chaika ASW amphibian. Up to 1984 crew training was undertaken in accordance with the ‘Temporary course for training the crews of ekranaplan ships’ prepared by the combat training section of the Navy. Later the manual was reworked with participation of the combat training section of the Naval Aviation.

In 1983 GNII-8 VVS (State Research Institute NO. 8 of the Air Force) joined in the test-pulled up a second time and impacted again, sustaining severe damage. Of the ten crew on board nine persons survived, albeit with injuries, and were eventually rescued. The tenth crew member – a flight engineer – was killed. The crippled Orlyonok drifted 110 km (60 nm) and was eventually blown up – the Russian Navy could not afford the price asked for its retrieval by salvage companies. It was presumed that the crash had been caused by a failure of the automatic stability system, although pilot error is also cited.

After this the remaining WIG complement of the Navy came to include two Project 904 machines (Orlyonok) and one Project 903 craft (Loon’). Quite clearly, for many they were a thorn in their flesh. Gradually, the ekranoplans began to sink into oblivion – there were many other things to think of. The vehicles gradually fell into disrepair to the point of no longer being airworthy. Finally, in 1998 the command of the Russian Navy issued an order requiring the Orlyonok WIG vehicles to be written off on account of their alleged unsuitability for repairs and refurbishment. The Orlyonok served as a basis for several versions intended for civil applications.


In the late 1980s the work of the Central Hydrofoil Design Bureau on WIG vehicles intended for military application led to the creation of a unique machine – a missile strike ekranoplan. Bearing the manufacturer’s designation ‘Project 903′, it was subsequently named Loon’, which means ‘hen-harrier’ (according to some sources, it was initially named Ootka – ‘duck’, but this sounded totally unwarlike and could also be interpreted as ‘canard’, ie, something bogus). This machine with an all-up weight of 380 t (838,000 Ib), a hull length of 73 m (240 ft) and a wing span of 45 m (148 ft) was launched in 1987. Its design was based on the layout which had already been tried and tested on such vehicles as the KM and the Orlyonok, that is to say, the ‘aircraft’ layout – that of a monoplane with wings of trapezoidal planform and aT-tail.

The Loon’, however, differed a lot from its predecessors – the entire powerplant comprising eight 13,000-kgp (28,660-lb st) Kuznetsov NK-87 turbofans was located on the forward fuselage. Thus, the engines served both as booster (blower) engines and cruise engines. This was apparently associated with another special feature of the machine – the placement of its offensive armament. Mounted dorsally on the fuselage were six launch containers for 3M80 Moskit (Mosquito) supersonic anti-shipping missiles (NATO code name SS-N-22) developed under the guidance of Aleksandr Va. Berezniak. During the launch of these missiles there was a risk of the combustion products being ingested by engines previously placed high on the tail unit, which could cause the engines to flame out. Transferring all the engines into the forward fuselage eliminated this danger.

As distinct from the low-wing Orlyonok, the Loon’ had mid-set wings; otherwise, they were similar to those of its predecessor and were of multi-spar metal construction which was made watertight. Placed on the bottom of the hull was a hydroski device intended to cushion the impact when alighting on water.

The Loon’ was equipped with a radar for air and surface targets detection and with a navigation radar, as well as with an ECM suite. The defensive armament consisted of two gunner’s stations borrowed directly from the II’yushin IL-76M military transport, each with a UKU-9K-502 turret mounting two 23-mm (.90 calibre) Gryazev/Shipoonov GSh-23 double-barrelled cannons.

The machine’s performance included a maximum speed of 500 km/h (310 mph), a cruising altitude of 5 m (15 ft) and a range of 2,000 km (1,240 miles). It had an endurance of 5 days when afloat. The vehicle had a crew of 15.

Armed with Moskit anti-shipping missiles, the WIG vehicle flying at ultra-low level at a speed of 350-400 km/h (218-249 mph) could deal a devastating blow to the potential enemy’s naval units and leave the scene unimpeded. According to Russian press reports, ‘the Project 903 ekranoplan No. 5-31 underwent operational testing in 1990-1991′. In the course of this trial operation live missile launches were made from the onboard launch tubes, as testified by available photos. The machine met the design requirements, but it was ill-fated. Initially, in line with the provisions of directive No. 252-73 issued by the Communist Party Central Committee and the Soviet Council of Ministers on 26th March 1980, the programme of warship construction envisaged the completion of four Project 903 machines in the 12th and 13th five-year plan periods (1981-1990); later the planned figures were increased. Plans were in hand for the construction of six Project 903 WIG vehicles up to 1995 and another four machines of this type before 2000, However, in the late 1980s there came a change of heart towards the WIG vehicles in the command of the Navy. In 1989 it was decided to limit the construction of the attack WIG machines to just one example. A decision was taken to convert the second example of the Loon’, then under construction, into a SAR vehicle.

As for the sole example of the Loon’ combat ekranoplan, it was withdrawn from service and is stored in Kaspiysk. According to one document, ‘in order to preserve the missile-armed ekranoplan, the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy took a decision providing for its preservation at the territory of the 11th Air Group and for transforming it into an air base (for storage of the ekranoplan), with one crew complement to be retained at the base’.

The Northman’s Duchy

The entry for the year 885 in the French Annals of St Vaast begins with the chilling phrase: “The rage of the Northmen was let loose upon the land”. It was an all too accurate assessment. As soon as the winter snows had melted, a frenetic series of Viking raids hit the French coast and continued with a ferocity not seen for half a century. This particular year was especially demoralizing because the Frankish population had believed that they had gained the upper hand against the raiders. Four years earlier, the Franks had met the Norse in a rare pitched battle and slaughtered some eight thousand of them. For several years the threat of attack had receded, but then in 885 the Norse launched a full-scale invasion.

Viking attacks were usually carried out with limited numbers. They were experts in hit and run tactics, and small bands ensured maximum flexibility. That November, however, to the horror of the island city, more than thirty thousand Viking warriors descended on Paris.

From the start, their organization was fluid. According to legend, a Parisian emissary sent to negotiate terms was unable to find anyone in charge. When he asked to see a chieftain he was told by the amused Norse that, ‘we are all chieftains’. There was a technical leader – traditionally he is known as Sigfred – but not one the Franks would have recognized as ‘King’. It was less of an army than a collection of war bands loosely united by a common desire for plunder.

The Vikings launched an attack hoping to catch the French off guard, but several days of intense fighting failed to break through the Parisian defenses. The resulting siege, which lasted for a year, was ultimately unsuccessful, but it gave Europe its first glimpse of the man whose descendants would dominate both ends of the continent, and whose distant relative still sits on the English throne. Known to posterity as Rollo (the Latin version of the Norse Hrolf), he was a minor leader, probably of Norwegian extraction. According to legend he was of such enormous size that the poor Viking horses couldn’t accommodate him, and this earned him the nickname Rollo the Walker (Hrolf Granger), since he had to go everywhere on foot.

Like all the Vikings, Rollo had been drawn to the siege by the very real prospect of making a fortune. Forty years before, the legendary Norse warrior Ragnar Lodbrok had sacked Paris with fewer men, returning home with nearly six thousand pounds of silver and gold courtesy of the terrified French king. All of those present had undoubtedly been brought up on stories about Ragnar’s exploits, and there may even have been a veteran or two among the gathered warriors. This was their chance to duplicate his exploits.

If Rollo distinguished himself at Paris, it was in his determination. When it became apparent that an early victory wasn’t possible, many of the Norse began to drift away towards easier targets. By March of the next year, morale among the Vikings was so low that the nominal leader, Sigfred, reduced his demand to sixty pounds of silver – a far cry from Ragnar’s six thousand – to lift the siege. However, a rumor that the Frankish emperor, Charles the Fat, was on his way with a relief army stiffened the will of the Parisians and they refused. Sigfred held out another month, and then gave up, leaving Rollo and the other lesser leaders on their own.

The Frankish army finally arrived in October, eleven months after the siege began, and scattered what was left of the Vikings. Rollo’s men were surrounded to the north of Paris at Montmartre, but Charles the Fat decided to negotiate instead of attack. The province of Burgundy was currently in revolt, and Charles was hardly a successful military commander. In exchange for roughly six hundred pounds of silver, Rollo was sent off to plunder the emperor’s rebellious vassal.

It was an agreement that suited both of them, but for Rollo, the dream of Paris was too strong to resist. In the summer of 911 he returned and made a wild stab for it, hoping smaller numbers would prevail where the great army had failed. Not surprisingly, Paris proved too hard to take, so Rollo decided to try his luck with the more reasonable target of Chartres.

The Frankish army had been alerted to the danger and they marched out to meet the Vikings in open battle. A ferocious struggle ensued, but just when the Vikings were on the point of winning, the gates flew open and the Bishop of Chartres came roaring out, cross in one hand, relic in the other, and the entire population streaming out behind him. The sudden arrival turned the tide, and by nightfall Rollo was trapped on a hill to the north of the city. The exhausted Franks decided to finish the job the next morning and withdrew, but the crafty Viking was far from beaten. In the middle of the night he sent a few handpicked men into the middle of the Frankish camp and had them blast their war horns as if an attack were underway. The Franks woke up in a panic, some scrambling for their swords, the rest scattering in every direction. In the confusion the Vikings slipped away.

With the dawn, the Frankish courage returned, and they hurried to trap the Vikings before they could board their ships, but again Rollo was prepared. Slaughtering every cow and horse he could find, the Viking leader built a wall of their corpses. The stench of blood unnerved the horses of the arriving French, and they refused to advance. The two sides had reached an effective stalemate, and it was at this point that the French king, Charles the Simple, made Rollo an astonishing offer. In exchange for a commitment to convert to Christianity, and a promise to stop raiding Frankish territory, Charles offered to give Rollo the city of Rouen and its surrounding lands.

The proposal outraged Frankish opinion, but both sides had good reason to support it. The policy of trying to buy off the Vikings had virtually bankrupted the Frankish Empire. More than a hundred and twenty pounds of silver had disappeared into Viking pockets, an amount which was roughly one-third of the French coins in circulation. There was simply no more gold or silver to mint coins, and the population was growing resistant to handing over their valuables to royal tax collectors. Even worse for Charles, the Viking raids had seriously undermined his authority. It was impossible for the sluggish royal armies to respond to the Viking hit and run tactics, and increasingly his subjects put their trust in local lords who could offer immediate protection rather than some distant, unresponsive central government. The authority of the throne had collapsed, and now it was the feudal dukes who held real power. If Charles allowed another siege of Paris he would lose his throne as well.  Here, however, was a solution that promised to make all the headaches go away. Who better to stop Viking attacks than the Vikings themselves?  By gaining land they would be forced to stop other Vikings from plundering it. The nuisance of coastal defense would be Rollo’s problem, and Charles could focus on other things.

For his part, Rollo was also eager to accept the deal. Like most Vikings he had probably gone to sea around age fifteen and now, perhaps in his fifties, he was ready to settle down. Local resistance was becoming stronger, and there was little more to be gained in spoils. After decades of continuous raiding the coasts were virtually abandoned, and wandering further inland risked being cut off from the ships. This was an opportunity to reward his men with the valuable commodity of land and to become respectable in the process. Rollo jumped at the chance.

The Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, as it came to be known, created the Terra Normanorum – the land of the Northmen. This treaty of the Northman’s Duchy, or Normandy, was formally agreed to at a meeting between the two protagonists. The Viking warlord agreed to be baptized together with his entire army, and to perform the ceremonial act of homage to King Charles. Unfortunately, this last part was carried out with a certain lack of grace.

The traditional manner of recognizing a feudal lord was to kiss the royal foot, but Rollo wasn’t about to do any such thing. When Charles stuck out his foot, Rollo ordered one of his warriors to do the deed for him. The huge Norseman grabbed the king’s foot and yanked it up to his mouth, sending the hapless monarch sprawling onto his back. It was, had they only known, a fitting example of the future relationship of the Norman dukes to their French overlords.

Charles hoped that his grant of land was a temporary measure that could be reclaimed later. Such things had been done before and they never lasted beyond a generation. In Rollo, however, he had unwittingly found a brilliant adversary. Rollo instantly recognized what he had; a premier stretch of northern France with some of the finest farmland in the country. His genius – and that of his descendants – was a remarkable ability to adapt, and in the next decade he managed to pull off the extraordinary feat of transforming a footloose band of raiders into successful knights and landowners.

Rollo understood, in a way that most of those around him did not, that to survive in his new home he had to win the loyalty of his French subjects. That meant abandoning most of his Viking traditions, and blending in with the local population. He took the French name Robert, married a local woman, and encouraged his men to do the same. Within a generation the Scandinavian language had been replaced by French, and Norse names had virtually died out.

However, the Normans never quite forgot their Viking ancestry. St Olaf, the legendary Scandinavian king who became Norway’s patron saint, was baptized at Rouen, and as late as the eleventh century the Normans were still playing host to Viking war bands. But they were no longer the raiders of their past, and that change was most clearly visible in their army. Viking forces fought on foot, but the Normans rode into their battles mounted. Charges from their heavy cavalry would prove irresistible, and carry the Normans on a remarkable tide of conquest that stretched from the north of Britain to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean.

One final change took longer to sink in, but was no less profound. Christianity, with its glittering ceremonies and official pageantry, appealed to Rollo probably more out of a sense of opportunity than conviction. His contemporaries could have been forgiven for thinking that Odin had given way to Christ suspiciously easily. The last glimpse we get of Rollo is of a man hedging his bets for the afterlife. Before donating a hundred pounds of gold to the Church, he sacrificed a hundred prisoners to Odin.

Christianity may have sat lightly on that first generation of Normans, but it took deep root among Rollo’s descendants. There was something appealing to their Viking sensibilities about the Old Testament – even if the New Testament with its turning the other cheek wasn’t quite as attractive – and they took their faith seriously. When the call came to aid their oppressed brothers in the East, they would immediately respond; Norman soldiers provided much of the firepower of the First Crusade.

When Rollo finally died around 930, he left his son an impressive legacy. He had gone a long way towards turning his Viking followers into Normans, and turning an occupied territory into a legitimate state. For all that, however, troubling clouds loomed on the horizon. Normandy’s borders were ill-defined, and it was surrounded by predatory neighbors. Its powerful nobles had bowed to the will of Rollo while he was alive, but they saw little reason why they should extend the same loyalty to his son. Most worrisome of all was the French crown, which eyed Rouen warily and was always looking for an excuse to reclaim its lost territory.

Rollo had laid the foundation, but whether Normandy would prosper, or even survive at all, was up to his descendants.

Flight Lt. Nicholas Cooke, Cpl. Albert Lippett

“Lanky” Cooke (2nd from left), Phil Hunter DSO (3rd left) standing, with No. 264 Squadron

At 14.45hr on 29 May 1940 Sqn Ldr Hunter took off with eleven other Defiants and headed for the Dunkirk pocket. They were flying at about 6,000ft (1 ,800m) with three Hurricane squadrons- 56, 151 and 213 – flying above them. As they approached Dunkirk they were most aware of the great column of smoke rising from the harbour, and the many ships in the Channel below them. The Hurricanes began to engage some Bf 110s escorting some Ju 87s.

Six Bf 109s dived on the Defiants, coming out of the sun in the classic fighter tactic. Hunter saw them coming, but for the time being kept his four Vics of three flying in line astern. As the first Bf 109 came within 300yd, Hunter’s gunner, LAC King, opened fire, and it soon burst into flames. As the other Bf 109s shot overhead, Pit Off Welch’s gunner, LAC Hayden, hit one and it fell away out of control. The crews of Plt Off Young/LAC Johnson and Fit Lt Cooke/Cpl Lippett each also sent Bf 109s down in flames, the latter shot down right off the tail of another Defiant – probably that of Plt Off Kay/LAC Jones. His Defiant (L6957) was badly hit in the attack, the hydraulics being damaged and the starboard aileron and turret hit; and LAC Jones must have been under the impression that the aircraft was lost, because he baled out. Kay, however, was in fact able to return to Manston and land successfully. Jones’ body was later washed up on a French beach.

Eric Barwell’s gunner Plt Off Williams also fired on a Bf 109 attacking Kay’s Defiant, and saw it going down in flames; this was probably the same aircraft claimed by Young’s gunner. Although the squadron believed it had shot down five of the six attacking Bf 109s, it seems likely that the true score was four or even fewer. It was an inherent problem with the Defiant that different gunners could be firing at the same target from different directions, and all claimed it destroyed when it fell. Hunter now saw a Heinkel He III approaching Dunkirk and turned to attack it – but then he saw an even juicier target, a formation of Ju 87s. Sergeant Thorn/LAC Barker saw an isolated Ju 87 and broke away to attack: the Stuka did not see them coming, and was shot down with a burst of fire. Thorn rejoined the squadron as they turned to attack the main force of Ju 87s, but the dive bombers’ escort of Bf 110s dived on the Defiants. Hunter ordered the squadron into a line astern spiral dive, and as the German twin-engined fighters attacked, they were always faced with accurate fire from the Defiants’ turrets. Six of the Defiant crews claimed the destruction of a Bf 110, PIt Off Stokes and his gunner claiming two. More Bf 109s joined in the frantic battle, and three more of these were also claimed.

Hunter led his men back to Manston, where they landed cock-a-hoop, though their elation was inevitably modified by the news that the thirty-one-year-old Canadian gunner, LAC Jones, was missing. They claimed a total of seventeen fighters shot down, plus the odd Stuka. Refuelled and re-armed, they took off for a second patrol at 18.55hr, Plt Off Kay in a replacement aircraft, L696I, and with a new gunner, LAC Cox.

Once more they had Hurricane squadrons flying above them, and this time the Hurricanes kept the Bf 109s off their backs. Hunter saw large numbers of Ju 87s approaching the beaches from all directions, and wisely did not try to follow them down in their bombing dives, but went to low level to wait for them to pull out. The Defiants then eagerly closed in on the slower Stukas, pouring accurate fire into one aircraft after another, and sending them crashing into the sea. Ten of the crews were able to claim Ju 87s destroyed, four of them two Ju 87s, and Flt Lt Cooke and his gunner an incredible five. It was a massacre, the slow Ju 87s almost sitting ducks at low level, and the Defiants able to take up position on each in turn, slightly below so that their gunners could shoot them down at will.

With the Stukas shot from the skies, the Defiants closed on some Ju 88s, sending one down in flames with their combined fire, and damaging another. They turned for home nearly out of ammunition, and landed having experienced an incredible day’s fighting. They claimed thirty-seven German aircraft shot down, and three more probables, the only loss being of one gunner, and Sgt Thorn’s Defiant that over- shot while landing at Manston with leaking fuel tanks and only one wheel. Flt Lt Nicholas Cooke/Cpl Albert Lippett had claimed an incredible eight victories in one afternoon: three Bf 109s and five Ju 87s.

It was the best day a British fighter squadron has ever had, and many myths have grown around it. Wg Cdr Harry Broadhurst, the station commander at Wittering, but who happened to be at Manston when they landed, was the first to suggest that the Germans had mistaken them for Hurricanes, and therefore attacked from the rear. This ignores the fact that more than half the victories claimed that day were bombers, and it was the Defiants doing the attacking. It also ignores the fact that when they were attacked by fighters in the first sortie, the squadron adopted its proven defensive tactic, a spiral dive, and it did not matter which direction the Germans came from, they faced accurate, defensive fire.

Of course, as already seen, there is little doubt that No. 264 Squadron unintentionally over-claimed. More than one gunner claimed the same aircraft destroyed, though without realizing it, and many of the German aircraft were not actually destroyed. Over-claiming is a feature of all air fighting. Nevertheless, it was clear that the Defiant had had a good day, and back at the Boulton Paul factory, newspaper accounts of the day were soon pinned on notice boards with the words ‘Our work’ scrawled across them. Nicholas Cooke, who had claimed eight aircraft and a share in the Ju 88, that day told one newspaper reporter: ‘It was like knocking apples off a tree.’

By 20.22hr on 29 May 1940, No. 264 squadron had claimed eight Bf 109s, seven Bf 110s, one Ju 88 and twenty-one Ju 87s shot down, for the loss of one gunner killed, and one aircraft crash-landed back at Manston. Their reward was a host of publicity photographs, and by the end of May a clutch of medals. Sqn Ldr Hunter received the DSO, and there was also a DFC for Flt Lt Nicholas Cooke, who, with his gunner Cpl Lippett, had shot down eight aircraft in one day; there were also four DFMs for non-commissioned members of the squadron, Corporal Lippett, Sgt E. R. Thorn, LAC FJ. Barker, and LAC FH. King.

Final Sorties

On 31 May the Defiants were back in action, taking off at 14.00hr and crossing the French coast at 10,000ft (3,000m) around 14.20hr. With the Hurricanes of 213 Squadron at 15,000ft, and the Spitfires of 609 Squadron above them at 20,000ft (6,000m), Hunter saw a large formation of around seventy Bf 109s at altitude, and about twenty Heinkel He IIIs approaching from the south-east. He turned towards the bombers, but they jettisoned their bombs and scattered.

Hunter saw the Bf 109s coming down out of the sun, and called the squadron into a defensive circle. His gunner, LAC King, gave one Bf 109 a burst, and it spun away towards the sea; soon after, PIt Off Young’s gunner, LAC Johnson, opened Fire on one of the attackers, and it, too, fell away – Young saw just one parachute emerge From the stricken aircraft. But then disaster truck: Johnson yelled that there was another Defiant almost on top of them, and with that, PIt OFF Whitley’s aircraft crashed into them, and Young’s Defiant disintegrated. The other crews watched in horror as piece of the aircraft fluttered down towards the sea – and again, only one parachute opened. Whitley’s aircraft was badly damaged, but he was able to nurse it down and crash-land near Dunkirk. Whitley and Turner salvaged their Four guns and then set the Defiant on fire before making their escape; they Found their own way back across the Channel.

The attacking Messerschmitts had also shot down PIt Off Hickman’s Defiant, but he and his gunner, LAC Fidler, were able to parachute to safety. As Hunter maintained the defensive circle with the nine surviving aircraft, he counted eight parachute in the air below them, as well as the plummetting remains of Young’s Defiant. Plt Off Barwell, who was leading Green Section, had watched a LAC Fidler had shot down one of their attackers, and had then seen their Defiant fall with smoke and fuel pouring from it. Suddenly Barwell’s own gunner, Plt Off Williams, shout- ed a warning that a Fighter was right on them, and tracers flashed around their aircraft. Barwell pulled the Defiant in a tight turn to the right as Williams hit the BF 109, which fell away in flames.

No. 264 squadron claimed Four BF 109s shot down and another damaged for the loss of three Defiant, two of them in the collision. Only LAC Johnson did not return. Yet again they had proved they were capable of defending themselves against superior numbers of single-seat Fighters. At 18.40hr they took off for a second patrol, this time at 27,000ft (8,230m), with the Hurricane of No. 111 Squadron behind them and the Spitfires of 609 Squadron at 30,000ft (9,144m). Over Dunkirk they saw a Formation of Heinkel He IIIs 2,000ft (610m) below them, and the Defiants and Spitfires dived to the attack.

In a classic turret-Fighter Formation attack, Four Defiant gunner all opened Fire in a devastating assault on one of the bombers, which Fell away into the sea. The Defiant then began individual attacks on the Heinkels, and both Sqn Ldr Hunter’s and Plt Off Hackwood’s gunner sent their targets down in flame. Another Heinkel flew right above Eric Barwell’s Defiant, and his gunner Fired straight up into its cockpit and centre fuselage: the enemy bomber Fell to the sea, just two of its crew escaping to parachute down.

Barwell and Williams then attacked another bomber, but return Fire hit the Defiant’s glycol tank, and Barwell had to turn for home, nursing his rapidly overheating engine. As he slowly lost height it became clear he would not reach the English coast, and so he asked his gunner, PIt Off Williams, if he preferred to bale out or ditch. Despite the fact that ‘Bruce’ Williams had been a stunt man before the war and had made several hundred parachute jumps at air shows, he would not state his preference. Barwell chose to ditch between two destroyers, going in opposite directions. Against standard procedure, Barwell undid his straps and sat on the seat back, operating the aircraft with only the control column. Williams sat on the fuselage with only his legs inside the turret. As the engine topped completely Barwell tailed the aircraft onto the water. Both he and Williams were thrown clear, but his gunner was knocked unconscious; however, Barwell supported him until they were picked up by a boat from one of the destroyers. Imagine their delight to meet Plt Off Young on this vessel: he had managed to get clear of his aircraft when it broke up during the earlier sortie.

Pilot Officer Stokes’ Defiant had also been hit by the Heinkel’ defensive fire, and his gunner LAC Fairbrother was wounded. Stokes ordered him to bale out, but then managed to nurse the crippled Defiant back to Manston, and made a successful crash-landing. A crew who did not return were the squadron’s top scorers, Fit Lt Nicholas Cooke and Cpl Albert Lippet, who had claimed ten German aircraft destroyed up to that point.

Verdun (1916)

In choosing Verdun as the main German objective for 1916, General Erich von Falkenhayn, Chief of the German General Staff and Minister for War, pre-dated the jibe that the British would fight to the last man in the armies of their allies. Falkenhayn reasoned that, for the British, the European fronts in the First World War represented nothing more than a sideshow, with the Russian, Italian and French armies as their whipping boys. The Italians and Russians, Falkenhayn believed, were already foundering on their own ineptitude. Only France remained.

“France has almost arrived at the end of her military effort.” Falkenhayn wrote to the German Kaiser Wilhelm II in December 1915.

If we succeeded in opening the eyes of her people to the fact that in a military sense they have nothing more to hope for . . . breaking point would be reached, and England’s best sword knocked out of her hand . . . Behind the French sector on the Western Front, there are objectives for the retention of which the French General Staff would be compelled to throw in every man they have. If they do so, the forces of France will bleed to death, as there can be no question of a voluntary withdrawal.

The objective Falkenhayn chose to put France in this moral and military dilemma was the massively fortified town of Verdun, on the canalized river Meuse. Verdun fitted Falken-hayn’s bill admirably. It had immense historic and emotional significance for the French and formed the northern linchpin of the double defense line of fortifications built to protect France’s eastern frontier after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1. Mount an assault here, with enough threatening potential, Falkenhayn reckoned, and the French Army would be inextricably lured to Verdun and mangled to extinction by the Germans. The mangle would be provided by a series of limited, but attritionist advances, intensively supported by artillery and spiced with surprise.

Falkenhayn’s proposals appealed to the Kaiser and to his son, Crown Prince Wilhelm, whose Fifth Army had been pounding away at Verdun with little success since 1914. But the prince and his Chief of Staff, General Schmidt von Knobelsdorf, seemed to see the Verdun campaign more in terms of shattering the French with a bombardment than of bleeding them dry by attrition. Wilhelm, who wanted to attack on both sides of the Meuse, not on the right bank only, as Falkenhayn proposed, stated the campaign’s purpose as “capturing the fortress of Verdun by precipitate methods”. Compared with this fierce phraseology, Falkenhayn’s notion of “an offensive in the Meuse area in the direction of Verdun” seemed enigmatic. Despite the suitably malevolent code-name of Operation Gericht (Judgement) given to his offensive, Falkenhayn’s essentially halfhearted approach to it planted the seeds of ultimate German failure at Verdun. Basically, that failure was rooted in Falkenhayn’s timid choice of too narrow a front for the initial attack and also in his extreme parsimony in doling out reserves.

Although Crown Prince Wilhelm and others seemed to suspect this outcome, preparations for the campaign went ahead as Falkenhayn had originally planned. It did so at a pace remarkable for those leisurely times. Weeks, rather than the usual months, divided Falkenhayn’s preliminary consultations with the Kaiser at Potsdam on or about 20 December 1915 from the issue of final orders on 27 January 1916 and the projected attack date of 12 February.

During this period, the Germans amassed in the forests that surrounded Verdun a massive force of 140,000 men and over 1,200 guns – 850 of them in the front line – together with 2.5 million shells brought by 1,300 munitions trains, and an air arm of 168 aircraft as well as observation balloons. A superlative standard of secrecy was achieved by deft camouflage of the guns, by the building of underground galleries to house the troops instead of the more usual, give-away “jump-off” trenches, and by dawn-to-dusk air patrols to prevent French pilots from casting spying eyes over the area.

These gargantuan preparations were, however, being directed against a military mammoth whose teeth had been drawn. By early 1916, Verdun’s much-vaunted impregnability had been seriously weakened. It had been “declassed” as a fortress the previous summer and all but a few of its guns and garrison had been removed. This was primarily the work of General Joseph J. C. Joffre, C-in-C of the French Army, who, with others, had presumed from the relatively easy fall in 1914 of the Belgian fortresses at Liège and Namur that this form of defense was redundant so far as modern warfare was concerned. Between August and October 1915, therefore, Verdun was denuded of over 50 complete batteries of guns and 128,000 rounds of ammunition. These were parcelled out to other Allied sectors where artillery was short. The stripping process was still going on at the end of January 1916, by which time the 60-odd Verdun forts possessed fewer than 300 guns with insufficient ammunition.

The result was that on the eve of the German offensive, the French defenses at Verdun were perilously weak, from the trench-works, dug-outs and machine-gun posts to the communications network and barbed-wire fences. Far-sighted men who protested at the headlong disarmament of Verdun did so in vain. One of them, General Coutanceau, was sacked as Governor of Verdun and replaced in the autumn of 1915 by the ageing and apparently more tractable General Herr. Another, Colonel Emile Driant, commander of 56th and 59th Chasseur Battalions of 72nd Division, 30th Corps, warned as early as 22 August 1915: “The sledge-hammer blow will be delivered on the line Verdun-Nancy.” After his opinion reached the ears of Joffre, Driant was sharply reprimanded in December for arousing baseless fears. Gen. Herr quickly realized that Coutanceau’s alarm had been perfectly justified, and that he was in dire need of reinforcements to prepare the defense line Joffre had ordered at Verdun. But Herr’s pleadings did little to penetrate the cloud of smugness that swirled about the question of defending Verdun. This mood remained impervious for some weeks, despite information from German deserters about troop movements and cancelled leave and other glimpses at the dire truth.

The very last moment had almost arrived before a glimmer of sense started to seep through. On 24 January General Nöel de Castelnau, Joffre’s Chief of Staff, ordered a rush completion of the first and second trench lines on the right bank of the Meuse, and a new line in between.

On 12 February, two new divisions arrived at Verdun – much to Herr’s heartfelt relief – to bring French strength up to 34 battalions against 72 German. Had the German attack begun on 12 February as planned, it would doubtless have smashed through the weak French defenses to score a stunning steamroller victory.

As it was, 12 February was not a day of savage battle, but of snow-blizzards and dense mist which afforded less than 1,100 yards visibility. The Verdun area was said to “enjoy” some of France’s filthiest weather. For a week it lived up to its reputation with snow, more snow, rain-squalls and gales.

Not until 21 February – just before 0715 – did a massive shell, almost as high as a man, burst from one of the two German 15-in (380 mm) naval guns and roar over the 20 miles that separated its camouflaged position from Verdun. There, it exploded in the courtyard of the Bishop’s Palace. At this signal, a murderous artillery bombardment erupted from the German lines and a tornado of fire – including poison gas shells – began to flay the French positions along a six-mile front. The earth convulsed and the air filled with flames, fumes and a holocaust of shrapnel and steel which, the Germans clearly hoped, would destroy every living thing within range. The bombardment hammered on and on until about 1200, when it paused so that German observers could see where – if anywhere – pockets of French defenders survived. Then the artillery began afresh, smashing trenches, shelters, barbed wire, trees and men until the whole area from Malancourt to Eparges had become a corpse-littered desert.

Between 1500 and 1600, the barrage intensified as a prelude to the first German infantry advance along a 4.5-mile front from Bois d’Haumont to Herbebois. The advance began at 1645 when small patrol groups came out over the 656 to 1,203 yards of No Man’s Land in waves 87.5 yards apart. Their purpose was to discover where French resistance might still exist and to pinpoint it to the artillery – which would then finish off the surviving defenders. This tentative approach, the result of Falkenhayn’s excessive caution, was not to the taste of the belligerent General von Zwehl, commander of 7 Reserve Corps of Westphalians. Von Zwehl, whose position lay opposite Bois d’Haumont, paid brief lip-service to Falkenhayn’s orders by sending out probing patrols first, but only a short while elapsed before he ordered his fighting stormtroopers to follow them. The Westphalians surged into the Bois d’Haumont, overran the first line of French trenches and within five hours had seized the whole wood.

To the right of the Bois d’Haumont lay the equally devastated Bois des Caures. Here, 80,000 shells had fallen within one 500,000-square-yard area. In this shattered wasteland, the advance patrols of the German 18 Corps expected to find nothing but mounds of shattered bodies in the mud. Instead, they were faced with a fierce challenge from Colonel Driant’s Chasseurs. Of the original 1,200 men under Driant’s command, fewer than half had survived the artillery bombardment. Now, these survivors poured machine-gun and rifle fire at the infiltrating Germans from the concrete redoubts and small strongholds which Driant had cunningly scattered through the trees.

Similarly ferocious isolated resistance was occurring all along the front, causing the Germans more delay and more casualties – 600 by midnight – than they had reckoned possible. By nightfall on 21 February, the only hole decisively punched in the French line was in the Bois d’Haumont, where Gen. Zwehl’s Westphalians were now solidly entrenched. Elsewhere, the Germans had captured most of the French forward trenches, but were held up when darkness put an end to the first day’s fighting which had yielded only 3,000 prisoners.

On the next two days, the Germans attacked with far greater force and much more initiative. On 22 February they blasted the village of Haumont, on the edge of the wood, with shellfire and flushed out the remaining French defenders with bombs and flamethrowers. That same day, the Bois de Ville was overwhelmed and in the Bois des Caures, which the Germans enveloped on both sides, Col. Driant ordered his Chasseurs to withdraw to Beaumont, about half a mile behind the wood. Only 118 Chasseurs managed to escape. Driant was not among them. On 23 February, the Germans saturated Samogneux with a hail of gunfire, captured Wavrille and Herbebois, and outflanked the village of Brabant, which the French evacuated. Next day – 24 February – despite their inch-by-inch resistance, the pace of disaster accelerated for the French with 10,000 taken prisoner, the final fall of their first defense line and the collapse of their second position in a matter of hours.

The Germans were now in possession of Beaumont, the Bois de Fosses, the Bois des Caurieres and part of the way along La Vauche ravine which led to Douaumont.

Incredibly enough, at first the magnitude of the disaster did not sink in at Joffre’s HQ at Chantilly, where the Staff had persuaded themselves that the German attack was a mere diversion. “Papa” Joffre, who had long believed a serious German offensive was more likely in the Oise valley, Rheims or Champagne, maintained his customary imperturbability to such an extent that at 2300 on 24 February, he was fast asleep when General de Castelnau came hammering on his bedroom door bearing bad news from the front. Armed with “full powers” from Joffre, who then went calmly back to bed, de Castelnau raced overnight to Verdun.

At about the time he arrived there, early on 25 February, a 10-man patrol of 24th Brandenburg Regiment of 3 Corps walked into Fort Douaumont and took possession of it and its three guns while the French garrison of 56 reserve artillerymen slept. This farcical episode, which German propaganda exaggerated into a hard-fought victory, shocked the French into melancholic despair and realization of the true state of affairs. At Chantilly, many officers openly advocated abandoning Verdun.

There, de Castelnau drew the conclusion that the French right flank should be drawn back and that the line of forts must be held at all costs. Above all, the French must retain the right bank of the Meuse, where de Castelnau felt that a decisive defense could, and must, be anchored on the ridges. The hapless Gen. Herr was replaced forthwith by 60-year-old General Henri Philippe Pétain. De Castelnau cannibalized Pétain’s Second Army with the Third Army to form for him a new Second Army.

Pétain took over responsibility for the defense of Verdun at 2400 on 25 February, after arriving that afternoon to find Herr’s HQ at Dugny, south of Verdun, in a chaos of panic and recrimination. Pétain, however, judged the situation to be far less hopeless than it seemed, even though the loss of Fort Douaumont and its unparalleled observation point was a serious blow. He decided that the surviving Verdun forts should be strongly re-garrisoned to form the principal bulwarks of a new defense. Pétain mapped out new lines of resistance on both banks of the Meuse and gave orders for a barrage position to be established through Avocourt, Fort de Marre, Verdun’s NE outskirts and Fort du Rozellier. The line Bras–Douaumont was divided into four sectors – she Woevre, Woevre–Douaumont, astride the Meuse, and the left bank of the Meuse. Each sector was entrusted to fresh troops of the 20th (“Iron”) Corps. Their main job was to delay the German advance with constant counterattacks.

Pétain saw to it that the four commands were supplied with fresh artillery as it arrived along the Bar-le-Duc road – which was soon rechristened “Sacred Way”. Three thousand Territorials labored unceasingly to keep its unmetalled surface in constant repair so that it could stand up to punishingly heavy use by convoys of lorries – 6,000 of them in a single day. Along La Voie Sacrée came badly needed reinforcements to replace the 25,000 men the French had lost by 26 February – five fresh Corps of them by 29 February. Already, Pétain was topping up his stock of artillery from the 388 field guns and 244 heavy guns that were at Verdun on 21 February towards the peak it reached a few weeks later of 1,100 field guns, 225 80–105 mm guns and 590 heavy guns. He also set the 59th Division to work building new defensive positions.

His injection of new strategy, new blood, new supplies and new hope into the Verdun defense soon began to disconcert the Germans. In any case, their impetus was gradually grinding down. On 29 February, their advance came to an exhausted halt after the last of their initial energy had been expended in three days of violent attacks against Douaumont, Hardaumont and Bois de la Caillette.

At that juncture, apart from their own mood of ‘grievous pessimism’, the most damaging factor for the Germans was the French artillery sited on the left bank of the Meuse. Here, more and more Germans came under fire the farther along the right bank they advanced. The solution was obvious, as Pétain had long feared and Crown Prince Wilhelm and Gen. von Knobelsdorf had long urged. On 6 March, after a blistering two-day artillery barrage, the German 6 Reserve and 10 Reserve Corps, partly pushed across the flooded Meuse and in a swirling snowstorm, attacked along the left bank. A parallel prong of this new onslaught was planned to strike along the right bank towards Fort Vaux, whose gunners had been savaging the German left flank.

Despite a plastering from French artillery in the Bois Bourrus, the Germans sped along the left bank and swept through the villages of Forges and Regneville – ending by nightfall in possession of Height 265 on the Côte de l’Oie. This ridge was of crucial importance, since it led through the adjacent Bois des Corbeaux towards the long mound known as Mort Homme. Mort Homme possessed double peaks and offered two advantages to the Germans. First it sheltered a particularly active battery of French field guns, and secondly, from its heights there stretched a magnificent all-round vista of the surrounding countryside. This gave whoever possessed it a prize observation point.

But Mort Homme soon lived up to its grisly name. After storming the Bois des Corbeaux on 7 March and losing it to a determined French counter-attack next day, the Germans prepared another attempt on Mort Homme on 9 March – this time from the direction of Béthincourt in the NW. They seized the Bois des Corbeaux a second time, but at such a crippling cost that they could not continue.

Results were depressingly similar on the right bank of the Meuse, where the German effort faded out beneath the walls of Fort Vaux. Difficulties of ammunition supply had made the attack there limp two days behind the left bank assault. With that, the parallel effect of the German offensive was ruined.

Inexorably, perhaps inevitably, the fighting around Verdun was acquiring that quality of slog and slaughter, and of lives thrown away for petty, short-lived gains that was so familiar a characteristic of fighting in the First World War.

Both Pétain and, in his own way, von Falkenhayn, were devotees of attrition by gunpower rather than manpower, but between March and May, the struggle at Verdun, like some Frankenstein’s monster renouncing its master, assumed a will of its own and reversed this preference. German casualties mounted from 81,607 at the end of March to 120,000 by the end of April, and the French from 89,000 to 133,000, as the two sides battered each other for possession of Mort Homme. By the end of May, when the Germans had at last taken this vital position, their losses had overtaken their enemy’s. On the right bank of the Meuse, in the same three months, the fighting swung to and fro over the “Deadly Quadrilateral” – an area south of Fort Douaumont – to the tune of maniacal, endless artillery barrages, never resolving itself decisively in favor of one side or the other.

The process greatly weakened both contestants. Mutinous behavior and defeatist gossip became more common in the French ranks and French officers tacitly condoned this mood. More and more Germans, many of them terrified, clumsy 18-year-old boys were becoming sickly from exhaustion, the din of the guns and the filth in which they were forced to live.

Ennervation and dismay affected the heads as well as the bodies of the two opposing war efforts. By 21 April, Crown Prince Wilhelm had made up his mind that the whole Verdun campaign was a bloody failure and ought to be terminated. “A decisive success at Verdun could only be assured at the price of heavy sacrifices, out of all proportion to the desired gains,” he wrote. These sentiments were echoed by Gen. Pétain, who was being nagged by Joffre to mount an aggressive counter-offensive. Pétain baulked at the increase in human sacrifice which that implied and clung to the principle of patient, stolid defense. Pétain was in a difficult position. Verdun had already become a national symbol of implacable resistance to the Germans, and Pétain himself a national idol. On the other hand, Verdun was threatening to gobble up the whole French Army and it certainly presented a serious drain on the manpower being reserved by Joffre for the coming Anglo-French offensive on the Somme.

For both sides at Verdun, these falterings at the top opened the way for men more ruthlessly determined to escalate the fighting onto even more brutal levels. On 19 April, Pétain was made Commander of Army Group Center, a position which placed him in remote rather than direct control of operations. His place as commander of Second Army was taken by General Robert Georges Nivelle, whose freebooter style of warfare had caught Joffre’s attention during his series of audacious, if expensive, attacks along the right bank of the Meuse. Nivelle took over on 1 May, and arrived at headquarters at Souilly with the brash announcement: “We have the formula!” He was also responsible for a quotation attributed sometimes to Pétain: “Ils ne passeront pas!”

Nivelle’s formula displayed itself in all its gory wastefulness on 22/23 May, when General Charles Mangin staged a flamboyant attack on Fort Douaumont. After a five-day bombardment, which barely chipped the fort’s defenses, Mangin’s troops streamed out of their jump-off trenches straight into a hurricane of deadly German gunfire. Within minutes, the French 129th Regiment had only 45 men left. One battalion had vanished. The remnants of the 129th charged the fort and set up a machine-gun post in one casemate against which the defending Germans flung themselves in a matching mood of suicidal madness. Out of 160 Jägers, Leibgrenadiers and men of the German 20th Regiment who attempted to overcome the French nest, only 50 returned to the fort alive. By the evening of 22 May, Fort Douaumont was in French hands, but the Germans staged violent counterattacks, capping their onslaught with eight massive doses of explosive lobbed from a minethrower 80 yards distant. One thousand French were taken prisoner, and only a pathetic scattering of their comrades managed to stagger away from the fort.

This bloody fiasco ripped a 500-yard gap in the French lines and greatly weakened their strength on the right bank of the Meuse. Together with the fact that German possession of Mort Homme largely nullified French firepower on the Bois Borrus ridge, the self-destructive strife at Fort Douaumont gave great encouragement to the so-called “May Cup” offensive which the Germans planned for early June.

The inspiration behind “May Cup” was Gen. von Knobelsdorf, who had temporarily eclipsed Crown Prince Wilhelm. As Nivelle’s new opposite number, von Knobelsdorf soon displayed an equally implacable resolve to overcome the enemy by brute force. “May Cup” comprised a powerful thrust on the right bank of the Meuse by five divisions on under half the 21 February attack frontage. Its purpose was to lift Verdun’s last veil – Fort Vaux, Thiaumont, the Fleury ridge and Fort Souville.

On 1 June, the Germans crossed the Vaux ravine and after a frenzied contest forced Major Sylvain Raynal – commander of Fort Vaux – to surrender on 7 June. By 8 June, Gen. Nivelle had mounted six unsuccessful relief attempts, at appalling cost. He was stopped from making a seventh attempt only when Pétain expressly forbade it. Elsewhere – totably round the Ouvrage de Thiaumont – the fighting brought both sides terrible losses. The French alone were losing 4,000 men per division in a single action. By 12 June, Nivelle’s fresh reserves amounted to only one brigade – not more than 2,000 men.

With the Germans now poised to take Fort Souville – the very last major fortress protecting Verdun – ultimate disaster seemed imminent for the French. Eleventh-hour salvation came in the form of two Allied offensives in other theaters of war. On 4 June, on the Eastern Front, the Russian General Alexei A. Brusilov threw 40 divisions at the Austrian line in Galicia, in a surprise attack that flattened its defenders. The Russians took 400,000 prisoners. To shore up his war effort, now threatened with total collapse, Field Marshal Conrad von Hötzendorf, the Austrian C-in-C, begged Falkenhayn to send in German reinforcements. Grudgingly, Falkenhayn detached three divisions from the Western Front. Meanwhile, the French had been doing some pleading on their own account. In May and June, Joffre, de Castelnau, Pétain and French Prime Minister Aristide Briant had all begged General Sir Douglas Haig, the British C-in-C, to advance the Somme offensive from its projected starting date of mid-August. Haig at last complied on 24 June, and that day the week-long preliminary bombardment began.

At this juncture, a German 30,000-man assault on Fort Souville, which had begun with phosgene – “Green Cross” – gas attacks on 22 June had already crumpled. Despite its horrifying effects on everything that lived and breathed, the novel phosgene barrage was neither intense nor prolonged enough to sufficiently paralyze the power of the French artillery. This shortfall, together with German failure to attack on a wide enough front, their recent loss of air superiority to the French, their shrinking store of manpower and the ravages thirst was wreaking in their lines, combined to scuttle the German push against Fort Souville on 22 June. July and August saw increasingly puny attempts by the Germans to snatch the prize that had come so tantalizingly close, but all ended in failure and exhaustion. German morale was at its lowest. On 3 September, the German offensive finally faded in a weak paroxysm of effort. Verdun proper came to an end.

For the Germans, this miserable curtain-fall on the drama of Verdun was assisted by the fact that after 24 June, the exigencies of the fighting elsewhere denied them new supplies of ammunition and, after 1 July, men.

All that remained was for the French to rearm, reinforce their troops and counter-attack to regain what they had lost. By 24 August 1917, after a brilliant series of campaigns masterminded by Pétain, Nivelle and Mangin, the only mark on the map to show the Germans had ever occupied anything in the area of Verdun denoted the village of Beaumont.

During this counter-offensive, the formerly maligned forts reinstated themselves as powerful weapons of defence. As the French recaptured them, they found how relatively little they had suffered from the massive artillery pounding they had received. This discovery made forts fashionable among French military strategists once more. It did so most notably, and later mortally for France, in the mind of André Maginot, Minister for War from November 1929 to January 1931 and in that time sponsor of the Maginot Line of fortifications.

Of course, fortress-like durability was given neither to the 66 French and 43.5 German divisions which fought at Verdun between February and June 1916, nor to the terrain they so bitterly disputed for so long. Both suffered permanent scars. The land around Verdun, raked over again and again by saturation shelling – over 12 million rounds from the French artillery alone – became a ravaged, infertile lunar-like wasteland. By 1917, the soil of Verdun was thickly sown with dead flesh and irrigated by spilled blood, having claimed more than 1.25 million casualties. Between February and December 1916, the French had lost 377,231 men and the Germans about 337,000 in a scything down of their ranks. In these circumstances, the Western Front ceased to be a sideshow for the British – of it had ever been so. They were forced to assume the star role in the Allied war effort which the French had formerly played. A repetition of Verdun was simply inconceivable.




Stalingrad became a symbol of Russian endurance, of German capability. It also had an important strategic significance. If the Germans had cut across the Volga, they would have sliced right through the Russian lines of communication, for oil and for transport. Stalingrad was not an altogether facile quest on Hitler’s part but it became invested with enormous psychological significance. Both sides in this ghastly chest to chest struggle could not be unlocked. One side, it seemed had to be destroyed and the other become victor. It had the quality of a titanic struggle, the political importance which was attached to Stalingrad by both Hitler and Stalin was immensely significant.


To Hitler, the oil of the Caucasus had always been one of the foremost attractions of Russia. He had mentioned the necessity of seizing the Baku oil fields as early as 31st July 1940, during one of the initial discussions of his plan to invade the Soviet Union. In the spring of 1941 the Armed Forces High Command activated the so-called Oil Detachment Caucasus for the purpose of taking over the oil fields. At that time the Germans expected that their advance into the Caucasus would be so rapid that the Russians would not be able to severely damage the oil wells, and the tables of organization and equipment of the oil detachment were established accordingly.

The next step in this direction was the preparation of Directive No. 32, circulated by the Armed Forces High Command among the three services on 11th June 1941-11 days before the start of Operation BARBAROSSA. This directive envisaged a drive from the Caucasus across Iran as a part of the plan for the continuation of operations against the British Empire following the defeat of the Soviets. At that time German expeditionary forces were to be activated in the Caucasus and sent across Turkey and Syria to Palestine and across Iraq to Basra. The same directive also visualized the use of the Arab liberation movement against the British in the Middle East, and Special Staff F was designated to initiate and coordinate the corresponding military and subversive activities.

A few days later, on 16th June 1941, German counterintelligence submitted to the Armed Forces High Command a plan for securing the Caucasus oil fields as soon as the internal disintegration of the Soviet Union would become manifest. A nucleus of 100 Georgians, trained by German counterintelligence agents in sabotage and revolt tactics, was in existence in Romania. These Georgians would have to be brought to the oil fields by sea or air transport as soon as the German ground forces approached the Caucasus region. In a somewhat optimistic vein the plan foresaw the employment of the Georgians in two to three weeks after D-Day.

On 24th July 1941 the Army Operations Division wrote a memorandum on the conduct of operations after the conclusion of Operation BARBAROSSA. With regard to the Caucasus it was anticipated that the British would seize and block this area as soon as the Germans approached the Sea of Azov. The first British troop concentrations were believed to be taking place along the northern and eastern border of Iraq. Because of terrain difficulties a German offensive from the southern slopes of the Caucasus across Iran into Iraq could not be executed before the spring of 1942. Meanwhile, data regarding the Caucasus were to be collected; a list of German tourists, who had climbed the Caucasus Mountains during recent years and knew the terrain and weather conditions, was drawn up, and books dealing with the same subjects were carefully scrutinized.

At the beginning of August the German Naval Operations Staff submitted an estimate of the probable reaction of the Soviet Black Sea fleet in the event of a German penetration into the Caucasus. It was believed that the fleet could seriously hamper operations by keeping the coastal road and railroad between Tuapse and Sukhumi under fire. Among the Soviet ships suitable for such operations were one battleship, six cruisers, and 15 modern plus five outdated destroyers. In the Black Sea area the German Navy had no units capable of stopping or disturbing the movements of the Soviet fleet. Coastal batteries would be of limited use; even if they did drive the Soviet ships farther off shore, the latter would still remain within reach of the coast. Air force protection was the only effective means of safeguarding coastal traffic.

In late September reports from agents and radio intercepts indicated that the Russians had from five to six divisions in the Caucasus and three in Iran. It was estimated that British troops entering the Soviet Union would take three weeks to get from Iran to the Caucasus and four weeks to the Crimea.


In October 1941 the Operations Division of the Army High Command drew up the first detailed plan for a Caucasus operation. The scope of the offensive was limited to seizing the oil resources of the Caucasus and to reaching the Iranian and Iraqi border passes for a possible farther advance toward Baghdad. [See General reference map of the Caucasus area above.] The operation was to be executed in six separate phases, extending from November 1941 to September 1942. These phases were outlined as follows:

1 Seizure of the approaches to the northern Caucasus, starting in November 1941;

2 A series of preliminary attacks leading to the seizure of favorable jump-off areas by May 1942;

3 Launching the offensive across the Caucasus Mountains in two different stages in June 1942;

4 The advance across Transcaucasia toward the Turkish and Iranian borders;

5 Seizure of favorable jump-off areas within Iran; and

6 Capture of the border passes leading into Iraq. The last three phases were to take place in the period July-early September 1942.

The feasibility of the entire offensive would depend on the course taken by current operations in the Russian theater. The second and third phases could be executed only if German troops reached the lower Volga during the winter of 1941-42. The scope of the preliminary attacks to be launched during the second phase would depend on the overall plan adopted for the offensive across the Caucasus. The latter could be launched via the two roads following the Black and Caspian Sea coasts respectively and over the mountain road leading to Tiflis. The interior roads crossed the mountains over passes more than 10,000 feet in altitude. These roads could be negotiated only by mountain divisions. The movement along the Caspian coastal road would be easier because only a few outdated Russian destroyers were liable to interfere.

During the first stage of the offensive proper, two motorized and two mountain corps were to be employed, driving toward Sukhumi and Kutaisi in the west, Tiflis in the center, and Baku in the east, respectively. As soon as any one of these forces had achieved a breakthrough, one additional motorized corps that was being held in reserve was to move up and launch the pursuit. The commitment of this reserve force would determine where the point of main effort was to be placed during the second stage of the offensive.

The employment of two corps in the west during the first stage would be necessary because of the vulnerability of the lines of communications along the Black Sea. Moreover, in the west was the only opening for launching an enveloping drive, since unfavorable terrain conditions prevented any such maneuver elsewhere. During the second stage of the offensive the penetration into the mountains would have to be exploited by the reserve corps which could thrust either via the Black Sea coastal road to Batumi and from there via Tiflis to Baku; or across the mountains to Tiflis and from there either to Batumi or Baku; or along the Caspian shore to Baku and from there, if necessary to Tiflis.

While the offensive was in progress, German naval contingents would have to protect Novorossiysk and Tuapse by taking over captured coastal batteries. In addition, some submarines would have to keep the Russian Black Sea fleet under control, and the Navy would also have to make available the shipping space needed for carrying supplies from Novorossiysk to Batumi once the Russian fleet had been eliminated.

The Luftwaffe would have to protect and support the ground forces; combat the Red Navy and its ports; commit airborne troops to capture the major cities; use dive bombers against the pass fortifications; and prepare transport planes to airdrop supplies.

This plan met with general approval at an exploratory conference held at Army High Command headquarters upon request of the Operations Division on 24th October 1941. An attack across the Caucasus was considered the quickest solution to Germany’s MiddleEastern problems. The effect of such an offensive would induce Turkey to join the Axis Powers. In addition, British forces that would otherwise oppose Rommel in North Africa would be tied down in Iran.

An offensive launched in the spring of 1942 would first lead to the seizure of the Caucasus oil fields, then open the passes from Iran to Iraq, and finally permit the capture of the Iraqi oil fields in the autumn of 1942, when the weather favored the commitment of large ground forces. The essential prerequisite for such far-reaching operations was the seizure of the west bank of the lower Volga from Stalingrad to Astrakhan. This realization implied that if, for instance, the Germans failed to capture Stalingrad, a complete reevaluation of the plans for an offensive against the Caucasus would become necessary.

Among the essential preparations for a Caucasus operation discussed at this conference were the production of military maps and tropical clothing as well as the activation and equipment of special mountain troops.


In a conversation with Field Marshal von Brauchitsch on 7th November Hitler mentioned that the seizure of the oil fields would have to be delayed until the following year. This delay had actually been anticipated by the Operations Division of the Army High Command. However, a new point was brought up by the Führer when he added that he had no intention of going beyond the Russian border. The scope of the offensive was thus limited to the Caucasus; this change in plans was probably due to the slowdown in the 1941 advance caused by the muddy season.

According to all available intelligence the Red Army intended to put up stiff resistance in the Caucasus. By 9th November German intercept units had identified 5 army headquarters in that area. If exact, this information would imply the presence of at least 15 divisions, whereas prior to that time the presence of only 5 had been assumed. It seemed improbable that the Russians would move sizable forces across their border into Iran. And it seemed even more unlikely that the British would send strong forces northward into the Caucasus. For the time being the situation in the Caucasus remained obscure.

In a conversation with General Halder on 19th November, Hitler stated that the first objective for 1942 would be the Caucasus. An offensive launched for this purpose in March-April 1942 would bring the German forces to the Soviet border with Iran. Depending on the situation at the end of 1941, offensives in the center could subsequently be launched beyond Moscow toward Vologda or Gorki by the end of May 1942. Other objectives for 1942 could not yet be designated.

Their scope would depend mainly on the capacity of the railroads. The question of whether a defensive wall separating Asiatic from European Russia was subsequently to be constructed remained open.

Hitler thus revealed a number of interesting facts. Even as late as 19th November he seemed convinced that the Germans would be able to capture Moscow before the end of 1941. Furthermore, he seemed to believe that the Caucasus offensive across difficult mountain terrain could be successfully executed within a few weeks in April and May, as a kind of southern interlude prior to another offensive farther north. Three days later, on 22nd November 1941, Halder ordered a light infantry division organized for the Caucasus operation and mountain personnel withdrawn from combat. As late as 16 days before the turning of the tide in front of Moscow the atmosphere at Army High Command headquarters appeared definitely optimistic.


An order dated 10th January 1942, originating from the Armed Forces Economics Office and the Organization Branch of the Armed Forces Operations Staff and signed by Hitler brought out the newly imposed material limitations—if not the change in scope—of the 1942 operations.

In the introductory paragraph Hitler stated that the long-range strategic plans remained unchanged; the Navy and the Luftwaffe were to be expanded for the showdown with the Anglo-Saxon powers. Until further notice, however, the operations scheduled for 1942 would not permit a reduction in armaments destined for the Army. On the contrary, the Army would have to be given even more than its ordinary share of manpower and armaments so that it could accomplish its mission for 1942.

In effect, the Army was to have top priority on armament production. Wherever shortages of raw materials developed, the Navy and Luftwaffe would have to take the cuts. Greater standardization, the introduction of more substitutes, and the increased use of captured munitions were recommended as means to overcoming production bottlenecks.

The ground forces were to be ready for offensive commitment by 1st May 1942; supplies for at least four months of continuous operations would have to be accumulated by that time. The units taking part in the offensive would have to be amply provided with supply and service troops as well as motor vehicles, while those committed along the Atlantic Coast would not need many trucks. Ammunition supplies for all weapons used in the Russian theater would have to be built up to one month’s expenditure in addition to the basic load.

The Navy was to concentrate on submarine construction and maintenance. The Luftwaffe was to continue its current programs, except for a temporary curtailment of its ammunition and bomb production schedules.

Among the military-economic programs, oil had first priority. The railroad transportation, signal, and other programs were to be carried on along the same lines as before, whereas the motor vehicle output was to be increased. Military manpower requirements were to be coordinated with the industrial ones.

Perhaps the most striking note in this order was its pessimistic undertone. Written at a time when the Germans were desperately trying to stem the Russian tide west of Moscow, the order showed the many weaknesses in the German war machine which had become manifest after less than seven months of fighting in Russia. During the following weeks further planning for the summer offensive came to a standstill, probably because of the life-and-death struggle that raged along the Army Group Center front.


With the acute danger past at the front, the military planners were able to pursue more actively the preparations for a summer offensive. On 12th February 1942 the Operations Division of the Army High Command issued a directive for the conduct of operations after the end of the winter. An introductory statement anticipated that the Russian winter offensive would not succeed in destroying the German troops and their equipment. During the coming weeks the Germans would have to consolidate their lines, eliminate Russian forces that had penetrated into their rear areas, and generally attempt to seize the initiative. At the same time they would have to prepare themselves for the muddy period following the spring thaw.

The directive then went into great detail in describing the different aspects of the muddy season and the countermeasures to be taken. The Army High Command intended to use this probable lull in operations to rehabilitate and regroup its forces.

Army Group South was to hold its positions and make preparations for the planned offensive. First, the Russian penetration west of Izyum would have to be eliminated, then the Kerch Peninsula recaptured and Sevastopol seized, so that the forces stationed in the Crimea would become available for employment elsewhere.

Army Group Center was to seize Ostashkov and shorten its front line by eliminating various dents and penetrations.

Army Group North was to hold its lines near Kholm, Staraya Russa, and north of Lake Ilmen.

After the end of the muddy season all three army groups were to improve their front lines and establish continuous defensive positions, if possible. Because of the precarious supply situation, it seemed doubtful whether more than isolated strong points could be held along certain sectors of the front. Armored and motorized reserves would have to be assembled in accessible areas.

Units withdrawn from the frontline for rehabilitation would have to train their recently arrived replacements on the basis of past experience in combat. Because of a shortage of equipment, only a certain number of divisions could be fully rehabilitated. The ones selected for this purpose were the armored and motorized divisions as well as the army and corps troops of Army Group South, and three armored and three motorized infantry divisions as well as some of the army and corps troops of Army Groups Center and North. In the process of rehabilitation, each armored division was to have three tank battalions, and each motorized infantry division one. The armored divisions of Army Groups Center and North that were not to be rehabilitated would have to transfer some of their cadres to the south. Three armored and six infantry divisions of Army Group Center were to be moved to western Europe without their equipment. There they were to be completely rehabilitated and reequipped. The armored and motorized infantry divisions remaining with Army Group Center and North would have to be rehabilitated in the line without being issued any new equipment. The armored divisions in this category would probably have only one tank battalion. Approximately 500,000 replacements were supposed to arrive in the theater by the end of April 1942.

A special rehabilitation area for Army Group South was to be established near Dnieperopetrovsk, while for Army Group Center similar areas could be set up near Orsha, Minsk, Gomel, and Bryansk. Those few units of Army Group North which were to be rehabilitated would probably be transferred to the Zone of Interior. Rehabilitation was to begin in mid-March at the latest. After the muddy season the fully rehabilitated units of Army Group Center were to be transferred to Army Group South.

The exigencies of the last few months had led to the commitment of a great number of technical specialists as infantrymen. The overall personnel situation and the shortage of technically trained men made it imperative either to return all specialists to their proper assignment or to use them as cadres for newly activated units. The future combat efficiency of the Army would depend upon the effective enforcement of this policy.

The high rate of materiel attrition and the limited capacity of the armament industry were compelling reasons for keeping weapons and equipment losses at a minimum.

In the implementing order to the army groups and armies, the Organization Division of the Army High Command directed on 18th February that those mobile divisions that were to be fully rehabilitated would be issued 50-60 percent of their prescribed motor vehicle allowance and infantry divisions up to 50 percent. Every infantry company was to be issued four automatic rifles and four carbines with telescopic sights; armor-piercing rifle grenades were to be introduced. Bimonthly reports on manpower and equipment shortages as well as on current training and rehabilitation of units were to be submitted by all headquarters concerned.

The element of surprise was essential to the success of the summer offensive. On 12th February Keitel therefore issued the first directive for deceiving the Russians about future German intentions. The following information was to be played into Soviet intelligence hands by German counterintelligence agents:

At the end of the muddy season the German military leaders Intended to launch a new offensive against Moscow. For this purpose they wanted to concentrate strong forces by moving newly activated divisions to the Russian theater and exchanging battle-weary ones in the East for fresh ones from the West. After the capture of Moscow the Germans planned to advance to the middle Volga and seize the industrial installations in that region.

The assembly of forces was to take place in secret. For this purpose the capacity of the railroads was to be raised before the divisions were transferred from the West. German and allied forces would meanwhile launch a major deceptive attack in the direction of Rostov.

As to Leningrad, the prevailing opinion was that this city would perish by itself as soon as the ice on Lake Ladoga had melted. Then the Russians would have to dismount the railroad and the inhabitants would again be Isolated. To attack in this area appeared unnecessary.

In addition, those German troops that were earmarked for the Russian theater and presently stationed in the West were to be deceived by the issuance of military maps and geographic data pertaining to the Moscow area. The units that were already in the theater were not to be given any deceptive information until the current defensive battles had been concluded. The same directive also requested the Army and Luftwaffe to submit suggestions for other deceptive measures The maintenance of secrecy was strongly emphasized.


The German Navy’s principal concern in the Black Sea area was the transportation of supplies for the Army. The difficulties were caused by the shortage of shipping space and the absence of escort and combat vessels. Measures taken to improve the German position in the Black Sea included transfer of PT boats, Italian antisubmarine vessels, small submarines, and landing craft; mine fields were also being laid. Orders had been issued to speed up these measures and support the Army by bringing up supplies. Russian naval forces in the Black Sea would have to be attacked and destroyed. The degree of success obtained would determine the outcome of the war in the Black Sea area. Attention was called to the fact that eventually it would become necessary to occupy all Russian Black Sea bases and ports.

On the other hand, the remainder of the Russian Baltic fleet stationed in and around Leningrad had neither strategic nor tactical value. Ammunition and fuel supplies were exceedingly low. About 12 of the high speed mine sweepers had been sunk so far, so that only four or five were left. About 65 out of 100 submarines had been sunk by the Germans.


In a summary dated 20th February 1942 the Eastern Intelligence Division of the Army High Command stated that the Russians were anticipating a German offensive directed against the Caucasus and the oil wells in that area. As a countermeasure the Red Army would have the choice between a spoiling offensive and a strategic withdrawal. Assuming the Russians would attack, it was estimated that their offensive would take place in the south. There they could interfere with German attack preparations, reoccupy economically valuable areas, and land far to the rear of the German lines along the Black Sea coast. If they were sufficiently strong, the Soviets would also attempt to tie down German forces by a series of local attacks in the Moscow and Leningrad sectors.

Numerous reports from German agents in Soviet-held territory indicated that the Red Army had been planning the recapture of the Ukraine for some time. At the earliest the Russian attack could take place immediately after the muddy season, i. e. at the beginning of May.

The Russian forces identified opposite Army Group South consisted of 83 infantry divisions and 12 infantry brigades as well as 20 cavalry divisions and 19 armored brigades, plus an unknown number of newly organized units.

Interference from British forces seemed unlikely. The latter would move into the Caucasus area only if their supply lines could be properly secured, a time-consuming process that had not even been initiated. On the other hand, lend-lease materiel was arriving in considerable quantities; the first U. S. fighter planes had been encountered along the German Sixth Army front.


On 5th March an order signed by Keitel summarized the various instructions issued by Hitler to the services during recent weeks. In the general part of this order, the Army and Luftwaffe were reminded that premature attacks conducted without concentrating sufficient forces had failed on several occasions. Efforts to stop Russian penetrations all along the front had led to piecemeal commitment and dissipation of ground forces. The Russians would have to be stopped wherever they threatened vital communications. In the event of a Soviet breakthrough full-strength units were to be assembled along of the salient and the gap was to be closed after the bulk of the Russian forces had passed through.

Minor rectifications of the defense lines were permissible so long as no important installations were thereby abandoned. No local attacks, the results of which were out of proportion with the losses, were to be launched. Luftwaffe support was to be requested only for essential operations, such as destroying concentrations of Soviet armor prior to an attack. Many a Russian attack could be delayed or altogether weakened beyond repair by disrupting Soviet lines of communications. To achieve greater effect, the heaviest bombs available were to be used for all-out air attacks. Since there was a shortage of artillery along many stretches of the front effective air support for offensive operations was essential. Because of the current emergency, air transport was so scarce that no additional airlift operations could be carried out during the muddy period.

In the second part of the order the mission of each army group for the immediate future was set forth as follows:


1 If the Crimea was to be seized with a minimum of delay, the Kerch Peninsula would have to be captured before starting the siege of Sevastopol. The Russian ports and Black Sea fleet would have to be neutralized from the air before ground operations were started in the Crimea.

2 The next step was to eliminate the Izyum salient by first letting the Soviets exhaust their offensive power in that area and then cutting off the salient by thrusts directed from the shoulders. The armored divisions of the First Panzer Army were to carry out these thrusts and were therefore given top priority on tank and motor vehicle deliveries.


All forces available in the Army Group Center area were to be assembled for a Ninth Army thrust in the direction of Ostashkov. This drive was to take place before the spring muddy period. The lines of communications that had been frequently disrupted would have to be secured.


The airlift operations that had been initiated to bring the situation under control were to be stepped up. More reinforcements were to be moved up to permit the consolidation of the situation at Demyansk and prevent an encirclement along the Volkhov. Eventually, Sixteenth Army was to attack from the Staraya Russa area in a movement that was to be coordinated with the Ninth Army drive toward Ostashkov. The VIII Air Corps was to support this operation as well as the Volkhov maneuver.

Another directive, signed by Hitler on 14th March, dealt with the problem of Allied assistance to the Soviet Union. It stated that British and American efforts to bolster Russia’s power of resistance during the decisive months of 1942 would have to be curbed. For this purpose the Germans would have to strengthen their coastal defenses in Norway to prevent Allied landings along the Arctic coast, particularly in the Petsamo nickel mine area, in northern Finland. Moreover, the Navy would have to intensify submarine operations against convoys crossing the Arctic Ocean. The Luftwaffe was to strengthen its long-range reconnaissance and bomber units in the far north and transfer the bulk of its torpedo planes to that area. The flying units were to keep the Russian ports along the Murmansk coast under constant attack, increase their reconnaissance activities, and intercept convoys. Close inter-service cooperation was essential.


The overall situation remained static during the month of March. The Russians showed signs of exhaustion, while the Germans were incapable of launching any major counterattack. Like two groggy boxers, the opponents warily eyed each other, neither of them strong enough to land a knockout blow. The weakness of the Russians became manifest through a number of incidents. In the area around Velizh, for instance, the Germans captured rifles, the butts of which were unfinished, indicating that the weapons had been issued before they were ready. The shortage of infantry weapons, though nothing new, seemed more acute than ever. Russian prisoners stated that wooden rifles were being used for training recruits in the Zone of Interior. In another instance, the Russian cavalry divisions opposite Army group South were so short of horses—their strength had dropped to approximately 60 horses per regiment—that the men had to be employed as infantry.

The true condition of the German forces could be gathered from a status report of 30th March 1942. Out of a total of 162 combat divisions in the Russian theater, only eight were immediately available for any mission, three were capable of offensive missions after a rest period, 47 were available for limited offensive missions, 73 were fully suited for defensive missions, 29 were only capable of limited defensive missions, and two were not suited for immediate commitment. The 16 armored divisions in the theater had a total of 140 serviceable tanks, that is to say less than the normal complement of one division. Because of the shortage of motor vehicles and prime movers, few divisions were more than 20 percent mobile. The few available tanks and self-propelled guns were distributed among various armored and infantry divisions.

Under these conditions the arrival of the muddy season at the end of March, which practically enforced a truce in the fighting, was a relief for both protagonists. Although the mud was less severe than during the preceding autumn, it did not hamper operations for some time.

During March Army Group South was not engaged in any large-scale fighting, and Bock, who had assumed command of the army group after Reichenau’s sudden death on 17th January 1942, used this lull to reinforce the wall around the Russian breach near Izyum.

In the Army Group Center area the heavy fighting in the rear of Fourth and Ninth Armies continued. The Russians did everything in their power to supply their forces behind the German front, and they exerted constant pressure on Army Group Center’s only supply line, the Smolensk-Vyazma-Rzhev railroad. German efforts to keep this route open were handicapped by a shortage of troops. Also, in the Vitebsk-Velikiye Luki area there was a latent threat which the Germans were unable to eliminate. But they were fortunate that the Russians in this region had dispersed their forces over a wide area instead of concentrating them for a southward drive.

South of Lake Ilmen Army Group North had assembled a relief force to establish contact with the Demyansk pocket. The situation along the Volkhov front had deteriorated because a strong attack launched by the Russians northeast of Lyuban resulted in a deep breach, which—in conjunction with the Volkhov penetration—threatened to develop into a double envelopment of the German forces in that area.



There can be no doubt that Hitler himself conceived the plan for the German summer offensive. In addition to designating the principal objectives, he plotted most of the details and even went so far as to dictate the text. His self-confidence as military leader had greatly risen since he had overcome the winter crisis without abandoning a major part of Germany’s territorial gains in Russia. In his recently acquired position of commander in chief of the Army he seemed less than ever disposed to listen to his advisers. Whereas the plans for Operation BARBAROSSA had been prepared according to German General Staff procedures, those for Operation SIEGFRIED—the summer offensive of 1942—were drafted by General Halder and his immediate assistants according to detailed instructions received from Hitler who dictated the final version. In so doing, the Führer completely rewrote Directive No. 41, adding very important parts pertaining to the conduct of operations in particular. At the same time the code designation SIEGFRIED was changed to BLAU, and Hitler specified that the services be given separate instructions regarding the maintenance of secrecy and the scope of strategic propaganda directed at the Caucasus area.


According to the postwar conclusions of Generals Halder, Heinrici, etc., the German summer offensive should never have been launched. The German Army had emerged greatly weakened from the ordeal of the winter 1941- 42. It had no strategic reserves. To concentrate the essential forces for a large-scale offensive, wide sectors of the Russian front had to be stripped of all their local reserves. Even though the Russians were equally weak by spring 1942, they had manpower reserves and natural resources that were not available to the Axis Powers.

In Halder’s opinion the appropriate German strategy for the summer of 1942 would have been to stabilize the front, eliminate the numerous Russian salients and dents in the German lines, and shorten the front line to save personnel. While using active defense tactics at the front, the German Army could have reorganized and refitted for an offensive to be launched at the first favorable opportunity.

Hitler, however, was adverse to any such delay in the continuation of the offensive. In his opinion the Russians had been hard hit during their winter onslaught, and if given time, would get back on their feet. He doubted whether the German Army would be in a more favorable position in 1943 than in 1942. Also, Germany would have to seek a decision in Russia that year, because the Allies might attempt an invasion of western Europe in 1943. While direct and indirect United States aid to Britain and Soviet Russia was steadily increasing, Italy’s military and economic power was gradually deteriorating. The crushing blows suffered by the Italian armed forces in the African and Mediterranean theaters had affected the staying power of Germany’s principal ally in Europe. Moreover, by adopting a defensive strategy, Germany would lose face with Japan and the neutral powers. Finally, Hitler believed that a dictatorship, to maintain itself, had to produce an incessant stream of successes. An offensive in 1942 would be all the more necessary because, with the military-economic situation steadily growing worse since the start of the Russian campaign, time was working against Germany.


The original objective of the campaign against the Soviet Union was “to eradicate the remaining Russian military potential and deprive the Soviets of the resources on which their economy was still based.” The experience of 1941 indicated that this objective could not be attained unless the Russians were prevented from withdrawing. Halder at the time asserted that this would be extremely difficult in the south, where the Russians could afford to trade space for time without suffering a decisive defeat.

The situation could have been different in the center, where the Russian capital was still within German reach. A deep enveloping sweep launched from the Voronezh-Orel region to points east and northeast of Moscow would have had a telling effect. There was little doubt that the Russians would again have summoned all their strength to defend their capital as they had done during the preceding winter. An offensive in this area would therefore have given the Germans a far better chance to deal the Soviets a knockout blow than an operation in the south.

The German offensive in 1942 was, however, launched in the south because Hitler felt that a decisive victory could be won in southern Russia. Germany’s growing shortage of strategic materials influenced the Führer’s thinking so much that he became convinced the Soviets were suffering from similar handicaps after having lost so many rich provinces to the Germans. He argued that if their vital oil supply from the Caucasus was threatened, they would use all their remaining manpower and materiel for its defense. Another factor was that possession of this oil would be of greater importance to the German war effort than anything Moscow had to offer.

According to the postwar writings of General Halder and his associates, Hitler’s decision to launch an offensive in the summer of 1942 in the southern part of the Russian theater was at best a doubtful gamble. His objective could have been obtained only if the Russians had committed the bulk of the Red Army in the Don bend and if the Germans had succeeded in cutting off and destroying these Soviet forces.

Hitler’s directive was issued on 5th April 1942. It read essentially as follows:


The winter battles in Russia were approaching their end and the Germans had won a “defensive success of unequalled magnitude.” The Russians had suffered extremely heavy losses and used up the reserves they had earmarked for subsequent operations.

As soon as weather and terrain conditions permitted, the Germans would regain the initiative so that they could eradicate the remaining Russian military potential and deprive the Soviets of the resources on which their economy was still based. All available forces of Germany and its allies were to be employed for this purpose, taking into account that the occupied territories in northern and western Europe, and especially their coast lines, had to be safeguarded.


While Army Group North was to seize Leningrad and establish contact with the Finns, Army Group Center was to hold. In the south, German attack forces were to penetrate into the Caucasus. To attain the latter objective, the Army would have to proceed by phase lines. In planning the conduct of this offensive factors to be considered were the course of the front lines along which the winter fighting would be brought to a conclusion and the availability of manpower, equipment, and transportation.

All available forces would have to be concentrated for the principal operation in the south in order to first destroy the enemy forces in the Don bend, then seize the oil resources of the Caucasus, and finally cross the Caucasus mountain ranges. The Leningrad operation was to be made contingent upon developments in the overall situation.


As a first step toward accomplishing these missions, the Army was to consolidate its position along the entire Russian front. That would require a number of limited objective attacks which would have to be conducted with maximum power to assure local superiority and rapid success, and to strengthen the German troops’ self-confidence.

Once this consolidation had been achieved, the Kerch Peninsula would have to be cleared and Sevastopol captured. During these preliminary operations the Luftwaffe and Navy were to disrupt Russian communications in the Black Sea. Moreover, the Russian forces that had dented the German lines at Izyum would have to be cut off along the Donets and destroyed.

After these preliminary operations the Army was to launch the Caucasus offensive proper. During the initial phases the Russian forces south of Voronezh and west and north of the Don would have to he destroyed. Since the divisions available for this operation could not detrain and assemble simultaneously, the offensive would have to be executed by consecutive phases that were to complement one another. The delivery of individual attacks in different parts of the theater would have to be so coordinated that maximum power could be developed at the right time at the decisive point.

Encirclements of Russian forces resulting from German breakthroughs and envelopments would have to be tight; the enveloping forces would have to avoid any delay that would offer the Soviets an opportunity to escape. While movements were underway, the armored and motorized infantry units were to avoid losing contact with the infantry divisions; whenever the latter were unable to make headway, motorized elements were to lend them support.

The offensive was to start with a breakthrough from the area south of Orel in the direction of Voronezh. Two enveloping forces were to seize Voronezh. During the second phase, while some of the infantry divisions established a strong defensive line from Orel to Voronezh.


During the summer of 1942 Germany’s allies were to play a much more significant part in the Russian theater than heretofore. In an effort to intensify their participation in the struggle against the Soviet Union, Keitel had visited Hungary and Romania during the preceding winter and Hitler had made a personal appeal to Mussolini. The Armed Forces High Command was to provide all the weapons and equipment it could spare for the allied contingents. The political differences were to be partly overcome by interspersing Italian corps or armies between Hungarian and Romanian ones. In compliance with requests received from Germany’s allies, Hitler on 15th April ordered national units to fight under the command of their own army or at least corps headquarters. This decision was to cost the Germans dearly when their allies collapsed along the Don front under the blows of the Russian counteroffensive.

To ascertain smooth cooperation at different levels of command, the German Army organized a number of liaison staffs to be attached to allied division, corps, and army headquarters. Hitler showed his continued anxiety over the morale of the allied troops a few weeks later, when he stated that Italian and other allied military achievements should be given proper credit in German news releases. Fanatical loyalty on the part of the Germans would in turn inspire their allies with similar feelings.

The Germans counted on the assistance of the following allied forces:

On the other hand, Hitler was unable to satisfy the requests of Generaloberst (Gen.) Erwin Rommel after his meeting with Mussolini at the beginning of April 1942. No motorized army artillery and engineer units could be made available for the North African theater before the successful conclusion of the Caucasus offensive in the autumn of 1942. By June, however, Rommel’s advance into armored and motorized divisions were to continue their southeastward drive along the Don, performing another double envelopment in conjunction with forces thrusting eastward from the Kharkov area.

During the third phase of the offensive the forces following the course of the Don were to link up near Stalingrad with those advancing eastward from the Taganrog area. Every attempt was to be made to seize Stalingrad or at least bring the city within reach of German artillery so that the Soviets would be deprived of its production and transportation facilities. Subsequent operations would be greatly facilitated if the bridges at Rostov could be seized intact and bridgeheads could be established south of the Don.

The German attack force on the right advancing eastward from Taganrog was to be reinforced with armored and motorized divisions in order to prevent major Russian elements from escaping across the Don. Defensive positions would have to be built along the Don while the advance was in progress. These positions would have to be amply provided with antitank guns and so constructed that, if necessary, they could be of service during the winter. Allied forces, supported by German troops, would have to man these positions, and German divisions would have to serve as strategic reserves behind the Don front.

Because of the advanced season the movements across the Don toward the south would have to be so timed that the Caucasus could be reached without major stoppage.


Apart from giving direct support to the ground forces, the Luftwaffe was to protect the concentration of forces in the Army Group South area by strengthening the antiaircraft defense, particularly those of the Dnieper railway bridges. In the event that reconnaissance information should indicate the assembly of Russian attack forces, the Luftwaffe would have to disrupt Soviet lines of communications and above all destroy the railroad bridges across the Don.


In the Black Sea the Navy’s main function was to carry out naval transports. Since the Russian Black Sea fleet had so far not been affected by military events, German naval vessels transferred to these waters would have to be prepared for combat without delay. The Russian Baltic fleet was to be neutralized in the Gulf of Finland.

Special security precautions were to be taken, which—together with strategic propaganda—were the subject of instructions issued simultaneously. The number of persons initiated in the plan for the summer offensive was to be held to a minimum; conversations about possible operations were strictly forbidden; no long-distance calls discussing preparations were to be made beyond army group, air force, and VIII Air Corps. All orders and messages were to be forwarded by courier in writing, and differences of opinion were to be cleared up in personal conferences or through an exchange of coded messages. Germany’s allies were to be informed of only the most essential facts.

Strategic propaganda was to be directed at the Caucasian tribes – independence was to be promised. Liaison officers were to be attached to allied propaganda agencies to guarantee adherence to German policies.

This directive leaves no doubt that Hitler’s principal objective for the summer offensive of 1942 was the possession of the Caucasus and its oil resources The shortage of combat troops and the precariousness of the transportation network made it necessary to place great emphasis on the preliminary operations, whereas the main drive toward the Caucasus was outlined only in its initial phase—the seizure of bridgeheads across the Don. More specific orders for a Caucasus operation were not issued until 23rd July 1942, when the operation was in full swing and Hitler signed Directive No. 45. At the time Directive No. 41 was written, no basic conflict between the eastward thrust toward Stalingrad and the southward drive into the Caucasus was anticipated. Like Voronezh, for instance, Stalingrad was to be a stepping stone along the approach road toward the Caucasus. In the Führer’s mind, however, the desire to conquer the city on the Volga by house-to-house fighting gradually became a fixation. This was all the more difficult to understand because in 1941 he had rejected any direct attack on Leningrad and Moscow. The diversion of more and more forces toward Stalingrad was made to the detriment of the principal drive into the Caucasus, and eventually both efforts were to bog down for lack of strength.



Despite the bitter experiences of the winter 1941-42, the Germans continued to underestimate their Russian opponent. According to an estimate submitted by the Eastern Intelligence Division on 10th April 1942, the Red Army had been greatly affected by the winter fighting. Newly activated units showed deficiencies in training, weapons, and equipment. Not only was there a shortage of manpower, but the limitations imposed by the loss of armament production capacity would hamper the further activation of armored units.

In 1942 the Russians would limit themselves to defensive operations, possibly interrupted by intermittent limited-objective offensives to harass the Germans. Being aware of the German plans for an offensive in the southeast, the Russians could be expected to use every means at their disposal to maintain their lines of communications with the Caucasus. As yet there was no indication that the Russians intended to launch a spoiling attack in the south. In the center they would try to consolidate the defense system around Moscow, whereas in the north the relief of Leningrad would probably be given top priority.

Few Russian units appeared to be at full combat efficiency. While the activation of new rifle divisions was feasible, that of armored divisions seemed no longer possible. Steel production was the bottleneck. No major Russian offensive was to be expected in the foreseeable future. The bulk of the Soviet forces would probably be massed in the south.

Making these ideas his own, Halder reported to Hitler that the great number of Russian divisions identified since November 1941 seemed to indicate that the Red Army had mobilized all its manpower resources and had used up a major part of them during the winter offensive.


On 16th April Generaloberst (Gen.) Fritz Erich von Manstein, commander of Eleventh Army in the Crimea, suggested to Hitler that the attack on the Kerch Peninsula be delayed until 5th May because he was still short some essential items of supply. Hitler approved Manstein’s request, adding that the Luftwaffe would have to give strong support to the ground forces. As soon as Kerch was cleared, Army Group South was to pinch off and eliminate the Izyum salient, after which the siege of Sevastopol was to be begun. The timing of these three preliminary operations was to be made contingent upon the availability of essential air support. Because of the delay in the start of the first attack, the Sevastopol operation would not begin before mid-June at the earliest.


As a result of the shifting of forces to the West, to Army Group South, and to rehabilitation centers, Army Group Center was forced to abandon the attacks on Ostashkov and Toropez. Despite its reduction in strength, however, the army group was ordered to eliminate the partisan forces in its rear, consolidate its front line, reorganize its remaining units, and set aside reserves. After these missions had been accomplished, the army group was to undertake a series of limited objective attacks.


The first phase of the summer offensive was to be conducted by Army Group South, composed of Second and Sixth Armies, Fourth Panzer Army, and the First Army. During the second phase First Panzer Army, the Italian Eighth Army, and probably also Eleventh Army were to intervene. The newly activated Army Group A was to assume control of the movements foreseen for the following phases, while Army Group South would become responsible for securing flank protection along the Don front.


The divisions that were to participate in the German offensive were to be moved up in three echelons. The 41 divisions—21 of which were allied—that were to reinforce the units stationed in the south were none too many for an offensive of such dimensions. Since the Russians had the better railnet for their assembly, they might be able to jump off before the Germans. Much would depend upon the quantities of lend-lease equipment they would receive via Murmansk by June 1942.

The delays in the start of the preliminary attacks would necessarily affect the time of the offensive proper, all the more so because as late as April the Russians were still holding the initiative.

Divisions to be moved up for the Summer Offensive


Hitler, who believed that Turkey would sooner or later join the Axis Powers, ordered the German Ambassador in Ankara to offer the Turks 150 million marks worth of military equipment at a time when he could hardly spare a rifle. However, the deal was not consummated because Turkey refused the passage of German submarines and PT boats through the Dardanelles into the Black Sea. In his search for another solution Hitler ordered the boats disassembled, transported cross country, and reassembled in Black Sea ports. This order was carried out, but it produced no significant results.



During the first phase—the drive on Voronezh—the offensive forces were to be supplied from the supply depots of the Kursk district. After the seizure of Voronezh, the railroad connecting that city with Kursk would become the principal feeder line for the Don front. Nonorganic truck transportation columns were to carry the supplies for the spearhead divisions.

The Kharkov supply district was to support the attack forces participating in the second phase. An advance base was to be set up at Valuiki as soon as the Voronezh forces linked up with those coming from Kharkov.

During the third phase additional advance bases would have to be set up along the railroad leading from the Stalino supply district to Stalingrad and east of Valuiki along the Don. Supply points would also have to be established south of the lower Don as soon as German troops crossed the river for the drive into the Caucasus.

To carry out these different missions, a large number of truck transportation columns would have to be held in readiness. Special supply reconnaissance teams were to follow the spearheads during each movement.


Until Army Group A assumed control in the southern part of the Army Group South area, the supply preparations for Operation BLAU were to be the responsibility of the newly formed Command Staff South.


Aside from the initial issue carried by the troops, the following quantities of supplies were to be stored in depots:

Detailed preparations could be made only for the first two phases for which the necessary data were available. Depots in the Kharkov and Kursk districts were to break down supplies according to the estimated requirements of the forces that were to be assembled in these areas, whereas at Stalino supplies were to be stored in bulk.


By the start of Operation BLAU it was hoped that most of the participating units would be adequately equipped with motor vehicles. Prime movers were still scarce. The preliminary operations as well as the long distances some of the motorized units would have to cover to reach the assembly areas might cause further attrition in organic motor vehicles before the start of the offensive proper. Despite intensive maintenance and repair efforts the spearhead divisions would probably have only 60 percent or less of their organic motor vehicles by the time the offensive was launched. Truck transportation columns with a total capacity of 11,000 short tons would be available by 20th June 1942 to compensate for the shortage of organic vehicles.


During the initial phases of the operation the attack forces could rely on three major rail lines with detraining points in the Kursk, Kharkov, and Donets Basin areas. During the third phase the left arm of the pincers directed at Stalingrad would lack rail support as it extended southeastward along the Don. The right arm would be dependent upon the single railroad connecting Stalino with Stalingrad. This was the only railroad by which the attack forces could be supplied once they were approaching the Volga.


The supply situation during the first phase appeared satisfactory with sufficient ammunition and rations apparently available for the second phase. But POL reserves would be consumed by 15th July, and the continuation of the offensive would have to be assured from current shipments.



The predominant problem facing the Organization Division of the Army High Command was the rehabilitation of units. Altogether three armored and five infantry divisions committed in the Russian theater were selected to be exchanged for one armored and nine infantry divisions stationed in the West. The troops to be withdrawn from the Russian theater were to be deloused twice: first before entraining and then again after detraining.

Some of the army and corps troops as well as the divisions that were to be rehabilitated within the theater could not even be pulled out of the front. They were to be rehabilitated in place, a very unsatisfactory procedure not propitious to raising the combat efficiency of the respective units. Leaves were to be granted to all those men who had served uninterruptedly in the theater since the start of the campaign. Two leave trains per week were scheduled for each army group.


The armored divisions complained about the continued shortage of technicians and the weakness of their cadres. Tank and truck drivers were at a premium. Several orders were issued requesting field commanders to return technicians and specialists to the assignments for which they were trained. To relieve the manpower shortage within the theater, native units were to be activated from the prisoners of Tatar, Caucasian, Georgian, Armenian, and Cossack nationality who would probably be captured during the summer offensive. These units were to assume some of the routine duties heretofore curried out by German troops, thus permitting a more judicious employment of the latter.


On 26th April General Halder issued an order calling for the establishment of a defense system. In view of the general weakness of the front lines, enemy breakthroughs could be prevented only by constructing fortifications, establishing switch positions, and building specific fortified areas.

The front lines were to be fortified in depth. Switch positions were to protect the Bryansk-Kharkov line. Since there was not sufficient manpower to construct continuous lines in the rear, it would be necessary to establish fortified areas that could be held for prolonged periods by weak forces against superior enemy pressure. These fortified areas were to secure important supply and communications centers, such as Melitopol, Dnieperopetrovsk, Poltava, Bryansk, Roslavl, Smolensk, Nevel, Luga, Gatchina and Pskov.

By securing the most important road and rail junctions, river crossings, etc., situated between the front line and the fortified areas in the rear, the Germans could create a defense system capable of successfully withstanding any Soviet armored elements that might break through the front.

Engineer staffs were to be responsible for the construction of the fortifications. Only indigenous labor was to be used because of the shortage of German manpower. The material needed for the construction program would also have to be procured from local resources.


The Oil Detachment Caucasus, formed in the spring of 1911, was expanded because of recent experiences with the Russian scorched earth policy. Since the oil fields would be more severely damaged than originally presumed, the detachment was brought to a strength of 10,794 men and redesignated Oil Brigade Caucasus. The brigade was issued 1,142 vehicles and six planes and ordered to stand by, ready to move into the Caucasus oil fields immediately behind the combat troops.


At the end of the winter fighting, on 30th April 1942, total German casualties, excluding sick, numbered 1,167,835 officers and men. A number of measures to save personnel had been introduced, such as lowering the T/O strength of the infantry divisions. Nevertheless, by 31st October 1942 the estimated shortage of replacements in the Russian theater would amount to 280,000 men, even if all operations proceeded according to plan. The Organization Division believed that it would be impossible to provide sufficient replacements for all three army groups. The three solutions therefore taken under consideration at the end of April were as follows:

1 To give Army Group south its full complement of replacements, in which case the situation at Army Groups Center and North would not be relieved until July 1942;

2 To fulfill only 80 per cent of the Army Group South requirements, as a result of which the position of the other two army groups would improve quite considerably by July 1942; or

3 To give Army Group South its full complement and accelerate the arrival of additional replacements by transferring during May and June to each of the two other army groups 100,000 men with only two months of training.

General Halder chose the third solution, fully cognizant of the disadvantage incurred by committing replacements with only two months of training. Actually, he had little choice in the matter. The monthly report on the rehabilitation of units in the Army Group Center area during April 1942 indicated that the unabated intensity of the defensive fighting as well as the withdrawal of divisions for transfer to the West had almost completely obstructed the reorganization and rehabilitation of the units that stayed in place. In general, the divisions which were to be rehabilitated in place would have only limited mobility and reduced combat efficiency, the shortage of motor vehicles and horses being their greatest handicap.


During the summer of 1942, Germany’s allies were to play a much more significant part in the Russian theater than heretofore. In an effort to intensify their participation in the struggle against the Soviet Union, Keitel had visited Hungary and Romania during the preceding winter andHitler had made a personal appeal to Mussolini. The Armed Forces High Command was to provide all the weapons and equipment it could spare for the allied contingents. The political differences were to be partly overcome by interspersing Italian corps or armies between Hungarian and Romanian ones. In compliance with requests received from Germany’s allies, Hitler on 15th April ordered national units to fight under the command of their own army or at least corps headquarters. This decision was to cost the Germans dearly when their allies collapsed along the Don front under the blows of the Russian counter-offensive.

To ascertain smooth cooperation at different levels of command, the German Army organized a number of liaison staffs to be attached to allied division, corps, and army headquarters. Hitler showed his continued anxiety over the morale of the allied troops a few weeks later, when he stated that Italian and other allied military achievements should be given proper credit in German news releases. Fanatical loyalty on the part of the Germans would in turn inspire their allies with similar feelings.

The Germans counted on the assistance of the following allied forces:

Allied Divisions Available for the Russian Theater (Summer 1942)

On the other hand, Hitler was unable to satisfy the requests of Generaloberst (Gen.) Erwin Rommel after his meeting with Mussolini at the beginning of April 1942. No motorized army artillery and engineer units could be made available for the North African theater before the successful conclusion of the Caucasus offensive in the autumn of 1942. By June, however, Rommel’s advance into Egypt seemed so promising that Hitler suddenly decided to divert to North Africa a number of tanks, trucks, and weapons which had been reserved for the rehabilitation of two Russian-theater divisions.

Aside from Germany’s allies, a number of European states, even some of the recently vanquished ones, offered contingents of volunteers who desired to participate in the campaign against the Soviet Union—which for a time tended to assume the characteristics of a crusade against Bolshevism. But Hitler, distrusting his former enemies, reluctantly permitted only a limited number of Frenchmen to serve in national units up to regimental strength. Party political considerations induced him to transfer the responsibility for organizing foreign military volunteer units from Army to National Socialist Party (Waffen-SS) control.


Anxious to secure the lines of communications of the combat forces, General Halder decided that three German security divisions plus Hungarian and Romanian troops were to follow behind the advance. Each security division was to be composed of one infantry and one security regiment, one motorized military police, one artillery, and one signal battalion, as well as one Cossack troop. Military administrative headquarters and prisoner of war processing units were to be formed in addition.


One of the problems that constantly preoccupied Hitler during the preparatory period was the exposed flank that would extend from Voronezh to the area northeast of Kursk. The Führer ordered this defense line amply provided with antitank guns. A total of 350-400 self-propelled 75-mm antitank guns—more than half of them captured French weapons—and some 150 captured Russian 76-mm guns were to be distributed along this front to repel Soviet medium and heavy tanks. Tractors and captured prime movers were to be employed to give a certain degree of mobility to those guns which were not self-propelled.


The new Army Group A was to be formed under the command of Field Marshal Wilhelm List. To prevent premature discovery of the German intentions by the Russians, the arrival of all higher headquarters in the assembly areas was to be delayed to the last possible moment. The Army High Command was to control the movements of all Army Group A and Fourth Panzer Army units as well as those of the army and corps troops.

The cover names given to each of the Army Group A units were to convey the impression that they were engaged in fortification work. List himself was not to arrive in the theater until shortly before the start of operations. The forward echelon of his headquarters was transferred to Poltava on 12th May, the remaining elements were to arrive at Stalino later in May. By approximately 15th June, when the first phase of Operation BLAU was to be launched, Army Group A headquarters was to be ready to secretly assume command over the Eleventh and Seventeenth Armies, and possibly over the First Panzer Army. The overt assumption of command was to take place shortly afterward.


At the beginning of May 1942 Molotov flew to Great Britain and the United States, where he was promised that a second front would be opened before the end of the year. On 2d May a news agency report from Moscow indicated that the Russians were expecting a German spring offensive launched from the Bryansk-Orel-Kursk area. The probable objective was Voronezh, after which the German troops would advance down the Don to seize Stalingrad, while other German forces thrusting from the Kharkov region would advance eastward.

This news report must have produced a certain effect, since only five days later the Chief of the Armed Forces Operations Staff issued a new directive concerning deception. Referring to the previous directive on the same subject dated 12th February 1942, Jodl divided the period before the start of Operation BLAU into two phases.

During the first phase, which was to last up to 25th May, the existing uncertainty with regard to the true German intentions was to be increased, and the preparations and movements for Operation BLAU were to be dissimulated by showing no point of main effort. Since some of the troops needed for the preliminary operations around the Izyum salient were to assemble behind Army Group Center, the Russians would have difficulty in recognizing the objective of the next major offensive. To German units the troop movements were to be explained as a series of simple exchanges of battle-weary divisions from the Russian theater for fresh divisions from the West. The rehabilitation of numerous divisions had long been overdue. As soon as the preliminary operations got under way, maps of the Moscow area up to the middle Volga were to be distributed to the Luftwaffe units.

The second phase was to start after 25th May. By that time the Russians would be at least partly aware of the German distribution of forces. If their attention was drawn away from Army Group South toward Army Group Center, it might be possible to deceive them with regard to the real German main effort and objective. This deception was to be achieved by replacing German units with allied ones at the front, thus simulating a weakening at a point where in reality strength was being built up. An attack on Moscow was to be simulated by assembling some of the attack forces at the boundary between Army Groups South and Center. By intensifying reconnaissance activities along sectors of the Army Groups Center and North fronts one might simulate offensive intentions. Other means suggested were deceptive radio traffic and supply activities; the formation of fictitious staffs; night march movements of rear elements of security divisions; the erection of dummy planes on airfields in the Army Group Center area; rumors spread by military attachés assigned to neutral countries; the planting of articles in military magazines published in neutral countries, in which special emphasis was placed on Moscow’s significance as the center of Russian resistance, as the hub, and the key to armament production, indicating that after the loss of Moscow the Red Army would be unable to offer active resistance west of the Volga.

To judge by the results, the net effect of these deceptive measures was disappointing, since on 16th June another news agency report from Moscow contained details concerning the German intentions and came very close to the real plans.