After Citadel Part III

The 11th Guards Army and the 50th Army would attack from the north. The I Tank Corps and V Tank Corps would provide additional tank support. The force had the combined strength of more than 200,000 men, almost 750 tanks and self-propelled guns, and approximately 4300 mortars and guns. According to the plan, the Western Front forces would move south and cut the Briansk-Orel railway line near Karachev. Sokolovsky’s armies would then surround and eliminate enemy forces between Orel and Briansk, before proceeding south and east. The 11th Guards Army, commanded by General Ivan Bagramian, would lead the attack. Two armies – the 11th Tank Army and the 4th Tank Army – remained in reserve. They would support Bagramian’s advance as needed. The 4th Tank Army held 652 tanks and self-propelled guns in reserve. General Popov had orders to launch a two-pronged attack from the east. The 3rd and 63rd Armies, commanded by Generals A. V. Gorbatov and V. I. Kolpakchi would lead the main assault against the tip of the salient before heading to Orel. The armies would bring 170,000 men and more than 350 tanks and self-propelled guns to the battle. The I Guards Tank Corps and the XXV Rifle Corps would provide support. The 6lst Army, supported by the XX Separate Tank Corps, would initiate a secondary attack against the Germans situated east of Bolkhov. Prepared to exploit the main thrust from Novosil to Orel, the 3rd Guards Tank Army, under General Pavel Rybalko, with more than 700 tanks and self-propelled guns, would remain in reserve. Eventually, more than 433,000 men would participate in the Orel battle on the Briansk Front.

The 2nd Panzer Army, commanded by General Rudolf Schmidt, had the responsibility of defending the Orel bulge. Fourteen infantry divisions of the LV Army Corps, LIII Army Corps and XXXV Army Corps manned the main defensive lines, while the 5th Panzer Division remained in reserve. Schmidt’s failure to keep his opinions regarding the Nazi regime quiet cost him his job shortly before the Soviet offensive began. After the Gestapo arrested General Schmidt on 10 July, Hitler gave command of the 2nd Panzer Army to General Model. The German Army High Command (OKH) had few reserves that it could commit to the salient. The activity to the south had commanded most of its attention.

At 0330 hours on 12 July, a furious Soviet artillery barrage began, and lasted almost three hours. The bombardment had a devastating effect on the tactical defences of the 2nd Panzer Army. The forward rifle and tanks formations moved into position during the last 10 minutes of the artillery assault. At 0605 hours, the front exploded as all of the first echelon forces from both the Western and Briansk fronts opened fire, creating a deafening noise. Through the rising smoke, the Soviets charged the German defenders. Six guards rifle divisions of Bagramian’s 11th Guards Army hit the German defences between the 211th Infantry Division and 293rd Infantry Division and burst through the line. By the afternoon, Bagramian had widened the hole in the German positions with a second line of rifle divisions. He ordered the I and V Tank Corps to move through the gap and advance to the south. Late in the day, the 5th German Panzer Division launched a series of counter-blows and slowed the advancing enemy. Bagramian countered by committing the V Tank Corps to the fray. Commanded by General Sakhno, the V Tank Corps pushed forward 10km (6 1/2 miles) and reached the Germans’ second line of defences by nightfall. Another counter-blow by the 5th Panzer Division prevented further advance on 12 July.

While Bagramian’s 11th Guards Army thrust its way through the German defences, the 6lst, 3rd, and 63rd Armies attacked the point of the salient. The advance by the Briansk Front forces did not go well, as Popov had failed to mask the build-up of his armies near the front lines. The XXXV German Army Corps commander, General Lothar Rendulic, discovered the concentration of 3rd and 63rd Army forces opposite the area where the defences of the 56th and 262nd Infantry Divisions met. Rendulic correctly deduced that the Soviet armies intended to attack where they believed the line was weakest. The German general used radio intercepts and aerial reconnaissance to remain apprised of the enemy’s movements and made his own preparations. Rendulic’s force included 24 infantry battalions, 42 artillery battalions and 48 heavy anti-tank guns. He committed 6 infantry and 18 artillery battalions, as well as half of his guns, to the narrow junction between the 56th Infantry Division and 262nd Infantry Division. As a result of the general’s preparations, the 3rd and 63rd Soviet Armies failed to achieve a rapid breakthrough of the German defensive line. Rendulic succeeded in disrupting the Soviet advance and in forcing Stavka to commit its operational armoured force early than it had intended. Although not totally surprised by Operation Kutuzov, German forces still failed, to prevent Bagramian’s 11th Guards Army from achieving a penetration deep into their defences.

As the day ended and he examined the situation along the Orel salient, Model knew that the next day would bring new attacks. Rendulic had successfully thwarted the Soviets, but Model did not know how long the general’s forces could hold the 3rd and 63rd Armies. While Model contemplated his options, Bagramian and Popov prepared to resume the attack in the morning. As the Germans and the Soviets struggled around Orel on 13 July, Manstein and Field Marshal Günther von Kluge, the commanders of Army Group South (AGS) and Army Group Centre

(AGC), respectively, arrived at the Wolfsschanze to meet with Adolf Hitler. The result of the meeting would have important consequences. The Führer informed the two army group commanders that he had decided to cancel Operation Citadel and provided his reasons for doing so. First, there was the situation at the Orel salient. It appeared likely that the Soviets would soon overrun the German defenders there, Secondly, the concentration of Soviet troops posed a threat to the 1st Panzer and 6th Armies, which were protecting the Donetz basin and the area south of Kharkov. Thirdly, the cost of Operation Citadel was too high. Between 5 and 12 July, the 9th Army had suffered 20,000 casualties. The Soviet attacks north and east of Orel were forcing Model and Kluge to commit an increasing number of exhausted and understrength infantry and armoured forces to the struggle. Finally, there was Sicily. As the Italian Army was proving ineffective against the Allies’ advance, it was up to Germany to supply troops for the defence of Italy. In addition, the possibility of an Allied threat to the Balkans required the presence of more German troops in the region. In order to meet these dangers, Hitler argued that he would have to transfer forces from the Eastern to the Mediterranean and Balkan fronts.

Ironically, during the discussion that followed, the opinions of Kluge and Manstein both reflected a change from their original approaches to Operation Citadel. Kluge had been one of the offensive’s strongest proponents, but the situation on the AGC front had caused him to re-evaluate the feasibility of continuing the fight. Kluge had to consider two very important factors. First, the 9th Army had failed to accomplish the goals set out in the Citadel plan. The likelihood of the 9th Army succeeding in the near future was virtually non-existent. Secondly, while the Soviet offensive had thus far been moderately successful, it had the potential of developing into a nightmare for the Germans. Consequently, Kluge found himself agreeing with the Führer that the best possible course would be the abandonment of the Citadel offensive. Its continuation could very well result in the loss of the AGC and possibly the entire field army. Although he had not been as vocal as Model or General Heinz Guderian, Manstein had initially been an opponent of the German offensive. Now, however, he argued that a continuation of Operation Citadel could bring victory. According to Manstein, the Army Group South forces had already defeated Soviet forces south of Kursk. A breakthrough to Kursk remained possible; therefore, he intended to use his operational reserve – the XXIV Panzer Corps – to renew the assault against the enemy, who was about to crack. In preparation for a new attack, Manstein had deployed the XXIV Panzer Corps to the region around Kharkov. When Manstein suggested that the 9th Army resume the offensive, Kluge argued that the army could not comply. In fact, he stated that the current situation on the 9th Army front dictated a retreat within the next few days.

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After Citadel Part IV

Although they reflected the opinions of General Hoth and General Kempf, Manstein’s arguments fell on deaf ears. Hitler believed that the time had come to end Operation Citadel, but he did make certain concessions. The Führer agreed to a continuation of the AGS offensive for a few days. During that time, he expected AGS forces to eliminate the enemy’s operational reserves and, as a result, his ability to launch a summer counter-offensive. Hitler issued new orders to Model, who was now the commander of the 2nd Panzer Army, as well as of the 9th Army. Not only did Model’s forces have to stop the Soviet offensive, but they also had to return the front line to its original position. On 17 July, Hitler issued orders that signalled the end of Operation Citadel, even though the fighting continued for a while longer. Hitler instructed Manstein and Hoth to remove the II SS Panzer Corps from the front lines and prepare it for transfer to the West. Orders for the transfer of several Army Group South divisions to the Army Group Centre area followed.

The fighting on the Eastern Front did not cease while Hitler met with Manstein and Kluge. On 13 July, the struggle along the Orel salient broke out again. In the Western Front’s sector, Bagramian’s 11th Guards Army attacked in conjunction with the 50th Army, which was commanded by General I. V. Boldin. By mid-afternoon, Butkov’s I Tank Corps, followed by the 1st Guards Rifle Division, moved through the hole in the German defences that had been created by the 11th Guards Army the day before. At first, the I Tank Corps had difficulty moving forwards, but a short time later the I Tank Corps and V Tank Corps burst through the Germans’ second line of defences. Once through the line, the pace of the two tank corps increased. By the end of the day, the Soviets had created a wedge in the German position that was 15km (9 1/4 miles) deep and 23km (14 1/2 miles) wide. Although the 5th Panzer Division contested the Soviet advance, it could not stop it. Without fresh reinforcements, the northern flank’s collapse was imminent. That night Model sent three panzer divisions – the 12th, 18th and 20th – to bolster the German defences.

Popov’s Briansk Front forces failed to make dramatic advances against the tip of the Orel salient due to Rendulic’s XXXV Army Corps’ defences. The day before, when the 3rd and 63rd Armies attacked the junction between the 56th Infantry Division and 262nd Infantry Division, the column did not progress as planned; KV-1 heavy tanks without infantry support advanced into a minefield. The Germans then shelled the exposed enemy tanks with anti-tank guns. When fighting ceased on 12 July, the Soviets had lost 60 tanks and only breached the first line of Rendulic’s defences.

However, fighting resumed the next day, and A. V. Gorbatov and V. I. Kolpakchi, the 3rd Army and 63rd Army commanders, threw their follow-up rifle divisions into the narrow breach. By midday, General Pankov received orders to send the 207 tanks of his I Guards Tank Corps through the gap. Throughout the day, casualties mounted, but the 3rd and 63rd Armies made little progress. Model sent some reinforcements to Rendulic, and during the night 13/14 July, Rendulic received two panzer divisions from the OKH reserve: the 2nd and the 8th Panzer Divisions. They met the I Guards Tank Corps when it renewed the attack on 14 July, and stopped the Soviet corps from making a major penetration forward into the German line.

As a result of the limited movement made by the 3rd and 63rd Armies, Popov repeatedly appealed to Stavka for control of the 3rd Guards Tank Army. Commanded by General Pavel Rybalko and possessing more than 700 tanks and self-propelled guns, this reserve force was situated behind the front. Late on 13 July, Popov received control of the powerful tank army, but Luftwaffe activity restricted its movement to forced marches at night. After two nights, Rybalko’s exhausted force was in position near the eastern end of the salient, but by that time, the opportunity for a breakthrough by the 3rd and 63rd Armies had passed and, giving in to Stavka’s pressure, Popov re-routed 3rd Guards Tank Army’s attack. Instead of attacking Orel from the north and west, Rybalko’s tank army was to come from the south-west.

Rybalko analysed the situation before issuing new orders to the 3rd Guards Tank Army. A man of action, he decided that an attempt to take advantage of the 3rd and 63rd Armies’ assaults on the German defences would take too long: Rendulic’s forces were firmly entrenched. He therefore decided to punch a new hole in the enemy’s line with his powerful armoured force. More than 470 of the army’s tanks were T-34s; the self-propelled guns numbered 32. However, he had neither the artillery nor the engineers necessary for a frontal assault. In addition, two fresh panzer divisions, almost two full infantry divisions, and several Tigers and Ferdinands were defending the German line. However, determined as he was to achieve a breakthrough, Popov agreed to Rybalko’s plan.

On the morning of 19 July, a Soviet long-range bomber group prepared a path for the 3rd Guards Tank Army’s advance. Supported by the bombers and artillery, the XII and XV Tank Corps burst out of their positions at 1030 hours. Once over the Oleshen River, the two corps pushed against the enemy defenders. The Germans tried to stop them with air and tank attacks and although this resistance slowed the Soviet advance, the corps had travelled 12km

(7 1/2 miles) into the German position by the end of the day. For five days, Rybalko’s army manoeuvred in and around the German defences, changing direction whenever they received new orders from Popov. By 25 July, the 3rd Guards Tank Army cut the Orel-Kursk railway line. Despite repeated efforts, Rybalko failed to find a -weak spot in the German defences, and the ensuing battle of attrition took its toll on the Soviet attackers and German defenders.

While the Germans in the Orel salient struggled against attacks from the north and east, a new threat came from the south. According to Hitler’s orders of 13 July, Model’s goals in the Orel bulge were to stop the Soviet advances, and restore the front to its previous position. As the general discovered, he could not achieve either. Moreover, on 15 July, forces from Rokossovsky’s Central Front attacked the southern part of the salient and, although they made little progress in this area, forced Model to shift his forces in an attempt to contest another offensive. For a week, the Soviets exerted pressure in the area while the Germans desperately defended it. On 16 July, in an effort to prevent the collapse of the salient’s defences, Model prepared for a new line of defences that would permit a slight retreat. On 20 July, Hitler sent him an order forbidding this. Model contacted Kluge, who persuaded the Führer to reconsider. The next day, the 11th Army joined the 50th Guards Army and 11th Guards Army’s attack against the northern shoulder of the Orel salient. On 22 July, Hitler approved an ‘elastic defence’, which allowed Model to begin to withdraw the 2nd Panzer Army. Hitler was now willing to accept limited -withdrawals on the Eastern Front. His decision signalled the beginning of Germany’s retreat westwards.

5 cm FlaK 41 & 5.5 cm Gerät 58

The 5-cm (1.97-in) Flak 41 was one of the least successful ofall the German anti-aircraft guns, for it had excessive recoil and flash and the carriage traversed too slowly. Despite their shortcomings, 60 were used until the war ended.

In World War II air warfare terms there was an altitude band that extended from approximately 1500m (4,921ft) to 3000m (9,843ft) that existing anti-aircraft guns could cover only with difficulty. Aircraft flying in this band were really too high or too low for small- or larger-calibre weapons. What was obviously required was an interim-calibre weapon that could deal with this problem but, as artillery designers in both the Allied and German camps were to discover, it was not an easy problem to solve.

The German solution to the interim-altitude band situation was a gun known as the 5-cm Flak 41, and the best that can be said of it was that it was not a success. It was first produced in 1936, and was yet another Rheinmetall Borsig design that was preferred over a Krupp submission. Development of the prototype was carried out with no sense of urgency, for it was 1940 before the production contract was awarded and in the event only 60 guns were completed, The first of them entered service in 1941 and the type’s shortcomings soon became apparent. The mam problem was the ammunition: despite its 50-mm (1.97-in) calibre, this was rather underpowered and on firing produced a prodigious amount of muzzle blast and flash that distracted the aimer, even in broad daylight. The carriage proved rather bulky and awkward to handle in action, and despite the characteristics of the expected targets the traversing mechanism was also rather underpowered and too slow to track fast targets.

Two versions of the Flak 41 were produced: a mobile one using two axles to carry the gun and carriage, and a static version for emplacing close to areas of high importance such as the Ruhr dams. Despite their overall lack of success the guns were kept in service until the war ended, but by then only 24 were left. During the war years some development work was carried out using the Flak 41s, not so much to improve the guns themselves but to determine the exact nature of the weapon that was to replace them. In time this turned out to be a design known as the Gerät 56 (Gerät was a cover name, meaning equipment) but it was not finalized before the war ended, One Flak 41 development was the formation of one battery operating under a single remote control.

In action the Flak 41 had a crew of seven men. Loading the ammunition was no easy task for it was fed into the gun in five-round clips that were somewhat difficult to handle. Though designed for use against aircraft targets, the Flak 41 was also provided with special armour-piercing projectiles for use against tanks, but this AP round appears to have been little used as the Flak 41 was one of the few German weapons that was not selected for mounting on a self-propelled carriage.

If the Germans were unsuccessful in their attempt to defend the interim-altitude band, it has to be stated that he Allies were no more successful. Typical of their efforts was the British twin 6-pdr, a 57-mm (2.244-in) weapon that never got past the trials stage because of its indifferent performance.
Altogether 60 examples of the 5 cm Flak 41 were produced, starting from 1941. Some of them were still in use in 1945.

Data

German designation: Flak 41

Calibre: 50 mm (1.97 in)

Length of piece: 4.686 m (184.5 in)

Weight: in action 3100 kg (6,834 lb)

Elevation: -10° to+90°

Traverse: 360°

Muzzle velocity: 840 m (2,756 ft) per second

Maximum effective ceiling: 3050 m (10,007ft)

Rate of fire: (cyclic) 180 rpm

Projectile weight: 2.2kg(4.85lb)
Later German attempts to create a medium anti-aircraft gun focused on 5.5 cm weapons (Gerät 58) and the 5 cm Pak 38-derived Gerät 241.

5.5 cm Gerät 58

Was designed as part of an integrated weapons system which included radar and fire control equipment. The development started in 1943 but not concluded before the end of the war. The carriage has an unusual feature: the differential recoil or soft recoil, based on the Flak 41 carriage and named Sonderanhänger 206, but the gun itself is no more than an enlarged version of the 5 cm Flak 41. A number of completed carriages are converted to take 5 cm Flak 214 guns in 1945. Only three guns were built.

One of the many things to note about this gun was its sophisticated servo drive systems intended for computerized aiming. Instead of the defective (in terms of accuracy) limited angular rate deflection system generally used for for aiming it was to calculate the complete and total firing solution in Cartesian co-ordinates. It was a one hit to kill weapon. It was not only for tanks but for naval systems as well as for ground based FLAK.

Post war the Soviet 57 mm AZP S-60 evolved from this weapon.

Data
German designation: Gerät 58
Caliber: 55 mm
Length of piece: 6.150 mm
Length of barrel: 4.211 mm
Breech mechanism: Gas-operated vertical sliding block
Traverse: 360º
Weight travelling: 5.490 Kg
Weight in action: 2.990 Kg
Weight of gun: 650 Kg
Elevation: -5º to 90º
Type of feed: 5 rounds clips
Muzzle velocity: 1.050 mps
Shell weight: 2,03 Kg (with Zerl 18V fuze)
Rate of fire: 140 rpm

Here is the entire list of Flak weapons (German Designations):

LIGHT AA
2 CM Flak 30
2 CM Flak 38
2 CM GebFlak 38
2 CM Flak Sondergeschütz
2 CM Flakvierling 38
2 CM Flakvierling 38/43
MG 151/20
3 CM Flak 103/38
3.7 CM SKC/30
3.7 CM Flak 18
3.7 CM Flak 36 oder 37
3.7 CM Flak M 42
3.7 CM Flak 43
3.7 CM Flakzwilling 43
Gerät 339 B.Kp. (3.7 CM)
Gerät 341 3.7 CM
3 CM Flak M 44
3 CM Flak M 44 (300 M)
3 CM MK 303 (Br)
Fledermaus 3.7 CM
IMPRESSED LIGHT AA
2 CM Flak 28 und 29
2 CM Flak Madsen
2 CM Flak Breda or 2 CM Breda(i) or 2 CM MG 282(i)
2 CM Flak Scotti oder 2 CM Scotti(i)
2.5 CM Flak Hotchkiss or 2.5 CM Flak Hotchkiss 38 und 39
3.7 CM Flak Breda or 3.7 CM Breda(i)
3.7 CM Flak M 39a(r)
4 CM Flak 28
MEDIUM AA
5 CM Flak 41
Gerät 56 V 1a 5 CM
Gerät 56 G 5 CM
Gerät 56 M 5 CM
Gerät 56 K 5 CM
Gerät 58 5.5 CM
Gerät 58 K 5.5 CM
5 CM Flak 214
5 CM Automatic Flak (A Skoda Prototype manufactured close to end of war. The actual German designation was unknown)
IMPRESSED MEDIUM AA
4.7 Flak 37(t)
HEAVY AA
8.8 CM Flak 18, 36 oder 37
8.8 CM Flak 41
8.8 CM Flak 37/41
8.8 CM Flak 39/41
8.8 CM Flak 41/2 (these 7 cannons were based on the classic 88’s)
10.5 CM Flak 38 und 39
10.5 CM Flak 39/2
12.8 Flak 40
12.8 Flak 40/1
12.8 Flak 40/2
12.8 Flakzwilling 40
12.8 CM Flak 45
7.5 Flak L/60
7.5 CM Flak L/59 or 7.5 CM Flak P L/65
Gerät 42 8.8 CM
Gerät 50 14.91 CM
Gerät 55 14.91 CM
Gerät 60 14.91 CM
Gerät 65 14.91 CM
Gerät 60F 14.91 CM
Gerät 65F 14.91 CM
Gerät 80 23.8 CM
Gerät 85 23.8 CM
IMPRESSED HEAVY AA
7.5 CM Flak (b)
7.5 CM FK 97(f)
7.5 CM Flak M 17/34(f)
7.5 CM Flak M 30(f)
7. CM Flak M 33(f)
7.5 CM Flak M 36(f)

Radschlepper Ost [Škoda RSO]

Looming majestically in the Zuffenhausen forecourt, Porsche’s Skoda-built Type 175 was created to duplicate on the Eastern Front the artillery-shifting achievements of Austro Daimler’s Goliath in the First World War.

With the war in Russia dragging on into a second year, the HWA asked Ferdinand Porsche to design and build a modern version of the high-wheeled Austro-Daimler M 17 Goliath tug that had been so successful both in the First World War and afterwards. Fully briefed, Karl Rabe began to delineate its characteristics on Monday, 26 January. He entered it in his log as the Type 175, known as the Radschlepper Ost or ‘Wheeled Eastern Tractor’.

Partner in the project was Skoda of Pilsen, reawakening an important First World War relationship. On 2 February Porsche and Rabe hosted a day-long discussion in Zuffenhausen with an 11-man delegation from the Czech company led by veteran design engineer and director Emil Řezníček. Skoda would produce the huge 9-ton vehicles to Porsche’s designs.

Spaced on a 118.1-inch wheelbase, the same as that of the M 17, at just under 5ft in diameter the steel wheels of the Type 175 were even larger than those of its First World War counterpart. While small cleats were integral with the wheels, larger ones and ice studs were stowed on board to be attached when required. The use of steel was a direct response to the shortage of rubber, tyres of such size consuming far too much of this scarce resource.

Another shortage was of lead, for which the batteries in the submarines of Admiral Karl Dönitz had absolute priority. Accordingly Porsche and Rabe provided a small crank-started VW-based parallel-twin engine to start the main four-cylinder unit. The latter was a long-stroke four of 6.0 litres with overhead valves and air cooling by a blower driven from the nose of the crankshaft. Reached at a modest 2,000rpm, its peak output was 80bhp. A five-speed gearbox translated this into 11,000lb of pulling power, implemented when required by a chassis-mounted winch.

Description.

This is a heavy prime mover with four large wheels, intended for use on the Russian front. This vehicle should not be confused with the Raupenschlepper Ost, a fully-tracked prime mover also intended for use on the Russian front.

Specifications.

•  Length: 20 feet.

•  Width: 7 feet 4 inches.

•  Height: 10 feet.

•  Wheels (steel): Four, 4 feet 10 inches in diameter.

•  Engine: 4-cylinder, in-line, air-cooled, 90 horsepower.

•  Fuel: Gasoline.

•  Capacity: 6,024 cubic centimeters. (367.46 cubic inches.) (with 2-cylinder, air-cooled, 12 horsepower auxiliary starter engine)

•  Drive: 4 wheel, with locking differential.

•  Gears: Five forward, one reverse.

•  Speed, road: 6 miles per hour (average)

•  Weight unloaded: 9 tons.

•  Useful load: 4.5 tons.

•  Trailed load: 5.6 tons.

•  Winch capacity: 5.6 tons.

Operation Uranus – Don Front


On the Don Front, the going was more difficult. Batov threw his 65th Army at General Alexander Freiherr Edler von Daniels’s 376th Infantry Division, but his infantry made little progress against a determined German defense. Batov found easier going at the junction of the 376th and the 1st Romanian Cavalry Division, and the Soviets were able to advance as they pushed the Romanians aside. Von Daniels was forced to arc his left flank to prevent the Russians from breaking into his rear as a result of the Romanian cavalry’s retreat.

In Stalingrad, Paulus was informed of the Soviet attack at 9:45 AM, but he seemed relatively unconcerned. The German general ordered Heim’s XLVIII Panzer Corps to advance toward Kletskaya to support the Romanians and then went back to briefings concerning the fight for the city. Heim put his units on the road and headed toward his objective, but at 11:30 new orders arrived, this time from Hitler’s headquarters. The feisty panzer general cursed roundly as he read the message ordering him to turn his forces northwest to the Bolshoy area and stop Romanenko’s armored units. Valuable time and fuel were lost as he reformed his attack force.

Meanwhile, Paulus began receiving more reports concerning the Russian attack. The first fragmented information had caused little alarm. After all, they were coming from Romanians, and everyone knew that they tended to exaggerate and were prone to unnecessary panic.

Toward noon, the situation became clearer. This time the staff officers of the 6th Army definitely took notice. A Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft reported hundreds of Soviet tanks advancing across the steppes northwest of Stalingrad. Clear reports from German liaison officers flatly stated that the 9th, 13th, and 14th Romanian Infantry Divisions had been shattered and were no longer capable of any organized resistance.

Although Paulus had three panzer divisions (14th, 16th, and 24th) and three motorized divisions (3rd, 29th, and 60th) at his disposal, he did nothing to form a strike force to stop the Soviet armor. Preferring to keep them engaged in and around Stalingrad-a pure waste of armor in an urban battle-he relied on Heim’s panzer corps to deal with the Russian attack.

A German panzer corps in 1942 was a formidable weapon that could take on a Soviet Tank Army and usually come out on top. Heim’s corps, however, was a panzer corps in name only, something that seemed to slip by the generals that were expecting him to stop the Russians.

By the time Heim was ordered to attack, his 22nd Panzer Division had only about 30 combat-ready tanks. His motorized elements were critically short of fuel, and the orders changing the direction of his attack only made the problem worse.

Heim’s mechanized units were also plagued by the forces of nature. While bivouacked, mice had gotten into the tanks and armored personnel carriers and had gnawed on or through some of the electrical wires in the vehicles, causing them to break down as the systems shorted out. Another problem was the width of his tank treads. The Russian T-34 had a wide, gripping track while German tanks had narrow tracks, causing them to slip and slide on the icy terrain. Nevertheless, Heim and his men pushed forward, hoping to surprise the Russian spearhead.

The weather worsened during the afternoon of the 19th, with the freezing mist lowering visibility to almost zero, and maps were practically useless as the Soviets continued their drive. Taking into account the possibility of bad weather, Russian commanders had enlisted area peasants as guides, but even they were having a difficult time traversing the mist-shrouded landscape.

It started getting dark before 4:00 PM, which only added to the difficulties faced by the Russian tank crews as they pushed toward their objectives. To make things worse, the wind picked up and snow began falling, which led to almost blizzard-like conditions on the steppes.

Having essentially obliterated the Romanian defenses, the Soviet tank commanders felt reasonably assured that their only threat would come from a possible German counterattack. All things considered, that attack would probably be directed against Kravchenko’s 4th Tank Corps, as that unit was advancing closest to the main 6th Army forces at Stalingrad.

It would have worked that way if Heim had not received new orders sending him toward Bolshoy. Heim’s panzers, now numbering about 20, hit Butkov’s 1st Tank Corps near the Chir River at Pestchany. It was an uneven battle from the start, with the Germans being outnumbered, outgunned, and outmaneuvered. In an almost suicidal action, an armored group led by Oberst (Colonel) Hermann von Oppeln-Bronikowski tore into the Russians. Supported by the 22nd Panzer’s antitank battalion, von Oppeln’s tanks managed to isolate and destroy several Soviet tanks in Butkov’s spearhead.

The Soviets regrouped, and the unequal struggle continued into the night until Heim ordered the battle to be broken off. He told his commanders to make for the Chir River crossings and get to the west bank of the river, thus saving his panzer corps from encirclement and annihilation. Those retreating units would remain a thorn in the side of the Russians for days to come.

The retreat order had the expected consequences for Heim as a furious Hitler recalled him to Berlin, stripped him of his rank, and had him imprisoned. He was released 10 months later without having been tried. On August 1, 1944, his rank was restored, and he was appointed commander of Fortress Boulogne on the Western Front.

At Heeresgruppe B headquarters, Generaloberst Baron von Weichs recognized the danger he faced earlier than most. He issued directives at 10:00 PM on the night of November 19 to try and forestall the looming disaster.

“The situation developing on the front of the 3rd Romanian Army dictates radical measures in order to disengage forces quickly to screen the flanks of 6th Army,” he wrote.

Among those measures was ordering all offensive operations in Stalingrad to cease. He also directed Paulus to detach two motorized formations, an infantry division, and all anti-tank units he could spare to stop the assault forces of Vatutin and Rokossovsky. These measures may have blunted the Soviet advance, but it was already too late. On November 20, the second stage of Uranus began as Eremenko’s southern anvil began moving to meet the northern hammer.

The same bad weather plaguing the northern Soviet forces also hampered the Russians in the south. Icy fog made the going slow as the assault forces of the Stalingrad Front edged closer to Constantinescu’s 4th Romanian Army. At 10 AM, the Russian artillery opened up along the front. Soon after, the initial assault troops were already pouring through the Romanian line.

German soldiers in the 297th Infantry Division, adjacent to the 20th Romanian Infantry Division, watched in awe as the human flood of Russians advanced. As on the northern sector, some of the Romanians fled or surrendered almost immediately, while others fought bravely until being overwhelmed. Reports came in speaking of Romanian antitank crews firing their pitiful 37mm guns until they were crushed beneath the marauding Soviet tanks of the initial attack forces.

The leading Russian armored and mechanized forces performed well, but command and control problems, the bad weather, and problems getting across the Volga River crossing points delayed the spearhead units designated to exploit the breakthrough. Maj. Gen. V. T. Volsky’s 4th Mechanized Corps, designated to advance with Maj. Gen. N. I. Trufanov’s 51st Army, was supposed to strike between Lakes Sarpa and Tsatsa, but its units had not yet concentrated. The same could be said for Colonel T. I. Tanaschishin’s 13th Mechanized Corps.

Angry messages flew back and forth as the delay continued. The spearhead units were supposed to attack at 10 AM, but it was already well after noon, and there was still no sign of movement from the corps. General Markian M. Popov, the deputy commander of the Stalingrad Front, headed to Volsky’s headquarters and confronted him directly.

The angry exchange between the two lasted for some time before Volsky finally gave in and ordered his still disorganized units forward. Tanaschishin was also ordered forward immediately. It was already past 4 PM, and the Soviet timetable was hours behind schedule. As they moved out, Volsky’s units became intermixed, causing further confusion as they headed westward.

The Germans reacted much more quickly to the southern attack than they had on the previous day. General Hans-Georg Leyser’s 29th Panzergrenadier Division, nicknamed the Falcon Division, was ordered to hit the flank of Tanaschishin’s 13th Mechanized Corps. The 29th was a first-rate division, and its troops moved out quickly to meet the foe.

About 10 miles south of Beketovka, Leyser’s armored columns slammed into elements of Tanaschishin’s corps. The panzers bloodied the Russian tanks and sent the mechanized units reeling, causing the Soviets to beat a hasty retreat. It was a shining moment in an otherwise dismal day for the Germans, but the victory was short lived.

Farther west, the Soviets were running rampant through the retreating Romanians. Leyser was ordered to turn his division around to protect the exposed southern flank of the 6th Army, leaving the field to Tanaschishin’s forces, which were regrouping for a counterattack.

While the fighting raged south of Stalingrad, the northern sector reeled under hammer blows from the South West and Don Fronts. General Strecker’s IX Army Corps, its left flank left hanging by Dumitrescu’s retreat, was forced to form an arc to meet the advancing Russians. General von Daniels’s 376th shifted its front westward to meet the 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps, while General Heinrich-Anton Deboi’s 44th Infantry Division, forced to leave much of its heavy equipment in place because of lack of fuel, extended its line to cover the gap left by von Daniels’s shift.

Meanwhile, Kravchenko’s 4th Tank Corps turned toward the southeast. Its objective was the Don River town of Golubinski, which happened to be Paulus’s headquarters. At the same time, units of the 5th Tank Army continued to smash isolated pockets of Romanians that tried to stand and fight.

Operation Uranus –Begins

The senior Soviet officers got very little sleep during the night of November 18. Shortly after midnight, the Russian artillery started firing smoke shells from the eastern bank of the Don. Soviet propaganda units had already set up loudspeakers close to the front weeks before, so the Germans and their allies paid little attention to the political messages and music that blasted through the night air. As usual, Axis soldiers regarded the loudspeakers as more of a nuisance designed to keep them from getting a good night’s sleep.

This time, however, the smoke and noise from the Russian line had a different purpose. Under cover of these distractions, Soviet armored and mechanized forces streamed across the Don to the already established bridgeheads. A little after 2 AM, more than a million men from the three attack fronts received their orders. They were told that they were about to participate in a deep raid toward the enemy rear. The word “encirclement” was not mentioned to the troops in case something went wrong with the plan. Nevertheless, the old timers knew that something was up. There were too many men and too many vehicles for this to be just a raid. Are we, they wondered, finally starting to see the beginning of the road to victory?

The Russians were helped by snow and a thick fog that cut visibility down to almost nothing. On the German-Romanian line, sentries strained to see just a few feet ahead of them, but all seemed fine except for the damned Soviet loudspeakers blaring in the distance. Only a few yards away, Red Army engineers, camouflaged in white uniforms, had been working their way toward the enemy lines all night, clearing mines and cutting wire obstacles to make a path for the Russian assault forces.

On the Soviet side, commanders anxiously looked at their watches. The fog offered good concealment and would not hinder the effects of the planned Russian artillery bombardment, as the guns had been pre-sighted for just such a situation. Minutes ticked away until, at 7:20 AM Moscow time (5:20 AM German time) the Soviet artillery commanders received the code word “Siren.”

The earth trembled as battery after battery of Katyushas (Stalin Organs) sent their rockets screaming toward the enemy lines. A ghostly glow reflected off the fog as the batteries fired again and again. To be on the receiving end of the rockets tested the courage of the best German units. For the Romanians of Dumitrescu’s 3rd Army, the effect was devastating.

Strongpoints and trenches literally disintegrated as the rockets struck their preplotted sites. Communications between the forward outposts and higher headquarters were shattered, and many of the ammunition dumps close to the front were destroyed in spectacular explosions. Many of those not killed outright in the bombardment were already fleeing to the rear, trying to escape the carnage.

Ten minutes later, the massed Russian artillery was given the order to fire. Thousands of guns roared at once, causing many an artilleryman to bleed at the ear from the concussions caused by so many artillery pieces firing at the same time. Almost immediately, shells began crashing into Romanian artillery emplacements and secondary positions behind the front line. Those fleeing from the opening bombardment were now caught in a second rain of steel, which further decimated the retreating troops. Black earth churned up from shell impacts was interspersed on the snow with red blotches that had a few seconds earlier been men fleeing for their lives.

The bombardment kept up for one hour and 20 minutes. Dazed Romanians lucky enough to escape death from the rain of explosives were in a state of near paralysis as they desperately tried to dig their way out of their shattered positions. Wounded men howled in agony for their comrades to help them while the surviving NCOs and officers worked to regain control over their troops.

Above the cries of the wounded, a new sound was heard. It was not the sound of artillery or tank motors, but the deep, guttural sound of a beast preparing to pounce on its prey. The Romanians strained to see through the fog, hoping not to see what they knew was coming. As the fog lessened, shapes appeared-first hundreds and then thousands. Coming toward them were the massed echelons of Romanenko’s 14th and 47th Guards and 119th Rifle Divisions. The sound that the Romanians now heard-the one that struck fear into their very souls-was the Russian battle cry coming from thousands of soldiers: “Urra! Urra! Urra!”

In some sectors of the Romanian front, soldiers made split-second decisions on whether they would live or die. Hundreds of them threw down their weapons and, with hands held high, hoped for the best as the Russians bore down on them. For the most part, the Soviet assault forces bypassed them and continued their advance, leaving the surrendering Romanians to be picked up later by units in the second or third wave of the attack.

In other Romanian sectors the story was different. The 13th Romanian Infantry Division, for example, occupied a sector of the front opposite the 21st Army. When the Soviet infantry attacked, survivors in the front trenches repulsed them. A second attack, this time supported by tanks, met the same fate. Frustrated, Christyakov ordered another round of shelling. At the same time, he ordered A. G. Kravchenko’s 4th Tank Corps and P. A. Pliev’s 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps to prepare to attack.

Christyakov wanted to hold these units in reserve until the Romanian line was broken, but the resistance of the 13th and some other Romanian divisions had already upset his timetable. Together with fresh waves of infantry, the Soviet assault smashed the remaining positions of the Romanian IV Army Corps, allowing the 21st Army to advance.

To the west of the IV Corps, the Romanian II Army Corps, facing the 5th Tank Army, was undergoing its own personal hell. Following the bombardment and infantry assault, Romanenko unleashed V. V. Butkov’s 1st Tank and A. G. Rodin’s 26th Tank Corps, followed by the 8th Cavalry Corps. The attack hit the Romanian 9th, 11th, and 14th Infantry Divisions like a sledgehammer, and their positions crumbled as the Russian armor rolled forward.

The Soviet cavalry spread out toward the west, severing communications between the Romanians and General Giovanni Messe’s 8th Italian Army. As the Romanians fled, the cavalry formed a barrier against any possible counterattack while the armored and infantry forces swung southeast toward the Chir River and Kalach.

The gods smiled on the Soviets about mid-morning as the fog dissipated enough for the Red Air Force to enter the fray. Aircraft from K. N. Smirnov’s 2nd and S. A. Krasovsky’s 17th Air Armies swooped down upon the retreating Romanians with a vengeance. The Luftwaffe was nowhere to be seen as the Soviet pilots bombed and strafed enemy troops and positions.

The Mons Myth


Evaluation of British Effectiveness

Armies fight the way they have trained to fight. For a century, the British army trained for colonial war. The short duration of the Haldane reforms was not adequate to prepare the British army for continental warfare. Therefore, at Mons and Le Cateau II Corps attempted to fight colonial-warfare battles.

Due to lack of preparation, the BEF made grave errors at both the operational (army and corps) and tactical levels, the worst of which was ignorance of the enemy. The British were to engage the premier military force of the twentieth century, and should have been much more circumspect. By rights, the BEF should not have lived to tell the tale.

The BEF had to avoid casualties and fight only for a very good reason. Mons performed no useful operational purpose; it gave the Germans a day to close the distance with the BEF, and could have led to a disaster. During the retreat to Le Cateau the BEF failed to delay the Germans with rearguards. Combined with deficiencies in British staff work and traffic control, which by the morning of 26 August caused command and control to collapse, the German IV AK and HKK 2 were allowed to catch II Corps and force it to fight under extremely unfavourable circumstances. Motivated by the pounding it took at Le Cateau, II Corps finally got serious about retreating on the night of 26–27 August, and in two days of continuous movement broke contact.

BEF troop-leading was poor. The army and corps commanders did not issue clear, timely orders. Subordinate commanders did not understand the commander’s intent. Confused and uninformed battalion commanders failed to exercise their initiative.

There was no rhyme or reason to the distribution of forces for the defence at Mons and Le Cateau. The most exposed and most important sectors were weakly held. The salient north of Mons and the 5th Division right flank at Le Cateau were indefensible. The positions at Le Cateau offered the enemy covered and concealed avenues of approach and close-range firing positions. Most seriously, while the commander’s intent at Le Cateau was clearly to withdraw, most of the positions were on the forward slope, where withdrawal would lead to a massacre.

The British Cavalry Division was an operational liability. Before Mons it failed to perform its reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance missions. On 24 August it left the II Corps left flank floating in the air. In the retreat to Le Cateau it failed to delay HKK 2 and IV AK; indeed, the cavalry division could provide no useful information concerning enemy strengths or locations. At Le Cateau, citing exhaustion, it did nothing.

The artillery failed to effectively support the infantry. At Mons it was unable to provide fire support at all. During the withdrawal there were no artillery rearguards. At Le Cateau the British artillery was completely dominated by equal or inferior numbers of German guns and was generally unable to put fire on the German infantry. Indeed, it drew German fire onto its own infantry by setting up in their immediate vicinity.

Individual physical fitness was inadequate: many of the troops, particularly the reservists, were not marching fit. From 24 August on, British commanders began ordering their men to abandon equipment in order to ‘march light’. On 25 August the British infantry was outmarched and overtaken by infantry of IV AK and the Jäger of HKK 2.

‘Rapid rifle fire’ was not the battle-winning wonder weapon that British historians have made it out to be. Repeatedly German infantry, supported by artillery and MG fire, was able to cross hundreds of metres of open ground in the face of ‘rapid rifle fire’, close with the British infantry and throw it out of its position or destroy it in place. The idea that ‘rapid rifle fire’ was so effective that the Germans took it for MG fire finds no support in German sources.

German Military Effectiveness

German tactical doctrine and troop training proved themselves unequivocally in combat. The BEF escaped destruction at Mons and Le Cateau solely due to egregious errors by the 1st Army commander and his chief of staff.

The organisation of HKK 2, combining cavalry, large numbers of machine guns, artillery and high-quality infantry, was a resounding success and HKK 2 performed superbly, in spite of Marwitz’s command failures at Haelen. It screened the strength and movements of the 1st and 2nd Armies so effectively that they gained operational surprise over the BEF and the French 5th Army. The operational mobility HKK 2 displayed on 24 and 25 August is nothing short of astounding. At Le Cateau HKK 2, though heavily outnumbered, delivered a stinging defeat to the British 4th Division and the 7th Brigade of the 3rd Division.

The Germans fought as a combined-arms team, which allowed them repeatedly to successfully execute one of the most difficult missions in modern warfare: hasty attack over open terrain against a deployed enemy. At Mons the German artillery provided effective fire support, often moving to within a few hundred metres of the British positions to do so. At Le Cateau the German artillery engaged, suppressed or destroyed the British artillery, which was generally unable to fire effectively on the German infantry. The massing of six MGs under a company commander allowed a concentration of fire at the decisive place and time. Artillery and MG fire support gave the German infantry fire superiority and allowed it to move across large stretches of exposed ground to close with the enemy. German engineers brought the infantry and artillery across obstacles and assisted the infantry in street fighting.

Day after day the German infantry marched hard. This operational mobility allowed it to appear where the enemy did not expect, and in force. German marches were well-organised: the troops always got some rest at night, even if it was a wet bivouac, and the field kitchens ensured that they got a hot meal.

At Mons the IV AK commander concentrated his Schwerpunkt, his main point of effort, against the weakest point in the British line, as did the 7th Division commander at Le Cateau. Tactical leaders of all grades were aggressive and exercised their initiative to utilise covered and concealed avenues of approach and firepower to close with the enemy.

Taken together, these factors produced superior combat power. At Mons all three engaged German corps were able to establish bridgeheads over the Canal du Centre at the cost of casualties that were little higher than those of the defenders. In two days of pursuit III AK caught up with I Corps and forced it to retreat away from II Corps, splitting the BEF in half, while IV AK and HKK 2 were able to overhaul II Corps and force it to fight. At Le Cateau the German troops, although significantly outnumbered, inflicted disproportional casualties on the British and drove them from their position.

Superior German operational mobility and tactical combat power was negated by unforced errors made by the 1st Army commander and his chief of staff. The real culprit was Hermann von Kuhl, the chief of staff; for the army commander, Kluck, was not a General Staff officer and operational decisions were clearly Kuhl’s responsibility. All Kuhl had to do was make the obvious staff-school solution to the operational problems at hand and the BEF would have been destroyed. Instead, Kuhl was too clever by half.

Cavalry reconnaissance reports made it clear on 22 August that a large British force was west of Mons. Nevertheless, Kuhl retained the notion that the British would concentrate at Lille for so long that the 1st Army missed its chance to inflict a truly serious defeat on II Corps on 23 August.

The BEF was now in range, only a day’s march ahead of the 1st Army or even less. The only correct solution to the operational problem facing the 1st Army on 24–25 August was to continue the march south-west. With HKK 2 coming up on the right, there was every prospect of turning the BEF left flank and forcing the British to fight. Instead, Kuhl decided that on 25 August the British were withdrawing to Maubeuge and turned the entire 1st Army and HKK 2 south-east. This was the wrong solution. Even if the British were moving to Maubeuge, the correct solution would be to continue the march south-west to allow the 1st Army to conduct a deep envelopment of the Anglo-French left.

Kuhl had been one of Schlieffen’s star pupils, one of the officers closest to the old master strategist. Schlieffen had continually warned against shallow envelopments, which the enemy could avoid. Kuhl was breaking Schlieffen’s cardinal rule.

Throughout the campaign, Kuhl would display a consistent inability to make operationally sound decisions. His mistakes from 5–9 September would be the reason for the failure of the German campaign and the loss of the Battle of the Marne. He would offer the French the 1st Army’s unprotected right flank. He then disregarded orders to fall back and defend the German flank in favour of a pointless offensive which allowed the French to pry open the German front.

Had the 1st Army merely continued the march south-west on 25 August, it would not have required Hindenburg and Ludendorff to produce a western Tannenburg on 26 August. Three brigades of IV AK alone had inflicted a severe defeat on II Corps. Had III AK been attacking the II Corps right and IV AK the left, the British would have been facing eight brigades and the result would have been a British disaster. The British left was guarded only by Sordet’s cavalry and French Territorials: HKK 2 had already convincingly demonstrated an ability to summarily deal with these and advance rapidly into the British rear, turning disaster into catastrophe.

The destruction of II Corps would not have ended the war, as Tannenberg did not end the war with Russia. The German advance into France was going to run out of momentum and come to a halt on 5 September in any case. But the removal of three divisions would have been a serious blow to the British army.

The Significance of Mons and Le Cateau

The Mons Myth encourages soldiers, policymakers and citizens to believe that doctrine and years of tactical training are unimportant: war is simple and all that an army needs is patriotism, ‘field sports’, personal heroism and rifle marksmanship. Such a belief, widespread in the British army and British society before the First World War, resulted in the death or maiming of an entire generation of young Britons.

This is what happens when an army that has neglected doctrine and tactical training meets up with an army that made a religion of both. The denouement came at Le Cateau, where the German army showed that it knew how to attack a numerically superior enemy force and win.

Reaching such a pinnacle is complex and difficult. Most armies never do. It requires realistic doctrine, combined-arms cooperation, mobility, security and intelligence, troop-leading procedures, and individual initiative, all perfected in long, hard training. There must be an institutional commitment to tactical excellence. These qualities, developed in forty years of peacetime work, were the reasons for German success at Mons and Le Cateau.