The Battle of Gazala – Rommel’s Masterpiece

26 MAY-21 JUNE 1942

“It was only in the desert that the principles of armoured warfare as they were taught in theory before the war could be fully applied and thoroughly developed. It was only in the desert that real tank battles were fought by large-scale formations ” Erwin Rommel

The wide open spaces and lack of inhabited areas have always given desert warfare its own particular quality. In World War II, the campaigns fought in the coastal desert of Italian Libya had their own special importance for believers in the tank and in the blitzkrieg. They offered the chance of manoeuvre and the interplay of rapidly moving armoured forces almost in their purest form. It was in this arena that Erwin Rommel, perhaps the most famous of all the German generals of the war, earned his formidable reputation as a winner of armoured battles.

The battle that was fought south of Gazala in eastern Libya, between 26 May and 14 June 1942, is crucial in that it was Rommel’s greatest victory over the British Eighth Army. His German Afrika Korps, combined with substantial Italian elements, took on and decisively defeated British, Imperial, and Allied forces which were dug-in behind minefields in a strongly defended position. Furthermore, the Eighth Army had a narrow superiority in numbers of men, tanks, and guns. This might seem unexceptional, were it not that orthodox tactics required a 3:1 advantage to the attacker, which was precisely what Montgomery demanded before he attacked Rommel at El Alamein 6 months later. Seen in this light, Rommel’s victory was nothing less than miraculous. Yet it should also be remembered that it almost never came to pass, and that for 12 hours at the battle’s crisis it was Rommel who contemplated surrender.

The British Plans

The British Eighth Army was no easy opponent for Rommel. Not only had it tasted victory over the Italians in late 1940 and early 1941, but it had also driven back an over-extended Afrika Korps to El Agheila in `Operation Crusader’ at the end of 1941. In May 1942 it was in position covering Tobruk (held by its 2nd South African Division), because it had been forced back there by Rommel’s outflanking manoeuvre in January. Yet Rommel had been compelled to halt before the apparently well-planned defences of the Gazala Line. Almost 60 miles of minefields (known as the `mine marsh’) stretched south from the coast to the fortress at Bir Hacheim, designed to protect the desert flank of Eighth Army from encirclement.

About 100,000 strong, the bulk of Eighth Army formations were concentrated into `boxes’, independent strongpoints combining infantry and artillery. In the north, there was the 1st South African Division, then the British 50th (Northumbrian) Division, stretching as far as the Sidi Muftah box in the centre of the position. A brigade-sized force of Free French under Major General Joseph Pierre Koenig held Bir Hacheim, yet 20 miles of mine marsh between these two boxes was left uncovered by artillery.

In addition, the British commander Lieutenant General Neil Ritchie had forgotten the lessons of the early desert war. While one of his successful predecessors, Lieutenant General Sir Richard O’Connor, had recognized the need to keep a deep cushion of reconnaissance forces between him and the enemy, Ritchie had almost all his infantry in the front line. His tank formations, 1st Armoured Division, and the famous 7th Armoured Division (the `Desert Rats’), were kept a little to the right rear of the main position, but they were not properly integrated into the defence and not capable of coordinating with the other arms to best effect. This was despite reforms instituted by the commander-in-chief in the Middle East, General Sir Claude Auchinleck (known as The Auk’ to all). The `Crusader’ operation, although eventually successful, had proved the inflexibility of grouping armour and infantry in separate divisional formations, so Auchinleck broke them down into self-contained brigade groups with their own engineers and supporting artillery. By the start of the Gazala battle an armoured division was, theoretically at least, composed of an armoured brigade and two motorized infantry brigade groups, and the intention was to combine armour and anti¬ tank weapons in imitation of successful German tactics.

Yet the Eighth Army lacked the tactical doctrine to operate these novel formations effectively, and the infantry and armour were condemned to fight separate battles. Ritchie’s unimaginative deployment was matched by the clumsy command structure. The area north of the Trigh Capuzzo highway he designated as under XIII Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General William (`Strafer’) Gott. South of this line lay XXX Corps under Lieutenant General Baron Willoughby Norrie, who commanded troops in the boxes as well as the two armoured divisions, an unhappy arrangement further worsened by their scattered dispositions. Auchinleck advocated a concentration of armour centrally around the box code-named `Knightsbridge’, but Ritchie did not take this advice. Both British commanders were aware that a sweep around Eighth Army’s left or desert flank was a likely option; but they were expecting an attack on the centre of their position along the Trigh Capuzzo.

The German Plans

The German attack was code-named `Operation Theseus’. Field Marshal Rommel’s plan, as expressed in his planning order of 1 May, was no less than the destruction of the enemy forces opposing him and the subsequent capture of Tobruk. This fortress had held out against an eight-month siege in 1941, and seizing it was crucial to the wider plan of Rommel’s attack upon Egypt. Axis forces numbered about 90,000, including 561 tanks, although 228 of these were of Italian manufacture, known to the British as `mobile coffins’. Rommel’s 333 German tanks, or Panzerkampfwagen (PzKw), included 220 PzKw IIIs, most of the rest being PzKw IVs with short-barrelled guns more effective in the infantry support role. There were also upgraded versions of both types, known as `Specials’, whose long 75-mm guns gave them greater penetration, but Rommel had only 4 PzKw IV Specials and 14 PzKw Specials at the beginning of the battle. This was important because it meant that the Germans did not have the decisive qualitative superiority in armour with which they have so often been credited. The British possessed an enormous numerical superiority in armour – 849 tanks – although only 167 were the new US-built M3 Grants, which carried a 75-mm gun and were superior to the PzKw Ills.

A crucial part of the Desert War was fought in the air. Field Marshal Albert Kesselring of the Luftwaffe, Rommel’s immediate superior, was acutely conscious of the need to keep the Panzerarmee supplied with petrol, food, and other necessities. In order to do this he directed an intensive bombing campaign against Malta, the British island base which threatened the Axis supply route from Naples to Tripoli. The results led to Kesselring prematurely declaring on 11 April that: `Malta as a naval base no longer demands consideration’. In the build-up to the Gazala battle, supplies reaching Rommel greatly increased. In January 1942, the Afrika Korps received 60,000 tons of fuel; in April this had risen to 150,00 tons. Also, on 26 May, Kesselring was able to assemble some 260 aircraft to support Rommel’s attack. Against them, the British Desert Air Force could only muster 190 aircraft, and its US-built P-40 Kittyhawk and Hawker Hurricane fighters proved inferior to the new Messerschmitt Bf 109F. As a result, the Germans were able to maintain a considerable air superiority throughout the battle.

The Opening Moves

Rommel launched his attack on the afternoon of 26 May. Gruppe Cruewell under Lieutenant General Ludwig Cruewell, himself a former Afrika Korps commander, consisting of four Italian infantry divisions under X Corps and XXI Corps, attacked the British and South African positions north of the Trigh Capuzzo. This was a feint to persuade the enemy that Cruewell’s was the main point of attack.

In fact, Rommel was already leading 10,000 vehicles southeast. At about 9.00 p. m., on the pre-arranged codeword `Venezia’ (Venice), Rommel swung this force around Eighth Army’s southern flank. On the inside of the wheel were the Italian Trieste Motorized Division, then their Ariete Armoured Division, then the German mobile forces: 21st Panzer Division, 15th Panzer Division, and, on the extreme right flank, 90th Light Division. The last named carried aircraft propellers to create more dust and convince the British that theirs was also a tank formation.

At 6.30 a. m. on 27 May the Ariete fell upon the surprised 3rd Indian Motorized Brigade and, although held up momentarily, dispersed it with the help of a few tanks from 21st Panzer Division. One hour later, 90th Light Division came into contact with the 7th Motorized Brigade (part of 7th African Division) was supposed to coordinate with 22nd Armoured Brigade’s 156 tanks, but this simply failed to happen because the infantry and armour had not trained together. In the north, an attack by 32nd Army Tank Brigade was struck in the flank by German panzers, and of the 70 Matilda and Valentine infantry tanks only 20 survived the attack.

On the afternoon of 5 June the Germans counter-attacked; a pincer movement with 21st Panzer Division and Ariete in the north and 15th Panzer from the south. That evening, Major General Messervy’s headquarters was overrun again, and the Indian units’ command and control broke down completely; 22nd Armoured Brigade was unable to provide any support, having already been withdrawn into leaguer for the night. It too had been severely handled, losing 60 tanks. The following day 15th Panzer struck through Bir el Harmat to close the line of retreat: 3,100 prisoners, 96 guns, and 37 anti-tank guns fell into German hands. Eighth Army had lost over half its cruiser tanks (down from 300 to 132), and 50 out of 70 infantry support tanks. Rommel’s assessment of the situation was that Ritchie had missed a great opportunity to form a Schwerpunkt (`critical point of an attack’) in front of 21st Panzer Division.

One area in which the British did enjoy success was in raids upon the German supply line. On 8 June, Italian positions were overrun by four troops from 8th Royal Tank Regiment supported by South African armoured car and reconnaissance units. On the same day an infantry column of 2nd Rifle Brigade destroyed over 40 lorries, 4 tanks, and 7 artillery pieces. Important though such moves were, they were no more than flea bites in comparison to the kind of response that was needed to hold Rommel in check. With the hapless British assault crushingly repulsed, he was able to turn his attention to the destruction of the isolated Free French at Bir Flacheim.

Crisis at Bir Hacheim

From 2 June to 9 June there were 1,300 German air attacks on the Bir Hacheim position, 120 on the last day alone. Rommel appreciated the difficulty of the task, since he considered the carefully prepared strongpoints within Bir Hacheim as `practically proof against air and artillery attacks’. Effective ground attacks began on 6 June, the day that Rommel broke out of `The Cauldron’, when two attacks by infantry with tank support were beaten off. On 8 June, 90th Light Division and the Trieste Division, combined with 15th Panzer Division and supported by heavy Junkers Ju-87 Stuka dive- bombing attacks, eventually began to the crack the position – `the thorn in my side’, as Rommel described it. Attacks the next day left 250 Axis dead in front one defending battalion’s position alone. But by the end of 9 June it was apparent to Koenig that Bir Hacheim could no longer be held.

Still, Rommel was unwilling to try and overrun the position with tanks because of the heavy losses which he knew he would have to take. On 11 June, Koenig engineered a breakout which left only 500 men in German hands, although losses in equipment had been heavy. By holding on so determinedly the Free French had bought time for their Allies. Could this now be used to the best advantage? Although Rommel had turned Eighth Army’s flank, all was not lost for the British. They held a strong defensive position stretching from the original Gazala Line in its northern portion and along the Trigh Capuzzo from the Knightsbridge box over 20 miles east to Sidi Regezh. This was defended in depth, and behind lay the garrison of Tobruk, although crucially, the town’s fortifications had not been repaired since its recovery six months earlier. Also, the Afrika Korps had taken substantial damage. It was below half its original strength and some, infantry units were down to a third; the Germans had 160 tanks and the Italians 70 tanks, although the Axis artillery was almost entirely intact, and was to be increased in strength by the large numbers of captured British guns which were distributed to its units.

The End of the Battle

For the next phase of the battle, Rommel was determined to repeat the medicine as before. Once more he intended the total destruction of the enemy. On the afternoon of 11 June, 90th Light Division moved south and leaguered for the night 7 miles south of El Adem, while 15th Panzer followed as far as Naduret el Bhesceuasc. The new British plan was to break through southeast to Bir el Gubi with 2nd Armoured Brigade and 4th Armoured Brigade, which would bring them upon the flank of 15th Panzer as it attacked El Adem. But the British armour was still forming up on 12 June when it was attacked from the north by 21st Panzer and Ariete and counter-attacked from the south by 15th Panzer. Although 22nd Armoured Brigade came to the assistance, it was severely mauled by German tanks. The other armoured brigades were then surrounded and destroyed. Although the figures are uncertain, it seems that on the morning of 12 June there were some 250 cruiser tanks and 80 infantry tanks available to the British; by the next day these had been reduced to 50 and 30 respectively, with 4th Armoured Brigade having only 15 tanks, and 2nd and 22nd Armoured Brigades only 50 tanks between them.

On 12 June, Auchinleck flew up from Cairo to assume direct command from Ritchie, but he was too late to save the situation. Almost the only factor in Eighth Army’s favour was the extreme exhaustion of the German forces, whose attacks began to falter towards the end of 13 June. The Gazala Line had become untenable. Auchinleck drew up plans for a new defensive position, centred upon Acroma, to prevent the investment of Tobruk, and Eighth Army troops west of this line were effectively abandoned to the enemy. On the night of 14 June, the South Africans in the north of the original line fell back down the Via Balbia to Tobruk. Elements of 50th (Northumbrian) Division actually broke through the Italians opposing them and swung through the desert, escaping to Egypt. For the rest of the British forces, Tobruk provided an illusory refuge. They fell back in disorder to a position that had not been maintained to provide an effective defence. Unlike the previous year when the garrison had held out for eight months, the situation was to prove impossible, and by 21 June the town had fallen. Some 35,000 British and Commonwealth troops (including over 13,000 South Africans) were taken prisoner, together with huge amounts of guns, ammunition, and especially fuel essential to the Afrika Korps’ continued mobility.

After the Battle

Rommel’s plan had succeeded brilliantly. Although it had come near to failure on 29 May, and he himself had been prepared to surrender, Rommel was able to rescue the situation and inflict upon Eighth Army the most severe defeat it had ever suffered. His signal of 21 June epitomizes his style of command: Tor all troops of the Panzerarmee… Fortress of Tobruk has capitulated. All units will reassemble and prepare for further advance’. Five days later he was at El Alamein, the last-ditch defence line before Egypt – but that is another story. – Summer 1942 was the zenith of Rommel’s career in North Africa. He himself summed up why the British could not beat him by asking, `What is the advantage of enjoying overall superiority if you allow your enemy to smash your formations one after another; your enemy who manages in single actions to concentrate superior forces at a decisive point?’ That was the essence of the kind of war he practised: blitzkrieg.

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Imperial German Colonial Wars before WWI

German troops – Boxer Rebellion

Herero Rebellion

At the close of the nineteenth century a few authors – notably a Lieutenant Bilse and Count von Baudissin (the latter writing under the pen name of ‘Baron von Schlicht’, and already an established writer of a number of humorous and other less serious works) – published what might be termed ‘critical military novels’. These were in fact exposés of everyday life in some parts of the German army of the day. Lieutenant Bilse wrote Aus einer kleinen Garnison (published in English as Life in a Garrison Town), while von Baudissin’s book was titled Life in a German Crack Regiment. Both works were originally published in German, and English language editions soon followed. At the time of their publication these books caused a great sensation, for public criticism of the army (and of its officers in particular) by any part of the population was considered thoroughly unpatriotic. The fact that both of these books had been written by serving officers was at the same time unprecedented and quite scandalous. Nevertheless in Germany alone some 40,000 copies of von Baudissin’s book were sold before its circulation was banned by the local authorities, while by 1914 the English language edition had been reprinted no less than four times! For their literary exposés, both officers were formally disciplined, but by then the veneer of institutional professional perfection that had persisted ever since 1871 had been stripped from some important parts of the German army. In practice, Bilse’s book was of less significance as he chose to set it in a German cavalry regiment, whereas he was in fact a member of a battalion of the military train based at Saarbrücken. Although (as was grudgingly admitted at his court-martial) the book accurately recorded the sorry state of discipline and the lack of professionalism in his own logistical support battalion, it was certainly not credible as an account of life in a ‘typical’ German cavalry regiment. Indeed, a British officer then serving with a German hussar regiment observed that, as the military train was very often a refuge for those officers who had been expelled from other regiments, ‘perhaps Lieutenant Bilse’s comrades consisted of an undue number of undesirables.’ Nevertheless, the book was read widely in Germany and elsewhere. It undoubtedly harmed the well-established image of the army and indicated that perhaps all was not as well as it could or should be.

If the authorities could argue that Bilse’s book lacked a degree of credibility due to the author’s lack of first-hand experience of his chosen subject unit and the social strata depicted therein, the book published by Count von Baudissin could not be so criticized, and it was therefore of much greater significance. In Life in a German Crack Regiment the army establishment was for the first time confronted with a work written not by a junior, middle-class officer such as Bilse but one written by a member of the aristocracy, an officer who had himself served with just such an élite guard regiment as the fictional ‘Franz Ferdinand Leopold’ guard infantry regiment featured in his book. Although it was purportedly a work of fiction, Life in a German Crack Regiment provided a telling insight into the decayed nature of some parts of the German army by the turn of the century, and especially so of the quite unjustified, outdated and frequently detrimental stranglehold the nobility exerted upon the officer corps. By relating a number of incidents that he had experienced or witnessed at first hand, von Baudissin laid bare the class system and associated prejudices rampant within parts of the officer corps. These included the deep financial indebtedness of many officers, very often due to their gambling (an activity officially banned but widely condoned) and an inflated social lifestyle reminiscent of the worst excesses of the eighteenth century. Closely allied to this was a general condoning of the frequent drunkenness of many middle-grade and junior officers, often on a grand scale.

Notwithstanding all this, there was an immutable belief within the officer corps itself that a German officer of any rank was invariably superior to all other members of German society, its laws, its behavioural conventions and its social niceties, and this belief was energetically impressed upon the members of the civilian population whenever necessary. Such attitudes meant that exclusivity was ever present, and so the officer corps invariably chose to accept shortfalls in officer numbers where the only alternative was to risk the possible acceptance of socially inferior or politically suspect officer candidates. The consequent lack of officers in some units resulted in an over-reliance upon the NCOs, who had to assume additional responsibilities without proper officer supervision, a situation to which many of the reported instances of bullying or the ill-treatment of soldiers during the late nineteenth century and early years of the twentieth can probably be attributed.

Not surprisingly, such perverse and narrow attitudes of unchallenged superiority and arrogance fed through to the officer’s professional life, and von Baudissin described a pervasive obsession with maintaining a veneer of military perfection within a work environment in which any misconduct or failing by an officer or one of his subordinates could result in the summary dismissal of any officer deemed directly or indirectly responsible. Such dismissal almost invariably meant loss of income and pension – but (above all else in the culture of the time) it also meant the loss of the entitlement to wear an officer’s uniform and the social status which that entitlement conferred. This ultimate sanction was exemplified by the case of Hauptmann (captain) Hoenig, a disabled veteran of the Franco-Prussian War who had subsequently dared to publish a critical analysis of the general staff. Being both crippled and half blind, he had quite sensibly declined the subsequent invitation from one of the members of the general staff to fight a duel. A court of honour was convened to deal with what was construed as Hoenig’s betrayal of the army and the officer corps, and therefore regarded by many officers as little less than treason. Although this quasi-judicial court included officers who had served alongside Hoenig during 1870–1, it nevertheless stripped him of the right to wear his officer’s uniform, and by so doing it in effect also stripped him of his own honour.

Wherever it did exist, this culture of blame and cover-up meant, for example, that officially sanctioned punishments were often abandoned in favour of unofficial disciplinary action that would not need to be recorded on unit punishment sheets – always viewed as the indicator of an ill-disciplined unit – which in turn resulted in NCOs meting out physical beatings as punishments while the officers turned a blind eye. This resulted in a culture of command through fear, in which the bully thrived, rather than one of mutual respect. Indeed, the military culture described by von Baudissin in his book was validated by a number of factual reports in the 1880s and 1890s that recorded instances of physical abuse, bullying and intimidation at all levels and in all sorts of military establishments, from military academies to recruit training units, and in a range of active regiments and other units. More often than not, inadequately supervised or poorly selected NCOs could be found at the heart of such incidents.

As with any peacetime army, the fear of censure was endemic and led to great efforts being made to mask anything that might reflect ill upon a unit or its officers from the lowliest ensign to the regimental commander. In von Baudissin’s view, the army was dominated by a never-ending succession of inspections and appraisals, with every level of command fearful of any error or potential scandal that might occur at a lower level. By including in his work a lengthy discourse between a prematurely retired major and his son, a young and profligate lieutenant, von Baudissin provided a telling insight into the core views and attitudes of the military aristocracy of the time. Therein lay much of the special impact of the book: it set out quite clearly some of the deep-seated ills present in the German army at the end of the nineteenth century, together with the remedies necessary to redress them.

It would be entirely wrong to suggest that such works as those of Bilse and von Baudissin described a situation that obtained throughout the whole of the German army by 1900. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that they did highlight a gradually worsening situation in some units that clearly needed to be rectified, and as such these books and some others that followed them were undoubtedly timely. In the meantime, in his telling criticism of an officer corps that was still based upon the Offiziers-Kaste and upon a system of exclusivity, privilege and often perverse interpretations of the military code of honour, Count von Baudissin highlighted a decidedly unsatisfactory state of affairs. This not only threatened the integrity, professionalism and wider perception of the army, but also all too accurately reflected the wider nation’s early twentieth-century imperial hubris, within which the army was by then both unavoidably and inextricably ensnared. It was with a new awareness of such matters that parts of the army during the first seven years of the new century were finally committed to active operations again, albeit campaigns on a relatively small scale and far from the European theatre for which the general staff continued to develop its grand strategic plans.

THE BOXER REBELLION, 1900

The Boxer Rebellion was launched by an anti-foreign Chinese secret society called the ‘Fists of Righteous Harmony’ – hence the name ‘Boxers’ – whose aims and actions enjoyed the covert support of Tsu-hsi, the Dowager Empress of China. The Boxers emerged as an armed force in 1898, carrying out a number of attacks against foreign property and the railway system. Then in May 1900 two British missionaries were murdered in Peking (modern day Beijing), at which stage the European powers demanded the suppression of the Boxers. The Chinese authorities took no action and so an international military force 2,000 strong was formed to deal with the Boxers. This relatively small force landed in China within a month and on 10 June set out on its advance from Taku to Peking. In the meantime, the situation in Peking had deteriorated rapidly: a Japanese diplomat was killed on 11 June, followed by the murder of the German minister, Baron von Ketteler, on 20 June, on which day all the international legations came under attack. Chinese regular troops now joined the conflict in support of the Boxers, and their intervention checked the international expeditionary force 50 kilometres short of Peking. As a result, and boosted by the arrival of a reinforcing contingent of 1,800 men on 25 June, this force fell back on Tientsin, where they were able to alleviate the situation of the besieged legations, protecting them until a large international relief force finally reached Tientsin in mid-July. In response to the rapidly deteriorating situation in China, a substantial international force of about 50,000 men was eventually assembled, with contingents from eight major powers including a German contingent of 900 men, of whom 600 were marines and sailors and 300 were soldiers. Initially it was thought that the legations had already fallen, but then news arrived that they still held out, so this force immediately set out for Peking, defeating three separate Chinese and Boxer armies en route. On 14 August the international troops at last entered the city, finding that against all expectations the legations had successfully survived the siege.

Originally, it had been intended that Generalfeldmarschall Alfred von Waldersee (the former chief of the general staff 1888–91, who had been succeeded by Generalleutnant Alfred von Schlieffen) should assume command of the international allied contingents, but he had not arrived in time to do so before the hurried advance on Peking. Nevertheless, he did subsequently arrive in China in September, in time to engage the Boxers in the area of Peking, at Tientsin and Patachow, and in other parts of Northern China. He also oversaw the capture and destruction of the Boxer stronghold of Pao Ting Fu, the demolition of the Chinese forts at Taku, and the bringing to justice and severe punishment of the Boxers, as well as the imposition of punitive sanctions upon China. At the capture of Pao Ting Fu the newly-arrived German East Asia Brigade led the assault on the town, which was subsequently plundered by the allied troops and put to the torch. The German troops already stationed in China and those who were subsequently deployed to the campaign between the first Boxer riots in November 1899 and the signing of the peace protocol on 7 September 1901 included:

  • 3rd Seebataillon (1,126 men)
  • One battery of Marine horse artillery (111 men)
  • One Kommando Detachment (part infantry, part mounted) (800 men)
  • Sailors from the German East Asia Naval Squadron (serving as infantry)
  • The German East Asia Brigade (from 21 September 1900), comprising:

Two infantry regiments (each of two battalions of 812 men)

One Ulan regiment (600 men)

One field artillery regiment (three-gun batteries, one howitzer battery)

One pioneer battalion (including telegraph and railway companies)

Support troops (medical, train, ammunition handling, supply and other services)

After the campaign, most of the allies reduced their military presence in China significantly – typically to a single infantry regiment at most, with a small complement of supporting artillery and cavalry. However, the Germans continued to maintain a force of some strength in the country, and although the Boxer uprising was undoubtedly of much greater significance in Chinese history than in that of Germany, the rebellion produced one rather unedifying consequence for the victorious German contingent. Following the murder of the German minister in Peking on 20 June, the Kaiser had made a somewhat ill-judged speech in which he exhorted the troops of the German contingent in China to wreak revenge upon the Boxers. The soldiers were to ‘Make for yourselves reputations like the Huns of Attila. Spare none!’ Ever obedient to the Kaiser’s direction, they did just that, killing ruthlessly, plundering extensively and earning from their allies a less than favourable reputation for their arrogant behaviour. Indeed, the origin of the widespread and (by implication) derogatory use of ‘Hun’ later to describe German troops during World War I is most frequently attributed directly to Wilhelm II’s inflammatory direction to the German troops sent to suppress the Boxers in 1900.

THE HERERO AND NAMAQUA REVOLTS, 1904–1907

By the early twentieth century the principal territories of Germany’s colonial empire in Africa were South West Africa (modern Namibia), East Africa (modern Tanzania), Togoland, and Cameroon (Kamerun), and it was in the protectorate of German South West Africa that the army’s second overseas conflict of the time took place. The main cause of the army’s protracted campaign to suppress a widespread revolt between 1904 and 1907 was the excessively authoritarian nature of the German colonial regime in the territory. On 12 January 1904 this led to a general tribal uprising in which the Hereros led by Samuel Maharero were prominent, being well-armed with firearms and deploying both cavalry and infantry against the German imperial forces. A series of bitterly fought and often quite extensive engagements ensued until 11–12 August, when Generalleutnant (later General der Infanterie) Lothar von Trotha brought Herero forces about 5,000 strong to battle at Waterberg. There, the Germans won a decisive victory, although their failure to encircle the Hereros army resulted in a relentless and ruthless pursuit of the survivors – men, women and children – forcing them into the Omaheke desert, where most subsequently died of thirst, hunger and exposure. Then in October the Nama tribe also rebelled, only to suffer the same fate as the Hereros. Although these two uprisings were suppressed successfully, harsh punitive action by the German forces (which included locally enlisted African troops) against surviving Hereros followed in the months and years thereafter. This attracted numerous accusations of excessive force, reinforced in later times by allegations that the Germans had deliberately waged a campaign of genocide against the Hereros. This was exemplified by the activities of several German-run concentration camps, the most notorious of which was Shark Island, off the West Africa coast at Lüderitz, where only about 245 of the almost 2,000 prisoners held there managed to survive their incarceration. In any event, as many as 100,000 Hereros and 10,000 Nama tribespeople may have died during and after the two revolts – whether in battle against the German colonial forces in 1904 or later of thirst, starvation or summary execution during the uncompromising reprisals subsequently carried out by the victors.

Hasso-Eccard Freiherr von Manteuffel

Hasso von Manteuffel was born in Potsdam on January 14, 1897. He and his three sisters were raised primarily by his mother, for his father died when Hasso was seven years old. The family was well off and lived on a well-groomed estate in a villa that was exquisitely furnished. Young Manteuffel received an excellent education in an expensive preparatory school operated by his cousin. (Young Manteuffel was an exemplary student who always put his studies first.) Continuing in the family tradition, he entered the Prussian cadet school at Naumburg/Saale in 1908. This school was one of the most modern in Germany, and its curriculum centered on the classical model, with heavy emphasis on sports and military instruction.

Upon leaving the school in Naumburg/Saale, Manteuffel entered the main cadet school in Berlin-Lichterfelde. One of a thousand cadets, he lived in a plainly furnished apartment with seven others. In January 1916, Manteuffel passed his finals and received his Certificate of Maturity and the next month he was promoted to officer candidate (Faehnrich). At the request of Manteuffel’s stepfather, Crown Prince Wilhelm intervened on his behalf and Manteuffel was transferred to the replacement squadron of the Hussar Regiment von Zieten (Brandenburger) Number 3. Later that year, Manteuffel was promoted to second lieutenant and was transferred to the 5th Squadron of the 6th Prussian Infantry Division, stationed on the Western Front.

While carrying out a reconnaissance mission near Bapaume, France, in October 1916, Baron von Manteuffel was wounded when a piece of shrapnel struck him in the leg. He was sent to a rearward hospital for medical attention and to recover; however, he desperately wanted to return to his unit and, in January 1917, left the hospital without authorization and returned to the front. Although he was later sentenced to three days arrest in his quarters, he never served the sentence. Manteuffel was transferred to the 6th Infantry’s divisional staff in February and remained with the division as it fought the Russians in East Galicia in July 1917 and when it returned to the Western Front in March 1918.

After the war ended, Manteuffel joined Freikorps von Oven as second adjutant and fought the Spartacists in Berlin, as well as other Communist revolutionaries in Munich and Leipzig. He was selected to remain in the 100,000-man army and, in May 1919, was assigned to the 25A Cavalry Regiment at Rathenow. In 1921, he married a beautiful, blue-eyed blonde named Armgard von Kleist, whose uncle was future Field Marshal Ewald von Kleist. The von Manteuffels were to have two children. From 1925 to 1930, Hasso served as the regimental adjutant of the 25A Cavalry and then became commander of the experimental mechanical squadron—a position normally reserved for a captain. In 1932, he became a squadron leader in the 17th Cavalry Regiment at Bamberg and in October 1934 was promoted to Rittmeister (captain of cavalry). Later that same year he was transferred to the 2nd Motorcycle Battalion, along with two squadrons of the 17th Cavalry. Although Manteuffel was an excellent horseman, he was literally drafted into the motorized battalion by Major General Viktor von Schwedler, the chief of the Army Personnel Office. In 1935, Colonel Heinz Guderian of the panzer branch convinced Manteuffel to transfer to one of the newly created tank divisions. Manteuffel responded by joining Guderian’s own 2nd Panzer Division as a squadron leader in the 3rd Motorcycle Battalion. Guderian developed such confidence in Manteuffel that he put him in charge of all cadet training for the division in 1936, shortly after Manteuffel received his promotion to major.

The close relationship between the two men continued, and, as Guderian’s fortunes rose, so did Manteuffel’s. Early in 1937 Manteuffel served as official adviser to the Inspectorate of Panzer Troops (part of OKH), directly under Guderian. On February 1, 1939, Manteuffel was named commandant of Officer Training School Number 2, located at Potsdam-Krampnitz, and was promoted to lieutenant colonel two months later. “Manteuffel somehow left the stamp of his own personality on his trainees, and he taught them independent action within the framework of an integrated team effort,” General Frederick Wilhelm von Mellenthin wrote later. He believed that tank crews needed to be very much aware of battlefield tactics, so that if necessary each crew could make independent decisions during the heat of battle to positively affect the outcome. He stressed the concepts of mobility and maneuverability and the use of ground cover, all of which may give a particular panzer force a decisive advantage. He remained at the school during both the Polish and French campaigns. Upon hearing of the impending invasion of the Soviet Union, Manteuffel asked for a field command and, as a result, was named commander of the I Battalion of the 7th Rifle Regiment of the 7th Panzer Division in June 1941. During that same month his battalion saw heavy fighting on the Russian Front; among other things it spearheaded a bridgehead across the Memel River in Lithuania. The 7th Panzer Division continued to engage in intensive combat as it penetrated deep into Soviet lines, becoming the first German force to reach the highway between Minsk, Smolensk, and Moscow.

In August 1941, Colonel Erich von Unger, commander of the 6th Rifle Regiment, was killed in action and Manteuffel was named as his replacement. The baron’s energy and indomitable will filtered throughout his new command as the 6th Rifle Regiment became the first unit to breach the Stalin Line as the spearhead of General Hermann Hoth’s 3rd Panzer Group; indeed, Manteuffel’s troops were always out in front, in the “thick of the action,” and were constantly carrying out daring, bold maneuvers. Clearly Manteuffel put into practice what he had taught at the academy. In October he was promoted to colonel, and his regiment participated in the assault on Moscow, crossing the Moscow-Volga Canal at Jakhroma, on the outskirts of the Soviet capital, under extremely heavy enemy fire. Once again, his forces acted as the spearhead for the panzer group. For his courage and leadership, Manteuffel was awarded the Knight’s Cross in December 1941.

Meanwhile, the German juggernaut stalled due to the onset of a severe Russian winter and stiffer Russian resistance. On December 6, 1941, Stalin launched a major winter counteroffensive all along the front, but Army Group Center in the Moscow sector was especially hard hit. In temperatures hovering around 40–42 degrees below zero, Manteuffel’s regiment fell back to defensive positions between Vyazma and Rzhev and held its line despite repeated Soviet attacks. General of Panzer Troops Walter Model, the commander of the 9th Army, ordered Manteuffel’s regiment, which was already under heavy attack, to launch a major counterattack. Manteuffel refused, pointing out the lack of food, fuel, supplies, and camouflage uniforms (without which the German soldiers would be easy targets for Soviet snipers). In response, Model demanded that Manteuffel’s troops attack on skis, noting that the division was from Thuringia, where all children learn to ski at an early age. Once again Manteuffel refused, and this time Model threatened a court-martial. The confrontation ended when the 7th Panzer Division was transferred to France for reorganization, and the divisional commander saw to it that Manteuffel left early, with the advance party, perhaps thereby saving him from a court-martial. Later, on the Western Front, Manteuffel and Model forgot their differences and worked well together. After the war, Manteuffel told the famous British military historian B. H. Liddell Hart that “Model was a very good tactician, and better in defense than in attack. He had a knack of gauging, what troops could do, and what they could not do.”

Back in France, Manteuffel supervised the rebuilding of his regiment and in July 1942 was named commander of the 7th Panzer Grenadier Brigade (of the 7th Panzer Division). His next combat assignment, however, was in North Africa, where he arrived in early 1943. Assigned the task of holding the right (coastal) flank of the 5th Panzer Army in Tunisia, Baron von Manteuffel in effect created his own division from an assortment of units, including the Italian 10th Bersaglieri Regiment, the 11th (Witzig) Parachute Engineer Battalion, and the Barenthin Parachute Regiment, among others. With this odd mixture (labeled the Manteuffel Division), he once again achieved stunning successes over his vastly superior opponents and held his thin line in the Tunisian hills for weeks against repeated attacks by French and Anglo-American forces. These battles took their toll, and on April 28, 1943, an exhausted Manteuffel collapsed on the front line. He was rushed to a military hospital in Bizerta and, while under medical attention, was promoted to major general on May 1, 1943. A few days later he was placed on the last Italian ship heading for Sicily and safety, as the Tunisian Bridgehead collapsed.

From Sicily, Manteuffel traveled to Rome and then to Berlin, where his family lived. Shortly before Manteuffel was to be discharged from the hospital, Adolf Hitler ordered him to appear at Fuehrer Headquarters in East Prussia. A surprised Manteuffel responded and appeared before his Fuehrer, who asked the general what were his wishes. Manteuffel replied that he would like to command the 7th Panzer Division, to which Hitler agreed. In August 1943, Manteuffel joined the 7th Panzer and, within three days of his return to the front, incurred shrapnel wounds from a grenade. Although in great pain, he refused to return to the hospital and, temporarily bandaged at the front, remained in command of the division and led it through some brilliant defensive fighting over the next four weeks. Manteuffel also participated in Field Marshal Erich von Manstein’s offensive against Kiev in November 1943, during which his 7th Panzer Division led the attack that overpowered Zhitomir and recaptured an important German supply depot. For this accomplishment, Manteuffel was awarded the Oak Leaves to the Knight’s Cross. He succeeded at Zhitomir by dividing his forces into small mobile units that were self-contained and that penetrated between Russian columns, striking them from the rear. Such tactics completely confused the enemy. Hitler heard of Manteuffel’s exploits and invited him to Fuehrer Headquarters for Christmas. Hitler congratulated the general and gave him a present of 50 tanks. Hitler further rewarded Manteuffel with command of the Grossdeutschland, an elite, all-volunteer, specially reinforced panzer grenadier division. To complete the accolades, Manteuffel was promoted to lieutenant general in February 1944 and was awarded the Swords to his Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves that same month.

Manteuffel saw Hitler several times throughout 1944, as the Fuehrer was obviously taken with the small Prussian general’s uncanny successes. The general was impressed by Hitler’s magnetic personality and, as Albert Speer also told this writer, by Hitler’s ability to disarm one with his eyes and fluid discourse. Although Manteuffel was impressed with Hitler’s grasp of combat from the field soldier’s point of view, as well as the Fuehrer’s knowledge of military literature, he recognized Hitler’s weaknesses concerning grand strategy and tactical awareness, even though the Fuehrer had a flair for originality and daring. Although he was always respectful, Manteuffel always expressed his own views, regardless of how they might be received by Hitler.

The Grossdeutschland put forth a heroic effort in the Rumanian theater of the Eastern Front in early 1944, escaping from a Russian encirclement in March without losing a single tank. The Red Army kept coming, however, and in April the division halted a major Soviet advance in the Jassy area of Rumania and annihilated the enemy spearhead. Farther to the north, however, the Soviets were successfully advancing into East Prussia, and consequently the Grossdeutschland was hurriedly transferred and assembled near Trakehnen, approximately 25 miles behind the front lines. Berlin ordered the division to attack immediately, forsaking artillery support and adequate reconnaissance reports. Manteuffel’s attack took the Soviets completely by surprise, and his success managed to stabilize the German front. Still, the Grossdeutschland lost more than 80 tanks, and a furious Hitler called Manteuffel to Fuehrer Headquarters to explain the horrible losses. Momentarily taken aback, Manteuffel blurted out that he was ordered to attack and that the order—which he showed Hitler—compelled him to attack prematurely. After reading the order, Hitler called for Keitel and demanded that the field marshal tell him where the order had come from. Apparently Keitel had issued the order on his own, carrying out what he believed to be the Fuehrer’s will when Hitler had mentioned that the Grossdeutschland could stop the Soviet advance by taking the offensive. Consequently, Hitler turned his wrath on his despondent chief of OKW berating him for improperly issuing an order based simply on Hitler’s offhand remark. According to Manteuffel, there were other occasions when Keitel and Jodl, the chief of operations at OKW, issued orders on their own.

In September 1944, the baron was again summoned to Fuehrer Headquarters. This time, however, Hitler greeted him with open arms, promoted him to general of panzer troops, and gave him command of the 5th Panzer Army. Moved to the Western Front, Manteuffel had a new mission: counterattack and halt the drive by General George Patton’s 3rd U.S. Army. He halted Patton’s attack on Metz and recaptured Luneville on September 17. He was then ordered to attack Patton’s forces north of the Marne-Rhine Canal, which Manteuffel did under protest, realizing the hopelessness of such an attack. As usual, the panzer general proved correct: he lost 50 tanks and gained very little.

Manteuffel attended an important briefing conference in November, along with Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, Field Marshal Model, and Colonel General Jodl. Jodl presented Hitler’s plan for an Ardennes offensive to the other officers. This offensive, which had as its principal objective the rapid seizure of the port of Antwerp, is now popularly known as the Battle of the Bulge. The operation aimed at splitting the British and American forces and possibly forcing a second Dunkirk and potential British withdrawal from the war. If successful, Hitler reasoned, it would allow him time to recoup his defenses to better withstand the continued Soviet offensive toward Germany. The officers, however, were very skeptical and suggested a modified plan, to which Jodl curtly replied that there would be no changes to Hitler’s orders. Consequently, the attack would take place in December, with Manteuffel’s 5th Panzer Army and SS General Sepp Dietrich’s 6th Panzer Army making the major German thrusts toward Antwerp. Manteuffel agreed with B. H. Liddell Hart in an interview immediately after the war that airborne troops would have been very useful to the attack; however, following the Crete invasion of 1941, during which the German paratroopers suffered tremendous losses in taking the island, Manteuffel told the British historian that there was a great reluctance on the part of Hitler to use parachute troops.

Although Hitler’s plan remained intact, Manteuffel did at least convince the Fuehrer to allow him to begin the attack during nighttime hours, thus foregoing an artillery barrage that Hitler had originally planned and allowing the general additional daylight hours once his tanks reached clearings in the Ardennes. Although Dietrich’s army was supposed to be the main assault force, it was 5th Panzer Army that enjoyed the most success. Once again, Manteuffel’s strategy of creating self-sustaining mobile fighting units proved successful, as they penetrated deep into the American lines, racing toward Bastogne. At the same time, Dietrich, who opted to advance on a narrow front, bogged down and, rather than assisting Manteuffel’s rapidly advancing spearheads, stuck to the Fuehrer’s order and vainly attempted to drive his stalled regiments forward. Ultimately, mud, lack of fuel, the lifting of the foggy weather (allowing Allied air power to inflict tremendous damage on the panzer armies), and a rapid American recovery doomed the Ardennes offensive. Manteuffel was particularly accusatory toward General Jodl, who had assured both Manteuffel and Dietrich that adequate fuel reserves were available for the offensive. Manteuffel argued that Jodl had no idea of the amount of fuel necessary for such an operation. Even though the offensive failed, Hitler summoned his brilliant panzer commander to Fuehrer Headquarters in February 1945 and awarded Baron von Manteuffel the Diamonds to his Knight’s Cross and offered him an endowment of 200,000 marks. Manteuffel refused the cash, because he felt it was not fitting for a soldier to accept a “reward” for doing what was expected of him.

In March 1945, Manteuffel was given command of the 3rd Panzer Army, which was stationed on the Eastern Front. He tenaciously held his positions on the Oder River, although toward the end of April he ordered a retreat; recognizing that the end was near and again thinking of his men, he moved westward to surrender to the British. On May 3, General Hasso von Manteuffel surrendered his panzer army to the representatives of Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery at Hagenow. Manteuffel’s retreat was another noteworthy accomplishment, as he kept his units together during those hectic days when millions of refugees (along with soldiers from disbanded units) were streaming westward to escape the Soviets.

Manteuffel was placed under arrest and initially taken to an internment camp with other generals, where he was interviewed by Liddell Hart. When the historian remarked about the unpleasantness of the camp, Manteuffel replied “with a smile, ‘Oh, it might be worse. I expect we shall be spending next winter on a barren island, or else in a ship anchored in the mid-Atlantic.’” It was this marvelous sense of humor that aided Manteuffel in difficult situations and endeared him to the men who served under him. Indeed, those who served with the highly decorated baron did so with loyal admiration for the general who, in turn, treated everyone with respect and courtesy. Above all, he kept his calm demeanor in the most difficult situations and consistently carried out what he believed to be an officer’s obligation: duty to the welfare of the men under his command. Such characteristics were clearly displayed during an event that occurred during Manteuffel’s retreat, as part of Colonel General Gotthard Heinrici’s Army Group Vistula, to British lines. Having heard of the unauthorized retreat, an angry Field Marshal Keitel drove to the front and confronted Manteuffel and Heinrici. Both Manteuffel and his chief of staff, Major General Burkhart Mueller-Hillebrand, related the following to this writer: Manteuffel, aware of Keitel’s desire for attack, prepared for the worst. Before meeting the chief of OKW, the panzer general made certain his pistol was loaded and kept his hand near the revolver. Further, Mueller-Hillebrand ordered several officers armed with machine-pistols to hide behind some trees at the crossroads. Keitel arrived and, pounding his baton into his gloved hand, angrily reproached Manteuffel and Heinrici. The generals explained the folly of holding fast and emphasized the desperate need for reinforcements. Keitel exploded and shot back, “There are no reserves left!” Hitting his hand with the baton, he ordered them to turn the army around immediately. Both Heinrici and Manteuffel refused.

Having lost control, Keitel shouted, “You will have to take responsibility of this action before history!”

Manteuffel angrily replied, “The von Manteuffels have worked for Prussia for two hundred years and have always taken the responsibility for their actions. I, Hasso von Manteuffel, gladly accept this responsibility.”

Keitel was unable to face down Manteuffel and turned his wrath on Heinrici, relieved him of his command, and then drove away in his staff car. Manteuffel and Heinrici merely shrugged their shoulders and continued the retreat westward. Once again, Manteuffel demonstrated that he was a man of convictions who would not yield.

General von Manteuffel remained in British custody at various sites in England throughout 1945 and into 1946. In March, 1946, he returned to Germany to testify before the Nuremberg tribunal in the trial against OKW. Finally, shortly before Christmas 1946, he was released and went to work for the Oppenheim Bank in Cologne. He was soon rejoined by his wife, who had been in a refugee camp near Hamburg.

Respect and admiration followed Manteuffel into civilian life. He was elected to the town council of Neuss-on-the-Rhine in 1947 (he was working for a manufacturing firm at the time), and from 1953 to 1957 he served in the West German Bundestag (Parliament). He was also a guest of several foreign military commands, including the Pentagon in Washington, and lectured at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He passed away at home, Diessen-on-the-Ammersee, on September 24, 1978.

During the Battle of Berlin, six Soviet soldiers entered his headquarters and began shooting the place apart. Four of Manteuffel’s staff were killed, and four more were wounded, including Manteuffel himself. However, Manteuffel was unfazed and was able to shoot and kill one Soviet soldier and stab another to death.

Manteuffel advised on the rebuilding of a post-war German military

He could speak fluent English

Was a frequent guest in the United States

Was invited by Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower to visit the White House

Lectured at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point about deep snow operations

Worked as a military adviser on war films

Was featured in the book The Last Battle by Cornelius Ryan

Was featured in the acclaimed documentary, The World at War

The Soviet Counteroffensive in the South 1942

Hitler recognized the threat to the German forces on the long Don front. In fact, he showed more awareness of the problem than either OKH Chief-of-Staff’s Franz Halder or Kurt Zeitzler had. Since mid-August, he had spoken several times of the threat of a major attack across the Don on Rostov, through which ran the lines of communication not only for the Sixth and Fourth Panzer Armies but also Army Group A. Given his fixation on taking Stalingrad, however, he would not allow, much less order, a preemptive retirement from the Don-Volga salient that would allow redistributing the German forces to provide a firm defensive front.

The Germans anticipated a much smaller, less well conducted, less ambitious, and later offensive than the one they confronted. By mid-October, the movement of Soviet troops to the Don front opposite the Third Romanian Army had been reported, but thanks to Soviet security precautions, air reconnaissance could not confirm the account. Hitler nevertheless ordered some Luftwaffe field divisions to back up the Axis allies, a characteristically disastrous idea of Göring’s, designed to avoid transferring men from his overstrength service to the army. Army Group B—saddled with the impossible burden of controlling seven armies, four of which were not German—tried to increase the strength of the German “bolsters” and backed up the Romanians in other ways. It also attempted radio deception measures to try and convince the Soviets that the Don front was stronger than it really was.

Foreign Armies East (German military intelligence) gradually came to admit that an attack was imminent but believed that it would be a limited, local effort. It estimated that the Soviets were capable of launching only one major offensive aimed at Army Group Center. For many years after the war, the Soviets successfully hid that their primary aim in 1942 had not been to trap the Germans at Stalingrad but to destroy the German Ninth Army in the Rzhev salient and, if possible, drive as far west as Smolensk. Foreign Armies East, however, not only underestimated the Soviets’ overall strength and assumed that any attack on the Don front would only be secondary but also thought that it would take place only after the expected offensive against Army Group Center.

Hitler was not so sure. On November 2, he ordered that the bridges the Soviets were building to their long-standing bridgeheads on the Don’s right bank be bombed. On November 3 he ordered the Sixth Panzer Division and two infantry divisions sent from western Europe to take up reserve positions behind the Romanians and Italians. They were still en route when the Soviets struck. Hitler did not expect the Soviets to attack as early as they did. Foreign Armies East slowly and reluctantly increased its estimate of the threat. On November 12, it predicted an attack on the Third Romanian Army but believed that it would be merely a “salient cut” designed to sever the railroad to Stalingrad and force the Germans to leave the city and not be part of a double envelopment to trap them.

The Soviet buildup had been far more massive than the Germans supposed. A huge force was assembled under the Southwest, Don, and Stalingrad Fronts: 1,050,000 men, 900 tanks, 13,500 guns (not counting antiaircraft guns or 50mm infantry mortars), and 1,114 planes. They outnumbered the German and Romanian forces at least two to one in planes, tanks, guns, and men and far more in the attack sectors. On November 19, the Soviets struck, coordinating tanks, infantry, and artillery far more smoothly than the Germans had seen before. Along most of the front, the Soviets hit the thinly spread, poorly armed Romanian Third and Fourth Armies, which had weak artillery and few effective antitank weapons. The Third Army was supported only by a German close-support group that comprised a Panzergrenadier battalion, an antitank company, and a few heavy artillery pieces. Many Romanians fled after the preliminary bombardment, even before the Soviet tanks and infantry advanced. The only reserve nearby, XLVIII Panzer Corps, consisted of two weak divisions—the Twenty-second Panzer Division and the First Romanian Armored Division (the latter had only obsolete Czech tanks.) Worse, many of their tanks were immobilized after mice had eaten their electrical insulation.

On November 23, the Soviet spearheads met in the Axis rear, cutting the Sixth Army’s supply line and line of retreat. On the one hand, the Soviets vastly underestimated their success. They thought that they had trapped a force of 85,000-95,000 men; instead, more than 250,000 men were caught. On the other hand, the Soviets overestimated the mobility and striking power of the encircled German units.

Hitler realized the situation was serious. On November 20, he ordered the immediate formation of Army Group Don to take over the threatened portion of Army Group B’s front. Instead of awarding command to Antonescu, Field Marshal Erich von Manstein took command, and his Eleventh Army headquarters, pieced out with some German-Romanian liaison staffs, supplied his headquarters staff. Manstein was Hitler’s best general but not his favorite. He was an icy Junker, whose personality and social class did not appeal to the führer; and—worse—Hitler was almost certainly aware that the field marshal’s great-grandfather was Jewish. He was respected but not liked by men of his own background. Nevertheless, Manstein, who had played the central role in devising the plan that had brought victory in the west in 1940, also played a central role in greatly prolonging the life of Hitler’s empire.

But it took nearly a week for Manstein’s command apparatus to move from the Leningrad area (where it had been stymied in an attempt to take the city) to the south. The following day, Hitler finally appointed a commander for Army Group A, Field Marshal Ewald von Kleist, who had commanded First Panzer Army. He and Manstein would be fired on the same day in March 1944. Meanwhile, Hitler rejected having the Sixth Army retreat, regardless of the danger of a “temporary” encirclement in its present position. Field Marshal Maximilian von Weichs and Sixth Army CO Gen. Friedrich Paulus concluded on November 23 that the Sixth Army must break out quickly. Luftwaffe South CO Field Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen concurred. He stressed that the army could not be supplied by air. Weichs specifically declared that the Luftwaffe could not provide even a tenth of the Sixth Army’s needs. Zeitzler backed their assertions. Some evidence indicates that Hitler briefly wavered and nearly authorized a breakout, but the pandering of the OKW generals Keitel and Jodl undermined any reconsideration on his part. Further, the Luftwaffe chief of staff Gen. Hans Jeschonnek appears to have assured Hitler on November 20 that Stalingrad could be adequately supplied by air if and when it was cut off, although he may have meant to refer to only a temporarily brief encirclement. Worse, Göring backed Jeschonnek without any qualifications whatever. When the conscience-stricken Luftwaffe chief of staff realized that he had blundered in his assurances, Göring forbade him to warn Hitler. He even stopped Jeschonnek from pointing out that the Luftwaffe’s standard 250- and 1,000-kilogram air supply containers were named after the size of the bombs they replaced, not the weight of their own contents, and that they carried only two-thirds of the weight of those bombs.

Manstein also undermined the united front of the ground commanders. Reaching south Russia on November 24, he disagreed with Weichs’s pessimism. Apparently arrogantly confident in his own ability, he may have actually believed that he could relieve the Sixth Army while it remained in place and could restore the front completely; however, he soon became more realistic, especially after conferring with Richthofen. Man-stein rejected an immediate breakout, though, in favor of a relief operation to start in early December. His decision played straight into Hitler’s hands, and the latter fixedly determined that the Sixth Army should stay in place for relief.

Writer Alan Clark suggested an alternative interpretation: the field marshal had privately concluded that Hitler would not allow an immediate breakout in any case, but in the context of a planned relief effort, a breakout might be arranged later. Moreover, Manstein may have actually recognized, as his colleagues did not, that an early breakout attempt would probably lead to disaster. It was not simply the Sixth Army but the whole German southern front—particularly Army Group A, out on a limb in the Caucasus—that was at stake. Further, the Soviet ring around the Sixth Army was so tight, and Sixth Army was in such bad shape, that an immediate breakout attempt would probably lead to its being largely destroyed. Even if part of the panzer and motorized elements reached the German lines, that would not compensate for releasing the besieging Soviet forces, which would quickly finish off the German southern wing. The Sixth Army must stay at Stalingrad to pin down the Soviets, even at the grave risk of total destruction. Its only hope was to hold out as long as possible so that an orderly relief effort and breakout might be prepared. If Manstein thought this way at the time, however, he never directly admitted it, although he alluded to these ideas in his memoir. Such an admission would have been unpopular in postwar Germany, where Stalingrad had become an emotional symbol and many were anxious to heap all responsibility for the destruction of the Sixth Army on Hitler alone.

The chance of a successful early breakout in November 1942 was slight. The Sixth Army’s supply situation had been so dire even before the Soviets attacked that it hardly could have stayed on the Volga during the winter. Living a hand-to-mouth existence at the end of its long supply line, it had hardly any fuel on hand and not enough to support a desperate effort to crash through the Soviet ring. Paulus’s vacillations, and his submission to Hitler’s will despite the urging of several subordinates, suggest that he realized this situation.

Fortunately for the Germans, the Soviets cautiously concentrated an overwhelming portion of their forces on insuring against the overestimated threat of a breakout. They were determined to destroy the encircled German force, whatever prizes beckoned elsewhere, and did not exploit the Stalingrad breakthrough to the southwest as much as they might have. The Germans were able to form a defensive front west of the Don on the Chir River while preparing a relief effort. Manstein thought that the Soviets, by better coordinating their forces, could have smashed the Chir front.

Meanwhile, the Soviets readied a second major offensive in the south. In Operation Saturn the Southwest and Voronezh Fronts would attack the Italians. In its original form, the plan was to encircle the Italian Army and the whole Army Group Don, reach Rostov, and cut off Army Group A.

In the meantime, the Germans’ airlift and relief attempt for Stalingrad failed. Richthofen, saddled with the responsibility for the air supply effort, calculated that delivering the estimated absolute minimum of 300 tons of supplies a day—although the Sixth Army really needed 500 tons daily— required 150 Junkers 52 transports landing in Stalingrad each day. But because bad weather would often prevent all operations and many planes would not be working at any given time, he really needed 800. The whole Luftwaffe had only 750 Junkers 52s and half of them were in the Mediterranean. Using some civilian airliners and converting some bombers and long-range reconnaissance planes enabled Richthofen to assemble a fleet of 500 planes; however, many were unsuitable for the job. Moreover, Stalingrad had only one fully equipped airfield, with five more barely usable landing strips. The terrible weather and Soviet fighters took a steady toll on the transports. Some space was wasted on unnecessary supplies, and the airlift never approached the minimum level of deliveries needed.

The relief effort by LVII Panzer Corps was seriously delayed from an original starting date of December 8 to December 11, and it was never strong enough on the ground or had sufficient air support. Two of the three panzer divisions allotted to it were weak. Manstein decided that an attack across the Chir, the point nearest the Sixth Army, was too obvious, so the Germans launched the attack from south of the Don. It took the Soviets by surprise, but it meant that the panzers had a longer way to go. A huge truck convoy hauling 3,000 tons of supplies and some tractors slated to pull Sixth Army’s otherwise immobilized artillery trailed the panzers. The attack made slow progress. It reached the Myshkova River thirty-five miles from the pocket and stuck. Only Soviet over-caution may have prevented its envelopment and destruction.

Hitler still refused to let the Sixth Army break out if that meant giving up its position. Paulus again refused to act without Hitler’s authority, and the Sixth Army was perhaps too weak to strike out successfully. When the Soviets pushed the relief force back, the Sixth Army was doomed.

Despite its failure, the relief attempt—along with the disastrous misfire of the Soviets’ Mars offensive against Army Group Center (begun November 25, it petered out in early December after the Red Army suffered enormous losses)—may have led the Soviet command on December 13 to curtail its plans for the next offensive in the south. Operation Saturn was scaled down to Little Saturn and involved a shallower envelopment whose pincers would meet well north of the Black Sea coast. Rostov would have to be reached in two bites, not one. The offensive began on December 16 and crashed through the Italians, who were supported only by one German infantry division, two battalions from another, and a weak panzer division in reserve. The Soviets failed to break through the sector to the south, but the Germans’ situation was soon desperate. The forward fields for the airlift were overrun, and it became obvious that the issue was now how to get the German forces out of the Caucasus before they were isolated.

Had the Soviets reached Rostov or the coast further west, the early defeat of Germany would have been likely. On December 28, Hitler, barely in time, allowed a (gradual) withdrawal from the Caucasus. He insisted, however, that part of Army Group A fall back into a bridgehead on the Kuban Peninsula, and from there, he hoped, a new offensive against the Caucasus oil fields would be launched in 1943. By then, the Soviets planned Operation Don, or a bigger Saturn—involving the South Front (the renamed Stalingrad Front), Southwest Front, and Transcaucasus Front—to reach Rostov and trap the Fourth Panzer Army and Army Group A.

The Germans were helped by the fact that the Stalingrad garrison continued to pin down considerable Soviet forces, and the Soviets insisted on attacking into the perimeter. The Sixth Army did not surrender completely until February 2. Only a few thousand men survived to return to Germany.

Meanwhile, Manstein directed a skillful retreat and delaying action. In a great “castling movement,” as his aide described it, the First Panzer Army fell back behind the Fourth Panzer Army and was switched around to face north and northwest. He was hampered not only by Army Group A’s late start but also by the sluggishness of its commander Kleist. The Germans blocked multiple threats to the Rostov bottleneck through which they had to retreat. In the last stages, the route was so crowded that some German units marched over the frozen Sea of Azov instead of lining up to cross the Don bridges at Rostov. The Germans fell back to the line of the Mius River in the south while the Voronezh Front, supported by Bryansk and Southwest Fronts, attacked the remaining parts of Army Group B’s front on the northern Don—the Hungarian Second Army and the German Second Army—on January 14. The Soviets tore a 200-mile wide gap in the front and retook Kharkov and the Donetz industrial area. They then advanced steadily toward the Dnieper crossings and the isthmus to the Crimea.

The Soviets, however, were too widespread, exhausted, and at the end of a lengthy supply line. Manstein, meanwhile, had skillfully assembled strong forces on either side of the gap. On February 14, with effective support from Richthofen’s Luftflotte 4, Manstein launched a counteroffensive that smashed four Soviet armies, recaptured Kharkov, and by March 18, largely restored the line from which the German armies had departed in June 1942.

Nevertheless, the Germans in the east had been permanently lamed. The Sixth Army, or more than 250,000 men, had been lost, and with it four allied Axis armies.

The Stalingrad disaster was a particular shock to German morale. The Nazis had already noted, with disquiet, the public’s willingness for a compromise peace with Stalin (although some of the Nazis shared that inclination). For most of 1943, German morale was low. Paradoxically it recovered a bit after the Germans rode out Italy’s surrender without a spectacular disaster. The Axis allies proceeded to look for the exits. Mussolini already wanted a separate peace with the Soviets. Other Italians, Fascist or not, and all but a few people in the Axis satellites wanted peace with the West.

The Stalingrad-Caucasus campaign was the military turning point of the war in the east. Yet that campaign had had little, if any, chance of success in the first place. Even had the Germans taken the Caucasus oil fields intact, they would not have been able to ship their products back to Germany. The campaign itself demonstrated that German hopes had no foundation in logistics. As George Blau observed, the Germans’ problem of transporting supplies could only have been solved had they complemented the few railroad lines in southern Russia with a tremendous trucking and airlift effort. But the Germans lacked the necessary trucks, transport planes, and gasoline, and their repair facilities were inadequate. “From the outset, there was actually not the slightest hope that the supply services would be capable of keeping up with an advance to the Volga and beyond the Caucasus.” Thus Williamson Murray concluded that the 1942 campaigns in both Russia and the Mediterranean were the “last spasmodic advances of Nazi military power, there was no prospect of achieving a decisive strategic victory.”

Indeed, the Germans could not have held Stalingrad even had they captured it. The lack of supplies for the Sixth Army hopelessly prejudiced its chances for survival even if Hitler had been more reasonable about its withdrawal. That the Germans enjoyed such an initial success as they did was mainly owed to Soviet blunders in the spring.

Schwerer Wehrmachtschlepper (Gepanzerter Ausführung)

Proposed version of the sWS with UHU would have been introduced as the command and observation vehicle of the five-tank Infra-red Panther Platoons. The infra-red equipment fitted to each Panther tank had a range of only 400m. Each UHU with its 60cm Beobachtungs Gerat 1251 and telescope Beobachtungs Gerat 1221 was capable of illuminating and sighting at ranges of 1,500m. The UHU commander then controlled the five Panthers, in their attack of such targets, over the usual FuG5 radio. The main searchlight had a traverse of 360*and could be folded down when not in use.

This vehicle was the only one of the series to enter production. On 27th July 1942 Hitler issued an order for the cancellation of the 5-ton Sd.Kfz.6 vehicle and for the turning over of production facilities for this vehicle to the output of the sWS. The sWS was a new, simplified, low-speed tractor designed primarily for use by infantry units as a supply vehicle in adverse conditions. The parent firm was Bussing NAG of Berlin Oberschönweide, and Ringhöfer-Tatra assisted in production. On 27th July 1942 the OKH presented WaPruf.6 with a requirement for 7,484 of these vehicles to be completed within the next two years. Production was scheduled to begin during the spring of 1943 with a monthly output of 150; but the first vehicles did not enter service until December 1943, when only five were completed. The firms assigned to producing these vehicles were Bussing NAG and Tatra in Czechoslovakia (the latter continuing production for some years after the war for the Czech Army). By September 1944 only 381 sWS had been delivered to the army, and total production by 1945 amounted to 1,000. The Tatra version employed the air-cooled Tatra 111 engine.

The vehicle had a greatly simplified suspension and dry-pin tracks. It was mainly intended as a supply vehicle, although versions existed which had heavy bows for canvas covers and could carry wounded men (four stretchers, six minor casualties and two orderlies). There was also a version with an armoured cab which, apart from its role as a normal tractor, was used as a platform for various weapons. It was originally intended that the sWS should replace the Maultier hybrid semitracks which had been produced as an expedient prior to its introduction; but as production never reached a satisfactory level, the Maultier remained in service for the remainder of the war.

The tractor was normally provided with an open lorry body. The engine was a 6·cylinder Maybach HL42 TRKMS, basically similar to and of the same rating as the engines used in the 1- and 3-ton tractors, and it had dry-sump forced lubrication, using a gear-type pump. The dry double-disc clutch, type PF220K, was the same as that used in the 1- and 3-ton tractors. The main gearbox, type Kb40D , gave four forward speeds and one reverse speed and was of sliding-mesh, non-synchromesh type. The auxiliary gearbox was connected to the main one by a short propeller shaft. Two ratios were provided. The vehicle had a conventional controlled differential. The steering brakes were mounted co-axially with the half-shafts and were pneumatically operated. Here the road brakes were not integral with the driving sprockets. The half-shafts drove the driving sprockets through final reduction gears secured to each of the main chassis members. The suspension consisted of five pairs of double overlapping bogies, there being three widely spaced and two narrowly spaced on each side. The bogies were mounted on taper roller-bearings on hubs carried on radius arms, each separately sprung by means of a torsion-bar. The arrangement of these differed from that on the older semi-tracked vehicles in that the radius arms on the two sides were directed in opposite senses, those on the left pointing forward and those on the right trailing. Further, each torsion·bar was arranged to be co-axial (whereas in the older semi-tracks they were slightly offset) and tracks of the same number of links were used on each side. The driving sprocket consisted of two truncated cones, united at the smaller ends and carrying toothed rings bolted to the two outer rims. The bogies consisted of pairs of identical shallow discs carrying solid rubber tyres at their peripheries and were bolted to the hubs. They were detachable without removing the hubs. The idlers consisted of spoked wheels, rubber blocks being secured round their peripheries by steel clamping rings that also acted as guides for the teeth of the tracks. The idlers were mounted on cranked axles and the usual track-tensioning device was used, comprising a nut and threaded rod device incorporating a shear-bolt. Each track consisted of fifty-five main links, each carrying two spuds and two guide teeth, and an equal number of intermediate links hinged together by track pins. The intermediate I inks were secured on the outer side by a head and on the inner side by a circlip and pin. The guide teeth ran between the widely-spaced bogies but outside the narrowly-spaced ones. The track width was 500mm (19.7in).

The front wheel steering was of the ZF Ross worm and- cam type, and it was connected with a pneumatic valve for operating the track brakes when the steering wheel had been turned through a certain angle. A new feature was a lever on the dashboard that enabled each track to be braked independently, allowing the vehicle to be driven on one track only in the event of one track slipping excessively or when removing tracks.

A winch was optional and would be incorporated only by special request. It was driven from the auxiliary gearbox through a propeller shaft and worm gear. The capacity of the winch was 5 tons.

The version with an armoured cab weighed 10.5-tons unladen and could carry up to 3 1/2 tons. The trailer load capacity was 8 tons. In this version the engine, radiator and driver’s compartment were enclosed in light armour plate. This armour was joined by welding except that of the engine cover, which was bolted on. The armour varied from 15mm on the front to 8mm on the sides and roof. The body of the vehicle consisted of a flatbed covered with steel plates and fitted with hinged sides. A compartment of the same height as the sides extended across the rear of the body. A seat for a gun crew was located at the back of the cab and was protected by an extension of the side armour. A folding canvas top was provided. This armoured version was not fitted with a winch.

Manufacturer: Bussing-NAG, Ringhoffer-Tatra

Chassis Nos.: 150001-

825 produced from December 1943 to March 1945

Crew: 2

Engine: Maybach HL42TRKMS

Gearbox: 2 x 4 forward, 2 x 1 reverse

Weight (tons): 13.5

Length (metres): 6.92

Width (metres): 2.5

Height (metres): 2.07

Speed (km/hr): 28

Range (km): 300

Armour: 6-15mm

 

Warsaw 1939 I

On September 8, 1939, one week into the Nazi invasion of Poland, German armoured troops reached the gates of Warsaw. The Polish government and High Command had left the city but a determined garrison awaited the enemy invader and the Poles were able to stave off two consecutive German attempts to take the capital by armoured attack. Thus began a siege that would last for three weeks and subject the Warsaw Army of over 100,000 and the civilian population of over one million to a ruthless campaign of aerial bombardment and heavy artillery shelling, causing thousands of casualties and widespread destruction. It was a hopeless battle that could only end in defeat and on September 27 the Polish garrison capitulated. The photos of the first penetration by tanks and infantry of the 4. Panzer-Division taken on September 9 became standard repertoire of German propaganda publications on the Blitzkrieg in Poland.

 

On September 8 – eight days after the start of the campaign and after an amazing dash of 80 kilometres in ten hours – lead elements of the 4. Panzer-Division suddenly appeared on the outskirts of Warsaw. Taking advantage of the surprise, the Germans immediately launched an attack into the city, hoping to capture it on the run. The first attack, in the late afternoon of the 8th and by Panzer-Regiment 35 only, was quickly stopped by the fierce Polish resistance in the outer borough of Ochota. The second attempt, by the entire division and on a double axis, on the morning of the 9th penetrated deeper into the city but was again repulsed in heavy fighting in Ochota and Wola. A Propaganda-Kompanie photographer, Bildberichter Otto Lanzinger, accompanied one of the attacking columns into the city and his pictures have become classic images of the 1939 fighting for Warsaw. Here a number of PzKpfw I and IIs roll forward while supporting infantry keep close to the houses.

 

A PzKpfw II advances past another one. These photographs were taken on Grojecka Street, the main thoroughfare entering Warsaw from the south-east and leading into the borough of Ochota, at its intersection with Siewierska Street. Grojecka was the axis of attack of Panzer-Regiment 35 both on the afternoon of the 8th and again during the morning of the 9th. The long shadows in Lanzinger’s photos show the sun in the east, which proves that they were taken on the 9th.

 

Some 150 metres back along Grojecka, near its junction with Przemyska Street, Lanzinger pictured a 7.5cm le. IG 18 light infantry gun set up to engage enemy troops defending behind a barricade. The gun has just fired off a round and smoke is still curling from its barrel. Panzer I and IIs are waiting behind. Black smoke rises up from a disabled vehicle in the background.

 

Back up front, and right in front of where Lanzinger is taking cover, another gun – this one a 3.7cm Pak 36 – has been set up. Across the street is its Krupp Kfz 69 towing vehicle. Two Panzer Is roll forward. The 4. Panzer-Division had begun the campaign with 341 tanks: 183 Panzer I, 130 Panzer II, 12 Panzer IV and 16 Panzerbefehlswagen. However, by the time it reached Warsaw, both tank regiments had suffered losses and all four tank battalions were below strength.

Map of initial ground attacks on Warsaw. Poles-blue, Germans-red.

THE SITUATION IN WARSAW

Warsaw in 1939 was a city of 1.3 million inhabitants. From the very first hours of the campaign, this huge metropolitan area became the target of an unrestricted aerial bombardment campaign by Luftwaffe bombers and dive-bombers, mainly from Kesselring’s Luftflotte 1 supporting Heeresgruppe Nord.

On September 1, a force of some 90 Heinkel He 111 bombers from Kampfgeschwader 27, protected by 36 Me 109 fighters from Jagdgeschwader 21, together with 35 He 111s from II./Lehrgeschwader 1 raided the capital. They hit military targets, such as infantry barracks, the aerodrome and the PZL aircraft factory at Okecie in the south-west and the Warsaw radio station in Fort Mokotow in the south. However, right from the start, they also freely bombed civilian facilities such as waterworks, hospitals, market places and schools, and strafed civilians with machinegun fire. The attacks came as a complete surprise. The streets were crowded and dozens died in the first few minutes. Later that week, in order to disrupt communications, the bombers and dive-bombers attacked the city’s railway stations and the Vistula bridges – the latter without success. On September 3 alone 1,500 civilians were killed. A girls’ school was hit on the 4th.

Warsaw’s air defence depended mostly on the fighters of the Polish Air Force’s Pursuit Brigade (Brygada Poscigowa) under Colonel Stefan Pawlikowski. It comprised two squadrons and was equipped with 54 fighter aircraft, chiefly the PZL P. 7 and PZL P. 11 types. The city’s anti-aircraft artillery under Colonel Kazimierz Baran had 86 AA guns and various detachments of anti-aircraft machine guns.

Initially the air defence of the capital was fairly successful. During the first six days, the Pursuit Brigade managed to shoot down 43 enemy aircraft, while the anti-aircraft artillery destroyed a similar number. In addition, there were nine unconfirmed victories and 20 damaged aircraft. However, the brigade had itself also lost 38 machines, or approximately 70 per cent of its strength. The city’s air defence began to crumble on September 5 when the military authorities ordered 11 of the AA batteries withdrawn from Warsaw towards Lublin, Brest-Litovsk and Lwow. The following day, September 6, the remnants of the Pursuit Brigade were also transferred from the Warsaw sector to Lublin.

With rumours of the rout of the Polish armies reaching the capital, thousands of inhabitants packed their belongings and fled to the east, only to meet up with other refugees heading westwards. At the same time, masses of people entered the city from the west, fleeing before the German invading forces. Stukas swooped down on the long columns of people, strafing and striking terror at leisure.

On September 4, Polish President Ignacy Moscicki and his government evacuated from Warsaw, transferring their seat to Lublin, 150 kilometres to the south-east. Commander-in-Chief Marshal Smigly-Rydz and the Polish General Staff also left the capital, on the night of September 6/7, moving to Brest-Litovsk, also 150 kilometres to the rear. Their departure led to further panic and chaos in the capital.

At one time, it had been the Government’s intention to declare Warsaw an `open city’, but this idea was now abandoned. The capital would be defended at all cost. On September 3, before he left, Smigly-Rydz ordered the creation of an improvised Warsaw Defence Command (Dowodztwo Obrony Warszawy). General Walerian Czuma, the head of the Border Guard (Straz Graniczna), was appointed its commander and Colonel Tadeusz Tomaszewski its Chief-of-Staff.

Initially the forces under command of General Czuma were very limited. Most of the city authorities had withdrawn together with a large part of the police forces, firefighters and military garrison. Warsaw was left with only four battalions of infantry and one battery of artillery. Also, the spokesman of the Warsaw garrison had issued a communiqué in which he ordered all young men to leave the city. To co-ordinate civilian efforts and counter the panic that threatened to engulf the capital, Czuma appointed the President (Lord Mayor) of Warsaw, Stefan Starzynski, as the Civilian Commissar of the capital. Starzynski immediately started to organise the Civil Guard to replace the evacuated police forces and the fire-fighters. He also ordered all members of the city’s administration to return to their posts. In his daily radio broadcasts he asked all civilians to construct barricades and anti-tank barriers at the city outskirts.

Defensive field fortifications were constructed mostly to the west of the city limits. Streets were blocked with barricades and overturned tram cars. Cellars of houses were turned into pillboxes. Gradually, the forces of General Czuma were reinforced with volunteers, as well as rearguard troops and various army units, primarily from the Lodz and Prusy Armies, retreating before the onslaught of German armoured units. One was a stray battalion of the 41st Infantry Regiment `Suwalski’ from the destroyed 29th Division. On September 7, the 40th Infantry Regiment `Children of Lwow’, part of the 5th Division and commanded by LieutenantColonel Jozef Kalandyk, was transiting through Warsaw towards previously assigned positions with the Pomorze Army. The unit was stopped and joined the defence of the capital.

By the 8th General Czuma had gathered some 17 infantry battalions under his command, supported by 64 pieces of artillery and 33 tanks. The latter – 27 light tanks of the Vickers E, 7-TP and R-35 types and six TK-3 and TKS tankettes – were formed into the 1st and 2nd Light Tank Companies.

The last Polish formation defending before Warsaw was the 13th Infantry Division, positioned near Koluszki in central Poland. After bitter fighting with Hoepner’s XVI. Armeekorps on September 6-7, its lines were broken by the 4. Panzer-Division, which captured the town of Tomaszow Mazowiecki, located 115 kilometres southwest of Warsaw, During the night (September 7/8), most of the soldiers of the 13th Division panicked and deserted, enabling the 4. Panzer-Division to carry on to Rawa Mozawiecka, another 35 kilometres closer to the Polish capital.

FIRST GERMAN ATTACKS ON THE CAPITAL

On the morning of September 8, the 4. Panzer-Division – now well ahead of the rest of the 10. Armee – made a lightning dash towards Warsaw, 80 kilometres away. Moving out at first light from Rawa Mozawiecka, with Panzer-Regiment 35 in the lead, it brushed aside pockets of enemy resistance and reached Radziejowice, 35 kilometres on. With Polish soldiers surrendering by the thousands, the panzers rushed forward another 35 kilometres to Wolica, an outer suburb south-west of Warsaw, hoping to secure crossings over the Utrata river at Raszyn. Attacking at 1.15 p. m., the panzers destroyed two Polish light tanks and pushed back the Polish infantry but they could not prevent the Poles from blowing up two bridges right in front of them. Undaunted, the light panzers forded the brook, while attached engineers from Pionier-Bataillon 79, protected by infantry from SchützenRegiment 12, quickly repaired the crossings. Soon the lead troops were approaching Okecie, the airfield right on the south-western edge of the metropolitan area. Panzer-Regiment 35 had reached the city limits of Warsaw.

Back at the divisional command post at Nadarzyn, ten kilometres to the rear, Generalleutnant Georg-Hans Reinhardt was just receiving a visit from his army and corps commanders, Generals Reichenau and Hoepner. Having heard rumours that the Poles had declared their capital an open city, the three generals did not expect serious resistance and together they worked out exact plans for the seizure of the city. The division was to advance in two columns, with Panzer-Regiment 35 and Schützen-Regiment 12 on the right and Panzer-Regiment 36 and Infanterie-Regiment 33 on the left. However, the latter three units were still moving up and it would take some time for them to reach the start line.

Up front, the commander of Panzer-Regiment 35, Oberst Heinrich Eberbach, thought he could take the city on the run. Conferring with Hoepner and Reinhardt, he recommended that the surprise of the enemy be exploited and that he be allowed to continue the advance without waiting for the rest of the division. Permission was granted. A Storch light aircraft hurriedly flew in a few street maps of Warsaw and a plan of attack was made. Entering from the south-west, the regiment’s II. Abteilung was to advance across Pilsudski Square and then cross the Vistula to the east bank; the I. Abteilung was to remain in the centre of the city. Aerial support for the attack was quickly arranged through Kesselring’s Luftflotte 1 (nominally in support of Heeresgruppe Nord) which sent in 35 Henschel HS 123 biplane divebombers from II./Lehrgeschwader 2.

At 5 p. m. Eberbach’s regiment began the assault, advancing towards the borough of Ochota. A few rounds were fired. Just beyond the Rakowiec settlement the houses momentarily stopped, an open area partly filled with suburban vegetable gardens stretching out before the tankers’ eyes. The tanks moved across a road bridge, the actual outskirts of the city being 400 metres beyond. As they entered the built-up area, the road ahead was blocked by a barricade of overturned streetcars and furniture trucks. Suddenly, a rain of fire fell on the force. From four-storied apartment buildings, ventilation openings in the rooftops, windows and basement openings, Polish soldiers of the 40th `Children of Lwow’ and 41st `Suwalski’ Regiments opened up on the tanks with everything they had. One of the few PzKpfw IV (the whole regiment had just eight of these in its 4. and 8. Kompanie) received a direct hit. It was recovered under fire but the attack was stalling.

By now the sun was setting. Realising that Warsaw was not an open city and that the Poles were strongly defending it, Eberbach called off the attack and withdrew his tanks behind the bridge. For now, all by itself and well ahead of the rest of the division, the regiment needed to secure itself on all sides.

At 7.15 p. m. that evening – a point in time when the panzers were still battling in Ochota – German radio already broadcast the OKW communiqué bringing the headline news that German troops had penetrated into Warsaw.

During the night, the remaining elements of the division caught up with Panzer-Regiment 35: the tanks of Panzer-Regiment 36, the infantry of Schützen-Regiment 12 and Infanterie-Regiment 33 and the divisional artillery. Thinking he was now strong enough to take the city, Generalleutnant Reinhardt ordered the attack to be repeated the following morning with all available forces. PanzerRegiment 35, supported by Schützen-Regiment 12, was to repeat its attack along the main road into Ochota. Panzer-Regiment 36, supported by Infanterie-Regiment 33 and two engineer companies, was to launch an attack from positions further to the north, along the main road leading into the borough of Wola.

At 7 a. m. on September 9, following a tenminute preparatory artillery barrage on the city’s edge, the 4. Panzer-Division again moved into the assault. Dive-bombing support was once more provided by Luftflotte 1, which had dispatched the HS 123s from II./LG2 and 140 Stukas from StG77 and III./StG51.

Leading the attack into Ochota, the I. Abteilung of Panzer-Regiment 35 (Hauptmann Meinrad von Lauchert), with infantry mounted on the tanks, once again rolled across the bridge, followed by more infantry and attached engineers. The first road barricade was eliminated. Despite strong Polish resistance a second bridge was taken and the tanks reached the streets of Warsaw. Once in the built-up area, the German infantry had to take each house and clear it. The Poles resisted fiercely with burst of machine-gun fire, hand-grenades dropped from above and tossed from cellar openings, even with blocks of stones dropped from the roofs. Anti-tank mines buried in the road verges and adjoining fields disabled several panzers. The fiercest fighting in Ochota was at the barricade erected near the junction of Grojecka and Siewierska Streets and defended by the 4th Company of the 40th Regiment.

The panzers attempted to continue by themselves. The lead tank, commanded by Leutnant Georg Claass of the 1. Kompanie, was hit by a well-camouflaged anti-tank gun. The first round failed to knock it out but the second set the vehicle on fire. Claass and his radio operator managed to bail out but both later succumbed to their wounds. The same Polish gun immobilised the vehicle of the regimental adjutant, Oberleutnant Heinz-Günther Guderian (the son of the panzer general). Dismounting and escaping through a courtyard gate, Guderian came across the tank of Leutnant Diergardt and a platoon of infantry. Taking both under his command he continued the attack.

Advancing through courtyards and gardens, Leutnant Wilhelm Esser and two platoons of tanks from the 2. Kompanie were able to advance as far as the railway line, where Polish defences knocked out his radio. Oberfeldwebel Ziegler in his PzKpfw III assumed command of the remaining vehicles and managed to advance as far as the main railway station. All by himself in the middle of the capital, he eventually had to pull back. Leutnant Gerhard Lange worked his way forward to an enemy artillery position and opened fire on the guns with everything he had. The Poles attacked by throwing shaped charges against his tracks, which tore off one of the roadwheels and blocked his turret, and he too had to pull back.

Throughout the battle the Stukas of StG77 and III./StG51 gave support by attacking the Polish main artillery positions which were located in Praga, on the far side of the city and east of the Vistula. In addition to divebombing the gun sites, they swooped down on the city’s main avenues and on the railways in an attempt to obstruct Polish troop movements.

Around 9 a. m. Oberst Eberbach committed the II. Abteilung (Major Wilhelm Hochbaum), which had been held in reserve and was supported by another battalion of Schützen-Regiment 12, to the area one kilometre north of the main road, where the Polish defences appeared less well organised. This force initially made good progress, overrunning Fort Szczesliwice, one of the old fortifications surrounding the capital. However, as they reached the park beyond, the mounted riflemen received rifle and machine-gun fire from the high-rises on the left. Just as they deployed to engage it, Polish artillery fell among them and a few vehicles caught fire. Meanwhile, Polish anti-tank guns stopped the advance of the tanks. Oberleutnant Heinz Morgenroth, the commander of the 8. Kompanie, was fatally wounded. Of the two panzer platoons that advanced into the park, only three tanks came back.

The story was much the same with PanzerRegiment 36, attacking north of the railway line and into Wola. Here too, well-placed Polish 75mm anti-tank guns firing at pointblank range, and the barricades erected on main streets, managed to repel the German assault. The civilian population took an active part in the fighting and the Germans were halted with severe losses.

On several occasions the Poles made up for their lack of armament by ingenuity. Colonel Zdzislaw Pacak-Kuzmirski, commander of the 8th Company of the 40th Regiment, found 100 barrels of turpentine in the Dobrolin Factory and ordered his men to position these in front of the barricade at the intersection of Wolska, Elekcyjna and Redutowa Streets. When the German armour approached, the liquid was ignited and several tanks were destroyed without a single shot being fired.

The TP-7 tanks of the Warsaw Defence Command were actively engaged in the battles. Those of the 1st Light Tank Company joined in the heavy fights around Okecie airport, but they were no match for the German panzers and suffered considerable losses. Those of the 2nd Company took part in the successful defence of Wola.

At 10 a. m., after three hours of fruitless attack, Generalleutnant Reinhardt saw that the fighting could not be prolonged if his division was to remain as an operational unit and ordered his men to retreat to their initial line of departure. Casualties in tanks and infantry had been very heavy. Of the 220 tanks that had taken part in the assault, some 80 had been lost. Panzer-Regiment 35 alone, which had started the assault with 120 tanks, had only 57 left operational, including a single Panzer IV. Even the command tank of Generalleutnant Max von Hartlieb-Walsporn, commander of the 5. Panzer-Brigade

(which controlled the two panzer regiments), was immobilised by anti-tank fire as it made its way back. When the XVI. Armeekorps sent an order to renew the attack immediately, Reinhardt drove back to the corps command post and convinced Hoepner that this was absolutely impossible. All that could be done for now was to lay siege to the capital from the west.

During the night, a large number of the disabled panzers, including some that had run over mines, were recovered by their crews, in some cases from out of the Polish lines. Additional reinforcements arrived in the form of Infanterie-Regiment Leibstandarte-SS `Adolf Hitler’ (mot.), the Führer’s bodyguard unit turned into a motorised infantry unit and commanded by SS-Obergruppenführer Sepp Dietrich.

Warsaw 1939 II

TEMPORARY RELIEF

Having warded off two consecutive ground attacks on the city, the defenders of Warsaw were now suddenly given a very welcome respite due to unexpected developments that were unfolding 100 kilometres west of the capital. That evening, September 9, the Poznan Army under Lieutenant-General Tadeusz Kutrzeba and the Pomorze Army under Lieutenant-General Wladyslaw Bortnowski launched a very strong surprise counter-attack against the left flank of the Heeresgruppe Süd forces advancing towards Warsaw.

With the two German pincers moving north and south of him, Kutrzeba’s army had until then been largely unaffected by the fighting and was still completely intact. As it moved back eastwards from Poznan, German army intelligence had somehow lost track of it and mistakenly assumed it had already pulled back behind the Vistula. Joining up with Bortnowski’s Pomorze Army, Kutrzeba saw a chance to strike at the northern flank of the German southern pincer. The Polish High Command initially turned down his proposal, ordering him to continue withdrawing to the Vistula, but early on the 8th he was given the green light. It was a desperate manoeuvre to stall the German advance and buy time for the organisation of Warsaw’s defence.

The attack, by eight infantry divisions and two cavalry brigades, fell on the 30. Infanterie-Division of Blaskowitz’s 8. Armee, which was holding a thin screening line along the Bzura river. The Poles inflicted considerable losses on the Germans, killing 1,500 and capturing 3,000 in the initial push. To avoid a serious reverse, Blaskowitz was compelled to completely suspend his army’s advance on Warsaw and divert all his troops to come to the rescue of the 30. Division. Nonetheless, the Germans were thrown back southwards some 20 kilometres.

Von Rundstedt and his Chief-of-Staff Generalleutnant Erich von Manstein initially underestimated the Polish advance and judged it a problem the 8. Army should solve by itself. However, on 11 September, realising they had a major crisis on their hands, they changed their mind and decided to redirect the main force of the 10. Armee plus army group reserves and most of the aircraft from Luftflotte 4 towards the Bzura. Thus reinforced, the Germans managed to hold the Poles in a vicious battle on a narrow front along the river. Raging for a full ten days, it developed into the largest, longest and single most-important battle of the campaign.

However, as a direct result of this Polish counter-offensive, the 4. Panzer-Division and the Leibstandarte-SS were withdrawn from Warsaw and sent westward to help stave off the threat. Their positions were taken over by the 31. Infanterie-Division (Generalleutnant Rudolf Kämpfe), one of the follow-up divisions of the XVI. Armeekorps, the lead regiment of which – Infanterie-Regiment 82 – arrived in front of Warsaw on the 11th. Its troops were fatigued by long days of marching in hot weather and already weakened by earlier battles, so they were ordered for the time being to refrain from a direct attack on the city and just maintain siege positions. In this sense the attempt to buy time for Warsaw was a success. However, the aerial attacks on the city continued. On September 10, nicknamed `Bloody Sunday’, there were more than 70 German bombers above Warsaw and 17 consecutive bombing raids.

Meanwhile, there had been an organisational change on the Polish side. On September 8, the day of the first German assault, Marshal Smigly-Rydz had ordered the creation of an improvised Warsaw Army (Armia Warszawa) under Lieutenant-General Juliusz Rommel. Until then the commander of the Lodz Army on the border, Rommel had got separated from his operational forces and had just arrived in Warsaw with his staff (some critics say he more or less abandoned his army and defected to the capital). From his headquarters at Brest-Litovsk, Smigly-Rydz sent him a signed order to `defend the city as long as ammunition and food lasts, to hold as many of the enemy forces as possible’.

The newly-created army was composed of the forces defending Warsaw (under General Czuma); the garrison of Modlin Fortress – a 19th-century citadel located at the junction of the Vistula and the Narew rivers some 30 kilometres north of the capital and blocking a main approach to it (under Brigadier-General Wiktor Thommée) – as well as all Polish units defending the Narew and Vistula riverlines north-east and south of Warsaw. General Czuma continued as the commander of the Warsaw Defence Force, which he split into two sectors, one on each side of the Vistula: East (Praga) under LieutenantColonel Julian Janowski and West under Colonel Marian Porwit.

Meanwhile, the defenders of the city were joined by various units of the routed Prusy Army, notably the 44th Infantry Division (Colonel Eugeniusz Zongollowicz), a half-complete reserve formation made up of regiments of the Border Defence Corps (Korpus Ochrony Pogranicza – KOP), which had been dispersed by the 1. Panzer-Division at Belchatow and had been ordered to head to Warsaw.

Other stray units came from the defeated Lodz Army, notably the 4th Battalion of the 30th Infantry Regiment from the 10th Division under Major Bronislaw Kaminski, which arrived on the 10th and took up defensive positions in Plackowka and Mlociny in north-western Warsaw.

In addition, several new units were created in the capital itself out of reserve centres of two Warsaw-based formations. Reservists from the 8th Infantry Division formed the 360th Regiment under Lieutenant-Colonel Jakub Chmura. It comprised five battalions which would be deployed at various points in the city’s defensive lines. The rear-echelon battalion of the 36th `Academic Legion’ Infantry Regiment, a unit made up mostly of university students, served as a core of the 336th Regiment. Split onto two separate units, the 1st and 2nd `Defenders of Praga’ Regiments under Colonels Stanislaw Milian and Stefan Kotowski respectively, it helped defend the Praga sector on the east bank of the Vistula.

During all this time, Stefan Starzynski, the Civilian Commissar of Warsaw, was a tower of strength in the besieged city. His daily radio speeches were crucial in keeping the morale of both soldiers and civilians high. Starzynski commanded the distribution of food, water and supplies as well as the firefighting brigades. Assisted by his Deputy, Julian Kulski, he also managed to organise shelter for almost all civilian refugees from other parts of Poland and for people whose houses had been destroyed by German bombing.

ENCIRCLEMENT AND SIEGE

Meanwhile a new threat to Warsaw was developing from the north-east, this time coming from Heeresgruppe Nord. On September 10, von Küchler’s 3. Armee had broken through the Polish lines along the Narew river and started its march southwards, aiming to cut off Warsaw from the east. Its I. Armeekorps under Generalleutnant Walter Petzel crossed the Bug at Wyszkow on the 11th and was now rapidly approaching the capital.

As this new menace got near, the city’s garrison again received welcome reinforcements in the form of units from the Modlin Army pushed back by the German advance. The remnants of the 5th Infantry Division under Major-General Juliusz Zulauf reached Warsaw on the 14th, re-uniting with the division’s own 40th `Children of Lwow’ Regiment. With Zulauf’s force came the 21st `Children of Warsaw’ Regiment, commanded by Colonel Stanislaw Sosabowski (of later Battle of Arnhem fame), which had got separated from its parent 8th Division on the third day of the invasion and had fought its way back from the north by itself. The battered remains of the 20th Infantry Division under Colonel Wilhelm Andrzej Lawisz. Liszka arrived from Mlawa on the 15th. All new arrivals were incorporated into the Warsaw Army and assigned to the defence of Praga on the east bank, General Zulauf taking over command of the East sector from Lieutenant-Colonel Janowski.

They had just made it in time for on that same day – September 15 – the 61. Infanterie-Division (Generalleutnant Siegfried Hänicke), leading element of the I. Armeekorps, reached the eastern outskirts of Warsaw. The Germans must have been unaware of the exact Polish positions in this part of the city, for a large column of troops came marching into Grochow, the south-eastern working-class borough of Praga, along Aleja Jerzego Waszyngtona (Washington Avenue), straight at the positions of Sosabowski’s 21st Regiment. His 1st Battalion opened up a hurricane of fire that took the enemy column completely by surprise. Stalled, the Germans tried to deploy into assault formations, bringing direct artillery fire and tanks to bear. Polish anti-tank guns positioned down the avenue knocked out two of the panzers but the Germans nonetheless managed to gain a foothold in eastern Grochow, wiping out a platoon of Polish riflemen that was covering the withdrawal of their company. However, the German advance was held at the next street and by 7 p. m. the attack had been repulsed. Sosabowski’s command tallied a loss of 320 men killed, wounded or missing.

The following day, September 16, another three of Küchler’s infantry divisions arrived at the eastern gates of Warsaw: the 11. Infanterie-Division (Generalleutnant Max Bock), the 32. Infanterie-Division (Generalleutnant Nikolaus von Falkenhorst) and the 217. Infanterie-Division (Generalmajor Richard Baltzer), the latter two both of the II. Armeekorps. Together with the 61. Division, they now formed an unbreakable cordon around Warsaw east of the Vistula. With the 31. Division of the 8. Armee enclosing much of the city on its western side, only a broad strip of land along the Vistula towards the Kampinos Forest in the north-west and the Modlin Fortress in the north now remained in Polish hands. Though not yet completely encircled, Warsaw was effectively under siege.

That morning, Sosabowski’s men were surprised to see an open car flying a large white flag, followed by two tanks with the crews standing up in the open turret, slowly coming down Washington Avenue towards the barricade on Grochow Street. It was a party of truce. The German parliamentaire, Major Kiewitz, commander of the I. Bataillon of Infanterie-Regiment 151 of the 61. Division, handed Sosabowski a letter addressed `to the Officer Commanding Warsaw’ and containing a demand for the surrender of the city. Sosabowski sent the note to General Rommel’s headquarters and within an hour the answer came back that the Army Commander would neither talk with, nor see, the enemy emissary.

Within two hours after Major Kiewitz returned to his lines, a furious artillery bombardment fell on the Polish positions. An hour later, at 5 p. m., the 11. Infanterie-Division launched an assault against Sosabowski’s regiment. Again, the Poles waited until the attackers had approached within 100 metres of their positions before opening a withering fire with rifles, machine guns and mortars. After three hours of bitter fighting, the assault was repulsed with heavy losses to the Germans, the attacking unit – Infanterie-Regiment 23 commanded by Oberst Johann-Georg Richert – being practically annihilated. A similar thing happened when Infanterie-Regiment 96 of the 32. Division attempted to enter Brodno in northern Praga. It was met with intense artillery and mortar fire and thrown back with heavy casualties, losing 150 men.

Meanwhile the battle for Poland was continuing. Well to the east of Warsaw, on Heeresgruppe Nord’s far left wing, von Kluge’s 4. Armee was speedily moving south. Its XIX. Armeekorps, under General der Panzertruppe Heinz Guderian, dashing forward far in advance of the infantry formations, had crossed the Narew at Wizna and, moving on east of the Bug, reached BrestLitovsk on September 14, capturing the citadel on the 16th.

Then, on September 17, Poland received a further shock when the Soviet Red Army, following the secret protocol of the German-Russian non-aggression pact signed in Moscow just three weeks earlier (August 23), entered the country from the east. With the Poles having no forces other than border guard troops to oppose this move, and many of these initially even being uncertain over whether to welcome or fight the new invaders, the Soviets rapidly occupied eastern Poland. Now under attack from all sides by two different countries, Poland was fighting a losing battle. Realising that defence had become impossible, Marshal Smigly-Rydz issued orders for all Polish forces to retreat towards Romania and avoid fighting the Soviet aggressors. The Polish government and High Command crossed into Romania, where they were interned.

On September 18 Guderian’s panzer corps made contact with armoured units of the 14. Armee of Heeresgruppe Süd at Wlodawa on the Bug river, 200 kilometres south-east of Warsaw, thus completing the planned giant pincer movement and the encirclement of virtually all Polish forces. The Germans soon met up with the Soviets, at Brest-Litovsk and elsewhere, beginning an uneasy alliance that would last just 22 months. (To their chagrin, they had to abandon some of the territory already won to the Russians, retiring to the pre-arranged boundary line.) Meanwhile, due west of Warsaw, the battle of attrition on the Bzura had reached its inevitable conclusion. Having halted the Polish attacks, the 8. Armee launched its own attack across the river. With the armoured and motorised troops from the 10. Armee rushing up from the south-east and east, and forces from the 4. Armee from Heeresgruppe Nord closing in from the north and north-west, the Germans soon managed to encircle the very considerable Polish forces in a large pocket around the town of Kutno. The battle of annihilation raged for a week but by September 19 it was all over and an estimated 170,000 Polish troops surrendered.

However, large fragments of the Poznan and Pomorze Armies managed to break through the German encirclement. Desperately fighting their way through the Kampinos Forest, they succeeded in reaching the Warsaw-Modlin perimeter, mostly around September 19 and 20, considerably reinforcing the latter’s defensive strength. From the Poznan Army came the bulk of the 25th Infantry Division (General Franciszek Alter) and two cavalry brigades (the Wielkopolska under Brigadier-General Roman Abraham and the Podolska under Colonel Leon Strzelecki); 431 survivors of the 14th Cavalry Ulan Regiment under Colonel Edward Godlewski, plus smatterings from three more infantry divisions, the 14th, 17th and 26th. The Pomorze Army brought in 1,500 survivors from the 15th Infantry Division (General Zdzislaw Przyjalkowski), the Pomorze Cavalry Brigade (Colonel Adam Bogoria-Zakrewski) and what little remained of the 4th and 16th Divisions. General Kutrzeba of the Poznan Army, who reached Warsaw on the 16th, was made deputy commander of Warsaw under General Rommel. General Bortnowski of the Pomorze Army had been heavily wounded on the Bzura and was captured on the 21st.

Two-thousand men of the 13th Division’s 43rd `Bayonne Legion’ Regiment (Lieutenant-Colonel Franciszek Zbigniew Kubicki), survivors of the rout against the XVI. Armeekorps on September 7, tried to fight their way towards besieged Warsaw, but were stopped by the 11. Infanterie-Division during a night battle in Falenica, a south-eastern suburb of Warsaw, on September 19. As a result, only a few hundred men of the division managed to reach the capital.

With these reinforcements – the last to come in – the Polish forces defending Warsaw had risen to approximately 100,000 soldiers.

Warsaw West (under Colonel Porwit) was divided into three subordinate zones:

In sub-sector North were the 60th Regiment (25th Division), the 4th Battalion of the 30th Regiment (10th Division), the 59th and 61st Regiments (15th Division) and the 1st Battalion of the 144th Infantry (44th Division) defending Bielany, Mlociny, Zoliborz, Powazki and Kolo, with the 3rd Battalion of the 26th Regiment (5th Division) holding an outer position near Wawrzyszew.

In sub-sector West were the 40th Regiment (5th Division) and the 2nd Battalion of the 41st Regiment (29th Division) holding Wola, Ochota and Rakowiec, with the 1st and 5th Battalions of the 360th Regiment and a Volunteer Workers Battalion defending outer positions at Blizne and Gorce Okulicki.

In sub-sector South, charged with the defence of Mokotow, Czernieskow and Sierkierki, were a Volunteer Workers Battalion, remnants of the 4th Battalion of the 21st Regiment, the 1st Hunters Battalion and the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 360th Regiment.

Warsaw East (under General Zulauf) was divided into two zones:

In sub-sector North were the 78th, 79th and 80th Regiments of the 20th Division (Colonel Lawisz-Liszka), with the 1st Battalion of the 43rd Regiment (13th Division) attached, manning positions in Brodno, Pelcowizna and Elsnerow. In sub-sector South (commanded by Colonel Zongollowicz of the 44th Division) were the 26th Regiment (5th Division) defending the easternmost borough of Utrata; Sosabowski’s 21st Regiment (8th Division) guarding Grochow in the south-east, and the two `Defenders of Praga’ Regiments holding Saska Kepa and Goclaw in the south.

In general reserve were the 29th Regiment (25th Division), 56th and 62nd Regiments (15th Division), and the three cavalry brigades (the latter now amalgamated into a Combined Cavalry Brigade under Brigadier-General Graham), plus groups of light artillery and a heavy artillery group.

After the battle of the Bzura had ended, several of the German divisions from that battle rushed eastwards to tighten the ring around the Warsaw-Modlin perimeter. The XI. Armeekorps – with the 18. Infanterie-Division (Generalmajor Friedrich-Carl Cranz), 24. Infanterie-Division (Generalleutnant Friedrich Olbricht) and 19. Infanterie-Division (Generalleutnant Günther Schwantes) – progressively filled the line on the left of the 31. Division. The Leibstandarte-SS returned to take up positions between Warsaw and Modlin, Hitler having ordained that his elite SS force should be present to take its share of the glory of the upcoming final victory.

On the 22nd, the 3. (leichte) Division (Generalmajor Adolf Kuntzen) inserted itself to the right of the 31. Division, along the south side of the perimeter, only to be relieved two days later by two divisions from the XIII. Armeekorps, which had come marching up from the south-west and south: the 10. Infanterie-Division (Generalleutnant Conrad von Cochenhausen) and the 46. Infanterie-Division (Generalleutnant Paul von Hase).