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.



Soviet tank development took another major step forward with the design of the T-62 tank, which was a derivative of the T-55 but armed with a 115mm smooth bore gun that fired arrow-like projectiles instead of the traditional, full calibre projectiles that until then were the standard armour-piercing ammunition of the Soviet tanks. Its projectiles, which came to be known as Armour Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot or APFSDS projectiles, were fired with a muzzle velocity of 1,680m/s, which was higher than that of any other tank gun ammunition in use at the time, and this, together with the slender shape of the projectiles, resulted in greater armour penetration.

Soviet tanks, including the T-34-85, continued to rely on clutch-and-brake steering well into the Second World War, in spite of it being one of their weak points. However, in 1943 a geared steering system with two-speed epicyclic gearboxes was developed for the KV-13 experimental heavy tank that led to the IS or Stalin tanks, and they became the first Soviet tanks to go into service with such a system. 20 After the war a similar system was used on a large scale in T-54, T-55 and T-62 tanks.

Development of the T-62 began in 1958 and was almost concurrent with that of the 90 and 105mm smooth bore guns firing APFSDS projectiles that were being developed in the United States for the T95 tank. But whereas the results obtained in the United States were unsatisfactory and the development of the T95 was terminated in 1961, the T-62 was developed successfully and was accepted for use in that year. It was produced in its original form until 1972 and with modifications until 1983, by which time as many as 20,000 are believed to have been built. Most went to the Soviet Army but a significant number was delivered to the Egyptian and Syrian armies, which first used them in combat during the Arab-Israeli War of 1973. They were also supplied to Iraq and to North Korea, where the T-62 has been developed further.

The T-62 was the first tank to come into use armed with a high-pressure smooth bore gun firing APFSDS, and as such ushered in the worldwide adoption of this type of armament, which superseded almost all other types of tank guns and kinetic energy ammunition during the 1980s and 1990s. In spite of having an advanced gun armament, the fire power of the T-62M was augmented in 1983 by the provision of guided missiles that could be launched from its gun. The missiles were the 9M117 Bastion laser beam-riders, which were the same as those launched from the 100mm gun of the T-55M and significantly increased the range at which both tanks could engage targets. However, the T-55M and T-62M were not the first to be provided with gun launched missiles in addition to conventional ammunition.

The Soviets commenced quantity production of the T-62 in 1962. The major difference was in the introduction of the 115-mm 2A20 Rapira smoothbore gun with a bore evacuator. The can fire HEAT-FS, HE-FRAG and APFSDS rounds at a maximum rate of 4rpm. The flat trajectory of the APFSDS round coupled with the tank’s stadia rangefinder means that a T-62 can effectively engage targets out to 1600 metres.

The APFSDS projectiles fired by the T-62 looked like a scaled down version of the Peenemunde Arrow Projectiles that were being developed in Germany during the Second World War for long range artillery. 14 Their penetrators were only of steel, but they were fired with a muzzle velocity of 1,615m/s and were capable of penetrating 240mm of armour at 1,900m, which made them as good in this respect as the contemporary 105mm APDS projectiles.

Although housed in a larger turret the 115-mm gun leaves little room for the crew so an automatic shell ejection system has to be added, this ejects spent shell cases out of a hatch in the turret rear. The system requires the gun to be elevated slightly during unloading with the power traverse shut off, thus limiting any rapid fire and second round hit capability. Also the ejection system must be perfectly aligned with the ejection port otherwise a spent shell case bounces around the inside of the turret.

The T-62 can create its own smokescreen by injecting diesel fuel into its exhaust system. The tank is equipped with the PAZ radiation detection system and can use KMT-5/6 mine clearing gear.

TheT-62 has seen combat in a number of wars including the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 1982 Lebanon War, the 1980- 88 First Gulf War, the 1990 Invasion of Kuwait and the 1991 Second Gulf War. In practically all these instances its combat record has not been exactly brilliant by any standards. Many examples of T-62 have turned up in the West and those captured by the Israelis have been modified to their own requirements as the Tirdan 6.

T-62M Model 1984 – passive horseshoe shaped shields of homogeneous spaced armour fitted around the gun mantlet and turret sides frontal arc plus an optical belly armour package for mine protection. Developed especially for Afghanistan.

T-62M Model 1986 – fitted with the KTD-2 laser range finder, an upgraded diesel engine and the horseshoe armour package. Internally the vehicle is fitted with a ballistic computer fire control system to considerably improve the first round hit probability at 1600 metres range, a full weapon stabilization system, night vision sights for gunner and commander, a laser guidance package for the 4000 m range 115-mm calibre Sheksna anti-tank missile and an improved model infra-red searchlight.

T-62MK – command version of T-62M variants with additional radio and land navigation system. Only 37 rounds 115-mm ammunition carried. T-62MV – the T-62M Model 1986 fitted with Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) boxes.

The Iraqis also modified a number of their T-62 Model 1962, T-62 Model 1967 and T-62K by fitting the loader’s turret position with aDShK cupola ring from a T-55 MET. These vehicles and later T-62M series versions were also provided with sheet metal protective covers for the 800-m range LunaL-2G infra-red/whitelight searchlight that is mounted coaxially to the right of the main gun and the commander’s OU-3G infra-red searchlight mounted at the front of his cupola.

A form of slat or the very similar bar armour was first used in the 1960s by the US Navy on the gun boats that it operated in the Mekong delta during the Vietnam War. 19 It was also used by the Soviet Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s and in Chechnya in 1995 on T-62 tanks, and it was also fitted to the turrets of some Chinese-built Type 69 tanks used by the Iraqi Army in 1991 during the First Gulf War.

The Russians were also the first to develop a much more sophisticated type of protection against anti-tank guided missiles in the form of the Drozd active protection system. This appeared for the first time in 1983 on a T-55AD and consisted of a millimetre wave radar to detect incoming threats and a cluster of four launchers on each side of the turret with 107mm rockets, one of which would be fired at a threat missile at the appropriate moment determined by the system’s computer to shower it with fragments and thereby damage or destroy it. In contrast to other active protection systems developed elsewhere several years later that provided all-round protection, Drozd’s rocket launchers only covered a frontal arc of 80º, but this would have been sufficient for tanks used for frontal assaults. In addition to T-55AD, Drozd was also installed on some T-62D tanks, but its use has been limited, other Soviet tanks continuing to rely on ERA to augment their built-in passive armour protection.

Soviet G5 Torpedo Boat

The extremely fast G5 torpedo boat was ultimately derived from a series of designs by a team under the leadership of the noted aircraft designer A.N. Tupolev. Nearly over 300 were built, with 73 being lost during the war, and dozens remained in commission after 1945.

There were strong influences working on the post-revolutionary Soviet navy to develop a powerful and effective force of coastal craft. The fleet itself had been relegated to the status of a means of guaranteeing the seaward flanks of the primary service, the army. These seaward flanks were all of shallow and sheltered water, and distances involved were small. Further, the successful attacks by British CMBs in 1919 had shown the potential of even a few such boats in the right hands, and a couple of unserviceable and damaged Thornycroft 55-footers were available as exemplars, From these beginnings the Soviets had produced by 1928 a reasonably successful 18-m (59.06-ft) craft known as an S4. The indifferent Soviet technology of the time required the incorporation of American petrol engines, but the reliability of these and the sound hull shape made for a very high trials speed, approaching 50 kts, though considerably diminished by a load of two 457- mm (18-in) torpedoes or anything but calm conditions. About 60 S4s were built, giving the Soviets considerable experience,

The Tsarist navy had been known for its innovation and readiness to adopt ideas, and this policy continued with the purchase of technology in hull design and machinery from France, Germany and Italy as available. With this as a baseline the Soviets produced a 19-m (62.3-ft) G5 type, which was still heavily influenced by the British CMB in having a stepped hull and two troughs aft for the stern launching of torpedoes that had been increased in size to 533 mm (21 in), For this craft the Soviets built a successful petrol engine that was tolerably reliable and capable of being upgraded. The fault with the G5 was its early use of aluminium alloy for both shell and frames, so that it was plagued with corrosion problems. For this reason, the follow-on 21.6-m (70.9-ft) D3 craft were wooden-built, differing further in having side launching gear for their torpedoes.

Numerous G5 and D3 types served during the war, supplemented by over 200 boats from the USA and UK. Also produced in large numbers were armoured craft of many types, comparatively slow but armed with guns and cannon in tank turrets. They proved formidable craft both offshore and up rivers.

Soviet torpedo boats [MTBs] were developed from ‘experience with their own Type Sch4 (an earlier Russian design–itself based on British First World War CMBs), Italian plans, and new Soviet design ideas. The majority of all Soviet high-speed motor torpedo boats of World War II were of this type, called G-5.

Interesting features of Type G-5 were the light aluminium hulls and the change to the more powerful 21 inch torpedo (earlier Soviet attempts to develop MTBs used the 18 inch torpedo). Type G-5 was built from 1930 to 1939 to various specifications as Series 7, 8, 9,10, and 11, with the last named series being produced in 1939, fitted with two GAM 34 BSF engines which called for more robust hulls, and one boat was reportedly able to attain a speed of 62 knots unladen.’

Some 329 boats were built to this design from 1934-1944, divided into five basic series. In 1942, following the successful use of home-made Katyusha 88mm rocket-launchers from boats of this type, the naval authorities ordered 82mm and 132mm army rocket-launchers to be adapted for naval use (242 had been ordered by 1945). Some of the G5-class boats completed from 1943 to 1944 had torpedo wells plated out, and missile-launchers mounted above the conning tower.

Vihuri was a Soviet G-5 type torpedo boat captured by the Finns— they captured three of them during the war, although they only made use of two (all had to be returned to the Soviets in 1944 as part of the armistice provisions.  The Finns would also eventually turn over to the Russians coast defense vessel Vainamoinen, the biggest ship in the Finnish Navy).  The metal-hulled G-5 boats (59 feet long, 17 tons), designed by the aircraft designer Tupolev, were extremely fast, capable of making 53 knots, and carried two 21-inch (533mm) torpedoes plus a 12.7mm machinegun.  Both the Russian G-5 and the Finnish Syoksy-class boats used an unusual torpedo launching system.  The torpedoes were not fired from tubes, nor suspended outboard and dropped, but mounted on rails aft, and were ejected tail-first behind the boat, which then had to get out of their way (a safety device ensured a delay before the torpedo started running, to give the boat a head start on evasive action).

Altogether 321 “G-5” boats were produced. They were actively used in all the theatres of war, except in the North.

“G-5” was one of the most high-speed boats in the world and was armed very well for her displacement. She was suited for daring attacks on the still water. Foreign boats of the same displacement were usually armed with less powerful torpedoes of 450 – 457-mm caliber. But the advantages of the boats were accompanied by disadvantages. The redan that allowed attaining high speed also was the reason for the high yawing and loss of speed on the waves. In heavy seas at full speed the boat was beaten by the waves. Heavy splashing hampered the work of the crew and observation. This in turn decreased the accuracy of torpedo and machine-gun firing.


G-5 series VII, factory №194.
The most numerous series of G-5 boats. It was originally armed with the kwim DA machine guns that were lately replaced by the single DShK.
 Displacement  14,98 tons
 Length  19,08 m
 Width  3,33 m
 Draught  1,2 m
 Machinery  2 х 850 h.p. GAM-34BS
 Full speed  51 kts
 Economical speed  31 kts
 Radius at full speed  160 miles
 Radius at economical speed  200 miles
 Armament  2 TA х 533mm, 1 х 12,7mm DSHK


G-5 series XI, factory №194.
The last prewar series. On some of the boats of the series two DShK machine guns were installed and the durability of the hull was increased.
 Displacement  17,84 tons
 Length  19,08 m
 Width  3,33 m
 Draught  1,02 m
 Machinery  2 х 850 h.p. GAM-34BS
 Full speed  51 kts
 Economical speed  31 kts
 Radius at full speed  160 miles
 Radius at economical speed  200 miles
 Armament  2 TA х 533mm, 1 х 12,7mm DSHK


G-5 series XI-mod., factory №532.
The Black Sea boats, they were manufactured in Kerch. Just as boats of X series they were armed with the more powerful modification of the GAM engine.
 Displacement  17,17 tons
 Length  19,08 m
 Width  3,33 m
 Draught  1,22 m
 Machinery  2 х 1000 h.p. GAM-34F
 Full speed  54 kts
 Economical speed  36 kts
 Radius at full speed  156 miles
 Radius at economical speed  255 miles
 Armament  2 TA х 533mm, 1 х 12,7mm DSHK


Tank Brigades, Stalingrad 1942

133rd Tank Brigade’s had nearly 17 heavy KV tanks. At the start of the battle on September 13, 1942, the 62nd Army had some 105 tanks (78 T-34s, 17 KV-1s and ten T-70s) in Stalingrad: in the city south of the Tsaritsa were the 26th and 133rd Tank Brigades with 35 tanks. In the central district were the 6th and 6th Guards Tank Brigades with 37 tanks, and near the Red October Factory in the north were the 27th and 189th Tank Brigades with 33 tanks. However, many of these AFVs were immobile and could only be used as fixed firing points.


One of the destroyed tanks of the 6th Tank Brigade at the intersection of Nevskaya and Karskaya streets, Zapolotnovsky district.


Disabled KV-1 from the 133rd Tank brigade on Sovetskaya Street, coming from the Astrakhansky bridge (October 1942)

In mid-July the Red Army began its defensive plan for Stalingrad by creating a new Stalingrad Front, its command transferred from Marshal of the Soviet Union Semyon Timoshenko to Lieutenant-General Vasily Gordov on July 23. Stalin reinforced the theatre with three fresh reserve armies (the 63rd, 62nd, 64th), the latter two (commanded by Major-General Vladimir Kolpakchi and Lieutenant-General Vasily Chuikov, respectively) being placed on the west bank of the Don to block any direct German advance to the city. In addition, two new tank armies, the 1st and the 4th, were formed and headed for deployment in the Don Bend.

Stalingrad itself was prepared for battle by the evacuation of livestock and food supplies, and the construction of bunkers, trenches and gun emplacements. Two days after Directive No. 45 was issued, the 6. Armee was dead in its tracks for lack of supplies, and was to remain so until the end of the first week of August, but now it was up against the new Stalingrad Front. This comprised seven armies, three of them fresh reserve armies and two in the process of conversion to tank armies, as well as the 8th Air Army. Paulus’s force of 290 panzers was thus facing over 1,200 Red Army tanks with more on the way.

The Stalingrad offensive got off to an inauspicious start as General der Panzertruppen Friedrich Paulus’s 6. Armee soon was struggling in front of stiffening resistance. The lead units encountered the main line of resistance of the Soviet 62nd and 64th Armies on July 23. Although seriously low on fuel and supplies, Paulus began to unseat Kolpakchi’s right flank and push him towards the Don to reach the strategic bridge over the river at Kalach. Significant Soviet armoured forces were sent to the Kalach bridgehead to bolster the position and by the 24th plans had been formulated for a counter-attack by the 1st and 4th Tank Armies, which included the 133rd and 158th Heavy Tank Brigades. Between July 25 and 28, 550 Soviet tanks were committed in the offensive to relieve the 62nd Army, being hammered mercilessly by the Luftwaffe on the open steppe while Paulus tried to hold on to and even complete his encirclement of the 62nd Army.

The first assault on Stalingrad city began at 13 of September 1942 Wehrmacht formations (295th and 71th Infantry Divisions of the 6. Armee, reinforced with SPGs of the 244th and 245th assault gun battalions) reached the western outskirts of the city from the Razgulyaevka road junction and railroad station Opytnaya near the height 112.5 and Aviagorodok. Soldiers of 42th Separate Rifle Brigade in their trenches near Dubovaya Balka would fight for four more days in half-encirclement before starting to retreat under constant German fire alongside Tsartitsa river to the banks of the Volga.

4. Panzer Armee units (24th and 14th Panzer divisions, 94th Infantry and 29th Motorized divisions) reached Stalingrad to the south of the Tsaritsa basin cutting off Chuikov’s 62nd Army from Shumilov’s 64th Army at the line between Minin outskirts – Kuporosny village – unfinished Amusement Park at the border between Kirov and Voroshilov districts of the city. Soon this area will become an arena for fierce fighting of 64th Army and their attempts to force their way back to the north.

The air was completely dominated by the Luftwaffe, the German spotters had the heights on the outskirts and almost the entire city which was stretched in the arc along the river could be seen like the palm of your own hand.

The headquarters of the 62nd Army (Pushkinskaya St., Building 3, underground command post) in the central district of the city and the main ferries were almost entirely undefended. Only the remains of the 272nd NKVD regiment reinforced by 28th detachment of anti-tank dogs were trying to entrench in the area of the Komsomolsky garden in the grove near train station. Soldiers of 84th separate construction battalion were building defensive positions in the ruins of the Stalingrad-I railway station and depot. The ferries were defended by cadets of the Ordzhonikidze Military School (115 soldiers) and several border guards from the 79th Border Guard Regiment. A joint force of people’s militia and NKVD (45 people) operated at the square of January 9. An armored train cruised along the Volga coast, several gun crews from the 748th anti-aircraft artillery regiment were entrenched near the Holzhunov monument (ferry No.2), covering the pier from the air.

The situation to the south of the Tsaritsa, in the area of mill (grain silos) and a cannery plant, was no better: the 35th Guards Rifle Division, the 244th Rifle Division, the 10th Rifle Brigade, the 271st NKVD Regiment and the 20th Motor Rifle Brigade were marked on the army maps in that area but existed only on paper. Their actual combat strength was only few hundred of men. The only mobile reserve, two battalions of KV-1 heavy tanks (14 vehicles) from the 133rd Tank brigade, defended the approaches to the grain silos.

Monday of the September 14 began very early. At 03:30 the 272nd Regiment of the 10th Division of NKVD, the combined regiment of the 399th Rifle Division and the surviving tanks of the 6th Tank Brigade made an attempt to take back the settlement by the airfield as Germans captured it by the evening of the previous day. The attack took place without recon, artillery preparation, aviation support and with no support from the neighbours on the right and left flanks. Commander of the battalion of the 272nd Regiment Dmitry Stupin and the senior political officer Vladimir Partugimov were killed after the attempt to personally lead the attack. The commanding officers of the combined regiment simply fled, the regiment commander and the commissar were shot the next day.

One of the few remaining T-34s of the 6th Tank brigade was the tank of Lieutenant Mikhail Vlasenko. He fought for ten hours straight on the previous day, constantly changing positions between the height of 112.5 and the Airfield settlement. The officers of the 6th Tank brigade was hastily evacuated the command post in the Aviagorodok to the river crossing and the remaining tanks of the brigade were left without control. Vlasenko’s tank broke one of its tracks, the turret was jammed. The loader was unable to withstand the tension of the battle and fled. The remaining crew (Vlasenko himself, driver Ivan Lyashenko and radio operator Norkin) repaired the track under fire and after avoiding an air attack took a position near the buildings of the Krasnie Kazarmy complex.

After a doomed attack attempt by the weakened units of the 62nd Army, the infantry and panzer divisions of the two German armies began their advance to the city. It was necessary to hold them out for the whole day before the arrival of the relatively fresh 13th Guards Rifle Division. The entire frontline of the 62nd Army from Mamayev Kurgan to the central railway station was wide open. After the aerial bombardment and artillery preparation, the infantry of the 71st and 295th Infantry divisions with the support of assault guns attacked. The goal for the Wehrmacht soldiers was simple – to break through all the way to the bank of Volga and the crossings.

Russia Buks

Buk-M1-2 air defence system in 2010. Command post 9C470M1-2, TELAR 9A310M1-2 and a TEL 9A39M1-2 from the backside.

The Buk-M1 (SA-11 Gadfly to NATO) can be used by minimally trained operators to deliver a lethal attack, without the safeguards built into other comparable GBADS, an Aviation Week analysis shows. It is also one of the two GBADS – both of Soviet origin – that are most widely distributed in conflict zones with the potential for large-scale, crossborder or civil violence.

The feature that makes the Buk-series weapons uniquely dangerous was introduced in the 1970s when Tikhomirov NIIP, now part of Almaz-Antey, designed the system to replace the 2K12 Kub low-altitude missile system, known to NATO as the SA-6 Gainful. (The similar names are coincidental: “Kub” means “cube” and “Buk” means “beech.”)

Kub was exported to Egypt after the destruction of that nation’s air force in a low-level air strike in 1967, and proved lethal in the 1973 Yom Kippur war. But it had a serious weakness in that it could engage only one target at a time. A Kub battery included one radar vehicle and four launch vehicles and used semi-active radar homing (SARH) guidance. The radar vehicle carried two antennas, a search radar and a continuous-wave tracker-illuminator, and the missile homed on to energy from the illuminator beam that was reflected from the target. With one illuminator per battery, the system could not start a second engagement until the previous missile had hit the target.

In the 1982 Lebanon war, the Israel Defense Force – Air Force launched a wave of decoys against Kubs and other GBADS. Once the Kubs locked onto the decoys they were unable to respond to the IDF-AF fighters that appeared next, and were destroyed.

The designers of the replacement Buk system had anticipated this problem. In addition to a new radar vehicle – the Phazotron 9S18M, Snow Drift to NATO – they fitted each launch vehicle with its own X-band multi-mode radar, under a radome on the front of the rotating launch platform. The vehicle is defined as a transporter/erector/launcher and radar (Telar). Similar to a fighter radar, the Telar radar (known to NATO as Fire Dome) has search, track and illuminator functions and can scan through a 120-deg. arc, independent of the movement of the platform.

This feature may have been a crucial factor in the destruction of MH17. The Fire Dome radar’s main job was to permit simultaneous engagement of more targets – one per Telar – under control of the battery’s 9S18M Snow Drift. But the Soviet military and the designers installed a set of backup modes that would permit the Telars to detect and attack targets autonomously, in the event the Snow Drift was shut down or destroyed by NATO’s rapidly improving anti-radar missiles. The autonomous modes are intended for last-ditch use by the Telar operators, not the more highly trained crews in the battery command vehicle. According to an experienced analyst of Russian-developed radar, the automatic radar modes display targets within range. The operator can then command the system to lock up the target, illuminate and shoot.

Critically, these backup modes also bypass two safety features built into the 9S18M Snow Drift radar: a full-function identification friend-or-foe (IFF) system and non-cooperative target recognition (NCTR) modes. The IFF system uses a separate interrogator located above the main radar antenna and most likely will have been upgraded to current civilian standards.

The 9S18M introduced new NCTR processing technology, according to a 1998 interview with Buk designer Ardalion Rastov. NCTR techniques are closely held, but one of the most basic – jet engine modulation, or the analysis of beats and harmonics in the radar return that are caused by engine fan or compressor blades – should easily discriminate among a 777 with high-bypass turbofans, a turboprop transport or an Su-25 attack fighter.

There is no sign of an IFF interrogator on the Buk Telar’s Fire Dome radar or elsewhere on the vehicle. In normal operation, it would not be necessary since the target’s identity would be verified (according to the prevailing rules of engagement) before target data was passed to the Telar. Other GBADS also leave identification to the main search radar and the command-and-control center; however, the launch units cannot engage and fire without central guidance. The Buk’s combination of lethality and lack of IFF/NCTR is unique.

The Buk-M1 and later derivatives, the M2 and M2E, have been deployed in 14 nations, and are operational in other areas subject to internal conflict. In January 2013, Israel launched an air strike that was apparently intended to destroy a number of Buk-M2E vehicles – the more advanced version – that were being transferred from Syria to Hezbollah forces in Lebanon. In all, Syria is reported to have possessed eight Buk-M2E batteries. Syria also operates as many as 40 S-125 (SA-3 Goa) batteries, which are reportedly being upgraded. These also are medium-range, mobile weapons, but the launch units do not have radar. The same goes for the nation’s aging Kub batteries.

Egypt has 50-plus batteries of S-125, some of which have been modernized, and has been reportedly negotiating orders for Buk-M2E systems. Yemen also has some S-125 systems. Most pre-2003 Iraqi and Libyan GBADS have been destroyed, analysts suggest.

Russian 9K33M1 ‘BUK’.

With a NATO reporting name of ‘Grizzly’ or ‘Gadfly’ these effective Surface to Air missile defence systems have been operated by many countries from the 1980s to present with the usual Russian development approach of ‘slowly but surely’ and equally Russian robustness of the torsion-bar tracked chassis. The BUK system attained Worldwide infamy recently when it was used to shoot down of a civilian airliner. The system has a range of 35 Kms and a warhead weighing some 70Kg travelling at a speed of Mach 3 these 9K37M missiles can counter most airborne targets.

The first fire unit of the new 9K317M Buk-M3 SAM system, developed and manufactured by Almaz-Antey, has been delivered. It was received in early November, together with two units of the less advanced Buk-M2, and both the Buk-M3 and Buk-M2 fire units have successfully passed acceptance testing.

The Buk-M3 has longer range and can engage more air targets than its predecessor. Its maximum range is 70km with a minimum range slated at 2.5km, while the number of targets that can be simultaneously engaged is 36.

It uses a new missile, designated 9K317M, equipped with an active-radar, fire-and-forget seeker. Each 9K316M transport-erector-launch (TEL) vehicle can take up to 12 missiles accommodated in storage and launch tubes. The 9K317M autonomous fire vehicle with guidance radar is equipped with six missiles.

Each fire unit consists of a command post, an early warning radar, two autonomous fire vehicles with guidance radars and one or two TELs and transport-reload vehicles. All use tracked chassis enabling high off-road mobility.

The 9K317M missile boasts good manoeuvrability, thanks to the gas-dynamic controls (thrust vectoring) which enables the hit-to-kill capability. The missile’s maximum speed is 1,550m/s while the maximum speed of the engaged air targets is 3,000m/s and the engagement altitude is between 50 and 115,000ft.

In addition to aircraft, cruise missiles, UAVs and helicopters, the Buk-M3 is also advertised as well suited for countering tactical ballistic missiles.

The Israel Air Force (IAF) began a series of air strikes in 2013 that reportedly targeted weapons systems that Syria was transferring to its Lebanese ally Hizbullah. These air strikes all struck targets in areas largely controlled by pro-government forces.

The first was carried out on 30 January 2013, when vehicles were destroyed at the Al-Jamraya Research Centre just northwest of Damascus. Western media reports cited unnamed US officials as saying Buk-M2E mounted on transporters had been targeted before they could be driven across the border into Lebanon. In contrast, Syrian television showed footage of 9K33 Osa SHORAD systems and a number of transport trailers that had been destroyed in the air strike.

Even if the Syrians removed Buk-M2E components from these trailers after the air strike, the presence of the SAMs would not have been indicative of an intention to transfer them outside of Syria. Tracked vehicles that are capable of severely damaging paved roads are often transported on trailers and this has been seen with Syrian Buk-M2Es heading towards Al-Mazzah Air Base west of Damascus.

At the same time, Hizbullah would not be able to operate and maintain complex systems such as Buk-M2E SAMs on its own. Furthermore, the transfer of that system to Hizbullah would put Russia under far more international pressure to discontinue arms deliveries to Syria and to concede to a UN arms embargo on the Arab country. There are other possible explanations: Syrian may have intended to deploy Buk-M2E batteries to Lebanon to defend Hizbullah positions and/or challenge the Israeli aircraft that currently operate over Lebanon with impunity, or to transfer the less sophisticated Osa SAM systems to Hizbullah.

A series of airstrikes in early May 2013 appeared to have been directed at Hizbullah-oriented weapon systems. According to an unidentified US official quoted by The New York Times , the first strike on 3 May targeted Iranian-supplied Fateh-110 surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs) under the control of Iranian Quds Force and Hizbullah personnel. The Fateh-110 is a far less sophisticated weapon system than the Buk-M2E and potentially could be operated by Hizbullah personnel.

The IAF’s unwillingness to enter Syria’s airspace indicates that its efforts to improve its IADS have been successful. Furthermore, the incorporation of modern Chinese radar systems following the 2007 incursion suggests a more robust EW network is being established, designed to limit the effectiveness of any network-centric warfare attempts to degrade it. At the same time, the more strikes that the IAF carries out, the better the chances of the Syrian Air Defence Command predicting future strikes. In doing so, the command has the ability to relocate advanced mobile systems such as the Buk-M2E and Pantsyr-S1E in an attempt to successfully repel hostile action.

Original design tree

9K37-1 ‘Buk-1’ – First Buk missile system variant accepted into service, incorporating a 9A38 TELAR within a 2K12M3 Kub-M3 battery.

9K37 ‘Buk’- The completed Buk missile system with all new system components, back-compatible with 2K12 Kub.

9K37M1 ‘Buk-M1’ – An improved variant of the original 9K37 which entered into service with the then Soviet armed forces.

9K37M1-2 ‘Buk-M1-2’ (‘Gang’ for export markets) – An improved variant of the 9K37M1 ‘Buk-M1’ which entered into service with the Russian armed forces.

9K317 ‘Ural’ – initial design of Buk-M2 which entered into service with the Russian armed forces

Backside of the 9A317 TELAR of Buk-M2E (export version) at the 2007 MAKS Airshow

Wheeled MZKT-6922 TELAR of Buk-M2EK SAM system at Kapustin Yar, 2011

9K317E ‘Buk-M2E’ – revised design for export markets

9K37M1-2A ‘Buk-M1-2A’ – redesign of Buk-M1-2 for the use of 9M317A missile

‘Buk-M2EK’ – A wheeled variant of Buk-M2 on MZKT-6922 chassis exported to Venezuela and Syria.

9K317M ‘Buk-M3’ – A SAM battalion has 36 target channels in total.


  • combat assets
  • support assets

Typical combat assets include:

  • 9S470 M1-2 command post;
  • 9S18 M1-1 target acquisition radar;
  • up to six 9A310M1-2 self-propelled launch vehicles;
  • up to six 9A39M1 launcher-loader vehicles, assigned to SPLVs;
  • up to 72 9M317 surface-to-air missiles, carried on SPLVs (up to four on each) and

LLVs (up to eight SAMs with four of them ready-to-fire on launch rails).

The support assets include maintenance and repair assets for the ADMS main elements, including tracked vehicles.

A group of up to four ADMS is provided with the following support assets:

  • maintenance and repair facilities for the ADMS elements, and an automated integrated missile test and monitoring system;
  • missile storage and transportation means (with rigging equipment to load/unload the missiles);
  • training facilities;
  • a group set of spare parts, tools and accessories for the ADMS elements.

Basic missile system specifications

Target acquisition range (by TAR 9S18M1, 9S18M1-1)

Range: 140 kilometres (87 miles)

Altitude: 60 meters – 25 kilometers (197 feet – 15.5 miles)

Firing groups in one division: up to 6 (with one command post)

Firing groups operating in a sector

90° in azimuth, 0–7° and 7–14° in elevation

45° in azimuth, 14–52° in elevation

Radar mast lifting height (for TAR 9S36): 21 meters

Reloading of 4 missiles by TEL from itself: around 15 minutes

Combat readiness time: no more than 5 minutes

Kill probability (by one missile): 90–95%

Target engagement zone


Altitude: 15 meters – 25 kilometers (50 feet – 15.5 miles)

Range: 3–42 kilometres (2–26 miles)

Tactical ballistic missiles

Altitude: 2.0–16 kilometres (1.2–9.9 miles)

Range: 3–20 kilometres (1.9–12.4 miles)

Sea targets: up to 25 kilometres (16 miles)

Land targets: up to 15 kilometres (9.3 miles)

The system is estimated to have a 70% to 93% probability of destroying a targeted aircraft per missile launched. In 1992, the system was demonstrated to be capable of intercepting Scud missiles and large rocket artillery.

NIIP 9K37/9K37M1/9K317 Buk M1/M2 Self Propelled Air Defence System / SA-11/17 Gadfly/Grizzly


Caspian Sea Monsters II


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

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

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


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

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

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

 Orlyonok (Project 904)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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