Sunday, December 30, 2018

October 7, 1941: Stalin Gets Religion

Tuesday 7 October 1941

A German Sdkfz 250 passes by Russian Eastern Orthodox Church. 7 October 1941
A German Sdkfz 250 passes by Russian Eastern Orthodox Church.
Eastern Front: On 7 October 1941, Joseph Stalin does something that only a few months previously would have been unthinkable: he lifts the ban on religion in order to boost morale. This is one of a series of moves that Stalin makes to reintroduce defunct aspects of Russian Empire ways, such as removing Kommissars from the decision-making process at all army headquarters. Due to previous persecution, in 1941 there are only about 500 churches remaining open out of the 54,000 in existence prior to World War I. However, this decision by Stalin permits thousands of Russian Orthodox churches to reopen until there ultimately are 22,000 in the 1950s.

Women of Ambulance Service receiving decorations at Buckingham Palace 7 October 1941
"Mrs. Armitage (left) and Miss Betty Leverton, of the London Auxiliary Ambulance Service, leaving after being decorated by the King at a recent Investiture at Buckingham Palace. Both received the British Empire Medal." 7 October 1941. © IWM (10556138)
The importance of this cannot be overstated. The Russian Empire prior to the 1917 Revolution was a very religious place. The Russian Orthodox Church wielded a great deal of influence and enjoyed official status. The Communist government quickly began suppressing or at least greatly discouraging religion in the 1920s. It founded the League of Militant Atheists in 1925, for instance. Suppression and discouragement of religion was a central tenet of the Soviet State, reflecting Vladimir Lenin's famous comment that:
Religion is the opium of the people: this saying of Marx is the cornerstone of the entire ideology of Marxism about religion. All modern religions and churches, all and of every kind of religious organizations are always considered by Marxism as the organs of bourgeois reaction, used for the protection of the exploitation and the stupefaction of the working class.
Given this attitude toward religion, Stalin must be very worried to go to the extreme of allowing it again.

Soviet soldiers at Kursk
A Soviet soldier kissing his Cross just before the Battle of Kursk in July 1943.
Indeed, Stalin has good cause to be worried, even frightened, by the pace of the Wehrmacht advance on 7 October 1941. The German panzers shrug off the light snowfall during the night. It melts quickly but does have the unfortunate effect of making the dirt roads even muddier than before. The panzers make good progress anyway as Soviet resistance falters. German 10th Panzer Division (General Fischer) enters the Vyazma suburbs by 10:30 and completes the city's capture later in the day. Fischer's men continue north and link up with 7th Panzer Division of Panzer Group 3 (Reinhardt). This closes another massive encirclement around more than four Soviet armies (16th, 19th, 20th, 24th and part of the 32nd Army).

Aborted prisoner swap, 7 October 1941
"A wounded German prisoner, a walking case, coming ashore from the hospital ship." This photo was taken on 7 October. It shows the end of an attempted prisoner exchange, where wounded German POWs were to be exchanged for similar British ones at New Haven and Dieppe. However, Hitler changed his mind at the last minute and blocked the exchange. The German POWs on board hospital ships HMS Dinard and St. Julian were disembarked back in England, as shown in this photo and sent back to their camps or hospitals. © IWM (A 5687).
The Soviet troops in the new pocket, however, are not beaten yet. General Yeremenko (Eremenko), who was wounded on Monday while at the front but escaped from the fast-moving spearhead of General Guderian's 2nd Panzer Army, arrives in Bryansk only to find panzers outside his headquarters and is forced to flee again. Stalin has called in Georgy Zhukov, his top man, from Leningrad to take over Ivan Konev's critical Western Front and finds there is no continuous Soviet line any longer. Zhukov has to talk Stalin out of finding Konev guilty of incompetence and executing him. Late in the day, with the situation crumbling everywhere, Stalin bows to the inevitable and orders a general withdrawal back toward Moscow.
U-190 in
U-190 was laid down on 7 October 1941. This is a photo taken of U-190 after its surrender on 14 May 1941 at Bay Bulls, Newfoundland. Note the numerous late-war enhancements, including the raised snorkel by the man which has the round Wanz radar warning receiver at the top. Behind it on the bridge is a raised periscope and a longwave antenna (starboard forward corner). The "slimming" of the deck in the foreground is not the end of the submarine but rather a cut-away upper deck which it was felt would reduce time to submerge (John Taylor, RCNVR of Hamilton, Ontario, via Bill Taylor and


Saturday, December 29, 2018

October 6, 1941: First Snowfall After Dark

Monday 6 October 1941

Luftwaffe aerial mine disarmed 6 October 1941
"On the right is Lieut Cdr John Bryan Peter Miller, GC, RNVR, (then Lieut) and left, Able Seaman John Tuckwell, GC, with the huge bomb they had rendered safe and had pulled out of the Roding River by crane." 6 October 1941 © IWM (A 29965).
Eastern Front: The original plan for Operation Barbarossa was extremely sketchy for such a massive operation. One of the odder aspects of planning was that the endpoints for the invasion were never set forth, and became vaguer and more nebulous the further along planning got. The first battle plans, prepared for the OKW by General Erich Marcks in mid-1940, actually did set forth a terminal line of the invasion. Marcks proposed the "A-A line" as the operational objective. This was to run from the northern city of Arkhangelsk on the Arctic Sea through Gorky and Rostov to the port city of Astrakhan at the mouth of the Volga on the Caspian Sea. This assumed that the European portion of Russia and its satellites was the only part of the country of any interest and importance. There, the German Army could stop and set up a sort of Linea Teutonicus beyond which whatever was left of the Soviet Union could be allowed to wither away, as it would pose no threat.

U-552 on 6 October 1941
Kptlt. Erich Topp, Lt. Weak, and the crew of U-552 as they return to St. Nazaire, France (note the victory pennants), 6 October 1941 (Buchheim, Lothar-Giinther, Federal Archive Picture 101II-MW-3676-28).
After the Marcks Plan (as it came to be called), though, the idea of any kind of ultimate objective for the Wehrmacht just kind of disappeared. The debate instead degenerated into one of whether or not it was even important to get to Moscow, let alone reach any points further east. The prevailing theory - primarily Hitler's - was that the entire Soviet Union would capitulate after a few decisive border battles destroyed the Red Army.

Senior Sergeant Ivan Lyubushkin, Hero of the Soviet Union, 6 October 1941
Senior Sergeant Ivan Lyubushkin, commander of a Red Army T-34 tank of the 4th (1st Guards) Tank Brigade, destroys 9 panzers of General Guderian's 2nd Panzer Army, 4th Panzer Division at Mtsensk on 6 October 1941. He is named a Hero of the Soviet Union on 10 October 1941. Lyubushkin's driver-mechanic is killed and his radio operator is seriously injured in the action. KIA 30 June 1942.
Nobody seemed to notice that the Soviet Union spanned eleven time zone and even the most ambitious invasion plans only contemplated occupying territory in two or three of them. There apparently was not a single proposal, let alone plan, for the Wehrmacht to drive to the Pacific. The equipment - the tanks, the assault guns, the artillery - likely never would have made it that far anyway. Ultimately, there were no ultimate objectives set, and the entire operation depended for its conclusion on the Soviets surrendering or being rendered important in their frozen eastern territories.

Berlin and Slovak police officers meet in Berlin, 6 October 1941
General von Bomhard of the Reich police greets visiting Slovak police officers in Berlin, 6 October 1941 (Federal Archive Bild 121-1046). 
Accordingly, there were wild predictions about how short Operation Barbarossa would last before achieving final victory. In Fuhrer Directive No. 21, dated 18 December 1940, Hitler reverted to the Marcks Plan, which had been completely revised in intervening months, for his objectives. That directive states in relevant part under "General Intentions":
The bulk of the Russian Army stationed in Western Russia will be destroyed by daring operations led by deeply penetrating armoured spearheads. Russian forces still capable of giving battle will be prevented from withdrawing into the depths of Russia. 
The enemy will then be energetically pursued and a line will be reached from which the Russian Air Force can no longer attack German territory. The final objective of the operation is to erect a barrier against Asiatic Russia on the general line Volga-Archangel.
While there is no exact timeframe given in Fuhrer Directive No. 21, it can be read between the lines as being extremely brief for such a major undertaking.

The commander of a Sturmgeschutz III 6 October 1941
The commander of a Sturmgeschutz III on the Eastern Front, October 1941.
The Fuhrer directive states (translations differ slightly, but this translation conveys the basic meaning) in part that:
When the battles north and south of the Pripet Marshes are ended the pursuit of the enemy will have the following aims : 
In the South the early capture of the Donets Basin, important for war industry. 
In the North a quick advance to Moscow. The capture of this city would represent a decisive political and economic success and would also bring about the capture of the most important railway junctions.
Note the key word in this selection, which is the most telling word in the entire directive: pursuit. Once the frontier battles have been won, Operation Barbarossa would turn into a pursuit of fleeing Red Army remnants. There is no more significant word in the entire collection of Fuhrer Directives than this single word pursuit.

Christening HMAS Broome, 6 October 1941
Mrs. MJ McKew christens HMAS Broome, an Australian minesweeper, at her launching on 6 October 1941.
As of 6 October 1941, there has been no "pursuit" in the Soviet Union or at least none that has lasted very long. Every step has been contested, every river has been defended, every city has been fought over and sometimes even been boobytrapped after the Red Army has left. The defense has been uncoordinated and lacking in effectiveness on many occasions, but the Red Army has been fighting all the way. Now, the best campaigning months of 1941 are already gone and it is only going to get worse before it gets better again. Given all that, the astounding underestimation of the effectiveness of Red Army opposition during the planning stage of Operation Barbarossa has not really hampered German operations yet, it just has required adjustments to compensate for a slower rate of advance than anticipated. The tanks still run, the trucks still carry supplies, the horses are still fed from grain in the fields. Move a division here, send an army there, and everything gets taken care of even if it happens a little later than planned.

Jews being deported in Poland, 6 October 1941
Jewish residents being marched out of Leslau, Wartheland (Włocławek, Pomerania), Poland, 6 October 1941 (Holtfreter, Wilhelm, Federal Archive R 49 Bild-1377).
However, everything is about to change forever, and the men on the front lines see why after dark today. The lack of effective antifreeze for trucks or tanks, the lack of chains for wheeled vehicles, the absence of winter clothing which was considered superfluous in June - all of a sudden these omissions loom large. The piles of winter gear sitting in warehouses back in Stuttgart and Mainz suddenly would be very handy at the front, but there are no plans to send them there. The reason for this change in priorities, the reason a little better planning back in the spring would have been a good idea, is very clear and right in front of everyone's eyes: after dark on 6 October 1941, it snows on the road to Moscow.

Oberst Johannes Schulz earns Knight's Cross, 6 October 1941
Oberst Johannes Schulz (3 February 1902 - 12 September 1991) earns the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross on 6 October 1941 as Major Commander of the I./Infanterie-Regiment 49.


October 5, 1941: Hoth Goes South

Sunday 5 October 1941

POW Exchange 5 October 1941
"A Luftwaffe officer prisoner is escorted down the gangplank of a hospital ship to exercise on the quayside at Newhaven, 5 October 1941. He was one of a number of German POWs awaiting repatriation in a prisoner exchange." © IWM (H 14474).
Eastern Front: There are many command changes during World War II on both sides. However, on 5 October 1941, the Wehrmacht makes a seemingly routine change that reverberates across the conduct of the war in the East and also reveals some unpleasant truths about the state of the Wehrmacht in 1941.

Peterhof Memorial 5 October 1941
The Peterhof Memorial. This commemorates a failed Soviet landing at Peterhof Palace at Petergof, Leningrad on 5 October 1941. The Soviets landed 510 troops with the intent of seizing the town, which the Germans had captured on 23 September, and blocking the highway. The landing was a complete and utter disaster, with the German defenders killing or capturing the entire landing party by 7 October.
The southern flank of the German advance during Operation Barbarossa has been both the most and the least, successful of the three main prongs of the offensive. While it is the only army group that has actually met its main objective by capturing Kiev, this required a diversion of the main striking power from Army Group Center, namely General Guderian's Panzer Group 2, to the south. The major port city of Odessa has been given to the Romanians to subdue, and while it now is far behind the main front, the Soviets there still hold out. Dissatisfaction at the pace of operations throughout the sector under the leadership of Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt has been growing for weeks.

Oberleutnant Peter Kiesgen 5 October 1941
Oberleutnant Peter Kiesgen wins the Knight's Cross on 5 October 1941. Kiesgen is Führer (Leader) of 1./Infanterie-Regiment 239 of the 106. Infanterie-Division. Note the five tank destruction badges on his sleeve, earned by personally destroying an enemy tank. He also is wearing the Infantry Assault Badge, Iron Cross First and Second Class, Wounded Badge in Black and on the right-center pocket the Spanish Cross in Bronze with Swords. Obviously, Kiesgen is a veteran of the Spanish Civil War and someone who engages in combat.
The commander of 11th Army at the extreme south of the line at the start of Operation Barbarossa, Colonel-General Eugen Ritter von Schobert, perished on 12 September 1941 when his Fiesler Storch observation plane landed in a minefield. He was replaced by General Erich von Manstein, previously a corps commander. On 5 October 1941, the army holding the line just to the north of 11th Army, 17th Army, also gets a new commander. However, this command change is a little different and has nothing to do with anyone dying. Instead, the reason is a little more subtle and much more complex.

General of Infantry Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel 5 October 1941
General of Infantry Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel.
General of the Infantry Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel is a World War I veteran and a former Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Army. However, his actual command experience is very limited. General Franz Halder, Chief of Staff of OKH, has been hinting in his diary that von Stülpnagel's performance has been unacceptable. For instance, on 3 October 1941 Halder cryptically wrote in his war diary that:
Regrouping of Sixth and Seventeenth Army has been initiated. The method chosen by the Army Group, to order the two left-wing Corps of Seventeenth Army to strike northeast, under its direct control, for the time being, is an indication of tensions within the Army Group.
The next day, on 4 October 1941, Halder wrote the following:
[17th Army] Commanding General, von Stülpnagel, has reported sick. This illness is the result of the pressure brought to bear on him because of his timid leadership. Intervention by the Army Group a few days ago in taking the command of his northern wing out of his hands and so getting the movement underway again, probably is as much a cause of this illness as is the letter from the Army Commanding General.
It is very rare for Halder to be openly caustic about his colleagues in his war diary, so to see him openly calling von Stülpnagel "timid" is shocking. This is about the worst thing that a commanding general can be called during the war on either side and invariably leads to their replacement. Being too aggressive can be worse than being too timid, but it seldom gets a general fired.

Panamanian 744-ton freighter SS C. Jon 5 October 1941
Panamanian 744-ton freighter SS C. Jon, sunk southwest of Ireland on 5 October 1941 by U-204.
Von Stülpnagel's history of riding a desk may be one cause of this "timidness." However, there may be a darker reason that Halder does not know. For some time, von Stülpnagel has been a secret opponent of Hitler. Like many of the generals, von Stülpnagel was upset by the Blomberg–Fritsch affair in January 1938. The Sudeten Crisis later in 1938 changed von Stülpnagel from being a passive resister to an active one. He initiated contact with the Schwarze Kapelle (Black Orchestra, a group of officers within the Wehrmacht who wished to overthrow Hitler) and revealing the secret plan for the invasion of Czechoslovakia. He remained a conspirator for the rest of his life. Thus, von Stülpnagel does not his heart in German conquest, which may explain his "timid" leadership.

Above is a Krupp 28-cm-Kanone 5 (E) targeting Dover from across the English channel during October 1941.

Having reported himself sick, which is a typical ruse by German generals to resign without actually resigning, von Stülpnagel needs to be replaced. The German high command now makes the utterly unfathomable decision to replace von Stülpnagel with Hermann Hoth, the commander of Panzer Group 3. There are several reasons why this is odd. Hoth is a panzer expert, one of the best of World War II, and 17th Army is not a panzer formation. In addition, Hoth has been having great success with his command of Panzer Group 3, which is about to be upgraded to a full Panzer Army. Finally, Panzer Group 3 is in an absolutely critical situation, being the left arm of the Wehrmacht's advance on Moscow. Replacing its commander at such a critical juncture is just asking for trouble. Hoth is replaced at Panzer Group 3 by General Georg-Hans Reinhardt, the commander of XLI Panzer Corps. While Reinhardt is a capable officer, switching command right as the panzer group is delicately trying to execute a movement that may determine the outcome of the entire war is a very risky decision. In addition, Reinhardt also will have to be replaced in his critical position in Panzer Group 3. This is akin to taking a winning formula and starting from scratch.

General Hermann Hoth 5 October 1941
General Hermann Hoth.
It is unclear why Hoth is forced to move at this time from a critical point on the front to an unimportant, but a hardly critical, area. The reason may be that Field Marshal von Rundstedt in charge of the army group is the senior officer in the Wehrmacht and basically has his pick of replacements. He previously chose Manstein for 11th Army because they had worked together well in planning the successful invasion through the Ardennes in 1940. Hoth is a dashing, aggressive tactician who does not carry the baggage of General Guderian at Panzer Group 2, who is well known to be a difficult subordinate. General Hoth can be expected to be aggressive without becoming a problem, exactly what von Rundstedt needs.

POW Exchange 5 October 1941
German Prisoners being loaded on ships in exchange for British prisoners waiting in Dieppe, France, 5 October 1941. There were several such trips during this exchange, including German women nurses repatriated for British nurses.
How this impacts Operation Typhoon, the drive to Moscow, is not really his concern - German generals are notorious for only worrying about their own operations and not those being handled by other commands. However, from a larger perspective, removing a successful commander such as Hoth from an absolutely critical operation, the advance on Moscow, is not positive for the German war effort. It is one of those oft-overlooked "details" that can be the difference between ultimate victory and defeat.

White Tower hamburger joint in NY 5 October 1941
October 1941. An exterior view of the White Tower (called "White Tavern" in the LOC captions and eventually to be called "White Castle") restaurant in Amsterdam, New York. Medium format nitrate negative by John Collier for the Farm Security Administration. 


Friday, December 28, 2018

October 4, 1941: Stalin Contemplates Defeat

Saturday 4 October 1941

Hitler Keitel Halder Brauchitsch 4 October 1941
Adolf Hitler meets with Chief of the OKW Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of the General Staff of the OKH Colonel General Halder, and Commander-in-Chief of the Army Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch. This is at the headquarters of the Army High Command and the occasion is Brauchitsch's 60th birthday (Federal Archives Picture 183-L20362).
Eastern Front: There are many dark moments during World War II for Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Among these are the first days of Operation Barbarossa, when he unsuccessfully begs Hitler for peace via a Bulgarian emissary. Perhaps the greatest, however, is in the first two weeks of October. On 4 October 1941, signs begin to emerge that Stalin fears that the war is lost and all that is left is to await the end. Today, we might say that Stalin is "losing his nerve."

Panzer 38(t) 20th Panzer Division near Leningrad 4 October 1941
20th Panzer Division troops of Army Group North supported by a Panzer 38(t) made in Czechoslovakia enter a pine grove near Leningrad during October 1941. To be more precise, that is Panzerkampfwagen 38 (t) Ausf. S (Sd.Kfz. 140) Nr. 9 (Gebauer, Federal Archive Bild 101I-213-0267-13).
Lieutenant-General Ivan Konev is the commander of Western Front. This force is defending the high road to Moscow that runs through Minsk and Smolensk. Currently, Konev's troops are fighting the Vyazma Defensive Operation and having a very tough time of it, with German pincers threatening a massive encirclement at Vyazma - the last major city before Moscow. Loss of Western Front, whose main component is the Konev's former command 19th Army (General M.F. Lukin) would make a successful defense of Moscow extremely difficult. Konev recalls:
On 4 October I reported to Stalin about the situation in the Western Front and about the enemy penetration of the Reserve Front... and also about the threat of a large enemy grouping reaching our forces' rear area...Stalin listened to me, however, made no decision. Communications were disrupted and further conversation ceased.
To sum up, Stalin is paralyzed and incapable of making decisions. However, in the Soviet state, nobody dares to make any decisions on their own without approval from the Stavka - and Stalin controls the Stavka. It is a very dangerous situation for the Red Army.

Illustrated London News 4 October 1941
The Illustrated London News, October 4, 1941.
Stalin has good reason to be scared. German General Erich Hoepner's Panzer Group 4, composed primarily of LVI Panzer Corps (Erich von Manstein) and XLI Panzer Corps (George-Hans Reinhardt) is attacking Vyazma from the south while General Hermann Hoth's Panzer Group 3 is approaching it from the north. Should those two forces meet in the vicinity of Vyazma, the Red Army could lose another massive force (31 Rifle Divisions, 3 Cavalry Divisions, 2 Motorized Divisions, and 3 tank Brigades). Today, Hoepner eliminates Soviet 33rd and 43rd Armies as it captures Kirov and Spa-Demensk, not far to the southwest of Vyazma. Soviet Group (Ivan) Boldin is counterattacking Hoth's panzers, but Hoth, having reached an area southwest of Belyi, decides to head due east to sideslip the Soviet defenders for a deeper encirclement. Hoth also sends VI Army Corps north to take Belyi, which the Soviets contest bitterly.

USS Mississippi 4 October 1941
USS Mississippi (BB-41) and RN destroyers at Hvalfjordur, Iceland on 4 October 1941 (US Navy).
Stalin's refusal to issue orders means that the endangered Soviet troops are not authorized to retreat. Without authorization to retreat, no Soviet commanders will issue such orders lest they suffer the same fate as generals like Pavlov in the early days of the war who were shot for "cowardice." Thus, another situation like Kiev is developing, where any retreat orders may be issued too late and a giant hole may be blown through the Soviet lines - one that points directly at Moscow.

USS Ranger and SB2U Vindicator 4 October 1941
SB2U Vindicator code 42-S-17 of VS-42 in flight over the carrier USS Ranger CV-4 sometime during October 1941 (US Navy).
As with all other successful German offensives, the Luftwaffe has complete control of the skies. Air support is a critical component of the Blitzkrieg formula, and there are many top German aces clearing the way for the army. Luftwaffe fighter squadron JG 27 has a particularly good day, with the pilots starting early in the morning and flying multiple missions. Oblt. Erbo Graf von Kageneck of 9./JG 27 claims three Soviet planes - a DB-3, an SB-2, and a Pe-2 - and finishes the day with 60 victories. Ofw. Erwin Sallwisch of Stab/JG 27 (the headquarters group) claims four Soviet I-18 planes during the day. Top ace Hannes Trautloft of the same group downs an I-26, while several other JG 27 pilots also claim victories.

Kovno Small Ghetto Action 4 October 1941
"Jews move their household possessions to new quarters following the Small Ghetto Action of October 4, 1941." (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of George Kadish/Zvi Kadushin).
It is a virtual shooting gallery in the skies because these are areas the Red Air Force must defend, and so they are forced to do battle and be shot down. However, there are always more Soviet planes to replace the ones lost, which may be welcomed by victory-hungry Luftwaffe pilots but which is a troubling omen for the future.

Glynis Johns of movie "49th Parallel" on Picture Post cover, 4 October 1941
Starlet Glynis Johns on the cover of Picture Post magazine, 4 October 1941. She is promoting her 1941 film "49th Parallel," a British propaganda film about German sailors on the run in Canada. Incidentally, Glynis Johns, born in Pretoria, South Africa, is still alive as of 2019, though, apparently, she retired at the very end of the 20th Century. She was in Sandra Bullock's 1995 film "While You Were Sleeping" and in "Superstar" (1999).


Thursday, December 27, 2018

October 3, 1941: Air Battles Near Moscow

Friday 3 October 1941

Riga 3 October 1941
War damage in Riga, the capital of Latvia, on 3 October 1941 (AP).
Eastern Front: While the Luftwaffe maintains clear aerial supremacy over the Soviet Air Force, one of the informal rules that German fighter pilots like to follow is to not stray too far past the front. While this is to some degree because their main purpose in the overall scheme things is to support the ground troops, around which the entire Luftwaffe has been developed, there is a deeper impulse at work. Quite simply, German pilots do not want to be shot down and captured. Unlike England, where Luftwaffe airman can be assured of fairly correct treatment, the Soviet Union is not known for treating downed airman fairly well. In fact, this is simply reciprocity for how Soviet prisoners are treated by the Germans. It is a savage war and especially savage if you are taken as a prisoner.

South Shields England 3 October 1941
Damage from a Luftwaffe attack on South Shields Market Place, 3 October 1941, the morning after the attack.
On 3 October 1941, though, the German offensive in the middle of the Eastern Front, Operation Typhoon, is rolling toward Moscow and the Luftwaffe decides to establish aerial supremacy in that direction. So, in the morning, the German pilots of JG 51 and JG 54 engage in fierce battles around the Soviet capital. As usual, the Luftwaffe pilots do quite well and make several claims against the Red Air Force. Oblt. Erbo Graf von Kageneck of 9./JG 27, for instance, shoots down an I-18 fighter north of Vyazma for his 57th victory.

Heinrich Hoffmann KIA 3 October 1941
Luftwaffe ace Heinrich Hoffmann, KIA 3 October 1941.
The day is not a complete success for the Luftwaffe, however. Oberfeldwebel (Staff Sergeant) Heinrich Hoffmann, an ace ("experte") with 63 victories who has just moved south with his group from the Leningrad Front to support Operation Typhoon, goes missing. It is assumed that he perishes in a crash, but if not, he may wind up wishing that he had. There is conjecture that Soviet 233 IAP's (233rd Fighter Aviation Regiment) Starshiy Leytenant Sergeyev is the one to shoot him down at Shatalovo, Chernsky District, Tula Oblast (south-southwest of Moscow) on 19 October 1941, the 36th officer or soldier of the Wehrmacht so honored.  south of Moscow), but this is just conjecture based upon a post-war review of loss claims. Hoffmann in his Messerschmitt Bf 109F-2 Werknummer (factory number) 12876 just disappears after engaging with several Soviet Il-2s. The loss is deeply felt, and Hoffmann posthumously is awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub) on 19 October 1941. He thus becomes the 36th officer or soldier of the Wehrmacht so honored, and also the first made posthumously and the first made to any non-commissioned officer.

South Shields England 3 October 1941
South Shields, England on 3 October 1941 after a Luftwaffe raid by about 50 bombers. The Luftwaffe objective was the Tyne Bridge, a key link between Scotland and England. However, they attacked the River Drive bridge of somewhat similar appearance that passed over some railway lines (this bridge was not hit). This damage was caused by bombs that overshot that target. There were 68 deaths and 117 seriously wounded, including many from a direct hit on an air raid shelter.
Hoffmann, obviously, was a highly valued pilot. He had the distinction of being "ace in a day" twice, just like Chuck Yeager would do for the USAAF in 1944. Of more immediate concern to his fellow pilots, though, is that Hoffmann just vanishes and is never heard from again. Pilots notice these things about their comrades. This incident reinforces the latent fear that all German pilots have about operating over enemy territory. The lesson from this and many similar incidents is clear: no matter how tempting it may be to seek out prey behind enemy lines, don't do it. Having your plane disabled there is an almost certain death sentence unless you somehow manage to sneak back to German lines. Life is short, and it becomes a whole lot shorter if the Soviets capture you.

German troops in Russia 3 October 1941
A German anti-tank gun being hauled into position on the Russian front on Oct. 3, 1941, likely in the Operation Typhoon sector. The Russians have set fire to the buildings before withdrawing. (AP Photo).
On the ground, Operation Typhoon is going very well, helped immeasurably by the Luftwaffe's dominance. Hermann Hoth's Panzer Group 3 reaches the Dnepr River at Kholm-Zhirkovskii and seizes two bridges intact. However, all this activity is putting a real strain on the Germans' equipment. OKH Chief of Staff General Halder notes in his daily war diary:
On Hoth's northern wing there are complaints about the deficient mobility of 1st Panzer Division. Small wonder, for the division comes straight from the battle of Leningrad, without a pause for rest and refitting. It will probably be the same story with Nineteenth and Twentieth Panzer Divisions.
The German forces are still strong despite these complaints. Hoth's panzers shrug off a weak counterattack south of the town by Soviet Group Boldin. However, the effects of Field Marshal von Leeb's decision to use his panzers in a pointless attack on Leningrad just before shifting them south to the Moscow front as ordered is having its foreseeable effect on the far more important operations on the road to the Soviet capital.

U-570 aka HMS Graph 3 October 1941
Captured German U-boat U-570 arrives in Barrow-in-Furness sailed by a Royal Navy crew on 3 October 1941. The Royal Navy captured U-570 on 27 August 1941, repaired it in Iceland in great secrecy, and later put it into Royal Navy service as HMS Graph.
General Guderian's Panzer Group 2 (the 4th Armored Division of the 24th Motorized Corps) captures Orel, 120 miles off the original front and only 220 miles south-southwest of Moscow. In retrospect, the capture of Orel can be seen as Guderian's greatest and longest-lasting triumph during Typhoon, though nobody can know that now, of course. The jaws of another gigantic Wehrmacht pincer threaten to close around the Soviet Bryansk Front (3rd, 13th and 50th Armies under the command of General Andrey Yeremenko/Eremenko), which would blow a hole in the Soviet defenses in front of Moscow. The German advance is so swift and unexpected that 10th Panzer Division (General Fischer) captures Red Army columns moving west from the vicinity of Moscow at Mozaisk, which falls.

Axis troops at Salla, Finland, 3 October 1941
Wehrmacht troops using horse-drawn carts to move their supplies near Salla, Finland during October 1941.
Operation Typhoon is all going exactly as the Germans hoped. It is going so well, in fact, that Adolf Hitler makes a radio address from the Berlin Sportpalast to the people of the Reich declaring "… that this enemy [the Soviet Union] is already broken and will never rise again." He adds that the Soviet Union was "to a great extent" already destroyed and that Germany had the capability to "beat all possible enemies" no matter "how many billions they are going to spend." This comment suggests that Hitler has very good sources of information in high Allied circles because the Moscow Conference just ended on the 1st at which the United States pledged a billion dollars in aid - and it is quite a coincidence for Hitler to mention that sum. In any event, Hitler certain has grounds for confidence. The Soviet defense is weak and uncoordinated. However, there is still a lot of ground to cover before the actual attack on Moscow can start, so time is of the essence before the weather changes.

USS Iowa under construction 3 October 1941
Battleship USS Iowa under construction at the New York Navy Yard in Brooklyn. This is looking aft from the bow area (that is the barbette for turret No. 2 at the bottom). The US Navy is in the process of building many new battleships and Essex-class aircraft carriers.
India: Mohandas Gandhi suggests using passive resistance techniques against the British. While hardly a supporter of the Axis, Gandhi wishes to hamper the British war effort in order to convince them to leave their colonial empire in India. This does not have immediate effects, but will after the war.

Vidkun Quisling administer oath to Den Norske Legion, 3 October 1941
Vidkun Quisling (who may be barely visible to the right) administers the oath of service to Den Norske Legion (Norwegian Legion) in Norway, 3 October 1941.
American Homefront: Ernest Evans is born in Spring Gully, South Carolina. He becomes a renowned singer and dancer under the stage name Chubby Checker and is considered a pioneer of rock 'n roll. Among his top hits is "The Twist," which Billboard Magazine has determined is the most popular single to appear in its Hot 100 list since its debut in 1958. As of 2019, Chubby Checker is still active in the music scene.

Lincoln Borglum 3 October 1941
Lincoln Borglum, who completed Mount Rushmore started by his father Gutzom Borglum, goes over the side of the mountain to mark out the final work on the face of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln in Keystone, S.D. on Oct. 3, 1941. Work on Mount Rushmore ended on 31 October 1941 (AP Photo).


Wednesday, December 26, 2018

October 2, 1941: Operation Typhoon Broadens

Thursday 2 October 1941

Finnish tanks 2 October 1941
Finnish troops at Petrozavodsk (Äänislinna), 2 October 1941.
Eastern Front: While Operation Typhoon got off to an early start at the end of September when General Guderian's Panzer Group 2 launched its attacks, the main offensive involving the rest of the army begins on 2 October 1941. Adolf Hitler issues an Order of the Day to the entire German Army (Heer) that makes clear his intentions in the lengthy order which is read out to the troops. It reads in part:
Today begins the last great, decisive battle of this year. It will hit this enemy destructively and with it the instigator of the entire war, England herself. For if we crush this opponent, we also remove the last English ally on the Continent. Thus we will free the German Reich and entire Europe from a menace greater than any since the time of the Huns and later of the Mongol tribes.
As usual, Hitler goes to great pains to place the blame for the entire war on England. This is an odd thing to do when encouraging his troops to attack east, and it would have been fair for his troops to wonder why they are attacking east when England lies to the west. But, as usual, Hitler includes some very tortured reasoning to justify his position even if it isn't particularly inspiring for the actual battle he is writing the order about.

Paris Synagogue attacks 2 October 1941
October 2, 1941 marks the beginning of the Jewish celebration of Yom Kippur. In Paris, certain extreme elements of French society attack Jewish-owned businesses and similar places in a "mini-Kristallnacht." They also plant bombs in many synagogues that explode in the early morning hours of the 3rd.  
On a more general note, Hitler's Order of the Day revealing in other ways, too. It is full of anti-Semitic rhetoric which pins the blame for Germany's problems on the usual suspects:
This is a result of nearly a 25-year Jewish rule that, as Bolshevism, is basically similar to the general form of capitalism. The bearers of this system in both cases are the same: Jews and only Jews.
If anyone ever wonders why there are so many atrocities on the Eastern Front by the Wehrmacht, one need look no further than orders like this one of 2 October 1941. What somewhat ironic is that Stalin is not particularly a friend of the Jews either, but details like that don't enter into Hitler's worldview.

Illustrierter Beobachter 2 October 1941
German Army commander von Brauchtisch is pictured on the cover of the 2 October 1941 ILLUSTRIERTER BEOBACHTER. This is an illustrated propaganda magazine for the German NSDAP party. It is distinctly anti-Semitic and trumpets Adolf Hitler's arguments about England being the "instigator" of the war and similar ideologically driven viewpoints.
As with many orders issuing from the Fuhrer's Headquarters, it is unclear how the ordinary rank and file feel about this one. For instance, it is the last battle - of 1941. Even that is slightly disingenuous because, as OKH Chief of Staff Franz Halder has noted previously in his daily war diary, Moscow is still far away and it will take an entire campaign just to come close enough to the Soviet capital to actually attack it. Thus, it will take more than one battle for the Wehrmacht to end 1941 successfully, and perhaps many more - assuming that it does end successfully, that is.

Paris Synagogue attacks 2 October 1941
The Synagogue of Montmartre was among those damaged in the attacks of 2 October 1941 (Federal Archive Bild 183-S69265).
Five major German formations - Panzer Group 3 (Colonel General Hermann Hoth), Panzer Group 4 (Colonel General Erich Hoepner), and 2nd Army, 4th Army, and 9th Army - now join General Guderian's Panzer Group 2 coming up from the southwest. It is a more powerful combination of forces than at any time to date in the war, and they all are pointed directly at Moscow. Panzer Group 3 advances five miles between Soviet 19th and 30th Army, Panzer Group 4 in the north advances 25 miles, and gains are achieved all up and down the line. General Guderian is so confident that he splits his forces into two prongs at Sevsk, one heading toward Bryansk and the other toward Orel. The Soviet defenses appear to be crumbling, and the German field marshals and generals breathe a sigh of relief that the final assault on Moscow has come late, but not too late.

World Series 2 October 1941
In the United States, the second game of the World Series is played between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers takes place on 2 October 1941. Here, in a classic photograph, pitcher Spud Chandler of the Yankees (notice that Chandler is wearing a jacket, as pitchers on the basepaths did at the time) is out at third at Yankee Stadium.


Tuesday, December 25, 2018

October 1, 1941: Germans and Finns Advance in USSR

Wednesday 1 October 1941

Finnish troops enter  Petrozavodsk 1 October 1941
Finnish troops enter  Petrozavodsk (Äänislinna) on 1 October 1941.
Eastern Front: The Germans score a clean breakthrough of Red Army lines on 1 October 1941 during the opening stages of Operation Typhoon, the attack toward Moscow. In his war diary, OKH Chief of Staff Franz Halder, who usually is extremely pessimistic and studied, writes in the evening what for him is a joyous assessment:
Guderian has broken clean through the enemy line with his central group and has rushed 60 km into enemy territory in a sweeping advance. His right wing, still far behind and under enemy attacks, is causing concern. His left wing has advanced about 20 km. All quiet on the rest of the front.
Even Halder believes that a 60 km breakthrough in two days is extraordinary and perhaps a sign that the Soviets are weakening across the line. His great worries that the advance on Moscow has been left too late in the season may be easing a bit.

Finnish troops enter  Petrozavodsk 1 October 1941
Finnish T-26E in  Petrozavodsk (Äänislinna), October 1, 1941.
The German XLVII Corps (motorized, General Lemelsen) captures Serek, while General von Kleist's Panzer Group 1 makes dramatic progress toward Kharkov before reorienting south toward Rostov and the Caucasus - Hitler's true goal because of its oil wealth. General Manstein's 11th Army has sealed off the Crimea forms the extreme south of the German line, with 17th Army slightly to the north.

Finnish troops enter  Petrozavodsk 1 October 1941
Finnish troops entering Petrozavodsk (Äänislinna) under smokey skies, 1 October 1941.
The Germans have 1,929,406 troops with 14,000 artillery pieces and 1000 tanks committed to the Operation Typhoon offensive, all supported by 1390 Luftwaffe planes which have aerial superiority. This is roughly two-thirds of their strength across the entire Eastern Front. While this sounds like a true juggernaut, it is nowhere close to the power that was mustered at the opening of Operation Barbarossa. However, the Soviets also are greatly weakened, so the relative strengths are comparable. The results show on the field of battle, where Guderian's Panzer Group 2 comes close to surrounding Soviet 13th Army in only two days. Operational Group Ermakov, composed of five divisions (three infantry, two cavalry, and two tank brigades) attempts a counterattack to link back up with 13th Army but fails.

Finnish troops enter  Petrozavodsk 1 October 1941
Fires burning in  Petrozavodsk (Äänislinna), 1 October 1941.
In fact, things are going well for the Axis all the way up and down the front. The Finns take Petrozavodsk (Äänislinna ) on the shores of Lake Onega, the capital of the Soviet Republic of Karelia, putting further pressure on Leningrad. While these are not decisive gains by any means, they are good omens for the future and an indication that the harsh campaign may be over before the winter snows.

Finnish troops enter  Petrozavodsk 1 October 1941
Finnish troops and civilians in  Petrozavodsk (Äänislinna), 1 October 1941.
Partisans: The German High Command feels quite confident, or perhaps relieved is a better way to describe their recent successes in the field, but is troubled by growing partisan activity. General Wilhelm issues another controversial order to address this blemish on the offensive. This order mandates that instead of just selecting random hostages from the civilian population for execution in retaliation for partisan attacks, prominent local leaders and well-known businessmen should be chosen. This, Keitel feels, will enhance the effectiveness of retaliation. Of course, everyone knows that the entire idea of shooting illegals is contrary to international law, but those are worries for another day.

Holocaust: Majdanek concentration camp becomes operational. It is intended as a work camp like Mauthausen, but 79,000 people perish there.

Finnish troops enter  Petrozavodsk 1 October 1941
Finnish bicycle troops at  Petrozavodsk (Äänislinna), 1 October 1941.

September 1941

September 1, 1941: Two Years In
September 2, 1941: Germans Pushed Back at Yelnya
September 3, 1941: FDR Refuses to Meet with Japanese
September 4, 1941: Hitler Furious at Guderian
September 5, 1941: Germans Evacuate Yelnya
September 6, 1941: Japan Prepares for War
September 7, 1941: Hitler Orders Drive on Moscow
September 8, 1941: Leningrad Cut Off
September 9, 1941: Germans Attack Leningrad
September 10, 1941: Guderian Busts Loose
September 11, 1941: Convoy SC-42 Destruction
September 12, 1941: Starve Leningrad!
September 13, 1941: Zhukov at Leningrad
September 14, 1941: Germany's Growing Casualties
September 15, 1941: Sorge Warns Stalin Again
September 16, 1941: Soviets Encircled at Kiev
September 17, 1941: Iran Conquest Completed
September 18, 1941: Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in Action
September 19, 1941: Germans Take Kiev
September 20, 1941: Death at Kiev
September 21, 1941: Raging Soviet Paranoia
September 22, 1941: Defense of Nickel Mines
September 23, 1941: Air Attacks on Leningrad
September 24, 1941: Japanese Spying Intensifies
September 25, 1941: Manstein at the Crimea
September 26, 1941: Kiev Pocket Eliminated
September 27, 1941: Massacre at Eišiškės
September 28, 1941: Ted Williams Hits .400
September 29, 1941: Babi Yar Massacre
September 30, 1941: Operation Typhoon Begins


Monday, December 24, 2018

September 30, 1941: Operation Typhoon Begins

Tuesday 30 September 1941

Hiroshi Hamaya 30 September 1941
Original caption: “Hiroshi Hamaya photographing the tank corps in Chiba, September 30, 1941. ” Hamaya was a Japanese photographer, perhaps the most famous one of World War II. He passed away in 1999.
Eastern Front: On 30 September 1941, the Wehrmacht begins its great drive on Moscow. With the codename Operation Typhoon (Unternehmen Taifun), this attack is viewed by many in the German Army as the rightful focus of Operation Barbarossa. After much hesitation, and only when it appeared that the other two main objectives of the invasion, Leningrad and Kiev, were in hand, Hitler finally agreed. Reinforced by strong units from both Army Group North and Army Group South, Army Group Center under Field Marshal Fedor von Bock now has to race against the changing seasons to accomplish the key objective of the campaign during 1941.

German machine gun squad member 30 September 1941
A member of a German machine gun squad sometime during the opening stages of Operation Typhoon ca. 30 September 1941.
Field Marshal von Bock disposes of 70 divisions for Operation Typhoon and it begins two days earlier than previously scheduled. General Heinz Guderian's Panzer Group 2 has finished the conquest of Kiev earlier than some had expected, and now it has reoriented itself to attack in the opposite direction - to the northeast - in a matter of days. While recent reports suggest that Guderian's panzer forces are only at 20% of pre-war effectiveness, they face a Red Army that just lost almost a million troops in the fighting at Kiev. There isn't an army in the world that can just shrug off the loss of a million men along with their leaders and equipment and the economic resources of a major city... or is there.

Piqua (Ohio) Daily Call 30 September 1941
Somewhat ironically on a day that the Germans launch their "final" offensive on Moscow, the outside world is being reassured that the Red Army holds the initiative. Of course, note the much smaller headline, "Report Reds are Set Back in The Ukraine," which is a classic understatement considering the recent loss of Kiev. This is the Piqua (Ohio) Daily Call of 30 September 1941. 
While the Red Army has been greatly weakened, there are several factors which count in its favor. For one, while the weather remains good for campaigning, that won't be the case for much longer. The German troops have no experience with the Russian Rasputitsa or rainy season, but it is just around the corner. While the Germans find the ubiquitous peasant carts, or Panjes, somewhat odd-looking with their giant wheels and watertight construction like boats, they are built like that to survive the twice-yearly Rasputitsa. The German trucks are not built for those conditions, which should begin to appear within about a month or even less.

A 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun covers a road as troops pass by in coaches during Exercise 'Bumper', 30 September 1941.
Another Soviet advantage is that master spy Richard Sorge in Tokyo has assured Joseph Stalin that the Japanese are not interested in attacking the Soviet Union. This allows him to pull seven fresh Siberian Divisions west to the defense of Moscow. It will take time to get them through four or five time zones to Moscow, but they are experts at winter warfare and accomplished skiers. The lengthening German supply lines over deteriorating railroads and dirt roads, their worn equipment from three months of constant battle, and heavy losses also blunt the Wehrmacht's effort.

Japanese munitions workers 30 September 1941
Japanese munitions workers inspecting empty shells in a factory in Japan on September 30, 1941.
Still, despite all the issues, it is not too late in the season to get started. General Guderian's panzers head east at 06:35. They achieve surprise, as the Soviets expect them to take longer to digest Kiev (this may be in part because the attack starts earlier than OKH planned, and the Soviets may know this from intelligence sources). Two panzer corps lead the attack, followed by infantry and motorized divisions. Panzer Group 2 heads back to the northeast and heads toward Moscow without regard to its flanks. The panzers smash through five Soviet divisions of Major General’s Arkadii Ermakov’s operational group (three infantry, two cavalry, and two tank brigades) at Glukhov, then open a wedge into Soviet 13th Army under front commander Lieutenant General Yeremenko (Eremenko).

A victim of the Babi Yar massacre, Velvele Valentin Pinkert, 30 September 1941
A victim of the Babi Yar massacre, Velvele Valentin Pinkert, which concludes today with over 30,000 people dead (Yad Vashem Photo Archives 5027/461).
While all seems rosy for the Germans, they have some unpleasant surprises. The Soviets use their new Katyusha rockets against the 3rd Panzer Division with good effect, though they are perhaps most effective now for their surprise value. In addition, the Soviets have trained dogs laden with explosives to run under German tanks, where they explode.

Matilda Tank in England 30 September 1941
"A Matilda tank, army lorries and troops pass through a town during Exercise 'Bumper', 30 September 1941." © IWM (H 14343).
Many panzers are stopped by virtually undetectable antitank mines in wooden cases. The Germans, however, make good ground on the first day of the offensive, covering over ten miles. Everything is going according to plan, and the Germans plan to encircle Yeremenko's forces by closing a pocket at Bryansk. It is to be another giant battle of annihilation, and the Germans are confident that they will soon be chasing the fleeing remnants of the Red Army back toward Moscow.

Pic magazine 30 September 1941
Pic magazine, 30 September 1941, has the headline, "What Lindbergh's Home Town Thinks of Him." Famed aviator Charles Lindbergh has spent the year giving speeches for the America First Committee which urge the United States to stay out of the "European war."

September 1941

September 1, 1941: Two Years In
September 2, 1941: Germans Pushed Back at Yelnya
September 3, 1941: FDR Refuses to Meet with Japanese
September 4, 1941: Hitler Furious at Guderian
September 5, 1941: Germans Evacuate Yelnya
September 6, 1941: Japan Prepares for War
September 7, 1941: Hitler Orders Drive on Moscow
September 8, 1941: Leningrad Cut Off
September 9, 1941: Germans Attack Leningrad
September 10, 1941: Guderian Busts Loose
September 11, 1941: Convoy SC-42 Destruction
September 12, 1941: Starve Leningrad!
September 13, 1941: Zhukov at Leningrad
September 14, 1941: Germany's Growing Casualties
September 15, 1941: Sorge Warns Stalin Again
September 16, 1941: Soviets Encircled at Kiev
September 17, 1941: Iran Conquest Completed
September 18, 1941: Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in Action
September 19, 1941: Germans Take Kiev
September 20, 1941: Death at Kiev
September 21, 1941: Raging Soviet Paranoia
September 22, 1941: Defense of Nickel Mines
September 23, 1941: Air Attacks on Leningrad
September 24, 1941: Japanese Spying Intensifies
September 25, 1941: Manstein at the Crimea
September 26, 1941: Kiev Pocket Eliminated
September 27, 1941: Massacre at Eišiškės
September 28, 1941: Ted Williams Hits .400
September 29, 1941: Babi Yar Massacre
September 30, 1941: Operation Typhoon Begins