Thursday, January 17, 2019

October 26, 1941: Guderian Reaches Tula

Sunday 26 October 1941

Finnish pack reindeer 26 October 1941
A soldier with a pack Reindeer, on slippery ice, near the tiny village of Nautsi, in northern Lapland, Finland, on October 26, 1941.
Eastern Front: The weather continues to be terrible on the central section of the Eastern Front on 26 October 1941. There is still heavy fighting, but the Wehrmacht's vehicles are struggling in the Rasputitsa mud. In addition, the Red Army defenders are fighting ferociously, so the German infantry has trouble advancing without the support of the armor. The Wehrmacht's trucks are virtually immobile, and even the panzers have difficulty because their treads are not as wide as the Soviet tanks' treads. The Germans are hardly on the defensive, but in many areas, they are able to make at most only small advances.

Masha Bruskina, 26 October 1941
Masha Bruskina, just out of high school in June 1941, with fellow resistance members shortly before hanging. She was a Belarusian Jewish member of the Minsk Resistance. The placard reads "We are the partisans who shot German troops." Bruskina, whose identity was covered up until 2009, is considered a national heroine. There now is a memorial plaque at the spot of her execution. Minsk, October 26, 1941.
One area where the Germans make good progress is on the southern axis of the Operation Typhoon advance on Moscow. There, General Guderian's 2nd Panzer Army broke through the Soviet defenses at Mtsensk on the 24th by combing all of the army's panzers into one brigade and smashing through the defenses. Guderian's momentum continues today on the good road running north to Moscow. By the end of 26 October 1941, Guderian's panzers are within sight of Tula. It has been a phenomenal 140 km advance in only a few days, possible largely because the Soviets have been focused n the western approaches and have not extended the Mozhaysk defensive line this far south. The Stavka now has remedied that oversight with Guderian 184 km from the center of Moscow, and the panzers are forced to halt due to stiffening Red Army resistance from 50th Army and civilian volunteers. The Kremlin places Tula under a state of siege, which means the NKVD has carte blanche to stiffen the defenders' resolve using any means necessary - and Lavrentiy Beria has a lot of persuasive means at his disposal and an active imagination. By sheer force of will, inventiveness, and the timely concentration of his panzers, Guderian has created a threat to Moscow from the south. This has forced the Soviets to stretch out their defenses - a victory far more important than just the ground his forces have gained.

Major Günther Lützow, 26 October 1941
Major Günther Lützow, acting Kommodore of JG 51, shown with his plane which shows his 100 victories ca. 26 October 1941. Lützow was the second pilot to ever record 100 victories, a feat which he achieved on 24 October 1941.
The other major offensive on the northern portion of the main front is a Wehrmacht thrust toward Tikhvin. Tikhvin itself is not that significant as a city but is important to capture for several reasons. It sits astride the only remaining rail and road routes from Moscow to Leningrad (via Lake Ladoga), so if Tikhvin falls and the Germans can hold it, Leningrad is doomed. Pushing east above Moscow also offers the possibility of a deep encirclement of Moscow, which would doom it. The Germans also could head north from Tikhvin and link up with the Finns on the Svir River. Finally, Hitler himself has picked Tikhvin as the next Army Group North objective over the plans of his generals (who prefer the closer Volkhov), so its capture is a matter of prestige - always a major factor in the Wehrmacht.

Walter 'Gulle' Oesau, 26 October 1941
Walter 'Gulle' Oesau (colorized). Oesau records his 100th victory on 26 October 1941, the third Luftwaffe pilot (and third pilot ever) to reach the centennial mark.
Given its sudden importance, the Red Army is shifting forces to protect Tikhvin and adjusting the commands in the area. General Fedyuninsky is a protege of Stalin's favorite general, Georgy Zhukov, so he is switched from command of the relatively dormant Leningrad front to command of the 54th Army which is directly defending Tikhvin. The commander of that army, General Mikhail Khozin, replaces Fedyuninsky in Leningrad. While at first glance this appears to be a demotion for Fedyuninsky, he is being moved to a sector in crisis in order to restore the situation. Thus, the transfer is a reflection of the high esteem in which Fedyuninsky is held in the Kremlin. Whether Fedyuninsky has the forces to hold Tikhvin, however, is very much in doubt.

Hauptmann (Captain) Gordon Mac Gollob, 26 October 1941
Hauptmann (Captain) Gordon Mac Gollob upon his receipt of the Ritterkreuz mit Eichenlaub (Knight's cross with oak leaves) on 26 October 1941. Gollob, the Gruppenkommandeur of II./JG 3, earned the decoration for his 85th victory.
Far to the south, things are proceeding well for the Wehrmacht. General von Manstein has almost cleared the Perekop Isthmus in the Crimea and is ready to break out toward the key port of Sevastopol. The German Sixth Army continues consolidating its hold on Kharkov, while General Hoth's Seventeenth Army is eying Rostov-on-Don, the gateway to the Caucasus. The Germans are on the verge of massive success in the Army Group South sector which may finally justify the expansive projections of the spring - but only if the weather and the Red Army cooperate.

Generalfeldmarschall Fedor Von Bock awards a decoration to Lt. Von Riedesel, 26 October 1941
Generalfeldmarschall Fedor Von Bock awards Lt. Von Riedesel the EK I on 26 October 1941. Von Bock is holding an interim Field Marshal's baton. Even though von Bock has been a Field Marshal for well over a year at this point, the true Field Marshal batons are hand-crafted and take a lengthy amount of time to create. Many other generals were promoted to field marshal at the same time as von Bock, so production lagged behind.


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

October 25, 1941: FDR Warns Hitler About Massacres

Saturday 25 October 1941

Franz Baron von Werra 25 October 1941
Franz Baron von Werra, KIA 25 October 1941, and Simba.
US/German Relations: The German Reich has been operating largely in silence on the Eastern Front while its army (Heer) and special services (Schutzstaffel or SS) engages in a growing number of atrocities. For example, mass executions at Babi Yar (Kiev), and Odessa within the past month (and some ongoing) have killed thousands of people, and many other atrocities have been committed. The media has been largely quiet about these incidents because they happen in remote areas and means of communication are sketchy. On 25 October 1941, however, United States President Roosevelt shines a light on these massacres and directly warns German leader Adolf Hitler to stop them - or else.

Picture Show Bette Davis George Brent 25 October 1941
George Brent and Bette Davis promoting "The Great Lie" on the cover of Picture Show magazine, 25 October 1941.
Roosevelt's statement that is issued through the U.S. State Department reads in full:
The practice of executing scores of innocent hostages in reprisal for isolated attacks on Germans in countries temporarily under the [Third Reich] heel revolts a world already inured to suffering and brutality. Civilized peoples long ago adopted the basic principle that no man should be punished for the deed. of another. Unable to apprehend the persons involved in these attacks the [German] characteristically slaughter fifty or a hundred innocent persons. Those who would "collaborate" with Hitler or try to appease him cannot ignore this ghastly warning. 
The [Germans] might have learned from the last war the impossibility of breaking men's spirits by terrorism. Instead, they develop their lebensraum and "new order" by depths of frightfulness which even they have never approached before. These are the acts of desperate men who know in their hearts that they cannot win. Frightfulness can never bring peace to Europe. It only sows the seeds of hatred which will one day bring fearful retribution.
There is little question that this statement, particularly the closing words, "which will one day bring fearful retribution," is a veiled threat to Hitler.

The Camden News 25 October 1941
The Camden (Arkansas) News, 25 October 1941. Unlike in 1939 or 1940, the entire front page of local newspapers now is war news.
Roosevelt is demanding that the German leader have his troops stop committing massacres. Roosevelt refers to this statement repeatedly throughout the remainder of World War II. It seems that this is one of FDR's proudest moments and reflects the strain of moralism that has been growing in United States foreign policy since World War I. The fact that Roosevelt's seems timed to the Kiev massacres that took place just yesterday suggests that the Allies have a very good real-time understanding of exactly what is happening to people in the Reich and occupied territories. In hindsight, this leads to the question of whether Allied leaders had the same kind of insight into the Holocaust as it was happening and perhaps could have done more to interfere with it.

HMS Welshman in Plymouth, 25 October 1941
HMS Welshman (an Abdiel class cruiser minelayer) in Plymouth, 25 October 1941 (© IWM (A 6044)). 
Eastern Front: The weather in the central section of the Eastern Front is bad and getting worse. The Rasputitsa, or change of seasons, is flooding roads, turning them and other areas into muddy morasses, and making the entire area almost impassable by most vehicles and even men and horses in some areas. Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, commander of Army Group Center, essentially suspends offensive operations for the time being. The Germans, who are unfamiliar with these conditions, intend to wait until the ground freezes and firms sufficiently to provide tractions for their vehicle. That should happen within about two weeks as the temperature continues to drop as the days get shorter.

German soldiers launching a weather balloon in Tunisia, 25 October 1941
Wehrmacht soldiers launching a weather balloon in Tunisia, 25 October 1941 (Photo: Berliner Verlag/Archiv. - Unbekannt/Tunisia).
That does not mean that everything just stops. Wehrmacht infantry continues to slog forward, trying to catch up with the panzers who are leading the advance. The German 78th Infantry Division, for instance, catches up to the SS Das Reich Division which is consolidating its hold on the central position of Mozhaysk on the main Moscow highway. The Soviets also have time to formulate plans to protect Moscow and also stop the dangerous Wehrmacht offensive north of the city toward Tikhvin. In Moscow, the Soviets prepare a new war production plan to replace the earlier one that has been rendered obsolete by recent German victories on the central front and further south at Kharkov and in the Donbas industrial region.

Franz Baron von Werra 25 October 1941
Franz Baron von Werra.
While on a practice flight in Bf 109F-4 Number 7285, Franz Baron von Werra crashes in the sea north of Vlissingen due to engine failure. His body is never found. Von Werra eventually will become famous as the subject of "The One That Got Away" (1957) starring Hardy Kruger (also a World War II vet), which chronicles his escape from a POW train in Canada on 10 January 1941. In a dramatic escape, Franz von Werra jumped off a prison train, got across the St. Lawrence River, and made it back to Germany on 18 April 1941 via New York and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He became a media sensation in New York City during his brief stay there, and then a celebrity in the Reich as well. Franz von Werra, also known for his pet lion Simba, remains famous to this day for students of World War II as the only German POW to escape from Canadian custody and make it back to the Reich.

Christening USS Juneau, 25 October 1941
Mrs. Harry I. Lucas christens USS Juneau (CL-52), 25 October 1941. Sunk off Guadalcanal on 13 November 1942 (U.S. Navy).
Holocaust: While Hitler officially has suspended his euthanasia program due to broad public disapproval, stirred over the summer by sermons by Bishop Galen and others, in reality, the program continues in secret. Those euthanasia "experts" are now in high demand. Due to conquests in the East that have brought in new hordes of "undesirables," the authorities there are looking for more efficient killing solutions. Erhard Wetzel, an official in charge of race questions for the Ministry of Occupied Eastern Territories, comes up with an idea: why not gas them? He writes a letter to Hinrich Lohse, Reich Commissioner for the Ostland territories, suggesting that those who were working on the euthanasia program be used to implement this solution. They can, he suggests, construct gas chambers in which to eliminate large groups of people, primarily deported Jewish people who are unfit to work. Wetzel's suggestion is not acted upon immediately but reflects a growing consensus within the Reich security forces that simply shooting large numbers of people is inefficient, time-consuming, and bad for morale.

Riga Ghetto is established.

Sweden's new ministers in Copenhagen, Envoyé and Mrs Gustaf von Dardel, 25 October 1941
Sweden's new ministers in Copenhagen, Envoyé and Mrs Gustaf von Dardel, 25 October 1941.


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

October 24, 1941: Guderian's Desperate Drive North

Friday 24 October 1941

Kharkov 24 October 1941
German armored vehicles of Sixth Army roll into Kharkov ca. 24 October 1941.
Eastern Front: Operation Typhoon, the final German advance on Moscow, has been more or less successful as of 24 October 1941. The Germans have pierced the outer Soviet defensive ring around the Soviet capital in a couple of places and continue putting pressure on the city's defenses. However, Red Army resistance has been fanatical in places, particularly to the south of the city. There, General Guderian's 2nd Panzer Army has been stuck at Mtsensk, over 300 km from the city. While this is not an outlandishly far distance to drive, it is twice as far as the German forces advancing on the west and northwest axes. This is a major problem for Operation Typhoon because Guderian's force has been the leading edge of Army Group Center throughout Operation Barbarossa. Today, Guderian makes a dramatic change that produces immediate results.

Kharkov 24 October 1941
The German 57th Infantry Division advances into Kharkov ca. 24 October 1941.
The problem for Guderian is similar to the one facing the entire Wehrmacht, and that is heavy losses during four months of ferocious combat. For Guderian, the problem has been magnified because his panzers have led the way for the entire Wehrmacht, always at the forefront of the fighting. Guderian's command was the one diverted to the south in order to complete the encirclement of Kiev. That was a dramatic victory, bagging over 600,000 Soviet prisoners with many more killed and wounded. In most wars, that would have ended matters - but not in the Soviet Union. All of the endless combat has whittled Guderian's panzer force to a mere shadow of what it was in June. Whereas each of Guderian's panzer divisions had a starting establishment of over 300 tanks, now his entire force of "runners" is under 100. An additional problem is that Guderian's Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks are outclassed by the Soviet T-34 and KV tanks that are suddenly appearing in large numbers. This has led to dramatic losses due to the panzers' inadequate armor.

Kharkov 24 October 1941
Germans advancing into burning Kharkov, 1941.
On 24 October 1941, Guderian adds a novel twist to standard German Army (Heer) doctrine of concentration of forces in order to blast through the Soviet defenses at Mtsensk. He takes the remaining panzers from all of his divisions and concentrates them into a single brigade (Kampfgruppe Eberbach) under the command of under Colonel Heinrich Eberbach (commander of 4th Panzer Division of XXIV Panzer Corps). This massive concentration of force smashes through the bewildered Soviet defenders and advances 18 miles to Chern' in one giant leap. While still far from Moscow, the Germans regain the initiative and force the Soviets to defend against this new threat from a direction they thought was under control. If the Heer is to have any chance of taking Moscow in 1941, Guderian's panzers have to make that happen. However, with Guderian's dwindling forces, this is the last throw of the dice - so it has to succeed or the entire invasion may fail to reach its major objective. It is a desperate drive using everything that remains, and it can only succeed if Soviet defenses finally are crumbling on the fringes of Moscow.

Petrozavodsk 24 October 1941
A captured Soviet hangar with gliders at Petrozavodsk (western shore of Lake Onega), 24 October 1941 (SA-Kuva).
Elsewhere, the Germans also have renewed momentum. With the Bryansk pocket eliminated, the German 9th Army is free to support the 3rd Panzer Army at Kalinin (Tver). Much further south, 1st Panzer Army makes good progress through the industrial Donbas region, while the 57th Infantry Division of 6th Army (von Reichenau) marches into Kharkov after it is abandoned by Soviet 38th Army. This is a major achievement, but the Soviets have evacuated or destroyed all of the industrial equipment there. This was accomplished using 320 trains carrying the equipment from 70 factories. Kharkov remains an important conquest and becomes the most heavily fought over city in the Soviet Union, but already it has been rendered mostly useless by the retreating Soviets.

HMS Duke of York, 24 October 1941
"Boys on board HMS DUKE OF YORK astride one of the big guns give three cheers as the ship goes to sea." 24 October 1941 © IWM (A 6033).


October 23, 1941: The Odessa Massacre

Thursday 23 October 1941

ATS women operators 23 October 1941
"ATS women operate a rangefinder at the anti-aircraft training camp at Weybourne in Norfolk, 23 October 1941. A mobile 3.7-inch gun can be seen in the background." © IWM (H 14985).
Holocaust: There are many massacres during World War II, and all of them are horrible. However, certain incidents stand out in stark relief for taking barbarity to a new level. On 23 October 1941, events play out in Odessa which remaining stunning in the depth of their violence and depravity. This is the Odessa Massacre.

Matilda tank, 23 October 1941
A Matilda tank of the 49th Royal Tank Regiment advances through a smoke screen during an exercise near Dover, 23 October 1941. © IWM (H 14960).
After the Red Army abandoned Odessa on the night of 15 October and Romanian troops entered it on 16 October 1941 after a 73-day siege, things temporarily settled down in the large seaport. However, before the boarded ships and left, the Soviet troops set explosives in a large building on Marazlievskaya Street which they had used as the headquarters of the NKVD (Soviet state security service, similar to the Gestapo). Other retreating Soviet troops had done this elsewhere previously, most notably in Kiev, but the Romanians either did not suspect there might be booby traps, or they did not check carefully enough for them. On 22 October, a full week after the Soviets departed, the Soviets detonated the mine (either through a time-delay fuse or by radio signal) in the Marazlievskaya building and a massive explosion leveled it. The blast killed 67 people, including the Romanian Major General Ion Glogojanu, commander of the Romanian 10th Division, and 51 of his staff. Among the dead were four German Kriegsmarine officers, 35 soldiers, 16 officers, and nine civilians. The occupying authorities - those that survive - are furious.

ATS gunners, 23 October 1941
"ATS women operate a predictor at the anti-aircraft training camp at Weybourne in Norfolk, 23 October 1941. A 3.7-inch gun can be seen in the background." © IWM (H 14972).
The Romanians and Germans did not know immediately who set the explosion, but they knew who they could punish for it. Romanian leader Ion Antonescu ordered immediate reprisals against local civilians. He required that 100 Communists and people the Jewish faith be executed for each of the 35 ordinary soldiers who perished in the blast and 300 for each officer killed. Obviously, this was going to amount to a lot of deaths. The Romanian Commander of troops, Gendarmerie Lieutenant Colonel Mihail Niculescu, issues an order:
Military Command of the mountains. Odessa brings to the attention of the population of Odessa and its surroundings that after the terrorist act committed against the Military Command on October 22, on the day of October 23, 1941, were shot: for every German or Romanian officer and civilian official 200 Bolsheviks, and for every German or Romanian soldier 100 Bolsheviks. Taken hostage, which, if repeated such acts, will be shot together with their families.
However, what transpired as a result far exceeded these totals.

Italian POWs arriving in England, 23 October 1941
"Italian prisoners of war on deck with their kit waiting to disembark at Greenock." These POWs arriving at Greenock are to be used to do farm work. 23 October 1941. © IWM (A 6210).
The next phase of horror begins on 23 October 1941. A German SS Einsatzgruppe arrives at the destroyed Marazlievskaya building, survey the damage along with Romanian security troops, and they immediately set to work. The troops simply walk across the street to an apartment building, drag all the residents out, and shoot or hang all of them. Then, they raid nearby streets and markets before heading out into the suburbs and executing everyone that they find. A reported hundred men are shot at the Big Fountain, about 200 at the Slobodka market, 251 in Moldavanka, 400 are hanged in Aleksandrovsky Prospekt - the carnage is everywhere. Some hostages are marched down Lustdorf Road to an industrial area, where they are shot or burned alive.

Digging potatoes for the war effort, 23 October 1941
"Mrs. John Steel, daughter of Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the pathologist, is now digging potatoes at the request of the LCC An ambulance driver, Mrs. Steel is spending her spare time on potato digging with several other of her colleagues in the London Auxiliary Ambulance Service, at an LCC hospital in Essex." 23 October 1941. © SSPL / Pastpix / Science & Society Picture Library Image Ref. 10551683.
In addition to this first rampage, the Odessa city government issues an order on 23 October 1941 requiring all people of Jewish descent to report to the village of Dalnik on 24 October. The penalty for non-compliance is death. The killings continue. The total number of deaths in this incident is unknown, but 22,000 bodies are found in a mass grave after the war. It is estimated that the city loses 10% of its population in the Odessa Massacre. While many different dates are submitted for the start of the Holocaust, 23 October 1941 is a good candidate.

Berkeley lab cyclotron under construction, 23 October 1941
Framework of the184-inch cyclotron facility taken October 23, 1941. This was at the Berkeley Lab in California, a key component of the subsequent Manhattan Project. Principal Investigator/Project: Image Library Project [Photographer: Donald Cooksey]. U.S. National Archives.


Monday, January 14, 2019

October 22, 1941: Germans Into Moscow's Second Defensive Line

Wednesday 22 October 1941

ATS officer 22 October 1941
"Staff Sergeant-Major Twist of the ATS embraces and kisses her husband, Lance-Bombardier Twist during a special photo-shoot at Army Headquarters in Northern Ireland, 22 October 1941." © IWM (H 14922).
Eastern Front: Operation Typhoon, the German attack on Moscow, has been gaining ground in fits and starts against furious Soviet opposition. On 22 October 1941, the Wehrmacht experiences another day of success in some areas but problems in others. It is a very emotional day of highs and lows on both sides, with some good omens and bad ones. Overall, the German Army (Heer) improves its position, but the weather increasingly is becoming almost as big an obstacle as the Red Army.

ATS officer and troops 22 October 1941
"Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) women at a 3.7-inch anti-aircraft gun site at Wormwood Scrubs in London, 22 October 1941." © IWM (H 14878).
There are several German successes. One takes place at the village of Naro-Fominsk, one of the linchpins of Moscow's second line of defense only 43 miles from the city itself. The 2nd Battalion (Major Lübke) of the 479th Infantry Regiment of the 258th Infantry Division (Major General W. Hellmich) manages to create a wedge in the Soviet line at Naro-Fominsk on the main road into Moscow from the southwest. Just south of there, the 3rd Infantry Division (motorized, General der Artillerie Curt Jahn) also creates a 7-mile wedge in the Soviet line with a successful crossing of the Nara River by the 29th Motorized Infantry Regiment. They are supported by the 8th Motorized Infantry Regiment, which provides essential flank protection. Even further south, about 20 miles away, the 98th Infantry Division (Lieutenant General Erich Schröck) also crosses the Nara River. Schröck's men meet up with the 19th Panzer Division (Lieutenant General O. von Knoblesdorff) at Gorki, where they capture a road bridge.

HMS Kent 22 October 1941
"HMS KENT [cruiser] alongside the destroyer HMS PUNJABI during fuelling operations at sea," 22 October 1941. © IWM (A 7608).
So, the day goes well for the Germans on the southwest axis of the advance. However, the Red Army if far from defeated in the battle for Moscow and is fighting hard everywhere. At Mtensk, the German 4th Panzer Division of the XXIV Panzer Corps (General Geyr von Schweppenburg) of General Guderian's 2nd Panzer Army remains stuck fast. This is the most important axis of advance, along the main road coming from the south, because it offers the only prospect of actually surrounding the capital. The battle is wearing out the panzers, and Guderian's entire command is down to less than 100 tanks - when a single division at the beginning of Operation Barbarossa had over 300. Guderian begins the process of combining all of the panzers under his command into a single brigade in the 4th Panzer Division, a reflection of how significant his losses have been.

Sea Power magazine 22 October 1941
Sea Power magazine, Volume 1, Issue 1, October 1941. It features the article, "Japan's Navy - Bluff or Blitz?"
There are some troubling signs on the Soviet side, too. During its violent battle on the Nara, the 8th Motorized Infantry Regiment takes 1700 prisoners, including 52 officers. These turn out to mostly local Muscovite workers and workers militias drafted at the last minute along with some odds and ends from Ukraine. They seem happy to be captured, swearing at their political commissars and ripping their insignia off. Some shout "Voyna Kaputt" - "The War is Over!" - as they surrender. This is a welcome sign to the Germans, who throughout Operation Barbarossa have been looking for signs of disintegration in the Red Army.

Lord and Lady Newtown Butler 22 October 1941
Lord and Lady Newtown Butler with their daughter, 22 October 1941 (© National Portrait Gallery, London).
However, the ultimate decision on the day comes from the weather. The Rasputitsa (change of seasons) now is in full swing, and the Wehrmacht proves ill-suited to cope with endless fields of deep mud and swollen creeks. German trucks can get no traction, horses get trapped, and even the panzers have difficulty. German tanks are ideally suited to paved roads and hard field, but their treads are not as wide as Soviet tank treads and thus they gain less traction. While the panzers are not stopped, they are slowed, and to a much greater degree than are the Soviet T-34 and KV tanks. Rather than fight the mud while also trying to fight the Red Army, Field Marshal Fedor von Bock pauses the advance until the temperature falls further and the mud freezes enough to provide some traction.

Sylvia at the refrigerator, 22 October 1941
Sylvia at the refrigerator, 22 October 1941 / Alan Evans (CAROLINE SIMPSON LIBRARY & RESEARCH COLLECTION).
At Odessa far to the south, the Soviets gain some revenge for their loss of the city through a deadly means. As Soviet troops have done before at Kiev and smaller towns, the retreating Soviet Coastal Army left behind some bombs which they can detonate by radio signal or are simply time-delayed. Today, several days after the Romanians entered the city and their suspicions have gone away, the Soviets detonate one at the Romanian Command Headquarters.

USS Stratford, 22 October 1941
USS Stratford (AP-41), 22 October 1941. The Stratford was a converted small freighter and West Indies cruise ship (the Catherine) which first served the US Navy at Iceland, then in the Pacific as a troop transport and supply vessel.
The detonation at Odessa kills 67 men, including Romanian Major General Ion Glogojanu, 16 of his staff including 4 Kriegsmarine officers, 35 other soldiers, and nine civilians (some being used as interpreters). Romanian leader Ion Antonescu orders reprisals, announcing that 100 communist and Jewish hostages would be executed for every enlisted man killed by the explosion and 300 for each officer.

Odessa port facilities, 22 October 1941
Odessa port facilities following the Soviet withdrawal.
The Romanians also do something that hints that even a victory over the Soviet Union will not satisfy their territorial desires. Antonescu denounces the 30 August 1940 Second Vienna Award, which gave Hungary territory in northern Transylvania claimed by Romania. Hitler's plan was for Romania to be satisfied by being given the Transnistria province in the Soviet Union that it really wanted. Today's action suggests that Romania's military success at Odessa has only whetted its appetite for territory. From this point forward, the Germans are as much concerned with keeping their Romanian and Hungarian allies' troops separated as much as they are using them to fight the Red Army.

Hilde Krahl on the cover of Film Woche, 22 October 1941
Hilde Krahl on the cover of Film Woche magazine, 22 October 1941. Krahl survived the war and continued her film career until the 1990s (after a four-year interruption after the conflict). Krahl passed away on 28 June 1999.


October 21, 1941: Rasputitsa Hits Russia

Tuesday 21 October 1941

Leningrad scorched earth policy 21 October 1941
Russian civilians carry their belongings from their burning homes, allegedly set on fire by retreating Soviet troops as part of a scorched-earth policy, in a Leningrad suburb on October 21, 1941. The German propaganda service had a standing policy of releasing these types of photos to American journalists in Lisbon (AP Photo).
Eastern Front: The weather in northern and central Russia has been deteriorating for two weeks as of 21 October 1941, with intermittent snow and rain as the temperature hovers around freezing. The snow has not been sticking, but as it melts, it has been exacerbating a problem with German transportation that was only a nuisance during the summer.

Sd.Kfz. 253 21 October 1941
German light armored observation car (Sd.Kfz. 253) caught by rising waters, October 1941 (Utrecht, Fred Erich, Federal Archive Bild 101I-268-0157-17A).
The dirt roads were manageable during the summer and fall, even if uncomfortably dusty, but all of the water both from precipitation on the roads and runoff from surrounding areas into low-lying routes now is becoming a real problem. This is the "Rasputitsa," the muddy season that occurs every spring and fall during the change of seasons. The weather always is a very important factor in the campaign on the Eastern Front, helping both sides at times but favoring the Soviets when it counts the most.

Gertrud Scholtz-Klink 21 October 1941
Gertrud Scholtz-Klink at the opening of an exhibit about the work of German women in Luxembourg on 21 October 1941. Frau Scholtz-Klink was head of all Third Reich women's organizations such as the BDM. She was an unrepentant supporter of Hitler until her death on 24 March 1999. Ever wonder where Colonel Klink from Hogan's Heroes got his name from? Nobody is sure, but this was the most highly placed official in the Third Reich with that name.
The Soviets are used to the Rasputitsa, of course, but it is a new and unexpected phenomenon for German soldiers who have never before had the slightest interest in Russia. The deep mud slows the German supply trucks to a halt. The truck drivers attempt to go around the puddles and streams flowing across the roads, but they just extend the ruts further out until areas 50 meters across in places become impassable quagmires. Even horses get stuck, and men marching through the muddy stretches sometimes lose their boots. It is not as if the weather only affects the Wehrmacht, but the Russians have two advantages: their equipment is adapted to the conditions, and they are only attempting to hold their ground for the moment. On days like this, little happens, which may be confusing when other days show major German gains, but the impact of the weather cannot be denied during World War II.

HMS Deptford comfort supplies, 21 October 1941
"Emergency rescue kits supplied by the Merchant Navy Comforts Service arriving on board HMS DEPTFORD." 21 October 1941. The Wehrmacht troops on the Eastern Front certainly wouldn't mind having this warm clothing delivered to them right about now, but German officials are of the opinion that supplying it would be bad for morale © IWM (A 6188).
Of course, the weather does not stop everything, especially in the south where the Rasputitsa is not as dramatic and hits a little later. General von Manstein's 11th Army continues advancing deep into the Perekop Isthmus in the entrance to the Crimea, and units of Sixth Army approach within seven miles of the key industrial city of Kharkov. The Soviets in Kharkov are busy also, finishing the loading of the Kramatorsk heavy-machine factory equipment onto railcars for a hurried move to the Urals. The factory workers are not as valuable as the equipment, so they must walk the first 20 miles to another train station. However, as good Communists, they are only too happy to do what comrade Stalin wants.

HMS Canton Fairey Seafox 21 October 1941
"A Fairey Seafox being catapulted from HMS CANTON in the Atlantic." 21 October 1941 © IWM (A 6653).
Stalin, meanwhile, has been watching the Wehrmacht approaching Moscow from three different directions - northwest, west, and southwest - with growing alarm. In moments of crisis, Stalin always turns to a trusted handful of men who may not be infallible, but at least remain completely loyal through thick and thin. Today, he elevates General Georgy Zhukov, his most competent officer, from command of the West Front to command of all military forces in the Moscow defensive area. It is not so much that Zhukov is the world's most brilliant strategist or tactician that makes him effective as it is that he has Stalin's complete confidence. This gives Zhukov more discretion to "assume" what Stalin wants than any other officer - though, of course, this has its limits as well. As Zhukov later puts it, there is as much distance between him and Stalin as there is between a field marshal and the lowliest private. A somewhat similar to the situation that later develops in the Wehrmacht between Hitler and Field Marshals von Manstein and Model, but Zhukov's relationship with Stalin is unique.

German tribunal in Occupied France, 21 October 1941
A Wehrmacht soldier testifying to a military tribunal in France regarding an attack on a German soldier by three Frenchmen, 18 October 1941 (Trautvetter, Federal Archive Picture 146-2007-0126).
However limited his real authority may be, Zhukov's relationship of confidence with Stalin gives him more call on the Soviet Union's abundant resources and more latitude to take chances with strategy than any other general. The problem for Stalin, though, is that there are multiple military problems to solve - at Leningrad, on the Volkhov River north of Moscow, in the Crimea, at Kharkov, and at Rostov-on-Don - and there is only one Zhukov. Stalin keeping Zhukov at Moscow when there are so many other critical places in peril is perhaps the ultimate vindication of the many German generals who urged Hitler to focus on the Soviet capital throughout 1941.

Kragujevac massacre, 21 October 1941
German soldiers have Roma children shine their boots before shooting them together with about 2300 other hostages in Kragujevac, Serbia on 21 October 1941 (this was the figure reported to his superiors by General der Pioniere (Lieutenant General) Walter Kuntze). These were reprisals for an attack by Serbian partisans on 15-16 October at Kraljevo (10 km south of Belgrade) in which 10 German soldiers were killed and 14 wounded. The commander of the 717th Infantry Division, Generalmajor (Brigadier General) Paul Hoffman, personally supervised the killings. As happened now and then, including a more famous incident on Crete, one German soldier was shot for refusing to participate in the killings.
US/Japanese Relations: With General Tojo now the Japanese Prime Minister, everyone with a basic understanding of Japanese politics realizes that the war party is in control in Tokyo. However, everyone also knows that the Emperor continues to desire peace. Accordingly, the Foreign Office sends out a very mixed message to Ambassador Kichisaburō Nomura in Washington that contains an obvious hint of menace:
The new cabinet differs in no way from the former one in its sincere desire to adjust Japanese-United States relations on a fair basis. Our country has said practically all she can say in the way of expressing of opinions and setting forth our stands. We feel that we have now reached a point where no further positive action can be taken by us except to urge the United States to reconsider her views. We urge, therefore, that, choosing an opportune moment, either you or Wakasugi let it be known to the United States by indirection that our country is not in a position to spend much more time discussing this matter. Please continue the talks, emphasizing our desire for a formal United States counter-proposal to our proposal of 25 September.
Nomura is also a member of the "peace faction' has been doing everything that he can to defuse a conflict. This has included numerous official and off-the-record meetings with top American officials such as U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull. While he may not convey the obvious threat implied in these instructions, the Americans are reading the Japanese diplomatic codes and certainly are in a position to get the message whether Nomura tells them or not.

Luftpost 21 October 1941
EH.510/23, Luftpost (British propaganda leaflet), Nr. 23, 21. Oktober 1941 (Luftpost, No. 23, 21 October 1941) (Image/s source:
American Homefront: Two of the most iconic characters in comic book history debut on 21 October 1941. Wonder Woman appears in "All Star Comics" issue #8 (cover date December 1941/January 1942), scripted by William Moulton Marston, a psychologist already famous for inventing the polygraph (lie detector). The Penguin (Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot) from the Batman comic book series appears in "Detective Comics" issue #58 (cover date December) and is created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Both the Penguin and Wonder Woman eventually make their way into television series, motion pictures, and other media such as video games.

Luftpost 21 October 1941
EH.510/23, Luftpost, Nr. 23, 21. Oktober 1941 (Luftpost, No. 23, 21 October 1941) (Image/s source:


Saturday, January 12, 2019

October 20, 1941: Germans Attack Toward Tikhvin

Monday 20 October 1941

Panzer III and Panzer IV, 20 October 1941
German tanks (a Panzer III in the foreground with a Panzer IV behind it, I'm not sure of the third vehicle but perhaps another Panzer III) of the 19th Panzer Division in northern Russia stuck in the mud on or about 20 October 1941. Note that these tanks have not been abandoned, as there is an officer poking his head out of the turret of the Panzer III.
Eastern Front: With most of the world's attention focused on the defense of Moscow on 20 October 1941, the Germans remind everyone that they are a threat all along the Eastern Front by launching a surprise attack east from the vicinity of Leningrad. Despite having lost his armored formations to Army Group Center for Operation Typhoon, the attack on Moscow, Army Group North commander Ritter von Leeb has been working on this attack for weeks. The main objective is the town of Tikhvin, a key Soviet road and rail junction.

Royal Navy minesweeper in the Clyde, 20 October 1941
At the end of a minesweeping patrol in the Clyde, sailors haul in the "sweep," 20 October 1941 (© IWM (A6186)).
This attack It was originally planned to begin on 6 October but was called off pending the arrival of fresh divisions. While von Leeb wanted to attack in the direction of Volkhov, Hitler ordered him to aim his offensive a little further south, from the vicinity of Chudovo toward Tikhvin. Once that city was taken, von Leeb could turn north along the railroad tracks and take Volkhov. Thus, it was a slightly more ambitious plan than von Leeb had in mind.

Royal Navy minesweeper in the Clyde, 20 October 1941
"Men hauling in the "sweep" at the end of a patrol." This photo was taken during a minesweeping patrol in the Clyde operating out of Greenock, 20 October 1941. © IWM (A 6187).
Field Marshal von Leeb has General Rudolf Schmidt’s 39th Army Corps (motorized), composed of 8th and 12th Panzer and 18th and 20th Motorized, attack toward Tikhvin. They are supported by the I Army Corps (11th, 21st, 126th, and 254th Infantry Divisions under the command of General Hans-Kuno von Both). They are opposed by Leningrad Front, commanded by Soviet Col. Gen. Ivan Ivanovich Fedyuninsky. Fedyuninsky is a protege of Stalin's favorite general, Georgy Zhukov, and leads 70,000 troops supported by 97 tanks.

Royal Navy minesweeper in the Clyde, 20 October 1941
A photo that was taken during a minesweeping operation out of Greenock in the Clyde on 20 October 1941 (© IWM (A 6008)).
Tikhvin in 1941 is an unprepossessing town but a vital Soviet road and rail connection between Moscow and the shores of Lake Ladoga. The supplies sent through Tikhvin (and thence through Volkhov) are ferried across Lake Ladoga and are absolutely critical to sustaining it. Tikhvin is part of the "Road of Life" during World War II due to its peculiar importance to Leningrad's survival and also its status as an escape route for starving Leningrad inhabitants. Thus, Tikhvin is the key to Leningrad, and thus the Soviets are forced to defend it. If the Germans can take Tikhvin, they can starve Leningrad into submission.

Japanese battleship Yamato, 20 October 1941
Japanese battleship Yamato during its sea trials near Bungo Strait, 20 October 1941. It is the heaviest and most powerfully armed battleship in the world, displacing 72,000 tons at full load. Those are nine 46 cm (18.1-inch) main guns. The wreck of Yamato in the East China Sea was not discovered until 1982. There has been some discussion in Japan about raising the wreck (Yamato Museum in Kure).
Field Marshal von Leeb's attack begins in the early hours of 16 October. It is preceded by a brief artillery barrage and achieves complete surprise, as the Soviets are focused on Leningrad and Moscow, not the area in between. The order “Kompanie vorwarts" is issued, and the main German assault led by General von Both's infantry hits between Gruzino and Kirishi. General Otto Sponheimer’s 21st Infantry Division quickly crosses the 300-meter wide Volkhov River at Gruzino, and by the end of the day is entirely on the east bank. At Kirishi, General Hermbert von Böckmann’s 11th Infantry Division also gets across the Volkhov River without any problems. It is a smashing success and the leaders at both German bridgeheads plan to expand their firm grips on the east bank on the 17th.

Kragujevac, Serbia massacre, 20 October 1941
German soldiers leading Serbian civilians out of the town of Kragujevac, Serbia on 20 October 1941. The roughly 2300 Serbian men were executed in a reprisal action. The people shot include about 300 boys taken from the First Boys High School, along with their 18 teachers. All were shot on the outskirts of town. In such actions, the Germans typically do not tell the victims what is in store for them, and they may have thought they were simply being deported.
Partisans: German occupation troops in Kragujevac, Serbia commit an atrocity against local civilians. They round up about 2300 men and boys and execute them on the outskirts of town. The Wehrmacht later issues the following statement:
The cowardly and treacherous surprise attacks on German soldiers during the previous week, on which occasion 10 German soldiers were killed and 26 wounded, had to be punished. For that reason, 100 people were shot for each killed German soldier, and for each wounded 50, mainly communists, bandits, and their siders, 2300 altogether. Every similar case, even if it only sabotage, will be dealt with the same severity. 
Chief of Local Command
This massacre is intended as a warning to other partisans in Serbia, of which there are many. There are many other such atrocities in the area during World War II, as the Serbians are hostile to German rule.

Amsterdam, New York, 20 October 1941
A rainy day in Amsterdam, New York (northwest of Albany), 20 October 1941 (photo by John Collier).