Friday, January 25, 2019

November 4, 1941: German Advances in the South

Tuesday 4 November 1941

HMS Brocklesby 4 November 1941
The Hunt Class destroyer HMS BROCKLESBY, passing a target towed by HMS ELLESMERE. 4 November 1941 (© IWM (A 6228)).
Eastern Front: The situation on the central and northern sectors of the Eastern Front on 4 November 1941 is fairly quiet. The mud of the Rasputitsa (change of seasons) has paralyzed most German advances, while the Soviets are calibrating their defenses around Moscow and Leningrad by shifting troops around. At Tula, the buildup by both sides continues, as the Wehrmacht sends elements of German 31st, 131st, and 296th Infantry Divisions forward while the Soviets send the 413th Siberian Rifle Division (Maj. Gen. Aleksei Dmitrievich Tereshkovo) south from Moscow by train. The Soviet forces defending Tikhvin north of Moscow launch another attack with the 60th Tank Division and the 4th Guards Rifle Division against General Harpe's 12th Panzer Division, but are repelled after heavy fighting.

Degtyaryov antitank rifle, 4 November 1941
A soldier using a Degtyaryov antitank rifle, November 1941 (Plenik, Bruno, Federal Archive Bild 101I-141-1273-24A).
In the southern end of the Eastern Front, though, the Rasputitsa has not hit as hard as in the north, so the Germans have a somewhat easier time advancing. In the Crimea, OKH Chief of Staff Franz Halder notes in his diary:
Eleventh Army continues its advance although the mountainous terrain around Sevastopol is affording the enemy greater opportunities for resistance.
While General von Manstein's 11th Army is finding that Sevastopol is going to be a hard nut to crack, further east the 170th Infantry Division expands the German hold on the Crimea by taking Feodosiya at the base of the Kerch peninsula. The Soviets have withdrawn in good order to a short line defending Kerch which leaves Sevastopol in the west completely isolated. However, both Red Army redoubts are well-garrisoned and easy to defend due to natural terrain features.

Test pilot Ralph Burwell Virden, 4 November 1941
Test pilot Ralph Burwell Virden. On 4 November 1941, he perishes while testing the first Lockheed YP-38 Lightning, US Army Air Force serial 39-689. The plane breaks apart during a power dive as it approaches supersonic speeds and crashes in Glendale, California. The design overcomes its early issues and becomes the successful P-38 Lightning fighter with over 10,000 built (Los Angeles Times, 5 November 1941, page 1, column 6 and page 2, column 5).
Elsewhere in the Army Group South sector, the problem for the Germans is not so much the Soviets as the weather. The Soviets are retreating everywhere, which Halder sees as both an opportunity and a problem. The opportunity is obvious:
Despite the overwhelming difficulties of movement, we must find means to occupy the areas evacuated by the enemy.
The problems are a little more subtle:
Viewed as a whole, the situation is determined by railroad capacity and flow of supplies. There is no point in pushing operations onward before we have not, step by step, established a solid foundation for them. Failing to do that inevitably would bring fatal reverses down upon us.
These words would be well worth remembering in late 1942 when Soviet retreats will also create tempting opportunities.

General Auchinleck, 4 November 1941
General Auchinleck, Commander in Chief of the Middle East Forces, decorating Lieutenant Colonel Howard Karl Kippenberger with the Distinguished Service Order during a presentation of awards to members of a New Zealand brigade in the Western Desert. Taken at Baggush on 4 November 1941 by an official photographer.
In the far north, the Axis also accomplishes a major objective that has mixed longer-term implications. The Soviets have occupied the Finnish port of Hanko, given to them at the conclusion of the Winter War in early 1940, throughout the conflict to date. However, ultimately the position is untenable, so before dawn today the Soviets finally evacuate the small garrison. Soviet destroyers Smetlivy and Surovy carry the Soviet troops out before dawn, with Smetlivy being hit by Finnish coastal artillery that causes it to sink on the way back to Leningrad. Several hundred people perish. The Finns then occupy Hanko, solidifying Axis control of the eastern Baltic and achieving one of their war aims. Such successes, however, reduce the Finnish incentive to continue fighting because their entire reason to fight is to recover lost territory. Now that is it is recovered... why keep fighting?

Jacques Doriot, 4 November 1941
Jacques Doriot at a meeting in Paris on 4 November 1941. Doriot is a former communist who became a fascist in the 1930s. He is a strong collaborator and a founder of the  Légion des Volontaires Français (LVF), a French unit of the Wehrmacht, with which Doriot fights in 1941 on the Eastern Front (Federal Archives 4 November 1941 Figure 183-M0706-502).
Of course, as the Germans can persuasively argue, the Finns aren't truly safe until the Soviet Union is defeated, but the Finns increasingly feel that this is solely a German responsibility. The Finns also are concerned about warnings from Great Britain and the United States about fighting Stalin. The bottom line is that as the Finns chalk up successes at places like Hanko, a sort of paralysis settles over their military effort. It is not that they stop fighting, as the Finns fight hard throughout the war. Rather, it is a growing desire for the war to just go away and for the men to go home. The Red Army, however, lurks just over the horizon and it has no intention of letting the Finns enjoy their conquests for long.

Hurricanes at Vaenga, Russia, September - November 1941
"A mechanic attaches the cable of a trolley-accumulator to a Hawker Hurricane Mark IIB of No. 81 Squadron RAF on the waterlogged airfield at Vanga, as a section of three Hurricanes flies overhead." Vanga, Russia, September/November 1941 © IWM (CR 38).

November 1941

November 1, 1941: Finns Attack Toward Murmansk Railway
November 2, 1941: Manstein Isolates Sevastopol
November 3, 1941: Japan Prepares to Attack
November 4, 1941: German Advances in the South
November 5, 1941: Last Peace Effort By Japan
November 6, 1941: Stalin Casts Blame in an Unexpected Direction
November 7, 1941: Stalin's Big Parade
November 8, 1941: Germans Take Tikhvin
November 9, 1941: Duisburg Convoy Destruction
November 10, 1941: Manstein Attacks Sevastopol
November 11, 1941: Finland's Double Game Erupts
November 12, 1941: T-34 Tanks Take Charge
November 13, 1941: German Orsha Conference
November 14, 1941: German Supply Network Breaking Down
November 15, 1941: Operation Typhoon Resumes
November 16, 1941: Manstein Captures Kerch
November 17, 1941: Finland Halts Operations
November 18, 1941: British Operation Crusader
November 19, 1941: Sydney vs. Kormoran Duel
November 20, 1941: The US Rejects Final Japanese Demand
November 21, 1941: Germans Take Rostov
November 22, 1941: Kleist in Trouble at Rostov
November 23, 1941: Germans Take Klin, Huge Battle in North Africa
November 24, 1941: Rommel Counterattacks
November 25, 1941: HMS Barham Sunk
November 26, 1941: Japanese Fleet Sails
November 27, 1941: British Relieve Tobruk
November 28, 1941: Rostov Evacuated, German Closest Approach to Moscow
November 29, 1941: Hitler Furious About Retreat
November 30, 1941: Japan Sets the Date for its Attack


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