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 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 a 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" ("Troops forward!") 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 Herbert 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).

October 1941

October 1, 1941: Germans and Finns Advance in USSR
October 2, 1941: Operation Typhoon Broadens
October 3, 1941: Air Battles Near Moscow
October 4, 1941: Stalin Contemplates Defeat
October 5, 1941: Hoth Goes South
October 6, 1941: First Snowfall After Dark
October 7, 1941: Stalin Gets Religion
October 8, 1941: FDR Promises Stalin Aid 
October 9, 1941: FDR Orders Atomic Bomb Research
October 10, 1941: Reichenau's Severity Order
October 11, 1941: Tank Panic in Moscow
October 12, 1941: Spanish Blue Division at the Front
October 13, 1941: Attack on Moscow
October 14, 1941: Germans Take Kalinin
October 15, 1941: Soviets Evacuate Odessa
October 16, 1941: Romanians Occupy Odessa
October 17, 1941: U-568 Torpedoes USS Kearny
October 18, 1941: Tojo Takes Tokyo
October 19, 1941: Germans Take Mozhaysk
October 20, 1941: Germans Attack Toward Tikhvin
October 21, 1941: Rasputitsa Hits Russia
October 22, 1941: Germans Into Moscow's Second Defensive Line
October 23, 1941: The Odessa Massacre
October 24, 1941: Guderian's Desperate Drive North
October 25, 1941: FDR Warns Hitler About Massacres
October 26, 1941: Guderian Drives Toward Tula
October 27, 1941: Manstein Busts Loose
October 28, 1941: Soviet Executions
October 29, 1941: Guderian Reaches Tula
October 30, 1941: Guderian Stopped at Tula
October 31, 1941: USS Reuben James Sunk


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