Tuesday, January 15, 2019

October 24, 1941: Guderian's Desperate Drive North

Friday 24 October 1941

Kharkov 24 October 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
German armored vehicles of Sixth Army roll into Kharkiv 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 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The German 57th Infantry Division advances into Kharkiv 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 Kyiv. 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 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Germans advancing into burning Kharkiv, 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 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
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, the 1st Panzer Army makes good progress through the industrial Donbas region, while the 57th Infantry Division of 6th Army (von Reichenau) marches into Kharkiv 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. Kharkiv 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 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"Boys onboard 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 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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