Thursday, January 17, 2019

October 26, 1941: Guderian Drives Toward 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 all along 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 halfway to Tula. The distance covered is an impressive 70 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 about 200 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 Kharkiv, 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.

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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