Tuesday, February 12, 2019

November 22, 1941: Kleist in Trouble at Rostov

Saturday 22 November 1941

A German tank destroyer in Rostov, 22 November 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A German tank destroyer in the center of Rostov, 22 November 1941 (AP Photo).
Eastern Front: The Germans now are in possession of Rostov-on-Don, one of the key objectives set forth for Operation Barbarossa in 1941. This should be cause for celebration at the Fuehrer Headquarters in East Prussia on 22 November 1941. However, behind the scenes, Adolf Hitler is growing increasingly agitated at the army's handling of operations. The success of the entire 1941 campaign depends upon holding Rostov and other key objectives, and there are growing signs that these accomplishments may be in serious jeopardy.

A British Bedford "crossing the wire" into Libya, 22 November 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"A Bedford OYD truck loaded with troops going through barbed wire into Libya in the Western Desert, 22 November 1941." The border between Egypt and Libya is denoted by this wire, so "crossing the wire" means entering the combat zone. © IWM (E 6686).
Superficially, the situation on the ground in Russia does appear successful for the Germans. As General Franz Halder, chief of the Oberkommando des Heeres staff (OKH, Army High Command), writes in his war diary:
Rostov is in our hands. All bridges are reported destroyed except one that leads across the island south of the eastern part of the city. The Russians withdrew across the frozen river. On the southern bank [are] new Russian forces (two Cavalry Divisions).
However, the Wehrmacht had to exert a massive effort to reach this gateway to the Caucasus and, as Halder notes, the Red Army is bringing in reinforcements. As Halder further notes:
North of Rostov, First Panzer Army was forced into the defense by the Russian attack with superior forces and will have a hard time seeing it through. The measures instituted are well taken and promise to be successful. However, after First Panzer Army has disposed of the attacker, it probably would be too much to expect it to clear the enemy out of the Donets bend with what is left of its forces.
The bottom line is that, glorious as the capture of Rostov is, the situation is extremely tenuous.

Christening of USS Aaron Ward, 22 November 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Ship sponsor Miss Hilda Ward, daughter of the ship's namesake Rear Admiral Aaron Ward, christens destroyer USS Aaron Ward (DD-483) during the launch ceremony on 22 November 1941.
In fact, serious doubts are creeping into the rosy picture at the highest levels of the Wehrmacht. Halder indicates some dissatisfaction with the generals at the front cooperating towards the greater good:
Despite all efforts of the Army Group to get Sixth Army moving there are no signs of an attack or initiation of the transfer of the divisions destined for First Panzer Army [which is trying to hold Rostov]. The consequence is that the enemy is withdrawing forces fronting this passive Army to commit them against the First Panzer Army.
Adolf Hitler is taking an increasingly close eye on developments at the front, and Field Marshal Keitel reports that the Fuehrer is "in a state again." As Halder records in his diary, one of the issues is General von Kleist, whose 1st Panzer Army forces hold Rostov.
OKW is worried about Kleist. Fuehrer discusses lateral shifting of forces within the Seventeenth Army in order to help IV Corps get ahead so as to relieve Kleist. Sector boundaries between Kleist, Hoth, and Reichenau must not be allowed to interfere.
The seriousness of the situation is highlighted by the fact that Halder returns to it several times in his diary. Obviously, Kleist's situation is a topic of major discussion throughout the day. OKW Headquarters definitely recognizes the problem, Halder emphasizes:
Kleist's Army is in serious trouble and no one does anything to help him. The Army Group has been ordered to report what steps have been taken (shifting of forces of Seventeenth Army on the baseline to IV Corps, getting on the move Sixth Army and anything else that is available, especially Assault Guns.
Such repeated hand-wringing by Halder is unusual and likely a sign that everyone knows this is the Fuehrer's main concern today. The bottom line is that, glorious as the capture of Rostov is, the vulnerabilities of the Wehrmacht's position and even the possible loss of the strategic initiative are beginning to take center stage.

View of HMS Victorious, 22 November 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Royal Navy warships at Hvalfjord, Iceland sometime between 20 to 22 November 1941. The photo is taken aboard Tribal class destroyer HMS Ashanti. "Front to back: HMS ORIBI, HMS OFFA, and in the distance, HMS VICTORIOUS." © IWM (A 6598).
Battle of the Mediterranean: The British offensive in North Africa, Operation Crusader, continues with mixed success. Today is the "Battle of the Omars" due to much of the fighting taking place near Sidi Omar. A British breakout from Tobruk has been stopped by Italian defenders who are showing their mettle. The Italians hold strong points "Tugun" and "Dalby Square" by using a superior position on nearby heights to devastate attacking British tanks and reduce one British company to 33 men of all ranks. The Italian Army shows on 22 November 1941 that, properly armed and positioned, they can be a tremendous asset to the Axis despite all the negative publicity they receive. Coming up from the south, General Scobie's Eighth Army, led by the 2nd York and Lancaster Regiment, does make some progress and takes strong point "Tiger." However, these British forces also continue to be unable to make a clean breakthrough against the Italian and German forces who have the advantage of prepared defensive positions. The two sides are grappling fiercely, "in the clinch," and it remains unclear who will win.

Werner Mölders, KIA 22 November 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Werner Mölders, KIA 22 November 1941.
German Military: Oberst (Colonel) Werner Mölders, Inspector of Fighters and, quite possibly, the greatest ace of all time, perishes in an air crash at Breslau while his plane tries to land during a thunderstorm. Mölders is just a passenger in the Heinkel He 11 of Kampfgeschwader 27 "Boelcke" as he flies to attend the funeral of General Ernst Udet in Berlin. The event is a visceral shock that reverberates throughout the Luftwaffe, as Mölders is honestly liked and respected by the rank and file both for his attitude and for having over 100 victories. A state funeral is planned for 28 November 1941. Within hours, Mölders' old unit, Jagdgeschwader 51, is renamed "Mölders" in his honor. Werner Mölders, respected for his pure skill and expertise regardless of politics, will be honored in numerous ways during the post-war years. Some of those honors remain in the 21st Century despite efforts to reverse them, including the naming of the street "Möldersstraße" in Geilenkirchen and Ingolstadt. Colonel Mölders' grave at The Invalidenfriedhof has been restored after being destroyed by the East German government for political reasons.

A German tank destroyer in Rostov, 22 November 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The USS Aaron Ward just after her launching on 22 November 1941 (US Navy). She sank 7 April 1943 in a shoal near Tinete Point of Nggela Sule, the Solomon Islands during Operation I-Go. Her wreck was rediscovered on 4 September 1994.

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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