Wednesday, February 20, 2019

November 28, 1941: Rostov Evacuated, German Closest Approach to Moscow

Friday 28 November 1941

Hitler, Milch, Bormann, Schaub, Brandt at Molders funeral, 28 November 1941
At the funeral for Colonel Werner Mölders on 28 November 1941, Adolf Hitler leads a delegation at the Reich Aviation Ministry. In the main group are, right to left, Field Marshal Erhard Milch (carrying baton), Hitler's attending physician SS Sturmbannführer Dr. Karl Brandt, Adolf Hitler, Hitler's Adjutant SS Gruppenführer Julius Schaub, and Reich Minister and Chief of the Reich Chancellery SS Obergruppenführer Martin Bormann (Federal Archive Figure 183-H0422-0502-001).
Eastern Front: The events of 28 November 1941 are decidedly mixed for the Wehrmacht. With Adolf Hitler in Berlin attending the funeral of Luftwaffe ace Colonel Werner Mölders, the Wehrmacht leaders in the Army Group South sector make their move to evacuate Rostov-on-Don. While German III Panzer Corps, commanded by General der Kavallerie Eberhard von Mackensen, has not yet been forced out of the city, everyone realizes that may not last very long. Soviet South Front, led by General Yakov Cherevichenko, has brought in twenty-one divisions and obviously is planning something. The German corps has only two divisions in Rostov, 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (Sepp Dietrich) and the 13th Panzer Division, and Mackensen already has reported that they are worn out from endless fighting. The divisions are at only half to two-thirds of their normal strength. In addition, the German supply situation is catastrophic and the divisions are short of everything. Accordingly, during the day First Panzer Army commander General Ewald von Kleist orders Mackensen to evacuate the city. This is accomplished by nightfall.

Hitler 28 November 1941
Adolf Hitler arriving at the funeral of Colonel Werner Mölders on 28 November 1941. Hitler is in his Mercedes Cabriolet and is passing the military band (Federal Archive Figure 101I-597-B0526-17).
Hitler does not learn of the withdrawal from Rostov on the 28th, most likely because the Wehrmacht does not go out of its way to tell him. After the Mölders funeral, Hitler boards his command train "Amerika" and begins the journey back to his headquarters in East Prussia. While traveling through the night, Hitler does not receive any communications about the withdrawal and has no reason to think that one is being made. Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, commander of Army Group South, understands that Hitler may not approve the order but tells von Kleist's to order Mackensen to withdraw anyway. Since Hitler is unaware of the order to withdraw, he is not able to countermand it before it is executed. Everything is planned as much around Hitler's unavailability as it is the situation in Rostov. It is a perfectly timed operation... against both the Red Army and the Fuehrer.

Light Tank Mk VIB at Tobruk, 28 November 1941
"The crew of a Light Tank Mk VIB looking for any movement of the enemy near Tobruk, 28 November 1941." General Rommel's panzers are southeast of Tobruk skirmishing with British tanks. © IWM (E 6822).
The Soviets are counterattacking all around Moscow in order to disrupt German plans, and those battles are having the intended effect. West of Moscow, Soviet Western Front launches a powerful counterattack against the German 4th Army (Field Marshal Günther von Kluge). Von Kluge's forces are able to stop the Red Army, but this scrambles its own plans to launch an offensive against the Soviet capital beginning on 2 December. South of Moscow, at Tula, General Leo Freiherr Geyr von Schweppenburg’s XXIV Motorized Corps moves forward to attack Tula from the north and east while XLII Army Corps attacks from the west. However, von Schweppenburg's troops have to make a move parallel to the front along a narrow corridor to get into position for the attack and are subjected to fierce artillery fire from the city. The Soviets also are attacking the exposed German position north of Moscow at Tikhvin with the 52nd and 54th Armies by attacking the flanks of the long salient to the city in an attempt to cut off the garrison. Continuing Soviet counterattacks are not dislodging the German troops anywhere, but the endless pressure is definitely wearing them down.

O-21, 28 November 1941
Dutch submarine O-21, shown, sinks U-95 (Kptlt. Gerd Schreiber) on 28 November 1941 near Gibraltar. Captain Schreiber and 11 of his men survive the sinking, are rescued by O-21, and spend the rest of the war in POW camps (© IWM (A 7083)).
Northwest of Moscow, the German attack is going better than elsewhere. Early in the morning, the Seventh Panzer Division (General Baron von Funck), led by Hasso von Manteuffel's rifle regiment, captures and crosses the Jakhroma (Yakhroma) bridge across the Moscow/Volga canal. A sergeant in Manteuffel's unit later remarks:
I was participating in the assault across the Moscow-Volga canal near Jakhroma and withessed our "little one" (Manteuffel) switch off the Muscovites' power in the ower station of Jakhroma. He was the first in the attack and the last to retreat.
The sergeant's comment about the "retreat" is telling because the German forces do not remain in place for very long. While Manteuffel's men hold a bridgehead throughout the day, some panzers that cross the bridge to support them are driven back to the other side by 10:00. The Soviet defenders of the 1st Shock Army unleash a torrent of fire that includes air attacks and Katyusha rocket launchers. Now within about 20 miles of the Kremlin, this is the closest that the Wehrmacht gets.

Eagle Squadron pilots of RAF No. 121 Squadron,r 28 November 1941
Two Eagle Squadron pilots, Sgt John J "Jack" Mooney (left) and P/O Donald W "Mac" McLeod, at RAF Kirton-in-Lindsey on 28 November 1941. They are in  RAF No 121 Squadron, the second Eagle Squadron, formed with volunteer pilots from the United States in May.
US/Japanese Relations: With no active proposals on the table from either side, negotiations have broken down between the United States and Japan. The Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo sends a coded message to Ambassador Nomura in Washington, who has suggested submitting another peace proposal:
Well, you two Ambassadors have exerted superhuman efforts but, in spite of this, the United States has gone ahead and presented this humiliating proposal. This was quite unexpected and extremely regrettable. The Imperial Government can by no means use it as a basis for negotiations. Therefore, with a report of the views of the Imperial Government on this American proposal which I will send you in two or three days, the negotiations will be de facto ruptured. This is inevitable. However, I do not wish you to give the impression that the negotiations are broken off. Merely say to them that you are awaiting instructions and that, although the opinions of your Government are not yet clear to you, to your own way of thinking the Imperial Government has always made just claims and has borne great sacrifices for the sake of peace in the Pacific. Say that we have always demonstrated a long-suffering and conciliatory attitude, but that, on the other hand, the United States has been unbending, making it impossible for Japan to establish negotiations. Since things have come to this pass, I contacted the man you told me to in your #1180 and he said that under the present circumstances what you suggest is entirely unsuitable. From now on do the best you can.
The United States military "Magic" decoding unit is reading the Japanese diplomatic codes almost in real-time, so both sides understand that the situation is extremely grave. The Japanese fleet is at sea and heading toward Hawaii, but the Americans do not know this.

Hitler and Grand Mufti, 28 November 1941
Adolf Hitler meets with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem on 28 November 1941 (Hoffmann, Federal Archive Picture 146-1987-004-09A).
German/Arab Relations: Since he is staying in Berlin today to attend Oberst Mölders' funeral anyway, Hitler meets with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Hajj Amin al Husseini. The Grand Mufti was in Iraq when the British invaded earlier in the year and only reached Berlin after a very difficult and roundabout journey. He professes his loyalty to the German cause and offers to enlist Arab soldiers to fight beside the Wehrmacht. Hitler, in turn, promises that the Arabs can have Palestine once it is conquered by the Wehrmacht after breaking through the Caucasus and turning southwest into the Middle East. Both parties are united in their goal of eradicating any Jewish element in the region.

Australian Group Captain Roy King, KIA 28 November 1941
Group Captain [Elwyn] Roy King, DFC DSO of  No. 4 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps (AFC). Captain King died suddenly on 28 November 1941 (Australian War Memorial A03717).

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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