Saturday, December 29, 2018

October 5, 1941: Hoth Goes South

Sunday 5 October 1941

POW Exchange 5 October 1941
"A Luftwaffe officer prisoner is escorted down the gangplank of a hospital ship to exercise on the quayside at Newhaven, 5 October 1941. He was one of a number of German POWs awaiting repatriation in a prisoner exchange." © IWM (H 14474).
Eastern Front: There are many command changes during World War II on both sides. However, on 5 October 1941, the Wehrmacht makes a seemingly routine change that reverberates across the conduct of the war in the East and also reveals some unpleasant truths about the state of the Wehrmacht in 1941.

Peterhof Memorial 5 October 1941
The Peterhof Memorial. This commemorates a failed Soviet landing at Peterhof Palace at Petergof, Leningrad on 5 October 1941. The Soviets landed 510 troops with the intent of seizing the town, which the Germans had captured on 23 September, and blocking the highway. The landing was a complete and utter disaster, with the German defenders killing or capturing the entire landing party by 7 October.
The southern flank of the German advance during Operation Barbarossa has been both the most and the least, successful of the three main prongs of the offensive. While it is the only army group that has actually met its main objective by capturing Kyiv, this required a diversion of the main striking power from Army Group Center, namely General Guderian's Panzer Group 2, to the south. The major port city of Odessa has been given to the Romanians to subdue, and while it now is far behind the main front, the Soviets there still hold out. Dissatisfaction at the pace of operations throughout the sector under the leadership of Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt has been growing for weeks.

Oberleutnant Peter Kiesgen 5 October 1941
Oberleutnant Peter Kiesgen wins the Knight's Cross on 5 October 1941. Kiesgen is Führer (Leader) of 1./Infanterie-Regiment 239 of the 106. Infanterie-Division. Note the five tank destruction badges on his sleeve, earned by personally destroying an enemy tank. He also is wearing the Infantry Assault Badge, Iron Cross First and Second Class, Wounded Badge in Black and on the right-center pocket the Spanish Cross in Bronze with Swords. Obviously, Kiesgen is a veteran of the Spanish Civil War and someone who engages in combat.
The commander of the 11th Army at the extreme south of the line at the start of Operation Barbarossa, Colonel-General Eugen Ritter von Schobert, perished on 12 September 1941 when his Fiesler Storch observation plane landed in a minefield. He was replaced by General Erich von Manstein, previously a corps commander. On 5 October 1941, the army holding the line just to the north of the 11th Army, 17th Army, also gets a new commander. However, this command change is a little different and has nothing to do with anyone dying. Instead, the reason is a little more subtle and much more complex.

General of Infantry Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel 5 October 1941
General of Infantry Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel.
General of the Infantry Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel is a World War I veteran and a former Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Army. However, his actual command experience is very limited. General Franz Halder, Chief of Staff of OKH, has been hinting in his diary that von Stülpnagel's performance has been unacceptable. For instance, on 3 October 1941 Halder cryptically wrote in his war diary that:
Regrouping of Sixth and Seventeenth Army has been initiated. The method chosen by the Army Group, to order the two left-wing Corps of Seventeenth Army to strike northeast, under its direct control, for the time being, is an indication of tensions within the Army Group.
The next day, on 4 October 1941, Halder wrote the following:
[17th Army] Commanding General, von Stülpnagel, has reported sick. This illness is the result of the pressure brought to bear on him because of his timid leadership. Intervention by the Army Group a few days ago in taking the command of his northern wing out of his hands and so getting the movement underway again, probably is as much a cause of this illness as is the letter from the Army Commanding General.
It is very rare for Halder to be openly caustic about his colleagues in his war diary, so to see him openly calling von Stülpnagel "timid" is shocking. This is about the worst thing that a commanding general can be called during the war on either side and invariably leads to their replacement. Being too aggressive can be worse than being too timid, but it seldom gets a general fired.

Panamanian 744-ton freighter SS C. Jon 5 October 1941
Panamanian 744-ton freighter SS C. Jon, sunk southwest of Ireland on 5 October 1941 by U-204.
Some note that Von Stülpnagel's history of riding a desk may be one cause of this "timidness." However, there may be a darker reason that Halder does not know. For some time, von Stülpnagel has been a secret opponent of Hitler. Like many of the generals, von Stülpnagel was upset by the Blomberg–Fritsch affair in January 1938. The Sudeten Crisis later in 1938 changed von Stülpnagel from being a passive resister to an active one. He initiated contact with the Schwarze Kapelle (Black Orchestra, a group of officers within the Wehrmacht who wished to overthrow Hitler) and revealing the secret plan for the invasion of Czechoslovakia. He remained a conspirator for the rest of his life. Thus, von Stülpnagel does not his heart in German conquest, which may explain his "timid" leadership.

Having reported himself sick, which is a typical ruse by German generals to resign without actually resigning, von Stülpnagel needs to be replaced. The German high command now makes the utterly unfathomable decision to replace von Stülpnagel with Hermann Hoth, the commander of Panzer Group 3. There are several reasons why this is odd. Hoth is a panzer expert, one of the best of World War II, and the 17th Army is not a panzer formation. In addition, Hoth has been having great success with his command of Panzer Group 3, which is about to be upgraded to a full Panzer Army. Finally, Panzer Group 3 is in an absolutely critical situation, being the left arm of the Wehrmacht's advance on Moscow. Replacing its commander at such a critical juncture is just asking for trouble. Hoth is replaced at Panzer Group 3 by General Georg-Hans Reinhardt, the commander of XLI Panzer Corps. While Reinhardt is a capable officer, switching command right as the panzer group is delicately trying to execute a movement that may determine the outcome of the entire war is a very risky decision. In addition, Reinhardt also will have to be replaced in his critical position in Panzer Group 3. This is akin to taking a winning formula and starting from scratch.

General Hermann Hoth 5 October 1941
General Hermann Hoth.
It is unclear why Hoth is forced to move at this time from a critical point on the front to an unimportant, but a hardly critical, area. The reason may be that Field Marshal von Rundstedt in charge of the army group is the senior officer in the Wehrmacht and basically has his pick of replacements. He previously chose Manstein for the 11th Army because they had worked together well in planning the successful invasion through the Ardennes in 1940. Hoth is a dashing, aggressive tactician who does not carry the baggage of General Guderian at Panzer Group 2, who is well known to be a difficult subordinate. General Hoth can be expected to be aggressive without becoming a problem, exactly what von Rundstedt needs.

POW Exchange 5 October 1941
German Prisoners being loaded on ships in exchange for British prisoners waiting in Dieppe, France, 5 October 1941. There were several such trips during this exchange, including German women nurses repatriated for British nurses.
How this impacts Operation Typhoon, the drive to Moscow, is not really his concern - German generals are notorious for only worrying about their own operations and not those being handled by other commands. However, from a larger perspective, removing a successful commander such as Hoth from an absolutely critical operation, the advance on Moscow, is not positive for the German war effort. It is one of those oft-overlooked "details" that can be the difference between ultimate victory and defeat.

White Tower hamburger joint in NY 5 October 1941
October 1941. An exterior view of the White Tower (called "White Tavern" in the LOC captions and eventually to be called "White Castle") restaurant in Amsterdam, New York. Medium-format nitrate negative by John Collier for the Farm Security Administration. 

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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