Sunday, January 6, 2019

October 14, 1941: Germans Take Kalinin

Tuesday 14 October 1941

Wehrmacht troops at Kalinin, 14 October 1941
German soldiers manning a machine gun beside railway tracks on the outskirts of Kalinin, 14 October 1941.
Eastern Front: Operation Typhoon, the German attack on Moscow, has transformed into an attempt to envelop the city by 14 October 14, 1941. The Soviets are hastily assembling their remaining Western Front troops and those finally arriving from the East in a defensive ring anchored on Mozhaysk (Mozhaisk) on the high road to the Soviet capital. Rather than try to batter their way into the city, the Germans instead are sending their panzers to the northeast and southeast. This is part of an increasing German pattern of focusing their advances only where the Soviets have the fewest defensive forces and not actually confronting them where they are strong, a tendency that will get them in trouble in 1942.

Wehrmacht troops at Kalinin, 14 October 1941
Two German soldiers grab some rest in the field, 14 October 1941.
The Germans make good progress, but there's a problem: the distances are immense. An advance of hundreds of kilometers against fierce opposition is necessary to encircle Moscow, and there are many natural features that favor the defense. Nevertheless, the Wehrmacht is off to a good beginning today. The 1st Panzer Division under the command of Generalleutnant Walter Krüger skirts the Soviet defenses and advances an astonishing 75 miles (120 km) to take Kalinin (Tver), an important city on the main Moscow - Leningrad road. This is an extraordinary achievement after going cross-country from the south, it still leaves the panzers 93 miles (150 km) away from Moscow. This advance also cuts the Moscow - Leningrad railway, but Army Group North already did that in September. These sorts of achievements look great in the abstract, but they do not actually achieve anything significant - they simply set the stage for achieving something eventually. When that will be, or rather if that will be, remains very much in doubt.

Wehrmacht troops at Kalinin, 14 October 1941
Gander, Newfoundland is a key airfield on the air transport link from the United States and Gret Britain. Here, Sir Humphrey Walwyn, Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador, chats with an unidentified RCAF ferry pilot. This photo was taken on 14 October 1941.
Krüger's troops also capture a bridge across the Volga and establish a small bridgehead on the north bank. This not strategically important - it does not really aid the advance on Moscow - but it conceivably could aid an advance further east using the Volga as a shield to the south against flank attacks. It is symbolically important as the only intact bridge over the Volga that the Germans ever seize, either here or much further south in the Stalingrad area. However, on the all-important Smolensk highway to Moscow, The Soviet 32nd Siberian Rifle Division from Vladivostok is dug in now and armed to the teeth. It incorporates three infantry regiments and two armored brigades newly equipped with T-34s and KV-2s. This unit is only there because of the work of master spy Richard Sorge in Tokyo, who gave Stalin the information that led to its redeployment to the west.

Wehrmacht troops at Kalinin, 14 October 1941
Paul Hausser, wearing his eyepatch, and General Erwin J. Rommel.
While the general German plan now is to encircle Moscow, SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Paul Hausser probes the Soviet defenses at Borodino with his SS-Infanterie-Division (mot.) Das Reich and the attached "Hauenschild Brigade" of 10.Panzer Division. He gets an unpleasant surprise, as the Siberian troops are warmly attired, including fur caps, and amply equipped with the multi-purpose 7.62-cm gun that has proven extremely effective along with the Katyusha mortars (called "Stalin's organs" by the Germans due to their distinctive sound). While the Germans already are familiar with the T-34s and KV-2s, for the first time the Soviets deploy them in mass formations. The Germans take heavy casualties, and commander Obergruppenfuhrer Hausser himself suffers a serious wound to his right eye that forces him to wear a patch over it for the remainder of the war. However, the panzers' momentum proves unstoppable at this time, and they force their way through a key part of the Siberian line. Fighting continues at Borodino Field, but the Germans appear poised to overcome the Soviet defenses and continue moving east toward Moscow.

Wehrmacht troops at Kalinin, 14 October 1941
A bomb disposal unit in northeast England, 14 October 1941.
Overall, it is another good day for the Wehrmacht. The panzers blast through to new gains. However, the strength of Soviet resistance after almost four months of constant fighting is troubling. The presence of fresh and well-armed Soviet troops at the gates of Moscow is unexpected, and the vast distances that must be covered just to be in a position to attack are causing greater wear and tear on the panzers than in the past. The temperatures around Moscow are right around freezing, and the first heavy snowfall at Leningrad turns the entire area white. The lack of anti-freeze for vehicles forces the Germans to make a hard choice: they can either drain their radiators at night and hope that their vehicles don't freeze solid, or run them periodically throughout the night to keep them warm and thereby waste fuel and give the enemy an extremely easy way to know where they are. For now, the problem is not acute, but it is getting worse every day as the temperature drops.

Wehrmacht troops at Kalinin, 14 October 1941
"Five children eat American cheese sandwiches at an open-air emergency feeding center in Liverpool. Behind them, a man can be seen cooking at one of several Soyer boilers or field cookers, available for use by civilians in the area." 14 October 1941 © IWM (V 93).
Partisans: The partisan threat in the Soviet Union remains fairly muted as the panzers appear poised for victory. However, the rapid German advance has left many bypassed Red Army formations intact in between the roads. Today, the Germans begin Operation Karlsbad to pacify the region between Smolensk and Minsk in the vicinity of Orsha and Vitebsk and along the Berezina River. These Soviet units, some of which include tanks and airplanes, are no match for a determined German offensive, but the Germans front is far to the east and focused on Moscow, not Orsha. Partisan operations prove extremely difficult because the Wehrmacht simply doesn't have the spare infantry to enclose large areas under partisan control. Still, the attempt must be made, and Operation Karlsbad is just the first of many anti-partisan operations that usually achieve little but must be attempted due to the vulnerability of German supply lines.

Wehrmacht troops at Kalinin, 14 October 1941
HMS Syrtis (P241). Laid down: 14 October 1941 Launched: February 4, 1943. Commissioned: 23 April 1943. Sunk March 28, 1944.

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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