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Historical background

By the spring of 1942, despite the failure of Operation Barbarossa to decisively defeat the Soviet Union in a single campaign, the Germans had captured vast expanses of territory, including Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic republics. Elsewhere, the war had been progressing well: the U-Boat offensive in the Atlantic had been very successful and Rommel had just captured Tobruk.[17]:p.522 In the east, they had stabilized their front in a line running from Leningrad in the north to Rostov in the south. There were a number of salients, but these were not particularly threatening. Hitler was confident that he could master the Red Army after the winter of 1942, because even though Army Group Centre (Heeresgruppe Mitte) had suffered heavy losses west of Moscow the previous winter, 65% of Army Group Centre's infantry had not been engaged and had been rested and re-equipped. Neither Army Group North nor Army Group South had been particularly hard pressed over the winter.[18]:p.144 Stalin was expecting the main thrust of the German summer attacks to be directed against Moscow again.[1]:p.498

With the initial operations being very successful, the Germans decided that their summer campaign in 1942 would be directed at the southern parts of the Soviet Union. The initial objectives in the region around Stalingrad were the destruction of the industrial capacity of the city and the deployment of forces to block the Volga River. The river was a key route from the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea to central Russia. Its capture would disrupt commercial river traffic. The Germans cut the pipeline from the oilfields when they captured Rostov on 23 July. The capture of Stalingrad would make the delivery of Lend Lease supplies via the Persian Corridor much more difficult.[16]:909[19] Hitler proclaimed that after Stalingrad had been captured, all male civilians were to be killed and all women and children were to be deported because Stalingrad was dangerous with its communist inhabitants.[20]

On 23 July 1942, Hitler personally rewrote the operational objectives for the 1942 campaign, greatly expanding them to include the occupation of the city of Stalingrad. Both sides began to attach propaganda value to the city based on it bearing the name of the leader of the Soviet Union. It was assumed that the fall of the city would also firmly secure the northern and western flanks of the German armies as they advanced on Baku, with the aim of securing these strategic petroleum resources for Germany.[17]:p.528 The expansion of objectives was a significant factor in Germany's failure at Stalingrad, caused by German overconfidence and an underestimation of Soviet reserves.[21]

The Soviets realized that they were under tremendous constraints of time and resources and ordered that anyone strong enough to hold a rifle be sent to fight.[22]:p.94

Prelude

Main article: Case Blue

If I do not get the oil of Maikop and Grozny then I must finish [liquidieren; "kill off", "liquidate"] this war.



 Adolf Hitler[17]:p.514

Army Group South was selected for a sprint forward through the southern Russian steppes into the Caucasus to capture the vital Soviet oil fields there. The planned summer offensive was code-named Fall Blau (Case Blue). It was to include the German 6th, 17th, 4th Panzer and 1st Panzer Armies. Army Group South had overrun the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1941. Poised in Eastern Ukraine, it was to spearhead the offensive.

Hitler intervened, however, ordering the Army Group to split in two. Army Group South (A), under the command of Wilhelm List, was to continue advancing south towards the Caucasus as planned with the 17th Army and First Panzer Army. Army Group South (B), including Friedrich Paulus's 6th Army and Hermann Hoth's 4th Panzer Army, was to move east towards the Volga and Stalingrad. Army Group B was commanded initially by Field Marshal Fedor von Bock and later by General Maximilian von Weichs.[16]:p.915

The start of Case Blue had been planned for late May 1942. A number of German and Romanian units that were to take part in Blau, however, were besieging Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula. Delays in ending the siege pushed back the start date for Blau several times, and the city did not fall until the end of June. A smaller action was taken in the meantime, pinching off a Soviet salient in the Second Battle of Kharkov, which resulted in the envelopment of a large Soviet force on 22 May.

The German advance to the Don River between 7 May and 23 July.

Blau finally opened as Army Group South began its attack into southern Russia on 28 June 1942. The German offensive started well. Soviet forces offered little resistance in the vast empty steppes and started streaming eastward. Several attempts to re-establish a defensive line failed when German units outflanked them. Two major pockets were formed and destroyed: the first, northeast of Kharkov, on 2 July, and a second, around Millerovo, Rostov Oblast, a week later. Meanwhile, the Hungarian 2nd Army and the German 4th Panzer Army had launched an assault on Voronezh, capturing the city on 5 July.

The initial advance of the 6th Army was so successful that Hitler intervened and ordered the 4th Panzer Army to join Army Group South (A) to the south. A massive traffic jam resulted when the 4th Panzer and the 1st Panzer both required the few roads in the area. Both armies were stopped dead while they attempted to clear the resulting mess of thousands of vehicles. The delay was long, and it is thought that it cost the advance at least one week. With the advance now slowed, Hitler changed his mind and reassigned the 4th Panzer Army back to the attack on Stalingrad.

Infantry and a supporting StuG III assault gun advance towards the city center.

By the end of July, the Germans had pushed the Soviets across the Don River. At this point, the Don and Volga Rivers were only 65 km (40 mi) apart, and the Germans left their main supply depots west of the Don, which had important implications later in the course of the battle. The Germans began using the armies of their Italian, Hungarian and Romanian allies to guard their left (northern) flank. The Italians won several accolades in official German communiques.[23][24][25][26] Sometimes they were held in little regard by the Germans, and were even accused of having low morale: in reality, the Italian divisions fought comparatively well, with the 3rd Mountain Infantry Division Ravenna and 5th Infantry Division Cosseria proving to have good morale, according to a German liaison officer[27] and being forced to retreat only after a massive armoured attack in which German reinforcements had failed to arrive in time, according to a German historian.[28] Indeed the Italians distinguished themselves in numerous battles, as in the battle of Nikolayevka.

The German 6th Army was only a few dozen kilometers from Stalingrad, and 4th Panzer Army, now to their south, turned northwards to help take the city. To the south, Army Group A was pushing far into the Caucasus, but their advance slowed as supply lines grew overextended. The two German army groups were not positioned to support one another due to the great distances involved.

After German intentions became clear in July 1942, Stalin appointed Marshal Andrey Yeryomenko as commander of the Southeastern Front on 1 August 1942. Yeryomenko and Commissar Nikita Khrushchev were tasked with planning the defense of Stalingrad.[29]:p.25, 48 The eastern border of Stalingrad was the wide River Volga, and over the river, additional Soviet units were deployed. These units became the newly formed 62nd Army, which Yeryomenko placed under the command of Lt. Gen. Vasiliy Chuikov on 11 September 1942. The situation was extremely dire. When asked how he interpreted his task, he responded "We will defend the city or die in the attempt."[30]:p.127 The 62nd Army's mission was to defend Stalingrad at all costs. Chuikov's generalship during the battle earned him one of his two Hero of the Soviet Union awards.


Date: 2016-03-03; view: 992


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