Von Kleist 'bounces' the Terek into the Caucasus

Von Kleist 'bounces' the Terek into the Caucasus
This is my first post by the way, so please bear with me and my long quotations.

According to Robert A. Forczyk's Campaign 281-The Caucasus 1942-43: Kleist's race for oil:

When combined with the losses of Heeresgruppe B around Stalingrad, the losses of Heeresgruppe A further drained German strength to the point that the strategic initiative was lost to the Red Army. Yet unlike Stalingrad, the Germans could not blame their defeat in the Caucasus upon their Romanian allies – failure was entirely due to German-made decisions. List, with some help from Hitler and the OKH, made mistake after mistake, beginning with the inability to focus on a single objective, followed by committing the wrong forces to the wrong missions. Instead of focusing on the oil, List allowed his command to disperse on multiple divergent missions. While it is unlikely that the capture of Tuapse or Grozny would have had any substantial impact on the outcome of the campaign, Heeresgruppe A did have the resources to take one of these objectives, but not both. The Caucasus was the kind of campaign that the panzer divisions were designed to win, using bold manoeuvres across flat steppes against a disorganised foe that lacked proper air, artillery or armour support. However, Hitler and the OKH failed to provide their main effort with the logistic resources and air support it needed to succeed. Had 1. Panzerarmee received priority of fuel in August, including deliveries of fuel by air, it almost certainly could have ‘bounced’ the Terek before the Soviets could build a defensive line along the entire river. Reduced to only two fuel-starved divisions at the tip of his spear, von Kleist’s spearhead was stopped more by his own side than the Red Army. Failing this, Hitler should have recognised by mid-September 1942 that the offensive in the Caucasus was futile and shifted all effort to Heeresgruppe B – which could have reduced the risk to 6. Armee at Stalingrad. Historians have generally focused on Stalingrad as the defining moment of the 1942 campaign, but the faulty German performance in the Caucasus indicates endemic problems in the Third Reich’s style of operational and strategic planning that go well beyond the mistakes of a few individual generals.

He then supports the claims that he has just made in his novel, Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front, 1941-1942, Schwerpunkt:

Von Kleist’s Panzers Head for the Oil, 9 July–6 September​

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Von Kleist’s Panzerarmee 1 had waited behind the Donets while Hoth’s panzers smashed in the Bryansk and Southwestern Fronts. By the time that von Kleist attacked at dawn on 9 July, the Southwest Front was already off-balance, with its left flank falling back under the hammer blows of AOK 6’s pursuing XXXX Panzerkorps. Von Kleist deployed his III and XIV Panzerkorps on line with the 14, 16, and 22.Panzer-Division side-by-side and conducted a frontal assault against four rifle divisions of Kozlov’s 37th Army. Kozlov only had a single tank brigade with forty-six tanks to oppose Kleist’s 330 tanks, so the Soviets fell back rather than face encirclement and annihilation, as they had before. AOK 17 joined the offensive on 11 July, slowly pushing the Southern Front back toward Rostov.

At this point, with the entire Soviet front between Voronezh and the Sea of Azov in flux, Hitler issued Führer Directive 43, which made ill-judged alterations to the Blau operational plan: Hoth’s panzers were transferred to Heeresgruppe A for the drive into the Caucasus, rather than supporting the AOK 6 drive on Stalingrad.

Within six days, Mackensen’s III Panzerkorps ended up conducting a great wheel, turning southeast and ending up behind the 12th and 37th Armies. The Soviet 12th Army was forced to abandon Voroshilovgrad and hastily retreat to avoid encirclement. Veiel’s XXXXVIII Panzerkorps from Hoth’s 4.Panzerarmee joined up with von Kleist’s two corps, reinforcing the great armoured wheel to the southeast, with the Southern Front in full retreat. The German motorized infantry divisions, each reinforced with their own Panzer-Abteilung, proved their worth in a pursuit operation: the Grossdeutschland and 16 and 29.Infanterie-Divisionen (mot.) raced ahead of the panzer divisions and reached the Don river east of Rostov by 17 July. Once this occurred, the Southern Front fell back through Rostov, leaving only elements of the 56th Army to defend the city. General der Panzertruppen Friedrich Kirchner’s Gruppe Kirchner (LVII Panzerkorps and XXXXIX Gebirgs-korps), which up to this point had been sitting on the sidelines, advanced 30km on 21 July and approached Rostov from the west with the 13.Panzer-Division, SS-Division Wiking and three infantry divisions. This action was also the combat debut of Waffen-SS armour on the Eastern Front, with SS-Sturmbannführer Johannes-Rudolf Mühlenkamp’s SS-Panzer-Abteilung 5 leading the way into Rostov. Simultaneously, Mackensen’s III Panzerkorps also approached Rostov from the north – four German mechanized divisions closed in on the city. Three layers of anti-tank ditches and mines slowed, but did not stop the advance of German armour into the city. A company of Brandenburg infiltration troops was attached to the 13.Panzer-Division, which assisted them in seizing key points in the city. On 22–23 July, Wiking and 13.Panzer-Division fought their way into western Rostov, which was burning and covered by dense clouds of smoke. The Soviets fought the battle with rearguards, enabling the Southern Front’s remaining armour to escape across the Don. For the first time, German armour was involved in serious fighting in an urban environment, which made panzer commanders fearful of sticking their heads out of their cupolas due to the threat posed by Soviet snipers. Most of the streets were blocked with obstacles, which severely limited the tactical mobility of the Panzer-Abteilungen. Several centers of resistance, such as the NKVD headquarters building, required close tank-infantry coordination to reduce. After a tough fight, most of the Soviet rearguards pulled back across the Don on the night of 24–25 July, although mop-up continued in Rostov until 27 July.44

Despite the capture of Rostov, von Kleist’s armour would not be able to reach the oil fields in the Caucasus if the 56th Army blew up the main rail bridge over the Don River at Bataysk. Without a rail bridge over the Don, Heeresgruppe Süd would not be in a position to support a deep thrust into the Caucasus for weeks, which would have given the Southern Front time to recover. The railroad bridge was not the only obstacle, but a long causeway over marshy terrain, followed by another bridge – a tailor-made blocking position. Instead, the Soviet 56th Army made the kind of horrendous error which seemed to dog the Red Army even in the second year of the war: they neglected to properly guard or destroy the railroad bridge at Bataysk. During the night of 24–25 July, a small force of motorcycle infantry from the 13.Panzer-Division and some Brandenburg infiltrators slipped across the Don in rubber boats and caught the bridge security detail by surprise.

Although most of the German assault troops were killed and the bridge partly damaged, it was held long enough for a force from 13.Panzer-Division to arrive and secure the bridge, providing von Kleist with his entry point into the Caucasus. This was the place where even a single battalion of T-34 tanks might have brought Operation Blau to a premature halt, but the Southern Front had pulled its armour back from the river. It was a gross blunder, in a war filled with blunders.

Von Kleist sent two infantry divisions across into the Bataysk bridgehead to clear out the town and marshland, giving his panzers a brief pause. East of Rostov, the XXIV and XXXX Panzerkorps had already established four small bridgeheads with pontoon bridges across the lower Don and the 3.Panzer-Division was across in force. After Rostov fell, the German intelligence estimate of Soviet forces and dispositions in the Caucasus was vague.

In fact, General-polkovnik Rodion I. Malinovsky’s Southern Front had only five very beat-up armies with 112,000 troops stretched along a 300km-wide front south of the Don. Malinovsky knew that the Stavka was going to send most of its reserves to support the fighting around Voronezh and Stalingrad and that he was more or less on his own for some time. On 25 July, von Kleist began his advance into the Caucasus by probing southward with elements of XXXX and XXXVIII Panzerkorps. The 3 and 23.Panzer-Divisionen, along with 16.Infanterie-Division (mot.) easily smashed the thin defenses of the 37th Army and plunged deep into the steppe, toward the Manych River. In response, the Soviet 51st Army flung the 135th and 155th Tank Brigades against the flank of the 23.Panzer-Division at Martinovka on 28–29 July; the result was a one-sided tank battle where the Soviets lost up to seventy-seven of 100 tanks (a mix of T-34s and T-70s) against only three German tanks. Much of the action was fought at close range, under 300 meters, but Kampfgruppe Burmeister’s gunnery proved far superior to that of the Russian tankers.45

By 28 July, Malinovsky could see his front collapsing and he ordered the 12th, 18th and 37th Armies to retreat southward. On 29 July, the LVII Panzerkorps exploded out of the Bataysk bridgehead and 13.Panzer-Division captured Ssalsk on 30 July. Von Kleist’s armour shifted to full pursuit mode, with the LVII, III and XXXX Panzerkorps driving all before them. The LVII Panzerkorps took about 9,000 prisoners in four days, which – while not spectacular – was still about half the front-line strength of the opposing 18th Army.

For the first time in months, German panzer divisions were advancing 20–40km per day against minimal resistance. Morale among von Kleist’s tankers was sky high – pursuit of a broken foe is a heady, intoxicating feeling, while it lasts. Heeresgruppe A split into two parts, with von Kleist’s 1.Panzerarmee pressing on for the oilfields while AOK 17 turned to clear the Kuban. With victory seemingly within von Kleist’s grasp, two factors intervened to hobble the Blitzkrieg. First, Hitler decided to transfer the XXXXVIII Panzerkorps back to Hoth’s command to support the drive on Stalingrad, which was now designated as the priority, not the Caucasus. The OKH also decided to take the Grossdeutschland Division – von Kleist’s strongest motorized infantry division – and send it to Rzhev. Second, von Kleist’s logistic situation deteriorated rapidly once he advanced south of the Don, away from his supply sources, and fuel shortages became endemic. As July ended, the remnants of Malinovsky’s Southern Front were absorbed into Marshal Semyon Budyonny’s North Caucasus Front. Budyonny tasked Malinovsky with stopping von Kleist’s armour with the 12th, 37th and 51st Armies while the rest of his forces tried to stop AOK 17 in the Kuban.

As August began, von Kleist massed his three Panzerkorps into a massive wedge, with a total of about 350 tanks, and pushed due south to Armavir. Advancing across the arid steppe of the Caucasus, von Kleist’s panzers encountered temperatures up to 40° C (104°F), which made water just as important for resupply as fuel. After advancing 100km, the 13.Panzer-Division captured Armavir on 3 August, while 3.Panzer-Division captured Stavropol on 5 August, which forced Malinovsky’s forces to continue their retreat toward Grozny. By 7 August, von Kleist’s armour was finally within range of its first objective – the oilfields at Maikop – and he directed the 13.Panzer-Division, SS-Wiking and 16.Infanterie-Division (mot.) to converge on the city. Although Soviet anti-tank guns put up a stiff resistance at the Laba River on 8 August and knocked out some of SS-Wiking ’s tanks, the 12th Army had no tanks left and could not stop the III Panzerkorps. Assisted by Brandenburg infiltrators dressed in Red Army uniforms, the 13.Panzer-Division fought its way into Maikop on 9 August and occupied the oil fields by the next day. The retreating Soviets had thoroughly sabotaged the pumping equipment and set the fields alight, meaning it would be up to a year before more than a trickle of crude oil might be available to the Wehrmacht – but Maikop would be abandoned in January 1943. Nevertheless, the occupation of Maikop did deprive the Red Army of 6.8 per cent of its crude oil supplies for the duration of the war – a not inconsiderable accomplishment.

By 10 August, von Kleist had Malinovsky’s forces on the run, with XXXX Panzerkorps pushing southeast down the main rail line to Grozny and Baku, while III and LVII Panzerkorps mopped up around Maikop. By this point, Malinovsky’s only armoured unit was Major Vladimir Filippov’s 52nd Tank Brigade – a low-quality unit equipped with a mixed group of forty-six T-34s, T-60s, Valentines and Lees. A total of 4,500 tankers who had escaped into the Caucasus after abandoning their tanks – a shocking indictment of the low state of morale and training in the Red Army’s tank units in mid-1942 – were sent to the Urals to reequip with new tanks.46 It was at this point that the Germans decided to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm List was one of Hitler’s uninspired choices to lead his main effort in the 1942 campaign, since he had limited experience with armour – just the brief Balkans campaigns – and had completely missed the first year of the war on the Eastern Front. List brought an old-school, First World War mentality to his handling of Heeresgruppe A and he was concerned when von Kleist’s panzers went charging off toward Grozny and Baku, while leaving AOK 17 to clear out the Kuban and the coastline. He believed that Soviet forces in these areas posed a threat to his right flank, even though the 47th and 56th Armies had minimal combat strength remaining and just fifteen light tanks. Nevertheless, on 12 August List ordered von Kleist to divert both the III Panzerkorps and the LVII Panzerkorps to support a drive westward to Tuapse to cut off the two Soviet armies and clear the coast. During 12–18 August, SS-Wiking , the 13.Panzer-Division and the 16.Infanterie-Division were tied up in this ridiculous diversion, which consumed their limited fuel supplies on a secondary objective. List sent this collection of armour down a narrow road into the mountains, which was easily blocked – and they never reached Tuapse. Meanwhile, von Kleist continued toward Grozny with just 3.Panzer-Division and part of 23.Panzer-Division; even though the Wehrmacht had nineteen panzer divisions on the Eastern Front, the schwerpunkt aimed at the critical objectives of the entire summer offensive was reduced to less than two. List also diverted much of Heeresgruppe A’s limited supplies toward his efforts to clear the Kuban and the coast, leaving von Kleist’s spearhead to sputter for lack of fuel.

Nevertheless, on 15 August the 23.Panzer-Division managed to capture Georgievsk, 200km from Grozny, before its fuel began to give out. Heeresgruppe A managed to repair the rail line all the way from Rostov down to Pyatigorsk by 18 August, but it was a single-track line that could only handle very limited throughput. Given a respite from von Kleist’s pursuit, the Stavka sent reinforcements to the Caucasus, including the 10th Guards Rifle Corps, which enabled Malinovsky to build a more solid defensive line behind the Terek River. Once the German drive on Tuapse stalled, List finally allowed the III Panzerkorps to rejoin von Kleist’s advance toward Grozny, but the 13.Panzer-Division and 16.Infanterie-Division (mot.) ran out of fuel en route and were immobilized, then the OKH decided to transfer the latter unit to Heeresgruppe B. The XXXXIX Gebirgskorps was supposed to support von Kleist’s armour, but List diverted it westward to Sochi – which was never taken. Kleist made it to the Terek river with the 3, 13 and 23.Panzer-Divisionen by 23 August, but with only two infantry divisions of LII Armeekorps in support. While von Kleist had a 3–1 numerical advantage in armour over Malinovsky, the Soviet commander had considerably more infantry. By this point, Malinovsky had scraped together three OTBs to supplement Filippov’s 52nd Tank Brigade, but he had virtually no T-34s; rather, he had about forty-three Valentines, sixty-three Lees and a handful of T-60s.

Due to the difficulty of shipping T-34s from the Urals on the single rail line remaining into the Caucasus, Malinovsky’s forces were almost entirely dependent upon Lend-Lease American and British armour arriving through Persia. On the German side, von Kleist still had most of his armour since there had been relatively light combat in the Caucasus, and he was beginning to receive upgraded Pz.IIIL and Pz.IVG tanks. However, his fuel situation was abysmal and most of his air support had been stripped away as well.

Von Kleist realized that time was running out and he decided to try and get across the Terek River with the forces available. The 3.Panzer-Division managed to seize Mozdok on the northern side of the Terek on 25 August, but efforts to cross the wide river were repulsed. On the morning of 26 August, Generalmajor Erwin Mack, commander of the 23.Panzer-Division, and one of his battalion commanders, was killed by Soviet mortar fire while observing operations along the Terek.47 The river proved too wide, deep and fast-flowing to cross under fire and von Kleist was stymied. In desperation, Oberst Erpo Freiherr von Bodenhausen, commander of the 23.Panzergrenadier Brigade, was selected to lead a mixed armoured kampfgruppe toward Chervlennaya on the north side of the Terek, where the junction of the Baku-Astrakhan rail line ran. Von Bodenhausen succeeded in reaching the rail junction on 31 August – only 27km from Grozny – and briefly interrupted Soviet rail traffic from Baku (still 490km distant), but his force was too small to hold this exposed position and he fell back toward the main body.48 Von Kleist’s forces were completely out of fuel and he was not able to make another attempt to get across the Terek River until 6 September. The 13.Panzer-Division succeeded in finally getting across the river, but it was too late; Malinovsky’s forces had steadily been reinforced and his numerically-superior troops were too well dug in to budge. Hitler finally relieved List three days later and took personal control over Heeresgruppe A – surely one of his weirdest command decisions of the Second World War. While fighting would continue along the Terek River until early November, when the first snow arrived, von Kleist’s offensive had culminated and the front became static.

The Caucasus was the kind of campaign that the panzer divisions were designed to win, using bold maneuvers across flat steppes against a disorganized foe who lacked proper air, artillery or armour support. However, Hitler and the OKH failed to provide their main effort with the resources it needed to succeed. Reduced to only five fuel-starved divisions at the tip of his spear, von Kleist’s spearhead was stopped more by his own side than the Red Army. In the Caucasus, the Red Army lacked the material advantages in armour and artillery it enjoyed on other fronts. While von Kleist’s panzers failed to seize a significant amount of the oil resources of the Caucasus, they did come exceedingly close to interdicting two-thirds of the Soviet Union’s supply of crude oil. Oil was just as much the Red Army’s strategic center of gravity as it was for the Wehrmacht. Had von Kleist’s panzers reached Grozny and Baku, the Red Army would have likely found it difficult to provide fuel for the multi-front offensives of 1943–44.

Forczyk then makes the case that the ultimately futile Operation Wirbelwind by PzAOK2 in Heeresgruppe Mitte diverted precious German resources away that could instead have been used to both reinforce Heeresgruppe A and B's respective drives on the Caucasus and Stalingrad in the same book:

However, the Germans noted that the recent bungled Western Front offensive presented Heeresgruppe Mitte not only with an opportunity to mount a riposte to eliminate all or part of the Sukhinichi salient before the Red Army recovered, but also to distract Zhukov’s remaining armour away from the vulnerable Rzhev salient. Despite the priority of Blau , Hitler and the OKH authorized a limited offensive known as Wirbelwind , set to begin in early August. Schmidt’s 2.Panzerarmee would form the schwerpunkt of its offensive with General der Infanterie Heinrich Clößner’s LIII Armeekorps, which was given 11 and 20.Panzer-Divisionen, the 197 and 202.Sturmgeschütz-Abteilungen and four infantry divisions. In addition, Schmidt retained Lemelsen’s XXXXVII Panzerkorps with the 18.Panzer-Division and gained Generaloberst Josef Harpe’s XXXXI Panzerkorps, with the 9, 17 and 19.Panzer-Divisionen. Schmidt’s divisions also received their first Pz.IIIJ and Pz.IVF2 replacement tanks, putting them on a more equal footing with Zhukov’s T-34s. Despite the concentration of six panzer divisions in a fairly small sector north of Bolkhov, Operation Wirbel-wind has been overshadowed by Operation Blau and the Battle of Stalingrad.

Clößner’s LIII Armeekorps attacked the boundary of the Soviet 61st Army north of Bolkhov on the morning of 11 August and achieved some initial success. In particular, the 11.Panzer-Division was able to advance up to 25km in heavily wooded terrain toward the intermediate objective – Sukhinichi. Thereafter, Soviet resistance hardened quickly and the Red Army was particularly formidable in forest-fighting. German tankers were wary of moving along narrow forest tracks that were usually mined and covered by anti-tank ambushes. While the 2.Panzerarmee succeeded in gaining a small bridgehead over the Zhizdra river, the 16th Army blocked any further advance toward Sukhinichi by moving Burkov’s rebuilt 10th Tank Corps and General-major Aleksei V. Kurkin’s 9th Tank Corps to contain the German advance. Three Soviet rifle divisions were cut off and destroyed and the two Soviet tank corps lost about 200 tanks, but Wirbelwind failed to seize significant terrain or seriously impair Zhukov’s freedom of action. Instead, it was the German panzer units that suffered heavy losses in the ill-judged offensive and diverted resources that could have been better used elsewhere. The 9.Panzer Division, which started the operation with 110 tanks,











lost forty-four tanks in Wirbelwind .62 Although difficult terrain was certainly a factor in the failure of Wirbelwind , this was the second time since the beginning of Blau that a German panzer schwerpunkt had been stopped cold by determined Soviet resistance, which was an ominous portent of the Red Army’s growing competence.


Just as Hitler decided to abort Wirbelwind , Zhukov made the surprise decision to commit Romanenko’s 3rd Tank Army to the Bolkhov sector in an effort to cut off 2.Panzerarmee’s spearhead. Romanenko’s 3TA had moved by rail from Tula and assembled on the eastern flank of 2.Panzerarmee’s salient, near Kozel’sk. Zhukov assembled a force of 218,000 troops and 700 tanks to crush the German forces in the salient, which were outnumbered by 3–1 in armour. Romanenko attacked at 0615 hours on 22 August, committing three rifle divisions and a rifle brigade in the first echelon to claw their way through the defenses of the German 26 and 56.Infanterie-Divisionen. After the infantry had advanced 4–6km through the outer German defenses – but not achieved a real breakthrough – Romanenko committed the 3rd, 12th and 15th Tank Corps into the battle.

Once again though, the Red Army’s use of large armoured formations was marred by the lack of pre-battle reconnaissance; Romanenko’s tanks ran into swamps, enemy mines and generally got lost in the forest trails. Even after moving forward for twelve hours, Romanenko’s tanks had not yet encountered the enemy and were behind the forward line of their own infantry. The Luftwaffe managed to gain and keep local air superiority over this sector, enabling Stukas and bombers to mercilessly hammer the stalled columns of Soviet armour. Romanenko was finally able to get some of his armour, in piecemeal fashion, into battle on 23 August, but by that time Clößner had shifted the 11 and 20.Panzer-Division to bolster the flagging German infantry. The Red Army had little experience supplying a formation of 600 tanks and Romanenko’s tank corps suffered from fuel shortages, even though they never gained more than 2–3km into the German line. An effort by Rokossovsky’s 16th Army to assist Romanenko by attacking the western side of the German salient was quickly snuffed out. Gradually, the combination of German panzer divisions in defense and Luftwaffe overhead reduced the immobilized 3rd Tank Army into wreckage. By the time that Zhukov finally ended the offensive in early September, the attacking Soviet forces had lost 500 of 700 tanks and Romanenko’s 3rd Tank Army had been rendered hors de combat. Afterwards, both sides shifted to the defense and much of the remaining armour was transferred elsewhere.

Even though the fighting around Bolkhov-Zhizdra in July–August 1942 is not well known, it involved six of the nineteen panzer divisions and five of the twenty-two Soviet tank corps on the Eastern Front, making these battles one of the largest clashes of armour in 1942. Neither side enjoyed any real offensive success in these battles, mostly due to restrictive terrain, and German air power played a prominent role in equalizing the Soviet numerical superiority in manpower and tanks. It is also noteworthy that Zhukov’s use of large armoured formations and efforts at conducting set-piece offensives had no more success than other Soviet commanders at that time. The Bolkhov-Zhizdra offensives were an amateurish waste of armour, costing the Red Army another 1,000 tanks for no gain at all. On the other hand, Hitler’s willingness to commit so much armour to a secondary theater violated the principle of concentration of force, when he needed every Panzer-Abteilung, Stuka sortie and liter of petrol available to support Heeresgruppe Süd’s drive for the Caucasus.

Furthermore, he advocates, which I am far more doubtful about than his other statements, that the Rzhev salient should have been evacuated after the Soviet summer offensives and the Panzer-Divisionen of Heeresgruppe Mitte instead sent to Heeresgruppe Sud in order to significantly reinforce the Allied defences on the Don River and eliminate the Soviet bridgeheads over their main defensive line in conjunction with AOK 6 and PzAOK4's Panzer-Divisionen in the aftermath of a hypothetically successful capture of Stalingrad by coup de main, which would have rendered a Soviet strategic counter-offensive impossible until the Don River froze over sufficiently in January 1943, when the Germans would have undoubtedly received significant armoured reinforcements(e.g. Tigers),including the II SS Panzerkorps further strengthened by the 6. and 11. Panzer-Divisionen:

Zhukov did what he always did when a battle did not go his way – he added more forces, ordering 5th Army to attack the neighboring 3.Panzerarmee at the base of the Rzhev salient on 11 August, followed by the 33rd on 13 August. Forced to divert some forces to deal with these new attacks, which stretched Heeresgruppe Mitte’s limited panzer reserves, Model was forced to grudgingly give some ground against Zhukov’s armoured wedges. On 23 August, the 8th Tank Corps captured Karmanovo and the 31st Army captured Zubtsov, but this was the high-water mark for Zhukov’s offensive. He allowed the offensive to continue until early September, but no more significant gains were made. Overall, in a month Zhukov had advanced up to 32 km, at great cost, but failed to cut off the Rzhev salient or crush the 9.Armee. To be sure, Model’s 9.Armee was hurt by Zhukov’s offensive, suffering 32,974 casualties in August, including 8,700 dead and missing – which was 23 per cent more than 6.Armee’s casualties during the same period on the approaches to Stalingrad. The 9.Armee had been saved by the ability of Heeresgruppe Mitte to provide up to five panzer divisions to reinforce the front-line defenses before they completely collapsed, but this was an exorbitant use of armoured resources to hold a position of no strategic value. Model was quick to recognize that he could not hold the Rzhev salient without the permanent support of several panzer divisions, and he recommended evacuation of the salient as an economy of force measure, but Hitler vetoed the idea. Yet had Hitler listened to Model in September 1942, he would have had several additional panzer divisions available in reserve on the Eastern Front – which could have made a real difference when the Soviet winter counter-offensives began.

Regarding Heeresgruppe Nord, he also makes a few concluding remarks on the state of the Siege of Leningrad in 1942 and the quixotic campaign to hold the Demyansk corridor:

ANALYSIS OF THE SIEGE Hitler had intended to demolish Leningrad as both a symbol and a centre of Soviet power, but he accomplished neither. Thus in strategic terms, the German effort against Leningrad was a failure. Yet in operational terms, the German siege of Leningrad effectively isolated three Soviet armies for over two years and forced six other armies to conduct repeated costly frontal assaults to try and end the siege. In January 1944, the Red Army had to mass the equivalent of over 60 divisions in the Leningrad-Volkhov area to dislodge 20 German divisions and still failed to encircle and destroy a single one of them. Total Soviet military casualties on the Leningrad and Volkhov fronts during the siege were at least 1.5 million, including 620,000 dead or captured. Furthermore, the siege cost the lives of about one million Soviet civilians in Leningrad and prevented the city's industries from participating fully in the Soviet war effort until mid-1944. Yet despite causing massive death and suffering, the Germans failed in their efforts to push Leningrad's defenders to the breaking point. Indeed, it does not seem that AOK 18 and Luftflotte I made a serious effort to crush Leningrad when it had the opportunity. Except for brief surge periods, the air and artillery bombardments were more of a harassing nature than a serious effort to 'level' the city - in fact, not a single major target in the city was destroyed. Compared with the attacks on Stalingrad in August 1942, where the Luftwaffe put up to 600 bomber sorties per day over a city, Luftflotte I rarely attacked Leningrad with more than a couple of dozen bombers. Similarly, too much of the artillery bombardment was conducted with obsolete French weapons firing shells that were too small to smash down large buildings. Both the OKH and Kuchler demonstrated a serious lack of imagination in failing to implement any measures either to speed up the siege or eliminate critical targets in the Leningrad area. Given the natural outbreak of typhus and cholera inside Leningrad in 1942, the Germans might have considered contaminating the Neva River - the only source of fresh water for the trapped population - which could have resulted in catastrophic collapse within a few weeks. Heeresgruppe Nord also failed utterly in efforts to isolate Leningrad by severing the Soviet logistic links across Lake Ladoga. Luftwaffe and artillery attacks harassed Soviet supply operations, but never came close to shutting them down. During winter, AOK 18 was unwilling to send its single ski battalion onto the ice of Lake Ladoga to harass the ice road, even though many convoys were poorly guarded at first. Finally, the German failure to crush the weakly held Oranienbaum bridgehead tied down a complete corps for two years of pointless static warfare and then left the Soviets a valuable springboard for future offensive operations. In spite of shortages of troops, Kuchler had the forces on hand in July 1942 to mount a quick three-division attack on Oranienbaum that could have overwhelmed the bridgehead. In spite of their operational mistakes which cost them victory at Leningrad, the German tactical performance on the defence was impressive - perhaps one of the best of the war by any army. On the 50m-high Siniavino Heights, German troops held off about 250,000 Soviet troops for 384 days and inflicted over 400,000 casualties. In comparison, German forces defending atop the 516m-high Monte Cassino massif held off 100,000 Allied troops for 123 days and inflicted about 20,000 casualties.

A big part of the German success at Demyansk was based on logistic effort. Not only had the Luftwaffe committed a major part of its transport force to sustain II AK, but AOK 16 invested the effort throughout 1942 to build roads and bridges that enabled it to fight a protracted battle of attrition in the Ramushevo corridor. The Soviets did not and by autumn 1942, II AK was firing three times as much artillery ammunition as the North-western Front, which enabled the Germans to smother each attack. Yet holding onto Demyansk and Kholm required the commitment of 14 divisions and the bulk of the Luftwaffe transport assets in Russia. The diversion of so many divisions to hold and relieve useless positions such as Demyansk served to deprive the Wehrmacht of any kind of strategic reserves as it headed into the critical 1942 campaign season. Certainly high-quality infantry units such as 5. or 8. leichte-Division, or SS-‘Totenkopf’ could have been better utilized protecting AOK 6’s flanks on the Don River, rather than defending marshland in the Ramushevo corridor. In truth, Hitler had made the basic strategic mistake of trying to hold onto places such as the Demyansk and Rzhev salients for reasons of prestige, rather than for sound military reasons. It was only because Stalin handed him a consolation prize by sacrificing over half a million of his troops in futile attacks at Demyansk that Hitler could view it as a tactical victory. Typically, the Demyansk campaign is regarded as the inception of the idea that since the Luftwaffe had succeeded in supplying the encircled II AK by air, that it could repeat this effort for AOK 6. During the Demyansk airlift, Luftflotte I was AFTERMATH © Osprey Publishing • www.ospreypublishing.com During World War II, Germany issued a total of only six campaign shields, of which two were created as a result of the Demyansk–Kholm campaign. Hitler authorized these shields to commemorate both the successful Luftwaffe airlift and the defensive victories achieved at these locations. He hoped to use these battles to create a heroic mythology about the German soldier’s ability to hold out against overwhelming odds and to persevere. Unfortunately, the subsequent failure of the Stalingrad airlift and the surrender of AOK 6 quickly deflated this myth. (Phil Curme) 91 sometimes able to fly in over 300 tons of supplies per day but started with the advantage of good airfields, innovative leadership and initially weak enemy resistance in the air. Nevertheless, many members of the OKH and OKL missed the point of how difficult it was for Luftflotte I to attain the 300-tons-per-day requirement and that, even when achieved, it was providing only half of the food and ammunition actually required by II AK. At Stalingrad, Luftflotte 4 was asked to deliver 700 tons per day over a roughly similar distance, but without any of the previous advantages. Most of the Luftwaffe leadership was aware that Luftflotte I’s transport fleet had never come close to 700 tons per day, but Göring – who was no longer involved with operational details – assured Hitler that it could be done. What is often missed is that the Demyansk airlift was still going on, albeit on a much smaller scale, when the Stalingrad airlift began. The Luftwaffe simply could not conduct two major airlifts simultaneously, which determined that the Demyansk campaign was no longer sustainable.

Speaking of which, had all of these German-made operational errors on the front been identified and rectified, how significant of an impact would it have made on the 1942 German summer offensives on the Eastern Front and the resulting winter campaign of 1942-1943?

I am extremely curious about this, and as always, I eagerly await your answers.
 
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Just some friendly advice. You've basically posted a massive wall of text, I would suggest you provide a brief synopsis of the idea in your own words if you want people to respond. Large quotes of material should really only be used to support the arguments you yourself are making.
 
Agree, that with focus and better leadership, the Germans could have taken 2 of the three of Grozny, Tupase, Stalingrad (instead of none).

Taking Stalingrad early spreading out and preventing the bridgeheads over the Don would help the most if you can avoid the 6th army encirclement later, although I don't know how you stop the Soviet November 1942 counter attack generally at that point???

So maybe best case the Germans start 1943 better????
 
Agree, that with focus and better leadership, the Germans could have taken 2 of the three of Grozny, Tupase, Stalingrad (instead of none).

Taking Stalingrad early spreading out and preventing the bridgeheads over the Don would help the most if you can avoid the 6th army encirclement later, although I don't know how you stop the Soviet November 1942 counter attack generally at that point???

So maybe best case the Germans start 1943 better????
In actual fact, as Forczyk had illustrated in his book Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front , 1941-1942:Schwerpunkt, all three of these objectives could have been attained by the Ostheer had Heeresgruppe A in the Caucasus actually succeeding in crossing the entirety of the Terek River in August.
 
Agree, that with focus and better leadership, the Germans could have taken 2 of the three of Grozny, Tupase, Stalingrad (instead of none).

Taking Stalingrad early spreading out and preventing the bridgeheads over the Don would help the most if you can avoid the 6th army encirclement later, although I don't know how you stop the Soviet November 1942 counter attack generally at that point???

So maybe best case the Germans start 1943 better????
Furthermore, the capture of Ordzhodonikidze would have opened up the Georgian Military Road to Tiflis, clearing the theoretical road to the Baku oilfields after the capture of Grozny, although the practical bit is much, much harder. The capture of Makhachkala and perhaps even Derbent if PzAOK1 strikes gold would have completely cut off the Astrakhan-Baku railway on which the Transcaucasian Front depended upon for its essential supplies, effectively rendering it into a static infantry defence force in the mountains and immbolizing its armor on the ground due to a lack of fuel and spare parts.
 
Furthermore, the capture of Ordzhodonikidze would have opened up the Georgian Military Road to Tiflis, clearing the theoretical road to the Baku oilfields after the capture of Grozny, although the practical bit is much, much harder. The capture of Makhachkala and perhaps even Derbent if PzAOK1 strikes gold would have completely cut off the Astrakhan-Baku railway on which the Transcaucasian Front depended upon for its essential supplies, effectively rendering it into a static infantry defence force in the mountains and immbolizing its armor on the ground due to a lack of fuel and spare parts.
Assuming you take all 3, plus Makhachkala, seems tricky to force the Terek in late August with the single rail supply, and its a ways to Makhachkala still, but going with that the Germans make the right decisions and roll some 6s too a long the way:

You still have that long Italian, Hungarian, Romanian flank which the Soviets will pick on over the winter, forcing the evacuation of the area regardless it seems.

Maybe the Soviets are hobbled enough you can pull a couple of Panzer divisions from a more idle Army group A back into a B for a reserve. Which would keep the worst case OTL scenario from happening (encirclement of 6th army), but the Germans would get forced back regardless.
 
Assuming you take all 3, plus Makhachkala, seems tricky to force the Terek in late August with the single rail supply, and its a ways to Makhachkala still, but going with that the Germans make the right decisions and roll some 6s too a long the way:

You still have that long Italian, Hungarian, Romanian flank which the Soviets will pick on over the winter, forcing the evacuation of the area regardless it seems.

Maybe the Soviets are hobbled enough you can pull a couple of Panzer divisions from a more idle Army group A back into a B for a reserve. Which would keep the worst case OTL scenario from happening (encirclement of 6th army), but the Germans would get forced back regardless.
The Transcaucasian Front would have been destroyed long before then, as Forczyk pointed out in his book.

After Heeresgruppe A forced the Terek River, the elite Italian Alpini Corps would probably have been detached from the rest of the Italian 8th Army/ARMIR to be sent to Armeegruppe Ruoff to assist the 17. Armee and 3rd Romanian Army in clearing out the Black Sea Coast, which Forczyk states in his Osprey campaign book on Kuban 1943:The Wehrmacht’s last stand in the Caucasus would have had sufficient force to capture the Soviet Black Sea ports and hence render the entirety of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet useless.

The much stereotypically reviled Allied Armies actually even managed to repulse repeated Soviet offensives both across the Don River and even in the empty, hilly steppe terrain south of Stalingrad in September/October 1942 on their own without any German support: given significant German armoured and artillery reinforcements to shore up their defences, any strategic Soviet winter counteroffensive without any bridgeheads over the river as a valuable launch pad(which would have to begin in January regardless of Stalin’s personal prejudices given that that is when the Don River freezes over sufficiently to be crossed in force) could potentially have concluded not dissimilarly to July 1943 Donbas strategic offensive, with initial Soviet bridgeheads made over the river being routed by German armour and artillery.
 

CalBear

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@Heeresgruppe A

Are you a new account of "History Learner", a previously banned user of this forum?

The thread of that banned user of the following link is suspiciously very similar to this one.

https://www.alternatehistory.com/forum/threads/fall-blau-is-a-rethinking-in-order.411393/

@CalBear
Please DO NOT post this sort of public speculation. Use the report system.

However, since you have already dropped the accusation...

The OP is posting from a different continent than the Banned Member you brought up.
 
So, are you "wiking"? In that case, welcome back to the forum! It's good to have you back here. :)😃

And forgive me if I seemed unpleasant, please; that was not my true intention.
I’m not wiking either, I’m just doing this because that’s what other posters seem to do on eastern front threads.
 
I’m not wiking either, I’m just doing this because that’s what other posters seem to do on eastern front threads.
Anyway, welcome to the forum! :)

I hope to read you frequently around here, because with this first thread you seem like a very promising and knowledgeable / learned user.
 
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