Armeeoberkommando 18's higher artillery command, Harko 303 led by Generalleutnant Hans Kratzert, was responsible for directing the bombardment of Leningrad, but initially its capabilities were very limited since the Barbarossa plan had envisioned taking the city with a rapid coup de main, rather than as part of a siege. Owing to the distance from German lines to the city, only heavy artillery possessed the range to bombard targets inside Leningrad effectively, although medium artillery could strike targets in the southern suburbs. Kratzert's best weapons were the six 21cm mortars of schwere Artillerie- Abteilung 768 and the eight 24cm cannons of I and II/Artillerie-Regiment 84, which were located in the woods near the Peterhof. During the period September-December 1941, German artillery fired 40,154 rounds into the city, inflicting several thousand civilian casualties. German artillery fire against the city was persistent - often lasting for hours - but it failed to destroy any key targets. For example, the Hermitage Museum was hit repeatedly, but the damage was superficial. Targets such as the Kirov and Bolshevik tank plants were hit repeatedly but still continued to repair damaged tanks. Most of the guns bombarding the city centre were in fact, captured French 155mm guns, which hurled a 43kg high-explosive shell with only a seven kilogram bursting charge. Kratzert also formed a schwere Flachfeuer Gruppe (heavy flattrajectory artillery group) to engage the Red Banner Baltic Fleet, which succeeded in damaging the cruiser Petropavlovsk and then sinking the training cruiser Aurora and three submarines. However, the German railway system in Russia was too overburdened in the winter of 1941/42 to send greater artillery resources to demolish Leningrad, so Kratzert was forced to make do with a relatively small artillery park and limited amounts of ammunition.
Gradually, the OKH sent more heavy artillery to reinforce AOK 18, but even in January 1942 Harko 303 had fewer than 40 heavy guns. The main reinforcements consisted of two railway artillery batteries armed with two French-built 520mm guns and two 283mm 'Short Bruno' guns, although the 520mm guns were soon replaced with handier French-built 400mm rail guns. A battery of 17cm Kanone 18s, with a range out to 29.6km, was also sent to provide better counterbattery capabilities. Yet it was not until Operation Nordlicht became a serious possibility that the OKH began to provide Kratzert with the resources to inflict serious damage on Leningrad. A total of 12 superheavy artillery batteries arrived in the Leningrad area in August, although most were kept in reserve to conserve their limited ammunition supply. Harko 303 gained three more French-built 40cm and 37cm railway guns, two 28cm K-5 railway guns, one 42cm Gamma mortar, one 355mm mortar, five Czech-built 305mm mortars and two French-built 24cm railway guns. In addition, the 80cm Dora gun and two 60cm Karl mortars were scheduled to join Harko 303 as soon as possible. Kuchler was unsure how best to use this super-heavy artillery, since they had enough ammunition for only one major attack. He seriously considered concentrating most of the guns against Kronstadt, including 'Dora' which was specifically designed for cracking fortresses. If Kronstadt's coastal guns and flak could be neutralized, a direct assault to eliminate the Oranienbaum bridgehead would become practical.
However, the Soviet offensive in August 1942 pre-empted Nordlicht and Kuchler decided to keep most of his heavy guns in reserve. Both 'Dora' and the two Karl mortars arrived south of Leningrad but were not used and sent back to Germany in late 1942. Indeed, the bombardment of Leningrad slacked off in the last half of 1942 as Kratzert conserved ammunition for an offensive that never happened. By spring 1943, Kratzert resumed a more intensive bombardment of Leningrad, firing an average of 85 rounds per day, but this dropped off to 30 rounds per day after the summer of 1943. During the period 10-30 April 1943, Kratzert's guns fired 2,912 rounds into Leningrad, of which less than five per cent were 28cm, six per cent were 21cm, 41 per cent were 17cm and 48 per cent were 15 to 12cm. Soviet counterbattery fire sent back over 4,000 rounds at the German artillery, but succeeded in destroying only one French 155mm howitzer and damaging two other guns, as well as inflicting 12 casualties. The best German weapons for bombarding Leningrad were the handful of 28cm K-5 guns, which could fire a 255kg shell into the city from well beyond the range of Soviet counterbattery fire, but these weapons had only enough ammunition to fire occasionally.
The 35.5 cm Haubitze M1 was a German siege howitzer. It was developed by Rheinmetall before World War II to meet the German Army's request for a super-heavy howitzer. Eight were produced between 1939 and 1944. It saw service in the Battle of France and spent the rest of the war on the Eastern Front, participating in Operation Barbarossa, the Siege of Sevastopol, and the Siege of Leningrad and helped to put down the Warsaw Uprising in 1944.
One of the most ferocious and large-scale battles employing the large number of heavy artillery units in the World War II took place in the vicinity of Leningrad, where the German advance was stopped on the outskirts of the city in autumn 1941, with the assistance of numerous coastal artillery of the Soviet navy. In the prolonged period of positional warfare that followed the siege of Leningrad in 1941-1944, artillery played prominent role as well. The first explosions of German artillery shells within the city were registered on September 4, 1941, and in autumn the German command deployed three artillery regiments with the guns of 105-150 mm, reinforced by the two heavy artillery units of the High Command Reserve and several railway artillery platforms. Their positions were situated in the areas of Uritsk and Volodarsky, 8-12 kms from the frontline. The artillery raids took place in the daytime, usually from 10.00 am to 19.00 pm; an intense artillery barrage was followed by methodical shelling for some 2-4 hours a day until the end of 1941. In September 1941 the Germans have fired 5,364 artillery shells, in October--7,950, in November--11,230, and in December-15,610. There were some days when the city was under fire for more than 18 hours: on 15th of September the fire lasted 18 hours 32 minutes, and on 17th of September--18 hours 33 minutes. By the end of 1941 the Germans have deployed their artillery positions in the wooded areas western, south-western and southern of Leningrad in the areas of Uritsk, Finskoe Kojrovo and Pushkin--Slutsk. The road network in these locations was developed so that it enabled rapid maneuvers of artillery hardware, and from the rooftops of the tall building in Uritsk and the nearby ridge the German artillery observers received superb view of the southern and southwestern sectors of Leningrad.
The evaluation of the effectiveness of German artillery in the siege is a rather complicated undertaking since: 1)the reports of the damage caused were kept secret in Soviet era; even today the official Russian point of view is that the royal palaces at Peterhof and Pavlovsk were demolished by the Germans, while in fact they were wiped off by the Soviet 152 mm guns. 2) it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between damages caused by the German air-raids and artillery strikes. The official Soviet data claims that there were some 5000 bombs dropped and 150,000 artillery shells fired at the city, damaging 840 industrial objects, destroying 3,200 stone or concrete houses and further 7,100 damaged heavily.
It is rather easier, however, to judge about the effects of the German artillery barrages on the naval forces of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet. For instance, on the 18th of September, 1941, between 11.47 and 13.37 the Soviet heavy cruiser "Petropavlovsk"(previously known in Kriegsmarine as "Lutzow" before being sold to Soviet Union in 1939) came under fire of the German 210 mm guns of the 768-th Motorized Artillerie Abteilung, receiving up to 12 hits. The cruiser received heavy damage under the water-line, its artillery systems were not functioning, and a fire had erupted; 10 crewmembers were KIA and 20 MIA, while "Petropavlovsk" slowly sank for the depth of some 1-2 metres in the Coal haven of the Leningrad Commercial port. On September 27th, 1941, the German artillery has sunk the cannon boat "Pioner"; on the 7th of October--old coastal defence battleship "Smerch", decommissioned several decades ago, which was repaired and sunk again in 1942; on the 4th of October the notorious training cruiser "Aurora" was sunk in Oranienbaum after several artillery shells hit its deck; on the 24th of April 1942 the hull of the cruiser "Butakov", still under construction, was sunk too. All in all, the German artillery alone is responsible for sinking 44 naval units, including, except of those covered above, submarines L-1, M-72 and M-96, torpedo boats N 103 and N 123, trawler N172 and many other.
Many Soviet naval vessels were heavily damaged by the German artillery fire in 1941-1942. The battleship "Marat", which was ostensibly "sunk" by Hans-Ulrich Rudel on September 23, 1941, but soon repaired so that turrets N3 and N4 became active again, was hit by 5 shells on 15.09.1941, piercing the decks and blowing up the engine, on 12.12.1941 it suffered 3 more hits of the 203 mm shells and on 28.12.1941 3 direct hits and several German shells exploding near the battleship. The deck was reinforced by the granite plates of the Neva embankment, and yet the ship was targeted again successfully on 25.10.1942 with 3 305 mm shells, one 203 mm shell on 06.11.1942 and one 203 mm shell on 08.10.1943. The repeatedly battered vessel was decommissioned in 1953.
On the other hand, the Soviet battleship "October Revolution" was hit by German artillery fire on several occasions(6 direct hits on 8-10.10.1941, one hit on 14.12.1941, two hits on 23.03.1942, several hits on 16 and 18 April 1942), and as a result of these episodes the vessel was significantly damaged, as probably any other Soviet ship based in Leningrad or Kronschtadt. The reason they eventually survived was the Germans usually employed 105-210 mm artillery systems not capable of sinking a heavily armoured cruiser or battleship, but causing enough damage to make the vessels inactive for long periods of time. Moreover, the crews often performed remarkably in salvaging their vessels after direct hits and resulting fires.
The other target of German artillery attacks was the Scientific Research Artillery Range near the railway station of Rzhevka, where Soviet artillery systems were tested and large stocks of ammunition were stored. On the 29th of March, 1942, a Luftwaffe reconnaissance plane detected a large number of railway freight-cars, and between 17.00 and 19.00 the German artillery pounded the spotted targets ferociously, mounting the barrage on the following morning. Eventually a load of ammonal explosive was detonated, causing chain reaction of the Soviet ammunition echelon, killing several hundreds of people.
The Soviet command attempted to decrease the immense pressure on civilian morale by conducting precise artillery attacks on the enemy positions, in order to suppress relentless and accurate German fire. Already in 1941 the Baltic Fleet donated 360 heavy artillery pieces, 130 mm and above, while the Red Army deployed 137 guns (37*122 mm, 90 152 mm howitzers, 9*152 mm and 220 mm mortar). However, in general the German artillery positions were quite well disguised and in case of heavy Soviet fire the guns were quickly moved to reserve positions. For instance, on 30-31.07.1943 the Soviet 130 mm guns fired 886 shells at the spotted German 180 mm artillery piece, which renewed fire exactly 5 hours after the assault. All in all, the Soviets have succeeded in destroying three German 105 mm guns and two 170 mm systems in the third quarter of 1943 with coastal artillery, whereas the other targets appearing destroyed displayed activity some 7 days after the carefully prepared Soviet artillery strike. Apparently the Soviet artillery assaults also caused casualties among German artillery personnel, even when the guns remained intact or insignificantly damaged.
Order of the Commander-in-Chief of the Northwestern Strategic Direction Concerning the Employment of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet and Coastal Artillery for the Defence of Leningrad
30 August 1941
To Shaposhnikov, Kuznetsov
Since the current naval assets, employed at the defence of Leningrad and Kronschtadt, are not sufficiently co-ordinated, and in order to employ all available resources of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet directly for the defence of the city, I hereby order:
1. Concerning the naval vessels.
It should be henceforth considered that the main goal of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet is the active defence of the approaches to the city from the seaside and the prevention of enemy naval breakthroughs of the Red Army flanks on the southern and northern shores of the Gulf of Finland. These goals should be achieved by the deployment of the light naval forces, torpedo boats, submarines, air force and the minelaying activities.
All heavily armoured vessels and a proportion of destroyers should be used in order to reinforce the artillery positions defending the Leningrad Fortified Area(UR); therefore, the following must be deployed:
battleships: "Marat" and "October Revolution"
cruisers: "Kirov", "Maxim Gorky" and "Petropavlovsk"
destroyers: "Opytnyj", "Strogij" and "Strojnyj"
Moreover, should the necessity appear, the artillery defence of Leningrad will be reinforced by the additional number of destroyers and cannon boats.
2. Regarding the employment of naval artillery.
In order to support the garrisons of the Fortified Areas(URs) with the fire of heavy naval artillery, apart from deployed warships, the following should be used for the defence of Leningrad:
4-gun 180-mm railway battery N.19
4-gun 180-mm stationary battery nearby Ivanov rapids (operative readiness by 15.9.1941)
Naval testing range assets: 1 – 406-mm, 1 – 356-mm, 2 – 305-mm, 5 – 180-mm, 1 – 152-mm, 4 – 130-mm è 4 – 100-mm artillery pieces.
Moreover, the following units should be transferred directly to the Fortified Areas:
stationary batteries: 2*130-mm – 19 systems
railway artillery platforms: 10*130-mm – 20 systems
stationary batteries: 2*152-mm – 4 systems
railway batteries: 2*152-mm – 4 systems
For similar purposes at the flanking positions of the Leningrad Fortified Area (Kovashin sector) the following stationary pieces should be used against ground targets:
2 batteries of 8*305-mm "Krasnaya Gorka" Fort
1 battery of 3*152-mm "Krasnaya Gorka" Fort
1 battery of 4*203-mm "Pulkovo" Fort
1 battery of 3*152-mm "Grey Horse" Fort
L. 138 battery of 4*120-mm "Grey Horse" Fort
1 battery of 3*100-mm near village Ustye
1 battery of 3*356-mm (¹ 11);
1 battery of 4*180-mm (¹ 18).
For similar purposes on the northern approaches to the city the following should be used:
1 railway battery of 4*180-mm (Seywisto) and artillery of the Kronschtadt forts
For similar purposes in the eastern sector of the Karelian direction in the area of Schlusselburg:
2 batteries of 3*100-mm stationary guns on cape Koshkin, cape Sosnovets
1 battery of 2*130-mm stationary guns on cape Koshkin
1 battery of 2*76-mm stationary guns at village Sheremetjevka
On this direction, moreover, all artillery pieces of the Naval Testing Ground and the destroyers currently deployed in the Neva river (“Stojkij” and “Strogij”) should be used.
3. Organization of the naval artillery command.
All artillery based on the sea, railway artillery and stationary artillery (except of those transferred to the Red Army), should be brought together under the leadership of the chief artillery officer of Leningrad naval defence, who will be responsible for the formation, training and supply of the artillery batteries and for the organization of communication networks between batteries and naval vessels on the one hand, and the system of Fortified Areas (URs) and Red Army units. The artillery commanders of the Fortified Areas shall have the right to call artillery support and plot the targets. All artillery, involved in the defence of the Kovashin position, should be brought together under the leadership of the Izhorsky Fortified Area commander.
4. Concerning the naval formations designated for ground combat
Apart from 4 naval infantry brigades already raised for frontline service since the beginning of the war, the follwong contingencies should be drafted:
a) evacuated coastal defence personnel from the Tallinn base (up to 3000 men), evacuated anti-aircraft defence personnel from the Tallinn base (up to 3500 men), evacuated air force and supply personnel from the Tallinn base (up to 1500 men).
b) the crews of the decommissioned unfinished vessels (up to 1500 men)
c) partially employ the crews of combat vessels, which have limited tasks to fulfill (up to 2000 men)
The naval personnel thus drafted should be employed for:
1) reinforcement of the 10th Rifle Corps—16th and 22nd Rifle Divisions—up to 10,000 men
2) reinforcement of the 1st naval infantry Brigade—up to 1500 men
The reinforcement and rearmament of the 10th Rifle Corps should be carried out by the commanders of the Leningrad Front, who will take charge of the 10,000 men donated by the Red-banner Baltic Fleet Military Council.
The reinforcement of the 1st Naval infantry Brigade should be carried out by the Military Council of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet
Henceforth all future excess manpower resources of the Fleet should be employed for:
a) reinforcement of the 5 naval infantry brigades
b) formation of the special striking marine battalions for the rifle divisions
5. Organizational issues.
In order to achieve the unity of all resources and assets employed for the naval defence of Leningrad, the commander of the naval defence should be subordinated to the Military Council of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet.
Voroshilov—Member of the Northwestern Strategic Direction Military Council
Zhdanov—Secretary of the Central Committee of the All-Soviet Communist Party(b)
Order of the Stavka of High Command concerning the counter-battery tactics against the enemy artillery deployed near Leningrad.
N. 0419 16 September 1943
The enemy forces conduct routine attacks of the city of Leningrad employing long-range heavy artillery, inflicting heavy damage to the population of the city, industrial complexes and cultural establishments.
The measures, taken by the Military Council of the Leningrad front, proved insufficient due to the following reasons:
1. Artillery and air force of the Leningrad front and Red-banner Baltic Fleet are not employed effectively and are not co-ordinated by a single commanding officer responsible for counter-battery actions.
2. The existing cooperation between the front artillery and coastal artillery of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet is appalling and does not fulfill the needs of supporting the efforts for enemy artillery elimination.
3. The fire against enemy batteries is not directed according to the most accurate modern techniques of aiming, and it is especially characteristic of the 101st brigade of the coastal defence of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet.
4. The deployment of fighter escort aircraft for the reconnaissance plane is followed by considerable frictions, therefore the reconnaissance planes are not employed at the possible scale.
In order to improve the effectiveness of the counter-battery operations against enemy artillery shelling Leningrad the Stavka of High Command hereby orders:
1. For the most effective employment of the artillery assets of the Leningrad front and the Red-banner Baltic Fleet against German artillery positions shelling Leningrad, the Leningrad Counter-battery Artillery Corps should be deployed, consisting of the following units:
51st Artillery Brigade--36*152mm guns (1937 model)
12th Guards Artillery Regiment--24*152mm guns (1937 model)
14th Guards Artillery Regiment--18*152 mm guns (1937 model)
73rd Artillery Regiment--16*122 mm guns (1931 model)
126th Artillery Regiment--12*152 mm guns (1937 model)
129th Artillery Regiment--16*122 mm (1931 model)
409th Separate Heavy Artillery Unit--6*152 mm guns on the BR-2 transporters
101st--Coastal Artillery Brigade of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet--58 guns of 130-356 mm
12th and 52nd separate air squadrons of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet
3rd and 4th Guards Separate Reconnaissance Artillery units and battery of the acoustic reconnaissance of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet
1st balloon unit of aerial reconnaissance
Total--168 artillery pieces
2. Colonel com. Zhdanov is appointed the Commander of the Corps.
3. The Corps Headquarters should be formed according to the TO&E table N 08/516, the Signal Battalion according to the TO&E table N 08/517 of the Artillery Corps of High Command Reserve employing the existing manpower reserves of the Leningrad Front.
4. The Leningrad Counter-battery Artillery Corps shall be subordinated directly to the Front Military Council as the separate formation.
5. The Military Council of the Leningrad Front should.
à) Revise the existing deployment of the Corps batteries in order to employ the widest possible range of the guns
b)Arrange training sessions for the Corps personnel in order to master the effective techniques of artillery fire with aerial correction and reconnaissance and all assets of instrumental artillery reconnaissance.
c) In order to provide the environment for the uninterrupted activity of the reconnaissance aerial units of the Leningrad Counter-battery Artillery Corps the Red Army Air force Commander, Marshal Novikov
should raise two fighter squadrons of 12 aircraft each and transfer them to the frontline before September 30, 1943 at the disposal of the Leningrad Counter-battery Artillery Corps commander.
d) The Military Council of the Leningrad front should direct main efforts of bomber and ground-assault aerial formations at the assistance and cooperation with the Artillery Corps in order to accomplish the suppression of German artillery.
6. The 101st Coastal Artillery Brigade of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet is operatively subordinated to the commander of the Leningrad Counter-battery Artillery Corps, while regarding the special naval training activities, supply and maintenance, it is supervised by the Military Council of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet.
7. The formation of the Corps should be completed by the 20th of September, 1943.
8. The execution procedure of this order should be reported by 20th of September, 1943.
Stavka of High Command
Eventually the endless artillery duels came to an abrupt end in January 1944, when the German siege was lifted, while "the troops of 2nd Striking and 42th Armies between 14 and 20 January 1944 have captured 265 German guns, of which 85 represented heavy calibers--152--406 mm systems", the biggest Soviet trophy becoming the French 520 mm railway howitzer.
In the year of our Lord 1189, Frederick I Barbarossa (Red Beard), Emperor of Germany and self-styled Holy Roman Emperor, took up the cross and led the Third Crusade against Saladin's Muslim armies that had just captured Jerusalem. Led by ironclad knights, the armies of Frederick's First Reich swept eastward through Hungary, the Balkans and Asia Minor, intent on liberating Christianity's holy places from infidel control. Over 700 years later, Adolf Hitler, Führer of his self-styled German Third Reich, embarked on a fresh crusade, this time against the Soviet Union, the heartland of hated Bolshevism. Inspired by historical precedent, he named his crusade Operation Barbarossa. In place of Frederick's ironclad knights, Hitler spearheaded his crusade with masses of menacing panzers conducting what the world already termed Blitzkrieg ('lightning war').
When Hitler began planning Operation Barbarossa in the summer of 1940, Germany had been at war for almost a full year. As had been the case throughout the late 1930s, Hitler's diplomatic and military audacity had exploited his foes' weaknesses and timidity, producing victories that belied the real strength of the Wehrmacht (Armed Forces) and Luftwaffe (Air Force). Before the Second World War began on 1 September 1939, Hitler's fledgling armies had reoccupied the Rhineland (1936), annexed Austria (1938), dismembered Czechoslovakia (1938) and annexed Memel' (1939), all bloodlessly and with tacit Western approval. Once the war began, Hitler's armies conquered Poland (September 1939), seized Denmark and Norway (February 1940) and vanquished the West's finest armies to occupy the Netherlands, Belgium and France (May-June 1940), driving the British Army from the continent at Dunkirk in utter defeat. Protected by its formidable moat, the English Channel, and its vaunted High Fleet, Britain survived Hitler's vicious and sustained air attacks during the ensuing Battle of Britain, but only barely.
It was indeed ironic, yet entirely characteristic of Hitler, that military failure in the Battle of Britain would inspire him to embark on his crusade against Soviet Bolshevism. Even though defeat in the skies during the Battle of Britain frustrated his plans to invade the British Isles in Operation Sea Lion, Hitler reverted to his characteristic audacity. Inspired by his army's unprecedented string of military successes, he set out to achieve the ambitious goal he had articulated years before in his personal testament Mein Kampf, the acquisition of 'living space' (lebensraum) to which he believed the German people were historically and racially entitled. Conquest of the Soviet Union would yield that essential living space and, at the same time, would rid the world of the scourge of Bolshevism.
Militarily, however, the ground invasion and conquest of the Soviet Union was a formidable task. The German Wehrmacht had achieved its previous military victories in Western Europe, a theatre of operations that was well developed and distinctly limited in terms of size. It had done so by employing minimal forces against poorly prepared armies that were utterly unsuited to counter or endure Blitzkrieg and whose parent nations often lacked the will to fight and prevail. The conquest of the Soviet Union was an entirely different matter. Plan Barbarossa required the Wehrmacht to vanquish the largest military force in the world and ultimately advance to a depth of 1,750 kilometres (1,050 miles)* along a front of over 1,800 kilometres (1,080 miles) in an underdeveloped theatre of military operations whose size approximated all of Western Europe. Hitler and his military planners assumed that Blitzkrieg would produce a quick victory and planned accordingly.
To achieve this victory, the Germans planned to annihilate the bulk of the Soviet Union's peacetime Red Army before it could mobilize its reserves, by conducting a series of dramatic encirclements near the Soviet Union's new western frontier. Although German military planners began contingency planning for an invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1940, Hitler did not issue his Directive 21 for Fall ['case' or 'operation'] Barbarossa until 18 December (see Appendix I). When he finally did so his clear intention was to destroy the Red Army rather than achieve any specific terrain or political objective:
The mass of the [Red] army stationed in Western Russia is to be destroyed in bold operations involving deep penetrations by armoured spearheads, and the withdrawal of elements capable of combat into the extensive Russian land spaces is to be prevented. By means of rapid pursuit a line is then to be reached from beyond which the Russian air force will no longer be capable of attacking the German home territories.
Two weeks before, in one of many planning conferences for Barbarossa, Hitler had noted that, in comparison with the goal of destroying the Soviet armed forces, 'Moscow [is] of no great importance.' Both he and his military advisers were confident that, if his forces did destroy the Red Army, Stalin's communist regime in Russia would collapse, replicating the chaos of 1918. This assumption, however, woefully underestimated the Soviet dictator's control over the population and the Red Army's capacity for mobilizing strategic reserves to replace those forces the Germans destroyed in its initial vital encirclements. Only later in 1941, after the Red Army and Soviet government displayed resilience in the face of unmitigated catastrophes, did the Germans began believing that the capture of Moscow was the key to early victory.
To destroy the Red Army, Hitler massed 151 German divisions (including 19 panzer and 15 motorized infantry divisions) in the east, equipped with an estimated 3,350 tanks, 7,200 artillery pieces and 2,770 aircraft. The Finns supported Barbarossa with 14 divisions and the Rumanians contributed 4 divisions and 6 brigades to the effort, backed up by another 9 divisions and 2 brigades. The German Army High Command [Oberkommando des Heeres - OKH] controlled all Axis forces in the Eastern Theatre. The OKH, in turn, subdivided these forces into an Army of Norway operating in the far north and Army Groups North, Centre, and South with four panzer groups deployed from the Baltic Sea southward to the Black Sea. A German air fleet supported each of these four commands. Plan Barbarossa tasked Field Marshal Fedor von Bock's Army Group Centre, which included two of the four panzer groups (the Second and Third), with conducting the main offensive thrust. Advancing precipitously along the flanks of the Belostok salient, Bock's panzer groups were to link up at Minsk to create the campaign's first major encirclement. Thus, the mass of German offensive power was located north of the Pripiat' Marshes, the almost-impassible ground that effectively divided the theatre into northern and southern regions.
German military planners sought to exploit Russia's lack of decent roads and railroads laterally across the front and into the depths to prevent the mass of Soviet troops from regrouping from one sector to another or withdrawing eastward before they were surrounded. However, German intelligence overestimated the degree of Red Army forward concentration and was totally unaware of the groups of reserve armies that the Soviets were already deploying east of the Dnepr River. Once the border battles had ended, Plan Barbarossa required the three German army groups to advance along diverging axes, Army Group North towards Leningrad, Army Group Centre toward Moscow and Army Group South toward Kiev. Thus, from its inception, Plan Barbarossa anticipated dangerously dissipating the Wehrmacht's military strength in an attempt to seize all of Hitler's objectives simultaneously.
At the outbreak of war in 1939, the German Army consisted of 3.74 million men, a figure that would rise to more than 6.5 million in 1943–44. At that time (1943–44) the army was organized into 11 groups, each consisting of two or more field armies, of which there were 26 in all.
The German Army was the best in the world when war broke out and may have remained so as late as 1943. By then, however, the enormous losses sustained on the eastern front compelled Germany to take whatever soldiers it could get as replacements. Not only were under- and over-age Germans drafted, but to fill out the ranks Germany took men from many nations, including Russian prisoners of war and Muslims from Yugoslavia. Even these often reluctant warriors were not enough to keep the German Army up to strength. Whereas in 1939 an infantry division had 17,734 men, by 1944 the typical division was down to 12,700— including 1,700 non-Germans.
The strengths of the German Army, its great size apart, were numerous. German weaponry was always first class, as were German munitions. German planning was unrivaled, enabling major campaigns and offensives to be launched on short notice. A classic example was the Norwegian campaign that began on April 7, 1940. Hitler had not given the order for it until February 21, which meant that his staff officers had only about six weeks to put together an operation that was brilliantly planned and carried out. Of all the armies in the world, only Germany’s could have pulled this off. Then, too, German discipline was harsh. On the eastern front some 15,000 troops were executed for cowardice or other failings, frequently on the spot.
Even so, fear was not what drove the German Army. Unlike the myth that German soldiers were mindless robots, individual initiative was prized and encouraged at every level. German commanders had more freedom of action than was usual in the West. Once a mission plan was laid down, they could change it as needed. Divisional commanders led from the front, sometimes with just a radioman and a driver. Hundreds of German generals were killed after putting themselves thus at risk, but the results spoke for themselves.
All ranks were taught the führer, or leadership, principle. Every soldier was encouraged to think two ranks above his own so that if his immediate superior fell, he could step into the open position. More than anything else, this was what kept the German Army together until the very last days of the war. Obedience combined with the führer principle made it possible for the surviving fragments of destroyed divisions to be assembled virtually on the battlefield and returned to combat as effective units. No other army could do this.
Good as it was, the German Army had serious defects. The pool of German manpower was not sufficient for the army to field hundreds of divisions of equal quality. Unlike in the West, where all infantry divisions were more or less similar, German infantry ranged in quality from assault divisions consisting of well-trained, able-bodied men to support and garrison divisions manned with under- and overage men and even the handicapped.
More serious still was the failure of German industry to put the Army on wheels. Of the 304 divisions that it possessed in 1945, only 31 were armored and 13 motorized. Most of the rest relied on horses and oxen to move their supplies, equipment, and heavy weapons. Even the Red Army was more mobile, thanks to the 450,000 vehicles it was provided with by the United States.
And, despite the fact that Germany invented armored warfare, from 1941 onward it never had enough tanks. Because Germany was not equipped to produce tanks in volume, it tried to make up for what it lacked in quantity with superior design. Its Panthers and Tigers were among the best tanks of the war, but for every Panther Germany produced, Russia built two and one-half of its comparable T-34s. The heavy Tiger was king of the western battlefields. However, barely more than 1,000 saw service, a tenth the number that Germany needed.
As the war went on, a lack of mobility and armor and the steadily declining quality of German military manpower drained the army’s strength. Although the German Army remained a very tough foe to the end, by 1944 both the U.S. and Soviet armies were superior to it in most respects.
FURTHER READING Bartov, Omer. Hitler’s Army. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. Görlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff. New York: Praeger, 1953. Guderian, General Heinz. Panzer Leader. London: Michael Joseph, 1952. Manstein, Erich. Lost Victories. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1958.
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