No Operation Citadel (again)

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stg 44
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No Operation Citadel (again)

Post by stg 44 » 26 Sep 2015 15:38

This has been discussed to a degree before, though I didn't find too many recent ones, but even the below doesn't really get at what I'm talking about.
http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic. ... ilit=kursk

So, what if Hitler opts to stay on the defensive in the East and not go for Citadel (Kursk) come June/July? Let's say he just listens to the advice he was getting:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of ... reparation
On 27 April Model met with Hitler to review and express his concern for reconnaissance information which showed the Soviets constructing very strong positions at the shoulders of the salient and having withdrawn their mobile forces from the area west of Kursk.[74] He argued that the longer the preparation phase continued, the less the operation could be justified. He recommended completely abandoning Citadel, allowing the army to await and defeat the coming Soviet offensive, or radically revising the plan for Citadel.[75][76] Though in mid-April Manstein had considered the Citadel offensive profitable, by May he shared Model's misgivings.[76][65] He asserted that the best course of action would be for the German forces to take the strategic defensive, ceding ground to allow the anticipated Soviet forces to extend themselves and allow the German panzer forces to counterattack in the type of fluid mobile battle they excelled at.[77] Convinced that the Red Army would deliver its main effort against Army Group South, he proposed to keep the left wing of the army group strong while moving the right wing back in stages to the Dnieper River, followed by a counterattack against the flank of the Red Army advance. The counteroffensive would continue until the Sea of Azov was reached and the Soviet forces were cut off. Hitler rejected this idea; he did not want to give up so much terrain, even temporarily.[77]

In early May, Hitler called his senior officers and advisors to Munich for a meeting. Hitler spoke for about 45 minutes on the current situation and the plans for the offensive. Model then spoke, and produced reconnaissance photos revealing some of the extensive preparations the Soviets had made in preparation for the attack.[78] A number of options were put forth for comment: going on the offensive immediately with the forces at hand, delaying the offensive further to await the arrival of new and better tanks, radically revising the operation or cancelling it all together. Manstein spoke against the offensive, but not forcefully. Albert Speer, the minister of Armaments and War Production, spoke about the difficulties of rebuilding the armoured formations and the limitations of German industry to replace losses. General Heinz Guderian argued strongly against the operation, stating "the attack was pointless".[79] The conference ended without Hitler coming to a decision, but Citadel was not aborted.[76][80][81] Three days later, OKW, Hitler's conduit for controlling the military, postponed the launch date for Citadel to 12 June.[81][82][83]

Following this meeting, Guderian continued to voice his concerns over an operation that would likely degrade the panzer forces that he had been attempting to rebuild. He considered the offensive, as planned, to be a misuse of the panzer forces, as it violated two of the three tenets he had laid out as the essential elements for a successful panzer attack.[l] In his opinion, the limited German resources in men and materiel should be conserved, as they would be needed for the pending defence of western Europe. In a meeting with Hitler on 10 May he asked,
Is it really necessary to attack Kursk, and indeed in the east this year at all? Do you think anyone even knows where Kursk is? The entire world doesn't care if we capture Kursk or not. What is the reason that is forcing us to attack this year on Kursk, or even more, on the Eastern Front?

Hitler replied, "I know. The thought of it turns my stomach." Guderian concluded, "In that case your reaction to the problem is the correct one. Leave it alone."[84][m]
What if then by early June Hitler calls off Kursk? The Soviets would have wasted a lot of resources building up defenses, given the Germans time to rebuild their forces, and given Model time to build up some defenses in the Orel bulge.

How long does it take the Soviets to go on the offensive and what do the fresh German armor reserves accomplish? Does this mean the Panther then is allowed to take the time it needs to become more reliable than it was in July 1943?

To start off the discussion, I'll lay out my thoughts, feel free to do whatever with them.
I think the Soviets would be on the offensive within two-three weeks of the cancellation order once they shift back into an offensive posture. I don't think they'd wait for Sicily to be invaded. So by late June the Soviets would launch their offensive against the Orel Bulge from multiple sides:
Image
Besides the West and Bryansk Fronts attacking the Central Front would also attack. With time to build up reserves and having all of his forces intact Model would inflict heavier losses than historical during Operation Kutusov, but probably less than Citadel+Kutusov. His forces would be more intact after the Soviet offensive though and the follow up to the north with the Smolensk offensive would be harder on the Soviets. So the entire area north of Ukraine would probably be overall a tougher fight for the Soviets and probably in the end a better deal for the Germans than attacking Kursk and then fighting defensively against the Soviets.

Now to the South is where things get interesting. Without Kursk the Voronezh, Steppe, and Southwest Fronts are all intact and can attack, but now face an undiminished German force with full armor and no transfers to Italy, plus their defenses around Belgorod; historically Manstein's troops were so worn down from Kursk+transfers (Mius and Italy) that they couldn't pull off another backhand blow against Soviet spearheads that broke through against Belgorod, which in this situation despite the greater Soviet armor available without the blooding of Kursk would get lopped off.
Since the offensive would happen earlier there are more Germans around not in Italy, even if historical reinforcements to Mius are sent.

The Soviets then don't break through and start their run to the Dniepr like they did historically and from June-August there are bloody battles to breakthrough to the South. Eventually the Germans do have to give ground, but they bleed the Soviets much worse and can pull back in better order while the Soviets don't advance nearly as quickly, allowing for more 'scorched earth' and less overrun German forces. The historical transfers to Italy may not happen at the same time and given the Germans a chance to retreat properly to the Dniepr. Maybe they pull out of Crimea in good order later on. IMHO its likely that the situation in Ukraine doesn't collapse and the Dniepr could be held into 1944 before it gets breeched, but when it does there isn't the pocket battles like Korsun; so then leading into summer 1944 Ukraine is a better situation and that may impact the way the Germans view the situation before Bagration, meaning they don't strip down their armor there and don't suffer as badly as a result. I imagine the situation around Leningrad and in the North remains the same.

In the end the Eastern Front holds up better for the Germans and barring any significant command changes as the result of July 17th or 20th succeeding, the Wallies then have a more important role to play in the West with their offensives; they may well end up getting to Berlin first if the Eastern Front doesn't collapse as far as it did historically and the Soviets bleed worse to advance a shorter distance.

IMHO Kursk was a bad choice compared to letting the Soviets go on the offensive in Summer 1943 and the Germans using their armor to parry their blows. What do you all think?

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Re: No Operation Citadel (again)

Post by ljadw » 26 Sep 2015 19:29

1) The Soviet offensive would not be delayed: Kutuzov started during Citadel

2)"Kursk was a bad choice " : this is irrelevant,because the Germans had no choice : they were the weaker party and had to start a preemptive defensive attack with limited aims .No Citadel meant that the Soviets would be able to attack from Leningrad to the Black Sea,while the Germans had not the forces to defend the frontline from Leningrad to the Black Sea .

3) The German view of the situation before Bagration had no importance : most of the German mobile divisions were in the south,resulting in only weak forces for AGC. If the mobile forces were behind AGC, AGS would be destroyed .

4) AGC lost 290000 men during Bagration,AG South Ukraine lost 250000 men :the Germans had the choice between Scilla and Charibdis .

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Re: No Operation Citadel (again)

Post by Cult Icon » 27 Sep 2015 05:01

STAVKA/Stalin were not going to attack first. If they did, their method was to attack where the reserves aren't or trick the germans into shifting the reserves. They did this at Mius July 1943 and in the Alt would do it again.

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Re: No Operation Citadel (again)

Post by Phaing » 27 Sep 2015 07:40

Why Cancel Kursk at all?
Take it differently, and the the best way would have been to do it sooner.

But, if you can't manage that, take the bulge head-on instead of the usual pincers.

You could feint, hit at the north side with 2 x Panzer and 4 x infantry Divisions, and use the rest at the west end of the bulge in conjunction with a similar proportion of AGS.
I have heard that this is what Hitler wanted to do, minus the threat force at the shoulders of the bulge.

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Re: No Operation Citadel (again)

Post by pintere » 27 Sep 2015 15:42

I've explored alternate strategies for attacking the Kursk salient also. But if you were to ask me what I thought was the best strategic option at this time, I'd go for something like this.

As Hitler later wrote in his famous directive regarding the strengthening of forces in France, the Germans could afford to lose large swathes of land in Russia with relatively little effect on the war effort. With this principle in mind, the Germans would have little to lose by withdrawing their forces to a more defensible stance.

So the question now is what positions along the Russian front would be easiest to defend? I for one am drawn to the Dnieper river. I don't know too much about the terrain of the river (anyone with links to geographical info is welcome to share stuff), but I do know that it is both wide and with steep banks on the western shore. Furthermore, it connects with other potential defensive barriers when it ends up around Smolensk (such as the Dvina). The whole line would look similar to the so called "Panther Line." The strategy I propose goes something like this. Following the rasputitsa, the Germans start to build defensive works on the western shore of the Dnieper. The German commanders of AG South and Centre are given relatively free rein in one mission, to delay and damage the Russians as much as possible before withdrawing the the line. So when the Russians finally do attack, the Germans try to delay them as much as possible while preserving their own forces, especially their infantry divisions. Eventually, the Germans would make an orderly withdrawal behind the river line, blow the bridges, and wait.

The question is whether fortified positions behind the Dnieper held by a strong enemy would be enough to stop the Russians. Any comments would be appreciated.

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Re: No Operation Citadel (again)

Post by ljadw » 27 Sep 2015 16:51

The Germans had not the means nor the time to build fortifications from Leningrad to the Black Sea .

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Re: No Operation Citadel (again)

Post by Cult Icon » 27 Sep 2015 20:52

I personally don't believe that a static front was feasible. The german infantry strengths and the availability of reinforcements throughout 1943 was inadequate.

With the next generation soviet forces/landings/france buildup/loss of axis allied support, the german forces are now firmly in the "those who defend everywhere, defend nothing" camp. The only real option left is mobile defense tactics with operational counterstrikes or even counteroffensives. The goal should be to wipe out enemy formations and human talent, and not material (as they did historically obsess over tank destruction)

I would go far to say that I think that the expansion of the stug arm throughout 43 was a failure- the resources should have been allocated to Pz divisions instead.

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Re: No Operation Citadel (again)

Post by ljadw » 28 Sep 2015 05:41

Stugs were cheaper than tanks

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Re: No Operation Citadel (again)

Post by Phaing » 29 Sep 2015 00:46

ljadw wrote:Stugs were cheaper than tanks
Then they should have built Anti-tank guns instead, eh? 8-)

Falling back into positional warfare plays into the hands of the Russians in some major ways, even with a fantastic barrier like the Dnieper there.
If the Germans had spent the previous 6 months using peasants to construct a fortified area in depth, the Russian artillery would have had to fire for a few ours longer, that's about all. The Panzer Divisions need lots of elbow-room to work their magic, which was why Manstien was proposing to allow the Reds such a deep penetration down by the Azov. That, and to add stress to the balky Soviet logistic system. It is also unlikely that the Germans could regain all the ground lost before their counter-attack ended. In fact, they rarely did.
And even if you can hold on the Dnieper, to your north is the Pripyat Marsh. Partisan country by summer, in the winter it freezes just as solidly as everything else in the USSR. Ever seen Ice Road Truckers?

Falling back does not make your tactical problems easier in this case, not by half. This time, as so often happens, its seems as if that vegetarian twit had a better understanding of the issues than he gets credit for.

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Re: No Operation Citadel (again)

Post by pintere » 30 Sep 2015 14:36

Cult Icon wrote:I personally don't believe that a static front was feasible. The german infantry strengths and the availability of reinforcements throughout 1943 was inadequate.

With the next generation soviet forces/landings/france buildup/loss of axis allied support, the german forces are now firmly in the "those who defend everywhere, defend nothing" camp. The only real option left is mobile defense tactics with operational counterstrikes or even counteroffensives. The goal should be to wipe out enemy formations and human talent, and not material (as they did historically obsess over tank destruction)

I would go far to say that I think that the expansion of the stug arm throughout 43 was a failure- the resources should have been allocated to Pz divisions instead.
And yet there are advantages to this strategy. The Russians were very fond of the strategy of striking hammer blows all along the front at the same time. If there are large sections of impassable terrain along the front, they could only attack so many locations at the same time. Fewer attacks mean fewer breakthroughs, and less assaults for the Panzer divisions to contain.

If anything, I think it would play to German strengths. Mobile warfare was well-suited to the panzers, but as the infantry were relatively immobile, they would struggle in a large, flowing battle.

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Re: No Operation Citadel (again)

Post by Cult Icon » 30 Sep 2015 15:34

The only german strength left is in asymmetrical operations at the operational level (counterstrikes and counteroffensives). Axis manpower can only decline if they hold static front. Historically, the Ostheer dipped below 2.5 million men (record low) on Sept 1943.

By this point in the war, the soviet armies can easily penetrate into the operational/tactical depths thanks to upgrades in organization. They do not always attack from a broad front, either- a common way is to make a bridgehead, expand it, and then put a tank army or a combined arms army into it. Soon, a large salient forms and the attacks behind from there. This happened against Kiev on early Oct 1943.

Difficult terrain (eg. northern theatre) were tackled by combined arms armies with an increased emphasis on artillery (now available: the artillery corps and divisions) and infantry armor support.

Barrett's Zhitomir-Berdichev book is particularly insightful when examining this period showing mobile defense and techniques of organized fighting retreats with blocking groups.

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Re: No Operation Citadel (again)

Post by pintere » 01 Oct 2015 01:55

Elastic defense, too, can cause casualties the Germans could not afford. While a static front (as is evident from the outcome of the war) is clearly unfeasible, a line along the Dnieper would be a totally different situation.

Especially south of Kiev, the Dnieper is well suited for German defensive purposes. In order to capture it, the Russians would need to send boats across to get a bridgehead. Due to the German height advantage, this would be no easy feat. Building a bridge over a wide river would also take time, and since the Germans still had some tactical air support, it would only have made the task more difficult. If a panzer division was in a day's march of anywhere on the line, any Russian bridgehead could be crushed before it was reinforced with heavy weapons. Trying to breach such a line would require a lot of specialist equipment and attacks in multiple sectors. It would've taken a while before the Russians could have even attempted such a thing.

Both the Russians and Germans failed to take advantage of the opportunities the river offered, as both were preoccupied with defending the area in front of it. And when the Germans finally decided to defend along they Dnieper, they were in no position to do so. Imagine the German forces, with the infantry and tank forces that would have been spent at Kursk fresh for battle, standing behind the Dnieper. Infantry are dug in, all bridges destroyed, and the Germans are waiting for the Russians to attack. I also did a little bit of math, and by my rough estimates a line such as this would have shaved off about 400km of frontline to defend compared to the German frontline before Kursk. So the Germans could have stationed sizeable reserves behind the line as well.

The advantages of this intrigue me, although I am open to variations of a plan like this. At the very least, it would have made an elastic defense more realistic as the amount of places in which the Russians could breakthrough simultaneously would be reduced.

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Re: No Operation Citadel (again)

Post by AriX » 06 Jan 2019 22:23

In 1943 soviets mibilized 5.9 million man, of which 1.5 mulliin weere non-russians. In 1944 4.64 million in total, of which 3 million were non-russians. I bet most of them were ukrainians and belurussians. So, if germans hold up tthe front line till 1944 as it was in july 1943, soviets would face serius draft resourse shortage.

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