What if the Soviets cut off Army Group A by reaching the Black Coast in January 1943?

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Johannes Blaskowitz
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What if the Soviets cut off Army Group A by reaching the Black Coast in January 1943?

Post by Johannes Blaskowitz » 31 Mar 2020 23:23

In his book "Lost Victories" Von Manstein writes extensively about the situation of the Southern Eastern Front in January 1943:

First, the situation of the Army Group as a whole, particularly with regard to developments in the neighbouring area of Army Group B, no longer allowed two armies - Sixth and Fourth Panzer - to be tied down east of the Don. By this time not only the fate of Sixth Army was at
stake but also that of Don Army Group and Army Group A, both of which, if the enemy took resolute action, were liable to be cut off from their communications zones.


Taken in conjunction with one another, these two factors implied a danger that the southern wing, once cut off from its supplies, would be pushed back against the coast of the Sea of Azov or Black Sea and ultimately destroyed, as the Soviet Black Sea Fleet was just as capable as ever of imposing a blockade. After the destruction of Don Army Group and Army Group A, however, the fate of the entire Eastern Front would have been sealed sooner or later.

The fact that the Army Detachment succeeded in finally halting the enemy on the Donetz, and thereby in saving Fourth Panzer Army and Army Group A from being cut off south of the Don, must be ascribed first and foremost - while not forgetting the way its staff handled operations - to the bravery with which the infantry divisions and all other formations and units helping to hold the line stood their ground against the enemy's recurrent attacks. Yet their defence could never have been maintained had not our armoured divisions time and again shown up at danger spots at just the right moment. On one hand they intervened to ward off the impending encirclement of the Army Detachment's right wing as it wheeled back on to the Kagalnik and later to intercept a threatened breakthrough in that sector. On the other, they surprised the enemy by driving straight into his assembly positions as he was about to attack the Army Detachment's northern front forward of the Donetz.

It surprises me that so little has been written about this particular subject, but it seems to me that Von Manstein was right: Army Group A just narrowly avoided total destruction, that would have meant a loss 4 times as big as Stalingrad. So my question is about that: What if the Soviets cut off Army Group A in January 1943? Does that mean the war is ended in 1944 and the Soviets will ultimately capture all of Germany?

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Re: What if the Soviets cut off Army Group A by reaching the Black Coast in January 1943?

Post by Johannes Blaskowitz » 01 Apr 2020 11:32

Von Manstein stabilized the front in early 1943.

Image

In a series of carefully deployed withdrawing operations, the Germans were able to save their forces from total destruction.

Image

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Re: What if the Soviets cut off Army Group A by reaching the Black Coast in January 1943?

Post by Johannes Blaskowitz » 02 Apr 2020 09:11

Edit.
Last edited by Johannes Blaskowitz on 02 Apr 2020 14:32, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: What if the Soviets cut off Army Group A by reaching the Black Coast in January 1943?

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 02 Apr 2020 11:20

I don't think this makes a huge difference.

As a meta-point, Mannstein has to be read critically as always. His memoirs tend to exaggerate the drama of the '42-'43 Eastern Front in a way that centers his actions - and Hitler's vetos of his proposed actions - as potentially decisive. That's just generally wrong, IMO. By this point in the war the Germans were incapable of grand operational/strategic victories that could fundmentally change things (i.e. encirclements), while the Soviets were not quite so overhwelmingly powerful as to force such defeats on the Ostheer (though of course Germany could blunder into such defeats as at Stalingrad). Any move that Mannstein might have made would have been countered and wouldn't have dramatically changed the attrition picture.

On the particular issue...
If the Red Army cuts off more of Army Group A in the Caucasus, those forces will simply retreat into the Taman bridgehead as with OTL 17th army. The Red Army will need to devote more forces to the Kuban to deal with a stronger Taman bridgehead.

In Ukraine, the Red Army probably advances well past the Mius, maybe even reaching the Dniepr around Zaporizhe. The Red Army lacked the logistical apparatus, however, to advance all the way to the Perekop Isthmus and cut off the Crimea/Taman forces (which might have a real war-changing outcome if possible). See our own Der Alte Fritz's study of Red Army logistics during the war: https://www.hgwdavie.com/blog/2020/1/2/ ... -transport

As that article states, Red Army's motorization hit its nadir in mid-'43 and would be very near that point in this ATL. Overextension was coming sooner or later.

That said, early '43 goes better for RKKA in this ATL. If there is a "backhand blow" as the over-extended Soviets approach the Dniepr it's weaker than OTL. Eventually Germany will shift forces from the Taman back towards central Ukraine, but at a slower pace than OTL. The Germans probably don't take back Kharkov and there's probably no Kursk bulge and therefore no Zitadelle.

Does that really change anything? IMO no. It's a war attrition in '43; the basic parameters of that war haven't changed.

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Re: What if the Soviets cut off Army Group A by reaching the Black Coast in January 1943?

Post by Johannes Blaskowitz » 02 Apr 2020 12:50

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
02 Apr 2020 11:20
I don't think this makes a huge difference.

As a meta-point, Mannstein has to be read critically as always. His memoirs tend to exaggerate the drama of the '42-'43 Eastern Front in a way that centers his actions - and Hitler's vetos of his proposed actions - as potentially decisive. That's just generally wrong, IMO. By this point in the war the Germans were incapable of grand operational/strategic victories that could fundmentally change things (i.e. encirclements), while the Soviets were not quite so overhwelmingly powerful as to force such defeats on the Ostheer (though of course Germany could blunder into such defeats as at Stalingrad). Any move that Mannstein might have made would have been countered and wouldn't have dramatically changed the attrition picture.

On the particular issue...
If the Red Army cuts off more of Army Group A in the Caucasus, those forces will simply retreat into the Taman bridgehead as with OTL 17th army. The Red Army will need to devote more forces to the Kuban to deal with a stronger Taman bridgehead.

In Ukraine, the Red Army probably advances well past the Mius, maybe even reaching the Dniepr around Zaporizhe. The Red Army lacked the logistical apparatus, however, to advance all the way to the Perekop Isthmus and cut off the Crimea/Taman forces (which might have a real war-changing outcome if possible). See our own Der Alte Fritz's study of Red Army logistics during the war: https://www.hgwdavie.com/blog/2020/1/2/ ... -transport

As that article states, Red Army's motorization hit its nadir in mid-'43 and would be very near that point in this ATL. Overextension was coming sooner or later.

That said, early '43 goes better for RKKA in this ATL. If there is a "backhand blow" as the over-extended Soviets approach the Dniepr it's weaker than OTL. Eventually Germany will shift forces from the Taman back towards central Ukraine, but at a slower pace than OTL. The Germans probably don't take back Kharkov and there's probably no Kursk bulge and therefore no Zitadelle.

Does that really change anything? IMO no. It's a war attrition in '43; the basic parameters of that war haven't changed.
Okay, so what we are talking about is the probability that Army Group A actually can be "destroyed" when the Soviets cut off the German armies west of Rostov. Manstein said the following about that and supposed that the German troops would be surrounded in the area between Charkov (the push ending around Kherson) and Rostov. At that point there would be no way that these troops could be evacuated, because the Soviet Black Sea Fleet was too strong:

Taken in conjunction with one another, these two factors implied a danger that the southern wing, once cut off from its supplies, would be pushed back against the coast of the Sea of Azov or Black Sea and ultimately destroyed, as the Soviet Black Sea Fleet was just as capable as ever of imposing a blockade. After the destruction of Don Army Group and Army Group A, however, the fate of the entire Eastern Front would have been sealed sooner or later.

As we can see in the image, the Axis had virtually no reserves in the gigantic Ukrainian hinterland. The Russians had factually enough troops to reach this target, although your point about overextension is a good one.

Image

When I look at the numbers, the situation could have been a lot more problematic though.

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Re: What if the Soviets cut off Army Group A by reaching the Black Coast in January 1943?

Post by Avalancheon » 03 Apr 2020 13:05

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
02 Apr 2020 11:20
On the particular issue...
If the Red Army cuts off more of Army Group A in the Caucasus, those forces will simply retreat into the Taman bridgehead as with OTL 17th army. The Red Army will need to devote more forces to the Kuban to deal with a stronger Taman bridgehead.
Do you think the Germans will retain the bridgehead, or evacuate it? Hitler had once floated the idea of maintaining a foothold in the Kuban (in the event that Army Group A was forced to retreat from the Caucasus), but things didn't go his way.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
02 Apr 2020 11:20
In Ukraine, the Red Army probably advances well past the Mius, maybe even reaching the Dniepr around Zaporizhe. The Red Army lacked the logistical apparatus, however, to advance all the way to the Perekop Isthmus and cut off the Crimea/Taman forces (which might have a real war-changing outcome if possible). See our own Der Alte Fritz's study of Red Army logistics during the war: https://www.hgwdavie.com/blog/2020/1/2/ ... -transport.
Thats really bad. If the Soviets regain control over that much of the Ukraine, they will be able to conscript more men into the Red Army. In OTL, they weren't able to advance to the Dnieper until late 1943.

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Re: What if the Soviets cut off Army Group A by reaching the Black Coast in January 1943?

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 04 Apr 2020 04:30

Avalancheon wrote:Thats really bad. If the Soviets regain control over that much of the Ukraine, they will be able to conscript more men into the Red Army. In OTL, they weren't able to advance to the Dnieper until late 1943.
Good point about conscription. Also the SU will recover the Donbas ~6 months earlier, with implications for material strength months later. Hard to quantify the impacts but not insignificant.

I was mostly responding to the idea - false, I believe - that every unit cut off in the Caucasus would be destroyed in a "Stalingrad x4."
Do you think the Germans will retain the bridgehead, or evacuate it? Hitler had once floated the idea of maintaining a foothold in the Kuban (in the event that Army Group A was forced to retreat from the Caucasus), but things didn't go his way.
They'd probably try to hold it about as long as they held out OTL. Can't keep all the additional forces there; they're needed elsewhere.

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Re: What if the Soviets cut off Army Group A by reaching the Black Coast in January 1943?

Post by Kingfish » 04 Apr 2020 10:36

How effective was the Russian Black Sea Fleet in preventing the 17th army from withdrawing across the Kerch Straits?
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Re: What if the Soviets cut off Army Group A by reaching the Black Coast in January 1943?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 04 Apr 2020 11:27

Hi Guys,

The divisions lost in the Crimea in May 1944 were most of the divisions that had been evacuated from the Kuban in 1943. If they had been lost in January 1943 this would have left a hole in Germany's southern defences and destroyed the best Romanian mountain and cavalry divisions, which were the last substantial body of Axis allied troops left on the main Eastern Front for about a year in 1943-44. The Slovak Rapid Division, the country's only front line formation, would also have been lost. In addition, the loss of the 5th W-SS Division might well have made a large dent in W-SS prospects of raising more volunteers and formations from north-west Europe for the rest of the war.

In these circumstances, it is difficult not to see the German situation in southern Ukraine, and possibly the Balkans, deteriorating more rapidly than it actually did. However, there are too many other imponderables beyond that to know to what degree it might have accelerated the end of the war.

Cheers,

Sid.

P.S. It should also be noted that the Red Army also tried to cut off Army Group A from the southern, Black Sea flank in Opration Mountains and Operation Sea in January 1943. The most advanced formations of Army Group A only just made it back to the Kuban Bridgehead in time by forced marches ahead of Operation Mountains. One of the two seaborne landings of Operation Sea was wiped out largely by Romanian troops while the other was contained largely by German troops.

There is a description of Operation Sea on: https://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-b ... paid-24924

It shows that even after Stalingrad Romanian troops could be effective in the right circumstances. They were largely responsible for wiping out another Soviet landing at Eltigen in the Crimea in December 1943.

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Re: What if the Soviets cut off Army Group A by reaching the Black Coast in January 1943?

Post by Johannes Blaskowitz » 04 Apr 2020 16:50

I have the impression that a lot of users don't have a good overview of the southern front in early 1943 and the more I read about it, the more I get impressed by Von Manstein's judgement of the situation.

"After the German Sixth Army was trapped as a result of Hitlers stubborn attitude at Stalingrad, the Russians threatened the entire southern wing of the German Eastern Front against the Sea of ​​Azov. At that time the German First and Fourth Panzer Army were still south of Rostov and in the Caucasus. Another Russian offensive threatened these two armies to cut off the river Don. The Soviet divisions were just 50 kilometers from Rostov at the time, while the first Panzer Army had to travel 400 kilometers. Von Manstein then gave his Hollidt Army Division (in strength of an army) to command a defense on the river Mius to the west. By withdrawing the First and Fourth Panzer Armies west of this river (from January 31, 1943) he shortened the front line of his Army group Don, and he created one operational reserve - the center of gravity of his defensive - with which he could attack the advancing Russians."

"Von Manstein made use of the fact that the Russian offensive reached its culmination point after moving more than 300 kilometers. After his two armored armies had withdrawn about 250 to 350 kilometers, he turned them in 90 to 180 degrees northbound. On February 19
1943 he ordered the First and Fourth Armored Army, together with the hastily formed army division Kempf (strength of an army corps), to destroy all Russian troops that had crossed the river Donetz. This maneuver, which later became known as the Rochade, succeeded and he showed that the encirclement doesn't belong to just the attacker."


What this technically means:

1. When the Russians reach Rostov Panzerarmy 1 and 4 are cut off from the donbass area and are not capable to undertake any counterattacks in the northern sector around Dnipropetrovsk-Charkov. This means that the Soviets (who have an overwhelming superiority of troops in that sector) are basically only hindered by supply issues. Of course they have to pause at times, but they have a lot more time and options than Panzerarmy 1 and 4. It will take ages for these armies to be transported over sea, if that would be even possible.
2. So the implications of Rostov being captured early on are indeed enormous and could possibly result in the entire southern flank of the front trapped between Kherson and the Taman peninsula. This means that the following armies are trapped:

Trapped in Donbass area:

1. Romanian 3rd Army
2. Armee-Abteilung Hollidt

Trapped in the Crimea-Taman area:

1. 1st Panzer Army
2. 4rd Panzer Army
3. 17th Army
4. Romanian Mountain Corps.

This has enormous implications for the German army. The weak parts of the Wehrmacht (Armee-Abteiling Hollidt) that are left in the Donbass area will not be able to prevent the Soviets for conquering Western Ukraine within a short time. The most manoeuvrable armies (1st and 4rd Panzer Army) are stuck on the black sea Coast south of Rostov and can probably not be transferred over the sea. And the armies that are left in the Crimea-Taman area are trapped as well.

Image

Image

With around 6 or 7 armies trapped and destroyed this would basically mean the total collapse of the soutern front. The Russians will take over Romania much faster (maybe already during spring 1943) and this will have enormous implications for the northern fronts too.

So yes, a cut-off at Rostov would have changed the war significantly.

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Re: What if the Soviets cut off Army Group A by reaching the Black Coast in January 1943?

Post by Johannes Blaskowitz » 04 Apr 2020 17:04

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
04 Apr 2020 04:30
Avalancheon wrote:Thats really bad. If the Soviets regain control over that much of the Ukraine, they will be able to conscript more men into the Red Army. In OTL, they weren't able to advance to the Dnieper until late 1943.
Good point about conscription. Also the SU will recover the Donbas ~6 months earlier, with implications for material strength months later. Hard to quantify the impacts but not insignificant.

I was mostly responding to the idea - false, I believe - that every unit cut off in the Caucasus would be destroyed in a "Stalingrad x4."
As I have poined out in my last post this is not at all unlikely if the Russian army succeeds in cutting the connection between Panzer Army 1 and 4 and Army Group Hollidt. Maybe a couple of hundred thousands soldiers will ultimately be evacuated, but an anormous amount of material and tanks will be lost. Army Group A consisted of more than a million soldiers.
They'd probably try to hold it about as long as they held out OTL. Can't keep all the additional forces there; they're needed elsewhere.
No, they won't. That is extremely unlikely.

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