The two fundamental operational problems of Fall Blau were:
- 1. RKKA largely escaped encirclement.
- 2. Ostheer over-extended itself.
GSWW v.6, p.953.According to the forecasts of Gehlen’s experts, in a
situation report submitted to the Operations Department a few days later, on
28 June, the enemy would be anxious, throughout the coming winter, ‘to preserve
his combat strength for 1943, until American help becomes effective’
So FHO knew the RKKA might trade space for time. Gehlen was a General Staff officer; one of Germany's elite minds but there were hundreds/thousands of Gehlen-type intellects around the German army. That he was capable of recognizing this dynamic implies that hundreds/thousands of other Heer officers were as well.
On the logistical over-extension issue, General Wagner's Quartermaster department saw clearly that Blau was dubious:
GSWW v.6, p.881-2This [logistical infeasibility of Blau]
was being realized by Colonel Pollex, responsible for motor-vehicle and fuel
questions on the staff of the quartermaster-general, as well as by General
Wagner himself, who was by then considering his resignation. Both of them
repeatedly called on the Wehrmacht High Command to convey to Buhle, the
Chief of the Army Staff in the Wehrmacht High Command, and to Warlimont
and Keitel, their doubts about the feasibility of Operation Blue in terms of supplies
Either of fundamental problems (1) or (2) were fatal to the operation's success and of course both (1) and (2) occurred.
So, what to do if you're Hitler in early '42?
Again, I don't think there's an answer within the confines of OTL Hitler and probably not within any personal confines given the material situation. But still... It's easy to preach that OTL outcomes were inevitable and, rather than adopt an intellectually easy pose that annoys me to no end...
If Germany recognizes fundamental problems (1) and (2), the logical conclusion is that OTL Blau is infeasible. What is needed instead is:
- 1. An operational scheme aimed to encircle and destroy the enemy even if he seeks to evade.
- 2. A plan tethered to realistic logistical constraints - i.e. a shallower penetration into Russia during Summer/Fall '42.
The dilemma recommends a strategy of shallower, tighter encirclements that relied on the relative immobility of Soviet foot-mobile formations compared to concentrated German mobile divisions that attain rapid breakthroughs to operational depth. Therefore, the dilemma demanded the concentration of German mobile formations to the extent necessary to achieve battles - or even a battle of annihilation. To do otherwise - to seek combined operational/strategic victories via 1941-style deep encirclements - would likely forfeit the operational encirclement goal and render temporary the attainment of strategic goals.
Did Fall Blau embody such an outlook? No, Blau combined operational and strategic goals, compromising both. AGS possessed 14 fully-mechanized divisions on June 15, 1942; it didn't use them all in Blau 1 as First Panzer Army and, to a lesser extent, 6th Army's mobile divisions, did not jump off with 4th Army in a concentrated encirclement attempt. Arguably as a result, the operation failed to approach even an Uman or Kerch '41 level of PoW success, let alone the envisioned (and necessary) Kiev/Vyazma level. In 1941 the Ostheer's large Kessels required at least two panzer armies per Kesselschlacht; in 1942 this level of concentration wasn't even tried. Hitler's constant recommendation of "smaller Kessels" to his generals during 1941 was, IMO, clearly the better operational judgment. They were more concentrated and therefore tighter, allowing less space and time for escape/evasion. The generals disfavored Hitler's view largely because political punditry had supplanted military professionalism and they cared only about reaching the Soviet capital.
Yet in 1942 the dynamic switched: during the pursuit to the Don/Volga, Halder and the generals urged local/operational solutions while Hitler - alone focused on a receding strategic/political vision of German ultimate victory - perceived a lack of time and prioritized strategic goals over operational.
The alternative would have been to concentrate (nearly) all of AGS's mechanized units to effect a true Kesselschlacht as Blau 1. Where and when is a matter of details compared to eliminating a couple more Soviet armies in late-June '42.
For all the validity of logistical objections to Blau, we have to realize that Blau's overextension did real damage to the SU via loss of land, plant, grain, and population. Any shorter-depth substitute for Blau must acknowledge the tradeoff between operational and strategic outcomes likely to follow from a shorter penetration into Russia (something of which Halder, btw, was incapable - an incapability that assisted, IMO, Hitler's inclination disastrously to deride his intelligence on account of this lacuna).
So it's a question of which near-field objectives were most valuable, and which best conduced to operational encirclement? Some candidates:
- 1. Leningrad.
- 2. Salients in AGC's sector (Rzhev, Sukhinichi).
- 3. AGS's Sector, namely:
- a.OTL Blau 1 on the Voronezh axis but stronger.
- b. Something like OTL Fredericus II on the Donbas axis but stronger.
I don't have a strong view here; I still lean towards Germany ultimately loses unless the ATL includes some means for the conspirators to oust Hitler and reach a political solution that leverages their better strategic situation. But my guess of the optimal 1942 strategy, listed chronologically:
- 1. A stronger Fredericus II aimed at clearing the Donbas entirely. AGS concentrates 4th & 1st Panzer armies to encircle 38th/9th/37th armies, tear a hole between SW and Southern Fronts, and threaten to roll up everything west of Rostov in a wheeling motion to the Sea of Azov. Encirclement/destruction of RKKA there - if feasible - forces diversion of Soviet reserves (e.g. 5th Tank Army) further south than OTL, allowing perhaps sequential operations:
- 2. After ATL Fredericus II, a shift of forces northwards to AGC/AGN starting from mid-July. Ostheer shifts only the personnel of, say, 5 mobile divisions while leaving their equipment as replacement/spares for AGS. Thus all replacement/spare flows from Germany could be focused on AGC/N during July/August/September, meaning the shifted divisions get fully equipped while AGS draws down its spares inventory during August-September (while it exploits eastwards from Donbas towards Rostov). Then AGC launches late-July/August/September attacks on Sukhinichi and/or Rzhev salients, while AGN pushes to link up on the Svir with Finns. The latter means encirclement/destruction of Volkhov Front plus either the fall of Leningrad (+Front) or its military impotence for lack of supplies (in which case it's screened by weak forces and the rest are released for active defense).
If that goes well, Ostheer will have executed 3-4 large Kesselschlachten during Summer/Fall '42, meaning RKKA will enter the winter season down at least 1.5mil vs. OTL, depending on how Stavka reacts. With far better logistics than OTL, Ostheer will have a good chance of holding a line ~200km east of its OTL Spring '43 line, behind which will be important Soviet demographic and agricultural resources - most importantly eastern Ukraine and much of Rostov Oblast, absence of whose spring harvest (winter wheat) perhaps compensates for not taking the Kuban and much of its autumn harvest in OTL '42. Depending on how far AGC and the LW get after Rzhev/Sukhinichi Kessels, the Moscow region's industrial output may be impacted.
Going into 1943, this disposition perhaps gives (an ideal) Hitler strategic room to defend elastically in Russia while also reaping the benefits of the Iwan industrial program in the Dniepr/Donets regions (OTL he refused this option because of German investments just behind the front lines). That might allow Germany to gain a strategic victory over the Salerno landings or subsequently in Italy. Or, with an eastern focus, it might enable a more favorable logistical basis for a 1943 push towards Stalingrad/Maikop and strategic defense in the West: reconstructing the rail bridges west of the Don were the true logistical impediment to OTL Blau but could have been resolved by ATL 1943.
I still have trouble seeing a German endgame but maybe the SU actually does collapse. IMO a Soviet collapse wasn't an unreasonable German expectation; it was just an incompetent German assumption.
Absent Soviet collapse, the Germans have to mount something like Blau or Taifun II in ATL 1943 for Hitler to die peacefully but by that time the W.Allies are closing in.