Successful Fall Blau

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TheMarcksPlan
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Re: Successful Fall Blau

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 13 Feb 2021 10:35

I lean toward viewing the Germans as irrevocably screwed by summer '41 but, interpreting this thread as "Successful German 1942 Summer Offensive" rather than "small deviations from OTL Fall Blau" and taking the most open-ended view of the OTL situation...

The two fundamental operational problems of Fall Blau were:
  • 1. RKKA largely escaped encirclement.
  • 2. Ostheer over-extended itself.
It turns out that both of these problems were predicted by contemporary German analysts, especially the newly-competent squad (led by Gehlen) at Fremde Heere Ost that Halder installed after his incompetent management of intelligence was exposed in Barbarossa. FHO's predictions were:
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’
GSWW v.6, p.953.

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:
This [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
GSWW v.6, p.881-2

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.
Re (1):
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.

Re (2):

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.
Another question is whether any of the foregoing could have been pursued sequentially in one summer/fall. If so, that would militate heavily in favor the feasibly-sequential operations.

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.
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"The whole question of whether we win or lose the war depends on the Russians." - FDR, June 1942

KDF33
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Re: Successful Fall Blau

Post by KDF33 » 27 Feb 2021 04:06

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
13 Feb 2021 10:35
I lean toward viewing the Germans as irrevocably screwed by summer '41
I have a somewhat peculiar view on this: I agree that Barbarossa, as conceived and executed, was doomed from the start, and I also agree that its failure in December 1941 could and should have doomed Germany to lose the war. I believe, however, that the relentless Soviet offensives of the winter of 1941-2 rescued the Germans from the full extent of their miscalculation, and that by the time the Wehrmacht resumed offensive operations in early May (starting with Trappenjagd) the most likely outcome of the German-Soviet war was the elimination of the USSR as an effective combatant.

I'll do my best to explain how I came to this conclusion in this post.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
13 Feb 2021 10:35
The two fundamental operational problems of Fall Blau were:
  • 1. RKKA largely escaped encirclement.
  • 2. Ostheer over-extended itself.
I fully agree with point 2, but I partially disagree with point 1. The RKKA did not escape encirclement, at least no more than it did in 1941, up to and until late July / early August, when Heeresgruppen B and A completely overextended themselves due to Hitler's decisions.

The combined POW yield of both Heeresgruppen in July 1942 was 326,491 men. This is without Sevastopol, which adds a further 73,604 men, for a grand total of 400,095.

The same link gives POW totals for Heeresgruppen Nord, Mitte and Süd from 22.6.1941 to 30.4.1942. Totals are 406,857 for HGN, 1,747,873 for HGM and 1,343,431 for HGS. Even if we assume that the entirety of those POWs were taken between June and October 1941, which is obviously an exaggeration, this gives a total monthly POW yield of 94,618 for HGN and, more to the point, 406,482 for HGM and 312,426 for HGS.

In other words, HGB/A in July 1942 were capturing a monthly yield of POWs comparable to what a similar-sized Army Group captured in a month in 1941. And that was without the lopsided numerical advantage of the opening stages of Barbarossa.

The extent of the damage inflicted is shown here. RKKA strength fell by 776,313 men between July 1st and August 1st. The Soviets maintained their strength at the front by committing most of the RVGK (46 divisions sent in July), as well as units from the Far East (8 divisions) and the interior (1 division).

Unlike in 1941, the Soviets could no longer absorb blows of such magnitude. Luckily for them, the Germans ceased to focus on destroying Soviet formations past July, chasing instead far-off, unattainable objectives and therefore diluting their striking power.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
13 Feb 2021 10:35
So FHO knew the RKKA might trade space for time.
There's little indication that the Soviets traded space for time, though. Blau's July POW tally was similar to that of HGM/S in 1941. The Soviet response to Blau was also similar to that of 1941: they launched relentless offensives, first against 2nd Army around Voronezh and 2nd Panzer Army in HGM's area. Then, on 30 July, they attacked in the center and didn't stop until the end of the summer despite negligible gains and unfavorable casualty exchange ratios. They also tried and failed to relieve Leningrad, and repeatedly launched limited offensives against the Demyansk salient without success.

There is no indication that the Soviets were trying to minimize their casualties in summer 1942. On the contrary, they seem to have operated according to the same paradigm as before: launch multiple offensives on different axes, and try to break through and destroy German force groupings.

This also illustrates a major problem the Soviets had: even with very favorable force ratios, Soviet offensives almost always failed to break German lines beyond the tactical level, with casualty ratios in the 5-to-1 range.

Meanwhile, the Germans could annihilate entire Soviet armies wherever they concentrated enough strength to attain near 1-to-1 force ratios in the selected direction.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
13 Feb 2021 10:35
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.
I fully agree with 2, and I mostly agree with 1, although the risk of Soviet evasion seems IMO remote in light of actual events, as seen above.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
13 Feb 2021 10:35
Re (1):
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.
I'd argue the Germans had a very good strategy in spring 1942 - they just didn't realize it, and ditched the approach at the end of July.

What did the Germans do in the spring? They destroyed exposed targets of opportunity. In May, they destroyed Soviet forces in the Kerch peninsula and in the Kharkov salient. In June, they destroyed the Volkhov pocket, broke the defense of Sevastopol and eliminated Soviet units before the Oskol. In July, they destroyed Soviet forces in the Bely area and mopped up Sevastopol. Combined, these "limited" operations yielded ~600,000 POWs, put an end to RKKA expansion and reduced the strength differential between the Soviets and the Axis at the front.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
13 Feb 2021 10:35
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.
Another question is whether any of the foregoing could have been pursued sequentially in one summer/fall. If so, that would militate heavily in favor the feasibly-sequential operations.
Yes, that would have been the logical extension of the May-June operational framework. My personal view of the optimal sequence is the following:

1. Fall Blau, but to the north instead of the south, ie. same jump-off point for 2. Armee, 4. Panzerarmee and 6. Armee, but no offensive by 1. Panzerarmee and 17. Armee, their mobile units attacking instead with 2. Panzerarmee from Orel. End point would be to advance the front to a line running on the Valuy / Don / Tula "gap" / Ugra, therefore also closing the Sukhinichi bulge, except from the East instead of the South (and/or West).

2. Either closing the Rzhev-Demyansk salient or counterattacking the Soviet Rzhev-Sychyovka offensive. Given the northward thrust of phase (1), the Soviets might, however, not launch that operation.

3. If (2) is the counterattack, closing the Rzhev-Demyansk salient. Otherwise, Leningrad.

4. Unless already done as (3), Leningrad.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
13 Feb 2021 10:35
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
I'd say its worse than that. Even with just 1 million less men by 19.11.1942 than historically, the balance-of-forces on the Eastern Front would be ~4.5 million Soviet ground troops against ~2.8 million German and ~800,000 Axis ground troops, with a far more compact frontline. That's a worse ratio than on 28.6.1942, and unlike then the Soviets no longer have reserves.

The frontline would also be far more compact, which not only would facilitate German defense in selected sectors, but also free up additional forces for further operations. Lastly, and unlike in the summer, the Germans could count on large-scale reinforcements from OKW theaters.

In this scenario, it is the Germans who would be contemplating launching a winter offensive, not the Soviets.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
13 Feb 2021 10:35
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).
IMO, defense is a non-starter and just helps the RKKA in the short term and the Anglo-Americans in the medium term. The Germans must capitalize on their strong position and finish the Soviets in 1943.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
13 Feb 2021 10:35
That might allow Germany to gain a strategic victory over the Salerno landings or subsequently in Italy.
Well, IMO its a fair question to ask if Mussolini falls (1) absent the destruction of the ARMIR and (2) in a scenario where Germany is steadily gobbling up more and more of the USSR and hasn't had a reverse in the East since late 1941. North Africa would still be lost, and that certainly is a blow, but Italian elites can entertain Germany turning West in a reasonable timeframe.

If Fascism stays in power and in the war, I don't see how the Allies can invade mainland Italy in 1943.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
13 Feb 2021 10:35
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.
IMO, the Germans should devote their limited remaining "free time" to finish off the RKKA in a series of battles of annihilation. Every month counts, and none can be wasted. I'd envision two campaigns, with the following timeframes:

1. 15.11.1942 - 31.3.1943: Battles of annihilation to further shrink the size of the RKKA and improve the force ratio

2. From 15.5.1943: Barbarossa redux, this time finishing off the RKKA and occupying European Russia

For the Germans to fully capitalize on the elimination of the USSR, they would also have to end bomber production as early as possible during (2), and exclusively churn out day and night fighters at least until the CBO is blunted and an influx of resources to the war economy allows higher overall production of armaments and fuel.

IMO, it is dubious that Hitler would have the foresight and caution to do that. But then the scenario in itself has to posit that Hitler is a more sensible planner.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
13 Feb 2021 10:35
I still have trouble seeing a German endgame but maybe the SU actually does collapse.
IMO, between May and July 1942, the Germans were well-positioned to defeat the USSR and the latter could no longer do much to prevent being steadily ground down. They needed the Germans to mess up, just as the Germans had needed them to mess up to recover the initiative during the preceding winter.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
13 Feb 2021 10:35
IMO a Soviet collapse wasn't an unreasonable German expectation; it was just an incompetent German assumption.
Agreed. Soviet collapse was a built-in prerequisite of their 1942 planning process, whereas it should have been the end goal. This is all the more striking given (1) that German intelligence correctly assessed the Soviets as no longer able to recover from losses on the scale of 1941 and, (2) that Hitler's own strategy from March to July 1943 was precisely what we're discussing: attacking exposed Soviet positions to grind down the RKKA. He was just a year late.

Ultimately, Hitler was the driving force behind Blau. Seizing the Caucasus had been his pet project even before the Moscow setback, and ultimately German strategy for 1942 was crafted to fit his idiosyncrasies. In that sense, there is something to the argument that Hitler's military leadership was a fundamental cause of German defeat.

This also goes some way to explain the "Command Crisis" of September 1942. By then his strategy had manifestly failed, and unlike in 1941 he could no longer credibly shift blame onto the Generalität. This might also partly explain why he so doggedly clung to the exposed position in the south, despite himself acknowledging the danger on the Don: retreating would be admitting a mistake, something he was incapable of.

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Re: Successful Fall Blau

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 27 Feb 2021 06:18

KDF33 wrote:I have a somewhat peculiar view on this:
Well only peculiar views can be right on this topic (although most peculiar views are wrong).

Thanks for the excellent post; it's given me a lot to think about. As indicated by my "lean" characterization, analysis of 1942 PoD's isn't an area in which I feel entitled to strong commitments. Rather than do the internet thing of giving you my inchoate reactions to your broadest points, I'll hold off to see if I have anything worth saying.

On an important subsidiary question, though - whether Blau I/II was largely successful at destroying Soviet combat power, relative to Barbarossa - a few points/questions:
KDF33 wrote:The combined POW yield of both Heeresgruppen in July 1942 was 326,491 men.
It's a big figure that compares favorably to July '41 for AGC. A few points:
  • June-July '41 was, in my somewhat peculiar view, a strategic failure. The big damage to RKKA occurred in September-October when Ostheer concentrated its mobile forces better (Kiev and Vyazma-Bryansk obviously). You probably agree with that assessment...
  • Although only AGC encircled much in June-July, the other army groups ameliorated their strategic/operational failures by capturing ~350,000*.
  • RKKA was ~80% bigger in June '42 than '41 (though you're probably right it had less regenerative power).
-----------------
*10-day POW reports reproduced here from Askey. Spent a few minutes trying to find decadal breakdown by army group. Do you know of an online one? I'm trying to analyze the composition of non-Kessel '41 PoW hauls here.
-----------------

In that light, if I knew nothing about what happened in Blau I/II and you told me it was as bad for RKKA as a Minsk or Smolensk, I'd be underwhelmed. Furthermore, Blau I/II was the ballgame whereas Minsk/Smolensk were supported by destructive offensives on other fronts (albeit insufficiently destructive). Blau I had to be more like a Vyama/Kiev to change force ratios sufficiently.

Looking at outcomes in terms of % of engaged combatants captured:
  • AGC captured ~60% of Western Front at both Minsk and Smolensk (Based on 600-750k Soviets in each battle and 350-400k PoW including sub-pockets like Gomel and Roslavl).
  • Taifun captured at least 50% of the fronts defending Moscow. Lopukhovksy estimates 1.2mil defenders; Zetterling largely agrees.
  • For Kiev it's difficult to fix actual Soviet strength but German PoW claims exceed Krivosheev's figure for SW Front's strength. Probably ~90% of SW Front captured.
  • Forces directly opposing Blau I/II in July were at least a million; Ostheer's July '42 bag of 327k PoW might be less than 25% of engaged forces. It's unfair to expect counterattacking reserves like 5th Tank Army to have been bagged but even of the initial forces it seems a low ratio - what's your estimate?
KDF33 wrote:There's little indication that the Soviets traded space for time
I've gone back and forth on this, probably depending on what I last read. The secondary sources are confused; I don't have much access to primary Russian sources.

From GSWW v.6, p.966:
The offensive of Sixth Army had
also originally been scheduled to start on 28 June, but had to be postponed
by two days because of heavy rain, which had made the tracks impassable—a
delay which Bock feared might give the enemy, hard-pressed as he was by
the initial successes of the Weichs Group, time to withdraw.18 In point of
fact, when the army eventually moved off from its starting position along the
Belgorod–Volchansk–Olkhovatka line on the morning of 30 June, it encountered relatively slight opposition
Why was opposition light? Was RKKA already being elastic in light of penetrations by 4Pz and 2A?

From p.971:
At any rate, the principle of a flexible
conduct of operations, not shrinking even from major evasive movements, a
tactic long championed by Vasilevskiy, once more prevailed within Stavka during those days and weeks.
Thus on 7 July Timoshenko issued an order of the
day demanding a conduct of operations which would avoid the encirclement
of Soviet forces. This was more important than the defence of every inch of
ground if the latter involved excessive losses. The cohesion of the front was to
be preserved at all costs and contact with neighbouring formations ensured.34
FN 34 cites a (German) 17A communique re Timoshenko's order; presumably it was intercepted.

I could cite more secondary sources and their primary cites and am aware there is some debate on this issue (Citino and Glantz, IIRC, arguing that the Soviets did not defend elastically).

Of course there's the famous "not one step back" order but that was a bit later and seems to have come from Stalin's perception - perhaps accurate - that commanders were willfully retreating.

Given the low % of engaged Soviets captured, relative to Barbarossa, it's hard for me to understand what happened in Blau I/II other than the Soviets mostly got away. I get that 327k PoW is a big number but it seems a low percentage compared not only to most Barbarossa kessels - also to the Izyum and Trappenjagd battles weeks earlier.
KDF33 wrote:IMO, defense is a non-starter and just helps the RKKA in the short term and the Anglo-Americans in the medium term. The Germans must capitalize on their strong position and finish the Soviets in 1943.
Yeah that's probably right. The only reason for considering my other option is to deal a catastrophic blow to the West (e.g. in Italy) but even if Salerno still happens as in OTL and is annihilated, probably not war-winning.

I said:
TheMarcksPlan wrote: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.
But it'd be better to give in the West and attack in the East if Germany can feasibly collapse the SU or render it impotent in '43. They could contain any France landing with weak forces as in OTL, minus the delusional and costly stands at Falaise etc. Even if the W.Allies take Paris by Fall '43, their 60 or so divisions are in a world of trouble if the Ostheer is suddenly free.
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"The whole question of whether we win or lose the war depends on the Russians." - FDR, June 1942

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Re: Successful Fall Blau

Post by thaddeus_c » 27 Feb 2021 14:55

KDF33 wrote:
27 Feb 2021 04:06
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
13 Feb 2021 10:35
I lean toward viewing the Germans as irrevocably screwed by summer '41
I have a somewhat peculiar view on this: I agree that Barbarossa, as conceived and executed, was doomed from the start, and I also agree that its failure in December 1941 could and should have doomed Germany to lose the war. I believe, however, that the relentless Soviet offensives of the winter of 1941-2 rescued the Germans from the full extent of their miscalculation, and that by the time the Wehrmacht resumed offensive operations in early May (starting with Trappenjagd) the most likely outcome of the German-Soviet war was the elimination of the USSR as an effective combatant.

I'd argue the Germans had a very good strategy in spring 1942 - they just didn't realize it, and ditched the approach at the end of July.
still think they are screwed at the end of 1941 because they haven't closed the Leningrad front, technically it wouldn't matter if it is occupied in early 1942, mean as a practical matter it needs to be finished.

my understanding of the situation they could probably defend against the Soviet counterattacks to reopen a rail link? (without draining the other fronts)

just IMO it scrambles the planning for the Soviets,not the least of which the L-L route is closed, and eases the pressure on German side, more likely they continue the "good strategy?"

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Re: Successful Fall Blau

Post by KDF33 » 28 Feb 2021 05:48

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
27 Feb 2021 06:18
Well only peculiar views can be right on this topic (although most peculiar views are wrong).
Agreed. I'd add that, IMO, the conventional wisdom on the hopelessness of the German position vis-à-vis the Soviets in 1942 is very bad and is based on reading future respective force developments as inevitable, when in fact they were the product of strategic and operational decisions made in that crucial year.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
27 Feb 2021 06:18
Thanks for the excellent post; it's given me a lot to think about.
And thanks for yours - they always motivate me to engage in constructive discussion.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
27 Feb 2021 06:18
  • June-July '41 was, in my somewhat peculiar view, a strategic failure. The big damage to RKKA occurred in September-October when Ostheer concentrated its mobile forces better (Kiev and Vyazma-Bryansk obviously). You probably agree with that assessment...
I fully agree on the "strategic failure" part. I partly disagree on the second point: IMO, the late September to mid-October successes had more to do with atrocious Soviet decision-making (or Soviet non-decision-making?) than with better German force concentration.

In effect, Barbarossa was failing to damage the RKKA fast enough to prevent its growth: between 22.6.1941 and early September, RKKA frontline strength grew from 2,527,003 to 3,873,000 men.

Stalin's refusal to evacuate the Kiev salient gave the Germans an opportunity to cheaply destroy an entire Soviet Front, which combined with reinforcements (including 2. and 5. Panzer divisions with a combined 380 tanks) received in September swung the balance-of-force sufficiently in the Germans' favor that they could immediately capitalize and inflict a series of further encirclements in early-to-mid October, namely the Sea of Azov, Bryansk and, more decisively, the Vyazma double-envelopment.

Absent those twin catastrophes - Kiev and the triple-pockets of October - Barbarossa was on course to stall long before December 5th.

Your 10-day data illustrates this quite well, if we count by 30-day periods starting on 22 June:

22.06-20.07: 600,738 POWs
21.07-20.08: 696,031 POWs
21.08-20.09: 653,883 POWs
21.09-20.10: 1,338,922 POWs
21.10-20.11: 487,899 POWs
21.11-20.12: 112,725 POWs
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
27 Feb 2021 06:18
  • Although only AGC encircled much in June-July, the other army groups ameliorated their strategic/operational failures by capturing ~350,000*.
True, but I'd argue it doesn't imply superior German performance in 1941. The overall Eastern Front POW yield from 1-30.7.1942 is 467,191, which compares to 600,738 (78%) / 696,031 (67%) / 653,883 (71%) / 487,899 (96%) for comparable periods in 1941. Note that POW yields for 1941 are estimates and were revised downward, by ~14%. The figures for 1942 appear to have been calculated on a firmer basis from the start.

Applying a 14% deflator across the board in 1941, we get this:

22.06-20.07.1941: 516,110
21.07-20.08.1941: 597,979
21.08-20.09.1941: 561,768
21.10-20.11.1941: 419,167
...
01.05-31.05.1942: 400,295
01.07-31.07.1942: 467,191

Factoring in the far less favorable force ratio of 1942, IMO there's little ground to claim that German performance, POW-wise, was worse in 1942 than in 1941. The period of 21.9-20.10.1941, which even with a 14% reduction still shows an impressive 1,150,304 POWs, is an outlier made feasible by the terrible predicament the Soviets put themselves into at Kiev. It is unfair to compare it to Blau: the equivalent for 1942 would be the Germans pocketing the forces in the Rzhev-Demyansk bulge then Leningrad all within 30 days.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
27 Feb 2021 06:18
  • RKKA was ~80% bigger in June '42 than '41 (though you're probably right it had less regenerative power).
Yes. I'd argue that in light of this and the rest, German POW yields in May/July 1942 are unduly maligned.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
27 Feb 2021 06:18
*10-day POW reports reproduced here from Askey. Spent a few minutes trying to find decadal breakdown by army group. Do you know of an online one? I'm trying to analyze the composition of non-Kessel '41 PoW hauls here.
I don't have a breakdown by Army Group, sadly. In fact, I had never seen a decadal breakdown for 1941 before your previous post. Thanks.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
27 Feb 2021 06:18
Blau I had to be more like a Vyama/Kiev to change force ratios sufficiently.
I'd argue that (1) given 1942 force ratios, this was unrealistic and (2) given limited Soviet force regeneration in 1942, this was unnecessary. Had the Germans simply maintained their July POW yields in August/September/October, the RKKA would have massively shrunk.

Vyazma/Kiev POW yields were only necessary if the Germans wanted to reach Baku. Setting that objective, rather than the actual results of the July phases of Blau, was the problem.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
27 Feb 2021 06:18
Looking at outcomes in terms of % of engaged combatants captured:
  • AGC captured ~60% of Western Front at both Minsk and Smolensk (Based on 600-750k Soviets in each battle and 350-400k PoW including sub-pockets like Gomel and Roslavl).
  • Taifun captured at least 50% of the fronts defending Moscow. Lopukhovksy estimates 1.2mil defenders; Zetterling largely agrees.
  • For Kiev it's difficult to fix actual Soviet strength but German PoW claims exceed Krivosheev's figure for SW Front's strength. Probably ~90% of SW Front captured.
  • Forces directly opposing Blau I/II in July were at least a million; Ostheer's July '42 bag of 327k PoW might be less than 25% of engaged forces. It's unfair to expect counterattacking reserves like 5th Tank Army to have been bagged but even of the initial forces it seems a low ratio - what's your estimate?
Well, there's precise data:
  • Byelorussia, 22.6 - 9.7.1941: 338,493 POWs out of a starting force of 625,000 men -> Attacking German force has ~1.2 million men and takes ~31,000 combat casualties. Key ratios are: 54% of the start strength is captured, 18,805 are captured per day, and the Germans capture ~10.9 POWs for every 1 combat loss they suffer.
  • Smolensk, 10.7 - 5.8.1941: 309,110 POWs out of a starting force of 579,400 men -> Attacking German force still has ~1.2 million men and takes ~79,000 combat casualties. Key ratios are: 53% of the start strength is captured, 11,449 are captured per day, and the Germans capture ~3.9 POWs for every 1 combat loss they suffer.
  • Kiev, 21.8 - 27.9.1941: ~665,000 POWs out of a starting force of ~1,200,000 men -> Attacking German force has at most 1 million men and takes 65,592 combat casualties. Key ratios are: 55% of the start strength is captured, 17,500 are captured per day, and the Germans capture ~10.1 POWs for every 1 combat loss they suffer.
  • Moscow, 28.9 - 18.10.1941: 673,098 POWs out of a starting force of 1,250,000 men -> Attacking German force has ~1.25 million men and takes 47,363 combat casualties. Key ratios are: 54% of the start strength is captured, 32,052 are captured per day, and the Germans capture 14.2 POWs for every 1 combat loss they suffer.
  • Blau, 1 - 31.7.1942: 326,491 POWs out of a starting force of ~1,400,000 men -> Attacking German force has ~1.1 million men + ~200,000 Axis troops and takes 53,791 combat casualties + ~1,000s of Axis losses. Key ratios are: 23% of the start strength is captured, 10,532 are captured per day, and the Germans capture ~6.1 POWs for every 1 combat loss they suffer.
Sources: Soviet strengths here and here, POWs for 1941 here. German data from ww2stats and this thread.

My comments: Blau compares well to Byelorussia and Smolensk, even more so when one factors in the 14% downward revision to 1941 POW yields. Even Kiev isn't that far off, at least in terms of POWs-to-casualties. The ratio of initial strength captured is halved in 1942, but I'd argue this has more to do with the Soviets having both greater absolute strength as well as a better force ratio compared to 1941, rather than with any fundamental inability on the Germans' part to cut off and destroy Soviet formations.

The true outlier is Moscow, mostly on account of the Vyazma pocket. I'd argue that the almost complete absence of mobile Soviet formations capable of counterattacking in October 1941, compared to June/July 1942, explains most of the difference.

On 1.10.1941, the Western / Reserve / Bryansk Fronts had 1 tank division, 2 motor rifle divisions and 13 independent tank brigades.

On 1.7.1942, the Bryansk / South-Western / Southern Fronts had 11 tank corps, 29 independent tank brigades and 2 independent motor rifle brigades.

Had the Soviet mobile units been in a similar state to 10.1941 at the beginning of Blau, there would have been no counter-attack at Voronezh and the German spearheads would have been virtually unopposed. IMO, had it been the case its clear that the POW yield would have been significantly higher in July 1942.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
27 Feb 2021 06:18
I've gone back and forth on this, probably depending on what I last read. The secondary sources are confused; I don't have much access to primary Russian sources.
I remember reading somewhere that Timoshenko's order was in response to the dislocation and spontaneous retreat of Soviet units. I.e., it made "official" what was already happening in a bottom-up, disorganized fashion. In any event, the data doesn't bear that the Soviets had much success at avoiding capture, elastic defense or not.

Besides, how could the Soviets use an elastic defense? Most of their units had virtually no motorization to speak of. IMO, the massive combined-arms counterattacks spearheaded by the tank corps restricted to some extent German operation freedom, and better explain why Blau wasn't like Taifun. But then Taifun happened under exceptionally favorable circumstances. Thus, it makes little sense to use it as the yardstick for judging operations in 1942.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
27 Feb 2021 06:18
Given the low % of engaged Soviets captured, relative to Barbarossa, it's hard for me to understand what happened in Blau I/II other than the Soviets mostly got away. I get that 327k PoW is a big number but it seems a low percentage compared not only to most Barbarossa kessels - also to the Izyum and Trappenjagd battles weeks earlier.
Well, really there's just three big Barbarossa pockets: Bialystok-Minsk, Kiev and Vyazma. Let's look at them in order, as well as Kerch and Kharkov.
  • Bialystok-Minsk: Germans had a 2-to-1 numerical superiority, were jumping off from two small salients and were attacking unprepared Soviet positions.
  • Kiev: Germans broke through the comparatively-weak Bryansk Front to link-up in the rear of an exposed Soviet position inside a massive salient.
  • Vyazma: Germans concentrated overwhelming mobile power on a narrow subsection of HGM's front, against barely mobile infantry formations almost wholly devoid of supporting mobile reserves.
  • Kerch: Soviets isolated in a small bridgehead on the Crimea.
  • Kharkov: Soviets effectively pocketed from 3 out of 4 sides before the operation even began.
Blau, meanwhile, was launched from a straight frontline against an enemy with a slight numerical superiority, large in-theater mobile reserves and the ability to plug gaps in the front with reserve armies. It still achieved to bag almost a quarter of the initial force, and if one includes KIA and WIA, wiped out close to 50% of the initial force in a month.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
27 Feb 2021 06:18
Yeah that's probably right. The only reason for considering my other option is to deal a catastrophic blow to the West (e.g. in Italy) but even if Salerno still happens as in OTL and is annihilated, probably not war-winning.
Well, IMO its unclear that Italy switches sides in this scenario. If they don't, Avalanche is unlikely to happen.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
27 Feb 2021 06:18
But it'd be better to give in the West and attack in the East if Germany can feasibly collapse the SU or render it impotent in '43. They could contain any France landing with weak forces as in OTL, minus the delusional and costly stands at Falaise etc. Even if the W.Allies take Paris by Fall '43, their 60 or so divisions are in a world of trouble if the Ostheer is suddenly free.
A rushed landing designed to save the Soviets could indeed offer the Germans an opportunity to destroy a large number of Anglo-American divisions that would otherwise be untouchable.

That could actually be one of the few scenarios that would allow Germany to successfully conclude the war: with a summer 1943 landing in France contained, the Soviets finished by the fall and the redeployment of the Ostheer complete by early 1944, the Germans could launch a winter offensive and expel the Anglo-Americans from France. Hitler could then appeal for peace, just in time for the U.S. election season.

But then again, the Anglo-Americans could do the smart thing, reconcile themselves to Soviet defeat and play to their strengths: the air offensive and the campaign against Japan.

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Re: Successful Fall Blau

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 28 Feb 2021 14:26

KDF33 wrote:the conventional wisdom on the hopelessness of the German position vis-à-vis the Soviets in 1942 is very bad and is based on reading future respective force developments as inevitable, when in fact they were the product of strategic and operational decisions made in that crucial year.
Maybe. You're way out on a limb there versus contemporary historiography, which makes me want to make the idea work without losing sight of my own critiques.

I'm often reminding folks to test their war narratives against contemporary expectations for hindsight bias; here most of the (informed) West expected Russian defeat in '42. That evaluation makes sense given the economic balance of power (SU's economy was smaller than Japanese Empire's in '42, Germany produced ~4x more steel) and that total manpower resources after Barbarossa didn't dramatically favor SU (population ~130mil in Spring '42 versus ~80mil Germans). Add in relative combat effectiveness and German victory seems the likely outcome even accounting for the 1.3-front war.

Underrated, however, is the '42 hangover from '41 expectations of quick victory. That first winter/spring marked the nadir of post-1939 German production - particularly of land ordnance - and Ostheer '42 suffered accordingly in ways that contemporaries were not aware. Another German victory ATL could involve Halder/Hitler coming to their senses in July/August 1941 when massive Soviet reserves started appearing, recognizing the war would not be quick, and immediately mobilizing greater Heer production and foreign labor substitution for deferred workers (e.g. making sure at least some of those Soviet PoW's aren't dead or economically useless due to malnourishment). With those steps, Ostheer could have been ~10% stronger in personnel and enormously better-equipped/supplied. It can probably destroy Volkhov Front and seal off Leningrad simultaneously with a Blauish type move in Ukraine/Voronezh starting in May, which sets up a late-summer offensive against Moscow to destroy remaining reserves.
KDF33 wrote:But then again, the Anglo-Americans could do the smart thing, reconcile themselves to Soviet defeat and play to their strengths: the air offensive and the campaign against Japan.
My view is the air campaign was terribly inefficient at winning wars, even if probably more efficient at conserving Anglo-American blood relative to other strategies (but barely). The following strategy wins the war earlier:
  • Raise 100 more US/UK divisions than OTL.
  • Scale the CBO back massively, use their manpower and production resources to help man/equip the extra divisions.
  • Deploy 50 divisions in the Amazon to hunt for gold.
  • Land in Europe with 50 more divisions than were in ETO/MTO in OTL 1943.
Taking France and Belgium in '43 hurts German production more than did the CBO that year. A weaker Ostheer collapses against the Soviet '43 summer offensives, losing Nikopol, Belarus/Baltics, and millions of foreign laborers. RKKA ends '43 on the Vistula.

If that version of the ATL needs adjustment on the margins, use smaller forces in the Amazon.

Anyway a different discussion, don't mean to sidetrack, just an aside.
KDF33 wrote:Note that POW yields for 1941 are estimates and were revised downward, by ~14%.
Where did the discrepancies lie? It's a huge data problem that I'm trying to address via what's online from the archives. I put out a call for help, no forum response yet. Might have to make a trip to BAMA part of my post-COVID European vacation for that (inshallah).

As noted in the linked post, AGC did not revise its figures pre- and post-revision. Unless AGC didn't get the OKH memo (seems unlikely), there's a few possibilities:
  • 1. PoW over-counts were limited to AG's N/S.
  • 2. PoW over-counts were a matter of OKH tabulation errors and AG-level data is accurate. Maybe OKH clerks got PoW reports from both 4A and AGC, for example, and summed the columns without noticing the redundancies.
To test (1), I need PoW data from AG's N/S. Should be doable, might be in archival files I've downloaded, but a new administration makes my day job extremely busy (and my incipient German is still bad).

To test (2) I'd need the original versus corrected tabulations.

But given AGC's consistency pre- and post-revision, I lean towards seeing its numbers as not needing deflation.
KDF33 wrote:IMO, the late September to mid-October successes had more to do with atrocious Soviet decision-making (or Soviet non-decision-making?) than with better German force concentration.
KDF33 wrote:Besides, how could the Soviets use an elastic defense? Most of their units had virtually no motorization to speak of.
I've been saying "elastic" defense where I mean something like "rational" defense. Kiev exemplifies what I mean: SW Front could literally have walked out of that encirclement; they didn't because of Stalin's irrationality.

In contrast to a classically elastic defense involving advanced preparations for retreat and counterattack, as well as the necessary mobility, I see Soviet defense against Blau as rationally averse to encirclement rather than classically elastic. Retreat was definitely not planned in advance nor strategically selected, and still involved considerable losses in men and equipment. Nonetheless retreat was actively sought to avoid encirclement, unlike in most of 1941.

Conceiving of German cauldrons on a spectrum from Kiev's "slow-cooker" to Vyazma's "Instapot," I'm suggesting that the Germans needed to prioritize Instapot operations against defenders that were, unlike 1941, foreseeably rational. The slow-cooker would be predictably empty - as Bock put it "a blow into thin air."

I'd also distinguish leaky cauldrons from tight cauldrons, varying with the strength of the pincers relative to the forces targeted. Tight cauldrons needed strong pincers, more so if targeted forces were large.

Blau I targeted perhaps the largest-ever grouping for double envelopment yet involved weaker double pincers than in any successful Barbarossa kessel.
KDF33 wrote:Factoring in the far less favorable force ratio of 1942, IMO there's little ground to claim that German performance, POW-wise, was worse in 1942 than in 1941
Let me try to summarize my claims and your counters:

TMP: Blau failed to bag Soviets at Barbarossa-like rates as matter of percentage (markedly) and absolute numbers (less markedly).

KDF33:
  • 1. Given the more disparate force ratios in Blau, Ostheer performance is at least as impressive.
  • 2. Given greater force ratios and reserves, Vyazma/Minsk-like percentage captures were not in the cards in Blau.
  • 3. Given lower Soviet regenerative power in '42, OTL Blau I/II PoW hauls were sufficient for German victory if maintained.
Re (1) I don't disagree but find it sort of beside the point. I'd go so far as to say Blau I/II is Ostheer's most impressive action given force ratios. It's crazy for one great power army so thoroughly to beat another against such odds - Napoleonic really. I referenced greater RKKA size, though, to point up how many more were escaping/evading encirclement in Blau versus Barbarossa kessels.

(2) is interesting, not sure where I fall on that. Blau faced heavier counterattacks but 5th Tank Army did not, for instance, break into the smallish Stary Oskol pocket (~40k PoW per Glantz) and extricate troops. To the extent they impeded captures, counterattacks would turn a potential Instapot into a slow cooker or, by diverting forces to the outer wings of encirclement, cause leakage. On the instapot-slowcooker spectrum, Blau I seems to have been more Instapot: the pincers met up around Stary Oskol about a week after jump off. That compares favorably to Vyazma (pincers met 6 days after jumpoff). That's why I suspect leakage was a big issue, probably exacerbated by counterattacks that diverted forces from inner to outer encircling wings. If that's right, then my upthread suggestion of using 1PzA in Blau I might give sufficient thickness to stop leakage and bag many PoW.

(3) is the real nub of the matter. IMO we need some kind of model specifying [inter alia] (a) Soviet/German casualties, (b) territory taken, and (c) lagged effect of (b) on on Soviet force at time T, (d) total Soviet manpower resources at time T1, T2, (e) a combat effectiveness coefficient varying with force experience [thus declining with regeneration]... The human mind isn't good at juggling multiple conflicting quantitative variables, even a simple Excel spreadsheet would be helpful.

Of course that's not easy... I have such a model incubating (mentally) for my own ATL and haven't done it yet. If I can pull together something non-embarrassing, I'll throw it up as an editable Google doc; the basic parameters would be relevant to Fall Blau analysis.
KDF33 wrote:Well, there's precise data:
Thank for the analysis and cites. That PoW:casualty ratio is especially helpful. Blau I's ratio is lower than all but Smolensk, which was a clusterf*&#. Similar dynamics: attempting encirclement while also fending off massive counterattacks on the outer wings. Both battles also had diverging operational/strategic considerations - Guderian's Yelnya bridgehead probably extending the Smolensk pocket battle, Blau's intense time pressures underlying weak encircling pincers.
KDF33 wrote:I remember reading somewhere that Timoshenko's order was in response to the dislocation and spontaneous retreat of Soviet units. I.e., it made "official" what was already happening in a bottom-up, disorganized fashion.
I seem to recall something like that gloss too. Please share if you relocate (maybe Glantz's Stalingrad I? I'll check when I find it).

Regardless of bottom-up or top-down, doesn't seem to change the description of what was happening: RKKA was retreating rationally (if frantically, disjointedly) to avoid encirclement.
KDF33 wrote:In any event, the data doesn't bear that the Soviets had much success at avoiding capture, elastic defense or not.
Relative to Barbarossa and Blau's stated goals, not sure how you go from your data analysis - agree there re 77% not captured - to lack of success avoiding capture?
KDF33 wrote:they always motivate me to engage in constructive discussion
It's so frustrating how rare that is. The typical response to someone having an original, challenging analysis is to drop everything and try to shoot it down. As if the greatest psychological threat is someone else having good ideas. What's the f*$&%g point of dialogue other than glean new ideas? If you're right about 1942, I've learned something new. Same if you're not. Okay rant over.
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Re: Successful Fall Blau

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 04 Jul 2021 09:59

I've been meaning to do a closer analysis of Blau's failure (so I claim) to bag operational (vs. tactical) PoW's on the expected and feasible scale.

Blau1's intended centerpiece was a Kessel around Stary Oskol, formed by units of 4th Panzer and 6th Armies. OKH planning map from mid-May '42:

Image

It's immediately clear from this map that the intended pocket is quite shallow. Stary Oskol was only ~40mi behind the starting Soviet front around the Seym river. The Vyazma Kessel by contrast - considered too shallow by some at the time - closed ~80mi behind the starting Soviet front. The two intended pincers were also fairly widely separated by ~100mi. The pincers, therefore, had each to travel ~70 miles and hope they did so before retreating Soviets could travel 40mi.

This plan implied that any delay, even of a few days - owing to rain or stubborn opposition - would enable most Soviet defenders to escape encirclement (should they be so inclined).

As it turned out, both reasonably foreseeable delay events occurred. Rain delayed southern pincer, 6th Army, while units forming the inner encirclement wing (16th Mot.) were blocked by perceived strong resistance. Richtofen's Fliegerkorps IV observed Soviets escaping the nascent pocket but was powerless to stop them. Stopped at Stalingrad, p.137-38. Here's the OKH map for July 2:

Image

As you can see, 16th Mot., facing supposedly strong opposition, is checked around Stary Oskol. The lagging 6th Army units have covered less ground than the northern wing and are still ~10 miles from 16th Mot.

By the next day, June 3, the pocket is closed from the east but looks pretty patchy:

Image

---------------------------------------

As already hinted, the low depth/width ratio of the encirclement left little room for weather, errors, and opposition were the defender rationally evading encirclement.

But Ostheer made things worse for itself by attempting to close the pocket with only one fully mobile division (16th Mot.) meeting 6th Army's infantry (including 100th Light division, which was more mobile than standard ID's but not fully mechanized and not as strong as non-"light" divisions). The field commanders - Bock, Hoth (4th Pz Army), Paulus (6th Army) - used all but one of Blau1's mechanized divisions on the outer flanks of the encirclement. In Hoth's case, this was probably wise as his army faced strong Soviet counterattacks from the northeast. In Paulus's case, I have trouble understanding why his three mechanized divisions (3, 23 Pz; 29 Mot.) played no role in the inner encirclement. Indeed the plans showed at least some of his mechanized forces meeting Hoth's at Staryy Oskol. But on July 1, the critical day when Richtofen was having a fit about escaping Soviets, Paulus's mechanized divisions were all near his extreme right (outer) flank:

Image

Was this justified by a threat to Paulus' right? I doesn't seem so... Rather, 3rd Panzer looks to have taken the most direct route to the Oskol River in order quickly to advance towards the Don (23rd Pz and 29 Mot. following). Here they'd set the eastern shoulder of Blau1 and form the northern pincer of Blau2, which was to follow Blau1 almost immediately (Blau2 was delayed by fighting around Voronezh that detained Hoth's divisions).

------------------------------

Following the battle, all German leaders were disappointed with the results. In the first 10 days of July, Army Group B took only 86k PoW (HGB created July 9; I assume the tally covers 6th and 4Pz armies for July 1-10). As the pocket closed and was liquidated in that time, the reported ~40k PoW haul from Staryy Oskol seems to be accurate.

----------------------------

One easy solution to closing the Staryy Oskol pocket sooner would have been to use more mobile units in the pincers. With more mobile divisions, Bock/Paulus/Hoth can use more than one (!) to close the critical pocket. The problem, of course, is from where to get more mobile divisions. AG's North and Center were already weak; only First Panzer Army on the Mius had more. But of course First Panzer was to form the southern pincer of Blau2:

Image

The German plan assumed they had the mechanized divisions to form three separate panzer pincers, with one of them lying idle during Blau1. This overstretch probably caused the field commanders in Blau1 to spare only weak forces to form its critical Kessel, thereby vitiating one central strategic goal.

It is also likely that Blau's delays, and resultant time pressure to get to its far-flung objectives, caused commanders like Paulus to take their eye off the critical short-term goal (force destruction) in furtherance of longer-term goals (setting up Blau2 via the fastest rush to the Don).
Last edited by TheMarcksPlan on 04 Jul 2021 11:31, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Successful Fall Blau

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 04 Jul 2021 10:18

TheMarcksPlan wrote:The German plan assumed they had the mechanized divisions to form three separate panzer pincers, with one of them lying idle during Blau1. This overstretch probably caused the field commanders in Blau1 to spare only weak forces to form its critical Kessel, thereby vitiating one central strategic goal.

It is also likely that Blau's delays, and resultant time pressure to get to its far-flung objectives, caused commanders like Paulus to take their eye off the critical short-term goal (force destruction) in furtherance of longer-term goals (setting up Blau2 via the fastest rush to the Don).
While I have previously suggested a stronger Blau1 as the optimal Blau strategy, looking closer at the battle's geography has questioning that approach.

The problem is the Oskol being only ~40 miles behind the front. Do you go for the wide and shallow encirclement west of the river or seek a deeper encirclement behind it?

One alternate and still Blau1-ish plan would be to insert First Panzer Army between 4th Panzer and 6th Armies, aiming to create two separate pockets in short, narrower lunges. Those sub-kessels would have closed probably a few days earlier than OTL, after which maybe you lunge east again seeking a successive kessel against onrushing reserves.

A bigger revision would be to find somewhere more suitable for deeper (~100mi) envelopment. Maybe Southern Ukraine:

Image

This envisions a small operation like Fredericus II to get to more of the Donets in May/June '42 (black-outlined area is gained). Its strategic intent could be covered as an attempt to take Voroshilovgrad (just east of the sketched area gained).

Instead of pushing on Voroshilovgrad in the next phase, the force would burst north from the Donets to meet the other pincer coming from east of Kharkov. There's no big rivers blocking the advance once over the Donets.
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Re: Successful Fall Blau

Post by ChrisDR68 » 10 Aug 2021 04:10

The conception of Operation Blue in the spring of 1942 is reasonable given the Ostheer's weakened state in comparison with June 1941. Hitler was aware that time was working against Germany by this juncture and that the best way of bringing the USSR to it's knees was by economic means.

Germany already occupied the Ukraine by this time resulting in food shortages for the Soviets. If the oil from the Caucasus was blocked from the Soviets by the Germans that could result in the collapse of the Soviet war economy and in Stalin's regime. I suspect that was Hitler's reasoning for heading south in 1942 instead of aiming at Moscow for a second time (together with wanting the Caucasian oil for Germany).

One of the principal difficulties with the plan was how to keep the approximately 1.1 million men and 1000 panzers earmarked for the offensive supplied given the distances involved. The rail system in the Caucasus region was especially awkward in this respect:


Image


1. The railway is on the wrong side of the Volga between Stalingrad and Astrakhan from the German's point of view.
2. Most of the railways in the northern Caucasus are in the north western area.
3. The only railway going to Astrakhan in the Caucasus comes from the direction of Grozny.

Given the Ostheer's reliance of rail logistics that should have meant following that the original more limited offensive into the Caucasus as shown in the map below. As a prerequisite to this any Soviet bridgeheads on the river Don's west bank should have been eliminated before the advance south is undertaken. The differences I would make to the advances shown would be to avoid going into the mountainous region entirely, wheeling east along the Georgiy, Mozdok, Makhach Kala railway reaching the latter on the Caspian Sea.


Image


It would mean the Germans would still occupy an exposed salient along the Don Bend inviting an obvious Soviet counter offensive aimed at Rostov but at least substantial panzer reserves (perhaps as many as 600 machines) could have been concentrated there to face that threat. The Luftwaffe would be tasked with suppressing Stalingrad as a key Soviet production centre in the region while the 6th Army would solidify the Don Bend defences.

Btw I'm aware that the two maps shown both miss certain railways in the northern Caucasus. Not sure why this is.

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Re: Successful Fall Blau

Post by T. A. Gardner » 10 Aug 2021 06:22

That bottom map is a far better plan. The key to German success IMO is taking and opening Novorossiisk. This was a fairly large port and once opened would have allowed the Germans to move supplies by barge down the Danube to the Black Sea then by coastal freighter to Novorossisk. That would have alleviated much of the stress on AGS's rail lines and shorted the rail movement of supplies by something around 1000 miles. It would also give the Germans a way to move oil from the Caucasus oil fields--assuming these could be opened--to refineries in Romania or Germany by the same freighters bringing in supplies.
The Germans then could use smaller craft like MFP's to move supplies via the Sea of Azov to Rostov, possibly even send smaller coastal freighters there.

This would have made a huge difference in supplying AGS so far from Germany. It would have had a far bigger return on combat effectiveness than a few more whatever in combat units.

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Re: Successful Fall Blau

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 11 Aug 2021 06:30

T.A. Gardner wrote:That bottom map is a far better plan.
While I agree that more strategic humility was necessary in '42, the map mainly differs in not attacking Stalingrad and not pushing beyond OTL lines in the Caucasus. If you're 40 miles from one of the SU's primary industrial centers (especially a T-34 factory), not at least trying to take it seems daft.

The better approach would have been to consider anything beyond the Don and Taman a raid. Germany advances to destroy Russian resources but plans to pull back to Don/Taman prepared defenses for the winter if necessary.

...and that's taking the Don Bend operation as a given. As KDF33 and I have discussed upthread, a likely better avenue is opportunistically attacking Soviet armies wherever you can create a Kessel rather than the lunge towards Baku (or even to the Terek).
Last edited by TheMarcksPlan on 11 Aug 2021 06:36, edited 1 time in total.
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"The whole question of whether we win or lose the war depends on the Russians." - FDR, June 1942

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TheMarcksPlan
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Re: Successful Fall Blau

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 11 Aug 2021 06:35

ChrisDR68 wrote:The conception of Operation Blue in the spring of 1942 is reasonable given the Ostheer's weakened state in comparison with June 1941. Hitler was aware that time was working against Germany by this juncture and that the best way of bringing the USSR to it's knees was by economic means.
...it's reasonable to seek an economic means of collapsing the SU; a reasonable person must still ask whether economic means sufficient to that end were militarily (inc. logistically) attainable. Fall Blau targeted economic means that were militarily (inc. logistically) unattainable; it therefore was not a reasonable plan and only pantomimed strategic humility.
https://medium.com/counterfactualww2
"The whole question of whether we win or lose the war depends on the Russians." - FDR, June 1942

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