As spring gave way to summer in 1942, the German High Command prepared to launch another major offensive against its bitter enemy…Russia. Having been checked at the gates of Moscow the following winter and pushed back in the brutal cold, German leadership considered it a mere “consolidation” of their forces.
But the time to push had again arrived. “Fall Blau” (Case Blue) was the name given to the summer offensive that was set to begin on the 28th of June. All along the southern front, the German Army would be on the move, looking to take control of the Kursk area, Kharkov, and ultimately, Stalingrad. Simultaneously, forces would head for the vast (and vital) Caucasus oil fields. Thirteen full armies were deployed for the operation, and it was hoped that the forces currently fighting around the port city of Sevastopol could finish their work and also be available.
It was a very ambitious plan that, when launched, met with fantastic early success. But it was nearly a complete disaster.
On June 19, 1942, Major Joachim Reichel, a German staff officer, decided to fly to one of the final planning meetings. Somehow, he became disoriented and ended up behind enemy lines. His small plane, a Fieseler Fi 156 Storch (shown above), was hit by enemy fire and down it went. Surviving the crash landing, Reichel was quickly captured…along with the full operational documents of XXXX Panzer Corps in Fall Blau.
The Russians soldiers couldn’t believe their find, and rushed the plans through the chain of command. In no time, they were sitting on Joseph Stalin’s desk.
And Stalin poo-pooed them. Ever suspicious of nearly everyone and everything, the Soviet dictator believed this incident to be just a trifle too contrived. There was no way a officer with the rank of Major would be carrying plans of this nature…in a completely unarmed plane…in Soviet-held territory.
Stalin was convinced it was a ruse…and so he did nothing. Nine days later, he discovered he was wrong.
Recommended Reading: The Eastern Front – Day By Day, 1941-45 – Without question, one of the most indispensible resources available on the Russian campaign.