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Posts Tagged ‘Fall Blau’

Case Blue, launched in late June of 1942, got off to a smashing start for both the Soviets and the German aggressors…sort of.  The Red Army got smashed a lot, and the Wehrmacht did a lot of smashing.

By mid-August, the Germans were knocking on the doors of Stalingrad, having reached the Volga River north of the city.  The Soviet armies, having spent a couple of months retreating to avoid the dreaded encirclement, now had their backs to a river a mile wide.

At this point, the fighting degenerated into a meat-grinder house-to-house battle.  General Friedrich Paulus’ 6th Army drove into, and largely through, the city, with elements reaching the Volga to fire at the forces staged on the far side.  But Paulus and his men, while fully ensconced in the city, could not break through.

As the August heat gave way to the inevitable October cooldown, Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov began preparing a massive counterattack.  Codenamed Operation Uranus, it involved a double encirclement, with large forces attacking across the Volga to both the south and north of Stalingrad.

The ultimate goal was to drive through the German flanks (protected by 170,000 Romanian troops) and trap the German 6th Army in the city.  But it was a massive undertaking to move the requisite men and supplies into place while still maintaining some form of secrecy.

General Paulus recognized that his flanks were weak and over-exposed and, on November 17, 1942, German reconnassaince discovered what appeared to be a Soviet buildup northwest of the city.  But still his troops were slashing the remnants of decimated Soviet 62nd Army.  The German press said that the battle for Stalingrad was in its final phase…

…until November 19, 1942.  At 7:30am, Uranus was launched with a massive artillery barrage.  More than a million men, nearly 1,500 tanks, and 900 aircraft crashed into Paulus’ Romanian flanks.  The Romanians put up a valiant effort, but were simply overwhelmed.

Zhukov’s Operation Uranus was a brilliant counterstroke, catching an over-extended army trapped in the rubble of a city.  What’s more, Paulus’ Sixth Army wasn’t allowed to retreat from their positions, forced to hold Stalingrad by Hitler, who had become obsessed with the river-side city.  In less than a week, the German Army would go from “the verge of victory” to trapped.

Recommended Reading: Absolute War

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Today’s History Lesson won’t take too long, because it’s late…and I’m tired.  Plus some of the background information we covered just last week.  The massive German offensive in southern Russia was being prepared when plans for “Fall Blau” (Case Blue) fell into Russian hands.  Stalin received the plans and then believed them to be part of an elaborate ruse.  And so he ignored them.

And to be honest, it’s not hard to come to his defense just a bit for his decision.  When the Russians had been invaded the year before, the strongest actions had been to the north.  Disaster had narrowly been averted with the help of an uncharacteristically harsh fall and early winter.  Conditions gave the defenders time to prepare an couterattacking army that saved Moscow in the nick of time.  Further north, Leningrad was still almost completely surrounded.

So we shouldn’t be so terribly surprised that Stalin, knowing how close the shave had been the previous December, would assume that the German armies would come calling (in bigger and badder numbers) to the same addresses.  And the Soviet generals had followed that thinking as well.  More than half their total armed forces were deployed in defense of the north.

In the south, where the Germans launched Fall Blau on June 28, 1942, it met with fewer than 10% of Russia’s total military might.  The Soviets could do nothing but fall back, and that’s precisely what they did.  We’ll probably visit this topic again, but two things should be noted right away.

First, unlike 1941, Soviet retreats were handled very well…”orderly” is a good word.  A year before, the Wehrmacht had feasted on the encirclement…surrounding large masses of Soviet soldiers and then reducing the pockets.  This year, the Germans would struggle to flank.  When they tried to surround, the Soviets just fell back.  The Soviets were learning.

Second, in an advance of this nature, Germany’s supply lines would grow incredibly long in a hurry, and keeping troops and trucks and tanks fed would become a huge problem.

But on this day, it was Germany seeing all red and Russia with the blau’s.

Recommended Reading: Absolute War – Soviet Russia in the Second World War

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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.

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