The day after the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa (their invasion of Russia), Russian dictator Joseph Stalin launched something of his own.
It didn’t involve a massive counterattack or armies or artillery or aircraft, which is pretty obvious because those things were busy being smashed to bits by the Wehrmacht’s three massive army groups, assisted by the Luftwaffe’s plethora of planes. Stavka was a political-military war command that was designed “to effect the most centralised and flexible command of the Armed Forces in the conditions of the war which had just begun.” It was peopled by the most capable Soviet military minds of the time (and the best available men still above ground after Stalin’s late-1930s purges).
And as June of 1941 rolled into October, that organization of “centralised command” had been reorganized twice and had witnessed the Germans roll over the western steppes of its homeland much like room-temperature butter is spread over hot toast. The one constant was Joseph Stalin’s presence at the top.
This brutal no-holds-barred war, which halted for a bit after the Germans captured Smolensk in early August, had fired up again as Hitler’s minions launched Operation Typhoon (the final push to Moscow, which we’ll discuss sometime), on October 2nd.
Little more than 100 miles west of the capital, the Germans were working their encirclement magic on the city of Vyaz’ma. Lt. Gen. Konstantin Rokossovskiy was ordered to drop everything, turn over his command, pack up his staff, and make straight for Vyaz’ma, where five infantry divisions would be waiting for his counterattack orders. When he arrived, not only were there not five divisions, there weren’t any…except the Third and Fourth German Panzer divisions, which proceeded to complete the encirclement the next day. Rokossovskiy barely escaped.
Straight south (and further from Moscow), Bryansk was having a similar experience.
And now, on October 8, 1941, there was much to report to Stavka. Much of the report was bad news.
Of course, there were the Vyaz’ma and Bryansk pockets. Rokossivskiy’s Sixteenth Army?…the one he was ordered to leave behind?…it was in the process of being encircled as well. And further south, Mariupol, a large port on the Sea of Azov, had fallen to the Germans. As Marshal Georgiy Zhukov called the meeting of Stavka that morning gave the news, he said “almost all routes to Moscow are open.” Stalin, Stavka, the capital, and the Soviet Union were in serious trouble.
If there was any good news for the day, it was the weather forecast. The autumn rains had arrived, which would hopefully serve to slow the rapid German advance. But that was pretty much it. The Germans were once again looking unassailable…and the Russians pretty vulnerable.
Recommended Reading: Absolute War