| The blows dealt to the German forces during the winter
of 1941/1942 in the battles of Moscow, Rostov and Tikhvin, although put
the end to the hitlerite Blitzkrieg,
did not break the power of the Nazi Reich. German armies still occupied
vast areas of the Soviet Union, and they still enjoyed the myth of
invincibility, which emerged from the past campaigns.
Before the spring of 1942 the German command made a number of
decisions, which allowed to compensate for the losses in the Eastern
front, and even increase the number of the troops there by 700,000.
Between December 1941 and April 1942 the German command had reinforces
the German forces on the Eastern front with additional 40 divisions.
Effectively, the total number of the German forces, including the III
Reich's satellites' troops, increased to 217 divisions and 20 brigades.
Three out of five air fleets were engaged in fights against the Soviet
Union. In the beginning of May 1942 "Axis" forces on the Eastern front
numbered close to 6.5 million servicemen.
Hitlerite strategists, convinced that the second front in West Europe
would not be opened in 1942, started planning of a new offensive in the
east. During the meeting with the Japanese ambassador in Berlin,
Hiroshi Oshima, the German leader, Adolf Hitler, expressed belief that
the Russians would be ultimately crushed the same summer. He decided to
strike to the Caucasus and Persia (Iran), advance as far as to
and create a direct threat to the Indies, in which he saw the source of
the British colonial supremacy.
To divert the Russians' attention from the main axis of the new
offensive, the Germans had undertaken diversion operations in the
central sector of the front in the direction of Moscow, and in the
north, near Leningrad (Petersburg).
However, the Chief Command of the Armed Forces (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht - OKW)
had miscalculated. The Russians had deducted what were the enemy
intentions, and decided to frustrate them. Taking into consideration
the strategic situation, combat capabilities of the Red Army, and
economical potential of the USSR, the Supreme Command decided to
conduct strategic defence along the whole Germano-Soviet front, with
limited offensive operations designed to contain substantial enemy
forces in fights, and deny them freedom of strategic manoeuvre.
Unfortunately, that plan was also miscalculated, since in the spring of
1942 the overall strategic situation was unfavourable to the Soviet
Union, and the Wehrmacht
still enjoyed superiority in numbers and equipment.
The Germans had completed preparations for a new offensive in great
style by the end of May 1942. On 1 June Hitler left the "Wolf's Liar",
his headquarters near Rastenburg in East Prussia, and flew to Poltava,
where the Army Group South
had its headquarters. There he met the top German strategists, marshals
and generals with extensive war experience. Together they discussed and
established details of the consecutive phases of the summer offensive.
The moods and hopes of the German Führer
and his commanders were extraordinarily optimistic, and very much
Meanwhile, the results of the Red Army's offensive operations were
quite discouraging. In the Kerch Peninsula failed their operation
designed to recapture Crimea. On 8 May German forces launched a
counter-attack, broke through the defences of the 44th Army, and staged
amphibious landings near Theodosia. They succeeded in surrounding
elements of the Crimean Front, and taking Kerch (15 May). That worsened
situation of the defenders of Sevastopol. The Germans were able to
amass their forces around the city and block it on land, in the air,
and at sea. On 7 June they began the third assault on Sevastopol. The
assault was so powerful that after 250 days of gallant defence the
Supreme Command was forced to order evacuation of the troops fighting
In other sectors of the Germano-Soviet front the situation was also
difficult. The advance of the Kalinin Front on Rzhev did not bring
major success. Also the Leningrad Front fought without success on the
River Volkhov. Yet, the most dramatic fights had unfolded around
Kharkov. On 12 May the South-Western Front (Marshal Semyon Timoshenko)
launched there an offensive designed to crush the German 6th Army (Gen.
Friedrich von Paulus) and liberate the city. At once the offensive was
all successful. Enemy defences were broken in many sectors, and Soviet
rapid forces advanced westward as far as 60 kilometres within three
days. But then the situation had changed dramatically. The Germans went
to powerful counter-offensive. They outflanked stretched columns of the
9th Army, and got to the Soviet rears. On 18 May they completed the
encirclement of the Soviet forces. Only few units managed to break
through the encirclement ring; huge quantities of equipment and
manpower were lost. The situation in the southern sector of the
Germano-Soviet front was worsening daily. It was especially dangerous
because the OKW was planning the next strategic offensive.
The offensive began in the end of June. Intoxicated with the spring
success, they counted on quick and easy victory, which would win all
designated objectives. During the conference at his headquarters Hitler
himself used to say with self-confidence that the Russians' resistance
would be very weak.
The Army Group South had
formed a grouping of 90 divisions for the decisive offensive. Operation
Group Weichs, advancing from
Kursk to the bend of Don under the cover of the 4th Air Fleet, wedged
in between two armies of the Bryansk Front. However, further attempts
to encircle the core forces of the Bryansk Front, and also the
South-Western Front in perspective, failed once they encountered a hard
defence of the Soviet forces around Voronezh. This way the first crack
in the enemy design had been made.
Nevertheless, the enemy achieved a substantial success and grasped
strategic initiative. The OKW did not fail to develop that success. On
7 June it reorganized the order of battle of the German forces
concentrated in southern Russia. The Army Group South was divided into two army
groups - A (Field-Marshal
Wilhelm List) and B
(Field-Marshal Fedor von Bock). Hitler in person arrived to the front
to control operations of both newly created army groups. His Supreme
Headquarters, as well as the headquarters of the chief commands of the
Armed Forces and the Army moved from East Prussia to Vinnitsa.
Soviet armies were retreating in incessant rearguard fights: the
South-Western Front across the bend of the Don to Stalingrad, and the
Southern Front to the lower flow of the Don. Despite of many
initiatives of the Soviet command, troops, worn out in previous fights,
were not able to stand the relentless pressure of the enemy forces.
Before the mid-July the gap in the southern sector of the East front
widened from 150 to 400 kilometres. The Germans occupied industrial
areas of the Donbass and agricultural areas along the Don. Rostov was
taken, and direct menace was created to Stalingrad and North Caucasus.
After the great victory at Moscow, the Soviet nation again tasted the
bitterness of defeat.
The overall strategic situation was the worse since it unfolded on a
broader background of the "Axis" Berlin - Rome - Tokyo triumphs on all
the fronts of the Second World War. The first half of 1942 was
particularly heavy on the anti-fascist coalition. It was marked by
defeats on all the fronts. Apart of the main, East front of the war,
also a catastrophic situation developed in the Far East, where the
Japanese destroyed the American Pacific Fleet, took Hongkong, Malaya,
Singapore and the Dutch East Indies. Allied forces were in retreat in
Burma. Germano-Italian forces went to a new offensive in North Africa,
took Tobruk, and approached to Alexandria, creating menace to the Suez
Canal and oil fields of the Middle East. German armies, advancing to
the Volga and Caucasus, created another arm of gigantic pincers, aiming
at the Middle East.
The whole Germany was in the state of utmost euphoria and festive joy.
To the tune of the propaganda trumpets, everybody was talking about new
successes and coming final victory in the war.