Skip to comments.CHURCHILL TELLS ITALY TO OUST LEADERS OR FACE SHATTERING ALLIED AIR BLOWS (11/30/42)
Posted on 11/30/2012 4:52:48 AM PST by Homer_J_Simpson
John Toland, The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945
Japanese destroyers sink American cruiser
Monday, November 30, 1942 www.onwar.com
In the Solomon Islands... The Battle of Tassafaronga. American attempts to stop the regular night supply run of the “Tokyo Express” under Admiral Tanaka again develops into a major battle. Tanaka has 8 destroyers and Admiral Wright has 5 heavy cruisers and 7 destroyers. Wright uses radar to find the Japanese force and fire the first salvo. However, the American attack is ineffective with only one hit on a Japanese destroyer which sinks later. The Japanese sink one cruiser and damage 3 very seriously. Despite this success, Admiral Tanaka is reprimanded for failing to deliver the supplies needed by the starving Japanese forces on the island.
In New Guinea... The American forces attacking Japanese positions at Buna make their first real headway.
In Burma... The advance of the British 123rd Brigade in the Arakan has now reached Bawali Bazaar. Extremely bad weather slows the advance and makes road building very difficult.
In Japan... The German raider Thor is destroyed by fire in Yokohama harbor ending a cruise which sank 10 ships totaling 56,000 tons of shipping in 10 months.
November 30th, 1942
UNITED KINGDOM: London: Rene Duchez, a French house-painter, kept his eyes open when he was set to work redecorating the office of a German officer in the Todt military construction organization in Caen, Normandy. On the desk he spotted a large map. Later he handed it to a friend in the Resistance. When the map eventually reached London, it was found to be a detailed plan of Germany’s coastal defences, setting out every strong point, arms dump, booby trap and look-out point.
Duchez is just one of the many thousands of ordinary folk who work for the resistance movements of occupied Europe while carrying on with their regular jobs.
Resistance began almost as soon as the conquering Germans appeared. In the first stunned days and weeks after defeat, it might be no more than a gesture; in Amsterdam, a bar would empty of Dutch customers if a German entered. But then people took to playing tricks, putting sugar in the petrol tank of a German car or throwing tacks on the road. In Belgium, Andree de Jongh, ahed 24, the daughter of a school-master organized an escape route through occupied France and into Spain for crashed aircrew and escaped PoWs.
In July 1940, in Britain, Chamberlain set up SOE, the Special Operations Executive, with the task of training saboteurs and sending them into Europe to organize and strengthen the resistance. Burglary, safe-breaking, hand to hand combat and silent killing were skills needed. Savile Row made suits in continental styles and the Science Museum forged papers.
Despite blunders and betrayals - the whole Dutch section of SOE in the Netherlands has been penetrated by the Nazis - the resistance movement continues to flourish in occupied Europe.
Destroyer HMS Camperdown laid down.
Corvette HMCS Budleia laid down, Aberdeen, Scotland.
Frigate HMS Jed commissioned.
Destroyer HMS Relentless commissioned.
EUROPE: Deportations of Polish Jews approach completion. Since the camps opened, 600,000 Jews have been murdered at Belzec, 360,000 at Chelmno, 250,000 at Sobibor and 840,000 at Treblinka.
BURMA: The British 123rd Brigade’s advance reaches Bawli Bazar in the Arakan Valley. The weather, which would normally clear during November, has not cooperated thus making the advance extremely difficult.
JAPAN: The German surface Raider “Thor” is destroyed by fire in Yokohama Harbour. The fire started in her supply ship UCKERMARK (formerly ALTMARK). A spark generated during work on UCKERMARK’s fuel tanks caused an explosion and fire. From January through October, 1942 the Thor sank 10 merchant ships for 56,000 tons. (85)(Alex Gordon)
NEW GUINEA: The US forces attacking Buna make their first significant gains.
Angered by slow progress in the final stages of the Papuan campaign, General MacArthur has told Lt-Gen Robert Eichelberger, the commanding general of US 1 Corps, to take charge of a force no larger than a division at Buna. “I want you to take Buna, or not come back alive,” said MacArthur. He offered inducements as well. He said that if Eichelberger captured Buna he would give him a Distinguished Service Cross and “recommend him for a British decoration.” Buna was believed to be “easy pickings”, but the Japanese survivors of Kokoda are putting up a fanatical last-ditch stand.
PORTUGESE TIMOR: At about 9am and 120 miles from their objective, the three ships of the flotilla to remove the 2/2nd Company AIF from Timor are attacked by a single Japanese bomber. More follow. Captain Sullivan of HMAS Castlemaine signals Darwin requesting fighter cover. The Allied fighters arrive and manage to drive off most of the Japanese attackers, however, the corvettes will not make Timor tonight for the planned pick up. Kuru becomes detached during the night but arrives at Bentano Bay safely some hours ahead of time and embarks 77 Portugese and one AIF stretcher case: with no sign of the corvettes Kuru sails at 1am tomorrow. (William L. Howard)(188, 189, 190, 191)
SOLOMON ISLANDS: At 9:40 pm the Japanese steam past Savo Island headed for their supply drop on Guadalcanal. These 8 destroyers are loaded with supplies in drums lashed to their decks their torpedo reloads are left behind. At the same time US naval TF 67 enters the eastern end of Lengo Channel. At 2308 the US radar shows 7 - 8 ships. The Japanese spot the US ships, without radar, at 2312. The US destroyers fire torpedos at 2320 and their cruisers open fire at 2321. Japanese torpedos are fired at 2323. At 2327 the Japanese torpedos begin to strike. The losses in this battle are one Japanese destroyer, Takanami. US losses are severe damage to 3 cruisers, and the loss of the USS Northampton.
Japanese Admiral Tanaka received much of the credit for the Japanese success in the Battle of Tassafaronga. It should be noted that Captain Sato Torojiro was in command of the Japanese destroyer division that many credit with launching the successful torpedos. Capt Sato finds himself mentioned in 1990’s US fiction (Tom Clancy, A Debt of Honor, Chapter 13).
As a final note to the Battle of Tassafaronga, the last of the 13 US “treaty cruisers” has been sunk or damaged around Guadalcanal. These ships will not participate in any further night battles in the Solomon Islands.
CANADA: Corvette HMCS Giffard laid down.
Trawler HMS Manitoulin arrived Halifax from builder Midland, Ontario.
Minesweeper HMCS Mulgrave arrived Halifax from builder Port Arthur, Ontario.
Minesweeper HMCS Quinte damaged after running aground entrance to St. Peter’s Canal, Cape Breton. Quinte had just completed a 6-week refit before she went aground and was beached to prevent outright sinking. Salvage operations were conducted over the winter of ‘43 but her repairs were not completed until Jun 44, after which she was assigned to training duties at Cornwallis , Nova Scotia.. Qunite’s loss came at a critical time in the war, when every escort was desperately needed. The extremely rapid expansion of the RCN contributed significantly to several such incidents. A total of 48 Bangor-class ships were built for the RCN and a further 6, that were built for the RN in Vancouver, British Columbia. were transferred to the RCN. Canadian Bangors were used mainly as escorts but they performed poorly in this capacity. They were wet ships due to their bluff bows making them even more unpleasant ships to sail in than the corvettes, which were horrible. The Bangor’s had an endurance of 2,800 miles at 10 knots on 160 tons of fuel.
Like corvettes, the Bangor’s were small enough to be built in Great Lakes shipyards and they did provide a capability that the Flower’s did not. Bangors built in Canada were fitted with gyros, whereas Flower-class corvettes were not — one of the worth instances of bureaucratic bungling in wartime naval construction. Mines were only laid in Canadian waters once during the War, in 1943. 16 Canadian Bangors were present at D-Day and played a major part in mine clearance operations prior to the landings.
Destroyer HMCS Iroquois commissioned.
Frigate HMCS Valleyfield laid down Quebec City, Province of Quebec.
Corvette HMCS Midland arrived Liverpool , Nova Scotia. for refit.
U.S.A.: Destroyer escorts USS Herbert C Jones, Baron, Acree laid down.
Submarine USS Mingo launched. (Dave Shirlaw)
The Battle of Tassafaronga itself is mentioned prominently in 1970's US fiction (Herman Wouk, War and Remembrance, Chapter 45). Wouk's hero, Capt. Henry, commanded the treaty cruiser Northampton, which went down in the battle.
THE sky was covered with lowering clouds and a blizzard was blowing from the steppe, blinding the eyes of ground and aerial reconnaissance and rendering impossible the employment of ground-attack aircraft and Stukas. Once again the weather was on Stalin's side.
In desperate operations the Luftwaffe, hardly ever able to operate with more than two machines at a time, pounced upon the enemy's spearheads at the penetration points. Hurriedly rounded-up units of supply formations of Sixth Army, rearward services, Army railway companies, flak units, and Luftwaffe ground personnel were strenuously building a first line of defense along the Chir in order, at least, to prevent an extension of the Russian breakthrough into the empty space towards the south-west, in the direction of Rostov.
Particularly grim was the news that the forward air strip at Kalach had been over-run and the short-range reconnaissance planes of VIII Air Corps wrecked.
North of Kalach the 44th Infantry Division was still established in good positions west of the Don. Admittedly, it was cut off from its supply units and had to depend on itself, but it acted as a vital crystallizing point west of the river. That in itself was hopeful. It was not to last.
In Stalingrad, General Paulus had suspended all offensive operations in the evening of 19th November, on orders from Army Group. Only a few hundred yards from the objectives a halt had to be called.
Units of the three Panzer divisionsthe 14th, 16th, and 24thwere formed into combat groups, pulled out of the front, and dispatched towards the Don against the enemy advancing from the north-west. But in view of the headlong development of the situation in the breakthrough area these weak forces were unable to achieve anything decisive.
On 22nd November at 1400 hours Paulus and Schmidt flew back over the enemy lines to Gumrak, inside the pocket. The new Army headquarters were a little over a mile west of the small railway station. At nightfall on 22nd November the northern wedge of the Soviets had reached the high ground by the Don and taken the bridge of Kalach by a coup. The southern attacking group was likewise outside the town. On 23rd November Kalach fell.
The trap was closed behind Sixth Army.
What was to be done now?
This is the question that has been asked time and again in the voluminous literature that has since appeared about Stalingrad, and that has been answered by a number of conflicting theories. It is a well-known fact, after all, that once a battle has been lost every young subaltern knows how it might have been won. What interests the military historian is what led to the mistakes and errors of judgment. After all, most battles are lost through mistakes and errors of judgment. And the mistakes and errors which led the Sixth Army into the pocket of Stalingrad did not just date from the beginning of November. They cannot be put at Paulus's door, but sprang from the directives issued by the most senior German commands in the late summer.
It is probably true that the period between 19th and 22nd November represented the last chance of rectifying these mistakes and errors. The German High Command ought perhaps to have realized on 19th November the extent of the danger threatening the Army: by ordering it to disengage from the Volga and abandon Stalingrad it might have saved the situation.
But this was not a decision that Sixth Army could take on its own authority. General Paulus could not have a sufficiently clear picture of the overall situation for taking such a far-reaching decision on his own authority, a decision which might have threatened the entire southern front, such as withdrawing Sixth Army from its position and starting a precipitate retreat. Besides, a sober assessment of the situation compels one to admit that on 19th, 20th, and even on 22nd November disaster did not yet appear to be inevitable. This is borne out by a careful examination of the state of affairs.
At the General Staff College of Military District I in Königsberg in East Prussia, Arthur Schmidt and Wolfgang Pickert had both been pupils of the late General Osswald, an expert on tactics. "The Southern Cross" his students nicknamed him. His particular trick was to give a brief outline of a situation and then say to his class, "Gentlemen, you have ten minutes then I want your decision with brief statement of reasons." It was a phrase that none of Osswald's students ever forgot.
When General Pickert, commanding 9th Flak Division, arrived at Nizhne-Chirskaya on the morning of 22nd November he was greeted by his old friend Arthur Schmidt with Osswald's stock phrase: "Pickertdecision with brief statement of reasons."
Pickert's reply came at once: "Get the hell out of here."
Schmidt nodded: "That's what we'd like to do, too, but" And then Paulus's chief of staff explained to his old friend the official view of the Army: there was no cause for panicky measures; there was nothing yet in the tactical situation to justify independent local decisions in disregard of the overall situation. The most important thing was to cover the Army's rear.
Any precipitate withdrawal from the safe positions in Stalingrad might have disastrous consequences. That these considerations were in fact justified was shown only a few days later. But on 22nd November, when he had that conversation, Schmidt could not know that Hitler had already decided to pin down the Army in Stalingrad.
At the time of his discussion with Pickert at Nizhne-Chirskaya, therefore, there were only two things to be done: secure the threatened rear of the Armyi.e., establish a solid front to the west and southand then prepare for a break-out towards the south-west.
What was needed for this, more than anything else, was fuel, and this would have to be flown in by the Luftwaffe. Fuel for the tanks and fuel for the gun-tractors. This view was in line with the ideas of Weichs's Army Group, which had issued orders in the evening of 21st November to hold Stalingrad and the Volga front "in all circumstances" and to prepare for a breakout.
But Pickert doubted that the Luftwaffe would be able to supply the Army even for a short period, and again urged an early breakout. Schmidt pointed out that one could not leave behind the units of XIV and XI Corps which were still on the western bank of the Don or the 10,000 wounded.
"That would be like a Napoleonic retreat," he said.
The fact that Paulus and Schmidt were also firmly resolved to break out eventually, after appropriate preparation, is proved by what happened during the next few hours. During the afternoon of 22nd November Paulus received an order by radio from Army High Command via Army Group : "Hold on and await further orders." Quite clearly this was intended as a bar to any overhasty disengagements.
Paulus meanwhile had formed an accurate picture of the situation on his southwestern flank, where Soviet forces were operating with about a hundred tanks, and sent a signal to Army Group B at 1900 hours, containing the following passage:
South front still open east of the Don. Don frozen over and crossable.
Fuel almost used up.
Tanks and heavy weapons then immobilized. Ammunition short.
Food sufficient for six days.
Army intends to hold remaining area of Stalingrad down to both sides of Don and has set into motion appropriate measures.
Indispensable for this is successful sealing off of southern front and continuous plentiful supplies by air.
Request freedom of action for the event that hedgehog formation in the south does not come off.
Situation might then compel abandonment of Stalingrad and northern front in order to defeat enemy with full force on southern front between Don and Volga and regain contact with Rumanian Fourth Army . . .
The signal made it perfectly clear what Paulus had in mind.
He had made careful plans for all eventualities. He intended to form a hedgehog, but he also demanded freedom of actioni.e., the freedom to disengage rapidly, if the situation should make this necessary.
At 2200 hours a personal signal arrived from Hitler.
It refused freedom of action and ordered the Army to stay put. "Sixth Army must know," it said in the signal, "that I am doing everything to help and to relieve it. I shall issue my orders in good time."
Thus the break-out from the pocket was explicitly and firmly forbidden. Paulus reacted instantly. At 1145 hours on 23rd November he radioed to Army Group: "I consider a break-out towards the south-west, east of the Don, by pulling XI and XIV Army Corps over the Don, still possible at present moment, even though material will have to be sacrificed."
Weichs supported this demand in a teleprinted message to Army High Command, emphasizing: "Adequate supply by air is not possible."
At 2345 hours on 23rd November Paulus, after careful reflection and further conversation with the GOCs in his Army, sent another radio message direct to Hitler, urgently requesting permission to break out. All the Corps commanders, he pointed out, shared his view. "My Fuehrer," Paulus radioed,
since the arrival of your signal of the evening of 22.11 there has been a rapid aggravation of the situation. It has not been possible to seal off the pocket in the south-west and west. Enemy break-throughs are clearly imminent there. Ammunition and fuel are nearly used up. Numerous batteries and anti-tank weapons have run out of ammunition. Timely and adequate supplies are out of the question. The Army is facing annihilation in the immediate future unless the enemy attacking from the south and west is decisively defeated by the concentration of all available forces. This demands the immediate withdrawal of all divisions from Stalingrad and of strong forces from the northern front. The inescapable consequence must then be a breakthrough towards the south-west, since the eastern and northern fronts, thus depleted, can no longer be held. Admittedly, a great deal of material will be lost, but the bulk of valuable fighting men and at least part of the material will be saved. I continue to accept full responsibility for this far-reaching appraisal, although I wish to record that Generals Heitz, von Seydlitz, Strecker, Hube, and Jaenecke share my assessment of the situation. In view of the circumstances I once more request freedom of action.Hitler's reply came at 0838 hours on 24th November by a radio signal headed "Fuehrer Decree"the highest and strictest category of command. Hitler issued very precise orders for the establishment of the pocket fronts and the withdrawal across the Don into the pocket of all Army units still west of the river. The order concluded: "Present Volga front and present northern front to be held at all costs. Supplies coming by air."
Contrary to all legend, the decisive conversation with Hitler at the Berghof in Berchtesgaden was conducted not by Goering, but by his chief of staff, Jeschonnek, a sound and sensible man. He reported Goering's affirmative answer to the question of supplying Sixth Army by air, but tied it to a number of conditions such as the indispensable holding on to airfields near the front and passable flying weather. To represent this qualified undertaking to supply the Army by air as the sole reason for Hitler's mistaken decision would be an unjustified shifting of responsibility from Hitler to Goeringi.e., on to the Luftwaffe. Hitler was only too ready to snatch at Goering's straw, for he did not want to surrender Stalingrad. He was still hoping to strike the Russians mortally by the conquest of territory. No retreat whatsoever!
He implored his generals to remember the winter of 1941 before Moscow, when his rigid orders to hold on had saved Army Group Centre from annihilation. He forgot that what was the correct decision at Moscow in the winter of 1941 need not necessarily apply on the Volga in the winter of 1942. Holding out inflexibly was no panacea.
Besides, there was no strategic necessity for holding on to Stalingrad at the risk of endangering an entire Army.
Surely the real task of Sixth Army was to protect the flank and rear of the Caucasus operation. That, at least, was how it had been clearly laid down in the time-table for "Operation Blue." And this task could be implemented even without the capture of Stalingradfor instance, along the Don.
After the war in a lecture to officers of the German Bundeswehr, Colonel-General Hoth formulated this important aspect of the problem of Stalingrad in the following way:
"From Directive No. 41 it emerges that the main target of the campaign in the summer of 1942 was not the capture of Stalingrad, but the seizure of the Caucasus with its oilfields. This area was indeed vital to the Soviet conduct of the war, and it was also of outstanding economic and political importance to the German Command. At the end of July 1942, when the spearheads of the two German Army Groups were approaching the lower Don earlier than expected, and while the Armies of the Russian South-West Front were falling back in disorder across the middle Don, Hitler on 23rd July ordered the continuation of the operation towards the south, into the Caucasus, by Army Group A, which was assigned four Armies for this purpose. Only the Sixth Army continued to be deployed against Stalingrad. The Chief of the Army General Staff, who had from the outset opposed the far-reaching objective of an operation across the Caucasus, considered it necessary to seek out the enemy grouping at Stalingrad and to defeat it before the Caucasus was crossed. He therefore urged that Sixth Army should be reinforced by two Panzer divisions, which were therefore detached from Fourth Panzer Army. Shortly afterwards . Army Group A, although with the focus of the campaign in its sector, was deprived of the Fourth Panzer Army and the Rumanian Third Army, which were both dispatched up the Don to Army Group B. The focus of the campaign had thus been switched to the capture of Stalingrad. Army Group A, thus weakened, ground to a halt north of the Caucasus."
At that moment the Sixth Army's operations at Stalingrad lost their strategic meaning. According to the laws of strategy, the Army should now have been pulled back from its positions jutting out far to the east, in order to dodge the enemy counterblow that was to be expected and in order to gain reserves. Paulus himself flew to the Fuehrer's Headquarters on 12th September and tried to win Hitler over for such a decision.
It was in vain.
Hitler remained stubborn. He was unfortunately confirmed in his attitude by the disastrous reports from the Eastern Department of the General Staff, to the effect that the Russians had no appreciable reserves left along the Eastern Front.
Hitler stuck to his orders that Stalingrad must be taken, and the weakened Sixth Army got its teeth into the city. The longer the fighting continued the more did the capture of the last few workshops and the last few hundred yards of river-bank become a matter of prestige for Hitler, especially as he believed that, after the reverses in Africa and in the Caucasus, he must not give ground at Stalingrad. Prestige, and not strategic considerations, demanded the struggle for the last ruin.
This view was also shared by Weichs's Army Group, whose shrewd chief of staff, General von Sodenstern, has said:
"Stalingrad had been taken and eliminated as an armaments centre; shipping on the Volga had been cut. The few technical bridgeheads which the enemy had in the city were no objective that justified the pinning down and using up of the bulk of available German forces. Army Group command was, instead, vitally interested in getting the troops into adequate winter positions as soon as possible, reinforcing the fast formations, and making them mobile for the winter; in addition, it was anxious to form the urgently necessary tactical reserves behind the expected key points of the defensive fighting, and in particular behind the three Armies of Germany's allies on the Don. Such reserves could be drawn only from Sixth Army. That was why about the end of September or the beginning of October, as soon as it was found that Stalingrad could not be taken at the first assault, the command of Army Group B proposed that the offensive against Stalingrad should be suspended altogether. It had also asked for permission' to evacuate the front bulge of Stalingrad and, instead of holding the arc, to adopt a position along a chord covering the area between Volga and Don; the left wing of Fourth Panzer Army was to have been bent back south-west of Stalingrad and the new line to have run north-west towards the Don. The Chief of the Army General Staff agreed. But he did not succeed in getting the proposal approved by Hitler."
This then was the background to Hitler's disastrous order to Paulus on 24th November, with its two key demands: hold out and await supplies by air.
Goering's promise merely supported Hitler in his attitude against his generalsbut it was not the decisive motive for his order. It sprang not from the grandiloquence of one of Hitler's paladins, but from Hitler's own intentions. Stalingrad was the brain child of his strategy, the product of his war which had been a gigantic gamble from the outset, based on victory or ruin.
One often hears the view to-day that because Hitler's hold-on order with its reference to airborne supplies was an unmistakable death sentence on the Army Paulus should not have obeyed it. But how could Paulus and his closest collaborators in Gumrak judge the strategic motives behind the decision of the Supreme Command? Besides, had not 100,000 men been encircled in the Demyansk pocket for some two and a half months the previous winter, supplied only by air, and had they not eventually been got out? And had not Model's Ninth Army held out in the Rzhev pocket in accordance with orders?
And what about Kholm? Or Sukhinichi?
At the operations centre of the surrounded Sixth Army there was a witness from 25th November onward whose observations about Stalingrad have not up to the present received the attention they deserveCoelestin von Zitzewitz, now (at the time this book was written) a businessman in Hanover, but then a General Staff major in the Army High Command. On 23rd November he was dispatched to Stalingrad with a signals section by General Zeitzler, the Chief of the General Staff, as his personal observer with instructions to send a daily report to Army High Command about the situation of the Sixth Army. Zitzewitz was summoned to Zeitzler at 0830 hours on 23rd November and informed of his assignment. The way in which Zitzewitz received his orders from the Chief of the General Staff throws an interesting light on how the situation was assessed at Army High Command. This is Zitzewitz's account:
"Without any preamble the general stepped up to the map spread out on the table: 'Sixth Army has been encircled since this morning. You will fly out to Stalingrad to-day with a signals section of the Operations Communications Regiment. I want you to report to me direct, as fully as possible and as quickly as possible. You will have no operational duties. We are not worried: General Paulus is managing very nicely. Any questions?
Tell General Paulus that everything is being done to restore contact. Thank you." With that I was dismissed."
On 24th November Major von Zitzewitz with his signals sectionone NCO and six menflew from Lötzen [Now Gizycko.] via Kharkov and Morozovsk into the pocket. What opinions did he find there?
Zitzewitz reports: "General Paulus's first question, naturally, was how did the Army High Command see the relief of Sixth Army. That I could not answer.
He said that his principal worry was the supply problem. To supply an entire Army from the air was a task never accomplished before. He had informed Army Group and Army High Command that his requirements would be at first 300 tons a day and later 500 tons if the Army was to survive and remain capable of fighting. These quantities had been promised him.
"The Commander-in-Chief's view seemed to me entirely reasonable: the Army could hold out only if it received the supplies it needed, above all fuel, ammunition, and food, and if relief from without could be expected within a foreseeable time. It was up to the Supreme Command to do the necessary staff work and plan these supplies and the Army's relief, and then to issue appropriate orders.
"Paulus himself took the view that a withdrawal of Sixth Army would be useful within the general picture. He kept emphasizing that Sixth Army could be employed much more usefully along the breached front between Voronezh and Rostov than here in the Stalingrad area. Moreover, the railways, the Luftwaffe, and the entire supply machinery would then be freed for tasks serving the general situation.
"However, this was not a decision he could take on his own authority. Nor could he foresee that his demands concerning relief and supplies would not be fulfilled; for that he lacked the necessary information. The Commander-in-Chief had communicated all these considerations to his generalsall of whom were in favor of breaking out, like himselfand had then given them his orders for their defensive operations."
What else could Paulus have donePaulus, a typical product of German General Staff training?
A Reichenau, a Guderian, or a Hoepner might have acted differently. But Paulus was no rebel; he was a pure strategist.
There was one general in Stalingrad whose views differed fundamentally from Paulus's and who was unwilling to accept the situation created by the Fuehrer's orderGeneral of Artillery Walter von Seydlitz-Kurzbach, commanding LI Corps.
He urged Paulus to disregard the Fuehrer's order, and demanded a break-out from the pocket on his own responsibility. In a memorandum of 25th November he set out for the Commander-in-Chief Sixth Army the views he had already passionately expressed at a meeting of all GOCs on 23rd November, but had then failed to carry his point. His point had been: immediate break-out.
The memorandum began as follows: "The Army is faced with a clear alternative; breakthrough to the south-west in the general direction of Kotelnikovo or annihilation within a few days."
The main arguments of the memorandum about the necessity of a break-out did not differ from the views of the other GOCs in Sixth Army, or from the views held by Paulus himself. The accurate assessment of the situation, worked out by Colonel Clausius, the brilliant chief of staff of LI Army Corps, voiced the opinions of all General Staff officers at all the headquarters in the pocket. Seydlitz proposed that striking forces should be built up by means of denuding the northern and the Volga fronts, that these forces should attack along the southern front, that Stalingrad should be abandoned and a breakthrough made in the direction of the weakest resistancei.e., towards Kotelnikovo.
The memorandum said:
This decision involves the abandonment of considerable quantities of material, but on the other hand it holds out the prospect of smashing the southern prong of the enemy's encirclement, of saving a large part of the Army and its equipment from disaster and preserving it for the continuation of operations. In this way part of the enemy's forces will continue to be tied down, whereas if the Army is annihilated in its hedgehog position all tying down of enemy forces ceases. Outwardly such an action could be represented in a way avoiding serious damage to morale: following the complete destruction of the enemy's armaments centre of Stalingrad the Army has again detached itself from the Volga, smashing an enemy grouping in doing so. The prospects of a successful breakthrough are the better since past engagements have shown the enemy's infantry to have little power of resistance in open ground.
All this was correct, convincing and logical. Any General Staff officer could subscribe to it. The problem lay in the final passage of the memorandum. This is what it said:
Unless Army High Command immediately rescinds its order to hold out in a hedgehog position it becomes our inescapable duty before our own conscience, our duty to the Army and to the German people, to seize that freedom of action that we are being denied by the present order, and to take the opportunity which still exists at this moment to avert catastrophe by making the attack ourselves. The complete annihilation of 200,000 fighting men and their entire equipment is at stake. There is no other choice.
This highly emotional appeal for disobedience carried no conviction with Paulus, the cool General Staff type. Nor did it convince the other Corps commanders. Besides, a few polemically colored and factually untenable statements left Paulus unimpressed. "The Army's annihilation within a few days" was a wild exaggeration, and Seydlitz's argument on the issue of supplies was unfortunately also incorrect.
Seydlitz had said: "Even if 500 aircraft could land every day they could bring in no more than 1000 tons of supplies, a quantity insufficient for the needs of an Army of roughly 200,000 men now facing large-scale operations without any stocks in hand."
If the Army had in fact received 1000 tons a day it would probably have been able to get away.
Nevertheless Paulus passed on the memorandum to Army Group. He added that the assessment of the military situation conformed with his own views, and therefore asked once more for a free hand to break out if it became necessary.
However, he rejected the idea of a breakout against the orders of Army Group and the Fuehrer's Headquarters. Colonel-General Freiherr von Weichs passed on the memorandum to General Zeitzler, the Chief of the General Staff. Paulus did not receive permission to break out.
Was Seydlitz therefore right in demanding disobedience?
Setting aside for the moment the moral or philosophical aspect of the matter, the question remains of whether this proposed disobedience was in fact practicable. How had Khrushchev acted when General Lopatin wanted to withdraw his Sixty-second Army from Stalingrad at the beginning of October because, recalling its frightful losses, he could foresee only its utter destruction?
Khrushchev had deposed Lopatin before he could even set the withdrawal in motion. Paulus, similarly, would not have got far with open insubordination to Hitler. It was a delusion to think that in the age of radio and teleprinter, of ultra-shortwave transmitter and courier aircraft, a general could act like a fortress commander under Frederick the Great, taking decisions against the will of his Supreme Commander and watching while his sovereign could not do anything about it. Paulus would not have remained in command for another hour once his intention had been realized. He would have been relieved of his post and his orders would have been countermanded.
Indeed, an incident affecting Seydlitz personally shows how reliable and quick communications were between Stalingrad and the Fuehrer's Headquarters at the Wolfsschanze, thousands of miles away. The incident, moreover, illustrates the dangers inherent in a precipitate retreat from the safe positions along the Volga.
During the night of 23rd/24th Novemberi.e., before handing in his memorandumGeneral Seydlitz had pulled back the left wing of his Corps on the Volga front of the pocket, contrary to explicit orders.
This move was intended by Seydlitz as a kind of signal for a break-out, as a priming of the fuse for a general withdrawal from Stalingrad. It was designed to force Paulus's hand.
The 94th Infantry Division, which was established in well-built positions and had not yet lost touch with its supply organization, detached itself from its front in accordance with Seydlitz's orders. All awkward or heavy material was burnt or destroyedpapers, diaries, summer clothing, were all flung on bonfires. The men then abandoned their bunkers and dugouts and withdrew towards the northern edge of the city. Foxholes in the snow and icy ravines took the place of the warm quarters the troops had left behind: that was how they now found themselves, this vanguard of a break-out.
But far from triggering off a great adventure, the division suddenly found itself engaged by rapidly pursuing Soviet regiments.
It was over-run and shot up. The entire 94th Infantry Division was wiped out.
That then was the outcome of a spontaneous withdrawal aiming at a break-out. What was far more significant was that even before Sixth Army headquarters got to know of these developments, along its own left flank Hitler was already informed.
A Luftwaffe signals section in the disaster area had sent a report to the Luftwaffe Liaison Officer at the Fuehrer's Headquarters. A few hours later Hitler sent a radio signal to Army Group:
"Demand immediate report why front north of Stalingrad was pulled back."
Paulus made inquiries, established what had happened, and left the query from the Fuehrer's Headquarters unanswered.
Seydlitz was not denounced to Hitler.
In this way Hitler was not informed about the whole background and did not know that Seydlitz was responsible for the disaster. By his silence Paulus accepted responsibility.
How many Commanders-in-Chief would have reacted in this way to a patent infringement of military discipline?
Hitler's reaction, however, was a shattering blow to Paulus. Hitler had held Seydlitz in high regard ever since the operations of the Demyansk pocket, and now regarded him as the toughest man in the Stalingrad pocket; he was convinced that Paulus was responsible for the shortening of the front. He therefore decreed, by radio signal of 24th November at 2124 hours, that the northern part of the fortress area of Stalingrad should be "subordinated to a single military leader" who would be personally responsible to him for an unconditional holding out.
And whom did Hitler appoint?
He appointed General von Seydlitz-Kurzbach.
In accordance with the principle "divide and rule" Hitler decided to set up a second man in authority by the side of Paulus, as a kind of supervisor to ensure energetic action. When Paulus took the Fuehrer's signal to Seydlitz in person and asked him, "And what are you going to do now?"
Seydlitz replied, "I suppose there is nothing I can do but obey."
During his captivity and after his release General Paulus referred to this conversation with Seydlitz time and again. General Roske, the commander of Stalingrad Centre, recalls that General Paulus told him even before he was taken prisoner that he had said to Seydlitz, "If I were now to lay down the command of Sixth Army there is no doubt that you, being persona grata with the Fuehrer, would be appointed in my place. I am asking you: would you then break out against the Fuehrer's orders?"
After some reflection Seydlitz is reported to have replied, "No, I would defend."
This sounds strange in view of Seydlitz's memorandum, but his answer is attested. And officers well acquainted with Seydlitz do not consider it improbable. "I would defend."
That is precisely what Paulus did.
Like Chuykov on the other side of the line, Paulus and his staff also lived below the ground. In the steppe, four miles west of Stalingrad, close to the railway station of Gumrak, Army Headquarters were established in twelve earth bunkers. The bunker where Colonel-General Paulus lived was twelve foot square. With some six feet of solidly frozen soil as their ceilings these dugouts provided adequate cover against bombardment by medium artillery. Internally they were finished with wooden planks and any material that was to hand. Homemade clay stoves provided heat whenever there was enough fuel available; such fuel had to be brought from Stalingrad Centre. Blankets were fitted across the entrances, as protection against the wind and to prevent too rapid loss of heat. The vehicles were parked some distance away from the bunkers, so that practically no change in the steppe landscape was observable from the air. Only here and there a thin wisp of smoke could be seen coming from a snowy hummock.
On that eventful 24th November, shortly after 1900 hours, Second Lieutenant Schätz, the signals officer, entered General Schmidt's bunker with a decoded signal from Army Group. It was headed :
"Top secret-Commander-in-Chief only"-i.e.,
the highest classification. It ran: "Assuming command of Army Group Don 26.11. We will do everything to get you out. Meanwhile Army must hold on to Volga and northern fronts in accordance with Fuehrer's order and make strong forces available soonest possible to blast open supply route to southwest at least temporarily." The signal was signed "Manstein."
Paulus and Schmidt heaved a high of relief.
It was not an easy task that confronted the Field-Marshal. He was bringing with him no fresh forces, but was taking over the encircled Sixth Army, the shattered Rumanian Third Army, the Army-sized Combat Group Hollidt consisting of scraped together forces on the Chir, and the newly formed Army-sized Combat Group Hoth. The headquarters of the new Army Group Don, under which Paulus now came, were in Novocherkassk. Manstein arrived in the morning of 27th November and assumed command at once.
In spite of all difficulties Manstein's plan looked promising and bold. He intended to make a frontal attack from the west, from the Chir front, with General Hollidt's combat group direct against Kalach, while Hoth's combat group was to burst open the Soviet ring from the south-west, from the Kotelnikovo area.
To understand the general picture we must cast back our minds to the situation on the Chir and at Kotelnikovo, the two cornerstones of the starting-line of the German relief attack. The situation between Don and Chir had stabilized beyond all expectation. That was very largely due to the work of a man we have come across beforeColonel Wenck, on 19th November still chief of staff of LVII Panzer Corps, which was engaged in heavy fighting for Tuapse on the Caucasus front.
On 21st November he was ordered by Army High Command to fly immediately to Morozovskaya by a special aircraft made available by the Luftwaffe in order to take up the post of chief of staff with the Rumanian Third Army. That same evening Wenck arrived at this badly mauled Rumanian Third Army. He gives the following account:
"I reported to Colonel-General Dumitrescu. Through his interpreter, Lieutenant Iwansen, I was acquainted with the situation. It looked pretty desperate. On the following morning I took off in a Fieseler Storch to fly out to the front in the Chir bend. Of the Rumanian formations there was not much left. Somewhere west of Kletskaya, on the Don, units of Lascar's brave group were still holding out. The remainder of our allies were in headlong flight. With the means at our disposal we were unable to stop this retreat. I therefore had to rely on the remnants of XLVIII Panzer Corps, on ad hoc units of the Luftwaffe, on such rearward units of the encircled Sixth Army as were being formed into combat groups by energetic officers, and on men from Sixth Army and Fourth Panzer Army gradually returning from leave. To begin with, the forces along the Don-Chir arc, over a sector of several hundred miles, consisted merely of the groups under Lieutenant-General Spang, Colonel Stahel, Captain Sauerbruch, and Colonel Adam, of ad hoc formations from rearward services and Sixth Army workshop personnel, as well as of tank crews and Panzer companies without tanks, and of a few engineer and flak units. To these was later added the bulk of XLVIII Panzer Corps which fought its way through to the south-west on 26th November. But I was not able to make contact with Heim's Panzer Corps until Lieutenant-General Heim had fought his way through to the southern bank of the Chir with 22nd Panzer Division. The Army Group responsible for us, at first, was Army Group B under Colonel-General Freiherr von Weichs. However, I frequently received my orders and directives direct from General Zeitzler, the Chief of the Army General Staff, since Weichs's Army Group was more than busy with its own affairs and probably could not form a detailed picture of my sector anyway. "My main task, to start with, was to set up blocking units under energetic officers, which would hold the long front along the Don and Chir along both sides of the already existing Combat Groups Adam, Stahel, and Spang, in co-operation with Luftwaffe formations of VIII Air Corps-at least on a reconnaissance basis. As for my own staff, I literally picked them up on the road. The same was true of motor-cycles, staff cars, and communications equipment-in short, all those things which are necessary for running even the smallest headquarters. The old NCOs with experience of the Eastern Front were quite invaluable in all this: they adapted themselves quickly and could be used for any task.
"I had no communication lines of my own. Fortunately, I was able to make'use of the communications in the supply area of Sixth Army, as well as of the Luftwaffe network. Only after countless conversations over those connections was I able gradually to form a picture of the situation in our sector, where the German blocking formations were engaged and where some Rumanian units were still to be found. I myself set out every day with a few companions to form a personal impression and to make what decisions were needed on the spot-such as where elastic resistance was permissible or where a line had to be held absolutely.
"The only reserves which we could count on in our penetration area was the stream of men returning from leave. These were equipped from Army Group stores, from workshops, or quite simply with 'found' material. "In order to collect the groups of stragglers who had lost their units and their leaders after the Russian breakthrough, and to weld these men from three Armies into new units, we had to resort sometimes to the most out-of-the-way and drastic measures.
"I remember, for instance, persuading the commander of a Wehrmacht propaganda company in Morozovskaya to organize film shows at traffic junctions. The men attracted by these events were then rounded up, reorganized, and re-equipped.
Mostly they did well in action.
"On one occasion a Field Security sergeant came to me and reported his discovery of an almost abandoned 'fuel-dump belonging to no one' by the side of a main road. We did not need any juice ourselves, but we urgently needed vehicles for transporting our newly formed units. I therefore ordered signposts to be put up everywhere along the roads in the rearward area, lettered 'To the fuel-issuing point.' These brought us any number of fuel-starved drivers with their lorries, staff cars, and all kinds of vehicles. At the dump we had special squads waiting under energetic officers. The vehicles which arrived were given the fuel they wanted, but they were very thoroughly screened as to their own functions. As a result of this screening we secured so many vehicles complete with crews-men who were merely driving about the countryside trying to get away from the front-that our worst transport problems were solved. "With such makeshift contrivances new formations were created. Although they were officially known as ad hoc units, they did in fact represent the core of the new Sixth Army raised later. Under the leadership of experienced officers and NCOs these formations acquitted themselves superbly during those critical months. It was the courage and steadfastness of these motley units that saved the situation on the Chir, halted the Soviet breakthroughs, and barred the road to Rostov."
That was the account of Colonelsubsequently General of Armoured TroopsWenck.
A firm rock in the battle along Don and Chir was the armored group of 22nd Panzer Division. By its lightning-like counterattacks during those difficult weeks it gained an almost legendary reputation among the infantry. Admittedly, after a few days this group was down to about six tanks, twelve armored infantry carriers, and one 88 flak gun. Its commander, Colonel von Oppeln-Bronikowski, sat in a Mark III Skoda tank, leading his unit from the very front, cavalry-style. This armored group acted as a veritable fire-brigade on the Chir. It was flung into action by Wenck wherever a dangerous situation arose.
When Field-Marshal von Manstein took over command of the new Army Group Don on 27th November, Wenck reported to him at Novocherkassk. Manstein knew the colonel. His laconic order to him was therefore simply: "Wenck, you'll answer to me with your head that the Russians won't break through to Rostov in the sector of your Army. The Don-Chir front must hold. Otherwise not only the Sixth Army in Stalingrad but the whole of Army Group A in the Caucasus will be lost." And Army Group A meant one million men.
It was hardly surprising that in such a situation the commanders in the field would frequently resort to desperate means.
Above all, there was a severe shortage of fast armored tactical reserves to deal with the enemy tanks which popped up all over the place, spreading terror in the rearward areas of the Army Group. Wenck's staff thereupon raised an armored unit from damaged tanks and immobilized assault guns and armored troop carriers; this unit was used very effectively at the focal points of the defensive battle between Don and Chir.
Naturally, this unit had to be replenished. And so Wenck's officers conceived the idea of "securing occasional tanks from the tank transports passing through their area on their way to Army Group A or Fourth Panzer Army, manning them with experienced tank crews, and incorporating them in their Panzer companies."
Thus, gradually, Wenck collected his "own Panzer Battalion."
But one day, when his chief of operations, Lieutenant-Colonel Hörst, in his evening situation report was careless enough to refer to the clearing up of a dangerous penetration on the Chir by "our Panzer Battalion" the Field-Marshal and his staff sat up. Wenck was summoned to Army Group headquarters. "With what Panzer Battalion did your Army clear up the situation?" Manstein asked. "According to our records it has no such battalion."
There was nothing for itWenck had to confess.
He made a factual report, adding, "We had no other choice if we were to cope with all those critical situations. If necessary, I request that my action be examined by court martial."
Field-Marshal von Manstein merely shook his head, aghast. Then a suspicion of a smile flickered round his lips. He decided to overlook the whole thing, but forbade all further "tank-swiping" in future. "We passed on some of our tanks to 6th and 23rd Panzer Divisions, and from then onward employed our own armored units in no more than company strength so that they should not attract attention from higher commands."
In this manner the wide breach which the Soviet offensive had torn in the German front in the rear of Sixth Army was sealed again. It was a tremendous triumph of leadership. For weeks a front about 120 miles long was held by formations consisting largely of Reich railway employees, Labour Servicemen, construction teams of the Todt Organization, and of volunteers from the Caucasian and Ukrainian Cossack tribes.
It should also be recorded that numerous Rumanian units which had lost contact with their Armies placed themselves under German command. There, under German leadership and, above all, with German equipment, they often acquitted themselves excellently, and many of them remained with these German formations for a long time at their own request.
The first major regular formation to reach the Chir front arrived at the end of November, when XVII Army Corps under General of Infantry Hollidt fought its way into the area of the Rumanian Third Army. Everybody heaved a sigh of relief.
At Wenck's suggestion Army Group now subordinated to General Hollidt the entire Don-Chir sector with all formations which had been fighting there; these were formed into the "Armeeabteilung Hollidt." Thus the motley collection of units known to the troops as "Wenck's Army" ceased to exist. It had accomplished a task with few parallels in military history. Its achievement, moreover, provided the foundation for the second act of the operations on the Chirthe recapture of the high ground on the river's south-western bank, indispensable for any counter-attack.
This task was accomplished at the beginning of December by the 336th Infantry Division brought up for the purpose and by the 11th Panzer Division following behind it. The high ground was taken in fierce fighting and held against all Soviet attacks. These positions on the Chir were of vital importance for the relief of Stalingrad as planned by Manstein, an offensive for which the Field-Marshal employed Hoth's Army-sized combat group from the Kotelnikovo area east of the Don. The Chir front provided flank and rear cover for this rescue operation for Sixth Army. More than thatas soon as the situation permitted XLVIII Panzer Corps, now under the command of General of Panzer Troops von Knobelsdorff, was to support Hoth's operation by attacking in a northeasterly direction with 11th Panzer Division, 336th Infantry Division, and a Luftwaffe field division. The springboard for this auxiliary operation was to be Sixth Army's last Don bridgehead at Verkhne-Chirskaya, at the exact spot where the Chir ran into the Don. There Colonel Adam, General Paulus's Adjutant, was holding this keypoint with hurriedly collected ad hoc units of Sixth Army in truly heroic 'hedgehog' fighting. Thus all steps were being taken and everything humanly possible was being done at this eleventh hour by dint of courage and military skill to rectify Hitler's great mistake and to rescue the Sixth Army.
Hitler Moves East-Paul Carell
There. Updated for contemporary times. Sorta.
I look forward to your next installment.
Did the allies have the ability to conduct large scale air raids on Italy?
The raid on Turin described on page 3 sounds pretty large scale.
I am skeptical of the claim on page 131 that the Germans caused the death by starvation of 90% of the Greek population. I know famine was a problem in Greece but that sounds outlandish.
We don’t have Joe James Custer in our index. If any of his stories made it into the Times I must have skipped them.
I think we would be remiss not to acknowledge the tragic Coconut Grove fire headlined in the paper: http://bostonfirehistory.org/firestory11281942.html
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