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'Myths and Legends of the Eastern Front'
Reassessing the Great Patriotic War
'Myths and Legends of the Eastern Front' is a Russian re-assessment of the Nazi-Soviet conflict. It’s a very detailed study, packed with references - many of them Russian language books and periodicals. First published in English in 2019 this is a very useful new perspective for those who already have some understanding of the conflict in the east, particularly those who are interested in the Soviet decision making at a strategic level. It is by no means uncritical of Stalin and the Red Army commanders.
Nevertheless a serious book of this nature, which is presented without any maps at all, is going to present something of a challenge for the general reader. Following any military campaign requires maps and most English language readers will not have a ready familiarity with Russian geography. For example locating the “Snopot’-Pochep-Pogar-Glukhov” line takes some doing, even with the assistance of Google maps.
So the excerpt here gives you a flavour of the detail covered by the book and a useful introduction to ‘Operation Typhoon’ which Hitler was about to launch exactly 80 years ago.
Operation Typhoon which the Wehrmacht began on 30th September and 2nd October 1941, having unleashed an offensive against the Bryansk, Western and Reserve fronts, was supposed to victoriously complete the blitzkrieg with the capture of Moscow. This, as Hitler and his generals hoped, would lead to the collapse of Soviet resistance and enable them to leave a minimum of men and materiel in the East in order to concentrate on the fight against Great Britain.
At first everything seemed to be proceeding smoothly and Hitler was aided in no small way by Stalin and his generals. The two sides’ forces were approximately equal, but the grouping and the poor troop control of the three Soviet fronts doomed them to a serious defeat.
On the back of the 105-mm howitzers leFH18 photo there is a photo shop stamp with the date – October 1941.
The rank and file strength of Army Group Centre at the beginning of October was 1,183,693 men (minus the Luftwaffe and those units directly subordinated to the army group headquarters). They had about1,700tanks.
They were opposed by the forces of three Soviet fronts, which had 1,252,591 men, 849 tanks, 5,637 guns, 4,961 mortars, and 62,651 vehicles and tractors along an approximately 730km front.
The German researcher based his information on Soviet data, which are obviously understated, at least concerning tanks, because the Germans captured 1,242 of them in the Vyaz’ma and Bryansk cauldrons, while a certain number of tanks were able to get out of the encirclement. It’s possible that the 849 tanks represent the number of vehicles ready for combat by the beginning of October.
Also, the data that there were 486 tanks in the RKKA’s units in the Western Front’s defensive zone against the Wehrmacht’s 591, and correspondingly 4,028 and 5,651 guns and mortars, also proves that there were no less than 1,242 Soviet tanks.
Otherwise, it works out that the Western Front had more than 57 per cent of all the tanks in the three fronts along the western direction.
By 1 October Soviet aviation disposed of 1,368 aircraft around Moscow, including 578 bombers, 708 fighters, 36 assault aircraft, and 46 reconnaissance planes against the Luftwaffes 1,320 planes, including 720 bombers, 420 fighters, 40 assault aircraft, and 140 reconnaissance planes. Thus the Luftwaffe enjoyed a numerical superiority in bombers and Soviet aviation in fighters.
The forces of the Western Front’s 22nd, 29th, 30th, 19th, 16th, and 20th armies occupied defensive positions along the main, Moscow direction in a zone 340km in width from Lake Seliger to Yel’nya. The Reserve Front’s 24th and 43rd armies were defending the line from Yel’nya to the Roslavl’- Kirov railroad in a zone up to 100km in width, and the Reserve Front’s 31st, 49th, 32nd, and 33rd armies occupied positions in the rear of the Western Front along a zone 300km wide along the line Ostashkov-Selizharovo-east of Dorogobuzh.
The Bryansk Front’s forces (50th, 3rd, and 13th armies, and Major General Yermakov’s operational group; commander Colonel General Yeremenko) covered the Bryansk-Kaluga and Sevsk-Orel-Tula axes; the forward edge of their defence was 290km wide and ran along the line Snopot’-Pochep-Pogar-Glukhov.
The mistake was in the placement of four of the Western and Reserve fronts’ armies along the rear defensive line. Following the breakthrough of the defence, they were unable to either launch a counterblow or to delay the enemys advance and were defeated. It would have been better to have employed them to hold the main defensive zone.
The Western Front command and the Stavka of the Supreme High Command incorrectly determined the most likely direction of the enemy attack, believing that it would be launched along the Smolensk-Moscow highway.
At the same time, the data available in the fronts’ headquarters and the Stavka on the grouping of the German forces would have enabled them to determine that the enemy would launch his main attacks along the flanks in order to encircle the Soviet forces defending along the approaches to Moscow.
The resulting correlation of forces would have enabled the Red Army to successfully defend, but only on the condition that it could coordinate the actions of all of the defending forces along the Moscow direction and allocate them correctly.
There was an average of 1,650 men, 14.2 guns and mortars (including 8 guns), 1.65 tanks, and 1.3 aircraft per km of defensive front. Taking into account that a significant part of the defensive zone passed through forested areas and swamps that were difficult to navigate, it was possible to significantly increase the troops’ density by concentrating the forces along the most dangerous axes that German tanks could traverse.
However, as the troops of the three fronts had been conducting offensive operations right up until the final third of September, there was practically no time left for regrouping. By way of comparison, the Germans in Normandy in June 1944 had a density of less than three guns and one tank per km of front, and nevertheless they managed to hold the front against the Allies’ Normandy beachhead for nearly two months.
This excerpt from 'Myths and Legends of the Eastern Front - Reassessing the Great Patriotic War’ appears by kind permission of the publisher, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, copyright remains with author. Footnotes have been omitted here. The images above are not from the book.