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Case Blue - German summer offensive in 1942
Part of the Eastern Front of World War II
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1970-033-04, Russland, Kaukasus, Gebirgsjäger.jpg
German Gebirgsjäger mounting a flak cannon in Central Caucasus near Teberda
Date 28 June 1942 until November 1942
Location Rostov to Stalingrad, Caucasus, Kuban, Voronezh, Southern Russia, Soviet Union
Result Strategic Failure
Belligerents
 Germany
Romania Romania
 Italy
Hungary Hungary
Croatia Croatia
 Soviet Union
Commanders
Germany Maximilian von Weichs
Germany Wilhelm List
Germany Erich von Manstein
Germany Adolf Hitler[1]
Germany Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist
Germany Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen
Germany Friedrich Paulus
Soviet Union Georgy Zhukov
Soviet Union Dmitri Kozlov
Soviet Union Ivan Tyulenev
Soviet Union Semyon M. Budenny
Soviet Union Filipp Golikov
Soviet Union Rodion Malinovsky
Soviet Union Andrey Yeryomenko
Soviet Union Konstantin Rokossovsky
Soviet Union Semyon Timoshenko
Soviet Union Aleksandr Vasilevsky
Strength
unknown unknown
Casualties and losses
unknown unknown

Case Blue (German: Fall Blau) was the German codename used by the German Armed Forces (Wehrmacht) for its 1942 strategic summer offensive in southern Russia that lasted between 28 June and 19 August 1942.[2]

The offensive was so named because German military plans were "cases", or solutions to problems. The operation was a continuation of Unternehmen Barbarossa (Operation Barbarossa) and, in this case, Army Group South (Heeresgruppe Süd) of the German Army (Wehrmacht Heer) was sub-divided into Army Groups A and B (Heeresgruppe A and B). The German offensive faced two problems: the continued resistance of the Red Army which now occupied a defensive position west of the Volga river (a significant logistic waterway), and the demand by German dictator Adolf Hitler for securing the Caucasus oil fields.

The operation plan was challenging for the German army groups in that they were required to achieve two goals, in poorly developed area of operations thousands of kilometers from Germany and facing five Soviet Fronts (similar to a German army group). These fronts, from north to south, were: Voronezh, Southwestern, Don, Stalingrad and Transcaucasian. The Baku oil fields had to be reached by crossing the Caucasus mountains.

Initially the German offensive met with spectacular gains. However, the Red Army defeated the German Army at Stalingrad following operations Uranus and Saturn. This defeat forced the Axis to retreat from the Caucasus for fear of being trapped themselves. Only Voronezh remained tentatively occupied by Axis troops.

Contents

Background

The German advance from 7 May to 18 November 1942.      to 7 July      to 22 July      to 1 August      to 18 November

The operation's original name was Operation Siegfried, after the mythical Teutonic hero. However, Adolf Hitler, recalling the last grandiosely-named offensive operation in Russia, Barbarossa, and its results which had fallen short of German expectations, settled on the more modest name of "Blue".[citation needed]

Factors that led to the creation of Case Blue were:

  1. The expected success of the Sixth Army and other advanced units across much of Southern Russia (Ukraine).
  2. Control of Odessa and Kiev as auxiliary points for naval and air support units.
  3. Optimal weather and terrain conditions for the panzer and motorized units in the Kuban steppe southwest of Volga.
  4. Necessity to capture crude oil fields near the Soviet city of Baku (the capital of Azerbaijan in 1991), to supply German war effort.
  5. Capture the other industrialized areas of Soviet Union in Europe, comprehensively defeating USSR along with other projected successes, and completing original Operation Barbarossa goals.

The plan

The offensive was to be conducted across the southern Russian Kuban steppe. The Army Group units participating in the offensive were:

The German plan was a three-pronged attack in Southern Russia.

  • Fourth Panzer Army, commanded by Hermann Hoth (transferred from Army Group North) and Second Army, supported by Second Hungarian Army, would attack from Kursk to Voronezh and continue the advance to anchor the northern flank of the offensive towards the Volga River.
  • Sixth Army, commanded by Friedrich Paulus, would attack from Kharkov and moving in parallel with German Fourth Panzer Army was to reach the Volga at Stalingrad.
  • First Panzer Army would strike south towards the lower Don River, with Seventeenth Army on the western flank and the Fourth Romanian Army on the eastern flank.

As before, these movements were expected to result in a series of great encirclements of Soviet troops.

The Stavka was unable to find out the direction of the main German strategic offensive in 1942 they were expecting. Stalin was convinced the primary German strategic goal in 1942 would be Moscow, in part due to Fall Kremel ("Case Kremlin"), a German deception for a summer offensive aimed at Moscow, and 57% of all Red Army troops were deployed in that region. However, the direction of German offensive was still defended by the Bryansk, South-Western and Southern fronts that between them accounted for 25% of all All-Arms armies, nearly 30% of all Soviet artillery, over 38% of all tanks and 42% of all Red Air force aircraft.[3]

The offensive

On 28 June 1942, the German offensive began. Everywhere the Soviet troops withdrew as the Wehrmacht forces advanced. By 5 July, forward elements of Fourth Panzer Army had reached the Don near Voronezh, and become embroiled in the battle to capture the city. The Red Army, by tying down Fourth Panzer Army, gained vital time to reinforce their defenses. As Wehrmacht pincers attempted to complete their encirclements, they found only stragglers and rear guards, which only served to convince Hitler the Red Army was down to the last of its reserves. However, the Red Army for the first time in the war were not fighting to hold untenable positions, but withdrawing in good order.

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Splitting of Army Group South

Believing that the main russian threat has been eliminated and to meet all the ambitious goals of Case Blue, Hitler made a series of changes to the plan:

  • reorganized Army Group South into two smaller Army Groups, A and B;
  • tasked Army Group A with advancing to the Caucasus and capturing the oil fields;
  • tasked Army Group B was with the offensive towards Volga and Stalingrad (Operation Fischreiher).

The splitting of Army Group South enabled the launching of Operation Edelweiß and Operation Braunschweig which are marking the two main thrusts of the army groups.

The success of the initial advance of Sixth Army was such that Hitler ordered Fourth Panzer Army south to assist First Panzer Army in forcing a crossing of the lower Don river. This sudden redeployment of an entire Army caused massive logistical problems, as the road network in this part of USSR was not well developed by German standards. The resulting traffic jams caused delays to both Army Group A and B's progress. It also removed vital tank support from Sixth Army, slowing its advance and giving the Red Army further time to consolidate their positions.

Army Group A action - Caucasus campaign

Army Group A recaptured Rostov on 23 July 1942. However, fighting a skillful rearguard action which embroiled the Germans in heavy urban fighting to take the city, the Red Army again evaded an encirclement. With the Don crossing secured and Sixth Army's advance flagging, Hitler sent the Fourth Panzer Army back to the Volga line.

After crossing the Don on 25 July, Army Group A fanned out on a broad front. The German 17th Army (with elements of Eleventh Army) maneuvered west towards the Black Sea's eastern coast, while First Panzer Army attacked southeast, sweeping through Kuban which was largely abandoned by the Red Army. On 9 August First Panzer Army reached the foothills of the Caucausus range, having advanced more than 480 kilometers (300 miles) in less than two weeks. During this ride, the oil fields at Maykop were captured in a Commando operation. Nevertheless the yield of the oil pits was rather small until the withdrawal.

German troops in the vast Russian countryside
On 20 August, the Army Group was ordered to advance to the west to the Black Sea coasts, to capture Krasnodar the capital of Kuban and Maykop, the third largest petrol center in the Caucasus. Meanwhile in the inner west, the Wehrmacht was heading in the direction of Grozny and Baku, the other important petrol centers. More petrol installations and industrial centers were falling into German hands, intact or lightly damaged during the Russian disordered retreat from the area. In the same month German forces captured the Taman Peninsula and partially the Novorossisk naval base, and continued their advance to Tuapse, the real key for domination of the Soviet Black Sea coast. In other German efforts some units attempted to advance to Grozny and Tbilisi to establish another route, then met the Russians in Mozdok in the south.

During 1942, when Axis forces invaded the Volga Basin area, Hitler rejoiced with the idea of seizing the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, a considerable prize. Its conquest offered the Germans excellent ways to flank Allied positions in Syria and Iraq, threaten British India, and perhaps establish contact with Japan.

On November 2, 1942, they captured Nalchik, capital of Kabardo-Balkiar, for pressured to Vladikavkaz (Orjonikidze), capital of Ossetia north of the Georgian military pass en route to Grozny in the south west area. Later the Germans decided to remain defensive in their posts at Mozdok and Nalchik waiting for the spring of 1943 to retake the offensive if the Stalingrad operations were successful.

The German units in Elista sent a light armored group on a recon mission to nearby Astrakhan, also Sandovska and Senseli, towns near Astrakhan. Similarly another unit attempted a recon mission from the Vladikavkaz-Grozny sector to Azerbaijan territory; another success was a Wehrmacht high mountain section from the Karachai-Cherkess area, raising Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus Ranges. Some accounts mention a German visit to Mount Kazbek in Georgia.

Army Group B action - Stalingrad

In late July, Sixth Army resumed its offensive and by 10 August 1942 had largely cleared the Red Army from the west bank of the Don. However, Soviet resistance continued in some areas further delaying Army Group B's eastward offensive.

Finally on 21 August Sixth Army crossed the river Don, allowing Army Group B to establish a defensive line on the bend of the Don river using the Hungarian, Italian, and Romanian armies, and within 60 km of Stalingrad. With the city within reach of forward air bases, Luftwaffe bombers attacked the city killing over 40,000 people and turning much of the city into rubble. The ground attack on Stalingrad was two-pronged, with Sixth Army advancing from the north (Frolovo) while Fourth Panzer Army advanced from the south (Kotel'nikovo). Between these armies and in the area from River Don to River Volga, a salient had been created. Two Soviet Armies (62nd and 64th, each roughly equal to a German corps) were in the salient and on 29 August, Fourth Panzer Army conducted a major offensive through the southern base of the salient towards Stalingrad. The 6th Army was ordered to do the same, but a strong Soviet counterattack held up its advance for three vital days enabling the Soviet forces in the salient to escape encirclement and fall back towards Stalingrad once again.

Zhukov arrives

By this time, Georgy Zhukov had assumed command of the Stalingrad defence as Stavka representative with authority to coordinate planning of all three Fronts in the area, and in early September, he mounted a series of offensives which further delayed Sixth Army's attempt to seize Stalingrad.

Meanwhile Soviet forces continued to be sent south to bolster the city's defenses and to stage on the east side of the Volga in preparation for a counter-offensive. By mid-September, Sixth Army, after neutralizing the limited local Soviet counterattacks, once again resumed the offensive towards the city. On 13 September the Germans reached Stalingrad's southern suburbs, beginning the Battle of Stalingrad.

The Battle of Stalingrad and Aftermath

The Battle of Stalingrad started with inital success for the Germans. In heavy streetfighting the Wehrmacht took control of over 90% of the city on the west side of the Volga, while heavy Luftwaffe involvement hampered Soviet efforts to support the encircled defenders over the Volga. Nevertheless the Wehrmacht was unable to destroy the last pockets of resistance, which forced the Sixth Army to stay in the urban area of Stalingrad, denying its use in the fight around the city. On 19 November the Soviets launched Operation Uranus which crushed the Romanian, Hungarian and Italian armies around the city, trapping the Sixth Army inside the town of Stalingrad. This started a several-months-long siege in which all German efforts to relieve the siege failed, leading to the ultimate destruction of the Sixth Army.

Following the success of Uranus, the Red Army started Operation Little Saturn, a downscaled version of a bigger plan to cut off the entire Army Group A in the Caucasus from the rest of the Wehrmacht. This successful operation nevertheless threatened Army Group A, which forced it to a slow retreat over the next months back to Kuban. The First Panzer Army was assigned to the newly created Heeresgruppe Don under Field Marshal von Manstein who had to help out the hardly surpressed Armygroup A.

Altogether after the disaster at Stalingrad, Case Blue failed and all gains were lost until the end of 1943, with the Kuban bridgehead, which was established at the Taman peninsula for a possible second thrust into the Caucasus, being the last to be evacuated on 9 October 1943.

Conclusion

Hitler's plan for the strategic operation was overly ambitious, and was further complicated by his own interference in the execution as well as underestimation of the Red Army and its commanders. The offensive showed parallels with Operation Barbarossa, beeing initially overwhelmingly successful with capturing vast areas of land, but failing to accomplish its final goals, the conquering of Baku and Stalingrad.

Although the surrender of Sixth Army was a serious blow to German morale in general and Hitler regarded it as a personal blow, the subsequent Soviet counteroffensives, Uranus and Saturn, only caused the Wehrmacht to retreat from the advance towards the Caucasus, delaying the final decision on the Eastern front again.

Popular culture

Case Blue has been the setting of several movies, novels, and other media.

Films

  • The 1975 film They Fought for Their Country directed by Sergei Bondarchuk depicts the withdrawal of Soviet forces to the Don river and the actions of small rear guard units attempting to slow the German advance on the steppe.
  • Cross of Iron is a 1977 film directed by Sam Peckinpah and tells the story of a squad of hard-pressed German soldiers after the fall of Stalingrad in 1943.
  • The 1990 documentary Mein Krieg ("My War")[1] was created from 8 mm footage taken by German infantry troops on the eastern front.
  • The 1993 film Stalingrad depicts the battle through the eyes of German officer Hans von Witzland and his battalion.
  • The film Enemy At The Gates shows the Battle of Stalingrad through the eyes of Vasily Zaytsev, the famous Russian sniper.

Literature

Board games

  • Case Blue was released by Multi-Man Publishing (MMP) in late 2007, and covers the entire campaign from October 1941 until May 1943.
  • Enemy at the Gates was released by The Gamers in 1994, and covers the Soviet Uranus counteroffensive and Manstein's "Backhand Blow".
  • Streets of Stalingrad, 3rd Edition was released by L2 Design Group in 2003, and covers the battle for the actual city, beginning 13 September and ending 18 November 1942, just prior to the encirclement of 6th Army. The game depicts the battle at company level at a map scale of 300m per hex on a 3'x6' map.
  • Edelweiss was released by Clash of arms and covers the descent in the Caucase with supply highly simulated.
  • Turning Point Stalingrad Avalon Hill covers the streets fighting for the city between september end early november

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Army Group A was under direct command by the OKH from 10 September 1942 until 22 November 1942 when von Kleist took over the command
  2. ^ pp.58-59. Woods, Wiest, Barbier
  3. ^ Morozov, V.P, chief editor, Part 6, Volume 5, Defence of Stalingrad, table, History of the Second World War 1939-1945 (in Russian)

References

  • George M. Nipe Jr. (2000). Last Victory in Russia: The SS-Panzerkorps and Manstein's Kharkov Counteroffensive—February–March 1943. Schiffer Publishing. ISBN 0-76431-186-7. 
  • Erich von Manstein (2004). Lost Victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler's Most Brilliant General. Zenith Press. ISBN 0-76032-054-3. 
  • David M. Glantz (1998). When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 0-70060-899-0. 
  • Timothy Woods, Andrew A. Wiest, M. K. Barbier, Strategy and Tactics Infantry Warfare, Zenith Imprint, 2002 ISBN 0760314012

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