ZHUKOV: Personal View of the Battle for Moscow.
Posted 11 March 2008 - 03:55 PM
Tonight, with the greatest of pleasure, I present to you a view of the Battle of Moscow from the Soviet perspective. It comes straight from the "horses mouth" of the Soviet Marshal responsible for this pivotal victory on the snowy steppe, a Marshal whose conduct of the battle was, for him, a great source of pride and the one that he knew best....
GEORGI KONSTANTINOVICH ZUKHOV (1896-1974)
This is his PERSONAL account, written from the very pen of the Marshal himself. Before presenting this, it's worth going into the career of Zukhov as a preliminary. I will present a brief biography and rise to power, followed by the account of the battle written by Zukhov himself.
For the purposes of this post, I will largely omit the general story of the lead-up and advance to the gates of Moscow, preferring to leave this for other threads, but for now, I'm proud to present to you this story of the most important battle of all in the struggle for dominance during the Great Patriotic War.........
Hope you enjoy the following and find a point or two for our discussion purposes.......
PART ONE: PERSONAL RISE ON THE ROAD TO MOSCOW
Georgi Zukhov was born December 2nd 1896 in a village, STRELKOVKA, sixty miles southwest of Moscow in a region then known as the Kaluga Govenorate. As with other Soviet generals of World War Two, his family was VERY poor, but unlike most, his father, though away frequently from home to support his brood, managed to send the young Georgi to a school. His studies went well, but at age ten, his poverty stricken family required Georgi's services to help earn a living. A cobbler by trade, his father could not afford an apprentice, and instead sent Georgi off as an apprentice tanner and furrier in 1907 to the city of Moscow. His Uncle was his apprentice "master", and Georgi also attended evening classes. This resulted in what for Russians of Zukhovs humble stature was a well rounded education, but it was interrupted in 1915.
The Imperial Russian Army needed drafts of men to make good large manpower losses in the first 12 months of the Great War. Ahead of time, Zukhov was conscripted into the 189th Reserve Infantry Battalion, but, he was subsequently transferred to the cavalry, the 10th Regiment of the Novgorod Dragoons, rising to the rank of "vice-under-officer" ( the rough Russian equivalent of sargeant). In action, his performance and twin wounds earned him a high Tzarist award for valour TWICE, the Cross of St.George. Events took over, as his discharge from hospital in February 1917 saw Revolution break forth.
Zukhov returned to his unit to find his squadron had appointed a Soldiers Committee, and himself elected "Chairman and delegate to the Regimental Soviet". In March of 1917, his unit found itself split into three factions hostile to one-another. Zukhov's faction supported the revolutionary regime, but of the two other factions, one supported the Kerensky Provisional government and wanted to continue the war, and the other were Ukranian nationalists, favouring an independent State of the Ukraine. Unfortunately, Zukhov's pro-Bolshevik faction was in a definate minority, and Georgi was forced into hiding for several weeks, before secretly returning to Moscow in November 1917. The seizure of power by the Bolsheviks that same month (the November Revolution) touched off a bloody civil war which was to drag on until 1922.
Zukhov's loyalties were, by this time, much in sync with the Communist Party, and as a consequence, he volunteered for the Red Guards, a revolutionary army raised and organised by Leon Trotsky. Sickness struck him down, with a case of typhus putting him out of action for six months. His enrollment as part of Trotsky's military was then as a private in the 1st Moscow Cavalry division (a move that was to stand him in good stead, for many Soviet generals favoured by Stalin were part of the so called "1st Cavalry Division Clique"). Chronically short of trained officers and NCOs, the Red Army was a fine promotional vehicle for an experienced ex-Imperial Army trained man that Zukhov was. The conclusion of the Civil War found Zukhov a squadron commander in the First Cavalry Army, commanded at the time by another ex-Imperial NCO, Semyon Mikhailovich Buddeny, an officer Zukhov was to leapfrog over, taking charge of the defence of Moscow from Buddeny in late 1941. By this stage, Georgi had decided to make the military his chosen career; the First Cavalry Army was the principle force and the very pride of the Red Army, with many of it's junior officers rising to command as generals of the Soviet state. The principle influence from this period, however, was to play a most vital role in Zukhov's later career, namely that of Brigade commander Semyon Konstantinovich Timoshenko; eighteen years later, MARSHAL Timoshenko promoted Zukhov to the job of his principal assistant, making him Chief of the General Staff.
Zukhov made a switch in the inter-war period from Cavalry to Armour, and began an dangerous association with the Red Army's greatest exponent of armoured theory, Marshal Tukhachevsky. Prominent though this partnership was, Zukhov was not yet high enough in the ranks to attract TOO much attention from the secret police, and so managed to escape the fate of Tukhachevsky in the Great Purge of the Soviet Officer Corps of 1938. Classified by the Stalinist Police as "reliable", the space created by the vacancies enabled Zukhov to "walk between the rain-drops" when many an officer "dissappeared", and his rapid promotion was subsequently assured. By July of 1939, his rising competence in armoured affairs won him command of Soviet and Mongolian forces fighting the Japanese. 75,000 men, left over from the previous Japanese movements, sat on the western side of a bend in the River of Khalkin-Ghol. By the 20th of August, Zukhov had gathered sufficient resources to mount a counterattack (an achievement of itself). In a Cannae like double envelopment of elements of the Japanese, Zukhov employed swift armoured strokes around the flanks of these Japanese forces, trapping the Japanese 23rd division against the river. Zukhov had managed to drive the Japanese back into China in a complete rout costing 41,000 Imperial soldiers dead, wounded and missing. This strategic success recieved scant coverage in Western Europe, focussed as it was on the rising tensions of war in Europe, and it was to play a more important role in the battle for Moscow, making a transfer of this experienced cadres of Siberians to the Moscow front possible. Zukhov's achievements caught the eye of very few observers preoccupied with European affairs as the news from the developing Polish front crowded out all other concerns. Only three months later, Western military observers tended to form their opinions of Soviet competence on the Red Army performance in Finland. Only the Imperial Japanese Army rated the Soviets with any great respect, catapulting Zukhov into a unique position in Soviet miltary affairs, and enabling him to be CRITICAL in a time when dissent was simply not tolerated.
Zukhovs role as Timoshenko's Chief of Staff meant that he was on hand when his senior was rushed to Command the new Soviet effort in Finland. Six weeks of soul-searching reforms enabled a greatly reinforced Soviet Finnish command to roll over Finnish positions, forcing a ceaseing of hostilities that pleased Stalin enough to appoint Timoshenko "People's Commisar for Defence"(7 May 1940). Timoshenko's new task was to reform and revitalize the Red Army to restore it's effectiveness as a military force. Zukhov filled his patron Timoshenko's shoes, becoming the commander of the Ukrainian Military District; it was subsequently renamed the "Kiev Special Military District".
It was in this capacity that Zukhov made a dangerous move, for on the 11th of December 1940, he made a speech that has not been explained by Soviet historians to this day.
In this speech, Zukhov took reform to heart, managing to emphasize that war with Germany was to be planned for, stressing further the urgent need for professional army leadership, and personally attacking some of the more political examples of the older clique of Soviet leadership; their loyalty to the regime having precedence over their military qualities as commanders of troops. He was not punished for these remarkable utterences, any more than he was for suggesting that field commanders be no longer subjected to the control of "politruk" overseers. Perhaps Stalin saw a need for the reforms put in place by Zukhov and Timoshenko to take on some kind of concrete hardness of policy. In any case, his lack of punishment for these transgressions remains a mystery to this day, a habit he was to continue in his post-war role as Minister for Defence. For the first time, this attracted the close attention of Josef Stalin, building a relationship that was not to Stalin's liking at all.
Two months later, Stalin was to face Zukhov again, and to back down in an incredible "volte-foce" of policy toward dissent, with Zukhov coming out on top yet again.
The "occasion" was a Moscow conference in January 1941. Papers on the problems of modern armoured warfare were tabled, climaxing in a war-game that had, as it's focus, a German attack. Zukhov played a decisive role in both parts of the conference, and ended up "winning" the game, one that he was not supposed to "win" at all. This first public showdown between the "Maximum Leader" and the "up-start" senior officer strained relations even further with Stalin, with the "Man of Steel" taking an increasing dislike to the arrogant, ruthless and crude but correct Zukhov. Jealousy was the result, for this very success meant popularity and a possible political opponent who had the support of the people, a position not relished by most senior officers in the Soviet High Command, and usually costing them their lives. Stalin made plain that he wanted an explanation of the proceedings, and gave the Chief of the General Staff (Meretskov) two hours to formulate a reply to the criticisms of the "correct" and victorious Zukhov. Meretsekov's staff breifing on the reasons for the outcome of the wargame was, not surprisingly, totally inadequate, and his report to Stalin was labeled as "unsatisfactory". Waiting until Meretskov finished his ramblings, Stalin turned to the assembled generals, saying,
"Comrade Timoshenko has asked that Comrade Zukhov be appointed Chief of General Staff. Are you all in favour?"
The silence of the assembly was deafening....no-one dared object.
Georgi Zukhov, therefore, found himself risen to the second highest post in the Red Army, at the tender age of 44 years, blasting past many who were senior in terms of influence and who might have felt at the time that they had far more claim to the appointment.
It became the most important and consequential decision Josef Stalin ever made. Stalin was never hesitant to eliminate political opponents he had taken a dislike to....but this was no political appointment.
Zukhov was here to stay.........
In his new appointment, Zukhov's main duty was to assist his old patron, Timoshenko, in picking up the pieces of the faults laid bare by the debacle in Finland. Historian John Ericson asserts that,
"...the initial incompetence of the Vorshilov-Meckhilis clique lterally plunged the Red Army into disaster."
This was matched, in no small way, by a "disasterous lack of nerve that Tukhachevsky had insisted on in junior commanders; independence of spirit had been destroyed by the purges."
Timoshenko and Zukhov were, therefore, faced with a double task, of not only revitalizing the Red Army from the Finnish fiasco, but of attempting to compensate for the Great Purge and it's degredation of efficiency following the Tukhachevsky inspired "peak" it had reached in 1937. To briefly digress, the magnitude of this task facing them was such that a list of the Purge's wounds on the Soviet officer Corps at this point is instructive....
3 of 5 Marshals
14 of 16 Army Commanders, class I and II.
8 of 8 Admirals ('Flagman'), class I and II.
60 of 67 Corps commanders.
136 of 199 Divisional Commanders.
221 of 397 Brigade Commanders.
All 11 Vice Commisars of Defence.
75 of 80 members of the Supreme Military Soviet.
The effects were not confined to the upper echelons. Some 35 - 40,000 junior officers (about half the Corps) were shot or imprisoned. Nikita Krushchev later stated that the purges STARTED "...at Company and Battalion Commander level."
Soviet novelist, Konstantin Simonov, much associated and concerned with military affairs, gives an account of a fictional conversation between two generals that has remained unrebutted by Soviet historians...
"The whole thing goes deeper. In the autumn of 1940 when the Finnish War had already ended, the Inspector General of the Infantry carried out an inspection of Regimental Commanders.....The review was attended by 225 commanders of infantry regiments. How many of them do you think had at the time graduated from the Frunze Academy?"
"I cannot really guess, judging from the preceding events, presumably not very many."
"What if I tell you there was not a single one to have done so?"
"It just cannot be!!!......"
"Don't believe me then, if you find that easier. Well, how many of the 225 do you think had gone through ordinary military college? 25 of them! and 200 of them had come from junior lieutenent's courses and regimental schools!"
General Gorbatov, a purge arrest victim, sat in a labour camp and wondered,
"...how the officers newly appointed to high rank, with no battle experience, would deal with operations in a real war. Honest, brave men, devoted to their country they might be, but yesterday's battalion commander would be head of a division, yesterday's regimental commander, now commander of a corps; in charge of an army or a whole front, there would be at best a former divisional commander or his deputy..."
As early as 1937, 60% of the commanding cadres of rifle units, 45% in tank units and 25% of air unit commanders were rated as "inexperienced". The cadre of leaders who had gained military experience in Spain AND in the Far East were almost completely liquidated.
This atmosphere had an effect downward on the discipline of the Red Army as a whole, as told by Krushchev in his famous "Secret Speech" of February 1956,
"The policy of large scale repression against the military cadres had also undermined military discipline, because for several years officers of all ranks and even soldiers in the party and Komsomol cells were taught to "un-mask" their superiors as hidden enemies. It is natural that this caused a negative influence on the state of military discipline in the first war period."
The shear magnitude of this task was complicated by Stalin; he personally believed that he could postpone a major confrontation until 1942, and this meant that no major benefits could be expected from this re-modernisation program for at least a year! They were inadequate to boot, with Timoshenko attempting, in effect, to restore the position as it existed under Tuckhachevsky. Moreover, Timoshenko was a "grotesque Kulik" and "bullyingly incompetent". Zukhov became a full general, firmly in place and watched. Four of five Marshals, two of three full generals and two of the new "Colonel-generals" were from Stalin's Civil War group. Furthermore, Stalin's concessions to military reality were not yet wholehearted. Historian Robert Conquest asserts that,
"were it not for the sharp jolt of the Finnish War, Timoshenko would not have been allowed to carry out his partial programme of revitalization."
"The bullying Kulik" was , however, a vast improvement on Voroshilov, and between him and Zukhov, they set about improving the Soviet military as best they could be allowed. "Dual-Command" was abandoned, and a return to the Tukhachevsky tactical ideal was begun. Plans were laid for the possible German attack, but Stalin's attitude again intervened,
"The man who had never attached the slightest value to verbal assurances or paper promises does not really seem to have thought, or hoped, that Hitler would not attack Russia. Even when overwhelming evidence was sent to him, by Soviet intelligence, by the British, by German deserters, that the Nazi's were massing for an attack, he gave strict orders that such reports should be treated as "provocations."
"During the 1940-41 period, attacks on the British were encouraged, but no mention even of the word Facism was allowed. The Counsellor of the Soviet embassy in Paris, Nikolai Ivanov, was actually sentenced to five years for "anti-German views", and the sentence was confirmed -doubtless through bureaucratic inefficiency - in SEPTEMBER 1941!
Zukhov became one of the very few senior officers of the Soviet High command able to raise his voice at Stalin and live to see another day. One such incident finds Stalin shouting over a tabled plan proposed by Zukhov, calling it "RUBBISH!!",
..... to which the General angrily replied,
"IF YOU THINK YOUR CHIEF OF STAFF CAN ONLY TALK "RUBBISH", THEN DEMOTE ME TO A PRIVATE SOLDIER AND LET ME DEFEND MY COUNTRY WITH A RIFLE AND BAYONET!!"
As an old Soviet diplomat remarked, the two years gained by the Nazi-Soviet Pact were almost completely wasted, commenting sourly,
"He suspected his own closest comrades, but he trusted Hitler."
When the attack came, Timoshenko and Zukhov found their forces melting away into German prison camps, their air-forces destroyed on the ground, and Stalin either issueing no orders at all or ordering troops to stand fast. Exercise of initiative was dangerous. Prudence dictated they trade space for time. The Kiev encirclement was principally caused by Stalin not allowing the city to be given up, then ordering Budenny to retreat when far too late. Zukhov's operation at YELNYA on 30th of August was the only counter-punch that could even claim to have halted German operations for any length of time, and this still cost 60,000 Soviet dead wounded and missing!
All else was either utter failure or expensive delaying action, their usefulness assessable only by future operations that these delaying actions bought time for. Stalin took command (CinC), placing Shaposhnikov as Head of General Staff. A General Headquarters was set up (STAVKA). Zukhov, the "People's Commisar", was henceforth despatched "hither and thither" to sectors of the front commanding attention. Yelnya was one such, where he deployed six armies of his Reserve front to fight a 26 day battle that came close, but not quite, to encirclement of the German held town (which was temporarily recaptured.)
10th of September found Zukhov summoned before Stalin, and packing his bags once more, this time for Leningrad. Arriving on the 12th, he spent the next three days savagely restoring order, dismissing large numbers of senior officers, sending some to firing squads (something he has never denied), and managing to bring Army Group North to a halt. Hitler subsequently assessed AGN's drive "a failure", though Zukhov himself and STAVKA did not know this at the time. The terrain surrounding Leningrad is not exactly good tank country, and infantry shortages forced Hitler to reappraise his earlier estimates of Leningrad as a target worth more than Moscow itself. The subsequent siege laid in place meant that Leningrad was never as close to capture as it was in the days immediately before Zukhov's arrival.
The 6th of October found Zukhov summoned before Stalin yet again.....and this time, the situation was the worst it could possibly be.
The defences of three army groups had fallen apart.......
There was almost NOTHING between the Germans and the Capital......
The stage was set for the most decisive confrontation of the Great Patriotic War, and for World War 2 itself.
And Georgi Konstantonovich Zukhov was to be CENTER STAGE.
PART TWO: ................ZUKHOV SPEAKS: His Personal Account of the Defence of Moscow, 1941.
The Battle For The Capital..........By Marshal G.K.Zukhov.
The beginning of October 1941 found me in Leningrad where I was commanding the forces of the Leningrad Front. But it is not my mission to talk now about what the Nazi plunderers had planned for the city which carries the name of the great Lenin, or of the September battles on the Leningrad Front.
In October the enemy undertook an offensive which he planned would end with the capture of our Motherland's capital.
At the beginning of the German offensive on the Moscow axis three fronts (Western, Reserve and Bryansk) were defending the distant approaches to Moscow.
Altogether at the end of September the combat forces of Western, Reserve and Bryansk Fronts comprised about 800,000 men, with 770 tanks and about 9,150 guns, the Western Front having more men and weapons than the others.
The German Army Group Centre, as we now know, comprised more than 1,000,000 men, 1,700 tanks and assault guns and more than 19,000 guns and mortars, supported by Luftflotte 2, commanded by Field-Marshal Albert Kesselring. In a directive of the 16th of September, Hitler set Army Group Centre the assignment of breaking through the Soviet defence, encircling and destroying the main forces of Western, Reserve and Bryansk Fronts, and then pursuing the remnants of them, to encircle Moscow from the south and north and capture it.
On 30th September 1941 the enemy began an offensive against Bryansk Front, and on 2nd of October struck hard at the Western and Reserve Fronts. Especially strong blows followed from north of Dukhovschvina and east of Roslavl, against the Thirtieth and Nineteenth Armies of the Western Front and the Forty-Third Army of Reserve Front. The Germans succeeded in breaking through our defence and enemy assault groups advanced at a headlong pace, outflanking the entire Vyazma group of forces of the Western and Reserve Fronts from south and north.
An exceedingly serious situation arose on Bryansk Front too, where the Third and Thirteenth Armies were under threat of encirclement. Without meeting any particular resistence, Guderian's army headed part of it's forces towards Orel, where Bryansk Front had no forces with which to beat them back. On 3rd October the enemy captured Orel. Bryansk Front was cut to pieces: it's forces retreated with heavy losses to the east and south-east, with the consequence a dangerous situation arose on the Tula axis.
The commander of Western Front, Colonel-General Konev, ordered Lt.Gen I.V. Boldin's Operational Group to mount a counter-attack against the enemy force which was outflanking from the north, but it was a failure, and by the evening of the 6th of October a substantial part of the Western Front forces (units of Lt.Gen. M.F. Lukin's Nineteenth Army, Lt. Gen. K.K. Rokossovsky's Sixteenth Army, of Lt.Gen. F.A. Yershakov's Twentieth Army, and of Gen. Boldin's operational group) and Reserve Front (Maj.Gen. S.V. Vishnevsky's Thirty-Second Army and Maj.Gen. K.I. Rakutin's Twenty-Fourth Army) were surrounded in an area west of Vyazma.
That evening, the Supreme Commander, J.V. Stalin, telephoned me and asked how things were at Leningrad. I reported that the enemy had ceased attacking, and that prisoners said German losses had been heavy and the offensive had been abandoned. The city was being bombarded by artillery and air-craft, but our air-reconnaissance had established that a large scale movement of mechanized and tank columns from the Leningrad area to the south was under way. Clearly, the German High Command was transferring these forces to the Moscow axis.
Stalin listened to my report, was silent for a moment, and then said that we were in serious trouble on the Moscow axis, especially on the Western Front.
"Leave your Chief of Staff, General Khozin, behind you as Acting Commander of Leningrad Front, and fly to Moscow," he ordered. I passed on the Supreme Commanders order to Khozin, said goodbye to the members of the Military Council, and flew to Moscow. On 7th October, as darkness was falling, I landed at the central airfield, and made my way to the Kremlin.
Stalin was in his apartment. He was not well - he had a cold. He greeted me with a nod of his head, then pointed to the map and said,
"Here, look. A very serious situation has arisen, but I can't get a detailed report on how things really are on the Western Front." He suggested to me that I should go at once to it's headquarters and forces, take a very careful account of the situation, and then telephone him at any time of the night. "I'll be waiting," he said, and our conversation ended.
Within fifteen minutes I was with the Chief of General Staff, getting a map from him and aquainting myself with the situation, even if only in general terms. Marshal Shaposhnikov looked very overtired. As he greeted me he said that the Supreme Commander had already telephoned him and told him to give me a map of the Western axis. "The map will be here shortly. The headquarters of the Western Front are where the headquarters of the Reserve Front were in August, when you were conducting the operations against the Yelnya salient."
While telling me about the serious situation at the fronts, he added that the work of building defense posittions on the Mozhaysk line and near the approaches to Moscow was not yet finished, and there were, as yet, hardly any troops there. The State Defense Committee, the Central Committee of the Party, and the Supreme High command were taking steps to stop the enemy offensive. It was essential to put troops at once into defensive lines, above all into the Mozhaysk line. Formations of units from STAVKA Reserve and neighbouring fronts had begun redeploying to that line on the previous night (6th-7th October).
At 2:30am on the night of 7th-8th October I telephoned Stalin, who was still working. When I had reported the situation on the Western Front I said, "The chief danger now is that there is practically nothing covering the roads to Moscow, and the weak ad-hoc units deployed in the Mozhaysk line give no guarantee against a breakthrough to Moscow by German Panzer forces. Troops there must be brought up as quickly as possible, from wherever they can be got."
Stalin asked, "Where now are the Sixteenth, Nineteenth, Twentieth Armies of Boldin's group of the Western Front, Twenty-Fourth and Thirty-Second Armies of the Reserve?"
"Encircled, north and northwest of Vyazma."
"What do you intend to do?"
"I'm going to see Budenny."
"Do you know where his headqarters are now?"
No I don't. I'll look around in the Maloyaroslavets area."
"All right, go to Budenny and telephone me from there."
A fine drizzle was falling, thick mist was hovering over the ground, and visibility was bad. At dawn on the 8th October, as we approached the junction at Obninskoye (105km from Moscow), we saw two signallers laying a cable from the side of a bridge over the River Protva. When I asked them to where they were laying this communications line, I recieved a very unforthcoming answer, "We are laying it to where we've been ordered," answered a very large soldier in a voice full of cold. It was clear that they were old soldiers with no intention of answering questions from persons whom they did not know. I had to identify myself and tell them that I was looking for Marshal Budenny's Reserve Front Headquarters. The same immense signaller explained that we had already passed the Front Headquarters, and now would have to turn back into the forest to the heights on the left of the bridge, and ask the guard the way from there.
Within ten minutes I was in the room of Army Commissar 1st Rank L.Z. Mekhlis, with whom was the Chief of Staff, Maj.Gen. A.F. Anisov. Mekhlis was giving somebody a severe dressing down over the telephone, and after he had put the instrument down, he asked me what I was doing there. I explained that I had come on Stalin's order as a member of STAVKA to find out what was happening, and that I in my turn, would be interested to know where the Commander was. He explained that Budenny had been with the Forty-third Army on the previous day, but nobody knew where he was now, and the staff were worried that something might have happened to him. Signals officers had been sent out to find him, but had not yet returned. Niether Mekhlis nor Anisov could tell me anything about the state of Reserve Front's forces, or about the enemy.
"Well, you see what state we are in,' said Mekhlis, "I am collecting the stragglers together. We'll re-arm them at assembly points, and form new units out of them."
I had to go on further towards Yukhanov, via Maloyaroslavets and Medyn, hoping to clarify the situation more quickly on the spot. As I passed Protva and Obinskoye my childhood and youth came back to me unbidden. It was from this junction that my mother had sent me as a 12 year old boy to relatives in Moscow to learn the trade of a tanner. Four years later, already qualified at it, I frequently came from Moscow to the village and my parents. I knew all the ground around Maloyaroslavets well, as I had been all over it in my younger days. Only ten kilometers from Obninskoye where the headquarters of Reserve Front now stood, was the village of Strelkovka where I was born and passed the whole of my childhood; my mother and sister with her four children were still living there. What would happen to them, I thought, if the Nazis arrived there? Would they find out that these are the mother, sister and nephews of General Zukhov? And if they did......Three days later an adjudant whom I had sent to fetch them, took them from the village to my apartment in Moscow.
Here was Maloyaroslavets already. All the way to the town centre we met not a single living soul. The town seemed to have died. But outside the building of the Regional Executive committee stood two light vehicles. In the cab of one was a driver, asleep. We woke him up; he said that this was Budenny's machine, and that Budenny himself had already been inside the Regional Executive building for three hours.
As I entered the building I saw Budenny, and we greeted each other warmly. It was apparent that he had been through a great deal in those tragic days.
When he learnt that I had visited Western Front's headquarters, Budenny explained that he himself had had no means of contacting Konev for more than two days, while during his visit to Forty-third Army his own Front's headquarters had been moved, and he did not know where they had settled.
I told Budenny that his headquarters were 105km from Moscow, behind the railway bridge over the River Protva, and that they were waiting for him there. I also told him that things were very bad at Western Front, a large part of whose forces had been surrounded.
"It's no better with us," he observed in reply. "Twenty-fourth and Thirty-second Armies are cut off, and there is no defensive front. Yesterday, I myself very nearly fell into enemy hands between Yukhnov and Vyazma. Large enemy tank and motorized columns were heading towards Vyazma, obviously aiming to outflank the town from the east."
"Who holds Yukhnov?"
"I don't know. There was a small unit deployed and up to two regiments of infantry, with no artillery, on the Ugra River. I think Yukhnov is in enemy hands."
"Well, whose covering the road from Yukhnov to Maloyaroslavets?"
"When I went there, I met nobody except three policemen in Medyn."
We agreed that Budenny would go at once to his Front headquarters and report the state of affairs to STAVKA from there, while I would go on to the Yukhnov area and then to Kaluga.
Very soon after our car left Medyn for Yukhnov, our way was blocked where the road passed through a wood by armed Red Army men in overalls and tank helmets. One of them approached, warned us that it was not possible to go further, and asked me to identify myself. When I had done so I asked in my turn where their unit was. It turned out that it was nearby in the wood, 100 metres away, and was the headquarters of a tank brigade.
I was glad to hear this and asked them to take me to the headquarters. When we entered the wood, a tall tank man in blue overalls, with goggles on top of his cap, rose from a small tree stump where he was sitting and came to meet us. Something about him struck me as familiar.
"Commander of Tank Brigade of STAVKA Reserve, Colonel Troitsky reporting."
So that was who it was! I knew Troitsky well from Khalkin Gol. In 1939 he had been Chief of Staff of the 11th Tank Brigade, and it was this very brigade which under the command of Hero of the Soviet Union Yakovlev had defeated the Japnese 23rd Infantry Division, part of the Japanese Imperial Guard, at Bain-tsagan mountain.
After we greeted each other briefly, we got down to business. Colonel Troitsky reported that the enemy was occupying Yukhnov, and that German forward units had siezed the bridge over the Ugra river. a patrol sent by Troitsky towards Kaluga had established that there were no Germans there yet, but that fierce fighting was already going on near the town, where the 5th guards Rifle Division and some retreating units of the Forty-third Army were in action. As to Troitsky's own brigade, which was part of STAVKA reserve, it had already been where I found it for two days, but had recieved no orders from anyone.
I ordered Troitsky to send signals to Headquarters, Reserve Front, at the Obinskoye railway halt, to tell Budenny about the situation, to deploy part of the brigade on the terrain in front and to organise a defense to cover the Medyn axis. I also ordered the colonel to notify the General Staff, through headquarters Reserve Front, of the orders I had given him, and to tell them that I had gone to Kaluga, to the 5th guards rifle division. Troitsky and I said goodbye to each other as old comrades in arms.
On the 9th October the Chief of Reserve Front Headquarters sought me out and handed me a telephone message from the Chief of General staff, Marshal Shaposhnikov. It said "The Supreme Commander has ordered you to go to Headquarters Western Front. You are appointed commander of the Western Front."
Thus ended my two day journey to the troops in my capacity as a member of STAVKA of the Supreme High Command, carrying out the Supreme Commander's assignment to find out what was happening. Early on the morning of the 10th October I arrived in the area two or three miles northwest of Mozhaysk, where Headquarters Western Front were located. It turned out that a Commission from the State Defence Committee consisting of K.E. Voroshilov, G.M. Malenkov, V.M. Molotov and others was at work here. I do not know what or how the commission reported to Moscow, but from the very fact of it's hasty arrival at the Western Front at such a tense time, and from conversation with the members of the commission, it was not difficult to guess that the Supreme Commander was exceedingly worried about the situation which had come to pass in front of Moscow.
Indeed, for the first ten days of October the forces of our Western, Reserve and Bryansk Fronts had failed badly. It became clear that the Front commanders had made some serious mistakes: the troops of the Western and Reserve Fronts had stood on the defensive for about six weeks, and had had adequate time to prepare their defences in every respect before the German offensive began, but they had not taken the necessary steps. Their intelligence had failed to establish correctly the strength and direction of the blows which the enemy was preparing, even though STAVKA had warned them that large groups of German forces were concentrating against them. As a result, even though the enemy offensive had not taken the forces of Western axis by surprise, nevertheless the largest possible forces for defence in depth had not been concentrated in good time on the threatened axes.
Above all the backbone of the defensive system, anti-tank, had not been built up, nor had Front Reserves been brought up in those places; no artillery or air-counter-preparation had been organised to smash the forces of the main enemy group while they were still in their starting areas; and when our defence was broken in the Vyazma area, the command did not withdraw the forces which were threatened with encirclement. As a result Sixteenth, Twentieth, Twenty-fourth and Thirty-second Armies had been surrounded.
While I was talking to the members of the commission, I was handed an order to telephone the Supreme Commander, and went out into the conference room. Now Stalin himself mentioned his decision to appoint me commander of the Western Front, and asked me whether I had any objections. I had no reason to object. However, it became clear as the conversation went on that Stalin intended to change the leadership completely, and remove the previous command of the Front. I did not think this was the best solution in the circumstances, and made the suggestions, to which Stalin agreed, that I.S. Konev should remain as Deputy commander of the Western Front to take charge of the group of forces on the Kalinin axis, which was too far away from the headquarters and needed an additional control. I was told the remaining forces of Reserve Front, the units deployed in the Mozhaysk line, and the STAVKA Reserves which were on their way towards it, were being handed over to the Western Front.
"Form the Western Front as quickly as possible, and get to work," was how Stalin ended the conversation.
When I discussed the situation with Konev and Sokolovsky, we decided to withdraw the Front Headquarters to Alabino; to send Konev with the necessary means of control and a group of officers to co-ordinate operations on the Kalanin axis, and that I and the Member of Military council, Bulganin, would go to Moshaysk to the Commander of the Mozhaysk Fortified Zone, Col. S.I. Bogdanov, so as to familiarize ourselves with the situation on the spot.
The headquarters of the Mozhaysk fortified zone, where we arrived during the afternoon of 10th of October, was located in the town House of Culture, from which the artillery cannonade and explosion of bombs could be heard clearly. Colonel Bogdanov reported that the 32nd Rifle Division, reinforced by artillery and a tank brigade, was in action with German mechanized and armoured forward units on the approaches to Borodino. It was commanded by Col. V.I. Polosukhin, a very experienced officer. After ordering Bogdanov to hold on at any price we returned to the Front Headquarters in Alabino.
Here, the large scale organisational and operational work was already under way, aiming to establish a stable defence line along the line Volokolamsk-Mozhaysk-Maloyaroslavets-Kaluga as a matter of urgency, to develop it in depth, and to create some reserves.
From the operational and tactical point of view, the Mozhaysk defence line had a number of undoubted advantages. In front of it's forward edge flowed the Rivers Lama, Moskva, Kolocha, Luzha and Sukhodrev. Since their banks were cut vertically, all these rivers were serious obstacles to tanks. to the rear of the Mozhaysk line was a well developed system of roads and railways, which facilitated broad manoeuvring by forces on all axes. Here it was possible to create a multi-zoned defence, which would increase as the enemy penetrated into it's depths.
But the trouble was that the Mozhaysk line, which was 135 miles long, had very few troops in it by 10th October. The forces deployed by that time amounted to only four rifle divisions, the Moscow Artillery and military Political Schools, the School named after the supreme soviet of the RSFSR, the Podolsk Machine Gun School, three reserve rifle regiments, five machine gun battalions. In sum, the line was occupied by 45 battalions instead of the 150 for which it was designed, making for a negligable density of forces, on average one battalion to evry three miles of front. Thus the approach to Moscow was, in fact, not covered.
However, STAVKA took extraordinary measures to meet the threat hanging over the capital. On 9th October the Command of Forces of the Mozhaysk Defence Line was renamed Command of the Moscow Reserve Front (Front commander Lt.Gen. P.A. Artemyev, Member of Military Council, Divisional Commissar K.F. Telegin, chief of Staff, Maj.Gen. A.I. Kudryashov), STAVKA directed thither five newly formed machine gun battalions, ten anti-tank artillery regiments and five tank brigades. By 11th October, the forces on the mozhaysk line had been joined into the Fifth Army under Maj.Gen D.D. Lelyushenko. Retreating formations of the Western and Reserve Fronts were concentrated on this defensive line, while units and formations from the right wing of the Western Front from the southwestern direction, as well as reserves from the depths of the country, were hastily re-deployed to it. At the call of the Party and government the entire country, the sons and daughters of all the Union Republics, rose to defend Moscow.
The command of the Western Front now had to cope properly with the forces and weapons which were coming to it, without losing a minute of valuable time, to prepare a stable defence on all threatened axes, develop it in depth, and accumulate front reserves which would permit manoeuvre for strengthening vulnerable points in the defence.
All of us had to work day and night without pause. Men were literally collapsing from tiredness and lack of sleep, but all did everything possible, and sometimes even the impossible. Moved by the feeling that we were personally responsible for the fate of Moscow, and the fate of the Motherland, the generals and staff officers, commanders and political workers of all ranks showed unprecedented energy and self-sacrifice. They tried to ensure that everything was done the best way possible, that air and ground reconnaissance were carried out, that the troops of the front were given firm leadership, that the flow of supplies was uninterrupted. Party political work was developed, the morale of the men was raised, every soldier had implanted in his mind the confidence in the forces to which he belonged and certainty that the enemy would be defeated on the approaches to Moscow.
In accordance with a STAVKA directive all combat units and installations of the Moscow Reserve Front were handed over to the reconstituted Western Front with effect from 2300hrs, 12th October. In the meantime, the situation was becoming more and more difficult. Here is one of the reports made by the Military council of the Front on 12th October, 1941 to the STAVKA, which shows how things were.....
"The enemy, in a strength of two Panzer Divisions and one motorized infantry divisions with not less than three infantry divisions, has captured the Sychevka-Zubtsov area, and is continuing to dvelop his success towards Kalinin. The forward units of one Panzer division moving towards Kalinin reached a line twenty-five kilometres southeast of Staritsa at 9:35, 12th October.
Decisions taken and orders given:
1/ The commanders of the Twenty-second and Twenty-ninth Armies are each to send forward in vehicles one regiment with anti-tank weapons to the east of Staritsa to cover the Kalinin axis.
2/ 174th Rifle Division, which was on it's way to the town of Rzhev, has been sent to Staritsa.
3/ The commander of the Twenty-second Army has been ordered to withdraw 256th Rifle Division from the front and send it to Kalinin by forced march to defend Kalinin from the south.
4/ The commander of the Kalinin Garrison has been ordered to deploy detachments from the Garrison on the line Boriskovo-Pokrovskoye....
The Defence of Kalinin may be strengthened by the immediate dispatch to Kalinin of not less than one rifle division and a tank brigade. The Front cannot at present do this.
I request you to order the rapid despatch of a division to Kalinin from the Supreme command Reserve.
The Volokolamsk axis, where there are absolutely no troops, is in the same position, and the front can spare nothing for this axis.
It is essential to provide not less than one division immediately for this axis also.
In mid-October, the reconstituted Fifth, Sixteenth, Forty-third and Forty-ninth Armies amounted, altogether, to only 90,000 men. These forces were far from adequate for a continuous defence, and so, we decided that in the first instance we would cover the main axes: VOLOKOLAMSK, ISTRA, MOZHAYSK, MALOYAROSLAVETS and PODOLSK-KALUGA. The bulk of artillery and anti-tank weapons were concentrated on these same avenues of advance.
On 13th October, Headquarters Sixteenth Army (K.K. Rokosovsky, A.A. Lobachev, M.S. Malinin) was set up on the Volokolamsk axis. The Volokolamsk Fortified Zone and newly arriving units were incorporated into Sixteenth Army. In the Fifth Army (Maj.Gen L.A. Govorov) were included the Mozhaysk Fortified Zone, units were Col. Polosukhin's 32nd rifle division and newly arriving units, while Forty Third Army (Maj.Gen K.D. Golubev) and the Fortified Maloyaroslavets Zone included in it. Forty-ninth Army (Lt.Gen I.G. Zakharkin) incorporated the Kaluga Fortified Zone.
These commanders were all experienced leaders, knew their business and could be absolutely relied on to do everything possible with the troops entrusted to them to prevent an enemy breakthrough to Moscow. I must also mention the precise staff work of the HQ Staff headed by Lt.Gen Sokolovsky, now a Marshal of the Soviet Union, and the energetic efforts made by the Chief of Front Signals Troops, Major General N.D. Psurtsev (now a Minister of Communications) to ensure control of the Front's forces was solidly based.
Behind the Western Fronts first echelon a great deal of engineering work was going on to develop defence in depth, and anti-tank zones were being set up on all axes that were vulnerable to tanks, while reserves were being brought up on the main avenues of advance. Front headquarters moved from Alabino to Perkhushkovo, from where telephone and telegraph lines extended to the ground and air forces. Supplies were hastily brought up, and medical and other rear installations were being developed.
Thus, the new Western Front was created.
It's mission was to fend off the German attack on MOSCOW.
The Communist Party did a great deal of work in explaining to the Soviet people the seriousness of the situation, and the imminence of the threat hanging over Moscow. The Central Committee called on the whole people to wage a decisive struggle against indifference and panic, to carry out their duty to the Motherland honourably, and not to let the enemy through to Moscow.
In the middle of October our most important need was time to prepare defences. Looking at the actions of Nineteenth, Sixteenth, Twentieth, Twenty-fourth, Thirty-second Armies and Boldin's group, which were surrounded west of Vyazma then one must give their heroic fight it's due. Although they were in the enemy rear they did not lay down their weapons, but continued to fight bravely and attempted to break through to join up with units of the Red Army, thus tying up large enemy forces and preventing the Germans from developing their offensive towards Moscow. The Front command and STAVKA assisted the encircled troops in their fight by bombarding German positions from the air and dropping food and ammunition from aircraft, but niether the Front nor STAVKA could do any more at the time, since they had niether forces nor weapons to spare.
Twice - on 10th and 12th of October- we broadcast cypher telegrams to the Army commanders of the encircled forces, giving brief reports on the enemy and setting them the task of breaking out under the overall control of General Lukin (Nineteenth Army). He was told to report in cypher at once his plan and force grouping for a breakout, and to tell us on which sector we were to arrange for support by the Front Air force. However, neither of the messages were answered. They probably arrived too late; it seems that the encircled armies were no longer under control, and the troops succeeded in breaking out of encirclement only in isolated groups.
Nevertheless, thanks to the stubborness and steadfastness shown by our troops fighting in the Vyazma area, the enemy's main forces were held up during the days that were most critical for us. We gained valuable time for organising defence on the Mozhaysk line, and thus the blood of the encircled force was not shed in vain, but the achievement of the Soviet soldiers whose heroic fight at Vyazma contributed so greatly to the general cause of defending Moscow, still awaits it's chronicler.
On the 13th of October our units gave up Kaluga under the German onslaught. On all the main axes fierce fighting blazed up, as the Germans hurled a large part of their mobile forces onto all routs leading to Moscow. Front intelligence reported that on the 15th October, up to fifty tanks reached the Turgivino area, about one hundred at Lotoshino, up to one hundred (Makarovo and Karagatovo, about fifty (Borovsk), and about forty (Borodino).
Because of the increased danger to the capital, the Central committee of the Party and the State Defence Committee decided to evacuate at once several departments of the government, as well as the whole of the diplomatic corps, from Moscow to Kuybyshev, and also remove the most important state treasures. The evacuation began the night of 15th-16th October. Muscovites reacted to all all these measures with full understanding, but every flock has it's black sheep, and so there were cowards, panic-mongers and self seekers to be found. These fled Moscow in every direction spreading panicky rumours that it was about to fall, and so, to mobilize the forces and the people of the capital to repel the enemy, and also to put an end to panic which provocatuers had caused on the 16th, the State Defence Committee proclaimed Moscow and adjacent areas to be in a state of siege.
The Volokolakamsk- Mozhaysk-Maloyaroslavets-Serpukhov Defence Line was occupied by forces which were still very weak, and in places the enemy had already siezed it. To prevent his breaking through, the Military council of the Front selected as the main defensiveposition the line from Novo-Zavidovsky, through Klin, the Istra Resovoir, Istra, Zhavoroniki, Krasnaya Pakhra and Serpukhov to Alexin. In view of the importance of this decision I think I should give here in full the plan for withdrawing Western Front's armies from the Mozhaysk defence line. It was approved by Stalin on 19th October and envisaged:
1/ If it proves impossible to hold the enemy's offensive on the Mozhaysk defence line the Armies of the Front, resisting the attacking enemy with rearguards, are to withdraw their main forces, beginning with the mass of artillery, to the defence line which is being prepared along the line Novo-Zavidovsky to Klin, Istra resovoir-Istra-Zhavoroniki-Krasnaya Pakhra-Serphukov-Alexin. All air strength is to be used to cover the withdrawl.
2/Until their units are deployed on the main defence line, the armies are to organise and fight battles with strong rearguards, well supplied with anti-tank weapons, and with mobile units for counterattacking at short notice held available for each army, are to delay the enemy for as long as possible on the intermediate line Kozlovo/Gologuzovo/Yelgozino/Novo-Petrovskoye/Kolubyakovo/Naro/Fominsk/Tarutino/Chernaya /Gryaz/Protva river.
3/ The armies are to withdraw within their own lines of demarcation, except for Sixteenth and Fifth: the line of demarcation between them is established as Zagorsk, Ishka, Povarovo, Tarkhanovo, all inclusive to Sixteenth Army.
4/ The rear services of the armies will withdraw to the east within their boundaries, except for Fifth and Thirty-third Armies, whose rear services follow roads which must be outside Moscow and the Moscow complex, ie. rear services of Fifth Army (roads north of Khimki and Mytishchi), Thirty Third (sounth of Peredelkino and Lyubertsy). not a single cart or vehicle is to be directed or admitted through Moscow or the moscow complex. to ensure this, Fifth and Thirty-third Armies will establish firm and timely regulation for withdrawl, and lay down the routes along which transport, rear organisations and troops are to move. Unnecessary rear organisations are to be withdrawn in advance of time.
5/ If the battle on the main line Istra/Pavlovskaya/Sloboda/Zhavoroniki turns out unfavourably, Fifth Army must retreat not to the fortified perimeter around Moscow, but to the northeast, north of Khimki, and it's left flank on to units of Thirty-third Army south of peredelkino and Lyubertsy. Those units are to be withdrawn to army reserve, passing around the Moscow Fortified Zone from southeast, and east to the Pushkino area.
6/ Consequent on this the supply base of fifth Army must be Pushkino Station, and that of Thirty-third Ramenskoye Station. Sixteenth, Forty-third and Forty-nineth Armies must base themselves on supply stations within their demarcation lines.
7/ To cover the planned withdrawl of the units of the Armies along the network of roads Novo-Petrovskoye/Kubinka/Naro/Fominsk/Vorobya, anti-tank defence by artillery regiments of the anti-tank defence forces must be arranged in advance. This must exclude any possibility of an enemy panzer breakthrough into the rear.
Part of the Armies' forces will occupy the main defence line on the most important axes in advance, both with infantry units, and especially with artillery and rocket batteries.
Sixteenth Army will deploy on the remnants of 126th Rifle Division in line in the Klin and Troiskoye areas in advance. Fifth Army will do the same in the Davidkovo and Krasnaya Pakhra areas with 110th and 113th Rifle Division; and Forty-third in the area west of Podolsk and Lopasnaya with 53rd Rifle Division.
8/ control of the Armies by the front during the withdrawl will be arranged via the communications net of the People's Commissariat of Defence in Moscow; simultaniously a communications net and location for front headquarters are to be prepared in the area Orekovo-Zuyevo or Likino-Dulevo.
..............(signed) (Commander of the Western Front) ....................Army General Zukhov.
.........................(Member of the Military Council of Western Front) ..................Bulganin.
.........................(Chief of Staff Western Front)................Lieutenant-General Sokolovsky. 19th October 1941
INTERMISSION - Comments on the Above by B5N2Kate before you read further........
I think it's worth noting a couple of points at this stage. Georgi Zukhov was first and foremost a STAFF OFFICER, and a very patriotic one at that. His talent for organisational planning and operational contingency is made plain in the rather "dry" style of the text. He brought to the Red Army something that had been sadly lacking in battles previous to this one not under his control. All of Zukhov's battles from this point on involved men in the millions, and, as a Staff General, his expertise in this field was matched here at the Gates of Moscow by an intimate knowledge of the terrain, and a deep need to throw back the German Army from the very region he had grown up in, and where his family still resided at the beginning of the confrontation. Organisational planning for the Red Army prior to this was nothing short of chaotic. The contrast to Soviet Generals like Budenny could not have been more pronounced, as Zukhov hints at in the text on his initial "tour" of the Moscow Front, discovering Budenny was very much out of contact with his own Staff. One does not need to imagine, therefore, why the battles leading up to the Defence of Moscow were such disasters for the Red Army, with poor staff planning virtually guaranteeing that German encirclements would produce results that left many surrounded Red Army units on their own, with relatively small groups of well directed German soldiers achieving results all out of proportion to their size.
Zukhov showed his contemporaries the error of their ways in the best way possible....by EXAMPLE. Generals like Budenny tended to lead "from the front" in the Grand Old Style, ignoring Staff work and costing the Red Army many lives in this fashion. Budenny was, after all, an old favourite of Stalin's, and a member of the "!st Cavalry Division Clique" mentioned above. Many not so highly connected Generals that conducted their operations in the manner of Budenny paid for this with their very lives. We can see that this was another legacy of the Great Purge. It was fortunate for the Soviet Union that Zukhov could shout Stalin down when he felt he was right....... CONTINUED BELOW
Posted 13 March 2008 - 08:27 AM
This plan was conveyed to army commanders under conditions of particular secrecy, and they worked out their own plans in acordance with it. However, as we know, although STAVKA confirmed it, the withdrawl from the Mozhaysk Line had to be carried out by the front's forces in very hard fighting, in which they attempted to delay the enemy for as long as possible, and gain maximum time to concentrate the formations which were coming up from STAVKA reserve and to reinforce the rear defence line
The Military Council of the Western Front then issued an exhortation to it's troops which said:
"COMRADES! IN THE THREATENING HOUR OF DANGER FOR OUR STATE, THE LIFE OF EVERY SOLDIER BELONGS TO THE MOTHERLAND. THE MOTHERLAND DEMANDS FROM EACH OF US THE GREATEST INTENSITY OF STRENGTH, BRAVERY, HEROISM AND STEADFASTNESS. THE MOTHERLAND CALLS ON US TO BECOME AN INDESTRUCTABLE WALL AND BLOCK THE ROAD OF THE FACIST HORDES TO OUR BELOVED MOSCOW. NOW AS NEVER BEFORE VIGILANCE, IRON DISCIPLINE, ORGANISATION, DECISIVENESS OF ACTION, UNSHAKEABLE WILL TO VICTORY AND READINESS FOR SELF-SACRIFICE ARE DEMANDED."
I don't think there is any need for me to describe the course of the battle, since it has been detailed many times in a number of historical works and in books. Well known too, is the outcome of the October defensive battles in front of Moscow. In a month of fierce and bloody fighting the German forces succeeded in advancing in general about 230-250km. However, the Nazi Command's plan to capture Moscow was disrupted, the enemy forces were seriously worn out, and their assault groups were overstretched. The German offensive lost more and more of it's impetus every day, and by the end of October it was stopped along a front line running from Turinovo through Volokolamsk, Dorokhovo, Naro-Fominsk, west of Serpukhov to Alexin. In the Kalinin area the Kalinin Front's forces had also stabilized the defence by that time. (Because of the great extent of the Western Front and the difficulties which arose in controlling the forces in the Kalinin area, STAVKA decided on 17th October to group together the Twenty-second, Twenty-ninth and Thirtieth Armies under the command of a new Kalinin Front, Commanded by Col-Gen Konev, with Corps Commissar D.S. Leonov as Member of the Military Council and Maj.Gen. I.I. Ivanov as Chief of Staff)
Brayansk Front, whose forces had retreated by 30th October to the line Alexin-Tula-Efremov-Tim, disrupted the enemy's plan to sieze Tula and covered the routes towards Yelets and Voronezh.
When we speak of heroic achievements, we do not mean only those of our splendid soldiers, officers and political workers. What was achieved in the front in October, and then in the battles that followed, became possible thanks to the unity and common efforts of the Soviet troops, the workers of the capital and of Moscow region, unanimously supported by the whole people of the entire country.
The diverse activities of the Party organisation of Moscow and it's Region, uniting and raising masses of workers to defend the capital against a cruel enemy, merged together into a heroic epic. The inspiring slogans of the Central Committee of the Party, the Moscow city and Oblast Party organisations were near to every Muscovite, every soldier and all Soviet people, and found a profound response in their hearts. The workers of Moscow, together with the soldiers, took an oath to stand to the death and prevent the enemy reaching the capital, and this oath they fulfilled with honour.
Let us remember that in October-November 1941 alone the workers of the capital provided the front with five divisions of reinforcements. Altogether since the beginning of the war the Muscovites had formed 17 divisions. Apart from the volunteer divisions of the People's Militia, they created and armed hundreds of detachments of combat groups and tank destroyer detachments against the possibility of an enemy breakthrough to the city. On 13th October 1941 the Party Aktiv of the capital resolved to create workers battalions in each urban region. Soon, literally within a few days, 25 independent companies and battalions had come into existence, with about 12,000 fighters in their ranks, the bulk of them Communists and Communist Youth League members. Yet another 100,000 Moscow workers went through military training in their spare time and were then drafted to combat units, while about 17,000 women and girls trained as nurses and members of medical teams.
There were specialists in diverse peaceful trades, among them cadre workers, technicians and scholars or workers in art - naturally far from all of them were used to military ways. Military service was a novelty for them, and they were already in action while they still had much to learn. But they had something in common, something in which they all stood out, a high patriotism, an unshakable steadfastness and a belief in victory. And was it a coincidence that from the volunteer combat units formed in the capital, the splendid formation of Muscovite Volunteers was created AFTER they had gained combat experience? Muscovites made up the nucleus of many specialized sub-units of intelligence. They were skiers and worked with partisan detachments.
The achievements of the capital's inhabitants, who with their own hands built defence installations to protect it, can never be forgotten. More than 500,000 workers of Moscow and Moscow Region, the majority of them women, built defences on the distant and close approaches to the city.
In the years since the war, Nazi generals and bourgeois historians have had a great deal to say about Russian bad roads and mud on the one hand, and the Russian frost on the other. This kind of myth-making has already been properly discredited, nevertheless I would like yet again to draw the attention of the readers to what General Tippelskirch has written, claiming it was the lements which prevented the Nazi forces from capturing Moscow:
"To move along the roads became impossible," he writes, "the mud stuck to our feet, to the hooves of animals, to the wheels of carts and vehicles....the offensive came to a halt."
When the Nazi generals were planning their expedition to the east, did they really expect to ride the whole way to Moscow and beyond on smooth and well surfaced roads? Well, if they did so, so much worse for them and for the Nazi forces which, as Tippelkirch claims, were brought to a halt by the mud on the approaches to Moscow. In those days I saw with my own eyes thousands and thousands of women citizens of Moscow, most of whom were not accustomed to heavy civil engineering, and who had come lightly clothed from their apartments in the city. In that same bad weather and mud they were digging anti-tank ditches and trenches, erecting anti-tank obstacles, putting up barricades and entanglements and dragging sandbags. The mud stuck to their feet, too, and to the wheels of the barrows in which they transported the earth, and made the shovels, which were not made for women's hands anyway, incomparibly heavier......I don't think I need push the comparison any further, but I may add, for the benefit of those who want to hide the real reasons for their defeat under the mud, that in October 1941 the season of bad weather was relatively short. The cold weather began early in November, snow fell, and terrain and roads became impassable everywhere. In the November days of the German 'general offensive' the temperature in the Moscow area levelled out at 7 to 10 degrees of frost, and everybody knows that at those temperatures there isn't any mud.
But the Muscovites kept on working self-sacrificingly even in the frost, erecting defence installations. Construction of the outer perimeter in the Moscow defence zone was completed by November 25th. And here, as I knew, over 100,000 Muscovites, predominantly women, worked. In that line they built 1,428 artillery and machine-gun emplacements and nests, 160km of anti-tank ditches, 112km of three-row barbed wire entanglements, and a large number of other obstacles. However, this was not all they contributed to our common victory. The readiness of the workers to sacrifice themselves in the defence of the capital had a great moral effect on the troops, mutiplying their strength and reinforcing their will to fight.
Every day we heard of self-sacrificing labour of the Muscovites, who in almost all Moscow's factories set up equipment for manufacturing and war production, undertaken not only in large factories but in those of local industry and industrial co-operatives.
Nor can I forget to mention that thousands of Muscovites in the Civil Defence Detachments and teams spent day and night watching roofs. Hundreds of women and girls worked volunttarily in hospitals, restoring wounded soldiers to health and surrounding them with care and devotion. And what pleasure was evoked at the front by letters, telegrams and parcels from Muscovites and from workers of our entire country! During the Battle for Moscow the troops recieved 450,000 parcels, and 700,000 articles of clothing, including some from workers of the Mongolian Peoples Republic, a delegation from which, headed by Marshal Choibalsan, arrived at our front.
On 1st November I was summoned to STAVKA. Stalin said: "Apart from the ceremonial gathering on the anniversary of the October Revolution, we want to hold a military parade in Moscow as well. What do you think? Will the situation at the front allow us to have these celebrations?"
I reported that during the coming days the enemy would be in no position to start a large offensive, since he had suffered heavy casualties during the October battle and was now busy reinforcing and regrouping his forces. As for his Air Force, it could be active during those days and very likely would try to be.
It was therefore decided to strengthen the capital's air defences by bringing in additional fighters from niebouring Fronts, and the traditional parade of troops was held in Red Square. Everything went off well and after the ceremonial march past the Lenin mausoleum the units and formations went to the front. Both the internal an international significance of this October parade were undoubtably immense.
In the first half of November the Soviet Supreme Command, which expected the enemy to try again to attack Moscow, continued to take all steps possible in the circumstances to ensure he failed. The forces of the Western Front continued to strengthen the defence lines which they occupied, and there were many regroupings. From 1800 hours on the 10th of november, Fiftieth Army and the defence of Tula were handed over to the Western Front by the decision of STAVKA, and Bryansk Front dissolved (it's Third and Thirtieth Armies were incorporated into Southwest Front). The transfer to us of the tula sector together with Fiftieth Army meant that our defensive front was considerably extended, especially as this army was numerically very weak. However, new formations, equipment, arms, ammunition, communications, materials and supplies came to us from STAVKA reserve. Fur coats, felt boots, warm underwear, warm jackets, and fur hats with ear flaps arrived in great quantities at the Front, army and forward stores. In mid November our troops were warmly clad and felt somewhat more comfortable than the soldiers of Nazi Germany, who were muffled up in warm clothing requisitioned from the civilian population. In those days vast straw 'galoshes' began to appear on many German soldiers, and these made their movements very slow. Nonetheless, all out information indicated that the Germans had nearly finished regrouping, and we had to expect that they would soon resume the offensive.
The additional rifle and armoured formations which we had recieved from STAVKA Reserve were concentrated on the most dangerous axes, above all the Volokolamsk-Klin and Istra, where we expected the main armoured thrust to come. The 17th, 18th, 20th, 24th and 44th Cavalry Divisions arrived for the Sixteenth Army, and were deployed on the Volokolamsk-Klin axis, while additional forces were also brought up to the Tula-Serpukhov area, where we expected Second Panzer and fourth Armies to strike. On 9th november the Cavalry corps of General P.A. Belov, 415th Rifle and 112th Tank Divisions and the 33rd Tank Brigade arrived on the left wing of the front. I must point out here that although Western Front had been reinforced on a large scale and had six armies by the middle of November, it's defence had little depth to it, especially in the centre, since our frontline was more than 375 miles long. So we tried in the first instance to use these forces for protecting the most threatened axes on the flanks, and where possible to allocate something to Front Reserve, so that we could manoeuvre if necessary.
However, the Supreme Commander's order which came through on 13th November forced us to make some radical alterations to our plans.
Stalin telephoned: "Hows the enemy behaving?" he asked me.
"He's nearly finished preparing his assault groups, and it looks as if he will start the offensive soon.", I replied.
"And where are you expecting the main attack?'
"We expect the most powerful attack from the Volokolamsk/Novo-Petrovskoye area, making for Klin and istra. Guderians army will probably strike to outflank Tula and make for Venev and Kashira."
"Shaposhnikov and I think that we must disrupt the assault which the enemy is preparing by our own pre-emptive counterstrike. One counter-attack must go to outflank Volokolamsk from the north, and the other from the Serpukhov area into the flank of the German fourth Army. It is clear that big forces are assembling in those areas to strike for Moscow."
"From where are the forces for these counterattacks to come?" I asked, "The Front has no troops to spare. The forces we have are only enough to hold the positions we occupy now."
"In the Volokolamsk area, use the right flank formations of Rokossovsky's army, the 58th Tank Division, the Independent Cavalry Divisions and Dovator's Cavalry Corps. In the Serpukhov area use Belov's Cavalry Corps, Getman's Tank Division and part of the Forty-ninth Army", suggested Stalin.
"We can't do that just now,' I replied, "we can't throw the Front's reserves into dubious counterattacks. We will have nothing left for reinforcing our armies when the enemy's assault groups attack."
"You have six armies in your Front. Isn't that enough?"
I replied that the defensive front of the Western Front's troops was very extended, and including it's indentations was more than 375 miles, while we had very few reserves in depth, especially in the centre of the front.
"Consider the question of counterattacks settled. Let me have your plan this evening." - and that was Stalin's final word on the subject.
I tried again to convince Stalin of the senselessness of counterattacking with our last reserves, arguing that the terrain north of Volokolamsk was unsuitable.........
But he rang off.
The conversation left me depressed, not, of course, because the Supremo had disagreed with my opinion, but because Moscow, which the troops had sworn to defend to their last drop of blood, was in mortal danger, while we had been categorically ordered to throw in our last reserves into a very dubious counterattacks. If we expended them, we would not be able to strengthen weak points in the defense.
Within 15 minutes the member of the Military Council, Bulganin, came to me. It seemed that the Supreme commander had rung him up immediately after the coversation with me and had said: "You and Zukhov there are getting too big for your boots. But we'll put you in your places." Stalin ordered him to get together with me at once to arrange the counterattacks.
Within two hours the Front headquarters issued an order to the commanders of Sixteenth and Forty-ninth Armies and the other formations for the counterattacks, and reported accordingly to STAVKA. The counterattacks were mounted, but literally on their heels on 15th November, the Nazi command renewed the offensive on Moscow. The course of the battle in those days will be well known to readers, and therefore I shall recount only some details and episodes which fill out the general picture.
As is well known, the enemy assault northwest of Moscow struck at the left flank of Kalinin Front's Thirtieth Army, which had very weak defenses south of the "Moscow Sea". and simultaniously at the right flank centre of Sixteenth Army of the Western Front. More than 300 tanks were operating against those armies, while we had only 56, and those were light and weakly armed.
The Germans broke through Thirtieth Army and began to develop their offensive at high speed in the general direction of Klin from the morning of 16th November. We had no reserves here. On the same day a powerful enemy blow from the Volokolamsk area on the Istra axis followed. Here the enemy threw in 400 medium and heavy tanks, while our forces had about 150 medium and light tanks.
On 17th November at 2300 STAVKA transferred the Thirtieth Army from Kalinin to Western Front, thus extending the defences of the latter even further northwards, right up to the Moscow Sea. By the evening of 23rd November the enemy had taken Klin after a fierce battle and was heading toward Dmitrov, while some of the tanks had turned towards Solnechnogorsk. On 25th November Sixteenth Army withdrew from Solnechnogorsk. To that area, to the disposal of General Rokossovsky, the Military Council of the Front redeployed everything that it could from the other sectors, including individual platoons and groups of soldiers and anti-tank rifles, individual groups of tanks, artillery batteries and anti-aircraft battteries withdrawn from the Moscow area. The situation became critical. Our defensive front was bending inwards, and we were becoming weak in some places, so it seemed that the irrevocable was taking place.......
The Soviet troops fought with tremendous bravery and held out until the 7th Division arrived in the Solnechnogorsk area from Serpukhov, with two anti-tank artillery regiments from STAVKA Reserve. After recieveing these reinforcements our troops again established an impassable defensive front. In the first days of December it seemed from the character of the fighting and the strength of German blows that the enemy was becoming exhausted, and no longer had either the troops or resources for serious offensive operations on this axis of advance.
Events on the other axes developed in an almost equally intence way, for here the enemy forces struck their main blows. The divisions of the right wing of the German Volokolamsk group reached an area 5 miles northeast of Zvenigorod on 2nd December, but on the following day wereno longer capable of advancing. To co-operate with the attacking forces the enemy on 1st December went over to the offensive on the previously passive sector near Naro-Forminsk. He succeeded in breaking through the front of Thirty-third Army and reaching the area of Aprelevka, but on 3rd-4th December counterattacks by units of the Fifth, Thirty-third and Forty-third Armies defeated the enemy forces which had broken through and threw them back to the western bank of the Nara river.
On the Maloyaroslvets and Serpukhov axes our troops went on fighting firecely to repel the enemy offensive between 16th November and 2nd December. Up to 30th November heavy fighting was going on in the areas of Kashira and Mordves, after which the commander of Second Panzer Army, General Guderian, ordered it on the defensive. The Soviet forces repelled all enemy assaults in the Tula area, did him severe damage and prevented him breaking through towards Moscow.
The Germans ignored their losses but dashed on headlong, in an attempt to break through to Moscow with their Panzer wedges at any price. But thanks to good co-operation between formations and units of all arms of the service our deeply echeloned artillery and anti-tank defence withstood this fiece onslaught. Many thousands of German corpses were scattered over the battlefields, but nowhere did their troops succeed in breaking through to Moscow. In the process of battle, Soviet forces were withdrawn in due order to lines which had been prepared in advance and occupied by artillery, and again fought stubbornly for them, repelling furious attacks.
In Moscow the State Defence Committee, part of the leadership of the Central Party Committee, and the Council for People's Commissars, continued to function. The workers laboured stubbornly for 12-18 hours a day, supplying the Fronts which were defending the capital with equipment, weapons, ammunition and other material resources, repairing equipment and tanks.
I don't remember the date exactly, but it was very shortly after the largest German tactical breakthrough, in the sector of Thirtieth Army and on the right flank of Rokossovsky's army, so I think it was 19th November, Stalin rang me up and asked:
"Are you sure you can hold Moscow? It grieves me to have to ask you this. speak frankly, as a Communist."
"Of course we shall hold Moscow. But we need not less than two more armies and at least 200 tanks."
"I'm glad you are so confident," concluded Stalin. "Ring Shaposhnikov and agree with him where to concentrate the two reserve armies which you asked for. They will be ready by the end of November, but for the moment, we haven't any tanks."
Within half an hour Shaposhnikov and I had agreed that the first Shock Army which was being formed would be concentrated in the Yakhroma area, and the Tenth in the Ryazan region.
By the 5th of December German forces on all Western Front's sectors became exhausted, and they began to take up the defensive under our attacks. In essense this signified the failure of Hitler's plans for a lightning war. Inability to complete all the strategic operations on the Soviet-German front lowered morale in the German forces, and aroused their first doubts about the possibility of winning the war. The Nazi leadership was discredited in the eyes of world public opinion. Soviet forces, inspired by their successes in the defensive battles and their successes in protecting Moscow began a counteroffensive without pause of any kind. This was a great and joyful event, which stirred not only Soviet people and it's soldiers, but many other people throughout the world. But before I talk about that, I would like to touch on another question.
It is said in some works of military history that the battles fought by Western, Reserve and Bryansk fronts in October should not be included in the battle for Moscow. It is also claimed that the Germans had been completely stopped on the Mozhaysk defence line by the end of October or the beginning of November, and that Nazi High command had to prepare a new "general offensive operation" for the attack on Moscow.
I disagree with all statements of this kind.......
In undertaking the October operation on the Moscow axis, codemaned "Typhoon", the German high command counted on defeating the Soviet forces on the Vyazma-Moscow and Bryansk-Moscow axes, and siezing Moscow in the shortest possible time by outflanking it from north and south. As to the form and method of the operation, they intended to achieve this strategic aim in sequence by means of a double envelopment. The first encirclement and defeat of Soviet forces was to take place in the Bryansk-Vyazma area; the second encirclement and the capture of Moscow was to be achieved by the enrgence of panzer groups from the northwest through Klin and from the south through Tula and Kashira, thus closing the pincers of the strategic encirclement in the Noginsk area.
At the beginning of October the Germans completely achieved their immediate aim, on the basis of a superiority in manpower and equipment and by exploiting the mistakes made by the Fronts. As for their final strategic aim- the capture of Moscow- it was not achieved because the main forces were delayed by the need to fight the Soviet troops encircled in the Vyazma area (Nineteenth, Sixteenth, Twentieth, Twenty-fourth, Thirty-second Armies and Boldin's group). The limited forces which the enemy threw in to break the Mozhaysk line and emerge in the Moscow area succeeded only in pushing back the Soviet forces to the line Volokolamsk/Dorokhovo/Protva river/the river Nara/Alexin/Tula, but they did not fulfil their task of breaking through.
The argument that during November the Germans had to replenish their forces and supplies on a large scale and to regroup some of the panzer formations on their left wing, can to my mind in no way serve as an adequate basis for concluding that they had to prepare a "new general offensive". For, it is well known that such measures are normal in all strategic offensive operations, and therefore cannot be the factors which determine their beginning and end.
Since the war I have frequently been asked how the Soviet forces succeeded in holding the onslaught by the strongest German assault groups towards Moscow. A good deal has been written, most of it correct, about the course of the defensive battle in front of Moscow.
However, as the former Commander of Western Front, I would like to express my opinion.
The Nazi Supreme command in planning a complicated and large scale strategic operation such as "Typhoon", seriously undersestimated the forces, state and capabilty of the Soviet Army to fight for Moscow, and grossly overestimated the capabilities of their own forces which had been concentrated to break through our defensive front and capture the capital. They also committed gross errors in forming the assault groups for the second stage of operation "Typhoon". Their flank assault groups, especially those which operated in the Tula area, were too weak, and did not have enough infantry. To gamble entirely on panzer formations in the given situation proved in practice to be erroneous; as they became worn out, they suffered heavy casualties and lost their ability to break through.
The German High command failed to arrange in advance for a pinning-down attack in the centre of our front, even though it had adequate forces to do so. This made it possible for us to transfer all reserves, including divisional reserves, from the central sectors to the flanks, to fight the enemy assault groups. Their heavy losses, their unpreparedness for fighting in winter conditions, and the fierceness of the Soviet opposition had a sharp effect upon German battle-worthiness.
By 15th November our intelligence had succeeded in establishing that assault groups were concentrating on the flanks of the defensive front, and identifying the axes along which the main attacks would be made. so we opposed them in good time with a deeply echelonned defence, supplied relatively well with anti-tank and engineering resources; here too were concentrated all the main tank units. Our men were profoundly aware that they were personally responsible for moscow's fate, and the fate of their motherland and were determined to die rather than let the enemy through to the capital.
A great role was played by the famous decree of the state Defense committee on 19th October, proclaiming a State of Siege in Moscow and the areas adjacent to it, and also declaring a decisive struggle for stern discipline and maintenance of due order in all arms of the service defending Moscow. At all command and staff levels we were able to improve the control of the forces considerably, and this assisted them in carrying out their combat assignments with precision.
Immense and fruitful work in organising the defensive operations of the troops of the western strategic direction was carried out by the Operational Directorate of the General Staff, and personally by the Deputy Chief of General staff, Lieutenant General A.M. Vasilevsky. His correct evaluation of the situation on the Western axis in the period 2nd-9th October, and his practical proposals lay the basis of STAVKA's measures. Day and night the officers of the General staff - both senior and junior - worked untiringly, following every step of the enemy forces and making creative suggestions for eliminating danger points.
The enemy was unable to break through our defensive front. He did not succeed in surrounding even one division or in firing even one artillery round at Moscow. By the beginning of December he had worn himself out, and had no reserves, while Western Front during this time recieved from STAVKA two newly formed armies and a number of formations from which a third army (Twentieth) was formed.
This enabled the Soviet command to organise a COUNTEROFFENSIVE..........
EPILOGUE TO THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW:.......B5N2Kate
Operation "Typhoon" sputtered and stopped. The offensive had worn itself out of it's own accord. It was a close contest, but superior planning and staff work by Zukhov's Western Front had ensured the capital was secure. Moving from prepared position to prepared position, Georgi Zukhov had managed to keep his formations intact and not encircled, seperate German tanks from their infantry, and hold open Army Group Center's "pincers" with combined arms defence. By wearing down forward units, carefully husbanded reserves would strike when the German assault groups were most exhausted. It was a pattern of defensive command that Zukhov was to make his own.
The Soviet Winter Counter-Offensive DEVELOPED from the success of the Defence of Moscow. It was not a "set-piece" plan in any sence of the word, and was made possible by the very success of Soviet forces. Zukhov unleashed these Siberian reserves at the precise moment when German exhaustion was at it's peak, and before they began to develop defensive positions of their own. Precise timing, too, was a Zukhov trait, combining ruthlessness with his own foward units and economy of reserves, unleashing fully fresh units against worn out German formations. It was high stakes gambling in battles of this scale, but Georgi Zukhov was master of the MOMENT when fresh reserves were to be committed.
The town of Sheremetyevo has a monument to the German "High Water Mark" in their advance, carried out by motorcyclists of the 62nd Panzer Engineer Regiment.
It is fourteen and a quarter miles from the Spires of the Kremlin, clearly visable in the distance..........
JUKES, Geoffrey, "The Defence of Moscow", 1969, Purnell Publications, Battle book 13, Purnell's History of the 2nd World War.
CONQUEST, Robert, "The Great Terror", 1968, Macmillan Press.
LANNING,Micheal Lee, "The 100 Most Influential Military Leaders", 1997, Robertson Publishing, United Kingdom
So there you have it!
Hope you enjoyed, and look forward to another piece of similar composition, also featuring Zukhov's own words, on the subsequent WINTER COUNTER OFFENSIVE of 5th December, 1941...
For now, wherever you are in this amazing world of ours, I wish you HYVAA ILTAA.....
NAKEMIN & MORO!
Posted 13 March 2008 - 03:27 PM
If any Russian users have access to a MAP of some kind and can post it, we can then show exactly the Soviet positions as they developed from GK Zukhov's narrative.
Please enjoy........and I look forward to replying to your post!
Posted 25 September 2008 - 03:54 AM
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2 Army Commanders
28 Corps Commanders
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