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57 CHAPTER FOUR The German Onslaught Enemy aviation has complete air dominance; during the day Minsk was subjected to many bombardments in waves numbered from 8 to 50 airplanes. There are large fires and destruction in the city. Front headquarters and Front air forces building were severely damaged by direct bomb hits. Operational Report No. 5, Western Front Headquarters, 24 June 19411 CONFUSION Shortly after 0300 hours on the morning of 22 June 1941, 30 handpicked Luftwaffe bomber crews crossed the Soviet frontier at high altitude. In groups of 3, these bombers struck 10 major Soviet air bases precisely at 0315 hours, the time when a brief artillery bombardment signaled the start of the ground war. As soon as the sun rose, the Luftwaffe followed up this attack with a force of 500 bombers, 270 dive-bombers, and 480 fighters to hit 66 Soviet airfields in the forward areas.2 The Red Air Force lost over 1,200 aircraft in the first morning of the war. During the next few days, despite great gallantry from the surviving VVS pilots, the Luftwaffe had undisputed air supremacy, and all Soviet troop and rail movements received relentless attention. The initial ground advance encountered only limited resistance in most areas. Some border posts were overrun almost before the NKVD guards could assemble, whereas in other areas, these troops and the men of the local fortified regions fought to their last rounds, delaying the Germans for a few hours while the Red Army hurried to its defensive positions. Bypassed by the four advancing German panzer groups, only the citadel of Brest, on the eastern bank of the Western Bug River, and the fortress at Peremyshl’, southwest of L’vov, managed to hold out to month’s end.3 Except for a high-frequency radio network operated by the NKVD, Soviet long-distance communications were dependent on the civilian telephone and telegraph networks of the Commissariat of Communications. These communications collapsed under German attacks and the volume of initial reports.4 Organization and command differentiate armies from mobs, but for the Red Army, both organization and command dissolved rapidly. Even before the first air strikes, Brandenburger special operations troops in Red Army Map 4. Summer–Fall Campaign (1), 22 June–30 September 1941 The German Onslaught 59 uniforms had parachuted or infiltrated into the Soviet rear areas. They set about cutting telephone lines, seizing key bridges, and spreading alarm and confusion. In the area of the main German effort, north of the Pripiat’ Marshes, the panzer and motorized divisions of Army Group Center’s Third and Second Panzer Groups thrust rapidly eastward along the flanks of Soviet defenses around the Bialystok “bulge.” The headquarters of Lieutenant General A. A. Korobkov’s 4th Army, which defended the southern portion of the bulge, was unable to establish communications with headquarters above and below it in the hierarchy. On 4th Army’s northern flank, two other army headquarters belonging to the Western Front, Lieutenant General K. D. Golubev’s 10th and Lieutenant General V. I. Kuznetsov’s 3rd Armies, were in tenuous radio communications with their front commander, but they were hardly more functional as command elements. On the first day of the war, Lieutenant General I. V. Boldin, Western Front chief of operations, flew through a swarm of German planes to 10th Army headquarters outside Bialystok. The headquarters consisted of two tents in a small wood alongside an airstrip, where the army commander, Golubev, attempted to counter the Germans despite shattered telephone networks, constant radio jamming, and total confusion. On 23 June, Golubev tried in vain to launch a counterstroke toward Grodno with his few available forces, in accordance with prewar plans.5 Within days, 10th Army ceased to exist except as fugitives seeking to break out of German encirclements.6 Besides the sheer force and speed of the German advance, the greatest difficulty the defenders experienced was the lack of detailed information about the situation at the front. The reality was far worse than anyone in Moscow believed, resulting in a series of impossible orders to counterattack with units that no longer existed. On the evening of 22 June, Stalin and Defense Commissar Timoshenko issued Directive No. 3 for a general counteroffensive against the Germans, and in the next several days, they stubbornly insisted that the fronts implement this directive. In many cases, subordinate commanders passed on these orders even though they knew the true situation simply because those subordinates feared retribution for...


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