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119 CHAPTER SEVEN Rasputitsa, Spring 1942 Although the winter campaign officially ended on 20 April 1942 and Soviet troops remained behind German lines until June, all chances for success in the Moscow counteroffensive had evaporated by early March. Nonetheless , the Soviets mercilessly pounded the German pockets at Demiansk and Kholm’, while paratroopers and ski brigades waged an intense struggle to collapse the Demiansk encirclement from within.1 Soviet-initiated military operations slowed during the next several months and finally stopped as the Stavka prepared for a renewed struggle in the summer. The spring thaw and rasputitsa arrived in the Ukraine in early March 1941 and in the Moscow area about two weeks later, derailing German efforts to encircle and destroy several Soviet armies in a salient between Army Groups North and Center. General von Küchler, commander of Army Group North, relieved Demiansk in April just as the Soviets broke into the pocket. It is therefore appropriate to pause at this point to consider Soviet and German institutional responses to the 1941 experience. THE WIDER WAR Throughout the progress of Operation Barbarossa, Great Britain and the United States had feared a Soviet collapse. Even after the United States became a formal belligerent, neither country had the forces ready to provide an effective diversion by invading western Europe. The average Soviet citizen— and indeed many Soviet officials—refused to accept this fact, exaggerating British strength and American industrial mobilization while minimizing the difficulties of an opposed amphibious invasion. As early as July, the Moscow government encouraged public calls for a British “second front” in the West. Stalin, who until 22 June had doubted that Hitler would risk a two-front war, was now impatient for this risk to become a reality. Thus, from the very beginning of the invasion, Soviet public opinion suspected that the Western powers were shirking their responsibility and allowing the Wehrmacht and the Red Army to bleed each other to death. In a conference convened in Moscow at the end of September 1941, the British and Americans promised 120 Chapter Seven 1.5 million tons of supplies to the Soviet Union by June of the next year, but little of this could reach the embattled Russians that fall.2 In the spring of 1941, still full of optimism about the coming campaign in the East, Hitler had urged Japan to attack the United States and had guaranteed German support. However, Tokyo did not consult Berlin before launching its attack on Pearl Harbor.3 Washington responded by declaring war on Japan on 8 December, but American participation in the European struggle remained limited. Hard-pressed in the Pacific, the United States was unprepared politically and militarily for a two-front, global war. Four days after Pearl Harbor, Adolf Hitler solved the American dilemma. In a defiant speech to the Reichstag, he declared war on the United States, even though his defensive alliance with Tokyo did not require such action. Undoubtedly, Hitler regarded this declaration as a mere formality after months of U.S. Navy participation in antisubmarine actions in the North Atlantic as well as American Lend-Lease shipments. He apparently hoped that the Pacific war would distract Washington, reducing its contribution to the struggle with Germany. Still, this declaration proved to be as fatal for Germany as the Barbarossa invasion itself. Within six months, Germany had gone from undisputed mastery of the European continent to a desperate struggle with the two greatest industrial powers on earth. The short-term Axis successes of 1941–1942 were dwarfed by the Soviet and American attacks that Hitler had invited. RESURGENCE OF SOVIET DOCTRINE The process of Soviet adjustment to the challenges of war continued during the winter and spring of 1941–1942. In 1941, Soviet commanders had repeatedly failed to concentrate sufficient forces at a critical point. In December, Zhukov ordered the creation within the Western Front of shock groups to focus the few available full-strength units at specific weak points in the German defenses. Thus, for example, 10th Army aimed its efforts at penetrating the enemy cordon south of Moscow; in turn, 1st Guards Cavalry Corps leapfrogged through the resulting breach to exploit on a relatively narrow front. This technique, plus fresh troops from the Soviet eastern military districts, allowed the Moscow counteroffensive to achieve initial success. By January, though, the attackers were dispersed and lacked the mobility to move faster than their opponents during the exploitation. The promising Soviet...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780700621521
Related ISBN
9780700621217
MARC Record
OCLC
923132453
Pages
568
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-13
Language
English
Open Access
No
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