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131 CHAPTER EIGHT Operation Blau The German 1942 Offensive PLANNING FOR OPERATION BLAU (BLUE) From the inception of Operation Barbarossa, German planners had envisioned a follow-up campaign down the eastern side of the Black Sea to the Caucasus Mountains.1 Originally, this operation was scheduled to begin in the fall of 1941 as the first step in a grand scheme to envelop Asia Minor and the Middle East, linking up with Axis forces in North Africa. In November 1941, the German dictator adjusted his plans. He instructed General Halder , the head of OKH, to confine the projected operation to Soviet territory rather than continuing onward into Iran and Turkey. Even this more limited operation, intended to seize control of the oil fields in the Caucasus, would require German troops to advance over difficult terrain for an additional 800 kilometers (500 miles) beyond the farthest 1941 German spearhead at Rostov on the Don River. In anticipation of this, Hitler formed the Oil Brigade Caucasus, a 10,000-man organization of specialists, to restore and operate the captured oil fields. He also withdrew the available German and Romanian mountain troops from combat to refit them for a new push into the Caucasus. In February 1942, the Operations Division of OKH issued a series of preliminary instructions for the next summer campaign, whose objective was to reach the Caucasus while continuing to destroy Red Army units. To this end, as described in chapter 7, Army Group South received priority for replacement troops and equipment. Fourth Panzer Army joined First Panzer in the south, bringing with it a number of refurbished divisions from Army Group Center. In addition, twenty German and twenty-one other Axis divisions shifted from other theaters to the southern region. The non-German units, including six Italian, ten Hungarian, and five Romanian divisions, generally had fewer weapons and less-reliable equipment than even their depleted German counterparts. The Axis powers lacked the industrial capacity to equip their soldiers for mechanized combat, and German production could only spare a few antitank batteries for its allies. Italian motorized units suffered from the same technical problems displayed by similar formations in North Africa. The remaining satellite units were cavalry or leg infantry divisions more suitable for rear area security against partisans than for confronting Map 9. Summer–Fall Campaign, May–October 1942 Operation Blau 133 a Red Army tank force. Quite apart from the usual German contempt for their allies, these troops in many instances had training and doctrine that were incompatible with those of their dominant partner. German staff officers rated only one Italian division as equal to an average German formation. Yet, Germany desperately needed more troops to secure the flanks and mop up behind the advancing German spearheads. Every step it took eastward meant further lengthening the front. The fact that OKH based its plans on such slender reeds illustrates the complete inadequacy of German forces to cover the projected advance into southeastern Russia. Ultimately, the presence of these units together with the iron limitations of logistics proved to be the Achilles’ heel of the German plan. German strategic intelligence concerning the overall strength and production of its Soviet opponent remained wildly inaccurate. Unaware of the renaissance in Soviet weapons production, the Germans tended to overemphasize the importance of Lend-Lease equipment. This provided another incentive to advance to the Caucasus, in order to cut off the developing supply line of the Persian corridor through Allied-occupied Iran.2 In a further attempt to interdict Lend-Lease, on 14 April OKW ordered the Luftwaffe and the Navy to concentrate their efforts against Allied convoys headed for Murmansk. The Chief of the OKH, Halder, drafted the plan for the summer campaign , a plan that was modified first by Colonel General Alfred Jodl, the operations chief of OKW, and then by Hitler himself. The result was Führer Directive No. 41, issued on 5 April 1942. It was a curious combination of broad general instructions, in the German tradition of decentralized execution, and very explicit requirements added by the dictator. The directive assumed that the Soviet Union was almost exhausted, but unlike the directive for Operation Barbarossa, it tacitly acknowledged that no single campaign was likely to crush the enemy completely. The directive assigned tasks to all the army groups as well as to the Luftwaffe, but it focused on Army Group South. Also unlike Barbarossa, Operation Blau called for a carefully sequenced series of encirclement...


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