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195 CHAPTER TEN Rasputitsa and Operational Pause, Spring 1943 By late 1943, mud and rain had again halted operations in Russia. The two sides rebuilt their forces and planned for a third summer of war. This pause is another appropriate occasion to place the operational struggle in its larger context of grand strategy, national mobilization, changing tactics and organization , and concepts for the next campaign. THE WIDER WAR From the first moments of the 1941 invasion, the Soviet Union had borne the brunt of Germany’s military power, absorbing at least 75 percent of all German land and air units. In the course of 1942 and early 1943, however, Great Britain and the United States made a small but growing contribution to the struggle against Hitler. This contribution was never sufficient to satisfy Stalin or his hard-pressed generals, who suspected their allies of waiting on the sidelines while the Germans and Soviets bled each other to death. Nevertheless, those allies helped in ways rarely acknowledged by Soviet leaders or historians. Throughout the 1942 campaign, Hitler worried constantly about the threat of an Allied invasion in western Europe. He repeatedly announced new plans to pull mechanized units from Russia and redeploy them to the West. From a strategic point of view, the dictator had a point, in that there was far less depth or margin of error for defeat in the West than in the East, but the Eastern Front commanders resented such withdrawals. Sometimes, as in the case of the Grossdeutschland Motorized Division, his advisers were able to dissuade him, but he was prey to constant anxiety. In this respect, the British-Canadian raid at Dieppe, France, on 18–19 August 1942 was a tactical failure but a strategic success, prompting Hitler to shift more reserves to France. A few weeks later, the dictator dispatched 22nd Infantry Division from the Crimea to Crete, where he anticipated an Allied landing. In May 1943, he sent 1st Panzer Division to Greece.1 For the remainder of the war, the threat of an Allied invasion tied down a small but growing number of divisions, often mechanized units, in the West. Some, such as 6th Panzer Division in 1942, were able to refit and return to the East as much stronger units. Still, the absence of these units from the German order of battle in the 196 Chapter Ten East represented a more significant weakness than the absence of similarsized elements from the larger Red Army. November 1942 proved to be a severe strain for the German war machine . At the second Battle of Alamein (23 October to 4 November), the British Eighth Army shattered Panzer Army Africa (Panzerarmee Afrika).2 Immediately afterward, a combined British-American force invaded French North Africa. Instead of cutting his losses in the Mediterranean, Hitler felt compelled to send all available reserves, including several elite parachute units, to Tunisia. Compared to the titanic scale of war in the East, the German forces involved in North Africa were quite small, generally equivalent to less than six divisions, albeit with a high proportion of panzers. However, coming on top of the losses in Russia, the North African Campaign had a disproportionate effect by draining German reserves. At the end of October, German forces in the East were already short 300,000 replacements after the heavy fighting of August and September.3 Given the sudden priority on troops and weapons for North Africa, German commanders found it impossible to assemble any strategic reserves or even to keep the infantry units in Stalingrad up to strength. Perhaps the greatest Allied contribution to the Soviet cause in 1942–1943 was in the air. Four hundred Luftwaffe aircraft redeployed from the East to the Mediterranean during November and December 1942 in response to the threat in North Africa, including a vain effort to bomb Malta into submission to open the supply lines to the desert. German losses in the Mediterranean between November 1942 and May 1943 totaled 2,422 aircraft—40.5 percent of the entire Luftwaffe strength.4 Hardest hit was the transport arm. In addition to the costly attempt to resupply Stalingrad, the transport pilots conducted two major surges of supplies and reinforcements to North Africa— once in November, after the initial Allied invasion, and again in May 1943, when the remaining German forces were destroyed in Tunisia. This latter effort alone cost 177 Ju-52s and 6 of the scarce Me-323 “Giant” transports. Taken together, three...


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