The tragedy of 1941, defeat after defeat at the beginning of the war, the defeat of armies and mechkopus, grandiose "cauldrons" of the Soviet troops, the surrender of vast territories, millions of dead, captured and under occupation. The catastrophe that befell us is astonishing and surprising. How did we manage to survive and win in such conditions? Based on an impartial analysis of those events and the archives that have opened, modern military historians try to give an objective assessment of what happened.
Now the main reasons for the tragedy are already being called: the lack of readiness of the Soviet command personnel at all levels to conduct a modern war, the miscalculations of the high command about the place of the Germans delivering the main blow, the unsuccessful formation of mechanized corpses that are cumbersome to manage and not equipped with equipment without the corresponding services for maintenance, repair, evacuation and supply of fuel and lubricants, the lack of training of personnel in the use of equipment, the unsuccessful deployment of almost all mechanized corps in the border western districts and their defeat in border battles, but thought-out counter-offensive of the mechanized corps in the early days of the war and a number of other reasons investigated by military historians.
We also need to keep in mind that we were opposed by a well-trained mobile German army, run in battles during the capture of almost all of Europe, equipped with modern weapons with well-established tactics of conducting encompassing strikes and a good school for command personnel.
All this led to the strategic defeat of the Soviet Army at the beginning of the war, the loss of almost the entire park tanks and the inability to respond to the tank wedges of the Germans, dissecting the formations of the Soviet armies. The combination of these reasons created the prerequisites for the organization by the German command in June - October 1941 of five "cauldrons" with the defeat of a number of Soviet armies, enormous irretrievable losses in personnel and the most humiliating, to the capture of almost 1,5 million Soviet soldiers and officers.
The planning and implementation of the "boilers" by the German command was carried out according to the standard scheme: on the flanks of the groups of Soviet troops breakthroughs of large tank formations were organized, extending deep into the rear of the Soviet troops and covering them with ticks on both sides. Then, the inner circle of the ring was closed and tank formations were replaced by motorized infantry, finishing the surrounded troops, further advancement of the tank wedges and the formation of the outer ring of the environment, eliminating the possibility of release.
This pattern can be traced in all five "cauldrons" of the outbreak of war: Bialystok-Minsk, Umansky, Kiev, Vyazemsky-Bryansk and Melitopol, implemented by the German command.
Białystok-Minsk boiler (June 22 - July 8)
One of the reasons for the tragedy of the Western Front under the command of Pavlov was the miscalculation of the General Staff in determining the main blow of the Germans, proceeding from the fact that it will be delivered in the Kiev military district, and not in the West. Everything turned out the other way around.
According to the directives of the General Staff, the Kiev Military District, which numbered 900 thousand people with 4900 tanks, was most seriously preparing to repel German aggression, and the Western one numbered 630 thousand people with 2900 tanks. The German group "Center", which dealt the main blow to the troops of the Western District, numbered 1,5 million people with 1700 tanks. That is, 7800 Soviet tanks were opposed by only 1900 German tanks, and German and Soviet tanks were not much different in their characteristics, while the Germans successfully organized tank mites closing the "boilers" and smashed the Soviet mechanized corps.
The main forces of the Western Front were concentrated on the Bialystok Balcony, which plunged sharply into Poland, while the enemy could cut off the balcony at the base in the north of Grodno and in the south of Brest, which happened. The main forces of the Western Front were concentrated on this balcony: the most powerful 10th army stationed in Bialystok, the 3rd army in Grodno and the 4th army in Brest, and the 13th army stationed east in the Baranavichy region. Here, five of the six mechanized corps of the district (the 6th, 11th, 13th, 14th, 17th) were stationed at the border, and the 20th mechanized corps was deployed southwest of Minsk.
On the first day of the war, the district’s troops were left without air cover, out of 409 district’s aircraft, 327 aircraft were lost mainly on the ground, only the German dominated the sky aviation.
The Germans acted with the tactics of “double ticks”, from the Suwalki region the 3rd Panzer Group of the Gotha attacked with the support of the 9th Army, from Brest the 2nd Panzer Group of Guderian with the support of the 4th Army, they inflicted mainly distracting blows. Ticks were supposed to close west of Minsk.
On the second day of the offensive, the Germans took Grodno on the northern flank, attacked Belsk in the south, scattered three rifle divisions and the 13th mechanized corps, and took the city on June 24. Attempts by the Soviet command to launch counterattacks in the Grodno and Brest regions on June 23-24 were unsuccessful, German troops continued to cover the Bialystok bridgehead.
By June 25, it became clear to the Soviet command that a "boiler" was being formed. An order was given to the troops to retreat, but the Germans had already cut the main communications. With the capture of June 28, Volkovysk split the surrounded troops in two and closed a small ring in the Baranavichy area, encircling the 3rd, 4th and 10th armies. The encircled troops fought fiercely in the Zelva - Slonim region on June 29-30 in an attempt to get out of the encirclement through a few crossings on the Zelvyanka and Shchara rivers, but by superior German forces they were pressed to the banks of the rivers and defeated.
German troops continued the offensive and took Minsk on June 28, while the forces of the 4th and 9th German armies joined on July 1 and closed the outer encirclement ring, encircling the 13th army. Attempts to break out of the boiler near Minsk were also unsuccessful, only scattered army formations were able to break through, and on July 8 the "boiler" was cleaned up.
In the Białystok-Minsk “cauldron”, troops of the 3rd, 4th, 10th and 13th armies and all five mechanized corps were defeated. The 20th mechanized corps in the battles near Minsk suffered heavy losses and then took part in the defensive operations of the Western Front. The remains of the corps were encircled in the Mogilev region and on July 26, having destroyed all the equipment, they made their way in small groups from the encirclement. According to the German command, 324 thousand people were captured in the Białystok-Minsk “boiler”.
Uman's Cauldron (July 26 - August 7)
After losing the border battles, the Southwestern Front began on June 30 a retreat to the east in an attempt to gain a foothold on the old Soviet border. The front troops were pretty battered, eight front mechanized corps were defeated or suffered serious losses in border battles, there were very few tanks left. It was not possible to gain a foothold, the Germans rushed to Kiev, on July 16, a German tank wedge split the front at the White Church in two, two armies were cut off on the southern flank, the 6th under the command of Muzychenko and the 12th under the command of Ponedelin.
The Germans introduced a tank group into the gap 90 km wide north of Kiev and began to enter the rear of the 6th Army, and from the south, the German South group broke into the rear of the 12th Army, breaking through the defenses on the Dniester. In the area of Vinnitsa, the 12th army stubbornly resisted, miraculously avoiding encirclement, and on July 18 began to withdraw to the Uman area.
Attempts by the front command to organize a counterattack on July 22 by forces of the 26th army from the north and the 2nd mechanized corps from the south and to eliminate the gap were unsuccessful, the Germans were pressed, but the front was not closed.
By Directive of the Headquarters on July 25, the 6th and 12th armies were transferred to the Southern Front, which led to tragic consequences. The army lost control and support of the South-Western Front aviation, and the command of the Southern Front was unable to organize control of the transferred troops, and until July 27 they did not provide real assistance. The armies were abandoned and independently tried to organize a defense in a narrowing "cauldron". Having formed the Lang mobile group, the Germans broke through the defenses of the 26th Army on July 27-12 and entered deep into the rear of Soviet waxes, as a result of which the command and control in the Uman area was disorganized.
The headquarters and command of the fronts did not timely assess the impending catastrophe and did not give a command to withdraw the troops; as a result, on July 29, the Germans closed the encirclement. The command of the Southern Front forbade the withdrawal of troops and gave the command to go north-east to join the 26th army, but it was already impossible to do this on August 1. Muzychenko decided to break through to the southeast, but here there were already dense German barriers.
The troops of the 6th and 12th armies made fierce attempts on August 3-6 to break through the encirclement ring, there was no outside help, the forces were melting, and on August 7 they were cleared in the area of the Green Brahma forest, only a few scattered groups managed to escape .
Units of the 6th and 12th armies and the 2nd mechanized corps with a total number of 158 thousand people got into the Uman "cauldron", about 11 thousand people managed to escape. According to the German command, 110 thousand soldiers and commanders were captured.
Kiev boiler (August 21 - September 26)
The German command, having made a breakthrough of the Western Front to attack Moscow, was afraid of a serious Soviet ledge over their right flank in the region of Chernigov and Kiev. Hitler gives a directive on August 21 to encircle and defeat the Soviet Southwestern Front (5th, 21st, 26th, 37th, 38th armies) holding Kiev fortified area and the left bank of the Dnieper.
The breakthrough on the northern flank was to be carried out by the 2nd Panzer Group of Guderian, and on the southern flank - the 1st Panzer Group of Kleist. Guderian’s group is deployed to the south, engaging in successful battles between the Dnieper and Desna rivers, in August in several places they force the Desna and try to seize bridgeheads on the left bank of the Dnieper north of Kiev in the Oster region.
When the 5th Army was withdrawn from the Dnieper, German tank units, pursuing the retreating Soviet troops on August 23, unexpectedly capture the strategic bridge on the Dnieper north of Kiev near the village of Okuninovo and begin to form and expand the captured bridgehead. Attempts by Soviet troops with the help of aviation and Pinsk flotilla liquidate the bridgehead were unsuccessful.
There was nothing to oppose Guderian’s tank armada, almost all of the Soviet mechanized corps were defeated, and by the end of August a second tank group had prepared a bridgehead on the northern flank for striking the flank of the Soviet troops defending the Kiev fortified area.
On the southern flank, the advanced units of the 1st Kleist tank group still cross the Dnieper near Zaporozhye on August 20, capture pontoon crossings near Dnepropetrovsk, and the 17th German army captures a small bridgehead near Kremenchug. On August 27, the German command decides to deliver a tank strike from the south from the Kremenchug region and conducts distracting attacks in the Cherkassy region. On August 31, the Germans expand the bridgehead near Kremenchug and impose a pontoon crossing. Since September 6, engineer units and technical means have been secretly redeployed here from the entire Army Group “South” to build a powerful bridge across the Dnieper for the passage of tanks. The bridgehead is expanding at the same time, the Germans are advancing to the rear of the Soviet troops, seizing bridges on the river Psel and preparing to throw tanks to the north.
On September 2, on the northern flank, Guderian’s 6nd tank group strikes from the Okuninovsky bridgehead on the 5th army, which by September 10th as a combat unit ceases to exist, and from that moment on the north a right claw forms, ready to go towards Kleist’s tanks through Konotop - Romny - Lokhvitsu.
The German command on September 10 gives the order to the 1st tank group Kleist forced march to go to the Kremenchug crossing. At night in the rain, an armada of tanks crosses the Dnieper and focuses on the left bank, and in the morning of September 12, strikes towards the 2nd tank group in the direction of Pryluky - Piryatin.
The appearance of an armada of tanks on the Kremenchug bridgehead was a complete surprise to the command of the South-Western Front. On September 11, it requests a Headquarters for withdrawing troops from Kiev, but does not receive permission.
By September 13, chaos began in the front troops, huge columns trying to break through to Pyryatin and get out of the encirclement. The tank columns of Guderian and Kleist on September 14 meet in Lokhvits, close the environment and begin to form the outer ring. On September 15, an authorized Headquarters heading to front commander Kirponos was sent an oral order to retreat to the rear lines. Kirponos, without a written order, refused to do this and condemned the troops to complete destruction. On September 18, the Headquarters authorized the withdrawal in writing, but it was already too late.
The troops left the Kiev fortified area and found themselves east in the Lokhvitsa area in a double encirclement, fierce battles continued until September 27. The command of the South-West direction, instead of organizing the release of the encircled ones, launched a counterattack that ended in vain, and the Germans completed the most ambitious encirclement in stories wars
The 5th, 21st, 26th and 37th armies were defeated in the "cauldron", the personnel who were surrounded was estimated at 452 thousand people. According to German data, 665 thousand people were captured, but according to more recent studies by the Russian historian Isaev, about 430 thousand people were captured in the "boiler".
Vyazemsky and Bryansk boilers (September 30 - October 15)
After the armies of the Southwestern Front were defeated in a "cauldron" near Kiev, the German command decided to strike at the Western, Reserve and Bryansk fronts, surround them and liquidate them in the Vyazma and Bryansk regions and prevent them from moving to the frontiers of Moscow’s defense.
A strike was fired on the Western Front in order to encircle Soviet troops in the Vyazma region, from the north from the Dukhovschina region (3rd Gota tank group) and from the south from Roslavl (4th Gepner tank group) with a double encirclement west of Vyazma. On the Bryansk front, the 2nd tank group of Guderian from the Shostka region was hit by two claws north and south of Trubchevsk with double encirclement in the Bryansk region.
The German command conceived one of the most ambitious operations; three field armies and three tank groups were concentrated in one operational area with powerful air support from the second air fleet. The number of the advancing Army Group Center was 1,9 million, they were opposed by three Soviet fronts of 1,2 million people, while there were very few tanks in the Soviet army and they were used mainly to support the infantry. The Germans carried out a large regrouping of forces, the 4th Panzer Group was transferred from Leningrad and the 2nd Panzer Group from the south.
On the Bryansk Front, the front command erred in the direction of the main attack, they were waiting for him in the direction of Bryansk, and the Germans struck 120-150 km to the south. The Germans attacked with the 2nd Panzer Group from the Glukhov area, and towards it south of Bryansk the army corps struck. Guderian, who launched the offensive on the Bryansk Front on September 30, broke through the Soviet defenses and on October 3 captured Orel and October 6, Bryansk. Only the 4th Katukov tank brigade in the Mtsensk area was able to seriously delay the Germans' advance; in several tank battles, it practically disabled the 4th Wehrmacht tank division. The troops of the front were in the operational environment and began to take actions to exit the environment.
In the Vyazemsky direction, the Soviet command also incorrectly determined the direction of the Germans' strike, believed that they would strike Vyazma along the Smolensk-Moscow highway, and there concentrated the main forces. The Germans hit on October 2 left and right of the highway and immediately broke through the defenses of the Soviet troops and rushed to Vyazma. The advancement depth of German units in the Western Front line on October 3 was already up to 50 kilometers, and on October 7, tank mites closed to the west of Vyazma. German troops broke through the defense line of the Western and Reserve Fronts to the entire operational depth, were able to surround and destroy a significant part of the forces of the fronts and reached the Mozhaisk defense line of Moscow.
Until October 15, the encircled troops fought fierce battles and tried to break out of the encirclement, only separate scattered groups succeeded. The Western, Reserve and Bryansk fronts collapsed in two weeks, there was nothing to close the gap. On October 15, the German command, regrouping the main forces, launched an attack on Moscow. It should be noted that the stubborn resistance of the troops encircled near Vyazma and Bryansk fettered significant enemy forces and did not allow him to break through to Moscow on the move.
Five Soviet armies were surrounded and defeated in the Vyazemsky “cauldron” (16th, 19th, 20th, 24th and 32nd armies), in the Bryansk 5th and 13th armies and partially 50th I am the army. According to German data, 673 thousand people were captured, according to the studies of the Russian historian Isaev, nevertheless significantly fewer were captured, part of the troops and headquarters lost heavy weapons and managed to get out of the boiler, about 400 thousand people were captured.
Melitopol boiler (September 29 - October 10)
The events on the Southern Front in September began with the successful offensive on September 26 of the 9th and 18th armies south of Melitopol with the aim of cutting off the German group advancing from the Kakhovsky bridgehead to the Crimea, whose actions were covered by the Romanian corps. For several days, the Romanian front was broken, the Germans transferred the 49th mountain corps of Kübler to help the Germans, which stabilized the situation by September 29.
The offensive had to be stopped, since the attack on the Donbass planned by the German command began on September 29. They planned to strike from the north from near Dnepropetrovsk the 1st Panzer Group of Kleist and in the south by the strike of infantry units of the 11th Army from the Kakhovsky bridgehead to surround and defeat the armies of the Southern Front east of Melitopol. For a breakthrough in the Novomoskovsk region, a strong tank group was created, which, on September 29, broke through the defenses of the 12th Army and went deep into the rear of the Soviet troops.
The front commander Ryabyshev did not immediately realize the threat, and only on October 5 gave the order to the 9th, 12th and 18th armies to withdraw to previously prepared defense lines.
It was not possible to stop the enemy’s advance, on October 7, tankers of the 1st tank group connected in the Andreevka area with the Romanian cavalry corps, which broke through north of Melitopol and passed the SS “Leibstandart” brigade along the seashore from the south. With the help of the 49th mountain corps of the Germans, which was pressing from the west, the inner ring of encirclement was closed around the 9th and 18th Soviet armies and an outer ring was formed.
The attempts of the encircled troops to break into Volnovakha and Mariupol were largely unsuccessful; some disparate formations managed to get out with the loss of almost all of the heavy weapons. On October 9, Soviet troops pushed Semenovka to the village, and on October 10, the “boiler" was liquidated. In the open steppe area without forests and water barriers it was impossible for the surrounded troops to resist for a long time.
According to German data, they took 100 thousand prisoners. Perhaps these figures are overestimated, according to Soviet data, the irretrievable losses of the Southern Front in operations in the Donbass from September 29 to November 16 amounted to 132 thousand people, so that the German data are not far from the truth.
The unsuccessful offensive actions of the Soviet troops in the Melitopol area, which ended with the encirclement of two Soviet armies, however, did not allow the Germans to capture Crimea back in 1941 before the Primorsky Army was transferred there from Odessa.
In less than four months of 1941, German troops defeated Soviet troops on all fronts, organized five huge "cauldrons" in which they defeated 17 Soviet armies and 13 mechanized corps, took about 1,5 million prisoners, captured or destroyed most of the heavy weapons and technicians and occupied vast territories from the Barents to the Black Seas. The main burden of guilt for the disaster still lies with the miscalculations of the Soviet leadership and high command, which allowed the Germans to carry out their plan.
With such a catastrophic defeat, any other country would capitulate, and the Soviet Union could withstand the courage and resilience of Soviet soldiers and officers, enormous territorial and human resources, the creation of powerful mobilization reserves and the relocation of main production capacities inland. Despite all the misses of the command and the failures of the first months of the war, the country gathered forces for a decisive throw on Berlin for almost four years and won a victory, the base of which was laid by its staunchness and courage by Soviet fighters and officers who laid their heads in the "cauldrons" of the 41st the most difficult stage of the war.