(Revised) Case Blue: Kicking Open the Door to the Caucases and the German Drive on Stalingrad
[b][i]*NOTE* Operation Blue officially began on 28 June 1942 and ended on 24 November 1942, the battle of Stalingrad lasted until February 2nd 1943 upon the capitulation and surrender of the surrounded German 6th Army. Some divisions and units I will mention also may be attached to the 4th Panzer army under Hoth (Especially those in Voronezh), most soviet divisions encountered during this first period are under command of Soviet General Timoshenko.[/i][/b]
*Extra extra note* [b] The Soviet retreat I mentioned further in this post was not deliberate by Soviet command, infact it was a complete unmitigated disaster. At no point was it "going to plan", those units were completely shattered and disorganized, it did not fit overall Soviet strategic goals. The retreat and subsequent battle of Vorenezh was indeed an example of a new Soviet doctrine in city fighting but they certainly didn't buy those units anytime.[/b]
When the battle of Stalingrad had begun Soviet forces in the immediate vicinity were in tatters and were caught in a devastating retreat at the heels of Germany's 6th Panzer army commanded by General Paulus. Its objective was the Caucasus oil field, Voronezh, encirclement of the retreating Russians before the Don River and to secure the north eastern flank [i]TOWARDS[/i]Stalingrad. (Notice how the order to capture it isn't mentioned) Stalingrad seemed an after thought at the beginning of Case Blue (Case blue is the German nickname for the Stalingrad region offensive), but Hitlers ego would not allow it to stay in Soviet hands, nor would Stalin's ego allow it to be captured. Thus one of the bloodiest ,greatest battles/sieges in history had begun, the confident Germans set out on there quest to capture the city and as they saw it "End the war".
The drive towards Voronezh began on June 28th, 1942 and was a swift and brutal one by the 6th Army, immediately breaking out of there start positions they advanced rapidly. That is not to say there wasn't trouble, on the eastern side of the river Donets Soviet forces put up a stiff defense before being out maneuvered by the more numerous and experienced panzers, one German observer recounted "The Russian tanks come out of there emplacements like tortoises, then zig zag with there camouflage still on as they reverse". During this breakout a Luftwaffe FAC (Forward air controlled) rode in the lead formations and used a sophisticated radio to coordinate air strikes on Soviet positions and tanks.The Germans were astonished at how little resistance there really was across the front, many feared harsh counterattacks by Russian reserve armies but they never appeared and were never there. Infact it was because they had already pulled back the bulk of them, and Soviet forces were in complete disarray, some Soviet commanders had to find there divisions by bi-plane. Stalin even with intercepted documents (Literally the Case blue plans) refused to believe there was a German offensive anywhere else but aimed at Moscow, he did however see Vorenezh as important and called upon it to be defended till the last, this offensive also lead to the creation of the 'Stalingrad" theater command, some could never believe the Germans could possibly reach the Volga...but such talk was to be discouraged.
The battle of Voronezh was fought by the recently mechanized 24th Panzer division, Grossdeutschland and the 16th motorized division, the 24th's panzer grenadiers reached the Don River on July 3rd and secured a bridgehead over it. On the following evening elements of Grossdeutschland crossed and secured a bridge on the main road to Vorenezh, the road to the city was secure. Upon realizing this the Soviets established the Stalingrad front as I stated previously and began to reinforce Stalingrad and its sector. However Hitler decided to split up the 4th Panzer army which was working concurrently with the 6th in the drive towards the Caucuses and Stalingrad sector, the following battle degenerated into a vicious house to house fight with depleted German troops and determined Soviet resistance, stripping the Germans of the advantages they had. Ironically the defense of Voronezh was part of the new Soviet strategy in city defense and had sufficiently delayed the Germans that some of the battered Soviet armies were able ot retreat before being encircled. Thus the way was paved for the Germans drive to Stalingrad, one that would split the panzer armies in half (Under Hitlers orders of course :P) making almost two simultaneous operations and leading towards there ultimate destruction at that infamous city.
In part 2 we will discuss the 6th Panzer army's rapid and almost unhindered drive south over the Russian steppe towards Stalingrad and Hitlers strategic mistakes that ultimately led to the disaster at Stalingrad.
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Pictures- [url]http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/14/Bundesarchiv_Bild_101I-217-0494-34%2C_Russland-S%C3%BCd%2C_Sch%C3%BCtzenpanzer.jpg[/url] German half tracks and infantry advance during Case Blue
[url]http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a4/Bundesarchiv_Bild_101I-218-0503-19%2C_Russland-S%C3%BCd%2C_zerst%C3%B6rter_russischer_Panzer.jpg[/url] German troops taking cover besides a Russian T-70 during Case Blue.
[url]http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bc/Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-J20510,_Russland,_Kampf_um_Stalingrad,_Luftangriff_crop.jpg[/url] German Stuka dive bomber over a Russian city, probably Stalingrad.
Unfortunately and not surprisingly I literally cannot find a Soviet picture during this period, there are plenty during the battle of Stalingrad, but all I can find is knocked out Russian tanks and German pictures.