No, no, you go South!
No, you were going North.
Just listen, you're going North.
I told you guys, you guys are going East!
You're going East.
Not south, your'e going North!
Look, everybody, everybody just go!
July 18, 1941
The German panzer spearheads have blasted
their way into the Soviet Union.
They’ve taken thousands of square miles of territory and finished phase one of their offensive.
So where will they go in the next phase?
Um… they don’t know… maybe, I dunno, north?
Perhaps they need unity of command.
I’m Indy Neidell; this is World War Two.
Last week, Germany’s Army Group Center restarted its offensive and by the end of the week had
begun the Battle for Smolensk.
The Germans were also advancing in the north and the south, while the Soviets restructured
The Allies were advancing too, in Syria against the Vichy French, but that fight is now coming
to an end.
At 0900 July 12th, Vichy representatives arrive at the British outpost on the Haifa Road.
They are taken by Allied reps to Acre for negotiations.
Vichy French General Henri Dentz does not go in person, sending his second in command,
General de Verdillac.
The Allies are represented by General Henry Wilson, Commodore L.O.
Brown, Captain J.A.V.
Morse and General Catroux of the FF, who’s been condemned to death by the Vichy for treason.
The terms of the armistice are- the Allies will occupy Syria and Lebanon for the duration
of the war and take over all war materiel, utilities, harbors, and airfields in the region.
All POWs from both sides are to be released.
According to J.P. Hyde in “Operation Exporter”, when the Vichy POWs are released, they get
the choice that they can either be retriated, join the Free French, or stay in Syria as
The Acre Pact is signed the 14th, ending the 33-day Syria campaign.
There is an element of adding insult to injury since the 14th is, in fact, Bastille Day.
Hyde says by the end of September all the POWs will be released.
Of 37,736 Vichy troops that had been stationed in the region, 5,668 will declare themselves
for the Free French Cause.
Though it is the enemy cause that’s been gaining ground in the Soviet Union.
Although the Soviets are seriously starting to fight back.
On the 15th, the Soviets attack the Germans east of Pskov, and even
surround most of the 8th Panzer Division.
Although it does break out, it loses half of its armor- 70 tanks- doing so.
AG North must now pause to reorganize.
That could take weeks.
This Soviet attack is the beginning of a three day counterattack to give them time to build
defense works around Leningrad.
AG North is under the command of Wilhelm von Leeb, and had been making okay progress, but
after taking Riga they had to keep heading east to cover AG Center’s left flank, but
also had to make their own offensive north into Estonia to cover their own flank.
So their front has been getting wider and wider, but they’re the smallest of the army groups.
Erich Hoeppner, in charge of Panzer group 4 in the north, writes the 16th to his wife
about the stalling of their drive on Leningrad, “The deciding cause remains our weakness…
the number of divisions is as inadequate as their equipment…
The men are tired the losses increase…”
Also on the 16th, Finnish attacks north of Lake Ladoga cut off Soviet
troops to the west.
But the Germans are advancing in the center, heading for Smolensk.
On the 16th, the 29th motorized division fights its way in to the city.
The Germans have now almost created another “cauldron”, a pocket full of the enemy
with the panzer spearheads that they will try to seal as the infantry arrives from the west.
The Smolensk cauldron contains some 25 Red Army Divisions.
The largest group yet corralled.
However, AG Center’s infantry is in some places as far as 300km behind the motorized
divisions, so to clean things up as fast as possible the panzers are ordered to not follow
the Moscow road but to close combat.
All this week they have been stringing a cordon of mobile units around the trapped Soviets,
but Heinz Guderian’s panzers haven’t closed the pocket beyond Smolensk even as the week ends.
He wants to go to Yelnya and take the high ground there first to secure that for the
next phase of operations.
This is making everyone angry and loads of Red Army soldiers are escaping the still open cauldron.
I mentioned last week the possibility of encircling the Red Army in Ukraine.
Someone else who’s thinking along similar lines is Adolf Hitler.
Now, we’ve seen that German Army CoS Franz Halder wants to drive on Moscow, but Hitler
has been thinking of the north and the south, basically like taking as much total territory
as he can and just devouring the Soviets.
Halder is beginning to have real problems with Hitler’s interference in military command issues.
He writes, “He’s playing warlord again and bothering us with such absurd ideas that
he’s risking everything our wonderful operations so far have won…
Every other day now I have to go over to him.
Hours of gibberish and the outcome is there’s only one man who understands how to wage wars…
if I didn’t have faith…
I’d go under like Brauchitsch, who’s at the end of his tether and hides behind an
iron mask of manliness so as not to betray his complete helplessness.”
But you know, now that the Dvina and Dnieper Rivers have been crossed, Hitler is starting
to wonder where the great victory over the Red Army is.
Everybody’s been talking about it for weeks and it was supposed to happen when that happened,
so where is it?
AG North is stopped, and Soviet forces on the flanks of AG Center are getting stronger
and stronger, as it advances east ahead of its neighbors.
Those flanks are getting overextended, and on the 13th, Semyon Timoshenko’s counter
offensive sees the 21st Army cross the Dnepr and drive the Germans out of Rogachev and Zhlobin.
Other elements of the 21st attack the German rear toward Bobruisk and even take bridges
over the Berezina River.
Maximilian von Weichs 2nd Army does halt this drive, and will retake Rogachev and Zhlobin
next week, but this stops his infantry advance, and that’s who’s supposed to close the
Side note here: on the 14th at Orsha, Captain Ivan Flerov uses the new Soviet multiple rocket
launcher, the Katyusha.
This is its first use in battle.
It can fire 320 rockets in 25 seconds.
The results are devastating.
The Germans are thoroughly stunned and it will be days before the 17th Panzer Division
will recover from the attack.
But back to the big question, will they continue to Moscow or will the panzers be diverted
to the north and the south?
On the 13th, Hitler talks of diverting Guderian south to Ukraine to seize the grain harvest.
Hoth would conserve his energy by waiting for the infantry and then driving on Moscow.
But some elements of Hoth’s armor could be diverted north to aid Leeb. Bock and Kluge
are very much against dispersing their concentration of force and express their dissatisfaction.
Bock- in charge AG Center- writes in his diary, “I consider diverting elements of Panzer
Group Hoth to the north while elements continue to march east to be futile.
Because of the tremendous wear and tear on their equipment, the panzer groups are still
only an effective striking force if employed in unison.
I consider employing individual panzer corps to operate alone pointless, their fighting
strength has become too low.”
On the 14th, though, despite having agreed with Bock on the 13th, Kluge- in charge of
the 4th Panzer Army- says that the southern option is the best one.
Weichs is also for the south, Hoth and Bock for Moscow.
A day earlier, however, army CoS Franz Halder gets word from General Walther Buhle that
the panzer divisions are on average down to 50% strength and personnel losses have totally
depleted the field replacement battalions.
Hoth even writes in his panzer group diary, “The expenditure of strength is greater
than the success.”
Quartermaster General Edouard Wagner assures Halder that the panzer groups can reach Moscow,
but on the 14th tells him that he does not think Weichs’ 2nd army of infantry can make
it far beyond the Dnepr.
Brauchitsch, Army C-in-C, has this to say to Bock the 15th, “A continued drive to
the east by the panzers after the capture of the area around Smolensk is out of the question…
We must be clear that after taking the area around Smolensk a continued advance by the
entire body of infantry is no longer possible for reasons of supply.”
It does seem a bit of a soap opera with all the players and all their conflicting and
But even beyond supply, they are taking losses of personnel.
By the 16th, overall German casualties have reached 102,588.
That is sustainable, but only if the hostilities can be concluded relatively soon.
Josef Stalin counts 180 Red Army divisions committed out of 240 mobilized, but hopes-
if there’s time- for 350 to be raised.
Replacements are not at all keeping up with Soviet losses though.
In addition to the nearly 300,000 POWs AG Center claimed last week from the Minsk pocket,
the Smolensk pocket is looking like it will give them another 300,000, along with 3,200
tanks and 3,100 guns.
Soviet industry is already making 1,000 new tanks a month and 1,800 planes, but they are
losing stuff faster than that.
On the 17th, political commissars, who I’ve spoken about at length, are once again assigned
to Red army and navy units.
These are effectively second commanders at the same rank as the military ones.
But what’s going on in the German occupied territory?
To put it bluntly- a lot of killing of civilians.
Hitler explains, “The Russians have now given an order to wage partisan warfare behind
This guerrilla activity has some advantage for us; it enables us to exterminate everyone
who opposes us.”
The Army has this order: “The necessary rapid pacification of the country can be attained
only if every threat on the part of the hostile civil population is ruthlessly taken care of.
All pity and softness are evidence of weakness and constitute a danger.”
So, what they’re going for is, “…the spreading of that measure of terror which
alone is suited to deprive the population of the will to resist.”
On the 14th in Drohobycz in Galicia, SS man Felix Landau, who was one of the instigators
of the 1934 murder of Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dolfuss, writes in his diary his
thoughts before a massacre of Jews in the woods near town.
“We order the prisoners to dig their graves.
Only two of them are crying, the others show courage.
What can they all be thinking?
I believe each still has the hope of not being shot.
I don’t feel the slightest stir of pity.
That’s how it is, and has got to be.”
On the 17th, Hitler gives Heinrich Himmler full authority for “police security” in
the conquered territory.
By now, the SS Special Task Forces are killing Jews on a daily basis, and reporting it as
they move from town to town.
These are the “Operational Situation Reports, USSR”, the statistical reports from the
killing squads, and they are compiled in Berlin and sent out to dozens of Government officials.
Report number 26, for example, from July 18th, lists the number of Jews killed within the
Lithuania border by the Task Force from Tilsit at 3,302.
But they’re not killing only Jews, of course.
Like, a few days from now in Mariampole, 45 Jews will be forced to dig a pit.
Then they’ll be roped together and thrown into the pit alive.
Then 30 locals are ordered to bury them alive.
They will refuse, so the Germans will machine gun everyone and kill all 75 of them.
Germany has several Allies fighting alongside them against the USSR, but one conspicuous
one that’s not- Japan.
This week in Japan, to remove FM Yosuke Matsuoka, Prince Konoye resigns as PM the 16th and reforms
his cabinet the 18th with Baron Hiranum as Deputy PM and Admiral Toyoda as FM.
Matsuoka was pretty unpopular even just personally, but he’s been urging Japan to break its
agreements with the Soviets and join Germany in attacking them.
The others don’t want to do that and figure that without him and his pro Hitler stance
they have a better chance of making some sort of oil deal with the US.
And this brings us to the end of the 99th week of the war.
A week that sees an Allied victory in Syria, but the Germans threatening to surround and
take several hundred thousand soldiers in the Soviet Union, even as they are stalled
in the north.
However, the various ideas and plans to continue the attack in the German High Command are
literally making it look like a soap opera plot at this point, and it’s anyone’s
guess what will actually become policy.
Here’s something interesting to chew on: Count Ciano, Italian FM, writes in his diary
today the 18th: “Now the struggle is hard and bloody…
In fact, the war is harder than the Germans had foreseen.
The advance continues, but it is slow and harassed by very vigorous Soviet counterattacks.
Colonel Aré and General Squero… believe that the Russians will succeed in maintaining
a front even during the winter.
If this is true, Germany has started a hemorrhage that will have incalculable consequences.”
I mentioned the murdered Austrian Chancellor Dolfuss; if you’d like to see our B2W episode
about Austrian politics in the 1930s and his assassination, you can click here for that.
Our TimeGhost Army member of the week is Adam Birchall.
A huge thank you goes to people like Adam whose support keeps this show running smoothly
and makes it better and better.
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