The Soviets expected the German 1942 summer offensive to come in the north against Moscow. Thus only weak Red Army units defended the Caucasuses. Major German formations in Army Group A crossed the lower Don and poured into the Caucusus. The Red Army did not seiously contest this offensive and fell back in good order. This mean that powerful German formations were diverted from the climatic battle of the War which ws to be fought in and around Stalingrad. Maikop, the one oil field north of the Caucasus Mountains, was so completely destroyed that it took a year to bring it back into production. The bulk of the Soviet oil fields were south of the Cauccasus Mountains. This was a major barrier in which the Panzers were useless. German mountain units probed the few mountain passes and on August 21 planted the swastica flag on Mount Elbrus. The terraine, however, enabled small Red Army units to fight off superior German forces. The passes were easily defended and in October when the cold weather began were impassable. Thus Army Group B with its strong Panzer forces was uselessly deployed while the 6th Army and Fourth Panzer Army struggled for Stamingrad far to the north. In the end, the massive offensive into the Caucusses failed to net meaningful quantities of oil for the NAZIs and only served to weaken the drive on Stalingrad.
The Germans having failed in their objectives for Barbarossa in 1941 could no longer lauch a massive offensive all along the front.
OKW assumed the 1942 summer offensive would focus on Moscow. At first Hitler agreed. Then he suddenly changed the focus of the 1942 offensive (April 5, 1942). No one knows how he arrived at his decession. It appears to have been a personal conclussion he reached without any staff work. He decided to let the Moscow front stay at it was and commit the Wehrmact to a massive southern campaign. Faced with the prospect of a longer war than he had inmagined, Hitler decided to focus on the south where the richest economic prizes could be found: the grain of the Ukraine, the minerals of the Don Blass, and the oil of the Caucasuses. He was convinced that Germany with possession of these resources could wage war indefinitely. As a result. Equipment and replacements as well as actual units were shifted south from Army Groups North and Center to Army Group South. Hitler also reasoned yjat a drive on the Caucasus oil fields would force the Soviets to commit their last reserves to protect this key resource.
The German summer 1942 offensive was code named Operation Blue. Blue aimed south at the Ukraine, the Causeses, and reaching the Volga at Stalingrad. The Germans planned to anchor their southern line on Stalingrad while they completed the conquest of the Caucausses. The massive winter losses had significantly reduced the capabilities of the Wehrmacht. They simply were unable to accomplish the assigned objectives. The Wehrmacht no longer had the strength to launch a massive offensive all along the Eastern Front. They decided to strike in the south toward Stalingrad and the Caucusses where Hitler was especially interested in the oil resources. To achieve this, Hitler assessmbed 74 divisions. There were 59 German divisions (9 armored and 7 motorized). Despite the lessons of the successful Blitzkrieg operayions in 1939-41, the German armored units were not concentrated, but rather dispersed among the various German formations. Combining infantry and armour sttrngthed the German units, but it also serious slowed operations and limited mobility. There were 8 more German divisions being assembed in the rear. The rest were divisions of AXIS allies, much weaker formations supplied by Hungary, Italy, Romania, and Slovakia. There was also the Spanish Blue Division composed of volunteers. Half of the Luftwaffe strength in the East was assembled unfer the Fourth Air Fleet. They wre faced by 15 Soviet armies. (Soviet armies were organizationally smaller than Wehrmact armies, sometimes composed of as little as 2-3 divsions.) The Soviets were assembling 10 additional armies further west. The bulk of the Red Army, however, was further north still expecting an offensive aimed at Moascow.
The Wehrmacht launched Blue on June 28, 1942. Waves of Luftwaffe bombers ponded Soviet positions. Panzers sliced through Red army units weakened by the failed Kharkov offensive. The Russians wre unprepared for the strngth of the NAZI onsluught, having expected an attack further north ainmed at Moscow. The initial strike was east from Kursk toward Voronezh. These were followed in early July with additional units attacking further South. Other German units attacked south east toward the Don Bend. Other units attacked east toward the Caucasus. The Germans by July 5 had reached the Don. Initially the Germans achieved considerable success. The shatered elements of the Red Army fell back accross the Don and were persued by the 6th Army and 4th Panzer Army. The Wehrmacht failed, however, to achieve the massive encirclements that had characterized Barbarossa in 1941. The Germans concluded that this was because the Red Army had been fatally weakened. It was in fact because the Red Army was laerning how to fight a modern war. German inteligence failed to appreciate the extent of the Sovier reserves and the the ability of the Russians to form and arm replcement armies. Hitler refused to even listen to estimates of Soviet strength. He was, however, was delighted with the accomplishments of the campaign. When Speer Hitler at his Vinnista headquarters, he found an optimistic, if not enthusiastic man already planning the next campaign. He explained to Speer. "I have had everything prepared. As the next step, we are going to advance south of the Caucuses and help the rebels in Iran and Iraq against the English. Another thrust will be directed along the Caspian Sea toward Afghanistan and Ondia. Then the Englih will run out of oil. In two years we will be on the borders of India. Twenty to thirty elite German divisions will do. Then the British Empire will collpase. They've already lost Singapore to the Japanese. The English will have to look on impotently as their colonial empire falls to pieces." [Speer, p.50.]
The Wehrmacht split the expanded Army Group South into two elements, Army Group A and B. Hitler here made a deadly error. Having learned nothing from the 1941 offensive, Hitler planned to seize both Stalingrad and the Caucasus. Important Wehrmacht commanders including Jodl argued against dividing the limited forces. In some cases Hitler shouted them down and refused to hear data undemining his decission. He thus divided the German forces, weakening Army Group B's powerful 6th Army, in an effort to move south and seize the oil rich Caucasuses. The front had begun over a line of 500 miles, the objectives would mean a front of 2,500 miles. Instead of focusing his attack, Hitler was again dangerously dispersing his forces. [Fest, pp. 659-660.] Hitler dissatisfied with the progress Army Group A in the south was making toward the oil fields in Caucausses, decided to detach armour forces from Army Group B moving east through the Don Bend toward Stalingrad. This was a blunder of emense proprtions which his generals argued against. The Soviets had expected the Germans to strike in the north and renew the drive on Moscow. The Soviets were thus surprised at the German offensive in the South and as a result in July did not have the forces to mount a successful defense of Stalingrad. A focussed German attack at this time probably would have taken the city. In addition, the attack on the Don Bend and Stalingrad was over flat, open ground perfect for tank warfare and would have allowed the Wehrmacht to have employed its armour to maximum effect. In contrast the drive into the Caucauses was over terriane much less suited to tank warfare. Thus for much of the crucial battle for Stalingrad, major elements of Army Group South were diverted south into the Caucsses and not engaged with important Red Army units.
The German stook Rostov on July 23, but the Russians executed a fighting retreat and the Wehrmact failed to inflict major losses. The 6th Army resumed its offensive in the Don Bend in late July and firece fighting is reported in early August. The Germans have trouble eliminating Russian ressistance and the Red Army manages to hold on to pockets on the west bank of the northern Don Bend. The 6th Army on August 19-21 crosses the Don at positions closet to the Volga and prepares to drive on Stalingrad. The 16th Panzer Division on August 23 lunches a major offensive toward the Volga. The Luftwaffe 4th Air Fleet begins its offensive on Stalingrad. Luftwaffe attacks reportedly kill 40,000 people, mostly civilians on the first day of these attacks. The 18th Panzer Division on August 23 reached the Volga north of Stalingrad, but it confronted with Soviet attacks on its northern front. The Germans on August 29 attempt to encircle Red Army units west of Stalingrad, but pressure on its northern flank precents the 16th Panzer Division from participating in this offensive on time and the Red Army units withdraw in good order toward Stalingrad. Marshall Zukov takes over command of the southern armies at the end of August. In early September, the Germans ring around Stalingrad begin to close. By mid-September the Soviet Volga crossings supplying the Stalingrad come under artillery fire.
The Caucasus is the region between the Black and Caspian Seas bordering Asia Minor. The most prominent feature is the Caucasus Mountains and surrounding lowlands. The highest peak in the range is Mount Elbrus with an elevation of 5,642 meters. The region is both ethnically and linguistically diverse. Today the relatively small region is divided among Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and parts of Russia. The northern section of the Caucasus is known as the Ciscaucasus, and the southern as the Transcaucasus. The Caucasus region is usually seen as a part of Asia, but historically and culturally it is often viewed as European. The entrance to the Caucauses was Rostov-on-Don, a city which would be taken and retaken as the campign in the Soviet Union swung bck and forth.
Rostov-on-Don lies at the mouth of the Don River where it flows into the Sea of Azov, a part of the Black Sea. It was strategically placed and an important target for the NAZIs as the gateway to the Caucuses and the oil wealth that lay there. Rostov was a target of Barbarosa (1941). After taking Kiev (July 1941), the Germans drove deep into the Ukraine, approaching Rostov. The Germans reach the city (November 20-22, 1941). The Soviets, however, aunch a counter attack and retake the city (November 27). The massive Soviet Winter offensive before Moscow forces the Wehrmacht to retreat west. The Germans are badly damaged by the Soviet Winter offensive. They are only able to launch their Summer offensive in one sector of the front and Hitler chooses the south. Rostov becomes a target again. The Germans cut the railroad at Voronezh near the Don River (July 6). This cuts off Rostov from the rest of the Soviet Union July 9). After reaching the Don, the German offensive divides. The 6th Army, the most powerful force heads east toward Stalingrad. The smaller force moves toward Rostov and Caucasus oilfields. The Germans seized Boguchar and Millerovo in the Donetz (July 16, 1942). Panzers move to cut off Rostov from the east in a classic Blitzkrieg advance. The Germans take Rostov (July 23).
The Soviet oil fields were located in the southern Caucusses along the Caspian Sea in what is now Azerbaijan. The Caspian Sea had been an important major oil-producing area since 1871. The oil fields have been developed by foreign capital and technology. The Swedish Nobels and French Rothschilds played an important role. Rail lines carried the oil from Baku to Black Sea ports. The Caspian Sea Basin had been a volatile region because of the competition between Russia, Persia, Turkey, China, and Great Britain. Most recently the region was involved in the Great Game between Russia and Britain. With the collapse of Tsarist Russia during World War I, the region was again up for grabs. Hitler made the oil fields a major strategic objective in the NAZI war effort. One of the key objectives of his Soviet invasion was to obtain the resources needed to persue the War and no resource was more needed by the Germans than oil.
Only weak Red Army units defended the Caucusses.
German successes in the southern campaign were incouraging. Hitler was still confident of victory as the campaign developed in July. He transfered the Fuhrer Hauptquartier from the "Wolf's Lair" in Rastenberg (East Prussia) to a site to the south. The new headquarters was codenamed "Werewolf" and located at Vinnitsa in the Ukraine so he could be closer to the front. There he and SS Commander Heinrich Himmler discussed what to do with the Caucasus (July 16). Both assumed the region would soon be in their hands. Himmler noted, "The Fuhrer's view is that we should not visibly incorporate this territory into the German sphere of power, but only militarily secure oil sources and borders." The two discuss the creation of subservient puppet states. They also consider creating military units by recruiting among largely Muslim anti-Soviet ethnic groups.
The Germans had invested Sebastopol on Crimean the Black Sea coast (October 30 1941), it did not fall, however until (June 1942). Then they retook Rostov at the mouth of the Don (July 25). This left the way open tgo both Stalingrad and the Caucasuses. The 6th Army begam its drive east toward the great city on the Volga. Major German formations in Army Group A crossed the lower Don and poured into the Caucasuses. The Red Army did not seiously contest this offensive and fell back in good order. This mean that powerful German formations were diverted from the climatic battle of the War which ws to be fought in and around Stalingrad. The significance of Hitler's mistake is difficult to over emphasize. For Germany to win the War it needed to knock the Siviets out of the War and secure the country's vast resources so it could face the Western Allies now that America was in the War. But to knock the Soviets out of the War, the NAIs had to marshall its forces and to being them to bear against the Red Army. Hitler by driving into the Caucasuses had committed a considerable part of the German order of battle into a side campaign that would have no real impact on the Red Army in what was to be the decisive battle of the War.
The Germand drove 300 km into the Caucasuses. Thy took Maikop (August 9). This was the one oil field north of the Caucuss Mountains, but it was so completely destroyed that it took a year to bring it back into production. The bulk of the Soviet oil fields were south of the Caucuss Mountains.
THe Caucuss Monuntains was a major barrier in which the Panzers were useless. German mountain units probed the few mountain passes and planted the swastica flag on Mount Elbrus (August 21). The terraine, however, enabled small Red Army units to fight off superior German forces. The passes were easily defended and by October when the cold weather began were impassable.
The major oil fields in the Caucusses were located around Baku. This meant that the oil would have to be brought northwest through Chechnya to the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk. Tankers could then transport the oil to German held ports on the western Black Sea for transport to the Reich. If the Mediterranean campaign went well, the oil could be shipped through the Bosporous and Dardenelle straights to NAZI held ports in Yugoslavia along the Agean Seawhere it could also be transported to the Reich. Thus Novorossiysk was critical to the German operations. It was also the last remaining important Soviet naval base on the Black Sea. The Germans reached Novorossiysk in August. Units of the German 17th Army launched their attack on the Soviet positions around Novorossiysk (August 28). The Soviet Black Sea Fleet had to abandon its last base with the facilities to support naval vessels. Fighting in the city was fierce. The Germans finally took the city (September 6-11), but the Soviets maintained possession of the Eastern part of the bay. This made it impossible for the Germans to use the port to supply their forces. Novorossiysk was awarded the title Hero City in 1973
Marshal Georgi Zhukov and General Aleksandr Vasilevski took over the defense of Stalingrad. While they bled the 6th Army in Stalingrad, they secretly built a massive force of 12 Soviet Armies north and south of the city. Disguising the massing of forces of this magnitude is one of the major feats of deceotion accomplised during the War. The Germans had focused on Stalingrad and relied on the realtively weak units of Axis allies to protect their flanks. The Soviet offensive was launched (November 19). In only w days the Soviet pincers met and the 6th Army in Stalingrad was surrounded (November 22). The Romanian armies were devestated. The Red Army now had 300,000 Germans encircled. The Soviets next struck at the Italian (December 16) They wre now in a position to cut off newly created Army Group Don as well as Army Group A itself.
Manstein who was trying to relieve Stalingrad had to retire (December 28). The Soviets then attacked the Hungarians on the Don River (January 16). Success there opening a 200-mile gap in the German front lines. The Soviets now threatened Army Group B and what was left of Army Group Don.
Thus Army Group B with its strong Panzer forces was uselessly deployed while the 6th Army and Fourth Panzer Army struggled for Stamingrad far to the north. In the end, the massive offensive into the Caucusses failed to net meaningful quantities of oil for the NAZIs and only served to weaken the drive on Stalingrad.
Fest, Joachim C. Hitler (Vintage Books: New York, 1973), 844p.
Speer, Albert. Spandau: The Secret Diaries (New York: 1977).
Navigate the CIH World War II Section:
[Return to Main Stalingrad page]
[Return to Main World War II campaign page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology] [Totalitarian powers]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]
[Return to CIH Home page]