From: Cologne, Germany
ORIGINAL: Joe D.
Did anyone catch this PBS show last night?
Based on previously unavailable Soviet archival info, PBS claimed the battle for Stalingrad was already decided when the Panzers supporting Paulus' infantry got tied-up in a battle just north of the city, but I thought tanks didn't do well in urban areas.
Anti-tank warfare in urban areas was pretty difficult in 1941/1942, just like most close combat engagements (INF vs tanks) in 1941/1942, if AT guns (and the necessary calibres) weren't available.
In 1942, when the Germans progressed through the city, towards that tiny strip (still held by the Russians later on) at the river, the Russians may have had one or another AT gun in the city, probably a good number of AT-rifles and numerous Molotows and makeshift bombs, I guess, but these RPG-40 AT grenades were so limited (regarding weight/range and penetration [20mm of armor only]), the Russians just did not have sufficient means to effectively fight German medium armor in close combat (in summer 1942). The Germans were better off with their AT hollow-charges, but these involved getting right near an enemy tank to put the magnetic charge case to the tank (which may be even more difficult in an urban area than in a trench environment in the field, if the tanks are escorted by infantry units).
The show also described the battle of Kharkov, claiming that the Germans simply didn't have enough troops to capture and process all the Russian POWs taken;
Just like during the big battles of encirclement in 1941, tanks performed the cut-off/encirclement, while INF was responsible for avoiding that stragglers would get away. On Russian breakout attempts, German tank units then often bolstered the defensive lines or helped reducing the pocket. In 1941, quite often the inf just waited and mowed down the Russian human waves (desperately formed in an attempt to steamroll the German lines... well, impossible mission if you're starving, if you have little to no ammo and if you're supposed to storm against a shyteload of MGs and big calibres).
During the Second Battle of Kharkov, after the encirclement was complete, German artillery continuously pounded the Russian troops inside the pocket, you can actually see that in the video I linked below, btw, then mechanized infantry and foot units reduced the pocket, while German tank formations east of the pocket managed to fend off all Russian attempts to relief the encircled troops.
So, actually, I think the Germans rather didn't have the resources to feed the Russian POWs and set up proper camps. Considering that ~300,000 Germans were opposed by ~640,000 Russian troops .... the Germans were pretty busy and did not have the infrastructure (and the will I guess) to cater for so many POWs on a sufficient level. Just like on the "Rheinwiesen" (see below), a handful armed soldiers can guard a huge amount of POWs, even in the open. Number of personnel wasn't the problem, imho.
The Allies faced a similar situation when they created 20 POW camps in 1945 (called "Rheinwiesenlager", situated on the grassy banks of the River Rhine, where the German POWs had to stay and live in the open without any shelter - most just had blankets or some tattered rain coats, there were no buildings, just a few lines of barbed wire and observation posts). The Germans basically lived in holes they dug themself in order to protect them from rough weather conditions, there were no tents. Each camp was supposed to hold 5,000-10,000 prisoners max., to have one administration building, a medical aid building and kitchen. There were 40,000 POWs in one of these camps. Some German authorities claimed ~4500 dead due to malnutrition, the weather conditions (constant exposure to rain/weather) and bad sanitary conditions, some sources' estimations range from 3,000 - 10,000 death totals.
In order to be able to intern these German POWs in these camps (which violated the Geneva Convention), the US declared all German soldiers who got into captivity AFTER the unconditional surrender to be "DEF" (Disarmed Enemy Forces), the Brits coined the term "SEP" (Surrendered Enemy Personnel), with both the US and the British authorities stating that the Convention would not apply to them, as these Germans - per definitionem - wouldn't be prisoners of war.
This trick reminds one of the wordplay the Bush administration invented for enemy fighters captured in Afghanistan, naming them "enemy combatants", which alledgedly allowed the US to imprison and try them outside the US criminal law jurisdiction and outside US territory.
In 1943, due to the US' fear that they would not be able to feed all the German prisoners after victory, Eisenhower's staff developed the term DEF, in order to be able to lower nutrition specs and possible deployment as labour force (rebuilding duties, mine-clearing, as part of reparations).
The British military was so overstrained and concerned about the sheer numbers of German prisoners (after the surrender) that they refused to take over the agreed amount of prisoners, so that the US had to take over all prisoners and run the camps exclusively.
... however, the game manual for PC: Kharkov reveals that even after being surrounded by German mechanized forces, many Soviets soldiers escaped because the dismounted Axis infantry -- further slowed by its horse-drawn supply lines -- lagged far behind its armor and couldn't seal these traps in a timely manner.
Sounds a bit like ummm "propaganda".
If you consider that the Russian offensive (which included an attack on the Charkov perimeter) involved more than 500,000 Russian troops, and if you consider casualty numbers authors like Antony Beevor (he claims that 240,000 Russians became POWs, in his book ) or David Glantz (he states that the Russians had 207,000 casualties - captured and wounded, in his book from 1998) came up with, then I think it's safe to say that were some Russians who managed to escape prior to completion of the encirclement.
However, according to Beevor, less than one man in ten managed to escape the Barvenkovo pocket.
EDIT: Let's drop in some German propaganda:
So the movement of the German armor, and the following link up of Axis troops east of the then encircled Russians was relatively swift and fast, so I doubt that the Russians managed to escape en masse. After several days of attacking and advancing, the Russian offensive lost momentum, so the Russians sent units that were low on supplies and exhausted to the rear (to refit), but the German tanks then cut right through those units in order to close the pincer, gaining up to 10 kilometers on the first day.
The game Men of War: Red Tide does something similar, it exaggerates the effects and effectiveness of the Russian counter-operation in the Crimea in September 1941 (51st Red Army and Black Sea Fleet operations at Feodossija and Kerch), during the so-called "Kerch-Feodossija operation"), which was meant to relief the defenders of Sevastopol and retake the Crimea. It was also projected to take the German supply-hub at Dzhankoy, which would have made German tank operations difficult if not impossible.
After some initial success, where one should mention that the Russian effort involved 60.000 troops of the Caucasian Front, plus the Marines of the Black Sea Fleet [Asow-Flotilla] around 20,000 troops], while 1 German division had to defend the Kerch-peninsula (46th Inf Division), while Feodossija was defended by an German engineer batallion, a Panzerjäger batallion and some Rumanian coastal gun units, only, the Germans performed a tactical withdraw from Kerch, AFTER eliminating most of the Russian beachheads North and South of Kerch.
The 46th Div. caused quite some Russian casualties, IIRC, and withdrew eventually, but after some reorganisation the Axis (Rumanian inf troops and up to ~120 German tanks were redirected to the Feodossija sector) then fielded ~25,000 troops, excluding the 73rd Inf Div. which was withdrawn from Henichesk and committed at Feodossija later on.
This Russian operation delayed the fall of Sevastopol, but the Russians figured that the goal of the operation, to retake the Crimea or at least most of it, could not be accomplished, so they focused on attempts to strengthen the Sevastopol forces with off-shore convoys and to keep up operations around Feodossija and Kerch. The Germans took both sectors eventually, though.
The commander of the 46th Division, General von Sponeck, was court-martialed later on for withdrawing his division (violating an OKW-order that had not reached him), as he assumed that successful Russian landings at Feodossija would have cut off his unit. The division then conducted a forced march to reach the Northern end of the Crimea, leaving behind most of its heavy guns.
That said, despite the impressive Russian effort (with a troop contingent more than thrice of the size of the German contingent), the 51st Army suffered more than 40,000 casualties, with 32,500 dead. So instead of exploiting the 46th Division's mistake (to evacuate vital parts of the Crimea), the Russians lost focus and drove the operation into the ground.
Now back to the game, the game makes it look like the "heroic" (the game's wording) commitment of Red Army troops and Russian Marines created a longer period of vital successes on the Crimea, while in reality the operation was a waste of resources and managed to delay the fall of Sevastopol by probably around 6 months only, let alone the fact that the Russian (initial) advance didn't even get near the German supply hub, a goal the Russians had forgotten about, obviously. The 6 Russian Divisions that had landed at Kerch, facing the German 46th Div. did not even attempt to pin down that German division (its temporary heavy resistance and counter-attacks prior to its tactical retreat may have been one reason, bad organization and lack of focus on the Russian side may have been another reason).
Bottom line, I rather mistrust History channel flicks and so-called "research" done by Russian devs. The total lack of information regarding superior German weapon sights/optics in tanks within the TOW2 dev team would be another example for some Russian devs' (partially) biased or (if you will) uninformed take on things.
My 2 cents
< Message edited by GoodGuy -- 5/21/2010 11:50:02 PM >
General Anthony McAuliffe
December 22nd, 1944
"I've always felt that the AA (Alied Assault engine) had the potential to be [....] big."
8th of August, 2006