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Year:
1980
Publisher:
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Language:
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Pages:
340
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FOR MILITARY ENTHUSIASTS

WHO DELIGHT IN

TITANIC STRUGGLES../' THE KIRKUS REVIEWS
05
CD
-J

THENimEFail

Ol

O

MOSCOW
COL. ALBERT SEATON
THE RIVETING STORY OF THE MOST BLOODY

AND BARBARIC BATTLE OF WORLD WAR II

SPECIAL ACTION PHOTO EDITION

.

THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW
*Tew

are as well qualified to describe the
as Colonel Seaton .
battle for Moscow.
[His book] is thoroughly researched, lucidly
written and admirably tailored for the
[The West] has tended to
general reader.
overlook the bloody battles waged in
eastern Europe. Colonel Seaton's excellent
book can be recommended to anyone
seeking an antidote to this view."
The Economist
.

.

.

.

.

**Colonel Seaton, dramatically, with the
pen of a military expert, recounts the
events of one of World War IPs most barbaric battles ..."
Long Beach Press-Telegram

*'A thoroughly researched account of a
major turning point in World War II;
unusually fine analytical comparisons of
the military thinking of the two opposing
dictators."
United States Naval Institute Proceedings
Annapolis, Maryland

C
I

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VOU €NJOV THIS BOOK

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books Qvoilobl© from*
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PLRVBOV PR€SS PnP€RBflCKS,
send your request to:
PLflVBOV PR€SS PfiP€RBnCKS
Book Mailing Service
P.O. Box 690
just

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Rockviile Centre, Neuu Vork 11570

iKiwniEniii

MOSO
COL. ALBERT SEATON

PLftVBOV PR€SS
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THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW
Copyright

Cover

©

1971 by A. Seaton

illustration copyright

AH

©

1980 by PEI Books, Inc.

No

rights reserved
part of this book may be reproduced, stored
in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by an electronic,

mechanical, photocopying, recording means
prior written permission of the author.

or

otherwise without

Published simultaneously in the United States and Canada by Playboy Press Paperbacks, New York, New York. Printed in the United
States of America. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number:
79-93213. Reprinted by arrangement with Stein and Day Publishers,

New

York.

Books are available at quant; ity discounts
For further information, write

trial use.

Press Paperbacks, 747 Third Avenue,

for promotional
to

Premium

New York, New York

ISBN: 0-872-16675-9
First

and indusPlayboy

Sales,

Playboy Press Paperbacks printing June 1980.

10017.

CONTENTS

Introduction

11

1.

The Panzer General

15

2.

The War

3.

To Moscow

68

4.

The Rasputitsa

87

5.

Panic in the Capital

117

6.

Retreat to the East

131

7.

The

Final Push

147

8.

The

Fiihrer in

9.

War

at the

10.

The

Crisis

11.

Stalin

12.

The Retreat Continues

13.

Blow and Counter-Blow

267

14.

Epilogue

284

Notes and Sources

299

Select Bibliography

313

VixtuaUy

Is

Won

38

Command

171

Top

188

204

Has His Way

231
,

240

MAPS
Eastern Europe 1940

17

Operation Barbarossa

2^

Operations of

Army Groups

Centre and

South
June-September 1941

39

The Advance on Moscow
October-December 1941

69

Moscow
15 November-5 Decembei

The Soviet Counter-Offensive
December 1941-April 1942

149

190

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The author wishes to thank the Director General, Imperial
War Museum for kind permission to reproduce all the
photographs in this book, except Mud and the German
panje wagon and German motorized troops which are reproduced by permission of Keystone Press and A main
road in April 1942 by permission of Planet News; and
Arthur Barker Ltd for permission to make use of certain
passages from the author's The Russo-German War 1941'
1945.

INTRODOCTION

In June 1941, when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, the
strength and equipment of the Red Army were inferior to
none, yet in terms of leadership, training, experience and
efficiency it ranked much below both the German and the
Japanese Annies. German ground troops, with their powerful Luftwaffe tactical support, at that time made up the
most formidable fighting machine in the world, and during
the summer and autumn of 1941 could attack and destroy
a Soviet enemy three times more numerous.
On 3 October Hitler broadcast that the Red Army was
finally defeated and would never rise again, and, when
several days later nearly three-quarters of a million Soviet
prisoners were taken near Vyazma on the Moscow highway after only the briefest of resistance, it looked as if
his words were no idle boast. The gateway to Moscow
seemed to be wide open and Red Army resistance coming
to an end. This was the view of many Muscovites, who saw
with it the rapidly approaching disintegration of the Soviet
Union.
London was shocked. The British had given too much
credence to the exaggerated claims of Russian war propaganda and the successful defensive battle Soviet Marshal
Timoshenko was said to have fought near Smolensk. It was
believed at that time that the German High Command had
called off its August attacks eastv/ards towards Moscow because of its very high casualties, and had gone southwards
into the Ukraine in search of easier laurels. On 10 October
1941 a BBC London radio commentator gloomily gave

news of the new German Vyazma offensive "as the most
successful yet in the whole of the war. It had always been
believed that the door to Moscow had been firmly barred.
That obviously was not the case."
11

COL.

12

ALBERT SEATON

These words were monitore.d by German radio intercept
and recorded with satisfaction by the war diarist of von
Bock's

Army Group Center.

There were

virtually

Moscow. In the

no Red

capital itself

Army

troops in front of
there was widespread looting

and panic stricken flight.
Yet, over six weeks later, von Bock had

still

not reached

the Russian capital. By the New Year, in a most remarkable change of fortune. Army Group Center was in retreat
and appeared to be threatened with imminent encirclement
and destruction, a catastrophe of unheard of dimensions.
This Soviet success was the first victory of the Second

World War over an enemy who had come

to be regarded as

invincible.

This book

is

intended to describe

how

this

change came

about.

The

sources for the material on which this book is based
will be apparent both from the bibliography and from the
notes. In the writing, constant reference has been made to
General Burkhart Mueller-Hillebrand's Das Heer, Wolf
Keilig's Das Deutsche Heer, and Dr. Georg Tessin's
Verbdnde und Truppen der Deutschen Wehrmacht und
Waffen SS. Numerous divisional histories have been used,

and

in particular that excellent

account

Kampf und Ende

der Frdnkisch-Sudetendeutschen 98. Division by General
Martin Gareis, one time regimental and later the divisional
commander of that formation. To these authors I express

my thanks.
I

owe a

great debt to Dr. Friedrich-Christian Stahl

and

the staff of the Bundesarchiv-Militararchiv for the use in
Freiburg of the unpublished diaries of von Bock and von
Weichs, and the war diaries of the principal German higher
formations of Army Group Center. I should also like to
thank the Director General of the Imperial War Museum,
the Librarian and staff of the Institute of Contemporary
History and Wiener Library, and the Librarian and staff of
the Royal United Service Institution for loaning or making
available to me published works.

Once more

I

would

like to

thank most warmheartedly

Mr. D. W. King, the Chief Librarian of the British Ministry of Defence Library (Central and Army) and Mr. C. A.
Potts, the Librarian in charge of the Library's Historical

THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW
Section, for placing at

German and Russian

13

my

disposal a great store of English,
published material, and for their

patient and expert assistance, so willingly given.
Finally my thanks are due to my wife who has assisted
me in much of the German research and who has undertaken the typing of the manuscript and the reading and

page proof checking.
A. s.

J

1

THE PJEEB GENEEE

On

10 August 1940, Field-Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, the
Chief of the German Armed Forces High Command
(OKW), returned to the temporary Reich Chancellery
headquarters at Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps from

the leave which he had spent on his Hanoverian estate at
Helmscherode, \v,here he had, for the last time, played the
part of Gutsherr, the gentleman farmer. For Keitel was
miscast in his role as a soldier.
The shaUow-witted and simple-minded field-marshal already knew that Adolf Hitler had no intention of invading
the United Kingdom that autumn, even though there was
no other way of overcoming Britain. On the first day of
his return to duty, Keitel was sent for by the FUhrer and
instructed to explore other means of forcing the British out
of the war. The Italians, thought Hitler, might be assisted
in the Mediterranean by allotting German Army and
Luftwaffe formations to that theater. Then, almost as an
aside or afterthought, he told the startled Keitel of the possibility of a new war against the Soviet Union.
Keitel was not gifted with either a quick brain or clarity
of vision. Burly and corpulent, monocled and handsome,
the fifty-eight-year-old field-marshal had a very imposing
presence, and he struck such arrogant attitudes that Hitler
found it convenient to take him round Europe with his
retinue as a show piece, so that Keitel might impress foreign
dignitaries and statesmen with his haughty bearing; when
Keitel was admitted to a conference he could be counted
upon to echo his master, for he idolized the dictator. Behind this majestic exterior there was nothing except physical
bravery. For Keitel had neither character, intelligence,
moral courage, nor professional ability, and he owed his
rapid advancement to the fact that he was useful to Hitler;
15

16

COL.

ALBERT SEATON

any difference of opinion between the Fiihrer and his
generals could always be settled by bringing in Keitel to
weigh down the scales. So Keitel earned himself the
sobriquets of "the lackey," "the blockhead" and "the nodding ass."
Yet the thought of this new war made Keitel uneasy and
raised doubts in his mind as to why it was necessary to go
to war at all. During that night he was troubled, so he returned the next day to the Fiahrer's Berghof home to put
the question directly to the dictator.

was direct and frank. A clash between Germany
and communist Russia was inevitable, he said, because of
their diametrically opposed ideologies; Stalin had as little
intention of abiding by the 1939 von Ribbentrop-Molotov
Pact as he had himself. The new war could not be avoided,
and it was better that he (Hitler) should shoulder this
onerous responsibility now, rather than bequeath it to his
successor. But in any case, he added, merely to calm the
troubled Keitel, no irrevocable steps had yet been taken.
All that he had decided upon was precautionary planning.^
In fact, although Keitel had not been told at the time,
at the end of June 1940, only a few days after the French
had laid down their arms, Hitler had already turned his
eyes eastwards and given directions for plans to be drawn
up to destroy the USSR. Although, for the sake of form,
he left the final decision open, he had made up his mind on
what he called the new campaign (Feldziig), in spite of
the fact that he had once promised never to engage in a
war on two fronts.
Hitler

doubtful whether Hitler ever seriously intended to
invade the British Isles at this time partly because of the
grave risks which it would have entailed and partly because he regarded the destruction of the Soviet Union as
the easier task. So he turned his armies towards Russia
while he made a half-hearted attempt to patch up some
form of peace with Britain. Such was his optimism that he
even gave some thought to the possibility of striking down
the USSR by a lightning attack in the autumn of 1940.2
Since 1934 Hitler, as Fiihrer, had been in effect both
President and Chancellor of the German Reich, and in
1938, when General von Blomberg, the last Minister of
War, had been obliged to resign. Hitler had himself taken
It is

THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW

RUSSIA
#MOSCOMr

h-.^*

r

HUNGARY/

"^ i^

BO

K I y

200

17

COL.

18

ALBERT SEATON

over the appointment as Commander-in-Chief of all the
Armed Forces. That year he had retired a number of
worthy senior officers whose ideas and loyalties he regarded as too traditional and of the old school, as being
zii preussisch oder zu kaiserlich, and he openly began to
favor younger generals with avant-garde views, particularly
the officers of the newer arms, the Luftwaffe and the
panzer troops. The German Army Commander-in-Chief,
Colonel-General von Fritsch, was ousted from his appoint-,
ment by a conspiracy, the Fiihrer's nominee to replace
him being General of Artillery von Brauchitsch, the General Officer Commanding Gruppenkommando 4 in Leipzig.

Von

Brauchitsch, who was a firm supporter both of the
FiJhrer and of National Socialism, had been promoted by
Hitler to the rank of colonel-general. In the summer of
1938 his first wife divorced him and within three months
this fifty-eight-year-old officer had remarried. The match
was an unfortunate one, for his new wife, an admirer of
Hitler, encouraged von Brauchitsch in his blind obedience
to the Fiihrer. Like Keitel, von Brauchitsch was an upright, imposing looking man, square-jawed and of confident
bearing, in outward appearance what might have been
thought a typical Prussian officer, reserved in manner and
exacting towards his subordinates.
Yet in truth von Brauchitsch was irresolute. Although it
was probably not Hitler's intention at this time to personally control the German Army through a mouthpiece and
a puppet, in the final outcome this is what happened. For
the unfortunate von Brauchitsch, who was under an obligation to Hitler for financial assistance to cover the expenses
of his divorce, lost composure and often his wits when in
the dictator's presence.
From 1938 onwards Hitler began to meddle directly in
German Army matters even to the extent of altering opera-

and in September 1939, although he had little
cause to do so, he interfered with von Brauchitsch's handling of the Polish War. Although the Fiihrer refused to accept von Brauchitsch's offer of resignation, he still continued
to be dissatisfied with his Army Commander-in-Chief
throughout 1940, and he took upon himself von Brauchitsch's responsibilities when he decided on the detail of
tional plans,

THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW

19

the strategy of the French campaign. This he ^id by listening to the views of relatively subordinate officers, ColonelGeneral Guderian, the Commander of 19 Corps, and
Lieutenant-General von Manstein, the Chief of Staff of
Army Group A, supporting their ideas against those of

von Brauchitsch and the General Staff.
The rapid overrunning of France took all, Hitler included, by surprise. Yet much of the credit properly belonged to the Fuhrer, since the victory was based not only
on an unusual and daring strategy but on the use of concentrations of tanks in mass supported by a heavy weight
of tactical air power, a departure from the accepted role
of tanks at that time. Since Germany had begun to re-arm
only recently, from 1935, it had amassed a plentiful stock
of new armaments of modern design; for this, too. Hitler
was responsible. The Nazi propaganda machine saw to it
that the FUhrer was given almost the entire credit for the
victory, and the German press and public joined in the
adulation.

was not a healthy one.
Keitel, the head of the Armed Forces High Command
(OKW) was a pompous nonentity, an administrator conHitler's personal military circle

venient to his master to telephone orders. The able General
Jodl, Chief of Staff and Hitler's principal executive within
the OKW, was, as Speer has said, as subservient to Hitler
as was Keitel. Colonel Schmundt, Hitler's military aide,
and later Colonel Scherff, the historian, were enthusiastic
proselytes of the Fuhrer and these and many senior generals,
both in command and on the stafif, joined in the exaltation,
calling the Fuhrer the greatest general of all time. He, not
unnaturally, eventually began to believe it. For Hitler's
vanity knew no bounds and the most fulsome flattery was
demanded as no more than his due.
Instead of accepting the credit for Germany's victory,
the Fuhrer would have been better advised to examine
critically the reasons for the Polish and the French defeats.
Both countries were weaker than the Reich in military

manpower and

and economic
strength; neither had armed forces which were so well
equipped or so well led and trained as those of Germany.
But the main cause of their defeats lay in the air and in
the employment of tank forces. It was of course to follow

potential,

in

in

industrial

COL.

20

ALBERT SEATON

when Germany's hoard of armaments had been used
up and when the enemies of the Reich, singly or in coalition, produced more aircraft and tanks than German industhat

try could,

and those of equal or better

quality, then the

control of the air and with it the victory on the ground
would pass from Germany's grasp forever. Drunk with
heady success, however, Hitler was far removed from such
sober reflections. He had already become convinced that
nothing was impossible for him or for his troops, whose
success appeared to underline the Nazi teaching of the
superiority of the German race. The victory oVer France

was

in fact Hitler's undoing.

very doubtful whether Hitler could ever have been
considered a great general, but he certainly had military
aptitude. He had many qualities which would have stood
him in good stead had he been a professional soldier; restless energy, an inquisitive and active brain, great wUl-power,
It is

a clear
ties.

memory and

He was

a

good head for

intensely

interested in

detail

army

and technicalimatters, par-

waging of war, and, although he had no military experience other than that as a regimental runner in
the First World War, by attending demonstrations and
exercises he soon acquired the necessary military vocabulary and a grounding in war planning. He checked and
cross-checked the information and opinions given to him by
his advisers, and was not above encouraging ambitious or
ticularly the

disloyal officers to criticize their absent seniors.

way he soon amassed a fund

of knowledge the
better to confound his generals, the weaker and more naive
of whom were to credit the Fiihrer with genius, for he
always produced the views of others as his own. There
seems to be some evidence, too, that he was particularly
influenced by officers of the panzer arm, Guderian among
them. Hitler was fascinated, not merely by the concept of
armored warfare and by the technicalities of tank design,
but more especially by the way in which these officers envisaged campaigns being based on the capabilities and
characteristics of massed panzer formations.
The waging of war, as the Germans and Russians saw it
at that time, was echeloned into four separate levels of
command. The highest of these was at government level
foreign policy, propaganda, home morale, the war economy

In this

THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW

21

(including the administration of all resources such as manpower, industry and raw materials) and the overall conduct of the air, land and sea battle at home and abroad; this
activity was the province of the head of state and war
cabinet and their military and civil advisers and staffs. Then
came grand strategy, the waging of war at the highest military level in the

war
and

air, at

sea or in the

field,

conducted by

ministers, commanders-in-chief, chiefs of general staff
by the commanders of theaters. Below strategy was the

of operations or the operative art, generally centered
on the activities of army groups and armies. The lowest
activity in the waging of war, that below operations, was
tactics, the close engagement of the enemy, usually from
the level of corps downwards. The dividing Hne between
operations and tactics was in fact a fine one and depended
also on the depth of the battle area.
The ability of military commanders, even of the most
competent professional soldiers with the service of a lifetime behind them, obviously varies widely. The strength of
some lies in tactics, that of others in operations or strategy,
the reason for this difference lying not only in experience
and education but more particularly in natural bent and
cast of mind. This has long been recognized for, as von
Clausewitz once said, many a distinguished field-marshal
few
would be lost if placed at the head of a regiment.
officers, the gifted, are equally at home in all military fields,
field

A

but these are rare.
than tactician.

Even Napoleon was a

better strategist

Although Hitler himself would have been most loath to
admit it, it appears that his military ability lay only in the
field of operations, for he showed that he had great flair
for the direction of ground formations at about army
group and army level. Such ability is rarely innate. It is
more likely that the dictator's mind was conditioned to this
particular level by his talks with the leading officers of the
panzer troops, most of whom, because of their training and
the characteristics of their arm, were proponents of this
operative art.
Hitler had concentrated all power and all activities of
state in his own person. There was no collective responsibility of Cabinet, which in any event had ceased to meet
since 1937. Hitler was in effect President and Chancellor;

22

COL. ALBERT SEATON

but he was also Party leader, industrialist, economist, War
Minister, Commander-in-Chief and, as the influence of von
Ribbentrop declined, Foreign Minister, this arrangement
of responsibilities suiting the Fiihrer's temperament and
character. He was morbidly distrustful and averse to any

he once told Kurt Ludecke, his
guiding principle was "to say what must be said only to
him who must know it, and then only when he must know
it." This tenet he imposed on the German Armed Forces.
In early 1940, following the loss of the most important
secret plans covering the proposed invasion of the Netherlands, Hitler decreed in his Basic Order No. 1 the principle
that none of his ministers, staffs or commanders should be
given any information other than that which was strictly
necessary for the performance of his duties. Since it was
already an offense to listen to the enemy radio or read
the foreign press, Nazi officials and German generals became rapidly isolated, not only from world affairs, but also
decentralization, for,

as

from the true conditions inside Germany. Since only the
Fiihrer saw all and heard all, he maintained that he alone
knew all, and he demanded from his subordinates blind
obedience. In this phenomenon lay much of the unreality
of the German plan to conquer the USSR.

The

Soviet Union had for long been under the heavy hand
of the dictator Joseph Stalin. Stalin was neither President
nor Prime Minister and had retained for himself only the
post of Secretary-General of the Communist Party, for

he was anxious to preserve the facade of collective and
democratic governmental responsibility. This deception was
taken to such lengths that he always described himself as
having been instructed by his colleagues to do this or do
that. Yet he alone ruled the whole Soviet Empire through
his Prime Minister and spokesman, Molotov; Stalin was the
sole arbiter of policy.

In the Politburo Stalin demanded absolute submission and
whoever dared to disagree with him was doomed to moral
degradation and death. His government was made up of
mere underlings, not one of whom had been truly elected
or was controlled from below. Stalin was not accountable
to people or to Party (thirteen years had elapsed between
the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Party Congresses), politics

THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW
had been

23

and force and astuteness
for law. Propaganda fomented national prejudices and
misled the Soviet people, the whole of the USSR being
effectively isolated in order to conceal from its inhabitants
what was happening in the outside world.

The

substituted for morality,

NKVD

secret police system

made

impossible for
Stalin to have remained long in ignorance of the activities
of his ministers, should these have been contrary to his
orders or interest, for the dictator's power was maintained
by the police file, the pitiless system of hostages, the concentration camp and the
death cellar.
Although Stalin appeared to identify himself with the
people, he was remote and unknown, for he shunned any
contact with them. He was a poor speaker and rarely broadcast, and he was never seen in public. And yet, he who had
initiated the cult of Lenin perpetuated the cult of Stalin and
had history rewritten, attributing to himself all the virtues.
As Trotsky said, the untutored Asiatic cast of Stalin's mind
made it obligatory that the press should praise him extravait

NKVD

gantly each day, publish his portraits and
the slightest pretext. The novel, the opera,
literature and agriculture, all had to revolve
The nineteen thirties showed Stalin in
what he had always been, able and, within

refer to

him on

the cinema,

around

art,

Stalin.

clear relief for

the limits of his
dogma, essentially practical. He said little, and that often
to disguise his true thoughts. When he so pleased, he was a
good listener. He knew how to use people by deceit and

—

^this applying
trickery and, when it suited him, by flattery
particularly to influential foreigners. He displayed oriental
deviousness and dexterity in intrigue and unscrupulousness.
He had a nervous, mercurial, highly strung temperament
and he was irritable by nature. He was capricious and
cynical and had a biting, sarcastic tongue; he never ad-

mitted to an error. Brutal and harsh, a hypocrite and a
liar, he scorned human decency and human life, exploiting
for his own purpose only the lower instincts of human nature, by provocation, terror, demoralization, corruption and
blackmail.
By 1938 the government of the Soviet Union had acquired those destructive characteristics which could be
attributed directly to Stalin's personality and control, and
this was particularly apparent in its foreign policy. Strong

24

COL.

ALBERT SEATON

elements of caution, mistrust, malice, brutality and treachery
could be discerned there, together with a capacit}^ for
mischief-making. For Stalin was a man who never took
direct action when he could instigate others to do his work
for him. There is, for example, a parallel between Stalin*s
conduct during his early life in a Tsarist prison when he is
said to have secretly incited hot-tempered desperadoes
against those who opposed him, but himself kept out of
the fighting, and what was to emerge as Soviet foreign
policy in the years between 1938 and 194L3 The similarity appears too strong to be fortuitous.
For, in 1938, there was more than a hint of suspicion
that Stalin caused his Foreign Minister Litvinov and the
Moscow-trained Czech communist Gottwald to make imprecise offers of Soviet help to Czecho-Slovakia, encouraging that nation to withstand by force of arms German demands. Again, Maisky, the Soviet Ambassador in London,
at that time coldly treated by the Chamberlain Government, was directed by Stalin to court Churchill, then without government responsibility, presumably in an effort to
use the British politician as a sounding board or as a
nucleus of a pressure group having as its aims more direct
action by Great Britain against Germany.

Although Chamberlain harbored a deep distrust of
Stalin, he had eventually been forced by political opinion
to send a military mission to Moscow. This did not suit
Stalin, who appears to have changed his ground, for it
was, in his own words, no part of his policy that the Soviet
Union should embroil itself in war for the sake of others.*

The opposite was in fact the case, since the dictator found
it more attractive that Britain and France should go to war
with Germany over Hitler's demands on Poland, since such
a war, according to the communist doctrine, would benefit
the USSR. It is possible, too, as Trotsky said in 1940, that
Stalin's venomous nature and his hurt pride found balm
in revenging himself on Chamberlain, for he never forgave
an affront.
Immediately after the British and French missions arrived in

Moscow,

were opened

secret parallel

Russo-German

negotia-

probably at Stalin's instigation,
and on the night of 23 August, while the talks with the
British representatives were still in progress, von Ribbentions

in Berlin,

THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW

25

trop and Molotov (recently appointed Soviet Foreign
Minister), in Stalin's presence, signed the Russo-German
Pact and the secret protocol. By this secret protocol, and
the one that followed a month later, Poland was to be
partitioned between Germany and the USSR, and the
Baltic States, Finland, Bessarabia and South-East Europe
were to be regarded as the Soviet Union's sphere of interest.

schemes might of course have come to nothing if
Poland, in spite of its new alliances with Britain and France,
had, Uke Czecho-Slovakia, declined to fight the German
aggressor. Such a situation would have proved an embarrassment, for Stalin intended to occupy by armed force the
eastern regions of Poland, populated predominantly by
White Russians and Ukrainians (who have no closer racial
affinity to the Russians than the English and Dutch have
to the Germans), under the pretext that he was the protector of the Russian peoples; he could hardly do this unless
war were to break out. Since there is a suspicion that his
political aim was the involvement of Germany in war with
Britain and France, Poland's armed resistance to Germany
was essential. So he ordered Marshal Voroshilov, his MinisStalin's

Defense, and the Soviet Ambassador in Warsaw to
inform the Polish Government, in confidence, of the Soviet Union's benevolent neutrality and to offer Poland
ter for

Soviet arms and war supplies.
Hitler's rapid victory over France was unexpected by
Stalin and little to his taste, since Germany had come out
of the French campaign unscathed and stronger than it
was before. So Stalin immediately ordered the occupation
and annexation of the three Baltic States, Bessarabia and
adjoining North Bukovina, before Hitler could move
formations from Western Europe to Germany's eastern

took what consolation he could in the fact
that Great Britain, relying on United States material supfrontier. Stalin

was still in the war. TTie jeers and sneers at the
British which had been a daily feature in the Soviet press
suddenly ceased, and Moscow reported more objectively the
air war which was being fought over the United Kingdom,
both British and German claims being reproduced without
Soviet comment.
port,

But Stalin did not intend

to entangle himself with the

26

COL.

ALBERT SEATON

and his natural caution made him cold-shoulder
London and the newly appointed Ambassador in Moscow,
Sir Stafford Cripps. Above all he feared openly to affront
British,

Hitler.

did not prevent him from fishing in other
troubled waters which he had come to regard as his own,
allocated to him by the von Ribbentrop-Molotov protocol.
Finland vvas put under heavy pressure from Moscow, and
Stalin tried to extend his hold on the Balkans by setting
them aflame, presumably since this might afford the pretext
for the Red Army to interfere. Hungary and Bulgaria were

Yet

this

encouraged to make territorial demands on Rumania,
which was itself menaced by Stalin, these hazarding one of

Germany's principal sources of oil. Turkey was assured
of Moscow's benevolent neutrality should it feel itself compelled to go to war against Germany. Stalin was even bold
enough to sanction the signing of an open Treaty of Friendship with Simovich's anti-German Yugo-Slav Government,
making verbal promises of military aid through Molotov,
promises which were immediately repudiated by Vishinsky,
the Deputy Foreign Minister, "as a misunderstanding" when
Hitler invaded Yugo-Slavia.^ Stalin, the young Koba of the
Bailov prison, had not altered the tactics of his youth.
Stalin had endeavored to extend the Soviet hold on the
Balkans as far as the Dardanelles and the Aegean, and
failed only because he was barred by German diplomacy;
for, since the victory over France, Eastern and Central
Europe had become of paramount importance in Hitler's
eyes as a jumping-off area for the new war which he was
preparing against the Soviet Union.

The bedrock

of the FUhrer's foreign policy had always
been the destruction of both communism and the Soviet
Union.'^ To Hitler the 1939 Russo-German Pact and secret
protocol had been only an arrangement of convenience
aimed at preventing an Anglo-French-Russian coalition,
and at serving as a deterrent which, the dictator hoped,
would keep Britain and France out of the Polish War. But
the Fiihrer's attitudes towards Russia and the many peoples
which made up the population of the USSR were entirely
negative. The Soviet peoples were not to be offered any
form of freedom under an alternative political system, but

THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW

become the slaves of Greater Germany
ruled from Berlin through German commissioners.

were merely
directly

27

to

For this cataclysmal policy Hitler's insane racial fantasies
were responsible.
Hitler was interested primarily in the permanent occupation of the Ukraine, the vast black earth area between
Russia and the Black Sea, rich in industry, coal and grain,
and in the seizure of the oilfields of the Caucasus; he wanted
the Soviet Union excluded from the Baltic and from Finland, in order to safeguard the shipment of Finnish nickel

and Swedish iron and food

to the Reich;

Belorussia, the

land immediately to the east of Poland, was to be held
merely as a buffer state. His political aims in going to war,
which in themselves were never very clear, probably even
to himself, centered, not as he said, on the liquidation of
the Soviet Union as a political and military force, but
rather on the seizure of the Baltic, Western Russia, the
Ukraine and the Caucasus.
Hitler's character was full of contradictions and he was
of course in many respects ill-equipped for the position
he held. He was poorly educated. His brain was keen yet
clogged with useless trivia; he could be far-sighted on
scarcely relevant matters, yet on subjects vital to the Reich
he often could not see the wood for the trees. He lacked

the mental discipline to apply himself to problems of real
importance and come to dispassionate and logical conclusions; decisions were too often given in haste, the circumstances leading to them being shrouded in secrecy. He
would have been too proud to ask for advice and was too
arrogant, too convinced of his own infallibility and destiny,
to

be guided by

it.

For Hitler already regarded those around him, his ministers, commanders and staffs with something akin to contempt. A few of these, including Freiherr von Weizsacker
of the German Foreign Office, Admiral of the Fleet Raeder,
the Naval Commander-in-Chief,
and Colonel-General
Haider, the Chief of General Staff, had expressed some
doubts as to the necessity for going to war at all.
Hitler, however, was in his element. He was a Feldherr,
gray tunic of his own design without badges of
rank and with his much prized Iron Cross First Class dangling from his left breast; black or field gray trousers,
in a field

28

COL. ALBERT SEATON

Party pattern leather calf boots and a German Army forage
cap completed his uniform. As at the time of the Polish
crisis, when his only fear was that someone would come
forward with a mediation proposal, he was determined to
fight.

In retrospect it can be said that Hitler's defects as a war
leader became apparent during the autumn of 1940, although this was not realized at the time either in Germany
or abroad. His decision to engage in a war on two fronts
was obviously a wrong one. Yet, apart from this, Hitler
showed little inclination to fulfill his proper function as a
war leader, a function which encompassed politico-economic and higher military strategy in all its aspects.
He did admittedly foil Soviet efforts to intimidate Finland and Rumania when he guaranteed their integrity and
put German troops into those countries. He had also safeguarded his vulnerable Balkan flank by the Vienna Award
of 1940, which temporarily patched up the quarrel between
Rumania on the one side and Hungary and Bulgaria on
the other. Bulgaria had subscribed to the Tripartite Pact,
and Yugo-Slavia and Greece had been subdued by force
of arms. But these were just manifestations of the mailfisted Machtkampf, scarcely the diplomacy expected of a
war leader and world statesman of first rank. It might be
thought that United States' benevolence, British neutrality
and the active participation of the Japanese were essential
preliminaries before a new war could be entered upon.
Some preparation, too, might have been made to subvert
or reeducate the Soviet population and loosen the draconian grip of the Georgian dictator.

Yet Hitler showed little interest in these matters or in
the true economic or military strength of the Soviet Union,
a state which had a standing army of five million men, comprising 303 field divisions, 24,000 tanks and 7,000 combat
planes, with a production capacity of 12,000 tanks and
21,000 aircraft a year.^ Sober estimates of the United
States' industrial potential, capable of turning out nearly
100,000 combat aircraft a year, Hitler dismissed as pure

humbug.
thought had been given to the Gerwar economy for, although its enemies did not know
the war industries of the Reich were organized in

Little constructive

man
this,

THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW

29

breadth but not in depth and were not on a war footing.
Plant was working on a single shift system, there was no

on consumer goods, and no direction of labor.
The armed forces were merely living on the stocks amassed
before 1940 and, in the event of a long war of attrition,
current production capacity was insufficient to 1511 the
Wehrmacht needs. German armored production in 1941

restriction

OPERATION BARBAROSSA

Kozon

Kuybysha/

GENERAL
GOUVERNEMErrf

/

'Morshes*

South

HUNGARY
Caspian

AGp
South
RUMANIA
Black Sea

100

200

300

Miles

400

500

30

COL. ALBERT SEATON

was only 2,800 tanks against a 1944 output, after Speer
had reorganized the industry, of 18,000 tanks a year.^
The British aircraft industry, rapidly making up for lost
time, had by 1941 already outstripped that of Germany.
When Hitler instructed von Brauchitsch to begin war
planning against the Soviet Union he gave him no strategic
direction as to higher politico-economic or military aims,
except that the USSR was to be knocked out in a short

summer campaign and

that

Western Russia was

to be dis-

membered.

The

Order caught the office of the Chief of
General Staff by surprise. No planning for a possible war
against Russia had taken place for decades. LieutenantGeneral Friedrich Mieth, the same Mieth who was to die
four years later in the close-quarter fighting on the Berlad
in Rumania, was the Oherquartiermeister I, responsible for
war planning. But Mieth had been detached to supervise
the Armistice Commission in France. His replacement,
Lieutenant-General Paulus, would not become available
until September. So Haider called in Major-General Erich
Marcks, in spite of the fact that he was persona non grata
with Hitler because he had once been the press officer for
von Schleicher, murdered in 1934 in the Night of the Long
Knives. Marcks, whose wire-rimmed spectacles and thoughtful manner gave him a learned, professorial air, temporarily left his appointment as Chief of Staff of 18 Army in
Fiihrer

East Prussia to prepare a preliminary draft of the plan for
the invasion of the Soviet Union.

The

by Marcks on 5 August 1940 is of
particular interest since it came to be used as the basis for
the fijial orders for the invasion, known firstly by the code
name of Fritz and then Barbarossa. Marcks, lacking precise
political and higher strategic direction, assumed that it
would be necessary to occupy the Ukraine, European Russia and the Caucasus as far east as a line from Archangel
to Astrakhan, since this line was thought to be far enough
draft produced

to the east to safeguard

Germany

against Soviet

bombing

and, it was wrongly assumed, would take in the greater part
of the war industry of the Soviet Union. ^^
In due course Hitler accepted Marcks's premise and from
that time onwards devoted his energies to the narrow field
of planning the military campaign in the western area of

THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW

31

Russia and the Ukraine, to a depth not very much greater
than that of the French Republic. For Hitler's military in-

main strength lay, as we have said, in
the field of operations and he tended to view the new war
from very much the same command level as Guderian and
Hoepner, both colonel-generals of panzer troops. He was
little interested in the sea war on the Baltic and Black Sea
flanks, and for him air operations were mainly confined
clinations

and

his

to the tactical support of the

ground

battle.

Planning continued on these lines, the main aim being
to destroy those Red Army formations known to be in

West Ukraine and Belorussia, and it came to be tacitly
assumed that when this was done the war would be virtually

the

over.

Apart from those who had doubts as to the need to go
to war, only the sixty-year-old,

elegant, tall

and spidery

Field-Marshal von Bock seems to have openly questioned
aims. Formerly an officer
of the Kaiser's foot guards and a man whose main military
ability appeared to be in the field of strategy, von Bock was
arrogant, aloof, cynical, vain and unbending. Yet he was
on good terms with Hitler, of whom he stood u little in
awe. When, on 3 December 1940, the Fuhrer visited the
sick von Bock to congratulate him on his birthday, the
Hitler's political

and

strategic

field-marshal learned for the first time of the dictator's intention to attack the Soviet Union. He immediately voiced
his fears. Russia, von Bock said, was an enormous country
and its military strength was unknown; he believed that
such a war might be difficult even for the Wehrmacht.
These opinions were unwelcome to Hitler who, much

offended,

became cold and

stiff

in his

manner and sharp

in his replies.

Von Bock saw

the Fuhrer again for about an hour on
2 February 1941, and the conversation covered the same
ground as that two months earlier. But this time Hitler was
breezily optimistic and regarded the early collapse of the
Red Army as a foregone conclusion, going so far as to say
that the Soviet Union would think that a hurricane had
hit it. Von Bock brought up once more the question of
strategic aims, and remained unconvinced by Hitler's answers; the Soviet Union stretched for several thousands of
miles to the east of Archangel and Astrakhan and von

32

COL. ALBERT SEATON

Bock was curious to know what the Fuhrer intended to do
when he had arrived on the. line, particularly if the Soviet
Union was still in being and still in the war. It is perhaps
thought had ever occurred to the
Fuhrer but, after a moment's reflection, he replied stoutly
that in such an eventuality he would advance again another
800 miles to the east as far as the Urals. ^^ There the matter
doubtful whether

was

this

left.

Belorussia and the Ukraine are separated from each other
by the great belt of the Pripet Marshes, nearly 1 00 miles in
4)readth from north to south and about 300 miles in depth
from west to east. Since this marsh was crossed by only
a few roads built up on causeways and elsewhere was impassable to wheeled traffic, it formed a near-Impenetrable
barrier to any movement. The area to the north of the
Pripet, between the frontier town of Brest-Litovsk and
Memel on the Baltic, opened both into Belorussia, the
direct route to Moscow, and into the occupied Baltic
States, the road to Leningrad. To the south of the Pripet,
entry could be made into Galicia and the Ukraine.
Marcks's plan, and those plans which superseded it,
intended that the main German thrust should be made in
the center through Belorussia by von Bock's Army Group
Center on to Minsk and Smolensk on the ancient Moscow
highway, the same route that was used by Napoleon. South
of the Pripet, Field-Marshal von Rundstedt's Army Group
South was to attack both from occupied southern Poland
and from Rumania into the Ukraine, while in the north
Field-Marshal von Leeb's Army Group North, the smallest
of the three army groups, was to drive from East Prussia
north-eastwards on to Leningrad.
It was generally agreed that the immediate operational
task was to seize rapidly the crossing places over the Dvina
and upper Dnieper in the Baltic States and Belorussia, and
over the lower Dnieper in the Ukraine, in order to destroy
the enemy before he could withdraw eastwards into the
interior. But Hitler could not make up his own mind as
to what was to be done when the Dvina and Dnieper had
been reached.
In the south, in the Ukraine, there was less of a problem
because, as soon as the enemy had been destroyed west of

THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW

33

the Dnieper, it was accepted that von Rundstedt would
advance rapidly south-eastwards, seizing the Black Sea
ports and moving into the Caucasus by way of Rostov-on-

Don.

No

agreement was reached, however, as to what was to
happen to the north of the Pripet. Von Brauchitsch, Haider
and von Bock proposed that on arriving at the crossing
places over the upper Dnieper at Smolensk, Army Group
Center, having rounded up the encircled Red Army formations west of the river, should advance directly on Moscow
and beyond. Hitler himself was not convinced by their
arguments.
the shadows, stood Jodl, probably
closer to the Fiihrer than any other military officer except
lean and saturnine
Schmundt, Hitler's military aide.
general of artillery, Jodl briefed the Fiihrer daily on all
theaters of war and discussed at length plans and orders,
so that he may unconsciously have served as Hitler's mili-

Behind

Hitler,

in

A

tary tutor. Jodl was intelligent and able, ambitious and
reserved and, although entirely under the spell of the
Fiihrer, whom he regarded as a military genius, he was not
afraid in these early days to speak his mind, his Bavarian
speech on occasions being blunt almost to the point of
rudeness. The trouble with Jodl was that his ideas tended
to be narrow and some of his views were wrong-headed, so
influence on Hitler, such as it was, became
malignant in that he fortified his master in his obstinacy.
Unknown to von Brauchitsch and Haider, Hitler had
that

his

resorted to his customary practice of ordering the secretive
Jodl who, as a member of the Armed Forces High Command (OKW), had at this time no responsibility at all for

ground operations in the east, to prepare an independent
appreciation and plan for the new war.^ This plan was
meant only for Hitler's eye and he subsequently used as
his own many of the arguments contained in it, particularly
where they differed from the German Army High Command (OKH) plan presented by Haider.
On the basis of Jodl's views the Fiihrer began to voice
doubts as to the necessity for an early advance eastwards
beyond Smolensk. Moscow, he thought, "was of no great
significance." The ports and naval bases in the Baltic had
to be given priority. The seizing of Leningrad, too, and a

34

COL.

ALBERT SEATON

junction with the Finns were of greater importance than
just taking the Russian capital. The Fiihrer became certain,
on the basis of surmise rather than of intelligence, that the
Red Army would give ground in the center, but hold fast
on the outer wings, that is to say in the Baltic States and
the Ukraine. It was absolutely imperative, the dictator said,
to clear up the situation in von Leeb's area before taking
up the advance to Moscow.
So Hitler decided that when von Bock arrived at Smolensk Army Group Center would have to dispatch about
half its panzer and motorized formations to Leningrad and
possibly much of the remainder to the Ukraine, in order to
increase the momentum of the advance on the flanks.
This Jodl strategy, under the protective guise of Fuhrerstrategie, was to find no favor with von Bock who was sure
that the early seizure of Moscow was essential to Germany's
fortunes. The other main supporter of the Moscow school
was Colonel-General Haider, the Chief of General Staff,
a fifty-six-year-old artilleryman, an able, thorough, meticulous, cautious, obstinate Bavarian, who pressed his views
on von Brauchitsch and, when the occasion allowed, on
Hitler.

Haider believed that the Soviet determination to defend
the capital would be such that a direct advance by von
Bock from Smolensk to Moscow would draw on it the great
bulk of rem.aining Red Army reserves, and that the destruction of these forces would tear a gaping hole in the Red
Army defense line, a void which could not be closed. The
loss of the capital, he argued, would be a great blow to
Soviet morale and would deprive the Soviet Union of its
seat of government, its main communication center and
its large industrial complex. More important still was the
fact that, as Moscow was the nodal point of all the railways
in West Russia, its loss would break up the Soviet railnet.
(This was only partly true.)
The arguments became heated and the Fiihrer more
caustic and derisive, but the sufferer was not Haider who,
marshalling his arguments carefully and logically and
being impervious to Hitler's choler, stood his ground
stoutly; but the unfortunate von Brauchitsch, pressed by
Haider to express himself more positively in the Fuhrer's
presence, became a ready target for Hitler's sneers.

THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW

35

The

Fiihrer remained obstinately indifferent to the arguments of von Bock and the OKH, and so it was left that
the initial thrust should take Army Group Center down
the Moscow road as far as Smolensk and the Dnieper. After
that the Fiihrer, who had already, in fact if not in name,
taken over the command of the German Army in the field,
reserved to himself the right to decide on the subsequent

aims and strategy.

The German Army and Armed SS strength at this time
numbered 208 field divisions, and of this total just over 150
divisions were committed to the war against the Soviet
Union, only nineteen being panzer and fourteen of them
motorized divisions. Of the balance, all but one, a cavalry
division, were of marching infantry with horse-drawn guns
and wagons. ^^ The German Army in the East was to number 3,200,000 men, 500,000 horses and 3,550 tanks and
have the support of about 2,000 combat aircraft.
Although Hitler boasted in 1940 that the German High
Command organization was the envy of all and that the
German Army was the most formidable fighting machine
that the world had ever seen, in reality it was indeed questionable whether the Wehrmacht was at all ready for this
or
new war. There were very few strategists in the
OKH, and the new school of staff planners tended to be
merely the Fiihrer's executives. Hitler himself was no

OKW

strategist.

There is little contemporary evidence, whatever may
have been said after 1945, that any senior general, other
than von Bock, raised doubts before Russia was invaded
as to the political and strategic aims of the new war, although Haider certainly did so a month after the war began. Von Brauchitsch of course was not really in command and he tended to avoid both accepting responsibility
and giving decisions in case his master should counter-

mand them. Von Bock

disagreed with the orders that he
had been given by von Brauchitsch at the beginning of
1941 and could detect no overall masterplan for the whole
war; so he worried and fretted and badgered the OKH,
complaining that he could get no real answers on matters
of importance because the High Command busied itself
only with trivialities.^*
German intelligence on the Soviet Union was not good.

COL.

36

ALBERT SEATON

In 1939 and 1940, during the short Russo-German honeymoon, Hitler had forbidden all activity against the USSR,
and even before that time little Gennan money or intelligence effort had been spent collecting information on the
Soviet Union. General of Cavalry Kostring, the German
Military Attache in Moscow, in spite of a good knowledge
of the Russian language and a long sojourn in the country,
provided very little information of intelligence value because he, in company with the rest of the foreign diplomatic community, was allowed no access to the Soviet forces
and peoples. General Thomas, of the Economics and
Armaments Directorate (Wi Rii Amt) of the OKW, had
produced a lengthy appreciation on the Soviet armament
industry, a report which was so inaccurate as to be highly
misleading, being based largely on estimate and out-ofdate information. This appreciation cast serious doubts on
the industrial and economic strength of the USSR and on
the ability of the Soviet Union to maintain its armed forces
in war.i^

German

operative and tactical intelligence, the responsibility of a General Staff branch of the OKH, was somewhat better, since a tolerably accurate enemy order of battle had been deduced for the main Red Army formations
defending the western frontier of the USSR. Virtually no
intelligence was available, however, on Soviet formations
in the interior or on the Red Army reserves of troops and

equipment.

Nor was the paucity of intelligence the only defect in
the German High Command's preparations for war. Colonel-General Fromm's Replacement Army, which held all
the reserves of men and equipment for the field force, had
only 450,000 reinforcements for the whole of the German

Army

no more being available.
The reserves of petrol equalled three months consumption
rate and there was only enough diesel for one month.
Rubber was in such short supply that no more tires could
be provided for army wagons, and consideration was being given to replacing tired with steel-shod wheels. There
was an acute shortage of all motor transport and much of
that in use was of an unsuitable civilian pattern.^^

The
was

in all theaters, at that time

made

for winter clothing for the troops
to prove entirely inadequate, supply being based on

provision

THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW

37

equipping only one-third of the divisions in the field, since
it was intended that the Soviet Union should be overcome
in a short summer campaign and the remaining two-thirds
of the troops withdrawn from the USSR. Good maps of
the Soviet Union were difficult to come by as these were
treated as secret documents by the Russians.
In retrospect one may marvel at the foolhardiness with
which the High Command and German Army ventured so
ill-prepared into such a vast and inhospitable land, placing
their faith on the commitment of 3,500 tanks to reduce a
continent in the space of a short hot summer, a puny force
in comparison with the armored formations later to be
raised by Germany's principal enemies. Yet hindsight does
not capture the spirit of the times. No general, except von
Bock, put forward any objections on the grounds that
German resources were inadequate for the task. The German people, almost without exception, had an unshakable trust in the Fiihrer and in his judgment. On the first
day of the war the crowds turned out in their thousands
to cheer the departing troops. As Lieutenant-General Rendulic later said, he himself, among his circle of acquaintances, never met anyone who did not believe that the
Fiihrer and the Government of the Reich knew what they
were about and would take all the necessary steps to gain
victory.17

2
TEE

WJR

IS

VIRIUSUY WOB

Just after three o'clock, at dawn
morning of 22 June, German troops
from the Baltic coast, in the north, to
the Hungarian frontier, in the south.

on the

fine

Sunday

crossed the frontier
the Carpathians near

They gained

tactical

surprise nearly everywhere.

Von

Bock's Army Group Center with a force of fifty
divisions, nine of which were panzer and six motorized,
supported by Field-Marshal Kesselring's 2 Air Fleet, had
to advance rapidly on Smolensk in order to destroy the
opposing enemy West Front (the Russian designation of
an army group) which was centered on Belorussia.^ Von
Bock's plan was based on a deep double envelopment directed on Minsk, about 170 miles in the Red Axmy rear,
to be made by two panzer groups, Colonel-General Hoth's
from the south-east tip of East Prussia to the north of what
was called the Bialystok salient, and Colonel-General Guderian's to the south of the salient from the area of BrestLitovsk.
shorter double envelopment was to be made inside the armored pincers by Colonel-General Strauss's 9
Army in the north and Field-Marshal von Kluge's 4 Army
in the south, encircling those Soviet troops forward in the
Bialystok salient.
Only when the encircled Soviet formations had been
destroyed was it planned to resume the advance for yet
another 150 miles to the east as far as the Dnieper, Hoth
and Guderian swinging out again in wide arcs, one to the
north and one to the south, in order to meet once more,
this time near Smolensk.
Von Bock and his two panzer group commanders had
disagreed with the main operative objective given to them
by the OKH, and considered that the first envelopment
should have been directed on Smolensk and not Minsk.
Long-drawn-out arguments had taken place in the period
between March and June. Hitler was opposed to the deep

A

38

THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW

39

Smolensk envelopment because he considered, probably
rightly, that the marching infantry formations, which made
up more than seventy-five per cent of the German forces,
would be left too far behind and would be unable to support the strung-out panzer and motorized divisions in holding and destroying the encircled Soviet troops.
[OPERATIONS OF ARMY GROUPS CENTRE AND SOUTH
June - Saptembar 1341

NW FRONT
• Moscow

W

•vyozma

FRONT

Smolensll^^
• Einya

24A
43A

|3Pz6p| igg
EAST
/3A
PRUSSIA \

Bryansk

3A

MOA

7W^

^^ BRYANSK

FRONT

*°'^^

ISA

CENTRE ^-pTT^pARro.'
GENERAL -GOUVERNEMENTj^^
|l

Pz Gpj

Kians

AGp

SOUTH

RUMANIA.

• Ploesti

• Bucharest'
Sevostopot
erac/e

O
September

line

Sea

250

U
.Miles

But no clear and binding decision had been given, even
an echo of his master, by von Brauchitsch, who had become a shuttlecock between the Fuhrer and von Bock.
So it came about that after the first forty-eight hours of
war von Bock, Hoth and Guderian were not entirely sure
as

40

COL.

ALBERT SEATON

whether to close on Minsk or whether they would be permitted to go straight to the Dnieper.^
Personal diaries at this time reveal how effectively Hitler's Basic Order No. 1 had come to be applied over the
previous fifteen months, showing that German commanders
were already displaying a remarkable ignorance as to developments in other theaters and sectors, sometimes even
on their flanks; and they appear to have had but little
understanding of the mechanics, the involved personal relationships and the source of the real power within the

Army High Command (OKH).
sulted in confusion,

blame on
command.^
lay the

This not unnaturally re-

and too often commanders were

their

to

immediate seniors in the chain of

senior staff officer within the Armed Forces
High Command (OKW) who had any influence with the
Fiihrer, limited iiideed though this was, was of course
Jodl; but since Jodl had no responsibility for German
Army matters on the Eastern Front, von Brauchitsch and
Haider tended to consider him as an interloper, and they
deliberately excluded him from Army planning. Within
the OKH, the relationship between the Commander-inChief and the Chief of General Staff was cool.
Von Bock, who was regarded by the
as being
difficult
and unco-operative, was, notwithstanding, on
moderately good terms with Haider; there was, however,
some antipathy between him and Field-Marshal von Brauchitsch. Von Bock was the senior and the more experienced
of the two and may possibly have considered that he had
been superseded when Hitler had appointed von Brauchitsch to be Commander-in-Chief.
But it is more likely that von Bock's intolerance was
aggravated by von Brauchitsch's apparent indecision, for
the Commander of Army Group Center does not seem to
have realized, at least untn late in the summer, the extent

The only

OKH

which the German Army Commander-in-Chief was
overshadowed by Hitler. He wrongly believed that the
Army plan for Barbarossa emanated from von Brauchitsch,
not knowing that the Fiihrer himself had laid down not
only the general outline but also the execution. And so von
Bock did not understand why von Brauchitsch could not
be persuaded to alter (at von Bock's recommendation)
to

THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW

41

which had
been imposed on Army Group Center, and he became
increasingly impatient with what he regarded as the interference and the excessively close control exercised by the
operational, even tactical, details of the plan

OKH.
Von

Bock, overbearing with both superiors and subordinates, was not, however, inhibited from severely rethe freedom of his own army commanders,
even to the extent of meddling with matters which were
scarcely his concern. His relationship with the level-headed
Hoth was satisfactory but tension was to arise between von
Bock and Strauss. He did not get on at all well with the
energetic Field-Marshal von Kluge, so well esteemed by
Hitler, and he had very little time for the arrogant, impetuous and undisciplined Guderian. Between Guderian
and von Kluge there was bitter animosity and among many
of the senior generals of Army Group Center there was a
distinct lack of discipline and loyalty.
In spite of the many difficulties during the planning and
preparatory phase, von Bock's success during the early
stages of the overrunning of Belorussia was remarkable.
The Belorussians or White Russians are not Russians.
They did of course form part of the early Kievan Russian
Empire in the ninth century, but from the tenth to the
eighteenth century they were governed by both Lithuanian
and Pole. The people of Belorussia numbered less than ten
million, of which nearly three million were Jews, and the
White Russian was generally regarded by his Russian and
Ukrainian cousin to be a rather low and mean-spirited
fellow. The population was mainly rural and, even by the
Russian standards of the time, was very poor and, almost
unbelievably primitive. The capital, Minsk, had about a
quarter of a million inhabitants, but the other main cities,
Gomel, Vitebsk, Mogilev, Bobruisk, Grodno and BrestLitovsk (Brest of the Lithuanians) had populations of only
forty to a hundred thousand. It had little industry, no
mineral resources except peat, and the agricultural land
stricting

was

infertile.

To the German soldier, Belorussia was to conjure up a
picture of the remains of primeval forests of oak, beech and
lime (about one-third of the whole area was still wooded
and the forests were thickest in the west near the old

42

COL.

ALBERT SEATON

Polish frontier), vast potato fields covered with great rocks'
and boulders, pies in profusion, innumerable dilapidated
farmsteads and hamlets and broad lakes with high rounded
banks. And to the south of Belonissia were the Pripet
Marshes, slow meandering streams and creeks forming a
great network of waterways; the swamps and surrounds
were overgrown with dense rushes and an impenetrable
tangle of aspen and alder. The humidity and mosquitoes
added to the discomfort.
On the morning of 22 June the panzer corps passed
through the great fifty mile deep belts of forests near the
frontier and emerged into the more open country in the
hinterland. Except at the frontier posts, where some of
the
border troops put ud a most fanatical fight, the
resistance of the Soviet West Front was in general neither
determined nor protracted. Kesselring's 2 Air Fleet had
almost undisputed command of the skies and the Red Air

NKVD

Force had shown that it was outmatched by Luftwaffe skill
and equipment. Losses, particularly in aircraft destroyed
on the ground, had been very heavy. The air situation, as
had formerly been the case in Poland and in France, was
decisive to the out^-^me of ^he land battle.

Much

of the credit for the success was due to Kesselring,
a former artillery officer transferred to the Luftwaffe, a
born optimist whose ready grin earned him th6 nickname
of "smiling Al." Kesselring was one of the few officers who
could work with von Bock without friction, and to this
more than anything else was probably due the excellent
German Army and Luftwaffe co-operation.
The Soviet West Front, its control and communications
organization gone, lay paralyzed and inert waiting to be
hewn to pieces. Too rarely at this time did the Red Army
troops in Belorussia show that heroism since attributed to

them by communist propaganda; resistance was uneven;
in places it was bitter, but for the most part the Soviet forces
surrendered or ran off into the woods. Yet, only three
days after the start of the war, the Fiihrer, in a fit of nerves,
bypassed von Brauchitsch and suggested to von Bock that
the Minsk panzer envelopment should be abandoned in
favor of a much shorter one; this proposal von Bock
resisted with all the arguments at his command.*
Within a week of the start of the war Hotb and Guderian

THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW

43

closed in on the important rail junction of Minsk, the
sprawling capital of Belorussia on the Warsaw-Moscow
highway, which stood in great fields of knee-high wheat
and barley. When they joined forces near the city, the
greater part of three Soviet armies, nearly the whole of
West Front, had been surrounded. Although many of the
encircled troops escaped eastwards using the cover of the
woods and of darkness, by 3 July 290,000 prisoners, including several corps and divisional commanders, had
gone into the prisoner of war cages. It was claimed that
no less than 2,500 Soviet tanks were knocked out or captured.^

On

day Haider, the Chief of General Staff, wrote in
his diary that it was probably not too much to say that
the war against Russia, which he referred to as a campaign
(Feldzug), had been virtually won within fourteen days.^
On 26 June, by Hilter's express order and against von
Bock's wishes, 2 and 3 Panzer Groups were removed from
von Bock's direct control and put under von Kluge's command, ready for the second phase of the battle and the
resumption of the eastwards march towards Smolensk and
Moscow. Guderian, not without malice, was subsequently
to hint that the army group commander, tired of Fiihrer
control, was ridding himself of the direct responsibility for
this

'^

the co-ordination of the advance; yet it is probable that
Guderian, who like von Bock was a difficult man with both
superiors and subordinates, felt some pique in not being
given the new command, for which his name had in fact

been put forward but had been vetoed by Haider. So
the new panzer command was given to the fifty-eight-yearold von Kluge, an able and active field commander, who
was, however, an artillery officer without panzer experience.

^

*

transferred, together with his 4 Army
Headquarters, to take direct command over Hoth's and

Von Kluge was

Guderian's panzer groups (each of two or three corps
the size of a small army) and von Kluge's new command
was given the temporary and unofficial designation of 4
Panzer Army. Meanwhile von Kluge's infantry corps were
taken over by a new army headquarters activated from the
reserve, Colonel-General Freiherr von Weichs's 2 Army.
The advance began towards Smolensk, but von Kluge's

44

COL.

ALBERT SEATON

handling of armor found little favor with the hypercritical
Guderian. Yet much the same view was taken by Hoth,
a steadier and more objective character than Guderian,
who was known affectionately to his staffs as "Papa Hoth";
Hoth, although by arm an infantry officer, was one of the
most experienced tank generals of the time.^
One of the five panzer corps had been directed away
from the main axis north-eastwards towards Polotsk and
Velikiye Luki, once again at the order of the Fiihrer, and
the other four advanced in line on a very broad front
without Schwerpiinkt or reserve. Guderian, obsessed with
his open southern flank, constantly extended to his right.
Heavy summer rain began to fall, turning the roads and
tracks into quagmires and bringing wheeled movement to
a halt.

The

success of the

German

infantry formations at this

time was measured more by stamina and marching ability
than by skill in fighting. In heat and dust, and sometimes
knee deep in mud, they marched rapidly eastwards in the
wake of the panzer corps; as is the case with dismounted
infantry the world over, every yard of the advance was
made by the men's own effort, most of their personal belongings being on their backs. Twenty to thirty miles were
covered each day and every day, the men, unlike the horses

which were resentful at the loss of the weekly rest day,
becoming harder and fitter as the weeks went by.® There
was little or no time for bathing or washing, and there was
little water to be had; clothing became filthy, and vermin,
so dear to Mother Russia, had begun to appear. Yet morale
had never been higher.
The tank troops, however, saw the war somewhat differently, for their lives and effectiveness were linked to their
vehicles. When Schmundt, Hitler's military aide and his
roving eyes and ears, appeared at 3 Panzer Group Headquarters near the city of Vitebsk on 13 July, Hoth told him
that tank casualties had not been heavy and were in no

way more

severe than those suffered in France, but that
the terrain and climate were proving far more wearing on
vehicles and on men than had been expected. Mechanical
casualties were high. The monotony of the landscape, the
somber woods and the flatness of the plains had a very
depressing effect on the German tank troops.^*^ The bitter-

THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW

45

ness and barbarity of the Red Army, too, had come as a
shock; German prisoners in Soviet hands had been cruelly
put to death. Because of the large numbers of armed Red
Army men who had taken refuge in the woods, it was
usually unsafe to leave the German bivouac areas.
Smolensk, at the head of the navigable Dnieper, although
once ethnically White Russian, lay beyond the political
borders of Belorussia in dairy farming country and fields
of corn and flax, studded with woodlands and orchards.

An

ancient city with a kremlin and fortress walls, it had
long been fought over by Russian and Pole, but, unlike
Vitebsk which was already in flames, on this occasion it
was to be spared; for Hoth and Guderian closed in, on 16
July, on Yartsevo, a cotton-milling town just to the northeast of Smolensk on the Smolensk-Moscow railway.
huge pocket of Red Army troops stretching over

A

seventy miles from Orsha to Smolensk was almost surrounded. The German panzer formations were too extended
and the infantry divisions too far in the rear, however, to
seal off the whole of the cauldron and many of the encircled troops escaped. On 25 July an angry and excited
Hitler telephoned to von Bock demanding to know why
the cauldron had not been closed and von Bock told the
Fiihrer "as much as it was good for him to know." Keitel
arrived the next day to emphasize his master's displeasure.
Meanwhile, the petulant Guderian, censured by von Bock,

was demanding to be removed from his appointment.^
By the time that the marching infantry divisions began
to arrive the end was not far off for the great seething mass
of men and vehicles stretching as far as the eye could
see along the Moscow highway. By 5 August all resistance
inside the pocket had ceased and a further 300,000 prisoners and 3,000 tanks, intact or knocked-out, fell into
German hands.^ Smolensk was about 400 miles as the
crow flies from Brest-Litovsk, Guderian's start line, and
200 miles from Moscow. Guderian and Hoth had arrived
beyond Smolensk on 16 July, just over three weeks after
the start of the war.

In the other two theaters German progress had, in the
main, been very satisfactory. Field-Majshal von Leeb had
attacked from East Prussia into the Baltic States, but, al-

46

CX)L.

ALBERT SEATON

though he had seized the crossing places over the Dvina,
he had been unable to prevent the Soviet North- West Front
from withdrawing rapidly north-eastwards. Nor was von
successful in his efforts to envelop the enemy
before he could withdraw into Russia, for the Soviet High
Command showed little of the expected determination to
hold on to the Baltic States. Soviet losses in equipment of
all types were heavy, these including aircraft, tanks, vehi-

Leeb more

and naval vessels; but in personnel they were
very light. Comparatively few Red Army prisoners were
taken by Army Group North. Towards the end of July,
however, when von Leeb was nearing Leningrad and the
German formations, strung out over a distance of 400
miles, were finding movement difficult in the close country.
Red Army resistance began to stiffen most noticeably.
In the Ukraine the conditions of battle and terrain
varied yet again. The Soviet South- West and South Fronts
were jointly much stronger than the North-West Front in
the Baltic States and the West Front in Belorussia, and the
South-West Front in particular proved more alert and
ready for action. Field-Marshal von Rundstedt made progress, however, to the south of the Pripet Marshes in spite
of resistance which in places was fanatical, the Soviet troops
making good use of the marshlands and the broken and
cles, ships

wooded country

in their defense.

On 30

June 11 German Army in Rumania crossed the
Pruth and, together with two Rumanian armies, began a
steady advance through Bessarabia into the Ukraine. On 8
August came von Rundstedt's only notable success, the
surrounding of about twenty divisions of South Front near
Uman when 103,000 prisoners were taken, including two
army and seven corps commanders. ^^ Meanwhile von
Rundstedt was being heavily pressed by a build-up of Red
Army troops on his far left flank, on the inter army group
boundary between himself and von Bock, along the southem skirts of the Pripet Marshes in the area to the north
of Korosten and Kiev.
In spite of some failures the German Army in the East
had carried out the greater part of its mission. Army Group
Center had crossed the Dnieper and destroyed West Front.
Army Group North had passed over the Dvina and had
cleared most of the Baltic States, advancing almost as far

THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW

47

had not, however, taken the city, destroyed
North- West Front or joined up with the Finns. Army Group
South had probably had the least success since it had only
just reached the area of the Dnieper and, in spite of the
encirclement at Uman, had not destroyed the South-West
and South Fronts which were still fighting strongly in fairly
good order. The Fiihrer had next to decide on the second
phase of his strategy and the German Army in the East
as Leningrad;

it

awaited his further orders.
Army Group Center Headquarters had established itself
on the banks of the Berezina at Borisov, a town north-east
of Minsk on the main trunk route, not far from the spot

where Napoleon had crossed the river in 1812 on his way
to Moscow. On 4 August, when Hitler visited Army Group
Center to discuss strategic aims, von Bock was forced to
the conclusion that the Fiihrer himself just did not know
what to do next. Von Bock had told him that Army Group
Center could be in Moscow by the end of August, but
Hitler, to von Bock's surprise and consternation, appeared
to be little interested in a resumption of the advance eastwards, i*
Hitler would talk continually around a difficult subject
for weeks before he made
had taken a decision there

up his mind, but as soon as he
was an end to the matter and
none could shift him. Then would start another round of
seemingly interminable arguments between himself, his
staff and his commanders. In early July he had been stressing the economic importance of the area of the Baltic and
the Ukraine and he had come to believe that the Crimea
could be used as a Soviet aircraft carrier to bomb the German source of Rumanian oil at Ploesti; for this reason, he
thought, the Crimea must be taken; the Crimea would be
useful, too, as a stepping stone across the Straits of Kerch
into the Caucasus. In fact, Hitler was determined to adhere to the Jodl strategy of the previous autumn.
In the second half of July, immediately after Hoth and
Guderian had closed on Smolensk, the Fiihrer confirmed
his previous ideas and ordered the removal of Hoth's panzer
troops to the area of Leningrad while Guderian's panzer
group was to be switched southwards to destroy the flanking Red Army build-up in the area of Korosten and Kiev.
Von Bock, he said, could advance the 200 miles to Mos-

48

COL. ALBERT SEATON

cow

using only his infantry formations; Hoth would be
returned to Army Group Center, after the taking of Leningrad, in order to help von Bock on beyond Moscow eastwards to the middle Volga.
So optimistic was the Fiihrer in these early days that he
was planning to recall Hoepner's panzer group (with von
Leeb) back to Germany for garrison duties.^
At this point arose the violent argument as to whether
or not Moscow should be taken before Leningrad and the
Ukraine. This was to split the High Command and cause
the rupture which eventually led to the dismissal of von
Brauchitsch. Haider, and to a lesser extent von Brauchitsch, had always considered that Moscow must be taken
as a first priority, and had unsuccessfully pressed this
course of action in the previous December. Hitler said he
was convinced that Leningrad and the Ukraine were priorities and that Moscow was of no importance, being "merely
a mark on a map."
For a whole month, until 24 August, the arguments continued, with Hitler on the one side and von Brauchitsch,
Haider, von Bock, von Rundstedt, Guderian and Hoth on
the other. Even Jodl had now changed his mind and considered that the main thrust should be continued on Moscow and he went so far as to undertake to use his influence
to try and persuade the dictator to this end, dryly adding,
however, that to make the Fiihrer change his mind was
going to be a very difficult task.^^ So it turned out.
Guderian protested to von Bock that his panzer group
was tired and understrength and so near crippled by mechanical wear and tear that he doubted whether it could
make the long march to the south and still remain effective; these were the arguments which von Bock and Haider
wanted to hear. Guderian, who was on good terms with
Hitler, was dispatched to the Fiihrer's East Prussian General Headquarters in Rastenburg to press his views. But
Guderian's efforts were hampered, so he subsequently said,
by a tired and dispirited von Brauchitsch, who had just
been bitterly reproached by the Fiihrer for weakness, "being too much influenced by the views of the army group

commanders."

Von

Brauchitsch told Guderian, as soon as he arrived
in East Prussia, that the Fiihrer had already decided the

THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW

49

was no use bleating against it." This
cut much of the ground from under Guderian's feet, and
yet he appears to have made only a feeble effort to dissuade Hitler, an attempt that was in the event singularly
matter and "that

it

unsuccessful, because the panzer leader came away having been himself convinced by the wily and plausible
Fuhrer of the correctness of the dictator's views. Hitler's
other supporters appear to have been those advisers with-

out responsibility, Keitel and Schmundt.^'''
So it came about that when, in the height of summer,
German troops were only 200 miles from Moscow, Hoth
was sent 400 miles to the north while Guderian went the
same distance to the south. As a concession, Hitler agreed
that von Bock should rest his troops in the area of
Smolensk until his panzer formations should be returned
to him.
Stalin

had always shown a

close

and personal

interest in

military affairs and, as Secretary-General of the Communist
Party, had controlled the armed forces, according to Trotsky, "through the pliant Marshal Voroshilov." Voroshilov,
until May 1940, the Soviet Minister for Defense, had in

even though he was without
real military experience or training. Following the Red
Army defeats in the 1939-40 Finnish Winter War, Stalin
removed Voroshilov from his appointment, replacing him by
a professional soldier, Marshal Timoshenko, a forty-fiveyear-old cavalryman, formerly the Commander of Kiev
fact

some organizing

ability

Military District.
About three months later, in September of that year,
there was a change of Chiefs of General Staff. The fiftyseven-year-old Marshal Shaposhnikov, who had been a
regular officer of the Imperial Tsarist General Staff and
was a colonel at the time of the First World War, being
in indifferent health made way for a much younger man,
the forty-three-year-old General Meretskov, an officer of

a very different background.
For Meretskov, once a politically active Moscow factory
worker, had entered the Red Army in 1918 as a political
commissar and remained with the corps of commissars for
twelve years. Advancement, this time as a military commander, had come rapidly following a short period of com-

COL. ALBERT

50

SEATON

bat service in Spain and a year's tour of duty as Deputy
Chief of General Staff. Shaposhnikov, an academician and
author of a number of learned works, who was regarded
widely as being the father of the General Staff, was reemployed as a Deputy Minister for Defense responsible for
the fortifications in western Russia. The gentle and dignified
Shaposhnikov was much valued by Stalin as a staff officer
and planner; and the dictator was loath to lose him.
In December 1940 Timoshenko, who was an outstanding
trainer of staffs and troops, held a series of presentations
and lectures in Moscow, attended by all high ranking Soviet officers in command and on the staff. This meeting
was concluded by two elaborate war games covering a
possible invasion of Belorussia and the Ukraine by Ger-

man

troops.

The

task of invading the Ukraine was given to General
Pavlov, the Commander of the West Front in Belorussia,
while General Zhukov, the Commander of Kiev MiUtary
District, was responsible for its defense. For the invasion
of Belorussia the two commanders exchanged their roles,
Pavlov defending his own home ground of Belorussia,
while Zhukov acted as the commander of the attacking

German

forces.

The war games were conducted and um-

by Meretskov under Timoshenko's chairmanship.
For this particular map exercise Zhukov was allowed sixty
German divisions to overcome the resistance of Pavlov's

pired

Red Army

formations. The final summing
up and post-mortem on the two games took place in the
Kremlin in the presence of Stalin and the Politburo.
The recapitulation and assessment, like the war games
they followed, were most confusing. Meretskov had had
insufficient time to prepare his material and, under a barforce of

fifty

rage of searching questions from Stalin, became rattled and
started to go to pieces. Stalin wanted to know which side
had won and the reasons, and he was not deterred by Meretskov's long and involved explanations as to relative
strengths. For, said Stalin, "statements that one Red Army
division can rout a German division in an approach to
contact is all very well for the propaganda clap-trap printed
in field regulations, but here we want to know the truth."
Pavlov fared no better than Meretskov, a forty-sevenyear-old, probably rather loud mouthed and blustering

THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW

51

cavalryman, who owed his position to his recent experience
as a tank commander on the Ebro in Spain, tried in vain
to laugh off some of Stalin's probes. Disconcerted, Pavlov
then rounded with some heat on Zhukov who had criticized the deployment of so many of Pavlov's formations
forward in the Bialystok salient; Voroshilov had to put an
end to their bickering by pointing out that the responsibility
for the siting of defense lines, and for their development,
rested with Moscow and Shaposhnikov, the Deputy Minister

and Fortifications.
Worse was yet to come, for the bete noire, the enfant
terrible, of the Soviet High Command, Marshal Kulik,

for Defense

then took the floor. A fifty-year-old artilleryman, a notorious ignoramus who headed the Main Artillery Administra-

where he was responsible for many aspects of weapon
development, he spoke out in favor of the horse; he was
against the use of massed tanks and against further mechanization; more money should be spent, he thought, on
the development of horse-drawn artillery. These views
caused a wag among the listeners to comment, sotto voce,
tion

"that every kulik (Russian for a snipe)

prefers

its

own

swamp."
Kulik's presentation was more than Stalin could stand
and the meeting broke up in disorder. All of those present
were disillusioned with Kulik's performance and many
were sorry for Meretskov and the General Staff. Shaposhnikov, the elder statesman of the General Staff, so our
informant Kazakov tells us, took this fiasco very hard. As
the crowd of high ranking officers collected their papers
and moved away, he remained seated, lost in gloom, glancing from time to time at the members of the Politburo.
Only the sad expression in his big intelligent eyes and the
faint twitching of his large elongated head showed the old

man's emotion.
That day Stalin removed Meretskov from his position as
Chief of General Staff, replacing him by the Commander
of Kiev Military District, a very unwilling Zhukov. Zhukov,
a forty-four-year-old cavalryman, had never served on the
staff in his life.

The German

invasion caught Stalin entirely by surprise
because, although he had been well aware of German war
preparations and the movement of troops into Rumania,

52

COL.

ALBERT SEATON

East Prussia and the German occupied General GouvernC'
ment of Poland, neither he nor Lieutenant-General Golikov, the head of the intelligence directorate of the Soviet
General Staff (the GRU), could bring themselves to believe that Hitler would embark on a war on two fronts.
Instead Stalin viewed all intelligence suggesting the imminence of attack either as a British provocation or as a
part of the nerve war which the communists knew so well,
at the worst presaging new German political or economic

demands. ^^
Although no stelps had been taken until too late on the
night of 21 June to bring the Soviet armed forces to a
state of war readiness, the Red Army was in fact better
fitted for war than was generally realized at that time in
Germany or elsewhere. In September 1939 the age limit
for conscription had been lowered by two years and, because of this, four annual classes, totalling over five million men, were with the colors in 1941. As already recounted, the strength of the field army was 303 divisions
of which seventy-five were in the process of being mobilized from cadre form.i^ The total tank holdings stood at
the surprisingly high figure of 24,000 and the Red Air
Force fighter strength was stated to be 7,000 first line aircraft.2o

Except for the recently introduced

T

KV

34 and
models
the quality of the tanks was, admittedly, not high and
could hardly be compared with the German Mark III
main battle tank, but many of the older heavy Soviet
models could not be penetrated by the standard 37 .mm
German anti-tank gun. Red Air Force aircraft in 1941
were very much inferior to those of the Luftwaffe. Other
Soviet equipment, however, particularly artillery and smallarms, was of excellent quality, often superior to the German, and had been produced and stockpiled in great quantities. Many of the weaknesses at the time of the 1939-40
Finnish Winter War had been rectified. Some of the senior
officers who had survived the purge but who still languished
in prison or in concentration camp, among them Rokossovsky, had been hurriedly rehabilitated and returned to
duty.

There were 150 Red Army divisions on the western
frontier between the Baltic and the Black Sea, with a fur-

THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW

53

ther twenty divisions on the Finnish borders, and the field
command was organized in very much the same fashion
as that of the invading German troops.^i Colonel-General
"^F. I. Kuznetsov's North-West Front held the area of the
Baltic States against von Leeb's Army Group North while
General Pavlov's West Front was based on Belorussia opposite von Bock's Army Group Center. To the south of
the Pripet Marshes the South- West Front, commanded by
Zhukov's successor, Colonel-General Kirponos, defended
the West Ukraine against von Rundstedt while General
Tyulenev's South Front was in Bessarabia attempting to

hold n

German Army and

the

Rumanian

forces.

Timoshenko, the Commander-in-Chief, together with
Zhukov, the Chief of General Staff, was in Moscow. All
these senior commanders, except for Kirponos, were cavalrymen, and all were in their forties.
When the invasion was launched on 22 June Stalin, even
in this thirteenth hour, tried to appease

Germany

in the

vain hppe that Hitler could be bought off. Then, according
to the popular account circulated by his successors, he
suffered a severe bout of nervous hysteria which gave way
to deep apathy. If this did in fact occur it must have been
of relatively short duration because by 26 or 27 June, Stalin
was firmly back in the saddle. Beside himself with fury and
worry, his first action was to remedy the truly disastrous
situation of Pavlov's West Front in the only way he knew.
Pavlov, who had spent most of the First World War as
a non-commissioned officer and a prisoner of war in Germany, although possibly not an outstanding commander,
was an experienced cavalry and tank commander. He had
a total of forty-four divisions, of which twelve were tank
and six mechanized, facing von Bock's fifty divisions; he
was, however, as had been noted at the time of the winter
war game, badly deployed to meet an offensive since all his
armies were forward in the Bialystok salient. In any case
he was allowed no freedom of maneuver as all withdrawals had to be sanctioned by Moscow. The unfortunate
Pavlov first became aware that his three armies had been
surrounded from a radio conversation with Timoshenko,
who had himself been informed of the encirclement by a
monitor of the Berlin radio news.
Three of the four Marshals of the Soviet Union, Voro-

54

COL.

ALBERT SEATON

Shaposhnikov and Kulik, were ordered by Stalin
to report to the West Front to find out what was going

shilov,

Lieutenant-General Erernenko, another cavalryman,
who had just been flown from the Far East, reported to the
West Front to take over command, this being the first
intimation that the breakfasting Pavlov had that he was
to be removed. The exhausted Pavlov's immediate reaction
was one of resignation and relief at having shed his responsibilities, but within the hour he was arrested by the NKVD,
together with Major-General Klimovskikh, his chief of
staff, and his principal staff advisers. When Pavlov arrived
in Moscow at the end of the month he had so changed in
appearance that Zhukov could hardly recognize him.
Pavlov and several of his subordinates, including at least
on,

one army commander, were shot

at Stalin's order, all of

them being publicly condemned as traitors. Most military
commanders trembled at the thought of another 1937
Purge, while many of the Red Army rank and fiile Tjegan
to suspect their higher commanders of being in German
pay.
In a matter of days Stalin had changed his mind once
more. Eremenko, he thought, was hardly the man to save
what was left of the West Front. Only Timoshenko could
do that. So Timoshenko, the Bessarabian Ukrainian, whose
reserved, polite and dignified exterior concealed the energetic and ruthless martinet underneath, was ordered to give
up his appointments as Commander-in-Chief and Minister
for Defense and take over the remnants of the West Front.
The functions of the Commander-in-Chief were assumed
by two committees, the National Defense Committee, or
GKO, consisting of certain members of the Politburo who
dealt with the wider aspects of political, economic and
military strategy, and the Stavka which was a subordinate,
mainly military, committee, the principal members of which
were Timoshenko, Voroshilov, the Commander of the

Reserve Front Marshal Budenny, Shaposhnikov and Zhukov. Stalin was the chairman of both committees and was
in
effect Premier,
Generalissimo and Commander-inChief.22

Most of the armies of Budenny's Reserve Front had been
hastily moved westwards to defend the Moscow axis and
came under the command of Timoshenko's West Front

THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW

55

Many

of them were destroyed in the second of von Bock's
great encirclements, that between Minsk and Smolensk.
Budenny, a former non-commissioned oflRcer of Tsarist
cavalry and an old crony of Stalin's from the days of the
Civil War, a marshal with little mihtary education or experience, was sent to the Ukraine at the beginning of July
to take over the new South-West Theater, formed from the
combined South-West and South Fronts. Voroshilov, who
was no more able than Budenny, assumed command of the
new North- West Theater based on Leningrad, controlling
the Leningrad, North-West and Karelian Fronts, while
Timoshenko's command was upgraded from a front to a
theater, although it consisted in fact of only the amalgamated West and Reserve Fronts.
There were other postings of senior staff officers. Shaposhnikov gave up his appointment of Deputy Minister for

Defense (Fortifications) and was sent to buttress West
Theater as Timoshenko's chief of staff, but since Shaposhnikov was not in good health he had to make way after a
few weeks for Lieutenant-General Sokolovsky, a man of
proven staff ability, who had formerly been a Deputy Chief
of General Staff and Chief of Staff of Moscow Military
District.

Now

had taken over Timoshenko's appointment, he was brought into direct and close contact with
Zhukov. There is some evidence that the dictator was not
too happy in these early days with his own choice of Chief
of General Staff.
Zhukov was a man of the people. Like Stalin, he was
the son of a poor cobbler, but unlike him he was a Russian (from the Kaluga ohlast) As a youth he had been
conscripted into the Tsarist dragoons and had served with
distinction as a cavalry non-commissioned officer in the
Ukraine and Bessarabia, twice being decorated for bravery.
that Stalin

.

After demobilization he rejoined the Red Army, still as
a cavalryman, being rapidly promoted from squadron to
regimental commander in 7 Cavalry Division, the commander of which was Rokossovsky. By the mid nineteen
twenties the Red
and the cavalry

Army had

been reduced to 562,000 men,
arm was a close and tightly knit circle.
Everyone knew everyone else and the cavalrymen who
escaped the Great Purge were to become the principal field

56

COL.

ALBERT SEATON

commanders during the Second World War. Among the
group of cavalry officers so close to Zhukov at this time
were Budenny, Timoshenko, Tyulenev, Rokossovsky, Sobennikov, Eremenko, Bagramyan, Kostenko, Cherevichenko,
Gorbatov, Muzychenko and Volsky. They were fellow
students on the higher cavalry courses and followed each
other in succession from appointment to appointment.
By 1931, at the age of thirty-five, Zhukov was commanding a division, and by 1937 a corps; two years later
he was ordered to the Far East to command the forces engaged in border fighting against the Japanese, and, in May
1940, was nominated to command Kiev Military District.
At the time of this appointment he was interviewed, for the
first time, by Stalin.
As a youth Zhukov had been a great reader, this in an
age when a large proportion of the Russian peasantry was
totally illiterate. His bookishness brought him to the attention of his sergeant-major "old four and a half fingers,"
who tried in vain to browbeat him into becoming the
squadron clerk. Yet Zhukov was, and remained, without
the discipline of a higher academic education. Although he
attended many long senior officers' courses, he was neither
staff trained nor staff qualified. Much of his later knowledge, he claimed, was acquired by the wide reading of
military history; and the instruction of his cavalry arm
guided his inclinations towards campaigns based on movement and the study of war at operational level.
Stalin, probably for the first time, saw Zhukov for what
he was; an outstanding field commander of cavalry and
armor, but hardly a Chief of General Staff. It is possible
that he began to compare Zhukov's qualities with those of
the charming, pliant and clever Shaposhnikov, a man so
liked and respected, even by the dictator, that everyone
got on well with him.
Zhukov began to displease the dictator, who merely rode
roughshod over him. When Lieutenant-General Khrulev, the
Quartermaster-General, was ordered by Stalin and Mikoyan
to prepare a plan divorcing the ration and fuel supply and
the medical services from the General Staff (which had
previously complained that it was unable to cope with these
problems) the paper was handed by Stalin to Zhukov for
comment. Zhukov, suddenly objecting to the diminishing

THE BATTLE FOR M03C0W

57

of his responsibility, began to splutter and protest. In silence
Stalin took back the paper, reached for his pen and, with
a hard and meaningful look in Zhukov's direction, signed
it.

at

Not another word was said.
The final break with Zhukov came only a few days later,
the end of July, when an angry Stalin, apparently dis-

pleased at Zhukov's suggestion that it might be necessary
to evacuate Kiev, dismissed him, sending him firstly to
command the Reserve Front and then, afterwards, to
Leningrad, since the, city appeared to be in danger of falling to von Leeb's forces.
Shaposhnikov returned once more to be Chief of General
Staff, a post he held from the end of July 1941 to June
1942. For Shaposhnikov was to Stalin what Jodl was to
Hitler.

Lieutenant-General Vatutin, the Deputy Chief of General Staff, shared Zhukov's temporary eclipse and was sent
to North- West Front as chief of staff, the most important
post of Deputy Chief of General Staff being given to

Major-General Vasilevsky, the chief of the operations department, an ofl^icer who, in addition to becoming Chief
of General Staff in 1942, was to undertake many command
functions.

himself had little military experience. He had
escaped being conscripte4 into the Tsarist Army in 1916
on the pretext that his arm was deformed and two toes
grown together, and his only pretensions to military fame
were based on his activities as a military commissar and
political member of the military councils of the old revolutionary South and South- West Fronts, mainly at Tsaritsyn (Stalingrad), during the Civil War. There he had
acted as Lenin's ears and eyes, the watchdog of the efficiency and pohtical reliability of military commanders and
staffs, and it was on the Volga that he had become acquainted with Voroshilov, Budenny, Timoshenko and TyuStalin

lenev.

Although he was

to ascribe to himself the success of the

Tsaritsyn operations in the accounts written after he had
destroyed his rivals and taken over the USSR as its dictator,
he appears to have shown no evidence of great military
ability but rather an overbearing determination to assert
his will.

58

COL.

ALBERT SEATON

Menace was never absent from Stalin's relationship and
dealings with members of the Politburo and his military
commanders and staffs, a number of whom had only just
been rehabilitated from the terror and barbarity of the
concentration camp. The evidence of Western observers
at that time shows that Stalin's circle rarely dared to give
an opinion before the dictator had spoken, and then it
merely hastened to agree with him.
Soviet descriptions of the dictator, as he was during the
war years, are often contradictory and sometimes exaggerated. Although much of the bitterly anti-Stalinist speeches
made by Khrushchev in 1956 can be discounted together
with parts of the more recent Zhukov account, an account
which was probably written at the bidding of the present
day rulers of the Soviet Union in an attempt to rehabilitate
Stalin, nearly all of the descriptions make the same telling
points.23

There can be no possible doubt that the overall direction
of the war lay entirely in Stalin's hands. He alone was the
Commander-in-Chief, and the General Staff and Ministry
of Defense provided the organs through which Stalin
prosecuted the military side of the war. The Stavka formed
only an advisory council and its decisions, which in reality
were Stalin's decisions, were executed through the General
Staff.

Eventually a routine of work was evolved. Stalin rose
shortly before noon to be briefed on battle developments
during the past twelve hours, these reports having been
telephoned to the Kremlin by the General Staff. At five in
the afternoon he received a further telephone briefing. Late
each night a General Staff delegation, headed by the Chief
or Deputy Chief of General Staff, arrived at the Kremlin
rooms which Stalin used as an office.
There, in the arched-roofed, light oak paneled gallery
of the ancient fortress, under the massive oil portraits of
the Tsarist generals Suvorov and Kutuzov (which, on the
outbreak of war, Stalin had hung beside those of Marx and
Lenin), the General Staff representatives, having brought
their marked maps and more important documents with
them, made their reports.

The listening Stalin would pace up and down the room.
At a long table against the opposite wall members of the

tic:

GKO

battle for Moscow

59

and members of the Stavka and
the heads of the arms and main directorates, Voronov,
Yakoviev, Fedorenko and Novikov might be in attendance
in case technical questions were raised concerning their
own arm. These meetings often continued until three or
four in the morning. Throughout the whole of his working
day Stalin was in touch with the front headquarters in the
field by telephone or short wave radio, operated by his
own adjoining signal center and secretariat under his per-

would be

sitting,

sonal secretary, Poskrebyshev.
Stalin demanded accurate, timely information and great
ex