2011/04/29

Historical crappy ideas. Today: "Fall Blau"

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Fall Blau (case blue) was the title of the Axis summer offensive of 1942 on the Eastern Front.

Historical advance of the axis forces as part of Fall Blau - (c) by gdr

Early 1942.
Germany had needlessly declared war on the United States late in 1941 and had learned that the Soviet Union was still powerful despite the incredible Red Army losses of the second half of 1941. It was predictable that U.S. forces would make their involvement felt in the next year (1943), and the British were still building their forces and learning valuable lessons in North Africa. There were no reserves left for securing the undefended Western Mediterranean in the next winter - the Red Army had to be defeated decisively in 1942 if Hitler's military long-term strategy (defending the conquered regions against the superior economic power of the Allies) should stand a chance.

The Soviets expected the German OKW (supreme command of armed forces) to be intelligent and to seek a decisive battle in the centre of the front, near Moscow.

The Stavka (or Soviet High Command), was unable to discern the direction of the main German strategic offensive in 1942 that they were expecting. Stalin was convinced the primary German strategic goal in 1942 would be Moscow, in part due to Fall Kremel ("Case Kremlin"), a German deception plan aimed at Moscow. 57% of all Red Army troops were deployed in that region. However, the direction of the German offensive was still defended by the Bryansk, South-Western and Southern fronts that between them accounted for 25% of all All-Arms armies, nearly 30% of all Soviet artillery, over 38% of all tanks and 42% of all Red Air force aircraft.
(wikipedia, primary source Glantz/House)

Obviously, Stavka (Soviet supreme command of armed forces) was in error when it assumed intelligent major decisions at the OKW.

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The actual Fall Blau was an operation that made sense at first glance for a long war. It was meant to reduce the capability of the Soviets to maintain their war effort. The advance to Stalingrad was meant to take out this traffic bottleneck (both in terms of railway lines and Volga shipping) in order to secure the flank for the main push to the south. This latter main push had superficially two advantages; to capture the world-famous oil producing region of Baku and -possibly- to enlist the Caucasus people (such as the Chechens) which were well-known for not being loyal to Moscow or to anything Russian in general. It seems almost nobody in the OKW thought about enlisting locals at all, though. Most were likely already conscripted or deported anyway. The oil was -as usual- the primary motivator. Oh, and the Gulf region with its Iranian oil fields was 'just behind' the Caucasus as well.

I wrote "at first glance" and "superficially" for a reason: The whole idea was crap.

Independent of what influential people might have thought at the time; the plan sucked.

The oil argument sucked:
Stalin was easily able to disable the oil production facilities and refineries. The oil wells and refinery at the small Maikop oil field north of the Caucasus were thoroughly demolished when German troops conquered the area.
The wells might have been repairable in the summer of 1943, but certainly not in the long winter of 42/43. Oil refineries are extremely complicated installations with an incredible quantity of pipes, boilers and so on. A repair after a thorough demolition was uneconomical. The construction of a new refinery would take years, especially at the end of a thousands of kilometres long railway supply line. Germany could have made use of some oil from around Baku by late '43, but only so at the expense of railway capacity for the army. Oil containers would need to be shipped to Baku in mostly empty state and then be shipped back by railway (and few over the Black Sea).

The Stalingrad as flank security idea was also crap:
What was the flank security for the army at Stalingrad itself? The low morale Romanian troops (Romanians had little reason for being motivated to fight on the Eastern Front in '42 after their experiences of '40). This vulnerable part of the front was hardly providing security for the Caucasus advance as long as it was itself in peril.

There were even more serious problems in the plan:

The deception by Army Group Centre:
STAVKA was led to concentrate forces near Moscow. What were they supposed to do with these forces after the main push to south became obvious during the summer? In the best case they would end up having hundreds of well-trained divisions ready for a summer offensive 1943. In worst case they would attempt a major offensive or two on their own. The bottleneck of the German supply lines near Rostov was an obvious target for a counter-offensive.

The Western Powers:
Seriously, there was not some kind of Sahara, Himalayas or mega Bermuda Triangle south of the Caucasus region. The Americans and British would have been able to open a new front in Persia/Iran and would likely have been able to push the overextended German Army back to the Caucasus in '43. That would have stretched the allied shipping lanes, but also the German railway connections.

The whole advance towards the Caucasus was unnecessary:
To cut off the Caucasus region from Russia at Stalingrad was already enough. There was no need for capturing the economic riches of the Caucasus region (or what would be left after Red Army engineer demolition teams worked on them) simply because cutting them off from Russia would have sufficed.

On 29 July, German units blew up the last railroad links from central Russia to the Caucasus region.
("When Titans Clashed", Glantz/House, p.121)

An alternative

A possibly more promising OKW plan ("promising" entirely from an apolitical, purely operational art point of view) would have been to mount equal deception ops in the south (pointing at the Caucasus), in the centre (pointing at Moscow) and in the north (pointing at cutting Leningrad off for good). This would have left Stavka clueless.

Some reserves could have been relocated from France and other occupied regions to Russia, especially after the British Empire troops got a bloody nose at Dieppe. Historically, such reserve movements only took place during the crisis of early '43. Hitler thought rather the other way around  in '42 and sent fine divisions from the Eastern Front to Greece and France.

The early offensives could have aimed at eliminating local problems at the front:
- Capture of Sevastopol (South; Crimea)
- Capture of Kerch (South; Crimea)
- Capture of Rostov (South)
- Interruption of the Murmansk railway somewhere east of Finland (instead of attacking Murmansk directly) in order to interrupt the North Atlantic connection between the SU and the UK.
- multiple limited offensives in order to eliminate problematic salients
- multiple local withdrawals in order to change the front line to a more easily defensible front line

The second phase would have been to about a move towards a Don river line and towards Stalingrad to cut off both the Volga shipping and the railway lines between Russia and the Caucasus region. permanently.
Alternatively an armour corps could have been tasked with dominating the steppe south of the upper Volga in order to block land traffic in the region permanently. This might even have substituted for the capture of Stalingrad.
Non-German forces could have held the Crimea and the region around Rostov against whatever the Red Army could have mobilised for offensives in the Caucasus region. Few Western allies supply  shipments through Persia/Iran could have reached the central front in autumn '42.

These two phases were mostly meant to improve the situation instead of aiming at a quick defeat of the enemy. They could have tuned the enemy's strength in the Moscow region to an optimal degree and would have allowed for maximum concentration of German high quality forces in Army Group Centre (leaving mostly 2nd rate divisions to defend north and south).

The third phase could have been about a decisive battle for the Moscow region. By now, some of STAVKA's reserves should have been diverted away from the central front. This could have been a final and decisive battle - the Schwerpunkt for the whole European axis. It would have required maximum priority for resources, limited only by railway capacity.

A German success in such a final battle was rather unlikely, of course. The German army had lost too many motor vehicles, too many strong horses, too many young infantrymen, too many junior leaders. It had still problems with concentrations of T-34 and/or KV tanks due to too few long 75mm and 76 mm cannons in service and it had the inferior railway network capacity on its side.


This alternative plan is typical for me; first gain a solid stance, then strike. My martial arts training has probably left its mark.

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I came to this conclusion with the advantage of hindsight and plenty of time. The people at the OKW did not have these advantages, but they were supposed to (and it was their job to) settle on a better plan than the fatally flawed and superficial Fall Blau. They had the advantage of being a group of highly experienced professionals (and admittedly a few jerks). 

They didn't get the urgency right, were distracted by a too indirect means (oil) away from the key (the political, economic and military concentration in the Moscow region) and accepted a major risk too much. The jerk at the top of the OKW is to blame as well, of course.

S O
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10 comments:

  1. Nice analysis.

    I need to mull it over for awhile. You are right that the Romanian Armies were a weak link. I have always wondered if the plan, as flawed as it was, could have had more success if they had sent the Romi's, Hungarians, Slovaks, and Italians to Greece and Yugoslavia. An then giving Army Group South more German units and better unity of command???

    Also, was Maikop completely destroyed, with no POL coming out of there???

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  2. That's what Glantz/House wrote. It's also very reasonable. The much less fanatic Dutch did also thoroughly destroy their refinery in Dutch East Indies, the Japanese got almost no fuel from it in 42-45.

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  3. "could have had more success if they had sent the Romi's, Hungarians, Slovaks, and Italians to Greece and Yugoslavia"

    1. "Romi" ??? Who (or what) are those ?
    2. I don't know about the other armies mentioned, but it's highly unlikely the Romanian army would have been more motivated against the Serbs or the Greeks.

    For a thing, diplomatic relations between Romania and Yugoslavia were excellent in the inter-war years. Going to war against them would have been an EXTREMELY unpopular political move.

    As unconceivable as it may seem, Romania was actually pursuing specific goals in World War Two (I know, who'd have thought of that ?). Namely, getting back the territory it had lost to Hungary and the Soviet Union. Antonescu was more than Hitler's puppet.

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  4. Daniel I:

    Please accept apologies for my attempt at shorthand, no offense was intended.

    I am interested though on the history of that period. I have always understood that Romania was forced into giving away Bessarabia, Bukovina, northern Transylvania, and Dobruja by Hitler. That was probably as revenge for joining with the Allies in WW-I. So tell me this: how does allying with Germany in WW-2 get back the territory lost to Hungary and Bulgaria? Why not declare war on those two countries in addition to going after the Soviets? And why join the Axis in November of 1940 when Hitler had a non-aggression pact with Stalin at that time? Why join the Axis when Hungary, who had stolen northern Transylvania with Hitler's approval, was already allied with Germany? Why participate in 'Fall Blau' with the Hungarians as your ally?

    I suspect taht Herr Hitler was much better at Central European foreign policy than he was at strategy. But than that is not saying much.

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  5. A German Panzer Division at the Romanian oil fields at Ploesti in '41 meant that Romania would lose no more territories.

    It would have been overrun like Yugoslavia or like in 1916 if it had turned to the Allies before '44.

    Now the only thing it had to gain by fighting as Hitler's ally was
    # short-term security against Germany, Bulgaria and Hungary
    # take back Bessarabia at least

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  6. @mike

    Relax. I'm not particularly nationalistic, nor easily offended. It's just that I'd never that word before. The only "Romi" I've heard of are the Gypsies - and calling a Romanian that won't get you far with him/her :-)

    To answer your question - quite simply, there was no other choice for Romania.
    Going to war alone with any of the countries you mentioned would have resulted in disaster.
    Neutrality was not a realistic option - Hitler wanted Romanian oil, Stalin wanted to deny him that.
    Alliance with the Soviets was simply out of the question...

    So, joining the Axis was pretty much the only option left. Plus, Antonescu apparently believed that the Wehrmacht was capable of winning the war.
    Also, he was hoping that by proving loyalty to the German cause, Hitler would return northern Transylvania (this is not a joke).

    @Sven
    To be fair, the Romanian army did manage to recover (with French assistance, of course) from the disaster of 1916, and even managed to defeat the German army in 1917.

    Also, the reason why Romania switched sides in 1944 was the fear of being annexed by the Soviets. But hey, at least my lovely Bucharest (sarcasm here) had the rare privilege of being bombed by both sides (USAF and the Luftwaffe)

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  7. First two phases good but third needs too be worked on unless it was an audacious battle plan. As far as I know Hitler had too much to do with the planing, like Stalin. Both were untrained and convinced of their 'godly' powers. as we all know Stalingrad became a symbolic battle, Hitler had to fight it.

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  8. when is the next exotic weapon?

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  9. To be honest: When I'm in the mood.
    - - -
    Third phase would likely see an attack on Moscow from south because of the terrains.

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  10. Fall Blau developed as a logical consequence of taking Crimean Peninsula. Hitler hadn't enough heavy artillery to take both Leningrad and Sevastopol (although I agree taking Leningrad and using ship lanes to deliver supplies to the overstreched army lines may have been a better idea) so he had to take a pick. He always saw the threat of long-range bombers attacking the Ploiesti oilfieds (and thus efficiently put a stop to the German war machine) and that's why he regarded both Sicily and Crimea as "huge natural airfields" and wanted to keep those regions boogie-free. The whole late war revolved around Romania and possible threats to its territory because that was the main reliable source for all Axis motorized effort.
    After taking Crimea the plan developed quite soundly - because the Caucasus was to be invaded not only from the above but also through Kerch narrows letting the Germans open 2 separate fronts. Speed was seen as being the key-factor, that's why they stripped all vehicles from the Army Group B and assigned them to A. There was no plan to advance and clash the West forces into Persia although these may develop at a later date if everything went fine. West advance into southern Russia to repel the germans would have been a real pain and also seen as a political blunder by the soviets. Stalin specifically asked the Western Powers only war materiel and never troops in USSR operational theatre. However due to the potential German menace the British might have seen the need to squander their already limited resources to defend this new threat - thus ending the pressure in Egypt. Actually what doomed the 3rd Reich was its inability to perceive even the slightest threat in to US military power. They always regarded "the Americans" as being a third rate military power, albeit a first-rate economy.
    Thus, prime targets for the Wehrmacht were Murmansk, Vladivostok and Caucasus. Because of political issues (Finns didn't want to be involved into offensive actions into Russian territory, Japanese signed a non-agression pact with the Soviets), Caucasus was the only way they could hope to hinder the allied help to Soviets. Should Hitler have seen the danger of an American invasion to North Africa he might have refrain from acting offensively in Russia, instead building defenses and buying time.
    If the bulk of Wehrmacht forces could have been pitted against Western forces (which didn't have the luxury of numbers as Russians did) then the Allied invasion might have been repelled indefinitely and they might have the upper hand to deal with the soviets later in the war.
    The upcoming development of the A-bomb might have switch the war into a Cold one on the "tertium gaudens" principle. A stalemate with the Soviets would have assured none of these states is capable to mount a threat to Western World and their colonies at that time.
    As it is today, assassinating one State's most valued scientists is far easier and cheaper than going full scale war with that nation.

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