20 June 2011

The Biggest War in History, Part Three: One step forward, two steps back

Soviet troops counter attacking in 1941 (via Wikipedia)

Part Two

During one of the coldest winters on record (the 1940s was a particularly cold decade), the Red Army launched a counter-attack against the German forces that had invaded their homeland. While this succeeded in removing Moscow from direct danger, it wasn't the spectacular success of the initial German invasion and eventually stalled as the weather improved.

The counter-offensive should be better remembered for two new weapons that fully arrived on the scene during it - the T-34 medium tank, considered to be one of the best tanks of the war and the Katayusha (although both had featured in combat earlier). The latter deserves further discussion.

The BM-13 truck-mounted rocket artillery system isn't the most accurate weapon on earth by any stretch of the imagination. Chucking a load of small rockets at a large area does not cause a lot of property damage or a huge number of casualties.

What it does cause is a lot of fear, because you never know where the next one is going to land. This leads to the troops on the receiving end being rather ineffective at best as they're too busy trying to stay alive.

The psychological effect of Multiple Launch Rocket Systems is apparent even today - far more Israeli children have suffered mental problems than actually being killed by Hamas and Hezbollah rocket attacks.

I would not like to come under attack from them, that's for sure.

On 28 June 1942, the Germans launched another offensive - called Case Blue by them - aimed at Stalingrad and the Caucasus region. The area contained vast reserves of oil and other important resources needed for the German war effort; an effort that was rapidly consuming the materials that Germany had available to it.

In hindsight, the entire offensive was a stupid idea - it was too ambitious by half.

The offensive initially went well - the Germans took the areas of the Crimea that they'd not got the previous year and advanced rapidly towards what is now Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. If Hitler could get through those, he could open the door to Turkey and the Middle East, causing Britain problems in Egypt.

He didn't though - the Red Army had plenty of reserves available and threw them in to the massive battles that unfolded. German progress stalled in the Caucasus and stalled badly. The new target of the Wehrmacht now became Stalingrad - the fall of that, it would believe, would be a massive blow to Soviet prestige.

That battle will be covered tomorrow, but it is fair to say that the Soviets had taken one step forward near Moscow and two steps back in the Caucasus. They weren't out by any means, but much of their territory remained under German occupation and their casualties were still huge. They had the men to spare, but that's of course no comfort to the families.

It would be another miserable winter for the citizens of the western USSR, especially the Jews.

Part Four

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