Handwritten testimony of Field Marshal E. von Kleist regarding the German campaign in southern Russia: Parts IV-V
1. Brauchitsch in command
At roughly the end of August, the western bank of the Dnieper had been reached along its entire length - from Nikolayev-Kherson to a point north of Kiev. Bridgeheads had been established or were being established near Kherson (11th Army), Dnepropetrovsk (3rd Panzer Corps of the panzergruppe), Kremenchug (17th Army) and north of Kiev (6th Army). Information had been received concerning large enemy forces in the Nogai Steppe and in front of the Dnepropetrovsk bridgehead, as well as a very strong concentration of enemy forces near Kiev and to the east of the city. Field Marshal von Brauchitsch decided to attack by surrounding the large concentration of enemy forces near Kiev by means of an enveloping maneuver on the part of Army Groups Center and South.
For this, Army Group South was to 1) pin down enemy forces along the front, and 2) take the enemy from the rear by advancing from the east to the west, with the main attacks as follows: by an attack from the bridgehead north of Kiev and directed towards the south-east; by units of the 17th Army striking out from the Kremenchug bridgehead toward the north-west and; by panzer forces also moving out from the Kremenchug bridgehead. These panzer forces (one panzer corps*) were to be brought up from the Nikolayev area. Alongside these panzer forces, striking from Kremenchug, and the units of the 6th Army, attacking from the bridgehead north of Kiev, the operation was to also include units belonging to Army Group Center and the 2nd Panzergruppe.
A preliminary condition for success of this encirclement operation lay in surprise, as if carried out suddenly in a span of a day, so that the enemy was unable divine our intentions prematurely.
In order to coordinate all necessary movements, Colonel-General Halder flew out to the army group headquarters to discuss details of the operation.
This battle had still not concluded, when the panzer corps, belonging to Army Group South and which was advancing in the sector of Rovno from east to west, was transferred to the 2nd Panzergruppe.** The headquarters of the 1st Panzergruppe and the XIV Panzer Corps, which were operating in an easterly direction, were placed at the disposal of Army Group South for further assignments.
Meanwhile, the 11th Army had invaded the Nogai steppe, in order to push back the Russian army located there and to seize the approaches to the Crimea. The 11th Army became engaged in heavy fighting between the Sea of Azov and the Dnieper bend.
The army group command radioed the 1st Panzergruppe: “Turn back! Free the III Panzer Corps from its encirclement at the Dnieper bridgehead. Attack the enemy line along the river. Strike the forces fighting the 11th Army from the rear. The 11th Army awaits. Forward!”
At that moment, the XIV Panzer Corps struck southwards. I consider this to be a remarkable example of allowing for the freedom of operations. After this battle on the shores of the Sea of Azov at the beginning of October, the entire left bank [eastern bank – skoblin] of the Dnieper was now in the hands of the army group. The 11th Army captured the Tartar Wall along the Perekop, while Rumanian forces seized Odessa.
3. End of the 1st Panzergruppe
It was around this time that the 1st Panzer Army was formed on the basis of the 1st Panzergruppe, with the headquarters staff of the panzergruppe transformed into an army staff. A large strategic-operational armoured formation, consisting of panzer and motorised divisions, ceased to exist in its pure form. In its place arose a typical army which still possessed panzer formations. Later, there would occur cases when panzer armies would in general not have panzer units yet still be referred to as panzer armies, as occurred with the 2nd Panzer Army.
In the final analysis, the panzer army was in no wise distinguishable from any other army, yet it existed at the expense of the tradition of the old panzergruppe. Armies, with their vast operational and supply apparatus were connected to an operational area, to a specific territory. The panzergruppe, however, as a resource under the operational command of the army group, could be compared to a hunting falcon, which hovers over the entire operational theater of the army group, observes the fighting taking place in the army sectors, and is quickly thrown to that spot where its appearance alone will decide the outcome of the battle.
Thus, for example, in France: one day, at the mouth of the Somme river near Abbeville, Calais and Boulogne, then with the 18th Army outside Dunkirk. Immediately afterwards, with the 6th Army through the Weygand Line southwards, with the XVIII Army Corps across the Marne, near Lyons in the vicinity of the Italian Alps, and then alongside Biatritz on the coast of the Bay of Biscay and the Italian border.
And then here, in the summer of 1941: near Kiev with the 6th Army, then in the sector of the 17th Army***, near Nikolayev with the 11th Army, near Kiev with the 2nd Panzergruppe, and immediately afterwards on the shore of the Sea of Azov as the saviour of the 11th Army. For me, tank warfare ended with this battle on the shore of the Azov – whether it was still conducted on other fronts by the Germans, I do not know.
I assume the Red Army employed a large tank force in the capture of Berlin, during the advance from the north-east through Renluch and upon forcing through the line at Nauen-Deberitz.
V. To the Donets Basin
1. Further to the east
During my sojourn in England****, Feldmarschall von Rundstedt told me that he had proposed a plan that the Germans should dig in behind the Dnieper river after the fighting on the east bank had ended. From several rejoinders, the details of which I have already forgotten, I concluded that Feldmarschall von Brauchitsch also insisted that the German eastern army should cross over to positional warfare for the winter. Events, however, transpired otherwise. Following the battles on the sector of Army Group Center at the beginning of October, Hitler arrived at the conviction that the Red Army was finished. Accordingly, despite the lateness of the season, he ordered an offensive against Moscow and a last gasp pursuit of the enemy along the entire front. Thus, Army Group South began a further advance with the 1st Panzer Army on the right flank, the 17th Army in the center, and the 6th Army, which advanced to Khar'kov, on the left flank. Meanwhile, the 11th Army was to storm the Crimea.
This advance was halted along a general line running from Taganrog to Khar'kov. The lengthy marches and incessant fighting had sapped the strength of the infantry, difficulties arose with supply and the tanks were out of fuel. The railway line ended on the western bank of the Dnieper and then vast distances had to be surmounted amidst the fall rasputitsa*****. Supply of the armies by air was insufficient.
Fighting stretched out for several weeks, in the course of which the German armies closed up, as did the Russian front facing the German army group. Winter with its severe cold arrived especially early that year. Winter uniforms, which had been prepared earlier by the German High Command, could not be brought up, as the lengthy offensive operations and marches made ammunition, fuel and provisions the priority. Generalfeldmarschall von Brauchitsch was subsequently relieved of duty on account of illness and Hitler personally took command of the land armies and thus the Eastern Front.
2. Positional warfare during the winter of 1941-1942
Thus,from a “last gasp pursuit of the enemy,” positional warfare arose. Army Group South's front ran along the Mius-Donets line until a point north of Khar'kov. Both sides began feeling each other out and an initial foray was made against Rostov. The Red Army displayed significant initiative, making an amphibious landing on the Crimea, near Feodosiya, while attacking constantly at various places along the army group front. We reckoned that the Red Army forces surpassed us by a factor of 2 or 3, and they had excellent weapons and equipment.