The road to Stalingrad.

Army Group South - part 1


Operation Barbarossa 1941

Captain von Rosenbach-Lepinski is said to have told his motorcycle reconnaissance
battalion : "The war with Russia will last only four weeks."

Army Group South
(Between the Pripet Marshes and the Carpathian mountains - map barbarossa

In the south, where Soviet forces were strongest, the German advance was much
less rapid as planned. Red Army General Kirponos had managed to establish a defence
in depth rather then line his armies along the frontier. But although his divisions
inflicted quite heavy casualties on the Germans, their own losses were infinitely
greater. Kirponos  rushed his tank formations into the battle before they could
deploy effectively.

On the second day, 23 June, General Ewald von Kleist's First Panzer Group came up
against Soviet divisions equiped with the T-34 tank, and for the very first time,
German crews saw the T-34 tank, the best general-purpose tank developed in the
Second World War.

The reduction of the southern front between the Pripet Marshes and the Carpathian
mountains took much longer than expected. Fieldmarshall von Reichenau's 6th Army
found itself continually harassed by Russian forces cut off in the wooded swampland
to its left. Reichenau wanted prisoners executed as partisans, wether or not they
still wore uniform. Red Army units also shot their German captives, especially
Luftwaffe pilots who had baled out. There were few opportunities for sending them
to the rear, and they did not want them to be saved by the enemy in advance.
In Lvov, the capital of Galicia, the NKVD slaughtered political prisoners to prevent
their release by the Germans. Its savagery was no doubt increased by the atmos-
phere of suspicion and chaos in the city, with drunkenness and looting.
Lvov was subjected not only to aerial bombing, but also to sabotage by German
organized groups of Ukrainian nationalists. The mood of violent fear had been
fuelled just before the invasion by jibes from the non-Russian population.
"The Germans are coming to get you".

Fieldmarshall von Rundstedt's army group, now supported by Romanians, Hungarians
and the German 11th Army took 100.000 prisoners from the divisions trapped in the
Uman pocket early in August. The advance into the Ukraine across the open, rolling
priarie with sunflowers, soya beans and unharvested corn, seemed unstoppable.

(The Romanians, Hungarians together with 11th German Army, supported Army Group
South on July 01, 1941, after the danger of a Russian counterattack against
the Romanian oilfields near Ploesti was gone. The Ploesti oilfields were vital for the
German war industry.)

The greatest concentration of Soviet forces lay round the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.
Their commander in Chief was Marshal Budenny, with Nikita Krushchev as chief
commissar, whose main responsibility was the evacuation of industrial machinery
to the east.

Once Rundstedt's mobile forces had finished at Uman, they continued, veering to
the south of Kiev. Kleist's First Panzer Group then swung north, joining up with
Guderian's divisions (Army Group Center), whose sudden strike down from the
central front took the Soviet command by surprise. The danger of a terrible trap
became plain, but Stalin refused to abandon Kiev. On 21 September, the encirclement
battle of Kiev ended. The Germans claimed 665.000 prisoners. Hitler called it " the
greatest battle in world history". The Chief of the General Staff, Halder, on the
other hand, called it the greatest strategic mistake of the campaign in the east.
Like Guderian, he felt that all their energies should have been concentrated
on Moscow.