Hitler falls out with his High Command

Army Group A in the south of the Soviet Union were headed for the oilfields. The terrain and supply problems meant that progress had dramatically slowed. German Gebirgsjäger operating a 2 cm anti-aircraft gun in the Central Caucasus near Teberda, September 1942.

When Hitler had launched Operation Blau, his main offensive for 1942, the principal objective had been to seize the Soviet oilfields. It was a bold strategy that the Russians were unprepared for, expecting the Germans to resume the offensive towards Moscow. If the Germans got the oilfields not only would they secure for themselves the means to continue the war but they would be denying it to the Soviets. Yet the main oilfields were a long, long distance away.

At first the offensive went well, at least in terms of territory seized. On paper Army Group South was making rapid progress towards the deep south, towards the very edge of Europe. In the field there were enormous logistical difficulties – the Army was at the very end of a supply chain already stretched to breaking point. Very soon some units were without the fuel and ammunition to keep the pace going.

It was just as this situation was becoming apparent, in July, that Hitler decided to split Army Group South into two. Army Group A would continue southwards to the Caucasus and beyond. Army Group B would head further east towards Stalingrad. Field Marshal Bock was relieved of his command for arguing with the decision. Field Marshal List took over Army Group A.

By the end of August it was clear that Army Group A was running out of steam. Jodl was despatched out to the far east to discover what was wrong:

Generaloberst Alfred Jodl, Chief of Operation Staff OKW

7th September 1942

Jodl is back from Army Group A.

Brought a clear appreciation of the situation confirming that it is no longer possible to force the Russians over the mountain chain and into the sea. Only flexible tactics possible in area of opportunity and in it last attempt will be made to reach Grozny and Cas[pian] Sea with concentrated forces; not Astrakhan, no forces available for it.

F. got more worked up minute by minute, sensing the failure of the offensive, had harsh words for supply service, deficiency of initiative on the part of the higher field commanders, placed all blame on OKH, Chief of the General Staff and Jodl. Final break with Jodl who is still attempting to transfer the main thrust exclusively towards south,

From the diary of Major Gerhard Engel, see At the Heart of the Reich: The Secret Diary of Hitler’s Army Adjutant

Now it was the turn of Field Marshal List to be sacked. Jodl should have told him to get on with it, not come back reporting that it was actually impossible.

This was the major breakdown in personal relations between Hitler and his High Command. He stopped taking his meals with them. The atmosphere worsened. The furious rages became more common.

Whatever the problems with Army Group A there would soon be some good news for Hitler from Army Group B. On the 12th General Paulus came to report on the situation in Stalingrad. The Russians now only held a sliver of land on the west bank of the Volga. Paulus was confident that the whole city would be in German hands in a matter of ‘days’.

Heavy street fighting continued in Stalingrad but the Germans were confident that the battle for the city would soon be over.

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