As Army Group Centre began to suffer its first serious setbacks, unable to cope with the extreme weather conditions and facing unexpectedly strong counter-attacks, it became increasingly apparent that they would not be able to achieve the objective of Moscow.
At the Fuehrer headquarters Generaloberst Franz Halder was to witness the deteriorating state of relations between Hitler and his generals, especially Walther von Brauchitsch, overall Commander of the Army:
The Fuehrer is in a state of extreme agitation over the situation. He forbids withdrawal of the army to the line Taganrog-Mius-mouth of the Bakhmut River, and demands that the retrograde move be halted farther east. Alongside this, there is even talk of an attack by Seventeenth Army on Voroshilovgrad. These people have no conception of the condition of our troops, and keep grinding out ideas in a vacuum.
ObdH [Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres (Commander of the Army) – Walther von Brauchitsch ] was ordered to the Fuehrer at 1300. The interview appears to have been more than disagreeable, with the Fuehrer doing all the talking, pouring out reproaches and abuse, and shouting orders as fast as they came into his head. Regrettably, ObdH yielded to the Fuehrer’s insistence and has issued the order not to fall back to the aforementioned line in one move.
Field Marshal von Rundstedt’s reply was that he could not comply with the order and asked that either the order be changed or he be relieved of his post.
Inasmuch as the Fuehrer had reserved the decision for himself, the request was passed on to the Fuehrer in its exact wording. In tight situations such as these, only the commander on the spot can have a complete picture, and his decision must be trusted. Such confidence would certainly be in order in the case of von Rundstedt. The people at army group have done everything in their power. Let them have a free hand, and they will handle their end of the job.