At school, Jinnie had been taught how Germany under Adolf Hitler had the taken over the rest of Western Europe (excluding Switzerland, Spain, Portugal and Ireland), Eastern Europe and with its partner Italy, much of North Africa and some of the oil-rich Arab states. They had moved into Russia and occupied vast swathes before the peace treaty of Moscow in February 1942 had ceded the occupied lands to the Third Reich including the Ukraine, Georgia and the oil fields in the Caspian, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. Now she wanted to know the details.
The oldies had lived through post-collapse events in Britain, but none of them had been intimately involved with operation Barbarossa. However, all of them knew friends or relatives who had been involved as the Germans had recruited divisions from England and South Wales when they had struggled for manpower, so they knew much that wasn’t in the history books, on the Internet or in MSM. Of course, the TV showed war films and documentaries about the glorious Wehrmacht and their victories over the communists.
Instead of playing whist the oldie’s told her what they had learnt of Operation Barbarossa the German attack on the Soviet Union. At 03:15 on 22nd June 1941, Hitler unleashed his attack on Russia across a wide front, utilising 153 divisions comprising over 3,000,000 men, breaking a two-year-old non-aggression pact and taking the Russian completely by surprise. The 153 included divisions raised from several of the countries the Third Reich had already taken including Finland and Romania, even the Italians joined in. Hitler had several aims, he didn’t want the whole of Russia. Hitler wanted just the west of Russia which had vast areas devoted to agriculture, particularly grain, and to ensure his access to the Romanian oil fields. The attack had originally been planned for the early spring but the invasions of Britain, Yugoslavia and Greece had delayed things a little.
Hitler had never fully trusted Stalin, despite the non-aggression pact, and when the Red Army had moved into the Baltic States, Bessarabia and northern Bukovina they were too getting close to the Romanian oil fields for his comfort. So Hitler planned to roll into Western Russia, depopulate it of the native Slavic population that the Nazis considered sub-human and replace them with native Germans. At the same time, the Army were to also have a group swing to the south behind the Sea of Azov and open up Georgia and the Oilfields of the Caucasus including Armenia and Azerbaijan. The intention was to stop at Turkey as this would acted as a natural buffer between the British Empire troops in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Egypt who were subject to the armistice.
All of this was new to Jinnie. At school, she had been taught how it had been the Soviets who had breached the non-aggression pact, invaded greater Germany and the superior Wehrmacht who had counter-attacked fighting to the gates of Moscow where the Soviets had agreed a peace treaty. This was only partially true. The German initial attacks had been incredibly successful. Hitler’s intelligence had warned that the attack had to be quick to not allow time for the Soviets to bring up reinforcements from the east where it was believed to have 150 divisions of their own. The Russian were caught totally cold when the heavy guns opened up and the bombers went in, targeting bridges, railway lines, fuel and ammunition dumps and in particular the command and control points. As soon as the heavy guns stopped the tanks went in, cutting through the Soviets minimal defences.
With their command and control system no longer in existence, the Red Army was quickly retreating. At first, Stalin didn’t believe the reports that the Heer were attacking from the Baltic to Romania. At 07:15 he issued an order for all forces to defend against the Germans and then in a second order for all units to counterattack, completely oblivious that it was impossible. In fact, it was several days before the Soviet leadership realised just what a perilous position they were in. Reports coming into German Military HQ estimated that the Luftwaffe had destroyed 1,489 Russia aircraft on the first day of fighting and 3,100 over the first 3 days for the loss of just 49 aircraft thus giving the infantry freedom of movement on the battlefields. These numbers were huge, and Hermann Göring didn’t believe them so he got officers counting wreckage on the battlefield and at the captured airfields. This revealed that the initial count was, in fact, conservative and that actually over 2,000 aircraft had been destroyed on day one alone.
In the Baltic area the German Group North went straight through the Soviet lines, the following day the Soviets counterattacked as ordered. But it failed. On the 26th June, the Soviets were ordered to withdraw to the Western Dvina River and form a defensive line. However, the German Panzers got there first and secured a bridgehead over the river. The Red Army now received the instruction to retreat to the Stalin line just short of Leningrad. On 2nd July the Heer began its assault on the Stalin line and by the 9th July they were through it and advancing on Leningrad.
The Army Group South started out from Romania and quickly punched through the Russian front line. This army group split into north and south but were both initially held up by the terrain which gave the Russians time to react and bring up reinforcements. On the 22nd June, German tanks broke through the Soviet 5th Army. The following day Soviet mechanised divisions attempted to attack the Panzers from either flank. On the northern flank, the attacking tanks went in piecemeal and were decimated. On the southern flank, the Panzers avoided the Russian who attacked the infantry regiments who were following up the Panzers. Once again the Russian armour was decimated, this time by anti-tank weapons and the Luftwaffe.
4 days later the Russians launched another counterattack on the advancing Germans. This time 4 Soviet tank divisions again attacked from both flanks with some 1650 tanks. After 4 days of fierce tank battles, the Soviets had lost so much armour that they were instructed to retreat to the Stalin line to defend the approaches to Kiev.
In the southern section, the Germans and Romanians attacked into Soviet Moldovia. They pushed forward despite fighting off several powerful counterattacks until 9th July when they stalled just short of the Dniester river.
The Centre Group attacked into Belorussia where the Luftwaffe had already won total air superiority and anti-communist fifth columnist had attacked many communications centres, bridges and railway lines. As a result, the Russian defence was paralysed and the Germans crossed the Bug River on the first day. Splitting into two groups, the Germans pushed on towards Minsk and Vilnius. On the 24th and 25th June the Russians were ordered to counterattack the army attacking towards Minsk, but it had moved on the previous day and was now at the gates of the city. Instead, the Russian tanks once again found the following up infantry with the same results as before, they were decimated by anti-tank weapons and aircraft. Despite several further unsuccessful counterattacks, the Germans took Minsk on 28th June.
The two parts of the attack then linked up surrounding several pockets of Red Army soldiers. The Germans destroyed two Soviet armies and inflicted serious loses on 4 more.
It was reported that the Germans had captured 324,000 Soviet troops, 3,300 tanks and 1,800 artillery pieces. On June 29th Hitler ordered the Panzers to halt to allow the infantry to catch up. However, field commanders carried on attacking east towards Bobruisk, but reported back to the high command that it was only a “reconnaissance in force”. On the 2nd July lead elements of the infantry had caught up and the Panzers resumed their full out attack.
In the far north, Finland had wanted to remain neutral but had an agreement with Germany that if attacked by Russia they would join in with the Germans. Germans did all they could to get the Russians to attack Finland even launching air raids into Russia from Finland and even attacking several Russian border towns. Consequently, the Russians bombed all the major Finnish cities and industrial centres on June 25th. That night Hitler got what he wanted and the Finns attacked Russia on two fronts. Jinnie wanted to hear more but the oldies were tired. It would have to wait until the following week.
On the next Thursday, the regular whist night, Jinnie was surprised by someone extra being in Ethel’s flat. The stranger was a fair-haired woman of, Jinnie guessed, about 25. Ethel introduced her as her goddaughter, Pandora, and explained that she had asked her to come along tonight as she knew a lot more about want happened in the “New Territories” after the Treaty of Moscow.
With that Bert took up the tale where they had left off last week. The Germans were advancing on most fronts but some were much slower than others. By the 1st September, the Southern Group had advanced on a wide front to the Dnieper River, had established several bridgeheads onto the opposite bank and were getting ready to press on to the east. The Northern Group were equally successful, on the northern flank they had taken Tallinn, Novgorod, Smolensk and Gomel. However, the Central Group were only advancing very slowly towards Kiev, leaving a large area of land in the hands of the Russians. The OKW wanted to take Kiev and close the gap between the Northern and Southern Army Groups.
To close this gap, forces moved north from the Southern Group and south from the Northern Group to encircle Kiev. The move to the south was matched by a second German army moving east and encircling 3 Soviet armies near the city of Uman. The German heavy guns were used to eliminate the pocket. The Germans then press on south to complete the encirclement of Kiev, which was achieved on the 16th September when the two armies met. In the trap were 4 Russian Armies and parts of two others. Then followed 10 days of intense bombardment of the city as the Germans attacked from all sides and the air. At the end of the battle, the Soviet losses were the 452,720 men, 3,867 artillery pieces and mortars from those 4 armies.
Pandora now took over telling the tale. With the fall of Kiev German orders were to push on to Moscow. But the Germans realised the Russians had more divisions available as reinforcements than their intelligence had thought. In addition, the Russians had been dismantling factories, chemical plants and refineries and using the railways to ship them to the Soviet East and rebuild them so armaments were still flowing to the front line. The Germans were also at the end of a long supply line and it was impossible to use what railway lines had not been destroyed by the retreating Red Army as the German and Russian track were a different gauge. German main lines used standard gauge (1435mm) while the Russians gauge was 1520mm meaning that German locomotives and wagons were useless and most of the Russian rolling stock had been destroyed by the retreating Red Army.
The Germans had to bring in millions of tons of supplies by road transport and 600,000 horses. However, it worked and supply’s started to flow once more. The other urgent need for the Germans was more manpower. This was achieved by raising regiments in occupied countries and forming foreign legions to make extra armies. The French, British, Polish, Dutch and Belgium conscription raised nearly 100 additional divisions. But only those regiments made up of experienced fighting men went to the front, most of them were used to release native German troops from their occupation duties. This though was a process of shuffling nationalities around, so for example, British divisions moved to France releasing the Germans. Jimmy had been conscripted to drive lorries for a British unit in the Army of Occupation in France, so he knew a little of what was happening there.
After a short pause for reinforcements, replacement equipment and fresh supplies to arrive, the movement east restarted together with a drive south to the Sea of Azov. The move south was to capture the Donbass industrial area, the Crimea and then to swing east along the north coast of the Sea of Azov towards Mariupol and Rostov-on-don opening up the Russian oilfields. The Crimea was quickly taken but the move along the coastline took a bit longer as the Russians regrouped and counterattacked. Once again the Russians were encircled and by the 11th October two further Soviet armies had been crushed and another 106,000 captured. By 24th October the attack had taken Donbass, Kharkov and Rostov-on-don and turned south to cross the River Don. By early December the Germans reached and halted at the Turkish border. Turkey was to be a buffer state between them and the, then British Empire, forces to the south. By early January 1942 the Germans had taken the oilfields in the Caspian, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan and had achieved all objectives in the area, freeing up forces for the push on Stalingrad.
The Northern branch of the Southern Army Group were tasked with the main attack on Stalingrad. As autumn came, the ground froze enabling the Panzers to press forward quickly, and the tanks reached the outskirts of Stalingrad in early December as the snow started. The major part of the city of Stalingrad, including the Industrial area, was located on the west bank of the river Volga with some residential areas on the east bank. Hitler wanted an immediate all-out attack on the city but his generals recommended that crossing the Volga north and south of the city and sweeping round behind it cutting off supplies and reinforcements. Hitler wasn’t happy as he felt that he had the forces to undertake a full-frontal assault. The generals explained that unless they moved quickly the weather would make it impossible to take the city until spring as the Russians had erected a deep defensive semicircle around the north, west and south of the city from riverbank to riverbank.
Hitler reluctantly agreed with his generals and the city was bypassed with the Volga being crossed north and south of the defences and as the snows came down the city was encircled by the two bridgeheads expanding and joining. By the end of January 1942, the Heer was dug in all around Stalingrad and the noose was tightening as the city starved and ran out of ammunition.
The Army Northern Group reinforced by the Finnish and conscripted Polish and British armies raced on towards it target of Leningrad. The Finns had attacked east into the Karelian area and southeast towards Leningrad around the Ladoga Sea. The Northern Group pushed hard to their northeast and just before Christmas 1941 Northern Group met the Finns driving south around the Ladoga Sea and Leningrad was surrounded. As with Stalingrad, the squeeze was on as the cities defenders ran out food, fuel and ammunition.
The Army Group Centre was tasked with taking Moscow. At the end of September 1941, the attack was relaunched with the reinforcements from the occupied nations. After Kiev, the Heer had more divisions available on this front and outnumbered the divisions the Red Army could muster in Moscow’s defence. The Russians had built a number of defensive lines between the Germans and Moscow. The first attack took the Red Army by surprise and the first Russian defensive line was quickly punctured. Three days later the Panzer had reached Bryansk while another German Army was attacking Vyazma. Between them, these German armies surrounded six Russian armies comprising some 500,000 men. By now the Germans had taken over 3,000,000 Russians prisoners.
On the 13th October, the Germans were 87 miles from Moscow and martial law was declared in the city. The Russians started to move reinforcements from the armies in the Soviet Far East as they believed the Japanese, who were fighting in China, offered no threat to them. However German spies learnt of this move and the Luftwaffe was called into action to attack anything moving on the Trans Siberia Railway, bridges, and marshalling yards. Fortunately for the Germans, very few of these reinforcements got through. Once again the weather was worsening and for a short while the snow turned to rain and the consequential mud hampered the attack. But within two weeks the ground froze and the Panzers were on the move again.
On the 2nd December, a Germany mechanised infantry division was within 15 miles of Moscow and looking to cross the Moscow Canal to enable yet another encircling of a city. The next day the Heer had taken an undemolished bridge and were over the canal. It now starting to snow again and the Germans rushed to expand their bridgehead throwing forces over the canal as fast as possible. It was now that the Kremlin was evacuated with Stalin flying east. The flood of Germans coming over the canal was now effectively attacking into the Red Army rear echelons as most of the armies defending Moscow were on the western side of the city. Just like in Stalingrad the Heer closed the noose around Moscow and cut off their fuel, supplies and ammunition.
Hitler had now got everything he set out to take. This troops had advanced on a broad front to a line that ran from Leningrad to Moscow to Stalingrad with those 3 cities encircled and slowly being strangled. In the south, he had taken the much-needed oil fields and had a buffer between the Third Reich and remnants of the British Empire forces. In February 1942 Stalin was offered a peace treaty. Hitler’s terms were simple, he would cease all hostilities by the land his forces provided the ground seized was signed over to the Third Reich. It was to include Leningrad and Stalingrad but the Heer would withdraw from Moscow and pull back to a line 25 kilometres to the west of the city. Stalin eventually agreed and the Treaty of Moscow was signed on 28th February 1942.
That was all the oldies and Pandora were going to tell Jinnie that evening as the oldies were all tired. Pandora suggested she and Jinnie should go for a quick drink together as it was still quite early. Back in 1957 when the Germans had changed a number of laws they had also brought the licensing laws into line across the Third Reich. This meant that Jinnie had legally been able to buy beer since she was 16 and as she had recently turned 18 she could even drink spirits. One thing that hadn’t changed was that the English preference was for pubs and not bierkellers. Pandora had a small VW and as Jinnie lived within walking distance of the residential home, Pandora drove them both to the nearest pub, the Black Horse, where she bought two halfs of lemonade shandy while joking about the drink-drive laws. They chatted for half an hour or so and Jinnie learnt that Pandora worked as a journalist before she dropped her off home. Thinking about it later, Jinnie realised that she had spent most of the time answering questions and that she was a journalist and that she was 26 were the only things about Pandora that she had learnt. Well, she quite liked her and was looking forward to next week’s whist evening.
In Chapter 4 – Pandora tells more of events in the New Territories.
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file