Translated by Ollie Richardson for Fort Russ
19th February, 2016
The beginning of the battle of Moscow
Nazi command had prepared a major offensive to seize Moscow under the code name “Typhoon”. The day of September 30th 1941 is considered to be the beginning day of the battle of Moscow. In the article about the battles of Kiev, we considered the number of our prisoners to be a lie.
Similarly untrue is the data on the number of captured Soviet soldiers and officers at Vyazma we find when reading the majority of sources that describe our losses at Vyazma early in the battle of Moscow.
It should be noted that the German army in late September 1941 was still very strong. Large losses in manpower and equipment in the border battles at Minsk, Kiev, Smolensk and Leningrad, with thousands of towns and cities and villages of the Soviet Union under the protection of our soldiers, were offset by the transfer of fresh troops from Europe to the Germans.
During the war the Red Army carried out only 160 large battles, and small battles were in the tens of thousands. But of all the battles only three battles are distinguished: Moscow, Stalingrad and Kursk – not because they’re the largest battles of the great Patriotic war (there were bigger ones), but because these battles decided the fate of the Motherland, the whole country. To save the USSR, we had to win these battles.
The battle of Moscow can be divided into two parts: defensive, from 30th September to 5th December 1941 and offensive – from 5th December to 20th April 1942. For the implementation of the plan to capture Moscow, the German command concentrated the “Center” army group to the east of Smolensk – 1,800,000 people, 1,700 tanks, over 14,000 guns and mortars and 1,390 aircraft.
Advancing troops of the Wehrmacht resisted our three fronts: the Western (commanded by Colonel General I.S Konev), Reserve (commanded by Marshal of the Soviet Union S.M Budyonny), Bryansk (commanded by Colonel General A.I Eremenko). Just on the West the troops of the three fronts had 1,250,000 people, 990 tanks, 7,600 guns and mortars and 677 aircraft.
On the day of the start of the offensive, on 30th September 1941, the German forces broke through our defenses and surrounded the troops of the Bryansk front, but failed to keep it, and on October 23rd the troops of the Bryansk front, with the help of aviation, the surrounding front was broken, which allowed them to reach the new boundaries of defense. During heavy and bloody fighting our troops suffered heavy losses. This battle was called the Orel-Bryansk operation of 1941.
On 30th September 1941, the troops of the Bryansk front consisted of the 50th, 3rd, 13th armies and the task force. These three armies and the task force amounted to about 250,000 people.
On 10th November 1941 the Bryansk front was abandoned. On October 2nd 1941, 50% of tanks and 75% of the infantry divisions of the “Center” army group gathered together, German troops dealt two strong strikes in the direction of Vyazma, breaking through our front and surrounding some of the troops of the Western and Reserve fronts.
Surrounded, the troops under the command of Lieutenant General M.F Lukin fought bravely, holding down 28 German divisions, of which 14 could not be released for a further advance on Moscow until mid-October. In mid-October, some of the troops broke out of encirclement and joined the ranks of the defenders of Moscow; some parts continued to conduct guerrilla warfare behind enemy lines.
The German high command in his summary reported 663,000 prisoners taken by German troops at Vyazma. The value of Goebbels’ and German commanders’ information we know courtesy of Goebbels’ quote which says that a lie repeated 1000 times becomes the truth. Data from Goebbels without any reservations misleads a considerable number of our historians and researchers.
The actual number of our troops surrounded at Vyazma in Soviet sources is not indicated by the people, but by the armies. The encyclopaedia of the great Patriotic war (1985), edited by M.M Kozlov, and G.K Zhukov, A.M Vasilevsky and K.K Rokossovsky indicates that four armies of the Western and Reserve fronts (19th, 20th, 24th and 32nd) were surrounded at Vyazma. In one army there were about 80,000 people – before the outbreak of hostilities there were no more than 320,000 people in these armies.
Taking into account the actual number of losses during the fighting being 50% or more of the personnel of the officers and soldiers of the Red Army, the factual number of those surrounded was 150,000 people. Fighting continued until October 12th-13th. Many officers and soldiers surrounded by the armies were killed in the fighting, some broke out of the encirclement, some went to the guerrillas, and the actual number of Soviet soldiers and officers, which may have been taken prisoner, did not exceed 50,000 people. It is possible that the number of prisoners in general was measured using isolated cases.
As always the Germans, in their statements, over exaggerated the results achieved from the offensive. The Germans overstated the number of Soviet troops who could have been captured at Vyazma by more than tenfold. The encirclement at Kiev and Vyazma were the largest and most well-known environments of our troops during the great Patriotic war. Unfortunately, the number of surrounded, and especially captured soldiers and officers of the Red Army, is currently listed by most historians on the basis of untrue German sources.
In October 1941, the Soviet high command in Moscow had an ample number of troops for the defense of Moscow and fortified the area. German troops in some places broke through defenses, passed our frontiers, sent saboteurs to the rear, and in this case sometimes our divisions were not there to stop the German military from breaking our defense lines.
In these critical moments, before the approach was able to resist the German units that had broken through parts of the Soviet armies, they were forced to stand against the enemy and any nearby military units. Podolsk cadets restrained the Germans at this critical moment, approaching the main forces, directing towards the broken enemy.
Due to the fact that the Germans were concentrated at the place of the planned breakthrough of our defense, a large number of German tanks, put up against our defense, broke through the Soviet units often, until the approach of our tanks and anti-tank artillery, in Russian, they fought to the death. We should always remember and honour the feat of the Podolsk cadets, young boys, standing next to other units of the Red Army to the death in the way of the German tanks, but at the same time we should not conclude that there was no defense present, i.e. other military units on the way of German fascist invaders who were tearing towards Moscow.
And if you read that the German “Center” army group opened the way to Moscow, after encirclement of the Soviet forces at Vyazma, don’t believe what you read. The tale of the open road to Moscow is passed from book to book, talked about on TV, featured in movies.
In fact, Stalin appointed Zhukov as commander of the Western front, but did not give him a new army. Zhukov adopted the fresh armies of I.S Konev and S.M Budyonny. On 10th October 1941, Konev gave Zhukov 4 armies, namely: 22nd, 29th, 30th and 16th. Budyonny also gave Zhukov 4 armies – 31st, 33rd, 43rd and 49th. The 8 armies transferred to Zhukov from Konev and Budyonny were originally, before the outbreak of hostilities, composed of 666,400 people.
These 8 armies were combined in one Western front and subordinated to Zhukov. Thus, Zhukov on 10th October 1941, received not two regiments, according to the slanderers of Russia, but 8 armies. These armies came from Vyazma; from the 12 armies at Vyazma, 4 were encircled, thus 8 armies were taken from Konev and Budyonny and given to Zhukov. It was with the force of these 8 armies and divisions, which tried to break the encirclement, that Zhukov held the front before the arrival of new military forces.
The battle of Vyazma showed that even with a carefully prepared defense, the enemy in most cases will break through the front. And Vyazma defense was prepared thoroughly in accordance with the requirements of the HQ: September 10th 1941, “fixedly entrench ourselves at the expense of minor directions and fix defences with the aim of creating a powerful well manoeuvred group for a future offensive.”
The army commanders and Stavka completed Directive No. 002 373, dated 27th September, which decreed: “In all parts of the front to go hard, stubborn defense, while conducting active reconnaissance of enemy forces and only if necessary, the taking of private offensive operations to improve their defensive positions. To mobilize all infantry forces of the front, armies, and divisions with the aim to dig into the ground and make the entire front trenches full profile, in a few lines, barbed wire entanglements and antitank obstacles.”
The exact implementation of the requirements of the HQ was described by Konev and commander of the Western front M.F Lukin, who said: “Trenches were dug almost everywhere, full profile trenches. In areas occupied by tanks, mines were placed, and where possible, anti-tank ditches and scarps were dug. They built shelters and canopies for gun emplacements”.
Despite these measures, the defense of Vyazma was broken. This fact confirms that defense does not guarantee the retention of the front in the absence of the necessary density of troops and information about the direction of the main attack of the enemy.
Troops of the Western front under the command of G.K Zhukov moved into the Mozhaisk line of defense. On 20th October 1941, the GKO (State Defense Committee) introduced a state of siege in Moscow and the surrounding areas.
In October the enemy staged 31 air raids in Moscow, these attacks in total were attended by 2,000 enemy planes, with 278 being shot down, only 72 planes managed to drop bombs. From mid-October until the beginning of November, there were persistent fights in Mozhaisk.
In July 1941, the construction of fortified areas on the outskirts of Moscow began. The main line of defense was a system of field and permanent fortifications, including concrete pillboxes and bunkers, anti-tank and anti-personnel obstacles.
It included Volokolamsk, Mozhaisk, Maloyaroslavets and Kaluga’s fortified region. By 10th October 1941, 296 pillboxes, 535 bunkers, 170 kilometers of anti-tank ditches, and 95 kilometers of scarps were built. Kaluga’s fortified region did not play the final role, in fact by the end of October, German troops under the command of F. Bock were only able to penetrate up to 75 kilometres into our defenses, but were unable to break through the front.
In the Volokolamsk area the 16th army fought under the command of Lieutenant General Rokossovsky, Mozhaisk – 5th army of major-General Lelyushenko, and after his injury – Major-General L.A Govorov, Narofominsk – 33rd army of General Lieutenant M.G Yefremov, in Maloyaroslavets – 43rd army of Major-General K.D Golubev, and in the Kaluga direction – 49th army Lieutenant General I.G Zakharkin. The names of these commanders went down in the history of the Moscow battle and in the history of our country.
Intense battles were fought in and near the city of Kalinin (Tver). On October 14th, German tanks broke into Kalinin. On October 17th the Kalinin front was created under the command of Colonel General I.S Konev. The Germans stopped, and they did not break through the rear of the Northwest front, or in the Tula direction.
The army and people of the city of Tula did not let the enemy pass, destroying a lot of manpower and equipment (100 tanks) of the enemy. They made a worthy contribution to the defense of Tula and released the troops at the Bryansk front from the environment.
In the month of October the defence of Moscow was conducted at the limit of human forces. So only the Soviet, Russian people could battle. But shouldn’t Stalin be praised for, in July 1941, organizing the construction of concrete pillboxes, bunkers, anti-tank barriers and other defensive military buildings, fortified areas on the outskirts of Moscow, and for providing weapons, ammunition, food and uniforms for soldiers?!
Our troops held the Western front near Moscow primarily because, in October 1941, the Soviet soldiers and officers fighting the enemy had weapons to shoot down planes, destroy tanks, and confuse the ground infantry of the enemy.
To be continued…