Rank and File
A Clerk’s War
Monday 12th to Thursday 15th May 1941
For reasons that are not clear, General Brennecke has called off the attack into Skidel. I could not locate an order from Polen Army Nord and the last information we had from Brennecke indicated that all was going well. General Bergmann also called off 14.Infanterie, but progress in Iwacewicze was slow and casualties were mounting, so perhaps that was a more understandable decision.
The level of activity was maintained as von Sodenstern moved into Druskienniki, but that battle too ended quickly, though in a victory rather than a retreat. Our information was that 51 Strelkovaya and 41 Kavaleriyskaya had no shortage of supplies and they have not been in battle to date, but after just a few hours General Muzich had had enough. 60.Infanterie would be relieved, as they were greatly outnumbered and the enemy had dug a simple but effective defensive line.
Battle of Druskienniki
The other battle that “replaced” the two losses overnight was for Yampil’ and this was another quick victory. Again, a unit that appeared capable of putting up some resistance gave up after only hours of fighting. Hilpert and 76.Infanterie (mot) lost just 72 men before 135 Strelkovaya was heading east.
Battle of Yampil’
One event that caused some consternation was the loss of Aizkraukle. Due to a mix up in orders, the Fallschirmjägers pulled back to Riga, only for von Kluge to realise that this left the province completely undefended. Troops were immediately ordered back, but it was too late. In another administrative bungle, 58.Infanterie was accompanied by Straube and the HQ section of 1st Fallschirmjägerkorps. The HQ detachment was still just a few dozen men, having been created just a week or so ago. Now these men are in the front line of combat! This could turn out to be a debacle for General Kesselring in his first Army command.
Battle of Aizkraukle
On another day Kesselring’s mishandling of his security perimeter would have led to some discussion, but luckily for him there was more action on the morning of the 12th. The fierce fighting in Novyi Rozdil is over. As predicted, Buhle maintained his assault, keeping incredible pressure on the dwindling number of Russians. Gallenkamp’s win in Kamionka Strumilowa was just as welcome, though on a much smaller scale. It was the Hungarian armour that won the day, and the 37 casualties included not one member of 87.Infantierie.
Although the Turan 1 is probably too light for modern combat, (the 40mm gun is totally inadequate against armour) the tanks of 1 Táboni Páncélosh were too much for 15 Motorizavannay and 37 Kavalriyskaya.
It was with mounting excitement that we received word from Rommel at Polen Army Sud that General Jodl has reported that the enemy are fleeing from Holoby. This could have perhaps been expected if it was just 39 Kavaleriyskaya, but 14.Infanterie (mot) also encountered armoured vehicles of 13 Tankovaya. So we have three instances in a single morning where Red Army troops in good condition have turned and fled at the first sign of serious aggression from the Heer. Could this be the beginning of the rout that some officers have predicted? I hope so, but will hold my tongue. Half a dozen divisions out of the 300 that comprise the Soviet Army is not enough to convince me the worst is over.
Battle of Holoby
The men of 102.Infanterie (mot) must be made of stern stuff. After just two hours of sleep they were on the move, as General Buhle fixed his eyes on Zloczów. 102.Infanterie has not yet received any replacements for the 550 soldiers it has lost in the past few days, but it is still prepared to take on General Lukin’s 24,000 men. Admittedly all three of the enemy divisions (69 Motorizavannaya, 23 Har’kovskaya and 115 Strelkovaya) made it out of Novyi Rozdil with little more than what they could carry, and this is the third battle in a week for most of the Russian infantrymen. Nevertheless, Buhle’s own men must be tired, so this will test their mettle.
Battle of Zloczów
1st leichte appreciated a couple of day’s rest in reserve and was fuelled and armed and ready to go. General Keppler soon had it on the road, driving into Rohatyn. Both the defending divisions have been marching hard for some days and the panzers should be able to persuade them to keep going.
Battle of Rohatyn
Towards the end of the day came the battle that both General von Manstein and OKH have been waiting for: Feige has sent 8.Infanterie into Kelme. Assuming Brandenburger’s 1st schwere Panzer can take Dobele, the capture of Kelme will cut off the supply lines to the rest of Lithuania. Perhaps a dozen divisions would be trapped, and we doubt that the Russians can supply them by sea or air. They would soon have no choice but to surrender: probably 100,000 men. The prospects of success look good: General Zhadov has just one good division: 133 Strelkovaya and 6 Tankovaya took heavy losses in Taurage and are in no condition for another battle.
Battle of Kelme
Tuesday the Luftwaffe was back in action: while storms had raged across Russia our ground crews had worked around the clock to repair and replace aircraft and newly trained pilots arrived from the west. Now the sun was shining and perfect clear spring skies allowed our bombers to give some much needed assistance to the infantry and panzertruppen. And there was no lack of targets: many Russian units were caught out in the open and were easy to locate.
Bombing of Kodyma: 82,000 potential targets for our bombers
Unfortunately the good weather also allowed the Red Army to defend Aizkrukle more effectively, and General Straube made the unforgiveable mistake of leading his HQ detachment into the front line. Within a minute it was decimated. Straube survived (barely) and was placed on a transport plane heading to Königsberg. He is to reassemble a command team before he will be sent back to the Baltic Army.
Loss of 1st Fallschirmjägerkorps HQ
The good conditions probably convinced General Dalmatov that his infantry could no longer hold back von Sponeck’s tanks, even in the forests of Wolkowysk. He has pulled back, even though he had just been reinforced. And it only took a couple of visits by Weise’s dive-bombers for Zhadov to abandon Kelme: the noose is nearly closed!
Soviet troops manhandle a 76mm infantry gun in the forest of Wolkowysk. Although it could destroy one of our tanks, it was also a perfect target for our dive-bombers
The news from Spain that the Catalan rebellion was over was nearly ignored. A combined operation by von Kortzfleisch’s 83.Infanterie, Behschmitt’s 96.Infanterie and von Donat’s 717 Sicherungs-Division forced the rebel army to battle in Boltańa. With its army destroyed, the insurrection soon collapsed. The anti-insurgency units in Spain can rest again.
As night fell on Tuesday, General Hännicke reported Russians trying to infiltrate his front line in Virbalis. There seemed little point in the exercise: General Oborin could not have expected to throw back 56.Infanterie unaided. By midnight the Russians were gone. It is likely this was just a probe to determine the strength of our defences.
There was no rest for poor General Agricola and his men. After fighting three battles for the province of Raseiniai, 72.Infanterie was roused from its sleep: Russian tanks and infantry had been spotted preparing for a night attack! 10 Tankovaya was approaching across the plain from Seduva, while 49 Strelkovaya was making a sortie from Kaunas. There was no choice but to bunker down and prepare to take the impact.
4th Battle of Raseiniai
Wednesday an announcement was made by the Heer that shattered a hundred years of military organisation. Our divisions have always been the same: a maximum of four brigades or regiments. After months of discussions, interviews with serving generals and organisational experts and probably hundreds of thousands of page of reviews and reports, this tradition has been overthrown. From now on we can have up to five units in a division! Unfortunately this policy change came at a time when the Heer was struggling to maintain the existing structure due to casualties and equipment losses in Russia. In the future, however, some units may be larger than normal, and have an equally large impact on the enemy. The next research project, to increase the attack speed of our ground units by improving the operational level command structure, is likely to be more immediately useful.
General Engelbrecht has called off the attack on Kodyma, even though resistance is weak. There is some thought that von Kluge was concerned that the sheer size of the enemy force could lead to severe casualties: 4th Gebirgsjäger was taking more on than 5 times its number. Engelbrecht was sure he could win, but his orders were clear: pull back to Orhei. Perhaps there was some merit in von Kluge’s decision, as the casualty lists showed we had lost 490 men in just a few days. In any event, just hours later, at dawn, Behlendorff took over, also attacking from Orhei. Within minutes the Russians broke, fleeing north.
Back in Orhei, men of 4th Gebirgsjäger take a well earned rest
Von Pannwitz would be hoping for something similar to occur with the third attack on Kaunas, but it doesn’t appear likely. The Russians have made it clear they are prepared to commit as many men to the defence of the city as are needed. It is the task of 75.Infanterie to periodically test the defences, normally a bloody and unappreciated job. This time however, General Agricola’s men will be grateful, as 49 Strelkovaya will not be able to defend Kaunas and simultaneously attack Raseiniai.
3rd Battle of Kaunas
With the Lithuanian pocket nearly closed, List was given permission to take Liepaja. Keen to make amends for his earlier impetuosity, he used his men magnificently, driving out Zhakarov’s 319 Strelkovaya in hours. This was quite an achievement, as Zhakarov’s unit was quite well equipped and had prepared some rudimentary defences. Probably knowledge of the terrain gained during his previous forest adventure in the province came in useful, but it could have been a lack of men that made Zhakarov’s task impossible: he had just two brigades of infantry with two support regiments.
2nd Battle of Liepaja
From the adjoining province of Plunge, Kleinheisterkamp also started to squeeze the pocket by attacking 25 Strelkovaya in Vainode. This appears to be quite straightforward. While it may take some time, it pins the Russians in place, making sure they cannot escape.
Battle of Vainode
There was a lot of confusion following the strange order to cease the attack on Skidel, and it was Brandt‘s 104.Infanterie (mot) that was the first to recover enough organisation to recommence the attack. The Russians were not to be tricked by any “false retreat” manoeuvre and Brandt found the defence increased with the arrival of 205 Motorizovannaya under General Baranov, who took overall command.
2nd Battle of Skidel
Friday began with two victories, both major battles, and in both instances we inflicted double the casualties we suffered ourselves. This is a welcome change from recent days, and there were a lot of relieved faces here in Berlin. Those officers in charge of manpower and the call-up regime were especially pleased, as it means that we won’t have to start drawing down quite so much on our reserves. General Böttcher was the first we heard from, via Kesselring’s Baltic Army HQ (cynics thought that Kesselring couldn’t wait to report some good news). The Sturm-Marines with the assistance of 31.Infanterie have taken Siauliai and 55,000 Russians have been forced to retreat. It is a bit annoying that they are moving south-east: a westward path could have seen them added to the Lithuanian pocket. Nearly as impressive was Meise’s win in Podhacje, where he defeated more than 50,000 men under General Rhyzov.
At dawn von Schobert reduced the likelihood of an attempt to relieve the trapped units in Lithuania. Concerned at a build-up of troops in Panevzys, General Kesselring ordered him to attack from Bauska. 31.Infanterie was only slightly affected by the battle for Siauliai (it lost about 450 men) and was able to mount a decent assault, but made little headway. The reason was quite evident: General Sandalov had gathered three previously uncommitted units in the forest and was no doubt only hours away of trying to help the trapped divisions escape. Now he has something else to occupy him.
Battle of Panevezys
The sacrifices of von Pannwitz’s 15.Infanterie have not been in vain. 45 Strelkovaya, under orders to protect Kaunas at all cost, pulled out of the attack on Raseiniai and 10 Tankovaya was reluctant to continue without infantry support. Agricola and his men could relax but it was a close thing: the Russians had been punishing 72.Infanterie and it was likely that another day could have seen the province lost.
General Pfeffer has inherited the problem of Alytus, which is still held by General Oborin and 213 Motorizovannaya and 45 Volynskaya. General Wünnenberg and 9th Panzerkorps have pulled back to Lötzen in East Prussia to recover from their two attacks on and one defence of Alytus: I am sure that neither he nor his men will be upset that another unit has the task of retaking the border province. Although 21.Infanterie has just come into contact with the Russians, already things are looking grim.
4th Battle of Alytus
By 9AM Dietrich had 2nd Panzer in position and gave the signal to move into Tarnopol, a major city in the so-called Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. It is also the base for the Russian 11th Corps and 10ya Armiya HQs. Even though the defenders are in poor condition (5 Tankovaya pulled out of Skalat in order to reorganise and 216 Strelkovaya has just arrived after this morning’s defeat at Podhacje) this will not be easy: the Siret is a perfect tank ditch and the stone and brick building will give protection to the defenders.
Battle of Tarnopol
Böttcher will not give his opponents an opportunity to rest, or maybe he hopes to expand the Lithiuanian pocket. He did not allow 1st Sturm-Marine Division more than a chance to have a hot meal before they were heading into Seduva, hoping to defeat Kuzmin’s forces there and then overrun the retreating divisions from Siauliai. The confidence Böttcher has in his men is high: Kuzmin has 53,000 men and there are another 50,000 heading towards him. Our intelligence is that only two of the Russian divisions are in good condition and three are held in reserve, but it still a big demand on a single division so soon after a major battle.
Battle of Seduva
The VVS tried to help slow down progress by the Baltic Army, sending Vershinnin’s two fighter briegades to intercept and destroy the Arado “Tausendfüssler” transports that deliver tonnes of supplies every hour. It was what Klepke had been waiting for. His Messerschmitts tore into the Russian aircraft, and 2 and 4 IAD lost dozens of aircraft win minutes. It is doubtful if the enemy got within a hundred miles of their target, the air transports, and deliveries were not disrupted at all.
Air Battle of Riga
Once it was sure that the attack on Raseiniai had been halted, von Manstein gave von Pannwitz permission to call off his attack on Kaunas. It was not a minute too soon, as 75.Infanterie had already lost 245 men, while enemy losses were negligible. Still, Agricola remains occupying Raseiniai, which was the objective. Sometime a commander must lose men on what appears to be a pointless operation but which is, in reality, essential in the broader plan.
In the early afternoon General Bergmann resumed his attack on Iwacewicze, but he had learned from his earlier attempt. This time he had obtained assistance from Polen Army Sud HQ in the form of 4th Panzer. The Russians had also altered their defence, but the substitution of 218 Motorizavannaya for 3 Tankovaya and 237 Strelkovaya did not improve their chances of retaining the province. As the afternoon wore on, Bergmann’s reports were more and more optimistic until late in the evening he was able to announce that all Russians were now leaving as fast as they could. A good example of how an astute Army commander can save the lives of his men by simply halting attacks until sufficient troops are available to do the job properly.
2nd Battle of Iwacewicze
I hope that the most recent attempt to take Kaunas is not an example of what not to do. With von Pannwitz licking his wounds, General Strecker and 86. Infanterie were the next to move on the city. General Ershakov’s garrison has not changed though the second line troops of 160 Strelkovaya are showing the strain of near continuous combat. This seems to have become a matter of pride for General von Manstein as it would surely be better to wait until Seduva has been captured and hten attack from the north as well. But I am just a filing clerk and he is a Panzer General, so I suppose he knows what he is doing.
There was no way anyone would doubt the correctness of the decision direct 7th Panzer into Kostopol. The flat countryside is perfect for von Hubicki and his Pzkpfw IIIs, and while Vishnevskij probably felt his two infantry divisions are ready for the onslaught, neither had ever faced a full blitzkrieg attack. In actual fact, they still haven’t, as either Vishnevskij’s nerve broke or Stavka ordered a retreat (Kostopol is a salient and its flanks are both under attack). Whatever the reason, Kostopol is ours for the loss of just 40 men.
Battle of Kostopol
With several hours of daylight remaining, Hansen gave the order for 16.Infanterie (mot)to advance. Its objective was Torczyn, held by General Lutchinski. If this is a serious attempt to capture the province, then Hansen will need a lot more than a single infantry division. Lutchinski has a mechanised, a motorised, an infantry and a cavalry division hidden in the trees and undergrowth. They have had time to dig in and none are badly affected by previous combat. Whatever happens, this is likely to be a long and bitter affair, with heavy losses.
Battle of Torczyn
The struggle between the Luftwaffe and the VVS was more equal this afternoon, with losses quite heavy on both sides. Three fighter brigades under General-Major Rog had a short but deadly battle with Grauert’s 4th Kampfliegerkorps while our bombers were helping in the attack on Drohiczyn Poleski. Some Ju 88 bombers were lost, but the Focke-Wulf 190As of JG 22 “Schild” were badly hurt, losing at least 20 aircraft. Of the 300 attackers, we estimated that at least 40 were destroyed. More even was a series of dogfights over Tallinn between Christiansen’s 4th Jagdfliegerkorps and Astakhov and 1,3 and 4 IAD. By theend of the day, the Russians had lost 35 planes, but our three Jagdgeschwader were down to just 214 aircraft – a far cry from the 300 Messerschmitts that had been available less than a month ago.
Air Battle of Tallinn: 11PM 15th May
The best news of the week came as I was leaving: a short message from the Italian Embassy in Berlin. El Iskandarîya has fallen to the Army of Libia! British resistance in North Africa has collapsed!
Seduva: Böttcher has upgraded his attack to an assault, possibly because Polen Army Nord had informed Kesselring’s Baltic Army HQ that General Agricola is bringing 72.Infanteire into position to attack from the south, from Raseiniai. (56% complete)
Vainode: No change. (73% complete) (Strictly speaking, this is a Polen Army Nord battle as 5th Panzer is part of 1st Panzerkorps which is attached to that Army. In reality, however, it is operating in an area over which Kesselring’s Baltic Army has responsibility).
Tukums: No change (66% complete)
Panevezys: Another fresh division is moving up to support Sandolov. (29% complete)
Aizkraukle: Both sides have increased their forces. 1st Fallschirmjäger Division has arrived, too late to protect its HQ unit but seeking revenge. Spriridonov, however, has also received another division and a third is nearby. (64% complete)
Dobele: Even though Rokossovsky has another fresh division (8 Dal’nevostochnaya) and three others retreating from Plunge, Brandenburgers heavy tanks are grinding forward. (62% complete)
Sigulda: No change (83% complete)
Polen Army Nord
Kaunas: General Strecker is pressing on, and Ershakov is making a tactical withdrawal. This may not be as promising as first appears. Although 160 Strelkovaya is now virtually useless as a combat unit, a fresh division is moving up from reserve (55 Kurskavaya). (There is also another second line unit, 162 Strelkovaya, but it can be ignored as it is one of the units that took part in the three battles of Alytus – it is completely exhausted from days of fighting Wünnenberg’s panzers) (41% complete)
Drohiczyn Poleski: von der Chevallerie has ordered a full scale assault, as we have become aware that only 317 Strelkovaya remains in the front line. 64 Strelkovaya has broken and has disappeared. There are four divisions in reserve, but only one poses any threat. (49% complete)
2nd Skidel: No change (56% complete)
4th Alytus: No change (17% complete)
Polen Army Sud
Rohatyn: 5 Kavallerie has used the speed of its horses to its advantage and escaped north. It has been replaced by 86 Strelkovaya, which has stumbled into Rohatyn from defeat at Zydaczów. Unfortunately for both it and General Lvov, it has been followed by 23.Infanterie. The arrival of another infantry division has spelt the end for Rohatyn. (99% complete)
Zloczów: Buhle has been reinforced by 22.Infanteire from Kamionka Strumilowa, with 6th Panzer close behind it. His first opponent, General Lukin, has left, taking all the original defenders with him. In place is General Bondarov, who has just one division in action, with three in reserve. His best unit, 80 Strelkovaya, which is the one fighting, has just arrived from Zydaców, and while it has lost few men, it is at half efficiency. (Buhle has encircled some of its men already). 37 Kavalleriyskaya is in good condition, but the other two are not capable of organised resistance. (86% complete)
Torczyn: 14th Infanterie is on its way from Holoby to join Hansen’s 16.Infanterie (mot), while half the defenders have left. General Firin has just 216 Mechanised and 3 Bessarabskaya remaining. It is not clear why the other divisions pulled out as they were in good condition. There is a suspicion that Stavka is preparing a new defence line further east. Hansen has trapped a few forward units and is slowly gaining ground. (63% complete)
Khmel’nyts’kyy: Budyho has lost 21 Gorno-Kavallerie and gained what is left of 208 Motorizavannaya after it arrived from the south after the battle of Dunayivtsi. He has tried to mount a counter-attack but von Förster has the situation under control. (79% complete)
Horodok: No change (84% complete)
Tarnopol: General Aseichev is now in charge, and he has evacuated the two HQs. He now has the problem of two shattered divisions in his rear areas: 115 Strelkovaya from Zloczów and 23 Har’kovskaya from Novyi Rozdil. (65% complete)
Skalat: Höpner tanks have encircled some of defenders, but otherwise no change. (24% complete)
No action in the south
The Eastern Front at the end of 15th May 1941
Finalised Battle Casualties for Monday 12th to Thursday 16th May 1941
Skidel: 97/29,990: 211/22,992
Iwacewicze: 108/10,000: 61/26,884
Druskienniki: 45/10,000: 85/14,995
Yampil’: 72/10,000: 88/7,997
Novyi Rozdil: 696/30,911: 1,092/64,415
Holoby: 101/21,989: 84/24,996
Kamionka Strumilowa: 37/15,994: 81/12,997
Kelme: 109/9,658: 172/23,799
Virbalis: 2/8,983: 9/8,998
Kodyma: 490/19,995: 412/96,943
2nd Kodyma: 4/9,992: 5/8,460
Liepaja: 84/9,882: 125/7,995
Siauliai: 830/19,998: 1,537/54,611
Podhacje: 1,934/38,893: 3,819/50,642
3rd Kaunas: 245/9,467: 42/17,122
Lopatyn: 1,168/19,989: 1,617/26,248
Kostopol: 40/11,994: 34/16,991
2nd Iwacewicze: 96/19,938: 130/17,998
Total Battle Casualties for Monday 12th to Thursday 15th May 1941
Prior Battle Casualties
Total Battle Casualties to date
German: 6,158 + 53,330 = 59,488
Russian: 9,604 + 65,578 = 75,182
Raseiniai: Kitzinger with 3rd Kampffliegerkorps: 204 (204)
Plunge: Löhr with 2nd Schlachtfliegerkorps: 273, 242, 245 (540)
Khmel’nyts’kyy: Schwartzkopff with 2nd Kampffliegerkorps: 194, 264, 121, 96, 174, 79, 174, 225, 99 (1,426)
Horodok: Müller-Michels with 5th Kampffliegerkorps: 262 (262)
Horodok: Schwartzkopffe with 2nd Kampffliegerkorps: 274, 238, 147 (659)
Drohicyzyn Poleski: Grauert with 4th Kampffliegerkorps: 146, 248, 273, 172, 218, 391, 243, 185 (1,876)
Kamien Koszyrski: Hoffman von Waldau with 4th Schlachtfleigerkorps: 78, 133, 202, 98 (511)
Kamien Koszyrski: Schwartzkopff with 2nd Kampffliegerkorps: 104, 181, 164 (449)
Kamien Koszyrski: Sperrle with1st Kampffleigerkoprs: 87, 153, 151(391)
Kelme: Weise with 5th Schlachtfliegerkorps: 54, 94 (148)
Dobele: Kitzinger with 3rd Kampffleigerkorps: 76, 148, 125, 84 (433)
Kodyma: Müller-Michels with 5th Kampffleigerkorps: 213, 313, 152 (678)
Kodyma: Dörstling with 5th Kampffliegerkorps: 245 (245)
Kaunas: Kitzinger with 3rd Kampffleigerkorps: 177, 288, 252, 152, 186, 66 (1.121)
Seduva: Löhr with 2nd Schlachtfliegerkorps: 298, 237, 212 (747)
Total Bombing Casualties for Monday 12th to Thursday 15th May 1941
Prior Bombing Casualties:
Total Bombing Casualties to date
German: Nil + 874 = 874
Russian: 9,690 + 50,071 = 59,761
Total East Front Casualties for Monday 12th to Thursday 15th May 1941
German: 6,158 + Nil = 6,158
Russian: 9,604 + 9,690 = 19,294
Prior East Front Casualties
Total East Front Casualties to date
German: 6,158 + 54,204 = 60,362
Russian: 19,294 + 115,649 = 134,943