Rank and File
A Clerk’s War
Wednesday 10th to Thursday 18th September 1941 (Part 2)
[Italian Expeditionary Army
Position at end of 8th September 1941
General Rokossovsky is a name to be remembered. Like a thunderbolt his men hit Krasnodom, completely overwhelming La Ferla’s efforts to organise a defence. With four divisions attacking simultaneously from three directions, “Tridentina” and “Taurinese” lasted less than 24 hours. Messe tried to retake the province with “Taurinese” but achieved nothing but to increase the death toll.
While being battered in Krasnodom, Pintor’s troops were doing well in Sinezerki. Caboni’s 4a Divsione Alpina “Cuneense” took on more than four times its number, including an armoured division. In twelve hours it had won the ensuing battle, albeit with considerably higher losses. There is a rumour that the Russian units were already retreating when Carboni attacked, but there is no mention of that in his report. Late on the 14th there was an improvised attack by 36 Zabajkal’skaya but although initially taken by surprise, the Italians held out until reinforced and then repulsed their more numerous opponents. Overall, a good performance by the Alpini. On the other hand, Gariboldi’s brief battle with 163 Motorizavannaya for possession of Chutove was over in just 2 hours, as “Firenze” could make no impression on the defenders.
Battle of Sinerzeki
Somebody in Stavka is starting to analyse our strategy, as was shown by Lavrinovich’s attack on Okhtyrka. Nominally defended by nearly 15,000 men, the 8,000 infantry of 219 Motorizavannaya should have been easily defeated. However, one of the two divisions was Gariboldi’s “Frienze”, still recovering from its rough handling in Chutove two days before. The other was Köstring’s 13.ID (mot) already suffering badly from its attempts to secure Belgorod. Far too south for hope of assistance from the Balkan’s Army, when Gariboldi ordered a retreat, Köstring did not argue. His men showed their courage though, shielding the retreating Italians who lost just 40 men.
The mixed force of Italians and Germans was unable to hold the Soviets
Lavrinovich did not have the province yet. As an indicator of the confusion in that section of the front, he found his way blocked by a division from a third army, Engelbrecht’s 4th Gebirgsjäger Division, part of the Österreich Army. The gebirgsjägers, as one would expect of such elite troops, are fighting well, but they too are close to exhaustion from continuous fighting and cannot hold back the triumphant Russians for long.
Although the Italians struggle to hold their own, mainly due to antiquated equipment and the small size of their units, nobody is criticising their endeavour. Time and again they have thrown themselves into battles that can have no outcome but terrible casualties. It may be that the battle for Kolpny ends up as another of these. Stung by Guderian’s complaints about the drain on the Balkan Army, General Pintor ordered Calvi di Bergolo to move north, directly into Russian units moving to engage Guderian’s men. With just 6,000 soldiers, 1e Divisione “Supergas” has thrust itself into the path of two cavalry units and a rifle division: more than 20,000 men. Maybe surprise will assist our allies, but few here in Berlin expect anything but an immense butcher’s bill from this rash action. It would have been far wiser to fortify Scigny and wait for reinforcements to arrive.
Waves of Russian infantry advance on “Supergas”: they look confident and have a right to be so
If Pintor thought his aggressive reaction might deter the Soviets he was wrong. At 6AM on Tuesday General Romero alerted Italian Army HQ that 28a Divisione “Aosta” was under attack. Once again it was the new Russian general Rokossovky, using two motorized divisions in a pincer movement to swoop on Kremenchuk. Like his fellow army commanders south of the Pripyat, Pintor has every unit committed and the chances of holding the province are slim.
Position at end of 18th September 1941
162.ID has repelled the attack on Novooleksiyiska by the two trapped Russian divisions trapped in Kherson. (The assistance rendered by Friedrich-Willich and 2nd Gebirgsjäger cannot be overlooked – it could have been a close thing had the gebirgsjägers not sacrificed themselves to disrupt the attack.) That would seem to seal the fate of these two units. There is no escape. An air attack by Rychakov’s bombers inflicted losses on Heißmeyer’s division, but by then it was too late.
9 days after the attack on Tokmak started with such promise, General Bader stopped the slaughter of his men. 6.ID had four divisions ranged against it and had lost nearly 2,000 men. With no likelihood of success, the unit was pulled back and ordered to move to Novy Buh for rest and recuperation. General von Kluge has sent an urgent message to OB Sud, which was passed on to Berlin, requesting more troops. He cannot maintain a push east with his current force.
In the meantime, late on 14th 26.ID replaced 6.ID in attacking Tokmak. Haase found just two divisions opposing him, but is still not prepared to state his men can take the province.
Even with his men stretched to the limit, von Kluge is not abandoning hope of an easy crossing of the Dniepr. His generals are under instructions to keep probing and Peschel though he had found a gap in Dinprodzerzhynsk. Soon after midnight he gave the order for a river crossing to commence. It was soon apparent that our information was faulty. Flares raced skyward from the Russian side and heavy machine guns tore into the flimsy boats. 198.ID was lucky to escape with just 200 dead. The Soviets had two full infantry divisions holding the far shore. We have heard a lot recently about “maskirovka”, some sort of military deception technique. Could this have been our first lesson?
General von Kluge must be wondering what he has to do to maintain a bridgehead across the Dniepr. Volkmann’s push into Vesele had looked as though it might be the breakthrough ÖSterreich Army had been waiting for. 1st Gebirgsjäger had easily made the crossing and evicted the defenders. Supplies had started to flow across the river. Then Popov had unleashed 14 Tankovaya. Reeling from the shock, the gebirgsjägers suddenlt found another two rifle divisions had joined the Russian armour. Von Kluge had nothing in reserve and after a week he reluctantly acceded to Volkmann’s requests and allowed the survivors to cross back to the western bank. Nearly 1,300 men did not return.
Army of the Ukraine (Höhne)
After just a few days, Höhne is to get his third division. The newly formed 74.ID (mot) (General Pfeiffer) has been railed to Odessa to join the two schwere panzer divisions of 2nd schwere Panzerkorps. This division is the new model to accommodate our dwindling manpower, with just two infantry regiments, an armoured car regiment (Sdkfz 231 (8 rad)) and a self-propelled artillery brigade (Sturmpanzer 38(t) “Grille”). But the core of the panzerkorps is the four schwere panzer regiments, some of which of still equipped with the old VK 3601(H) vehicles. The new Pzkpfw VI (i) “Tiger” replacements are being rushed to the units, but production is still slow. It had been hoped to hold the schwere divisions back for a month, but the Soviet counter-attacks had made that impossible.
Manufacture of our new heavy tanks is slow and expensive.
Probably Höhne expected that he would be given some time to organise his new command, but the pressure on the Österreich Army has been too much. Every unit is needed. On the 17th the Army of the Ukraine was ordered to start moving to the front, with their ultimate objective set as Mariupol. Within days the three divisions that make up this “army” will be in action.
Finalised Battles for the period 10th to 18th September 1941
Olenino: 2,253 (38,570): 1,533 (37,796)
Novhorod – Siverskyi: 1,076 (39,973): 1,041 (15,914)
Zolotuhino: 198 (19,998): 539 (9,998)
3rd Afimino: 57 (10,000): 92 (9,999)
Krasnodom: 188 (11,814): 27 (32,988) (Italian)
El’tsy: 1,276 (19,987): 899 (16,641)
Pevlevo: 422 (9,995): 683 (18,227)
Käkisalmi: 40 (9,999): 65 (8,999)
Novooleksiyivka: 242 (9,905): 453 (18,967)
Sinezerki: 79 (5,997): 30 (28,993) (Italian)
Sel’co: 244 (18,921): 674 (14,917)
Zukovka: 183 (5,994): 84 (32,325) (Hungarian)
Scrigny: 23 (21,990): 101 (8,999) (Italian)
Uneca: 786 (18,684): 539 (9,998)
Klincy: 1,578 (36,699): 1,314 (94,830)
2nd Scigny: 328 (21,967): 850 (34,732)
Tokmak: 1,982 (9,689): 979 (33,986)
2nd Uneca: 113 (9,939): 93 (9,626)
2nd Krasnodom: 73 (6,000): 13 (15,998)
Barjatino: 775 (21,985): 364 (15,917)
2nd Zukovka: 253 (17,988): 604 (7,999) (123 Hungarian)
Chutove: 25 (6,000): 5 (7,995) (Italian)
Barsuki: 87 (9,995): 189 (14,995)
3rd Uneca: 233 (19,490): 481 (21,646)
Butchino: 854 (21,983): 1,686 (16,996)
Bryanskaja: 1,328 (65,978): 1,784 (89,528)
Djat’kovo: 2 (11,636): 407 (13,932)
Dinprodzerzhynsk: 211 (9,992): 39 (15,997)
2nd Sinerzeki: 187 (15,986): 117 (7,999) (Italian)
Okhtyrka: 225 (24,438): 160 (15,997) (40 Italian)
Vesele: 1,273 (10,000): 660 (28,438)
2nd Djat’kovo: 215 (11,825): 494 (7,863)
Hiitova: 51 (9991): 92 (8,962)
Kirov: 11 (5,996): 8 (7,488) (Hungarian)
Vasilevka: 1,029 (19,993): 2,000 (31,442)
Total Battle Casualties for the period 10th to 18th September 1941
Prior Battle Casualties
Total Battle Casualties to date
Hungarian: 317 + 771 = 1,088
Italian: 517 + 3,173 = 3,690
German: 17,041 + 316,064 = 333,105
Russian: 19,099 + 342,210 = 361,309
Bombing Summary for the period 10th to 18th September
Vershinin and 2 and 24 IAD were prevented from attacking Wever over Torzok by Waber with 6 Messerschmitt geschwader. Later (on the 17th) Zhavaronkov’s MiG 1s were able to destroy more than 30 of our bombers and 20 of their escorting Focke-Wulf 190s, but 8th Kampffliegerkorps shrugged off the losses and continued to punish Simoniak’s troops.
Waber achieves air superiority over Torzok
Käkisalmi: Wever with 8th Kampffliegerkorps: 147, 234 (381)
Tokmak: Dörstling with 6th Kampffliegerkorps: 163, 232, 131, 181, 208, 149, 212, 222, 188, 114, 213, 243, 146 (2,402)
Torzok: Wever with 8th Kampffliegerkorps: 185, 315, 119, 269, 313, 151, 126, 291, 189, 270, 344, 196, 224, 293, 16, 211, 66, 205 (3,783)
Zukovka: Grauert with 4th Kampffliegerkorps: 178, 286, 245 (709)
Zukovka: Sperrle with 1st Kampffliegerkorps: 141
Melitopol: Dörstling with 6th Kampffliegerkorps: 82, 153, 47 (282)
Bryanskaja: Hoffman von Waldau with 4th Schlachtfliegerkorps: 129, 206, 90 (425)
Perlevo: Kitzinger with 3rd Kampffliegerkorps: 335, 246 (581)
Fokino: Grauert with 4th Kampffliegerkorps: 210, 239, 190 (639)
Fokino: Sperrle with 1st Kampffleigerkorps: 172, 364, 371 (907)
Deniskowicze: Rapaich with 1st Légihadsereg: 142, 123, 72 (337)
Selizhavoro: Kitzinger with 3rd Kampffliegerkorps: 326, 353, 234 (913)
Verkhopol’e: Schwartzkopff with 2nd Kampffliegerkorps: 175, 240, 120 (535)
Novhorod Sivenskiyi: Schwartzkopff with 2nd Kampffliegerkorps: 166
Novhorod Sivenskiyi: Kesselring with 1st Schlachtfleigerkorps: 163, 212, 143, 158 (676)
Vasilevska: Sperrle with 1st Kampffliegerkorps: 146, 356, 388 (890)
Selizhavoro: Weise with 5th Schlachtfliegerkorps: 96, 172, 185 (453)
Selizhavoro: Kitzinger with 3rd Kampffliegerkorps: 405, 405, 215 (1,025)
Pochep: Kesselring with 1st Schlachtfliegerkorps: 150, 381, 310, 127 (968)
Viaz’ma: Grauert with 4th Kampffliegerkorps: 280, 359, 273 (912)
An attempt by Novikov to launch his bombers from Dnipropetrovsk airbase was aborted before it had really begun. Christiansen’s Messerschmitts dominated the skies around the city and after heavy losses the Russian aircraft stayed on the ground. Christiansen could not prevent Rychakov bombing Novooleksiyivka, but was able to stop another bombing mission over Pryluky. Rychakov was nothing if not persistent and for his next effort he had 300 fighters as escorts. All to no avail, as Waber was ready with nearly 900 aircraft. No bombers made it through the screen.
By the time Christiansen again met him over Novooleksiyivka, Rychakov had lost 25% of his bombers, and was not able to penetrate the cloud of interceptors (which included the Italian “Saettas”).
Further north, Waber blocked Smushkevich as 25 and 77 ShAD flew over Betlica, hoping to damage von Sponeck’s 4th Panzer. Once again they were turned back – Waber had brought 1,200 fighters with him. Even the confusion generated by having so many aircraft under the control of one man could not save the Soviet bombers.
Berzarin and two tactical bomber regiments were turned back near Kharkov. It is not known whether their intended target was Österreich Army or the Italians, but Fisser and 9 Jagdgeschwader did not wait to find out.
Taken by surprise, the Luftwaffe was not able to prevent Thor completing his mission to bomb General Phleps’ men in Zolothino. When Thor pushed his luck and attempted a repeat dose, Fisser was ready with “JS Bach”, “Beethoven” and “Bruch”. The antiquated Ar-2 dive bombers were no match for the Bf 109F interceptors of 7th Jagdfliegerkorps . Needless to say, Phleps was not bothered again.
The only other attempt by the VVS to interfere with our advance also had initial success, but only a handful of bombs were dropped on Mykolayvik before Christiansen arrived with his Messerschmitts and hundreds of Italian fighters. That was all that was needed to convince Skripko to abandon any further efforts.
The joint Luftwaffe/Regia Aeronautica force was able to quickly dispose of the VVS
Novooleksiyivka: Rychakov with 1 and 2 BAD: 146
Zolotuhino: Thor with 2 and 11 ShAD: 71
Mykolayvik: Skripko with 10 and 72 ShAD: 17
Total Bombing Casualties for the period 10th to 18th September 1941
Prior Bombing Casualties
Total Bombing Casualties to date
Hungarian: Nil + 128 = 128
Italian: Nil + Nil = Nil
German: 234 + 4,084 = 4,318
Russian: 17,125 + 227,846 = 244,971
East Front at end of 18th September 1941
Total East Front Casualties for the period 10th to 18th September 1941
Hungarian: 317 + Nil = 317
Italian: 517 + Nil = 517
German: 17,041 + 234 = 17,275
Russian: 19,099 + 17,125 = 36,224
Prior East Front Casualties
Total East Front Casualties to date
Hungarian: 317 + 889 = 1,206
Italian: 517 + 3,173 = 3,690
German: 17,275 + 320,148 = 337,423
Russian: 36,224 + 570,056 = 606,280