Killing time before Moscow: Army Group Centre’s stagnant offensive
At the start of November Bock’s Army Group Centre occupied a great arching position in the centre of the eastern front, which measured some 800 km in length (linear distance). Weichs’ Second Army held the southernmost reaches of the army group, and was poised to seize Kursk after a long and exhausting advance hindered more by the roads and conditions than by enemy resistance. To his north was Guderian’s Second Panzer Army, which had just completed a month-long drive from Orel to Tula and was now looking to threaten Moscow from the south. Counting on this support was Kluge’s Fourth Army, which had been fought to a standstill on the approaches to Moscow from Tarusa to Volokolamsk. This was in spite of the fact that Kluge retained command over Hoepner’s Panzer Group 4, which in numerical strength was the most powerful German panzer group on the eastern front. Holding the northern flank of the army group was Colonel-General Adolf Strauss’ Ninth Army, which, together with elements of General of Panzer Troops Georg-Hans Reinhardt’s Panzer Group 3, maintained control of Kalinin in spite of intense enemy counterattacks.
The size of the operational area and the difficulties under which the army group had to labour to sustain itself in the field given the paucity of supplies taxed its strength tremendously. It was hoped that the operational pause would replenish enough of the army group’s stockpiles to support another offensive, but the Wehrmacht objectives were never made conditional to the requirements of the Quartermaster-General and over-extension resulted from every major offensive in 1941. As Hans Jürgen Hartmann noted at the start of the month, November promised to be no different:
Even if no one speaks of it, all of us are feeling a heavy weight that presses down on the soul, as time and time again we think about the advance on Moscow. We know from the Wehrmacht news bulletins roughly where our troops are and where the Schwerpunkt [point of concentration] will be … All in all, as I look eastwards, and see the grey, forbidding November clouds which sweep towards us, I fear we have become dangerously overstretched.