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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: April 2013

6 - The perilous advance to the east


Forging across the Dvina and Dnepr – the threshold to demise

As Army Group Centre heaved its way forward in the centre of Germany's long eastern front, there was a steadily emerging concern for its southern flank. Throughout June, Rundstedt's Army Group South had struggled to advance against vigorous Soviet counter-strokes and, by early July, its rapid forward movement was further hindered by the primitive Soviet infrastructure and intermittent downpours which turned the roads to seas of mud. The Operations Officer at OKH responsible for Army Group South, Major Karl Thilo, noted in his diary on 7 July that, ‘the tanks “suffocate” in the mud of the Ukrainian chermozem [black earth]’. The following day he recorded the situation estimate by Army Group South's High Command: ‘Enemy well commanded…At first, defensive operations close to the border, then withdrawal to the Stalin Line with heavy counterattacks against our armoured wedge…Operational breakthrough by Panzer Group 1 still not achieved’. Thilo also noted that the army group was still sizeably outnumbered with 61 major Soviet units versus 46 German and allied formations. Contemplating the further advance of Army Group Centre on 5 July, Brauchitsch raised the difficulty of screening Bock's right flank pointing out the emerging problem that Army Group South's 6th Army and 1st Panzer Group, ‘are still quite far back’.

On Army Group Centre's northern flank, Leeb's Army Group North was making better progress but, as the renowned General Manstein, commander of the LVI Panzer Corps, would later observe: ‘the enemy, though pushed back to the east, was still not destroyed – as was very soon to become apparent’. After the capture of the Latvian capital Riga, Leeb was compelled to continue his drive to the east to support Bock's left flank, but also had to support a major offensive northwards up into Estonia in order to cover his own left flank. Accordingly, the army group's width of front was rapidly expanding which, as the smallest of the three German army groups, would soon heavily tax its offensive momentum. The commander of Army Group North's Panzer Group 4, Colonel-General Erich Hoepner, wrote to his wife on 16 July of his dissatisfaction with the halted drive on Leningrad: ‘The deciding cause remains our weakness…The number of divisions is as inadequate as their equipment.…The men are tired, the losses increase, the fallout rate of vehicles rises.’

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