The tempest moves east – ‘the last great decisive battle of the year’ (Adolf Hitler)
On the night of 1 October 1941, just hours before Operation Typhoon was due to begin, Adolf Hitler issued a proclamation that was to be read aloud to the troops of the eastern front:
When I called on you to ward off the danger threatening our homeland on 22 June, you faced the greatest military power of all time. In barely three months, thanks to your bravery, my comrades, it has been possible to destroy one tank brigade after another belonging to this opponent, to eliminate countless divisions, to take uncounted prisoners, to occupy endless space . . . You have taken over 2,400,000 prisoners, you have destroyed or captured 17,500 tanks and over 21,000 guns, you have downed or destroyed on the ground 14,200 planes. The world has never seen anything like this!
While Hitler was at pains to point out the unprecedented nature of the Ostheer's success, his comments also hinted at Operation Barbarossa's failure to end Soviet resistance. ‘This time’, he now confidently promised, everything would proceed ‘according to plan’ in order to deal the Soviet Union the long-awaited ‘deadly blow’. With such characteristic bravado, Hitler then declared: ‘Today the last great decisive battle of this year begins.’ Yet not everyone was convinced. Wolf Dose, a soldier in the 58th Infantry Division, wrote in his diary: ‘The Führer has told us that the decisive battle in the east is beginning, a battle that will finish off the Russians – but how and where he did not say. I do not believe that the Soviet Union will capitulate.’ Others were more outspoken. ‘The last great decisive battle of the year, My God! And what is the decisive result supposed to be – Moscow, Kharkov, the Volga?’ While throughout Germany morale had been boosted by the recent wave of Sondermeldungen, for those German soldiers in the forward trenches of Bock's army group – the same men who had resisted fierce Soviet attacks for the past two months – there were far fewer illusions about the difficulties of ending the war in the east. The new drive on Moscow presented daunting challenges.