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Soviet leadership

LAURENCE REES: It is strange, isn't it, that the Soviet Leadership still couldn't defeat the Germans in the spring of 1942, despite having more troops at their disposal?

ROBERT CITINO:  I lose very little sleep at night feeling sorry for Joseph Stalin but this is one of those times when you might. Reforms had been carried out, inept officers had been sacked, new weaponry had come to the fore, tank production had gone full bore, the Soviet Union was just beginning to receive assistance from the United States, and then in May of 1942 the Soviet Armies went out and laid an egg. They launched a great armoured assault at Karkhov and punched a pretty big bulge in the German lines. The Germans then pinch off the shoulders of that bulge, and fight a Kesselschlacht. That is a concentric operation encircling a great Soviet enemy concentration and attacking it from more than one point of the compass. That’s May. That same month General Von Manstein in the Crimea finally brings that campaign to an end by punching a small hole through Soviet formations and encircling another couple of Soviet armies, taking another 175,000 prisoners. Rommel does much the same sort of thing to the British 8th Army at Gazala. Both of those, the North African and Crimea campaigns, are then punctuated in June by the seizure of Tobruk, the fortress that had resisted Rommel back in 1941 and another which was reputedly the strongest fortress in the world, Sebastopol in the Crimea, which Manstein stormed.

In each of these battles, relatively discreet and relatively isolated from each other, the Germans were able to do one thing, and that was concentrate what was left of their Luftwaffe, their ground assault elements in particular, their Stukas, on a single target at a time. If they could do that, they found in May or June of 1942, they could still win large-scale operational victories. However, Kharkov - fought in and around the city of Kharkov - was a much smaller section of the Front than the stretch from Voronezh in the north clear down to Baku - the Germans never reached Baku - but clear down to Maykop in the Caucasus. If it's 100 square miles in one case it becomes a 900 mile long front in the other, and the Germans were never able to achieve that kind of concentration of force on the ground, and particularly in the air during Operation Blue, that they were able to in those preliminary operations of the spring.