Soviet opinion on the German employment of the strategic reserves—Red Army
comment based upon long experience and
wide observation of enemy practice—has particular importance
at this time. The following presentation of the Soviet point of
view is drawn from an article in the recent issue of Krasnaya
Zvezda (Red Star), the Soviet Army newspaper. The authors,
Colonels Loschchagin and Molnikov, based their comment on German
documents and German practice on the Eastern front.
It is the German view that strategic reserves are the principal
striking force in defense, and the determining factor in developing
offensive successes. On the Soviet-German front, strategic reserves
consist of divisions and units stationed on that front and subordinated
to the command of an army or army group. Newly formed or
reorganized units are are also used as strategic reserves. As a rule,
these reserves consist of mobile units possessing great striking power
and include armored, motorized, and reinforced infantry divisions.
Their principal task is to assure successes already achieved.
The number of units included in the strategic reserve of an army
or army group depends on conditions prevailing on the front and
on the availability of troops. Ordinarily the German High
Command aims at creating strong reserve forces, even if this leads to
the weakening of first-line troops. Experience on the Soviet-German
front indicates the following average strength of strategic reserves:
In an army, one to three divisions; in an army group, two to five divisions.
Depending on circumstances and the nature of anticipated
operations, the headquarters of the army group or the High Command
retains control of the strategic reserves, concentrating their action
on one decisive sector with the purpose of delivering a mighty striking
blow. Thus, in preparing for the Kursk offensive in the summer
of 1943, the German High Command reorganized the central group
of armies and moved strategic reserves from other fronts to this
sector. This enabled them to concentrate in the Orel-Belgorod
area 17 Panzer, 3 motorized, and 18 infantry divisions.
Strategic reserves intended for defensive operations are formed
preferably from armored and motorized divisions. Their task is
liquidation of enemy break-throughs and restoration of the former
line of defense. Counteroffensives, with limited objectives, are also
undertaken when conditions are favorable.
USE OF PANZER FORMATIONS
On the subject of utilization of mobile troops for counteroffensive
purposes, there exist special instructions based on the experience of
recent combat operations on the Soviet-German front. Entitled
"Instructions for the Utilization of Panzer Formations," and issued
by the German High Command, they categorically prohibit
dispersion of strategic reserves and direct their undivided utilization in
the sector of the main attack.
These Instructions continue: "If an army has in reserve several
tank formations, these should be used as a unified force. In the
event the enemy breaks through the defensive front at several points
simultaneously, all tanks held as strategic reserve must be employed
as a unit in liquidating the breakthrough in one sector first, before
proceeding to deal with the other sectors. When only parts of an
armored division go into action, they are in most cases seriously
hampered by dangers arising on the flanks."
In spite of these Instructions, however, the Germans often were
forced to use their strategic reserves piecemeal and prematurely. To
seal the many breaches made by Soviet forces in their defense lines,
the Germans often employed not only their tactical reserves, but
also the strategic reserves intended for mass action against Soviet
A good illustration of this is afforded by the defensive operations
of the German Sixth Army in the Nikopol area early in February
1944. Here the command of the Sixth Army had formed in good
time a strategic reserve composed of the Ninth and Twenty-fourth
Panzer Divisions which were concentrated in the vicinity of the
anticipated main line of advance of Soviet troops. Unfavorable conditions
on the front forced the German command, toward the end of
January, to transfer the Twenty-fourth Panzer Division to the Kirovograd
sector and the Ninth Panzer Division to the city of Krivoi-Rog.
Thus, at the time of the Red Army's offensive northwest of Nikopol,
headquarters of the Sixth Army had no strategic reserve. A belated
attempt to recall the Ninth Panzer Division proved disastrous. This
division arrived late on the battlefield and was badly defeated as soon
as it went into action.
There have been instances when armored and motorized divisions
designated as strategic reserves were used as replacements for
defeated units. Thus the infantry divisions of the German XI Army
Corps, retreating toward Kremenchug in September 1943, were so
badly shaken up that they were incapable of any organized resistance.
The corps command was forced to send to the first line of defense the
SS-Panzer Divisions Das Reich, Totenkopf,
and Grossdeutschland—units taken from strategic
reserves—under cover of which the remnants
of the defeated divisions were withdrawn.
GERMAN CALCULATIONS UPSET
In the fall of 1943, when the Germans were trying to fortify
themselves on the western bank of the Dnepr River, Fieldmarshal von
Mannstein, commander of the Southern Army Group, issued a directive
ordering the reinforcement of infantry divisions stationed on the
first line of defense and the formation of a strategic reserve. Believing,
however, that during the autumn season of bad roads the Red
Army would be unable to undertake large-scale offensive operations,
he charged the strategic reserve with minor tasks, such as reenforcement
of threatened sectors or relief of front-line units. "During the
season of bad roads." the German directive stated, "location of
reserves must be different than in dry and freezing weather. They
should be placed closer to the first line of defense and at points near
the river where enemy crossings may be anticipated."
But the Red Army was able to upset the calculations of the German
High Command and deliver a decisive blow at a time when it was
least expected by the enemy.
The view of the German High Command on the question of
surprise in the transition from defensive to offensive warfare is of
interest. It believes that achievement of strategic surprise through
employment of armored and mechanized reserves is highly problematic,
if it requires the bringing up and concentration of large forces from
the rear. This view is stressed in the following instructions:
"Arrival of panzer divisions from the rear cannot, as a rule, be
concealed from enemy reconnaissance. Strategic surprise, if at all
possible, can be attained only be undetected concentration of large
forces. Therefore, the aim of the High Command is to create
conditions for tactical surprise."
The first prerequisite of tactical surprise, according to the Germans,
is retention at any cost of positions considered important for future
counterattacks. If this is not possible, an orderly retreat to
advantageous positions from which counterattacks can be organized is
recommended. In launching a tank counteroffensive the Germans aim
at delivering not frontal but flank blows.
When the Soviets attack in superior force the Germans halt their
counteroffensive and organize for defense. The German High Command
permits resumption of the counteroffensive only after the Soviet
attack has exhausted itself and the Germans again enjoy superiority.
It is strictly forbidden to throw strategic reserves, particularly panzer
divisions, into counteroffensive action immediately on arrival in the
sector and without preliminary preparations. [Editor's Note.—Soviet
communiques in August 1944, however, reported at least one
instance in which these instructions were violated by the Germans in a
critical situation. A panzer division was rushed from the march
directly into action and completely destroyed by Soviet forces.]
MASSED ARMOR FAILS
Mss employment by the Germans of armored formations belonging
to strategic reserves took place during the counteroffensive in the
direction of Zhitomir in November 1943, at Korsun-Shevchenkovsky
in 1944, and quite recently in the area northwest of Iassy, Romania.
In each of these operations an average of 3 to 6 armored divisions
and up to 7 infantry divisions were employed. Their action was
under the protection of aviation which made about 1,500 sorties daily.
In addition, the enemy employed a large number of artillery and
rocket units of the GHQ reserve. The Germans failed in all these
counteroffensives. Meeting stubborn resistance of Soviet troops, the
enemy was forced to terminate the operation after sustaining heavy
losses in men and equipment.
It is worth noting certain characteristics of German tactics
during a counteroffensive having a limited objective. As a preliminary
to active operations, the enemy conducts combat reconnaissance along
the entire sector of the intended break-through. Ground troops,
supported by air units operating in groups of about 120 planes, methodically
attack the opponent's defense lines, particularly his artillery
firing points. The Germans are given to mass employment of
artillery and 6-barrel rocket launchers. The infantry acts with great
circumspection, only after extensive aviation and artillery preparation,
and with the immediate support of large numbers of tanks. Especially
noteworthy is the enemy's rapid regrouping of troops with the
object of diverting the opponent's forces from the direction of the
principal blow. Finally, the Germans have recently intensified their
activity in night operations.
The German High Command appears to be preoccupied with the
task of reinforcing the tactical reserves of first-line divisions and
creating strategic reserves. However, the shortage of manpower and
armament, and general conditions on the Soviet-German front and
in the west, make the accomplishment of this task extremely difficult.