The Kholm Pocket was the name given for the encirclement of German troops by the Red Army around Kholm south of Leningrad, during World War II on the Eastern Front, from 23 January 1942 until 5 May 1942. A much larger pocket was surrounded in Demyansk, about 100 km to the northeast; these were the results of German retreat following their defeat during the Battle of Moscow. The air supply of Kholm and Demyansk, while successful, led to an overconfidence in the German High Command in regard to the Luftwaffe's ability to air supply encircled forces which would lead to disastrous consequences at the Battle of Stalingrad in late 1942 and early 1943. At the small Kholm pocket, 5,500 German soldiers held it for 105 days; the pocket was too small for planes to land. Among the airdropped supplies were 35 of the first 50 prototype MKb 42 rifles; the German units in the pocket were part of: 218th Infantry Division Reserve-Polizei-Bataillon 65 Infanterie-Regiment 553 Parts of the 123rd Infantry Division Jagdkommando 8 III.
Bataillon of the Luftwaffenfeldregiment 1German forces made three attempts to relieve the pocket, in January and May 1942. While the first two failed the third one was successful, with the German forces in the pocket reduced in number to 1,200 by then. In July 1942, the Cholm Shield was awarded to the German defenders of the pocket, upon the suggestion of Generalmajor Theodor Scherer, similar to the Demyansk Shield. Scherer was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves by Adolf Hitler for the command of the defense of Kholm. Kholm was liberated by the Red Army on 21 February 1944. Members of the Reserve-Polizei-Bataillon 65, a police unit from Gelsenkirchen, were questioned after the war by the state prosecutor in Dortmund for their involvement in ethnic cleansing in Eastern Europe; the unit was found to have taken part in a minimum of 5,000 executions and a large number of deportations to concentration camps. Among them was the hanging of a young girl in Kholm during the siege.
Zabecki, David. Germany at War: 400 Years of Military History. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1598849808. Bourne, Merfyn; the Second World War in the Air: The Story of Air Combat in Every Theatre of World War Two. United Kingdom: Troubador Publishing. ISBN 1780884419. Media related to Battle of Kholm at Wikimedia Commons
First Battle of Kharkov
The 1st Battle of Kharkov, so named by Wilhelm Keitel, was the 1941 battle for the city of Kharkov during the final phase of Operation Barbarossa between the German 6th Army of Army Group South and the Soviet Southwestern Front. The Soviet 38th Army was ordered to defend the city while its factories were dismantled for relocation farther east; the German 6th Army needed to take the city in order to close the widening gap to the German 17th Army. By 20 October the Germans had reached the western edge of the city, it was taken by the 57th Infantry Division by 24 October. At that time, most of Kharkov's industrial equipment had been evacuated or rendered useless by the Soviet authorities. In the autumn of 1941, Kharkov was considered one of the Soviets' most important strategic bases for railroad and airline connections, it not only connected the east-west and north-south parts of Ukraine, but several central regions of the USSR including the Crimea, the Caucasus, the Dnieper region, Donbas. Kharkov was one of the largest industrial centers of the Soviet Union.
One of its greatest contributions was the Soviet T-34 tank, both designed and developed at the Kharkov Tractor Factory. It was considered to be the most powerful tank plant in the country. Other factories that were located in the city included the Kharkov Aircraft Plant, Kharkov Plant of the NKVD, the Kharkov Turbine Plant. Military products that were in Kharkov before the battle started included: tanks, Su-2, artillery tractors, 82 mm mortars, sub-machine guns and other military equipment; the main objective for the German troops was to capture the railroad and military factories, thus they tried to keep the industrial area of Kharkov intact. Adolf Hitler himself stressed the importance of those military plants stating: "… The second in importance is south of Russia the Donets Basin, ranging from the Kharkov region. There is the whole basis of Russian economy, it was rated at 901,000 people on 1 May 1941. In September 1941 the population skyrocketed to 1.5 million people, due to numerous evacuees from other cities.
After multiple attacks and many deaths, the population of Kharkov decreased to 180 – 190,000, the size after the liberation of the city in August 1943. After the Battle of Kiev, Army Group Center was ordered to redeploy its forces for the attack on Moscow, so the 2nd Panzer Group turned north towards Bryansk and Kursk. Army Group South, in particular Walther von Reichenau's 6th Army and Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel's 17th Army took the place of the Panzer Divisions; the main offensive formation of Army Group South, Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist's 1st Panzer Group, was in the meantime ordered south for a drive to Rostov-on-Don and the Caucasian oilfields, following Führer Directive No. 35. The burden of processing Kiev's 600,000 prisoners of war fell upon the 6th and 17th Armies, so while the 1st Panzer Group secured the German victory in the Battle of Melitopol, these two armies spent the next three weeks regrouping. Meanwhile,'Stavka', needed to stabilize its southern flank and poured reinforcements into the area between Kursk and Rostov, at the expense of its forces in front of Moscow.
The Southwestern Front, destroyed during the battle of Kiev, was re-established under the command of Marshal Semyon Timoshenko, one of the more capable Red Army commanders. The 6th, 21st, 38th and 40th Armies were reconstituted from scratch. With the Battle of Moscow under way, the Germans had to protect their flanks, on 6 October von Reichenau advanced through Sumy and Okhtyrka in the direction of Belgorod and Kharkov. On the same day, the 17th Army commenced its offensive from Poltava towards Lozova and Izyum to protect the lengthening flank of the 1st Panzer Army; the Southwestern Front's 6th Army and 38th Army failed to conduct a coordinated defense and were beaten back. In the lead up to the Battle of Moscow, the Red Army suffered a catastrophic defeat at Vyazma and Bryansk, suffering 700,000 casualties; the few reserves available were needed to defend the Soviet capital, thus were unavailable to Timoshenko's reconstituted Southwestern Front. With no reserves to plug the breach, the Stavka was forced fall back to Voronezh in order prevent a total collapse of the southern flank.
Although the main objectives of the German Army before winter fell were to capture Leningrad and the approaches to the Caucasian oilfields, Kharkov was an important secondary objective. Besides the need to protect the flanks of its motorized spearheads, the OKH, the German Army high command saw the importance of Kharkov as an industrial center and railroad hub. Capturing the city meant that the Southwestern and Southern Front had to fall back on Voronezh and Stalingrad as their major transport hubs. When, in the second week of October, the rainy season of the Rasputitsa and the poor logistics in the area between the Dnepr and the front, caused the offensive to stall. Hitler allocated resources from the 17th Army to the 6th Army to ensure the capture of Kharkov. This, weakened the 17th Army's effort to protect the flank of the 1st Panzer Army and contributed to the German defeat at the Battle of Rostov. After 17 October, night frost improved the roads, but snow storms and the cold started to hamper the Germans, who
Battles of Rzhev
The Battles of Rzhev were a series of Soviet operations in World War II between January 8, 1942 and March 31, 1943. Due to the high losses suffered by the Red Army, the campaign became known by veterans and historians as the "Rzhev Meat Grinder"; the operations took place in the general area of Rzhev, Sychyovka in Sychyovsky District, Vyazma against German forces. The major operations that were executed in this area of the front were: Rzhev–Vyazma Strategic Offensive Operation of the Kalinin Front, Western Front, Bryansk Front, Northwestern Front Sychyovsky–Vyazma offensive operation of the Kalinin Front Mozhaysk–Vyazma offensive operation of the Western Front Toropets–Kholm Offensive Operation of the Northwestern Front and reassigned to the Kalinin Front from 22 January 1942 Vyazma airborne operation of the Western Front Rzhev operation Operation Seydlitz and the Soviet defensive battles around Bely and Kholm-Zhirkovsky launched by 9th Army of Germany to eliminate the salient in the vicinity between Bely and Kholm–Zhirkovsky and annihilate the 39th Army and 11th Cavalry Corps of the Kalinin Front First Rzhev–Sychyovka Offensive Operation by forces of the Kalinin Front and Western Front Second Rzhev–Sychyovka Offensive Operation by the forces of the Kalinin Front and Western Front Battle for Velikiye Luki by 3rd Shock Army of the Kalinin Front Third Rzhev–Sychyovka Offensive Operation by the forces of the Kalinin Front and Western Front, at the same time, the southern flank offensive operations on the Bryansk Front.
These were operations that occurred during the planned German retreat from the salient known as Operation Büffel During the Soviet winter counter-offensive of 1941, the Rzhev-Vyazma Strategic Offensive Operation, German forces were pushed back from Moscow. As a result, a salient was formed along the front line in the direction of the capital, which became known as the Rzhev-Vyazma Salient, it was strategically important for the German Army Group Centre due to the threat it posed to Moscow, was therefore fortified and defended. Initial Soviet forces committed by the Kalinin and Western Front included the 22nd, 29th, 30th, 31st, 39th of the former, the 1st Shock, 5th, 10th, 16th, 20th, 33rd, 43rd, 49th, 50th armies and three cavalry corps for the latter; the intent was for the 22nd Army, 29th Army and 39th Armies supported by the 11th Cavalry Corps to attack West of Rzhev, penetrate deep into the western flank of Army Group Centre's 9th Army. This was achieved in January, by the end of the month the cavalry corps found itself 110 km in the depth of the German flank.
To eliminate this threat to the rear of the Army Group Centre's 9th Army, the Germans had started Operation Seydlitz by 2 July. However, due to the nature of the terrain the supply route of the troops of the Soviet 22nd Army, 29th Army and 39th Armies which attempted to enlarge the penetration became difficult, they were encircled; the cutting of a major highway to Rzhev by the cavalry signalled the commencement of the Toropets–Kholm Offensive. The offensive was conducted in late 1942; this offensive was conducted across the northern part of the Western Front against the Wehrmacht's 4th Panzer Army and the 4th Army. A Soviet airborne operation, conducted by the 4th Airborne Corps in seven separate landing zones, five of them intended to cut major road and rail line of communication to the Wehrmacht's 9th Army. In the aftermath of the Soviet winter counteroffensive of 1941–42, substantial Soviet forces remained in the rear of the German Ninth Army; these forces maintained a hold on the primitive forested swamp region between Bely.
On July 2, 1942, Ninth Army under General Model launched Operation Seydlitz to clear the Soviet forces out. The Germans first blocked the natural breakout route through the Obsha valley and split the Soviet forces into two isolated pockets; the battle ended with the elimination of the encircled Soviet forces. The next Rzhev-Sychyovka Offensive codenamed Operation Mars; the operation consisted of several incremental offensive phases: Sychyovka Offensive Operation 24 November 1942 – 14 December 1942 Belyi Offensive Operation 25 November 1942 – 16 December 1942 Luchesa Offensive Operation 25 November 1942 – 11 December 1942 Molodoi Tud Offensive Operation 25 November 1942 – 23 December 1942 Velikie-Luki Offensive Operation 24 November 1942 – 20 January 1943This operation was nearly as heavy in losses for the Red Army as the first offensive, failed to reach desired objectives, but the Red Army tied down German forces which may have otherw
Battle of the Kerch Peninsula
The Battle of the Kerch Peninsula, which commenced with the Soviet Kerch-Feodosia landing operation and ended with the German Operation Bustard Hunt, was a World War II battle between Erich von Manstein's German and Romanian 11th Army and the Soviet Crimean Front forces in the Kerch Peninsula, in the eastern part of the Crimea. It began on 26 December 1941 with an amphibious landing operation by two Soviet armies intended to break the Siege of Sevastopol. Axis forces first contained the Soviet beachhead throughout the winter and interdicted its naval supply lines through aerial bombing. From January through April, the Crimean Front launched repeated offensives against the 11th Army, all of which failed with heavy losses; the Red Army lost 352,000 men in the attacks. Superior German artillery firepower was responsible for the Soviet debacle. On 8 May 1942, the Axis struck with great force in a major counteroffensive codenamed Trappenjagd which concluded by around 19 May 1942 with the liquidation of the Soviet defending forces.
Manstein used a large concentration of airpower armed infantry divisions, concentrated artillery bombardments and amphibious assaults to break through the Soviet front in its southern portion in 210 minutes, swing north with the 22nd Panzer Division to encircle the Soviet 51st Army on 10 May and annihilate it on 11 May. The remnants of the 44th and 47th Armies were pursued to Kerch, where the last pockets of organized Soviet resistance were eradicated through German aerial and artillery firepower by 19 May; the decisive element in the German victory was the campaign of airstrikes against the Crimean Front by Wolfram von Richthofen's 800 aircraft-strong VIII. Fliegerkorps, which flew an average of 1,500 sorties per day in support of Trappenjagd and attacked Soviet field positions, armored units, troop columns, evacuation ships and supply lines. German bombers used up to 6,000 canisters of SD-2 anti-personnel cluster munitions to kill masses of fleeing Soviet infantrymen. Manstein's outnumbered 11th Army suffered 7,588 casualties, while the Crimean Front lost 176,566 men, 258 tanks, 1,133 artillery pieces and 315 aircraft in three armies comprising twenty-one divisions.
Total Soviet casualties during the five month-long battle amounted to 570,000 men, while Axis losses were 38,000. Trappenjagd was one of the battles preceding the German summer offensive, its successful conclusion allowed the Axis to concentrate their forces on Sevastopol, conquered within six weeks. The Kerch Peninsula was used a launching pad by German forces to cross the Kerch Strait on 2 September 1942 during Operation Blücher II, a part of the German drive to capture the Caucasus oilfields. On 8 December 1941, the Soviet supreme command, ordered General-Lieutenant Dmitry Timofeyevich Kozlov's Transcaucasian Front to begin planning for a major operation to cross the Kerch Strait and link up with the Soviet Separate Coastal Army holed up in Sevastopol, thereby liberating the Crimea from the Germans; the ambitious operation, the first major amphibious operation in Soviet history, was founded upon Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin's belief in the German Wehrmacht's imminent collapse. The plan was drawn up by the Transcaucasian Front's chief of staff General-Major Fyodor Tolbukhin.
Tolbukhin's plan was too complicated for Soviet Navy's abilities. It was based on multiple small landings at separate locations at separate times instead of one large, simultaneous landing. Five transport groups from Rear-Admiral Sergey Gorshkov's Azov Flotilla would land 7,500 soldiers from the 224th Rifle Division and 302nd Mountain Rifle Division of the 51st Army on eight isolated beaches north and south of Kerch. After the Germans were distracted by this, the 44th Army would land at Feodosiya in the German rear. Naval gunfire support would be provided by the Black Sea Fleet; the Soviet Air Forces, would contribute air cover from the Taman Peninsula. The Soviets had the men and troop transports on hand but were compelled to use fishing trawlers for the actual landings due to the lack of landing craft, had little experience with large-scale joint operations and were impeded by the stormy winter weather. A German Messerschmitt Bf 110 reconnaissance aircraft noted the buildup of Soviet naval forces and reported it to Lieutenant General Hans Graf von Sponeck's XXXXII Army Corps headquarters.
Sponeck issued a general alert for enemy amphibious landings in the Kerch Peninsula. The mass of Sponeck's units had been transferred for the assault on Sevastopol and he had only the 46th Infantry Division under Lieutenant General Kurt Himer who had assumed his command on 17 December, two coastal artillery battalions equipped with obsolete World War I artillery pieces, a combat engineer regiment and a Luftwaffe anti-aircraft battalion; the 46th Infantry Division up to strength, was woefully overextended holding down the entire Kerch Peninsula against potential Soviet landings. Sponeck's only backup was the Romanian 8th Cavalry Brigade near Alushta. On the evening of 25 December 1941, the 224th Rifle Division and 83rd Naval Infantry Brigade were packed into small craft on the Taman Peninsula and began to pass the Kerch Strait. Group 2 disembarked at Cape Khroni to the northeast of Kerch, it consisted of the gunboat Don, the transports Krasny Flot and Pyenay, a tugboat, two motor barges that carried three T-26 light tanks and a few artillery pieces, 16 fishing trawlers.
Whaleboats were substituted for landing craft, resulting in tediously slow landings and the drowning of men and equipment. 697 men from the 2nd Battalion of the 160th Rifle Regiment landed at Cape
Black Sea campaigns (1941–44)
The Black Sea Campaigns were the operations of the Axis and Soviet naval forces in the Black Sea and its coastal regions during World War II between 1941 and 1944, including in support of the land forces. The Black Sea Fleet was as surprised by Operation Barbarossa as the rest of the Soviet Military; the Axis forces in the Black Sea consisted of the Romanian and Bulgarian Navies together with German and Italian units transported to the area via rail and Canal. Although the Soviets enjoyed an overwhelming superiority in surface ships over the Axis, this was negated by German air superiority and most of the Soviet ships sunk were destroyed by bombing. For the majority of the war, the Black Sea Fleet was commanded by Vice Admiral Filipp Oktyabrskiy, its other commander being Lev Vladimirsky. All of the major Soviet shipyards were located in the Ukraine and Crimea and were occupied in 1941. Many incomplete ships which were afloat were evacuated to harbors in Georgia which provided the main bases for the surviving fleet.
These ports such as Poti, however had limited repair facilities which reduced the operational capability of the Soviet Fleet. On 22 June 1941, the Black Sea Fleet of the Soviet Navy consisted of: Romanian naval forces in the Black Sea consisted of four destroyers, four torpedo boats, eight submarines, three minelayers, one submarine tender, three gunboats and one training ship; as Turkey was neutral during World War II, the Axis could not transfer warships to the Black Sea via the Bosphorus. However, several small ships were transferred from the North Sea via rail and canal networks to the Danube; these included six Type IIB U-boats of the 30th U-boat Flotilla which were dis-assembled and shipped to Romania along the Danube. They were re-assembled at the Romanian Galați shipyard in late 1942 and afterwards sent to Constanța; the Germans transported 10 S-boats and 23 R-boats via the Danube and built armed barges and KTs in the captured Nikolayev Shipyards in Mykolaiv. Some ships were obtained in Romania and Hungary, converted to serve the German cause, such as the S-boat tender Romania, the minelayer Xanten and the Anti-submarine trawler UJ-115 Rosita.
Additional vessels were built in German or local shipyards, captured from Soviets, or transferred from the Mediterranean nominally as merchant ships. In total, the German naval forces in the Black Sea amounted to 6 coastal submarines, 16 S-boats, 23 R-boats, 26 submarine chasers and over 100 MFP barges; the German Black Sea fleet operated hundreds of medium and small warships or auxiliaries before its self-destruction prior to the defection of Bulgaria. Few vessels were able to make good their escape via the Danube; the Croatian Naval Legion was formed in July 1941. It was comprised some 350 officers and ratings in German uniform, but this swelled to 900–1,000, their first commander was Andro Vrkljan replaced by Stjepan Rumenović. The Croats' purpose in posting a naval contingent to the Black Sea was to evade the prohibition on an Adriatic navy imposed by the 18 May 1940 Treaty of Rome with Italy; this prohibition limited the Croatian Navy to a riverine flotilla. Upon its arrival at the Sea of Azov, managed to scrounge up 47 damaged or abandoned fishing vessels sailing ships, to man them hired local Russian and Ukrainian sailors, many deserters from the Soviet Navy.
The Legion acquired 12 German submarine hunters and a battery of coastal artillery. Lieutenant Josip Mažuranić notably commanded the submarine hunter UJ2303. Despite Bulgaria's neutral status in the German-Soviet war, the Bulgarian navy was involved in escort duties to protect Axis shipping against Soviet submarines in Bulgarian territorial waters; the small Bulgarian Navy consisted of 4 old torpedo boats, 3 modern German-built motor torpedo boats, 4 Dutch-built motor torpedo boats of the Power type, 2 SC-1 class submarine chasers and 3 anti-submarine motor launches. In late August 1944, 14 MFP landing barges were transferred to Bulgaria; the Italian Navy dispatched a small force to the Black Sea. The force dispatched included a flotilla of torpedo motorboats. Hungary became landlocked in the aftermath of World War I, but some Hungarian merchant ships were able to reach the Black Sea via the Danube River. Hungarian cargo ships were operated as part of Axis sea transport forces on the Black Sea, thus participated in the Axis evacuation from Crimea.
On June 26 the Soviet forces attacked the Romanian city of Constanța. During this operation, the destroyer leader Moskva was lost to mines while evading fire from coastal batteries; the Black Sea Fleet supplied the besieged garrison in Odessa and evacuated a significant part of the force at the end of October, but lost the destroyer Frunze and a gunboat to the German dive bombers in the process. The Black Sea Fleet played a valuable part in defeating the initial assault on Sevastopol. In December, there was an amphibious operation against Kerch which resulted in the recapture of the Kerch Peninsula. A naval detachment including the cruiser Krasnyi Krym remained in Sevastopol to give gunfire support. Soviet submarines raided Axis shipping on the Romanian and Bulgarian coasts, sinking 29,000 long tons of shipping. During fall of 1941, both sides laid many mine fields in southern Black Sea: Romanian defensive minefields sunk at least 5 Soviet submarines during this period, however during such operations the Axis forces lost the Romanian minelayer Regele Carol I, sunk by a mine laid by Soviet submarine L-4: 2 of the 5 Soviet submarine
1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler
The 1st SS Panzer Division "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler", short LSSAH, began as Adolf Hitler's personal bodyguard, responsible for guarding the Führer's person and residences. The size of a regiment, the LSSAH grew into an elite division-sized unit during World War II; the LSSAH participated in combat during the invasion of Poland, was amalgamated into the Waffen-SS together with the SS-Verfügungstruppe and the combat units of the SS-Totenkopfverbände prior to Operation Barbarossa in 1941. By mid-1942 it had been increased in size from a regiment to a Panzergrenadier division and was designated SS Panzergrenadier Division "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler", it received its final form as a Panzer division in October 1943. Members of the LSSAH perpetrated numerous atrocities and war crimes, including the Malmedy massacre, they killed an estimated 5,000 prisoners of war in the period 1940–1945 on the Eastern Front. In the early days of the Nazi Party, the leadership realized that a bodyguard unit composed of reliable men was needed.
Ernst Röhm formed a guard formation from the 19. Granatwerfer-Kompanie. Adolf Hitler in early 1923, ordered the formation of a small separate bodyguard dedicated to his service rather than "a suspect mass", such as the SA; the unit was composed of only eight men, commanded by Julius Schreck and Joseph Berchtold. It was designated the Stabswache; the Stabswache were issued unique badges, but at this point was still under SA control. Schreck resurrected the use of the Totenkopf as the unit's insignia, a symbol various elite forces had used in the past, including specialized assault troops of Imperial Germany in World War I who used Hutier infiltration tactics. In May 1923, the unit was renamed Stoßtrupp –Hitler; the unit numbered no more than 20 members at that time. On 9 November 1923, the Stoßtrupp, along with the SA and several other Nazi paramilitary units, took part in the abortive Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. In the aftermath, Hitler was imprisoned and his party and all associated formations, including the Stoßtrupp, were disbanded.
In the mid-1920s, violence remained a large part of Bavarian politics. Hitler was a potential target. In 1925, Hitler ordered the formation of the Schutzkommando; the unit was renamed the Sturmstaffel and in November was renamed the Schutzstaffel, abbreviated to SS. By 1933 the SS had grown from a small bodyguard unit to a formation of over 50,000 men; the decision was made to form a new bodyguard unit, again called the Stabswache, made up of men from the 1st SS-Standarte. By 1933 this unit was placed under the command of Sepp Dietrich, who selected 117 men to form the SS-Stabswache Berlin on 17 March 1933; the unit replaced. Out of this initial group, three became divisional commanders, at least eight would become regimental commanders, fifteen became battalion commanders, over thirty became company commanders in the Waffen-SS. Eleven men from the first company of 117 went on to win the Knights Cross, forty of them were awarded the German Cross in gold for bravery. In 1933, two further training units were formed: SS-Sonderkommando Zossen on 10 May, a second unit, designated SS-Sonderkommando Jüterbog on 8 July.
These were the only SS units. Most of the training staff came from the ranks of the army. On 3 September 1933 the two Sonderkommando merged into the SS-Sonderkommando Berlin under Dietrich's command. Most of their duties involved providing outer security for Hitler at his residences, public appearances and guard duty at the Reich Chancellery. In November 1933, on the 10th anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch, the Sonderkommando took part in the rally and memorial service for the NSDAP members, killed during the putsch. During the ceremony, the members of the Sonderkommando swore personal allegiance to Hitler. At the conclusion the unit received a new title, "Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler"; the term Leibstandarte was derived from Leibgarde – a somewhat archaic German translation of "Guard of Corps" or personal bodyguard of a military leader – and Standarte: the Schutzstaffel or Sturmabteilung term for a regiment-sized unit the German word for a specific type of heraldic flag. On 13 April 1934, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler ordered the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler to be renamed "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler".
Himmler inserted the SS initials into the name to make it clear that the unit was independent from the SA or army. The LSSAH was considered a "National Socialist" unit, which grew into an elite Panzer division of the Waffen-SS. Although nominally under Himmler, Dietrich was the real commander and handled day-to-day administration. During 1934, Stabschef-SA Ernst Röhm continued to push for greater political influence for his powerful SA. Hitler decided that the SA had to be eliminated as an independent political force and ordered the LSSAH to prepare for the action; the LSSAH formed two companies under the control of Jürgen Wagner and Otto Reich, these formations were moved to Munich on 30 June. Hitler ordered all SA leaders to attend a meeting at the Hanselbauer Hotel in Bad Wiessee, near Munich. Hitler along with Sepp Dietrich and a unit from the LSSAH travelled to Bad Wiessee to oversee Röhm's arrest on 30 June. At around 17:00 hours, Dietrich received orders from Hitler for the LSSAH to form an "execution squad" and go to Stadelheim prison where certain SA leaders were
Battle of Smolensk (1941)
The First Battle of Smolensk was a battle during the second phase of Operation Barbarossa, the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, in World War II. It was fought around the city of Smolensk between 10 July and 10 September 1941, about 400 km west of Moscow; the Wehrmacht had advanced 500 km into the USSR in the 18 days after the invasion on 22 June 1941. The German army encountered unexpected resistance during the battle, leading to a two-month delay in their advance on Moscow. Three Soviet armies were encircled and destroyed just to the south of Smolensk, though significant numbers from the 19th and 20th armies managed to escape the pocket; some historians have asserted that the losses of men and materiel incurred by the Wehrmacht during this drawn-out battle and the delay in the drive towards Moscow led to the defeat of the Wehrmacht by the Red Army in the Battle of Moscow of December 1941. On 22 June 1941, the Axis nations invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa. At first, the campaign met with spectacular success, as the surprised Soviet troops were not able to offer coordinated resistance.
After three weeks of fighting, the Germans had reached the Dvina and Dnieper rivers and planned for a resumption of the offensive. The main attack aimed at Moscow, was carried out by Army Group Centre, its next target on the way to the Soviet capital was the town of Smolensk. The German plan called for the 2nd Panzer Group to cross the Dnieper, closing on Smolensk from the south, while the 3rd Panzer Group was to encircle the town from the north. After their initial defeats, the Red Army began to recover and took measures to ensure a more determined resistance and new defensive line was established around Smolensk. Stalin placed Field Marshal Semyon Timoshenko in command and transferred five armies out of the strategic reserve to Timoshenko; these armies had to conduct counter-offensives to blunt the German drive. The German high command was not aware of the Soviet build-up until they encountered them on the battlefield. Facing the Germans along the Dnieper and Dvina rivers were stretches of the Stalin Line fortifications.
The defenders were the 13th Army of the Western Front and the 20th Army, 21st Army and the 22nd Army of the Soviet Supreme Command Reserve. The 19th Army, was forming up at Vitebsk. In Soviet histories, the battles around Smolensk are divided into phases and operations to halt the German offensive and the pincers Battle of Smolensk Smolensk Defensive Operation Smolensk Offensive Operation Rogechev-Zhlobin Offensive Operation Gomel-Trubchevsk Defensive Operation Dukhovschina Offensive Operation Yelnia Offensive Operation Roslavl-Novozybkov Offensive Operation Prior to the German attack, the Soviets launched a counter-offensive; the result was a disaster, as the offensive ran directly into the anti-tank defenses of the German 7th Panzer Division and the two Soviet mechanized corps were wiped out. On 10 July, Guderian's 2nd Panzer Group began a surprise attack over the Dnieper, his forces overran the weak 13th Army and by 13 July, Guderian had passed Mogilev, trapping several Soviet divisions.
His spearhead unit, the 29th Motorised Division, was within 18 km of Smolensk. The 3rd Panzer Group had attacked, with the 20th Panzer Division establishing a bridgehead on the eastern bank of the Dvina river, threatening Vitebsk; as both German panzer groups drove east, the 16th, 19th and 20th armies faced the prospect of encirclement around Smolensk. From 11 July, the Soviets tried a series of concerted counter-attacks; the Soviet 19th Army and 20th Army struck at Vitebsk, while the 21st and the remnants of the 3rd Army attacked against the southern flank of 2nd Panzer Group near Bobruisk. Several other Soviet armies attempted to counter-attack in the sectors of the German Army Group North and Army Group South; this effort was part of an attempt to implement the Soviet prewar general defense plan. The Soviet attacks managed to slow the Germans but the results were so marginal that the Germans noticed them as a large coordinated defensive effort and the German offensive continued. Hoth's 3rd Panzer Group drove north and east, parallel to Guderian's forces, taking Polotsk and Vitebsk.
The 7th Panzer Division and 20th Panzer Division reached the area east of Smolensk at Yartsevo on July 15. At the same time, the 29th Motorized Division, supported by the 17th Panzer Division broke into Smolensk, captured the city except for the suburbs and began a week of house-to-house fighting against counter-attacks by the 16th Army. Guderian expected that the offensive would continue towards Moscow as its main focus and sent the 10th Panzer Division to the Desna River to establish a bridgehead on the east bank at Yelnya and cleared that as well by the 20th; this advanced bridgehead became the center of the Yelnya Offensive, one of the first big coordinated Soviet counter-offensives of the war. This objective was 50 km south of the Dnepr and well clear of the objective of liquidating the armies trapped at Smolensk. Under Fuhrer Directive 33 issued on July 14, the main effort of the Wehrmacht was re-orientated away from Moscow