The Third Reich winning Stalingrad (Or more accurately, the overall Case Blue offensive) has long been a staple in Alternate History at large but the general consensus, whenever one of these threads pops up, is that the Germans had no chance to accomplish their objectives and the operation was doomed to failure. I used to agree with this assessment, until I once saw a thread concerning this and it produced an informative conversation on the topic. Several of the posts within it were rather interesting to myself, and compelled me to spend time searching through sources available from my University’s library collection to see what I could find. Thus, what follows is the result of that and is presented with “some” commentary by myself.
My overall conclusion is that, in light of what is stated here by these sources, I think the forum does need to reconsider its position with regards to Fall Blau and its abilities to affect the course of the Eastern Front in WWII. I’m certainly no expert on this subject however, so if you feel my interpretation of these books is misinformed please feel free to correct me on this. First, from Robert Forczyk’s Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front, 1941-1942: Schwerpunkt -
List’s diversion probably doomed the effort of von Kleist to take Grozny, as well as interdict the Astrakhan-Baku railroad. This means that Army Group A could have directly occupied around ~15% of the USSR’s oil while partly interdicting the ~80% that came out of Baku by cutting the Astrakhan-Baku railway. VIII Fliegerkorps could've also been used to hit the infrastructure up north in the Volga area in tandem with this move. This also damages the Persian Lend Lease route, as it means the Soviets can’t import overland and the Germans are already attacking the Volga trade. Lastly, and I’m not sure on this one, but could the Trans-Caucasus Front be threatened with destruction by the cutting of the aforementioned railway, as I think its logistics came from said railroad?By 10 August, von Kleist had Malinovsky’s forces on the run, with XXXXPanzerkorps pushing southeast down the main rail line to Grozny and Baku,while III and LVII Panzerkorps mopped up around Maikop. By this point, Malinovsky’s only armored unit was Major Vladimir Filippov’s 52nd Tank Brigade – a low-quality unit equipped with a mixed group of forty-six T-34s,T-60s, Valentines and Lees. A total of 4,500 tankers who had escaped into the Caucasus after abandoning their tanks – a shocking indictment of the low state of morale and training in the Red Army’s tank units in mid-1942 – were sent to the Urals to reequip with new tanks.
It was at this point that the Germans decided to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm List was one of Hitler’s uninspired choices to lead his main effort in the 1942 campaign,since he had limited experience with armour – just the brief Balkans campaigns –and had completely missed the first year of the war on the Eastern Front.List brought an old-school, First World War mentality to his handling of Heeresgruppe A and he was concerned when von Kleist’s panzers went charging off toward Grozny and Baku, while leaving AOK 17 to clear out the Kuban and the coastline. He believed that Soviet forces in these areas posed a threat to his right flank, even though the 47th and 56th Armies had minimal combat strength remaining and just fifteen light tanks.
Nevertheless, on 12 August List ordered von Kleist to divert both the III Panzerkorps and the LVII Panzerkorps to support a drive westward to Tuapse to cut off the two Soviet armies and clear the coast. During 12–18 August, SS-Wiking, the 13.Panzer-Division and the 16.Infanterie-Division were tied up in this ridiculous diversion, which consumed their limited fuel supplies on a secondary objective. List sent this collection of armour down a narrow road into the mountains, which was easily blocked – and they never reached Tuapse. Meanwhile, von Kleist continued toward Grozny with just 3.Panzer-Division and part of 23.Panzer-Division; even though the Wehrmacht had nineteen panzer divisions on the Eastern Front, the schwerpunkt aimed at the critical objectives of the entire summer offensive was reduced to less than two. List also diverted much of Heeresgruppe A’s limited supplies toward his efforts to clear the Kuban and the coast, leaving von Kleist’s spearhead to sputter for lack of fuel.
Nevertheless, on 15 August the 23.Panzer-Division managed to capture Georgievsk, 200km from Grozny, before its fuel began to give out. Heeresgruppe A managed to repair the rail line all the way from Rostov down to Pyatigorsk by 18 August, but it was a single-track line that could only handle very limited throughput. Given a respite from von Kleist’s pursuit, the Stavka sent reinforcements to the Caucasus, including the 10th Guards Rifle Corps, which enabled Malinovsky to build a more solid defensive line behind the Terek River.Once the German drive on Tuapse stalled, List finally allowed the III Panzer-korps to rejoin von Kleist’s advance toward Grozny, but the 13.Panzer-Division and 16.Infanterie-Division (mot.) ran out of fuel en route and were immobilized, then the OKH decided to transfer the latter unit to Heeresgruppe B. The XXXXIX Gebirgskorps was supposed to support von Kleist’s armour, but List diverted it westward to Sochi – which was never taken.
Kleist made it to the Terek river with the 3, 13 and 23.Panzer-Divisionen by 23 August, but with only two infantry divisions of LII Armeekorps in support. While von Kleist had a 3–1 numerical advantage in armour over Malinovsky, the Soviet commander had considerably more infantry. By this point, Malinovsky had scraped together three OTBs to supplement Filippov’s 52nd Tank Brigade, but he had virtually noT-34s; rather, he had about forty-three Valentines, sixty-three Lees and a handful of T-60s. Due to the difficulty of shipping T-34s from the Urals on the single rail line remaining into the Caucasus, Malinovsky forces were almost entirely dependent upon Lend-Lease American and British armour arriving through Persia. On the German side, von Kleist still had most of his armour since there had been relatively light combat in the Caucasus, and he was beginning to receive upgraded Pz.IIIL and Pz.IVG tanks. However, his fuel situation was abysmal and most of his air support had been stripped away as well.
Von Kleist realized that time was running out and he decided to try and get across the Terek River with the forces available. The 3.Panzer-Division managed to seize Mozdok on the northern side of the Terek on 25 August, but efforts to cross the wide river were repulsed. On the morning of 26 August, Generalmajor Erwin Mack, commander of the 23.Panzer-Division, and one of his battalion commanders, was killed by Soviet mortar fire while observing operations along the Terek. The river proved too wide, deep and fast-flowing to cross under fire and von Kleist was stymied. In desperation, Oberst Erpo Freiherr von Bodenhausen, commander of the 23.Panzergrenadier Brigade, was selected to lead a mixed armoured kampfgruppe toward Chervlennaya on the north side of the Terek, where the junction of the Baku-Astrakhan rail line ran. Von Bodenhausen succeeded in reaching the rail junction on 31 August – only 27km from Grozny – and briefly interrupted Soviet rail traffic from Baku (still 490 km distant), but his force was too small to hold this exposed position and he fell back toward the main body.
Von Kleist’s forces were completely out of fuel and he was not able to make another attempt to get across the Terek River until 6 September. The 13.Panzer-Division succeeded in finally getting across the river, but it was too late; Malinovsky’s forces had steadily been reinforced and his numerically-superior troops were too well dug in to budge. Hitler finally relieved List three days later and took personal control over Heeresgruppe A – surely one of his weirdest command decisions of the Second World War. While fighting would continue along the Terek River until early November, when the first snow arrived, von Kleist’s offensive had culminated and the front became static.
Our next data entry is from David Glantz’s To the Gates of Stalingrad: Soviet-German Combat Operations, April-August 1942 -
So in essence, 6th Army destroys two armies and then takes Stalingrad off the march while also avoiding months of attrition in urban warfare. This would be essential, as it complements the next source. Lastly, here is an article by Gerald D. Swick concerning the Romanians at Stalingrad on History.net:In addition to unhinging the right wing of Shumilov's 64th Army, 24th Panzer Division's penetration to Basarguno Station also facilitated a further advance by Sixth Army's LI Corps, which by days end on 31 August had already penetrated 62nd Army's defenses along the Rossoskha River and was about to reach the Kalach-Stalingrad railroad line near Novyi Rogachik. If it did so, it would likely cut off and destroy all off 62nd and 64th Armies forces already half-encircled...If these forces were destroyed, and if LI Corps continued its eastwards march, it was likely the corps would have sufficient forces to penetrate into Stalingrad from the west.
Without the attrition on both men and equipment by the 6th Army of OTL, I can definitely see the Romanians being better equipped with more air support from the VIII Fliegerkorps going into the October battles. I can also see 6th Army reinforcing the Romanians for a counter-punch then as they were requested to do so historically. This gives them the opportunity to destroy the Soviet bridgeheads over the Don or at least inflict even greater losses on the Soviets. If the bridgeheads are crushed, the Romanians could then establish a stronger defensive line directly on the Don. Either way though, greater Soviet losses in these October battles could probably delay Operation Saturn and that plays into the German favor here. By December, both the 6th and 11th Panzer will be available and by January the SS Panzer Corps will be as well.Ordered to advance toward Stalingrad on September 19, 1942, Romanian VI Corps of General Constantin Constantinescu-Claps’ 4th Army impressed the Germans by marching nearly 500 miles in two months, covering over half the distance in just 20 days, often while encountering Soviet resistance.
Ordered to protect the Germans’ exposed right flank, 4th Army’s VI Corps (1st, 2d, 4th, 18th and 20th infantry divisions) took up positions beyond some lakes south of Stalingrad. On September29, a strong Soviet counterattack penetrated all the way to VI Corps’ headquarters. Additional attacks during October drove 1st and 4th divisions back behind the lakes with heavy casualties before the Romanians stabilized their line. In the first two weeks of November, Romanian VII Corps (5th and 8th cavalry divisions) joined 4th Army,compacting divisional frontage but exacerbating supply problems. Its“160-mile front” was closer to 185 miles wide.
In September, Romanian 3d Army arrived. Consisting of I Corps(7th and 11th infantry divisions), II Corps (9th and 14th infantry divisions), IV Corps (13th and 15th infantry divisions and 1st Cavalry Division) and V Corps (5th and 6th infantry divisions), it replaced Italian and German troops south of the Don River to the northwest of Stalingrad. The army’s commander, General Petre Dumitrescu, had received Germany’s Ritterkreuz, the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, for his performance in the September-October 1941 Battle of the Sea of Azov.
Dumitrescu immediately recognized a serious threat. In late August 1942, Soviet counterattacks against the Italian and German divisions that Romanian 3d Army was replacing had seized two bridgeheads south of the Don, near Serafimovich and Kletskaya. Since the Don River was Dumitrescu’s primary defensive barrier, he appealed for German assistance to push the enemy back across the river. But the Germans, fixated on Stalingrad, showed little interest in clearing a bridgehead 150 miles to the northwest. No help was forthcoming, even though Romanian 3rd Army was protecting the only rail supply line into the embattled city.
The Soviets tested 3d Army’s mettle with a series of probing attacks and heavier assaults beginning October 14 and continuing into November. Sergeant Manole Zamfir of the Pioneers Company,36th Regiment of 3d Army’s 9th Infantry Division, wrote: “Pushed forward by their officers, the Russian soldiers were yelling [in Romanian]: ‘Brothers, why are you killing us? Antonescu and Stalin drink vodka together and we’re killing each other for nothing.’”
The Romanians repulsed each attack, inflicting heavy losses but also losing over 13,000 of their own soldiers. Romanian 13th and 14th divisions suffered the most casualties – a fact not lost on the Soviet command.
Romanian 3d Army’s front stretched approximately 85 miles. Divisional reserves were sent to expand the front lines, leaving only 15th Infantry, 7th Cavalry and1st Armored divisions in reserve. Barbed wire and landmines were in short supply, like everything else.
Many Romanian soldiers wondered, “Why die for Hitler?” Others believed they were fighting a “holy war against bolshevism” or “for a fully restored Romania,” but continuing hardships sapped morale. Pay could barely purchase a liter of milk a day. Rations often consisted of a single, small hot meal once a day and a small portion of bread; this was particularly true among Romanian 4th Army south of Stalingrad,which went 10 days without resupply in November.
In late October, reconnaissance by the Royal Romanian Air Force (Aeronautica Regalã Românã) indicated a Soviet buildup on the north side of the Don. The Germans were skeptical, but when their own intelligence confirmed it they began delivering a little more of the equipment they had promised, but some was still second-rate. For example, each Romanian division at Stalingrad received a half-dozen 75 mm Pak 97/38 anti-tank guns – converted French field pieces only marginally better than the small-caliber anti-tank guns already in use.
On November 17, Romania’s defense minister Mihai Antonescu, a distant cousin of the Conductator, pressed Germany’s ambassador Manfred Freiherr von Killinger for more supplies and equipment: “The Russians are right now preparing a big action in exactly the region where our troops are situated. … I don’t want to lose [our army], for it is all we have.”
The “big action” was Operation Uranus, a plan to smash through the Axis flanks and encircle German 6th Army in Stalingrad. To assault the 155,500 Romanians and 11,000 Germans south of the Don, the Soviets’ South West Front and Don Front combined had massed over 338,000 men. Four rifle divisions would strike Italian troops west of the Romanians, but the crushing blow was aimed at strung-out 3d Army.
Okay, now with all that said, what would be the effects of a successful Fall Blau? For one, mass starvation is likely to break out in 1943 within the USSR:
The Bread of Affliction: The Food Supply in the USSR during World War II, by William Moskoff -
The Soviet Economy and the Red Army, 1930-1945, by Walter Scott Dunn -"The central fact behind the increased importance of the collective farm market was the drastic drop in food production, especially in 1942 and 1943, and the diminished proportion that went to the civilians. In 1943 overall agricultural production was only 38 percent of the 1940 level. In 1943, however, the Red Army began to recapture agricultural areas of the Ukraine, Belorussia, and the Caucasus and by the next year, 1944, agricultural output had risen to 54 percent of the 1940 level. Not surprisingly, the collapse of the food economy led to astonishing increases in prices. The most rapid rate [Emphasis by author] of increase in prices took place in 1942 and began to taper off in mid-1943."
Despite the recovery of the Kuban and vast swathes of Ukraine by Fall 1943, overall food production still decreased in 1943; both due to combat damage but also because of mass potato crop failures in the Urals and elsewhere. Hunger and War: Food Provisioning in the Soviet Union During World War II states that food rations had been cut down to their lowest possible limit, with fatalities among industrial workers rapidly increasing until tapering off in 1944. That the Germans would, with a successful Fall Blau, hold onto the aforementioned valuable farmland, cause an even steeper collapse in food production is obvious to me. Lend Lease shipping was already at its maximum capacity, so no slack was left to make up for such."By November of 1941, 47% of Soviet cropland was in German hands. The Germans had 38% of the grain farmland, 84% of the sugar land, 38% of the area devoted to beef and dairy cattle, and 60% of the land used to produce hogs. The Russians turned to the east and brought more land into cultivation. In the fall of 1941, the autumn and winter crops increased sharply in the eastern area. But despite all efforts, farm yields dropped from 95.5 million tons of grain in 1940 to 29.7 million tons in 1942. Production of cattle and horses dropped to less than half of prewar levels and hogs to one fifth. By 1942, meat and dairy production shrank to half the 1940 total and sugar to only 5%. Farm production in 1942 and 1943 dropped to 38% and 37% of 1940 totals."
Finally, there is the issue of manpower:
KDF33 has also taken this, as well as data from Krivosheev, to suggest a major manpower crunch was underway and Soviet success counted upon liberating vast swathes of occupied territory.IV. Remaining unused resources:
a) reserved for employment in the civil economy - 2 781 000
b) in labor columns - 1 321 000
c) recruits born in 1925 - 700 000
d) non-conscripted men fully fit for service in the Central Asian Military District - 600 000
e) non-conscripted men with limited fitness or in the age above 45 (without Far-East and Transcaucasus) - 500 000 (of them 277 000 in the Central Asia)
f) non-conscripted men in the Far East, Trasnbaikal and Transcaucasus Fronts 505 000 (including 200 000 with limited fitness and 200 000 in age above 45).
g) officers of reserve, not conscripted yet - 156 000
h) expected convalescents from hospitals in 3 nearest months - 350 000
i) in the penitentiary system - 1 156 000 men in age from 17 to 45.
I'll close off by citing from The State of the Soviet Economy and Red Army in June of 1942:
Because of the massive casualties the Germans inflicted during Barbarossa (by February 1942, the Red Army had lost over 3 million men captured by the Germans, and another 2,663,000 killed in action) and the huge population centers lost to the Germans the Soviet industrial labor force fell from 8.3 million people in 1940 to 5.5 million people in 1942. This also impacted the Red Army. September 1942 estimates done by E.A. Shchadenko (the man responsible for creating new Red Army units) found that more than five and a half million military age men had been lost from Red Army usage due to the German occupation of Soviet western territories. This meant that list strength of rifle divisions fell from a pre-war total of 14,483 men to 11,626 men in December of 1941. Though many point to the Soviet Union's huge size as the major impediment to any chance of German success in the war this misses a number of crucial points. Not least of which is that the Red Army's major source of reliable manpower was in the Western Soviet Union, and much of that was under German occupation in 1942.
This is not to say that the Red Army did not try to make use of the manpower that could be found in the Caucuses and Central Asia - it just didn't work out. Language barriers represented a formidable obstacle to integrating non-Russian speaking populations into the Red Army. The Red Army raised twenty-six rifle or mountain divisions from the Caucuses, Central Asia, and Baltic states, but almost none of these were deployable against the Germans. Though four Armenian rifle divisions saw combat, as well as the majority of Georgian units, those cases proved the exception rather than the rule. For instance, only three of fifteen Uzbek units saw combat and the Chechen-Ingush cavalry divison never came close to a battlefield. The loss of population in Western Russia, Belorussia, and the Ukraine therefore had an outsized impact on Soviet military potential as a whole. Moreover, there is a strong argument that that had the Germans, even in failing to meet the goals of their 1941-1942 campaigns, merely been able to hold onto the Soviet population centers captured in 1941-1942 that the Red Army may have been in deep trouble. That's because as early as January of 1943 a key component in the Red Army's ability to rejuvenate its strength would be its ability to move west and recapture land and population lost to the Germans. For evidence as to that we need look no further than the Voronezh Front's experiences early in 1943 as it pursued German forces withdrawing from Southern Russia as the German pocket at Stalingrad was slowly being reduced.
From January 13th to March 3rd 1943 the Voronezh Front's pursuit operations further beat up the Axis armies in Southern Russia but at a cost of 100,00 casualties (this included 33,331 irrecoverable losses) from the front's total initial strength of 350,000 men. To help ameliorate these losses the front received nearly 50,000 replacements during January and February. However, less than 10,000 of these replacements represented trained manpower released from the Stavka reserves. The largest single category of replacements comprised 20,902 men press-ganged into service from recaptured territory as the front moved west. The remainder consisted of front reserve units, previously sick or wounded men released from hospitals, liberated prisoners of war, penal troops (men released from the gulag and prisons) and the like. This meant that forty percent of the Voronezh Front's replacement manpower only came about because the front was able to move west. Nor was this situation unique. At this point in the war the Red Army was running short in the trained reserves needed to replenish the massive losses still being incurred while it also built up a strategic reserve and created new units.
The manpower problems facing the Red Army proved a constant throughout the Second World War. Even December 1944 revisions to the shtat of rifle divisions (when the Red Army was otherwise knocking on Germany's door) saw the number of rear-area personnel assigned to a rifle division cut in half compared to where it had been in June of 1941 (1,852 to 3,359 such personnel). At the same time the Red Army had spent 1944 making strenuous efforts to locate and press into immediate service (i.e. without training) men as old as 45 from the recaptured territories in the Western Soviet Union. By 1945 the Red Army was even taking Soviet citizens and POW's found on the march into Germany. These people, who had previously been rounded up by the Germans for service in the Third Reich's factories, were being sent to flesh out front-line ranks even though most were hardly in the physical condition needed to perform adequately in combat. Going back to early in 1942 we find entire rifle divisions being manned by far from inexhuastible sources of manpower. For instance, in April of 1942 the 112th Rifle Division was manned by Siberian Russians and penal troops.
The simple truth for the Red Army was that not even one year into the war extra manpower still not only needed to be found, but would be even more badly in demand as the Germans continued to brutalize the Red Army and Soviet population alike. Before the 1942 German summer offensive even began the Red Army suffered another 3,404,313 casualties during the first six months of 1942 and lost another 3,048 tanks and 2,037 aircraft on top of the 20,500 tanks, 21,200 aircraft and 4,473,8200 casualties lost during 1941. By June of 1942 the Red Army was losing over four men for each German killed, injured, or captured.