The Leader And Supreme Commander Of The Armed Forces.
The Leader's Headquarters. 5th April, 1942. 14 copies
Directive No. 41
The winter battle in Russia is nearing its end. Thanks to the unequalled courage and self sacrificing devotion of our soldiers on the Eastern Front, German arms have achieved a great defensive success.
The enemy has suffered severe losses in men and material. In an effort to exploit what appeared to him to be early successes, he has expended during the winter the bulk of reserves intended for later operations.
As soon as the weather and the state of the terrain allows, we must seize the initiative again, and through the superiority of German leadership and the German soldier force our will upon the enemy.
Our aim is to wipe out the entire defence potential remaining to the Soviets, and to cut them off, as far as possible, from their most important centres of war industry.
All available forces, German and allied, will be employed in this task. At the same time, the security of occupied territories in western and northern Europe, especially along the coast, will be ensured in all circumstances.
I. General Plan
In pursuit of the original plan for the eastern campaign, the armies of the central sector will stand fast, those in the north will capture Leningrad and link up with the Finns, while those on the southern flank will break through into the Caucasus.
In view of conditions prevailing at the end of winter, the availability of troops and resources, and transport problems, these aims can be achieved only one at a time.
First, therefore, all available forces will be concentrated on the main operations in the southern sector, with the aim of destroying the enemy before the Don River, in order to secure the Caucasian oilfields and the passes through the Caucasus Mountains themselves.
The final encirclement of Leningrad and the occupation of Ingermanland may be undertaken as soon as conditions in that area permit, or sufficient forces can be made available from other theatres.
II. Conduct Of Operations
A. The first task of the Army and Airforce, when the period of thaw with its muddy ground conditions is over, will be to establish the preliminary conditions for carrying out our main operation.
This calls for mopping up and consolidation on the whole Eastern Front and in the rear areas so that the greatest possible forces may be released for the main operation. The other sectors of the front must be able to meet any attack with the smallest possible expenditure of manpower.
Wherever, for this purpose, offensive operations with limited objectives are to be carried out, in accordance with my orders, every effort will be made to ensure that all available forces of the Army and Airforce are ready to go into action in overwhelming strength, in order to achieve rapid and decisive success. Only thus shall we be able, even before the beginning of the big spring offensive, to make our troops confident in the certainty of victory, and to instil into the enemy a sense of his own hopeless inferiority.
B. The next task will be a mopping up operation in the Kerch Peninsula on the Crimea and the capture of Sebastopol. The Airforce, and later the Navy, will have the task of preparing these operations, and hindering enemy supply traffic in the Black Sea and the Kerch Straits as energetically as possible.
In the southern area, the enemy forces which have broken through on both sides of Izyum will be cut off along the course of the Donets River and destroyed.
Final decision concerning the mopping up still necessary in the central and northern sectors of the Eastern Front must await conclusion of the present fighting and of the muddy season. The necessary forces, however, must be provided, as soon as the situation allows, by thinning out frontline troops.
C. The main operation on the Eastern Front.
The purpose is, as already stated, to occupy the Caucasus Front by decisively attacking and destroying Russian forces stationed in the Voronezh area to the south, west, or north of the Don River. Because of the manner in which the available formations must be brought up, this operation can be carried out in a series of consecutive, but coordinated and complementary, attacks. Therefore these attacks must be so synchronised from north to south that each individual offensive is carried out by the largest possible concentration of Army, and particularly of air, forces which can be assured at the decisive points.
Experience has sufficiently shown that the Russians are not very vulnerable to operational encircling movements. It is therefore of decisive importance that, as in the double battle of Vyazma-Bryansk, individual breaches of the front should take the form of close pincer movements.
We must avoid closing the pincers too late, thus giving the enemy the possibility of avoiding destruction.
It must not happen that, by advancing too quickly and too far, armoured and motorised formations lose connection with the infantry following them; or that they lose the opportunity of supporting the hard pressed, forward fighting infantry by direct attacks on the rear of the encircled Russian armies.
Therefore, apart from the main object of the operation, in each individual case, we must be absolutely sure to annihilate the enemy by the method of attack and by the direction of the forces used.
The general operation will begin with an overall attack and, if possible, a breakthrough from the area south of Orel in the direction of Voronezh. Of the two armoured and motorised formations forming the pincers, the northern will be in greater strength than the southern. The object of this breakthrough is the capture of Voronezh itself. While certain Infantry Divisions will immediately establish a strong defensive front between the Orel area, from which the attack will be launched, and Voronezh, armoured and motorised formations are to continue the attack south from Voronezh, with their left flank on the River Don, in support of a second breakthrough to take place towards the east, from the general area of Kharkov. Here too the primary objective is not simply to break the Russian front but, in cooperation with the motorised forces thrusting down the Don River, to destroy the enemy armies.
The third attack in the course of these operations will be so conducted that formations thrusting down the Don River can link up in the Stalingrad area with forces advancing from the Taganrog-Artelnovsk area between the lower waters of the Don River and Voroshilovgrad across the Donets River to the east. These forces should finally establish contact with the armoured forces advancing on Stalingrad.
Should opportunities arise during these operations, particularly by the capture of undemolished bridges, to establish bridgeheads to the east or south of the Don River, advantage will be taken of them. In any event, every effort will be made to reach Stalingrad itself, or at least to bring the city under fire from heavy artillery so that it may no longer be of any use as an industrial or communications centre.
It would be particularly desirable if we could secure either undamaged bridges in Rostov itself or other bridgeheads south of the Don River for later operations.
In order to prevent large numbers of Russian forces north of the Don River from escaping southwards across the river, it is important that the right flank of our forces advancing east from the Taganrog area should be strengthened by armoured and motorised troops. These will, if necessary, be formed from improvised units.
According to the progress made in these attacks, we must not only provide strong protection for the northeast flank of the operation; we must immediately set about establishing positions along the Don River. In this matter, antitank defences are especially important. These positions will from the first be prepared with a view to their eventual occupation in winter, for which they will be fully equipped.
In the first instance, units of our allies will be used to hold the Don River front, which will become longer and longer as the attack proceeds. German forces will provide a strong supporting force between Orel and the Don River, and in the Stalingrad strip. For the rest, individual German divisions will also remain available as reserves behind the Don River front.
Allied troops will be mainly disposed so that the Hungarians are farthest north, then the Italians, and the Romanians furthest to the southeast.
D. The swift progress of the movements across the Don River to the south, in order to attain the operational objectives, is essential, in consideration of the season.
Apart from giving direct support to the Army, the task of the Airforce will be to cover the deployment of forces in the Army Group South area by strengthening air defences. This applies particularly to railway bridges across the Dnieper River.
If enemy forces are seen to be concentrating, the principal roads and railways serving the concentration area will be brought under continuous attack well in the enemy's rear. A first priority will be the destruction of railway bridges across the Don River.
At the opening of operations, the enemy airforce and its ground organisation in the theatre of operations will be attacked and destroyed by a concentrated effort of all available forces.
The possibility of a hasty transfer of Airforce units to the central and northern fronts must be borne in mind, and the necessary ground organisation for this maintained, as far as possible.
In the Black Sea it is the principal duty of the Navy, in so far as our combat and escort forces and our tonnage allow, to assist in supplying the Army and Airforce by sea.
Because the battle potential of the Russian Black Sea fleet is still unbroken, it is particularly important that the light naval forces to be moved to the Black Sea should be ready for action there as soon as possible.
The Baltic Sea will be protected by blockading Russian naval forces in the inner waters of the Gulf Of Finland.
V. My basic order to ensure secrecy is once again to be brought to the attention of all Staffs concerned in these preparations. In this connection the attitude to be adopted to our allies will be laid down in special instructions.
VI. The preparations planned by the various branches of the Armed Forces, and their timetables, will be notified to me through the High Command Of The Armed Forces.