week, along the upper Don and before Stalingrad,
the Red Army managed to avoid the series of terrible defeats it had suffered at
the hands of the panzers of Army Group South up until now. The Germans had succeeded in breaking the
Chir line, but this was only ever a holding position, and we were able to fall
back to avoid encirclement. Elsewhere,
although pressed back, the lines held and were reinforced by both men and by
Situation before Stalingrad.
South the situation was far more ominous. FM von Sabre had exploited his excellent air reconnaissance, and had
detected, then probed, then breached the weakest point of our defence along the
entire Don. Audaciously, he switched
his entire axis of attack South, sweeping the thin screen of defenders along
the Donets before him. He then punched over the Don itself. I tried in vain to locate a means of
counter-attack, something at least to slow him down but against such powerful
armoured columns as 13th panzer division and SS Wiking, the renowned
bravery of the Soviet rifleman counts for little. I moved what defenders I could into the path
of the two likely axes of advance, three good divisions behind Rostov and a hedgehog of brigades and less
powerful divisions to the North and East of the breach, but I am not at all
clear they will be able to hold.
The Don is breached.
sketch of the strategic position shows just how serious the situation has
become at this point. The drive over
the Don immediately threatened the whole Rostov
defence. Subsequently the panzers would
be able to drive North to envelop Stalingrad from the South West, or pour into
the Caucasus. Either way, the Don had provided us with the last significant
geographical obstacle to help the defence. Now we must place our trust in time, blood and the vast distances the
invader must travel.
will be useful to compare casualties, as far as they can be estimated, at this
stage in the campaign. The final column
shows the totals. The number of
prisoners is clearly unsustainable even for the Red Army.
final reckoning by STAVKA Staff Officers of overall numbers remaining in the
field is also informative:
Order of battle.