Operation Orkan (ii)

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This was a German unrealised operation designed to eliminate the Sukhinichi salient on the Eastern Front (May/June 1942).

Confident in their belief that the Germans would inevitably attempt, in the longer if not the shorter term, seek to take decisive action on the Axis to Moscow, the Soviet leadership in the early summer of 1942 in no way saw the central sector of the Eastern Front as of secondary importance, even if Adolf Hitler did once his thinking had settled on the ‘Blau’ offensives on the southern sector of the front. General Georgi K. Zhukov, who had been Iosif Stalin’s primary military problem-solver in the summer and autumn of 1941, remained in command of West Front. The main Soviet formations opposite Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge’s Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’, were General Polkovnik Ivan S. Konev’s Kalinin Front, Zhukov’s West Front and the two right-wing armies of General Leytenant Filipp I. Golikov’s Bryansk Front, and these controlled, in total, 140 divisions with which to contest the issue with 70 German divisions, each about twice the size of a Soviet divisions, but including five German and two Hungarian divisions used only for security purposes. The Stavka therefore held four combined-arms armies, as well as General Leytenant Prokofi L. Romanenko’s 3rd Tank Army and General Major Pavel S. Rybalko’s 5th Tank Army, as reserves in the area of the Soviet capital.

The Soviet strategy of active defence remained in full effect on the Moscow axis. On 16 July, four days after an offensive to the north of Orel against Generaloberst Rudolf Schmidt’s 2nd Panzerarmee had been halted, the Stavka instructed Zhukov and Konev to prepare their West Front and Kalinin Front for an offensive in the area of Rzhev and Sychevka with the object of driving the Germans back to the line of the Volga and Vazuza rivers, and of liberating Rzhev and Zubtsov.

When ‘Seydlitz’ (iii) ended on 12 July, Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’ was ready to settle into a what was in essence a supernumerary role for the summer as the major German offensives continued to the south. By eliminating the most threatening dangers to the army group’s rear, the combination of the two ‘Hannover’ operations and the ‘Seydlitz’ (iii) undertaking had made Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’ once more an almost credible threat to Moscow and therefore something more than a formation which could stand idle even if greater undertakings were taking place in the south. However, an active campaign was impossible at least untilAugust, when a partial rebuilding of the army group had been completed. The armies of Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’ had three operations in the early stages of development: these were ‘Derfflinger’, ‘Orkan’ (ii) and ‘Wirbelwind’. ‘Derfflinger’ was a descendant of ‘Brückenschlag’, and was to be undertaken by Generaloberst Walter Model’s 9th Army as a drive from the front in the area to the north of Rzhev toward Ostashkov. As suggested by their meteorological codenames, ‘Orkan’ (ii) and ‘Wirbelwind’ were related, and were to be undertaken by Generaloberst Hans von Salmuth’s 4th Army and Schmidt’s 2nd Panzerarmee against the Soviet forces’ Sukhinichi salient. In ‘Orkan’ (ii) the two armies were to attack from the north and south to pinch out the entire salient and carry the front to the east as far as Belev, Kaluga and Yukhnov. ‘Wirbelwind’ was somewhat less ambitious alternative to ‘Orkan’ (i) and designed to pinch off only the western one-third of the salient and establish a front some miles to the east of Sukhinichi.

Although ‘Orkan’ (ii) could have been considerably more effective than ‘Wirbelwind’ by opening once again the south-western approaches to Moscow via Yukhnov and Kaluga, as of a time in the middle of July there was little chance that it would be implemented unless the Soviets armies suffered a sudden and catastrophic collapse. Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’ just did not possess the strength, in manpower and matériel, to essay an undertaking of this size. Whether or not ‘Derfflinger’ could be attempted was also in doubt, especially as the reinforcements it would require would have to be drawn from the forces need for ‘Wirbelwind’, which had greater priority. Thus ‘Derfflinger’ could not be started until September, which would put the undertaking uncomfortably close to the end of the autumn campaigning season.