Operation Wotan (i)

(Germanic god)

This was the German armoured attempt to take Moscow as the culmination of ‘Barbarossa’ (9 September/November 1941).

Based on the concept of a deep-punching encirclement of the Soviet capital from the south via Orel, Tula and Ryazan, the plan was developed primarily by Adolf Hitler, and was undertaken by Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt’s Heeresgruppe ‘Süd’ in concert with Generalfeldmarschall Fedor von Bock’s Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’ on 9 September and was to have lasted no more than eight weeks. The date was established on 29 August in an address by Hitler to the Oberkommando des Heeres.

The start was slowed by initial Soviet attacks by Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Semyon M. Budyonny’s South-West Front and Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Semyon K. Timoshenko’s West Front. The Panzer divisions of Generaloberst Heinz Guderian’s 2nd Panzergruppe of Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’ soon broke the Soviet troops between Orel and Kursk, so creating the gap that was then used by the formations of Generaloberst Ewald von Kleist’s 1st Panzergruppe of Heeresgruppe ‘Süd’. The initial German plan was based on a primary effort in the direction of Dankov, Kasimov and Gorky, but this was changed at the behest of Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring, commander of Luftflotte II.

The German troops encountered severe difficulties, first from their high loss rate and then from the arrival of the first winter weather, and an opportunity for Soviet counter-offensive appeared soon after this.