Saturday, December 31, 2016

June 1941 - Barbarossa

German invasion of the Soviet Union that opened World War II on the Eastern Front, commencing the largest, most bitterly contested, and bloodiest campaign of the war. Adolf Hitler’s objective for Operation BARBAROSSA was simple: he sought to crush the Soviet Union in one swift blow. With the USSR defeated and its vast resources at his disposal, surely Britain would have to sue for peace. So confident was he of victory that he made no effort to coordinate the invasion with his Japanese ally. Hitler predicted a quick victory in a campaign of, at most, three months.

German success hinged on the speed of advance of 154 German and satellite divisions deployed in three army groups: Army Group North in East Prussia, under Field Marshal Wilhelm von Leeb; Army Group Center in northern Poland, commanded by Field Marshal Fedor von Bock; and Army Group South in southern Poland and Romania under Field Marshal Karl Gerd von Rundstedt. Army Group North consisted of 3 panzer, 3 motorized, and 24 infantry divisions supported by the Luftflotte 1 and joined by Finnish forces. Farther north, German General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst’s Norway Army would carry out an offensive against Murmansk in order to sever its supply route to Leningrad. Within Army Group Center were 9 panzer, 7 motorized, and 34 infantry divisions, with the Luftflotte 2 in support. Marshal von Rundstedt’s Army Group South consisted of 5 panzer, 3 motorized, and 35 infantry divisions, along with 3 Italian divisions, 2 Romanian armies, and Hungarian and Slovak units. Luftflotte 4 provided air support.

Meeting this onslaught were 170 Soviet divisions organized into three “strategic axes” (commanding multiple fronts, the equivalent of army groups)—Northern, Central, and Southern or Ukrainian—that would come to be commanded by Marshals Kliment E. Voroshilov, Semen K. Timoshenko, and Semen M. Budenny, respectively. Voroshilov’s fronts were responsible for the defense of Leningrad, Karelia, and the recently acquired Baltic states. Timoshenko’s fronts protected the approaches to Smolensk and Moscow. And those of Budenny guarded the Ukraine. For the most part, these forces were largely unmechanized and were arrayed in three linear defensive echelons, the first as far as 30 miles from the border and the last as much as 180 miles back.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Baltic and East Prussia

At the beginning of August, the German counterattack in front of Warsaw had succeeded finally in halting the momentum of the Soviet offensive, but not before the enemy had established bridgeheads across the Vistula and in places reached the East Prussian border. The bridgeheads over the Vistula south of Warsaw proved of most immediate concern. The OKH feared that any Soviet breakout could be exploited in a potentially decisive manner by either a turn north to encircle Warsaw or a drive straight west in order to seize the vital economic and industrial resources of Silesia, thus effectively crippling the German war economy. Already, as we have seen, the Germans had been forced to send units from the key tank battle at Warsaw to the south to prevent any Soviet exploitation of the bridgeheads and stabilize the situation. By mid-August, however, the Russians shifted the Schwerpunkt of their attacks to the key area just north of Warsaw where the Vistula, Narew, and Bug Rivers converged. If they could force their way across these rivers, the path to Danzig lay open, with the possibility of trapping German forces in the Baltic and East Prussia. The Soviets opened a new offensive on 18 August and over the next two months continued a series of attacks along the Bug and Narew Rivers designed to achieve a decisive breakthrough. Although the weight of these blows forced the Germans back, and despite the fact that they managed to create a few bridgeheads across the Narew, the Soviets proved unable to break the German defense line. Having achieved rather small tactical gains at a stiff cost in men and equipment, the Russians finally broke off attacks at the end of October.

At the same time as the Soviets began winding down their efforts near Warsaw, a new crisis erupted to the north in East Prussia. Although the Red Army had reached the German border at Schirwindt in mid-August, furious German counterattacks had thrown them back. In mid-October, however, the Soviets launched a frontal assault on Fourth Army positions with the intention, after breaking through, of sending one force streaming toward Königsberg and another to seize Danzig. If they succeeded, they would not only cut off Army Group North in the Baltic but also open the way to Germany proper. The assault began on 16 October with a three- to four-hour artillery and air bombardment of an intensity not previously experienced on the eastern front. By the eighteenth, Russian forces had again crossed the East Prussian border on a broad front and in places were advancing unhindered far to the west. On the twenty-first, they seized an intact bridge across the Angerapp at Nemmersdorf and also threatened to take the key railroad center of Gumbinnen even as German tanks were being unloaded from freight cars. With the roads full of refugees fleeing west in panic, concern rose at Führer Headquarters, less than fifty miles away in Rastenburg and within easy striking distance of enemy tank columns. Hitler, however, worried about the impact on the troops if he evacuated, refused to leave Wolf’s Lair, although some staff and files were sent away. Once again, the Germans averted disaster through a bold counterthrust. That same day, German panzer forces battled Soviet tank units near Gumbinnen, while others assaulted the base of the enemy breakthrough at Großwaltersdorf, managing the next day to cut off advance units of the Soviet Second Guards Tank Corps and the Eleventh Guards Army. Despite their numerical superiority, both Russian commanders and soldiers seemed stunned by the sudden turnabout in their situation. Lacking firm leadership, many men simply threw away their weapons and equipment and fled in panic eastward.

This initial foray into East Prussia had been fought with savage intensity and resulted in unusually heavy losses for an operation that lasted less than two weeks. German sources claimed to have destroyed almost one thousand enemy tanks and assault guns, while the Russians admitted to a casualty total of nearly 80,000 men of the 377,000 involved in the attack. Noteworthy, too, were the horrifying scenes that greeted German troops as they retook Gumbinnen and Nemmersdorf. In an explosion of violence, Soviet troops had exacted a first, bloody revenge on German civilians, with scores of women raped and murdered, often in the most gruesome fashion, stores plundered, and houses burned. Having suffered a whole range of German atrocities for three dreadful years, and having seen firsthand the awesome destruction of the scorched-earth retreat, Soviet soldiers engaged in an orgy of revenge that, although perhaps understandable, was, nonetheless, deplorable. Goebbels, of course, immediately seized on Nemmersdorf, that “place of horror,” as an example of what all Germans could expect. In a theme that would continue until the end of the war, he made clear that Soviet actions left Germans only one choice—fanatic, suicidal resistance—since they were going to be the victims of enemy cruelties in any case. Controversy still exists as to whether Stalin encouraged such action or whether Soviet commanders simply lost control of their troops, but one thing was clear: the atrocities at Nemmersdorf generally sent a chill through the German people and strengthened their will to resist. Although the SD reported a few examples of Germans drawing comparisons between the actions of their own government and soldiers against the Jews and what had now happened on German territory, the overwhelming majority simply feared that the Russians would do to them what they themselves had already suffered at German hands.

At the same time that the reality of war was being brought home to the German civilian population of East Prussia, an even more costly military drama was playing out in the Baltic as the Soviets now targeted Army Group North. Heretofore largely spared the full fury of the enemy summer offensive, the army group had, nonetheless, seen its strength dwindle as it had been forced to deliver more and more units to the defense of other sectors, even as its southern front expanded because of the disaster befalling Army Group South. By midsummer, it, too, faced a debilitating enemy superiority of up to eight to one across the board, yet Hitler forbade any withdrawal to shorter, more defensible lines. In this case, the Führer’s decision reflected less his typical hold-fast mentality than the key significance of certain political, economic, and strategic considerations. Always sensitive to the vital importance of Finnish nickel and Swedish iron ore to the German war effort, Hitler was determined to hold the Baltic as a guarantee of the continued deliveries of these ores. At the same time, he clung to the hope that new weapons technologies, both rockets and submarines, could produce a dramatic change in Germany’s fortunes. In the case of the latter weapon, the German navy was in the process of developing and testing two markedly superior types of U-boats that offered a glimmer of hope that the Battle of the Atlantic could yet be won. To complete sea testing, however, Hitler believed it was essential to hold on to the eastern Baltic coast, although his military (and even naval) advisers regarded this as a luxury Germany could not afford.

By early July, Army Group North found its position increasingly jeopardized by the collapse of its neighbor to the south. With Soviet forces racing west through the “Baltic hole,” a twenty-five-mile-wide gap between Army Groups North and Center, the commander of the former army group, General Georg Lindemann, not only had to defend more front with fewer troops but also faced the prospect that the advancing enemy might cut off his forces entirely. Lindemann, of course, reacted to the threat with the rational request that Hitler allow him to withdraw his forces to safety. Just as predictably, Hitler not only refused to give up territory but also ordered Lindemann to launch a counterattack with his nonexistent reserves. The latter responded by renewing his demand to be allowed to evacuate his troops in order to escape encirclement as well as halting the senseless counterattack. These actions left Hitler no choice, and, on 4 July, he replaced Lindemann with General Johannes Friessner, who, although initially determined to carry out Hitler’s orders energetically, soon discovered the correctness of his predecessor’s prescription. By mid-July, both Friessner and Model pleaded with Hitler to allow a withdrawal of Army Group North, which, as the most intact and battleworthy force on the eastern front, could be used to build the operational reserve so desperately needed to stabilize the front. These divisions, having been spared the brunt of battle in 1942 and 1943, had a level of primary group cohesion and combat effectiveness rare in German units at this point in the war and, thus, would have been invaluable as a backstop. Their fighting ability was on ample display in these weeks of summer fighting when, despite its overwhelming superiority in strength, the Red Army had been unable to achieve an operational breakthrough, instead being forced at high cost to push Friessner’s units back. Despite his dogged defensive success—in one month, his troops, mostly in close combat with the lethal handheld Panzerfaust, destroyed almost eight hundred enemy armored vehicles—Friessner met the same fate as Lindemann. On 23 July, he was relieved of his command, although formally he exchanged positions with the commander of Army Group South Ukraine, General Ferdinand Schörner. The latter, although given unusual command authority by Hitler, had no answer to the problems of the “poor man’s war” that the Germans were now fighting, and he too demanded withdrawal to sensible positions, which the Führer ignored. By the end of the month, the Soviets finally reached the Baltic coast just west of Riga, effectively trapping Army Group North. Although a tenuous connection to Army Group Center was reopened on 20 August, the position of Army Group North remained highly precarious.

After a temporary respite in order to prepare its forces, the Red Army on 14 September resumed its hammer blows against Army Group North. With any attempt to hold its exposed position untenable, Hitler finally relented two days later, following an impassioned appeal by Schörner, and approved the evacuation of Estonia, which commenced on the eighteenth. Still, he insisted on maintaining a bridgehead around Riga as well as holding on to Courland. Since Finland agreed to an armistice and left the war on 19 September, Hitler’s decision seemed to be based on his desire to continue testing the new-type U-boats. In any case, the Soviets continued their pounding attacks along the northern front, their forces increasingly augmented by units transferred from Finland, and, on 10 October, once again reached the Baltic coast. Although the Red Army paid a high price, suffering over 280,000 casualties and losing over five hundred armored vehicles, it had once more trapped Army Group North, with 250,000 troops and over five hundred armored vehicles, this time for good. Over the course of the next weeks and months, neither rational arguments (these tough, battle-hardened units could better be used as an operational reserve to defend Germany than sitting in Courland) nor emotional appeals (since most of the troops were from the eastern provinces, they would fight more fiercely than a bunch of untrained boys and elderly men in the Volkssturm) altered Hitler’s determination to hold on to Courland.

Nor, despite a series of battles until the end of the war that cost the Red Army a ridiculously high number of casualties, were the Soviets able to take it.

Of all Hitler’s controversial decisions in 1944, none has seemed to demonstrate so well his irrational stand-fast mentality as the decision voluntarily to entomb German troops and tanks sorely needed to defend the Reich in a backwater place such as Courland. As an illustration of his irrationality, however, it might be better to seek explanations on the strategic rather than the tactical level, with the key to the Courland puzzle lying in the Ardennes rather than the Baltic. As is generally known, Hitler hoped with the Ardennes offensive in December 1944 (originally scheduled for late November) to achieve a sudden turnaround in the war through an operation remarkably similar to Sickle Cut of May 1940. In this latest version, Great Britain was to play the role of France, with the United States, emulating the English, expected temporarily to withdraw from European affairs. Having dealt a savage blow to his Western enemies, and at the same time perhaps finally splitting the unnatural coalition arrayed against him, Hitler could then mass his remaining forces in the east to repel the Soviet invaders. In effect, he was clinging to the strategy outlined in November 1943 for the coming year: seek a turnaround in the war by striking in the west and holding on in the east.

His forces had failed to achieve the desired results in both areas, but, Hitler believed, one last opportunity beckoned. For this plan to work, however, Courland had to be held as a springboard for a new offensive deep into the Soviet rear, while at the same time the new-model U-boats could be unleashed in the Atlantic. Although this interpretation is clearly a flight of fantasy, much speaks in support of it, not least the timing of Hitler’s final decisions to hold Courland and launch the Ardennes offensive, made within two days of each other in late October. Just as importantly, such a scheme fit his all-or-nothing mentality, his conviction, as Speer noted, that the war could be won only through offensive action. The Führer yearned to throw off the “eternal defense” into which Germany had been forced and again seize the initiative, but, when his “Blitzkrieg without gasoline,” as Karl-Heinz Frieser termed the Ardennes offensive, failed, he was left with the bankruptcy of his strategy. Only now, in early 1945, did he permit some units to be evacuated from Courland and sent back to Germany, although, even here, he could not quite fully abandon the illusion of a miracle that would again turn the war in his favor.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The First Guards Tank Brigade – 1941

The First Guards Tank Brigade - 1941

Russian tank commanders at the outset of the German invasion of the Soviet Union were at a great disadvantage. While enjoying a huge inventory of armor, their battle doctrines as to its use were so outmoded that they had no chance to exploit the benefits of it.

The Guards Return To Fight In Russia – 1941

The Guards Return To Fight In Russia - 1941

A column of Soviet T-38 Model 1937 amphibious light tanks belonging to the Leningrad Military District. These lightly armed and armored vehicles were obsolete even before the war began and were easily vanquished by their better equipped German opponents Russian tank commanders at the outset of the German invasion of the Soviet Union were at a great disadvantage.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Opening Impact of Barbarossa on the Red Army I

As the headlong advance of the German Army into the USSR continued, the Red Army collapsed in chaos all along the front. Its communications were severed, transport broke down, ammunition and equipment, fuel, spare parts and much more besides quickly ran out. Unprepared for the invasion, officers could not even guess where the Germans would strike next, and there was often no artillery available to blunt the impact of the incoming German tanks. Many of the Red Army’s own tanks, from the BT to the T-26 and 28, were obsolescent: more of the total of 23,000 tanks deployed by the Red Army in 1941 were lost through breakdowns than to enemy action. Radio communications had not been updated since the Finnish war and were coded in such a basic manner that it was all too easy for Germans listening in to decrypt them. Worst of all, perhaps, medical facilities were wholly inadequate to deal with the vast numbers of dead and treat the scores of thousands of injured. In the absence of proper military planning, officers could think of little else to do than attack the Germans head-on, with predictably disastrous results. An orderly retreat was made almost impossible by the Germans’ prior destruction of roads, railways and bridges behind the lines. Desertion rates rocketed in the Red Army as demoralized soldiers fled in confusion and despair. In a mere three days in late June 1941, the Soviet secret police caught nearly 700 deserters fleeing from the battle on the south-western front. ‘The retreat has caused blind panic,’ as the head of the Belarus Communist Party wrote to Stalin on 3 September 1941, and ‘the soldiers are tired to death, even sleeping under artillery fire . . . At the first bombardment, the formations collapse, many just run away to the woods, the whole area of woodland in the front-line region is full of refugees like this. Many throw away their weapons and go home.’

Some idea of the depth of the disaster can be gauged from the diary of Nikolai Moskvin, a Soviet political commissar, which records a rapid transition from optimism (‘we’ll win for sure,’ he wrote on 24 June 1941) to despair a few weeks later (‘what am I to say to the boys?’ he asked himself gloomily on 23 July 1941: ‘We keep retreating’). On 15 July 1941 he had already shot the first deserters from his unit, but they kept on fleeing, and at the end of the month, after being wounded, he admitted: ‘I am on the verge of a complete moral collapse.’ His unit got lost because it did not have any maps, and most of the men were killed in a German attack while Moskvin, unable to move, was hiding in the woods with two companions, waiting to be rescued. Some peasants found him, nursed him back to health, and conscripted him into helping with the harvest. As he got to know them, he discovered they had no loyalty to the Stalinist system. Their main purpose was to stay alive. After battles, they rushed on to the field to loot the corpses. What in any case would loyalty to Stalin have brought them? In August 1941, Moskvin encountered some Red Army soldiers who had escaped from a German prisoner-of-war camp. ‘They say there’s no shelter, no water, that people are dying from hunger and disease, that many are without proper clothes or shoes.’ Few, he wrote, had given a thought to what imprisonment by the Germans would mean. The reality was worse than anyone could imagine.

Opening Impact of Barbarossa on the Red Army II

Soviet soldiers and civilians began to listen to Stalin’s new, patriotic message and fight back. Encouraged by Stalin, more and more young men took to the woods to form partisan bands, raiding German installations and intensifying the vicious circle of violence and repression. By the end of the year, the overwhelming mass of civilians in the occupied areas had come round to supporting the Soviet regime, encouraged by Stalin’s emphasis on patriotic defence against a ruthless foreign invader. Escalating partisan resistance went along with a dramatic recovery of the fighting effectiveness of the Red Army. The cumbersome structure of the Red Army was simplified, creating flexible units that would be able to respond more rapidly to German tactical advances. Soviet commanders were ordered to concentrate their artillery in anti-tank defences where it seemed likely the German panzers would attack. Soviet rethinking continued into 1942 and 1943, but already before the end of 1941 the groundwork had been laid for a more effective response to the continuing German invasion. The State Defence Committee reorganized the mobilization system to make better use of the 14 million reservists created by a universal conscription law in 1938. More than 5 million reservists were quickly mobilized within a few weeks of the German invasion, and more followed. So hasty was this mobilization that most of the new divisions and brigades had nothing more than rifles to fight with. Part of the reason for this was that war production facilities were undergoing a relocation of huge proportions, as factories in the industrial regions of the Ukraine were dismantled and transported to safety east of the Ural mountains. A special relocation council was set up on 24 June and the operation was under way by early July. German reconnaissance aircraft reported what to them were inexplicable massings of railway wagons in the region – no fewer than 8,000 freight cars were employed on the removal of metallurgical facilities from one town in the Donbas to the recently created industrial centre of Magnitogorsk in the Urals, for example. Altogether, 1,360 arms and munitions factories were transferred eastwards between July and November 1941, using one and a half million railway wagons. The man in charge of the complex task of removal, Andrej Kosygin, won a justified reputation as a tirelessly efficient administrator that was to bring him to high office in the Soviet Union after the war. What could not be taken, such as coalmines, power stations, railway locomotive repair shops, and even a hydro-electric dam on the Dnieper river, was sabotaged or destroyed. This scorched-earth policy deprived the invading Germans of resources on which they had been counting. But together with the evacuation, it also meant that the Red Army had to fight the war in the winter of 1941-2 largely with existing equipment, until the new or relocated production centres came on stream.

Stalin also ordered a series of massive ethnic cleansing operations to remove what he and the Soviet leadership thought of as potential by subversive elements from the theatre of war. More than 390,000 ethnic Germans in the Ukraine were forcibly deported eastwards from September 1941. Altogether there were nearly one and a half million ethnic Germans in the Soviet Union. 15,000 Soviet secret policemen descended upon the Volga to begin the expulsion of the ethnic Germans living there, removing 50,000 of them already by the middle of August 1941. Similar actions took place in the lower Volga, where a large community of German descent was living. In mid-September 1941, expulsions began from the major cities. By the end of 1942, more than 1,200,000 ethnic Germans had been deported to Siberia and other remote areas. Perhaps as many as 175,000 died as a result of police brutality, starvation and disease. Many of them spoke no German, and were German only by virtue of remote ancestry. It made no difference. Other ethnic groups were targeted too – Poles, as we have seen, were deported in large numbers from 1939, and, later in the war, up to half a million Chechens and other minorities in the Caucasus were removed for having allegedly collaborated with the Germans as well. In addition, as the German forces advanced, the Soviet secret police systematically murdered all the political prisoners in the jails that stood in their path. One hit squad arrived at a prison at Luck that had been damaged in a bombing raid, lined up the political prisoners, and machine-gunned up to 4,000 of them. In the western Ukraine and western Belarus alone, some 100,000 prisoners were shot, bayoneted, or killed by hand-grenades being thrown into their cells.

Whatever their impact on the war effort, such actions stored up a bitter legacy of hatred which was to lead within a very short time to horrific acts of revenge.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Ost 1942 Command Failure

At senior command level, trends at OKW and OKH ran counter to those at STAVKA. Where Stalin began to appreciate the limitations of his military expertise, Hitler, from an initial position of mere arbiter of strategy, became increasingly involved in tactical decision-making. From his order of December 1941 for Army Group Centre to stand fast, and his decision to dismiss `defeatist' commanders, he concluded that he above all had the wisdom and the will to force a final victory. From his decision that II Corps should hold fast at Demyansk, and the subsequent successful defence of the pocket, he concluded that large formations of encircled German troops could be adequately supplied by the Luftwaffe while continuing to pose a significant threat to the enemy rear. After the resignation of Brauchitsch on 19 December 1941 Hitler assumed the post of Commander in Chief OKH thereby eliminating the army's last vestige of service independence. Thereafter he began to appoint politically loyal generals to senior command positions, and increasingly he began to micromanage combat operations. In doing so he undermined one of the strengths of the German army, the delegated authority of commanders on the battlefield to make independent command decisions and their ability to respond flexibly to changes in operational circumstances. 

Having anticipated a conflict of around eight weeks duration, prior to 1942 there had been little planning by the German High Command for a prolonged conflict. Weapon development projects during 1941 had been scaled back or cancelled and virtually no preparation had been made for the possibility of the conflict continuing into the depths of a Russian winter. Yet having faced a larger, better-equipped and more resilient foe than it had anticipated, as the winter of 1941 approached OKH found that it was facing an enemy whose morale was still unbroken, that was, unlike the Ostheer, fully equipped for winter fighting, and that was adapting its tactics in light of bitter experience. An example of evolving Soviet tactics was the clash that took place between Eberbach's 5 Pz Bgd and Katukov's 4 Tank Bgd southwest of Mtsensk in October 1941. Katukov concentrated his force and used advantages of surprise, terrain and armament range to good effect. Clashes of this sort prompted the Wehrmacht to revive pre-war plans for the development of a heavy tank, and for the development of a new medium tank that could emulate the combat capability of the T34. Until such new weapons could be both developed and produced in quantity, the Ostheer would be left to fight using tanks designed in the 1930s. 

Fortunately for Germany, in the PzKpfw Mk IV it had a machine that was capable of extensive development in its power train, its armament and its armour. During its development the Mk IV became the backbone of the panzer forces, and for a time gave the Ostheer a renewed qualitative edge. The Mk III was too small and too light for such major upgrading, but there remained an urgent requirement for thicker armour and an improved gun. The most immediate improvement to the Mk III and the Mk IV was a doubling of their armour protection through the fitting of face-hardened spaced plates, and the acceptance of a consequent reduction in their mobility. The Mk IV was up gunned through the replacement of its short-barrelled 7.5cm infantry support weapon with a highly effective 43-calibre variant of the new 7.5cm anti-tank gun. The Mk III was not capable of taking the 7.5cm anti-tank gun, but its armament was improved somewhat by the replacement of its 42-calibre 5cm gun with a variant of the long-barrelled (60-calibre) 5cm Pak 38 (L/60) anti-tank gun that was being issued to the infantry. The deficiencies of the infantry's standard 3.7cm anti-tank gun had been recognised since 1940. Though light and manoeuvrable, it was almost useless in dealing with the T34 and KV1 and was a factor in the rout of 112 Inf Div by part of 32 Tank Bgd supported by 239 Rifle Div southeast of Tula in November 1941. In response, the process, begun in 1940, of replacing the infantry's 3.7cm gun with the Pak 38 (L/60) was accelerated. Also available was a variant of the 7.5cm anti-tank gun developed for infantry use (the Pak 40). Although the 7.5cm was an effective weapon it was too heavy to be manoeuvred manually and had to be towed into position by motorised transport, severely limiting its operational flexibility. The highly effective 8.8cm dual-purpose anti-aircraft and anti-tank gun was even more unwieldy, and at 4.4 tonnes was nearly ten times the weight of the early 3.7cm gun. In 1940 the Wehrmacht had begun the development of the self-propelled gun, a turretless armoured fighting vehicle based on the chassis of a tank with a gun fitted to a fixed casement. Such weapons generally had a lower profile than a tank, were easier and cheaper to manufacture and, depending on their configuration, could be used as mobile indirect fire artillery, as direct fire infantry support weapons, or as `tank-killers'. In the direct fire infantry support assault gun role, Germany developed in 1940 the StuG III based on the PzKpfw Mk III chassis and armed with the short-barrelled 7.5cm infantry support gun. In the same year the Panzerjäger I, the first `tank-killer' self-propelled gun, was developed based on the PzKpfw Mk I tank chassis and armed with a 4.7cm Pak(t) gun. These weapons were the first of a range of increasingly powerful self-propelled guns developed by Germany during the course of the war. 

The main weapons of the German artillery arm were developed in the early 1930s. At regimental level, two infantry support guns predominated - the short-barrelled 7.5cm leIG18 and the somewhat cumbersome 15cm sIG33. At divisional level, artillery support was based primarily on the 10.5cm sK18 field gun, the 10.5cm leFH18 howitzer and the 15cm sFH18 heavy howitzer. In the early period of the war these artillery pieces, used in conjunction with the German army's efficient and effective fire control system, proved to be eminently fit for purpose, and they were subject to little further development. The leFH18 was upgraded in 1941 to achieve a modest increase in range, and to improve the range of the sFH18, the ammunition for the gun was modified to provide a rocket propulsion element to the shell's propellant system. The German army had a range of larger calibre artillery pieces (15cm and above), and significant use was made of captured guns, but the mainstay of the artillery arm remained the regimental and divisional artillery weapons with which Germany went to war in 1939. 

As a means of countering the improved armour protection of tanks, in conjunction with the introduction of faster and heavier anti-tank projectiles, considerable development went into the design of the projectiles. The first improvement from the simple solid shot was the addition of a softer metallic cap to prevent the break-up of the armour penetrating component on impact. Further improvements were achieved by the use of tungsten carbide in the main shot, and the streamlining of the shot to achieve higher muzzle velocities by the fitting of a ballistic cap to the impact cap. Such developments were pursued by both sides during the early period of the war and the result of this work had a considerable impact on force structure and tactics as the war progressed. 

In the air, both sides strove to improve the performance of their aircraft, neither side gaining a distinct technological advantage. The Red Army took some time to recover from the devastating aircraft losses of the first few days of the war, but in a combat zone as large as the Eastern Front neither side would ever achieve true air superiority. All that could be achieved was local and often merely temporary advantage on a particular strategic axis.