Russia: Tsarist and Communist

By Anatole G. Mazour | Go to book overview
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36
Toward Victory

THE GRIM MONTHS OF 1942

DESPITE THE growing resistance of the Soviet Army, the Wehrmacht had succeeded in wrenching from the Soviet Union an enormous territory, containing vital resources, and inflicting upon the nation incredible economic devastation. Having brought the Continent to its knees, Germany availed herself of all the industrial and agricultural resources and manpower she could muster. This permitted the enemy to enjoy an impressive force, most of which was directed against the eastern front. But if Germany consolidated all her forces, so did the Soviet Union. The first year of fierce fighting gave the Soviet Army what no peacetime maneuvers could afford. Seasoned by battle experience, supported by foreign supplies, and gradually gaining strength from the domestic industries, Soviet armed forces held firm despite all the reverses suffered during the preceding months.

Since it was well known and publicly conceded by Hitler himself that the outcome of the war would be determined on the eastern front, it was clear that Germany was contemplating an offensive. In May 1942 Marshal Timoshenko struck first, opening an onslaught for the recapture of the Kharkov hub. The effort was costly; Kharkov remained in the hands of the enemy, although the Soviet counteroffensive upset the calculations of the German command. But if the Germans were stalled in the center, on the flanks they continued to make progress. In the south the Crimean front was caving in; the German forces were wresting territory by slow degrees and gradually surrounding the city of Sevastopol. The aim of the German command was to reach the oil resources of the Caucasus and penetrate into the southeast, where Hitler contemplated joining hands with Japan. Had Berlin and Tokyo been able to carry out such a grandiose scheme and met somewhere in the Middle East, they would unquestionably have altered the course of history. The Allies realized it, and every effort was bent to forestall such a development.

The more the Germans strove toward achieving this goal, the more ferocious became their attacks on the remaining resistance in the Crimean Peninsula, which was totally isolated from the mainland. Gnawing away bit by bit, the invader reduced the Soviet hold on Crimea to the besieged historical city of Sevastopol. Here the defenders, though doomed from the

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