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Author Topic: THE WAFFEN SS COMES OF AGE: 13 MAR 1943 - KHARKOV  (Read 21 times)
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« on: March 14, 2018, 10:18:03 am »

It had been taken by the Germans in Fall, 1941. They lost it in spring, 1942. They retook it later in 1942, but lost it again during the aftermath of the Stalingrad debacle. 'It' was the city of Kharkov, and in 1943, it became the notice to the world that the Waffen SS had matured into one of the deadliest fighting forces on the planet.

Kharkov had been the site, in its previous loss to the Soviets, of a scene unthinkable in Adolf Hitler's mind. As the Soviets closed on the city, he ordered its Waffen SS garrison, and their commander, SS LTG Paul 'Papa' Hausser to fight to the last bullet, hold unto death, all the usual fuehrer rants. And the motto of the Waffen SS, as of the entire SS was "Meine Ehre Heisst Treue" ['My Honor Is Loyalty'].

So it came as a surprise to Hitler, when Hausser disobeyed his order, abandoned the city, and saved his men [possibly due to the fact that Hausser had joined the SS after retiring as an Army General, and knew his way around a battlefield]. Hitler was outraged, Hausser's troops, not so much. Enter Erich von Manstein.

Manstein, Germany's greatest strategic mind, was put in charge of salvaging the wreckage of OPERATION BLAU ['BLUE'], the German summer offensive of 1942 that had failed against the oil fields of the Caucasus, and been crushed in the rubble of Stalingrad. He had three problems. first, he had t try to relieve the Sixth Army at Stalingrad. Second he had to shield the Rostov area from Soviet troops advancing past Stalingrad to the southwest aiming to take Rostov, and cut off the German troops retreating toward Rostov from the Caucasus [Kleist's Army]. And third, he had to funnel Kleist's troops through Rostov and deploy them facing the advancing Russians to the northeast. It was akin to taking an expert diamond cutter, and making him a juggler.

But Manstein pulled most of it off. He held the Rostov corridor, and allowed the bulk of Kleist's forces to pull through it [some crossed the Kerch Peninsula and Straits into Crimea]. His relief force got within striking distance of Stalingrad, but insufficient troop strength, increasing Soviet pressure and presence, and Paulus' refusal to move toward the relievers, doomed that effort. It did, however, allow Manstein to face an enemy with sizable numbers of troops he would otherwise have to contemplate in his planning, tied down elsewhere [Stalingrad].

Manstein [with Hitler strangely quiescent and agreeable] now planned on an active defense, using trading space for time, and sharp counterattacks to stabilize the front. Re-enter Paul Hausser.

Hausser's SS career had been intertwined with the Waffen SS since he joined. It was Hausser who had created and overseen the first SS Junkerschulen [SS Officers' Schools for Waffen SS officers]. It was Hausser who had commanded the first Waffen SS formation, the SS Verfungstruppen, which later evolved [with Hausser still in command] into the 2nd SS Panzer Division "DAS REICH". And it was Hausser who in 1943 now commanded the SS Panzer Corps, consisting of the three newly minted, equipped and trained SS Panzer Divisions, LEIBSTANDARTE ADOLF HITLER, DAS REICH and TOTENKOPF.. And it was that Panzer Corps that Manstein was going to use as a hammer against the soviets. and the opportunity came, interestingly enough, at Kharkov.

Manstein caught the Russians driving west southwest from the Kharkov area, and encouraged them to drive further with a fighting withdrawal. And when the moment was right, he sent in Hausser. The SS first cut off the advancing Soviets, and drove them into other German armored units. They then turned, and hit Kharkov from both flanks and the front. The city fighting was brutal [in part because some of the Soviet units were NKVD]. But by March 14th, the city was again German. And the vicotry was Waffen SS.

The Waffen SS showed in the campaign leading up to, and during the battle for, and in, Kharkov, they had come of age.  No more stupid frontal attacks against odds and defenses. They now demonstrated a clear mastery of mobile tactics and maneuver, the use of coordinated firepower, and sophisticated infantry tactics. Coupled with their fanaticism, their willingness to deal death and accept it, they now became one of the most lethal, and justly feared and hated military formations to march across history.

You can get more with a smile, a handshake and a gun than you can with a smile and a handshake - Al Capone
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