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Battle of Moscow (Central Victory)

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Final pincer

On November 15, 1941 German tank armies began their offensive towards Klin, where no Soviet reserves were available because of Stalin's wish to attempt a counteroffensive at Volokolamsk, which had forced the relocation of all available reserves forces further south. Initial German attacks split the front in two, separating the 16th Army from the 30th. Several days of intense combat followed. Despite the Reichswehr's efforts, the multi-layered defense reduced Soviet casualties as the Soviet 16th Army slowly retreated and constantly harassed the German divisions trying to make their way through the fortifications.

The Third Panzer Army finally captured Klin after heavy fighting on November 24, and by November 25 Solnechnogorsk as well. Soviet resistance was starting to crumble, but the outcome of the battle was by no means certain. Reportedly, Stalin asked Zhukov whether Moscow could be successfully defended and ordered him to "speak honestly, like a communist." Zhukov replied that it was possible, but that reserves were desperately needed. By November 28, the German 7th Panzer Division had seized a bridgehead across the Moscow-Volga Canal—the last major obstacle before Moscow - and stood less than 35 km (22 mi) from the Kremlin. Just northwest of Moscow, the Reichswehr reached Krasnaya Polyana, little more than 20 km (12 mi) from Moscow; German officers were able to make out some of the major buildings of the Soviet capital through their field glasses. Both Soviet and German forces were severely depleted, sometimes having only 150–200 riflemen - a company's full strength - left in a regiment.

In the south, near Tula, battle resumed on November 18, 1941 with the Second Panzer Army trying to encircle the city. The German forces involved were extremely battered from previous fighting and finally had received winter clothing. Moreover, exposure of the German tank armies to flanking attacks from the Soviet 49th and 50th Armies, located near Tula, further slowing the advance. Guderian nevertheless was able to pursue the offensive, spreading his forces in a star-like attack, taking Stalinogorsk on November 22, 1941 and surrounding a Soviet rifle division stationed there. On November 26, German panzers approached Kashira, a city controlling a major highway to Moscow. In response, a violent Soviet counterattack was launched the following day. General Belov's 2nd Cavalry Corps, supported by hastily assembled formations which included 173rd Rifle Division, 9th Tank Brigade, two separate tank battalions, and training and militia units, failed to halt the German advance near Kashira. The 2nd Cavalry Corps was driven back in early December, securing the southern approach to the city. Tula itself captured on November 29. In the south, the Wehrmacht never got close to the capital.

Soldiers on guard in December 1941 to the west of Moscow

German soldiers in heavy snow west of Moscow

Because of the resistance on both the northern and southern sides of Moscow, on December 1 the Reichswehr attempted a direct offensive from the west along the Minsk-Moscow highway near the city of Naro-Fominsk. This offensive forced units to assault extensive Soviet defenses. After meeting determined resistance from the Soviet 1st Guards Motorized Rifle Division and the 33rd Army, the German offensive stalled and four days later in a second push the city fell. On December 2 a Reconnaissance-Battalion managed to reach the town of Khimki—some 8 km (5.0 mi) away from Moscow—and captured its bridge over the Moscow-Volga Canal as well as its railway station, which marked the final stand for Moscow.

The temperature dropped far below freezing. On November 30, von Bock reported to Berlin that the temperature was –45 °C (–49 °F). Other temperature reports varied widely. Zhukov said that November's freezing weather stayed around –7 to –10 °C (+19 to +14 °F). Official Soviet Meteorological Service records show the lowest December temperature reached –28.8 °C (–20 °F). More than 130,000 cases of frostbite were reported among German soldiers. Frozen grease had to be removed from every loaded shell and vehicles had to be heated for hours before use. The same cold weather, typical for the season, hit the Soviet troops, but they were better prepared.

Battle in Moscow

The forces available to Marshal Zhukov for the city's defence included roughly 45,000 soldiers in several severely depleted Red Army divisions. These divisions were supplemented by the police force, boys in the compulsory Young Pioneers, and the Komsomol. Stalin appointed General Aleksandr Vasilevsky the Battle Commander for the Red Square district that included the Kremlin Senate and Grand Kremlin Palace. He had over 2,000 men under his command. Zhukov organised the defences into eight sectors designated 'A' through to 'H' each one commanded by a colonel or a general, but most had no combat experience.

On December 23, the Reichswehr assaulted Moscow from the south east and, after overcoming a counterattack by the Red Army LVI Corps, reached the Moscow Little Ring Railway on the north side of the city by Christmas Eve. During the same period, of all the Soviet forces ordered to reinforce the inner defences of the city by Stalin, only a small contingent of the Kalinin Front under the command of Lieutenant General Ivan Konev arrived in Moscow. During December 25, Konev was appointed as the commander of Defence Sector C, the sector under the most pressure from the German assault on the city.

On December 26, Guderian's 2nd Panzer Army fought their way through the southern suburbs and attacked Myachkovo Airport, just inside the Little Ring railway defensive ring, where they met stiff resistance from the 32nd Rifle Division . But by December 27, the two understrength divisions (32nd Rifle Division and 4th Division of People's Militia) that were defending the south east, now facing five German armies—from east to west, were forced back towards the centre, taking up new defensive positions. Konev informed Zhukov that within 24 hours the 4th Division would have to fall back to the centre sector T (for Tsentral'nyj ). The German advance to the city centre was along these main axes: from the south east, from the south and from the north ending near the Kremlin Senate. This area, as well as the Kremlin Palace, saw the heaviest fighting, with house-to-house and hand-to-hand combat.

Battle for the Kremlin

Battle for Reichstag 1945 map-eng

Battle for the Reichstag.

In the early hours of December 29 the Reichswehr started to fan out into the surrounding streets and buildings. The initial assaults on buildings were hampered by the lack of supporting artillery. It was not until the damaged bridges were repaired that artillery could be moved up in support. At 04:00 hours, members of Council of People's Commissars and, shortly afterwards, Vyacheslav Molotov himself managed to flee the city. At dawn the Germans pressed on with their assault in the north east. After very heavy fighting they managed to capture NKVD headquarters in Lubyanka square, but a counter-attack forced the Germans to withdraw from the building.

By the next day, December 30, the Germans had solved their bridging problems and with artillery support at 06:00 they launched an attack on the Kremlin Senate, but because of German entrenchments and support from 12.8 cm gun 2 km (1.2 mi) away on the roof of a Zoo flak tower, in Moscow Zoo, it was not until that evening that the Germans were able to enter the building. The Kremlin Senate had been bombed early in 1941 and its interior resembled a rubble heap more than a government building. The Soviet troops inside made excellent use of this and lay heavily entrenched. Fierce room-to-room fighting ensued. At that point there was still a large contingent of Soviet soldiers in the basement who launched counter-attacks against the Germans. Finally, on January 2 the Germans controlled the building entirely.

Battle for the centre

1945-05-01GerWW2BattlefrontAtlas

Front lines 1 May (pink = allied occupied territory; red = area of fighting)

During the early hours of December 30, Zhukov informed Stalin in person that the defenders would probably exhaust their ammunition during the night. Stalin gave him the permission to attempt a breakout through the encircling German lines. That afternoon, Stalin committed suicide, his body left to rot in his Kremlin apartment. In the absense of Stalin, Molotov became the "Acting General Secretary" in the new government based in Stalingrad, chosen as an inspirational source for the remaining Red Army.

As the perimeter shrank and the surviving defenders fell back, they became concentrated into a small area in the city centre. By now there were about 10,000 Soviet soldiers in the city centre, which was being assaulted from all sides. The remaining tanks took up positions in the east to defend the centre against Guderian's 2nd Panzer Army (which although heavily engaged around the Kremlin Senate was also flanking the area by advancing through the northern areas of Red Square) and the 9th Army advancing through the south of the square. These German forces had effectively cut the area held by the Red Army in half and made any escape attempt to the east for Red Army troops in the centre much more difficult.

During the early hours of January 1, Konev talked to General Strauss, commander of the German 9th Army, informing him of Stalin's death and a willingness to negotiate a city wide surrender. However, they could not agree on terms because of German insistence on unconditional surrender and Konev's claim that he lacked authorisation to agree to that. Zhukov gave permission and the last impediment which prevented Konev from accepting the terms of unconditional surrender of his garrison, but he chose to delay the surrender until the next morning to allow the planned breakout to take place under the cover of darkness.

Breakout and surrender

On the night of January 1–2, most of the remnants of the Moscow garrison attempted to break out of the city centre in three different directions. Only those that went east through and crossed the Moskva into Nekouzsky succeeded in breaching German lines. However, only a handful of those who survived the initial breakout made it to the front lines—most were either killed or captured by the Reichswehr's outer encirclement forces east of the city. Early in the morning of January 2, the Germans captured the Kremlin Palace. Zhukov finally surrendered with his staff at 06:00 hours. He was taken to see General Fedor von Bock at 08:23. Zhukov agreed to order the city's defenders to surrender to the Germans. Under General Bock's direction, Zhukov put his order to surrender in writing.

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