With the clarity of a clockwork. Supply of German troops at the beginning of the war


Railway station Brest-Litovsk, 1939 Content source: https://naukatehnika.com

I considered this topic for a long time, back in the book “Fiasco 1941. Cowardice or treason?”, Published in 2015. The book was generally devoted to the controversy with Mark Solonin (and I managed to catch him on the direct falsification of the memoirs of Lieutenant General IV Boldin; pp. 301-306, who is interested). But there I tried to make out a number of points related to the preparation of an attack on the USSR, in particular, rail transportation for the supply of German troops stationed on the Soviet-German border, as well as how much Soviet intelligence knew all this. It turned out that Soviet border intelligence had collected enough information that clearly indicated that an attack was being prepared. In the German literature, some information was found about rail transport in Poland during the period of preparation for the attack, from the end of 1940 to June 1941. But on the whole, the data were scarce and inexpressive. I always wanted to look at the process from the inside: how it was organized and how it happened.

Dreams come true, and I managed to find a file on the transportation and accumulation of military cargo (ammunition, fuel and food) by Army Group B from December 1940 to the end of May 1941.

Well what can I say? All this was arranged with the clarity of a clockwork. Now, if on what example and see the importance of a well-organized rear for the German army, then it is on this.

How was it in its most general form?

In general, the process of transportation and stockpiling proceeded as follows. OKH first, in mid-December 1940, requested data on the storage capacity of the three armies that were part of Army Group B: 4th, 17th and 18th. After receiving information about the capacity of the warehouses and the amount of goods already delivered, a plan was drawn up on how much more ammunition, fuel and food should be delivered. The plan was deployed across the armies, according to the supply districts created on their territories, up to a specific warehouse, designated by a code name.

The necessary cargoes were in military warehouses in Germany. OKH was planning their loading and transportation to Poland. An exact train schedule was sent to the headquarters of the army command from the OKH, indicating the nature of the goods and the destination.

The command of the armies accepted the cargo, placed them in warehouses with the help of their rear units, and then reported to the OKH on the amount of stocks taken and the fulfillment of the unloading plan. Such reports were compiled on average once every two weeks. The first report was drawn up at the end of January 1941, and the last one available at the very end of April 1941. Staff correspondence quite well reflects the entire large amount of work that was done to accumulate reserves necessary for the military campaign against the USSR.

In the future, references will be made on the following case – TsAMO RF, f. 500, op. 12454, d. 98. To illustrate this process, I will give a few examples, as well as general statistics of stock accumulation. This is important for understanding the further course of events.

Start of the transport operation

So, on December 12, 1940, the command of Army Group B demanded that the armies (at that time: 4th, 12th and 18th) send by January 1, 1941 data on available stocks and storage capacity with their designation on the map (l. 4). While this issue was being resolved, the 12th Army was allocated for the Balkans, and on December 20, 1940, the 17th Army was formed in its place.

There are no maps in the file, but there are accompanying notes. On December 29, 1940, 4th Army sent a detailed report on the state of the warehouses to Army Group B and the Quartermaster General of the General Staff. The warehouses in the border area were designated by code names, for example, an ammunition warehouse 10 km northwest of Biala Podlaska was designated as Martha. Warehouses deep in the rear were not designated by code names.

The 4th Army had 10 ammunition depots with a total capacity of 110 thousand tons, of which 7 warehouses for 40 thousand tons were located near the border; 8 fuel depots with a total capacity of 48 thousand cubic meters, of which 6 warehouses for 35 thousand cubic meters were near the border; 12 food warehouses with a total capacity of 51 thousand tons, of which 5 warehouses for 18.5 thousand tons were near the border (pp. 7-9).

An interesting picture. 36% of ammunition, 72.9% of fuel and 36% of food were moved to the border and distributed among warehouses with a capacity of 2 to 6 thousand tons each.

Also, the 4th Army reported that as of January 6, 1941, they had 205 thousand people in 9 divisions in the ranks, there were 52 thousand horses. And the current state of stocks (l. 10):

With the clarity of a clockwork.  Supply of German troops at the beginning of the war

The file contains a document with a general overview of the state of stocks for the entire army group, but without a cover letter. Apparently, the case was compiled at the headquarters of the army group as a kind of reference book, and the documents were selected there on purpose (there is a German inventory of the contents, and the documents themselves are arranged thematically and sequentially).

This document contains the most important information – coefficients. Ammunition (Ausstattung: A.) – 600 tons, refueling for the division (Betriebstoffsverbrauchsatz; VS) – 30 cubic meters, daily supply (Tagessatz; TS) – 1.5 kg per person. In principle, we do not really need this, since in further documents all figures are given in weight or in volume for fuel. However, it may be useful for other researchers working with German military documents.

Now the general table of the situation at the beginning of January 1941 (l. 15, l. 17):

On December 18, 1940, the command of Army Group B received an order from the OKH that it was necessary to complete the unloading and placement of all planned cargoes by May 1, 1941; the goods should be delivered to the final warehouses as soon as possible or, in any case, without the involvement of railways in intermediate transport. From 20 February 1941, each army will receive 8 trains per day with supplies, which must be unloaded immediately.

In the same order, the OKH reported that in January 1941 it was planned to send 76 trains to the 12th Army, 85 trains to the 4th Army and 74 trains to the 18th Army. A total of 235 trains, including 128 ammunition trains, 30 fuel trains and 77 food trains.

The armies were instructed, starting from January 15, 1941, to report on the 1st and 15th day of each month on the state of unloading (l. 18-20). A sample of such a report was even attached to the order so that the staff officers would do everything in the same way.

German order

From the very first report it is clear that the warehouse network in January 1941 was not yet fully built. For example, for the 4th army out of 10 warehouses – 4 warehouses were under construction, 3 warehouses were in the design stage, and there were 3 warehouses with a total capacity of 13.5 thousand tons, which were filled (p. 27). The process of building warehouses was only slightly ahead of the process of delivering and unloading supplies, and this was reflected in the documents. By the end of January 1941, all the warehouses had already been built and began to fill up (p. 69).


One of the reports on unloading and delivery to warehouses

The territory of Army Group B was divided into three supply districts, which at the end of January 1941 were renamed North, Center and South districts (previously called A, B, C) and the distribution of warehouses between these districts. The file preserved the distribution of ammunition depots between supply districts (pp. 66-67).

The transportation itself was organized with the utmost clarity, and here the entire German order manifested itself in its entirety. For example, on January 15, 1941, an order was sent from OKH to the 4th Army with a train schedule with ammunition.

This timetable indicated the serial number of the train with ammunition (obviously, according to the list of the Quartermaster General), the train number according to the schedule of the German railways, the place of departure, the number of wagons and the nature of the cargo, as well as the date the train was ready for departure. For example, at 18 o’clock on January 29, 1941 in Darmstadt, train No. 528573 was ready for departure, in which there were 30 cars with shells for the 105-mm light howitzer lFH18. Or, on February 11, 1941 in Zenne (north of Paderborn, Nordrein-Westphalia) train No. 533203 was ready for departure, in which there were 30 cars, including 9 cars with 7.92-mm rifle cartridges, 10 cars with hand grenades, 9 cars with jumping antipersonnel mines and 2 cars with anti-tank mines (l. 35).

And so on for each train separately. Such schedules were drawn up for each army and sent to the army command in advance. If you adhere to the procedure for loading and preparing for the departure of trains, it becomes very convenient to receive and quickly unload them, as well as to place ammunition in accordance with the nomenclature and purpose. In subsequent timetables, which were drawn up in March-April 1941, when the railways were transferred to the maximum traffic regime, they also began to indicate the destination of the train and the name of the supply district to which it was sent.


Sample timetable for the dispatch of trains with ammunition for March 1941

They brought almost everything

This work required great care and organization, but the result is obvious. The whole picture is easier to display in a summary table (ammunition and food – in tons; fuel – in cubic meters):

The table shows the initial plan

, while the plans for the delivery of goods were repeatedly revised and increased, as well as the final plan indicated in the last reporting document (**). There is no data on the 17th Army for the end of April 1941 in the file.

In addition, there is a report on the 4th Army for May 15, 1941, which states that there were 56,125 tons of ammunition, 51,833 cubic meters of fuel and 50,450 tons of food (pp. 242-244). That is, the plans for the delivery and placement of supply cargoes, significantly increased in January-March 1941, were almost completely fulfilled by mid-May 1941.

For example, the 17th Army, which became part of Army Group South and attacked the Ukraine, already in mid-April 1941 had 6.2 bq of ammunition, 79.6 refueling, 97.3 days of food supplies. The 4th Army from Army Group Center, advancing on Minsk and Smolensk, in May 1941 had 10.3 bq of ammunition, 191.9 refueling stations and 164 days of food supplies. The army was very well supplied, and its reserves significantly exceeded the original plans. Probably, the warehouses of this army were also intended as a supply reserve for the entire Army Group Center. Some of the warehouses, about half, were moved to the border and were located at a distance of about 20-30 km from it.

In the Western Special Military District on the eve of the war, 24 rifle, 12 tank, 6 motorized and 2 cavalry divisions (44 divisions in total) had 6,700 wagons or 107.2 thousand tons of ammunition, 80 thousand tons or 100 thousand cubic meters of fuel, 80 thousand tons of food and forage. Average per division: 2,436 tons of ammunition, 1,818 cubic meters of fuel and 1,818 tons of food fodder. For comparison: on average, a division from the 4th German army had 5102 tons of ammunition, 4712 cubic meters of fuel and 4586 tons of food. The German divisions had more than double the supply. In addition, by June 29, 1941, the Western Front had lost 30% of its ammunition stocks and 50% each of its fuel and food products. Therefore, it is not surprising that the battle in Belarus ended in defeat and retreat for the Western Front.

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