Second World War overview 1941-42

Second World War, overview of the course of the ‘Axis high tide’ from 1941 to 1942 (Part II).

Panzer 3 in street fightings.

Panzer 3 with 5cm KwK L/42 in street fightings in the Ukraine in summer of 1941.

arrow Here to Part I: Second World War overview 1939-40.


With the attack on the Soviet Union, Hitler wanted to realize his old dreams of conquering new ‘living space’ for the Germans. Therefore he had Operation Barbarossa planned and prepared as early as autumn 1940. The scheduled date for the beginning of the invasion was May 1941, which was shaken by unexpected events in the Balkans.

The failure of the Italian army against Greece led to the Greek armed forces conquering half of Albania. In addition, there was a coup in Belgrade after Yugoslavia joined the Tripartite Pact between Germany, Italy and Japan on 25 March 1941.

Hitler had to intervene militarily in order to prevent the British from being settled in Greece, and this was actually planned with Yugoslavian help. Now the Balkans campaign had to be led against both states.

German Infantry in Northern Greece.

German Infantry in Northern Greece.

The attack began on 6 April 1941 and the fighting ended as expected quite quickly in the same month.
The airborne invasion of Crete in the second half of May, however, demanded high losses, but obviously ended the campaign.
From now on, however, strong German troops remained tied down on the Balkans alongside the Italians and Bulgarians, as a fierce partisan war soon broke out under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito, especially in the rugged regions of Yugoslavia.

The Mediterranean region now also became a German theater of war, since after heavy defeats of the Italians against the British in North Africa, Rommel’s Afrika Korps was sent to Libya from the end of 1940 to support the unfortunate allies. The latter succeeded in boldly chasing away the British army, regaining the Egyptian border and placing Tobruk under siege.

Russian campaign

The Balkan campaign led to a delay of the Operation Barbarossa, which should not remain without significant consequences. Therefore, the attack on the Soviet Union did not take place until the dawn of 22 June 1941, when the largest military force in military history set itself in motion. Hitler had more than three million men deployed for the Russian campaign and Stalin seems to have completely ignored this threat until the end despite all warnings.

German tanks advancing, Russian PoW's flow back

German tanks advancing, Russian POWs flow back. The usual pictures in the first months of Operation Barbarossa.

Not least for this reason, a tremendous catastrophe struck the Red Army in 1941, which lost hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war and masses of war material in gigantic pocket battles.
These events initially and for the last time led the German leadership to believe that the war had almost been won and seemed to confirm the bad impression of the Red Army that had prevailed against Finland since the Winter War.

However, the vast distances of Russia and it’s almost inexhaustible reservoir of people, the strategic wrong decision of the German supreme leadership and the criminal treatment of the ‘subhumans’ in the East immediately after the outbreak of war, which never extinguished the will of resistance, saved Stalin’s Soviet Union.
When the Kremlin in Moscow was already in sight of the scissor telescopes of the foremost advance troops and the German soldiers tried once again to end the campaign victoriously in 1941, Russia’s strongest ally joined them with the freezing winter.

Panzer regiments in front of Moscow

The Panzer regiments in front of Moscow are reduced to 25 per cent of their original strength and can be used from now on only as infantry support.

Thus Stalin’s ignorance of the threat was balanced out again by Hitler’s frivolity. At the latter’s behest, the German soldiers were sent off without winter equipment or sufficient reserves and reinforcements, for before the onset of winter everything should be over – or ‘had to be over’, for otherwise everything would be lost anyway, as the German leader was well aware in clear hours. Hitler’s character, however, ignored this in increasing self-deception until the end.

Thus the early onset of winter caused the decisive German attack on Moscow to get stuck in the snow and Marshal Zhukov was able to start a surprising counter-offensive on 5 December 1941 with Soviet soldiers well equipped for the winter. Three days later, the Fuehrer instruction No. 39 was received, in which the ‘transition to defense’ was ordered.

This was only the symbolic turn of events of the Second World War, as the German troops still had almost the whole of Europe under their control, but it was the actual turn of events.

Global conflict

burning battleships West Virginia and Tennessee

The burning battleships West Virginia and Tennessee after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In the meantime the war became a real world war, because on 7 December 1941 a Japanese aircraft carrier fleet attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States was now officially at war.

The tensions between the Japanese and Americans had been growing for many years over the situation in the Pacific. Japan had already begun its expansion in East Asia in 1931 with the occupation of Manchuria.
Since 1937 Japan was in an undeclared war with National-China under Chiang Kai-shek and from now on they stood in the way of American export interests, because China was an important market. Since then, there have been repeated and increased frictions between Washington and Tokyo.
This is why US President Roosevelt, who ruled from 1933 to 1945, was interested in a warlike decision for supremacy, both in Asia and in Europe. For this he imposed conditions on the Japanese Empire which the proud Japanese could not possibly fulfil without losing face. In Europe he supported since the beginning of the Second World War Great Britain, like France until its defeat, so one-sided with weapons, equipment and goods and let an ‘undeclared war‘ be waged in the Atlantic, so that Hitler inevitably had to be challenged.

After the Japanese realized that no acceptable solution in negotiations was possible for them, they decided to attack Pearl Harbor in order to eliminate the US Navy at the beginning of the war in the Pacific. This attack, secretly longed for by Roosevelt, united the original war unwilling American people behind their president, who could thereby declare war on Japan.
The situation was more complicated vis-à-vis the German Reich, but Hitler relieved the US President of this problem by declaring war on the USA by himself as if on acclamation.

High tide of the Axis powers

Panzers at the Caucasus

German Panzer spearheads reached the footsteps of the Caucasus.

Nevertheless, the first year of the complete global conflict once again saw great successes for the Axis powers. The Japanese, who were initially seriously underestimated by the Americans, conquered all of Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific in a ‘Blitzkrieg’ style at sea and in the air.
The Wehrmacht, together with its allies Romanians, Hungarians, Italians, Slovaks and Croats, advanced as far as the Volga to Stalingrad and the Caucasus under the operation codename Fall Blau (case blue), while Rommel in North Africa could finally capture Tobruk and reach the narrowness of Alamein in Egypt on the way to the Nile.

carrier 'Hiryu' is on fire

In the Battle of Midway, the Japanese aircraft carrier ‘Hiryu’ is on fire after an US air strike.

In the summer of 1942, however, the ‘high tide’ of the Axis powers was reached and the tide turned.
At first the Japanese suffered a self-inflicted and superfluous, but all the more devastating, defeat in the Battle of Midway in June 1942.
Subsequently, the Americans, with their increasingly powerful material and technical superiority, began to shrink the overstretched Japanese conquered area by ‘island hopping’.

German soldiers Stalingrad Tractor Factory

German soldiers after they have taken the Stalingrad Tractor Factory.

Hitler, for his part, was fixated on the struggle for Stalingrad and wanted to conquer the city that bore the name of his hated adversary, at any cost, without paying attention to the operational proposals of the Generality.
Thus his interest for Rommel in North Africa diminished as this one was pushed far forward to the position near Alamein, which could only be supplied with the greatest effort. Therefore the new British commander-in-chief in Egypt, Montgomery, was finally able to break through the German-Italian defensive positions at the Second Battle of Alamein on 23 October and force the Afrika Korps to finally retreat.
When the Anglo-Americans landed in neutral French West Africa with the Operation Torch on 8 November, it was clear to Rommel that the campaign in Africa was finally lost and he withdrew towards Tunisia.

PoWs of the German 6th Army after the surrendering at Stalingrad.

PoWs of the German 6th Army after the surrendering at Stalingrad. Only 5,000 came back home many years after the war.

On 19 November 1942, the Soviet Marshal Zhukov finally began his counter-offensive against the Romanian armies, which covered the flanks of the German 6th Army in Stalingrad. The Romanian troops were not up to the Red Army and so the German 6th Army was trapped in Stalingrad.
Caught in his own announcements and promises, Hitler demanded that the troops in Stalingrad defend every square yard of ground and be supplied by air. An relive attempt of von Manstein’s Panzer units almost reached the pocket, but the outbreak was refused by the supreme leadership and was not dared by those responsible on site. Since also the air supply promised by Goering remained far behind the requirements, the 6th Army was lost and surrendered until the end of January in Stalingrad.
Together with the likewise enormous losses of over 250,000 men in Stalingrad itself, the Romanian, Hungarian and Italian armies also suffered catastrophic losses, which made the symbolic turn of the war of winter 1941-42 the now visible one. This was followed by the slow and unstoppable German retreat to the West in the direction of the starting lines of summer 1941.

Ideological war

Starving Russian PoW's

Starving Russian PoW’s beg for a piece of bread.

The merciless struggle in the East, ideologically propagated by Hitler as ‘Weltanschauungs-Krieg’ (ideological war), naturally also included the civilian population in the occupied territories. For Nazis, the Slavs were only ‘subhumans’ and only capable of doing the lowest work for their new masters. For this reason, the population in the conquered Eastern territories was degraded and exploited.
Although the German soldiers were initially mostly welcomed by large parts of the population out of hatred of Stalinism and forced collective agriculture for the peasants, when Hitler’s commissioners began to implement their instructions, this naturally led to resistance and promoted the partisan movement.

Murder of Jews in Ukraine.

Murder of Jews in Ukraine.

The German terror became even more obvious when already in autumn 1941 security units and special squads behind the front in the East began to murder masses of Jews, Communists, captured Commissars and other ‘undesirable’ elements.
Before that, Jews had already been transported from Germany and Western Europe to the conquered Eastern regions, where the already overcrowded ghettos in Poland were bursting. Now the construction of extermination camps in occupied Poland began.

crematoria at Auschwitz

KZ prison volunteers working in a crematoria at Auschwitz.

The ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question’ was decided and organised at Hitler’s request on 20 January 1942 at the Wannsee Conference under the leadership of Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Gestapo. Starting in 1942, the inhabitants of the Jewish ghettos were taken to the extermination camps and killed. Until the end of 1944 the majority of the remaining European Jews and gypsies in the German sphere of power followed.
At least 6 million were victims of this extermination machinery. From 1939 to 1941 there were also about 100,000 mentally ill people from Germany who were killed as part of the ‘Euthanasia Programme’.

Part III follows soon!

Today’s War Diary and Report Feeds

Today 75 and 100 years ago and daily World War Report:

Waffen-SS divisions 13-19

Order of Battle Waffen-SS divisions 13 (Handschar) – 19 (2nd Latvian)

Germany-flagBizarre as some of these formations on this page were, however, it must be remembered that the elite SS Panzer and Panzer-Grenadier Divisions represented Germany’s most effective troops in the last stages of the war, setting a standard unsurpassed and seldom equalled among the forces of any other nation.

Soldiers of 13 SS division

Soldiers of 13 SS division were hunting Tito partisans in the mountains of the Balkans.

13 Waffen-Gebirgs-Division der SS Handschar (Croatian mountain division)

Raised (as division)
July 1943 (operational March 1944).

The End
Disbanded October 1944 because of much desertion in face of the approaching Red Army.

Infantry strength
2 mountain infantry regiments.

Tank strength

Recruited among Bosnian Moslems, traditional enemies of Christian Serbs from whom majority Tito’s partisans draw. Mutinies in France during training, later many atrocities.

14 Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (1st Ukrainian)

Raised (as division)
April 1943 (operational June 1944).

The End
Surrendered to British in Steiermark, May 1945. Handed over to Russians.
Some survivors from Tarnow Pocket (July 1944) fought way from Carpathian Mountains to Bavaria in winter 1946-47.

Infantry strength
3 infantry regiments.

Tank strength

Total strength 30,000 men.
Recruited among Ukrainians (massive voluntary response) with German cadre.

3 Dutch SS soldiers with two Latvians

3 Dutch SS soldiers with two Latvians of 15 Waffen-SS division.

15 Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (1st Latvian)

Raised (as division)
Early 1944 expanded to division.

The End
Part surrendered to Red Army at Neu-Ruppin, part to US Army near Elbe.

Infantry strength
3 infantry regiments, 1 fusilier battalion.

Tank strength

Formed from Latvian volunteers. Best fighting record of Baltic formations.

16 SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division Reichsführer-SS

Raised (as division)
Expanded to division since October 1943 (operational February 1944).

The End
Dispersed units surrendered to British at Carinthia, Austria.

Infantry strength
2 motorized infantry regiments (each with 3 battalions).

Tank strength
1 Panzer battalion (with 4 companies Panzer IV and Panzer V Panther, each with 22 tanks), 3 Assault gun batteries each with 10 StuG III, anti-tank coy with 10 Jagdpanzer IV, from December 1944 12 AA-tanks.
Total: 140 tanks.

Many replacements by German ‘Volksdeutsche’ (ethnic Germans) from the Backa (Hungary, Slovenia).

17 SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division Götz von Berlichingen

Raised (as division)
Raised in France, November 1943. In action in Normandy in June 1944, before the establishment was complete.

The End
Surrendered to 101st US Airborne Division south of Kufstein (Austria) on 6 May, 1945.

Infantry strength
2 motorized infantry regiments (each with 3 battalions, but less than 2/3 of the vehicles were available in June 1944).

Tank strength
3 tank companies ( StuG III, StuG IV and PzKpfw IV), from July 1944 1 company Hetzer .
Total: 88 tanks.

Nearly destroyed in Normandy and rebuilt with older soldiers from Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe in November 1944. 11 month’s of continuous fightings in the West.

18 SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division Horst Wessel

Raised (as division)
Raised in France, January 1944.

The End
Annihilated at river Elbe between May 8-10, 1945.

Infantry strength
2 motorized infantry regiments (each with 3 battalions, one company with APCs).

Tank strength
3 tank companies (each with 14 StuG III or IV), since February 1945 two anti-tank companies with Hetzer .
Total: 70 tanks.

Replacements by ‘Volksdeutsche’ (ethnic Germans) from Hungary, since 1945 young boys from Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) and Volkssturm (Home Guard).

19 Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (2nd Latvian)

NCOs of Latvian 19. Waffen-SS division

NCOs of Latvian 19th Waffen-SS division

Raised (as division)
Formed early 1944, in action summer 1944

The End
Surrendered to Red Army, Mitau (Kurland/Baltic provinces), May 1945.

Infantry strength
3 infantry regiments, 1 fusilier battalion.

Tank strength

Raised from Latvian security troops and other Baltic personnel. In action on Baltic coast and Kurland pocket, 1944-45.

Diary December 12, 1943

Field Marshal Rommel in France.

Field Marshal Rommel in France.

WW2 War Diary for Sunday, December 12, 1943:

Home Fronts



Czechoslovak-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Mutual Assistance.

Sea War

Mediterranean: British destroyers Tynedale and Holcombe sunk by U-boat U-593 (December 12 and 13).

Diary December 12, 1918

German Republican Guard

Division to the guard duty at the German ‘Republican Guard’.

World War One Diary for Thursday, December 12, 1918:

Home Fronts

Germany: Republican Guard formed.
Britain: Men over 41 called up in 1918 to be demobilized. Horseflesh prices fixed due to rise in consump­tion. Churchill’s final election speech at Dundee stresses need for unity at Peace Conference.

Western Front

BRITISH 1st CAVALRY DIVISION CROSSES RHINE (Hohenzollern Bridge) AT COLOGNE AND BONN, to begin occupation of 38-mile Cologne bridgehead. Allied and German Armistice delegates meet at Trier.

Sea War

Baltic: Royal Navy Squadron arrives at Reval, Estonia.

Mercedes L 3000

Germany-flagGerman 3-ton medium truck of the Wehrmacht.

3D Model Mercedes L 3000

3D Model Mercedes L 3000

At the beginning of 1940 the Germany army had a stock of about 120,000 trucks. From the new production of the automotive industry monthly only 1,000 pieces where be available, which under normal conditions could not even be replaced the wear, in order not to speak of the losses, which were to be expected in the upcoming military operations.

Mostly it was in the civilian lorry with which the Wehrmacht used in the campaigns from 1939 to 1941, denied to so-called supplementary vehicles from the private sector or from captured stocks. Much of these trucks again, who already were based on one of the older pre-war construction was – apart from occasional exceptions – did not longer exist anymore after the disaster of the winter of 1941-42 at the latest.

From now on, the mass of trucks of the front line troops although further from commercial models, but meanwhile had the haddock program already attained a certain effectiveness, so that the number of types of production was probably still quite large, but now it was reasonably manageable.

Mercedes-Benz Type L 3000 A

Mercedes-Benz Type L 3000 A. Built from 1940 to 1943, these three-tonners with all-wheel drive were not suitable for the harsh conditions in Russia.

The following models of Lkw (truck) 3 tons from peacetime production of an individual company were taken over, additional more or less numbers for war production:

  • Opel Blitz (S / A)
  • Ford V8 (S)
  • Borgward (S / A)
  • Mercedes (S / A)
  • Magirus (S / A) MAN (S)

As S-types the respective standard versions were designated, while the otherwise identical A types had four-wheel drive. The S types had the for Four-wheel drive necessary engine parts and could be retrofitted without any particular difficulty, which in practice apparently rarely or never been executed.

While the production of motorcycles and passenger cars was considerably limited, the Germans tried to keep the manufacturing of the much-needed trucks at least to pre-war numbers – despite partial utilization of the capacity for other war products. In 1938, 88,000 trucks have been built, which went to 26% to the Wehrmacht. 1939 it reached 102,000 pieces, the highest production, whereas it then until 1943 was about 70,000 to 80,000 units a year. Of those, 80% went to the armed forces and 20% of the war economy.
From today’s perspective, these figures look modest, but for those capacity of German automotive factories and among the war-related difficulties they meant a huge industrial and organizational performance.

Most important and accordingly build in most numbers was the 3-tons truck, because it could be used most versatile at both: in the army and in the context of the war economy. Among the brands in this size class, the Opel Blitz proven the best. It was the only one of many types of motor vehicles built for the Wehrmacht, which has been under production since before the war to the bitter end in 1945. Approximately 100,000 Opel Blitz 3-ton went to the Wehrmacht, more than any other model, twice as many as for example, the VW Kübel. The Opel Blitz proved on all fronts really as ‘reliable’, and on this it possessed as A-type despite twin-tyred rear wheels an excellent off-road.
Contrary to still widespread belief a carriage with rigid axles can be absolutely superior vs independent wheel suspension on cross-country, provided that the latter does not additionally has a to-reach only with great design effort and therefore never been applied in series with suspension compensation.

By contrast, the military-designed Daimler-Benz type L 3000 was not suitable for the harsh conditions on the Eastern Front and too sensitive. The Opel Blitz, originally designed only for civilian purposes, lent itself incomparably better.
It can be seen that the engine of an army with special vehicles, although not always very much expensive, but in practice necessarily advantageous.

A further good, especially sturdy vehicle was also the Klöckner Deutz-Magirus, and also the Germans could be satisfied with the MAN and Borgward Three tonners. By contrast, suffered the sensitive Mercedes L 3000 more than its competitors under the rigors of Russia, and most was this also for the Ford, although whose V8 engine was used in cars before the war without hesitation ran, while trucks prepared with the former Ford V8 much grief already.

Of course, the idea made sense to be built only one or two proven types of all truck companies, and irrespective of their origin. But the change would have cost at the individual plants months of production loss, what the Germans did not intend to accept gladly.
Nevertheless, Hitler ordered in June 1942 for the Mannheim plant of Daimler-Benz AG the changeover of production from the own three-ton truck to the Opel Blitz.
Meanwhile production began there (after long delaying action) on 20 July 1944, a few days prior to 6 August 1944, at which 40 B-24 Liberator bombers destroying the assembly hall of the Opel truck plant in Brandenburg in a single broad daylight raid from 26,000 feet which lasted only a few minutes. This so far largest European truck factory, which had just reached in July the 2,500 planed production of three-tonners, had to been rebuilt and equipped with new Italian machine tools. When this had done and should go on with the production of trucks, the war was to an end. The factory was completely dismantled by the Russian occupation troops, including the building.

The Opel Blitz trucks manufactured at Daimler-Benz wore no trademark or logo. However, they can be identified on the wooden drivers house body, while the trucks from the Brandenburg Opel production were made to last with the original cab of sheet steel.
The Opel Blitz should incidentally also be built at Borg Ward, after the 1944 original truck production was already interrupted by an air raid for a longer period. The preparations for the reconstruction of the Opel Blitz 3 to at Borgward were almost complete when the war ended. Planned, but never executed was also the establishment of an Opel-truck factory in Riga.

Animation 3d-Modell Mercedes L 3000

Spezifikationen Mercedes-Benz L 3000

Specification L 3000 L 3000 S L 3000 A
Type medium truck 3 tons (4×2) medium truck 3 tons (4×2) medium truck 3 tons (4×4)
Production 1938-39 1940-42 1940-43
Powerplant Diesel engine DB OM 65/3 Diesel engine DB OM 65/4 Diesel engine DB OM 65/4
Cylinders 4 4 4
Cubic capacity 4,849 ccm 4,849 ccm 4,849 ccm
Power 65 hp at 2,000 rpm 75 hp at 2250 rpm 75 hp at 2250 rpm
Power transmission drive on rear wheels drive on rear wheels all-wheel drive (3 locking differentials; front wheel drive can be switched off; off-road gear switched without front-wheel drive
Gear 4 + countershaft gear 5 gears 5 + gear countershaft
Wheelbase 149.6 in 149.6 or 167.3 in 149.6 in
Track front 66.9 in 66.3 in 64.3 in
Trace back av. 65 in av. 65 in av. 65 in
Length 20.2 ft (6.16m) 20.5 ft (6.255m) or 22 ft (6.715m) 20.5 ft (6.255m)
Width 7.71 ft (2.35m) 7.35 ft (2.24m) 7.71 ft (2.35m)
Height 8.05 ft (2.80m) 8.48 ft (2,585m) 8.53 ft (2.60m)
Loading/flatbed 11.48×6.89 in (3.50×2.1m) 11.48(or 13.1)x6.89 in (3.50(or 4.00)x2.10m) 11.48×6.89 in (3,50 x 2,10m)
Ground clearance 8.66 in 8.66 in 8.66 in
Fording capability 23.62 in 27.56 in 27.56 in
Tropic 16.6 yard 16.6 or 17.3 yards 16.6 yard
Vehicle weight 8,499 lbs (3,850kg) 8,146 lbs (3,690kg) 8,874 lbs (4,020kg)
Gross vehicle weight 14,349 lbs (6,500kg) 14,989 lbs (6,790kg) road 15,541 lbs (7,040kg); off-road 14,614 lbs (6,620kg)
Payload 5,850 lbs (2,650kg) 6,843 lbs (3,100kg) road 6,667 lbs (3020kg); off-road 5,740 lbs (2,600 kg)
Maximum speed 40 mph (64km/h) 43.5 mph (70km/h) 43.5 mph (70km/h)
Consumption per 100km (road/off-road) 18/27 liters(Diesel) 18/27 liters(Diesel) 20/30 liters(Diesel)
Fuel tank 70 liters 90 liters 90 liters
Range road/off-road 230 miles (370km)/155 miles (250km) 310 miles (500km)/205 miles (330 km) 280 miles (450km)/186 miles (300km)