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Miracle at the Litza River, Russia, Hitler's first defeat on the Eastern Front

In the early summer of 1941 a select unit of German mountain soldiers commanded by General Eduard Dietl set out in the far north of Scandinavia to attack Russia. Operation Silberfisch was expected to conquer and occupy the vital Barent's Sea port of Murmansk. The trackless tundra and extremes of weather challenged troop and supply movements, creating death traps. the situation for both sides steadily worsened, however, Russian resistance increased. Three German attacks on the Litza River were repulsed and German losses mounted.

German-Finnish operations planning for the invasion of the Soviet Union, 1940/41


The code breakers in Hut Number 8, Bletchley Park, England, secured a breakthrough with the British-Norwegian raid on the Lofoten Islands when HMS Somali intercepted German armed trawler Krebs at Svolvaer harbour and captured spare enigma coding machine spare coding wheels and vital instructions on synchronising the enigma machine. The Germans were transporting troops to northern Finland. A new supply base was under construction at the northern Russian port of Kandalaksja, White Sea. The preparations for Barbarossa, the German invasion of Russia were also revealed.


The German invaders entered the Finnish Corridor capturing Parkhina and the port of of Liinihamari near the Fisher Peninsula.

Petsamo front, 28-30 June 1941, Gruppe Hengl, the main German attacking force attacked the Russian bunker line on Heights 189 and 255. Three attacking forces enveloped the bunkers with flame throwers and the the border crossing and the western side of the Titovka River were in German hands. General Dietl and the mountain troops, having routed the Russian 14th division, believed their victory was total. The completely unknown Russian 52nd in a 15km long column was preparing to counter-attack.


The Litza Front, 30 June-6 July 1941, German 136th Mountain Regiment were required to hold the Fisher Peninsula/Rybachy. Russian ships in Motovskij Fjord bombarded the German Mountain Regiment. An intense battle between Russian and German troops developed in the mist. Again the code breakers at Bletchely park intervened with Stalin's demand for war materiel acted upon.


The Litza Front, 6 July to 12 July, the 137th regiment assembled west of the Litza River anticipated victory. Soviet artillery aided the Russian 52nd Division clash against the German Mountain Corps. Severe losses on both sides halted the German attack in the difficult open rough tundra terrain.


The Litza Front, 13 July to 16 July 1941, Gruppe Hengl was pinned down in the Ura Kettle, 6 km east of the Litva River. A motorised Machine Gun Battalion and the14th Finnish Infantry Regiment, vital reinforcements ensured a major pincer movement was instigated. The battle ended with further stalemate in the burnt, unforgiving terrain. 2nd mountain Division suffered 3,000 dead and wounded. The Russians were preparing to attack Fisher neck, threatening German supply lines. General Dietl ordered the second attack on the Litza to be called off.


The Litza Front, 2 August to 7 September, the promised 6th Mountain Division was augmented by the reinforced Bavarian 388th Infantry Regiment and the motorised 9th SS Infantry regiment, these reinforcements amounted to 25,000 men. Helmuth von Moltke's famous dictum that no plan survives first contact with the enemy applies to Operation Silberfuchs. The introduction of more reinforcements using more and more supplies than could be carried forward ensuring the arrival of the 6th Mountain Division would not have captured Murmansk. The British Royal Navy attack on German troop convoys, 19 August to 8 September 1941 in Norwegian waters delayed the crucial 6th Mountain Division's arrival in Northern Finland who travelled through Finland to arrive at the Litza River front October 1941. Hitler expected a British invasion of northern Norway/Finland.


Defeat, Litza Front, 8-19 September 1941, 03.10hrs Gruppe Hofmeister, Gruppe Hengl and Gruppe Krautler attacked across bare ridges 300 metres high with slopes fragmented by ravines and hollows choked with scrub. The 9th SS Infantry Division attacked with courage and drove the defenders off the heights. The Russians counter attacked and losses mounted. Hengl's pioneers had to rescue the SS. Gruppe Hengl cut the Murmanask road but failed for the third time to surround and destroy the Russians. Winter frosts had started with snow settling. The Germans lost 12,490 men, killed, wounded or missing, Russian losses were similar. The Germans decided to break off the attack on Murmansk. Hitler's first defeat on the Eastern Front.


100,000 troops were involved in the almost unknown operation on the Litza River. The fighting was brutal and intense with losses amounting to 35% of the fighting troops. Two separate headquarters determined German planning to capture Murmansk, the Rovaniemi-Salla-Kandalaksha campaign reached to within 5km of the Murmansk highway with little acknowledgement from German High Command. Napoleon said one bad General was better than two excellent ones, Falkenhorst and dietl detested each other. A well known trap in military history developed, operational compromises were adopted which were incompatible, resource constraints led to the disaster of insufficient supplies for more fighting troops demanding more transport in very rough terrain where 5 or even 10km travel times were very slow. Defeat followed


Source: Miracle at the Litza Hitler's, First defeat on the Eastern Front Alf R. Jacobsen, Casemate Publishers

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