H-Net Reviews: Since the Wehrmacht had been unable to assemble the necessary forces by the time Blue was to start, the Army High Command (OKH) designed a complicated, staggered operation in which each phase had a specific goal, thus setting the stage for the achievement of the next step in the plan. The initial phase aimed at seizing the city of Voronezh, just east of the Don, which would allow flank protection to the forces advancing to the east (it also, in the event, sparked furious Soviet counterattacks, since German forces could easily turn north toward Moscow, as anticipated by Stalin)….
The first three weeks of July were an enormously confusing period: the standard image of easy German victories was belied by the unexpected, incessant, and ferocious Soviet assaults at Voronezh which upset German timetables from the beginning, while for every Soviet unit that disintegrated another fought to the bitter end. More worrying for the Germans, though, their tried and tested encirclement operations were not bagging large numbers of prisoners. The reasons are instructive. Successful encirclement operations depended both on German skill and ability to move quickly, as well as a Soviet willingness to cooperate in their own destruction, and in the summer of 1942 the Wehrmacht lacked sufficient tanks, mobile units, and fuel to drive deep into the enemy rear. At the same time Hitler, influenced by the indecisive cauldron battles of 1941, had ordered shallow encirclements in order to ensure that the trapped enemy did not escape. But even so, significantly large numbers of the enemy escaped. Why? Glantz generally dismisses earlier interpretations, which claimed that the Soviets had learned the lesson of 1941 and were no longer willing to keep their head in the noose, noting that Stalin still insisted on a stubborn defense. Not until that autumn, according to Glantz, did the Red Army attain the skill and leadership to manage the battlefield properly. While the Soviet dictator reluctantly authorized a few tactical withdrawals, the key factor saving the Red Army in July was weakness: many Soviet units indeed fled in complete disorder to the east, while the German lack of fuel meant that neither their armored nor infantry forces had the mobility necessary to capitalize on the situation. The Germans, as in 1941, defeated the Red Army, but failed to annihilate it. The result, in the previous year, was to confront the Germans with a dilemma; in 1942, it proved their undoing.