June 23, 2014

The Marcks Plan

On 21 July 1940 Hitler asked Generalfeldmarschall Walter von Brauchitsch, the Commander in Chief of the German Army, to study the Russian problem and submit plans for a campaign against the Soviet Union. The following day, Brauchitsch asked Generaloberst Franz Halder, Chief, Army General Staff, to study the various problems involved in an operation against Russia. Halder thereupon requested Oberstleutnant Eberhardt Kinzel, Chief, Eastern Intelligence Division, to brief him on Russian troop dispositions and asked Oberst Hans von Greiffenberg, Chief, Operations Division, to assign a special assistant to the preparation of a tentative plan for a campaign against the Soviet Union. On 29 July, Generalmajor Erich Marcks was temporarily assigned to Army High Command headquarters to draw up a campaign plan against the Soviet Union. Marcks was chief of staff of the Eighteenth Army.

The Marcks Plan

On 5 August Marcks submitted his plan. The German Army would have to advance as far as the line Rostov-Gorki-Archangel. The principal objective was Moscow, the nerve center of Soviet military, political, and economic power; its capture would lead to the disintegration of Soviet resistance.

The Pripyat Marshes divided the western border region of Russia into two separate theaters of operation. The area north of the Pripyat was forested, but, because of its better road net, permitted greater mobility, whereas in the Ukraine the terrain was favorable, but mobility was limited by the scarcity of good roads.

The terrain that had to be crossed by the forces of the north group, jumping off from East Prussia, was difficult. They would have to traverse a forest and lake belt between the Dvina and Dnieper Rivers. There, the battle for the traffic arteries would be decisive. Airborne troops would have to take possession of the eastern exits from large forest areas and thus keep the roads open.

In August 1940 the Russian troops in the west were about equally divided between the areas north and south of the Pripyat Marshes with a reserve force around Moscow. It was assumed that the Red Army would take up defensive positions which would protect most of European Russia, including the eastern Ukraine. The general line Dvina River-Polotsk-Berezina River-eastern edge of the Pripyat Marshes-Prut or Dnestr Rivers would serve this purpose, especially since it was partly fortified from
earlier days. West of their prepared positions the Russians would probably fight a delaying action. Marcks believed that once the Russian lines had been pierced, the Red Army, being spread over a wide front, would no longer be able to coordinate its maneuvers and would be destroyed piecemeal.

Marcks proposed that the campaign should be divided into four, sequential, phases.
2. General Erich Marcks

During the initial phase of the German offensive the Russians would probably fight delaying actions over distances of up to 250 miles, until they reached their prepared positions. The German infantry divisions would take three weeks to cover this distance. The panzer divisions would have to advance so rapidly and penetrate so deeply that the Russians would be unable to man a continuous defense line. The issue of the entire campaign would depend on the success of the armored thrusts.

The struggle for the forest areas and river courses would dominate the second phase. Since the depth of this zone was 60-120 miles, it would take 2-4 weeks to cross it. At this stage the German forces would either achieve a decisive breakthrough or destroy the previously shattered Russian forces individually.

During the third phase Moscow and Leningrad would have to be seized and the drive into the eastern Ukraine initiated. The distances to be covered were 250 and 200 miles respectively. Whether this phase could be executed immediately after the second would depend upon the condition of the railroads, the serviceability of the track-laying and wheeled vehicles, and the degree of success hitherto achieved. If the Russians were beaten, a few armored or motorized divisions would suffice to keep them off balance, and to seize Moscow and Leningrad and thrust deep into the eastern Ukraine. This would require one or two weeks if sufficient tanks and motor vehicles were available. If, however, the bulk of the Red Army was still capable of offering organized resistance, the start of the third phase would have to be delayed until sufficient supplies were brought up to support the continuation of the offensive. In this case it might be 3-6 weeks, depending on the time needed for the supply buildup.

The fourth and last phase of the offensive would see the Germans pursuing the Russians to the Don, the Volga, and the Severnaya Dvina. The distances to be covered were 250 miles in the south and up to 500 in the center and north. After the Germans had captured Kharkov, Moscow, and Leningrad, the Soviet command would have lost control over its forces but complete occupation of the territory acquired during this phase would be neither possible nor necessary. Motorized forces and rail-transported infantry would be responsible for this operation. The time needed for this phase was estimated at 2-4 weeks. The total time required to attain the designated objective would therefore vary between a minimum of 9 and a maximum of 17 weeks.

General Marcks discussed his plan with General der Kavallerie Ernst Koestring, the German military attaché in Moscow. Koestring did not agree that the seizure of Moscow would be the key to victory. In his opinion the capture of Moscow would not be decisive because the Soviet Union had vast industrial resources beyond the Urals. Moreover, with their ability to improvise, the Russians would be able to reorganize their transportation net without Moscow. Koestring’s comments were not taken into account.

Marcks’ work formed the base for other plans that followed a few months later.

Department of the Army Pamphlet No. 20-261a. "The German Campaign in Russia – Planning and Operations (1940-1942)." Historical Study. 1955.

Photos attribution
1. DA PAM 20-261a, additional details: author
2. https://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/USA-E-XChannel/USA-E-XChannel-8.html