In the spring of 1942, Adolf Hitler had taken direct command of his Army Groups in the Soviet Union and outlined his plan for the coming campaign season. He intended to throw everything into taking Moscow, except for a smaller operation to capture Leningrad. Then he would turn south, capture Sevastapol, and march on Stalingrad and the Caucasus oil fields. Then, he would move on India and possibly link up with the Japanese if they invaded India from Burma. He could also attack Allied positions in Egypt through the Middle East. This was an audacious plan. Colonel General Franz Halder, who officiated Hitler’s orders directly, did not object. A direct assault on Moscow was what the high command was after all along.
Hitler changed the focus on April 5, 1942 by approving only an offensive in the south. He believed that threatening the Caucasus oil fields would force the Red Army to sacrifice their last reserves of manpower to protect them. If the Nazis conquered the oil fields, Germany’s critical shortages would be filled. The Russians could not survive for long without the oil that the Caucasus provided.
Like the invasion the year before, the summer was a time of outstanding success for the Germans. Army Group South was divided into two commands, Army Group A under Generalfeldmarshall Wilhelm List, and Army Group B under Fedor von Bock, who had retired for only a month. These two giant pincers would comprise six German armies, borrowing units from Army Group Center. Italians, Romanians and Hungarians would also join the offensive.
The Soviets planned counterattacks also, all along the front. The Soviet Command was reorganized and reinvigorated by the successful winter offensive. On May 12, Marshal Semyon K. Timoshenko attacked near Kharkov. On the second day his forces were stopped, and Timoshenko realized he had run into a strong German buildup. He appealed to his political leader Nikita Khrushchev, and then to Stalin himself, to stop the offensive on May 23. Stalin gave permission two days later, but it was too late. Two hundred forty thousand soldiers joined their comrades in German captivity.