Destruction of the Korsun Pocket

General Breith’s Three Panzer Corps made good progress against heavy Soviet opposition, but shortage of fuel for his armored fighting vehicles as well as the opposition of 6 and 2 Soviet Tank Armies brought his advance to a halt. On 12 February he was able to get his tanks refueled and resumed his attack. At Dadushkova he ran into the 50 Tank Brigade. After the battle, he resumed his advance another twelve kilometers to Khizhintsy where he again ran out of fuel.

Inside the cauldron General Stemmermann began moving his forces to the west, closer to the units sent to rescue him, in preparation for the breakout. His forces took Nova Buda and Schenderovka. By 13 February he was able to take Komarovka. He simultaneously withdrew from Korsun, which fell to the Soviets the same day. General Konev attempted to retake Nova Buda but was blocked by SS Wallonien.

General Beith’s 3 Panzer Corps, now lining the west banks of the Gniloy Tikich River, attempted to take Hill 239 near the village of Oktybar overlooking the projected river crossing for Gruppe Stemmermann. A bridge at Lisyanka, strong enough to allow tanks to cross the river, was taken, but the bridgehead across the river was not secure enough for them to make contact with the isolated forces. Konev blocked the relief effort with the 16 Tank Corps and the 13 Guards Heavy Tank Regiment equipped with 21 IS-1 (IS-85) heavy tanks.

At this point the thaw ended. Snow resumed. Temperatures fell to -7 degrees Celsius. By now the cauldron measured five by seven kilometers. Generals Bake and Frank, at Oktyabr were within seven kilometers of Gruppe Stemmermann, which was notified on 16 February that now was the time to break out. The attempt began that night.

Stemmermann’s forces were greatly weakened. The Soviet Forces lining the east riverbank were dug in and supported by artillery. The battle went on all night and through the following day in blizzard conditions. German soldiers, making their way to the river were unaware of the bridge available to the north. At this point the river was two meters deep and several meters wide with a strong current carrying chunks of ice. Attempts to form a bridge by driving tanks into the river failed miserably.

Russian tanks were met by German tanks in battles around the perimeter of the cauldron. The German tanks, seriously outnumbered, were destroyed. By midday on 17 February the Soviets drove their tanks into the collapsing cauldron shelling the soldiers on the riverbank. Desperate German soldiers in naked or nearly naked conditions attempted to swim across the river. General Stemmermann himself was killed.

Of the 35,199 Germans who attempted to flee the pocket, 19,000 were killed or captured, including 3,000 surrounded at Shandorovka.

On 17 and 18 February the German Transportgruppen flew 1,500 sorties carrying 2,026 tons of supplies and evacuating 2,400 wounded. Thirty-two aircraft were lost and 113 were damaged.

During the period 31 January to 18 February the Soviet Air Force flew 210 sorties against airfields and engaged in 75 air battles.

Sources:

‘Crucible at Cherkassy”, Pat McTaggart, WWII History Magazine, September 2005

‘The Red Army’s Drive to Rumania’, A. N. Shimansky, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1943-1945: Soviet Steamroller, Robert A. Forczyk, Pen and Sword Military, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, 2016

War Over the Steppes, the Air Campaign on the Eastern Front, 1941-45, E. R. Hooton, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, 2016

The Soviet Air Force in World War II, Edited by Ray Wagner, Translated by Leland Fetzer, Doubleday & Co., Inc., Garden City, NY, 1973

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