Cutting Off Leningrad

Units of XVI Army had been diverted to assist Army Group Center’s thrust toward Moscow. Difficulties at Nevel and Novorzhev finally being resolved at the end of July 1941, Army Group North expected the return of those forces.

XVIII Army’s thrust through Latvia and Estonia had been quick, so Field Marshal von Leeb, Commander of Army Group North, requested XXXIII Army Corps be diverted east to assist XLI Panzer Corps’ thrust to Sabsk on the Luga River, in the same manner as I Army Corps had been diverted to assist 56 Panzer Corp’s attack on Soltsy at the end of July.

The plan was for XLI Panzer Corps to advance out of the two bridgeheads across the Luga River, which they had captured and held since 14 July, while 56 Panzer Corps attacked toward Luga on the Luga River with the object of following the Luga-Leningrad Road through the forest to take Krasnogvardiesk.

Two issues were considered as these attacks were ordered. Soviet forces fleeing XVIII Army’s thrust toward Narva retreated toward Leningrad, threatening XLI Panzer Corps’ left flank. The other problem was the Soviet 31st Corps blocking 56 Panzer Corps’ crossing of the Luga River.

Both the Soviets and the Germans intended to begin their offensives on the same date: 8 August.

Rain on 8 August canceled Luftwaffe support for the German attacks. As XLI Panzer Corps began the offensive out of their bridgeheads they came under heavy artillery fire. The initial assault was repulsed with heavy losses. After two days of fighting they penetrated the forest belt and broke into open terrain. The panzers turned east heading toward Leningrad while the infantry turned northwest toward Narva to block the Soviets retreating from Estonia.

On 14 August vehicles approaching Soltsy to reinforce 56 Panzer Corps’ thrust were attacked by Soviet aircraft for three hours. 56th Panzer Corps had no success. They were blocked by the Soviet 31st Corps.

On 15 August X Army of XVI Army Corps’ began their drive toward Staraya Russa south of Lake Ilman. This thrust was opposed by the Soviet 11th and 34th Armies supported by 460 sorties by the Soviet Air Force operating against German troops and reserves moving up to the front. Novgorod was taken by the Germans on 16 August, and a bridgehead was established over the River Volkhov. Chudovo fell to the Germans on 20 August. In this sector of Army Group North only the XXVIII Army Corps was making progress, taking Lyuban on 28 August.

The area southeast of Leningrad proved to be difficult terrain. XVIII Motorized Infantry Division secured XVI Army’s right flank on the River Volkhov. XII Panzer Division, XVI Army’s spearhead, reached the outskirts of Leningrad at Ishora on 28 August and XX Motorized Infantry Division extended the right flank to Lake Ladoga.

XLI Panzer Corps’ attack reached the Kasnogvardiesk-Krasnoye Selo line on 20/21 August, at which time they directed IV Panzer Gruppe to turn south to attack the rear of Soviet units north of Luga blocking 56th Panzer Corps. This action cut off supplies to the Soviet 41st Corps which withdrew into the swamps to the east of the Luga-Leningrad Road. The ‘Luga Pocket’ was liquidated in the first fortnight of September.

XVIII Army’s XVI Corps cleared Estonia of Soviet forces by the end of August.

Sources: Drive to Leningrad, Generaloberst Walther Chales de Beaulieu, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s.

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

Eastern Front: Summer 1941 Continued

The battle on the Eastern Front in the summer of 1941 was an unmitigated disaster for the Soviet Army.

In the north German forces made good progress through Estonia. As a result, Army Group North ordered I Army Korps, located south of Pskov to move eastward through Porkhov toward Lake Ilmen, allowing XXXVIII Army Korps to shift their thrust along the east bank of Lake Peipus to Narva, completing the conquest of Estonia. By 13 to 16 July Army Group North reached positions on the Luga River only 97 kilometers from Leningrad.

As German forces approached Novgorod the Soviet Air Force launched 1,500 sorties against the 8th Panzer Division driving it back 40 kilometers. MiG 3s and Yak 1s assisted outdated I-16s and I-153s during these attacks.

The thrust toward Leningrad bogged down in heat, difficult terrain, and exhaustion of the German forces. High command called for a thrust through Novgorod by tank forces. VLI Panzer Korps was withdrawn from the front near the Luga River and moved east to join the 56 Panzer Korps and two infantry corps in preparation for an attack northward scheduled for the beginning of August.

Meanwhile, by 31 July, the Finns had advanced to their old frontier on the Karelian Isthmus.

With Army Group Center ordered to go on the defensive, the main action moved south into the Ukraine. There STAVKA issued a new plan. Rather than throw raw troops into battle piecemeal, they elected to establish a defense of the Dnieper River line. Ten new divisions were assigned to Southwest Front, twelve to South Front, and two into Front Reserve.

Industries in the Ukraine were to remove industrial equipment from factories and transport it back behind the Urals, and delaying actions were fought to give time to destroy factory buildings.

To prevent mass surrendering of troops the Head of the Political Propaganda Directorate ordered unit political commissars to direct troops to stand their ground and fight their way out of any pocket. If that proved impossible, they were to join the Partisans and fight behind enemy lines. The Communist Party and the Communist Youth League were charged with providing leadership.

Sources: “Barbarossa: Drive to Leningrad”, Generalleutnant Walther Chales de Beaulieu, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

“Barbarossa: Drive to Kiev”, Geoffrey Jukes, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

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

Army Group South Invades the Ukraine

The Soviet Army did not fortify the border of the territory they captured from Poland in 1939. As a consequence Lvov was captured on 30 June, 1941. What the Germans called the ‘Stalin Line’, the original Soviet border, was breached with fierce fighting and Zhitomir was taken on 9 July.

Ordered to hold in place, Soviet forces were already bypassed by the Germans when the orders were received. As the disaster developed, Stalin appointed Marshal Semyon Mikhailovich Budenny commander of the Southwest Front, the South Front, and the Black Sea Fleet. Lieutenant General Nikita Krushchev became his political deputy.

The northern end of Army Group South consisted of Colonel General von Kleist’s 1 Panzer Gruppe and VI and XVIII Armies. The southern end of the front, from the Carpathians to the Black Sea coast belonged to Colonel General Ritter von Schobert’s XI Army and motorized brigade ‘Adolf Hitler.’ These units were accompanied by two Rumanian armies and a Hungarian Corps armed with captured French equipment.

German air support was Luftflotte 4 and the Rumanian Air Force with a combined strength of 1150 aircraft. Soviet air opposition consisted of approximately the same number of machines, but 75% of the force was older types. By the end of June the Soviet Air Forces in the Ukraine had lost 911 aircraft: 697 to enemy action, 304 on the ground, 276 machines abandoned, and 214 destroyed in accidents. These numbers include machines called up from repair facilities. Of the 568 remaining, 50% were unserviceable. Despite these losses, the Soviet Air Force flew 600 sorties per day to the end of June.

The Germans considered the Pripet Marshes unsuitable for modern armies, but the Soviet 5th Army used it to great advantage, attacking the German spearhead from the north, while the Soviet 6th Army attacked from Vinnitza and Kazatin from the south-west attempting to pinch off the German spearhead thrust between Zhitomir and Berdichev. The swift German counterattack imposed severe armored losses on the Soviets, though the armor allowed three Soviet Armies to avoid encirclement. It was during this battle that Kampfgruppe 51, a twin-engine Ju-88 unit used for ground support, lost 92 of their bombers. Only after 29 June did the Germans have Stukas to provide this service.

By 9 July Soviet movement west of the Dnieper River had stopped, and the Germans reached the Dnieper opposite Kiev the next day.

Soviet forces in the Pripet Marshes, behind German lines, attracted the attention of Adolf Hitler, who, during a conference on 19 July, ordered II Panzer Gruppe from Army Group Center to eliminate this threat. Moscow was no longer Hitler’s prime prize. He looked toward Kiev, Ukrainian coal, industry, and agriculture. General Guderian, commander of II Panzer Gruppe, became alarmed by the appearance of new Soviet Armies in front of Army Group Center. Already, on 23 July, German infantry was down to 80% of strength, and armor down to 50%. Guderian argued for an attack toward Bryansk, if not Moscow on 27 July. But Hitler ordered Army Group Center to go on the defensive on 29 July to deal with a Soviet attack on Gomel.

On 30 July I Panzer Gruppe attacked Soviet forces leaking back from the Uman pocket. At last, the I Panzer Gruppe met up with Colonel General von Stulpnagel’s XVIII Army near Pernomaisk to enclose the Soviet 6th and 12th Armies and parts of the 18th Army.

Guderian, forbidden from advancing on Bryansk, ordered an attack on Roslavl on 1 August, which was taken on 3 August.

By 8 August the Soviet South Front, being weak on the ground, fell back behind the Dnieper River to prepare a defensive line on the east bank.

Sources: “Barbarossa: Drive to Kiev”, Geoffrey Jukes, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

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

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

Army Group North Strikes For Leningrad

The attack aiming for Leningrad began when German troops entered Lithuania on 22 June, 1941. Finding little resistance initially, 56th Panzer Corps advanced nearly 60 kilometers on the first day, supported by the First Air Fleet. Soviet air opposition consisted of North Air Army, and Northwest Air Army. Their attacks began on day one. Bombers and ground attack aircraft in groups of 10 to 18 machines struck at German tanks at Tilsit, Taurage and Palukne, and at the Niemen River crossings. During that first day more than 2000 sorties were flown and 20 enemy aircraft were claimed destroyed.

Soviet ground forces advanced from Wilno to oppose the Germans at Raseynyay, where they were then surrounded. Front Air Force used all available aircraft to support counter attacks toward Sauliai and Tilsit from 23 June to 25 June. Bombers struck at railroad lines and stations, and destroyed tanks and troops moving toward the front. Although they flew 2100 sorties, the attacks were not well coordinated due to lack of communication with Soviet troops on the ground.

On 25 June Northern Front Air Army launched attacks on 19 Finnish and northern Norwegian airfields from which 5th Air Fleet operated in support of German ground attacks toward Leningrad. The Soviet force of 236 bombers and 224 fighters caught the enemy unprepared, destroying 41 German aircraft with no losses.

56th Panzer Corps took Daugavpils (Dvinsk) on the Dvina River on 26 June. Yekabpils, to the north, and also on the Dvina River, was taken on 30 June by IV Panzer Gruppe and XLI Panzer Corp.

North and Northwest Front Air Armies remained active during the early days of July. Air attacks against Finnish ports on the Gulf of Bothnia, and bridges, dams, power plants and railroads took place over six days, from 1 July through 5 July. Second Composite Air Division flew 530 sorties and dropped 250 tons of bombs. During the first 18 days of the war Northern Front Air Army flew 10,000 sorties. By 10 July only 837 aircraft remained to them. During the same period the Long-range Air Force flew 2112 sorties.

By this point, on this front, the Soviets possessed 1300 outdated aircraft, while the German First and Fifth Air fleets possessed 1900 machines.

On the left flank of the main thrust for Leningrad was the XVIII Army, while XVI Army guarded the right flank.

I Panzer Division captured Ostrov on 4 July. VI Panzer Division broke through the ‘Stalin Line’ 29 kilometers south of Ostrov. 56th Panzer Corp crossed the old Russian/Latvian border on the same day.

Soviet counterattacks against 56th Panzer Corp in the neighborhood of Pskov on 5 July were brushed aside. But the way ahead for 56th Panzer Corp consisted of swampy, wooded terrain for which they were not equipped.

By 10 July the Germans had advanced 500 kilometers toward Leningrad and Pskov. Here their plan began to come undone. XVI Army was ordered to provide two infantry divisions to Army Group Center to support them in a battle near Nevel. This required Army Group North to deflect X Corps south-east to assist XXVIII Corps in the surrounding of Soviet forces near Novorzhev.

Sources: ‘Drive to Leningrad’, Generalleutnant Walther Chales de Beaulieu, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

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

The Nazi Drive: From Minsk to Smolensk

In the first weeks of Operation Barbarossa the Soviet Air Force lost thousands of aircraft. Any repairable aircraft damaged either in the air or on the ground had to be left behind as the Germans overran Soviet airfields.

German forces crossed the Bug River on 26 June, 1941. Soviet Army units were encircled at Bialystok, Novogrudok, and Volkovysk. With possession of air superiority Army Group North crossed the Dvina River, Army Group Center crossed the Berezina River, and concentrated on crossing the Dnieper River near Rogachev. Army Group South burst through the Stalin Line. By 11 July the Panzer divisions of Army Group South were 16 kilometers from Kiev.

However, from June 29 onward the Germans observed Soviet reinforcements moving westward by road and rail from Smolensk toward the front lines.

Western Front Air Forces launched attacks on 40 airfields and destroyed or damaged 54 German aircraft on 8 July. Stavka ordered all air forces to target tanks, troops, fuel supplies, air bases, and concentrations of enemy forces. Many attacks by heavy bombers took place at high altitudes with strong fighter escort, or at night.

In response to the German air superiority, the Soviet Air Force instructed air fields to house only nine to twelve aircraft. Upon landing the aircraft were to be dispersed, camouflaged, and put under cover.

On 10 July Stalin appointed new commanders for the various fronts. Marshal Semen Budenny took command of South and Southwest Front. Marshal Semyon Timoshenko received command of the Central West Front, while Marshal Kliment Voroshilov was assigned the North West Front.

To combat complacency and carelessness among air crew and support staff, the Communist Party sent officials to air units to assist the commanding officers. This encouraged many pilots and support personnel to join the party.

The German Air Force attacked Moscow for the first time on 12 July.

As II Panzer Gruppe advanced toward Rogachev, Soviet forces began attacking its right flank from the Pripet Marshes beginning 15 July. The Soviet Fifth Army was also attacking Army Group South in its drive toward Kiev. General Heinz Guderian, commander of II Panzer Gruppe, received orders to attack the Fifth Soviet Army to stop those attacks. Army Group Center’s remaining Panzer unit, 3rd Panzer Gruppe, was assigned to assist Army Group North in its drive toward Leningrad, leaving Army Group Center with no Panzer units This loss brought the drive to Moscow to a the halt.

Finally the Soviet Air Force had the strength to attack German airfields. On 19 July Intensive air attacks took place against enemy forces at Vitebsk. The Western Front Air Force was so weakened it could no longer launch attacks. It possessed a mere 370 machines compared to the German 2nd Air Fleet’s 1000 aircraft.

Smolensk fell to the Germans on 19 July. After that time, due to diversion of 50% of their tanks to Army Groups North and South, and the reduction of motorized vehicles to 20% due to wear and tear, Army Group Center took a defensive stance.

In response, the Soviets formed a line before Army Group Center using the 22nd, 19th, and 13th Armies. Soviet aviators attacked river crossings, tank columns, troops, and enemy aircraft on the ground.

From 23 to 25 July the Soviet Western Front counter-attacked near Roslavl, Beloye, and Yartsevo, with support from the air, pinning down large German Forces.

Barbarossa: Drive to Smolensk, Generalmajor Alfred Philippi, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

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

World War II: Day by Day, Anthony Shaw, MBI Publishing Company, Osceola, WI, 2001

Barbarossa-22 June, 1941

The German attack on the Soviet Union was not un-telegraphed. For months German troops and tanks gathered in Poland, yet Josef Stalin trusted Adolf Hitler. On the fateful day German artillery began bombarding the Soviet front lines. Luftwaffe aircraft crossed the frontier at 0300.

The German’s three pronged attack spanned a 3,200 kilometer front. Field Marshal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb commanded Army Group North. Army Group South, commanded by General Gerd von Rundstedt invaded south of the Pripyat Marshes into the Ukraine. Army Group Center, under Field Marshal Fedor von Bock advanced toward Minsk, aiming to take that and Smolensk on the way to Moscow.

When Stalin’s troops invaded Poland in September 1939 he did not fortify the front. Instead, he relied on the fortifications established pre-1939.

Disorganized, with little support from artillery or aircraft, and no defense plans, the Soviet troops fell back in disarray. The Germans bypassed organized resistance. The fortress at Brest-Litovsk, surrounded with no chance of escape, held out for four days.

In the air the Luftwaffe reigned supreme, hitting airfields, anti-aircraft artillery, and aircraft on the ground. They claimed 322 aircraft shot down and 1,489 destroyed on the ground. The Soviet Air Force launched 1,900 sorties on 23 June attacking tank and troop concentrations and claiming 100 German aircraft destroyed.

By 23 June Soviet forces retreated from Bialystok. The German Army Group Center thrust out two arms to surround Soviet forces near Minsk. General Bock felt the Soviets were retreating to prevent his intended encirclement. He commanded his forces to take Polotsk and Vitebsk on the Dvina River to prevent the establishment of a defense line behind the River.

On 24 June the Panzer Gruppen occupied Slonim in the south and Wilno in the north and prepared to close their trap. The main crossing on the River Bug was taken. As the encirclement developed tanks outpaced the infantry and gaps between them appeared. In the east the tankers found they could not contain infantry units effectively. Many Soviet troops escaped and fell back to reorganize.

As the Germans tightened the encirclement, the large pocket degenerated into several smaller pockets. One around Bialystok and another around Volkovsk. Making use of the dense forests around Bialystok and using ration and ammunition dumps the resourceful and tough Soviet soldiers progressed northeastward toward Novogrudok, but were encircled again on 29 June. The double envelopment captured the Soviet 3rd and 10th Armies.

The next step was to capture the ‘Land Bridge’ between the Dvina and the Dnieper rivers. First there was the reconsolidation of Army Group Center. The infantry would replace the Panzers in the job of containing the Soviet soldiers now surrounded, while the tanks advanced toward Smolensk, the next objective.

Sources: Barbarossa: The Shock, Lieutenant General N. K. Popel, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

Barbarossa: Drive to Smolensk, Generalmajor Alfred Philippi, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

The Soviet Air Force in World War II, Edited by Ray Wagner, Translated by Leland Fetzer, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1973World War II: Day by Day, Anthony Shaw, MBI Publishing Company, Osceola, WI, 2001

von Manstein Retakes Kharkov

As Kharitonov’s 6th Army, with Rybalko’s 3rd Tank Army protecting its flank, drove toward Dniepropetrovsk, and 40th and 69th Armies drove toward Poltava, the Soviet command did not guess the forces gathered against them, or the form the German response would take.

General von Manstein knew the opposing Soviet forces neared exhaustion after their lengthy drive from Stalingrad. His plan, as provided to Hitler at their meeting on 17 February, 1943, proposed using strong, fresh forces to push Vatutin’s South-West Front back behind the Donets River, while Knobelsdorf’s  48th Panzer Corps and Kirchner’s 57th Panzer Corps moved northwest from Krasnoarmeyskoye to cut off the Soviet forces striking toward Dniepropetrovsk. These attacks were designed to take to steam out of the Soviet offensive.

While Field Marshall Wolfram von Richthoffen’s Fourth Air Fleet’s Ju-87 Stukas hammered Popov’s and Kharitonov’s forces from the air, Hausser’s SS Panzer Corps mauled Kharitonov’s 6th Army on the ground. Das Reich and Totenkopf Divisions hit Rybalko’s 3rd Tank Army as it attempted to open a corridor of escape for Kharitonov.

By 5 March Rybalko was forced onto the defensive facing southwest from Noraya Vodolaga to Ochotschaje. Panzer Divisions Das Reich, and Leibstandarte, combined with 6th Panzer Division, launched an attack on Rybalko’s 3rd Tank Army even as it took up this position.

With Vatutin’s South-West Front neutralized, von Manstein directed 48 Panzer Corps north to support Army Detachment Kempf’s attack on Golikov’s Voronezh Front. On 6 March Grossdeutschland Division, Corps Raus, and part of Army Detachment Kempf deployed west of Kharkov, while Totenkopf cleaned up the surrounded 15th Tank Corps.

SS Panzer Corps and 4th Panzer Army captured Novaya Vodolaga and Taranovka on 8 March, while Rybalko’s 3rd Tank Army retreated to Lyubotin and Merefa where nine artillery batteries contested the German advance. With the capture of Lyubotin on 9 March a 20 kilometer wedge was driven between Kazakov’s 69th Army and what remained of Rybalko’s 3rd Tank Army, the remnants of which were captured at Merefa.

Simultaneously, Hausser’s SS Panzer Corps joined up with Corps Raus in preparation for the recapture of Kharkov. Grossdeutschland and Corps Raus attacked Moskalenko’s 40th Army and retook Belgorod on 10 March while Leibstandarte Division captured Dergachi. On 11 March Dietrich’s Leibstandarte Division entered Kharkov from the north and Vahl’s Das Reich Division entered from the West.

 Major General Belov, commanding the Soviet forces in Kharkov, moved against Leibstandarte Division, creating a vacuum allowing Das Reich to take the center of Kharkov.

As the spring thaw changed the fields and roads to mud, the planned offensive against Kursk was listed as ‘unfinished business.’ On the Soviet side, Golikov was removed from command of Voronezh Front, though writer Geoffrey Jukes considers him less culpable for the Soviet lack of preparation for a possible German offensive than either Vatutin or STAVKA.

Sources: Manstein’s Victorious Panzers, William E. Welsh, WW II History Magazine, Aug/Sept 2020

Kursk: The Clash of Armour, Geoffrey Jukes, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1968

‘Soviet Setback After Stalingrad,’ Geoffrey Jukes, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

Kharkov: von Manstein’s Riposte

Soviet pressure on the German forces in Kharkov pushed Grossdeutschland back into the northeast corner of the city. Lieutenant General Pavel Rybalko’s Third Tank Army attacked the entire front of the German forces from the east and southeast, while Sokolov’s 6th Guards Cavalry Corps applied pressure on a wide arc south of Kharkov.

On 15 February, 1943, Major General G. M. Zaitzev’s 62nd Guards Rifle Division broke into the southeast quadrant of the city pressing Leibstandarte back while Koptsov’s 15th Tank Corps battled them in the factory district. Moskalenko’s 40th Army forced its way into the north side near Red Square while Kravchenko’s 5th Guards Tank Army threatened the Germans’ retreat path.

At 1100 hours von Manstein ordered Totenkopf to block Kravchenko. A battle group of the Leibstandarte stood firm against Sokolov’s 6th Guards Cavalry Corps. By noon the Germans began fighting a withdrawing action. Von Manstein remained reluctant to defy Hitler’s orders to hold the city at all costs. But Lieutenant General Paul Hausser retreated from the city.

Hitler, himself, relieved Lanz from command of his detachment and assigned the unit to General Kemp, who set the detachment up facing northeast from Akhtyrka to Borova, in front of Voronezh Front’s drive to the Dnieper River.

STAVKA ordered 40th and 69th Armies to move on Poltava while Rybalko’s Third Tank Army covered Kharitonov’s right flank.

In the midst of the crisis Hitler arrived at Zaporozhye on the Dnieper River to discuss the situation with von Manstein. During the meeting on 17 February von Manstein proposed driving Vatutin’s Southwest Front back behind the Donets River using Colonel General Eberhard Makensen’s 1st Panzer Army, Colonel General Herman Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army, and Hausser’s SS Panzer Corps.

The attack began on 19 February. Hausser’s SS Panzer Corp assembled near Kraznograd. Knobelsdorf’s 48th Panzer Corps and Kirchner’s 57th Panzer Corps struck northwest of Krasnoarmeiskoye while Makensen’s 1st Panzer Army moved out from south of the same city. Support was provided by Field Marshal Wolfram von Richthoffen’s Fourth Air Fleet. The Stuka’s attacked Popov’s and Kharitonov’s columns forming the Soviet spearhead nearing Dnepropetrovsk within 25 kilometers of the Dnieper River. Interestingly no discussion of Soviet Air support appears in The Soviet Air Force in WW II. Makensen’s 1st Panzer Army isolated Popov’s battle group while Hoth’s 2 Panzer Corps tore up Kharitonov’s 6th Army in five days.

Under STAVKA’s orders the 69th Army and Rybalko’s 3rd Tank Army advanced toward Poltava and Krasnograd leaving Moskolenko’s 40th Army alone at Kharkov to fight General Raus’ Grossdeutschland.

At this time things started to unravel for the Soviets. On 23 February Hausser’s SS Panzer Corps returned to the battle, mauling Kharitonov’s 6th Army. Rybalko’s 3rd Tank Army, fighting to open a corridor to Kharitonov’s 6th Army at Kegichevka east of Krasnograd, was immediately attacked by Das Reich and Totenkopf Divisions. Vatutin’s Southwest front began full retreat on 28 February.

Sources: Manstein’s Victorious Panzers, William E. Welsh, WW II History Magazine, Aug/Sept 2020

Kursk: The Clash of Armour, Geoffrey Jukes, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1968

Soviet Setback After Stalingrad, Geoffrey Jukes, History of the Second World War Magazine,

Battle for Kharkov

General von Paulus surrendered the Sixth Army, surrounded at Stalingrad, in the first week of February 1943. Even ‘Winter Storm’, Hoth’s ill-fated attempt at a rescue, failed. As the Russian Army rampaged west, STAVKA, the Soviet Army staff, planned a massive offensive, ‘Operation Star’, aiming to surround the German forces in the Ukraine, Army Group South.

The plan required Bryansk Front, commanded by General Reyter, continuing their drive through Kursk, while Voronezh Front under General Golikov, and South-West Front under General Vatutin, struck west, north of Kharkov, then curved south to meet South Front under General Malinovsky, acting as the anvil which crushed Army Group South.

General Golikov anticipated using his 40th Army to take Belgorod, then circle south, while the 69th Army took bridgeheads over the Donets and entered Kharkov. The Third Tank Army, under General Rybalko, would cross the Donets and circle Kharkov to the south. Golikov possessed 315 tanks with 300 in reserve, and 200,000 men.

Lieutenant General Hans Cramer’s SS Grossdeutschland had 31 tanks, though its infantry traveled on half-tracks, allowing enhanced maneuverability, compared to infantry on foot. 168th Division, and Grossdeutschland covered Kharkov from the north. Two divisions of the Lieutenant General Paul Hausser’s SS Panzer Corps protected Kharkov from the east and south. Army Detachment Lanz, with 50,000 men in Kharkov, was no match for the Soviet troops, though the Luftwaffe controlled the skies. Das Reich and Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler detrained in Kharkov as the battle began.

Two of General Golikov’s divisions crossed the Donets on 5 February after a three day battle. By 6 February elements of Grossdeutschland retreated to the south-west toward Kharkov. Conversely, Das Reich met Soviet troops east of the Donets, and drove them back eight kilometers.

On 7 February Soviet troops reached the outskirts of Belgorod, about 60 kilometers north-east of Kharkov, while General Sokolov’s 6th Guards Corps crossed the Donets River at Zmiev, south of Kharkov. By 9 February German forces pulled back, continuing to cover Kharkov. On 11 February Das Reich redeployed south of Kharkov. Soviet forces pushed Grossdeutschland back even further into the north-east corner of the city.

General von Manstein became commander of Army Group South on 12 February and received permission from Adolf Hitler to pull back forces as needed, and to deploy his armor at his discretion.

Lieutenant General Pavel Rybalko’s Third Tank Army attacked the entire front of the German defenses from the east and south-east while Sokolov’s 6th Guards Cavalry Corps attacked on a wide ark south of Kharkov from Merefa to Novaya Vodolaga. Fighting continued in the industrial district in eastern Kharkov even as Totenkopf detrained, on February 13, at Poltava more than 100 kilometers to the south-west of Kharkov.

As fighting intensified, Lieutenant General Paul Hausser, commander of SS Panzer Corps, advised Lieutenant General Josef ‘Sepp’ Dietrich, commander of Leibstandarte Panzer Division, to blow up key bridges in Kharkov. This order was cancelled on 14 February by von Manstein, who also ordered Lanz to hold Kharkov. Von Manstein relieved General Crammer of command of Grossdeutschland, giving the unit to General Raus.

SS Panzer Corps’ attack on Surzhikov’s 11th Cavalry forced them back on Ochotschaje and Bereka, while Das Reich pulled back from Kharkov.

Von Manstein knew that the Soviet forces, committed to combat for an lengthy period, were weak and overextended. He had a plan to knock them back on their heels.

Sources: Manstein’s Victorious Panzers, William E. Welsh, WW II History Magazine, Aug/Sept 2020

Kursk: The Clash of Armour, Geoffrey Jukes, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1968 Soviet Setback After Stalingrad, Geoffrey Jukes, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

Soviet Setback After Stalingrad, Geoffrey Jukes, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

War: Duty, Death, and Love

Duty to one’s people and one’s country is a powerful force in times of national emergency. Everyone is called upon to make sacrifices. The combatant must leave family, comfort, and normal life behind, prepared potentially to lose one’s life. Non-combatants say good-bye to loved ones going to the front. At home they do what they can to support the cause and defeat the foe.

Many women served in Soviet military units during the Great Patriotic War, known in the west as World War II. They served in all female units and mixed sex units in combat roles. Eighteen per cent of the Soviet Air Force personnel were women. They flew combat aircraft in combat. They also worked on the ground, in combat zones, in a multitude of capacities.

Loss of one’s life while performing one’s duty to family, country, and a way of life is not a sacrifice easily made. In addition to fear of death, there is fear of personal injury. These injuries are expected, even demanded during times of war. Duty forces one to expose one’s self to injury, including fatal injury. Fear is ever present. Many either overcome, ignore, or suppress it in times of need. In addition to physical injury, one must also consider the emotional and psychological health cost. Physical and emotional trauma to oneself and one’s comrades is a cost potentially paid to the end of one’s life, however long or short that may be.

If a combatant falls in love with a fellow combatant, one fears the loss the loved one. Love in war puts immense strain on people in love. This is especially true when one is in love with a fellow combatant in the same unit. The commitment of one’s self to another person when both are in combatant roles is an act of faith which defies the reality of combat. Knowing the loved one can be killed or horribly injured at any time may interfere with one’s ability do carry out ones duties. 

The question of love taking priority over one’s duty to one’s country may cause questionable behavior. One may remain in combat longer than one normally might under the assumption that one’s absence would put the loved one at risk. Seeing the loved one in danger may cause one to take additional risks in combat to protect the other. One might abandon the fight to care for the loved one if that person is wounded. All of these can endanger the success of an operation.

Weighing one’s duty to country, the other combatants in one’s unit, and the success of an operation against the strength of one’s desire to spend one’s life with the loved one may overpower one’s emotional strength. Ultimately, being in love affects one’s performance of one’s duty. To my knowledge, no correct path exists. Each person must search their own heart and make the best choices available under the circumstances.