Closing the Korsun Pocket, and the German attempt to rescue the forces trapped inside, resulted in intense combat in the air and on the ground.
On 27 January, 1944, Kravchenko’s 6th Tank Army crossed the Guiloy Tikich River at Lysyanka establishing a bridgehead on the eastern side of the river. On 28 January Rotmistrov’s 5th Guards Tank Army joined up with the 6th at Zvenigorodka closing the Kessel (cauldron) on the 28th, effectively sealing off the German forces trapped in the Dnieper River bend.
The German response was immediate. On the same day the 5th Panzer Regiment “Wiking” attacked at Olschana, striking north toward Kapitanovka. The next day the Germans expanded their offensive at Kirillovka, but a Soviet response from northeast of Olschana forced them back.
The Soviets endured small encirclements of their attacking forces. General Vatutin lost 513 tanks and 146 self-propelled guns during the last ten days of January.
At about this point the weather turned cold. Temperatures dropped to -5 degrees Celsius in blizzard conditions. von Manstein requested permission to have the units surrounded in the pocket, 7th and 42nd Army Corps, make an attempt to break out. Hitler, predictably, refused, leaving von Manstein to plan a rescue operation. In the meantime, three Transportgruppen were moved to the concrete airfield at Uman. Using the airfield at Korsun, they attempted to keep the surrounded units supplied. These operations were hampered by the heavy snow and low clouds.
General von Manstein pulled together the 3rd and 47th Panzer Corps and the SS Leibstandarte Adolph Hitler to assist in breaking the Soviet stranglehold. The attack was planned for 3 February.
The Russians continued to reduce the German defenses around the edges, attacking Bogluslav on 31 January, assisted by the Second and Fifth Air Armies. Fifth Air Army was assigned to support of the ground forces while the Second Air Army and the Tenth Fighter Air Corp blockaded the front against enemy attacks. From 29 January to 3 February these units flew 2,800 sorties, engaged in 120 air battles and downed 130 enemy aircraft.
A sudden thaw, with daytime highs at 5 degrees Celsius, on 1 February caused difficulty for German troops and equipment attempting to withdraw from the eastern edge of the cauldron. Observing the German retreat, the Soviets launched an attack and broke through the German line at Losovsk.
Outside the cauldron, the Germans concentrated their forces at Zvenigordka and attacked from the southwest over muddy roads. On 1 February, General von Vormann advanced 31 kilometers over frozen ground to the Shpolka River at Iskrennoye approaching within 20 kilometers of Stemmermann’s surrounded forces. During this advance the First Guards Ground Attack Corps kept the column under constant attack. The bridge over the Shpolka River collapsed. Pioneers were called forward but their building materials could not provide a bridge allowing passage of 60 ton vehicles.
On 3 February General von Manstein’s attempt to relieve German units in the Kosun pocket began. The Soviet line was breached at Vesely Kut on the Guiloy Tikich River. At the same time, the Soviet Air Force began night and day operations to support and supply the Soviet troops moving to destroy the enemy forces inside the pocket, while repelling German counter attacks in the Tolmach and Lisyanka regions.
Sources: ‘Crucible at Cherkassy’, Pat McTaggart, WWII History Magazine, September 2005
Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1943-1945: Soviet Steamroller, Robert A. Foczyk, Pen and Sword Military, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, 2016
War Over the Steppes, the Air Campaign on the Eastern Front, 1941-1945, E. R. Hooton, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, 2016
”The Red Army’s Drive to Rumania’, A. N. Shimansky, 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, NY, 1973