Manstein strikes back
Tanks and equipment of the division "Grossdeutschland" during the attack on Kharkov
General situation. Dizzy with success
The successful winter offensive of the troops of the Voronezh, Southwestern and Southern fronts (Operation Star and "Jump") had its downsides. There were few tanks left in mobile formations. Only during the Voronezh-Kharkov strategic operation, more than 1 vehicles were lost. Rear left behind. There was a critical shortage of ammunition and fuel. Troops practically lost air support: aviation remained at the base airfields, the new ones have not yet been mastered, not repaired. Units and formations suffered heavy losses in manpower.
As a result, by mid-February 1943, the offensive capabilities of the Soviet fronts were exhausted.
However, the Soviet command was dizzy from success. It seemed that the enemy had already been defeated. The strategic initiative is firmly captured. And now only forward, to the west! The commander of the Voronezh Front (VF) Golikov daily sent victorious reports to Moscow and reported that the enemy was retreating to the west. The departure of the SS Panzer Corps from Kharkov was perceived as a defeat and weakness of the enemy, and not a maneuver and regrouping for a subsequent counterattack. Similar messages came from the headquarters of the South-Western Front (SWF). The commander Vatutin believed that the enemy was retreating beyond the Dnieper.
Intelligence did not reveal that the enemy went on the defensive, the movement of enemy troops during regroupings was assessed as a retreat, the desire to leave the Dnieper as soon as possible, to the Right-Bank Ukraine. It was wiser to temporarily go on the defensive, pull up the rear and aviation, replenish the formations with people and equipment, and replenish supplies.
Red Army soldiers transport a 76,2-mm ZIS-3 divisional gun on a "ski chassis" through the village of Soldatskoye, Kursk Region, by horses
However, the command of the fronts and the Headquarters, which received reports from the headquarters of the front, had no doubt that the enemy had been defeated and was leaving for the Dnieper. Therefore, despite the difficult state of the armies, it was decided to continue the offensive. The VF was supposed, having the main forces on the left wing, to develop the offensive and liberate Rylsk, Sumy, Lebedin, Akhtyrka and Poltava. Soviet troops received the task of pushing the enemy as far as possible from Kharkov in order to ensure the work of the government of the Ukrainian SSR.
In the future, the troops of the VF had to go to Kyiv and reach it before the ice drift on the Dnieper. The troops of the South-Western Front and the Southern Front were to complete the defeat of the Donbass grouping of the enemy, reach the Dnieper in the strip from Kremenchug to Dnepropetrovsk. The replenishment of the formation was supposed to be carried out independently due to local mobilizations in the liberated regions of the Ukrainian SSR. The High Command set the task of driving the remnants of the enemy grouping into the Crimea, preventing the enemy from withdrawing troops to Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporozhye, where the Germans could create a strong defense on the Dnieper.
Meanwhile, the Germans had their own plans. On February 17, 1943, in Zaporozhye, Hitler flew to the headquarters of the Army Group South, created instead of the Don group. Manstein outlined the general situation to him and proposed a counteroffensive plan: to concentrate the SS Panzer Corps in the Krasnograd region, turn it to the southeast and, together with the 4th Panzer Army, delivering a counterattack from Krasnoarmeyskoye, defeat the troops of the right wing of the SWF that had penetrated deep into the German defenses. Throw the enemy behind the Seversky Donets. Then, weather permitting, to carry out an offensive operation in the Kharkov area.
There were some controversies. The Fuhrer, first of all, until the mud started, offered to recapture Kharkov, everything else later. Manstein believed that if the Wehrmacht lost the Dnieper crossings, then it would not be up to Kharkov. As a result, they decided to send the tanks of the Hausser corps to Krasnograd, and from there they could advance either to the northeast, to Kharkov, or to the south. By this time, the 3rd SS Panzer Division "Dead Head" had arrived in full.
The divisions of the 38th and 40th armies of the VF, pushing the enemy, advanced to the Psyol River. The neighboring 69th Army also successfully advanced. Rybalko's 3rd Panzer Army was regrouping to liberate Poltava. Enemy resistance was minimal. The SS Panzer Corps, which offered stiff resistance and counterattacked, disappeared somewhere.
In the sector of the South-Western Front, Vatutin sent Kharitonov's 6th Army and his last reserve, the 25th and 1st Guards Tank Corps, to the crossings across the Dnieper. On February 19, 1943, the Soviet advanced units broke through from Pavlograd to Novomoskovsk, where there were only German headquarters units and vacationers, and Sinelnikovo. Our troops intercepted one of the two main supply lines of the "South" group. Soviet troops were 60 km from Zaporozhye, to Dnepropetrovsk there were even fewer. There were no strong enemy formations that would cover these key points ahead. But our tankers simply ran out of fuel.
At this time, echelons with units of the 15th Infantry Division began to arrive in Dnepropetrovsk from France, which were immediately advanced to Sinelnikovo.
Hitler, seeing the danger of the situation on the southern wing of the Russian front, allowed Manstein to use the SS Panzer Corps at his discretion. He also promised additional troops from the Kuban (17th Army). The headquarters of the Army Group "South" gives the order for a counteroffensive.
Hitler and the commander of Army Group "South" E. von Manstein in Zaporozhye
In total, the "South" group on a 700-kilometer front had 30 divisions, including 11 tank and motorized. The offensive involved 7 tank, one motorized and 3 infantry divisions, about 800 tanks and self-propelled guns. The ground forces were provided with strong air force support.
Three shock groups are formed. The SS Panzer Corps was supposed to hit the right wing of the 6th Soviet Army with two divisions. The 48th tank corps of the 4th tank army (6th and 17th tank divisions, 336th infantry division) was to launch an offensive in a few days and advance on Pavlograd, towards the SS corps. The 1st Panzer Army, with the forces of the 40th Panzer Corps (7th and 11th Panzer, the Viking motorized division and the 333rd Infantry Division) advanced from the Krasnoarmeyskoye area to Barvenkovo to defeat the South-Western Front mobile group.
Tankers of the 1st Panzergrenadier Regiment of the SS Panzergrenadier Division "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler" on the armor of a wrecked tank "Tiger" Pz. Kpfw. VI, near Kharkov. During the battle, a gunner was killed by a projectile hitting the gun mask (practically into the sight hole). The second shell, which hit the starboard side above the caterpillar, killed the radio operator. The covered corpses of the dead lie on the armor, in front of the tank. February 1943
Counteroffensive of the group "South"
The commander-in-chief of the "South" group launched an offensive until the regrouping and concentration of troops was completed. On February 19, 1943, from Krasnograd to the south, with the strong support of the Luftwaffe, the SS Panzer Division "Reich" launched a surprise attack. Behind her, the SS Panzer Division "Dead Head" went into the breakthrough. The very next day, the SS Regiment "Fuhrer", having passed 90 kilometers, went to Novomoskovsk, cutting off the advanced Soviet units from the rear.
On the night of February 21, German attack aircraft captured the bridges on the Samara River, and the tanks rushed to the southeast - to Pavlograd. By evening, the Nazis captured the city, where they were not expected. In the Sinelnikovo area, the Germania regiment established contact with units of the 15th Infantry Division. At the same time, the "Dead Head" division attacked from west to east, north of the Samara River.
On the morning of February 20, the Red Army troops of the 40th Panzer Corps of General Henrici went on the offensive in the area. The Nazis began to cover Popov's mobile group from the east and west.
Actually, the German shock groups did not even have to break the enemy's defenses. Manstein caught the Russians when they were on the offensive and believed that the enemy was already defeated and almost running, that there were no serious enemy forces ahead. While the Soviet advanced units were still advancing, the Germans went in from the flanks. Strong mobile formations of the Germans immediately broke into the operational space and quickly moved forward.
General Popov, correctly assessing the situation as dangerous, suggested that the front command withdraw the group 40–50 km north of Krasnoarmeyskoye. However, the headquarters of the South-Western Front believed that the enemy was simply creating an armored barrier, as before at Rostov, in order to ensure the withdrawal of the main forces beyond the Dnieper. Therefore, the tasks of the 6th Army and the mobile group did not change. Kharitonov's army was supposed to cross the Dnieper and take Dnepropetrovsk and Dneprodzerzhinsk on the move. And Popov's mobile formations were to liberate the cities of Stalino (now Donetsk), Zaporozhye and Melitopol.
Not only Vatutin was deceived. Komfront Golikov, who before the start of the war for two years was the head of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Red Army. That is, the former chief intelligence officer of the country. Together with them, Marshal Vasilevsky, the head of the General Staff, who personally coordinated the actions of the Voronezh Front.
Manstein could be pleased. The Russians did not take retaliatory measures, they allowed them to seize the initiative. On the southern flank, the situation stabilized at this time. The Miussky Front held out. The blow of the Soviet 4th Guards Mechanized Corps was repelled. In the Debaltseve area, the rout of the blockaded 7th Guards Cavalry Corps of General Borisov was completed. His commander was also captured.
Tank Pz. Kpfw. VI "Tiger" of the SS Panzergrenadier Division "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler" on the march near Kharkov. February 1943
The Germans are developing an offensive
On February 22, 1943, General von Knobelsdorff's 48th Panzer Corps launched an offensive. The Nazis went to Pavlograd, towards the SS tank corps. The troops of Kharitonov's army found themselves in a difficult situation. The right flank of the 6th Army, repelling strong enemy attacks, was forced to retreat to the east. Some connections got into the environment. The 25th Panzer Corps, which was rushing towards Zaporizhia and broke away from the main forces by almost 100 km, lost contact with the rear and supplies. From February 22 to March 8, 1943, the corps fought in encirclement.
By the end of February 23, units of the 48th Panzer Corps and the SS Panzer Corps united in the Pavlograd area, intercepting the escape route to the east. At the same time, the advanced units of the divisions "Reich" and "Dead Head" met in Verbki and went to Lozovaya. The 40th Panzer Corps, having broken the resistance in the Krasnoarmeisky area, bypassing Barvenkovo on both sides, rushed to Izyum. The 48th Corps went to Taranovka. Thus, the German shock groups connected the front and quickly advanced to the north and northeast.
The command of the South-Western Front reported to Headquarters that the enemy, using large forces, had made a hole in the zone of the 6th Army and the mobile group. However, there was no decision to withdraw the troops. A difficult situation turns into a disaster.
The troops of the 40th Army of the VF are still advancing. On February 23, Lebedin and Akhtyrka were liberated by Moskalenko's troops. Kravchenko's 5th Guards Tank Corps was near the village of Opishnia. Golikov's headquarters had already reported on the liberation of the city of Sumy, where units of Chibisov's 38th army were approaching. Troops of the 69th Army developed an offensive against Poltava.
German soldiers occupy a village near Pavlograd. A burning GAZ-AA car and a T-34-76 tank are visible in the background of the photo. February 1943
To be continued ...
- Alexander Samsonov
- https://ru.wikipedia.org/, http://waralbum.ru/
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