A feature of the Kursk offensive operation was that it was carried out on a wide front by large forces of three fronts - the Central, Voronezh and Stepnoy, with the participation of troops of the Western and Bryansk fronts. The Soviet offensive was territorially divided into the Oryol offensive operation (operation "Kutuzov"), which was carried out by the troops of the left wing of the Western, as well as the Central and Bryansk fronts, and the Belgorod-Kharkov offensive operation (operation "Rumyantsev"), Voronezh and Steppe fronts. The operation "Kutuzov" involved 1,28 million people, more than 21 thousand guns and mortars, 2,4 thousand tanks and over 3 thousand aircraft.
The Oryol offensive operation was launched on July 12 by the attacks of the Western and Bryansk fronts, under the command of Vasily Danilovich Sokolovsky and Markian Mikhailovich Popov. On July 1943, the Central Front, under the command of Konstantin Konstantinovich Rokossovsky, went over to the counteroffensive. Army Group "Center" in the Oryol area had a main defensive zone of about 15-5 km in depth. The German defensive line consisted of strong points, interconnected by a network of trenches and communication lines. In front of the front edge, wire barriers were set up in the 7-1 of a series of wooden poles reinforced in important directions with wire fences with metal posts and spirals. The defense was strengthened by anti-personnel and anti-tank minefields. On the main lines, German fortifiers installed a significant number of armored caps with machine guns, which made it possible to create a strong crossfire. All settlements were adapted for all-round defense, for fighting in the environment. Anti-tank and anti-personnel barriers were installed along the river banks. However, the process of creating a dense defense was not completed. High hopes associated with the operation "Citadel". The defense on the Oryol ledge was held by the German 2-I tank army, 2-th, 55-th and 53-th army corps. Against the Central Front acted compounds 35-th army. German troops in this area numbered about 9 thousand people, 600 thousand guns and mortars, 7 thousand tanks and assault guns, more than 1,2 thousand aircraft.
Vasily Danilovich Sokolovsky (1897 - 1968).
Markian M. Popov (1902 - 1969).
Plans of the Soviet command
The Soviet command, despite the decision taken in the spring of 1943, to temporarily give the enemy a strategic initiative and go over to deliberate defense, did not intend to abandon offensive operations. The concentration of large German forces at the Kursk bulge, including selective tank formations, meant a significant weakening of the German defenses on other sectors of the front. The German defense in these areas could be pierced and achieved great success before the arrival of enemy reserves. In addition, German tank divisions suffered heavy losses during Operation Citadel, should have lost the ability to effectively resist the advancing Soviet forces.
Planning for the offensive of the Western and Bryansk fronts began in the spring of 1943. By the end of the winter campaign 1942-1943. in the area of Orel, a front was formed to the east, formed by the troops of the Western, Bryansk and Central fronts. Such a ledge suggested the formation of a "boiler". Powerful strikes at the base of the Oryol ledge could have led to the encirclement of significant forces of the German Army Group Center. However, when information was received on the preparation by the German command of Operation Citadel, the Supreme Command Headquarters decided to postpone the start of the offensive operation on the Oryol sector. The central front received an order to prepare for defense. A counter blow to the powerful German strike force did not promise much success. But the plan of the offensive operation was not forgotten, it was only changed. After the defensive operation, the three Soviet fronts were to strike hard at the German group in the Orel region, cut it and destroy it. The operation received the code name "Kutuzov", in honor of the winner of the "Great Army" Napoleon in the Patriotic War 1812 of the year.
Due to the fact that the Central Front had to withstand the blow of the advancing German grouping, he dropped out of the number of active participants in the offensive operation. The Bryansk front was supposed to strike at the “top of the head” of the Oryol ledge, cut it in two. The front troops struck two strikes: the first was from the Novosil region, covering the Eagle from the south; the second is from the region northeast of Bolkhov, in the general direction of Bolkhov, in order to liquidate the enemy's Bolkhov grouping together with the troops of the Western Front, and then advance on the Eagle from the north.
The troops of the left wing of the Western Front were given the task of breaking through the German defenses on the north face of the Oryol outcrop, southwest of Kozelsk. After breaking through the enemy defenses, the strike force of the Western Front was divided to attack in two divergent directions. The first group was to take part in the defeat of the enemy's Bolkhov grouping, the second - to advance in the general direction to Hotynets, where there was a highway junction and the Orel-Bryansk railway station. As a result, the Soviet troops were to intercept the main supply line of the Wehrmacht in the area of Orel. Bolkhov was considered the “key to the Eagle”. As a result, the forces of the Western Front were to crush the German troops covering the Eagle from the north, northwest, deeply embrace the enemy grouping from the west together with the forces of the Bryansk Front to eliminate it. Given the variety of tasks assigned to the Western Front, its strike force was the most powerful. The central front, after repelling the blow of the 9 of the German army, was to go on the offensive in the general direction of Kromy. Without the participation of the Central Front in the operation, the cutting of the Oryol ledge was impossible.
T-34, equipped with PT-3 mine trawls, are moving to the front. July-August 1943
To implement the tasks, four shock groups were created:
- at the northwestern tip of the Oryol ledge, at the confluence of the Zhizdra and Resset rivers — the 50-I army and the 11-I Guards Army (left flank of the Western Front;
- in the northern part of the bulge, in the area of the town of Bolkhov - the 61-I army and the 4-I tank army (15 was formed on July 1943 of the year on the basis of the 19-Cavalry Corps) of the Bryansk Front;
- In the eastern part of the bulge, in the Novosil region, the 3 Army, the 63 Army, the 1 Guards Tank Corps, and the 3 Guards Tank Army (was in the Betting Reserve).
- in the southern part of Oryol projection, in the area of Ponyri station - 13-I, 48-I, 70-I armies and 2-I tank army of the Central Front.
From the air, the offensive was supported by three air armies - the 1st, 15th and 16th, as well as aviation long range. The Headquarters reserve in the western direction, for the development of success or fending off German counterattacks, is the 2nd Guards Cavalry Corps of Vladimir Kryukov and the 11th Army of Ivan Fedyuninsky consisting of 8 rifle divisions and 3 tank regiments. The 3rd Guards Tank Army was also initially in reserve, but after the start of the operation it was transferred to the Bryansk Front.
According to the original plan, the operation was supposed to last a very short time - 4-5 days. This period allowed achieving a decisive result before the command of the Army Group “Center” removes the 9 Army’s strike forces from the battlefield and abandons them to liquidate the Soviet breakthrough. The delay meant the strengthening of the defensive orders of the Oryol ledge at the expense of the mobile units of the German 9 Army, which participated in Operation Citadel. However, the operation "Kutuzov" was delayed until mid-August, and the battle broke up into several separate operations.
Before the start of the operation, the Soviet command still had doubts about the correctness of the decisions made. In particular, the question was raised about the direction in which the 3 th Guards Tank Army would be used under the command of Pavel Semyonovich Rybalko. There were doubts about the need to use it in the direction of Novosil - Orel. Here the enemy had a strong defense that had to be broken through, sustaining heavy losses. It seemed more expedient to use the Guards tank army on the northern direction in the offensive zone of the 11-I Guards Army of Ivan Bagramyan and the 61 of the Pavel Belov Army. However, the head of the Red Army Auto-Armored Directorate, Yakov Fedorenko, failed to convince the command of the Bryansk Front to transfer the army Rybalko he had promised to the Western Front. As a result, the Oryol salient was not cut by the Soviet troops with converging blows under the base, but dismembered into pieces.
The offensive of the Bryansk front on the Oryol direction
In the easternmost part of the Oryol ledge, in the area of Novosil, the front remained stable for several months, which allowed the opponents to study the terrain well and build a dense defense. In addition, the Zusha River flowed along the front. In some places it was very shallow, but the steep banks and muddy bottom made it difficult to access for armored vehicles and other heavy weapons. Therefore, initially the Soviet command wanted to launch an attack from small bridgeheads that were occupied on Zush as early as 1942. They could have been built in advance of the crossing and transfer tanks on them. It is clear that the Germans built the most dense defense opposite the bridgeheads. An alternative solution was proposed by the commander of the 3 Army, Alexander Gorbatov. He proposed to take the 3 army to an independent area for a breakthrough with the forcing of the river in the area Izmailovo, Knitting. This distracted the enemy’s attention from the 63 Army. If the 3 Army succeeded, it was proposed to introduce the 3 Guards Tank Army in the offensive zone of the Gorbatov Army. The idea was supported, and the plan of Commander Gorbatov was approved.
Alexander Vasilyevich Gorbatov (1891 — 1973).
As a result, the 63 and 3 armies advanced from the east on the Orel direction. The shock grouping of the army of Gorbatov included 3 rifle divisions and 2 tank regiment. One division was to force the river Zushu, the second — advancing from the bridgehead near the village of Vyazha, the third was in the second echelon. In total, the 3 Army had 6 rifle divisions, its total number reached 85,5 thousand. The rates of attack were set to very high - a breakthrough of the enemy’s defenses on the first day, in three days - planned to advance 34-36 km.
The shock grouping of the 63 Army under the command of Vladimir Kolpakchi included 6 rifle divisions. They were supported by 6 individual tank regiments (162 tank, most - KV and T-34), 5 self-propelled artillery regiments (60 SAU). The strike force was to advance from the Zushe bridgehead. In total, Kolpakchi had 7 rifle divisions in the army, the army numbered more than 67 thousand people. In addition, the 63 Guards Tank Corps under the command of Mikhail Panov planned to enter the breakthrough in the offensive zone of the 1 Army. The army had to go in three days - 42-44 km.
Such high rates of advance of the 3 and 63 armies were planned in connection with the weakening of the German defense on the Oryol ledge due to the operation of the Citadel. The 35 Army Corps under the command of Lothar Rendulich held the defense in this direction. His 4 infantry divisions occupied the front in 140 kilometers. From the north to the south, the front held: 34-I, 56-I, 262-I and 299-I infantry divisions.
The armies of the Bryansk Front delivered the brunt of the 56 and 262 of the German infantry divisions. From the air of the army of the Bryansk front supported 15-I air army, which numbered about 1 thousand combat aircraft. July 11 troops of the Bryansk Front conducted a strong reconnaissance in force. This fight allowed to reveal the fire system of the German defense, the location of the front edge of the defense. The German command created the impression that the Soviet forces were going over to a decisive offensive, which forced them to withdraw the infantry and fire weapons from the shelters to repel the blow. The 380 Rifle Division captured a German stronghold on the outskirts of Vyazhey, which facilitated the advance of the army the next day.
In the 2 hours of the night of July 12, the artillery of the Bryansk Front — about 4 thousand guns — began a strong artillery preparation. Soon, the Soviet positions also struck the German positions. In 5.30, Soviet infantry forced Zushu under cover of artillery fire. The shock group of the army of Gorbatov advanced successfully and in a day advanced by 5-7 kilometers. The offensive of the 63 Army from the bridgehead went worse. The Germans created a dense defense system on the heights opposite the beachhead and, despite the support of a significant amount of artillery and armored vehicles, Kolpakchi’s army stalled. Therefore, in the evening of July 12 of the commander, Popov ordered the introduction of the 1 Guards Tank Corps into the breakthrough in the offensive zone of the 3 Army.
On the same day, the commander of the Army Group Center Hans von Kluge ordered the transfer to the 2nd Panzer Army — the 12th 18th, 20th Panzer and 36th Infantry Divisions, as well as heavy artillery and assault guns. He planned to quickly stabilize the situation by introducing reserves into the battle. The 35th Corps of Rendulich was sent to the aid of the 36th Infantry Division. In the eastern part of the Oryol ledge also involved planes of the 6th air fleet.
The Luftwaffe played a crucial role in the events of the next day. 1-th Guards Tank Corps in the early morning of July 13 crossed Zushu and concentrated behind the infantry units. Entering into battle this mobile connection could lead to the collapse of the German defense in this direction. But in the area of concentration the Soviet tank units were heavily attacked by German aviation. The hull was hit hard by air strikes, especially its automotive vehicles. Only in the middle of the day the 1-th Guards Tank Corps were put in relative order and put into battle. The Germans were able to prevent the collapse of their defense in this direction, instead of a breakthrough in depth, tank brigades of the corps were slowly moving under air strikes. Soviet aviation tried to cover the hull from the air, but failed. The Germans won in tactics. The German 6 air fleet used large groups of several dozen airplanes. German fighters were tied up by Soviet patrols from 8-16 vehicles, while the Junkers attacked the ground forces. Soviet reinforcements usually did not have time to place air combat. Due to the actions of German fighters suffered heavy losses and Soviet bombers. 13 July 1943 of the year 15-I Air Army lost 94 machines.
It is clear that the Luftwaffe do not pray to completely stop the Soviet offensive, but the German pilots shot down the pace of the Red Army movement, winning time for pulling up reserves. So the 35 Army Corps was reinforced by two brigades of assault guns (30 vehicles) and a company of Ferdinands (8 vehicles). His anti-tank capabilities were seriously strengthened. During the fierce battle, Rendulich's corps was able to keep the line of defense. The shock group of the army Gorbatov suffered heavy losses. 1-th Guards Tank Corps tried to enter the battle in the band 63-th army, but it did not bring success.
Division of tank destroyers and assault guns at rest. Marder II and StnG40 Ausf F / 8 are in the picture.
In order to restore the shock potential of the 3 army, the 25 rifle corps, consisting of two rifle divisions, was transferred to it. The 1 Guards Tank Corps regrouped again. Entering the battle of fresh forces allowed the Bryansk Front to advance a few more kilometers. But on July 16, the 35 Army Corps received the 2 and 8 tank divisions deployed from the 9 army. Therefore, the Soviet troops could not achieve decisive success.
Under these conditions, it was decided to bring into battle the most powerful reserve of the Headquarters - 3-th Guards Tank Army Rybalko. July 14 Supreme Command transferred the army to the Bryansk Front. Army Rybalko was supposed to crush the German defense on the outskirts of Orel. The tank army was brought into battle in the offensive zone of the 3 Army. The 3-I Guards Tank Army was a fresh, well-equipped compound. It consisted of 12, 15 tank corps, 91-I separate tank brigade. By 10 June 1943, the army was fully equipped with tanks according to the state - 228 tanks T-34 and 147 - T-70. 16 - 17 July 1943 was added to the army 2 th mechanized corps, which further increased the strike power of the army. The number of tanks in the army increased to 18 July to 681 (461 - T-34, 220 - T-70), SAU - 32 vehicles (SU-122). The potential of the army increased a significant number of guns, including 85-mm anti-aircraft guns. However, there was a serious shortage of road transport - on July 15, in the road transport battalions of the Guards Tank Army there was only 46% of the necessary transport. Motorized riflemen were forced to walk. Army Rybalko set an ambitious task - to advance in the direction of the Bortoe, Stanovoi, Stanovoi Kolodez, Kromy, and in cooperation with the troops of the Central Front to destroy enemy forces.
On the morning of July 19 on the 1943, the 3 and 63 Army offensive resumed, after the artillery preparation. The 25 th Rifle Corps advanced 3-4 km, expanding the breakthrough to the flanks. German troops pushed aside from the line of the Oleshnya River, which made it possible to bring tank units into battle. Delving into the enemy defenses, the 12 and 15 tank corps turned southeast, they had to break through south of Orel, to the rear of the German army 9. However, a quick breakthrough to the rear of the Germans did not happen. The Germans were only pushed away from the river, their defensive orders did not collapse. Tank units began to crack the German defense, suffering heavy losses. Nevertheless, the attack of the 3 Guards Tank Army was an unpleasant surprise for the German command. The left wing of the 35 Army Corps near Mtsensk was threatened. Therefore, the German command decided to withdraw the troops to the Oka line, to the closest approaches to Orel.
This situation forced the Soviet command to take immediate response to seize the Oka crossing. The consolidation of the German troops at this turn seriously complicated the further offensive. The decision was made at the rate of the Supreme Command, the army Rybalko deployed and thrown to the Oka. The task of the 3 Guards Tank Army was facilitated by the fact that the 3 Mechanic Corps had not yet been brought into battle and it was easily deployed to the river. The 15 tank corps also moved in the same direction. Tankers on the road defeated several German columns departing and seized a bridgehead on the western bank of the Oka. Soon, Alexander Gorbatov’s army units came to the river.
Soviet self-propelled guns on the SU-76 in the offensive north of Kursk.
In the evening of July 20, Rybalko’s army received an order from the headquarters of the Bryansk Front to transfer its actions southwards, to the offensive zone of the 63 Army. 3-I Guards Tank Army was again to attack the Stanovy Kolodez. At this time, the German command concentrated large forces in order to throw the Soviet troops from bridgeheads in the Oka. The first German attacks beat off more parts of Rybalko’s army. After her departure, the position of the 3 Army was seriously complicated. Permanent shelling, airstrikes and constant attacks of infantry and tanks led to heavy losses. Soviet troops stood to death, but in the end, by order of the command, they were forced to withdraw to the east bank of the Oka.
At this time, the German command redeployed new reinforcements to the Orel area - the 12-th tank division and the 78-th assault division. German troops suffered heavy losses, but kept back the blows of the Soviet tank units. After several unsuccessful attempts to break through the German defense, the 3-th Guards Tank Army and the 1-th Guards Tank Corps were taken to the rear.
The battle for the Eagle was continued by the forces of the 3 and 63 armies. In the morning of July 25, under the cover of artillery fire and air strikes, part of the right flank of the 3 Army forced the Oka, after a while the sappers made crossings along which tanks and ACS began to redeploy. The Soviet offensive on the Eagle and the crisis situation in other areas forced the German command 26 of July to order the withdrawal of troops from the Oryol salient. 1 August 1943, the advanced units of the 3 Army discovered the enemy’s withdrawal to the west. Army General Brokeback began pursuing the enemy.
It cannot be said that the advancement of the Soviet troops from that moment was easy. German troops put up stubborn resistance at intermediate lines to allow the evacuation of hospitals and warehouses from Orel and destroy the infrastructure of the city. In addition, 3-I army was drained of blood, the number of divisions advancing in the first echelon dropped to 3,3-3,6 thousand people. However, the loss of a strong Oka line of defense did not allow the Germans to create a system of sustainable defense, and they continued to retreat. On August 3, parts of the 35 Army Corps in the Orel region were covered by a half ring. In order to save the city from total destruction, a special group was formed from the tank units of the 3 Army for the liberation of the city. By 16.00 4 August Soviet troops liberated the eastern part of the city. By the morning of August 5, the Eagle was completely freed from the Nazis. The release of the Eagle and Belgorod was marked by 12 salvoes from 120 guns.
Residents of the liberated city of Orel and Soviet soldiers at the entrance to the cinema before the showing of the documentary film "Battle of Orel". 1943
Bryansk Front from 10 July to 12 August 1943 lost more than 81 thousand people (more than 22 thousand people - irretrievable losses). Front lost to 40% of its composition. The 3-I army of General Gorbaty suffered the highest losses - over 38 thousand people. Such high losses were caused by the powerful German defense system in the area of Orlovsky ledge, created during a long pause in the fighting. The German defense system in the Orel region was one of the most advanced in the entire Great Patriotic War. It is also necessary to note the quick reaction of the German command, which dismantled the assault grouping advancing in the defense zone of the Central Front, and transferred reserve divisions to the Orel region.
The population of the city of Orla welcomes its liberators. 5 August 1943
To be continued ...