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Most of the popular accounts of the Russo-German War emphasize that Operation `Citadel' (5-17 July, 1943) represented the swan song of German offensive operations on the Eastern Front. Due to the heavy losses of men and equipment the Germans were thought to have sustained during this battle, historians, such as Albert Seaton, concluded that, "After Citadel the Axis lost all initiative on the Eastern Front and was never to regain it."1 Later echoing this opinion was John Erickson's famous narrative, wherein the author wrote that after July 1943, "The last offensive and the last victories of the German Army in Russia had come and gone forever."2 Earl Ziemke and Magna Bauer concurred by stressing that the outcome of the battle, "left the Soviet Union in full possession of the initiative."3 Within the broader academic community, this unanimous opinion amongst the leading scholars of the RussoGerman War created the impression that, with its offensive capabilities blunted because of the losses it suffered around Kursk, the Ostheer was irrevocably forced upon the defensive. Lacking the strength to effectively hit back, it was inexorably driven back by the Red Army until forced to capitulate in May 1945.4 While there is no doubt that the fighting around Kursk had negative implications upon Germanys' ultimate strategic situation, on the operational level the German Army remained an extremely aggressive and dangerous opponent until the very end of the war. Indeed, the popular perception of the Eastern Front noted above utterly disregards the dozens of offensives and large-scale counter-attacks conducted by the Germans during the period between the end of `Citadel' and the final surrender. As this study will endeavour to

Albert Seaton, The Russo-German War, 1941-1945. (London: Arthur Baker Ltd., 1971), p. 368. It has now been proven that German losses at Kursk were far less severe than has been previously thought. See Niklas Zetterling & Anders Frankson, Kursk 1943: A Statistical Analysis. (Portland, OR: Frank Cass Pub., 2000). 2 John Erickson, The Road to Berlin: Stalin's War with Germany. (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1983), p. 135. 3 Earl Ziemke & Magna E. Bauer, Moscow to Stalingrad: Decision in the East. (Washington, DC: US Army Centre of Military History, 1987), p. 141. 4 The term Ostheer designates that specific part of the German Army committed to the Eastern Front during the period of 1941-1945. This differentiates it from other elements that fought in Italy, the Balkans, or France.

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reveal, these operations illustrate that the Ostheer retained its offensive potential throughout the remainder of the Russo-German War. In validating this argument, the following will chronologically review and outline the most prominent German offensives and counterattacks that occurred after July 1943, thereby illustrating their frequency. Particular attention will also be given to the strength of the forces involved, the intensity of the combat, and, wherever possible, the impact these operations had upon the Soviet forces and their leadership. Aside from revealing that the German Army retained formidable offensive capabilities long after the fighting at Kursk had concluded, the examination of German offensives and counter-attacks during the latter part of the Russo-German War is significant for a number of reasons. While attaining greatly varied degrees of success or failure that impacted the war at the operational level, these operations invariably inflicted severe losses upon the Red Army at a time when the Soviet Union was facing increasingly dire manpower shortages. This in turn influenced subsequent Soviet planning at both the operational and strategic levels, while simultaneously effecting the doctrinal and structural development of the Red Army itself.5 Finally, many of these operations continue to be ignored amongst even the most recent literature of the Russo-German War.6 Hence any elaboration contributes to the scholarly understanding of the conflict, especially in terms of how its vast number of individual offensives, battles and engagements constitute its larger mosaic. Following close behind the failure of `Citadel' and a series of subsequent Soviet offensives throughout the previous month, the first large-scale German counter-attack

For the most elaborate study detailing the wartime evolution of the Red Army currently available, see David Glantz, Colossus Reborn: The Red Army at War, 1941-1943. (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2005). 6 For example, no mention of the German counter-attacks around Kiev during November to December 1943 can be found in either Evan Mawdsley, Thunder in the East: The Nazi-Soviet War 1941-1945. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005) or Richard Overy, Russia's War: A History of the Soviet War Effort, 1941-1945. (London: Penguin Pub., 1997).

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occurred during the Fourth Battle of Kharkov that began on August 3.7 Attacking Soviet forces, led by the 5th Guards Tank Army and 1st Tank Army, rapidly broke through the German front along the seam of the 4. Panzerarmee and Armee Abtielung `Kempf'. Within days a gap of 35 miles had emerged between these two armies that threatened to collapse the entire southern portion of the German front in Russia. As Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, the commander of Heeresgruppe Sud, later wrote in his memoirs, "The enemy seemed free to drive through to Poltava and onwards to the Dneiper."8 Ordered by Hitler to maintain his position because of the importance of the industrial and mineral resources located in the Donets region, Manstein responded by concentrating a number of armoured divisions to close the gap.9 While these formations had been worn down during the heavy fighting that had occurred during July, they nonetheless retained a sizeable portion of their armoured strength. As Figure 1 indicates, the five divisions earmarked to restore the situation possessed an estimated 289 operational panzers and assault guns. They also brought with them 384 armoured vehicles that were not operational. Given the proficiency of German maintenance personnel and the fact that most of these machines were in short-term (under two weeks) repair, these damaged vehicles were an invaluable reservoir with which the panzer divisions maintained their armoured strength.10 Equipped with a total of 673 armoured vehicles, on August 11 these divisions began a series of counter-attacks against the Soviet armoured spearheads that closed the gap by August 20.

For the best operational account of this battle, see George M. Nipe, Decision in the Ukraine, Summer 1943: II SS and III Panzer Corps. (Winnipeg: J.J. Fedorowicz, 1996). For the context of this battle within overall the Soviet strategy, see David Glantz & Jonathan M. House, When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1998). 8 Erich von Manstein, Lost Victories. (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1982), p. 454 9 For Hitler's economic reasons for continuing to hold southern Russia, see Seaton, p. 379. 10 From October 1, 1943 to January 31, 1944, German field maintenance units repaired and returned to action no fewer than 8,702 panzers and assault guns on all fronts. Zetterling & Frankson, p. 135.

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In the process, they halted the Soviet westward advance and re-created a continuous German front. Figure 1: Estimated Strength of German Armoured Reinforcements Committed to Kharkov Sector.11

Unit12 3. Pz Div. 3. SS-PGD 2. SS-PGD PGD `GD'14 5. SS-PGD15 Totals Panzers Operational In Repair13 34 54 58 110 56 126 53 46 33 ? 234 338 Assault Guns Operational In Repair 18 16 16 16 21 14 ? ? 55 46 Total Operational In Repair 34 54 76 126 72 142 74 60 33 ? 289 384

Overall, these counter-attacks temporarily prevented the wholesale collapse of the German position in southern Russia. Indeed, another month of extremely heavy fighting was required before the Germans were finally compelled to withdraw to the west bank of the Dneiper River. In the process, the five Soviet Fronts engaged in this sector were forced to endure an additional 701,474 casualties and lost 2,026 tanks, 1,730 guns and mortars, and 596 aircraft.16 Of greater immediacy was the fact that these counter-attacks had savagely mauled the two tank armies that had spearheaded the Soviet offensive. From initial strengths of 542 tanks and self-propelled guns apiece, by August 18 the 1st Tank Army was reduced to 120 vehicles, while on August 24 the 5th Guards Tank Army possessed a mere 111 operational tanks.17 The 5th Guards would soldier on during the subsequent advance to the

Unless otherwise noted, these strength figures are taken from 6. AOK, Ia. Zustandsberichte. Wochenmeldungen uber Panzer und Sturmgeschutz Lage. NARA, T312, Roll 1483, Frame 441. The figures themselves relate to the armoured strength of the indicated divisions for August 1, 1943. 12 The abbreviations listed henceforth within the provided figures are: Pz Div--Panzer Division; SS-Pz Div-- SS-Panzer Division; PGD--Panzergrenadier Division; SS-PGD--SS-Panzergrenadier Division; Kav Div-- Kavallerie Division; Inf Div--Infanterie Division. 13 This indicates the total number of vehicles in both long and short-term repair. Those in short-term repair were usually operational again within two weeks. 14 The figures given for this division are for August 1, 1944. Zetterling & Frankson, p. 218. 15 This division may have possessed 33 operational panzers on August 11. Nipe, p. 217. 16 These totals represent the combined Soviet losses during the subsequent Chernigov-Poltava Strategic Offensive Operation (August 26-September 30) and the Donbas Strategic Offensive Operation (August 13September 22). G.F. Krivosheev, Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the 20th Century. (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1997), pp. 135-137 & 267. 17 Glantz, Colossus Reborn, p. 277.

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Dneiper, but its debilitated condition prevented it from posing a serious threat to the withdrawing Germans.18 The situation was even worse for the 1st Tank Army, which had to be withdrawn into STAVKA (Soviet Supreme High Command) reserve for an extensive refit. It would not be recommitted to active operations until mid-November, when it was deployed to the Kiev region.19 Admittedly, the city of Kharkov was recaptured by the Soviets on August 23, and the German counter-attacks, despite their persistent fury, were unable to restore the front to its original position. While staving off a greater disaster, inflicting heavy losses upon the Red Army, and depriving the Soviets of the services of most of their larger armoured formations, these counter-attacks could do little to redress Germanys' worsening strategic situation along the entire Eastern Front. Attempting to contain dozens of Soviet attacks and offensives across the breadth of the front, the Ostheer was stretched to the breaking point. On September 15, Hitler grudgingly acceded to the demands of his field commanders that they be allowed to withdraw behind the Dneiper River and establish their forces within the Ostwall (`Eastern Wall') position, a line of fortifications roughly following the river that had been under construction since mid-August.20 In finally agreeing to the withdrawal, Hitler demanded that the Ostwall line be held at all costs, since it was the last position Germany could hold and still retain possession of the vital iron, nickel and manganese producing centres of Krivoi Rog and Nikopol.21 He also believed that the

18 During the pursuit, its remaining armour was distributed amongst three forward detachments while the bulk of its units were placed in reserve for rebuilding. Glantz & House, p. 172. For the Soviet inability to interfere with the German withdrawal, see Manstein, p. 469. 19 For similar reasons, the 2nd and 4th Tank Armies, together with a large number of individual corps, were also withdrawn into STAVKA reserve. Erickson, p. 122. 20 It attained a far greater degree of completion in its northern and central sectors, where the slower retreat of the corresponding army groups provided more time for its construction. Its southern portion was still in a very advanced stage of development by the time German forces withdrew behind the Dneiper River in late September. Mawdsley, p. 273. 21 Manstein, p. 482 and Seaton, p. 379

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combined natural and man-made strength of the line would afford the Ostheer the chance to regain its strength while it simultaneously defended the agricultural regions of the western Ukraine. From behind this position, the hard, battle-tested veterans of the Ostheer would permanently stop the Red Army's westward advance.22

Map One: German Counterstrokes on the Eastern Front, August 1943-June 1944.

1. Counter-attacks around Kharkov, August 1943. 2. Attack on Soviet bridgehead at Chernobyl, October 3-8, 1943. 3. Krivoi Rog Counterstroke, October 28-November 3, 1943. 4. Counter-attacks against Soviet bridgehead around Kiev, November-December 1943. 5. Counter-attacks around Kirovograd, December 1943. 6. Operation `Vatutin', January 24-29, 1944. 7. Korsun Relief Operation, February 1944. 8. German Relief of 1. Panzerarmee, April 1944. 9. Operations `Sonja' & `Katja', May 30-June 1944.

It is within this context that the Germans staged their next series of counter-attacks, the first of which were directed against the Soviet 13th and 60th Armies which had managed to establish bridgeheads over the Dneiper River in the Chernobyl region. As historian David Glantz has noted, once these bridgeheads merged together, they represented a "40 kilometre

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Erickson, p. 134

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wide and 40 kilometre deep dagger aimed at the vital junction between German Army Groups Centre and South."23 Recognising that this bridgehead threatened the strategic integrity of their Ostwall defences, both German army groups co-operated in launching a large-scale counter-attack. Starting on October 3, the LVI. Panzer Korps with four panzer divisions began attacking the northern portion of the Soviet bridgehead, while the LIX. Armee Korps with two panzer and three infantry divisions simultaneously struck the southern sector.24 When the fighting subsided on October 14, this counter-attack had recaptured the city of Chernobyl, inflicted heavy casualties upon the Soviets, and had pushed back and splintered the Soviet bridgehead into a number of smaller lodgements.25 As a result, this sector of the front remained quiet and stable for the next month. Further south along the Dneiper River, the Soviet Steppe Front attacked out its bridgehead at Mishurin Rog on October 15. Within days, German defences along the seam of the 8. Armee and 1. Panzerarmee had been shattered and the exploiting 5th Guards Tank Army was driving southwards towards the city of Krivoi Rog. This Soviet advance not only jeopardised both the economic objectives laid down by Hitler and the viability of the Ostwall position as a whole, but it also threatened to isolate and destroy the right wing of the 1. Panzerarmee within the confines of the Dneiper bend.

David Glantz, Forgotten Battles of the German-Soviet War, 1941-1945: Volume Five-The Summer-Fall Campaign, 1 July-31 December 1943. Part Two. (Carlisle, PA: Self-published, 2000), p. 582. 24 The LVI. Panzer Korps consisted of the 2., 4., 5. & 12. Panzer Divisions, while the LIX. Armee Korps contained the 7. & 8. Panzer Divisions and 291., 217. & 339. Infanterie Divisions. Ibid, pp. 590 & 594. Overall German armoured strength is unknown, but on October 1 the 4. Panzer Division possessed 9 operational panzers and a further 41 in short-term repair. Joachim Neumann, Die 4. Panzer Division 1943-1945: Bericht und Betrachtung zu den zwei letzten Kriegsjahren im Osten. (Bonn: Selbstverlag der Verfassers, 1989), p. 188. One history of the 5. Panzer Division notes that it had 10 panzers operational on October 2. Anton von Plato, Die Geschichte der 5. Panzer Division, 1938 bis 1945. (Regensburg: Verlag Georg Zwickenpflug, 1978), p. 302. On September 30, the 7. Panzer Division reported that 18 of its 56 panzers were operational, while the 8. Panzer Division reported that none of the 77 panzers it possessed were operational. 4. PzAOK. Ia. Zustandsberichte. Wochenmeldungen uber Panzer und Sturmgeschutz Lage. NARA T313, Roll 391, Frames 8681807-8681815. 25 For the best description of this fighting, see Glantz, Forgotten Battles of the German-Soviet War, Vol. Five, Part Two, pp. 574-603.

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Fortunately for the Germans, a number of divisions were in the process of arriving from Western Europe. By late October, Manstein concentrated the newly arrived 14. and 24. Panzer Divisions, together with the 3. SS-Panzer Division, into the XL. Panzer Korps and ordered it to attack the western flank of the Soviet penetration and secure the area around Krivoi Rog. Together with the advanced elements of three newly arrived infantry divisions, the XL Panzer Korps launched its attack on October 28. With an armoured strength amounting to at least 254 panzers and assault guns, the Germans smashed into the Soviet flank.26 The Luftwaffe assisted the effort by flying up to 1,200 sorties per day in the region.27 Against this onslaught, the weakened tank and mechanised corps leading the Soviet advance were driven back to the Ingulets River and forced to withdraw to a position 20 kilometres north of Krivoi Rog.28 According to Manstein, the Russians sustained "a severe setback", and lost 10,000 killed, 5,000 prisoners, and 350 tanks by the time the counterstroke was brought to an end on November 3.29 Although the Soviets retained an enlarged bridgehead on the right bank of the Dneiper, the immediate danger to the German front in this sector was abated. This allowed Manstein to contemplate two possible offensive actions of his own. Starting on October 28, the Soviet Fourth Ukrainian Front had broken through the front of the 6. Armee between the Dneiper bend and the Sea of Azov. By early November the German forces in this sector

The 14. and 24. Panzer Divisions arrived with, respectively, 109 and 116 panzers and assault guns. Thomas L. Jentz, Panzertruppen: The Complete Guide to the Creation and Combat Employment of Germany's Tank Force, Volume Two, 1943-1945. (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 1996), p. 109. On October 30 the 3. SS-Panzer Division possessed 29 operational panzers. Wolfgang Vopersal, Soldaten, Kampfer, Kameraden: Marsch und Kampfe der SSTotenkopf Division, Band IVa & IVb. (Bielefeld: Im Selbstverlag der Truppenkameradschaft der 3. SS-Panzer Division, 1988), p. 53. 27 E.R. Hooten, Eagle in Flames: The Fall of the Luftwaffe. (London: Arms & Armour Press, 1997), p. 198. 28 Although having an authorised armoured strength of 223 machines, the 18th Tank Corps of the Soviet 5th Guards Tank Army possessed a mere 23 tanks on October 28. Likewise, on October 23, the 1st Guards Mechanised Corps of the 7th Guards Army retained 75 of its authorised 229 tanks and self-propelled guns. Glantz, Colossus Reborn, p. 278. 29 Manstein, p. 483.

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were being forced back to the Dneiper River, and the Soviet advance threatened to isolate the 17. Armee stationed in the Crimea. Utilising an additional three panzer divisions scheduled to arrive, Manstein proposed to OKH (High Command of the German Army) that these be concentrated together with the 14. & 24. Panzer Divisions of the XL. Panzer Korps and used to strike the northern flank of the advancing Fourth Ukrainian Front.30 As an alternative, he also suggested using these divisions to destroy the enlarged Soviet bridgehead north of Krivoi Rog.31 Had either of these operations actually occurred, it is probable that a serious defeat would have been inflicted upon the Red Army, as the strength of the five armoured divisions involved totalled approximately 783 panzers and assault guns.32 Any such victory would have significantly improved Germanys' strategic situation along the southern portion of front held by Heeresgruppe Sud, as the Germans could have stabilised their defences in the region and since the opposing Soviet forces would have required a considerable period of time to refit before launching any new attacks. The intervening period would also have allowed the Germans to rest and replenish their own formations. Despite the possibilities they offered, neither of these German offensives developed beyond the planning stage. On November 3, the Soviet First Ukrainian Front commanded by General Nikolai Vatutin broke out its bridgeheads north of Kiev and by November 6 had captured the city. Despite offering fierce resistance, the defending 4. Panzerarmee was gradually forced to give ground. Within a week Soviet armoured forces advanced 40 miles to the south and 90 miles to the east, capturing the vital communication centres of Fastov, Korosten and Zhitomir in the process.33 Exploiting its success, the STAVKA began moving

Ibid, p. 484. Ibid, pp. 484-485. 32 Jentz, p. 117. 33 Mawdsley, p. 278, and Manstein, p. 488.

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in four additional armies and numerous tank and mechanised corps.34 The entire northern flank of Heeresgruppe Sud seemed on the verge of collapse, a calamity that would have forced it to abandon its lines along the Dneiper and begin a withdrawal to the southwest. In turn, this would have created a massive gap between the central and southern portions of the German front in Russia. To counter such an event, the Germans gathered the largest concentration of armoured forces since the fighting at Kursk. This included the three newly arrived panzer divisions Manstein had intended to use in the Dneiper bend, and two panzer, one panzergrenadier and two infantry divisions shifted over from other sections of the front.35 As Figure 2 indicates, by November 20 these additions had raised the armoured strength of the 4. Panzerarmee to a total of 938 panzers and assault guns, of which 360 were operational. After some debate, the German field commanders decided to focus their efforts upon finding the open Soviet flank that existed between Zhitomir and Korosten. Rather than direct their attacks into the teeth of the Russian defences, the German panzer divisions would rely upon manoeuvre to encircle and destroy their opponents in detail.36 Having reestablished a continuous front, and with large portions of the Soviet forces having been destroyed or at least badly mauled, the Germans then anticipated that they would be able to entirely clear the Russians from their Kiev bridgehead.37

34 According to Erickson, by early December the First Ukrainian Front amounted to 452,000 men, 1,100 tanks, and 6,000 guns and mortars, comprising a total of 66 rifle divisions and 8 tank or mechanised corps. Erickson, p. 143. 35 The three fresh divisions were the 1. SS-Panzer Division, and the 1. and 25. Panzer Divisions. The others were the 2. SS and 19. Panzer Divisions, the 16. Panzergrenadier Division, and the 68 and 168. Infanterie Divisions. 36 Ziemke & Bauer, p. 187, Manstein, pp. 488-489, & Erickson, p. 143. 37 For elaboration regarding the decisions made by German field commanders during the fighting around Kiev, see F.W. von Mellenthin, Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armour in the Second World War. (London: Cassel & Coy. Ltd., 1955), pp. 244-260.

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Figure 2: German Armoured Strength during the Kiev Counterstroke November 20, 1943.38

Unit Available 1. SS-Pz Div. 218 2. SS-Pz Div. 144 1. Pz Div. 196 7. Pz Div. 33 8. Pz Div. 78 19. Pz Div. 30 25. Pz Div. 75 Independent Units 38 Totals 812 Panzers Operational 58 41 122 17 8 10 26 16 298 Assault Guns Available Operational 50 35 23 8 10 4 43 15 126 62 Available 268 167 196 33 78 30 85 81 938 Total Operational 93 49 122 17 8 10 30 31 360

German operations around Kiev began on November 12, when advanced elements of the arriving panzer divisions fought to clear their assembly areas and in the process destroyed the leading brigades of the Soviet 3rd Tank Army.39 Three days later the main attacks began, led by the 1. Panzer and 1. SS-Panzer Divisions of the XLVIII. Panzer Korps, and well-supported by the Luftwaffe.40 The Soviet front reeled under the repeated assaults of the panzer divisions, and Zhitomir was recaptured on November 19, followed by Korosten on November 24. Alarmed at the success of the German counterstroke, the STAVKA accelerated the movement of reinforcements to the area.41 After the recapture of Korosten, the panzer divisions were forced to suspend their operations because mud and atrocious weather conditions made movement impossible, but on December 6 the ground had frozen sufficiently for the XLVIII. Panzer Korps to resume its attacks.42 However, by this point the German formations involved had sustained heavy personnel casualties and the Soviets

Compilation of weekly armoured status reports. 4. PzAOK. Ia. Zustandsberichte. Wochenmeldungen uber Panzer und Sturmgeschutz Lage. NARA T313, Roll 391, Frames 8681807-8681815 39 Glantz & Frankson, p. 174. 40 Mellenthin, p. 255. As well, see Hooten, p. 198. 41 For example, the 1st Guards Tank Army, which had been in STAKA reserve since its mauling in August, was deployed to the Kiev region by early December and arrived with 546 tanks and self-propelled guns. Glantz, Colossus Reborn, p. 280. According to his memoirs, General Konstantin Rokossovsky, the commander of the neighbouring Byelorussian Front, was ordered by STAVKA to visit Vatutin's headquarters and investigate why the First Ukrainian Front had been unable to hold off the German attacks. STAVKA's intention appears to have been that it was considering relieving Vatutin of his command for his failure to repel the German counterattacks. Konstantin Rokossovsky, A Soldier's Duty. (Moscow: Progress Pub., 1970), pp. 226-228. Also mentioned in Mawdsley, p. 278. 42 Manstein, p. 489, Ziemke & Bauer, p. 189, and Mellenthin, p. 251.

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offered increasingly fierce resistance as their reinforcements continued to arrive.43 As a result, any possibility the Germans may have entertained regarding the complete elimination of the Soviet bridgehead evaporated. While additional Soviet units were mauled in the process, the German counter-attacks were finally brought to a halt on December 22. Although the German counterstroke ultimately proved incapable of destroying the Soviet bridgehead, approximately half of the territory taken by the Red Army in its initial offensive was recaptured during the German counter-attacks.44 By reclaiming Korosten and Zhitomir, direct land communications between the central and southern portions of the German front in Russia were restored. During the course of operations, the formations of the Soviet 38th Army and elements of the 1st Guards and 60th Armies were badly damaged. According to Manstein, Soviet losses amounted to 20,000 dead and 5,000 captured, while 600 tanks, 300 artillery pieces, and over 1,200 anti-tank guns were destroyed or captured.45 These figures appear to be reasonably accurate, since official Russian estimates for the Kiev Defensive Operation (November 13-December 22, 1943) cite Soviet personnel losses as being 87,473, of whom 26,443 were killed or missing.46 While the fighting around Kiev raged on during December, additional German counter-attacks occurred elsewhere along the front. Following its setback around Krivoi Rog, the Soviet Second Ukrainian Front (formerly the Steppe Front) began attacking westward along the Dneiper River. By early December it had broken through the German front to the northeast and southeast of the important communications centre of Kirovograd. The latter breech was dealt with by a counter-attack conducted by the 13. Panzer Division and

From November 2 to December 1, the 1. Panzer Division sustained 1,202 casualties. XXIV. Panzer Korps. Ia, Anlagen z. KTB. NARA T314, Roll 726, Frame 1177. During November the 1. SS-Panzer Division endured 1,685 casualties. Rudolf Lehmann, Die Leibstandarte, Band III. (Osnabruck: Munin Verlag GMBH, 1982), p. 344. 44 Mawdsley, p. 278. 45 Manstein, p. 489. 46 Quoted in Glantz & House, p. 298.

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the newly arrived 2. Fallschirm Division. In two days of heavy fighting (December 19-20), these divisions inflicted heavy losses upon the 1st Mechanised Corps and a number of rifle divisions, recaptured the town of Novgorodka, and restored the integrity of the German front connecting the 8. Armee and 1. Panzerarmee.47 On December 26, three panzer divisions launched a counter-attack to seal off the penetration northeast of Kirovograd. Weakened Soviet units attempted to halt these attacks, but in the process the 10th Guards Mechanised Brigade and most of the 252nd Rifle Division were surrounded. By December 29, the Germans had eliminated the penetration and destroyed the encircled Soviet units.48 These engagements sapped the remaining offensive potential of the mobile formations belonging to the 2nd Ukrainian Front, forcing it to temporarily suspend its offensive operations.49 At the same time these battles were occurring, Heeresgruppe Mitte staged a major counter-attack of its own along the central portion of the Eastern Front. Codenamed Operation `Nikolaus', the objective of this attack was to seal a yawning gap that had existed between the 2. Armee and 9. Armee since early November. While the subsequent efforts of the Soviet Byelorussian Front had failed to either widen or exploit the breech, the possibility that the Soviets might isolate the 2. Armee in the vast Pripyat Marshes and go on to capture the vital communication link of Bobriusk was a danger that could not be ignored for long.50 Beginning on December 20, the XLI. Panzer Korps attacked the northern flank of the penetration with two infantry divisions and the fresh 16. Panzer Division.51 The following day, the 2. Armee struck the southern flank of the gap with the 4. Panzer Division and quickly

47 No mention of these actions can be found in either Erickson or Seaton. For one of the few accounts of this fighting, see Glantz, Forgotten Battles of the German-Soviet War, Volume Five, Part Two, pp. 742-750. 48 Ibid, pp. 760-768. 49 The 29th Tank Corps had already been reduced to 22 tanks by December 8, while on December 15 the 5th Guards Mechanised Corps possessed a mere 23 tanks. Glantz, Colossus Reborn, p. 280. 50 Ziemke, pp. 194-195. 51 When it arrived in Russia, the 16. Panzer Division possessed a total of 110 panzers and 42 assault guns. Jentz, p. 117.

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succeeded in linking up with the units advancing from the north.52 Caught between these German attacks were three Soviet rifle divisions and a rifle brigade. In spite of desperate Soviet efforts, the gap remained closed and the entrapped units were effectively destroyed or forced to exfiltrate back to their own lines by December 27.53 Though only lasting a week, Operation `Nikolaus' resulted in the restoration of a solid front linking the two German armies, and thereby effectively halted Soviet efforts to advance into southern Byelorussia until mid-1944. Although the German counter-attacks staged throughout the end of 1943 frustrated Soviet hopes that their operations would attain greater operational and strategic results, the STAVKA was determined to give the Germans no respite. Having finally halted the German counter-attacks in the Kiev region, Vatutin's First Ukrainian Front launched a new offensive on December 24. Supported by three infantry armies, the 1st and 3rd Guards Tank Armies pushed 20 miles into the German operational rear by the end of the first day.54 In the following days, additional Soviet armies along the flanks joined the attack and the entire German front containing the Kiev bridgehead began to collapse. On December 29, Korosten was again captured by the Russians, followed by Zhitomir on December 31. By the end of the first week of January, the First Ukrainian Front had advanced 50 miles along a 150 mile front.55 Although determined German resistance and local counter-attacks took a heavy toll of Soviet armour, the front of the 4. Panzerarmee had been split into isolated segments.56 Between them, the Soviets had an almost open road to the southwest and the

On December 19, the 4. Panzer Division had 39 operational panzers. An additional 5 panzers and 15 Hornets (heavy self-propelled anti-tank guns) belonging to other units were also attached. Neumann, p. 270. 53 For a detailed account of this fighting, see Glantz, Forgotten Battles of the German-Soviet War, Volume Five, Part Two, pp. 545-561. 54 Seaton, p. 413. 55 Erickson, p. 163 and Manstein, p. 500. 56 The 3rd Guards Tank Army started the offensive equipped with 419 tanks and self-propelled guns, but by January 8 had been reduced to 85. Glantz, Colossus Reborn, p. 280.

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deep rear area of Heeresgruppe Sud. The threat to the entire German front was so grave that Manstein would later emphasize in his memoirs that, "the next few weeks would decide whether or not the southern wing of the German armies in the east would be cut off and forced away to the southwest."57 Alarmed at this prospect, Manstein and OKH undertook energetic measures to redress the situation. The headquarters of the 1. Panzerarmee, together with two panzer divisions, was removed from the Dneiper bend and given control of all the German forces along the eastern side of the breech. At the opposite side of the gap, the 4. Panzerarmee concentrated the XLVIII. Panzer Korps (which still contained the 1. Panzer and 1. SS-Panzer Divisions) and was reinforced by one panzer and five infantry divisions OKH had withdrawn from other sectors of the Eastern Front. By late January, a total of five panzer and five infantry divisions had been marshalled for the projected counterstroke, codenamed Operation `Vatutin'.58 While the exact armoured strength of the forces committed to Operation `Vatutin' is unavailable, an idea of its dimensions is illustrated by Figure 3. The figures given represent a minimal estimate, since the 17. Panzer Division, for which no information was available, is not listed. Nor are the number of Tiger tanks that were assigned to Panzerkampfgruppe `Bade' indicated.59 In addition, the number of operational panzers and assault guns was in all probability considerably greater, since the majority of the vehicles with the 16. Panzer Division would have been in working order.60 Given these considerations, it would be reasonably safe

Manstein, p. 498. These were the 1. SS, 1., 6., 16. and 17. Panzer Divisions, 4. Gebirgs Division, 101. Jager Division, and 1., 96. and 254. Infanterie Divisions. The composite battlegroup Panzerkampfgruppe `Bake' also participated in the attack. This latter unit consisted of the II./23. Panzer Regiment (equipped with Pz V's) and the 503. Schwere Panzer Abtielung (equipped with Tiger tanks). 59 Note that any other independent units are also excluded. 60 The 16. Panzer Division had only recently arrived after participating in Operation `Nikolaus', during which it does not appear to have sustained heavy losses.

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to assume that the Germans massed approximately 400 armoured vehicles for their counterattack, of which roughly 300 would have been operational. Figure 3: Estimated German Armoured Strength during Operation `Vatutin'.

Unit 1. SS-Pz Div.61 1. Pz Div.62 6. Pz Div.63 16. Pz Div.64 PzKG `Bake'65 Date 21.1.44 1.1.44 2.1.44 10.1.44 23.1.44 Totals Panzers & Assault Guns Available Operational 116 77 60 42 ? 29 196 ? ? 37 372 185

Supported by the guns of the 18. Artillerie Division, Operation `Vatutin' began on January 24.66 While one German corps attacked and pinned down the Soviet forces exploiting the gap, additional corps struck on either side of the penetration. Overextended and weakened from their previous exertions, the Soviet 5th Guards and 40th Armies were forced back 20 miles, while elements of the 1st Guards Tank and 38th Armies were encircled and destroyed.67 Exact Soviet casualties are unknown, but Manstein claimed that they amounted to at least 5,000 killed and 5,500 captured, and that 700 tanks, 200 field guns, and 500 anti-tank guns were also destroyed or captured.68 Whatever the true figures, by the time the counterstroke concluded on January 29, a continuous German front had been re-

Lehmann, p. 408. XXIV. Panzer Korps. Ia, Anlagen z.KTB 1/44, Versheidene Bericht. NARA T314, Roll 731, Frame 727. 63 Wolfgang Paul, Brennpunkte: Die Geschichte der 6. Panzer Division (1. leichte), 1937-1945. (Krefeld: HontgesVerlag, 1977), p. 346. 64 Wolfgang Werthen, Geschichte der 16. Panzer Division 1939-1945. (Bad Nauheim: Verlag Hans-Henning Podzun, 1958), p. 190. 65 Ernst Rebentisch, Zum Kaukasus und zu den Tauren: Die Geschichte der 23. Panzer Division, 1941-1945. (Esslingen: Herausgegeben von Verband ehemaliger Angehoriger der 23. Panzer Division, 1963), p. 361. 66 Composed of a number of heavy artillery units, the 18. Artillerie Division provided 72 artillery pieces for the attack. Wolfgang Paul, Geschichte der 18. Panzer Division 1940-1943, mit Geschichte der 18. Artillerie Division 19431944, anhang Heeresartillerie Brigade 88 1944-1945. (Germany: Preussischer Militar-Verlag, 1989), p. 312. 67 Seaton, p. 416. 68 Manstein, p. 509. Six Soviet rifle divisions may have been destroyed, while five tank corps lost most of their armour. Paul, Geschichte der 18. Panzer Division 1940-1943, p. 315.

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established, and the offensive capability of the First Ukrainian Front had been temporarily spent.69 During the course of the next four months, Heeresgruppe Sud staged a number of counter-attacks as it desperately fought for its survival. In early February, eight panzer divisions organised into two corps attempted to relieve elements of the 8. Armee encircled around the town of Korsun. Although the relief attacks failed and the entrapped formations had to fight their own way out of the pocket, Manstein claims that in the process the Soviets lost 2,000 prisoners, 700 tanks, 600 anti-tank guns, and 150 artillery pieces.70 During March, a massive offensive conducted by the First Ukrainian Front shattered the German lines and encircled the entire 1. Panzerarmee. In response, the II. SS-Panzer Korps and its two SS panzer divisions were hurriedly transferred from France. Together with two newly arrived infantry divisions, the two SS panzer divisions (equipped with 204 panzers and assault guns) began the relief operation on April 4 and within two days had made contact with the 1. Panzerarmee.71 To the south, the 6. Armee and 8. Armee retreated into northern Romania where they managed to bring the Soviet advance to a halt in a series of fierce engagements fought throughout April and early May.72 However, by late May the Germans began to detect signs that the Soviets were concentrating their forces in preparation for an offensive just north of

In addition to the losses it sustained during the German counter-attack, the First Ukrainian Front had already sustained 100,018 casualties during its offensive of December 24, 1943 to January 14, 1944. Glantz & House, p. 298. 70 Manstein, p. 516. Soviet losses throughout the course of the Korsun-Shevchenkosky Offensive (January 24February 17) totalled 80,188 men, of whom 24,286 were killed or missing. Glantz & House, p. 298. 71 Jentz, p. 130. For the most detailed account of this operation, see Michael Reynolds, Sons of the Reich: The History of the II SS Panzer Corps in Normandy, Arnhem, the Ardennes and on the Eastern Front. (Havertown, PA: Casemate, 2002), pp. 4-13. 72 For the foremost accounts detailing the fighting in northern Romania between April and June 1944, see David Glantz, Red Storm over the Balkans: The Failed Soviet Invasion of Romania, Spring 1944. (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1995) and F.M. von Senger und Etterlin, Der Gegenschlag. (Neckargemund: Kurt Vowinckel Verlag, 1959).

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the cities of Targul-Frumos and Iasi. As Romania was Germany's only major source of crude oil, such an offensive posed a direct strategic threat to Germany's capacity to carry on the war. Fearful that their weakened divisions could not withstand yet another large-scale Soviet offensive, the Germans had no way of knowing that the STAVKA had already postponed the operation indefinitely on May 26.73 In order to disrupt preparations for the offensive, the Germans launched two spoiling attacks (codenamed `Sonja' and `Katja') involving four panzer divisions and four German and Romanian infantry divisions.74 During a week of intense fighting (May 30-June 5), a number of Soviet formations sustained heavy casualties and the front was pressed northward between 2 and 5 miles.75 This moderately improved the German tactical situation since it provided their defences north of Targul-Frumos and Iasi, both important communication links, with greater depth. More importantly, after a nightmare retreat across the Ukraine, these attacks allowed the Germans to end the 19431944 campaign with a morale-boosting victory. Yet Germany had little time to savour this small victory. On June 22, the Soviets initiated Operation `Bagration', a massive offensive designed to destroy Heeresgruppe Mitte and liberate all of Byelorussia.76 In twelve days, 25 of the 44 German divisions located in the region had been virtually destroyed and losses ranged between 300-350,000 men.77 The destruction of Heeresgruppe Mitte allowed the Soviets to advance 300 kilometres to the west, and their spearheads soon found themselves within striking distance of the East Prussian

Glantz, Red Storm over the Balkans, p. 365. Ibid, pp. 330-367. On May 31, the panzer divisions involved in these attacks contained 245 panzers and assault guns, of which 140 were operational. Jentz, p. 205. 75 Two of the German armoured divisions alone claimed to have destroyed or captured 98 tanks, 92 artillery pieces, and 88 anti-tank guns. Glantz, Red Storm over the Balkans, p. 366. 76 Four Soviet Fronts, containing 1,254,300 men, 4,070 tanks and self-propelled guns, and 24,363 artillery pieces, participated in this operation. Glantz & House, p. 201. 77 Seaton, p. 442 and Glantz & House, p. 209.

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frontier.78 In the meantime, the three Soviet fronts in the Baltic region began a series of attacks against Heeresgruppe Nord that strained its resources and prevented it from effectively intervening in Byelorussia. On July 13, the First Ukrainian Front joined the chorus of Soviet offensives by attacking the front of Heeresgruppe Nordukraine in Galicia.79 By July 27, it had smashed its way through the German lines and advanced to within 20 kilometres of the Vistula River. To the northeast, the Soviet 2nd Tank Army neared the approaches of Warsaw. As July drew to a close, the entire German front appeared to be on the point of an irretrievable collapse.80 The Germans responded to this perilous situation with their traditional answer to any such crisis--by attacking!81 On July 24, when asked by a subordinate how the situation should be restored, Colonel-General Heinz Guderian, the recently appointed Chief of Staff of German Army, replied "We must take the offensive everywhere!"82 At a military conference held on July 31, Hitler stated that aggressive action had to be taken "to stabilise the front and, possibly, win a battle or two."83 Fortunately for the Germans, the means to act upon these intentions began to materialise during late July, as dozens of divisions transferred

78 For a good selection of studies specifically related to the collapse of Heeresgruppe Mitte and the events of its aftermath, see Paul Adair, Hitler's Greatest Defeat: The Collapse of Army Group Centre, June 1944. (London: Arms & Armour, 1994), Alex Buchner, Ostfront 1944: The German Defensive Battles on the Russian Front, 1944. (West Chester, PA: Schiffer Military History, 1991), and Rolf Hinze, East Front Drama-1944: The Withdrawal Battle of Army Group Center. (Winnipeg: J.J. Fedorowicz Pub., 1996). 79 For the best accounts of this battle, see Rolf Hinze, To the Bitter End: The Final Battles of Army Groups North Ukraine, A, Centre, Eastern Front 1944-1945. (Solihull, UK: Helion & Coy., 2005) and David Glantz & Harold S. Orenstein, ed. L'vov-Sandomierz 1944: The Soviet General Staff Study. (Carlisle, PA: Self-published, 1998). 80 See Samuel Mitcham, Crumbling Empire: The German Defeat in the East, 1944. (Westport, CT: Praeger Pub., 2001) for a concise overview of all of these events. 81 For a detailed explanation of the German theory of war and its historical application, see Robert Citino, The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years War to the Third Reich. (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2005). 82 Ziemke & Bauer, p. 336. Also, see Seaton, p. 452. 83 Ibid, p. 339.

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from Germany and Romania finally began to arrive at the front.84 Together, the aggressive mood of their leaders and the arrival of reinforcements allowed the Germans to stage a series of attacks and counter-attacks throughout August 1944. The first of these occurred to the east of Warsaw, where the advance of the Soviet 2nd Tank Army threatened to outflank the 2. Armee and cut the vital supply lines of three German armies.85 With the intention of cutting off the two northernmost Soviet tank corps and re-establishing a firm front around Warsaw, on July 30 three panzer divisions began attacking the over-extended and weakened 3rd Tank Corps.86 The 4. Panzer Division and 3. SS-Panzer Division joined the attack on August 2. As Figure 4 indicates, the combined armoured strength of the five panzer divisions committed to the counterstroke may have amounted to 700 panzers and assault guns. In the ensuing three days of fierce and often chaotic fighting, the German onslaught encircled and almost completely destroyed the Soviet 3rd Tank Corps and inflicted heavy casualties upon the 8th Guards Tank Corps. By the time operation ended on August 7, the Germans claimed that the Soviets had lost 3,000 killed and 6,000 prisoners.87 Soviet armoured losses were undoubtedly heavy, for when the 2nd Tank Army was withdrawn for rest and refitting on August 11, it retained fewer than 100 of its original 758 tanks and self-propelled guns.88 Even as it blunted the offensive capabilities of the opposing Soviet First Byelorussian Front, the counterstroke also secured important

According to one source, 3 panzer divisions, 7 panzer brigades, and 9 panzer battalions were transferred from Germany during July to September. Jentz, pp. 206-207 & 218. By early August, Heeresgruppe Mitte had received at least 12 new infantry divisions. Mitcham, p. 101. 85 Hinze, East Front Drama, p. 305. 86 The German divisions involved were the 19. Panzer Division, which had just arrived from Germany, the Fallschirm Panzer Division `Herman Goring' transferred from Italy, and the relatively fresh 5. SS-Panzer Division. For the best account of this counterstroke, see David Glantz, "The Red Army's Lublin-Brest Offensive and the Advance on Warsaw (18 July-30 September 1944): An Overview and Documentary Survey." The Journal of Slavic Military Studies, Vol. 19, No. 2 (2006), pp. 401-441. 87 Werner Haupt, Army Group Center: The Wehrmacht in Russia, 1941-1945. (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 1997), p. 209. 88 Glantz, "The Red Army's Lublin-Brest Offensive and the Advance on Warsaw", pp. 407 & 417.

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communication arteries, re-established a firm defensive front, and prevented the Russians from decisively intervening in the Polish uprising in Warsaw, which had begun on August 1. Figure 4: Estimated Available German Armoured Strength during Warsaw Counterstroke July 30 to August 6, 1944.89

Panzers 72 168 105 119 156 620 Assault Guns 31 21 16 12 80 Total 103 168 126 135 168 700

Unit FPD `Herman Goring' 19. Pz Div. 5. SS-Pz Div. 3. SS-Pz Div. 4. Pz Div.90 Totals

While the fighting around Warsaw was underway, Soviet armies seized a number of bridgeheads to the south along the Vistula River. This represented the last significant natural barrier along which the Germans could protect the eastern border of Germany.91 Endeavouring to maintain its viability as a defensive position, the Germans launched a number of ferocious counter-attacks to contain and eliminate the Soviet bridgeheads. During the period of August 4-8, the assaults of the 19. Panzer Division and elements of the Fallschirm Panzer Division `Herman Goring' managed to contain and reduce the bridgehead established around Magnuszew by the Soviet 8th Guards Army, but were unable to destroy it.92 Further south, the Soviet First Ukrainian Front captured a large bridgehead in the vicinity of Sandomierz, into which it deployed two tank and most of two combined-arms armies by August 8. Determined to eliminate this threat, the Germans gradually concentrated seven panzer or panzergrenadier divisions, two infantry divisions, and two infantry brigades.93 Over the period of the next month, the Germans repeatedly struck the bridgehead in a series

Jentz, pp. 206-207. Neuman, p. 434. Of the armoured vehicles with this division, 98 panzers and 12 assault guns were operational on August 1, 1944. 91 "At all costs, the OKW [High Command of the German Armed Forces] wanted to hold the line at the Vistula as a defensible winter position." Hinze, To the Bitter End, p. 22. 92 Hinze, East Front Drama, p. 310-312. 93 No detailed monograph concerning this fighting exists, but the committed German forces can be seen on Map 49 in Glantz & Orenstein.

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of long and costly engagements. Though failing to destroy the lodgement over the Vistula, these attacks contained and reduced the dimensions of the bridgehead, and inflicted heavy casualties upon the defending Soviet forces.94 Even as the fighting in Poland reached a fever pitch, an even greater crisis confronted the Germans in the Baltic region. During late July, the Soviet First Baltic Front exploited the collapse of the German front in Byelorussia by pressing northwest into Lithuanian and Latvia. On July 31, the Soviet spearheads reached the coast just west of Riga, severing German land communications and isolating Heeresgruppe Nord from the rest of the front.95 In order to prevent the complete destruction of this army group, OKH began assembling powerful forces to mount a rescue operation under the command of the 3. Panzerarmee. Codenamed Operation `Doppelkopf' (`Double Head'), two panzer corps composed of six panzer divisions and the equivalent of a sixth would lead the attack from their assembly areas just east of the Prussian frontier, smash the defending Soviet 2nd Guards and 51st Armies, and establish contact with Heeresgruppe Nord around Riga. On their right flank, two addition infantry corps would employ one panzer and seven infantry divisions, together with several independent armoured units, to support and shield the attack.96 During the course of the operation, an additional three infantry divisions and two panzer brigades would arrive as reinforcements.97 As detailed in Figure 5, the Germans

94 According to one German account, the Red Army lost 3,000 prisoners, 650 tanks and self-propelled guns, and 942 artillery pieces during the period of August 3 to September 7. Herausgegeben von Traditionsverband der Division. Geschichte der 3. Panzer Division Berlin-Brandenburg, 1935-1945. (Berlin: Verlag der Buchhandlung Gunther Richter, 1967), p. 442. 95 Glantz & House, p. 226. 96 Gerd Niepold, Panzer Operationen: Doppelkopf und Casar- Kurland, Sommer 1944. (Herford: Mittler & Sohn, 1987), p. 97 These were the 1. Infanterie Division, the newly-formed 548. and 551. Grenadier Divisions, and the 103. and 104. Panzer Brigades. Ibid, p. 66. When they arrived, the two panzer brigades each contained a battalion of 36 Pz V's and 4 Flakpanzers. Jentz, pp. 206-207.

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managed to assemble an impressive 659 panzers and assault guns by the time the operation began on August 16. The reinforcements that arrived significantly increased this number, and when `Doppelkopf' concluded on August 25 the 3. Panzerarmee contained 812 armoured vehicles, of which 517 were still operational.98 Figure 5: German Armoured Strength at the Outset of Operation `Doppelkopf' August 16, 1944.99

Assault Guns Operational In Repair 36 2 20 4 11 5 41 69 182 6

Panzers Unit Operational In Repair100 4. Panzer Div. 47 54 5. Panzer Div. 38 24 12. Panzer Div. 28 PzGren. Div. `GD' 77 22 14. Panzer Div. 11 7. Panzer Div. 24 20 PzKG Strachwitz 85 IX. Armee Korps 18 17 XXVI. Armee Korps101 6 Totals 334 137

Total Operational In Repair 47 54 38 24 64 2 97 26 22 29 20 85 59 17 75 516 143

Despite the size of the German relief force and considerable support from the Luftwaffe, it took ten days of intense fighting before contact was firmly established with Heeresgruppe Nord.102 During the course of the struggle, the Soviet forces were reinforced by the 5th Guards Tank Army, 3rd Guards Mechanised Corps, and the 1st Tank Corps, while three additional armies launched heavy attacks against the right flank corps shielding the operation.103 Notwithstanding these reinforcements, the Germans steadily pressed the Soviets back, and Heeresgruppe Nord began launching its own attack to link up with the relief

Niepold, p. 66. Ibid, pp. 35-37. 100 This indicates vehicles in short-term repair and that were expected to become operational within two weeks. Vehicles in long-term repair are not included. 101 It should be noted that Niepold provides no information regarding the armoured status of the 6. Panzer Division. While its armoured strength at the outset of `Doppelkopf' is not known, this division possessed 81 Pz IV's and 8 Flakpanzers when it arrived on the Eastern Front in July. Jentz, pp. 206-207. Together with 10 additional Pz IV's under repair, this division had been reduced to 23 operational Pz IV's by August 26, 1944. The attached I./Panzer Regiment `GrossDeutschland' had 26 Pz V operational, and a further 11 Pz V under repair. Paul, Brennpunkte, p. 422. 102 On August 17 alone, the Luftwaffe flew 260 sorties in the sector of the 3. Panzerarmee. Niepold, p. 40. In the latter stages of the operation, the German spearheads were also provided with fire-support from the heavy cruiser `Prinz Eugen' and a number of destroyers. Ziemke & Bauer, p. 343 and Seaton, p. 507 103 Glantz & House, pp. 226-227, and Ziemke & Bauer, p. 343.

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forces. Fearful their forces would be caught between the attacking Germans, the Soviet First Baltic Front ordered its forces to withdraw to the south on August 21.104 This allowed the Germans to consolidate a 30 kilometre wide corridor, through which they were able to move troops and supplies to Heeresgruppe Nord.105 Aside from re-establishing a continuous German front and thereby preventing the destruction of an entire army group, `Doppelkopf' had inflicted heavy losses upon the Red Army and allowed the Germans to stabilise the northern sector of their front. In the period of August 16-25, the XXXIX. Panzer Korps alone reported counting 2,060 Russian dead in its sector, took 929 prisoners, and claimed to have destroyed or captured 277 tanks, 472 antitank guns, and 84 artillery pieces.106 While the total Soviet losses are unknown, it would be almost six weeks before the First Baltic Front undertook another major offensive.107 Even as the Ostheer continued to desperately hold back the relentless offensives of the Red Army during the final months of the war, the Germans continually planned and conducted a number of attacks. This included Operation `Zigeunerbaron' (`Gypsy Baron'), an offensive planned for early October 1944, whose objective was to recapture the Carpathian passes, and thereby safeguard Germany's sole remaining source of crude oil in Hungary. For this purpose, the III. Panzer Korps with four panzer or panzergrenadier divisions assembled around the city of Debrecen, but the operation was pre-empted by the Soviet invasion of Hungary and had to be shelved.108 However, the positioning of the III. Panzer Korps around Debrecen permitted the Germans to stage a number of counter-attacks into the flank of the

Erickson, p. 325. Glantz & House, p. 226. 106 Niepold, p. p. 78. 107 Glantz & House, p. 228. 108 The armoured strength of the III. Panzer Korps amounted to 224 panzers and assault guns. Peter Gosztony, Endkampf an der Donau, 1944/1945. (Wien: Verlag Fritz Molden, 1969), p. 40. Also, see Hans Friessner, Verratene Schlachten: Die Tragodie der Deutschen Wehrmacht in Rumanien und Ungarn. (Hamburg: Holsten-Verlag, 1956), p. 130.

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Soviet invasion during October. These inflicted heavy casualties and for a time halted the Soviet advance along the Tisza River.109

1. Planned axis of Operation `Zigeunerbaron' (`Gypsy Baron'), early October 1944. 2. German Counter-attacks around Debrecen, October 1944. 3. Planned axis of Operation `Spatlese' (`Late Harvest'), late December 1944. 4. Operation `Sudwind' (`Southern Wind'), February 17-22, 1945. 5. Operation `Fruhlingserwachen' (`Spring Awakening'), March 5-16, 1945.

Map Two: German Counterstrokes in Hungary, 1944-1945.

Additional operations include the planned Operation `Spatlese' (`Late Harvest'), in which the Germans intended eliminate the Soviet presence west of the Danube River below the city of Budapest. By December 18, OKH had managed to concentrate two panzer divisions and three detached panzer battalions equipped with at least 400 panzers northwest of Budapest, but this operation also had to be cancelled because a Soviet break-though

109 During a month of ferocious fighting, the Germans claimed that the Soviets lost 18,155 killed, 6,662 prisoners and that 632 tanks and self-propelled guns, 557 guns and mortars, and 600 anti-tank guns were destroyed or captured. Ibid, p. 153. Overall Soviet losses in Hungary during this period (October 6-28) amounted to 84,010 casualties, of which 19,713 were killed or missing. Glantz & House, p. 299.

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elsewhere demanded the immediate commitment of these resources.110 Another was Operation `Sonnenwende' (`Solstice'), an attack launched from Pomerania into the 150-mile wide northern flank of the Soviet forces advancing on Berlin in February 1945. Conducted by seven hastily assembled panzer or panzergrenadier divisions, this attack gained little ground against the First Belorussian Front under Marshal Georgi Zhukov, but caused considerable consternation amongst the STAKA.111 While `Sonnenwende' was a complete failure, the concentration of German resources required the Red Army to mount a major offensive into Pomerania before it could proceed with the assault on Berlin. This resulted in a long and costly effort that only concluded on April 4.112 Equally worrisome for the Soviets were the attacks staged by the 4. Armee as it sought to free itself from encirclement in East Prussia during January 27-30. Alarmed that the Germans managed to overrun the 48th Army and advance within six miles of the main German lines around Elbing, the Soviets were forced to shift elements of three armies from other sectors to counter the threat.113 These reinforcements thwarted the German breakout, but only after very heavy fighting.114 By far the largest of all the German operations conducted during the final stages of the war on the Eastern Front was Operation `Fruhlingserwachen' (`Spring Awakening'). With the objective of recapturing Budapest and pushing back the Soviets east of Danube, thereby

Gosztony, pp. 97-98. Mawdsley, p. 373. This episode seems to have exacerbated the deteriorating relationship between Zhukov and Stalin, as the latter, already suspicious of Zhukov's ambition, was angered when `Sonnenwende' was not speedily dealt with. Erickson, p. 522. For German preparations, see Ziemke & Bauer, p. 446. 112 Soviet losses during operations in East Pomerania (February 10-April 4) amounted to 234,360 casualties, while 1,027 tanks and self-propelled guns, 1,005 guns and mortars, and 1,073 aircraft were destroyed or captured. Krivosheev, pp. 156 & 263. Such losses were in part due to the fact that German formations were not always as weak as they are usually portrayed within the historiography. For example, on March 25, 1945 the 10. SS-Panzer Division still contained 15,067 men and 130 panzers and assault guns, of which 61 were operational. Wilhelm Tieke, Im Feursturm letzter Kriegsjahre: II. SS Panzerkorps mit 9. und 10. SS-Division `Hohenstaufen' und `Frundsberg'. (Osnabruck: Munin Verlag GMBH, 1975), p. 623. 113 These included the Soviet 5th Guards Tank Army, 8th Tank and 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps. Rokossovsky, pp. 287-288. 114 Erickson, pp. 468-469.

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securing the last oilfields around Nagykanizsa, this involved the secret redeployment from the Western Front of the entire 6. Panzerarmee to Hungary.115 In preparation for the offensive, the Germans staged Operation `Sudwind' (`Southern Wind') during the period of February 17-22. Utilising two panzer and three infantry divisions, this operation resulted in the destruction of the Soviet Gran bridgehead located northwest of Budapest. As a consequence, the Soviet 7th Guards Army was badly mauled and a dangerous threat to the left flank of the projected German offensive was removed.116 By the time `Fruhlingserwachen' began on March 5, the 6. Panzerarmee had concentrated eight divisions north of Lake Balaton, of which five were panzer divisions. To the south, a further eight divisions were to conduct diversionary operations along the Drava River. On the northern flank of the operation, the 6. Armee, with another five panzer and three infantry divisions, was to shield and join the attack if it proved successful.117 While the assembly by the Germans of 24 divisions at this stage of the war is impressive in its own right, more amazing is the fact that these formations contained a vast amount of armour.118 As shown in Figure 6, eight days after it had initiated operations the 6. Panzerarmee still possessed 979 panzers and assault guns.119 On March 15, the overall German armoured strength of the Hungarian front totalled 1,796 machines, of which 772 were

115 "Hitler still considered that the strategic areas most important for the survival of Germany were the oil districts of Hungary and the Vienna basin..." Seaton, p. 541 116 Soviet losses in this battle amounted to at least 8,800 men. Erickson, p. 511. 117 Ibid, p. 509. 118 Most of these divisions were also nearly up to strength in terms of manpower. For example, on March 1 the 9. SS-Panzer Division reported a total personnel strength of 17,229 men. Tieke, p. 622. 119 Till this point, it had suffered the total loss of only 42 armoured vehicles. Georg Maier, Drama Zwischen Budapest und Wien: Der Endkampf der 6. Panzerarmee 1945. (Osnabruck: Munin Verlag GMBH, 1985), p. 241

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operational.120 Opposing this juggernaut, the Soviet Third Ukrainian Front totalled 465,000 personnel supported by 407 tanks and self-propelled guns.121 Figure 6: Armoured Strength of 6. Panzerarmee during Operation `Fruhlingserwachen' March 13, 1945.122

Unit 1. SS-Pz Div. 12. SS-Pz Div. 2. SS-Pz Div. 9. SS-Pz Div. 23. Pz Div. 44. Inf. Div. 3. Kav. Div. 4. Kav. Div. Totals Panzers Operational In Repair123 86 58 54 39 51 40 56 33 53 41 4 2 304 213 Assault Guns Operational In Repair 22 10 67 49 56 39 57 30 29 22 10 5 22 13 16 15 279 183

Total Operational In Repair 108 68 121 88 107 79 113 63 82 63 10 5 22 13 20 17 583 396

Unfortunately, the Soviets detected the German build-up and prepared their defences accordingly. This produced a slogging match that resulted in heavy casualties for both sides.124 The limited road network also hampered the rapid movement armour, a situation worsened by a rise in temperature that turned fields into muddy quagmires.125 Despite strenuous efforts, the Germans could advance only 20 miles during the first few days of the operation, after which they rapidly began to lose momentum. The operation finally came to a halt on March 15, and the following day the Soviets began their own offensive against the 6. Armee. By the second day of the attack, the Soviets broke through the front and rapidly advanced into the German operational rear. This compelled the 6.

Krisztian Ungvary, Battle for Budapest: 100 Days in World War II. (New York: I.B. Tauris & Co., 2003), p. 331. These figures to not include the 6th Guards Tank Army. A further 201,500 Soviet troops and 400 tanks were deployed with the Soviet Second Ukrainian Front to the north or with the reserve 9th Guards Army stationed east of Budapest. Glantz & House, p. 372. 122 Maier, p. 241. 123 These figures include vehicles in both short and long-term repair. 124 Soviet losses amounted to 32,899 men, of whom 8,492 were killed or missing. Glantz & House, p. 300. In contrast, German casualties between March 6-13 amounted to 14,818 men, with 3,702 reported as killed or missing. In the same period, 46 panzers and assault guns were lost. Maier, pp. 240 & 268. 125 During the operation, the mud was so bad that German tank commanders are reported to have complained that they needed U-boats rather than tanks. Erickson, p. 509.

120 121

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Panzerarmee to retreat, and thus the last German offensive of the Second World War was over. In retrospect, Operation `Fruhlingswerwachen' had little prospect of producing any significant strategic results, as Germany's situation had deteriorated long past the point of return well before it was undertaken. Indeed, none of the offensives and counter-attacks described above had any strategic implications comparable with either Operation `Barbarossa' (the invasion of Russia) or Operation `Blue' (the 1942 offensive into the Caucasus). Such an impact would have required far larger forces than Germany, faced with heavy commitments throughout Europe, could possibly have assembled. Nonetheless, the operations described in this study illustrate that the German Army retained its offensive capability long after this had supposedly been destroyed on the battlefields around Kursk. In contrast to the impression found within the literature, these make it clear that the Ostheer remained a dangerous enemy till its very end. From Kharkov in 1943 to the Hungarian plains in 1945, the Germans were consistently able to concentrate large forces equipped with significant amounts of armour in order to strike back. Time and again, this capability permitted the Germans to impose operational setbacks and heavy casualties upon the forces of the Soviet Union. In doing so, these operations had a significant cumulative impact, in that they forestalled the Red Army's victory for a considerable period of time and ensured that it would only transpire at a tremendous cost in human lives.

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