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Lvov-Sandomierz Strategic Offensive Operation
Part of the Eastern Front of World War II
RKKA Lviv.jpg
Soviet Soldiers in Lviv
Date 13 July 1944 – 29 July 1944
Location Eastern Poland/Western Ukraine
Result Soviet victory
Belligerents
Germany Nazi Germany
Hungary Hungary
Soviet Union Soviet Union
Commanders
Germany Josef Harpe (Heeresgruppe Nordukraine)

Hungary Raul Federikin

Soviet Union Ivan Konev
(1st Ukrainian Front)
Strength
900,000 men
900 AFVs
6,300 guns
1,200,000 men
1,979 AFVs
11,265 guns
Casualties and losses
Unknown KIA - 65001
WIA - 224295
Total - 289,296 men
1,269 Tanks and SP Guns
289 Aircraft [1]

The Lvov-Sandomierz Offensive or the L'vov-Sandomierz Strategic Offensive Operation (Ukrainian: Львівсько-Сандомирська операція, Russian: Львовско-Сандомирская стратегическая наступательная операция) was a major Red Army operation to force the German troops from Ukraine and Eastern Poland. Launched in mid July 1944, in just under one month of fighting, the Red Army achieved their objectives.

  • Lvov Offensive Operation (13 July 1944 - 27 July 1944)
  • Stanislav Offensive Operation (13 July 1944 - 27 July 1944)
  • Sandomierz Offensive Operation (28 July 1944 - 29 August 1944)

The Lvov–Sandomierz Offensive is generally overshadowed by the overwhelming successes of the concurrently conducted Operation Bagration that led to the destruction of Army Group Centre. However, most of the Red Army and Red Air Forces resources were allocated, not to Bagration's Belarusian operation, but the Lvov-Sanomierz operations.[2] The Maskirovka campaign was conducted as a double bluff. By concentrating in southern Poland and the Ukraine, the Soviets drew German mobile reserves southward. Army Group Centre was now vulnerable to a concentrated assault.[3] When the Soviets launched their Bagration offensive against the Army Group, it would create a crisis in the central German front, which would then force the powerful German Panzer forces back to the central front, leaving the Soviets free to pursue their objectives in seizing the Vistual bridges and gain a foothold in Romania.[4]

Contents

Bagration: The stage is set

By early June 1944, the forces of Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model's Army Group North Ukraine had been pushed back beyond the Dniepr and were desperately clinging to the north-western corner of Ukraine. Stalin ordered the total Liberation of Ukraine, and Stavka set in motion plans that would become the Lvov-Sandomierz Operation. In the early planning stage, the offensive was known as the Lvov-Przemyśl Operation. The objective of the offensive was for Marshal Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front to occupy Lviv and clear the German troops from Ukraine and capture a series of bridgeheads on the Vistula river.[5]

Stavka was also planning an even larger offensive, codenamed Operation Bagration to coincide with Konev's offensive. Operation Bagration objective was no less than the complete liberation of Belarus, and also to force the Wehrmacht out of eastern Poland. The Lvov-Sandomierz Strategic Offensive Operation was to be the means of denying transfer of reserves by the OKH to Army Group Centre, thus earning itself the lesser supporting role in the summer of 1944.

Opposing forces

While the Stavka was concluding its offensive plans Generalfeldmarschall Model was removed from command of the Army Group North Ukraine and replaced by Generaloberst Josef Harpe. Harpe's force included two Panzer armies: the 1.Panzer-Armee, under Generaloberst Gotthard Heinrici and 4.Panzer-Armee under General der Panzertruppen Walther Nehring. Attached to the 1.Panzer-Armee was the Hungarian Hungarian First Army. Harpe could muster only 420 tanks, StuG's and assorted armoured vehicles. His Army Group comprised around 370,000 men, however the Hungarian force was seen as unreliable by the German OKH (hence its subordination to 1.Panzer-Armee). The Army Group was supported by the 700 aircraft of Luftflotte 4, including the veteran air units of VIII. Fliegerkorps, and the 300-400 aircraft of the nearby Luftflotte 6. However, due to the complicated inter-service chain of command, Harpe could not directly control the Luftwaffe units.

The 1st Ukrainian Front forces under Konev considerably outnumbered the Army Group North Ukraine. The 1st Ukrainian Front could muster over 1,200,000 troops, some 2,050 tanks, about 16,000 guns and mortars and over 3,250 aircraft of the 2nd Air Army commanded by General S.A. Krasovsky.[6] In addition the morale of Konev's troops was extremely high following the recent victories in Ukraine. They had been on the offensive for almost a year, and were witnessing the collapse of Army Group Centre to their North.

The 1st Ukrainian Front attack was to have two axes of attack. The first, aiming towards Rava-Ruska, was to be led by 3rd Guards, 1st Guards Tank and 13th Armies. The second pincer was aimed at Lviv itself, and was to be led by 60th, 38th, 3rd Guards Tank and 4th Tank Armies. The Red Army achieved massive superiority against the Germans by limiting their attacks to a front of only 26 kilometres. Konev had concentrated some 240 guns and mortars per kilometer of front.

The assault begins

The northern attack towards Rava-Ruska commenced on the 13 July 1944. The 1st Ukrainian Front forces easily broke through near Horokhiv. The weakened Wehrmacht XLII.Armeekorps, managed to withdraw relatively intact using reinforced rearguard detachments. By nightfall, the 1st Ukrainian Front's 13th Army had penetrated the German lines to a depth of 20 kilometers. The 1st Ukrainian Front's breakthrough occurred to the north of the XIII.Armeekorps.

On the 14 July 1944, the assault with the objective of liberating Lviv was begun to the south of the XIII.Armeekorps, which had positions near the town of Brody, an area of early Red Army failure in the war. Red Army units had punched through the line near Horokhiv to the north, and at Nusche in the south, leaving the XIII corps dangerously exposed in a salient. The northern pincer towards Rava-Ruska now began to split and turned several units of the 13th Army south, in an attempt to encircle XIII.Armeekorps.

The northern forces soon encountered weak elements of the 291. and 340.Infanterie-Divisions, but these were quickly swept aside. On 15 July, Generaloberst Nehring, realising his 4. Panzer-Armee was in jeopardy, ordered his two reserve divisions, the 16. and 17. Panzer-Divisions to counterattack near Horokiv and Druzhkopil in an attempt to halt the Soviet northern assault. The two divisions could muster only 43 tanks between them and despite their best efforts, the attack soon bogged down. The massively superior Red Army forces soon forced the 16.Panzer and 17.Panzer divisions to join the retreating infantry divisions. Konev ordered Mobile Group Baranov into the breach to help exploit the breakthrough. The Mobile group, under cover of air support, advanced quickly, and over the next three days managed to capture the town of Kamionka Strumilowa as well as to seize and hold a bridgehead on the western bank of the Buh river, cutting the XIII.Armeekorps' line of communication and cutting off their path of retreat.

Encirclement at Brody

To the south, a major Red Army assault aimed at the juncture of the 1.Panzer-Armee and 4.Panzer-Armee had been successfully repulsed on 14 July by the division-sized Korpsabteilung C. The 1st Ukrainian Front shifted their attack further south, and after an immense artillery and air bombardment assaulted the already weakened 349. and 357.Infanterie Divisions. The 349.Infanterie-Division collapsed under the assault, the survivors falling back in disarray. Due to Korpsabteilung C and the 357.Infanterie-Division's actions, the 1st Ukrainian Front breakthrough was only 3-4 kilometers wide. Despite this, the 1st Ukrainian Front continued to advance towards the towns of Zolochiv and Sasiv, driving a wedge between XIII.Armeekorps and the neighboring XLVIII.Panzerkorps.

German artillery from both Сorps and the 18. Artillerie-Division began saturating the narrow salient, dubbed the Koltiv Corridor. A hasty counterattack by the 1.Panzer and 8.Panzer-Divisions as well as the Ukrainian Waffen-SS volunteer division 14.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS Galizien (ukrainische Nr.1) took place. While the Galizien and 1.Panzer fought well, the 8.Panzer division lost directions, and found itself in the XIII.Armeekorps area, cut off from the XLVIII.Panzerkorps and 1.Panzer and unable to take part in the attack. Despite initial gains, the 1st Ukrainian Front finally managed to halt the German attack, with the help of the 2nd Air Army which dropped 17,200 bombs on the attacking tanks. The absence of 8.Panzer meant that the attack was doomed to fail. The commander of 8.Panzer had ignored explicit orders, and attempted to lead his force on a short cut. Instead, the division was strung out on the Zolochiv - Zboriv section of the Lviv - Ternopil road, and suffered immense losses from Red Air Force "Jabos". Despite this, the southern attack was slowing.

On the 16 July, Konev took a great risk and committed Lieutenant General Pavel Rybalko's 3rd Guards Tank Army to the southern assault. This meant that the Army would have to travel through the narrow Koltiv Corridor, constantly under artillery fire and fierce German counterattacks. The 3rd Guards Tank tilted the balance in the Lviv direction, and soon the Soviet advance resumed its advance west. The commander of the XIII.Armeekorps realised that his Corps needed to retreat if it were to avoid encirclement. The order was given for all Corps units to fall back to the Prinz-Eugen-Stellung, a series of unmanned defensive positions built in June 1944 which ran partly along the river Strypa about 35 km west of Ternopil. Strong 1st Ukrainian Front attacks throughout the 17 July succeeded in capturing parts of the Prinz-Eugen-Stellung. The 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Galizien joined the combat in an attempt to recapture these lost positions, but after some success ran into a unit of Soviet IS-2 tanks which put an end to the advance. Despite repeated warnings from his subordinates, the Corps commander,General der Infanterie Arthur Hauffe, did not order further withdrawal, condemning the three XIII.Armeekorps divisions and Korps-Abteilung C in the Brody salient to their fate.[7]

On 18 July, renewed 1st Ukrainian Front attacks resulted in a breakthrough in the Lviv operational direction. Late in the day, the 1st Ukrainian Front spearheads met near the town of Busk. The encirclement was complete. 45,000 men of the XIII.Armeekorps were trapped around Brody, and a 200 km breach had been created along the Army Group North Ukraine's front.

Annihilation at Brody: Objectives redefined

For the men trapped at Brody, help would not come. Despite several desperate attacks by the exhausted and under strength forces of XLVIII.Panzerkorps and XXIV.Panzerkorps, the 1st Ukrainian Front cordon continued to tighten. Under continued 1st Ukrainian Front attacks, Harpe ordered his forces to fall back, abandoning the trapped XIII.Armeekorps. Under constant artillery and aerial bombardment, the beleaguered forces made several breakout attempts, but these were easily repulsed by the 1st Ukrainian Front armoured forces and the Germans suffered heavy casualties. On 22 July, a 1st Ukrainian Front attack cut the pocket in two, and by nightfall almost all resistance had been eliminated. The scattered survivors broke up into small groups and attempted to break out. Few reached Axis lines, but among them were 3,500 men of the Galizien SS. Before the operation, the division had numbered 11,000 men. Konev was elated at the unexpected success of the operation. Harpe's Army Group was falling back, 4.Panzer-Armee to the Vistula River and 1.Panzer-Armee along with 1.Hungarian Army to the area around Carpathian Mountains.

Lviv itself was liberated on 26 July, the city being retaken by the 1st Ukrainian Front relatively easily. The Germans had been completely forced out from Northern Ukraine. Seeing this success, Stavka issued new orders on 28 July. Konev was to attack across the Vistula and to capture the city of Sandomierz, in Nazi-occupied southern Poland.

Renewed attack: Capture of Sandomierz

The renewed Soviet offensive got underway on 29 July, with Konev's spearheads quickly reaching the Vistula and establishing a strong bridgehead near Baranów Sandomierski. Strong German counterattacks near Sandomierz halted the expansion of the Soviet bridgehead. In early August, Harpe gained some respite. Five divisions, including one panzer division, were transferred from Army Group South Ukraine. These were immediately thrown into action around Sandomierz. Soon after, another five German divisions, three Hungarian, six StuG brigades and the schwere-Panzer-Abteilung 501 (equipped with Tiger II tanks) were placed under Harpe's command.

Large German counterattacks were launched in an attempt to throw the Soviets back across the Vistula. Using the towns of Mielec and Tarnobrzeg on the eastern bank of the river as bases, these attacks caused heavy casualties to the Soviet forces. By mid August, Konev's spearhead, the 6th Guards Tank Corps had only 67 tanks remaining. The Germans launched a fierce counterattack with Schwere Panzer Abteilung 501 and 16.Panzer-Division, totaling around 140 tanks including 20 Tiger IIs. Despite being outnumbered, the 6th Guards held the bridgehead, knocking out 10 Tiger IIs. By 16 August, the German counterattacks were beginning to lose steam, and Rybalko, commander of the Bridgehead, was able to expand the Soviet controlled area by a depth of 120 kilometers, capturing the city of Sandomierz. With both sides exhausted, the fighting died down and the Soviet Offensive was deemed completed.

Red Army Order of battle

1st Ukrainian Front

Rava-Ruska operational direction

Lviv operational direction

  • 2nd Air Army

Axis Order of battle

Heeresgruppe Nordukraine (Generaloberst Josef Harpe) - 12 July 1944 [8]

  • 18. Artillerie-Division
  • 4.Panzer-Armee (General der Panzertruppen Walther Nehring)
    • XLVI. Panzerkorps
      • 16th Panzer Division
      • 17th Panzer Division
      • 291st Infantry Division
      • 340th Infantry Division
      • + Group Beutler?
    • XXXXII.Armeekorps (General der Infanterie Hermann Recknagel
      • 72nd Infantry Division
      • 88th Infantry Division
      • 214th Inf./Sec.? Division
      • + 213th Security Division?
    • LVI. Panzerkorps
      • 26th Infantry Division
      • 342nd Infantry Division
      • 1st Ski Jaeger Division
      • + 253rd Infantry Division?
    • VIIIth Corps
      • 5th Jaeger Division
      • 211th Infantry Division
      • 12th Hungarian Reserve Division
  • 1.Panzer.Armee (Generaloberst Gotthard Heinrici)
    • XIII.Armeekorps (General der Infanterie Arthur Hauffe)
    • XXXXVIII.Panzerkorps (General der Panzertruppen Hermann Balck)
      • 96th Infantry Division
      • 349th Infantry Division
      • 359th Infantry Division
      • + 357th Infantry Division?
    • III.Panzerkorps
      • 1st Panzer Division
      • 8th Panzer Division
    • XXIV.Panzerkorps (General der Panzertruppen Fritz-Hubert Gräser)
      • 20th Panzer Grenadier Division (from Reserve)
      • 100th Jaeger Division
      • 75th Infantry Division
      • 254th Infantry Division
      • 371st Infantry Division
    • LIX.Armeekorps
      • 1st Infantry Division
      • 208th Infantry Division
      • 20th Hungarian Infantry Division
  • 1.Hungarian Army (Lieutenant General Ferenc Farkas - acting)
    • XI.Armeekorps (General der Infanterie Rudolf Bünau)
      • 101st Jaeger Division
      • 24th Hungarian Infantry Division
      • 25th Hungarian Infantry Division
      • 18th Hungarian Reserve Division
    • VIIth Hungarian Army Corps
      • 16th Hungarian Infantry Division
      • 68th Infantry Division
      • 168th Infantry Division (elements)
    • VIth Hungarian Army Corps
      • 27th Hungarian Light Division
      • 1st Hungarian Mountain Brigade
    • Hungarian First Army Reserve
  • Luftflotte 4

References

  • Hinze, Rolf. To the Bitter End: The Final Battles of Army Groups A, North Ukraine, Centre, Eastern Front 1944-45 (2006).
  • Konev, I.S. Aufzeichnungen eines Frontbefehlshabers.
  • Lange, Wolfgang. Korpsabteilung C (Neckargemuend 1960).
  • Lysiak, Oleh (ed). Brody: Zbirnyk (Munich 1951).
  • Mitcham, Samuel W., Jr. Crumbling Empire: The German Defeat in the East, 1944 (2001).
  • Thread on the battle at forum.axishistory.com
  • Melnyk, Michael James. "To Battle: The Formation and History of the 14 Galician Waffen-SS Division 1943-1945", Helion and Co, (reprint 2007)
  • Dr Watt, Robert. Feeling the Full Force of a Four Point Offensive: Re-Interpreting The Red Army's 1944 Belorussian and L'vov-Przemyśl Operations. The Journal of Slavic Military Studies. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. ISSN 1351-8046
  • Wagner, Ray (ed.), Fetzer, Leland, (trans.), The Soviet Air Force in World War II: the official history, Wren Publishing, Melbourne, 1973 ISBN 0858851946

Footnotes

  1. ^ http://www.soldat.ru/doc/casualties/book/chapter5_10_1.html#5_10_36 & http://www.soldat.ru/doc/casualties/book/chapter5_13_09.html
  2. ^ Watt 2008, p. 687-688.
  3. ^ Watt 2008, pp. 683-684
  4. ^ Watt 2008, pp. 695-700.
  5. ^ Watt 2008, p. 695
  6. ^ p.285, Wagner
  7. ^ Lange, W. Korpsabteilung C; the encircled divisions were Korpsabteilung C, 349th Infantry Division, 14th SS Division 'Galicia', and 454th Security Division. The Soviet history claiming eight divisions in the encirclement is most likely counting the Divisional Groups 183, 217, and 339, which made up the regiments of Korpsabteilung C, as divisions.
  8. ^ Lange, W. Korpsabteilung C; Map 10

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