Battle of the Korsun–Cherkassy Pocket

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Battle of the Korsun–Cherkassy Pocket
Part of the Eastern Front of World War II
Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-277-0846-13, Russland, Panzer VI (Tiger I).jpg
Tiger Is of the III Panzer Corps, February 1944
Date24 January 1944 – 16 February 1944
LocationCherkasy / Korsun, USSR
ResultSuccessful German evacuation .
Belligerents
 Germany Soviet Union
Commanders and leaders
Nazi Germany Erich von Manstein
Nazi Germany Otto Wöhler
Nazi Germany Hermann Breith
Nazi Germany Wilhelm Stemmermann
Nazi Germany Theobald Lieb
Soviet Union Georgy Zhukov
Soviet Union Nikolai Vatutin
Soviet Union Ivan Konev
Strength
58,000 men in pocket
59 tanks in pocket
242 artillery pieces in pocket[1]
80,000 men (reinforcement)
III Panzer Corps (201 tanks) (reinforcement)[2]
XLVII Panzer Corps (58 tanks) (reinforcement)[3]
336,700 men[4]
524 tanks (initially)
400 tanks (reinforcement)
1,054 aircraft
5,300 artillery pieces and mortars[5]
Casualties and losses
Vogel:
40.000+ killed, wounded and captured[6]
Frieser, Zetterling and Frankson: 30,000 KIA, MIA and WIA[7]
156 tanks [8]
50 aircraft[9]
A. N. Grylov and P. Ya. Egorov:[10]
Inside the pocket:
31.000 killed and wounded
16.500 captured
Beside the pocket:
27.000 killed and wounded
1.500 captured
249 tanks
886 guns and mortars
500 aircraft.
80,188 men (24,286 KIA&MIA and 55,902 wounded and sick)[11][12]
728 tanks[13]
 
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Battle of the Korsun–Cherkassy Pocket
Part of the Eastern Front of World War II
Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-277-0846-13, Russland, Panzer VI (Tiger I).jpg
Tiger Is of the III Panzer Corps, February 1944
Date24 January 1944 – 16 February 1944
LocationCherkasy / Korsun, USSR
ResultSuccessful German evacuation .
Belligerents
 Germany Soviet Union
Commanders and leaders
Nazi Germany Erich von Manstein
Nazi Germany Otto Wöhler
Nazi Germany Hermann Breith
Nazi Germany Wilhelm Stemmermann
Nazi Germany Theobald Lieb
Soviet Union Georgy Zhukov
Soviet Union Nikolai Vatutin
Soviet Union Ivan Konev
Strength
58,000 men in pocket
59 tanks in pocket
242 artillery pieces in pocket[1]
80,000 men (reinforcement)
III Panzer Corps (201 tanks) (reinforcement)[2]
XLVII Panzer Corps (58 tanks) (reinforcement)[3]
336,700 men[4]
524 tanks (initially)
400 tanks (reinforcement)
1,054 aircraft
5,300 artillery pieces and mortars[5]
Casualties and losses
Vogel:
40.000+ killed, wounded and captured[6]
Frieser, Zetterling and Frankson: 30,000 KIA, MIA and WIA[7]
156 tanks [8]
50 aircraft[9]
A. N. Grylov and P. Ya. Egorov:[10]
Inside the pocket:
31.000 killed and wounded
16.500 captured
Beside the pocket:
27.000 killed and wounded
1.500 captured
249 tanks
886 guns and mortars
500 aircraft.
80,188 men (24,286 KIA&MIA and 55,902 wounded and sick)[11][12]
728 tanks[13]
Soviet light tank and tank riders underway in the battle

The Korsun–Shevchenkovsky Offensive led to the Battle of the Korsun–Cherkasy Pocket which took place from 24 January to 16 February 1944. The offensive was part of the Dnieper–Carpathian Offensive. In it, the 1st and 2nd Ukrainian Fronts, commanded, respectively, by Nikolai Vatutin and Ivan Konev, trapped German forces of Army Group South in a pocket near the Dnieper river. During weeks of fighting, the two Red Army Fronts tried to eradicate the pocket. The encircled German units broke out in coordination with a relief attempt by other German forces, with "roughly two out of three" encircled men succeeding in escaping the pocket,[14] "and almost one third of their men ... dead or prisoners."[15]

The Soviet victory at Korsun–Shevchenkovsky Offensive created a large gap in the German defensive lines in Ukraine, and created conditions for the Red Army to attack in multiple directions and cut the German Army Group South in half, forcing the German army to retreat from Ukraine three months later.[16]

January 1944[edit]

In the fall of 1943, the German forces of Field Marshal Erich von Manstein's Army Group South including General Otto Wöhler's 8th Army had fallen back to the Panther–Wotan line, a defensive position that in Ukraine followed the Dnieper river. By 1 December 1943 the line had been broken and the Soviet Army had crossed the Dnieper in force. Only two corps, the XI under Gen. Wilhelm Stemmermann, the XLII Army Corps under Lt.Gen. Theobald Lieb and the attached Corps Detachment B[17] from the 8th Army were holding a salient in the new Soviet line. The salient to the west of Cherkassy extended some 100 kilometers to the Dnieper river settlement of Kanev, with the town of Korsun roughly in the center of the salient, with the 1st Ukrainian Front to its left and the 2nd Ukrainian Front to its right. Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Zhukov realized the potential for destroying Wöhler's 8th Army with the Stalingrad model as precedent and using similar tactics as were applied to defeat Paulus's encircled 6th Army. Zhukov recommended to the Soviet Supreme Command (Stavka) to deploy 1st and 2nd Ukrainian Fronts to form two armored rings of encirclement: an inner ring around the pocket followed by destruction of the forces it contained, and an external ring to prevent relief formations from reaching the trapped units. Despite repeated warnings from Manstein and others, Hitler refused to allow the exposed units to be pulled back to safety.

General Konev held a conference at his headquarters at Boltushki on 15 January with his commanders and their political commissars to pass on the orders received from Stavka.[18] The initial attack was to be conducted by Konev's own 2nd Ukrainian Front from the southeast by 53rd Army and 4th Guards Army, with 5th Guards Tank Army to exploit penetrations supported by 5th Air Army, to be joined in progress by 52nd Army, 5th Guards Cavalry Corps and 2nd Tank Army. Additionally, from Vatutin's 1st Ukrainian Front, 27th and 40th Armies were to be deployed from the northwest, with 6th Tank Army to exploit penetrations supported by 2nd Air Army.[19] Many of these formations had received an inflow of new personnel. Red Army planning further included extensive deception operations that the Soviets claimed were successful, however, the German 8th Army war diary shows clearly that the German staffs were concerned with the threat at hand.[20]

Encirclement[edit]

The Soviet attack started on 24 January when Konev's 2nd Ukrainian Front attacked the salient from the southeast. Breakthrough was quickly achieved, and the penetration was exploited by the 5th Guards Tank Army and the 5th Guards Cavalry Corps the following day.[21] Despite the awareness of German 8th Army's staff that an attack was imminent, they were surprised by the appearance of the 1st Ukrainian Front's newly formed 6th Tank Army.[22] The 6th Tank Army, with 160 tanks and 50 self-propelled guns,[23] was inexperienced and took longer than expected to penetrate the western flank of the salient. A "mobile group" from 5th Mechanized Corps' 233rd Tank Brigade, under the command of General Savelev, with 50 tanks and 200 sub-machine gun armed infantrymen, occupied Lysyanka and moved into the outskirts of Zvenyhorodka by 28 January. Here, these troops of the 6th Tank Army met the 2nd Ukrainian Front's 20th Tank Corps. Over the next three days, the two tank armies formed a thinly manned outer ring around what was now the Korsun Pocket while another, inner, ring was formed by the Soviet 27th, 52nd, and 4th Guard Armies.[24]

Soviet advances that created the Korsun–Cherkassy pocket.

The Soviets were optimistic over the progress of the operation thus far. Stalin expected and was promised a second Stalingrad; Konev wired: "There is no need to worry, Comrade Stalin. The encircled enemy will not escape."[25] Trapped in the pocket were under 60,000 men, a total of six German divisions at approximately 55% of their authorized strength, along with a number of smaller combat units. Among the trapped German forces were the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, with the attached 5th SS Infantry Brigade Wallonien, the Estonian SS infantry battalion Narwa, and "several thousand" Russian auxiliaries.[26] The trapped forces were designated Gruppe Stemmermann and the commander of XI Corps, General Wilhelm Stemmermann was placed in command. The 5th SS Panzer Division, with some 11,400 personnel,[27] had 30 operational Panzer III/IV tanks and assault guns and six in repair.[28] The division further had 47 artillery pieces, including 12 self-propelled guns.[29]

German relief attacks[edit]

The relief attempt begins. Tanks and halftracks of 1st Panzer Division begin movements towards the pocket, early February 1944[30]

Manstein moved quickly, and by early February the III and XLVII Panzer Corps were assembled for a relief effort. However, Hitler intervened and ordered the rescue attempt to be transformed into an over-ambitious effort to counter-encircle the two Soviet fronts.

General Hermann Breith, commander of III Panzer Corps insisted that both the relief formations should unite and attempt to force a corridor to the trapped Gruppe Stemmermann. Manstein initially sided with Hitler, although in deceptive fashion, and the attack was to be an attempt to encircle the massive Red Army force. The attack by the XLVII Panzer Corps' 11th Panzer Division on the southeastern flank of the pocket quickly stalled. The veteran division had only 27 tanks and 34 assault guns, therefore its contribution was limited.[31] The misguided use of the III Panzer Corps to attempt encirclement of the Soviet forces lasted until 8 February,[32] when, realizing the encirclement was going to fail, Manstein ordered the corps to instead attempt to relieve the beleaguered Gruppe Stemmermann. Pulling the III Panzer Corps back through the difficult terrain, and repositioning it 15 kilometers south of Boyarka, for the new attack lasted until 11 February,[33] with a week having been lost because of the misguided initial assault.

Breith then began a push with 16th and 17th Panzer Divisions toward the Gniloy Tikich River and made good progress, with 1st Panzer Division then moving up and 1st SS Panzer Division LSSAH to cover the northern flank. After being initially surprised by the attack, Zhukov ordered Vatutin to rapidly assemble troops and armor of four tank corps "with the goal of cutting off the German spearhead and destroying it."[34] All progress began to bog down with a change in weather, resulting in the thick mud of the rasputitsa – and the weakness of Germany's wheeled vehicles became evident. The Soviet four-wheel and six-wheel drive trucks supplied by the United States were largely able to get through, whereas the German two-wheel-drive vehicles sat immobilized in the mud.[34]

For the night of 5–6 February, Konev issued orders to the 4th Guards Army and 5th Guards Cavalry Corps that would attempt to split the pocket and the two German corps it contained.[35] In the intense fighting the Soviet goal became clear to Stemmermann and Lieb; but the road "to Korsun had to be held at all costs." Stemmermann ordered the 5th SS Division's armor to the scene and together with 72nd Infantry Division an immediate disaster was avoided.[35] Red Army efforts were renewed between 7–10 February. At this time, however, the Soviet units experienced supply shortages. The mud affected the situation, but it was not the only cause. III Panzer Corps' penetrations toward the Gniloy Tikich River made the supply lines for Soviet formations such as Vatutin's 6th Tank Army "much longer than they were previously."[36] The Red Air Force then started to supply some units by air using Po-2 aircraft.[37] Despite supply difficulties, 2nd Ukrainian Front units were able to close on Korsun by 10 February, collapsing the area of the pocket to six by seven miles.[23]

Surrender demand and German maneuver within the pocket[edit]

On 11 February, III Panzer Corps continued its drive east. The exhausted force reached the Gniloy Tikich stream and established a small bridgehead on the eastern bank. III Panzer Corps could advance no further, Group Stemmermann would have to fight its way out.[38]

Both antagonists realized that the Wehrmacht relief efforts had come to a critical stage, yet despite heavy Soviet propaganda inducements, very few German soldiers and no Waffen-SS men in the cauldron had surrendered.[39] Zhukov thus decided to send parlementaires under a white flag with surrender demands.[40] A Red Army lieutenant colonel, translator and bugler arrived in an American jeep and presented letters for both Stemmermann and Lieb signed by Marshal Zhukov and Generals Konev and Vatutin. The German officer on headquarters duty, a major at Corps Detachment B and a translator, received the emissaries.[41] After cordial talks, refreshments and a handshake, the Soviets departed without an answer – the "answer would be in the form of continued, bitter resistance."[42]

Ju 52s at Korsun airfield, Ju 87s in formation above (January 1944).
As the day for the breakout approaches, more and more units are crammed into the ever-shrinking perimeter.[43]

The German air force mounted an aerial resupply operation to both the encircled forces and the German relief columns. On 28 January, the VIII Aviation Corps (Fliegerkorps) began operations that eventually saw the use of 832 transport aircraft, 478 bombers (from which supplies were dropped at low altitude), 58 fighter bombers, and 168 fighters. Of these, 32 transport aircraft, 13 bombers, and five fighters were lost.[9] After the Korsun airfield was abandoned on 12 February, deliveries were parachuted, and fuel drums and ammunition crates were dropped into snowbanks by the transports flying just above the deck. Soviet sources claim that Luftwaffe transport aircraft were used to evacuate the senior leadership of the 5th SS Panzer Division, as well as the 8th Army commander, General Wöhler, out of the pocket.[21] According to German records and participants, Wiking's commander, subordinate commanders and staffs stayed with their men throughout the fighting;[44] 8th Army Headquarters was located at Novo-Ukraina and not inside the pocket,[45] thus making Soviet assertions of a Wöhler evacuation moot.

The Luftwaffe effort succeeded in delivering 82,948 gallons of fuel and 868 tons of ammunition plus four tons of medical supplies to the encircled forces and 325 tons of ammunition, 74,289 gallons of fuel and 24 tons of food to spearheads of the relief formations, as well as evacuating 4,161 wounded while the Korsun airfield remained operational.[46] But even this effort had only met about half (78 tons) of the daily requirements (150 tons) of the encircled troops as estimated by the German 8th Army headquarters.[9]

Stemmermann began withdrawing troops from the north side of the pocket, reorienting the thrust of the escape direction, and attacking south to expand toward the relief forces on the north bank of the Gniloy Tikich. The frenetic maneuvering within the pocket confused the Soviets, convincing them that they had trapped the majority of the German 8th Army. The trapped forces were now to capture the villages of Novo-Buda, Komarovka, Khilki and Shanderovka at the southwestern perimeter of the pocket to reach a favorable jump-off line for the breakout.[47]

On 11 February Major Robert Kästner's 105th Grenadier Regiment of the 72nd Infantry Division captured Novo-Buda in a night assault.[48] The following night Komarovka fell in similar fashion.[49] On the evening of 15 February the 105th Regiment again, using its last reserves and with two assault guns, secured Khilki, defeating a Soviet counterattack supported by armor.[50] However, of all the German divisions in the pocket, the 5th SS Panzer Division "did more than any other to ensure the continued survival of Gruppe Stemmermann ..."[51] Since the 5th SS Division was the only truly mobile force inside the pocket, the division's tracked units were repeatedly shifted from one end of the pocket to the other to shore up crumbling lines.

The pocket had "wandered" south and half-way toward its rescuers and rested on the village of Shanderovka. The settlement was heavily defended by the Soviets; had been captured by 72nd Infantry troops, was retaken by units of the Soviet 27th Army and recaptured by the Germania regiment of 5th SS Panzer Division. By nightfall on 16 February, III Panzer Corps fought its way closer to the encircled formations, the spearheads were now seven kilometers from Group Stemmermann.[52]

Breakout through Hell's Gate[edit]

The northward thrust toward the pocket by the III Panzer Corps had been halted by Red Army determination, terrain, and fuel shortages. After several failed attempts by German armored formations to seize and hold Hill 239 and advance on Shanderovka, Soviet counterattacks by 5th Guards Tank Army forced III Panzer Corps into costly defensive fighting. 8th Army radioed Stemmermann:

Capacity for action by III Panzer Corps limited by weather and supply situation. Gruppe Stemmermann must perform breakthrough as far as the line Zhurzintsy–Hill 239 by its own effort. There link up with III Panzer Corps.[53]

The message did not specify that Zhurzintsy and the hill were still firmly in Soviet hands—a failure that caused Group Stemmermann severe casualties during the German breakout of the pocket. Lt.Gen. Theobald Lieb was appointed by 8th Army to lead the breakout. Only seven kilometers lay between Group Stemmermann and III Panzer Corps, but in between Konev "was in the process of repositioning forces for a final crushing attack which would take place [on] 17 February."[54] His formidable force of "three armies – the 4th Guards, 27th, 52nd ... and 5th Guards Cavalry Corps" – surrounded the encircled German forces and "elements of 5th Guards Tank Army had recently been added ... with the most powerful units, in particular armor, placed between Group Stemmermann and III Panzer Corps."[55][56] General Stemmermann elected to stay behind with a rearguard of 6,500 men, the remaining, combined strength of 57th and 88th Infantry Divisions.[57] The pocket was now a mere 5 kilometers in diameter, depriving Stemmermann of room to maneuver. Shanderovka, once seen as a gate to freedom, now became known as Hell's Gate.[58] The Red Army poured intense artillery and rocket fire on the area around the encircled troops, with nearly every round finding a target. Sturmoviks of the Red Air Force bombed and strafed, only infrequently challenged by Luftwaffe fighters. Various unit diaries described a scene of gloom, with fires burning caused by Soviet night bombing with incendiaries, destroyed or abandoned vehicles everywhere and wounded men and disorganized units on muddy roads. Ukrainian civilians were caught between the combatants. On 16 February 1944, Field Marshal von Manstein, without waiting for a decision by Hitler, sent a radio message to Stemmermann to authorize the breakout. It said simply:

Password Freedom, objective Lysyanka, 2300 hours.[59]
The German breakout

With extreme reluctance, Stemmermann and Lieb decided to leave 1,450 non-ambulatory wounded at Shanderovka attended by doctors and orderlies.[60][61][62] The troops then began to assemble at dusk into three leading assault columns with Division Group 112 to the north, 5th SS Panzer Division to the south and 72nd Division in the center with the reinforced 105th Regiment in the first echelon to provide the assault power.[63] "By 2300 the 105th Regiment – two battalions abreast – started moving ahead, silently and with bayonets fixed. One-half hour later the force broke through the first and soon thereafter the second [Soviet] defense line."[64] All went well for several battalions and regiments who reached the German lines at Oktyabr by 0410. Major Kästner and his 105th grenadiers reached friendly lines by cautiously approaching the forward position of Panthers of 1st Panzer Division of the III Panzer Corps, bringing their wounded along and their heavy weapons, but losing the trailing, horse drawn supply column to Soviet artillery. The 105th entered Lysyanka at 0630.[65] On the opposite front of the cauldron, General Stemmermann and his rear guard held fast and thus assured the success of the initial breakout.[66]

At the left flank column, a reconnaissance patrol returned bearing grim news. The geographic feature Hill 239 was occupied by Soviet T-34's of the 5th Guards Tank Army. Despite energetic efforts to capture Hill 239 now from the inside of the cauldron, the high ground remained in Soviet hands and had to be bypassed. "As more and more units ran up against the impregnable tank barrier atop the ridge dominated by Hill 239,"[67] the German escape direction veered off to the south toward the Gniloy Tikich River, thus ending for the bulk of troops at the wrong position of the stream with disastrous consequences to come. When daylight arrived, the German escape plan began to unravel. Very few armored vehicles and other heavy equipment could climb the slippery, thawing hillsides and the weapons had to be destroyed and abandoned "after the last round of ammunition had been fired."[66]

General Konev, now aware of the German breakout, resolved to keep his promise to Stalin not to let any "Hitlerites" or "Fascists" escape annihilation. Soviet intelligence, however, at this stage vastly overestimated the armored strength of III Panzer Corps, and Konev therefore proceeded in force. At this time the 20th Tank Corps brought its brigade of the new Joseph Stalin-2's to the Korsun battlefield.[68] Konev ordered all available armor and artillery to attack the escaping units, cut them into isolated groups and then destroy them piecemeal.[69] The two blocking Soviet rifle divisions, 206th Rifle and 5th Guards Airborne, had been smashed by the German assault forces; without infantry support Soviet tanks then fired into the escaping formations from a distance. With no anti-tank weapons in the field, T-34s commenced to wade into unprotected support troops, headquarters units, stragglers and red-cross identified medical columns.[70][71]

What followed was a scene illustrative of warfare at its most savage:

Under the yellow sky of early morning and over ground covered with wet snow Soviet tanks made straight for the thick of the column, ploughing up and down, killing and crushing with their tracks. Almost simultaneously massed Cossack cavalry wheeled away from the tanks to hunt down and massacre men fleeing for the refuge of the hills: hands held high in surrender the Cossacks sliced off with their sabres. The killing in this human hunt went on for several hours and a new round opened on the banks of the river Gniloy Tikich, where the survivors of the first collision of the German column with Soviet troops dragged and fought their way.

— John Erickson, in The Road to Berlin, p. 178.

Gruppe Stemmermann had paid a staggering price in casualties for the vagueness of the radio message that had ordered the breakout from the pocket.

By mid-day, the majority of the now intermingled divisions had reached the Gniloy Tikich stream, turbulent and swollen to a breadth of 15 meters and a depth of two meters[72] by the melting snow. Despite the fact that the 1st Panzer Division had captured a bridge, and engineers had erected another, the panicking men saw the river as their only escape from the rampaging T-34s. Since the main body was away and south of the bridgeheads, the last tanks, trucks and wagons were driven into the icy water, trees were felled to form makeshift bridges and the troops floundered across as best as they could, with hundreds of exhausted men drowning, being swept downstream with horses and military debris. Many others succumbed to shock or hypothermia. Groups of men were brought across on lifelines fashioned from belts and harnesses. Others formed rafts of planks and other debris to tow the wounded to the German side, at all times under Soviet artillery and T-34 fire. Gen. Lieb, after establishing a semblance of order at the banks throughout the afternoon, crossed the Gniloy Tikich swimming alongside his horse.[73] When the 5th SS Panzer Division commander Herbert Gille attempted to form a human chain across the river, alternating between those who could swim and those who could not, scores of men died when the chain broke. Several hundred Soviet prisoners of war, a troupe of Russian women auxiliaries and Ukrainian civilians who feared reprisals by the Red Army, also crossed the icy waters.[74] Toward the end phase of the breakout, engineers had built several more bridges and rear guard units of 57th and 88th Infantry Divisions crossed the river "dry", including "20 [horse drawn] panje wagons with ... about 600 wounded" aboard.[75]

That so many reached the German lines at Lysyanka was due in great measure to the exertions of III Panzer Corps as it drove in relief of Group Stemmermann. The cutting edge was provided by Heavy Armored Regiment Bäke (Schweres Panzer Regiment Bäke), named for its commander Lt.Col. Dr. Franz Bäke. The unit was equipped with Tigers and Panthers and an engineer battalion with specialist bridging skills.[76]

Outcome[edit]

The Red Army encirclement of Cherkassy–Korsun inflicted serious damage on six German divisions, including the 5th SS Panzer Division; these units were nearly destroyed and had to be withdrawn, requiring complete re-equipping after this military disaster. Most escaped troops were eventually shipped from collection points near Uman to rehabilitation areas and hospitals in Poland, or were sent on leave to their home towns.

The commander of the German XXXXII Corps was among the escapees and noted:

I assumed command of what was left of Force Stemmermann. By now the situation was the following: The 72nd and Wiking Divisions were completely intermingled. No longer did they have any tanks, artillery, vehicles or rations. Many soldiers were entirely without weapons, quite a few even without footgear. Neither division could be considered in any way able to fight. One regiment of Task Force B was intact and still had some artillery support. However, this regiment also had no vehicles and no rations left. All wounded, estimated at about 2,000, were being gradually sheltered in the houses of Lisyanka, and later were evacuated by air.



For lack of vehicles and fuel, III Panzer Corps was unable to reinforce its units in the area of Lisyanka and Oktyabr. The corps commander, with whom I conferred by telephone, informed me that he had been forced to assume the defensive against heavy Russian attacks from the northwest in the area immediately west of Lisyanka. He had no extra supplies of any kind, and his forward elements were unable to provide rations for the troops emerging from the pocket. Thus I had to order the pocket force in its miserable condition to move on westward, while I requested supply, evacuation of casualties by air, and the bringing up of vehicles and weapons from the rear.

— General Theo-Helmut Lieb[77]

With German armoured reserves drawn to the Korsun Pocket, the Soviets struck Army Group South in two other sectors. The 13th and 60th Armies (General Vatutin's 1st Ukrainian Front) advanced south of the Pripiat' Marshes, capturing the remnants of the German XIII Corps at the Battle of Rovno [78] and advancing to Lutsk. To the south, the 3rd and 4th Ukrainian Fronts (Generals Malinovsky and Tolbukhin) attacked along the bend of Dnepr River, capturing Krivoi Rog.[79]

General Stemmermann died when Soviet antitank gun fire struck his command car during the breakout.[80] General Lieb survived the war and died in 1981. The commander of 2nd Ukrainian Front, General Konev, was made a Marshal of the Soviet Union for his victory at Korsun. Konev also survived the war and died in 1973. General Vatutin was shot by Ukrainian Nationalist UPA insurgents on 29 February 1944 and died on 15 April 1944.[81]

Assessment[edit]

The battle around Korsun was a Soviet victory.[82] The German salient was collapsed and the forces therein forced to retreat through a gauntlet of Soviet fire. Viewing the details of the battle, however, make it clear that both sides in the battle committed errors.

The typical insistence of Hitler on holding the exposed salient[83] strongly limited the options of German field commanders. German intelligence, however, failed to note the formation and assembly of the Soviet 6th Tank Army, thus giving the Soviets back some element of surprise.[21] Following the Soviet encirclement of the German forces, the German relief efforts produced mixed results. XLVII Panzer Corps' attacks were almost ineffective because of the weakness of its divisions, and III Panzer Corps wasted a week on a failed attempt to encircle the Soviet forces that formed the Korsun Pocket.[33] When III Panzer Corps was finally given a realistic mission of relieving Gruppe Stemmermann, German logistics proved incapable of keeping Bäke's heavy tank regiment supplied, leading Bäke to stop the advance on Hill 239 because one group of his tanks had run out of fuel.[84] This failure of logistics was compounded by the vagueness of the radio message to General Stemmermann ordering the breakout attempt. Hill 239 remained under Soviet control, which subsequently caused high casualties among Stemmermann's group.

The Soviet performance was also beset by errors. Soviet intelligence on German forces in the pocket was faulty and overestimated their strength.[1] At the same time, the Soviets underestimated German capability for a counter-attack,[85] and had to rapidly insert more forces to bolster the strength of their encircling rings. The Soviet air force failed to strongly hinder the German aerial resupply effort, allowing the German forces within the pocket to hold out longer before being forced to retreat.[9] Ultimately, the strength of the encircling forces proved insufficient to prevent a German breakout, allowing a significant portion of the trapped Germans to escape. Finally, given the initial circumstances of the battle, the degree of Soviet losses makes clear that while the Soviets won at Korsun, it was a victory that came at a high price.[86]

Controversy exists to this day over casualties and losses. Soviet sources claim 57,000 killed and 18,000 prisoners.[87] The high numbers given are attributed by sources to the erroneous Soviet belief that all German units were at their full establishment and that most of the German 8th Army was trapped.[88] German accounts state that the under 60,000 men originally inside the pocket had shrunk in heavy fighting to less than 50,000 by 16 February, that 45,000 took part in the breakout and "that 27,703 German soldiers and 1,063 Russian auxiliaries had broken out unscathed. In addition 7,496 wounded" got through to III Panzer Corps plus the 4,161 wounded previously evacuated from the pocket by air, leaving behind a total of 19,000 dead, wounded, captured or missing (adding up to over 31,000 casualties total).[89] Contemporaneous German documents listed per unit survivors, with total escapees as 40,423, including the wounded flown out of the pocket and evacuated from Lysyanka.[90] Soviet sources give their losses for the operation as 24,286 killed and missing, and 55,902 sick and wounded, for a total of 80,188 casualties for the 1st and 2nd Ukrainian Fronts over the period 24 January – 17 February 1944.[4]

Propaganda and historiography[edit]

Both hailed the events at Korsun as a victory. Marshal Konev claimed to have inflicted 130,000 German casualties, an assertion the German official history has dismissed as being in the "realm of fantasy".[8] Soviet historian Sergey Smirnov described the victory at Korsun as a "Stalingrad on the Dnieper". Marshal Zhukov was less pleased in his memoirs, noting that on 18 February 1944, official honors were given in Moscow to the 2nd Ukrainian Front—but not the 1st Ukrainian Front. ". . . an unforgivable error of the part of the supreme commander" was Zhukov's unhappy verdict.[91]

On the part of the Germans, the counter-attack was depicted as a glorious success in which one group of brave German soldiers freed their equally heroic comrades who had been trapped in the pocket. General von Vormann, who commanded the relief attempt of the XXXXVII Panzer Corps, bitterly noted that "The troops who took part were astonished and unbelieving when they were told they had won a great victory at Cherkassy in the Ukraine in 1944." The German high command, however, was relieved that so many troops were able to escape. Even Adolf Hitler, who was known to launch into furious tirades over any reversal on the Eastern front, only complained briefly about the amount of equipment that had to be left behind.[92]

One of the initial historiographical works on the fighting at Korsun was a 1952 U.S. Army publication, DA Pamphlet 20–234, Operations of Encircled Forces: German Experiences in Russia. This work was written in the context of NATO's Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union, and authors were highlighting historical experience of the Wehrmacht that may have proven useful to NATO forces had a war between the Soviet Union and NATO broken out.[93] Like most of the English-language works on the Eastern Front of this era, it was written from the German point of view.

John Erickson's 1983 The Road to Berlin and David Glantz's 1995 When Titans Clashed covered events on the entire Eastern Front from a Soviet perspective, but also devoted several pages to the fighting in the Korsun Pocket. Erickson did not question Soviet claims regarding German casualties, and Glantz questioned the veracity of German claims regarding the total of escapees from the pocket.[94] Glantz has also translated the Soviet General Staff Study on the Korsun Operation into English as The Battle for the Ukraine: the Red Army's Korsun'-Shevchenkovkii Operation, 1944.

More recently, the 2002 work by U.S. Army historian Douglas Nash, Hell's Gate: The Battle of the Cherkassy Pocket, January–February 1944, took issue with Soviet claims that Korsun was another Stalingrad.[95] Similarly, the Swedish historians Niklas Zetterling and Anders Frankson disputed the assertions of the Soviet General Staff Study of the Korsun Operation in their 2008 work, The Korsun Pocket. The Encirclement and Breakout of a German Army in the East, 1944, using statements to describe the staff study such as "anything but accurate" and "completely unreliable." Yet, both Nash[95] and Zetterling/Frankson[86] conclude that Korsun was a Soviet victory even as all three authors took issue with Soviet characterizations of the battle.[96][97][98]

In 2007, Volume 8 of the German semiofficial history of the war (The German Reich and the Second World War) was published, and part of the work authored by Karl-Heinz Frieser addressed the events at Korsun. This work also doubts Soviet claims regarding the German casualties while discussing the situation of the German forces in detail, using available data from the German archives. However, while German casualties in this work are taken from German archives, it bases its assessment of Soviet AFV and gun losses (uncritically) on German wartime claims.[99]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Frieser, p. 397
  2. ^ Frieser, p. 400
  3. ^ Frieser, p. 399
  4. ^ a b Krivosheev, p. 109
  5. ^ Numbers of Soviet AFVs, aircraft, and guns taken from Frieser, p. 395
  6. ^ Vogel, p. 341-343, 346-347
  7. ^ Zetterling & Frankson, The Korsun Pocket, p. 277
  8. ^ a b Frieser, p. 416
  9. ^ a b c d Frieser, p. 405
  10. ^ Грылев А. Н. Днепр—Карпаты—Крым. — М.: Наука, 1970. (Anatoly Nikolayevic Grylev. Dniepr-Carpath-Krym. Moskva. Nauka
  11. ^ Glantz & House, p. 298
  12. ^ Zetterling & Frankson, p. 283 (citing The Korsun-Shevchenkovskii Operation, p. 41 and 52; Krivosheev, p. 109)
  13. ^ Frieser, p. 417
  14. ^ Nash, Hell's Gate, p. 366
  15. ^ Zetterling & Frankson, p. 280
  16. ^ Москаленко Кирилл Семёнович, На Юго-Западном направлении. 1943–1945. Воспоминания командарма. Книга II. — М.: Наука, 1973. (Kirill Semyonovich Moskalenko On the South-West Direction, 1943–1945, Memoirs of a commander. Vol. 2. Literature Publisher. Moscow. 1973. Chapter 7: Attack Zhitomir–Berdichev. Section 8.)
  17. ^ Corps Detachment B was organized as an infantry division with six infantry battalions and normal supporting divisional units. The unit had been formed from elements contributed by the 112th, 255th, and 332nd Infantry Divisions. Tessin, pp. 26–27.
  18. ^ Zetterling & Frankson, p. 37
  19. ^ Zetterling & Frankson, pp. 37–39
  20. ^ Zetterling & Frankson, p. 39
  21. ^ a b c Glantz, p. 187
  22. ^ The 6th Tank Army had been formed on 20 January 1944. Dunn, Hitler's Nemesis
  23. ^ a b Erickson, p. 177
  24. ^ Erickson, p. 177; Glantz, p. 187; and Frieser, p. 396
  25. ^ Konev, Battles Hitler Lost, quoted in Nash, p. 200
  26. ^ Nash, p. 27
  27. ^ Frieser, p. 424
  28. ^ Zetterling & Frankson, p. 335
  29. ^ Zetterling & Frankson, p. 336; a total of 242 artillery pieces were inside the pocket.
  30. ^ Image description abbreviated from nearly same image in Nash, p. 161
  31. ^ Perrett, Knights of the Black Cross, p. 167
  32. ^ Frieser, p. 354
  33. ^ a b Frieser, p. 402
  34. ^ a b Nash, p. 162
  35. ^ a b Zetterling & Frankson, p. 180
  36. ^ Zetterling & Frankson, p. 184
  37. ^ Zetterling & Frankson, p. 185
  38. ^ Group Stemmermann essentially consisted of six divisions: 57th, 72nd, 88th, 389th divisions, Corps Detachment B (Division Group 112), all infantry formations with no armored components; and the 5th SS Panzer Division with the attached 5th SS Infantry Brigade and the Narwa Battalion. The only units considered still capable of aggressive, offensive operations were 72nd Infantry and 5th SS Divisions. (Department of the Army Pamphlet 20–234, pp. 19–20)
  39. ^ Nash, p. 194
  40. ^ Perrett, p. 167
  41. ^ DA Pamphlet 20–234, p. 22
  42. ^ Nash, p. 198
  43. ^ Description from same image in Nash, p. 287
  44. ^ Nash, p. 325
  45. ^ Nash, p. 131
  46. ^ Nash, Appendix 8, p. 399
  47. ^ DA Pamphlet 20–234, p. 19
  48. ^ The regiments of this division were raised in the city of Trier and the Mosel valley in western Germany
  49. ^ Nash, pp. 212–214
  50. ^ Zetterling & Frankson, p. 245
  51. ^ Nash, p. 369
  52. ^ Zetterling & Frankson, p. 255
  53. ^ Nash, p. 258
  54. ^ Nash, p. 287
  55. ^ Zetterling & Frankson, p. 244
  56. ^ Nash, p. 296, map of disposition of forces during the breakout
  57. ^ Carell, Scorched Earth, p. 418
  58. ^ Nash, p. 280
  59. ^ Carell, p. 417
  60. ^ Perrett, p. 168
  61. ^ Nash, p. 283
  62. ^ Zetterling & Frankson, p. 242
  63. ^ Zetterling & Frankson, p. 257
  64. ^ DA Pamphlet 20–234, p. 27
  65. ^ Nash, p. 300
  66. ^ a b DA Pamphlet 20–234, p. 40
  67. ^ Nash, p. 301
  68. ^ Nash, p. 267. Editor's note – Soviet tank corps did not have organic heavy (JS-2) tank brigades. Nash may be referring to one of the independent heavy tank regiments that were assigned to the 2nd Ukrainian Front.
  69. ^ One such isolated group of stragglers from the Wallonien brigade was set upon by a "swarm of Cossacks" [Carell, p. 430]. The vengeful cavalry hacked at the escapees with their sabers in "an orgy of slaughter" [Perrett, p. 169]
  70. ^ Nash, p. 308
  71. ^ Zetterling & Frankson, p. 267
  72. ^ Friesner, p. 424
  73. ^ DA Pamphlet 20–234, p. 31
  74. ^ Carell, p. 430
  75. ^ Zetterling & Frankson, p. 272
  76. ^ Perrett, p. 169
  77. ^ DA Pam 20–234, p. 31
  78. ^ Haupt, pp. 211–212
  79. ^ Glantz, When Titans Clashed, p. 188.
  80. ^ Nash 1995, p. 132
  81. ^ Glantz, p. 188
  82. ^ Nash 1995, pp. 141–142: In fact, it was a significant Soviet victory. Two German corps had been shattered. All their equipment lay abandoned on the battlefield. The Red Army claimed to have killed over 55,000 Germans and to have captured another 18,000, although it later admitted that a few had managed to escape. The Red Army inflicted heavy casualties upon the German relief force as well, claiming to have knocked out over 800 German tanks. Although this number, too, was exaggerated, XXXXVII Panzer Corps was reduced to an empty shell and III Panzer Corps was crippled as an effective offensive force. Both sides suffered nearly equally in terms of men killed, wounded, and missing—approximately 50,000 to 75,000 men. But what was more significant than these casualty figures, as impressive as they are, is the fact that the flanks of the 1st and 2nd Ukrainian Fronts were now secure and that the remaining German armored forces in Army Group South had been crippled permanently. This lack of strong panzer divisions, combined with Hitler's continued insistence on holding ground at all cost (despite the demonstrated failure of this doctrine during the Korsun-Shevchenkovsky Operation), made the subsequent Soviet clearing of the Ukraine relatively easy.
  83. ^ Frieser, p. 394
  84. ^ Frieser, p. 404
  85. ^ www.dtic.mil (Nash 1995), pp. 149–150
  86. ^ a b Zetterling & Frankson, p. 298
  87. ^ Reference to a similar claim (55,000 killed and 18,000 prisoners) is noted in Glantz, When Titans Clashed, p. 188. In this work, Glantz is skeptical of German accounts, writing Although German accounts claim that 30,000 troops escaped, the Soviet version is far more credible . . . . Other historians such as Nash and Zetterling have taken opposing stances on the credibility of the German claims.
  88. ^ These Soviet claims are based on a Soviet General Staff Study of the 1944 Korsun operation with after-war amendments.
  89. ^ Zetterling & Frankson, pp. 277–278
  90. ^ Nash, p. 398
  91. ^ Frieser, p. 418
  92. ^ Frieser, p. 419
  93. ^ DA Pam 20–234, p. 1
  94. ^ Glantz, When Titans Clashed, p. 188. In this work, Glantz is skeptical of German accounts, writing "Although German accounts claim that 30,000 troops escaped, the Soviet version is far more credible . . . ."
  95. ^ a b Nash, p. 382
  96. ^ For example, U.S. Army historian Douglas E. Nash points to Soviet claims as being exaggerated; e.g., the Soviet 5th Cavalry Corps and 4th Guards Army "claimed that they had practically wiped out most of Wiking [on 6 February 1944], though this was not remotely close ... In fact, Wiking's biggest battles in the pocket were yet to come" (Nash, p. 110). The Soviets claimed "to have downed more than 329 aircraft" during the aerial supply operation; that number would have been more planes than the Luftwaffe had operational in its Korps area during this entire period and "should be regarded as an example of the degree of exaggeration to which the Soviets were prone. This would not be the last wildly inflated claim they would make" (Nash, p. 120).
  97. ^ "There was no Stalingrad on the Dnieper, as the Soviets claimed ..." (Nash, p. 382)
  98. ^ "Nevertheless, the Soviet position, relative to the Germans, was stronger after the battle than before, so Korsun may be viewed as a Soviet victory, even though it was bought at a considerably higher price than it ought to have been." (Zetterling & Frankson, p. 298)
  99. ^ Frieser, pp. 394–419

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