1944. The slow decimation of the German Army gained momentum. Battle of Korsun. Or Battle of Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket. Most westerners have not heard of it unless they are history aficionados. The Battle was huge. It could have turned into another Stalingrad. Two thirds of the Wehrmacht trapped in the pocket managed to escape. The rest were killed or captured. Two corps ceased to exist. It was war at its most brutal. Two armies. Equally tough and ruthless. But the Wehrmacht was on the run. In decline.
It was war at its most brutal. Read on....
IMPORTANCE OF KORSUN-CHERKASSY BATTLE
Virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, the Battle of Cherkassy (also known as the Korsun Pocket) still stirs controversy in both the former Soviet Union and in Germany, the protagonists during this epic struggle. Although small in scale when compared to the gigantic battles of Moscow, Stalingrad, and Kursk, theBattle of the Cherkassy Pocket occupies a prominent place in the Russo-German War. It was at Cherkassy where the last German offensive strength in the Ukraine was drained away, creating the conditions for the victorious Soviet advance into Poland, Rumania, and the Balkans during the summer and autumn of 1944. Eclipsed by a war of such gigantic proportions that saw battles of over one million men or more as commonplace, the events which occurred along the banks of the Gniloy Tickich have faded into obscurity. However, to the 60,000 German soldiers who were encircled there at the end of January 1944, this was perhaps one of the most brutal, physically exhausting, and morally demanding battles they had ever experienced. Fully thirty-four percent of them would not escape....
The fate of the German Sixth Army surrounded in Stalingrad was decided in early 1943, marking the turning point in the eastern campaign. From then on the German forces were steadily on the retreat in the face of continual Soviet offensives.
As 1944 began, the superiority of the Red Army had become so crushing, aided by the obstinacy at the highest levels of German command, that the German Eastern Front, which was under heavy pressure everywhere, suffered a number of disasters which cost the eastern armies alone more than half a million German soldiers killed, missing and wounded.
It began with the Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket, where two corps were smashed. Then followed the end of the German forces defending Ternopol, the belated evacuation of the Crimea, the destruction of Army Group Center, the failed breakout of an entire army corps from the encirclement near Brody and the collapse of the entire Army Group South-Ukraine in Romania.
The hundreds of thousands of German soldiers who had to endure this fate were symbols of distress, suffering, sacrifice and death, of fulfillment of duty, courage and comradeship, as well as of fear, desperation and self-sacrifice. It borders on the miraculous that the German soldier continued to stand and hold out despite these bitter setbacks of such enormous proportions.
Cherkassy and Ternopol, Crimea and Sevastopol, Vitebsk, Bobruisk and Minsk, Brody, Jassy and Vutcani entered the history of the Second World War as beacons in a pitiless struggle with tragic results.From Ostfront 1944: The German Defensive Battles on the Russian Front 1944 (Schiffer military history)
MASSACRE AT KORSUN
KORSUN: THE SITUATION
General Breith though, refused to give up. With parts of the SS LAH Division on hand and the advance elements of the 1st Panzer Division now arriving, he committed them to the action. He radioed the forces in the pocket with the simple message, 'I'm coming!' On the 8th of February the 1st Panzer Division captured Bushanka. Finally, on February the 8th, the Russians were forced into a withdrawal back over the Gniloy Tikich River where the 16th and 17th Panzer Divisions were able to establish a small bridgehead. However poor ground conditions and stiff Russian resistance halted any further advance there. The German forces trapped in the Korsun pocket would have to fight their way out to them.
On the 12th of February, the SS LAH Division battled against Russian forces at Vinograd, while the 16th Panzer Division encountered resistance on the road to Medvin. The 17th Panzer Division also became engaged in a tank battle against elements of the Russian 6th Tank Army to the southwest of Medvin. The 1st Panzer Division meanwhile, continued to press its attack towards Lysianka. Further north, elements of the 47th Panzer Corps stalled at Zvenigorodka, 30km from the pocket and 25km from the 3rd Panzer Corps, its strength expended.
THE POCKET MOVES FROM KORSUN TO SHENDEROVKA
By February 15th, the pocket had moved with a masterful fluidity, maintaining its flanks against constant Russian pressure, not only from the pursuing ground forces but also from constant air attacks, to the jump-off point at Shenderovka. The same day, the 105th Regiment captured the village of Chilki, and then repulsed heavy Russian counter-attacks. The pocket was now centred on the village of Shenderovka and had been reduced to an area of 56sq km, containing around 40,000 men.
CROSSING THE GNILOY TIKICH RIVER
The German forces were hampered by Hitler's continual interference. His repeated reluctance to give up ground in order to improve the tactical situation doomed the two Corps trapped in the salient. Hitler's inaccurate view of the situation belied the fact that most of his Divisions were badly under strength, poorly equipped and exhausted.
The Luftwaffe was again unable, as at Stalingrad, to re-supply the forces trapped in the pocket by air. Russian air superiority and a lack of fighters to support the transports lead to heavy losses. Poor ground conditions, as so often during the Russian campaign, badly affected German mobility. This debilitated offensive operations outside the pocket and the ability of the forces inside the pocket to manoeuvre.
While the Russians had not succeeded in destroying the two Corps trapped in the pocket, they had successfully neutralized the fighting ability of over six German divisions. Most of the men rescued had no weapons and all their heavy equipment had been abandoned. German forces had lost their foothold along the Dnepr.
The Russian forces would regroup and prepare for a new offensive during the summer. Operation Bagration, against German Army Group Centre, which would drive the Germans out of Byelorussia.
SOME NOTES FROM THE POCKET.....
CROSSING THE RIVER GNILOY TIKICH....
It had not become a second Stalingrad, but two German army corps had ceased to exist and the better part of six divisions, which were soon to be bitterly needed,had been destroyed. Having escaped a twenty-one day battle of encirclement, the ten-thousand German soldiers were not fit for action for some time, and their faith in the highest levels of German command had been severely shaken. The two corps had also lost their entire complement of armaments, equipment, vehicles and horses.
VIDEO: BATTLE OF KORSUN POCKET
Hell's Gate: The Battle of the Cherkassy Pocket, January-February 1944
By Douglas Nash
KORSUN POCKET: The Encirclement and Breakout of a German Army in the East, 1944
Niklas Zetterling and Anders Frankson
World War 2 The battle of the Korsun Pocket
Order of Battle Soviet Army World War 2: 1944 January and February: Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket
by Jean-Luc Marchand (Author), George Nafziger (Editor)