Lvov–Sandomierz Offensive

Last updated
Lvov-Sandomierz Strategic Offensive Operation
Part of the Eastern Front of World War II
RKKA Lviv.jpg
Soviet Soldiers advancing in Lviv
Date13 July 1944 – 29 August 1944
Location
Result Allied victory
Belligerents
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg  Germany
Flag of Hungary (1915-1918, 1919-1946).svg  Hungary

Flag of the Soviet Union (1936-1955).svg Soviet Union
Flag of Poland (1928-1980).svg Poland


Flaga PPP.svg Armia Krajowa
(23-27 July)
Commanders and leaders
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Josef Harpe
(Army Group North Ukraine)
Flag of the Soviet Union (1936-1955).svg Ivan Konev
(1st Ukrainian Front)
Strength
900,000 men
900 AFVs
6,300 guns [1]
1,002,200 men [2]
1,979 AFVs
11,265 guns
Casualties and losses
55,000 killed, missing and captured
136,860 overall [3]
65,001 killed, missing or captured
224,295 wounded
289,296 overall
1,269 tanks and SP guns
289 aircraft [2]

The Lvov–Sandomierz Offensive or Lvov-Sandomierz Strategic Offensive Operation (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, the Red Army achieved its set objectives by the end of August.

Russian language East Slavic language

Russian is an East Slavic language, which is official in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely used throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 25 December 1991. Although, nowadays, nearly three decades after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is used in official capacity or in public life in all the post-Soviet nation-states, as well as in Israel and Mongolia, the rise of state-specific varieties of this language tends to be strongly denied in Russia, in line with the Russian World ideology.

Red Army 1917–1946 ground and air warfare branch of the Soviet Unions military

The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, frequently shortened to Red Army was the army and the air force of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, and, after 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The army was established immediately after the 1917 October Revolution. The Bolsheviks raised an army to oppose the military confederations of their adversaries during the Russian Civil War. Beginning in February 1946, the Red Army, along with the Soviet Navy, embodied the main component of the Soviet Armed Forces; taking the official name of "Soviet Army", until its dissolution in December 1991.

Germany Federal parliamentary republic in central-western Europe

Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central and Western Europe, lying between the Baltic and North Seas to the north, and the Alps to the south. It borders Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, and Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands to the west.

Contents

The offensive was composed of three smaller operations:

The LvovSandomierz 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 Force resources were allocated, not to Bagration's Belorussian operations, but the Lviv-Sandomierz operations. [4] The campaign was conducted as Maskirovka. By concentrating in southern Poland and Ukraine, the Soviets drew German mobile reserves southward, leaving Army Group Centre vulnerable to a concentrated assault. [5] When the Soviets launched their Bagration offensive against Army Group Center, it would create a crisis in the eastern German front, which would then force the powerful German Panzer forces back to the central front, leaving the Soviets free to then pursue their objectives in seizing the western Ukraine, Vistula bridgeheads, and gaining a foothold in Romania. [6]

Sandomierz Place in Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship, Poland

Sandomierz is a town in south-eastern Poland with 25,714 inhabitants (2006), situated in the Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship. It is the capital of Sandomierz County. Sandomierz is known for its Old Town, which is a major tourist attraction. In the past, Sandomierz used to be one of the most important urban centers not only of Lesser Poland, but also of the whole country.

Operation Bagration military offensive

Operation Bagration was the codename for the Soviet 1944 Belorussian Strategic Offensive Operation, a military campaign fought between 22 June and 19 August 1944 in Soviet Byelorussia in the Eastern Front of World War II.

Army Group Centre was the name of two distinct strategic German Army Groups that fought on the Eastern Front in World War II. The first Army Group Centre was created on 22 June 1941, as one of three German Army formations assigned to the invasion of the Soviet Union. On 25 January 1945, after it was encircled in the Königsberg pocket, Army Group Centre was renamed Army Group North, and Army Group A became Army Group Centre. The latter formation retained its name until the end of the war in Europe.

Background

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. Joseph Stalin ordered the total liberation of Ukraine, and Stavka set in motion plans that would become the Lviv-Sandomierz Operation. In the early planning stage, the offensive was known as the Lvov-Przemyśl Operation. The objective of the offensive was for Marshal Ivan Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front to liberate Lviv and clear the German troops from Ukraine and capture a series of bridgeheads on the Vistula river. [7]

Walter Model German field marshal

Otto Mortiz Walter Model was a German field marshal during World War II. Although he was a hard-driving, aggressive panzer commander early in the war, Model became best known as a practitioner of defensive warfare. His relative success as commander of the Ninth Army in the retreats of 1941–42 determined his future career path. He has been called the Third Reich's best defensive tactical commander.

The Army Group North Ukraine was a major ground force formation of the German armed forces.

Ukraine sovereign state in Eastern Europe

Ukraine, sometimes called the Ukraine, is a country in Eastern Europe. Excluding Crimea, Ukraine has a population of about 42.5 million, making it the 32nd most populous country in the world. Its capital and largest city is Kiev. Ukrainian is the official language and its alphabet is Cyrillic. The dominant religions in the country are Eastern Orthodoxy and Greek Catholicism. Ukraine is currently in a territorial dispute with Russia over the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014. Including Crimea, Ukraine has an area of 603,628 km2 (233,062 sq mi), making it the largest country entirely within Europe and the 46th largest country in the world.

Stavka was also planning an even larger offensive, codenamed Operation Bagration to coincide with Konev's offensive. The objective of Operation Bagration 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.

The Stavka was the high command of the armed forces in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. In Imperial Russia Stavka refers to the administrative staff, and to the General Headquarters in the late 19th Century Imperial Russian armed forces and subsequently in the Soviet Union. In Western literature it is sometimes written in uppercase (STAVKA), which is incorrect since it is not an acronym. Stavka may refer to its members, as well as to the headquarter location.

Belarus country in Eastern Europe

Belarus, officially the Republic of Belarus, formerly known by its Russian name Byelorussia or Belorussia, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe bordered by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital and most populous city is Minsk. Over 40% of its 207,600 square kilometres (80,200 sq mi) is forested. Its major economic sectors are service industries and manufacturing. Until the 20th century, different states at various times controlled the lands of modern-day Belarus, including the Principality of Polotsk, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the Russian Empire.

Wehrmacht unified armed forces of Germany from 1935 to 1945

The Wehrmacht was the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer (army), the Kriegsmarine (navy) and the Luftwaffe. The designation "Wehrmacht" replaced the previously used term Reichswehr, and was the manifestation of the Nazi regime's efforts to rearm Germany to a greater extent than the Treaty of Versailles permitted.

Opposing forces

German and Soviet deployments on the Eastern Front, June to August 1944, showing Operation Bagration to the north, Lvov-Sandomierz to the south. The encirclement of the German XIII Army Corps at Brody is shown in Konev's First Ukrainian command. BagrationMap2.jpg
German and Soviet deployments on the Eastern Front, June to August 1944, showing Operation Bagration to the north, Lvov-Sandomierz to the south. The encirclement of the German XIII Army Corps at Brody is shown in Konev's First Ukrainian command.

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 1st Panzer Army, under Generaloberst Gotthard Heinrici and the 4th Panzer Army under General der Panzertruppen Walther Nehring. Attached to the 1st Panzer Army was the Hungarian First Army. Harpe could muster only 420 tanks, StuG's and other assorted armoured vehicles. His Army Group comprised around 900,000 men; [1] 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.

Josef Harpe German general

Josef Harpe was a German general during World War II who commanded the 9th Army. He was a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords of Nazi Germany.

The 1st Panzer Army was a German tank army which was a large armoured formation of the Wehrmacht during World War II.

Gotthard Heinrici German general

Gotthard Fedor August Heinrici was a German general during World War II. Heinrici is considered as the premier defensive expert of the Wehrmacht. He was the commander-in-chief of the Army Group Vistula, formed from the remnants of Army Group Center to defend Berlin from the Soviet armies advancing from the Vistula River.

The 1st Ukrainian Front forces under Konev considerably outnumbered the Army Group North Ukraine. The 1st Ukrainian Front could muster over 1,002,200 troops, [2] some 2,050 tanks, about 16,000 guns and mortars, and over 3,250 aircraft of the 2nd Air Army commanded by General Stepan Krasovsky. [8] 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 began on 13 July 1944. The 1st Ukrainian Front forces easily broke through near Horokhiv. The weakened Wehrmacht XLII Army Corps 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 Army Corps.

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

The northern forces soon encountered weak elements of the 291st and 340th Infantry Divisions, but these were quickly swept aside. On 15 July, Generaloberst Nehring, realising his 4th Panzer Army was in serious jeopardy, ordered his two reserve divisions, the 16th and 17th 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 German counterattack soon bogged down. The massively superior Red Army forces soon forced the two Panzer divisions to join the retreating infantry divisions. Konev ordered Mobile Group Baranov into the breach to help exploit the breakthrough. The Mobile Group advanced quickly, under cover of air support, and over the next three days managed to capture the town of Kamionka Strumilowa and to seize and hold a bridgehead on the western bank of the Southern Bug River, thus cutting the XIII Army Corps' line of communication and cutting off their path of retreat.

Encirclement at Brody (Brody Cauldron)

To the south, a major Red Army assault aimed at the juncture of the 1st and 4th Panzer Armies 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 349th and 357th Infantry Divisions. The 349th Infantry Division collapsed under the assault, the survivors falling back in disarray. Due to the actions of Korpsabteilung C and 357th Infantry Division, 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 Army Corps and the neighboring XLVIII Panzer Corps.

German artillery from both Corps and the 18th Artillery Division began saturating the narrow salient, dubbed the Koltiv Corridor. A hasty counterattack by the 1st Panzer and 8th Panzer Divisions took place, accompanied by elements of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Galizien (1st Ukrainian). While the Galizien and 1st Panzer fought well, the 8th Panzer division got lost, and found itself in the XIII Army Corps area. Cut off from the XLVIII Panzer Corps and the 1st Panzer Division, it was 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[ citation needed ] on the attacking panzers. The absence of 8th Panzer Division meant that the attack was doomed to fail. The commander of 8th 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 Il-2s. 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 Army Corps 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 Strypa river about 35 km west of Ternopil. Strong 1st Ukrainian Front attacks throughout 17 July succeeded in capturing parts of the Prinz-Eugen-Stellung. The 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS 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 SS advance. Despite repeated warnings from his subordinates, the Corps commander, General der Infanterie Arthur Hauffe, did not order further withdrawal, condemning the three XIII Army Corps divisions and Korps-Abteilung C in the Brody salient to their fate. [9]

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 Army Corps 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 Panzer Corps and XXIV Panzer Corps, 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 Army Corps. 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; the 4th Panzer Army to the Vistula River and the 1st Panzer Army along with 1st Hungarian Army to the area around the Carpathian Mountains.

Lviv itself was occupied again by the Soviets on 26 July, the first time being in September 1939 during the Nazi-Soviet alliance and joint invasion of Poland. This time, the city was retaken by the 1st Ukrainian Front, a Soviet force, relatively easily. The Germans had been completely forced out from Western 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. Ukrainian hopes of independence were squashed amidst the overwhelming force of the Soviets, much like in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The Ukrainian Insurgent Army, UPA, would continue waging a guerrilla war against the Soviets well into the 1950s.

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. However, strong German counterattacks near Sandomierz prevented further 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 divisions, six StuG brigades and the 501st Heavy Tank Battalion (equipped with Tiger II tanks) were placed under Harpe's command.

Large-scale 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 the 501st Heavy Tank Battalion and the 6th Panzer Division, totaling around 140 tanks including 20 Tiger IIs. Despite being heavily 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, the 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 Lvov–Sandomierz Offensive was deemed complete.

Order of battle

Red Army

1st Ukrainian Front (Konev)

Rava-Ruska operational direction
Lviv operational direction

Axis

Army Group North Ukraine (Generaloberst Josef Harpe) - 12 July 1944 [10]

Casualty estimates

Wehrmacht reports stressed the successful withdrawal of several forces, in line with the Frieser estimate. Soviet estimates were considerably higher: according to an August 1944 report by the Soviet Information Bureau, German forces suffered 350,000 casualties. Of these, 140,000 were killed and 32,360 captured, primarily in the Brody pocket. Additionally, the Soviets claimed to have taken out 1,941 German tanks and 687 aircraft during the offensive. [11]

Footnotes

  1. 1 2 Zaloga (1996), p. 74
  2. 1 2 3 Glantz (1995), p. 299
  3. Frieser (2007), p. 711-718
  4. Watt 2008, p. 687-688.
  5. Watt 2008, pp. 683-684
  6. Watt 2008, pp. 695-700.
  7. Watt 2008, p. 695
  8. Wagner, p. 285
  9. 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.
  10. Lange, W. Korpsabteilung C; Map 10.
  11. Наша Победа. День за днем — проект РИА Новости (in Russian)

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