Upper Silesian Offensive

Last updated
Upper Silesian Offensive
Part of Eastern Front of World War II
Date15–31 March 1945
Location
Result Soviet victory
Belligerents
Flag of Germany 1933.svg Germany Flag of the Soviet Union.svg Soviet Union
Commanders and leaders
Flag of Germany 1933.svg Ferdinand Schoerner Flag of the Soviet Union.svg Ivan Konev
Strength
unknown 408,400 [1]
Casualties and losses
unknown 66,801 (including 15,876 irrecoverable) [1]

The Upper Silesian Offensive was a strategically significant Soviet offensive on the Eastern Front of World War II in 1945. It was aimed at capturing the considerable industrial and natural resources located in Upper Silesia and involved forces of the 1st Ukrainian Front under Marshal Ivan Konev. Due to the importance of the region to the Germans, considerable forces were provided to Army Group Centre for its defence and the Germans were only slowly pushed back to the Czech border. Fighting for the region lasted from mid January right until the last day of the war in Europe on May 8, 1945.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a Marxist-Leninist sovereign state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centers were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Tashkent, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometers (6,200 mi) east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometers (4,500 mi) north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

Eastern Front (World War II) theatre of World War II - war between Germany and USSR 1941-1945

The Eastern Front of World War II was a theatre of conflict between the European Axis powers and co-belligerent Finland against the Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.), Poland and other Allies, which encompassed Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Northeast Europe (Baltics), and Southeast Europe (Balkans) from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945. It has been known as the Great Patriotic War in the former Soviet Union and modern Russia, while in Germany it was called the Eastern Front, or the German-Soviet War by outside parties.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 70 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Contents

Prelude

The front lines in Silesia had been established at the end of the Vistula-Oder Offensive in January, during which Konev's troops had forced the German Seventeenth Army of General Friedrich Schulz out of the industrial heartland of Upper Silesia around Kattowitz. The Lower Silesian Offensive Operation, taking place in February, had seen the northern wing of Konev's forces make further gains, closing up to the Neisse River. This had, however, left a long exposed flank to the south and east in the Sudeten Mountains, still held by Schulz's troops, which formed a potential threat to the proposed Soviet advance on Berlin.

The German Seventeenth Army was a World War II field army.

Friedrich Schulz German general

Friedrich Schulz was a German general during World War II. He was a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords of Nazi Germany.

Katowice Place in Silesian Voivodeship, Poland

Katowice is a city in southern Poland, with a city-proper population of 294,510 making it the eleventh-largest city in Poland and is the center of the Katowice metropolitan area, which has approximately 2 million people.

Operation Gemse: the German counter-attacks at Lauban and Striegau

Joseph Goebbels awards 16-year-old Hitler Youth member Willi Hubner the Iron Cross for the defense of Lauban. Bundesarchiv Bild 183-J31305, Auszeichnung des Hitlerjungen Willi Hubner.jpg
Joseph Goebbels awards 16-year-old Hitler Youth member Willi Hübner the Iron Cross for the defense of Lauban.

The commander of Army Group Centre, Field-Marshal Ferdinand Schörner, began to build up Schulz's forces during February for a counter-attack against the 3rd Guards Tank Army's spearheads, which had reached and taken Lauban during the Lower Silesian Offensive. The LVI Panzer Corps and XXXIX Panzer Corps were grouped under the command of General Nehring; a two-pronged attack began on 1 March, with the 17th Panzer and Führer Grenadier Divisions attacking in the north, and 8th Panzer Division to the south. [2]

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.

Ferdinand Schörner German Field Marshal

Ferdinand Schörner was a German army officer and Nazi war criminal. He was a general and later Field Marshal in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany during World War II. He commanded several army groups and was the last Commander-in-chief of the German Army.

Lubań Place in Lower Silesian Voivodeship, Poland

Lubań is a town in the Lower Silesian Voivodeship in southwest Poland. It is the administrative seat of Lubań County and also of the smaller Gmina Lubań.

The 3rd Guards Tank Army was initially taken by surprise, though by 3 March German forces found themselves threatened by Soviet counterattacks from Naumberg. As a result, Nehring decided on a more limited plan of encirclement. Rybalko's troops evacuated Lauban to avoid being cut off, and the town was retaken by the 6th Volksgrenadier Division. By 4 March, the encirclement was closed, though large numbers of Soviet troops were able to escape; within 4 days the trapped force had been destroyed (the fighting in Silesia has been characterised as "merciless", with German forces not taking prisoners). [3]

Nowogrodziec Place in Lower Silesian Voivodeship, Poland

Nowogrodziec is a town in Bolesławiec County, Lower Silesian Voivodeship, in south-western Poland. It is the seat of the administrative district called Gmina Nowogrodziec. It lies on the east bank of the Kwisa river south of the Lower Silesian Wilderness, approximately 15 kilometres (9 mi) south-west of Bolesławiec, and 116 kilometres (72 mi) west of the regional capital Wrocław.

Despite the limited nature of the victory, the recapture of Lauban was presented as a great success by German propaganda, with Joseph Goebbels visiting the town on 9 March to give a speech on the battle. Schörner made preparations for a further attack to the south-east at Striegau, which was commenced on 9 March. Though there were not enough forces available for a double envelopment, the Germans were able to penetrate the Soviet lines and cut off elements of the 5th Guards Army on the night of 11–12 March; there was an outbreak of panic amongst the trapped troops, who were massacred by Schörner's men as they tried to escape. [4]

Propaganda Form of communication intended to sway the audience through presenting only one side of the argument

Propaganda is information that is used primarily to influence an audience and further an agenda, which may not be objective and may be presenting facts selectively to encourage a particular synthesis or perception, or using loaded language to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information that is presented. Propaganda is often associated with material prepared by governments, but activist groups, companies, religious organizations and the media can also produce propaganda.

Joseph Goebbels Nazi politician and Propaganda Minister

Paul Joseph Goebbels was a German Nazi politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. He was one of Adolf Hitler's closest and most devoted associates, and was known for his skills in public speaking and his deeply virulent antisemitism, which was evident in his publicly voiced views. He advocated progressively harsher discrimination, including the extermination of the Jews in the Holocaust.

Strzegom Place in Lower Silesian Voivodeship, Poland

Strzegom is a town in Świdnica County, Lower Silesian Voivodeship, in south-western Poland. It is the seat of the Gmina Strzegom administrative district (gmina). It lies approximately 15 kilometres (9 mi) north-west of Świdnica, and 52 kilometres (32 mi) west of the regional capital Wrocław.

Schörner began to organise a more ambitious offensive to the north to relieve the besieged city of Breslau, moving Nehring's divisions northwards from Lauban by rail, but Konev acted decisively to regain the initiative in Silesia. Shifting the 4th Tank Army from the northern flank of his Front, he redeployed it near Grottkau in order to spearhead a major attack into Upper Silesia, neutralising the threat to the left flank of his forces and taking the area around Ratibor.

Wrocław City in Lower Silesian Voivodeship, Poland

Wrocław is a city in western Poland and the largest city in the historical region of Silesia. It lies on the banks of the River Oder in the Silesian Lowlands of Central Europe, roughly 350 kilometres (220 mi) from the Baltic Sea to the north and 40 kilometres (25 mi) from the Sudeten Mountains to the south. The population of Wrocław in 2018 was 640,648, making it the fourth-largest city in Poland and the main city of the Wrocław agglomeration.

Grodków Place in Opole Voivodeship, Poland

Grodków(listen) is a town in Brzeg County, Opole Voivodeship in Poland, the administrative seat of Gmina Grodków. It is located in the Silesian Lowlands of the Oder basin, in the historic Upper Silesia region, about 20 km (12 mi) south of Brzeg. In the north it has access to the A4 autostrada. The town has 8,746 inhabitants (2015).

Upper Silesia part of the region of Silesia, located mostly in Poland

Upper Silesia is the southeastern part of the historical and geographical region of Silesia, located mostly in Poland, with small parts in the Czech Republic.

Deployments

Red Army

Wehrmacht

Divisional assignments to Corps as of 31 Dec. 1944. [5] Units tended to move between Corps depending on situation.

Also present: 8th, 16th, 17th, 19th and 20th Panzer Divisions. These tended to pass between Corps. Also Führer Begleit Division, [7] 18th SS Div., 20th SS GD, and Panzer Division Hermann Göring. [8]

The offensive

Pomeranian and Silesian offensives Pomerania and Silesia.jpg
Pomeranian and Silesian offensives

Konev launched his main attack on 15 March. The 4th Tank Army broke through the German lines west of Oppeln and drove directly southward, heading for Neustadt. A subsidiary attack by the 4th Guards Tank Corps fanned out to take Neisse. South-east of Oppeln, the 59th and 60th Armies also broke through, the former swinging westwards to link up with the 4th Tank Army. The First Panzer Army's XI Corps, holding the lines near Oppeln, was now threatened with encirclement.

In the south, the 38th Army attacked German troops of the LIX Corps defending with their backs to the highlands of Moravia. By means of a limited tactical withdrawal on 10 March, Heinrici was able to minimise the damage inflicted by the preparatory bombardment, and the front in this sector remained firm. [9]

The encirclement at Oppeln

The LVI Panzer Corps positioned near Oppeln also started to pull back, but the 20th Grenadier (Estonian) Division of the SS and 168th Infantry Division found themselves trapped by the advance of the 4th Tank Army and 59th Army which linked up near Neustadt. By the 22nd, Soviet forces of the 59th and 21st Armies succeeded in reducing the Oppeln 'cauldron' (German : Kessel), claiming to have killed 15,000 and captured a further 15,000 of the German troops trapped there. [10]

Konev launched further attacks on 24 March, and by 31 March, when Ratibor and Katscher were taken, was able to declare the offensive phase of operations over. [11]

Aftermath

The Upper Silesian Offensive succeeded in stabilising Konev's left flank in preparation for the advance on Berlin, and removed the threat of any German counter-attacks from Army Group Centre. The lines in Silesia remained largely unchanged until the end of the war, when Schoerner's force surrendered.

Notes

  1. 1 2 See Grigoriy Krivosheev, at soldat.ru
  2. Duffy, p. 139.
  3. Beevor, p. 127.
  4. Duffy, p. 141.
  5. Gunter, p. 293.
  6. Gunter p. 21.
  7. Gunter p. 255.
  8. Gunter p. 222.
  9. Duffy, p. 147.
  10. Beevor, p. 129.
  11. Duffy, p. 146.

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References

Further reading