The War Illustrated No 170 Vol 7 December 24th 1943

THEBATTLE FRONTS by Maj.-Gen. Sir Charles The capture of Kiev by Soviet forces and rapid exploitation o f success westwards as far as the lateral railway across the Pripet Marshes produced an extraordinarily tense and interesting situation on the Russian front. The capture o f Z hitom iron this railway, although it opened possibilities of a further drive towards the south-west which would cut the German main railway communications between Poland and the Ukraine, marked, however, the limits to which, for the time being, the Russian thrust could safely be'carried. Before a further advance could be made it was essential that the salient that had been created should be widened and consolidated, in view o f the certainty that German counter­attacks would soon develop. The tip o f the salient was quickly widened by the capture o f K orosten and Ovruch, thus making secure the Russian grip on the lateral railway, and the base o f the salient was extended on both flanks. The Germans, as was expected, soon commenced a series o f counter-attacks, and at first they were directed towards Fastov, •near the base o f the salient on its southern side. If this attack had met with success'it would probably have compelled the Russians to withdraw and abandon most o f the ground they had won. But V atutin had taken precautions, and though the Germans battled fiercely they failed to make progress. "Taken by surprise, von M anstein had been unable to assemble a strong enough force, and the most this counter-attack achieved was to prevent a junction between the Russian bridgehead at Kiev with one previously established at Pereyaslavl farther downstream .This may have been a danger that von M anstein feared, but his chief concern must have been for the safety of his communication with Poland. He therefore shifted his counter­attacks farther west against the south-western corner o f the Russian salient, where the prox­imity o f his main railways en­abled him to concentrate large forces quickly. The urgency of the situation may have forced him to open his counter-offen­sive in a somewhat piecemeal fashion nevertheless, relying mainly on his highly mobile arm oured troops and motorized infantry, he was able rapidly io stage very formidable attacks. Although his primary aim was to protect his main railway comm unications, he probably hoped to inflict a defeat on the Russians which would seriously cripple their offensive plans. Rut the Russians fought a mag­nificent defensive, battle, in spite o f having had. little time to consolidate their positions or to develop communications. For about a fortnight the- struggle continued with an intensity greater than any since the battle o f the K ursk salient. Both sides had immense losses, and as fresh German reserves arrived they were thrown into battle in attempts to breakthrough the Russian defences. Eventually the Russians were forced to give ground, evacuating Z hitom ir and K orosten successively. But the defence never lost its cohe­sion, and this limited success fell far short o f fulfilling von M anstein’s hopes. Gwynn, K.C.B., D.S.O. He had, it is true, for the tim eat least, secured the safety o f his communications with Poland, but he had failed to reopen direct lateral communications with the Upper Dnieper and Vitebsk front. Moreover, he had signally failed to disturb the rhythm o f the Russian offensive as a whole, and by concentrating such a large proportion of his mobile armand oured reserves for his effort he had weakened his front elsewhere. T T n deter red by the critical situation at the head o f the salient, the Russians con­tinued to develop their offensive plans. They maintained heavy pressure from their Krem en- chug salient southwards towards N ikopol and Krivoi Rog, making steady if slow progress and northwards, from the base of the salient, they operated towards the lateral Faihvay running through Znarhenka and Smyela on which the Germ ans, still holding thesstretch o f the middle Dnieper between K rem enchug and Pereyaslavl. depended. They also, by a characteristically bold and ingenious opera­tion, established a bridgehead nelir Cherkasy, the principal German stronghold on this section o f the front, and rapidly initiated operations for the encirclement o f that town. It was, however, to the north o f the Kiev salient that the development o f the Russian plans was most sensational. From the first, after his breakthrough at Kiev, Vatutin began to widen the base of the salient, driving north-westward up the Pripet River and northwards along the west bank o f the Dnieper to linkup with the southern flank o f R okossovsky’s army which, on the opposite bank o f the river, was enveloping Gom el. This enabled the latter to cross the Dnieper and swing northwards, cutting the main communications o f Gomel with the west and leaving the defenders of that hedge­hog stronghold with only a single avenue of retreat to the north-west. The situation of G om el, therefore, became more than ever precarious and the capture of Rezhitsa, a subsidiary stronghold on the Dnieper west o f G om el, opened the way for the more complete encirclement o f the southern defences o f the latter. But the Germans still clung stubbornly toG om el, the defences o f which were too strong to be carried by assault, and it was not till Rokossovsky, on Nov. 25, opened anew offensive north o f G om eland broke through the German defence online the river Sozh that a belated decision to evacuate the town was taken, in order to escape another Stalingrad. This fresh blow had taken the Germans completely by surprise, for it was delivered on a front where,vby all standards, marshes seemed to make the ground im­passable. The defence was overrun and Propoisk, the main stronghold on the Sozh was taken, opening the way to the upper Dnieper and the strongholds o f Mogilev, Rogachev and Zhlobin on its banks. O vent snow followed in quick succession. On Nov. 26 the evacuation of Gom el was announced. Rearguards left in the city were overcome, and the Russians inclosed on the retreating columns, assisted by guerilla parties which had been waiting their chance. How far the retreat was a rout is not yet known, but it certainly was not conducted in good order, and masses o f equipment were abandoned. By demolitions and the use Of mines direct pursuit was delayed, but mean­ while the Russians carried out enveloping operations north-westwards up the Dnieper towards Zhlobin and up the Beresina towards Bobruisk, as well as westwards to Kalin- kovichi and M ozyr on the Pripet. It seems certain that the Germans will fight desperately to hold these places, for they form bastions on the southern flank of the V itebsk-M ogilev position, which is exposed now that the Russians have turned the line o f the upper Dnieper and the Beresina. If, as seems not improbable, the Russians open a major offen­sive on the Vitebsk front the turning of these river lines would obviously abe factor of great importance in its devel­opment and the capture of Gom el removes the block on the railways and roads re­quired for the communications o fan enveloping attack. It should be noted- that the lateral communications across the Pripet Marshes are at pre­sent blocked to both sides. The Russians block the online the south Oat vruch and on the north between Kalinkovichi and Z h lo bin but they cannot use the intermediate line while Kalinkovichi and M ozyr holdout. At the time I write it would seem that von M anstein has 'fought his troops to a standstill and is bogged down by autumn mud but it is pos­sible that, with his good com­munications, he maybe able quickly to make good much of the loss o f equipment he has suffered. When the ground freezes he may renew his onslaughts and might be able to reopen contact with Mozyr. The Germans are now in three loosely connected groups, and it seems possible that, rather than await attack in de­fensive positions, their object will lobe draw the Russians into mobile operations. Miles 50100 Approximate Front Bon. iW S b s U fertsevVyasma I INSKg B obruisk °S/uisk A i % $haaanp * \ kTov. 9 |\j Roslavly JMoqilev/ Propoi K aluqaC ""~/< riChl ^Briansk \Nav!ya jomelN P\R I £PET r/AM J-S HES V ^'VT c her n x^^ fiQkysk ------ f?0vrv rh VI Korcfet*nf Novigrad dbZlobichi (// Volynsk/ f \'1 Pnluki hZ* i tom i ry\ __ pP/ryat/n • o _ _ ^ .:astcv ^ol^Pereyaslav/— ,-£lay t5 ^*“*, Krasnogradj ,-v ~(V jSmyeta c^K re men chug t Znamenhj£^f£xorsz^l(jv s ~ :Uman /^^^.^y s.N enD p^o- _ •Xorostyf >i’V w g#? jK a m e nets f t o Podulski Soro^ vv B t/ie si.) 0 X -K> 7 ^-{^^^pr e tro v s k ^Kiros'09‘a° /Jo,* \yo/nesensr\j >.2% aVasibye RUSSIAN FRONT, Dcc. 3,1943. North-west and south-west of Gomel, which fell on Nov. 26, battles were raging for Zhlobin and Mozyr. There was stalemate in the Korosten-Zhitomir sector. A Soviet thrust from Koristovkn menaced Kirovograd. PAGE 4-51 Courtesy o f The Times
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