I want to post some information about unprecedented operation of the Russian Army of so called "the Koltov Corridor", which led to the defeat of the German Group Army North Ukraine in July-August 1944. I hope it will be interesting for you.
On July 15th-16th 1944 the forces of the 1st Ukrainian Front broke defense of the enemy in the area of Ternopol. A breach of so called “Koltov Corridor” of 4-6 kilometers in width and 18 kilometers in length was formed in the German defense. That was a “clean” breakthrough but too narrow and too long. “The Koltov Corridor” was shooting through by German artillery from two sides. The attempts to enlarge the corridor were not successful. Russian Marshal Ivan Konev, the commander of the 1st Ukrainian Front took than a risky decision to engage the 3rd Guard Tank Army of the General Rybalko in the breakthrough to “the Koltov Corridor”. That was highly risky because a Tank Army concentrated in a very narrow sector could be very vulnerable to the fire of German artillery and aviation. To ensure a breakthrough of the 3rd Guard Tank Army, Marshal Konev strengthen the shocking grouping by two additional tank corps’, significant forces of artillery and ordered to the 2nd Air Army to ensure full air superiority in the areas of breakthrough. On July 16th 1944 Six Russian Air Corps’ and three stands along air divisions were working at the same time in the air above “the Koltov Corridor”. The main principle of the strategy is a concentration: concentration of power against weaknesses of the enemy. This is concentration in action!
The 3rd Guard Tank Army drove through “the Koltov Corridor” and broke out to the operational freedom. And then Marshal Konev took an unprecedented decision to engage in the breakthrough one more Tank Army (4th Tank Army of General Lelyushenko) through “the Koltov Corridor”. Two tank armies engaged one after another by the same route… The world military history didn’t know such cases before. That was a highly risky decision leading to excellent results. It became possible only because leadership of the Russian forces was concentrated in one place. One man (Marshal Konev) was fully empowered to take decisions and was accountable for the results.
German General-Colonel J.Harpe, commander of the Group Army North Ukraine was confronting Konev. His goal was exact opposite: not to allow Russian Tank armies to break out from the “Koltov Corridor”. He had to stop them. The only real chance: to engage the forces of the German 4th Air Fleet. But General Harpe didn’t have a power to order to the commander of the Air Fleet. He could ask, persuade, agree but couldn’t order. The Commander of the 4th Air Fleet was fully independent from the commander of the Group Army and could simply ignore his requests. If the commander of the Air Fleet did not want to satisfy request of the commander of the Group Army North Ukraine (that what really happened) than the following chain was acting: General-Colonel Harpe had to call Hitler and explain a situation. Hitler had to order to Goering. And then Goering had to order to the commander of the 4th Air Fleet to act. But while the commander of the Group Army North Ukraine was calling to Hitler from Lvov (and he was not immediately available), while Hitler was contacting Goering (it took time to catch him), while the Goering’s order was communicated to Lvov to the commander of the 4th Air Fleet… Lvov was encircled and captured by Russian forces.
And then events were developing in the reverse order. The aircrafts of the 4th Air Fleet left their airfields and flew to the new positions. But the Air Fleet had huge supplies and stocks of fuel, ammunition etc. and significant ground and rear personnel. These supplies and ground personnel were highly vulnerable and defenseless. The commander of the 4th Air Fleet asked the commander of the Group Army North Ukraine to rescue his ground units and supplies. But General Harpe had different priorities and didn’t rush to satisfy requests of the 4th Air Fleet Commander. The only way for the Air Fleet commander was to call Goering and ask him to call Hitler and than Hitler had to order to the commander of the Group Army North Ukraine...
In the Russian Army Air armies were integral part of the Fronts and in case of retreat the Front commander was accountable to rescue the ground and rear units of aviation because it was his aviation. The front commander was in charge of air armies, he was responsible and accountable.
In German Army commanders of the Group Armies had no power over Air Fleet commanders and were not accountable for them. In the German Army Infantry, Aviation, Navy, Waffen SS commanders had to reach an agreement among them selves as on the market. That was not serious military approach and such an army could not win.
In accordance with the intention of the Soviet Stavka, after inflicting crushing strike to Germans in Byelorussia (Bagration) when Hitler leadership would realize where Russian forces were targeting their main strike and would move there their reserves, the 1st Ukrainian Front had to start its offensive. On the next day after commencement of Bagration, 1-st Ukrainian Front received a directive to defeat Rava-Russkaya and Lvov grouping of the enemy and to capture the Khrubesh-Tomashuv-Yavorov-Galich line. In order to achieve that target, 1st Ukranian Front of Marshal Ivan Konev was significantly strengthened from the Stavka reserves. By July 13th 1944, the Front had 72 infantry divisions, 2 air-borne divisions, seven tank and three mechanized corps’. The 1st Ukrainian Front had three tank armies (1st and 3rd Guard and 4th Tank Armies). Russian forces had to put an end to the German occupation of the Western Ukraine. As was expected after defeat in Byelorussia (Bagration) Hitler had to throw over six divisions including three tank ones from Ukraine. Although the German grouping was weakened by transferring of some units to Byelorussia, nevertheless the Group Army North Ukraine was a formidable enemy having 34 infantry divisions, five tank divisions and one motorized division. Expecting a possible Russian offensive, Germans were strengthening and reinforcing their defense, especially in the area of Lvov. They created and built two defense lines which were forming tactical defense zone. Besides it, German units and formations were replenished by men and machines. The numerical strength of the German infantry divisions was reaching 9,000-10,000 people. Tank divisions were replenished by new tanks including Panthers.
By July 13th 1944 in the sector of the 1st Ukrainian Front and the Group Army North Ukraine was the following correlation of forces.
Numerical strength (in thousand of men):
Russian forces: 1,110,0
German and allied forces: 900,0
Tanks and SP Guns:
Russian forces: 2050
German and allied forces: over 900
Artillery and mortars:
Russian forces: 16100
German and allied forces: 6300
Russian forces: 3250
German and allied forces: 700
Concentration of such great number of forces and tanks in the sector of one Front was good achievement. From the data above one can see that Russian advantage in men quantity was insignificant. The Command of the 1st Ukrainian Front took a decision to break the defense of the enemy in two sectors: Rava-Russkaya direction by means of 3rd Guard and 13th Army, and 1st Guard Tank Army and Lvov direction by means of 60th and 38th Army, 3rd Guard Tank and 4th Tank Armies. In the areas of the breakthrough in the length of 26 kilometers (6% of the offensive sector length of the Front) 70% of the artillery, 90% of tanks and 100% of aviation were brought in battlefield. As a result, having insignificant superiority in men, tanks and artillery in the narrow sectors of the breakthrough, Russian forces achieved 3-5 times superiority in men and tanks, 6-7 times superiority in artillery and mortars. The shocking grouping had 235-255 artillery guns and mortars per kilometer of the breakthrough.
The Lvov-Sandomir Strategic Operation can be split for two stages. During the first stage of July 13th-27th 1944, the forces of the 1st Ukrainian Front of Marshal Konev broke the German defense, encircled and annihilated the Brody grouping of the enemy, defeated Lvov and Rava-Russkaya groupings of Wehrmacht. At the second stage of July 28th – August 29th 1944, the forces of the 1st Ukrainian Front developed offensive, crossed Visla River and captured bridgehead on its Western bank in the area of Sandomir.
On July 13th 1944 offensive of the 1st Ukrainian Front started on the Rava-Russkaya direction. By the end of next day the German defense was broken to the depth of 15-20 kilometers by forces of 3rd Guard and 13th Army. On the Lvov direction, Russian 60th and 38th Armies could not accomplish breakthrough as was planned and managed to breakthrough only on the narrow sector called “Koltov Corridor”. On the July 15th two German tank divisions counter-attacked against Russian 38th Army slowing its advancement. On the north part, after achieving breakthrough mobile units of the 1st Russian Guard Tank Army were engaged developing offensive. On the Lvov direction by July 16th 1944 the forces of the 60th Army broke through the narrow breach of 4-6 kilometers in width and 18 kilometers in depth called “the Koltov Corridor”. Marshal Konev took a courageous decision and took a risk to engage the 3rd Guard Tank Army(6th, 7th Guard Tank Corps’ and 9th Mechanized Corps) of General Rybalko in “the Koltov Corridor” in the morning of the 16th July 1944. On the next day (July 17th 1944) the 4TH Tank Army of General Lelyushenko (30th Tank Corps and 6th Guard Mechanical Corps) started advancement through this corridor. Engagement of two tank armies through such a narrow corridor and under strong enemy counter-attacks and fire was unprecedented in the world military history. By the end of July 18th, the Russian forces broke the German defense at the front of 200 kilometers and depth of 50-80 kilometers. Eight Wehrmact’s divisions were encircled in the area of Brody. Despite desperate attempts of German leadership to salvage encircled units and retain Lvov all their efforts failed and in the course of bitter and fierce combats by July 22nd 1944 encircled German grouping near Brody was cut in two and annihilated. The 14th SS Galichina Division, formed from Ukrainian collaborators was among encircled divisions near Brody and was completely eliminated.
In the meantime, the main forces of the 1st Ukrainian Front went on offensive. 13TH Army and 1st Guard Tank Army acted especially successful and by the July 23rd 1944 reached the San River and captured bridgeheads on its western bank near Yaroslav. The 3rd Guard Tank Army and 4th Tank Army simultaneously performed deep outflanking raids avoiding lasting combats and reached the south (4th Tank Army) and western outskirts of Lvov. The units of the 60th Army were advancing to Lvov from east. As a result of fierce combats by July 27th Lvov was completely cleared from the enemy. The German units retreated to the south-west. On the same day, 1st Guard Tank Army liberated Stanislav. With the defeat of the main forces of the Group Army North Ukraine and liberation of Lvov ended the first stage of this strategic operation. Russian forces advanced to 200 kilometers in the front of 400 kilometers. The Group Army North Ukraine was cut into two parts. The remaining units of the German 4th Tank Army were retreating behind Visla River and units of the 1st German Tank Army and 1st Hungarian Army were retreating to Karpaty.
Some more info about this great battle:
On July 27th-28th 1944 the Russian Stavka clarified the objectives and goals to the 1st Ukranian Front for the second phase of their offensive. In coordination with the 1st Byelorussian Front they had to defeat coming German reserve units, cross Visla River and capture a solid bridgehead. Performing new tasks, Russian forces rapidly advanced to Visla River. Some forces were advancing to Karpaty. On the Luly 29th 1944, advanced units of 13th Army and 1st & 3rd Guard Tank Armies reached Visla and began its crossing. Despite stiff resistance of enemy, Russian units successfully crossed Visla River near Baranuv. Fierce combats broke out in the area of Sandomir to enlarge the bridgehead. Shortly, the main forces of both Russian infantry and both tank armies were moved to the western bank of Visla.
Initially Germans didn’t have enough forces to provide strong resistance but in the first half of August 1944 the situation changed. Five divisions including a tank one from Group Army South Ukraine were transferred to the area of Sandomir. Five infantry divisions from Germany, three infantry divisions from Hungary, six brigades of SP guns and 501st Heavy Tank battalion armed with newest Tiger II tanks were transferred to the area of Sandomir as well. Two tank divisions from the Army Group South Ukraine arrived to the area of Sandomir earlier. All five tank and motorized divisions of the 3-rd, 24th and 48th Tank Corps’ were replenished with men and machines. Fierce combats broke out on the Sandomir bridgehead. Germans were inflicting strikes trying to throw down to Visla Russian armies. The strong German attacks were carried out along the eastern bank of Visla River from the areas of Meletz and Tarnobzheg to Baranuv aiming at separation of Russian units crossed to the western bank of Visla River from the main forces of the Front and at elimination of bridges and crossings of Visla. But Marshal Ivan Konev, the commander of the 1st Ukrainian Front engaged the fresh 5th Guard Army from his reserves and the German grouping on the eastern bank of Visla River was defeated and thrown aside to the south. After that, the 5th Guard Army was transferred to the Sandomir bridgehead. Later on, the 4th Russian Tank Army, 31st Tank Corps and a few infantry corps’ were transferred there as well. Listing Russian Tank armies participating in combats at Sandomir bridgehead one has to take into account that they were seriously weakened by the on-going combats and the units replenishment was difficult due the damages of the railroads caused by retreating Germans. Thus, 1st Tank Army by the mid of Augut had just 184 tanks and SP guns. The 4th Tank Army had 141 tanks and SP guns.
The 6th Russian Guard Corps of the 3rd Gurad Tank Army of General Rybalko engaged in combats with the 501st Heavy Tank battalion of Wehrmacht having twenty Tiger II and twenty Pz-IV tanks and 16th German tank division having around 100 tanks, mainly Panthers. The Russian 6th Tank Corps had twenty nine T-34/76, fourteen T-34/85, one JS-1 and eleven JS-II tanks. That means that against 140 German tanks including 70 heavy tanks (Tiger II and Panthers), Russians had only 55 tanks including 12 heavy tanks. But in this very combats Russian tankers defeated and knocked out the 501st German Heavy tank battalion. At the early morning of the August 13th 1944, first two Tigers II were defeated by the crew of T-34/85 of Lieutenant Oskin. In the subsequent combats, the tank platoon of Senior Lieutenant Klimenkov (two Russian JS-II tanks) in the short combat burnt one more Tiger II and proliferated another one avoiding any losses from his side. In another combat, JS-II tank of Lieutenant Udalov engaged with seven Tiger II tanks on the distance of 600-700 meters. Two Tigers II were burnt and one knocked-out. In the same combat Guard Lieutenant Belyakov from the distance of 1000 meters with three shots defeated and burnt another Tiger II. In total from the period of August 13th-15th 1944, the 6th Russian Guard Tank Corps eliminated ten Tiger II tanks and captured three more Tiger II tanks in the working conditions. In the course of the fierce combats the Russian forces not only retain the bridgehead on the western bank of the Visla River but significantly enlarged it to the 120 kilometers in length and 50 kilometers in depth. All attempts of Germans to eliminate the Russian bridgehead at Sandomir had failed completely.
The Lvov-Sandomir strategic operation was one of the greatest operations of the World war II. The duration of this operation was 48 days. The breadth of the front was 440 kilometers. The depth of advancement of the Russian forces was 350 kilometers. In the course of this operation, an average daily advancement rate (tempo) of infantry units during breakthrough of defense was 3-10 kilometers and later to Visla River were 17-22 kilometers. The average daily advancement rate (tempo) of the Russian tank units was 50-65 kilometers. The outcomes and results of this operation was the defeat of the Group Army North Ukraine, strategic grouping of the enemy and liberation of Western areas of Ukraine and south-East areas of Poland. The large bridgehead on the western bank of Visla River was captured. From this bridgehead, Russian armies later performed offensive to Silesian direction to the central areas of Poland and frontier of Germany. The heavy losses forced Wehrmacht’s command to transfer sixteen divisions to the front of the 1st Ukrainian Front including three tank and one motorized division from other areas. In total out of fifty six divisions of the Group Army North Ukraine engaged in the battlefield including ten tank and motorized divisions, EIGHT divisions were annihilated and Thirty TWO divisions were defeated.
Information posted by Kamen on http://www.feldgrau.com
On 2 June 1944 HGr Nordukraine, according to an OKH-situation map dated 2.6.1944, numbered 42 divisions and 3 brigades (from north to the south): 26., 342., 131., 253., Ski-JgBrig 1, 5.Pz, 214., 72., 88., 291., 340., 1.Pz, 361., KorpsAbt C, 454.Sich, 349., 357., 96., 359., 100.Jg, 9.SS-Pz, 10.SS-Pz, 20.PzGr., 75., 371., 254., 208., 20.Hung, 17.Pz, 7.Pz, 1., 168., 367., 16.Hung, 68., 24.Hung, 2.Hung.Pz, 101 Jg, 16.Pz, 16 Hung.Res, 25.Hung, 19 Hung.Res, 1 HungGebBrig, 27 Hung, 2 HungGebBrig,
Of these 8 Divisions and 2 Brigades were Hungarian and their strength was not included in the Iststärke-figure provided by my good friend Niklas Zetterling whom I know as a very accurate historian. The strength of the 1st Hung.Army could be evaluated as 100 000 - 150 000 men. Furthermore, the strength of the Luftwaffe air and ground units is not included too.
By the beginning of Lvov-Sandomierz offensive, if OKH Kriegsglieduring dated 15.7.44 could be believed (stored in BAMA, RH 2 section), HGr Nordukraine numbered 44 divisions and 2 brigades (from south to the north): 2 HungGebBrig, 19 Hung.Res, 2.Hung.Pz, 1.Hung, 18.SS-PzGr, 27 Hung, 1 HungGebBrig, 25.Hung, 101 Jg, 18 Hung.Res, 24.Hung, 68., 16 Hung., 168., 20.PzGr., 14.SS-Gr, 1., 20.Hung, 208., 254., 371., 75., 100.Jg, 359., 96., 349., 1.Pz, 8.Pz, KorpsAbt C, 361., 454.Sich, 213.Sich, 253., 340., 291., 17.Pz, 16.Pz, 88., 72., 214., 1.Ski-Jg, 342., 26., 5 Jg,, 211., 12 Hung.Res
So, In fact the manpower situation of HGr Nordukraine didn't deteorate. On the contrary - most probably it had improved slightly during the previous 45 days due to the arrival of new replacements and lack of intensive combat in that sector.
By definition, the Soviet/Russian historians use to include all types of self-propelled guns (including Marders, Hummels, Wespe, etc.) into the overall enemy armored strength figures. (Accordingly, the included the open-topped SU-76 into the Soviet armored strength figures.) So the 900 + figure could be reached easily.
Armored strength by 1.07.44
1.PzD - 78 + 12 Marders
8.PzD - 128 + 19 Marders
16.PzD - 101
17.PzD - 40 + 29 Marders
20.PzGrD - 42
sPzAbt 506 - 46
sPzAbt 509 - 46
2.Hung PzD - 50
1.Hung Stug Btl - 30
Moreover, three of the divisions (8., 16. and 17.) had SP artillery (8 batteries total) with, lets say, 40 SP Guns - Wespe and Hummel. (I could post the exact numbers, but right now I'm not in a mood to unpack my NARA rolls).
Thus far - 561 panzers/Stugs + 60 Marders + 40 SP Guns
There was a significant number of StuG's in the StuG brigades subordinated to H.Gruppe Stab (as far as I know - StuGBrig 210, StuGBrig 249, StuGAbt 270, StuGBrig 301, StuGBrig 322. Each of them had at least 30 StuG ), as well some StuG, Marders and tanks available in the infantry divisions. Please, don't forget PzJgAbt 88 with at least 30 Nashorns. Once again - the 900 + figure could be reached easily
The strength of the units of VIII.Fl.Korps (as per 1.7.44):
Stab/JG 51 - 18
IV./JG 51 - 19
I./JG 52 - 21
Part of KG 27 - 57
IV./SG - 56
II./SG 10 - 29
SG 77 - 174
NSGr 4 - approx. 20
Thus far - approx. 400 aircraft. But do not forget the Hungarians -although small in size, they had their air units too.
Since 16 July other LW combat units began to arrive in rising numbers, but no unit have had left this sector throughout July.
In particular, the four Panzer divisions (1., 8., 16., 17.) have had lost 10 602 men and almost all of thir armor by 31 July. On 31 July 44 the recently arrived 24.PzD reported 1 143 men only after a week of combat.
Some divisions - in particular 18.SS, 17.PzD, a couple of hung.divisions - arrived after 1 July. Moreover, I already showed that the strength of several divisions had increased since May.
Here is the strength (Panzers and StuG) of the four Pz Divisions after two weeks of combat (i.e. as per 31.7.44):
1.PzD - 41 (18 operational) + 9 (4) Marders
8.PzD - 8 (5 operational) + 9 (7) Marders
16.PzD - 47 (14 operational) This division had received 17 factory new StuGIII on 28.7.44. Only three (!) of them were operational three days later...
17.PzD - 14 (9 operational) + 6 (4) Marders
Moreover, sPzAbt 506 had been forced to destroy all of its tanks (40 or so) right after the battle of Brody.
The figures quoted by me are Istst. of the LW units as per monthly reports stored in RL 2 section of BAMA, Freiburg. BTW, thank you for the URL. Very useful. It confirmed my worst suspicions - that I'm right. Now everybody could verify that by the beginning of the Soviet offensive all these units were deployed around Lublin. (Where was stationed the HQ of VIII.Fliegerkorps)
"I don't think anyone knows for sure how many..." is definitely the strongest argument that I have ever heard in my life. BTW, the strength figures quoted above are taken from the monthly divisional condition reports issued by the divisional HQs (known as Zustandsberichten). Those for the summer of 1944 are available in NARA Roll T-78/718 as well in BAMA, Freiburg (RH 10 section) and, thanks God, I'm not the only member of this forum who possess them.
Galicia division was not the only one that hadn't StuGs. Some others lacked them to. But many others have their Marders or StuGs....For example, the following divisions (as per report of OKH dated 25.5.44) had StuG units: 1., 5.Jg, 208., 168., 96., 100 Jg, 101.Jg, 75., 72., 253., 340., 26., 214., 349., 359.
I want to summarize that as a result of the breakthrough of the Russian Tank Armies of Marshal Konev, 42,000 German troops were encircled & defeated in the Brody Pocket (25 000 German troops killed, and 17 000 were captured)
Source of information:Kriegstagebuch des OKH, Vol. 4, pg. 858. Bernard und Graefe Verlag fur Wehrwesen, Frankfurt am Main.
Information posted by Nicolay on http://www.feldgrau.com
I also would like to stress that if one would like to find an example of a battle where aviation played the desisive role IMHO it is Koltovo. The 2 airarmy of Stepan Krasovsky and its 225-227 shock (don't know a better translation for the Russian "storm" term) airdivisions with their Il-2 were the key element of the final success of the soviet army, and the one-and-only soviet ace Aleksandr Pokryshkin got his third "Hero of the Soviet Union" star.
Best Regards from Russia,