The race for Belgorod. Spring 1943. ⚡⚡

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The race for Belgorod. Spring 1943. ⚡⚡

Post by jacobstuart » 28 Sep 2018 16:17

"In war there is no prize for the runner-up." — General Omar Bradley
A Leibstandarte Panzer III on the outskirts of Belgorod after Peiper's Kampfgruppe took the town. The Russian church in the background was a well known landmark on the southern edge of Belgorod. (Credit National Archives)

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Re: The race for Belgorod. Spring 1943. ⚡⚡

Post by jacobstuart » 28 Sep 2018 16:24

17 March, 1943.

Given the reclaim of Kharkov after the Soviet’s armored spearheads laid wasted on the wilderness of the eastern Ukraine, the Germans started to commence a further attempt to enlarge their triumph – Belgorod.

The first to start their offensive to the north was Korps Raus, and the movement by this Korps was led by the Grossdeutschland Division. At the same time Korps Raus drew all the attention of the three separate mobile formations of the 40th and the 69th Armies onto itself, in the shape of the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th Guards Tank Corps. Following the capture of Bogodukhov the GD Division moved further north and, in the area around Borisovka (some 60km north of Kharkov), they came under fire from three Soviet tank corps. The 2nd Guard Tank Corps amounted to more than 120 combat capable tanks, while the 3rd Guard Corps had around 50 tanks. After having drawn up the 167th and 320th Infantry Divisions, Korps Raus had beaten back all the attacks and began their offensive to Tomarovka. [1]

The Kharkov area had been brought under control by the XXXXVIII Panzerkorps by 18 march. This enabled the II. SS Panzerkorps to deploy north and head for Belgorod. By 16 March, the day after the withdrawal from Kharkov by the troops of the 3rd Tank Army, the SS-PzGr. Rgt. 2 had begun preparations for offensive along the Kharkov – Belgorod highway with the aim of reducing the pressure that the GD Division were under close to Borisovka. By that time there were just 29 combat capable tanks in the division (including two Tigers). [2]

A forward detachment was created in the LSSAH to capture Belgorod – this was the III./SS-PzGr. Rgt. 2, known as Kampfgruppe Peiper, reinforced by the Panzer IV’s from the 7./SS-Pz. Rgt. 1, as well as both combat capable Tigers that remained in the 13.(sch.)/SS-Pz. Rgt. 1 and the auxiliary formations. [3][4]

On 17 March, 1230 hours. The KG Peiper set out across the sector held by the I./2 (under SS-Stbf. Kraas). Because of extremely bad road conditions, it only reached the Shurawkowka (Zhuravlevka) – Kassatschjalopan (Kozacha Lopan') Road by nightfall. When the spearhead of Kampfgruppe reached the bend in the road southwest of Nechotejewka (Nekhoteyevka) they encounter a Soviet Pakfront, Just as night was falling, supported by the Panzer IV’s under SS-Ostuf. von Ribbentrop, the Kampfgruppe managed to break through it. [5]

Right behind the Kampfgruppe stood the I./2 taking Shurawkowka at 1700 hours and established contact with it. [6]

In the night between 17-18 March. The LSSAH’s orders remained unchanged: “Belgorod remained the attack objective for both the LSSAH and the Heer’s Panzergrenadierdivision Grossdeutschland. The day’s objective was the line Andrejewka (unidentified) – Dolbino (Долбино, Веселая Лопань). The GD Division had orders to send a strong armored force form the Arissowka area to the east to close off the railway line and the road from Kharkov to Belgorod in the Krassnoje (Krasnoye Красное) area.”

In a private conference between Peiper and the Ia of the LSSAH, the idea of a "race for Belgorod" was discussed. The Ia arranged with air support officer and the chief Luftwaffe officer of the Stuka that there would be a Stuka attack on the enemy roadblocks between Krestowo (unidentified) and Naumowka (Наумовка Наумовка) promptly at 0700 hours. [7]

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Re: The race for Belgorod. Spring 1943. ⚡⚡

Post by jacobstuart » 28 Sep 2018 16:37

18 March, 1943.

At 0415 hours, Peiper sent a combat-strength reconnaissance force to observe the enemy defensive lines, discovered the evening before, between Krestowo and Naumowka. The finding were that the enemy line was still occupied by strong enemy forces. At 0640 hours, KG Peiper had been set on march by SS-Staf. Wisch. At 0710 hours, Peiper reported that it had broken through the line and was making a motorized thrust as far as Otradnyj (Otradnoye Отрадное).

By 1000 hours, Peiper had reported that the village of Krassnoje [Krasnoye Красное] had been captured. There he encountered no enemy troops. With that, the attack objective for that day had been left far behind. Acted on his own initiative, Peiper decided to continue the thrust. [8]

At that moment the gap between the 40th and 69th Armies remained open: the 21st Army was on the march in the area around Oboyani (Обоянь). The city of Belgorod itself was almost undefended. [9]

Peiper reported at 1100 hours:
"Spearhead 8 kilometers southwest of Belgorod on the march route. The Russians are retreating to the west. Two enemy tanks destroyed.

Commander of the III./2."
His next report, arriving at 1135 hours, read:
"Belgorod taken in surprise attack. Eight enemy tanks destroyed.

Commander of the III./2."
Along with the push of Kampfgruppe Kumm of the Das Reich Division on his right flank, Peiper’s advance crushed the Soviet 69th Army’s weakened 270th and 160th Rifle Divisions and brushed aside the 2nd Guards Tank Corps. [11] His surprising success was initially greeted at division and corps headquarters with astonished disbelief. This is how SS-Ustuf. Guehrs experienced the surprising capture of Belgorod:
“18 March 1943. Bright, clear sky. Snow. Peiper met early with the company commanders and myself (as commander of the cannon platoon) and informed us that several divisions of the Waffen-SS along with GD were to attack Belgorod. He then reported that he had been over at the Stuka command post, where he was promised an attack on the Russian roadblock in front of us at 0700 hours. The Battalion was to get ready and, exploiting the surprise, push forward along the road through the Russian main lines. There were two or three Tigers with us. We wanted to break through to Belgorod. I was to bring up the rear with my cannon platoon.

Everything went as planned. We made it through. By radio, Peiper urged the lead elements to top speed. The Russians rubbed their eyes. Their tanks were still under cover. They were laying wires and apparently involved in their morning routine as we drove through the villages toward Belgorod. I did not know how it was going up front, as our column was fairly long. But we did not stop. The Russians gradually figured out what was going on, and I saw the first Russian tanks chasing us from the rear at very long range. But we were moving at considerable speed. Through a depression and across a bridge, we then arrived in Belgorod – taking everyone by surprise. I later heard that our first radio message to division was received with disbelief: “Heavy house-to-house fighting in Belgorod”. Second message: “Belgorod firmly in our hands”. I wasn’t there when the divisional commander arrived in the Storch because I had to cover the bridge to our rear with my platoon.”
SS-OStbf. von Ribbentrop, supporting this attack with his 7./SS-Pz. Rgt. 1, recalled that in one of the villages before Belgorod they surprised a Russian tank repair unit and destroyed several enemy tanks without even having to stop. However, the individual tanks were able to escape because the destruction was not systematic, and made life hell for the German units coming up behind. [13]

In one of the two Tigers taking part in the attack was gunner SS-Rotf. Werner Wendt. The tank’s commander was SS-Uschaf. Modes, driver SS-Uschaf. Otto Augst. Wendt related:
“There was still snow everywhere and the road conditions were less than ideal, but a brilliant blue sky lent wings to our plans. In the morning the III./SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 2 broke through the forward
Soviet lines at 0710 hours, we started our engines and formed up. March sequence, direction of advance and objective had been laid down in advance. In the lead was a Panzer IV and then our Tigers.

We had hardly gotten going and had just left the forward edge of friendly lines behind us when we detected two well camouflaged T-34’s hiding in ambush. We swung our turret and took these T-34’s under fire. Our shells were on target and this cost the Soviet tanks their cover and their lives. When they tried to escape we destroyed them. They hardly had any opportunity to return fire.

Our tank engine continued to thunder and our tracks gripped the Ukrainian soil and propelled us forward. Then a close reconnaissance aircraft (Henschel Hs 126) flew low over us and signaled us. He dropped a smoke container with the message that even more Soviet tanks were swinging into our attack sector. This message increased our watchfulness. After the last engagement, our Tiger had taken over the lead position, which required special alertness. As we made a surprise entrance into the next village, the advance route made a slight bend to the right. We couldn’t believe our eyes. There was an enemy 7.62cm gun (Ratsch-bum) in position in front of us. We had appeared so unexpectedly, that the Red Army men weren’t standing by their gun. Instead, they were seated on a bench at a nearby nut and were flirting with the girls of the village!

We didn’t even have to shoot. Without much deliberation, we rolled over the gun at full speed and it no longer presented much danger to us, as it was now only worth scrap metal. As we continued on our way, we ran into two more T-34’s which we destroyed without much problem. To the left of the road there was a broad expanse covered with hundreds of Red Army men falling back, driven by the fear of being rolled up by our rapid advance. They ran with fluttering coats as if to escape some approaching doom. We didn’t bother with what was going on to the right or left of us, and concentrated completely on moving at top speed toward the objective of our attack, which was Belgorod.

The clock approached 1130 hours, it was getting close to noon, when Belgorod appeared in front of us. We couldn’t read the sign, as none of us could read the Cyrillic letters, but that could be – had to be – the city of Belgorod which we were supposed to take by surprise. Coming from the southwest, we carefully drove across a wooden bridge, but it held up well under our tank, and entered Belgorod headed to the north. Two SPW followed, covering us. Almost at the far end of the city, we heard: ‘Tank to rear!’ The SPW crews left their SPW and took cover in the road ditch. Our commander ordered: ‘Turret 6 o’clock!’ We immediately swung the turret, since the Soviet tank had approached to about 200 meters. Our first shot was a direct hit, since the tank was a ‘General Grant’ model (as provided by the Americans). With such a high silhouette, it was hard to miss.

After destroying this tank, we received a radio message which told us that enemy tanks were firing on our ammunition carriers and other vehicles following us along the route of our advance. We were to ensure that this route remained open under all circumstance with our tracks tearing up the now softened road, we turned back immediately. As we approached the wooden bridge, there was a T-34 some 300 meters behind it which was completely blocking the road. We immediately began to fire. We hit the engine compartment so that the tank began to smoke. In spite of the hit, the T-34 calmly returned our fire. However, our next round was so well-aimed that the enemy’s gun was silenced and the fuss was over. The road was once again open. In the meantime, a second Tiger were SS-Hstuf. Kling and his gunner SS-Pz.Schtz. “Bobby” Warmbrunn from our company rolled up. It had just cleared the Rollbahn, and any vehicle could now drive on to Belgorod without danger. The city was finally taken and our mission accomplished.”
SS-Rotf. Werner Kindler witnessed the battle described above between the Tiger and the T-34 on the wooden bridge:
“In addition to the T-34, I also saw a KW I and a KW II on the edge of the town. Both tanks got away. Our SPW, which was located between the bridge and the Tiger, had an engine breakdown. During the exchange of fire our SPW was hit and Uscharf. Bussacker and I were wounded by shrapnel” [15]
At 1210 hours, Peiper was counterattacked by tanks, by the time that the two Tigers he had been promised had arrived, however, Soviet forces had still not managed to recapture Belgorod. [16]

The counterattack was repelled and the reinforced II./ 2 dealt with the rest of the Soviet tanks as it moved into the town of Golonino and Andrewjewka at 1515 hours and cleared them of enemy forces. In the afternoon the Deutschland Regiment of the Das Reich Division reached Belgorod from the south. The latter came under fire from the Luftwaffe: the plots had not been told that the city had already been captured by German forces, and if Battalion Peiper had already been inside Belgorod itself, than Hamel’s regiment had been subject to several attacks on open ground and had incurred losses.

At 1245 hours, after the arrival of report that Peiper had taken Belgorod, the reinforced I./2 set out from Dementejewka with orders to provide defense for the march route to the west in the sector from the northern edge of Krassnoje to southern Dolbino.

The reinforced II./2 was providing defense to the east and west for the areas newly captured. It reported at 1600 hours that it had established contact with the spearhead of GD Division near Dolbino and Nowaja Derewenja. Afterwards, KG Peiper received orders to provide defense during the night to the north and west for western Belgorod, including the road out to the north. [17]

Glantz claimed by 1900, 18 March, the SS Panzerkorps occupied Belgorod. [18]


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Re: The race for Belgorod. Spring 1943. ⚡⚡

Post by jacobstuart » 28 Sep 2018 16:44

19 March, 1943.

At 1315 hours, the Battalion Peiper holding the northern part of Belgorod, together with the 7./SS-Pz. Rgt. 1 and two Tigers, set off to the northwest. At 1535 hours Peiper reported engagement with enemy tanks near Streleskoye, in which seven, one KV-2 and one T-34 among them were handled by two Tiger from the 13.(sch.)/SS-Pz. Rgt. 1[19], enemy tanks were claimed destroyed without any losses of tanks, although one of his SPWs took a direct hit. The bridge in the village was destroyed and the Battalion and tanks withdrew to the eastern section during the night. [20]

SS-Ostuf. von Ribbentrop, who took part the actions on 19 March remembered:
“On that day the Panzergruppe had to carry out a recon sweep to the north. One or two Tigers and a few SPW were advancing in the front of my company. As we emerged from a small patch of woods, the lead elements were hit by an artillery attack. An SPW was hit and immediately burst into flames. As the Panzergruppe really didn’t have a combat mission, it pulled back behind the patch of woods. Peiper commented: “Well, there’s nothing to be gained here today!” The Suddenly, directing his question to the tank crews, he asked who was ready to go back again and see if anyone was left alive from the SPW crew and, if so, bring him back. I heard the commander of the SPW was an Oberscharfuehrer who had been with Peiper for a long time. I then volunteered with my Panzer IV and drove back to the burning SPW. As I was sure that we would be shelled again when my tank appeared, I jumped out of my tank myself and carefully examined the burning SPW and the dead men lying around it to the extent possible to see if there had been any survivors. I was able to pick up a few pay books and some dog tags and, in this way, assure Peiper that the entire crews of the vehicle had been killed. I could see how much Peiper valued an exact report, as he thanked me very sincerely.” [21]
The report on losses for the III.(gep.)/2 of 18 March 1943 at 1935 hours read as follows: “Enemy losses: ten T-34’s, one T-40, one T-60, two General Lee’s, ten 7.62cm guns (Ratsch Bum), six 4.7cm AT guns, fourteen AT rifles, eighteen heavy MG’s, thirty-four light MG’s, thirty-eight trucks, several flamethrowers and numerous columns of sleighs. Our losses: one dead, sixteen wounded.” [22]

By 19 March Manstein’s counterattack had died down. The SS divisions amounted to less than 35 panzers apiece, they the incurred heavy losses in terms of both personnel and equipment. Furthermore, the spring season of mud had arrived, which had traditionally become one which saw a pause in operations on both sides. Therefore, the next day following the capture of Belgorod, Kempf’s Army Group was ordered to release the 4th Panzer Army’s divisions and to occupy a front in the area around Belgorod and Tomarovka. [23]

SS-Stbf. Peiper was awarded the Ritterkreuz for undertaking this action on his own initiative.
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Re: The race for Belgorod. Spring 1943. ⚡⚡

Post by jacobstuart » 28 Sep 2018 16:52


[1] Isaev (2018). The End of The Gallop, p. 122.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Schneider (1998). Tigers in Combat II, kindle, 1243-1244.
[5] Lehmann (1990). The Leibstandarte III, pp. 177-178.
[6] Agte (1999). Jochen Peiper, p. 112.
[7] Lehmann (1990), p. 178.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Isaev (2018), p. 122.
[10] Lehmann (1990), p. 178.

[11] Glantz (2013). From the Don to the Dnepr, kindle, 3959-3960.
[12] Agte (1999), p. 112.
[13] Lehmann (1990), p. 179.
[14] Agte (1999), pp. 113-114.
[15] Agte (1999), p. 114.
[16] Isaev (2018), p. 123.
[17] Lehmann (1990), p. 179.
[18] Glantz (2013), kindle, 3960.
[19] Schneider (1998), kindle, 1248-1251.
[20] Fey (2003). Armor Battles of the Waffen SS, p. 18.

[21] Ribbentrop on 4 October 1995. Agte (1999), p. 113.
[22] Lehmann (1990), pp. 179-180.
[23] Isaev (2018), p. 123.

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Re: The race for Belgorod. Spring 1943. ⚡⚡

Post by Cult Icon » 05 Oct 2018 15:35

interesting thread and format. It would be good if others followed this example to cover other dramatic efforts of the war, particularly those involving encirclement with Axis/allied units. eg. 3.Pz had an interesting account of deep penetration and linking up to form the Kiev pocket in its unit history and the wartime propaganda, Panzer Wedge. 3.Pz and 23.Pz at Kharkov, Spring 1942 as well.

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