Battle of Trawniki, 1944

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Vasilyev
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Battle of Trawniki, 1944

Post by Vasilyev » 26 Oct 2022 21:38

On 7/24/1944 the 370 Rifle Division (91 Rifle Corps, 69 Army, 1 Belorussian Front) was moving west-southwest along the main throughway Chelm-Piaski-Lublin. Just south of this road lies the town of Trawniki on the Wieprz River. Trawniki is infamous as the site of a Nazi concentration camp and SS training center for guards and auxiliaries recruited mainly from Soviet POWs.

The town was defended by parts of the 17 Panzer Division. The division was directed from 4 Panzer Army’s right wing (XXXXII Army Corps) to its center-left (LVI Panzer Corps) on 7/22 in response to the Soviet breakthrough west of the Bug which had developed over the preceding days. At first the division was deployed east of the Wieprz via Krasnystaw to support the units of LVI Panzer Corps retreating from the Bug and Chelm (North-south KGr 253 Infantry Division, 342 Infantry Division, 1 Ski Jaeger Division). On 7/23, the division was redirected back to the Piaski-Trawniki road to cover LVI Panzer Corp's northern flank and potentially launch an attack along the Piaski-Lublin road to relieve the beleaguered Fortified Place.

LVI Panzer Corps reported that the 17 Panzer Division reached Trawniki before 5:45 on 7/24.

On 7/22, 17 Panzer Division had 3 Panzer IVs, 1 Stug, and 1 Self-propelled AT Gun operational, as well as 16 Panzer IVs in short term repair. The division was also supported by 2/509 Heavy Panzer Battalion, which had 5 Tigers deployed east of the Wieprz on 7/23.That morning fuel shortages had forced them to empty 2 of the Tigers to allow the other 3 to participate in counterattacks around Rejowiec, SW of Chelm.

Late on 7/23, 69 Army ordered 91 Rifle Corps to reach the line of the Wieprz and force a bridgehead in the area of Dorohucza (North of Trawniki) by delivering its main blow with its right wing. In its own orders early on 7/24, 91 Rifle Corps ordered 370 Rifle Division supported by 1206 Self-propelled Artillery Regiment to force Wieprz by advancing west-southwest, with a focus on the village of Olesniki (South of Trawniki).

The attack on Trawniki was to be conducted by the 2 Battalion of the 1234 Rifle Regiment, commanded by a Major Smirnov,, on the morning of 7/24. The battalion advanced down the Chelm-Trawniki road in march columns before deploying in battle order 1km from the town. Fighting since 7/18, the battalion had suffered heavy losses and had the strength of a company of men, a company of mortars, and several reduced companies organized as platoons reinforced with 2 regimental guns, 3 AT guns, the fire of a mortar brigade, and two tanks.

Whether the tanks were from 68 Separate Tank Brigade or if this was a mistake in the documents and it was actually SU-76s of the 1206 Self-propelled Artillery Regiment is unclear to me. Any help clarifying this would be appreciated. The documents I could find from the two units didn't offer many clues, but many were handwritten and I may well have missed something.

Having no experience organizing an attack off the march, Major Smirnov failed to properly organize and coordinate artillery support or conduct reconnaissance of Trawniki. With the artillery support doing little to effect the battle, 2/1234 Rifle Regiment advanced directly on the town astride the Chelm-Trawniki road. As a result of its lack of reconnaissance, the battalion did not attempt to attack the Germans on their open flank to the north-northwest of the town. The exact timing is unclear - LVI Panzer Corps reported it at 10:43, so in the morning sometime between 6 and 10 is most likely.

The regiment reports that the attack reached the Wieprz before being halted and driven back by small arms and self-propelled gun fire. LVI Panzer Corps reports that the attack achieved a breakthrough and that 17 Panzer Division was in "hard fighting" for the town before cleaning up the breakthrough. Despite being understrength and launching a poorly supported frontal attack against a superior enemy in strong positions, 2/1234 evidently fought hard.

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