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- Joined: 02 May 2002 17:40
- Location: England
My sources were:
All the afteraction reports filed by the German units involved, Soviet Staff report of the battle, interviews with survivors:
bye for now
Change of Plans at the 11th Hour
On 25th June, 1944, an advance party consisting of a group of officers from the Division's general staff, left Neuhammer for the proposed operational area in the Stanyslaviv district to make the necessary arrangements for its arrival.
The following day, without any warning, its command received notification from the German Army High Command (OKH) that the deployment orders had been changed. Now it was to be assigned to the 4th Panzer Army, which held the front east of L'viv in the centre of the battle lines of Army Group North Ukraine, in anticipation of a major Soviet offensive in this area.
A few days earlier on 22nd June, 1944, symbolically the third anniversary of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, to complement the Allied landings in Normandy, the first phase of the Soviet summer offensive known as Operation Bagration had commenced on the Eastern Front. The offensive had begun in Belorussia with the total destruction of the German Army Group Centre (Heeresgruppe Mitte). The awesome size of the forces that the Soviets unleashed in this area were so great that in a period of just twelve days, twenty five German divisions simply disappeared in the worst defeat ever suffered in German military history.
Even before they had completed the destruction of Army Group Centre, the Soviet High Command (STAVKA) had begun massing forces in the Brody region in preparation for the second phase. This was the L'viv - Peremyshyl' Operation (later known as the L'viv - Sandomierz Operation, after the Soviets had achieved more than they originally planned), the objective of which was to occupy L'viv in western Ukraine and the city of Sandomierz in Poland thereby overrunning Galicia and the southern part of the Generalgouvernement (Poland).
According to a recently declassified Soviet secret report on the operation, the First Ukrainian Front under Marshal I.S Konev, which was to undertake this offensive had subordinated to it (including Front operational reserves); 74 rifle divisions (numbering 843,000 troops) grouped together as seven infantry armies, (1st, 3rd & 5th Guards, 13th, 18th, 38th & 60th Armies). (See Appendix 9).
Armoured and mechanised support for what was the most powerful single Front entity in the Red Army, was provided by a total of 2,041 tanks and self propelled guns. These were grouped together as three tank armies (1st Guards Tank, 3rd Guard tank and 4th Tank) and two independent Calvary Mechanised Groups named after their commanders 'Baranov' and 'Sokolov') which between them consisted of seven tank corps, 3 mechanised brigades, 4 separate tank brigades, 18 tank regiments, and 24 self propelled artillery regiments.
Operational support for the Front consisted of 9,797 guns and mortars (4,887 guns and 4,910 mortars - not including anti-aircraft guns ) grouped in 4 artillery divisions, 8 gun artillery brigades, 1 howitzer artillery brigade, 4 howitzer artillery regiments, 6 anti-tank [destroyer] brigades, 36 antitank artillery regiments, 19 mortar regiments, 1 mortar brigade, 4 guards mortar brigades and 14 guards mortar regiments.
These ground forces were complimented by 2nd Air Army which was comprised of nine aviation corps, three aviation divisions, four aviation regiments and four separate aviation squadrons. Altogether these disposed of 3,246 aircraft (679 bombers, 1,419 fighters, 1,046 assault [ground attack] aircraft and 102 reconnaissance and spotter planes).
Konev's own figures for the forces involved reveal only one significant discrepancy and this is the number of men under his command, which he cites as numbering 1,200,000 (or 357,000 more than is stated in the Soviet General Staff Report).
Defending the sector directly opposite the First Ukrainian Front stretching from the Prypiat marshes to the Carpathian Mountains, was Army Group North Ukraine now under the command of Generaloberst (Colonel-General) Joseph Harpe. This was comprised of the 4th and 1st Panzer Armies and the 1st Hungarian Army. Together these amounted to a total of thirty one German divisions (including four panzer) and twelve Hungarian light divisions or brigades, almost all of which were understrength, some quite significantly (the average size being between 7-9000 men).
The Army Group had approximately one hundred and eighty one tanks, (forty three of the tanks were within 4th Panzer Army), and additional self propelled guns, and limited Luftwaffe support. (see map 1 for disposition of forces as of 12th July, 1944).
There is some discrepancy over the actual fighting strengths of the German forces involved as quoted in the previously cited Soviet General Staff report especially with regard to armour and aircraft. Notwithstanding this, according to their own calculations the Red Army in this sector enjoyed an overall superiority, outnumbering the Germans 1.5 / 2 to 1, in artillery, tanks and quantity of divisions and by a ratio of 4.5 / 1 in aircraft, although these should be regarded as extremely conservative estimates.
Moreover, the German forces also had to contend with the considerable impact of the increasing activities of partisan units operating behind their lines, which disrupted communications and supplies to the frontline units.
The position of this already depleted Army Group had deteriorated significantly since the collapse of Army Group Centre. To partially compensate for the recent loss of most of its reserves, the decision was taken to divert the Galician Division to reinforce the front in the sector against which the full weight of the Soviet offensive was expected to fall.
Before returning to the HQ of AGNU to obtain fresh deployment orders, the Galician Division's Operations Officer Major Heike, informed Governor Wächter of the peremptory decision by the OKH to redeploy it at short notice in a different sector. Alarmed at the possible consequences of the new orders, which at a single stroke negated most of the concessions that he had won for the Division in relation to ensuring it a cautious introduction to combat, Wächter agreed with Major Heike to make urgent representations to get the orders revoked.
Proceeding to the Army Group headquarters, Major Heike was informed that the Galician Division had now been assigned to the XIII Army Corps (hereafter XIII.A.K.) of the 4th Panzer Army, which was established in position in the Brody district 96kms east of L'viv. Upon arrival, it was to occupy a secondary defensive line and as far as possible continue with its battle training.
The requests to rescind the standing orders met with some sympathy from the Army Group's staff. However, after recent developments on the Eastern Front they were not prepared to grant the Galician Division any special dispensation since its utilisation in the dire military situation took precedence over its propaganda value in terms of potential long term political developments. Under these circumstances all attempts by Governor Wächter and the Division's representatives to alter the decision inevitably resulted in failure.
In the meantime, on the 28th June orders were given for the bulk of the newly redesignated '14. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (galizische Nr. 1)' to entrain for the Eastern Front. As it relied heavily on horse draft for its transportation and supply vehicles, the first unit to leave was the veterinary company under the command of SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Kopp, along with its equipment and a large quantity of hay. This was followed by other priority units including the anti-aircraft detachment commanded by SS-Sturmbannführer von Kuester, and SS-Obersturmbannführer Beyersdorffs' Artillery Regiment which proceeded to the Belys military railway station at Neuhammer and, oblivious to the witches cauldron into which they were about to be thrown, boarded trains and headed east. Thereafter a further four railway transports left each day.
In the wake of the Division's departure, on 15th July, 1944, the Training and Reserve Regiment which consisted of about seven thousand men, was transferred temporarily to the training facility at Wandern near Frankfurt an der Oder. It stayed here one month until 15th August before finally moving to Neuhammer, where it joined the personnel allocated to form the 3rd battalions of the three infantry regiments which had remained behind at the camp and the bulk of the personnel from the Galizischen SS-Freiwilligen Regiments 4 & 5.
To their great disappointment, another group of over two hundred Ukrainian soldiers mostly drawn from those who held administrative positions, also stayed behind having been selected to attend a five month unteroffizier (nco) course at a Wehrmacht run school in Laibach (Slovenia). Amongst this group the desire to join their companions who had left for the front in Galicia was so strong that they had to be kept under guard until the train arrived to transport them to the school.
A New Assignment
After a two day rail journey, on 30th June the first echelons arrived in the new district and detrained at the station in the town of Ozhydiv, where XIII.A.K. had its headquarters. The remaining transports followed over the course of the next few days. From Ozhydiv all arriving units proceeded to generally defined assembly areas.
The unloading of the Division's matériel took place day and night and was interrupted several times by the sudden appearance of Soviet aircraft in the vicinity of the station, seeking a vulnerable target. As a countermeasure, along with two 3.5 cm guns from XIII.A.K.s' Flak Rgt 33 deployed at the station on the wagon platform, the Division's battery of 8.8 cm anti-aircraft guns and several of its 2cm cannons were installed in, or close to the rail depot. Unloading was then resumed under the protection of the guns which were able to successfully contain most of the attacks, prevent any casualties and keep the level of damage to a minimum.
With the movement orders well underway, Governor Wächter summoned SS-Brigadeführer Freitag to attend a final meeting in L'viv. Now that the Division's deployment was completely beyond his influence, Wächter could only reiterate to Freitag the significance of the forthcoming engagement and remind him that the ultimate responsibility for its performance, was in his hands.
As they discussed the ramifications of the new battle orders in L'viv, Major Heike and his adjutant reported to the commander of XIII.A.K. General Artur Hauffe at his HQ in Ozhydiv for a briefing on the overall situation and the new instructions for the Division's tactical deployment. In his memoirs Major Heike states that neither the Corps commander nor his Chief of Staff Colonel Kurt Von Hammerstein knew anything about the as yet unblooded 14. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (galische Nr. 1) and both were dubious of its combat capabilities. To make matters worse, in contrast to General Raus, they also proved to be somewhat less inclined to make any allowances for its special needs and idiosyncrasies as a unit made up of foreign nationals.
The prospect of additional reinforcements in their sector, was however welcomed especially since all of XIII.A.K.s' Wehrmacht infantry divisions were at medium or minimum strength. Added to this the Galician Division was better armed and equipped than the Corps' other regular army formations, which was a further source of encouragement.
In his assessment of the situation, General Hauffe envisaged a Soviet advance on L'viv, in the event of which XIII.A.K. would be barring the way especially in the area of Zolochiv. Therefore, rather than a direct frontal attack against prepared German positions, the Soviets were expected to employ a pincer movement from the north and south of the Corps area. In this eventuality, the Galician Division, would be given the task of preventing any attempt at outflanking the Corps and if the German front was penetrated, it would be committed to a counterattack to close the resultant gap. Contrary to the standard German practice when confronted with possible encirclement, of breaking up divisions into individual units and deploying them as semi-autonomous groups, a special request was tendered that as a non German formation, it should always be deployed as a whole unit and remain under its Divisional command.
Evidently, the import of this request was not fully realised by the commanding General and his staff, as later events would prove with alarming clarity.
As part of the 4th Panzer Army, XIII.A.K. held a sector of the front that included the town of Brody and the outlying areas immediately to the north, south and east. Following a previous encirclement lasting from the end of March until mid April 1944, when the Corps had successfully held out until it was relived by a German counter-attack, from mid April until late June 1944, the Brody sector had remained quiet. This afforded the Germans the opportunity to recuperate and strengthen their positions. The Frontline known as the HKL (Hauptkampflinie - main line of resistance), had been well developed in an engineering sense with defenses echeloned to a depth of 6-8 kms. It consisted of three to four trench lines (the first being continuous and full profile) connected by a dense network of communications trenches, several rows of barbed wire entanglements, anti-tank and anti personnel mine fields and the same obstructions along likely tank axes. Mined obstacles were constructed in forest sectors and key bridges, roads and buildings were also prepared with explosive charges for demolition. More importantly work began on building a static defensive line in its rear area known as the Prinz Eugen Stellung (Prince Eugen defence position), within which the Galician Division was ordered to occupy the so called 'Rudolf Position' and having done so, continue with the construction of the defensive installations and emplacements.
In July 1944, XIII.A.K. consisted of:
A headquarters unit - based in Ozhydiv with a commanding general and his staff, support, rear echelon and supply services, together with attached Corps artillery group, anti-tank, and pioneer units, [total strength 555 ] and the following infantry units;
454th Security Division: [total strength 5,929 ] commanded by General Major Johannes Nettwig which was in position on the Corps left flank north of Stanyslavchyk,
361st Infantry Division: [total strength 10,131 ] under Knights Cross holder General Major Gerhard Lindemann which was in the centre of the Corps lines, west of Brody,
Korpsabteilung 'C': [total strength 11,312 ] under the command of General Major Wolfgang Lange composed of the 183rd, 217th, and 339th Division groups, (each at approximately regimental strength) which held the front around Boratyn & Hai Starobridski
Later, the 349th Infantry Division [total strength 10,588 ] commanded by Knights Cross holder Generalleutnant Otto Lasch, was attached to the Corps and covered its right flank near Shyshkivtsi.
These units were augmented by the assault guns of Sturmgeschutz-Brigade 249, and II./Flak Rgt 33 for anti-aircraft support which was added to the Corps strength at the beginning of July.
Lastly, there were the remaining garrison forces within the city of Brody itself which was comprised of the remnants of three infantry battalions with a combined strength of 743 men, Sicherheit Battalion Bauer and elements of the 361st Infantry Division including a Panzerjager Zug which altogether amounted to a further 1,352 men.
With the addition of the 15,299 men of the 14. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (galische Nr. 1) [which was designated as the Corps tactical reserve], XIII.A.K's total theoretical paper strength stood at approximately 55,100 men of which about 43,175 (including 11,000 from the Galician Division) were actually deployed in the field. On XIII.A.K.s' left was LVI Panzer Corps (4th Panzer Army) while on the right was LVIII Panzer Corps (1st Panzer Army) both of which had infantry divisions manning their fronts.
Based on information obtained from reconnaissance reports and the interrogation of Red Army prisoners, XIII.A.K. command anticipated an attack in its sector beginning in mid July.
No further reinforcements were available to the Corps, and any attack would have to be repulsed with minimal armoured support since the whole of the 4th Panzer Army had less than fifty operational tanks within its entire sector and their effectiveness was limited as they suffered from a crippling shortage of fuel. Likewise, critical air support would also be largely absent since much of the Luftwaffe had been diverted from the Eastern Front to cope with the Allied landings in Normandy and increasingly heavy British and American bombing raids on German cities and industrial targets.
So as to leave no doubt about the realities of the situation, in his command briefing General Hauffe revealed that the latest intelligence reports indicated massively unequal odds in terms of the known ratio of enemy to friendly forces in the vicinity of his weakened corps, that would in all probability render it inadequate for the task that it had been assigned.
****** ****** ******
By the end of the first week in July the last rail transports had arrived along with SS-Brigadeführer Freitag, who came to the district by car. Altogether, of the 15,299 men serving with the 14. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (galische Nr. 1) (consisting of 346 officers: 1,131 ncos, and 13,822 enlisted men), approximately 11,000 deployed at Brody. Of the officers, around 150 were Ukrainian. Freitag reported the arrival of all the Division's operational and administrative forces to the necessary authorities, after which its general staff allocated positions to individual sections which took up their places and began digging in (see map for location of units).
The terrain in the sector which XIII.A.K. was defending was mostly flat with the exception of the hills of Iaseniv and Pidhirtsi which were cut with the Seret and Buh river valleys. The soil was mainly rich loam which quickly became soaked during rainy periods. The area was heavily forested with small populated points - many situated in hollows - and punctuated with occasional swampy meadows. The abundance of forests and wooded groves provided ample natural cover especially from the air. Moreover the region had the additional benefit of further natural obstacles formed by three rivers; the Seret, the Styr and the lower reaches of the Buh. The road network was well developed, although the predominantly dirt roads became difficult to traverse after rain, especially for wheeled transport.
The Galician Division held a line anywhere between 10-12 kms from the HKL approximately 36 kms in length, running from S/W of Stanyslavchyk in the north to a point S/E of Iaseniv close to the Seret river in the south. (see map 2). Its three infantry regiments were placed in a linear disposition; Waffen-Grenadier-Regiment 31 (hereafter WGR 31) supported by the III artillery battalion was based in the area of Turie and assigned the northern flank; in position covering the centre near the village of Chekhy was WGR 30 supported by the II artillery battalion; while WGR 29 together with elements of the Panzerjäger (anti-tank) company took up position on the southern flank beside the village of Iaseniv.
The Divisions' headquarters was situated in the rear of the three infantry regiments between Sokolivka and Ozhydiv as were its supply and support units. The command post of the artillery battalion was established nearby in the vicinity of the village of Tsishky, a short distance from the IV heavy artillery battalion, while the anti-aircraft batteries were deployed in defence of strategic positions according to the capabilities of their weapons.
The forward most unit was the Fusilier Battalion which occupied a position in front of the Division's main line near Sukhodoly, east of the Styr River. This served as an intelligence unit, establishing observation points to monitor Soviet activities. Situated just behind the battalion to provide it with covering support was the I artillery battalion.
Bivouacked in the forest just outside Sokolivka, the Pioneer Battalion was assigned the task of felling trees and preparing materials for the other sections which had been ordered to build bunkers, trenches, gun positions and fortifications.
The 14.Feld Ersatz Bataillon commanded by SS-Hauptsturmführer Kleinow was one of the last units to arrive on 7th July. It was stationed furthest to the rear, some 20kms behind the Division's positions. Its four companies were located in the proximity of Krasne in the villages of Kutkir, (two companies) Kuduriawci and Bezbrody where they continued with their training.
As the Division occupied its sector, its German command staff were confronted by the acknowledged risks associated with using it on home territory. Because of previous experiences with the Ukrainian troops, the possibility of desertion to the ubiquitous UPA units which were known to be active in the area was considered to be a very real threat, more so because of the recent reoccupation of parts of eastern Galicia by the Soviets. There were also concerns about its employment in an area populated by both Ukrainians and Poles.
These anxieties were initially partly obviated by the fact that by order of the Corps command billeting in villages of operational units was strictly forbidden (because of attacks from Soviet aircraft), which required all units to set up quarters in wooded areas nearby. For the first two or three days contact with the population was also forbidden. Later this was relaxed and the soldiers quickly mingled with the local Ukrainian civilian population who referred to them as "our boys".
Cordial relations with the civilians engendered a number of benefits and enabled many to supplement their rations with food willingly provided by the villagers. Others, not wishing to place any further burden on the local population, chose instead to augment their dietary requirements by 'fishing' with hand-grenades in the nearby rivers.
In contrast, to meet their own supply needs, XIII.A.K.s' German units in the area formed 'requisitioning detachments' which forcibly procured cattle, pigs, sheep, grain and horses from the peasants (in exchange for worthless government bonds) leaving them with very little. This understandably gave rise to frictions with the Ukrainian soldiers who, upon learning of the seizures, often intervened with their weapons on behalf of the peasants. Thereafter, to avoid difficulties, further necessary requisitioning was undertaken with the assistance of the Galician Division.
While contact with the local population did not result in large scale desertions which the Germans had feared, it did facilitate the opening of communications between the local UPA units and almost all the Division's sub sections. This led to un-official co-operation between the two forces. For its part the UPA was able to furnish the Division with intelligence information regarding the strengths, dispositions and activities of the Red Army forces in the regions they had already occupied. In return the Division undertook the unauthorised provision of quantities of weapons, ammunition, supplies and uniforms to the UPA and even managed to undertake limited weapons training sessions with the insurgent personnel. The Division also recruited limited numbers of young men in the area without any military training whom the UPA had instructed to join, in an attempt to thwart the Soviet policy of conscripting all able bodied men in areas which they had re-occupied and sending them into battle with little, if any, training. A Waffen-Unterscharführer serving with WGR 29 recalled:
"On 2nd July, 1944 at 11.30am we [staff company WGR 29] entered the village of Iaseniv situated about 15kms south west of Brody which had become an important transport and communications centre for the German armies fighting in Ukraine. As a former member of 'Prosvita' (enlightenment) I had already visited the region in 1942-43 and had made many friends in the village. The population greeted us warmly and made us feel at home...in almost every house in the village you could find an UPA member. They were simple village boys, mostly farmers sons poorly trained and without ammunition, equipped mostly with revolvers....
The front was quiet for the first couple of weeks after our arrival, during which our two Unteroffiziers [nco’s] Krasij and Smyk used every spare minute to train the UPA recruits. At that time an [unofficial] agreement was reached between the Division and the local population whereby all the young men in the area with any sort of military training would join the UPA, while those without training were to join the division. On a single day 120 volunteers were registered at the HQ of the 29 Regiment and transported to [the Reserve battalion at] Krasne for training."
Throughout the first week in July the Division continued to establish itself within the so called 'Rudolf Position' which together with the 'Lange-Riegel' (Long Bolt) position formed part of the Prinz Eugen Stellung. All units were kept busy with a variety of tasks associated with its' envisaged role, defending a static defensive line. Anti-tank obstacles were erected and concealed, firing positions for guns of all sizes and calibres selected and cleared and infantry support weapons sited. The signals units laid telephone lines to regimental HQs' and the pioneers placed barbed wire barricades and laid minefields infront of the prepared positions. To avoid detection, at every opportunity supply work was carried out at night.
Since 6th July the Army Group had expected the Soviet attack to begin and consequently on this day all units of the XIII.A.K. were put on state of alert which gave fresh impetus to the work.
Regular reconnaissance missions were undertaken by small groups from all three infantry regiments. These served the dual purpose of assisting the Divisional command with establishing the location, strength and intentions of the enemy forces opposite, while at the same time enabling the Ukrainian soldiers to obtain battle training under front conditions.
As soon as it was practical, the heavy artillery battery under the command of Waffen-Sturmbannführer Palienko was brought into action in support of the Corps army units which were holding the frontline and in doing so gained valuable experience.
To improve their own occupied positions and determine the composition and strength of the German forces, the 1st Ukrainian Front's headquarters planned its own 'Razviedka boem' (reconnaissance -in-force). By the second week in July, this had translated into a noticeable increase in terms of Soviet air reconnaissance and long range artillery fire, activities which augured an imminent offensive. Advance patrols and attack groups infiltrated the German lines, sometimes to a depth of several kilometres which resulted in the outbreak of skirmishes some of which involved the forward most units of the Division.
Significantly, within XIII.A.K.s sector, based on available intelligence information, in the days proceeding the Soviet offensive, its Divisions' repeatedly reported to the Corp's HQ that they did not expect to find themselves facing the main thrust of the assault but rather a large scale holding attack on their section of the front.
"Kessel von Brody" (Encirclement at Brody)
The expected Soviet attack began on 13th July, a day earlier than originally planned with a minor action. XXXXII Corps of the 4th Panzer Army was given permission to withdraw, covered by strong rearguards, from a bulge toward Torchyn to shorten the German line. Marshal Konev promptly followed up this move by ordering Gordov's 3rd Guards Army to pursue the retiring units. Assisted by air formations from the 1st Guards and 5th Assault Aviation Corps which flew 664 sorties on this day against the withdrawing units and various strong points, the forward battalions from units of 3rd Guards Army and 13th Army, with armoured and artillery support, successfully overcame the foremost German defensive line and gained several kilometres of ground.
The next day the First Ukrainian Front launched its main offensive with two blows falling in decisive sectors adjacent to XIII.A.K., where the Soviets had concentrated the bulk of their infantry, cavalry and mechanised forces; to the north near Horokhiv and to the south in the vicinity of Nusche.
In the northern sector, following the earlier successes of the forward elements, the assault began with a twofold objective; delivering an attack along the Stoinaiv / Kaminka Strumilova axis which would envelop the German forces west of Brody from behind; and developing the offensive towards the ultimate objective of Rava Russka.
Having successfully pierced the German front line near Horokhiv, a part of 13 Army's infantry forces, accompanied by hundreds of tanks and aircraft, quickly began to push south west towards the northern perimeter of XIII.A.K. in the general direction of Radekhiv.
On 14th July, sub units of the 291st and 340th Infantry Divisions, fell back and hastily occupied part of the Prinz Eugen Stellung. Simultaneously, in an attempt to restore the front 4th Panzer Army counterattacked with two Panzer divisions hitherto held in reserve, - 16th and 17th - (which between them could deploy only 43 serviceable tanks) against the enemy penetration in the Horokhiv and Druzhkopil region. Even with the limited support of German bombers, before they could make any significant headway the counter-attack was halted by vastly superior forces. The 3rd Guards Army and Putkov's 13th Army inflicted heavy personnel and equipment losses on these panzer units and on the 291st & 340th Infantry Divisions, leaving the Soviets free to continue their advance and expand on the breakthrough.
Over the next three days Marshal Konev further consolidated the initial gains on the northern flank of XIII.A.K., adding further infantry, mechanised and tank divisions (including Lieutenant General Baranov's Cavalry Mechanised Group and then Colonel General Katukov's 1st Guards Tank Army), which poured through the gap which had been created. Baranov's Cavalry Mechanised Group which moved into the penetration sector under the protection of an umbrella of aircraft from 2nd Air Army, immediately advanced to the south-west to fulfil its assignment of capturing Kaminka Strumilova and seizing and holding a bridgehead on the western bank of the Buh river. The execution of this manoeuvre was intended to block the retreat path of XIII.A.K., and other German forces west of Brody while concurrently preventing them from receiving any further reinforcement.
The Soviet offensive in the south and breakthrough
in the area of Sasiv - Zolochiv
Events on XIII Army Corps' southern flank followed a similar course. As it was here that the Galician Division was sent into action, what ensued in this sector will be related in greater detail.
On the 14th July, in conjunction with the Soviet strike on the northern flank, a second offensive thrust commenced at the juncture of the 1st and 4th Panzer Armies, which threatened to split them apart and encircle XIII.A.K.
While the frontal attacks on the 14th July against the positions of Korpsabteilung C (hereafter abbreviated K.A.C.) were successfully repulsed, further to the south the Soviet 38th and 60th Armies under Generals Moskalenko and Kurochkin respectively, attacked at the weakest point of the front where the 349th & the 357th Infantry Divisions met. In preparation, an extraordinarily heavy, concentrated and continuous artillery barrage took place during the afternoon in concert with a powerful air strike delivered by 618 bombers and ground attack aircraft of 2nd Air Army aimed against the main centres of defense (for 50 minutes between 15.40-16.30 hours, there were more than 1,000 aircraft continually above the battlefield in 38th and 60th Armies' penetration sectors).
The assault that followed in 60th Army's offensive sector, led by the infantry divisions of the 15th and 23rd Rifle Corps, fell on the 349th Infantry Division (especially its southernmost unit - the 913th Regiment), whose forward positions were quickly fragmented and overrun. In the next few hours the 913th Regiment sustained what its subsequent battle report described as "heavy losses in both men and weapons" and was reduced to a mere fraction of its original strength. The 349th Infantry Division's Fusilier Battalion which was initially deployed infront of the 913th Regiment was according to the same report "totally destroyed" and several of the Division's artillery batteries sited in the vicinity were either destroyed or had to be abandoned and later fell into enemy hands intact. The remnants of these battered units, formed into ad-hoc battlegroups, were forced to retreat in violent fighting to the west, under constant harassment by enemy aircraft which were active until sunset.
The explanation offered for the 349th Infantry Division's failure to hold the front as cited in it's subsequent battle report was given as follows;
"Reasons for the breach
1. Intense bombardments, constant heavy air attacks. No action from our own Luftwaffe and meagre quantity of ammunition, much too insufficient for a major counterattack.
2. Far too wide defense front (4-6 km per btl). Consequently; total engagement of all infantry and weapons in the front line, scant reserves.
3. At the outset, immediate severe initial losses in men and heavy weapons
4. Destruction of communications network
5. The right flank was surrounded for hours, so that the positions of the right wing, despite its weak force, had to be re-shaped and lengthened."
Once they had broken through the prepared German positions, the 60th and 38th Armies' continued their advance towards Zolochiv and Sasiv - by so doing driving a wedge between XIII.A.K. and its right hand neighbour XXXXVIII Panzer Corps.
First counterattack by 14. Waffen-Gren.-Div. der SS (galische Nr. 1)
and 1. & 8. Panzer Divisions fails
The German command responded to this development by committing its tactical reserves comprising of the 14. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (galische Nr. 1), and the 1st & 8th Panzer Divisions, at once.
In rigid accordance with German military doctrine, XIII.A.K. command ordered part of its reserve to reinforce the positions of the 349th Infantry Division. The Galician Division's Waffen-Grenadier-Regiment 30 (hereafter WGR-30) with artillery support was removed from its own command, subordinated directly to the Corps command and ordered to move out of its reserve position to assist the 349th Infantry Division in halting the penetration to the east of the village of Koltiv. The rest of the Galician Division was placed on full alert but remained in place.
Because of the urgency of the order, WGR-30 had no alternative than to begin its advance without either the Divisional staff or the regimental commander SS-Obersturmbannführer Forstreuter, having had time to familiarise themselves with the terrain in the projected area of engagement. As the regiment set out it received its baptism of fire from enemy aircraft which strafed its marching columns, inflicting casualties, destroying vehicles and halting its advance. Then came the first encounters with the disorderly groups of retreating veteran German infantry from the shattered units of the 349th Infantry Division which had been holding the frontline. A Ukrainian platoon commander from 3/I/WGR 30, wrote;
"On 14 July the 30th Regiment according to orders, had to march and occupy the front lines in the Koltiv region because of the break in the German lines by the Soviets. It was a hot day and marching was very difficult. Reaching Pidhirci shortly after noon the regiment encountered heavy bombardment and aircraft attacks which continued for more than three hours prohibiting it from moving. By evening and in heavy rain the regiment started to move again. Towards morning it passed Sasiv [turned east towards Koltiv] and had to plough through German soldiers running away from the front. Some were without weapons, many shouting that the Russians were not far behind and that we should turn back, some were sitting and staring, some were even crying. This was a very demoralising example especially for our soldiers from the 'Galician Division' who had never seen real fighting and its cruelties."
Nevertheless, another Ukrainian grenadier from the same regiment who was present recalled the self-belief that still pervaded as they moved into attack;
"It was still early in the morning when we marched through Koltiv, smouldering houses corpses of civilians here and there ...and worried villagers especially women who brought us delicious curdled milk which we drank with great pleasure while marching. Right after the village the road went onto wild forest and there we were confronted by soldiers - some on horse wagons, others running fast on foot towards and then passed us, always looking back. Some were tending their wounds while they were running. It was not a pleasant experience for us freshly arrived from our peaceful base at Neuhammer but (although I am sure not many will admit it) this was the Wehrmacht fleeing (we called them "brotboitli" ) not us Waffen-SS, we'll show them how to behave in the front lines! How naive we were."
Once it had reached its line of deployment, on the morning of 15th July at around 8.00am, in a wooded area in the vicinity of the villages of Koltiv and Lukavets', its two infantry battalions and support units came into contact with Red Army units. Before the Ukrainians had even properly deployed, Soviet infantry accompanied by numerous T34 tanks and Ilyushin fighter planes attacked inflicting heavy casualties. Thereafter WGR-30 set about a desperate attempt to close the breach.
No sooner had the battle begun than the Regiment was beset in the most part by exactly the same problems that the 349th Infantry Division had experienced the previous day. The extended length of the position the regiment occupied meant its individual companies were spread out which in turn undermined their effectiveness. The essential communications links between the regimental headquarters and battalion commanders, were virtually non existent and those that were available were only usable for a short period. Added to this, throughout the day the front in this sector remained fluid preventing its artillery battalion from providing effective support for the infantry. Although the insertion of the WGR-30 relieved the pressure on the weakened 349th Infantry Division, outnumbered three to one, armed only with light infantry support weapons and without any air cover, it was predictably unable accomplish its mission. Despite this, it is to the credit of the regimental commander SS-Obersturmbannführer Forstreuter and his surviving officers that some companies although heavily depleted, did at least manage to narrow the gap although by doing so suffered further significant losses in manpower and matériel.
The report later given by the Chief Operations Officer of the veteran 349th Infantry Division which had itself been routed almost at once, perhaps to mitigate its own failings, gives a highly critical evaluation of the Galician Division's early contribution to the fighting;
"15th July... the  Division was reinforced by part of the SS-Freiwilligen Division "Galizien" [sic] whose weaponry was first class but whose fighting value was zero. In the following days, the best equipment fell into Russian [Soviet] hands because the Galicians, with only a few exceptions were unable to withstand any Russian [Soviet] attacks and represented a burden for our infantry. It must however be taken into account that this was a newly established non-German unit, not battle hardened, which was first deployed during a retreat and was therefore particularly vulnerable to the material superiority of the Russians [Soviets] in this area."
The same day, in conjunction with the attack by WGR-30, 1st Panzer Army (as 4th Panzer Army had previously done), ordered its mobile tactical reserve consisting of the 1st & 8th Panzer Divisions to strike at the Soviet spearhead The German command was very confident that these two powerful veteran formations would repair the broken front and re-establish contact with XIII.A.K.
The counterattack by 1st Panzer Division which was executed with perfect smoothness, caught the 38th Army by surprise, penetrated it's left flank in the vicinity of Oliiv and temporarily threw back it's combat formations 2-4 kms in several sectors.
In marked contrast, a little further to the west only a small part of the 8th Panzer Division actually managed to engage the enemy in the region of Kruhiv before being forced into XIII.A.K.'s area. The Soviet General Staff report on the battle states that air reconnasiance revealed the concentration area of the approaching tanks and to pevent any further incursions into 38th Army's flank, Konev, who recognised the threat that the German armoured formations posed, immediately ordered the 2nd Air Army commander Colonel General S. A. Krasovsky "to destroy the enemy tank grouping by large scale attacks from bombers and assault aircraft". In compliance with this order, 2nd Air Army delivered bombing and assault strikes against the panzer divisions located north and north east of Zborov. A total of 1,848 sorties were completed during the afternoon of 15th July, during which 17,200 bombs of different types were dropped and 1,700 rocket missiles and 83,000 conventional missiles were launched - a total of 716 tons - on the German armour in an area of only 7 square kilometres. As a result of this 1st Panzer Division sustained considerable losses in both tanks and personnel, and was forced to disengage from the fighting to withdraw and reorganise. The brunt of the 8th Panzer Division fared far worse. The commander of this Division had disregarded his explicit instructions to advance on a carefully reconnoitred route through a wooded area. Instead, to save time he moved his forces along the main road Zolochiv / Zborov road, which he had been expressly forbidden to do. Caught in transit on an open road it suffered what were described as "devastating losses" and as long columns of tanks and lorries went up in flame all hopes of closing the gap in the front at the first attempt evaporated.
In the aftermath of the combat on 14th-15th July, in the southern sector the Soviets had achieved a small but decisive breakthrough which the Front Commander Marshall Konev was determined to exploit. The armoured vanguards followed by the infantry pushed through the villages of Harbuziv, Perepelnyky, Iwaczow, Nushche and Trostianets' Malyi until they reached the main paved road at Pluhiv, along which the strong armoured and mechanised units advanced towards Zolochiv In so doing they formed a narrow corridor approximately 16 kms long and 6kms wide between XIII.A.K.s' southern flank and the hastily restored defensive positions on the northern flank of XXXXVIII Corps.
At the end of the day XIII.A.K. together with sizeable parts of the 340th Infantry Division and the 349th Infantry Division which had become separated from their respective parent Corps, was isolated from its neighbouring Corps to both the north and south. Moreover the failure of the counterattacks meant that German offensive capabilities had been sharply reduced.
Creation and expansion of the 'Koltiv Corridor'/ further
attempts to close the gap / remainder of the Galician Division committed /
withdrawal to the Prinz Eugen Stellung.
By the morning of the 16th July, the Soviet Front command had shifted the main weight of the attack to the southern sector where the progress of their offensive had been slower, especially in the area of 38th Army where German resistance had "succeeded in upsetting 38th Army's offensive and extremely complicating its operations on subsequent days". To accelerate the penetration of the German defensive positions, Konev had already begun moving substantial fresh veteran armoured and infantry reinforcements into what became known as the 'Koltiv corridor' which was constantly being expanded in a west and north-westerly direction. The main forces of General Pavlo Rybalkos' elite 3rd Guards Tank Army, (6th & 7th Guards Tank Corps and 9th Mechanised Corps) were committed into the corridor between Koltiv and Trostianets' Malyi (ultimately over 1,000 Soviet tanks and self-propelled guns were to pass through it). The narrow sector and lack of roads forced the army's formations to move westwards along a single route in a continuous compact column in the general direction of Krasne. This placed them in an extremely vulnerable position, although this was largely offset by the presence of aviation in the form of large fighter formations which supported the insertion of the mobile forces into the existing penetration area.
Hoping to take advantage of the difficult Soviet situation and fearing the arrival of large tank and mechanised forces in its rear areas, the German command continued to counterattack throughout the day in an attempt to liquidate the spearhead.
XIII.A.K. which was threatened with the prospect of complete encirclement, began by strengthening the precarious position on its right flank. To achieve this, the Galician Division's two remaining regiments (WGR's 29 & 31) together with their artillery support units and other combat elements which constituted the last of its tactical reserve, were belatedly committed (see map 3). Under the direct command of XIII.A.K.s' staff, they received orders to abandon the defensive positions they had built and join up with the battered remains of WGR-30 in the field. In the first stage they were to move to their assembly area to the south of Pidhirtsi, after which they were to advance towards the front in a south-easterly direction.
As an added contingency measure, on the morning of 16th July, because of the rapidly worsening situation in this sector, XIII.A.K., also ordered the creation of a blocking force composed of elements of the K.A.C. This blocking force, commanded by Major Lawatsch, was given the task of securing the line Pobocz, - Maidan Peniatsky, - Zharkiv.
Even before either of these tactical manoeuvres had been effected, by midday on 16th it had already become apparent that by virtue of the enemy's immense superiority and the rapidity of the advance the preventative measures taken to contain the Soviet thrust in the south were in vain. Following the fall of Zolochiv, it was clear that a large scale retreat would be necessary if XIII.A.K. was to have any hope of avoiding complete encirclement. Thus the units on Corp's left flank (454th Security Division, 361st Infantry Division, & K.A.C.), received orders to withdraw to the unmanned Prinz Eugen Stellung. The orders specified unequivocally that the withdrawal was not to begin until 24.00hrs on the night of the 16/17 July by which time Major Lawatschs' blocking force and the Galician Division would be in position. The heavy weapons and rear echelon units were to relocate to the woods south of Ozhydiv, to be followed by combat elements and rearguard which were to conduct a fighting withdrawal only when they were under severe enemy pressure.
The 349th Infantry Division which had been unable to hold the Prinz Eugen Stellung in its sector, was also instructed to disengage from the enemy and withdraw to the general line Koltiv-Opaky-Huta Verkobuzka. Retirement to new positions offered XIII.A.K.'s command distinct advantages, the primary strategic intention behind this move being to narrow the front thereby freeing up part of its forces. These could then be re-grouped and utilised in accordance with the demands of the developing situation.
The withdrawal to the section of the Prinz Eugen Stellung stretching from Stanislawcyk to Wolochy by the 361st Infantry Division, 454th Security Division and K.A.C. proceeded according to plan. XIII.A.K., then ordered the 361st Infantry Division to form a Kampfgruppe from its reserve battalion (Kampfgruppe Haid ) for despatch by truck to the area east of Sasiv and then to Koltiv to assist the 349 Infantry Division in an attack scheduled for the following morning.
Further to the south, the Koltiv sector was comparatively quiet in comparison with the ferocity of the fighting of the previous two days, and had begun to stabilise to a degree partly because of the reorganisation of the Soviet forces in the area. During a temporary lull in the fighting, the two surviving regiments (911th & 912th) of the 349th Infantry Division, along with the remnants of its other sub-units and their heavy weapons, were able to pull back to its new line without significant difficulty.
Behind the front, on 16th July the progress of the Galician Division's WGR's 29 and 31 and other combat support units as they proceeded separately by forced march towards Pidhirtsi, was severely retarded by attacks from the ever present dive bombers and fighter planes. Upon reaching their staging area, without any appreciable rest or respite, both regiments were transferred ahead to the front and in the evening moved out separately for an attack.
WGR 29 proceeded towards Maidan and Huta Peniatska, while WGR 31st moved further south and deployed in the vicinity of Verkhobuzh, Opaky and Koltiv. Here the Ukrainian infantry found little evidence of the 349th Infantry Division and K.A.C. which were supposed to be holding the front. In several cases, individual elements of these Wehrmacht units had, contrary to their explicit orders, rather expeditiously already started to leave their emplacements a few hours before and retire westwards. As a result of this, several of the Galician Division's combat units became embroiled in sporadic battles in the wooded areas around, Peniaky, Opaky and Verkhobuzh during the night of the 16th / 17th with elements of the Soviet 15th and 23rd Rifle Corps.
WGR-30, which had lost almost half of its total strength in its first engagement including all of its Ukrainian company commanders killed, wounded or missing by now was temporarily no longer effective as a cohesive fighting unit. Consequently it was withdrawn from the front and pulled back for reorganisation to Ruda Koltowska behind the northern bank of the Buh river. Here as well as being used as the Divisional reserve, it was assigned the task of clearing the surrounding woods of the enemy infiltration’s and securing the main Koltiv - Sasiv road.
17/18 July: Korpsabteilung 'C' split up for emergency assignments/
final attempt to close the gap, all units engaged at the front.
By dawn on 17th July, XIII.A.K., had moved into its new position and re-grouped its forces. Korps Abteilung C now occupied the centre of XIII.A.K.s' lines facing north east. To its' left was the 361st Infantry Division (less Kampfgruppe Haid) at the railway line 1.5km north east of Zabolotsi and to its' right the Galician Division at the forest tip, 1.5km south-west of Wolochy. While two of the K.A.C.s' Divisional groups held the front, Div. Gr.339 with artillery support, was withdrawn and received the order to reconnoitre in a southward direction over Bilyi Kamin' for an attack on Pochapy and Zhulychi. For this the Lawatsch blocking force was dissolved.
Around midday on the 17th July, K.A.C. was also ordered to move its Fusilier Battalion into the vicinity of Iaseniv, to secure the main road in this area and counter a renewed Soviet strike towards Maidan. To the north of this sector where the I & II battalions of the Galician Division's WGR 29 were deployed, the brunt of the attacks were principally carried out by the reinforced 68th Guards Rifle Division (of 23rd Rifle Corps) led by expendable penal battalions suitably primed with extra vodka rations. A Waffen-Unterscharführer recalled the attack:
"On Monday July 17th our unit [staff company 29th Regiment] under the command of SS-Obersturmführer Weiss along with the 8th heavy company under the command of Waffen-Obersturmführer Yaskevych was ordered to counter-attack against the Soviet units which had virtually wiped out our 1st battalion. For this we were armed with MG 42's, rifles, hand-grenades and Panzerfausts.
We marched through Hayi Dubecki in an easterly direction. On the way we came across wagons loaded with dead and wounded.....Leaving the company under the command of Waffen-Unterscharführer Levko, SS-Obersturmführer Weiss took a group of 22 men and heading south east towards Zharkiv reached the edge of a wood where a small unit of the 1st battalion was holding out under attack and heavily outnumbered by two companies of Soviets.
From our concealed position we watched the Soviets attack, against all military training in tight formation stumbling and shouting obscenities. With cries of U-r-r-a! the drunken ranks of the Soviets were advancing one after the other not even bothering to fall to the ground and take cover. We waited in silence until they got to within 100 metres of us and then opened fire from the flank with seven MG 42's. They were taken completely by surprise and within minutes the remaining Soviets were fleeing in panic into the wood leaving some fifty corpses on the battlefield. We advanced another 200 metres or so and tried to make contact with the unit which had been holding out. By now the sun had set and the evening air was heavy with the smell of alcohol from the dead Soviets.... Our fighting unit had secured the defensive positions of the first battalion. This was the first and last successful engagement of the staff company unit."
WGR 31 was similarly locked in combat throughout the day and the following night with the 99th Rifle Division (23rd Rifle Corps) and elements of the 336th Rifle Division (15th Rifle Corps) in the vicinity of Opaky, Verkhobuzh and Koltiv. In both cases, the Division's Pioneer Battalion, Panzerjäger Abteilung and Fusilier Battalion, were used to reinforce weak points and localities in which the fierce Soviet assaults were particularly heavy and where the local Polish population was, as had been anticipated sometimes hostile to the Ukrainian soldiers as evidenced in this account;
"I was a Waffen-Oberschutze serving with the independent 'Panzerjäger' [anti-tank] company under the command of SS-Obersturmführer Rader which was occupying a position about 2kms east of Iaseniv ...at three or four pm our platoon received orders to pack up and move to a position about twenty km's to the east. We travelled on the roads and across country in our 'Raupenschlepper Ost' (caterpillar tractors) towing our anti-tank guns to the village of Huta Peniatska. Here our platoon was deployed in a cemetery as infantry support for two companies of Ukrainian fusiliers.
At first light we came under heavy mortar fire from the Soviets. Then, with cries of OORAHH! two Red Army battalions mounted a frontal bayonet charge. When they were five hundred metres infront of us we opened fire using anti-personnel shells as very effective direct fire artillery. We continuously shortened our range, until finally we were firing over open sights. Eventually we could not fire for fear of hitting our two Ukrainian companies which counter-attacked. The Soviets stopped, started to return automatic fire and began to withdraw in disorder to a village. We opened fire again, but a few minutes later our platoon was ordered to retreat to our Company HQ in Iaseniv leaving the infantry behind. The battle had lasted about two hours.
In the afternoon, somewhere between Huta Peniatska and Iaseniv we stopped in a clearing in the forest. While our platoon commander tried to get further instructions by radio we came under mortar fire which stopped after we shot the observer whom we located in a tree. We received instructions to proceed to the village of Maidan. We arrived there in the late afternoon and stayed there overnight. At three or four o'clock in the morning we were attacked by Soviet infantry. Our platoon was ordered to retreat while the Ukrainian infantry in the village covered our withdrawal. In the excitement the driver of my tractor caught the wheel of the gun against a tree. I ordered him to back up which he did with such force that he 'Jack-knifed' and the bracket attaching the gun to the truck - which was already cracked - broke.
I ran to the first house and asked a man in Ukrainian to give me some chains so I could attach the gun to the truck. He answered in Polish "I don't have chains". The same thing happened at the next two houses and I realised that it was a Polish village. When I returned empty handed to my men who had come under fire, one of them had already been killed. I was confused - my men who were farmers sons themselves told me that there is no such thing as a farmer who doesn't have a chain, so I ran back to the first house and put a pistol to the farmers head and said "either I have the chains in five seconds or you are dead." He gave me the chains and we attached the gun to the tractor with them. Unfortunately by that time (5.00am) Maidan was in Soviet hands and when we started to move through the village we received machine gun fire from houses and windows on all sides. I ordered the men to fire panzerfausts at the houses which burst into flame and in the confusion we managed to slip through the village and back to Iaseniv where the panzerjager company reassembled and received some food and supplies."
To the rear of the front line, the Division's artillery batteries struggled to manoeuvre into new firing positions in support of the infantry, on the earth roads which, already badly damaged by bombardments, were transformed into mud by heavy rain which began on the night of 16/17th July. The support and medical units experienced the same difficulties as they persevered to maintain ammunition supplies and evacuate the constant stream of wounded to casualty clearing stations on roads where motor vehicles and horsedrawn supply carts sank up to their axles and fatigued the horses. From its headquarters situated in a small wood a few kms south of Oles'ko, in the centre of its lines, the Division's staff maintained contact with all its individual sub-units and co-ordinated their movements and actions in an endeavour to comply with the directives that it had been given in what was later described as "the most difficult and most unclear frontal sector of the Corps".
Elsewhere in the south on the 17th July, the 349th Infantry Division reinforced with Kampfgruppe Haid had been ordered to attack to retake the Prinz Eugen Stellung in the vicinity of Kruhiv-Peniaky. The attack began as planned but quickly ran into strong Soviet defensive positions supported by heavy JS-2 [Joseph Stalin- 2] tanks. Although some progress was made, with only local reinforcement and minimal armoured backing from a handful of self propelled guns and tanks, the infantry units found themselves in an identical situation to the Ukrainians and were quickly pinned down and unable to move. A strong Soviet counter-thrust captured Huta Verkobuzka which the 349th Infantry Division was unable to retake, and when darkness fell on 17th July, the attack ground to a halt.
Once again, XIII.A.K.'s command had overestimated the capabilities of its forces, none of which had been able to achieve their objectives in this difficult sector where the course of the front line was in a constant state of flux.
***** ***** *****
Following the failure of the attempt to retake control of the south eastern most part of the Corps' area, during the night of the 17/18 July K.A.C.s' Divisional Gruppe 339 reinforced with artillery and six self propelled guns, was given fresh instructions to make a renewed effort to seal off the area of enemy penetration in the south. Divisional Gruppe 339 was ordered to march in a southward direction until it reached Ruda Koltowska. Here it was to attach itself to the 349th Infantry Division. Both units were then to attack southward to take the village of Obertasiv where they were to join with the 8th Panzer Division which had reorganised and was still assumed to be striking northward, to re-establish a solid front.
Although Divisional Gruppe 339 and elements of the 349th Infantry Division managed to achieve their objective and reach their destination - the high ground north of Obertasiv - on the morning of 18th, the attack by the 8th Panzer Division which had been placed under the command of Major-General Von Mellenthin, had to be aborted when for the second time direct orders were disobeyed, this time by the commander of the panzer regiment, thereby preventing it from reaching the target area.
Simultaneously, K.A.C.s' Fusilier Battalion had received fresh orders from XIII.A.K., to advance from its assembly area south of Maidan, and with the support of two self propelled guns, retake the village of Huta Verkobuzka. On its right flank were elements of the Galician Division whose combat units were still heavily immersed in trying to gain control of the forested area and eliminate the numerous infiltrations with local counterattacks.
In the extremely dense woodland south of Maidan, contact between the Fusilier Battalion of K.A.C. and elements of the Galician Division on its immediate right was soon lost. The battered units of the Galician Division which had re-committed WGR-30, confronted by an enemy equipped with liberal quantities of ubiquitous fighter planes, tanks, heavy artillery and mortars, made little impact on the attacking Soviet forces in its area of operations. Unable to overcome far stronger opposition and following bitter close combat with heavy losses, its units were forced to break off their engagement and retreat. It then received fresh orders to set up a blockade of the Iaseniv and Sasiv valleys and not to allow the enemy passage into the surrounding woodlands and XIII.A.Ks' rear.
With its right flank exposed, the Fusilier Battalion of K.A.C. found itself in an untenable position, and it too fell back to Maidan under cover of darkness.
Against manifestly unequal odds, XIII.A.K.'s last attempt to seal the gap created by the Soviet advance in the south and link up with the relief forces, had failed. As a result the Prinz Eugen Stellung had to be abandoned and XIII.A.K.'s left wing had to be bent back to form a front facing north.
General Hauffe still did not appreciate the full danger or the radically worsening operational situation. As prisoners subsequently revealed "Many officers reported to General Hauffe (XIII.A.K. commander) about his forces' situation and expressed the opinion that he should withdraw, but the general demanded that they hold out in the hope that help would arrive".
The meeting of the Soviet pincers at Busk / escape
of supply units / encirclement is completed.
As this was taking place, alarming news arrived at the Galician Division's HQ that its supply and reserve units stationed about 15 kms to the rear, had come under attack from the leading elements of the Soviet assault forces near Krasne and were therefore retreating westwards. The 14.Feld Ersatz Bataillon managed to disengage with minimal casualties and hurriedly escaped ahead of the approaching tanks after abandoning its few heavy weapons and most of its equipment as did several of XIII.A.K.'s other supply and support units situated furthest to the rear. Their comrades further to the east were not however so fortunate.
By the end of 17th July Lieutenant General Baranov's Cavalry Mechanised Group of the northern pincer had captured Kaminka-Strumilova, deep in the rear of XIII.A.K., and having dispersed an attack by two German infantry divisions - 20th Panzer Grenadier Division and 100th Jäger Divisions in the area, threw a detachment forward to the Derevliany region. Here, on the 18th, the 2nd Guards Cavalry Division (from Baranov's Group) linked up with the 71st Mechanised Brigade of the 3rd Tank Army in the south, whose forces had occupied the important road junction at Busk at noon on the same day. Before maintaining its westward advance, the latter left part of its forces (71st Mechanised Brigade, 50th Motorcycle Regiment and the 91st Separate Tank Brigade) in a strong screen along the northern bank of the Buh from Sasiv to Derevliany facing north and
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I have a couple of follow up questions:
Do you have any ideas as to what was the reason for such a low number of operational panzers available to the HG Nordukraine,
and I'd be very interested in reading more detail on the surroundings of 8.Panzer Division's controversies during the operation -> Here's another great thread on this topic from Feldgrau: Pz.Rgt.9 - "Pz.Rgt. Hake" in 1944
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From memory, some German armour (or at least infantry) was transferred elsewhere just prior to the attack on AGNU which commenced mid July, because the main thrust of the attack was expected elsewhere. No one thought that the attack would occur where it did, and with such tremendous force.
I made an extremely thorough study of all the after action reports filed by the German units involved in the Brody pocket, just to see whether the numerous German criticisims against the Ukrainians had any validity and this included a study of the 8th PZ Div role. With regard to published works, I cannot remember the name or author of the published work I consulted on the 8th ( I think it was a two volume set - one of text one of photos) but I will check my archives when time permits. Suffice to say the 8th Pz has almost exclusively escaped post war criticism even though this unit which was comprised of Reichsdeutch was badly at fault.
I must also stress that my efforts were almost exclusively concentrated on the German material until David GLANTZ very kindly and unsolicited, provided me with a pre-publication translated copy of the Secret Soviet General Staff report on the operation which gives a detailed blow by blow account from the Soviet persepective. Without his timely intervention, this whole aspect of my book would have been very one sided and I must stress again how kind he was to send me this material, at his own cost and without any restrictions, provisos or request for anything in return. It seems to me its the likes of him, John Moore, Steve Tyas (look out for his study of Einsatzgruppe D still unfinished and over 25 years in the making) George Lepre, and a couple of moderators on this forum whose contribution to the history of their respective subjects will always be underestimated, are historians of real merit. That is what in my view history is all about, sharing information without reservation.
bye for now and sorry about the ramblings. I'll go back to looking on ebay for old LEGO castles
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The same story (with the most convenient German ally taking the blame) repeats itself over and over again.Suffice to say the 8th Pz has almost exclusively escaped post war criticism even though this unit which was comprised of Reichsdeutch was badly at fault.
Just to address the panzers issue. Many Panzer Divisions left AGNU in June/July (4.,5.,9.SS and 10.SS) but neverthless many remained and according to an earlier post in this thread - at the start of the operation AGNU still had well over 500 panzers on hand.
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
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I recall that 4th Panzer Army had less than fifty operational tanks within its entire sector and their effectiveness was limited as they suffered from a crippling shortage of fuel - I cannot imagine things were too much better elsewhere. Moreover I bet only party of the 500 was 'operational'
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the book is entitled To Battle, the histroy and formation of the 14 Galician Division, published by Helion and Co. Not all reviews are good - check out those on AMAZON.com
herewith the concluding part of the text. Informed comments and criticisms welcomed.
Once again footnotes appended on the bottom for your info:
Phase II: The Destruction of the Entrapped Forces; 18-24 July
The breakout plan is formulated / KAC withdrawn
from the front / breakout is delayed.
As a result of the successful completion of the operational encirclement and isolation of the Brody grouping from the rest of the German forces west of the Buh, Marshall Konev gave orders for his mobile forces to push on towards their strategic objectives, Rava Russka on the northern axis and - L'viv on the southern axis Simultaneously, to facilitate the maintenance of the offensive on the Galician capital, the 1st Ukrainian Front undertook the immediate commencement of the swift liquidation of the entrapped German forces. The main factor which dictated this mission was that the presence of the group, which was surrounded over a large area to the south west of Brody, required large forces to contain it and immobilised the manoeuvre capabilities of the Front's combat formations along the L'viv axis. Moreover, the possibility could not be excluded that the Brody grouping could still link up with the remaining tank forces south of Zolochiv, which would have severed the base of the Soviet spearhead in the south.
The task of dismembering and eliminating the Brody group was allocated to 60th Army's forces reinforced by the 4th Guards Tank Corps from the Front reserve in co-operation with a portion of the 4th Tank and 13th Armies' forces.
Surrounded in an oval shaped area covering a distance of approximately 40 kms on its north west / south east axis by 24 kms on its east / west axis, XIII.A.K., was subjected to a barrage of artillery fire and air strikes by close support aircraft from all directions. The intensive shellfire wrecked the field telephone installations and shredded telephone wires. This severely disrupted internal communication facilities on both the Corps and divisional level, making it appreciably harder to maintain centralised command and preserve order.
With all its overland supply routes severed and its retreat path to the west blocked, XIII.A.K.s' only hope of avoiding complete destruction was to break out of the encirclement which General Hauffe finally agreed to do. Following advice from a westward reconnaissance against an attempt in that direction, on the afternoon of 18th July, the XIII.A.K., command elected to try to join with the XXXXVIII.Pz.Korps via a thrust to the south roughly level with the main L'viv / Zolochiv road.
To accomplish this, preliminary orders were issued for XIII.A.K.s' strongest unit, Korps Abteilung 'C', to initially take up positions on the Zahirtsi-Tsishky-Chekhy ridge north east of Khvativ, during the night 18/19 July. Its two remaining divisional groups (183rd & 311th) were to hold that line until being relieved from the front by the 361st Infantry Division and the Galician Division respectively. The component units of the K.A.C. were then to gather in the woodland either side of the road to Bilyi Kamin' and in the Havarechyna / Horishnia area on the 19th July, in preparation for the breakout attempt which it was to lead.
As this was occurring, the Soviets having been alerted to the presence of the Galician Division by virtue of the unique Waffen-SS camouflage clothing and Galician insignia worn by its personnel, set about attempting to annihilate it. Having reverted to the command of its own staff, on 18th July the Galician Division's area of operations extended from Iaseniv in the north to Koltiv in the south. Here, on the east and south eastern edge of the pocket all three of its depleted infantry regiments and other weakened combat units were involved in a gruelling series of defensive engagements against periodic massed attacks from three sides by heavy concentrations of well equipped Red Army infantry backed by armour.
WGR 29, which had the highest ratio of Ukrainian combat officers, was deployed in the vicinity of Iaseniv where it came under severe pressure from a strong Soviet thrust from elements of the 102nd Rifle Corps (13th Army) with armoured support coming from the direction of Brody. After penetrations in the fronts of both its I & II battalions, the regiment was ordered to retreat to the Zahirtsi / Pidhirtsi line. The fighting was especially heavy in the vicinity of the villages of Pidhirtsi with its commanding heights and Khvativ, both of which changed hands several times.
Facing south, parts of the WGR's 31st & 30 were defending the area around Ushnia and sections of the main road running from Sasiv to Koltiv, which formed the southern perimeter of the pocket from 60th Army's 23rd Rifle Corps' 359th and 99th Rifle and 68th Guards Rifle Division's reinforced by elements of the 336 Rifle Division (15th Rifle Corps) and 91st and 93rd Independent Tank Brigades (from 3rd Guards Tank Army and 4th Tank Army respectively. Here the fighting was equally severe. Some measure of the intensity of the combat in this area can be gauged from the fact that in the period from 17-19th July the German forces defending the village of Koltiv came under attack twelve times by Soviet infantry in regimental strength supported by heavy artillery and numerous tanks, in one case thirty five. Similarly, Sasiv where groups of Ukrainian troops were also deployed was repeatedly assaulted by infantry in battalion and regimental strength on eight separate occasions.
The Division's Artillery Regiment which gave its full support throughout, reinforced all local counterattacks and provided cover during retreating. Its batteries were so busily engaged that the frequent changes of position were accomplished without the assistance of horses, so that the crews had to manhandle the guns themselves.
Albeit unwittingly, in the course of the fighting the Galician Division's soldiers found themselves responsible for a number of prisoners. Tragically, some of the older captives (aged 40-45) were found to have been fighting against their own sons. Although often equipped with automatic weapons, apart from ammunition, most carried little or nothing else and seldom had any food except corn seeds. Whenever possible those who had been forcibly conscripted into the Red Army from the local population (known as 'booty Ukrainians' ), were disarmed, released and allowed to return home or simply left behind untouched. The rest were taken to regimental or battalion command posts where they were passed on to the custody of the Division's military police unit for interrogation. Some implored their Ukrainian captors to be allowed to remain under their protection fearing their fate (and often not without good reason) if they were to be handed over to Germans as illustrated in this account by a Waffen-Unterscharführer serving with 9./II./WGR 30;
"I was standing at the edge of a truck full of soldiers near the forest. To the left was a glade to which the Germans escorted between 10-20 Soviet prisoners. They were about fifty feet from us. Suddenly a shrieking begging broke out from the group of prisoners "Kamerad, kamerad, nicht schiessen!". But 'Kamerad', a German who stood with an automatic gun before the group paid no attention to the desperate pleadings of the prisoners. A series of shots sprayed the prisoners who collapsed, screaming and moaning. The 'kamerad' then walked to each prisoner and shot each one to make sure they were dead. This killing of prisoners which could only be observed by those standing at the edge of the truck, angered the soldiers, especially the Ukrainians. I said aloud in German "That's the reason why the Germans have to leave Galicia instead of being on the other side of the Urals. That's why you're losing the war".
***** ***** *****
During the night of the 18/19 July, the first stage of the preparations for the breakout began involving the replacement of the elements of K.A.C., which was to act as the spearhead, so that they could withdraw to their assembly areas. This operation coincided with renewed efforts by the designated elements of the 1st Ukrainian Front to reduce the already compressed and constantly shrinking area via a series of concentric attacks.
In his secret after-action battle report written four months later, the commander of K.A.C. General Lange, gave his account of the handover which seemingly reluctantly concedes the Ukrainians had some fighting spirit;
"19 July 1944 [...] The relieving of the Div.Gr 183 [by the 361st Infantry Division] proceeded according to plan. The Divisional Gruppe with its attached units, had by midday [on 19] reached the woods south of Ozhydiv. At that time, the Gren.Rgt.Gr.311 first handed over [the positions] to the 14.SS.Freiwi.Div-Galizien,[sic] so that the covering of the withdrawal could be carried out under pressure from the enemy which in the interim had also moved in tanks on the main Lemberg [L'viv] - Brody road.
The increased enemy activity at this point was made more critical for the XIII Army Korps when the enemy met with only minimal resistance. The 14.SS-Freiwi-Div.-Galizien had during its first deployments shown an unusually low ability for holding position. As was anticipated, the Galicians in no way showed themselves to be the fanatical defenders of their homeland against Bolshevism, therefore their superior armament and equipment, could barely be brought to effect and consequently this armament found itself in the hands of a totally undisciplined, disordered mob over whom the minimal German leadership, despite their upmost efforts, could have little effect [authors emphasis]....In the afternoon the [Galician] Division also lost Pidhirtsi and Khvativ. To counter the danger within the encirclement the 311th Grenadier Regiment and the K.A.C.'s Fusilier Battalion were sent to consolidate the position under orders of the XIII.A.K. In the event they did not encounter any action. The SS-Freiwi.Div.Galizien[sic] retook Pidhirtsi and Khvativ with support from self-propelled guns."
In the meantime, on the morning of 19th July, at XIII.A.K. HQ in the presence of General, Hauffe, his Chief of Staff Oberst von Hammerstein issued the detailed orders for the breakout plan to the divisional 1a's of all the Corps' units.
According to the plan which was expected to take three days, at dawn (3.30am) on 20th July, K.A.C. would spearhead an attack from its position at Bilyi Kamin' in a south westerly direction over the Buh river towards the Podillian Elevation. For this purpose the 249th Assault gun Brigade and a battalion of the 361st Infantry Division, would be attached to it. This route, which involved the crossing of two rivers as well as 15 kms of marshy ground before negotiating a heavily wooded area situated on an incline, was thought to be the area in which an attack would least be expected and therefore offer the best chances of success.
The 349th Infantry Division was to provide flank protection as the attack force moved southwards. The Galician Division, along with the 361st and 454th Divisions were to form the rearguard. These divisions which were located furthest to the north were ordered to remain in place and await orders to fall back. Their task was to defend their positions as long as possible and prevent any serious breach of the perimeter which would not only have effectively terminated any chance of a breakout but lead to the destruction of the entire Corps.
To assist with the breakout, elements of the LVIII Panzer Corps which was erroneously assumed to be holding a solid front five kilometres south of the main L'viv - Zolochiv road would simultaneously strike north towards the beleaguered Corps from the outside. Only when the breakthrough had succeeded and a suitable corridor established would the wounded, supply services and heavy weapons be evacuated, followed by the three divisions which formed the rearguard.
For the remainder of the 19th as the preparations progressed, events continued to cruelly conspire against the Ukrainian soldiers who entrenched to face the unabated fury of strong infantry attacks by fresh Red Army formations (some of which included women ). With the weakening of the perimeter area, the already hard pressed rearguard units had to absorb additional pressure primarily from 102nd Rifle Corps's 162nd, 172nd Rifle and 117th Guards Rifle Divisions, along the northern and north eastern perimeter and from 23rd Rifle Corps' 68th Guards, 99th and 359th Rifle Divisions on the pockets eastern and south eastern perimeter.
Because of the high attrition rate among its forward units, the Galician Division was increasingly forced to rely upon the placement of minefields in front of its forward positions. Any such additional fortification work was however, rendered virtually impossible during daylight because of the proximity of the enemy lines. A limited amount of such work could be undertaken at night but this did little to deflect the full force of the attacks. Individual breaches when they occurred, could only be contained by the desperate expedient of transferring soldiers from the Division's supply and support units which were still functioning to emergency battle groups of mixed German / Ukrainian composition.
As part of the rearguard, the Galician Division held a section of the northern perimeter which ran along the line of Adamy - Stolpin, Perevolochna, Sokolivka, over the Brody / Krasne rail line to Tsishky. North of Oles'ko, between Sokolivka and Tsishky, units of 162nd and 172nd Rifle Divisions of 102nd Rifle Corps, supported by large formations of Soviet T34 tanks joined up with other units coming from the west near Busk. Attacking from north to south the armour crossed the rail line and made a concentrated attack towards Oles'ko which was situated in the centre of the Galician Division's lines and several kilometres behind its eastern most positions. To counter this outflanking manoeuvre, the Division's command hurriedly despatched the remnants of the Panzerjäger, and hastily reorganised scratch infantry companies comprising of soldiers from all branches of services armed with panzerfaustes, to the vicinity with orders to hold at all costs. The Panzerjägers, together with the infantry destroyed several of the tanks at close range and drove off the rest, preventing a major breakthrough and temporarily averting a potential disaster.
Further fierce battles were fought around the villages of Kadovbytsi and Chekhy by the exhausted remains of WGR's 29 & 30. The Division was also required to shift battalions which still had less than five days battle experience, to cover weak spots in other sectors, such as Opaky where veteran German units were constantly struggling to contain elements of 99th and 359th Rifle Divisions and having to retreat. With its units thus dispersed over a wide area, its dependence on field radios to transmit and receive orders and reports was all the more acute. These were in short supply and those which were available began to malfunction with overuse or could not be used at all because of the nature of the terrain. The difficulties in this respect were exacerbated by the fact many of the Ukrainian communications personnel had an insufficient command of the German language to interpret or pass on orders and instructions to other units. In the absence of fresh orders, individual units which had lost contact with regimental, battalion and company commands were forced to work independently causing the Division to lose its cohesion. In several instances soldiers sent to command posts in the rear to receive new orders arrived only to discover that they had been abandoned and overrun by marauding groups of Soviet tanks and infantry which had infiltrated the Division's lines.
WGR 31 started to disintegrate following the death of its' commander SS-Obersturmbannführer Paul Herms and most of his staff north of Sasiv. WGR 29 whose commander SS-Standartenführer Friedrich Dern was injured on the morning of 19th July and evacuated to Pidlyssia for treatment, was in a similar predicament.
Denied the use of their aircraft because of the heavy rain and mist on this day, the Soviets constantly bombarded the Division's positions with artillery, heavy mortars and the lethal Katyusha rockets which wrought terrible destruction, devastating entire villages within minutes and shattering the morale of the soldiers in their target area. The particularly heavy casualties amongst the Ukrainian officers had an exceptionally deleterious effect. Without a Ukrainian officer in command, some units which up until that point had fought bravely, lost their discipline and abandoned their positions as self preservation took over. Urgent requests to regimental staffs for additional replacement German officers brought no response.
The Divisional headquarters began receiving reports from some surviving unit commanders that their positions had become untenable. After over seventy eight hours of combat without rest, against vastly unequal odds, plagued by communications problems, having lost many of its officers, without regular rations and with ammunition in short supply because of the excessive expenditure caused by the constant defensive actions, the '14. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (galische Nr. 1)' began to show signs of collapse.
An offer of assistance, by a delegation from the UPA which arrived at the Division's HQ at this time was declined in the interests of both parties. Even had it been accepted it is unlikely to have made any appreciable difference to its overall condition which was deteriorating rapidly.
By the evening of the 19th July, shortly before the breakout was due to commence, the situation in the Galician Division's sector had become critical as units of the 172nd Rifle and 117th Guards Rifle Divisions made a number of serious penetrations around Oles'ko, Khvativ, and Zahirtsi. Unable to stabilise the front with its own internal resources, the Division had to call upon the help of remnants other units principally from the 361st Infantry Division. With enormous difficulty these were successfully contained and local counter-attacks organised to regain lost or strategically important ground.
The Division's commander SS-Brigadeführer Freitag, received the news of these developments with growing consternation. Having already lost several key regimental, section and battalion commanders either killed, wounded or missing, Freitag now lost his nerve. When the Corps commander General Hauffe requested a situation report, Freitag replied that he was not in a position to give one since the Division was no longer under his control and at this critical juncture, irrespective of any other consideration, promptly resigned his command. By so doing Freitag not only disassociated himself from the Galician Division (and hence part responsibility for the rearguard), but as later events would prove, he almost certainly increased his own personal chances of survival.
General Hauffe accepted Freitags abdication placed the remains of the Galician Division under the commander of the 361st Infantry Division, General Major Gerhard Lindemann (who thereupon took over command of all units designated for the defensive of the Corps rearguard) and assigned Freitag to the staff of XIII.A.K.
From this point on, although some larger groups were still functional, the Galician Division could no longer be considered as a unified whole. From the remnants of the individual and identifiable combat and support units which no longer existed, special battle groups were established (as they had been by all the Corps' divisions). By subordinating these groups to neighbouring units and utilising his own local reserves, with considerable skill General Lindemann managed to restore the front which was an essential prerequisite for the successful prosecution of the breakout which was to follow.
Phase 3: The Breakout
20th July, 1944
In the early hours of 20th July 1944, the breakout finally got underway. Originally scheduled to begin at 03.30hrs the time assigned for preparation was exceeded because of road congestion mainly caused by the horse drawn vehicles of the Galician Division and because the smaller tracks had become flooded due to the rain.
One and a half hours later than originally planned, at 5.00am the three assault groups formed from K.A.C. switched to the offensive and initially made good progress, penetrating the first inner Soviet ring and fighting their way through Bilyi Kamin' and over the Buh river. Continuing in a southerly direction, by early afternoon elements of K.A.C. had crossed the bridge over the Zolochivka river and reached and secured their initial objectives - the villages of Belzets', Pochapy, and Zhulychi, pushing back units of the 336th Rifle Division (of 15th Rifle Corps) in the process.
Behind the leading elements, the long columns of the Corps' motorised and horse drawn train and supply vehicles together with the heavy weaponry and other war matériel which the orders stipulated were to be saved, set out along the same route. Many, sometimes fatal accidents occurred amongst the Ukrainian drivers who having received only four weeks instruction sufficient for driving light personnel cars, had subsequently been given three and five ton trucks fully loaded with men and equipment to drive. Confined to the few paved roads for fear of becoming bogged down and stuck in the marshy terrain, their movement betrayed German intentions to 2nd Air Army's reconnaissance aircraft. In his after action report General Lange once again seeks to place the blame squarely on the Ukrainians who were now under the command of General Lindemann and for the most part operating without orders, when he wrote:
"In an inexcusable way, the numerous horse drawn vehicles belonging to the 14.SS.Freiwi.Div-Galizien [sic] moved in the direction of Bilyi Kamin' in broad daylight. Thus they revealed to the Soviets - as confirmed by s.Qu [Staff Headquarters] - the direction of the breakout and blocked all roads and paths so that all decisive troop movements were significantly hindered".
Once the direction of the planned breakout had been established, on this clear summers day, 2nd Air Army promptly sent large assault aviation and bomber forces against the personnel and transport massing in the Bilyi Kamin / Sasiv regions, designed to contain the breakout, prevent them from concentrating their forces and weapons at critical points and destroy the remaining encircled group.
The most recently released post war Soviet account later estimated that between 19th and the 22nd July, the 2nd Air Army's formations conducted a total of 2,340 sorties (of which bombers accounted for 402, assault aircraft 1,136, and 802 by fighters) against the German positions at Brody. At regular intervals the main roads, access roads, battery positions, intersections and bridges came under constant bombardment and strafing from Soviet aircraft, with little opposition from the Luftwaffe. In the vicinity of Bilyi Kamin' and Pochapy, the few operational flak batteries did their best to defend the retreating columns. One battery of the Galician Divisions' flak unit hit an estimated twenty seven planes on this day until it too was put out of action. Several bombers and fighter aircraft flying at altitudes as low as 100 metres, were also brought down by rifle fire some of which crashed amongst the troops, injuring some and killing others. After each attack the wreckage of burning vehicles, dead horses and destroyed equipment rendered whole sections of roads impassable, paralysing all movement. Further casualties were caused by exploding ammunition on the trucks. General Lange later acknowledged that if at an early stage all vehicles and equipment had been pushed clear of the tracks and abandoned, it would have improved the chances of survival considerably. The blocked roads created chaos among the disengaging rearward portions of XIII.A.K., as they fell back fighting from Sasiv & Oles'ko towards Ushnia and Bilyi Kamin', putting an end to their last hope of conducting an orderly retreat. In the ensuing turmoil, a number of the larger units splintered into groups of varying sizes, which in the absence of any definite orders or directions sought to save themselves by breaking out on their own.
Hit equally as hard by the air strikes, the leading groups from K.A.C. which had already experienced difficulties with the broken terrain along the breakout route also encountered stronger resistance from Soviet ground forces. These were primarily the 8th Antitank Artillery Brigade, 107th Rifle Division and a number of other rifle and artillery units which the commander of 60th Army, Colonel General Kurochkin had been moved forward to the Belzets / Bilyi Kamin region, together with Lieutenant General Pluboiarov's 4th Tank Corps (1st Guards Army) which was directed to the area around Kniazhe and Pochapy, to spoil the escape attempt.
By late afternoon of 20th July (around 4.00pm) although one group had reached the village of Khylchytsi, the advance had lost its momentum and come to a temporary halt.
The same day, the news arrived of the attempted assassination [Attentat] of Hitler. A German soldier serving with the Galician Division's Pioneer Battalion later described the impact of the announcement as made to his unit;
"The toughest battle was fought by the grenadiers, riflemen, pioneers and armoured infantrymen, on the 20th July 1944. Then they received the news of the assassination attempt on the Commander in Chief of the German troops [Adolf Hitler]. The news struck us like a bomb. The company commander informed his men and the interpreters translated the news. Because they thought they had misheard, there were several questions regarding the actual facts. [The news] made a deep impression on everyone. Their faces made gaunt by the severe hardships, appeared even more sunken, but they did not say a word. There wasn't even time to talk about it. The Soviet attacks kept us in suspense and defense was our primary concern. The headquarters must have received the news with horror as well. Despite the reported accumulation of enemy troops at our front-line, we received no orders to attack, nor any orders for any other deployment. We were also lacking reliable information regarding the status of our neighbours. My unit was separated from the Pioneer Battalion. In an army unit I tried to get a clear picture of the situation, but even here nobody knew the course of the HKL [front line] and the extent of the encirclement".
In such a confused situation and with few communication channels still functioning, it is unlikely that the news was disseminated on a large scale. Nevertheless not all the Germans who learned of the event retained the same equanimity and their conduct and fighting morale suffered;
"After the attempt was made known some German personnel became despondent, threw away their weapons and simply waited to be taken prisoner. This [in turn] had a bad affect on the morale of the Ukrainian soldiers."
On the evening of 20th July XIII.A.K.s' staff re-assessed the situation and despite the setbacks, decided to continue with the original plan. Orders were given to resume the breakout in the direction of Liats'ke and Zolochiv at 0100 hrs on 21st July, whatever the cost.
The reality of the situation however now meant that the chances of the Corps breaking out as a unit were now negligible at best. At this stage, for the most part the Corps command had to resort to the use of couriers equipped with cars, motorcycles, or horses to transmit orders. Contact with the commanders of the leading, flanking and rearguard units could only be maintained in the same unreliable and time consuming way, which further reduced the possibility of a concentrated attack which was vital under the circumstances. Moreover, there was no sign of the link up with the relief forces which should have been advancing towards the surrounded Corps, but had in fact been brought to a standstill by strong Soviet infantry and anti-tank positions.
Under such adverse conditions, on 21st July the battle groups of K.A.C. made a renewed but unsuccessful effort to break out of the encirclement. During the course of the day some small groups succeeded in slipping through the Soviet ring via a few short lived breaches including around 3,000 men from XIII.A.K.'s Wehrmacht units and approximately 400 men from the Galician Division which escaped via an opening created by a battlegroup from the 1st Panzer Division near Liats'ke, west of Zalissia. These then headed in a general southwesterly direction where they joined the members of the supply and support units which had managed to avoid entrapment and other elements which had already broken out. On this day the commander of the 14. Feld Ersatz Battalion, SS-Hauptsturmführer Kleinow reported the presence of the largest contingent from the Galician Division which had gathered outside the pocket, by radio to the SS-FHA in Berlin as follows;
To SS Führungshauptamt Berlin,
The troops from various units from the 14 Gal. SS Div. are dispersed. Vet. comp. 4/18/113, butcher comp. 35 PLOZ, mechanics (repair) comp. combat strength unknown. Connection to the Div. not possible. According to directive of the battle commander the assembly point SAMBOR [sic] was arranged. Further present is the Felders.batl.14, 11/56/954, but without any orders. Recruits are in the first and second week of training. Equipment five percent.
From Kdr. Felders.batl.14.
The bulk of the leading groups of K.A.C. were however unable to make a decisive break through on 21st July and were rolled back, dislocated by the enemy armour and artillery and repulsed by the stubborn opposition from the infantry - sustaining heavy losses in the process. Ferocious fighting broke out for the villages of Pochapy, Khylchytsi, Kniazhe and Zhulychi as 60th Army's formations quickly sealed the gaps that had been made. To the north, elements of 13th Army continued to press in on the bulk of the assault forces and rear echelon units which were still trapped in the encirclement, the radius of which no longer exceeded four kilometres, and by the days end units of the 172nd Rifle Division (of 13th Army's 102 Rifle Corps) had captured Sobolivka and burst into the northern outskirts of Bilyi Kamin.
Following the failure of the previous days attempt, during the night of 21st / 22nd July, the Corps' command which was becoming increasingly pessimistic gave orders for the remaining troops to breakout on a broad front. Thereafter, there was no more co-ordination or contact between the disintegrating units. It was now every man for himself.
Last chance for freedom /
temporary breaches made in the Soviet ring
In the early hours of the 22nd July, three mixed groups made up of the remnants of the units which spearheaded the breakout forces, assembled at the railway embankment south of Boniszyn. Led by Generals Lasch and Lange, at 03.00hrs under cover of darkness they began their last desperate effort to fight their way over the 3-4 metre high railway embankment (or through it via conduits ) and across the open ground to the main Zolochiv - L'viv road to storm the last Soviet positions at the edge of the forest between Liats'ke and Voroniaky. In his previously cited battle report General Lange recounts these events sparing no epithet when describing his own 'heroism' and that of the German soldiers who took part;
"[....] The enemy, which had remained entirely still up to this point, immediately opened up with maximum fire from well prepared positions. Tanks, anti-tank guns, anti-aircraft guns, mortars and flanking machine guns attempted to hold down our attacking troops. A battle began that has only a few precedents in the history of war, and which can be compared with the storming of the Spieherner Heights and of Langemark by our fathers, grandfathers and brothers. Without artillery support (the battery of the A.R 219 which had taken up position at the south exit of Deniszyn, made an insignificant contribution), led by both their generals Generalleutnant Lasch and Generalleutnant Lange, officers and grenadiers with unprecedented bravado, the keenest disregard for death and an effervescent "Hurra" stormed toward the enemy positions like a mighty wave. They broke through the positions disregarding the heavy losses like an unleashed elemental force and thrust forward to the main road. Several blocking tanks were eliminated in close combat and even the ever increasing artillery bombardment which began at dawn and came from both east and west and later from the north, into the flanks and the rear of the attacking troops could not dam the mighty 'Sturm". Wave after wave crashed forward. At about 05.00 hrs the heights south and southwest of Iasenivtsi had been taken. The village itself and also Zalissia were in our hands. With an effervescent Sieg Heil! the officers and men cheered both their Generals at the edge of the forest south of Zalissia". [...]
Numerous other ad hoc uncoordinated assault groups which had been formed followed the same path and suffered appalling losses or were completely wiped out in their attempt to cross the 'Valley of Death'. Elements of the '14. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (galische Nr. 1)' escaped after violent combat through a breach made west of Zolochiv at a point south of the village of Kniazhe between the villages of Liats'ke and Iasenivtsi. This breach which was initially less than three kilometres wide, was under well directed and continuous fire from tanks, artillery, mortars, anti-tank guns, and machine guns. In the late afternoon, SS-Brigadeführer Freitag by virtue of being attached to XIII.A.K. staff which was located at an outpost in the escape breach, also got out in a mixed group of Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS personal which included many German staff members of the Galician Division.
Yurij Kopystansky, a driver serving with the Galician Division's Kriegsberichter unit was with one of these groups. He recalled;
"We were told that the gathering place for the breakout was south west of the village of Pochapy, and they added that the first attempt to breakout had failed. Farther down we met one of our divisional officers who gave us packages of biscuits for which we were glad, not having eaten food for three days. We reached the outskirts of Kniazhe , and from a field towards us came a Lieutenant Colonel, covered in medals. We asked him where the gathering place was. His answer was short: "shit, we won't come out of this". A few minutes later he was dead having shot himself. Here were remnants of various Ukrainian and German units lying on the ground. From 14.00-16.00 hours Soviet artillery was shelling continuously. Experts were telling us that it was a minimum of twenty five batteries firing. We noted several officers not far away lying down talking. We approached them and my friend Misko Furman asked why they were not trying to breakout. Misko said it was better to die trying than dying doing nothing. One of the Wehrmacht majors asked if there were many like Misko who wanted to try and breakout. We replied there were. The major gave the order to prepare to breakout. He looked at his map and said we would breakout between Kniazhe and Iasenivtsi and that 500 metres from here were three light tanks. Someone had to go and order them here. A lieutenant volunteered to do so. He said that another three tiger tanks were 8kms away on the hill of Voroniaky but they could not be of any use as the hill was too steep for them to negotiate and below was marshland in which they would sink because they were too heavy.
We formed a battle line of about 1500 men. No one wanted to surrender. As I knew, all Ukrainians kept a bullet aside for themselves just in case. We had three light tanks, a few submachine guns, rifles, pistols, and grenades. That was all. The tanks moved forward and we followed. Below the hill in the valley stood four T34s. Our tanks moved up the hill stopped and engaged in a fight with the Soviet tanks. One of our tanks destroyed a Soviet tank with a direct hit. After an additional three shots another Soviet tank was destroyed. The Soviets managed to destroy two of our tanks. We thrust forward with a loud "Hurrah!", shooting at will and creating panic among the Soviet troops. They started to retreat. Our last remaining tank moved forward and shot the third Soviet T34 tank. The last one started to retreat when it too was hit by our tank and blew up. This gave us more confidence in ourselves and with vigour we pushed as hard as we could. Soviet machine guns and mortars were thinning our line fast. To get out of this carnage we had to reach the hill at Voroniaky where our tanks were supposed to be. I was close by the major who was commanding the breakout. I liked his tactics. The Soviets were retreating and we were in pursuit shooting at them and shouting "Hurrah!" at the top of our voices. We had the Soviets on the run. The hill of Voroniaky was approx. 2 kms away and our line was getting thinner by the minute. The Soviets were hitting us with everything they had. We reached the railroad but getting over was not easy as the embankment was 2-3 metres in height. The Soviets machine guns were shooting along the railway line continuously. We were desperate and those who tried to cross over died. We saw a dead solider lying over an MG42 machine gun. We promptly took that gun which saved some lives. I started to shoot in the direction of a Soviet machine gun and silenced it for a while. At that time a lot of men leapt over the railroad line. I had my chance. Those of us who made it pushed forward to the Zolochov / L'viv highway. Past the highway lay a meadow covered with lots of bushes. Only another 600-700 meters to the hill at Voroniaky. It would be easy if it wasn't for the carnage.
"What now?" I asked the major. He calmly said to wait. Abruptly the Soviets stopped firing. The major remarked that it would be bad now and that the Soviets would be attacking us. He ordered us to move forward and we started to run. The Soviets began a heavy bombardment with their mortars and machine guns. A T34 came from the village of Iasenivtsi, shooting at us from its turret. Men were falling dead and wounded, crying out in agony and pleading for help. No one paid attention to their pleas. The hill was getting closer and the bombardment was dreadful. I saw the major fall dead. I felt a sharp pain in my right foot. My shoe was full of blood. I crawled towards the hill without stopping and kept on crawling until I reached the top of the hill where there were two Tiger tanks. Two crewmen ran to me with water and helped me closer to the tanks. I did not see anyone come after me to the top of the hill. Out of 1500 men that had tried to breakout only 46 reached their goal alive."
Having broken through the third and final Soviet ring, the survivors were confronted with the Podillian Elevation situated directly opposite the breakout point. This whole area which was covered in thick brush and woodland, was constantly under concentrated fire from Soviet troops and Komsomol (fanatical Communist youth troops) who had dug in with machine guns, heavy mortars and light artillery. Negotiating the steep incline accounted for further heavy casualties as well as the loss of the handful of remaining vehicles, horses and heavy weapons which had miraculously reached the break out point. The badly wounded had to be left where they fell to the mercy of the Red Army. Many preferred suicide rather than burden their comrades.
Later that day, the 60th Army's formations including parts of the 359th, 336th and 107th Rifle Division's among others, created blocking positions to close the breaches and re-establish their encircling ring once and for all. Demoralised and disheartened by continuous air strikes, artillery fire, tank and infantry attacks and exhausted not only by uninterrupted combat but also the absence of hot food and a shortage of rations during the last four days, by the evening of 22nd July the first individual German soldiers and small groups, then entire units began to throw away their weapons, destroy their Soldbuchs (paybooks / identity papers) and surrender in numbers;
"[....] Some of the Germans whose spirit was broken, surrendered to the Soviets. Some units fought on but most did not give a damn. Our fellows [Ukrainians] knew that if we fell into the hands of the Red Army that would be the end because we had recovered some bodies of our officers near Huta Peniatska that the Soviets had captured. Their eyes had been gouged out and they had been stripped of everything - watches, personal belongings, boots, so we knew if we fell in their hands the same would happen to us".
The remaining troops were now crowded together amidst burning villages under ceaseless bombardment, in an even smaller area from which there was little hope of escape. Amongst those trapped was a former member of the independent Panzerjäger company, who during the course of the battle had received a field promotion to the rank of Waffen-Unterscharführer, who recalled his own experiences;
"[....] In another village South West of Oles'ko I found a Ukrainian Waffen-Untersturmführer who tried to organise what was left of the Panzerjäger detachment. So far all he had found besides myself and two other men was one 75mm gun which he asked me to take command of. I agreed but said I needed more men and he replied that he would try to find some. We were exhausted and tried to get some rest for the next couple of hours while we waited for him to return. Without any warning the Soviets opened fire on the village with Katyushas. The village was completely destroyed and I never saw the officer again. One of the men who was with me was badly wounded. I saw a German officer talking to another soldier nearby and I called to him to help me with my friend. He just got in his car and drove off. We left the gun and the two of us that were left buried our comrade and began to walk towards the south west. On the way I met a group of Ukrainians who had found a box of hand-grenades which they were busily putting detonators in. They invited me to take some which I did. I recognised one of them as my friend from high school Nestor Zhoubrit. He told me that in the next village there was a German Army major who was trying to organise a breakout group. This German major started organising groups into platoons of about fifty men and for the first time he didn't bother separating Germans and Ukrainians, he simply counted them off in groups. When he found an officer whether he was German or Ukrainian he placed the officer in command. Then he divided the groups into ten, and I was given command of one of those groups of ten men....
We moved the same night again in a South westerly direction and in the morning we reached a village where we encountered very strong Soviet fire. Behind the village was a hill covered with a forest which we had to reach because we knew our group was not strong enough for a face to face fight. We ran towards the village yelling "Slava". Even the Germans were yelling "Slava" and I thought the Germans must think the Soviets were more afraid of us than they were of them. Finally we reached the village. The Soviets fought stubbornly and we had to fight for every house and every yard of ground. The Soviets had two tanks and they moved behind us placing one tank on the road leading to the forest. We couldn't move our wounded because the tank was in the way so I was ordered to destroy it. In all the excitement I didn't realise that I had been given the old type of Panzerfaust which had a range of 35 metres and when I fired the bomb fell short. I realised that in a few seconds the tank would turn it's turret and cut me to pieces so I had to do something. I took a magnetic anti-tank grenade, and ran towards the tank but I tripped and fell. Just as I did the tanks machine guns fired and the bursts went over my head. I started rolling as fast as I could to get within six metres of the tank which was its dead angle. Finally I reached what I thought was a safe distance but the tank moved again. I had to act quickly so I grabbed the magnetic anti-tank grenade, jumped up and threw it with all my force at the tank. The magnets were very strong and stuck to it. Three and a half seconds later it exploded but I still did not know whether I had destroyed the tank. I jumped onto it with a hand grenade in my hand and opened the hatch, which someone had unlocked from the inside. I pulled it open and was ready to throw my hand-grenade in when I noticed that the whole crew, including the tank commander who was a woman, were all dead. This had an extremely bad effect on me and I started to be physically sick. Finally I located the German major and told him what happened. He found a German doctor who gave some something to calm me down and stop the vomiting.
Eventually we reached the forest and the major decided that our casualties were so heavy that it was impossible even to try and break through as a group and that our only hope was to split into small groups of a few people and try to sneak through. He explained to us that we were to go south west to Zolochiv and that if we reached Zolochiv we would be safe.
My group of ten men, started to go through a forest, walking at night, while during the day we would go as deep in the forest as we could and try to rest. We lay in a circle with a sentry on each side but we were so exhausted everybody fell asleep. None of us had any food; for a couple of days all I had to eat were raw oats from the field. I had some cigarette papers and I ate them too as I figured at least there would be something in my stomach.
On the 28th of July, while it was still dark, we left one forest and attempted to cross to the next one which was about two or three kilometres away. Between the two forests was a village which we had to pass. As soon as we reached the road a column of Soviet trucks appeared which were heading for the village. We jumped in a ditch which was full of water and bull rush, but they didn't see us because they had black out lights which only illuminated the road immediately in front. Once the trucks reached the village there was movement and we heard singing and screaming. I realised that this was still close to the front, and that they would have sentries making it very difficult for us to get passed. As it was almost dawn we decided we had better go back across a field of wheat to the forest we had come from. Almost as soon as we began to make our way back it grew light. As the men were farmers sons I asked them whether they felt we could stay hidden lying down in the field. They said we would be noticed for sure if we were walking so we lay down and fell asleep.
We awoke to the sound of the Soviets firing machine guns over our heads. They had a loud-hailer and thinking we were Germans spoke to us in German and asked us to surrender. Then they realised that we were Ukrainians and started to speak to us in Ukrainian - "Surrender and Stalin will forgive you all your crimes, just come over to us." I said to the men "Look if you want to surrender go ahead but I am not going to. The way I understand it is that if you surrender you will die a slow death. I would rather die here, if you want get up and go, go ahead". As a reply they just started fixing bayonets. A few minutes later when the Soviets stopped talking to us, we jumped up, yelled "Slava" and ran forward. I was hit over the head and collapsed unconscious. I don't know what happened to the others.
When I came to I found myself in a barn with about forty or fifty Germans. There were no other Ukrainians. I was interviewed by a Red Army colonel who asked me some questions which I answered as I expected to be executed anyway. The next day these troops moved out of the village and were replaced. Since I was still wearing my camouflage jacket which was only issued to our division and made me easily identifiable, a Wehrmacht soldier who had two tunics, (one winter and a second regular Wehrmacht canvass one) gave me one so I could pretend to be a German. The next day I was interviewed and when they asked me questions in Russian I replied in German (I did not speak good German but they did not speak any at all). Then after three days we were moved to a camp at Brody where I met my friend from high school in Jaroslav who I had last seen taking the tops off grenades. He spoke to me in Polish and told me that most of the prisoners were from the 361st division which was from Silesia and that most of the Germans in this Division spoke Polish and were pretending to be Poles who had been conscripted. He said that we should also pretend to be Poles because we knew that there was a Polish division in the Soviet army and there were rumours that all the Poles would be drafted to this division and it would be easier to escape from the army than from a prison camp. It sounded logical to me so from that time on I started to pretend to be a Pole."
Over the next few days a slow trickle of determined groups and individuals continued to filter through the Soviet lines but the bulk of XIII.A.K. remained trapped. The declassified Soviet General Staff report on the battle states that the Corps' commander General Hauffe was captured and taken prisoner along with his staff and a large proportion of the rearguard units including their commanders Generals Lindemann (361st Infantry Division) and Nettwig (454th Security Division) who were sacrificed to allow their comrades to escape.
***** ***** *****
Once outside the encirclement the two largest groups of German staff officers and Ukrainian soldiers from the Galician Division which had gathered around SS-Brigadeführer Freitag and Major Heike respectively, reunited. The entire group had an approximate strength of eight hundred men, some of whom were from other XIII.A.K. units.- With the worst of the fighting behind them and in the absence of the captured General Lindemann under whose command the Galician Division had been placed, SS-Brigadeführer Freitag assumed overall command.
Travelling on foot, this group continued to head in a southwesterly direction encountering on the way small contingents of enemy troops and tanks which had established numerous defensive emplacements and blocking positions of varying sizes in villages and at road junctions along the main retreat route. The ensuing short but often violent skirmishes resulted in still further losses.
After about 10 kms, close to Holohory, the group met some tanks and armoured personnel carriers of the 8th Panzer Division which formed the retiring rearguards of the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps, from whom SS-Bridagefuhrer Freitag was able to obtain some transportation. The group then resumed its retreat led by Freitag in a borrowed motor vehicle in the direction of Chemeryntsi under the protection of the German tanks which covered their withdrawal against attacks from the pursuing Soviets who were still in close proximity.
Marching in the direction of the German lines, away from the main roads whenever possible to avoid being spotted by marauding aircraft, the column passed Pidkamin', crossed the Dnister river and reached the town of Stryi. After a brief rest, Freitag issued orders for the remnants of the Galician Division to push on to a muster area about 48 km's away at Staryi Sambir or rather the village of Spas situated on the northern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains. The column moved off again to the west towards the town of Drohobych. Here, Freitag met the head of the Military Board, Oberst Bisanz to whom he gave a biased summary of the Division's failure in battle, denigrating the moral and soldierly fortitude of the Ukrainian soldiers in the harshest terms. Freitag and his 1(a) then left the group to report the departure of the remainder of the Division to the commander of the 1st Panzer Army General Raus at his HQ leaving Bisanz to inform Dr. Wächter about the disaster which had befallen it at Brody.
For a few days after the main column had left Drohobych, mixed groups of varying sizes made up of XIII.A.K. stragglers continued to arrive in the vicinity. Following their comrades in the direction of Spas, some Ukrainian soldiers attached themselves to other units from the 1st Panzer Army and a Kampfgruppe from the 18th SS-Freiwilligen Panzergrenadier-Division Horst Wessel which were also passing through the same area while falling back to the west.
Others came into contact with elements of the UPA which controlled the mountain passes in the area. The insurgent bands frequently relieved the German soldiers of their weapons but spared their own country men, attempting instead to persuade them to defect to their ranks. A Ukrainian Waffen-Unterscharführer serving with 3 platoon, 3./I./WGR 30 wrote;
"My group of about sixty men broke out of the encirclement on 22 July. We were one of the last groups to break out. Our route which took us through Pochapy, Kniazhe, Stryi, and Drohobych, followed in wake of remnants of the Division. Around the 25th of July the group which I was leading were resting on the outskirts of the vicinity of the town of Sambir. I was awoken by sentries who told me that UPA people had arrived. These were two young men who insisted that we hand over our weapons to them. I refused and told them that if we did and were later caught by the Germans with no weapons, we would be shot as deserters. I told them if they wanted weapons they should go and look fifty kilometres away at Brody, where they could find artillery, machine guns and all the weapons they wanted. I asked them to take me to their commander. They agreed and together with two other men from my group we were taken to meet him. I asked him why we should give them our weapons and in reply he suggested that our group join forces with his. I returned to my group and asked them whether they wanted to join or go back to the Division. The response was a unanimous decision in favour of joining.
For six days we stayed with the UPA unit during which time we were treated more like prisoners. The UPA group were local men who knew the area, but we did not so I repeatedly asked for a map so that I could get my bearings - but this was never provided. On the sixth day a girl came to our group which was resting at the edge of a wood and told us that German and Hungarian soldiers were in the village nearby. The UPA men wanted to avoid a confrontation. I asked for a map so that we could split into three groups but they still refused to give me one. We started to receive heavy artillery fire from the German and Hungarian troops in the village. During the attack the UPA men fled leaving our group alone to fend for itself without any idea of where we were. We decided to surrender to the German units in the village. We made white flags and approached the village shouting "don't shoot". The Germans recognised our uniforms and held their fire. I asked to be taken to a German officer. Our group was disarmed and debriefed. We said that we had been marching in the woods since we broke out and had not had any contact with anyone from the Division or any Ukrainian or Polish partisans since. After sometime we were taken away on lorries to rejoin our Division."
***** ***** *****
Around five hundred Ukrainian grenadiers and the majority of the German officers from the Divisional and regimental staffs congregated in the designated muster area - the village of Spas. While the full extent of its losses were still unknown, from the small group which had thus far assembled (with the exception of the predominantly German officer staff ), it was obvious that only small fragments remained of most of the combat echelons and support services. A German platoon commander who joined the Division at this time, described the general mood as extremely negative with the "German officers rivalling each other in cursing the Galician volunteers - probably for not doing what they themselves should have done".
Having received the news from Alfred Bisanz that Freitag and most of his staff were gathering in Spas, Governor Wächter set out to join them there to assess the state of the Division's remnants at first hand. On the afternoon of 25th July, he arrived in the village. Despite being deeply perturbed by the success of the continuing Soviet offensive, he greeted seventeen surviving Ukrainian officers individually and offered a few words of encouragement acknowledging their courage in combat and promising them that ultimately their [political] dreams would be fulfilled as a reward for their sacrifices.
Governor Wächter then held a meeting with Freitag who went on to give his wholly negative account of the Division's participation in the battle, berating the Ukrainian soldiers whom he accused of cowardice while at the same time blaming them for the Division's near annihilation. According to Heike, in acrimonious tones Freitag went on to "express the belief that he had lost all face before his superiors, and that his career was finished, all because of the Ukrainians".
Governor Wächter retorted that in Berlin, the office of the German High Command was fully cognisant of the adverse conditions under which the battle had been fought and of the part which the Galician Division had played; after all the Soviet military superiority had been so great that virtually the whole of Galicia had been wrested from the Germans. He continued by stating that in contrast to Freitag's account, the Division's performance during the battle had been viewed positively, and especially in light of the fact that it was its first engagement, the general opinion was that the Ukrainians had fought well.
After the meeting, undeterred by Freitag's vehement defamation of the Ukrainian soldiers, Wächter promptly left for Cracow and as a pre-emptive measure against Freitag's accusations, contacted Himmler's office to convince the Reichsführer of the viability and political importance of rebuilding the Division from the manpower available still available to it.
With regard to his own now redundant position of Governor of Galicia, Wächter complained to Himmler that General-governor Frank had denied his appeal to be released from his administrative obligations in the Generalgouvernement, so that he could request an appointment in the Waffen-SS. In a secret telex dated 1st August, Himmler replied that he had ordered SS-Obergruppenführers' Kaltenbrunner and Stuckart to request his release so that he could assume a new commission as head of Military Administration in Italy under SS-Obergruppenführer Karl Wolff, commenting "You would be of immense use in this equally interesting and difficult field."
Following his departure, Freitag, whose mood was probably somewhat tempered by Wächter's comments, assembled his fellow officers both German and Ukrainian, and sought to vindicate himself for his behaviour. According to Waffen-Hauptsturmführer Ferkuniak who was present, in his short address after admitting that initially all three infantry regiments had fought well, Freitag with extraordinary logic gave all the credit for the successful breakout to the German officers, (90% of whom were present in Seredne), whom he stated had stayed and fought courageously, whilst simultaneously claiming that the Ukrainian officers had run away from the battle despite the fact that over 70% lay dead on the battlefield. Freitag used this as the basis for an attempt to justify why he had relinquished his command during the battle. The Division's only surviving Ukrainian battalion commander, Waffen-Hauptsturmführer Brygidyr was singled out by Freitag and criticised for his tactical deployment of his battalion (I./WGR 29) which he claimed had led directly to its collapse. This occurrence and the events which followed, he continued, "showed that the Ukrainians did not have the will to fight and started to disperse. This is what caused my resignation as commander of the Division. Only German soldiers, nco's and officers rallied around their commander and by their own force got out of the encirclement".
These remarks understandably gave rise to feelings of resentment amongst the Ukrainians who believed, and not without some justification, that they were being made scapegoats to preserve their commander's reputation. This was further aggravated by Freitag's failure even to acknowledge the fact that he had only escaped due to the bravery and fighting spirit of his Ukrainian escort, (two of whom had had to literally drag their exhausted commander up hills with an ad hoc harness fashioned from two belts, because he was physically unfit). As a result of Freitag's allegations, some of the senior German officers developed an inimical attitude towards the Ukrainians, so much so that according to the testimony of one Ukrainian officer "During this period the Ukrainians were isolated and treated as [if they were] prisoners of war."
Leaving Spas, the remnants of the unit together with additional survivors who had found their way there, began the last stage of their journey across the Carpathians and the Hunyadi Stellung (a German defensive line protecting the mountain passes into Hungary) to the Mukachiv district in Hungary. This was the officially allocated collecting point for all XIII.A.K. units. A marching column of 864 men was formed and placed under the command of SS-Sturmbannführer Remberger the commander of the Pioneer Battalion, who travelled at its head in a car with two German ncos. Following behind on foot were mostly Ukrainian officers, ncos and soldiers while bringing up the rear were three German officers on horseback. Under such an 'escort' the column proceeded down the ravine road through Turka to the village of Uzhok where they slept the night. The next day the troops boarded a freight train which arrived on 29th July at the village of Seredne situated between Uzhgorod and Mukachiv in the foothills of the Carpathians. During the next two weeks the group was joined by a slow trickle of survivors known as Rückkämpfer (retreating fighters) many of whom had successfully fought their way back to the German lines either in groups or singly.
In Seredne the group finally began to assume a recognisable appearance as a fighting formation. All units were billeted in private houses in Seredne itself or villages close by. For the first time since the breakout the soldiers had access to limited facilities and services and the opportunity to recuperate from the recent traumatic events. Some replacement items of uniform were provided for those who were in urgent needed of them and hot food was available from field kitchens (almost all of which was heavily spiced with paprika). The soldiers who had received backpay in Hungarian currency (pengos), were also able to purchase a few other essential items.
NOTES TO CHAPTER SEVEN: THE DESTRUCTION OF
THE ENTRAPPED FORCES 18-24 JULY.
Konev hoped to outflank and capture L'viv off the march before the Germans had time to bring up their reinforcement.
That is 3rd Guards Tank and 4th Tank Armies, 60th and 38th Armies and General Sokolov's Cavalry Mechanised Group. 'L'vov - Sandomierz 1944', op cit.; p. 76.
Ibid, p. 175.
Communications difficulties was one of the main contributory factors which prevented the Corps from conducting a successful breakout.
Thereafter the Corps was forced to rely on airdrops for re-supply. There is some evidence to suggest that the Luftwaffe made a small number of airdrops but at best these were of negligible significance. Letter to author, W. Sirsky 22 March, 1993. p. 177. Contemporary Soviet sources state "the Germans succeeded in dropping only 8 tons of fuel by parachute during the period of encirclement". 'L'vov - Sandomierz 1944', op cit.; p. 177.
Lange, op cit.; p. 10
Ibid.; pp. 10-11.
This made the Division easily distinguishable from the regular Wehrmacht units operating alongside it and also served to identify individual soldiers as being Waffen-SS personnel.
Heike, Eng. ed, op cit.; p. 44.
Apart from being the only infantry regiment with a Ukrainian battalion commander, in July 1944 all WGR 29's infantry, artillery, and anti-tank companies were commanded by Ukrainians. Of the total number of forty two officers serving with the regiment, thirty four were Ukrainian and eight were German. See Lubomyr Ortynskyi "Pikhotnyi polk UD" (An Infantry Regiment of the Ukrainian Division,) Visti, pp.13-14.
'L'vov-Sandomierz 1944', op cit.; p. 171. On the 18th July, the three divisions which made up the corps - 162nd, 172nd Rifle and 117th Guards Rifle) had reached the line Toporiv, through Razhiv, Zabolottsi, Ha
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http://muse.jhu.edu/demo/journal_of_mil ... 1reese.pdf
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The Abwicklungsstab responsible for HG NU operated with a total of 47-49,000 men for 183, 340, 349, 361 Id, 454 Sich D, and Korpstruppen. Of these, it classed almost 25,000 men as "Lebend", meaning that it put the dead and missing at 23-25,000 for these divisions. That of course does not encompass Korpsabteilung C or "Galizien". Unusually for these staffs, they also seem to have managed to get the number of unclarified cases down to zero. The last figures, from 1 March 1945 state;Korpsabteilung CThat is interesting. The Soviet general staff study claims that the German strength (excluding Hungarians) was 300,000. In terms of casualties inflicted they claim 'as many as 200,000' KIA/MIA/POW/WIA by July 31st.
47,000 of these from the Brody encirclement. Their claim for this again gets endorsed by a German commanding officer participating in the battle, the GOC Korpsabteilung C. Since the encirclement covered six divisions, a Korpsstab, and presumably assorted Heerestruppen, and since not a lot of Germans escaped (3-5,000 from what I have read - even though the Red Army GSS would give you the impression that none did), this figure maybe a useful upper limit. Korpsabteilung C lost 4,120 KIA/MIA in the battle, but it was not completely encircled, and did better than the others in breaking out, due to its location in the encirclement.
14. Waffengrenadierdivision der SS (Galizien)
Gesamtstärke Gefallen Vermisst Lebend Unerklärt
47877 1550 20216 24758 0
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183. ID = Korpsabteilung C (Staff 183 formed staff Korpsabteilung C), so they are included. ISTR that the loss figures for Galizien are well known, and it is strange they were not included by the Abwicklungsstab - I thought W-SS was usually included? Is that because they were not made up of Germans?
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