Tiger-Abteilung 501 off Nowiki bridgehead (Witebsk area) / February 1944

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Tiger-Abteilung 501 off Nowiki bridgehead (Witebsk area) / February 1944

Post by Gastolli » 18 Oct 2022 19:25

Hello,

found this newspaper clipping about a successful Tiger Abteilung in the Witebsk area, newspaper is "Velberter Zeitung" from 13.3.1944, text from D.N.B. on 12.3.1944:
Velberter Zeitung 13.03.44 - Tiger 501 -A.png
Velberter Zeitung 13.03.44 - Tiger 501 -B.png
Velberter Zeitung 13.03.44 - Tiger 501 -C.png
In short:
It's about a "schlesische Tiger-Abteilung", which since Dezember 1943 destroyed 275 tanks and assault guns plus 170 guns. In February 1944 alone this Abteilung destroyed 132 tanks and assault guns south-east of Witebsk. Main focus of the fights was the Nowiki bridgehead (here: Wowiki).

Once, 60 sowjet tanks with infantry attacked the German positions on the Lutschessa river, within 30 min. the 3 Tigers there shot 29 tanks: a Oberleutnant = 9, a Feldwebel = 12 and a Unteroffizier = 8.

Later the bridge over the Lutschessa river was destroyed by sowjet artillery, so 8 of the Tigers on the east bank where cut off from their supply. These Tigers again destroyed a lot of sowjet tanks in close quarter combat, also claiming high losses for the sowjet infantry.

Afterwards supply of fuel and ammunition was brought over the ice of the Lutschessa by foot.

A few days before this article, sowjet troops took about 600 metres of trenches to the west of the Lutschessa river. 3 of the Tigers together with Pioneer troops with flame throwers counterattacked successfully, they claim 500 sowjet dead.

4 Tigers to the southeast of Witebsk where attacked during the night by sowjet close combat troops, but they were driven back. In the morning one of those Tigers was hit by A/T fire and was towed backwards by another Tiger. The remaining two Tigers continued to fight back the attacking sowjet infantry. The damaged Tiger was repaired quickly and all 4 Tigers counterattacked, destroying the A/T guns and claming high losses to the sowjet infantry.


This unit is s.Pz.Abt. 501 which from December 1943 onwards was deployed on the Eastern Front. I have no idea as to the names of the three Tiger commanders mentioned, unfortunately.

If anybody can add some facts from the German or Russian side to these events I would be glad to see it :-)

Oliver


PS: this was VI. Armeekorps sector.
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Re: Tiger-Abteilung 501 off Nowiki bridgehead (Witebsk area) / February 1944

Post by GregSingh » 19 Oct 2022 02:30

According to diary of Soviet 33rd Army, in 12/13 February fightings near Noviki and Bukshtiny, Soviet losses were 60 dead and 260 wounded. They also reported destroying 21 German tanks. (According to Schneider 9 Tigers were destroyed on the 13th).
https://pamyat-naroda.ru/documents/view ... 619c7ae3v7

Schneider also mentioned 501's action near Wichni (or Wischni) on the 25th of Feb.
If I see on the map correctly, that would be further 30km SE from Noviki, so not in 33rd Army area.

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Re: Tiger-Abteilung 501 off Nowiki bridgehead (Witebsk area) / February 1944

Post by Art » 19 Oct 2022 09:43

The article doesn't talk about concrete dates. It seems that it mostly describes so called "2nd winter battle of Vitebsk" or the battle of Luchesa which started on 3 February and continued till about mid-February. As correctly said the village of Noviki was in the center of the battle area. See some maps down the links:
https://ebrary.net/116743/political_sci ... es_vitebsk
https://www.lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de/Gl ... zA0244.jpg
https://www.lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de/Gl ... zA0344.jpg
Also maps from the Heidkamper's book:
Vitebsk.png
Luchesa.png
It's hard to discuss episodes without knowing exact dates, because battle activities went on in the same limited area for about two weeks .
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Re: Tiger-Abteilung 501 off Nowiki bridgehead (Witebsk area) / February 1944

Post by Art » 19 Oct 2022 18:43

As follows from both Heidkamper's maps and Soviet situation maps by mid-February German held only several tiny pieces of land (each of hundreds meters deep) east of the Luchesa River near Noviki. That was what remained of the Noviki bridgehead.

According to A. Isayev the entire Soviet West Front had 294 operational tanks and SP guns - 20 KV, 159 T-34, 66 T-70, 24 T-60, 24 Mk-III Valentine, 2 M3 Lee, 10 M3 Stuart, 1 Pz-VI, 3 Pz-IV, 11 SU-152, 3 SU-122, 17 SU-85, 39 SU-76 on the evening of 2 February (that is on the eve of offensive). Of them 193 belonged to the 33 Army in the Luchesa sector as a part of 2nd Guards Tank Corps, 5 independent tank brigades and 4 self-propelled regiments. Losses of the 33 Army in February 1944 were 30 T-34, 2 T-70, 2 T-60, 2 SU-85, 19 SU-76 as write-offs, 32 T-34, 2 T-70, 3 SU-152 and 1 SU-76 as battle-damaged, and 2 T-34 as damaged by mines.

Corresponding claims of the 3 Pz. AOK in its entire sector during the month of February were 382 tanks and SP guns (additionally 27 previously immobilized AFVs destroyed). Which was distributed by type of weapons:
Hollow-charged hand grenades - 3
Panzerfaust - 9
Ofenrohr - 5
HE hand grenades - 1
medium AT guns - 2
heavy AT guns - 44(3)
self-propelled AT guns - 13(1)
Nashorns - 38(6)
StuGs (in infantry divisions) - 7
Tiger tanks - 172(1)
StuGs (in brigades) - 59(6)
light field howitzers - 16(1)
15.5-cm French howitzers - 0 (3)
divisional artillery - 11(6)
light infantry weapons - 1
20-mm Flak - 1
88-mm Flak - 1

and by units:
256 ID - 30(2)
299 ID - 6
197 ID - 8(1)
206 ID - 5(5)
95 ID - 12
131 ID - 45(4)
4 LwFD - 7(3)
6 LwFD - 7
245 StuG Brigade - 23(5)
281 StuG Brigade - 27
664 s.PzJg.Abt - 2
518 s.PzJg.Abt. - 38(6)
501 s.Pz.Abt. - 123
505 s.Pz.Abt. - 49(1)

Units shown in bold operated in the Luchesa sector, I'm not sure about StuG brigades and anti-tank battalions, probably they did too.

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Re: Tiger-Abteilung 501 off Nowiki bridgehead (Witebsk area) / February 1944

Post by Gastolli » 19 Oct 2022 21:13

Hello Greg, hello Art,

thank you both for your (quick) contributions! You must have spent some time in doing some research and looking for files and information, thank you!
Art wrote:
19 Oct 2022 09:43
It's hard to discuss episodes without knowing exact dates ...
Indeed, newspaper articles doesn't seem to be a good source, usually, but these type of articles within the German WW2 press are based on facts learned by the P.K. men from the frontline units. Well, facts ..., of course the facts the German side thinks about tank kills and sowjet losses etc., you know that no side was precise in their claims :D

Sometimes the newspapers even mention exact dates, but that wasn't necessary for the ordinary reader of that newspapers. In this special case it's a summery of the actions of s.Pz.Abt. 501 for that period. A unit we don't know that much about and ..., as you can see with the tank kill claims for February 1944, the better known s.Pz.Abt. 505 had far less tank kills to their credit. This of course catched my attention as it's far more interesting to find something "new" instead of reading well known stories about Stalingrad, Bagration or Normandy ...

My main focus is small unit action and time witnesses (still some are available), but you need to know the overall situation first, than narrow down the corps or unit involved, and also important the "other side" of course.

So, well, I have to dig in a little, maybe do further research in the German Bundesarchiv next month, if any files are available there (it becomes difficult for 1944 as there are no Division records available).

Thanks for you support and hints!!!

Oliver

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Re: Tiger-Abteilung 501 off Nowiki bridgehead (Witebsk area) / February 1944

Post by Life Standarda » 21 Oct 2022 09:25

Maybe it is the 43th Guards Tank Brigade which fought the Tigers around “Nowki” during Feb12-13th,and also 735th SPG regiment together,according to the series reports from “Tanks and mechanized troop force” command(БТ и МВ) of 33rd Army.

According to this report,submitted on 2000MT Feb 11st,the 43GTBr had 27 op tanks,of which T34-21,T60/70-6.
https://pamyat-naroda.ru/documents/view ... c85c56d9v7

Another report from the same unit,2000MT Feb 12nd,indicates that the 43GTBr were engaging at “Noviki”,which should be “Nowki” as the German claim,and 5 of its T-34 had already forced the river “Lychessa”(Lutschessa). The 735rd SPG regiment were supproting 43GTBr at that time.Losses of both units were not mentioned in this report. There were also another 2 armour units fighting near Noviki——the 23rd GTBr and 1830 Heavy SPG regiment,who were fighting at “Bykshitjni”,a village 1km SW of Noviki.
https://pamyat-naroda.ru/documents/view ... c85c56d9v7

I am still working on the report on Feb 13rd, and then maybe the report of 43th GTBr,if possible. Regards.

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Re: Tiger-Abteilung 501 off Nowiki bridgehead (Witebsk area) / February 1944

Post by Life Standarda » 21 Oct 2022 10:05

Ad info:

Goodnews.Both war diaries of the 43 GTBr and 735 SPG Regiment (Feb 12rd)are available on Pamyat. From a quick and sketchy review,it seems that both units indeed anticipated the engagement at Noviki on Feb 12th.The WD of 735th is hand-writing which makes it a little hard to read,but it seems the attack on Noviki begins 1500-1600MT,with the 43 GTBr leading and 735th followed 200-300m behind the T34s,providing support fire. The village was conquered,but the accomplished infantry from 1313rd rifle regiment failed to dug in(hold?)north part of the village, and as a result, the German troop successed captured the school, cemetery and several buildings north of village.

https://pamyat-naroda.ru/documents/view ... c85c56d9v7

Both unit suffered losses on Feb 12.The 43 GTBr lost 4 T34 brewed up,5 damaged and 1 more damaged and stuck in mud,a total 10 tanks.The 735 SPG Regiment suffered more serious ,according to its WD,all 13 SU-76 anticipated the action on Feb 12 were lost,of which 12 brewed and 1 damaged.But as far as I see,both unit didn't mention “Enemy Heavy Tanks” in these report. In fact,the 735th SPG WD gives limited details during the battle,and focus a little more on results.

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Re: Tiger-Abteilung 501 off Nowiki bridgehead (Witebsk area) / February 1944

Post by Art » 22 Oct 2022 10:45

I don't quite understand where this date (12 February) came from. The original account posted in the first message doesn't call any specific dates for any episode.

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Re: Tiger-Abteilung 501 off Nowiki bridgehead (Witebsk area) / February 1944

Post by Gastolli » 22 Oct 2022 21:24

Hello Life Standard, hello Art ...

well, of course the newspaper report doesn't mention any specifiy date as it was ment for the German civilians, not the OKH in Berlin, but nethertheless it clearly states that this Tiger-Abteilung (501) was in heavy action in February (the month before publication).

So, Life Standard had the month and the area to work with (for which I'm thankful as I just can read cyrillic letters, but can't read Russian language in any way) :(

Of course the newspaper speaks of several actions, one with a very detailed German kill claim (29 tanks by just 3 Tigers) and another one just claiming a lot of russian tank losses ("... unter Abschuß zahlreicher Panzer"). Keeping in mind that russian losses usually were far inferior we "just" have to search for some days of heavy activity in this bridgehead. The date Life Standard provided is one possibility of course.

I will take a look at VI. AK files in Bundesarchiv Freiburg next month ...

Oliver

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Re: Tiger-Abteilung 501 off Nowiki bridgehead (Witebsk area) / February 1944

Post by Gastolli » 17 Dec 2022 20:02

Hello LifeStandard, Art ...

I did a visit to the German Bundesarchiv Freiburg at the end of November, apart from many other things I checked the VI. Armeekorps files there and of course found some information on the actions from 3.2.1944 onwards. It's a lot of material, I'm still working on it and I may need some days or weeks (other projects) to add more, but this page here from the "Anlagen zum Kriegstagebuch" (BArch RH 24-6/172 b) shows a short report dated 15.2.1944 from the Kommandeur of s.Pz.Abt. 501, Major von Legat:
RH 24-6-172b -Anl. KTB, 001.jpg
In short:
The Tigers where subordinated to 131. Inf.Div. and 206. Inf.Div., the following table shows the reported successes in 206. Inf.Div. sector (Popowka) and 131. Inf.Div. sector (Nowiki), claiming 100 tanks (86 of those at Nowiki) and 12 A/T guns, artillery pieces.
This means that Tiger-Abteilung 501 claimed 250 tanks and 142 guns from their first employment on the Eastern Front on 19.12.1943.
The Tiger crews also reported at least 2000 - 3000 enemy dead in front of their tanks.
On the other side the Abteilung reported just 2 total losses of Tigers for the same period.
Major von Legat concluded, that only the permanent use of tanks in the first line enabled the German infantery to hold the line, despite heavy artillery, mortar, A/T gun and A/T rifle fire.

From the information above it seems that indeed 12.2.1944 was the day the Tigers claimed the most success and during which these three Tigers claimed 29 tanks in 30 minutes. Well, claimed of course, I know. The very first day of the soviet offensive shows 20 reported tank kills by Tiger-Abteilung 501 at Nowiki.

other information:
Obviously mainly tanks from the 1. Kompanie of Tiger-Abteilung 501 were used at Nowiki because 131. Inf.Div. rewarded this unit with 20x EK 2nd class and 2 EK 1st class (plus just 3 EK 2nd class and 1 EK 1st class for members of Stabskompanie or 2. Kompanie) on 16.2.1944, after the fighting calms down a little bit.

Tagesmeldung of 131. Inf.Div. to VI. AK from 13.2.1944 says, that the "selbständige Sturmgeschütz-Rgt. 730" (730th independent assault-gun regiment), which has newly arrived from Moskau with 4 batteries with 12 guns apiece was wiped out, according to statements from deserters.

For 12.2.1944 alone the German reports claim 45 tanks, plus 9 tanks on 13.2.1944 in 131. Inf.Div. sector. Other heavy units there, apart from the Tigers, where some guns from Sturmgesch.Abt. 190, Sturmgesch.Abt. 667, Hornissen from s.Pz.Jg.Abt. 519 and some 8,8 cm Pak from s.Pz.Jg.Abt. 664.

more to come ?
Yes, of course, VI. Armeekorps files are large, but of course not only dealing with the Nowiki fights, so I have to collect the information from all these pages. Will come back to you again, but need time, could be well AFTER X-mas 8-)

Oliver
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Re: Tiger-Abteilung 501 off Nowiki bridgehead (Witebsk area) / February 1944

Post by Art » 17 Dec 2022 21:26

So it appears that the claim of 30 tanks indeed pertains to 12 February.

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Re: Tiger-Abteilung 501 off Nowiki bridgehead (Witebsk area) / February 1944

Post by Gastolli » 18 Dec 2022 12:04

Hello Art,

yes, but as I said, I have to run through every day of these files, showing availability of the Tigers, more exact locations of the soviet attacks mentioned and the German claims from the 131. Inf.Div. sector at least, but I should add 206. Inf.Div. also I think, just to make the picture complete.

A lot of work ahead :-)

Oliver

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Re: Tiger-Abteilung 501 off Nowiki bridgehead (Witebsk area) / February 1944

Post by FORBIN Yves » 18 Dec 2022 15:33

Nice stuff

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Re: Tiger-Abteilung 501 off Nowiki bridgehead (Witebsk area) / February 1944

Post by Linden Lyons » 20 Dec 2022 14:50

The following passage is from my 2017 translation of Otto Heidkämper's Vitebsk, pp. 92-97 (https://www.casematepublishers.com/subj ... 6Gc73ZBxD8). There is no specific mention of the 501st Heavy Panzer Battalion, but it does deal with the defensive combat conducted by the German VI Army Corps in February 1944 and therefore may be of some relevance:
Southeast of Vitebsk, it was initially the combined forces of the 33rd Army and parts of the 39th Army (i.e. 20 rifle divisions, a rifle brigade, and six tank brigades) that moved from the Makarova–Bondari sector with lines of attack towards the west and northwest. Supported by strong artillery fire and with a constant flow of reserves, the enemy penetrated the front in multiple locations. His significant commitment of armour and reinforcements indicated that he sought to gain space as quickly as possible to then push northwest and make contact with the 11th Guards and 4th Shock Armies. After fierce toing and froing, the entire sector that was under attack was pushed back by three kilometres. Gaps opened up at several points along the front which could only be partially covered by switch positions or security lines. But the intended enemy breakthrough was prevented and the east bank of the Luchesa remained in our hands. Soviet losses, which included at least 40 tanks, were so high that his attacks on 4 February lacked the striking power that they had possessed the previous day. These attacks mostly struck the Luchesa front. All day long, the enemy persistently tried to hurl his forces over the river. Particularly tough was the combat in the vicinity of Noviki. But all his attempts were thwarted. Only in the evening were a few weak forces able to cross the river north of Noviki.

As a result of his lack of success on the first few days, the enemy changed his approach to one which involved slicing off small pieces of the front of the VI Corps and annihilating them one by one. Those of his attacks which did not collapse immediately did eventually fail after bitter close combat against the tenacious German troops who defended the bridgeheads on the east bank of the river.

On the night of 5/6 February, the enemy launched a series of raids in the Myaklovo sector and against the Noviki bridgehead. He then brought in two divisions from neighbouring sectors so that, on 6 February, he could shift his point of main eff ort further north whilst maintaining pressure against the bridgeheads east of the Luchesa. Towards noon, after extremely heavy preparatory fi re, he advanced on either side of the highway and railway line leading towards Vitebsk, but a counterattack of ours intercepted and contained him. Throughout the day, there was lively aerial activity along the entire front of the panzer army. Several enemy close-support aircraft struck our ground forces. Our Stukas hit a number of targets in return. Yet the enemy continued to apply ever greater pressure against us. He utilised every arm, and, as the weather improved, sent in more and more aircraft. After replacing his losses, regrouping his forces, and consolidating his armoured units, he was able to renew his assault with the utmost ruthlessness.

We were increasingly concerned about our supply. The Vitebsk–Orsha railway line had been damaged by enemy artillery on 3 February, and this had disrupted traffic for several hours. On this day, 2,900 tonnes of ammunition had been used up – the equivalent of four or five train-load. On 6 and 7 February, this section of track was repeatedly bombed, thereby completely paralysing railway traffic. The chief of supply services of the panzer army ensured that the motor transport columns drove day and night to sustain the supply to our troops, especially with regard to equipping them with ammunition. The railway engineer troops, under fi re from enemy artillery, worked feverishly to repair a damaged railway bridge and to make the line passable once more. In the long run, however, the troops in both major combat zones could only be supplied by rail if traffic was running smoothly. Enemy action against the Vitebsk–Orsha line therefore had to be prevented, since supplies could no longer be delivered along the Polotsk Vitebsk line. But the threat to our supply lines was not the only problem. The gap between both breakthrough areas was becoming ever narrower, and the only reserves we could draw on came from the curved front northeast of Vitebsk. The high command of the Third Panzer Army was therefore beginning to consider how long this protruding front to the northeast could still be held. Field-Marshal Busch, to whom Colonel-General Reinhardt made a report, rejected every suggestion that this front be withdrawn.

We repelled four enemy assaults against the Noviki bridgehead on 7 February despite the fact that he was strongly supported by armour and artillery. Any enemy forces that penetrated the front were annihilated in close combat. In this fighting, the commander of the fusilier battalion of the 131st Infantry Division, Major Ludwig Schütte, distinguished himself by demonstrating the utmost bravery. Since 3 February, he and his troops had beaten back a total of 21 enemy attacks, some of them of regimental strength, in close combat or in immediate counterattacks. Sergeant Heinrich Degener from the 431st Grenadier Regiment, who had already proven himself on 3 February as the commander of a strong point in the forest north of Myaklovo, once more demonstrated exemplary effort by eliminating enemy forces that had penetrated the front near the Noviki bridgehead. Deserving of special mention is Sergeant Josef Paulik from the 528th Grenadier Regiment who, on his own initiative and with only two men, retook crucial high ground north of Makarova, in the process doing away with 40 Soviets in close combat as well as capturing one officer and eight men.

The enemy concentrated his eff orts on 3 February against the right wing of the 206th Infantry Division. He broke through this sector late in the morning, and we were only able to stop him north of Popovka.

Despite the difficulties presented by the marsh and forest terrain, we successfully thwarted Soviet attempts to force a crossing over the Luchesa. In the following days, the enemy sought to increase the striking power of his assaults. After a one-hour heavy barrage, he commenced his attack on 9 February along the entire sector of the 131st Infantry Division. With armoured and air support, his intention was to ruthlessly smash through the Noviki bridgehead. Even so, many of his thrusts were bloodily beaten back. He carried out a series of ten attacks of up to regimental strength against the northern wing of the division, west of Popovka, and succeeded in slightly widening the bridgehead on the west bank of the Luchesa, albeit with particularly heavy losses. Against the right wing of the 206th Infantry Division, the Soviets pushed all day long and achieved a two kilometre-deep penetration northwest of Bondari. An immediate counterthrust of ours brought the enemy to a halt. He mercilessly threw ever more troops into battle, suffered heavy casualties, and expended a great deal of materiel, yet this was all utterly disproportionate to his limited gains.

10 February proved to be a very difficult day for the embattled troops of the 299th, 131st, and 206th Infantry Divisions. Nonetheless, all enemy assaults against the 299th Infantry Division and against the southern sector of the 131st Infantry Division were repelled. Only southwest of Popovka did the Soviets manage, on this day as well as on 11 February, to expand their bridgehead over the Luchesa. In the central sector of the 206th Infantry Division, they advanced on either side of Bondari.

On the afternoon of 12 February, the enemy once more struck the Noviki bridgehead. This time he was supported by artillery, flame throwers, armour, and ground-attack aircraft. He also pushed towards the west from his own bridgehead southwest of Popovka. We were able to deal with the latter, but the Soviets, despite our fierce resistance, broke through the southern and eastern fronts of the Noviki bridgehead. The brave garrison there had repelled 33 enemy assaults and had destroyed 10 tanks since 3 February. Lance Corporal Fuchs from the 131st Artillery Regiment had displayed considerable cool-headedness in this fighting. With his light fi eld howitzer, he scored direct hits against nine enemy tanks, putting them all out of action. The heavy fighting of the last couple of days was acknowledged in the daily Wehrmacht communique, with both the Lower Saxon 131st Infantry Division under the leadership of Major-General Friedrich Weber and the East Prussian 206th Infantry Division under Lieutenant-General Alfons Hitter being mentioned. Also mentioned on 13 February was the outstanding performance of the 529th Grenadier Regiment under Lieutenant-Colonel Heinrich Kiesling, a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, and of the 299th Artillery Regiment under Lieutenant-Colonel Reinking.

In the next few days, the garrison in the Noviki bridgehead, which was by now split in two and significantly weakened, held out in turbulent combat against all enemy attempts to hurl them over the river. At the bridgehead southwest of Popovka – the establishment of which had required five rifle divisions as well as two refreshed divisions from the reserve of the 33rd Army – the enemy achieved little success aside from some minor territorial gain.

According to the statements provided by Soviet prisoners, we had inflicted upon the enemy so high a death toll that neither the late arrival of an armoured brigade nor the combined eff orts of his remaining rifle divisions could compensate for his ever-weaker striking power. Although he conducted a few feeble attacks along the Luchesa front, the fighting in the vicinity southeast of Vitebsk come to a temporary end on 17 February. During this 14-day battle in the sector of the VI Corps, which was led by General of the Infantry Hans Jordan, the enemy had also twice sought, with his 5th Army, to overcome the German defence on the southern side of the breakthrough area.

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Re: Tiger-Abteilung 501 off Nowiki bridgehead (Witebsk area) / February 1944

Post by Gastolli » 20 Dec 2022 23:37

Hi Linden,

indeed this is a nice overview on the overall situation of VI. AK and the fights during the period in question.

Nice find, thank you for contributing!

Oliver

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