The tank battle of Lauban, 1-8 March 1945

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Acolyte
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The tank battle of Lauban, 1-8 March 1945

Post by Acolyte » 11 Aug 2005 18:05

(below is the rough translation of an article from thisHungarian site – excuse my occasionally poor English)

OPERATION GEMSE (the armoured clash at Lauban)

The fierce tank battle which took place in early March 1945 near the Silesian town of Lauban („Luban” in Polish) was a rather interesting episode of WW2 for two reasons:

1. It was the last counterattack of the Wehrmacht which had the desired tactical results.
2. You won’t find much of a mention of this battle in Soviet documentations of the „Great Patriotic War”.

On 12 January, 1945 the Red Army’s 1st Belorussian Front and 1st Ukrainian Front, joined by the 1st Polish Army, launched a massive offensive from the bridgeheads established on the Western bank of the Vistula. They advanced 500 kms westwards in 23 days, reaching the Oder on 3 February and establishing bridgeheads on its Western bank.

On 8 February, the 980.000-strong 1st Ukrainian Front, commanded by Marshall Koniev, launched a further attack in Lower Silesia from two bridgeheads on the Oder. Their aim: encircle and capture Breslau. The left flank of the front – two armies and one cavalry guard corps – was to advance further towards Dresden together with the 4th Ukrainian Front.

The Silesian industrial area, vital to the German war effort, was defended by the remnants of Army Group Middle commanded by colonel Schörner. Forces of the 1st Ukrainian Front – eight armies, two tank armies, two armoured corps, one mechanised corps and one cavalry corps – began their advance. Both Glogau and Breslau were encircled by 16 February. Due to stiff German resistance in the vicinity of Breslau, Koniev ordered two-thirds of the 3rd Guard Tank Army, commanded by colonel Ribalko, to turn back towards the East and finish the defenders. By that time two corps of the same unit already reached Bunzlau, the town where the heart of Kutuzov, the famous Russian commander, is buried.

By 16 February the 1st Ukrainian Front had 1289 operational tanks and self-propelled guns – in the beginning of the 12 January offensive it had 3648. After the complete encirclement of Breslau all forces of the 3rd Guard Tank Army were again turned against Bunzlau. Ribalko was ordered to reach the Neisse and capture Görlitz. The 9th Armoured Corps clashed with the German 8th Panzer Division. Ribalko ordered the two other tank corps under his command to pocket all German forces in an around Görlitz. In accordance with his orders the 7th Guard Tank Corps of the 3rd Guard Tank Army (commander: major general S. A. Ivanov) crossed the river Queis and attacked Lauban.

The attack was started by the 56th Guard Tank Brigade and the 23rd Guard Armoured Brigade of the 7th Guard Tank Corps in the evening of 17 February. Lauban was defended by the remnants of the 6th Volksgrenadier Division (commander: major general Otto-Hermann Brücker) – lacking any heavy equipment – and insignificant local armed forces. On 5 February the 6th Volksgrenadier and local Volkssturm forces were ordered to halt any Soviet armoured attack directed against the area. Unsurprisingly, Soviet forces quickly penetrated the northern and eastern parts of the town. Soviet tanks were guarding a very important intersection of the railway connecting Görlitz to Berlin. Lauban – which had 17.537 residents in 1939 – is located 20 kms southeast of Penzig, then between the German 4th Tank Army and 17th Army.

Between 18-20 February the following German forces were sent to Lauban: 8th Panzer Divison, 408th Division, 10th Volksgrenadier Division. They swiftly halted the advance of the 3rd Guard Tank Army and begun to encircle it. The reason: the OKH was planning to recapture Breslau, but the regrouping of German forces was impossible as long as the railway running through Lauban was not secured. The Germans were also determined not to let Görlitz and Dresden to fall into Soviet hands. Schörner was ordered to secure Lauban and repel and severely weaken the 3rd Guard Tank Army. The armed attack group under the command of panzer general Walther K. Nehring included the 57th Armoured Corps (8th Panzer Division, 103rd Armoured Brigade, 408th Division, 16th Panzer Division, „Führer” Escort(?) Divison led by major general Otto Remer) and the 39th Armoured Corps („Führer” Grenadier Divison, 17th Panzer Divison) – commanders were Friedrich Kirchner and Karl Decker respectively. German „divisons” did not actually consist of as many forces as a „normal” division in peacetime. Some commanders were newly appointed and obviously did not know their new inferiors. Communication between different units was by any means problematic. Fuel was in short supply. These armoured units would’ve been qualified as „undeployable” in the beginning of WW2.

The German plan of attack was rather simple. The remnants of the 103rd Armoured Brigade and the 6th Volksgrenadier were kept on the defense while the armoured units attacked on the flanks. Objective: recapture Lauban, meet at Naumburg and encircle most of the 3rd Guard Tank Army. The most formidable units of the right flank were the 57th Armoured Corps.

Operation Gemse was to begin on 1 March. On the left flank the „Führer” Grenadier Division and the 17th Panzer Division were preparing to attack from Rachenau and Gruna. The 8th Panzer Division was to attack from the forests around Cunzendorf. Both German and Soviet forces were in Lauban. The frontline before the attack was an East-West line that ran from Cunzenforf to Lauban and then to Schreibersdorf and Rachenau. The Germans wanted to launch a surprise attack and swifty advance towards the North.

On 1 March 1945 the Soviet 3rd Guard Tank Army consisted of the following units: 6th Guard Tank Corps (51st, 52nd and 53rd Guard Tank Brigade, 22nd Guard Motorised Brigade, 1645th light artillery regiment, 385th Guard Heavy (self-propelled) Artillery Regiment, 1893rd, 1894th (self-propelled) Artillery Regiment, 3rd Guard Motorised Battalion (armed motorcycles), 272nd Guard Artillery Regiment (armed with mortars), 286th Guard AA Artillery Regiment), 7th Guard Tank Corps (54th, 55th and 56th Guard Tank Brigade, 23rd Guard Motorised Infantry Brigade, 408th Light Artillery Regiment, 384th Guard Heavy (self-propelled) Artillery Regiment, 702nd and 1419th self-propelled Artillery Regiment, 4th Guard Motorised Infantry Battalion, 467th Guard Artillery Regiment (mortars), 287th Guard AA Artillery Regiment), 9th Motorised Infantry Corps (69th, 70th, 71th Motorised Infantry Brigade, 91st Tank Brigade, 383rd Guard Heavy (self-propelled) Artillery Regiment, 1295th and 1507th Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment, 100th Motorised Infantry Battalion, 1719th Guard AA Artillery Regiment), 16th Artillery Brigade (self-propelled), 57th Guard Heavy Tank Regiment, 90th Mechanic Tank Regiment (engineers), 50th Motorised Infantry Regiment, 39th Motorised Infantry Battalion, 199th Light Artillery Brigade, 1381st and 1394th AA Artillery Regiment, 372th Flying Squadron (VVS).

Tanks, assault guns (StuG) , Volksgrenadier infantry and self-propelled guns (armoured attack units) began the German attack. The tanks and assault guns met little Soviet resistance on the open fields and thus captured Ober-Bilau. However, the forest located northwest of the town saw fierce combat. Forces of the 17th Panzer Division reached the forest in no time. In the afternoon major general Maeder (commander of „Führer” Grenadier Division) had to decide what to do next: advance towards Günthersdorf as planned and face many Soviet tanks and anti-tank guns, or turn eastwards and meet the other German forces attacking from the east and thus meeting them earlier than planned – in that case the „Führer” Grenadier suffers lighter losses but will end up pocketing only smaller Soviet forces. He contacted Schörner and advocated the latter version. Schörner replied that the decision rests with Nehring, as he is the commander of the armoured attack group. A telephone conversation followed. The reply of Nehring basically was: „Attacking Günthersdorf would create a larger pocket, but you advanced deeper than Decker (39th Armoured Corps), so the two of you should decide what to do!” Schörner and Nehring weren’t avoiding responsibility; this was an example of German attack method ("Auftragstaktik"), which dictated that the officers on the battlefield should make decisions when the situation in battle changes expectedly.

The „Führer” Grenadier Division turned eastwards and advanced towards Haugsdorf in order to attack the Soviet forces already battling the 6th Volksgrenadier. The 8th Panzer Division attacked in the same direction towards Linden-Berg. In the evening the 4th Führer Grenadier Regiment and the 2nd Führer Panzer Regiment reached the river Queis and established a bridgehead on the opposite bank – which they were forced to give up due to a Soviet counterattack. However, the guns of 2nd Panzer made any Soviet traffic near Naumburg very hazardous. The town was under attack by Otto Remer’s division. The tanks of the 1st Führer Panzer Regiment and the 1st Führer Panzergrenadier Regiment captured Neuland and met heavy resistance in the forest south of Kesselsdorf. Eventually both the forest and the town was cleansed of Soviets. The 3rd Panzergrenadier Battalion crushed through Soviet defense lines near Neuland and captured Alt-Neuland. German forces regrouped and attacked the forest northwest of the town but Soviet anti-tank guns repelled them. The Germans halted further attacks and formed a defense line. It was already late night.

On 2 March there was a brief snowstorm. Soviet tanks stopped Remer’s attack on Naumburg. Soviet rockets and mortars were pounding Cunzendorf and Neuland. The 1/III. Führer Panzergrenadier Battalion launched a new attack on Nieder-Giessmannsdorf and reached the railway lines between Naumburg and Löwenberg; there the Soviets were already dug in. The 17th Panzer Divison, northeast of Görlitz, was pushing towards Bunzlau. The Soviets lost 70 T-34s near Grund and 10 T-34s near Florsdorf. On 3 March Remer’s forces suffered heavy Soviet air attacks. The whole armoured attack group was under Soviet counterattack from Naumburg. The 2nd battalion of the 1st Führer Panzergrenadier Regiment was temporarily encircled at Kesselsdorf.

Despite the rugged terrain Soviet reinforcements were being sent to the area. It soon became apparent that the recapture of Naumburg is impossible; the German command realised the planned encirclement was only feasible on a smaller scale. In the meantime pioneers of the Führer Grenadier Division were strengthening their bridgehead on the Queis while the tanks of the 2nd Führer Armoured Regiment were keeping the paved road between Lauban and Naumburg under fire. Many Soviet truck columns were destroyed. The 4th Führer Panzergrenadier Regiment captured Saechsisch-Haugsdorf while the 3rd Führer Panzergrenadier Regiment and parts of the 17th Panzer Division were approaching Günthersdorf and captured 48 assault guns of the 9th Motorised Corps west of the town. The two German armoured corps received air support from the Luftwaffe’s 8. Flying Corps despite bad weather. Fearing encirclement, the Soviets began withdrawing their forces from Lauban. Soldiers of the 6th Volksgrenadier soon entered the town. 54 German soldiers were KIA during the recapture. Eyewitnesses reported seeing 24 destroyed T-34s standing side by side at the square. Further 11 tank wrecks were found on the outskirts. A total of 81 Soviet tanks and self-propelled guns were lost on 2 March near Lauban.

On 4 March Remer’s panzers were being withdrawn from the eastern part of the town. To their surprise they met a large number of Soviet tanks in the process east of Giessmannsdorf. The Soviets inflicted heavy casualties and attacked towards Alt-Neuland. Remer’s forces were decimated but managed to hold the town as they got reinforcements and the Soviet attack stopped.

On the same day the Germans pocketed a Soviet force smaller than expected as the Führer Grenadier attacked from the bridgehead at Queis and met with the 8th Panzer Division near Linden-Berg.

On 5 March the Germans only made small progress. The next day the 39th Armoured Corps destroyed 30 Soviet tanks 6 kms northeast from Lauban. The 57th could only recapture smaller areas due to effective Soviet resistance. Large Soviet forces escaped encirclement since Remer’s Escort Division got bogged down in heavy fighting and could not meet with the Führer Grenadier in time. The German counterattack stopped on 6 March and the pocket was pacified by the 8th.

Soviet military historians only gave very short and biased descriptions of the focused counterattack of two German armoured corps on Lauban in March 1945. Marshall Koniev was not much different in his memoirs, although he writes about the „nerve-wrecking” moments of German attack that created a „critical situation”; even Stalin phoned him and asked what’s the problem with the 3rd Guard Tank Army. In fact, the German counterattack was stopped only after the 3rd Guard was strengthened with units of the 52nd Army.

Joseph Goebbels visited Lauban on 9 March. In his diary he wrote that a Soviet tank corps was almost completely destroyed without the Germans suffering only light losses. In Lauban the large scale of destruction was apparent. He also described the determinded, merciless behaviour of both German and Soviet soldiers during the battle – which was the main reason why only 176 Red Army soldiers were taken prisoner during the operation. The Soviets lost 162 tanks, 106 vehicles, 159 assault guns and 74 mortars. The 3rd Guard Tank Army suffered such terrible losses it had to be withdrawn from the frontline in April 1945. Contrary to Goebbels’ claims the Germans lost a considerably large number of soliders (especially the Führer Escort Division) but only 10 tanks.

The battle strengthened the belief of German officers that an enemy attack in an area only lightly defended by infantry can only be repelled by the rapid deployment of armoured fighting units (tanks, assault guns, mortars, panzergrenadiers, pioneers).

Lauban remained in German hands as the frontline around the town did not change until the end of war. The Soviets learned that underestimating the enemy is a big mistake even if final victory is already in sight.
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Acolyte
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Post by Acolyte » 11 Aug 2005 18:07

Pictures from the battle:
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PanzerKing
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Post by PanzerKing » 11 Aug 2005 18:31

Thanks for sharing! Very interesting read of a succesful German attack in the closing months of the war.

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Victor
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Post by Victor » 11 Aug 2005 20:44

Very interesting read. Please also mention the sources for the photographs.

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Post by Sotka » 11 Aug 2005 23:08

Thank you, Acolyte. Interesting read.

Regards, Tuomo A.

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Post by Acolyte » 12 Aug 2005 11:12

Victor wrote:Very interesting read. Please also mention the sources for the photographs.


The same Hungarian website. I have no idea of the source they got them from.

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Post by Victor » 12 Aug 2005 14:42

Sorry, didn't notice the link before now. http://panzerkeil.dre.hu/egyeb/egyeb.htm

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Post by Acolyte » 12 Aug 2005 17:45

Basically the only Hungarian website about German armour that is worth a damn. Very useful if you live here.

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Musashi
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Post by Musashi » 12 Aug 2005 20:23

Hi!
If you want to see a detailed map please click http://mapa.szukacz.pl/?Z_CITY_NAME=wid ... =1&lang=pl copy Lubań from here [you have to set the coding to Western Europe (ISO) to see the Polish fonts properly] and paste this word next to Miejscowość at that site. Then click Pokaż to get 2 results. Click the result above to the right.
Change scale of the map between Oddal (zoom out) and Zbliż (zoom in). The map is very detailed.

Regards,
Krzysiek

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Acolyte
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Post by Acolyte » 13 Aug 2005 00:21

Musashi wrote:The map is very detailed.

Regards,
Krzysiek


Indeed it is. You can also use http://www.mapquest.com.

I suppose Zgorzelec = Görlitz, Nowogrodziec = Naumburg, Boleslawiec = Bunzlau.
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Post by David C. Clarke » 13 Aug 2005 00:49

This is really good stuff Acolyte! I congratulate you on a very enjoyable Thread. :D

But, I have a question. In your research on this batte, did you run across any mention of a Leutnant Dallmeier? Kurowski claims that in the 6th Volksgrenadier's area of operations Dallmeier's Hetzer company was responsible for 100 kills of which Dallmeier's Hetzer scored 50 and that on 3/4, he was awarded the Knight's Cross by 6th Volksgrenadier Division commander Generalmajor Bruecker. (Kurowski, "Hitler's Last Bastions" page 309.)

To say the least, I have always been skeptical of this account.

Best,
~D, the EviL

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Acolyte
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Post by Acolyte » 13 Aug 2005 14:17

David C. Clarke wrote:This is really good stuff Acolyte! I congratulate you on a very enjoyable Thread. :D

But, I have a question. In your research on this batte, did you run across any mention of a Leutnant Dallmeier?


No, I didn't.

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Post by Andreas » 13 Aug 2005 16:09

Thanks for doing this Acolyte, very much appreciated. I have not had time to read it yet, but I am sure I may have some questions when I have done so. :)

All the best

Andreas

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Post by David C. Clarke » 13 Aug 2005 16:56

No, I didn't.


Well, you still did a great job Acolyte. This is a little-known battle and it was great of you to go to the effort of making up this Thread. The maps are especially handy.

Best,
David

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Post by Acolyte » 13 Aug 2005 17:49

Andreas wrote: I am sure I may have some questions when I have done so. :)


Feel free to do so but I feel obliged to add that everything I know about this battle is included in the original text so I doubt I would be able to add further information. But ask them anyway, I'll see what I can do.

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