88th Infantry Division (Wehrmacht)
|88th Infantry Division|
|Active||1 December 1939|
|Generalleutnant Georg Graf von Rittberg|
The 88th Infantry Division was a major fighting formation of the German Army (Wehrmacht). It was created in December 1939, and first saw combat in the Battle of France, and was then posted to security duties. From December 1941, the division was shifted to the southern sector of the Eastern Front, where it fought until February 1944 when it was encircled near Cherkassy and virtually destroyed.
The 88th Infantry Division was a unit of the 6th wave of army mobilisation. Due to the rapid expansion of the Army at the declaration of war, there was not enough German equipment available to meet demand, and the divisions of the 6th wave were issued with weapons and equipment of Czech origin. Upon formation, the division had the following sub units:
- Infantry-Regiment 245
- Infantry-Regiment 246
- Infantry-Regiment 248
- Artillery-Regiment 188
- Anti-tank Battalion 188
- Bicycle-Squadron 188
- Pionier Battalion 188
- Signals Battalion 188
- Divisional Services 188
In November 1943 the division was restructured. One of its regiments, the 248, was disbanded entirely, and the remnants of the (also disbanded) 323 ID was incorporated to replace it. This was called the 323 division group of regimental size and the 591 and 593 as battalion sized 'regimental groups'. This is an expedient that was used in the creation of the Korps abteilung. The other battalions of the division were reshuffled, to leave two regiments of two battalions each and a divisional fusilier battalion. This left the 88th division with seven infantry battalions in line with the Type 44 division organisation and structure.
By May 1940 the division was deemed ready for combat, transferred to the western front and subsequently took part in the battle for France. Soon after the battle, the Division was sent back to southern Germany for further training, and some of its personnel were allowed to return to their peacetime professions in industry and agriculture.
In the winter of 1941 the Division was posted to Russia, and took part in the winter defensive battles of Army Group South, in line between Belgorod and Kursk.
In May 1942, the Soviets launched a new offensive effort aimed at retaking Kharkov in a pincer move. The southern group attacked from the great bulge in the line west of Izsum, backed up by two of the newly created Tank Corps (23rd & 21st) and 6th Cavalry Corps and the northern grouping attacked on a more direct line using the 38th, 21st and 28th Armies backed up by 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps. The northern group attack began on 13 May with some limited successes. German reaction was swift: using infantry and 3rd and 23rd Panzer divisions, part of the forces gathered for the summer offensive, they hit the northern attack with repeated counterattacks, whilst blocking advancement in the south. As part of these efforts, a two-regimental group from 88th infantry division (Combat Group Gollwitzer) was shifted to the area and joined in these attacks from the northern flank. With their attack obviously going nowhere, the Russians abandoned the attack and had withdrawn their offensive groupings by 24 May 1942.
Following this action, the 88th Division then took part in the opening stages of Plan Blue, the German summer offensive. After only a short advance, the division was again put on the defensive on the northern flank of the 9th Army, where it remained for several months. In January 1943, after the Stalingrad debacle, Russian offensives rippled along the front. The 9th Army front was breached and it was forced to retreat, the 88th Division with it.
After the front was finally stabilised for the Germans by Erich von Manstein counter stroke at Karkov, the 88th division was again in defensive positions, this time along the Minus river, whilst dramatic events unfolded around the Kursk salient. The failure of the German offensive preceded the start of a prolonged period of Soviet attacks, and by September, von Manstein was no longer confident that the forces of AGS could defeat the them without substantial reinforcement. Hitler thereafter authorised the withdrawal to the Panther line on 15 September. A race to the Dnieper followed: both German and Soviet forces raced to reach the river first, with the German forces attempting to fully man defensive fortificatiions ahead of the arrival of the bulk of the Soviet forces.
The 88th pulled back and crossed the river Dneiper as part of XX Army, and was further inserted into the new defensive line on the western bank. The Soviet forces, however, did manage to seize several bridgeheads across the river.
Desperate German counterattacks were unable to dislodge these bridge heads and, by mid-October, they were used as springboards to further offensives.[n 1]
With the Panther line thoroughly breached to the north and south, forces of the 8th Army still defending along the Dnieper in the central sector were vulnerable to encirclement, but were not given authority to withdraw. The Soviet command capitalised on German inaction, and the first Ukrainian Front attacking from the north and second Ukrainian front from the south trapped substantial German forces in a pocket near the town of Cherkassy, including the 88th division.[n 2]
After the break out from Cherkassy, the division was quickly rebuilt, and by June 1944 was back in line under the 4th Panzer Army, Army Group North Ukraine. In mid-July, Soviet 1st Ukrainian Front started a series of offensives and the German forces were driven back into southern Poland. This was a time of constant retreat for the 88th division as the front was pulled back time after time, but after considerable effort the Germans finally managed to stabilize the front by September. Although the 88th avoided encirclement in these battles, it suffered considerable casualties and was down to a 'kampfhgruppe' by mid August.
The decimated 88th division was to remain static for over 3 months. It finally met its fate in January 1945, when Soviet armies were unleashed with overwhelming odds and much of Army Group A, of which the 88th division was now a part, was overwhelmed and destroyed. This was the last action of the division; its remnants were listed as fighting with battle group Jauer at the end of January. The division was finally disbanded later in 1945, with its survivors absorbed by other units.
- Generalmajor Georg Lang, 1 December 1939 – 2 February 1940.
- General der Infanterie Friedrich Gollwitzer, 2 February 1940 – 10 March 1943.
- Generalleutnant Heinrich Roth, 10 March 1943 – 5 November 1943.
- Generalleutnant Georg Graf von Rittberg, 5 November 1943 – 8 January 1945.
- Generalmajor Carl Anders, 8 January 1945 – 27 January 1945.
References in the Wehrmachtbericht
|Date||Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording||Direct English translation|
|18 July 1944||Bei den Kämpfen an der Ostfront haben sich im Süden die fränkisch-sudentendeutsche 88. Infanterie-Division unter Führung von Generalmajor v. Rittberg und im Norden die rheinisch-westfälische 329. Infanterie-Division unter Führung des Generalleutnants Mayer durch besondere Härte und Zähigkeit wiederholt ausgezeichnet.||The Frankish-Sudeten German 88th Infantry Division under the command of Major General von Rittberg in the northern sector of the eastern front and the Rhenish-Westphalian 329th Infantry Division under the leadership of Lieutenant General Mayer in the southern sector distinguished themselves by showing hardship and toughness.|
|19 August 1944 (Addendum)||In den schweren Abwehrkämpfen im großen Weichselbogen haben sich die unter dem Befehl des Generals der Infanterie Recknagel stehenden fränkisch-sudetendeutsche 88. Infanteriedivision unter Führung von Generalmajor Graf von Rittberg und die hessisch-moselländische 72. Infanteriedivision unter Führung des Generalmajors Hohn durch unerschütterlichen Kampfesmut und kühnes Draufgängertum ausgezeichnet.||In the fierce defensive battles in the great bend of the Vistula, the under the command of General of Infantry Recknagel standing Franco-Sudeten 88th Infantry Division, led by Major General Graf von Rittberg and the Hessian-Moselle 72nd Infantry Division under the leadership of Major General Hohn, have excelled themselves by showing unshakeable courage in battle and bold recklessness.|
- see Nafziger, Infantry in WWII p 138
- See Second Battle of Kharkov.
- Kharkov 1942, see map page 45
- Kharkov 1942, page 194
- See maps Battle for L'vov pages 181-216
- Russo German war Summer 44, order of battle, pages 63 & 64
- See order of battle Army Group Centre 31st Jan 1945, page 54, Russia German war No 35. Generalleutnant Georg Jauer was commander of 20th Panzer Grenadier Division at the time
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939-1945 Band 3, p. 167.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939-1945 Band 3, p. 209.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939-1945 Band 3, 1. Januar 1944 bis 9. Mai 1945 (in German). München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, 1985. ISBN 3-423-05944-3.
- Nafziger, George F. (31 Mar 2000). German Order of Battle: Infantry in World War II. Greenhill Books. ISBN 978-1-85367-393-1.
- Dunn, Walter Scott (Feb 2009). Second Front Now - 1943: An Opportunity Delayed. ISBN 978-0-8173-5547-0.
- Woronesh-Donstellung 1942/1943. Traditionsverband 88. u. 323. Infanterie-Division e.V. 1976.
- Glantz, David M. (Feb 2009). Kharkov 1942: Anatomy of a Military Disaster Through Soviet Eyes. Ian Allan Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7110-3468-6.
- Nash, Douglas E. Hell's Gate: The Battle of the Cherkassy Pocket, January–February 1944. RZM Imports, Inc. ISBN 978-0-9657584-3-7.
- David Glantz, and Harold S. Orenstein (1 Feb 2002). The Battle for Kursk, 1943: The Soviet General Staff Study. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-7146-5201-6.