Battle of Belgorod
|Belgorod-Bogodukhov Offensive Operation|
|Part of the Eastern Front of World War II|
Belgorod, August 1943
|Nazi Germany||Soviet Union|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Erich von Manstein|| Nikolai Fyodorovich Vatutin
|4th Panzer Army
Army Group "Kempf"
XLVIII Panzer Corps
III Panzer Corps
XI Army Corps
Großdeutschland Panzergrenadier Division
1st Guards Tank Army
5th Guards Tank Army
6th Guards Army
5th Guards Army
7th Guards Army
|Casualties and losses|
80 Tanks/Assault Guns
The Belgorod-Bogodukhov Offensive Operation (23 July – 14 August 1943) was a combat operation executed as part of Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev by the Red Army against the Wehrmacht forces. It was one of the operations that followed the Battle of Kursk.
During the Battle of Kursk, German armored units south of the Kursk salient failed to penetrate the defences between the Voronezh and Steppe Fronts in the Belgorod sector. The Red Army's Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev followed Operation Citadel and included as its objectives the immediate liberation of Belgorod, assigned to the Voronezh and Steppe Fronts. On July 23, German forces of the XI Army Corps returned to their old, well fortified positions on both sides of Belgorod. Their combat strength had been reduced by as much as 50% following the Battle.a
The Belgorod-Bogodukhov Offensive Operation
Early on 3 August 1943, the Forces of the Voronezh and Steppe Fronts b advancing on a wide front between Sumy and Volchansk (175 km), crossed the Vorskla river & quickly penetrated the defences of the 332nd Infantry Division & 167th Infantry Division to a depth of 100 km between Tomarovka & Belgorod on the northern flank, and as far as Bogodukhov sweeping aside the weakened 19th Panzer Division. By 5 August Belgorod which was defended by XI Armeecorps (Raus) was also being surrounded and isolated, requiring attempts by the German Armeeabteilung Kempf and 4th Panzerarmee Armies to relieve the garrison which was ordered by Hitler to defend the city. General Raus explains:
On 3 August after Soviet artillery had fired heavily for one hour, the enemy offensive began along the Belgorod–Kursk highway, with the aim of pushing through the salient around Belgorod where the boundary between the 4th Panzerarmee & Armeeabteilung Kempf was situated and thereby dislocate the entire defensive line. In this they succeeded completely. Their heavy barrage hit the 167th Infantry Division, which had taken up positions in a former soviet antitank ditch, located a few kilometres in front of the fortified line. Within a short time massed Red Army tanks had crossed this ditch; by noon they passed the corps command post and poured into the depth of German positions, all the while firing on our fleeing trains. On the following morning (6 August), after a night time forced march, Russian spearheads had reached the surprised headquarters of the 4th Panzerarmee at Bogodukhov. Since Colonel General Hermann Hoth's army had no reserves available to close the ten-kilometre gap in his front between Tomarovka & Belgorod, or even to stop the flood of enemy tanks that had already broken through to a depth of 100 kilometres, Russian spearheads reached the area north-east of Poltava and Akhtyrka on 7 August.These illustrate the dangerous situation into which this development thrust XI Armeecorps which had been fighting with its front to the east.On the very first day of the offensive, XI Armeecorps had been attacked in the rear by enemy tank forces situated thirty kilometres in the depth of our positions. These tank forces exerted crushing pressure on our unprotected left flank. At this critical moment, XI Armeecorps had not only been left to its own devices but also had been handicapped by a direct fuehrer order, which had arrived at the last minute & insisted that Belgorod was to be held under all circumstances. The Corps front now formed a deep salient into enemy territory, which might have disintegrated with complete encirclement as its final destiny. This would have meant a widening of the existing Belgorod–Tomarovka gap from 25 to 80 kilometres and the immediate loss of several divisions. With these considerations I decided-Hitler's order notwithstanding-to fight a delaying action in successive positions until the withdrawal reached Kharkov and then hold the city. During the night of 5–6 August, I ordered the 168th Infantry Division (on the corps left & resisting heavy pressure North of Belgorod) to pivot 180 degrees around the city. We evacuated the city after heavy street fighting and occupied a new defensive line prepared on the high ground immediately south of Belgorod.
Germany had an initial strength of 60,000 men, including 18,000 Hitlerjugend. While the German intention was to "pinch off" the Red Army's offensive thrust at the base of the penetration between Borisovka and Grayvoron south of Vorskla river, the rapid tempo of the Steppe and Voronezh Fronts offensive meant that by the time the counter-attacks were executed the city had been evacuated on 6 August, and German forces were now defending Kharkov. The Wehrmacht's Mobile Forces were heading into an encounter with the main thrust of the Soviet Front tank armies. The German counter-attacks were carried out by the III Panzercorps of the Armeeabteilung "Kempf" in the Olshany area, and the XLVIII Panzercorps of the 4th Panzerarmee in the two-pincer manoeuvre of the Krasnokutsk and Akhtyrka areas. In the fighting that took place on both sides of the Merla & Merchik rivers, the superiority of the German Panzer Divisions was clearly evident, in spite of being involved in combat operations continuously since the 5th of July. Whilst 5th SS Panzer Division 'Wiking' & 3rd Panzer Division conducted primarily defensive operations, 2nd SS Panzer Division 'Das Reich', 3rd SS Panzer Division 'Totenkopf' repeatedly blunted attacks of Soviet elements south of the rivers and Bogodukhov. As at Prokhorovka, the Russians enjoyed tremendous numerical superiority in tanks. Both 1st Tank Army & 5th Guards Tank Army began the operations with over 500 tanks each, while the SS Divisions never had more than about 30-50 tanks each at any time during August. in spite of this, all Soviet attempts to penetrate to the railroad line were repulsed with bloody losses in men and tremendous loss in tanks. Katukov's 1st Tank Army thrusts south of the Merchik were repeatedly cut off & destroyed by III Panzercorps. The attempts by Rotmistrov's 5th Guards Tank Army Army to penetrate to the rail line from east of Bogodukhov were frustrated by 3rd Panzer Division & 'Wiking', with key defensive fighting by elements of 'Das Reich'. 'Totenkopf' executed a masterful attack that cut off elements of infantry and armour from the 27th Army & 6th Guards Army south of Krasnokutsk and then rolled down the line of supply toward Kolomak, south of Konstantinovka. Subsequent attacks encircled disorganized elements of several Russian Divisions and destroyed major portions of them after brief fighting. Subsequently 'Totenkopf' drove to the Merla & forced a crossing of that river and linked up with 4th Panzerarmee spearheads at Parchomovka. However Großdeutschland was forced to withdraw from that town by Soviet pressure on its Northern flank, & this success could not be followed up.
Combined deaths during the operation are over 72,000. Germany lost about 20,000 men, among them were 6,000 Hitlerjugend.
After Belgorod was retaken on 6 August 1943 by the Steppe Front's 69th and 7th Guards Armies, following its evacuation,c the way was now clear for the concentration of forces for the liberation of Kharkiv.
- a XI Armeecorps suffered the following casualties during the Battle of Kursk. 106th Infantry Division - 3,244 (forty-six officers), 320th Infantry Division - 2,839 (thirty officers) & 168th Infantry Division - 2,671 (127 officers) a Total of 8,754 combat effective soldiers.
- b Consisting of the 1st Guards Tank Army, 5th Guards Tank Army, 6th Guards Army, 5th Guards Army, 40th Army, 69th Army, 7th Guards Army, 27th Army.
- c by the German 168th Infantry Division.
Citations and notes
- Sajer (1967)
- Nipe, Fedorowicz, p.376
- Newton, p.212
- Newton, pp.213-215
- Nipe, Fedorowicz pp. 259-330
- Nipe, Fedorowicz, p.365
- Nipe, Fedorowicz, p.264
- Nipe, George M. Jr., & Fedorowicz, J.J., Decision in the Ukraine: Summer 1943, II SS & III Panzerkorps, Publishing Inc., 1996 ISBN 0-921991-35-5
- Newton, Steven H., Panzer Operations: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus 1941–1945, Da Capo Press, 2003 ISBN 0-306-81247-9
- Sajer, Guy., The Forgotten Soldier, Editions Robert Laffont, S.A., 1967 ASIN: B001Q797JQ
- Ziemke, Earl F., Stalingrad to Berlin: The German Defeat in the East, Dorset Press, 1968