Читать онлайн "The Korsun Pocket: The Encirclement and Breakout of a German Army in the East, 1944" автора Zetterling Niklas - RuLit - Страница 50

 
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Perhaps it was not only among the rank and file that rumors were prevalent. It is possible that decision makers much higher in the chain of command also heard strange tales. In the midst of all the other business he had to attend to, Stemmermann was asked to send a more detailed report on the Soviet call for surrender and the circumstances surrounding it. He was also informed that it was Hitler who wanted to know. A report was duly sent, but Hitler’s interest in the issue remains puzzling. It is unclear if some strange rumor had reached his ear, or if it was just a manifestation of his distrustfulness.492

Von Vormann did not have to bother about strange questions from the Führer, but was able to concentrate on shifting his units westward. The 106th Division was on its way to relieve the 14th Panzer Division, which, together with the 3rd Panzer Division, was to relieve the 11th Panzer Division. The latter, together with the armor elements of the 13th Panzer Division, was to attack from Verbovets toward Zvenigorodka. As usual, delays occurred, but late in the evening of 9 February von Vormann reported that he would have the entire 11th Panzer Division ready to attack on the morning of 11 February, but not all elements of 13th Panzer Division. At the same time, Kampfgruppe Haack was assembling around Yampol, and would be available to cover the flank of the attacking units from 11th and 13th Panzer Divisions.493

At 01.45hrs on 10 February another strange question from Hitler reached the 8th Army staff. The Führer had heard that foreign news agencies reported that Leon Degrelle had been taken prisoner by the Red Army. Thus Hitler wanted to know where Degrelle was. In fact he remained as adjutant to Lippert, the commander of SS-Sturmbrigade Wallonien. Whether the information that had reached Hitler’s ears was just one of the many rumors that pops up in war, or some ploy of the Soviet authorities, remains unknown.494

Of greater concern was the supply situation, but again the German air force had managed to fly considerable quantities into the pocket. From the morning of 9 February to the morning of 10 February, 190 tons of ammunition and 68 cubic meters of fuel had been landed or dropped in the pocket, while 442 wounded had been brought out. The immediate supply crisis was averted, but Stemmermann, as well as the other commanders, was fully aware that a few days of unsuitable weather could again bring the two corps dangerously close to collapsing from lack of ammunition and fuel.495

Stemmermann’s withdrawals from the eastern part of the pocket continued, but Soviet pressure meant that it was a fighting withdrawal. Vatutin’s 1st Ukrainian Front had relatively weak forces, the 27th Army with two divisions and two fortified regions, on the western side of the pocket. These could be regarded as sufficient to keep the Germans contained, but lacked the punch to do more than dent the positions held by the German XXXXII Corps. Konev had far stronger forces, two armies with nine divisions, plus the 5th Guards Cavalry Corps. The fighting in and around Valieva had been raging for a few days, but on the morning of 10 February the 5th Guards Cavalry Corps finally had the village under control. But it was too late to cut off the Germans who were retreating from the Gorodishche area.496

Von Vormann’s Attack Toward Morentsy

Nevertheless, Stemmermann and Lieb had their share of complications to ponder. For some reason, elements of the SS-Westland Regiment gave up their position, forcing the Germans to extend the retreat further than planned. Perhaps worse was the fact that units from 72nd Division had to be committed to seal off the Soviet penetration. It had been planned to use the 72nd Division for the attack from Shenderovka toward Morentsy. If the division was frittered away, the intended attack force might prove to be too weak. Another danger brought by the withdrawals was the diminishing distance between Soviet ground forces and the airfield at Korsun. On 10 February Soviet artillery began to fire on the radio beacon the Germans had at their airfield. Despite this, the VIII Air Corps was determined to continue flying in darkness to maintain the flow of supplies to Gruppe Stemmermann.497

Wöhler traveled by trolley to von Vormann’s command post to discuss the attack planned for the following day, 11 February. Wöhler became convinced that the commanders and soldiers of XXXXVII Panzer Corps had done their utmost to assemble for the attack. Unfortunately the vehicles had been subjected to considerable wear, due to the very difficult roads. The strain on the vehicles multiplied many times in the mud.498

All tanks that the corps could make available were subordinated to the 11th Panzer Division, which was given the lead role in the attack. It might seem to be remarkable to commit all available tanks from a Panzer corps, but the reality was not particularly impressive. By far the strongest component was the I./Pz.Rgt. 26 Panther Battalion, which reported 17 operational tanks on 10 February. Most likely it possessed at least half the tanks available to von Vormann.499

According to the plan, von Wietersheim’s division, with the subordinated elements from 13th Panzer Division and supported by Kampfgruppe Haack, should take a bridgehead over the Shpolka River at Yerki and then continue north to support III Panzer Corps’ attack towards Morentsy. It was decided to hold the bridgehead at Iskrennoe at least for 11 February, but to evacuate it later. The troops made available should then reinforce the 11th Panzer Division. The reason for not immediately evacuating the Iskrennoe bridgehead was to keep the opposing Soviet generals uncertain about where the Germans would make their main effort.500

A major concern was of course the weather. More rain fell on 10 February and the ground softened even more. Nevertheless, there was no thought of postponing the attack. There were still 54,000 Germans within the pocket, and with the Red Army getting closer to the vital airfield there was no margin for postponement. The final German attempt to save the two surrounded corps would begin at dawn on 11 February.501

Konev pondered about what the Germans were up to. Unlike Vatutin, who had to consider the threat from III Panzer Corps, which was much stronger than XXXXVII Panzer Corps, Konev could focus more on what to do about the two surrounded enemy corps. It was evident that the Germans had been pulling back from the eastern parts of the pocket. It was equally evident that the major threat of a German relief attack came from Breith’s Panzer Corps. Thus, it seemed most likely that the Germans would attempt to attack along a line that ran between Medvin and Zvenigorodka. At 04.30hrs on 11 February Konev ordered Selivanov to prepare his cavalry divisions to shift further to the west, to be able to block a German attack from the Steblev region toward the southwest. However, there was no order to actually carry out such a maneuver. Konev still hesitated. As yet the German intentions were not fully clear.502

Selivanov’s cavalry was not the only part of 2nd Ukrainian Front that was moved west. Rotmistrov’s 5th Guards Tank Army had 160 tanks, which made it many times stronger than the opposing forces of XXXXVII Panzer Corps. One of its tank corps, the 18th, was moved to a position a few kilometers east of Zvenigorodka. The 20th Tank Corps had been employed on the extreme west wing of 5th Guards Tank Army since it reached Zvenigorodka. Thus Rotmistrov’s army held positions that would enable it to mount effective resistance to von Vormann’s projected attack.503

     

 

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