Читать онлайн "The Korsun Pocket: The Encirclement and Breakout of a German Army in the East, 1944" автора Zetterling Niklas - RuLit - Страница 60

 
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The complaints from Gruppe Stemmermann about lack of air support continued, and late in the afternoon a message was received that air power had been directed to support the armored spearheads attacking toward the pocket. All available aircraft had been used in those areas, leaving nothing to support Gruppe Stemmermann. Perhaps this was a reasonable decision. After all, priorities had to be made, and the fate of the Gruppe was probably more dependent on the progress made by III and XXXXVII Panzer Corps than on air cover directly above the pocket. The rapid progress made by III Panzer Corps on 13 February was at least partly aided by the air support it received.597

At the same time, papers produced by “Nationalkomitee Freies Deutschland” continued to rain down into the pocket. They seem seldom to have had the intended effect, and on this day they had a completely different effect. One of the papers was brought to General Lieb, who found that they contained statements about the size of the German force inside the cauldron. To his relief, Lieb concluded that the enemy estimates of the size of the surrounded force were grossly exaggerated, which might lead the Red Army to be more cautious in its dealings with them.598

The Loss of Korsun Airfield, 13 February

For two weeks the air field at Korsun had provided a lifeline for Gruppe Stemmermann, but on 13 February it was finally captured by Konev’s forces. Although supplies could still be dropped from the aircraft, wounded soldiers could no longer be evacuated by air. However, very few wounded had been evacuated by air in the preceding days, since the landing strip had become so soft that aircraft were hardly able to land and take off. The loss of the airfield had been anticipated, since the Germans had been shifting forces from the northeastern part of the pocket to the southwest. All trust was placed on the hope that the III Panzer Corps could reach Gruppe Stemmermann.599

It seemed unlikely that the German forces inside the pocket could hold out for long. Gruppe Stemmermann had lived from hand to mouth for days, and on 13 February it received very few supplies as the radio beacon did not work. In the atrocious weather the beacon was indispensable for aircrews, as it was almost impossible to navigate to the pocket without it. Despite the poor weather, 50 He-111s dropped 39 cubic meters of fuel and 25 canisters with ammunition, but how much of it that was retrieved by Gruppe Stemmermann is unclear.600

Somewhat better conditions prevailed over the III Panzer Corps, and it received 61 cubic meters of fuel and 34 tons of ammunition for its Tigers and Panthers. Obviously, however, the aircraft could not drop their load exactly where the tanks were located. First of all, it was imprudent to drop the loads precisely on the troops, and secondly it was not always easy to locate the tanks, which tended to stay under cover. Finally, it was always difficult to place the load exactly where intended. Lieutenant Lappe, Bäke’s adjutant, recalled how the fuel reached the tanks:601

Finally, on 13 February, we reached the small town of Khizhintsy. We had been told that the outer ring of the pocket would be found there. Unfortunately erroneous! The advance thus far had caused almost all the tanks to fall out. The last tanks ploughed forward in the mud, which reached up to the mudguards, meter by meter. Fuel consumption was enormous, Panthers could consume a full fuel load on 3.5–4 km. Low flying Ju-52s dropped petrol barrels, which often landed in the mud 200–300 meters from the tanks. Steel wires had to be connected to the barrels, which could thereby be winched to the tanks with some fuel remaining.602

The German Link-up at Lisyanka, 14–15 February

Although fuel and ammunition were scarce, at least some reached the front units. In the armored spearheads, shortages of food also became critical. Unlike Gruppe Stemmermann, which could live to some extent on stores from an area that had been held for a while, the soldiers of the III Panzer Corps advanced through an area that had been held by the enemy for a couple of weeks. No stores could be counted upon except those captured by chance. As the limited capacity of the supply aircraft was devoted to fuel and ammunition, the officers and men had to continue without receiving any more food. When their rations had been consumed, they had to go on fighting despite empty stomachs.603

The soldiers who reached Khizhintsy were not only forced to contend with hunger, they also had to cope with the discouraging discovery that the terrain east of the town was wholly unsuited for tanks, something that became clear to the higher commanders in the evening. This was a bitter disappointment. What had appeared as a short distance separating the pocket from the relief force suddenly became much further. One possibility was that Gruppe Stemmermann might traverse the area east of Khizhintsy, as infantry would find it easier to cross the difficult terrain. Wenck asked Speidel about this in the evening, but 8th Army had already suggested that the encircled corps should concentrate all available forces to reach III Panzer Corps.604

To Zhukov it must have become apparent by now that the major threat was not von Vormann’s corps, but Breith’s corps. Consequently Rotmistrov was ordered to shift forces from the sector southeast of Zvenigorodka to the area between Dzhurzhentsy and Komarovka. There was some risk involved in weakening the defenses against the German XXXXVII Panzer Corps, but this had to be weighed against the risks in the area between III Panzer Corps and Gruppe Stemmermann. Evidently the latter problem was deemed more threatening, and hindsight certainly does not contradict that judgment.605

Bad roads, of course, plagued the Soviets as well as the Germans. Aside from the time and fuel used up in the movement, vehicles were strained and rendered unusable. It seems that the 18th Tank Corps, which previously had been in reserve, was the first unit to arrive in the new area. With 30 operational tanks it reached Dzhurzhentsy in order to take up defensive positions for the following day. From the 20th Tank Corps, two tank brigades were directed to Lisyanka and one tank brigade was sent to 4th Guards Army, while the rifle brigade remained southeast of Lisyanka. Finally, the 29th Tank Corps was sent to the Komarovka area.606

To move the units and their supplies through the mud called for hard work from the soldiers, but the tank units also used oxen and horses to drag supply items forward. The local population was also drafted to help. Despite these measures, only one third of a basic load of fuel was available to Rotmistrov’s troops at the new deployment area. Certainly this was a serious impediment, but their opponents were not better off. The following day would show whether the Soviet countermeasures were sufficient or not.607

On 14 February Breith decided to fly in a Fieseler Storch to Lisyanka. A pilot could usually find a suitable place to land such a small aircraft close to the unit to be visited. On this occasion the pilot landed at Lisyanka, where Breith met both Koll and Frank near the bridge. The commander of III Panzer Corps could see for himself that hard fighting raged north of the Gniloi Tikich River, where Frank’s troops tried to advance toward Oktyabr, a small village northeast of Lisyanka. Attack was followed by counterattack and the margins between success and failure were slight. The border between life and death was slight too, which was well illustrated by a German tank commander who, as was common, fought with his head up from the cupola. For some reason he decided to get into the tank and had just got his head down through the cupola when an armor piercing round hit the hatch which he had not yet closed.608

     

 

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