Army Group South was extremely concerned about the situation of Gruppe Stemmermann, and at 18.05hrs Wöhler called von Manstein to briefly describe the situation. Von Manstein replied:618 “Since the first day Gruppe Stemmermann has not got forward at all.”
Wöhler said: “In the afternoon I ordered that Gruppe Stemmermann should pull together all forces to bolster the offensive strength and that all forces north of the Ross River should be withdrawn to the southern side. Lack of fuel and ammunition, due to the poor weather which prevented air supply, hampered the movements.”
“To move south of the Ross River is the last movement Gruppe Stemmermann can make,” Manstein said. “After that it must unconditionally break through.”
“I have already ordered Stemmermann several times to break out. Perhaps Lieb is more active,” Wöhler responded.
“Well, then one perhaps has to place all forces under Lieb. It must be clear to Gruppe Stemmermann that it has to break through to Dzhurzhentsy by its own forces. How many men are there in the cauldron?”
“Can not the 11th Panzer Division be reinforced?,” von Manstein asked.
“Unfortunately not, and currently it is almost impossible to keep 11th Panzer Division supplied.”
“I would like to ask you to consider whether the 3rd Panzer Division can be released.”
“Unfortunately it is impossible for the moment,” Wöhler replied.
Thus ended the conversation, and it seems that Wöhler was correct when he regarded it as impossible to release the 3rd Panzer Division. Even if it could be done, it would require days given the condition of the roads. By then the fate of Gruppe Stemmermann would already be sealed. It is somewhat ironic that Wöhler, who had been pushing a reluctant von Vormann to advance, was now being pushed by his superior, who perhaps found Wöhler lacking some energy. However, the mud was a very real hindrance, and it seems that the closer a commander was to the troops in their struggle with the mud, the more realistic he became.
Other reinforcements had been considered and discussed previously, first and foremost the 2nd Parachute Division. Later in the evening Busse called Speidel and suggested that this division should be used to relieve 3rd Panzer Division. As it seemed that the Soviet 20th Tank Corps had been pulled out and sent northwest, it would be desirable to get the 3rd Panzer Division free for other missions. Speidel replied that it would take about 10 days for the 2nd Parachute Division to arrive. For the moment, the only thing that could be done was to send two battalions with replacement personnel to Kampfgruppe Haack.619
The lack of progress on 14 February was a bitter disappointment to all the German soldiers remaining inside the pocket. By this time, the knowledge of the loss of the Korsun airfield must have become fairly well known, and the conclusion was obvious. If the rescue did not succeed quickly, everything would be lost. General Stemmermann was well aware of the seriousness of the situation, and concluded that if the tanks of III Panzer Corps did not reach the pocket on 15 February a crisis would occur. It was not a far fetched opinion. The XI and XXXXII Corps were compressed into a small oblong area, where the few roads, weakened by the mud, were crammed with vehicles. Many of them carried wounded, who had to endure several hours in traffic jams, but it was imperative to move them to Shenderovka, as Steblev was evacuated by the Germans later in the day.620
Neither did the fighting seem to go well for the Germans in the pocket. The 72nd Division continued to advance from the Khilki area, but made no net progress as Soviet forces launched counterattacks. A Soviet attack at Nova Buda threatened to expel a battalion from SS-Wiking’s Germania Regiment, which had just relieved the Wallonians. As the Soviet infantry was accompanied by tanks they stood a good chance of pushing the Germans out of the village. However, the remaining PzKw IV tanks of SS-Wiking were near by and averted the threat.621
Again neither side made much progress, but as time was working against the Germans, Konev could remain fairly satisfied with the situation around the pocket. He was probably not too worried about the situation on the outer ring either, although von Vormann’s troops launched a renewed attack in the morning. This time it was Kampfgruppe Haack, supported by tanks from 11th Panzer Division, which captured some terrain southwest of Zvenigorodka, not far from hill 204.8 which had been reached by the tanks of 11th Panzer Division on 12 February. German gains were modest, however, and a snowstorm also hampered the actions. In any case, German tank strength in the area was very low. On paper it may have looked impressive, as two tank regiments, Panzer Regiment 4 from 13th Panzer Division and Panzer Regiment 15 from 11th Panzer Division operated in the area, supported by one Panther battalion (I./Pz.Rgt. 26) and two assault gun battalions (Pz.Abt. 8 and StuG.Abt. 911). However, these units only counted six tanks and three assault guns operational. Had such a force been at full strength it would have had over 500 tanks and assault guns.622
With such low tank strength on the German side, it seems clear that few risks attended Konev’s decision to shift Rotmistrov’s 5th Guards Tank Army. Furthermore, no immediate improvement in the German tank strength could be expected. Lack of spare parts made repairs of the many damaged tanks in workshops impossible, and the delivery of new tanks from factories was impossible under the conditions. But it was not only the machines that were at the end of their tether; the soldiers were exhausted too. The men were utterly overstrained and many had become completely apathetic. Indeed, von Vormann seems to have been at the end of his strength and contemplated moving his command post backward, something to which Wöhler strongly objected. Given the low strength of XXXXVII Panzer Corps and its immense supply difficulties, it is doubtful that von Vormann could have much impact on the rescue of Gruppe Stemmermann, no matter where he was located.623
As we have seen, III Panzer Corps made relatively little progress on 14 February. The temperature had fallen and frost had set in, which might have offered better roads for the wheeled vehicles. However, heavy snowfalls began in the afternoon of 14 February, so the roads remained as difficult as ever for the vehicles that made up the majority of the German divisions. It was still up to the few operational tanks of 1st Panzer Division, Bäke’s Regiment, and Kampfgruppe Pietsch to effect a link-up with Gruppe Stemmermann, provided of course that fuel and ammunition could be brought forward.624
Early in the morning of 15 February, Breith and Back, who had flown in a Fieseler Storch, arrived at Bäke’s command post. The two generals conveyed the message that Bäke’s regiment would have to shift south to attack along the Lisyanka axis, a decision that could hardly have been a surprise to Bäke, as he had himself concluded that the terrain east of Chesnovka was unsuitable for his tanks. Given the very small number of vehicles available to Bäke, six Tigers and eight Panthers, he could not send many tanks south. It was decided that the Panthers would remain in the Chesnovka–Khizhintsy area, but evacuate the latter village to fight against the Soviet tanks south of Medvin, while the Tigers moved south, toward Lisyanka.625
Before noon the Tigers, commanded by Scherf, set out on their journey to Lisyanka. Almost immediately a Tiger received a hit in the rear which penetrated into the engine room. In poor visibility the remaining Tigers took up the fight and claimed to have knocked out four T-34s within a short time. The fighting continued, as the Soviet tankers tried to use the undulating terrain to find cover. It was to little avail, however, as the Tigers still found opportunities to fire on the Soviet tanks, and claimed to have knocked out another seven T-34s. The Germans also suffered losses. One Tiger had its drive sprocket shot away, and another received track damage from a hit by an artillery shell. Both these vehicles were rendered immobile by the hits. Also, Scherf’s tank was hit: a Soviet shell tore away the spare track fastened to the side of the turret, but due to the angle of the shot no other damage was sustained. Finally, one Tiger had been penetrated, whereby two men were killed and one wounded.626