The Eastern Front: Battle of Brody in 1944

The result of the large-scale counteroffensive launched by the Soviet Red Army in the summer of 1944 not only completely defeated the German Army Group Central, but also suffered severe blows to the adjacent Southern Army Group. In a place called Brody, the 13th Army in the Army Group of the South was completely wiped out.

Where will you start?
The situation of the Germans on the Soviet battlefield was becoming increasingly distressing in the spring of 1944. The Soviet offensive launched on January 14, 1944 broke the long-term siege of Leningrad by the German Army Group North. On the southern battlefield, the Ukrainian 1st and 2nd Fronts jointly attacked the south garrisoned along the Dnieper River. Army group. Further south, Army Group A, entrenched in the Crimean Peninsula, was defeated by the Ukrainian 3rd and 4th Front Army, and abandoned the important Black Sea port of Odessa on April 10. Was annihilated at the beginning of the month.

The Soviet Red Army counterattacked on both the north and south wings of the battlefield at the same time, which made the theater of the German Central Army Group under the command of Field Marshal Ernst Busch, that is, most of Poland and western Belarus, a protruding part extending eastward. Although the Soviet army has not yet acted on this protrusion, the commanders of the Central Army Group knew that it was only a matter of time before the red hammer fell.


The German Army (right) and Waffen-SS (middle) coordinated on the battlefield

Fortunately for the Germans, the spring muddy season is approaching, which gives the Germans on the Eastern Front a very much-desired respite. The Germans tried every means to replenish their strength. Several newly organized divisions, as well as many second-line personnel who had not been fully trained, were successively sent to the eastern front to fill the vacancies in the long line of defense.

While trying to replenish his troops, Marshal Busch made a request to shrink the line of defense. From a military point of view, “cutting the bend and straightening” on the line of defense and giving up some areas can free up several divisions as reserves, which can be used to deal with the summer offensive that the Soviets will inevitably launch. Although this idea is logical, it does not conform to Hitler’s point of view. This great dictator demanded that every land that was conquered be protected at all costs.

As spring passes and summer comes, it seems that the short-term tranquility on the front line will be broken at any time. The question is, where will the Soviet army start? Will it be to the north? The new strike will liberate the Baltic states, and even Finland is likely to withdraw from the war. Will it be to the south? The Romanian and Hungarian oil fields are enticing trophies. The possibilities in these two directions are very high. Relatively speaking, the possibility of turbulence in the central front is relatively small.

Based on this judgment, the German intelligence personnel stared at the northern and southern fronts, and believed that the theater of the Central Army Group would continue to be quiet. Therefore, Hitler did not agree to Fushi’s request for shortening the line of defense. Except for a small number of newly opened reserves, Fushi basically can only rely on the existing forces to deal with possible problems.

In fact, the Germans’ judgment was completely wrong. Since mid-April, the Soviet Supreme Command has been planning a large-scale pincer attack, and the goal of this battle is to disintegrate the Central Army Group. From the view of the Moscow base camp, the huge protrusion of the Central Army Group is very attractive, and it is the first choice for the next stage of combat.

Therefore, when the Germans were looking for signs of the Soviet army’s imminent attack in the north and south sections of the battlefield, the main force of the Soviet army assembled on the opposite side of the central army group, and this assembly completely concealed the enemy-the defense of the country. At this stage of the war, the level of the Soviet Red Army in deceiving the enemy has reached its level.

Konev on standby
The Germans, who were ignorant of Soviet combat intentions, were also making their own deployment adjustments. Hitler split the original Southern Army Group into two at the beginning of April, forming two Army Groups, Northern Ukraine and Southern Ukraine. The Northern Ukraine Army Group is stronger and is commanded by Field Marshal Walter Model. Model was one of Hitler’s favorite generals. His troops consisted of the 1st and 4th Armored Army and the Hungarian 1st Army.

After this mobilization, Model visited the front line and came into contact with a large amount of information about the “Soviet Army’s upcoming attack on the southern front.” So he believed that his theater would bear the brunt, so he asked Hitler to agree to demarcate the 56th Panzer Army from the Central Army Group. Dispatched by myself. Of course generosity made a protest, but Model’s opinion prevailed. After all, intelligence pointed out that the southern front was the “hardest hit area.” As a result, the 56th Panzer Corps was ordered to leave the Central Army Group, which reduced the number of divisions by 15%, 33% of large-caliber artillery, 50% of expelled tanks, and 23% of self-propelled artillery.

On June 6, the Allied forces landed in Normandy, thus opening a second battlefield in Europe. Before the Germans fully recovered from this attack, Moscow chose to launch an all-out attack on the Central Army Group on June 22. This day is the 3rd anniversary of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, and the irony contained in it is really strong.

Of course, there were more than one senior German generals who were strongly shaken by charity, and Marshal Model was also one of them. In his opinion, once the German army in the middle road was completely disintegrated, the Soviet “steam roller” was likely to run over him. This judgment of Model is completely correct, because what the Soviet army is implementing is exactly a chain plan: once it succeeds in attacking the central road, it will then take action against Model’s northern Ukrainian army group.

When the Soviet army launched an offensive against the Central Army Group, General Ivan Konev, who commanded the Ukrainian First Front Army, was fully focused. His task was to prepare for the attack on the Northern Ukrainian Army Group, and he was eager to join the battle. Born in 1897, Konev joined the Red Army in 1918 and served as a political commissar during the Revolutionary Civil War in Russia. By the time the Soviet Army regained the initiative on the Soviet-German battlefield in 1943, Konev had proved himself a rich man. A commander of aggressiveness and offensive skills.


German infantry fighting in a ruin


Marshal Konev

Konev faces part of the German 1st Panzer Army and the neighboring 4th Panzer Army, and his available units include 3 tank groups (1st Guards, 3rd Guards and 4th Tank Army), 7 Infantry Group Army (1st Guards, 3rd Guards, 5th Guards, 13th, 18th, 38th and 60th Infantry Groups), two cavalry/mechanized battle groups, and multiple independent tanks, artillery and mechanized units, Ukraine The 1st Front Army is a large corps with strong impact.

For Konev and his troops, the primary assault target was Lviv, and the key area to be captured before that was Brody east of Lviv. Brody has railways and roads connected to Lviv, which is a key area for the German army. The terrain is relatively flat and suitable for tank operations.

Temporary new force
The German army guarding Brody was a unit of Model: the 13th Army under the 1st Panzer Army. The commander of this army was General Arthur Hoff, who was born in 1891 and had previously served as the chief of staff of two armored armies. He basically had no illusions about his situation. His chief of staff, Kurt Von Colonel Hammerstein is the same.

The reason for Hoff’s lack of confidence is the lack of strength in the 13th Army. His left flank is Major General Nedwig’s 454th (Guardian) Division. Adjacent to it is Major General Lindemann’s 361st Infantry Division, on the right of Lindemann. On the side is the C battle group consisting of the remainder of the 3 ruined infantry divisions, and the last unit is the 349th Division of Major General Rasch. What these troops have in common is their lack of strength and low morale.

However, just before the Soviet army started, the 13th Army received reinforcements from a new force, which was the 14th SS Galician Division of the Waffen SS just formed not long ago. Galicia roughly refers to western Ukraine and southeastern Poland. It was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before the First World War, so it can be regarded as having a certain “relationship” with Germany. The troops of this division are mainly composed of Ukrainian recruits.

In late June, the Galician division who was training in Silesia received an order to immediately go to the east. When the advance force of the division arrived in Ukraine by train, Major Heike learned that the entire division would be deployed to the rear of the 13th Army’s main position as a strong support.

This arrangement made Heike very uneasy. He originally hoped that the Galician division could gradually accumulate combat experience in relatively secondary areas, and the 13th Army was one of the most dangerous units on the front line. However, the commanders of the 13th Corps were no less surprised than Heike. When Heike reported to General Hoff, the latter said that he had neither heard of the Galician division, nor did he know that the division was ordered to join his own. War zone.

However, after Heike discussed with Hoff’s Chief of Staff Hammerstein, the location of the Galician Division was determined, and the division entered the second line of defense about 12 kilometers west of Brody. After arriving in the area, the soldiers of the Galician Division discovered that the so-called second line of defense only exists on the map. They need to start digging trenches immediately, and time is very tight.

At the same time, Hitler’s attitude became a little more flexible after the Central Army group was hit hard. After listening to Model’s suggestion to change the deployment, Hitler agreed in late June to no longer list Kevel and Brody as the “fortress area”, and the meaning of the “fortress area” is that the defenders must fight until the last person.

For Brody’s 13th Army, this is good news, but the good times are not long. Due to the tightness of the western front, Model was transferred to France to “fight the fire.” General Joseph Harper replaced him on the eastern front. He could not influence Hitler like Model, so Hitler re-declared Brody as a “fortress”. Area”.

Do it in advance
The Ukrainian 1st Front Army was originally scheduled to launch an offensive on July 14, 1944, but Konev suddenly decided to do it a day earlier. The sudden offensive caused considerable losses to the right wing of the German 4th Panzer Army that was retreating, and this move surprised the German and Soviet base camps at the same time.

As the battle progressed, the right wing of the 4th Armored Group began to show signs of loosening. General Walter Nalin, the interim commander of the Group Army and the former commander of the African Army, desperately mobilized the reserve team to fill the vacancy, and finally barely supported the crumbling front.

Once the weaknesses in the German front were discovered, Konev immediately ordered General Pukhov’s 13th Army to join the battle. The two sides subsequently fought fiercely in the Gorokhov area. Both the Soviet and German armies suffered heavy losses. However, by the end of the first day of the battle, the Soviet army had taken Gorokhov, and Pukhov’s men were able to rendezvous with Godov’s soldiers and began to point towards the second front of the German army, which was called ” “Prince Eugen Line” defense zone.

On July 14, Konev sent out his second tier without hesitation. General Rebako’s 3rd Guards Tank Army supported Pukhov’s 13th Army at the northern end of the battlefield. The progress of these two units on this day began to threaten the 1st Panzer Army adjacent to the 4th Panzer Army.

Hoff’s 13th Army began to bear the impact, and the Soviets happened to choose the weakest link of the German defense, which was the junction of the 349th and 361st Divisions. With the gap in the German joint, Konev immediately injected more troops into it, expanding the assault depth to about 15 kilometers behind the German front.

When the entire garrison area of ​​the 13th Army began to be turbulent, General Hoff asked the Galician division to enter a state of full alert, ready to fight. However, when this order was passed to the division headquarters, the division commander Freitage and the chief of staff Heike were not there. It turned out that they were in the division division of the 454th division at the time, and they were not able to return to their division until early the next morning.

But when Heike returned to the division, he immediately ordered the troops to advance to the front to fill a gap in the 13th Army’s defense line. The leading 30th Grenadier Regiment soon encountered a group of defeated German infantry, which made many Ukrainians feel nervous, but they had no choice but to move on.

Since then, the 30th Grenadier Regiment entered the battle for the first time, attacking the flank of a Soviet assault force. Although the Ukrainians initially made progress, they were soon forced to retreat due to Soviet airstrikes. After that, the 29th and 31st Grenadier Regiments arrived one after another, temporarily stalemate with the Soviets in front of them.

The Galician division’s actions were fairly rapid, which comforted Howe. At the time, several of his divisions were under the attack of the Soviet army, and some infantry battalions had been reduced to the size of a company. There was no hope for more foreign aid. Under the circumstances, Hoff can only passively wait for Konev’s next move.

The 13th Army was surrounded
On July 15, Konev’s troops made tentative attacks at multiple points, hoping to find more weak links in the German positions. Throughout the day, the Galician division was stuck in a hard fight, the number of casualties continued to increase, and the regiments also repeatedly interrupted contact.

However, until the early morning of the 16th, the Soviet Army’s gains were still small, and the German defense line had not been significantly loosened. In order to strengthen the effect of the attack, Konev acted decisively, asking Katukov’s 1st Guards Tank Army to attack and advance alone without the support of infantry.

Katukov’s tanks played the role of a surprise soldier and made good progress. Encouraged by it, General Rebak’s tanks and motorized infantry began to tear the gap in the defense line of the 1st Armored Army. Now, the two guard tank units together formed a giant pliers and began to approach each other.

In this way, the “Prince Eugen Line of Defense” is no longer safe, and both the 1st and 4th Armored Armies can only fight for survival. Konev’s tanks continued to rush forward, and the infantry units behind him consolidated their existing positions. The continuous emergence of Soviet fighters and attack aircraft restricted the German armored forces’ counterattacks. Next, Konev lost no time to invest in the 4th Tank Army of Lelyushenko.


Red Army infantry aiming at the enemy

With the gradual consolidation of the Soviet armored iron tongs, the situation of the 13th Army became extremely dangerous: the 454th Division was disintegrating, and the strength of the C battle group had been reduced to battalion level. As the frustrating battle reports continued to arrive, Hoff felt desperate and ordered the staff to burn the documents to welcome the arrival of the “last moment.”

On the afternoon of the 17th, the two armored iron tongs of the Soviet army from the north and south finally met in the west of Lviv along the Burg River, which ultimately doomed the sad fate of the 13th Army. Hoff ordered his division to retreat, and the 361st division retreated to the west of the Galician division. The other units were ordered to move to the southwest, preparing to break through from that direction.

The entire 4th Armored Army has begun a major retreat to the Bug River, and the Central Army is now in a mess, which makes the left wing of the 4th Armored Army completely exposed. This once powerful armored unit itself is extremely weak. According to the report on the 18th, there are only 20 tanks and 154 self-propelled artillery left in the entire group army.

In Brody, Konev saw a good opportunity to annihilate Howe’s 13th Army. All units of this army have been compressed in the “pockets” around Brody. Konev ordered more infantry units to move as soon as possible. To the area to complete the encirclement.


The triumphant Soviet torrent


Soviet soldiers in the assault

For the Germans, the situation is critical, but perhaps not desperate, because there are still gaps between the Soviet tank forces that can theoretically be used. Hoff made an emergency call with the neighboring 48th Panzer Corps commander General Hermann Barker, hoping that the latter would cover his headquarters to break through. Barker agreed, but felt uncertain, because the 48th Panzer Corps and the 13th Army were 40 kilometers away, and there were swamps, woods, and the Bug River along the retreat of the 13th Army.

Regardless, Hoff issued a breakout order. According to his arrangement, Rasch’s 349th Division and C battle group will be the first to break through. Then, the Galician Division, the 454th Division and the 361st Division will operate separately and strive to break through.

Ashes
Just as the Germans were making the final preparations for the breakout, the Soviet army launched an attack on the tight “pocket”. Although the attack came from all directions, the center of gravity of the attack pointed to the Galician division’s defense zone. Ukrainians suffered heavy casualties and low morale under the artillery fire. A young military officer, Lubomi Delinsky, described the Soviet offensive in his diary and expressed his disappointment with the Germans.

He wrote: “The air is filled with the roar of tank guns and engine noise. The surrounding houses are burning, and more and more tanks are rumbling closer. We can see countless enemies. What should we do? Do, use rifles to fight tanks? We need planes and tanks! Throughout our suffering, I have never seen a German plane or a German tank.”

On July 20, the day when a group of German officers attempted to assassinate Hitler, the Soviet army continued to increase its offensive efforts. On this day, the 31st Grenadier Regiment of the Galician Division was hit hard, and the commander and most of its soldiers were killed.

In the early morning of the 21st, Hoff commanded the remaining approximately 30,000 people to break through. At dawn, Soviet attack aircraft appeared. The pilots obviously had superb skills. They dropped bombs or strafed at tree-top heights, resulting in heavy smoke and fire everywhere in the German queue.

A captured 13th Army officer later confessed during interrogation, “The Red Air Force caused us great harm… They kept throwing bombs at us, making us unable to raise our heads. There are several in my army. Even the qualified officers who participated in the First World War were shocked.”

Once the break-out operation is launched, the troops will have to resign, and the C battle group will be the first to disintegrate. By the evening of the 21st, the Galician Division as a whole ceased to exist, Freitag and Heike had completely lost control, and the soldiers had to flee for their lives.

The melee ended on July 22, when the 13th Army ended. Many senior officers of this army were killed, including Commander Hoff. In the afternoon, Major General Lindemann, commander of the 361st Division, was captured by the Soviet army. Relying on a response unit sent by the 48th Panzer Corps, about 800 people from the 13th Army escaped from the Soviet encirclement on this day. In addition, the 13th Army was wiped out in the Battle of Brody. , Became another victim of Germany in this unjust war.

As for the victorious Konev’s troops, they did not stop advancing, they just sorted the battlefield a little, and then continued to rumble forward.