The Germans hold the Dnieper Line

German soldiers in a 'Schützenpanzer', somewhere on the Eastern front, 1943

German soldiers in a ‘Schützenpanzer’, somewhere on the Eastern Front, 1943

A German Nebelwerfer or rocket mortar on the Eastern Front, 1943

A German Nebelwerfer or rocket mortar on the Eastern Front, 1943

It is hard to comprehend the scale of the fighting on the Eastern Front. Whilst front line men like Willy Reese and Armin Scheiderbauer had been engaged in desperate close combat, which both felt they had survived only by a miracle, elsewhere other German formations had yet to come under attack.

The perspective was also different for Generals, even if they spent much time close to the front line. General von Mellenthin concluded that German armour was still holding on and capable of beating off the crude Soviet attacks. He was to record his observations of the Soviet assault of the 16th October after the war:

At 0630, on 16 October the Russians launched their attack against the positions of XLVIII Panzer Corps; I happened to be in one of the forward observation posts of 19 Panzer Division, and had to stay there for fully two hours.

The artillery bombardment was really quite impressive. No movement was possible, for two hundred and ninety guns of all calibres were pounding a thousand yards of front, and during these two hours the Russians expended their normal ammunition allowance for one-and-a-half days.

The bombardment reached as far back as divisional battle headquarters, and the two divisions holding the corps front were shelled with such intensity that it was impossible to gauge the Schwerpunkt. Some Russian guns fired over open sights from uncovered gun emplacements. After the two hours bombardment our trench system looked like a freshly ploughed field, and in spite of being carefully dug in, many of our heavy weapons and anti-tank guns had been knocked out.

Suddenly Russian infantry in solid serried ranks attacked behind a barrage on a narrow front, with tanks in support, and one wave following the other. Numerous low-flying planes attacked those strong-points which were still firing. A Russian infantry attack is an awe-inspiring spectacle; the long grey waves come pounding on, uttering fierce cries, and the defending troops require nerves of steel.

In dealing with such attacks fire-discipline is of vital importance.

The Russian onslaught made some headway but during the afternoon the armoured assault troops, whom we were keeping in reserve, were able to wipe out those Russians who had penetrated the defence system. We only lost a mile or so of ground.

On subsequent days the Russian break-through attempts were repeated in undiminished strength. Divisions decimated by our fire were withdrawn, and fresh formations were thrown into the battle. Again wave after wave attacked, and wave after wave was thrown back after suffering appalling losses.

But the Russians did not desist from their inflexible and rigid methods of attack. On our side artillery and armour bore the main burden of the fighting. Our fire plans were flexible, allowing for concentrations where they were most needed, and designed to break up the Russian columns before they could advance to the attack.

Wherever a deep penetration occurred it was quickly patched up, and a few hours later counter-attacks by our tanks were delivered against the flanks of the bulge. This battle continued for more than a week and the defensive strength of XLVIII Panzer Corps began to dwindle. 8 Army moved up its last reserve — 3 Panzer Division – to the danger point.

However von Mellenthin was to recall that not every German General felt the same as he did:

General von Choltitz was acting commander of XLVIII Panzer Corps. Day after day he spent most of his time in the foremost lines and personally conducted the battle in any sector where the situation was most dangerous.

One fateful evening he talked to me about the way things were going, and expressed his anxiety at the terrific pressure on our front.

Then he had a vision. He saw how the Soviet masses would close in on us like giant ocean waves. All the dams built to stem their onrush would be shattered and the Russians would go on and on and eventually submerge Germany. He wanted to go and see Hitler himself and tell him the facts about this unequal struggle and of the untenable situation at the front.

Only after the war did von Mellenthin reflect that this was a prophetic assessment. Whether von Choltitz eventually succeeded in seeing Hitler over the matter he does not record. General von Choltitz was later to have a major dispute with Hitler, when he was the senior German commander in Paris in August 1944. He defied Hitlers order to burn down the French capital.

See Major General F. W. Von Mellenthin: Panzer Battles

Panzer IV on the move on the Eastern Front

Panzer IV on the move on the Eastern Front

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Peter October 16, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Here’s a nice summation of this immense battle.

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