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Battle of Nevel
Part of the Eastern Front of World War II
File:Map_of_Battle_of_Nevel_(October_1943_-_January_1944).jpg
The Nevel Salient, October 6 1943 to January 18 1944
Date October 6 – December 16 1943
Location Northwestern Russia/Northeastern Belarus
Result Soviet victory
Belligerents
Flag of German Reich (1935–1945).svg Nazi Germany Flag of the Soviet Union.svg Soviet Union
Strength
unknown 198,000
Casualties and losses
43,551 killed or missing
125,351 wounded
Total:
168,902 (to Dec. 31)[1]



The Battle of Nevel was a military operation conducted by the Red Army in the Pskov Oblast of western Russia and in northern Belarus during World War II, from October 6 to roughly December 16, 1943 although fighting persisted in the area into the new year. The initial attack created an unexpected breakthrough of the German defenses and liberated the town of Nevel on the first day and subsequent attacks over the next four days created a salient about 35km wide and 25km deep at the junction between German Army Groups North and Center. Through the following weeks the forces of 1st Baltic Front continued to expand the salient and attempt to outflank and encircle the units of German 16th Army and 3rd Panzer Army to its north and south while those same units, at Hitler's orders, "held the goalposts" and attempted to cut off the salient itself. Hitler finally conceded these efforts were futile on December 16 as 1st Baltic continued attacking southwards toward Vitebsk.

Background

Following the Battle for Velikiye Luki in the winter of 1942-43 the 3rd Shock Army had remained on much the same lines east of Novosokolniki and Nevel through the spring and summer. During this time the railway from Vitebsk through Nevel to Pskov remained in German hands linking the two army groups, although it was under Soviet artillery fire near Novosokolniki. Breaking this line was an obvious objective. Although Army Group North had created a ready reserve of five infantry divisions to deal with threats on either end of its front, in early September the Army High Command ordered two of them transferred to Army Group South. On September 19 Army Group North took over XXXXIII Army Corps from Army Group Center, giving it an additional three divisions, 77km of front, and the responsibility of defending Nevel and Novosokolniki.[2]

Objective

The Soviet position had the potential to serve as the springboard for a "big solution": an offensive to drive between the German army groups all the way to the Gulf of Riga. Given the nature of the terrain, with many forests, lakes and swamps and few roads even by Russian standards, plus the manpower demands from other sectors, this was impractical.[3] Instead, General Yeryomenko planned the attack on Nevel as a supporting operation for his Front's wider offensive towards Vitebsk.[4]

Battle

The offensive began at 0500 hours on October 6 with a reconnaissance-in-force, followed by a 90-minute artillery preparation at 0840 hours and airstrikes by 21st Assault Aviation Regiment. 3rd Shock went over to the attack at 1000 hours on the Zhigary-Shliapy sector, precisely at the boundary between the two German army groups.[5] 28th Rifle Division spearheaded the assault in the first echelon followed closely by an exploitation echelon consisting of the 21st Guards Rifle Division and the 78th Tank Brigade with 54 tanks. The assaulting force struck and demolished the 2nd Luftwaffe Field Division.[6] Like all the Luftwaffe "divisions" the 2nd was in fact the size of a brigade, with only four infantry battalions, and was especially weak in artillery with just eight 75mm mountain guns and a battery of Stug IIIs. It had been badly damaged in its first action south of Belyi during Operation Mars nearly a year earlier.[7]

In addition to the flight of 2nd Luftwaffe the right flank of 263rd Infantry Division was badly smashed. While the attack of the 357th Rifle Division was contained the 78th Tank Brigade, carrying troops of 21st Guards Rifle Division with more mounted on trucks, along with the 163rd Antitank and 827th Howitzer Artillery Regiments, entered the gap and rapidly drove to the west and liberated Nevel from the march. General Galitskiy reported, "In the city of Nevel, the enemy garrison was destroyed, and many warehouses, vehicles, and other equipment were seized. There are prisoners. The quantity of trophies is being calculated." At the same time the 4th Shock Army, deployed on 3rd Shock's left (south) flank, also launched an attack towards Gorodok. General Shvetsov had formed a shock group from two of his rifle corps, each advancing abreast in three echelons. 2nd Guards Rifle Corps led with its 360th Rifle Division, followed by 117th and 16th Lithuanian Divisions and two tank brigades. 83rd Rifle Corps had its 47th Rifle Division up, supported by 234th, 235th and 381st Rifle Divisions and another two tank brigades. Although there were no further panicked withdrawals by II Luftwaffe Corps the attack gained about 20km but ultimately faltered just short of the Nevel-Gorodok-Vitebsk railroad and highway.[8]

Earl Ziemke wrote that the sudden collapse of 2nd Luftwaffe Division came as much a surprise to the Soviets as to the Germans:

But in warfare combatants can occasionally have more good luck than convenient to handle, and apparently something of that sort befell Kalinin Front in the attack on Nevel... for a Soviet front command, even in late 1943, it raised many distressing uncertainties. On October 9, Yeremenko suddenly reined in on the offensive. During the several days' pause that followed, Army Groups North and Center threw a line around the western limits of the breakthrough, and each moved in a corps headquarters to command the battle area.[9]

By Soviet reckoning the Nevel Offensive Operation ended on October 10, but the fighting in and around the salient continued at least into mid-December with the German forces attempting to cut off the salient as a whole while the Soviet forces expanded their hold to the north, south and west.

Aftermath

On December 13 the 11th Guards Army attacked the northern tip of 3rd Panzer Army's flank from three sides and in two days had nearly completed encircling two German divisions in separate pockets. Reinhardt requested permission to take the front back but was refused as Hitler remained determined to close the gap. A day later the northern division was encircled and Reinhardt had no choice but to order a breakout which occurred on December 16 at the cost of 2,000 of its 7,000 troops and all of its artillery, heavy weapons and vehicles.[10]

Order of Battle

Soviet

(as of October 1, 1943)

German

(as of October 1, 1943)

References

Citations

  1. David M. Glantz, When Titans Clashed, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 1995, p. 297
  2. Earl F. Ziemke, Stalingrad to Berlin, Center of Military History United States Army, Washington, DC, 1968, pp. 197-98
  3. Ziemke, Stalingrad to Berlin, pp. 198-99
  4. Glantz, Battle for Belorussia, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 2016, p. 36
  5. "Possessing a vast and active intelligence network of partisans and agents, the Russians never had trouble locating the boundaries." Ziemke, Stalingrad to Berlin, p. 200
  6. Glantz, Battle for Belorussia, pp. 39-41
  7. Kevin Conley Ruffner, Luftwaffe Field Divisions 1941-45, Osprey Publishing Ltd., Oxford, UK, 1990, pp. 10-12, 16
  8. Glantz, Battle for Belorussia, p. 41
  9. Ziemke, Stalingrad to Berlin, pp. 200-01
  10. Ziemke, Stalingrad to Berlin, p. 206
  11. Combat Composition of the Soviet Army, 1943, p. 245
  12. Glantz, Battle for Belorussia, p. 26

Bibliography

Coordinates: 56°02′N 29°55′E / 56.033°N 29.917°E / 56.033; 29.917

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