Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev (Russian: Полководец Румянцев) was a code name for the Belgorod-Kharkov Strategic Offensive Operation conducted by the Soviet Army between 3 August 1943 and 23 August 1943 against the Wehrmacht's 4th Panzer Army and Army Group Kempf during World War II. The operation was named after the 18th-century Field Marshal Peter Rumyantsev) and was conducted by the Voronezh and Steppe Fronts in the Belgorod (southern) sector of the Kursk Bulge. The Germans refer to the battle as the "Fourth Battle of Kharkov".
The operation began in the early hours of 3 August 1943, with the objective of following up the successful Soviet defensive effort at Operation Citadel. The offensive was directed against the German Army Group South's northern flank. By August 23, 1943 the Soviet divisions of the Voronezh and Steppe Fronts had successfully seized Kharkov (now Kharkiv) from German forces. It was the last time that Kharkov changed hands during the Soviet-German War. The operation led to the retreat of the German forces in Ukraine behind the Dnepr River, and it set the stage for the battle of Kiev in autumn 1943.
Background[edit | edit source]
Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev had been planned by Stavka to be the major Soviet summer offensive in 1943. However, due to heavy losses sustained during the Battle of Kursk in July time was needed for the Soviet formations to recover and regroup. Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev commenced on 3 August, with the aim of the defeating the 4th Panzer Army, Army Group Kempf, and the southern wing of Army Group South. It was also hoped that the German 1st Panzer Army and the newly reformed 6th Army would be trapped by an advance of the Red Army forces to the Black Sea.
The Soviet forces included the Voronezh Front and the Steppe Front, which deployed about 1,144,000 men with 2,418 tanks and 13,633 guns and rocket launchers for the attack. Against this the German army could field 200 000 men and 237 tanks and assault guns.
German Army Group South commander General Erich von Manstein had anticipated that the Soviets would launch an attack across the Dnieper and Mius Rivers in an attempt to reach the Black Sea, cutting off the German forces extended in the southern portion of Army Group South in a repeat of the Stalingrad disaster. When the Soviet Southern Front and the Southwestern Front launched just such an attack on 17 July the Germans responded by moving the II SS Panzer Corps, XXIV Corps and XLVIII Panzer Corps southward to blunt the Soviet offensive. In fact these Soviet operations were intended to draw off German forces from the main thrust of the Soviet offensive, to dissipate the German reserve in anticipation for their main drive.
The Soviet plan intended the 1st Tank Army and 5th Guards Army, supported by two additional mobile corps, to encircle Kharkov from the north and west. To the west, four separate tank corps would support. The 27th and 40th Armies would make supporting attacks as well. To the east and south-east, the 69th and 7th Guards Armies, followed by the 57th Army of the Southwestern Front, also supported the attack. The 6th Guards Army, which had been weakened after bearing the brunt of the German Kursk offensive, and the Soviet 53rd Army were also a part of the operation. The offensive was supported by a very heavy collection of artillery focused along a 30 km front.
Launch of the offensive[edit | edit source]
On 3 August the offensive was begun with a heavy artillery barrage directed against the German defensive positions. Though the German defenders fought tenaciously, the two tank armies committed to the battle could not be held back. By 5 August the Soviets had broken through the German defensive lines, moving into the rear areas and capturing Belgorod while advancing some 60 km. Delivering powerful sledghammer blows from the north and east, the attackers overwhelmed the German defenders.
German reserves were shifted from the Orel sector and north from the Donbas regions in an attempt to stem the tide and slow down the Soviet attacks. Success was limited to the "Grossdeutschland" division delaying the 40th Army by a day. Seven panzer and motorized divisions making up the III Panzer Corps, along with four infantry divisions were assembled to counter attack into the flank of the advancing Soviet forces, but were checked. After nine days the 2nd SS "Das Reich" and 3rd SS "Totenkopf" divisions arrived and initiated a counterattack against the two Soviet Armies near Bogodukhov, 30 km northwest of Kharkov. In the following armoured battles of firepower and maneuver the SS divisions destroyed a great many Soviet tanks. To assist the 6th Guards Army and the 1st Tank Army, the 5th Guards Tank Army joined the battles. All three Soviet armies suffered heavily, and the tank armies lost more than 800 of their initial 1,112 tanks. Further Soviet reinforcements stopped the German counterattack.
After the counterattack by the two German divisions, the Soviet tank armies were no longer capable of offensive actions. With the Soviet advance around Bogodukhov stopped, the Germans now began to attempt to close the gap between Achtryrka and Krasnokutsk. The counterattack started on 18 August, and on 20 August "Totenkopf" and "Großdeutschland" met behind the Soviet units. Parts of two Soviet armies and two tank corps were trapped, but the trapped units heavily outnumbered the German units. Many Soviet units were able to break out, while suffering heavy casualties. After this setback the Soviet troops focused on Kharkov and captured it after heavy fighting on 23 August.
The battle is usually referred to as the Fourth Battle of Kharkov by the Germans and the Belgorod–Kharkov offensive operation by the Soviets. The Soviet operations included several sub-phases:
- Belgorod-Bogodukhov Offensive Operation 23 July 1943 - 14 August 1943
- Belgorod-Khar'kov Offensive Operation 12 August 1943 - 23 August 1943
- Zmiez Offensive Operation 12 August 1943 - 23 August 1943
Aftermath[edit | edit source]
Losses for the operation are difficult to establish. Soviet casualties in the Belgorod–Kharkov sector during this operation were thought to be 71,611 killed and 183,955 wounded; 1,864 tanks and 423 artillery guns were lost. German losses were at least 10,000 killed and 20,000 wounded. German tank losses are estimated at least 8 times lower than Soviet tank losses of 1,864.
Citations and notes[edit | edit source]
- Krivosheev 1997, p. 134.
- Koltunov p. 81.
- Frieser (2007) p. 154
- Glantz & House 1995, p. 297.
- Krivosheev 1997, p. 262.
- Lisitskiy & Bogdanov pp. 6-7
- Keitel p.
- Kharkov is the Russian language name of the city (Kharkiv the Ukrainian one); both Russian and Ukrainian were official languages in the Soviet Union (Source:Language Policy in the Soviet Union by L.A. Grenoble & Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States by Routledge)
- Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union since 1920 till Ukraine declared its independence from the Soviet Union on 24 August 1991 (Source: A History of Ukraine • The Land and Its Peoples, by Paul Robert Magocsi, University of Toronto Press, 2010, ISBN 1442610212 (pages 563/564 & 722/723))
- Glantz & House p. 241.
- Manstein p. 445
- Glantz & House 1995, p. 168.
- Glantz & House 1995, pp. 168–169.
- Glantz & House 1995, p. 169.
- Frieser 2007, p. 196.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 249.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 251.
- Glantz & House 1995, p. 70.
- Frieser 2007, p. 199.
References[edit | edit source]
- Frieser, Karl-Heinz (Ed.) Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg - Vol. 8: Karl-Heinz Frieser, Klaus Schmider, Klaus Schönherr, Gerhard Schreiber, Kristián Ungváry, Bernd Wegner: Die Ostfront 1943/44 - Der Krieg im Osten und an den Nebenfronten, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt München, 2007; ISBN 978-3-421-06235-2 (German)
- Glantz, David Colossus reborn : the Red Army at war : 1941-1943. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press 2005. ISBN
- Glantz, David Soviet military deception in the Second World War. London, England: Routledge (1989). ISBN
- Glantz, David and Jonathon House When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press 1995. ISBN 978-0-7006-0899-7
- Keitel, Wilhelm and Walter Görlitz The memoirs of Field-Marshal Keitel. New York, NY: Stein and Day 1965. ISBN
- Krivosheev, Grigoriy Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century London, Greenhill Books 1997 ISBN 1-85367-280-7
- Lisitskiy, P.I. and S.A. Bogdanov. Military Thought: Upgrading military art during the second period of the Great Patriotic War Jan-March, East View Publications, Gale Group, 2005 
- von Manstein, Erich Lost Victories. St. Paul, MN: Zenith Press, 1982. ISBN
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