German Operations West of Kiev 24 December 1943-31 January 1944
On 24 December 1943, the Red Army launched the first of a series of winter offensives against the German Army Group South under von Manstein, the overall object of which was to liberate western Ukraine from occupation. This first offensive was undertaken by forces of the 1st Ukrainian Front under General Vatutin, and struck the German 4.Panzerarmee commanded by General der Panzertruppen Raus. It is known to Soviet historians as the Zhitomir-Berdichev operation. In the space of three weeks, Vatutin’s troops achieved a spectacular level of success, advancing over 100 kilometres on a wide front and pushing back the 4.Panzerarmee on every sector. They liberated Zhitomir and Berdichev as well as a number of other towns in the region, and by the middle of January, the 1st Ukrainian Front had achieved almost all of its initial objectives. By this time though, von Manstein had brought in the headquarters of the 1.Panzerarmee to help coordinate the defense, and the Germans began to stabilize their shattered front line with a series of counterattacks aimed at the over-extended position of many of the forward Soviet units. These counterattacks, conducted over the following three weeks, succeeded in creating a series of loosely-held pockets, inflicting considerable losses in men and material of the Red Army, and eventually restoring some form of cohesive defensive position. Nevertheless, the limited success von Manstein had achieved was only temporary. The combination of Russian assault and German counterattack had created the preconditions for the next two Soviet winter offensives; the Korsun’-Shevchenkovskii operation and the Rovno-Lutsk operation. For the first time, here is a detailed and well-researched history of the important but neglected operation that was to be the beginning of the liberation of western Ukraine. Based on the unpublished records of the German 1st and 4th Panzer Armies, and supplemented by comprehensive mapping and order of battle data, this book provides an authoritative, detailed, day-by-day account of German operations as they developed in response to the Soviet offensive. It also gives a vivid insight into the planning and decision-making of the German Army field commands in conducting not only a mobile defense, but also a series of counterattacks which, in the final analysis, could do little more than provide a temporary respite in the face of the growing strength and skill of the Red Army. This history is being published in two separate volumes, which together will cover operations that took place between 24 December 1943 and 31 January 1944. This first volume describes events until 9 January 1944, during which period the German forces were pushed back forcibly under the weight of the Soviet offensive, and includes 140 detailed daily situation maps in color to allow the reader to follow operations as they developed day by day. The maps are presented in a separately bound map book to aid the reader’s use of the study. The second volume will cover the period from 10 to 31 January 1944 and will describe the series of counterattacks undertaken by the Germans as they tried desperately to stabilize a situation that had already slipped beyond their control. Together this two volume set comprises a ground-breaking survey which, in the breadth of its scope and the depth of its detail, is likely to set a new standard for future studies of operational combat on the Eastern Front.