The spoiling attack is a surprise thrust into the enemy attack preparations. A perfect example of such an operation took place in December 1943 near Kiev.
|The Soviet offensive from July 17 to December 1, 1943.|
After the battle of Kursk the strategic initiative passed on the Soviet side. On September 21 the Dnepr line was reached and on November 6 the Red Army entered Kiev. The First Ukrainian Front intended to envelop Army Group South. The Soviet Front advanced sixty miles to the west, captured the important railroad junction of Fastov, neutralized Zhitomir, and encircled the LIX Armeekorps in Korosten. But a German flank attack by armored units forced the Russians to pull back across the Teterev River. Although Zhitomir was relieved, Fastov remained in enemy hands, and the siege of Korosten continued. The Fourth Panzer Army’s front, which was facing east before the Russian offensive, gave way and was now facing north.
|2. Soviet soldiers entering Kiev.|
Due to a sudden temperature rise snow melted and the subsequent mud immobilized almost everything for a few days. Both Germans and Russians found themselves having an open flank to the west. Because of their inability to close the gap, the Germans extended an open invitation to the Russians, to continue their offensive in order to exploit the success they had hitherto achieved. They had a unique opportunity to execute a wide envelopment out of their assembly area north of Zhitomir. Troop concentrations and road repairs performed behind the hostile lines indicated the imminent resumption of the Soviet offensive which would first threaten the Fourth Panzer Army and subsequently the entire Army Group.
|3. T34 tanks during the Kiev offensive.|
The German Plan and Preparations
|4. General Hermann Balck, |
commander of XXXXVIII Panzerkorps.
The situation called for immediate action, and the Germans therefore decided to avert the threat by striking the flank of the hostile attack preparations with strong panzer forces. The XXXXVIII Panzerkorps, with the:
- 1st Panzer-Division (Eugen Walter Krueger),
- 1st SS-Panzer-Division (Theodor Wisch), and
- 7th Panzer-Division (Hasso von Manteuffel),
was withdrawn from the front and assembled behind the center of the Army sector. Meanwhile the approach routes were reconnoitered, bridges repaired, and the partisan units rampant in the forests dispersed by the security division responsible for this area.
Immediately afterward, the combat elements of all three panzer divisions moved out in broad daylight and marched along the main highway through Zhitomir in order to deceive the enemy into believing that strong forces were being shifted to another sector of the front. According to the plan XIII Armeekorps would launch a secondary attack to attract soviet attention. XIII Armeekorps’ attack would be supported by massed artillery fire. These preparations, as well as the concentration of the panzer-divisions behind XIII Armeekorps were to lead the Russians into assuming that the German attack would continue on the Army’s left wing, exactly where it had bogged down the previous month. The Russians were easily convinced of these intentions because their own reaction in similar situations was identical.
|5. German tanks in Zhitomir in December 1943.|
On December 4 XIII Armeekorps launched a frontal attack supported by 300 rocket launchers. The heavy concentration along with the presence of the panzer-divisions around Zhitomir persuaded the Russians to move their reserves. XXXXVIII Panzerkorps waited until the enemy tank reserves were committed. Then during the night of 5/6 December the Panzerkorps moved to its jump off positions along the Zhitomir-Korosten highway.
At 06:00 hrs., on December 6, the XXXXVIII Panzerkorps advanced east toward the Teteriv River. 1st SS-Panzer-Division turned south and attacked the Russian forces from the rear. The 7th Panzer Division was to cover the Panzerkorps left flank and establish contact with LIX Armeekorps, which was breaking out of encircled Korosten. Completely surprised by this flank attack, the Russians offered little resistance during the first day. The entire flank was crushed and destroyed by the attack from the rear. Within a few hours the German tanks penetrated deep into the enemy artillery emplacements, overran batteries under cover of light ground fog, and destroyed the guns. Since the ground was frozen and covered by only a thin layer of snow, the tanks were able to move quickly and according to schedule. By the end of the first day, the panzer-divisions had advanced fifteen to twenty miles into the enemy's flank, taken numerous prisoners, and captured all of his artillery. The LIX Armeekorps had achieved its break out and established contact with the Panzerkorps. The Zhitomir-Korosten highway and railroad line were once again in German hands.
|7. The German spoiling attack.|
The thrust was continued during the second day. But its momentum was greatly impaired by heavy fog and a breakdown of the 1st SS-Panzer-Division supply system. The enemy resistance remained negligible. As the attack progressed, elements of the XIII Armeekorps gradually joined the Panzerkorps thrust along the sectors in which the flank attack had swept away all enemy opposition. Farther north, however, the LIX Armeekorps was heavily engaged and progressed only step by step.
|8. Panzer IVs in Zhitomir in November 1943.|
It was not until the third day that the first enemy countermeasures were felt. However, armed points of the 1st Panzer-Division reached the Teteriv south of the railroad bridge. The 69th Infanterie-Division, operating on the right wing of XIII Armeekorps, crossed the Teteriv at Radomyshl and joined the panzer corps advance.
|9. The Teteriv River.|
West of the Teteriv, the enemy troops were reduced to a few bridgeheads. During the fourth day, heavy enemy attacks struck at the XIII Armeekorps and XLVIII Panzerkorps sectors. Most of them were checked and territorial gains were made by means of armored counterattacks. By the end of the day, however, the center of XIII Armeekorps was in danger of being overrun.
|10. Hasso von Manteuffel.|
The Germans decided to eliminate the enemy bridgeheads. On the fifth day of the drive the 1st Panzer-Division and the 1st SS-Panzer-Division formed the jaws of a pincers movement intended to annihilate all enemy forces remaining on the west bank of the Teteriv. The7th Panzer Division was to protect the north flank. One bridgehead after another was crushed or reduced. By noon armored points established contact within the perimeter of the fifth and last enemy bridgehead. The bridges were blown up and the bulk of the enemy equipment, together with many prisoners, fell into German hands. The day culminated in an all-out attack by all available panzer forces and strong elements of XIII Armeekorps against those enemy units which had dented the German lines during the preceding day. It ended in their encirclement and annihilation.
The surprise thrust from the defensive penetrated an area forty-five miles in depth and completely destroyed a Russian army. Soviet casualties numbered thousands dead, wounded, or prisoners; more than 200 enemy tanks were destroyed and approximately 800 artillery pieces captured. German losses were light. The front line was shortened and now faced east; it was held by infantry divisions. The XLVIII Panzerkorps was available for another mission. A spoiling attack attempts to strike the enemy while he is most vulnerable, during his preparations for attack in assembly areas and attack positions. Fourth Panzer Army’s spoiling attack succeeded into destroying one Soviet Army and disrupting the enemy’s offensive planning.
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Kirchubel, Robert. Hitler’s Panzer Armies on the Eastern Front. Pen & Sword, 2009.
Lehmann, Rudolf. The Leibstandarte vol. III. J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing, 1990.
Mellenthin, F.W., von. Panzer Battles. University of Oklahoma Press, 1956.
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