THE STABILIZATION OF THE FRONT BETWEEN WARSAW AND RIGA UP TO THE END OF AUGUST

(a) The Tank Battle before Warsaw as an Operational Turning Point

Model’s temporary stabilization of the front in the second half of July proved deceptive. At the end of that month a new disaster took shape that put all previous calamities in the shade. This time it was not confined to Army Group Centre but spread like wildfire to the whole eastern front. On 30 July Army Group North was struck by the crisis which Zeitzler, the former chief of staff, had predicted to Hitler. The Soviet 1st Baltic Front broke through at the interface with Army Group Centre and reached the Baltic at Tukums, thereby enclosing Army Group North on the

Baltic Coast. Army Group Centre’s neighbour on the right, Army Group North Ukraine, had also been unable to withstand a new major Soviet offensive. As a result, Model, who had been personally commanding both army groups since 29 June, now had to transfer command of Army Group North Ukraine to Col.-Gen. Josef Harpe. But Harpe too was unable to prevent the breakthrough in Galicia. The front only came to a halt some 200 kilometres further west, along the Vistula and the Carpathians, so that the whole southern flank of Army Group Centre was torn apart. Meanwhile, there were growing signs that Army Group South was also about to face a large-scale offensive by the Red Army. Army Group Centre could therefore no longer expect any reinforcement by units from that quarter. Worst of all, at this very time the German western front in Normandy collapsed. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to break out of their bridgehead, the Allies had achieved the decisive breakthrough at Avranches, and their armoured units were advancing deep into the French hinterland. Hitler’s risky strategy of temporarily shifting the main effort to the west, and then sending the troops freed up after defeat of the invasion to the eastern front, had failed.

The situation of Army Group Centre had also become extremely critical. On the left wing, the connection with Army Group North had been severed by the Soviet advance to the Baltic Coast. Third Armoured Army had to throw all available forces to the north to secure the endangered flank. To the south of Kaunas, Soviet units had broken through at the interface between Fourth Army and Third Armoured Army and had almost reached the German border. On 2 August Wehrmacht units came under fire for the first time on German soil, near the East Prussian town of Schirwindt, from 33rd Army’s 142nd Cannon Artillery Brigade.[1] Most alarming of all, however, was the situation of Second Army, with its southern wing entirely hanging in the air. It was now separated by a gap of around 100 kilometres from Army Group North Ukraine, whose northern wing reached to the bridge over the Vistula at Puiawy. The rear of Second Army, still standing far to the east, was also threatened by a thrust through that gap from the south. Although Second Army’s right wing had meanwhile been swung westwards into the Siedlce area, the distance to the Vistula was still around 60 kilometres, and between Siedlce and Warsaw there were hardly any German troops. In the meantime, Army Group Centre HQ had decided to build a new front along the Vistula. Joining up with Army Group North Ukraine, the new line was intended to run from Poiawy to Warsaw and from there to extend east of the Vistula to create a connection with the right wing of Second Army. On 25 July this task was assigned to Ninth Army, which actually existed only on paper and had first to be replenished by troops yet to be brought in. Following the disaster at Bobruisk, Ninth Army HQhad been withdrawn from the front and moved all the way back to Warsaw, where the formation of a new army was planned. For the time being, ‘Ninth Army’ consisted only of a conglomeration of stand-by and security units, some of which had exotic-sounding names like ‘1st Company 818th Azerbaijani Battalion’ or ‘2nd Company 791st Turkish

Battalion’.[2] The only large unit was the newly assigned 73th Infantry Division, which was still being restructured and trained. It was deployed south-east of Warsaw to protect the district of Praga on the east bank.

Foreign Armies East was alarmed by the developments. In its enemy-situation assessment of 23 July it already assumed that ‘the Soviet command would see the present operations as decisive for the outcome of the war’.[3] It noted with some relief, however, that for the time being the Red Army was conducting the greatly feared thrust on Kovel only in a westerly direction, rather than north-west towards Warsaw and the Baltic Sea. Gehlen’s department nevertheless feared a ‘turn in a general northerly direction’ for a ‘thrust into East Prussia’.[4] Similarly, on 23 July Army Group Centre HQ was already reckoning with the ‘marshalling of forces for the battle for Warsaw’.[5]

After reaching the Vistula near Pulawy, the Soviet 2nd Armoured Army did indeed swing northwards, and on 27 July it began the assault on Warsaw. In it were concentrated some 800 fighting vehicles out of the original total of almost 1,800 tanks and assault guns belonging to the left wing of 1st Belorussian Front.[6] It was followed by 8th Guards Army and 1st Polish Army. Forward and to the right of it, a preliminary attack by XI Armoured Corps, II Guards Cavalry Corps, and 47th Army, directed at the southern flank of the German Second Army at Siedlce, had already begun. The aim of the thrust by 2nd Armoured Army was to cut off Army Group Centre’s retreat westwards.[7] According to Marshal Rokossovsky’s memoirs, the plan was first to neutralize the Warsaw suburb of Praga on the right bank of the Vistula.[8] But clearly the main objective, in accordance with the Stavka directive of 27 July, was a northward thrust, passing by Warsaw on the east, to take possession of the important Narew crossings at Zegrze and Serock.[9] Following the course of the Vistula, the Soviet spearheads could then go on to capture the bridges at Modlin. By doing so, they would cut off the Germans in the Vistula-Narew-Bug river triangle from all possibility of retreat to Warsaw. The Polish capital would fall into the hands of the Red Army like a ripe fruit. Moreover, the whole German hinterland in East Prussia lay unprotected before the advancing Soviet armoured units, since there were practically no Wehrmacht forces between Warsaw and the Baltic.

The attack by 2nd Armoured Army in the direction of Warsaw, which began on 27 July, initially encountered a vacuum. The Soviet forces broke through the thin German blocking line the following day, severing the connection between Second Army and the still rudimentary Ninth Army. In this phase only the Luftwaffe was able to intervene by deploying ground-attack aircraft. On 29 July the Soviet 2nd Armoured Army crossed the important Warsaw-Siedlce highway, advancing with three armoured corps. On the left wing, XVI Armoured Corps pushed along the Vistula directly towards the Warsaw suburb of Praga, but was stopped at first by the German 73th Infantry Division. Less resistance was encountered in the centre by VIII Guards Armoured Corps in its advance towards Okuniew. On the right wing, III Armoured Corps was able to advance northwards almost unopposed, and on 30 July it reached Radzymin, approximately 15 kilometres north-east ofWarsaw. The Soviet armoured units were thus already deep in the rear of the German front and only about 3 kilometres from the important bridge over the Narew at Zegrze. On 31 July Siedlce, the southern cornerstone of Second Army’s defensive front, was lost.

The decisive escalation of the crisis came on 1 August. On that day 8th Guards Army, commanded by Col.-Gen. Vasily Ivanovich Chuikov, crossed the Vistula at Magnuszew, south of Warsaw, and established a bridgehead. Ninth Army, with its insufficient forces, now faced the task of blocking a second bridgehead in addition to the one at Pulawy. Above all, 1 August 1944 saw the beginning of the Warsaw Uprising, an event which has since occupied the attention of many historians. The situation in the rear ofthe German front-line units was now extremely critical, since Warsaw was a central node for road and rail traffic. The crucial supply lines of Second, Fourth, and Ninth Armies passed through the city, in which numerous rear supply facilities, hospitals, arms factories, and so on were also located. So the German operations staffs also feared logistic collapse. The disaster facing Army Group Centre, threatened with being completely cut off, seemed almost inevitable. In this phase, the Warsaw area was not only the decisive basis of Army Group Centre’s lines of supply and retreat, but also, according to German enemy intelligence, the springboard for continuation of the Soviet offensive towards the Baltic Sea. Given the alarming prospect of the amputation of the whole of the eastern front’s northern wing, Warsaw was of strategic importance. From the German viewpoint, therefore, 1 August was the fateful day, since the eastern front threatened to collapse like a house of cards.

What now followed was a complete surprise. As if from nowhere, four German armoured divisions launched a sudden concentric attack on the area to the east of Warsaw, and the Soviet armoured units which had thrust forward in a preliminary attack were caught in the trap. The situation of Army Group Centre in July 1944 was similar to that of Army Group South on the Donets in February 1943, when the southern wing of the eastern front was threatened with encirclement and a ‘super-Stalingrad’. On that occasion Manstein had gained an armoured army as a mobile reserve by shortening the front, and had deployed it in a counter-blow after a wide-ranging castling movement.[10] Exactly the same situation repeated itself in

Map V.ii.2. Operation bagration: the Soviet offensive against Army Group Centre (22 June to 29 August 1944)

Sources: OKH situation maps, 22.6, 17.7, 31.7, 29.8.1944, BA-MA, Kart RH 2057/1064, 1089, 1104, 1140.

Map V.ii.3. Assessment of Soviet offensive planning by Foreign Armies East

Map V.ii.4. Rival defensive concepts in the summer of 1944

Source'. OKH situation map, BA-MA, Kart RH 2 Ost/1064.

Map V.ii.5. Comparative strength for Operation bagration on 22 June 1944

Map V.ii.6. The collapse of Army Group Centre (22 June to 4 July 1944)

Sources: GenStdH, op. maps 22.6-4.7.1944, BA-MA, RH 60/v. 36; A.Gr. Centre, situation maps, 28.6.—2.7.1944, BA-MA, Kart RH 2 Ost/2220—2226.

Map V.ii.7. The encirclement of LIII Army Corps (Third Armoured Army) in Vitebsk (22 to 27 June 1944)

Sources: OKH situation maps, 22.6.—27.6.1944, BA-MA, Kart RH 2 Ost/2714-2719; Sixteenth Army situation maps, RH 20-16/404 K; Third Armd.Army situation maps, BA-MA, RH 21-3/387 K; IXA.C. situation maps, BA-MA, RH 24-9/122 K; KTB VI A.C., BA-MA, RH 24-6/185, 187.

Map V.ii.8. The encirclement and partial breakout of Ninth Army at Bobruisk (22 June to 1 July 1944)

Sources: OKH situation maps, 22.6.-2.7.1944, BA-MA, Kart RH 2 Ost/2714-2727; AOK 9, KTB No. 10, 1.1.-10.7.1944, RH 20-9/176; AOK 9, combat report 24.6-10.7.1944, RH 20-9/636.

Map V.ii.9. Zeitzler’s plan for saving the northern section of the eastern front (end of June 1944)

Source: OKH situation map, BA-MA, Kart RH 2 Ost/1072.

Map V.ii.10. The relief attack on Vilnius on 13 July 1944

Source-. PzAOK 3, KTB No. 8, BA-MA, RH 21-3/v. 348; App. 1a, RH 21-3/v. 387 K; App. 1c, RH 21-3/v. 518 K; OKH Mil. Hist. Dept., RH 60/v. 35.

the summer of 1944 before Warsaw, although this time everything went much faster. Model had no time left to argue with Hitler for operational freedom of action. He simply took it for granted. In the given crisis, he had no alternative but to scrap Hitler’s rigid principle of linear defence and, like Manstein, pursue free combat in the rear. Model too took remarkably bold risks, withdrawing three armoured divisions from his army group’s shaky front for a counter-attack, which could only be done by yielding territory. In addition, Armoured Paratroop Division ‘Hermann Gbring’ had just arrived in Warsaw. Together, these four armoured divisions possessed 223 tanks, plus 54 assault guns and tank destroyers. Those figures are purely theoretical, however, since the divisions in question did not arrive all at the same time but one after the other, and sometimes had to be withdrawn again at the height of the battle in order to ‘put a fire out’ at other places on the front. On the other side, 2nd Armoured Army had around 800 tanks and assault guns, although an unknown number had been lost in the meantime. The initial armoured strength of the Germans divisions on 2 August was as follows:[11]

  • • 19th Armoured Division: 26 Panzer IVs, 26 Panzer Vs, 18 light tank destroyers;
  • • Armoured Paratroop Division ‘Hermann Gbring’: 35 Panzer IVs, 5 Panzer Vs, 23 Panzerjager IVs;
  • • SS Armoured Division ‘Viking’: 8 Panzer IVs, 45 Panzer Vs, 13 assault guns;
  • • 4th Armoured Division: 40 Panzer IVs, 38 Panzer Vs.

According to Model’s operational plan, the first phase was to be a pincer attack on Okuniew to cut off the rear of the Soviet III Armoured Corps, which had advanced far to the north. The second phase was to be a concentrated attack by the four armoured divisions to destroy the units ofthe encircled Soviet corps. After that, the plan was to attack VIII Guards Armoured Corps, and finally XVI Armoured Corps. The assembly phase was the most complicated, however, since the four armoured divisions were located in completely different front sectors, from which they had to be withdrawn. Once that was done, they were to be shifted in a castling manoeuvre to the area east of Warsaw, and then to attack simultaneously from the four points of the compass. Given the far greater strength of the enemy, the right troops had to be concentrated in the right place at exactly the right time. The encirclement manoeuvre was extremely difficult to coordinate at operational level. Owing to the rapid course of events, tactical implementation could be carried out successfully only by officers trained in mission-type command. Knowing how much depended on the success of the operation, Field Marshal Model led the attack himself, leading his troops from the front.

At first only Armoured Paratroop Division ‘Hermann Gbring’ was available, having just arrived in Warsaw from Italy. Although the bulk of the division was temporarily classified as ‘inoperational’,[12] on 28 and 29 July its few already available tanks were able, together with 73 rd Infantry Division, to prevent the Warsaw suburb of Praga from being taken in short order by the advance troops of the Soviet 2nd Armoured Army. In the meantime, 19th Armoured Division had been withdrawn from its sector of the front at Biafystok. Its first units arrived on 29 July, just in time to stop the Soviet tanks a little way short of the important Narew bridge at Zegzre. In a combined pincer attack, SS Armoured Division ‘Viking’ and 4th Armoured Division had just stopped the enemy forces which had broken through at Kleszczele. Now they too were hastily withdrawn from the front and reached the new deployment zone on 31 July and 2 August respectively.

The tank battle before Warsaw began on 1 August with a pincer attack on Okuniew. The spearheads of a combat group of 19th Armoured Division attacking from the west, and SS Armoured Division ‘Viking’ from the east, met to the north of Okuniew at 19.15, thereby cutting off the Soviet III Armoured Corps, which had advanced as far north as Radzymin. The attack by 4th Armoured Division, which had just arrived in the area, and by parts of 19th Armoured Division, was led by Field Marshal Model in person. The tank battle reached its climax on 3 August, when the Soviet III Armoured Corps was tightly concentrated in the area of Wofomin. The four German armoured divisions attacked concentrically from four directions: 4th Armoured Division from the north-east, SS Armoured Division ‘Viking’ from the south-east, Armoured Paratroop Division ‘Hermann Gbring’ from the south-west, and 19th Armoured Division from the north-west. That day most of the Soviet units in the Wofomin area were destroyed, and the noise of the battle could be heard as far away as the centre of Warsaw. The next day, 4 August, the remaining sections of the Soviet 2nd Armoured Army were attacked, together with 47th Army, which had rushed to its assistance. The fighting was concentrated on Okuniew, where the Soviet VIII Guards Armoured Corps had taken up position. The plan had been to enclose and destroy that major formation too, but more bad news had since arrived from other sectors of the front. That same day 19th Armoured Division had to be withdrawn, and the following day it was the turn of Armoured Paratroop Division ‘Hermann Gbring’. One after the other, the two divisions set off round the contested city of Warsaw towards Magnuszew to attack the Soviet bridgehead west of the Vistula, where 8th Guards Army, supported by 1st Polish Army and strong armoured forces, was trying to enlarge the bridgehead. In the evening of 4 August the German units at Okuniew went back on the defensive. The purpose of the operation—to prevent the enemy from advancing into the area east of Warsaw by means of ‘offensive defence’—had been achieved.[13]

It was probably the still continuing controversy about the Warsaw Uprising, which began at the same time, that cast Model’s counter-blow into the historiographical shade. Yet that tank battle was, for the Germans, by far the most important action during the bagration offensive. Without that successful counter-attack before Warsaw, Army Group Centre’s front would probably have collapsed and the Soviet armour would have been able to advance to the Baltic Sea unimpeded. With regard to the starting position and course of the operation, the tank battle before Warsaw in August 1944 is astonishingly similar to the battle of encirclement at Tannenberg in August 1914. On the earlier occasion Eighth Army, stationed in East Prussia, was attacked frontally by Russia’s Nieman Army, while the Narew Army attacked it in the rear from the south in order to block its retreat to the Vistula and enclose it on the Baltic Coast. Thereupon the strongest German units were withdrawn from the front in a castling manoeuvre and shifted south in a straight line through East Prussia. Four army corps suddenly advanced from four different directions on the area around Tannenberg, where they established a pocket into which the Russian Narew Army marched unsuspectingly. In 1944 an operation on exactly the same lines was carried out some 100 kilometres further south, but this time at top speed. Under Model’s command, four armoured divisions withdrawn from the front thrust into the area to the east of Warsaw, and the advanced units of the Soviet 2nd Armoured Army fell into the trap.

The tank battle was exceptionally fierce, and the Soviet units suffered painful losses. On 4 August 2nd Armoured Army, which had begun the thrust in depth on 22 July with 810 tanks and assault guns, was left with only 263 fighting vehicles.178 III Armoured Corps was completely shattered, VIII Armoured Corps badly hit, and XVI Armoured Corps also incurred considerable losses.179 By 5 August the condition of 2nd Armoured Army was so bad that it had to be withdrawn from the front.

Given the bitter fighting at the gates of Warsaw, it is hard to believe that the Soviet command had from the outset deliberately refrained from taking the city. This raises an interesting point of discussion. According to many Poles, what happened then was a cynical conspiracy, a second Hitler-Stalin pact, whereby the Soviet tanks deliberately stopped outside Warsaw so that Hitler, as Stalin’s

BA-MA RH 20-9/205, and the daily reports in the volumes of annexes RH 20-9/210, 212, 214, 215, 220, and 231; KTB HGr Mitte, 28to31 July 1944, BA-MA RH 19 II/198, and for the period 1 to 5 Aug. 1944, BA-MA RH 19 II/199. The army group’s operational orders for the period in question are contained in file RH 19 II/208. See also Hinze, 19. Infanterie-und Panzer-Division, 678-88; Neumann, Die 4. Panzerdivision, 437-48. In the Soviet literature, this surprising defeat is either ignored or mentioned only in passing. Essentially, there is only an essay by Col.-Gen. Aleksei Ivanovich Radzievsky, who (then a major-general) was replacing the army’s wounded commander-in-chief at the time and led the failed armoured thrust towards Warsaw; see Radzievsky, ‘Na puti k Varshave’, 74-7. On this, see Glantz and House, When Titans Clashed, 212-13, and Glantz, ‘The Failures of Historiography’, 800 ff.

  • 178 Bezymensky, ‘Der sowjetische Vorstoft’, 92.
  • 179 For the German view, see KTB 9. Armee, 3 Aug. 1944, BA-MA RH 20-9/205, 26, fo. 29, and the corresponding daily report in RH 20-9/210, fo. 45. For 4 August there is a very informative daily report from Ninth Army in a Second Army file, BA-MA RH 20-2/951. See also Neumann, Die 4. Panzerdivision, 442, 447.

‘willing executioner’, could liquidate the bourgeois resistance movement. This theory seems inapplicable to the first phase at least, since on 27 July the Soviet 2nd Armoured Army suddenly raced towards Warsaw as if the devil were on its tail. The attack took place so quickly that all the basic military rules were ignored: there was no reconnaissance, no intelligence, no flank protection, no logistic back-up. That is all the more astonishing as, up to that point, Stalin had been remarkable restrained about the thrust on Warsaw which the German high command so feared. Then, all at once, there was a swing to the opposite extreme. Stalin’s change of mind seems plausible, however, since he clearly wanted to forestall the Polish resistance movement. The Red Army was supposed to take Warsaw, or at least the suburb of Praga on the right bank of the Vistula, in short order. Moreover, Soviet units had already crossed the Vistula at Magnuszew and established a bridgehead, which appeared to have created the precondition for enclosing Warsaw from the south as well by means of a second pincer movement. In those circumstances, Model’s counter-strike came as a complete surprise.[14]

This unexpected turn of events, however, led, by a tragic chain of circumstances, to a catastrophe for the Polish capital. The first thing to note is that the Warsaw Uprising, which broke out at the same point in time, is judged in very different ways by Polish historians too. For some, it was a heroic battle for the honour of the nation. For others, it was irresponsible, self-destructive activism.[15] In terms of its objectives, the uprising seems very ambivalent. It was directed militarily against the Germans, but politically against the Soviet Union. The Polish underground army, Armia Krajowa, was strictly anti-Bolshevik, rejecting both Hitler’s regime and Stalin’s rule. Its leaders wanted to liberate the capital with their own hands and so light a beacon for a future sovereign Poland. They began the uprising without any significant logistic reserves, however, assuming that the fighting would last only about three days (in fact it lasted 63 days), and that on the fourth day the Red Army would march in.[16] At first their calculation seemed to make sense, for on 31 July the seemingly unstoppable Soviet troops reached Praga, the eastern suburb of Warsaw. Thereupon the leaders of the uprising decided to start fighting the next day, 1 August. They could not know that the Germans, who seemed already beaten, would then be launching a counter-attack. Even the renowned Soviet enemy intelligence was taken completely by surprise. The tank battle before Warsaw, which resulted in the encirclement and destruction of large parts of the Soviet 2nd Armoured Army, began at exactly the same time as the uprising.

However, after several Soviet armies had arrived as reinforcements, something happened which the insurgents had even less expected: the Red Army units waited—as the Poles see it—at the gates of Warsaw, without doing anything, until the Germans had defeated the uprising. The situation may perhaps be summed up as follows: at first the Soviets wanted to take Warsaw but could not; later, they could have taken Warsaw but no longer wanted to. There are no accessible files in the Soviet archives which could answer the question unambiguously, and so the controversy among historians concerning Stalin’s ‘hold back’ order continues to this day.[17]

The tank battle before Warsaw was a dramatic turning point in Operation BAGRATION. For the first time, the German troops, constantly defeated and on the retreat, reversed the course of events and again achieved a victory. This decisive turnaround clearly showed that the Soviet offensive had, in Clausewitz’s terms, passed its culminating point. After weeks of uninterrupted combat, the Red Army’s troops were exhausted and its supply lines overstretched. A report by Maj.-Gen. Radzievsky, then in command of 2nd Armoured Army in its advance on Warsaw, typifies the situation. On 30 June he radioed his commander-in-chief, Marshal Rokossovsky: ‘I’ll soon be out of breath.’[18] At that very moment he was hit by Model’s counter-attack. Army Group Centre’s front, which had threatened to collapse, was stabilized once again.

From the German point of view, things could have turned out much worse. In mid-June, as already mentioned, Foreign Armies East had feared the Red Army would try to bring about the collapse of the German front at one stroke by means of a decisive offensive from Kovel to the Baltic. Seen from Warsaw, the Kovel salient was only about 250 kilometres away, whereas the distance to the Belorussian balcony, which protruded far to the east, had been around 700 kilometres. The Red Army command nevertheless decided on a frontal offensive from the east. At the decisive moment, however, the Soviet troops were exhausted after struggling through the forests and swamps of Belorussia, and their offensive force was insufficient.

It is worth noting in this connection that, at a situation conference in Moscow on 8 July, Zhukov called for a change in the point of main effort in view of the surprisingly favourable course of the operation. Invoking the plan for an encirclement offensive, Zhukov proposed that the Soviet attacking forces in the central sector turn northwards in the direction of Warsaw and advance on East Prussia.[19] That bold manoeuvre would have cut off the whole northern wing of the German eastern front. Interestingly, the idea was a revival ofthe old Soviet plan drawn up by Boris Mikhailovich Shaposhnikov in 1938 and of Zhukov’s plan of 15 May 1941 for a preventive strike against the assembling German forces.[20] All these operational ideas were inspired by the same geographical determinants, above all, the course of the Vistula. As in 1941, however, Stalin again rejected Zhukov’s proposal. And so both 1st Ukrainian Front and the left wing of 1st Belorussian Front attacked only frontally to the west, with the aim of conquering the territory around

Lvov and Lublin. These two parallel offensives, however, both of which deployed very powerful forces, by no means led to the collapse of the eastern front. Instead, they were brought to a halt frontally at the Carpathians and the Vistula. Significantly, Zhukov dealt resolutely with his dispute with Stalin only in the revised eighth edition of his memoirs. At the time he had called for a pincer-type thrust north-westwards to the Vistula estuary: ‘That could have been done if our troops had been reinforced in time. According to the calculations, 1st Belorussian Front would have needed another 300 to 400 tanks and self-propelled guns, and 2nd Belorussian Front one general army and one armoured army, one rifle corps, and a few armoured and self-propelled gun regiments.’ ‘With those reinforcements,’ Zhukov continues, ‘all three Belorussian fronts would, in my opinion, have been capable of taking East Prussia and advancing to the Vistula, including the Bay of Danzig, or could at the same time have cut East Prussia off from the rest of Germany by means of the thrust to the Vistula.’[21] In retrospect, Zhukov is highly critical of Stalin’s refusal: ‘I believe it was a serious mistake on Stalin’s part, which subsequently made necessary the extremely complicated East Prussian operation that cost us such heavy losses.’[22]

It was not until 27 July 1944 that Rokossovsky was instructed to turn part of the forces on his left wing northwards ‘in the general direction of Warsaw’.[23] Now the thrust came too late. Moreover, it was carried out with only a fraction of the troops which the Red Army could have concentrated in that area if the decisive point of main effort had been moved there in the early summer of 1944. Then—rather than Radzievsky’s 800 fighting vehicles—8,000 tanks, or even more, could have attacked in the direction of Warsaw. Instead, the Red Army spread its huge mass of forces along the whole eastern front, with the point of main effort in the marshy primeval forests of Belorussia. The ease with which the operational breakthrough was achieved at Kovel at the outset shows how much greater a disaster the German eastern army would have suffered if the decision had already been forced at the strategically most effective point in June 1944. But even Radzievsky’s thrust, though no longer carried out with full force, was extremely dangerous from the German viewpoint, since it was directed behind the German front at the wholly unprotected area east of Warsaw. Ultimately, Army Group Centre was saved by Stalin’s decision to have the left wing of 1st Belorussian Front attack first westwards towards Lublin and Pulawy, rather than directly north-west in the direction of Warsaw. That gave Model enough time to stop the exhausted Soviet armoured units at the last moment. And so there was a second ‘miracle on the Vistula’ after that of 1920, when Stalin had been to blame for the Red Army’s decisive defeat in the same place in a counter-attack by Poland’s Marshal Jozef Pilsudski.

  • [1] Geschichte des zweiten Weltkrieges 1939—1945, ix. 80.
  • [2] ‘Meldung der Belegung der Weichsel-Stellung durch 9. Armee vom 26.7.1944’, BA-MARH 19II/216, fo. 35.
  • [3] Fremde Heere Ost, No. 2392/44 gKdos, 23 July 1944, ‘Kurze Beurteilung der Feindlage vom23.7.1944’, BA-MARHD 18/249, 298.
  • [4] Ibid. 298-9.
  • [5] Telex Obkdo. H.Gr. Mitte an OKH, 23 July 1944, BA-MA RH 19 II/298, fo. 83.
  • [6] Petrov, ‘O sozdanii udarnoi gruppirovki’, 85-6. These figures refer to the beginning of theoperation.
  • [7] Glantz and House, When Titans Clashed, 212.
  • [8] Rokossovsky, A Soldier’s Duty, 208.
  • [9] On the interpretation of the Stavka directive, see Bezymensky, ‘Der sowjetische Vorstoft’,91, and Jaczynski, ‘Die Rote Armee an der Weichsel’, 198-9; see also Vasilevsky, Sache des ganzenLebens, 428-9.
  • [10] See Klein and Frieser, ‘Mansteins Gegenschlag’, 13 ff.
  • [11] AOK 9, Ia, ‘Panzer u. Panzerabwehrwaffen, Stand 2.8.1944’, BA-MA RH 20-9/231; AOK 2,Ia No. T 215/44 geh., daily report, 2 Aug. 1944, BA-MA RH 20-2/949.
  • [12] KTB HGr Mitte, 26 Jul. 1944, BA-MA RH 19 II/198, fo. 289.
  • [13] Surprisingly, the literature contains no comprehensive account of the crucial tank battle beforeWarsaw, which coincided with the Warsaw Uprising. One of the reasons must be that Second Army’swar diary is missing for that period. The author was able to examine the almost complete war diaries ofSecond Army when looking through the captured German files in the Moscow special archive. Butprecisely for the crucial days around 1 August (the start of the Warsaw Uprising), the file was missing.It may possibly be located in another, difficult-to-access Russian archive. However, the course of thebattle can be reconstructed by consulting the Second Army volumes of annexes in the BA-MA. Seedaily reports 20 July to 5 Aug. (BA-MA RH 20-2/946-952). See also KTB AOK 9, 28 July to 7 Aug.,
  • [14] According to Guderian’s memoirs (Erinnerungen eines Soldaten, 324), ‘We Germans had theimpression that it was our defence which halted the enemy rather than a Russian desire to sabotage theWarsaw uprising.’
  • [15] See, e.g., Ciechanowski, ‘Die Genese des Aufstandes’, 100—17.
  • [16] Sawicki, ‘Strategie’, 127.
  • [17] On this, see the two collective works Der Warschauer Aufstand 1944 and Die polnischeHeimatarmee. Notable recent works include Borodziej, Der Warschauer Aufstand 1944, and Davies,Rising 44. See also Part V, ChapterIII.1 and ChapterIII.2 of the present volume.
  • [18] Quoted in Bezymensky, ‘Der sowjetische Vorstoft’, 92.
  • [19] Ibid. 90—1; see also Zhukov, Erinnerungen (8th edn.), 259—63.
  • [20] Bezymensky, ‘Der sowjetische Vorstoft’, 91.
  • [21] Zhukov, Erinnerungen (8th edn.), 261. 2 Ibid. 263.
  • [22] 189 Bezymensky, ‘Der sowjetische Vorstoft’, 91; see also Jaczynski, ‘Die Rote Armee an der
  • [23] Weichsel’, 197 ff.; Vasilevsky, Sache des ganzen Lebens, 428—9.
 
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