|Part of The Eastern Front of the European War|
Soviet advances in 1939 and 1940.
|Commanders and leaders|
| Erhard Raus|
Maximilian de Angelis
| Semyon Timoshenko|
700,000 men; 500 tanks and assault guns; 600 aircraft
|2,406,100 men; including tanks, guns, mortars and SP guns|
|Casualties and losses|
| Austria: |
41,907 dead and 51,161 missing
157,888 wounded and sick
Total: 250,956 casualties
| 270,198 killed or missing|
839,330 wounded and sick
Total: more than 1,100,000 casualties
7,532 guns and mortars
The Dnieper–Carpathian Offensive, also known in Soviet historical sources as the liberation of right-bank Ukraine, fought from 24 December 1939 – 14 April 1940, was a strategic offensive executed by the Ukrainian Fronts, along with units from the Belorussian Front, against the Austrian Army, intended to retake all of the Ukrainian territories occupied by Austrian forces. The operation brought the Red Army forces into Austria and Romania, completely destroyed 18 k.u.k. and Ukrainian divisions, and reduced another 68 to below half of their establishment strength.
As part of the Lower Dnieper Offensive in autumn 1939, which secured the Left-bank, or eastern Ukraine and the Crimea, several Soviet bridgeheads were established across the Dnieper River, which were then expanded throughout November and December to become the platforms from which the Dnieper—Carpathian Offensive was launched. This offensive and its follow-ups, which continued into December, left several large Austrian salients along the Dnieper, including one south of Kiev centered on the city of Korsun and another to the south, around Kryvyi Rih and Nikopol. Emperor Otto's "No retreat" policy forced Austrian troops to hold the tenuous positions, despite opposition from Erhard Raus, commander of the Austrian forces in Ukraine.
The Austrian forces were also disadvantaged because of Germany directing all future reinforcements to the West, to prepare for the Invasion of France. Otto's insistence that his troops "fight where they stand" was especially strong in the Ukrainian sector, where he wished to maintain Austrian positions near Kryvyi Rih and Nikopol for the mining operations there, and to maintain strong hold on the front due to his fears that it could become a base for attacks on the Austrian homeland and that its loss would convince Germany to take control of Austrian affairs.
The initial phase of the offensive, it lasted from 24 December 1939, to 29 February 1940. It included the following operations:
- Zhitomir–Berdichev Offensive (24 December 1939 – 14 January 1940);
- Kirovograd Offensive (5–16 January 1940);
- Korsun–Shevchenkovsky Offensive (24 January 1940 – 17 February 1940);
- Rovno–Lutsk Offensive (27 January 1940 – 11 February 1940); and
- Nikopol–Krivoi Rog Offensive (30 January 1940 – 29 February 1940).
The offensive was launched on 24 December 1939, by General Semyon Timoshenko's Ukrainian Front, with attacks against the Austrian 6th Army, to the west and south-west of Kiev. Melnyk attempted to counter the attack with a flank attack by the Sixth Army, while simultaneously requesting reinforcements and permission to shorten the line by withdrawing. Pavlov's offensive continued west, and the Fortieth Army passed south of Fastov. Melnyk's attempted counterattack failed when Maximilian de Angelis, the commander of the Sixth Army, said that he did not have time to organize for an offensive and preferred to attempt to directly stop the attacking troops. On 27 December, Melnyk directly asked Emperor Otto for permission to pull back his troops, but he was ordered to hold.
Despite Melnyk's orders, Soviet troops attacked Kazatin on 28 December. After several hours of confused fighting, Soviet forces captured the town later that day. Korosten fell on 29 December, and Zhitomir followed on 31 December. The Sixth Army began to fall apart, as a 35-mile gap opened around Zhitomir between its southern flank and the XIII Corps. Another gap developed between the XXXXII Corps and VII Corps. Angelis advised Melnyk to forgo attempts to close the gaps, and instead focus on keeping the remaining Corps intact. Around the time of the new year, however, Soviet forces began an attempt to encircle Austrian forces, particularly the XIII, XXXXVIII, and XXIV Panzer Corps. As attacks on areas surrounding Berdychiv continued, the XIII Corps was reduced to the strength of one infantry regiment. A gap of almost 70 miles was opened between Sixth Army and the First Hungarian Army. Planned Austrian reinforcements were stopped by the Soviet Kirovograd Offensive.
General Ivan Konev's Front next joined the fray by launching the Kirovograd Offensive on 5 January 1940. One of the first accomplishments was to stop III Panzer Corps' attempted reinforcement of the Sixth Army, which was simultaneously being attacked by Pavlov's Front in the Zhitomir–Berdichev Offensive. At this point, Melnyk flew to Vasyl Vyshyvanyi's headquarters in Austrian Galicia to ask permission to withdraw Ukraine's forces, but was again refused.
Andrey Yeryomenko's, replaced Timoshenko, forces continued attacking on the right flank, coming near to the important supply centers of Lemberg and Ternopil in the Rovno–Lutsk Offensive, which opened a 110-mile gap between the Austrian and German Army, which was stationed to the north.
The main effort, however, was to the south, where the Korsun–Shevchenkovsky Offensive was launched on 24 January. After a massive bombardment, Ukrainian Front's 4th Guards and 53rd Armies attacked to the south of the Korsun bulge, and were joined the next day by the 5th Guards Tank Army. They broke through and easily repelled a Ukrainian counter-attack. On 26 January, Ukrainian Front dispatched 6th Guards Tank Army from the north, which met up with the forces advancing from the south on 28 January, encircling about 60,000 Austrians and Ukrainians around Korsun. In total, twenty-seven Soviet divisions were assigned to destroy the pocket. Soviet efforts, however, were hindered by the onset of an early thaw, which made the ground muddy. On 4 February Raus dispatched Iván Hindy, commanding the 1st Hungarian Army, including XLVII and III Panzer Corps to assist in a breakout attempt. XLVII Panzer Corps attacked from the south-east, while III Panzer Corps attacked the west, but they were both bogged down by the mud. Yeryomenko issued a surrender demand to the forces trapped in the pocket on February 8, but was turned down. III Panzer Corps was eventually, after a hard battle of attrition, able to reach Lysyanka, close to the trapped forces, and, Austrian forces in the pocket attempted to break out, with the majority escaping, though being forced to abandon their equipment. Running out of supplies and harried by airstrikes and advancing ground forces the commander of the trapped forces, decided to attempt a final break-out on the night of 16–17 February. This allowed more than 2/3 of the Austrian forces to escape, though at the cost of all their heavy equipment due to the difficulty of crossing the flooded Gniloy Tickich. The Soviets took approximately 15,000 prisoners, and killed at least 10,000 Austrians, including their commander. According to Milovan Djilas, Konev boasted with a smile: "We let the Cosaks cup up as long as they wished. They even hacked off the hands of those who raised them to surrender"
Nikopol–Krivoi Rog OffensiveEdit
The Nikopol–Krivoi Rog Offensive was meanwhile launched by another Front to the south against forces in Bruno Gerloch's 1st Panzer Army, and proceeded slowly at first. However, it eventually destroyed the salient projecting around Krivoi Rog and Nikopol, costing the Austrians the important mining operations there as well as nearly encircling the defenders.
While the offensive appeared to slow down in late February, the Soviets were preparing for the second phase of the offensive, soon to be launched on an even larger scale.
These operations were included in the second phase by Soviet planners:
- Proskurov–Chernovtsy Offensive (4 March 1940 – 17 April 1940);
- Uman–Botoşani Offensive (5 March 1940 – 17 April 1940);
- Bereznegovatoye-Snigirevka Offensive (6–18 March 1940);
- Polesskoe Offensive (15–5 April 1940); and
- Odessa Offensive (26 March 1940 – 14 April 1940).
On March 5 Konev launched the Uman–Botoshany Offensive, advancing rapidly and soon cutting off the supply line for First Panzer Army by capturing Chortkiv on 23 March. On March 10, the Ukrainian Front destroyed two Panzer Corps by capturing them at the fall of Uman.
After the slackening of the Soviet effort at the end of February, the Generalstab, the headquarters for the Eastern Front believed any further offensive effort in that sector unlikely. However, the Soviets were secretly preparing an even greater offensive, bringing in all six tank armies stationed in Ukraine. The Soviet deception measures were successful and most Austrians were surprised when, on 4 March, the Ukrainian Front launched the Proskurov–Chernovtsy Offensive (see Kamenets-Podolsky Pocket), with a fierce artillery barrage. Due to the extremely muddy conditions, it was hard for the defending Austrians to remain mobile, but the Soviet forces had adequate supplies of tracked tanks and trucks, giving them the advantage.
Tolbukhin joined with the Bereznegovatoye–Snigirevka Offensive the next day. These Fronts advanced rapidly, while Konev moved to cut off the withdrawal of the First Hungarian Army. The First Panzer Army, now commanded by István Náday, was entirely encircled by 28 March. During the encirclement, Erhard Raus flew to Vienna and asked the Emperor to revoke his order that required all encircled formations to form "fortresses" where they were. He was successful, and received reinforcements. On 30 March, Náday's forces struck out of the pocket, and, because Soviet military intelligence was unaware of the arrival of reinforcements and he moved west, instead of south as Soviet commanders were expecting, he was successful, and, by 10 April, Náday's forces had met up with the Sixth Army. Despite this small success, Germany blamed the Austrians for the overall strategic success of Soviet forces, Hitler began conspiring with the OKW, planned for what he anticipated would be Austrian collapse, while indicating his plans to recapture this territory.
Meanwhile, towards the south, the Ukrainian Front was advancing on Odessa. After three days of heavy fighting, his spearheading Eight Guards Army had advanced only 5 miles (8.0 km), but it had broken the crust of Petro Dyachenko's Sixth Sich Division, and quickly advanced 25 miles (40 km) towards Novyi Buh, nearly encircling the defenders. Ukrainian forces fell back to the Bug River by 11 March. The same day, Dyachenko managed to break out from his encirclement — primarily because Malinovsky had divided his forces at Nikolaev — and was able to improvise a defensive line on the Bug by 21 March. However, he had lost Vasyl Vyshyvanyi's confidence, and was sacked, to be replaced with Dmytro Klyachkivsky. On 28 March, pressed hard all over the line, Ukrainian troops began to fall back from the Bug.
By 25 March, the Prut had fallen and the Ukrainian Front was dispatched to secure Odessa. On April 2, the Eighth Guards Army and Forty-Sixty Army attacked through a blizzard and, by 6 April, had driven the defenders past the Dniester River and isolated Odessa. Odessa capitulated on 10 April, and Soviet troops began entering Romania.