1st Donbas Strategic Offensive Operation

The '1st Donbas Strategic Offensive Operation' was a Soviet campaign fought in the Donbas (Donets river basin) between German and Soviet forces on the Eastern Front, and while the Germans contained the Soviet offensive in its northern portion after initial Soviet gains, in its southern portion the Germans pushed the Soviets back to their start line (17 July/2 August 1943).

In July 1943, while the 'Battle of Kursk' was raging to the north in 'Zitadelle', two armies of Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein’s Heeresgruppe 'Süd' in the Donbas confronted two Soviet army groups on a 410-mile (660-km) front. The Stavka had launched two offensives on 17 July in the Dobass, committing 474,220 men and 1,864 tanks and assault guns. In the north, the 'Izyum-Barvenkovo Offensive Operation' against Generaloberst Eberhard von Mackensen’s 1st Panzerarmee involved 202,430 Soviet troops as well as 1,109 tanks and assault guns, and was provided with air support by General Leytenant Vladimir A. Sudets’s 17th Air Army. The Soviets managed to establish bridgeheads several miles deep, but were stopped by a German counter-offensive spearheaded by two Panzer divisions. After 10 days the Soviets cancelled the operation after losing 38,690 men.

In the south, the 'Mius Offensive Operation' deployed 271,790 men with 737 tanks and assault guns in four armies, with air support entrusted to General Leytenant Timofey T. Khryukin’s 8th Air Army against the 11 significantly understrength divisions of General Maximilian de Angelis’s 6th Army. The Soviets achieved a penetration measuring 32 miles (20 km) in width and 9.33 miles (15 km) in depth. This greatly alarmed the German high command and, after initial interference from Adolf Hitler in delaying the movement of German reinforcements, a counter-offensive deploying 258 tanks of five Panzer and Panzergrenadier divisions, including the Waffen-SS divisions 'Das Reich' and 'Totenkopf', was launched on 30 July with the support of General Kurt Pflugbeil’s IV Fliegerkorps. This last provided effective close air support and air interdiction capabilities.

The German onslaught achieved immediate success, encircling five Soviet divisions on the second day. A wild, general rout of the Soviet armies to the Mius river followed. On 2 August, the Germans reached this river at Dmitrievka, regaining their positions after inflicting at least 61,070 casualties on the Soviets, of which 15,303 were listed as killed or missing. Actual Soviet losses were far higher, as the 6th Army took 17,762 prisoners, more than the Soviet total for killed and missing.

In operational terms, the Germans stopped the attacks of two Soviet fronts in their tracks and inflicted at least 99,760 casualties, while themselves losing more than 21,369 men. In strategic terms, the Soviets failed in their objectives but achieved an indirect success by forcing the transfer of German armoured forces from the Kursk salient, smoothing the ground for 'Polkovodets Rumyantsev', the Soviet attack on Kharkov, which was launched on 3 August. The Germans were compelled once more to redeploy their most battleworthy armoured divisions to contain this more immediate threat, which the Soviets exploited by launching the successful '2nd Donbas Strategic Offensive Offensive' in the Donets river region on 13 August.