2nd Gomel-Rechytsa Offensive Operation

The '2nd Gomel-Rechytsa Offensive Operation' was the Soviet ninth of the 15 sub-operations together constituting the 'Belorussian Strategic Offensive Operation' (10/30 November 1943).

These 16 sub-operations were the '1st Gomel-Rechytsa Offensive Operation' (30 September/30 October), the 'Nevel Offensive Operation' (3/12 October), the '1st Orsha Offensive Operation' (3/26 October), the 'Vitebsk (Riga) Offensive Operation' (18/30 October), the 'Idritsa Offensive Operation' (18/30 October), the 'Pskov Offensive Operation' (18/30 October), the 'Polotsk-Vitebsk Offensive Operation' (2/21 November), the 'Pustoshka-Idritsa Offensive Operation' (2/21 November), the '2nd Gomel-Rechytsa Offensive Operation' (10/30 November), the '2nd Orsha Offensive Operation' (14 November/5 December), the 'Novy Bykhov-Propoysk Offensive Operation' (22/30 November), the 'Kalinkovichi Offensive Operation' (8/11 December), the 'Gorodok Offensive Operation' (13/31 December), the 'Idritsa-Opochka Offensive Operation' (16 December 1943/15 January 1944) and the 'Kalinkovichi Defensive Operation' (20/27 December 1943).

As a result of the operation, the Soviet forces broke through the German line along a 60-mile (100-km) length of the front and advanced about 80 miles (130 km) to the west, thereby becoming a threat to the southern flank of Generalfeldmarschall Ernst Busch’s Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' and interfering with its lines of communication with Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein’s Heeresgruppe 'Süd'. On the morning of 26 November, after a nocturnal battle, the Soviet offensive liberated Gomel.

Following the Soviet forces' huge strategic defeat of the German 'Zitadelle' offensive round Kursk in July 1943, the Soviet high command set its armies the tasks of liberating left-bank Ukraine, forcing of the Dniepr river and the capture of Kiev. For the achievement of these tasks, it was essential that the Soviet forces advance toward Chernigov. The Germans had meanwhile created a powerful grouping of its own forces in the Kiev area, and attempted to speed the construction of the the so-called 'Ostwall', otherwise the 'Panther-Wotan-Stellung'. In September 1943, Soviet troops crossed the Desna river and then the Sozh river, liberated Komarin, and then approached Gomel, in the process liberating Dobruzh and Novobelitsa. The Soviet attempt to drive father forward was unsuccessful, however, as a result of the very effective defences the German had erected around Gomel itself and the presence of a powerful grouping of German forces in the area between the Sozh and Dniepr rivers.

General Konstantin K. Rokossovsky’s Belorussian Front (as the Central Front had been redesignated on 20 October) now included the 48th Army, 65th Army, 61st Army, 11th Army, 63rd Army, 50th Army, 3rd Army, 48th Army and I Guards Tank Corps. At this juncture Rokossovsky decided to undertake the transfer of formations and units in conditions of great secrecy covertly transfer units to Loyev in order to effect a crossing of the Dniepr river in that area and then advance in the direction of Rechytsa, thereby threatening the concentration of German forces in the Gomel area with the possibility of encirclement and subsequent destruction.

General Leytenant Pavel I. Batov, the commander of the 65th Army, decided that he would use the XVIII Corps, XIX Corps, XXVII Corps, I Guards Don Tank Corps, XI Tank Corps, II Guards Cavalry Corps and VII Guards Cavalry Corps to break through the German defences on the line between Lipnyaki and Yastrebka and then to develop the offensive toward Osinovka.

At a slightly later time, a subsidiary attack was to be made by the XLII Corps of General Leytenant Prokofi L. Romanenko’s 48th Army to break through the German defences in the Dniepr river sector between Holmech and Prokisel.

The Soviets launched their main attack on 10 November near Loyev and then, in order to strengthen their assault, on the following day committed the tank and cavalry corps. Soviet troops fought to expand the bridgehead on the right bank of the Dniepr river. On 13 November the subsidiary attack was launched in the area of Holmech, Krasnopolye and Artuki. During the night of 15 November, elements of the XIX Corps liberated Demekhi, thereby cutting the rail and road lines linking Gomel and Kalinkovichi. On 16 November, Soviet troops liberated the village and railway station of Babichi.

It was at this stage of the offensive that the 15th and 16th Guards Tank Brigades of the I Guards Don Tank Corps, together with the 37th Guards Division and the 162nd Division of the XIX Corps, were ordered to make a surprise assault from the area to the north-west of Rechytsa, and by the evening of 16 November the units had seized Ozershchina and were embroiled in combat in the outskirts of Rechytsa. At 04.00 on 17 November, a platoon of three T-34 medium tanks was ordered to leave the forest and move across open terrain to provoke a German artillery response: this allowed the Soviets to fix the position of the German guns, which were then engaged by Soviet artillery. A platoon of tanks, supported by units of the 194th Division, now moved to Rechytsa, in which two of the tanks reached the town centre.

The XLII Corps advanced from the south-east.

The German resistance was centred on the area of ​​the railway station and was eliminated. For two days the Germans tried to regain control of the railway station, but the men of the 2/954th Regiment held firm. The Germans now retreated to the town’s south-eastern outskirts, where they attempted to regain and hold the town’s industrial zone and the railway bridge across the Dniepr river: this railway was now the Germans' sole connection with the force in the Gomel area. However, the Soviet forces managed to defeat the German counterattacks as well as remove demolition charges, and then they overcame fierce resistance and on 21 November captured the bridge.

On the night of 18 November, the 65th Army cut the railway line linking Kalinkovichi and Gomel railway line. Two infantry divisions and two tank brigades of General Major Mikhail F. Panov’s I Guards Tank Corps passed into the rear of the German forces, which compelled a hasty German retreat from Rechytsa, and the last German strongpoint in the area of the railway station was quickly eliminated. By 14.00 the whole of Rechytsa was in Soviet hands.

Building on the success thus gained, part of Romanenko’s 48th Army forced a crossing of the Berezina river at its confluence with the Dniepr river and seized a bridgehead to the south of Zhlobin. Pressing hard on the heels of the retreating Germans, General Leytenant Pavel A. Belov’s 61st Army approached Mozyr. The German defences had thus been penetrated by the left wing of the Belorussian Front along a length of 75 miles (120 km) despite a spate of German counterattack. On the night of 18/19 November the German forces used a force of 20 PzKpfw IV and PzKpfw V Panther battle tanks and Tiger I heavy tanks, supported by infantry, stormed into the village of Korovatichi, overcoming the defences of the 172nd Division. The German armour reached the village’s centre, and here engaged the 41st Artillery Brigade of the Soviet high command reserve. The 160th Tank Regiment, which had earlier held positions between Krasnaya Dubrova and Korovatichi, at 10.30 on 19 November committed a force of 22 T-34 medium tanks and T-70 light tanks against the Germans, who had been checked in the village by anti-tank fire. The battle for Korovatichi continued bloodily for two days and quickly became a hand-to-hand struggle. Each side sustained heavy losses in men and weapons before the last German effort was defeated and the German survivors abandoned Korovatichi.

On 21 November, Gorval was liberated and Soviet forces reached areas in the rear of the German troops in the area of Gomel. On the following day, elements of the 11th Army and the 63rd Army broke through the German defences of the Kostyukovka area to reach the railway line linking Gomel and Zhlobin and also the road linking Gomel and Mogilev. At the same time, the 50th Army and the 3rd Army launched offensive undertakings to the north of Zhlobin, liberated Propoysk, Korma and Zhuravichi, and on 25 November reached the Dniepr river in the area of Novy Bykhov, thereby enveloping Gomel from the north.

By the evening of 25 November, therefore, the Belorussian Front had closed on Gomel from three directions, and the threat of encirclement persuaded the Germans on the night of 26 November to begin a withdrawal from the area between the Sozh and Dniepr rivers. The German retreat headed toward Rechytsa with the object of linking with the remnants of the German grouping in that area, but was met by the 48th Army.

On the morning of 26 November, the Soviet forces in the Gomel area included parts of the 217th Division, Polkovnik Fatykh G. Bulatov’s 96th Division, Polkovnik D. Vorobiev’s 7th Division and General Major Andrei M. Andreyev’s 102nd Division, of which the latter pair entered the town from the south-east. The Soviet flag as soon flying over the town’s principal buildings.

By 30 November, Soviet troops had driven forward to a line linking Potapovka, Hamza, Prudok, Chavusy, the area to the west of Petukhovka, the area to the south of Novy Bykhov, the area to the east of Rogachev and Mozyr, and the area to the south of Yelsk.

It is worth noting that this major success of the Soviet forces was greatly facilitated by the support of Belorussian partisan groups, which struck retreating German troops, destroyed railway tracks, and undertook important tactical reconnaissance.

As noted above, the Soviet success in the '2nd Gomel-Rechytsa Offensive Operation' had witnessed the Belorussian Front advance some 80 miles (130 km), threaten the encirclement the southern flank of Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' and disrupt this formation’s communication with Heeresgruppe 'Süd'. The Belorussian Front had also liberated Gomel, which was a major regional centre, and a large swath of Belorussia, and had also contributed to the success of the advance on Kiev by General Nikolai F. Vatutin’s 1st Ukrainian Front. Effectively pinned by the Belorussian Front, the Germans could not transfer even one division to the Kiev sector. Thus, following three unsuccessful attempts from its southern bridgehead, on 6 November the 1st Ukrainian Front liberated Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, with a blow from its northern bridgehead. This opened the way for the 1st Ukrainian Front to build on its success and on 12 November liberate Zhitomir, which was later lost to a German counter-offensive.

The forces of the Belorussian Front, which became the 1st Belorussian Front on 17 February 1944, meanwhile fought local battles as it improved its starting position and readied itself for its crossing of the Dniepr river.