Aleksandriya-Znamenka Offensive Operation

The 'Aleksandriya-Znamenka Offensive Operation' was the Soviet ninth of the 10 sub-operations together constituting the 'Lower Dniepr Strategic Offensive Operation' (20 November/23 December 1943).

These sub-operations were the 'Kremenchug Offensive Operation' (26 September/10 October), the 'Melitopol Offensive Operation' (26 September/5 November), the 'Zaporozhye Offensive Operation' (10/14 October), the 'Kremenchug-Pyatikhatka Offensive Operation' (15 October/3 November), the 'Dnepropetrovsk Offensive Operation' (23 October/23 December), the '1st Krivoi Rog Offensive Operation' (14/21 November), the 'Apostolovo Offensive Operation' (14 November/23 December), the 'Nikopol Offensive Operation' (14 November/31 December), the 'Aleksandriya-Znamenka Offensive Operation' and the '2nd Krivoi Rog Offensive Operation' (10/19 December).

In the first stage of the 'Lower Dniepr Strategic Offensive Operation', the 'Kremenchug-Pyatikhatka Offensive Operation' had seen General Ivan S. Konev’s Steppe Front (from 20 October 2nd Ukrainian Front) breaking through the German defensive positions along the junction of Generaloberst Eberhard von Mackensen’s 1st Panzerarmee and General Otto Otto Wöhler’s 8th Army of Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein’s Heeresgruppe 'Süd', and then advancing almost 60 miles (100 in) from the Dniepr river to Krivoi Rog before the Germans could stabilise the situation near Krivoi Rog. The Germans were all too aware, however, that the Soviet penetration still constituted a major threat. This was the situation in which the Soviet high command demanded that Konev’s forces resume the offensive to take Krivoi Rog and at the same time expand their lodgement on the western side of the Dniepr river with an attack toward Znamenka and Kirovograd, both of which were to be liberated. From here the Soviet forces were to advance on a generally north-west axis almost parallel with the Dniepr river.

General Leytenant Mikhail S. Shumilov’s 7th Guards Army, General Leytenant Nikolai A. Gagen’s 57th Army and General Leytenant Mikhail N. Sharokhin’s 37th Army were to undertake the advance toward Krivoi Rog, while General Leytenant Ivan M. Managarov’s 53rd Army, General Polkovnik Pavel A. Rotmistrov’s 5th Guards Tank Army and General Leytenant Aleksei S. Zhadov’s 5th Guards Army were to make the north-westward advance. About 60 miles (100 km) to the north-west, in the area of Cherkassy, General Leytenant Konstantin A. Koroteyev’s 52nd Army seized a small bridgehead on 13 November. After advancing from Kremenchug to Cherkassy along the eastern bank of the Dniepr river, General Leytenant Ivan V. Galanin’s 4th Guards Army then went over to the defensive. As the front’s armies had been involved in major offensive fighting for a period of four months by this time, and had therefore lost many men and much equipment, Konev now made a bold decision: assessing that after the start of a new offensive the Germans would not have the time necessary to cross the Dniepr river, he decided to redeploy the 4th Guards Army from its current defensive positions on the eastern bank of the Dniepr river onto the western bank for commitment in the main attack toward Znamenka.

By the beginning of November, the 8th Army and part of the 1st Panzerarmee were defending in front of the 2nd Ukrainian Front with a total of 14 infantry divisions, six Panzer divisions, one Panzergrenadier division and six Kampfgruppen formed from the remnants of Panzer and infantry divisions which had been effectively destroyed in earlier fighting. On the axis toward Znamenka the German forces were part of General Heinz Ziegler’s III Panzerkorps, General Erhard Raus’s XLVII Panzerkorps and the XI Corps also led by Raus: the three corps had one Panzer division and eight infantry divisions.

On 20 November, the 2nd Ukrainian Front launched its offensive. Since the Soviets had repeatedly tried to achieve success on the Dnepropetrovsk and Krivoi Rog axes, the Germans were expecting renewed Soviet attacks on these same axes and fought with great determination. The battles assumed a grimly protracted nature which resulted in heavy losses but little gains top a maximum depth of between 5 and 6.2 miles (8 and 10 km). At the same time, the blow toward Znamenka and the introduction of a fresh and relatively well-equipped Soviet army in this sector was an unwelcome surprise for the Germans. In this situation, Konev proposed to concentrate the 2nd Ukrainian Front’s main effort in the direction of Aleksandriya and Znamenka with the object of defeating the German forces in the area of ​​Aleksandriya, Znamenka and Chigirin, and then to advance on Kirovograd. To achieve decisive success, Konev ordered the withdrawal of the 5th Guards Tank Army (two tank and two mechanised corps) from the Krivoi Rog axis for a forced-march transfer of almost 60 miles (100 km) in two days to the Znamenka axis.

The resumption of the offensive was scheduled for 12 November, but was then delayed by adverse weather and in fact started on 14 November. It immediately became clear that the Germans had also taken advantage of the delay to strengthen their defences on the Znamenka axis. Thus while they were able to press the Germans back a short distance every day, the Soviets found it impossible to achieve a decisive breakthrough. For this reason, Konev postponed the introduction of the 5th Guards Tank Army into the battle until 23 November. But this army had been seriously weakened in earlier fighting and was also unable to achieve a decisive turning point. The Germans maintained the use of strong counterattacks on a daily basis.

On 25 November, the 5th Guards Tank Army began to achieve greater success with a significant advance toward Znamenka from the west. One tank brigade broke through the front line and penetrated 25 miles (40 km) into the German rear. Linking with substantial partisan forces based in the local forests, this penetration paralysed road traffic between Znamensk and point farther to the west. Several German columns were defeated and then the Soviet armour, with tank-riding partisans, took an important German strongpoint in one of the villages on the approach route of German reserves and held it until 1 December, when advancing Soviet troops relieved it. This and other comparable actions contributed to the general weakening of the German defence.

Between 3 and 6 December, the 7th Guards Army was involved in heavy fighting as it sought to liberate Aleksandriya, and on 5 December two tank corps broke through to the southern outskirts of Znamenka. The battle for this industrial city, which also possessed an important railway junction, from 5 to 9 December and was extremely bitter as many neighbourhoods and industrial facilities changed hands several times, and on each day the Germans delivered as many as 10 counterattacks. With the arrival of their organic infantry formations, the 53rd Army and the 4th Guards Army then joined the battle for Znamenka, and an attack was made on the German rear by a partisan force of up to 3,000 men in five detachments under the command of I. D. Dibrova. It was only by the evening of 9 December that Znamenka had been completely liberated after fighting which had cost the Germans as many as 1,500 men and 23 armoured fighting vehicles.

After the capture of Znamenka, the Soviets continued to develop their offensive toward Kirovograd, and by 12 December reached the distant approaches to this city, in the process enveloping the German defenders from three sides. But the Germans had already created a powerful defensive line for the protection of Kirovograd, and the Soviets rapidly appreciated that they lacked the local strength to succeed in a rapid crushing of the defence. By the introduction of as many as three Panzer divisions on this axis, the Germans were able to check the Soviet offensive. Between 16 and 23 December, the outskirts of Kirovograd were savaged in fierce fighting which cost each side severe losses.

At the same time, the Soviets tried to exploit the fact that the Germans had transferred a large number of their troops from Krivoi Rog to Znamenka to renew their assault on this city with a deep outflanking manoeuvre. But this time, between 10 and 19 December, the Germans halted the Soviet offensive.

In the Dniepr river area, the Soviet troops operated more successfully. Having advanced almost 30 miles (50 km), the 4th Guards Army liberated Chigirin on 12 December, and in the following days completely cleared the German forces from the entire western bank of the Dnieper river. On the front’s extreme right flank, in the period between 13 November and 14 December the 52nd Army led the successful assault on Cherkassy, and then linked with the 4th Guards Army.

In the course of the 'Aleksandriya-Znamenka Offensive Operation', the left-flank forces of the 2nd Ukrainian Front had advanced more than 60 miles (100 km) to the north-west and significantly widened the Soviet penetration into this area into the depth of the positions of Heeresgruppe 'Süd'. The Soviet bridgehead to the south of Kremenchug was turned into the second strategic lodgement across the Dniepr river after that in the Kiev area, and conditions favourable for the quick liberation of the right-bank Ukraine had been created. However, the fierce German resistance did not allow the Soviets to complete the full implementation of their plans for the 'Aleksandriya-Znamenka Offensive Operation' and the previous 'Kremenchug-Pyatikhatka Offensive Operation'. However, it was in these heavy battles that Heeresgruppe 'Süd' suffered the heavy losses that paved the way to this German army group’s defeat in the 'Dniepr-Carpathian Strategic Offensive Operation' during the first four months of 1944.

The Soviet losses were very high. The exact totals are not know, but according to one account between 1 October and 20 December the 2nd Ukrainian Front in all of its operations lost 303,617 men, of whom 77,400 were killed, missing or taken prisoner and 226,217 wounded or taken ill.