Operation Battle of Radzymin

The 'Battle of Radzymin' was one of a series of Soviet and German engagements between Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Konstantin K. Rokossovsky’s 1st Belorussian Front and Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model’s Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' (1/4 August 1944).

The battle was an element of the 'Lublin-Brest Offensive Operation' at the end of 'Bagration', the Belorussian strategic offensive operation near the town of Radzymin in the vicinity of Warsaw, part of which was a tank battle at Wołomin, the largest tank battle on Polish territory during World War II.

The approach of the Soviet forces toward Warsaw served to trigger the 'Warsaw Uprising' by the Armia Krajowa, which expected to receive Soviet support from across the Vistula river. The battle ended in a Soviet defeat and the encirclement and destruction of the Soviet III Tank Corps; it is unclear to what extent this defeat contributed to the Soviet decision not to aid the Warsaw Uprising.

After advancing into Poland, the 1st Belorussian Front continued its progress toward Warsaw. The 65th Army (12 divisions), together with the attached I Guards Tank Corps, was to advance towards the town of Serock and then outflank Warsaw from the north. The 28th Army (nine divisions), together with the I Mechanised Corps and IX Tank Corps, was advancing directly toward Warsaw and was separated from the 47th Army by the line linking Siedlce and Mińsk Mazowiecki, and from the 65th Army by the line linking Sokołów Podlaski, Węgrów and Radzymin. Both of these Soviet armies, additionally supported by the II and IV Guards Cavalry Corps, were to take part in repelling a German tactical counterattack at Radzymin and Wołomin near Warsaw. At the same time, the 47th Army (10 divisions) was to seize the southern approaches to Praga, seize right-bank Warsaw and cross this river across the bridges in Warsaw or a temporary bridge in Góra Kalwaria. The 70th Army (four divisions) was to follow the 47th Army and serve as a tactical reserve.

At the same time the 1st Belorussian Front’s remaining forces were to support the assault on Warsaw by crossing the Vistula river to the south of the Polish capital near Magnuszew, and outflanking the city from the south and west. The 8th Guards Army (nine divisions) together with the 1st Polish Army (three divisions) and the 69th Army (nine divisions aided by the XI Tank Corps) were to cross the river at Magnuszew.

After Soviet reconnaissance units reached Warsaw late in July, on 1 August the 'Warsaw Uprising' started. Beginning from an area to the south of Mińsk Mazowiecki, General Major Nikolai D. Vedeneyev’s III Tank Corps of the 2nd Tank Army drove to the north through Okuniew and Wołomin to Radzymin, reaching an area only 3 miles (4.8 km) from the strategic bridge over the Narew river at Zegrze.

In response to Vedeneyev’s thrust, the Germans launched a tactical counterattack near Radzymin on 31 July. The counterattack, carried out by four understrength Panzer divisions, was intended to secure the eastern approaches to Warsaw and the Vistula river crossings, and to destroy the 2nd Tank Army’s three tank corps in detail. Under the Model’s leadership, Generalmajor Clemens Betzel’s 4th Panzerdivision, Generalleutnant Hans Källner’s 19th Panzerdivison, Generalmajor Wilhelm Schmalz’s Fallschirmpanzerdivision 'Hermann Göring' and SS-Standartenführer Johannes Mühlenkamp’s 5th SS Panzerdivision 'Wiking' were concentrated from different areas to reach the area of Wołomin between 31 July and 1 August 1944. Although the III Tank Corps defended the initial assaults of the Fallschirmpanzerdivision 'Hermann Göring' and the 19th Panzerdivision, the arrival of the 4th Panzerdivision and the 5th SS Panzerdivision 'Wiking' spelled the end for the isolated and outnumbered Soviet formation.

By 1 August, the leading elements of the 19th Panzerdivision and 5th SS Panzerdivision 'Wiking', closing from the west and east respectively, had met at Okuniew, cutting the III Tank Corps off from the other elements of the 2nd Tank Army. Pressed into the area of Wołomin, the III Tank Corps was encircled and crushed on 3 August 1944. Attempts to reach the isolated tank corps by the VIII Guards Tank Corps and the XVI Tank Corps failed, with the VIII Guards Tank Corps suffering major losses in the attempt. Although Model had planned next to attack the VIII Guards Tank Corps, the withdrawal of the 19th Panzerdivision and Fallschirmpanzerdivision 'Hermann Göring', for the purpose of bolstering the German defences around the Soviet forces' Magnuszew bridgehead, compelled the remaining German forces around Okuniew to go onto the defensive.

For reasons which remain unknown, on 2 August all the Soviet armies that were to have assaulted Warsaw had their orders changed. The 28th, 47th and 65th Armies were ordered to turn to the north and seize the undefended town of Wyszków and the line of the Liwiec river. The 2nd Tank Army was left as it was and had to fight the Germans alone, without the support of the infantry armies. Moreover, the 69th Army was ordered to come to a halt, while General Polkovnik Vasili I. Chuikov’s 8th Guards Army was ordered to halt the assault and await a German counterattack from the direction of Garwolin.

Further fighting continued to 10 August, when the Germans finally withdrew. The Soviet losses had been heavy, but not heavy enough to affect the overall course of their thrust to the vicinity of Warsaw. The III Tank Corps had been destroyed, the VIII Guards Tank Corps also sustained heavy losses, and the XVI Tank Corps took significant losses as well. Overall, the 2nd Tank Army’s losses were significant enough that it had been withdrawn from the front by 5 August.

Altogether, between 1 and 10 August, the 2nd Tank Army lost 409 men killed in action, 1,271 wounded and 589 missing. In addition, it had lost 284 tanks and self-propelled guns, of which some two-fifths were irrecoverable, amounting to the permanent loss of 113 armoured fighting vehicles out of the 679 available to the army on 30 July. After World War II, Soviet propaganda used the example of the 'Battle of Radzymin' as a proof that the German counterattack prevented the Soviet forces from helping the Warsaw Uprising. Some Polish and Western historians have argued that the Soviet assault was halted because Iosif Stalin wanted the Warsaw insurgents, loyal to the Polish government-in-exile that was known for its anti-Soviet stance, to be destroyed.

The Soviets apparently placed no blame on Vedeneev for the encirclement and destruction of his III Tank Corps. Vedeneyev survived the battle and remained in command, and the corps were rebuilt and in November 1944 was honoured by its redesignation as the IX Guards Tank Corps.