Operation Battle of Uman

The 'Battle of Uman' was an encirclement battle fought between Axis and Soviet forces in the area of the Ukrainian city of Uman within the context of the German 'Barbarossa' invasion of the USSR, and led to the destruction of the Soviet 6th and 12th Armies (15 July/8 August 1941).

The battle was known to the Soviets as the 'Uman Defensive Operation', which was an element of the 'Kiev Strategic Defensive Operation', and was fought between part General Polkovnik Mikhail P. Kirponos’s South-West Front, retreating from the Lwów salient, and Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt’s Heeresgruppe 'Süd'.

The Soviet forces were under overall command of Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Semyon M. Budenny’s South-Western Direction, which included Kirponos’s South-West Front and General Ivan V. Tyulenev’s South Front, Subordinate formations included General Leytenant Ivan N. Muzychenko’s 6th Army and General Major Pavel G. Ponedelin’s 12th Army.

In the initial weeks of 'Barbarossa', von Rundstedt’s formations had advanced rapidly to the east, defeating several Soviet mechanised corps at the 'Battle of Brody' on 23/30 June. The armies of the South-West Front were ordered to retreat to the 'Stalin Line', which was the line of fortifications along the previous Soviet/Polish border of 1939. General Eberhard von Mackensen’s III Corps (mot.) and General Werner Kempf’s XLVIII Corps (mot.) of Generaloberst Heinz Guderian’s 1st Panzergruppe penetrated between the Soviet 5th Army and Soviet 6th Army. On 7 July, the XLVIII Corps (mot.) broke through a weak defence on the 'Stalin Line' and began to advance at speed, enveloping the right flank of the 6th Army. A Soviet counterattack was attempted on 9 July in the direction of Berdichev to prevent any farther eastward advance by the 1st Panzergruppe. In fighting which continued until 16 July, Generalmajor Ludwig Crüwell’s 11th Panzerdivision lost 2,000 men, but ultimately the Soviet troops failed and on 16 June the German offensive continued.

Farther to the north, the mobile forces of the III Corps (mot.) also overcame the 'Stalin Line' and reached the approaches to Kiev. von Rundstedt planned to capture Kiev quickly, while Adolf Hitler and the rest of the German high command insisted on a strike to the south, which would guarantee a major encirclement of the Soviet troops in conjunction with the advance of Generaloberst Eugen Ritter von Schobert’s 11th Army. A compromise solution proposed the capture of Belaya Tserkov to be followed by a strike to the south-west in the direction of the 11th Army. Such a decision left the possibility, instead of a strike to the south-west, of a continuation of the offensive from Kiev farther to the east, and thus beyond the Dniepr river. But Kiev was secured by a separate Soviet fortified area, and the communications of the III Corps (mot.) were under attack by the 5th Army.

In the first days of the 'Battle of Uman', therefore, the task of encircling the 6th Army and 12th Army from the north and the east was to be undertaken only by divisions of the XLVIII Corps (mot.). To help these divisions, the third formation of the 1st Panzergruppe, General Gustav von Wietersheim’s XIV Corps (mot.), was redeployed from the south and committed to action between the III Corps (mot.) and XLVIII Corps (mot.) in the direction of Belaya Tserkov.

Infantry formations and units of Generalfeldmarschall Walter von Reichenau’s 6th Army[/er] on the north hastened to replace the advanced armoured formations and units, and General Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel’s 17th Army to the west continued to pursue the retreating forces of the 6th Army and 12th Army. The advance of Schobert’s 11th Army from the Soviet/Romanian border was checked by Soviet counterblows, and its attack from the south toward Vinnitsa was postponed.

By this stage of 'Barbarossa', most of the Soviet forces had been severely depleted as they attempted to pull back from the Soviet/Polish border under heavy Luftwaffe air assaults, and the Soviet mechanised formations and units had been in essence reduced to a single 'corps' in and after the 'Battle of Brody', their mechanised infantry now fighting as conventional infantry. The 6th Army comprised the XXXVII Corps, XLIX Corps and XVI Mechanised Corps, together with a number of divisions and their remnants that were under the direct command of the army. The 12th Army comprised the VIII Corps, XIII Corps and XXIV Mechanised Corps, together with a number of divisions and their remnants that were under the direct command of the army. The II Mechanised Corps, which was transferred from the South Front at the end of July and was in better condition than the mechanized corps of the 6th Army and 12th Army, was under the direct command of the front. There was also the 26th Army, which was a new formation which initially occupied positions between the 6th Army and 12th Army but on 11 July received an order for its command to leave the front but pass its formations and units to the 12th Army and then to take command of the reserves being concentrated on the bank of the Dniepr river to the south of Kiev. On 16 July, the army’s new formations, namely the VI Corps, LXIV Corps and V Cavalry Corps, launched attacks against the XIV Corps (mot.). The 18th Army was originally part of the South Front, whereas the 6th Army and 12th Army were part of the South-West Front until 25 July. The 16th Army comprised the XVII Corps, LV Corps and XVIII Mechanised Corps, was not surrounded but the breakthrough on its sector of the front allowed the 17th Army to outflank the 6th Army and the 12th Army from the south.

The Axis forces were divided into those of the 1st Panzergruppe, which had suffered significant losses in matériel but retained an effective combat capability, and the large German and Romanian infantry formations, which attempted to advance to the east to meet the armoured troops in the area to the north of Crimea, the initial strategic objective of von Rundstedt’s army group.

The 6th Army had only a few of its elements involved in the 'Battle of Uman', and these acted against the 5th Army and the Soviet forces round Kiev. The army comprised the XVII Corps, XXIX Corps, LV Corps and LI Corps, the last supplemented from the Oberkommando des Heeres’s reserve with some of the IV Corps' divisions. The 1st Panzergruppe comprised the III Corps (mot.), XIV Corps (mot.) and XLVIII Corps (mot.). The 17th Army, which included the Slovak Mobile Brigade, comprised the XLIV Corps (initially in the 6th Army), XLIX Gebirgskorps and LII Corps. General Viktor von Schwadler’s Gruppe 'Schwedler was created in the second half of July on the basis of the command of the IV Corps, and at first acted against elements of the 6th Army and 12th Army before being committed between the 1st Panzergruppe and the 6th Army. Finally, on the Axis side, was the Mobile Corps.

Since 15 July, the XLVIII Corps (mot.) had repulsed the counterattacks of the Operational Group 'Berdichev' and resumed the offensive. Generalleutnant Hans-Valentin Hube’s 16th Panzerdivision broke the resistance of the Soviet troops and seized Kazatin, some 15.5 miles (25 km) from Berdichev. On the left, the 11th Panzerdivision reached the gap between Soviet armies, so by 16 July it had made a 43.5-mile (70-km) breakthrough to the south-east. By 18 July, the division had advanced another 31.5 miles (50 km), crossed the Ros river and captured Stavishche. The 16th Panzerdivision, which was forced to repel counterattacks by the 6th Army (XXXVII Corps and Operational Group 'Berdichev'), advanced more slowly, but by 17 July its forward detachment had seized the station at Ros, about 40.5 miles (65 km) from Berdichev, where there was an important Soviet rear services support base. On 18 July, elements of the 6th Army had managed to recapture the station.

Farther to the north, the XIV Corps (mot.) advanced to Belaya Tserkov, but was counterattacked by the 26th Army. This army had possessed no time to prepare its effort fully, and its divisions lacked the time to concentrate. Consequently it could not drive Generalleutnant Alfred Ritter von Hubicki’s 9th Panzerdivision from Belaya Tserkov, but nonetheless managed to retake Fastov and hold it for a short time. The advance of the 26th Army soon stopped, but its attacks contained the mobile units of the 1st Panzergruppe. A similar situation obtained with the Panzer divisions of the III Corps (mot.). Generaloberst Franz Halder, the Oberkommando des Heeres’s chief-of-staff, wrote on 18 July that 'the operation of Heeresgruppe 'Süd' is increasingly losing its shape', and that 'enveloping flank of the 1st Panzergruppe is still hanging about in the area of Berdichev and Belaya Tserkov'. At the same time the 17th Army from the west was approaching too quickly and Halder feared that the imminent encirclement 'cauldron' would not trap significant Soviet forces.

Meanwhile, the 17th Army attempted to implement a trimmed version of the original plan, according to which the Soviet troops were to be surrounded to the west of Vinnitsa. Now, however, the Germans lacked the mobile formations with which to strike at Vinnitsa from the north as such formations were operating to the east of Berdichev, and the 11th Army's offensive from the south was postponed. Therefore, Generalmajor Hans von Tettau’s 24th Division was advancing from the north to Vinnitsa, and on 17 July Generalleutnant Hubert Lanz’s 1st Gebirgsdivision arrived from the south-west and took the bridges across the Yuzhny Bug river. Had the Germans been successful, some 50,000 men of the 12th Army would have been surrounded here, but the Soviet troops regrouped and were bolstered by the arrival of a fresh mountain division from the South Front, and thus managed to contain the advance of the German infantry, and by 21 July to retreat through Vinnitsa across the Yuzhny Bug river.

By 18 July, the Soviet high command had come to realise that they lacked sufficient forces to seal the breakthrough of the 1st Panzergruppe and also restore the defence along the 'Stalin Line'. Budyonny noted that on the right flank of the 6th Army there was a gap of some 55 miles (90 km), which was gradually filled with German troops. As a result, it was decided to withdraw the 6th Army and 12th Army to the line between Belaya Tserkov and Halsyn via Kitay-Gorod, some 50 to 60 miles (80 to 100 km) to the east of the line between Berdichev and Vinnitsa. The South Front’s 18th Army, adjacent to the left flank of the 12th Army, also received an order to withdraw. The retreat was to take place at night and be completed by 21 July. The problem for the Soviets lay in the fact that German armour of the XLVIII Corps (mot.) and XIV Corps (mot.) had already broken through this line. The Soviet high command schemed to solve this problem by the offensive of three infantry corps, which were to strike to the south-west from Kiev. In addition, on 18 July the II Mechanised Corps received an order to redeploy from the South Front to Uman, where it was to challenge the XLVIII Corps (mot.). In its turn, the German high command on 19 July decided to change the 'Barbarossa' plan: instead of attacking toward Moscow, formations of Heeresgruppe 'Nord' were now to strike to the north and south in order to surround the Soviet troops and prevent their withdrawal. The immediate task of Heeresgruppe 'Süd' was the encirclement of the 6th Army and 12th Army in the area to the west of the Dniepr river. At the same time, on 18 July, Halder and the command of Heeresgruppe 'Süd' decided that the attack on Uman would not be sufficient, so the Uman area was thus to become the target of only the right wing of the 1st Panzergruppe, whose the main blow was to be directed farther to the east in the direction of Krivoy Rog.

The second stage of the 26th Army’s first offensive began on 18 July, but like its predecessor ended in failure. As a result of an intercepted radio message, the Germans were forewarned of the attack. As the northern part of the planned Soviet line of retreat remained in German hands, the 6th Army began to retreat to the south-east while preparing a counterattack against the German forces flanking it from the north-east. The counterattacks of the 6th Army and 12th Amy near Orativ and Monastyrysche began on 21 July and forced Generalleutnant Sigfrid Henrici’s 16th Division (mot.) and Hube’s 16th Panzerdivision to go over to the defensive. The II Mechanised Corps, farther to the east, attacked the 11th Panzerdivision and stopped its advance to Uman. By checking the advance of the German strike forces, the Soviet troops were thus able to continue their planned retreat, although the gap with the 26th Army remained. Halder was forced to admit that 'The enemy again found a way to withdraw his troops from the threat of an emerging encirclement.'

The XVIII Mechanised Corps, which was in the reserve of the South Front, was ordered to advance to Uman on 18 July together with the II Mechanised Corps. However, it had to be used to close the gap between the 12th Army and 18th Army that had resulted from the breakthrough of the XLIX Gebirgskorps to Vinnitsa. This breakthrough took the Germans onto the rear of the South Front’s 18th Army. The actions of the XVIII Mechanised Corps covered the flanks of both armies, and allowed the 18th Army to retreat, and its attacks distracted the attention of the XLIX Gebirgskorps and alleviated the situation of the 12th Army near Vinnitsa.

By 25 July, the infantry divisions of Heeresgruppe 'Süd' had come up with the army group’s mobile formations and started to replace them. Near Kiev von Mackensen’s III Corps (mot.) was now began to move to Belaya Tserkov, where its arrival finally crushed another attempt by the 26th Army to restore a continuous front line. Thus the XIV Corps (mot.) was able to continue the offensive in a south-easterly direction. To the north and north-west of Uman, the 16th Division (mot.) and 16th Panzerdivision were now free for other operations, as too was SS-Obergruppenführer Joseph Dietrich’s Leibstandarte SS 'Adolf Hitler' (mot.). As a result, by 31 July the 16th Division (mot.) of the XLVIII Corps (mot.) had captured Talnoye and Novoarkhangel’sk, some 25 miles (40 km) to the east of Uman, and von Hubicki’s 9th Panzerdivision of the XIV Corps (mot.) took Ol’shanka, some 46.5 miles (70 km) to the south-east of Uman. Thus the new line decided by the Soviet command for the retreat of the 6th Army and the 12th Army along the Sinyuha river, was once again pre-empted by the Germans. However, this time the Soviets had left to them nothing with which to parry the German breakthrough as their reserves were completely exhausted. New Armies and divisions, hastily formed by the Soviet high command, were still to the east of the Dniepr river.

To the west of Uman, the command of the XLIX Gebirgskorps launched Generalleutnant Wilhelm Schneckenburger’s fresh 125th Division, which took Gaisin on 25 July. Other elements of the XLIX Gebirgskorps rushed into the breakthrough, and of these it was Lanz’s 1st Gebirgsdivision which achieved the greatest success: on 26 July it advanced 43.5 miles (70 km) to the south-east and found itself in the rear of the Soviet troops. Soviet attempts to restore the situation were not successful. In the fighting of 25/27 July, the XLIX Gbirgskorps defeated the XVIII Mechanised Corps and was thus able to outflank the 12th Army from the south.

On 31 July, the 1st Gebirgsdivision captured Golovanevsk, about 28 miles (45 km) to the south-south-east of Uman. On the same day the Soviets abandoned Uman. The 6th Army and the 12th Army were in an area measuring about 25 by 25 miles (40 by 40 km), surrounded by German troops on all sides but the south. However, the Soviet command still demanded that the two armies attack to the north-east and link with the 26th Army. In fact, the main task of the South-West Direction was the creation of a defensive line along the Dniepr river. The Soviet command mistakenly believed that the Germans would immediately advance to the east, to the crossings over the Dniepr river, so the attacks of the 6th Army and the 12th Army from the flank would hamper them. In fact, the destruction of the 6th Army and the 12th Army was the German forces' main task. By 1 August, the German high command had refused plans for the immediate encirclement of the South Front’s 18th Army in addition to that of the 6th Army and 12th Army, and directed the XLIX Gebirgskorps to the east and north-east of Golovanevsk, along the shortest path to complete the encirclement near Uman.

On the morning of 1 August, the commands of the 6th Army and the 12th Army, whose remnants on 28 July had been combined with the II Mechanised Corps as the Operational Group 'Ponedelin', sent a joint communication to the South Front’s command, copied to Iosef Stalin: 'The situation has become critical. The encirclement of the 6th and 12th Armies is completed. There is a direct threat of the disintegration of the combined combat order of 6th and 12th Armies There are no reserves There is no ammunition, the fuel is running out.'

Tyulenev, the commander of the South Front, assured Stalin that the situation would be restored by a blow toward the Operational Group 'Ponedelin' by the fresh 223rd Division from the north-east and formations of the 18th Army from the south, and at the same time denied that his forces were hampered by any supply difficulties.

On 1 August, the 18th Army attempted to join the Operational Group 'Ponedelin' from the south. But the divisions on the right flank of the XLiX Gebirgskorps repelled the attack of the XVII Corps, and by evening the 18th Army was furthermore attacked by elements of General Kurt von Briesen’s LII Corps and the Hungarian Mobile Corps. The 18th Army’s commander gave the order to retreat to Pervomaysk. At the same time, the XLIX Gebirgskorps' attacks on the Operational Group 'Ponedelin' distracted the Soviet units and allowed the 1st Gebirgsdivision to move still farther to the east.

Only recently formed and and therefore wholly inexperienced, the 223rd Division was caught while preparing for an attack and therefore succumbed to the sudden blow of Generalmajor Friedrich Kühn’s 14th Panzerdivision, and was quickly defeated. A breakthrough toward the Operational Group 'Ponedelin' from the north-east was foiled. Tyulenev continued to believe that only the 'leaked' German groups were acting in this direction, while the main forces of the 1st Panzergruppe had already entered the breakthrough, fanning out to the south and south-east.

On 2 August, the units of the 1st Gebirgsdivision reached the Sinyuha river, where they joined Hubicki’s 9th Panzerdivision of the XIV Corps (mot.). At this time, other parts of the XLVIII Corps (mot.) and XIV Corps (mot.) in heavy fighting repulsed all attempts by the Operational Group 'Ponedelin' to break through to the east and north-east. The ring of the encirclement had been closed, but it was not yet strong. The encirclement was reinforced on the following day by a second linkage, formed when the 16th Panzerdivision met the Hungarian Mobile Corps in Pervomaysk.

The command of the encircled Soviet armies fully realised the severity of the situation and though it requested help it did not receive it. The formations and units of the South Front retreated, and their battle lines were broken on several occasions. The 26th Army was defeated in the battles with the 1st Panzergruppe and retreated to the Dniepr river, and all attempts by the Operational Group 'Ponedelin' to link with it failed. On the night of 2 August Muzychenko, the commander of the 6th Army, requested permission to break out of the encirclement to the south-east, in the direction of the South Front’s 18th Army, but Tyulenev repeatedly ordered it to move to the east, to the junction line on the Sinyuha river, which was firmly occupied by the XLVIII Corps (mot.) and the XIV Corps (mot.). Moreover, farther to the east the offensive of the III Corps (mot.) was developed. On 1/5 August, the Operational Group 'Ponedelin' attacked mainly in this direction, but only some parts of the 6th Army moved to the south and south-east, entering into a head-on battle with the XLIX Gebirgskorps.

On 4 August, in a blow from each side, German troops eliminated the bridgehead which had been captured by General Major Nikolai I. Proshkin’s Operational Group 'Proshkin' on the eastern bank of the Sinyuha river near the village of Ternovka. By the evening of 4 August, the Soviet high command had lost almost all interest in the fate of the remnants of the encircled armies. In his negotiations with Kirponos, the commander of the South-West Front, Stalin demanded the creation of a powerful defensive line along the Dniepr river, and mentioned the fate of the 6th Army and the 12th Army only in response to a question from Kirponos. Formally, on 6 August another Soviet offensive towards Uman from the north-east was planned, but in reality the armies were left to their own devices. In the south, the right flank of the 18th Army was scattered and partially surrounded near Pervomaysk. By 5 August the area of the encirclement still held by the 65,000 or so men of the Soviet forces had shrunk to about 6.2 by 6.2 miles (10 by 10 km), and was entirely swept by German artillery fire.

On the night of 6 August, Soviet troops made a desperate attempt to break out of the Uman encirclement. This time they struck to the south, assuming that it would be sufficient to break through the positions of the XLIX Gebirgskorps to establish contact the 18th Army to the north of Pervomaysk. In fact, Pervomaysk had been lost on 3 August, but the South Front had not reported the fact. The 6th Army planned to effect its break-out by collecting its last few tanks in a 'special task' column. Detachments of Lanz’s 1st Gebirgsdivision and Generalleutnant Karl Eglseer’s 4th Gebirgsdivision failed to stop the night breakthrough, and the Soviet strike forces marched 12.5 miles (20 km) and even took Golovanevsk. Instead of the 18th Army, however, the break-out force encountered General Kurt von Briesen’s LII Corps and Hubicki’s 9th Panzerdivision, and was brought to a peremptory halt. In the course of the break-out, the Soviets suffered heavy losses and by the morning of 7 August had been generally routed, only small groups without heavy weapons managing to exit the encirclement. The 'special task' column was annihilated and Muzychenko, the commander of the 6th Army, was taken prisoner.

During the following night, another break-out was made. This time elements of the predominantly 12th Army and the II Mechanised Corps broke through to the east and north-east. The only part of the undertaking, and then only to a very limited degree, to achieve success was that to the north-east, but again only very small detachments were able to get out of the encirclement. Ponedelin, the commander of the 12th Army, was taken prisoner after his tank was hit and disabled. During the afternoon of 7 August, Soviet troops surrounded in the forests near the villages of Podvysokoye and Kopenkovatoye began to surrender. Beside the commanders of the 6th and 12th Armies, four corps and 11 divisional commanders were taken prisoner.