Bereznegovatoye-Snigirevka Offensive Operation

The 'Bereznegovatoye-Snigirevka Offensive Operation' was a Soviet undertaking by the 3rd Ukrainian Front against the 6th Army in the area to the east of Nikolayev in the southern part of Ukraine as the eighth of the 10 sub-operations together constituting the 'Dniepr-Carpathian Strategic Offensive Operation' (6/18 March 1944).

The strategic offensive’s sub-operations were the 'Zhitomir-Berdichev Offensive Operation' (24 December 1943/14 January 1944), the 'Kirovograd Offensive Operation' (5/16 January), the 'Korsun-Shevchenkovsky Offensive Operation' (24 January/17 February), the 'Rovno-Lutsk Offensive Operation (1st Stage)' (27 January/11 February), the 'Nikopol-Krivoi Rog Offensive Operation (2nd Stage)' (30 January/29 February), the 'Proskurov-Chernovtsy Offensive Operation' (4 March/17 April), the 'Uman-Botoşani Offensive Operation' (5 March/17 April), the 'Bereznegovatoye-Snigirevka Offensive Operation', the 'Polesskoye Offensive Operation' (15 March/5 April) and the 'Odessa Offensive Operation' (26 March/14 April).

After Generaloberst Karl-Adolf Hollidt’s 6th Army of Generalfeldmarschall Ewald von Kleist’s Heeresgruppe 'A' had given up its last bridgehead on the eastern side of the Dniepr river at Nikopol and had been defeated in the 'Nikopol-Krivoi Rog Offensive Operation' during February 1944, it retreated behind the Ingulets river, which the German high command had mandated as the German forces' next defensive position. On the night of 3 March, General Polkovnik Vasili I. Chuikov’s 8th Guards Army launched a surprise attack and reached the opposite bank in the area to the west of Shyroke. In order to capitalise on this success, General Rodion Ya. Malinovsky decided that his 3rd Ukrainian Front would effect a breakthrough via Novy Buh with the 8th Guards Army and General Leytenant Vasili V. Glagolev’s 46th Army. General Leytenant Issa A. Pliyev’s Cavalry Mechanised Group 'Pliyev' was to advance via Novy Buh in the rear of the German front and cut off all its formations and units in the area to the east of Nikolayev.

The Soviet offensive was one of several resulting from the Soviet offensive of the winter of 1943/44, and led to a significant Soviet victory. On 29 February, the 3rd Ukrainian Front and 4th Ukrainian Front had completed the German forces in the area of Krivoi Rog in their 'Nikopol-Krivoi Rog Offensive Operation 2nd Stage', during which the German forces had been driven back across the Ingulets river. The Germans assumed that the recent arrival of the spring thaw would now slow the Soviet advance and expected to use the time thus gained to create a solid defence. The Soviets intended to thwart the German plan, however, and therefore decided to continue active operations without a pause. At the start of spring, therefore, three of the four Ukrainian fronts resumed their offensive in the Right-Bank Ukraine: on 4 March, General Nikolai F. Vatutin’s (from 2 March Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Georgi K. Zhukov’s) 1st Ukrainian Front launched the 'Proskurov-Chernovtsy Offensive Operation', on 5 March Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Ivan S. Konev’s 2nd Ukrainian Front launched the 'Uman-Botoşani Offensive Operation' and on 6 March Malinovsky’s 3rd Ukrainian Front was supposed to start its offensive as the 'Bereznegovatoye-Snigirevka Offensive Operation' as an integral part of the second stage of the liberation of the Right-Bank Ukraine and designed to crush the Axis forces in the area of Nikolayev.

According Malinovsky’s plan, the 8th Guards Army and 46th Army were to deliver the main blow toward Novy Bug and, after breaking through the German forward defences, the 8th Guards Army was to launch the Cavalry Mechanised Group 'Pliyev' on the offensive’s second day to liberate Novi Bug, and four days later to reach the line between Burkhanovka and Snigirevka, thereby cutting the Axis forces' line of retreat. To develop its planned success, the 46th Army was to press farther to the west with its XXIII Tank Corps in the van. The front’s other armies were to deliver auxiliary attacks.

It was in a directive of 28 February that the Stavka assigned the task of defeating the Axis forces in the area of Nikolayev to the 3rd Ukrainian Front. This directive ordered the front to force the Ingulets river and in a drive toward Nikolayev clear the southern part of Ukraine of Axis forces between the Ingulets and Yuzhny Bug rivers. For this undertaking, the 3rd Ukrainian Front was significantly strengthened, and by the beginning of the operation comprised General Leytenant Nikolai A. Gagen’s 57th Army, General Leytenant Mikhail N. Sharokin’s 37th Army, General Leytenant Vasili V. Glagolev’s 46th Army, General Polkovnik Vasili I. Chuikov’s 8th Guards Army, General Leytenant Ivan T. Schlemin’s 6th Army, General Polkovnik Vyacheslav Y. Tsvetayev’s 5th Shock Army, General Leytenant Andrei A. Grechko’s 28th Army, General Leytenant Vladimir A. Sudets’s 17th Air Army, General Leytenant Yefim G. Pushkin’s (from 12 March General Major Aleksei O. Akhmanov’s) XXIII Tank Corps, the II Guards Mechanised Corps, the IV Guards Mechanised Corps and the IV Guards Cavalry Corps for a total of 57 infantry and three cavalry divisions. The front had 500,000 men, 573 tanks and self-propelled guns, 7,184 pieces of artillery and mortars, and 593 aircraft, and thus outnumbered its opponents by more than 1.6/1 in armour and 2/1 in artillery. The two sides were approximately equal in numbers of men and aircraft.

By the beginning of March 1944, Generaloberst Karl-Adolf Hollidt’s German 6th Army and General de armatâ Petre Dumitrescu’s Romanian 3rd Army of Generalfeldmarschall Ewald von Kleist’s Heeresgruppe 'A' comprised 33 divisions, a total which included four Panzer and one Panzergrenadier divisions, and these were operating in the area of Bereznegovatoye and Snigirevka area. The German and Romanian forces totalled about 500,000 men, 359 tanks and assault guns, 3,386 pieces of artillery and mortars, and about 600 aircraft.

The Axis forces took emergency measures to strengthen their defences on the overflowing Ingulets river in order to halt any further Soviet offensives and thereby retain what was still left to them in Ukraine. Heeresgruppe 'A' and the 6th Army demanded a stubborn defence on the Ingulets river and at Arkhangelskoye and Dudchino to delay the Soviet advance, and relied on mobile reserves (Generalleutnant Rudolf Freiherr von Waldenfels’s 3rd Panzerdivision and Generalleutnant Maximilian Freiherr von Edelsheim’s 24th Panzerdivision) to handle possible breakthroughs in any sector of the front. The defence was organised on a single-echelon basis with one or two, and occasionally three, lines of trenches. The densest concentration of Axis forces lay in front of the centre of the 3rd Ukrainian Front, and especially checking the bridgeheads seized by the 46th Army and 8th Guards Army.

Hollidt’s 6th Army comprised General Friedrich Kirchner’s LVII Panzerkorps, General Hans Kreysing’s XVII Corps, General Erich Brandenberger’s XXIX Corps, General Friedrich Mieth’s IV Corps, General Maximilian de Angelis’s XLIV Corps and General Maximilian Fretter-Pico’s XXX Corps. Air support was to be provided by Generaloberst Otto Dessloch’s Luftflotte IV. In the event that the Soviet forces managed to break through the Axis forces' first line of defence, von Kleist and Hollidt planned to halt them on intermediate lines (Ingulo-Kamenka, Shevchenkovo, Kazanka, Vladimirovka, Bereznegovatoye, Snigirevka, the Ingulets river and the Ingul river), and only in extreme cases fall back to the line of the Yuzhny Bug river.

As ordered, Malinovsky decided to deliver the main blow with Glagolev’s 46th Army and Chuikov’s 8th Guards Army from their bridgeheads on the right bank of the Ingulets river in general direction of Novy Bug, and then to develop the offensive against the rear of the Axis forces operating to the east of Nikolayev. In the 46th Army’s zone, it was planned to commit the XXIII Tank Corps into the breakthrough, and in the 8th Guards Army’s zone it was planned to commit the Cavalry Mechanised Group 'Pliyev' (IV Guards Mechanised Corps, IV Guards Cavalry Corps and 5th Separate Motorised Brigade), on which Soviet senior commanders pinned great expectations. Pliyev’s force was to concentrate its efforts toward the south and strike at the rear of the Axis forces which might otherwise be able to fall back to the area of Novy Bug, to the east of Nikolayev. Malinovsky’s primary objective was thus to encircle the Axis forces through the exploitation of his mobile forces. At the same time, the Axis forces would certainly expect attacks from the Soviet bridgeheads, so Malinovsky purposefully continued the massing of forces and assets in these areas. Thus the 8th Guards Army was organised two echelons, and the various infantry corps and divisions were similarly organised in two echelons. This concentration therefore increased the Soviet superiority by up to four times in infantry and up to 10 times in artillery, which allowed for the creation of a tactical density of one infantry battalion, 2.5 tanks and self-propelled guns, and 63 pieces of artillery and mortars per kilometre of front.

Gagen’s 57th Army, Sharokhin’s 37th Army, Shlemin’s 6th Army, Tsvetayev’s 5th Shock Army and Grechko’s 28th Army were to deliver auxiliary crushing blows and pin the Axis forces in their offensive zones. The main strength of Sudets’s 17th Air Army was to support the offensive of the 46th Army, 8th Guards Army and the Cavalry Mechanised Group 'Pliyev'.

Only a short preparatory period was offered, so Malinovsky concentrated his efforts on the expansion and consolidation of the shock groups in the bridgeheads, the replenishment of his forces with men, ammunition, food, fuel and lubricants. The supply effort was complicated, however, by what was now the considerable distance between the front line and the rear-area supply dumps, the destruction and damage of railways and their bridges, and the extreme difficulties faced by trucks on unpaved supply routes. The front’s engineering elements built and restored bridges and roads, equipped river crossings, and generally cleared the area. By the beginning of the operation, it had been possible to bring up the minimum amount of matériel required to start the operation. By the end of 5 March, the preparations for the offensive were essentially complete.

The offensive of the 3rd Belorussian Front’s main forces was to begin early in the morning of 6 March with a major artillery preparation. There was thick fog in the offensive’s area, however, and this precluded the delivery of aimed artillery fire, so the artillery preparation was postponed until the weather improved. Only at about 12.00 did the Soviet artillery open fire on the Axis defences and the infantry start to advance. On the same day, the armies on the front’s right and left wings also went over to the offensive. At the same time, it was taken into account that the 1st Ukrainian Front and 2nd Ukrainian Front, to the north-west of the 3rd Ukrainian Front, were also on the attack. As a result of the tight security measures that had been thrown over the Soviet preparations for simultaneous attacks on wide front, the Germans had been misled about the direction of the main attack, which therefore benefitted from complete surprise. Given the stubborn Axis resistance, Malinovsky ordered Pliyev to commit his group to support the 8th Guards Army in breaking through the Axis defences. On the same day, the 6th Army's defences were attacked in other sectors, and this denied the German the opportunity to manoeuvre their forces to maximum effect in repelling the Soviet offensive.

The success of the entire operation depended largely on the speed with which the cavalry mechanised group could advance. Even in the process of concentration, however, the Soviet forces encountered great difficulty when making their assault crossing of the Ingulets river, and this threatened the disruption of the entire plan as the start of the spring’s drift ice constantly threatened to destroy the crossings for cavalry and tanks. Only the sterling efforts of engineering units ensured that the pace required for the operation was maintained: to prevent the destruction of the crossings, the engineers had recourse to the use of explosives to shatter the largest floes and then the use of hooks to divert the remnants under the bridge.

At 22.00 on the operation’s first day, Pliyev took his cavalry mechanised group into the battle. The commitment of this force took the Germans by surprise, and in the next few hours the Cavalry Mechanised Group 'Pliyev' broke through the main defences and penetrated into the operational area. Fighting by day and night, and in off-road conditions, the group fought a continuous battle with scattered German units and, reached Novy Bug in the early morning of 8 March and liberated it after a fleeting battle. Thus the German front was cut.

After capturing Novy Bug, the group wheeled to the south and moved toward Bashtanka, thereby outflanking the main forces of the 6th Army from the north-west. Parts of General Major Ivan V. Tutarinov’s 9th Guards Cavalry Division, the IV Guards Mechanised Corps and General Major Vasili S. Golovskoy’s 30th Cavalry Division entered the outskirts of the town from the east, the north-east and the south and south-west respectively. The railway between Dolinskaya and Nikolayev, which was of great importance for the Axis forces, was cut, and the 6th Army's defensive front was dismembered. The conditions necessary for the envelopment of the Axis forces operating in the area of ​​Bereznegovatoye, Snigirevka and Bashtanka were thus created, and in order to cut the Axis forces' line of retreat to the west, the Cavalry Mechanised Group 'Pliyev' was ordered by Malinovsky to detach the the 5th Separate Motorised Brigade and leave it in the area of Novy Bug, and to press forward with its main strength toward Bashtanka and points farther to the south with progress of at least 12.5 miles (20 km) per day,

In other sectors of the front, the 5th Shock Army, 6th Army and 28th Army continued to break through the Axis forces' defences.

By 11 March, the Cavalry Mechanised Group 'Pliyev' had reached Barmashovo. Appreciating the threat of encirclement, the Germans decided to withdraw their forces across the Yuzhny Bug river. The Soviet forces to continue the offensive and at the same time to contain the encircled German group were not sufficient and thus, on 11 March, Pushkin’s XXIII Tank Corps was placed under the command of Pliyev, who should then have considerably stronger forces at his disposal. As a result of a change in the overall situation, though, the XXIII Tank Corps had to engage on another sector of the front and was thus unable to provide assistance in the encirclement of the 6th Army. In addition, during the evening of 11 March 11, during a raid by German aircraft, Pushkin was killed. On the following day, the advanced units of the Cavalry Mechanised Group 'Pliyev' reached Snigirevka, cutting the 6th Army escape routes, and as a result 13 German divisions were surrounded.

The available Soviet forces were not sufficient for the establishment of a solid perimeter, however, as the main forces of the 8th Guards Army were involved in heavy fighting with two German corps near Vladimirovka and Bashtanka, where the XIII Tank Corps was also involved. In this situation, the Germans decided that their forces encircled near Bereznegovatoye must break out to the west. In subsequent battles, a significant part of the German forces managed to break through the cavalry mechanised group’s forces and retreat behind the Ingul and Yuzhny Bug rivers even though it had to abandon much of its heavier weapons and equipment. Acting in isolation from the front’s other forces, the Cavalry Mechanised Group 'Pliyev' was now suffering an acute shortage of matériel and technical equipment, and in an effort to provide the group with all it needed, aircraft of the 17th Air Army became involved. Particularly distinguished in this undertaking were the pilots of the 262nd Aviation Division, who flew both day and night missions in their Polikarpov Po-2 single-engined light biplanes to deliver fuel for the tanks.

Meanwhile, the 28th Army was operating with success in the front’s southern sector. On 11 March 11, this army’s II Guards Mechanised Corps, commanded by General Major Karp V. Sviridov, liberated Berislav. Continuing to advance along the Dniepr river, the 28th Army liberated Kherson on 13 March, Polkovnik Vasili F. Margelov’s 49th Guards Division and Polkovnik Aleksandr P. Dorofeyev’s 295th Division particularly distinguished themselves .

In its report of 10 March, the 3rd Ukrainian Front’s military council noted that in five days the front had advanced between 6 and 37 miles (10 and 60 km), liberated 200 settlements, defeated seven German divisions, killed as many as 9,000 Germans, taken prisoner 825 Germans, and captured 67 tanks, 175 pieces of artillery and a large quantity of other weapons and equipment. A group of 13 German divisions was under the threat of encirclement and, to complete their destruction, it was necessary for the right-wing formations of the 8th Guards Army to complete a quick advance to the south. But most of this army’s forces were at this time committed in heavy combat with the XXIX Corps and IV Corps in the areas of Vladimirovka and Bashtanka where, since 12 March, the XXIII Tank Corps had been repelling German attacks.

In the afternoon of 12 March, and realising the futility of trying to destroy the breakthrough of the 46th Army and 8th Guards Army with counterattacks in the Bashtanka area, and also fearing the encirclement of four corps in the Bereznegovatoye, Snigirevka and Bashtanka area, von Kleist decided to withdraw the entire 6th Army to the line of the Yuzhny Bug river. Thus elements of the XVII Corps and XLIV Corps broke through to the Yuzhny Bug river and in the direction of Nikolayev, abandoning most of their heavy weapons and equipment. However, a significant part of the German forces, trapped in the Bereznegovatoye and Snigirevka area, was destroyed.

On the front’s right flank, the 57th Army and 37th Army broke through the German defences and captured a number of important railway and road junctions as well as liberating Dolinskaya and Bobrynets. The two armies continued to operate successfully, and pursuing the retreating Germans, on 12 March took the large railway junction at Dolinskaya, and four days later the road junction at Bobrynets.

Back on 11 March, the Stavka had clarified the task of the 3rd Ukrainian Front. This was to cross the Yuzhny Bug river off the march, liberate Nikolayev, Kherson and later Tiraspol and Odessa, and continue the offensive in order to reach the border with Romania. Developing an offensive along the right bank of the river, the 28th Army achieved the sudden seizure of a bridgehead on the lower reaches of the Ingulets river, and on March 13 liberated Kherson, following two days later with the liberations of Bereznegovatoye and Snigirevka.

On 17 March, Malinovsky reported to Iosif Stalin that in the operation between 6 and 16 March 'the 6th Army…was practically completely defeated…The Germans lost 50,659 prisoners and killed, 1,218 guns, 1,012 mortars, 274 tanks, 192 assault guns and much other equipment.'

The Soviet offensive continued. The 57th Army and 37th Army reached the Yuzhny Bug river in the area of ​​Konstantinovka and Voznesensk, and after two days of stubborn fighting, on 24 March the 37th Army liberated Voznesensk, thereby seizing an important bridgehead.

In the 46th Army’s sector, at the cost of tremendous effort, the 394th Division managed to force the Yuzhny Bug river in the area of Troitskoye and on 19 March took a German strongpoint in Andreyevich-Erdelev. In fierce fighting and repelling numerous German counterattacks, the 394th Division defended this bridgehead successfully, and then enlarged it to create a situation favourable for the development of an offensive in this direction.

However, the Soviets found it impossible to force the Yuzhny Bug river off the march along the whole of the offensive’s front. Having managed to withdraw significant forces to the right bank of the river in the Nikolayev area, the Germans organised a solid defence on this advantageous line, and the further advance of the 3rd Ukrainian Front was checked.

During the 'Bereznegovatoye-Snigirevka Offensive Operation', the 3rd Ukrainian Front had inflicted a heavy defeat on the 6th Army, of which nine divisions had been defeated. Hitler removed Hollidt from command on 25 March and replaced him with General Sigfrid Henrici.

The 3rd Ukrainian Front had advanced an average of 87 miles (140 km), liberated a significant territory of the Right-Bank Ukraine between the Ingulets and Yuzhny Bug rivers, and seized an advantageous position for the launch of subsequent offensive operations toward Odessa. The front’s total losses in this undertaking amounted to some 30,000 men.

Continuing the pursuit of the retreating Axis forces along the entire width of its front, on 18 March 18 the 3rd Ukrainian Front reached the approaches to Nikolayev on the confluence of the Yuzhny Bug and Ingul rivers.

The operation had been characterised by short preparation times, the decisive massing of strength on the primary axis of attack, and skilful use of bridgeheads for the delivery of the initial primary strike and simultaneous delivery of two auxiliary strikes, thereby ensuring both operational- and tactical-level surprise. During the operation, an attempt had been made to strike toward the Axis forces' flank in order to encircle a large grouping with forces of one front. The actions of the Cavalry Mechanised Group 'Pliyev' had also played a huge role in this. As a result of its unsuccessful distribution of forces, however, it was not possible to create a strong perimeter round the encirclement, making a German break-out possible: in the eastern sector some two-thirds of the Soviet forces had been involved, leaving only one-third to the eastern sector.

The operation was carried out in difficult conditions. The early spring thaw had greatly impeded Soviet movements and the delivery of matériel and other resources, and also severely limited the use of airfields. The troops had therefore been forced to advance across country rather than along roads.

In an order issued by Stalin on 1 May, the main results of the Soviet spring offensives, including those in the in the Right-Bank Ukraine, were summarised: 'As a result of a successful offensive, the [Soviet forces] reached our state borders for more than 400 km, liberating more than three-quarters of the occupied Soviet land from the [German] yoke. The metal industries of the south, the ore of Krivoi Rog, Kerch and Nikopol, and the fertile lands between the Dnieper and Prut rivers were returned to the homeland. Tens of millions of Soviet people were freed from Fascist slavery. Under the blows of the Red Army, the bloc of Fascist states collapses and collapses. Fear and confusion now reign among Hitler’s Romanian, Hungarian, Finnish and Bulgarian allies.'

Assessing the Soviet offensives and reviewing previous operations on 8 June. Konev said that 'the March operations of the three Ukrainian fronts will go down in history as one of the best operations of the Great Patriotic War…They were a complete surprise to the [Germans].'

In overall terms, therefore, it can be seen that the Germans' belief that the Soviets would not carry out large-scale offensive operations in the conditions of the spring thaw and limited movement capabilities, thus providing the Germans with the time to recover from their winter setbacks, was not justified. The Soviets had correctly assessed the situation and decided to provide the Germans with no respite, but instead determined to defeat the German forces on the southern end of the Eastern Front even before the start of the summer campaign.

The boldness and decisiveness of the plan were embodied with considerable skill in the choice of the main attack axes with a view to the achievement of a common strategic goal, and in determining the immediate and subsequent tasks. The Stavka had organised a high level of co-operation by the three Ukrainian fronts, strengthened them with new formations, taken measures for their rapid replenishment with men, weapons, equipment, ammunition, fuel and food.

Like the 'Proskurov-Chernovtsy Offensive Operation' and the 'Uman-Botoşani Offensive Operation', the 'Bereznegovatoye-Snigirevka Offensive Operation' had been prepared in only a short time and was an example of the emerging Soviet capability for the use of deep-penetration tactics to split the Axis front and open the way for the encirclement and destruction of major groupings. Within this concept, the Soviet forces had skilfully broken through the German defences and pursued the Axis forces in difficult rasputitsa conditions. The Soviet mobile forces, comprising cavalry, tank and mechanised elements, continued to play a huge role in operations. One of the difficult tasks that the advancing troops successfully solved was the crossing of numerous flooded rivers, and the pace of advance for such conditions was extraordinarily high.

While inflicting a heavy defeat on the Axis forces, the Soviets had cleared the land between the Ingulets and Yuzhny Bug rivers and, seizing bridgeheads on the western bank of the Yuzhny Bug river, had secured the position for a direct attack on the German forces in the area westward from Nikolayev to Odessa, and had created conditions suitable for the development of an offensive toward Odessa and the lower reaches of the Dniestr river.

The German forces had suffered heavy losses: the 9th Panzerdivision, 15th Division, 294th Division, 302nd Division, 304th Division and 335th Division had each lost half of their men and almost all of their heavy weapons; the 9th Panzer Division and 16th Panzergrenadierdivision had lost their fighting capacity, and the 125th Division was disbanded. The Soviets took prisoner some 13,600 men.

There are no details of the losses suffered by the Soviet forces.