Donbas Strategic Offensive Operation

The 'Donbas Strategic Offensive Operation' was a Soviet undertaking on the Eastern Front with the object of liberating the strategically important Donbas area (13 August/22 September 1943).

Comprising a pair of sub-operations, namely the 'Izyum-Barvenkovo Offensive Operation' and the very slightly later 'Mius River Offensive Operation', the 'Donbas Strategic Offensive Operation' began on 13 August with the 'Izyum-Barvenkovo Offensive Operation' by the right wing of General Rodion Ya. Malinovsky’s South-West Front, which forced the Donets river and then, advancing along this river’s western bank, aided the Steppe Front in the liberation of Kharkov.

On 16 August, General Polkovnik Fedor I. Tolbukhin’s South Front troops started its 'Mius River Offensive Operation' and broke through the German 'Mius-Linie' defences along the Mius river. On 30 August, forces of the front liberated Taganrog in combination with a naval operation. General Erich Brandenberger’s XXIX Corps of Generaloberst Karl-Adolf Hollidt’s 6th Army was encircled but succeeded in breaking out, though only at the cost of heavy casualties.

As his Heeresgruppe 'Süd' was threatened with dismemberment and destruction, Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein was authorised, though only with reluctance, by Adolf Hitler to withdraw the army group across the Dniepr river on 15 September.

By 1 September the German forces had already begun to retreat along the entire front in the Donbas. On 5 September, Soviet troops liberated Horlivka and Artemivsk, and on 8 September Stalino, the capital of the Donbas region.

During the course of the German withdrawal, von Manstein ordered the implementation of a scorched earth policy as Soviet partisans hampered the retreating German forces.

The South-West Front on 22 September pushed the retreating Germans behind the Dniepr river at Dnepropetrovsk and Zaporozhye, while the South Front on the same day reached the Molochna river. This ended the 'Donbas Strategic Offensive Operation'.

As a result of this major Soviet victory, the Germans had been forced to fall back more than 225 miles (300 kn) to the line of the Dniepr river and the 'Panther-Wotan-Linie', which was a line of defences that was still under construction. Furthermore, the industrial benefits and the resources of this important economic region were no longer available to Germany, and by 1944 the USSR had resumed its industrial operations in the region. As a by-product of the Soviet offensive, the German forces was also forced to retreat from their 'Gotenkopf' lodgement in Kuban as the Soviet forces advanced toward the Perekop isthmus, which fell into their hands in November 1943 and paved the way to the liberation of eastern Crimea, into which the Kuban forces had been evacuated.