This was the German break-out to the north-west by part of Generaloberst Hans-Valentin Hube’s 1st Panzerarmee from its encirclement in the area of Kamenets-Podolsky on the Eastern Front (17 March/6 April 1944).
The counterpart of the southern 'Mackensen' and otherwise known as the Battle of Tarnopol, the undertaking took place during the Soviet ‘Proskurov-Chernovtsy Offensive Operation’ and ‘Uman-Botosani Offensive Operation’ of the Dniepr-Carpathian Strategic Offensive Operation' between 4 March and 17 April 1944, and allowed the 1st Panzerarmee to link with Generaloberst Erhard Raus’s 4th Panzerarmee within Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein’s (from 31 March Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model’s) Heeresgruppe ‘Süd’.
In the middle of February 1944 the 1st Panzerarmee was holding the German line in north-western Ukraine, and had recently completed operations to rescue the two corps trapped by the ‘Korsun-Shevchenkovsky Offensive Operation’, which had exhausted General Hermann Breith’s III Panzerkorps. At this time the 1st Panzerarmee comprised four corps, three of which were Panzer formations with 20 Panzer and Panzergrenadier divisions between them. Together with attached units, the 1st Panzerarmee had more than 200,000 men and was the most powerful formation of von Manstein’s army group.
Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Georgi K. Zhukov, commanding the 1st Ukrainian Front, fully appreciated the strategic and operational significance of the the 1st Panzerarmee, and therefore began planning its defeat as a prerequisite of the Soviet effort to encompass the destruction of German forces over the entire south-east sector of the Eastern Front. Zhukov schemed a very substantial offensive using his own 1st Ukrainian Front and General Ivan S. Konev’s 2nd Ukrainian Front. These paired formations, centred on nine field armies and two air armies, was to outflank and encircle the 1st Panzerarmee before crushing the resultant German pocket. The breakthrough operations by the arms that were to be the pincers of the Soviet trap were take place at the extreme north and south of the sector of the front held by Heeresgruppe ‘Süd’.
At this time the Soviet strategy in southern Russia and Ukraine was based on the westward advance of General Polkovnik Pavel A. Kurochkin’s 2nd Belorussian Front along the edge of the Pripyet marshes in the direction of Kovel and Brest, while Zhukov’s 1st Ukrainian Front struck to the south into von Manstein’s rear toward the Dniestr river. Konev’s 2nd Ukrainian Front and General Rodion Ya. Malinovsky’s 3rd Ukrainian Front were to move on parallel south-western axes in the direction of Iaşi and Odessa, while General Fyedor I. Tolbukhin’s 4th Ukrainian Front prepared to take Crimea.
The offensive planned by the Soviets was not unexpected by Heeresgruppe ‘Süd’, for whereas Adolf Hitler was still relying on the combination of the spring thaw’s rasputitsa mud and Soviet exhaustion to give the Germans forces a measure of respite, the troops in the field were well aware that the opposing Soviet forces possessed far greater mobility than they did themselves. The Soviet tank and motorised formations were now considerably better mechanised than their German counterparts, thanks largely to the increasing influx of US trucks with four- and six-wheel drive under Lend-Lease arrangements, and whereas the German motorised formations were tied to the roads, the Soviet troops were able to operate across country in all but the very worst weathers. All the German motorised and infantry formations suffered from an overall lack of motorisation and a deficiency of tracked vehicles and tractors, and were being worsted by an opponent who was more numerous and more mobile.
Their retreats in Ukraine had caused the Germans great losses in both tracked and wheeled vehicles, many of these being abandoned for lack of fuel or because they were awaiting repair and could not be moved, and many others because they could not be extricated from the mud. The protracted movement by road of the Panzer divisions, much of it needless, caused additional heavy vehicle casualties: in this period, for example, Generalleutnant Maximilian Freiherr von Edelsheim’s 24th Panzerdivision lost 1,958 vehicles of all types, which was more than 50% of its establishment, and like many other Panzer divisions was forced to reorganise its supply system on the basis of horse-drawn cart columns; on 8 February, just after it had been turned back from Cherkassy, the division had 335 operative vehicles that were non-runners because they were stuck in the mud.
Heeresgruppe ‘Süd’ had General Otto Wöhler’s 8th Army still in the general area of Zvenigorodka and Uman, the 1st Panzerarmee around Vinnitsa and the 4th Panzerarmee on the extreme left flank in the area of Dubno and Tarnopol. von Manstein was faced with having to decide whether the next Soviet blow would be a frontal assault aimed at securing the crossing places over the Bug river at Vinnitsa and Voznesensk, or an envelopment of his exposed left wing. Fearing envelopment from the north in the gap between his own army group and Generalfeldmarschall Ernst Busch’s Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’, he continued to urge on Generaloberst Kurt Zeitzler, head of the Oberkommando des Heeres, that fresh formations had to be found to occupy this area. Meanwhile, believing the envelopment on the left flank to be the greater danger, he moved all his formation boundaries to the left. General Hermann Breith’s III Panzerkorps and General Hermann Balck’s XLVIII Panzerkorps were withdrawn from their current positions and moved laterally to the left flank in the area of Tarnopol and Proskurov, and von Manstein moved his own headquarters to Lwów behind what he believed to be the decisive sector.
The 4th Panzerarmee had taken over the Rovno area, but Raus commanded only General Arthur Hauffe’s XIII Corps of two infantry divisions and XLVIII Panzerkorps of two Panzer divisions. Immediately to Raus’s south, Hube’s 1st Panzerarmee was located between Shepetovka and Vinnitsa, and had General Friedrich Schulz’s (from 21 March Generalleutnant Edgar Röhricht’s) LIX Corps and Breith’s III Panzerkorps, General Walter Nehring’s XXIV Panzerkorps and General Friedrich Schulz’s XLVI Panzerkorps totalling 16 divisions, of which six were Panzer divisions.
When it came, the Soviet offensive was in neither the left nor the centre, but over the whole of Ukraine.The powerful thrust of Zhukov’s 1st Ukrainian Front on von Manstein’s army group left fell on Raus’s weak 4th Panzerarmee. Here the Soviet strength was six armies of about 40 divisions, two tank armies with a strength of 520 tanks and self-propelled guns, and a further tank army in reserve. On 4 March Zhukov attacked von Manstein’s left wing to the north of the 1st Panzerarmee using General Leytenant Andrei A. Grechko’s 1st Guards Army and General Polkovnik Ivan D. Chernyakhovsky’s 60th Army, and the initial attack was so successful that the 4th Panzerarmee and Schulz’s LIX Corps near Shepetovka, which formed part of the 1st Panzerarmee, were almost overrun.
Two of the Soviet tank armies in reserve, General Leytenant Pavel S. Rybalko’s 3rd Guards Tank Army and General Leytenant Vasili M. Badanov’s 4th Tank Army, were committed to battle the same day. A week later the attack had penetrated to the area of Cherny Ostrov, some 60 miles (100 km) into the German rear, where it was brought to a temporary standstill by the counterattacks of Breith’s III Panzerkorps and Balck’s XLVIII Panzerkorps in a battle which, according to Zhukov, matched that of Kursk in its bitterness.
On 5 March Konev’s 2nd Ukrainian Front attacked from Zvenigorodka to Uman in the area to the south of the 1st Panzerarmee on the left wing of Wöhler’s 8th Army, using in its main thrust General Leytenant Ilya K. Smirnov’s 4th Guards Army, General Leytenant Sergei G. Trofimenko’s 27th Army and General Leytenant Konstantin K. Koroteyev’s 52nd Army, together with General Leytenant Semyon I. Bogdanov’s 2nd Tank Army, General Polkovnik Pavel A. Rotmistrov’s 5th Guards Tank Army and General Leytenant Andrei G. Kravchenko’s 6th Guards Tank Army with only 650 tanks and self-propelled guns between them. General Leytenant Nikolai I. Krylov’s 5th Army and General Leytenant Mikhail S. Shumilov’s 7th Guards Army delivered subsidiary flanking attacks.
The five extended infantry divisions of General Ernst-Eberhard Hell’s VII Corps in Konev’s path were rapidly scattered, and by 10 March Uman had been taken on the Soviet way to the Bug and Dniestr river.
Farther to the east, troops of Malinovsky’s 3rd Ukrainian Front had started to build bridges over the flooded Ingul river and establish bridgeheads on the western side, putting heavy pressure on von Kleist’s forces. Despite its strength, Hube’s 1st Panzerarmee was already in a very dangerous position as it was threatened by encirclement. On its right flank Konev was sweeping by, moving to the south-west in the direction of Romania, and Zhukov was about to envelop its left flank.
On 21 March General Leytenant Mikhail Ye. Katukov’s 1st Tank Army of the 1st Ukrainian Front took up the attack again near Cherny Ostrov over heavily flooded ground, and in three days reached the Dniestr river at Zaleshchiki, where it crossed this major water barrier and approached Kolomna on the Pruth river near the Czechoslovak border. Its neighbouring formation, General Leytenant Dmitri D. Lelyushenko’s 4th Tank Army, said by then to be reduced to an armoured strength of just 60 tanks, took Kamenets-Podolsky in Hube’s rear. Meanwhile General Leytenant Filipp F. Zhmachenko’s 40th Army of Konev’s 2nd Ukrainian Front had turned Hube’s right flank from the south, and by 28 March the 1st Panzerarmee had been completely encircled.
Farther to the south-east, Konev’s 2nd Ukrainian Front had reached the Bug river on a 60-mile (100-km) front without meeting significant resistance and, crossing it without deploying from the line of march, had pressed onward to cross the Dniestr river two days later. On 26 March the 2nd Ukrainian Front reached the Pruth river on a 50-mile (80-km) front, and a week later Konev advanced as far as Panicky in Romania.
Wöhler’s 8th Army and Generalfeldmarschall Ewald von Kleist’s Heeresgruppe ‘A’ in southern Ukraine were threatened with destruction by this deep encirclement in their rear. von Kleist, however, faced a danger closer to hand. On the Black Sea coast Heeresgruppe ‘A’ comprised Generaloberst Erwin Jaenecke’s 17th Army in Crimea, General de armatâ Petre Dumitrescu’s Romanian 3rd Army mainly in Transdniestr with four Romanian, one Slovak and elements of four German divisions, and Generaloberst Karl-Adolf Hollidt’s 6th Army of 21 divisions.
The 3rd Ukrainian Front had taken Apostolovo to the west of Nikopol on 5 February and two days later Nikopol and the remaining German positions on the left bank of the Dniepr river had fallen to Tolbukhin’s 4th Ukrainian Front. On 22 February Malinovsky had taken Krivoi Rog, pushing the 6th Army back to the line of the Ingul river. At the beginning of March the 3rd Ukrainian Front had secured bridgeheads over the flooded river just to the south of Krivoi Rog preparatory to pinning the 6th Army frontally and making a main armoured enveloping thrust through Novy Bug behind Heeresgruppe ‘A’ down to the Black Sea coast in the area to the east of Nikolayev.
This main encircling thrust was to be made by General Leytenant Vasili I. Chuikov’s 8th Guards Army and General Leytenant Vasili V. Glagolev’s 46th Army together with a cavalry mechanised group, while General Leytenant Nikolai A. Gagen’s 57th Army, General Leytenant Mikhail N. Sharokhin’s 37th Army, General Leytenant Ivan T. Shlemin’s 6th Army and General Leytenant Aleksandr I. Luchinsky’s 28th Army, together with General Leytenant Vyacheslav D. Tsvetayev’s 5th Shock Army, pinned von Kleist’s divisions frontally on the line of the Ingul river. The attack began on the morning of 6 March, and by the evening of the same day the Soviet infantry divisions had broken through and and the cavalry mechanised group had been committed to the battle.
Although the Soviet forces took Novy Bug on 8 March, their mobile elements were not strong enough to envelop the defenders. The pinning formations advanced rapidly, however, and on 24 March elements were across the Bug river.
The Soviet high command’s orders to the 3rd Ukrainian Front were then changed to include the seizure of the Black Sea coast from Nikolayev to Odessa and from Odessa to the mouth of the Danube river; the axis of the main mechanised thrust was changed from the armies of Chuikov and Glagolev to that of Sharokhin’s 37th Army and Gagen’s 57th Army toward Tiraspol and Razdelnaya in the Odessa area as these two armies had broken into the rear of the Axis forces and were making the fastest westward progress.
On 19 March von Manstein and von Kleist had been summoned to Obersalzberg in Bavaria, merely to attend the presentation to Hitler of a declaration of loyalty, intended as an answer to the propaganda being put out through Moscow by General Walther von Seydlitz-Kurzbach, who had been captured at the end of the Stalingrad campaign, and the communist-sponsored Free Germany Committee. While the serious nature of the situation in Ukraine was already fully evident to both of the army group commanders, Hitler was entirely out of touch with reality. He declined to allow the 6th Army to withdraw from the line of the lower course of the Bug river, partly because the German navy insisted that Odessa was essential to supply of the forces in Crimea and partly, so he said, to sustain Romanian morale. Hitler would not discuss any future strategic regrouping of the type which would be necessary should Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’ and Heeresgruppe ‘Süd’ become separated, and busied himself with tactical details which took little account of the real nature of the situation.
Since the defeat at Stalingrad in January and February 1943, it had been German policy to keep Romanian and Hungarian troops out of the fighting zones, but in 1944 Hitler was obliged to press these two countries' leaders, Vezérfökapitány Miklós Horthy and Maresal al România Ion Antonescu, to provide him with new formations, even though he knew that the Hungarians were becoming increasingly reluctant to continue the war.
There were six Romanian divisions in Crimea and the Romanian 3rd Army already formed part of Heeresgruppe ‘A’. General de corp de armatâ Mihail Racovita’s newly re-formed Romanian 4th Army had been brought up to the Iaşi area on the old Romanian frontier and the Hungarians had promised to mobilise an army of two corps to hold the passes through the Carpathian mountains.
The speed of the Soviet advance took the Germans entirely by surprise, and great quantities of munitions and equipment were lost. It had originally been intended to fortify and hold the line of the Bug river, but the Soviet forces reached it in several places in advance of the withdrawing German troops. Even after the 6th Army had retired across the river it found itself still threatened by encirclement by the XXIII Tank Corps, the right flanking formation of the 3rd Ukrainian Front, which was moving toward Tiraspol and Odessa, while farther to the west Konev’s 2nd Ukrainian Front was making an even deeper outflanking penetration toward Iaşi.
The Ukrainian railway system maintaining Heeresgruppe ‘A’ and the right wing of Heeresgruppe ‘Süd’ was already in Soviet hands, and henceforth reliance would have to be placed on the relatively inefficient Romanian railway system. von Kleist (together with Wöhler’s 8th Army which had just been transferred to Heeresgruppe ‘A’) was almost completely cut off from von Manstein, so that von Kleist had to turn about to face the Soviet forces to his north-west. On 26 March von Kleist informed Hitler that he would have to withdraw westward from the Bug toward Romania, and was called to account to explain his temerity. When finally forced to agree with the withdrawal proposal, Hitler insisted on the defence of the line of the Tiligul, a small river between the larger Dniestr and Bug rivers, in order to cover the sea communication between Odessa and Crimea.
This was the last opportunity to evacuate Crimea, a course which had been advised by Antonescu long before this moment.
Meanwhile Hitler had agreed to Hube’s proposal that the 200,000-man 1st Panzerarmee, encircled by some 500,000 Soviet troops, should break out to the south, moving down the valley of the Dniestr river toward Tiraspol and the Black Sea. von Manstein, who intended that Hube should break out to the west in the general direction of Lwów to meet the 4th Panzerarmee and together with Raus provide the force to cover the gap to the north of the Carpathian mountains, flew to a meeting with Hitler at the Berghof on 25 March in order to get the order rescinded. Hitler agreed, although only reluctantly, but not before he had heaped on von Manstein charges that the German army was running away without a fight.
The decision as to which direction the break-out was to take was difficult. Hube wanted to move to the south, across the Dniestr river and into Romania. von Manstein knew that such a move would effectively deprive his army group of a Panzerarmee it desperately needed, for a long redeployment would be required in order to move the army from Romania back to his front. Vezérõrnagy Ernö Gyimesy’s weak Hungarian VII Corps was holding a sector of the front to the west of the Kamenets-Podolsky pocket. A break-out to the west would allow the 1st Panzerarmee to rejoin the front almost immediately, and von Manstein ordered Hube to break out to this area to provide support for the Hungarian troops.
In ‘Litzmann’, therefore, Hube’s army was to break out toward Tarnopol, where relief forces, led by SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS Paul Hausser’s II SS Panzerkorps of two SS Panzer divisions moved specially from France for this task, were to meet them. From Kamenets-Podolsky to Tarnopol was a distance of more than 160 miles (250 km) over muddy terrain which also included several rivers. Moreover, the area to the west was that where Hube expected to meet the strongest Soviet resistance. Even so, Hube split his formation into two columns and prepared to head west.
During the morning of 2 April a Soviet ultimatum was delivered to Hube’s headquarters, threatening that if all armed resistance did not cease by nightfall one-third of all German troops subsequently surrendering would be shot out of hand. A second ultimatum followed, stating that all German officers failing to surrender immediately would be shot on capture.
In theory, the encircled 1st Panzerarmee was still a formidable combat entity 1. These and other formations were in fact very much under strength, however: on 8 March, for example, Generalmajor Gottfried Frölich’s (from 1 April Generalmajor Werner Friebe’s) 8th Panzerdivision had only 32 combat-capable tanks. Even so, the 4th Panzerarmee numbered between 200,000 and 300,000 men. As it was impossible to supply so large a force by air, the formation was ordered to obtain its own food by foraging, and only ammunition, vehicle fuel, tank spares and medical supplies were flown in from airfields near Lwów by a transport force of Junkers Ju 52/3m and Heinkel He 111 aircraft diverted from its primary task of assisting in the supply of the 17th Army in Crimea.
An air supply organisation was set up under Generalmajor Fritz Morzik, the Luftwaffe’s most capable air transport officer, with Generaloberst Otto Dessloch’s Luftflotte IV responsible for the overall control of the operation. No German fighters could be allocated as escorts and, as Soviet fighters were very active by day, most supply sorties were therefore flown without escorts at night. As the encircled pocket was continually on the move, frequent problems arose with the selection and preparation of landing strips and dropping zones. Although some landings were made, most of the supplies were air-dropped, this meaning that very few wounded could be evacuated and hospital cases had perforce to be transported with the moving pocket. Although the Soviet anti-aircraft artillery was used most skilfully, there were few German aircraft casualties, and once again the Soviet air forces failed to undertake the destruction of the German air supply airfields.
Even as the Soviet encirclement of the 1st Panzerarmee was beginning, both Hube and von Manstein had appreciated the nature of the considerable threat their formations faced. With the southern flank on the Dniestr river, and the recent Soviet attacks in the north, the 1st Panzerarmee was now in a salient. As noted above, von Manstein had requested that the position be withdrawn to avoid the army’s encirclement, but Hitler had refused, persisting with his concept of ‘no retreat’ from territory which had been taken with German blood. In a matter of days, Zhukov’s and Konev’s forces had crossed the Dniestr river and were poised to complete the encirclement. On 25 March, the last line of communications corridor out of Hube’s bridgehead located on the northern bank of the Dniestr river was severed at Khotyn.
The whole of the 1st Panzerarmee was now encircled in a pocket centred on the city of Kamenets-Podolsky. While the encircled forces had the food and ammunition they needed for more than two weeks of combat, their vehicles were extremely short of fuel. Resupply by the Luftwaffe was hampered by heavy snow, and soon only the combat vehicles were running. Meanwhile, Hube had ordered all of his army’s service units to the south of the Dniestr river to withdraw from from the main Soviet penetration developing to the south on the front of the 2nd Ukrainian Front’s 40th Army. Once he was aware of this movement to the south, Zhukov decided that Hube was in full retreat and would soon attempt a break-out to the south. To prevent this, Zhukov removed units from the encirclement forces and sent them to strengthen the southern side of the pocket. When Hube attempted to attack to the south, therefore, he met increasing resistance from the 2nd Ukrainian Front’s infantry and artillery.
Hube now ordered a reduction of the pocket’s size, thereby shortening its perimeter and thus increasing the density of the defence. Just before the 1st Ukrainian Front had completed the encirclement, Hube had requested from the Oberkommando des Heeres the authority to use mobile defence tactics during the break-out, but this request was quickly refused. However, once the encirclement was complete, the situation was significantly changed. Heavy falls of snow meant that the few supplies which were delivered were insufficient to maintain the fighting strength of the 1st Panzerarmee. The neighbouring German major formations, namely the 8th Army to the south-east and the 4th Panzerarmee to the north-west, were not able to attempt a full-scale relief operation. Then, Zhukov sent a terse ultimatum for the encircled formations to surrender, or every German soldier in the pocket would be shown no quarter.
Hube responded by ordering that the reorganisation of the forces in the Kessel (cauldron, or pocket). The original four corps were dissolved and reconstituted as three Korpsgruppen (corps groups): Gollnick of the XLVI Panzerkorps was to form the Korpsgruppe ‘Gollick’; Breith of the III Panzerkorps was to form the Korpsgruppe ‘Breith’, and von der Chevallerie of the LIX Corps was to form the Korpsgruppe ‘von der Chevallerie’.
On 27 March, the advance guard of the 1st Panzerarmee moved to the west in the direction of the Zbruch river, while the rearguard began a fighting withdrawal, with the rest of the 200,000 troops between them. The attack of the advance guard went well. The northern column quickly captured three bridges over the Zbruch river, while the southern column was battered by a counterattack by the Soviet 4th Tank Army, which penetrated deep into the pocket and took Kamenets-Podolsky. The loss of this major road and rail hub meant that the escaping Germans had to bypass the city, which reduced the army’s progress to a crawl. A counterattack soon cut off the Soviet forces in the city, however, and the break-out force began to gather pace once more. Moving by day and night, the Kessel never halted, and soon established bridgeheads over the Seret river.
While the 1st Panzerarmee escaped to the west, Zhukov and Konev continued to believe that the major break-out attempt would be to the south, and Zhukov ordered the Soviet attacks on the pocket’s northern and eastern flanks to be strengthened. These attacks achieved little, and many of them fell on positions which had been abandoned as the Germans withdrew toward Proskurov. Despite the Germans’ continued attacks to the west, the Soviets maintained the troop density along the southern flank of the pocket in continued anticipation of a break-out which would never come.
On 30 March, von Manstein was informed by the Oberkommando des Heeres that he had been relieved of command. His many heated arguments with Hitler had not been forgotten, and Hube was now on his own.
On the following day the Soviets finally started to react to the actuality of the situation rather than what they believed the Germans would attempt. A powerful armoured force of the 4th Tank Army launched an assault in the north between the Seret and Zbruch rivers. Hube’s southern advance guard turned and halted the Soviet assault, severing its supply lines and rendering the all-important T-34 medium tank strength of the 4th Tank Army immobile. Despite the fact that he was now taking the break-out attempt seriously, Zhukov did not move to block the escaping Germans. The way to Tarnopol was still open.
Despite heavy falls of snows, shortages of supplies and encirclement, the constant movement of Hube’s army meant that there was no outbreak of ‘pocket fever’. Thus the troops were still moving in good order and obeying discipline, and desertions were almost non-existent. This was a stark comparison to the panicked situation within the encirclements at Stalingrad and Korsun-Shevchenkovsky
By 5 April the advance guards of both the northern and southern columns had reached the Strypa river, and on the next day, near Buczacz, they met the reconnaissance probes of Hausser’s SS divisions. In a period of more than two weeks of heavy combat in very bad weather and with few supplies, the 1st Panzerarmee had escaped from encirclement while suffering only moderate casualties. The army was put back into the line and established itself between the Dniestr river and the town of Brody. During their two-week escape, Hube’s forces had destroyed 357 tanks, 42 assault guns and 280 pieces of artillery, and also inflicted severe casualties on the Soviets’ attacking forces. The combination of von Manstein’s quick thinking and Hube’s operational planning and skill had resulted in the 1st Panzerarmee’s 200,000 or more men escaping the fate of those of the 6th Army at Stalingrad at the beginning of 1943. Even though Hube’s troops were still disciplined, and equipped with light and personal weapons, however, only 45 armoured vehicles had escaped. Despite the escape and low casualty rate (5,878 men killed or missing and another 8,364 wounded), the 1st Panzerarmee was no longer able to undertake major offensive operations and required a thorough refit.
Hitler’s more recent contribution to the direction of the fighting had been the selection, on a map, of nodal points for road and railway traffic, which were then declared to be strongholds and which were to serve as breakwaters to slow the Soviet advance. Each was stocked with ammunition and supplies, and each was appointed a commander who had to answer with his life for the holding of the place. But this had little effect on the fighting since each of these strongpoints was usually bypassed by Soviet troops, and too many men were wastefully deployed and effectively locked in these garrisons.
In one of these so-called strongholds, Generalmajor Egon von Neindorff, commander of the 36th Division, held out in the Hitler-designated Festungsplatz ‘Tarnopol’, where his command soon became a liability for the Luftwaffe transport force which had to maintain it. This resulted in the ring of besieging forces round Tarnopol becoming a collecting point for Soviet anti-aircraft units, and so intense was their fire that they had to be engaged and at least partially suppressed by Luftwaffe fighter and bomber units before the transport aircraft could drop their loads. Transport gliders were also used, at dawn and dusk, to supplement the air drops. On 15 April, however, the fortress was taken by elements of the 1st Ukrainian Front. von Neindorff was killed in the fighting, and was posthumously promoted to Generalleutnant. Only part of the garrison escaped and reached the German lines.
On 30 March von Manstein was awakened at his headquarters in Lwów with the information that Hitler’s Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor transport aeroplane was about to land, with von Kleist already on board, to take the two field marshals to Obersalzberg, where they were removed from their commands, as noted above, and never again employed. These two excellent leaders were replaced by Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model and Generaloberst (from 5 April Generalfeldmarschall) Ferdinand Schörner, who were both temporarily in favour with Hitler, Model having gained some credit by the energy with which he had waged his defence in the area of Heeresgruppe ‘Nord’ and Schörner having come to Hitler’s attention for his part as commander of the XL Panzerkorps in the Krivoi Rog and Nikopol battles. Both army groups were redesignated, Heeresgruppe ‘Süd’ and Heeresgruppe ‘A’ becoming Heeresgruppe ‘Nordukraine’ and Heeresgruppe ‘Südukraine’ respectively.