Directly followed by the 'Kiev Strategic Defensive Operation', the 'Lwów-Chernovtsy Strategic Defensive Operation' was the Soviet undertaking to attempt to hold the western part of Ukraine, northern part of Bukovina, Moldova and the north-west coastal area of the Black Sea during the first weeks of the German 'Barbarossa' invasion of the USSR (22 June/6 July 1941).
This strategic defensive operation had three sub-operations, namely the 'Ukrainian Border Defensive Battles' (22/27 June), the 'Lwów-Lutsk Defensive Operation' (27 June/2 July) and the 'Stanislav-Proskurov Defensive Operation' (3/6 July).
The fighting as 'Barbarossa' and the 'Lwów-Chernovtsy Defensive Operation' collided took place in the western part of Ukraine and the northern part of Bukovina. The zone which was the responsibility of Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt’s Heeresgruppe 'Süd' extended from Lublin in the north to the mouth of the Danube river in the south, and on the other side of the front line this area was part of the zone defended by General Polkovnik Mikhail P. Kirponos’s South-West Front and General Polkovnik Yakov T. Cherevichenko’s 9th Separate Army. To the north on this area, Generalfeldmarschall Fedor von Bock’s Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' drove to the east and was opposed by the 'Belorussian Strategic Defensive Operation'.
Before the start of the operation, the northern part of the front stretching from Lublin to the mouth of the Danube river was occupied, from north to south, by Generalfeldmarschall Walter von Reichenau 's 6th Army, General Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel 's 17th Army and Generaloberst Eugen Ritter von Schobert’s 11th Army, with Generaloberst Ewald von Kleist’s 1st Panzergruppe between the 6th Army and 17th Army. The 11th Army, together with the Romanian 3rd Army and Romanian 4th Army opposed the Soviet 9th Army and 18th Army in Moldova, where they fought the 'Border Battles in Moldova Operation'. Heeresgruppe 'Süd' was supported by Generaloberst Alexander Löhr’s Luftflotte IV.
The main thrust of Heeresgruppe 'Süd' was directed at Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, through the region held by four of the South-West Front’s combined-arms armies: these were General Major Mikhail i. Potapov’s 5th Army, General Leytenant Ivan N. Muzychenko’s 6th Army, General Leytenant Fyedor Ya. Kostenko’s 26th Army and General Major Pavel G. Ponedelin’s 12th Army. The 5th Army (XV Corps, XXVII Corps, IX Mechanised Corps and XXII Mechanised Corps) covered the axis toward Lutsk in the area from Wlodawa to Krustinopol. The 6th Army (VI Corps, XXXVII Corps, IV Mechanised Corps, XV Mechanised Corps, V Cavalry Corps, 4th Fortified Area and 6th Fortified Area) covered the Lwów area in the region of Krystynopol and Grabovets. The 26th Army (VIII Corps, VIII Mechanised Corps and 8th Fortified Region) covered Przemyśl. The 12th Army (XIII Corps, XVII Corps and XVI Mechanised Corps) covered the border to the west of the city of Stanislav. The South-east Front’s other assets included the XXXI Corps, XXXVI Corps, XXXXIX Corps, LV Corps, one airborne battalion, XIX Mechanised Corps, XXIV Mechanised Corps, 1st Fortified Region (Kiev), 3rd Fortified Region (Letichev), 5th Fortified Region (Korosten), 7th Fortified Region (Novograd-Volinsky), 13th Fortified Region (Shepetovkq), 15th Fortified Region (Ostropolsk) and 17th Fortified Area (Izyaslavsky).
In 'Barbarossa', Heeresgruppe 'Süd' was instructed to advance on and take Kiev with its left-wing forces using the armoured and motorised formations ahead of the marching infantry, to destroy the Soviet forces in Galicia and the western part of Ukraine, and quickly to seize the crossings over the Dniepr river in the Kiev area and farther to the south to ensure a further offensive to the east of the Dniepr river. The 1st Panzergruppe was ordered to break through between Rava-Ruska and Kovel and advance to Berdichev and Zhitomir, and then in co-operation with the 6th Army and 17th Army reach the Dniepr river near Kiev before progressing along the Dniepr river to the south-east, thereby preventing the retreat of the defending Soviet formations and units in the right-bank Ukraine and finally destroying them with a blow from their rear.
In a high command directive of 22 June, the South-West Front was to hold the border with Hungary, and deliver concentric strikes in the general direction of Lublin using the 5th Army, 6th Army, at least five mechanised corps and all of the front’s air assets in order to encircle and then to destroy the German forces on the front between Vladimir-Volinsky and Krystynopol, and by 26 June seize the Lublin area.
At 03.30 on 22 June, large formations of German warplanes struck Soviet airfields, concentration areas and columns of advancing troop. At 04.00 there began a short- but highly concentrated artillery preparation, and between 05.00 and 06.00 German ground forces went onto the offensive and the border battle began.
As planned, the 1st Panzergruppe advanced to the south-east in the general direction of Ustilug, Zhitomir and Kiev. To the south of the 1st Panzergruppe, the 17th Army struck toward Lwów and Przemyśl. The 11th Army was operating on the southern flank, striking to the north of Stanislav, and the 6th Army advanced in the wake of the 1st Panzergruppe but slightly farther to the north with Kovel as its objective.
The Germans delivered their main blow to the north of the westward-facing Lwów salient. In military theory, the balance of forces gave the Soviets the advantage, and they should thus have been able to check and then defeat the German offensive. In practice, however, the bulk of the Soviet forces was deployed too far forward and off the German forces' axes of advance, and the Soviets were therefore unable to turn their theoretical advantage into practical success. Exploiting the gaps of some 9.33 and 12.5 miles (15 and 20 km) between the Soviet divisions on the border and their overwhelming local superiority of forces, six infantry and Panzer divisions on the very first day of the war broke through to a depth of as much as 18.5 miles (30 km).
At the beginning of the offensive, the 5th Army between Kovel and Lwów held defensive positions right forward and therefore along the border between the German- and Soviet-occupied area of Poland. The border guards in the offensive zone were wholly crushed during the day, and by at time generally well before 12.00 on 23 June, the Soviet border defences had everywhere been penetrated. The formations of the 5th Army withdrew mainly to the north-east and east.
The main blow was inflicted by the Panzer formations, which swept through and over the first-line Soviet defences and without any pause to deal with dismembered Soviet forces advanced to the east. By the end of 23 June, therefore, General Eberhard von Mackensen’s III Corps (mot.) of the 1st Panzergruppe had reached Vladimir-Volinsky, but was then delayed by almost one week by its involvement in the major tank battle near Dubno, Lutsk and Brody. This Soviet counterattack quickly disintegrated into a miscellany of scattered actions: some Soviet tank formations began the attack, others completed it, and still others only approached the area of the fighting. Many Soviet formations and units, including the main forces of the VIII Mechanised Corps, were surrounded.
As a result of the German armoured formations' massive punches, on the very first day of the war the South-West Front was dismembered practically along the line between the 5th Army and 6th Army. To the south, the III Corps (mot.) broke into the operational space behind the Soviet first-line formations and, encountering almost no resistance, moved toward Zhitomir along the road from Dubno. On 23 June, Generalmajor Ludwig Crüwell’s 11th Panzerdivision of General Werner Kempf’s XLVIII Corps (mot.) and another German division entered combat on the approaches to Radekhov, where the XXXVI Corps was the core of the defence.
The Battle in the Dubno-Lutsk-Brody Area, which is also known among other things as the Tank Battle in the Lutsk-Brody-Dubno Triangle, the Counterstrike of the Mechanised Corps of the South-West Front, and the Tank Battle at Brody-Rovno, was one of the largest tank battles in history, probably exceeded in size only by the Battle of Kursk resulting from the German 'Zitadelle' offensive in July 1943. Dated as 25/29 June or 26/30 June, this was part of the 'Ukrainian Border Defensive Battles Operation' of 22/30 June and of the 'Lwów-Chernovtsy Strategic Defensive Operation' of 22 June/6 July.
On their side, the Soviets decided to commit five mechanised corps of the South-West Front, later supplemented by one more tank division, and on their side the Germans committed four Panzer divisions of the 1st Panzergruppe, later supplemented by one more Panzer division.
The task of the Soviet armoured grouping was at first a strike toward Lublin, but the task was then revised to a counterattack to encircle and then to destroy the German invaders in this area. In overall terms, the Soviet forces managed to delay the German forces' advance, and this made it possible for other elements of the South-West Front to avoid encirclement and thus continue their withdrawal: the cost to the Soviets in men and matériel was huge, and in August and September the front’s surviving elements were trapped in the Uman 'cauldron' (6th and 12th Armies) and the Kiev 'cauldron' (5th and 26th Armies) and so effectively savaged that their remnants were disestablished.
In the battle that was about to start, the Germans committed four Panzer divisions with 585 tanks, and then another Panzer division with 143 tanks. As of 22 June, the whole of Heeresgruppe 'Süd' had 728 tanks, including at least 115 unarmed SdKfz 265 command tanks and about 150 PzKpfw I and PzKpfw II light tanks armed with 20-mm cannon and/or machine guns, though some sources suggest 54 command tanks and a total of 219 PzKpfw I and PzKpfw II tanks. In the way of combat-capable tanks, therefore, the Germans could field 455 PzKpfw T-38(t) medium tanks, PzKpfw III medium tanks and PzKpfw IV battle tanks armed with a main gun in the calibre range between 37 and 75 mm.
The South-West Front, which until 22 June had been the Kiev Special Military District, was the best-equipped and most powerful in the entire Soviet first strategic echelon. In particular, of the 20 Soviet mechanised corps, eight were concentrated in this front, while the West Front (ex-Western Military District), which was the recipient of the main German assault, had six mechanised corps, and the South Front (ex-Odessa Military District) that was also attacked by Heeresgruppe 'Süd', had two mechanised corps. The SouthWest Front’s eight mechanised corps had an establishment strength of 8,248 tanks, and its 26 infantry divisions 416 tanks, but most of the formations were still being formed at the start of hostilities, and the South-West Front’s mechanised corps had just 4,808 tanks including 833 examples of the newest KV-1 and KV-2 heavy tanks and T-34 medium tanks, which were not only superior to their German opponent in terms of their armour and firepower, but also almost totally invulnerable to the German forces' standard anti-tank weapons. The five mechanised corps involved in the Battle of Brody had 3,607 tanks including 419 KV and T-34 vehicles. According to another estimate, the tanks of the South-West Front’s mechanised corps numbered 3,429, which corresponds largely with the number of tanks on 1 May, in the five corps involved in the battle (2,860 tanks) and the 8th Tank Division (532 tanks) transferred from the IV Mechanised Corps to the XV Mechanised Corps during the battle.
The most modest estimate of the number of Soviet tanks is derived from the fact that only the IV, VIII and IX Mechanised Corps could be considered as fully combat-ready, but they nonetheless fielded 1,515 tanks. A major Russian history in 2015 evaluated the South-West Front’s IX, XV, XIX and XXIV Mechanised Corps in words including '…the VIII, IX, XV and XIX Mechanised Corps…instead of six mechanised corps, the front could throw only four into the battle. Instead of 3,700 tanks, no more than 1,300 were concentrated.' This history enumerates the total number of tanks committed to the battle by both sides as almost 2,000, but at the same time quotes the Soviet loss of 2,648 tanks in the battle.
von Kleist’s 1st Panzergruppe had been instructed to secure bridgeheads across the Bug River and to advance on Rovno and Korosten with Kiev as its strategic objective. von Kleist deployed two corps forward and advanced between Lwów and Rovno in an attempt to cut the railway linking Lwów and Kiev, thus driving a wedge into the junction of the 5th Army and 6th Army.
The South-West Front had received only incomplete intelligence on the size and direction of the German offensive, and was therefore taken aback when the Stavka ordered a general counterattack under the title of Directive No. 3 on the authority of General Georgi K. Zhukov, the chief of the Soviet general staff. Most of the Front’s headquarters staff had been sure that the strategy would be to remain on the defensive until the situation had become clearer. The general orders in Directive No. 3 included the words 'While maintaining strong defence of the state border with Hungary, the 5th and 6th Armies are to carry out concentric strikes in the direction of Lublin, utilising at least five mechanised corps and the front’s air assets, in order to encircle and destroy the [German] group of forces advancing along the front between Vladimir-Volinsky and Krystonopol, and by the end of 24 June to capture the vicinity of Lublin.'
By the end of 22 June, Zhukov was on his way to the South-West Front’s headquarters at Tarnopol along with Nikita S. Khrushchev, the former head of the Organisational Department of the Ukrainian Communist Party’s Central Committee, to ensure these orders were carried out. During discussion of the directive at the South-West Front’s headquarters, it was considered that an encirclement operation including Lublin was impossible. The proposal of General Leytenant Maksim A. Purkayev, the South-West Front’s chief-of-staff, to withdraw the troops and create a continuous line of defence along the old border and then to counterattack, was rejected and Purkayev was removed. The Soviet leaders decided to strike with the XV, IV and VIII mechanised corps from the area of Radzekhov and Rava-Ruska to Krasnostov and the XXII Mechanised Corps from the area of Verba and Vladimir-Volinsky toward Krasnostov. The aim of the strike thus became not the encirclement demanded by the directive, but the defeat of the main German in a head-on battle.
The Soviets concentrated six mechanised corps, with more than ,500 tanks, for the planned concentric counterattack through the flanks of the 1st Panzergruppe. The intention was later to attempt a pincer movement from the north by the 5th Army and the south by the 6th Army to meet in the area to the west of Dubno in order to trap formations and units of the 6th Army and 17th Army on the northern flank of Heeresgruppe 'Süd'. To achieve this, the VIII Mechanised Corps was transferred from the 26th Army northward to Muzychenko’s 6th Army. This essentially brought all of the South-West Front’s mobile assets to bear against the base of von Kleist’s thrust toward Kiev. The primary German infantry formation operating on this sector of the front, General Viktor von Schwedler’s IV Corps of von Stülpnagel’s 17th Army was advancing to he south-east with the objective of cutting the railway linking Lwów and Kiev.
At the beginning of 'Barbarossa', the German armoured forces were operating a mix of Czechoslovak and German tanks, as well as small numbers of captured French and British tanks. Furthermore, nearly half of the armoured vehicles deployed by the Germans were of the PzKpfw I and PzKpfw II light tank types. Of the 4,000 armoured vehicles available to the Germans, therefore, only 1,400 were the newer PzKpfw III medium tank and PzKpfw IV battle tank types. In the first few hours of the invasion, German commanders were shocked to find that some Soviet tanks were immune to all of the Germans' standard anti-tank weapons. During exercises before the start of World War II, Heinz Guderian had noted that tanks on their own were vulnerable to infantry, and also that tanks lacked the large-calibre guns required to destroy reinforced concrete bunkers and heavily fortified positions, a role that could only be performed by the attacks of heavy artillery or aircraft. While dispersing tanks among infantry formations solved many of the tank’s weaknesses, it also negated some of their strengths. German military thinkers therefore came to the conclusion that to reach their full potential, armoured units needed to be concentrated in their own formations and integrated with mobile artillery, mobile infantry and close air support. Guderian concluded that in order for tanks to be most effective, all armoured vehicles had to be equipped with radio equipment so that each tank commander could hear instructions from his unit commander, which would make it possible for tanks to work together in a tactically organised and therefore effective fashion.
At the beginning of June, the Soviet army possessed something more than 19,000 tanks, most of these being light tanks such as the T-26 and BT-7. The frontal armour of the T-26 and BT-7 was 15 and 22 mm respectively, offering little or no protection against any anti-tank weapon at any range. Furthermore, the poor design of Soviet shells meant that most rounds shattered rather than penetrating on impact. More modern tanks, such as the KV-1 and T-34, were only just starting to roll off production lines in substantial quantities and were not available in anywhere near the numbers needed to halt the German invasion.
During the years between the world war, farther-sighted military theorists such as Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Mikhail N. Tukhachevsky arrived at conclusions similar to those of Guderian with regard to the use of the tank in modern warfare. However, during Iosif Stalin’s 'great purge' of the later 1930s, Tukhachevsky was executed and Soviet tanks were dispersed widely throughout infantry divisions. With the German defeat of France in May and June 1940, the Soviet army was deeply shocked by the speed and overall capabilities of the Germans' concentrated tank forces. Surviving armoured warfare theorists such as Komdiv (General Major) Konstantin K. Rokossovsky were quickly and quietly reinstated in their positions and began at rapidly as they could to group tanks into concentrated formations. However, by June 1941 this process was little more than half complete, so many of the Soviets 19,000 tanks were still dispersed among infantry divisions on the eve of 'Barbarossa': this made it inevitable that even if the Soviet army possessed a unified command, many of its armoured formations and units would be committed only on a piece-meal basis.
At full strength, the German Panzer division was a balanced formation with between 150 and 200 tanks, motorised infantry, motorised artillery and motorised engineers. To support its logistical needs, each Panzer division included 2,000 trucks. Furthermore, as just noted, each Panzer division had its own integral artillery and infantry support, which meant that rather than playing a supporting role for infantry, German armour performed a leading role, with infantry in support. Furthermore, German military doctrine stressed the importance of cross-training men in roles performed by other men: tank crews were trained in artillery roles, and infantry trained as tank crews, etc. Most importantly, tank crews were also trained as mechanics, giving them the knowledge to repair broken equipment in the field.
In the immediate pre-war period, few logistical preparations were made by the Soviets, whose forces were thus at a low level of readiness. Formations and units were not concentrated, and ammunition and other supply dumps were neither concealed nor quickly available to combat units. Compounding the problem was the fact that Stalin strictly forbade any Soviet unit from opening fire on reconnaissance patrols, allowing the Germans the facility to complete their identification of formations, units and all major targets in the border districts.
Furthermore, Soviet tank crews were not trained on the mechanical details of their machines. That meant that simple mechanical problems resulted very large numbers of Soviet tanks being abandoned on road sides en route to battle. Those formations and units which did succeed in reaching their assembly and jumping-off points then discovered that the supplies they needed had either been destroyed or moved to another location without notification. After receiving orders to attack and lacking fuel and/or ammunition, the crews generally responded by destroying their vehicles and retreating. More hundreds of tanks were lost in this way.
Compounding these logistical difficulties was that each Soviet tank division had between 300 and 400 tanks but was supported by only 1,500 trucks, representing a very adverse tank/truck ratio in contrast with the Panzer division, which had only half the number of tanks but one-third more trucks. Experience would prove that the German tank/truck ratio offered decided advantages.
On 22 June, Heeresgruppe 'Süd' included in its formations General Eberhard von Mackensen’s III Panzerkorps with the 296 tanks (182 of them with a 37- or larger-calibre gun) of Generalleutnant Friedrich-Wilhelm von Rotkirch und Panthen’s (from 25 June Generalleutnant Walther Düvert’s) 13th Panzerdivision and Generalleutnant Friedrich Kühn’s 14th Panzerdivision; General Rudolf Veiel’s XLVIII Panzerkorps with the 289 tanks (182 of them with a 37- or larger-calibre gun) of Generalmajor Ludwig Crüwell’s 11th Panzerdivision and Generalleutnant Hans-Valentin Hube’s 16th Panzerdivision; and General Gustav von Wietersheim’s XIV Panzerkorps with the 143 tanks (91 of them with a 37- or larger-calibre gun) of Generalleutnant Alfred Ritter von Hubicki’s 9th Panzerdivision. The army group thus had at its disposal 728 tanks, of which 455 were armed with main gun of 37-mm or larger calibre.
On the same date, the South-West Front included in its formations the IV Mechanised Corps with the 8th Tank Division’s 300 tanks of which 100 were of the KV and T-34 types; the VIII Mechanised Corps with the 7th Tank Division and 899 tanks of which 171 were of the KV and T-34 types; the IX Mechanised Corps with the 131st Tank Division and 316 tanks of which none were of the KV and T-34 types; the XV Mechanised Corps with the 10th and 37th Tank Division and the 37th and 212nd Divisions and 749 tanks of which 138 were of the KV and T-34 types; the XIX Mechanised Corps with the 40th, 43rd and 215th Divisions and 453 tanks of which five were of the KV and T-34 types; and the XXII Mechanised Corps with the 19th, 41st and 215th Divisions and 712 tanks of which 31 were of the KV and T-34 types. The front thus had at its disposal 3,429 tanks of which 443 were of the KV and T-34 types. These tank figures are of 'on hand' totals, and do not reflect actual operational vehicle numbers. Even these apparently impressive 'on hand' numbers are not close to the formations' and units' establishment strengths because those elements were still in the process of being formed and equipped at the time that 'Barbarossa' started. The XV, XIX and XXII Mechanised Corps had been created only a few months before the war’s start, which meant that they were unprepared, unco-ordinated, ill-trained or wholly untrained, and not ready fit for effective commitment in combat operations. Even the IV, VIII and IX Mechanised Corps had been in existence for less than one year. The Soviet lack of preparedness, lack of training, and lack of fuel, ammunition and spare parts made it inevitable that actual operational-ready vehicles were dramatically fewer in number. Even those tanks which were operational had in general not had their guns bore-sighted and therefore could not fire accurately even when there was ammunition available.
German armoured formations had seen two successful campaigns and three years of war before the start of 'Barbarossa', and while unit cohesion and effectiveness had necessarily been subjected to reduction by the doubling of the number of Panzer divisions before 'Barbarossa', this disruption was relatively minor. Thus German armoured units with effective command, control and communication capability, as well as plentiful supply (particularly at this early stage of the war on the USSR), considerable combat experience and extensive training, were significantly more effective than their opponents in real combat terms.
The condition of the Soviet air elements assigned to the South-West Front followed essentially the same unfortunate pattern: most of its aircraft had been destroyed on the ground as a result of the refusal of Stalin, who disregarded intelligence that a German attack was imminent, to put the Soviet forces on alert. For example, the 17th Fighter Regiment was caught on the ground and had been almost totally destroyed by the third day of the war. The regiment’s remnants, comprising only 10 Polikarpov I-153 biplanes and one Mikoyan-Guryevich MiG-1 monoplane, retreated to a reserve airfield near Rovno. Even so, the Soviets committed their surviving aircraft to support the offensive. The German air force prevented Soviet aerial reconnaissance, and this left Soviet commanders blind to the nature of a rapidly developing and fast-moving battle.
The air battle resulted in heavy casualties for the attacking Soviets. The fighters of Oberleutnant Günther Lützow’s Jagdgeschwader 3, under the command of General Kurt Pflugbeil’s Fliegerkorps IV of Generaloberst Alexander Löhr’s Luftflotte IV, shot down 24 Tupolev SB medium bombers on the first day, leaving the 86th High-Speed Bomber Aviation Regiment with only 20 of its initial 251 SB bombers. The German losses were also heavy, with 28 aircraft destroyed and 23 damaged (including eight Heinkel He 111 and Junkers Ju 88 medium bombers). The efforts of the Soviet air forces were not without effect, as the South-West Front’s air force flew 523 sorties between 22 and 24 June, dropping 2,500 bombs. Almost total Luftwaffe air superiority was to be a major factor in breaking up the Soviet counterattack.
The Soviet attack combined six mechanised corps under the command of the 5th Army to the north and the 6th Army to the south under Kirponos’s overall control. Under the command of the 5th Army, General Major Konstantin K. Rokossovsky’s IX Mechanised Corps and General Major Nikolai V. Fedlenko’s XIX Mechanised Corps were to be deployed to the north-west of Rovno, while the XXII Mechanised Corps was to assemble to the north-east of Lutsk. To the south, under the command of the 6th Army, General Leytenant Dmitri I. Ryabyshev’s VIII Mechanised Corps and General Major Ivan I. Karpezo’s XV Mechanised Corps were to be deployed to the south-west and north-east of Brody, while General Major Andrei A. Vlasov’s IV Mechanized Corps was to be deployed between Sokal and Radekhov, on the left flank of the XV Mechanized Corps. The plan called for these forces to assemble and begin offensive operations at 22.00 on 23 June, 36 hours after the initial German onslaught, in an attempt to catch the attackers off guard, and before they could consolidate their position by bringing up reinforcements from the rear in support of Crüwell’s fast-advancing 11th Panzerdivision.
Conditions were difficult for the Soviet corps commanders: loss of communications, constant harassment by German warplanes, lack of transport, and the movement of large numbers of refugees and retreating soldiers on the roads combined to render it very difficult for the counterattacking forces to assemble at their jumping off points. While communication between the front’s headquarters and the individual army commands was generally good, communication to and from the front-line formation and units was seriously flawed as it was almost wholly dependent on the civilian telephone and telegraph network. German engineers, air attacks and the activities of Ukrainian nationalist guerrillas had targeted these systems very aggressively and very efficiently. Many Soviet front-line commanders were therefore left to their own devices, and this inevitably made it almost wholly ineffective the Soviet command and control arrangements: the commander to the 41st Tank Division of the XXII Mechanised Corps, for instance, lacking any new directives, moved his division to the assembly point for his corps at Kovel as ordained in the pre-war plan, and in so doing moved his division away from the fighting. Another major problem was the lack of transport for the mechanised corps' infantry elements. Motorised in name only, many of these divisions had only part of their transport establishment. Thus the individual corps commanders had to improvise solutions to bring their full complement of men to their assembly points.
In these circumstances, Rokossovsky commandeered 200 trucks from the district reserve at Shepetovka, but he still had to mount much of his infantry on tanks. Even then, many soldiers had to march as the trucks were carrying critical munitions and supplies. In one case, pieces of the XXII Mechanised Corps' heavy artillery were simply left behind for want of tractors to pull them. The commander of the XIX Mechanised Corps marched his corps forward in two echelons with the tank divisions far in advance of his lagging infantry, which meant that the armoured formations and units arrived at the battlefield without infantry support. Commanding the VIII Mechanised Corps, Ryabyshev reported similar problems. His artillery was towed by very slow tractors, and this slowed the movement of the entire column.
These complications were compounded by the apparent inability of Soviet commanders to assess an appropriate axis of attack in the context of the rapidly developing German salient. Between 22 and 24 June, the VIII Mechanised Corps received three different locations for its assembly point: the original order from the front command, a new position from the commander of the 6th Army, and on 24 June another order from the front command. The corps crossed its own path and backtracked several times before finally arriving at Brody.
As a result of these and other problems in assembling the forces for the attack, the scheduled time for the operation was put back six hours to 04.00 on 24 June. By the time this decision was made on the evening 23 June, little more than 48 hours after the start of 'Barbarossa', the 11th Panzerdivision, with Hube’s 16th Panzerdivision moving in its wake, had already penetrated some 40 miles (65 km) into Soviet territory. Düvert’s 13th Panzerdivision and Kühn’s 14th Panzerdivision were well their way along the road to Lutsk with the objective of reaching the Styr river on 24 June, and Generalleutnant Heinrich Deboi’s 44th Division, Generalleutnant Walther Grässner’s 298th Division and Generalleutnant Willi Moser’s 299th Division were moving forward to consolidate the advance. Even with the delayed schedule, the counterattack began on only a piece-meal basis as the full complement of forces could not be brought into position until two days later. The IV, VIII, IX and XIX Mechanised Corps were still on the march and supporting infantry corps were still farther away.
General Leytenant Maksim A. Purkayev, Kirponos’s chief-of-staff, argued against Corps Commissar Nikolai N. Vashugin, the political officer attached to the South-West Front, on this point, but Vashugin and Zhukov were insistent that the attack would begin without delay. Only two tank divisions of XIX Mechanised Corps in the south and a single tank division of the XXII Mechanised Corps in the north were in position to begin the attack on 24 June.
Three Soviet formations deployed a potent force of modern T-34 medium tanka and KV heavy tanks: these were the IV, VIII and XV Mechanised Corps, and these formations' 717 such tanks comprised almost a half of the 1,600 such vehicles yet built. Throughout the battles, the scale of the intended operations and the precise role of each corps were communicated at best poorly and at worst not at all. Ryabyshev noted that 'the corps' battle orders spoke only to its own mission objectives'. There was little or no communication between the individual corps to ensure co-ordination.
The 10th Tank Division was subordinate to the XV Mechanised Corps, and on 22 June its forward battalions captured Radekhov from German infantry, losing two tanks. On the next day it faced the 11th Panzerdivision, destroying 20 German tanks and losing six T-34 and 20 BT tanks. For lack of ammunition, the division then had to withdraw, which it did in an orderly fashion. On 26 June, the division destroyed 23 German tanks and an infantry battalion near Radekhov, in the process losing 13 KV and 12 BT-7 tanks.
Karpezo’s XV Mechanised Corps as a whole had 749 tanks, including 136 T-34 and KV machines. On 23 June the corps moved from the south to Radzekhov, but without its 212th Motorised Division, which had been left to cover Brod. During clashes with the 1th Panzerdivision, units reported their destruction of 20 tanks and other armoured vehicles as well as 16 anti-tank guns. It was not possible to keep Radzekhov, in the second half of the day the Germans seized crossings over the Styr river near Berestechko, and this breakthrough forced the South-West Front to abandon its previous decision.
During 24 June, the front headquarters, together with Zhukov, had decided to launch a counter-offensive on the German group with the forces of four mechanised corps, while simultaneously creating a rear defence line with the XXXI, XXXVI and XXXVII Corps. In reality, the formations and their subordinate units were in the process of advancing to the front and therefore engaged in the battle as they arrived without any planned co-ordination, and some units did not take part in the counterattack. The purpose of the mechanised corps' counterstrike was to defeat the 1st Panzergruppe, and in the course of the subsequent battle, the XXII Mechanised Corps and XIX Mechanised Corps from the north, and the VIII Mechanised Corps and XV Mechanised Corps from the south delivered counterattacks on the 1st Panzergruppe and the 6th Army in the form of the 11th Panzerdivision, 13th Panzerdivision, 14th Panzerdivision and 16th Panzerdivision.
Because of its receipt of a series of inconsistent orders, the corps spent the battle moving chaotically in the triangle bounded by Radekhov, Brody and Busk, and with the exception of the two engagements with Generalleutnant Ferdinand Schaal’s 10th Panzerdivision, it saw very little in the way of combat. On 7 July it reported at Berezovka, some 185 miles (300 km) from the former border, with a mere 9% of its tanks.
On 24 June, the 19th Tank Division and 15th Motorised Division of General Major Semyon M. Kondrusev’s XXII Mechanised Corps launched an offensive to the north of the road linking Vladimir-Volinsky and Lutsk from the line between Voinitsa and Boguslavskaya. The attack was unsuccessful: light tanks of the division ran into anti-tank guns deployed well forward by the Germans. The 19th Tank Division lost more than 50% of its tanks and began to retreat to the Torchin area. General Major Kyrill S. Moskalenko’s 1st Anti-Tank Artillery Brigade also departed. The XXII Mechanised Corps' 41st Tank Division did not participate in the counterstrike. The defence on the Styr river near Lutsk was occupied by advanced elements of the 131st Motorised Division of Rokossovsky’s IX Mechanized Corps.
The XXII Mechanised Corps had thus attacked from 24 June toward Voinitsa, but on 29 June reported that it had left to it only 19% of its former tank strength. On 1 July one regiment unsuccessfully attacked toward Dubno, and on 15 July 1941 the corps had only 4% of its tanks remaining. Kondrusev was killed by artillery fire during fighting near the village of Aleksandrovska in the Volyn region on 24 June.
Fedlenko’s XIX Mechanised Corps moved to the border in the evening on 22 June, and on the evening of 24 June placed small forces on the Ikva river in the Mlynov area. On the morning of the following dat, the reconnaissance battalion of the 1th Panzerdivision fell on the advance company of the 40th Tank Division, which was guarding the crossing at Mlynov, and drive it back. The corps' 43rd Tank Division approached the area of Rovno under constant air attack.
On 26 June the XIX Mechanised Corps attacked toward Dubno from the north, but failed to reach this city by a short distance. On 29 June the corps had 32 tanks remaining from its original 453 such vehicles.
Ryabyshev’s VIII Mechanised Corps was alerted at 05.40 on 22 June 22 and moved some 50 miles (80 km) to the area of Chishky, Vankovichy and Raitarsvich, some 6.2 miles (10 km) to the est of Sambor. The corps had no air cover, for the relevant aircraft had been totally destroyed by a German air attack on their airfield at Stryi. One of the infantry regiments of the 7th Motorised Division also came under bombardment as it had not received the order to advance in time, and lost 190 men including 120 wounded. Having reached the concentration area, the corps at 20.40 on the same day received an order from Kirponos to move to Kurovitsa and, after a night march, by the morning of 23 June, be ready to meet the the LXVIII Corps (mot.).
By 11.00 on 23 June, the leading units of the corps' divisions had reached the outskirts of Lwów: the 12th Tank Division at Kurovitsa, the 7th Motorised Division at Mikholayov and the 34th Tank Division at Grudek Jagelonski. Here they were placed at the disposal of the 6th Army, whose commander at 15.30 on 23 June ordered the corps to turn and concentrate in the area of Yavorov, Grudek Jagelonski and Yaryn, which it had reached by 24.00 after covering some 135 miles (215 km).
At 06.00 on 24 June, on the personal order of the 6th Army’s commander, the corps began to move to a new area, in this instance near Krasno, Oleske and Brody in order to co-operate with the XV Mechanised Corps, to destroy the German armoured forces advancing on Dubno. The corps' march took it along two roads already clogged with troops, and in Lwów some of the corps' elements became in street battles with Ukrainian nationalist guerrillas, who had organised an armed uprising in the city. As a result of its movement along traffic-jammed roads, the march was completed only in the afternoon of 25 June, by which time the corps had lost as much as 50% of its matériel to mechanical breakdowns and lack of fuel. Before they had even entered combat, the corps' component parts had already covered an average of some 310 miles (495 km),
The corps finally arrived in the area of the operation on 25 June, and on the following day successfully attacked in the direction of Brody and Berestechko against parts of the 11th Panzerdivision. Despite disordered arrangements and other difficulties, the Soviet attack met with a measure of initial success, catching the Germans on the move and outside their prepared positions, their tanks sweeping aside hastily arranged German anti-tank positions manned by motorcycle troops attached to General Werner Kempf’s XLVIII Corps (mot.). The VIII Mechanised Corps later divided, some of its elements amalgamating into a group commanded by Brigade Commissar Nikolai K. Popel’s group and others remaining under Ryabyshev’s command.
In the 12th Tank Division, 56 KV and 100 T-34 tanks ran out of fuel and ammunition while attacking near Dubno, and thereupon the division became irrelevant.
Popel’s group had about 300 tanks, including no fewer than 100 T-34 and KV tanks. On 27 June, the group surprised and defeated the rear of the 11th Panzerdivision and captured Dubno, a road crossing of strategic importance. This was the most successful Soviet action of the battle, as it cut the supply lines of the 11th Panzerdivision, which was the German armoured spearhead. However, this success was not exploited by Soviet command, which failed to communicate with Popel and to provide supplies or reinforcements. The group then waited in Dubno and prepared for defence, thereby losing the operational initiative.
By 28 June the Germans had gathered significant strength in the areas of the battle. Popel’s group came under attack by elements of Generalleutnant Sigfrid Henrici’s 16th Division (mot.), Generalleutnant Ernst Hammer’s 75th Division, two other infantry divisions, and Hube’s 16th Panzerdivision. Encircled in Dubno, the Popel group defended its positions until 1 July and then retreated.
Ryabyshev’s group had 303 tanks, including 49 T-34 and 46 KV machines. On 28 June, in an attempt to follow the Popel group, it met and attacked Generalleutnant Oskar Blümm’s 57th Division and Hammer’s 75th Division, as well as elements of Huber’s 16th Panzerdivision. The attack was unsuccessful and the Soviets quickly retreated. On 1 July Ryabyshev reported in Tarnopol with 207 tanks, including 31 T-34 and 43 KV vehicles. Seeing no further combat, the VIII Mechanised Corps moved to Koziatyn, where on 7 July had 43 tanks, which represented just 5% of its pre-war strength.
Vlasov’s IV Mechanised Corps was the the strongest of the Soviet armoured corps in Ukraine, having 313 T-34 and 101 KV tanks among its total of 979 vehicles. It reacted slowly to orders and thus failed to assemble for the attack. The most it achieved was on 28 June, when it secured the retreat of XV Mechanised Corps from the pursuing German infantry. While neither attacking nor being attacked, the corps reported it retained no more than 6% of its KV tanks, 12% of its T-34 tanks and 4% of its light tanks on 12 July.
Other than the above, there were no Soviet counterattacks in this battle.
The 41st Tank Division of the XXII Mechanised Corps blundered into swampy terrain, where it lost 31 of its KV tanks, its most effective fighting element.
It is hard to determine the effect of the Soviet hesitation and command confusion on 27 June on the outcome of the battle and the German attack into Ukraine.
When the Soviet forces took Dubno and isolated the leading edge of the main German attack, Kirponos thought that the same German attack threatened to outflank and encircle the Soviet forces attacking from the south. This led him to order a halt to the offensive and then a general retreat in order to shorten his front line 'so as to prevent the [German] tank groupings from penetrating into the rear of the 6th and 26th Armies'. After a discussion with Kirponos and his staff, Zhukov quickly countermanded these orders, and issued an order for a renewed attack two hours later. This led to still further confusion of the type which was symptomatic of the Soviet command at the Battle of Brody. Rokossovsky, whose IX Mechanised Corps was attacking from the north, simply balked at these new orders, stating that 'we had once again received an order to counterattack. However, the enemy outnumbered us to such a degree, that I took on the personal responsibility of ordering a halt to the counteroffensive and to meet the [Germans] in prepared defences'. Ryabyshev, commanding the VIII Mechanised Corps to the south, Ryabyshev meanwhile complied with the order and remounted the attack.
Ryabyshev seems to had adopted the position held by Zhukov at the time, namely that had the attack been pursued with aggression and without delay, the Soviets might have been successful. However, subsequent events seem to vindicate Kirponos’s position, which was that the attack was premature and would destabilise the integrity of the entire front. Shortly after the defeat of the Soviet counterattack, Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Semyon K. Budyonny, was given overall command of the combined South-West Front and South Front as the South-West Direction. Disaster unfolded at the Battle of Uman and 100,000 Soviet soldiers were killed or captured, and another 100,000 wounded when the 26th, 12th and 18th Armies were encircled after Heeresgruppe 'Süd' had renewed its strategic offensive by pivoting to the south-east from the positions it had achieved during the Battle of Dubno: this was an outcome of which Kirponos had warned n his argument with Zhukov about the wisdom of the counterattack at Dubno.
The confrontation between Kirponos and Zhukov led the latter to tell Khrushchev, the political officer of the South-West Front, that 'I am afraid that your commander (Kirponos) here is pretty weak', a charge which Kirponos would never be able to answer as he died in the battle of Kiev after this great Ukrainian city had been surrounded.
The battle between the 1st Panzergruppe and the Soviet mechanised corps was the fiercest of the whole invasion, lasting four full days. The Soviets fought furiously, and crews of German tank and anti-tank guns found to their greatest possible shock that the new T-34 tank was for all practical purposes immune to all of their weapons with the exception of artillery. The new KV-1 and KV-2 heavy tanks were impervious to virtually all German anti-tank weapons, but the Soviet logistics had broken down completely as a result of German air attacks.
The German Kampfgeschwader bomber wings, namely Major Hans Bruno Schulz-Heyn’s KG 51, Oberstleutnant Otto Höhne’s KG 54 and Oberstleutnant Benno Kosch’s KG 55, contributed a series of heavy low-level attacks on Soviet ground targets. The headquarters of the XV Mechanised Corps was destroyed and Karpezo, the corps' commander, was wounded. German warplanes destroyed some 201 Soviet tanks in this area.
The five Soviet mechanised corps were mishandled while being concentrated into large powerful groups. The German troops sought to isolate individual units and destroy them. Meanwhile, German aircraft ranging over the battlefields were able to separate the supporting infantry and deny them resupply of fuel and ammunition. Ultimately, for lack of adequate planning and overall co-ordination, the arms of the Soviet counterattack failed to meet at Dubno.
The 1st Panzergruppe received a severe battering in the battles around Dubno, losing many of its tanks, but it survived the battle still capable of operations. The Soviet mechanised corps sustained severe casualties and matériel losses, rendering most of them incapable of operational use: the VIII Mechanised Corps was so badly depleted that the Stavka disbanded its headquarters and allocated its remaining assets to other formations of the South-West Front.
Their defensive success enabled the Germans to continue their offensive, even if it had been delayed substantially by the tenacity of the Soviet counterattack.
On the whole, therefore, the counterattack that has become known as the Battle of Brody created little in the way of tangible result, although as noted above it delayed the III Corps (mot.) for a week. At the same time, on 22 June, the 17th Army reached the Rava-Ruska fortified area, which straddled the road to Lwów. Elements of Generalleutnant Erich Marcks’s (from 26 June Generalleutnant Brauner von Haydringen’s) 101st leichte Division entered Przemyśl.
After this, the main strength of the northern wing of Heeresgruppe 'Süd' turned slightly farther to the south-east to in order encircle the Soviet forces in right-bank Ukraine.
The scattered remnants of the 6th Army retreated to Lwów, in parallel with the German advance, while the rear of the 6th Army was cut off by the III Corps (mot.).
In the period from 25 to 27 June, the semi-detached 6th Army fought to take Kovel. The main forces of the 1st Panzergruppe advanced through Zhitomir toward Kiev. The 17th Army advanced through Przemyśl to Lwów. The 11th Army, which was covering the border with Hungary, was waiting for part of the 17th Army, which was supposed to prevent the withdrawal to the east of the 26th Army and 12th Army.
The 26th Army had been placed on alert and withdrawn to its concentration area in accord with the plan to cover the Soviet border. von Stülpnagel, commander of the 17th Army, had deployed his divisions on the front between Tomaszów Mazowiecki and Przemyśl, delivered the main blow through Rava-Ruska to Lwów and farther on the axis toward Tarnopol. With separate blows, the 17th Army pinned the Soviet forces defending Przemyśl and the border to the south of this city. German troops occupied Przemyśl during the afternoon of 22 June, but during the morning of the following day it was retaken by Soviet forces of the army and NKVD border security organisation. General Major Nikolai I. Dementyev’s 99th Division, co-operating with the border guards and the Przemyśl fortified area, three times drove back units of the 101st leichte Division from Przemyśl, and while the Soviets were able to hold Przemyśl until 27 June, it was then taken outright by the Germans.
By 30 June, seven divisions of three corps from the South-West Front’s reserve had taken up defensive positions to the north of Lutsk along the Styr river and on the line between Dubno and Zolochev via Kremenets. There remained an unoccupied gap between Lutsk and Dubno, however, and nine German divisions, six of them Panzer and motorised, rushed into this opening in the Soviet defensive arrangement. These German formations were opposed only by the remnants of the IX Mechanised Corps and the motorised infantry division of the 16th Army, which took up defensive positions in the city of Ostrog.
A serious threat to the rear from the north now loomed ominously over the left-wing forces of the South-West Front, and in the south a large German grouping was preparing for an offensive from Romania. On 30 June, therefore, the Soviet decided to pull back their forward troops to the line of fortified areas along the 1939 border line. To ensure that this withdrawal proceeded as intended, one infantry and three mechanised corps of the 5th Army launched a counterattack on the left flank of the 1st Panzergruppe on 1 July. This counterattack delayed the Germans for a mere two days in the region of Rovno and Ostrog. On 6 July, Panzer divisions descended on the first-line fortified areas into which the Soviet field forces had not yet managed to retreat, reached the Novograd-Volinsky fortified area and, bypassing this to the north and south, launched an offensive on Kiev.
During its active defence in the border areas and on intermediate defensive lines, and counterstrikes by mechanised corps and combined-arms formations in the Dubno, Lutsk and Rovno regions, the South-Western Front had inflicted significant losses on the Germans and slowed the German advance toward Kiev. This made it possible for the Soviets to withdraw much of their main forces and take up the defences in the fortified areas along the old national frontier, in the process providing the time the USSR needed to make great strides in its mobilisation. Despite this, though, the Soviet forces had suffered a monumental strategic defeat and suffered the loss of very many men and vast quantities of matériel.
By 6 July, the South-West Front and the 18th Army of the South Front had lost 241,594 men, including 172,323 mean killed, missing or taken prisoner. They had also lost 4,381 tanks, 5,806 pieces of artillery and mortars, and 1,218 combat aircraft. Thus the overall balance of forces along the southern sector of the Eastern Front had veered significantly in favour of the Germans. Possessing the complete strategic and operational initiative, showing decidedly better tactical capabilities, and retaining its offensive capabilities, Heeresgruppe 'Süd' now readied itself to strike from the area to the west and south of Kiev into the rear of the South-West Front and South Fronts.