Lwow Offensive Operation

Otherwise known as the 2nd Battle of Brody, the 'Lwów Offensive Operation' was the Soviet undertaking that was the first of the three sub-operations by the 1st Ukrainian Front against the 4th Panzerarmee of Heeresgruppe 'Nordukraine' near Brody in the Lwów area within the context of the 'Lwów-Sandomierz Strategic Offensive Operation' (13/27 July 1944).

The other two sub-operations were the 'Stanislav Offensive Operation' (13/27 July) and the 'Sandomierz Offensive Operation' (28 July/29 August).

On 13 July, the German and Soviet front line in the western part of Ukraine extended along the line linking Kovel, Tarnopol and Kolomea, and here the Germans had ordered the construction of three fortified lines, but as a result of the speed of the Soviet forces westward advance work had been undertaken on only two of them.

Between April and June 1944, the Soviet supreme command had regrouped the forces of its armies along the entire 310-mile (500-km) length of the front in preparation for the planned 'Lwów-Sandomierz Strategic Offensive Operation', whose concept was the liberation of western Ukraine and southern Poland. This plan envisaged the delivery of two concentric strikes in order to break through the line of German fortifications: of these, one was the strike of the General Polkovnik Vasili N. Gordov’s 3rd Guards Army and General Leytenant Nikolai P. Pukhov’s 13th Army from the south of Volyn in the direction of Rava-Russkaya, and the other the strike of General Polkovnik Pavel A. Kurochkin’s 60th Army and General Polkovnik Kyrill S. Moskalenko’s 38th Army from the Tarnopol area toward Lwów. After the Soviet forces had broken through the German front, their armoured and mechanised formations were to to the west and then to the south-west in order to encircle, trap and finally destroy the German forces in the area of Brody. The plan was finalised by Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Ivan S. Konev’s 1st Ukrainian Front on 10 July.

The Soviets were opposed in this sector of the Eastern Front by the German forces of Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model’s Heeresgruppe 'Nordukraine', which had its headquarters in Lwów. This army group had recently been seriously weakened by the transfer of six divisions to the Belorussian front, where the Germans were in the process of suffered a major defeat in the 'Belorussian Strategic Offensive Operation'. In the aftermath of the creation of Heeresgruppe 'Nordukraine' on 4 April, Soviet victories in Ukraine and Belorussia had resulted in very significant German losses in men and equipment, and the losses of men in particular had compelled the Germans to bolster their front-line forces with divisions formed from previously Soviet nationalities. During May, in Neuhammer, the formation of SS-Brigadeführer Fritz Freitag’s 14th Galizische SS-Freiwilligendivision was completed, and on 28 June Model ordered the allocation of this division to General Arthur Hauffe’s XIII Corps of the 4th Panzerarmee, which was holding the 100-mile (160 km) length of the front in the area of Brody. The Waffen-SS division occupied the second (reserve) line, which was 22.33 miles (36 km) long. The division’s combat strength was more than 15,000 men people, while the strengths of those German formations which did not have the time to leave the front were on average no more than 2,500 men, and their retreating units lacked much in the way of any real fighting value. Before the start of the battle, the Waffen-SS division had only 50 tanks but no air support.

On 13 July, elements of the 1st Ukrainian Front went over to the offensive in the Rava-Russa and Lwów directions. Formations of the 3rd Guards Army and 13th Army broke through the German tactical defences and by 15 July had advanced to a depth of 12.4 miles (20 km). On the following day, a mechanised cavalry group was brought into the battle, and on the morning of 17 July so too was General Polkovnik Mikhail Ye. Katukov’s 1st Guards Tank Army. There was intense fighting for the German second defensive zone, where Generalmajor Hans-Ulrich Back’s 16th Panzerdivision and Generalleutnant Walter Schilling’s (from 20 July Generalmajor Karl-Friedrich von der Meden’s) 17th Panzerdivision were moved from the reserve, but by the end of 16 July the German forces' entire tactical zone had been penetrated to a depth of 9.33 to 18.67 miles (15 to 30 km). On 17 July, troops of the 1st Ukrainian Front entered Polish Galicia.

On the Lwów axis, the situation was more successful for the German troops. Having created a shock grouping of two Panzer divisions, the German troops repulsed the offensive of the 38th Army and 60th Army, and on the morning of 15 July conducted a counterattack with two Panzer divisions from the area of Plugov in the region of Zborov, pushing the Soviet forces back several kilometres. The Soviet command intensified air and artillery strikes in this sector, and on 16 July brought up General Pavel S. Rybalko’s 3rd Guards Tank Army and then General Polkovnik Dmitri D. Lelyushenko’s 4th Tank Army.

The tank armies were introduced into a narrow corridor, between 2.5 and 37.3 miles (4 and 6 km) wide and 11.2 miles (18 km) long, formed by the attack of the 60th Army. Rybalko, the commander of the 3rd Guards Tank Army, led his army into this corridor on 16 July, and on the following day Lelyushenko’s entire 4th Tank Army passed through this corridor. The entry of two tank armies into the battle along a corridor as narrow as this and met by counterattacks, was the only such event in the 'Great Patriotic War'.

By the end of 18 July, the German defence had been broken on both Soviet axes to a depth of 31 to 50 miles (50 to 80 km) across a width of 125 miles (200 km). Soviet troops crossed the Zapadny Bug river and in the Brody area surrounded a German group of up to eight divisions, including the 14th Galizische SS-Freiwilligendivision.

After the Soviet troops had reached the approaches to Lwów, Konev decided to concentrate his main effort on the axis from Lwów to Przemyśl direction in order to complete the defeat of the opposing enemy grouping and capture the cities of Lvov and Przemyśl. Lwów At the same time, efforts were made to complete the destruction of the German group in the Brody areas as swiftly as possible and accelerate the development of the offensive in the direction of Stanislav (Ivano-Frankivsk).

The 60th Army and 13th Army, supported by the aircraft of General Polkovnik Stepan Ya. Krasovsky’s 2nd Air Army, fought intense battles with the aim of eliminating the grouping surrounded in the Brody area. By 22 July the group had been liquidated: about 30,000 Germans had been killed, and more than 17,000 others taken prisoner.

Simultaneously with the battles to destroy the German group in the Brody area, the 1st Ukrainian Front continued to develop its offensive to the west. By the end of 23 July, its troops had reached the San river, and tank units had crossed the river and captured bridgeheads to the north and south of Yaroslav. The Soviet attempt to take Lwów straight from march with tank armies was unsuccessful, as a result of which Konev decided to take the city with the forces of the 60th Army and 38th Army even as the tank armies bypass the city round the north and south. By 27 July, Soviet troops, supported by Polish partisans, had occupied the cities of Lwów and Przemyśl. On the Stanislav axis, elements of the 1st Guards Army and 18th Army occupied Galich and Stanislav on 24 and 27 July respectively.

By July 27, the first stage of the operation had been completed. Heeresgruppe 'Nordukraine' had suffered very heavy losses and was cut into two parts separated by a gap of some 50 miles (100 km).

The defeat of the XIII Corps, whose commander was killed, created conditions favourable for the 1st Ukrainian Front to attack Lwów, and in August the western part of Ukraine was completely liberated. At the same time, the Battle of Brody played an invaluable role in preserving Lwów itself: during the battle, German units left the city, so there was almost no fighting in Lwów.