Rovno-Lutsk Offensive Operation

The 'Rovno-Lutsk Offensive Operation' was Soviet undertaking in the western part of Ukraine by the right wing of General Nikolai F. Vatutin’s 1st Ukrainian Front against elements of Generaloberst Erhard Raus’s 4th Panzerarmee within Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein’s Heeresgruppe 'Süd' with the aim of enveloping this army group’s left wing within the overall concept of the 'Dniepr-Carpathian Strategic Offensive Operation' in the Right-Bank Ukraine (27 January/11 February 1944).

The other sub-operations of the 'Dniepr-Carpathian Strategic Offensive Operation' were the 'Zhitomir-Berdichev Offensive Operation' (24 December 1943/14 January 1944), the 'Kirovograd Offensive Operation' (5/16 January), the 'Korsun-Shevchenkovsky Offensive Operation' (24 January/17 February), the 'Nikopol-Krivoi Rog Offensive Operation 2nd Stage' (30 January/29 February), the 'Proskurov-Chernovtsy Offensive Operation' (4 March/17 April), the 'Uman-Botoşani Offensive Operation' (5 March/17 April), the 'Bereznegovatoye-Snigirevka Offensive Operation' (6/18 March), the 'Polesskoye Offensive Operation' (15 March/5 April) and the 'Odessa Offensive Operation' (26 March/14 April).

The Soviet offensive, which was spearheaded by General Leytenant Pavel A. Belov’s II Guards Cavalry Corps in terrain dominated by woods and marshes, succeeded in its task of taking Rovno and Lutsk, which were important centres for German communications. As a result of this offensive, Soviet forces achieved a deep envelopment of the left flank of Heeresgruppe 'Süd', which opened the way for the Soviet forces to strike to the south, deep in the rear of Heeresgruppe 'Süd' as accomplished a month later during the 'Proskurov-Chernyovtsy Offensive Operation' that led to the encirclement of the 1st Panzerarmee in the Kamenets-Podolsky pocket.

The success also yielded for the Soviet forces a new strategic axis to the west, together with the possibility of advancing toward Kovel, Lublin and Brest[Litovsk, which allowed the Soviet forces to penetrate into the flank and the rear of Generalfeldmarschall Ernst Busch’s Heeresgruppe 'Mitte'. The 'Rovno-Lutsk Offensive Operation' also created the so-called 'Belorussian salient' in which the German forces' front protruded to the east and was more than 185 miles (300 km) forward of the front held by Heeresgruppe 'Süd'.

The 'Rovno-Lutsk Offensive Operation' was carried out around the same time that the 'Korsun-Shevchenkovsky Offensive Operation', in which the Battle of the Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket developed. This last led to the despatch of German armoured formations in an effort to rescue two German corps which had been encircled there, the 'Rovno-Lutsk Offensive Operation' tied down the forces of the 4th Panzerarmee that could otherwise have been used in the operation to relieve the German forces trapped in the Korsun-Cherkassy pocket.

Heeresgruppe 'Süd' had ordered General Arthur Hauffe’s XIII Corps to establish new defensive positions along the line connecting Sdolbuno and Zolotyov via Uscie and Rovno in order to close the army group’s exposed left flank and impose a daly on the Soviet advance within the 'Korsun-Shevchenkovsky Offensive Operation'.

To the north of Raus’s 4th Panzerarmee, the left-flank major formation of Heeresgruppe 'Süd', a major gap had appeared between Heeresgruppe 'Süd' and Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' largely as a result of Adolf Hitler’s unwillingness and indeed inability to form another army in the Rovno area as von Manstein had requested. Some troops of General Arthur Hauffe’s ]e]XIII Corps were detached to cover the land approach from Rovno to Lwów, while a number of SS and police battalions covered the line of the railway in the area of the Pripyet marshes. No immediate Soviet attack was expected in this area as it was believed that the 1st Ukrainian Front was preoccupied both at Cherkasy and in the penetration between the 4th Panzerarmee and 1st Panzerarmee. On 27 January, however, General Leytenant Nikolai P. Pukhov’s 13th Army and General Leytenant Ivan D. Chernyakovsky’s 60th Army, the right-flank formations of the 1st Ukrainian Front, attacked with help through the marshes and woods by partisan forces. Using the I Guards Cavalry Corps and VI Guards Cavalry Corps on their extreme flank, two days later the Soviet forces reached the Styr river, well inside the 1939 border of Poland. Rovno, Luck and the Zdolbunov railway junction were soon taken, and on 10 February Shepetovka fell. Erich Koch, the Reichskommissar of Ukraine, fled from his headquarters at Rovno as Soviet troops neared the town, whose loss on 5 February led to the usual recriminations by Hitler against the German army and the threat of the death sentence on officers in command.