The 'Spas-Demensk Offensive Operation' is otherwise known as the 2nd Battle of Kharkov, and was the Soviet first of the six sub-operations together constituting the 'Smolensk Strategic Offensive Operation' otherwise known as 'Suvorov' (7/20 August 1943).
These sub-operations were the 'Spas-Demensk Offensive Operation', the 'Dukhovshchina-Demidov Offensive Operation (1st Stage)' (13/18 August), the 'Yelnya-Dorogobuzh Offensive Operation' (28 August/6 September), the 'Dukhovshchina-Demidov Offensive Operation (2nd Stage)' (14 September/2 October), the 'Smolensk-Roslavl Offensive Operation' (15 September/2 October) and the 'Bryansk Offensive Operation' (17 August/3 October).
Undertaken at almost the same time as the 'Donbass Strategic Offensive Operation' (13 August/22 September), the 'Suvorov' strategic offensive was co-ordinated for the Soviet high command by Glavny Marshal Nikolai N. Voronov, a Deputy People’s Commissar for Defence, and was designed to liberate Roslavl and upset the German defence along the 'Hagen-Stellung' defence line extending from Sevsk to Zhidra via a point just to the east of Bryansk. Conceived as a rapid strike, the offensive in fact lasted two months and involved General Polkovnik Andrei I. Eremenko’s Kalinin Front and General Vasili D. Sokolovsky’s West Front, and had as its object the clearance of the German forces of Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge’s Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' from the Smolensk and Bryansk regions. Smolensk had been under German occupation since the 1st Battle of Smolensk in 1941.
At the beginning of August 1943, the West Front comprised General Leytenant Vitali S. Polenov’s 5th Army, General Leytenant Kuzma P. Trubnikov’s 10th Guards Army, General Polkovnik Vasili N. Gordov’s 33rd Army, General Leytenant Ivan T. Grishin’s 49th Army, General Leytenant Vasili S. Popov’s 10th Army, General Leytenant Yevgeni P. Zhuravlev’s 68th Army, General Leytenant Nikolai I. Krylov’s 21st Army, V Mechanised Corps and VI Guards Cavalry Corps, with air support provided by General Leytenant Mikhail M. Gromov’s 1st Air Army. At the start of the offensive, these formations were holding the line centred on Mazovo in the area to the east of Bakhmutovo and west of Kirov.
These Soviet forces were opposed by the main strength of Generaloberst Gotthard Heinrici’s 4th Army and part of Generaloberst Walter Model’s (from 15 August Generaloberst Dr Lothar Rendulic’s 2nd Panzerarmee (from 17 August Model’s 9th Army) within Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge’s Heeresgruppe 'Mitte'. These German forces were holding solid and deeply echeloned defensive positions.
The plan devised by the Soviet high command envisaged a offensive by the 10th Guards Army and 33rd Army to the north of Spas-Demensk, and by the 10th Army to the south of Spas-Demensk in order to break through the German defences and, in co-operation with the 49th Army, to encircle and subsequently destroy the German forces in the Spas-Demensk area, which lies to the south-west of Moscow. It was planned that the Soviet forces would then develop their offensive into the flank and rear of the German forces facing the Bryansk Front.
In overall terms, it was on 7 August that the 5th Army, 10th Guards Army and 33rd Army went onto the offensive. To accelerate the breakthrough, on the operation’s second day part of the 68th Army and single divisions of the 10th Guards Army and 33rd Army, constituting the front reserve, were also committed. On 10 August, in the area to the north of Kirov, the 10th Army attacked and in two days advanced to a depth of 6.2 miles (10 km), in the process outflanking the German opposition from the south. This forced the Germans on 12 August to begin the withdrawal of their troops from the Spas-Demensk salient. On 13 August the 49th Army, in co-operation with the 33rd Army, liberated Spas-Demensk. By the end of 20 August, the Soviets had overcome growing German resistance to advance between 18.65 and 25 miles (30 to 40 km) and reach the line between Terenino and Maly Savki via Zemtsy, where they temporarily went over to the defensive as they readied themselves to attempt a fresh breakthrough.
The strategic significance of the Spas-Demensk salient is attested by the fact that in August 1943 it was a potent symbol of the 1941 successes of the German army. The 4th Army was some 155 miles (250 km) from Kaluga, which was then on the outskirts of Moscow, and the Shaikovka airfield, with a paved all-weather runway, was of strategic importance for both the Soviets and the Germans. For the summer campaign of 1943, the region’s most vital lines of communication were still the Varshavsk road and the railways linking Bryansk and Vyaz’ma, and Sukhinichi and Smolensk, together with the railway junction at Zanoznaya.
It was in March 1943, as a result of the Soviet pursuit of the German forces' 'Büffel' withdrawal from the Rzhev and Vyaz’ma salient, that the West Front’s forces reached the line from which the 'Spas-Demensk Offensive Operation' was to be launched. After their withdrawal, the Germans were firmly entrenched along the line between Velizh and the area to the west of Kirov via Yartsevo, Dorogobuzh and Spas-Demensk. This realignment shortened the front line by about 50%, and made troop densities denser right along the line.
At the end of the 'Rzhev-Vyaz’ma Offensive Operation' in March 1943, many settlements of the Spas-Demensk region had been liberated:these included Vysochky, Vyazovnya, Kurkino, the Milyatinsk forest, Naumovo, Novoye Petrovo, Novy Lazinki, Staraya Shkola, Staraya Lazinky, Chebyshi and Shelekhi.
It is worth noting that many western commentators have asserted that 'Büffel' was very successful inasmuch as it allowed the Germans to withdraw from the Rzhev-Vyaz’ma salient in an organised manner and with minimal losses. However, there are dissenters who asset that the Germans' 'bloody losses as a result of many hours of close combat and counterattacks [were] depressingly great, and the number of victims crushed by the tracks of tanks [was] great … Huge gaps [were] immediately formed in the ranks of the attackers. The commanders who led the attack were killed, the soldiers fell on the run, and the [non=commissioned officers] who took the places of the officers perished. Of 10 machine gun crews, within one hour, as a result of direct hits, the 10th Kompanie of the 98th Division's 290th Infanterieregiment lost eight!'
While the forces of the Kalinin Front’s right wing and those of the West Front’s centre, held their positions and prepared for the 'Smolensk Strategic Offensive Operation', those of the left wing of the West Front and the Bryansk Front on 12 July went over to the 'Orel Strategic Offensive Operation' and, building on their success, by 30 July had reached a line some 6.2 to 9.33 miles (10 to 15 km) to the west of the area to the east of east of Zhizdra, Khvastovichi and Karachev. The success of the 'Orel Strategic Offensive Operation' created more favourable conditions for the delivery of offensives toward Smolensk and Roslavl.
On the night of 3/4 August, the partisan detachments in the rear area of Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' sharply intensified their activities: on 4 August the Germans recorded no fewer than 4,110 sabotage operations on the railways by partisans. On the following day, large numbers of Soviet bombers and fighters raided the German front line and a number of railway installations in the German rear: for several hours, German front-line telephone communication was completely disabled.
Preparing for the Soviet offensive on the Smolensk and Roslavl axes, the Germans continued to improve their defensive lines, which had already been upgraded over a period of between five and 18 months. The Germans made clever use of terrain features to create a solid defence with five defensive zones to a total depth of 60 to 80 miles (100 to 130 km). The main German line was held by infantry divisions, deployed largely for linear defence in one echelon. In the area of Spas-Demensk, the infantry divisions defended a zone 6.2 to 9.33 miles (10 to 15 km) deep. The artillery was located between the second and third defensive zones, and in some cases behind the third zone. The first line extended along the Ugra and Snotot rivers, the second along the left bank of the Uzha river, west of Yelnya and farther along the Desna river, the third along the Dogovarivat’sya river to Novo-Yakovlevichi and farther to Novy Tishovo, Stary Shcherbino and Stryana, but the fourth along the Khmost and Volost rivers. The rear lines were not occupied at the beginning of the offensive, but the Germans intended top man these, if necessary, with reserves and with troops falling back from more forward positions.
Behind these defensive lines, the Germans had the benefit of a well-developed network of railways (especially that linking Smolensk and Bryansk) and roads. Of great importance in the movement of troops and supplies were the junction stations and points, especially those of Smolensk and Roslavl. Roads extending from these junctions in various directions provided for the transport of men, equipment and supplies from the rear areas toward the front line.
Even so, the Oberkommando des Heeres and other senior command organisations fully understood the inadequacy of their efforts, undertaken largely by women in forced labour units, to build impregnable defensive positions on the Eastern Front.
The Germans were able to mass large forces against the West Front, most notably the 3td Panzerarmee, 4th Army and part of the 2nd Panzerarmee. These armies deployed 18 infantry divisions in the first line, with the rest of their strengths in operational reserve.
At the start of the 'Spas-Demensk Offensive Operation', the formations of Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' included Generalleutnant Hermann Flörke 's 14th Division, Generalleutnant Hans Gollnick’s 36th Division, Generalleutnant Heinrich Meyer-Bürdorf’s 131st Division, Generalmajor Dietrich von Cholitz’s 260th Division, Generalleutnant Otto Drescher’s 267th Division, Generalleutnant Heinrich Greiner’s 268th Division, Generalleutnant Wilhelm Thomas’s 321st Division, Generalleutnant Albrecht Baier’s 342th Division, Generalleutnant Vollrath Lübbe’s 2nd Panzerdivision and other formations and units. between 1 and 6 August, Generalleutnant Otto Lüdecke’s 56th Division arrived from the Orel sector to the Gnezdilovo area, and Generalleutnant Rudolf Stegmann’s (from 10 August Generalmajor Gottfried Fröhlich’s) 36th Division arrived in the Pavlinovo area. In the following days and weeks, the transfer of formations and units from other sector and from the reserves continued.
The area of Chashcha, Terenino, Lukino and Pavlinovo was held by the 268th Division, whose composition was typical of that of most German infantry divisions of this period: two infantry regiments (after suffering heavy losses, the third such regiment had been disbanded in December 1942), one artillery regiment, one anti-tank artillery battalion, one reconnaissance battalion, one signals battalion and one engineer battalion. The area of Karnovka and Lukino, which was about 6.2 miles (10 km) wide, was until 2 August held by one infantry regiment. On this latter day, the Germans consolidated their defensive arrangement, bringing the 268th Division, 260th Division and one infantry battalion into the angle of the area centred on the 3.1-mile (5-km) wide Aleksandrovo and Lukino sector. A training battalion was in reserve in the Zhdanovo area.
In the Spas-Demensk area, the West Front totalled six armies with 39 infantry divisions, all reinforced with tank, artillery, engineer, cavalry and air units.
The main Soviet blow was delivered by the 10th Guards Army, 33rd Army, 68th Army, 21st Army, the V Mechanised Corps and the VI Guards Cavalry Corps on a front some 10 miles (16 km) wide and directed along the axis to Roslavl. To improve the operation’s chances of success, it was planned that part of the 10th Army should attack Obolovka and Vorontsovo as this would create the possibility of encircling the German forces in the Spas-Demensk area. In overall terms, the West Front was tasked with advancing to a depth of between 115 and 125 miles (180 and 200 km) and reaching a line linking Yartsevo and Dubrovka via Pochinok and Roslavl.
A major regrouping of the Soviet forces in the sector of the main attack had created a high density of fire: infantry divisions occupied 1.25 to 1.55 miles (2 to 2.5 km) in the sector earmarked for the breakthrough sector, and there were as many as 165 pieces of artillery and mortars for each kilometre of front. Air support was provided by Gromov’s 1st Air Army and General Leytenant Nikolai F. Papivin’s 3rd Air Army.
The Soviet plan had allocated to the advancing troops between 2 and 2.5 lines of ammunition for each of the the main types of weapon, but this was clearly inadequate for forces tasked with the rapid breakthrough of the German defences. By the beginning of the operation, there were only 1.3 units of fuel. Engineering troops were allocated the task of creating passages through minefields, and also of providing passable roads, water and ditch crossings, command positions and observation posts.
Despite the measures taken by the Soviets to camouflage and thus conceal their preparations, the Germans had managed to identify the starting locations and axes of the Soviet forces' main attacks and had taken the opportunity for the strengthen their defences still further.
The West Front’s main offensive onslaught was preceded by reconnaissances in force, which established the required fire plan and fixed the forward lines of the German defences. Not all the German firing points were identified, however, so a large centre of German defence (Height 233.3 at Gnezdilovsk) was not sufficiently reconnoitred.
Early in the morning of 7 August, the artillery of the 5th Army, 10th Guards Army, 33rd Army and 21st Army fired a 110-minute preparation along the German front line before, at 06.30, Polkovnik Anatoli I. Kolobutin’s 56th Guards Division and Polkovnik Aleksandr Ye. Vinogradov’s 65th Guards Division swept forward against the German defences. The XV Guards Corps, comprising the 30th Guards Division and 85th Guards Division, advanced to the north of the primary axis, and Polkovnik Grigori I. Panishev’s 22nd Guards Division was in the second echelon, behind the first-echelon formations of the XIX Guards Corps. General Major Andrei T. Stuchenko’s 29th Guards Division was the 10th Guards Army’s reserve.
Gordov’s 33rd Army launched its own part of the offensive toward Verkhny and Kurkino with a shock group comprising Polkovnik Boleslav F. Zarako-Zarakovsky’s 160th Division, General Major Vasili A. Revyakin’s 164th Division and General Major Nikolai N. Multan’s 42nd Division.
Part of the Soviet second-echelon formations, the 21st Army committed it artillery in direct support of the attack on the 33rd Army’s sector. For this, the 21st Army’s artillery and mortars were subordinated to the 33rd Army’s artillery commander.
The task set for the 10th Guards Army by the West Front was to reach the line of the railway linking Yelnya and Spas-Demensk by the end of the first day, but was in fact completed only on the night of 12/13 August, The V Mechanised Corps was to force the Desna river by the end of 8 August, but achieved this only in the middle of September.
The West Front had in fact seriously underestimated the strength and depth of the German defences, however, and the relative lack of success by the Soviet attack on the offensive’s first day by the replacement of Vinogradov as commander of 65th Guards Division by Polkovnik Yakov I. Dmitriev.
The Soviet problem stemmed largely from the determination of the German defenders, whose heavily fortified defence zone comprised large minefields, multiple trench lines, echeloned barbed wire entanglements, bunkers of the armoured as well as unarmoured types, and exploitation of natural features. Of these last, the most significant was the area of Height 233.3 at Gnezdilovovsk, which was not even mentioned in the orders issued by the 10th Guards Army to its subordinate corps.
Right from the start of the Soviet offensive, the German resistance was stubborn, and further strengthened by the rapid introduction of significant reinforcements. Some of these were drawn from the 2nd Panzerarmee, and there was also the 9th Army's 36th Division, which during August had three commanders in the form of Generalleutnant Hans Gollnick to 10 August, then Oberst Gottfried Frölich and finally Generalmajor Rudolf Stegmann. On 9 and 10 August, the Germans transferred two infantry divisions and one Panzer division from the Orel sector to the area of the Soviet breakthrough. On 10 August the 1/588th Infanterieregiment was brought into battle, and fresh German formations and units continued to arrive in the course of the following days: on 10 August the 2/588th Infanterieregiment and 3/588th Infanterieregiment, the 557th Sicherungsbataillon, one battalion of Generalleutnant Heinrich Meyer-Bürdorf’s 131st Division and elements of Generalleutnant Hermann Flörke’s 14th Division; on 12 September elements of Generalleutnant Sebastian Fichtner’s 8th Panzerdivision; on 13 September elements of Oberst Erwin Jollasse’s 9th Panzerdivision and the 252nd Infanterieregiment of Generalleutnant Eberhard von Kurowski’s 110th Division; on 14 September elements of Oberst Karl Decker’s 5th Panzerdivision; on 15 September elements of Generalleutnant Mortimer von Kesse’s 20th Panzerdivision' on 16 September one reserve battalion' on 17 September elements of Generalleutnant Johann Heinrich Eckhardt’s 211st Division' and on 18 September elements of Generalleutnant Johann de Boer’s 26th Division.
By the end of 7 August, the West Front shock forces had advanced between 1.25 and 3.1 miles (2 and 5 km), and Soviet air reconnaissance had established that the Germans were already in the process of transferring a significant number of troops from other sectors further to strengthen the forces in the Spas-Demensk area.
On 8 August, the pace and weight of the Soviet offensive were increased. In this the Soviets were aided by an increased number and weight of Soviet air attacks, and also by the intensity of partisan attacks, which increased in number and were largely responsible for the disruption of telephone communications over a major part of the front held by Heeresgruppe 'Mitte'.
The offensive’s second day began at 08.00 with an artillery barrage and at 08.30 an attack along the entire front. Two fresh divisions of the 68th Army, Polkovnik Aleksei P. Mette’s 192nd Division and Polkovnik Vasili Ya. Poyarov’s 199th Division, were committed between the 85th Guards Division and 56th Guards Division.
The 10th Guards Army committed Panishev’s 22nd Guards Division, and the 33rd Army instructed Polkovnik Fedor I. Gryzlov’s 222nd Division to co-operate with the 58th Tank Regiment in the seizure of the railway linking Mogilnoye and Kapusta. Soviet reinforcement were the 36th Division, 56th Division and 2nd Tank Division, which were transferred from the Orel sector.
After severe fighting, the 56th Guards Division took Kosheliki, Delyagino and the northern part of Dvorishche, whose possession was disputed up to 10 August in bitter combat. The 65th Guards Division, together with the 119th Tank Regiment, liberated Veselukh and then found itself involved in heavy fighting with German infantry and armour in the area of Height 233.3. The 222nd Division liberated Zyuziki and Lazki, and the 164th Division liberated Khotilovka. The 160th Division encircled the German strongpoint in the village of Sluzna.
On 9 August, German troops continued their stubborn defence as they attempted to prevent the Soviet forces from reaching the line of the railway linking Spas-Demensk and Yelnya. Even so, the depth of the Soviet penetration increased to 4.35 miles (7 km) along a sector 14.3 miles (23 km) wide as the attacking formations reached the line between Massola and Gertsog via the area to the east of Zhdanovo.
On 10 August, the 10th Guards Army committed the 29th Guards Division and the 56th Guards Division, elements of which liberated the southern part of Delyagino. By the end of the offensive’s fourth day, units of the 10th Guards Army had taken most of Height 233.3. Elsewhere, unit of the 10th Army’s 290th Division, 247th Division and 330th Division broke through the German line in the sector between Ostraya Sloboda and Verkhnyaya Pesochnya along a front 5.6 miles (9 km) wide and penetrated to a depth of 3.1 miles (5 km), in the process crossing the Bolva river. Prisoners taken by the Soviets suggested that the Germans had suffered losses in the order of 50%.
On 11 August, which was the offensive’s fifth day, a decisive point was reached as the Soviets completed their seizure of Height 233.3 and thus opened the way for elements of the 10th Guards Army to break through. The Soviet forces liberated Nadezhda, Gnezdilovo, Kharlamovo, Krasnaya Polyana and Zhdanovo, which had been German strongpoints and whose loss meant the collapse of the 4th Army's first defence line.
On the night of 12 August, a reconnaissance by the 29th Guards Division in the area to the south of Gnezdilovo attacked a German vehicle, killing 11 Germans and taking prisoner another three. These men were on the strength of the 9th Kompanie of the 36th Division's 118th Infanterieregiment, and this revealed the fact that by the middle of 11 August, the 3/118th Infanterieregiment had been committed in the area of Nadezhda with the object of counterattacking the Soviet units to the west of Nadezhna. The battalion’s counterattack failed, and the unit then fell back to Gnezdilovo. On entering the battle, the battalion had numbered 130 men, but the counterattack had cost it as many as 60 of these men.
In two days of fighting, the 10th Army had liberated 15 settlements and advanced up to 4.35 miles (7 km) on the left flank, up to 5 miles (8 km) in the centre and as much as 2.5 miles (4 km) on the right flank. Additionally, the 371st Division and the 139th Division, together with the 94th Tank Brigade were brought into this phase of the battle to supplement the 247th Division, 290th Division and 330th Division.
On 12 and 13 August, the progress of the Soviet forces accelerated. Five days of fierce fighting had broken the physical strength and moral determination of the German troops and shattered their defences, so a very real threat now emerged for the Soviet forces to break into the German rear area in the Spas-Demensk salient, forcing the Germans into a hasty withdrawal.
Having liberated Kharlamovo, Grankino, the southern part of Gnezdilovo, Maksimovo, the southern part of Zhdanovo, Vishnevka and Yekaterinovka, and crossed the Demina river, the 10th Guards Army was now close to the line of the railway linking Spas-Demensk and Yelnya. The 33rd Army, detecting the German withdrawal, immediately went on the offensive, liberating nine settlements during the day and continuing the pursuit despite repeated German counterattacks, closed on Spas-Demensk.
On the night of 12/13 August, Soviet reconnaissance provided form evidence of the major German withdrawal, and Sokolovsky ordered the 49th Army to begin its pursuit from 04.00. During 13 August, the 49th Army advanced 15.5 miles (25 km) and, in co-operation with elements of the 33rd Army, liberated the city of Spas-Demensk, in which the Germans had abandoned 162 wagons loaded with food, fuel, timber and various itms of military equipment, three locomotives and two wagons filled with wounded men.
On 13 August, the 10th Guards Army liberated Pavlinovo, Gorky, Novy Put, Kozlovka, Klyushki, Novo-Uspenskoye, Sleptsy, Oselye, and drove forward past Spas-Demensk to a line between Vava and Terenino, in the process suffering the loss of 177 men killed and 653 men wounded. In seven days of combat, the 65th Guards Division had lost 75% of its personnel killed and wounded. Polkovnik Yefremov V. Vladimirovich’s fast-moving 62nd Division of the 21st Army liberated occupied Gorbachy and Berezovo. After liberating 25 settlements during the day, the 33rd Army reached the area to the north of Dobritsa, Shevtsy, Buraki, Bolva and Gridino.
As a result of intense battles, the 33rd Army, having broken through a heavily fortified sector, had defeated units of the 268th Division, 260th Division, 56th Division, 267th Division, 262nd Division, 131st Division, 36th Division, two Panzer divisions, one training battalion and one engineer battalion, killed more than 8,000 German soldiers and destroyed or captured a large quantity of weapons and other equipment. Interrogation of German prisoners revealed that the Germans seemed to have lost very large numbers, weapons and other equipment: some companies, which had numbered between100 and 120 men before the start of the operation, now had no more than some 30 to 50 men.
Only three German infantry divisions initially defended the sector attacked by the 10th Army, and this imbalance created conditions which favoured the Soviet attackers who, in the case of the 10th Army, had four infantry divisions, one tank brigade and the V Mechanised Corps. In fierce fighting up to 13 August, the 10th Army deepened its penetration of the German positions up to 10 miles (16 km) on the right flank, up to 13 miles (21 km) in the centre and 4.35 miles (7 km) on the left flank, in the process liberating 38 villages. The 10th Army’s vanguard detachments reached the Varshavsk road.
The Germans redeployed another two infantry and three Panzer divisions to the area of the West Front’s assault from the area to the west of Orel and Zhizdra, so creating a tactical density of no more than 2.5 miles (4 km) per division against the Soviet strike group aimed at Kirov.
On 14 August, the 21st Army, with the LXI Corps (62nd Division and 119th Division), stormed into Potapovo and Loga and onto Height 233.1. Potapovo and Loga changed hands several times before being retained by the Germans, but Height 233.1 remained in Soviet hands.
The 33rd Army used the 144th Division, 222nd Division, 277th Division and 42nd Division to attack the German strongholds in Dobritsa, Rechitsa, Privetok and Klyuchy, and the 222nd Division liberated Shevtsy, Mitino and Gorokhovye, the 227th Division occupied Kapusta, Seltso, Darna and Privetok, and the 160th Division and 164th Division remained uncommitted in army reserve.
The infantry divisions of the 49th army, advancing along the Varshavsk road, liberated many settlements and villages: the 146th Division took Gridino, the 58th Division and the 148th Separate Army Penal Company took Novo-Aleksandrovsk, and the 338th Division liberated Verkhulichy and Sviridovo. Near Verkhulichy, the Soviets took a food dump containing 250 tons of flour, 30 tons of bread and 30 tons of salt.
The 10th Army committed the 371st Division, 247th Division, 290th Division, 139th Division, 326th Division, 385th Division, 330th Division and 64th Division in its first echelon, retaining only the 344th Division and 49th Divisions as it second echelon, and in this one day of fighting liberated 10 settlements were liberated.
On 15 August, the 21st Army failed to break the German resistance in its sector, and thus recorded only minimal advances.
After a 30-minute artillery preparation, at 12.00 the 33rd Army committed its 144the Division, 222nd Division, 160th Division, 277th Division and 42nd Division to fall on the german defences, retaining only the 164th Division in reserve. The 277th Division received a German counterattack, and after a stubborn battle fell back from Privetok. The army’s losses on 15 August were 353 men killed and 847 men wounded.
The 49th Army’s 58th Division had liberated Leskovo by the morning of 15 August, but was then compelled by four armour-supported German counterattacks to fall back from this settlement, largely as a result of the Soviet forces' general shortage of artillery shells and small arms ammunition.
Since the beginning of the operation, the 10th Army has liberated 46 settlements in its advance of between 7.5 and 18.65 miles (12 and 30 km). The army made successful use of armour to repel German counterattack and continues its advance.
Ar 02.30 on 16 August, the 21st Army’s LXI Corps (119th Division, 51st Division and 62nd Division) liberated Loga, Nesterra and Potapovo at the end of a short but decisive night attack. The Germans responded with a number of counterattacks, and managed to retake Nesterra, while Log and Potapovo remained in Soviet hands. Interrogation of prisoners suggested that Generalleutnant Otto Drescher’s 267th Division and Generalleutnant Heinrich Greiner’s 268th Division had been defeated, and a pair of battalions were formed by consolidation of the surviving soldiers: one battalion had 240 men and the other as many as 400 men.
The withdrawal that began on 12 and 13 August did not lift from the Germans the threat of encirclement, for the 10th Guards Army’s breakthrough to the north of the Spas-Demensk region took the Soviet forces out to a distance of 18.5 miles (30 km) to the west of the main front in the centre of the Soviet offensive. In the south, from the Kirov area, the 10th Army was also advancing successfully. Fearing the encirclement, on the night of 16 August the Germans continued their withdrawal from the sectors of the 33rd Army, 49th Army and 10th Army toward the Lugovitsa, Kamenets and Snotot rivers.
The 33rd Army’s 144th Division liberated Dobritsa, Gusarovskiye Khutor, Yesinaya, Kholmy, Chuvaksino and Terpilovo. The 277th Rifle Division cleared the Germans from Kamenka, Polozy, Privetok, Lomakino, Stai, Karpovo, Prokhody, Markino, Ivanovka and Sinkayevo. The 42nd Division liberated Strebki, Klyuchy, Dupelnoye, the Palkoivo state farm, Osipovka, Lipovka, Kamenka, Puzachevo, Sutoki, Buda 2 and Smorodinka. The 222nd Division recaptured Rechitsa. Prisoner interrogation again proved useful, and confirmed that the Germans had been ordered to make a staged withdrawal to the line of the Desna river.
From 04.00 the 49th army launched its pursuit of the German retreat, by 06.00 had reached the line linking Dupelnoye, Leskovo, Krisilino and Tarkovom, and by 09.00 had liberated Mamonovo, Osinovka, Buda 1 and Pechky. By 15.00 the 146th Division had taken Shirokoye, the 58th Division the northern part of Sutoka, and the 338th Division Vasilyevka and Svet. By this time the Germans had fallen back to the line of the Snoot river.
By the end of the day, the 10th Army had liberated Ponizovye, Stary Blizhevichi, Novy Blizhevichi, Zemtsy and 12 other settlements outside the Spas-Demensk region. As elsewhere, the Soviet offensive was punctuated by fierce German armoured counterattacks, but the Germans losses were now so severe that divisional strengths had fallen to a minimum of 4,118 men to a maximum of 7,454 men, the latter in Generalleutnant Felix Schwalbe’s 344th Division.
From 02.00 on 17 August, the 21st Army used its 51st Division, 62nd Division and 119th Divisions to attack in the direction of Nesterra and Gorky, but as a result of heavy German fire and a number of German counterattacks could make no progress.
The 612th Regiment of the 33rd Army’s 144th Division liberated Obirog in a fast-moving attack, but the Germans used a force supported by tanks and assault guns to retake Obirog. The 612th Regiment attacked once more, and restored the position, killing as many as 40 German soldiers. The 160th Division captured Tserkovshchina and the north-western part of Snoopot. After stubborn fighting, the 42nd Division expelled the Germans from Kisel but then lost this village to a German counterattack.
At 16.30, after a 20-minute artillery preparation, the 10th Army took to the offensive along its whole front. According to subsequent prisoner interrogation, the Germans had been ordered to make another staged retreat of between 9.33 and 12.5 miles (15 to 20 km) to the west, the average company strength was no more than 60 men, and there was no information about the immediate arrival of reserves from the rear.
The 'Spas-Demensk Offensive Operation' reached its climax during the second week of the German retreat. Model suggested that should they fail to break through on the flanks of the 'Hagen-Stellung', the Soviets would attempt to bypass the position. The 4th Army was now drastically overextended.
On 13 August, the West Front’s forces liberated Spas-Demensk, and Voronov then ordered the forces of two armies to strike at the junction of the 3rd Panzerarmee and 4th Army.
On this day, the 9th Army assumed command of the 2nd Panzerarmee's sector and proceeded to install itself in the 'Hagen-Stellung'. It was on 14 August that the first German formations and units arrived in the 'Hagen-Stellung' position, and for the next three days the Germans kept as many divisions as possible to the east of the 'Hagen-Stellung' in order to buy the time needed for engineers and Soviet forced labour of both sexes to work of the defences, which were still far from complete. During the evening of 17 August, the last German units withdrew to the 'Hagen-Stellung' at the end of a retreat which had been planned and implemented with a very high degree of tactical skill. However, the ability of the German actually to hold the 'Hagen-Stellung' was still moot.
On 18 August, the 21st Army undertook no active offensive action as the German artillery fired as many as 3,000 shells per day at the Soviet army’s positions. However, the fire of the artillery brigades attached to the 21st Army managed to suppress six German artillery and mortar detachments and devastate their firing positions.
The 33rd Army set its 244th Division the task of taking Height 243.2 on 19 August, and the 70th Division of capturing Grechishche. The staff of the 33rd Army was woefully insufficient, however, and Height 243.2 and Grechishche were taken only on 30 and 31 August. The 70th Division fought for Soboli from 16.00 and the village changed hands several times. The 160th Division liberated Snoopot.
The 'Spas-Demensk Offensive Operation' had started with the assault on what became the celebrated Height 233.3 near Gnezdilovsk, and ended with the fighting for the lesser known but no less important Height 243.2 on the western slope of which the village of Pochinok rests with the Ilovets river and Alferovo beyond it. The 144th Division’s attack on Height 243.2 was schemed on the basis of support by the 256th Tank Brigade and the 55th Artillery Regiment. At 16.00 the division’s forward element was supported by artillery and mortar fire as it attacked the Germans' forward defences, but was nonetheless met with heavy fire and failed in its task. The 612th Regiment and 785th Regiment sortied in intensive reconnaissance toward Pochinok during the night.
In the 21st Army’s combat diary noted that the army’s left flank was in full view of the slope of Height 243.2, which provided the Germans with ample opportunity to rain accurate fire on the Soviet units as they advanced.
At 04.00, after a short artillery preparation, the 49th army went over to the offensive. The 146th Division captured Suborovka, but was forced to withdraw in the face of several German counterattacks supported by 10 tanks, of which five were destroyed.
At 10.00 on 19 August, a 40-minute artillery preparation was followed by the assault of the 21st Army’s 51st Division and 62nd Division, which broke through the German positions and liberated Matveyevshchina, Gorky and Nesterra. The German garrisons in Gorky and Nesterov, totalling more than two infantry battalions, were destroyed. The German made 12 bombing attacks on the 21st Army’s advancing units during the day, in which the German infantry supported by as many as 40 German tanks were involved in several counterattacks.
Units of the 33rd Army’s 70th Division had liberated Soboli by 04.00, and the 42nd Division had liberated Kiseli. von Cholitz’s 260th Division, Drescher’s 267th Division, the [r]4th Army's training battalion, tank and assault gun units, supported by 18 artillery and 15 mortar batteries, and benefitting from good air support, offered very stout resistance even as many as 432 German bomber sorties savaged the Soviet front-line forces. Soviet anti-aircraft guns shot down nine German aircraft.
The 144th Division took the forest area to the south-west of Obirog and moved on Pochinok. Again, the Germans subjected the division to aerial bombardment and launched an armoured counterattack, forcing the division to retreat to the forest to the west of Obirog.
The 10th Army also went over to the offensive and liberated Lipovka, Buchok and the eastern outskirts of Gorlachevka.
From 06.00 on 20 August, the Germans launched tank counterattacks and, as a result of fierce fighting between 09.00 and 10.00, units of the 21st Army’s LXI Corps started to pull back, leaving Gorky, Height 244.3, Sokolovo and Semyonovka, but retaining Nesters and Gorskiye Khutora.
At 14.00 one battalion and a training company of the 144th Division attacked, and soon captured woodland to the south-west of Obirog, where they knocked out two German tanks. The Germans resisted fiercely with artillery from the forest area 0.95 miles (1.5 km) to the north-east of Pochinok, and Soviet observation teams established that in the area of Pochinok there was a concentration of German infantry, and in the area of Hheight 243.2 German tanks. Height 243.2 changed hands several times, and the assault on this key position continued until 29 August, when the 70th Division, in co-operation with the 42nd Division, drove the Germans from Pochinok and Height 243.2, and occupied the southern outskirts of Alferovo.
During the period between 13 and 19 August, the 49th Army had advanced 20.5 miles (33 km) and liberated 124 settlements. The Germans had lost more than 5,300 men. At the end of the first stage of the August operation, the 49th Army’s commander ordered his formations and units to consolidate on the positions they had reached, entrench themselves, develop firing positions, and organise a fire system and anti-tank defence.
The 10th Army also consolidated its positions on the line it had reached, drove back counterattacks, and struck at any targets that were detected with artillery fire. At 04.00 the Germans responded with strong artillery and mortar fire on the battle formations of the 385th Division, and from 04.45 counterattacked twice with a force of two infantry battalions and 15 tanks, but by 07.20 the Soviets had liberated Lipovka and Buchok.
German troops continued with a spate of counterattacks at battalion and regimental strength supported by armour and warplanes. The tide of the combat situation was now unfavourable for the Soviet forces, but the West Front’s formations and units responded with great determination as they sought to offset the arrival of German reserves.
In this situation, the West Front decided on a temporary suspension of active hostilities in order to allow its forces to regroup, allow the arrival and incorporation of forces from the rear, and make it possible for ammunition supplies to be increased once more.
Over the 14 days of the offensive, the West Front had broken through the German defences toward Spas-Demensk and advanced to a depth of between 21.75 and 31 miles (35 and 40 km), liberated more than 500 settlements and reached a line between Terenino and Malye Savki via Tserkovshchina. The relatively slow pace of the advance was unfortunate for the Soviets inasmuch as it provided the Germans with the time they needed to fall back into prepared positions and to absorb reinforcing formations and units as they arrived from other sectors of the Eastern Front. At the same time, it should be noted that the main task of the first stage of the 'Smolensk Strategic Offensive Operation' was achieved: it pinned the Germans forces and thus denied them the opportunity to redeploy forces to the south-west, which was where the main thrust of the Soviet summer offensive was taking place. Moreover, the Germans were forced to draw on their reserves of men, weapons and equipment from other sectors and commit them against the West Front.
The success of the 'Spas-Demensk Offensive Operation' by the West Front, as an integral part of the 'Smolensk Strategic Offensive Operation', also facilitated the planning and subsequent execution of the 'Yelnya-Dorogobuzh Offensive Operation' (28 August/6 September) and the 'Smolensk-Roslavl Offensive Operation' (15 September/2 October). On 30 August and 1 September Soviet forces liberated the cities of Yelnya and Dorogobuzh respectively, by 12 September Soviet troops had reached the Desna river, and on 25 September 25, Soviet forces had liberated Smolensk and Roslavl. Thus by the beginning of October, after the Soviet forces had overcome a number of potent German defence lines, the Smolensk region had been completely liberated, and the Soviet forces could start to plan and execute military operations for the liberation of Belorussia.
The overall level of success should no disguise, however, that there remained a number of problems for the Soviet forces. Among these were shortcomings in the training of individual headquarters, formations and units. Part of the officer corps had still to master the nature of combat and methods of command and control required for the pursuit of a retreating opponent: too many officers still thought in terms of direct assault rather than the maintenance of pressure to provide the opportunity for outflanking, encirclement and subsequent destruction. The opportunities offered by the penetration of small forces were not always used to develop success. Co-operation within formations and interaction within units with neighbours were, in many cases, insufficiently well organised, and this led in many cases to lack of mutual support. In some cases, infantry weapons were used either ineptly or too sparingly. Where planning was concerned, most of the flaws were those not of how to effect a breakthrough, but of how exploit the breakthrough and penetrate deeply and swiftly into the German tear areas. Finally, with the retreat to the 'Hagen-Stellung', superbly organised by Model, the events that emerged from the German defeat in the 'Zitadelle' campaign round Kursk came to an end. Adolf Hitler again tried to force the world 'to hold its breath' to follow developments on the Eastern Front. As a result, Hitler received shocks on the Eastern Front shocks of so large scale that as a result the Germans armies were even more weakened, and the initiative passed completely into Soviet hands. By the time the divisions of Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' occupied their positions in the 'Hagen-Stellung', the Soviet armies in the southern sector of the front were once again in motion, and the summer campaign was very far from over.
The Soviet losses in the 'Smolensk Strategic Offensive Operation' (or 'Suvorov') between 7 August and 2 October were 79,539 men killed or missing, and 253,649 men wounded or taken ill. Within this, the spare of the 'Spas-Demensk Offensive Operation' were 25,152 men killed, 79,235 men wounded or taken ill, and 473 men missing.
The German losses are not known with any certainty, but a Soviet estimate suggested the loss of 58,518 men killed or wounded, and 654 men taken prisoner. The Soviets reckoned that 19.5 German infantry battalions had dispersed and partially destroyed.