Uman-Botosani Offensive Operation

This was the Soviet part of the ‘Dniepr-Carpathian Offensive Operation’ in the western part of Ukraine carried out by Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Ivan S. Konev’s 2nd Ukrainian Front against Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein’s Heeresgruppe ‘Süd’ to split the German army group in two and open the way for a Soviet advance to the Dniestr and Prut rivers in eastern Romania (5 March/17 April 1944).

The operation’s immediate purpose was to crush the German Gruppe ‘Uman’, split Heeresgruppe ‘Süd’ and retake the south-western part of Ukraine.

After the completion of the ‘Korsun-Shevchenkovsky Offensive Operation’, the primary forces of the newly promoted Konev’s 681,000-strong 2nd Ukrainian Front were opposed by the 400,000 men of General Otto Wöhler’s 8th Army within Heeresgruppe ‘Süd’. At the start of the operation, therefore, the Soviets had a 1.7/1 superiority in manpower, almost 1.5/1 superiority in armour (670 to 450 armoured fighting vehicles), and just greater than 2.5/1 superiority in artillery (8,890 to 3,500 pieces), and parity in aircraft.

The Stavka’s concept for the operation was the destruction of the 8th Army, the sundering of Heeresgruppe ‘Süd’, and the severing of the route by which Generaloberst Hans-Valentin Hube’s 1st Panzerarmee could pull back to the south. The main offensive was to be delivered from the staging areas at Vinograd, Zvenigorodok, and Shpola in the direction of Uman 1.

During their preparation for the operation, the 2nd Ukrainian Front and its subordinate army staffs paid great attention to the maximisation of their strength and the optimisation of their tactical and logistical organisation to ensure that the least possible effect would be made on the course of the operation by the rasputitsa, poor weather conditions, and need for many assault river crossings.

The operation began on 5 March on a 110-mile (175-km) sector of the front between Dnepropetrovsk and Belaya Tserkov. A very substantial artillery bombardment opened the offensive, which then developed successfully. In order to increase the impact of the initial assault and develop the offensive along the primary axis, the 2nd Tank Army and 5th Guards Tank Army were introduced into the offensive on the first day. The offensive swept across the Gorny Tikach river on 8 March, overran the Germans’ last defensive line to the north-east of the Yuzhny Bug river, and continued its pursuit of the retreating German forces with the 6th Guards Tank Army in the van ahead of the 2nd Tank Army and 5th Guard Tank Army. The Soviet forces took Uman on 10 March after scattering the five divisions of General Ernst-Eberhard Hell’s VII Corps, and the advanced detachments of their armies then reached the Yuzhny Bug river, which they crossed on a 60-mile (100-km) front, again without any pause, by means of seized crossings, and also pontoon bridges, boats and other improvisations.

So ensure that the pace of the advance was continued unabated, the 6th Guards Tank Army took over the lead after the crossing of the Yuzhny Bug river. The tank armies thus continued their progress toward the Dniestr river, and on 17 March advance units of the front’s right wing established bridgeheads on the Dniestr’s right bank to the south of the Mogilev-Podolsky area.

By this time, therefore, Soviet units had entered Moldova, and the 1st and 2nd Ukrainian Fronts had succeeded in their object of splitting Heeresgruppe ‘Süd’ in two. Now divided from the 1st Panzerarmee, the 8th Army was reassigned to Generalfeldmarschall Ewald von Kleist’s (from 25 March Generalfeldmarschall Ferdinand Schörner’s) Heeresgruppe ‘A’.

Konev now switched his 2nd Ukrainian Front’s focus to this army group, which General Nikolai F. Vatutin’s 1st Ukrainian Front was already enveloping from the north. An opportunity arose for the 2nd Ukrainian Front to attack to the south-west and thus cut the lines of retreat available to Heeresgruppe ‘A’ to the west of the Dniestr river and destroy it in co-operation with General Rodion Ya. Malinovsky’s 3rd Ukrainian Front. The 2nd Ukrainian Front’s 40th Army, under General Leytenant Filipp F. Zhmachenko, was advancing along the Dniestr river’s eastern bank and was now given the task of cutting the 1st Panzerarmee’s lines of retreat to the south-west, in the process collaborating with troops of the 1st Ukrainian Front in the destruction of the German forces encircled by the 1st Ukrainian Front at Kamenets-Podolsky in the ‘Proskurov-Chernovtsy Offensive Operation’. Brushing aside a German counterattack effort at Khotyn, they pressed home the attack from the bridgehead to the Dniestr river.

The 27th Army and 52nd Army, together with detachments of the 2nd Tank Army and 6th Guards Tank Army, advanced to the Prut river, and on 26 March reached the Soviet/Romanian border on an 55-mile (85-km) front to the north of Ungheni. On the night of 28/29 March the 2nd Ukrainian Front’s forces completed an assault crossing of the Prut river from the march, thereby taking the war onto Romanian territory.

Towards the middle of April the front’s right wing reached the Carpathian mountains, after taking Botoşani, and approached Iaşi (Jassy) and Chişinău (Kishinev) from the north. In the hope of saving the southern wing of their front from complete disintegration, the Germans moved 18 divisions and three brigades, their last strategic reserve in the southern sector, to this part of the front. In the face of increasing resistance and its own increasing exhaustion of men and supplies, in the middle of April the 2nd Ukrainian Front was forced to go on the defensive at Dubăsari to the north of Iaşi and some 37 miles (60 km) to the south of Botoşani.

As a result the 'Uman-Botoşani Offensive Operation', the 8th Army was destroyed and the 1st Panzerarmee partially destroyed, while Heeresgruppe ‘Süd’ was split into Heeresgruppe ‘Südukraine’ under Schörner, and Heeresgruppe ‘Nordukraine’ under Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model. The offensive had cost 10 Axis divisions some 50% to 75% of their troops and almost all of their heavy weapons and equipment as the Soviets advanced some 125 to 155 miles (200 to 250 km), in the process taking significant parts of western Ukraine and Moldova before entering the north-eastern regions of Romania.

The Soviet advance then became the ‘1st Iaşi-Chişinău Offensive Operation’ of 8 April/6 June. This ended with the Battle of Târgu Frumos, which stabilised the front until August 1944, when the ‘2nd Iaşi-Chişinău Strategic Offensive Operation’ destroyed Heeresgruppe ‘Südukraine’ and restarted the Soviet drive to the west. It is worth noting that the 'Uman-Botoşani Offensive Operation' was the first in which three tank armies were used simultaneously as the main breakthrough force on a narrow sector of the front. The offensive was also undertaken under the conditions of spring floods and rasputitsa. The Soviet armies made six assault crossings straight from the march, the rivers in question being the Gorniy Tikach, Yuzhny Bug, Dniestr, Reut, Prut and Siret.

So far as casualties were concerned, the Soviets admitted the loss of 70,000 men killed and 200,000 wounded, and the Axis losses, excluding the Romanians, were in the order of 45,000 men killed and 25,000 taken prisoner, though the Soviets claimed the figures were 118,400 killed and 27,393 taken prisoner.

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The forces involved were General Leytenant Sergei G. Trofimenko’s 27th Army, General Leytenant Konstantin A. Koroteyev’s 52nd Army, General Leytenant Ilya K. Smirnov’s 4th Guards Army, General Leytenant Semyon I. Bogdanov’s 2nd Tank Army, General Leytenant Pavel A. Rotmistrov’s 5th Guards Tank Army and General Leytenant Andrei G. Kravchenko’s 6th Guards Tank Army (415 tanks and 147 self-propelled guns), supported by General Leytenant Sergei K. Goryunov’s 5th Air Army. General Leytenant Nikolai i. Krylov’s 7th Army and General Leytenant Mikhail S. Shumilov’s 5th Guards Army delivered supporting attacks from the region of Kirovograd in the direction of Novoukrainka.