Uman-Botosani Offensive Operation

The 'Uman-Botoșani Offensive Operation' was the Soviet seventh of the 10 parts together constituting the 'Dniepr-Carpathian Strategic 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 other parts 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 'Rovno-Lutsk Offensive Operation 1st Stage' (27 January/11 February), the 'Nikopol-Krivoi Rog Offensive Operation 2nd Stage' (30 January/29 February), the 'Proskurov-Chernovtsy Offensive Operation' (4 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 'Uman-Botoșani Offensive Operation' was one of the most successful Soviet operations of the 'Great Patriotic War' on the Eastern Front. In something more than one month of combat through the deep mud of the spring rasputitsa and numerous river barriers, the 2nd Ukrainian Front advanced more than 185 miles (300 km), cleared the south-western part of Ukraine of German forces, and advanced into Moldova and Romania.

Alongside Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Georgi K. Zhukov’s slightly earlier and great slicing blow farther to the south in the 'Proskurov-Chernovtsy Offensive Operation', the 'Uman-Botoșani Offensive Operation' split Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein’s Heeresgruppe 'Süd' into two parts to the north and south of the Carpathian mountains' eastern end. The northern portion was driven back into the Galician region of Poland, while the southern portion was pushed back into Romania. On 5 April 1944, the northern portion was redesignated as Heeresgruppe 'Nordukraine', while the southern portion became Heeresgruppe 'Südukraine'. This redesignation totally ignored the fact that very little of Ukraine still remained in German hands. As a result of this split, the Soviets had cut the railway line linking Lwów and Odessa, which was main supply lifeline nourishing Heeresgruppe 'Süd'. The southern group of German forces now had to rely on the long and distinctly circuitous route through the Balkans, with all of the supplies being rerouted over the Romanian railroad system, which was in a poor condition.

For their defeats in the Soviets offensives of these months, von Manstein and Generalfeldmarschall Ewald von Kleist, commanders of Heeresgruppe 'Süd' and Heeresgruppe 'A' respectively, were dismissed by Adolf Hitler and replaced by Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model and Generalfeldmarschall Ferdinand Schörner respectively.

In the course of the 'Uman-Botoșani Offensive Operation', 10 German divisions were either destroyed or left as shattered remnants. In order to save its southern sector from complete collapse, the German high command was forced to transfer seven divisions from Generaloberst Karl-Adolf Hollidt’s (from 25 March General Sigfrid Henrici’s and from 8 April General Maximilian de Angelis’s) neighbouring 6th Army in the south to the disintegrating front of General Otto Wöhler’s 8th Army, while also mobilising General de corp de armatâ Ioan Mihail Racoviță's Romanian 4th Army, which comprised eight divisions and one brigade; another seven Romanian divisions and two Romanian brigades were incorporated directly into the 8th Army.

The 'Uman-Botoșani Offensive Operation' was the only Soviet undertaking in which six major rivers (the Gorniy Tikich, Yuzhny Bug, Dniestr, Răut, Prut and Siret) were crossed.

The operation was undertaken by the 2nd Ukrainian Front between 5 March and 17 April with the object of defeating the German Gruppe 'Uman', divide Heeresgruppe 'Süd' and liberate the south-western part of Ukraine. After the completion of the 'Korsun-Shevchenkovsky Offensive Operation', the main forces of the 2nd Ukrainian Front were opposed by the 8th Army of Heeresgruppe 'Süd', and by the start of the offensive, the operation the Soviets had created a 1.5/1 numerical superiority in men and armour, and of 2.5/1 in artillery, while maintaining parity in air strength.

As well as the destruction of the 8th Army and the bisection of Heeresgruppe 'Süd', the Stavka’s concept for this new undertaking was the severance of all the routes by which Generaloberst Hans Hube’s 1st Panzerarmee might retreat to the south, thereby aiding the 1st Ukrainian Front in its task of destroying this Panzer army.

The main effort of the offensive was to be delivered from staging areas at Vinograd, Zvenyhorodka and Shpola in the direction of Uman by 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 (from 25 March General Polkovnik) 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.

During preparation for the operation, the military councils of the 2nd Ukrainian Front and its armies gave considerable attention the mobilisation of personnel and unit composition with a view to overcoming the difficulties which were to be expected in the rasputitsa, the generally poor weather conditions and the need to undertake numerous assault river crossings that would otherwise hinder operational mobility.

The operation began on 5 March along a 110-mile (175-km) sector of the front between Dniepropetrovsk and Belaya Tserkov after a powerful artillery preparation, and developed as hoped. In order to increase the force of impact and develop the offensive on the primary axis, the 2nd Guards Tank Army and 5th Guards Tank Army were committed on this first day. By the third day of the offensive, the two tank armies had crossed the Gorny Tikach river off the march, overcome the last German defensive line on their advance to the Yuzhny Bug river, and begun a pursuit of the retreating German forces. The 6th Guards Tank Army advanced in the wake of the 2nd Guards Tank Army and 5th Guard Tank Army. After Uman had been taken on 10 March, the advance detachments of these armies reached Yuzhny Bug river and crossed this waterway on a 60-mile (100-km) front straight off the march and seized bridgeheads through the use of several types of river-crossing means included pontoon bridges, boats and other improvised methods.

In order to maintain a high rate of advance during the offensive, the 6th Guards Tank Army was brought forward after the crossing of the Yuzhny Bug river, and these tank armies continued to advance toward the Dniestr river. On 17 March, advance units of the 2nd Ukrainian Front’s right wing seized bridgeheads on the right bank of this river in the area to the south of Mogilev-Podolsky.

Soviet formations and units had then crossed the putative border into Romania, and by this time the two Ukrainian fronts had split Heeresgruppe 'Süd' in two and cut the 8th Army from all communication with the 1st Panzerarmee, and was therefore placed under command of Heeresgruppe 'A'. The main effort of the 2nd Ukrainian Front was now transferred against this latter army group, which Soviet troops had deeply enveloped from the south. An opportunity arose for the 2nd Ukrainian Front to attack to the south and thereby sever the army group’s lines of retreat to the west of the Dniestr river and then to destroy it in co-operation with General Polkovnik (from 28 April General) Rodion Ya. Malinovsky’s 3rd Ukrainian Front.

The 2nd Ukrainian Front’s 40th Army, advancing along the eastern bank of the Dniestr river, was allocated the task of cutting the 1st Panzerarmee's lines of retreat to the south, a task in which it worked with the 1st Ukrainian Front in destroying the Kamenets-Podolsky pocket. Deflecting an attempted German counter-attack at Khotyn, they pressed home the attack from the bridgehead to Dniester, the 27th and 52nd armies together with detachments of the 2nd Tank Army and 6th Guards Tank Army advanced to the Prut river, and on 26 March reached the western border of the USSR on a 53-mile (85-km) front to north of Ungen.

On the night of 28 March the 2nd Ukrainian Front’s forces completed another assault river crossing on the Prut river, this crossing straight off the march shifting Soviet combat activities onto Romanian territory. Toward the middle of April, the front’s right wing reached the Carpathian mountains, after taking Botoşani, its centre neared Iași from the north and left wing advanced to the approaches to Chișinău.

Hoping to save the southern wing of their front from complete disintegration, the Germans moved 18 divisions and three brigades, which represented their last strategic reserve in the southern sector, to this part of the front. Now meeting increased resistance, the 2nd Ukrainian Front was compelled in the middle of April to go over to the defensive in the positions it had reached at Dubăsari to the north of Iași, and some 37 miles (60 km) to the south of Botoşani

As a result of the 'Uman-Botoșani Offensive Operation', Heeresgruppe 'Süd' had been split in two. The northern portion was reorganised Heeresgruppe 'Nordukraine' and placed under the command of Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model, while the southern portion became Heeresgruppe 'Südukraine' under the command of Generaloberst Ferdinand Schörner. Some 10 Axis divisions had suffered losses of between 50% and 75% in men, and much of their heavy weapons and equipment had been lost in the course of their retreat. The 'Uman-Botoșani Offensive Operation' had advanced the Soviet front line by something between 125 and 155 miles (200 and 250 km), taken significant parts of western Ukraine and Moldavia, and entered 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.

During the 'Uman-Botoșani Offensive Operation', the Soviets had liberated many cities and towns, including Uman, Vapniarka, Pervomaysk and Novoukrainka. The offensive was the first in which three tank armies had been used simultaneously as the main breakthrough force on a narrow sector of the front, and all in conditions made very difficult by spring floods and the rasputitsa mud. Soviet units had also successfully undertaken consecutive assault crossings over six major rivers without pausing fully at any of them, and had harassed and on occasion routed the German withdrawal from eastern and central Ukraine.

The 'Uman-Botoșani Offensive Operation' had clearly demonstrated the increased mobility of the Soviet forces and also their clear intent to drive deep into the Axis forces' rear areas with a view to creating disruption and envelopment of their opponents. The operation was characterised by flexible control, quick response by the various commands to changes in the situation, and good organisation of co-operation between the armies and their air support. Soviet troops showed they had gained a high degree of military skill in the conduct of operations, particularly in assault river crossings.

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.