Against the Flood - Operation Uranus (II)


V. The Juggernaut Strikes – A Day-by-Day Account

V.1. 19 November

By Wolf Höpper

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At a few minutes past 0500 hours the phone of the 6th Army’s headquarters rang. A Leutnant Stöck, liaison officer with the IV Romanian Army Corps informed the officer-on-duty, Hauptmann Behr, that Romanians of the 1st Cavalry Division have captured a Soviet officer and after interrogating him had learned that a major Soviet offensive was to begin at 0500 hours in the Kletskaya sector. 

Operation Uranus

Since that time had already passed, Behr decided not to wake up General Arthur Schmidt, the Ia of 6th Army. His reasons were simple. First, the Romanians warned of an upcoming Soviet offensive in their sectors nearly daily and second, these warnings proved every time to be false. Afterwards Schmidt regarded these early morning wake-ups as nonsense. So Behr didn’t take any further steps other than noting the call in the diary.

The weather during the morning hours was clearly favouring the defenders. All along the front strong snowfalls were reported, but during the afternoon they stopped and the sky partially cleared.

Shortly before the offensive Vasilevsky contacted, via phone, Vatutin, Christyakov, Romanenko and STAVKA in Moscow. He was trying to determine if the offensive should be delayed. Although the calls were hectic and every commander warned of the bad weather situation, the plan to begin the offensive was not changed. Shortly before the offensive was to be launched Rokossovski phoned the commander of the 65th Army, General Batov, and demanded a report about the situation. Batov mentioned that visibility was less than 200 meters and proposed a delay for the offensive. Rokossovski stuck with the plan and kept all orders as they existed.
Soviet riflemen advance down a street

The Soviet 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps received orders to move from their assembly area north of Starokletskiy, they marched during the night towards their planned breakthrough sector at Kletskaya. The 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps arrived at the Don bridges at 0500 hours. At the time the corps intended to start its exploitation movement, they however discovered that all bridges, except one, across the Don were destroyed. So the corps crossed the Don over the frozen ice.

The initial deployment of the 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps was as follows:

The main body of the corps was assembled around the left flank of Gromki, reference point 218.8 with the following order:

The 5th Guards Cavalry Division, 1st battalion of 21st Guards Mortar Regiment and 1st battalion of 152nd Mortar Regiment were to exploit the breakthrough of the rifle divisions towards Vlaskov and Selivanov, reaching the line of Nizhne-Buzinovka and Erik.
Soviet riflemen advance through the snow The 6th Guards Cavalry Division, with 2nd battalion of 21st Guards Mortar Regiment, 4th Guards Tank Regiment, 1250th Tank Destroyer Artillery Regiment and 8th Independent Horse Artillery battalion advanced towards Chimlovskiy and Platonov. At the end of the day Verkhne-Buzinovka was their objective.

The 32nd Cavalry Division with two battalions of the 152nd Mortar Regiment, following the trail of 6th Guards Cavalry Division, was kept as a mobile reserve. The intended assembly area for the second day of the operation was Malonabatovskiy, Evlampievskiy and Bolshenabatovskiy.

The 5th Tank Destroyer Brigade, an artillery regiment of the 3rd PVO AA Division, a training battalion and the 3rd Guards Separate Tank Destroyer Battalion were designated as an operational reserve.

At 0520 German, 0720 Russian time, a loud trumpeting started along the whole front before the Romanian positions. The Soviets blow their trumpets like the horns of Jericho, and thereby give the signal for more than 3500 artillery pieces to open fire. The codename of the preliminary artillery barrage, "Syrene", was a well-chosen one. The medical officers of the German 22. Panzerdivision, 50 kilometres from the bombardment, felt the earth tremble! They knew instantly, what the day would bring for them.

This time, when Leutnant Stöck informs the Army’s HQ, General Schmidt is awakened. At this point Stöck informs Behr that he thinks the Romanians will not be able withstand a strong Soviet attack. Behr does not take his report seriously.

What Stöck doesn’t know was that during the preceding night Soviet engineers, clad in white camouflage outfits, probed forward into no-mans-land and started clearing minefields.

Romanian Riflemen

If he had known this, he could have expressed his concerns more forcefully.

Shortly after 0520 hours the 21st Army started its artillery barrage against the Romanian 5th, 6th, 13th Infantry Divisions and 1st Cavalry Division. It lasted 50 minutes and was followed by the rifle divisions’ (96th, 63rd, 293rd and 76th) attacks. The Romanians initially put up stiff resistance and the defensive lines were maintained.

At 0550 hours the commander of XXXXVIII Panzer Corps, General Heim, was informed of the Soviet attack against the Romanians. He ordered an immediate reconnaissance missions towards Kletskaya and Bolshoyie, he decided, at 0945, without any orders from the Army Group, to employ his corps to the northeast. He intended to attack the advancing Soviets at Kletskaya with his combat forces, the German 22. Panzerdivision, the Romanian 1st Armoured Division and the armoured combat group of 14. Panzerdivision. Heim therefore intended the Romanian I Army Corps to handle their problems on its own, at least initially. His plans included a counter-attack later, since he knew that the Romanians were not combat effective. His own limited strength didn’t allow for a simultaneous counter-attacks in two directions.

Romanian Riflemen Before he was able to strike at the Soviets, fate strikes his units first. The 22. Panzerdivision found the majority of their tanks were immobilized. A quick inspection found that the rubber parts of the starter motors, the turret rotation mechanisms and other electrically driven mechanisms weren’t working. The mystery was solved when they realised mice, which had nested in the covering straw on the engine decks, had chewed through the rubber parts of the electrical systems. This problem was not discovered beforehand because the 22. Panzerdivision hadn’t received enough gas to perform even basic maintenance checks. Inquiries and complaints about the supply situation sent by the panzer crews and commanders were totally ignored. So from the very beginning 39 panzers weren’t available for counter-attack operations.
When the division finally reached its designated assembly area, a further 34 panzers broke down. Several panzers even caught fire and burned out completely. Undaunted, the mechanics started to repair and replace the broken panzers. They worked even while the division made their movement keeping up the panzer strength as much as possible. However, Panzer Regiment 204 was down to 42 operational panzers.

At 0650 hours Zeitzler at the Fuehrer HQ, far away from the actual situation, orders a redirection of the Panzer corps to the northwest. The High Command estimated that the infantry on their own can handle the attacks at Kletskaya. Also the armoured group of 14. Panzerdivision was subordinated to the Romanian IV Army Corps for that purpose. Shortly thereafter Kampfgruppe Simons and Panzerjägerabteilungen 611 and 670 were added.

At about the same time that the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps was being redirected the Soviet rifle divisions’ assaulted the Romanians without the assistance of tanks. The Soviets directed their artillery barrage further back to hit the second line of the Romanian defensive positions. The aim was to keep the Romanians from bringing reserves forward and to interdict the enemy’s own artillery. The badly equipped Romanian artillery crews answered bravely the Soviet challenge with their own shelling of the Russian assembly and jump off areas. The first line of infantry took up the fight. Because their positions were not too seriously hit, a real whirlwind of bullets hit the first Soviet infantry assault and the first attack was stopped.
Romanian Schnieder 47mm anti-tank gun.
The Romanian positions only took minor damage from the Soviet artillery barrage because Soviet artillery was not able to adjust their firing parameters and data accordingly, and because of the bad weather. During the shelling the forward observers were not able to correct the fire, because the thick falling snow, combined with heavy fog, restricted their visibility.

As mentioned before, the first Soviet infantry assault was repulsed. The 13th Romanian Infantry Division was especially successful at stopping the Soviet attacks. The Soviet 76th Rifle Division and 27th Guards Rifle Division were not making any progress breaking the Romanian lines. An immediate counterattack by the Romanian IV Army Corps, with parts of the 1st Regiment (previously detached from 15th Infantry Division at Verchna Salomobovskiy), was repulsed. The regiment withdrew, because its endangered right flank was under constant attack from the Soviet 76th Rifle Division.

Soviet Troops armed with SVT-40 semi-automatic rifles. A second attack, this time supported by the 4th Guards Tank Brigade, was also successfully repulsed. The Soviet artillery stopped firing on the Romanian positions for fear that they may endanger their own assault forces. The shelling created a serious problem for the Soviet attackers. The artillery left massive craters in the ground that proved very difficult for the supporting tanks to cross. The markings for the previously cleared minefield lanes were also blown away, which required the accompanying engineers to clear new routes.

This delay enabled the Romanians to recuperate from the initial shelling and infantry assaults. They were able to put up a stubborn and determined defence. Several more infantry attacks were repulsed and a large number of Soviet tanks were knocked out. During the initial attack the Soviet assault forces gained no breakthroughs or substantial ground.

However, a lack of sufficient Romanian anti-tank weapons would prove disastrous. After the initial Soviet attack plan faltered the tank corps were sent in directly to achieve the breakthrough on their own.

At 0700 hours the Soviet 8th Cavalry Corps (21st, 55th and 112th Cavalry Divisions) moved forward from their assembly areas and positioned themselves right behind the rifle units. Before they jumped off for their breakthrough advance, the columns of 1st Tank Corps and 8th Motorcycle Regiment passed the line. After them the 112th and 55th Cavalry Divisions moved into action at 1300 hours.

The attack first aimed for Blinovskiy and Ust-Medveditskiy and then repulsed a counter-attack from Station Seniutkin. Here the first positions of the Romanian 7th Cavalry Division were attacked. The Romanians, encountering Soviet cavalry, furiously counter-attacked.

The 8th Cavalry Corps was only able to advance on a narrow sector at first, because the Soviet 8th Guards Tank Brigade supported the initial assault against the boundary line between 9th and 14th Infantry Divisions. The left flank of 8th Cavalry Corps attacked Blinov (Bolshoyie) from the Romanian left flank, and dislodged the defenders.

Romanian Infantry
The Romanian 14th Infantry Division was divided into at least two parts. The division took its right wing back towards Verkhna Omichinskiy to avoid being overrun. This retrograde movement opened the dam for the already waiting Soviet mobile forces to exploit. Half an hour later formations of the 5th Tank Army, mainly 1st and 26th Tank Corps, marched towards the positions of the II Romanian Army Corps. The 26th Tank Corps bypassed the left flank of the 5th Romanian Infantry Division. Finally the 8th Cavalry Corps burst through the lines of the 14th and 9th Romanian Infantry Divisions and advanced towards positions of the reserve 7th Romanian Cavalry Division east and south of Blinovskij.

The commander of 5th Tank Army, General Romanenko, expected a quick breakthrough here and committed his tank forces immediately in the following manner. 1st Tank Corps, in two columns, with 117th Tank Brigade, 33rd Destroyer Anti-tank Artillery Regiment and 89th Tank Brigade in the right column. The 159th Tank Brigade, the corps command, and the 44th Motorised Rifle Brigade moved on the left. The assigned PVO regiment of anti-aircraft defence batteries was distributed amongst these units. The anti-tank units marched behind the Tank Brigades on the right.

Panzer III 26th Tank Corps advanced on four march routes in two echelons. The Motorised Rifle Brigades moved on the left, covered by the Tank Brigades on the right flank. The anti-tank units marched on the left flank. By dispatching the anti-tank units on each flank, the Soviets hoped to counter any enemy armoured counter-thrust.

The attack of the 1st Tank Corps was initially held up. The intended breakthrough sectors were still held by the Romanian infantry. The corps had to open its own advance route, which they did successfully. This was achieved because the Soviets employed the tactic of having the infantry ride on the tanks to the enemy positions.

They then jumped off and engaged the Romanians. Stubborn Romanian resistance around Korotkovskiy and Shirk held up the 19th Tank Brigade, advancing on the left of the corps flank. Here the Romanian 1st Armoured Division held these towns and refused to give up its positions. After several attacks were repulsed, the Soviet 1st Tank Corps resumed its advance southwards once the units of the neighbouring 26th Tank Corps arrived.

The 26th Tank Corps didn’t attack at full strength against the defending Romanian 14th Infantry Division. The attack succeeded in severing the connection between Romanian 1st Armoured Division and the 14th Infantry Division. The 14th Infantry Division withdrew its left wing back to Klinovoy. Up to this point the Soviet 14th Guards Rifle Division, 47th Guards Rifle Division, 119th Rifle Division and 50th Guards Rifle Division were still fruitlessly battling with the Romanians.

In front of the Romanian IV Army Corps, the battle started to change. Around 0700 hours the 4th Tank Corps of 21st Army achieved the first breakthrough. The Romanians stood their ground until mid-day, when the 4th Tank Corps together with the arriving 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps finally tore open the first defensive line of the 13th Infantry Division (IV Romanian Army Corps), between Kletskaya and Starakletskiy. Again some resistance nests remained and they defended themselves stubbornly. This was possible only because the tanks and mechanised infantry units simply bypassed them. The 4th Tank Corps was able to throw the Romanian 13th Infantry Division’s right wing back in a western direction. Soviets in Snow Suits

Later Kletskaya was cleared of the remaining Romanian resistance.

Around 0800 hours the Romanian 36th Infantry Regiment (9th Infantry Division) left Bolshoyie. Parts of that regiment were encircled southwest of the village by units of the Soviet 8th Cavalry Corps and 1st Tank Corps. The main body of the division was pressed south-westwards. Shortly thereafter the artillery positions of the 9th Infantry Division, south of Bolshoyie, were overrun.

Between 0830 and 0900 hours von Seydlitz-Kurtzbach, commander of LI Army Corps was informed by Paulus about the start of the enemy offensive. At once he orders that Group Seydel (14. Panzerdivision), Group Scheele (24. Panzerdivision), the heavy gun company of 14. Panzerdivision’s assault gun battalion 244, and the newly raised assault gun company of 24. Panzerdivision, to be released. A panzerjäger company of the 71. Infanteriedivision was transferred to the threatened area south of Kletskaya. Around 0900 the Soviet 1st Tank Corps broke through the right wing of the Romanian 14th Infantry Division. Only six German made 7.5 cm anti-tank guns slowed that advance for a while. Afterwards the Soviets advanced to the south and east. The breakthrough of 1st Tank Corps, northeast of Kalmykovskiy, was redirected to the southwest; where they connected northeast of Klinovoy with the cavalry units breaking through from Bolshoyie. After the Soviets started advancing to the southeast, the whole left flank of the 14th Infantry Division broke and routed.

Soviet T-34 tanks and riflemen on the move Already days before the Soviet offensive, parts of the 14. Panzerdivision were drawn out of the city of Stalingrad and transferred to the great Don bend at Verchna Businovka. The mass of the remaining combat ready troops consisted of Panzer Artillery Regiment 4, Panzerjäger Abteilung 4 (anti-tank battalion), and Panzer Nachrichtung Abteilung 4 (signals battalion).

Both grenadier regiments had a combined strength of one battalion and Kradschützen Bataillon 64 (motorcycle troops) was down to company strength. The regimental staff of Panzergrenadier Regiment 108 was already at Kamenskaya together with the main supply and maintenance services. The few remaining combat forces were put under command of Panzergrenadier Regiment 103.

In the early morning, after the offensive had become known, the division was readied and the remaining panzers of the regiment at Stalingrad set into motion to meet with the rest of the panzer division at the new assembly area. The movement of the vehicles was greatly hindered by the lack of sufficient fuel, the bad visibility, and the ever-present muddy ground. The units of 14. Panzerdivision, without their Panzergrenadier regiments, managed to assemble at Suchanov and Verkhna Businovka.

It appears that until 0945 hours, 6th Army HQ didn’t realise the full extent of the Russian offensive. At this point the 6th Army finally informed the Army Group B headquarters of the offensive. After hectic telephone calls between the staff officers of Army Group B and 6th Army, both Panzergrenadier regiments of the 14. Panzerdivision were ordered to be quickly withdrawn from their positions in Stalingrad. They were combined with forces of the 44. Infanteriedivision and assembled for the defence of Melo-Kletskiy.

At 1010 hours General Oberst von Weichs gave the 3rd Romanian Army the freedom to use the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps to counter-attack Soviet forces to the northeast.

At 1100 the main body of the Soviet 5th Tank Army finally reached the lines of the attacking rifle divisions. The planned exploitation movement halted because the Romanian defenders still held their positions. The Soviet commander ordered his units to attack immediately and again the Romanians held their ground, which proved very difficult for the attackers to cross.

Soviet mortar team

At 1105 hours General von Sodenstern informed General Schmidt, that the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps was to be sent towards Bolshoyie to help the Romanians and hinder the Soviets from further breakthroughs. The intention of the commanding officer of panzer corps, General Heim, to attack directly towards Kletskaya was overruled by this order. Another small part is added to the mosaic of the unfolding catastrophe for the 6th Army. The 22. Panzerdivision would have been in a good position to strengthen the Romanian defenders and hinder the Soviets from breaking through.

The Romanian 1st Cavalry Division was still successfully defending its positions. They reported only 20 attacking enemy tanks otherwise they faced infantry. General Sodenstern ordered one regiment of the German 44. Infanteriedivision to be transferred into that area to support the Romanians, since the German sector was quiet.

Romanian MG team The Romanian I Army Corps, with its 7th and 11th Infantry Divisions, was weakly attacked and defended its positions well. Additionally the V Army Corps was not seriously assaulted and took over command of the routed and separated units of their neighbours.

Army Group B ordered, at 1150 hours, the Romanian 7th Cavalry Division to block the Kuckan Valley from the south. The Soviet cavalry attack crashed into them during the afternoon forcing the Romanian forward elements to retreat towards Blinovskiy, where they set up defensive positions. With their artillery subordinated to the 9th Infantry Division, and lacking substantial anti-tank weapons, the Romanian cavalry soldiers defended the village until 1900 hours, when they were forced to abandon it. The rest of the main line was defended until the next morning.

In the attack sector of the Soviet 21st Army the defensive lines of the Romanian 13th Infantry Division were finally broken at 1300 hours. The Soviet 76th Rifle Division advanced immediately towards positions 1 km north of Platonov, Chimlovskiy, Selivanov and Vlasov. There they encountered strong defensive positions established by the German Kampfgruppe Lepper. Around Selivanov, the rifle division was repelled. Parts of the German kampfgruppe counterattacked and stopped the advance. The Soviet infantry were forced to dig in. Shortly thereafter reinforcements were requested, but units of 3rd Guard Cavalry Corps were not able to participate, since their recent defeat prevented them from reaching the area. The accompanying tanks of 4th Guards Tank Regiment, 21st Guards Motorised Regiment and motorised artillery had to return to Kletskaya for re-supply.

Another reason for these delays was the 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps was seriously delayed. The crossing of the Don River, by the 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps, took until 1330 hours since much of the equipment had to be hand carried and the wagons unloaded. Although the command staff of the divisions and corps had already established liaison connections to the 4th Tank Corps, the latter was scheduled to attack towards Estratovskiy and Manoilin to capture the state farm at Pervomayskiy and Evseev.

German map of Operation Uranus
During the fighting a disadvantage became very clear to the German staff leading the defence. Although many German officers were sent as liaison officers to the Romanians, communication greatly enhanced by new telephone lines, and a great number of German signals equipment handed to the Romanians; the picture of the overall situation was still not clear. The reasons were fairly simple. At some points the Romanian defence faltered and the commanding officers fled as soon as the attack started. Most of the Romanian field units had to make decisions on their own, without advice or intelligence. On the other hand many decisions or reports were not sent back to the higher German command staffs. The German 6th Army didn’t receive any usable reports except for pleas for help. The simplest answer was the Soviets advanced so quickly that radio and signal installations were simply overrun.
Around 1400 hours, a message reached 6th Army headquarters that contradicted their previously optimistic opinion of the situation. The message said the Soviet 4th Tank Corps had breached the lines of the 13th Romanian Infantry Division and advanced more than 10 kilometres to Gromik. The 6th Army finally realised that the Soviets were attacking on a greater scale than previously thought.

Mistakes were being made in the other pincer of the Soviet attack. The advancing rifle divisions of the 21st Army were not able to clear the enemy minefields and neglected to mark their advance routes.

Soviets advance from their trench line

The following breakthrough units of the 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps simply rode into the minefields and suffered high casualties. The engineer units of the 5th and 6th Cavalry Divisions had to complete the task. The advance of the 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps was halted for about two hours.

At 1400 hours the 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps was finally able to cross the minefields and passed through the positions of the 293rd and 76th Rifle Division. Parts of the latter were still fighting the defending Romanians of the 13th Infantry Division. At the end of the day, units of the 5th Guards Cavalry Division captured the area around Vlasov, Selivanov and Chimlovskiy. They were not able to advance further. What was even worse, they hadn’t crossed the little river Kurtlak before they had to stop their advance. Despite this the 6th Guards Cavalry Division engaged in fierce combat around Platonov and repelled several counterattacks conducted by elements of Kampfgruppe Lepper.

Romanian R-2 tank The German 22. Panzerdivision was ordered to immediately counterattack the most forward Soviet units, but had only 30 panzers available. The panzer division was also dealing with fuel shortage problems. They partially solve this by borrowing large stocks from their Romanian counterpart, the 1st Romanian Armoured Division.

The Romanian 1st Armoured Division had the following panzers operational on that day:
11 Panzer IV (long)
11 Panzer III (short)
112 Panzer 38(t) and Panzer 35(t) {R-2}

Because the Romanian 1st Armoured Division was employed separately from the German panzer division, instead of in a concentrated manner, the Soviet advance forces were able to overrun the Romanian II Army Corps headquarters at Shirk and destroy the German liaison radio station. Any further coordinated employment was therefore not possible, since the German staff of XXXXVIII Panzer Corps didn’t have radio communication with the Romanians.

During the evening, the divisional staff of 16. Panzerdivision was ordered to withdraw its units from the Stalingrad city area to stop the Russian breakthrough. Because they had to retreat from ongoing combat operations, many panzers of Panzer Regiment 2 were delayed until 21 November 0300 hours before they could finally be withdrawn.

At 1700 hours General Strecker’s XI Army Corps was ordered to establish a new southward running defensive line. Even at this point, the German generals hadn’t fully realised the Soviets intended to encircle the whole 6th Army. Richthofen wrote in his diary he hoped the Russians didn’t reach the vital railway lines, so supply could still be possible. At this point Kravtchenko’s 4th Tank Corps had already advanced 30 kilometres.

At 1800 hours General von Seydlitz-Kurtzbach received the Army’s order to withdraw all units of the 24. Panzerdivision not still deployed in Stalingrad and redirect them to the area around Peskovatka and Vertiyatshi.

Soviet Cossacks

Once there they were to prepare for a counterattack.

After the 4th Tank Corps moved through the initial breakthrough sector, they advanced to the area of Vlasov and ran into stubborn resistance around the Pervomayskiy State farm near Verkhna Salomobovskiy. The Romanian 15th Infantry Division, only two regiments strong, was able to stop the advance for the remainder of the night. What the Romanians didn’t realise was that parts of that tank corps advanced on their right wing without any resistance. This was possible because there simply were not enough infantry units to plug the gaps. Neighbouring Kampfgruppe Lepper could not provide enough assistance. Before the fight for the Kurtlak River had even began in earnest, the Soviets had already broken through.

At 1815 hours the 24. Panzerdivision received the order from LI Army Corps to attack the following day Soviet units attacking from the Kletskaya area (90 km north of Kalach). They were to do this only with the units that were not engaged at Stalingrad. The division knew, from this order, that the lines of the Romanian forces had been pierced. In their two panzer battalions only 60 panzers were available. The order stated that the division was to receive supplies, gasoline in particular, and march via Karpovka to the Verchanyi-Pestkovka area. The divisional staff was to move before the rest of the division and set-up their headquarters at Ossinovskiy under LI Army Corps command. During the move not all units were withdrawn. Kampfgruppe Scheele remained under Group Schwerin in the city of Stalingrad.

Romanian riflemen

At 2200 hours the headquarters of 6th Army received an order that all attacks, except for small assaults to hold positions, had to be abandoned. Therefore the planned attack, to finally capture Stalingrad (Operation Hubertus), scheduled for the next morning, was cancelled. In addition the 6th Army was ordered to withdraw two fast motorised units and one infantry division to meet the growing Soviet threat. If possible, one strong unit was to be assembled to support the planned counterattack of XIV Panzer Corps.

At 2230 hours General Schmidt suddenly announced that he would retire to his rooms and sleep. 

After Hauptmann Behr phoned Leutnant Gerhard Stöcker, the latter was surprised at how relaxed the Ia of the 6th Army was reacting to all the bad news. Nonetheless it seemed to inspired some kind of confidence in Schmidt.

Meanwhile the Soviet 5th Tank army was still attacking the positions of the Romanian 9th, 14th and 5th Infantry Divisions. Only after shifting the attacking echelons the 26th Tank Corps, were they finally able to break through the lines of the 5th and 14th Romanian Infantry Divisions by dawn of 20 November. The Romanians were defeated because the Soviets were able to change their attack route and bypass the strongest resistance points.

Results of the first day:

Although a partial breakthrough was achieved by the 26th Tank Corps and 47th Guards Rifle Division, the majority of the 5th Tank Army was still engaged in mopping up the Romanian defenders. The 1st Tank Corps and 8th Cavalry Corps were not able to rout the fearless Romanian infantry and were prevented from achieving their breakthrough.

By evening the Soviets had managed to enlarge their penetration at Bolshoyie to 21 km wide and 36 km deep. The Romanian forces, damaged but still capable of fighting, establish a defensive line on both flanks of the breakthrough.

German 7.5cm leIG18 infantry gun

This gave the German 6th Army the opportunity to cut the Soviet mechanized formations off. The Romanian 1st Armoured Division was in a perfect position to perform that task.

Despite heavy losses, the Romanian 5th and 9th Infantry Divisions still held their positions and the Soviets only advanced about 15 to 20 km from the original frontline. The Soviet 8th Cavalry Corps still had to take Blinovskiy from the Romanian 7th Cavalry Division to achieve a decisive breakthrough.

The one chance the Germans had to defeat the penetration of the Soviet 1st and 26th Tank Corps was missed because of several factors. The Romanian 1st Armoured Division was already well positioned on the exposed left flank of the penetration.

Soviet 120mm mortar

The German 22. Panzerdivision was assembled around Ust-Medvedichiy. Both of these units were so weak and inexperienced that they could not make the attack themselves. The XXXXVIII Panzer Corps commander could not call for help from the Romanian 1st Armoured Division because he simply did not know its location! General Heim, XXXXVIII Panzer Corps commander, knew that ordering an attack by the weak 22. Panzerdivision would fail. Another force, the panzer combat group of 14. Panzerdivision was not committed. The reasons for this are unclear and no source mentions any combat actions for them on this day. These factors combined to save the Soviet tank corps from an Axis counterattack. 

At this point, the 29. Infanteriedivision (motorised) was the only uncommitted reserve division of any substantial combat value. Although Army Group B intended to direct it towards the Soviet breakthroughs, Hoth insisted the division remained under his command. His 4th Panzer Army was made up of 70% Romanian troops and that argument was sufficient to keep the division near Verkhna Zaritinskiy. Because the division was the only combat ready unit of the whole 6th Army, Hoth wanted to keep this division as a reserve. He knew the Soviets would attack his front, and he desperately needed some reserves if there was to be a chance of stopping the Soviets.

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Last Updated On Wednesday, November 18, 2009 by Wayne at Battlefront