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The Battle of Narva

Bagration: German

Battle of Narva – Winter 1944
With Van Norton 

Narva: Spring Thaw... 

For all you German soldiers who thought you were forgotten, welcome to the People's Patriotic Radio broadcasting in German for our comrades in Narva and all along the Ostfront. In January 1944, our glorious Red Army units have crushed the besiegers of Leningrad and sent the survivors scurrying for the protection of your so called Panther Line. Your delaying efforts by the III SS Panzer Corps were brave but foolish. Bridges are quickly rebuilt. Every lost tank is replaced by two more. The mad man Hitler will be brought to justice! Don’t throw your lives away for Obergruppenfüher Steiner. Surrender to any of the units of General Govorov and you will be well treated. Camps await you far from the front line were you can live out the remaining days of the war in peace until the inevitable victory by our Red Army. 

Germany's Army Group North had been besieging Leningrad for over two years. In January of 1944, the RKKA (Workers' and Peasants' Red Army) under General Govorov launched an offensive that threatened to encircle the besieging army. Through a series of skillful rear guard actions, the III SS Panzer Corp was able to withdraw to the natural defensive position of the Narva River near the city of Narva.

As they arrived, the German forces found that the defensive fortification of the Panther Line existed only on paper. There were a few emplacements from the invasion in 1941 but generally these were in poor locations for the current battle. The ground was frozen making the preparation of new trench lines difficult. However, the terrain offered a choke point with Lake Peipus in the south and the Gulf of Finland to the north connected by the south to north running Narva River. 

Destroyed Panther
Advancing T-34 tanks

The river represents the border between Russia and the Baltic nation of Estonia. If the RKKA could drive the Germans from Narva, they would remove the invaders from the whole region. This would score both a strategic and political victory for Stalin’s armies. The river was icy and the bridges were the key to both the defense of Narva and the success of the Soviet attacks.

The Red Army did not wait for the Germans to settle. On February 2, the Second Shock Army led by Major General Fediuninsky immediately attacked the German bridgehead on the east side of the Narva River. This bridgehead was a seven mile long line stretching from the village of Lilienback in the north to the village of Dolgaja Niva in the south.

Manning this position were troops from 4.SS-Freiwilligen Panzergrenadier-Brigade "Nederland" and 11.SS-Freiwilligen Panzergrenadier-Division "Nordland". These units were unusual in that they consisted of volunteers from European countries other than Germany (Freiwilligen means volunteers).

On February 3, the Soviet attack began with a thrust through the defenses on the east side of the river. Soviet tanks broke through and threatened to establish their own bridgehead on the west side of the river. The Nordland’s Panzer Battalion named Hermann von Salza and the Tiger tanks of 502. Schwere Panzer-Abteilung (502nd Heavy Tank Battalion), which included Tiger ace Lt. Otto Carius, joined the battle. They defeated the Soviet armor and with their support, and the "Nordland" infantry was able to recapture their position on the east side of the river.

On February 11, the 43rd Rifle Corps attacked north of the city but met heavy resistance from 227th Grenadier Division and the SS "Nederland" Brigade. In the south, attacks by the 109th and 122nd Rifle Corps were somewhat more successful advancing 7.5 miles before being stopped by SS Nordland, 170th Grenadier Division and the Panzergrenadier Division "Feldherrnhalle".

The Soviets decided to attempt an amphibious landing northwest of Narva to met the troops driving up from the south east and encircling the German forces. The landing was made by the 115th and 260th Naval Infantry Brigades and the night of February 13. The Germans had been forewarned of the attempt and only 432 men managed to land. All their communication equipment was lost and therefore they could receive no support from the Soviet fleet. They were all killed or captured by the February 17.

Soviet assaults continued up and down the Narva defensive line. In the north the Soviets established a bridgehead on the west side of the river near the village of Siivertsi. SS-Obergruppenfüher Steiner received control of the Estonian 20. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (Estische Nr.1) on February 8. These fresh troops were committed to the line on February 20 replacing the battered 9th and 10th Luftwaffe Feld-Divisions. After nine days of heavy fighting the Soviets were again forced back to the east side of the river. 

On February 14, the Stavka issued new orders to General Govorov:

Narva, April 1944

 
It is mandatory that our forces seize Narva no later than 17 February 1944. This is required both for military as well as political reasons. It is the most important thing right now.I demand that you undertake all necessary measures to liberate Narva no later than the period indicated.

I. Stalin

- Stavka VGK directive no. 220025 to Leningrad Front commander concerning the periods for the liberation of Narva

Soviet Arty

A fresh Soviet assault south of Narva by the 30th Guard Rifle Corps broke through the defensive line and established a bridge head. By February 24, the assault forces had swung in a wide arc around Narva, reaching the rail line supporting the city and threatening to encircle the defenders. It was stopped when Division Feldherrnhalle and 502. Schwere Panzerabteilung counter attacked.

After a week of relative quiet, March saw a renewed offensive by the Soviets. At dawn on 1 March, the Red Army began a 20 minute artillery barrage against the Nazi positions. This was followed by the advance of units from the 2nd Shock Army, 2nd Rifle Corps, 59th Army, 109th Rifle Corps, and 43rd Rifle Corps.

The artillery barraged proved to have been inadequate against the deeply dug in defenders and the advances halted due to heavy casualties. Accurate and timely German artillery played a large part in breaking up the advances as did the Luftwaffe even though the Red Army enjoyed a roughly 3 to 1 advantage in airpower along the front. March 1 ended with all advances halted and little gain for the Soviets.
General Govorov attempted to revive the assault on the 2nd, bringing fresh forces to bear against the Narva defenses. These attacks also floundered with little gain to show. Rather than allow the Soviets to consolidate the few gains they had achieved, the German forces launched a vicious serious of counter attacks on March 4 through 6. These attacks recaptured the lost territory and returned the lines to their February locations.

In response, on the night of March 6-7, the Red Air Force made a massive bombing raid of the city of Narva, reducing it to ruins. The surviving civilians fled west but the air raid and artillery bombardment that followed did not greatly harm the defenders.
Soviet HMG
Winter, 1944

Govorov continued attacking up and down the Narva Line seeking a weakness in the defenses. One attack against Nederland’s 49.SS Freiwilligen Panzergrenadier regiment named de Ruyter broke through toward the river. Govorov committed his tank reserves with orders to seize the bridges across the river into the city. The defenders counter attacked with Nordland’s Herman von Salza Panzer Abteilung. The panzers stopped the advancing tanks but they were prevented from exploiting their advantage by heavy anti-tank fire from the east side of the river.

On March 23 Hilter order the creation of Festung Narwa a fortress city that was to be held at all costs. The Germans launched a series of counter attacks beginning on March 26. These attacks were designed to eliminate the Soviet bridgehead gained by the 30th Guard Rifle Corps in February on the west side of the river.

In this they were mostly successful driving the Red forces back to the river, but not across it. These attacks could not be sustained with the equipment and manpower available, but the threat was sufficient that General Govorov ordered the construction of extensive defensive works on the east side of the river to prevent a possible breakout.

Winter Carnage
Winter 1944 By the end of March, the RKKA was not able to defeat the Reich's defense of Narva. The Germans had succeeded in rapidly reinforcing their positions while the Soviets were hampered in their attacks both by the terrain and a poor command and control system between the various units in the sector. The thaw in April and the rasputitsa (muddy season) forced a halt all major operations until late May.


Last Updated On Thursday, April 15, 2021 by Luke at Battlefront