Liberation of Smolensk, 1943

Discussion in 'The Eastern Front' started by Earthican, May 13, 2013.

  1. Earthican

    Earthican Senior Member

    Once again I have found some interest in the Great Patriotic War and since ww2Talk still lets me post images I'll share what I found here.

    As we approach the 70th commemoration of the 1943 Red Army summer offensive, I thought we could look at the lesser known battles north of Kursk. As many will know, the Soviet defense of Kursk broke the back of the German Army in the east and opened the way for massive gains in territory in the Ukraine, south of Kursk. North of Kursk, German Army Group Center held an intact defensive belt east of Smolensk. Soviet gains here would be harder to come by.

    AMVAS's RKKA website provides a wealth of Soviet maps for the experts. For the uninitiated these untranslated maps are daunting and appear one-like-another -- large Soviet arrows relentlessly pushing the Wehrmacht line back. Regrettably there are few written accounts which could help us make sense of the maps. My limited search for narratives of the battles have not yielded much, so, for now, we will have to be content with Wikipedia.

    I have found a Russian website that seems to be the basis for the Wiki entry:

    Using Google translate yields an almost readable text:
    sol found an excellent overview, post 17 of this topic:

    Attached, I have partially translated the overview map which almost matches the Wiki article. I have also added cyan numerals which show the sequence of Soviet attacks.

    Original map here:

    Attached Files:

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  2. Earthican

    Earthican Senior Member

    I have accessed the German situation maps to get the actual location of the front line, German OB and the results of the Soviets attacks. These maps show a German bulge, or salient, at Spas Demensk and a Soviet salient, to the south, at Kirov.

    From the 10 Aug 1943 situation map it appears, in three days of fighting, the Soviets made three dents in the German line: north and south of Spas Demensk; and east of Yartsevo. It may have been the Soviet plan to cut-off the Spas Demensk salient with a double envelopment, while an effort was directed at Smolensk via Yartsevo. These attacks drew in the local reserves.

    The attached sketch from GoogleMaps shows the approximate front line and Soviet attacks. I like the base map because it shows the pattern of the forests in the region which may not have changed much since.

    Attached Files:

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  3. Earthican

    Earthican Senior Member

    One of my main interests in this battle is to learn more about Soviet doctrine and how combat in the east of Europe differed from the west. There are some generalities out there which may or may not be helpful. I am no expert so I will use these 'rules of thumb' but I will be open to corrections and debate.

    The general rule that the size of Soviets units are about one level below their equivalent in the west is generally true, more so in these examples: a Soviet Corps is about the same as a US or British Division; a Soviet Army is about equivalent to a Corps. Many of the RKKA maps will show Armies(A), Corps(K) and Divisions(d).

    Below the Corps level things can get tricky. Rifle Divisions (cd) could be brought up to near T/O strength for an offensive -- about the same as CW or US Division -- and would drop off sharply after a few days combat. A Soviet Tank Corps (mK or TK) is a small Armored Division. A Mechanized Corps (MK) has more tanks and infantry than a Tank Corps.

    To me the Soviet and German infantry appear very much alike. While the Germans had a high quality replacement system, this system broke down as the war dragged on and many infantry units were down to a third or less of their T/O strength. Such that companies looked like platoons, battalions like companies and up to divisions which looked like regiments (albeit with extra artillery). In fact companies were often led by a Leutnant, battalions led by a Hauptmann and regiments led by a Major or a Oberstleutnant.
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  4. Earthican

    Earthican Senior Member

    A quick look at the German line northeast of Yelnya (German map: Jelnja) before the attack. The zone of 268.Infanterie-Division will be of interest for later posts. The 268.ID appears to be reinforced by elements of 36.ID. In local reserve are elements of 2.PzD on the railroad line south of the attack zone. Other local reserves include a KG of 56.ID south of Spas Demensk and elements of a KG of 38.ID at Yelnya.

    Given the width of the German front it seems all three regiments would be manning the trenches. The 268.ID might have been able to hold a battalion off the line for an immediate reserve.

    The 268.ID was down to two infantry regiments. The 499.IR was holding the division left and the 488.IR the right. The division Replacement Battalion (268.Ersatz Bataillon [?]) was held in reserve.

    Also note the battery of Sturmgeschutze (St.G. Bttr.3./677) at XII Corps.

    Attached Files:

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  5. arnhem44

    arnhem44 Member

    Hi Earthican,

    As you understand and read russian; can you tell me what the russian reader today feels or should feel if in those (neo pattriottic?) texts we see (google translated) "the german fascist invader ...does this or attack there or retreats there"..what is the feeling towards always adding the adjective fascist ?
    In the western historical descriptions you would hardly see this consequent repetition of a political adjective for the german military .

    So , is it meant to mean like "those filthy fascist pig german invaders.." (more insulting, more demeaning)...or like
    "those german military that invaded us are obviously the worst of the german nation and directed by the fascist elite power and thus those are to be referred as the fascists, whereas the common german civilian back home should not be referred as fascist " ?

    Btw ..I knew somewhat of the other 1943 battles and soviet gains (its in the books, and recently on history channel :) )...but I hate to go through masses of text in my lunch time ;)
  6. Earthican

    Earthican Senior Member

    Regrettably I do not understand or read Russian. This forum had a few members from Russia but they have not been active for some time [sad face]. If we are fortunate one will return and respond to your query.
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  7. Earthican

    Earthican Senior Member

    Now to zoom-in a bit and look at how the Soviets conducted the opening attacks. The RKKA website has a series of maps for the 29th Guards Rifle Division and their role in the attack on Yelnya.

    But first let's learn a little bit about the 29th GRD. Attached is an excerpt that shows the 29th GRD started the war as the 32d Rifle Division and earned the honorific 'Guards' in the defense of Moscow. It took me a few Google searches to learn that units titled 'Guards' were re-numbered.

    The attached shows the 29th GRD consisted of the 87th, 90th and 93d Guards Rifle Regiments and the 62d Guards Artillery Regiment.

    The attached sketch map shows the 29th GRD was committed to the offensive on 10 Aug 1943, three days after the initial attacks. As an aide, I highlighted in green the sub-units of the 29th GRD. Notice the zone of attack is about one kilometer wide with two regiments abreast. Even if the 29th GRD were not up to T/O strength -- and it may not have been -- this is an extremely narrow zone of attack. For comparison, in EPSOM of June 1944, two British divisions attacked in a zone of about 6 km wide.

    The 29th GRD also appears to be reinforced with additional artillery (48, 15, 1130) and armor (64). Beyond their numerical identification I cannot read the unit type.

    The sketch also identifies the opposing German units as the 268.ID and 260.ID. As we will see later, it seems likely that only elements of some of these units were present.

    Link to the original sketch map (higher resolution):

    EDIT: The sketch map shows the gains for 10.8.1943 (key, top and bottom). Other marks show division objectives.

    Attached Files:

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  8. Earthican

    Earthican Senior Member

    This might add a little excitement to this thread/topic. I came across this description of an assault on the left (east) flank of the 29GRD. The height ('hill') 233.3 is identified on the previous sketch map.

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  9. Earthican

    Earthican Senior Member

    To understand a battle I want to know the terrain. For good reason and for the sake of clarity, sketch maps reduce the terrain to the landmarks necessary to understand the narrative. This source of contemporary topographic maps of eastern Europe has been linked-to often:

    The coverage is not complete so one is forced to find battles for which there are maps available. Fortunately there are some maps of the Smolensk area. The attached is a 1:50K scale map that covers the 29th GRD's initial attack (previous post).

    To orient yourself find Слузна on the eastern (right) edge of the sketch and the map.

    The pattern of villages and roads is about the same throughout Europe. However I believe most of the buildings in the east are constructed of wood where in western Europe many villages used stone or brick. The roads in the east are mostly dirt/sand, possibly without a gravel bed or drainage.
    Further comparison with 1:50K maps of the area north of the Ardennes it appears that villages in western Europe were more spread out, fewer villages per square area.

    Also unique to this area is the rather large patches of woods and marsh between the villages. Not seen on this map but the area also has vast stretches of forest.

    Even maps are abstracted information so to truly understand what they represent it helps to see the real terrain. In this case, an aerial photograph of similar ground will have to suffice. The attached covers an area just south of the railroad found at the bottom of the topographic map. Left to right, there are: marsh; village with pastures and cultivated fields; and dense woods.

    Attached Files:

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  10. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    I know your not getting many replies but we are reading this with interest.
    Keep it coming.
  11. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Agree with Owen, thanks for the work. I only ended up in North Africa research because I don't speak Russian.

    All the best

  12. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Hot air manufacturer

  13. Earthican

    Earthican Senior Member

    Thanks guys. Now I know where the 3 views on the attachments came from. ;)

    More web searching with Cyrillic text yielded the mother load....

    I think I found the text for the sketch maps found at the RKKA website. I guess I'm done here. Read, er... decipher and enjoy.

    Google Translate:

    RKKA website maps (bottom of the table for Western Front-1943, look for 29th Guards):

    No, of course I'll keeping commenting. The rifle companies are lean, no fat (T/O strength ~150 persons, I think). Twelve 122mm Howitzers for a "Guards Artillery Regiment" is full strength.

    Anyone studying the 29th GRD text (link above) is going to want this map (attached). It's from a series of 1953 US Army maps. The transliteration of the town names almost match except Hope (Google translated text) refers to Polyana (USA map).

    I marked this copy as I read -- up to the start of the attack. If you want a clean copy let me know. I added two town names that were missing but matched the description in the text. Sluzna is Слузна on the RKKA maps.

    As shown below my [] here "76-mm guns, PA[Light Howitzer] - 12, 76 mm guns YES[Anti-Tank] - 24," were wrong. Probably should have been "76-mm guns, PA[regimental] - 12, 76 mm guns YES[divisional] - 24,".

    Attached Files:

  14. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Hot air manufacturer

    Hmm, the former would prbably be the 76mm REgimental Gun M1927, whereas in the latter the qualificative is really not needed as it could be any of the variety of 76mm Divisional Filed Guns the Soviets had - M1902/30, M1936 (F-22), M1939 (USV), or M1942 (ZiZ-3). These were field guns, dedicated AT guns were something else.

    A quick guide here.
  15. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Hot air manufacturer

    See? Someone's reading the damned thread :lol:
  16. Earthican

    Earthican Senior Member

    But I shouldn't have to hear you :biggrin: . The reputation system works too (arrows, lower right).

    I added the [light howitzer] and [Anti-Tank] based on the T/O quantities. Could they be citing the attachments? Any 76mm in the Guards Artillery Regiment?
    Based on further searching it seems there were 24-76mm howitzers of various types and 12-122mm howitzers in the Guards Artillery Regiment. The other "12-76mm guns PA" are the Infantry Guns or regimental artillery.

    While you're at it, can you figure out the type of tanks?
  17. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

  18. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

    Heavy tank "KV", most likely KV-1
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  19. Earthican

    Earthican Senior Member

    Thank you sol

    I have made small additions to my previous posts with corrected or new information.

    The text for the 29th GRD has a long passage describing the first and second German trench lines. If one browsed the maps on the RKKA website you may have come across this scheme. It's the most complete depiction of a WWII German trench system that I have come across. The text seems to be military instruction rather than history, but still interesting. The text for that scheme is found here.

    Google translate (click link to Reconnaissance Force Infantry Battalion) :

    Scheme east of Yartsevo
  20. Earthican

    Earthican Senior Member

    Not to excuse my previous ignorance (or any future ignorance), but to share a little of what I have learned. Sources indicate the Soviets designed many of their divisional guns to be good anti-tank guns as well, particularly the model 36 and 39. However given the artillery battalions had both 76.2mm guns and 122mm howitzers it seems their role as artillery was primary and the AT role secondary.

    I am now curious as to what the attached Anti-Tank Regiment, the 1130th, was equipped with? The 45mm --as already found in the rifle regiment-- or something else.

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