Password: Freiheit, Objective: Lysianka, February 16 1944 at 23:00 (Korsun-Cherkassy pocket)
Trapped in the Korsun-Cherkassy pocket, a defensive position along the Dniepr river in Ukraine in January 1944, were 60,000 men, at approximately 55 % of their authorized strength. Among the trapped German forces were the Nordic 5.SS-Panzer-Division Wiking under command of SS-Gruppenführer Gille and the Belgian 5.SS-Freiwilligen-Sturmbrigade Wallonien (SS Assault Brigade) under command of SS-Hauptsturmführer Degrelle and 6,000 Russian auxiliaries. Stalin expected and was promised a second Stalingrad. The Soviets was already triumphantly proclaiming in their news broadcasts the destruction of the Therkassy pocket and with it, division Wiking. Yet very few German soldiers and no Waffen-SS men in the cauldron had surrendered despite heavy Soviet propaganda inducements to do so. With great hardship, the front held. Wehrmacht General Stemmermanns answer would be in the form of continued, bitter resistance. Field Marshal Erich von Manstein ordered III Panzerkorps to attempt to relieve the beleaguered forces. Led by the 1.SS-Panzer-Division Leibstandarte SS and the 16.Panzer-Division the attack soon encountered heavy resistance from four Soviet Tank Corps. After heavy fighting, the exhausted force reached the Gniloy Tikich stream and established a small bridgehead on the eastern bank. The III Panzerkorps could advance no further, Group Stemmermann would have to fight its way out. The trapped troops began to assemble into assault columns with the 72.Infantry Division and the 5.SS-Panzer-Division Wiking leading, moving ahead, silently and with bayonets fixed. The force broke through the first and soon thereafter the second Soviet defense line. General Stemmermann and his rear guard held fast and thus assured the success of the initial breakout. The Soviets ordered total annihilation of the escaping units using all available armor and artillery to attack and cut them into isolated groups and then destroy them piecemeal. The two blocking Soviet infantry divisions, 206th Rifle and 5th Guards Airborne, had already been smashed by the men of the 72nd and the Wiking. The Soviets greatly outnumbered the German forces but failed to cut off their retreat. Several hundred Soviet prisoners of war and Ukrainian civilians who feared reprisals by the Red Army also followed. German accounts state that the 60.000 men originally inside the cauldron had shrunk in heavy fighting to less than 50,000 by February 16 1944, that 45,000 took part in the breakout and that 35,000 got through, with a total of 19,000 dead, captured or missing. Only a handful survived Russian captivity. General Wilhelm Stemmermann died fighting among his rear guard. SS-Obergruppenführer Herbert Otto Gille and SS-Standartenführer Léon Degrelle survived World War II. Credit: European Volunteers, The 5. SS-Panzer-Division Wiking and HELL'S GATE: The Battle of the Cherkassy Pocket January to February 1944. Image: Unidentified Grenadiers of the Wiking division in Korsun-Cherkassy in February 1944. Fair use.
Labels: C:II Ukraine – Romania 1944