In the late winter of 1944, all the troops in Army Group South (AGS) were exhausted. Infantry divisions were constantly falling back for fear of encirclement, while the motorized units raced from sector to sector trying to blunt enemy penetrations, seal off gaps, or rescue units that had become encircled. None of the armies in AGS could withstand much more pressure, but Field Marshal Erich von Manstein knew he had to reinforce that north flank. He’d been lobbying Hitler for weeks to bring in another full army in order to better cover the gap between AGS and Army Group Center (AGC), whether by pulling back to shorten his own south flank, or transferring in formations from Army Group North (AGN), or by evacuating Seventeenth Army from the Crimea.
Hitler expected the spring mud would soon immobilize both sides equally, as it had done in springs past, and that would provide the respite his eastern armies so badly needed. Unfortunately for the Germans, that remained true only for them, as the Soviets were increasingly enjoying superior mobility thanks to their US-built four- and six-wheel drive lend-lease trucks. The Soviets were benefitting not only from that enhanced operational mobility, but also from the superior logistical effort it was allowing them to make.
Even further, though official German policy in their retreat across the Ukraine had called for a total “scorched earth” withdrawal – with everything and everyone of military value that couldn’t be taken away destroyed in place – it hadn’t worked out that way. In their hectic rush west, it’s estimated they only managed to destroy or evacuate about 20 percent of the resource and manpower totals. In that way, every mile of liberated territory yielded thousands of conscripts for the Red Army as well as vast acreages of crop land.
TYRONE “Ty” BOMBA
The editor of World at War magazine and Senior Editor for Strategy & Tactics Press. He has more than 30 years professional experience in historical research, writing and editing. From 1976 to 1980, and again from 1984 to 1988, he served in US military intelligence. He has written over 100 published articles and reports on military history and over 100 published wargames, most on World War II topics.