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Third Battle of Kharkov

by Ammad Ghauri  |  11 years, 5 month(s) ago

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The Third Battle of Kharkov was a series of offensive operations undertaken by the German Army Group South against the Red Army, around the city of Kharkov (Kharkiv), between 19 February and 15 March 1943. Known to the Germans as the Donets Campaign, and to the Soviets as the Donbas and Kharkov operations, the German counterstrike led to the destruction of approximately 52 Soviet divisions and the recapture of the cities of Kharkov and Belgorod.

As the German Sixth Army was encircled in Stalingrad, the Red Army undertook a series of wider offensives against the rest of Army Group South. These culminated on 2 January 1943, when the Soviets launched Operation Star, which between January and early February broke German defenses and led to the Soviet recapture of Kharkov, Belgorod and Kursk. Despite the success of the Soviet offensive, it also resulted in participating Soviet units over-extending themselves. Freed on 2 February by the surrender of the German Sixth Army, the Red Army's Central Front turned its attention west and on 25 February expanded its offensive against both Army Group South and Army Group Center. However, months of continuous operations had taken a heavy toll on the Soviets and some divisions were reduced to 1,000–1,500 combat effectives. On 19 February, Field Marshal Erich von Manstein took the opportunity to launch his Kharkov counterstroke, using the fresh SS Panzer Corps and two panzer armies.

Although the Germans were also understrength, the Wehrmacht successfully flanked, encircled and defeated the Red Army's armored spearheads south of Kharkov. This enabled von Manstein to renew his offensive against the city of Kharkov proper, which began on 7 March. Despite orders to encircle Kharkov from the north, the SS Panzer Corps instead decided to directly engage Kharkov on 11 March. This led to four days of house-to-house fighting before Kharkov was finally recaptured by the 1st SS Panzer ("Leibstandarte") Division on 15 March. Two days later, the Germans also recaptured Belgorod, creating the salient which in July 1943 would lead to the Battle of Kursk. Although the German offensive had cost the Red Army an estimated 70,000 personnel casualties, the house to house fighting in Kharkov had been particularly bloody for the SS Panzer Corps. This German unit lost approximately 44% of its strength by the time operations ended in late March.

 Tags: battle, Kharkov, THIRD

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