|Dawn over the River Mius, and the Kyubyshev bridgehead.|
As dawn broke upon 18th July, 1943, the planned offensives on both sides clashed around the Kozhevnya bridgehead in what amounted to an encounter battle. Where the Germans hoped to eliminate the bridgehead outright, the Russians sought to extend it. Once the Soviets could establish a line along the ridges that formed a chord across the base of the river's arc, there would be almost nothing the Axis could do then to eliminate it.
|Germans about to launch their attacks.|
The Germans were quicker off the mark. The scenario called for the Germans to move first, but thereafter the 'initiative', as I term it, would be contested. Point 143 was at once seized by the two battalions of 515th Infantry Regiment, whilst the 79th Panzergrenadier Regiment secured Point 141. A whole battalion of StuG assault guns - 16th Panzerjager Abteilung - supported the move.
|End of move 1. The Germans have occupied the ridge line;|
but Kampfgruppe I have yet to move. The Russians have
moved up rapidly on this flank.
It would have been better had I/79 Battalion occupied Point 138 as well, an omission that would later prove costly. Even in the lower lying ground between Hills 138 and 141, that battalion came in for the undivided attention of two, and later three, artillery battalions.
|4th Mechanised Brigade seizes Kozhevnya village.|
Meanwhile, on the southern flank, 4th Mechanised Brigade seized the unoccupied Kyubysheva village, II/4 Rifle Battalion garrisoning the place, whilst I/4 Battalion advanced to the river bank. The 4th Brigade tanks began a gunnery duel with the Panzer IIIs of 2nd Panzer Regiment, across the river.
|Tank column crossing the river at Kyubysheva.|
The Kozhevnya bridgehead garrison comprised the rifle battalions of 5th Mechanised Brigade, with the brigade's tank destroyer group garrisoning the village itself. The rifles lurked in the woodland on either flank. As the dawn paled the eastern sky, the brigade's tanks, two companies of T34s and one of T70s, began pouring across bridge, followed by the attached column of brand new SU76 assault guns. At the same time, the two artillery battalions lining the eastern riverbank were about to be joined by a third. At once they opened fire against enemy seem moving about near Point 138.
|Tank column crossing the bridge at Dmitievka.|
On the northern flank, the lead motor rifle battalion (I/6) of 6th Mechanised Brigade rushed the Dmitrievka bridge to seize the unoccupied built up areas on the far bank. They were at once followed by the powerful column of T34 tanks. Passage across the bridge defile would take some time before a full scale assault could be mounted in this sector. But events were about to take a sudden turn.
|The German attack ready to jump off....|
|...but the Soviets seize the initiative!|
If the Germans made the earlier start, the Soviets promptly, possibly even prematurely, seized the initiative (see small picture to the right: the respective dice rolls, the red die, of course, belonging to the Red Army). The following three pictures show subsequent developments, from the German perspective, on their right, centre and left.
|2nd Pz Rgt advances ahead of 60th PzGr Rgt.|
On the right, the 2nd Panzer Regiment moved rather ahead of the 60th Panzergrenadier Regiment, still forming up close by the Division's supply column parked near Point 112. I/2nd Panzer Battalion began a cross-river gunnery duel with the T34s of 4th Mechanised Brigade. The heavier guns of II/2nd Pz Bn might have joined in with effect, but for their attention being drawn to developments near Kozhevnya.
|Soviet probing attacks towards Pt138.|
There, pressure was already mounting against the Axis centre, where their gun line was not very well covered. The initial probing attacks by Soviet armour were the weightier for the strong artillery support they were receiving. Meanwhile, Oberst von Manteuffel had placed his command HQ close by the I Battalion 16th Artillery Regiment. Both the Axis artillery battalions were directing their fire at the Kyubyshev village, causing some damage to the 4th Anti-Tank Unit therein, sufficient to induce a retreat - and to block the bridge before the second SU company could cross.
|I/6th Battalion boldly attacks Hill 141.|
Finally, on the northern flank, the Red Army columns surging out of Dmitrievka were already attacking Point 141. So impetuous was the assault by the lead rifle battalion of 6th Mechanised Brigade, that they drove II/79th Panzergrenadiers quite off the feature, despite the latter's supports. As the attacks broadened and intensified, the whole of 515th Infantry and 79th Panzergrenadiers were driven from the ridges. The German armour - assault guns - were left precariously clinging to their objective points, 141 and 143. To prevent the enemy seizure of Pt 138, the light tanks of 2nd Panzer Regiment placed itself on the feature, where it found itself in a confrontation with their T70 counterparts of 5th Mech Bde.
|Remarkable early Soviet successes: Germans|
disrupted across the whole front.
On the southern flank, meanwhile, the coup d'oeil of the local commander, Major G.G. Grishuk, had discerned an open flank by which he might cross the river, seize point 112, and perhaps capture the Axis supply column. No sooner conceived than ordered: under cover of the tank duel, I/4 Rifle Battalion splashed into the river, where they found themselves opposed by 2nd Panzer Company.
We'll interrupt the narrative here, and resume with a later posting. It was to be written up in one hit, but half way through I hit a 'bad button' and somehow wiped the lot: pictures, text, everything. The saline flow of language that ensued I'm glad nobody got to hear. So to the restarted story. So far, the bold actions of the Red Army, though costing something in casualties, has placed the Germans under pressure. Can they keep it up?
To be continued...