|Grossdeutschland Campaign Pt. 6 - Closing the Ring|
|by Travis Petkovits|
The Russian colossus...has been underestimated by us...whenever a dozen divisions are destroyed the Russians replace them with another dozen.
- General Franz Halder
There would be no rest for the beleaguered grenadiers of Infantry Regiment Grossdeutschland after the trials they had endured in the defensive battles around Kruglowka, and Voroshilovo. After a mere few hours of rest, the tired companies began to move towards the threatened defensive salient around Jelnja, southeast of Smolensk. From the period 30 July – 5 August, the regiment repulsed numerous Soviet attacks, all the while suffering the effects of heavy artillery fire. Also during this time the regiment had its first encounter with the morale shaking BM-13 Katyusha. Finally relieved by the 15th Infantry Division, the Regiment spent a few days recuperating in the Dankowo-Waskowo area.
This downtime would also be short, as new orders reached the regiment on 9 August. Grossdeutschland would be going back into the line near Klimjatino. Until relieved by the 463rd Infantry Regiment during the night of 18-19 August, the grenadiers dealt with sporadic attempted enemy penetrations along the front.
From 19-30 August the Regiment was finally able to rest and refit in the Waskowo-Chochlowka-Rudnaja Polyana area. It was during this time that Oberleutnant Hanert, commander of 4th Company, was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross for his valor and leadership during the battle at Kraglowka.
On 25 August, the German Second Army and Panzergruppe 2 had commenced the attack upon the Soviet Southwestern Front. In conjunction with Army Group South, the ultimate objective of the operation would be to encircle the 1.5 million enemy troops operating in the Ukraine east of Kiev. Panzergruppe 2s initial target was the town of Konotop, a vital rail center south of the Sejm River. 30 August brought orders for Grossdeutschland to join the fight. Once again it would be up to the regiment to guard the flank of Guderians’ panzer forces.
Initially I.R. Grossdeutschland was detailed to guard the bridgehead over the Desna River, near Novgorod-Seversk. This proved to be an uneventful assignment. Starting on 5 September the regiment was tasked with road security operations along Panzergruppe 2s axis of advance as far south as Gluchow. By 8 September the Regiment went on the offensive, its objective was to establish bridgeheads across the Sejm River in the Putiwl region.
The campaign entered a period of bitter fighting as Soviet resistance stiffened around the Sejm bridgeheads. Both 2nd and 3rd Battalions were involved in heavy fighting from 9-11 September near Putiwl, until relieved by the 17th Panzer Division.
As the panzergrenadiers approached Konotop, 14 September saw the Regiment prepare to assault Schilowka and cut the Kiev-Kursk-Moscow railway line. After completing this mission the Regiment turned to the west. Soviet resistance at Sswetschkino would need to be dealt with before the troops could reach their billets in Konotop.
By the late summer of 1941, the Soviet Southwestern Front, led by Marshall Semyon Budyonny, was relatively unscathed compared to the Red Army units opposite Army Group Center and North. Though the Germans had made deep penetrations into the Ukraine, and Budyonny had lost upwards of 300,000 men. It seemed that the defensive line centered on Kiev could hold off Army Group South.
Budyonny was caught unawares when the German 2nd Army and Panzergruppe 2 wheeled to the south, and drove deep into the eastern Ukraine. With most of Southwestern Fronts armor destroyed in the Battle of Uman, there were few mobile units able to deal with the new threat. The Soviets would have to make due with what units they currently possessed in the northeastern Ukraine to deal with the threat from Army Group Center.
Scenario: Grossdeutschland Campaign Pt. 6 - Closing the Ring
An excerpt from 3rd Battalions’ war diary describes the battle:
At roughly 05.00 on 17. 9 .41 orders to attack Sswetschkino. Right II Btl. on the left III Btl. Advance on foot. No resistance as far as the heights in front of Sswetschinko, the enemy had dug in at the edge of the village. The rifle companies advanced behind the assault guns: on the right 11th Company, on the left 9th Company and behind them 10th Company. During the battle the assault guns and several anti-tank guns put 8 enemy tanks and 9 anti-tank guns out of action. One rapid firing 7.62cm gun was also destroyed. The enemy was finally thrown back after bitter fighting and the lead companies reached the edge of the village. The Russians pulled back in panic. The west exit from the village was soon taken and secured.
The assault guns continued the advance and succeeded in destroying or capturing a large part of the enemy’s supply train. Trucks, ammunition and documents fell into our hands. Among the Russians killed and captured were a number of female soldiers. Orders to continue the attack arrived at about 15.00. New objective: Bankowa. We advanced along the road. Motorized reconnaissance revealed the area to be free of the enemy. Afterwards we climbed aboard following vehicles and drove to Konotop where our billets were.
Although units from Army Group South and Panzergruppe 2 had linked at Lokhvitsa on 16 September, many more battles would be fought to destroy the now encircled Soviet front. Infantry Regiment Grossdeutschland would deal with Soviet counterattacks against their positions on the Wiry River, and a particular difficult attack on the village of Nikolajenka. By early October enemy activity in the regiments’ area of operations had dropped off considerably.
With 600,000 Soviet troops captured, the Battle of Kiev represented the largest amount of prisoners captured in a single battle. Now that the dangerous Soviet bulge to the south had been dealt with, Hitler and OKW could set their sights on Moscow.