Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Kharkov, Battle for (1–14 March 1943)

Important Eastern Front battle. The Soviets claimed to have inflicted 1 million German casualties in the period between November 1942 and March 1943, and despite some replacements, the Germans estimated a shortfall of 470,000 men on the Eastern Front. Following their victory at Stalingrad, the Soviets drove to the Donets River in February 1943 and recaptured Kursk, Rostov, and Kharkov, leading Adolf Hitler to order a counterattack during his visit to the front between 17 and 19 February 1943. In the resulting offensive action on 20 February, Field Marshal Fritz Eric von Manstein's Southern Army Command struck the Soviet flank with a panzer attack from the south in a running battle from Krasnoarmeiskaia to the northern Donets River; Fourth Panzer Army's XL Corps encircled and destroyed what was left of Group Popov, consisting of four understrength Soviet tank corps.

The German thrust, assisted by First Panzer Army after 23 February, continued to the northeast. On 22 February, SS Panzer Corps and LVIII Panzer Corps attacked the flank of Colonel General Nikolai Vatutin's Southwest Front, the lead elements of which (XXV Tank Corps) were within 12 miles of Zaporozhye. Having run out of fuel, the latter units abandoned their equipment and made desperate efforts to escape to the north; for the most part, these attempts were successful, as the Germans took only 9,000 prisoners of war. But Manstein claimed to have killed 23,000 Soviet soldiers and destroyed or captured 615 tanks, 354 artillery pieces, and 69 antiaircraft guns.

On 1 March, Manstein began an advance on Kharkov, attempting to get behind the Soviets west of that city who were pushing against Army Detachment Kempf, commanded by General der Panzertruppen (U.S. equiv. lieutenant general) Werner Kempf. A five-day battle for the city raged with Fourth Panzer Army getting the better of Lieutenant General Pavel S. Rybalko's Third Tank Army, which had been sent to aid the hard-pressed Southwestern Front but had gone on to Kharkov only to be cut off with the advent of the rainy season. By 5 March, the Germans had mauled units of Third Tank Army on the Berestovaya River southwest of the city, capturing 61 tanks, 225 guns, and 600 motor vehicles in a small pocket at Krasnograd.

Manstein wanted to proceed west to attack the rear of the Soviet Voronezh Front, forcing it to fight simultaneously in two directions near Poltava, but because of the rain and mud, the Germans tried to strike the Soviet flank. They attacked north on 7 March and made steady progress, driving a wedge between the Third Tank and Sixty-Ninth Soviet Armies, with pressure eventually coming from the west as Army Detachment Kempf was freed for action. The Soviets brought up II Guards Tank Corps from the east. The SS Panzer Corps, apparently desiring to present the trophy city of Kharkov to Hitler, had to be restrained to ensure that it did not launch a frontal assault on the city, which Manstein feared could produce another Stalingrad.

Hitler's visit to Manstein's headquarters on 10 March probably inspired the SS Panzer Corps commander, Lieutenant General Paul Hauser, to disobey orders and involve the Das Reich and Leibstandarte Divisions in three days of house-to-house battles. Thus, the Germans recovered Kharkov on 14 March 1943. At the same time, to the north of Army Detachment Kempf, the Gross Deutschland Division moved rapidly on Belgorod. At Gaivoron, the Germans wiped out Soviet armored forces that sought to defend Belgorod. The capture of Kharkov and Belgorod marked the end of the German counterblow, which had reestablished the Donets-Mius Line.

Claude R. Sasso

Further Reading
Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1983.; Glantz David M., and Jonathan House. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995.; Manstein, Erich. Lost Victories. Ed. and trans. Anthony G. Powell. Novato, CA: Presidio, 1982.

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