Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Korsun Pocket, Battle of the (25 January–17 February 1944)

Important Eastern Front battle. The Battle of the Korsun Pocket, known to the Soviets as the Korsun Shevchenkovsky Operation and to the Germans as the Cherkassy pocket engagement, pitted Marshal Georgii K. Zhukov against Field Marshal Fritz Eric von Manstein. Zhukov was supervising elements of General of the Army Nikolai F. Vatutin's 1st Ukrainian Front and General of the Army Ivan S. Konev's 2nd Ukrainian Front; Manstein was leading Army Group South. The Battle of the Korsun Pocket was the first successful large-scale Soviet encirclement combat since Operation uranus in the Battle of Stalingrad 14 months before. The battle became known as "little Stalingrad on the Dnieper."

Unlike previous major Soviet offensives, Korsun Shevchenkovsky did not result from weeks or months of careful planning and force buildup. Rather, the Soviet Stavka and the two Ukrainian fronts organized it opportunistically. The battle demonstrated a Soviet operational adaptability comparable to that shown by the Germans between 1941 and 1943.

On 28 January 1944, converging attacks by the Fifth Guards Tank Army and Sixth Tank Army cut off and isolated the bulge in the Germans' lines that was their last toehold on the Dnieper River. The Soviets trapped at least 60,000 German soldiers, including the 5th SS (Viking) Division. In response, employing the Eighth Army's XLVII Panzer Corps and the III Panzer Corps of First Panzer Army, Manstein sought to punch through the Soviet siege ring, relieve the trapped German troops, and in turn encircle the surrounding Soviet armies.

On the Soviet side, the Battle of the Korsun Pocket included six tank corps, a mechanized corps equipped with Sherman tanks, and a cavalry corps. They opposed eight German panzer divisions, a heavy tank regiment equipped with Tiger and Panther tanks, and a reinforced Schutzstaffel (SS) motorized division. Substantial amounts of infantry, artillery, and air units on both sides were also involved. The Soviets halted two German armored relief attempts and simultaneously endeavored to crush the German pocket.

When it became obvious that the German counterattacks had failed, troops in the pocket were told that they would have to save themselves. An initially successful breakout on the night of 16–17 February, obscured by a blizzard, turned into a massacre as day broke. The desperate German columns were beset by everything from air attacks to saber-swinging Soviet cavalrymen. The battle ended on 17 February.

Soviet and German claims about the numbers of troops lost in the pocket are contradictory, but at least half of the German forces trapped there were killed, wounded, or captured, and even the survivors were in no shape to fight again for weeks or months. Six German divisions were destroyed. When the battle ended, Soviet forces were poised to complete the liberation of the western Ukraine.

Dana Lombardy


Further Reading
Glantz, David M., ed. and trans. The Korsun-Shevchenkovsky Operation (The Cherkassy Pocket), January–February 1944: The Soviet General Staff Study. Carlisle, PA: Glantz and Orenstein, 1997.; Loza, Dmitri. Commanding the Red Army's Sherman Tanks. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996.; Nash, Douglas E. Hell's Gate: The Battle of the Cherkassy Pocket, January–February 1944. Barnsley, UK: Pen and Sword, 2002.
 

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