The Jassy–Kishinev Operation, named after the two major cities, Iași and Chișinău, in the staging area, was a Soviet offensive against Axis forces, which took place in Eastern Romania from 20 to 29 August 1944 during World War II. The 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian Fronts of the Red Army engaged Army Group South Ukraine, which consisted of combined German and Romanian formations, in an operation to reclaim the Moldavian SSR and destroy the Axis forces in the region, opening the way into Romania and the Balkans.
The offensive resulted in the encirclement and destruction of the German forces, allowing the Soviet Army to resume its strategic advance further into Eastern Europe. It also forced Romania to switch allegiance from the Axis powers to the Allies.
The Red Army had made an unsuccessful attack in the same sector, sometimes referred to as First Jassy–Kishinev Offensive, from 8 April to 6 June 1944. In 1944, the Wehrmacht had been pressed back along its entire front line in the East. By May 1944, the South Ukraine Army Group (Heeresgruppe Südukraine) was pushed back towards the prewar Romanian frontier, and managed to establish a line on the lower Dniester River, which was however breached in two places, with the Red Army holding bridgeheads. After June, calm returned to the sector, allowing the rebuilding of the German formations.
Heeresgruppe Südukraine had been, until June 1944, one of the most powerful German formations in terms of armour. However, during the summer most of its armoured units were transferred to the Northern and Central fronts to stem Red Army advances in the Baltic states, Belarus, northern Ukraine, and Poland. On the eve of the offensive, the only armoured formations left were the 1st Romanian Armoured Division (with the Tiger R1), and the German 13th Panzer and 10th Panzergrenadier Divisions.
Failure of German intelligence
Soviet deception operations prior to the attack worked well. The German command staff believed that the movement of Soviet forces along the front line was a result of a troop transfer to the north. Exact positions of Soviet formations were also not known until the final hours before the operation. By contrast, the Romanians were aware of the imminent Soviet offensive and anticipated a rerun of Stalingrad, with major attacks against the 3rd and 4th Armies and an encirclement of the German 6th Army. Such concerns were dismissed by the German command as "alarmist". Antonescu suggested a withdrawal of Axis forces to the fortified Carpathian–FNB–Danube line, but Friessner, the commander of Army Group South Ukraine, was unwilling to consider such a move, having already been dismissed by Hitler from Army Group North for requesting permission to retreat.
Order of battle
- 2nd Ukrainian Front – Army General Rodion Malinovsky
- 6th Guards Tank Army – Major General Andrei Kravchenko
- 18th Tank Corps – Major General V. I. Polozkov
- Cavalry-Mechanized Group Gorshkov – Major General S. I. Gorshkov
- 5th Guards Cavalry Corps
- 23rd Tank Corps – Lieutenant General A. O. Akhmanov
- 4th Guards Army – Galanin
- 27th Army – Lieutenant General S. G. Trofimenko
- 52nd Army – Koroteev
- 7th Guards Army – Shumilov
- 40th Army – Lieutenant General F. F. Zhmachenko
- 53rd Army – Lieutenant General I. M. Managarov
- 3rd Ukrainian Front – Army General Fyodor Tolbukhin
- 5th Shock Army – Lieutenant General Nikolai Berzarin
- 4th Guards Mechanized Corps – Major General Vladimir Zhdanov
- 7th Mechanized Corps – Major General F. G. Katkov
- 57th Army – Lieutenant General N. A. Gagen
- 46th Army – Lieutenant General I. T. Shlemin
- 37th Army – Major General M. N. Sharokhin
- Black Sea Fleet
- Army Group Dumitrescu
- Army Group Wohler
The 2nd Ukrainian Front was to break through north of Iași, and then commit mobile formations to seize the Prut River crossings before withdrawing German units of the 6th Army could reach it. It was then to unleash the 6th Tank Army to seize the Siret River crossings and the Focșani Gap, a fortified line between the Siret River and the Danube.
The 3rd Ukrainian Front was to attack out of its bridgehead across the Dniester near Tiraspol, and then release mobile formations to head north and meet the mobile formations of the 2nd Ukrainian Front. This would lead to the encirclement of the German forces near Chișinău.
Progress of the offensive
Both the 2nd and the 3rd Ukrainian Fronts undertook a major effort, leading to a double envelopment of the German Sixth Army and parts of the Eighth Army. The German–Romanian front line collapsed within two days of the start of the offensive, and 6th Guards Mechanized Corps was inserted as the main mobile group of the offensive. The initial breakthrough in the 6th Army's sector was 40 km (25 mi) deep, and destroyed rear-area supply installations by the evening of 21 August. By 23 August, the 13th Panzer Division was no longer a coherent fighting force, and the German 6th Army had been encircled to a depth of 100 km (62 mi). The Red Army mobile group managed to cut off the retreat of the German formations into Hungary. Isolated pockets of German units tried to fight their way through, but only small remnants managed to escape the encirclement.
Detailed study of the Soviet breakthrough
The main effort of the front was in the sector of the 37th Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Sharokhin, by the 66th and 6th Guards Rifle Corps. The 37th Army had a 4 km (2.5 mi)-wide breakthrough frontage assigned to it. It was divided in two groupings, two corps in the first echelon, and one in reserve. According to the plan, it was to break through the German–Romanian defence lines in seven days, to a distance of 110–120 km (68–75 mi), with the goal of covering 15 km (9.3 mi) per day during the first four days.
The 66th Rifle Corps, under Major General Kupriyanov, consisted of the 61st Guards Rifle and 333rd Rifle Divisions in the first echelon and the 244th Rifle Division in reserve. Attached were the 46th Gun Artillery Brigade, 152nd Howitzer Artillery Regiment, 184th and 1245th Tank Destroyer Regiment, 10th Mortar Regiment, 26th Light Artillery Brigade, 87th Recoilless Mortar Regiment, 92nd and 52nd Tank Regiment, 398th Assault Gun Regiment, two pioneer assault battalions, and two light flamethrower companies.
Corps frontage: 4 km (2.5 mi)
Corps breakthrough frontage: 3.5 km (2.2 mi) (61st Rifle Division 1.5 km (0.93 mi), 333rd Rifle Division 2 km (1.2 mi))
Troop density per kilometer of frontage:
- Rifle battalions – 7.7
- Guns/mortars – 248
- Tanks and assault guns – 18
- Infantry – 3:1
- Artillery – 7:1
- Tanks and assault guns – 11.2:1
There is no manpower information on the divisions, but they probably had between 7,000–7,500 men each, with the 61st Guards Rifle Division perhaps mustering 8,000–9,000. The soldiers were prepared over the course of August by exercising in areas similar to those they were to attack, with emphasis on special tactics needed to overcome the enemy in their sector.
Troops density in the 61st Guards Rifle Division's sector per kilometer of frontage was:
- Rifle battalions – 6.0
- Guns/mortars – 234
- Tanks and assault guns – 18
Troops density in the 333rd Rifle Division's sector per kilometer of frontage was:
- Rifle battalions – 4.5
- Guns/mortars – 231
- Tanks and assault guns – 18
The 333rd Rifle Division put three regiments in the first echelon and had none in reserve. The 61st Guards Rifle Division attacked in a standard formation, with two regiments in the first echelon and one in reserve. This proved to be fortunate, because the right wing of the 188th Guards Rifle Regiment was unable to advance past the Plopschtubej strongpoint. The 189th Guards Rifle Regiment on the left wing made good progress though, as did 333rd Rifle Division on its left. The commander of the 61st Guards Rifle Division therefore inserted his reserve (the 187th Guards Rifle Regiment) behind the 189th Guards Rifle Regiment to exploit the breakthrough. When darkness came, the 244th Rifle Division was assigned to break through the second line of defense. It lost its way, and only arrived at 23:00, by which time elements of the 13th Panzer Division were counterattacking.
The German–Romanian opposition was XXX. and XXIX. AK, with the 15th and 306th German Infantry Divisions, the 4th Romanian Mountain Division, and the 21st Romanian Infantry Division. The 13th Panzer Division was in reserve. At the end of the first day, the 4th Romanian Mountain (General de divizie, (Major General) Gheorghe Manoiliu), and 21st Romanian Divisions were almost completely destroyed, while the German 15th and 306th Infantry Divisions suffered heavy losses (according to a German source, the 306th Infantry lost 50% in the barrage, and was destroyed apart from local strong-points by evening). Almost no artillery survived the fire preparation.
The 13th Panzer Division counterattacked the 66th Rifle Corps on the first day, and tried to stop its progress the next day to no avail. A study on the division's history says 'The Russians [Soviets] dictated the course of events.' The 13th Panzer Division at the time was a materially understrength, but high manpower unit, with a high proportion of recent reinforcements. It only had Panzer IVs, StuG IIIs and self-propelled anti-tank guns. By the end of the second day, the division was incapable of attacking or putting up meaningful resistance.
At the end of the second day, the 3rd Ukrainian Front stood deep in the rear of the German 6th Army. No more organised re-supply of forces would be forthcoming, and the 6th Army was doomed to be encircled and destroyed again. Franz-Josef Strauss, who was to become an important German politician after the war, served with the Panzer Regiment of the 13th Panzer Division. He comments that the division had ceased to exist as a tactical unit on the third day of the Soviet offensive: 'The enemy was everywhere.'
In Mazulenko, results of the operations of the 66th Rifle Corps were described: "Because of the reinforcement of the Corps and the deep battle arrangements of troops and units the enemy defenses were broken through at high speed."
German survivors of the initial attack stated "By the end of the barrage, Russian [Soviet] tanks were deep into our position." (Hoffman). A German battalion commander, Hauptmann Hans Diebisch, Commander II./IR579, 306.ID, commented "The fire assets of the German defense were literally destroyed by the Soviet fighter bombers attacking the main line of resistance and the rear positions. When the Russian infantry suddenly appeared inside the positions of the battalion and it tried to retreat, the Russian air force made this impossible. The battalion was dispersed and partly destroyed by air attacks and mortar and machine gun fire."
Alleged Romanian collapse
It is often alleged that the speed and totality of the German collapse were caused by Romanian betrayal. For example, Heinz Guderian wrote of Romanian betrayal in his book Panzer Leader. The study of the combat operations by Mazulenko indicates that this is probably not correct. Romanian formations did resist the Soviet attack in many cases, but were ill-equipped to defend themselves effectively against a modern army due to a lack of modern anti-tank, artillery, and anti-air weapons. In contrast to German claims, for instance, in the symposium notes published by David Glantz, or in the history of the Offensive published by Kissel, it appears that Romanian 1st Armoured Division did offer resistance against the Soviet breakthrough. However, Mark Axworthy states in his book that the battered 1st Armoured Division maintained cohesion, experiencing some local, costly successes before being forced to cross the River Moldova. Axworthy claims that the postwar Communist government would have obviously used this act of betrayal for propaganda purposes. Also, there are no Soviet reports of collaboration before 24 August 1944. The Soviet rates of progress imply a rather ineffective defense of the Romanian troops than active collaboration and en-masse surrender.
I. S. Dumitru was a Romanian tank commander in the battle of the Romanian 1st Armoured Division against Soviet tanks and he described the battle in his book. According to Dumitru, fighting took place near the village of Scobâlţeni in the vicinity of a town called Podu Iloaiei on 20 August. The Romanian division destroyed 60 Soviet tanks and lost 30 tanks. At the end of the day, Romanians decided to retreat to the south after an analysis of the military results of the day.
The complete collapse of the German 6th Army and the Romanian 4th Army was more likely caused by the inability of the numerous horse-drawn infantry divisions to maintain cohesion while retreating and under attack of the Soviet mechanized troops. This claim is reinforced by the fact that the only Romanian division which retained its cohesion under the Soviet attack was the 1st Armoured Division, which had the mobility and the anti-tank weapons needed to do so.
The surrender of Romania took place at a time when the Soviet Army had already moved deep inside Romania, and the German 6th Army had been cut off from the rest of the Wehrmacht in Romania. The opening of hostilities between the Wehrmacht and the Romanian Army commenced after a failed coup d'état by the German ambassador.
Simultaneously, a coup d'état led by King Michael of Romania on 23 August deposed the Romanian leader Ion Antonescu and withdrew Romania from the Axis. By this time, the bulk of the German and Romanian armies had either been destroyed or cut off by the Soviet offensive, with only residual and rear-echelon forces present in the Romanian interior. Hitler immediately ordered special forces under the command of Otto Skorzeny and Arthur Phleps, stationed in nearby Yugoslavia, to intervene in support of the remaining German troops, which were mostly concentrated around Bucharest, Ploiești, Brașov and Giurgiu. General Gerstenberg, commander of the Luftwaffe defenses around the oilfields at Ploiești, had already ordered a column of motorized troops to attack Bucharest on the evening of 23 August. Open hostilities between German and Romanian forces began the following morning on the city's northern outskirts. After capturing the airfield at Otopeni, the attack stalled, and by 28 August Gerstenberg and the remaining German forces in the vicinity of Bucharest surrendered. The fighting here featured the only instance of cooperation between Romanian and Western Allied forces during the campaign, when Romanian ground troops requested a USAAF bombing raid on the Băneasa Forest. Poor coordination however led to friendly fire when American bombers accidentally hit a company of Romanian paratroopers.
Meanwhile, Brandenburger special forces landed at Boteni and Țăndărei airfields on 24 August in an attempt to immobilize the Romanian aircraft there, but they were overpowered by Romanian paratroopers and security companies before they could achieve their objectives. A proposed operation to rescue Antonescu, led by Skorzeny and inspired by the Gran Sasso raid which liberated Mussolini in 1943, could not materialize as Antonescu's whereabouts were unknown even to the Romanian government until 30 August, when he was handed over to the Soviets and shipped to Moscow. Another group of Brandenburgers joined Gerstenberg's unsuccessful drive on Bucharest on 25 August and were captured three days later. Altogether, these events constituted one of the worst defeats suffered by the German special forces in the war.
The German situation was further complicated by the loss of Brașov and the Predeal pass, both of which were secured by the Romanian 1st Mountain Division by 25 August, thus cutting off the most direct route of reinforcement or retreat for the remaining Wehrmacht formations to the south. The following day, the Romanian 2nd Territorial Corps captured Giurgiu and neutralized the German AA units there, taking 9,000 prisoners in the process. The 25,000-strong German presence around Ploiești, consisting mostly of flak troops and their security companies, was at first locked in a stalemate with the Romanian 5th Territorial Corps, which had a similar numerical strength. Over the following days however, the Germans were gradually confined to the city's immediate surroundings and became heavily outnumbered as Romanian reinforcements began arriving from Bucharest and also from the east, together with lead elements of a Soviet motorized brigade. On 30 August, an attack by the 5th Territorial Corps, now numbering over 40,000 men, reduced the Germans to a pocket around the village of Păulești, roughly 10 km (6.2 mi) north of Ploiești. They surrendered the following day after a failed breakout attempt. About 2,000 Germans were able to escape to the Hungarian lines across the Carpathians. Other major cities and industrial centers, such as Constanța, Reșița and Sibiu were secured by the Romanians with relative ease. By 31 August, all German resistance in Romania had been cleared.
During the fighting between 23–31 August, the Romanian Army captured 56,000 German prisoners, who were later surrendered to the Soviet Army. A further 5,000 Germans were killed in action, while Romanian casualties amounted to 8,600 killed and wounded.
Romanian sources claim that internal factors played a decisive role in Romania's switch of allegiance, while external factors only gave support; this version is markedly different from the Soviet position on the events, which holds that the Offensive resulted in the Romanian coup and "liberated Romania with the help of local insurgents".
The German formations suffered significant irrecoverable losses, with over 115,000 prisoners taken, while Soviet casualties were unusually low for an operation of this size. The Red Army advanced into Yugoslavia and forced the rapid withdrawal of the German Army Groups E and F from Greece, Albania, and Yugoslavia to avoid being cut off. Together with Yugoslav partisans and Bulgaria, they liberated the capital city of Belgrade on 20 October.
On the political level, the Soviet offensive triggered King Michael's coup d'état in Romania, and the switch of Romania from the Axis to the Allies. Almost immediately, border hostilities between Romania and Germany's forced ally Hungary erupted over territory that Romania had been forced to cede to Hungary in 1940 as a result of the Second Vienna Award. Romania's defection meant the loss of a vital source of oil for Germany, leading to serious fuel shortages in the Wehrmacht by the end of 1944 and prompting Hitler's first admission that the war was lost.
Following the success of the operation, Soviet control over Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, which had been occupied by the USSR in 1940, was re-established. Soviet forces proceeded to collect and expel the remaining Romanian troops. According to Anatol Petrencu, President of the Historians' Association of Moldova, over 170,000 Romanian soldiers were deported, 40,000 of which were incarcerated in a prisoner-of-war camp at Bălți, where many died of hunger, cold, disease, or execution.
- "Military planning in the twentieth century", U.S. Air Force History Office
- United Center for Research and Training in History, Bulgarian historical review, p.7
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