Kamenets-Podolsky Pocket

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of the Kamenets-Podolsky Pocket

caption=German Sd.Kfz 251 series armoured personnel carriers of Korpsgruppe Breith.
partof=the Eastern Front of World War II
place=Kamenets-Podolsky / Tarnopol, USSR
date=March 25, 1944 – April 15, 1944
result=German tactical withdrawal; overall Soviet victory
commander1=Erich von Manstein (Army Group South) Hans-Valentin Hube (First Panzer Army)
commander2=Georgi Zhukov Nikolai Vatutin (1st Ukrainian Front) Ivan Koniev (2nd Ukrainian Front)
casualties2=? 357 tanks|

The Battle of the Kamenets-Podolsky Pocket, also known as Hube's Pocket, was a Wehrmacht attempt on the Eastern Front of World War II to evade encirclement by the Red Army. During the Proskurov-Chernovtsy Offensive Operation (4 March 1944 - 17 April 1944) and the Uman-Botosani Offensive Operation (5 March 1944 - 17 April 1944) the 1st and 2nd Ukrainian Fronts encircled Generaloberst Hans-Valentin Hube's 1st Panzer Army north of the Dniestr river. The Panzer Army's personnel was largely able to escape the encirclement in April, however losing their heavy equipment.

The offensives

In mid-February 1944, the 1st Panzer Army found itself defending the line in the north-western Ukraine. The Army had just completed operations to rescue the two Corps trapped in the Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket [situation map, 1 March 1944, p332, Glantz] , which had exhausted the army's III Panzerkorps.

In February 1944, the 1st Panzer Army, commanded by Generaloberst Hans-Valentin Hube consisted of four Corps, three of which were "Panzerkorps" (a force equivalent to 20 panzer and panzer grenadier divisions). Together with the attached Army units, the 1st Panzer Army included over 200,000 troops, and was the most powerful formation of Field Marshall Erich von Manstein's Army Group South.

Soviet Marshal Georgi Zhukov realised the role of the 1st Panzer Army, and began planning to bring about the Wehrmacht's Army's destruction that could, and did, result in the collapse of the entire South-Eastern Front. Zhukov planned a multi-Front offensive, involving his own 1st and Marshal Ivan Koniev's 2nd Ukrainian Front. This force of over eleven Armies (including two Air Armies), was to attempt to outflank and encircle Hube's Army, and, in a repeat of the Battle of Stalingrad, reduce the resulting pocket (in German, "kessel", meaning "cauldron") until all troops in it have surrendered. The operations were to take place on the extreme north and south of the Army Group South's front.

Manstein was informed of large, but deceptive, troop movements all across Hube's front [p334, Glantz] , however with Adolf Hitler's refusal to allow strategic withdrawals, there was little he could do. The Soviet offensives began in early March, with Zhukov taking personal command of Vatutin's 1st Ukrainian front. The Red Army's massive concentration in troops and material forced Hube to withdraw his northern flank to south-west until it reached the Dniester river. Despite constant Red Army attacks, this position held until late March. On 22 March 1944, following an operational switching movement, five Red Army tank Corps of the 1st Tank Army, 3rd Guards Tank Army and the 4th Tank Army penetrated the extreme northern flank of Hube's position east of Ternopol, and advanced south between the Zbruch and Seret rivers. The force crossed the Dniester, and in an attempt to outflank and surround Hube's Army, continued towards Chernovitsy, while being followed by infantry Corps which began establishing defencive positions on the flanks of the breach created in the German front.


Both Hube and Manstein realised the danger of encirclement. With the southern flank on the Dniester, and the recent Soviet attacks in the north, the 1st Panzer Army was now in a salient. Manstein requested that the position be withdrawn to avoid encirclement, but Hitler refused, persisting with his "no retreat" orders. In a matter of days, Zhukov and Konev's forces had crossed the Dniester and were in position to complete the encirclement. On 25 March 1944, the last line of communications corridor out of Hube's bridgehead located on the northern bank of he Dniester was severed at Khotyn. [p.335, Glantz]

The entire 1st Panzer Army was now encircled in a pocket centred around the city of Kamenets-Podolsky. While the encircled forces had food and ammunition enough to support them for over two weeks, the vehicles were extremely low on fuel. Supply by the Luftwaffe was hampered by heavy snow, and soon only the combat vehicles were running. Meanwhile, Hube had ordered all service units south of the Dniester, to withdraw away from the main Red Army penetration which were taking place to the south on the 2nd Ukrainian Front's 40th Army front. [p.335, Glantz] Zhukov, seeing this movement to the south, decided that Hube was in full retreat and would soon attempt a breakout to the south. To prevent this, Zhukov stripped units from the encircling forces and sent them to the south side of the pocket. When Hube attempted to attack south, he met with an increasing resistance from 2nd Ukrainian Front's infantry and artillery.

Hube's Pocket

Hube now ordered the pocket to be reduced in size, shortening the position's lines to increase defence density. Just before the 1st Ukrainian Front had completed the encirclement, Hube had requested from OKH the authority to use mobile defence tactics during the breakout, a request which was quickly turned down. However, once the encirclement was complete, situation changed. The heavy snow meant that the few supplies which were delivered, were insufficient to maintain the Army's fighting strength. The neighbouring German Armies, the 8th to the south-east and 4th Panzer to the north-west, were unable to attempt a full-scale relief operation. The Zhukov sent a terse ultimatum: surrender, or every German soldier in the pocket would be shown no quarter.

Hube responded by ordering that the organisation of the forces in the kessel be restructured. The four Corps were to be dissolved, and reformed into three "Korpsgruppen" (corps groups). General der Infanterie Hans Gollick, commander of XLVI Panzer Corps, was to form "Korpsgruppe Gollick". General der Panzertruppen Hermann Breith of III Panzer Corps was to form "Korpsgruppe Breith" and LIX Army Corps' General der Infanterie Kurt von der Chevallerie was to form "Korpsgruppe von der Chevallerie".

While the composition of forces in the pocket was being reorganised, Manstein had been arguing with Hitler for the trapped Army to be allowed to attempt a breakout, and that a relief force should be sent to assist in the breakout. After one heated argument, Hitler gave in and ordered Hube to attempt a breakout. The decision for the direction of the breakout was difficult. Hube wanted to attempt to head south, over the Dneister and into Romania. Manstein realised that such a move would rob his Army Group of a Panzer Army which was desperately needed, because a long withdrawal would be required to time to move the Army from Romania back to the front line. The weak Hungarian VII Corps was holding a sector of the front to the west of the Kamenets-Podolsky pocket. A breakout to the west would allow the 1st Panzer Army to rejoin the front almost immediately. Manstein ordered Hube to break out to this area to provide support for the Hungarian troops.

Hube's Army was to break out towards Tarnopol, where relief forces, led by Paul Hausser's II SS Panzerkorps, were to meet them. From Kamenets-Podolsky to Tarnopol was a distance of over 150 miles (250 km), over several rivers, and across muddy terrain. To add to this, the west was where Hube expected to meet the strongest enemy resistance. He divided his forces into two columns and prepared to head west.


On 27 March 1944, the advanced guard of Hube's Army moved west towards the Zbruch river, while the rearguard began a fighting withdrawal, with the rest of the 200,000 troops between them. The advanced guard attack went well. The northern column quickly captured three bridges over the Zbruch River, while the southern column was battered by a Red Army's 4th Tank Army counterattack which penetrated deep into the pocket, capturing Kamenets-Podolsky. The loss of this major road and rail hub meant that the escaping Germans had to detour around the city, slowing the movement to a crawl. A counterattack soon cut off the Russians in the city, and the breakout recommenced. Moving by day and night, the kessel kept moving. Soon bridgeheads were formed over the Seret river.

While Hube's army escaped west, Zhukov and Konev continued to believe that the major breakout attempt would be to the south. He ordered the attacks on the north and eastern flanks of the pocket stepped up. These attacks achieved little, and many fell on positions which had been abandoned as the German troops withdrew to Proskurov. Despite the attacks to the West, the Red Army kept increasing troop density to the southern flank of the pocket in anticipation of an attack that would never come.

On 30 March, Manstein was informed by OKH that he had been relieved of command. His many heated arguments with the Führer had not been forgotten. Hube was on his own.

The next day, the Red Army began to react. A strong armoured force from the 4th Tank Army assaulte north between the Seret and Zbruch. Hube's southern advanced guard turned and halted the Red Army assault, severing its supply lines and rendering the T-34s of the Fourth Tank Army immobile. Despite the fact that he was now taking the breakout attempt seriously, Zhukov did not move to block the escaping Germans. The way to Tarnopol was still open.

Completing the breakout

Despite heavy snowfalls, low supplies, and encirclement, the constant movement of Hube's Army meant that "pocket "fever"" did not set in. The troops were still moving in good order and obeying discipline, while desertions were almost non-existent. This was a stark comparison to the panicked situation within the Stalingrad and Korsun encirclements.

By 5 April, the advanced guards of both the northern and southern columns had reached the Strypa River, and on the 6th, near the town of Buczacz, they linked up with the probing reconnaissance elements of Hausser's SS Divisions. In over two weeks of heavy combat, during horrid weather and with few supplies, the 1st Panzer Army had managed to escape encirclement while suffering only moderate casualties. The Army was put back into the line and established itself between the Dniester and the town of Brody. During the two week escape, Hube's men had destroyed 357 tanks, 42 assault guns and 280 artillery pieces, as well as causing severe casualties to the enemy's attacking forces.Fact|date=May 2008 The quick thinking of Manstein, and the operational planning and skill of Hube had resulted in the 200,000 troops of the Army escaping the fate of Stalingrad. While Hube's troops were still disciplined, and equipped with light and personal weapons, only 45 armoured vehicles had escaped. Despite the escape and low casualty rate, Hube's 1st Panzer Army was no longer able to perform large scale offensive operations and required thorough refitting.

The Kamenets-Podolsky pocket is still studied in military academies today as an example of how to avoid annihilation when forces are trapped in a pocket.

Order of Battle for First Panzer Army, March 1944

1.Panzerarmee ("Generaloberst Hans-Valentin Hube")
**1.Panzer Division ("Generalleutnant Werner Marcks")
**17.Panzer Division ("Generalleutnant Karl-Friedrich von der Meden")

*III. Panzerkorps ("General der Panzertruppe Hermann Breith")
**16.Panzer Division ("Generalmajor Hans-Ulrich Back")
**11.Panzer Division ("Generalleutnant Wend von Wietersheim")
** Kampfgruppe from 1.SS-Panzer-Division "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler"
**249th StuG Brigade
**schwere Panzer Regiment Bäke ("Oberst Franz Bäke")
**schwere Panzer Abteilung 509 ("Oberleutnant Dr. König")

*LIX. Armeekorps ("General der Infanterie Kurt von der Chevallerie")
**96.Infanterie Division ("Generalleutnant Richard Wirtz")
**291.Infanterie Division ("Generalmajor Oskar Eckholt")
**6.Panzer Division ("Generalleutnant Walter Denkert")
**19.Panzer Division ("Generalleutnant Hans Källner")
**2.SS Panzer Division "Das Reich" - Kampfgruppe ("SS-Sturmbannführer Otto Weidinger")
**StuG Brigade Nr.276
**StuG Brigade Nr.280
**616.Panzerjäger Abteilung
**88.Panzerjäger Abteilung
**509.Panzerjäger Abteilung

*XXIV. Panzerkorps ("General der Panzertruppen Walther Nehring")
**25.Panzer Division(remnants) ("Generalleutnant Hans Tröger")
**20.Panzergrenadier Division ("General der Panzertruppen Georg Jauer")
**168.Infanterie Division ("Generalleutnant Werner Schmidt-Hammer")
**208.Infanterie Division ("Generalleutnant Hans Pieckenbrock")
**371.Infanterie Division ("General der Infanterie Hermann Niehoff")
**StuG Brigade Nr.300
**731.Panzerjäger Abteilung
**Motorisierte Abteilung Nr.473

*XXXXVI. Panzerkorps ("General der Infanterie Friedrich Schulz")
**1.Infanterie Division ("Generalleutnant Ernst-August von Krosigk")
**82.Infanterie Division ("Generalleutnant Walter Heyne")
**75.Infanterie Division ("Generalleutnant Helmuth Beukemann")
**254.Infanterie Division ("Generalleutnant Alfred Thielmann")
**101.Jäger Division, ("General der Gebirgstruppen Emil Vogel")
**18.Artillerie Division ("General der Artillerie Karl Thoholte")
**StuG Bataillon Nr.300


* Galntz, David, "Soviet Military Deception in the Second World War", Frank Cass, London, (1989) ISBN 0-7146-3347-X
* Alan Clark, "Barbarossa", Harper Perennial, New York, 1985 ISBN 978-0688042684
* John Erickson, "The Road To Berlin: Stalin's War With Germany Vol.2", WESTVIEW PRESS, London, 1983
* Perry Moore (Design), Warren Kingsley, C. Rawling (Development), "Against the Odds: KesselSchlacht" (Ukraine Spring 1944), LPS, 2002
* Bryan Perret, "Knights of the Black Cross: Hitler's Panzerwaffe and Its Leaders".
* Carl Wagener, "Der Ausbruch der 1. Panzerarmee aus dem Kessel von Kamenez-Podolsk März/April 1944".
* " [http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/BOOKS/WWII/20234/20-2346.html Encirclement of a Panzer Army Near Kamenets-Podolskiy] " (chapter 6 of " [http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/books/wwii/20234/20234.html Operations of Encircled Forces] ", United States Department of the Army).

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