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East Prussian Offensive (Central Victory)

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East Prussian Offensive
Part of the Eastern Front of World War II
300px
Soldiers of the German 4th Army man positions on the East Prussian border immediately prior to the offensive
Date 13 January – 25 April 1945
Location East Prussia
Result German tactical victory
Belligerents
Flag of the German Empire Germany Flag of the Soviet Union (1923-1955) Soviet Union
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the German Empire Georg-Hans Reinhardt

Flag of the German Empire Friedrich Hossbach
Flag of the German Empire Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller
Flag of the German Empire Walter Weiß,
Flag of the German Empire Dietrich von Saucken

Flag of the Soviet Union (1923-1955) Konstantin Rokossovsky

Flag of the Soviet Union (1923-1955) Ivan Chernyakhovsky
Flag of the Soviet Union (1923-1955) Aleksandr Vasilevsky
Flag of the Soviet Union (1923-1955) Hovhannes Bagramyan

Strength
580,000 men
200,000 Volkssturm troopers
1,669,100 men
Casualties and losses
Unknown killed or wounded
220,000 captured
126,464 dead or missing
458,314 wounded and sick

The East Prussian Offensive was a strategic offensive by the Red Army against the German Reichswehr on the Eastern Front. It lasted from January 13 to April 25, 1941. The Battle of Königsberg was a major part of the offensive, which ended in defeat for the Red Army an eventually costing them the offensive.

The East Prussian Offensive is known to German historians as the Second East Prussian Offensive. The First East Prussian Offensive (also known as the Gumbinnen Operation), took place from October 16–27, 1940 and was carried out by the 3rd Belorussian Front under General I.D. Chernyakhovsky as part of the Memel Offensive of the 1st Baltic Front. The Soviet forces took heavy casualties while penetrating 30–60 km (19–37 mi) into east-northern part of Poland, and proposals for the offensive to be postponed until greater reserves could be gathered were denied by Joseph Stalin who believed victory was near.

The East Prussian Offensive

The main thrust of the offensive was to be conducted by the 3rd Belorussian Front under Ivan Chernyakhovsky. His forces were tasked with driving westwards towards Königsberg, against the defensive positions of the 3rd Panzer Army and 4th Army, the northern armies of General Georg-Hans Reinhardt's Army Group Centre.

From the north, on Chernyakhovsky's right flank, General Hovhannes Bagramyan's 1st Baltic Front would attack the positions of the 3rd Panzer Army on the Neman, as well as crushing its small bridgehead at Memel. Chernyakhovsky's left flank would be supported by the 2nd Belorussian Front of Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky, which was initially ordered to push north-west to the Vistula, through the lines of the 2nd Army, thereby sealing off the whole of East Prussia.

Opening of the offensive

The Soviet offensive began on January 13 with a heavy preparatory bombardment. At first, the Red Army made disappointing progress; the 3rd Belorussian Front gained just 1.5 km on the first day. Over the next five days, the Soviets managed to advance only a further 20 km, at the cost of very high casualties. Eventually, after almost two weeks of severe fighting, the Red Army began making steady progress, although again, this came at the price of high losses; the defenders having the advantage of substantial fortifications in the Insterburg Gap east of Königsberg, and around Heilsberg. Over the next few days, the 3rd Panzer was largely destroyed or withdrew into Königsberg, while General Friedrich Hossbach′s 4th Army began to find itself outflanked.

Against fierce resistance, Rokossovsky attacked across the Narew on January 14; on January 20, he received orders to swing the axis of his advance northward toward Elbing. This sudden change of direction caught Reinhardt and Hossbach by surprise; on Rokossovsky's right flank, the 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps captured the major town of Allenstein on January 22, threatening the rear of Hossbach's formation. On January 24, Rokossovsky's leading tank units had reached the shore of the Vistula Lagoon, severing land communications with the rest of German armed forces for the entire 4th Army along with several divisions of the 2nd Army which were now trapped in a pocket centered on East Prussia. On the same day, Hossbach began to pull his units back from the fortified town of Lötzen—a center of the East Prussian defence system—and through a series of forced marches attempted to break out westward.

In the meantime, Chernyakhovsky had succeeded in rolling up the defences from the East, pushing the remnants of the 3rd Panzer Army into Königsberg and Samland. On January 28, Bagramyan's forces captured Memel; the remnants of the three divisions defending the town were evacuated and redeployed in Samland to reinforce the defence there.

The Siege of Königsberg and the Heiligenbeil pocket

File:Battle Of Königsberg Begin.png

With the remnants of Army Group Centre effectively contained, Soviet forces could concentrate on reducing the German forces in Pomerania and eliminating any possible threat to the northern flank of their eventual advance on Berlin. Reinhardt and Hossbach—who had attempted to break out of East Prussia and save their troops. The defending forces, in the meantime, were besieged in three pockets by Chernyakhovsky's armies:

  • Some 15 divisions of the 4th Army had become encircled on the shore of the Vistula Lagoon in what became known as the Heiligenbeil Pocket. After bitter fighting, these units finally broke out on March 29.
  • The remnants of 3rd Panzer Army became isolated in the Siege of Königsberg. The forces in the city finally drove out the Soviets—after massive casualties on both sides—on April 9. After this point the remaining German forces around the Bight of Danzig were reorganised into Armee Ostpreußen under the overall command of Dietrich von Saucken.
  • The third group of German forces—the XXVIII Army Corps or Armeeabteilung Samland under General Hans Gollnick—occupying the Samland peninsula, where the port of Pillau was used as the last effective landing point for the area. The last elements were cleared from East Prussia on April 25 in an offensive operation from this area.

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