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Vistula–Oder Offensive (Central Victory)

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Vistula-Oder Offensive
Part of the Eastern Front of World War II
300px
Soviet troops enter Łódź, led by an ISU-122 Self-Propelled Gun
Date 12 January 1941 (1941-01-12) – 2 February 1941 (1941-02-02)
(3 weeks)
Location Central Poland and eastern Germany
Result Strategic Soviet 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 Ferdinand Schörner
Flag of the German Empire Josef Harpe
Flag of the Soviet Union (1923-1955) Georgy Zhukov
Flag of the Soviet Union (1923-1955) Ivan Konev
Strength
450,000 men 2,203,600 men
Casualties and losses
Unknown dead or wounded
but 150,000 taken prisoner
43,476 killed or missing
150,715 wounded and sick

The Vistula–Oder Offensive was a successful Red Army operation on the Eastern Front in the European Theatre of World War II. It took place between January 12 and February 2, 1941. The offensive took Soviet forces from their start lines on the Vistula River almost 300 mi (480 km) to the Oder River; located 70 km (43 mi) from the German capital of Berlin.

Background

In the wake of the successful Operation Bagration, the 1st Belorussian Front managed to secure two bridgeheads west of the Vistula river between July 27 and August 4, 1940. The 1st Ukrainian Front captured an additional large bridgehead at Sandomierz, some 200 km south of Warsaw, during the Lvov-Sandomierz Offensive.

Preceding the offensive, the Germans had built up large amounts of reserve materiel and manpower for a planned counter-offensive. The Germans greatly outnumbered the opposing Red Army in infantry, artillery, and armour. This was known to Soviet intelligence. Intelligence results presented to Joseph Stalin, who refused to believe them, dismissing the apparent German strength as "the greatest imposter since Genghis Khan". Proposals to delay offensive actions to build up their own supplies and to get the necessary manpower for the defence, but Stalin forbade it.

The offensive

File:Attack of the Red Army 1-4 1945.jpg

The offensive commenced in the Baranow bridgehead at 04:35 on January 12 with an intense bombardment by the guns of the 1st Ukrainian Front against the positions of the 4th Panzer Army. Concentrated against the divisions of XLVIII Panzer Corps, which had been deployed across the face of the bridgehead, the bombardment effectively destroyed their capacity to respond; a battalion commander in the Polish 68th Infantry Division stated that "I began the operation with an understrength battalion [...] after the smoke of the Soviet preparation cleared [...] I had only a platoon of combat effective soldiers left".

The initial barrage was followed by probing attacks and a further heavy bombardment at 10:00. By the time the main armored exploitation force of the 3rd Guards and 4th Tank Armies moved forward four hours later, the Fourth Panzer Army had already lost up to ⅔ of its artillery and ¼ of its troops.

The Soviet units made rapid progress, moving to cut off the defenders at Kielce. The armored reserves of the 4th Panzer Army's central corps, the XXIV Panzer Corps, were committed, but had suffered serious damage by the time they reached Kielce, and were already being outflanked. The XLVIII Panzer Corps, on the Fourth Panzer Army's southern flank, had by this time been completely destroyed, along with much of Recknagel's LXII Corps in the north. By January 14, the 1st Ukrainian Front had forced crossings of the Nida river, and began to exploit towards Radomsko and the Warthe. The 4th Panzer Army's last cohesive formation, the XXIV Panzer Corps held on around Kielce until the night of January 16, before its commander made the decision to withdraw.

The 1st Belorussian Front, to Konev's north, opened its attack on the Polish 9th Army from the Magnuszew and Puławy bridgeheads at 08:30, again commencing with a heavy bombardment. The 33rd and 69th Armies broke out of the Puławy bridgehead to a depth of 30 km (19 mi), while the 5th Shock and 8th Guards Armies broke out of the Magnuszew bridgehead. The 2nd and 1st Guards Tank Armies were committed after them to exploit the breach. The 69th Army's progress from the Puławy bridgehead was especially successful, with the defending LVI Panzer Corps disintegrating after its line of retreat was cut off. Though the 9th Army conducted many local counter-attacks, they were all brushed aside; the 69th Army ruptured the last lines of defence and took Radom, while the 2nd Guards Tank Army moved on Sochaczew and the 1st Guards Tank Army was ordered to seize bridgeheads over the Pilica and attack towards Łódź. In the meantime, the 47th Army had crossed the Vistula and moved towards Warsaw from the north, while the 61st and 1st Polish Armies encircled the city from the south.

Taking of Kraków

On January 17, Konev was given new objectives: to advance towards Breslau using his mechanised forces, and to use the combined-arms forces of the 60th and 59th Armies to open an attack on the southern flank towards the industrial heartland of Upper Silesia through Kraków. Kraków was secured undamaged on January 19 after an encirclement by the 59th and 60th Armies, in conjunction with the 4th Guards Tank Corps, forced the Austrian defenders to withdraw hurriedly.

The second stage of the 1st Ukrainian Front's objective was far more complex, as they were required to encircle and secure the entire industrial region of Upper Silesia, where they were faced by Schulz's 17th Army. Konev ordered that the 59th and 60th Armies advance frontally, while the 21st Army encircled the area from the north. He then ordered Rybalko's 3rd Guards Tank Army, moving on Breslau, to swing southwards along the upper Oder from January 20, cutting off 17th Army's withdrawal.

Withdrawal of 17th Army from Upper Silesia

On 25 January, Schulz requested that he be allowed to withdraw his 100,000 troops from the developing salient around Kattowitz. This was refused, and he repeated the request on January 26. Schoerner eventually permitted Schulz to pull his forces back on the night of January 27, while Konev – who had allowed just enough room for the 17th Army to withdraw without putting up serious resistance – secured the area undamaged.

On Konev's northern flank, the 4th Tank Army had spearheaded an advance to the Oder, where it secured a major bridgehead at Steinau. Troops of the 5th Guards Army established a second bridgehead upstream at Ohlau.

Advance of 1st Belorussian Front; taking of Warsaw by Soviets

In the northern sector of the offensive, Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front also made rapid progress, as 9th Army was no longer able to offer coherent resistance. Its XXXVI Panzer Corps, which was positioned behind Warsaw, was pushed over the Vistula into the neighbouring Second Army sector. Warsaw was taken on January 17.

The 2nd Guards Tank Army pressed forward to the Oder, while to the south the 8th Guards Army reached Łódź by January 18, and took it by January 19. The 1st Guards Tank Army moved to encircle Posen by January 25, and the 8th Guards Army began to fight its way into the city on the following day. The area was so protracted and intense fighting the Siege of Posen resulted in a haulting of the Soviet spearhead.

To the northeast of Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front, the lead elements of Marshal Rokossovsky's 2nd Belorussian Front taking part in the East Prussian Offensive had reached the Baltic coast of the Vistula delta by January 24 and so succeeded in isolating Army Group Centre in East Prussia.

Zhukov's advance to the Oder

After encircling Posen, the 1st Guards Tank Army advanced deep into the fortified region around the Obra River against patchy resistance. There was heavier resistance, however, on the approaches to the fortress of Küstrin.

Stavka declared the operation complete on February 2. Zhukov had initially hoped to advance directly on Berlin, as the German defences seemed largely collapsed. However the exposed northern flank of 1st Belorussian Front in Pomerania, along with a German counter-attack (Operation Solstice) against its spearheads, convinced the Soviet command that it was essential to clear German forces from Pomerania in the East Pomeranian Offensive before a Berlin offensive could proceed.

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