View Single Post
Old 12-12-2008, 06:38 AM
Legbreaker's Avatar
Legbreaker Legbreaker is offline
Registered User
Join Date: Dec 2008
Location: Tasmania, Australia
Posts: 5,070
Default 2000 Spring Offensive by the 3rd German Army

This is an assessment of the German 3rd Army spring offensive, why it was undertaken and how it was that the sudden appearance of the Soviet 4th Guards Army at Lodz was so absolutely disastrous not only to the US 5th ID but to the offensive as a whole.

The 3rd Army, consisting of the German III Corp (6th PGD, 21st PGD, 29th PD, Jutland (Danish) Mechanised Division) and XI US Corp (5th ID, 8th ID, 50th AD, 2nd MARDIV, 4th Canadian Mechanised Brigade and the 116th ACR) were to sweep the Baltic coastline clear of Pact forces. Numbering approximately 30,000 troops and over 185 tanks it was a force more than capable of achieving it's goals, especially when it is considered that no major operations had been conducted in about a year (time in which fuel, food and ammunition was being stockpiled).

At the commencement of the offensive, Pact forces in the area consisted of little more than the remnants of almost all Poland’s military forces (predominately cavalry with mostly 40+ year old tanks). Total Polish strength was barely 20,000 men and 28 tanks. Between them and Czechoslovakia was the might of the Soviet Army - virtually impregnable for the forces of NATO in 2000.

Holding the right flank of the starting position of the offensive was the British army (region of Berlin and Frankfurt). Facing them across well prepared positions was the northern end of the Soviet line. It would have been the British responsibility to hold these Soviet positions with those units already in contact while swinging their reserves up and around behind the 3rd Army to cover their rear. Due to the appearance of the Soviet 4th Guards Army approximately 700km to the east, these units never moved.

The plan was simple enough in concept and should have been almost simpler in execution. XI US Corp was to lead, perhaps due to the usual American desire to be predominant, maybe because they had been resting longer, or perhaps it was as simple as them being in the best position to begin with. For whatever reason, the US 5th ID found itself the spearhead, tasked with making the initial breakthrough and then bearing south in an attempt to outflank and cut supply lines to Soviet forces close to the German border (the same ones facing the British).

Meanwhile amphibious landings were to be made by the 2nd MARDIV across the river estuaries of northern Poland with the 8th ID heading further east to cut lines of any hope of reinforcement from Russia. The 50th Armoured Division was to fill the gap between the 5th and 8th while 116th ACR and Can 4th Mech Bde were held in reserve.

The remainder of the 3rd Army were tasked with filling the gap between the 5th ID and the British forces. They, like the British, had barely reached the start line recently vacated by the US units before the Soviet 4th Guards Army screwed everything up.

The Polish units directly in the path of the juggernaut US XI Corps, simply melted away in the face of far superior technical and numeric forces rather than submitting to the certainty of defeat and destruction. Heading north in good order they entered the area between Gdansk and Slupsk to begin harassing the northern flank of the offensive. Although cut of from the rest of the Pact forces, their supply needs were minimal due to low numbers and high reliance on horses. Food was also plentiful with rich fishing grounds to three sides. With the Polish withdrawal north, XI Corps were forced to commit the 50th AD to hold them in check until the Canadians and 116th ACR could be brought up to assist with eliminating them.

The Canadians and bulk of 116th ACR however had been called upon to assist the British to hold an increasingly restless Soviet Army. The Germans were due to relieve the Canadians and 116th in place within a week, freeing them to join the 50th AD, crush the under equipped Poles and catch up with the remainder of the XI Corp.

The US 2nd MARDIV commenced it’s move by sea to assault the area from the ruins of Gdansk to Elblag escorted by the only US Destroyer still afloat in within five thousand miles, the USS John Hancock. Although the move was successful, valuable equipment was lost when a supporting vessel struck a sea mine and sunk taking nearly 30% of the divisions stores with it. Fortunately almost all the divisions personnel and armour made it to shore, but within a week were running short on fuel. Ammunition expenditure had been minimal due to the absence of any enemy opposition beyond local militias, while food was plentiful in the mainly agricultural floodplains.

Faced with the growing fuel shortage and lack of significant enemy units within the area to raid for more, the divisional commander chose to move westward with the aim of linking up with the 50th AD and lending what support he could against the trapped Poles.

By the middle of July the situation had changed dramatically for the worse. The US 5th ID was about to face annihilation, the 8th had moved far beyond it’s originally intended area chasing fleeing rear area Pact units, the 50th was stalled, holding the Polish forces in place and waiting for the Canadians and 116th ACR to arrive, and the 2nd Marines were virtually immobile but slowly crawling westward. There was nobody who could rescue the beleaguered 5th ID and the last reported position of the 8th was, amazingly, somewhere in western Russia.

As the sudden appearance of the Soviet 4th Guards Army had stirred up the entire European front with pressure being brought to bear everywhere, the 3rd Army commander had no choice but to cut his losses and attempt to consolidate what few gains had been made. The German III Corp was given orders to move into positions supporting British and other German units, but before this order could be carried out, the remaining Polish units not trapped by the US 50th AD or in contact with the remnants of the US 5th ID, began exerting northward pressure around the eastern flank of the Canadians and 116th ACR. Soviet units held in reserve moved northward directly against the Canadians forcing them back towards the coast.

What had initially been conceived as a deep penetration into central Poland via the Baltic coast, followed by right swing to cut off Pact forces had suddenly turned into a gigantic trap for the Americans and Canadians as Pact divisions forced their way towards Szczecin. With the German units already on the road elsewhere the race was on between the Americans and Soviets – if the Soviets reached the coastline first, the entire XI Corps would be cut off.

The 2nd MARDIV made contact with the right (east) flank of the 50th AD just in time. Fuel reserves were transferred and suddenly the marines were mobile once more. The bulk of the 50th ADs fighting force was hurriedly redeployed southward to screen the 2nd Marines move from the much more dangerous Soviets (the marines taking over responsibility for holding the Poles back).

Meanwhile the Canadians and 116th ACR fell back under increasing pressure from combined Soviet and Polish forces, towards the Corp HQ at Karlino, unable to do more than slow the oncoming mass of troops and tanks.

The XI Corp is cut off from friendly forces not so much by the Soviets as by the terrain – the Oder river and numerous interconnected lakes form a water barrier from Szczecin to the Baltic. The Corp is still in contact by sea with Germany, but any move to rejoin allied forces would require an offensive against Pact divisions to the south and east of the irradiated ruins of Szczecin. Some supply is possible by available shipping, but there is not enough capacity remaining after the spring debacle to withdraw even a small part of the Corp. Port facilities are likewise limited with most supplies having to be brought directly onto the beaches by small boat.
Reply With Quote