The German Offensive on the Donets
|"German and Romanian troops in supporting Donets crossing" (source)|
March 19, 1943
Red Army forces on the middle reaches of the northern Donets river have for the most part been pushed back to the left bank of the stream, where they have thus far prevented the Germans from making any major crossings.
The official communiqué from Soviet headquarters made no mention of the Donets river fighting neither in last night's communiqué nor in this morning's dispatch.
However, front dispatches giving details of this battle for the river crossings revealed that the Battle of the Northern Donets is now raging at full tempo. It is not clear how long this river battle line extends. Presumably, the fighting extends near Chuguyev, which is southeast of Kharkov, down river to a point in the vicinity of Voroshilovgrad.
The German offensive up to the Donets has something of the character of a prairie fire, and today the Red Army is using this river line to prevent this fire from spreading northward and eastward.
However, this is no easy job. The Nazi command continues to throw in reinforcements, and fresh storm groups continue day and night in their attempts to establish a bridgehead across the river.
The northern Donets is still frozen. But there is a pre-spring thaw over the country that in daytime melts the surface snow, covering the ground with water. This has not appreciably slowed down the fighting, because the ground underneath is still frozen. However it makes troop movements in the area pretty uncomfortable.
There is several inches of water on the ice of the river itself, but this ice is still fairly strong. The Germans found on one sector yesterday that it is not strong enough to support tanks.
They sent a group of tanks across to attack some Russian fortifications on the left bank. When the two loading tanks reached the middle of the stream, the ice suddenly gave way and they went through and were lost. The following tanks immediately retreated to safety.
This weakening of the ice has greatly helped the Soviet defense of the river. Now, in order to affect a crossing, the Germans have to build wide bridges over the ice—bridges constructed of logs and planks which will distribute the weight of a tank more evenly and allow passage on the surface without breaking through.
This fact partly explains the ferocity of the German attack on the middle Donets sector. It will not be long before the ice on the river begins to break up. Then, for a period of several weeks when the ice begins to move, passage across the river will be extremely difficult. The German command wants to establish a bridgehead while it still has a chance of maintaining good communications across the difficult stream. And that in a nutshell is what the current phase of this fighting is all about.
It's a day and night fight down there in the Ukraine. The Germans concentrate troops and tanks on one side of the river for a crossing. The Red Army concentrates mobile antitank and field artillery on the opposite bank. Such German attempts have thus far failed.
At night the Germans have succeeded in putting in small parties of Tommy gunners across the river, but they have been cut off and wiped out.
Soviet military experts call this kind of fighting "combined tactics," calling for positional warfare backed up by maneuver of mobile forces to repel enemy thrusts. Whatever it's called technically, it adds up to very, very tough fighting.