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The Upper Silesian Offensive was a Sovietmarker strategically significant offensive on the Eastern Front of World War II in 1945, involving forces of the 1st Ukrainian Front under Marshal Ivan Konev. It forced German troops to retreat from much of Upper Silesia.

Prelude

The front lines in Silesia had been established at the end of the Vistula-Oder Offensive in January, during which Konev's troops had forced the German Seventeenth Army of General Friedrich Schulz out of the industrial heartland of Upper Silesia around Kattowitzmarker / Katowicemarker. The Lower Silesian Offensive Operation, taking place in February, had seen the northern wing of Konev's forces make further gains, closing up to the Neissemarker River. This had, however, left a long exposed flank to the south and east in the Sudeten Mountains, still held by Schulz's troops, which formed a potential threat to the proposed Soviet advance on Berlin.

Operation Gemse: the German counter-attacks at Lauban and Striegau

The commander of Army Group Centre, Field-Marshal Ferdinand Schoerner, began to build up Schulz's forces during February for a counter-attack against the 3rd Guards Tank Army's spearheads, which had reached and taken Lauban during the Lower Silesian Offensive. The LVII Panzer Corps and XXXIX Panzer Corps were grouped under the command of General Nehring; a two-pronged attack began on March 1, with the 17th Panzer and Führer Grenadier Divisions attacking in the north, and 8th Panzer Division to the south.

The 3rd Guards Tank Army was initially taken by surprise, though by March 3 German forces found themselves threatened by Soviet counterattacks from Naumberg. As a result, Nehring decided on a more limited plan of encirclement. Rybalko's troops evacuated Lauban to avoid being cut off, and the town was retaken by the 6th Volksgrenadier Division. By March 4, the encirclement was closed, though large numbers of Soviet troops were able to escape; within 4 days the trapped force had been destroyed (the fighting in Silesia has been characterised as "merciless", with German forces refusing to take prisoners).

Despite the extremely limited nature of the victory, the recapture of Lauban was presented as a great success by German propaganda. Schoerner made preparations for a further attack to the south-east at Striegaumarker, which was commenced on March 9. Though there were not enough forces available for a double envelopment, the Germans were able to penetrate through the Soviet lines and cut off elements of the 5th Guards Army on the night of March 11 - 12; there was an outbreak of panic amongst the trapped troops, who were massacred by Schoerner's men as they tried to escape.

Schoerner began to organise a more ambitious offensive to the north to relieve the besieged city of Breslaumarker, moving Nehring's divisions northwards from Lauban by rail, but Konev acted decisively to regain the initiative in Silesia. Shifting the 4th Tank Army from the northern flank of his Front, he redeployed it near Grottkaumarker in order to spearhead a major attack into Upper Silesia, neutralising the threat to the left flank of his forces and taking the area around Ratibor.

Deployments

Red Army



Wehrmacht



The offensive

Konev launched his main attack on 15 March. The 4th Tank Army broke through the German lines west of Oppelnmarker and drove directly southward, heading for Neustadt. A subsidiary attack by the 4th Guards Tank Corps fanned out to take Neissemarker. South-east of Oppeln, the 59th and 60th Armies also broke through, the former swinging westwards to link up with the 4th Tank Army. The First Panzer Army's XI Corps, holding the lines near Oppeln, was now threatened with encirclement.

In the south, the 38th Army attacked German troops of the LIX Corps defending with their backs to the highlands of Moravia. By means of a limited tactical withdrawal on March 10, Heinrici was able to minimise the damage inflicted by the preparatory bombardment, and the front in this sector remained firm.

The encirclement at Oppeln

The LVI Panzer Corps positioned near Oppeln also started to pull back, but the 20th Grenadier Division of the SSmarker and 168th Infantry Division found themselves trapped by the advance of the 4th Tank Army and 59th Army which linked up near Neustadt. By the 22nd, Soviet forces of the 59th and 21st Armies succeeded in reducing the Oppeln 'cauldron' ( ), claiming to have killed 15,000 and captured a further 15,000 of the German troops trapped there.

Konev launched further attacks on March 24 and by March 31, when Ratibor and Katscher were taken, was able to declare the offensive phase of operations over.

Aftermath

The Upper Silesian Offensive succeeded in stabilising Konev's left flank in preparation for the advance on Berlin , and removed the threat of any German counter-attacks from Army Group Centre. The lines in Silesia remained largely unchanged until the end of the war, when Schoerner's force surrendered.

References



External links



Footnotes



Further reading

  • Georg Gunter, Duncan Rogers, Last Laurels: The German Defence of Upper Silesia, January-May 1945, Helion & Co., 2002, ISBN 1874622655



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