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279 CHAPTER FOURTEEN Clearing the Flanks The Soviet success against Army Group Center prepared the way for future operations on the strategic flanks, both north and south. By the end of 1944, these operations had ejected the German Army from all Soviet territory and begun the creation of the postwar Soviet domination of eastern and central Europe. GERMANY ON THE DEFENSIVE Quite apart from the disaster in Belorussia and southern Poland, July 1944 was a difficult time for the German High Command. Overwhelming AngloAmerican airpower not only dominated the skies over the Reich but also made the German defense against the Allies in Normandy untenable. On 17 July, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was seriously wounded when his car was strafed by a British fighter-bomber. Three days later, the failed assassination plot made Hitler more paranoid and arbitrary in his actions. On the 25th, in Operation Cobra, a combination of tactical and strategic bombers blasted a hole through the German defenses west of St. Lô, signaling the Allied breakout from the hedgerow country. Within days, Lieutenant General George S. Patton’s U.S. Third Army began its exploitation into Brittany and eastward toward Paris. For one of the few times in the West, Germany faced an armored thrust comparable to the deep operations conducted by German forces in 1941–1942 and by the Soviets in 1943–1944. That thrust soon produced a nearly catastrophic encirclement of another German army group at Falaise; in turn, this disaster placed more demands on the dwindling supply of German divisions. One of Heinz Guderian’s first actions as chief of the Army General Staff was to withdraw five panzer and six German infantry divisions from Colonel General Ferdinand Schörner’s Army Group South Ukraine, the mixed German-Romanian force defending the lower Dnestr River and Romania with its back to the Carpathian Mountains. This army group, which had been so effective in halting the Soviets in April and May, still faced a long-term deficit of forces. Organized into two mixed German-Romanian groups of two field armies each (Groups Wöhler and Dumitrescu), Army Group South 280 Chapter Fourteen Ukraine held strong forward positions with the seemingly impenetrable Carpathian Mountains as a fallback line. Since its once-powerful armored force had departed to help other sectors during July, it was weak in mobile reserves, having only 13th and 20th Panzer Divisions (the latter an infantry combat group without tanks), 10th Panzer-Grenadier Division, and the poorly trained and poorly equipped 1st Armored Division “Great Romania.”1 The army group was also hampered by a tenuous logistical system, in which entire trains would disappear until they were located by air and their reluctant Romanian engineers bribed to bring them to the front. Meanwhile, Germany’s Hungarian allies were more belligerent toward their Slovak and Romanian neighbors than they were toward the Soviets. As one German staff officer remarked, Army Group South Ukraine had to fight on three different fronts—against the Soviets; against the satellite countries of Hungary, Slovakia , and Romania; and against the OKW.2 For political reasons and to protect the key Romanian cities of Iasi and Kishinev, the army group still needed to defend the extensive terrain from the Carpathians to Dubossary on the Dnestr River. This included the huge eastward bulge along the lower Dnestr, in the area that is now Moldova, leading to the Black Sea. Despite their mauling in May, the Soviets held dangerous bridgeheads over the river; even during the relative quiet of June, July, and early August, the Soviets inflicted another 10,000 casualties on the Romanians.3 Schörner repeatedly requested permission to withdraw from this bulge but got nowhere with Hitler and the OKW. In the meantime, OKH quietly authorized him to begin constructing a fallback position in the Carpathians but to do so in a manner that did not attract Romanian government attention. The satellite armies were the Achilles’ heel of this entire defense. Just as in the Crimea, at Stalingrad, and at Tirgu Frumos, some Romanian divisions fought loyally and even valiantly alongside their German counterparts. Others, though, had little capacity and less interest in prolonging the war, especially given their catastrophic losses in the preceding three years. German commanders accurately predicted that the next major offensive would be against their army group and that the main efforts would come against the Romanian forces, but neither the Soviets nor the Germans were prepared for the speed of...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780700621521
Related ISBN
9780700621217
MARC Record
OCLC
923132453
Pages
568
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-13
Language
English
Open Access
No
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