The Russian offensive against German forces in the
Korsun area began in late January 1944 and lasted
until mid-February of that year. The Battle of
the Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket, as it came to
be known, was fought by the First and Second Ukrainian
Fronts (a front is an army group), 336,700 men, against
German troops of Army Group South.
In January 1944 German troops of Army Group South,
led by Field Marshal Manstein, fell back to a defensive
position along the Dneiper River in the Ukraine. Part
of the German lines formed a salient that extended
100 kilometers from the main defensive position, reaching
the shtetl of Korsun in the center of the salient.
Soviet Marshal Zhukov realized that this salient offered
an opportunity to surround and annihilate these German troops.
Field Marshal Manstein also saw the danger, and wished to
straighten out his defensive line, but Hitler refused to allow
the troops in the salient to be repositioned to a safe location.
Hitler's "congenital" inflexibility made the destruction of
German troops easier than it would have otherwise been; Hitler
was a great help in this endeaver.
Soviet forces succeeded in trapping the German troops in a "pocket"
near the Dneiper River, with the objective of destroying German forces
(about 58,000 men) in that pocket; the encircled Germans,
however, were able to break out of the trap with the help of a relief
force. About one-third of the German force was lost, killed or captured,
during the breakout.
Before the relief force could open a corridor to allow the escape of the
surrounded troops, Hitler again intervened, ordering the relief force to
encircle the Soviet troops. The Russians were too strong and the attempt
failed, and Manstein reverted to the original plan. But a week had been
lost and the weather changed, turning the ground to thick mud, immobilizing
German vehicles (but not the Soviet's American-made trucks).
By the end of the battle, six German divisions were nearly destroyed,
the salient eliminated, and the Germans were in retreat.
Those German troops that had broken out of the trap assembled in the
vicinity of Uman and were sent home on leave or sent to hospitals.
Soviet forces were not strong enough to annihilate the encircled
German forces. Of the original 58,000 soldiers that were caught in
the pocket, 45,000 troops took part in the breakout, of which 36,262
succeeded in escaping; an additional 4,161 wounded soldiers had
earlier been evacuated by air, resulting in a total of 40,423 who
had escaped. Thus, the Germans lost about 19,000 troops (excludes 11,657 wounded).
Russian losses were greater than those of the Germans, totaling
80,188 casualties during the three week battle.
A detailed account of the battle can be found at
Battle of the Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket.