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> 39. The 3rd Army in the Don Riverís Bend
dragos
Posted: April 03, 2004 08:59 pm
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by Eftimie Ardeleanu

On the frontline along the Don Bend, the morning of November 19, 1942, after a violent artillery preparation, saw the Soviet troops of the South-West Front (including the 1st Guard, 5th Armoured, 21st Mixed and 7th Air Armies) assuming the offensive and succeeding, during the same day, in making two breakthroughs in the defence disposition of the Romanian 3rd Army commanded by General Petre Dumitrescu (five army corps and ten divisions). After seven days of ceaseless and grim fighting, (November 19-25, 1942) the Romanian big units were displaced from their initial position and pushed to the Cir river, being inflicted heavy human and material losses. Many were the causes of the defeat, the main being determined by the way the German Command had articulated the combat disposition and by the superior forces, (particularly concerning tanks) of the enemy in the breakthrough areas.

At first contact with reality in the field, Army Corps General Petre Dumitrescu found that the "defence of the Don" was not similar to what he had been told, as the line along which the Army was to be deployed was only partially sheltered by the western bank of the river and between RÓbnÓi and Raspopinskaja it made a bulge having 80 km in widht and 20-25 km in depth into the own disposition.

Confronted with this situation unfavourable to the operations that were to be carried out by the troops in his subordination, General Petre Dumitrescu and the Romanian General Headquarters required the German High Command to take the necessary steps to eliminate the bridgehead of the Soviet troops.

Besides, there also was the fact that following an order of the "B" Army Group, the frontline assigned to the ten big units in the structure of the Army (eight infantry and two cavalry divisions) was extremely long (138 km) as compared to their riposte capacities, particularly antitank weapons, and in the conditions when the German and the Italian troops deployed in those positions, had not built reliable engineering works. As a result, the defence dispositions was linear, not very dense and lacking depth.

Although the German Commands had been repeatedly informed of drawbacks which eventually were to have serious consequences for the Romanian troops, they did not undertook any action, as the Germans considered that the "Soviet army is hastily sliding into defeat... and at the present moment is unable to mount an offensive with a distant goal" (O.K.H. guidelines of October 14, 1942). The estimation proved to be utterly wrong, as the enemy had, in the breakthrough sectors, a density of 2.25 battalions, 12 support tanks and 70 artillery pieces deployed on each 1 km of frontline, and succeeded in penetrating 15 km deep into the sector defended by the 14th Infantry Division and 35 km in the junction area between the 13th Infantry and 1st Cavalry Divisions.

Shortly afterwards, the Soviet troops succeeded in interrupting the connection between the 3rd Romanian and 6th German Armies. On the next day, they concentrated the main effort on the right wing of the 3rd Romanian Army, trying to force a penetration to Kalatchi and to encircle the 6th German Army, fighting at Stalingrad.

In the centre of the fighting disposition of the 3rd Army, the 5th, 6th, 13th, 14th and 15th Infantry Divisions made up "General Mihail Lascar" Group. In order to limit enemy penetration, the German Command planned a counter offensive to be triggered on November 20 by the XXXXVIII Armoured Corps (the German 20th and Romanian 1st Armoured Divisions).

The counterattack failed to attain its goal, so that till evening the Soviet forces widened the breach and their forward elements reached Perelazovski, Kalmikov and Manoilni, and on November 22 intercepted all links with "General Mihail Lascar" Group.

After desperate resistance and shattered hopes, after having twice turned down the surrender conditions offered by the Soviets, in the evening of November 22, 1942 the battlefront defended by the forces commanded by General Mihail Lascar collapsed. Under those circumstances and as a result of the order issued by the "B" Army Group, the 3rd Army was assigned the mission to withdraw all its forces along the Cir river to put up a new resistance.

During the battle, the 3rd Army suffered heavy human and material losses. Assuming the responsibility for "not having done more to prevent the slaughter of the armies", Marshal Ion Antonescu underscored in a letter sent to Fieldmarshal von Manstein on December 9, 1942 that the success of the Soviet offensive was not due to "lack of efficiency on behalf of the Romanian 3rd and 4th Armies, but to the fact that the command of the ęBĽ Army Group did not take into account all contingencies and on the other hand, to the fact that Russians had skilfully chosen the building-up areas where they massively concentrated their forces in utter secrecy".
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