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Posted on Feb 5, 2006 in Front Page Features, War College

Avoiding the Trap – Kirovograd, USSR, 6th January 1944

By Wild Bill Wilder

It seemed each hill had antitank guns facing them, and armored units behind it to take on the enemy. With bravado and skill the 3rd Panzer’s Group A, the battering ram of the column, tangled with elements of the Russian 16th Mechanized Brigade, 109th Antitank Regiment and the 1289th SU Regiment.

It was a dark night, full of clouds. There was no moonlight. The German vehicles moved in darkness, no headlights. Enemy muzzle flashes suddenly lit up the icy blackness. They were enemy anti-tank guns lying in ambush. The lead German tank was hit and mushroomed fire, sending eerie colored light in all directions.

Kirovograd1 .jpg
Soviet Infantry disembark from a T-34

The Soviet gunners must have been astonished to suddenly see ghostly silhouettes of hundreds of enemy soldiers and dozens of tanks all around them. “To the Russians, the 3rd Panzer Division must have appeared like a ghost army” (Carell). As the Russians fired wildly and Soviet tank engines revved up for action, the slamming of hatches along the German line could be heard. Attack! The fighting was all one sided as the Soviet gunners and tankers became confused and fired in all directions. The German gunners were more precise and the following pioneers and panzer grenadiers were very thorough in mopping up what remained of the enemy. Bayerlein’s tanks and men continued their night odyssey towards Vladimirovka.


Only Delaying the Inevitable

By noon on January 8th, lead elements of the division made contact with the 11th Panzer Division. Bayerlein’s move had sealed the breach to the north. The enemy penetration had been stopped in its tracks. Now the 3rd Panzer wheeled in place and began the journey back to Kirovograd. The actions of the panzers of Bayerlein’s division actually gave new strength to the 47th Panzer Corps. It freed an entire Panzer division to join in the battle to break the encirclement of Kirovograd.

Ultimately Kirovograd would not be saved, but many German units that might have otherwise been lost, were able to free themselves of the trap and establish a defensive line some miles to the west of the city. With Bayerlein’s 3rd Panzer Division and other German forces, the attempted entrapment of so many German units had been avoided.

Bayerlein’s success and the salvation of three good divisions and hundreds of tanks and rolling stock were praised in the circles of the German High Command. Even though the success of the breakout was obvious, Hitler was not about to award disobedience with a medal. Bayerlein had not fought in place, but given his tanks room to maneuver and counterattack. That fact also could not be ignored. It was only four months later, however, that Bayerlein was put in charge of what was then the best-equipped armored unit in the German army – the Panzer Lehr Division.

The victory of General Bayerlein and the sealing of the breach at Kirovograd for a moment was small comfort to the overall situation of the German Army at the Dniepr. In less than a month, another massive assault led by Russian generals Vatutin and Konev, was initiated. These massive attacks would encircle and partially cut off two German corps at Cherkassy. Only decimated remnants of German General Wohler would survive this disaster.


Barbarossa, Alan Clarke
Scorched Earth, Paul Carell
Ostfront 44, Alex Buchner
Stalingrad to Berlin, Carl Ziemke
Lost Victories, Erich von Manstein

Author Information:
Wild Bill Wilder, a native of Atlanta, Georgia, was introduced to modern warfare as a tot in World War II when his father and uncle went off to war in the USAAF. It was an experience that influenced him greatly throughout his life. After graduating from Toccoa Falls College in 1962, he spent the next 10 years in public service in various countries in Central America. He then worked in public transportation until his retirement in 1999.

Wild Bill now has even more time to dedicate to his passion – wargaming. In 1997 he formed a group called "Wild Bill’s Raiders." From small beginnings the Raiders expanded into five separate web sites and gave top-notch coverage to a number of popular wargames.

Bill has also been a vital part of the production of 13 different games, including SPWAW, Combat Mission, The Operational Art of War, and John Tiller’s Squad Battles series. He has authored over 1300 scenarios and campaigns for these and other games over the last nine years. At age 68, Bill is also a prolific writer, with his primary focus on warfare of the 20th century. To quote him, "Wargaming is a passion that never dies with the passing of the years. Instead it only intensifies as new and better wargames are produced. It is in military history that one finds often written in blood the glory and the grief of mankind!"

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  1. Bayerlein’s 3rd Panzer Division did indeed breakout, turn around and then attack back towards Kirovograd, but this was just one small portion of the overall picture. Plus the article said that Bayerlein’s actions brought success and salvation to three good German divisions. As a military figure I do respect Fritz Bayerlein, however there are quite a number including some of those who were former officers in Das Heer who didn’t think much of Bayerlein for many reasons. Also the fighting in and around Kirovograd involved many more divisions than stated or even referred to in the article. Among the divisions besides the 3rd and 11th panzer divisions which have been mentioned there was also present the 14th panzer division, the 10th panzergrenadier division and the 2nd parachute division, plus one infantry division, possibly the 336th infantry division. Plus the 3rd panzer breaking out and then counterattacking was just one part of a much larger force involved in the counterattack. The Grossdeutschland panzer grenadier division and the 3rd SS Totenkopf panzer division were also sent as counterattacking forces, the GD showing up first and in strength. At the time unfortunately both the 10th PZG and the 2nd Para were far understrength due to heavy loses sustained during the retreats plus the 2nd Para had been sent to Russia in late 1943 as a “fire brigade”, sent to where the fighting was the heaviest to help stop the Soviets. Both the 10th PZG and the 2nd Para had only about 3,000 or less men as trench strength at the time, and therefore were indeed badly understrength units. The article is good, it’s unfortunate that it just tells part of the entire story however.

  2. Belarusan writer Vasil Bykau wrote a powerful autobiographical novel about the battle, as seen from the perspective of a second lieutenant in the Soviet army: The Dead Feel no Pain (Edwin Mellen Press).


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