Note: Tashlyk Bridgehead is the subject of the smallest “battle game” in our Panzer Grenadier: Broken Axis game, a series of scenarios (in this case six of them) that you can play individually just like those in any other Panzer Grenadier game, or together.
Well south of the Târgu Frumos sector, the Third Ukrainian Front had come to a halt at the Dniester River in front of Kishinev (Chișinău in Romanian) by mid-April. Gen. Rodion Malinovsky’s troops captured Odessa on 10 April as the culmination of a large-scale offensive that pushed Axis troops out of southwestern Ukraine.
Ordered on to Kishinev, Malinovsky deployed his armies on a broad front that failed to force its way across the Dniester River in the last week of April 1944. On his far left flank, his most powerful and experienced force, the 8th Guards Army, faced the high waters of the Dniester’s spring flood. At places the Dniester reached four miles across, and Malinovsky approved a withdrawal from the one small bridgehead held by 8th Guards Army.
Fourth Guards Mechanized Corps unloads its T34 tanks in Romania.
The Heroes of Stalingrad, 8th Guards Army – the former 62nd Army – was still led by Vasili Chuikov. Stavka approved Malinovsky’s plan to move it to much drier ground on the right flank of Third Ukrainian Front, in place of Second Ukrainian Front’s 5th Guards Army. That would allow Second Ukrainian Front to pull 5th Guards Army out of the front lines and reinforce the renewed effort at Târgu Frumos.
The relief proved exceedingly complex, and had not been fully completed on 6 May when Stavka issued new orders – signed by Great Stalin himself – postponing the attack until 25 May. In the meantime, Third Ukrainian Front was to complete the switch of the two armies, bring its rear area services forward from the scattered locations where they had been left behind all across Ukraine, and build up reserves of fuel and ammunition.
On the other side of the Dniester, Soviet confusion did not go unnoticed. The German Sixth Army had been battered during the retreat across Ukraine and at Odessa, and in early April Adolf Hitler fired its commander, the experienced Karl-Adolf Hollidt. His replacement, Maximilian de Angelis, was an ardent Austrian Nazi determined to counter-attack the Red Army.
“We should have expected the Hitlerites to activate operations,” Chuikov wrote in this memoirs.
But the Soviets did not. The Dniester formed a deep ox-bow bend just west of Tashlyk, and the Fifth Shock Army had occupied this area, known to Soviet staffers as “the bottle,” with several rifle divisions. Eighth Guards Army took over the bridgehead on the Dniester’s western bank. The German Sixth Army’s Group Knobelsdorff, with divisions from several corps, held a salient between “the bottle” and the bridgehead, but rather than pull back from this exposed position, Gen. Otto von Knobelsdorff elected to attack the bridgehead with the three depleted panzer divisions of 40th Panzer Corps plus two small assault gun brigades provided by Sixth Army. All told, Knobelsdorff probably had about 115 tanks and assault guns.
This Panther will spring no more. Romania, 1944.
After a preparatory bombardment, the three panzer divisions attacked in line abreast on the morning of 10 May. They fought their way close to the river, but were finally repelled by a stout last-ditch defense led by Guards Captain Vasiliy Zaitsev, the famed Sniper of Stalingrad (unlike Zaitsev’s duel with the fictional German super-sniper Erwin König, this is a thing that actually happened). In another sector, a Red Army 203mm (8-inch) siege artillery battery successfully deployed in an anti-tank role, smashing several panzers with the sheer explosive force of their huge shells.
While Chuikov tried to rally his surprised Guardsmen, Malinovsky at Third Ukrainian Front headquarters responded by calling up massive airstrikes and artillery fire. The barrages continued through the night of 10-11 May, but when they inevitably slackened, the Germans drove forward again. This time they swung southward in an effort to capture the only crossing sites leading into the bridgehead. The Soviets barely held on, once again thanks mostly to valiant artillerymen bringing their guns into the front lines.
As he had at Stalingrad, Chuikov reacted to the German attack by ordering relentless and bloody counter-attacks by his own divisions, which racked up lengthy casualty lists in exchange for very little ground re-gained. The re-deployment of Eighth Guards Army formations into the bridgehead continued, and the Germans successfully identified newly-arrived units and immediately attacked them. Knobelsdorff’s panzers even crossed the Dniester on the opposite side of the German-held salient into “the bottle” and mauled the Soviet formations massing there for an attack into his rear areas.
When the fighting finally died down in late May, Soviet offensive plans had most definitely been spoiled. De Angelis and Knobelsdorff had achieved one of the rare German successes against a Soviet bridgehead, crushing its defenders and rendering them unable to conduct a planned offensive. On the 25th Stavka ordered an indefinite suspension of Third Ukrainian Front’s planning for the offensive against Kishinev; the attack would finally come only in August.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.