The battle of Brody took place during the Soviet Lvov-Sandomierz offensive. This offensive led to the formation of a pocket at Brody where a large number of German forces were surrounded and destroyed. The Lvov-Sandomierz offensive was launched so that the Germans would be dislodged out of Ukraine and Eastern Poland. The Red Army accomplished all of its objectives by the end of this offensive.
Positioned in this militarily and strategically important area since its withdrawal from the Rowno area in mid-March was General Arthur Hauffe's XIII Army Corps. The corps, with its four divisions deployed just east of Brody, already had ‘pocket experience’. It had been surrounded around Brody from the end of March until mid-April, when the heavy losses inflicted by a stubborn German defence and a counterattack by Panzer units had forced the Russians to abandon the encirclement. From then until high summer the corps had spent a relatively quiet period in its positions. It was the calm before the great storm.
The Soviets, who were in the process of completely destroying Army Group Center and continuing their westward advance, were already preparing their next offensive, the ‘sixth blow’ as they called this part of their operations plan for that year. The attack was to be directed against Army Group North Ukraine, under the command of Generaloberst Josef Harpe. The Soviet offensive was to be carried out by the First Ukrainian Front, now under the command of Marshal Ivan Konev.
At 03.45 in the morning it had began to rumble and growl in the north, and soon afterward in the south as well. The corps command had already been informed about what was taking place - the expected Soviet offensive had begun following a tremendous bombardment of the German lines which had lasted until 09.30. The enemy achieved deep penetrations near Horochow to the north of Brody and near Koltov to the south, which were soon expanded into breakthroughs.
The Panzer divisions being held in reserve had been placed on alert, but it was not until two days later that they were thrown into the battle to close the front which had been torn open in two places. The 16th and 17th Panzer Divisions advanced in the north, while in the south the battle group comprising the 1st and 8th Panzer Divisions set itself in motion. Even before the German counterattack could get properly underway, Soviet armored spearheads were driving from Horochow through Radziechov in the direction of the Bug, and near Koltov were advancing toward Zolochiv.
Like the 1st and 8th Panzer Divisions in the south, in the north the 16th and 17th Panzer Divisions had been unable to advance and their counterattack soon ground to a halt. The depleted Panzer divisions were unable to restore the situation in the face of the overwhelming tank, artillery and air forces of the enemy.
The corps command saw the situation as serious but not threatening. The Russian breakthroughs in the north and south were certainly not good, however the corps had been surrounded before and had been freed. Why should it be any different this time, especially since it was known that four German Panzer divisions were already engaged in a counterattack? But this time it would be different. Following the loss of Zolochiv on the right flank, orders came to withdraw to the prepared ‘Prinz Eugen’ position. In spite of the rainy weather, the withdrawal was carried out according to plan. But the fallback position was soon overrun.
Orders from the army for a breakout arrived. Once again, as in so many similar instances, the most senior German commanders delayed the decision until it was too late. The corps commander, General Hauffe, had also waited too long without acting. As the enemy was exerting heavy pressure from the east and north, and a difficult area of forests and marshes lay to the west, the only possible direction for a breakout was to the south. The corps command still believed that it could carry out a carefully planned breakthrough and establish contact with XLVIII Panzer Corps in an attack lasting a total of three days.
The events on the deep flanks and in the rear of XIII Corps had already assumed disquieting proportions. After the main body of the 8th Panzer Division had been forced to withdraw further to the west, the 1st Panzer Division remained engaged in heavy fighting in the area of the enemy breakthrough. The remaining effective elements of the 8th Panzer Division had been withdrawn from their previous sector in preparation for a relief attack together with an armored battle group from the 1st Panzer Division. The attack was to be concentrated in a narrow area west of Zalesie. However the counterattack failed to break through and was repulsed by the Russians.
The area held by XIII Corps shrunk steadily. Following the loss of Koltow, around 65,000 men with their weapons and vehicles streamed into the hilly, wooded terrain between Czechy-Olesco-Podhorce and Bialy Kamien. This was an area no more than 9 km wide by 8 km deep. Inside the pocket all was confusion: columns stalled and blocked the muddy roads, halting or delaying all movement. Artillery units struggled to reach new firing positions. Units became mixed up with other formations as they strove to reach their new assembly areas. Traffic was chaotic.
It was completely light by the time Korpsabteilung C began the attack. On the right the 183rd Division Group made good initial progress. It quickly overcame light resistance and, after crossing the Bug, reached the edge of the enemy-occupied village of Belsec. In the center, the 217th Division Group ran into unexpectedly heavy resistance before Hill 366, where a number of Russian self-propelled anti-tank guns halted the advance temporarily. Five of the self-propelled guns were captured intact, and three were immediately put to use by crews whose own anti-tank guns had been knocked out. However, the remaining enemy units were still defending bitterly.
The situation in the early hours of the afternoon did not look too bad, as the attack's initial objectives had been reached. The 183rd Division Group had occupied Hill 257 and the armored group had reached Poczapy, while the 217th Division Group was further back near Zulice. On the left, the 349th Division had taken Hill 334 at dawn and had fought its way further toward the south. On the right, in the area of Skwarzawa, was the 361st Fusilier Battalion, which was screening the advance to the west. The breakout attack was thus going according to plan – at least initially. But now the situation began to change for the worse hour by hour.
In the face of heavy resistance and difficulties with the terrain, the 183rd Division Group was unable to capture Kniaze. On the left the 349th Division made little further progress and was forced toward the center. Since afternoon, Soviet troops had been attacking from the east and southeast. Hill 334 changed hands several times before being lost for good that evening. The German units near Zulice and Hill 274 also found themselves embroiled in heavy fighting. The breakout attack had come to a halt. The attack was to be continued at night in spite of the exhaustion. Objectives now were the Lackie area for Korpsabteilung C and Zolochiv for the 349th Division.
The 183rd Division Group got no further. During the previous night's fighting for Kniaze it had been thrown back toward Hill 257. Elements of the 217th Division Group, reinforced by numerous stragglers from other units, went to the attack. It passed close by Jasionowce and reached the nearby commanding hills, but found no German tanks there. The group, which now included the remnants of the 249th Assault Gun Brigade, decided to push on toward the south on its own. That afternoon it came upon the rearguards of the 1st Panzer Division in the Zukow area. These were thus the first elements of the corps to break out. Other mixed units also got through.
In the days that followed, the 1st Panzer Division was withdrawn further to the south. The 8th Panzer Division, too, was forced to withdraw toward the west, where it became involved in further heavy fighting. XIII Corps was left on its own. Following the failure of the breakout attacks, the troops and rear echelon units within the pocket found themselves being squeezed into an ever smaller area. Heavy fighting developed against the enemy forces pressing toward the pocket.
The remaining elements of Korpsabteilung C, the 339th Division Group and a regiment of the 349th Division, which had found its way there, assembled into three groups at the railway embankment south of Boniszyn under the command of the two division commanders for the final attack. They set out at 03.00, while it was still dark. So far the Russian forces in the south had done little of note. Now, however, they at once opened up with withering fire from well-established hill positions between Woroniaki and Lackie.
There was no longer a XIII Army Corps. The assault groups on the right and in the center, which included the commanding general and his headquarters staff, had failed to break through. As soon as at least one assault group had succeeded in breaking out, there was no stopping for the following, compressed mass of the corps. Each man wanted to get through and out of the pocket. More and more of the fleeing troops were caught by the enemy fire, fell and were left behind, dead or wounded. The attacks, which lasted three and a half hours, were repulsed with appalling losses and many German battle groups were completely wiped out.
After Brody another Soviet offensive started. General Ivan Konev's spearheads quickly reached the Vistula and established a strong bridgehead near Baranów Sandomierski. Further expansion of this Soviet bridgehead was prevented because the Germans launched heavy counterattacks. By mid August the German attacks weakened and the Red Army managed to capture Sandomierz. With the town captured the offensive accomplished its goal. The Soviets were now firmly in control of Eastern Poland.