Romanian Front
Russian Army attacks and defeats the German-Romanian armies
20 - 29 August 1944
author Paul Boșcu, December 2016
During the Jassy–Kishinev Offensive the Red Army launched a major attack against Axis forces stationed in Bessarabia. The German 6th Army was encircled and destroyed for a second time, having been destroyed the first time at Stalingrad. The German 8th Army had to withdraw to Hungary. During this battle the Romanians switched sides after a coup, and joined the Allies.

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The battle for Romania, also known as the Jassy–Kishinev Offensive was a battle on the Eastern front of World War 2. The Red Army launched a major attack on the German-Romanian forces in an attempt to retake Bessarabia, the future Moldavian SSR, and force it’s way into the Balkans and Hungary. The 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian fronts engaged in battle the German-Romanian Army Group South Ukraine. The German 6th Army was encircled and destroyed for a second time, having been destroyed the first time at Stalingrad. The German 8th Army had to withdraw to Hungary. During this battle the Romanians switched sides after a coup, and joined the Allies.

Bessarabia, on the lower Dnestr River, was a quiet, isolated area, an agrarian land with its provincial capital of Kishinev. Winding its way through the peaceful countryside, in some places with quite steep banks, was the mighty, slow-moving Dnestr River. Further to the west, amid forested hills, was the broad valley of the Prut River. Flowing through marshy areas and flooded terrain between lines of hills with steep slopes, the river and its many tributaries sought its way to the south. This was the area where over 270,000 German soldiers were to meet their fate.

Until 1944 Bessarabia had been largely overlooked by the war. The German-Romanian attack on the Soviet Union crossed the Dnestr, which was then the frontier, in a matter of a few days, ebbed far to the east and quiet returned to the land. However, this tranquillity gradually began to change in early 1944. The first military vehicles and units began arriving from southern Russia. Their officers and soldiers referred to them as "advance parties." Then more came, tired and worn out German and Rumanian soldiers, arriving in endless columns. Then came the Russians, who had now reached the Dnestr River in this southern part of the Eastern Front.

The Romanian armies had been greatly reduced by the calamitous defeats of previous battles. Romania's best divisions had been lost at Stalingrad and in the Crimea. Furthermore, both the government and the army had lost the will to fight.

Following major battles and months of retreat, the German and Romanian troops withdrawing from Russia halted at the Dnestr and began occupying fixed positions once again. Here the enemy was to be halted and his advance stopped. Initially it seemed as if this might be possible. This period was not entirely quiet; there were engagements of long and short duration. These operations included efforts by the Germans and Romanians to hold onto a bridgehead on the far side of the Dnestr near Dubossary, while the Soviets attacked and won a large bridgehead near Tiraspol. In general, however, things remained quiet until the Soviets started the offensive.

The German troops breathed a sigh of relief - finally they would be once again manning a solid front behind the protection of a mighty river. Everywhere, in the rear, in the villages and larger cities, began the usual routine of soldiers settling in for an extended period of defense. The headquarters staffs of armies, corps and divisions sought out quarters, rear-echelon and train units moved into their billets, and supply dumps, munitions depots, supply offices and hospitals were set up.

Members of the signals units laid down field telephone lines, motorcycle messengers went about their business and the artillery occupied firing positions. Further forward the heavy weapons - the mortars, infantry guns and anti-tank guns - were emplaced, and at the front the regiments, battalions and companies took over their defensive sectors.

The entire Dnestr line became a sector where nothing special was happening. The cities of Kishinev and Jassy became major communications centers in which the troops could relax and find some diversion from the routine of life in fixed positions.

The front on the Dnestr had remained quiescent since the spring thaw, after the terrible battering Romanian and German forces had taken over the winter.

Together the Axis forces had 650.000 troops. Right from the beginning, however, there was the usual linear defense, too few reserves and not enough tanks and assault guns. In addition, two facts were deceptive: at this point in the war the German units no longer possessed strengths equivalent to their designations. The second major negative point was the Romanian divisions. Their condition was even worse. As before, they were poorly trained and armed, and their morale had suffered badly from the constant German setbacks since early 1943.

On the right, along the lower course of the Dnestr to the Black Sea, was the Romanian Third Army with three army corps. There were five Romanian divisions, one Romanian brigade, the German 9th Infantry Division and a German assault gun brigade. Next to it in a broad salient, which initially followed the Dnestr before veering sharply westward to the Raut River, was the "second" German Sixth Army with four army corps, a total of fourteen German divisions, one Romanian division and three assault gun brigades.

Further west was the Romanian Fourth Army and, finally, to the northwest the German Eighth Army, with a total of five Romanian and three German corps with fifteen Romanian and six German divisions as well as four German assault gun brigades.

In reserve the Army Group had: One field training division, one panzergrenadier division and one panzer division, as well as a Romanian armored division and several Romanian infantry divisions and brigades. The seemingly impressive mass of troops might have sufficed for the long-term defense of the entire southern front if the Russians mounted no major offensive operations.

Although the Romanian head of state, Marshal Ion Antonescu, remained committed to the pact with Germany, secret efforts against Germany had been under way in the senior military command for some time. Some senior Romanian officers were inclined toward treason and a coup d'etat. For this reason Generaloberst Johannes Frießner wanted to withdraw his units behind the Danube, but Hitler refused.

The new Commander-in-Chief of Army Group South Ukraine, Generaloberst Frießner, quickly assessed the true situation. One of his first measures after assuming command was a proposal to the senior German commanders that the withdrawal of the front toward the Carpathians and behind the Danube was a military necessity. Naturally he met with a sharp rejection from Hitler, who still - in spite of past experience - wanted to hear nothing of withdrawals of the front.

Hitler justified his position by stressing the need to retain the loyalty of his Romanian allies and the vitally important Romanian oil fields. Once again, however, it was to be demonstrated that political and economic motivations make sense only when the necessary military force is available to back them up. The military forces were inadequate, Germany's Romanian allies were preparing to change sides and the army group was about to be delivered up for destruction.

There was one other thing which the Germans at first failed to recognize and then paid too little attention to. Something was up with the Romanians. There was even talk among the population of Jassy of an imminent revolution. It would not be long before the true state of affairs was revealed. Not only would the mass of the Romanian troops fail to offer any resistance worthy of mention, but some units would openly rebel.

Marshal Antonescu’s dictatorship had lost all credibility. Nevertheless, the German ambassador and the head of the military mission in Bucharest were optimistic. Those at Hitler’s headquarters in Rastenburg had little sense of the disillusion in the Romanian population and army. The ever-optimistic Wilhelm Keitel suggested that Romania would stick with Germany in the most desperate of circumstances. But even Germans who were in direct contact with the Romanian Army often missed the signs of dissatisfaction with Antonescu’s dictatorship and with Germany’s conduct of the war.

The German side badly underestimated the Soviets and their intentions. An increase in activity and a significant increase in traffic behind the lines was noted. This was misinterpreted by most senior German staffs. They even believed that the Soviet command would withdraw forces from the southern front in order to bolster their offensive against Army Group Center. In general the enemy was quiet all along the front apart from local operations, the usual artillery activity and occasional air attacks. Appearances were deceptive, however. The result was a misinterpretation of the situation by the German High Command, just as had happened in the case of Army Group Center.

Not until the troops movements opposite the western sector of the front persisted and expanded, did the German High Command become suspicious. Nevertheless, the Army Group still believed that these were merely preparations for a larger local attack. On August 16, for example, the Sixth Army in its projecting salient in the central sector on the Dnestr reported: "Nothing special. Quiet everywhere!"

The situation looked like a recipe for a repetition of the events at Stalingrad, and it seemed that the lessons of that disaster had not been learned by the German command. Once again the German Sixth Army was involved, albeit the reformed one, created after Stalingrad. Once again there were Romanian divisions to its right and left, and once again it had no reserves. It was not only the enemy's tremendous superiority in forces which was to lead to this unsuspected and to this day misunderstood catastrophe.

Even the usually very dependable "Foreign Armies East" Department in the OKH had erred this time over the timing and strength of the enemy offensive and had even gone on record as considering such an eventuality as very unlikely. The Soviets had once again cleverly disguised their tremendous buildup of troops and materiel. Thus, they fooled the German High Command.

General Heinz Guderian had been rapidly pulling divisions from Army Group South Ukraine to rebuild Army Group Center and hold the Vistula Line. Five panzer and six infantry divisions moved north—one third of Army Group South Ukraine’s strength. Thus, by the time of the Soviet invasion, the forces along the Dnestr were left with only one panzer, one panzer grenadier, and one Romanian armored division to conduct counterattacks. Still, Army Group South Ukraine’s commander, Johannes Friessner, newly arrived, was optimistic.

Soviets ambitions in the south went much further than the reaching of the Dnestr, the old Russian-Romanian frontier. Quietly and secretly they assembled fresh attack forces, achieving a tremendous concentration of power. The Soviets now had seemingly limitless supplies of men and materiel in every sector of the Eastern Front.

There had been some talk at higher staff levels of a retreat from the Dnestr to a defensive line on the Carpathians and lower Danube. Antonescu had no trouble persuading Hitler, who never liked the idea of abandoning territory, that such a move would destroy Romanian morale. To hold Romania in the war, the Germans forswore any realistic hope of forming a defensible line on the Carpathians and lower Danube.

The Soviet forces were under the overall command of Marshal Semyon Timoshenko. North of Jassy there was the Second Ukrainian Front, under the command of General Rodion Malinovsky, with six rifle armies, one tank army of two corps, an independent tank, mechanized and cavalry corps and the Fifth Air Army. In the large Soviet bridgehead at Tiraspol was assembled the Third Ukrainian Front, under General Fyodor Tolbukhin, with four rifle armies, two independent mechanized corps and the Seventeenth Air Army.

This made a total of ninety-four rifle divisions, six tank and mechanized corps, one cavalry corps and numerous independent units, all told 930,000 men with 16,000 pieces of artillery, rocket launchers and mortars of every caliber, 1,400 tanks and self-propelled guns and 1,760 aircraft.

In contrast with the Red Army the Axis only had 160 tanks, more than half of which were with the Romanian armored division, and 283 assault guns and self-propelled howitzers. The Luftwaffe had only 232 aircraft in the area. Once again Russian superiority in artillery, tanks and aircraft was truly crushing.

As at Stalingrad the Soviets sent the bulk of their infantry and tanks against the wings of Sixth Army, precisely at the boundaries with the two neighboring Romanian corps west of the Raut River near Jassy and from their bridgehead at Tiraspol. An additional advantage of this tactic was that they avoided having to cross the formidable obstacle of the Dnestr under fire.

The Soviet offensive on the Romanian front, followed plans largely developed on the spot with timing determined by the Stavka. Both Soviet Fronts had been strengthened by several hundred thousand men conscripted in the recently liberated Ukraine and trained as well as indoctrinated in the preceding months.

Following a heavy bombardment, the Soviets attacked the Romanian Fourth Army on the right wing and the Sixth Army on the left wing. The first attacks were reconnaissance attacks and probes in company and battalion strength, which were intended to feel out the German-Rumanian front for "soft" spots. In the afternoon the positions of the Romanian VI Corps in the west were struck by an artillery bombardment lasting forty-five minutes. The subsequent attack broke into the Romanian positions and took the commanding heights. This was only the prelude, however. A somewhat eerie quiet hung over the rest of the front.

German sentries reported something unusual: light signals and parachute illumination flares were seen from the Russian side, which were answered in places by the Romanians. No one on the German side could make any sense of these signals, which might perhaps be coincidence, and they were assigned no great significance. The signals were of significance, however, and this was soon to be demonstrated in the worst fashion.

For an hour-and-a-half shells, mortar rounds and rockets poured down on the Romanian IV and VI Corps and the German 76th Division to a depth of eight kilometers. The hail of fire obliterated obstacles, covered trenches and positions, pounded bunkers and dugouts, destroyed guns and heavy weapons, severed lines of communication and killed or wounded many men. The Soviet Air Force sent whole squadrons to bomb the German and Romanian rear areas. The Russian infantry and their supporting tanks advanced on a front of thirty kilometers behind the barrage, supported by large numbers of close support aircraft.

The Romanian defense - where any was offered - collapsed quickly. Elements of both Romanian corps abandoned their positions with scarcely any fighting, while the remaining units were quickly broken. Only the German 76th Infantry Division, attached to the Romanian VI Corps, offered any resistance in what was already a virtually hopeless situation.

Individual machine-guns fired here and there, German troops threw hand grenades at the attackers, and groups of grenadiers gathered around a company commander or platoon leader and fired to all sides. Nevertheless, the defense collapsed under the Soviet assault. Defense sectors were overrun, nests of resistance outflanked and taken from the rear, strong points were surrounded and later destroyed. In spite of determined resistance in places and isolated counterattacks, the Russians also broke through the 76th Division's sector. Losses were heavy.

A report reached the division commander of the "76th" from the division observation post: "The Russians are through!" The enemy was already rolling toward the Jassy road. Soviet tanks and trucks carrying infantry rolled through the Romanian positions virtually unopposed. And, seemingly unmolested by Russian troops, the Romanians pulled back on both sides of the 76th Division, apparently in disarray. A hesitant counterattack by a reserve division of the Romanian IV Corps had scarcely got under way when the Romanians pulled back again.

By about 10:00 the Romanian main line of resistance had been completely broken, its divisions withdrawing with scarcely any fighting. At about the same time Russian armored spearheads and motorized infantry appeared at the western edge of Jassy. By midday Russian units were crossing the Bahlui River under the cover of a tremendous artillery barrage.

The incoming reports shocked the headquarters of Army Group South Ukraine, located far from the scene of events. The Commander -in-Chief ordered an immediate counterattack by all available reserves to restore the former main line of resistance. However, General Frießner understood the situation completely: the enemy was already too strong and had penetrated deeply, the Romanians had given up and the German reserves were much too weak in the face of the enemy's superiority. As the Romanian reserve divisions were already showing signs of disintegration, there was no joint counterattack. The individual German advances were unsuccessful.

The 10th Panzergrenadier Division and the 258th Infantry Division, which had been hurriedly withdrawn from the Dnestr Front, its combat elements moved in by truck, threw themselves determinedly into the battle.

The lone Romanian armored division, "Greater Rumania" (equipped with German tanks), which went into action in the afternoon, met with initial success before it, too, was halted.

Since it had proved impossible to throw back the far superior enemy forces or seal off their deep penetrations, the 10th Panzergrenadier and 258th Infantry Divisions struggled to at least screen to the west the large gap which had been torn in the front. The remaining elements of the 76th Division, which had been abandoned by the Romanian divisions on its left and right, had no choice but to withdraw as well.

The artillery hastily changed positions, and those units still on hand were able to pull back to the hills near Letcani, northwest of Jassy. All that arrived from the units which had been manning the front-line positions were scattered squads and small groups, bringing only the weapons they could carry.

As a result of the failure of the Romanians to stand and fight, the Russian penetration quickly gained further ground. By evening the enemy had penetrated to the center of Jassy, which was the scene of heavy fighting. Events in the east in the Soviet Tiraspol bridgehead went much the same as in the west before Jassy. The Russians were so certain of victory beforehand that they even sent some of their radio messages in clear text. At 0400 there began a preparatory bombardment of fifty minutes duration. Here too the main Russian attack was preceded by smaller attacks whose aim was to capture important terrain features or make initial penetrations.

The initial probe attacks were beaten off almost everywhere. The men in the front lines and in the headquarters of the German XXX Corps in the rear breathed a sigh of relief. They believed they had withstood everything the Russians had to throw at them.

The entire sector of the Romanian XXIX Corps had been broken without noteworthy resistance and brought to collapse. The 9th Division, abandoned by its Romanian neighbors, was forced to fight a bitter battle to all sides and was gradually forced back toward the south.

The tremendous bombardment lasted ninety minutes, until 0930. As the last shells burst, the massed Soviet infantry stormed forward, escorted by large numbers of Stalin heavy tanks and aircraft. With loud victorious shouts dense waves of enemy infantry broke into the positions of the German XXX Corps. In spite of their well-constructed positions, the defenders had already suffered heavy losses from the inferno of the Soviet bombardment and the bombing attacks.

The enemy quickly penetrated deeper into the defensive zone of the 15th Infantry Division, whose losses in soldiers and weapons already stood at about twenty percent, even though the troops who had survived the bombardment defended as best they could. Individual strong points stood their ground desperately, and in the burning villages every house was contested. When the ammunition ran out there was bitter hand-to-hand fighting.

Counterattacks by the Germans were carried out and the artillery laid down direct fire, destroying eighteen enemy tanks by evening. All in vain. The onrushing, overwhelming enemy took trenches and nests of resistance, penetrating deeper and pouring forward through the gaps and holes in the defense. With great effort the remaining troops from the fixed positions and the still intact division reserve established a makeshift line and finally a semi-circular defensive front.

The 306th Infantry Division, whose strength had been reduced by a third by the preparatory bombardment, was also hit hard. The surviving troops manning the trenches were mostly eliminated in bitter close-quarters fighting, and the division's front collapsed. By 10:00 the first enemy tanks were driving around the division command post. The division now committed its slender reserves. Only the heavily-fortified "Leontina" strongpoint was able to hold out until night, when it, too, succumbed. The Russians later reported 1,200 dead and 250 captured German soldiers as well as 37 captured guns in this one sector alone.

The situation of the Romanian Third Army's XXIX Corps was the same as at Jassy: a large numbers of Romanian troops left their trenches during the Russian bombardment and disappeared to the rear. Others abandoned their positions when the attack began, threw down their guns and ran away, leaving great quantities of weapons and materiel behind. Only a very few put up any kind of resistance. The corps consisted of two Romanian divisions and the German 9th Infantry Division.

At Tiraspol, too, the failure of the Romanians had resulted in a large gap in the front. Located precisely on the right wing of the Sixth Army, it expanded and grew steadily. The Sixth Army's mobile reserve, the 13th Panzer Division, was alerted. Following earlier detachments to other units the division had available one panzer battalion with thirty-five tanks, two panzergrenadier battalions and elements of the pioneer battalion. From the beginning the counterattack was a questionable operation against such an overpowering enemy with his hundreds of tanks. The counterattack bogged down with heavy losses, without having closed the gap in the front.

The tanks and panzergrenadiers set out, advanced slowly in spite of strong resistance and by late afternoon even reached the high ground south of the Dnestr. Then, however, the division could go no further. On the afternoon of that first day of the offensive, as the remnants of the shattered German divisions struggled to master the situation in rear blocking positions and lines of security, and the weak 13th Panzer Division was forced back still further.

The roads leading to the rear were already jammed with fleeing Romanian troops with and without weapons, on foot, on horseback, in motorized and horse-drawn vehicles.

The Commander-in-Chief of the Romanian Army, Marshall Antonescu, arrived. Having learned of the conduct of his troops, he had come in person to try and halt them and bring them back to the front. Several senior officers were reduced in rank by his entourage and immediately relieved of their posts. The Marshall had no idea that he would be deposed in three days and imprisoned.

As one German liaison officer reported, Marshall Antonescu employed draconian measures in an attempt to drive his soldiers forward - in vain. Although Marshal Antonescu assured the Germans of his loyalty, he had himself authorized peace sounding with the Allies, first in the West and then with the Soviet Union. If the marshal had doubts, most others in the government were certain that Romania should get out of the war as quickly as possible. Only their desire to do so safely—a preposterous hope—had kept them from making peace.

The Romanian Army itself had simply collapsed internally. The officers and men were through with the fighting, and it took only a forthright push from the Soviet side to reveal in practice that there was to be no effort at resistance.

The second Sixth Army, like the first at Stalingrad, had been almost completely broken through on both wings and its deep flanks were increasingly threatened. The army headquarters far to the rear in Tarutino was as yet unaware of the terrible danger. Late that evening, the army staff knew only that the right wing was under heavy pressure. The army commanders were unaware of the most important development: the Soviets had gone to the offensive at Jassy simultaneously. The commanders of Army Group South Ukraine were already well aware how the beginning battle would end. The Romanian divisions had all but collapsed and had disappeared from the front.

There were scarcely any German reserves available. The enemy had achieved deep breakthroughs, two giant gaps loomed to the left and right of the Sixth Army. There were no means available to plug them up or seal them off.

Even though the battle had gone badly from the very beginning, the German commanders could not make the decision to withdraw the Sixth Army to the Prut. Furthermore, approval had not been received from Führer Headquarters. In the opinion of the army group's Chief-of-Staff the enemy penetrations would have to be "ironed out" before there could be any question of an orderly withdrawal.

If there had at least been adequate numbers of air units, bomber and Stuka units, the enemy spearheads, the tank and motorized columns, could have been stopped. But the Luftwaffe was not there and could not help, because there were no aircraft for the hard-pressed Sixth Army. The few German machines which did appear were simply swept from the skies by the masses of Soviet aircraft. The two Soviet Air Armies flew more than 2,000 sorties on the first day, the Luftwaffe 230. The next day the Luftwaffe appeared only rarely or not at all.

While the right wing of the Sixth Army had already been torn up, while the left wing near Jassy was "on fire" and enemy breakthroughs on both sides of the army were almost complete, the main body of the army - the divisions on the Dnestr and Raut Rivers - had no idea of what was in store for them or of the disaster which was approaching. The central front was still largely quiet, there had been no attacks there. Those troops not in the front-line positions went about their normal duties.

The Soviets resumed their attack, in order to expand the breakthroughs achieved the previous day and drive into the German rear with their tank and motorized units. The Germans, on the other hand, were forced to bend back their shattered wings further, and their open flanks were increasingly threatened. Near Jassy a joint German-Romanian counterattack was supposed to halt the Russians. The effort was in vain. On the second day of this major offensive the Russians expanded the breakthrough near Jassy to an area 65 kilometers deep and 25 kilometers wide. They had gone over to a rapid pursuit deep into Romanian territory with tank and motorized units.

The attacking 10th Panzergrenadier Division, with about twenty tanks and a panzergrenadier regiment, achieved initial success in the course of the morning. Then, however, the division ran into a powerful enemy spearhead with 100 to 150 tanks, suffered heavy losses and was forced back. The single Romanian armored division played no part in the attack. It had simply pulled back and was not seen again.

The remains of the 76th Division fought their way back in a southeasterly direction and late that morning reached the area south of Jassy. But before the division was able to extend the front of the 10th Panzergrenadier Division, which had likewise fallen back, a mighty Russian spearhead, with about 300 tanks and mounted infantry, broke through to the south. What was left of the division was torn apart. Those elements which survived and managed to reach safety in the west fought on with other divisions. The 76th Infantry Division had virtually ceased to exist on the second day of fighting, the first German division to be destroyed.

The main burden of the increasingly heavy fighting was borne by the infantry, which were steadily pushed back. As the area of penetration could not be sealed off, it was now vital to extend the front to the south in order to prevent an enemy thrust into the deep left flank of the Sixth Army.

In the western area of penetration the front now crumbled away piece by piece. Because of the worsening situation the 79th Infantry Division now left its positions and pulled back. Jassy was abandoned at about midday. In order to retain some semblance of cohesion it was necessary that evening to withdraw the 376th Division, which had not yet been attacked, from its defensive sector. The German IV Corps, under General Friedrich Mieth, struggled to master the situation by establishing new defensive lines. A new line on the Bahlui held, and all attacks against it were repulsed.

Things looked even worse in the Tiraspol battle zone. The panzer battalion of the 13th Panzer Division had been reduced to about 20 tanks. It was forced to attack here and there in an effort to help the hard-pressed infantry at least for a little while. The XXX Corps' Commanding Officer, General Georg-Wilhelm Postel, went forward himself to intervene and try and hold his divisions' wavering front. By the evening the Russians had broken through to a depth of 50 km in the Tiraspol area and were already 15 km from Tarutino, site of the headquarters of the Sixth Army.

Caught in the maelstrom of the enemy breakthrough, XXX Corps resisted the constant pressure from the masses of enemy tanks and infantry with the last of its strength. The 306th and 15th Infantry Divisions, which had been hardest hit, were pushed back steadily, but nevertheless sought to halt the enemy and in some places succeeded. Makeshift battle groups under the command of veteran officers formed breakwaters in the flood of onrushing Soviets.

From midday there was no radio contact with the army, there had been no field telephone communication since the day before. Messengers failed to get through, there were no orders. When two battalions faltered General Postel drove forward under enemy fire and stayed with his soldiers until the they had regained their composure and were standing fast.

The General threw his last reserve, the 153rd Field Training Division, into the battle, sending the men in by truck in an effort to establish a blocking position in the sector abandoned by the Romanians - in vain. In a tank battle which lasted until evening, the 13th Panzer Division and elements of XXX Corps destroyed ninety-two enemy tanks. It was a fine accomplishment, but what were ninety-two tanks to the Soviets, with their masses of armor.

When XXX Corps drew up the day's balance late in the evening, the situation looked dismal. In spite of their heroic efforts in defense the troops had been driven further back, there were new penetrations and various towns had been lost. The 15th Division had been badly battered. The commander of the 306th Infantry Division had been killed in an air attack. His division was smashed. The 13th Panzer Division had no tanks left. The roads to the rear teemed with Romanians fleeing to the south in panic, as well as a few German train units.

The army command was now aware of the seriousness of the situation. It also knew that all available and committed reserves had already largely been destroyed. There was nothing left with which to halt the enemy. Generaloberst Frießner, the army group's Commander-in-Chief, was forced to realize that the two breakthrough areas to the left and right of the Sixth Army had become so deep and large by the second day of the enemy offensive, that the enemy and his masses of forces had won complete operational freedom of action.

In the west, in the Jassy area, the Romanian Fourth Army and the Romanian corps attached to the Eighth Army had collapsed, were no longer fighting, and had virtually ceased to exist. The Eighth Army had ceased to play any role, as it was left with only its left wing with three German divisions and it was being forced to withdraw these to the southwest in the direction of the Carpathian Mountains.

General Mieth's IV Corps, now completely cut off from the Eighth Army, was placed under the command of Sixth Army as a result of the latest developments. But it, too, was of little significance. The corps, separated from Sixth Army by the enemy and the Prut, was out of contact and had to conduct its own battle on the west side of the river.

Advancing irresistibly, the Russians drove on deep into Romanian territory, their spearheads fanning out. The two pincers now turned toward one another to begin the encirclement of the Sixth Army. Nevertheless, the commands of the army and army group hesitated to issue the most important and urgent order: Immediate withdrawal of the army to the west to the Prut! Everyone was waiting for approval from Führer Headquarters.

Heavy fighting lasted through the night. Headquarters Sixth Army used its radio net to issue orders, specifying immediate relay to the units, for an accelerated withdrawal behind the Prut. This was the army's last order, but it was already much too late for its implementation. By the time the order reached the corps and divisions during late morning it had long been overtaken by events. The Soviets were meeting virtually no resistance in their breakthrough areas. They were already marching south toward Barlad and Galatz unhindered, at the same time sending powerful forces to the southeast and southwest.

The Sixth Army was not only being threatened in its deep flanks, but had already been enveloped and there were clear indications that it was about to be encircled. Every hour was vital if the Prut was to be reached.

Far in the rear the Commander-in-Chief and his staff were forced to abandon their headquarters in Tarutino, as enemy tanks were approaching. The army headquarters initially moved to Comrat, but in the evening the enemy arrived there too, and the headquarters staff just managed to withdraw into the area southeast of Barlad. As a result the commanders of the Sixth Army were out of touch with their units for all the coming events.

In the west, IV Corps was already engaged in heavy fighting south of Jassy, struggling to keep the Prut crossings near Kostuleni and Sbiroja open for the main body of the Sixth Army. However, in spite of continuous delaying battles by the already decimated divisions, by evening the villages of Kostuleni and Ungeni and the bridges there had fallen into Russian hands.

In the east the badly battered XXX Corps was forced to withdraw further, resulting in a very serious threat to the army's wide open right flank. Hastily assembled battle groups fought to all sides. The remains of regiments, battalions and companies fought off enemy attacks all day but were forced back. They sought new lines somewhere among the hills and woods, defended villages and were forced back again before digging in once more at the next favorable location.

The nearest division of XXX Corps, or what was left of it, the 306th Infantry Division, together with alert units, airfield personnel and an assault gun brigade, was still fighting off enemy attacks in a forward blocking position near Romanowo. When the defenders were outflanked they decided to break out to the west, led by the assault guns. The assault guns were running low on fuel and a longer rest stop was called in a large valley. Then, in the afternoon, disaster struck. A concentric Russian attack completely smashed the remaining units. There was no possibility of assembling the survivors. The 306th Division had ceased to exist.

The badly battered 13th Panzer Division, which had lost all of its tanks, was engaged in a forced march through the enemy to the Prut, where it was to occupy two small bridgeheads for the expected arrival of elements of the Sixth Army.

At the end of the third day of fighting powerful enemy tank and motorized forces were driving the two spearheads further southeast and southwest and an encirclement of the Sixth Army was becoming more obvious. The German divisions in the salient on the Dnestr continued to remain oblivious to the true seriousness of the situation. They had received orders from the corps responsible to pull back and were preparing to abandon their well-fortified positions which had not been attacked so far.

The situation for the German troops between Jassy and Tiraspol was worsening by the hour. In the west IV Corps and the remains of its three divisions (376th, 11th and 79th Romanian) were defending south of Jassy. Initially the corps succeeded in repulsing all attacks, but then was forced to withdraw in a southerly direction. The main body of the Sixth Army now faced an extremely difficult withdrawal. It would have to be carried out under constant enemy pressure and in the face of increasing signs of encirclement. Four German army corps had to reach the Prut as quickly as possible. Some of them made it, but most were overwhelmed.

The IV Corps was alone on a large stage. There was no contact with the main body of Sixth Army to the east and it therefore received no reports or orders. So General Mieth, the corps' Commanding General, held firm to his last assignment, to hold the Prut crossings near Sbiroja and Scoposeni for the army divisions expected from the east, in preparation for the occupation of a new position on the west bank of the Prut. It became clear that his corps had already been outflanked when the 10th Panzergrenadier Division, which was to have secured another bridge near Husi, ran into enemy tanks there.

There was more bad news: the headquarters staff of VII Corps, which reached the Prut ahead of his divisions, was surprised by Russian tanks near the Leuzeni bridge in the afternoon and scattered. The enemy had also taken possession of this bridge. Only further south were bridges secured. The 13th Panzer Division was holding two bridgeheads near Leova and Falciu. Train and rear-echelon units from various divisions of the Sixth Army were already arriving there and were being sent across the river.

VII Corps had the shortest distance to cover. The three divisions of the corps carried out a rapid fighting withdrawal toward the Prut bridges near Sbiroja and Leuzeni, sixty kilometers away. The 370th Division crossed the river over the bridges near Sbiroja and Scoposeni and linked up with IV Corps, which from then on was referred to as "Battle Group Mieth." The other two divisions of VII Corps failed to reach the Prut. The Russians, who had broken through the rear Trajan position, were waiting for them. The Romanian 14th Infantry Division, the only one left in the army's zone, disintegrated and fled. The 106th Division was caught by Russian tanks.

During the previous night XXXXIV Corps had begun an orderly withdrawal from the large salient on the Raut and Dnestr Rivers. The divisions marched out of their positions, which had not so far been attacked, and the enemy did not pursue until later. However, since the Russians had already broken into LII Corps' withdrawal from the east and were launching ever stronger attacks against the remains of XXX Corps from the south, a great mix up soon developed. The withdrawal by the three corps soon disintegrated into a disorderly retreat.

A well-planned coup took place in Romania. The former head of state Antonescu was imprisoned, and the young King Michael went on the radio to announce a ceasefire with the Soviet Union and issued orders to all Romanian troops to cease hostilities against the Russian armed forces. This betrayal had serious consequences to Romania's former German allies, as the entire German Army rear area in Romania collapsed. In places this resulted in fighting between German and Romanian troops. But these events had little to do with events at the distant German-Romanian front, which was already collapsing, and had scarcely any effect there.

A few Romanian units had carried out open betrayal shortly before the beginning of the Soviet offensive, such as the 5th Cavalry Division. Others, like the 4th Mountain Infantry Brigade, immediately threw down their weapons and left the front. Other Romanian units began to retreat without offering much resistance. Some senior Rumanian officers and commanders recognized the coming revolt and released their troops to go home, saying that the war was over. Other Romanian units, such as the 1st Cavalry Division and the 11th Infantry Division, fought well. There were cases where Romanian troops abandoned by their officers fought on bravely with German units.

It was not the betrayal by the Romanians which had led to the collapse of the German-Romanian front. The German command should have learned from the events at Stalingrad in November 1942. There, the Soviets broke through Romanian units before encircling the first Sixth Army. Now they had repeated the process against the second Sixth Army. On account of their mentality, training, armament and command, the Romanian soldiers were not equal to a major Soviet offensive. The German High Command should have known this.

In circumstances similar to those in Italy a year before, Antonescu was called to the palace, where he was arrested. The king then broadcast to the nation that Romania was switching sides and at the same time denounced the Treaty of Vienna that ceded much of Transylvania to Hungary.

An effort by the surprised Germans to salvage their position and their hold on the unoccupied parts of the country, which included an air raid on Bucharest, the Romanian capital, only served to hasten the change of regime and of fronts. Hitler ordered Army Group South Ukraine to smash the anti-Antonescu coup and put the military dictator back in control.

General Alfred Gerstenberg, commander of flak troops in Romania, reported from Bucharest that the Romanian leadership lacked toughness and that 6,000 German troops were moving on the capital from Ploesti. In fact, the German force was far too small to break through Romanian troops deployed on the road to the capital. Heavy fighting continued throughout for a day.

Romanians not merely withdrew from the Axis but declared war, on Hungary with great enthusiasm and on Germany with no pleasure but with a sense of taking revenge on an ally who had first exploited, and always neglected them.

The Soviets dealt with their new allies in a less than friendly fashion. The Red Army took more than 130,000 Romanian troops prisoner during hostilities. The disintegrating Romanian armies and corps were disarmed and the Romanian soldiers were sent to the Soviet Union. There they were employed as forced laborers. A new Romanian First Army was formed from communist cadres and new recruits and was "allowed" to fight at the side of the Russians.

The enemy pressure from the east, southeast and south was becoming increasingly heavy, and the penetrations and breakthroughs from three sides grew ever greater. The Commanding General of LII Corps found himself forced to engage Soviet motorized forces with the help of assault guns. During the night XXXXIV Corps had to abandon Kishinev, after the enemy had crossed the Dnestr and was pressing from the north. The Soviets were driving deep into Romania and were trying to complete the encirclement of the Sixth Army. The Sixth Army was left with only a narrow corridor to the Prut near Husi. The hard-pressed German troops struggled to reach the river.

The corps and divisions crossed on the few major roads, which by now were completely jamed. Columns ran into each other, units became inextricably entangled. Soon all order in the retreating masses of troops collapsed. Progress was slow and laborious. Tremendous traffic jams developed at crossroads as the columns became tangled.

Rear area supply dumps and munitions dumps which could not be evacuated were already being set on fire and blown up. Those elements of XXX and LII Corps still able to fight tried to make a stand to buy some time, but they were soon forced to fall back.

The Soviets made fresh breakthroughs through the thin German defensive lines and rearguards. While the increasingly disorderly retreat by the masses of troops and vehicles ground its way to the west and southwest, small units, battle groups and rearguards sought to fight off attacks from all sides, weather the storm and fight their way through, until they were overwhelmed by the enemy advance.

The Commanding Generals of LII and XXXXIV Corps arrived at the command post of XXX Corps, where the increasingly critical situation was discussed. The three Generals, now without any leadership from Sixth Army, from which nothing more was heard, discussed possible joint measures aimed at averting impending doom and the threatening fate of complete encirclement. However, joint action with their unwieldy foot troops, gigantic trains of horse-drawn and motor vehicles and lack of communications would be all but impossible, to say nothing of the overpowering Soviet forces closing in from all sides.

For days trains and supply units from the various divisions had been rolling in an uninterrupted stream through the city, which lay in a deep valley a few kilometers west of the Prut. Suddenly, twenty or more Soviet tanks appeared from the west. They drove into the city, firing as they came, and charged into the German train columns, causing terrible chaos. The Soviet capture of Husi caught the Germans by surprise. They were now encircled.

All of those who passed through Husi thought they had seen the worst. "Thank God that the Prut is behind us" was a common theme among the drivers and train soldiers passing through Husi in the early afternoon. Teams of horses were shot, vehicles smashed, trucks were set on fire. Everywhere there were dead and wounded. Those who survived ran away blindly. A few elements survived to reach the village of Falciu later that afternoon, where they reported the terrible news of the Russian surprise attack on Husi.

The ambush was not the worst however. Much more serious was that at about noon an entire Soviet tank corps of the Second Ukrainian Front had captured city of Husi from the west. The Soviets had immediately sent a spearhead ahead as far as the crossing over the Prut near Stalinesti, where they met tanks and motorized infantry of the Third Ukrainian Front advancing from the east. The last gap near Husi had been sealed, the enemy ring around the Sixth Army had been closed for good.

Those German units still capable of resistance continued to fight on against the Russian forces appearing everywhere. Thrown-together units formed new fronts and defended to all sides. The artillery's remaining guns drove into the open to engage the masses of Soviet infantry, while the anti-tank guns engaged the T-34s until they were out of ammunition. In spite of this the German units were outflanked, cut off, encircled, scattered, wiped out. During the course of the day LII Corps was pushed further back, its front was broken and outflanked several times, its units were being squeezed closer together.

XXX Corps, which earlier had been forced to bear the main weight of the Soviet offensive in the east, was worst off. After first clearing it of Russian forces, the remains of the corps' divisions, squeezed together and badly mixed up, held their ground in the Carbuna area, seventeen kilometers east of Guragalbina. An initial breakout attempt by elements of the corps early in the afternoon failed. Soviet bombers and close support aircraft attacked the front of the attack wave, inflicting heavy losses. The commander of the 257th Division was among those killed.

Army Group South Ukraine came to the conclusion that the encircling ring around the Sixth Army had become so solid and thick that any escape from the pocket by substantial forces was unlikely. The only hope was that the bulk of the army might still fight its way to the crossing over the Prut near Husi, where "Korpsgruppe Mieth" was holding out on the west bank. Increasing numbers of troops tried to make their way from the Carbuna forest region to the Guragalbina area, which had become the major assembly area for all surviving units. General Postel, of XXX Corps, who had assumed command of the breakout attempt, intended to break through between Guragalbina and Sarate-Galbina toward Husi in three columns.

Outside the pocket, Headquarters Sixth Army was receiving scarcely any radio reports from the corps. During the night of August 24/25, General Postel reported by radio: "Are surrounded, beginning the breakthrough to the Prut in a southwesterly direction." This was the last report from the Sixth Army, now surrounded in the Lapuschna-Oneschty-Guragalbina area. The distant army command did not hear from it again.

There was bitter fighting in the entire encirclement area and there were already increasing signs of disintegration. As dawn was breaking the commander of the 294th Division left Guragalbina, where the last conference of Generals had taken place. He noticed that train vehicles had been set on fire, documents were being burned, and that here and there weapons had been destroyed and items of equipment discarded. He also saw officers trying to restore order, saw shattered trucks, horses running loose, abandoned and disabled guns, train vehicles with their contents strewn about, shot-up vehicles and many dead and wounded from the latest air attacks.

Generalmajor Werner von Eichstedt came upon assembled groups of soldiers readying their small arms. They were the battle groups which were to force the breakthrough. The men in the valley meadow numbered about 1,000 men - 1,000 men from his entire division, which eight days ago was almost 14,000 men strong. Now there were no big guns, no heavy weapons, no vehicles and no field kitchens. Some of the men were already wounded. As the battle groups moved into position, Generalmajor von Eichstedt picked up a rifle and inserted a clip of ammunition. The attack was about to begin.

Haggard, dirty, hopeless faces looked at General von Eichstedt silently and imploringly. There was little more to say. A few words of thanks, then the final order: "Get ready! We're breaking out in an hour! Move out!”

The Germans advanced through a valley, across a small stream bed and up a shallow slope. Scarcely had they reached the crest when Soviet machine-guns and anti-tank guns opened up. The enemy fire intensified, especially from the right, smashing into the charging mass of men. In spite of losses the breakout appeared to be succeeding. The German troops, had nothing more than small arms with which to respond. The numbers of dead and wounded grew, and several men ran back the way they had come. More and more followed until all of the survivors were running to the rear.

There was no breakout, no getting through. The German attempts to break out collapsed in the face of concentrated enemy fire. Killed in the failed attempt from the Guragalbina area were the commanders of the 294th and 384th Infantry Divisions and many of their men. The commander of the 302nd Division and the Commanding General of XXX Corps, who had personally tried to instil order into the breakout columns that morning, were wounded. Minor elements of the three divisions managed to escape - temporarily. The Soviets, who were squeezing the unwieldy mass of the German army ever tighter, now drove into the pocket from all sides and began to split it up.

Four Soviet armies in the north, east and south had received orders to destroy the surrounded German Sixth Army. A further army and a tank corps were in position with orders to prevent a German breakthrough to the west to the Prut.

On the German side, there was no unified action on account of the complicated nature of the terrain, the complete mix-up of units and formations, a lack of signals equipment, uncertain command and other reasons. There was no longer any overall command in the pocket. The remains of corps and divisions acted more or less independently, each seeking to break through on its own. The combat elements no longer stayed back to hold off the pursuing enemy, but rather were used to spearhead various breakout and breakthrough operations.

Still functioning were the doctors, medics and the personnel of the main dressing stations and field hospitals. They did their duty as long as they could and helped as many as they could. The medical teams recovered and cared for the wounded under the most difficult conditions. The less seriously wounded were provided with first aid and sent on their way in groups led by medics. The serious cases were loaded aboard available vehicles. The doctors and medical personnel stayed with those who could not be moved until the Russians came. Nothing more was heard of them.

The catastrophe had come, the end of the Sixth Army was in sight. Pursued and harried from all sides by the Soviet Third Ukrainian Front, the disorganized and disintegrating units of three German army corps sought to find a way through the enemy. Squeezed together into several large march groups, often two or three columns abreast, the mass of surrounded troops moved in a generally westerly direction. Every kilometer was bought at the cost of great sacrifice and heavy losses. There were no more bridges over the Prut in German hands, and there was no new front on the western side of the river.

Officers of every grade tried to maintain order and hold the columns together. The few remaining assault guns threw themselves at the enemy forces trying to split up the columns and drove them back. Meanwhile the available artillery and anti-tank guns went into position at the roadsides and held off the Russian tanks with direct fire.

The firm belief in the Prut crossings and a new German front on the west side of the river were to prove a frightful mistake for the elements of the Sixth Army breaking out of the Russian encirclement. West of the river Soviet troops of the Second Ukrainian Front had already advanced beyond Barlad.

"Korpsgruppe Mieth" had already lost the bridges near Sbiroja and Scoposeni, and the crossing near Leuzeni was also in enemy hands. The 13th Panzer Division had been forced to give up the bridgeheads it was holding near Leova and Falciu. When strong Russian tank forces approached the rear of the exhausted division the bridges had to be destroyed.

The last bridge, the one near Stalinesti, southeast of Husi, was to have been taken by an advance detachment of the 282nd Division, which had been hurriedly sent ahead. The surprise attack failed, however, as the bridge had been blown by the Russians some time earlier. While the German divisions were breaking out, suffering grievous losses in their attempts to fight their way through the enemy, there were already no more fixed crossings over the Prut.

The German troops, pressured everywhere by the enemy, shot at, pursued and repeatedly cut off, fighting their way forward with great difficulty and heavy losses, still had a firm belief in a German front west of the Prut where they would be taken in and could find safety from the enemy. In this, too, they were to be bitterly disappointed. There was no longer any question of a German front.

Even as the surrounded main body of the Sixth Army was facing complete destruction and elements of the army were breaking out toward the Prut, there were still German troops on the west bank of the Prut. They belonged to "Korpsgruppe Mieth," which had carried out a slow withdrawal of over 100 kilometers south from the Jassy area. Mieth decided to retake Husi in order to capture the crossing near Stalinesti. In the face of the powerful enemy forces, Husi and the crossing near Stalinesti could not be taken. "Korpsgruppe Mieth" was now also at the end of its strength and found itself increasingly threatened with encirclement.

After picking up elements of VII Corps which had escaped across the Prut near Sbiroja and Scoposeni, Mieth assembled about four German divisions in the Husi area. The troops were exhausted and units were totally mixed together. Just as the doomed Sixth Army had no idea where the "Korpsgruppe" was, Mieth was unaware of the situation of the army and the elements breaking out toward the Prut. There was no communications between them.

There was yet a possibility that the "Korpsgruppe," which was still engaged in heavy fighting against enemy forces pursuing from the north and west, might still stand a reasonable chance of fighting its way through to the west in the direction of the Carpathians and linking up there with the remains of the Eighth Army. But General Mieth took a fateful decision, which was to cost his life and the lives of hundreds of his troops. Completely unaware of the overall situation, he decided to hold a Prut crossing for the Sixth Army, which was still expected from the east, hoping at the same time to link up with it.

The attack on Husi, spearheaded by the 370th Infantry Division, was halted beyond the northern edge of the city. Only the 666th Grenadier Regiment, barely a battalion strong, managed to enter the town, but was encircled there and completely wiped out. The attack was repeated the next morning and once again failed.

All of the German forces which had been able to fight their way to the western and southwestern edges of the pocket - especially in the Guragalbina area - prepared for a final determined attempt to break out. The Soviets used everything at their disposal to prevent a German breakthrough southeast of Minzir. However, the desperate Germans were able to punch a hole in the Russian lines, through which poured a stream of fleeing troops.

The better armed units assumed the lead and made initial progress under enemy fire. Several Russian blocking positions were stormed and overrun. When enemy resistance stiffened, hastily formed assault groups with assault guns were hurriedly sent forward to force the decisive breakthrough. Streaming behind the combat troops were thousands of men and vehicles.

The disappointment of those who had fought their way through was limitless. This was not a new front line, rather only a small bridgehead on the east bank of the Prut, which forward elements of the 282nd Division had occupied to take in the remnants of the Sixth Army streaming in from all directions. About twenty-thousand German soldiers had made their way to the Prut. Twenty thousand from the 170,000 of the Sixth Army. Within the pocket the end was fast approaching. Split into three smaller pockets, into which the enemy fired from all sides, outflanked, everything ended in confused fighting, chaos and defeat.

The noise of battle in the pocket gradually died out. The final battles in the pocket between Kishinev-Oneschty-Guragalbina came to an end. No further details are known. An eternal silence began to settle over XXX, XXXXIV and LII Army Corps with their more than eleven divisions. There are no authenticated accounts of their final days. About 150,000 German soldiers died somewhere in the forests, valleys and villages, were captured, posted missing or presumed dead.

There were still more than 20,000 Germans who believed they had reached a new German front at the Prut bridgehead. The bridges over the Prut had already been blown. There were no other crossings for some distance and there were no bridging materials available. The way was blocked by the river, badly swollen by the recent rains. The pioneers began a ferry service across the river. It was discovered that they had not reached the west bank of the river at all. They were on an island, about five to six kilometers wide and about two square kilometers in area, and the Russians were present on the western bank. They were now stuck on the island.

Thousands of tired, worn-out, desperate men, including many wounded, gradually gathered along the east bank. The last guns, heavy weapons and vehicles were blown up or pushed into the Prut. The enemy was already firing into the bridgehead. Many men threw themselves into the water in an attempt to escape the enemy fire. Many drowned.

The low-lying island, located between two arms of the Prut, was extremely marshy and was divided by two lakes. The first squads found a raised footpath through the marshes and waterways which lead to a footbridge to the west bank of the Prut near Stalinesti. It was then that they received the greatest and most depressing disappointment: it was not their comrades waiting for them over there as they had hoped, rather it was the Russians.

Barely twenty kilometers separated "Korpsgruppe Mieth" from the rest of the Sixth Army who were stuck on the island. But the two groups could not find their way to each other and were incapable of joint action, because each was unaware of the other's presence. And besides - between them as well as in and around Husi were three Soviet divisions and elements of a tank corps, ready to encircle the "Korpsgruppe.".

The crossing from the east bank to the Prut island continued. There was heavy fighting on the heights east of the river as the bridgehead's defenders tried to prevent a rapid enemy drive to the Prut. Russian attacks from the east were repulsed. Once again German troops stood firm in a hopeless situation, not allowing the enemy to break through to the river. Russian officers appeared, escorted by Red Army soldiers with white flags. They were negotiators sent to arrange a German surrender. They were sent back and the bridgehead was evacuated. The last German defenders crossed the eastern arm of the Prut.

Thousands of German troops had crowded together on the island in the Prut, among them the Commanding Generals of XXX, LII and XXXXIV Corps. After a week of uninterrupted fighting and constant retreat in the terrible heat, pursued by tanks and motorized infantry and under constant attack from the air, the troops were totally exhausted and dead tired. The hungry, thirsty soldiers and their officers and Generals now tried to dig in and camouflage themselves as best they could among the rushes, bushes and thickets.

The shattered remains of corps and divisions had long since ceased to be regiments, battalions and companies. They were not even makeshift battle groups as they had been. They were now little more than a mass of men who had escaped the pocket, many already lacking weapons, the others with only their small arms.

The Generals sat together in a small wood and deliberated. Soon they had devised another breakout plan. Exhausted officers tried to get the men to their feet to form new battle groups. But the breakthrough to the west bank was never to take place. Scarcely any of the 20,000 men who had managed to fight their way to the Prut and finally to the Husi area under unspeakable hardships escaped. After an initial attack which took the Russians by surprise, the Red Army soldiers managed to regroup and wipe out the Germans.

The Soviets now set about to destroy these remnants of the Sixth Army. Mortar and artillery fire rained down on the mass of men holding out on the island. The Russian fire intensified as "Stalin Organs" joined in the barrage. Red aircraft attacked with bombs. The soldiers lay in the muck and swamp, unable to defend themselves. Losses climbed from hour to hour, and it was almost impossible to hold on in this witch's cauldron.

In spite of the heavy enemy fire, the Germans reached the steep western bank of the Prut, where the enemy positions near Stalinesti were taken in hand-to-hand fighting. The completely surprised and confused Russians disappeared in all directions. The heights on the west bank of the Prut were also stormed and all resistance overcome in close-quarters fighting. Finally the German troops reached the large forested area south of Husi, about three kilometers west of the Prut.

The remaining German forces assembled into small groups before setting out to make their way west through what was now enemy-occupied territory to a new German front somewhere in the Carpathians. However, the Soviets recovered quickly from this surprise assault. They surrounded the forest in which the Germans took refuge. The sound of heavy fighting was heard, which then gradually died away. Scarcely any of the 20,000 men who had managed to fight their way to the Prut and finally to the Husi area under unspeakable hardships escaped.

General Mieth stuck to his plan, still unaware of the true situation, to capture a crossing for the divisions still expected from the east. As the powerful enemy bulwark of Husi could not be taken, the General hoped to establish a bridgehead further south near Leova. The "Korpsgruppe" went to the attack to the south, west of Husi. Hopes of a link-up with units of the army expected from the east were dashed. The "Korpsgruppe" was forced to face the facts that it was by itself and would have to fight on alone. What was worse, they had stayed too long and were now encircled. The "Korpsgruppe" would have to fight its way out to the west.

There was heavy fighting in places with Soviet forces already near Leova, and during the course of the coming day the various units assembled in the wooded, hilly terrain about fifteen kilometers south of Husi, where they occupied an assembly area. Where were the expected combat units of the Sixth Army? Nothing had been seen or heard of them. A few troops from the 282nd Division had arrived , but that was all.

A planned night attack on Vutcani had to be postponed as the troops were too exhausted. The attack began, spearheaded by the 79th and 370th Divisions. Other formations were to follow. The 258th and 376th Divisions were to cover the rear from a front facing north. Vutcani was taken in spite of extremely heavy Russian artillery fire and almost ceaseless mortar fire, now from the south as well. Mobile advance detachments were to immediately take the Barladul bridges and hold them until the following main body of the "Korpsgruppe" crossed the river during the coming night.

The staff of the "Korpsgruppe" were under no illusions. The divisions were even more mixed together, the fighting strength of the troops had dropped considerably. They had just completed eight days of difficult fighting in defense and on the retreat. Casualties were already high, losses of guns and heavy weapons great and there were only a few radio stations still intact. The was only one hope left. They would destroy all vehicles without fuel and all weapons for which there was no more ammunition and drive southwest through the village of Vutcani toward the Barladul River and then try to reach the Seret, where there would surely be a new German front.

Following the hopeful events of the first half of the day (when they had been able to reach Vutcani), the events after midday were nothing less than depressing. Following a heavy Russian counter-attack, it was clear to the divisions being squeezed ever closer together in and around Vutcani from the north, east and south, that the enemy knew their exact position. The ongoing air attacks were the first, very painful indication of this fact. The objective of the attacks was to decimate and demoralize the mass of troops trapped there. Both succeeded all too well.

General Friedrich-August Weinknecht, decided to break out to the west from the witch's cauldron at Vutcani as soon as darkness fell. The attack was to be made on a broad front, and if successful, they would cross the Barlad during the night. Initially the attack had to be postponed until morning, when it was too late. Command at the division level was no longer possible. While some Germans managed to get out, most had been left behind when the Russians entered the village.

The commander of the 79th Division briefed the commander of the 370th Division on the plan in a farm house. While the briefing was in progress General Mieth arrived. He was informed of the situation, the decision which had been taken and the orders which had been given. In the meantime, an officer arrived and reported that it was impossible to get the sleeping soldiers into their departure positions and that a postponement of the attack was necessary.

In order to avoid what appeared to be certain catastrophe in Vutcani the two division commanders and their staff officers personally shook the sleeping soldiers awake and led them to the west end of the village. So much time was lost that it was already light by the time the first wave set out. Some of the troops managed to get out of Vutcani, then streamed west in disorderly groups.

The last chance of forcing a breakout and breakthrough in the only fashion likely to succeed had been squandered. The German forces had been unable to evacuate Vutcani during the night and thus missed their opportunity to advance to the Barlad river under cover of darkness. Events between Vutcani and the Barlad crossings disintegrated into individual actions by isolated groups.

The first moves from Vutcani at dawn were effectively frustrated by the enemy. A group of soldiers of all ranks from various units which had gathered around the commander of the 79th Division became involved in a close-quarters battle with Russian forces attacking from the south, and managed to drive them back. It soon became known that General Mieth had died of a heart attack that during fighting in the eastern section of Vutcani.

Under the command of capable officers, other groups in the first wave managed to get out of the overcrowded village in spite of heavy artillery and mortar fire from the south, southeast and southwest. The majority of the German troops did not succeed in making even this first step, however, as the Russians soon pushed into Vutcani from the east. Tanks and anti-tank guns created chaos among the masses of men and vehicles stuck in the village.

In the days which followed, those elements which had reached the west side of the river tried to reach the Seret in small groups, most on foot with only a few vehicles left. It was hoped that they would find a new German line there. But here, too, all hopes were in vain - there was no new line. At this point everything disintegrated and each man tried to escape to the Carpathians, about 100 kilometers away.

The Soviets gave the following brief description of the destruction of "Korpsgruppe Mieth": “The German units located between Husi and Vutcani were surrounded. On August 29 the remnants of the shattered divisions, with a total strength of about 20,000 men, succeeded in breaking out of the encirclement. Extremely tough fighting in the forests continued until August 30 as larger groups of Germans tried to break through to the west in the direction of the Seret to the Carpathians. During mopping-up actions on the 2nd and 3rd of September about 3,000 Germans were killed and a total of 35,000 captured. All remaining elements were smashed on the following day.”

There was still XXIX Corps, initially under the command of the Romanian Third Army, now at the disposal of Army Group South Ukraine. All that was left of the corps was its headquarters; it had no troops left. The German 9th Infantry Division had been lost near Sarata, and the two Romanian divisions of the mixed corps were no longer present. The corps headquarters, which was withdrawing from the Barlad area, received orders to organize a defense on the Seret in the line Galatz-Focsani and establish a new front.

For this purpose the 13th Panzer Division, the 10th Panzergrenadier Division, the remains of the 153rd Field Training Division and the recently-arrived Panzerverband Braun were placed under the command of the XXIX Corps. All of this sounded good, but the 13th Panzer division had not a single tracked armored vehicle. The 10th Panzergrenadier Division was in much the same shape and the 153rd Field Training Division was even worse off.

Panzerverband Braun, which had been sent by the army group, with elements of the 20th Panzer Division, twenty-one assault guns and the assault battalion of the Eighth Army, could be considered to have much combat potential. But, once again it was too little and much too late.

As the corps withdrew south toward the lower course of the Seret it was forced to fight a running battle against pursuing Russian forces. The 10th Panzergrenadier Division and the 13th Panzer Division found themselves facing encirclement. The Russians had reached the area east of Foscani. As the corps began to prepare its defenses on the Seret east of Galatz, Soviet armored spearheads were drawing nearer, having already reached Buzau in the corps' deep left flank.

The Germans were unable to halt the rapid Soviet advance. In order to avoid being encircled, the corps withdrew south from the Seret positions it had just occupied. Then, a report reached the corps command post in Cilibia that the Russians had taken Buzau. Afterward the corps' Commanding General decided to force a breakthrough to the west, south of Buzau. Some units were wiped out by the Russians and some were taken prisoners by the Romanians, who following the coup declared war on Germany. Some Germans managed to reach Bulgaria. Soon the Bulgarians too would declare war on Germany and the soldiers would be taken prisoners and handed to the Russians.

Hidden in a small wood east of the major road from Buzau to Bucharest, over which a steady stream of Soviet columns of all types was heading south completely unmolested, four German Generals sat down for a discussion with the Corps General, von Bechtoldsheim. General von Bechtoldsheim gave permission for all the mobile elements of his corps to make their way under their commanders to the south toward the Danube and still friendly Bulgaria. All of the foot elements, on the other hand, were to set out in an attempt to break out to the west.

The 13th Panzer Division and the 153rd Field Training Division, which still had a number of guns, in total a mixed group of four to five-thousand men, reached Calasari on the Danube. There the Romanians barred the bridge and demanded that the Germans surrender for interment, which was the same as being taken prisoner. As there was no other way out the Germans decided to lay down their weapons and surrender.

An infantry attack led by General von Bechtoldsheim and supported by assault guns broke through the enemy southwest of Buzau. There were encounters with Russian infantry in corn fields, vineyards and forests. The troops ran into difficult terrain, where most were killed, wounded or captured. After pushing on through the Carpathians, a group of about 100 stragglers led by General von Bechtoldsheim reached the road to the Buzau Pass. This small group with the Commanding General was one of the few from the entire corps to escape.

The motorized group of the 10th Panzer Division came to a large wood west of Calasari, about fifteen kilometers north of the Danube. There all the remaining guns, vehicles, heavy weapons and radios were rendered unusable. About 100 men, including the division commander, crossed to the Bulgarian side of the river in spite of a heavy storm and gunfire from two Romanian monitors anchored upstream. They were interned by the Bulgarians, and as soon as Bulgaria declared war on Germany were handed over to the Soviets.

The motorized and armored elements also failed to get through. General Braun's group, which still had more than twenty assault guns and a lone Panther tank, met its end at the Buzau-Mitzil rail line, which the Soviets had barricaded. Braun's forces tried to break through the blocking position and were scattered.

A battle group under General Winkler, hastily formed on orders of the army group and consisting of remaining army elements, primarily the 12th Flak Regiment, held open the northwest section of Buzau and the Buzau Pass, before fighting a delaying action in the Buzau Valley. It was thanks to the efforts of this battle group that numerous train and rear-echelon units as well as many stragglers reached the Hungarian part of the Carpathians. With great difficulty the Germans succeeded in establishing a thin line of security in the Transylvania region using troops rushed to the area. Soon this line, too, came under pressure and was forced to fall back.

There were some Germans who wished to avoid capture at any cost. They sought to make their way across the many kilometers to a new German front. The area between the Prut and the Carpathians had long since been in enemy hands. The German front did not remain stationary, rather it got further away day by day. There may have been as many as 18,000-20,000 men who set out to reach the safety of the Carpathians. Many lost their way in the forests and were captured or died alone in the wilderness. Many more were shot or killed by Romanian or Russian troops, while others succumbed to wounds or illness.

Pursued and harried by the enemy, travelling on foot, these fugitives sought to make contact with friendly forces, enduring unspeakable hardships and deprivation. Only a very few managed to get through, and an even smaller number reached the German lines in Transylvania. Others lost their way and wandered after the withdrawing German front for weeks. In the end, the reception staffs of the Sixth Army reported a total of only 350 returnees, the Eighth Army about 1,200.

The Commanding General of LII Corps, General Erich Buschenhagen, and eight men managed to travel on foot to the Carpathians. They were betrayed by a Romanian and were handed over to the Russians.

This handful of men were not the only ones to have escaped destruction. About 10,000 men of the rear-echelon units of the Sixth and Eighth Armies escaped through Galatz and via Ploesti to Transylvania, including 500 men of the 257th Infantry Division's field workshop company.

The Sixth Army had been completely destroyed. The Eighth Army was left with the three German divisions making up its left wing, which had not been attacked. This was all that remained of the two German armies on the Romanian front following the total collapse of Army Group South Ukraine, which had tried to defend Romania according to Hitler's will. Twenty-one numerically strong German divisions had been obliterated within nine days.

The Soviet Command had carried out a tremendous operation with great force and speed, employing huge numbers of troops, tanks, artillery and aircraft. Thus, the Red Army had brought about the total collapse and complete destruction of the German-Romanian front.

At the end of the battle, the war diary of Army Group South Ukraine observed: "The surrounded corps and divisions of the Sixth Army must now be considered as lost. There is no longer any hope that some cohesive units will fight their way through. It is the greatest catastrophe ever suffered by the army group."

A few days after the battle Red Army troops entered the romanian capital, Bucharest. The Red Army occupied practically all of Romania including the Black Sea port of Constanza and the oil fields and refineries of Ploesti, the latter largely wrecked by prior American bombing.

Like Finland at the other end of the front, Romania had switched sides but in far more dramatic circumstances and in a much greater Soviet victory over the German army. The Wehrmacht lost more than 380,000 men in about two weeks.

The Germans still had in their concentration camps Horia Sima and other Iron Guard members, who had fled or been brought to Germany after their failed coup in romania 3 years earlier. These now organized a government-in-exile under German auspices since no Romanian military leader was willing to rebuild a pro-German regime. Like the French collaborationists, the Iron Guardists could only conduct feuds with each other and propaganda under German auspices.

In a few days the Red Army rolled through Romania and across the Danube while Romanian units joined with them in the battle toward the northwest. There in the Carpathian passes, the Germans and the Hungarians tried to build up a new front as the Red Army pushed them back in pursuit. The Romanians now hoped to reclaim the portions of Transylvania they had lost to Hungary in the 1940 territorial settlement. After heavy fighting the German-Hungarian troops were pushed out of Transylvania, into Hungary.

Soviet and Romanian forces entered Transylvania. They captured the towns of Brașov and Sibiu while advancing toward the Mureș River. Their main objective was Cluj, the historical capital of Transylvania. However, the Second Hungarian Army was present in the region. Together with the Eighth German Army it engaged the Allied forces in what was to become the Battle of Turda. This battle resulted in heavy casualties for both sides.

The Hungarian Army carried out its last independent offensive action of the war. They penetrated Arad County in western Romania. Despite initial success, a number of ad-hoc Romanian cadet battalions managed to stop the Hungarian advance at the Battle of Păuliș. Soon a combined Romanian-Soviet counterattack overwhelmed the Hungarians, who gave ground and evacuated Arad itself.

So extensive was the German defeat that Soviet forces were able to swing through Romania and then sweep north to seize the passes leading through the Carpathians and Transylvanian Alps onto the Hungarian plain. In the following month's heavy fighting would take place in Hungarian cities such as Debrecen and the Hungarian capital, Budapest.