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The Battles of Uryv and Karotyak
By Tom Sessler (aka SgtFury)
In December 1941, the British government declared war on Hungary. This ended any hopes that Hungary could limit its’ involvement to the war in Russia. Admiral Nicholas Horthy, the Regent of Hungary, decided to limit his country’s future involvement on the Eastern Front to the barest minimum that he could negotiate with Germany. After much wrangling between Berlin and Budapest, it was decided that the Hungarians would contribute an army consisting of three corps and an armored division. It was designated as the 2nd Hungarian Army and contained the following units: III Corps (6th, 7th and 9th Light Divisions) IV Corps (10th, 12th and 13th Light Divisions) VII Corps (19th, 20th and 23rd Light Divisions) 1st Armored Field Division Elements of this army slowly arrived at the front between April 11th and July 27th 1942 and took up positions initially with German Army Group Weichs. Later they would be organized with the German 2nd Army and 4th Panzer Army. Even as Hungarian units were arriving at the front, the German High Command decided to launch Operation Fall Blau on June 28th 1942. Hungarian units that took part in the initial fighting were the III Corps HQ, the 7th and 9th Light Divisions and other elements of the III Corps. These green troops were initially equipped with Hungarian weapons and equipment, but were quickly rearmed with German weaponry in order to ease logistical problems. Their lack of orientation or training with these new weapons would initially cause some problems for Hungarian troops. On July 4th 1942 Hungarian forces took Staryi Oskol and by July 7th the III Corps leading units had reached the Don River. The Hungarians had barely dug into defensive positions when the Soviets launched attacks across the Don River in order to establish bridgeheads at Uryv, Karotyak and Stutye. Over the next few months, a series of battles occurred around Uryv and Karotyak. The third bridgehead at Stutye was simply contained, so that axis forces could concentrate their infantry and armor on the other two bridgeheads.
The Battles for Uryv
The Hungarian Army counter‐attacked on July 27th with the newly arrived 1st Armored Field Division. They successfully pushed the Soviets out of Uryv and into a small bend in the Don River north of town. Unlike their infantry counterparts, the Hungarian tankers had been given extensive training with their newly issued Panzer 38(t) and Panzer IV tanks before being shipped to the Russian front. Their German instructors had taught them to hold their fire until the Russian T‐34’s used their main armament. The cannon smoke would then temporarily blind the Russian crew, and give the Hungarians a chance to maneuver unseen to the Russian tank’s flank. This would give them a better shot at destroying the T‐34s by aiming for their slightly weaker side armor. Using this method, the Hungarian armored troops were able to destroy 21 T‐34s during the 1st Battle of Uryv. Unfortunately the attack was called off when ammunition supplies ran low. German logistical units were very slow to re‐supply Hungarian forces. A few days later, the Soviets pushed back and retook all of the lost terrain. On August 10th, the Hungarian III Corps, now freshly re‐supplied, renewed the attack. But Soviet resistance proved to be very tough. After taking high casualties, the Hungarians were forced to withdraw to their start line. At the very least, the attack had proved their willingness to fight and take losses. Only the inexperience
of these green troops had let them down. They had probably taken higher casualties than a veteran unit in the same situation would have done. A third attempt was made on the Uryv bridgehead on September 9th. This time the Germans took the lead role of organizing and planning the attack. Taking part were the Hungarian 7th, 12th, 13th and 20th Light Divisions supported by 1st Armored Field Division and one German Division of the XXIV Panzer‐Korps. After five days of heavy fighting the attack was broken off, both sides had taken substantial casualties. The Hungarian troops were then left to fortify the position and seal off the Soviet Bridgehead.
The Battles for Karotyak
Tasked with eliminating the Soviet bridgehead in and around the town of Karotyak were the troops of the IV Corps. The Hungarians attacked on August 7th with support from the 1st Armored Field Division, the 12th Light Division and the IV Heavy Artillery Battalion. By that evening, lead elements had reached the Don River at the town’s northern limits, but the eastern part of Karotyak still remained in Russian hands. Soviet aircraft continuously harassed the Hungarians as they advanced. Other than small arms, the infantry had little to counter the Russian aircraft with, as the IV Corps anti‐aircraft units had not yet arrived. Mean while the Soviet ground forces had broken through in the III Corps sector near Uryv. The 1st Armored Field Division was recalled and moved quickly to reinforce the threatened III Corps defenses. Unfortunately, the departure of Hungarian armor from the Karotyak battle dangerously exposed the left flank of the 12th Light Division. Soviet forces quickly took advantage of the situation and attacked through the gap into the men of the IV Heavy Artillery Battalion. The artillery crews were forced to deploy most of their men as infantry, leaving just
enough crews behind to man the guns. With enormous effort, they managed to halt the Soviet attack just short of their gun positions. Timely reinforcements from the newly arrived IV Corps AA Battalion and a German infantry & artillery battalion managed to bring the Soviet attack to a halt. On September 3rd the attack on Karotyak was renewed with better support from armored and headquarters units. Along with fresh support from German infantry & artillery, the Soviet bridgehead was finally eliminated.
The 2nd Hungarian Army had only managed to eliminate one of the three Soviet bridgeheads across the Don River. By mid September 1942 Hungarian forces had settled into defensive positions. The next few months would be relatively calm as each side began preparing for the coming winter. Unfortunately a general lack of defensive supplies like mines & barbed wire along with a shortage of labor meant only the defensive areas immediately around the bridgeheads could be adequately fortified. Major supply problems plagued the 2nd Army, with both the home government and the Germans reluctant to give too much to the Hungarian troops. The Germans saw their allies as a secondary priority, while the Hungarian Government was keen to withhold equipment and supplies to help build up the Home Army’s defenses. On January 3rd 1943 Soviet forces launched several probing attacks against the 2nd Hungarian and 8th Italian Armies. These attacks were successfully fended off. The main attack against the Hungarian forces finally came at 0955 hours on January 12 starting with a
preparatory artillery attack followed by a tank assisted infantry assault one hour later. The 40th Soviet Army launched from the Uryv bridgehead into the 7th Light Division and the German 429. Infantry regiment. The Germans and the 35th Infantry Regiment of the 7th LD were able to hold their positions, but the 4th Infantry Regiment of the 7th LD was overrun. On this first day the Soviets were able to drive a 6km wide gap between the III and IV Corps, penetrating up to 3km. January 13 saw Soviet attacks concentrated on the 20th Light to the north of Uryv. The 20th Light was supported by the remnants of the 7th Light and German 429 IR. At dawn both corners of the Uryv bulge were still being held. Four battalions of the III Corps reserves supported by the German 700 Panzerverband were able to conduct a counterattack, but Soviet forces were just too strong. The Russians were able to maintain their gains in the center while their left wing advanced virtually unopposed. The strength of the Soviet force was such that by the end of the day the German Panzer force had just 4 Panzer 38(t)s remaining. The Hungarian troops engaged had been smashed by continuous and unrelenting Soviet attacks. The remnants of the Hungarian III Corps now faced south with their western flank exposed. On January 14 the Soviet offensive got into full swing with thrusts made from the Stutye bridgehead. The Soviet 18th Rifle Corps smashed through the 12th Light Division and moved in the direction of Ostrogosk. The release of the German 168 ID from reserves on January 15 slowed this Soviet advance along its’ southern flank, but to the north a continuous flow of Soviet troops poured through the gap. Other Divisions along the front were all under pressure. The 7th and 12th LD had been destroyed. The 2nd Hungarian Army’s sector was quickly running out of men. On January 16 the 13th Light Division at Karotyak came under heavy pressure from the Soviet 40th Army. After heavy fighting they withdrew towards Ostrogosk where, along with the 10th LD and German 168 ID, they were surrounded. The 10th LD lost its artillery to the Soviet 18th Rifle Corp when it couldn’t be moved because of a lack of horses to tow the guns. Korps Cramer, the Army Group B’s reserve force, launched a counter‐attack. It did manage to stall the advance of the Soviet 18th Rifle Corps, but was quickly called off the attack when the 1st Armored Field Division’s flanks became dangerously exposed. Meanwhile, several advanced units of the Soviet 12th Tank Corps had managed to get behind the positions of the VII Corps. Their position became so precarious that the 2nd Hungarian Army HQ ordered them to retreat. On January 17 the III Corps along with German reinforcement was still conducting a vigorous defense against the northern thrusts of the 40th Soviet Army. But the 40th Army’s southern thrust broke through German defenses and continued towards the towns of Alexeyevka and Ilovskoye. Seizing these towns would mean the main retreat route for German / Hungarian forces in the Ostrogosk area would be cut off. Lead elements of the Soviet 40th Army reached the airfield at Ilovskoye around noon, but fierce resistance from Hungarian Air Force ground crews forced them to withdraw. What was left of IV Corps was ordered to retreat to Ostrogosk. The Soviets were then able to take Karotyak. By that evening all forms of communications with the remaining two Corps were lost. General Jány’s 2nd Hungarian Army HQ still had communications with Korps Cramer, but a few minutes before midnight even this remaining contact was lost. On January 18 the Soviet 40th Army surrounded the town of Ostrogosk. Hitler declared the town to be a Festung (fortress) that should be defended to the last man. Trapped inside were the remnants of the 10th
LD, the13th LD, the German 168 ID and other troops from the III and IV Corps. While retreating in a northwest direction, VII Corps encountered the left wing of the Soviet 18th Rifle Corps. When tanks from the 12th Tank Corps suddenly appeared to their south their retreat rapidly turned into a rout. With that VII Corps ceased to exist. That same day Soviet forces occupied Alexeyevka, but a determined counter‐attack by the 1st Armored Field Division pushed them back out. The Hungarian armor then joined the defenses of Ilovskoye to the north. On January 20 Hungarian / German defenders in the Alexeyevka / Ilovskoye / Ostrogosk area continued to hold out. The Soviet 40th Army was ordered to break off and concentrate on the German 2nd Army to the north of their positions. The 18th Rifle Corps and 3rd Tank Army were left behind to finish off the Hungarian 2nd Army. On January 21 contact with forces inside the Ostrogosk pocket was re‐established by a strong combat group of the German 26th ID. Over the course of the day, German and Hungarian troops evacuated the pocket and marched to Novyi Oskol. The 1st Armored Field Division managed to prevent continuous attempts by Soviet armor to cut this retreat off. All remaining Hungarian troops in the Ostrogosk‐Alexeyevka area were now grouped together under Korps Cramer, and on January 22 they started withdrawing towards Budyenny and on to Novyi Oskol. The Hungarian IV and VII Corps had been destroyed. On January 22 the Hungarian 2nd Army ceased functioning as a command unit and was moved to the rear to reorganize. Those units still capable of fighting remained with Corps Cramer, under German command. On January 25 Corps Cramer was reassigned to the German 2nd Army. At this time there were still 12,000 Hungarians fighting. As the front stabilized Hungarian units were sent to the rear where they began their reorganization. The Hungarians wouldn’t see any serious fighting again until 1944. The total loss to Hungary’s 2nd Army, which included killed, wounded, missing and taken prisoner came to 130,000 out of the 211,000 present at the beginning of January 1943. This was more than a 60% casualty rate! The destruction of the 2nd Hungarian Army virtually eliminated all the modern military equipment that the Hungarian Army had. The losses suffered by Hungarian forces along the Don River, both materially and psychologically, were immense. It was a blow that they never completely recovered from. Please note that the background and aftermath sections of this scenario were copied and pasted from the Flames of War website. I have heavily edited the original text and added in more details using my copy of “The Royal Hungarian Army 1920‐1945”.
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