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Operation Gemse, the German counteroffensive at Lauban 1945


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Delighted as I am by the coming release of CM Cold War at the same time I fear it will more or less suffocate the coming release of the CMRT-module Fire and Rubble. The number of 'Ostfronters' isn't that large to begin with and this is not going to help. I also fear it will draw modders and scenario makers away, who now will turn their attention to CM Cold war, instead of CMRT/CMFR. Little can be done about it and it's a luxury problem of course, but perhaps recalling some of the fiercest battles at the Eastern front in the second half of 1944 and the first half of 1945 will help to convince more gamers that Fire and Rubble is so much more than the battle of Berlin, Seelöwe heights or the Soviet Oder offensive. I'm also planning to post information on other interesting battles, like those that found place in Eastern Prussia, Courland, Silesia and Saxony.

I found the following article a long time ago (2005) on the Axis forum. Somebody had translated an article on the battle at Lauban, which he had found on a Hungarian site. That  Hungarian site no longer exists, as far as I can tell. I therefore hope and trust this isn't a breach of copyright. The article is too well written and too complete to ignore and I hope that for some people less interested in the Eastern front it may be an eye-opener with regard to the epic, enormous battle that took place in the East in that last year of WW2. Great stuff for scenario/campaign makers!

Here follows the article;

"OPERATION GEMSE (the armoured clash at Lauban)
The fierce tank battle which took place in early March 1945 near the Silesian town of Lauban („Luban” in Polish) was a rather interesting episode of WW2 for two reasons:
1. It was the last counterattack of the Wehrmacht which had the desired tactical results.
2. You won’t find much of a mention of this battle in Soviet documentations of the „Great Patriotic War”.

On 12 January, 1945 the Red Army’s 1st Belorussian Front and 1st Ukrainian Front, joined by the 1st Polish Army, launched a massive offensive from the bridgeheads established on the Western bank of the Vistula. They advanced 500 kms westwards in 23 days, reaching the Oder on 3 February and establishing bridgeheads on its Western bank.

On 8 February, the 980.000-strong 1st Ukrainian Front, commanded by Marshall Koniev, launched a further attack in Lower Silesia from two bridgeheads on the Oder. Their aim: encircle and capture Breslau. The left flank of the front – two armies and one cavalry guard corps – was to advance further towards Dresden together with the 4th Ukrainian Front.

The Silesian industrial area, vital to the German war effort, was defended by the remnants of Army Group Middle commanded by colonel Schörner. Forces of the 1st Ukrainian Front – eight armies, two tank armies, two armoured corps, one mechanised corps and one cavalry corps – began their advance. Both Glogau and Breslau were encircled by 16 February. Due to stiff German resistance in the vicinity of Breslau, Koniev ordered two-thirds of the 3rd Guard Tank Army, commanded by colonel Ribalko, to turn back towards the East and finish the defenders. By that time two corps of the same unit already reached Bunzlau, the town where the heart of Kutuzov, the famous Russian commander, is buried.

By 16 February the 1st Ukrainian Front had 1289 operational tanks and self-propelled guns – in the beginning of the 12 January offensive it had 3648. After the complete encirclement of Breslau all forces of the 3rd Guard Tank Army were again turned against Bunzlau. Ribalko was ordered to reach the Neisse and capture Görlitz. The 9th Armoured Corps clashed with the German 8th Panzer Division. Ribalko ordered the two other tank corps under his command to pocket all German forces in an around Görlitz. In accordance with his orders the 7th Guard Tank Corps of the 3rd Guard Tank Army (commander: major general S. A. Ivanov) crossed the river Queis and attacked Lauban.

The attack was started by the 56th Guard Tank Brigade and the 23rd Guard Armoured Brigade of the 7th Guard Tank Corps in the evening of 17 February. Lauban was defended by the remnants of the 6th Volksgrenadier Division (commander: major general Otto-Hermann Brücker) – lacking any heavy equipment – and insignificant local armed forces. On 5 February the 6th Volksgrenadier and local Volkssturm forces were ordered to halt any Soviet armoured attack directed against the area. Unsurprisingly, Soviet forces quickly penetrated the northern and eastern parts of the town. Soviet tanks were guarding a very important intersection of the railway connecting Görlitz to Berlin. Lauban – which had 17.537 residents in 1939 – is located 20 kms southeast of Penzig, then between the German 4th Tank Army and 17th Army.

Between 18-20 February the following German forces were sent to Lauban: 8th Panzer Divison, 408th Division, 10th Volksgrenadier Division. They swiftly halted the advance of the 3rd Guard Tank Army and begun to encircle it. The reason: the OKH was planning to recapture Breslau, but the regrouping of German forces was impossible as long as the railway running through Lauban was not secured. The Germans were also determined not to let Görlitz and Dresden to fall into Soviet hands. Schörner was ordered to secure Lauban and repel and severely weaken the 3rd Guard Tank Army. The armed attack group under the command of panzer general Walther K. Nehring included the 57th Armoured Corps (8th Panzer Division, 103rd Armoured Brigade, 408th Division, 16th Panzer Division, „Führer” Escort(?) Divison led by major general Otto Remer) and the 39th Armoured Corps („Führer” Grenadier Divison, 17th Panzer Divison) – commanders were Friedrich Kirchner and Karl Decker respectively. German „divisons” did not actually consist of as many forces as a „normal” division in peacetime. Some commanders were newly appointed and obviously did not know their new inferiors. Communication between different units was by any means problematic. Fuel was in short supply. These armoured units would’ve been qualified as „undeployable” in the beginning of WW2.

The German plan of attack was rather simple. The remnants of the 103rd Armoured Brigade and the 6th Volksgrenadier were kept on the defense while the armoured units attacked on the flanks. Objective: recapture Lauban, meet at Naumburg and encircle most of the 3rd Guard Tank Army. The most formidable units of the right flank were the 57th Armoured Corps.

Operation Gemse was to begin on 1 March. On the left flank the „Führer” Grenadier Division and the 17th Panzer Division were preparing to attack from Rachenau and Gruna. The 8th Panzer Division was to attack from the forests around Cunzendorf. Both German and Soviet forces were in Lauban. The frontline before the attack was an East-West line that ran from Cunzenforf to Lauban and then to Schreibersdorf and Rachenau. The Germans wanted to launch a surprise attack and swifty advance towards the North.

On 1 March 1945 the Soviet 3rd Guard Tank Army consisted of the following units: 6th Guard Tank Corps (51st, 52nd and 53rd Guard Tank Brigade, 22nd Guard Motorised Brigade, 1645th light artillery regiment, 385th Guard Heavy (self-propelled) Artillery Regiment, 1893rd, 1894th (self-propelled) Artillery Regiment, 3rd Guard Motorised Battalion (armed motorcycles), 272nd Guard Artillery Regiment (armed with mortars), 286th Guard AA Artillery Regiment), 7th Guard Tank Corps (54th, 55th and 56th Guard Tank Brigade, 23rd Guard Motorised Infantry Brigade, 408th Light Artillery Regiment, 384th Guard Heavy (self-propelled) Artillery Regiment, 702nd and 1419th self-propelled Artillery Regiment, 4th Guard Motorised Infantry Battalion, 467th Guard Artillery Regiment (mortars), 287th Guard AA Artillery Regiment), 9th Motorised Infantry Corps (69th, 70th, 71th Motorised Infantry Brigade, 91st Tank Brigade, 383rd Guard Heavy (self-propelled) Artillery Regiment, 1295th and 1507th Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment, 100th Motorised Infantry Battalion, 1719th Guard AA Artillery Regiment), 16th Artillery Brigade (self-propelled), 57th Guard Heavy Tank Regiment, 90th Mechanic Tank Regiment (engineers), 50th Motorised Infantry Regiment, 39th Motorised Infantry Battalion, 199th Light Artillery Brigade, 1381st and 1394th AA Artillery Regiment, 372th Flying Squadron (VVS).

Tanks, assault guns (StuG) , Volksgrenadier infantry and self-propelled guns (armoured attack units) began the German attack. The tanks and assault guns met little Soviet resistance on the open fields and thus captured Ober-Bilau. However, the forest located northwest of the town saw fierce combat. Forces of the 17th Panzer Division reached the forest in no time. In the afternoon major general Maeder (commander of „Führer” Grenadier Division) had to decide what to do next: advance towards Günthersdorf as planned and face many Soviet tanks and anti-tank guns, or turn eastwards and meet the other German forces attacking from the east and thus meeting them earlier than planned – in that case the „Führer” Grenadier suffers lighter losses but will end up pocketing only smaller Soviet forces. He contacted Schörner and advocated the latter version. Schörner replied that the decision rests with Nehring, as he is the commander of the armoured attack group. A telephone conversation followed. The reply of Nehring basically was: „Attacking Günthersdorf would create a larger pocket, but you advanced deeper than Decker (39th Armoured Corps), so the two of you should decide what to do!” Schörner and Nehring weren’t avoiding responsibility; this was an example of German attack method ("Auftragstaktik"), which dictated that the officers on the battlefield should make decisions when the situation in battle changes expectedly.

The „Führer” Grenadier Division turned eastwards and advanced towards Haugsdorf in order to attack the Soviet forces already battling the 6th Volksgrenadier. The 8th Panzer Division attacked in the same direction towards Linden-Berg. In the evening the 4th Führer Grenadier Regiment and the 2nd Führer Panzer Regiment reached the river Queis and established a bridgehead on the opposite bank – which they were forced to give up due to a Soviet counterattack. However, the guns of 2nd Panzer made any Soviet traffic near Naumburg very hazardous. The town was under attack by Otto Remer’s division. The tanks of the 1st Führer Panzer Regiment and the 1st Führer Panzergrenadier Regiment captured Neuland and met heavy resistance in the forest south of Kesselsdorf. Eventually both the forest and the town was cleansed of Soviets. The 3rd Panzergrenadier Battalion crushed through Soviet defense lines near Neuland and captured Alt-Neuland. German forces regrouped and attacked the forest northwest of the town but Soviet anti-tank guns repelled them. The Germans halted further attacks and formed a defense line. It was already late night.

On 2 March there was a brief snowstorm. Soviet tanks stopped Remer’s attack on Naumburg. Soviet rockets and mortars were pounding Cunzendorf and Neuland. The 1/III. Führer Panzergrenadier Battalion launched a new attack on Nieder-Giessmannsdorf and reached the railway lines between Naumburg and Löwenberg; there the Soviets were already dug in. The 17th Panzer Divison, northeast of Görlitz, was pushing towards Bunzlau. The Soviets lost 70 T-34s near Grund and 10 T-34s near Florsdorf. On 3 March Remer’s forces suffered heavy Soviet air attacks. The whole armoured attack group was under Soviet counterattack from Naumburg. The 2nd battalion of the 1st Führer Panzergrenadier Regiment was temporarily encircled at Kesselsdorf.

Despite the rugged terrain Soviet reinforcements were being sent to the area. It soon became apparent that the recapture of Naumburg is impossible; the German command realised the planned encirclement was only feasible on a smaller scale. In the meantime pioneers of the Führer Grenadier Division were strengthening their bridgehead on the Queis while the tanks of the 2nd Führer Armoured Regiment were keeping the paved road between Lauban and Naumburg under fire. Many Soviet truck columns were destroyed. The 4th Führer Panzergrenadier Regiment captured Saechsisch-Haugsdorf while the 3rd Führer Panzergrenadier Regiment and parts of the 17th Panzer Division were approaching Günthersdorf and captured 48 assault guns of the 9th Motorised Corps west of the town. The two German armoured corps received air support from the Luftwaffe’s 8. Flying Corps despite bad weather. Fearing encirclement, the Soviets began withdrawing their forces from Lauban. Soldiers of the 6th Volksgrenadier soon entered the town. 54 German soldiers were KIA during the recapture. Eyewitnesses reported seeing 24 destroyed T-34s standing side by side at the square. Further 11 tank wrecks were found on the outskirts. A total of 81 Soviet tanks and self-propelled guns were lost on 2 March near Lauban.

On 4 March Remer’s panzers were being withdrawn from the eastern part of the town. To their surprise they met a large number of Soviet tanks in the process east of Giessmannsdorf. The Soviets inflicted heavy casualties and attacked towards Alt-Neuland. Remer’s forces were decimated but managed to hold the town as they got reinforcements and the Soviet attack stopped.

On the same day the Germans pocketed a Soviet force smaller than expected as the Führer Grenadier attacked from the bridgehead at Queis and met with the 8th Panzer Division near Linden-Berg.

On 5 March the Germans only made small progress. The next day the 39th Armoured Corps destroyed 30 Soviet tanks 6 kms northeast from Lauban. The 57th could only recapture smaller areas due to effective Soviet resistance. Large Soviet forces escaped encirclement since Remer’s Escort Division got bogged down in heavy fighting and could not meet with the Führer Grenadier in time. The German counterattack stopped on 6 March and the pocket was pacified by the 8th.

Soviet military historians only gave very short and biased descriptions of the focused counterattack of two German armoured corps on Lauban in March 1945. Marshall Koniev was not much different in his memoirs, although he writes about the „nerve-wrecking” moments of German attack that created a „critical situation”; even Stalin phoned him and asked what’s the problem with the 3rd Guard Tank Army. In fact, the German counterattack was stopped only after the 3rd Guard was strengthened with units of the 52nd Army.

Joseph Goebbels visited Lauban on 9 March. In his diary he wrote that a Soviet tank corps was almost completely destroyed without the Germans suffering only light losses. In Lauban the large scale of destruction was apparent. He also described the determinded, merciless behaviour of both German and Soviet soldiers during the battle – which was the main reason why only 176 Red Army soldiers were taken prisoner during the operation. The Soviets lost 162 tanks, 106 vehicles, 159 assault guns and 74 mortars. The 3rd Guard Tank Army suffered such terrible losses it had to be withdrawn from the frontline in April 1945. Contrary to Goebbels’ claims the Germans lost a considerably large number of soldiers (especially the Führer Escort Division) but only 10 tanks.

The battle strengthened the belief of German officers that an enemy attack in an area only lightly defended by infantry can only be repelled by the rapid deployment of armoured fighting units (tanks, assault guns, mortars, panzergrenadiers, pioneers).

Lauban remained in German hands as the frontline around the town did not change until the end of war. The Soviets learned that underestimating the enemy is a big mistake even if final victory is already in sight."

 

Edited by Aragorn2002
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I don't think you have to worry too much about modders and scenario designers leaving en masse once Cold war comes out.  I believe some of the modders worked on Fire & Rubble so they may have a few mods ready plus I think there since there will be more historical units available you will see more scenarios pop up.   I've been thinking about doing some but need F&R first to see the maps and what scenarios have already been done.

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40 minutes ago, Commanderski said:

I don't think you have to worry too much about modders and scenario designers leaving en masse once Cold war comes out.  I believe some of the modders worked on Fire & Rubble so they may have a few mods ready plus I think there since there will be more historical units available you will see more scenarios pop up.   I've been thinking about doing some but need F&R first to see the maps and what scenarios have already been done.

I hope so. I'm also planning on some scenarios and I also hope gifted people like George MC, Kohlenklau, Mord, Aris, Kevenkin, Earl Grey and others will return or stay around and continue to stay passionate about the Eastern front. 

P.s and all the others who've contributed to CMRT!

Edited by Aragorn2002
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2 hours ago, Dan Dare said:

we will need Juju to update his great UI mod...

+1 to this, was thinking the same - hope @Juju sees this and has time 🙏 but he has not been around for a bit.  Some extra @Mord portraits would be nice too.

For vehicles Aris @Fuser has not been around for even longer, but perhaps others with great talent such as @umlaut might step in?  Some may just transfer in from other titles I suppose.

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36 minutes ago, rocketman said:

I have a few small scale scenario ideas taken from a book on the Audklärungs Batallion from the Nordland Division. Could perhaps use master maps provided, for sure the Berlin ones. 
 

No primises though 😶

Is that about the so-called Swedish platoon of Nordland?

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I live 100km from Lauban 🙂 I have a monograph of this battle, unfortunately in Polish:
https://www.znak.com.pl/ksiazka/luban-1945-ostatnie-zwyciestwo-iii-rzeszy-arkadiusz-wilczynski-32571

Pictures and maps can be seen here:

https://fotopolska.eu/dolnoslaskie/b9655,1945_-_walki_o_Luban_Lauban.html

http://www.lubanski.eu/bitwa-o-luban-zwyciestwo-czy-porazka-2/

The texts are in Polish but Google Translator works fine 😉

And movie about Wilhelm Hubner

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lwS2dDka3w

Edited by Suchy
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10 hours ago, Aragorn2002 said:

 I also fear it will draw modders and scenario makers away, who now will turn their attention to CM Cold war, instead of CMRT/CMFR. 

Fear not, my friend.  We can do it all.  :)

A mini-campaign.  

A Mod:

https://www.thefewgoodmen.com/cm-mod-warehouse/combat-mission-battle-for-normandy/cmbn-infantry/mos-remove-some-german-helmets-mod-for-cm-ww2-titles/

ZSFx83Uh.jpg

Edited by MOS:96B2P
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40 minutes ago, MOS:96B2P said:

Yes a very nice mod when I know the owner I will ask to some modification to using for the us ans allied troops  !

Edited by 3j2m7
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6 hours ago, Aragorn2002 said:

I hope so. I'm also planning on some scenarios and I also hope gifted people like George MC, Kohlenklau, Mord, Aris, Kevenkin, Earl Grey and others will return or stay around and continue to stay passionate about the Eastern front. 

P.s and all the others who've contributed to CMRT!

If there weren't so many mods to make all the time... But there still are those "GD" mods in the works I started all those years ago, do not worry! 😉

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2 hours ago, Aragorn2002 said:

Is that about the so-called Swedish platoon of Nordland?

Yes, it was the formation with the most Swedish volunteers in the Axis (German, not sure about Finnish) side. I figured I would make scenario(s) in which I can punish them in a digital form for volunteering.

Edited by rocketman
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1 hour ago, Earl Grey said:

If there weren't so many mods to make all the time... But there still are those "GD" mods in the works I started all those years ago, do not worry! 😉

Kamerad! Good to see you're still around at this forum! 😃

Edited by Aragorn2002
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6 hours ago, rocketman said:

the formation with the most Swedish volunteers in the Axis (German, not sure about Finnish) side. I figured I would make scenario(s) in which I can punish them in a digital form for volunteering.

Some people seem to think that all of those who joined the Waffen-SS were nazis or people sympathising with them.

Many of those who fought in the Waffen-SS were just young men who didn't have much to do at home and had listened to the words about the Red Threat. As they wanted to stop that threat, and maybe have some adventures too, they joined up. Some of them were soldiers who wanted the chance to do some fighting and with the experience from how Finland had been attacked by Soviet Union they felt that the Red threat was greater than the Grey one.

Most of the Estonians, or maybe most of the Baltic men in the Waffen-SS, hoped to stop the Soviets from being able to control their country again. And as they weren't allowed to have their own army they signed up for the Waffen-SS. That did of course mean that they weren't only a defensive armed force but were sent away to fight in the Soviet Union.

But there were of course also those who were sympathising with the Nazis and wanted to help in spreading the Nazi sphere of control.

While you're at it you could also make a mod about the Brits who joined the Waffen-SS and in that way joined the side they were supposed to fight.

Edited by BornGinger
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11 hours ago, BornGinger said:

Most of the Estonians, or maybe most of the Baltic men in the Waffen-SS, hoped to stop the Soviets from being able to control their country again. And as they weren't allowed to have their own army they signed up for the Waffen-SS. That did of course mean that they weren't only a defensive armed force but were sent away to fight in the Soviet Union.

Yes, my mother's brother ended up in this situation (and was KIA on the Russian Front. During the 20's and 30's Stalin's policies ended up killing about 10 million from East Europe and Ukraine and deported many more.  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_deportations_from_Estonia

IIRC non-Germans could not join the Wehrmacht, but they could join the SS - hence the weird ethnic groups found in the SS like the Muslim units.

https://www.dw.com/en/how-nazis-courted-the-islamic-world-during-wwii/a-41358387

 

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12 hours ago, BornGinger said:

While you're at it you could also make a mod about the Brits who joined the Waffen-SS and in that way joined the side they were supposed to fight.

Might not be so exciting, as there were supposedly no more than 27 of them at any one time and possibly only 54 in total (according to Wikipedia, so it must be true).  Don't think they actually did much either, but presumably they had reasonable propaganda value.

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3 hours ago, Erwin said:

Yes, my mother's brother ended up in this situation and was KIA on the Russian Front.

In 1944 the German authorities called up those Estonians borned 1920 to 1922, if I'm correct, to get prepared to join the Police Battalions, Border Guard Regiments, which served under the Special Purpose Battalion 300 (z.b.V 300), or the Waffen-SS.

As my dad had the correct age but didn't want to serve the Germans, he did what other Estonians had done before him and crossed the Finnish Bay to fight the Soviets in the Infantry Regiment 200 with the other so called Soomepoissid.

Quote

Don't think they [Brits in the Waffen-SS] actually did much either, but presumably they had reasonable propaganda value.

I have been searching personal reports from Scandinavian Waffen-SS volunteers to get a glimpse of their motivations to join up and also to read about their experiences from the training and fighting on the front.

In one of those from a Swedish volunteer is mentioned a soldier with the union jack on his sleeve he noticed in a trench in Ukraine, if I remember correctly. This surprised him very much as he was convinced no Britt would fight for the Germans.

Edited by BornGinger
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