By Pat McTaggart It was the third winter in Russia for the men of Field Marshal Erich von Manstein’s Army Group South, and things were going from bad to worse. Since the gigantic battle at Kursk in July 1943, von Manstein’s battered divisions had been steadily pushed to the west. In a massive counteroffensive after the battle, Soviet forces drove the Germans to the Dniepr River in the Ukraine with a series of shattering blows. Pausing to regroup after reaching the eastern bank of the river, the commanders of four Red Army fronts waited anxiously to continue the offensive while streams of supplies and replacements filled their depleted ranks. In Moscow, Stalin and his high command (STAVKA) were planning a drive that would not only liberate the Ukraine, but reclaim the Crimea as well. Even von Manstein would have approved the audacity of the operation. Spearheaded by armored divisions and motorized infantry, the Soviets planned a staggered attack by the four fronts, which would keep the Germans guessing as to where the main attack was taking place. After the German line was breached, regular infantry would surge through the gaps and hit any enemy units left in the main line from the rear. Taking a page from German armored doctrine, the Red Army tank units would keep going without worrying about their flanks until the Crimea was isolated. The following infantry and motorized units were to consolidate their gains, possibly encircling the three armies of Army Group South (1


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