Seeing the threat of a breakthrough, the Germans decided to deliver a powerful counterattack with General W. Nehring's 24th Tank Corps on January 13th. Success would allow them to encircle a portion of the Soviet forces and bog down D. Lelyushenko's 4th Guards Tank Army in drawn-out battles. Documents of the 4th GTA called it the Battle of Kielce-Chmielnik. The engagement at the small Polish village of Lisow marked the beginning of the end of this battle.
Nehring's corps was not just a weighty tank fist with 250 tanks and SPGs. His fist had brass knuckles: the 424th Heavy Tank Battalion, including 29 Tigers and 23 King Tigers. The corps commander planned two converging strikes: from Chmielnik from the south and Kielce from the north. On paper, Lelyushenko had a triple advantage, but his 750 tanks and SPGs were spread out across the front of the offensive, so Soviet tankers had it tough.
The Germans did not manage to coordinate the offensive to hit with all forces at once. Nevertheless, Lelyushenko's army engaged German tank reserves across the entire front on January 13th. The fiercest fighting was done by the 10th Guards Tank Corps. German infantry and tanks attacked it from three sides: south, north, and center. The corps commander, Colonel N. Chuprov, had to apply all his skills to not only defeat the enemy, but continue his offensive.
The 10th Corps was the one to fight Nehring's tanks at Lisow. The battle here was not only the most difficult, but the most successful. Everything began with a Soviet advance guard running into a German attack near Maleszowa. Knocking out 10 German tanks at the cost of 7 of their own, our tankers took the village and defeated the German forces that were present in it. The enemies around the village were left behind, and the tanks continued to advance to Kielce. The 61st Guards Tank Brigade that followed them met fierce enemy resistance.
The brigade commander, Guards Colonel N. Zhukov left 20 tanks at Maleszowa as cover and moved out with the rest of the tanks westward. In the morning, brigade scouts captured an informant who revealed that 60 German tanks were making their way to the village. With this information, Zhukov decided to turn his tanks to the north-west and take Lisow. 40 T-34-85s with tank riders rushed towards the settlement.
Tigers in the Mud
At about 9:00 on January 13th, Soviet tanks reached Lisow. Their arrival was an unpleasant surprise for the Germans. Without offering any resistance, the enemy began to flee. The tank belonging to platoon commander Guards Lieutenant M. Pobedinskiy was the first to enter the village. His tank riders opened fire at the fleeing Germans straight from the tank. Soon, Lisow was captured. Tankers of the 61st brigade won many trophies: abandoned cars and warehouses with munitions. In addition, two anti-tank guns and 40 Germans were captured, among which was the commander of the artillery regiment of the 168th Infantry Division.
Despite success in Lisow, the 61st brigade could not continue its advance. Just the opposite: they were forced to spend the whole day in the village defending. Here, Zhukov's troops carried out the most difficult task of the day, deflecting a total of 12 attacks of German heavy tanks with infantry support. The Germans attacked Lisow from three directions. 27 Tigers and 23 King Tigers attacked from the south and west, while 13 Panthers from the 16th Tank Division attacked from the north.
The Soviets held the village for less than an hour before the first attack began. The Germans sent in up to battalion of infantry (400-500 men) with 20 Tigers. However, not all tanks made it to the attack. One collapsed a bridge on approach to the village, and then a few more became bogged down trying to get around. The remaining Tigers continued moving, aiming to reach the south outskirts of Lisow.
Soviet tanks hid behind houses and waited for the enemy to draw closer. At 150 meters to the Tigers, the T-34s opened their deadly fire, immediately knocking out 4 German tanks, followed by a few more. Tanks that could still move were forced to stop their offensive and retreat. During the retreat, Tiger #332 attempted to tow one of its comrades that was stuck south of the village, but also broke down, and had to be blown up. As for the other bogged down tanks, some had to be abandoned or blown up due to being impossible to retrieve.
Slaughter at Lisow
After one failure, the Germans caught their breath and decided to redouble their efforts. This time, 30 Tigers attacked, half of them King Tigers. The enemy attack was supported by 10-barrel rocket launchers. Even this time, the Soviet tankers held, although with losses.
In the second half of the day, Lisow was attacked by 13 Panthers coming from the north with a battalion of infantry. The battle grew fiercer by the minute, German tanks and soldiers clawed their way into Lisow from every direction. They were met with fire from Soviet cannons and submachineguns. The enemy rolled back and attacked again, and so on until nightfall.
Despite the German numerical advantage at Lisow, they were unable to achieve victory. T-34-85s constantly maneuvered in between houses and kept on their fire, often at close range. Senior Lieutenant M. Verteletskiy's tank company performed exceptionally well. His 10 T-34s maneuvered behind buildings and terrain, destroying six Tigers and King Tigers with negligible losses. Verteletskiy himself was wounded during a German attack, but did not leave the battlefield until the end, earning an Order of the Red Banner.
While fighting King Tigers at Lisow, Soviet tankers confused them for Panthers due to a similar silhouette. Of course, knocking out a King Tiger is harder. On the south outskirts of the village, both tracks had to be knocked off one of them to stop it completely. Nevertheless, the German crew commanded by Lieutenant Oberbracht continued to fight and even knocked out several T-34s. The crew was forced to leave, and their tank joined the list of German losses.
During one particularly fierce attack, Colonel N. Zhukov died in the fighting. There was no other choice: every tank at Lisow was precious, and the brigade commander could not avoid using his own. A shell that hit his T-34 detonated its ammunition. Some time later, Guards Lieutenant-Colonel V. Zaitsev took command of the 61st brigade. The commander of the German 424nd Heavy Tank Battalion, Major Saemisch also met his end in Lisow during one of the attacks.
The Germans continued their attacks until about 8:00 pm on January 13th, leaving 7 Tigers, 5 King Tigers, and 5 Panthers around the village. Several more damaged tanks were evacuated. The 61st Guards Tank Brigade lost 4 tanks permanently and 19 disabled. Many of those tanks were back in action by the morning of January 14th.
The German failure at Lisow had many consequences. The enemy could not stop or bog down the 4th GTA. Colonel Chuporov's 10th Corps pulled up its forces and continued the attack. The German 17th Tank Divison was defeated by the corps and P. Rybalko's 3rd Guards Tank Army on January 13th and 14th near Chmielnik. Nothing was left of the 424th Heavy Tank Battalion but the name. Two days after Lisow, its Tigers ran out, and any odd vehicles were collected from repair bases to replace them.
Soon, the German defenses in front of the Sandomierz foothold collapsed, and Marshall Konev's forces began pursuing their fleeing enemy.
Original article available here.
In one of my favourite examples of why German kill claims have very little in common with reality, the Germans claimed to have destroyed 50-60 IS tanks in this battle instead of the actual 23 T-34s (or only 4, if you want to go by German loss standards).