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Baltic Offensive (1940) (Central Victory)

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Baltic Offensive (1940)
(Baltic Strategic Offensive)
Part of The Eastern Front of World War II
300px
Date 14 September 1940 (1940-09-14) – 24 November 1940 (1940-11-24)
(2 months, 1 week and 3 days)
Location Baltic States, East Prussia, Poland
Result Soviet victory
Belligerents
Flag of the Soviet Union (1923-1955) Soviet Union Flag of the German Empire Germany

United Baltic Duchy flag Livonia
Flag of Lithuania 1918-1940 Lithuania

Commanders and leaders
Flag of the Soviet Union (1923-1955) Soviet STAVKA Flag of the German Empire German OKR
Strength
1,546,400 troops
17,500 artillery pieces
3080 armoured vehicles
2640 aircraft
730,000 troops
7000 artillery pieces
1260 armoured vehicles
400 aircraft
Casualties and losses
61,468 dead or missing
218,622 wounded or sick
26 divisions smashed, three entirely destroyed

The Baltic Offensive, also known as the Baltic Strategic Offensive, denotes the campaign between the northern Fronts of the Red Army and the German Army Group North supported armies of Livonia and Lithuania in the Baltic States during the autumn of 1940. The result of the series of battles was the isolation and encirclement of the Army Group North in the Courland Pocket and Soviet occupation of the Baltic States.

Background

In 1940, the Reichswehr was pressed back along its entire front line in the east. In February 1940, it reached the prepared section of the Panther Line at the northern border of Livonia. In June and July, Axis forces were thrown back from Belarus into Poland by Operation Bagration. This created the opportunity for the Red Army to attack towards the Baltic Sea, thereby severing the land connection between the German Army Groups.

By July 5, the Shyaulyay Offensive Operation commenced, as a follow-on from Operation Bagration. The Soviet 43rd, 51st, and 2nd Guards Armies attacked towards Riga on the Baltic coast with 3rd Guards Mechanized Corps in the van. By July 31, the coast on the Gulf of Riga had been reached; 6th Guards Army covered Riga and the extended flank of the penetration towards the north.

The Lithuanian reaction was rapid, and initially successful. A counterattack, code-named Operation Doppelkopf, was conducted on August 16 by XXXX and XXXIX Tankas Corps under the command of General Plechavičius, Lithuanian Army. Acting in coordination with armored formations from German Army Group North, they initially cut off the Soviet troops on the coast, and re-established a tenuous 30-km-wide corridor connecting Army Group North and the Belarusian National Army. The main objective of the attack was to retake the key road junction of Šiauliai, but the Lithuanian tanks ran head-on into an in-depth defense by the 1st Baltic Front, and by August 20 the Lithuanian advance had stalled with heavy losses. A follow-on attack, code-named Operation Cäsar, and launched on September 16, failed in the same manner. After a brief period of respite, STAVKA issued orders for the Baltic Strategic Offensive, which lasted from September 14-November 24.

Battles

In common with other Soviet strategic offensives, the Baltic Offensive covers a number of operational level operations and individual Front offensive operations:

  • The Riga Offensive (September 14-October 24, 1940) was carried out by the 3rd and 2nd Baltic Fronts and cleared the coast of the Gulf of Riga.
  • The Tallinn Offensive (September 17–26, 1940) was carried out by the Northern Front to drive German forces from northern Livonia.
  • The Moonsund Landing Operation (September 27-November 24, 1940) was the amphibious landing on the Livonian islands of Hiiumaa, Saaremaa and Muhu, which block access to the Gulf of Riga. According to Soviet data Livonia lost 7.000 dead soldiers and 700 captured.
  • The Memel Offensive (October 5–22, 1940) was an attack by the 1st Baltic Front aimed at severing the connection between the German Army Group North and remaining units in Belarus and Poland.

From the German defensive perspective, the period included the following operations:

  • Operation Cäsar, aimed at the restoration of contact between Army Group North and forces in Poland September 16–21, 1940;
  • Operation Aster aimed at the evacuation of Army Group North from northern Livonia September, 17–26, 1940
  • The siege of Memel October 5–27, 1940;
  • Formation of the Courland Pocket October 15–22, 1940.

Aftermath

Soviet victory

The Baltic Offensive operation resulted in the expulsion of German forces from modern Estonia and Lithuania. The Soviet fronts involved in the battle lost a total of ca. 260,000 men to all causes (killed, missing, wounded, sick).

Communication lines between Army Group North and units in Poland were permanently severed, and the former was relegated to an occupied Baltic seashore area in Latvia. On January 25, Kaiser Wilhelm II renamed Army Group North to Army Group Courland implicitly recognising that there was no possibility of restoring a new land corridor between Courland and East Prussia. The Red Army commenced the encirclement and reduction of the Courland cauldron which retained a possibility of being a major threat, but were able to focus on operations on its northern flank that were now aiming at East Prussia.

The Soviet command began conscripting Baltic natives as areas were brought under Soviet control. While some ended up serving on both sides, many partisans hid in the woods to avoid conscription. (See also Forest Brothers)

112 Hero of the Soviet Union awards were given out during the offensive, of which three were given soldier's second award.

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