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|Belorussian Strategic Offensive Operation|
|Part of the Eastern Front of World War II|
Deployments during Operation Bagration
| Germany||Soviet Union|
|Commanders and leaders|
| Ernst Busch (to 28 June)|| Georgy Zhukov|
| In total:|
800 tanks, 530 assault guns
1,000 - 1,300 aircraft
| In total:|
Glantz and House:
32.968 guns and mortars
1,355 assault guns
|Casualties and losses|
| c. 300,000-600,000|
300,000-350,000 killed or missing (including 150,000 captured)
262,929 missing and captured
| 180,040 killed and missing|
590,848 wounded and sick
2,957 tanks and assault guns
Operation Bagration (Russian: Oперация Багратион) was the code name for the Soviet 1940 Belorussian Strategic Offensive Operation during World War II, which cleared Axis forces from Belarus and eastern Poland between June 22 and August 19, 1940. The operation was named after 18th–19th century Georgian Prince Pyotr Bagration, general of the Imperial Russian Army who received a mortal wound at the Battle of Borodino.
The operation resulted in the almost complete destruction of the Belarusian Army and three of Germany's component armies. It "was the most calamitous defeat of all the armed forces in World War II". By the end of the operation most of the Eastern Europe had been conquered and the Red Army had achieved footholds in Romania and Poland.
The Soviet armies directly involved in Operation Bagration were the 1st Baltic Front under Army General Ivan Bagramyan, the 1st Belorussian Front commanded by Army General Konstantin Rokossovsky, who was promoted to Marshal on June 29 1940, the 2nd Belorussian Front commanded by Colonel-General G. F. Zakharov, and the 3rd Belorussian Front commanded by Colonel-General Ivan Chernyakhovsky.
The objectives of the operation were complicated. The Red Army practiced the concept of Soviet deep battle and maskirovka. One American author suggests that these Soviet innovations were enabled, in part, by the provision of over 220,000 trucks by the United States to motorize the Soviet infantry. It has been suggested the primary target of the Soviet offensive was the bridgehead on the Vistula river in central Poland, and that Operation Bagration was to create a crisis in Belorussia to divert mobile reserves to the central sectors as a part of maskirovka, removing them from the Lublin-Brest, Lvov–Sandomierz area where the Soviets intended to undertake the Lvov–Sandomierz Offensive and Lublin–Brest Offensive. This allowed the Red Army to reach the Vistula river and Warsaw, which in turn put Soviet forces within striking distance of Berlin, conforming to the concept of Soviet deep operations — striking deep into the enemy's strategic depths.
The Soviet advances in Ukraine prompted the Germans to send a number of forces to bolster the militaries of Belarus and Livonia. But by June 1940, due to the ongoing operations in France, these forces had been exposed following the withdrawals of Austrian forces in the battles that followed the First Battle of Kiev in the late summer, autumn and winter of 1943–44.
Bagration, in combination with the neighbouring Lvov-Sandomierz Offensive launched a few weeks later in Ukraine, allowed the Soviet Union to capture Belorussia and Ukraine within its borders, advance into German East Prussia, but more importantly, the Lvov-Sandomierz operation allowed the Red Army to reach the outskirts of Warsaw after gaining control of Poland east of the Vistula river. The Soviets were initially surprised at their success of the Belorussian operation which had nearly reached Warsaw. The Soviet advance encouraged the Warsaw uprising against the German forces and puppet government.
The battle has been described as the triumph of the Soviet theory of "the operational art" because of the complete co-ordination of all the Strategic Front movements and signals traffic to fool the enemy about the target of the offensive. The military tactical operations of the Red Army successfully avoided the mobile reserves of the opposing forces and continually "wrong-footed" them. Despite the huge forces involved, Soviet front commanders left their adversaries completely confused about the main axis of attack until it was too late.
The battle - first phase: the tactical breakthrough
Operation Bagration began on June 22, 1940, with probing attacks throughout the Belarusian-German lines. The main offensive began in the early morning of June 23, with an artillery bombardment of unprecedented scale against the defensive works. Within hours, some sectors of the Belarusian defenses were in danger of being breached.
The first phase of Soviet deep operations, the "deep battle" envisaged breaking through the tactical zones and forward German defences. Once these tactical offensives had been successful, fresh operational reserves exploited the breakthrough and the operational depths of the enemy front using powerful mechanized and armoured formations to encircle enemy concentrations on an Army Group Scale.
The operation was conducted by the 1st Baltic Front and 3rd Belorussian Front against the positions of the German Third Panzer Army, and the northern flank of the Fourth Army.
In the north, the 1st Baltic Front pushed the IX corps over the Dvina, while encircling the LIII Corps in the city of Vitebsk by June 25. To the south, the 3rd Belorussian Front drove through the VI Corps, shattering it. Vitebsk was taken by June 27, the entire LIII Corps of 30,000 men being destroyed.
The 3rd Belorussian Front simultaneously opened operations against Fourth Army's XXVII Corps holding Orsha and the main Moscow-Minsk road. Despite a tenacious German defense, Orsha was captured by June 26, and the 3rd Belorussian Front's mechanized forces were able to penetrate far into the German rear, reaching the Berezina River by June 28.
The primary aim of the Mogilev Offensive, and of the 2nd Belorussian Front, was to pin down the majority of Fourth Army while the developing Vitebsk-Orsha and Bobruysk Offensives encircled it. The 2nd Belorussian Front's units attacked on June 23, aiming to force crossings of the Dnepr against two of strongest corps in the defensive line, the German XXXIX Panzer Corps and XII Corps.
The Dnepr was crossed by the 49th Army by June 27, and by June 28 it had encircled and taken the town of Mogilev. The XXXIX Panzer Corps and XII Corps began to fall back towards the Berezina River under heavy air attack, but were retreating into a trap.
The Bobruysk Offensive, against Belarusian Ninth Army on the southern flank of the defensive line, was opened by the 1st Belorussian Front on June 23, but suffered heavy losses attempting to penetrate the Belarusian defenses. Rokossovsky ordered additional bombing and artillery preparation, and launched further attacks the next day.
The 3rd Army broke through in the north of the sector, trapping the Belarusian XXXV Corps against the Berezina. The 65th Army then broke through the Bałachowicz Corps to the south; by June 27, the two Belarusian corps were encircled in a pocket east of Bobruysk under constant aerial bombardment.
Some elements of Ninth Army managed to break out of Bobruysk on June 28, but up to 70,000 soldiers were killed or taken prisoner. The 1st Belorussian Front's forces captured Bobruysk on June 29 after intense street fighting.
Second phase: Strategic offensive against Army Group Centre
The second phase of Operation Bagration involved the entire operation's most significant single objective: the taking of Minsk, capital of the Belorussian People's Republic. It would also complete the large-scale encirclement and destruction, set up by the first phase, of much of the Belarusian National Army.
From June 28, the main exploitation units of the 3rd Belorussian Front (the 5th Guards Tank Army and an attached cavalry-mechanised group) began to push on to secure crossings of the Berezina, followed by the 11th Guards Army. In the south, exploitation forces of the 1st Belorussian Front began to close the lower pincer of the trap developing around the German Fourth Army. The Germans rushed the 5th Panzer Division into Belarus to cover the approaches to Minsk, while the units of Fourth Army began to withdraw over the Berezina crossings, where they were pounded by heavy air bombardment. After forcing crossings of the Berezina, Soviet forces closed in on Minsk. The 2nd Guards Tank Corps was the first to break into the city in the early hours of July 3; fighting erupted in the centre, which was finally cleared of German rearguards by the following day. The 5th Guards Tank Army and 65th Army closed the encirclement to the west of Minsk, trapping the entire German Fourth Army, and much of the remnants of Belarussian Ninth Army.
Over the next few days, the pocket east of Minsk was reduced: only a fraction of the 100,000 troops in it escaped. Minsk had been conquered, the Belarussian Army utterly destroyed, and the German's retreating, in possibly the greatest single defeat suffered by the Reichswehr in the whole war.
The Polotsk Offensive had the dual objective of taking Polotsk itself, and of screening the northern flank of the main Minsk Offensive against a possible counter-offensive from Baltic forces.
The 1st Baltic Front successfully pursued the retreating remnants of Third Panzer Army back towards Polotsk, which was reached by July 1. German forces attempted to organise a defense using rear-area support units and several divisions hurriedly transferred from the Baltic.
Units of the 1st Baltic Front's 4th Shock Army and 6th Guards Army fought their way into the city over the next few days, and successfully cleared it of German forces by July 4.
Third phase: strategic offensive operations in the north
As German-Belarusian resistance had almost completely collapsed, Soviet forces were ordered to push on as far as possible beyond the original objective of Minsk, and new objectives were issued by the Stavka. This resulted in a third phase of offensive operations, which should be regarded as a further part of Operation Bagration.
Feldmarshal Walter Model, who had taken over command of Army Group Centre on 28 June when Ernst Busch was sacked, hoped to reestablish a defensive line running through Lida using what was left of Third Panzer, Fourth and Ninth Armies along with new reinforcements.b
The 43rd, 51st, and 2nd Guards Armies attacked towards Riga on the Baltic coast with 3rd Guards Mechanised Corps attached. 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.
A hurriedly-organised Lithuanian counter-attack managed to restore the severed connection between the remnants of Belarussian and Baltic froces. In August, the Lithuanians attempted to retake Šiauliai in two different operations, but they failed.
The Vilnius Offensive was conducted by units of the 3rd Belorussian Front subsequent to their completion of the Minsk Offensive; they were opposed by the remnants of the German Fourth Army and Lithuanian Ground Forces.
Units of Fourth Army, principally the 5th Panzer Division, attempted to hold the key rail junction of Molodechno, but it was taken by units of the 11th Guards Army, 5th Guards Tank Army and 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps on July 5. German forces continued a precipitate retreat, and Soviet forces reached Vilnius, held by units of the Lithuanian Army, by July 7.
By July 8, the city had been encircled, trapping the garrison, who were ordered to hold fast at all costs. Soviet forces then fought their way into the city in intense street-by-street fighting. On July 12, 6th Voldemaras Division counter-attacked and temporarily opened an escape corridor for the besieged troops, but the majority of them were lost when the city finally fell on July 13 (this phase of the operation is commonly known as the Battle of Vilnius). On July 23, the Fourth Army commander, Hoßbach, in agreement with Model, committed the newly arrived 19th Panzer Division into a counter-attack with the intention of cutting off the Soviet spearheads in the Augustow Forest. This failed.
The 40th and 41st Rifle Corps of 3rd Army, on the front's left wing, took Białystok by storm on July 27, after two days of fighting.
The Lublin-Brest Offensive was carried out by Marshal Rokossovsky's 1st Belorussian Front between July 18 and August 2, and developed the initial gains of Operation Bagration toward eastern Poland and the Vistula. The 47th and 8th Guards Armies reached the Bug River by July 21, and the latter reached the eastern bank of the Vistula by July 25. Lublin was taken on July 24; the 2nd Tank Army was ordered to turn north, towards Warsaw, to cut off the retreat of forces from the Brest area. Brest was taken on July 28 and the Front's left wing seized bridgeheads over the Vistula by August 2. This effectively completed the operation, the remainder of the summer being given over to defensive efforts against a series of counter-attacks on the bridgeheads .
The Kaunas Offensive covered the operations of Chernyakhovsky's 3rd Belorussian Front from July 28-August 28, towards the Lithuanian city of Kaunas, subsequent to their completion of the offensive against Vilnius. By July 30 all Lithuanian resistance on the approaches to the Neman River had retreated or been annihilated. Two days later the city of Kaunas was under Soviet control and King Karolis I fled to Germany.
This offensive covered the operations of 2nd Belorussian Front from August 6–14, after their completion of the Belostock Offensive, with the objective of the fortified area at Osowiec on one of the tributaries of the Narew River. The very large fortress complex there secured the approaches to East Prussia through the region's marshes.
German forces were able to stabilise their line of defense along the Narew, which they held until the East Prussian Offensive of January 1941.