Operation Bagration

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Belorussian Offensive
Part of the Eastern Front of World War II
300px
German prisoners from Fourth Army are marched through the streets of Moscow
Date June 22, 1944August 19, 1944
Location Belorussian SSR, USSR
Result Decisive Soviet victory
Combatants
Flag of Germany 1933.svg
Nazi Germany
Flag of the Soviet Union 1923.svg
Soviet Union
Commanders
Flag of Germany 1933.svg Ernst Busch (to 28 June)
Flag of Germany 1933.svg Walter Model (Army Group Centre)
Hans Jordan (Ninth Army)
Georg-Hans Reinhardt (Third Panzer Army)
Kurt von Tippelskirch (Fourth Army)
Walter Weiss (Second Army)
Flag of the Soviet Union 1923.svg Aleksandr Vasilevsky
Flag of the Soviet Union 1923.svg Georgy Zhukov
Hovhannes Bagramyan (1st Baltic Front)
Ivan Chernyakhovsky (1st Belorussian Front)
Konstantin Rokossovsky (3rd Belorussian Front)
Georgiy Zakharov (2nd Belorussian Front)
Strength
800,000 2,300,000
Casualties
300,000-400,000 killed, wounded and taken prisoner 60,000 KIA/MIA, 110,000 WIA/sick
Eastern Front
BarbarossaFinlandLeningrad and BalticsCrimea and CaucasusMoscow1st Rzhev-Vyazma2nd KharkovStalingradVelikiye Luki2nd Rzhev-SychevkaKursk2nd SmolenskDnieper2nd KievKorsunHube's PocketBelorussiaLvov-SandomierzBalkansHungaryVistula-OderKönigsbergBerlinPrague

Operation Bagration (Oперация Багратион, Operatsiya Bagration) was the codename for the Soviet Belorussian Offensive[1] during World War II, which cleared German forces from the Belorussian SSR and eastern Poland between 22 June, 1944 and 19 August, 1944.

This action resulted in the almost complete destruction of the German Army Group Centre and three of its component armies: Fourth Army, Third Panzer Army and Ninth Army. The Soviet armies directly involved in Operation Bagration were the 1st Baltic Front under Hovhannes Bagramyan, the 1st Belorussian Front commanded by Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky, the 2nd Belorussian Front commanded by Colonel-General G.F. Zakharov, and the 3rd Belorussian Front commanded by Colonel-General Ivan Chernyakhovsky. This battle was possibly the single greatest defeat for the German Army (Wehrmacht Heer) during the war.

The operation was named after 18th–19th century Georgian Prince Pyotr Bagration, general of the Russian army who received a mortal wound at the Battle of Borodino.

Background[edit]

Army Group Centre had previously proved a tough nut to crack as the Soviet defeat in Operation Mars had shown. But by June 1944, despite shortening its front line, it had been exposed following the crushing of Army Group South in the battles that followed the Battle of Kursk, the Liberation of Kiev and the Liberation of the Crimea in the late summer, autumn and winter of 1943–44 — the so-called third period of the Great Patriotic War. Operation Suvorov had seen Army Group Centre itself forced to retreat westwards from Smolensk during the autumn of 1943.

By the middle of June 1944 the distance that the Western Allies from the Cotentin Peninsula and the Soviets from the Vitebsk Gate to Berlin was just over 650 miles for the former and just under 750 for the latter, so for the Third Reich the strategic threats were about the same.[2] Hitler underestimated the threat posed by Soviet troops facing Army Group Centre and had redeployed one third of Army Group Centre's artillery, half their tank destroyers and 88% of their tanks to the Southern front where the German high command expected the next major Soviet offensive.[2]

Bagration, in combination with the neighbouring Lvov-Sandomierz Operation launched a few weeks later in Ukraine, allowed the Soviet Union to recapture practically all the territories within its 1941 borders, advance into German East Prussia, and reach the outskirts of Warsaw after gaining control of Poland east of the Vistula river.

The battle has been described as the triumph of the Soviet theory of "the operational art"—because of the complete co-ordination of all front movements and signals traffic to fool the enemy about the target of the offensive. Despite the huge forces involved, Soviet front commanders left their opposite numbers completely confused about the main axis of attack until too late.

Prelude to the battle[edit]

The Maskirovka campaign[edit]

The Oberkommando des Heeres expected the Soviets to launch a major Eastern Front offensive in the summer of 1944. The scenarios examined included attacks towards the Baltic against Army Group North, an offensive against Army Group Centre through the Belorussian SSR towards Warsaw, and an attack on Army Group North Ukraine towards the Carpathians. It was decided that the first two possibilities were unlikely, since there was easily defensible terrain in these sectors.

Stavka had in fact decided on an offensive against Army Group Centre: a pincer movement which would punch through German lines and close on Minsk, liberating large swathes of territory and trapping much of Army Group Centre in a huge encirclement reminiscent of those achieved by German forces at the start of Operation Barbarossa, three years earlier. In order to maximise the chances of success, a major campaign of deception — maskirovka — was undertaken to convince the German High Command that the summer offensive would, in fact, be in the south against Army Group North Ukraine. False concentrations of forces were created, and German reconnaissance flights selectively allowed into Soviet airspace to photograph them; radio silence was imposed to frustrate the intelligence efforts of Fremde Heere Ost.

Though at corps level, several German commanders noted concerns about increased Soviet activity opposite Army Group Centre, German forces were transferred southwards to Army Group North Ukraine throughout the summer, in order to meet an attack there. This left Army Group Centre dangerously weakened, as Stavka had intended.

Operations Rail War and Concert[edit]

The first phase of Operation Bagration involved the many partisan formations in the Belorussian SSR, which were instructed to restart their campaigns of targeting railways and communications behind German lines. From 19 June, large numbers of explosive charges were placed on rail tracks, and though many were cleared, they had a significant disruptive effect. The partisans would also be used to mop up encircled German forces once the breakthrough and exploitation phases of the operation were completed.

File:BagrationMap2.jpg
Deployments during Operation Bagration. The encirclements of Fourth Army east of Minsk and Ninth Army near Bobruisk are clearly shown, as is the encirclement of the LIII Corps of Third Panzer Army in Vitebsk.

At the commencement of the offensive, the Soviets had committed approximately 1,700,000 combat and support troops, approximately 24,000 artillery pieces and mortars, 4,080 tanks and assault guns and 6,334 aircraft. German strength at the outset was approximately 800,000 combat and support troops, 9,500 artillery pieces, but only 553 tanks and assault guns and 839 aircraft. In particular, Army Group Centre was seriously short of mobile reserves: the demotorized 14th Infantry Division was the only substantial reserve formation available, though the 20th Panzer Division was positioned in the south near Bobruisk and the understrength Panzergrenadier-Division Feldherrnhalle was also held in reserve. The relatively static lines in Belorussia had, however, enabled the Germans to construct extensive field fortifications, with multiple trench lines to a depth of several kilometres and heavily mined defensive belts.

First phase[edit]

Operation Bagration began on 22 June 1944, with probing attacks throughout the German lines. The main offensive began in the early morning of 23 June, with an artillery bombardment of unprecedented scale against the defensive works. Within hours, some sectors of the German defences were in danger of being breached.

Northern sector — Vitebsk[edit]

File:Vasilevsky Belorussian operation.jpg
Aleksandr Vasilevsky coordinating the offensives of the 1st Baltic and 3rd Belorussian Fronts.

Army Group Centre's northern flank was defended by the Third Panzer Army under the command of Georg-Hans Reinhardt; the lines ran through marshy terrain in the north, through a salient round the city of Vitebsk, to a sector north of the main MoscowMinsk road, held by the Fourth Army. It was opposed by the 1st Baltic Front of Hovhannes Bagramyan, and Chernyakhovsky's 3rd Belorussian Front, who were given the task of breaking through the defences to the north and south of Vitebsk and cutting off the salient.

It was in this sector that Soviet forces had their greatest initial gains. The Soviet 43rd Army broke the defences of the German IX Corps, to the north of Vitebsk, within hours, pushing towards the Dvina river. South of the city, the VI Corps' 299th and 197th Infantry Divisions simply disappeared beneath an overwhelming Soviet assault, with a particularly effective breakthrough by the 5th Army at the junction of the 299th and 256th Infantry Divisions' sectors.[3] By June 24, the German position in Vitebsk itself, held by the central LIII Corps of four divisions, was already serious, as Soviet forces were clearly intending to encircle the city, but no reserves were available to shore up the collapsing defences, and requests to withdraw German troops to the second defense lines, the 'Tiger' line, were denied by the Oberkommando des Heeres.

By June 25, Third Panzer Army was disintegrating. In the north, IX Corps had been broken and pushed over the Dvina, blowing the bridges during its retreat. In the south much of the VI Corps had been annihilated, and its southernmost divisions (the 299th and 256th Infantry Divisions) had become separated from the remainder of Third Panzer Army by heavy attacks around Bogushevsk, where they attempted to make a final stand in the 'Hessen' line, the third defence zone. The Soviet 43rd and 39th Armies were now converging behind Vitebsk, trapping the entire LIII Corps. LIII Corps' commander, Friedrich Gollwitzer, had transferred the 4th Luftwaffe Field Division south-west of the city in order to spearhead a breakout, while the 246th Infantry Division attempted to hold open the Dvina crossings. OKH however, denied all requests for complete evacuation: the 206th Infantry Division was ordered to stay in the city and fight to the last man.[4]

Soviet plans in this sector met with overwhelming success. The 4th Luftwaffe Field Division was cut off and destroyed by the 39th Army on the evening of the 25 June, and by the next day the 246th Infantry and 6th Luftwaffe Field Divisions, fighting their way along the road from Vitebsk, had also been encircled. Hitler insisted that a staff officer be parachuted into Vitebsk to remind Gollwitzer that the trapped 206th Infantry Division should not withdraw; Third Panzer Army's commander, Reinhardt, was only able to get this decision reversed by insisting on being parachuted in himself if Hitler continued to order it.[5] By the evening Soviet forces were fighting their way into the city and Gollwitzer finally ordered the garrison to withdraw too, in defiance of OKH orders.

File:Soviet army at vitebsk.jpg
Soviet soldiers on the heights above Vitebsk, where the German 206th Infantry Division was encircled in late June.

By 27 June LIII Corps had been dispersed, its 30,000 men being almost all killed or taken prisoner; a group of several thousand from the 4th Luftwaffe Field Division initially managed to break out, but was liquidated in the forests west of Vitebsk.[6]The remnants of IX Corps were retreating to the west, falling back on Polotsk with the 6th Guards Army in pursuit: VI Corps was also largely destroyed. Third Panzer Army had been effectively shattered within days, and Vitebsk liberated: even more significantly, a huge gap had been torn in the German lines to the north of Fourth Army in the former VI Corps sector.

Central sector — Orsha and Mogilev[edit]

The central sector of Soviet operations was against the long front of Fourth Army, which was under the overall command of Kurt von Tippelskirch. Soviet plans envisaged the bulk of it, the XXXIX Panzer Corps and XII Corps, being encircled while pinned down by attacks from the 2nd Belorussian Front. By far the most important Soviet objective, however, was in the north of the sector: the main MoscowMinsk road and the town of Orsha, which the southern wing of Chernyakhovsky's 3rd Belorussian Front was ordered to take. A breakthrough in this area, against General Paul Völckers' XXVII Corps, would form the northern 'pincer' of the encirclement aimed at destroying Fourth Army. The Minsk road was protected by extensive defensive works manned by the 78th Sturm Division, a specially reinforced unit with extra artillery and assault gun support. Orsha itself had been designated a Fester Platz or strongpoint under 78th Sturm Division's commander, with the 25th Panzergrenadier Division holding the lines to the south. As a result of the strong defenses in this sector, Soviet plans included the commitment of heavily-armed engineer units to assist in a breakthrough.

Galitsky's 11th Guards Army attacked towards Orsha on 23 June but intially made little headway. By the next day, the Soviet 1st Guards Rifle Division was able to break through the German lines in a marshy, thinly-held area to the north of the 78th Sturm Division, which was ordered back to the 'Hessen' line, the third defence zone. It was now struggling to maintain contact with the 25th Panzergrenadier Division to the south. Chernyakhovsky, encouraged by the 1st Guards Rifle Division's progress, pushed a mixed cavalry / mechanised exploitation force into the breach in the German lines. On 25 June, the German defences began to rupture; a counter-attack at Orekhovsk failed.[7]

Völckers' position was further threatened by the near-collapse of the Third Panzer Army's VI Corps, immediately to the north. At 11:20 on 25 June the VI Corps, which had been cut off from its parent formation, was reassigned to Fourth Army.[8] Part of its reserve, the 14th Infantry Division was brought up to try and slow the Soviet advance north of Orsha. By midnight, however, the 11th Guards Army had shattered the remnant of VI Corps in the 'Hessen' line, and the 78th Sturm Division's situation was becoming untenable: 26 June saw the German forces in retreat. Soviet tank forces of the 2nd Guards Tank Corps were able to push up the road towards Minsk at speed, with a subsidiary force breaking off to encircle Orsha, which was liberated on the evening of 26 June. The main exploitation force, Pavel Rotmistrov's 5th Guards Tank Army, was then committed through the gap torn in the German lines. VI Corps finally crumbled completely, its rear elements falling back towards Borisov in disarray: its commander, General Georg Pfeiffer, was killed on 28 June after losing contact with his divisions. Völckers was ordered to hold fast, but lacked the necessary resources despite shifting his 260th Infantry Division northwards and moving the 286th Security Division into the lines.[9]

To the south of XXVII Corps' sector, the remainder of Fourth Army was suffering serious difficulties, but was not officially permitted to disengage. East of Mogilev, General Robert Martinek's XXXIX Panzer Corps (made up of the 31st, 12th, 337th and 110th Infantry Divisions) attempted to hold its lines in the face of a ferocious assault by Grishin's 49th Army during which the latter suffered heavy casualties.[10] Von Tippelskirch requested that Martinek be allowed to withdraw to the 'Tiger' line late on 23 June; this was refused, though the reserve Panzergrenadier-Division Feldherrnhalle was ordered forward to take up positions on the Dnepr in preparation to cover a possible withdrawal by the frontline divisions.[11] The southernmost corps, General Vincenz Muller's XII Corps (with the 18th Panzergrenadier Division, 57th and 267th Infantry Divisions) also began to pull back to the second defensive line.

Mogilev, along with its town commander Major-General von Erdmannsdorf (later executed by the Soviets for war crimes) and most of the 12th Infantry Division who had been instructed to defend the town to the last man, fell into Soviet hands on 27 June, and by 28 June both XII Corps and XXXIX Panzer Corps (whose commander, Martinek, was killed that evening in an air attack) were falling back towards the Berezina crossings. As the roads were clogged with fleeing civilians and military units, and were under heavy air attack, progress was slow.

Southern sector — Bobruisk[edit]

In the southern sector of operations, where the 1st Belorussian Front under Konstantin Rokossovsky faced Hans Jordan's Ninth Army, the main Soviet objective was Bobruisk and the southern crossings of the Berezina, which would open up the route for the southern 'pincer' of the main encirclement. (Army Group Centre's southernmost flank was covered by Second Army in the Pripet Marshes, but this area was largely bypassed by the Soviet offensive.) Ninth Army headquarters had in fact argued particularly strongly that a major attack against Army Group Centre was imminent, and General Jordan had bitterly complained about the high command's refusal to sanction tactical withdrawals, but the Army Group commander, Field Marshal Busch, had brushed these concerns aside. On the Soviet side, Rokossovsky had bravely staked his reputation on a plan for a complex double-envelopment of the German forces at Bobruisk, in opposition to Stalin's preferred plan of a single breakthrough in the sector.

Rokossovsky's attack, when it came, was overwhelming. Two days of heavy artillery preparation against strong German defences eventually resulted in a collapse of the 134th Infantry Division to the north of the sector, as the Soviet 3rd Army pushed forward; the 20th Panzer Division began to counter-attack, but Jordan then ordered it to turn southwards and confront a new breakthrough by the Soviet 65th Army under Batov.[12]

By 27 June, Soviet forces were converging near Bobruisk, trapping the five divisions of Ninth Army's northernmost corps, Lieutenant-General von Lützow's XXXV Corps, east of the Berezina. Elements of the central XXXXI Panzer Corps were also trapped, along with the 20th Panzer Division. The disorganised German divisions commenced a series of desperate attempts to escape the pocket, which stretched for several kilometers along the river's eastern bank: the Soviets reported large fires on 27 June as the Germans destroyed their heavy equipment and attempted to break out, but Soviet air attack and artillery inflicted appalling casualties on the encircled forces.[13] In the meantime, Hitler had relieved Jordan of command due to his confusing instructions to 20th Panzer; Ninth Army was dealt another blow when its main communications headquarters was destroyed by bombing. On the following day, reinforcements arrived behind German lines in the form of 12th Panzer Division, whose commander was greeted by Ninth Army's chief of staff with the words "Good to see you — Ninth Army no longer exists!"[14]

Faced with Ninth Army's imminent collapse, OKH authorised a withdrawal. Lieutenant-General Adolf Hamann, Commander (Commandant) of Bobruisk, was ordered to hold the town with one division, Lieutenant-General Edmund Hoffmeister's 383rd Infantry Division. Thousands of wounded were abandoned in the citadel. The remnants of 20th Panzer Division, with a handful of tanks and assault guns, formed a spearhead for XXXXI Panzer Corps' breakout attempt which was placed under Hoffmeister's overall command, while 12th Panzer Division attacked from the Svisloch River to meet the retreating troops. Though a breakout was achieved through positions held by the Soviet 356th Rifle Division of 65th Army, the German forces were again subjected to intense artillery bombardment and air attack as they attempted to make their way along the roads south of Minsk.

File:Street fight babruysk 28th or 29th june 1944.jpg
Street fighting in Bobruisk on 28th or 29th June

Batov's 65th Army now fought their way into Bobruisk street by street against stiff resistance from the German rearguard. Bobruisk, in ruins and with much of its population killed during the German occupation, was liberated on 29 June, the 383rd Infantry Division commencing withdrawal towards dawn: no further elements of Ninth Army would escape from east of the Berezina. The German breakout had allowed around 12,000 troops - mostly demoralised and without weapons - from the pocket east of Bobruisk to get out, but the Soviets claimed 20,000 taken prisoner (3,600 of them were murdered by their captors). A further 50,000 were dead: Soviet accounts speak of the area being carpeted with bodies and littered with abandoned materiel. The Soviet writer, Vasily Grossman, entered Bobruisk shortly after the end of the battle:

"Men are walking over German corpses. Corpses, hundreds and thousands of them, pave the road, lie in ditches, under the pines, in the green barley. In some places, vehicles have to drive over the corpses, so densely they lie upon the ground [...] A cauldron of death was boiling here, where the revenge was carried out"[15]

Ninth Army had been decisively defeated, and the southern route to Minsk was open.

Second phase — Minsk[edit]

By 26 June, OKH had finally realised that this was the main Soviet offensive, and that Minsk was its objective. As a result, the 5th Panzer Division was brought back from Army Group North Ukraine, arriving in Minsk on 27 June with the unenviable job of attempting to halt the Soviet advance and preventing the complete collapse of Army Group Centre. The overall situation was dire: in the Army Group's northern sector, Third Panzer Army had crumbled, with the LIII Corps wiped out, the VI Corps shattered, and the IX Corps being pushed steadily west. In the south, Ninth Army had lost all cohesion, its remaining troops being pounded by artillery and air bombardment. Fourth Army's three corps were now ordered to hold fast, despite being bypassed by Soviet forces on their flanks: Hitler declared Minsk a Fester Platz and instructed the remnants of Ninth Army to reinforce its defence.

5th Panzer, which was reorganised on 28 June into a combat group under the command of Dietrich von Saucken, took up positions near Borisov on the main road north-east of Minsk, along which elements of Fourth Army were fleeing from the front. 5th Panzer's main tank regiments, which unlike many German armoured units at the time were at full strength, were concentrated to the north, screening the rail lines being used for evacuation. The road itself was held by a rearguard of infantry, while Heavy Tank Battalion 505, equipped with Tiger Is, held the rail lines at Krupki to the east. The crossing points on the Berezina southwards were defended by several police and security detachments organised as Gruppe Anhalt, and elements of divisions from Muller's XII Corps, which had fallen back on the town of Berezino.

The re-conquest of Minsk[edit]

5th Guards Tank Army was now bearing down on Minsk from the north-east (the subordinate 3rd Guards Tank Corps initially suffering some losses to 5th Panzer's heavy tank battalion at Krupki), while the Soviet 2nd Guards Tank Corps approached from the east. The bulk of 5th Guards Tank Army, accompanied by the rifle divisions of 11th Guards Army, attacked straight down the Minsk road, forcing the German infantry back into Borisov by 29 June: a screen of Soviet troops was left on the road to prevent any more elements of Fourth Army escaping into Minsk. 5th Panzer's engineers blew the bridges over the Berezina on 30 June in an attempt to deny the Soviet forces entry into Borisov.[16] The overstretched main elements of Gruppe von Saucken now attempted to screen Minsk from the north-west, where the 5th Guards Tank Army threatened to sever the railway lines. The fall of the city seemed imminent: 65th Army was approaching from the southern route, the 5th Guards Tank Army was making progress from the north, and 2nd Guards Tank Corps had crossed the Berezina.

The elements of Army Group Centre holding Minsk began to prepare for withdrawal on 1 July, authorisation finally being given on 2 July. von Saucken and the 5th Panzer Division were ordered to fall back towards Molodechno in the north-west. With substantial elements of Fourth Army still east of the city attempting to withdraw, the 2nd Guards Tank Corps broke through the defences of Minsk in the early hours of 3 July; fighting erupted in the centre of the city at dawn. By the next day, Minsk had been cleared of German rearguard units, while the 65th Army and 5th Guards Tank Army closed the encirclement to the west. The bulk of Fourth Army, and much of the remnant of Ninth Army, were now trapped.

The destruction of Fourth Army[edit]

Over the next few days, Fourth Army made several attempts to break out of the encirclement, led by those divisions still retaining a coherent organisational structure. The largest group of encircled forces comprised the divisions of XII Corps, which remained relatively intact, along with those elements of XXVII Corps that had successfully retreated from Orsha and which were now trapped near Pekalin. The corps commanders, Muller and Völckers, decided on 5 July that their forces should break out to the north-west and west respectively, accompanied by the remnants of Martinek's former XXXIX Panzer Corps; they were now as much as 100 km behind Soviet lines.

The 25th Panzergrenadier Division acted as the spearhead for the breakout at midnight on 5 July, but was scattered, with some elements passing north of Minsk to reach German positions. The 57th Infantry Division and Panzergrenadier-Division Feldherrnhalle linked up and attempted to bypass Minsk to the south, but were also dispersed, while the same fate eventually befell the remainder of the 78th Sturm Division (after an initially successful breakout) and most of the other divisional groupings.Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; invalid names, e.g. too many Some elements of the 14th Infantry Division under their commander, Lieutenant-General Flörke, managed to link up with remnants of the 31st and 12th Infantry Divisions; Kampfgruppe Flörke, after finding Minsk abandoned and burning, was eventually able to escape the pocket and reach the 12th Panzer Division's positions.[17] Soviet forces were reporting actions against groups of encircled German soldiers several thousand strong until mid-July, and smaller groups until some time later.[18]

In total, around 100,000 troops from Fourth and Ninth Armies were caught in the encirclement, of whom some 40,000 were killed, most of the remainder being captured. Partisans played an important role in locating and mopping up the encircled forces.

Third phase[edit]

As German resistance had completely collapsed, Soviet forces were ordered to push on as far as possible beyond the original objective of Minsk: they were now given the task of taking Grodno and Byalistok. 5th Panzer attempted to hold Molodechno, but failed. 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 and Ninth Armies along with new reinforcements.[19] Even so, his attempt to defend Vilnius with the Third Panzer Army resulted in another encirclement and the loss of another 12,000 troops.

Ten days after the fall of Minsk, the Red Army reached the pre-war Polish border, pushing on to seize bridgeheads over the Nieman before German forces could react. The subsequent Lublin-Brest and Lvov-Sandomierz Operations further exploited the collapse of Army Group Centre, as German forces were hurriedly transferred back from Army Group North Ukraine, weakening it. The Soviet offensives had been so successful that they halted only when their supply lines were in danger of over-extension. However, controversy still rages about the decision to provide only limited — and late — assistance to the Polish Home Army during the Warsaw Uprising which began just as Soviet forces reached the eastern outskirts of that city.

Aftermath[edit]

Compared to other battles, this was by far the greatest Soviet victory in numerical terms. The Red Army inflicted nearly four times as many losses on the Germans as they sustained, and liberated a vast amount of Soviet territory (whose population had suffered greatly under the brutal German occupation; the advancing Soviets found cities destroyed, villages depopulated, and much of the population killed or deported by the occupiers) in a span of 2 months. In order to show the outside world the magnitude of the victory, some 50,000 German prisoners, taken from the encirclement east of Minsk, were paraded through Moscow: even marching quickly and twenty abreast, they took three hours to pass.[20] In a symbolic gesture the streets were washed down afterwards.

The German army never recovered from the matériel and manpower losses sustained during this time, having lost about a quarter of its Eastern Front manpower, similar to the percentage lost at Stalingrad (about 20 full divisions). These losses included many experienced troops, NCOs and officers, which at this stage of the war the Wehrmacht could not replace. A number of generals were also lost: 9 were killed, including 2 corps commanders; 22 captured, including 4 corps commanders; Major-General Hahn, commander of 197th Infantry Division disappeared on 24 June and Lieutenant-General Zutavern of 18th Panzergrenadier Division committed suicide.

Overall the near-total annihilation of Army Group Centre cost the Germans 2,000 tanks and 57,000 other vehicles. German losses are estimated at 300,000 dead, 250,000 wounded, and about 120,000 captured; overall casualties at 670,000 .[21]

Soviet losses were also substantial, with 60,000 killed, 110,000 wounded, and about 8,000 missing, with 2,957 tanks, 2,447 artillery pieces, and 822 aircraft also lost.[21]

The offensive cut off Army Group North and Army Group North Ukraine from each other, and weakened them as resources were diverted to the central sector. This forced both Army Groups to withdraw from Soviet territory much more quickly when faced with the following Soviet offensives in their sectors.

The final destruction of much of Army Group Centre around Minsk coincided with the destruction of many of the German army's strongest units in France in the Falaise pocket. On both eastern and western fronts, the subsequent Allied exploitation was slowed and halted by supply problems rather than German resistance. However, the Germans were able to transfer armoured units from the Italian front, where they could afford to give ground, to resist the Soviet advance near Warsaw.

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  • Adair, Paul (1994-09-22). Hitler's Greatest Defeat: The collapse of Army Group Centre, June 1944. Weidenfeld Military.
  • Beevor, Antony and Vinogradova, Luba (eds), A Writer at War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army, Pimlico, 2006, ISBN 978-1845950156
  • Buchner, Alex, Ostfront 1944: The German defensive battles on the Russian Front 1944, Schiffer Military History, West Chester, PA, 1991, (White Russia:Army Group Center) ISBN:0-88740-282-8
  • Dunn, W. Soviet Blitzkrieg: The Battle for White Russia, 1944, Lynne Riener, 2000, ISBN 978-1555878801
  • Glantz, D. Beylorussia 1944—The Soviet General Staff Study
  • Hastings, Max, Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944–1945, Macmillan, 2004, ISBN 0-333-90836-8
  • Hinze, R. Ostfrontdrama 1944: Rückzugskämpfe der Heeresgruppe Mitte
  • Merridale, C. Ivan's War: Inside the Red Army, 1939–45, Faber, 2006, ISBN 978-0571218097
  • Mitcham, S. German Defeat in the East, 1944-5, Stackpole, 2007.
  • Niepold, G., translated by Simpkin, R., Battle for White Russia: The destruction of Army Group Centre June 1944, Brassey's, London, 1987, ISBN:0-08-033606-X
  • Zaloga, S. Bagration 1944: The Destruction of Army Group Centre
  • Ziemke, Earl F., Battle For Berlin: End Of The Third Reich, NY:Ballantine Books, London: Macdonald & Co, 1969.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. Alternative spellings for Belorussian Offensive are Byelorussian Offensive and [[wikipedia:Belarus|]]ian Offensive
  2. 2.0 2.1 Ziemke, p.11
  3. Dunn, pp. 1-2
  4. Zaloga, p.52
  5. Mitcham, p.24
  6. The Soviet record, given in Glantz, p.85, states that this group was first intercepted by the 179th Rifle Division at Lake Sarro on 26 June, and was eventually destroyed near Iakubovschina on 27 June.
  7. Zaloga, pp.56-57
  8. Dunn, p.149
  9. Dunn, pp.149-50
  10. Dunn, p.163
  11. Dunn, p.167
  12. Zaloga, pp.61-61
  13. Glantz, pp.104-105; the Soviet analysis claims that von Lützow, realising the seriousness of the situation, gave his unit commanders authority for independent action in attempting to break out northwards or towards Bobruisk. It states that many men even attempted to swim across the Berezina in an effort to escape.
  14. Adair, p.135
  15. Beevor and Vinogradova, p.273
  16. Zaloga, p.60
  17. Niepold, p.195
  18. E.g. the 222nd Rifle Division, who after destroying one group at the Svisloch crossings on 7 July, reported an action against a unit of 5000 Germans who had counterattacked at a village south of Minsk on 11 July (see Glantz, p.183)
  19. The German Order of Battle for Army Group Centre in mid-July shows the remnants of Ninth Army incorporated in Second Army; Third Panzer Army reduced to Korps-Abteilung G and fragments of IX and XXVI Corps; and Fourth Army consisting of the battered 5th Panzer and 50th Infantry Divisions along with Kampfgruppe Flörke, some remnants of security divisions and part of the Totenkopf (all under the command of Helmuth Weidling, who had previously been commanding a corps of Ninth Army at Bobruisk) plus 7th Panzer (see Hinze, Ostfrontdrama 1944). Though Soviet forces were exhausted and their supply lines dangerously extended, the extremely weak forces arrayed against them encouraged commanders to push on as far as possible.
  20. Merridale, p.241
  21. 21.0 21.1 Zaloga, p.71



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