Bobruysk Offensive

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Bobruysk Offensive
Part of Operation Bagration
Date June 23–28, 1944
Location Belorussian SSR
Result Soviet Victory
Belligerents
 Nazi Germany  Soviet Union
Commanders and leaders
Nazi Germany Hans Jordan
(Ninth Army)
Soviet Union Konstantin Rokossovsky
(1st Belorussian Front)
Strength
90,000 ?
Casualties and losses
50,000 killed, 20,000 POW (Soviet est) ?

The Bobruysk Offensive (Russian: Бобруйская наступательная операция) was part of the Belorussian Strategic Offensive of the Red Army in summer 1944, commonly known as Operation Bagration.

Role in the conflict[edit]

Main article: Operation Bagration

Planning[edit]

Operational goals[edit]

The operational goals of the Bobruysk Offensive within the context of Operation Bagration were twofold:

  • To break through the defensive positions of Ninth Army and take the heavily fortified city of Babruysk.
  • Commit motorised / cavalry exploitation forces through the gap opened, opening the way for a major encirclement of much of the remainder of Army Group Centre in the Minsk Offensive.

German intelligence[edit]

Ninth Army headquarters had 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.[1] Patrols of the 134th Infantry Division had revealed a buildup in the sector of the 35th and 41st Guards Rifle Corps opposite; each of the three regiments of the German divisions was faced with a full-strength Soviet rifle division of 7,200 men.[1]

The Ninth Army was, in general, made up of lower quality divisions than Fourth Army to its north; this may have reflected a belief on the part of the OKH that the terrain in Ninth Army's sector was more easily defensible.[2]

Deployments[edit]

Wehrmacht[edit]

The city of Babruysk had been designated a Fester Platz, or fortified area, under the command of Major-General Adolf Hamann.

The above units were under the overall command of Army Group Centre (Field-Marshal Ernst Busch).

Red Army[edit]

The above units were under the command of the special representative to Stavka, Marshal Georgy Zhukov.

The offensive[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 Babruysk 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.) Rokossovsky had bravely staked his reputation on a plan for a complex double-envelopment of the German forces at Babruysk, in opposition to Joseph Stalin's preferred plan of a single breakthrough in the sector.[3]

Rokossovsky's attack, as with the other initial offensive operations of Operation Bagration, was preceded by a heavy artillery bombardment. The first assault, against strong German defences, was however repulsed with heavy casualties. Rokossovsky ordered further artillery preparation for July 24, which 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.[4]

The encirclement of the German corps[edit]

By June 27, Soviet forces were converging near Babruysk, 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.[5] 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!"[6]

The breakout of XLI Panzer Corps[edit]

Faced with Ninth Army's imminent collapse, OKH authorised a withdrawal. Lieutenant-General Adolf Hamann, Commander (Commandant) of Babruysk, 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 Svislach 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.

The 65th Army takes Babruysk[edit]

Batov's 65th Army now fought their way into Babruysk street by street against stiff resistance from the German rearguard. Babruysk, in ruins and with much of its population killed during the German occupation, was liberated on June 29, 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 Babruysk to get out, but the Soviets claimed 20,000 taken prisoner. 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 Babruysk 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"[7]

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

Accounts, further reading[edit]

In addition to Vasily Grossman, the writer and future dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was present at Babruysk as an artillery officer; the experience is mentioned in The Gulag Archipelago.

Gerd Niepold, the 1st Staff Officer of 12th Panzer Division, later wrote a comprehensive account of Operation Bagration, Mittlere Ostfront Juni 1944.

References[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Dunn, pp.181-83
  2. ^ Dunn, pp.188-9
  3. ^ Sebag-Montefiore, pp.483-4
  4. ^ Zaloga, pp.61-61
  5. ^ 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 Babruysk. It states that many men even attempted to swim across the Berezina in an effort to escape.
  6. ^ Adair, p.135
  7. ^ Beevor and Vinogradova, p.273