Belarus in World War II

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Belarus was a republic of the Soviet Union when World War II began. The borders of Belarus were greatly expanded in the invasion of Poland of 1939 and finalized after World War II. Following the German military disasters at Stalingrad and Kursk, a collaborationist Belarusian self-government (BCR) was formed by the Germans in order to drum up local support for their anti-Soviet operations. The Belarusian self-government (Belarusian Central Rada) in turn formed the twenty-thousand strong Belarusian Home Defence (BKA), active from February 23, 1944 to April 28, 1945.[1] Assistance was offered by the local administrative governments from the Soviet era, and prewar public organizations including the former Soviet Belarusian Youth.[2] The country was soon overrun by the Red Army. Devastated by the war, Belarus lost significant populations and economic resources. Many battles occurred in Belarusian territory or neighboring lands. Belarusian people also participated in regional conflicts.

September 1939 – June 1941[edit]

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact of August 1939 had established a non-aggression agreement between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and a secret protocol described how Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland (Second Polish Republic) and Romania would be divided between them.

In the Invasion of Poland of 1939 the two powers invaded and partitioned Poland, and to return the Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Moldavian territories in the North and North-Eastern regions of Romania (Northern Bucovina and Bessarabia).

The Polish defense was already broken, with their only hope being retreat and reorganisation in the south-eastern region (the Romanian Bridgehead), when on September 17, 1939, it was rendered obsolete overnight. The 800,000 strong Soviet Union Red Army, divided into the Belarusian and Ukrainian fronts, invaded the eastern regions of Poland that had not yet been involved in military operations, in violation of the Soviet-Polish Non-Aggression Pact. Soviet diplomacy were protecting the Ukrainian and Belarusian minorities inhabiting Poland in view of Polish imminent collapse.

Polish border defence forces (Korpus Ochrony Pogranicza) in the east (about 25 battalions) were unable to defend the border, and Edward Rydz-Śmigły further ordered them to fall back and not engage the Soviets. This, however, did not prevent some clashes and small battles, like the defence of Grodno was defended by soldiers and local population. The Soviets murdered a number of Poles, including prisoners-of-war like General Józef Olszyna-Wilczyński. Ukrainians rose against the Poles, and communist partisans organised local revolts, e.g. in Skidel, robbing and murdering Poles. Those movements were quickly disciplined by the NKVD.

Prior to the Soviet partisans support from the East, the Polish military's fall-back plan had called for long-term defence against Germany in the southern-eastern part of Poland (near the Romanian border), while awaiting relief from a Western Allies attack on Germany's western border. However, the Polish government decided that it was impossible to carry out the defence on Polish territories. There was retaliation to surrender or negotiate for peace with Germany and ordered all units to evacuate Poland and reorganize in France.

Meanwhile, Polish forces tried to move towards the Romanian bridgehead area, still actively resisting the German invasion.

From 17 September to 20 September, the Polish Armies Kraków and Lublin were crippled at the Battle of Tomaszów Lubelski, the second largest battle of the campaign. Oksywie garrison held until 19 September. Polish gained victory at the battle of Szack, and the Red Army reached the line of rivers Narew, Bug, Vistula and San by September 28, in many cases meeting German units advancing from the other side. The last operational unit of the Polish Army, General Franciszek Kleeberg's Samodzielna Grupa Operacyjna "Polesie", capitulated after the 4-day Battle of Kock near Lublin on 6 October, marking the end of the September Campaign.

Adolf Hitler had argued in Mein Kampf of the necessity of acquiring new territory for German settlement (Lebensraum) in Eastern Europe. However these plans were delayed through the period of the Phoney War, followed by the Nazi invasions of Norway, France and Benelux, Denmark, and the failed Battle of Britain.

Polish citizens took an active part in the Soviet partisan movement in the occupied territory of the former USSR. 2,500 Polish citizens took part in the Soviet partisan movement in the territory of the Belorussian SSR,[3] of which 703 were awarded with Soviet state awards[4] A further 2000 Polish citizens took part in the Soviet partisan movement on the territory of the USSR.[5]

June 1941 – September 1941[edit]

At 04:45 on 22 June 1941, four million German soldiers, to be joined by Italian, Romanian and other Axis troops over the following weeks, burst over the borders and stormed into the Soviet Union, including the Byelorussian SSR. For a month the offensive was completely unstoppable north of the Pribjet marshes, as the Panzer forces encircled hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops in huge pockets that were then reduced by slower-moving infantry divisions while the panzers charged on, following the Blitzkrieg doctrine.

Army Group Centre comprised two Panzer groups (2nd and 3rd), which rolled east from either side of Brest Litovsk and affected a double encirclement at Białystok and west of Minsk. They were followed by 2nd, 4th and 9th Armies. The combined Panzer force reached the Beresina River in just six days, 650 km (400 mi) from their start lines. The next objective was to cross the Dnieper river, which was accomplished by 11 July. Following that, their next target was Smolensk, which fell on 16 July, but the engagement in the Smolensk area blocked the German advance until mid-September, effectively disrupting the blitzkrieg.

Operation Barbarossa: the German invasion of the Soviet Union, 21 June 1941 to 5 December 1941
  to 9 July 1941
  to 1 September 1941
  to 9 September 1941
  to 5 December 1941

With the capture of Smolensk and the advance to the Luga river, Army Groups Centre and North had completed their first major objective: to get across and hold the "land bridge" between the Dvina and Dnieper.

The German generals argued for an immediate drive towards Moscow, but Hitler overruled them, citing the importance of Ukrainian grain and heavy industry if under German possession, not to mention the massing of Soviet reserves in the Gomel area between Army Group Centre's southern flanks and the bogged-down Army Group South to the south.

After a meeting held in Orsza between the head of the Army General Staff, General Halder, and the heads of three Army Groups and armies, it was decided to push forward to Moscow since it was better, as argued by head of Army Group Center, Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, for them to try their luck on the battlefield rather than just sit and wait while their opponent gathered more strength.

Occupation and Collaboration 1941 – June 1944[edit]

Atrocities against the Jewish population in the conquered areas began almost immediately, with the dispatch of Einsatzgruppen (task groups) to round up Jews and shoot them. Local anti-semite[cite source] were encouraged to carry out their own pogroms. By the end of 1941 there were more than 50,000 troops devoted to rounding up and killing Jews. The gradual industrialization of killing led to adoption of the Final Solution and the establishment of the Operation Reinhard extermination camps: the machinery of the Holocaust. In three years of occupation, between one and two million Soviet Jews were killed.

June 1944 – May 1945[edit]

Soviet advances from 1 August 1943 to 31 December 1944
  to 1 December 1943
  to 30 April 1944
  to 19 August 1944
  to 31 December 1944

In the summer of 1944 a balcony-shaped frontline had shaped following advances by the Red Army during late 1943. This invited an encirclement attack to cut off and destroy Army Group Centre. For Operation Bagration, as it was to be called, the Red Army achieved a ratio of ten to one in tanks and seven to one in aircraft over the enemy. At the points of attack, the numerical and quality advantages of the Soviets were overwhelming. More than 2.5 million Soviet troops went into action against the German Army Group Centre, which could boast a strength of less than 800,000 men. The Germans crumbled, with the loss of almost 400,000 men who were either overrun or encircled. The capital of Belarus, Minsk, was taken on July 3, 1944, trapping 50,000 Germans. Ten days later the Red Army reached the prewar Polish border. In West Belarus, as the Red Army approached the Polish Home Army launched the Operation Tempest. Despite the war now passing out of Belarus, the Soviet Fronts name "Byelorussian" kept their name until the end of the war, and were to distinguish themselves in the battles in Poland and Germany in 1944 and 1945.

In the Soviet Union the end of World War II in Europe is considered to be 9 May, when the surrender took effect Moscow time. This date is celebrated as a national holiday, Victory Day, or День Победы in Belarus, Russia and some other post-Soviet countries.

Belarusian volunteers in German forces[edit]

German commanders and officers linked with Belarus[edit]

Belarusian Anti-Soviet commanders[edit]

Timeline[edit]

1939[edit]

1940[edit]

1941[edit]

1942[edit]

1943[edit]

1944[edit]

1945[edit]

See also[edit]

People[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Andrew Wilson (2011). "The Traumatic Twentieth Century" (PDF file, direct download). Belarus: the last European dictatorship. Yale University Press. pp. 109–110. Retrieved 10 July 2014. 
  2. ^ BKA (1999-2000 All rights reserved). "Belarusian State-Defense Army 23.II.1944-28.IV.1945". Axis Freiwillige: National Volunteer formations in Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS. Вторая Мировая Война. Retrieved 10 July 2014. "Национальные Добровольческие формирования в Вермахте и Ваффен-СС" 
  3. ^ В. С. Толстой. Братское содружество белорусского и польского народов. 1944—1964. Минск, «Наука и техника», 1966. стр.16
  4. ^ Боевое содружество советского и польского народов. / редколл., гл.ред. П. А. Жилин. М., «Мысль», 1973. стр.168
  5. ^ З. А. Богатырь. Патриотическая борьба советского народа в тылу врага в период Великой Отечественной войны. М., «Знание», 1970. стр.11

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