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OPERATION BAGRATION, 1944: It Broke The Back Of The German Army


Berezina is quite a large river. By the end of that tragic day, all the water in the river was red with blood. Weakened or injured thousands drowned, not being able to cross it. There were thousands of people who could not swim and whose helpless bodies were swept away. Finally, the river bed was so littered with the bodies of men and horses, abandoned equipment, that when I came to the river bank, I saw a bloodcurdling fantastic view, that was probably a rarity even for the Eastern campaign. I managed to cross the river, almost without wetting my shoes, I stepped over the bodies of those who once terrified the whole of Europe. 

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After moving to the other side, we went on without respite. I still remember the walk along the roads, rivers and endless forests, under constant threat of enemy fire. Russian fire was constantly on us. So our column continued to plod on, darting from side to side like drunken mad men.  Russian aircraft taking off from some distant airfields would reach us and continued to methodically reduce our numbers. They dumped another batch of bombs and shells, and then, with a triumphant roar rushed back to restock ammo.

Red Army soldiers on the move during Operation Bagration

Operation Bagration dwarfed the Allied Normandy landings by a long margin. D-Day happened on June 6, 1944. Bagration too happened in June, 1944. On June 23, 1944.

But most school text books in the English speaking world only speak of D-Day. Few of us have even heard of Bagration. Two reasons for that. One is that the English media mostly tom-toms American and British effort during WW2 despite the fact that even a two bit historian will tell you that the real decisive fighting (in the European theater) of the war occurred on the Eastern Front. Secondly the Soviet government had thrown a veil of secrecy on WW2. Russian war archives lay inaccessible till the Soviet Union broke up in 1990s.

German soldiers surrender to the advancing Red Army

But it was one of the most decisive battles of the second world war. Stavka, the Russian High Command wanted to break the back of the German Army  with Bagaration, And it succeeded in doing that. Hundreds of thousands of German soldiers were captured or killed. The Red Army threw in 2.4 million soldiers, 5000 tanks, 36000 artillery guns and 5000 warplanes.

The soldiers of German Army Centre did not know what hit them when Operation Bagration started. The German Army was almost destroyed and the remnants was chased by the Russians till almost Warsaw.

Crestfallen captured German soldiers
On June 23rd 1944 "Operation Bagration" began. The unprecedented firepower of Russian artillery fire with more than thirty thousand guns and mortars  shook the German defensive positions for two hours. On the first day of the attack the Soviet troops managed to break into the German defenses in some places up to thirteen kilometers. Overcoming fierce resistance, the Red Army moved steadily westward.

By June 25 five German divisions, numbering up to 35,000 soldiers were surrounded in the city of Vitebsk. The city fell into Russian hands in a few days.

On June 26 June,  the Orsha-strategic center of the German defense was broken.The 1st Belorussian Front surrounded six German divisions in the area of Bobruisk.

Soviet aircraft, which now dominated the skies hammered the German positions mercilessly.

The Red army used massed tank columns to batter through the German defenses something which the Germans did earlier in the war.

The Russians liberated Minsk, the capital of Belarus, in July. 35,000 German officers and soldiers were taken prisoner.

By the end of August, 1944 the Red Army had advanced 500-600 kilometers along a 1100 km front. Belarus was almost freed. The once formidable German Army Center had been annihilated. It lost 6.00.000 men.

Soviet losses were 7,00,000 men, dead, injured or missing.

After Operation Bagration Russia had retaken Belarus and the road to Germany proper lay wide open.

 Ivan's war. The Russian army was unstoppable.

Bagration was the greatest Red army victory of the War. Bagration in many ways was a replay of Barbarossa, only in reverse. The Red Army in a massive 5 weeks campaign succeeded in moving the front line west to Warsaw, clearing Byelorussia and much of pre-War Poland of the Germans. Army Group Center was shattered. The Red Army completely destroyed 17 Wehrmacht divisions and heavily damaged the combat effectiveness of more than 50 other German divisions. Army Group Central was effectively limited as an effective command. It was the single greatest defeat suffered by the Wehrmacht in the War. The Wehrmacht suffered greater casualties than at Stalingrad.  Bagration not only smashed Army Group Central, but drove the Germans back deep into Poland. The Red Army succeeded in destroying the most powerful German formation at the time--Army Group Central. Before Bagration, the Wehrmacht had suffered substantial battlefield losses, but was still a very potent military force. After Bagration not only was the Wehrmacht unable to react powerfully to the Allied invasion of France, but would be unable to launch another important offensive in the East.

 The German defenses could not stop the Soviet batter ram

"Germany lost more than 300,000 men in twenty-two divisions in just five weeks; this was a blow from which the Ostheer (the German Army in Russia) never recovered. In order to stabilize the front, the German command was forced to transfer forty-six divisions and four brigades to Byelorussia from other sectors, taking some of the pressure off the British and American troops in France."

 "We are back" 
 Destroyed German tanks

Confident Russian commanders

 People of Minsk welcome Ivan

Red army on the move: T-34 tanks and soldiers

German POW  escorted by a Red Army soldier in Vitebsk

German trucks and armor were hammered by Soviet warplanes on the highway near Vitebsk

Women partisans in liberated Minsk. July 1944

Minsk liberated. Soviet fighters celebrate. July 2013

German POW squat on a street in Minsk


The Decimation Of German Army Group Centre

Suggested Reading

STALIN'S REVENGE: Operation Bagration and the Annihilation of Army Group Centre
Anthony Tucker-Jones assesses the opposing forces and their commanders and gives a vivid insight into the planning and decision-making at the highest level. He recreates the experience of the soldiers on the battlefield by using graphic contemporary accounts, and he sets the Bagration offensive in the wider context of the Soviet war effort. He also asks why Stalin's road to retribution proved to be such a long and bloody one - for the Germans, despite their crippling losses, managed to resist for another ten months.

OPERATION BAGRATION: The Destruction of Army Group Centre June-July 1944, A Photographic History
The Soviets punched massive holes in the disintegrating defenses almost everywhere, letting through a seemingly-unstoppable flood, pushing apart and encircling many precious German Panzer and infantry divisions. In the end Bagration cost the Wehrmacht more men and material than the catastrophe at Stalingrad sixteen months earlier. The shattering defeat of Army Group Centre resulted in the loss of over 300,000 men and witnessed Soviet forces pushing exhausted German remnants out of Russia and through Poland to the gates of Warsaw.

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1 Comment:

apiceno said...

The world will always be thankful and appreciative to the great and courageous Russian army for delivering the war against the hated Nazis. Whatever happened after the war was over notwithstanding, what the Russian army accomplished at battles like Stalingrad, Moscow and in operation Bagration will never be forgotten.

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