Battle of Smolensk (1943)

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Second Battle of Smolensk
Part of the Eastern Front of World War II
Map of dnieper battle grand.jpg
Map of the Smolensk operation and related offensives.
Date7 August – 2 October 1943
Location
Result Soviet victory
Belligerents
Flag of German Reich (1935-1945).svg  Germany Flag of the Soviet Union (1936-1955).svg  Soviet Union
Commanders and leaders
Günther von Kluge Andrei Yeremenko
Vasily Sokolovsky
Strength
Soviet estimate: 850,000 men
8,800 guns
500 tanks
700 aircraft [1]
1,252,600 men [2]
20,640 guns
1,430 tanks
1,100 aircraft [1]
Casualties and losses
German sources: [3]
Total: 70,593
3 panzer army 10.08 - 30.09.43: 765 KIA, 3,386 WIA, 270 MIA;
4 army 10.08 - 30.09.43: 8,825 KIA, 35,237 WIA, 4,127 MIA
9 army 20.08 - 30.09.43: 3,394 KIA, 12,688 WIA, 1,901 MIA
Soviet sources: 200,000–250,000 casualties [4]
Soviet sources: 451,466 overall
(Including 107,645 killed, missing or captured
343,821 wounded and sick [2] )

The second Battle of Smolensk (7 August–2 October 1943) was a Soviet strategic offensive operation conducted by the Red Army as part of the Summer-Autumn Campaign of 1943. Staged almost simultaneously with the Lower Dnieper Offensive (13 August–22 September), the offensive lasted two months and was led by General Andrei Yeremenko, commanding the Kalinin Front, and Vasily Sokolovsky, commanding the Western Front. Its goal was to clear the German presence from the Smolensk and Bryansk regions. Smolensk had been under German occupation since the first Battle of Smolensk in 1941.

Red Army 1917–1946 ground and air warfare branch of the Soviet Unions military

The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, frequently shortened to Red Army was the army and the air force of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, and, after 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The army was established immediately after the 1917 October Revolution. The Bolsheviks raised an army to oppose the military confederations of their adversaries during the Russian Civil War. Beginning in February 1946, the Red Army, along with the Soviet Navy, embodied the main component of the Soviet Armed Forces; taking the official name of "Soviet Army", until its dissolution in December 1991.

The Kalinin Front was a major formation of the Red Army active in the Eastern Front of World War II. It was formally established by Stavka directive on 17 October 1941 and allocated three armies: 22nd, 29th Army and 30th. In May 1942, the Air Forces of the Kalinin Front were reorganised as the 3rd Air Army, comprising three fighter, two ground attack, and one bomber division.

Vasily Sokolovsky Marshal of the Soviet Union

Vasily Danilovich Sokolovsky was a Soviet military commander.

Contents

Despite an impressive German defense, the Red Army was able to stage several breakthroughs, liberating several major cities, including Smolensk and Roslavl. As a result of this operation, the Red Army was able to start planning for the liberation of Belarus. However, the overall advance was quite modest and slow in the face of heavy German resistance, and the operation was therefore accomplished in three stages: 7–20 August, 21 August–6 September, and 7 September–2 October.[ citation needed ]

Roslavl Town in Smolensk Oblast, Russia

Roslavl is a town and the administrative center of Roslavlsky District in Smolensk Oblast, Russia. It is a road and rail junction and a market town. Population: 54,900 (2010 Census); 57,701 (2002 Census); 60,470 (1989 Census).

Belarus country in Eastern Europe

Belarus, officially the Republic of Belarus, formerly known by its Russian name Byelorussia or Belorussia, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe bordered by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital and most populous city is Minsk. Over 40% of its 207,600 square kilometres (80,200 sq mi) is forested. Its major economic sectors are service industries and manufacturing. Until the 20th century, different states at various times controlled the lands of modern-day Belarus, including the Principality of Polotsk, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the Russian Empire.

Although playing a major military role in its own right, the Smolensk Operation was also important for its effect on the Battle of the Dnieper. It has been estimated that as many as 55 German divisions were committed to counter the Smolensk Operation — divisions which would have been critical to prevent Soviet troops from crossing the Dnieper in the south. In the course of the operation, the Red Army also definitively drove back German forces from the Smolensk land bridge, historically the most important approach for a western attack on Moscow.

Dnieper longest river of Ukraine and Belarus

The Dnieper is one of the major rivers of Europe, rising in the Valdai Hills near Smolensk, Russia, and flowing through Russia, Belarus and Ukraine to the Black Sea. It is the longest river of Ukraine and Belarus and the fourth-longest river in Europe. The total length is approximately 2,200 km (1,400 mi) with a drainage basin of 504,000 square kilometres (195,000 sq mi). The river is noted for its dams and hydroelectric stations. The Dnieper is an important navigable waterway for the economy of Ukraine and is connected via the Dnieper–Bug Canal to other waterways in Europe.

Moscow Capital city of Russia

Moscow is the capital and most populous city of Russia, with 13.2 million residents within the city limits, 17 million within the urban area and 20 million within the metropolitan area. Moscow is one of Russia's federal cities.

Constituent operations

The Strategic Operations included smaller operations:

Strategic context

By the end of the Battle of Kursk in July 1943, Germany had lost all hope of regaining the initiative on the Eastern Front. Losses were considerable and the whole army was less effective than before, as many of its experienced soldiers were killed during the previous two years of fighting. This left the German army capable of only reacting to Soviet moves.

Battle of Kursk World War II battle in the Soviet Union

The Battle of Kursk was a Second World War engagement between German and Soviet forces on the Eastern Front near Kursk in the Soviet Union, during July and August 1943. The battle began with the launch of the German offensive, Operation Citadel, on 5 July, which had the objective of pinching off the Kursk salient with attacks on the base of the salient from north and south simultaneously. After the German offensive stalled on the northern side of the salient, on 12 July the Soviets commenced their Kursk Strategic Offensive Operation with the launch of Operation Kutuzov against the rear of the German forces in the northern side. On the southern side, the Soviets also launched powerful counterattacks the same day, one of which led to a large armoured clash, the Battle of Prokhorovka. On 3 August, the Soviets began the second phase of the Kursk Strategic Offensive Operation with the launch of Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev against the German forces in the southern side of the Kursk salient.

Eastern Front (World War II) theatre of conflict during World War II, encompassing Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Northeast Europe (Baltics), and Southeast Europe (Balkans)

The Eastern Front of World War II was a theatre of conflict between the European Axis powers and co-belligerent Finland against the Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.), Poland and other Allies, which encompassed Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Northeast Europe (Baltics), and Southeast Europe (Balkans) from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945. It has been known as the Great Patriotic War in the former Soviet Union and modern Russia, while in Germany it was called the Eastern Front, or the German-Soviet War by outside parties.

On the Soviet side, Joseph Stalin was determined to pursue the liberation of occupied territories from German control, a course of action that had its first major success at the end of 1942 with Operation Uranus, which led to the liberation of Stalingrad. The Battle of the Dnieper was to achieve the liberation of Ukraine and push the southern part of the front towards the west. In order to weaken the German defenses even further, however, the Smolensk operation was staged simultaneously, in a move that would also draw German reserves north, thereby weakening the German defense on the southern part of the front. Both operations were a part of the same strategic offensive plan, aiming to recover as much Soviet territory from German control as possible.

Joseph Stalin Soviet leader

Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was a Georgian revolutionary and Soviet politician. He led the Soviet Union from the mid–1920s until 1953 as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1922–1952) and Premier (1941–1953). While initially presiding over a collective leadership as first among equals, he ultimately consolidated enough power to become the country's de facto dictator by the 1930s. A communist ideologically committed to the Leninist interpretation of Marxism, Stalin helped to formalise these ideas as Marxism–Leninism, while his own policies became known as Stalinism.

Operation Uranus strategic operation in World War II

Operation Uranus was the codename of the Soviet 19–23 November 1942 strategic operation in World War II which led to the encirclement of the German Sixth Army, the Third and Fourth Romanian armies, and portions of the German Fourth Panzer Army. The operation was executed at roughly the midpoint of the five month long Battle of Stalingrad, and was aimed at destroying German forces in and around Stalingrad. Planning for Operation Uranus had commenced in September 1942, and was developed simultaneously with plans to envelop and destroy German Army Group Center and German forces in the Caucasus. The Red Army took advantage of the German army's poor preparation for winter, and the fact that its forces in the southern Soviet Union were overstretched near Stalingrad, using weaker Romanian troops to guard their flanks; the offensives' starting points were established along the section of the front directly opposite Romanian forces. These Axis armies lacked heavy equipment to deal with Soviet armor.

Volgograd City in Volgograd Oblast, Russia

Volgograd, formerly Tsaritsyn, 1589–1925, and Stalingrad, 1925–1961, is an industrial city and the administrative centre of Volgograd Oblast, Russia. The city lies on the western bank of the Volga River. The Battle of Stalingrad in World War II was one of the largest and bloodiest battles in the history of warfare. Known locally as the "Hero City", it is home to The Motherland Calls, an 85 meter statue dedicated to the heroes of the battle. The city also has many tourist attractions, such as museums, sandy beaches, and a self-propelled floating church. Its population was 1,021,215 at the 2010 Census, growing from 1,011,417 in the 2002 Census.

Thirty years later, Marshal Aleksandr Vasilevsky (Chief of the General Staff in 1943) wrote in his memoirs:

This plan was enormous both in regard of its daring and of forces committed to it, was executed through several operations: the Smolensk operation, ...the Donbass [Operation], the left-bank Ukraine operation... [5]

Geography

The territory on which the offensive was to be staged was a slightly hilly plain covered with ravines and possessing significant areas of swamps and forests that restricted military movement. Its most important hills reached heights over 270 m (890 ft), allowing for improved artillery defense. In 1943, the area was for the most part covered with pine and mixed forests and thick bushes. [6]

Numerous rivers also passed through the area, the most important of them being the Donets Basin, Western Dvina, Dnieper, Desna, Volost' and Ugra rivers. Dnieper is by far the largest of them and strategically most important. The surrounding wide, swamp-like areas proved difficult to cross, especially for mechanized troops. Moreover, like many south-flowing rivers in Europe, the Dnieper's western bank, which was held by German troops, was higher and steeper than the eastern. There were very few available bridges or ferries. [7]

Transport infrastructure

For the Soviet troops, the offensive was further complicated by a lack of transport in the area in which the offensive was to be staged. The road network was not well developed and paved roads were rare. After rainfall, which was quite common during the Russian summer, most of them were turned into mud (a phenomenon known as rasputitsa), greatly slowing down any advance of mechanized troops, and raising logistical issues as well. The only major railroad axis available for Soviet troops was the Rzhev-Vyazma-Kirov line.

The Wehrmacht controlled a much wider network of roads and railroads, centered on Smolensk and Roslavl. These two cities were important logistical centers, allowing quick supply and reinforcements for German troops. By far the most important railroads for German troops were the Smolensk-Bryansk axis and the Nevel-Orsha-Mogilev axis, linking German western troops with troops concentrated around Oryol. [7] As part of the Soviet planning the German railroad communications were attacked by the partisans during the conduct of Operation Concert, one of the largest railroad sabotage operations of World War II.

Opposing forces

Soviet offensive sector

A detail of the Smolensk offensive, showing the concave shape of the Soviet front line. Map detail of smolensk operation.jpg
A detail of the Smolensk offensive, showing the concave shape of the Soviet front line.

In July 1943 the Soviet front line on this part of the Eastern Front was a concave with a re-entrant around Orel. The re-entrant exposed the Wehrmacht to flank attacks from the north but the offensive the main attack carried out Kalinin and Western Fronts would be quite difficult.

The Western Front had assigned for the operation the 10th Guards Army, 5th Army, 10th Army, 21st Army, 33rd Army, 49th Army, 68th Army, 1st Air Army, 2nd Guards Tank Corps, 5th Mechanised Corps, 6th Guards Cavalry Corps. The Kalinin Front would have for the operation the 4th Shock Army, 39th Army, 43rd Army, 3rd Air Army, 31st Army.

German defenses

As a result of the shape of the front, a significant number of divisions of Army Group Center were kept on this part of the front because of a (quite legitimate) fear of a major offensive in this sector.

For instance, at the end of July 1943, a German staff briefing stated:

On the front... held by the Army Group Center many signs show a continuous preparation to a yet limited offensive (Roslavl, Smolensk, Vitebsk) and of a maneuver of immobilization of the Army Group Center... [8]

The front had been more or less stable for four to five months (and up to 18 months in several places) before the battle, and possessed geographical features favorable for a strong defensive setup. Thus, German forces had time to build extensive defensive positions, numbering as many as five or six defensive lines in some places, for a total depth extending from 100–130 km (62–81 mi). [9]

The first (tactical or outer) defensive zone included the first (main) and the second defense lines, for a total depth of 12–15 km (7.5–9.3 mi), and located, whenever possible, on elevated ground. The main defense line, 5 km (3.1 mi) deep, possessed three sets of trenches and firing points, linked by an extensive communication network. The density of firing points reached six or seven per kilometer (0.6 mi) of front line. In some places, where heavy tank attacks were feared, the third set of trenches was in fact a solid antitank moat with a steep western side integrating artillery and machine guns emplacements. The forward edge of the battle area was protected by three lines of barbed wire and a solid wall of minefields. [8]

The second defense zone, located about 10 km (6.2 mi) behind the outer defense zone and covering the most important directions, was composed of a set of firing points connected with trenches. It was protected with barbed wire, and also with minefields in some places where heavy tank offensives were anticipated. Between the outer and the second defense zones, a set of small firing points and garrisons was also created in order to slow down a Soviet advance should the Red Army break through the outer defense zone. Behind the second zone, heavy guns were positioned.

Finally, deep behind the front line, three or four more defense lines were located, whenever possible, on the western shore of a river. For instance, important defense lines were set up on the western side of the Dnieper and Desna. Additionally, the main urban centers located on the defense line (such as Yelnya, Dukhovshchina and Spas-Demensk) were reinforced and fortified, preparing them for a potentially long fight. Roads were mined and covered with antitank devices and firing points were installed in the most important and tallest buildings.

First stage (7 August – 20 August)

Main breakthrough

General layout of Smolensk region during the battle. General map of smolensk region.png
General layout of Smolensk region during the battle.

After a day of probing, the goal of which was to determine whether German troops would choose to withdraw or not from the first set of trenches, the offensive started on 7 August 1943 at 06:30 (with a preliminary bombardment starting at 04:40 am) with a breakthrough towards Roslavl. Three armies were committed to this offensive: the 5th Army (Soviet Union), the 10th Guards Army, and the 33rd Army.

The attack quickly encountered heavy opposition and stalled. German troops attempted numerous counterattacks from their well-prepared defense positions, supported by tanks, assault guns, and the fire of heavy guns and mortars. As Konstantin Rokossovsky recalls, "we literally had to tear ourselves through German lines, one by one". [10] On the first day, the Soviet troops advanced only 4 km (2.5 mi), [11] with all available troops (including artillery, communications, and engineers) committed to battle. [12]

Despite violent Soviet attacks, it quickly became obvious that the three armies would not be able to get through the German lines. Soviet commanders decided therefore to commit the 68th Army, kept in reserve, to battle. On the German side, three additional divisions (2nd Panzer Division, 36th Infantry Division, and 56th Infantry Division) were sent to the front from the Oryol sector to try to stop the Soviet advance.

The attack resumed the following day with another attempt at a simultaneous breakthrough taking place further north, towards Yartzevo. Both attacks were stopped in their tracks by heavy German resistance. In the following five days, Soviet troops slowly made their way through German defenses, repelling heavy counterattacks and sustaining heavy losses. By feeding reserve troops to battle, the Red Army managed to advance to a depth varying from 15–25 km (9.3–15.5 mi) by 11 August. [13]

Subsequent attacks by the armored and cavalry forces of the 6th Guards Cavalry Corps had no further effect and resulted in heavy casualties because of strong German defenses, leading to a stalemate.

Spas-Demensk offensive

During the Spas-Demensk offensive operation (Russian: Спас-Деменская наступательная операция) in the region of Spas-Demensk, things went better for the 10th Army. The Wehrmacht had fewer troops and only limited reserves in this area, enabling the 10th Army to break through German lines and advance 10 km (6.2 mi) in two days.

The 5th Mechanized Corps, [14] relocated from Kirov and committed to battle in order to exploit the breakthrough, failed in its mission, mainly because a poorly organized anti-aircraft defense enabled Luftwaffe dive bombers to attack its Valentine tanks with some impunity. The corps sustained heavy losses and had to pull away from combat. Soviet troops eventually advanced a further 25 km (16 mi) as of 13 August, liberating Spas-Demensk. [15]

Dukhovshchina offensive

As ordered by the Stavka (the Soviet Armed Forces Command), the Dukhovshchina-Demidov offensive operation near Dukhovshchina started almost a week later, on 13 August. As on other parts of the front, the 39th Army and the 43rd Army encountered serious opposition. During the first day alone, Wehrmacht troops attempted 24 regimental-sized counterattacks. [16]

Soviet troops managed to advance only 6–7 km (3.7–4.3 mi) over the next five days and, although they inflicted heavy casualties on Wehrmacht troops, their own losses were also heavy. [17]

Causes of the stalemate

By mid-August, Soviet operations all along the Smolensk front stabilized. The resulting stalemate, while not a defeat per se, was stinging for Soviet commanders, who provided several explanations for their failure to press forward. Deputy Chief of General Staff General A. I. Antonov reported "We have to deal both with forests and swamps and with increasing resistance of enemy troops reinforced by divisions arriving from Bryansk region" [18] while Marshal Nikolai Voronov, formerly a Stavka member, analysed the stalemate in his memoirs, publishing what he saw as the eight primary causes: [19]

  1. The Wehrmacht OKH command knew about the operation and was prepared for it.
  2. Wehrmacht defense lines were exceptionally well prepared (firing points reinforced by trenches, barbed wire, minefields etc.)
  3. Several Red Army rifle divisions were insufficiently prepared to perform an assault of a multi-lined defense setup. This was especially true for reserve divisions, whose training was not always properly supervised.
  4. There were not enough tanks committed to battle, forcing Red Army commanders to rely on artillery, mortars, and infantry to break through Wehrmacht lines. Moreover, numerous counterattacks and an abundance of minefields slowed down the infantry's progress.
  5. The interaction between regiments and divisions was far from perfect. There were unexpected pauses during the attack and a strong will of some regiments to "hide" from the attack and expose another regiment.
  6. Many Red Army commanders were too impressed by Wehrmacht counterattacks and failed to act properly, even if their own troops outnumbered those of the Wehrmacht.
  7. The infantry were not using their own weapons (such as their own heavy guns and portable mortars) well enough. They relied too much on artillery.
  8. The fact that the offensive was postponed from 3–7 August gave German troops more time to increase their readiness.

With all these factors considered, Voronov demanded that the 4th Tank Army and the 8th Artillery Corps be transferred from the Bryansk Front and instead committed to support the attack near Smolensk. [20]

The stalemate was far from what had been desired by the Stavka, but it had at least one merit: it tied down as much as 40% of all Wehrmacht divisions on the Eastern Front near Smolensk, making the task for troops fighting in the south and near Kursk much easier. [21] The Stavka planned to resume the offensive on 21 August, but decided to postpone it slightly to give Soviet units time to resupply and reinforce. [22]

Second stage (21 August – 6 September)

A Soviet anti-aircraft unit in Smolensk, 1943 Smolensk v gody VOV, 1943 god.jpg
A Soviet anti-aircraft unit in Smolensk, 1943

By mid-August, the situation on the Eastern Front had changed as the Red Army started a general offensive, beginning with the Belgorod-Khar'kov Offensive Operation (Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev; 3–23 August) and the Orlov offensive operation (Operation Polkovodets Kutuzov; 12 July – 18 August) otherwise known as the Battle of Kursk, and continuing with the Wehrmacht's defensive Battle of the Dnieper line in North Ukraine. Nevertheless, the Wehrmacht command was still reinforcing its troops around Smolensk and Roslavl, withdrawing several divisions from the Oryol region. As a result, the two Soviet counteroffensives that followed the Kursk defensive operation (5–23 July) proceeded relatively easily for the Red Army around Oryol, creating a large salient south of Smolensk and Bryansk.

In this situation, the former attack axis, directed southwest towards Roslavl and Bryansk, became useless. The Stavka decided instead to shift the attack axis west to Yelnya and Smolensk. [23]

Yelnya offensive

The Yelnya-Dorogobuzh offensive operation was considered the "key" to Smolensk and Wehrmacht troops created a massive fortified defensive position around the city. Swampy areas on the Desna and Ugra rivers were mined and heavy guns set up on hills overlooking the city.

The Soviet armies, aware of the Wehrmacht preparations, were reinforced with tanks and artillery during the week from 20–27 August.

The offensive finally commenced on 28 August by the 10th Guards Army, 21st Army and the 33rd Army), supported by three Tank Corps, a Mechanized corps and the 1st Air Army. These four armies were covering a front of only 36 km (22 mi), creating a very high concentration of troops. The troops, however, had fuel and supplies for two weeks at most. [24]

Soviet troops moved forward after an intense 90-minute shelling. The artillery bombardment as well as ground attack aircraft significantly damaged Wehrmacht lines, allowing the Red Army to execute a breakthrough on a 25 km (16 mi) front and advance 6–8 km (3.7–5.0 mi) by the end of the day. The following day, 29 August, Red Army rifle divisions advanced further, creating a salient 30 km (19 mi) wide and 12–15 km (7.5–9.3 mi) deep. [25]

In order to exploit the breakthrough, the 2nd Guards Tank Corps was thrown into the battle. In one day, its troops advanced 30 km (19 mi) and reached the outskirts of Yelnya. Leaving Wehrmacht troops no time to regroup, Red Army troops attacked the city and started to form an encirclement. On 30 August, Wehrmacht forces were forced to abandon Yelnya, sustaining heavy casualties. This commenced a full-scale retreat by Wehrmacht troops from the area. By 3 September, Soviet forces had reached the eastern shore of the Dniepr.

Bryansk maneuver

Near Bryansk, things went equally well for the Soviet armies, despite heavy German resistance. However, an identified weakness changed all the previous plans. A surprisingly easy capture of several hills commanding the Dubrovka region north of Bryansk, with numerous German soldiers captured in total absence of battle readiness, came to the attention of General Markian Popov, commander of the Bryansk Front from June to October 1943. [26] This meant that the Soviet offensive was probably not expected along that particular axis.

Therefore, the boundary between the First Belorussian Front and the Western Front was shifted south, and two "new" armies executed a single-pincer movement to Dubrovka and around Bryansk, forcing German forces to withdraw. [27]

By 6 September, the offensive slowed down almost to a halt on the entire front, with Soviet troops advancing only 2 km (1.2 mi) each day. On the right flank, heavy fighting broke out in the woods near Yartzevo. On the center, advancing Soviet troops hit the Dnieper defense line. On the left flank, Soviet rifle divisions were slowed as they entered forests southwest of Yelnya. Moreover, Soviet divisions were tired and depleted, at less than 60% nominal strength. On 7 September, the offensive was stopped, and the second stage of the Smolensk operation was over. [28]

Third stage (7 September – 2 October)

In the week from 7–14 September, Soviet troops were once again reinforced and were preparing for another offensive. The next objectives set by the Stavka were the major cities of Smolensk, Vitebsk and Orsha. The operation resumed on 14 September with the Smolensk-Roslavl offensive operation, involving the left flank of the Kalinin Front and the Western Front. After a preliminary artillery bombardment, Soviet troops attempted to break through the Wehrmacht lines.

On the Kalinin Front’s attack sector, the Red Army created a salient 30 km (19 mi) wide and 3–13 km (1.9–8.1 mi) deep by the end of the day. After four days of battle, Soviet rifle divisions captured Dukhovshchina, another "key" to Smolensk. [29]

On the Western Front's attack sector, where the offensive started one day later, the breakthrough was also promising, with a developing salient 20 km (12 mi) large and 10 km (6.2 mi) deep. The same day, Yartsevo, an important railroad hub near Smolensk, was liberated by Soviet troops. On the Western Front's left flank, Soviet rifle divisions reached the Desna and conducted an assault river crossing, creating several bridgeheads on its western shore.

As the result, the Wehrmacht defense line protecting Smolensk was overrun, exposing the troops defending the city to envelopment. General Kurt von Tippelskirch, Chief of Staff of the German 4th Army during the Smolensk operation and later commander of the 4th Army, wrote that:

"The forces of the Soviet Western Front struck the left wing of Army Group Center from the Dorogobuzh-Yelnya line with the aim of achieving a breakthrough in the direction of Smolensk. It became clear that the salient—projecting far to the east—in which the 9th Army was positioned could no longer be held." [30]

By 19 September, Soviet troops had created a 250 kilometers (150 mi) long and 40 kilometers (25 mi) wide gap in Wehrmacht lines. The following day, Stavka ordered the Western Front troops to reach Smolensk before 27 September, then to proceed towards Orsha and Mogilev. The Kalinin Front was ordered to capture Vitebsk before 10 October.

On 25 September, after an assault crossing of the northern Dnieper and street fighting that lasted all night, Soviet troops completed the liberation of Smolensk. The same day another important city, Roslavl, was recaptured. By 30 September, the Soviet offensive force were tired and depleted, and became bogged down outside Vitebsk, Orsha, and Mogilev, which were still held by Wehrmacht troops, and on the 2 October the Smolensk operation was concluded. A limited follow-on was made to successfully capture Nevel after two days of street fighting.

Overall, Soviet troops advanced 100–180 km (62–112 mi) during almost 20 days of this third part of the offensive. [31]

The Battle of Lenino (in the Byelorussian SSR) occurred in the same general area on 12–13 October 1943.

Aftermath

The Smolensk operation was a Soviet victory and a stinging defeat for the Wehrmacht. Although quite modest compared to later offensive operations (not more than 200–250 km (120–160 mi) were gained in depth), [32] the Soviet advance during this operation was important from several points of view. First, German troops were definitively driven back from the Moscow approaches. This strategic threat, which had been the Stavka's biggest source of worry since 1941, was finally removed. Second, German defense rings, on which German troops planned to rely, were almost completely overrun. Quite a few remained, but it was obvious that they would not last. An essay written after the war by several Wehrmacht officers stated that:

Although the vigorous actions of their command and troops allowed the Germans to create a continuous front, there was no doubt that the poor condition of the troops, the complete lack of reserves, and the unavoidable lengthening of individual units' lines concealed the danger that the next major Soviet attack would cause this patchwork front—constructed with such difficulty—to collapse. [33]

Third, as outlined above, the Smolensk Operation was an important "helper" for the Lower Dnieper Offensive, locking between 40 and 55 divisions near Smolensk and preventing their relocation to the southern front. Finally, a once-united German front was now separated by the huge and impassable Pripet marshes, cutting Army Group South off from its northern counterparts, thus greatly reducing the Wehrmacht's abilities to shift troops and supplies from one sector of the front to the other. [34]

For the first time, Soviet troops entered territories which had been occupied for a long time by German soldiers, and discovered war crimes committed by SS Einsatzgruppen units. In the areas liberated during the Smolensk operation (occupied for almost two years), almost all industry and agriculture was gone. In Smolensk oblast itself, almost 80% of urban and 50% of rural living space had been destroyed, along with numerous factories and plants. [6]

After the Smolensk offensive, the central part of the Soviet-German front stabilized again for many months until late June 1944, while the major fighting shifted to the south for the Dnieper line and the territory of Ukraine. Only during January 1944 would the front move again in the north, when German forces were driven back from Leningrad, completely lifting the siege which had lasted for 900 days. Finally, Operation Bagration in summer 1944 allowed the Red Army to clear almost all the remaining territory of the USSR of Wehrmacht troops, ending German occupation and shifting the war into Poland and Germany.

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Below is the timeline of the events of the Eastern Front of World War II, the conflict between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1945.

Battle of Smolensk (1941) battle during the second phase of Operation Barbarossa

The First Battle of Smolensk was a battle during the second phase of Operation Barbarossa, the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, in World War II. It was fought around the city of Smolensk between 10 July and 10 September 1941, about 400 km (250 mi) west of Moscow. The Wehrmacht had advanced 500 km (310 mi) into the USSR in the 18 days after the invasion on 22 June 1941. The German army encountered unexpected resistance during the battle, leading to a two-month delay in their advance on Moscow.

Yelnya Offensive military offensive

The Yelnya Offensive was a military operation by the Soviet Army during the Battle of Smolensk during Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, which began the German-Soviet War. The offensive was an attack against the semi-circular Yelnya salient which the German 4th Army had extended 50 kilometres (31 mi) south-east of Smolensk, forming a staging area for an offensive towards Vyazma and eventually Moscow. Under heavy pressure on its flanks, the German army (Heer) evacuated the salient by 8 September 1941, leaving behind a devastated and depopulated region. As the first reverse that the Heer suffered during Barbarossa and the first recapture of the Soviet territory by the Red Army, the battle was covered by Nazi and Soviet propaganda and served as a morale boost to the Soviet population.

Panther–Wotan line German defense line in WW II between Germany and the USSR

The Panther–Wotan line was a defensive line partially built by the German Wehrmacht in 1943 on the Eastern Front. The first part of the name refers to the short northern section between Lake Peipus and the Baltic Sea at Narva. It stretched all the way south towards the Black Sea along the Dnieper.

Battle of the Dnieper battle

The Battle of the Dnieper was a military campaign that took place in 1943 on the Eastern Front of World War II. It was one of the largest operations in World War II, involving almost 4,000,000 troops at a time stretched on a 1,400 kilometres (870 mi) long front. During its four-month duration, the eastern bank of the Dnieper was recovered from German forces by five of the Red Army's fronts, which conducted several assault river crossings to establish several lodgements on the western bank. Subsequently, Kiev was liberated in the Battle of Kiev.

The Bryansk Front was a major formation of the Red Army during the Second World War.

Battle of Bryansk (1941) 2–21 October 1941

The Battle of Bryansk was a twenty-day battle during World War II conducted in the Bryansk Oblast as a part of the overall Moscow campaign. Returning from the Kiev operation, Heinz Guderian attacked in an unexpected direction capturing Bryansk and Oryol with few casualties thereby encircling two Soviet formations, the 13th Army and 3rd Army. A third Soviet formation, the 50th Army was encircled by infantry of the German 2nd Army north of Bryansk. However the encircled Red Army units continued fighting, delaying the drive on Moscow for two weeks. This delay, as well as the casualties taken by the Wehrmacht liquidating the pockets contributed to the German collapse at the gates of Moscow. See also: Vyazma and Bryansk pockets. As a result of this battle, the Germans occupied Bryansk until they were expelled by the Red Army on September 17, 1943 as a part of the Smolensk campaign.

The Red Army's 33rd Army was a Soviet field army during the Second World War. It was disbanded by being redesignated HQ Smolensk Military District in 1945.

The 3rd Guards Volnovakha Red Banner Order of Suvorov Motor Rifle Division was a division of the Soviet Army from 1957 to around 1992. It traced its history from the highly decorated 3rd Guards Rifle Division of World War II. 3rd Guards Rifle Division was formed from the 153rd Rifle Division.

The Orsha offensives were a series of battles fought in Belarus between the Red Army and the Wehrmacht during the autumn of 1943, and into the following winter. Orsha was a main road junction with the north-south route from Leningrad to Kiev and the east-west route from Minsk to Moscow. After the failure of Operation Typhoon in the winter of 1941, Army Group Centre had spent the most part on the defensive in the central sector of the front. The time afforded to them in 1942, a distinct period of inactivity in this area, allowed the Wehrmacht to build formidable defensive positions.

The 43rd Army was a Red Army field army of World War II that served on the Eastern Front. Formed in late July 1941, the army fought in the Battle of Smolensk (1941). It was forced to retreat after German troops broke through in October 1941 and subsequently fought in the Battle of Moscow. The army then fought in the Rzhev-Vyazma Offensive. After the end of the offensive, the army held its positions and transferred to the Demidov area in late 1942. It fought in the Battle of Smolensk (1943). During the summer of 1944 the army fought in Operation Bagration. In the fall the army advanced into the Baltic region and fought in the Riga Offensive (1944) and the Battle of Memel. In 1945 the army fought in the East Prussian Offensive before being placed in reserve near the end of April. The 43rd Army was disbanded postwar in July 1946.

The 5th Mechanised Corps was a mechanised corps of the Red Army, formed on three occasions. It was first formed in 1934 and was converted into the 15th Tank Corps in 1938. It was reformed in the Far East in 1940 and moved west before the German invasion of the Soviet Union. It fought in the First Battle of Smolensk, losing large numbers of tanks in the Lepel counterattack. The corps was encircled in the Smolensk pocket and after breaking out was disbanded in late August 1941. Its third formation, from elements of the 22nd Tank Corps, occurred in September 1942. The corps fought in: Operation Little Saturn, Operation Gallop, the Second Battle of Smolensk, the Dnieper–Carpathian Offensive, and the Jassy–Kishinev Offensive. In September 1944, it became the 9th Guards Mechanised Corps.

Ivan Grishin Soviet colonel general

Ivan Tikhonovich Grishin was a Soviet Army Colonel general and Hero of the Soviet Union. Grishin enlisted in the Red Army during the Russian Civil War and fought against the Tambov Rebellion. He became an officer and graduated from the Frunze Military Academy in 1936. In October 1940, he became the commander of the 137th Rifle Division, which he led through the World War II battles of Smolensk and Moscow. Grishin became 50th Army chief of staff and in April 1943 transferred to the same position in the 11th Guards Army. Soon after, he became 49th Army commander and led the army through the Smolensk Operation, Operation Bagration, the East Prussian Offensive and the Berlin Offensive at the end of the war. Postwar, Grishin commanded the 6th Guards Army. In 1946, he became the head of combat training for the Ground Forces. Grishin died in 1951 in Moscow.

The 61st Rifle Corps was a Red Army infantry corps during World War II, formed twice. The 61st Rifle Corps was formed firmed in Tula during September 1939. After Operation Barbarossa, it was transferred to the front in Belarus and fought in the Battle of Smolensk. After suffering heavy losses at Smolensk, it was disbanded in early August 1941. Reformed in spring 1943, the corps fought in Operation Kutuzov, the Lublin–Brest Offensive and the Berlin Offensive. The corps was disbanded after the end of the war in summer 1945.

The 68th Army was a field army of the Soviet Union's Red Army. It was formed in February 1943 from the headquarters of the 57th Army and fought in the Battle of Demyansk (1943) and the Staraya Russa Operation, part of Operation Polyarnaya Zvezda. After spending several months in reserve, the army fought in the Battle of Smolensk (1943) between August and October. The army was disbanded in November and its troops became part of the 5th Army.

The 7th Mechanized Corps was a mechanized corps of the Red Army, formed three times. The corps was first formed in 1934 in the Leningrad Military District and was converted into the 10th Tank Corps in 1938. The corps was reformed in the summer of 1940 in the Moscow Military District and fought in the Battle of Smolensk, after which its headquarters became part of Group Yartsevo's headquarters. The corps was formed a third time in August and September 1943. The third formation fought in the Dnieper–Carpathian Offensive, Uman–Botoșani Offensive, Jassy–Kishinev Offensive, Battle of Debrecen, Budapest Offensive, Bratislava–Brno Offensive, Prague Offensive, and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria. Postwar, the corps' third formation became a division and was disbanded in 1957.

330th Rifle Division (Soviet Union)

The 330th Rifle Division was formed as an infantry division of the Red Army late in the summer of 1941, as part of the massive buildup of new Soviet fighting formations at that time. It took part in the defense of Tula in 10th Army soon after reaching the front, and remained in that army for a remarkably long time, until April 1944. It fought in the offensive push into German-occupied western Russia through 1943, then in the destruction of Army Group Center in the summer of 1944, distinguishing itself in the liberation of Mogilyov in June. In 1945 the men and women of the 330th took part in the Vistula-Oder Offensive through Poland and into Pomerania, and then finally in the fighting north of Berlin, ending the war with high distinction, but being disbanded soon after.

The 312th Rifle Division was a Red Army infantry division formed for the first time on July 10, 1941 in Kazakhstan before being sent to the vicinity of Leningrad, where it fought briefly before being redeployed to the front southwest of Moscow in late October, where it suffered huge losses in the wake of Operation Typhoon, and was disbanded not long after. A new 312th began forming in December in Siberia, and this second formation served again in front of Moscow, in the fighting in the area of Rzhev and Sychevka during 1942 and into 1943. In the latter year, the division distinguished itself in the liberation of Smolensk and received that city's name as an honorific. As the war concluded, the men and women of the 312th gained additional honors, and ended the war fighting near Berlin. The division was disbanded shortly after the end of the conflict.

References

Notes

  1. 1 2 A.A. Grechko and al., History of Second World War, Moscow, 1973–1979, tome 7, p.241
  2. 1 2 Glantz (1995), p. 297
  3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 25 May 2013. Retrieved 13 March 2014.
  4. V.A. Zolotarev and al., Great Patriotic War 1941–1945, Moskva, 1998, p 473.
  5. Marshal A.M. Vasilevsky, The matter of my whole life, Moscow, Politizdat, 1973, p. 327.
  6. 1 2 V.P. Istomin, Smolensk offensive operation, 1943, Moscow, Mil. Lib., 1975, page 15
  7. 1 2 V.P. Istomin, p. 16
  8. 1 2 V.P. Istomin, p. 12
  9. Marshal N.N. Voronov, On military duty, Moscow, Lib. Milit. Ed., 1963, pp. 382
  10. K. Rokossovsky, Soldier's duty, Moscow, Politizdat, 1988, p. 218.
  11. V.P. Istomin, pp. 81–82
  12. V.P. Istomin, p.84
  13. V.P. Istomin, p. 84–88
  14. See Tank Corps (Soviet); John Erickson, writing in the early 1980s, refers to the 5th Tank Corps being badly mauled both from the air and the ground. John Erickson (historian), Road to Berlin, 1982, p.130
  15. V.P. Istomin, p. 92–94
  16. V.P. Istomin, p. 94–95
  17. A.A. Grechko and al., History of Great Patriotic War, 1941–1945, Moscow, 1963, t. 3, p. 361.
  18. G.K. Zhukov, Memoirs, Moscow, Ed. APN, 1971, p. 485
  19. Voronov, pp. 387—388
  20. V.P. Istomin, p. 101
  21. Operations of Soviet Armed Forces during the Great Patriotic War 1941—1945 (collective work, part written by V.P. Istomin), tome 2, Voenizdat, Moscow, 1958.
  22. Marshal A.I. Yeremenko, Years of retribution, Moscow, Science, 1969, pp. 51—55.
  23. V.P. Istomin, p. 104
  24. V.P. Istomin, p. 105
  25. V.P.Istomin, p.110.
  26. Voenno-istoricheskiy zhurnal (Military history journal), 1969, #10, p. 31
  27. Voenno-istoricheskiy zhurnal, p. 32
  28. V.P. Istomin, pp. 122–123
  29. V.P. Istomin, p. 131
  30. Kurt Tippelskirch, History of Second World War, Moscow, 1957, pp. 320–321
  31. V.P. Istomin, pp. 134–136
  32. V.P. Istomin, p. 5
  33. World war 1939–1945 (collection of essays), Moscow, Ed. Foreign Lit., 1957, pp. 216–217.
  34. V.P. Istomin, p. 163

Bibliography

Coordinates: 54°47′N32°03′E / 54.783°N 32.050°E / 54.783; 32.050