Belgrade Offensive

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Belgrade Offensive
Part of the Yugoslav and Eastern fronts of World War II
Unisten tenk ispred palate Albanija.jpg
Destroyed Soviet Red Army T-34/85 tank in Belgrade (Palace Albanija in the background)
Date15 September 1944 – 24 November 1944 [1]
Location
Result Allied victory
Belligerents
Allies
Flag of the Soviet Union (1936-1955).svg  Soviet Union
Yugoslav Partisans flag (1942-1945).svg Yugoslav Partisans
Flag of the Bulgarian Homeland Front.svg Bulgaria

Axis
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg  Germany

Commanders and leaders
Flag of the Soviet Union (1936-1955).svg Fyodor Tolbukhin
Flag of the Soviet Union (1936-1955).svg Nikolai Gagen
Flag of the Soviet Union (1936-1955).svg Vladimir Zhdanov
Yugoslav Partisans flag (1942-1945).svg Peko Dapčević
Yugoslav Partisans flag (1942-1945).svg Danilo Lekić
Flag of the Bulgarian Homeland Front.svg Vladimir Stoychev
Flag of the Bulgarian Homeland Front.svg Kiril Stanchev
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Maximilian von Weichs
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Wilhelm Schneckenburger  
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Hans Felber
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Alexander Löhr
Units involved
Flag of the Soviet Union (1936-1955).svg 3rd Ukrainian Front
Yugoslav Partisans flag (1942-1945).svg 1st Corps
Yugoslav Partisans flag (1942-1945).svg 12th Corps
Flag of the Bulgarian Homeland Front.svg 1st Army
Flag of the Bulgarian Homeland Front.svg 2nd Army
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Army Group F
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg 2nd Panzer Army
Flag of the Government of National Salvation (occupied Yugoslavia).svg Serbian State Guard [ citation needed ]
Strength
580,000 troops
3,640 artillery pieces
520 tanks and assault guns
1,420 aircraft
80 ships
150,000 troops
(mostly 2nd tier infantry & non-German support troops)
2,100 artillery pieces
125 tanks and assault guns
350 aircraft
70 ships
Casualties and losses

Soviets:
4,350 killed or missing
14,488 wounded or sick
18,838 overall [3]

Contents

Yugoslav Partisans:
2,953 dead
(assault on Belgrade only) [4]
45,000[ citation needed ]

The Belgrade Offensive or the Belgrade Strategic Offensive Operation (Serbian : Београдска операција / Beogradska operacija; Russian : Белградская стратегическая наступательная операция, Belgradskaya strategicheskaya nastupatel'naya operatsiya) (15 September 1944 – 24 November 1944) [5] was a military operation in which Belgrade was liberated from the German Wehrmacht through the joint efforts of the Soviet Red Army, Yugoslav Partisans, and the Bulgarian Army. [6] Soviet forces and local militias launched separate but loosely cooperative operations that undermined German control of Belgrade and ultimately forced a retreat. [7] Martial planning was coordinated evenly among command leaders, and the operation was largely enabled through tactical cooperation between Josip Broz Tito and Joseph Stalin that began in September 1944. [8] [9] These martial provisions allowed Bulgarian forces to engage in operations throughout Yugoslav territory, which furthered tactical success while increasing diplomatic friction. [10]

Serbian language South Slavic language

Serbian is the standardized variety of the Serbo-Croatian language mainly used by Serbs. It is the official language of Serbia, co-official in the territory of Kosovo, and one of the three official languages of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition, it is a recognized minority language in Montenegro, where it is spoken by the relative majority of the population, as well as in Croatia, North Macedonia, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.

Russian language East Slavic language

Russian is an East Slavic language, which is official in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely used throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 25 December 1991. Although nearly three decades have passed since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is used in official capacity or in public life in all the post-Soviet nation-states, as well as in Israel and Mongolia.

Belgrade City in Serbia

Belgrade is the capital and largest city of Serbia. It is located at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers and the crossroads of the Pannonian Plain and the Balkan Peninsula. The urban area of Belgrade has a population of 1.23 million, while nearly 1.7 million people live within the administrative limits of the City of Belgrade, a quarter of total population of Serbia.

The primary objectives of the Belgrade Offensive centered on lifting the German occupation of Serbia, seizing Belgrade as a strategic holdout in the Balkans, and severing German communication lines between Greece and Hungary. [11] The spearhead of the offensive was executed by the Soviet 3rd Ukrainian Front in coordination with the Yugoslav 1st Army Corps. Simultaneous operations in the south involved the Bulgarian 2nd Army and Yugoslav XIII Army Corps, and the incursion of the 2nd Ukrainian Front northwards from the Yugoslav-Bulgarian border placed additional pressure on German command. [12] There were additional skirmishes between Bulgarian forces and German anti-partisan regiments in Macedonia that represented the campaign's southernmost combat operations. [13] [14]

Balkans Geopolitical and cultural region of southeastern Europe

The BalkansBAWL-kənz, also known as the Balkan Peninsula, is a geographic area in Southeast Europe with various definitions and meanings, including geopolitical and historical. The region takes its name from the Balkan Mountains that stretch throughout the whole of Bulgaria from the Serbian–Bulgarian border to the Black Sea coast. The Balkan Peninsula is bordered by the Adriatic Sea on the northwest, the Ionian Sea on the southwest, the Aegean Sea in the south and southeast, and the Black Sea on the east and northeast. The northern border of the peninsula is variously defined. The highest point of the Balkans is Mount Musala, 2,925 metres (9,596 ft), in the Rila mountain range, Bulgaria.

Background

Developments in Yugoslavia

By the summer of 1944, the Germans had not only lost control of practically all the mountainous area of Yugoslavia but were no longer able to protect their own essential lines of communication. Another general offensive on their front was unthinkable, and by September it was clear that Belgrade and the whole of Serbia must shortly be free of them. These summer months were the best the movement had ever seen; there were more recruits than could be armed or trained, desertions from the enemy reached high numbers; one by one the objectives of resistance were reached and taken. [15]

In August 1943, the German Wehrmacht had two army formations deployed in the Balkans: Army Group E in Greece and the 2nd Panzer Army in Yugoslavia and Albania. Army Group F headquarters (Generalfeldmarschall von Weichs) in Belgrade acted as a joint high command for these formations, as well as for Bulgarian and Quisling formations.

Army Group E was a German Army Group active during World War II.

The 2nd Panzer Army was a German armoured formation during World War II, formed from the 2nd Panzer Group on October 5, 1941.

Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Socialist republic in Southeast Europe between 1943 and 1992

The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), also known as SFR Yugoslavia or simply Yugoslavia, was a country located in Central and Southeastern Europe that existed from its foundation in the aftermath of World War II until its dissolution in 1992 amid the Yugoslav Wars. Covering an area of 255,804 km², the SFRY was bordered by the Adriatic Sea and Italy to the west, Austria and Hungary to the north, Bulgaria and Romania to the east, and Albania and Greece to the south.

After the collapse of the uprising in December 1941, anti-Axis activity in Serbia decreased significantly, and the focus of resistance moved to other, less populated areas. Consequently, although Serbia had great significance to the Germans, very few troops actually remained there; according to Schmider only about 10,000 in June 1944. [16] In the following years, Tito repeatedly tried to reinforce the partisan forces in Serbia with experienced units from Bosnia and Montenegro. From the spring of 1944, the Allied command had assisted in these efforts. [17] The Germans actively opposed these efforts by concentrating forces in the border regions of Bosnia and Montenegro, in order to disturb Partisan concentrations, to inflict casualties on Partisan units, and to push them back with a series of large-scale assaults.

Uprising in Serbia (1941)

The Uprising in Serbia was initiated in July 1941 by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia against the German occupation forces and their Serbian quisling auxiliaries in the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia. At first the Yugoslav Partisans had mounted diversions and conducted sabotage and had attacked representatives of Aćimović's quisling administration. In late August some Chetniks joined the uprising and liberated Loznica. The uprising soon reached mass proportions. Partisans and Chetniks captured towns that weak German garrisons had abandoned. The armed uprising soon engulfed great parts of the occupied territory. The largest liberated territory in occupied Europe was created by the Partisans in western Serbia, and was known as the Republic of Užice. Rebels shared power on the liberated territory; the center of the Partisan liberated territory was in Užice, and Chetniks had their headquarters on Ravna Gora.

Bosnia and Herzegovina Republic in Southeast Europe

Bosnia and Herzegovina, abbreviated BiH or B&H, sometimes called Bosnia–Herzegovina and often known informally as Bosnia, is a country in Southeastern Europe, located within the Balkan Peninsula. Sarajevo is the capital and largest city.

Montenegro Republic in Southeastern Europe

Montenegro is a country in Southeast Europe on the Adriatic Sea. It borders Bosnia and Herzegovina to the northwest; Serbia and Kosovo to the east, Albania to the south and Croatia to the west. Montenegro has an area of 13,812 square kilometres and a population of 620,079. Its capital Podgorica is one of the twenty-three municipalities in the country. Cetinje is designated as the Old Royal Capital.

In July 1944, German defenses began to fail. After the failure of Operation Draufgänger (Daredevil) – a 1944 anti-partisan operation in Montenegro, Yugoslavia, and Northern Albania – three divisions of the Narodnooslobodilačka vojska Jugoslavije (the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia) (NOVJ) – managed to cross the Ibar River to the east and threaten the main railroad lines. After the failure of Operation Rübezahl in Montenegro in August 1944, two additional NOVJ divisions broke through the German blockade, successfully entrenching themselves in western Serbia. Army Group F command responded by deploying additional forces: the 1st Mountain Division arrived in Serbia in early August, followed by the 4th SS Panzergrenadier Division from the Thessaloniki area.

Albania country in Southeast Europe

Albania, officially the Republic of Albania, is a country in Southeast Europe on the Adriatic and Ionian Sea within the Mediterranean Sea. It shares land borders with Montenegro to the northwest, Kosovo to the northeast, North Macedonia to the east, Greece to the south and maritime borders with Greece, Montenegro and Italy to the west.

Blockade effort to cut off supplies from a particular area by force

A blockade is an effort to cut off supplies, war material or communications from a particular area by force, either in part or totally. A blockade should not be confused with an embargo or sanctions, which are legal barriers to trade. It is also distinct from a siege in that a blockade is usually directed at an entire country or region, rather than a fortress or city. While most blockades historically took place at sea, blockade is still used on land to prevent someone coming into a certain area.

1st Mountain Division (Wehrmacht) WWII German division

The 1st Mountain Division was an elite formation of the German Wehrmacht during World War II, and is remembered for its involvement in multiple large-scale war crimes. It was created on 9 April 1938 in Garmisch Partenkirchen from the Mountain Brigade which was itself formed on 1 June 1935. The division consisted mainly of Bavarians and some Austrians.

Developments in Romania in late August 1944 confronted Army Group F command with the necessity of an immediate large-scale concentration of troops and weapons in Serbia in order to cope with a threat from the east. The Allied command, and the NOVJ supreme command, predicted this scenario and developed a plan for the occasion. On 1 September 1944, a general attack from the ground and from the air on the German transport lines and installations (Operation Ratweek) began. [18] These attacks largely hindered German troop movements, with units disassembled and tied to the ground. [19]

In the meantime, the 1st Proletarian Corps, the main partisan formation in Serbia, continued with reinforcing and developing its forces and with seizing positions for the assault on Belgrade. On 18 September Valjevo was taken, and on 20 September Aranđelovac. Partisans achieved control of a large area south and southwest of Belgrade, thus forming the basis for the future advance towards Belgrade.

In response to the defeat of German forces in the Jassy-Kishinev Operation in late August 1944, which forced Bulgaria and Romania to switch sides, and to the advance of Red Army troops into the Balkans, Berlin ordered Army Group E to withdraw into Hungary. But the combined actions of Yugoslav partisans and Allied air forces impeded German movements with Ratweek. With the Red Army on Serbia's borders, the Wehrmacht put together another provisional army formation from available elements of Army Group E and the 2nd Panzer Army for the defense of Serbia, called "Army Group Serbia" (German : Armeeabteilung Serbien).

Regional developments

As a result of the Bulgarian coup d'état of 1944, the monarchist-fascist regime in Bulgaria was overthrown and replaced with a government of the Fatherland Front led by Kimon Georgiev. Once the new government came to power, Bulgaria declared war on Germany. Under the new pro-Soviet government, four Bulgarian armies, 455,000 strong were mobilized and reorganized. In early October 1944, three Bulgarian armies, consisting of around 340,000 men, [13] were located on the Yugoslav – Bulgarian border. [20] [21]

By the end of September, the Red Army 3rd Ukrainian Front troops under the command of Marshal Fyodor Tolbukhin were concentrated at the Bulgarian-Yugoslav border. The Soviet 57th Army was stationed in the Vidin area, while the Bulgarian 2nd Army [22] (General Kiril Stanchev commanding under the operational command of the 3rd Ukrainian Front) was stationed to the south on the Niš rail line at the junction of the Bulgarian, Yugoslav, and Greek borders. This allowed the arrival of the Partisans 1st Army from Yugoslav territory, in order to provide support to their 13th and 14th Corps collaborating in the liberation of Niš and supporting the 57th Army's advance to Belgrade, respectively. The Red Army 2nd Ukrainian Front's 46th Army was deployed in the area of the Teregova river (Romania), poised to cut the rail link between Belgrade and Hungary to the north of Vršac.

Pre-operations were coordinated between the Soviets and the commander-in-chief of the Yugoslav Partisans, Marshal Josip Broz Tito. Tito arrived in Soviet-controlled Romania on 21 September, and from there flew to Moscow where he met with Soviet premier Joseph Stalin. The meeting was a success, in particular because the two allies reached an agreement concerning the participation of Bulgarian troops in the operation that would be conducted on Yugoslav territory.

The offensive

Before the start of ground operations, the Soviet 17th Air Army (3rd Ukrainian Front) was ordered to impede the withdrawal of German troops from Greece and southern regions of Yugoslavia. To do so, it carried out air attacks on the railroad bridges and other important facilities in the areas of Niš, Skopje, and Kruševo lasting from 15 to 21 September.

Plan of the offensive

Map of the offensive. Belgrade Offensive Map.JPG
Map of the offensive.
Map of the Balkan military theater during September 1944 - January 1945. Map Nazi 1944.jpg
Map of the Balkan military theater during September 1944 – January 1945.

It was necessary for the Yugoslavs to break through German defensive positions on the Yugoslav-Bulgarian border to gain control of roads and mountain passages through eastern Serbia, to penetrate into the valley of the Great Morava river, and to secure the bridgehead on the western bank. This task was to be executed mainly by the 57th Army, and the Yugoslav XIV Army Corps was ordered to co-operate and support the Red Army attack behind the front line. [23]

After the successful completion of the first stage, the plan was to deploy the 4th Guards Mechanized Corps to the bridgehead on the west bank. This Corps with its tanks, heavy weapons, and impressive firepower was compatible with the Yugoslav 1st Army Corps, which had significant, concentrated manpower, but was armed mainly with light infantry weapons. Once joined, these two formations were ordered to execute the main attack on Belgrade from the south. [24] The advantages of this plan were the possibility of the rapid deployment of forces in the critical final stage of the offensive, and the possibility of cutting off German troops in eastern Serbia from their main forces.

First Stage

Local situation

In January 1944, partisan operational units left the northern part of east Serbia under pressure from occupiers and auxiliary forces. Bulgarian garrisons, some German police forces, and Serbian Quisling troops, all under German command, and Chetniks, mostly commanded by agreements with the Germans, remained in the area. Partisan forces made up of the 23rd and 25th Divisions returned to the central parts of east Serbia in July and August 1944, forming a free territory with a makeshift runway in Soko Banja, thus securing both air supply of arms and ammunition, and allowing evacuation of the wounded. After the coup in Romania, the importance of the northern part of east Serbia had grown for both sides. In a race against each other the Partisans were better positioned and faster. 23rd Division, in a fierce battle with Order Police battalions and auxiliary forces, took Zaječar on 7 September, and on 12 September entered Negotin, while the 25th Division unsuccessfully attacked Donji Milanovac at the same time. Volunteers were joining the units in large numbers increasing their size. A new, 45th Serbian Division was formed on 3 September, and on 6 September, 14 Corps headquarters was established as a high command for the area of operations.

The Germans intervened with the 1st Mountain Division, reaching Zaječar on 9 September. Over the next week Partisans launched defensive attacks trying to deny the Germans access to the Danube at Negotin. On 16 September, when Red Army forces did not cross over from Romania as expected, the 14th Corps decided to abandon its defense of the Danube coastline, and to focus on attacking German columns maneuvering elsewhere.

On 12 September, near Negotin, a NOVJ delegation led by Colonel Ljubodrag Đurić crossed the Danube to the Romanian side, and establish contact with the Red Army 74th Rifle Division. The delegation was accompanied to Romanian territory by the 1st Battalion of the 9th Serbian Brigade; the 1st Battalion would fight with the 109th Regiment of 74th Rifle Division until 7 October.

In August 1944, Army Group F Commander Feldmarschall Maximilian von Weichs ordered the concentration of his mobile forces in Serbia to combat the Partisans. This included: the 4th SS Police Division, the 1st Mountain Division, the 92nd Motorized Regiment, the 4th Brandenburg Regiment, the 191st Assault Brigade, and the 486th Armored Reconnaissance Troop. As a counter-measure to the events in Romania and Bulgaria, he ordered the 11th Luftwaffe Field Division, the 22nd Infantry, the 117th, the 104th Jäger Division, and the 18th SS Mountain Police Regiment to advance to Macedonia.

The 1st Mountain Division was withdrawn from operations against partisans in Montenegro, and was transported to the Niš area. On 6 September, it was placed under the command of General Hans Felber, tasked with establishing control on the Bulgarian border. By mid-September, the division won control of Zaječar and reached the Danube, at the area where the main attack was expected. The 7th SS Division under the command of the 2nd Panzer Army, attacked partisan units moving to Serbia from eastern Bosnia and Sandžak. This Division was subordinated to General Felber on 21 September, with the intention of launching an offensive against the partisans in western Serbia. However, due to the deteriorating situation on the eastern border, this offensive was canceled. Beginning at the end of September, the division was transferred to southeast Serbia, to guarde the southern part of the Serbian front-line between Zaječar and Vranje. This enabled the 1st Mountain Division to concentrate on the north, in the area between Zaječar and Iron Gates. The 1st Mountain Division was strengthened by the 92 Motorized Regiment, the 2nd Brandenburg, and the 18th SS Mountain Police Regiment. Both divisions added men from sections of German units withdrawn from Romania, and Bulgaria, as well as from local formations. On 22 September, the 1st Mountain Division mounted an attack on the left bank of the Danube in order to gain control of the Iron Gates, but the plan failed when the 75th Corps of the Red Army, advancing in the opposite direction, launched an attack on the division.

Attack of the 57th Army

After the Iassy-Kishinev Operation, a wide and deep area of possible advancement opened up in front of the Red Army. This started a race between the Soviets and the Germans to the "Blue Line", an intended front-line running from the southern slopes of the Carpathians over the Iron Gates down the Yugoslav-Bulgarian border. By the end of September, both the 2nd and the 3rd Ukrainian Front managed to deploy some 19 Rifle Divisions with supporting units to the line (compared to 91 Rifle Divisions in the Iassy-Kishinev Operation). [1] Vast terrain with poor and damaged roads, uncertainty over local forces, and logistical difficulties dispersed the German groups and slowed down their advancement. On the other side, Army Group F encountered much larger problems in concentrating their forces. This resulted in the Red Army achieving substantial superiority in numbers on the Blue Line by the end of September. Given this fact, and the prospect of cooperation with NOVJ, the offensive was launched.

First to reach the Iron Gates area were reconnaissance elements of the 75th Rifle Corps. On 12 September, they established contact with the partisans on the other side of the Danube. However, in the following days, the Germans succeeded in pushing out the partisans from the river bank, and launched a limited attack on Red Army elements across the Danube. According to the general plan, the 75th Corps was to be included in the composition of the 57th Army during its attack south of the Danube, and the completion of the 57th Army transfer to the Vidin area was not expected before 30 September. Having a fluid situation on the Yugoslav side of the Iron Gates, and a German attack across the Danube, 75th Corps launched its attack earlier, crossing the Danube on 22 September. After initial success, in the next days, the German 1st Mountain Division undertook a vigorous counter-attack, pushing the Soviets back to the shores of the Danube. Because of this, the 57th Army attack was launched on 27 and 28 September with troops brought in over night. Divisions of the 68th and the 64th Rifle Corps were introduced to the area from Negotin to Zaječar.

This attack by three Army Corps allowed the Red Army to gain supremacy on the combat line and to advance in spite of the stubborn German defense. On 30 September, Negotin was liberated and heavy fighting erupted in Zaječar.

Army Group F Command in Belgrade sought to bring more units to Belgrade as soon as possible. Commander-in-Chief Maximilian von Weichs ordered the 104th Jäger Division to be transported immediately as soon as transport of the 117th Jäger Division was completed. However, transport from the south was hindered by partisan operations and Allied Air Force attacks. The 117th Jäger Division had been boarded on forty-four trains in Athens on 19 September, but only seventeen of them had reached Belgrade by 8 October. The 104th Jäger Division remained blocked in Macedonia. Because of the lack of troops at the front-line, on 29 September, Army Group F Command ordered a defensive assault by the 1st Mountain Division and the 92nd Motorized Brigade in an attempt to buy time. Assault Regiment Rhodes was transported to Belgrade by air without heavy weapons, but this method of transport could not meet the army's needs.

The attack on the German forces by three Soviet Rifle Corps, supported by the 14th Corps NOVJ, stretched between Donji Milanovac and Zaječar, gradually progressed, despite persistent resistance. The fight broke down into a number of skirmishes for the strong points in towns and on the crossroads and passes, and the Germans were forced to withdraw gradually. The 14th Corps NOVJ won control over communications behind the front-line, and the commander of the 57th Army sent his Chief of Staff Major General Verkholovich (Russian : Верхолович) to the 14th Corps Headquarters to coordinate actions. [25] On 1 October, after a fierce battle, the 223rd Division of the 68th Corps seized an important crossroad in the village of Rgotina, 10 km to the north of Zaječar. Another important crossroad in Štubik fell on 2 October after a bitter battle. On 3 October, parts of the 223rd Division and the 7th and 9th Serbian Brigade of the 23rd Division NOVJ liberated Bor, important for its large copper mine. In Bor the 7th and 9th Brigade liberated some 1,700 forced laborers, mostly Jews from Hungary. [26]

Because of successful attacks, by 4 October, German forces in front of the Soviet 57th Army were separated into three battle groups with no contact with each other. Battle group Groth holding Zaječar was the southernmost, battle group Fisher held positions in the middle, and battle group Stettner (named after the 1st Mountain Division commander) held grounds in mountains further to the north. Having firm control of the crossroads in their area, Soviet command decided to postpone a decisive attack on the German battle groups and to exploit the open roads with mobile forces for deeper penetration. On 7 October, the 5th Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade, reinforced with a self-propelled artillery regiment and an anti-tank regiment, marched from Negotin over Rgotina and Žagubica to Svilajnac. In twenty-four hours the brigade performed a 120 km long march-maneuver, reaching the Great Morava valley on 8 October, leaving German frontline forces far behind. The next day, 9 October, the 93rd Rifle Division broke into the Great Morava valley through Petrovac. The division commander formed a special task force under Captain Liskov, to capture the only 30-ton bridge over the river near the village of Donje Livadice. Captain Liskov's group successfully neutralized German guards and prevented them from mining the bridge which held great importance for the remaining course of the offensive. On 10 October, the 93rd Rifle Division and the 5th Motorized Brigade secured the bridgehead on the west bank of the Great Morava river. [27]

On 7 October 64th Rifle Corps units, together with elements of 45th Division NOVJ, finally managed to break the steadfast resistance of battle group Groth and took Zaječar. At the same time, owing to great efforts by engineering units, the 4th Guards Mechanized Corps' transports reached the Vidin area. On 9 October, the Corps moved through Zaječar heading to the bridge over the Great Morava. After crossing the bridge, on 12 October, in the area of Natalinci, 12 km east of Topola, the Corps met the 4th Brigade of the 21st Serbian Division NOVJ. [28] The 4th Guards Mechanized Corps, with its 160 tanks, 21 self-propelled guns, 31 armored cars, and 366 guns and mortars, [29] had impressive firepower. Together with the Yugoslav 1st Proletarian Corps concentrated in the area, the 4th Guards Mechanized Corps formed the main attack force for the direct assault on Belgrade. With this concentration of forces in the area west of Great Morava, the first phase of the offensive was successfully concluded.

Second stage

German counter-measures

On 2 October, the German command structure was reorganized and General Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, former commander of German forces on Crete, resumed command over the front-line south of the Danube. His Corps headquarters was located in Kraljevo. General Wilhelm Schneckenburger retained command of the forces north of the Danube and was tasked with the immediate defense of Belgrade. Both Corps commands were subordinated to General Felber's Army Detachment Serbia command, under Commander-in-Chief, South-east (Army Group F) High Command.

As Belgrade became a more unstable combat zone, on 5 October, Army Group F headquarters was relocated from Belgrade to Vukovar. Felber and Schneckenburger remained in Belgrade.

On 10 October, Army Group F command acknowledged that the Red Army had opened a hole in their front line and had penetrated the Great Morava valley. These Soviet forces threatened to proceed with a direct attack on Belgrade, cutting off the 1st Mountain Division, still stuck in combat in east Serbia, and to attack it from the rear. German Command stated its determination to close the hole with a counter-attack, but lacked troops for such an undertaking. With the impossibility of reinforcements coming from the south finally acknowledged, German Command was forced to seek more troops from 2nd Panzer Army. Previous deployment of forces to the front-line in Serbia had already cost 2nd Panzer Army the loss of a number of important towns, some permanently: (Drvar, Gacko, Prijedor, Jajce, Donji Vakuf, Bugojno, Gornji Vakuf, Tuzla, Hvar, Brač, Pelješac, Berane, Nikšić, Bileća, Trebinje, Benkovac, Livno), and some temporarily: (Užice, Tešanj, Teslić, Slavonska Požega, Zvornik, Daruvar, Pakrac, Kolašin, Bijelo Polje, Banja Luka, Pljevlja, Virovitica, Višegrad, and Travnik). A new defensive plan, put into operation on 10 October, allowed the 2nd Panzer Army to abandon most of the Adriatic coast, and to form a new defensive line from the mouth of Zrmanja eastwards, relying on mountain ranges and fortified towns. This defensive line was to be held with three 'legionnaire' divisions (the 369th, the 373rd and the 392nd), and it was to allow Germans to draw out two divisions (the 118th and the 264th) for use in critical areas. However, due to the failure of the 369th Division, only two battalion-strong battle-groups of the 118th Division were sent to Belgrade, while the 264th was caught in the offensive of the 8th Yugoslav Corps, and was eventually destroyed in the Knin area.

Activities on the flanks

Operations began on the far southern flank of the front with an offensive by the 2nd Bulgarian Army into the Leskovac-Niš area, which almost immediately engaged the infamous 7th SS Mountain Division "Prinz Eugen". Two days later, having encountered the Yugoslav partisans, the Army with partisan participation defeated a combined force of Chetniks and Serbian Frontier Guards and occupied Vlasotince. Using its Armored Brigade as a spearhead, the Bulgarian Army then engaged German positions on 8 October at Bela Palanka, reaching Vlasotince two days later. On 12 October, the Armored Brigade, supported by the 15th Brigade of the 47th Partisan Division, was able to take Leskovac, with the Bulgarian reconnaissance battalion crossing the Morava and probing toward Niš. The goal of this was to not so much to pursue the remnants of the "Prinz Eugen" Division withdrawing northwest, but for the Bulgarian 2nd Army to begin the liberation of Kosovo which would have finally cut the route north for the German Army Group E withdrawing from Greece. On 17 October, the leading units of the Bulgarian Army reached Kursumlija, and proceeded to Kuršumlijska Banja. On 5 November, after negotiating the Prepolac Pass with heavy losses, the Brigade occupied Podujevo, but was unable to reach Pristina until the 21st. [30]

On the northern face of the offensive, the Red Army 2nd Ukrainian Front's supporting 46th Army advanced in an attempt to outflank the German Belgrade defensive position from the north, by cutting the river and rail supply lines running along the Tisa. Supported by the 5th Air Army, its 10th Guards Rifle Corps was able to rapidly perform assault crossings of the rivers Tamiš and Tisa north of Pančevo to threaten the Belgrade-Novi Sad railroad. Further to the north the Red Army 31st Guards Rifle Corps advanced toward Petrovgrad, and the 37th Rifle Corps advanced toward, and crossed the Tisa to threaten the stretch of railway between Novi Sad and Subotica, and to prepare for the planned Budapest strategic offensive operation. [31]

Assault on Belgrade

Approaching Belgrade

Yugoslav Partisans in liberated Belgrade, October 1944. Partizani u Beogradu.jpg
Yugoslav Partisans in liberated Belgrade, October 1944.

On 12 October, of the whole area between Kragujevac and Sava, with the exception of Belgrade, the Germans held only solitary strongholds in Šabac, Obrenovac, Topola and Mladenovac, while the areas in between were under the control of NOVJ. After the liberation of Valjevo, divisions of the 12th Corps, and the 6th Division, and scattered Chetniks, pushed back German battle-group von Jungenfeld south of Šabac, and entered the area between Belgrade and Obrenovac. Chetnik elements that had retreated to Belgrade were transported to Kraljevo by the Germans on 3–5 October. 1st and 5th Division held Topola and Mladenovac under pressure, and were reinforced by the 21st Division, which marched in from the south.

On that day, all of the 4th Guards Mechanized Corps was concentrated to the west of Topola. The Germans formed two combat groups to defend against an attack intended to force them back across the Great Morava. The attack of the southern combat group from Kragujevac was easily blocked, and the northern battle group was dealt with by the Corps along its advancement towards Belgrade. The main direction of attack, along a line between Topola and Belgrade, was entrusted to the 36th Tank Brigade, the 13th and 14th Guards Mechanized Brigade of Red Army, and to the 1st, 5th, and 21st division NOVJ. The task of penetrating the line in an additional direction, on the right flank, towards the Danube and Smederevo, was given to the 15th Guards Mechanized Brigade, reinforced by the 5th Independent Mechanized Brigade, two artillery regiments, and the 1st Brigade of 5th Division NOVJ.

The final run towards Belgrade started on 12 October. An auxiliary right flank attack on the 15th Guards Mechanized Brigade, and the 1st Brigade of 5th Division, allowed NOVJ to reach the Danube near Boleč late in the evening of 13 October, after a charge through the positions of the Brandenburgers. [32] With this success, German forces were split into two separate groups: the Belgrade garrison to the west, and the battle-group retreating from eastern Serbia, which was then in the Smederevo area. The latter, consisting of the 1st Mountain Division, the 2nd Brandenburg Regiment, and elements of other units, under General Walter Stettner, was cut off from all other German units, and faced destruction. Efforts by this group to break through and to establish a link with the Belgrade garrison resulted in fierce fighting. In the following days, the 21st and 23 Division NOVJ were deployed to strengthen positions and to prevent the Germans from reuniting.

The 36th Tank Brigade led an attack in the main direction. With the 4th Battalion of the 4th Serbian Brigade boarded on tanks, the 36th headed towards Topola. Parts of the 5th Division NOVJ (10th Krajina Brigade) were attacking the Topola garrison from the west when tanks of 36th Tank Brigade suddenly appeared from the east. After a short but intense artillery bombardment, the German garrison was overrun with a joint charge. The 36th Tank Brigade continued northwards without delay, and 9 kilometers north of Topola encountered a German assault gun battalion marching in the opposite direction. After a short but fierce clash, with serious losses on both sides, the 36th Tank Brigade overran the Germans on the move, and proceeded to the north. Before 12 October was over, with the assistance of the 3rd and 4th Krajina Brigade NOVJ, the 36th Tank Brigade also overran the garrison at Mladenovac, the last important obstacle before Belgrade, in a manner similar to the action at Topola. [33] With Mladenovac cleared, the way to Belgrade was wide open.

On the streets of Belgrade

The 4th Guards Mechanized Corps of the Red Army broke through the enemy resistance south of Belgrade on 14 October, and approached the city. The Yugoslavs advanced along the roads in the direction of Belgrade south of the Sava River, while the Red Army engaged in fighting on the northern bank outskirts.[ citation needed ] The assault on the city was delayed due to the diversion of forces for the elimination of thousands of German troops surrounded between Belgrade and Smederevo to the south-east. On 20 October, Belgrade had been completely overrun by joint Soviet and Yugoslav forces.

The Yugoslav 13th Corps, in cooperation with the Bulgarian 2nd Army, [34] advanced from the south-east. They were responsible for the area of Niš and Leskovac. They were also responsible for cutting off the main evacuation route of Army Group E along the South Morava and Morava Rivers. Army Group E was forced to retreat through the mountains of Montenegro and Bosnia and was unable to re-enforce German units in Hungary.

The Soviet 10th Guards Rifle Corps of the 46th Army (2nd Ukrainian Front), together with units of the Yugoslav Partisans moving via the Danube, provided more offensive strength from the north-east against the Wehrmacht's position in Belgrade. They cleared the left bank of the Tisa and Danube (in Yugoslavia) and took the town of Pančevo.

Allied forces

Participating in the assault on the capital of Yugoslavia were: [35]

Soviet Union

The Liberation of Belgrade Medal was awarded to c70,000 Soviet and allied service personnel who took part in the battle of Belgrade. Liberation de Belgrade AVERS.jpg
The Liberation of Belgrade Medal was awarded to c70,000 Soviet and allied service personnel who took part in the battle of Belgrade.
Boris Tadic and Dmitry Medvedev during celebrations for 65th anniversary Medvedev and Tadic with veterans 20 Oct 2009.jpg
Boris Tadić and Dmitry Medvedev during celebrations for 65th anniversary

Yugoslavia

Yugoslav Partisans flag (1942-1945).svg

Yugoslav Partisans flag (1942-1945).svg

Bulgaria

By the end of the September, the First Army, together with the Bulgarian Second, Third, and elements of the Fourth Armies, was in full-scale combat against the German Army along the Bulgaria-Yugoslavia border, with Yugoslavian guerrillas on their left flank and a Soviet force on their right. They consisted of around 340,000 men. By December 1944, the First Army numbered 100,000 men. The First Army took part in the Bulgarian Army's advance northwards into the Balkan Peninsula with logistical support and under the command of the Red Army. The First Army, advanced into Serbia, Hungary and Austria in the spring of 1945, despite heavy casualties and bad conditions in the winter. During 1944–45, the Bulgarian First Army was commanded by Lieutenant-General Vladimir Stoychev.

Aftermath

Upon completion of the Belgrade operation by the 57th Army with the Yugoslav 51st division in November, the bridgehead in Baranja, on the left bank of Danube was taken, causing an acute crisis for the German defense. The bridgehead served as a platform for the massive concentration of the 3rd Ukrainian Front troops for the Budapest Offensive. The Red Army 68th Rifle Corps participated in the battles on the Kraljevo bridgehead and the Syrmian Front until mid-December, and were then transferred to Baranja. The Red Army Air Force Group "Vitruk" provided air support on the Yugoslav Front until the end of December.

The Yugoslav 1st Army Corps continued to push German forces westwards for some 100 km through Srem, where the Germans managed to stabilize a front in mid-December.

Having lost Belgrade and the Great Morava Valley, German Army Group E was forced to fight for a passage through the mountains of Sandžak and Bosnia, and its first echelons did not reach Drava until mid-February 1945.

Commemoration of the battle

The Serbian Guards Unit during the final dress rehearsals of the Belgrade Military Parade. Military Parade Belgrade 2014 - Serbian Soldiers with Russian Knights - The Swifts (15445827453).jpg
The Serbian Guards Unit during the final dress rehearsals of the Belgrade Military Parade.

A Medal "For the Liberation of Belgrade" was established by a decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet on 19 June 1945. The Yugoslav People's Army held its second military parade on Revolution Boulevard (now Bulevar kralja Aleksandra) in honor of the one year anniversary of the end of the offensive. [36] Since then, the country there has only been two military parades and high level celebrations in honor of the occasion in the SFR Yugoslavia and the Republic of Serbia, with the first one, the March of the Victor, being held on Nikola Tesla Boulevard with Russian President Vladimir Putin as the guest of honour. [37]

Every jubilee anniversary is met with a significant Russian presence, often coming in the form of a state visit by the President of Russia or another high-ranking official to Belgrade. Beginning with Dmitry Medvedev in 2009 and continued with Vladimir Putin as aforementioned, the laying of wreaths of the President of Serbia and the leader of Russia takes place at the Liberators of Belgrade Memorial, which contains the remains of over 3,500 Yugoslav Partisans and Red Army soldiers who died during the offensive. In 2019, Medvedev represented Russia at the 75th anniversary celebrations in his position as Prime Minister instead of President Putin. [38] [39] [40]

See also

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References

  1. 1 2 Krivosheyev 1997.
  2. Tomasevich, Jozo (2001). War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945: Occupation and Collaboration. 2. San Francisco: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-3615-4. pp. 222-228.
  3. Glantz (1995), p. 299
  4. Biryuzov 1964, p. 260.
  5. p.1116, Dupuy; Belgrade itself was taken on 20 October
  6. Ivan Laković, Dmitar Tasić, The Tito–Stalin Split and Yugoslavia's Military Opening toward the West, 1950–1954: In NATO's Backyard, The Harvard Cold War Studies Book Series Authors, Lexington Books, 2016, ISBN 1498539343, p. 203.
  7. p.615, Wilmot "[the Red Army] entered Belgrade ... at the same time as Tito's partisans."; p.152, Seaton; "The Russians had no interest in the German occupation forces in Greece and appear to have had very little interest in those retiring northwards through Yugoslavia...Stalin was content to leave to Tito and the Bulgarians the clearing of Yugoslav territory from the enemy."; Library of Congress Country Studies citing "information from Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1919–1945, Arlington, Virginia, 1976": "...Soviet troops crossed the border on October 1, and a joint Partisan-Soviet force liberated Belgrade on October 20."
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  9. Biryuzov 1964, p. 270.
  10. Tomasevich 2001, p. 168.
  11. Biryuzov 1964, pp. 103–104.
  12. Biryuzov 1964, pp. 103, 124.
  13. 1 2 The Oxford companion to World War II, Ian Dear, Michael Richard Daniell Foot, Oxford University Press, 2001, ISBN   0-19-860446-7, p. 134.
  14. Biryuzov 1964, p. 124.
  15. Basil Davidson: PARTISAN PICTURE
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  21. World War II: The Mediterranean 1940–1945, World War II: Essential Histories, Paul Collier, Robert O'Neill, The Rosen Publishing Group, 2010, ISBN   1-4358-9132-5, p. 77.
  22. this Army included the Bulgarian Armored Brigade previously equipped and trained by the Wehrmacht
  23. Biryuzov 1964, p. 103.
  24. Biryuzov 1964, p. 104.
  25. Biryuzov 1964, p. 160.
  26. Ivanović 1995, p. 162.
  27. Biryuzov 1964, pp. 168–169.
  28. Biryuzov 1964, p. 200.
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  31. p.666, Glantz
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  33. Biryuzov 1964, pp. 203–204.
  34. The composition of the 2nd Army was: Bulgarian Armored Brigade, 8th Infantry Division, 4th Infantry Division, 6th Infantry Division, 12th Infantry Division, parts of the 24th and 26th Infantry Divisions, and the 1st Assault Gun Detachment, pp.166–208, Grechko
  35. http://www.soldat.ru/spravka/freedom/12-yugoslavia.html Dudarenko, M.L., Perechnev, Yu.G., Yeliseev, V.T., et.el., Reference guide "Liberation of cities": reference for liberation of cities during the period of the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945, Moscow, 1985 (Дударенко, М.Л., Перечнев, Ю.Г., Елисеев, В.Т. и др., сост. Справочник «Освобождение городов: Справочник по освобождению городов в период Великой Отечественной войны 1941–1945»)
  36. Radulovic, Mladen (10 October 2014). "Force of the Yugoslav National Army: Belgrade Thundered in the Last Military Parade in 1985! (Video)". kurir.rs (in Bosnian). Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  37. "Putin guest of honour at Serbia military parade". BBC.
  38. https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2019/10/19/world/europe/ap-eu-serbia-russia.html
  39. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/russia-pm-medvedev-watches-army-show-in-balkan-ally-serbia/2019/10/19/5517a7e8-f266-11e9-bb7e-d2026ee0c199_story.html?outputType=amp
  40. https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-s-medvedev-attends-military-parade-in-belgrade/30225259.html

Sources

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