Operation Bagration

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Operation Bagration
(Belorussian Strategic Offensive Operation)
Part of the Eastern Front of World War II
Deployments during Operation Bagration
Date23 June – 19 August 1944
Soviet Union (present day Belarus, Baltic states), Ukraine, and eastern Poland

Soviet victory

Destruction of Army Group Centre.
Soviets liberate all of Byelorussian SSR and gain foothold in eastern Poland.
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg  Germany Flag of the Soviet Union (1936-1955).svg  Soviet Union
Flag of Poland (1928-1980).svg Poland
Commanders and leaders
Units involved
486,493 combat personnel, [1] 849,000 total [2]
118 tanks [3]
452 assault guns [3]
3,236 field guns and howitzers [3]
920 aircraft [3]
In total:
Soviet sources: [4]
1,036,760 personnel
800 tanks
530 assault guns
10,090 guns
1,000–1,300 aircraft
1,670,300 personnel
3,841 tanks and 1,977 assault guns [3] [5]
32,718 guns, rocket launchers and mortars [3]
7,799 aircraft [3]
In total:
2,500,000 personnel
6,000 tanks and assault guns [3]
45,000 guns, rocket launchers and mortars [3]
8,000 aircraft [3] [6]
Casualties and losses
Glantz and House: [5]
450,000 casualties
26,397 killed
109,776 wounded
262,929 missing and captured
399,102 overall [details] [7]
150,000–225,000 killed or missing; 150,000 captured [8]
500,000 casualties [9]
Soviet sources: [10]
381,000 killed
158,000 captured

Glantz and House: [11]

180,000 killed or missing
340,000–590,848 wounded and sick
2,957 tanks and assault guns [12]
2,447 guns [13]
822 aircraft [13]

Operation Bagration ( /bʌɡrʌtiˈɒn/ ; Russian : Операция Багратио́н, Operatsiya Bagration) was the codename for the Soviet 1944 Belorussian Strategic Offensive Operation, [14] (Russian : Белорусская наступательная операция «Багратион», Belorusskaya nastupatelnaya Operatsiya Bagration) a military campaign fought between 23 June and 19 August 1944 in Soviet Byelorussia in the Eastern Front of World War II. [15] The Soviet Union inflicted the biggest defeat in German military history by destroying 28 out of 34 divisions of Army Group Centre and completely shattered the German front line. [16]

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.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Tashkent, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres (6,200 mi) east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres (4,500 mi) north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic one of fifteen constituent republics of the Soviet Union (USSR); founding member of the United Nations Organization in 1945; now Belarus

The Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, also commonly referred to in English as Byelorussia, was a federal unit of the Soviet Union (USSR). It existed between 1920 and 1922, and from 1922 to 1991 as one of fifteen constituent republics of the USSR, with its own legislation from 1990 to 1991. The republic was ruled by the Communist Party of Byelorussia and was also referred to as Soviet Byelorussia by a number of historians.


On 23 June 1944, the Red Army attacked Army Group Centre in Byelorussia, with the objective of encircling and destroying its main component armies. By 28 June, the German Fourth Army had been destroyed, along with most of the Third Panzer and Ninth Armies. [17] [18] The Red Army exploited the collapse of the German front line to encircle German formations in the vicinity of Minsk in the Minsk Offensive and destroy them, with Minsk liberated on 4 July. With the end of effective German resistance in Byelorussia, the Soviet offensive continued further to Lithuania, Poland and Romania over the course of July and August.

Red Army Soviet army and air force from 1917–1946

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 former official name Red Army continued to be used as a nickname by both sides throughout the Cold War.

4th Army (Wehrmacht) field army of the Wehrmacht during World War II

The 4th Army was a field army of the Wehrmacht during World War II.

3rd Panzer Army

The 3rd Panzer Army was a German armoured formation during World War II, formed from the 3rd Panzer Group on 1 January 1942.

The Red Army successfully used the Soviet deep battle and maskirovka (deception) strategies for the first time to a full extent, albeit with continuing heavy losses. Operation Bagration diverted German mobile reserves to the central sectors, removing them from the Lublin-Brest and LvovSandomierz areas, enabling the Soviets to undertake the Lvov–Sandomierz Offensive [19] and Lublin–Brest Offensive. [20] This allowed the Red Army to reach the Vistula river and Warsaw, which in turn put Soviet forces within striking distance of Berlin, conforming to the concept of Soviet deep operations—striking deep into the enemy's strategic depths. [21]

Russian military deception Russian term broadly meaning military deception

Russian military deception, sometimes known as maskirovka, is a military doctrine developed from the start of the twentieth century. The doctrine covers a broad range of measures for military deception, from camouflage to denial and deception.

Lublin City in Poland

Lublin is the ninth-largest city in Poland and the second-largest city of Lesser Poland. It is the capital and the center of Lublin Voivodeship (province) with a population of 339,682. Lublin is the largest Polish city east of the Vistula River and is about 170 km (106 mi) to the southeast of Warsaw by road.

Brest, Belarus Place in Brest Region, Belarus

Brest, formerly Brest-Litowsk, is a city in Belarus at the border with Poland opposite the Polish city of Terespol, where the Bug and Mukhavets rivers meet. It is the capital city of the Brest Region.


Germany's Army Group Centre had previously proved tough to counter as the Soviet defeat in Operation Mars had shown. But by June 1944, despite shortening its front line, it had been exposed following the defeats of Army Group South in the battles that followed the Battle of Kursk, the Battle of Kiev, and the Crimean Offensive in the late summer, autumn, and winter of 1943–44. In the north, Army Group North was also pushed back, leaving Army Group Center's lines protruding towards the east and at risk of losing contact with neighbouring army groups. [22]

Army Group Centre was the name of two distinct strategic German Army Groups that fought on the Eastern Front in World War II. The first Army Group Centre was created on 22 June 1941, as one of three German Army formations assigned to the invasion of the Soviet Union. On 25 January 1945, after it was encircled in the Königsberg pocket, Army Group Centre was renamed Army Group North, and Army Group A became Army Group Centre. The latter formation retained its name until the end of the war in Europe.

Operation Mars offensive operation part of the Battles of Rzhev, during World War II

Operation Mars, also known as the Second Rzhev-Sychevka Offensive Operation, was the codename for an offensive launched by Soviet forces against German forces during World War II. It took place between 25 November and 20 December 1942 around the Rzhev salient in the vicinity of Moscow.

Army Group South name of a number of German Army Groups during World War II

Army Group South was the name of two German Army Groups during World War II. It was first used in the 1939 September Campaign, along with Army Group North to invade Poland. In the invasion of Poland Army Group South was led by Gerd von Rundstedt and his chief of staff Erich von Manstein. Two years later, Army Group South became one of three army groups into which Germany organised their forces for Operation Barbarossa. Army Group South's principal objective was to capture Soviet Ukraine and its capital Kiev.

The German High Command expected the next Soviet offensive to fall against Army Group North Ukraine (Field Marshal Walter Model), while it lacked intelligence capabilities to divine the Soviet intentions. [23] The Wehrmacht had redeployed one-third of Army Group Centre's artillery, half of its tank destroyers, and 88 per cent of tanks to the south. [24] The entire operational reserve on the Eastern front (18 Panzer and mechanised divisions, stripped from Army Groups North and Centre) was deployed to Model's sector. [25] Army Group Centre only had a total of 580 tanks, tank destroyers, and assault guns. They were opposed by over 4,000 Soviet tanks and self-propelled guns.[ citation needed ] German lines were thinly held; for example, the 9th Army sector had 143 soldiers per km of the front. [2]

The Army Group North Ukraine was a major ground force formation of the German armed forces.

Walter Model German field marshal

Otto Moritz Walter Model was a German field marshal during World War II. Although he was a hard-driving, aggressive panzer commander early in the war, Model became best known as a practitioner of defensive warfare. His relative success as commander of the Ninth Army in the retreats of 1941–42 determined his future career path. He has been called the Third Reich's best defensive tactical commander.

Tank destroyer type of armored fighting vehicle

A tank destroyer, tank hunter, or tank killer is a type of armoured fighting vehicle, armed with a direct-fire artillery gun or missile launcher, with limited operational capacities and designed specifically to engage enemy tanks.

Operation Bagration, in combination with the neighbouring Lvov-Sandomierz Offensive, launched a few weeks later in Ukraine, allowed the Soviet Union to recapture Belorussia and Ukraine within its 1941 borders, advance into German East Prussia, but more importantly, the Lvov-Sandomierz operation allowed the Red Army to reach the outskirts of Warsaw after gaining control of Poland east of the Vistula river. The campaign enabled the next operation, the Vistula–Oder Offensive, to come within sight of the German capital. [26] The Soviets were initially surprised at the success of the Belorussian operation which had nearly reached Warsaw. The Soviet advance encouraged the Warsaw uprising against the German occupation forces.

Ukraine Sovereign state in Eastern Europe

Ukraine, sometimes called the Ukraine, is a country in Eastern Europe. Excluding Crimea, Ukraine has a population of about 42.5 million, making it the 32nd most populous country in the world. Its capital and largest city is Kiev. Ukrainian is the official language and its alphabet is Cyrillic. The dominant religions in the country are Eastern Orthodoxy and Greek Catholicism. Ukraine is currently in a territorial dispute with Russia over the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014. Including Crimea, Ukraine has an area of 603,628 km2 (233,062 sq mi), making it the largest country entirely within Europe and the 46th largest country in the world.

East Prussia province of Prussia

East Prussia was a province of the Kingdom of Prussia from 1773 to 1829 and again from 1878 ; following World War I it formed part of the Weimar Republic's Free State of Prussia, until 1945. Its capital city was Königsberg. East Prussia was the main part of the region of Prussia along the southeastern Baltic Coast.

Warsaw City metropolis in Masovia, Poland

Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. The metropolis stands on the Vistula River in east-central Poland and its population is officially estimated at 1.78 million residents within a greater metropolitan area of 3.1 million residents, which makes Warsaw the 8th most-populous capital city in the European Union. The city limits cover 516.9 square kilometres (199.6 sq mi), while the metropolitan area covers 6,100.43 square kilometres (2,355.39 sq mi). Warsaw is an alpha global city, a major international tourist destination, and a significant cultural, political and economic hub. Its historical Old Town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The battle has been described as the triumph of the Soviet theory of the "operational art" because of the complete coordination of all the strategic front movements and signals traffic to fool the enemy about the target of the offensive. The military tactical operations of the Red Army successfully avoided the mobile reserves of the Wehrmacht and continually "wrong-footed" the German forces. Despite the massive forces involved, Soviet front commanders left their adversaries completely confused about the main axis of attack until it was too late. [27]

Soviet Plan

Strategic aims and deception

The Russian word maskirovka is roughly equivalent to the English word camouflage , but it has broader application in military use. During World War II the term was used by Soviet commanders to describe measures to create deception with the goal of inflicting surprise on the Wehrmacht forces. [28]

The Oberkommando des Heeres expected the Soviets to launch a major Eastern Front offensive in the summer of 1944. The Stavka (Soviet High Command) considered a number of options. The timetable of operations between June and August had been decided on by 28 April 1944. The Stavka rejected an offensive in either the L'vov sector or the Yassy-Kishinev sectors owing to the presence of powerful enemy mobile forces equal in strength to the Soviet strategic fronts. Instead they suggested four options: an offensive into Romania and through the Carpathian Mountains, an offensive into the western Ukrainian SSR aimed at the Baltic coast, an attack into the Baltic, and an offensive in the Belorussian SSR. The first two options were rejected as being too ambitious and open to flank attack. The third option was rejected on the grounds the enemy was too well prepared. The only safe option was an offensive into Belorussia which would enable subsequent offensives from Ukraine into Poland and Romania. [29]

The Soviet operation was named after the Georgian prince Pyotr Bagration (1765-1812), a general of the Imperial Russian Army during the Napoleonic Wars. George Dawe - Portrait of General Pyotr Bagration (1765-1812) - Google Art Project.jpg
The Soviet operation was named after the Georgian prince Pyotr Bagration (1765–1812), a general of the Imperial Russian Army during the Napoleonic Wars.

The Soviet and German High Commands recognised western Ukraine as a staging area for an offensive into Poland. The Soviets, aware that the enemy would anticipate this, engaged in a maskirovka campaign to catch the German armoured forces off guard by creating a crisis in Belorussia that would force the Germans to move their powerful armoured forces, fresh from their victory in the First Jassy–Kishinev Offensive in April–June 1944, to the central front to support Army Group Centre. This was the primary purpose of Bagration. [30]

In order to maximize the chances of success, the maskirovka was a double bluff. The Soviets left four tank armies in the L'vov-Peremyshl area and allowed the Germans to know it. The attack into Romania in April–June further convinced the Soviets that the Axis forces in Romania needed removing and kept the Germans concerned about their defences there and in southern Poland, while drawing German forces to the L'vov sector. [31] Once the offensive against Army Group Centre, which lacked mobile reserves and support, had been initiated, it would create a crisis in the central sector that would force the German armoured forces north to Belorussia from Poland and Romania, despite the presence of powerful Soviet concentrations threatening German-occupied Poland. [32]

The intent of the Soviets to strike their main blow towards the Vistula can be seen in the Red Army's (albeit fragmented) order of battle. The Soviet general staff studies of both the Belorussian and L'vov-Sandomierz operations reveal that the L'vov-Przemyśl operation received the overwhelming number of tank and mechanized corps. Six guards tank corps and six tank corps along with three guards mechanized and two mechanized corps were committed to the L'vov operation. This totaled twelve tank and five mechanized corps. In contrast, Operation Bagration's Baltic and Belorussian Fronts were allocated just eight tank and two mechanized corps. [33] The 1st Belorussian Front (an important part of the L'vov-Peremshyl operation) is not mentioned on the Soviet battle order for the offensive. It contained a further six armies and was to protect the flank of the Lublin–Brest Offensive as well as engage in offensive operations in that area. [34]

The bulk of tactical resources, in particular anti-tank artillery, was allocated to the 1st Ukrainian Front, the spearhead of the Vistula, L'vov-Premyshl operation. Thirty-eight of the 54 anti-tank regiments allocated to the Belorussian-Baltic-Ukrainian operations were given to the 1st Ukrainian Front. [35] This demonstrates that the Soviet plans for the L'vov operation were a major consideration and whoever planned the offensive was determined to hold the recently captured territory. [35] The target for this operation was the Vistula bridgehead and the enormous anti-tank artillery forces helped repulse big counter-attacks by German armoured formations in August–October 1944. [36] One American author suggests that these Soviet innovations were enabled, in part, by the provision of over 220,000 Dodge and Studebaker trucks by the United States to motorize the Soviet infantry. [37]

Most of the aviation units, fighter aircraft and assault aviation (strike aircraft) were given to the L'vov operation and the protection of the 1st Ukrainian Front. Of the 78 fighter and assault aviation divisions committed to Bagration, 32 were allocated to the L'vov operation, nearly fifty per cent of the aviation groups committed to Bagration [38] and contained more than was committed to the Belorussian operation. [36] This concentration of aviation was to protect the Vistula bridgeheads against air attack and to assault German counteroffensives from the air. [39]

Success of deception

Towards the beginning of June 1944, the German High Command, Army Group Center and the army commands had identified a large part of the concentration against Army Group Centre, although they still considered that the main operation would be against Army Group North Ukraine. On 14 June, the Chief of Staff of Army Group Centre told General Kurt Zeitzler, the Chief of the Army General Staff, that "...the Russian concentration here [in front of 9th Army] and at the Autobahn clearly indicates that the enemy attack will be aimed at the wings of the Army Group". On 10 June the Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH) adopted the opinion of Army Group Centre in its estimate of the enemy situation:

When it is still to be considered that the attack against Army Group Centre will be a secondary operation in the framework of the global Soviet offensive operations, it must be taken into account that the enemy will also be capable in front of Army Group Centre to build concentrations of which the force of penetration cannot be underestimated in view of the ratio of forces between the two sides. [40]

On 19 June Army Group Centre noted in its estimate of the enemy situation that the concentration of enemy air forces had become greater (4,500 out of 11,000) and that this left new doubts regarding OKH's estimate. OKH saw no grounds for this supposition. [41] Shortly before the beginning of the Soviet offensive, the army commands had detected some enemy forces near the front and had identified the places where the main Soviet attacks would take place, with the exception of 6th Guards Army near Vitebsk. The Soviet strategic reserves were not detected. [42]

Operations Rail War and Concert

The start of Operation Bagration involved many Soviet partisan formations in the Belorussian SSR, which were instructed to resume their attacks on railways and communications. From 19 June large numbers of explosive charges were placed on rail tracks and though many were cleared, they had a significant disruptive effect. The partisans were also used to mop up encircled German forces once the breakthrough and exploitation phases of the operation were completed. [43]

Disposition of forces

The Stavka had committed approximately 1,670,300 combat and support personnel, approximately 32,718 artillery pieces and mortars, 5,818 tanks and assault guns and 7,799 aircraft.[ citation needed ] Army Group Centre's strength was 486,000 combat personnel (849,000 total, including support personnel). [2] The army group had 3,236 field guns and other artillery pieces (not including mortars) but only 495 operational tanks and assault guns and 920 available aircraft, of which 602 were operational.[ citation needed ] Army Group Centre was seriously short of mobile reserves: the demotorized 14th Infantry Division was the only substantial reserve formation, though the 20th Panzer Division, with 56 tanks, was positioned in the south near Bobruisk and the Panzergrenadier Division Feldherrnhalle, still in the process of forming, was also held in reserve. [44] Furthermore, the Germans were supported by collaborationist troops such as the Lithuanian Security Police. [45] The relatively static lines in Belorussia had enabled the Germans to construct extensive field fortifications, with multiple trench lines to a depth of several kilometres and heavily mined defensive belts.[ citation needed ]

Besides the pro-German and pro-Soviet forces, some third-party factions were also involved in the fighting during Operation Bagration, most notably several resistance groups of the Polish Home Army. The latter mostly fought both the German as well as the Soviet-led troops. [45] Some Home Army partisan factions regarded the Soviet Union as the greater threat, however, and negotiated ceasefires or even ad-hoc alliances with the German occupation forces. Such deals were condemned by the Home Army's leadership, and several partisan officers who cooperated with the Germans against the Soviets were subsequently court-martialed. [46]

Order of battle

Feste Plätze

The Wehrmacht's forces were based on logistic lines of communications and centres, which on Hitler's orders were declared Feste Plätze (fortified towns to be held at all costs) by OKH. General Jordan of 9th Army was very worried at how vulnerable this immobility made the army, correctly predicting that "if a Soviet offensive breaks out the Army will either have to go over to a mobile defence or see its front smashed". [49] Because the initial offensive in Belarus was thought to be a feint, the Feste Plätze spanned the entire length of the Eastern Front. Army Group Centre had Feste Plätze at Vitebsk, Orsha, Mogilev, Baranovichi, Minsk, Babruysk, Slutsk, Vilnius. [50]

The battle – first phase: Tactical breakthrough

Operation Bagration was launched on a staggered schedule, with partisan attacks in the rear beginning on 19–20 June. On the night of 21–22 June, the Red Army launched probing attacks on German frontline positions, combined with bombing raids on Wehrmacht's lines of communication. [51] The main offensive began in the early morning of 23 June, with an artillery bombardment of unprecedented scale against the defensive works. [52] The initial assault achieved breakthroughs almost everywhere. [53]

The first phase of Soviet deep operations, the "deep battle", envisaged breaking through the tactical zones and forward German defences. Once these tactical offensives had been successful, fresh operational reserves exploited the breakthrough and the operational depths of the enemy front using powerful mechanized and armoured formations to encircle enemy concentrations on an Army Group Scale.

Vitebsk-Orsha Offensive

Map of the Vitebsk-Orsha Offensive, 23 - 28 June 1944 Operation bagration battle wizebsk 1944 june 22-27.png
Map of the Vitebsk–Orsha Offensive, 23 – 28 June 1944

Army Group Centre's northern flank was defended by the 3rd Panzer Army under the command of Georg-Hans Reinhardt; the lines ran through marshy terrain in the north, through a salient round the city of Vitebsk, to a sector north of the main MoscowMinsk road, held by the 4th Army. It was opposed by the 1st Baltic Front of Hovhannes Bagramyan, and Ivan Chernyakhovsky's 3rd Belorussian Front, which were given the task of breaking through the defences to the north and south of Vitebsk and cutting off the salient. [53]

In the north, the 1st Baltic Front pushed the German IX corps over the Dvina, while encircling the LIII Corps in the city of Vitebsk by 24 June, opening a gash in the frontline of 25 miles wide. The Soviet command inserted its mobile forces to begin exploitation in the operational depth. [54] To the south, the 3rd Belorussian Front attacked the VI Corps, pushing it so far to the south that it came under the command of the 4th Army. [55]

The LIII Corps had received permission to retreat on 24 June with three divisions, while leaving one division behind in the fester Platz Vitebsk. However, by the time the order arrived, the city was already encircled. [56] General Friedrich Gollwitzer, the commander of the Vitebsk "strongpoint", decided to disobey the order and have all units of his corps break out at the same time. Abandoning its heavy equipment, the corps began a breakout attempt in the morning of 26 June but quickly ran into Soviet roadblocks outside the city. [57] Vitebsk was taken by 29 June, the entire LIII Corps of 28,000 men eliminated from the German order of battle. [58]

The 3rd Belorussian Front simultaneously opened operations against the 4th Army's XXVII Corps holding Orsha and the main Moscow-Minsk highway. Despite a tenacious German defense, Orsha was liberated by 26 June, and the 3rd Belorussian Front's mechanized forces were able to penetrate far into the German rear, reaching the Berezina River by 28 June.

Field Marshal Aleksandr Vasilevsky and General Ivan Chernyakhovsky interrogate General Alfons Hitter (standing) after the battle of Vitebsk. 1944 kapitulation witebsk vasilevsky chernyakovski gollwitzer.jpg
Field Marshal Aleksandr Vasilevsky and General Ivan Chernyakhovsky interrogate General Alfons Hitter (standing) after the battle of Vitebsk.

The central sector of Soviet operations was against the long front of Fourth Army, under the command of Kurt von Tippelskirch. Soviet plans envisaged the bulk of it, the XXXIX Panzer Corps and XII Corps, being encircled while pinned down by attacks from the 2nd Belorussian Front in the parallel Mogilev Offensive Operation. By far the most important Soviet objective, however, was the main MoscowMinsk road and the town of Orsha, which the southern wing of Chernyakhovsky's 3rd Belorussian Front was ordered to take. A breakthrough in this area, against General Paul Völckers' XXVII Corps, would form the northern pincer of the encirclement. The Minsk highway was protected by extensive defensive works manned by the 78th Assault Division, a specially reinforced unit with extra artillery and assault gun support. Orsha itself had been designated a Fester Platz (stronghold) under 78th Division's commander. [59]

The Soviet assault on this sector opened on 23 June with a massive artillery barrage that destroyed defensive positions, flattened bunkers, and detonated ammunition stores. Infantry from the 11th Guards Army, 5th Army, and 31 Army then attacked the German positions, breaking through the first defensive belt on the same day. The German deployment of its only reserve division was met the next day with the insertion of the massed Soviet tank brigades, which achieved the operational breakthrough. By 25 June, Soviet forces began to advance into the German rear. [60]

Völckers' position was further threatened by the near-collapse of the 3rd Panzer Army's VI Corps, immediately to the north. By midnight on 25 June, the 11th Guards Army had shattered the remnant of VI Corps, and 26 June saw the German forces in retreat. Soviet tank forces of the 2nd Guards Tank Corps were able to push up the road towards Minsk at speed, with a subsidiary force breaking off to encircle Orsha, which was liberated on the evening of 26 June. The main exploitation force, Pavel Rotmistrov's 5th Guards Tank Army, was then committed through the gap in the German lines. VI Corps finally crumbled completely; its commander, General Georg Pfeiffer, was killed on 28 June after losing contact with his divisions. [61] Achieving complete success, the operation effectively ceased with the arrival of 5th Guards Tank Army's forward units at the Berezina River on 28 June.

Mogilev Offensive

Map of the Mogilev Offensive, 23-28 June Operation bagration battle mogilev 1944 june 23-28.png
Map of the Mogilev Offensive, 23–28 June

The centre of the 4th Army was holding the tip of the Byelorussian bulge, with the bulk of its forces on a shallow bridgehead east of the Dnieper River. The Mogilev Offensive opened with an intense artillery barrage against the German defensive lines on the morning of 23 June. The goal of the 2nd Belorussian Front (Colonel-General Gyorgy Zakharov) was to pin the 4th Army near Mogilev while the developing Vitebsk-Orsha and Bobruysk Offensives encircled it. [62]

East of Mogilev, General Robert Martinek's XXXIX Panzer Corps attempted to hold its lines in the face of an assault by the 49th Army during which the latter suffered heavy casualties. [63] The 4th Army commander, Tippelskirch, requested that the army allowed to withdraw on 25 June. When the permission was not forthcoming, he authorised his units to withdraw to the Dnieper; this was countermanded by the Army Group commander, Busch, who instructed Tippelskirch to order the units to return to their positions. This was however impossible as a cohesive frontline no longer existed. [64] With the front collapsing, Busch met with Hitler on 26 June and received the authorisation to pull the army back to the Berezina River, 60 miles West of Mogilev. [65] The 49th army forced the Dnieper crossings on the evening of 27 June and fought its way into the city during the night, while mobile units enveloped the garrison from the northwest. [66]

Troops of the 49th Army during the capture of Mogilev on 28 June 1944 49th Army troops storming Mogilev June 1944.jpg
Troops of the 49th Army during the capture of Mogilev on 28 June 1944

During the day both the German XII Corps and XXXIX Panzer Corps began falling back towards the Berezina crossings. Travel was nearly impossible by day, due to the omnipresence of the Soviet air force, while Soviet tanks columns and roadblocks provided constant obstacles. The main body of 4th Army arrived at the crossing on 30 June. It largely completing the crossing by 2 July, under heavy Soviet bombardment, but they were retreating into a trap. [67] The Mogilev Offensive fulfilled all its immediate objectives; not only was the city itself taken, but the 4th Army was successfully prevented from disengaging in time to escape encirclement in the Minsk Offensive, which commenced immediately afterwards. [68]

Bobruysk Offensive

Two destroyed Panzer IV tanks belonging to the 20th Panzer Division, June 1944 19440628 destroyed panzer iv 20. panzer division bobruisk.jpg
Two destroyed Panzer IV tanks belonging to the 20th Panzer Division, June 1944

The Bobruysk Offensive, against the German 9th Army on the southern flank of Army Group Centre, was opened by the 1st Belorussian Front on 23 June but suffered heavy losses attempting to penetrate the German defenses. Rokossovsky ordered additional bombing and artillery preparation and launched further attacks the next day.

The 3rd Army broke through in the north of the sector, trapping the German XXXV Army Corps (Wehrmacht)  [ fr ] against the Berezina. The 65th Army then broke through the XXXXI Panzer Corps to the south; by 27 June, the two German corps were encircled in a pocket east of Bobruysk under constant aerial bombardment.

Some elements of the 9th Army managed to break out of Bobruysk on 28 June, but up to 70,000 soldiers were killed or taken prisoner. The 1st Belorussian Front's forces liberated Bobruysk on 29 June after intense street fighting.

Second phase: Strategic offensive against Army Group Centre

The second phase of the operation involved the entire operation's most significant single objective: the retaking of Minsk, capital of the Belorussian SSR. It would also complete the large-scale encirclement and destruction, set up by the first phase, of much of Army Group Centre.

Minsk Offensive

Civilians carry belongings out of burning houses, early July 1944 Minsk civilians return home 1944.jpg
Civilians carry belongings out of burning houses, early July 1944

From 28 June, the main exploitation units of the 3rd Belorussian Front (the 5th Guards Tank Army and an attached cavalry-mechanised group) began to push on to secure crossings of the Berezina, followed by the 11th Guards Army. In the south, exploitation forces of the 1st Belorussian Front began to close the lower pincer of the trap developing around the German 4th Army. [69] The Germans brought back the 5th Panzer Division into Belorussia to cover the approaches to Minsk, while the units of Fourth Army began to withdraw over the Berezina crossings, where they were pounded by heavy air bombardment. After forcing crossings of the Berezina, Soviet forces closed in on Minsk. The 2nd Guards Tank Corps was the first to break into the city in the early hours of 3 July; fighting erupted in the centre, which was finally cleared of German rearguards by the following day. The 5th Guards Tank Army and 65th Army closed the encirclement to the west of Minsk, trapping the entire German Fourth Army, and much of the remnants of the 9th Army. [70]

Over the next few days, the pocket east of Minsk was reduced: only a fraction of the 100,000 soldiers in it escaped. Minsk had been liberated, and Army Group Centre utterly destroyed, in possibly the greatest single defeat suffered by the Wehrmacht in the whole war. Between 22 June and 4 July 1944, Army Group Centre lost 25 divisions and 300,000 men. In the few subsequent weeks, the Germans lost another 100,000 men. [71]

Polotsk Offensive

Soviet soldiers in Polotsk, 4 July 1944 Soviet soldiers in Polozk (Belarus), passing by propaganda poster celebrating the reconquest of the city and urging the liberation of the Baltic from Nazi German occupation. July 4, 1944.jpg
Soviet soldiers in Polotsk, 4 July 1944

The Polotsk Offensive had the dual objective of taking Polotsk itself, and of screening the northern flank of the main Minsk Offensive against a possible German counter-offensive from Army Group North.

The 1st Baltic Front successfully pursued the retreating remnants of the 3rd Panzer Army back towards Polotsk, which was reached by 1 July. German forces attempted to organise a defense using rear-area support units and several divisions hurriedly transferred from Army Group North.

Units of the 1st Baltic Front's 4th Shock Army and 6th Guards Army fought their way into the city over the next few days, and successfully cleared it of German forces by 4 July.

Third phase: strategic offensive operations in the north

As German resistance had almost completely collapsed, Soviet forces were ordered to push on as far as possible beyond the original objective of Minsk, and new objectives were issued by the Stavka. This resulted in a third phase of offensive operations, which should be regarded as a further part of Operation Bagration.

Field Marshal Walter Model, who had taken over command of Army Group Centre on 28 June when Ernst Busch was dismissed, hoped to reestablish a defensive line running through Lida using what was left of the 3rd Panzer, 4th and 9th Armies along with new reinforcements. b

Šiauliai Offensive

The Šiauliai Offensive covered the operations of the 1st Baltic Front between 5 and 31 July against the remnants of the 3rd Panzer Army; its main objective was the Lithuanian city of Šiauliai (Russian : Шяуляй; German : Schaulen).

The 43rd, 51st, and 2nd Guards Armies attacked towards Riga on the Baltic coast with 3rd Guards Mechanised Corps attached. By 31 July, the coast on the Gulf of Riga had been reached. 6th Guards Army covered Riga and the extended flank of the penetration towards the north.

A hurriedly organised German counter-attack managed to restore the severed connection between the remnants of Army Group Centre and Army Group North. In August, the Germans attempted to retake Šiauliai in Operation Doppelkopf and Operation Cäsar, but they failed.

Vilnius Offensive

Soviet and Polish Armia Krajowa soldiers in Vilnius, July 1944 19440712 soviet and ak soldiers vilnius.jpg
Soviet and Polish Armia Krajowa soldiers in Vilnius, July 1944

The Vilnius Offensive was conducted by units of the 3rd Belorussian Front subsequent to their completion of the Minsk Offensive; they were opposed by the remnants of 3rd Panzer Army and the 4th Army.

Units of the 4th Army, principally the 5th Panzer Division, attempted to hold the key rail junction of Molodechno, but failed. It was taken by units of the 11th Guards Army, 5th Guards Tank Army and 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps on 5 July. German forces continued a precipitate retreat, and Soviet forces reached Vilnius (Russian: Vilna; Polish: Wilno), held by units of the 3rd Panzer Army, by 7 July.

By 8 July, the city had been encircled, trapping the garrison, who were ordered to hold fast at all costs. Soviet forces then fought their way into the city in intense street-by-street fighting (alongside an Armia Krajowa uprising, Operation Ostra Brama). On 12 July, 6th Panzer Division counter-attacked and temporarily opened an escape corridor for the besieged troops, but the majority of them were lost when the city fell on 13 July (this phase of the operation is commonly known as the Battle of Vilnius). On 23 July, the 4th Army commander, Hoßbach, in agreement with Model, committed the newly arrived 19th Panzer Division into a counter-attack with the intention of cutting off the Soviet spearheads in the Augustow Forest. This failed.

Belostock Offensive

The Belostock Offensive covered the operations of 2nd Belorussian Front between 5 and 27 July, with the objective of the Polish city of Białystok (Belostock). The 40th and 41st Rifle Corps of 3rd Army, on the front's left wing, took Białystok by storm on 27 July, after two days of fighting.

Lublin–Brest Offensive

The Lublin-Brest Offensive was carried out by Marshal Rokossovsky's 1st Belorussian Front between 18 July and 2 August, and developed the initial gains of Operation Bagration toward eastern Poland and the Vistula. The 47th and 8th Guards Armies reached the Bug River by 21 July, and the latter reached the eastern bank of the Vistula by 25 July. Lublin was taken on 24 July; the 2nd Tank Army was ordered to turn north, towards Warsaw, to cut off the retreat of forces from Army Group Centre in the Brest area. Brest was taken on 28 July and the Front's left wing seized bridgeheads over the Vistula by 2 August. This effectively completed the operation, the remainder of the summer being given over to defensive efforts against a series of German counter-attacks on the bridgeheads. The Operation ended with the defeat of German Army Group North Ukraine and Soviet bridgeheads over the Vistula river west of Sandomierz. [72]

Kaunas Offensive

The Kaunas Offensive covered the operations of Chernyakhovsky's 3rd Belorussian Front from 28 July to 28 August, towards the Lithuanian city of Kaunas, subsequent to their completion of the offensive against Vilnius. By 30 July all Wehrmacht resistance on the approaches to the Neman River had retreated or been annihilated. Two days later the city of Kaunas was under Soviet control.

Osovets Offensive

This offensive covered the operations of 2nd Belorussian Front from 6–14 August, after their completion of the Belostock Offensive, with the objective of the fortified area at Osowiec on one of the tributaries of the Narew River. The very large fortress complex there secured the approaches to East Prussia through the region's marshes.

German forces were able to stabilise their line of defense along the Narew, which they held until the East Prussian Offensive of January 1945.


Abandoned vehicles of the German 9th Army at a road near Bobruisk 194407 abandoned german vehicles belarus (revised).jpg
Abandoned vehicles of the German 9th Army at a road near Bobruisk

This was by far the greatest Soviet victory in numerical terms. The Red Army liberated a vast amount of Soviet and Polish territory whose population had suffered greatly under the German occupation. The advancing Soviets found cities destroyed, villages depopulated, and much of the population killed or deported by the occupiers. In order to show the outside world the magnitude of the victory, some 57,000 German prisoners, taken from the encirclement east of Minsk, were paraded through Moscow: even marching quickly and twenty abreast, they took 90 minutes to pass. [73] [74] [75]

The German army never recovered from the materiel and manpower losses sustained during this time, having lost about a quarter of its Eastern Front manpower, exceeding even the percentage of loss at Stalingrad (about 17 full divisions). These losses included many experienced soldiers, NCOs and commissioned officers, which at this stage of the war the Wehrmacht could not replace. An indication of the completeness of the Soviet victory is that 31 of the 47 German divisional or corps commanders involved were killed or captured. [76] Of the German generals lost, nine were killed, including two corps commanders; 22 captured, including four corps commanders; Major-General Hahne, commander of 197th Infantry Division disappeared on 24 June, while Lieutenant-Generals Zutavern and Philipp of the 18th Panzergrenadier and 134th Infantry Divisions committed suicide.

German prisoners of war in Moscow, 15 July 1944. RIAN archive 129359 German prisoners-of-war in Moscow.jpg
German prisoners of war in Moscow, 15 July 1944.

Overall, the near-total destruction of Army Group Centre was very costly for the Germans. Exact German losses are unknown, but newer research indicates around 400,000 overall casualties. [a] Soviet losses were also substantial, with 180,040 killed and missing, 590,848 wounded and sick, together with 2,957 tanks, 2,447 artillery pieces, and 822 aircraft also lost. [details] [11]

The offensive cut off Army Group North and Army Group North Ukraine from each other, and weakened them as resources were diverted to the central sector. This forced both Army Groups to withdraw from Soviet territory much more quickly when faced with the following Soviet offensives in their sectors.

The end of Operation Bagration coincided with the destruction of many of the strongest units of the German Army engaged against the Allies on the Western Front in the Falaise Pocket in Normandy, during Operation Overlord. After these stunning victories, on both eastern and western fronts, supply problems rather than German resistance slowed the subsequent rapid Allied advance, and it eventually ground to a temporary halt. However, the Germans were able to transfer armoured units from the Italian front, where they could afford to give ground, to resist the Soviet advance near Warsaw.

This was one of the largest Soviet operations of WWII with 2.3 million troops engaged, three Axis armies eliminated, and vast amounts of Soviet territory recaptured. [77]

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Mogilev Offensive

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Bobruysk Offensive

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The Polotsk Offensive was part of the second phase of the Belorussian Strategic Offensive of the Red Army in summer 1944, commonly known as Operation Bagration.

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    Further reading

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