Battle of Białystok–Minsk

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Battle of Bialystok-Minsk
Part of the Eastern Front of World War II
Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-137-1009-17, Weißrussland, Minsk, Ruinen.jpg
Ruins of Minsk – July 1941
Date22 June – 9 July 1941
Location
Result German victory
Belligerents
 Germany  Soviet Union
Commanders and leaders
Fedor von Bock Dmitry Pavlov Executed
Vladimir Klimovskikh Executed
Ivan Boldin
Units involved
Army Group Center Western Front
Strength
750,000 men
1,936 tanks
671,165 men[1]
4,522 tanks
14,171 guns and mortars[1]
Casualties and losses
(Incomplete)
12,157 men[2]
101 tanks destroyed[3]
276 aircraft destroyed

417,729 men

341,073 killed or captured[4][1][5]
76,717 wounded[1][4]
4,799 tanks destroyed[1]
9,427 guns and mortars lost[4][1]
1,177–1,669 aircraft destroyed[1][6]

The Battle of Białystok–Minsk was a German strategic operation conducted by the Wehrmacht's Army Group Centre under Field Marshal Fedor von Bock during the penetration of the Soviet border region in the opening stage of Operation Barbarossa, lasting from 22 June to 9 July 1941.

The Army Group's 2nd Panzer Group under Colonel General Heinz Guderian and the 3rd Panzer Group under Colonel General Hermann Hoth decimated the Soviet frontier defenses, defeated all Soviet counter-attacks and encircled four Soviet Armies of the Red Army's Western Front near Bialystok and Minsk by 30 June. The majority of the Western Front was enclosed within, and the pockets were liquidated by 9 July. The Red Army lost 417,729 men against Wehrmacht casualties of somewhat over 12,157.[7]

The Germans destroyed the Soviet Western Front in 18 days and advanced 460 kilometers into the Soviet Union, causing many to believe that the Germans had effectively won the war against Soviet Union. [8][1]

Prelude[edit]

Commanded by Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, Army Group Centre was tasked with attacking from Poland through the BiałystokMinskSmolensk axis towards Moscow. The Army Group included the 9th and 4th Armies. Its armored forces were Hoth's 3rd Panzer Group and Guderian's 2nd Panzer Group. The two infantry Armies fielded 33 divisions and the Panzer Armies fielded nine armored divisions, six motorized divisions and a cavalry division. Army Group Center could call upon Luftflotte 2 for air support.

Facing Army Group Center was the Red Army's Western Front commanded by General of the Army Dmitry Pavlov. It included the 3rd, 4th, and 10th Armies along the frontier. The 13th Army was held as part of the Stavka High Command Reserve and initially existed as a headquarters unit only, with no assigned forces. All together, the Soviet Western Front had 25 rifle and cavalry divisions, 13 tank and 7 motorized divisions.

The Red Army disposition in Belarus was based on the idea of avoiding a war of attrition by engaging in an aggressive counterattack to any invasion, carrying the war into German-occupied Poland. The plan suffered from weakness along the flanks, created by circumstances such as the line of demarcation placement following the division of Poland in 1939. The forward placement of both German and Soviet forces in a double-bulge position enabled both sides to try the double envelopment. However, it was the OKH that undertook it successfully thanks to preempting hostilities, destroying much of the Red Air Force in the airfields while simultaneously severing most of the Soviet Western Front's land forces from lines of communication with other Soviet fronts. They fell to a double envelopment, centred on Białystok and Novogrudok. While the engagement was later known as "The Battle of Białystok–Minsk", this is actually a slight misnomer.

Formations[edit]

Soviet[edit]

German[edit]

Tanks[edit]

On 22 June 1941, the balance of tanks over the entire area of the Soviet Western Front was as follows.

German corps German Panzer divisions Total German tanks[10] Tanks with 37 mm cannon
(incl. Panzer 38(t) and Panzer III)
Tanks with 50 mm or larger cannon
(incl. Panzer III and Panzer IV)
XXXIX. Armeekorps mot[8] 7th, 20th 494 288 61
LVII Panzer Corps[8] 12th, 19th 448 219 60
XLVII Panzer Corps[8] 17th, 18th 420 99 187
XLVI Panzer Corps[8] 10th 182 0 125
XXIV Panzer Corps[8] 3rd, 4th 392 60 207
Any other unit of Army Group Center[8] 0 0 0
Total   1936[8] 666 640
Soviet corps Soviet divisions Total Soviet tanks T-34 and KV
11th Mechanized Corps[8] 29th, 33rd, 204th 414 20
6th Mechanized Corps[8] 4th, 7th, 29th 1131 452[11]
13th Mechanized Corps[8] 25th, 31st, 208th 282 0
14th Mechanized Corps[8] 22nd, 30th, 205th 518 0
7th Mechanized Corps[8] 14th, 18th, 1st 959 103
5th Mechanized Corps[8] 13th, 17th, (109th not incl.) 861 17
17th Mechanized Corps[8] (not fully formed) 63 N/A
20th Mechanized Corps[8] (not fully formed) 94 N/A
(independent) 57th division[8] 200 0
Tanks scattered over various other units Ordinary rifle divisions, etc. not incl.
Total   4522[8] 592

Operation[edit]

The Red Army moved into Białystok (Poland), which shaped OKH planning. Beyond Białystok, Minsk was a key strategic railway junction and a defensive position of the main road and rail communications with Moscow.

Also caught in the German operation was part of the 11th Army of the Northwestern Front. In the north, 3rd Panzer Group attacked, cutting off the 11th Army from Western Front, and crossed the Neman River. The 2nd Panzer Group crossed the Bug River and by 23 June, it had penetrated 60 km into Soviet territory. The Panzer Groups' objectives were to meet east of Minsk and prevent any Red Army withdrawal from the encirclement. Operating with the Panzer Groups to encircle the Soviet forces, the 9th Army and 4th Army cut into the salient, beginning to encircle Soviet Armies around Białystok. On 23 June, the Soviet 10th Army attempted a counter-attack in accordance with pre-war planning, but failed to achieve its goals. On 24 June, General Pavlov ordered his operations officer, General Boldin, to take charge of the 6th and 11th Mechanized and the 6th Cavalry Corps for a counter-attack towards Hrodna to prevent the encirclement of Red Army formations near Białystok. This attack failed with heavy losses, although it may have allowed some units to escape the western encirclement towards Minsk.

The Minsk (Novogrudok) pocket, 24–28 June (in Russian)

In the evening of 25 June, the German XLVII Panzer Corps cut between Slonim and Vawkavysk, forcing Pavlov to order the withdrawal of all troops in the salient behind the Shchara River at Slonim to avoid encirclement. Most formations could not break contact with the Germans, and due to the loss of fuel and transport assets those who could break out, had to withdraw on foot. This withdrawal opened the southern approaches of Minsk.

Five days after the invasion on 27 June, the pincer of Guderian's 2nd Panzer Group and Hoth's 3rd Panzer Group closed east of Minsk. The Panzer Groups had advanced 321 km into the Soviet Union and almost a third of the distance to Moscow. On 28 June, the 9th and 4th German Armies linked up east of Białystok splitting the encircled Soviet forces into two pockets: a smaller Białystok pocket containing the Soviet 10th Army and a larger Novogrudok pocket containing the 3rd and 13th Armies. Ultimately, in 17 days the Soviet Western Front lost 417,790 personnel from a total of 671,165. On 26 June Minsk, the capital of Belarus, fell to the Wehrmacht.

A second Red Army counter-attack by the 20th Mechanized Corps and 4th Airborne Corps failed to breach the encirclement as well, and by 30 June the pocket was completely closed.

The German forces surrounded and eventually destroyed or took prisoner most of the Soviet 3rd and 10th, 13th Armies and part of the 4th Army, in total about 20 divisions, while the remainder of the 4th Army fell back eastwards towards the Western Berezina River.

The Luftwaffe's Luftflotte 2 helped destroy the VVS Western Front. Some 1,669 Soviet aircraft had been destroyed. The Luftwaffe lost 276 as destroyed and an additional 208 damaged. After only a week of fighting, the total serviceable strength of Luftflotte 1, Luftflotte 2 and Luftflotte 4 had been reduced to just 960 machines.[12]

Aftermath[edit]

Soviet soldiers march into captivity in Minsk on 2 July 1941.

The Soviet troops trapped in the gigantic pockets continued fighting, and concluding operations resulted in high German casualties. An estimated 250,000 Soviet troops escaped because of the lack of German infantry troops' motor transport that slowed the encirclement process. Most of them were later sent to penal battalions.

The Polish Institute of National Remembrance claims that withdrawing Soviet troops committed regular crimes against the inhabitants of Białystok and its areas, including cases of whole families being executed by firing squads.[13]

The quick advance east created the possibility for the Wehrmacht to advance rapidly towards the land bridge of Smolensk from which an attack on Moscow could be planned. It also created the impression in the OKW that the war against the Soviet Union was already won within days of its start. Still, Hitler blamed the Panzer generals for leaving gaps in the lines. The Panzer generals were deeply frustrated as for almost a week their advance east had been stopped while they closed the pocket and waited for the infantry to catch up. They feared the momentum of the armored offensive would be lost.

Front Commander General Pavlov and his Front Staff were recalled to Moscow and accused of intentional disorganization of defense and retreat without battle. They were soon executed by the NKVD for cowardice and "failure to perform their duties" and their families were repressed. They were pardoned in 1956.

An exception was Pavlov's operations officer, general Ivan Boldin, who had been cut off by the German advance at a forward headquarters in the first days of the invasion but then fought his way back to Soviet lines, with over 1,000 other soldiers a month and a half later.

Casualties[edit]

From 22 June to 9 July, the Soviet forces in Belarus lost 417,729 men, including 341,012 killed or missing and 76,717 wounded or sick.[4][1] Soviet equipment losses totaled 1,177–1,669 aircraft,[6][1] 4,799 tanks[1] and 9,427 guns and mortars.[1]

On the German side, from 22 June to 4 July, the 2nd Panzer Group lost 7,089 men and its 18th Panzer Division had 16 tanks destroyed by 6 July.[3] The Panzer Group had only 6,320 replacements to cover these losses, a deficit that, however, imposed only a minimal burden on its combat capabilities.[2] The 3rd Panzer Group had casualties of 1,769 men by 2 July and had 85 tanks destroyed by 4 July.[2] Its replacements totaled 4,730, more than enough to restore its losses.[2] Five of the infantry divisions in the German Fourth and Ninth Armies lost 3,299 men.[2]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Liedtke 2016, p. 127.
  2. ^ a b c d e Liedtke 2016, p. 128.
  3. ^ a b Liedtke 2016, pp. 128–129.
  4. ^ a b c d Glantz 1995, p. 293
  5. ^ German accounts give 287,704 POW: Bergstrom 2007, p. 28: Cites Krivosheyev, Grif sekretnosti snyat. Poterivooruzhyonnykh sil SSSR v voynakh, boyevykh deystviyakh i voyennykh konfliktakh, p. 162.
  6. ^ a b Bergstrom 2007, p. 28: Cites Pshenyanik, Sovtskie Voenno-vozdushnye sily v bor'be snemetsko fashistskoy aviatssiey v letne-osenney kampanii 1941, p. 94.
  7. ^ Liedtke 2016, pp. 127–128.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Mark Sołonin (2007). 22 czerwca 1941 czyli Jak zaczęła się Wielka Wojna ojczyźniana (in Polish). Tomasz Lisiecki (trans.) (1 ed.). Poznań, Poland: Dom Wydawniczy Rebis. pp. 528–529. ISBN 978-83-7510-130-0. (the only English translations of Solonin's works seem to be, as of June 2011, these online chapters)
  9. ^ Glantz 2001, p. 247.
  10. ^ Total German tanks includes non-combat "commander tanks" as well as outdated Panzer I and Panzer II tanks
  11. ^ On 1 June there were 114 KV tanks, 238 T-34 tanks, but another 100 T-34 tanks were received until 22 June 1941 (Solonin 2007, pp. 99–100).
  12. ^ Bergstrom 2007, p. 28.
  13. ^ "Investigation into the murders of several Poles in Białystok and its area in June 1941".

Bibliography[edit]

  • Bergström, Christer (2007). Barbarossa – The Air Battle: July–December 1941. London: Chevron/Ian Allan. ISBN 978-1-85780-270-2.
  • David M. Glantz; Jonathan M. House (1995). When Titans clashed: how the Red Army stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas.
  • Glantz, David M. (2001). Barbarossa: Hitler's invasion of Russia 1941 (1st ed.). Stroud: Tempus. ISBN 0-7524-1979-X.
  • The initial period of war on the Eastern Front, 22 June–August 1941 : proceedings of the Fourth Art of War Symposium, Garmisch, FRG, October 1987 / edited by David M. Glantz ISBN 0-7146-3375-5.
  • Bryan I. Fugate and Lev Dvoretsky, Thunder on the Dnepr : Zhukov-Stalin and the defeat of Hitler's Blitzkrieg
  • Geyer, H. Das IX. Armeekorps im Ostfeldzug
  • Liedtke, Gregory (2016). Enduring the Whirlwind: The German Army and the Russo-German War 1941-1943. Helion and Company. ISBN 978-1910777756.
  • Ziemke, E.F. 'Moscow to Stalingrad'