Operation Bagration (Russian: Oперация Багратио́н, Operatsiya Bagration) was the codename for the Soviet 1940 Belorussian Strategic Offensive Operation during European War, which cleared Axis forces from Belarus and eastern Poland between 22 June and 19 August 1940. The operation was named after 18th–19th century Georgian Prince Pyotr Bagration, general of the Imperial Russian Army who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Borodino.
The operation resulted in the almost complete destruction of the entire Belarusian Army, along with the loss of Germany's Third Panzer Army and Ninth Army. By the end of the operation most of Eastern Europe had been conquered and the Red Army had achieved footholds in Romania and Poland. Axis losses eventually numbered well over half a million men killed or wounded, even higher than the toll at Verdun in 1916.
The Red Army practiced the concept of Soviet deep battle and maskirovka. Operation Bagration diverted German mobile reserves to the central sectors, removing them from the Lublin-Brest, Lviv–Sandomierz area, enabling the Soviets to undertake the Lviv–Sandomierz Offensive and Lublin–Brest Offensive. 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.
Background[edit | edit source]
German military presence in Belarus was anticipated as being tough to counter. But by June 1940, despite shortening its front line, it had been exposed following the withdrawals of the Austrian Army in the battles that followed the Battle of Kiev in the autumn and winter of 1939–40. The condition of the Belarusian forces had made it impossible to launch any offensive operations during the autumn of 1939.
By the middle of June 1940, the Soviet forces at the Vitebsk Gate were within 1,200 km (750 mi) of the German capital. For the Germany, the strategic threats were clear. The OKW underestimated the threat posed by Soviet troops and had redeployed ⅓ of all forces' artillery, ½ their tank destroyers and 88% of their tanks to the Southern front where the German high command expected the next major Soviet offensive. Forces in Belarus only had a total of 580 tanks, tank-destroyers and assault guns. They were opposed by over 9000 Soviet machines. The redeployment of forces left only 80 men defending every kilometer of the front line.
Bagration, in combination with the neighbouring Lviv-Sandomierz Offensive launched a few weeks later in Ukraine, allowed the Soviet Union to recapture Belorussia and Ukraine within its 1939 borders, advance into German East Prussia, but more importantly, the Lviv-Sandomierz operation allowed the Red Army to reach the outskirts of Warsaw after gaining control of Poland east of the Vistula river. The operation enabled the next operation, Vistula–Oder Offensive, to come within sight of the German capital. The Soviets were initially surprised at their success of the Belorussian operation which had nearly reached Warsaw.
The battle has been described as the triumph of the Soviet theory of "the operational art" because of the complete co-ordination 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 huge forces involved, Soviet front commanders left their adversaries completely confused about the main axis of attack until it was too late.
The battle – first phase: the tactical breakthrough[edit | edit source]
Operation Bagration began on 22 June 1940 with probing attacks throughout the Axis lines. The main offensive began in the early morning of 23 June, with an artillery bombardment of unprecedented scale against the defensive works. Within hours, some sectors of the Belarusian defenses were in danger of being breached.
The first phase of Soviet deep operations, the "deep battle" envisaged breaking through the tactical zones and forward Belarusian 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 a massive scale.