Liberation of Belarus
BSSB.BE histclo.com 13.04.2016
Throughout its history, Belarus was the scene of many destructive wars. In contemporary history the largest and most brutal was the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945, a most significant part of the Second World War 1939-1945. The Great Patriotic War was fought between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (the USSR), including Belarus (the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic, BSSR) on the one hand and Germany with its Axis allies on the other from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945. In Belarus, military operations were conducted from 22 June 1941 to 28 July 1944.
The war started as a result of Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union and for the Soviet people it was a war of liberation against the aggressors. The aims of Nazi Germany were to destroy the Soviet Union as a military and political power, to Germanise the European part of the USSR, and either to exterminate or to resettle the bulk of its population.
The German ground forces meant for the attack on the Soviet Union were divided into three operational strategic formations – Army Groups North, Centre, and South. Belarus had to withstand the most powerful of these armies – Army Group Centre (at the outset of the war – 50 divisions and two motorised brigades, including 595,620 men, 823 tanks, 11,027 guns and mortars supported by 1,677 combat aircraft; during the first week of the war the number of divisions increased to 60).
From the first hours of the war Belarus became the scene of severe fighting in which both regular troops and civilians alike took part. No frontier post surrendered to the enemy or left its position without orders. For more than a month the garrison of the Brest fortress held out. Desperately fought the Soviet soldiers at the approaches to Minsk.
Yet, after fierce battle on 28 June the Belarusian capital was taken. The number of men killed, missing and taken prisoner totaled 341,000. The defenders of Mogilev held out for more than three weeks, including a 10,000 people’s volunteers who put up a stubborn resistance against the enemy.
According to the Nazi plan Ost, the so-called New Order was established on the occupied territory, a system of political, military and economic measures aimed to liquidate the Soviet state and its population. As a main tool of the New Order the Nazis used the policy of genocide, terror and mass killings.
The extreme measures of penalty, most often execution, were used for minor violations of rules in all spheres of life. 400,000 people were taken to forced labour in Germany; almost half of them did not return, were killed or died. Nearly 250 camps of Soviet POWs and 350 concentration camps, prisons and other places of incarceration operated in Belarus.
206,500 people were killed only in the village of Trostenets near Minsk, where one of the biggest death camps was located (the number of victims at Trostenets is estimated to be the fourth largest after Auschwitz, Majdanek and Treblinka). The executions of the Jewish population of Belarus and the Jews transported from other European countries were carried out on a large scale; over 530 places of their execution, camps and ghettos have now been ascertained.
The initial phase in the liberation of Belarus began in the autumn of 1943, when the Soviet troops liberated the south-eastern part of the republic. The final phase in the complete liberation of Belarus from the Nazi invaders was the Operation Bagration (23 June – 29 August 1944), when the Red Army together with the partisans defeated the German Army Group Centre.
The Soviets had 2.4 million men, over 36,000 guns and mortars, 5,200 tanks and self-propelled artillery guns, and about 5,300 aircraft. The German side had 1.2 million officers and men, 9,500 guns and mortars, 900 tanks and assault guns, and 1,350 aircraft.
Operation Bagration resulted in the liberation of Belarus, the major part of Lithuania, a part of Latvia, and eastern parts of Poland. The Red Army came to the border of East Prussia.
German soldiers surrender to the advancing Red Army
The soldiers of German Army Centre did not know what hit them when Operation Bagration started. The German Army was almost destroyed and the remnants was chased by the Russians till almost Warsaw.
Crestfallen captured German soldiers
On June 23rd 1944 “Operation Bagration” began. The unprecedented firepower of Russian artillery fire with more than thirty thousand guns and mortars shook the German defensive positions for two hours. On the first day of the attack the Soviet troops managed to break into the German defenses in some places up to thirteen kilometers. Overcoming fierce resistance, the Red Army moved steadily westward.
The Russians liberated Minsk, the capital of Belarus, in July. 35,000 German officers and soldiers were taken prisoner.
After Operation Bagration Russia had retaken Belarus and the road to Germany proper lay wide open.
Bagration was the greatest Red army victory of the War. Bagration in many ways was a replay of Barbarossa, only in reverse. The Red Army in a massive 5 weeks campaign succeeded in moving the front line west to Warsaw, clearing Byelorussia and much of pre-War Poland of the Germans. Army Group Center was shattered.
The Red Army completely destroyed 17 Wehrmacht divisions and heavily damaged the combat effectiveness of more than 50 other German divisions. Army Group Central was effectively limited as an effective command. It was the single greatest defeat suffered by the Wehrmacht in the War. The Wehrmacht suffered greater casualties than at Stalingrad. Bagration not only smashed Army Group Central, but drove the Germans back deep into Poland.
The Red Army succeeded in destroying the most powerful German formation at the time–Army Group Central. Before Bagration, the Wehrmacht had suffered substantial battlefield losses, but was still a very potent military force. After Bagration not only was the Wehrmacht unable to react powerfully to the Allied invasion of France, but would be unable to launch another important offensive in the East.
The German defenses could not stop the Soviet batter ram
People of Minsk welcome soldiers
German trucks and armor were hammered by Soviet warplanes on the highway near Vitebsk
Women partisans in liberated Minsk. July 1944
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