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The Battle of Smolensk was a successful encirclement operation by Army Group Centre's 2nd Panzer Army led by Heinz Guderian and the 3rd Panzer Army led by Hermann Hoth of parts of four Soviet Fronts. The Soviet formations were the Western Front commanded by Timoshenko, the Soviet Reserve Front commanded by Zhukov, the Soviet Central Front commanded by Kuznetsov, and Soviet Bryansk Front commanded by Yeremenko. Ultimately the Soviet 16th, 19th and the 20th Armies were encircled just to the south of Smolensk but large parts of the 19th Army managed to escape the pocket. As a result of large parts of Soviet soldiers escaping the net, Hitler called off the operation for encirclement as the premier means of defeating the Soviet Union and concentrated on inflicting severe economic damage to the Soviet Union.


On July 3rd, the day Stalin had called for a Great Patriotic War against the Nazi invader, the Infantry armies of the German Army Groups had finally caught up and the Panzer Armies at last got the go ahead to resume their drive east.

The main Panzer forces had been static for almost a week and now on the very day the general offensive was resumed, a sudden rainstorm typical of early July turned the roads into streaming rivers of mud, and advancing armies found themselves immobile for hours at a time. All the while the Russian defense became more determined. Many bridges were blown up and, for the first time, the Russians were laying mines to slow down the Germans, an easy task, as the Germans were confined to the very few roads.

The delays gave the Soviets time to organize for a massive armored counter blow.

The Operation

The ultimate objective of Army Group Centre was the city of Smolensk which commanded the road to Moscowmarker. Facing the Germans along the River Dnieper and Dvina were stretches of the Stalin Line fortifications. The defenders were the 13th Army of the West Front, and the 20th Army, 21st Army and the 22nd Army of the Supreme Command (STAVKA) Reserve. Another army, the 19th Army, was forming up at Vitebskmarker while the 16th Army was arriving at Smolensk. It was the threat in the north from 3rd Panzer Army's 39th Panzer Corps that most worried the Soviets. On July 6th, the Soviet 20th Army's 7th and 5th Mechanized Corps launched an attack with 700 tanks. The Germans had overwhelming air support and in a 3 day battle, the two Soviet Mechanized Corps were virtually wiped out.

For the Red Army the Battle of Smolensk (really a full campaign) would take place in several phases, divided into distinct operations to halt the German offensive and the pincers.
  • Battle of Smolensk (10 July 1941 - 10 September 1941)
Smolensk Defensive Operation (10 July 1941 - 10 August 1941)
Smolensk Offensive Operation (21 July 1941 - 7 August 1941)
Rogechev-Zhlobin Offensive Operation (13 July 1941 - 24 July 1941)
Gomel-Trubchevsk Defensive Operation (24 July 1941 - 30 August 1941)
Dukhovshina Offensive Operation (17 August 1941 - 8 September 1941)
Yelnia Offensive Operation (30 August 1941 - 8 September 1941)
Roslavl-Novozybkov Offensive Operation (30 August 1941 - 12 September 1941)

Meanwhile, 3rd Panzer Army's 20th Panzer Division established a bridgehead on the east bank of the River Dvina and threatened Vitebsk. To the south, away from the main crossings, 2nd Panzer Army launched surprise attacks forcing the River Dnieper. The Soviet 13th Army was pushed back, losing 5 divisions. As both German Panzer Armies drove east, three Soviet Armies, the 20th, 19th and 16th faced the prospect of encirclement around Smolensk.

South of Smolensk, Guderian's 2nd Panzer Army advanced at speed and its 29th Motorized Infantry Division took the city on July 16th. In the north, Hoth's 3rd Panzer Army was moving much more slowly. The terrain was swampy, the rain was still a problem, and the Russians were fighting desperately to escape the trap that was developing. On July 18th, the great armored pincers of the two German Panzer Armies came within 10 miles of closing the gap. But the jaws would not finally snap shut for another 8 days. It would take the Germans another 10 days to liquidate the pocket. In the end, although 300,000 Soviet soldiers were captured, more than 200,000 would break out to stand between the Germans and Moscow.

After the Operation

The failure of the Germans to close the gap, thereby allowing 200,000 Soviets to escape, made Hitler give up on the concept of encirclement operations. Four weeks into the campaign, it was clear to Hitler and his high command that, despite immense losses of men and material, the Soviet Union was not about to fall apart and the flanks of Army Group Centre were now becoming increasingly vulnerable to Soviet counterattacks. Hitler decided that tanks from Army Group Centre should be sent to Army Group North and South as Germany would defeat the Soviet Union by inflicting severe economic damage. This meant a speedy encirclement of Leningrad in the north and the seizure of the grain and oil fields in the south. Nearly all of the city of Smolensk was destroyed during the Battle for Smolensk. In 1985 it was awarded the title Hero City.


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