Battle of Smolensk (1941)

Battle of Smolensk (1941)

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The '''Battle of Smolensk''' was a largely successful encirclement operation by the German [[Army Group Centre]]'s [[2nd Panzer Group (Germany)|2nd Panzer Group]] led by Heinz Guderian and the [[3rd Panzer Group (Germany)|3rd Panzer Group]] led by Hermann Hoth against parts of four Soviet [[Front (Soviet Army)|Fronts]] during [[World War II]]. The Soviet formations were the [[Soviet Western Front|Western Front]] commanded by [[Semyon Timoshenko|Timoshenko]], the [[Soviet Reserve Front]] commanded by [[Georgi Zhukov|Zhukov]], the Soviet [[Soviet Central Front|Central Front]] commanded by [[Fyodor Isodorovich Kuznetsov|Kuznetsov]], and Soviet [[Bryansk Front]] commanded by [[Andrei Yeremenko|Yeremenko]]. Ultimately, the Soviet [[16th Army (Soviet Union)|16th]], [[19th Army (Soviet Union)|19th]] and the [[20th Army (Soviet Union)|20th]] Armies were encircled just to the south of Smolensk, but significant parts of the 19th and 20th Army managed to escape the pocket. ==Background and Planning== On 22 June 1941 Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in [[Operation Barbarossa]]. In the opening phase the offensive met with spectacular gains, as the surprised Soviet troops were not able to offer coordinated resistance. After 3 weeks of fighting the Germans had reached the [[Western Dvina|Dvina]] and [[Dnieper]] Rivers and planned for a resumption of the offensive effort. The main effort targeted against [[Moscow]] was carried out by [[Army Group Centre]] commanded by [[Fedor von Bock]]. Its next target towards the Soviet capital was the town of [[Smolensk]]. The German plan called for the 2nd Panzer Group (later 2nd Panzer Army) to cross the Dnieper closing on Smolensk from the south while the 3rd Panzer Group (later 3rd Panzer Army) had to encircle the town from the north. After those initial defeats, the Red Army sought to reorganzise itself and established several measures to ensure a more determined resistance. A new defensive line had to be established around Smolensk. Stalin placed [[Semyon Timoshenko|Field Marshall Timoshenko]] in command and transferred five armies out of the strategic reserve under Timoshenko's control. Those armies had to conduct a series of counteroffensives to halt the German offensive. The German command was not aware of the new Soviet build-up until they met them on the battlefield. Facing the Germans along the [[Dnieper River|River Dnieper]] and [[Daugava|Dvina]] were stretches of the [[Stalin Line]] fortifications. The defenders were the [[13th Army (Soviet Union)|13th Army]] of the West Front, and the [[20th Army (Soviet Union)|20th Army]], [[21st Army (Soviet Union)|21st Army]] and the [[22nd Army (Soviet Union)|22nd Army]] of the Supreme Command ([[Stavka]]) Reserve. Another army, the [[19th Army (Soviet Union)|19th Army]], was forming up at [[Vitebsk]] while the 16th Army was arriving at Smolensk. In Soviet historiography for the Red Army the Battle of Smolensk (actually a full campaign) would take place in several phases, divided into distinct operations to halt the German offensive and the [[Pincer movement|pincers]]. *Battle of Smolensk (10 July-10 September 1941) :[[Smolensk Defensive Operation (1941)|Smolensk Defensive Operation]] (10 July-10 August 1941) :[[Smolensk Offensive Operation (1941)|Smolensk Offensive Operation]] (21 July-7 August 1941) :[[Rogechev-Zhlobin Offensive Operation]] (13–24 July 1941) :[[Gomel-Trubchevsk Defensive Operation]] (24 July-30 August 1941) :[[Dukhovshina Offensive Operation]] (17 August-8 September 1941) :[[Yelnia Offensive Operation]] (30 August-8 September 1941) :[[Roslavl-Novozybkov Offensive Operation]] (30 August-12 September 1941) ==The operation== Prior to the German attack, the Soviets launched an offensive by their own. On 6 July, the Soviet 20th Army's 7th and 5th Mechanized Corps launched an attack with 700 tanks near [[Lepiel]]. But the offensive ran directly into the anti-tank defenses of the German [[7th Panzer Division]] and the two Soviet Mechanized Corps were subsequently virtually wiped out. [[File:Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-137-1032-14A, Russland, brennendes Dorf, deutsche Kavallerie.jpg|thumb|300px|German troops in a town near [[Mogilev]] at the Dnepr]]On 10 July the Germans started their own offensive when Guderian's 2nd Panzer Group launched its surprise attack over the Dnieper. His forces literally overan the weak 13th Army, which opposed his forces. By 13 July Guderian had passed [[Mogilev]], trapped several Soviet division there and his spearhead unit, the [[29th Infantry Division (Germany)|29th Mot. Division]] was already {{convert|18|km|abbr=on}} short of Smolensk. Meanwhile, 3rd Panzer Group's 20th Panzer Division established a bridgehead on the east bank of the River Dvina and threatened Vitebsk. As both German Panzer Groups drove east, three Soviet Armies, the 20th, 19th and 16th faced the prospect of encirclement around Smolensk. From 11 July on, the Soviets tried a series of concerted counterattacks. The Soviet 19th Army and 20th Army struck at [[Vitebsk]], while the 21st and the remnants of the 3rd Army attacked against the southern flank of Second Panzer Group near [[Bobruisk]]. At the same time several other Soviet armies also attempted to counterattack in the sectors of German [[Army Group North]] and [[Army Group South|South]]. This overall effort was apparently part of an overall attempt to implement the Soviet prewar general defense plan. However, although the Soviet attacks somehow managed to slow the Germans down, their result were so marginal, that the Germany barely noticed it as a coordindated large scale defensive effort. The German offensive therefore continued. Meanwhile Hoth's 3rd Panzer Group had drove north paralleling Guderian's forces, taking [[Polotsk]] and Vitebsk. The spearheads of his forces reached the area east of of Smolensk on 14 July. At the same time Guderian's forces broke into the town and took it after heavy house-to-house combat in 3 days. Guderian expected that the offensive will continue towards Moscow as its main focus, and therefore sent the 29th Mot. Division to the Dvina River to establish a bridgehead on the eastern side of the River at [[Yelnya]]. However, in contrast Hitler and the German high command wanted to trap the Soviet forces in Smolensk and therefore ordered Guderian to seal the encirclement instead. Guderian did not believe he could split his forces this way, and was affirmed when the Soviets attacked this bridgehead 2 months later during the [[Yelnya Offensive]]. In the north, 3rd Panzer Group 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 18 July, the great armored pincers of the two German Panzer Groups came within {{convert|10|mi|km|abbr=on}} of closing the gap. However, Timoshenko's had built up a hastily assembled force which stopped the German advance and was continously reinforced. The open gap allowed a number of Soviet units to escape. The Soviet transferred addional troops from newly formed armies into the region around Smolensk, namly the 29th, 30th, 28th, and 24th Armies. Those newly built formations would immediately upon arrival start a heavy counterattack against the German forces around the Smolensk area from 21 July on. This put a heavy strain on the overextended Panzer forces which were had to cover such a large area around the perimeter. However, bad coordindation and logistics allowed the Germans to successfully defend against those Soviet offensive efforts, while continuing to close the encirclement. Those attacks were not successfully repelled until 30 July Finally on 27 July the Germans were able to link up and close the pocket east of Smolensk, trapping large portions of 16th, 19th, and 20th Armies. But on a few days later however, under the leadership of 20th Army significant Soviet troops managed to break out of the pocked in a determined effort, assisted by the still ongoging Soviet offensive efforts along the Smolensk frontline. In the end about 300,000 men were taken prisoners when the encirclement was subsequently closed and dissvoled. ==After the operation== The Battle of Smolensk was another severe defeat for the Soviets in the opening phase of Operation Barbarossa. However, this victory came not without controverse strategic implications. For the first time the Soviets tried to implement a determined coordinated counterattack along a large part of the front, although its only result was, that the battle did not end even worse. Nevertheless the increasing Soviet resistance showed that the Soviets were not yet defeated, and that the [[Blitzkrieg]] onto Moscow was in danger. This led to a division in the German high command. Frontline commanders like von Bock, Hoth or Guderian pressed to not overstretch the German units and to instead focus directly on Moscow. Hitler instead moved away from Moscow (a decision which he would reverse in the near-future) and wanted more strategic encirclements to weaken the Soviets further. As a result the German offensive effort was again more diversifed, leading to the battle at [[Battle of Kiev (1941)|Kiev]] and [[Battle of Uman|Uman]]. Those battles were again resounding German victories, but also cost them vital time in their approach towards Moscow, allowing the Soviets to prepare the defense of the city. ==See also== *[[Battle of Smolensk (1812)]] *[[Battle of Smolensk (1943)]] {{coord missing|Russia}} {{DEFAULTSORT:Smolensk, Battle of (1941)}}