Battle of Smolensk (1943)

Battle of Smolensk (1943)

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The second Battle of Smolensk (7 August–2 October 1943) was a Soviet strategic offensive operation conducted by the Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

 as part of the Summer-Autumn Campaign of 1943. Staged almost simultaneously with the Lower Dnieper Offensive (13 August–22 September), the offensive lasted two months and was led by Generals Andrei Yeremenko
Andrei Yeremenko
Andrey Ivanovich Yeryomenko or Yeremenko or Eremenko was a Soviet general during World War II, Marshal of the Soviet Union.-Draft and early service:...

 commanding the Kalinin Front
Kalinin Front
The Kalinin Front was a Front of the Soviet Army during the Second World War. This sense of the term is not identical with the more general usage of military front which indicates a geographic area in wartime, although a Soviet Front may operate within designated boundaries.The Kalinin Front was...

 and Vasily Sokolovsky
Vasily Sokolovsky
Vasily Danilovich Sokolovsky was a Soviet military commander.Sokolovsky was born into a peasant family in Kozliki, a small town in the province of Grodno, near Białystok in Poland . He worked as a teacher in a rural school, where he took part in a number of protests and demonstrations against the...

 commanding the Western Front. Its goal was to clear the German presence from the Smolensk
Smolensk
Smolensk is a city and the administrative center of Smolensk Oblast, Russia, located on the Dnieper River. Situated west-southwest of Moscow, this walled city was destroyed several times throughout its long history since it was on the invasion routes of both Napoleon and Hitler. Today, Smolensk...

 and Bryansk
Bryansk
Bryansk is a city and the administrative center of Bryansk Oblast, Russia, located southwest of Moscow. Population: -History:The first written mention of Bryansk was in 1146, in the Hypatian Codex, as Debryansk...

 regions. Smolensk had been under German occupation since the first Battle of Smolensk
Battle of Smolensk (1941)
The Battle of Smolensk was a largely successful encirclement operation by the German Army Group Centre's 2nd Panzer Group led by Heinz Guderian and the 3rd Panzer Group led by Hermann Hoth against parts of four Soviet Fronts during World War II...

 in 1941.

Despite an impressive German defense, the Red Army was able to stage several breakthroughs, liberating several major cities including Smolensk and Roslavl
Roslavl
Roslavl is a town and the administrative center of Roslavlsky District of Smolensk Oblast, Russia. It is a road and rail junction and a market town. Population: It was founded in 1137 by the Smolensk prince Rostislav Mstislavitch, hence the name...

. As a result of this operation the Red Army was able to start planning for the liberation of Belorussia. However, the overall advance was quite modest and slow in the face of heavy German resistance, and the operation was therefore accomplished in three stages: 7–20 August, 21 August–6 September, and 7 September–2 October.

Although playing a major military role in its own right, the Smolensk Operation was also important for its effect on the Battle of the Dnieper. It has been estimated that as many as 55 German divisions were committed to counter the Smolensk Operation — divisions which would have been critical to prevent Soviet troops from crossing the Dnieper in the south. In the course of the operation the Red Army also definitively drove back German forces from the Smolensk land bridge, historically the most important approach for a western attack on Moscow
Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

.

The Strategic Operations included smaller operations that were
Spas-Demensk Offensive Operation (7–20 August 1943)
Dukhovshchina-Demidov Offensive Operation (1 Stage) (13–18 August 1943)
Yelnia-Dorogobuzh Offensive Operation (28 August-6 September 1943)
Dukhovshchina-Demidov Offensive Operation (2 Stage) (14 September-2 October 1943)
Smolensk-Roslavl Offensive Operation (15 September-2 October 1943)
Bryansk Offensive Operation (17 August-3 October 1943)

Strategic context


By the end of the Battle of Kursk
Battle of Kursk
The Battle of Kursk took place when German and Soviet forces confronted each other on the Eastern Front during World War II in the vicinity of the city of Kursk, in the Soviet Union in July and August 1943. It remains both the largest series of armored clashes, including the Battle of Prokhorovka,...

 in July 1943, Germany had lost all hope of regaining the initiative on the Eastern Front
Eastern Front (World War II)
The Eastern Front of World War II was a theatre of World War II between the European Axis powers and co-belligerent Finland against the Soviet Union, Poland, and some other Allies which encompassed Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945...

. Losses were considerable and the whole army was less effective than before, as many of its experienced soldiers had fallen during the previous two years of fighting. This left the German army capable of only reacting to Soviet moves.

On the Soviet side, Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

 was determined to pursue the liberation of occupied territories from German control, a course of action that had its first major success at the end of 1942 with Operation Uranus
Operation Uranus
Operation Uranus was the codename of the Soviet strategic operation in World War II which led to the encirclement of the German Sixth Army, the Third and Fourth Romanian armies, and portions of the German Fourth Panzer Army. The operation formed part of the ongoing Battle of Stalingrad, and was...

, which led to the liberation of Stalingrad
Volgograd
Volgograd , formerly called Tsaritsyn and Stalingrad is an important industrial city and the administrative center of Volgograd Oblast, Russia. It is long, north to south, situated on the western bank of the Volga River...

. The Battle of the Dnieper was to achieve the liberation of Ukraine
Ukrainian SSR
The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic or in short, the Ukrainian SSR was a sovereign Soviet Socialist state and one of the fifteen constituent republics of the Soviet Union lasting from its inception in 1922 to the breakup in 1991...

 and push the southern part of the front towards the west. In order to weaken the German defenses even further, however, the Smolensk operation was staged simultaneously, in a move that would also draw German reserves north, thereby weakening the German defense on the southern part of the front. Both operations were a part of the same strategic offensive plan, aiming to recover as much Soviet territory from German control as possible.

Thirty years later, Marshal Vasilevsky
Aleksandr Vasilevsky
Aleksandr Mikhaylovich Vasilevsky was a Russian career officer in the Red Army, promoted to Marshal of the Soviet Union in 1943. He was the Chief of the General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces and Deputy Minister of Defense during World War II, as well as Minister of Defense from 1949 to 1953...

 (Chief of the General Staff in 1943) wrote in his memoir
Memoir
A memoir , is a literary genre, forming a subclass of autobiography – although the terms 'memoir' and 'autobiography' are almost interchangeable. Memoir is autobiographical writing, but not all autobiographical writing follows the criteria for memoir set out below...

s:


This plan, enormous both in regard of its daring and of forces committed to it, was executed through several operations: the Smolensk operation, ...the Donbass [Operation], the left-bank Ukraine operation...

Geography


The territory on which the offensive was to be staged was a slightly hilly plain covered with ravines and possessing significant areas of swamps and forests that restricted military movement. Its most important hills reached heights over 270 m (885.8 ft), allowing for improved artillery
Artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 defense. In 1943, the area was for the most part covered with pine and mixed forests and thick bushes.

Numerous rivers also passed through the area, the most important of them being the Donets Basin, Western Dvina, Dnieper, Desna, Volost' and Ugra rivers. None of these rivers were especially wide at 10–120 m (32.8–393.7 ft) respectively, nor deep at 40 to 250 cm (1.3 to 8.2 ft) respectively; but the surrounding wide, swamp-like areas proved difficult to cross, especially for mechanized troops. Moreover, like many south-flowing rivers in Europe, the Dnieper's western bank, which was held by German troops, was higher and steeper than the eastern. There were very few available bridges or ferries.

Transport infrastructure


For the Soviet troops, the offensive was further complicated by a lack of transport in the area in which the offensive was to be staged. The road network was not well developed and paved roads were rare. After rainfall, which was quite common during the Russian summer, most of them were turned into mud (a phenomenon known as rasputitsa
Rasputitsa
The rasputitsa refers to the biannual seasons when unpaved roads become difficult to traverse in parts of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. The word may be translated as the "quagmire season" because during this period the large flatlands become extremely muddy and marshy, as do most unpaved roads...

), greatly slowing down any advance of mechanized troops, and raising logistical
Logistics
Logistics is the management of the flow of goods between the point of origin and the point of destination in order to meet the requirements of customers or corporations. Logistics involves the integration of information, transportation, inventory, warehousing, material handling, and packaging, and...

 issues as well. The only major railroad axis available for Soviet troops was the Rzhev
Rzhev
Rzhev is a town in Tver Oblast, Russia, southwest of Staritsa and from Tver, on the highway and railway connecting Moscow and Riga. It is the uppermost town situated on the Volga River. Population:...

-Vyazma
Vyazma
Vyazma is a town and the administrative center of Vyazemsky District of Smolensk Oblast, Russia, located on the Vyazma River, about halfway between Smolensk and Mozhaysk. Throughout its turbulent history, the city defended western approaches to the city of Moscow...

-Kirov
Kirov, Kirov Oblast
Kirov , formerly known as Vyatka and Khlynov, is a city in northeastern European Russia, on the Vyatka River, and the administrative center of Kirov Oblast. Population: -History:...

 line.

The Wehrmacht
Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

controlled a much wider network of roads and railroads, centered on Smolensk and Roslavl
Roslavl
Roslavl is a town and the administrative center of Roslavlsky District of Smolensk Oblast, Russia. It is a road and rail junction and a market town. Population: It was founded in 1137 by the Smolensk prince Rostislav Mstislavitch, hence the name...

. These two cities were important logistical centers, allowing quick supply and reinforcements for German troops. By far the most important railroads for German troops were the Smolensk-Bryansk
Bryansk
Bryansk is a city and the administrative center of Bryansk Oblast, Russia, located southwest of Moscow. Population: -History:The first written mention of Bryansk was in 1146, in the Hypatian Codex, as Debryansk...

 axis and the Nevel
Nevel
Nevel is a town and the administrative center of Nevelsky District of Pskov Oblast, Russia, located on Lake Nevel southeast of Pskov. Population:...

-Orsha
Orsha
Orsha is a city in Belarus in Vitebsk voblast on the fork of the Dnieper and Arshytsa rivers.-Facts:*Location: *Population: 125,000 *Phone code: +375 216*Postal codes: 211030, 211381–211394, 211396–211398-History:...

-Mogilev
Mogilev
Mogilev is a city in eastern Belarus, about 76 km from the border with Russia's Smolensk Oblast and 105 km from the border with Russia's Bryansk Oblast. It has more than 367,788 inhabitants...

 axis, linking German western troops with troops concentrated around Oryol
Oryol
Oryol or Orel is a city and the administrative center of Oryol Oblast, Russia, located on the Oka River, approximately south-southwest of Moscow...

.
As part of the Soviet planning the German railroad communication
Military railways
Military railways are a form of transport communication technology used by the military forces for movement of strategically significant forces, bulk cargo or as a platform for military systems....

s were attacked by the partisans during the conduct of Operation Concert, one of the largest railroad sabotage operations of World War II.

Soviet offensive sector


As of July 1943, the shape of the Soviet front line on this part of the Eastern Front was described by a concave with a re-entrant
Salients, re-entrants and pockets
A salient is a battlefield feature that projects into enemy territory. The salient is surrounded by the enemy on three sides, making the troops occupying the salient vulnerable. The enemy's line facing a salient is referred to as a re-entrant...

 centered around Oryol
Oryol
Oryol or Orel is a city and the administrative center of Oryol Oblast, Russia, located on the Oka River, approximately south-southwest of Moscow...

, offering them the opportunity to attack Wehrmacht defensive lines which became exposed to flank attacks from the north.

Therefore, the offensive promised to be quite difficult for Soviet troops of the Kalinin
Kalinin Front
The Kalinin Front was a Front of the Soviet Army during the Second World War. This sense of the term is not identical with the more general usage of military front which indicates a geographic area in wartime, although a Soviet Front may operate within designated boundaries.The Kalinin Front was...

 and Western Fronts who were predominantly tasked with the operation.

The Kalinin Front had assigned for the operation the 10th Guards Аrmy
10th Guards Army (Soviet Union)
The 10th Guards Army was a Soviet Guards formation which fought against Germany during World War II under the command of several generals. Formed in 1943, the army fought under various headquarters and ended the war besieging cut-off German forces in Latvia...

, 5th Army, 10th Army
10th Army (Soviet Union)
The 10th Army of the Soviet Union's Red Army was a field army active from 1939 to 1944.The Army was formed in September 1939 in the Moscow Military District, and then deployed to the Western Special Military District...

, 21st Army
21st Army (Soviet Union)
-June to September 1941:21st Army was a part of the Second Operational Echelon of the RKKA. It was formed from the forces of the Volga Military District in May 1941 and was initially based on 63rd Rifle Corps and 66th Rifle Corps. The army was under the command of Lieutenant-General Vasilii...

, 33rd Army
33rd Army (Soviet Union)
The Red Army's 33rd Army was a Soviet field army during the Second World War. It was disbanded by being redesignated HQ Smolensk Military District in 1945.-Initial Operations:...

, 49th Army, 68th Аrmy, 1st Air Army
1st Air Army
The 1st Air Army was an Air Army in the Soviet Air Force which served during World War II. It was formed on May 10, 1942 within the Soviet Western Front, and renamed the 26th Air Army on January 10, 1949 in the Belorussian Military District....

, 2nd Guards Tank Corps, 5th Mechanised Corps, 6th Guards Cavalry Corps.

The Western Front would have for the operation the 4th Shock Army, 39th Army
39th Army (Soviet Union)
The 39th Army was a Field Army of the Soviet Union's Red Army formed on 15 November 1941 in the Arkhangelsk Military District, in accordance with a directive issued by the Stavka on 2 November 1941...

, 43rd Army, 3rd Air Army, 31st Army.

German defenses


As a result of the shape of the front, a significant number of divisions of Army Group Center were kept on this part of the front because of a (quite legitimate) fear of a major offensive in this sector.

For instance, at the end of July 1943, a German staff briefing stated:


On the front... held by the Army Group Center many signs show a continuous preparation to a yet limited offensive (Roslavl, Smolensk, Vitebsk) and of a maneuver of immobilization of the Army Group Center...


The front had been more or less stable for four to five months (and up to 18 months in several places) before the battle, and possessed geographical features favorable for a strong defensive setup. Thus, German forces had time to build extensive defensive positions, numbering as much as five or six defensive lines in some places, for a total depth extending from 100–130 km (62.1–80.8 mi).

The first (tactical or outer) defensive zone included the first (main) and the second defense lines, for a total depth of 12–15 km (7.5–9.3 mi), and located, whenever possible, on elevated ground. The main defense line, 5 km (3.1 mi) deep, possessed three sets of trenches
Trench warfare
Trench warfare is a form of occupied fighting lines, consisting largely of trenches, in which troops are largely immune to the enemy's small arms fire and are substantially sheltered from artillery...

 and firing points, linked by an extensive communication network. The density of firing points reached six or seven per kilometer (0.6 mi) of front line. In some places, where heavy tank
Tank
A tank is a tracked, armoured fighting vehicle designed for front-line combat which combines operational mobility, tactical offensive, and defensive capabilities...

 attacks were feared, the third set of trenches was in fact a solid antitank moat
Moat
A moat is a deep, broad ditch, either dry or filled with water, that surrounds a castle, other building or town, historically to provide it with a preliminary line of defence. In some places moats evolved into more extensive water defences, including natural or artificial lakes, dams and sluices...

 with a steep western side integrating artillery and machine gun
Machine gun
A machine gun is a fully automatic mounted or portable firearm, usually designed to fire rounds in quick succession from an ammunition belt or large-capacity magazine, typically at a rate of several hundred rounds per minute....

s emplacements. The forward edge of the battle area was protected by three lines of barbed wire
Barbed wire
Barbed wire, also known as barb wire , is a type of fencing wire constructed with sharp edges or points arranged at intervals along the strand. It is used to construct inexpensive fences and is used atop walls surrounding secured property...

 and a solid wall of minefields.

The second defense zone, located about 10 km (6.2 mi) behind the outer defense zone and covering the most important directions, was composed of a set of firing points connected with trenches. It was protected with barbed wire, and also with minefields in some places where heavy tank offensives were anticipated. Between the outer and the second defense zones, a set of small firing points and garrison
Garrison
Garrison is the collective term for a body of troops stationed in a particular location, originally to guard it, but now often simply using it as a home base....

s was also created in order to slow down a Soviet advance should the Red Army break through the outer defense zone. Behind the second zone, heavy guns were positioned.

Finally, deep behind the front line, three or four more defense lines were located, whenever possible, on the western shore of a river. For instance, important defense lines were set up on the western side of the Dnieper and Desna. Additionally, the main urban centers located on the defense line (such as Yelnya
Yelnya
Yelnya is a town and the administrative center of Yelninsky District of Smolensk Oblast, Russia, situated on the Desna River from Smolensk. Population: -History:...

, Dukhovshchina
Dukhovshchina
Dukhovshchina is a town and the administrative center of Dukhovshchinsky District of Smolensk Oblast, Russia, located on the Vostitsa River northeast of Smolensk. Population:...

 and Spas-Demensk
Spas-Demensk
Spas-Demensk is a town in Kaluga Oblast, Russia, located on the Demena River west of Kaluga. Population: Spas-Demensk was first mentioned in 1494 as the settlement Demensk. It received its present name in 1855 and was granted town status in 1917.-External links:*...

), were reinforced and fortified, preparing them for a potentially long fight. Roads were mined and covered with antitank devices and firing points were installed in the most important and tallest buildings.

Main breakthrough


After a day of probing, the goal of which was to determine whether German troops would choose to withdraw or not from the first set of trenches, the offensive started on 7 August 1943 at 06:30 (with a preliminary bombardment starting at 04:40 am) with a breakthrough towards Roslavl
Roslavl
Roslavl is a town and the administrative center of Roslavlsky District of Smolensk Oblast, Russia. It is a road and rail junction and a market town. Population: It was founded in 1137 by the Smolensk prince Rostislav Mstislavitch, hence the name...

. Three armies (apparently under the control of Soviet Western Front
Soviet Western Front
The Western Front was a Front of the Red Army, one of the Red Army Fronts during the Second World War. This sense of the term is different from the more general usage of military front which indicates a geographic area in wartime, although a Soviet Front usually operates within designated...

) were committed to this offensive: the 5th Army (Soviet Union), the 10th Guards Army
Army (Soviet Army)
An army, besides the generalized meanings of ‘a country's armed forces’ or its ‘land forces’, is a type of formation in militaries of various countries, including the Soviet Union. This article serves a central point of reference for Soviet armies without individual articles, and explains some of...

, and the 33rd Army
33rd Army (Soviet Union)
The Red Army's 33rd Army was a Soviet field army during the Second World War. It was disbanded by being redesignated HQ Smolensk Military District in 1945.-Initial Operations:...

.

The attack quickly encountered heavy opposition and stalled. German troops attempted numerous counterattacks from their well-prepared defense positions, supported by tanks, assault guns, and the fire of heavy guns and mortars. As Konstantin Rokossovsky
Konstantin Rokossovsky
Konstantin Rokossovskiy was a Polish-origin Soviet career officer who was a Marshal of the Soviet Union, as well as Marshal of Poland and Polish Defence Minister, who was famously known for his service in the Eastern Front, where he received high esteem for his outstanding military skill...

 recalls, "we literally had to tear ourselves through German lines, one by one". On the first day, the Soviet troops advanced only 4 km (2.5 mi), with all available troops (including artillery, communications men, and engineers) committed to battle.

Despite violent Soviet attacks, it quickly became obvious that the three armies would not be able to get through the German lines. Soviet commanders decided therefore to commit the 68th Army, kept in reserve, to battle. On the German side, three additional divisions (2nd Panzer Division
German 2nd Panzer Division
The 2nd Panzer Division was created in 1935, and stationed in Austria after the Anschluss. It participated in the campaigns in Poland and France , and then returned to Poland for occupation duties . It took part in the Balkans campaign and then transferred to the Russian Front in September 1941...

, 36th Infantry Division, and 56th Infantry Division) were sent to the front from the Oryol sector to try to stop the Soviet advance.

The attack resumed the following day with another attempt at a simultaneous breakthrough taking place further north, towards Yartzevo. Both attacks were stopped in their tracks by heavy German resistance. In the following five days, Soviet troops slowly made their way through German defenses, repelling heavy counterattack
Counterattack
A counterattack is a tactic used in response against an attack. The term originates in military strategy. The general objective is to negate or thwart the advantage gained by the enemy in attack and the specific objectives are usually to regain lost ground or to destroy attacking enemy units.It is...

s and sustaining heavy losses. By feeding reserve troops to battle, the Red Army managed to advance to a depth varying from 15–25 km (9.3–15.5 mi) by 11 August.

Subsequent attacks by the armored and cavalry
Cavalry
Cavalry or horsemen were soldiers or warriors who fought mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the third oldest and the most mobile of the combat arms...

 forces of the 6th Guards Cavalry Corps had no further effect and resulted in heavy casualties because of strong German defenses, leading to a stalemate
Stalemate
Stalemate is a situation in chess where the player whose turn it is to move is not in check but has no legal moves. A stalemate ends the game in a draw. Stalemate is covered in the rules of chess....

.

Spas-Demensk offensive


During the Spas-Demyansk offensive operation (Спас-Деменская наступательная операция) in the region of Spas-Demensk, things went better for the 10th Army. The Wehrmacht had fewer troops and only limited reserves in this area, enabling the 10th Army to break through German lines and advance 10 km (6.2 mi) in two days.

The 5th Mechanized Corps, relocated from Kirov
Kirov, Kaluga Oblast
Kirov , formerly known as Pesochnya , is a town in Kaluga Oblast, Russia, located on the Bolva River southwest of Kaluga. Population: 31,888 ; 38,893 ; 29,000 . It is home to Shaykovka air base....

 and committed to battle in order to exploit the breakthrough, failed in its mission, mainly because a poorly organized anti-aircraft
Anti-aircraft warfare
NATO defines air defence as "all measures designed to nullify or reduce the effectiveness of hostile air action." They include ground and air based weapon systems, associated sensor systems, command and control arrangements and passive measures. It may be to protect naval, ground and air forces...

 defense enabled Luftwaffe dive bomber
Dive bomber
A dive bomber is a bomber aircraft that dives directly at its targets in order to provide greater accuracy for the bomb it drops. Diving towards the target reduces the distance the bomb has to fall, which is the primary factor in determining the accuracy of the drop...

s to attack its light Valentine tank
Valentine tank
The Tank, Infantry, Mk III, Valentine was an infantry tank produced in the United Kingdom during the Second World War. More than 8,000 of the type were produced in 11 different marks plus various purpose-built variants, accounting for approximately a quarter of wartime British tank production...

s with some impunity. The corps sustained heavy losses and had to pull away from combat. Soviet troops eventually advanced a further 25 km (15.5 mi) as of 13 August, liberating Spas-Demensk.

Dukhovshchina offensive


As ordered by the Stavka
Stavka
Stavka was the term used to refer to a command element of the armed forces from the time of the Kievan Rus′, more formally during the history of Imperial Russia as administrative staff and General Headquarters during late 19th Century Imperial Russian armed forces and those of the Soviet Union...

 (the Soviet Armed Forces Command
General Staff
A military staff, often referred to as General Staff, Army Staff, Navy Staff or Air Staff within the individual services, is a group of officers and enlisted personnel that provides a bi-directional flow of information between a commanding officer and subordinate military units...

), the Dukhovshchina-Demidov offensive operation (Духовщинско-Демидовская наступательная операция) near Dukhovshchina
Dukhovshchina
Dukhovshchina is a town and the administrative center of Dukhovshchinsky District of Smolensk Oblast, Russia, located on the Vostitsa River northeast of Smolensk. Population:...

 started almost a week later, on 13 August. As on other parts of the front, the 39th Army and the 43rd Army encountered serious opposition. During the first day alone, Wehrmacht troops attempted 24 regiment
Regiment
A regiment is a major tactical military unit, composed of variable numbers of batteries, squadrons or battalions, commanded by a colonel or lieutenant colonel...

al-sized counterattack
Counterattack
A counterattack is a tactic used in response against an attack. The term originates in military strategy. The general objective is to negate or thwart the advantage gained by the enemy in attack and the specific objectives are usually to regain lost ground or to destroy attacking enemy units.It is...

s, supported by tanks, assault guns, and aviation.

Soviet troops managed to advance only 6–7 km (3.7–4.3 mi) over the next five days and, although they inflicted heavy casualties on Wehrmacht troops, their own losses were also heavy.

Causes of the stalemate


By mid-August, Soviet operations all along the Smolensk front stabilized. The resulting stalemate, while not a defeat per se, was stinging for Soviet commanders, who provided several explanations for their failure to press forward. Deputy Chief of General Staff General A. I. Antonov
Aleksei Antonov
Aleksei Innokentievich Antonov was a General of the Soviet Army, awarded the Order of Victory for his efforts in World War II.-Career:...

 reported "We have to deal both with forests and swamps and with increasing resistance of enemy troops reinforced by divisions arriving from Bryansk region" while Marshal Nikolai Voronov
Nikolai Voronov
Nikolay Nikolayevich Voronov was a Soviet military leader, Chief Marshal of Artillery , and Hero of the Soviet Union .-Honours and awards:* Order of Lenin, six times* Order of the October Revolution* Order of the Red Banner, four times...

, formerly a Stavka member, analysed the stalemate in his memoirs, publishing what he saw as the eight primary causes:
  1. The Wehrmacht OKH command knew about the operation and was prepared for it.
  2. Wehrmacht defense lines were exceptionally well prepared (firing points reinforced by trench
    Trench
    A trench is a type of excavation or depression in the ground. Trenches are generally defined by being deeper than they are wide , and by being narrow compared to their length ....

    es, barbed wire
    Barbed wire
    Barbed wire, also known as barb wire , is a type of fencing wire constructed with sharp edges or points arranged at intervals along the strand. It is used to construct inexpensive fences and is used atop walls surrounding secured property...

    , minefields etc.)
  3. Several Red Army rifle divisions were insufficiently prepared to perform an assault of a multi-lined defense setup. This was especially true for reserve divisions, whose training was not always properly supervised.
  4. There were not enough tanks committed to battle, forcing Red Army commanders to rely on artillery, mortar
    Mortar (weapon)
    A mortar is an indirect fire weapon that fires explosive projectiles known as bombs at low velocities, short ranges, and high-arcing ballistic trajectories. It is typically muzzle-loading and has a barrel length less than 15 times its caliber....

    s, and infantry
    Infantry
    Infantrymen are soldiers who are specifically trained for the role of fighting on foot to engage the enemy face to face and have historically borne the brunt of the casualties of combat in wars. As the oldest branch of combat arms, they are the backbone of armies...

     to break through Wehrmacht lines. Moreover, numerous counterattacks and an abundance of minefields slowed down the infantry's progress.
  5. The interaction between regiment
    Regiment
    A regiment is a major tactical military unit, composed of variable numbers of batteries, squadrons or battalions, commanded by a colonel or lieutenant colonel...

    s and division
    Division (military)
    A division is a large military unit or formation usually consisting of between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers. In most armies, a division is composed of several regiments or brigades, and in turn several divisions typically make up a corps...

    s was far from perfect. There were unexpected pauses during the attack and a strong will of some regiments to "hide" from the attack and expose another regiment.
  6. Many Red Army commanders were too impressed by Wehrmacht counterattacks and failed to act properly, even if their own troops outnumbered those of the Wehrmacht.
  7. The infantry were not using their own weapons (such as their own heavy guns and portable mortars) well enough. They relied too much on artillery.
  8. The fact that the offensive was postponed from 3–7 August gave German troops more time to increase their readiness.


With all these factors considered, Voronov
Voronov
Voronov, Voronoff, Woronoff , or Voronova , is a popular Russian surname which may refer to the following people:* Avenir Voronov , Soviet scientist and academician...

 demanded that the 4th Tank Army
4th Tank Army (Soviet Union)
The 20th Guards Army, , is a field army, since 1991, part of the Russian Ground Forces.-1st Formation :It was first formed within the Stalingrad Front from July 1942 and...

 and the 8th Artillery Corps be transferred from the Bryansk Front
Bryansk Front
The Bryansk Front was a Front of the Soviet Army during the Second World War.General Andrei Yeremenko was designated commander of the Front when it first formed in mid-late August 1941, comprising, in Erickson's words, 'on paper two armies, 50th and 13th, with eight rifle divisions each, three...

 and instead committed to support the attack near Smolensk.

The stalemate was far from what had been desired by the Stavka, but it had at least one merit: it tied down as much as 40% of all Wehrmacht divisions on the Eastern Front
Eastern Front (World War II)
The Eastern Front of World War II was a theatre of World War II between the European Axis powers and co-belligerent Finland against the Soviet Union, Poland, and some other Allies which encompassed Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945...

 near Smolensk, making the task for troops fighting in the south and near Kursk
Kursk
Kursk is a city and the administrative center of Kursk Oblast, Russia, located at the confluence of the Kur, Tuskar, and Seym Rivers. The area around Kursk was site of a turning point in the Russian-German struggle during World War II and the site of the largest tank battle in history...

 much easier. The Stavka planned to resume the offensive on 21 August, but decided to postpone it slightly to give Soviet units time to resupply and reinforce.

Second stage (21 August – 6 September)


By mid-August, the situation on the Eastern Front had changed as the Red Army started a general offensive, beginning with the Belgorod-Khar'kov Offensive Operation
Belgorod-Khar'kov Offensive Operation
The Belgorod-Khar'kov Offensive Operation was an operation conducted as part of Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev between the Red Army and Wehrmacht forces...

 (Белгородско-Харьковская наступательная операция)(Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev
Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev
Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev was a code name for the Belgorod-Kharkov Strategic Offensive Operation conducted by the Red Army between 3 August 1943 and 23 August 1943 against the Wehrmacht's 4th Panzer Army and Army Group Kempf during World War II. The operation was conducted by the Voronezh...

) (операция "Румянцев" - 03-23.08) and the Orlov offensive operation (Орловская наступательная операция) (Operation Polkovodets Kutuzov) (операция "Кутузов" - 12.07-18.08) known in German history as the Kursk
Battle of Kursk
The Battle of Kursk took place when German and Soviet forces confronted each other on the Eastern Front during World War II in the vicinity of the city of Kursk, in the Soviet Union in July and August 1943. It remains both the largest series of armored clashes, including the Battle of Prokhorovka,...

, and continuing with the Wehrmacht's defensive Battle of the Dnieper
Battle of the Dnieper
The Lower Dnieper Offensive took place in 1943 during the Second World War. It was one of the largest Second World War operations, involving almost 4,000,000 troops on both sides and stretching on a 1400 kilometer long front...

 line in the North Ukraine. Nevertheless, the Wehrmacht command was still reinforcing its troops around Smolensk and Roslavl
Roslavl
Roslavl is a town and the administrative center of Roslavlsky District of Smolensk Oblast, Russia. It is a road and rail junction and a market town. Population: It was founded in 1137 by the Smolensk prince Rostislav Mstislavitch, hence the name...

, withdrawing several divisions from the Oryol
Oryol
Oryol or Orel is a city and the administrative center of Oryol Oblast, Russia, located on the Oka River, approximately south-southwest of Moscow...

 region. As a result, the two Soviet counteroffensives that followed the Kursk defensive operation (Курская оборонительная операция 05-23.07) proceeded relatively easily for the Red Army around Oryol, creating a large salient
Salients, re-entrants and pockets
A salient is a battlefield feature that projects into enemy territory. The salient is surrounded by the enemy on three sides, making the troops occupying the salient vulnerable. The enemy's line facing a salient is referred to as a re-entrant...

 south of Smolensk and Bryansk.

In this situation, the former attack axis, directed southwest towards Roslavl and Bryansk, became useless. The Stavka decided instead to shift the attack axis west to Yelnya
Yelnya
Yelnya is a town and the administrative center of Yelninsky District of Smolensk Oblast, Russia, situated on the Desna River from Smolensk. Population: -History:...

 and Smolensk.

Yelnya offensive


The Yelnya-Dorogobuzh offensive operation (Ельнинско-Дорогобужская наступательная операция) was considered the "key" to Smolensk and Wehrmacht troops created a massive fortified defense position around the city. Swamp
Swamp
A swamp is a wetland with some flooding of large areas of land by shallow bodies of water. A swamp generally has a large number of hammocks, or dry-land protrusions, covered by aquatic vegetation, or vegetation that tolerates periodical inundation. The two main types of swamp are "true" or swamp...

y areas on the Desna and Ugra rivers were mined and heavy guns set up on hills overlooking the city.

The Soviet armies, aware of the Wehrmacht preparations, were reinforced with tanks and artillery during the week from 20–27 August.

The offensive finally commenced on 28 August by the 10th Guards Army
10th Guards Army (Soviet Union)
The 10th Guards Army was a Soviet Guards formation which fought against Germany during World War II under the command of several generals. Formed in 1943, the army fought under various headquarters and ended the war besieging cut-off German forces in Latvia...

, 21st Army and the 33rd Army
33rd Army (Soviet Union)
The Red Army's 33rd Army was a Soviet field army during the Second World War. It was disbanded by being redesignated HQ Smolensk Military District in 1945.-Initial Operations:...

), supported by three Tank
Tank Corps (Soviet)
-Pre-War Development of Soviet Mechanised Forces:In Soviet Russia, the so called armored forces preceded the Tank Corps. They consisted of the motorised armored units made of armored vehicles and armored trains...

, a Mechanized
Mechanized Corps (Soviet)
A mechanised corps was a Soviet armoured formation used prior to the beginning of World War II.- Pre-war development of Soviet mechanised forces :...

 corps and the 1st Air Army. These four armies were covering a front of only 36 km (22.4 mi), creating a very high concentration of troops. The troops, however, had fuel and supplies for two weeks at most.

Soviet troops moved forward after an intense 90-minute shelling
Barrage (artillery)
A barrage is a line or barrier of exploding artillery shells, created by the co-ordinated aiming of a large number of guns firing continuously. Its purpose is to deny or hamper enemy passage through the line of the barrage, to attack a linear position such as a line of trenches or to neutralize...

. The artillery bombardment
Barrage (artillery)
A barrage is a line or barrier of exploding artillery shells, created by the co-ordinated aiming of a large number of guns firing continuously. Its purpose is to deny or hamper enemy passage through the line of the barrage, to attack a linear position such as a line of trenches or to neutralize...

 as well as ground attack aircraft
Ground attack aircraft
Ground-attack aircraft are military aircraft with primary role of attacking targets on the ground with greater precision than bombers and prepared to face stronger low-level air defense...

 significantly damaged the Wehrmacht lines, allowing the Red Army to execute a breakthrough on a 25 km (15.5 mi) sector front and advance 6–8 km (3.7–5 mi) by the end of the day. The following day, 29 August, Red Army rifle divisions advanced further, creating a salient 30 km (18.6 mi) wide and 12–15 km (7.5–9.3 mi) deep.

In order to exploit the breakthrough
Breakthrough (military)
A breakthrough occurs when an offensive force has broken the enemy defensive line, and is rapidly exploiting the gap.Usually, large force is employed on a relatively small portion of the front to achieve this...

, the 2nd Guards Tank Corps
2nd Guards Tank Corps
The 2nd Tatsinskaya Guards Tank Corps was a Red Army armoured formation that saw service during World War II on the Eastern Front. After the war it continued to serve with Soviet occupation forces in Central Europe. It was originally the 24th Tank Corps...

 was thrown into the battle. In one day, its troops advanced 30 km (18.6 mi) and reached the outskirts of Yelnya
Yelnya
Yelnya is a town and the administrative center of Yelninsky District of Smolensk Oblast, Russia, situated on the Desna River from Smolensk. Population: -History:...

. Leaving Wehrmacht troops no time to regroup
Regroup
Regroup is a communications platform for organizations that offers forums, group management, mailing list management, intranet, emergency messaging, group SMS, text messages, and social media....

 their forces, Red Army troops attacked the city and started to form an encirclement
Encirclement
Encirclement is a military term for the situation when a force or target is isolated and surrounded by enemy forces. The German term for this is Kesselschlacht ; a comparable English term might be "in the bag"....

. On 30 August, Wehrmacht forces were forced to abandon Yelnya, sustaining heavy casualties. This commenced a full-scale retreat by Wehrmacht troops from the area. By 3 September, Soviet forces reached the eastern shore of the Dniepr.

Bryansk maneuver


Near Bryansk
Bryansk
Bryansk is a city and the administrative center of Bryansk Oblast, Russia, located southwest of Moscow. Population: -History:The first written mention of Bryansk was in 1146, in the Hypatian Codex, as Debryansk...

, things went equally well for the Soviet armies, despite heavy German resistance. However, an identified weakness changed all the previous plans. A surprisingly easy capture of several hills commanding the Dubrovka region north of Bryansk, with numerous German soldiers captured in total absence of battle readiness, came to the attention of General Markian Popov
Markian Popov
Markian Mikhaylovich Popov was a Soviet military commander, Army General , and Hero of the Soviet Union .- Life :During the German-Soviet War at various times he commanded a number of Armies and a number of Fronts. His career was uneven....

, commander of the Bryansk Front from June to October 1943. This meant that the Soviet offensive was probably not expected along that particular axis.

Therefore, the boundary between the First Belorussian Front and the Western Front
Soviet Western Front
The Western Front was a Front of the Red Army, one of the Red Army Fronts during the Second World War. This sense of the term is different from the more general usage of military front which indicates a geographic area in wartime, although a Soviet Front usually operates within designated...

 was shifted south, and two "new" armies executed a single-pincer movement
Pincer movement
The pincer movement or double envelopment is a military maneuver. The flanks of the opponent are attacked simultaneously in a pinching motion after the opponent has advanced towards the center of an army which is responding by moving its outside forces to the enemy's flanks, in order to surround it...

 to Dubrovka and around Bryansk, forcing German forces to withdraw.

By 6 September, the offensive slowed down almost to a halt on the entire front, with Soviet troops advancing only 2 km (1.2 mi) each day. On the right flank, heavy fighting broke out in the woods near Yartzevo. On the center, advancing Soviet troops hit the Dnieper defense line. On the left flank, Soviet rifle divisions were slowed as they entered forests southwest of Yelnya
Yelnya
Yelnya is a town and the administrative center of Yelninsky District of Smolensk Oblast, Russia, situated on the Desna River from Smolensk. Population: -History:...

. Moreover, Soviet divisions were tired and depleted, at less than 60% nominal strength. On 7 September, the offensive was stopped, and the second stage of the Smolensk operation was over.

Third stage (7 September – 2 October)


In the week from 7–14 September, Soviet troops were once again reinforced and were preparing for another offensive. The next objectives set by the Stavka were the major cities of Smolensk, Vitebsk
Vitebsk
Vitebsk, also known as Viciebsk or Vitsyebsk , is a city in Belarus, near the border with Russia. The capital of the Vitebsk Oblast, in 2004 it had 342,381 inhabitants, making it the country's fourth largest city...

 and Orsha
Orsha
Orsha is a city in Belarus in Vitebsk voblast on the fork of the Dnieper and Arshytsa rivers.-Facts:*Location: *Population: 125,000 *Phone code: +375 216*Postal codes: 211030, 211381–211394, 211396–211398-History:...

. The operation resumed on 14 September with the Smolensk-Roslavl offensive operation (Смоленско-Рославльская наступательная операция), involving the left flank of the Kalinin Front
Kalinin Front
The Kalinin Front was a Front of the Soviet Army during the Second World War. This sense of the term is not identical with the more general usage of military front which indicates a geographic area in wartime, although a Soviet Front may operate within designated boundaries.The Kalinin Front was...

 and the Western Front
Soviet Western Front
The Western Front was a Front of the Red Army, one of the Red Army Fronts during the Second World War. This sense of the term is different from the more general usage of military front which indicates a geographic area in wartime, although a Soviet Front usually operates within designated...

. After a preliminary artillery bombardment, Soviet troops attempted to break through the Wehrmacht lines.

On the Kalinin Front
Kalinin Front
The Kalinin Front was a Front of the Soviet Army during the Second World War. This sense of the term is not identical with the more general usage of military front which indicates a geographic area in wartime, although a Soviet Front may operate within designated boundaries.The Kalinin Front was...

’s attack sector, the Red Army created a salient 30 km (18.6 mi) wide and 3–13 km (1.9–8.1 mi) deep by the end of the day. After four days of battle, Soviet rifle divisions captured Dukhovshchina
Dukhovshchina
Dukhovshchina is a town and the administrative center of Dukhovshchinsky District of Smolensk Oblast, Russia, located on the Vostitsa River northeast of Smolensk. Population:...

, another "key" to Smolensk.

On the Western Front's attack sector, where the offensive started one day later, the breakthrough was also promising, with a developing salient 20 km (12.4 mi) large and 10 km (6.2 mi) deep. The same day, Yartzevo, an important railroad hub near Smolensk, was liberated by Soviet troops. On the Western Front's left flank, Soviet rifle divisions reached the Desna
Desna River
Desna is a river in Russia and Ukraine, left tributary of the Dnieper. The word means "right hand" in the Old East Slavic language. Its length is , and its drainage basin covers ....

 and conducted an assault river crossing, creating several bridgehead
Bridgehead
A bridgehead is a High Middle Ages military term, which antedating the invention of cannons was in the original meaning expressly a referent term to the military fortification that protects the end of a bridge...

s on its western shore.

As the result, the Wehrmacht defense line protecting Smolensk was overrun, exposing the troops defending the city to envelopment
Envelopment
Envelopment is the military tactic of surrounding an enemy in the field so that they are isolated in a pocket. The friendly forces can choose to attack the pocket or invest it and wait for a beleaguered enemy to surrender.To achieve an envelopment several different tactics can be employed:* A...

. General Kurt von Tippelskirch
Kurt von Tippelskirch
Kurt Oskar Heinrich Ludwig Wilhelm von Tippelskirch was a general in the German Army during World War II.-Personal life:Kurt von Tippelskirch was born on 9 October 1891 in Berlin...

, Chief of Staff of the German 4th Army during the Smolensk operation and later commander of the 4th Army, wrote that:

"The forces of the Soviet Western Front struck the left wing of Army Group Center from the Dorogobuzh-Yelnya line with the aim of achieving a breakthrough in the direction of Smolensk. It became clear that the salient—projecting far to the east—in which the 9th Army was positioned could no longer be held."

By 19 September, Soviet troops had created a 250 kilometers (150 mi) large and 40 kilometers (25 mi) wide gap in Wehrmacht lines. The following day, Stavka
Stavka
Stavka was the term used to refer to a command element of the armed forces from the time of the Kievan Rus′, more formally during the history of Imperial Russia as administrative staff and General Headquarters during late 19th Century Imperial Russian armed forces and those of the Soviet Union...

 ordered the Western Front troops to reach Smolensk before 27 September, then to proceed towards Orsha
Orsha
Orsha is a city in Belarus in Vitebsk voblast on the fork of the Dnieper and Arshytsa rivers.-Facts:*Location: *Population: 125,000 *Phone code: +375 216*Postal codes: 211030, 211381–211394, 211396–211398-History:...

 and Mogilev
Mogilev
Mogilev is a city in eastern Belarus, about 76 km from the border with Russia's Smolensk Oblast and 105 km from the border with Russia's Bryansk Oblast. It has more than 367,788 inhabitants...

. Kalinin front was ordered to capture Vitebsk
Vitebsk
Vitebsk, also known as Viciebsk or Vitsyebsk , is a city in Belarus, near the border with Russia. The capital of the Vitebsk Oblast, in 2004 it had 342,381 inhabitants, making it the country's fourth largest city...

 before 10 October.

On 25 September, after an assault-crossing of the northern Dnieper and street fighting that lasted all night, Soviet troops completed the liberation of Smolensk. The same day another important city Roslavl was recaptured. By 30 September, the Soviet offensive force were tired and depleted, and became bogged down outside Vitebsk
Vitebsk
Vitebsk, also known as Viciebsk or Vitsyebsk , is a city in Belarus, near the border with Russia. The capital of the Vitebsk Oblast, in 2004 it had 342,381 inhabitants, making it the country's fourth largest city...

, Orsha
Orsha
Orsha is a city in Belarus in Vitebsk voblast on the fork of the Dnieper and Arshytsa rivers.-Facts:*Location: *Population: 125,000 *Phone code: +375 216*Postal codes: 211030, 211381–211394, 211396–211398-History:...

, and Mogilev
Mogilev
Mogilev is a city in eastern Belarus, about 76 km from the border with Russia's Smolensk Oblast and 105 km from the border with Russia's Bryansk Oblast. It has more than 367,788 inhabitants...

, which were still held by Wehrmacht troops, and on the 2 October the Smolensk operation was concluded. A limited follow-on was made to successfully capture Nevel after two days of street fighting.

Overall, Soviet troops advanced 100–180 km (62.1–111.8 mi) during almost 20 days of this third part of the offensive.

The Battle of Lenino
Battle of Lenino
The Battle of Lenino was a tactical World War II engagement that took place between October 12 and October 13th, 1943, north of the village of Lenino in the Mogilev region of Byelorussia...

 (in the Byelorussian SSR
Byelorussian SSR
The Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic was one of fifteen constituent republics of the Soviet Union. It was one of the four original founding members of the Soviet Union in 1922, together with the Ukrainian SSR, the Transcaucasian SFSR and the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic...

) occurred in the same general area on 12–13 October 1943.

Aftermath


The Smolensk operation was a decisive Soviet victory and a stinging defeat for the Wehrmacht. Although quite modest compared to later offensive operations (not more than 200–250 km (124.3–155.3 mi) were gained in depth), the Soviet advance during this operation was important from several points of view.

First, German troops were definitively driven back from the Moscow approaches. This strategic threat, which had been the Stavka's biggest source of worry since 1941, was finally removed.

Second, German defense rings, on which German troops planned to rely, were almost completely overrun. Quite a few remained, but it was obvious that they would not last. An essay written after the war by several Wehrmacht officers stated that:


Although the vigorous actions of their command and troops allowed the Germans to create a continuous front, there was no doubt that the poor condition of the troops, the complete lack of reserves, and the unavoidable lengthening of individual units' lines concealed the danger that the next major Soviet attack would cause this patchwork front—constructed with such difficulty—to collapse.


Third, as outlined above, the Smolensk Operation was an important "helper" for the Lower Dnieper Offensive, locking between 40 and 55 divisions near Smolensk and preventing their relocation to the southern front.

Finally, a once-united German front was now separated by the huge and impassable Pripet marshes
Pinsk Marshes
The Pinsk Marshes or Pripyat Marshes are a vast territory of wetlands along the Pripyat River and its tributaries from Brest, Belarus to Mogilev and Kiev ....

, cutting Army Group South
Army Group South
Army Group South was the name of a number of German Army Groups during World War II.- Poland campaign :Germany used two army groups to invade Poland in 1939: Army Group North and Army Group South...

 off from its northern counterparts, thus greatly reducing the Wehrmacht's abilities to shift troops and supplies from one sector of the front to the other.

For the first time, Soviet troops entered territories which had been occupied for a long time by German soldiers, and discovered war crime
War crime
War crimes are serious violations of the laws applicable in armed conflict giving rise to individual criminal responsibility...

s committed by the SS, Einsatzgruppen
Einsatzgruppen
Einsatzgruppen were SS paramilitary death squads that were responsible for mass killings, typically by shooting, of Jews in particular, but also significant numbers of other population groups and political categories...

. In the areas liberated during the Smolensk operation (occupied for almost two years), almost all industry and agriculture was gone. In Smolensk oblast
Oblast
Oblast is a type of administrative division in Slavic countries, including some countries of the former Soviet Union. The word "oblast" is a loanword in English, but it is nevertheless often translated as "area", "zone", "province", or "region"...

 itself, almost 80% of urban and 50% of rural living space had been destroyed, along with numerous factories and plants.

After the Smolensk offensive, the central part of the Soviet-German front stabilized again for many months until late June 1944, while the major fighting shifted to the south for the Dnieper line and the territory of Ukraine
Ukrainian SSR
The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic or in short, the Ukrainian SSR was a sovereign Soviet Socialist state and one of the fifteen constituent republics of the Soviet Union lasting from its inception in 1922 to the breakup in 1991...

. Only during January 1944 would the front move again in the north, when German forces were driven back from Leningrad
Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea...

, completely lifting the siege
Siege of Leningrad
The Siege of Leningrad, also known as the Leningrad Blockade was a prolonged military operation resulting from the failure of the German Army Group North to capture Leningrad, now known as Saint Petersburg, in the Eastern Front theatre of World War II. It started on 8 September 1941, when the last...

 which had lasted for 900 days. Finally, Operation Bagration in summer 1944 allowed the Red Army to clear almost all the remaining territory of the USSR of Wehrmacht troops, ending German occupation and shifting the war into Poland and Germany.