The objectives of the operation were complicated. The Red Army practiced the concept of Soviet deep battle and maskirovka. One American author suggests that these Soviet innovations were enabled, in part, by the provision of over , trucks by the United States to motorize the Soviet infantry.
Army Group Centre had previously proved tough to counter as the Soviet defeat in Operation Mars had shown. But by June , despite shortening its front line, it had been exposed following the severe defeats of Army Group South in the battles that followed the Battle of Kursk , the Second Battle of Kiev and the Crimean Offensive in the late summer, autumn and winter of —44, which the Soviets called the Third period of World War II.
Operation Suvorov had seen Army Group Centre itself forced to retreat westwards from Smolensk during the autumn of For the Third Reich , the strategic threats were about the same. Bagration , in combination with the neighbouring Lvov-Sandomierz Offensive launched a few weeks later in Ukraine, allowed the Soviet Union to recapture Belorussia and Ukraine within its borders, advance into German East Prussia , but more importantly, the Lvov-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 Soviet advance encouraged the Warsaw uprising against the German occupation forces. 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 Russian word maskirovka is roughly equivalent to the English word 'camouflage,' but it has broader application in military use. During World War II the term was used by Soviet commanders to describe measures to create deception with the goal of inflicting surprise on the Wehrmacht forces. The Oberkommando des Heeres expected the Soviets to launch a major Eastern Front offensive in the summer of The Stavka considered a number of options.
The timetable of operations between June and August had been decided on by 28 April The Stavka rejected an offensive in either the L'vov sector or the Yassy-Kishinev sectors owing to the presence of powerful enemy mobile forces equal in strength to the Soviet strategic fronts.
Instead they suggested four options: an offensive into Romania and through the Carpathians, a huge offensive into the western Ukrainian SSR aimed at the Baltic coast, an attack into the Baltic and an offensive in the Belorussian SSR.
The first two options were rejected as being too ambitious and open to flank attack.
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The third option was rejected on the grounds the enemy was too well prepared. The only safe option was an offensive into Belorussia which would enable subsequent offensives from Ukraine into Poland and Romania. The Soviets, aware that the enemy would anticipate this, engaged in a maskirovka campaign to catch the German armoured forces off guard by creating a crisis in Belorussia that would force the Germans to move their powerful Panzer forces, fresh from their victory in the First Jassy—Kishinev Offensive in April—June , to the central front to support Army Group Centre.
This was the primary purpose of Bagration. In order to maximize the chances of success, the maskirovka was a double bluff. The Soviets left four tank armies in the L'vov-Peremyshl area and allowed the Germans to know it. The attack into Romania in April—June further convinced the Soviets that the Axis forces in Romania needed removing and kept the Germans concerned about their defences there and in southern Poland, while drawing German forces to the L'vov sector.
The intent of the Soviets to strike their main blow towards the Vistula can be seen in the Red Army's albeit fragmented order of battle.
Six guards tank corps and six tank corps along with three guards mechanized and two mechanized corps were committed to the L'vov operation. This totaled twelve tank and five mechanized corps.
In contrast, Operation Bagration ' s Baltic and Belorussian Fronts were allocated just eight tank and two mechanized corps. It contained a further six armies and was to protect the flank of the Lublin—Brest Offensive as well as engage in offensive operations in that area.
The bulk of tactical resources, in particular anti-tank artillery , was allocated to the 1st Ukrainian Front , the spearhead of the Vistula, L'vov-Premyshl operation. Most of the aviation units, fighter aircraft and assault aviation strike aircraft were given to the L'vov operation and the protection of the 1st Ukrainian Front. Of the 78 fighter and assault aviation divisions committed to Bagration, 32 were allocated to the L'vov operation, nearly fifty percent of the aviation groups committed to Bagration  and contained more than was committed to the Belorussian operation.
On 10 June the OKH took over the opinion of Army Group Centre in its estimate of the enemy situation: "When it is still to be considered that the attack against Army Group Centre will be a secondary operation in the framework of the global Soviet offensive operations, it must be taken into account that the enemy will also be capable in front of Army Group center to build concentrations of which the force of penetration cannot be underestimated in view of the ratio of forces between the two sides".
On 19 June it was noted in the estimate of the enemy situation by Army Group Centre that the concentration of enemy air forces had become greater 4, out of 11, and that this left new doubts regarding OKH's estimate.
OKH thought there was no ground for this supposition. The Soviet strategic reserves were not detected. The start of Operation Bagration involved the many partisan formations in the Belorussian SSR, which were instructed to resume their attacks on railways and communications. From 19 June large numbers of explosive charges were placed on rail tracks and though many were cleared, they had a significant disruptive effect. The partisans were also used to mop up encircled German forces once the breakthrough and exploitation phases of the operation were completed.
Deployments during Operation Bagration. The Stavka had committed approximately 1,, combat and support troopers, approximately 24, artillery pieces and mortars, 4, tanks and assault guns and 6, aircraft.
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German strength was approximately , combat and support troopers and 9, artillery pieces but only tanks and assault guns and aircraft. Army Group Centre was seriously short of mobile reserves: the demotorized 14th Infantry Division was the only substantial reserve formation, though the 20th Panzer Division was positioned in the south near Bobruisk and the understrength Feldherrnhalle Panzergrenadier Division was also held in reserve. The relatively static lines in Belorussia had enabled the Germans to construct extensive field fortifications, with multiple trench lines to a depth of several kilometres and heavily mined defensive belts.
Second Army was not involved in the first or second phases of the German defense, being positioned south of the main axis of Soviet operations.
Two special representatives to Stavka were appointed to coordinate the operations of the Fronts involved: Aleksandr Vasilevsky and Georgy Zhukov. The 1st Belorussian Front was particularly large, and included further units which were only committed during the following Lublin-Brest Offensive.
Operation Bagration began on 22 June , the same calendar day on which the Germans had previously invaded the Soviet Union in , with probing attacks throughout the German 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 German 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 German 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 an Army Group Scale.
Generalleutnant Alfons Hitter asks General Ivan Chernyakhovsky and Marshal of the Soviet Union Aleksandr Vasilevsky for a seat at the public interrogation after the battle of Vitebsk [ citation needed ]. The operation was conducted by the 1st Baltic Front and 3rd Belorussian Front against the positions of the Third Panzer Army, and the northern flank of the Fourth Army.
Despite a tenacious German defense, Orsha was liberated by 26 June, and the 3rd Belorussian Front's mechanized forces were able to penetrate far into the German rear, reaching the Berezina River by 28 June.
The primary aim of the Mogilev Offensive, and of the 2nd Belorussian Front , was to pin down the majority of Fourth Army while the developing Vitebsk-Orsha and Bobruysk Offensives encircled it.
The Dnepr was crossed by the 49th Army by 27 June, and by 28 June it had encircled and taken the town of Mogilev. The Bobruysk Offensive, against Ninth Army on the southern flank of Army Group Centre, was opened by the 1st Belorussian Front on 23 June, but suffered heavy losses attempting to penetrate the German defenses. Rokossovsky ordered additional bombing and artillery preparation, and launched further attacks the next day. Some elements of Ninth Army managed to break out of Bobruysk on 28 June, but up to 70, soldiers were killed or taken prisoner.
The 1st Belorussian Front's forces liberated Bobruysk on 29 June after intense street fighting. The second phase of Operation Bagration involved the entire operation's most significant single objective: the retaking of Minsk, capital of the Belorussian SSR.
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It would also complete the large-scale encirclement and destruction, set up by the first phase, of much of Army Group Centre. From 28 June, the main exploitation units of the 3rd Belorussian Front the 5th Guards Tank Army and an attached cavalry-mechanised group began to push on to secure crossings of the Berezina, followed by the 11th Guards Army. In the south, exploitation forces of the 1st Belorussian Front began to close the lower pincer of the trap developing around the German Fourth Army.
After forcing crossings of the Berezina, Soviet forces closed in on Minsk. The 2nd Guards Tank Corps was the first to break into the city in the early hours of 3 July; fighting erupted in the centre, which was finally cleared of German rearguards by the following day.
Over the next few days, the pocket east of Minsk was reduced: only a fraction of the , troops in it escaped. Minsk had been liberated, and Army Group Centre utterly destroyed, in possibly the greatest single defeat suffered by the Wehrmacht in the whole war. In the few subsequent weeks, the Germans lost another , men. The Polotsk Offensive had the dual objective of taking Polotsk itself, and of screening the northern flank of the main Minsk Offensive against a possible German counter-offensive from Army Group North.
The 1st Baltic Front successfully pursued the retreating remnants of Third Panzer Army back towards Polotsk, which was reached by 1 July. German forces attempted to organise a defense using rear-area support units and several divisions hurriedly transferred from Army Group North. Units of the 1st Baltic Front's 4th Shock Army and 6th Guards Army fought their way into the city over the next few days, and successfully cleared it of German forces by 4 July.
As German resistance had almost completely collapsed, Soviet forces were ordered to push on as far as possible beyond the original objective of Minsk, and new objectives were issued by the Stavka. This resulted in a third phase of offensive operations, which should be regarded as a further part of Operation Bagration.
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Feldmarshal Walter Model , who had taken over command of Army Group Centre on 28 June when Ernst Busch was sacked, hoped to reestablish a defensive line running through Lida using what was left of Third Panzer , Fourth and Ninth Armies along with new reinforcements. By 31 July, the coast on the Gulf of Riga had been reached.
A hurriedly-organised German counter-attack managed to restore the severed connection between the remnants of Army Group Centre and Army Group North. The Vilnius Offensive was conducted by units of the 3rd Belorussian Front subsequent to their completion of the Minsk Offensive; they were opposed by the remnants of Third Panzer and Fourth Armies. German forces continued a precipitate retreat, and Soviet forces reached Vilnius, held by units of the Third Panzer Army, by 7 July.
By 8 July, the city had been encircled, trapping the garrison, who were ordered to hold fast at all costs. Soviet forces then fought their way into the city in intense street-by-street fighting alongside an Armia Krajowa uprising, Operation Ostra Brama. On 12 July, 6th Panzer Division counter-attacked and temporarily opened an escape corridor for the besieged troops, but the majority of them were lost when the city finally fell on 13 July this phase of the operation is commonly known as the Battle of Vilnius.
This failed. Lublin was taken on 24 July; the 2nd Tank Army was ordered to turn north, towards Warsaw, to cut off the retreat of forces from Army Group Centre in the Brest area.
Brest was taken on 28 July and the Front's left wing seized bridgeheads over the Vistula by 2 August.
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This effectively completed the operation, the remainder of the summer being given over to defensive efforts against a series of German counter-attacks on the bridgeheads. The Kaunas Offensive covered the operations of Chernyakhovsky's 3rd Belorussian Front from 28 July August, towards the Lithuanian city of Kaunas, subsequent to their completion of the offensive against Vilnius.
By 30 July all Wehrmacht resistance on the approaches to the Neman River had retreated or been annihilated. Two days later the city of Kaunas was under Soviet control. This offensive covered the operations of 2nd Belorussian Front from 6—14 August, after their completion of the Belostock Offensive, with the objective of the fortified area at Osowiec on one of the tributaries of the Narew River. The very large fortress complex there secured the approaches to East Prussia through the region's marshes.
German forces were able to stabilise their line of defense along the Narew, which they held until the East Prussian Offensive of January Abandoned vehicles of the German 9th Army at a road near Bobruisk.