Battle of Smolensk (1943)


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The subsequent German counter-attack gained some ground against the hills occupied by the Allies. Retrieved 13 March In the following five days, Soviet troops slowly made their way through German defenses, repelling heavy counterattacks and sustaining heavy losses.

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Another Allied amphibious landing, in Italy at Anzio , had gone badly. All of these resulted in the postponing of Anvil by the Allies. After the landing at Normandy, a revival of Anvil became increasingly attractive to Allied planners.

The Normandy ports had insufficient capacity to handle Allied supply needs and French generals under Charles de Gaulle pressed for a direct attack on southern France with participation of French troops. These factors led to a reconsideration of the plan.

Churchill and his chiefs of staff had opposed Dragoon in favour of reinforcing the campaign in Italy, by capturing Trieste, landing on the Istria Peninsula, and moving through the Ljubljana gap into Austria and Hungary.

Then on August 4, Churchill proposed that Dragoon less than two weeks away should be switched to the coast of Brittany. Eisenhower, supported by Roosevelt, who with his election campaign four months away opposed diverting large forces to the Balkans, stood firm on the agreed plan despite long harangues from Churchill on August 5 and 9.

The chief objectives of Operation Dragoon were the important French ports of Marseille and Toulon, considered essential to supply the growing Allied forces in France.

They chose a location with no high ground controlled by the Wehrmacht , conditions that had led to heavy casualties after the initial landings on one of the beaches at Normandy. The choice for the disembarkation site was an area on the Var coast east of Toulon. A preliminary air campaign was planned to isolate the battlefield and cut the Germans off from reinforcement by destroying several key bridges.

A large airborne landing was also planned in the center of the landing zone to quickly seize the high ground overlooking the beaches. Parallel to the invasion, several commando units were to take control of the islands off the coast. The Allied plan consisted of a three-division landing of US forces led by Major General Lucian Truscott to secure a bridgehead on the first day.

Their flanks were to be protected by French, American, and Canadian commando units. Within 24 hours, 50,—60, troops and 6, vehicles were to be disembarked.

The airborne landings would concentrate in an area near Draguignan and Le Muy , with the aim of taking these towns to prevent German counterattacks against the beaches. The bulk of the American force then had to advance quickly to the north along the Rhône, to take Lyon and Dijon and make contact with the Allied forces in northern France.

Although the Germans expected another Allied landing in the Mediterranean, the advancing Red Army and the Allied landings in Normandy placed great strains on German resources, so little was done to improve the condition of Army Group G, occupying southern France. Given the advancing Allied forces in northern France, the Germans deemed a realistic defense in the south impossible.

Blaskowitz was quite aware that with his scattered forces, any serious Allied landing attempt would be impossible to ward off.

He planned to withdraw in secret, to include demolishing the ports, and to proceed in an orderly manner, covered by the 11th Panzer Division. He intended to establish a new defense line at Dijon in central France.

The French Resistance played a major role in the fighting. As the Allies advanced into France, the Resistance evolved from a guerilla fighting force to a semiorganized army called French Forces of the Interior. The FFI would tie down German troops by sabotaging bridges and communication lines, seizing important traffic hubs and directly attacking isolated German forces. The Allied ground and naval forces were aided by a large aerial fleet of planes. The majority of them were stationed on Corsica and Sardinia.

The tactical bombers and fighters had to support the landings directly, while the strategic element had to bomb German targets deep into France. The strategic bombing started well before the landing, and targeted airports, traffic hubs, railroads, coastal defenses, and communication lines.

As southern France had never been important to German planning, their forces there had been stripped of nearly all their valuable units and equipment over the course of the war. The remaining 11 divisions were understrength and only one panzer division was left, the 11th. Generally, the troops of the German divisions were only second- and third-rate.

This meant that over the course of the war, the divisions were thinned out and soldiers were replaced with wounded old veterans and Volksdeutsche from Poland and Czechoslovakia. Numerous units were also replaced by Ostlegionen and Ostbataillone.

These units were volunteers from Eastern Europe, mainly the Soviet Union, and had a generally low fighting morale. The equipment of those troops was in poor shape, consisting of old weapons from various nations, with French, Polish, Soviet, Italian, and Czech guns, artillery, and mortars. Four of the German divisions were designated as "static", which meant that they were stripped of all of their mobile capabilities and unable to move from their positions. The German chain of command was overly complex, with parallel chains for the occupation forces, the land forces, the Luftwaffe , and the Kriegsmarine.

The Luftwaffe, with aircraft, and the Kriegsmarine, with 45 small ships, played a negligible role in the operation.

After the Fall of France , the Vichy French regime greatly improved the coastal defenses to appease the Germans. Along the coast, about 75 coastal guns of heavy and medium caliber were placed. After their military take-over in November , the Germans improved the coastal defense further by repairing damaged and outdated turrets, as well as moving in additional guns.

To ensure the success of Dragoon and support the initial landings, preliminary commando operations had to be carried out. The guns of the German garrisons on both islands could reach the proposed Allied landing area and the sea lanes that the troops would follow.

On Levant, the 2nd and 3rd Regiments of the First Special Service Force faced sporadic resistance that became more intense when the German garrison forces came together in the area of the port.

The men of the First Special Service Force gained the upper hand and discovered that the "coastal defense battery " the Allied naval forces were worried about was actually several well-camouflaged dummy weapons.

On Port-Cros, the 1st Regiment drove the German garrison to the western side of the island to an old fort. Meanwhile, at Cap Nègre to the west of the main invasion, a large group of French commandos destroyed German artillery emplacements as part of Operation Romeo. Their main effort was supported by diversionary flank landings by other commando teams. While the main mission succeeded, 67 French commandos were taken prisoner after they ran into a minefield.

In addition to the commando operations, another operation was carried out, named Operation Span. This was a deception plan, aimed to confuse the German defenders with fake landings and paratroopers, to disperse them from the actual landing zones. The preceding bombing missions, together with resistance sabotage acts, hit the Germans heavily, interrupting railroads, damaging bridges, and disrupting the communication network.

The first of 1, Allied bombers from Italy, Sardinia, and Corsica began aerial bombardment shortly before Bombing was nearly continuous until , when battleships and cruisers launched spotting aircraft and began firing on specific targets detected by aerial surveillance. Naval gunfire ceased as the landing craft headed ashore at The relatively steep beach gradients with small tidal range discouraged Axis placement of underwater obstacles, but landing beaches had been defensively mined.

LCIs leading the first wave of landing craft fired rockets to explode land mines on the beaches to be used by following troops. The main landing force consisted of three divisions of the VI Corps. The landings were overwhelmingly successful. On Delta and Alpha beaches, German resistance was low. The Osttruppen surrendered quickly, and the biggest threats to the Allies were the mines. A single German gun and a mortar position were silenced by destroyer fire.

This beach was defended by several well-emplaced coastal guns, as well as flak batteries. Through heavy German fire, the Allies attempted to land at the shore. However, at sector Red of the Camel Beach landing zone, the Allies were not able to succeed.

Even with the assistance of naval fire, the Allies were not able to bring the landing ships close to the shore. They were as successful as the beach landings, with only dead, 24 of which were caused by glider accidents and 18 by parachute accidents.

French sabotage by the FFI, together with the Allied bombing, severed German communication lines, causing initial confusion among the troops. Despite the hampered communications, German commanders acted independently to put measures in effect to counter the Allied invasion. Allied paratroopers interrupted his communication lines and trapped his headquarters in the city. With almost no mobile reserves to react against the beach landings, he ordered the commander of the th Infantry Division, Richard von Schwerin , to establish an ad hoc battle group Kampfgruppe from all nearby units to counterattack the Allied bridgeheads in this area.

By that time, the Allies had already landed a significant number of troops, vehicles, and tanks. At the same time, heavy fighting occurred at Saint-Raphaël. Mobile units of the th Infantry Division finally had arrived there and encountered the US 3rd Division, which was trying to take Saint-Raphaël. This attack, however, was fruitless. Simultaneously in northern France, the encirclement of the Falaise pocket threatened the loss of large numbers of German forces.

Two German divisions the th and th were to retreat into the French-Italian Alps. The Allies were privy to the German plan through Ultra interception. The Germans started the withdrawal, while the motorized Allied forces broke out from their bridgeheads and pursued the German units from behind. The rapid Allied advance posed a major threat for the Germans, who could not retreat fast enough.

The Germans tried to establish a defense line at the Rhône to shield the withdrawal of several valuable units there. The US 45th and 3rd Divisions were pressing to the north-west with uncontested speed, undermining Wiese's plan for a new defense line. In the northeast, the German problems loomed as large. The German troops in this area were exhausted and demoralized from the fighting against the FFI, so Taskforce Butler was also able to advance at high speed. Meanwhile, the disembarked French units started to head for Marseille and Toulon.

The initial plan was to capture the ports in succession, but the unexpected Allied advance allowed the French commander de Lattre de Tassigny to attack both ports almost simultaneously. He split his forces into two units, with Joseph de Goislard de Monsabert given the task to take Toulon from the east while Edgard de Larminat drove north to encircle the city at the flanks.

The Germans had a significant force stationed in both cities, but they lacked the time to prepare for a determined defense. At the same time, Monsabert swung around the city, enveloped it, and cut off the highway between Toulon and Marseille. The battle for Toulon cost the French 2, casualties, but they captured all remaining German forces, which lost their entire garrison of 18, men.

At the same time, Monsabert's attempt to liberate Marseille commenced. At first, a German force at Aubagne was defeated before French troops attacked the city directly. Unlike Toulon, the German commander at Marseille did not evacuate the civilian population, which became increasingly hostile.

The resulting fighting with FFI troops further weakened the German units, which were exhausted from partisan fighting. The Wehrmacht was not able to defend on a broad front and soon crumbled into numerous isolated strongpoints. The battle caused 1, French casualties, but 11, German troops were captured. While Marseille and Toulon were liberated, the German retreat continued.

The 11th Panzer Division started several feint attacks toward Aix-en-Provence to discourage any further Allied advance. Through the decryption of German radio communications, the Allied headquarters became aware of the German withdrawal plan. They recognized the open German flank to the east of the Rhône at Grenoble due the retreat of the th Infantry Division towards the Alps.

To seize this opportunity, Taskforce Butler was ordered to advance in this direction, paralleling the German evacuation effort and ultimately cutting them off further north. While doing so, it fought some scattered German resistance, and finally, after turning left, found itself near Montélimar , a small city on the east bank of the Rhône River.

This town lay directly on the German escape route. Following Taskforce Butler was the 36th Infantry Division. However, after this speedy advance, the forward Allied forces suffered now from a serious lack of fuel and supplies, which made this task difficult. On 21 August, Taskforce Butler occupied the hills north of the town of Montélimar, according to revised orders from Truscott, as he considered it too weak to block the entire German force marching north.

From this position, Taskforce Butler fired on the evacuating German troops, while waiting for further reinforcements. The sudden appearance of this new threat shocked Wiese and the German command.

The first of its units to arrive, together with several ad hoc Luftwaffe battle groups, were asked to deal with this new threat. On the German side, three additional divisions 2nd Panzer Division , 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 counterattacks and sustaining heavy losses. Subsequent attacks by the armored and cavalry 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.

During the Spas-Demensk offensive operation Russian: The 5th Mechanized Corps, [14] relocated from Kirov and committed to battle in order to exploit the breakthrough, failed in its mission, mainly because a poorly organized anti-aircraft defense enabled Luftwaffe dive bombers to attack its Valentine tanks with some impunity.

The corps sustained heavy losses and had to pull away from combat. 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 regimental -sized counterattacks.

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. Antonov reported "We have to deal both with forests and swamps and with increasing resistance of enemy troops reinforced by divisions arriving from Bryansk region" [18] while Marshal Nikolai Voronov , formerly a Stavka member, analysed the stalemate in his memoirs, publishing what he saw as the eight primary causes: With all these factors considered, Voronov demanded that the 4th Tank Army and the 8th Artillery Corps be transferred from the Bryansk Front 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: Nevertheless, the Wehrmacht command was still reinforcing its troops around Smolensk and Roslavl , withdrawing several divisions from the Oryol region.

As a result, the two Soviet counteroffensives that followed the Kursk defensive operation 5—23 July proceeded relatively easily for the Red Army around Oryol, creating a large salient 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 and Smolensk.

The Yelnya-Dorogobuzh offensive operation was considered the "key" to Smolensk and Wehrmacht troops created a massive fortified defensive position around the city. Swampy 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 troops, however, had fuel and supplies for two weeks at most.

Soviet troops moved forward after an intense minute shelling. In order to exploit the breakthrough, the 2nd Guards Tank Corps was thrown into the battle. Leaving Wehrmacht troops no time to regroup, Red Army troops attacked the city and started to form an encirclement. 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 had reached the eastern shore of the Dniepr.

Near Bryansk , 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 , commander of the Bryansk Front from June to October Therefore, the boundary between the First Belorussian Front and the Western Front was shifted south, and two "new" armies executed a single- pincer movement to Dubrovka and around Bryansk, forcing German forces to withdraw.

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. On 7 September, the offensive was stopped, and the second stage of the Smolensk operation was over. 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 and Orsha. The operation resumed on 14 September with the Smolensk-Roslavl offensive operation , involving the left flank of the Kalinin Front and the Western Front.

After a preliminary artillery bombardment, Soviet troops attempted to break through the Wehrmacht lines. After four days of battle, Soviet rifle divisions captured Dukhovshchina , another "key" to Smolensk. The same day, Yartsevo , an important railroad hub near Smolensk, was liberated by Soviet troops. On the Western Front's left flank, Soviet rifle divisions reached the Desna and conducted an assault river crossing, creating several bridgeheads on its western shore.

As the result, the Wehrmacht defense line protecting Smolensk was overrun, exposing the troops defending the city to envelopment. It became clear that the salient—projecting far to the east—in which the 9th Army was positioned could no longer be held.

The following day, Stavka ordered the Western Front troops to reach Smolensk before 27 September, then to proceed towards Orsha and Mogilev. The Kalinin Front was ordered to capture Vitebsk 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 , Orsha , and Mogilev , 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. The Smolensk operation was a Soviet victory and a stinging defeat for the Wehrmacht. 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 , 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 , cutting 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 crimes committed by SS Einsatzgruppen units. In the areas liberated during the Smolensk operation occupied for almost two years , almost all industry and agriculture was gone.

After the Smolensk offensive, the central part of the Soviet-German front stabilized again for many months until late June , while the major fighting shifted to the south for the Dnieper line and the territory of Ukraine.

Only during January would the front move again in the north, when German forces were driven back from Leningrad , completely lifting the siege which had lasted for days. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Redirected from Operation Suvorov. Archived from the original on 25 May Retrieved 13 March Vasilevsky, The matter of my whole life , Moscow, Politizdat, , p.