Wargaming in Hertfordshire

Friday, 3 December 2010

PMZ Campaign: Soviet report

Ставка Главного Командования
Вооруженных Сил Союза ССР

Byelorussian Strategic Offensive
Report by Marshal Zhukov

The liberation of Byelorussia comprised three battles. Of particular significance was the preparatory phase during which we were able to draw off key defending units and mislead the enemy as to our intentions. By varying the strategic point of attack we were able to have the defenders misplace key units and enhance the value of our own attack units.

In the Battle of Bobruisk we faced a difficult initial combat to break into the enemy defences that were well anchored on hills and a lake while being fronted by wooded areas. Our tactical approach was to use tank formations on the clearer flanking areas and infantry assault teams in the central woods. The disadvantage was that we lost the option of synergy in mixing the combat arms and in general the approaches to the defences were too constricted by the choices made in developing our attack. Nevertheless, when able to close with the enemy we were able to overwhelm them and achieve a break-in. Particular note should be made of the efforts of the assault engineers who were highly successful in penetrating the enemy’s position. However, too much was asked of infantry that should be used to hold the ground seized and not enough use was made of the Tank Corps to fulfil the primary mission of taking objectives. From north to south the deployment was 9 Tank Corps, 18 Rifle Corps, 41 Rifle Corps, 130 Rifle Corps, 16 Tank Corps and 11 Tank Corps. However, the Rifle Corps entered combat sequentially making it easier for the defender to fend off our blows. Only in the north on the right flank did we have some success with 18 Rifle Corps and 9 Tank Corps making a coordinated attack. The key to this proved to be the attachment of the assault engineers with flamethrower tanks to 18 Rifle Corps and the use of follow-up units behind the main attack of both 18 Rifle Corps and 9 Tank Corps that could prevent successful counter-attacks. In classic military style the commitment of the final reserve could not be countered by the enemy who had been forced to commit all already. The northern wing troops were eventually able to prise open the defences and force the enemy opposing them to retire and that then caused the Hitlerite army to retreat for 125 kilometres. During this retreat the enemy was forced to abandon much equipment and as a result we have obtained examples of his most recent anti-tank guns and tank destroyers. These could be seen to be formidable developments as shown by his capacity to hold off our left flank attack with a single group of tank destroyers that were able to disable our tanks at extreme range.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The break-in arising from the first battle then led to the Battle of Minsk. On this occasion the terrain was advantageous to us in being mainly clear with a wood and hills on the right, a village on the left and woods in the enemy’s flanking rear areas. This gave us the opportunity to develop a broad attack with each unit being able to readily support neighbouring units and enabled extensive firepower to be deployed as enemy positions were uncovered, quickly bringing suppressive fire down to disrupt his positions. Deployment from north to south was 18 Rifle Corps and 16 Tank Corps to assault the woods and hills on the right, 11 Tank Corps in the centre, 9 Tank Corps and 130 Rifle Corps on the left to seize the village and advance along the line of communications. Each tank corps was reinforced with an attached heavy-weapon gun regiment and this proved a successful tactic.
Extensive use was made of reconnaissance troops to identify enemy strong points prior to engagement. Rapid engagement of identified targets ensured quick suppression of the enemy positions and as a result reduced our own casualties. At this battle the enemy fielded for the first time his new heavy tank, which was immediately and successful engaged by the available SU85s. Particular mention should be made of the pilots of 16 Air Army supporting the attack whose ground attacks were prompt and accurate, ensuring that the enemy unit was not merely neutralised but destroyed. An unfortunate by-product was the lack of working models to examine. The debris showed thick armour and a powerful gun but a lack of engine power. That it is a potent weapon is shown by the damage inflicted on 11 Tank Corps, which took considerable casualties in the fire-fight with the main enemy defence line while engaging these new tanks. Our troops were able to cause rapid and significant damage on the enemy and most of his tanks were rendered inoperable early in the engagement. His forces hung grimly on suffering ever greater casualties until on the left flank and centre they broke in rout. On our right flank the terrain had slowed the approach to combat so his forces held there a little longer before fleeing. In handling the attack the unit commanders showed they were learning from their experiences in dealing with enemy forces. In the pursuit our right flank was able to overrun the enemy command complex, the centre to capture his forward supply depot and the left flank to advance onto his line of communications. With the Hitlerite army in flight we were able to capture extensive amounts of personnel and equipment, reducing his deployable forces for subsequent engagements and requiring him to draw extensively from reserves to reequip his forces. The pursuit also allowed the considerable unopposed advance of 375 kilometres.

Analysis of the correlation of forces at this point showed a continuation of combat to be unwise. In June we had the advantage of 2:1 in personnel and 3:1 in tanks. The intelligence assessment of our available forces at this point, compared to the enemy forces available at the new defence line under construction, suggested the position was 1.4:1 in personnel and 1.6:1 in tanks. Given that the Hitlerites would field more effective tanks than previously I considered it prudent to pause to rebuild strength, despite the fact that this would enable him to improve his defences. I suspected that in any future engagement the enemy would seek to field higher quality tanks in greater numbers and to cope with this I needed the full strength allocated to me by STAVKA available for battle. We had advanced 500 kilometres, one-third of the way to Berlin, and needed time to bring supplies forward and add replacements to our depleted ranks.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The third and final battle in the offensive was the Battle of Brest-Litovsk. The terrain at this point proved most difficult as the route required us to pass between two woods, bounded by a lake and covered by a hill that had to be crossed. The wide open nature of the terrain allowed the employment of a mass tank attack but also permitted the Hitlerites a wide expanse to fire from longer range on attacking forces. Deployment from north to south was 41 Rifle Corps and 16 Tank Corps to assault the woods on the right, 11 Tank Corps in the centre to assault the hill complex, 9 Tank Corps and 130 Rifle Corps on the left to seize the woods and open a communication axis into the enemy rear area and advance along the line of communications. Each tank corps was reinforced with attached heavy-weapon units.
At an early stage in the advance the assault began to break-up under the intense fire of the enemy tanks and tank destroyers. Once again the main success against the heavy units of the enemy was achieved by aircraft. Extensive reconnaissance overwhelmed enemy scouting parties to identify the main lines of resistance. Valiant assaults by our troops closed on the enemy and began to break into his positions. On the left flank tank units broke through into his rear areas and threatened to overrun his command centre. In the centre an extensive and prolonged fight between the enemy units defending the hill area and the 11 Tank Corps developed. On the right flank our attacking troops closed with the enemy and forced him out of the wooded area, the advancing troops taking part of the hill defences and reaching close to his forward supply centre. Both the defending flanks were successfully taken and much credit must be taken by the Commissars in maintaining the fighting morale of the units in difficult circumstances, rally troops to further efforts by their exhortations. In the centre the enemy held grimly on to the main hill-line and the woods at the base of it. Intense anti-aircraft defences based on the hill and enemy fighter cover over the battlefield significantly reduced the impact of our air support units. Despite the utmost endeavours of the tanks and infantry who continued their assault until exhausted it proved impossible to shift the enemy from his positions. This prevented the proper exploitation of the successes we had achieved and our forces therefore commenced an orderly withdrawal to their start lines. A large percentage of the enemy had fled the battlefield but the Hitlerites retained sufficient strength to deny the Red Army its well deserved victory. Good tactical skill was once again shown by our commanders in their use of combined arms. However, it was clear that our tank attacks lacked sufficient power and an upgrade in this arm was needed before the next advance could be made. The enemy’s infantry had suffered many casualties and showed evidence of degraded performance but the tank arm still showed much determination.

At this point it was appropriate to close down the Strategic Offensive and commence the Memel-Baltic Offensive with the Second Byelorussian Front. The resource base available to us at this point was such that we could vary the strategic approach by closing exhausted offensives and opening new offensives simultaneously, causing the enemy considerable difficulties. The Hitlerites had been forced to switch forces between fronts and thereby added wear and tear to men and equipment while being able to deploy them less frequently operationally. During the Byelorussian Strategic Offensive the enemy suffered casualties equal to more than 100% of his personnel and 70% of his equipment, while being driven back 500 kilometers. In compliance with instructions First Byelorussian Front had covered one-third of the distance to Berlin.

Georgi Zhukov
Marshall of Soviet Armies

No comments: