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Bagration: Soviet

Soviet 5th Guards Tank Army during Operation Bagration
3rd Guards Tank Corps and 29th Tank Corps

Bagration: Soviet

Led by the Oslikovskiy Cavalry-Mechanised Group, the Soviet 5ya Gvardeyskiy Tankovy Armiya (5th Guards Tank Army) struck as the Hammer or northern spearhead. Advancing rapidly through the marshes of Byelorussia they found themselves knocking on Borizov, Minsk’s northern door. Here in a town just east of Minsk they threatened to both encircle and destroy the German 4. Armee (4th Army).

The northern exploitation spearhead of Operation Bagration included the elite 5th Guards Tank Army. This formation was formed from two vastly experienced tank corps, the 3rd Guards and 29th. 

With the Oslikovskiy’s Cavalry-Mechanised Group leading with way with the 3rd Guards Mechanised and 3rd Guards Cavalry, the tanks of the 5th Guards Tank Army followed behind, before moving towards Minsk to secure the river crossing east of the city. Once across the Berezina River they worked their way around the flanks of Minsk, cutting off routes into and out of the city, trapping the German defenders inside.

3rd Guards Tank Corps

The 3rd Guards Tank Corps (3-y Gvardeyskiy Tankovy Korpus) was formed from 7th Tank Corps in 1943 with the honorific “Kotelnikovskikh” after their fighting at Kotelnikovo in December 1943. After further fighting it was withdrawn from combat in February 1943 to help form the 5th Guards Tank Army in Stavka reserve. During the summer campaign of 1943 it joined the 4th Guards Army where it took part in the post-Kursk exploitation battles. Continuous fighting in late 1943 wore the corps down and at the end of the year it was shifted to the Moscow military district to be refitted. In early 1944 the 3rd Guards Tank Corps was sent to the Leningrad front, before being withdrawn to prepare for Operation Bagration and reassignment to the 5th Guards Tank Army.

The Exploitation Phase, Operation Bagration

During refitting its tank battalions were fully reequipped with T-34/85 tanks.

29th Tank Corps

The 29th Tank Corps (29-y Tankovy Korpus) was formed in February 1943 and was assigned to the 5th Guards Tank Army in March. It took part in the battle of Prokhorovka during the battle for Kursk. It then fought in the battle of Kharkov and the advance on the Dnepr in the second half of 1943. On 10 December 1943 the Corps received the honorific title “Znamenskikh” for liberating Znamensk. They also receive the Order of the Red Banner for the Kirovograd Operation. It then took part in the February 1944 exploitation of the Korsun Pocket. In May the corps, along with the 5th Guard Tank Army, finally went into reserve to refit ready for Operation Bagration.

5th Guards Tank Army, 25-26 June 1944
T-34/85 tanks Operation Bagration

The 5th Guards Tank Army was moved from the 2nd Ukrainian Front in May 1944 secretly north to the Stavka Reserve, but only after it was re-equipped. Its tank battalions received a full compliment of T-34/85 tanks. In June it was deployed behind the 3rd Byelorussian Front in reserve to exploit a breakthrough south of Vitebsk. The move was done at night using the rail network as part of the planned deception, which proved successful as German intelligence missed the move and believed the 5th Guards Tank Army to be in Romania.
They were deployed in reserve and assigned to support either the 5th Army at Bogushevsk or the 11th Guard Army’s drive for Borisov.

The 5th Guards Tank Army was not fully committed to Operation Bagration until the evening of 25 June when it was ordered to advance through the gap on the right of the 5th Army at Bogushevsk. This was after it had been repositioned to take advantage of the Soviet success in that area. It then operated with Oslikovskiy’s Cavalry-Mechanised Group to north of Senno.

After a rapid 40km advance the army took Tolochin on 26 June, 50km west of Orsha. Lukomskoe and Cherekhya were then quickly taken. Their advance threatened to cut off Orsha and open a wide corridor to the Berezina River. The 3rd Guards Tank Corps cut the road west from Moscow to Minsk just west of Orsha on 26 June.

The 5th Guards Tank Army then attacked kampfgruppen von Sauken and von Gottberg who were defending the road to Borisov. By the evening of 27 June they had taken Bobr, Krupki and Krugloe.

T-34/85 tanks dismount tank riders
By this point there were few pitched battles as the rapid movement of the Soviet armoured forces were too fast for the Germans to react to, forcing them to continue to withdraw or be cut off. Lend Lease US trucks were used to transport infantry with the tanks.
5th Guards Tank Army, 27-29 June 1944
T-34/85 tanks with tank riders On 28 June the 5th Guards Tank Army supported the 11th Guards Army in the battle for Orsha. The German 5. Panzerdivision, 14. and 95 Infanterie divisions held back the 5th Guards Tank Army and the 11th Guard Army until 26 June, but the movement of Oslikovskiy’s Cavalry-mechanised group to the rear of these German units destabilised their front. By 29 June the 5th Guards Tank Army and other Soviet units were pouring through a 50km gap between the German Third Panzer and the Fourth Armies. The 5. Panzerdivision was sent to close the gap south of Lepel and was soon engaged with the 5th Guards Tank Army coming the other way. Rather than bypass the defences that the 5. Panzerdivision had set up and leave them to be attacked by the Soviet infantry, Rotmistrov engaged them with his 5th Guards Tank Army troops, which slowed the corps’ advance. The 5. Panzerdivision was able to delay the advance of the 5th Guards Tank Army with support of the 14. and 95. Infanterie divisions.
5th Guards Tank Army, 30 June- 3 July 1944
By 30 June the tank army was attacking Borisov from all directions. The 29th Tank Corps crossed the Berezina at Chernevka, 30km south of Borisov. Once across they ran into remnant forces of the German 14. Infanteriedivision (Kampfgruppe Florke).

The 5th Guards Tank Army was still moving fast enough to catch the German units off guard. However, the tank army was delayed crossing the river waiting for 30-ton and 60-ton bridges to arrive with the 2nd Guards Engineer Brigade. 

Despite the slowing progress front commander Vasilevsky demanded that Minsk be taken by 2 July.

On 2 July the mobile columns of the tank army pressed towards the rail lines west of Minsk. By the 2 July (0600 hours) the tank army was 18km northeast of Minsk (for the loss of 60 tanks in the previous few days). By the evening the tank army had entered Minsk.

On the evening of 3 July (1800 hours) tanks of the 5th Guards Tank Army broke through the Kampfgruppe von Gottberg line and cut the road to Minsk.

By this time the Soviet mobile troops had almost out paced their supply. Depots were now over 300km away and deliveries took four days by truck on heavily congested roads. Vehicles and tanks were starting to break down and fail. The Germans were given a short respite. Further progress was delayed as the 5th Guards Tank Army waited for its slow train of supporting units to catch up.

3rd Guards Mechanised Corps…

1st Mechanised Corps…

T-34/85 tanks halt in column

Last Updated On Thursday, March 11, 2021 by Wayne at Battlefront