Baltic Operation of 1944
Baltic Operation of 1944
a strategic offensive operation carried out by the troops of the First, Second, and Third Baltic fronts and the Leningrad Front and the forces of the Order of the Red Banner Baltic Fleet in September-October 1944 in order to rout the fascist German troops in the Soviet Baltic republics during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45). The Baltic Operation of 1944 included four front and interfront operations: the Riga, Tallinn, Moonsund, and Memel operations.
During the summer offensive of 1944, the Soviet troops liberated in July and August a small part of the Estonian SSR, a considerable part of the Latvian SSR, and a large part of the Lithuanian SSR. By early September they started out from a line running west of Narva, Lake Chudskoe, and Tartu; east of Valga; west of Gulbene; near Krustpils, Bauska, and Jelgava; and west of Šiauliai and Raseiniai. The fascist German troops in the Baltic region included Army Group North under Colonel General F. Schörner, which was composed of the Narva army grouping and the Sixteenth and Eighteenth armies, as well as the Third Panzer Army from Army Group Center. The ground troops were supported by the First and Sixth air fleets. The total enemy strength there was 56 divisions and three brigades, with more than 700,000 men, about 7,000 guns and mortars, more than 1,200 tanks and assault guns, and 400 combat airplanes. The enemy had a solid multizonal defense along the whole depth from the front line to the Baltic Sea.
According to the concept of operation of the Soviet High Command (Supreme Commander in Chief J. V. Stalin), the troops of the First, Second, and Third Baltic fronts were to deliver powerful strikes on axes converging on Riga. The forces of the Leningrad Front were to strike, with the assistance of the Baltic Fleet, on the Tallinn axis with a view to breaking up the enemy’s defense, encircling and destroying his groupings piecemeal, and liberating the whole Baltic region. The Soviet troops totaled 900,000 men, about 17,500 guns and mortars of 76-mm caliber or more, 3,000 tanks and self-propelled artillery guns, and more than 2,500 combat airplanes. In addition, aircraft of the Baltic Fleet and long-range aircraft participated in the operation. The overall direction of the operations of the Baltic fronts was in the hands of Marshal of the Soviet Union A. M. Vasilevskii, representative of the Headquarters of the Supreme Command.
On September 14 the Riga offensive operation was begun by the troops of the Third Baltic Front under General of the Army I. I. Maslennikov, the Second Baltic Front under General of the Army A. I. Eremenko, and the First Baltic Front under General of the Army I. Kh. Bagramian. In the first three days, the troops of the Third and Second Baltic fronts fought only within the enemy’s main defense zone. The troops of the First Baltic Front successfully broke through the enemy defense. By the end of the third day of the offensive, they had penetrated to 50 km, thereby threatening to cut off the communication lines to East Prussia. The enemy was forced to withdraw the Narva grouping from Estonia and the left flank of the Eighteenth Army from the Lake Vōrts region in order to reinforce the grouping around Riga. In an attempt to ease the situation for their troops south of Riga, the enemy delivered on September 16 two mighty counterstrikes in the region southwest of Dobele and from the region northwest of Baldone. However, they had no success.
On September 17 the troops of the Leningrad Front under Marshal of the Soviet Union L. A. Govorov, supported by naval forces, initiated the Tallinn Operation of 1944, broke through the enemy defense, and liberated Tallinn on September 22. On September 23 the troops of the Third Baltic Front took to pursuing the enemy’s Eighteenth Army, which was hastily retreating to the Sigulda line that had been set up 60 to 80 km around Riga. On September 22 the Second Baltic Front also overcame the enemy defense. The troops of both fronts were halted by the enemy on the Sigulda line on September 27. By September 26 the troops of the Leningrad Front had liberated all of Estonia except the Moonsund Islands.
At this stage of the strategic operation, the Soviet troops had not succeeded in cutting off Army Group North from East Prussia. The enemy was able to concentrate around Riga a large grouping of more than 30 divisions by withdrawing the Eighteenth Army and the Narva operational grouping. On the Memel axis in the sector from Auce to the Nemunas (Neman) River the enemy had at that time no more than eight divisions of the Third Panzer Army, which had become part of Army Group North on September 21.
In view of the changed situation, the Headquarters of the Supreme Command decided on September 24 to shift the direction of the main strike to the Memel axis in order to cut off and rout Army Group North. The First Baltic Front began regrouping in the region of Šiauliai. The Second and Third Baltic fronts were also ordered to regroup in order to resume the offensive on Riga. On October 5 the troops of the First Baltic Front, assisted by the Thirty-ninth Army of the Third Byelorussian Front, opened the Memel Operation and broke through the enemy defense. Developing the offensive in depth, mobile forces of the front reached the Baltic Sea north and south of Memel (Klaipeda) on October 10 and blocked the port city from the land. Another troop grouping of the front reached the border with East Prussia at Tauragé. By October 22 the Thirty-ninth Army of the Third Byelorussian Front had thrown the enemy back beyond the Nemunas River from Tilsit to Jurburg (Jurbarkas).
The plan of the fascist German command to withdraw Army Group North to East Prussia was foiled. The group was cut off from Army Group Center and was forced to start retreating from Riga to the Courland Peninsula. On the night of October 5, the troops of the Second and Third Baltic fronts resumed the offensive on Riga and, while pursuing the retreating enemy, reached the outer defense perimeter on October 10 and opened the battle for the city on October 12. The troops of the Third Baltic Front liberated the right-bank part of the city on October 13, and the troops of the Second Baltic Front the left-bank of the city on October 15. The Third Baltic Front was deactivated on October 16. The troops of the First and Second Baltic fronts continued the offensive on the Tukums and Saldus axes. By October 31 they reached a line west of Ķemeri and Leckava and south of Liepāja.
The troops of the Leningrad Front, in coordination with the Baltic Fleet, carried out the major part of the Moonsund Operation of 1944 from September 27 to October 10. The Estonian VIII and Latvian 130th rifle corps and the Lithuanian 16th Rifle Division participated in the liberation of the Baltic Region. The successful execution of the missions was ensured by close coordination of the ground troops, the air forces, and the navy.
As a result of the Baltic Operation of 1944, the liberation of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia from fascist occupation was completed, 26 divisions of Army Group North were routed, and three divisions were completely destroyed. The main forces of the grouping—27 divisions and one brigade—were pressed to the sea on the Courland Peninsula and lost their strategic value. The encircled Courland grouping surrendered on May 8, 1945.
REFERENCESIstoriia Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny Sovetskogo Soiuza. 1941-1945, vol. 4. Moscow, 1962.
Bor’ba za Sovetskuiu Pribaltiku v Velikoi Otechestvennoi mine 1941–1945, vol. 2. Riga, 1967.
I. KH. BAGRAMIAN