Šiauliai Operation of 1944

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Šiauliai Operation of 1944

 

an operation by Soviet forces of the First Baltic Front, commanded by General of the Army I. Kh. Bagramian, conducted between July 5 and Aug. 29, 1944, during the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45.

By July 4, the forces involved in the Byelorussian Operation of 1944 (the Sixth Guards and Forty-third armies) had reached the line extending from Druia, to an area west of Voropaevo, to Lake Naroch’ and were then to advance in the direction of Sveniionys and Kaunas, as well as on Panėvžys and Šiauliai. The Thirty-ninth Army, which was supposed to concentrate on the left flank of the front by July 10, was transferred to the front, as were the Second Guards and Fifty-first armies from the General Headquarters reserve, which were to arrive in the front zone only in the latter part of July.

The offensive was launched on July 5 by two rifle corps of the Sixth Guards Army and three rifle corps of the Forty-third Army and by a small force of the I Tank Corps. The fascist German forces comprised two corps operating on adjacent wings of Army Groups North and Center. The Thirty-ninth Army was introduced into combat on July 10, striking toward Kaunas. By July 12, the width of the front of the three advancing armies increased to 200 km. The enemy forces of Army Group North offered stubborn resistance.

In view of the situation, the General Headquarters of the Supreme Command changed the direction of the front’s main thrust from Kaunas to Šiauliai. On July 14, the Thirty-ninth Army and its zone of attack were transferred to the Third Byelorussian Front, from which the III Guards Mechanized Corps was transferred to the First Baltic Front. On July 20, the Second Guards and Fifty-first armies were brought into combat along the Šiauliai axis to develop the offensive, and by July 22 they had taken the city of Panevėžys, the communications center of Army Group North. On July 27, the III Guards Mechanized Corps, in cooperation with combined-arms units of the Fifty-first Army, liberated the city of Šiauliai. Units of the right wing of the front, in cooperation with the forces of the Second Baltic Front, liberated the city of Daugavpils. Developing the offensive, the forces of the front captured the strongpoints and road junctions of the cities of Biržai and Bauska on July 30 and Jelgava (Mitava) on July 31. At this time, mobile units of the front took the city of Tukums, reached the coast of the Gulf of Riga near Klapkalns, and cut off the land communications of Army Group North.

In late July and early August, the forces of the front repulsed enemy counterstrikes in the vicinity of Biržai (as many as four infantry divisions and 100 tanks and assault weapons) and Raseiniai (one infantry division and one tank division). Between August 16 and August 29, the Germans launched powerful counterstrikes (as many as seven tank divisions and three infantry divisions with more than 800 tanks and assault weapons) to the west and northwest of Šiauliai. In repulsing the enemy counterstrikes, the ground forces were supported by the Third Air Army. On August 20, the enemy’s counterstrikes from areas west of Tukums and Sloka and his naval landing operations had succeeded in pushing back the Soviet troops from the coast to the south and restoring the coastal communications lines of the Riga grouping. By August 29, the forces of the front were entrenched on the line Plavinas, Lielupe River, Jelgava, Dobele, Auce, and areas west of Zagare, west of Šiauliai, and east of Raseiniai.

During the Šiauliai Operation, the forces of the First Baltic Front defeated the enemy’s Panevėžys-Šiauliai grouping and created conditions for completing the liberation of the Soviet Baltic region from fascist German forces. The operation was characterized by a swift offensive, considerable maneuvering, and successful repulses of strong counterstrikes by enemy tank forces.

M. A. POLUSHKIN