Belgrade Operation of 1944
Belgrade Operation of 1944
an offensive operation involving the troops of the Third Ukrainian Front of the Soviet Army, the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia, and troops of the Fatherland Front of Bulgaria, lasting from September 28 to October 20 and liberating the eastern and southern parts of Yugoslavia and its capital Belgrade during the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45.
At the end of September 1944 the troops of the Third Ukrainian Front under Marshal of the Soviet Union F. I. Tolbukhin, having completed a 600-km forced march through Bulgaria, reached the Bulgarian-Yugoslav border in the vicinity of Vidin. South of it—from Pirot to the point where the borders of Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Greece meet—the First, Second, and Fourth Bulgarian armies were deployed. At the beginning of September there were two German fascist army groups in the Balkan Peninsula: one under Colonel-General A. Löhr and the other under Field Marshal M. von Weichs, who at the same time was commander in chief of German troops in the southeast. These forces amounted to 20 divisions and seven brigades. In addition, military formations of the Serbian, Croatian, and other fascist “governments” were active in Yugoslavia. In connection with the defeat of the southern wing of the German fascist forces on the eastern front during the Ia§i-Kishinev operation and the advance of Soviet troops into the Balkans, Hitler was forced to give Lóhr’s army group the order to withdraw rapidly from Greece, Albania, and the southern regions of Yugoslavia back to Hungary by way of Belgrade. Von Weichs’ army group was assigned to detail sufficient forces to form the “Serbia” army group and to protect the Yugoslav-Bulgarian border with those forces. In September, 11 divisions and one brigade from the two army groups had been sent to the Soviet-German front, and two new brigades had been organized locally. Thus, at the opening of the Belgrade operation the enemy had at its disposal nine divisions and eight brigades, not counting the Serbian, Croatian, and other units.
The aim of the Belgrade operation was to destroy the main forces of von Weichs’ army group, to liberate Belgrade and cut the communication lines of Löhr’s army group, and to prevent it from withdrawing through Belgrade into Hungary. The units called on to carry out the operation were the Fifty-seventh Army, the IV Mechanized Guard Corps, one division and one brigade subordinate to the command of the front, the Seventeenth Air Army, and the Danube Flotilla. These forces of the Third Ukrainian Front were supported by the Forty-sixth Army and part of the air strength of the Second Ukrainian Front. The National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia assigned 17 divisions (nine of them were to enter the battle only at the concluding stage), and the Bulgarian People’s Army assigned 13 divisions and brigades.
From September 28 to October 11 the troops of the Soviet Fifty-seventh Army under Lieutenant General N. A. Gagen, coordinating with the XIII and XIV Corps of the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia, broke through the frontier defenses of the foe, succeeded through heavy fighting in crossing the mountains of eastern Serbia, forced the Morava River, and on October 10 established two important bridgeheads in the regions of Velika Plana and Palanka. From these bridgeheads on October 12 the IV Mechanized Guard Corps was thrown into battle and drove toward Belgrade. Simultaneously, the I Proletarian and the XII Assault Corps of the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia opened their offensive on Belgrade. From October 14 to 20, in savage fighting, the Soviet and Yugoslav troops took Belgrade by storm. In this operation the limited use of heavy artillery and air power by the Soviet command prevented losses among the civilian population or any serious destruction of the city. Soviet combat engineers defused or disarmed explosives in a great many buildings. At the same time, Soviet and Yugoslav troops engaged in stubborn combat with a German grouping that had broken through from Smederevo, heading toward Belgrade, and by October 19 had destroyed it. In the south the Bulgarian armies, which began their offensive on October 8–10, jointly with Yugoslav and Soviet troops, liberated Niŝ, Leskovac, Skopje, and Prokuplje and severed the main path of retreat for the German army group under Löhr, forcing it to withdraw over a difficult route through Montenegro and Bosnia, as a result of which it was not able to link up with the main forces of the German fascist army. In the course of the Belgrade operation the “Serbia” German army group was smashed and heavy losses were inflicted on the army groups of von Weichs and Löhr (as many as 100,000 killed and captured), the greater part of Serbia was liberated, and the liberation of Greece and Albania was facilitated.
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Minasian, M. M. Osvobozhdenie narodov lugo-Vostochnoi Evropy. Moscow, 1967.
Belgradskaia operatsiia. Moscow, 1964.
V. E. ZUBAKOV