Frontier Battles of 1941

Frontier Battles of 1941

 

combat actions of Soviet covering and frontier troops from June 22 to 29 in the border regions of the USSR in Lithuania, Western Byelorussia, and the Western Ukraine against the troops of fascist Germany during the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union (1941–45). On the border with Finland the enemy troops passed to the offensive on June 29, and on the border with Rumania on July 1.

In preparing for the war against the USSR, fascist Germany concentrated powerful strike groupings and deployed them on the border of the USSR. Among them were Army Group North on the Leningrad axis, Army Group Center on the Moscow axis, and Army Group South on the Kiev axis.

The western borders of the USSR with Germany, where the frontier battles were fought at the beginning of the war, were covered by special military districts, including the Baltic Military District commanded by Colonel General F. I. Kuznetsov, the Western Military District commanded by General of the Army D. G. Pavlov, and the Kiev Military District commanded by Colonel General M. P. Kirponos. On the first day of the war, the districts were reorganized as the Northwestern, Western, and Southwestern fronts. In 1940 and 1941 the Communist Party and the Soviet government had devoted considerable effort to increasing the country’s defense capability. However, many measures could not be completed because of lack of time. Mistakes were also made in estimating the timing of a possible attack by fascist Germany on the USSR. When the enemy attack began, the troops of the western frontier districts were not placed on combat readiness. Many large units were in their permanent billeting areas or in camps. Their strength was from 60 to 70 percent of the wartime table of organization. There were insufficient means of communication, ammunition, and fuel.

The covering armies of the Northwestern Front (the Eighth and Eleventh armies of Major General P. P. Sobennikov and Lieutenant General V. I. Morozov) had 19 divisions on a 300km front. Those of the Western Front (the Third, Tenth, and Fourth armies of Lieutenant General V. I. Kuznetsov and Major Generals K. D. Golubev and A. A. Korobkov) had 27 divisions on a 470-km front. The troops of the Southwestern Front (the Fifth, Sixth, and Twenty-sixth armies of Major General M. I. Potapov and Lieutenant Generals I. N. Muzychenko and F. Ia. Kostenko) totaled 25 divisions on a 480-km front. These large units did not manage to take up the positions assigned to them in time. The divisions of the first echelon were 8–20 km from the border, and the second echelon, 50–100 km from the border. Only individual companies and battalions were in the immediate vicinity of the border, 3–5 km behind the line of the frontier posts.

At about 4 A.M. on June 22 the fascist German troops launched their attack on the USSR, taking the Soviet ground and air forces by surprise. The Soviet Air Force suffered heavy losses, and the enemy gained air supremacy. After a strong artillery preparation, advance enemy units passed to the offensive and were followed by the main forces of the enemy. The frontier troops and the battalions of the fortified areas were the first to encounter the enemy. Intense battles were fought for crossings and bridges over frontier rivers and for the strongpoints of frontier posts. The soldiers and commanders of the frontier posts of the Augustów, Brest, Vladimir-Volynskii, Peremyshe’, Rava-Russkaia, and other border detachments displayed immense fortitude and self-sacrifice. The personnel of some frontier posts and garrisons of the fortified areas successfully repulsed all the attacks of the advance fascist German units, but, being enveloped from the flanks, they had to fight their way through in order to join friendly troops or go over to partisan actions. The entire personnel of many frontier posts died heroically in repulsing the enemy.

Although the enemy had air supremacy and a manifold superiority in infantry, tanks, and artillery, the Soviet troops put up a furious resistance. The fighting for the defensive installations that remained intact, for the inhabited areas, and for advantageous lines was carried on by isolated centers of resistance. No continuous defensive front could be created because the covering troops had entered the battle piecemeal and there were no strong reserves. The enemy turned the Soviet troops from the flanks and gained their rear. Having lost contact with adjacent troops, Soviet units had to fight in encirclement or retreat to rear defensive lines. Since communications were disrupted, the commands and staffs of the fronts and of many armies could not organize troop control. By the end of the first day of the war, the enemy had advanced on the axes of the main strikes 35–50 km on the Northwestern and Western fronts and 10–20 km on the Southwestern Front.

The sea frontiers in the west were covered by the Northern Fleet commanded by Rear Admiral A. G. Golovko, the Order of the Red Banner Baltic Fleet commanded by Vice Admiral V. F. Tributs, the Black Sea Fleet commanded by Vice Admiral F. S. Oktiabr’skii, and the Pinsk and Danube military flotillas. As the war began, the fascist Luftwaffe struck at the Kronstadt, Libava (Liepāja), Vindava (Ventspils), and Sevastopol’ naval bases but was met by fire from the air defense forces and did not accomplish much. As it turned out, the main enemy of the Soviet Navy was not the German Navy but the German ground and air forces. The first blow was struck at the Libava naval base, whose encircled garrison fought heroically from June 24 to 27. Submarines were deployed and mine barriers were laid on the sea-lanes of the Baltic and Black seas. Almost all the aircraft of the Baltic Fleet were used against the enemy ground forces. From June 23 to 25 the planes of the Black Sea Fleet bombed facilities in Sulina and Constanţa, and on June 26 ships of the Black Sea Fleet, jointly with the air force, struck at Constanta.

In the evening of June 22 the Main Military Council sent directives to the military councils of the Northwestern and Southwestern fronts, demanding that decisive counterstrikes be delivered starting on the morning of June 23 against the enemy groupings that had broken through. But only one night was allowed for the preparation for the counterstrikes, whereas the assigned troops had been drawn into combat as early as June 22 or were located 200 km to 400 km from the lines of deployment.

In the zone of the Northwestern Front, despite the complexity of the situation, the understaffed III and XII mechanized corps delivered a counterstrike from June 23 to 25 against the troops of the German 4th Panzer Group on the Ŝiauliai axis. Fighting was fierce. The enemy’s advance was stemmed for two days, but it could not be stopped. By late June 25, motorized corps of the German 4th Panzer Group had advanced 120 km toward Daugavpils. On the Western Front, the troops of the Fourth Army, covering the Brest-Baranovichi axis, were forced to retreat on June 25 to a depth of up to 200 km. On the Grodno axis the VI and XI mechanized corps and part of the Third Army delivered a counterstrike against the enemy’s 3rd Panzer Group and Ninth Army on June 23–24.

None of the divisions of the VI and XI mechanized corps and of the VI Cavalry Corps assigned for the counterstrike had time to deploy their troops in the areas of departure. The blow was not struck simultaneously, and hence the Soviet troops, while fighting fiercely for two days, could not halt the enemy. By late June 25 the German 3rd Panzer Group had advanced 230 km on the Vilnius-Minsk axis On June 25 the troops, upon the directive of the Headquarters of the High Command, began to withdraw from the Belostok salient to the east.

By June 24 on the Rovno axis of the Southwestern Front, a gap about 50 km wide was formed between the battle formations of the Fifth and Sixth armies. The troops of the German 1st Tank Group and Sixth Army were rushed into the gap, threatening to envelop the main forces of the front from the north. The front assigned the IV, VIII, IX, XV, XIX, and XXII mechanized corps and the 31st, 36th, and 37th rifle corps for a counterattack at the enemy tank grouping that had broken through but could not commit them to combat simultaneously.

A big tank battle was fought in the region of Lutsk, Brody, Rovno, and Dubno from June 24 to June 29. About 1,500 tanks of both sides were engaged. The troops of the front delayed the German offensive for a week, inflicted heavy losses on the enemy, and foiled the attempt at executing a breakthrough to Kiev with a rush and disrupted the plan of the command of German Army Group South to encircle the main forces of the Southwestern Front.

The frontier battles ended with the retreat of the troops of the Northwestern Front to the Western Dvina from Riga to Daugavpils, the troops of the Western Front to the Minsk Fortified Area and Bobruisk, and the troops of the Southwestern Front to the Dubno-Ostrog-Kremenets-L’vov line. On June 30, after the enemy committed additional forces to combat, the command of the Southwestern Front, upon an order of the Headquarters of the High Command, began withdrawing its troops to the line of the old fortified areas along the state frontier of 1939. Eleven encircled divisions of the Western Front continued to fight behind enemy lines in the region of Volkovysk and the Naliboki forest, pinning down about 25 divisions of German Army Group Center. At the frontier, the defenders of the Brest fortress continued the heroic struggle. Although the covering armies could not fulfill their chief mission, their heroic struggle with the enemy striking forces in the first week of the war foiled the enemy plan to destroy the main forces of the Soviet troops in the frontier regions.

REFERENCES

Vtoraia mirovaia voina 1939–1945: Voenno-istoricheskii ocherk Moscow, 1958.
Istoriia Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny Sovetskogo Soiuza 1941–1945, vol. 2. Moscow, 1963.
Istoriia Vtoroi mirovoi voiny, vol. 4. Moscow, 1975.

K. A. CHEREMUKHIN

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