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The Brest Offensive occurred on 22 June 1941 during World War II. The German Army Group South, commanded by Fedor von Bock, pushed on the Soviet border fortress of Brest-Litovsk, a major objective for the Germans during Operation Barbarossa. Another objective was the clearing of the Pripet Marshes of Soviet forces, as well as the destruction of the Soviet border forces in the southern sector of the Minsk campaign.

History[]

Planning stage[]

At the start of Operation Barbarossa, the central thrust of the offensive had the ultimate objective of capturing the Soviet stronghold of Minsk. Along the way stood several optional objectives; one of these was Kaunas, which was captured after a quick campaign in the north. The German high command hoped to encircle the majority of the Soviet forces along the Belarusian borderlands in a large cauldron near Bialystok; with the capture of Kaunas in the north, it was time for the southern German forces to close the southern pincer. 

Fedor von Bock, the commander of Army Group Center, was given command of the thrust into southern Belarus. In his path stood two major obstacles: the fortress of Brest-Litovsk and the Pripet Marshes. Von Bock planned to have his southernmost units push into the marshes, head north after crossing the Dnepr-Bug Canal, and outflank and destroy the Soviet fortress at Brest-Litovsk. The XXIV Panzer Corps, commanded by Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg, would be tasked with the securing of the Pripet Marshes. Meanwhile, the XII Armeekorps, commanded by Walther Schroth, would launch a head-on assault on Brest-Litovsk, assisted by Luftwaffe aircraft operating from airbases on the Polish border. The two pincers would secure Brest-Litovsk and the surrounding area, thereby destroying all Soviet forces in the south and creating a large cauldron in which the Soviets would be trapped.

Offensive[]

Into the Swamps[]

German troops Pripet Marshes

German troops trying to cross the Pripet Marshes

The Pripet Marshes had to be secured as a precondition for any assault on Brest fortress; a head-on assault by the German infantry divisions without panzer support would be suicidal. German aircraft attempted to bomb the Soviet 75th Rifle Division in the swamps to the northwest of Malorita, but their bombing was ineffective; two Soviet soldiers were wounded. An air attack on the 9th Fortified Region achieved little more than minor damage; this time, the attack killed 9 Soviet soldiers and destroyed one artillery piece.

It soon became clear that the Luftwaffe's bombings would be ineffective in swamp terrain, so the panzer divisions launched their assaults against almost fully-manned divisions along the border. Nevertheless, the German panzers made good progress. Elements of the XXIV Panzer Corps (the 255th and 267th Infantry Divisions) assaulted the 9th Fortified Region just over the border, mauling them; of 4,148 Soviet troops and 143 artillery pieces engaged, 3,404 troops and 110 artillery pieces were casualties. The 9th Fortified Region surrendered to the Germans, annihilating the Soviet threat in the far south of the operational zone.

In preparation for an offensive against the 75th Rifle Division, the Luftwaffe launched another raid. They killed 9 Soviet troops and destroyed an artillery piece, at the loss of one fighter. The German 255th and 267th divisions, assisted by Luftwaffe air support, proceeded to assault the 75th Rifle Division, which was forced to retreat after suffering heavy losses. The Germans moved into the town of Malorita, and the German 1st Cavalry Division moved alongside the two German infantry divisions as they advanced into the swamps. The XXIV Panzer Division's armored units then moved further into the swamps, positioning themselves to the south of Brest-Litovsk. The panzer divisions had achieved their objective of moving into position, and the German forces in the south decided to finish off the 75th Rifle Division. They again inflicted heavy losses on the 75th Rifle Division, which was routed; it fled east to Yanov Polessky, crossing the Dnepr-Bug Canal at a more distant crossing.

Assault on Brest[]

Brest Offensive battle for Brest

The German lines before the assault on Brest

The German forces were now in a position to assault Brest from two sides. Von Bock decided that he wanted to secure the northern flank of Brest before assaulting the city, as he did not want for his plan to be ruined by a costly assault. The Luftwaffe bombed the 62nd Fortified Region at the town of Semyatichi in preparation for an assault to the north of Brest; however, the main assault did not target Semyatichi. Instead, the XXXXVII Panzer Corps (consisting of the 17th Panzer, 18th Panzer, and 167th Infantry divisions; commanded by Joachim Lemelsen) stormed across the Bug River and assaulted the 17th NKVD Border Regiment. The border regiment was routed with heavy losses, and Brest was now vulnerable to assault from three sides.

The XII Armeekorps proceeded to launch the direct assault against Brest-Litovsk, with 48,402 infantry, 684 artillery pieces, 10 armored vehicles, 129 fighter aircraft, and 58 bomber aircraft participating in the offensive. The Germans faced 25,101 Soviet troops from the Soviet 14th Mechanized Corps and the Soviet 28th Rifle Corps, and the ensuing German assault, combining panzer and aircraft firepower, routed the Soviet 22nd Tank Division, the Soviet 42nd Rifle Division, and the Soviet 6th Rifle Division. Brest-Litovsk fell to the Germans as the result of the attack, and the Germans secured yet another objective.

Mopping up[]

Brest mopping up

The retreating Soviet forces after the fall of Brest

Following the capture of Brest-Litovsk, the Germans set out to clear the perimeter of remaining Soviet forces, including the border divisions who had not yet tasted battle. Von Bock decided that the campaign would be a success when all of the area south of the Semyatichi area and west of the Pina River was cleared of Soviet forces. 

The Germans began their mopping-up campaign by moving to finish off the 42nd and 6th Rifle Divisions to the east of Brest-Litovsk, routing them with heavy losses. Semyatichi was the next target of the German advance, with the fresh XXXXIII Armeekorps, commanded by Karl Weisenberger, assaulting the 62nd Fortified Region. After suffering over 70% casualties, the 1,833-strong 62nd Fortified Region surrendered to the Germans. This removed another Soviet stronghold from the border.

Meanwhile, the panzer divisions in the Pripet Marshes moved further into swampland, with the 3rd Panzer Division, 4th Panzer Division, and the 10th Motorized Division moving into the deserted town of Kobrin after the Soviet forces defending it retreated. Soon, the German forces in the south formed a new defensive line several miles to the north and east of Brest-Litovsk, leaving the captured city behind their lines as they prepared to launch their next offensives. The last part of the Brest Offensive was completed when the XXXXVI Panzer Corps, commanded by Heinrich von Vietinghoff, drove back the 28th Rifle Corps from its positions to the north of Brest-Litovsk. The Soviet 49th Rifle Division was shattered, and the Germans secured the entire Brest operational area.

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