Operation Bamberg

(German town)

This was a German operation against partisans in the area of Bobruysk in the Belorussian region of the German-occupied western USSR (26 March/6 April 1942).

Undertaken in parallel with ‘München I’, ‘Bamberg’ was in effect the prototype for the German pattern of offensive anti-partisan operations from this time onward, and took place in the area of Hłusk, Pariczi and Oktyabrsky to the south of Bobruysk.

Major actions of this type were not invented with ‘Bamberg’, it should be noted. An action near Sewsk to the south of Lokot in the Bryansk area, apparently in support of the local self-administration district of Russian collaborators and claiming 1,936 lives, had been carried out shortly before by a Hungarian unit. However, it was ‘Bamberg’ which in many respects set the pattern for such operations in the months and years to come.

The preliminaries for ‘Bamberg’ began on 26 February 1942 under the auspices of the Regional Commissariat Żytomierz, and involved a Slovak infantry regiment, with the German 325th Polizeibataillon under command, in the area of Mozyr and Szitkowiczi. This opening moved probably claimed more than 1,000 lives, but was delayed by the fact that the commander of the police battalion did not mobilise his troops for some time. From the north the operation was to be conducted not by Generalmajor Gottfried Barton’s 203rd Sicherungsbrigade, which was responsible for security in this area, but by Generalmajor Gustav Freiherr von Mauchenheim-Bechtolsheim’s 707th Division, which had been transferred specifically for this purpose from the Regional Commissariat Belorussia.

The German operational plan formulated by the 203rd Sicherungsbrigade called for the annihilation of the main partisan bands, pacification of the country, and collection of grain and livestock. The brigade’s plan also foresaw the need for the ground operation to receive significant air support, but nonetheless recommended that the forces involved should make the distinction between the guilty and the innocent, demanding that only truly guilty and elements alien to the localities were to be executed. However, the 707th Division made important changes to the plan, and decided to make no effort against the partisan forces in forest areas, where effective operations would be effectively impossible as a result of the current freezing conditions that should give way in the near future to the equally impassably muddy conditions of the spring thaw, but instead to concentrate on the towns and villages of the operational area.

von Mauchenheim ordered that during this operation the purging of the Jews and other ‘undesirable’ men, women and children, as already practised with success in Belorussia during the autumn months of 1941, were again to by employed, but with greater harshness. Thus ‘Bamberg’ included the full range of tactics and procedures that were to become standard for such operations.

In the 12-day period between 26 March and 6 April 1942, the reinforced 707th Division, a Slovak infantry regiment and the 315th Schutzpolizeibataillon destroyed a series of villages in the partially forested area between Oktyabrsky and Kopakewiczi and murdered their inhabitants. In Chwoineja 1,350 people were locked into their houses and killed when hand grenades were tossed through the windows and the house then set on fire by hand grenades and burning, in four villages of the Rudnia area 800 persons were collected and shot in batches, in Oktyabrsky 190 persons were burned alive inside a club house, the inhabitants of Kurin were shot or burned alive, and in Kowali the same procedure was used, although in this case the children were also burned.

The number of Belarusian dead was officially put at about 3,500 by the Germans, but the actual number was much higher: the partisans estimated it at 5,000, and another source avers 4,396 people killed in 15 localities. However, it should be noted that the Axis forces’ punitive measures before and after this in the surrounding areas are not included in these figures, so it should be reckoned that at least 6,000 people were killed. The great majority of them were members of the local peasantry and resident Jews, both groups which had been specifically targeted in the operation. It is reasonable to say that all these persons were murdered, pure and simple, for there was almost no fighting, and the casualties of the Axis forces totalled just seven dead and eight wounded. Only 47 rifles and sub-machine guns were captured, and the 1,200 to 2,000 members of the local partisan forces escaped.

Like almost all later major actions against partisans or those around them, ‘Bamberg’ was a four-phase operation in which the first comprised the approach and establishment of a perimeter (in this case with a diameter of 15.5 to 18.5 miles [25 to 30 km] in the period up to 28 March); the second the tightening of the perimeter to create a so-called ‘cauldron’ (in this case by 31 March); the third the clearance of the cauldron by concentric attacks (in this case by 1/2 April); and the fourth the mopping-up process by means of sweeps outward from the centre to the second initial position, during which the villages and farms lying inside the inner target area were destroyed together with the majority of their inhabitants (in this case between 3 and 6 April).

The development and results of ‘Bamberg’ were followed closely by higher command levels. The commander of the rear area of Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge’s Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’, for example, kept himself constantly informed. While he internally remarked that the result had not been wholly satisfactory because the partisans had escaped the Axis net and that among those reported as partisan helpers there seem to have been many who had only very loose connections to the partisans, von Kluge nonetheless congratulated the 707th Division on its killing of 3,000 partisans. von Kluge and the command of his Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’ also ordered that they be kept informed on a regular basis. Also informed were the heads of two departments at the Oberkommando des Heeres (including General Eduard Wagner’s quartermaster department), and thence Adolf Hitler himself.