The '1st Rogachev-Zhlobin Offensive Operation', which included the Battle of Bobruysk, was the fifth of the nine Soviet sub-operations together constituting the 'Smolensk Strategic Defensive Operation' (13/24 July 1941).
After encircling the main Soviet forces of General Dmitri G. Pavlov’s West Front in the Białystok and Minsk 'cauldrons', the German armoured and motorised corps were out into the open in the early stages of 'Barbarossa'. In pursuit of the defeated formations of General Major Aleksandr A. Korobkov’s (from 8 July General Major Leonid M. Sandalov’s 4th Army, Generalleutnant Walter Model’s 3rd Panzerdivision of Generaloberst Heinz Guderian’s 2nd Panzergruppe, an element of Generalfeldmarschall Fedor von Bock’s Heeresgruppe 'Mitte', took Bobruysk on 28 June. However, the main attention of the German command at this time was focussed on the elimination of the West Front’s encircled forces. General Leo Freiherr Geyr von Schweppenburg’s XXIV Corps (mot.), of which the 3rd Panzerdivision was a part, was operating on the southern flank of Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' and broke through the weak Soviet defences along the Berezina river and reached the Dniepr river, where it started to fight for the bridgeheads needed for the subsequent German offensive to the east.
On 10 July, a new phase in the German offensive began as the Battle of Smolensk. The main forces of the XXIV Corps (mot.) crossed the Dniepr river in the Stary Bykhov area, while Generalleutnant Kurt Feldt’s 1st Kavalleriedivision was concentrated in the Rogachev area. Bobruysk was located on the old Varshavskoye road linking Brest-Litovsk and Moscow, and for this reason the Soviet high command saw it as strategically important. On the southern flank of the West Front was concentrated Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Semyon M. Budyonny’s (from 10 July General Polkovnik Fedor I. Kuznetsov’s) 21st Army, which comprised one Mechanised and three infantry corps.
On 10/11 July the [w]XXIV Corps (mot.) seized a bridgehead in the area of Stary Bykhov and, after repelling a Soviet counterattack, on 13 July advanced toward Krichev and Roslavl.
On 13 July, the Soviets launched a counter-offensive against Bobruysk. The 21st Army’s primary strike force was General Major Leonid G. Petrovsky’s LXIII Corps of three infantry divisions. On the very first day of the offensive, Soviet troops pushed back the 1st Kavalleriedivision, crossed the Dniepr river and occupied Zhlobin and Rogachev. A subsidiary blow was delivered by the LXVI Corps with a single infantry division which crossed the Dniepr river in the Streshin area, advanced some 50 miles (80 km) through the marshland of the region and occupied Parichi, thereby taking control of the crossing over the Berezina river. Later, the German bridgehead in the Stary Bykhov area was attacked by forces of the XVII Corps.
In response, the German command began the urgent redeployment of infantry formations to the area of the Soviet offensive: two infantry divisions of General Karl Weisenberger’s LIII Corps were moved against the LXIII Corps, and elements of General Gotthard Heinrici’s XLIII Corps were moved against the LXIII Corps. Overall control of the German troops on the southern flank of Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' was assumed by the headquarters of Generaloberst Maximilian Reichsfreiherr von Weichs’s 2nd Army.
On 16 July, Generalmajor Dr Lothar Rendulic’s 52nd Division, which was moving from the high command’s reserve to the area of Mogilev, launched a counterattack from the Ozerana area along the western bank of the Drut river. The Soviet offensive on Bobruysk was then suspended. The XLIII Corps drove the Soviet troops out of Parich and soon cleared the entire Parich area, and General Walter Schroth’s XII Corps advanced against the LXVII Corps in the area of Stary Bykhov.
On 17 July, the Soviet offensive collapsed, and the LXIII Corps was driven back to the Dniepr river although it did manage to hold Zhlobin and Rogachev. Meanwhile, the XXIV Corps (mot.) had broken through to Krichev. The XXV Mechanised Corps, which had been readied for the development of the offensive on Bobruysk, was transferred to the area of the German breakthrough in the Krichev area.
On 22 July, the 21st Army was again given the task of defeating the German forces in the area of Bobruysk and Stary Bykhov, on this occasion using General Major Kuzma N. Galitsky’s LXVII Corps for an advance, toward Stary Bykhov, intended to alleviate the German pressure on besieged Mogilev.
Also on July 22, a cavalry group of three cavalry divisions under the command of Polkovnik Aleksandr I. Batskalevich was despatched from Polesye to penetrate on the German rear. Supervision of this operation was the responsibility of the inspector-general of the Soviet cavalry arm, General Polkovnik Oka I. Gorodovikov. The cavalry group advanced to Osipovichi and took control of the road linking Slutsk and Bobruysk.
On 25 July, a new Soviet attack on Bobruysk was started by Petrovsky’s LXIII Corps.
Active operations on the southern flank of the West Front became an integral part of the Soviet general offensive on the Smolensk 'bulge'. The 21st Army’s right-hand neighbour, General Leytenant Vasili F. Gerasimenko’s (from 26 July General Major Konstantin D. Golubev’s) 13th Army of the West Front, was involved in heavy fighting for Propoysk and Krichev. A little earlier, on 23 July, the operational group of General Leytenant Vladimir Ya. Kachalov’s 28th Army began an offensive from the area of Roslavl toward Smolensk. However, the German forces again managed quickly to pin down the advancing Soviet forces. Moreover, on 26 July the last defenders of Mogilev began to break out from the city, which rendered pointless the LXVII Corps' attack.
On 30 July 30, after stubborn fighting, the 21st Army was instructed to go onto the defensive. Batskalevich’s cavalry group, currently operating in the Germans' rear areas, was first broken apart and then then encircled. The main part of the group managed to escape from the encirclement, however.
Soviet troops failed to retake Bobruysk and clear the bridgehead of German troops in the area of Stary Bykhov. However, active operations on the southern flank forced the German command to concentrate significant forces in the area of Bobruysk and Stary Bykhov, thereby diverting troops from the occupation of Mogilev and the farther offensive on Roslavl. As a result of Soviet attacks in the Bobruysk area, Stary Bykhov, Krichev and Propoysk, the southern flank of Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' diverged farther to the south than had been planned by the Germans.