2nd Rogachev Zhlobin Offensive Operation

The '2nd Rogachev-Zhlobin Offensive Operation' was a Soviet undertaking by the right-wing forces of General Konstantin K. Rokossovsky’s Belorussian Front (from 24 February 1st Belorussian Front) planned and executed to destroy the main strength of Generaloberst Josef Harpe’s 9th Army of Generalfeldmarschall Ernst Busch’s Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' in the area of Novy Bykhov, Zhlobin and Rogachev, and thereby creating conditions favourable for an offensive toward Bobruysk (21/26 February 1944).

The offensive inflicted a serious defeat on the Germans, eliminated their 155-sq mile (400-km˛) bridgehead on the left bank of the Dniepr river, took the Soviet forces across the Dniepr river and resulted in the seizure of a bridgehead 38.5 miles (62 km) wide and up to 18.5 miles (30 km) in depth on its right bank, which played a large role in the 'Bobruysk Offensive Operation'.

The Germans appreciated that this was a vulnerable sector that would almost certainly attract a Soviet offensive, and had therefore deployed forces of the 9th Army in prepared positions based on two defensive lines, and turned both Rogachev and Zhlobin into strong centres of resistance.

The '2nd Rogachev-Zhlobin Offensive Operation' involved General Leytenant Aleksandr V. Gorbatov’s 3rd Army, part of General Leytenant Ivan V. Boldin’s 50th Army and General Leytenant Prokofi L. Romanenko’s 48th Army, and General Leytenant Sergei G. Rudenko’s 16th Air Army. The primary role in the operation was assigned to the 3rd Army which, after crossing the Dniepr river across the ice, was to seize the Rogachev while part of the army bypassed the city to the north and developed the offensive farther to the west with the object of liberating Bobruysk.

On 21 February, in the Rogachev area, the 3rd Army went onto the offensive, and the success of the Soviet forces was ensured by a tactic which had not been expected by the Germans: the attack was launched not in the standard manner after an artillery preparation, but simultaneously with it. When the Soviet artillery was ordered to start its bombardment while it was still dark, Soviet units crossed the Dniepr river floodplain, approached its steep eastern bank and by the beginning of active hostilities were already in the so-called 'dead space' inaccessible to German fire.

By 10.00, the Germans' forward defences of two or three trench lines, and incorporating several settlements along the river’s bank, had almost everywhere been taken by the Soviets who, in some places, had advanced between 1.25 and 1.85 miles (2 and 3 km). The Germans fought especially stubbornly for the village of Kisteni, which had been turned into a stronghold with a strong perimeter defences. On the offensive’s first day, the Soviet forces seized a bridgehead 8.7 miles (14 km) wide and as much as 3.1 miles (5 km) deep. The German tactical defences had not yet been broken, however.

A detachment of Soviet ski troops reached Rogachev and then began to operate in the German rear area. To the south-east of Stary Selo, ski troops blocked all of the roads leading linking Rogachev with Madora and Bykhov, and also occupied the railway linking Rogachev and Mogilev, thereby depriving the Germans of escape routes and the ability to bring forward reserves.

On the offensive’s second day, Soviet forces liberated the settlements of Zhelikhovka, Dvoychany, Osinovka, Aleksandrovka and Madora. At Stary Selo, the 3rd Army’s XLI Corps established contact with the ski detachment. On same day the 50th Army’s left-flank formations began their offensive.

On the offensive’s third day, 23 February, Soviet forces broke through the German tactical defences. Elements of the 50th Army’s LXXX Corps took Toshchitsa station in the morning, and the 3rd Army’s XL Corps and XLI Corps reached the Drut river and the approaches to Rogachev from the north-east and south-east respectively. The XLI Corps' 120th Guards Division then launched the battle for the town.

Busch brought forward Generalleutnant Karl Decker’s 5th Panzerdivision and part of Generalleutnant Dietrich von Saucken’s 4th Panzerdivision to help the defence if Rogachev, and transferred Generalleutnant Mortimer von Kessel’s 20th Panzerdivision from the area of Vitebsk. Repelling the German counterattacks, the 3rd Army liberated Rogachev in a night assault on 24 February. The XL Corps seized and held a small bridgehead across the Drut river. The XLI Corps seized two small bridgeheads at Rogachev but then had to abandon them when they came under strong German counterattacks. To the south of Rogachev, Soviet forces eliminated the German bridgehead on the eastern bank of the Dniepr river and reached the approaches to Zhlobin.

In determined fighting, the 50th Army seized a small bridgehead. The LXXX Corps reached Novy Bykhov on the western bank of the Dniepr river and, joining there with a division of the 50th Army, advanced to the line between Istopki and Kransy Bereg via Gorokh and Dolgiy Log, and started to fight for Khomichi.

By 25 February, despite their decisive actions, the Soviet formations had suffered significant losses, had not achieved the level of success which had been expected, and abandoned the southern outskirts of Ozerany. Throughout this period the German resistance increased steadily. At a meeting in the evening with his chief-of-staff and the chiefs of his intelligence and operations departments, Gorbatov decided to go over to the defence along his army’s entire front. Rokossovsky did not agree with this decision, however, and demanded that the offensive be continued toward Bobruysk, but on 26 February came to agree with Gorbatov, and the Soviet forces brought their offensive to an end and went over to the defensive.

The '2nd Rogachev-Zhlobin Offensive Operation' had taken Soviet forces across the Dniepr river, broken through a heavily fortified German defensive zone, and captured an operationally useful bridgehead 38.5 miles (62 km) wide and as much as 18.5 miles (30 km) deep. Soviet troops had also cleared the German bridgehead on the eastern bank of the Dniepr river, liberated Rogachev, cut the railway linking Zhlobin and Mogilev, and seized a bridgehead over the Drut river. The Soviets also claimed to have killed more than 8,000 Germans and destroyed a large amount of weapons and equipment.

The strength of the Belorussian Front at the beginning of the operation was 232,000 men, and its losses during the offensive were 7,164 men killed or missing and 24,113 men wounded or taken ill at a rate of 5,213 men per day.