This was a German operation by forces of General Erich Jaschke’s LV Corps of General Heinrich Clössner’s 2nd Panzerarmee within Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge’s Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’, with major Luftwaffe support, against partisans in the area to the north of Bryansk in the Belorussian region of the German-occupied western USSR (21/30 May 1943).
Operating from air-supplied bases deep in the otherwise inaccessible Pripyet Marshes and comparable regions, the Soviet partisan forces had by mid-1943 become a very great thorn in the side of the Germans, constantly cutting rail and road lines of communication, and threatening vital installations such as bridges, telephone communication centres, supply dumps and the like. This compelled the Germans to use large numbers of security troops in their rear areas, and also at times to detach front-line formations for the thankless and ultimately fruitless task of securing lines of communication and dumps when the partisan operations were beginning to affect the conduct of operations.
At times too the activities of these increasingly well-led and well-armed partisan forces warranted specific attention from front-line troops in an effort to stabilise the position against the partisans. Before ‘Zitadelle’, for example, partisan activities were making it difficult for the German forces to concentrate their forces and bring them up to strength with men, matériel and supplies, warranting the use of first-line formations for operations such as ‘Freischütz’ (i). It was all to little avail, however, for the partisans could melt into the inaccessible fastnesses that held their bases, then emerging later to resume their activities.