Kalinkovichi-Mozyr Offensive Operation

The 'Kalinkovichi-Mozyr Offensive Operation' was a Soviet undertaking by elements of the Belorussian Front in the Gomel region of Belorussia (8/30 January 1944).

In the course of the Soviet winter campaign of 1943/44, the Soviet high command 1943 considered many offensive plans and opted for several of them for implementation as strategic- and operational-level undertakings. Among the objectives to be achieved in these undertakings was the liberation of the eastern regions of Belorussia and the liberation of Minsk, the capital city of the region. The battles in November and December 1943, which included the 'Polotsk-Vinnitsa Offensive Operation' and '2nd Gomel-Rechytsa Offensive Operation' of November, showed that without major strengthening the Soviet forces in this region could not hope to succeed in securing the objectives now laid down for them by the high command. Such reinforcement was currently not available, so the high command recast its thinking to establish more realistic objectives. Most especially, on 2 January General Konstantin K. Rokossovsky’s Belorussian Front was given the task of of destroying the German forces in the area of Mozyr, seizing a bridgehead for an offensive toward Bobruysk and Minsk, and despatching part of its strength along the Pripyat river to Luninets. This scheme was this designed to create the maximum possible advance to outflank the German forces in the area of Bobruysk.

This 'Kalinkovichi-Mozyr Offensive Operation' was initially to have been based only on General Leytenant Pavel A. Belov’s 61st Army and General Leytenant Pavel I. Batov’s 65th Army, which were to be supported in the air by a major part of General Leytenant Sergei I. Rudenko’s 16th Air Army. However, in order to strengthen the forces initially earmarked for the operation, Rokossovsky added to the major formations of the two land armies with formations and units stripped from his front’s other armies: thus the 61st Army had 10 infantry divisions and the I Guards Tank Corps with 126 tanks and self-propelled guns, and the 65th Army had six infantry divisions and one tank brigade. Operationally subordinate to the 61st Army were the II Guards Cavalry Corps and VII Guards Cavalry Corps. Rokossovsky also bolstered his offensive’s weight by massing almost all of his front’s shock artillery to support the two assault armies: this now amounted to one breakthrough artillery corps, two breakthrough artillery divisions, one mortar division and two separate artillery brigades. The number of Soviet troops was 232,600, whose efforts were to be aided by the partisan groups operating in the area of Gomel, Polessk and Minsk.

The Soviet forces were opposed by General Walter Weiss’s 2nd Army of Generalfeldmarschall Ernst Busch’s Heeresgruppe 'Mitte'. After their defeat in the 'Smolensk Strategic Offensive Operation' of the late summer and early autumn of the previous year, the Germans had from October 1943 undertaken the creation of a carefully sited defence system capitalising on the region’s many rivers and swamps, and in the area of the Soviet offensive Weiss could call on nine infantry divisions, two Panzer divisions, three assault gun regiments and one cavalry regiment. Behind these first-line elements of General Hans Gollnick’s XLVI Panzerkorps, General Friedrich Hossbach’s LVI Panzerkorps and General Edgar Röhricht’s XX Corps were several Hungarian divisions: while committed largely to anti-partisan undertakings, elements of Vezérőrnagy István Kiss’s Hungarian VII Corps were also to be thrown into the battle.

On 8 January, the Belorussian Front began its offensive. During the initial stage, the fighting swiftly assumed a stubborn character, so in the offensive’s first days the Soviets made only limited progress through the German defences, and even the commitment of a tank corps did not yield the results which had been demanded. However, after the forward formations had achieved a breakthrough of the the Germans' forward defensive zone, Rokossovsky committed his two cavalry corps into the battle in the area to the south of Mozyr. Belarusian partisans led the cavalry along forest tracks from the Yelsk region into the rear of the Germans' Mozyr and Kalinkovichi groupings. The arrival here of the cavalry paralysed the German rear areas, cut the road linking Mozyr and Petrikov, and thus deprived the German forward forces on the supplies of food and ammunition they now required as a matter of urgency. Busch and Weiss therefore agreed that there was little option but to start a withdrawal.

Both of the Soviet armies achieved significant success after launching their decisive assaults. The 61st Army cut the road and rail lines linking Kalinkovichi and Zhlobin, liberated Domanovichi and outflanked the German forces from the north. Advancing to the south, the 65th Army advanced at speed. On 11 January, Rokossovsky changed the axis of the attacks by the cavalry and tank corps in an attempt to confuse the Germans about the Soviet forces' real objectives, and largely succeeded. During the afternoon of 14 January, the German forces' primary main strongpoints and transport centres, which were Kalinkovichi and Mozyr, fell by storm with partisans assistance. Continuing the offensive, the 65th Army on 20 January liberated Ozarichi, and three days later the 61st army and partisans took Lelchitsy.

With the movement of the Soviet forces to the Ipa, Pripyat and Ptich rivers , the Soviet offensive came to an end. By that time, the German had deployed in the area of the Soviet offensive up to two infantry divisions, three assault gun regiments, and seven security battalions. As a result of the 'Kalinkovichi-Mozyr Offensive Operation', the Soviets had advanced through this area of forest and swamp by an average of 18.75 to 25 miles (30 to 40 km), and in some places up to 37 miles (60 km). The German forces in the Bobruysk area were enveloped from the south, and this facilitated their later defeat during the 'Belorussian Strategic Offensive Operation'.

According to General Kurt Tippelskirch, later a commander of the 4th Army and finally of Heeresgruppe 'Weichsel', in the middle of January 1944, Weiss’s 2nd Army was under the threat of complete encirclement and only through monumental effort were the Germans able to withdraw it in time to avoid destruction. The German forces suffered heavy losses: according to Soviet estimates, for example, in the battles for Mozyr alone the German losses totalled 1,500 men, and during the operation the troops of the 65th Army inflicted on the Germans as many as 10,000 casualties. The Soviet losses amounted to 12,350 men killed of missing, and and 43,808 men wounded or taken ill.

The successes of the Belorussian Front compared favourably with those of the neighbouring West Front and 2nd Baltic Front: during these winter months, the latter two suffered heavy losses in making only modest gains in the Vitebsk area. A feature of the 'Kalinkovichi-Mozyr Offensive Operation' especially worthy of note was the important role played by the close and very effective co-operation between the Belorussian Front and a number of partisan detachments.