Operation Karlsbad

(German town)

'Karlsbad' was a German operation against partisans in the Orsha and Vitebsk area near the Berezina river in the Belorussian region of the German-occupied western USSR (11/23 October 1941).

The Soviet undertaking marked the beginning of the partisan campaign against the invading Germans, and evidence of the importance that the Soviet high command placed in a campaign of continuing disruption in the German rear areas as a standard method of waging war prepared before the beginning of major offensives. Such operations were particularly important in the Berezina sector as this cut the Moscow Highway between Minsk and Smolensk, and it was along this highway that there moved much of the equipment and supplies needed by the formations of Generalfeldmarschall Fedor von Bock’s Heeresgruppe 'Mitte', which was at this time approaching the gates of Moscow.

Quite apart from the slowing of the German offensive, the partisans hoped to ease the pressure of the Soviet pockets in the Germans' rear, notably that at Vyaz’ma which in fact fell on the day that 'Karlsbad' was launched.

The conduct of operations against the partisans was hampered to a great extent by the fact that the Germans had a double (and sometimes triple) command structure in the occupied territories, with the army responsible for the combat zone and its immediate rear (through a system of town mayors and military commandants), the Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories (under Alfred Rosenberg) responsible for 'pacified' areas farther to the rear, and the SS responsible for all police, security and anti-partisan operations.