Osovets Offensive Operation

This was the Soviet final phase of the ‘Belorussian Strategic Offensive Operation’, otherwise known as ‘Bagration’ (6/14 August 1944).

Within 'Bagration', this operation was preceded by the ‘Vitebsk-Orsha Offensive Operation’ (23/28 June), ‘Mogilev Offensive Operation’ (23/28 June 1944), ‘Bobruysk Offensive Operation’ (24/29 June), ‘Polotsk Offensive Operation’ (29 June/4 July), ‘Minsk Offensive Operation’ (29 June/4 July), ‘Vilnyus Offensive Operation’ (5/20 July), ‘Šiauliai Offensive Operation’ (5/31 July 1944), ‘Białystok Offensive Operation’ (5 July/27 July), ‘Lublin-Brest Offensive Operation’ (18 July/2 August) and ‘Kaunas Offensive Operation’ (28 July/28 August).

Osovets is the Russian version of Osowiec, the area of Poland in which the operation took place.

The operation was launched after General Georgi F. Zakharov’s 2nd Belorussian Front had taken Grodno and Białystok in the ‘Białystok Offensive Operation’. The front was issued with new objectives at the end of July, being ordered to move on Łomża (Lomscha in German) and Ostrołęka (Scharfenwiese in German) and to enlarge its bridgeheads over the Narew river in preparation for an advance into East Prussia. The defence was aided to a certain extent by fortifications from previous eras, including a major fortress complex of the imperial Russian period at Osowiec on the Biebrza river. This had been the scene of a siege in 1915 during World War I, and the fortress had been partially demolished by the Germans in 1939 before being transferred to Soviet ownership. There were also substantial Soviet border fortifications remaining from the Molotov Line located some 12.5 miles (20 km) west of the old fortress.

The forthcoming campaign pitted elements of General Friedrich Hossbach’s 4th Army (General Helmuth Weidling’s VI Corps) and Generaloberst Walter Weiss’s 2nd Army (General Friedrich Herrlein’s LV Corps), under the overall command of Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model’s Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’, against elements of Zakharov’s 2nd Belorussian Front 1. The offensive began on 6 August with further penetrations to the west of Białystok by the 2nd Belorussian Front. The approaches to Osowiec were strongly defended, and the 1st Guards Assault Engineer Brigade had to establish river crossings under heavy fire. Units of the front then stormed and took the fortress, after a heavy air bombardment by Baidukov’s IV Assault Air Corps on 14 August, the day which is noted as the end of the offensive in official Soviet histories, although the Soviet forces continued to seize bridgeheads over the Narew river throughout the rest of the month.

The 49th Army found it had to overcome the German defences on the approaches to Łomża, however, and took many casualties including General Major Anton I. Iakimovich, the commander of the 343rd Division, in the course of its attempt to force a passage through the German defensive lines. Łomża itself was not taken until mid-September, and there were intense battles along the Narew river as the 2nd Army was reinforced and attempted to eliminate the Soviet bridgeheads. Although there were many local actions (including attacks by Polish partisans, who had a strong presence in the area) the German defence line on the Narew river held through the remainder of 1944 to the time of the 2nd Belorussian Front’s advance in the ‘East Prussian Strategic Offensive Operation’ in January 1945.

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The Soviet formations and units of this front involved in the capture of Osowiec were Major Aleksander Olschuk’s 87th NKVD Border Guard Regiment under front command, General Leytenant Ivan Grishin’s 49th Army (General Major Dmitri Smirnov’s CXXI Corps with General Major Ivan Krasnoshtanov’s 238th Division, Polkovnik Mitrofan Suprunov’s 385th Division and Polkovnik Sergei Kozikov’s 23rd Guards Tank Brigade), General Leytenant Ivan T. Boldin’s 50th Army (General Major Fyedor V. Zakharov’s LXXXI Corps with Polkovnik Aleksandr Fedotov’s 369th Division, Polkovnik Ivan Kazak’s 324th Division, Podpolkovnik Boris Kopylov’s 1434th Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment, Polkovnik Fyedor Myachev’s 1444th Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment and Podpolkovnik Kriskent Semyanov’s 27th Tank Destroyer Artillery Brigade).

Air support was provided by General Polkovnik Konstantin A. Vershinin’s 4th Air Army with part of General Major Semyon G. Get’man’s 230th Assault Air Division, part of Polkovnik Valentin Smolovik’s 233rd Assault Air Division, part of Polkovnik Mikhail Volkov’s 229th Assault Air Division, part of Polkovnik Vasili Buss’s 309th Fighter Air Division, and Polkovnik Grigori Pokoyevoy’s 325th Night Bombing Air Division, General Major Fyedor F. Zherebchenko’s VIII Fighter Air Corps from the 16th Air Army with Colonel Mikhail Yakushin’s 215th Fighter Air Division, and General Major Georgi F. Baidukov’s IV Assault Air Corps with Polkovnik Nikolai Vinogradov’s 199th Assault Air Division.