Operation Siege of Mogilev

The 'Siege of Mogilev Operation' was the Soviet unsuccessful defence of the city of Mogilev during the early stats of the German 'Barbarossa' invasion of the USSR (3/26 July 1941).

The undertaking was one of nine sub-operations within what the Soviets designed as the 'Smolensk Strategic Defensive and Offensive Operation'. The other eight elements of this undertaking were the 'Polotsk Defensive Operation' (2 July/16 July), the 'Smolensk Defensive Operation' (10 July/10 August), the 'Smolensk Offensive Operation' (21 July/7 August), the 'Rogachev-Zhlobin Offensive Operation' (13/24 July), the 'Gomel-Trubchevsk Defensive Operation' (24 July/30 August), the 'Dukhovschina Offensive Operation' (17 August/8 September), the 'Yelnya Offensive Operation' (30 August/8 September) and the 'Roslavl-Novozybkov Offensive Operation' (30 August/12 September).

The siege of Mogilev was a three-week German encirclement of Mogilev. Following the start of 'Barbarossa', German and allied troops smashed through Soviet lines along the borders with German-occupied Poland, Hungary and Romania. Lying on the axis of Generalfeldmarschall Fedor von Bock’s Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' toward Minsk, Smolensk and ultimately Moscow, and also close to the 'Stalin Line' of pre-war defences, Mogilev was heavily fortified and therefore bypassed by the German armoured formations for subsequent reduction by the slower-moving infantry formations following in the wake of the Panzergruppen.

Late in June, Soviet troops embarked on the construction of defences around Mogilev and on the Drut river some 11.8 miles (19 km) to the west of this city. Mogilev’s buildings were fortified, and minefields and trenches were created. Initial attacks by General Leo Freiherr Geyr von Schweppenburg’s XXIV Corps (mot.) and General Werner Kempf’s XLVII Corps (mot.) were repulsed, and Generaloberst Heinz Guderian, commander of the 2nd Panzergruppe, therefore decided to bypass the city, and ordered the XXIV Corps (mot.) and XLVII Corps (mot.) to advance without further delay to the line of the Sozh river.

On 13 July, General Leytenant Vasili F. Gerasimenko started to bull his 13th Army back to the east and the Sozh river, leaving the forces still holding Mogilev under the command of General Major Fyedor A. Bakunin, the commander of the LXI Corps. On the same day SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS Paul Hausser’s SS Division (mot.) 'Das Reich' of General Hans Zorn’s XLVI Corps (mot.) occupied blocking positions to the north of Chausy (Chavusy in Russian) to prevent any of the Soviet units at Mogilev from escaping to the north-east. One day later, the XXIV Corps (mot.) advanced to the east from the bridgehead on the Bykhov river, and on 14 July Chausy and Propoysk were captured. This completed the encirclement of Mogilev. Along with the Infanterieregiment (mot.) 'Grossdeutschland' and the SS Division (mot.) 'Das Reich', Generalleutnant Walter Model’s 3rd Panzerdivision and Generalleutnant Hans Zorn’s 10th Division [mot.) of the XXIV Corps (mot.) maintained the encirclement until 17 July.

At this time, the Soviet troops in Mogilev included the LXI Corps' 53rd Division, 110th Division and 172nd Division, General Major Andrei G. Nikiton’s XX Mechanised Corps' the 26th Tank Division, 38th Tank Division and 210th Motorised Division. Most of the XX Corps' 132nd, 137th and 160th Divisions were also in the encirclement, along with parts of the 148th Division and 187th Division of the General Leytenant Stepan B. Akimov’s XLVIII Corps, and the 1st Motorised Division.

On the night of 16 July, Gerasimenko ordered all of his 13th Army but the LXI Corps and XX Mechanised Corps to withdraw eastward to the Sozh river.

A grouping of forces led by the commander of the 172nd Division, General Major Mikhail T. Romanov, constituted the core of the Soviet defence. Romanov’s group included the 110th Division, 172nd Division, remnants or regiments of the 132nd Division, 137th Division, 160th Division and 143rd Division as well as the remnants of the XX Mechanised Corps. The defence also incorporated units of the People’s Militia.

On 16/17 July, infantry elements of Generaloberst Maximilian Reichsfreiherr von Weichs’s 2nd Army reached the Dniepr river. After his army had relieved the formations of the 2nd Panzergruppe, von Weichs ordered General Wilhelm Fahrmbacher’s VII Corps to lead the operations to take Mogilev. On 20 July, Generalleutnant Eccard Freiherr von Gablenz’s 7th Division and Generalleutnant Heinz Hellmich 23rd Division attacked the city from the west, but this assault was repulsed by entrenched troops and artillery fire. German troops crossed the Dniepr river on the northern and southern flanks of the Soviet position, capturing a bridge over the Dniepr river and breaking through the Soviet defences near Buinichi, only 5 miles (8 km) from the centre of the Mogilev. Generalleutnant Ernst-Eberhard Hell’s 15th Division and Generalleutnant Curt Gallenkamp’s 78th Division became part of the VII Corps so that it could close the encirclement.

The 15th Division was placed between the 7th Division and 23rd Division, and the 78th Division was located to the south-east of the city. On 21 July the 9th Infanterieregiment of the 23rd Division outflanked Soviet positions on a bridge into Mogilev from the south-east, capturing it after heavy fighting. The 23rd Division broke through the Soviet inner defences along the bend of the Dniepr river, and then drove off a number of heavy counterattacks. Late in the same day, Bakunin reported to the headquarters of the 21st Army that his supply of artillery shells had been 'used up' and requesting more ammunition. Tupolev TB-3 heavy bombers had attempted to drop supplies from the air, but much of the airdropped equipment and ammunition landed behind German lines and a large number retrieved by Soviet troops were of the incorrect calibre. Elements of the 1st Division (mot.) fought their way into the encirclement from the north. On 22 July the 78th Division repulsed a Soviet attempt to fight into the pocket from the north-east, and similarly repulsed an attempt by the LXI Corps to break out of the encirclement in its eastern sector. During the night, the attacks of the 78th Division broke through the southern part of the Soviet line, capturing 5,000 men and a large quantity of equipment.

To stop the Soviet supply drops, the Germans deployed barrage balloons.

On 24 July, the 23rd Division, 15th Division, 7th Division and 78th Division advanced to the centre of Mogilev in an escalating process of street fighting. By a time late on 25 July, the Soviet troops in Mogilev had used all but a small amount of their ammunition, food and fuel.

Bakunin now instructed the Soviet troops surviving in Mogilev to break out toward the east on the night of 26/27 July, a time by which the troops had fired almost all of their ammunition. This instruction was contrary to orders from higher headquarters. Thousands of wounded Soviet men, as well as medical personnel, were left in the city. Small numbers of Soviet troops were able to escape and reach the Soviet lines. Romanov was captured after his column attempted to join a German convoy and was destroyed.

The West Front’s commander, Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Semyon K. Timoshenko, reported on 27 July that Bakunin had been placed before a military tribunal for ordering the break-out. German troops reported capturing 35,000 men and 245 pieces of artillery during the operation, which also cost the 23rd Division more than 1,000 men. The defence of Mogilev prevented the Germans from using the city’s bridges for one week, although German troops did manage to build temporary bridges over the Dniepr river in six other places. The siege of Mogilev delayed the 2nd Army's attack on Gomel for more than a week, a delay which made it possible for Timoshenko to bring up reinforcements for the Battle of Smolensk.