Sunday, April 4, 2010

Battles for Minsk, 28 June- 3 July 1944 PART I

For my next Command Decision game, I want to put together a scenario of the German 5th Panzer Division desperately trying to slow the Soviet summer offensive as their columns closed on Minsk and entrapped several German divisions. Now normally you could hit the highpoints of a battle and put something together quickly and easily that is representative of the numerous clashes around Minsk. But I like to go a few steps further as I enjoy digging into the details of a battle. Out of the information I collect from various sources, I can build several “historically accurate” scenarios. But the big plus for me is that know I am more conversant on a series of key battles.

So, this lengthy article shows the process I use to build a historical scenario.
First reference up is Osprey's "Bagration 1944."  This work lays out the fighting between 29 June to 3 July as 5th Panzer covers the approaches to Minsk.  The German forces include 11th Panzergrenadier Regiment, 5th Recon Battalion, 31st Panzer Regiment all of 5th Panzer and supported by elements of three SS Police Regiments, 505th Tiger Battalion, and 31st and 267th Infantry Divisions.  The Soviet forces include the 11th Guards Army, 3rd Guards Mech Corps, 3rd Guards Tank Corps, 2nd Guards Tank Corps, and 29th Tank Corps.

29 June:  elements of 11th Guards Army are encountering 11th Panzergrenadier Regiment in front of Borisov [Kostritsa area]
29 June:  29th Tank Corps tries to bounce the Berezina River [near Studenka] and is rebuffed by 5th Panzer Recon north of Borisov.
30 June:  11th Guards Army pushes across the Berezina in front of Borisov [Kostritsa area]. 3rd Guards Tank Corps exploits and Soviets are in Borisov by evening.
1 July: Tank battle north of Minsk near Pleshchenitsy to keep open rail lines. 31st Pz Regt, 505th Heavy Panzer Battalion vs. 29th Tank Corps and 3rd Guards Mech Corps.
1-2 July: Germans evacuating Minsk.
3 July: 4th Guards Tank Brigade [2nd Guards Tank Corps] with infantry on-board captures Minsk.
3 July: German troops are pocketed east of Minsk.

Terrain Notes: The vigorous defense by 5th Panzer along the Minsk highway prompted Chernyakovskiy to shift the bulk of his armored force [29th Tank Corps and 3rd Gds Mech Corps] through the forested but lightly defended area north of the city.

Troop Strengths: 5th Panzer with the 505th claimed to destroy 295 Soviet AFVs during the week of fighting. By 8 July, 5th Panzer had been reduced from 125 tanks to 18 and all the Tigers were lost.

Turning to David Glantz's translation of the Soviet General Staff Study, we find the following notes:

Troops involved: German troops mentioned; 5th Panzer Division, 24th and 26th SS Police Regiments, 2nd SS MG Regiment, 201st and 286th Security Deivisions, 260th Infantry Division's 470th Regiment

28 June: Cav-Mech Group arrives at the Berezina. New Stavka orders require 3rd White Russian Front to aim for Molodechno [right flank forces] and Minsk [center and left forces].

29 June: 3rd GMC crosses and advances 5-10km beyond the Berezina and turns South along road towards Minsk. About 50km North of Minsk, approaching Pleshchenitsy. 3Rd GCC having a tougher time crossing Berezina south of 3rd GMC and north of Borisov. Partisans cooperating with leading forces. 11Th Guards Army encounters covering forces on Kholopenichi and Krupki road. German covering troops consist of elements from 5th Panzer Div, 14th and 95th Infantry Divisions.

30 June: 35th Guards Tank Brigade [3rd GMC] captures Pleshchenitsy, 8th GMB 10-15km from Logoysk approaching from Zimbin. 3Rd GCC crossing Berezina in Studenka region. 11Th Guards Army reaches Berezina and crosses it on its southern wing. Enemy counterattacked several times in the Borisov region and further North. German aviation becomes more noticeable. Soviet aviation active along the Borisov-Pleshchenitsy and Borisov-Logoisk roads.
1 July: 11th Guards Army 83rd and 5th Guards Rifle Divisions enter Borisov in the evening from the south and southwest. Cav-Mech Group elements cutting the Pleshchenitsy-Logoysk highway.

2 July: 11th Guards Army captures Logoysk by attacking by the northeast with itsright flank. 2Nd GTC attacks and captures Zhodino and Smolivichi

3 July: 2nd GTC units supported by rifle corps of 31st Army, captured Minsk at 0900. Minsk pocket formed. 2Nd GTC advanced a further 10km west of Minsk. 5Th GTA units (29th, 2nd Guards, 3rd Guards Tank Corps) advanced NW of Minsk and halted on the Zaslavl and Ratomka line having encountered enemy resistance. 36Th GRC of 11th Guadrs Army is located in the Logoysk region.

From these sources and maps it is seen that 5th Panzer Division, operating in widely spaced kampfgruppes and poorly supported by ad hoc units and security battalions, fought a series of delaying and blocking actions northeast of Minsk and was either pushed back each day or “strategically relocated” to the rear as other Soviet forces outflanked them.

Mitcham's “German Defeat in the East, 1944” provides detail on the German forces and movements.

5th Panzer Division [Decker commanding] had seventy Panthers (though it is not clear the Panther battalion was with the division) and 55 Pz IV's. 505Th Tiger Battalion attached with 29 Tigers. Gruppe v. Sauken (former 4th Panzer Div commander and soon to be commander of rebuilt 39th Panzer Corps) charged with holding Minsk and its approaches open to allow troops to escape.

Elements of 5th Panzer posted at Kupkri Station. 31St Panzer Regiment had not arrived but v. Sauken did have the 505th Battalion, 89th Engineer, 5th Panzer Recon, 13th and 31st Panzergrenadier Regiments of the 5th Panzer Div. Gruppe von Gottberg (SS Lt. General) was also part of Gruppe von Saucken and consisted of police battalions, security units, strageelers and other odds and ends. Gruppe Mueller is part of Gottberg and has eight battalions, panzergrenadier battalion from 5th Panzer, and the 505th Tiger Battalion. Combat Gruppe Ahnalt with ten police and security battalions held a sector that reached out to Smolivichi and covered Minsk from the North. At Smilovichi, SE of Minsk, Gruppe Florke with three regiments screened Minsk from the south.

28 June: 3GTC ran into v. Sauken's force near Krupki station on the evening of 28 June. Tigers knocked out many tanks, including M4A2 shermans. Soviets kept attacking into the night.

29 June: 3GTC capture Krupki Station in the morning but at great cost. Soviets attempt crossing at Borisov and run into ambush by the 89th Panzer Engineer Battalion. Trying further North to cross the Berzina, the Soviets (29th TC) ran into the 5th Panzer Recon Battalion. 11Th Gurads Army leading detachments began arriving along the Berezina and were thrown into action near the village of Kostritsa held by the 31st Panzergrenadier Regiment. By nightfall, Soviet 29th TC and 3rd GMC had outflanked 5th Panzer Division and crossed the Berezina north of Borisov. Glantz shows attacks on 5th Panzer at Borisov by 32nd Tank Brigade [29TC], 25th TB [29TC], 2nd GMB [3GTC], 3rd GTB[3GTC], 19GTB [3GTC]. Decker orders 31st Panzergrenadier to cross Berezina at Borisov.
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