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Rambler's Top100

3

SUNDAY BLOW: North-West direction Print E-mail
Battle Accounts

In the north-west, German bombers did a through job on signals and communications centres, on naval bases, and the Soviet aerodromes in particular; from Riga to Kronstadt, on Shauliya, Vilno and Kaunas the bombs rained on carefully selected targets. Soviet aircraft had been on one-hour alert, but were held on their airfields after the first wave of German bombers passed. Strung out along the frontier from Libau to Grodno, Colonel-General F.I.Kuznetsov, the North-Western front commander had 28-30 rifle divisions and 1000 tanks. Eight rifle divisions from 8th (commander Lieutenant-General V.I.Morozov) and 11th (commander Lieutenant-General P.P.Sobennikov) Armies along the frontier, but many of the defence positions were still unmanned; the 11th Army (which covered the junction of the Baltic Special and the West Special Military districts) had eleven battalions to covering the approaches to Vilno, a 80 kilometres sector.

By noon division which covered Tauroggen-Shauliy axis began to fall back from Tauroggen. The German columns then began swung against Rasienai, where Kuznetsov was concentrating his own armour for tomorrow. By the evening 22 June Soviet formations had fallen back to the river Dubissa. North-west of Kaunas at 7.OO PM forward elements of von Manstein's 56th Panzer Corps reached the Dubissa and seized the vital Airogola road viaduct across it. Without this crossing, Germans tanks might have been trapped in what was a giant natural tank ditch. A dash to Dvinsk would have been wholly ruled out. Now, as armour and motorised forces raced across, that spurt was on.

Meanwhile south-west of Vilno more armour from Panzer Group 3, which had ripped through the Soviet 11th Army, moved across the Niemen over the intact bridges.

At 9.30 AM June 22, Colonel-General F.I.Kuznetsov, ordered 3rd and 12th Mechanized Corps to take up their counter-attack positions in intention to use them in flanking attacks on Panzer Group 4 which had broken through to the Dubissa. Next day he committed this forces. During this tank battles, which spanned three days from 23 June, Some 250 Soviet tanks went into action. On 26 June, however, as two of German Panzer Divisions cut through the Russian units and linked up, the 3rd Mechanized Corps was blown to pieces and 12th pulled out of the trap by now spent in fuel and ammunition. By June 23 Lieutenant-General V.I.Morozov, 11th Army commander, ordered the units falling back to the old fortress town Kaunas on the Niemen to move on to Iovana some 30 kilometres to the north-east.

By the evening of 25 June, North-Western Front forces were in sore plight; the 8th and 11th were being forced back in desperate directions, the 8th on Riga, 11th behind Vilno to Desna. A breach gaped in the Soviet front; from Ukmerg to Daugavpils there was nothing but huge hole.

The retirement of the Baltic district armies stripped the Baltic Fleet's advanced naval bases of their landward protection. On 26 June, Admiral N.G.Kuznetsov ordered the withdrawal of naval units from Libau, Windau, and Riga bases.

The same day Manstein reached Daugavpils and seized the road bridge across Western Dvina.

On 25 June Timoshenko ordered Colonel-General Kuznetsov to organize "stubborn defence" of the West Dvina, by deploying 8th Army on the right bank of the river from Riga to Livani while 11th Army would defend Livani-Kraslava sector. Colonel-General Kuznetsov also decided to use Major-General Berzarin's 27th Army. Berzarin was to pull his troops off the Dago and Osel islands and out of Riga and bring them to Daugavpils. At the same time Stavka released Major-General D.D.Lelyushenko's 21st Mechanized Corps from Moscow Military District to cooperate with 27th Army; Lelyushenko had exactly 98 tanks and 129 guns.

At 5.OO AM, 28 June, Lelyushenko attacked upon Kuznetsov's orders in attempt to destroy the German bridgehead near Daugavpils. Manstain halted on Dvina, found the position "quite critical". But on the next day as he joined by main forces, Manstain jumped off on the drive for Leningrad. Striking along the Daugavpils-Ostrov highway.

At Riga on the afternoon of 29 June German cross the railway bridge over the Dvina and on 30 June Soviet troops withdrew on the right bank of the river and by 1 July were in retreat to Estonia.

Colonel-General Kuznetsov was removed as Front commander; Tymoshenko took this decision at the end of June (as the removal of Army General Pavlov was decided) and Sobennnikov, 8th Army commander, took over the Front, effective from 4 July.

Tymoshenko's 29 June directive to the North-Western Front stipulated that in the event of a withdrawal from the Western Dvina, the next river line, the Vilikaia, was to be held and every effort made to get Soviet troops installed there. Despite this the river Vilikaia line had fallen rapidly at 8 July and the rail and road bridges remained intact. Pskov itself fell on the evening of 9 July; 11th Army commander was therefore ordered to move to Dno. The crumpling of the North-West front on the Velikaya and the German sweep to Luga were grave set-backs; 8th Army was being rammed inexorably towards the Gulf of Finland. On 12 July, the battle of "Luga line" begun.




Author:
Artem V.Drabkin
Sources:
J. Erickson "The road to Stalingrad". 1998. Phoenix
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