Friday, 15 July 2016

World of Tanks History Section: Breakthrough at Bogushevsk

On June 23rd, 1944, a mad steamroller entered the territory of Belarus. Thundering westward at a speed of twenty kilometers per day, it crushed and ground up German forces in its way. In mere days, Army Group Center was reduced into pitiful shreds. The demolition of German forces was unprecedented, to the point where the Western Allies were doubting Soviet reports. The only solution was to gather up foreign correspondents and hold the famous prisoner of war march. 19 German generals and 45,000 soldiers and officers became a convincing confirmation of the Red Army's success. But where did this skepticism come from?

There was a good reason for it. The winter of 1943-44 was an endless string of positional battles and unsuccessful offensives. The situation at the front was compared to the meat grinder at Verdun. Only in April of 1944 did spring rasputitsa force both sides to take a break. That is when plans for Operation Bagration took shape, envisioning simultaneous penetration of enemy defenses in six places, with surrounding and destruction of flanking groups at Vitebsk and Bobruisk, and further destruction of Army Group Center. One of the first obstacles on the way to Vitebsk was a small Belorussian village called Bogushevsk.

Breakthrough at Lucosa

The Red Army tried for many months to break through in the Bogushevsk direction during the winter. Lieutenant-General N.I. Krylov's 5th Army was to take revenge. Its offensive began one day before the main offensive, on June 22nd, 1944, with a recce in force. This is also when the first successes began: the advance battalions penetrated 2-4 km into German defenses and took not only the first two lines of German trenches, but a part of the third.

On June 23rd, 1944, after a four hour artillery barrage, soldiers of the 5th Army chewed through 12 kilometers of German positions. In order to completely crumple the German defenses, they had to take Bogushevsk, which was surrounded by powerful fortifications. Before they could reach those, they had to cross the Lucosa river. General Krylov decided to do it in the vicinity of the village with the same name, since it had a bridge that could hold tanks.

At 5:00 am on June 24th, a Soviet combat group consisting of 40 tanks, six SU-85s, and infantry from the 2nd Guards Tank Brigade, combined with twenty ISU-152s from the 395th Heavy SPG Regiment. Lucosa contained a German infantry battalion and its assault guns. Their number and type was not recorded. The German garrison missed the approach of our battle group to the river, which let the infantry quickly seize the bridge.

Soviet armour pulled up. Tanks and SPGs crossed the river and burst into the village. It took barely half an hour to smash the unprepared Germans and destroy all of their assault guns (a feat performed entirely by the ISU-152s). The 2nd Guards Tank Brigade did not lose a single tank or SPG in this fight. The road to Bogushevsk was open.

The Last Stepping Stone

The enemy organized many ambushes along the highway to stall the Soviet forces. As a rule, they consisted of one or two anti-tank guns and as many StuG IVs. This was the most recent variant of the famous assault gun in the summer of 1944. Here is where the ISU-152s came in handy. The T-34s in the 2nd brigade were still the old kind with 76 mm guns, which had difficulty facing StuGs head on. However, an ISU-152 could turn the German assault gun into a hunk of metal. This happened, for instance, at Lukty. The "Zveroboys" went out on reconnaissance, found some StuGs, and destroyed one of them with the first shot. Not expecting such a quick end, the Germans retreated.

The closed the Soviets came to Bogushevsk, the stronger the German resistance became, and the more desperately the Germans attempted to stall Soviet armour. They needed time to pull up reserves. Krylov could not allow for the Germans to concentrate their forces behind fortifications. Bogushevsk was an obstacle in the way of the Soviet offensive, and its capture was critically important. Krylov sent a large force to the village. The ground attack was supported by quite a few aircraft: one attack was accompanied by 90 dive bombers and 180 Sturmoviks.

The last Wehrmacht stronghold before Bogushevsk was the village Skog, positioned to the northeast. While infantry from the Soviet 215th division attacked the enemy in trenches and dugouts, the advance tanks from the 2nd Guards Tank Brigade, accompanied by four ISU-122s, entered the village. Unfortunately, the Germans were waiting for them. StuGs firing from cover lit up five T-34s. In addition, two StuGs and one anti-tank gun were sent to the forest south of Skog to cut off the tanks that broke through.

Taking positions, the Germans fired on four ISU-152s that were nearing the village. Realizing that they were being shot in the flanks, the guns turned and returned fire. Meanwhile, eight more ISU-152s arrived. Under fire from 152 mm guns, one StuG and the AT gun were destroyed, and the remaining StuG retreated into the forest. Having dealt with the ambush, the ISU-152s hurried to help their comrades in Skog. By noon, there was no one left to defend the village. Bogushevsk was the next target.

End of the Bogushevsk Fortified Region

Reconnaissance showed that the Germans are dialed in on the north and northwest approaches to Bogushevsk. In order to avoid excessive losses, the attack had to be carefully planned.

Colonel E.E. Dukhovniy, commander of the 2nd Guards Tank Brigade and its subordinate ISU-152s, decided to split up his forces. The first tank battalion (15 T-34s and three SU-85s) would stay in place, distracting the Germans, imitating an attack from the north. The second battalion (10 T-34s, 10 T-70s, and three SU-85s) along with eight ISU-152s would circle around Bogushevsk and attack from the southeast. Lieutenant-Colonel N.S. Tyutyunik would command the second group.

The terrain around Bogushevsk was swampy and difficult, and it took several hours to find a path for the armour. When it was found, the first group opened intense fire at the enemy, distracting him. Meanwhile, elements of two Soviet divisions, reinforced with assault sappers, prepared for the main offensive, scheduled for 19:00.

Before the assault, the city was worked over by artillery and 270 aircraft. At the same time as the main attack, Tyutyunik's group burst into the city unexpectedly from the southeast. 30 tanks and SPGs rushed through its streets, eliminating anyone in their way, and quickly captured the Bogushevskoye railroad station.

Assault sappers preceded the main forces from the north and northwest, tanks and infantry followed. All three lines of German trenches were penetrated and the fighting carried into the village. The first group of the 2nd Guards Tank Brigade led the attack from the north. Between a rock and a hard place, the Germans wavered and retreated westward. Some fled, abandoning weapons and vehicles. As a result of the battle, the Red Army captured four intact StuGs.

By 21:00, Bogushevsk was taken. Soviet soldiers walked down the streets of the village where more than one offensive failed in the winter. General Oslikovskiy's mechanized cavalry group flooded into the resulting breach that evening. Rotmistrov's 5th Guards Tank Army also turned towards the breach. It was only the second day of Operation Bagration, but the left wing of Army Group Center was already collapsing.

Original article available here.

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