Saturday 20 June 2015

World of Tanks History Section: USSR's "Foreign" Medals

The Red Army drove the war off Soviet land by the end of 1944. Ahead lay countries that Germany conquered, its allies, and of course, the "heart of the beast", Germany itself. Seven special medals mark the war path of Soviet soldiers and officers beyond the borders of the USSR. The Technical Committee of the Chief Intendant Directorate of the Red Army started working on them on April 19th, 1944. On June 9th, these medals were approved by an order from the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet.

Despite their great significance, the medals were laconic. On the front, simple words: "for liberation" or "for capture". On the back, the date of the event and a small five-pointed star.

So which European cities were immortalized in brass in these seven "foreign" medals?

For the Liberation of Belgrade

In late September of 1944, Yugoslavia was occupied by Army Group F, the 2nd Tank Army, and Army Group Serbia. Elements of the 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian Fronts, three Bulgarian armies, and units of the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia opposed them in the Belgrade Strategic Operation. The goal of this operation was the destruction of the enemy in Yugoslavia and interruption of routes that could allow the enemy to evacuate to Greece.

Before October 10th, the Red Army captured the Great Morava dale, captured the city of Pancevo, defeated the enemy south of Belgrade, and surrounded a large number of German forces south-east of the city. This prolonged the siege of the Yugoslavian capital. Soviet forces only entered Belgrade on October 14th. In six days, the city was completely liberated.

About 70,000 people were awarded the Liberation of Belgrade medal.

For the Liberation of Warsaw

The 1st Belorussian Front reached Warsaw in July of 1944, and tried to take the city straight from the march. The attempt failed. After Operation Bagration, Rokossovskiy's forces did not have the strength.

By January of 1945, the Red Army pulled up its reserves. One of the largest operations of the later war began, the Vistula-Oder Offensive. At this time, the Germans pulled back some forces to the Western Front in order to attack in the Ardennes. The timing was right.

Pushing the enemy back across the Vistula, Soviet forces crossed the river, surrounded the enemy from the west, and began the siege. On January 17th, after fierce battles, Warsaw was cleared of the enemy and came under Red Army control.

As of 1995, about 700,000 people were awarded the Liberation of Warsaw medal.

For the Capture of Budapest

In 1945, Germany had just one ally left in Europe: Hungary. The Budapest Offensive Operation was carried out by the 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian Fronts starting on October 29th, 1944, and lasted almost three months, until February 13th, 1945. The battles in this operation were so fierce that Budapest was nicknamed "Stalingrad on the Danube".

In November-December, the Red Army reached the outer defensive perimeter of the Hungarian capital. An attempt to take the city straight from the march failed, and the Soviet forces spent some time dealing with the enemy north and south of the city in order to encircle the German and Hungarian forces within. This was accomplished by the end of December, even though the enemy attempted three powerful counterattacks. An offer to surrender was presented to the surrounded garrison on December 29th, but the negotiators could not even approach the enemy positions. Both groups were fired upon by machineguns and mortars. Three negotiators were killed.

For four weeks, fierce street battles raged in Budapest. The main role in these battles was played by Soviet assault groups and sappers. Pest, the Eastern part of the city, fell on January 18th. On February 13th, the forces defending Buda surrendered.

About 362,000 people were awarded the Capture of Budapest medal.

For the Capture of Koenigsberg

Koenigsberg was a fortress for all its existence. The Red Army's East Prussia Offensive of 1945 was one of the most difficult and bloody.

The Soviet command only started preparing for the final offensive of Koenigsberg in March of 1945. It was assigned to the forces of the 3rd Belorussian Front and the Zemland army group commanded by I. Bagramyan. The fight for the city began on April 6th.

Before assaulting forces entered Koenigsberg, it was "worked over" by artillery for several days. As with many other cities, assault groups were widely used, small mixed units, most effective in street fighting. The Red Army managed to cut off the Koenigsberg garrison in only two days. A breakout was attempted on April 9th, unsuccessfully. After that, understanding the futility of resistance, the enemy surrendered. The last resistance in the city was extinguished on April 10th.

About 760,000 people were awarded the Capture of Koenigsberg medal.

For the Capture of Vienna

Soon after Budapest, the Germans carried out their last large offensive on the Eastern Front, at Lake Balaton. The operation failed, and the Soviet counterattack made a push for the Austrian capital: Vienna.

The battl for the city started on April 6th. Germans had to be squeezed out of every city block. By April 10th, the garrison was surrounded from three sides, and had only one path to retreat, over the Imperial Bridge. An attempt was made to capture it with marines dropped off by the Danube fleet, but the resistance was too great. The offensive stalled a mere 500 meters from its goal.

The decisive attack started on April 13th. It was so quick that the city was in Red Army hands by noon. What little was left of the garrison left by the bridge.

Over 277,000 people were awarded the Capture of Vienna medal.

For the Capture of Berlin

On April 16th, 1945, elements of the 1st Belorussian Front and the 1st Ukrainian Front began the most important and largest Red Army offensive operation in Europe: the assault on Berlin. It took five days to reach the city. On April 21st, the Red Army was at the outer defensive lines.

The city held until May 2nd. Soviet assault groups cleared it out house by house, block by block. This was a difficult task, considering that any robust house was turned into a fortress and the streets were covered in obstructions, pillboxes, and barricades.

On April 29th, the Soviet forces flew the Banner of Victory over the Reichstag. On the next day, Hitler committed suicide, realizing that help will not come and the Third Reich has come to an end. Berlin fell on the night of May 2nd.

Over 1,100,000 people were awarded the Capture of Berlin medal.

For the Liberation of Prague

Berlin fell, but a fairly strong group of German forces remained in Czechoslovakia. The Prague operation was the last to be carried out by the Red Army in the Great Patriotic War.

When Soviet forces approached Prague, the large German garrison retreated westward. At the same time, an uprising erupted in Prague. As a result, a large enemy force was encircled east of the city.

Soviet forces made a rapid march to Prague on the night of May 8th to May 9th and occupied it on the same day. The Germans surrendered on May 11th, 1945, after a series of powerful attacks and artillery strikes. The last battle of the Great Patriotic War was over.

Approximately 400,000 people were awarded the Liberation of Prague medal.

Original article available here.

1 comment:

  1. Regarding the Siege of Budapest. "An offer to surrender was presented to the surrounded garrison on December 29th, but the negotiators could not even approach the enemy positions. Both groups were fired upon by machineguns and mortars. Three negotiators were killed."

    Soviet/Communist wartime propaganda. The first parliementer, Steinmetz Miklós (of Hungarian origin, but serving in the Red Army) did not reach the lines since his driver had run their jeep on a mine on the road, which he was trying to evade. Nobody fired upon him, as observed by a nearby Hungarian PaK unit CO (Litteráti-Loótz Gyula főhadnagy). Several months later, Stalinist propaganda created staged/faked photos and footage of how Steinmetz was "killed by fascits", involving a film industry worker, Kim Jenő dressed up in mixed Soviet and Hungarian officer clothes(!!! probably due to the lack of access).

    The 2nd Soviet negotiator, Ostapenko had actually passed through the lines and died when trying to get back to Soviet lines under Soviet mortar fire. His German escort advised him not to do so, and wait until the mortar fire ceased, but he insisted. He died of shrapnel wound to the head, though his two Soviet escorts managed to get back.

    Despite the Soviet mythology built around by them, curiously none of them were posthumously awarded the Hero of USSR.

    At the end of the Budapest siege, as Malinowski claimed to Stalin that he had captured 110 000 enemy soldiers and officers, and destroyed 49 000 more (out of a garrison of ca. 70-80 000, half of whom were combat capable by the end of the siege...).

    Facing the challenge of mathematics and fearing Stalin's wrath, comrade Malinowski thus begun to collect Budapest policemen, and even ticket controllers, postmen or railroad workers,d basically anyone in some kind of uniform, to present them as "prisoners of war". When he run of these and the numbers were still not met, the Red Army begun collecting anyone with a German or German sounding name in the city registers, who were, ironically, often happened to be much suffered Jews, and later just picking anyone on the street for "work". They were then sent to slave labor in the Soviet Union, where many thousand perished due to conditions and mistreatment.