Today sees the 70th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Smolensk, which ran from 6th July 1941 to the 5th August 1941 and brought effective small victories on
both sides. Smolensk Oblast these days forms part of Central Russia’s economic and manufacturing region producing everything from fridges and plastics to coal and cut diamonds.
The region, which was formed only just before the second world war in 1937, sits next to Belarus and is a little north of Ukrainia. In recent years the region is most known for the aeroplane crash last year which killed the Polish president and many senior officials. The crash happened when they were on their way to the anniversary
memorial of the region’s other unfortunate claim to fame, the Katyn Massacre. The massacre took place a year before the Battle of Smolensk in 1940 and was a mass execution (and we really mean mass here, estimated 22,000 victims) of Polish police, intellectuals, preists and lawyers by the NKVD (the Soviet secret police). The invasion of the Soviet Union in June of 1941 itself oddly led to the Polish interim government asking questions about the location of the 22,000 ‘prisoners’ with Stalin reassuring his now partner against the Nazi invasion that they were safe.
The German plan was to reach Smolensk city itself to gain a clear (ish) run through to Moscow. The Germans comprised of the 2nd and 3rd Panzer Armies under Heinz
Guderian and Hermann Hoth and met against the 13th Army of the West Front, the 20th, 21st and 22nd Armies of the Stavka Reserve( commanded by Timoshenko, Kuznetsov and Yeremenko), with the 16th and 19th Armies supporting further back.
The 6th July itself saw the 5th and 7th Mechanised Corps of the 20th Army began a 700 tank attack, unfortunately for them the overwhelming German Air unit decimated both
units in a matter of days.
The main body of the battle ran from 10th July, and led into further action in August and September. The Panzer Armies operated in a pincer action to encircle the Soviet
forces. However, they did not sufficiently close up and 200,000 Soviet forces were able to escape to defend Moscow itself. This failure led to the decision to stop encirclement campaigns, and resulted from this battle in a tactical victory for the Germans but a strategic victory for the Soviet forces.