The offensive involved the Soviet 3rd Ukrainian Front (including the Bulgarian 2nd Army), elements of the 2nd Ukrainian Front to the north, the 1st Army Group of the Yugoslav Partisans to the west, and First, Third and elements of the Fourth Bulgarian Armies to the south. They conductied an offensive against part of Germany's Army Group E (Korpsgruppe "Schneckenburger" and "Stern") which included the forces of the German-installed puppet government, quisling troops, and the military forces of the puppet government. The objective was to destroy the forces of the German Army Group E in the Suva Planina region, and those of Army Group F east of Velika Morava river, and ultimately to free Belgrade from Nazi occupation.
A secondary objective for the offensive was to sever the line of retreat for German Army Group E from Greece, Albania and the southern regions of Yugoslavia through Belgrade to Hungary, including the Salonica-Belgrade railroad.
Background[edit | edit source]
By early September 1944, two German Army Groups were deployed in the Balkans (Yugoslavia, Greece, and Albania): Army Group E (southern area of operations), and Army Group F (northern area of operations). In response to the defeat of German forces in the Jassy-Kishinev Operation (which forced Bulgaria and Romania to switch sides) and the advance of the Red Army troops into the Balkans, Army Group E was ordered to withdraw into Hungary. Another Army Group was created in Hungary called Army Group Serbia from elements of Army Group F.
As a result of the Bulgarian coup d'état of 1944, the monarchist/fascist regime in Bulgaria was overthrown and replaced with a government of the Fatherland Front led by Kimon Georgiev. Once the new government came to power, Bulgaria declared war on Germany. Under the new pro-Soviet government, four Bulgarian armies, 455,000 strong were mobilized and reorganized. In the early October 1944 three Bulgarian armies, consisting of around 340,000 man, were located on the Yugoslav - Bulgarian border.
By the end of September, the Red Army 3rd Ukrainian Front troops under the command of Marshal Fyodor Tolbukhin were concentrated at the Bulgarian-Yugoslav border. The Soviet 57th Army was stationed in the Vidin area, while the Bulgarian 2nd Army (General K. Stanche commanding under the operational command of the 3rd Ukrainian Front) was stationed to the south on the Niš rail line at the junction of Bulgarian, Yugoslav, and Greek borders. This further caused the arrival of the Partisans 1st Army from Yugoslav territory, in order to provide support to their 13th and 14th Corps collaborating in the liberation of Niš and supporting the 57th Army's advance to Belgrade, respectively. The Red Army 2nd Ukrainian Front's 46th Army was deployed in the area of the Teregova river (Romania), poised to cut the rail link between Belgrade and Hungary to the north of Vršac.
Pre-operations were coordinated between the Soviets and the commander-in-chief of the Yugoslav Partisans, Marshal Josip Broz Tito. Tito arrived in Soviet-controlled Romania on 21 September, and from there flew to Moscow where he met with Soviet premier Joseph Stalin. The meeting was a success, in particular because the two allies reached an agreement concerning the participation of Bulgarian troops in the operation that would be conducted on Yugoslav territory.
The offensive[edit | edit source]
Before the start of ground operations the Soviet 17th Air Army (3rd Ukrainian Front) was ordered to impede the withdrawal of German troops from Greece and southern regions of Yugoslavia. To do so, from, it carried out air attacks on the railroad bridges and other important facilities in the areas of Niš, Skopje, and Kruševo lasting from 15–21 September.
The operations begun on the far southern flank of the Front with the offensive by the 2nd Bulgarian Army into the Leskovac-Niš area, and almost immediately engaged the infamous 7th SS Mountain Division "Prinz Eugen". Two days later, having encountered the Yugoslav partisans, the Army with partisan participation defeated a combined force of Chetniks and Serbian Frontier Guards and occupied Vlasotince. Using its Armored Brigade as a spearhead, the Bulgarian Army then engaged German positions on 8 October at Bela Palanka, reaching Vlasotince two days later. On 12 October, the Armored Brigade—supported by the 15th Brigade of the 47th Partisan Division—was able to take Leskovac, with the Bulgarian reconnaissance battalion crossing the Morava and probing toward Niš. The goal of this was to not so much to pursue the remnants of the "Prinz Eugen" Division withdrawing northwest, but to for the Bulgarian 2nd Army to begin the liberation of Kosovo which would have finally cut the route north for the German Army Group E withdrawing from Greece. On 17 October, the leading units of the Bulgarian Army reached Kursumlija, and proceeded to Kuršumlijska Banja. On 5 November, after negotiating the Prepolac Pass with heavy losses, the Brigade occupied Podujevo, but was unable to reach Pristina until the 21st.
The Soviet 57th Army began its attack on September 28 from the region of Vidin in the general direction of Belgrade. Its 64th Rifle Corps advanced from the area of south of Vidin to secure the crossing of the Morava river at Paraćin, while the 68th Rifle Corps advanced from Vidin toward Mladenovac, encountering elements of the Yugoslav 14th Corps south of Petrovac. The 75th Rifle Corps—advancing from the area of Turnu-Severin—covered the Army's northern flank by advancing toward Požarevac. The Soviet 57th Army enjoyed the support of the Danube Military Flotilla, which operated along the Danube on the northern flank of the Front, and provided river transport to troops and military equipment. The Yugoslav 14th Corps—supported by the Soviet 17th Air Army—broke through the enemy's border defense in the eastern Serbian mountains with heavy fighting. On 8 October, the Yugoslavs advanced to the Morava river, capturing two bridgeheads on the Velika Plana and Palanka, where on 12 October, the 4th Guards Mechanised Corps was introduced into the penetration after moving here from South-East Bulgaria for the development of the offensive toward Belgrade from the south. Meanwhile, the offensive was continued by the newly arrived Yugoslav 1st Proletarian Division and the 12th Slavonian Division which secured bridgeheads over the Sava river west of Belgrade.
On the northern face of the offensive, the Red Army 2nd Ukrainian Front's supporting 46th Army advanced in the attempt to outflank the German Belgrade defensive position from the north, by cutting the river and rail supply lines running along the Tisa. Supported by the 5th Air Army, its 10th Guards Rifle Corps was able to rapidly perform assault crossings of the rivers Tamiš and Tisa north of Pančevo to threaten the Belgrade-Novi Sad railroad. Further to the north the Red Army 31st Guards Rifle Corps advanced toward Petrovgrad, and the 37th Rifle Corps advanced toward, and assault crossed the Tisa to threaten the stretch of railway between Novi Sad and Subotica to prepare for the planned Budapest strategic offensive operation.
Assault on Belgrade[edit | edit source]
The 4th Guards Mechanized Corps of the Red Army and the Yugoslav 12th Corps broke through the enemy resistance south of Belgrade on 14 October, approaching the city. The Yugoslavs advanced along the roads in the direction of Belgrade south of the Sava River, while the Red Army engaged in fighting on the northern bank outskirts. The assault on the city was delayed due to the diversion of forces for the elimination of thousands of enemy troops surrounded between Belgrade and Smederevo (to the south-east). On 20 October, Belgrade had been completely overrun by joint Soviet and Yugoslav forces.
The Yugoslav 13th Corps, in cooperation with the Bulgarian 2nd Army, advanced from the south-east. They were responsible for the area of Niš and Leskovac. The forces were also responsible for cutting off the main for the evacuation of Army Group E, along the rivers of South Morava and Morava. Army Group E had, therefore, been forced to retreat through the mountains of Montenegro and Bosnia and was unable to strengthen the German forces in Hungary.
The next day, elements of the 3rd Ukrainian Front stormed Kraljevo and finally cut Thessaloniki highway to Belgrade.
The Soviet 10th Guards Rifle Corps of the 46th Army (2nd Ukrainian Front), together with units of the Yugoslav Partisans moving via the Danube—provided more offensive strength from the north-east against the Wehrmacht's position in Belgrade. They cleared the left bank of the Tisa and Danube (in Yugoslavia) and took the town of Pančevo.
Allied forces[edit | edit source]
Participating in the assault on the capital of Yugoslavia were:
Soviet Union[edit | edit source]
Yugoslavia[edit | edit source]
Bulgaria[edit | edit source]
By the end of the September the First Army, together with the Bulgarian Second, Third and elements of the Fourth Armies, was in full-scale combat against the German Army along the Bulgaria-Yugoslavia border, with Yugoslavian guerrillas on their left flank and a Soviet force on their right. They consisted from around 340,000 men. By December 1944, the First Army numbered 100,000 men. The First Army took part in the Bulgarian Army's advance northwards into the Balkan Peninsula with logistical support and under command of the Red Army. The First Army, advanced into Serbia, Hungary and Austria in the spring of 1945, despite heavy casualties and bad conditions in the winter. During 1944–45, the Bulgarian First Army was commanded by Lieutenant-General Vladimir Stoychev.
Aftermath[edit | edit source]
Upon completion of the Belgrade operation, the 3rd Ukrainian Front troops were transferred to Hungary to support forces of the 2nd Ukrainian Front and subsequently assisted the Yugoslav Partisans in the liberation of their country, mainly with weapons, equipment, and ammunition.
A Medal "For the Liberation of Belgrade" was established by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet decree of June 19, 1945.
References[edit | edit source]
Sources[edit | edit source]
See also[edit | edit source]