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Belgrade Offensive
Part of the Yugoslav and Eastern fronts of World War II
Red Army tanks in Belgrade
Soviet Red Army tanks in Belgrade
Date 14 September - 24 November 1944
Location Belgrade, Yugoslavia
Result Allied victory
Belligerents
Allies:
 Soviet Union
Democratic Federal Yugoslavia Partisans
Bulgaria
Axis:
 Nazi Germany
Commanders and leaders
Soviet Union Fyodor Tolbukhin
Soviet Union Rodion Malinovsky
Soviet Union Sergey Gorshkov
Soviet Union Vladimir Zhdanov
Democratic Federal Yugoslavia Peko Dapčević
Democratic Federal Yugoslavia Savo Drljević
Democratic Federal Yugoslavia Danilo Lekić
Vladimir Stoychev Kiril Stanchev
Nazi Germany Maximilian von Weichs
Nazi Germany Wilhelm Schneckenburger
Nazi Germany Hans Felber

Nazi Germany Alexander Löhr

Strength
580,000 troops
3,640 artillery pieces
520 tanks and assault guns
1,420 aircraft
80 ships
150,000 troops
2,100 artillery pieces
125 tanks and assault guns
350 aircraft
70 ships
Casualties and losses
Soviets only:
4,350 dead or missing
14,488 wounded or sick
18,838 overall[1]
unknown



The Belgrade Offensive or the Belgrade Strategic Offensive Operation (Serbo-Croatian language: Beogradska ofenziva, Београдска офанзива; Russian: Белградская стратегическая наступательная операция, Belgradskaya strategicheskaya nastupatel'naya operatsiya) (14 September-24 November 1944)[2] was an offensive military operation in which Belgrade was liberated from the German Wehrmacht by the joint efforts of the Soviet Red Army, the Yugoslav Partisans, and the Bulgarian People's Army. These forces launched separate but loosely coordinated operations that successfully forced the Germans out of the Belgrade area.[3]

The offensive involved the Soviet 3rd Ukrainian Front (including the Bulgarian 2nd Army), elements of the 2nd Ukrainian Front to the north,[4] the 1st Army Group of the Yugoslav Partisans to the west, and First, Third and elements of the Fourth Bulgarian Armies to the south.[5] 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 the summer of 1944, then, the Germans had not only lost control of practically all the mountainous area of Jugoslavia, but were no longer able to protect their own essential lines of communica­tion. Another general offensive on their front was unthinkable; and by September it was clear that Belgrade and the whole of Serbia must shortly be free of them. These summer months were the best the movement had ever seen; there were more recruits than could be armed or trained, desertions from the enemy reached high numbers; one by one the objectives of resistance were reached and taken.[6]

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,[5] were located on the Yugoslav - Bulgarian border.[7][8]

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[9] (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]

Map of the offensive.

Map of the Balkan military theater during September 1944 – January 1945.

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.[10]

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.[11]

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.[citation needed] 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,[12] 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[4] 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:[13]

Soviet Union[edit | edit source]

The Liberation of Belgrade Medal was awarded to c70,000 Soviet and allied service personnel who took part in the battle of Belgrade.

Boris Tadić and Dmitry Medvedev during celebrations for 65th anniversary

  • 3rd Ukrainian Front
    • 4th Guards Mechanised Corps (General Lieutenant T. V. Zhdanov Vladimir Ivanovich)
      • 13th Guards Mechanised Brigade (Lieutenant Colonel Obaturov Gennadi Ivanovich)
      • 14th Guards Mechanised Brigade (Colonel Nikitin Nicodemius Alekseyevich)
      • 15th Guards Mechanised Brigade (Lieutenant Colonel Andrianov Mikhail Alekseyevich)
      • 36th Guards Tank Brigade (Colonel Zhukov Peter Semenovich)
      • 292nd Guards Self-propelled Artillery Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Shakhmetov Semen Kondratevich)
    • 352nd Guards Heavy Self-propelled Artillery Regiment (Colonel Tiberkov Ivan Markovich);
    • 5th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade (Colonel Zavyalov Nikolai Ivanovich);
    • 23rd Howitzer Artillery Brigade (Colonel Karpenko Savva Kirillovich) of the 9th Breakthrough Artillery Division (Major General art. Ratov Andrey Ivanovich)
    • 42nd Anti-tank destroyer artillery Brigade (Colonel Leonov Constantine Alekseyevich)
    • 22nd Anti-aircraft Artillery Division (Colonel Danshin Igor Mikhaylovich)
  • 57th Army
    • 75th Rifle Corps (Major General Akimenko Andrian Zakharovich)
    • 223rd Rifle Division (Colonel Sagitov Akhnav Gaynutdinovich)
      • 236th Rifle Division (Colonel Kulizhskiy Peter Ivanovich)
    • 68th Rifle Corps (Major General Shkodunovich Nikolai Nikolayevich)
      • 73rd Guards Rifle Division (Major General Kozak Semen Antonovich)
  • Danube Military Flotilla
    • Brigade of Armoured Boats (Captain Second Rank Derzhavin Pavel Ivanovich)
      • 1st Guards Armoured Boats Division (Lieutenant Commander Barbotko Sergey Ignatevich)
      • 4th Guards Armoured Boats Division (Senior Lieutenant Butvin Kuzma [Iosifovich])
    • Coastal escort force (Major Zidr Klementiy Timofeevich)
  • 17th Air Army
    • 10th Assault Air Corps (lieutenant general of aviation Tolstyakov Oleg Viktorovich)
      • 295th Fighter Air Division (Colonel Silvestrov Anatoliy Alexandrovich)
      • 306th Assault Air Division (Colonel Ivanov Alexander Viktorovich),
      • 136th Assault Air Division (part, Colonel Tereckov Nikolai Pavlovich)
      • 10th Guards Assault Air Division (Major General of Aviation Vitruk Andrey Nikiforovich)
      • 236th Fighter Air Division (Colonel Kudryashov Vasiliy Yakovlevich)
      • 288th Fighter Air Division (part, Colonel Smirnov Boris Alexandrovich)

Yugoslavia[edit | edit source]

  • 1st Army Group (General - Lieutenant Colonel Peko Dapčević)
    • 1st Proletarian Division (Colonel Vaso Jovanović)
    • 6th Proletarian Division (Colonel Đoko Jovanić)
    • 5th Assault Division (Colonel Milutin Morača)
    • 21st Assault Division (Colonel Miloje Milojević)
  • 12th Army Corps (General - Lieutenant Colonel Danilo Lekić)
    • 11th Assault Division (Colonel Miloš Šelegović)
    • 16th Assault Division (Colonel Marko Peričin)
    • 28th Assault Division (Lieutenant Colonel Radojica Nenezin)
    • 36th Assault Division (Lieutenant Colonel Rodoslav Jović)

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]

  1. Glantz (1995), p. 299
  2. p.1116, Dupuy; Belgrade itself was taken on 20 October
  3. p.615, Wilmot "[the Red Army] entered Belgrade ... at the same time as Tito's partisans."; p.152, Seaton; "The Russians had no interest in the German occupation forces in Greece and appear to have had very little interest in those retiring northwards through Yugoslavia ... Stalin was content to leave to Tito and the Bulgarians the clearing of Yugoslav territory from the enemy."; Library of Congress Country Studies citing "information from Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1919–1945, Arlington, Virginia, 1976": "... Soviet troops crossed the border on October 1, and a joint Partisan-Soviet force liberated Belgrade on October 20." See also http://www.vojska.net/eng/world-war-2/operation/belgrade-1944/
  4. 4.0 4.1 Belgrade operation - Allied - Order of Battle
  5. 5.0 5.1 The Oxford companion to World War II, Ian Dear, Michael Richard Daniell Foot, Oxford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-19-860446-7, p. 134.
  6. Basil Davidson: PARTISAN PICTURE
  7. Axis Forces in Yugoslavia 1941–45, Nigel Thomas, K. Mikulan, Darko Pavlović, Osprey Publishing, 1995, ISBN 1-85532-473-3, p. 33.
  8. World War II: The Mediterranean 1940–1945, World War II: Essential Histories, Paul Collier, Robert O'Neill, The Rosen Publishing Group, 2010, ISBN 1-4358-9132-5, p. 77.
  9. this Army included the Bulgarian Armored Brigade previously equipped and trained by the Wehrmacht
  10. pp. 215–56, Mitrovski
  11. p.666, Glantz
  12. The composition of the 2nd Army was: Bulgarian Armored Brigade, 8th Infantry Division, 4th Infantry Division, 6th Infantry Division, 12th Infantry Division, parts of the 24th and 26th Infantry Divisions, and the 1st Assault Gun Detachment, pp. 166–208, Grechko
  13. http://www.soldat.ru/spravka/freedom/12-yugoslavia.html Dudarenko, M.L., Perechnev, Yu.G., Yeliseev, V.T., et.el., Reference guide "Liberation of cities": reference for liberation of cities during the period of the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945, Moscow, 1985 (Дударенко, М.Л., Перечнев, Ю.Г., Елисеев, В.Т. и др., сост. Справочник «Освобождение городов: Справочник по освобождению городов в период Великой Отечественной войны 1941–1945»)

Sources[edit | edit source]

  • Dudarenko, M.L., Perechnev, Yu.G., Yeliseev, V.T., et.el., Reference guide "Liberation of cities": reference for liberation of cities during the period of the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945, Moscow, 1985
  • Glantz, David, 1986 Art of War symposium, From the Vistula to the Oder: Soviet Offensive Operations - October 1944 - March 1945, A transcript of Proceedings, Center for Land Warfare, US Army War College, 19–23 May 1986
  • Glantz, David M. & House, Jonathan (1995), When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler, Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, ISBN 0-7006-0899-0.
  • Seaton, Albert, The fall of Fortress Europe 1943–1945, B.T.Batsford Ltd., London, 1981 ISBN 0-7134-1968-7
  • Dupuy, Ernest R., and Dupuy, Trevor N., The encyclopedia of Military History from 3500 B.C. to the present (revised edition), Jane's Publishing Company, London, 1980
  • Mitrovski, Boro, Venceslav Glišić and Tomo Ristovski, The Bulgarian Army in Yugoslavia 1941–1945, Belgrade, Medunarodna Politika, 1971
  • Wilmot, Chester, The Struggle for Europe, Collins, 1952
  • Grechko, A.A., (ed.), Liberation Mission of the Soviet Armed Forces in the Second World War, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975

See also[edit | edit source]

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