Battle of Smolensk
Derails Operation Barbarossa
Taking place in the region around the city of Smolensk between July 10 and September 10,1941, the First Battle of Smolensk was the first major battle during Operation Barbarossa in World War II that significantly delayed the advance of Hitler’s Wehrmacht in the FSU. The battle lasted for two full months about 400 km west of Moscow. Up to this point in the war, the German Army had advanced 500 km into the FSU since its invasion in June, 22,1941. Killed or captured up to a million Red Army soldiers and reached the western banks of the Western Dvina and Dnepr Rivers. Hitler expected total victory in a matter of weeks, but the ensuing battles in the Smolensk region frustrated German hopes for this easy victory.
Once across the Dvina and Dnepr Rivers, a surprised Wehrmacht encountered five Soviet armies. Despite destroying two of these armies outright, severely damaging two others, and encircling the remnants of three of these armies in the Smolensk region, quick victory eluded the Germans. Instead, Soviet forces encircled in Mogilev and Smolensk stubbornly refused to surrender, and while they fought on, during July, August, and into early September, first five and then a total of seven newly-mobilized Soviet armies struck back at the advancing Germans, conducting multiple counterattacks and counterstrokes, capped by two major counter offensives that stopped the German advance.
Ultimately, the Soviet 16th, 19th and the 20th Soviet Armies were encircled and destroyed just to the south of Smolensk, though significant numbers from the 19th and 20th Army managed to escape the pocket.
The losses in terms of men and materiel incurred by the Wehrmacht during this drawn-out battle were enormous and together with the 2-month delay in the march towards Moscow proved decisive for the Wehrmacht’s defeat by the Red Army at the end of the Battle of Moscow three months later in December 194. Despite immense losses in men and material in Smolensk ,these Soviet actions derailed Operation Barbarossa.