July 3rd in German History: German Forces in Minsk Surrender

Independence Day in Belarus in 2020 | Office Holidays
A painting commemorating the liberation of Minsk on July 3rd, which is Belarus’s independence day.

In the first few months following the German declaration of war on the Soviet Union, numerous cities fell to the Wehrmacht as it advanced though Soviet Satellite states and into Russia. Minsk, the capitol of the Belarusian SSR, was captured in early July and hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops were killed or captured. Three years later, the war had turned against the Germans and it was the Soviet’s turn to encircle and destroy German forces around Minsk.

Operation Bagration began on June 23rd with Soviet offensives against Army Group Center. Multiple German formations were destroyed or crippled in the first week, and it became clear to German planners that the Soviet objective was the city of Minsk. Soviet formations from the 2nd and 3rd Belorussian Fronts pushed through German lines to the north and south of the city, making German troops from the 4th and 9th armies vulnerable to encirclement. Hitler had, however, ordered that the city be defended even if that meant the forces inside it being surrounded and wiped out. By June 30th, most rail lines out of the city had been severed and the few remaining ways out of the city were under threat. On July 1st the defenders began readying for a withdrawal and on July 2nd they received permission to escape the city. Soviet troops entered Minsk on the Morning of July 3rd and liberated the city later that day. However, much of the 4th and 9th armies had not escaped and were trapped outside the city by Soviet formations. Attempts to break out generally failed, and on July 8th the commander of the 4th army was captured. He issued a surrender order that was broadcast to German troops still fighting. Although fighting continued well into July, the outcome of the battle was decided.

Over 100,000 German soldiers were killed or captured in an around the city of Minsk during and after its liberation. Soviet losses were also high, but unlike the Germans, the Soviets could afford to sustain them. The loss of Minsk and the forces holding it precipitated the collapse of Army Group Center and the end of any hope of holding back the Red Army. Russia would lose many more men before the war ended, but from this point on it would always be on the offensive, pursuing inferior forces into Germany and bringing the war to the invader.

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