The Northern Sector

On 22nd June 1941 the German and Soviet forces were deployed on the border as shown in the map below. Note, the Soviets also had the 27th Army deployed in the rear in the Pskov area.

Maps, Copyright; Brian Taylor 2003, Barbarossa to Berlin.

Maps, Copyright; Brian Taylor 2003, Barbarossa to Berlin.

On the ground things went almost as bad (for the Soviets) as in the air, with Army Group North (Leeb) making rapid progress across the Baltic States. On 22nd June the 56th Panzer Corps (von Manstein) pierced the Soviet 8th Army’s northern flank and advanced rapidly to the Dubissa River, where it seized a crossing on the Airogola viaduct. 56th Panzer Corps’ immediate objective was to secure a crossing on the Dvina River; hopefully at Daugavpils.

Meanwhile further south the 41st Panzer Corps (Reinhardt) attacked through Tilsit towards Rasainiai. Northwestern Front (Kuznetzov) mistakenly identified 41st Panzer Corps’ thrust as the most serious threat and immediately focused its counter-attack mechanised forces in this sector. Kuznetzov ordered the (8th Army’s) 12th Mechanised Corps and large elements of (11th Army’s) 3rd Mechanised Corps to counter-attack the German thrust towards Siauliai. Behind the panzer corps, 18th Army (Kuchler) moved out of its cramped assembly areas and fanned out into Lithuania, advancing along the coast towards Libau. 16th Army (Busch) supported the German advance towards Daugavpils through Kaunas, and pushed towards the Nieman River.

Maps, Copyright; Brian Taylor 2003, Barbarossa to Berlin.

Maps, Copyright; Brian Taylor 2003, Barbarossa to Berlin.

From 23rd June, the 41st Panzer Corps’ 1st and 6th Panzer Divisions (with 429 tanks) fought a series of running tank battles with 12th Mechanised Corps and the 2nd Tank Division, dispatched from the 3rd Mechanised Corps further south (4 divisions with 987 tanks, including 52 T-34 and 52 KV tanks). The latter represented the bulk of the armoured reserve of the Baltic Special Military District (Northwestern Front from 22nd June) and included 52 T-34 and 52 KV tanks. As far as is known this represented the first major engagement with KV heavy tanks and there performance certainly impressed the Germans. Despite the numerical and technical imbalance between the forces, the 2nd Tank Division was annihilated in the fighting while the 12th Mechanised Corps withdrew with only around 50 operational tanks left. By 29th June the 41st Panzer Corps had advanced through Rasainiai and established a bridgehead across the Dvina River at Jekabpils.

While 41st Panzer Corps drew off the bulk of Northwestern Front’s armoured and mechanised forces, 56th Panzer Corps advanced towards Daugavpils which they reached on 25-26th June. In a coup de main the 8th Panzer Division (56th Panzer Corps) seized the vital road bridge across the Dvina River at Daugavpils and rapidly established a bridgehead. The bridge at Daugavpils is also well known because it became a prime target for VVS bombers attempting to disrupt the 4th Panzer Group’s advance. Many bombers were lost in daylight raids attempting to attack this target which the Germans naturally defended with heavy Flak and fighter cover. The Soviets naturally attempted to dislodge the Germans from their bridgehead and conducted a series of counter-attacks by committing 27th Army, but to no avail. Included in this effort was the 21st Mechanised Corps (with only 98 BT tanks) brought up from Stavka reserves and used to reinforce 27th Army. With the Dvina River line well and truly breached, Kuznetzov was pointlessly dismissed and replaced by General Sobennikov (the 8th Army’s commander).

By 2nd July the 4th Panzer Group (Hoepner) completed its regrouping on the Dvina and attacked towards Ostrov, which fell to 41st Panzer Corps on 4th-5th July. The panzer corps then struck north eastwards towards Pskov, which was heavily defended by the 1st Mechanised Corps from the Leningrad Military District (Northern Front from 24th June 1941) and 41st Rifle Corps (4 rifle divisions). Unfortunately the 1st Mechanised Corps was without its 1st Tank Division (in the far north near the Arctic Circle), and its 163rd Mechanised Division was heavily damaged while counter-attacking the bridgehead at Daugavpils. However the remaining 3rd Tank Division was still near full strength in tanks. On 8th July the 41st Panzer Corps entered Pskov and in a remarkable performance (backed by the German 1st Infantry Corps) the Germans managed to capture the city within a few days. Meanwhile 56th Panzer Corps had advanced from through Ostrov and was planning a deep flanking attack towards Novgorod and Lake Ilmen (see below).

Maps, Copyright; Brian Taylor 2003, Barbarossa to Berlin.

Maps, Copyright; Brian Taylor 2003, Barbarossa to Berlin.

While all this was going on, Army Group North’s 18th Army had captured Riga on 1st July and had occupied Lithuania, Latvia and most of Estonia by late July. By 27th July Tallinn was invested by 18th Army and some 23 000 Red Army soldiers (3 divisions) were still in the city. The Baltic Red Banner Fleet was still in control of the Gulf of Finland and was able to supply and reinforce the Tallinn force to a limited degree. By 5th August 18th Army was besieging Tallinn (with 3 divisions) and was approaching Narva between the Gulf of Finland and Lake Peipus.

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