|Grossdeutschland Campaign Pt. 4 - The Minsk Pocket|
|by Travis Petkovits|
When Operation Barbarossa is launched, the world will hold its breath!
- Adolf Hitler
After the surrender of France, the Infantry Regiment Grossdeutschland was transferred to the Comar/Schlettstadt area. At this time a 5th (Heavy) Battalion, consisting of a Reconnaissance, Pionier, Signals, and Flak Company were added to I.R. Grossdeutschland. The regiment used this time to train for the possible invasion of England and a surprise attack upon Gibraltar, though neither operation was launched. This cycle of training continued until April of 1941, when the regiment was involved in the occupation of Yugoslavia. The grenadiers could not foresee that they would soon become embroiled in the largest struggle in recorded history.
The largest of the 3 German Army Groups involved in Operation Barbarossa was Army Group Centre, lead by Feldmarschall von Bock. It consisted of 31 infantry, 7 motorized infantry, 1 cavalry, and 9 panzer divisions. Due to the shape of the front in this area, Army Group Centre was divided into two forces. Panzergruppe 2 under Generaloberst Guderian would, with Fourth Army, advance towards Brest-Litovsk and Minsk. Panzergruppe 3 under Generaloberst Hoth, and Ninth Army, would advance towards Grodno and Minsk. The initial objective was the encirclement of Soviet forces operating in the Minsk area.
Opposing the Germans was a Soviet force of roughly equivalent size under Marshall Timoshenko. It consisted of 36 infantry, 8 cavalry, and 2 tank divisions. With an additional 9 mechanized infantry brigades. The majority of the Soviet units were deployed near the border around Brest-Litovsk, with the remaining third in the Minsk area.
Assigned to Panzergruppe 2, I.R. Grossdeutschland was initially tasked with securing route ‘R 2” for the advancing Panzer Divisions. The Regiment crossed the frontier on the 27th of June. After crossing the pre-1939 Polish-Soviet frontier a day later, the terrain changed from the more open woodlands of Eastern Poland, to dense forested regions. The first sizable contact with the enemy occurred on the 30th, when the 6th Company fended off an attack by Soviet infantry and T-26s north of Goroditsche.
The role of I.R Grossdeutschland in the campaign was about to change. By the 27th, Guderian’s and Hoth’s Panzergruppes had formed a pocket around the roughly 40 Soviet divisions around Minsk. It would now be Grossdeutschlands mission to prevent enemy units from breaking out of the pocket from the north. Until the 4th of July, when infantry units of the 4th Army relieved them, the regiment dealt with scattered Soviet troops trying to escape the pocket.
On 4 July the Regiment started to move up Route “R 2” to rejoin Panzergruppe 2. By 17:00 the advance was held up when the Regiment received orders to aid the 15th I.R in the Stolpce region against a strong Soviet breakout attempt. The 17th (Recon) Company was immediately sent towards the battle with orders to reach Kamienka by nightfall. Reaching the village after darkness had fallen the Company was ambushed almost immediately upon entering Kamienka. With the enemy attacking from all sides and the death of the units commander, Hauptmann von Kirchbach, the 17th panicked and fled. Lt Garnier took command of the elements of the unit that had escaped and put out the call for reinforcements. Responding to the plight of the recon unit, elements of the 2nd, 4th, and 5th Battalions soon reached the area. At 05:45 the Grenadiers launched an attack to push the Soviets out of Kamienka.
In the chaos of the Minsk pocket, the 121st Soviet Rifle Division was attempting a rather organized breakout attempt to the south. While the rest of the Division massed in the woods, one of the rifle regiments occupied the village of Kamienka as dusk fell on 4 July. After the regiment ambushed the Grossdeustchland recon company, they set about digging in forward of the village to repulse the expected German attack. If they could not keep “R 2” interdicted the rest of the division would have a much more difficult time escaping through German lines.
Scenario: Grossdeutschland Campaign Pt. 4 - The Minsk Pocket
Reacting to the nighttime ambush of the 17th Company in Kaminka, elements of the 2nd, 4th, and 5th Battalions of Infantry Regiment Grossdeutschland attempt to drive the Soviet forces from the town.
As the grenadiers launched the attack toward Kamienka they were met with withering defensive fire from the dug-in Soviet forces. Under the cover of the assault guns and flak battery, the assault continued. As the Germans neared the town, the Soviets attempted to outflank the 6th Company, but were held off by the 1st Platoon. By 07:00 Kamienka had fallen to the Grossdeutschland units. The German units continued the attack down “R 2” at 07:45, after taking a short time to regroup. They immediately met stiff resistance from concealed Soviet infantry. It would take a few more hours before the Soviet Regiment was destroyed and the road secured once again.