Behold Operation Bagration, D-Day of the Eastern Front
Map of Operation Bagration, showing the massive westward thrust of the
Operation Bagration was the D-Day of the Eastern Front.
size, scale and impact, it was a remarkable feat of arms unmatched in
Crucially, Overlord (D-Day) and Bagration were planned
undertaken as part of a coordinated effort on the part of the Grand
Alliance to break the back of German resistance in Europe with a
determination that was equally held by the Soviets, British and
Americans to force the unconditional surrender of Hitler's Germany.
In his book Stalin's
Wars, Geoffrey Roberts reveals
plans for Operation Bagration were closely co-ordinated with
Anglo-American preparations for the launch of the long-awaited Second
Front in France. The Soviets were informed of the approximate date of
D-Day in early April and, on 18 April, Stalin cabled Roosevelt and
Churchill that, 'as agreed in Tehran, the Red Army will launch a new
offensive at the same time so as to give maximum support to the
Though both operations were of immense military and
importance, Bagration dwarfed Overlord. It began on June 22, the third
anniversary of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, with air
attacks on enemy artillery positions and concentrations, guided by
partisan units operating behind German lines.
The main offensive began on June 23 along a 500-mile
front, involving close to two million troops.
Operation Bagration was designed to complement D-Day,
to effect the
liberation of the Soviet territory from the Nazis and destroy the
Wehrmacht as a serious fighting force in the East. It achieved all
three of these objectives and more.
As British historian and author David Reynolds points
out: "In five
weeks the Red Army advanced 450 miles, driving through Minsk to the
outskirts of Warsaw and tearing the guts out of Hitler's Army Group
Centre. Nearly 20 German divisions were totally destroyed and another
50 severely mauled -- an even worse disaster than Stalingrad."
He goes on: "This stunning Soviet success occurred while Overlord was
still stuck in the hedges and lanes of Normandy."
The famed Soviet journalist and author, Vasily
collection of wartime journalism, A
Writer At War, is a classic work
that should be required reading for those interested in the reality of
war and conflict, describes with customary force and power the human
toll of the Soviet offensive:
"Sometimes you are so shaken by what you've seen," he
writes in one
report from the front, "blood rushes from your heart, and you know that
the terrible sight that your eyes have just taken in is going to haunt
you and lie heavily on your soul all your life." He continues:
"Corpses, hundreds and thousands of them, pave the road, lie in
ditches, under the pines, in the green barley. In some places, vehicles
have to drive over the corpses, so densely they lie upon the ground."
Despite the coordination of Operation Bagration with
despite the former's ineffable military and strategic importance, not
one mention was made of it during the 75th D-Day anniversary
commemorations in Northern France. Such a glaring and unconscionable
omission stands as just one of many shameful examples of historical
amnesia on the part of Western governments and ideologues in recent
years -- people more concerned with politicizing history than they are
with respecting it.
Left: Tanks and other vehicles are abandoned by the Nazis as they flee
the Red Army during Operation Bagration in Belarus, July 1944. Right:
Some 57,000 German prisoners of war, captured during an encirclement
east of Minsk are paraded through Moscow, July 15, 1944.
The valour and courage of the 156,000 troops who landed
Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944 is not in question, nor is that of the
thousands of sailors, airmen, and airborne troops who also took part in
D-Day. Operation Overlord was, and will likely remain, the largest
amphibious military assault ever mounted. In terms of its ambition,
planning and the coordination of the combined military forces of the
multiple nations involved, it deserves the place in military history
that it commands.
Soviet leader Joseph Stalin more than understood the
achievement of D-Day, which he set out in a congratulatory telegram to
Roosevelt and Churchill at the time:
"As is evident, the landing, conceived on a grandiose
succeeded completely. My colleagues and I cannot but admit that the
history of warfare knows no other like undertaking from the point of
view of its scale, its vast conception, and its masterly execution."
Wind things forward 75 years and the parlous quality of
statesmanship in the West, with the open violation of the spirit of the
Grand Alliance between East and West that is enshrined in Stalin's
telegram, has never been more lamentable. For example, French President
Emmanuel Macron served up a speech in commemoration of D-Day that
drew deep from the well of Western exceptionalism. In lauding NATO and
the European Union as positive achievements of the war, he confirmed
how deeply entrenched the malaise of historical amnesia runs in Western
The notion that the men who gave their lives on D-Day,
thereafter in Europe on the way to war's end in 1945, did so in order
to give birth to a continent dependent on Washington and in fear of
Moscow, is preposterous. The devastation that Russia suffered in the
war, moreover, the magnitude of losses the country incurred, demands
respect and reverence of everyone interested in drawing the right
lessons from this epic struggle of world-historical importance.
It is for this reason that the decision not to extend
to Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend the 75th D-Day
anniversary celebrations is both a travesty and evidence of the gulf
that exists between those for whom history is a guide and those for
whom it is a weapon.
A Europe liberated from fascism but divided by a Cold
shattered forever the hopes for a lasting and enduring peace of equals
-- for global stability and cooperation reflected in the war's Grand
Alliance between East and West -- is nothing to celebrate. It reminds
that, although so much was sacrificed and won by so many during the
war, so much was thrown away and lost by so few after it.
Operation Bagration and Operation Overlord should never
of separately. Both were mounted at the same stage in the war by a
Grand Alliance that contained within it the seeds of a future that, if
it had come to pass, would've met the scale of the sacrifice needed to
The last word goes to Vasily Grossman: "Nearly everyone
that good would triumph, that honest men, who hadn't hesitated to
sacrifice their lives, would be able to build a good and just life."
John Wight has written for a variety of newspapers
including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch,
London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal.
1. Operation Bagration was named
after Pyotr Bagration (1765-1812), a Russian general of Georgian
origin. He was known for being innovative and creative in his tactics
to find the particular approach required by a given situation, as well
as for the great importance he gave to the training, education and
discipline of troops, and to ensuring their well-being.
This article was published in
Volume 49 Number 21 - June 8, 2019
Behold Operation Bagration, D-Day of the Eastern Front - John Wight