The map from the secret appendix to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact showing the new German-Soviet border after September 1939, the town of Brest can be seen as located on next to the border.
The area around the nineteenth-century Brest Fortress was the site of the 1939 Battle of Brześć Litewski, when German forces captured it from Poland during the Polish September Campaign.
However, according to the terms of the 1939 German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact the territory around Brest as well as 52% of the then Poland was assigned to the Soviet Union. Thus, in the summer of 1941, the Germans had to capture the fortress yet again - this time from the Soviets.
The Germans planned to seize Brest and the Brest Fortress which was located in the path of Army Group Centre during the first hours of Operation Barbarossa. The fortress and the city controlled the crossings over the Bug River, as well as the Warsaw–Moscow railway and highway.
Brestin linnoitus (Брестская крепость, Brestskaja krepost) on Valko-Venäjän Brestin kaupungin länsiosissa, aivan Puolan rajan tuntumassa sijaitseva, alun perin 1800-luvulta peräisin oleva suuri puolustusrakennelma.
Brestin linnoitus sai sitkeästä vastarinnastaan vuoden 1941 kesäkuun taistelussa Saksaa vastaan Neuvostoliiton aikana vuonna 1965 arvonimen sankarilinnoitus, mikä on paljolti sama kunnianosoitus ja arvo, minkä kukin 12 sankarikaupunkia sai.
Linnoitus siihen kuuluvine museoineen, kirkkoineen, muistomerkkeineen ja laajoine puistoalueineen on nykyään Brestin kaupungin päänähtävyys. Se on myös Valko-Venäjän kaikkein suosituimpia turistinähtävyyksiä
|Battle of Brest|
|Part of the Eastern Front of World War II|
The eastern front at the time of the Battle of Brest. (click to enlarge)
|Commanders and leaders|
|Fritz Schlieper|| Pyotr Gavrilov|
Yefim Fomin (23–26 June)
|Casualties and losses|
|1,000 dead, 700 wounded||2,000 dead|
about 7,000 captured
The initial defense plan allowed for 12 hours to secure the area in face of the 45th Infantry Division (Austrian) (about 17,000 strong) as well as parts of the artillery of the 31st, 34th Infantry Divisions and 2nd Panzer Group under Heinz Guderian (in total, about 20,000 men).
- the layout of the Brest Fortress in June 1941. 1. Kobrin Fortification, 2. Volynskoye Fortification, 3. Terespol Fortification
The fortress had no warning when the Axis invaded on 22 June 1941, and became the site of the first major fighting between Soviet forces and the Wehrmacht. From the first minutes of the invasion, Brest and Brest Fortress were shelled by the German Wehrmacht.
- The first German assault on the fortress took place half an hour after the bombardment started, the surprised Soviet defenders were unable to form a solid front and instead defended isolated strongpoints–the most important of which was the fortress itself. Some managed to escape the fortress; most were trapped inside by the encircling German forces.
Despite having the advantage of surprise, the subsequent attempt by the Germans to take the fortress with infantry quickly stalled with high losses: about 281 Wehrmacht soldiers died the first day in the fighting for the fortress. Heavy fighting continued two more days. In the evening of June 24, 1941, some 368 Germans were dead and 4-5,000 Red Army soldiers in captivity.
On June 25 and June 26, 1941, local fighting continued mainly in the citadel. Till the evening of June 26, 1941, most of the northern Kobrin fortification, except the East Fort, was captured.
Regarding the fighting around East Fort, the commander of the 45th Infantry Division, Generalmajor Fritz Schlieper, wrote to the High Command in his detailed report:
- It was impossible to advance here with only infantry at our disposal because the highly-organised rifle and machine-gun fire from the deep gun emplacements and horse-shoe-shaped yard cut down anyone who approached. There was only one solution - to force the Soviets to capitulate through hunger and thirst. We were ready to use any means available to exhaust them... Our offers to give themselves up were unsuccessful...
Once the East Fort could not be taken by infantry the Luftwaffe bombed it twice on June 29 and forced its approximately 360 defenders to surrender.
Copy of the inscription found inside the citadel: "I'm dying, but I won't surrender! Farewell Motherland
Although the Soviet soldiers in the opening hours of the battle were stunned by the surprise attack, outnumbered, short of supplies, and cut off from the outside world, many of them held out much longer than the Germans expected. The Germans deployed various powerful guns, rocket mortars 15 cm Nebelwerfer 41 and resorted to flame throwers. The civilians inside the fortress tended the wounded, reloaded the machine-gun discs and belts with cartridges and even took up rifles to help defend the fortress. Children brought ammunition and food supplies from half-destroyed supply depots, scavenged weapons and watched enemy movements.
Schlieper wrote in his detailed report that:
- the 81st Combat Engineer Battalion was given the task of blowing up a building on the Central Island ... in order to put an end to the Russian flanking fire on the North Island. Explosives were lowered from the roof of the building towards the windows, then the fuses were lit. When they exploded, we could hear the Soviet soldiers screaming and groaning, but they continued to fight.
Chaplain Rudolf Gschöpf wrote
- We only gradually managed to take one defensive position after another as a result of stubborn fighting. The garrison of the so-called "Officers' House" on the Central Island only ceased to exist with the building itself ... The resistance continued until the walls of the building were destroyed and razed to the ground by more powerful explosions.
On 24 June, with Germans having taken parts of the fortress, some Soviet troops were able to link up and coordinate their actions under the command of Captain Ivan Zubachyov, his second in command was Regimental Commissar Yefim Fomin.
On 26 June small Soviet forces tried to break out from the siege but were unsuccessful and sustained heavy casualties. Probably the same day Zubachyov and Fomin were captured. Zubachyov was sent to a POW camp in Hammelburg where he died along with several million of his countrymen, Yefim Fomin was executed on spot for being a commissar and a Jew.
German soldiers in the Citadel in June 1941 R.Gschöpf wrote:
- Late on the 30th of June the division received the order to abandon Brest. Early on the 1st of July we paid tribute to the perished in the Division cemetery that was laid out on the eve… The main units of the Division abandoned Brest on the 2nd of July 1941.
The magnitude of these losses can be weighed by the fact that total German losses on the Eastern Front up to 30 June 1941 amounted to 8,886 killed. The fighting at Brest therefore accounted for over 5 percent of all German fatalities. After eight days of fierce fighting the Germans had captured the whole fortress.
But the strategic objectives - control over the Panzerrollbahn I, i.e. the road to Moscow, the important railway line, and the bridges over the Bug river - were accomplished the very first day of the war. Because of the high German losses the German High Command demanded General Fritz Schlieper to present a detailed report regarding combat at Brest 22 June - 30 July 1941. A copy was found in the archive of the 45th Infantry Division, that was captured by the Red Army by Livny, Russia in March 1942.
Some individual soldiers and even small groups of Red Army soldiers kept hiding in the fortress after the fall of the Eastern Fort. During the last days, some of remaining defenders made inscriptions on the walls. One of them said:
- We'll die but we'll not leave the fortress". "I'm dying but I won't surrender. Farewell, Motherland. 20.VII.41.
It is said that Major Pyotr Gavrilov, one of the best known defenders of Brest (later decorated for it as Hero of the Soviet Union) was captured only on 23 July.