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Yelnya Offensive
Part of World War II, Battle of Smolensk
DateAugust 30 – September 8, 1941
LocationYelnya, Soviet Union
54°34′N 33°10′E / 54.567°N 33.167°E / 54.567; 33.167Coordinates: 54°34′N 33°10′E / 54.567°N 33.167°E / 54.567; 33.167
Result Pyrrhic Soviet victory
Flag of Germany 1933.svg Germany Flag of the Soviet Union.svg Soviet Union
Commanders and leaders
Flag of Germany 1933.svg Fedor von Bock Flag of the Soviet Union.svg Georgy Zhukov
Flag of the Soviet Union.svg Major General Konstantin Rakutin
unknown 103,200[1]
Casualties and losses
heavy 10,701 killed or missing
21,152 wounded
31,853 overall[1]

The Soviet Army's Yelnya Offensive operation (August 30 – September 8, 1941) was part of the Battle of Smolensk during the initial period of the German-Soviet War.

The offensive was against the semi-circular Yelnya salient which the German 4th Army had extended 50 km south-east of Smolensk forming a staging area for a continued offensive towards Vyazma and eventually Moscow.[2]

German dislocation

Initially located in the salient were the 10th Panzer Division, Waffen-SS Division Das Reich, 268th Infantry Division, and the 202nd Assault Gun Battalion among others; however these were replaced by the 137th, 78th Infantry Division and 292nd infantry divisions in addition to the 268th,[3] about 70,000 troops in all with some 500 artillery pieces and 40 StuG IIIs of the 202nd Assault Gun Battalion, last three a part of the German XX Army Corps.[4] The northern base of the salient was held by the 15th Infantry Division, while the southern base was held by the 7th Infantry Division. Although Guderian proposed a withdrawal on the 4 August during a meeting with Hitler and other Army Group Centre commanders during a meeting at Novy Borisov, this was rejected as an option.[5]

Soviet planning

On August 26 Stavka ordered the 24th Army of the Reserve Front, led by Marshal Georgy Zhukov, to start an offensive beginning August 30 against the salient.[6] The intent of this offensive was to assault the bases of the salient, with the 102nd Tank and 303rd Rifle divisions forming the outer front of the encirclement, and the 107th, 100th Rifle divisions of the northern pincer and 106th Mechanized Rifle division[7] of the southern pincer forming the inner front of the encirclement.[4] Supporting the 106th in the south was the 303rd Rifle Division. Containing the salient in the central (eastern) sector of the offensive were the 19th and 309th Rifle Divisions.[4] The 103rd Motorized and 120th Rifle divisions were deployed n the northern and southern sides of the salient in heavily fortified field positions to prevent possible routes of escape by the German divisions.[4] The 24th Army was allocated only 20 aircraft for reconnaissance and correction of artillery fire for the operation, with no dedicated fighter or strike support.[4]


On September 3, under the threat of the encirclement the Germans started retreating from the salient while maintaining resistance on the flanks. On September 6 Yelnya was retaken. The Soviet offensive continued until September 8, until it was halted at the new German defense line.

This was the most substantial reverse that the Wehrmacht had suffered up to that date and the first successful planned Soviet offensive operation in the Soviet-German war. German losses in the operation are unknown. The Red Army losses are estimated at 31,853 overall casualties. Major General Rakutin was killed during the battle. United States army historian David Glantz states that although the offensive succeeded in attaining its strategic objective, the operation cost the 24th army nearly 40% of its operational strength. This, combined with other failed Red Army offensives in the Smolensk area temporarily blunted the German drive but seriously weakened Red Army formations defending the approaches to Moscow. In a lecture to the US Army Heritage and Education Center, Mr. Glantz asserted that in the run up to the Battle of Moscow, the Wehrmacht would not have made nearly as much progress as they did if the Stavka had not suffered losses in unsuccessful counter-offensives east of Smolensk.[8]

Creation of the Guards

The Yelnya Offensive is also associated with the creation of the veteran Guards units when the 100th and 127th Rifle divisions were renamed into 1st and 2nd Guards Rifle Divisions. On 26 September 1941 the 107th and 120th Rifle divisions were also renamed the 5th and 6th Guards Rifle Divisions.[4]

Citations and notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 Glantz (1995), p. 293
  2. p.7, Kurowski
  3. north to south along the salient's front
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Khoroshilov & Bazhenov
  5. pp.6-7, Kurowski
  6. Г. К. Жуков. Воспоминания и размышления.
  7. reinforced by the 103rd separate tank battalion


  • Glantz, David M. & House, Jonathan (1995), When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler, Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, ISBN 0-7006-0899-0
  • Kurowski, Franz, Translated by David Johnston, Panzer Aces II: Battle Stories of German Tank Commanders in World War II, Stackpole Books, 2004
  • Newton, Steven H., Hitler's Commander: Field Marshal Walther Model--Hitler's Favorite General, Da Capo Press, 2005
  • Khoroshilov, G. (Col.), Bazhenov, A., (Maj.), Yelnya Offensive Operation of 1941, Military-historical Journal, No.9, 1974, (Russian: Полковник Г. Хорошилов, майор А. Баженов, Ельнинская наступательная операция 1941 года, Военно-исторический журнал" № 9, 1974 г)

Recommended readings

  • Voyenno-Istorichesky Zhurnal (Military History Journal), # 10, October 1986.

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