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Molotov Line

When the Soviets annexed the eastern part of Poland, they needed a new defensive line along their new western border. On the base on Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact in 1939, the Polish -German line of demarcation was set up. The Molotov line was a system of fortifications built in the years 1940-1941 and was designed by Dimitrij Michalowicz Karbyszew.

The so-called "Molotov Line" was a system of fortifications built by the Soviet Union in the years 1940-1941, along its new western border after it annexed the Baltic States, Eastern Poland and Bessarabia. This territorial expansion was the direct result of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, signed on the Soviet side by Vyacheslav Molotov, hence the name Molotov Line. The name is informal and has come into use relatively recently. It was popularized by the writings of Viktor Suvorov, notably by his book Icebreaker.

Each fortified region (in Russian ukreplennyi raion, or UR) consisted of a large number of concrete bunkers (pillboxes) housing machine guns, antitank guns and artillery. The bunkers were built in groups for mutual support, each group forming a center of resistance. A dedicated military unit was permanently assigned to man each region.

Germany and Russia agreed on a non-aggression pact August 23, 1939. Germany received, so far as Russia was concerned, a free hand to wipe out Poland, and then to proceed with a war with France and Great Britain. In return, Russia received a free hand to absorb various small states adjacent to her west boundary. The first booty of the partners was Poland.

Since in September 1939 the USSR did not include the Baltic States, West Belarus, Western Ukraine and western part of Moldavia, the western border of the USSR was along the lines of those regions. It was along the border a new line fortified area was built. After September-October 1939, the western border of the USSR has changed the shape and moved to the West. Thus "Stalin's line" was in the rear, the "old" border. And since the country's leadership decided to enhance the "new" borders, all construction works were phased out in most stores all weapons have been removed, and halted.

After the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland in October 1939 the Stalin Line was too far behind the new border to be of use as a springboard for an offensive. So, a new set of defenses was begun, named after the Soviet Foreign Minister, Molotov. Equipment was stripped from the Stalin Line, but only 25 percent of the positions had been completed by the time of the German invasion in June 1941 and it proved no match for the Wehrmacht - positions were mostly empty or simply bypassed during the advance.

The fortifications, even those not completed, were some of strongest defenses built in the 1930s. The "Molotov Line", constructed by Russians in the years 1940-41, was a system of fortifications along the east border of Soviet Union. The 4.500 km border was divided into three military districts, consisting of 138 construction sections, with 2.500 concrete military bunkers, of which over 1.000 had been completely equipped.

The Kiev Military District consisted of 2 fortification regions, encompassing the area of the present-day Podkarpackie province: the Rava-Ruska Fortification Region, stretching from Stare Siolo in the Lubaczw District to Rava-Ruska in the east (currently Ukraine) and the Przemysl Fortification Region, stretching along River San from Bbrka by Solina to Sieniawa in the Lubaczw District. Those were the best-prepared and equipped fortification regions of the "Molotov Line".

To this day, in Poland, there are around 250 objects of the two fortification regions. The Przemysl Fortification Region is the best-reconnoitered one, with over 200 objects found, of which 120 are in Przemysl and its neighborhood.

The bunkers were built in groups, each group forming center of resistance consisted of concrete pillboxes. They were equipped with artillery antitank canons and machine-guns. Most were two , some even three levels. On the lowest floor were stores of food, dump for weapon, living quarters for resting soldiers and toilets. They were also provided with: system of ventilation, generator, electricity, running water, sewage system and communication. They were constructed of the reinforced concrete. The entrance was protected by an armored door. Pillboxes were mostly below the ground and covered with earth. 5 meters long and 2-3 meters deep anti tank trenches were dug out around.

In Lithuania the line was divided into four fortified regions:

  1. Telsiai fortified region (line from Palanga to Judrenai, 75 kilometers, 8 centers of resistance, 23 bunkers built and 366 under construction on June 22, 1941).
  2. Siauliai fortified region (line from Pajuris to Jurbarkas, 90 kilometers, 6 centers of resistance, 27 bunkers built and 403 under construction).
  3. Kaunas fortified region (line from Jurbarkas to Kalvarija, 105 kilometers, 10 centers of resistance, 31 bunkers built and 599 under construction).
  4. Alytus fortified region (line from Kalvarija to border of Belorussia 57 kilometers, 5 centers of resistance, 20 bunkers built and 273 under construction).

Overall 101 bunkers were built, but not fully completed, in Lithuania. They were built badly however and were neutralized quickly by throwing grenades or burning fuel into periscope shafts, which were absolutely unprotected.

A typical section of the line ran north from the historic town of Drohiczyn. At the leading edge along the river were a series of outposts and passive anti-tank and anti-infantry obstacles including tank traps and barbed wire. Behind these were a number of 'centers of resistance' (before 1938 these were referred to as battalion defense regions) along the main defense line that consisted of as many as five strongpoints in a chessboard pattern. Each strongpoint was 2-3 km wide and a similar depth. These were made up of a series of mutually supporting bunkers and field works armed with a mixture of machine guns, anti-tank guns and artillery.

Late in May, 1940, Stalin began to fear that the surprising German success in France might soon make a German army available on the Russian frontier; he decided to complete his program of expansion without delay. As a precaution, Russia concentrated 22 divisions opposite East Prussia's 3 German divisions.

Georgii Zhukov became the Chief of the General Staff after proving in January 1941 that the Soviet Army was, in fact, ill-prepared for a German invasion. Zhukov added realistic goals to the basic precepts of the combined arms, deep attack philosophies of the 1930s. The Russian border fortified regions had been partially dismantled to be assembled in the areas of Poland, most notably in the Bialystok salient, occupied two years earlier.

Zhukov opposed moving the old fortifications, as he felt they were more viable than those that could be placed in the salient. Still, over 2500 fortified points had been built by June 1941. Most, though, were only equipped with machine guns. Zhukov moved the artillery that was designated for these fortifications to the former fortified border region further to the rear of the salient. In early 1941 Zhukov had exposed the fallacy of a forward defense that butted the Red Army defenses up against the Germans in the war games played in January 1941. This proved to be the deciding point in his appointment by Stalin as the Chief of the General Staff. Zhukov showed that forward positioning did not allow the echeloning of defenses needed to ward off the thrusts expected to be used by the Germans.

Zhukov appears to be a great student of Tukhachevski. He never intended, in defensive planning, to allow the main body of the Red Army to be placed close to the initial shock of the armored thrusts. Placement of their main forces so close to the German's initial blows would have been counter to the theory of echelonment, would have deprived the Red Army of maneuver, and would have subjected it to being cut off and annihilated.

Zhukov's solution was an active defense in depth. This called for risking sizeable forces in the Bialystok Salient, even to the point of sacrifice. The forces in the salient would be expected to deal with the German infantry that followed the Panzers in their attempts to encircle Soviet forces. Combined arms units in the salient would hold their own and possibly disrupt the Panzer lines of communications. The three armies in the salient were left with their armor intact, so the soldiers would not feel abandoned and would fight rather than surrender. But much of the artillery, tractor haulers, engineers and pontoon bridge units were removed under the pretext of training exercises. Zhukov did not want to sacrifice these essential pieces of equipment, which were sent to the Stalin Line, the fortified region of the original Russian-Polish border, to reinforce the second echelon.

Then, on 15 June 1941, Stalin delivered an ultimatum to Lithuania requesting agreement to absorption into the Soviet; the Lithuanians applied to Germany for protection. Although Stalin's actions were contrary to the midnight agreement of the preceding September, the odds of 3 to 22 were too great and Hitler refused to interfere. He considered, however, that in view of Russia's violation of the agreement, he was no longer bound by it either.

Russia next assembled troops on her southwestern frontier, and on June 22 gave Germany 24 hours' notice of her intention to absorb Bessarabia. Hitler counseled Rumania to acquiesce, but privately advised that this concession was only temporary and that at the proper time Rumania could expect to receive her territory back. Russia occupied Bessarabia.

On 22 June 1941 the 6th Panzer Division moved out of the Tilsit area as part of a provisional panzer army. In true blitzkrieg manner it rolled across Lithuania and Latvia within a few days, overran every enemy position in its way, broke through the Stalin Line, crossed the Dvina River, and opened the gateway to Leningrad on the Luga River- all within three weeks from its day of departure. This 500-mile trip led through dust and sand, woods and swamps, and across rivers and antitank ditches. Leningrad was within sight. The Stalin Line was not able to fully play the role it could have played. There are enough examples of heroic defense of individual bunkers and some fortified areas, (eg Kiev, which held the defense more than a month and was left only on the orders of commanders of the prevailing operational situation).

The Russian General Staff had studied the German campaign in Poland, noting the effects of the armored columns harassing the Polish rear areas. They had decided that the Germans would try the same thing again, and that the best counter-plan was to allow the armored columns to advance into the interior and, having protected depots and other sensitive points against sudden attack, to close in in rear of the armored invaders and cut them off from their base. This failed to work, as the armored troops lived off what they captured.




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