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The following historical example illustrates the art of deception from the operational through the tactical level. Developed by the Combined Arms Center Historian's office primarily from work on BAGRATION, a Soviet operation on the Eastern front in World War II, and published by the Center for Land Warfare, Carlisle, PA, and the Soviet Army Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth, KS, it provides insights which support the deception maxims and current U.S. doctrine. It also provides insight into the Soviet use of deception.

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(OPERATION BAGRATION, 22 June - 29 August 1944)

BAGRATION and Maskirovka (Deception)

Operation BAGRATION was the single greatest victory of the Red Army over the Germans in World War II. Begun on 22 June 1944, BAGRATION resulted in the destruction of Army Group Center and the reconquest of Byelorussia. BAGRATION marked the high point of Soviet deception in Stalin's war against Hitler. Deception was a necessary cause for the operation's unmatched success. Not surprisingly, the Russian military since 1945 has studied the maskirovka and other aspects of BAGRATION intensively, convinced that "the experience in achieving surprise acquired by Soviet troops in the past war has largely retained its value and instructiveness."

The Situation

During the spring of 1944, the Russo-German front extended north to south for 2,000 miles. In Byelorussia, the German Army Group Center occupied a huge bulge protruding north of the Pripet Marshes and extending far to the east of the Soviet forces that had pushed through the Ukraine to the Rumanian border. The Red Army had conducted a study of alternative strategic objectives, considering three major options. First, the Red Army could continue to drive with its southern forces into the Balkans; this would, however expose its northern flank and leave much of western Russia in German hands. Second, the Red Army could launch a major offensive from the northern Ukraine across central and eastern Poland to the Baltic Sea in order to entrap both Army Groups Center and North. A drive from the northern Ukraine to the Baltic, however, would confront the bulk of German armor, would involve maneuvers of a strategic scale perhaps beyond the Red Army's capabilities, and would expose broad flanks to still powerful German forces. In April, the Soviet high command had chosen a third strategic objective, the "Byelorussian Balcony" and the destruction of Army Group Center. Accomplishment of this objective would position the Red Army on the borders of Poland and East Prussia for subsequent operations.

Map 1. Russian Summer Offensive (22 June - 1 Sept 1944)

To smash Army Group Center, the Red Army required massive redeployment and surprise. Both could not be achieved simultaneously without strategic, operational, and tactical deception on a scale and with a proficiency previously unattained.

Concept of Operations

Red Army plans for the operation against Army Group Center, dubbed BAGRATION, had integrated maneuver, redeployment, and deception. On April 17 and 19, a switch to the defensive was ordered for the entire Red Army on the German front. The switch, combined with operational camouflage, would confuse the enemy as to the Soviet Command's real intentions. The Red Army demonstratively upgraded its defenses; improvements were often ruses, such as the construction of false minefields. The Soviet Stavka, or High Headquarters Command, made every effort to limit knowledge of the April-May planning process and resultant plans. Only five people were directly engaged in working out the plans for the summer campaign and the Byelorussian operation in particular. These officers handled the operational plans of the fronts which were drafted by hand and briefed by the commanders in person.

Deception Development

The Red Army realized that feigning a defensive intention and keeping these plans hidden could not prevent the Germans from concluding that due to Red Army superiority, somewhere, sometime in the summer of 1944, the Red Army would resume the strategic offensive. Thus, the Soviets strove to convince the German High Command that a blow would come elsewhere than Byelorussia and later rather than sooner. Their "deception story" was that the major Red Army attack would come in the southwestern sector of the front and probably in July. The Soviets refined this story to portray their focal point against Army Group North Ukraine. Marshal Zhukov knew that intelligence reports showed "the German High Command expected us to make the first blow in the summer campaign in the Ukraine, not Byelorussia." The Red Army deception story fit with what the Germans already thought the Red Army would do. This wisely followed the principle that it is easier to reinforce a target's pre-existing beliefs than to change them.

The Events

Sequenced deception events were directed to be completed by the commander of the Third Ukrainian Front to reinforce the southern attack story. A concentration of eight infantry divisions supported by tanks and artillery was displayed. Movements of men and equipment were begun. The area was shown to have anti-aircraft defenses by displaying AA guns and flying regular fighter patrols. The effectiveness of the deception techniques was checked by aerial observation and photography. The deception display of the 3rd Ukrainian Front focused German attention on the possibility of a Balkan operation. Stavka also ordered that the tank armies be left in the south and be displayed, on the correct assumption that the Germans regarded them as a prime indicator of where the main danger lay.

Making the Plan Believable

Massive redeployments to the 1st Ukrainian Front (opposite Army Group North Ukraine) and to the south of the 1st Byelorussian Front (opposite Army Group Center's 2nd Army) in the area east of Kovel were the deception events decisive for convincing the Germans to accept the northern Ukraine deception story. Subsidiary plots were floated to help mislead the Germans as to the time and location of the Russian offensive. On 3 May the commander of the 3rd Baltic Front was ordered to show the concentration of about an army and thus to work to convince the Germans that the blow might come in the north (Map 2).

Map 2. BAGRATION: Soviet Plan for Operational Cover and Deception

OPSEC is Mandatory

No deception events were more important to the Byelorussian offensive than those hiding redeployment. Radio deception began when radio silence was imposed upon shifting to the defensive. The Soviets had learned that their units had been pinpointed by German listening and direction finding. As a result, the Soviets closed down radio traffic over large stretches of the front while changing communications systems and methods.

Red Army Fronts implemented "major deception programs." The 1st Baltic Front issued extensive deception orders telling subordinate units what to do and when to do it. The 1st Byelorussian Front planned to envelop the German 9th Army in Bobruisk. To keep the attack secret, night movement, avoidance of road movement, false troop and tank concentrations, and strict control of deception efforts at all levels were ordered. Each Army was responsible for deception in its area while Corps commanders supervised deception at the troop level.

Command And Control

Routine on the Soviet front was maintained in troop movements, ground and air reconnaissance, communications traffic, and the intensity and pattern of artillery fire. Training for the offensive took place well away from the front and at night. The Red Army kept unfolding deception events up to and beyond the opening of the assault. The Soviet deception program was enforced by thorough air and ground inspection.

The Germans Believe

Substantial indications of the Red Army's offensive preparations in Byelorussia, including redeployment, were picked up by German intelligence during late May to 22 June1944. At first, German intelligence dismissed these indicators as "apparent deception." Ultimately, they were interpreted as proof of an impending holding attack against Army Group Center (deceptively made to look like the focal point of the Soviet summer offensive) preparatory to the main Soviet strike against Army Group North Ukraine. Thus, the indicators did not unmask the Soviet deception, but rather they were interpreted to conform to the northern Ukraine deception story. Warnings from key German staff officers three weeks before the opening of BAGRATION that massive armor concentrations might now be on the Byelorussian front were ignored. The Germans fatally underestimated Red Army tank strength.

NOTE: Deployments and axes of advance (Soviet units are armies unless otherwise designated.)* Units and axes of advance not included (or confirmed) in German estimates of the situation.

Map 3. The Opening of Operation BAGRATION (22 - 24 June)

Army Group Center felt secure when it should have been very uneasy. Why did the Germans pervert the indicators in the central sectors to conform to their false estimate rather than revise their estimate to fit the indicators? At least, they should have reflected a high level of uncertainty due to limited deep reconnaissance. The Germans wanted to believe the attack would come where they were best prepared to defend.

Hook, Line, and Sinker

Deceiving themselves, with Russian help, the Germans did everything the Red Army hoped for to weaken Army Group Center. Most German armor reserves were poured into the northern Ukraine. (CG AG North Ukraine) controlled 80 percent of German armor. In late May, Busch transferred LVI Panzer Corps to Model (CG AG North Ukraine) on Hitler's orders. Without this powerful formation, Army Group Center lost the reserves with which it had blunted earlier assaults on Byelorussia. The results are history. The Red Army's attack against Army Group Center led to the destruction of 28 German divisions, the loss of 350,000 German soldiers, and the Third Reich being pushed out of Russia. There can be little doubt that synchronized strategic, operational, and tactical deception had been pivotal to the Soviet triumph.


When an army makes deception a significant, ever-present part of its operations, as the Soviets did from late 1941 to the end of World War II, its enemy will regularly mistake deception events for real events and real events for deception events.

Current Model

BAGRATION is the model used to teach deception in the Soviet Army. It is their classic example from which they have refined their concept of deception. Soviet maskirovka is an active, continuous process which involves and encompasses all facets of demonstrations, feints, camouflage, imitation, disinformation, OPSEC, and deception.

Current Goal

The goal of maskirovka is to make the enemy concentrate his forces against false threats and uselessly expend his means of destruction on them. The Soviets believe it is necessary to employ maskirovka throughout the entire USSR to ensure the protection and combat readiness of troops and equipment. On this scale, it also provides the Soviets with the potential for surprise at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels. The Soviets do this passively, by concealing or otherwise denying the enemy observation of targets as they actually exist. They also do it actively, through the use of dummy structures, electronic warfare, false maneuvers, and various other methods.

Table of Contents
Battlefield Deception Operations
The Threat

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