Brest Fortress Defenders
History and Modernity
Great Patriotic War
The defense of the Brest Fortress, located in the town of Brest in western Belarus, became one of the first battles of the Great Patriotic War led by the Soviet people against Nazi Germany.
Located on the very border of the U.S.S.R., the fortress was the first to take the blow on the day when Germany attacked the Soviet Union. At 3:15 a.m. on June 22, 1941, the fortress came under heavy gunfire that took the garrison unawares. As a result, the depots and water pipes were destroyed, communications were broken, and the garrison sustained heavy losses.
The storm started at 3:45. The attack was so sudden that the garrison failed to render a united coordinated resistance and was broken into several separate parts.
At the moment of the attack, the fortress garrison had some 7,000 personnel plus the members of the servicemen’s families. About half of the garrison managed to leave the fortress with the help of hardware and rejoin their units. By 9 a.m. June 22, the fortress with the remaining 3,500-4,000 people was surrounded. From the German side, the 45th infantry division with some 17,000 people, as well as units of neighboring formations, including two armor divisions, was to storm the fortress. In line with the German command’s plans, the fortress was to be seized by noon on the first day of the war.
But the aggressors faced fierce resistance. Only by the evening of June 24 did the Germans seize the Volyn and Terespol fortifications. The defense focused in the Kobrin fortification and the Citadel. Every day the fortress defenders had to repel 7-8 attacks, and flamethrowers were used; on June 29-30, the fortress came under a continuous two-day storm, and the Germans managed to seize the Citadel headquarters. On the same day, the Germans seized the Eastern Fort.
The fort’s organized defense ended; only isolated hotbeds of resistance and separate soldiers remained. Major Pyotr Gavrilov managed to gather a group of 12 people who continued resistance until July 23.
One of the inscriptions in the fortress says: “I am dying but don’t give up. Good-bye Motherland. July 20, 1941.” According to eyewitnesses, shooting could be heard from the fortress until early August. Some defenders managed to break away from the fortress and reach the partisans in Belavezhskaya Pushcha.