The doomed defenders of Brest Fortress, caught unprepared, outmanned and outgunned, held their bastion for over a week. The showcase of courage and sacrifice became the first serious engagement on the Eastern Front setting a blueprint for the entire war.
As the Germans rapidly
crossed into Belarus on June 22, 1941, the border garrison was
caught unaware under heavy artillery shelling. In a matter of
hours, just under 10,000 Soviet troops were encircled by the
Germans guns, and outnumbered, with no communication lines and no
order to withdraw coming from the center.
“As soon as we heard about the invasion, we started digging
holes, to hide from the artillery fire,” Nikolay Zakharchuk,
who was a young man in Brest when the fighting started, told RT.
“The planes at the local airfield were destroyed before
anyone had got into them. We were pinned back, and could hardly
lift our heads above the ground.”
With their effect of psychological superiority achieved, the
Germans expected the capture to be a formality.
Instead, they faced a week of determined fighting from the Soviet
warriors, as they nestled within the towers of the fortress,
forcing the invaders to bring in ever heavier artillery.
As many as 2,000 of the defenders, and over 600 German attackers
died. After a week, with supplies and ammunition running low, the
fighting was over. More than 6,000 Soviet soldiers were captured.
Still, some did not surrender. Groups of soldiers hid in the
basements, picking off German soldiers one by one, while sure
that they would soon be rooted out. The prolonged resistance,
which lasted into August that year gave the war one of its most
iconic phrases. An inscription was found on the wall: “I am
dying now, but I won’t surrender. Farewell, Motherland.”
Soon, Hitler and Mussolini himself visited the fortress, taking
photographs and admiring their new domain. But there were even
harder battles to fight.