In the summer of 2019, I spent my summer vacation in the Republic of Belarus. One of the stages of my journey was a visit to the famous Brest Fortress, where I paid tribute to the memory of the fallen heroes who took their first battle here in June 1941.
A very majestic and unique atmosphere reigns here. Passing the ruins of the border guards’ barracks, it seems that the sounds of rifle and machine-gun shots, the screams of opponents fighting in hand-to-hand combat can be heard.
Kholm gate. Silence. I stand here for exactly one minute, mournfully bowing my head in memory of the commissar Fomin who was shot here. Tears are involuntarily welling up in my eyes.
Bank of the river Mukhavets, overgrown with sedge. It was here that the brave men tried to break through to fill the flasks with water for their wounded comrades. Many did not come back.
The eternal flame and the main monument of the fortress. Granite slabs with the names of the fallen heroes. A minute of silence. They stood to death, glory to the heroes!
Brest Fortress (Belarusian: Брэсцкая крэпасць, Bresckaja krepasć; Polish: Twierdza brzeska), formerly known as Brest-Litoŭsk Fortress, is a 19th-century fortress in Brest, Belarus. In 1965, the title “Hero Fortress” was given to the fortress to commemorate the defence of the frontier stronghold during the first week of the Operation Barbarossa when Axis forces invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. The title “Hero Fortress” corresponds to the title “Hero City” that the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union awarded to twelve Soviet cities.
The Brest fortress has sustained its original outline of a star shaped fortification since its construction in the early 19th century. The Citadel, the core of the fortress, was on the central island formed by the Bug River and the two branches of the Mukhavets River. The island was skirted by a ring of a two-storied barrack with 4 semi-towers. The 1.8 km long barrack comprised 500 rooms to accommodate 12,000 soldiers within thick walls built from super strong red bricks. Originally there were 4 gates to enter the Citadel. Today only Kholm Gate and Terespol Gate can be seen, most part of the barrack lies in ruins.
The Citadel was surrounded by 3 fortifications as bridgeheads, that were made up by branches of the Mukhavets River and moats (ditches), fortified by earthworks 10 m high with redbrick casemates inside. The 3 fortifications were named after two towns: Russian name for the city of Kobryn in Belarus, Terespol in Poland and Volyn, a historic region of Volhynia majorly located in Ukraine. The Kobrin Fortification was the biggest in the fortress, located in the northeastern part, shaped like a horseshoe, featured 4 fortification curtains, 3 detached ravelins and a lunette in the western part, East Fort and West Fort. The Terespol Fortification was the western bridgehead, featuring 4 detached lunettes. The Volyn Fortification was the southeastern bridgehead, featuring 2 fortification curtains with 2 detached ravelins.
At 04:15 (Moscow time) June 22, 1941, the German Wehrmacht attacked the Brest fortress with no warning. The attack started with an artillery barrage, including 600 mm mortars of the second battery of the Heavy Artillery Battalion 833 Nr. III (“Thor”) and Nr. IV (“Odin”). The defenders were taken by surprise and initially failed to form a solid front. By 09:00 that day, the fortress was completely surrounded. The ensuing battle of Brest Fortress lasted for eight days, during which about 2000 soldiers and officers defending the castle died; the attackers’ casulties totaled to nearly 430 soldiers and officers.
The last defended object in the fortress was taken by June 29. All in all about 6,800 Soviet soldiers and commanders were captured.
According to Soviet propaganda, the battle lasted until 20 July, with no one surrendering to the Germans. This narrative became a testament to the resilience and courage of Red Army and Soviet people. A few Soviet soldiers did indeed hold out inside pockets of the fortress until as late as 23 July.
During a journey to different parts of the Eastern front, Hitler and Mussolini visited the fortress on August 26, 1941. Strong security measures were in place.
Date of visit: 24-25.07.2019
© Photos by Deniss Ignatjev