Babruysk Fortress



Location: Babruysk   Map

Constructed: 1810- 1836


Description of Babruysk Fortress

Babruysk Fortress is a historic citadel situated in a Belarus city of Babruysk. Most of the historic castle was demolished and today lies in ruins. First Babruysk Fortress dates back to the Middle Ages. Original castle existed on the right bank of the Berezina River since the 14th century. As the military warfare changed so did military fortifications. Babruysk Fortress had to improve and much of the old structure was demolished to make way for a new fortress.


 Babruysk Fortress was constructed between 1810 and 1836 by the orders of the Russian Emperor Alexander I and under supervision of military engineer Teodor Narbutt. Babruysk Fortress was erected over a course of two decades incorporating parts of the older Polish fortress and Babruysk Jesuit Monastery. In the early 20th century the fortress lost much of its military significance and was turned into jail. During Russian Civil War Babruysk Fortress served as a concentration camp for the Polish occupation forces between 1919 and 1920 resulting in over 1000 deaths. During World War II it again was turned into concentration camp by the occupying German forces. Over 80,000 Soviet citizens were killed here. Much of the Babruysk Fortress lies in ruins spread over a large area.


History of Babruysk Fortress

In anticipation of a possible war with Napoleon, in March 1810, Minister of War Barclay de Tolly presented to Emperor Alexander I a memorandum - “On the Protection of the Western Limits of Russia”. The note outlined a plan for preparing the western regions of the Russian Empire for war, and proposed new defensive fortifications as bridge fortifications. The construction of new fortresses was supposed to close the gap with a width of 1200 versts between the existing fortresses of Riga and Kiev.

It was supposed to lay fortifications in Dinaburg, Rogachev and Bykhov. After inspecting the western border and reconnaissance of the area, Major General of the Engineering Corps Karl Opperman, having examined the ideas of lieutenant engineer Theodor Narbutt, began to insist on building a fortress on the Berezina River in Bobruisk as an alternative to the fortress near Rogachev on the Dnieper. On June 20, 1810, Alexander I finally approved the master plan of the Bobruisk fortress developed by Opperman.

According to Opperman’s plan, nothing more than the founding of the old Jesuit church, which was being rebuilt into a Zeichhaus, should have been left over a 400-year-old city. The entire territory of the historically formed city on the west coast of the Berezina was assigned to the fortress. Residents were offered free land around the fortress, where forstadts were designed.

For the new fortress, clearing the territory along the Berezina was required. The soldiers demolished stone and wooden houses, Catholic and Orthodox churches, a chapel, a monastery, one large and two smaller palaces, a medieval fortress and fortifications, the building of the town hall, and other city buildings.

The creation of a fortress in Bobruisk began on June 4, 1810. It was erected by thousands of soldiers and serfs of the Mogilev, Minsk, Chernihiv provinces. Materials were delivered from Ukraine, Karelia, the Caucasus, the Urals. Major General E.P. Felkersam was appointed the builder of the fortress, and Major General Gabriel Ignatiev commanded the troops at the construction site. According to the design of Opperman, the fortress was planned on the right bank of the Berezina River, at the mouth of the Bobruisk River. On the other side of the river, it was planned to erect an advanced fortification, and on the left bank was supposed to be located tet-de-pon. Free land was allotted for residents around the fortress; forstadts were designed there. The work was carried out intensively and by the end of 1811 forts, directed to the north, west and south, already possessed an impressive defensive force. The main defense line of the fortress consisted of 8 bastions. In July 1811, the Bobruisk fortress was ranked as the first class of defensive structures of the Russian Empire.

By the beginning of the war, 344 guns were put into the arsenal of the fortress; its garrison numbered about 4 thousand people. It was considered an important stronghold of the Russian army on the path of the southern strategic flank of the Napoleonic troops.

At the beginning of hostilities, the fortress played a significant role in ensuring the movement of the 2nd Western Army of Bagration. During their stay in Bobruisk on July 6-8, 1812, the 2nd Army replenished food supplies here, received reinforcements (about 1.5 thousand people), and left the sick and wounded in the fortress, which allowed it to safely connect with the 1st Army under the command of Barclay de Tolly in Smolensk. Over the next four months (July-November), the Bobruisk fortress was blocked by the Polish corps of General Dombrowski (about 12 thousand people). Active hostilities around the city, with the exception of hassles of small patrols on long-distance approaches to the citadel, were not conducted. Nevertheless, military historians note the important role of the Bobruisk fortress in the war of 1812. Mikhailovsky-Danilevsky wrote: “The successful choice of the place where Bobruisk was built rendered a great, invaluable service in World War II. No fortress in Russia has ever been as useful as Bobruisk in 1812. If there was no fortress, it would be impossible for Prince Bagration to join the first army before the end of August, and then it would already be in the vicinity of Moscow. ”