Before MUD – FIM Motocross World Championship there was Rasputitsa

The rasputitsa refers to the biannual seasons when unpaved roads become difficult to traverse in parts of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. The word may be translated as the “quagmire season” because during this period the large flatlands become extremely muddy and marshy, as do most unpaved roads. The term applies to both the “spring rasputitsa” and “autumn rasputitsa” and to the condition of the roads during those seasons. The rasputitsa occurs more strongly in the spring due to the melting snow but it usually recurs in the fall due to frequent heavy rains.

The rasputitsa seasons of Russia are well known as a great defensive advantage in wartime. Napoleon found the mud in Russia to be a very great hindrance in 1812. During the Second World War the month-long muddy period slowed down the German advance during the Battle of Moscow, and may have helped save the Soviet capital, as well as the presence of “General Winter”, that followed the autumn rasputitsa period.
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Von Weichs’s 2 Army was still clearing up the area of the encircled Bryansk Front near the Desna and had been left far behind the spearhead of the advance and out of touch with the main enemy. In the second week in October 1941, the clearing operations having been completed, its three infantry corps began their long march eastwards through the streaming rain and mud. The men were exhausted after the break-in battles and mopping-up operations near Bryansk, but there was no question of giving them even a few days’ rest. Pursuit eastwards was the order of the day. Tired and verminous and soaked to the skin, boots and socks never dry, the infantry trudged slowly southeast from Bryansk along the Orel highway.

Infantry was the only arm capable of moving by its own efforts, even though this movement was hardly eight miles a day. With its few possessions on its back it moved itself, fed itself and quartered itself by living off the land, improved its own tracks and built its own light bridges. Not only did it march, but it found the willing hands which pulled the horses out of mud-filled shell holes and gullies, and provided the heaving backs which got the ditched wagon wheels turning again; yet without the horse the infantry itself would have been lost.

Most roads and tracks had disappeared and those remaining were so few in number that several divisions were allocated to a single route, this congestion slowing down the rate of march. No wheeled motor vehicles accompanied the columns. Although the progress of the dismounted men was painfully slow, that of the horses in harness was even slower. In the end the infantry companies were ordered on ahead and they left behind them the vehicle-loaded stores, heavy radio and ammunition and the horse-drawn anti-tank guns and artillery. Fleeter of foot, they began to overtake other units and formations, no further effort being made to keep to a march table, so that regiments and divisions became mixed and broken up.

The hamlets through which the columns passed were crammed with German troops; too often the towns and bigger villages had been destroyed in the fighting or gutted by the local inhabitants, who looted all materials and fixtures which could possibly be carried off. For the most part the troops remained out at night in the rain and the cold; sleep was out of the question. Although movement was not delayed by the enemy or by mines, it took von Weichs’s marching infantry formations fourteen days to cover 125 miles. Even then, most of the equipment had been left behind.

By 26 October, when the van of 2 Army had reached the area between Mtsensk and Kursk, it was directed to thrust on Efremov, Elets and the area north of Voronezh. Von Weichs, having crossed Guderian’s lines of communication from left to right, was moving away from him and could no longer cover the 2 Panzer Army right flank.

Immediately to the north of von Weichs’s 2 Army, 52 German Infantry Division moved near the inter-army boundary towards Kaluga on the far southern flank of von Kluge’s 4 Army. The formation had started from Sukhinichi, leaving the forest belt behind it, when, on 13 October, the rains began in earnest. The general service army carts were ditched because they were slung too low, and Russian farm vehicles were seized from the fields. The loads which could not be carried forward were abandoned and the remaining horses pooled in order to provide spare teams. Only two light guns in each battery were taken on, together with their limbers, each piece being dragged forward by ten horses, while the unharnessed animals brought up the rear.

Within two days the horses, up to the knees and sometimes the girths in mud, had lost their shoes, but in the soft going could manage without them. The infantrymen, whose calf boots were frequently sucked from their legs as they waded on, knee deep in water, were not so fortunate. Their boots were already in pieces. After the first day’s march the horse-drawn guns and baggage, light though it was, could not keep up with the men, and the troops went rationless except for the tea and potatoes looted from the farms. No longer could they rely on the support of the gun and mortar in clearing up enemy resistance.

Unwittingly, they longed for the coming of the front and the winter.

LINK

German Panzers 1943

The second main tank used by the Panzerwaffe at this time was the Pz.Kpfw. IV. Already by the beginning of June 1943 – when there were 932 Pz. Kpfw. IIIs and 1 ,047 Pz. Kpfw. IVs available – this tank was being used in the Panzerwaffe units in greater numbers than the Pz. Kpfw. III . In this photo we see a platoon of Pz. Kpfw. IV Ausf. H with three-tone camouflage passing by the ruins of a town in the Kursk area. The Pz.Kpfw. IV was better in combat than the Soviet T-34, and the quality of German steel was better than Soviet’s.

 

The best medium tank of the second part of WWI I – the Pz. Kpfw. V Panther – suffered from some technical problems in the middle of 1943. Nevertheless, it was a very dangerous weapon to the Soviet tank crews, who appreciated the tank very much. Here a soldier poses with a Pz.Kpfw. V Ausf. D belonging to the staff of an Abteilung. The tank is marked with the two-color (red outlined with white) tactical marking “A13”. Note the camouflage of the tank; it is covered with solid coat of brown and green spots, so the dark yellow color is only occasionally visible. The Ausf. D had no machine gun in the glacis plate, this being the standard for the tanks and self-propelled guns of the Panzerwaffe during this period of the war.

Tank units used Tigers during the fighting on the Kursk bulge – two battalions and four companies with 146 Pz. Kpfw. Vis. They lost 33 tanks, but destroyed about 30 times more Soviet tanks, many other weapons, as well as field installations. They lead almost every assault and gave immediate destructive support for attacking infantry. This photo shows one of these Tigers, which carries the tactical number “321 ” and is painted in a two-color camouflage scheme.

ENTER THE PANTHER

One vehicle with more than its fair share of teething problems was the new Panzer Mk V, better known as the Panther. With the emergence of the Russian T-34 in the autumn of 1941 the Germans quickly realised that they would have to come up with an effective antidote. The plans for a heavier tank were revisited and work began in earnest. The resultant design produced a 45-ton tank, which was still classed as a `medium’ tank by the Germans.

The Panther had the same sloping armour, wide tracks and a similar 75mm gun. Developed with breakneck speed, and rushed into production, the Panther made its debut at the Battle of Kursk, before it was really proven. Engine and transmission problems abounded. Engine fires were commonplace, dozens broke down and some vehicles went into their first action pouring fire from the exhaust pipes. Not surprisingly, the Panther was a disappointment at Kursk, but once it had overcome its initial teething problems, it would prove itself the best `medium’ of the war.

The Panther was a far better vehicle than the T-34 but it was never to be available in the quantities which the war in the East demanded. Although 6,000 would be built, that was never enough, as the numbers destroyed always kept pace with supply.

The advent of the Panther and the Tiger represented almost the end of the evolutionary trail in the Second World War. German tank sizes had steadily increased, from the 6-ton Panzer I to the 22-ton Panzer III and now onto the 62-ton Tiger. It would reach a peak with the 70-ton Tiger B, or King Tiger. The weight and superior armour certainly made the difference, but the quality had been achieved at the expense of quantity and it was quantity which Germany needed.

THE TIGER IN RUSSIA

The Tiger first saw action near Leningrad in August 1942. The results were poor due to inadequate infantry protection and poor deployment. The Russians were able to knock the tanks out by aiming at the tracks. The Germans quickly learned their lesson and future use of the Tiger I was carefully managed. The first large employment of the tank was at Kursk, when approximately one hundred were used. Almost half of these were issued to the elite formations of the Waffen-SS and the Grossdeutchland Division. The Tiger I quickly earned a fearsome reputation among its enemies. This tank only saw action for two years, but its reputation still endures today.

Unlike the Panther, the Tiger was designed on familiar German lines, but all the dimensions were increased. The main armament was the 8.8cm Kw. K 36, which was essentially the 8.8cm Flak 36 adapted for turret mounting. The mounting of such a heavy gun raised considerable problems of rigidity, and consequently the hull was constructed of large plates entirely welded together. The superstructure was made up in one unit, and welded to the hull. The turret wall was made from a single large piece of armour, 82mm thick, bent into a horseshoe shape. To give further protection all the armour plates were interlocked, in addition to being welded. The armour of the Tiger, at the time of its appearance, was the thickest ever to be fitted on any German tank; the front vertical plate was 102mm thick and the hull sides 62mm.

The suspension, which employed interleaved, Christie-type bogie wheels with a very wide track, was reasonably simple and was an effective solution to the problems of such a large and heavy vehicle.

The Tiger engine required very skilled driving and maintenance to get the best performance, and in the hands of insufficiently trained crews mechanical troubles were apt to appear. This characteristic was the tank’s principal disadvantage.

THE TIGER IN ACTION

The five-man crew was the standard for all German medium and heavy tanks. The crew of a Tiger consisted firstly of the commander, who was in charge of the vehicle and selected targets. He also fired the turret machine gun. Next came the gunner, who sat next to the commander and targeted his enemies through his gun sights. In many respects, he was the most vital member of the crew. In battle, every shot had to count. The flight of a shell is affected by many factors, including wind direction, rain, snow and other atmospheric conditions. The gunner had to gauge the range to the target, allow for any climatic factors and compensate for the speed of any moving targets, which were more difficult to hit. One miss could allow an enemy tank to get in the first vital shot, which spelt death in the tense tank duels of the Second World War.

The main 88mm armament of the Tiger was aimed and fired as a result of a team effort. It was the job of all members of the Tiger crew to use their vision devices to identify potential targets and to report them to the commander. The Tiger commander would then prioritise the target and would give orders to engage it. The gunner would traverse the Tiger’s turret using a hydraulic system controlled by a foot pedal, aim the gun using a binocular telescope sight and then fire the gun using an electrical ignition system.

The loader was responsible for selecting the correct type of ammunition from the ammunition bins, which were included in the Tiger’s structure, and using an automatic or semi-automatic loading system to load the gun.

After each engagement he also had the laborious job of emptying the shell cases and restocking the tank with the cumbersome rounds for the main gun.

Inside the hull, towards the front of the vehicle, sat the driver. On his right was the radio operator, who fulfilled the vital communications function, and also manned the hull machine gun.

The usual practice was for the crew of a tank to paint a white ring around the gun barrel for every enemy tank destroyed. Some crews were so successful that a thick white ring had to be painted, representing ten kills. The most successful commanders proudly carried an array of kill rings like so many strutting peacocks.

Russian emigration in Germany – Post 1917

Many Russian emigrants left Germany in 1933, or soon after; among them were Simon Dubnov, Grigorii Landau, Semen Frank, Leonid Pasternak, Roman Gul’ and Vladimir Nabokov. Many others put their faith in the anti-Bolshevism of the new regime and did not reject it until much later, as was the case with the philosophers Ivan Il’in and Boris Vysheslavtsev. A good number offered their services as Russian National Socialists to various organizations of the new order – not always to their satisfaction, as the Third Reich viewed the emigrants as moaners and schemers, an egoistical bunch who needed watching and bringing into line. But a good many of them collaborated with the Nazi authorities up to the bitter end, while dozens of those who had once sought refuge in Berlin were later hunted down and killed all over Europe – this was the fate of Mikhail Gorlin and Raisa Bloch in Paris, and of Simon Dubnov in Riga, to name but three.

For the majority of the emigrants the onset of Nazi rule merely meant that life went on, with community activities, functions, balls, anniversaries, job-hunting and the like. Even Russian Jews in Berlin were long unaware of the seriousness of their situation. In 1936 the ‘Russian Intermediary Office’ was reconstituted under the direction of General Biskupskii, above all, in order to sort out the rival emigrant organizations. It also meant that it had to accept a number of language directives, such as those issued after the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in August 1939 and the invasion of Poland, under which they had to agree that the pact was entirely in the interest of the Russian people.

The decisive turning point did not, of course, come until the start of the German invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. Now many emigrants saw themselves presented with the opportunity to return home and to turn the slogan of the ‘anti-Bolshevik struggle’ into deeds – alongside the Wehrmacht, the SS and the Special Units.

A good number of emigrants collaborated with the Germans in order to work towards this goal. Russian emigrants in countries occupied by the Wehrmacht reported to the Russian Intermediary Offices in Paris, Warsaw and Brussels, took the oath of loyalty to the Third Reich (as Generals Golovin, Kusonskii and von Lampe did) and then reported to their units, while suspicious or uncooperative members of the emigrant community were harassed and sometimes even imprisoned. The attitude of the German authorities to the emigrants was, though, inconsistent and ambivalent: on the one hand the emigrants were needed, on the other hand they were regarded as unreliable – after all, it was Hitler’s watchword that ‘none but Germans should be allowed to bear arms.’ The deployment of Russian emigrants was therefore subject to various limitations: emigrants of the first generation and former members of the Red Army found it difficult to agree on things, some German organizations had great suspicion of the ‘Russians’ as such, while the competing plans of the Germans lacked uniformity. The idea of forming a Russian Liberation Army under General Andrei Vlasov, who had been captured in July 1942, was postponed time and again because of German anxiety about arming foreigners, and it was not deployed until spring 1945. Emigrants from the inter-war years joined the Vlasov army and the Wehrmacht as translators, specialists and commanders of Russian voluntary units; about 1,500 Russian emigrants from France joined the Wehrmacht, while ca. 1,200 from Germany were assigned to it as translators. As a precautionary measure lists were put together of emigrant experts who would be able to take part in the administration and reconstruction of the occupied territories. Hundreds of Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian and other emigrants worked as translators in the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories, the Organizations Todt and Speer, in German counter-intelligence and the Reich Propaganda Ministry. Senior officers from the White Russian emigration (Generals Arkhangel’skii, von Lampe, Dragomirov, Golovin, Kreiter, Cossack atamans Abramov, Balabin and Shkuro) joined the Vlasov movement, as did representatives of new organizations that had only been formed in exile, but this too was not without its problems, as the suspicious Gestapo followed the emigrants’ every step.

Some of the leading representatives of emigration who collaborated with the Wehrmacht were captured after the victory of the Red Army in the East, deported and tried in Moscow or Kharkov, and subsequently executed. Those who could flee to the Western zones of Germany after the War disappeared in the second wave of refugees.

ROA (Vlasov’s army)

Private of the ROA (Vlasov’s army), 1942-45
01 – Dutch field jacket with ROA collar tabs and shoulder straps, Heeres eagle on the right breast
02 – M-40 trousers
03 – dog tag
04 – M-34 forage cap with ROA badge
05 – boots
06 – M-42 leggins
07 – German main belt with ammo pouches
08 – M-24 grenade
09 – M-31 canteen
10 – bayonet
11 – M-39 webbing
12 – M-35 helmet with camouflage net
13 – “Novoye Zhizn” magazine for the “Eastern” volunteers
14 – 7,62 mm Mosin 1891/30 rifle

Russia was far from a monolithic structure. It contained numerous diverse ethnic groups, many of which had long histories of resenting Russian suzerainty and domination. Combined with the long standing hatred of Russia, the new Soviet regime was often even more hated, even by the Russians, so when the Germans invaded, their initial reception was often one of liberator than one of conqueror. Deserters appeared in the hundreds before German units offering their services in any capacity and they were taken in gladly. They were given the names “Hilfsfreiwilliger” (Volunteer Helpers) or Hiwis for short. Initially, their functions were the various menial tasks such as cooking, digging latrines, officers’ batmen, etc., but more than once they jumped into combat roles when the opportunity arose. Hundreds of the Hiwis were gradually sucked into the role of combatant, despite the lack of orders and the German ethnic attitudes of the period.

The 134th Infantry Division began openly enlisting Russians in July 1941. Other divisions refrained from such overt violation of Hitler’s orders, but more than willingly took the Russians on an unofficial basis. During the winter of 1941/42 the first Osttruppen or Eastern Troops were formed. By early 1942 six battalions of Ostruppen were formed in Army Group Center under Oberst von Tresckow. These units were given territorial designations, like Volga, Berezina, and Pripet. Initially they were used in the rear on anti-partisan operations with the security divisions, but slowly they were brought forward into the front lines.

In early 1942 racist elements of the German hierarchy brought this to Hitler’s attention. He responded to the movement by prohibiting the use of Russian “sub humans” as soldiers and on 2/10/42 issued a Fuhrer Order that limited their use of those existent units to rear area operations only. Despite his obvious displeasure, the Osttruppen continued to expand. The OKH was to authorize the use of Hiwis up to 10% to 15% of divisional strength and by August 1942 official regulations were issued governing uniforms pay, decoration, and insignia. By early 1943 an estimated 80,000 Russians were serving the Wehrmacht in Ostbataillonen.

The formation of Russian units in the German army would have been quite limited had not the Soviet General Vlassov been captured in July 1942. He had been a prominent general after the war erupted, but in March 1942 he was ordered to liberate Leningrad with the 2nd Soviet Assault Army. His attack failed and his army of nine infantry divisions, six infantry brigades, and an armored brigade were surrounded, abandoned by Stalin, and crushed, leaving the Germans with 32,000 prisoners. Amongst the German High Command there had always some hope of forming a Russian army to assist them in the conquest of Soviet Russia. As time progressed, it became apparent that Vlassov was the ideal man to form this army.

As the war progressed and the German effort in Russia began failing, Hitler was eventually persuaded to permit the formation of the army. The first steps occurred in August 1942 when General Koestring formed an Inspectorate which was to organize Caucasian troops. Koestring, however, ignored this limitation and took all volunteers possible. When Koestring retired in January 1943 the post of General der Ostruppen was created and given to General Hellmich, who had no previous experience with the Russians. Fortunately, Hellmich and Koestring’s service overlapped and the two men agreed on Koestring’s earlier decisions.

The Osttruppen was absorbing not only Caucasians, but Ukrainians, Russians, Azberjainis, and Turkistanis. In January 1944 Koestring, now apparently out of retirement, took over from Hellmich with the new title General der Freiwilligen Verbaende (General of Volunteer Units). In the meantime, Hitler had authorized the formation of a Russian army under Vlassov. In November 1942 a Russian National Committee was established in Berlin with Vlassov serving as Chairman. It then issued the Smolensk Manifesto, calling for the destruction of Stalinism, the conclusion of an honorable peace with Germany, and Russian participation in the “New Europe.”

The German Army intelligence then proceeded to drop copies of leaflets over the Russian lines, as well as a carefully planned accident which resulted in their being dropped over German lines as well. It appears that Hitler had forbidden any release of this in the German press. During the winter of 1942/43, faced with the destruction of the 6th Army in Stalingrad and Rommel’s expulsion from North Africa, Hitler began to reconsider the role he had allocated to Vlassov’s Russkaia Osvoboditelnaia Armiia or ROA.

The desertion rate from the Soviet army rose to 6,500 in July 1943, compared to 2,500 the previous year, as a result of ROA propaganda and the future looked bright. However, in September 1943 Hitler announced that the ROA was to be dissolved. The German generals pleaded with him, pointing out that the Russian front would collapse, as there were currently 78 Ost battalions, 122 companies, one regiment and innumerable supply, security, and other units then serving with the German army, not to mention the thousands of Hiwis in the German units. Certainly there were 750,000 Russians then serving in the German army and some estimates go so far as to suggest that 25% of the German army on the Russian front was made up of ethnic Russians.

A screaming and raging Hitler was eventually brought to compromise and only those units whose loyalty was suspect were to be disbanded and the rest would be transferred to the West. This, being left in Wehrmacht hands, the disbandings were limited to 5,000 men and serious procrastination prevented many transfers westwards. However, by October 1943 large numbers of Ostruppen did begin moving west. This was accomplished by exchanging Ost Battalions for German battalions in the west. These Ost battalions were then formally incorporated into the German divisions where they were assigned.

The morale of the Osttruppen began to collapse. Vlassov was persuaded to write them an open letter announcing these transfers were only a temporary expediency and hinted at bigger and better things. When the allies invaded Normandy they were startled to find that many of their German prisoners were, in fact, Russians and soon had 20,000 ROA prisoners in custody. Though Himmler refused to believe Koestring’s reports, at that time there were 100,000 eastern volunteers in the Luftwaffe and Navy and another 800,000 in the German Army.

The continuing reversal of German military hopes was slowly bringing even the SS around to reconsidering the desirability of Russian troops. In the east the SS was, by late 1943, regularly rounding up 15-20 year olds to serve as Flak helpers. There was discussion of the creation of an Eastern Moslem SS Division and several Slavic legions were forming in the SS. Himmler soon began considering himself as the leader of the “Army of Europe” and began taking any non-German human material he could find into his hands. It was not long before he saw Vlassov’s ROA as another force that could be added.

Himmler approached Vlassov and proposed the formation of a Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia (Komitet Osvobozhdeniia Narodov Rossi or K.O.N.R.) It was to be allowed to raise an army of five divisions, two of which were to be raised immediately. The personnel would be drawn from the existing ROA units and from among the Ostarbeiter then in Germany. The first two units formed were placed under Vlassov’s command on 1/28/45, the 600th and 650th Russian Divisions. In Neuren an airforce or air division, was organized that consisted of an air transport squadron, a reconnaissance squadron, a flak regiment, a paratrooper battalion, and a flying training unit. This force of some 4,000 men was assigned to General V.I. Maltsev. On 2/1/45 Goering formally handed this division over to Vlassov’s command.

By March 1945 the KONR numbered some 50,000 men. The Cossack Cavalry Corps was promised to Vlassov by Himmler, as was the Russian Guard Corps in Serbia, but in fact neither was ever placed under his command. The KONR fought its first battle in February 1945 when a force of the 600th Division attacked in Pommerania and its engagement was a complete success. Hundreds of Soviet soldiers changed sides and joined it. In March it moved to the Oder front and was ordered to attack the Soviet army near Frankfurt. However, it was so pounded by the Soviets that it withdrew to the south and back into Czechoslovakia. On 5/5/45 the Czech communists began a revolt in Prague and Buniachenko ordered the 600th Division to assist them. Their assistance was refused by the Czechs and, as the war ended the next day, the division was taken prisoner by the Americans. The 650th Division, except for one regiment, were captured by the Russians and either executed or sent into the Russian Gulag. Vlassov was snatched from American hands by the Russians, suffered through a short show trial, and was quickly executed along with the major leaders of the KONR.

599TH RUSSIAN BRIGADE: Formed in April 1945 in Aalborg, Denmark, as part of the Liberation Russian Army under Vlassov. It contained:
1/,2/,3/1604th Grenadier Regiment (from 714th (Russian) Grenadier Regiment) 1/,2/,3/1605th Grenadier Regiment 1/,2/,3/1606th Grenadier Regiment
The division was intended to be expanded to form the 3rd Vlassov Division.

600TH (RUSSIAN) INFANTRY DIVISION Formed on 12/1/44 as part of the Russian Liberation Army under Vlassov with what was to have become the 29th Waffen SS Grenadier Division (1st Russian). On 2/28/45 it contained:
1/,2/1601st Grenadier Regiment 1/,2/1602nd Grenadier Regiment 1/,2/1603rd Grenadier Regiment 1/,2/,3/,4/1600th Artillery Regiment 1600th Division Support Units

650TH (RUSSIAN) DIVISION Formed in March 1945 as part of Vlassov’s Russian Liberation Army. The division was organized with prisoners of war and contained, on 4/5/45:
1/,2/1651st Grenadier Regiment 1/,2/1652nd Grenadier Regiment 1/,2/1653rd Grenadier Regiment 1/,2/,3/,4/1650th Artillery Regiment 1650th Divisional Support Units
The division was not fully formed and remained in Munsingen until overrun. On 17 January 1945 the organization of the 650th Infantry (Russian) Division was established as follows:
DIVISION STAFF: Division Staff (2 LMGs) 1650th (mot) Mapping Detachment 1650th (mot) Military Police Detachment (3 LMGs)
1651ST INFANTRY REGIMENT: REGIMENTAL STAFF Staff Staff Company (3 LMGs) 1 Signals Platoon 1 Engineer Platoon (6 LMGs) 1 Reconnaissance Platoon (3 LMGs) 1 Signals Platoon 2 BATTALIONS, each with 3 Infantry Companies (9 LMGs ea) 1 Heavy Company (8 HMGs, 4 75mm infantry support guns, 1 LMG & 6 80mm mortars)
13TH INFANTRY SUPPORT COMPANY: (2 150mm leIG, 1 LMG, 8 120mm mortars & 4 LMGs)
14TH PANZERJAGER COMPANY (54 Panzerschreck, 18 Reserve Panzerschreck & 4 LMGs)
1652ND INFANTRY REGIMENT: same as 1651st 1653RD INFANTRY REGIMENT: same as 1651st
1650TH (MOUNTED) RECONNAISSANCE BATTALION: 4 Squadrons, each with (9 LMGs, 2 80mm mortars)
1650TH PANZERJAGER BATTALION: 1 Staff 1 (mot) Staff Company (1 LMG) 1st Company (12 75mm PAK & 12 LMGs) 2nd (armored) Company 14 Assault Guns (sturmgeschutz) & 16 LMGs Detachment captured Russian tanks 3rd (mot) Flak Company (9 37mm Flak guns & 5 LMGs)
1650TH ARTILLERY BATTALION: 1 Staff 1 Staff Battery (1 LMG) 1ST, 2ND & 3RD BATTALIONS, each with: 1 Staff 1 Staff Battery (1 LMG) 2 105mm leFH Batteries (4 105mm leFH & 4 LMGs ea) 1 75mm Battery (6-75mm guns & 3 LMGs) 4TH BATTALION: 1 Staff 1 Staff Battery (1 LMG) 2 150mm sFH Batteries (6-150mm howitzers & 4 LMGs ea)
1650TH (BICYCLE) PIONEER BATTALION 2 (bicycle) Pioneer Companies, each with: (2 HMGs, 9 LMGs, 6 flame throwers & 2 80mm mortars) 1 Pioneer Company (2 HMGs, 9 LMGs, 6 flame throwers & 2 80mm mortars)
1650TH SIGNALS BATTALION: 1 (mixed mobility) Telephone Company (4 LMGs) 1 (mixed mobility) Radio Company (2 LMGs) 1 (mixed mobility) Signals Supply Detachment (2 LMGs)
1650TH FELDERSATZ BATTALION: 1 Supply Detachment 5 Replacement Companies, with a total of: (50 LMGs, 12 HMGs, 6 80mm mortars, 1 120mm mortar 1 75mm leIG, 1 75mm PAK, 1 20mm/37mm Flak, 2 flame throwers, 1 105mm leFH 18 , 6 Panzerschrecke, & 56 Sturm Gewehr 41
1650TH DIVISIONAL SUPPORT REGIMENT: SUPPLY TROOP: 1650th (mot) 120 ton Transportation Company (4 LMGs) 1/,2/1650th Horse Drawn (30 ton) Transportation Companies (2 LMGs ea) 1650th Horse Drawn Supply Platoon OTHER: 1650th Ordnance Troop 1650th (mot) Vehicle Maintenance Troop 1650th Supply Company (3 LMGs) 1650th (mot) Field Hospital 1650th (mot) Medical Supply Company 1650th Veterinary Company (2 LMGs) 1650th (mot) Field Post Office

In a parallel formation to the ROA and KONR another large force of Russians was formed in March 1942 by German Intelligence. This force was the Versuchsverband Mitte (Experimental Formation of Army Group Center). Though officially known as Abwehr Abteilung 203 the unit was to have several names – Verband Graukopf, Boyarsky Brigade, Russian Special Duty Battalion, Ostintorf Brigade, and finally the Russian National People’s Army (Russkaia Natsionalnaya Narodnaya Armiya or RNNA). The unit was started when a Russian émigré, Sergi Ivanov, recruited several prominent Russian prisoners of war and other Russian exiles, to the German cause. Ivanov, acting as a liaison officer for the Abwehr, worked with Igor Sakharov, son of a White Russian General and émigré to Germany, and slowly they organized a force of 3,000 former prisoners of war.

By December 1942 they had 7,000 men training. A brigade was formed consisting of four battalions, an artillery battalion, and an engineer battalion. The organization of the units was based on the Russian model. In August 1942 Colonel Boyarsky took command in December Feldmarschal von Kluge inspected the brigade, was pleased with what he saw, and expressed his pleasure with its actions in combat in the German rear in May 1942. He then stated that he would issue the unit German uniforms and weapons and split it into a number of infantry battalions, which would be assigned to various German combat divisions. This offhanded command shattered the brigade’s morale and 300 men promptly deserted. It had seen itself as the cadre of a Russian army of liberation. Despite their protests, the brigade was broken into the 633rd, 634th, 635th, 636th, and 637th Ost Battalions and employed in anti-Partisan operations.

Later Panzer Divisions – East

The motorized divisions were effectively the elite of the German infantry. In 1942-43 the 14,319-strong M1940 Motorized Divisions, with two motorized infantry regiments and motorized divisional support units and services, each received a Panzer and an anti-aircraft or assault gun battalion. On 23 June 1943 they were redesignated M1944 Armoured Infantry Divisions (singular: Panzergrenadierdivision), 14,738 strong with two motorized armoured infantry regiments (each 3,107 men) and one Panzer battalion (602 men and 52 tanks); seven divisional support units – one motorized artillery regiment (1,580 men), and field replacement (973 men), armoured reconnaissance (1,005 men), anti-tank (475 men), motorized anti-aircraft (635 men), motorized engineer (835 men) and motorized signals (427 men) battalions; plus 1,729-strong divisional services.

The Panzer divisions steadily lost effectiveness as their strength and weaponry declined. On 24 September 1943 all 15,600-strong M1941 Panzer Divisions were reorganized as M1944 Panzer Divisions. Each had an establishment of 14,013 German troops and 714 Hilfswillige, in a two-battalion Panzer regiment (2,006 men, 165 tanks), a 2,287-strong armoured infantry regiment (one battalion on half-tracks), and a 2,219 motorized armoured infantry regiment; divisional support units were an armoured artillery regiment (1,451 men), and armoured field replacement (973 men), anti-aircraft (635 men), armoured reconnaissance (945 men), armoured anti-tank (475 men), armoured engineer (874 men) and armoured signals (463 men) battalions; 1,979 personnel provided additional divisional services.

On 24 March 1945 all armoured divisions were ordered to be reorganized as 11,422-strong M1945 Panzer Divisions, with a mixed 1,361-strong Panzer regiment with one Panzer (767 men and 52 tanks) and one half-track-mounted armoured infantry (488 men) battalion, two motorized armoured infantry regiments (each 1,918 men), and support units and services as before.

Barbarossa – Panzer Divisions

The first weeks of Barbarossa saw the Panzers make rapid advances and Soviet forces taking heavy losses, outshining the German achievements of 1940. However, problems soon surfaced. The lack of a suitable road network slowed down the German follow-up infantry and supplies, with the result that the Panzers failed to complete the encirclement of the enemy. The infantry took longer than expected to mop up enemy forces and the Panzer Divisions became worn out; to compound matters, the Soviet mobilization came sooner than expected. Autumn, with its unfavourable climate, soon bogged down Operation Taifun, the German assault on Moscow. Time and space – two unforeseen factors – took their toll, and eventually the Soviet counter-offensive of December 1941 brought the German Army and the Panzerwaffe face to face with their first defeat, which was to have dire consequences for the Germans.

It did not take long before the war on the Eastern Front exposed the shortcomings of German doctrine. The lack of an adequate road network and accurate maps, the erroneous estimates for fuel consumption (60,000 litres of fuel daily for a 200-tank Panzer Regiment soon turned into 120,000 and 180,000 litres daily) and the wear and tear on the vehicles greatly influenced the Panzer Divisions’ capabilities, along with the inability of the infantry to keep pace with the armoured advance. Until 27 June 1941 Panzergruppen 2 and 3 advanced 320km with a daily rate of 64km, but this shrank to 20km a day in early July. Likewise, 8. Panzer Division’s daily rate of advance was 7Skm until 26 June, but this dropped to 32km in the first half of July. Autumn brought the first bad weather, and the resulting quagmire, which restricted the Panzer Divisions to movement on the main roads, made manoeuvre and encirclement practically impossible. Winter combined with improvements to the Soviet defences, with their anti-tank guns deployed forward, further reduced the mobility of the Panzer Divisions. Eventually, the severe losses suffered during the first Soviet counter-offensive and the subsequent reorganization of the Panzer Divisions crushed any German hopes of victory.

End of 1941
The blitzkrieg team was frayed. The Luftwaffe’s operational losses had been compounded by the problems of maintenance at improvised forward air strips, and crew fatigue the system refused to recognize. The 2nd Air Fleet, Army Group Center’s opposite number, had approximately 170 single-engine fighters, about the same number of bombers, and 120 ground attack planes. The artillery’s material losses had been limited, but its horses were dying, its vehicles were breaking down, and its ammunition reserves were limited. The infantry was tired. Average divisional strengths had been reduced by a quarter—more in the rifle companies. Morale was still high; and to some degree the shortage of men was compensated by material. Increasing numbers of 50mm antitank guns, effective against T-34s, were coming on line. Army Group Center had 14 battalions of the assault guns that had demonstrated their worth over and over again in all sectors. In the final analysis, however, the attack on Moscow would go as far as the panzers could carry it.

The code name was Taifun, and reality approached rhetoric. The initial intention had been to redeploy 4th Panzer Group on Hoth’s left and launch a two-pronged attack. The rapid victory at Kiev enabled Guderian’s group to be brought up on the right. When the number was finalized, Bock had fourteen panzer and eight motorized divisions, more than 1,000 tanks on a 500-mile front. The panzers were not what they had been on June 21. Casualties had been heavy and replacements inadequate. But they remained the cream of the army: tempered but not yet brittle, respecting their enemy but still convinced they had the Soviets’ measure.

Guderian’s panzer divisions were still at about half their assigned tank strength. The situation in Groups 3 and 4 was better. Two of Hoepner’s divisions had even enjoyed full, albeit brief, refits in France. The problem was sustainability. Shifting Panzer Groups 2 and 4 quickly and smoothly showcased the quality of German staff planning and traffic management, but it came with a price in wear and tear. Hitler had ordered engine production allocated to new vehicles, and the army group had received only 350 replacements. The shortage of other vehicles exceeded 20 percent. Fuel consumption was outstripping the Reich’s production capacity. Existing supplies remained difficult to move forward due to the still-inadequate rail system.

Pavlov’s House

The Battle of Stalingrad was a major event during World War II in which Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union for control of Stalingrad in southwestern Russia. The battle was marked by extreme brutality, disregard for military law, and massive casualties on both sides, nearly two million people died. At one point, the Third Reich captured 90% of the city, but the Soviets prevailed in the fight. During the battle, the Red Army attempted to occupy strategic positions throughout the city. One of these places was Pavlov’s House, which is a four-story building in the middle of Stalingrad and constructed parallel to the Volga River.

Pavlov’s House is located on a cross-street and provided a 1 kilometer line of sight to the north, south, and west of Stalingrad. In September 1942, the house was attacked and captured by the Germans. In response, the Red Army ordered a platoon led by Junior Sgt. Yakov Pavlov to take it back. After an intense battle where 26 of the 30 Soviets in the platoon were killed, the Red Army was able to capture Pavlov’s House. The house was then fortified and turned into a stronghold. The building was equipped with machine guns, anti-tank rifles, and mortars. It was surrounded by four layers of barbed wire, minefields, and the Soviets set up machine-gun posts in every available window. The supplies were brought into the fort through an underground communications trench.
During the battle, the Germans attacked Pavlov’s House several times a day. Each time the Red Army would unload a barrage of machine gun fire and kill dozens of Nazis. The Russians mounted a PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle on the roof of Pavlov’s House and destroyed a large number of tanks. The structure came to symbolize the Soviet resistance and was marked as a fortress on several Nazi maps. For his actions in the war, Yakov Pavlov was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union. Soviet general Vasily Chuikov famously said that the Germans lost more men trying to take Pavlov’s House than they did Paris. After the war, Pavlov’s House was reconstructed and turned into an apartment building. A memorial set of bricks from the battle remains at the site and is located on the East end of the house facing the Volga River.

Soviet WWII Uniforms

Private, Red Army, 1939-41
01 – Model 1940 “ushanka” cap
02 – Model 1935 coat, with service branch insignia on the collar tabs
03 – felt boots
04 – main belt
05 – 7,62 mm Tokarev SVT-40 rifle
06 – bayonet
07 – ammo pouches
08 – bag for the gas mask
09 – folding shovel

 NKVD lieutenant, 1940-41
01 – Model 1935 NKVD cap
02 – Model 1925 sweatshirt, lieutenant insignia on the red (NKVD) collar tabs, metal stars on the sleeves
03 – NKVD service breeches
04 – boots
05 – main belt
06 – holster for the Nagant 1895 revolver
07 – model 1932 map pouch
08 – “Veteran NKVD soldier” badge, established 1940
09 – Order of the Red Star
10 – military ID book
11 – ammo for the Nagant revolver

 Soviet infantry, 1941
01 – Model 1940 steel helmet
02 – “Telogreika” jacket
03 – field trousers
04 – boots
05 – 7,62 mm Mosin 91/30 rifle
06 – rifle oiler
07 – Model 1930 ammo pouches
08 – personal dressing
09 – military ID
10 – synthetic leather map pouch

 Soviet infantry officer, 1943
01 – model 1943 “gimnastiorka” sweatshirt, officers’ version
02 – model 1935 breeches
03 – model 1935 forage cap
04 – model 1940 helmet
05 – model 1935 officers’ belt and webbing
06 – holster for the Nagant 1895 revolver
07 – map pouch
08 – officers’ boots

 Red Army officer, Reconnaissance unit, ca. 1943
01 – Model 1935 forage cap
02 – camouflage clothing, autumn variant
03 – 7,62 mm PPS-43 SMG
04 – tarpaulin ammo pouch for 3 PPS magazines
05 – Model 1935 officers’ belt
06 – leather holster with 7,62mm TT pistol
07 – Model 1940 assault knife
08 – Adrianov compass
09 – personal dressing
10 – officers’ boots