Tank Brigades, Stalingrad 1942

133rd Tank Brigade’s had nearly 17 heavy KV tanks. At the start of the battle on September 13, 1942, the 62nd Army had some 105 tanks (78 T-34s, 17 KV-1s and ten T-70s) in Stalingrad: in the city south of the Tsaritsa were the 26th and 133rd Tank Brigades with 35 tanks. In the central district were the 6th and 6th Guards Tank Brigades with 37 tanks, and near the Red October Factory in the north were the 27th and 189th Tank Brigades with 33 tanks. However, many of these AFVs were immobile and could only be used as fixed firing points.

 

One of the destroyed tanks of the 6th Tank Brigade at the intersection of Nevskaya and Karskaya streets, Zapolotnovsky district.

 

Disabled KV-1 from the 133rd Tank brigade on Sovetskaya Street, coming from the Astrakhansky bridge (October 1942)

In mid-July the Red Army began its defensive plan for Stalingrad by creating a new Stalingrad Front, its command transferred from Marshal of the Soviet Union Semyon Timoshenko to Lieutenant-General Vasily Gordov on July 23. Stalin reinforced the theatre with three fresh reserve armies (the 63rd, 62nd, 64th), the latter two (commanded by Major-General Vladimir Kolpakchi and Lieutenant-General Vasily Chuikov, respectively) being placed on the west bank of the Don to block any direct German advance to the city. In addition, two new tank armies, the 1st and the 4th, were formed and headed for deployment in the Don Bend.

Stalingrad itself was prepared for battle by the evacuation of livestock and food supplies, and the construction of bunkers, trenches and gun emplacements. Two days after Directive No. 45 was issued, the 6. Armee was dead in its tracks for lack of supplies, and was to remain so until the end of the first week of August, but now it was up against the new Stalingrad Front. This comprised seven armies, three of them fresh reserve armies and two in the process of conversion to tank armies, as well as the 8th Air Army. Paulus’s force of 290 panzers was thus facing over 1,200 Red Army tanks with more on the way.

The Stalingrad offensive got off to an inauspicious start as General der Panzertruppen Friedrich Paulus’s 6. Armee soon was struggling in front of stiffening resistance. The lead units encountered the main line of resistance of the Soviet 62nd and 64th Armies on July 23. Although seriously low on fuel and supplies, Paulus began to unseat Kolpakchi’s right flank and push him towards the Don to reach the strategic bridge over the river at Kalach. Significant Soviet armoured forces were sent to the Kalach bridgehead to bolster the position and by the 24th plans had been formulated for a counter-attack by the 1st and 4th Tank Armies, which included the 133rd and 158th Heavy Tank Brigades. Between July 25 and 28, 550 Soviet tanks were committed in the offensive to relieve the 62nd Army, being hammered mercilessly by the Luftwaffe on the open steppe while Paulus tried to hold on to and even complete his encirclement of the 62nd Army.

The first assault on Stalingrad city began at 13 of September 1942 Wehrmacht formations (295th and 71th Infantry Divisions of the 6. Armee, reinforced with SPGs of the 244th and 245th assault gun battalions) reached the western outskirts of the city from the Razgulyaevka road junction and railroad station Opytnaya near the height 112.5 and Aviagorodok. Soldiers of 42th Separate Rifle Brigade in their trenches near Dubovaya Balka would fight for four more days in half-encirclement before starting to retreat under constant German fire alongside Tsartitsa river to the banks of the Volga.

4. Panzer Armee units (24th and 14th Panzer divisions, 94th Infantry and 29th Motorized divisions) reached Stalingrad to the south of the Tsaritsa basin cutting off Chuikov’s 62nd Army from Shumilov’s 64th Army at the line between Minin outskirts – Kuporosny village – unfinished Amusement Park at the border between Kirov and Voroshilov districts of the city. Soon this area will become an arena for fierce fighting of 64th Army and their attempts to force their way back to the north.

The air was completely dominated by the Luftwaffe, the German spotters had the heights on the outskirts and almost the entire city which was stretched in the arc along the river could be seen like the palm of your own hand.

The headquarters of the 62nd Army (Pushkinskaya St., Building 3, underground command post) in the central district of the city and the main ferries were almost entirely undefended. Only the remains of the 272nd NKVD regiment reinforced by 28th detachment of anti-tank dogs were trying to entrench in the area of the Komsomolsky garden in the grove near train station. Soldiers of 84th separate construction battalion were building defensive positions in the ruins of the Stalingrad-I railway station and depot. The ferries were defended by cadets of the Ordzhonikidze Military School (115 soldiers) and several border guards from the 79th Border Guard Regiment. A joint force of people’s militia and NKVD (45 people) operated at the square of January 9. An armored train cruised along the Volga coast, several gun crews from the 748th anti-aircraft artillery regiment were entrenched near the Holzhunov monument (ferry No.2), covering the pier from the air.

The situation to the south of the Tsaritsa, in the area of mill (grain silos) and a cannery plant, was no better: the 35th Guards Rifle Division, the 244th Rifle Division, the 10th Rifle Brigade, the 271st NKVD Regiment and the 20th Motor Rifle Brigade were marked on the army maps in that area but existed only on paper. Their actual combat strength was only few hundred of men. The only mobile reserve, two battalions of KV-1 heavy tanks (14 vehicles) from the 133rd Tank brigade, defended the approaches to the grain silos.

Monday of the September 14 began very early. At 03:30 the 272nd Regiment of the 10th Division of NKVD, the combined regiment of the 399th Rifle Division and the surviving tanks of the 6th Tank Brigade made an attempt to take back the settlement by the airfield as Germans captured it by the evening of the previous day. The attack took place without recon, artillery preparation, aviation support and with no support from the neighbours on the right and left flanks. Commander of the battalion of the 272nd Regiment Dmitry Stupin and the senior political officer Vladimir Partugimov were killed after the attempt to personally lead the attack. The commanding officers of the combined regiment simply fled, the regiment commander and the commissar were shot the next day.

One of the few remaining T-34s of the 6th Tank brigade was the tank of Lieutenant Mikhail Vlasenko. He fought for ten hours straight on the previous day, constantly changing positions between the height of 112.5 and the Airfield settlement. The officers of the 6th Tank brigade was hastily evacuated the command post in the Aviagorodok to the river crossing and the remaining tanks of the brigade were left without control. Vlasenko’s tank broke one of its tracks, the turret was jammed. The loader was unable to withstand the tension of the battle and fled. The remaining crew (Vlasenko himself, driver Ivan Lyashenko and radio operator Norkin) repaired the track under fire and after avoiding an air attack took a position near the buildings of the Krasnie Kazarmy complex.

After a doomed attack attempt by the weakened units of the 62nd Army, the infantry and panzer divisions of the two German armies began their advance to the city. It was necessary to hold them out for the whole day before the arrival of the relatively fresh 13th Guards Rifle Division. The entire frontline of the 62nd Army from Mamayev Kurgan to the central railway station was wide open. After the aerial bombardment and artillery preparation, the infantry of the 71st and 295th Infantry divisions with the support of assault guns attacked. The goal for the Wehrmacht soldiers was simple – to break through all the way to the bank of Volga and the crossings.

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