Operation Uranus – Closing the Jaws of the Trap

Inadequate numbers of Romanian troops were charged with securing a lengthy front during the decisive fight for Stalingrad. The Red Army took advantage of the thinly spread Romanians when its major offensive against Axis forces was launched.

The Russian infantry was now moving steadily forward, leaving the armored and mechanized units to continue to work on closing the jaws of the trap. Rodin’s 26th Tank Corps took Perelazonvsky, about 80 miles northwest of Stalingrad. Butkov’s 1st Tank Corps snapped at the heels of Heim’s XLVIII Panzer Corps, which was starting to retreat to the southwest, while the 8th Guards Cavalry Corps continued its drive to the Chir River. Despite several difficulties, the 20th had been an excellent day for Uranus.

On Saturday, November 21, the 21st Army spearhead continued moving southeast, closing on Golubinski. Paulus, finally realizing the disaster overtaking him, asked Berlin for permission to pull his army out of Stalingrad and for a new defensive line on the Don. He then relocated his headquarters to Nizhnye Chriskaya, a village about 40 miles to the southwest.

Later that day, Paulus received two messages from Hitler. The first one read: “The commander-in-chief will proceed with his staff to Stalingrad. The 6th Army will form an all-round defensive position and await further orders.”

Later in the day, Hitler sent Paulus the following message: “Those units of the 6th Army that remain between the Don and the Volga will henceforth be designated Fortress Stalingrad.”

The two messages not only sealed the fate of the 6th Army, but they also meant that Zhukov would not have to worry about any kind of breakout attempt by the Stalingrad forces. In effect, it gave him the opportunity to start solidifying his inner ring around the city while concentrating on closing the outer ring.

Between the inner and outer rings, Germans and Romanians were still fighting. Heim’s XLVIII Panzer Corps, trying to make its way to the Chir River crossings, actively engaged Soviet forces in several pitched battles as they made their bid for freedom. General Mikhail Lascar had gathered remnants of the V Romanian Army Corps farther north and was resisting repeated Russian attempts to overrun his hastily constructed defenses. Hoping for German support, Lascar would wait in vain for any relief effort.

While these clashes were taking place in the north, Eremenko’s southern offensive was running into problems, despite having effectively split Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army in half. Most of Hoth’s German units were trapped inside the ever tightening ring around Stalingrad. The 4th Romanian Army, which had been subordinated to Hoth’s Panzer Army, was in disarray, and the 16th Panzergrenadier Division, the only German unit outside the Stalingrad sector, was making a fighting withdrawal through heavy opposition.

It was a golden opportunity for the Russians, but command failure was still a problem that plagued even the highest ranks of the Red Army. Tolbukhin’s 57th Army and Shumilov’s 64th Army were making good progress closing the inner ring around Stalingrad. Trufanov’s 51st Army was a different matter.

Once the breakthrough was achieved, Trufanov was supposed to send his 4th Mechanized Corps and 4th Cavalry Corps speeding northwest to Kalach while the bulk of his infantry was to head southwest as a shield for his left flank. The coordination and complexity of controlling both armored and infantry forces moving in different directions proved too much for Trufanov and his staff.

Instead of the quick thrust toward Kalach, the mechanized and cavalry forces moved sluggishly to the northeast, giving many of the retreating Romanians a chance to flee for their lives. The flanking infantry advanced even more slowly, amazing even Hoth as he followed their progress. Although his remaining forces could have been destroyed by a more aggressive Soviet posture, all he faced on the battlefield before him was “a fantastic picture of fleeing (Romanian) remnants.”

Sunday, November 23, found the Russians in the north advancing on the Don in force. In the predawn hours, an assault unit captured a newly constructed bridge across the river at Berezovski near the primary objective of Kalach. It was the first Soviet victory of the day, but it would not be the last.

By now, communications between the 6th Army headquarters and outlying units had almost completely broken down. At Kalach itself, word of the Soviet breakthrough only reached the garrison on the morning of the 21st. The troops occupying the town, which was located on the eastern bank of the Don, consisted mostly of maintenance and supply personnel and included the workshops and transport company of the 16th Panzer Division. They were augmented by a Luftwaffe flak battery and a small force of field police.

There had been no other word about the breakthrough since a message concerning the breakthrough in the south was received on the afternoon of the 21st. Tasked with defending both Kalach and the western bank, the garrison faced an impossible situation. The town commander had no idea that three Soviet corps were heading directly for him, and even if the Germans had known, the garrison had no way to stop them.

With the Berezovski Bridge in Russian hands, Maj. Gen. Rodin sent Lt. Col. G. N. Filippov and his 19th Tank Brigade speeding along the Don to Kalach. Using captured German vehicles to lead the way, Filippov’s men overwhelmed the detachment guarding the Don Bridge. On the western heights, Luftwaffe 88mm field guns opened fire and destroyed several Russian T-34 tanks.

Filippov, not waiting for his mechanized infantry, ordered a detachment of tanks to cross the river and form a bridgehead on the eastern banks while other T-34s continued to duel with the 88s. When the infantry did appear, he once again split his forces, sending some infantry across the river and ordering the rest to support the tanks trying to take the heights. A combined assault finally silenced the German guns, and the heights were taken by midmorning.

From their new vantage point, the Russian tanks on the western bank poured round after round into Kalach, while their comrades on the eastern bank stormed the town’s flimsy defenses. Those Germans that could escape loaded themselves on anything drivable and fled toward Stalingrad. By early afternoon, Kalach was in Russian hands.

In the south, Trufanov was finally getting his forces under control. Although his infantry was still slowly plodding westward and southwestward, his mechanized units were advancing at a faster pace. By the end of the day, Volsky’s 4th Mechanized Corps had taken Buzinovka and was moving toward Sovietski, a few miles east of Kalach near the junction of the Don and Karpovka Rivers.

In essence, by the end of the day any German or Romanian units east of the mechanized ring had only one place to go-Stalingrad. General Lascar, surrounded and running low on ammunition, refused several Russian requests to surrender. His force was overwhelmed, its survivors forming long gray columns marching east toward a very uncertain future.

By now, there was little to stop the northern and southern spearheads from completing their missions. Volsky reached the south bank of the Karpovka a little after noon on November 23. The 45th Tank Brigade of Kravchenko’s 4th Tank Corps arrived on the opposite bank around 4 PM. Zhukov’s trap was finally closed, with about 300,000 of the enemy in the giant cage called Stalingrad.

The meeting of the northern and southern pincers was later restaged for Soviet propaganda films, but there is little doubt that the emotions shown on the screen were the same felt by Volsky’s and Kravchenko’s troops as they first joined. Although Heeresgruppe A was able to make a masterful withdrawal from the Caucasus in the months to follow, the Red Army had bottled up the 6th Army and a good deal of the 4th Panzer Army. It was a great victory.

Operation Uranus was only the first step in the annihilation of Fortress Stalingrad, but it was a giant one. Despite control problems, Zhukov and his commanders in the field had shown that they had learned the lessons vital to modern mechanized warfare. Methods developed during Uranus were finely honed and used again by Zhukov and others in later operations that would shake the foundation of the German military and finally bring it crashing down.

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Operation Uranus – Don Front


On the Don Front, the going was more difficult. Batov threw his 65th Army at General Alexander Freiherr Edler von Daniels’s 376th Infantry Division, but his infantry made little progress against a determined German defense. Batov found easier going at the junction of the 376th and the 1st Romanian Cavalry Division, and the Soviets were able to advance as they pushed the Romanians aside. Von Daniels was forced to arc his left flank to prevent the Russians from breaking into his rear as a result of the Romanian cavalry’s retreat.

In Stalingrad, Paulus was informed of the Soviet attack at 9:45 AM, but he seemed relatively unconcerned. The German general ordered Heim’s XLVIII Panzer Corps to advance toward Kletskaya to support the Romanians and then went back to briefings concerning the fight for the city. Heim put his units on the road and headed toward his objective, but at 11:30 new orders arrived, this time from Hitler’s headquarters. The feisty panzer general cursed roundly as he read the message ordering him to turn his forces northwest to the Bolshoy area and stop Romanenko’s armored units. Valuable time and fuel were lost as he reformed his attack force.

Meanwhile, Paulus began receiving more reports concerning the Russian attack. The first fragmented information had caused little alarm. After all, they were coming from Romanians, and everyone knew that they tended to exaggerate and were prone to unnecessary panic.

Toward noon, the situation became clearer. This time the staff officers of the 6th Army definitely took notice. A Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft reported hundreds of Soviet tanks advancing across the steppes northwest of Stalingrad. Clear reports from German liaison officers flatly stated that the 9th, 13th, and 14th Romanian Infantry Divisions had been shattered and were no longer capable of any organized resistance.

Although Paulus had three panzer divisions (14th, 16th, and 24th) and three motorized divisions (3rd, 29th, and 60th) at his disposal, he did nothing to form a strike force to stop the Soviet armor. Preferring to keep them engaged in and around Stalingrad-a pure waste of armor in an urban battle-he relied on Heim’s panzer corps to deal with the Russian attack.

A German panzer corps in 1942 was a formidable weapon that could take on a Soviet Tank Army and usually come out on top. Heim’s corps, however, was a panzer corps in name only, something that seemed to slip by the generals that were expecting him to stop the Russians.

By the time Heim was ordered to attack, his 22nd Panzer Division had only about 30 combat-ready tanks. His motorized elements were critically short of fuel, and the orders changing the direction of his attack only made the problem worse.

Heim’s mechanized units were also plagued by the forces of nature. While bivouacked, mice had gotten into the tanks and armored personnel carriers and had gnawed on or through some of the electrical wires in the vehicles, causing them to break down as the systems shorted out. Another problem was the width of his tank treads. The Russian T-34 had a wide, gripping track while German tanks had narrow tracks, causing them to slip and slide on the icy terrain. Nevertheless, Heim and his men pushed forward, hoping to surprise the Russian spearhead.

The weather worsened during the afternoon of the 19th, with the freezing mist lowering visibility to almost zero, and maps were practically useless as the Soviets continued their drive. Taking into account the possibility of bad weather, Russian commanders had enlisted area peasants as guides, but even they were having a difficult time traversing the mist-shrouded landscape.

It started getting dark before 4:00 PM, which only added to the difficulties faced by the Russian tank crews as they pushed toward their objectives. To make things worse, the wind picked up and snow began falling, which led to almost blizzard-like conditions on the steppes.

Having essentially obliterated the Romanian defenses, the Soviet tank commanders felt reasonably assured that their only threat would come from a possible German counterattack. All things considered, that attack would probably be directed against Kravchenko’s 4th Tank Corps, as that unit was advancing closest to the main 6th Army forces at Stalingrad.

It would have worked that way if Heim had not received new orders sending him toward Bolshoy. Heim’s panzers, now numbering about 20, hit Butkov’s 1st Tank Corps near the Chir River at Pestchany. It was an uneven battle from the start, with the Germans being outnumbered, outgunned, and outmaneuvered. In an almost suicidal action, an armored group led by Oberst (Colonel) Hermann von Oppeln-Bronikowski tore into the Russians. Supported by the 22nd Panzer’s antitank battalion, von Oppeln’s tanks managed to isolate and destroy several Soviet tanks in Butkov’s spearhead.

The Soviets regrouped, and the unequal struggle continued into the night until Heim ordered the battle to be broken off. He told his commanders to make for the Chir River crossings and get to the west bank of the river, thus saving his panzer corps from encirclement and annihilation. Those retreating units would remain a thorn in the side of the Russians for days to come.

The retreat order had the expected consequences for Heim as a furious Hitler recalled him to Berlin, stripped him of his rank, and had him imprisoned. He was released 10 months later without having been tried. On August 1, 1944, his rank was restored, and he was appointed commander of Fortress Boulogne on the Western Front.

At Heeresgruppe B headquarters, Generaloberst Baron von Weichs recognized the danger he faced earlier than most. He issued directives at 10:00 PM on the night of November 19 to try and forestall the looming disaster.

“The situation developing on the front of the 3rd Romanian Army dictates radical measures in order to disengage forces quickly to screen the flanks of 6th Army,” he wrote.

Among those measures was ordering all offensive operations in Stalingrad to cease. He also directed Paulus to detach two motorized formations, an infantry division, and all anti-tank units he could spare to stop the assault forces of Vatutin and Rokossovsky. These measures may have blunted the Soviet advance, but it was already too late. On November 20, the second stage of Uranus began as Eremenko’s southern anvil began moving to meet the northern hammer.

The same bad weather plaguing the northern Soviet forces also hampered the Russians in the south. Icy fog made the going slow as the assault forces of the Stalingrad Front edged closer to Constantinescu’s 4th Romanian Army. At 10 AM, the Russian artillery opened up along the front. Soon after, the initial assault troops were already pouring through the Romanian line.

German soldiers in the 297th Infantry Division, adjacent to the 20th Romanian Infantry Division, watched in awe as the human flood of Russians advanced. As on the northern sector, some of the Romanians fled or surrendered almost immediately, while others fought bravely until being overwhelmed. Reports came in speaking of Romanian antitank crews firing their pitiful 37mm guns until they were crushed beneath the marauding Soviet tanks of the initial attack forces.

The leading Russian armored and mechanized forces performed well, but command and control problems, the bad weather, and problems getting across the Volga River crossing points delayed the spearhead units designated to exploit the breakthrough. Maj. Gen. V. T. Volsky’s 4th Mechanized Corps, designated to advance with Maj. Gen. N. I. Trufanov’s 51st Army, was supposed to strike between Lakes Sarpa and Tsatsa, but its units had not yet concentrated. The same could be said for Colonel T. I. Tanaschishin’s 13th Mechanized Corps.

Angry messages flew back and forth as the delay continued. The spearhead units were supposed to attack at 10 AM, but it was already well after noon, and there was still no sign of movement from the corps. General Markian M. Popov, the deputy commander of the Stalingrad Front, headed to Volsky’s headquarters and confronted him directly.

The angry exchange between the two lasted for some time before Volsky finally gave in and ordered his still disorganized units forward. Tanaschishin was also ordered forward immediately. It was already past 4 PM, and the Soviet timetable was hours behind schedule. As they moved out, Volsky’s units became intermixed, causing further confusion as they headed westward.

The Germans reacted much more quickly to the southern attack than they had on the previous day. General Hans-Georg Leyser’s 29th Panzergrenadier Division, nicknamed the Falcon Division, was ordered to hit the flank of Tanaschishin’s 13th Mechanized Corps. The 29th was a first-rate division, and its troops moved out quickly to meet the foe.

About 10 miles south of Beketovka, Leyser’s armored columns slammed into elements of Tanaschishin’s corps. The panzers bloodied the Russian tanks and sent the mechanized units reeling, causing the Soviets to beat a hasty retreat. It was a shining moment in an otherwise dismal day for the Germans, but the victory was short lived.

Farther west, the Soviets were running rampant through the retreating Romanians. Leyser was ordered to turn his division around to protect the exposed southern flank of the 6th Army, leaving the field to Tanaschishin’s forces, which were regrouping for a counterattack.

While the fighting raged south of Stalingrad, the northern sector reeled under hammer blows from the South West and Don Fronts. General Strecker’s IX Army Corps, its left flank left hanging by Dumitrescu’s retreat, was forced to form an arc to meet the advancing Russians. General von Daniels’s 376th shifted its front westward to meet the 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps, while General Heinrich-Anton Deboi’s 44th Infantry Division, forced to leave much of its heavy equipment in place because of lack of fuel, extended its line to cover the gap left by von Daniels’s shift.

Meanwhile, Kravchenko’s 4th Tank Corps turned toward the southeast. Its objective was the Don River town of Golubinski, which happened to be Paulus’s headquarters. At the same time, units of the 5th Tank Army continued to smash isolated pockets of Romanians that tried to stand and fight.

Operation Uranus –Begins

The senior Soviet officers got very little sleep during the night of November 18. Shortly after midnight, the Russian artillery started firing smoke shells from the eastern bank of the Don. Soviet propaganda units had already set up loudspeakers close to the front weeks before, so the Germans and their allies paid little attention to the political messages and music that blasted through the night air. As usual, Axis soldiers regarded the loudspeakers as more of a nuisance designed to keep them from getting a good night’s sleep.

This time, however, the smoke and noise from the Russian line had a different purpose. Under cover of these distractions, Soviet armored and mechanized forces streamed across the Don to the already established bridgeheads. A little after 2 AM, more than a million men from the three attack fronts received their orders. They were told that they were about to participate in a deep raid toward the enemy rear. The word “encirclement” was not mentioned to the troops in case something went wrong with the plan. Nevertheless, the old timers knew that something was up. There were too many men and too many vehicles for this to be just a raid. Are we, they wondered, finally starting to see the beginning of the road to victory?

The Russians were helped by snow and a thick fog that cut visibility down to almost nothing. On the German-Romanian line, sentries strained to see just a few feet ahead of them, but all seemed fine except for the damned Soviet loudspeakers blaring in the distance. Only a few yards away, Red Army engineers, camouflaged in white uniforms, had been working their way toward the enemy lines all night, clearing mines and cutting wire obstacles to make a path for the Russian assault forces.

On the Soviet side, commanders anxiously looked at their watches. The fog offered good concealment and would not hinder the effects of the planned Russian artillery bombardment, as the guns had been pre-sighted for just such a situation. Minutes ticked away until, at 7:20 AM Moscow time (5:20 AM German time) the Soviet artillery commanders received the code word “Siren.”

The earth trembled as battery after battery of Katyushas (Stalin Organs) sent their rockets screaming toward the enemy lines. A ghostly glow reflected off the fog as the batteries fired again and again. To be on the receiving end of the rockets tested the courage of the best German units. For the Romanians of Dumitrescu’s 3rd Army, the effect was devastating.

Strongpoints and trenches literally disintegrated as the rockets struck their preplotted sites. Communications between the forward outposts and higher headquarters were shattered, and many of the ammunition dumps close to the front were destroyed in spectacular explosions. Many of those not killed outright in the bombardment were already fleeing to the rear, trying to escape the carnage.

Ten minutes later, the massed Russian artillery was given the order to fire. Thousands of guns roared at once, causing many an artilleryman to bleed at the ear from the concussions caused by so many artillery pieces firing at the same time. Almost immediately, shells began crashing into Romanian artillery emplacements and secondary positions behind the front line. Those fleeing from the opening bombardment were now caught in a second rain of steel, which further decimated the retreating troops. Black earth churned up from shell impacts was interspersed on the snow with red blotches that had a few seconds earlier been men fleeing for their lives.

The bombardment kept up for one hour and 20 minutes. Dazed Romanians lucky enough to escape death from the rain of explosives were in a state of near paralysis as they desperately tried to dig their way out of their shattered positions. Wounded men howled in agony for their comrades to help them while the surviving NCOs and officers worked to regain control over their troops.

Above the cries of the wounded, a new sound was heard. It was not the sound of artillery or tank motors, but the deep, guttural sound of a beast preparing to pounce on its prey. The Romanians strained to see through the fog, hoping not to see what they knew was coming. As the fog lessened, shapes appeared-first hundreds and then thousands. Coming toward them were the massed echelons of Romanenko’s 14th and 47th Guards and 119th Rifle Divisions. The sound that the Romanians now heard-the one that struck fear into their very souls-was the Russian battle cry coming from thousands of soldiers: “Urra! Urra! Urra!”

In some sectors of the Romanian front, soldiers made split-second decisions on whether they would live or die. Hundreds of them threw down their weapons and, with hands held high, hoped for the best as the Russians bore down on them. For the most part, the Soviet assault forces bypassed them and continued their advance, leaving the surrendering Romanians to be picked up later by units in the second or third wave of the attack.

In other Romanian sectors the story was different. The 13th Romanian Infantry Division, for example, occupied a sector of the front opposite the 21st Army. When the Soviet infantry attacked, survivors in the front trenches repulsed them. A second attack, this time supported by tanks, met the same fate. Frustrated, Christyakov ordered another round of shelling. At the same time, he ordered A. G. Kravchenko’s 4th Tank Corps and P. A. Pliev’s 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps to prepare to attack.

Christyakov wanted to hold these units in reserve until the Romanian line was broken, but the resistance of the 13th and some other Romanian divisions had already upset his timetable. Together with fresh waves of infantry, the Soviet assault smashed the remaining positions of the Romanian IV Army Corps, allowing the 21st Army to advance.

To the west of the IV Corps, the Romanian II Army Corps, facing the 5th Tank Army, was undergoing its own personal hell. Following the bombardment and infantry assault, Romanenko unleashed V. V. Butkov’s 1st Tank and A. G. Rodin’s 26th Tank Corps, followed by the 8th Cavalry Corps. The attack hit the Romanian 9th, 11th, and 14th Infantry Divisions like a sledgehammer, and their positions crumbled as the Russian armor rolled forward.

The Soviet cavalry spread out toward the west, severing communications between the Romanians and General Giovanni Messe’s 8th Italian Army. As the Romanians fled, the cavalry formed a barrier against any possible counterattack while the armored and infantry forces swung southeast toward the Chir River and Kalach.

The gods smiled on the Soviets about mid-morning as the fog dissipated enough for the Red Air Force to enter the fray. Aircraft from K. N. Smirnov’s 2nd and S. A. Krasovsky’s 17th Air Armies swooped down upon the retreating Romanians with a vengeance. The Luftwaffe was nowhere to be seen as the Soviet pilots bombed and strafed enemy troops and positions.

Operation Uranus – The Soviet Planning

The battle for Stalingrad and the Caucasus raged throughout September and October as both sides continued to pour more men into the region. Meanwhile, using the maxims that had served him so well, Zhukov and the general staff were working on a plan that would change the balance of the war in the east once and for all. The plan was known as Operation Uranus.

Looking at the extended front in the Stalingrad sector, Zhukov and his staff immediately grasped the opportunities afforded by the large areas held by the Axis allies. The Soviets had two extensive bridgeheads on the western bank of the Don facing Dumitrescu’s forces, which would provide them with their northern strike points. Constantinescu’s army, with its long, thinly held defensive front, would provide the perfect spot for the southern strike.

The Russians were already masters of deception and camouflage, but Zhukov and his staff turned it into an art. As the plans for Uranus got under way, the Soviets launched several small attacks against Heeresgruppe Mitte. Dummy formations with their own radio nets were set up in the sector, giving German intelligence officers the impression that the Russians were concentrating forces for a late fall or early winter offensive against the Heeresgruppe.

Generaloberst Reinhard Gehlen, the head of the German high command’s Fremde Heeres Ost (Foreign Armies East), was in charge of gathering and deciphering intelligence information on the Eastern Front. Although surprised at the number of Russian divisions identified during the first few months of the 1941 invasion, his office still did not appreciate the vast manpower reserves possessed by the Soviet Union.

With the purported buildup of Soviet forces in Heeresgruppe Mitte’s sector, Fremde Heeres Ost was convinced that the Russians could not possibly possess enough men to launch any sort of major offensive in the south. When nervous Romanian commanders brought up the subject of a possible Soviet offensive, they were told not to worry because the Russians were already stretched to the limit.

Zhukov faced a daunting security problem. Massing the divisions for his offensive without being discovered by the Germans meant that the units could only be moved at night or in bad weather as they neared the front. During the day, the trains and convoys transporting men and materiel for Uranus would stop, and troops would camouflage the vehicles, making them invisible from the air.

In all, Zhukov would have 11 armies to mount his offensive. They would be augmented by several separate mechanized, cavalry, and tank brigades and corps. About 13,500 artillery pieces and mortars were assembled along with 115 rocket artillery detachments, 900 tanks, and more than 1,000 aircraft. It was a tremendous logistics operation, but the Russians were able to pull it off without the Germans being any the wiser.

Although stationed in Moscow, the Soviet marshal made extensive visits to the front to confer with his commanders about Uranus. Although they were not privy to the overall scope of the operation, the Front and Army commanders made suggestions about objectives in their particular sectors and coordination with neighboring units and gave other opinions that the marshal sent back to his Moscow staff.

The supreme headquarters and Zhukov’s staff incorporated many of the suggestions into the final plan for Uranus. Intelligence concerning opposing enemy units was also funneled directly to Moscow. As German and Russian soldiers fought and died in the rubble of Stalingrad, the buildup continued. By mid-October, the final plans for Uranus were being fine-tuned, and it was hoped that the operation could begin sometime in the first week of November.

As November approached, German commanders in the 6th Army were facing shortages in both men and materiel. They were also becoming increasingly nervous about unconfirmed reports that the Soviets were massing on their flanks. Zhukov’s deception had worked for the most part, but even the Russians could not totally mask the movements of such a massive force as it came within earshot of the Germans. Motors rumbled and horses neighed, and the sounds carried well in the crisp late fall air.

On Paulus’s left flank, General Karl Strecker’s XI Army Corps had three divisions to cover a front of more than 60 miles along the Don bend. Strecker knew that this was too much for his divisions to defend, so he pulled them back to well-prepared secondary positions, cutting his frontage by half.

Lieutenant General P. I. Batov immediately took advantage of the situation by sending units of his 65th Army across the Don to establish yet another Soviet bridgehead. Batov then conducted several spirited attacks against Strecker’s new positions, but the Germans were too firmly entrenched to make any progress.

While pleased with his own divisions’ performance, Strecker kept a wary eye on the Romanians to his left. The 3rd Romanian Army was woefully short of everything, especially antitank weapons. Their own were obsolete, and Dumitrescu continually badgered the Germans for more effective pieces. Some 75mm guns had been transferred to his army, but not nearly enough to stop any major Russian attack.

Berlin had also ordered General Ferdinand Heim’s XLVIII Panzer Corps to disengage from its sector on the front and form a ready reserve behind Dumitrescu’s army. Elements of the 14th Panzer Division and the 1st Romanian Tank Division were also ordered to the area. It seemed a good plan, but the nucleus of Heim’s corps, the 22nd Panzer Division, was equipped mostly with outdated Czech tanks. Also, one of its panzergrenadier regiments had been detached from the division and moved to another sector of the front.

Zhukov planned to begin Uranus on November 9, but the date had to be postponed after the marshal made another series of visits to his commanders. Arriving in Serafimovich, a small Cossack farming and fishing village on the middle Don, he conferred with Generals Konstantin K. Rokossovsky and Nicholai F. Vatutin, the commanders of the Don and South West Fronts. They pointed out that the freezing rain and hard frosts of the previous week had made things very difficult for the forces trying to reach the front. They also said that shortages in winter clothing had to be addressed before they felt their men were ready for battle.

Moving on to the headquarters of General Fedor I. Tolbukhin’s 57th Army south of Stalingrad, Zhukov was told that men and equipment were not arriving on schedule and that the artillery had yet to be entrenched and targeted. He returned to Moscow and postponed Uranus until November 17. Upon hearing that air units marked for the offensive might not be ready on that date, Zhukov postponed the operation for two more days.

Stalingrad was on the verge of collapse as Uranus was postponed not once, but twice. The more time that elapsed, the more chance that the Germans would find out about the massive buildup. Luckily, Berlin had other problems to deal with. On November 8, the Allies landed in French North Africa, threatening Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s rear and dooming the vaunted Afrika Korps and Panzer Army Afrika. The German high command now had to split its attention, focusing on potential disasters on two fronts.

As the 19th approached, Zhukov sent out his final orders. Uranus would involve a double envelopment of Stalingrad with a primarily infantry force encircling the city itself. An outer ring, consisting of tank, mechanized, cavalry, and infantry units, would form a steel buffer against any possible German counterattack. German and allied units caught between the two rings were to be systematically destroyed and, if the opportunity arose, Soviet forces in the south would advance to Rostov and trap the divisions of Heeresgruppe A, which was still engaged in the Caucasus.

The first phase of the operation involved Vatutin’s South West Front attacking the 3rd Romanian Army out of the bridgehead on the west bank of the Don. At the same time, Rokossovsky’s Don Front would begin the envelopment of Stalingrad from the north and east. A day later, General Andrei I. Eremenko’s Stalingrad Front would attack the 4th Romanian Army in the Lake Sarpa area south of Stalingrad.

Both fronts were to send armored and mechanized forces to link up near Kalach. At the same time, other units of the fronts would spread out and head west to protect flanks as the outer ring formed.

ISU-152 ‘Zvierboi’

The ISU-152 was a further development of the SU-152 Assault Howitzer, but based on the IS tank’s (Iosef Stalin) lower chassis and running gear instead of the KV tank’s (KV from the prewar defense minister, Klimenti Voroshilov). Although the ISU-152 mounted the same 152mm M1937/43 (ML-20S) gun-howitzer of the SU-152, the new crew compartment was now higher (as the IS chassis was not as deep as the KV) and more rectangular. The old circular KV hatches were replaced with the SU-100 style cupolas and new standard periscopes installed in each. The new ISU 152, and the similar ISU-122 (fitted with a 122mm A-19 cannon), were first produced at Chelyabinsk during late 1943 at the same time as the IS-1 heavy tanks.

The success of the SU-152, coupled with the development of the IS (losef Stalin) heavy tank hull, led the NKTP to order design teams at Chelyabinsk, in cooperation the Mechanized Artillery Bureau (BAS) and General F. Petrov, to design two new heavy assault guns based on the IS-2 tank’s hull and chassis. The initial vehicle, designated Object 241, or ISU249, was similar to the SU-152, except for a higher superstructure and more rectangular with less sloped side armour. Thicker frontal and side armour (90mm/3.54in compared to 60mm/2.36in on the SU-152) meant that the internal area of both vehicles was the same, with storage for only 20 rounds each for the 152mm (5.98in) ML-20 howitzer gun. The main difference between the SU-152 and ISU series of vehicles was a lower suspension and a new, heavy two-piece gun mantlet bolted onto the right-hand side of the hull. Re-classified as ISU-152, production began at the end of 1943.

The appearance of the immensely powerful Panzerkampfwagen King Tiger in fighting south of Warsaw in August 1944 led to a number of plans to up-gun both types of ISU with the new 122mm (4.8in) BR-7 and 152mm (5.98in) BR-8 long-barrelled guns, but the realization that the Germans could not deploy the Royal Tiger in significant numbers caused production of these prototypes to be abandoned. Another reason was the conclusion of Soviet technicians, based on combat results, that the IS-2 tank could deal with this new threat.

Post-war changes were made to the final production run of ISU-152Ks by using the IS-2m chassis and the IS-3 engine deck. A total of 4075 ISU-152s were produced during the war, and a further 2450 manufactured between 1945 and 1947, when production ceased.

The heavy SU regiments were originally equipped with the SU-152, a 152mm howitzer mounted on a KV-1S chassis. The first 25 of them were rushed into service in time for the Battle of Kursk, where the effect of their 100 pound shells on German Panthers and Tigers earned them the nickname ‘Zvierboi’ (‘Big Game Hunters’). The SU-152 was only in production during 1943, and 670 were built. They were increasingly replaced in 1944 by two heavy SUs on the chassis of the new IS-II tank: the ISU-152, which was built until 1947.

The Soviets used term “Shturmovaya Artilleriiskaya Ustanovka” (Assault Gun) for the SU-122, SU-152, ISU-152, ISU-122.

When the ISU- 122/152 heavy self-propelled artillery regiments were originally formed in February of 1944, the vehicles were placed in groups of 21 assault guns with four batteries per regiment. The SP guns were intended to support offensive breakthrough operations and expected to deal with German strong points and anti-tank defenses from long distances. First deployed during the summer of 1944 offensive “Bagration”, the ISU-122/152 regiments took part in what was probably the largest concentration of Soviet armor up to that time and proved themselves to be very useful AFVs. After WWII the construction of these assault vehicles continued and they were sold to other Warsaw Pact member countries as well as Algeria, Egypt and China.

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This Soviet News photo illustrates the internal hatch detail of both the gunner’s on the left and the commander’s split hatches. The hatch half with the periscope closes first and the second half then slightly over laps the first and has two small latches at its edge to hold the hatch in place. Normally there was a leather covered pull chain connecting these latches (as seen on the gunner’s hatch) and a simple pull on the strap would release both latches so you could open the hatch from the inside. The commander here appears to be holding his cloth tanker’s helmet in his left hand while the right rests on the long handle of his periscope. Notice the antenna base, just forward of his hatch, and also the domed armor cover over the hull fan, located directly between the two hatches.

The early ISU-152M was updated to the last version in 1956, adding more ammo storage to the new K model for a total of 30 rounds, most of the additional rounds being stored in a third rack on the left side of the hull. Also added to the ISU-152K was a new TPKU ranging sight on the commander’s cupola and an improved PS-10 telescopic sight for the gunner, as well as a revised engine and cooling system.

Soviet Assault Guns – Designation

The Soviets used “Self-Propelled Gun” (or SP Artillery) for every fighting vehicle that consists of a gun mounted on a chassis.

The Soviets used term “Istrebitel tankov” (Tank Destroyer) for the SU-85 and the SU-100.

The Soviets used term “Shturmovaya Artilleriiskaya Ustanovka” (Assault Gun) for the SU-122, SU-152, ISU-152, ISU-122.

The Soviets used term “Shturmovoi Tank” (Assault Tank) for the KV-2.

“One AFV that I think can be termed one of the most effective is the ISU-152. Soviets using this vehicle gave it the nickname “zvierboi” (animal hunter) due to its effectiveness against the Tiger I tanks.”

At first, it isn’t ISU-152 but SU-152. And second, it was called such not because it was very good against Tigers and Panthers (i.e. animals) but it was the first weapon that could kill them.

“…in the source I read these AFV’s were organised into “otdelni tyazheli samhodno-artilleriski polk” (Separate Self-propelled Artillery Regiments).”

This is true (if you’re about (I)SU-152). Often their abbreviation used: OTSAP or simply SAP. Some of them were of “RGK” that means “Rezerv Glavnogo Komandovania” (Reserve of the High Command).

The Red Army called their assault guns for
”samokhodno-artilleriiskie ustanovki” abbrevation Kyrrillic ”CAY”, with our letters ”SAU”.
the other version ”samokhodno ustanovki” abbrevation Kyrillic ”CY”, with our letters ”SU”.
The first word ”samokhodno” could be translated to self-propelled.
The next word ”artilleriiskie” does not need further clarification.
Finally ”ustanovki” could be translated with gun carriage.

These assault guns was organized into heavy ”samokhodno-artilleriiskie” regiments with 21 assault guns. In Operation Bagration the four fronts initially had 2 Assault Guns brigade and 57 Assault gun regiments.
1.Baltic had four regiments (of which three were heavy).
3.Belorussian had 16 regiments (of which five were heavy) .
2.Belorussian had 10 regiments (of which two were heavy).
1.Belorussian had 27 regiments (of which five were heavy) and two brigades (8. in 3rd Army and 12. in 69th Army).

 

llyushin II-28

Countries of origin: Russia and China

Type: Tactical bomber

Powerplants: II-28 – Two 26.5kN (5950lb) Klimov VK-1A turbojets.

Performance: II-28 – Max speed at 14,765ft 900km/h (485kt), max speed at sea level 800km/h (432kt), typical cruising speed at altitude 875km/h (472kt). Max initial rate of climb 2950ft/min. Service ceiling 40,350ft. Range at 32,810ft 2400km (1295nm), range at 3280ft 1135km (612nm).

Weights: II-28 – Empty equipped 11,890kg (28,415lb), max takeoff 21,200kg (46,738lb).

Dimensions: II-28 – Wing span without tip tanks 21.45m (70ft 5in), fuselage length 17.65m (57ft 11 in), height 6.70m (22ft 0in). Wing area 60.8m2 (654.4sq ft). Accommodation: Crew of three – pilot under fighter style canopy, bombardier/navigator in nose and rear gunner/radio operator in tail.

Armament: Two NR-23 23mm cannon in lower forward fuselage, two NR-23 cannon in rear turret and up to 3000kg (6615lb) of bombs, or two torpedoes in internal weapons bay.

History: The Harbin H-5 is China’s unlicenced built copy of the llyushin II-28 ‘Beagle’ light tactical jet bomber. llyushin first began design work on the II-28 in December 1947 as a private venture. The first of three prototypes, powered by two RollsRoyce Nenes (at the time the most powerful turbojets in the world and donated to the USSR by the UK Government during the late 1940s as ‘technical aid’), flew for the first time on July 8 1948. After competitive evaluation against Tupolev’s larger but similarly powered Tu-73 the II-28 was selected for production to meet a Russian Air Force need for a medium sized jet bomber. Several thousand ll-28s were built for the Soviet Air Force and various Warsaw Pact nations, with deliveries beginning in 1950. Over 500 were exported to China in the 1950s, while other II-28 operators included Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, North Korea, North Vietnam, Syria and Yemen. Small numbers were also built in Czechoslovakia as the B-228. II-28 variants include the basic II-28 bomber, II-28T torpedo bomber, reconnaissance II-28R and the II-28U trainer with a second cockpit in the nose (forward of the standard cockpit). Several served through to the late 1980s as target tugs and ECM platforms. After Russia and China severed ties in the 1960s China began a program to build the II-28 unlicenced. The Harbin Aircraft Factory was responsible for reverse engineering the II-28 and consequently the first Chinese built ‘Beagle’, designated H-5, first flew on September 251966. H-5 production began the following year and continued into the 1980s (although late production was at a low rate primarily for attrition replacements). As many as 2000 H-5s may have been built (including HJ-5 two seaters and H-5R or HZ-5 reconnaissance platforms) for China’s Air Force and Navy. Several hundred still serve, despite their obsolescence. North Korea also operates Chinese ll-28s, with the export designation B-5.

Variants

Soviet Union variants
Note: Order of variants determined chronologically by production/development dates.
Il-28
Basic three-seat bomber version, powered by two VK-1 engines.
An Il-28U trainer of the Egyptian Air Force in 1981.
Il-28U
Unarmed training version fitted with new nose housing cockpit for instructor, while the trainee sat in the normal cockpit. First flown 18 March 1950.
Il-28R
Three-seat tactical photo reconnaissance version, with extra fuel in bomb bay and tip-tanks, and with one forward firing cannon removed. Fitted with revised undercarriage to deal with heavier weights. First flew 19 April 1950.
Il-28RTR
ELINT version of Il-28R.
Il-28REB
Electronic warfare, electronic jamming version, fitted with wingtip electronic pods, that were in the former wing tanks.
Il-28T
Torpedo bomber version for the Soviet Naval Aviation able to accommodate two small or one large torpedo (including RAT-52 rocket propelled torpedoes) in a lengthened weapons bay.
Il-28N
Nuclear bomber for the Soviet Air Force with modified bomb-bay and revised avionics. (N – Nositel – carrier, also known as Il-28A – Atomnyy – atomic).
Il-28P
Unarmed civil conversion for Aeroflot, used as jet conversion trainer and to carry high priority cargo (i.e. newspaper matrices to allow simultaneous printing of Pravda and Izvestia in Moscow, Sverdlovsk and Novosibirsk). Also designated Ilyushin Il-20.
Il-28S
Proposed swept-wing version with more powerful Klimov VK-5 engines. Unbuilt.
Il-28RM
Modified Il-28R with VK-5 engine. One prototype built plus two similarly converted bombers (which carried no special designation) but no production.
Il-28TM
Il-28T with VK-5. One converted, no production.
Il-28PL
High-speed anti-submarine conversion of Il-28 bomber or Il-28T torpedo bomber. Capable of carrying dropping sonobouys or acoustic homing torpedoes on direction of other anti-submarine assets.
Il-28Sh
Ground attack (Shturmovik) conversion of Il-28 with 12 underwing pylons for rocket pods. Small number converted which saw limited service.
Il-28ZA
Atmospheric sampling version.
Il-28M
Target drone conversion of Il-28. Also known as M-28.
Czechoslovakia variants
B-228
License-built standard Il-28s built by Avia in Czechoslovakia.
CB-228
License-built Il-28U trainers built by Avia in Czechoslovakia.
Chinese variants
H-5
(Hongzhaji – bomber) – Standard three-seat tactical bomber.
H-5A
Speculative designation of for nuclear capable H-5 variant.
HD-5
(Hongzhaji Dian – bomber/electronic reconnaissance) Chinese ECM jammer version.
HJ-5
(Hongzhaji Jiaolianji – bomber trainer) Chinese trainer version with similar layout to Il-28U.
HZ-5
(Hongzhaji Zhenchaji – bomber/reconnaissance) Tactical reconnaissnce aircraft. Fitted with underwing drop tanks instead of tip tanks of Il-28R.
B-5
Export designation of the H-5.
B-5R
Export version of HZ-5.
BT-5
Export version of the HJ-5.
H-5 Ying
(Ying – eagle) Avionics testbed for Xian JH-7 programme.
H-5B
Speculative designation for unflown H-5 testbed for WS-5 aft-fan engines.

HUNGARY: 1956

There were riots in East Berlin in June 1953 and in Poznán, Poland, in June 1956, both of which were put down by direct intervention by Soviet troops. These were, however, fairly localized affairs, but the Hungarian revolt in 1956 was a nationwide event, and its brutal repression by the Soviet Union was a turning point for both the Soviet Union and NATO.

Hungary had fought on the German side in the Second World War and was overrun by the Soviet army in 1944. Elections then established a coalition government, but with a substantial Communist minority. The Hungarian Communists then followed a similar pattern to that of their ‘socialist comrades’ in the other satellites and steadily removed their opponents until they won the next elections in 1949, principally because there were no other candidates. The Communists, headed by Secretary-General Mátyás Rákosi, then implemented the usual policies of collectivization of farms and rapid expansion of industry, thus sowing the seeds for their ultimate defeat.

In the aftermath of Stalin’s death in 1953 Rákosi was instructed by the Soviet leadership to install Imre Nagy as prime minister, but after a short period in office Nagy suffered a heart attack in 1955 and had to be replaced.

The situation in Hungary deteriorated rapidly in early 1956, largely due to a general feeling of discontent with Communist rule, to which there were four contributory factors. First, there was a widespread feeling that the leadership itself was irresolute and uncertain as to the way forward, and Hungarian dissidents had taken heart from a visit by Soviet leaders to Yugoslavia in June 1955, which appeared to accord an air of respectability to Tito’s form of nationalist Communism, independent of Soviet control, and from Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization initiative in January 1956. Second, due to the ineptitude so frequently displayed by Communist regimes, the economy was manifestly failing. Third, Soviet armed suppression of the Polish revolt in Poznań encouraged Rákosi to take even more repressive measures in Hungary, but a visit to Budapest by Soviet Politburo member Anastas Mikoyan in July 1956 resulted in a shake-up of the government, with the deeply hated Rákosi being dismissed and replaced by Erno Gero. Finally, even further encouragement to the dissidents came in October 1956, when widespread unrest in Poland resulted in a relatively popular figure, Władysław Gomułka, being released from jail (he had been found guilty of ‘Titoism’) and appointed as first secretary.

This was taken as a signal that a national form of Communism would be acceptable to the Soviet leadership, and a student rally in Budapest on 22 October produced a fourteen-point manifesto demanding a similar system for Hungary. Next day a rally in support of the Poles started peacefully but got out of hand in the evening when an aggressive speech on the radio by Rákosi led to a confrontation between the crowd and the AVH (state security police), who eventually shot into the crowd.

Revolutionary councils immediately sprang up all over the country, advocating three policies: nationalism, neutrality and the withdrawal of Soviet troops. The Soviet leadership, which regarded Hungary as an essential element of its defensive strategy, was alarmed, while the Hungarian Politburo tried to cover all eventualities by calling for Soviet troops and also reappointing the ailing Nagy as prime minister, even though he was opposed to Soviet intervention. When the Soviet tanks began to roll into Budapest in the early hours of 24 October they only made matters much worse, and a number were quickly destroyed by petrol bombs. Two representatives of the Soviet Politburo, Mikoyan and Mikhail Suslov, visited Budapest on 24–26 October and swept the Communist old guard aside, confirming Nagy’s appointment and replacing Gero by János Kádár. Nagy announced his new government on 27 October, the Soviet tanks left on 29 October, and Mikoyan and Suslov returned to Budapest on the 30th to announce that Hungarian sovereignty would be respected.

This Soviet activity was in reality an elaborate camouflage, however, and military forces were massing for the invasion. But at this point external events intervened. On 29 October the Israelis attacked Egypt, and the British and French governments issued an ultimatum to the two sides to withdraw from the Suez Canal and sent an amphibious task force from Cyprus and Malta (30 October). This diverted world attention from events in Hungary, and the Soviet army used some 250,000 troops and 2,500 armoured vehicles to surround Budapest on 1 November. After apparently granting concessions (whose only purpose was to give its troops time to ‘shake out’ into battle order), the Soviet Union struck at midnight on 3/4 November.

Budapest then became a violent and bloody battlefield as Hungarian freedom fighters tried to destroy the Soviet tanks and to kill or demoralize the Soviet troops. But, despite showing great courage and exhibiting considerable ingenuity in their methods of attack, the Hungarians were slowly but inexorably beaten by the organized might of the Soviet army. The main fighting was over by 14 November, and all resistance had crumbled by 30 November. About 25,000 Hungarians and 7,000 Soviet soldiers had been killed in the fighting, but the result was a foregone conclusion.