Bridgeheads on the Don, 1942

Discussion in 'The Eastern Front' started by Earthican, Jun 20, 2011.

  1. Earthican

    Earthican Senior Member

    I've been making Internet searches for descriptions of an eastern front battle and, as would happen, I came across what I was looking for at ww2Talk. AMVAS's RKKA site is tops.

    I found this article and while I wanted to use period maps to illustrate it they were not available so I was left to use Google Maps. Fortunately there was actually good coverage when I zoomed in close enough.

    Battle of Stalingrad. Fighting for Brigeheads on the Upper Don

    AMVAS posted excellent sketch maps but they do not appear to directly illustrate the article and require some interpretation. Thus my interest and effort. It took awhile for me to notice the sketch map covers a longer period of time than described by the article.

    Satellite gives an excellent view of the villages and gullies (there's a better term, not wadi????)

    Shaded relief shows the bluff over-looking the Don flood plain.

    Here's an excerpt of the text related to the northern bridgehead. Feel free to comment and speculate (I certainly will be) just stay on topic.

    [Excerpts from Article by Maj Gen (Ret) N. Shtykov: "In the Battles for Bridgeheads on the Upper Don"]

    In the summer of 1942, the Nazi troops initiated an offensive in the southwestern sector of the Soviet-German Front. The enemy was rushing toward the Volga in the Stalingrad area, endeavoring to capture this important strategic point and major industrial center of the nation.

    Considering the difficult situation of our troops in the Stalingrad sector in the summer of 1942, the enemy command felt that we would endeavor to securely reinforce and retain the occupied perimeters and there would be no opportunity of going over to an offensive.

    Having encountered stubborn resistance, the Nazi Command began to shift its troops from other sectors into this one. Under these conditions, the Voronezh Front [northwest of Stalingrad] was given the task of tying down the enemy by energetic actions and preventing it from shifting forces to Stalingrad.

    In carrying out this task, the 6th Army of the front, during the period from 6 through 17 August, conducted an operation to capture and widen a bridgehead on the right bank of the Don. It succeeded in capturing and holding on to two small bridgeheads to the north of the town of Korotoyak and these over the entire autumn represented a constant threat to the 2d Hungarian Army and this forced the enemy to maintain reserves there. It was precisely here that the Soviet troops were to go over to a counteroffensive.


    The 25th Guards Rifle Division and the 24th Motorized Rifle Brigade which were to be used for operations in the main sector were deployed and prepared for the offensive deep in the army defensive zone. Where the crossing was being planned, the subunits of the 53d Fortified Area and the several subunits attached to it from the 173d Army Reserve Rifle Regiment under the command of Col A. G. Dashkevich put on a demonstration of intense work on the defensive positions. But they were actually preparing the jump-off position for the crossing.

    For supporting the troops during the crossing and combat on the bridgehead, the 291st Air Ground Attack Division was assigned to the commander of the 6th Army. The division's commander, Col A. N. Vitruk, met repeatedly with the division commander P. M. Shafarenko as well as with the regimental commanders K. V. Bilyutin and F. G. Krivomlin. Together they worked out in detail the questions of cooperation in all stages of the battle.

    The 25th Guards Rifle Division crossed the river in two regiments. Somewhat earlier its 73d Regiment had been shifted to the 174th Rifle Division. The actions of the 78th Guards Rifle Regiment supported the forward battalion (the 2d Rifle Battalion of Sr Lt G. L. Relin). Under the cover of artillery fire, it was to cross on available equipment and seize the enemy strongpoint at elev. 186.2 which prevailed over the terrain in the crossing area. Its capture would deprive the enemy of an opportunity to use small arms and machine gun fire against our subunits in the course of their crossing of the river.

    As soon as the artillery troops, having securely neutralized the enemy on the forward edge, had shifted fire deep into the enemy defenses, the forward battalion, crossing on rafts, boats and other available equipment, attacked the Nazi trenches by surprise. The bold actions of the guardsmen stunned the Nazis and soon thereafter elev. 186.2 had been captured. Sr Lt G. L. Relin decided to benefit from the enemy's confusion and to continue the advance toward the southeastern edge of 1st Storozhevoye (Diagram 1).

    The commander of the 78th Regiment, Lt Col K. V. Bilyutin, in having dependable contact with the forward battalion, with permission by the division commander immediately began to cross the river with the main forces of the regiment in order to reinforce and exploit the success of the 2d Battalion. It succeeded in crossing to the opposite bank quickly and without losses, but the enemy command was able to undertake a strong counterattack, forcing the regiment's subunits to go over to the defensive. Lt Col K. V. Bilyutin, in firmly controlling combat, sent out reconnaissance which reported the bringing up of enemy reserves from the region of Dovhalevka.

    Having been informed of this, the divisional commander decided to hit the advancing reserves employing the ground attack planes of the 291st Air Division and after intense shelling by artillery and rocket launchers against the counterattacking enemy grouping, to resume the offensive by the forces of the division's first echelon and to shift to the opposite bank the 81st Guards Rifle Regiment of Maj F. G. Krivomlin for broadening and deepening the captured bridgehead. Lt Col K. V. Bilyutin ordered the battalions of G. L. Relin and M. I. Vasyukov to tie down the enemy on the front, while the 3d Battalion of Capt V. Ya. Trofimov, in outflanking 1st Storozhevoye to the southeast and coming out in the enemy rear, was to capture the important strongpoint on elev. 195.0.

    With the start of the attack by the 3d Battalion, the 1st and 2d Battalions were also to go over to the offensive.

    Firm and continuous control of the subunits and units as well as reliable communications between the control posts made it possible to quickly give the missions to the troops and clarify cooperation. Having resumed the offensive after the attack by the ground attack planes and artillery fire, the 78th Regiment without halting broke into Storozhevoye and captured it. Conditions were created for committing the 81st Regiment to combat. Committed at dawn, this regiment had the task, after a 5-minute intense shelling, to advance in the direction of elev. 187.7, cutting the enemy grouping in the bend of the Don into two parts. After capturing the elevation, its subunits began to rapidly advance into the rear of the 4th Infantry Regiment of the 9th Hungarian Infantry Division, the subunits of which, in abandoning their positions, began a disordered retreat.

    During the second night, the 24th Motorized Rifle Brigade of Col V. L. Savchenko began to cross the Don. Without a halt it succeeded in capturing the village of Titchikha. The commander ordered the 25th Division and the brigade, in extending the offensive along convergent axes, to link up their bridgeheads into one.

    Not relying on the Hungarian units, the German Command committed the 429th Infantry Regiment of the 168th German Infantry Division as well as around 50 tanks to the battle. The main thrust by the counterattacking enemy grouping, with air support and in addition to the German regiment involved units of the 9th and 20th Hungarian Infantry Divisions, was made against the units of the 25th Guards Division.

    Around a regiment of enemy infantry with tanks advanced just against the 3d Battalion of the 81st Guards Rifle Regiment. The division commander, in being at an observation point set up on the bridgehead 1.5 km from the forward edge, ordered the commander of the 29th Tank Killing Battalion, Maj L. I. Ostroukhov, to move up into the battalion's area and repel the tank attack. Due to the clear and decisive actions by the artillery troops, the enemy tanks were halted, but the infantry continued to advance. It reached our trenches in individual areas and here hand-to-hand clashes broke out. The regimental commander sent a machine gun company from the battalion of Maj V. G. Slonskiy to reinforce the 3d Battalion. But the division commander concentrated the fire of all artillery in front of the 81st Regiment. The army commander sent regiments of the 291st Air Division here as well. The increasing effort, particularly in the sector of the 3d Battalion, firm control of the companies by its commander, Sr Lt A. N. Agafonov, as well as the heroism and tenacity of the troops forced the enemy to abandon its plans. Its regiment pulled back to the initial position. Having recovered somewhat from the failure, on 9 August the Nazis undertook a series of counterattacks, but they were all driven off. By the end of the 10th, the situation had temporarily stabilized in the area of the 25th Division and the 24th Brigade.


    The successful actions by the troops of the 6th Army sowed confusion in the enemy ranks. The underestimation of the forces which had captured the bridgehead became obvious. Up to two divisions of Hungarian troops and two German infantry regiments, supported by tanks, resumed the attack against the Storozhevnoye bridgehead. But the enemy encountered stubborn resistance. The guardsmen stood fast. Fierce battles were waged there until 17 September. The enemy lost up to 9,000 soldiers and officers killed and wounded, 48 guns, 28 tanks, 4 aircraft as well as much other equipment and weapons.

    In utilizing the predominant superiority in men and equipment, the Nazi formations drove our units out of Korotoyak and Averino, they captured Storozhevnoye, however the main bridgehead, the Storozhevnoye, remained in our hands. The enemy's plans to drown us in the Don were unrealized.


    The bridgeheads were held for 5 months and for 5 months bloody battles were carried out here, at one moment dying down and then resuming with new strength. The greatest tenacity, wholehearted dedication to the motherland, loyalty to duty and heroism were required in order to withstand the rabid enemy attacks. But the Soviet soldiers manifested these qualities daily. Here, on the Upper Don, 50 km to the south of Voronezh, on one of the sectors of the enormous Soviet-German Front, they carried out their feats.


    Also of great significance were the careful planning of troop operations, the constant training of the subunits to cross the water obstacle, the ensuring of surprise, the firm and continuous control of the troops as well as speed and prompt use and reinforcing of the results achieved by the forward battalions and by the main forces of the units and formations.

    In addition, we must also point out the constant increase in effort by committing new forces to the bridgeheads. Thus, as the Storozhevnoye bridgehead was broadened, the army commander moved to it the 116th Tank Brigade of Col A. Yu. Novak and the 53d Fortified Area. The presence of a tank brigade on the bridgehead strengthened the antitank defenses of our troops and made it possible to rapidly prepare and carry out counterattacks. The fortified area, as a unit most suited for organizing and carrying out a static defense, undoubtedly contributed a great deal to retaining the bridgehead

    Attached Files:

  2. Earthican

    Earthican Senior Member

    Now for my interpretation of what the article described and what I think is reasonable.

    First I suspect the Hungarians had only outposted the river bend on the west bank. This seems sensible not to place your main defense where the Soviets could dominate them from the east bank. However this would also allow the Soviets to grab a bridge site which they did.

    It seems brilliant to me that the Soviets used their first initial surprise attack to grab a position in the main defense (Hill 186.2). Had they just taken the river flat in the bend they would have then faced the main defense on the bluff without the benefit of surprise.

    After fending off the initial counter attack the article states the 78th Guards Rifle Regt took Storozhevoye. The sketch map does not show this but the article later states the Axis did re-take the town. The 81st GRR is credited with taking Hill 187.7 however the sketch map shows the start positions for 15 September east of that elevation. It seems reasonable that this hill was also re-taken, but not by the initial counter-attack as the article clearly states this was repulsed.

    Taking the un-named town in the south should have been a significant event whether it was strongly defended or not. This position would anchor the defense in the south and reduce Axis observation to the bridge or ferry site. However the article makes no mention so at first I did not show it being taken. Later I decided it must have been taken in the initial rush, but, who knows.

    Note I assumed the 24th Motorized Rifle Brigade crossed through the 81st GRR bridgehead to take Titchikha. The 78th GRR may have also made an attack from the north to connect the two small bridgeheads. The article describes a converging attack.

    The article mentions the RKKA 29th Tank Killing Battalion but that unit does not appear on the sketch map. Anyone know how this unit was likely equipped (towed or SP anti-tank guns of what caliber)?

    That's all the article describes about the northern bridgehead. From the sketch map it is obvious there was much more fighting later. Both the sketch map and the article cite the 116th Tank Brigade as entering the bridgehead. The sketch map seems to indicate that the battle on 15 Sept made the most gains in the south to re-take Hill 187.7 and to take Hill 185.6, across the small gully.

    I'd love to learn more about this battle. If anybody can find it mentioned in their books, please post a summary or small quote.

    Also welcomed would be insights into how RKKA units were organized and how they operated with their supporting artillery.

    Attached Files:

Share This Page