For the Germans, the Elevator building became the symbol of the fierce and bloody close-quarter fighting for each street, house and floor in Stalingrad. This is a rather rare case from the history of the Soviet-German War, when the selflessness and the heroism of Soviet soldiers were unconditionally confirmed by their enemy.
On October 26, when the battles for the Barricades and Red October Factories were in full swing, and as it seemed, a little more and the Germans would finally break the resistance of the remnants of the 62nd Army, Hitler ordered the design of a sleeve patch for the capture of Stalingrad. In November, the sketch was ready, but it was rejected. And for a good reason: the Stalingrad Elevator was depicted on the shield, and under it a dead German soldier in a crown of thorns, the analogies were more than understandable. The sketch was sent for revision, and its author Ernst Eigeiner, artist of the 637th propaganda company of the 6th Army, as if confirming his idea of the project, soon perished near Kalach.
But let’s get back to the beginning of September 1942.
At that time the fighting was already approaching the city. From the south-west, units of Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army approached: 24th, 14th Panzer and 29th Motorized Divisions. By September 3, the Germans reached the line: Experimental Station-Polyakovka-Voroponovo. Here the tankmen of 169th Tank Brigade, commanded by A.P. Codenets, were the first to engage. The next two days there were fierce battles for Heights 147.5 and 143.5, the settlements of Verkhnyaya Elshanka and Peschanka. This sector was hardly held by Colonel P.S. Ilyin’s 20th Motorized Rifle Brigade, 90 soldiers entrenched in the area of the «triangular grove», as well as cadets of the military-political school. Colonel M.A. Pesochin’s 131st Rifle Division occupied positions in the area of Peschanka. 271st Regiment and one battalion of 272nd Regiment of the 10th NKVD Division’s Internal Troops were dug in along the railway embankment of the Maximovsky Passage. Along the railway between the Stalingrad II and Sadovaya stations cruised the 73rd Separate Armored Train of the NKVD, whereas several “thirty-fours” of the 26 Tank brigade took up positions near the station.
These forces were clearly insufficient, so that 35th Guards Division and 38th Motorized Rifle Brigade were urgently transferred from the central section to the left flank, in order to fight off 4th Panzer Army’s armored fist. This division and the brigade were far from complete, but despite their small numbers, the arriving units received the task of recapturing Voroponovo and Alekseevka. The attacking infantry was supported by guard mortars (Katyusha rocket launchers) and tanks of the 26th Tank Brigade. The offensive was not successful, the Germans managed to gain a foothold on the railway line at the Voroponovo station, and the Luftwaffe had an overwhelming advantage in the sky.
On September 6, the 244th Rifle Division of Colonel G.A. Afanasyev, that had just arrived in Stalingrad, was set the same task: to restore the situation at the Polyakovka-Voroponovo line. By the end of the day, the division’s fighters managed to recapture Height 147.5 recently occupied by the Germans. The attacking battalion was commanded by Lieutenant Ivan Antonovich Skory. On the same day, regiments of the 10th NKVD Division’s Internal Troops were removed from the frontline of 62nd Army and assigned the task of taking up defense in the second echelon, directly in the city blocks. The regiments of the 35th Guards Regiment held the Verkhnyaya Yelshanka line at Height 143.5, and soldiers from 131st Rifle Divisions dug in on the eastern outskirts of Peschanka.
On September 7, in the Alekseyevka area, a large number of German tanks and infantry were noticed, they clearly preparing for the offensive. The 244th Rifle Division was urgently reinforced with the last reserve of the army, the 502nd Tank Destroyer Regiment consisting of twenty 76-mm guns on automobile traction, as well as the remnants of Major Lototsky’s 10 Rifle Brigade and Colonel N.M. Bubnov’s 133rd Tank Brigade (22 KV-1).
On September 8 at 0330 hours, after a strong artillery bombardment, three German divisions went on the offensive. 48 tanks from 24th PD, with the support of infantry and armored personnel carriers, moved in on both sides of the railway from Voroponovo in the direction of Sadovaya station. To the south attacked the tanks and infantry of 14th Panzer and 29th Motorized Divisions, with the task of reaching the Volga in the Kuporosnoe area. The German offensive began successfully, at 0600 hours units of 24th PD reached the line: north of the “trapezoid grove” — southeastern part of Verkhnyaya Elshanka — northeast slope of Height 147.5 The resistance of the Soviet troops was initially surprisingly weak, but after a couple of hours the heat of battle began to increase.
At the same time the tanks of 14 PD reached the crest of Height 144.9, but the German infantry, having occupied the advanced trenches in the first hours of the battle, could not advance further. The soldiers of 35th Guards Division, manning the trenches and dugouts on the slopes, did not think to give up. Hand-to-hand fighting flashed everywhere, German tanks exploded, hit with anti-tank rifles and with Molotov cocktails. At 0640 hours the guardsmen recaptured the height. Not far from the road near the building of the radio station was deployed the command post of Major General Vasily Andreevich Glazkov, divisional commander of the 35th Guards Division.
By 0900 the battle broke out all over from the Tsaritsa Valley to Peschanka. The artillery and guards mortars of 62nd Army targeted groups of enemy infantry and tanks, and in response, the howitzers and six-barreled Nebelwerfer mortars of three German divisions plowed the heights occupied by the Russians.
At the observation post of the 24th Panzer Division, the commander and staff officers discussed the course of the battle. It was located west of Alekseyevka at Height 151.7, from where the surrounding area was clearly visible. In the distance, German tanks crawled along the railway, the heights were covered in dust from the explosions, Peschanka burned to the right, the eastern part of which was still held by Soviet troops. Several shells fell nearby, making staff officers nervous. The next shell exploded right above the maps table, at which gathered the command staff of the division. As a result of the artillery raid, the commander of 24th Panzer Division, Major General Bruno von Hauenshild was seriously wounded, the commander of one of the battalions and several staff officers were killed.
Over Height 144.9, where the command post of the 35th Guards Division was located, the battle went on for five hours. German tanks of 24th PD reached the Sadovaya station, Verkhnyaya Elshanka was captured. At the junction between the regiments of the division, tanks and armored personnel carriers of the 14th Panzer Division broke through on the road south of the height. Commander Glazkov was wounded, the radio was broken by an explosion and there was no connection with the army headquarters, and there was neither any order to withdraw. The surrounded command post was protected by the remnants of the reconnaissance and engineer battalions, the Germans dug in two hundred meters from the headquarters dugout. The general was wounded a second time from the explosion of a German shell and he lost consciousness. The wounded was taken out on the “emka” light that broke through to the HQ, but another shell destroyed it, and Glazkov was killed. The body of the general on a raincoat tent was carried out by eight soldiers: four of them carried, while the four other shot back at the Germans who were pressing on.
The general was buried the next day beyond the Volga. The five soldiers who remained in service and the nineteen-year-old foreman Grigory Konstantinovich Mukhalchenko, having learned that they were to be sent to the rear for training, returned to Stalingrad on the same day.
In the evening, the wounded soldier Zatskil Trupe made his way to the location of the 35th Guards Division, with an order from the army headquarters to withdraw to new positions. About four hundred people marched in small groups to the southern outskirts of the city, where the soldiers of the 270th Regiment of the 10th NKVD Division occupied defense positions. 35th Guards Division’s Chief of Staff, Colonel Vasily Pavlovich Dubyansky, took command of the consolidated group which aggregated 20th Motorized Rifle Brigade to the remnants of the division. On the night of September 8–9, the army command transferred three regiments of 10th Rifle Brigade, under Major S.S. Lototsky, to help Dubyansky. The line of defense of the brigade ran from the walls of the tannery through the railway embankment and up to the suburbs of Minina.
By the end of the day, German units reached the line: northwestern part of the “square grove” — tannery — northern part of the “trapezoid grove”. Heights 147.5 and 144.9 were captured along with Sadovaya station.
But the Wehrmacht’s losses were also very heavy, for example, in 24th Panzer Division out of 48 tanks participating in the attack, 28 were destroyed, including five irretrievably lost. Precise artillery fire of Russian anti-tank guns from the tannery gave work to German repair crews for several days.
On September 9, the right-wing neighbors of 24th Panzer Division (14th Panzer and the 29th Motorized Division), with the support of 20th Romanian Division, broke down the resistance of the remnants of 131st Rifle Division, captured Peschanka and moved further east to the Volga. However, on 24th PD’s left flank, north of the Voroponovo-Sadovaya railway section, the situation looked not so good for the Germans.
Neighbor on the left, 71st Infantry Division of Paulus’ 6th Army was unable to advance to the sector Experimental Station — Tsaritsa River Valley, where sailors from the 42nd Brigade of Colonel M.S. Batrakov and soldiers of the 272nd NKVD Regiment stubbornly defended themselves.
To the south of Tsaritsa, on the eastern edge of the “square grove”, soldiers from the 244th Rifle Division and tanks from the 26th Tank Brigade were dug in. In this area there was a hill called Dar-Gora (Dar Mountain) by the locals, at the top of which stood the three-story ruins of the departmental building of the NKVD. A wide highway ran between the ravines in a straight line, the slopes of the heights were dug with trenches and dugouts, and from the west this fortified area was protected by an anti-tank ditch.
By evening, the Germans managed to drive the Red Army out of the buildings of the tannery. The last defenders were killed in hand-to-hand combat, the ensuing counterattack of the 244th Infantry Division from the «square grove» was repelled. The main forces of 29th Motorized and 14th Panzer Divisions, as well as 4th Romanian Army’s 20th Division, were pulled in south of the railway to the outskirts of the city: Minina, Yelshanka and Kuporosnoe.
On September 12, Vasily Ivanovich Chuikov, who had already crossed into the burning city in the evening, took command of 62nd Army. On the same day, at a meeting in Vinnitsa, Hitler persistently made clear to the commander of 6th Army, Friedrich Paulus, that it was necessary to capture Stalingrad as soon as possible. To do this, he was given three divisions of Hoth’s 4th Army. Despite Paulus' doubts about the quick seizure of the city, the balance of forces clearly bent on German side. In 24th Panzer Division alone, the number of so-called fighting personnel was greater than the number of all “rations” men in 62nd Army’s divisions it faced on the southern outskirts of the city. As of September 11, there were 454 men in 35th Guards Rifle Division, 3,685 in 244th Rifle Division, 1,912 in 10th Rifle Brigade, and not more than one hundred soldiers in 20th Motorized Rifle Brigade (the number of “active bayonets” in the indicated data did not exceed half). In 24th Panzer Division on September 11, 1942, there were 8,714 fighting personnel, with a total division strength (with attached units) of 15,401.
The number of operational armored vehicles in German divisions advancing in the southern part of Stalingrad was: 24th Panzer Division — 23 tanks, 29th Motorized Division — 9 tanks, 14th Panzer Division — 25 tanks.
The first assault on Stalingrad, scheduled for September 13, began with great promise for the Germans. Already on the second day of the assault, two divisions (the 71st and 295th) broke into the city center, their advanced detachments reached the Volga near the central crossing and the headquarters of 62nd Army, splitting the front in half. In order to recapture the crossings, Commander Chuikov had to weaken the southern sector of the defense by transferring 11 heavy tanks of the first battalion of 133rd Tank Brigade to the city center. A day earlier, 73rd Armored Train of the NKVD troops operating there was withdrawn from the area of Stalingrad II station. Due to constant air raids and the destruction of railways, maneuvering became impossible and the armored train had to be driven off to the Mamaev’s Kurgan loop. And without it, the bloodless left flank of 62nd Army practically lost fire support.
The most able units in the center of 62nd Army’s defense (42nd Rifle Brigade and 244th Rifle Division) as a result of the German breakthrough, were half encircled from the north. The next attack came on the southern outskirts of the city, with three divisions of Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army.
According to the offensive plan, on September 15, the Edelsheim attack group of 24th Panzer Division was to break through the line of defense of the Soviet troops and proceed along the railway to Maksimovsky junction, and then move north to Stalingrad II Station. The second group, Hellermann, provided the northern flank of the attacking forces and was supposed to advance against positions of 244th Rifle Division and 20th Motorized Rifle Brigade at the height called Kaserne by the Germans. The main task of group Edelsheim was to capture the Stalingrad II station, then move north and reach the railway bridge over the Tsaritsa. The result of combining the strike group of the 24th Panzer Division with the units of 71th Infantry Division at the railway bridge was to surround the Soviet troops on Dar-mountain and north of Tsaritsa at the Experimental Station and Dubovaya balka, defended by 42nd Rifle Brigade.
29th Motorized and 94th Infantry Divisions were supposed to secure the areas south of the railway, the suburbs of Minina and Kuporosnoe.
In the morning of September 15, breaking through the defense of 10th Brigade, the tanks and infantry of 24th PD reached the Maximovsky crossing. Soviet soldiers, entrenched on both sides of the railway line, fiercely resisted. Their positions were shelled by tank guns, and in the ranks of the German infantry operated flamethrowers of the sapper battalion and Marder self-propelled guns. Neighbor on the right, 94th ID supported the advance with artillery and mortar fire, while the motorized infantry and tanks of 14th PD secured the residential area south of the railway.
The defense of the consolidated group under the command of Colonel V.P. Dubyansky in the suburb of Minina, which included the remnants of the 35th Guards RD, 10th RB, 131st RD and 270th Regiment of the NKVD, was supported by the fire of three KV-1s from the second battalion of 133rd TBR. After the Germans broke through to the Maximovsky junction, the tanks tried to make it to the Elevator building, but one of them was shot down on the embankment east of the junction.
From the Maximovsky junction, the advancing units of group Edelsheim turned north towards the station. Along the railway, grenadiers and infantrymen were moving along the Komitetskaya and Vokzalnaya (now Bukhantseva) streets, while German tanks crawled on the flanks, circling around craters and burnt equipment. Having suppressed several resistance nodes, the Germans captured the Stalingrad II station at 16:00. The huge Elevator building loomed threateningly to the right along the German columns, but to their surprise such a favorable position was not defended by the Soviets.
Having received the order, the German tanks and motorized infantry regrouped and continued moving towards the railway bridge. The terrain allowed the tanks to move only one at a time: the railway embankment towered to the right, reaching several meters in height. To the left of the embankment came the ravines and burnt out quarters of the residential sector, burnt and riddled with funnels. The streets crossed the railway in places of so-called punctures or viaducts, driveways into the embankment, some of them were littered with rubble and impassable to armored vehicles.
By 17:00, advancing to the Tsaritsa River bed, group Edelsheim turned west, towards the graveyard, where the soldiers of the 270th NKVD Regiment occupied positions. On the southern slopes of Dar Gora closer to the tannery, the position of 244th Rifle Division was attacked by infantry and tanks of group Hellermann. Surrounded at the height, the Soviet fighters showed fierce resistance: among the camouflaged pillboxes and concrete caps, there were also dug in turrets of tanks from 26th TBR converted into fixed firing positions. The Germans advanced with great difficulty, and had to ask for help from the Luftwaffe. But when the bombs began to fall on the German infantry, which came close to the Soviet trenches, the aircraft were recalled. The fighting at the height only ceased with the onset of darkness.
Lines from the diary of 10th Rifle Brigade:
“The brigade, until 4:00 pm, kept the occupied line, waging a battle with superior enemy forces, having only 210 bayonets. By the end of the day, having suffered heavy losses from aircraft, mortar fire and machine-gun fire, continuously fighting, it was withdrawn to the Elevator area, having no contact with its neighbors.”
At 18:00, the commander of 131st Rifle Division, Colonel M.A. Pesochin reported:
“The enemy wedged in the following direction: Elevator, hospital, leather factory. The defense is sarce, the enemy freely infiltrates… Losses up to 70%. There are no more than 100 men left… Ammunition is running out… The division is not operational…”
In the evening, Army commander Chuikov received a report from the commander of 35th Guards Division, Colonel Dubyansky, which left no doubt the defense of the left flank of the 62nd Army had collapsed:
“Units of the division and those attached have lost wounded and killed up to 70%. The units remaining on the line of defense, under the pressure of aircraft, mortar and machine gun fire, were pushed back due to lack of strength. Ammunition and food were not delivered… I think it’s impossible to hold the occupied area with 120-150 men… The telephone connection is broken, the cable burned out… The radio station does not work… The command and political personnel in the units is down by 90%.”
By the end of September 15, the Wehrmacht had obvious successes. The attack groups of 24th PD tore open the defense of the Soviet troops in the Voroshilov district, units of 29th Motorized and 94th Infantry Divisions reached the Volga in the area of Kuporosnoe balka, cutting off the 62nd Army from the 64th. In the reports of 62nd Army, September 15 had these meaningful mentions:
“In the morning up to one infantry division attacked in the sector: Height 102.0, Tsaritsa River. An infantry regiment with tanks attacked from Sadovaya to the railway line to the east, a column of tanks approached the Elevator area from the south. On the western outskirts of Minina is deployed one infantry regiment.
Enemy aircraft constantly raid the positions of our troops, the Tsaritsa bed and the Volga bank.
244th Rifle Division, having suffered heavy losses, moved its left flank to the western suburb of Minina…
10 Rifle Brigade fought on the western outskirts of Minina, along the right flank of the railway line…
35th Guards and 131st Rifle Divisions, with 20th Destroyer Brigade and 52nd Separate Machine gun Battalion, were engaged in fierce fighting with the advancing enemy, sustaining losses up to 75–80% of the personnel due to aircraft and artillery bombing.
By the end of the day fighting continued on the western outskirts of the city, the Minina suburb, and the northern outskirts of Kuporosnoe, which was occupied by the enemy.”
On the morning of September 16, the fighting resumed with renewed vigor. At 6:00 a.m., the motorized infantry of group Edelsheim managed to capture the railway bridge, creating a small bridgehead on the northern shore of the Tsaritsa. Then the tanks of the group attacked in a south-westerly direction, where a company from 270th NKVD Regiment was defending in the area of the graveyard. The fight went on all day long, by the evening there were practically no fighters left. At the border of the graveyard at the bottom of a trench lay Red Army man Mikhail Chembarov. Platoon commander Lieutenant Pyotr Kruglov and sergeant Alexander Belyaev were killed, cartridges ran out, Mikhail himself had no hope left. Near a burning German tank was lying his friend from the PTR (antitank rifle) team, Nikolai Sarafanov, seriously injured. The earth was quiet, after trembling from the bomb explosions. Gray figures appeared on the edge of the parapet. Looking at the Germans, the thirty-year-old collective farmer Mikhail could not even imagine that he would survive, after captivity, and that after the war, streets named after Chembarov, Kruglov, Belyaev and Sarafanov would appear in the newly rebuilt city.
Units of the 24th Panzer Division straddled the line of the railway separating the Voroshilov region, and from the eastern direction attacked Soviet fortifications on Dar Mountain. The area east of the high embankment and up to the Volga coast was assigned to its neighbors (14th Panzer and 29th Motorized Divisions), whose forces were restrained at the cannery by a combined group of units under the command of Colonel Dubyansky. The soldiers of the 276th Regiment of 94th Infantry Division, advancing from the Maximovsky junction along the railway, entered the territory of the flour mill and occupied the Elevator building.
10th Rifle Brigade, which came under attack from 24th Panzer Division, was literally scattered: separated groups of Red Army soldiers retreated to the Volga. The brigade commander Major Lototsky, together with the headquarters and the soldiers of the blocking detachment, tried to gather his brigade’s remnants and prevent the retreat which was turning into a rout. One of the few correct decisions of the brigade commander was the decision to take the Germans out of the Elevator.
On the evening of September 17, the huge building was recaptured by a 27 people detachment from the combined battalion of 10th Rifle Brigade. The battalion commander, Senior Lieutenant M.P. Polyakov, divided the fighters into three groups: one of them distracted the Germans, whereas the other two attacked them from the rear and flank. The groups were commanded by Lieutenants B.A. Stepanov and Satanovsky (initials unknown). The German infantry, that had settled on the second floor, was destroyed by the morning of the 18th only. The following documents are excerpts from the award sheets written a week after the events took place.
Senior Lieutenant Mikhail Petrovich Polyakov, battalion commander in the 10th Rifle Brigade:
“On that day at 18.00, having received from the commander of the 11th Rifle Regiment the order to occupy the Stalingrad Grain Elevator (one of the important strategic strongpoints) with a group of 20 Red Army men, Comrade Polyakov fulfilled the order and two hours later the Elevator was recaptured from the enemy. Having received a replenishment of up to 130 men, Comrade Polyakov organized the all-round defense, repelling the fierce attacks of enemy infantry and tanks. During the 6 days of the battle, he destroyed two tanks, five carts, killed up to 150 soldiers and officers. After the complete encirclement of the Elevator, he led the men fight their way out, breaking through the enemy ring.”
Lieutenant Vasily Mikhailovich Listopadov, deputy battalion commander in the 10th Rifle Brigade:
“On September 17, 1942, the Germans wedged in, with superior forces, into the defense perimeter of our regiment. Arriving to reinforce the regiment with a company of fighters, Lieutenant V.M. Listopadov saw that the Germans had occupied one of the dominant strongpoints in the defense sector (the Elevator). Assessing the situation and the threat that had arisen, Lieutenant Listopadov promptly counterattacked with a group of fighters and forced the enemy out of the occupied building, inflicting him significant damage in manpower. Having seized this important strongpoint, he thereby restored the situation in the defense sector of the regiment.”
Senior Sergeant Dmitry Kharitonovich Katalyuk, from the 2nd Rifle Battalion, 10th Rifle Brigade:
“On September 17, 1942, the Germans launched an offensive in one sector of our defense. Chief of rifle company Comrade Katalyuk, who personally destroyed two enemy machine-gun crews with fire and bayonet, captured 6 prisoners and two light machine guns.”
By the evening of September 17, the Germans destroyed the last KVs of the 133rd Tank Brigade’s second battalion, which were holding under fire the Novouzenskaya and Barrikadnaya streets north of the Elevator. Army commander Chuikov had earlier transferred the tanks of the first battalion to the center of the city, and there were no more Soviet armored vehicles left in the southern sector of 62nd Army's defense.
Excerpts from the reports of 62nd Army for September 18:
“The enemy was not active at night. 35th Guards Rifle Division with the remnants of 131st Rifle Division and 10th Rifle Brigade remained at their previous positions, the enemy is holding the Elevator and the Cannery…
In the course of the day, 35th Guards Rifle Division, 133rd Tank Brigade and the remnants of 131st Rifle Division and 10th Rifle Brigade repelled four enemy attacks and continue to hold the line: railway 1 km north of the Elevator and to the VDKCH water station (east of Lvov crossing).
244th Rifle Division, after a hard fighting and under pressure from superior enemy forces, withdrew and occupied a section of the railway line…”
The front line divided the Voroshilov district diagonally from north to south: from the railway bridge along the high embankment to the water station (VDKCH), which stood on the banks of the Volga. On the night of September 17-18, the remnants of the 42nd Brigade left the swampy channel of the small Tsaritsa River that flowed into the Volga, taking up defenses on its northern bank. The surviving soldiers of the 244th Rifle Division, breaking out of encirclement on Dar Mountain, retreated east of the railway embankment. Further to the bank of the Volga were the positions of the group of Colonel Dubyansky. The sector of the Cannery and Flour Mill was occupied by the Germans, but in the encircled building of the Elevator several Soviet soldiers, cut off from their command, were still shooting back.
The commander of XXXXVIII Panzer Corps, General Werner Kempf, was quite taken aback by the situation. Tanks and infantry of the 24th Panzer Division reached the ruins in the Dar Mountain area, individual centers of resistance in the ravines north and south were practically suppressed. But despite the rapid breakthrough of the strike group and the encirclement of Soviet troops west of the city, the timing of the offensive was thwarted.
His problem was the huge Elevator, captured by a small detachment of Soviet soldiers. Despite all efforts, it was not possible to dislodge the stubborn Red Army men out of the building. The approaches to the Elevator were blocked by soldiers of 94th Division’s 267th and 274th Regiments, but it turned out that the small garrison did not lack ammunition: all attempts by the German infantrymen to break into the building were met with machine gun fire from its depths, and Russian infantry in the upper floors ravaged the ranks of the Wehrmacht.
German documents noted:
“Despite the use of individual and bundled grenades with a concentrated charge in the basement of the Elevator, it was not possible to break into it. The Elevator is heavily fortified, and in addition, advance is impossible due to strong flanking fire from the east.”
The first attempt to break the resistance was made in the evening of September 17 — the corps commander requested support from the Luftwaffe, noting:
«… since we are talking about a gigantic stone structure, the heaviest bombs will be required.”
However, the bombing of the Elevator did not bring visible results.
General Kempf then decided to use the artillery of the two tank divisions against the building.
The 88-mm anti-aircraft guns of the 24th Panzer Division, standing on the slope of Dar Gora, eight hundred meters from the Elevator, were aimed at the huge structure and it was very difficult to miss. But then it appeared the command of the 94th Infantry was not sure that its soldiers had retreated to a safe distance. Moreover, it was unclear who was occupying the building extension next to the Elevator. The latest information from 94th Infantry Division’s forward units indicated that the remnants of the Russian garrison had barricaded themselves on the second floor, holding the stairs up under fire. After two hours of altercations between divisional headquarters, the irritated General Kempf finally gave the order and the Flak opened fire.
Out of 50 shots 44 hits were recorded, but the armor-piercing shells could not bring down the western wall. German spotters saw the anti-aircraft guns shells piercing the concrete, leaving neat holes. It seemed that the shelling did not cause much damage to the building. But inside the Elevator it was hell: flying fragments and pieces of concrete structure killed and maimed the Soviet soldiers, the roar of explosions tore the eardrums, dust and smoldering grain poisoned the air.
When the shelling was over and the German infantrymen tried to approach the building, rifle shots rang out from the windows of the second and third floors while grenades flew. The attack died down and the assault groups had to retreat once more. Batteries of 105 mm guns rumbled: General Kempf used howitzer artillery. The southern facade of the Elevator was clouded with dust, high-explosive shells tore apart the wall of the building after numerous hits.
The surviving soldiers in the basement and on the upper floors of the Elevator, counting the last cartridges, prepared to give their lives dearly. But when the shelling ended, the enemy did not attack: it could be seen how the Germans regrouped and retreated to the railway tracks. From the side of the Stalingrad II Station, heavy fire was heard, grenade explosions, Russian swearing and «Polundra»: the sailors of 92nd Separate Rifle Brigade entered the battle.
Two battalions of the brigade landed at ferry No. 2 near the Kholzunov monument on the night of September 17-18, the other two landed the next night. According to the order 62nd Army HQ, the brigade had the task:
“… to destroy the enemy in the areas of concentration and to take up defenses in the sector: from the north of the Tsaritsa River, from the south at the triangle of railways in the area of st. Valdai, along the railway with the front to the west.”
The artillery and mortar divisions of the 92nd Brigade remained on the eastern bank. The headquarters settled in dugouts on the northern bank of the Tsaritsa near the Astrakhan bridge, the brigade was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Pavel Ilyich Tarasov and military commissar Georgy Mikhailovich Andreev.
According to the plan of the command, three battalions of the 92nd Brigade were to reach the railway and replace the remnants of the units that defended the Voroshilovsky district. The fourth battalion remained in second echelon. But in reality there was no defense line: the Germans were firmly entrenched on the railway embankment, the advanced detachments of the 94th Infantry Division reached the Tsaritsa River, the Elevator was blocked by armored vehicles of the 29th Motorized and 14th Panzer Divisions.
During the day on September 18, in fierce attacks, the fighters of the 92nd Brigade recaptured the streets and buildings of the Voroshilovsky district captured by the Germans. The lack of infantry training was compensated by the desperate bravery of the North Sea sailors. In the dense clusters of multi-storey buildings, where the opponents literally collided face to face, the battle broke into separate, isolated assaults, and was decided in short-term hand-to-hand fighting. But the closer the attacking battalions approached the railway, the denser the German fire became. The machine gun and small-caliber gun crews, dug in on the high embankment, kept the surrounding area under fire and the sailors began to suffer heavy losses in dashing bayonet attacks.
By the end of the day, the soldiers of the third battalion were able to recapture the Stalingrad II Station, but half an hour later, after a German artillery and mortar assault, no one was left in the burnt-out box of the building.
Late in the evening, a detachment of fighters from the second rifle company (second battalion of the 92nd Brigade) under Lt. Zozuli and the machine-gun company of A. Khozyainov were able to break through to the wounded soldiers in the besieged Elevator. The detachment consisted of only 19 people, two heavy and one light machine guns, two anti-tank rifles (PTR) and a radio station.
Soviet soldiers held the encircled building of the Elevator for another three days. Artillery shelling alternated with attacks by German infantry, during September 19 nine attempts to take the building by storm were repelled. According to the recollections of Lieutenant Khozyainov, the next day a tankette drove up to the Elevator with envoys, whom the sailors sent to a certain mother. The discouraged Germans had to leave on foot, as the tankette’s track was smashed by the PTR, and the unlucky negotiators were relieved from their cigarettes. The attacks continued until darkness, this time after an artillery raid the Germans drove Romanian units into battle, but again to no avail.
The lines of XXXXVIII Panzer Corps’ diary testified:
“…the force that defended the concrete building so stubbornly during the day, numbering hardly one company, is prevented from surrendering only by the commissar, as it turned out after getting in touch with the surrounded enemy through prisoners.”
This commissar was most likely Dmitry Afanasyevich Belorusky, the military commissar of the 10th Rifle Brigade, who, together with a group of staff workers of the 10th Brigade HQ, was able to break into the surrounded Elevator.
On the third day, the defenders ran out of ammunition for anti-tank rifles and hand grenades. There was no water either, a German observation post was located in the water station booth next to the Elevator. A direct hit broke one heavy machine gun, the cover of the second was broken by a shrapnel, the radio was out of order. The Germans tried to negotiate again. An excerpt from the report of Senior Lieutenant M.P. Polyakov, written in December 1942, speaks eloquently about the mood of the defenders:
“On September 21, the Germans sent envoys from the civilian population in order to persuade the soldiers who defended the Elevator to lay down their arms and surrender. These envoys, after they refused to take up arms and fight with us against the Germans, we shot.”
Taking cover behind tank armor, the infantry and sappers of 94th Panzer’s 274th Regiment approached the western wall, grenades and explosives flew into the gaps. Firing at the windows of the southern facade with anti-tank artillery, paving the way with jets of flamethrowers, the Germans entered the building. In the dusty semi-darkness of the stairwells, knives and butts, bayonets and pieces of concrete were used. By the evening of September 21, the opponents were separated by the overlap of the fifth and sixth floors, and some of the defenders were holding the basement of the building. At night, the surviving fighters and commanders tried to break out.
The lines from Polyakov's report indicate the exact time:
“At 20:00 09.21.42 the enemy, pulling up tanks and flamethrowers close to the Elevator, opened fire directly through the windows. Due to the lack of ammunition and the scarcely remaining fighters, we decided to break through the encirclement to the Volga River to connect with our units.”
Having dealt with the sentries and literally falling down the heads of the sleepy Germans, the Russian fighters escaped from the building. One group went towards the railway bridge near the Elshansky ravine. On the way, having defeated a mortar battery and got hold of captured weapons, the exhausted soldiers reached the bank of the Volga in a ravine. Four people were able to swim across the Volga, under German fire.
Another group of fifteen people was led by Senior Lieutenant Polyakov and broke through to the Soviet lines. Military Commissioner D.A. Belorusky was allegedly killed on September 21, along with other staff members of 10th Rifle Brigade HQ. Brigade commander Major Lototsky survived, very timely moving to the left bank of the Volga on the night of September 20.
Lieutenants Zozuli and Khozyainov from 92nd Rifle Brigade were recorded as missing. Unfortunately, nothing is known about the fate of Zakhar Zozuli. Andrei Khozyainov was seriously wounded during the breakthrough from the surrounded elevator and was captured by Romanians. He ran twice, successfully the second time. Andrei Osipovich fought further on, earned many awards and lived a long, dignified life.
According to the reports of 94th Infantry Division, the Elevator building was captured on September 22, and according to German data, 104 Soviet soldiers were taken prisoner in the vicinity of the flour mill.
Among the crowd of civilians wandering at the Elevator were father and son Ivanovs, former workers of the Yelshansk furniture factory. On August 23, when they came home from work, the men found a smoking crater in place of the house, and only a bloody flap of dress remained of the beloved wife and mother. When in September the Germans occupied the Voroshilovsky district, the Ivanovs decided to take revenge. Soon, at the Stalingrad II Station, someone stabbed up two sentries while boxes of shells exploded…
Organized resistance by 62nd Army units in the Voroshilovsky District continued until September 26. By this time, the sailors held only a small strip of the Volga bank, on which the cargo quays were located, and the mouth of the Tsaritsa River, where 92nd Rifle Brigade headquarters was located at the Astrakhan bridge. Telephone communication with the headquarters of the army was lost on September 21: the signalmen of the headquarters did not accept the radio communications since they were using outdated codes. The brigade lost the support of the artillery from beyond the Volga, whose fire was increasingly falling on the positions of the sailors.
By the evening of September 24, wounded staff workers of the 272nd NKVD Regiment HQ came out to the brigade's command post and reported that the defense line Central Station — Komsomolsky Garden — Railway Bridge was no more, the regiment's personnel were killed, German infantry and tanks broke through the embankment through Krasnoznamenskaya street and were advancing towards the Volga.
On September 26, soldiers of the 94th Infantry Division, with the support of assault guns, approached the Astrakhan Bridge, where the headquarters of 92nd Rifle Brigade was located on the banks of the Tsaritsa. The front line was broken, only isolated centers of resistance briefly delayed the advance of the Germans. The brigade did not receive supplies since it crossed to the city, food and ammunition had long run out, many wounded had accumulated on the shore.
At night, the commander of the 92nd Brigade, Lieutenant Colonel Tarasov and the Senior Battalion Commissar Andreev, crossed over to Golodny Island without order. The next day they were taken into custody by representatives of the military prosecutor's office and brought before the military tribunal. The verdict was signed by Eremenko and Khrushchev. They were shot on October 6, 1942.
Abandoned by their command and cut off from the rest of the army, the fighters fired back on the Germans from a narrow strip of the Volga bank. By the evening of September 27, some survivors tried to cross to Golodny Island, whereas some others broke through the captured «Houses of Specialists» to the positions of 13th Guards Division. According to German data, about three hundred Soviet soldiers were taken prisoner in the area of the dam at the mouth of the Tsaritsa.
The 92nd Separate Rifle Brigade, replenished by sailors of the Pacific Fleet, joined back again the Battle for Stalingrad in the beginning of October.
As a postscript:
Commander 62nd Army Chuikov always spoke negatively about the achievements of 92nd Separate Rifle Brigade, and Chief of Staff Krylov believed that the brigade command was misleading the army headquarters with its reports. Only in the seventies did it become known about the feat of the North Sea sailors, and in 1974 a monument was unveiled near the Elevator building. In Soviet times, a heavily censored book was published, written by the chief of staff of 92nd Separate Rifle Brigade Emelianenko and its chief of intelligence Rukavtsov. According to Emelianenko, for the period from September 18 to September 26, the brigade's losses amounted to two thousand men killed and three thousand wounded. From all the fighting strength (the so-called «active bayonets») of the brigade after the September battles, 214 sailors remained in the ranks.
Newsreel of the shelling of the Elevator
Preserved German newsreel, filmed by soldiers of the 29th Motorized Division, in which there are pictures of the Elevator shelling by howitzers and anti-tank guns. This video was included in the documentary «With a camera to Stalingrad» («Mit der Kamera nach Stalingrad»).
Translated by Anton Joly.