This is the fourth article of the cycle. Start here
Whereas on German side the first in a series of symbols of the Battle of Stalingrad was the Grain Elevator, in Soviet propaganda this place was firmly occupied by the Central Railway Station. A confluence of circumstances led to the fact that the feat of his defenders, soldiers of 1st Battalion, 42nd Guards Rifle Regiment, 13th Guards Rifle Division, became widely known. However, even in this case, the front-line correspondents could not do without distortions of reality.
As a result of the August bombing of Stalingrad, the station building was completely burned out. The fire was captured on film: at that time, a team of film and photo operators was working in the city, and the photo of the destroyed fountain standing at the station square later became famous.
The First Battalion: the origins of the legend
In early September, the editor-in-chief of the Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper David Ortenberg, his subordinate writers Konstantin Simonov, Vasily Koroteev and photographer Viktor Temin crossed over to the besieged city. The journalists visited the headquarters of the 62nd Army on Mamaev Kurgan and went to the village of Rynok north of Stalingrad. The Germans were pushing towards Stalingrad, and the situation was very tense. Back in city center, Ortenberg interviewed Front Commander Eremenko and an annoyed Khrushchev. After spending the night in the dugouts where the Front headquarters was located, the journalists woke up in the morning from an unpleasant silence: the HQ had been evacuated beyond the Volga overnight. Having walked through the dead streets to the station square, the journalists approached the fountain, where dancing plaster children in the middle of the disfigured city made an eerie impression.
A few kilometers west of the center of Stalingrad the rumble of battle was heard, German aviation was storming the positions of the 42nd Naval Rifle Brigade on the slopes of the Dubovaya balka. Shooting was also heard in the Tsaritsa bed, and to the south German infantry and armored vehicles of the 24th Panzer Division had already reached Sadovaya station.
Simonov and Ortenberg nervously smoked a cigarette, Temin took some pictures, and four journalists hurried back, meeting a company of Soviet fighters on Gogol Street, walking towards the Central Station. Only a few signalmen and a representative of the front headquarters, General F.I.Golikov, remained in the adit. After briefly talking with him, the company headed to the bank of the Volga, to the crossing. The writer Simonov long remembered the contemptuous look of the general who remained in Stalingrad.
At the end of September 1942, when it became clear that the battle for the city was dragging on, the Soviet press took over: instead of vague lines about «fierce battles to the north-west and south-west of Stalingrad», the phrases «street fighting» and «heroic defenders of Stalin's city» began to appear more and more often.
First among the ranks of the heroic defenders, the reporters deservedly recorded General Alexander Rodimtsev’s guardsmen: on October 1, 1942, «Krasnaya Zvezda» published the article «Heroes of Stalingrad» and a letter from the soldiers and commanders of the 13th Guards Rifle Division. But that day there was no time for newspapers in the division, as Soviet soldiers counted the casualties and mourned their fallen comrades, mutilated in close quarters fighting after the German night attack along the Krutoy ravine.
Soon a letter came to the editorial office of the newspaper. Inquisitive readers were asking a pragmatic question: how the heroic guards could surrender the Stalingrad Central Station to the Germans. A kind of response arrived in turn: the letter of a surviving nurse from 1st Battalion, 42nd Regiment, 13th Guards Rifle Division. The nurse explained she had carried out the last wounded soldier, and only after all guards were killed was the enemy able to capture the station. Division commander Rodimtsev told the nurse’s story to the press, among them was Vasily Grossman, special correspondent for Krasnaya Zvezda and future famous writer.
The beginning of the myth was laid. Soviet journalists Grossman and Ortenberg, following the old Russian tradition «the dead have no shame», buried the first battalion in full force. Subsequently, the theme of Stalingrad as a «thin red line» passed through all of Vasily Grossman's work, from the unfinished «For a Just Cause» to the famous «Life and Fate». Konstantin Simonov’s «Days and Nights» also originated on the ruins of the Central Station and the main square of the destroyed city, just like the 1946 film of the same name. In 1949, the Soviet military blockbuster «The Battle of Stalingrad» was released, where the episode of the defense of the Central Station building, along with the defense of «Pavlov's house», became one of the main ones. But later, during the reign of Khrushchev, only the convenient legend about «Pavlov’s house» remained in the emasculated history of the battles in Stalingrad.
Let's go back to the beginning of September 42. While the Krasnaya Zvezda journalists were smoking cigarettes at the destroyed fountain, the battalions of 42nd Separate Rifle Brigade (SRB) were burrowing into the ground three kilometers to the west. The brigade was commanded by Matvey Batrakov, who was awarded the title of Hero for the battles of August 41 near Smolensk. The brigade, replenished by the sailors of the White Sea Flotilla, consisted of four battalions of about three hundred fighters each, and also included one artillery and one mortar divisions.
On September 5, the units of 42nd SRB took up positions: school number 6 — hospital — height 76.8 — northern bank of the Tsaritsa River. In the same area, the soldiers of 10th NKVD Division’s 272nd Regiment and the cadets of the Military-Political School held their defenses. According to intelligence data, the Germans (up to two battalions of the 71st Infantry Division) had already captured Polyakovka, Babaevo and the Experimental Station. On September 7, 42nd SRB received the order to recapture the Experimental Station, but the next day the sailors managed to capture Hill 133.4 only.
The 272nd NKVD Regiment did not support the brigade's attack but left for Stalingrad on the morning of September 8, according to the order of the commander of the 10th NKVD Division Colonel A.A. Saraev. Indeed, after the Germans broke through to Gumrak and Voroponovo stations, the command of the Stalingrad Front decided to withdraw 10th NKVD Division’s units to the city, to the internal defensive line, the last defense of Stalingrad.
One battalion of 42 SBR held its positions in the area of Height 133.4 for another ten days, preventing the German infantry of 71st Infantry Division from advancing along the road from the Experimental Station to City Center. The battalion, in the ranks of which remained seventeen sailors after the capture of the height, was commanded by Senior Lieutenant Fyodor Zhukov. In early October, the twenty-six-year-old lieutenant and his soldiers will recapture from the Germans the workers’ village of the Barricades Factory. Twelve men will remain from the battalion this time, and commander Zhukov, seriously wounded by a German flamethrower, will be evacuated across the Volga.
On the morning of September 7, units of the German 51st Army Corps, 295th and 389th Infantry Divisions reinforced by two assault gun Divisions, went on the attack north of the positions of 42nd SBR, from Gumrak through the deep balkas (ravines) Kamenny and Stalingradsky. The German offensive was supported by a large number of large-caliber artillery and the 8th Luftwaffe Air Fleet.
112th, 87th and 399th Rifle Divisions, 27th, 99th and 189th Tank Brigades took up defensive positions in this sector. By the end of the day, only the names of those Soviet units remained. As reported by the headquarters of the Stalingrad Front: “399 RD — 195 men, 112 RD — 56 men, 87 RD — 180 men, 27 TB — 30 men, no tanks; 99 TB — 120 men, no tanks; 189 TB — 5 tanks. "
On September 8, units of 71st Infantry Division entered the area of the hospital, crushing the right flank of 42nd SBR and forcing the sailors into the Dubovaya gully. South of the Tsaritsa, armored vehicles of 24th Panzer Division broke through to Sadovaya station, and the Germans reached the outskirts of the Minina suburb.
On September 9 at 1400 hours German assault guns appeared on the streets of Gorodishche, and by 1700 the infantry captured this hamlet along with those of Aleksandrovka and Razgulyaevka. The next two days, on September 11 and 12, units of 389th ID together with a tank battalion of 16th PD tried to develop the offensive and encircle the Soviet units west of Orlovka, but failed.
Leaving in this sector a group of anti-aircraft and parachute units of the Luftwaffe, the German command deployed the three infantry divisions of the 51st Army Corps for the decisive assault on Stalingrad, scheduled for September 13.
The sketches above show the location of 62nd Army units according to the report of 12 September. The front line from Spartakovka to Orlovka was held by 124th, 149th Rifle Brigades and 282nd NKVD Regiment. Orlovka and its “salient” were defended by the soldiers of 115th Rifle Brigade, as well as two combined regiments (from 315th and 196th Rifle Divisions) and 2nd Motorized Rifle Brigade (150 men). South of Orlovka, two battalions from 149th and 124th Brigades dug in, whereas east of Gorodishche and further up to the railway arc at the Razgulyaevka junction, the defense of 62nd Army was reinforced by 23rd Tank Corps, which included 6th Guards (reinforced by a consolidated regiment) and 189th Tank Brigades, as well as 38th Motorized Rifle and 6th Tank Brigades. The remnants of 399th and 122nd Rifle Divisions were withdrawn to the city and hastily replenished in the rear of the army.
The section of the front running from the bend of the railway to the hospital, through which several roads went to the central sector along the Tatar Wall, converging at Aviagorodok, was defended by 38th Motorized Rifle and 6th Tank Brigades. Further south, up to the Tsaritsa, ran the positions of 42nd Rifle Brigade.
On September 13 at 0630 hours, after an intensive artillery and aviation artillery preparation, 51st Army Corps units launched their offensive: the first assault on Stalingrad began. For the Germans, the task for the day was to capture the heights west of the city.
During the day, 389th Infantry Division recaptured the Razgulyaevka junction for the second time and advanced further, pushing back parts of the Soviet 23rd Tank Corps to the plantations west of the city. The corps command left the HQ at height 107.5 without orders and moved to the Volga bank. The remnants of the tank brigades and the combined battalion, catching on to the railway embankment, prevented further German advance near the outskirts of the workers' settlements.
Staff officer of 6th Army Clemens Podewils, who was on September 13 at the command post of the attacking regiment of 295th Infantry Division, left the following entry in his diary:
“An infantry group is storming a bunker. Coming out of the affected area, one assault gun approached from the side directly to the bunker, which looks like a hat on a plain. A single shot splits the bunker dome in half. This was the signal for attack. Almost simultaneously with the explosion of a thrown hand grenade, two of our soldiers run to the side entrance to the bunker. A non-commissioned officer yells down in Russian: «Hands up!» Then they jump back a few steps and wait while an infantryman, holding the entrance at gunpoint, and another NCO with a submachine gun at the top block the dark opening. Everything seems to happen for an infinitely long time: one minute… Then the enemy soldiers come out, carefully looking around, out one by one with their hands up. Asian faces. In the tail is an officer, the narrow face of a European. What can happen in him when he holds the pistol and does not throw it away? Uncertainty, confusion? But this is a fraction of a second when the question of life and death is being decided. Here our infantryman fires a rifle shot. The bullet hits the forehead, and the officer falls backwards at the bunker. Others are instructed with a characteristic movement of the hand to step back and stay away from the bunker."
By lunchtime, an assault group from the infantry and armored personnel carriers of the 71st and 295th Infantry Divisions, as well as the Stugs of the 244th Division, reached the Aviagorodok area (the Shkolny, or Stalingradsky airfield and the nearby aviation school complex), in a fierce struggle, seizing the village after several Russian counterattacks.
By the end of the day, 295th and 71st Infantry Divisions occupied two heights west of the city: 126.3 and partially 112.5. According to German data, 12 T-34s were destroyed at the Razgulyaevka junction, a total of 29 Soviet tanks destroyed that day declared by 51st Army Corps. However, 389th Infantry Division also suffered significant losses and could not reach its objective, Height 107.5. German reports noted the utmost stubbornness of Soviet soldiers, who defended their positions to the last man.
The command post of 62nd Army, located on Mamaev Kurgan, was subjected to heavy shelling by German artillery and airstrikes during the day, telephone communications were constantly cut off, the radio was working intermittently. By 16:00 communication with the units was practically lost, and the Germans were already consolidating themselves in the ruins of Aviagorodok, three kilometers from the headquarters dugouts. At night, using several cars, the army headquarters moved to the city center, to an underground bunker on Pushkin Street.
Realizing that the next day the Germans will burst into the city, Chuikov decided a desperate move: using the forces of 38th Motorized Rifle Brigade, 272nd NKVD Regiment and his last reserve, the consolidated regiment of the 399th Rifle Division along with the remaining «thirty-fours» of 6th Tank Brigade, the 62nd Army Commander ordered to counterattack at night and recapture Height 126.3 and Aviagorodok, to restore the situation in the center of 62nd Army’s defense.
So began September 14, «the longest day» of the first assault on Stalingrad.
On this day, in the reports of 51st Army Corps, the Central Station was mentioned for the first time. By noon, soldiers of the 191st Regiment, 71st Infantry Division reached the railway tracks, cluttered with tanks and trains with equipment, to the right could be seen the large station building and the seven-story «House of Communes» towering menacingly. Crossing the tracks in the area of the depot, the German battalion fell under the bombs of its own aviation. The breakthrough was so rapid that in the area of the railway station, the Germans captured the «thirty-fours» which were transported to the STZ (Stalingrad Tractor Factory) for repairs, and on Medveditskaya Street, a company of the city security (about eighty men) was fully captured. Some of the Red Army soldiers were immediately used by the Germans to bring ammunition to the captured «Houses of Specialists». But not for long: the next day, during the attack of the 13th Guards Division, six newly minted «Hiwi» landed back in the Red Army, four of them were shot on the spot for treason.
Who were the first to take part in the battle at the Central Station on September 14 is not known for certain. Later, in the bloodstained field bag of the killed commander, a technical plan for covering the building will be found, and in it the names of the responsible, platoon commanders of 84th Separate Construction-track Railway Battalion: Senior Lieutenant Statsyukov, Senior Lieutenant Kiselev, Lieutenant Shpanyuk, Lieutenant Yamov, soldiers Melovanov, Novikov, Petukhov, Chusov, Streltsov, Kryukov, Soikin, Shpakov, Rakhmetov.
In the reports of 62nd Army, the time of arrival of the «German machine gunners» at the station was designated as 16:15, whereas in reports from 79th Border guards Regiment, the enemy was spotted there at about one in the afternoon. The reports of 71st Infantry Division on September 14 do not explicitly speak of the capture of the building, there is only a mention of it, but no doubt the Germans tried to occupy such an important location. Then, for four days, there is not a word in German reports about the Central Station (Hauptbahnhof), and only on September 18 it is mentioned again, and it turns out that “the station is occupied by Russians”. The reason for this «forgetfulness» is the First Battalion of 42nd Regiment, 13th Guards Rifle Division.
The Central Station: from hand to hand
By 23:00, five minesweepers of the Volga military flotilla had landed the fighters, only 750 men, just north of the central crossing. As a vanguard, the battalion had to clear a bridgehead and ensure the landing of the rest of the division's units. But the situation in the city was more than critical, and the battalion commander, Senior Lieutenant Z.P. Chervyakov, received an order from Commander Chuikov: to recapture Stalingrad Central Station from the Germans and to keep it at any cost.
In the darkness of the night, the companies of the first battalion went around the Houses of Specialists captured a few hours ago by the grenadiers of 1st Battalion, 194th Regiment. Then they proceeded along Khalturin and Bankovskaya Streets. Crossing the wide Ostrovsky Street, the Soviets came under fire of a German machine gun located near the Univermag Store, on the Square of the Fallen Fighters. The Department Store, one the most emblematic building of Stalingrad, was recaptured along with the 272nd NKVD Regiment’s medical station, located in its basement.
At the crossroads of Ostrovsky and Gogol Streets the battalion split up: some of the fighters hurried towards the Komsomol Square while the rest, led by battalion commander Chervyakov, began to move towards the station square. Walked in attacking order together with the battalion commander, the political instructor of 42nd Guards Regiment, Leonid Koren. In two weeks he was to write a report on the capture of an unknown building, which will become the basis for the main legend of Stalingrad: the defense of «Pavlov’s House».
The Central Station was cleared from German troops by the morning of September 15. A company of submachine gunners, supported by the approaching three KV tanks from the 133rd Tank Brigade BRs, attacked the station from the south while another group attacked from Gogol Street. During the fighting, Lieutenant Chervyakov was wounded and the command of the battalion was taken over by his deputy, Lieutenant Fedoseyev. The companies, reinforced by ATR crews, took up defensive positions in the burnt-out structure of the station and in the buildings nearby, the «Nail Factory» and the «House of Communes». The battalion headquarters was located in the ruins of the department store on the Square of Fallen Fighters.
The companies of 272nd and 270th NKVD Regiments, after the unsuccessful counterattack the night of September 14 and the resulting German breakthrough, retreated to Height 112.5 and fought for it until the next day. It was here that the shepherd dogs of the 28th Detachment of Tank Destroyer Dogs entered the battle, bringing confusion into the ranks of the Germans. At the height, in one of the counterattacks, the commander of the 270th Regiment, Junior Lieutenant Mikhail Balonin, was killed. One of the streets of the restored city will be named after him.
After their command staff perished, the remnants of the two regiments began to retreat along the ravines towards the Tsaritsa and the City Garden. The militia gathering points and the headquarters of the 272nd Regiment were located there, and the party leadership of the city was located in the nearby Komsomol Park inside the City Defense Committee bunker.
On the evening of September 14, as fighters of the NKVD division, militiamen, workers' militias, non-party and ordinary communists hastily dug trenches in the park and prepared positions on the railway embankment under German bombs, the party elite of Stalingrad was evacuated to the left bank of the Volga.
During September 15 and 16, German aviation methodically bombed the railway station building and nearby neighborhoods, and the frontline ran along the railway tracks. Two regiments of 71st Infantry Division, the 191st and 194th, were gradually clearing out the «Zapolotnovsky» area of Stalingrad while the divisional artillery dug in in the private sector gardens. A battery of 105 mm guns commanded by the young Oberleutenant Wiegand Wuester occupied positions in the area of Svirskaya Street. Very soon he will go on leave, and then fly back to the city surrounded by Soviet troops. The rested Wuester will be taken prisoner at the end of January, survive in the Russian camp, and after the war write his memoirs “Artilleryman in Stalingrad”.
The third regiment, the 211th, with the help of the assault guns of the 245th division, tried to knock out the fighters of Colonel Batrakov’s 42nd Brigade from the Dubovaya Balka and the ruins of the MTS, the sailors' stronghold. According to German reports, close quarters fighting with the use of grenades and explosives did not give results, and the Stugs could not drive close to the edge of the ravines. The companies suffered losses, the wounded could no be evacuated because of the strong machine-gun fire. Towards evening, in the heat of battle, the commander of the Stug III battery of the 245th battalion, Haupmann Voldemar Lutz, thoughtlessly leaned out of the hatch to assess the situation, and immediately fell back, killed by an unknown Russian rifleman.
Early in the morning of September 16, motorized infantry of 24th Panzer Division’s Group Edelsheim appeared on the southern bank of the Tsaritsa River near the railway bridge. The latter was guarded by the remnants of 399th Rifle Division, about eighty men, and soldiers from 84th Construction Battalion and 91st Security Company. After a short artillery barrage, German infantry from the 26th Grenadier Regiment rushed across the bridge in armored personnel carriers and at 6:00 captured a foothold on the northern bank.
The grenadiers, stationed in shallow trenches, awaited the appearance of their neighbors from the 71st Infantry Division. Luftwaffe aircraft fiercely bombed the city center and the area of the «party buildings», as the Germans called the quarter between Gogol Street and Komsomol Square. But soon a strong artillery and mortar shelling fell on the small bridgehead, and Soviet soldiers appeared among the residential houses on both sides of the railway. An attack by the soldiers of the 270th NKVD Regiment followed and the Germans, taking away the dead and wounded, retreated to the southern coast. At night Soviet units began to escape the encirclement along the swampy bed of the Tsaritsa separating the opponents.
The headquarters of 62nd Army was evacuated from the bomb shelter on Pushkin Street across the eastern bank to the area of the dock behind the Red October plant on the night of September 16. Chief of Staff Krylov immediately went to the new location, but Army Commander Chuikov and Commissar Gurov, having decided to soak in the baths, almost missed the last armored boat, thus narrowly avoiding a military tribunal (with the onset of day, the central ferry ceased working).
From a report to the NKVD of the USSR on the course of the battles in Stalingrad on September 16:
“From 13 to 15 September, the blocking detachment of 62nd Army’s Special Department detained 1,218 servicemen; 21 of them were shot, 10 were imprisoned, the rest were sent back to their units. Most of the detainees belonged to the troops of the 10th NKVD Division and the liaison regiment of the 399th Rifle Division, which was thrown into the battlefield by the commander and commissar of the regiment."
On September 17, Soviet fighters were forced to leave the central railway station was because of incessant shelling and bombing. The companies of Fedoseyev’s first battalion, having suffered heavy losses, withdrew and took up defensive positions in the ruins of houses on the eastern side of the station square. To the west of the railway line were positions of 71st Infantry Division. By the evening, when the shelling subsided a little, the opponents tried again to seize a favorably located building: Soviet soldiers attacked across the square, whereas Germans rushed off the railroad tracks. In this battle, Red Army soldier Vladimir Nikitenko and Sergeant Joseph Azhgirey distinguished themselves (Nikitenko, wounded, will be taken prisoner, but nothing is known about the fate of Azhgirey). From the award list:
“Comrade Azhgirey personally killed up to 10 soldiers. On September 17, at the head of a squad, he repelled two counterattacks by the enemy, who was trying to win back the station we occupied. In this battle, Comrade Azhgirey destroyed an enemy vehicle with infantry and ammunition”.
For two nights on September 17 and 18, the units of 42nd rifle Brigade left the encirclement in the area of Dubovaya Balka in an organized manner. According to the order, the remnants of the brigade took up defense positions along the railway embankment from the City Garden to the northern bank of the Tsaritsa, together with detachments of 10th NKVD Division and city police, workers and militiamen.
On September 18, at 22:00, the NKVD division commander Saraev ordered to recapture the bridge, which by that time had been captured again by the Germans. The attacking group of 272nd Regiment, consisting of 18 submachine gunners and 40 riflemen, advanced along the embankment, while fighters of 270th Regiment concentrated in houses nearby. At three o'clock in the morning, Soviet fighters came close to the German positions, a bayonet attack followed and the Germans were driven off the embankment. But at 7:00 on September 19, due to heavy mortar and artillery fire, the Soviet soldiers had to leave the captured northern part of the bridge.
On September 19, the companies of 211th Regiment, 71st Infantry Division approached the railway embankment southwest of the station, leveling the division's front and establishing connection with the units of Hoth advancing south of the Tsaritsa. Now all three regiments (211th, 191st and 194th) occupied positions along the railway line in the city center, and only on the Volga bank did the forward battalion of Hauptmann Hindelang remain isolated, in the surrounded but impregnable «Houses of Specialists».
A similar situation developed in 13th Guards Division. The first battalion under the command of Guards Lieutenant Fedoseyev, occupying the line Department Store — Nail Factory — Station, was cut off from the rest of the Soviet forces. In the center of the city were deployed two regiments of the 13th Guards Rifle Division: 42nd and 34th, whereas the third (39th) was still defending on Mamaev Kurgan. In the area northeast of the station there was no clearly defined front line, in the captured ruins the opponents, in Rodimtsev’s words, entrenched in a «checkerboard pattern». Only the last three KVs from 133rd Tank Brigade rumbled along the empty streets, terrifying the German anti-tank crews:
“At nightfall, 3 enemy tanks broke through from the quarters south of the station to the northeast to the Volga, crushing two 3.7-cm anti-tank guns. The cleaning of city blocks by the forces of the 295th Infantry Division is facing strong resistance, 2 assault guns were lost this day."
On September 19, at 12:00, with the attack of 2nd Battalion, 42nd Guards Regiment supported by three KV tanks, divisional commander Rodimtsev tried to break through to the 1st Battalion in the station area. By the end of the day, several German resistance nests were eliminated, and the soldiers of 13th Guards Rifle Division reached Proletcult Street, where they restored connection with the Fedoseyev battalion. Fierce oncoming battles unfolded in adjacent districts as German units of 71st and 295th Infantry Divisions entered this area.
The reports of LI Army Corps confirm the Soviet ones: “In the evening, 71st Infantry Division was able to overcome enemy resistance and penetrate into squares 36 and 46 north of the area of the party buildings (approximately Proletcult Street area). Strong fire from the southern bank of the Tsaritsa impedes eastwards advance. In the afternoon, I.R.518 (295 I.D.) repelled several infantry attacks with the support of three KV-1s, one tank was destroyed. At 17:20 in the areas of I.R.516 and 517, a new attack was repelled, which was preceded by a powerful fire preparation."
At 6:00 am on September 20, the Germans went on the offensive again, trying to dislodge the guardsmen from the captured buildings. At 7:00, the units of the Rodimtsev division, fighting back, went over to a counterattack. In the first half of the day fierce fighting developed, buildings and streets changed hands several times. From the north, German infantry moving along the railway tracks came close to the station square, cutting off the fighters of the second company of Lieutenant Matvey Kravtsov, who were still holding the Central Station, from the rest of the battalion’s forces located in the «Nail Factory», «Communal House» and in the burnt-out structures of buildings on Gogol Street.
According to German reports of the 71st Infantry Division, its regiments slowly moved forward, each acting independently in its own sector and using attacking groups with flamethrower support. Assault squads set up smoke screens, and sappers actively used explosives. Capturing the northern wing of the station, the German infantry gradually cleared out the huge building.
The remaining soldiers of Kravtsov's company tried three times to break through the square to the «Nail Factory», which only a few succeeded in. According to the memoirs of 42nd Regiment commander, Colonel Y, the soldiers of the third company of Lieutenant Vasily Koleganov held the defense in the «Nail Factory». This sturdy building protected by a barricade was located at the beginning of Gogol Street and faced the station square.
In the destroyed building of the “factory”, the shell-shocked Koleganov wrote a report to the battalion commander Fedoseev and sent it to his HQ in the department store along with a wounded soldier. This piece of paper turned out to have a long history: after receiving the report, the battalion commander sent a group of wounded to the Volga: thus, the note ended up with the division commander Rodimtsev. When the fighting in the center of Stalingrad died down at the end of September and the first battalion was considered completely finished in the battles for the station, journalist Vasily Grossman came to the division. Hearing the story of the dead battalion, Grossman begged for the blood-stained note from the division commander. And this note was by him when the writer was working on the novel “For a Just Cause” and its sequel, “Life and Fate”.
Lieutenant Kravtsov went missing in September 1942. The seriously wounded Koleganov was carried to the ferry and evacuated to the eastern coast, he survived in Stalingrad, but perished two years later during the liberation of Poland.
Here follows the transcript of this famous report.
«Time 11:30 September 20, 1942
To Guards Sr Lieutenant Fedoseyev (1st Battalion Commander)
I report that the situation is as follows: the enemy is trying to encircle my company, sending submachine gunners to the rear of the company, but all his attempts were unsuccessful, despite the superior forces at hand, our soldiers and commanders are showing courage and heroism over the fascist jackals.
While I stand the Fritzes will have no success. The Guards do not retreat, let the soldiers and commanders fall as braves, but the enemy must not pass our defense. Let the whole country know the 3rd Rifle Company, 13th Guards Division. While the company commander is alive, not a single whore will get through. It will only do so when the company commander is killed or seriously wounded. The 3rd Company Commander is in a difficult situation and physically unwell, weak and deafened. Dizziness occurs, he’s falling from his feet, his nose bleeds, but despite all the difficulties, the Guards of the 3rd and 2nd Companies won’t retreat, they will fall as heroes for the city of Stalin, may Soviet land be their grave. 3rd Company Commander Koleganov personally killed two Fritz machine-gunners and took the machine gun and documents that he presents to the headquarters of the battalion.
I rely on my soldiers and commanders, so far not a single fascist crossed. The vermin shall not pass. The Guardsmen do not regret, until complete victory we will be heroes of the liberation of Stalingrad.
3rd Company Commander, Guards Jr. Lt Koleganov
2nd Company Commander, Guards Lt Kravtsov»
From 13th Guards Division’s report on September 21: “In the afternoon, the enemy, infantry and tanks, having entered the flank and rear of the first and second battalions of the 42nd Regiment, surrounded the first battalion. Hand-to-hand fighting is underway. Communication with the first battalion has not been established and its position is unknown."
Excerpt from 71st Infantry Division’s war diary: “Early in the morning, 194th Infantry Regiment unexpectedly captured a group of buildings threatening the right flank and used this success to push on forward straight to the Volga. The previously detected enemy group was destroyed by the summoned «Stukas». 211st Infantry Regiment has aligned with 191st Infantry Regiment."
On September 21, the Germans unblocked Hindelang's surrounded group and retook control of the Kursk and Kiev Streets leading to the Volga, as well as the blocks nearby. Several fighters emerged from the encirclement: this was all that remained of the second battalion, 42nd Guards Regiment.
The guardsmen of the first battalion who remained in the ranks took up defensive positions in the ruins and basements of the burned-out buildings and put up fierce resistance. Several detachments of Soviet fighters isolated from each other, controlling from the basement windows and from hastily dug bunkers the intersections of the Ostrovsky, Gogol and Communist Streets, did not allow the German infantry to move further south and reach the City Garden, where 272nd NKVD Regiment, 42nd Rifle Brigade and some city militia clung to the railway embankment.
One of such groups in the «Nail Factory» was commanded by Senior Lieutenant Anton Dragan. According to his recollections, the battalion headquarters located in the department store was cut off by the Germans on September 21, and communication between the companies was no longer possible. After the factory building was taken down, the remnants of Dragan's company held some of the premises for some time. Ammunition was running out, and there were more and more wounded, who had nowhere to evacuate. The messengers sent to the headquarters of the battalion commander Fedoseyev did not return, and Lieutenant Dragan decided to fight his way back to the Volga.
Southeast of the Square of the Fallen Fighters at the intersection of Krasnopeter and Komsomol Streets, Dragan's detachment took up defensive positions in a three-story building. The small garrison barricaded all the entrances, windows and gaps were adapted for embrasures, and seriously wounded soldiers were placed in the basement. 19 men remained in the ranks, and while there were cartridges, they shot back. The Germans blocked the building and the fire of the arriving Stugs brought down the walls, that fell on the defenders. At night, wounded soldiers got out from under the rubble and, making their way through the German patrols to the Volga, swam to the eastern bank. One of the few survivors was Guards Lieutenant Dragan.
After the war, a letter from 13th Guards Rifle Division’s veteran Anton Dragan appeared in the memoirs of Army Commander Chuikov, which described the battles for the Central Station, telling how the first battalion fought, and how after battalion commander Fedoseyev fell on September 21 in the department store surrounded by the Germans, Lieutenant Dragan took command and fought with the remnants of the battalion.
But Fedoseyev did not fall on September 21 in the department store as Dragan claimed. Communication with the battalion headquarters was maintained until September 24. Judging by the documents of the 13th Guards Division and the memoirs of Colonel Yelin, commander 42nd Regiment, short messages came from the battalion commander, since there was a radio at the battalion headquarters. On September 24, a mention appeared in the division's reports, where the line of defense was vaguely indicated: «1st Battalion 42nd Guards Regiment in Ostrovsky — Gogol — Volgodonskaya area». On September 25, communication with Fedoseyev's battalion was finally lost.
Commander 42nd Guards Rifle Regiment Yelin recalled that afterwards, the scouts Khutornoy and Stoletov (initials unknown) were sent to the station, could get into the area occupied by the Germans and find battalion commander Fedoseyev. Khutornoy was killed during the return trip, and the seriously wounded Stoletov handed the regiment commander a note from the senior lieutenant: “…There are nine of us left. All are injured. We will fight to the end."
Guards Senior Lieutenant F.G. Fedoseyev, like most of the commanders of the first battalion, were recorded as missing on September 25, 1942. After he recovered, Guards Lieutenant A.K. Dragan returned to his regiment in December, was promoted in rank and took command of the company defending «Pavlov’s House». In 1943, Dragan was awarded the Order of the Red Star for the battles in Stalingrad.
In October, German 71st Division HQ occupied the advantageously located building of the Univermag Department Store, with its convenient basement, while its regiments were stationed in City Center and held the front line against 13th Guards Division. In January 1943, 6th Army’s headquarters and its commander Friedrich Paulus settled in the basement of the department store, where they were soon surrounded by units of 64th Army.
At the end of September, when the fighting moved to workers' settlements, topics on the defense of Stalingrad only began to appear in the Soviet press. The newspapers published articles by war correspondents, letters, interviews with soldiers and commanders. Among the authors, writer Vasily Grossman (at that time journalist at «Krasnaya Zvezda», the Red Star) who worked in the besieged city, immediately stood out. From his essays, the country learned about 13th Guards Division, its divisional commander Alexander Rodimtsev and the feat of the first battalion. In the story of the destroyed battalion, Grossman put emphasis on the defense of the Central Station, retelling the tragic events of September in his own way in his novel “For a Just Cause”.
At noon on January 30, 1943, the station area was liberated by units of 57th Army: assault groups, including flamethrowers, with the support of armored vehicles from 254th Tank Brigade, finished off the Germans who refused to surrender. 254th Brigade’s report testified: “In the course of January 30, the tank brigade, together with 143rd Rifle Brigade and 422nd Rifle Division, fought for the capture of the City Station. A characteristic feature of this fighting was that the tank crews acted independently, supported by infantry acting as small assault groups. The introduction of tanks into the fighting near the city station decided its outcome: the tanks, moving forward, broke the resistance of the enemy, who began to surrender in panic…»
On May 9, 1949, «The Battle of Stalingrad» drama was released in the USSR, where the course of the fighting for the city was shown on a Hollywood scale. Scenes of street battles were filmed in the actual ruins of Stalingrad and the pyrotechnics did not spare explosives, so the «Communal House» and other pre-war buildings were finally destroyed. The combined shooting was amazing, and there was no shortage actors: the captured Germans were playing themselves. In one of the main storylines, the guardsmen heroically fell outside the station, in the same place as before, but already on cinema screens. Thus the story of the fighting of the first battalion and its commander, Guards Senior Lieutenant Fedoseyev, was definitely associated to the ruins of Stalingrad Central Station.
As a conclusion
In their assessment of these events, the authors of postwar memoirs were divided into two camps. 62nd Army commander Chuikov published A.K. Dragan’s letter in his book, which outlined his version of the events. According to this version, the Central Station was fought off by the company of Guards Lieutenant Dragan, he also led the defense of the «Nail Factory» and, after the F.G. Fedoseyev perished with the battalion headquarters on September 21 in the department store, he took command of the battalion and broke through to the Volga. Ivan Paderin, author of books about the fighting in Stalingrad and former political instructor of 62nd Army, agreed to the same version.
But Leonid Koren, participant in the battles for the station, political instructor of 42nd Regiment, stated otherwise in his books. Based on the recollections of regiment commander Yelin, he wrote that Fedoseyev, along with the remnants of the battalion, perished in the station building on September 26-27. Division commander Rodimtsev cited in his memoirs the story of a wounded soldier who brought Koleganov's note, and generally confirmed the version of Koren and Yelin. And none of them even mentioned Lieutenant Dragan. The topic of the defense of the Stalingrad railway station was studied in detail in his articles and books by the Volgograd journalist V.A. Drobotov, who insisted on the version of political instructor Koren and had a sharply negative attitude towards Paderin and Dragan. He also cites the memoirs of a soldier who allegedly saw the killed battalion commander Fedoseyev at the walls of the Stalin Museum on the station square.
Where and under what circumstances the headquarters of the first battalion and its commander, Senior Lieutenant Fyodor Fedoseyev, were killed is still not known for certain. Documents of 71st Infantry Division could have helped understand the events that took place in September 42, but there is no clue so far about any of these.
To be continued.
Translated by Anton Joly.