''An iron wind hit them in the face, yet they kept going forward, and again a feeling of superstitious fear gripped the enemy: what kind of people went on the attack, were they even mortal men?!''
This quote from Vasily Grossman, embossed on the wall of Mamaev Kurgan’s memorial complex, became one of the main symbols of the epic battle of Stalingrad. Contempt for death and readiness for self-sacrifice have always distinguished the Russian and then the Soviet soldier. There are countless examples of this, and these qualities were more evident than ever on the streets of Stalingrad. However, few people know that the context of the appearance of this famous phrase lies in a specific episode from a series of tragic events during the second assault on the city, which began on September 27, 1942.
These lines are taken from the article «The direction of the main strike», which was published in November 1942 in the ''Pravda'' (''The Thruth'') and ''Krasnaya Zvezda'' (''The Red Star'') newspapers. Grossman wrote this article based on a diary he kept in the besieged city, interviewing deadly tired soldiers and commanders of Colonel L.N. Gurtiev’s 308th Rifle Division (RD): by the end of the month, the division was virtually destroyed. Short phrases of diary notes, framed in the wartime pathos of the article, recorded the harsh chronicle of those days: the battles for the workers' settlements ''Red October'' and ''Barricades'', the 351st Rifle Regiment which perished together with its commander and commissar in the area of the Silikat factory, the headquarters of the 339th RR wiped out by an aerial bomb in the Sculpture Park. These and many other events of the second storming of Stalingrad will be discussed further.
By September 26, 6th Army’s Command was completing the final preparations for the second assault on Stalingrad: trains with ammunition were unloaded at the stations, the fresh 100th Jaeger Division arrived in the Mamaev Kurgan area after an accelerated march from the Don, replacing the armored vehicles and motorized infantry of 24th Panzer Division on the southern and southwestern slopes. Subunits of 24th PD took up their positions at Aviagorodok and the southern border of the huge airfield. On their left flank, 389th Infantry Division’s units were preparing for the offensive, manning a line west of the railway up to Razgulyaevka, along the so-called «ancient wall».
The joint operation to capture Orlovka had to be postponed: the units of 94th ID that were supposed to participate were still clearing the mouth of the Tsaritsa and the coastal strip nearby. The resistance of the remnant units on 62nd Army’s left flank, the surrounded 272nd NKVD Regiment, 42nd and 92nd Rifle Brigades (RB), as well as desperate tank attacks against the «northern flank» resulted in adjustments to the plans of the German Command.
At the command post of 62nd Army, located in a dugout on the slope of the Volga bank to the south of the Barrikady Factory, Army Commander Lieutenant General V.I. Chuikov, Chief of Staff Major General N.I. Krylov and Divisional Commissar K.A. Gurov discussed the report of the Chief of Intelligence, Colonel M.Z. Guerman. In less than two weeks of fighting, the Voroshilovsky and Central districts of the city were lost. The next attack was expected north of Mamaev Kurgan, in the direction of the workers' settlements: intelligence data confirmed the corresponding redeployment of German units.
This area (from the northern slopes of Mamaev Kurgan along the embankment of the railway to Razgulyaevka and along the Vishnevaya gully) was defended by the units of 23rd Tank Corps: 6th Guards, 27th, 137th and 189th Tank Brigades (TBR), 9th and 38th Motorized Rifle Brigades (MRB), 269th NKVD Rifle Regiment (RR). The brigades could be considered as such only nominally: the number of armored vehicles and active bayonets in them was very far from the standard one.
The border of the workers' settlements had to be urgently strengthened, and on the night of September 26 Colonel I.E. Ermolkin’s 112th Rifle Division was removed from its positions. After a week and a half of fighting for the kurgan, the division surrendered its positions to units of 95th and 284th RDs, and itself took up defensive positions in the second echelon of 23rd Tank Corps along the Vishnevaya gully to the southern outskirts of the village of Krasny Oktyabr. Exhausted by the night march, the fighters dug in during the day, suffering heavy losses from the artillery and mortar fire of the Germans.
According to the order of the Army Headquarters, reinforced groups of machine gunners and soldiers with light machine guns hastily prepared three strong points for a circular defense: school number 32 with nearby stone buildings (strong point no. 3), the buildings of a nursery and a store (strong point no. 10), school No. 20 together with a nearby bathhouse (strong point No. 2). By the first hour of the night on September 27, a little more than 300 active bayonets remained in the fighting strength of the 385th, 416th and 524th rifle regiments of the division of Colonel Ermolkin’s 112th Rifle Division.
Realizing that it was unrealistic to block the offensive of the three German divisions with the currently available forces, the command of 62nd Army again took a desperate step: on the morning of September 27, a preemptive strike was planned on the southwestern slopes of Mamaev Kurgan in the direction of Aviagorodok. The attack, doomed in advance, was supposed to include soldiers of 269th NKVD Regiment with the support of 137th Tank Brigade. The order to advance was also received by the bloodless regiments of the 95th and 284th RDs.
Late in the evening of September 26, Chuikov, Krylov and Gurov smoked in silence at the entrance to the headquarters dugout. Far away in the steppe, a cannonade was heard, while Mamaev Kurgan, pitted by funnels, was smoking on the left, and from the fuel tanks located at the top it smelled disgustingly of oil. The next day, Sunday 27 September 1942, did not bode well. Before the arrival of Major General F.N. Smekhotvorov’s reinforcements, it was necessary to hold out for another whole day.
The commander of 6th Army, General of Panzer Troops Friedrich Paulus, and the commander of the LI Army Corps, General of Artillery Walter von Seydlitz, had much more reason to be optimistic. The recently arrived 100th Jager Division, along with the attached assault gun division, was a formidable force, even though two battalions had already been withdrawn from the division to reinforce the northern barrier. The armored groups and battalions of panzergrenadiers of 24th PD managed to prove themselves well in the rapid breakthrough of the Soviet defense in the Voroshilovsky district.
The planned attack on a narrow section of the front from the southern slopes of Mamaev Kurgan to the Vishneva gully was to be supported not only by the aviation of the 4th Air Fleet of Field Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen, but also by an impressive amount of artillery, including large-caliber six 105-mm light field batteries howitzers, four batteries of 150-mm heavy field howitzers and three batteries of 211-mm mortars. If you believe in the saying that «artillery is the god of war», then in the fall of 1942 in Stalingrad, God was clearly on the side of the Wehrmacht…
September 27: ''One more battle like this, and we will find ourselves in the Volga''
At 05:00 (hereinafter, Moscow time is given), 62nd Army’s artillery preparation began, which lasted an hour. The main targets were German bunkers on the southern slopes of Height 102.0 and mortar batteries in the area of the Dolgiy ravine. Regiments of rocket launchers fired several volleys on the positions of 100th JD. At 06:00 in small groups, with the support of artillery fire from the attached anti-tank artillery regiments, units of 269th NKVD RR, 95th and 284th RDs rose to attack.
Having overcome several hundred meters, the Red Army men reached the western slope of the hill and were in direct line of sight of the German spotters. The observation posts of the LI Army Corps units were located in the high buildings of the Aviagorodok, from the windows of which the gently sloping western part of the Mamaev Kurgan was clearly visible. The soldiers of 269th NKVD almost reached the school, but, at 100-150 meters to the first buildings, they came under heavy machine-gun fire. Batteries of howitzers and rocket launchers opened fire on the advancing Soviet detachments and the Luftwaffe aviation appeared in the sky. Bombs fell on the area of the water tanks and Height 107.5, the capture of which was one of the tasks of the day for the Wehrmacht. The flywheel of the German offensive began to gain momentum.
Moving through the minefields along the passages opened by sappers, German tanks of the ''Winterfeld'' group came through the Ovrazhnaya grove to the embankment of the railway to Razgulyaevka. The long train, standing on the tracks, was promptly mmobilized by artillery fire: the Germans reasonably assumed that the Russians could use the carriages as a barrier. In the aerial photo, two railway crossings were clearly visible: one north of Ovrazhnaya, the other near the village of Tir.
Having broken through the defense line of the 38th MRB and reached the northern crossing, the Winterfeld strike group split up. Several tanks moved south along the railroad, towards the rear of the Soviet motorized riflemen. To the right, however, the Germans experienced difficulties: the panzergrenadiers of the Edelsheim group leaned into a narrow hollow and came under heavy machine-gun and submachine gun fire from the side of the shooting range. The appearance of the German Pz.Kpfw.IV tanks decided the outcome of the battle in this sector, which is described in the lines of the operations log of the 9th MBR:
''No one returned from the battalion's cut-off companies, their fate is not known exactly until now."
By 12:00, German units reached the railway embankment all the way from one crossing to another.
Further to the right, on the slopes of Mamaev Kurgan, two infantry regiments of the 100th Rifle Division, with the support of the assault guns division, literally forced their way through the defenses of the Soviet 95th Rifle Division. In close fighting, the Jagers cleared out the shooting range and captured the water tanks once again, where the stronghold of Colonel V.A. Gorishny’s division was located. The Germans occupied the half-filled trenches practically without a fight: after many hours of bombing the heights, few of the defenders survived. Now the area of the tanks was attacked by the fire of Soviet artillery batteries from the eastern bank of the Volga. Suffering heavy losses, the infantry of the 100th Division was forced to dig in hastily, and so far there could be no question of moving east to the railroad.
At 12:10, tanks and armored personnel carriers of the 24th PD crossed the railway embankment north of Ovrazhnaya and came out to a small village with rare wooden houses and vegetable gardens, called on Soviet maps the village of Red October. Here, in second echelon, 112th RD’s 385th RR (107 active bayonets) and several tanks of the 27th brigade were defending the area. At 14:00 after a two-hour fight with «thirty-fours» and the remnants of the 385th RR, German armored vehicles reached Height of 107.5, where the Soviet observation posts were located. The task of the day 24th PD was completed.
The raids of German aviation continued: by the middle of the day, the Barricades and Red October factories were bombed, as well as the ferry and the command post of 62nd Army located between the factories. Both telephone and radio communications at the headquarters of the army were constantly out of order, the control of the units was disrupted. The fate of the motorized rifle brigades of the 23rd Tank Corps, which found themselves in the main direction of the German strike, remained unknown. The commanders of the 9th and 38th MRB requested in vain data on the losses and the position of their companies: the radios were silent, and the messengers did not return.
The front headquarters urgently demanded a report: the Soviet High Command already knew about the new crisis in Stalingrad. There was nothing to answer, it became unbearable to sit in the dugout of the command post, and commander Chuikov decided to reach to the troops. Member of the military council Gurov, together with the liaison officers, went to command post of Major General A.F. Popov’s 23rd Tank Corps, Chief of Staff Krylov went to the commander of 95th Rifle Division, Colonel V.A. Gorishny, and the commander himself went to the location of Major General N.F. Batyuk’s 284th RD. From the responsible persons at the command post of 62nd Army, no one was left but Major General N.F. Pozharsky.
Afterwards the experienced chief of staff, Krylov, recalled this incident in detail, reproaching himself for a rash act. Appearing at the command post of 95th RD, located at the foot of Mamaev Kurgan, Krylov found the divisional commander Gorishny in a very depressed state. He sat, his head in his hands: the Germans once again captured the ill-fated mound, and only 560 fighting personnel remained in his division.
At the command post of 23rd Tank Corps, located in the huge five-story building of the so-called «deli» mall in the Sculpture Park, a nervous atmosphere also reigned. Two motorized rifle brigades were literally scattered by the attacks of 24th PD, and there was hardly a battalion left in the whole corps. From the upper floors of the «grocery store» the area of Height 107.5 was clearly visible: in the morning the second echelon of defense of the 62nd Army was located in this area, now German tanks were raising dust there.
The attack of the armored fist of 24th PD was calibrated and accurate: it targeted the ravines converging to the dominant height 107.5, from where there was an excellent view over the workers' settlements and factories. At the foot of the height, several roads converged like a cobweb. The straight and wide Karuselnaya, Bibliotechnaya and Tsentralnaya Streets went east to the Krasny Oktyabr Factory. In the northern direction, two roads led to the area of several five-storey new buildings: the so called Northern town. There was located one of 62nd Army’s strongholds: School No. 32 on Zherdevskaya Street. The school building was occupied by a platoon of 112th RD’s 416th RR reinforced with light machine guns, and several anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns were installed nearby. There were no more Soviet troops at the forefront of the German offensive.
The first half of the day on September 27 has passed. Artillery and mortar attacks did not cease, as did the Luftwaffe dive bombers. The German 389th ID, ''overcoming fierce resistance'' and moving along the Vishnevaya gully, reached by 15:00 the same line as 24th PD, one and a half kilometers north of the railway embankment. Half an hour later, units of this division, crossing the gully, attacked along the roads in the northwest direction. Having met the ''powerful resistance'' of 6th Guards Tank Brigade, by the end of the day, the Germans announced 10 destroyed T-34s. In turn, the tankmen of 6th Guards Tank Brigade reported on five destroyed German tanks and four self-propelled guns, admitting the loss of five of their own T-34s. The fighting continued until dark.
Regrouping after the capture of the «Red October» village and Height 107.5, German tanks moved to the northeast. After a ''heavy battle with strong anti-tank and anti-aircraft fortifications'' at 14:00, the group reached the northeastern outskirts of the Northern town, breaking through the streets of the village. On the way, a column of German tanks came under attack from their own aircraft. Following the tanks of the Winterfeld group, the motorized infantry of the Edelsheim group advanced, covering the right flank of the armored columns.
The right neighbor of 24th PD, 100th JD, gnawing through the slopes of Mamaev Kurgan through the battle formations of 95th and 284th RDs, came to the railway embankment north of the height in the afternoon. Judging by the history of 100th JD and the reports of 6th Army, the Jagers cleared the area of the shooting range, and then were able to cross the railway embankment and capture the western outskirts of the village of Tir at the fork in the railways near the meat processing plant. However, the Soviet schemes of 284th Rifle Division testify to the opposite: by the end of the day the front line north of Mamaev Kurgan passed exactly along the embankment of the railway. On the very first day of the offensive, the Germans suffered huge losses: in the documents of the 6th Army, about 500 killed and wounded were recorded. These numbers are surprisingly large for German documents, especially since the data is most likely incomplete.
Having got stuck on the mound, 100th JD exposed the flank of 24th PD: the tanks of the Winterfeld group that had rushed forward were in a semi-encirclement. Group «Edelsheim», barely keeping up with the armored vehicles, was forced to turn its front to the east, towards the village named after Rykov. The vast space of wooden quarters cut by beams, stretching to the Volga up to the huge workshops of the Krasny Oktyabr plant, worried the command of 24th PD. While securing its right flank, the division had exhausted its infantry reserves, and the roller of the German offensive came to a standstill.
In the evening, having gathered at 62nd Army’s command post, the Soviet commanders summed up the disappointing results of the day. The reports of the army sparingly discussed the events of September 27:
“The enemy managed to capture the areas of the orchard, Height 107.5, the shooting range, the reservoir at Height 102.0 … the enemy reached the line: Vishnevaya gully, southwestern outskirts of the Barrikady village, eastern outskirts of the village south of the Barrikady village [Northern town] … enemy submachine gunners infiltrated along the gully north of Kommunalnaya and along Karuselnaya Streets."
Commander Chuikov was even more succinct:
''Another such battle, and we will find ourselves in the Volga."
September 28: «The Army’s last defense line»
At 02:00, an armored boat with the advance detachment of 193rd Rifle Division moored to the pier near Krasny Oktyabr, and the division commander, Major General F.N. Smekhotvorov, went ashore along with the fighters. Having reached the nearby 62nd Army command post, the division commander received a disappointing briefing from Chuikov:
“The Red October village is empty. Our troops are gone. There are scattered groups only. You will immediately take up defenses along the western outskirts, cover the army crossing author».
[NOTA: in his memoirs, what Smekhotvorov calls the Red October village is actually the Rykov village]
Half an hour later, Smehotvorov was personally convinced of the seriousness of the situation: trying to get to the new command post of the division, located in the building of the engineering and technical staff of the Krasny Oktyabr plant, the division commander came under machine gun fire. The soon destroyed German crew occupied a position in the area of the so-called «slag hill» located in the northeastern part of the plant, practically on the banks of the Volga.
Until 06:00, two regiments of 193rd Rifle Division, the 893rd and 895th, as well as the division headquarters, a communications company and the regimental artillery managed to cross into the city. The ships went under mortar and artillery fire: two barges were sunk, all the equipment of the signalmen went to the bottom. As soon as they got ashore, the subunits immediately headed to their positions with the help of local guides, the saving darkness was leaving as morning came. While in the basement of the ITR club the staff of the headquarters was hastily making copies of the only map of the city available for the entire division, commander Smehotvorov examined the designated line of defense from the roof of the building.
School No. 20, together with the bathhouse and the complex of buildings of the kitchen factory, had to be recaptured from the Germans on the night of 28 September. The outcome of the assault was decided by the guns of two artillery battalions put on direct fire. Clearing the sector from the advanced groups of 24th PD, two regiments of 193rd RD reached the assigned line before dark and, having no time to dig in properly, came under heavy artillery and mortar fire: the second day of the German assault began.
The composition of LI Army Corps on September 28 (from the reports on the state of the divisions, translated by Denis Golubev) was as follows:
“24th Panzer Division — four panzergrenadier battalions (two exhausted, two weak, 95% mobile), one medium motorcycle battalion (70% mobile), six light and two heavy artillery batteries (100% mobile), three anti-aircraft batteries (75% mobile), the sapper battalion is exhausted (80% is mobile). The division is suitable for any offensive mission. "
“389th Infantry Division — six infantry battalions (six weak, 50% mobile), nine light and three heavy artillery batteries, two mortar batteries (25% mobile), the sapper battalion is weak (50% mobile). The division is fit for defense. "
“100th Jager Division — four jaeger battalions (four strong, 100% mobile), one strong Croatian battalion, five light, two heavy and three light Croatian artillery batteries (100% mobile), one medium sapper battalion (100% mobile). The division is suitable for any offensive mission. "
According to German documents, at 08:40, after an extensive bombardment of the workers' settlements, LI Army Corps continued its offensive. The infantry of Group Edelsheim advanced from the area of height 107.5 in the northeastern direction and in heavy street battles captured the western part of the Rykov village, reaching the line school №5 — school №20 — Kazachiy ravine. At 15:30, the tanks of Group Winterfeld moved from the Northern town seized on the eve — their target was the village Barricades, advantageously located between two converging ravines.
100th JD, supported by 245th Assault Gun Battallion, once again tried to break through to the railway embankment in the direction of the village of Tir and the buildings of the meat-packing plant, and again to no avail: the eastern slopes of the Mamaev Kurgan were under constant fire from Soviet artillery, whereas the trenches of 95th and 284th RDs were inaccessible for the German artillery. During the day, 100th JD received the order to surrender its positions on Mamaev Kurgan to 295th ID and completely regroup for an attack in the direction of the Rykov village.
The chronology of the German attacks on September 28 is noted in some detail in the Soviet reports of the 62nd Army and correlates well (except for the time) with the actions of the German units:
“At 10:45 am, eight enemy tanks left [from behind — approx. author] the railway, 200 meters west of Syzran, and fired on the battle formations of the 95th RD. The tanks were scattered by the fire of our artillery, one tank was destroyed” — this was the attack by the Jaegers of the 100th with the support of the Stugs in the direction of the village of Tir;
“At 11:30 up to one infantry battalion and eight tanks launched an offensive on the right flank of 895th Rifle Regiment (on the southern outskirts of the Barrikady village), four tanks reached the buildings on Zhmerinskaya Street” — this was the attack by group Winterfeld; in the buildings on Zhmerinskaya street was strong point No. 10 of the 112th RD;
“At 12:15 up to one and a half companies of machine gunners with seven tanks attacked the right flank of the 883rd Rifle Regiment near Pinskaya Street, the enemy attack was repelled” — this was the advance of group Edelsheim in the western part of the Rykov settlement;
“At 13:30, two battalions with 12 tanks launched an offensive on the right flank of 6th Guards Tank Brigade; the units of the brigade repelled the enemy's offensive in a stubborn fight, holding their positions»- this was the attack by units of 24th PD and 389th ID in the section of Vishnevaya gully and Severny Gorodok;
“112th Rifle Division repelled the enemy's attack during the day, in the evening it was again attacked and under pressure from superior enemy forces the remnants of 416th Rifle Regiment retreated, individual machine gunners infiltrated the village” – this was the beginning of the fighting for the Barricades Village.
These neutral and even optimistic lines of the reports of the headquarters of the 62nd Army should not mislead the reader — the units of the Wehrmacht’s LI Corps were steadily moving forward. By evening, tank group Winterfeld was already conducting street fighting in the village of Barricades, and in the ravine east of the village the infantry of group «Edelsheim» was accumulating. The Germans seized once again the passage between the ravines, and Chuikov had no more reserves.
At 19:30, the headquarters of the 62nd Army issued the landmark order number 171: all army elements go to a tough defense and conduct engineering work around the clock on the occupied lines by the units themselves and the civilian population, using any available materials. By order of the political department of the army, all political workers were required to the forward trenches. Once again, 62nd Army was on the brink of disaster, and the following dramatic lines appeared in the order:
“Explain to all personnel that the army is fighting at the last line, it is impossible to retreat further. It is the duty of every soldier and commander to defend his trench and his position to the end — NOT A STEP BACK. The enemy MUST BE DESTROYED WHATEVER THE COST. Soldiers and commanders who voluntarily leave their trenches and positions should be shot on the spot as traitors and traitors to the MOTHERLAND.”
September 29: «The factories and their villages are burning»
On the night of September 29, Major General Smekhotvorov's 193rd Rifle Division was ordered to use fires to mark its forward edge along the western border of the Rykov village. The results of the previous day were not clear to 62nd Army’s command, and the calm operational reports of the units, apparently, did not reflect the real situation. The consequences were not long in coming.
At night, in order to consolidate the position near the village of «Barrikady», an armored task force was formed from the remnants of the 189th TB, 9th and 38th MRB, reinforced with five newly repaired T-34s. From their assembly area near the Lenin club, the tanks with mounted infantry moved out only at 03:00, and they reached the starting line already before dark and by the shortest road through the Rykov village. As a result, the task force drove straight to the position of the Germans: the panzergrenadiers of group Edelsheim occupied the western outskirts of the Rykov village, and the tanks of group Winterfeld were already in the Barricades village. From 9th MRB reports: “Three tanks were immediately set on fire. The others turned back. The infantry, having no time to dismount, was shot at point-blank with machine-gun fire.”
At the same time, the fighters of 193rd Rifle Division’s 895th RR tried to recapture the streets of the Rykov village seized by the Germans and reach the defensive line indicated by Chuikov.
On the morning of September 29 two regiments of 112th RD (about 200 active bayonets) went on the offensive from the side of the Silikat plant with the task of regaining the positions lost the previous day in the Barricades village: the regimental commanders personally led the fighters into the attack. As a result, Major V.A. Aseev was killed by a machine-gun burst, and the commander of the 524th battalion, Major B.P. Sklyarov was taken prisoner: there is a mention of his interrogation in the reports of the 6th Army. The remnants of 112th Rifle Division were entrenched on the northern side of the wide Goncharskaya Street, dividing the village in half.
The morning attack by 62nd Army did not go unnoticed by the Germans, who noted: ''a local penetration was blocked'' in the village of Barricades, as well as «on the left flank of 24th PD in square 63C, where the enemy was able to throw off the guard the previous evening, individual skirmishes went on at night». At the same time, the tanks with the task force that went for the German positions and the attack of the 895th RR in the village of Rykov literally panicked the ranks of group Edelsheim: among the burning houses and gardens, the surrounded panzergrenadiers saw Russian overcoats everywhere and heard the roar of the T-34 diesel engines. They had to urgently ask for help from the neighbors, and with the help of group Winterfeld, the situation was restored with difficulty by morning.
In 6th Army’s reports for September 28-29, fierce battles for the village of Tir are also mentioned: the headquarters of 100th JD reported about the seizure of several houses of the village, but the next day was forced to admit that “as a result of a strong enemy counterattack in in the first half of the day, part of the city in square 51СD was lost." However, in the Soviet documents of 95th RD there is not a word about the seizure of the village by the Germans: they mentioned only that «units of the division retained their positions, repelling repeated attacks." The suspicions of 62nd Army headquarters about the inaccuracy of the reports of subordinate units were not groundless.
The day of September 29 had just begun, but it was already full of events. In the morning, alarming reports from the north began to arrive at the headquarters of the 62nd Army. At 07:00, German aviation once again struck the Soviet positions at Orlovka: attack aircraft bombed trenches, gullies and the slopes of the heights around the village. At 08:00, after half an hour of artillery preparation, the Germans launched their offensive to eliminate the Orlovka salient. The scope of the battle for the city expanded significantly.
The so-called Orlovka salient was outlined as early as 24 August as a result of the strike by 2nd Tank Corps on the German units who had broken through to the Volga. Then, on September 9–10, after the loss of the settlement, the western face of the salient was formed. Since September 13, fierce battles around Orlovka subsided for a while, as the German command concentrated its efforts on capturing the southern and central sectors of Stalingrad. By that time, the settlement, ravines and slopes of nearby heights were held by units of the so-called operational group of Colonel K.M. Andrusenko, commander of the 115th RB.
The group consisted of the remnants of 315th RD’s 724th RR, 2nd MRB, 277th separate machine-gun and artillery battalion and the combined regiment of 196th RD, but the backbone was the battalions of the 115th RB. The defense of the salient was strategically important, since the Soviet command did not give up hope of unblocking 62nd Army from the north. Therefore, the group was quite numerous by Stalingrad standards.
On September 14, the German command abandoned its attempts to capture Orlovka, but only temporarily. As soon as the last pockets of resistance at the mouth of the Tsaritsa were eliminated on September 27, 6th Army’s command transferred two regiments of 94th ID to the Gorodishche area, and another regiment went to reinforce 24th PD, which was advancing in the workers' settlements. The very shape of the salient presupposed the German operation: two converging strikes from the western and northeastern directions into the base of the salient, the subsequent encirclement and destruction of the Soviet units. Some forces of XIV Panzer Corps were also detached for the operation: 16th PD, 3rd and 60th MD, together with a group of ground units of the Luftwaffe (group Stahel), as well as the regiments of 94th ID subordinate to the corps.
According to the reports of 62nd Army, on September 29 at 08:00 the Germans launched an attack in two directions. From the west, from height 129.1, were advancing two infantry battalions with 16 tanks: these were Luftwaffe units from group Stahel advancing on two wedges on both sides of the anti-tank ditch, with the support of sappers and a tank company of 3rd MD. At the same time, eight tanks and a battalion of infantry from 16th PD moved to attack from the concentration point northwest of Hill 135.4 along the anti-tank ditch in the direction of the gully. However, the first attempts of the Germans to break through the Soviet defenses were thwarted by a «stubborn enemy in well-fortified positions» (from the reports of XIV Panzer Corps).
At 10:00, XIV Panzer Corps units went on the offensive again. In addition to the previous directions, the Germans struck ''with forces up to an infantry battalion and 15 tanks'' from the north, from the area of height 147.6.
In the course of many hours of fierce fighting in the second half of the day, the infantry of group Stahel broke through the defense line of 2nd MRB and reached height 108.2, and in the gully to the south, the Germans dug in 200 meters from the railway bridge. Meanwhile the battle group from 16th PD, attacking from the northeast and crushing the defense formations of the first battalion of 115th RB, reached the southern outskirts of the village.
At 16:00, two regiments of 94th ID, with the support of 16th PD, began a powerful strike from the direction of Gorodishche. According to Soviet documents, about ''50 German tanks'' advanced from the Kazyonnaya gully towards Orlovka: almost all the armored vehicles of 16th PD: tanks, armored personnel carriers and self-propelled anti-aircraft guns. Having introduced the last reserves into battle, the second battalion of 115th RB managed to block the German offensive at the turn of height 108.3, but there were no more forces to recapture the lost positions.
Despite overwhelming superiority in artillery and «good support from the Luftwaffe," the divisions of XIV Panzer Corps were unable to connect south of Orlovka, it was noted that ''the offensive was blocked here due to losses in men and tanks from defensive fire …''
This cost dearly to the Soviet units as well, as evidenced by these lines from the reports of 115th RB:
“The brigade has completely lost four rifle companies with a total of 370 men, two companies of 82-mm mortars, two 102-mm mortar batteries, two companies of anti-tank rifle-gunners, a battery of 45-mm guns, a platoon of 76-mm guns — a total of 320 men, a platoon of machine gunners, two platoons of scouts, a platoon of sappers — a total of 96 men … In 2nd MRB there were 57 men left, the rest were killed, wounded, and more than 100 men were missing. All the material part remained in the territory occupied by the enemy … The Consolidated Rifle Regiment of 196th Rifle Division lost up to 100 men in killed and wounded. "
Sensing a catastrophe, Colonel Andrusenko asked the commander for help, but Chuikov was unable to do so, for in the workers' settlements things were no better.
According to 6th Army’s reports for September 29, the 100th JD, advancing from the western slopes of Mamaev Kurgan with the support of a battalion of assault guns, and occupying the western part of the Banny ravine, entered the Rykov village in three groups. The line of defense of 883rd rifle division (of 193rd rifle division) passed there. The dry lines of the 62nd Army's operatives give a partial idea of the fierceness of the battles and heavy losses: on the streets of the Rykov village, plowed by German artillery, mortars and heavy bombs, the full-blooded regiments of 193rd Rifle Division were melting down with every hour:
“193rd rifle division repelled two fierce enemy attacks on its flanks, during the third attack, the enemy managed to wedge into the battle formations of the division. The fighting continues. The division suffered heavy losses: three regiment commanders and three battalion commanders were killed and wounded…»
In the afternoon, the command post of 883rd RR was covered with a volley of six-barreled mortars, inflicting heavy casualties Judging by the history of the regiment, the location of the headquarters was designated by accomplices of the Germans from among the local residents. On the streets of the former Tsaritsyn one could still see the ghost of the Civil War!
Due to the loss of equipment of the signalmen during the crossing, communication between the units was at first carried out by messengers. Often the soldiers perished before they could deliver the report. But the biggest problem of 193rd Rifle Division was the supply. The rear of the division did not even know about the existence of food and ammunition deliveries from 62nd Army on the right bank. During the three days of the German offensive, the regimental artillery and mortar companies of the division were left practically without ammunition: ''No 50-mm and 82-mm mortar shells, no 76-mm and 45-mm artillery shells." Against the German armored vehicles, 193rd Rifle Division’s soldiers only had grenades, anti-tank guns and Molotov cocktails.
Meanwhile, the infantry regiments of 100th JD and the arriving regiment of 94th ID, occupying the western part of the Rykov settlement, provided the right flank of 24th PD. The battle groups Winterfeld and Edelsheim, having recovered from the night attack of the Soviet units, went again on the offensive in the village of Barricades in the second half of September 29. After a stubborn battle with the remaining uncontrolled regiments of the 112th RD and the remnants of 23rd TC, the Germans occupied the northeastern part of the village. The surviving soldiers of 112th RD retreated to the railway embankment north of the Silikat plant.
Facing the offensive of 24th PD were only scattered groups from the remnants of 112th RD and 23rd TC. 62nd Army reported about their composition by the evening of September 29:
“Having suffered exceptionally heavy losses in battles, the corps actually lost its fighting effectiveness: only 17 tanks remained in the ranks and up to 150 fighters [of 14 T-34s and three T-60s, only 11 vehicles were on the move — approx. author] … The division suffered heavy losses: 416th RR — 39 bayonets remained, 524th RR — 19 bayonets, with the remnants of its units the division retreated to the northeastern outskirts of the Silikat.
In order to plug the gap in the defense, on the evening of September 29, 62nd Army Command was forced to urgently send battalions of 42nd and 92nd Brigades back to the city. The remnants of the brigades, defeated at the mouth of the Tsaritsa, were hastily replenished with fighters from the rear units, and new commanders were appointed. According to the lists, there were about 400 men in 42nd brigade, and even less in 92nd brigade — there were 165 fighters and commanders in two battalions. Also was deployed from the city center to the area of the Rykov village 685th RR (of 193rd RD), which was previously subordinated to 13th Guards Rifle Division of Major General A.I. Rodimtsev.
In the evening of September 29, the head of the Stalingrad department of the NKVD, Major of State Security A.I. Voronin, who remained in the city, forwarded to his leader L.P. Beria the following text:
“For three days, beginning September 27, enemy aircraft have been continuously bombing the battle formations of our troops in the area of the city of Stalingrad, the Krasny Oktyabr, Barricades, Tractor factories and the workers' settlements of these. Factories and villages are burning. Factory # 221 was completely destroyed. All the shops of the Krasny Oktyabr plant burned down. At the Tractor, 19 workshops are completely destroyed and are on fire, the rest have received significant damage. Most of the equipment was damaged and destroyed as a result of the fires”.
The famous industrial giants, the Stalingrad Red October, Barricades and Tractor Factories, were finally turned into ruins.
September 30: Blood for Time
The last night of September was surprisingly calm. Gliding at low altitude, the usual U-2 planes dropped small bombs on any light below in the German-occupied areas of the city, whether it was a fire or the glow of a «stove». At several thousand meters, the exhaust pipes of TB-3 and Douglas were shining, carrying tons of bomb loads towards railway junctions: at the end of September, Soviet attack aircraft and long-range bombers smashed to pieces several trains and convoys at Chir, Surovikino and Nizhny Alekseevsky stations. The German quartermasters counted hundreds of tons of burnt fuel and thousands of destroyed howitzer and tank shells: the Soviet aviation was taking its little revenge.
In the morning, the divisions and tank corps of the newly formed Don Front went on the offensive against the German ''northern barrier''. The documents of 6th Army noted:
“From early in the morning, attacks by numerous tanks and strong infantry began in the zones of 3rd and 60th MDs of XIV Panzer Corps, which were repelled by artillery fire. The Russians succeeded in local incursions … "
By the evening, the offensive turned into a disaster for the Soviet units: the tanks that broke through the German positions without infantry support became a good target for the artillerymen and the crews of 88-mm anti-aircraft guns. By the evening, XIV Panzer Corps reported as many as 98 tanks destroyed during the day. Nevertheless, at a high price, the Soviet command achieved a respite, so necessary for Chuikov's 62nd Army. On this day, no offensive missions were assigned to LI Corps operating in the city: the assault groups of 24th PD and 100th JD ''carried out improvements to their positions for the subsequent offensive and secured the occupied areas."
In the afternoon, the units of group Edelsheim from 24th PD crossed the unnamed ravine and came close to the outskirts of the Sculpture Park, occupying a ''bridgehead across the 74C ravine along the 74C2 — 74D1 — 74A4 line."
In the area of the 100th JD, the ''cleansing'' operation of the Rykov settlement resulted in bloody battles with the remnants of the regiments of 193rd RD. According to the jagers reports, the right-flank battalion reached the railway near the northwestern outskirts of the Krasny Oktyabr plant. In the center, 369th Croatian Infantry Regiment reached the western part of the square in front of school No. 5, but could not advance further due to fierce resistance from 883rd Rifle Regiment.
On the left flank of 100th JD, the German infantry was able to capture the four-story building of school number 20 and the bridge over the Kazachiy ravine, but was soon dislodged from these positions by the soldiers of 895th RD. The strong buildings of the school and the nearby bathhouse were occupied by the crews of 183rd separate machine-gun battalion, formed from the cadets of the Perm machine-gun and mortar school. German reports testified:
“At 13:30 an enemy attack by up to one battalion began from the 73C1 direction on the left flank of the left-flank battalion. The school and the bridge in square 63D2 are once again captured by the enemy, and a counterattack is being carried out. "
In the area of the «Orlovka salient», the offensive by XIV Panzer Corps continued: the perimeter around Andrusenko's semi-encircled group gradually shrank down. The German tankmen reported: “Having broken the stubborn enemy resistance on well*prepared fortifications, by 14:15 we managed to take height 108.2 and reach Orlovka station. The troops advancing from the east managed to occupy a group of houses on the northeastern outskirts of Orlovka before dark. "
The reports of 115th RB for September 30 paint a picture of the fierce battle in more detail:
“The first battalion of the brigade, repelling attack after attack, at 18:00 lost almost all of its personnel headed by the battalion commissar … The battalion commander, showing cowardice and abandoning control of the battalion, fled to the rear … falsely informed the brigade commander about the course of the battle, for which he was removed and put on trial … 2nd MRB having suffered huge losses, withdrew with the remnants of its forces in the amount of 75 men; clinging to the ravines, contained the enemy on the line of the railway bridge and the northern slopes of height 108.3 … without success in this direction, the enemy turned his direction of attack to the southeast towards the 90.6 mark and reached the command post of the second battalion of 115th RB… thanks to the brave and decisive actions of the commander of the second battalion Lieutenant K.I. Sokov and deputy chief of staff Lieutenant P.I. Patutin, the attacks at close quarters were repelled. The remnants of the first battalion were lost, at 19:00 the enemy infiltrated in small groups to the outskirts of Orlovka, and seized the crossroads southeast of the village."
The Wehrmacht documents confirm the Soviet ones: " In a heavy bloody battle assault groups of 16th PD reached the Orlovka — Spartakovka road on the southeastern exit of the village, as well as its northeastern outskirts." Yet by the end of the day, the Germans were unable to completely surround the Soviet units: «There are no reports on the closure of the ring around the remaining Russian troops north-west of Orlovka."
The decision to withdraw Andrusenko's group was not even considered at the headquarters of 62nd Army: the bloodless units had to restrain the Germans to the end, gaining valuable time. The army command had already received news of the long-awaited reinforcement: as of 20:00 on September 30, two divisions were transferred to its command, Colonel L.N. Gurtiev’s 308th Rifle Division, and Major General S.S. Guriev’s 39th Guards Rifle Division.
The arriving divisions were far from complete, there were several hundred active bayonets in the regiments. Chuikov simply did not have any other reserves, and the offensive of LI Army Corps in the workers' settlements was to resume any day. The fighters and commanders of these divisions were to be the next to face the iron wind.
Translated by Anton Joly.