On 23 August 1942, the XIV Tank Corps of the 6th Nazi Field Army broke through the defenses of our troops and by the end of the day had reached the Volga in the area of Rynok settlement to the north of Stalingrad, having cut off the 62d Army from the basic forces of the Stalingrad Front. This seriously complicated the city's defenses. Under the developing conditions, Hq SHC sent the Deputy Supreme Commander-in-Chief, Army Gen G. K. Zhukov, here to provide practical help to the fighting troops and to organize and carry out counterstrikes by the forces of the 1st Guards, the 24th and 66th Armies of the Stalingrad Front1 in the flank of the enemy grouping which had broken through to the Volga.
In order to relieve the situation of the 62d Army which was on the defensive in Stalingrad, without waiting for the complete concentration of the personnel and equipment, the 1st Guards Army went over to the offensive on 3 September, the 24th and 66th Armies on 5 September. The 308th Rifle Division2 (commander, Col L. N. Gurt'yev, Mil Commissar, Sr Btln Commissar A. M. Svirin, and Chief of Staff Col I. M. Tarasov) on 29 August 1942 was part of the 24th Army (commander, Maj Gen D. T. Kozlov). Having made a 300-km forced march from the region of the village of Kumalga in Saratov Oblast, its units and subunits on 6 September were concentrated 6 km to the east of Kotluban Sovkhoz in preparation for the offensive.3
The division reinforced by the 136th Army Mortar Regiment (commander, Maj S. I. Krashchenko) which consisted of five batteries of 120-mm mortars, was ordered by the staff of the 24th Army as follows: by 9 September to move up into the area 1-3 km to the southeast of Samofalovka and by 0300 hours of the next day to assume the jump-off position for an offensive. Then in the course of it, in cooperation with the 217th Tank Brigade and with the support of the 93d M-13 Rocket Regiment, the 1166th Cannon Artillery Regiment and four heavy rocket launcher battalions, to destroy the opposing enemy in the area of elevs. 133.4 and 143.8 and the farm of Borodkin. Subsequently, it was to advance in the direction of elev. 142.7 and Konnyy siding. The 221st Rifle Division was to advance on the right in the direction of the ancillary farm, and the 207th Rifle Division on the left in the direction of elev. 145.5.4
Having received the combat task, the division's commander familiarized the chief of staff, the commissar and chief of artillery, Lt Col P. S. Kosenko, with it and ordered the chief of staff to draw up a plan of primary measures for the organization and preparation of the offensive and to prepare the data necessary for adopting a plan. He also listened to the artillery chief and the commander of the 699th Separate Combat Engineer Battalion, S. S. Rivkin, on utilizing the artillery and engineer troops in the coming offensive.
Formed in Omsk in March-May 1942, the 308th Rifle Division by the start of combat operations did not have any combat experience and was to advance under extremely difficult conditions. There was virtually a complete absence of the necessary information on the size of the enemy, the nature and fire plan of its defenses, the locations of the boundary areas and flanks, the command and observation posts. The completely open terrain in the zone of advance provided no concealed approaches and points convenient for attack and for creating a flexible system of artillery observation. Artillery shells were lacking as the delivery of them had been impeded by the distance to the dumps and the decrepitness of the transport. Moreover, very little time (around 24 hours) had been assigned to prepare for the offensive. All of this significantly complicated the carrying out of the combat task.
In order not to act blindly, the divisional commander and the staff took measures, in as far as time permitted, to discover the enemy defenses as much as possible. On 9 September, Col L. N. Gurt'yev with the commanders of the attached regiments and the supporting resources conducted reconnaissance in the course of which the plan was adopted and the tasks set for the units and subunits.
At the same time, the scouts of the division and rifle regiments as well as the artillery troops and engineers continued to study the forward edge of enemy defenses running along a ridge of elevations prevailing over the terrain. This made it possible for the enemy to view our defenses to a depth of 6-8 km from its observation posts. This circumstance coupled with the superiority of enemy aviation in the sky impeded a concealed concentration, the occupying and equipping of the jump-off position for the advance by the formation's units and subunits.
The divisional commander's plan consisted in the following. Having formed up a battle formation in two echelons (the 339th and 351st Rifle Regiments in the first and the 347th in the second), the main thrust was to be made by the right flank in the direction of elev. 143.8 and the farm of Borodkin, the enemy defenses were to be breached, the enemy was to be surrounded and destroyed in the area of elev. 143.8, Borodkin farm and elev. 154.2 with the subsequent coming out in the area of elev. 143.3.
The units and subunits were given the following tasks: the 339th Rifle Regiment (commander, Lt Col K. I. Mikhalev) with two battalions of the 1011th Artillery Regiment (commander, Maj G. A. Fugenfilov) by 0300 hours was to take up the jump-off position for the attack on the northwestern slopes of elev. 133.4, in the course of the offensive to capture elevs. 133.4 and 143.8 and take the farm of Borodkin. Subsequently, it was to advance in the direction of the southwestern slopes of elev. 143.3.
The 351st Rifle Regiment (commander, Maj G. I. Savkin) with the 136th Mortar Regiment from the jump-off position of the trigonometric tower on the eastern slopes of elev. 133.4 and the small ravine (1 km to the east of elev. 133.4) was to attack and destroy the Nazis on elev. 154.2, to come out in an area a. half kilometer to the southeast of Borodkin farm and subsequently advance toward the northwestern slopes of elev. 143.3 and Konnyy siding.
The 347th Rifle Regiment (commander, Maj P. F. Barkovskiy) with a battalion from the 1011th Artillery Regiment was ordered to take up a jump-off position in the ravines a half kilometer to the east of Samofalovka and on the northern slopes of elev. 123.7 and to advance behind the 339th Rifle Regiment toward elevs. 133.4 and 143.8, Borodkin farm and the southwestern slopes of elev. 143.3.
In the reserve of the division's commander located a kilometer to the east of Samofalovka were a training battalion (commander, Sr Lt L. N. Chebanenko), a machine gun battalion (commander, Sr Lt I. M. Zorin) and the 430th Separate Tank Killing Battalion. The reserve was to advance behind the 347th Rifle Regiment ready to repel enemy tank and infantry counterattacks from elev. 143.8 and Borodkin farm.5
The start of the infantry attack was set for 08:30 hours on 10 September and the artillery was to be ready to open fire at 07:30 hours. The artillery had been given the task of destroying the wood and sod defensive works and observation posts, to neutralize the enemy personnel and firing points in the strongpoints on elevs. 143.8 and 154.2 and Borodkin farm as well as prevent the bringing up of enemy reserves from Konnyy siding and Borodkin farm.6 The 30-minute artillery softening-up was planned to start at 08:00 hours. This consisted of a 10-minute intense shelling and a salvo of rocket launchers, during which the first echelon battalions of the rifle regiments were to open fire with all types of firearms and rise up to the attack.
The formation's staff, on the basis of the divisional commander's instructions, worked out a plan for engineer support encompassing the measures to be carried out during the preparations for and in the course of the offensive. Reconnaissance was given the task of determining the true configuration of the forward edge of the enemy defenses and establishing the presence, nature and location of defensive works, man-made obstacles and barriers. For this purpose, the commander of the 699th Separate Combat Engineer Battalion, Capt S. S. Rivkin, assigned two combat engineer squads which were included in the reconnaissance groups while two engineer observation posts recruited from the combat engineer platoons of the regiments were organized in each of the first echelon regiments.
The preparation of the jump-off area consisted in equipping the jump-off positions for the artillery and mortars as well as the command and observation posts. Due to the shortage of time, all this work could not be carried out completely and well.
In organizing cooperation, the divisional commander during reconnaissance gave specific instructions to the commanders of the reinforcement regiments and subunits as to who was to cooperate with whom and when; he also established the chain of command for reinforcements in combat. When the main forces of the formation had reached Borodkin farm, the division's second echelon was to be committed to battle. Uniform signals were established for cooperation, calling in and ceasing fire.
Antitank defenses were provided by the significant quantity of support weapons existing in the rifle battalions. The sectors exposed to tank attack were also to be covered by the subunits of the 430th Separate Tank Killing Battalion (commander, Capt N. N. Ivanov).
Air defense for the division's battle formations was entrusted to the 278th Antiaircraft Artillery Regiment, the firing positions of which were in the area of elev. 113.9. It provided air cover for the jumping-off position for the advance of the units and subunits as well as the artillery firing positions and the division's command post. In each battalion, a rifle platoon with medium and light machine guns were assigned to combat enemy diving aircraft. Observation and warning of an air danger were provided by posts organized at the command posts of the formation and the units as well as by battalion and company air observers.
For precisely organizing troop control, the staff worked out communications, cooperation, target designation and identification tables. The command and observation posts of the divisional commander were to be moved as the immediate combat mission was carried out while the command and observation posts of the rifle regiment commanders were to be deployed and moved only upon instructions and with permission of the division's commander.
In party political work, basic attention was focused on increasing the offensive spirit of the troops. Over the more than 5 months of the division's existence, its commissar, Sr Btln Commissar A. M. Svirin, had succeeded in creating strong party and Komsomol organizations. The division had over 740 communists and around 2,250 Komsomol members.
On 9 September, meetings of the company party and Komsomol organizations were held in all the subunits and here the party members and Komsomol members were given personal assignments to ensure the carrying out of the combat task. The company political leaders held talks on the methods of conducting offensive combat, on the use of weapons in combat, on mutual support and so forth.
The preparations of the 308th Rifle Division for the offensive did not remain unnoticed by the enemy. The entire night before the offensive the Nazis illuminated the terrain in front with rockets, they observed the moving up of our units to the jump-off position for the attack and fired on them with artillery and mortar fire. Thus, the element of surprise was excluded.
On 10 September at 08:30 hours, simultaneously with a salvo of the rocket launchers, the troops rose up for the attack. Initially it was successfully carried out. In overcoming heavy enemy artillery-mortar and small arms-machine gun fire, the first echelon regiments, although with losses, advanced to the top of elev. 133.4. But as they reached the southern slopes of this elevation, Nazi resistance increased. Automatic cannons, mortars and medium machine guns positioned on the northern slopes of elevs. 133.8 and 154.2 carried out lethal fire against the advancing troops, forcing them to hit the dirt. Enemy aviation, in operating in groups of 30-40 aircraft, continuously bombed the battle formations of our troops.
In the second half of the day, after a comparatively weak artillery softening-up, the troops again rose up to the attack and by the end of the day the 339th Rifle Regiment had taken the southern slopes of elev. 133.4 while the 351st Rifle Regiment had captured the southeastern slopes of the same elevation.7 On the first day of battle, the division had suffered heavy losses and was unable to carry out the combat mission. This was explained by a number of objective and subjective factors: by a shortage of time for organizing combat, by the lack of combat experience among the men, by the inability of the commanders to organize cooperation, particularly on the regimentóbattalion level with the attached and supporting forces and by an ignorance of the enemy. Moreover, a lack of data on the disposition of the enemy artillery and mortar firing positions during the period of the artillery softening-up did not make it possible to neutralize the enemy weapons and support the infantry attack.
The battle for the strongpoint on elev. 133.4 took the entire day of 10 September. The units suffered great losses in personnel and consumed a large amount of ammunition, but advanced just 330-350 m. This was explained by the fact that the troops were attacking the strongpoint head on, without using the possible maneuver in the given situation in the aim of coming out in the rear and flank of the strongpoint; not all the might of the artillery and infantry fire was utilized.
On 11 September, the division continued to carry out the set mission. In overcoming strong enemy resistance, it advanced just 1 km. The shortcomings which had occurred in the combat of 10 September were repeated on the 11th.
In the course of the 2-day battles, the division's commander and staff gained some idea of the resources of the opposing enemy and its fire plan. The interrogating of captured prisoners established that in the zone of advance of the 308th Rifle Division were around two divisions of the 76th Infantry Division and the 60th Mechanized Division reinforced by artillery and tanks. The formation which had suffered great losses from artillery-mortar and small arms-machine gun fire and particularly from Nazi air strikes was significantly inferior in personnel and equipment to the Nazis.
For reducing losses from all types of enemy fire and primarily from air strikes as well as for achieving surprise, Col L. N. Gurt'yev adopted a decision by a night attack to capture elevs. 143.8 and 154.2 and then Borodkin farm and thereby carry out the division's immediate combat mission. For this purpose he assigned two detachments from the 347th Rifle Regiment (the division's second echelon) which by this time had suffered the least losses.8
Detachment No 1 (a rifle battalion reinforced by the 1st Battalion of the 1011th Artillery Regiment) was to operate in the sector of the 339th Rifle Regiment with the task of capturing elev. 143.8 which was defended by about a battalion of infantry reinforced by an artillery battalion and mortars. Detachment No 2 (a rifle battalion reinforced by the 2d Battalion of the 1011th Artillery Regiment) received the mission of attacking elev. 154.2 which had been turned into a strongpoint which, according to incomplete data, was defended by up to an infantry battalion reinforced with artillery and mortars. Overall leadership over the preparation of the detachments for night combat was entrusted to the commander of the 339th Rifle Regiment (Detachment No 1) and to the commander of the 351st Rifle Regiment (Detachment No 2).
In a short period of time, in just a day, the subunits were to be prepared for heavy battles under special conditions. The division's staff had worked out a concrete and simply conceived plan for the night advance of each detachment and this included reconnaissance of the attack sectors and the approaches to them, the axes and objectives of the attacks, the tasks for the supporting reinforcements, the procedure for illuminating the terrain and moving up to the jump-off position for the attack as well as to the attack lines, measures to counter enemy counterattacks and reinforce the success, the securing and guarding of the flanks, the questions of control and so forth.
In the reconnaissance made in the first half of 12 September, the commanders of the rifle companies and the supporting subunits clarified the objectives and axes of the attack, the jump-off lines as well as the approaches to them. The artillery, mortars and rocket launchers were given the task, without delay, of opening fire upon request of the infantry against previously designated targets. Due to the lack of time it was not possible to fully carry out all the measures to prepare for combat and this significantly reduced its results.
The subunits had covertly assembled in the jump-off area by the designated time, but in moving up to the attack line, two companies of Detachment No 1 lost their direction and were detected. Using rockets the enemy illuminated the forward edge and met the attacking troops with strong small arms and machine gun fire. The fascists on elev. 154.2 were alerted. Having illuminated the approaches to it with rockets, they met the subunits of Detachment No 2, preparing for the attack, with dense fire from all types of weapons. Surprise was lost. The detachment commanders called in fire from supporting artillery, but by this time reconnaissance had not ascertained the precise coordinates of the enemy battery firing positions and for this reason firing was basically against areas without causing any particular damage to the Nazis. The men threw themselves into storming the strongpoints, but the rifle companies and platoons under heavy enemy fire were unable to reach the objectives of their attack and they hit the dirt. The attackers were unable to close with the enemy to throw grenades and engage in hand-to-hand combat on the elevations. Several times the fighters rose up to the attack, but each time the enemy opened up from constantly new firing points which had not been detected previously and a hail of lead again pressed the companies to the ground. The approaching dawn made these attempts absurd and upon orders from the division commander the detachments returned to their initial position without having carried out the task.
The basic reasons for the unsuccessful outcome of the night attacks were: a lack of time for organizing combat and training the personnel for nighttime combat operations and the poor carrying out of all types of reconnaissance. As a result of this, the enemy's fire plan was not promptly detected. The plan for cooperation between the infantry and artillery was not worked out and thought out carefully, to the last detail. Nor was there close cooperation between the directly attacking subunits. In addition to this, the soldiers and commanders were little trained in nighttime orientation. The division's staff did not sufficiently monitor the course and content of nighttime combat training in the subunits and so forth.
Regardless of the failure, Col L. N. Gurt'yev did not abandon the idea of capturing elevs. 143.8 and 154.2 by a nighttime attack. He ordered the commander of the 339th Rifle Regiment to assign a rifle battalion, reinforcing it with a battalion of the 1011th Artillery Regiment and a combat engineer platoon, for a nighttime attack on elev. 143.8. A battalion with the same reinforcements and a combat engineer platoon from the 347th Rifle Regiment received the task of taking elev. 154.2 by storm.9
The division's commander, in the presence of the chief of staff, in giving the missions to the commanders of the newly organized detachments critically analyzed the nighttime actions of the 347th Rifle Regiment and demanded that the mistakes be considered in organizing and conducting combat while making maximum use of the positive experience of this regiment's nighttime operations.
During the night of 14 September, the division with two detachments again attacked elevs. 143.8 and 154.2. By morning, it occupied their northern slopes and dug in there. By this time, the 308th Rifle Division, by order of the commander of the Stalingrad Front had been turned over to the 1st Guards Army and it received orders from the army staff to break off the offensive actions and hold on strongly to the occupied perimeters.
On 15 September, the commander of the 1st Guards Army, Maj Gen K. S. Moskalenko, ordered the 308th Rifle Division reinforced by the 62d Tank Brigade, the 7th Guards Artillery Regiment, the 48th Guards Mortar [Rocket Launcher] Regiment and the 659th Artillery Regiment, to breach the enemy defenses and capture elevs. 143.8 and 154.2. Subsequently, it was to come out on the line of elevs. 126.1 and 136.1 (not shown on the diagram). Readiness for the offensive was set for 17 September 1942, but additional orders moved it back to 18 September.
Thus, the division received 2 days to prepare for the offensive and during this time the commander set the missions for the rifle regiments and the new reinforcements and organized cooperation. The staff drew up and issued to the executors the plans for artillery softening-up, engineer support, logistics, antitank and air defense and worked out the planning table of combat. The units and subunits received additional fuel and ammunition.
The plan for the offensive envisaged an army-level artillery softening-up of 90 minutes. But 30 minutes before its start, the Nazi artillery bombarded the troops preparing for the attack as the Nazi spotters and aviation which as before was supreme in the air had detected the concentration areas previously.
Fierce battles ensued. In them many men distinguished themselves, showing courage and heroism. The communists and the Komsomol members were in the front ranks of the attackers, setting examples of valor and intrepidness. In the region of elev. 154.2 and Borodkin farm, the men of the 347th Rifle Regiment fought heroically, repelling a counterattack up to an infantry battalion reinforced with 30 tanks. The regimental commander skillfully positioned the antitank guns and medium machine guns and ordered the two remaining antitank cannons to fire with direct laying.
At the very outset of the battle, Maj P. F. Barkovskiy sustained fatal wounds. The command of the regiment was assumed by the regiment's chief of staff, Sr Lt I. I. Mirokhin. Firing his antitank rifle, he personally set four tanks on fire. The enemy infantry, in encountering heavy fire from the medium machine guns, hit the dirt. Later, when the tanks turned back, the infantry retreated with losses. In a duel with enemy tanks, communist I. I. Mirokhin perished, in completely carrying out his duty to the motherland. He posthumously was awarded the Order of Lenin.10
On 18 September, in repelling a counterattack of enemy infantry and tanks in the region of elev. 154.2, the assistant commander of a machine gun platoon of the 2d Machine Gun Company of the 351st Rifle Regiment, Sr Sgt R. S. Borob'yev, acted heroically. Having used up all the ammunition, he picked up a string of grenades and threw himself under the tracks of the Nazi tank, which was approaching the elevation. The courageous machine gunner was posthumously awarded the Order of the Red Star.11
In the course of fierce battles of 18-25 September, the division's units captured elevs. 143.8, 154.2 and Borodkin farm and repelled a large number of counterattacks by superior enemy infantry and tank forces, destroying up to 3,500 soldiers and officers, 20 tanks and 3 aircraft13. On 25 September, the division which had suffered great losses was put in the reserve of the Stalingrad Front and then sent to Stalingrad. Here as part of the 62d Army, it stubbornly went on the defensive in the area of the Barrikady and Silikat plants.
The total result of the offensive operations by the units and formations to the north of Stalingrad territorially was insignificant, but they distracted a portion of the enemy forces from the city, thereby easing the situation of its defenders.
On 12 September 1942, Army Gen G. K. Zhukov and the GKO [State Defense Committee] member G. M. Malenkov reported to the Supreme Commander-in-Chief I. V. Stalin at Hq SHC: "The formation with the Stalingraders did not succeed because we were weaker than the enemy in terms of artillery and aviation. Our 1st Guards Army which began the offensive first did not have a single artillery regiment of reinforcements or a single antitank or air defense regiment. The situation at Stalingrad forced the committing of the 24th and 66th Armies on 5 September without waiting for their complete concentration and the approach of artillery reinforcements. The rifle divisions entered battle directly after a 50-km march. Such commitment of the armies to battle piecemeal and without reinforcements did not allow us to break through the enemy defenses and link up with the Stalingraders, but on the other hand our rapid thrust forced the enemy to divert its main forces from Stalingrad opposite our grouping and this eased the situation of Stalingrad which without this thrust could have been taken by the enemy."14
This document corresponds to the true state of affairs. On the importance of the offensive to the north of the city for the defense of Stalingrad, one of its participants, Mar SU K. S. Moskalenko, has written: "The troops on the left wing of the Stalingrad Front actually did not succeed in breaking through the enemy defenses and linking up with the 62d Army. But they were able to carry out the main task of the offensive, that is, to draw away the main enemy forces to themselves, including eight crack divisions and a significant part of the artillery, tanks and aviation. Thus, its attack grouping aimed at capturing Stalingrad was significantly weakened. And time was gained to organize the city's defenses...."15
The 308th Rifle Division made a worthy contribution to carrying out this major task. Its soldiers and commanders of all levels during their first battles gained certain combat experience and this made it possible subsequently to fight skillfully and with small forces to achieve victories over superior enemy forces. The command and the staff firmly and constantly carried out the decisions and particularly in the concluding stage, prepared the formation successfully for the advance in a short period of time. The determination with which the men fought, regardless of the lack of combat experience, the bad terrain for the offensive and the strong enemy resistance, helped them achieve their goals. The division's commander endeavored to compensate for the lack of resources by nighttime attacks, in endeavoring to conduct them by surprise and energetically and constantly concerned with creating superiority in the sector of the main thrust. Having critically analyzed the failure of the first nighttime engagement, he drew the correct conclusions and more successfully organized and conducted the second nighttime engagement.
The combat experience acquired by the men, the commanders and the political workers of the formation to a significant degree determined the further successful combat operations of the division in the defense of Stalingrad.