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Posted on Feb 7, 2007 in Front Page Features, War College

The Guards Return To Fight In Russia – 1941

By Wild Bill Wilder

Battle #5 The Istra River, Nov. 24, 1941 – Forced to withdraw under heavy pressure, the Soviet army needed a rear-guard unit to hold up the German juggernaut. The German 11th Panzer Division was racing toward the Istra River to force a crossing. The 1st Guards Tank Brigade was joined by tanks of the 27th and 28th Brigades with some Lend-Lease Matilda tanks. The Soviet armor proceeded to set up clusters of ambushes in a checkerboard pattern along all the approaches to the river. By slowing the advance of the panzers, the Russian troops would have the time to cross the river and set up defensive positions on the other side. The German tanks of the 15th Regiment made good progress until hitting the wooded areas a few miles from the crossing.

As the panzers headed at top speed for the river, Soviet tank fire from dozens of hiding places opened up and decimated the German ranks, slowing them to a crawl. Finally, in the face of tremendous losses they could ill-afford, the armor of the Wehrmacht pulled back and tried to flank the enemy again.


Knocked out Russian T-34 tank and dead crewmember pictured
here in the lower Don River region in late 1942

Battle #6 The Outskirts of Moscow, Dec. 14, 1941 – By now the German advance had been effectively halted. It was apparent to Russian commanders in the front line (and to the German ones too!), that no matter what the fears of the Kremlin might be, Moscow would not be attacked. On December 5th, with weeks of planning and gathering forces, Zhukov unleashed what became a massive general counterattack along the entire Moscow front.

From the area around the capital alone, 88 infantry and 15 cavalry divisions, along with over 1,500 tanks burst upon the freezing, weary grenadiers. The intention of the Soviet armies was to break through on the flanks of Army Group Center, surround as much of it as possible and cut it off. This catastrophic event completely changed the course of the war in 1941. It put the Wehrmacht into a state of panic. Here when they thought the enemy was beaten down, an entirely new fresh force, larger than theirs, was swooping in upon them. They seemed like ghosts in the blinding winter whiteness and came from everywhere. They were seemingly oblivious to the cold, disregarding death and with a vengeance as frigid as the air they were breathing.

The German defenses disintegrated under the shock of the blow. They fell back. Hitler, already prepared to announce to his nation this new glorious triumph, flew into a rage, dismissing the commander of the entire German Army. He then assumed command of all German armed forces. This position he would not relinquish for the rest of the war.

The 1st Guards Tank Brigade in union with other Soviet forces smashed into the weakened and half-frozen enemy forces. The 16th Army proved very powerful against the Germans’ unprepared defenses.

The 1st Guard along with the 8th Guards Rifle Division aimed for and took the key road junction at Kryuvoi. The advance continued, as battle groups were formed to pursue the enemy. On December 14th, Katukov’s forces slammed into the 11th Panzer Division at the Istrin Reservoir and shattered it.

The tankers continued in the fighting for another three months. By March 1942, its tank force consisted of twenty pieces of armor. Nearly all of the original members of the Brigade had been killed or wounded. It was pulled from the line for a much-needed rest and refitting. By early April, the brigade would go back into action, this time as part of the 1st Tank Corps. But that is another chapter in the story.

Partial Bibliography

The Russo-German War, A. Seaton
Barbarossa-Hitler’s Invasion of Russia-1941, D.M. Glantz
Moscow to Stalingrad-Decision in the East Volume 1, E.F. Ziemke & M.E. Bauer
Hitler’s Panzers East, R.H.S. Stolfi
The Defense of Moscow, G. Jukes
Red Army Tank Commanders, R.N. Armstrong
Russian Tanks, J. Milsom
Fighting Vehicles of the Red Army, B. Perrett
Red Army Handbook 1939-1945, S.J. Zaloga & LS Ness
The Red Army Order of Battle in the Great Patriotic War, R.G. Poirer & A.Z. Conner

About the Author

Wild Bill Wilder, a native of Atlanta, Georgia, was introduced to modern warfare as a tot in World War II when his father and uncle went off to war in the USAAF. It was an experience that influenced him greatly throughout his life. After graduating from Toccoa Falls College in 1962, he spent the next 10 years in public service in various countries in Central America. He then worked in public transportation until his retirement in 1999.

Wild Bill now has even more time to dedicate to his passion – wargaming. In 1997 he formed a group called "Wild Bill’s Raiders." From small beginnings the Raiders expanded into five separate web sites and gave top-notch coverage to a number of popular wargames.

Bill has also been a vital part of the production of 13 different games, including SPWAW, Combat Mission, The Operational Art of War, and John Tiller’s Squad Battles series. He has authored over 1300 scenarios and campaigns for these and other games over the last nine years. At age 68, Bill is also a prolific writer, with his primary focus on warfare of the 20th century. To quote him, "Wargaming is a passion that never dies with the passing of the years. Instead it only intensifies as new and better wargames are produced. It is in military history that one finds often written in blood the glory and the grief of mankind!"

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1 Comment

  1. I wanted no part of the tank corps. I went in the Infantry so I could breathe fresh air and see what I am shooting at.