Tuesday 31 December 2019

The Battle of Stalingrad (Jul 1942 to Feb 1943) - Part Three - Journal Notes From 2002

We pass Gumrak airfield with its distinctive water tower and station. And now, here I sit on the bank of the River Don, up on an escarpment, the river below and, on the other side – the Steppe beyond Kalach leading off into the distance – and eventually Stalingrad. 

Bridge over the Don at Kalach

There is a Joseph Stalin tank and behind me a memorial covered in bits of metal retrieved from the battlefield. We had travelled here from the NKVD Museum in the old prison where we learnt how the men of the NKVD won the battle!

A veteran - Anatoly Kozlov - a Colonel who served with the Soviet 158th Tank Brigade and he tells the story of this place. Anatoly is responsible for the nearby memorial which commemorates his fallen comrades.

On 12th July the Stalingrad Front was formed and three armies from the reserve occupied this point. No. 62 and a number of Rifle Divisions. We were west of the Don and No. 63 was on the east. No. 64 was on the southern front fielding four Tank Brigades, four Marine and two Infantry divisions.

Colonel Anatoly Kozlov
 We needed to regroup and build a defence line. We sent one regiment each to the Chir Defence Line to buy time so that we could stabilize the position on the Don. 

On the 17th July the advance groups on the Chir were engaged and this was the start of the Battle of Stalingrad. They held the Germans for only one week. On the 23rd July the defence line was broken – most of the Chir team were killed. Battalion 33 had 2,000 people but only 20 got back to the main defence line.

Memorial on the West Bank of the Don near Kalach

The advance team had the best equipment. The Germans broke our defence line straight way. The German objective was to surround the Russians at Kalach. On the 24th July the Russian 62nd and 64th Armies were surrounded – many were killed and taken prisoner.

To prevent the Germans crossing the Don No. 1 and No. 4 attacked on the 24th July. I was in the 1st Tank Army and we held our position here on this very spot. Two Russian tank armies broke out - 5,000 from two armies.

The Don - Volga Canal Built by German Prisoners of War

The German 6th Army had 740 tanks and we had the same. 700 tanks were destroyed here – and their crews lost. My Brigade was operating with 75 tanks – three survived with most being ditched in the Don. 1,500 tanks fought here and we bought one months worth of time.

I was liaison officer here on the Don bridge and I had a dream to raise a monument where the Joseph Stalin tank now sits. I built the monument in 1997. We got back across the river on pieces of wood – under fire. We then built a defence line on the east side of the Don. 100,000 died on the Chir / Don in July 1941.

The Germans had total air supremacy. There were so many planes! One flew so low we shot it down with a tank shell. The only time the Russians appeared in the air was during the big August air raid.

Recently Buried Soviet Dead at Rossoshka

Anatoly went on to recount the following story from when he was serving with the 2nd Guards Army holding the line against Manstein’s relief effort.

The Germans used tannoys to tell us that if we were captured carrying Communist papers we would be shot. Some soldiers hid their papers but the NKVD would ask to see them. Some said they had lost them and one lad admitted that he was frightened and that he’s hidden them. He was court martialled and sentenced to death. His commanding officer was asked to carry out the sentence in front of the other soldiers. He used his pistol but shot the lad without killing him. He tried again and his gun misfired – it was broken. He went from man to man trying to pull a rifle from other members of the squad but they were all crying and their fingers were stiff around their rifles. The officer had to find a rifle from another squad to finish the job.

Victory Day March - Fallen Heroes Square, Volgograd

The 9th May 2002. The Victory Day parade in Fallen Heroes Square, Volgograd. A goose-stepping colour party and lots of young soldiers. The commanders in their blue berets demonstrate some self-defence moves.

To read Part Four click here.