Saturday, 6 February 2016

World of Tanks History Section: Taking Workers' Village #6

On the morning of January 18th, 1943, the first stage of Operation Spark finally resulted in the long-awaited penetration of the Leningrad blockade. For the first time in two and a half years of fighting in the north-east direction, Army Group North suffered a defeat and was pushed back from the shores of Lake Ladoga towards a new line of defense.

With almost no time to rest, Soviet forces turned south from the lake, towards a small village and the Mga railroad station. Sinyavino heights lay between the Red Army and their goal, like a bastion built by nature itself. Their slopes rose up from peat bogs, all important regional roads lay across them or near them, and the heights themselves were reinforced by Germans long ago.This meant that the Soviet soldiers who just penetrated the blockade were in a dead end. To break out, they had to assault the enemy strongholds, one by one.

Concentration of Force

The taking of Workers' Village #6 was of utmost importance during the battle for Sinyavino. One of the few good quality roads passed through here. Having taken the village, Soviet forces could break out of the bogs, take over other key roads, and get a good chance at cutting off the Germans at the heights.

The enemy did not have time to prepare the village for battle. Additionally, the Germans expected the Red Army to come from the east, but they unexpectedly came from the north.

The first battles at Sinyavino began on January 15-16th, 1943, but elements of Lieutenant-General Vladimir Zakharovich Romanskiy's 2nd Shock Army did not reach it until the blockade was penetrated. Here, the general first had a chance to use tanks not individually, but as a whole brigade. This task was given to the 16th Tank Brigade commanded by Colonel Korney Ivanovich Ivanov. At this time, the brigade had 20 T-34 tanks, 10 T-70s and 8 T-60s. By January of 1943, the brigade was a veteran of the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts and would be fighting close to where they saw their first battle in the distant past of September 1941.

By standards of the north-east direction, the region designated for the brigade was considered tank-capable. In reality, the tankers only had one narrow gauge railroad at their disposal, designed to move between peat quarries. Everything else was swamp, forest, and other difficult terrain.

Another problem for the 16th Tank Brigade was the lack of organic infantry support. They were to fight alongside the 147th Infantry Division, the only unit of the 2nd Shock Army that had yet to fight in the Leningrad direction. In addition, the division recently received reinforcements and did not have time to do exercises to increase cohesion.

The workers' village was protected by SS police units and was located at a joint between two German divisions. This meant that it was one of the weakest links in the German defenses. Here is where the Volkhov Front had to strike.

Difficulty of Cooperation

The attack began on January 20th, 1943. There was little time allotted for preparation, just one night. Infantry commanders could do nothing to prepare their soldiers for fighting alongside tanks.

Nevertheless, the first attack of our forces was pretty lucky. Soviet artillery hit the SS regiment's HQ, disabling its commanders. When tanks of the 16th brigade showed up, enemy infantry routed and began to retreat. Those who did not manage in time were encircled and destroyed north of Workers' Village #6. A handful of those surrounded managed to slip away at night. The village itself was defensed by a joint group of SS and soldiers from the 374th grenadier regiment, also recently escaped from an encirclement. They were in the way of the tank attack.

The tanks of the 16th brigade burst into the village. The first among them was driven by K.G. Tkachenko. His tracks crushed a few SS-men and an AT gun. Other tanks caught up and fighting began. As a result of the battle, almost the entire village was in Soviet hands. The entire left flank of the SS division hung in the air. For the Germans, the loss of the village seriously threatened their positions at Sinyavino, as their defenses could buckle at any time from a flanking attack. The Soviet forces could also attack southwards and completely cut off the roads that supplied the Germans at Sinyavino.

The enemy quickly understood this. Gathering up the remnants of battered units, the Germans counterattacked. Tankers met the German infantry with fire, and the battle could have gone our way, but it just so happened that the 147th Infantry Division lost nearly all commanders in its regiments. The only thing that they could do with untrained infantry was to lead them personally, but the moment that there was no one left in charge, the soldiers ran. The tankers defending the village had no assistance, and having lost seven tanks burned and four knocked out, managed to hold out on the northern outskirts.

Licking Wounds

The next day, tankers continued to fight for Workers' Village #6. Infantry helped little. Two more tanks were lost to German assault guns. However, the tankers held out.

The battle continued. Senior Sergeant Tkachenko's tank was ignited by a bottle with incendiary fluid, but he managed to drive the tank to a safe place. Lieutenant Gorbunov's tank was also damaged, but he managed to repair it, tying the steering cords directly to his shoulders. This let him drive away with two of his dead comrades. However, no amount of skill and courage could make up for the fact that infantry was pinned down and would not follow the tanks.

On January 22nd, the battle grew more fierce. Few remaining tanks from the 16th brigade burst into the village. They were followed by infantry from another, more experienced division. The Germans were thrown back, but they counterattacked several times during that day. Immobilized Soviet tanks fired from their positions to assist the infantry. By the end of the day, the village was firmly in Soviet hands. This success was provided by the tankers.

Worker's Village #6 was the first of many settlements liberated after the penetration of the blockade. This victory was earned at a great cost. The 16th Tank Brigade alone lost 14 T-34s, 2 T-60s, and 2 T-70s. 28 tankers died, 33 were wounded, and loss of infantry numbered in the thousands. German casualties were less, but the exact number is still unknown.

The 2nd Shock Army began attacking the Sinyavino Heights in January and fought here for many months. Remaining tanks from the 16th Tank Brigade held Workers' Villafe #6 until February 1943. A year later, this unit would participate in the final collapse of the blockade and earn the title of the best tankers of the Volkhov Front.

Original article available here.

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