Tuesday 5 August 2014

Lavrinenko's Gunslinging

Many have heard of Soviet tank ace Dmitriy Lavrinenko. Of course, I like to double check kill claims whenever enough details are given about a battle from both sides, so let's get to one such episode in his career, the battle at Gusenevo on November 19th, 1941. The Soviet description (from Katukov's memoirs) is very colourful, despite being overshadowed by a tragic event.

"In this tragic hour, Dmitriy Lavrinenko was close to Panfilov's command post. He saw how the HQ commanders, heads bared, carried out the general's body on a greatcoat, heard how a guard leapt out from the house and yelled, grabbing his head, "They killed the general!"

At this moment, eight German tanks appeared on the highway by the village.

"Into the tank! Quickly!" Lavrinenko yelled to the driver, Bedniy.

What happened next could only be explained as an emotional outburst. The tankers were so shaken by Panfilov's death that they were driven not by tactical considerations, but by revenge. Like mad, they rushed towards the enemy. The German tankers were stunned, they thought the Soviet tank was going in for a ram. The vehicle stopped, tens of meters away from the enemy column. Seven shots point blank, seven torches lit up. Lavrinenko came to his senses only when the trigger mechanism jammed and he was unable to shoot the eight fleeing tank.

He saw how fascists were climbing out of their burning vehicles, rolling around on the ground to put out the fire on their clothes, running into the forest. Lavrinenko shoved his hatch open, jumped out of the tank, and chased the fascists, firing from his pistol while running.

Only when the radio operator, Sharov, cried "Tanks!" did Lavrinenko come back. As soon as the hatch closed, several shells burst nearby. The armour was peppered with shards. Ten enemy vehicles were rushing from the forest. The driver grabbed his levers, but the tank was rocked with an explosion. A breach formed in the side armour. When the smoke cleared, Lavrinenko saw blood on Bedniy's head. The driver was dead. A shard hit Sharov in the stomach. With difficulty, he was pulled from the top hatch, but died immediately after. It was not possible to remove Bedniy's body, the tank caught fire and shells started bursting."

Once we clear away all the flowery parts, this episode becomes pretty straightforward: Lavrinenko's tank ran into a recon force, destroyed seven of them, and then was knocked out by the main tank force. Let's see what the German description of the battle is, from the combat diary of the 2nd tank division, provided by zhur_from_rkka:

Laconic, but this is all the information we need.

"Battle group 2 reported at 18:50: 5 tanks destroyed north-west of Gusenevo. 5 of our own light tanks were knocked out by the 34-tonner. 1 34-tonner escaped north-east despite several hits."

Hm, 5 out of 7, a bit of an overclaim. However, the German account is quite fantastical: Lavrinenko's single tank turns out 5 tanks destroyed, with a bonus one that escaped! This extra tank can at least be explained. By November 19th, Lavrinenko's tank platoon was down to just him and a BT-7, which could have very well been upgraded to a T-34 like we're seen before.

As for the T-34 being evaluated as a 34-ton tank, that's another common mistake.


  1. I think you misinterpret it, at least thats not the origin sense of the german statement. Correct would be:

    "Battle group 2 reported at 18:50: 5 enemy tanks destroyed north-west of Gusenevo. 5 of our own light tanks were downed, 2 of them are lost totally" which indicates that 3 were knocked out, and 2 being (irrecoverable) destroyed.

    So its not a overclaim of 5 out of 7 (!) where you get that? Its exactly an combat engagement of 5:6, were 5 german and 5 soviet tanks were downed, while one T-34 could escape. You seriously need someone to overlook your work, to avoid such faults.

    But nice article though!

    1. Lavrinenko claims 7. The Germans report that they only lost 5 tanks. That's overclaim.

      The Germans report knocking out 5 tanks, while a T-34 escaped. In reality, there was only one tank knocked out, and a BT-7 escaped. Also overclaim.