Sunday 30 August 2015

World of Tanks History Section: Defense Medals

Medals for defenders of a city were one of the first to be awarded in the Great Patriotic War. They were made from brass (some batches from stainless steel) and awarded not only to soldiers or sailors, but also to civilians. The latter was extraordinary, but recognized the contributions of those who helped bring victory without being on the front lines.

For Defense of Leningrad

The medal "For Defense of Leningrad" was ordered during the heroic defense of the besieged city. During the toughest blockade winter of 1941-42, the city did not surrender. At Sinyavino heights, at Luban, at the Neva foothold, fierce battles with German forces continued. The Red Army attempted four operations to break through the blockade, but it lacked the strength for the time being. However, hundreds of fortifications built after the blockade and collected experience in battle helped reduce the losses on the front lines. Thanks to counter-battery fire, the amount of shells falling on Leningrad's streets decreased by orders of magnitude.

Life in the city recovered, slowly but surely. Each scrap of land turned into a garden, workers managed to re-launch the trams. Deaths from starvation decreased due to more supplies coming across the Ladoga, but the situation remained dire. Civilians helped construct hundreds of fortifications, thousands of kilometers of trenches, build pillboxes and other structures.

On December 22nd, 1942, three weeks before the long-awaited successful breakthrough, the medal for defenders of Leningrad was issued. They began production in early 1943 at the Leningrad mint, and the first awards were made in the spring of that year. By 1962, over 900,000 soldiers and civilians were awarded the "For Defense of Leningrad" medal.

For Defense of Odessa

One can easily call the 73 day defense of Odessa one of the most successful Red Army defensive operations in 1941. 18 German and Romanian divisions approached the city in early August. While the Red Army was fighting on the outskirts, 60,000 civilians were evacuated from the city, along with valuable equipment and materials.

On August 13th, Odessa was completely cut off from the rest of the Soviet Union. Stavka gave the order to fight until the end. Several days later, the Odessa fortification region was created, manned by the Coastal Army and Black Sea Fleet. Until September, cannons on coastal batteries and ships kept the enemy 15-30 km from the city. Odessa was one of the first cities, if not the first, defended by Soviet marines. Their landing at Grigoryevka delivered a serious defeat to the Romanian forces.

On September 30th, Stavka gave the order to evacuate the defenders of Odessa to Crimea, where they were needed more. Within 16 days, soldiers left the city.

A special medal commemorated the bravery of Odessa's defenders, issued on December 22nd, 1942. As of 1985, about 30,000 people were awarded this medal.

For Defense of Sevastopol

Sevastopol, the most important strategic element of the defense of the Crimean peninsula, held out for 250 days. The Germans reached Crimea in the middle of September. Knowing the importance of this territory, they assigned it to one of their best generals, Erich von Manstein.

The Germans did not achieve a swift breakthrough, but Soviet defenses did not hold completely. After a month of fighting, Manstein's forces reached the Sevastopol fortification region. This was one of the largest fortified regions in the world, with dozens of artillery batteries, many minefields and pillboxes. A separate mention must be made of two batteries armed with 305 mm guns in armoured turrets.

The first German attack resulted in a small dent in the front line. After that, German artillery and bombers pummelled the city for over a month. Superheavy guns were shipped from Germany specifically to break through Soviet defenses. This was the only time in WWII where the Germans used the Dora 800 mm gun that fired 7 ton shells.

Soviet counteroffensives in Crimea were fruitless, but Sevastopol held out until the summer of 1942. On July 7th, the Germans launched the last assault with 6 corps numbering about 200,000 men, with support from artillery, aircraft, and SPGs. Battles were so heated that some German companies were down to 20-25 soldiers, but the defenders were drained. On July 1st, Sevastopol fell.

On December 22nd, 1942, the "For Defense of Sevastopol" medal was issued. As of 1962, about 39,000 people received this award.

 For Defense of Stalingrad

Another medal that was issued before the defense of the city was actually over. The medal was issued on December 22nd, 1942.

The Battle of Stalingrad, lasting from the summer of 1942 to February of 1943, was one of the most frightening and heated battled in history. Its defensive period lasted from July 12th (the day of the formation of the Stalingrad Front) to November 19th.

City fighting became a representation of the defense, the biggest art of which was fought by the 62nd and 64th Soviet armies. The city, turned to ruins by bombs and shells, became one continuous battlefield. Battles were fought not only for every building, but often for individual floors. Fighting was done not only with firearms, but hand to hand, with knives and shovels. Soviet and German snipers roamed the ruins. Attack groups crawled along the ground, through sewers, basements, tunnels. Individual houses had significant strategic meaning in this battle, equivalent to any fortifications.

By the middle of November, the Soviets were down to three small footholds near the Volga, but the enemy did not have time to crush them. On November 19th, the first shots of Operation Uranus were fired, signifying the beginning of the end for the Germans in Stalingrad. The 6th Army was surrounded in the city, and surrendered on February 2nd, along with Field Marshall Paulus.

As of 1995, over 700,000 people were awarded the "For Defense of Stalingrad" medal.

For Defense of Moscow

For the German army, taking Moscow would be more than just a propaganda victory. Moscow was a massive industrial, transport, and scientific hub, as well as the most populous city.

In late November of 1941, the Germans began Operation Typhoon, which was supposed to destroy the Soviet forces in the Moscow direction and lead to its capture. To achieve this goal, Army Group Center had almost 780,000 men, over 450 tanks, many guns and mortars.

The battles in the Moscow direction were going poorly for the Red Army. The Germans successfully encircled hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers. Battered Soviet divisions displayed feats of heroism, holding on to every scrap of land. Here is where Panfilov's legendary division fought, here is where Soviet tank ace Lavrinenko destroyed 52 enemy tanks. M. Katukov's tank brigade stopped "Fast Heinz" at Mtensk. Even though legends claim that German officers could see the Kremlin through binoculars, the offensive stalled hopelessly 30 kilometers from Moscow.

On December 5th, 1941, a Soviet counterattack was launched that threw the Germans back over 200 kilometers, and the myth of an unbeatable German army began to crack.

As of 1995, over one million people were awarded the "For Defense of Moscow" medal.

For Defense of the Caucasus

In the spring of 1942, the Red Army suffered a defeat in the south part of the front. The Germans broke through to the Don, Volga, and Caucasus. Hitler prioritized the latter, as it was the main source of oil for the Soviets, as well as other strategic materials.

In battles of June-August of 1942, the Germans emerged victorious, taking a significant part of the Kuban and reaching the Caucasus escarpment. Their path was blocked by forces of the Transcaucasian Front. A line of fortifications was built on the Military-Georgian and Military-Ossetian roads. Paths that could not be defenses were demolished.

The Germans almost had enough strength to reach Tuapse. There were not enough forces left to keep moving, and Stalingrad consumed all reserves. The last successes of the Wehrmacht in this direction were the capture of Nalchik and Gizel. In November, the Red Army launched a counteroffensive that closed the window to Transcaucasia for the Germans. In December, many forces from the region were sent to Stalingrad. The decisive Soviet offensive began on January 1st, 1943.

On May 1st, 1944, to commemorate the achievements of the defenders of the Caucasus, a medal was issued. As of 1962, 580,000 people were awarded the "For Defense of the Caucasus" medal.

For Defense of the Soviet Far North

The Battle for the Far North includes the actions of the Red Army starting from the beginning of the Great Patriotic War to October of 1944 at the Kola peninsula in North Karelia, as well as on the Barents, White, and Kara seas. Here, the primary goals of the German and Finnish armies were the port of Murmansk and the Kirov railroad.

Ground battles in this region didn't last very long. The first offensive in this direction was launched on June 29th. The enemy managed a slight penetration of Soviet defenses, and the offensive stalled in only a few days. A large portion of this success can be attributed to the landing at Greater Western Litsa, which diverted a significant German force. By the fall, the enemy attempted to take Murmansk once more, but this offensive fared even worse; a Soviet counterattack destroyed an entire mountain infantry division.

Until 1944, the most fierce fighting happened on the sea and in the air. The north seas carried a stream of Lend-Lease supplies to Murmansk: tanks, cars, clothes, strategic resources, and dozens of other important goods. Polar convoys were constantly under the threat of attacks by German ships, submarines, and aircraft. Over three years, the North Fleet guaranteed the delivery of almost 1500 convoys.

The "For Defense of the Soviet Far North" medal was issued on December 5th, 1944. As of 1962, over 300,000 people were awarded this medal.

For Defense of Kiev

The last Soviet medal for the defense of a city, the only one issued two years after the start of the war: on June 21st, 1941.

The defense of Kiev is one of the most tragic and heroic chapters in the first year of the war, and one of the largest battles between the Red Army and the Wehrmacht. It began in July of 1941, approximately on the 1939 Soviet border, where the South-Western Front retreated after defeats at the new border.

Despite the Wehrmacht's technical advantage in 1941, the Soviet forces provided a fierce resistance, as a result of which an offensive towards Kiev could only be launched in August. The Kiev Fortification Region deserves special mention, as it held elements of the German 6th Army west of the city for two months.

Attempts to hold the Germans at the Dnieper were fruitless. Battles in August and September drained the South-Western Front, but Soviet command demanded that the city hold out at any cost. Stavka only permitted retreat on September 18th. Sadly it was too late. The Germans already surrounded the South-Western Front.

As of 1995, over 107,000 people were awarded the "For Defense of Kiev" medal.

Original article available here.


  1. "-- the Odessa fortification region was created, manned by the Coastal Army and Baltic Fleet."


    ...wouldn't that be the Black Sea Fleet? The Baltic is a 'little' further to the north and one would assume the Soviets had better things to do at the time than haul sailors across the lenght of the country...