Friday 3 June 2016

World of Tanks History Section: Udalov, from Raseiniai to Silesia

The summer of 1944 was coming to an end, but the Sandomierz foothold was still hot. The sun was beaming from above and battled raged on the ground. A German attack at dawn of August 13th failed, but the enemy started anew during the day, hoping that the long guns of the King Tigers will do their job.

Their path was blocked by IS tanks from the 71st Guards Heavy Tank Regiment. Among them was a company commanded by Senior Lieutenant V. A. Udalov. The young commander was preparing for battle without knowing that the upcoming clash would be the peak of his career which began more than three years before.

From Day One

A conscript with experience is a valuable asset. Tractor driver Vasiliy Udalov, called up for service in 1938, was directed to the Kharkov tank school. After training, he was entrusted with the newest tank: a KV. With this tank, Udalov fought in his first battles around Raseiniai.

Alas, in 1941 both experience and strength was not on the Soviet side. The enemy not only held his footholds, but developed the offensive. Soon, remnants of the 2nd Tank Division were encircled, and its commander, E.N. Solyankin, was killed when tanks with black crosses broke through to the HQ. The surviving Soviet tankers had a long road ahead of them to rejoin the Red Army. Udalov was accompanied on his march through the forests by the future commander of the 5th Guards Tank Army, Pavel Rotmistrov. After slipping out of the encirclement, he was tasked with the formation of the 8th Tank Brigade, in which Udalov once again became a KV tank commander and fought tought battles at Moscow.

In 1942, Udalov fought on the Voronezh Front, and in 1943, when the brigade became a regiment, he fought at the Battle of Kursk under the command of the famous tank commander Mikhail Katukov. On July 9th, he stood in front of the wedge of the German Grossdeutschland division, driven into the Soviet defenses. Our tank crews had to display considerable skill and courage to stop the enemy headed for Oboyan. The T-34 and KVs fought against Tigers, Panthers, modernized PzIVs and StuGs. Nine KV tanks, including Udalov's, took up positions on the south side of Height 248.7 near Novoselovka village. That day, they did not let the Germans pass.

Surviving through the fires of Kursk, Udalov was fighting at Smolensk by fall. In November, he stood out in battle, earning an Order of the Patriotic War, First Class. A quote from his award order: "On November 8th, 1943, during fighting for Petrukha, comrade Udalov's platoon faced the enemy twice, once to deflect enemy tanks, and once to chase enemy infantry from the village. He destroyed one tank when fighting off the enemy tank column. ... Tanks fought decisively and courageously, supporting each other with fire while maneuvering."

Fight Like a Guardsman

After Smolensk, Udalov's regiment was promoted to Guards status and received new IS-2 tanks. It faced new battles under the banner of P. Rybalko's 3rd Guards Tank Army. This time, the Red Army was gunning for Lvov.

The attack went through a few small towns: Mageruv, Nemirov, Yanuv. In the summer of 1941, the 4th Mechanized Corps fought here, showing the Germans from the very beginning of the war that their "Drang nach Osten" won't be easy. Three years later, the war returned to these lands.

At Yanuv, Senior Lieutenant Udalov received an Order of the Red Banner. His platoon was supporting the 52nd Tank Brigade, helping its T-34s capture the important railroad hub and cut off the retreat for the Germans at Lvov. On the approach to Yanuv, the Germans stopped the Soviet attack with artillery and mortar fire from the western outskirts. Udalov took his tanks for reconnaissance, discovered the enemy, parked his tanks at a forest clearing, and shot up the German battery along with two Panther tanks.

When the Soviet forces were crossing the Vistula to form the Sandomierz foothold, Senior Lieutenant Udalov was the first from the 71st regiment to cross the river and take up a defensive position, deflecting German attacks on the crossing. As the foothold was being cleared, the situation worsened. Near Szydłów, the Germans sent in a powerful tank force: elements of the 16th Tank Division and King Tigers from the 501st Heavy Tank Battalion. On the evening of August 11th, 1944, IS tanks from the 71st Guards Tank Regiment took up defenses on the outskirts of Staszów. They had to prevent an enemy breakthrough to the east at all costs. For two days, the battle raged on west of the village. The Germans were taking losses, but little by little, the were nearing the village.

On August 13th, 1944, Udalov first met the King Tigers in battle.

The Senior Lieutenant's tank was waiting in an ambush east of the Mokre village, hiding in the thick bushes. Seven King Tigers attacked the Soviet forces. They showed their left sides to Udalov. When the tanks were about 800 meters away, the Senior Lieutenant began to fire. The leftmost tank stopped, engulfed by thick black smoke. Next to it, another knocked out Tiger froze. The other five tanks continued moving along their previous route. Udalov's IS tank circled around Mokre along the forest road and faced the Germans. From a forest clearing, Udalov opened fire and set another King Tiger aflame. The rest wavered and fell back. For this battle, Udalov was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.

Tanker to Tank Destroyer

In late August of 1944, after conclusion of battles for the Sandomierz foothold, Udalov's thinned out regiment was sent to the reserve to reform. The tankers became tank destroyers: instead of IS tanks they received heavy ISU-122 SPGs, and the 71st Guards Tank Regiment became the 385th Guards Self Propelled Artillery Regiment. Instead of a platoon, Udalov now commanded a battery. His job was the same: the heavy SPGs had to ram through the enemy's defenses in the strongest points and reinforce their own in the toughest fights.

The Germans did not manage to push the Soviets off the Sandomierz foothold back into the Vistula, no matter how hard they tried. The enemy called these kilometers of land, plowed by metal and soaked in blood, "a pistol at our temple". Udalov, along with other tankers and artillerymen, was preparing for the shot. The target for the 3rd Guards Tank Army and other units at Sandomierz was the capture of the Silesian industrial area and the defeat of the Germans defending it.

On January 12th, 1945, during the Sandomierz-Silesia Offensive Operation, one of the batteries from the 385th Guards Self Propelled Artillery Regiment was assigned to the advance guard of the 3rd Guards Tank Army, commanded by I.I. Yakubovskiy. It's not written in the corps documents, but according to Udalov's award order, this was his battery:

"In battles on January 12th, 1945, due to his skillful command of the battery, he dealt the following damage to the enemy: destroyed 3 Panther tanks, destroyed 2 batteries, and killed up to 80 soldiers and officers with no losses of his own. ISU-122s from his battery travelled 1250-1300 km over natural and artificial obstacles, expending 345-360 engine-hours.

He personally distinguished himself in battle on January 27th, near Bolshevitsy, where his tank destroyed one Panther and one enemy APC." - a quote from Udalov's award order for an Order of Aleksandr Nevskiy. Udalov received it in the hospital. Having gone through the whole war unharmed, he was seriously wounded on February 8th, 1945. His SPG regiment kept on fighting and ended the war in Germany, receiving the title of "Dresden".

Original article available here.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for bringing this stirring account to us!