Thursday 7 July 2016

World of Tanks History Section: Nighttime Storm Over Senno

On the second day of Operation Bagration, June 25th, 1944, the Red Army took the Bogushevsk settlement, located between Vitebsk and Orsha. As a result, the Germans lost a vital stronghold. Soviet command sent Major-General N.S. Oslikov's motorized cavalry group into the breach. The group was tasked with developing the Red Army's offensive towards Senno and Lepel, with the eventual exit to Berezina river.

Senno was the next German stronghold in line. The city was an important transportation hub, and the Germans organized many warehouses with fuel, ammunition, and supplies in the vicinity. Senno was a very tempting target for the Red Army.

A March of Horses and Steel

Soviet mechanized cavalry groups were mobile units designed to fight in the depth of enemy defenses. Their cavalry did not depend on fuel and could travel as fast as tanks, the group's main strike force. When speaking of cavalry in 1944, one must remember that sabers were used rarely, perhaps in situations where the enemy is so disorganized that they cannot offer any resistance. Chiefly, cavalry in WWII fought like infantry.

General Oslikov had the 3rd Guards Cavalry and the 3rd Guards Mechanized Corps at his disposal. Lieutenant-General V.T. Obukhov's mechanized corps was chiefly armed with Lend-Lease tanks. Before entering the breach, it numbered 110 Shermans, 70 Valentines, and only 16 T-34s.

By 9:00 pm on June 24th, 1944, the advance brigades of the corps engaged the Germans. Sweeping the enemy off their positions, Soviet tanks chased them further westward, not letting them fortify. Meanwhile, tankers of the 3rd Mechanized Corps surrounded and destroyed German garrisons in small settlements on the way. The appearance of Soviet tanks often caused panic among the enemy. "Enemy columns, on horse or on foot, did not have time to retreat, abandoned their garrisons, ran into the forests, and surrendered in groups."

The task of taking Senno was given to Colonel P.I. Goryachev's 9th Guards Mechanized Brigade, who was advancing on the right flank of the mechanized cavalry group.

Tanks in the Night

Even though Senno was important to the Germans, they did not have time to establish a proper defense. The available forces consisted of several hundred infantrymen, three SPGs, two tanks, and several AT guns and mortars. German commanders, used to the winter standstill, did not expect the Soviets to rush forward so deeply, and did not beef up defenses. The situation was somewhat mitigated by the fact that Senno was well protected. This gave the defenders a small chance of lasting until reinforcements arrived.

The Germans erected wood and earth barricades up to two meters thick and created a network of trenches covered with barbed wire. Stone buildings on hills near the city were turned into strongholds. Roads going through Senno were covered by artillery. The least attention was paid to the north, where a lake surrounded by swamps came right up to the city's outskirts.

Late at night on June 25ht, Goryachev's advance guard (10 Shermans, 10 SU-85s, infantry, and a little artillery) reached Senno from the most vulnerable northern direction. Soon, the main forces of the brigade arrived. Goryachev immediately organized reconnaissance to discover the situation in the city. The scouts discovered that the Germans did not notice the brigade's arrival and are busy watching the east. The brigade commander decided that this opportunity was too good to pass up.

Soviet tankers and SPG crews would play the decisive role in the daring nighttime attack. They would enter Senno from the north and north-west. Meanwhile, the motorized infantry would circle around and hit them from the east, forcing an engagement. After a short but powerful barrage, the 9th brigade charged at the stunned Germans.

Daring Takes Cities

Ten Shermans led by tank commander Guards Sr. Lieutenant A. Zakhryapin burst into the city at high speed. At the same time, three Shermans with infantry riders entered the city in the north-west. They were followed by SU-85es, also carrying infantry.

The Shermans fired on the move and from short stops. Drivers directed their tanks at cars and guns, grinding them up with their tracks. Zakhryapin's crew distinguished themselves, knocking out one SPG, crushing three guns, and burning four trucks with ammunition. For decisiveness and courage in this battle and subsequent ones, the lieutenant was rewarded with the Order of the Red Banner.

Soviet infantry dismounted in the city and began fighting in the streets, clearing out the Germans. While the defense was in chaos, the motorized infantry came from the east and joined in the fight.

Tanks and SPGs reached the western outskirts of Senno, where they engaged the main garrison. The Germans, stunned by the surprise attack, could not mount an effective resistance. Slowly, enemy units left Senno. In the night, the enemy lost all their tanks and SPGs, several guns, and up to 70 cars. Not a single Sherman was knocked out or destroyed in the assault. By 6:30, Senno was quiet, and the city was under Red Army control.

The breach in the German defenses grew. Having lost Senno, the enemy had nowhere to retreat. One German column that was headed westward had to turn back and eventually come across some Soviet tanks. Many Germans abandoned their vehicles and equipment and fled into the woods.

Leaving Senno behind, the 3rd Guards Mechanized Corps fulfilled their objective two days later by taking Lepel and footholds on the eastern shore of the Berezina river.

Original article available here.

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