Sunday, March 15, 2015

39th Guards Rifle Division

The 39th Guards Rifle Division was part of the 62nd Soviet Army, which was formed from the inactive 7th Reserve Army in July of 1942. The 62nd Army was assigned to forces resisting the German thrust towards Stalingrad. Command of the 62nd Army was placed in the hands of Major General V. Ia. Kopakchi, who was then replaced by General I. A. Lopatin at the end of July.

According to official Soviet histories from the Battle of Stalingrad, the 39th was officially credited with entering the "Stalingrad Theater" on August 12th, 1942 and they would stay through February 2nd, 1943.

The division arrived on the eastern bank of the Volga, having fought through the German forces attempting to surround the city. It had been responsible for maintaining the "Volga Corridor," preventing the Germans from completely closing all access to the units. By the time the 39th was committed to combat on September 30th, it could muster less than half of its original strength. At this time, Lt. General Vasily I. Chuikov assumed command of the 62nd Army.

The mission of the 39th was to defend the "Red October" factory. From September 30th to February 2nd, the division fought in almost continuous combat, often in hand-to-hand fighting, against superior German forces. On October 14th, 1942, the Germans staged a major counterattack, sending three complete infantry and two panzer divisions, and 3,000 aircraft sorties against a Soviet front three miles long by one mile wide! Enemy artillery and mortar bombardment began at sunrise and continued to twilight, cutting visibility to less than 100 yards, with the dust and rubble.

The 39th Division held out for weeks, then months, fighting amongst the rooms of the Red October factory, never leaving an area, which was approximately 1000 yards in depth and 3000 yards in length. Major battles were fought in each building and room of the factory, with success being measured by which office or which storage area the 39th captured or held on to.

The Germans surrendered at the beginning of February, and the few remnants of the division and the rest of the 62nd Army were transferred into the reserve, to be rebuilt prior to April 1943, when they became part of the new 8th Guards Army, which was built on the foundation of the heroic 62nd Army the division had fought so valiantly for in the center of Stalingrad.

They fought across the Ukraine for the rest of 1943. Their missions was to cross the North Donets River, set up a bridgehead south of Isyum, and in cooperation with adjacent armies, advance on the Don Basin and ultimately liberate it. They fought across the Don, through Dnepropetrovsk, continuing to Zaporozhe, and participated in the bloody fighting on the Zaporozhe bridgehead across the Dnepr on October 10-14.

They then turned south to Nikolayev, fighting there until March 1944. Once they had freed that city, they turned south again, and fought through to free Odessa. By April 1944, the division had freed Odessa, and began their northward charge.

Heading north through Moldavia, they liberated Kovel by June. Here, they participated in the Lovov-Sandomir Operation, which began on July 13th, and lasted until August 29th. On July 20th, they crossed the Bug, and entered into Poland. On July 24th, they freed Lublin, and continued to advance on Warsaw.

They then advanced as far as Magnuszew, and captured a major bridgehead on the Vistula River, which was the key for the Soviet advance towards Silesia, central Poland and the German border. Here they encountered furious counterattacks by German units, with the 8th Army losing 17,000 men in the process. However, the bridgehead was maintained, and the division secured the area.

On January 12th, they, along with 138 other divisions, participated in the Vistula-Oder Operation, which would last for the next 23 days. During this push, they advanced 500 km through Poland. They crushed the German defenders (including the division " GroƟdeutschland ") as they liberated the towns of Lodz, then Posnan, finally arriving at the Oder River, north of Frankfurt on February 3rd.

They then moved forward, storming the Kustrin Fortress, and taking the Kustrin bridgehead over the Oder, 60 km from Berlin. They attacked the city from the east, pushing through the area of Karlshorst, across the Templehof Airport, across Landwehr Canal, pushing through the German Nordland Panzer Grenadier Division, and then the XVII Panzer Division, south of the Reichstag.

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