Alexander Rodimtsev was an official of the Red Army, two times awarded with the top Soviet order, the Hero of the Soviet Union. He fought in Spain during the Spanish Civil War and he had much importance during the Second World War, especially commanding the 13th Guards division in Stalingrad. With this post, I will start publishing the biographies of some little-known commanders.
Alexander Rodimtsev was born on March 8, 1905 in Sharlyk, a town located in Orenburg Oblast. His parents did not have land so they worked for the rich people that was established in the area but that seems not to be enough to live properly. From the very beginning he showed great ability to ride horses, ability that he used later on when he was assigned to a cavalry regiment.
In 1927, he was called by the Red Army. He served for two years but he decided to start a military career. Then, after passing all the needed exams, he started studying in the cavalry department of a military school in Moscow. In 1932 he graduated with honours and he was assigned to the 61st cavalry regiment, located in Moscow. In the beginning, he was a squad commander, but he was assigned to the training department soon.
Spanish Civil War
After getting married, the Spanish Civil War began. The Soviet Union sent many militaries specially to train the poor-experienced Spanish militiamen and militiawomen. Alexander Rodimtsev was among them. He was sent to Spain as Captain Pablito. There, he trained many Spaniards on how to use a machine gun properly and he fought in the frontline, as he served as a military advisor. He participated in the Battle of Guadalajara, where the International Brigades fighting for the Republican Spain achieve a great victory. In Spain he met Rubén Ibarruri, the son of one of the most prominent Spanish communist leader, Dolores Ibarruri “La Pasionaria”. They will meet again later. In August 1937 he was called to Madrid and sent to Moscow. He was awarded with his second Order of the Red Flag and he won his first Hero of the Soviet Union award.
After coming back from Spain, he was assigned to a cavalry regiment as its commander and he started studying in Frunze Military School. During 1939, he participated in the Soviet Invasion of Eastern Poland and, some months after, in the Winter War against Finland. In Spring 1940 he graduated with honours in the academy. At the moment, even though he expected to be the commander of a cavalry unit, he continued studying, this time in the Air Force academy to command parachuting units in the future.
Just before the start of the Soviet-German war, Alexander Rodimtsev finished his studies and as Colonel was assigned to the 5th Parachute brigade on May 17, 1941. His brigade, located in Odessa was quite unexperienced and he had no time to train his comrades properly, as the war started one month later.
Great Patriotic War
On July 11th, the 5th Parachute Brigade (part of the 3rd Parachute Corps and the 40th Army) was sent to Borispol and took defensive positions near Ivankov, but it did not have to fight; it was quickly send to Kiev, as the capital of Ukraine was under attack. The Germans siege the city and the parachutists were encircled, but they managed to escape.
After continuing its withdrawal from the zone, the 3rd Parachute Corps was converted in the 87th Rifle Division and Rodimtsev was named its commander. The 87th was only a division in theory, as it did not have the material nor the manpower to fight properly. The commander asked for the material and the reinforcements, but before their arrivals, the newly converted division was sent to retake a town named Tim, in Kursk Oblast, as part of Yelnya Offensive. It was an extremely hard fight, but the Red Army was finally able to retake it. Due to their effort, four Soviet divisions that took part in the offensive (including the 87th) were honoured with the Guards title. The 87th Rifle Division was renamed to 13th Guards Rifle Division on January 19, 1942.
After Yelnya Offensive, the division continued fighting. In May 1942 it took part in the Second Battle of Kharkov and, after the Soviet defeat, it was severely damaged. In July it was withdrawn from the front.
Composition of the 13th Guards Rifle Division
The composition of the division was as follows:
- 34th Guards Rifle regiment
- 39th Guards Rifle regiment
- 42th Guards Rifle regiment
- 32th Guards Artillery regiment
- 4th Guards Antitank regiment
- 8th Guards Sapper battalion
- 139th Signal battalion
- 12th Chemical Warfare company
- 11th Transportation company
- 17th Field Bakery
- 15th Medical battalion
- 2nd Veterinary Hospital
Battle of Stalingrad
During last days of August and first ones of September, 1942, German troops bombed Stalingrad and on the 13th and 14th, the first German attempt to capture the city took place. The 71st German Infantry Division attacked the city centre and almost arrived to Volga river. The situation was critical and the Stavka decided to order the 13th Guards Rifle Division to cross the Volga river and keep the bank of the river under Soviet control.
After forced march and even though 1.000 of them had no weapon and the rest were almost out of ammunition, the guards arrived to the river in groups and they started crossing as soon as they arrived. The Germans were extremely near the river (in some areas they were less than 100 meters away) so the crossing was really dangerous. Even the division had 3.000 killed in the first 24 hours of battle, the guards managed to land and repel the German attack. Rodimtsev, when he met Chuikov, commander of the 62th Army that was fighting in the city, said: “I am a Communist. I have no intention of abandoning the city.”
From September 15th on, Rodimtsev’s division fought for the control of Mamaev Kurgan, where the fighting was notably merciless. The 13th continue fighting until the end of the battle. At that moment, only between 280 and 320 of the riflemen that started the battle in the 13th were still alive, from a total of 10.000. Those who survived stated that their resolve “flow from Rodimtsev”. The men and women conforming the division seems to love their commander.
After the battle of Stalingrad
After the battle, Rodimtsev was assigned to the 32nd Guards Rifle Corps as its commander. The 32nd was formed by the 13th Guards Rifle Division, 66th Guards Rifle Division and the 6th Parachute Division. It participated, being part of the 5th Guards Army (commanded by Ivan Konev) in the Battle of Kursk (even in the tank battle of Phokorovka!). The division continued battling until Berlin. As its troops did a great job, Alexander Rodimtsev received his second Hero of the Soviet Union award on June 2nd, 1945.
After the war, Rodimtsev served as the Deputy Commander of the Eastern Siberian Military District (1953-56), then as a military attaché in Albania, after as Deputy Commander again but in the Northern Military District (1956-60) and finally as military advisor of the general inspector of the Ministry of Defense. He retired in 1966 as Colonel-General. He died on April 13th, 1977 in Moscow.
As Antony Beevor said in his book “Stalingrad”, “Rodimtsev belonged to that tiny minority of people who could be said genuinely to scorn danger”.
(1) BEEVOR, Antony. Stalingrado. Chocano, Magdalena (trad). 6th ed. Barcelona: Crítica, S.L. , 2000. P. 160-200
(2) “Биография Александра Ильича Родимцева [tr. Biography of Alexander Ilich Rodimtsev]”. General Rodimtsev. 2-4 Sep 2018. <http://general-rodimtsev.ru/biografy/>
(3) “13th Guards Division History, Great Patriotic War.”. 13th Guards Division. 4 Sep 2018. <https://sites.google.com/site/13thguardshistory/>
(4) “Alexander Rodimtsev”. Wikipedia. 2-4 Sep 2018. <https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aleksandr_Rod%C3%ADmtsev>