Battle of Hanko (1941)

Zone leased to the Soviet Union due to the Moscow Peace Treaty. No machine-readable author provided. Ohto Kokko assumed (based on copyright claims). / CC BY-SA

The Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union finished with the Moscow Peace Treaty signed on March 12, 1940. One of the consequences of the treaty was the lease of Hanko Peninsula to USSR for 30 years. This peninsula was to be used as a naval base by the Soviets, so from March 22 on (when Finnish delivered them the base) USSR started moving troops to the peninsula.

In that context, Operation Barbarossa started on June 22, 1941. Finland alligned itself with Germany and agreed to give access to Finnish land to the German troops as well as allocating troops to conquer back the land lost during Winter War.

Before the battle

Soviet Union

On June 22, 1941 when the Operation Barbarossa started, the Soviet Union had 25.300 troops defending the Peninsula. 4.500 Soviet civilians were also in Hanko. The Soviet troops located in the peninsula were parte of:

  • 8th rifle brigade
  • 343rd artillery regiment
  • 297th tank batallion
  • 204th anti-aircraft artillery division
  • Other additional units

On top of those units, the defenders some artillery batteries. Among them, there were 2 rail artillery batteries with 3 TM-3-12 and 4 TM-1-180 very-heavy rail guns.

Finland

The Finnish Army created the Hanko group in order to conquer Hanko Peninsula. Firstly, it was formed by the 13th brigade and the 4th coastal brigade but the first one was finally replaced by the 17th infantry division. Some other additional units complete the 18.066 troops that Finland was deploying on June 25, 1941. 10 days later, on July 5th, Finnish troops increased to 22.285 soldiers.

The 163th German infantry division was also supposed to take part in the attack, but it was finally sent to Karelia, as the Red Army defense there was stronger than expected by the attackers.

During the battle

Bengtskär in 1941

Even though the conquer of Hanko was among the main Finnish goals before the war, finally Finland moved their troops to Harparskog fortified line, built during the interwar period. Then, the battle was mainly static, but both participants launched some small-scale amphibious landings. The first of them was the Soviet landing in Bengtskär, where Soviets did not manage to take control of the island.

In the sea, attackers tried to blockade Hanko but they were unable to do so. Even then, for the defenders was very hard and costly to keep supplying Hanko as Finland used to attack supply ships also with mines.

Finally, the Soviet Union ordered its troops to evacuate Hanko in autumn 1941. Then, from October 16 to December 2 Soviet vessels managed to evacuate 23.000 troops, but suffering heavy losses due to Finnish mines and artillery: 3 destroyers and 2 big transport vessels were lost during the evacuation.

Aftermath

Battle of Hanko gave Axis troops control of the south of Finland. Finnish troops suffered 297 killed, 604 wounded and 78 missing, while Soviet troops suffered 797 killed and 1.476 wounded without bearing in mind the casualties suffered during the evacuation.

References

“Battle of Hanko (1941)”. Wikipedia. 01-02 April 2020. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Hanko_(1941)>

“Оборона Ханко”. Wikipedia (russian). 01-02 April 2020. <https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%9E%D0%B1%D0%BE%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%BD%D0%B0_%D0%A5%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%BA%D0%BE>

“Battle of Hanko 1941”. Naval Encyclopedia. 01-02 April 2020. <https://www.naval-encyclopedia.com/ww2/battles/Hanko-peninsula-1941>

Kerch-Eltigen Operation

In May 1944, Soviet troops were able to put German and Romanian defenders in Crimea on the run thanks to the Crimean Offensive. To be able to launch it, the Soviet Union organized the Kerch-Eltigen Operation. This operation aimed to land in two different places of the eastern cost of Crimean Peninsula in order to attack the rest of Crimea in the near future. Let’s have a look at what happened before, during and after this operation (I would like to prepare a longer article about this operation, but I don’t have enough sources at the moment. I will continue editing the post everytime I find more information).

Before the battle

1943 was the year of the German defeats in Stalingrad or Kursk. In the south, months before Kerch-Eltigen Operation, German 17th Army was trying to hold ground in the Kuban bridgehead but finally it retreated to Crimea after getting the retreat order. German troops reached Crimea in October 1943. Once in Crimea, German and Romanian defenders were unable to be reinforced and supplied by ground forces as Soviet had already conquered the ground north of Crimea. In any case, Axis powers were being resupplied and reinforced by sea, as Hitler wanted to keep Crimea for political reasons.

Following previous victories and in order to be able to attack Crimean Peninsula, Soviet troops organized an amphibious operation. The idea was to land in the peninsula, crossing the Taman Bay.

The battle

Map of the Operation. Attribution: en:user:W. B. Wilson / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)

In this battle, Soviet Union deployed 18th and 56th Armies along with the Black Sea Fleet and the Azov Flotilla. The 18th Army landed in Eltigen while 56th Army did so in Yanikale. Let’s check both landings separately, as they had very different outcomes. To understand correctly the landing, please check the map above (attribution in the caption).

Landing in Eltigen

Even though the weather and conditions were quite bad, the 318th Rifle Division (part of the 18th Army) and the 386th Naval Infantry Batallion landed in Eltigen, pushing Axis troops back. This first wave was reinforced, but Axis troops were able to siege the position by land and also by sea, as the Axis ships blocked Eltigen beachhead by sea. After 5 weeks, Axis troops attacked on December 6, conquering the position. Soviet troops suffered huge casualties during this fighting.

Landing in Yanikale

On November 3, 4.400 soldiers (part of 2nd and 55th Guards Rifle divisions and the 32nd Rifle Division) landed in Yanikale. By November 11, there were 27.700 Soviet troops defending the beachhead. German V Army Corps and Romanian 3rd Mountain Division were not able to push back Soviets anymore.

After the battle

Axis powers starting reinforcing their troops in the Crimean Peninsula but Soviet were doing the same. Only a month later landing in Yanikale (on December 4) there were 75.000 Soviet troops already in the beachhead, along with many tanks and other guns. As said before, Axis troops did manage to push back Soviets.

Soviet Armed Forces used this beachhead to conquer the Crimean Peninsula 5 months after the end of Kerch-Eltigen Operation.

References

“Kerch-Eltigen Operation”. Wikipedia. 28 March 2020. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerch%E2%80%93Eltigen_Operation>

“Crimean Offensive”. History Lapse. 28 March 2020. <https://en.historylapse.org/crimean-offensive>

Alexander Rodimtsev

Alexander Rodimtsev (right) talking with [front left to right] General N.I. Krylov (Chief of Staff of the 62th Army), V.I. Chuikov (commander of the 62th Army) and Lt. General K.A. Gurov (member of the Military council)

Alexander Rodimtsev (right) talking with [front left to right] General N.I. Krylov (Chief of Staff of the 62th Army), V.I. Chuikov (commander of the 62th Army) and Lt. General K.A. Gurov (member of the Military council)

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.

Early years

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.

Back home

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”.

Sources

(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>

Battle of Sutjeska

Map of the Battle of Sutjeska

Map of the Battle of Sutjeska

From Operation Barbarossa on, the Yugoslavian partisans started to attack German and collaborators positions. Their power grew fast but they were forced to retreat to the mountains of Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as they Wehrmacht was pushing them a lot. Even though they were located in the mountains and the German reprisals were extreme (many civilians were assassinated by the occupiers and the collaborators), the partisans managed to create People’s Liberation Army (from now on PLA) and, in November 1942 Josip Broz Tito, its leader, was able even to create the Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation, something similar to a government.

The occupiers started to worry as they were seen that partisans had more power than expected and as that power would maybe urge on the Allies to invade Balkans. With the intention of destroying the Partisan Main Operational Group, Axis powers planned Operation Case Black (Fall Schwarz in German), also known as the battle of Sutjeska or the Fifth Enemy Offensive.

German preparation

Germans had already tried to defeat partisans during Battle of Neretva but they did not succeed. During April 1943, German command decide to launch Operation Case Black. Hitler stated before the operation: “Units are obliged and authorized to use every mean in this battle, without limits and against women and children as well if it leads to success… No German who fights against gangs can be called to disciplinary or military-judicial responsibility for staying in the fight against gangs and their supporters.” Hitler was clearly ordering German troops to use any tactic, even if it was killing civilians, to achieve their goal.

The Axis’ plan was to encircle the main partisan units and destroy them between two rivers: Piva and Tara. The Axis had 127.000 troops, 8 artillery regiments, tanks and 300 aircrafts ready for the offensive. Axis’ order of battle was:

Germany

  • 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugen
  • 1st Mountain Division
  • 118th Jäger Division
  • 369th Croatian Infantry Division
  • 4th Brandenburg Regiment
  • 724th Infantry Regiment (reinforced) from the 104th Jäger Division
  • Motorized Brandenburg Regiment

Italy

  • 1st Alpine Divisio Taurinense
  • 19th Mountain Division Venezia
  • 23rd Infantry Division Ferrara
  • 32nd Infantry Division Marche
  • 151st Infantry Division Perugia
  • 154th Infantry Division Murge
  • Forces of the Podgorica Sector

The Independent State of Croatia

  • 4th Home Guard Jäger Brigade

Bulgaria

  • 63rd Infantry Regiment (under the command of the 369th Croatian Infantry Division)
  • 62st Infantry Regiment also in the area (under the command of the 369th Croatian Infantry Division)

Partisans

Partisans Main Operational Group had 16 brigades and 2 artillery battalions ready for this battle with, more or less, 15.700 soldiers along with 4.000 wounded and people suffering from typhus. The partisans’ units that took part in the battle were:

  • 1st Proletarian Division
  • 2nd Proletarian Division
  • 3rd Assault Division
  • 7th Banija Division
  • 6th Proletarian Brigade
  • 15th Majevica Brigade

The offensive

4th Montenegrin Brigade moving towards Miljevina, June 12

4th Montenegrin Brigade moving towards Miljevina, June 12

On May 15th Axis forces launched the offensive. During the first days they managed to gain territory to the point of threatening the central hospital. After this first hit, 1st and 2nd Proletarian Divisions were forced to retreat to the north, but at that moment the Partisan command recognized the German intention and they started to think how could they escape from the trap.

Even though partisans were able to defeat the Axis’ troops that were threatening the Central Hospital, they had big problems to break the encirclement. They tried to break it near Foča but they were unable to success. Luckily, the Axis troops were unable to achieve their goals. After May 28th, the Partisan command ordered to all its units to move towards the valley of Sutjeska. All units arrived on May 31st.

Breaking the encirclement

On June 3rd, Partisan commanders decided to break the encirclement in two different directions:

  1. The group formed by the 1st and the 2nd Proletarian Divisions tried to break the encirclement across Sutjeska river and over the Zelengora mountain.
  2. The second group, formed by the 3rd Shock Division and the 77th Banija Division along with the central Hospital was to try to break the encirclement across Tara river and towards Sandž

The first group fought hard but the second one had problems and tried to reach the first group. On June 9th, Marshal Tito was wounded while Captaion Stewart, Head of the British Military Mission, was killed due to a bombardment.

Marshal Tito and Ivan Ribar during the battle

Marshal Tito and Ivan Ribar during the battle

On June 10th and after burning heavy weapons and documents, the 1st Proletarian Division was able to break the encirclement after attacking the position of the 369th Division and all units barring 3rd Shock Division were able to escape from the encirclement. Axis troops thought only small groups had escaped, but actually the only unit inside the encirclement was the 3rd Shock Division. The Axis command sent five divisions against the 3rd partisan division. Only some small groups of the division were able to escape, especially due to many soldiers that came back to rescue their wounded comrades.

Axis troops killed aroung 1.200 wounded partisans on June 14th. Killings were very usual and during some days many captured partisans were killed. For example, some 700 wounded partisans and nurses taking care of them hid on Piva mountain. The Germans used dogs to find them and almost all of them were assassinated.

Casualties and conclusion

The battle caused many casualties in both sides:

People’s Liberation Army

  • 1st Proletarian Division: 1.514 killed out of 5.041 soldiers (30%).
  • 2nd Proletarian Division: 2.605 killed out of 8.106 soldiers (32%). Figures include troops under its command on June 10th).
  • 3rd Shock Division: 1.554 killed out of 4.664 soldiers (33%).
  • 7th Banija Division: 1.349 killed out of 2.547 soldiers (53%).
  • Around 1.500 civilians killed.

Germany

  • 583 killed, 1.760 wounded and 425 missing.

Italy

  • 290 killed, 541 wounded and 1.502 missing.

The Independent State of Croatia

  • 40 killed, 166 wounded and 205 missing.

Chetnik

  • 17 killed and 3.764 captured.

The battle of Sutjeska was the turning point of the Balkans warfare as the Allies started supporting the communist partisans instead of supporting the Royalist partisans. People’ Liberation Army continued gaining popularity and by the end of 1943 around 300.000 partisans were under its command.

Sources

(1) Edin Hardaus. “The Story of the Valley of Heroes” War History Online. 31 Aug. 2018 <https://www.warhistoryonline.com/whotube-2/uss-ranger-dronevideo.html>.

(2) “The Battle of Sutjeska Memorial Monument Complex in the Valley of Heroes”. Spomenik Database. 1 Sep. 2018 <http://www.spomenikdatabase.org/tjentiste>.

(3) “Partisan”. Britannica. 1 Sep 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Partisan-Yugoslavian-military-force#ref141668>

(4) Edin Hardaus. Balkan war history. 1 Sep 2018. <http://www.balkanwarhistory.com/>