Monday, 4 March 2013

World of Tanks History Section: Battle of Raseiniai

At the end of the war, a group of high ranking German officers ended up in an American POW camp. These officers wrote a series of reports, which were used by the Americans to study tank tactics. These reports were the main account of a battle, where a single KV tank stopped the advance of the German Kampfgruppe Raus, a part of the 4th Panzer Group, for 24 hours. Today, most historians agree that it was a KV-2, but there is no certainty of this fact, so the rest of this article will not use a numeric index. This unique battle happened on June 24-25th, 1941, next to the Lithuanian village of Raseiniai.

Kampfgruppe Raus was formed from elements of the 6th tank division before the invasion of the USSR. A second group, formed from the same division, received the name "Von Seckendorff". On June 23rd, both groups set up on the eastern shore of the river Dubis.

German air reconnaisance reported that Soviet tanks are moving towards the Von Seckendorff group. These were vehicles from the 2nd tank division of the RKKA, delivering a flanking counterattack. However, due to poor coordination and the general chaos of the first few days of war, the tanks were late. Instead of a flank, the Soviets were met with the front of the German forces.

A battalion of heavy KV tanks was included in the 2nd tank division. Contrary to the myth that KV tanks caused panic among German soldiers, it was possible to deal with them, if the enemy was sufficiently prepared. However, for Von Seckendorff, this was an unpleaseant surprise. Soviet tanks cleaved through German infantry and entered artillery positions. German 37mm AT guns were not strong enough to penetrate their armour. Neither were the Czech Pz35(t) tanks, which were all the Germans had. The only defense against KV tanks were the 88mm anti-aircraft guns. After losing several tanks to them, the Soviets retreated.

While Von Seckendorff fought with Soviet heavies, Raus did not encounter anything interesting. The Germans fortified their positions, scouted out the area, planned out further actions. Sometimes they would encounter individual squads of Red Army soldiers. Some prisoners were captured, and were sent to a nearby city.

A convoy of imprisoned Soviets and wounded Germans left in the first half of June 24th. 1.5km along, they encountered a single KV. It seemed likely that the tank was meant for nearby battles, and was left behind. According to local peasants, the tank arrived the day before, on June 23rd. It drove into the crossroads, stopped, and remained motionless all night.

When the column was spotted by the tank, it opened fire. The Germans turned around and returned to the base. Raus headquarters, knowing that somewhere soon the RKKA would counterattack, decided that this was it. As if on purpose, the KV tore a telephone line, disconnecting Raus from the headquarters of the 6th division.

While the Germans were figuring out what was happening, a convoy with fuel and ammunition stumbled upon the lone tank. The group commander recalled 12 burning trucks. On both sides of the road, outside of the KV's line of fire, traffic jams formed.

For several hours, the KV remained on the road, periodically shooting towards Raseiniai. Why wasn't it moving? Perhaps it ran out of fuel, or suffered an engine failure. Perhaps the crew had orders to cover the road. Perhaps, knowing that sooner or later the tank would be immobilized, the commander decided to pick an advantageous position to fight from. The tank crew must have understood, that this battle would be their last. It is hard to imagine what it must have been like to make that choice.

It took some time for the Germans to figure out that they were dealing with one tank, and not an entire division. Meanwhile, the KV sat under the burning sun. Raus gave the order to eliminate the tank as soon as possible. His group needed ammunition badly, the wounded had to get to a hospital. Trucks that tried to go around the KV got stuck in the swamps.

Germans moved a battery of four 50mm AT guns against the KV. German soldiers expected an easy kill, taking up positions where the effect of the battery could be easily seen. Soviet tankers, presumably, did not notice the battery. Their gun was still pointing towards Raseiniai.

The first shot was fired. Observers cheered. Another seven shots hit the Soviet tank. It seemed that it was over. However, several minutes later, the tank started turning its turret. It is necessary to point out that after being hit, the noise inside the tank is deafening. Even machine gun fire sounds like the tank is being hammered with a mallet. After artillery fire, the crew's eardrums burst, blood flows from the ears, nose, eyes, people lose consciousness. Recall, that the tank was boiling inside during the summer. The tankers were not able to open fire straight away.

The tank pointed its gun towards the battery and opened fire. Two guns were knocked out, along with their crews, two more were damaged. Germans attempted to destroy the KV with indirect fire from a 105mm howitzer, but were unable to hit it. Then Raus requested an 88mm AA gun from headquarters. That was the only gun capable of penetrating the armour on a KV.

The arriving AA gunners opened fire from 2000m, then decided to get closer, to be sure. Taking cover behind burning trucks, they approached to a distance of 700 meters. The KV was ready, and destroyed the AA gun on the first shot. The mood of the Germans was ruined. They had no possibility to bring in supplies, no way to deliver the wounded to a hospital. Raus was taking casualties, all for nothing.

At night, the Germans tried to lay explosives underneath the tank. Sappers that crawled up were surprised that someone still remained at the Soviet tank. Cracking branches, creaking hatches, careful steps were heard. The Germans decided that local villagers were bringing food and water to the Soviets. When the mysterious sounds died down, the Germans came closer and laid their charges. Before the echo from the detonation died down, the Soviet tank answered with machine gun fire. Either there was not enough explosive, or the sappers were bad at their jobs, but the only thing the charges did was damage track links.

Next morning, while more AA guns were delivered from Raseiniai, Raus ordered his tanks to attack. He understood that their guns were useless, but the attack was not meant to disable the KV. The light tanks needed to distract the KV while artillery gunners moved into position. Pz35(t)s maneuvered next to the tank, trying not to fall victim to its gun. The KV did not fire. The gunner knew that hitting fast moving tanks would be very difficult.

The AA gun set up, and opened fire. The first shot hit its target. The KV tried to fight back, and started rotating the turret towards the new threat. Another shot, another hit, the turret stopped. The Germans did not believe that they finally stopped the invincible tank. They sent another 4 armour piercing shells into the side of the tank.

After about half an hour, the most curious German soldiers approached the tank. They surrounded it, curiously observing the dents from 50mm AP shells. Only two penetrations were in the hull, from AA shells. Someone knocked on the armour of the tank. As if in response, the turret moved. Frightened screams were heard, and the German soldiers ran from the tank. Someone threw a grenade into the KV through one of the breaches. The explosion threw open the hatch on the top of the turret. The Germans approached again, and found six dead crewmen inside the tank. The bravery of these people struck them so much that they did not abandon their bodies, but buried them.

In 1965, the remains were transferred to a cemetery in Raseiniai. We still do not know who was in this crew. The gravestone reads "Yershov P.E, Smirnov V.A., a warrior with initials Sh. N. A., and three unknown warriors."

Original article available here.

24 comments:

  1. Eternal glory to these true heroes, admirably done, thank you for publishing this story.

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  2. A great story, well told. I've only just found this site through a link from the WoTlabs forum. I'm now going to avidly read every post. Thanks for your hard work.

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    1. The tank was 15 km west of Raseiniai, not 1.5

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    2. corekcion 5 KM from the brige of Dubysa

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  3. Amazing story! Found this blog from a Facebook page I follow. Definitely sharing this story with my Facebook friends.

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  4. I've read references to this battle in a number of sources, but only here have I been able to find any details of the identity of this brave crew.
    Thank you for sharing.

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  5. A fan of History27 July 2014 at 02:54

    I'm crying...

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  6. As an ex serving British soldier I find it easy to admire and respect the bravery of soldiers, from any country, who fight without fanatacism or ideology, but with pride for their country and homeland. There is a brotherhood amongst soldiers who have been compelled to fight by politicians who do not know the real meaning of valour, bravery or the fear of battle, and this is demonstrated by the acts of the German soldiers who respectfully buried their adversaries after a hard fought and heroic battle. It is always the soldiers who pay in blood and lives lost for the failure, arrogance and ego of the political "leaders" who only see the serviceman's sacrifice as a number to be counted on a casualty list or a plot on a map. I was proud to answer the call of my country, and put myself in the line of fire, but I hope with all my heart that future generations will be spared the horror of war. Unfortunately, given current the unrest in the middle east, Ukraine, Korea and the tensions between China & Japan, I feel the world is being driven to another mass cull of the general population to further political ambitions. Politicians are generally a spineless bunch who cannot even bear to fall on a metaphoric sword when they s***w up so I think that in order to fine-tune modern political mind about the horror of war legislation should be put in place that forbids anyone standing for election as a politician unless they have served in the military, behind the flag of their country, and know what it is to be expected to make the ultimate sacrifice. Politiicians seem to know what blood is worth in numeric terms, but until they recognise it's value the world will be a very sorry place to live.

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  7. What a great story indeed. These were the times when ordinary men fought with courage, bravery and honor. Though enemies they come to respect each other.

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  8. more about this battle (written in lithuanian, google translate google translate will help :p )

    http://krastietis.lt/vieniso-sovietu-galijoto-issukis/
    http://krastietis.lt/vieniso-tanko-kv-pedsakais/
    and
    http://krastietis.lt/maksimo-kolomijco-apsilankymas-raseiniu-kraste/

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  9. Sounds like it had to be a KV-II. The article mentions 6 dead crewmen found; a KV-I had 5; a KV-II had 6. I originally read about this battle in the book "Hitler Moves East" by Paul Carell (Paul Karl Schmidt) where I remember he said it was a KV-II.

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    1. Maksim Kolomiyets covers the battle here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCIxvRx4_l0

      It was certainly a KV-1. There are photos of KV-1s attributed to this area, whereas photos of KV-2s allegedly from Raseiniai are actually from Ostrov.

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  10. Made me cry. Wish i was there when the battle was taking place. would've been amazing.

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  11. Fools are still focusing WW2 armour though big powers actually invested some 3-7% of their warfare for armour. The war was not won or lost by tanks but western allied massive, total air and sea power. Germans lost the war because RAF, USAAF, Royal Navy and US Navy dominated sea and air and strangled German Kriegsmarine and hapless Luftwaffe. On the other hand land battles had much minor role because after all bulk infantry soldiers had very low battle value.

    The more backward military forces the more heavy human casualties. It means that both Soviet Red Army and German Heer were very very backward for modern effective warfare with no strategic power at all. The war was won mostly by western allied air and sea power.

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    1. i agree, that air power was superior, and its nowdays even more important, but thats a pretty retarded false opinion that the war was won by the western air and sea powers....

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    2. I hope you are not conflating WWII facts and Cold War propaganda. I don't consider myself an apologist for Stalin and his regime. Cheers friend, see you on jmantimes youtube channel. :-)

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    3. The USSR were at the forefront of the study and implementation of combined arms tactics right along with the Germans, who they were allies with until the summer of 1941. I consider my countryr, Canada; to be a fairly advanced nation, yet in WWII, the best domestically designed tank Canada could come up with was the RAM tank, which was a failure. We could make commonwealth tanks in the hundreds, which were successful (Vickers Valentine tank, for example).

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    4. "Irony mode on" Very good point Markus, defeating the 75% of European Axis power, most elite and better corps included, didn't help in anything to win the WWII. "Irony mode off"

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  12. if you go to raseinei neir the river my uncle said that some wer in the riwer ther is a sunk russia tank with is gun0 poking out

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  13. I think they retrieved that tank. I saw a story about a KV1 they pulled out of water because passing ships got damaged because of his gun. Not site if it was the same tank.

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  14. I think they retrieved that tank. I saw a story about a KV1 they pulled out of water because passing ships got damaged because of his gun. Not site if it was the same tank.

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