Friday, 12 April 2013
Using the enemy's vehicles against them is typical in all armies of the world. This is, of course, unless the vehicle in question is obsolete, or really bad. During WWII, both the USSR and Germany actively used enemy vehicles.
The events of this article transpired on the Volhov front early in the spring of 1942. The main characters of this story are Senior Sergeant of the 3rd Company, 107 Independent Tank Battalion Nikolai Baryshev, his crew, and a PzIII.
In the period of insufficient volumes of manufacturing, the use of captured vehicles was sometimes the only way to reinforce your unit. B. A. Shalimov, the commander of the 107th Battalion, decided to collect, and, if possible, repair abandoned German tanks. Since his unit was nearly "horseless", his commanders approved of this initiative.
The 3rd Company was full of German tanks. Baryshev obtained his PzIII personally, in a very daring fashion, from right under the Germans' nose.
The tank was parked about 150 meters from German lines. The vehicle was not critically damaged. The electic gun trigger and power steering mechanisms were damaged by grenade fragments. Baryshev and his crew repaired the tank under fire, and drove away.
At the time of a localized offensive of the settlements of Venyagolovo and Shapki, located close to the river Mga, a platoon of captured PzIIIs were escorting two companies of mountain troops. Due to a lack of radios, two tanks got lost. There was a problem with radios since the start of the war. The USSR did not manufacture enough radios for their own tanks, let alone captured ones. The radios that German tanks came with were either damaged, or the crewmen did not know how to use them. It is not surprising that Baryshev's platoon had little ability to coordinate their movements.
Baryshev, after driving his PzIII through a swampy forest, attacked and helped destroy a German guard unit, crossed the river Mga, and, with infantry, held the road connecting Venyagolovo and Shapki, cutting off the German supply line. During one of the attacks, a supply depot was captured, which was fortunate for Baryshev, as he expended a large portion of his shells.
The Soviet forces spent the night of April 10th under a German artillery barrage. Baryshev was lightly injured by a shell fragment that entered through an open hatch. Infantry, which did not have the ability to hide in armour, suffered greater losses. At dawn, the infantry was joined by a ski battalion With these new forces, a German counterattack that was launched at noon was successfully repelled. German infantry, with one tank, attempted to attack from the direction of Shapki. Thanks to Sergeant Baryshev and deputy political commissar Zakroyu, firing from a captured AT gun, the tank was destroyed. The Germans attacked three more times that day. With heavy losses, their attacks were stopped.
On April 11, the Germans brought in fresh forces, and encircled the Soviets. Out of two battalions, only 150 men remained alive.
On April 12, after an artillery barrage, the Germans began another assault. Against a handful of Soviet soldiers and one medium tank, the Germans sent six PzIIIs with an infantry escort. After several hours, it was clear that the position could not be defended for long. The Germans closed their ring around the Soviet troops. Shell fragments disabled the last radio station the skiers brought. No help was coming. Baryshev collected the 23 remaining men and led them to the front. It was very close, 5 km away, but getting there with only one tank and two dozen exhausted soldiers was going to be not just difficult, impossible. However, the Soviets had no intention of surrendering.
Sergeant Baryshev decided to deliver the infantry to a clearing at the river Mga, right across from the positions of the Red Army. After that, cover the soldiers as they were crossing the river.
The fact that the tank was German was very fortunate. When the Germans approached the clearing, Baryshev confidently directed the tank straight at them. The Soviet PzIII was mistaken for a German one. As a distraction, Baryshev made it look like he was stuck at the clearing inching forward and backward. Soviet soldiers were creeping to the water behind the tank. The Germans spotted them, but too late, and managed to fire off only a handful of shots. All but two or three Soviet soldiers crossed the river. The tank could not, the depth was too great.
The nearest crossing was a kilometer away. Baryshev headed through the forest, straight through the German lines. He drove straight past trenches, AT guns, tanks. The Germans waved to him, some even mounted the tank and started rifling through the storage bins, mistaking the Soviet equipment in them for trophies.
As Baryshev's tank turned towards the river, the soldiers hopped off. At the same time, Baryshev discovered that he was being tailed by two German tanks; the silent PzIII was deemed suspicious. In order to not be shot at by Soviet artillery, Baryshev sent two of his crewmen ahead to warn the batteries. When the real German tanks were close, Baryshev stuck a red cloth out of a hatch and drove through the river. The Germans opened fire, but ricocheted off his turret. The guns on the Soviet shore opened fire in turn. Under the cover of Soviet guns, Baryshev made it back.
Original article available here.