On November 7th, the Red Army took this important road junction about 70 km south-west of Kiev. Tankers of P.S. Rybalko's 3rd Guards Tank Army delivered serious damage to their enemy and captured many trophies: vehicles, fuel, supplies. On that same day, the German command ordered the 25th Tank Division to retake Fastov. The division's actions are a canonical example of haste.
Tankers Without Tanks or What Negligence Brings
General Adolf von Schell's newly formed 25th Tank Division was sent from France to the Eastern front in late October. The Ukraine met it with misfortune: the men disembarked at Berdichevo and all their tanks were sent to Berdichevo by mistake. It took several days before the division's tanks were returned.
In the evening of November 6th, von Schell received an order to immediately move out to Fastov and hold it at any cost. The division's tanks were going to spend another three days wandering the Ukrainian expanse, but the higher-ups demanded action now. The roads were washed away by rain, and the division had to move in pieces; wheeled vehicles fell behind tracked ones.
On November 7th, while von Schell's soldiers were still on the road, news of Fastov's loss reached them along with new orders. Instead of simply defending, the 25th division had to take Fastov back from the Red Army.
The 25th Tank Division had no combat experience and was going into battle for the first time. General von Schell also managed to underestimate his opponent and went into battle without any preparation. His units marched towards Fastov in regular marching columns without reconnaissance, while knowing nothing about the enemy's forces or actions. The first German counterattack was in reality a poorly organized stumble. Fon Schell would soon pay for his negligence.
For tankers of the 3rd Guards Tank Army, Fastov was a stepping stone for their offensive. The tanks kept moving west, leaving a portion of their forces to cover the city. During the afternoon on November 7th, T-34s from the 55th Guards Tank Brigade ran into the first German column and smashed it.
The German column consisted of APCs and one self propelled gun. This force was either a patrol or the German advance guard. Either way, the Germans managed to not notice the approaching Soviet tanks and didn't have time to do anything. In minutes, the T-34s destroyed the SPG and six APCs with crews and infantry. Then, the Soviet tanks moved on. Near the village of Korolevka, they discovered the remaining forces of the 25th division. The Germans once again did not notice the Soviet tanks in time, and the tankers from the 55th brigade decided to not push their luck in battle with a larger force. Unnoticed, they performed a flanking maneuver and stopped near Maliy Polovetskiy, where they waited until morning, observing the roads in the vicinity. As it turned out, they did not wait for nothing.
Capture of Fastovets
At 6:00 on November 8th, Soviet observers noticed another German column. These were elements of the 164th Motorized Infantry Regiment and the HQ of the 25th division. Taking up preferable positions, the T-34s opened fire on the enemy cars and APCs. Again, the Soviet tanks surprised the Germans, They panicked under fire, and many fled. The T-34s closed in and shot up frightened enemy forces at point blank range. Resisting weakly and abandoning many vehicles, the Germans ran from the battlefield. Those who weren't as lucky were killed or taken prisoner.
By Soviet count, the enemy lost 300 soldiers and officers dead and 500 more were taken alive. The Soviet tankers captured tens of APCs and cars, and various equipment. Judging by the scale of losses, an entire battalion of the 146th Motorized Infantry Regiment was completely destroyed.
After this misfortune, the 25th Tank Division didn't have time for Fastov. General von Schell took about a day to bring order to his troops and prepare for the upcoming battle properly.
Meanwhile, the Soviets were preparing to defend against the German attacks. Colonel I. Yakubovskiy's 91st Independent Tank Brigade fortified in Fastov while tanks, SPGs, and towed guns of the 6th Guards Tank Corps took up positions both in the city and on the outskirts. Aside from the order to defend, corps commander Major General A. Panfilov received an order to advance in support of his neighbouring 7th Guards Tank Corps.
By November 7th, Panfilov only had 23 combat-ready T-34s left, a miserable remnant of a corps. It was difficult to achieve two objectives at once. Soon, the enemy made his decision for him by attacking Fastov, and all tanks were used in defense of the city.
The Germans pulled up additional forces, using elements of two divisions: the 25th and Das Reich. Their first target was Fastovets, a town east of Fastov. The Soviet 50th Independent Motorcycle Regiment fought an uneven fight against 30 German tanks and SPGs, attacking with support from significant amounts of APC-borne infantry. The battle raged on for three hours, with both sides taking losses. After the Germans knocked out three T-34s from the regiment, its soldiers had to retreat from the southern outskirts and then abandon the city altogether: there were simply not enough forces to hold it. 20 German tanks and infantry took advantage of that moment to break through and strike at Fastov, but Yakubovskiy's troops deflected that attack.
The taking of Fastovets became the last success for the Germans on November 9th, 1943. They could not move any further that day. Meanwhile, the battle waned.
Hot November Air
November 10th was remembered by Soviet soldiers defending the city as their toughest day. Von Schell's lost tanks finally started gathering back into a division. The enemy attacks became more and more fierce.
The fact that tanks from the 25th division didn't all pull up at once can be seen in the growing number of enemy tanks in every attack. The first wave consisted of 30 tanks from Das Reich and Tigers from the 509th Heavy Tank Battalion assigned to reinforce them. Heavy tanks went first, with medium tanks and APCs following.
About 20 T-34s from the 91st brigade and several SU-85s and SU-152s stood in their way. As the Germans approached, 76 mm guns included in the brigade opened fire. In addition, several AA guns captured in Fastov were used in the anti-tank role. The Germans lost 10 tanks and retreated to regroup.
Within an hour, another attack began, this time with 40 tanks. It also ended with losses for the Germans and no noticeable results. Soon, a third attack followed, the strongest during the day. This time, 60 German tanks drove at Soviet positions, a full third of them Tigers. As in previous attacks, the German tanks were supported by infantry and bombers. The defenders had to apply all of their skill and strength to deflect that attack. 20 T-34s from the 6th Guards Tank Corps joined in the fray. As a result, the Germans did not enter Fastov, but managed to hold a hull to the south east of the city.
The losses of both sides were about even: 20 German and 20 Soviet tanks and SPGs remained on the fields near Fastov.
The city was as impenetrable as always, and the Germans were getting restless. The last attempt to capture Fastov began on November 11th, 143. Several attacks with 50 tanks broke against the Soviet defenses. The city stood out, and what's worse, the Germans lost the hill they took the day before.
Only then did the German command decide to change the direction of their attack south-east, towards Brusilov. In the relatively calm situation, P. Rybalko did not hesitate to retake Fastovets. Its liberation took place on November 13th, 1943, and coincided with the end of the Kiev Offensive Operation.
Original article available here.