Soviet command post saved by the artillery

Reconnaissance platoon commander Lieutenant P. Burdovitsyn and observer Vahir Saidov monitor the movements of the enemy using trench periscope.

Reconnaissance platoon commander Lieutenant P. Burdovitsyn and observer Vahir Saidov monitor the movements of the enemy using trench periscope.

On the 6th the Soviet Army had liberated Kiev, capital of the Ukraine and the largest Soviet city occupied by the Germans. Elsewhere in Russia the fighting remained confused as both sides sought to gain any advantage before the weather closed down much of the front for the winter.

Boris Gorbachevsky was back at the front after a short break while his unit of infantry was reformed with fresh recruits. As a junior officer he now found himself posted in his regiments command bunker, usually a relatively secure position. It was not the case this day:

7 November 1943

After regrouping and a short rest, the division again entered the front lines east of Orsha. Here the Germans were resisting fanatically, trying at whatever the cost to stop the Red Army’s offensive.

On 7 November, in honor of the national holiday, the adversary decided to surprise us with a gift of his own: he undertook a counterattack on the regiment’s position. The situation at the front became fluid, and enemy self- propelled guns with submachine gunners managed to penetrate the lines and advance into the depth of the regiment’s defenses.

A handful of soldiers under the leadership of battalion chief of staff Senior Lieutenant Kuznetsov tried to stop the enemy, but failed. The attackers quickly advanced in the direction of the regiment command post.

The recently assigned regiment commander Colonel Semen Vladimirovich was shaken, and lost control over his battalions. He turned to Commissar Gruzdev and asked:

“What shall we do?”

“What do you mean?” Ivan Iakovlevich was surprised. “We fight!”

“But we only have our personal sidearms!”

“But we also still have communications! The “God of War” [the artillery] will help us!”

No longer paying any attention to the despondent face of Epifanov, Gruzdev turned to the artillery spotters who were with us in the bunker: “Radio your commander: we need URGENT support!”

Within a few minutes, the guns began to thunder.

I unholstered my pistol and laid several grenades down next to it.The self-propelled guns were rapidly approaching; only about 250—300 meters remained to our position. But suddenly one erupted in flames — a direct hit.

The remainder divided and began to encircle us.The spotters kept passing target co-ordinates back to the artillerymen over the radio. A storm of fire blanketed the Germans, but the self-propelled guns reacted calmly, only firing occasional rounds in our direction.

However, having drawn up to the command post, they poured shell after shell into it. We hid in the bunker, relying upon its strong cover. However, “The Hut”, as Gruzdev had named the bunker with some irony, couldn’t take the punishment and collapsed. The fatal blow tossed us in every direction and crushed us under the ruins – a few men fatally, a few more were badly hurt, and others received a concussion. Both of the artillery spotters who had been assigned to us perished.

But the artillerymen didn’t need any further corrections — they had called down an impenetrable wall of fire that blocked the way forward for the Germans and eventually forced them to withdraw.

We excavated the dead out of the rubble and buried them, while the wounded were sent back to the medsanbat. I received a concussion in this unexpected tussle, and for more than a week I had trouble hearing.

Gruzdev reported to the division commander Polevik about our unhappy experiences. Epifanov was relieved of his command and returned to his previous place of service in the NKVD forces.

See Boris Gorbachevsky: Through the Maelstrom

Contemporary footage of the liberation of Kiev:

Soviet troops march through the ruined streets of Kiev, soon after its liberation, November 1943.

Soviet troops march through the ruined streets of Kiev, soon after its liberation, November 1943.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Editor November 8, 2013 at 8:36 pm

Many thanks Hugh.

Hugh Davie November 8, 2013 at 5:58 pm

The account comes from the 30th Army, Western Front which operated in Belorussia and Orscha is on the main highway between Moscow, Smolensk and Minsk. The battles along this Highway are know as the “Four Road Battles” and involved the Western Front in months of fruitless attacks against the German Panther Line held by the 4th Armee of General Heinricci from October 1943 to January 1944.
This is regarded as a classic German defence battle against superior forces which was conducted by the 78. Sturm Division and 330.ID amongst others.

The battle is mentioned in “The Other Side of the Hill” by Basil Liddle Hart and the October battles are mentioned in great detail in the Foreign Military Studies “P-143c, Selected Divisional Operations on the Eastern Front -Chapter 14 A Sustained Defensive Battle – 78th Infantry (Sturm) Division at Orscha November 1943″ which you can obtain at http://www.fold3.com/

Editor November 7, 2013 at 2:28 pm

PB

Many thanks for spotting that … probably because I’m working on 1944 at present! Hope its fixed now.

Doubt if I will go much beyond the war but will continue to add to the site.

PB November 7, 2013 at 2:16 pm

The URL of this article indicates 7th november 1944, instead of 1943. I don’t know if it’s too late for you to change that.

Great site and great serie of articles, I hope it’ll keep going all along the war.
Do you plan to expand it afterwards, for the aftermaths of the war ?

Regards.

Leave a Comment

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: