Built in 1942, a new railway line from Ilovlya station near Stalingrad to Sviyazhsk station near Kazan, 978 kilometers long, connected the Stalingrad industrial region with the rest of the country. Thanks to the dedicated work of workers who built railways under incredibly difficult conditions, often under German bombing aviation, managed to maintain transport communications and transport connectivity, important for the whole country, after Hitler’s troops reached the Volga and entered Stalingrad.
Volga Rokada became a real railway of life for residents and defenders of the city. About 600 steam locomotives, as well as 26 thousand different cars with equipment from Stalingrad factories, wounded and refugees, were managed to be taken out of Stalingrad by the railway built in the shortest possible time. On the same road, trains with ammunition and troops set off for the Volga, who will still have their say at the start of Operation Uranus.
How was the decision to build the Volga Rokada made?
1941 made great adjustments to the planning of events aimed at improving the country's defense. Faced with the new realities of the war, the Soviet leadership moved to large horizons of planning and adopted a number of reinsurance decisions that turned out to be very important for the entire course of the war. The advance of German troops to Moscow in early October 1941 forced the country's leadership to plan the construction of fortified bands in the rear: on the Oka, Don and Volga. New lines of fortifications were to cover Gorky, Kuibyshev, Kazan, Penza, Saratov, Stalingrad, Ulyanovsk and other rear cities.
Already on October 13, 1941, the State Defense Committee (GKO) decided to build two new defensive lines - in the great bend of the Don - the Chirsko-Tsimlyansky and Stalingradsky (along the lines of Kletskaya, Surovikino, Verkhnekurmoyarskaya). For the construction of fortifications near Stalingrad, the 5th defense department was transferred from near Kharkov, which, with the beginning of the construction of fortifications near Stalingrad, was reorganized into the 5th combat engineer army. By the end of the year, 88 thousand soldiers of the sapper army and about 107 thousand residents of the city and the region were already working on the construction of fortifications near Stalingrad.
Another important decision to ensure the country's security was made in January 1942, at the height of the general counteroffensive of the Soviet troops. This decision was preceded by the fact that in the fall of 1941 the railway connection on the Moscow-Kursk-Kharkov-Rostov-on-Don line was interrupted. This railway was of great importance for the life and defense of the whole country. After the Germans reached the main line, all military traffic, cargo flows and passenger traffic were switched to the Volga railway lines that passed through a large industrial hub - Stalingrad.
Realizing the consequences of the interruption of this transport artery, the Soviet military-political leadership in the person of the GKO on January 23, 1942 decides to begin construction of a new railway from Stalingrad inland through Saratov, Syzran and Ulyanovsk to the city of Sviyazhsk near Kazan. This highway is included in history war, like the Volga Rokada.
Roads are called roads - railroads, highways, ordinary unpaved roads that run in the front line parallel to the front line. Each army needs missiles both on the offensive and on the defensive, as it helps to provide maneuver with troops and military cargoes, without which it is impossible to conduct combat operations. The idea of building the Volga Rokada in January 1942 became a visionary. This strategically correct decision, directly affecting the outcome of the war, was taken against the background of the outlined successes of the Red Army at the front, in the wake of a general upsurge and glee and newly emerged victorious moods. Many really believed that in 1942 the Nazis would be able to defeat and drive out the borders of the USSR.
Preparation for the construction of the Volga rockfall
By order of February 22, 1942, the laying of a new railway line was entrusted to the Volzhlag Construction Department of the Main Directorate of Railway Construction Camps (GULZHDS) of the NKVD of the USSR. The head of the construction was Major General Fedor Alekseevich Gvozdevsky, who previously headed the work on the BAM project. In addition, construction organizations were strengthened by personnel and sapper units from the 5th Engineer Army, who worked on the construction of defensive lines on the outskirts of Stalingrad.
Then, in February, the first exploratory expeditions took place in the places of the alleged construction of the railway. It quickly became clear that building a road just along the Volga would not work. Prior to Kamyshin, the terrain profile was suitable, but then there was a large number of elevations at the mouths of the rivers flowing into the Volga, and huge ravines. After that, Gvozdevsky turned to the option of building a road along the Ilovli river valley. Exquisite expeditions on this route of the proposed construction took place in February-March 1942.
The expeditions and detailed acquaintance with the terrain along which the new railway artery was to pass allowed us to choose the route that was optimal at that time. They decided to build the railway from Ilovlya station along the river of the same name to the intersection with the Kamyshin-Tambov branch. Further, the road was supposed to go to Bagaevka and along the existing road grader (dirt road) - to Saratov. Thus, the route of the future Volga rockfall went along the banks of the steppe rivers, this was important, since the locomotives, which are the main traction on the railway, consumed a lot of water. At the same time, the terrain itself: its profile and the existing road network made it possible to build the road faster and spend less effort and time on earthwork.
The final draft of the Volga Rokada was approved by the GKO on March 17, 1942, when no one could even imagine the upcoming disaster near Kharkov and the subsequent retreat to the Volga. The new road was planned to be carried out in the densely populated areas of the Stalingrad region, as well as on the territory of the former national autonomy of the Volga Germans, who were deported from their homes after the start of World War II. The fact that the locality was inhabited played a great role, since subsequently masses of collective farmers and civilians from the local population were involved in the construction. The railway designers also counted on the fact that the local population will help with the operation and maintenance of the road (stations, bridges, lines and sidings) in the future. At the same time, it was planned to use the empty villages and empty houses of the Volga Germans to accommodate the builders themselves, which was also of great importance for the entire construction site.
Rails for the construction of the road were carried even from BAM
The construction of a new road immediately faced serious difficulties. The first was climatic - the spring of 1942 stood out rather cold and lingering. In many construction sites, snow fell only in the second half of April, by the 20th. In turn, this affected the timing of the start of sowing campaigns. This was important, since collective farm workers were actively involved in the construction, but due to the late spring, they were released only at the end of the first decade of June.
The second even more important problem was the shortage of building material. Railway workers immediately faced a shortage of rails and sleepers. This is not surprising if we take into account the fact that the entire economy of the USSR by that time had already passed or was in the process of an active transition to military rails. Most of the rolling mills existing in the country switched from the production of civilian products to the implementation of military orders and the production of military equipment for the front.
The way out of the situation was the dismantling of the tracks from the active construction of BAM, which began in 1938. By order of the GKO, the 180-kilometer branch, which had already been built on the Bam-Tynd line, was dismantled and transferred to Stalingrad to build a new road. Links of the track and bridge farms from this section were delivered for the construction of the Volga Rokada. But this was enough only for the construction of the stage from Ilovlya station to Petrov Val station. Additionally, the rails were dismantled in the western regions of the country in the war zone, they were taken literally from under the nose of the advancing Nazis. These exported lashes were enough for the site from Petrov Val to Saratov. In addition, GKO instructed the Narkomvneshtorg to import 1200 km of rails with fastenings from the United States for construction work. And just over the years of the war, the Soviet Union received 622 thousand tons of American rails as part of the Lend-Lease program.
The construction of the railway involved large human resources, including prisoners from the Gulag, who arrived at a construction site from the Far East along with the dismantled tracks of the BAM. Two forced labor camps (ITL) were quickly organized at the site of the work: Saratov, located in the village of Umet, and Stalingrad, located in the village of Olkhovka. From September 11, 1942, both camps were combined into a strict security Volga ITL, which lasted until December 1944.
At the same time, the contribution of prisoners to the construction was large, but not decisive. Local peasants were mobilized to conduct work in droves. Tens of thousands of collective farmers, a large number of women and adolescents, who bore all the hardships of this work, worked at the construction site. The sappers of the 5th sapper army, specialized construction units from all over the Soviet Union, and civilian citizens also contributed. According to the recollections of some builders, the work of German prisoners of war was also used to build the road.
To simplify the construction, most of the bridges built on the Volga Rokada were made of wood. The rails on the road were stacked by hand. Manually engaged in the arrangement of the embankment. The earth was transported using wheelbarrows and grabbers (a cart or a wheelbarrow used in earthworks). The use of construction equipment was extremely limited. Experienced workers and problems with food, supplies of work clothes and medicines. The wartime left a serious imprint on the work, while at the time of construction, the country, like in the fall and winter of 1941, was literally on the verge of disaster. Near Stalingrad, without any exaggeration, the fate of the war was decided.
In July and August, the most unpleasant was added to everyday difficulties. Starting on July 22, 1942, the Germans began to bombard road construction sites, especially those that were closer to Stalingrad and the front. Enemy aircraft interfered with construction, diverting some of the forces to restore damaged sections of the canvas. At the same time, during the air raids, the builders themselves suffered casualties. And already after the enemy captured the right bank of the Don in the area of Kletskaya, artillery shellings were added to the air raids. Now the heavy artillery of the Germans could shell the area of Ilovlya station.
Volga rockfall erected in just six months
Despite all the difficulties, under German bombs and shells, with a shortage of food in the most difficult wartime conditions, the builders did their job in record time. A new railway with a total length of 978 kilometers was built in six months. Prior to this, no one in the world had ever built railroads with such a speed, especially in war conditions.
Already on September 23, the government commission accepted the temporary operation of the Ilovlya-Petrov Val railway line, on October 24, the acceptance of the next section of Saratov-Petrov Val took place. At the same time, already on October 15, the trial movement of trains began on the entire section from Sviyazhsk (near Kazan) to Ilovlya station. And in the final version, the entire line was adopted by the commission and put into operation on November 1, 1942. Thanks to the organization of the ring traffic scheme, the throughput capacity of the constructed railway was quickly increased from 16 to 22 trains per day.
The new railway has become an important artery supplying Soviet troops in the region of Stalingrad and in the south of the country. Reserves, ammunition and food were transported by rail. The wounded, damaged equipment, evacuated equipment and evacuated citizens were taken along it deep into the country. The constructed road became an important part of the successful operation "Uranus", before which the Soviet troops managed to accumulate a sufficient number of troops and equipment. In October-November 1942 alone, 6,6 thousand wagons with weapons and ammunition were delivered to the front by a new railway.
The road built during the Great Patriotic War is still in operation today. According to the Russian Railways website, the Saratov-Volgograd section today is part of the main line of transportation between the Kuzbass and the Azov-Black Sea region of Russia. Every day, thousands of tons of various cargoes are transported through this section, and thousands of tourists travel to the Russian resorts to the Black Sea.