- You are given complete freedom in the actions, Mr. Field Marshal. However, remember one thing - after taking Leningrad, it must be wiped off the face of the earth! - Hitler hit his fist hard on the table.
For a moment, after the words of the Fuhrer, there was silence in the room. Hitler quickly returned to his seat, sat down on a chair and finally concluded. - You will be able to discuss interaction with the Finnish troops with the chief of their general staff, General Heinrichs - in the morning he arrived at the headquarters of our High Command. And now everyone is free, but I ask Field Marshal Keitel to stay.
Having paid the honor, Halder, Manstein and Schmundt left the Führer's office. After a meeting so intense for him, the chief of the general staff of the ground forces looked depressed. He said a dry farewell to Schmundt and Manstein, he quickly walked away. For a while they watched him go.
“Mr. General,” Manstein finally said, turning to Schmundt. - The relations we have seen today between the commander in chief and the chief of the general staff of the ground forces are absolutely impossible. Either Hitler needs to obey his chief of general staff and observe the necessary forms of dealing with him, or the latter must draw certain conclusions for himself.
“I agree with you, Mr. Field Marshal,” Schmundt sighed. “But, I'm afraid, neither I, nor you, nor anyone else will be able to influence the Fuhrer in this matter ...”
CHAPTER 7. DIRECTION OF THE MAIN IMPACT
21 August 1941,
neighborhood of Tikhvin
Location of the Military Council of the Volkhov Front
In a cool room, at two small tables, shifted together for convenience, sat representatives of the Military Councils of the Volkhov and Leningrad Fronts. The light of a large lamp hanging over the table made its way through the haze in the air from cigarettes smoked by them. The audience gathered in an undertone to discuss some current issues when the door opened and the commander of the Volkhov Front, Army General K.A., entered the room. Meretskov and the commander of the Baltic fleet Admiral V.F. Tributs. Meretskov, with a gesture of allowing the officers to appear when they appeared, went to his seat, inviting the admiral to take a chair next to him, and then he turned to representatives of the fronts.
- Comrades, today we are here to finalize the methods of our interaction at the stage of the beginning of the main stage of the operation, when delivering our main blow. We need to discuss together the degree of participation in it of the Neva Operational Group, as well as artillery and aviation Leningrad Front. In this case, we need to take into account all the comments and recommendations of the Supreme High Command Headquarters, which it gave to the fronts based on the results of the study of their action plans. To participate in our meeting today, I invited the chief of staff of the Volkhov Front, Major General Stelmakh. He will once again remind us of the current tasks of the fronts and will report on the current state of affairs. Please, Grigory Davydovich, - Meretskov passed the word to his chief of staff.
Using the map spread out on the tables, GD Stelmach briefly outlined the general plan of the operation of the Volkhov Front to the members of the Military Councils of the fronts, after which he proceeded to cover the latest events.
- According to our joint plan, in order to divert the enemy’s attention from the direction of the main attack of the Volkhov Front, which will be applied in the area between Gontova Lipka and Voronovo, the forces of the Leningrad Front need to conduct a number of private auxiliary operations. Fulfilling this plan, the day before yesterday, on August 19, the troops of the 55 Army of the Leningrad Front launched an offensive. Using the support of the Baltic Fleet ships from which the landing force landed, the advancing formations captured a bridgehead on the east bank of the Tosno River, in the Ivanovsky area, - Stelmach showed on the map the direction of the strike and pointed the area seized by the troops. - As a result, according to information provided to us from the headquarters of the Leningrad Front, the enemy has already begun to transfer its reserves, including heavy artillery, to the Ust-Tosno and Ivanovo regions, to carry out counterattacking actions, thereby weakening other sectors of the front. In the course of further development of the operation, the Nevsky Operational Group of the Leningrad Front, in cooperation with aviation, will need to tie up the enemy troops located in the Schlesselburg neck and prevent their turning towards the advancing parts of the Volkhov Front, showing the possible direction of German strikes towards and the flank of the advancing 8 army, he continued. - If, for any reason, as a result of the attack, the troops of the Volkhov front will not be able to reach the Neva River, the Neva task force will have to take its own offensive action, with the river being forced.
- Perhaps our front would have to go on the offensive simultaneously with the Volkhov front? - Terenty Fomich Shtykov, a member of the Military Council of the Leningrad Front, asked the speaker a question.
“We think that this is not advisable,” Stelmach replied to him. “Since the Leningrad Front has extremely limited possibilities for conducting such an operation, your strike will be possible only when our front succeeds in breaking through the German defense and diverting the main forces and reserves of the enemy. The General Headquarters Headquarters agrees with such an action plan.
A pause, which arose after the last words of the chief of staff of the Volkhov front, was interrupted by the General Director authorized by the General Headquarters and a member of the Military Council of the Volkhov and Leningrad fronts, General A.I. Zaporozhets, who was sitting next to the speaker:
- Does the enemy undertake anything in other directions? - He asked.
“The other day, our air reconnaissance recorded an increase in the intensity of rail traffic from the south towards Leningrad,” the major general replied. - In carrying out the assignment of the front headquarters, the partisans derailed several echelons moving in this direction. However, unfortunately, it was not possible to determine precisely the belonging of the troops transported in them to any formation. Perhaps this is the next marching replenishment for the troops of the Army Group North, which has been methodically coming to them since July, in order to compensate for the losses of the spring-summer battles.
“I would like to note that for the upcoming operation we are regrouping, concentrating and deploying troops in a limited number of lines of communication and with active operations of the enemy’s aircraft,” looking around all those present, drew Meretskov’s attention. - At the same time, the bulk of the connections and parts allocated for the operation moves along two railway lines with low throughput. Therefore, when concentrating parts and formations in the direction of our main attack, it is necessary to pay maximum attention to comprehensive methods of masking and concealment of troop movements. It is also necessary to take measures to disinform the enemy, regarding our plans.
“We are taking such measures, Kirill Afanasevich,” Stelmakh hastened to assure him. - When preparing the operation, no written directives, orders or other documents are sent. All orders are given verbally and only personally to members of military councils of armies and corps commanders who are called directly to the front headquarters for this. In order for the Germans to have the impression that we are preparing for military operations in the Novgorod region, during August, using operational camouflage, we show a large concentration of our troops in Malaya Vishera. The troops intended for the transfer to the Sinyavino area are loaded into the echelons under the pretext that our front supposedly received the task of sending some of its units and formations to the Southern Front. To perform such a maneuver, trains with troops are first demonstratively sent towards Moscow, and then, having turned around, follow through Vologda - Cherepovets and leave for Tikhvin. All units on this section of the track are transported in closed wagons with the inscriptions: “fuel”, “food”, “forage”, while Tanks and heavy artillery masked by hay.
“Grigory Davydovich, take this question under your personal control,” the front commander asked.
“This task is being closely solved by me and the head of the operational department of the front headquarters, Colonel V.Ya. Semenov,” Stelmakh reported. - He directly directs the regrouping, concentration and deployment of troops.
“Good,” the front commander approved of the actions of his staff. - We will continue further discussion of other issues ...
After two and a half hours, when the meeting finally came to an end, members of the military councils of the fronts began to collect their papers and leave the office. Alternately shaking hands with all and wishing good luck in the upcoming operation, Meretskov detained his chief of staff.
- The main thing is that we need not to forget the April events, when our unfolding offensive failed mainly due to the loss of the sense of reality by the command and staffs. Mistakes have that value that you can learn from them. Once again, work with the chiefs of staffs of armies and corps all the issues of deployment, concentration of troops and interaction during the operation, he ordered Stelmakh. - Over the next three to four days, I will personally check their readiness for the offensive.
“We’ll do everything, Kirill Afanasyevich,” the chief of staff of the front answered. “I think we can give the Germans an unpleasant surprise.”
“We may be able to, but will they not give us any surprise of their own?” - the commander of the front asked himself thoughtfully and, probably, the question to himself. - Request aviation about the possibility of increasing the number of reconnaissance missions, especially over the German transport hubs.
Grigory Davydovich nodded in understanding, but noted:
- Unfortunately, the capabilities of our aviation, especially reconnaissance, now we are still much worse than the enemy. But we will think of something, - in conclusion, he promised.
25 August 1941,
Temporary command post of the 8 Army.
The car of the commander of the Volkhov front, swaying a little while moving along wooden flooring of poles laid across the road, approached one of the sturdy dugouts. K.A. Meretskov had not yet managed to get out of the car when a large figure of the commander of the 8 Army, General FN, appeared at the door of the wooden shelter. Starikov. Coming out with a quick step towards Kirill Afanasyevich, the commander took the visor:
- Good morning, Comrade Army General!
- Old men, what have you done with the road? - greeting me with the commander, asked Meretskov with interest. - When you go on such a way, the car constantly shakes, and the poles under the wheels "speak and sing" like the piano keys at the hands of a virtuoso! And you have it silent!
“She is not only silent,” said the smiling general. - It has become much stronger, and in a few days we will make it so that the shaking will disappear altogether. My engineers used a not very laborious, but rather practical way to eliminate it.
- What is it?
- Under the flooring, - continued Starikov, - the ground is poured. When they lie on it, the poles no longer vibrate. If you now cover the flooring with at least a thin layer of gravel to the ground, then the shaking will disappear, and the speed of movement will significantly increase.
- Who suggested this?
- The head of the army engineering troops, Colonel A.V. Germanovich. Together with his chief of staff R.N. Sofronov, he developed a road network development plan, and now its implementation is in full swing.
- A good idea. The laying of roads and column paths, especially in the conditions of the upcoming operation, is particularly important. - Approved the initiative of engineers, the commander of the front. “Your 8 Army is our first echelon; both the timely exit and rapid deployment of troops and the supply of the advancing units depend on good roads. And giving you reserves will be easier. And the fact that you will ask them, I have no doubt, - and the army general winked at Starikov with a cheerful wink.
In the conditions of the forest-marshland of the Volkhov front, both sides of the warring parties used a variety of materials and methods for building roads — for example, there were rut trails made of logs, plates or boards laid along transverse poles. In the thaw, such roads went under water, after which the illusion was created that soldiers, horses and carriages were moving right along its surface, and cars, like ships, cut through the waves before them.
Having descended into one of the trenches, Kirill Afanasyevich went through it, assessing the development of the message flow system. Soon his gaze rested on a high tower towering not far from the temporary command center of the army.
- And this, too, engineers have proposed? - He asked the accompanying Starikov. - And you can see far from her?
- No, it was suggested by operators and gunners, and they were built, of course, by engineers. Its height is 30 meters, which, in good weather, allows you to view almost the entire area to Sinyavino from it. We are thinking of using it to observe the battlefield, adjust artillery fire and air strikes. As far as we succeed, it is difficult to say. There is a fear that forest fires - and they, certainly, will arise - will significantly narrow the observation horizon to us, the commander added.
At that moment a distant rumble of motors was heard in the sky. Meretskov, raising his head and covering his eyes with his hand from the sun's rays, peered into the direction from which this sound came. The commander of the 8 army did the same with him.
- German! - soon exclaimed Starikov.
- Yes, Philip Nikanorovich, he himself, - in the tone confirmed to him Kirill Afanasyevich. “And not just a German, but a scout!” Apparently, the flow of our railway trains sent to Lake Ladoga nevertheless attracted the attention of the Fritz command.
One of the most recognizable German military “symbols” is the Focke-Wulf FW.189 reconnaissance aircraft (189 Focke-Wulf), which received the nickname “frame” from Soviet soldiers. The German command throughout the war paid increased attention to reconnaissance aircraft, which greatly helped the Germans in a timely manner to reveal the intentions of his opponent. Since the beginning of the war with the USSR, the production of such aircraft in Germany has steadily increased, and by the middle of the summer of 1942, this type of near reconnaissance became the most common on the German Eastern Front.
The plane, having described several circles over the forward positions, began to move slowly to the north. After some thought, the front commander told his companion:
- I think that in such conditions it is too risky to continue preparing the operation until the full concentration of all troops. The enemy can reveal our cards and get ready to repel the blow. To finally decide on the start of the operation, tomorrow we must gather for a meeting of the commanders and commissars of the formations of the first and second troop echelons.
“I think my commanders will not object to the start of the operation already on the morning of August 27,” Starikov said with conviction. - Almost all of our units and formations are ready for the start of the offensive.
- Well, that's good. Given the fact that we need to have time to spend with all the command and staff games on topographic maps, we have time, Philip Nikanorovich, what is called, “just enough.”
After these words, the commanders hurried back. They knew that the time account before the start of the operation from that moment had already gone on the watch, each of which was worth its weight in gold.
Commander of the Volkhov Front, Army General K.A. Meretskov among fighters, summer 1942.
CHAPTER 8. “FINE BATTALS ARE GOING IN THE BREAK ...”
26 August 1942.
Volkhov front, the location of the 1-th separate penal battalion.
The ranks of the 1 fighters of the separate Volunteer Battalion of the Volkhov Front, lined up in several rows, froze in anticipation of the order of the commander. The sun slowly drooped, gradually disappearing behind the high tops of the trees and occasionally sending its last daytime rays through the thick gray clouds. The smell of summer grasses was still in the air, but in the cool evening wind the autumn was soon approaching. The rank-and-file and sergeants standing in line, silently looked in the direction of the battalion commander who had left the center of the building in front of them. Soon loud commands were heard:
- The battalion is equal! Attention!
Now that the soldiers were looking only in front of them, they could only listen.
- Fighters! Our Motherland decided to give all of you a chance to atone for your guilt in front of her, - the voice of the battalion commander, a tall, lean, elderly major, was loud and hard. - It does not matter anymore, for what offenses or violations of military discipline you were sent to our penal battalion. Now you are all equal, regardless of who held what position before and what stripes were in his buttonholes. Therefore, the only thing that needs to be thought about now is how to accomplish the task set by the command. Only selfless and fearless execution of the order will give you the opportunity to deserve reinstatement in your previous titles, to return previously received awards. And only with your blood you can prove that you are worthy of such forgiveness for the Motherland. Tomorrow our battalion will go into battle on one of the most dangerous and difficult sectors of the front. Go ahead of everyone else. And I want to believe that you can show by your deeds how the commanders of the Red Army are able to fight, even if they attack in the form of ordinary soldiers! (14)
(14) - Contrary to certain established convictions, the Red Army penal battalions never sent not only civilians convicted of any criminal or other crimes, but also junior commanders (especially ordinary soldiers). According to Order No. 227 of 28.07.1942, only middle-level and senior commanders, as well as political workers of the respective ranks, were sent to shrafbats. Junior commanders and private soldiers were sent to penal companies, which were a completely different type of military units. That is why the penal battalion often represented a kind of elite infantry unit, staffed exclusively by officers. The fact that, in the event of the death or serious injury of a fighter of such a battalion, he received a full recovery in rank and rights, and the family of the deceased - a corresponding pension from the state, served as an additional significant stimulus for displaying courage and dedication in battle.
After these words, the battalion commander looked around at the formation of his fighters. They stood silent and motionless, their faces stern and focused. Finally, the major commanded:
- Battalion, at ease! Personnel allow rest - 30 minutes. Commanders of companies and platoons come to me for further instructions.
Then, having sharply turned around, the battalion commander, with a quick step, headed towards the small edge, on which his command post was quickly arranged. Behind him, trying to keep up, other commanders stretched in a string. Just a few hours ago, the battalion raised the alarm, quickly set the task and ordered to immediately move to the leading positions. Now the battalion commander had no choice but to give orders to his subordinates directly during the march.
The soldiers, who were still in the ranks at that moment, began to disperse gradually. Some sat down on the relatively dry lawns of their choice not far from the road along which they arrived here, passing more than three hours in marching columns. Others have chosen to go deeper into the forest to sit down on stumps or trunks of fallen trees. Among the latter was Orlov, who was able to find a place for himself on the trunk of a dry tree lying on the ground, half mired in the ground. Taking off his knapsack and placing a rifle next to it, he saw a large soldier of about sixty, who approached him and sat down on the same log.
“Yes, it is clear that we will have a hot day tomorrow,” he said to Orlov. - The Germans are already here as moles, probably. Nikityansky, Sergey Ivanovich, - he introduced himself to Orlov and extended his large, callused hand to him.
- Alexander Orlov, - shaking hands with the interlocutor, he answered. - Unfortunately, most likely, not only buried. And mines with barriers in several rows, and each bush is shot. And this is only at the forefront, and how many defensive lines do they have in the depths ... - Orlov gestured to the side where the Germans were supposedly leading positions. Then, changing the subject, he asked, “Have you been in the battalion for a long time?”
One of the features of the defense of the Germans on all fronts of the war was the saturation of the front edge with numerous camouflaged machine-gun points, especially in key defense centers. Using both frontal and flanking fire, they inflicted heavy losses on the advancing infantry. In the photo - the German machine gun on the position in the assumption (Volkhov Front, 1942)
- Yes, almost from the very beginning of the formation - from the end of July (15). According to the company commander, Vaughn even “was promoted” to the squad leader, - with an ironic grin, the gray-haired fighter nodded at his buttonholes with the lone triangle of the junior sergeant. - Although, of course, this is not my merit - we have in the battalion on positions from a platoon and above only unconvincing commanders, including young people straight from military schools. But someone and the branches need to command. So they decided to appoint me.
(15) - The 1-th separate penal battalion was formed one of the first - it was officially included in the forces of the Volkhov Front on July 29 of the year 1942.
- And who were you before such a “promotion”? - Orlov looked into Nikityansky's eyes.
- How by whom? Like you, private. You see, he immediately jumped over the corporal, he grinned. - And here still earlier - the regiment commander. Well, and you, since such a frank conversation went, in what position did you serve up to the penal battalion?
- Commander of the rifle battalion, major. True, I was appointed to this position only in the spring, ”said Alexander.
“Well, I already went to colonels since the beginning of the war,” answered Nikityansky. “Now, on the second circle, I start my career,” he laughed and, slamming Orlov lightly on the shoulder, continued, “you look, and you will soon be leaving the private ones as if you will leave the corporals.”
Alexander nodded back and smiled. From his own experience, he knew that at the front, on the verge of death, one should never lose a sense of humor. He took a cigarette case from his pocket, and he handed a cigarette to the former colonel. Lit up, they sat next to each other silently, each lost in his own thoughts ...
At the command post, under a small improvised canopy, covered with a camouflage net, there was a car of the commander of the penal battalion. Next to her, the staff in a hurry set the table. The battalion commander approached him, took a card from the tablet and, spreading it on the table, turned to the commanders' mouths and platoons behind him:
“Please approach the map,” he gestured for everyone closer to the table. - By the decision of the front command, our battalion was attached to the 265 th rifle division of the 8 th army. The task of our battalion is to break through the enemy's defensive lines and quickly break through to a strong enemy stronghold in Tortolovo, which makes it possible for the main forces of the division to enter the battle, the major spent penciling the red arrows that marked the battalion’s mouths on the map. - To enhance the battalion will be assigned to the engineer, machine-gun platoon, as well as a battery of 45-mm guns and one howitzer battalion.
The assembled lieutenants and captains, who also got maps from tablets, listened to the battalion commander and made notes on them.
“Before the offensive, it is vital for us to detect the maximum number of enemy firing points and assess its defense system,” the major continued. - Therefore, tonight, four hours before the start of the main operation, I order the reconnaissance in force. To do this, select the first, second, and third companies from among its members one reinforced platoon and carry out attacks on the directions indicated in the plan of operation. The coordinates of the detected firing positions of the Germans should be recorded and immediately transferred to the artillerymen, for which purpose, to establish a stable connection with them. That's all for now. The remaining details of the operation will be discussed when the battalion leaves the area of concentration planned for it. Any questions?
- No, no! - the battalion commander heard in reply.
“Good,” he looked at his watch. - After twenty minutes, raise people and go on. By night, we must be in place.
Half an hour later, again lining up in a column, the battalion was again set in motion. He was faced with another transition, which will soon end at the most advanced. The soldiers, talking quietly and straightening their shoulder straps, looked cautiously at the gray sky. On the march, given the swamps and dense forest on both sides of the narrow road, they represented a good target for German aircraft. However, the sky was clear, and the onset of darkness soon hid the ranks of the soldiers marching westward ...
27 August 1942.
Volkhov front, Tortolovo
Lane of the 265 Infantry Division
The battle was already almost 10 hours. Penalties, having successfully conducted night reconnaissance in their area, revealed most of the enemy’s firing positions at the front line, which contributed to their destruction by artillery and the subsequent rapid breakthrough of the first German defense lines. Having crossed the Black River, they penetrated the German defenses 1-2 kilometers. But by the middle of the day the enemy, pulling up reserves, launched strong counterattacks and even pressed the battalion somewhat. The fighters managed to retake the initiative and resume the advance, when the main forces of the 265 Infantry Division joined the attack on Tortolovo. However, the defense of the Germans was not yet completely broken - the fortified line on the way directly to Tortolovo could not be overcome. Particularly annoyed the attacker strongly fortified bunker of the enemy, who was right in front of the area on which the company Orlov. Around the approaches to the firing point lay several dozen dead and wounded soldiers. In addition to the machine-gun nest, an enemy platoon entrenched in trenches around it, with its fire preventing the attackers from coming closer or bypassing the bunker from the flanks. Practically pushing himself into the ground, Alexander creptly crawled up to a small tubercle, which gave at least minimal protection from enemy bullets. Now to the right, then to his left, explosions of mortar shells were heard, falling asleep with shrapnel and earth all around. Now there was only open space ahead, well shot by the Germans. Orlov looked a little to his right. In the fresh funnel from the projectile there lay Nikityansky, whose helmet only occasionally appeared above ground level.
- Ivanovich, can you cover up? - Alexander shouted to him.
“Come on,” he could hear back, through the noise of battle.
Literally in a couple of seconds, Nikityansky abruptly appeared over the funnel and released a long line in the direction of the bunker from his PCA. At this moment, having broken from his seat and crouched low as possible, Orlov made another leap, jumping over the motionless fighters as he went. It seemed a little more, and he would be able to get close to the machine-gun point for the distance of the grenade throw. But he did not have time to run a few meters, when a strong blow to the arm almost turned him around and made him fall to the ground. On the right sleeve of the tunic, blood immediately began to bleed out. Holding the wound with his hand, Alexander turned on his side. Despite the roar around him, he could hear the moans of the wounded soldiers lying around him. An ominous whistle of bullets resounded unceasingly overhead, grenades that the Germans threw in the direction of the attackers continually exploded. It seemed their attack here was completely choked. Suddenly, from somewhere behind me, there was a rumble of an engine and the clank of tank tracks. With pain, overcoming pain and trying not to raise his head, Orlov looked back. Overcoming with the help of their wide caterpillars mud and mud, the KV tank confidently moved towards them. The Germans frantically carried all their fire on him. But the tank, despite this, stubbornly crawled on their position. Somewhere there were shots of an anti-tank gun. It was visible, how shells cut into armor, beating out from it a spark. However, even after such hits, the tank only faded for a moment, as if it ran into an invisible obstacle, after which it again went forward. Finally, stopping almost next to Orlov, KV suddenly released a long fiery jet from the tower towards the enemy’s dota. It seemed to Alexander that from the heat that emanated from this yellow-red snake, on him, in an instant, the clothes completely soaked before that had dried. From the German positions heard the heartbreaking screams. Turning his head, he saw that the Germans, tearing off their burning uniforms as they went, were running away from their shelters.
- Infantry, follow me! - He heard the familiar voice of Sergei Ivanovich, jumped out of his refuge.
- Urr-pp-ra! - picked up his fighters, rushing forward.
Exhausted, leaning back, Orlov watched the renewed attack. Now he no longer had any doubts that the German stronghold in Tortolovo would be taken in the near future, and the offensive of the Soviet troops after that should begin to develop rapidly.
Initially, the task of installing a commercially available tank KV-1 ATO-41 flamethrower, was worked out in the summer of 1941, at the Kirov plant in Leningrad. This modification of the machine received the index KV-6. After the evacuation of the main part of the plant to Chelyabinsk, work on such a tank continued, with the result that in December 1941, the first tank model was made, designated KV-8. On it a flamethrower was installed in the turret of the tank, along with an 45-mm tank gun and a DT machine gun. To flamethrower tank did not differ from the linear, the gun outside was covered with a massive camouflage cover, creating the illusion of weapons KV 76-mm gun. The first combat use of such machines was successfully held in August 1942 of the year, at the front of the 8 th Army of the Volkhov Front. The photo shows the first Soviet flamethrower tank KV-8, captured by the Germans (Volkhov front, September 1942).
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