27 August 1942.
Leningrad Front, the defense zone of the 18 Army of the Army Group North.
The location of the headquarters of the 11 of the German army.
The bustle that prevailed at first glance in the headquarters of the 11 German Army, which had just arrived to a new place, was in fact a well-established work on the operational deployment of all headquarters services and the necessary technical equipment for their work. Mantstein, standing at the window, watched as the signalmen installed and fixed the large antenna of the main headquarters radio station, simultaneously pulling through the power and telephone cables. Another group of soldiers was already unloading a large camouflage net from the truck that they had started, which they immediately began to deploy to hide their aerial anti-aircraft artillery from aerial surveillance.
The availability in sufficient quantities of high-quality radio communications equipment, not only at all command and control levels, but also at each combat unit of the type tank or aircraft, was one of the advantages of the Wehrmacht over the Red Army, especially in 1941-1942. Of course, the Germans helped a lot in the ability to use them wisely (unlike some Soviet units, at the beginning of the war for various reasons they did not even use their radios). The most significant such ensuring stable communications became in the conduct of rapidly developing maneuvering operations of tank and motorized formations, coordination of artillery support, as well as operational interaction of ground forces with aviation.
In the photo - the German branch of radio communications on the positions. Volkhov Front, 1942.
There was a soft knock on the door. Field Marshal turned around - on the threshold of the room stood the head of the operational department of the headquarters of his army.
- Come in, Busse. We have something to discuss - Manstein suggested that he go to the table, taking a seat next to him. The colonel took a fresh card from his briefcase, spread it out in front of the army commander and, taking a pencil in his hand, began a report.
- According to the plan of the upcoming operation, the 11-I army should occupy the northern part of the front, which is now defending the 18-I army. The area allotted to our army will consist of a strip south of Leningrad, where our offensive should actually unfold, Busse drew a line on the map that ran along the Neva River from Lake Ladoga to the southeast approaches to Leningrad, and from the strip that covers a long section of The southern coast of the Gulf of Finland, which was still held by the Soviets in the Oranienbaum area, translated the pencil tip into a busy arc of the Soviet bridgehead to the west of Leningrad, he showed. - Thus, the 18 Army will have only the task of holding the eastern part of the front, according to Volkhov.
- What forces will eventually be subordinated to our headquarters? - Manstein, bent over the map, looked up at the colonel.
- In addition to the powerful artillery allocated to us, including those delivered by us from Sevastopol, 12 divisions should be subordinated to us, including the Spanish Blue Division, one tank and one mountain division, as well as an SS brigade. Of these forces, two divisions occupy the defense on the Nevsky front and two more - on Oranienbaum. Thus, for the offensive we will have about nine and a half divisions.
- What forces in the area of Leningrad does the enemy operate?
- According to our intelligence, the Russians in the Leningrad region have 19 rifle divisions, one rifle brigade, one brigade of border troops and one - two tank brigades. However, their divisions and brigades are smaller than ours, they are worse equipped with artillery and suffered great losses in the spring-summer battles. Taking into account the fact that the main reserves of the Russians are now going to the area of Stalingrad and the Caucasus, I think they will now have nothing to strengthen their troops at the front of Army Group North, which should favor the plans of our attack.
Manstein carefully looked at the outlines of the front line on the map. He took the same pencil in his hand and pointed out with his help the line of the Soviet-Finnish front on the Karelian Isthmus.
- Busse, here the Russians have at least five and a half divisions. We urgently need the Finns to chain them in this sector, launching an offensive on Leningrad from the north.
“We sent a similar request to the main Finnish headquarters through our representative, General Erfurt — but, unfortunately, the Finnish General Command rejected our proposal,” Busse sighed. - General Erfurt explained this point of view of the Finns by the fact that Finland, since 1918, has always been of the opinion that its existence should never pose a threat to Leningrad. For this reason, the participation of the Finns in the attack on the city is excluded.
Field Marshal thought. The lack of support for the Finns, the reduction in the number of divisions of his army, which occurred on the way to Leningrad to assist the Army Group Center, greatly complicated the task of storming the city and made it difficult to carry out.
- Colonel, how do you feel about walking in the fresh air? He finally asked the head of the operations department.
“Well, if it doesn't interfere with the job,” Busse grinned.
- Not prevent. Call us a car, we'll travel a little to breathe.
With these words, Manstein turned off the map, put it into the tablet and with a gesture suggested that the chief of staff go with him to the exit ...
Within a few hours, Manchestein examined the front line, bringing the field-eyed binoculars close to his eyes. He decided to personally conduct a reconnaissance of the positions of the Russian troops south of Leningrad. Before him stretched the city, protected by a deeply echeloned system of field fortifications, but located, it seemed, near. We can clearly see there was a large factory in Kolpino, where, according to intelligence data, tanks were still being produced. The buildings of the Pulkovo shipyards froze near the Gulf of Finland, and in the distance stood the silhouette of St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the spire of the Admiralty. Further away, in a small haze, the multimeter steel needle of the cathedral of the Peter and Paul Fortress was slightly noticeable. The clear weather allowed even to discern on the Neva a Russian warship disabled by the German artillery. Manstein was aware that it was one of the German cruisers, with a displacement of ten thousand tons, bought by the USSR from Germany in the 1940 year.
After the conclusion of a non-aggression pact between Germany and the USSR in 1939 and the subsequent intensification of military-technical cooperation between the two countries, the USSR purchased various types of military equipment in Germany. One of the most expensive armament models received was the unfinished Lutzov heavy cruiser, acquired by the USSR in the 1940 year for 104 million Reichsmarks. By the beginning of World War II the ship was in 70% readiness. In August 1941 of the year, in conditionally combat condition, he was included in the structure of the Navy of the USSR under a new name - “Petropavlovsk”. During the war, the cruiser used four 203-mm guns mounted on it for coastal targets. In September, 1941 he was heavily damaged by numerous projectiles hit and lay down on the ground, but already in December 1942, after towing across the Neva to a safe place and repairs, he was able to get back into service. After that, the cruiser fired at the enemy until the final lifting of the blockade of Leningrad in 1944. The photo shows the heavy cruiser “Lutzov”, while towing it in the USSR (1940).
Busse, also inspecting the surrounding area with the commander, said:
- Trying to break through directly into the city and fight there is pure suicide.
- You are right, Colonel, you are right. There even the powerful support of the 8 th air corps will not help us, - Manstein lowered his binoculars and took out the map they had previously considered. - In my opinion, the only way to take the city is only a multi-way operation. First, it is necessary to inflict the strongest artillery and air strikes on the Russian positions, break through the forces of the three corps of their front south of Leningrad, moving only to the southern outskirts of the city - accompanying his plan by mapping the directions of the strikes of troops, he continued. “After that, the two corps must turn east to suddenly force the Neva south-east of the city and further, destroying the enemy who was between the river and Lake Ladoga, the troops should cut the cargo supply routes through Ladoga and closely embrace the city with a ring also from the east, - with these words, he outlined a new ring of encirclement around Leningrad. - Only in this case we will be able to quickly capture the city, without engaging in heavy street battles, just as we did in Warsaw.
“A good plan, Mr. Field Marshal,” Busse nodded approvingly, examining the scheme on the map. - We will now begin its detailed development. What are the terms of our offensive?
- The start date of Operation Northern Lights remains unchanged - 14 September. We can not hesitate.
With these words, Manstein turned off the map, hid it again on the tablet, turned around and walked confidently to his car. The Chief of Operations of the 11 Army Headquarters hurried after him ...
When Manstein's car finally stopped at the headquarters of his army, it was already getting dark. Stepping out of the car and stretching their muscles a little after a long trip, the field marshal and Busse went to the commander’s office. They had not yet had time to sit down at the table, when the insistent knock on the door had already obeyed the back. Adjutant Manstein stood on the threshold.
- Mr. Field Marshal, you need urgent encryption from the headquarters of the army group.
“Come on,” he said, holding out his hand for the paper.
Quickly running through the text of the telegram, Manstein handed it to the head of the operations department and said:
- The Soviets launched an assault on the positions of the 18 Army. They crossed the Chernaya River in several places and achieved separate local inclinations. An army group asks us to order the newly arrived 170 Infantry Division to strike at the erupted Russian units. What do you think about this, Colonel?
Busse, in turn, read the encryption text, and then replied:
- A few days ago, the headquarters of the 18 Army already noted the intensive rail transport of the Russians in the direction of the front, the increase in the number of their artillery positions and other signs of a possible early attack. Confirmed their reports and recent reports of air reconnaissance. It is also likely that the attack of the Leningrad Russian front near Ivanovsky two weeks ago was a means of diverting our attention from the impending attack on the eastern flank of the 18 Army.
- And yet, do you think that this could be a serious blow, or is it only a tactical attempt to improve its position by capturing beachheads on the Black River? - Mantshteyn looked straight into the eyes of the colonel.
“It is difficult to say, Mr. Field Marshal,” Busse hesitated. “For the time being, neither I nor the command of a group of armies, as can be seen from this encryption, do not see any serious problem in these small Russians. We hope that this next attack will not affect the conduct of the "Northern Lights".
“Well, then,” the field marshal looked thoughtfully at the map again. - So be it. Prepare a detailed plan of the operation and prepare an order from the 170 Division for their strike tomorrow in the interests of restoring the integrity of the defense of the 18 Army.
- I obey! - clearly answered Busse and quickly went to prepare the necessary documents.
Manstein, asking himself to brew coffee, soon sipped it in small sips and for a long time looked at the map spread out in front of him, on which the staff officers had already managed to make the latest changes in the situation on the front of the 18 Army. However, despite long meditations, he did not come that day to any definite opinion regarding the scale of the Russian offensive carried out south of Lake Ladoga.
Volkhov front, neighborhood Tortolovo
Lane of the 265 Infantry Division
Alexander Orlov was sitting on a small wooden box, leaning his back against a wall of a German trench reinforced with wooden rods. It still had traces of a fierce battle recently under way - here and there the corpses of German soldiers froze in unnatural poses, the bodies of some of them were charred by the impact of a flamethrower jet. On the parapet lay ripped remains of rifles and machine guns, the bottom of the trench was strewn with heaps of cartridges of various calibers. There was a smell of burning, gunpowder and burnt human meat everywhere.
Nikityansky, cutting Orlova's tunic, examined his hand.
“Well, you can't say goodbye to such a punishment with our wound,” Sergey Ivanovich grinned. - The bone is not affected, although the wound is large. I think, in the medical battalion a week can and will give a rest.
- How are we? - Pointing with a nod to the fighters who had gone ahead, Orlov asked.
“Yes, I saw it myself, probably,” the elderly commander replied darkly, hastily bandaging Orlov’s wound. - A lot of ours have been killed, a lot.
- Sergey Ivanovich, how do you think, will we be able to reach Leningrad this time? - Alexander asked him the most exciting question directly.
- Well, what to tell you, Sasha. You see - there is some kind of developed defense of the German. Although, on the other hand, we now have much better artillery than before, well, apparently, a lot of tanks. Yes, and not so far away, before the Neva, the terrain here is just - all the quagmires and swamps with forest.
“I think we’ll come,” said Orlov with confidence, “how many people have already died, you need to break through so that their deaths are not in vain.”
“We will break through, of course, we will,” the former colonel lightly patted Orlov on the shoulder. - If only the Fritz did not throw out any new trick, otherwise they are masters of these affairs. For more than a year we have been fighting with them, but they are no, no, and again they are circling us around the finger. And we still can not learn how to fight. Take the same artillery - they shot a lot, but as you went on the attack on the trenches in the depth, so there almost all the firing points are completely targeted, you have to take them by storm yourself. It is clear, of course, that all machine guns and artillery mortar positions during artillery preparation will not destroy, but there was a feeling that even a third could not knock out.
Orlov nodded wearily in response. The weakness of blood loss made his body limp and seemingly refusing to obey the signals from the brain.
- Well, I have to catch up with ours. Lie while here, soon, I think, the medical instructor will find you. And you, as oklemaeshsya, come after us. - Nikityansky rose, climbed up on the parapet, and, winking at parting with Orlov, disappeared into the gathering twilight. Ahead was the roar of the ongoing battle, the darkening sky now and then lit up with flashes of gaps and cut the threads of multi-colored signal rockets. The struggle for every piece of land in the direction of the main attacks of the Volkhov front continued, and soon new characters would appear on the arena of this battle ...
CHAPTER 10. Snorting "Tiger"
29 August 1942.
Leningrad front station Mga.
The shrill whistle of the train that was approaching the station and had been long awaited here made the station head Mga rise from his desk. Putting on a cap taken from a hanger standing in the office hanger, he hurried to the exit from the room where at the door he almost collided with the company commander of the guard, a young lieutenant. Having given the honor, he cheerfully reported:
- Mr. Major, the train arrives. The cordon, according to your order, is set. Outsiders are ordered not to approach the carriages closer than two hundred meters.
The station commander silently nodded and, walking around the lieutenant, walked on. Coming out of the station building together, the German officers saw the cars that were slowly stopping and the platforms of the arriving train. There was a metallic screech of his brakes and a hiss of steam bleed from under the wheels of the locomotive. Finally, the wheels of the approaching train were completely frozen. The chains of the soldiers of the guard station, with their backs to the suitable train, surrounded the forthcoming unloading area with a tight ring. Commands were distributed to the beginning of unloading, soldiers in black uniforms began to jump out of the cars. From the technology standing on open platforms, the covers covering it gradually disappeared, from which freshly painted towers and tank hulls soon appeared.
“Probably right from the factories,” Ober-Lieutenant shared his opinion with the major.
“Yes, most likely,” the station head replied to him, who also carefully watched the echelon unloading process that had begun.
At that moment, their attention was attracted by platforms where the process of starting unloading was much slower than all the others. Only by coming closer to the first of these, did the German officers understand the reason for such “sluggishness” - the silhouette of the tank standing on this platform was almost three times larger than any others. When the tankers finally completely pulled off the tarpaulin covering their car, the major with the lieutenant froze in amazement. The tank, which occupied the entire width of the platform, with its size gave the impression of a huge, predatory animal. As if to confirm this, on the frontal armor of his body a white outline depicted a running mammoth, holding its trunk high (16).
(16) - this was the emblem of the 502 th battalion of heavy tanks, the first military unit of the Wehrmacht, equipped with the newest heavy tanks "Tiger" (Pz.Kpfw.VI Tiger Ausf.H1). Arrived tanks belonged to the earliest modifications of the "Tigers". The photo clearly shows the absence of the so-called “skirt” - the removable sections that were placed on the sides of the tank and covered the upper part of the wide caterpillar, which will be present on all machines of a later release date. As part of the 29 of the 1942 battalion of the 1 battalion unloaded at the Mga 502 station on August 4, the Tigr tank was two, two in the 1 and 2 squadrons. To reinforce the battalion, the time-tested "troika" (new modifications, 1942 of the release year) were assigned - according to 9 tanks PzKpfw III Ausf.N and PzKpfw III Ausf.L.
- Yes, it's a real monster! - with undisguised admiration exclaimed the commander of the guard company. - Look only at the caliber of the gun! In my opinion, the gun is very similar to the eight-eight anti-aircraft gun (17).
(17) - “aht coma aht”, or “eight-eight” (German Acht-acht) - a slang name for the German anti-aircraft gun 8,8 cm FlaK 18 / 36 / 37 (8,8-cm anti-aircraft gun of the 1918 / 1936 / 1937 sample ). In addition to the fact that it is deservedly recognized as one of the best anti-aircraft guns of World War II, with the appearance on the battlefield of tanks with anti-booking armor, only its projectiles could penetrate guaranteed armor of such heavy vehicles, even from a distance of more than a kilometer. On the Eastern Front, these 88-mm German anti-aircraft guns were successfully used against the Soviet T-34 and KV, which in 1941-1942 were extremely difficult vulnerable to low-power shells of German tanks and anti-tank artillery (37-mm anti-gun Pak 35 / 36, was in service with the Wehrmacht, generally received in the troops the derogatory nickname "door beater", for its inability to fight the Soviet medium and heavy tanks, even at short distances). When in May 1941 of the year, while discussing the concept of a new heavy tank, Hitler offered to provide the future tank with not only enhanced armor protection, but also increased firepower, the choice was made in favor of the 88-mm gun. Soon the new heavy "Tiger" received such a weapon. It was developed by Friedrich Krupp AG, using the 8,8-cm Flak 18 / 36 rocking part of the anti-aircraft gun. In the tank version, having received a muzzle brake and power release, the new gun became known as the 8,8cm KwK 36.
In the photo - the calculation of the 8,8 anti-aircraft gun cm FlaK 18 / 36 is preparing for battle (white rings on the barrel indicate the number of targets destroyed by it).
“That's why the train went with delays in front of some bridges,” said the major thoughtfully. - This tank weighs, perhaps, tons under sixty.
“Fifty-six tons, to be exact,” came a voice behind them.
The station chief and the chief lieutenant turned around.
“Major Merker, commander of the 502 Battalion of Heavy Tanks,” he said in salute. After the exchange of greetings, the tankman continued. - Gentlemen, I need to unload my unit as soon as possible. This is especially true of the new Tiger heavy tanks - he nodded at the multi-ton vehicle in front of them. But I would not want to take the risk of unloading them from the platforms on their own. Is it possible to arrange their unloading by crane?
“Yes, of course, of course,” the station head answered. - I received an order to provide you with all possible assistance. We are now driving a railway crane with a load capacity of 70 tons. I think that will be enough.
“Thank you very much, Mr. Major,” Merker thanked. “Now I am calm for my“ beasts ”and I can fully engage in the preparation of the battalion for the march.
Having saluted, the commander of the arrived tankers turned and walked towards the officers standing nearby - apparently, the platoon commanders of the battalion. At this time, new commands began to be heard, there was a noise of starting the engines of tanks. The less heavy medium tanks began to crawl carefully from their platforms, along special unloading beams.
Soon began unloading "Tigers". A large railway crane gently unloaded them onto the ground, where vehicles immediately began to fuss around the tanks. They rolled additional “pancakes” of track rollers to the tanks, while crew members began to remove tracks from the tank. Soon a mobile crane of the battalion's repair unit arrived and began to unload some other tracks near one of the Tigers, much wider than those on which they arrived.
- What are they doing, Mr. Major? - quietly, trying not to attract much attention, asked the chief of station Ober-Lieutenant.
“As I understand it, they will change the tracks of the tank to wider ones,” the major replied to him, also watching the work of the tankers with interest. - On their narrow tracks, especially on local roads, and with such a mass, they will not go far. But it is impossible to transport them immediately with wide tracks - they will stand for the dimensions of our platforms.
Meanwhile, removing the old tracks with the help of a mobile crane, the crews began to mount another row of external support rollers on both sides of the tank. Only by completing this process, they were able to start installing wider tracks on their machines.
While this hard work was going on near the “Tigers”, practically the whole train has already finished unloading. The Major looked at his watch. The small hand on the dial just touched the ten o'clock mark. It was possible to report on the end of unloading echelon. Having ordered the chief lieutenant not to remove the cordon until the unloaded units completely left the station, he strode towards the station building.
Fifteen minutes later, the battalion was fully ready for the march. Leaning out of the upper hatch of one of his “Tigers”, Merker was examining the nearest surroundings with his binoculars.
- What do you think about this area, Kurt? - having turned on the walkie-talkie, he addressed his question to the commander of the 1 platoon.
- Without preliminary reconnaissance of the ways of nomination, we can get bogged down - he heard the quite expected answer in his headphones.
“We have already been ordered by 11-00 to go to the intended area of deployment. There is no time for exploration. We are taking a risk, - said the major and commanded, - the battalion, go ahead!
After that, the average Pz-III were the first to move, as if paving the way for the rest. Behind them, snarling their powerful engines, crawling multi-toned "Tigers". The rest of the tanks, cars, repair companies and suppliers were dragged into the convoy, following their armored vehicles.
29 August 1942.
Command post 11 of the German army.
The next day of the outgoing summer 1942 was nearing its end. Sitting at his desk, Manstein was looking forward to the report on the results of the counterattack of his 170 Infantry Division. A separate topic, which was particularly interested in the rate of the Fuhrer, was information on the topic of the first use in combat conditions of the latest "Tigers". He already wanted to pick up the phone and rush the head of the operations department with a report when he finally came into his room.
“I apologize for the delay, Mr. Field Marshal,” said Busse, laying out a fresh card in front of Manstein. - I had to re-check with the headquarters of the 18 Army information about the current front line several times, as in some cases we had conflicting data. As we later understood, this was caused by the rapidly changing situation in the strip of our counterattack.
For a few minutes, Manstein, without haste, independently assessed the changes that had occurred on the map of military operations over the past 24 hours. Then I asked a question:
- As I understand it, as a result of the counterblow we did not manage to press the enemy?
- Mr. Field Marshal, our 170 Infantry Division, with the support of the combat group of the 12 Panzer Division and the 502 Battalion of Heavy Tanks, struck the southern flank of the advancing 8 Army of the Soviets and were able to stop their further advancement. However, the attempt to throw the Russian troops back to their former positions has so far failed.
- Well, what does the headquarters of Army Group North do in connection with the current situation?
- The command of the army group gave orders to the 28 th chasseurs and 5 th mountain divisions to leave the Aurora Borealis concentration areas and strike the driving wedge of the Russians from the west and north-west. In addition, the Fuhrer himself yesterday evening gave the order to deploy the 3-th mountain division, transported by sea from Norway to Finland, and unload it in Tallinn.
- Everything is clear - Manstein grinned. “The forces prepared for the assault on St. Petersburg are increasingly being used to contain this sudden Russian offensive. Well, how did our new "Tigers" prove themselves in the offensive?
“Unfortunately, for the time being it was not possible to counterattack the Russian troops with the newest tanks,” with these words, Busse looked directly at the field marshal.
He looked at him in surprise.
- The fact is that three of the four tanks had problems with engines and gearboxes, one of the tanks even had to be extinguished due to a fire. As reported by tank crews, transmissions and engines operating with overload due to the large mass of "Tigers", they experience additional stress due to movement on wet, marshy ground. In addition, the bridges in the area of hostilities do not withstand the masses of these tanks, and the logs of the railroad road break under them like matches.
- I hope the tanks could be evacuated to the rear, so that they would not get to the Russians?
- Yes, Mr. Field Marshal. Do not worry, the Tigers were successfully evacuated from the front line and will soon be able to go into battle again.
“Yeah .. I think that in our business here they are clearly for us ... not assistants,” said the army commander, stumbling a little. At the last moment, Manstein decided not to use the word "burden".
For any tank, especially heavier, marshy ground is considered difficult terrain. “Tigers”, even much later versions, “successfully” got stuck in any wet ground (as in the photo, for example, this is a tank belonging to the 503 heavy tank battalion, “floundering” in the mud somewhere in Ukraine, 1944 year ). If we add to this that the Tigers arrived in August 1942 of the year under Leningrad, like any other first production vehicles, suffered from many so-called “childhood diseases” (that is, the imperfections of the still “raw” construction of parts and assemblies), then the failure their first attempt at application, of course, does not seem to be anything but natural. However, it should be recognized that this machine (which, like any other, was constantly modified in the course of its production), subject to its competent tactical use, soon became a very formidable opponent. As an example, approximately from the middle of 1943 and until the end of the war, it was Tigers who, if they were in tank-dangerous directions for the Germans, claimed the most part of the enemy’s armored vehicles in that sector, and the German tankers the nickname “Society for the Preservation of Life”, for the ability to maintain the crew as much as possible when a tank is damaged.
To be continued ...