Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Monster

(Screen capture from the video)
In the summer of 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. It looked again as if the German military was going to overwhelm yet another opponent. But things did not go well for the Germans everywhere. In Lithuania, a single Soviet heavy tank held up the German advance.
A KV-1 or KV-2 tank (accounts vary) advanced far behind the German lines after attacking a column of German trucks. The tank stopped on a road across soft ground and was engaged by four 50 mm anti-tank guns of the 6th Panzer Division anti-tank battalion. The tank was hit several times but fired back, disabling all four guns. A heavy 88 mm gun of the divisional anti-aircraft battalion was moved about 730 m (800 yd) behind the tank but was knocked out by the tank before it could score a hit. During the night, German combat engineers tried to destroy the tank with satchel charges but failed despite possibly damaging the tracks. Early on the morning of 25 June, German tanks fired on the KV from the woodland while an 88 mm gun fired at the tank from its rear. Of several shots fired, only two penetrated the tank; German infantry advanced and the KV opening machine-gun fire against them and the tank was knocked out by grenades thrown into the hatches. According to some accounts, the crew was buried by the German soldiers with full military honors; in other accounts, the crew escaped during the night.

The 6th Panzer Division Kampfgruppe commander General Erhard Raus, described it as a KV-1, which was damaged by several 88 mm anti-tank shots fired from behind the vehicle, while it was distracted by Panzer 35(t) tanks from Panzer Battalion 65. The KV-1 crew were killed by a pioneer engineer unit who pushed grenades through two holes made by the gun while the turret began moving again, the other five or six shots having not fully penetrated. Apparently, the KV-1 crew had only been stunned by the shots which had entered the turret and were buried nearby with military honors by the German unit.

In 1965, the remains of the crew were exhumed and reburied at the military cemetery in Raseiniai. According to research by Russian military historian Maksim Kolomiets, the tank may have been from the 3rd Company of the 1st Battalion, 4th Tank Regiment, part of the 2nd Tank Division. It is impossible to identify the crew because the documents were buried in the woods north of Raseiniai during the retreat.
(Source)
KV-2
(Source)
Was the tank a KV-2 (the one depicted in the photos above and in the video)? Or was it a KV-1 (shown below)? Both tanks gave the Germans pause, perhaps they had bitten off more than they could chew this time. (I lean towards it being a KV-2, which had a crew of six men, the KV-1 only had a crew of five.)

KV-1
(Source)
This episode demonstrates that just a few people, standing their ground, can make a difference. Maybe not immediately, but over time. Every single delay inflicted on the Germans guaranteed that they would not reach Moscow by winter.

Turns out, they never made it all.

(The video is in German, es tut mir Leid.)


Six brave men, who paid the ultimate price. Doesn't matter which side they fought for, you have to tip your hat to that kind of bravery.

And I do.



36 comments:

  1. A 152mm howitzer that was to negate the Finns bunkers plus that armor, roughly 2 and a half to 4 and a half inch thick....quite the road block. But not built for mobile combat especially with a gun traverse that worked on level ground only. A courageous crew doing their duty to each other.

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  2. What Nylon12 said. It was designed to work with other tanks and accompanying troops. A forlorn hope was what it wasn't designed for. Slow transverse of the turret, slow turning radius of the hull, not a close range tank fighter.

    But that 152mm? Even firing just HE against current German tanks, pretty much an assured soft kill against at least half the crew. There's a reason it's called the Derp gun in World of Tanks.

    What is interesting is that some German tank designers had already foreseen the need for bigger, badder, tanks back in 39 and 40. The refocus after the conquest of France on internal issues within Germany, focusing on the economy and civil issues, put heavy tanks, heavy bombers and other advanced weapons (like, jets, rockets and such) on the back burner. Thankfully.

    But back to the crew. Those men. Brave. Very brave. Heroes by any standard. The Germans were good at rendering honors when they could. It is good that their bodies were not forgotten, even if their names were. Must have been a horror, that seemingly unstoppable horde coming east. Truly brave.

    I think there was another tank, crewed by 2 political officers and their wives, that also fought well during the retreat.

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    1. Two political officers and their wives? There's a story that needs telling!

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    2. Knowing the Russkies, the tale might not be made of even whole cloth. And not all political officers were completely frustrated 'little men.'

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    3. Well, ya know how it is with the "true believers." Some of 'em were kinda feisty.

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    4. Yep. Some of them shot at least one German for every 10 Russians...

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  3. Good stuff, Sarge. I have always been fascinated arms races, the philosophy behind the designs and the perspective of both sides. For example, that American tanks were initially designed more towards infantry support than to fight other tanks. (Yes, I know you are well versed in this topic).

    IIRC, a German general was quoted "Our tanks were ten times better than American tanks. The problem was, the Americans always had an 11th tank".

    Another favorite quote--"War is chaos. Unfortunately, the American army practiced this every day".

    Brave men indeed. As we say in the world of marksmanship, "it ain't the rifle, it's the nut behind the trigger".

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    1. In aviation, it's not the machine, it's the man in the cockpit (thee days I suppose "woman" works in that phrase just as well).

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    2. "(thee days I suppose "woman" works in that phrase just as well)."

      The Russians certainly put that to the test, but then they had to. Given the choice, I am against it. Not saying our girls can't do it. They can and they have. But we are a (mostly) Judaeo Christian society. You don't hit the girl. Having them fly combat is all well and good, right up to the time when on of them has to punch out coming off the target she just "shacked" somewhere over the sandbox. Anyone want to speculate on what her experience might be like as a POW?

      This is not just idle speculation on my part. My own daughter is a patrol officer with a major municipality here in the DFW area (not Dallas, thank God). She loves the job and is very good at it. I sleep at night because I taught her how to shoot straight.

      I once heard a question asked that stuck with me--

      Why would any young women want to give up the very best of what it means to be a young women, in exchange for the very worst of what it means to be a young man?

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    3. Two daughters in the Navy. I get it.

      I've worked with women in the Air Force, some of 'em were better at their jobs than the men, some of 'em weren't. If a person can do the job, I don't care what their chromosomal configuration is.

      The times they are a changin', we old farts need to keep up.

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    4. During WWI, the very professional German officers labeled the US Doughboys as 'gifted amateurs' and were surprised when we didn't retreat under horrible odds.

      During WWII, German officers said the same thing, but then also cursed our, what to them was wasteful, use of air power and artillery. A joke, bad joke was that you know you're fighting the Americans when you see one, he disappears, and 5 minutes later your whole area disappears under an artillery barrage. There's a lot of truth in that statement. (Most US Tank Destroyers were actually used as mobile artillery and close support tanks. Weird, but it is what it is.)

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    5. Old joke -

      If you encounter a unit you can’t identify, fire one round over their heads so it won’t hit anyone.

      If the response is a fusillade of rapid, precise rifle fire, they’re British.

      If the response is a shitstorm of machine-gun fire, they’re German.

      If they throw down their arms and surrender, they’re Italian.

      And if nothing happens for five minutes and then your position is obliterated by support artillery or an airstrike, they’re American.

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  4. Hey AFSarge;

    I saw in the article that they had several Panzer 35(t) tanks from Panzer Battalion 65. involved. the (T) stood for "Tcheche" or Czech. TWhen Germany annexed Czechoslovia in 1938, they got a bunch of excellent Czech tanks, the resulting production gave the Germans enough tanks to be an actual armored force. The Czech tanks were better than the Panzer 1 and II and on par with the Panzer III. Very good article :)

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    1. There was also the Pzkw 38(t). One of my rifles is a G-34(t) with German military markings. After Hitler took the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia, and then essentially absorbed the rest of the country, he also got control of the Skoda Works, a manufacturer of many fine weapons. And the correct spelling in German is tschechisch.

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    2. German armor forces loved the Pzkw 38(t) as the Christie suspension didn't break down like the smaller wheeled German tanks. Armor layout was better, gun was equal or even better than the equivalent 37mm German gun.

      Germany was smart in that they really utilized all the captured arms and factories. German troops loved the Russian semi-auto rifle. And were so enamored (and captured so many) of the Russian 76.2mm long anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns that they devoted a whole production like to producing ammo for it. Loved French artillery, something the French did very well (a lot of our artillery pieces, by the way, were evolutions of French pieces, including the 155 and 203 (6" and 8") and the whole 75mm gun line was an evolution of the famous 'French 75' that our troops fell head-over-heels in love with in WWI.) And Germans loved Italian food...

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    3. I hadn't heard that about the SVT-40, I did know that the Germans liked the PPSh-41.

      The Russian 76.2 AT gun was excellent.

      German use of French artillery was of necessity, not by choice. They needed lots of artillery, they captured a lot of French artillery. The Krupp guns were better, in my opinion. The French 75 was obsolete after WWI.

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    4. Abandoning Czechoslovakia in 1938 has costed allies dearly.
      Germans made good use of captured equipment and produced many more vehicles on basis of pz38t
      perhaps most succesful was Hetzer, a 75mm pak40 mounted on pz38t chassis in well armored casematte with 60mm of sloped frontal armor giving pause to most 75mm guns
      (reportedly design was made directly along notes by Guderian himself)
      one Hetzer was capture by 1944 Warsaw uprising and has been used to great effect in the first days of uprising,
      along with 2 Panthers captured and possibly only one underground-manufactured armored car...
      https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2d/Barykada.jpg
      http://www.panzermodelling.com/wordp/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Panther_G_375_text.jpg

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    5. The Hetzer was a hot little vehicle. The museum at Bastogne has one.

      I had no idea that the Poles had actually captured some armor during the Warsaw Rising.

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    6. https://ulice44.wordpress.com/1944/08/05/wyzwolenie-gesiowki-liberation-of-gesiowka-prison-camp/
      here you have account of liberation of one of lesser German concentration camps in Warsaw
      one of captured Panthers was crucial in the action
      scroll down for English version of story

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    7. Great story, Paweł. Thanks for the link.

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    8. On a website, I found a 1:6 Hetzer, and I thought Katy is into armor, I should get her one. Then I noticed the $1500.00 price tag.

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    9. That would be awe...

      At that price, uh yeah, never mind.

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  5. a few critical comments about the whole battle...
    while it gave the pause to German advance, on a balance it was a huge loss to Soviet side as they lost entire armored corps
    (equivalent of armored division) in piecemal counterattacks with every kv-2 invovled lost
    Germans in the first days of the invasion were totally owning inexperienced soviet troops led by officer corps decimated by stalins purges
    the problem is, every small stop on the road to moscow counbted, and Soviets were able to raise new armies faster than Germans were destroying old ones, and once the giant tanlk factories moved to Urals they were safe from any German attack and started producing t-34s by thousands which meant Germans were now facing numerically superior foe with increasingly more battle hardened crews manning excellent tanks

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    1. Of course you're absolutely right, Paweł. Individual Soviet troops fought well but yes, an inexperienced officer corps doomed many of them to starvation in German POW camps, or worse.

      The T-34 was a huge shock.

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  6. Those men were Warriors, and the Warriors they fought knew it, and acknowledged it.

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  7. This reminds me forcibly of the movie "Fury", which I somewhat liked but also disliked. Part of the problem was a comment I had heard about the ridiculousness of the mission: with the shrinking of the German lines and the buildup of Allied forces, we would hardly have sent four unsupported tanks behind enemy lines.( I will not[!] digress into the "Hollywoodizing" of the action) This story is the real thing and makes sense in its time and place. I suspect it is the actual basis for the movie and further shows my thesis that no screenwriter ever saw a true story that he didn't think he could make better. One small group of men decided to make a difference, and did so. With a few more groups like that, you become hard to defeat. Put a bunch of men like that under good leadership...

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    1. I han't thought of that. I wonder if the screenwriters knew the story, or just got lucky.

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  8. Most historians point out that the quality of Arty officers was superior to that of Inf officers due to Army personnel policies which followed from its doctrine of heavy use of arty. The amount of logistical train in an Army arty unit at every level is also scary. I remember reading a book about joint Army-Marine ops near the DMZ describing the relocation of an Army arty unit in a UMC AO for additional support. The Army personnel arrived ahead of their equipment, so to give the exhausted Marine gun crews a rest it was agreed they'ed man the positions for the night. "How many rounds/tube do we have?" Asked the Army CO. "Fifty/tube for defense for the whole night," came back the ans. ""Christ" thought the Army type, "we usually use at least 50/tube just to sight in the area before we bed down for the night let alone account for enemy action." LOL, logistically speaking Army arty is in a world of its own..

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    1. And the Russians have always loved their artillery.

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    2. 122mm howitzers that pounded the Germans would be hard surprise decade later to French at Dien Bien Phu...
      and would be present in so many of Cold War "limited proxy wars"

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    3. Some of the "French" at Dien Bien Phu were Germans (Foreign Legion), and may have experienced those guns before.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)