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16th Guards Rifle Division

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

16th Guards Rifle Division (February 16, 1942 – September 1, 1960)
Soviet Major General Mikhail Andreevich Pronin.jpg
Maj. Gen. M. A. Pronin, Hero of the Soviet Union
Country Soviet Union
Red Army flag.svg
Red Army
EngagementsToropets–Kholm Offensive
Battles of Rzhev
First Rzhev–Sychyovka Offensive Operation
Rzhev-Vyazma Offensive (1943)
Operation Kutuzov
Battle of Smolensk (1943)
Battle of Nevel (1943)
Vitebsk-Bogushevsk Offensive
Operation Bagration
Vitebsk-Orsha Offensive
Minsk Offensive
Vilnius-Kaunas Offensive
Vistula-Oder Offensive
East Prussian Offensive
Battle of Königsberg
Samland Offensive
Order of Lenin
 Order of Lenin
Order of the Red Banner
 Order of the Red Banner
Order of Suvorov 2nd Class
 Order of Suvorov
Battle honoursKarachev
Maj. Gen. German Fedorovich Tarasov
Col. Sergei Alekseevich Knyazkov
Maj. Gen. Pyotr Grigorevich Shafranov
Maj. Gen. Efim Vasilevich Ryzhikov
Maj. Gen. Mikhail Andreevich Pronin
Hero of the Soviet Union medal.png

The 16th Guards Rifle Division was reformed as an elite infantry division of the Red Army in February, 1942, based on the 1st formation of the 249th Rifle Division, and served in that role until well after the end of the Great Patriotic War. It was in Kalinin Front when it was redesignated and remained in the northern half of the front throughout the war. In the summer it was assigned to Western Front's 30th Army to the north of the Rzhev salient and took part in the stubborn and costly struggle for the village of Polunino just east of that town in August. It returned to the fighting in March, 1943 in the followup to the German evacuation of the salient, then was reassigned to the new 11th Guards Army, where it would remain for the duration of the war. During the summer offensive against the German-held salient around Oryol it assisted in the liberation of Karachev and received its name as an honorific. By December, after fighting through western Russia north of Smolensk the division was in 1st Baltic Front, attacking south towards Gorodok and winning the Order of the Red Banner in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to seize Vitebsk. By the start of the offensive against Army Group Center in the summer of 1944 the 16th Guards had been redeployed with its Army to the south of Vitebsk as part of 3rd Belorussian Front, where it would remain for the duration. Driving westward during Operation Bagration the division helped to liberate the key city of Orsha and then drove on towards Minsk. With its Army it advanced through Lithuania to the border with East Prussia, being further decorated with the Order of Suvorov for its crossing of the Neman River. As part of the East Prussian Offensive the 16th Guards entered that heavily-fortified region and helped gradually break the German resistance there, particularly at Insterburg and Königsberg, ending the fighting at Pillau. The 16th Guards remained in the Kaliningrad Oblast well after the war until finally disbanded in September, 1960.

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The division, which had been recruited on the basis of a cadre from the NKVD internal troops, was officially raised to Guards status on February 16, 1942 in recognition of its role in the Toropets-Kholm Offensive, the annihilation of the German 189th Infantry Regiment at Okhvat in January and the subsequent liberation of Toropets. Its sub-units would not receive their Guards redesignations until March 8. Its order of battle, based on the first wartime shtat (table of organization and equipment) for rifle divisions, was eventually as follows:

  • 43rd Guards Rifle Regiment (from 917th Rifle Regiment)
  • 46th Guards Rifle Regiment (from 921st Rifle Regiment)
  • 49th Guards Rifle Regiment (from 925th Rifle Regiment)
  • 44th Guards Artillery Regiment (from 779th Artillery Regiment)
  • 21st Guards Antitank Battalion (from 307th Antitank Battalion)[1]
  • 408th Mortar Battalion (until March 4, 1942)
  • 19th Guards Antiaircraft Battery (until March 10, 1943)
  • 28th Guards Mortar Battalion (until October 16, 1942)
  • 20th Guards Reconnaissance Company (later 328th Reconnaissance Battalion)
  • 23rd Guards Sapper Battalion
  • 26th Guards Signal Battalion
  • 22nd Guards Medical/Sanitation Battalion
  • 18th Guards Chemical Defense (Anti-gas) Company
  • 14th Guards Motor Transport Company
  • 24th Guards Field Bakery
  • 17th Guards Divisional Veterinary Hospital
  • 812th Field Postal Station
  • 383rd Field Office of the State Bank

Maj. Gen. German Fedorovich Tarasov, who had led the 249th Rifle Division since it had been formed in July, 1941, remained in command. At the time it was redesignated the division was in 4th Shock Army of Kalinin Front where it remained until May when it was moved to the Front reserves for much-needed rebuilding and replenishment.[2] On March 16 the division received the Order of Lenin, which it had been recommended for while it was still the 249th.[3] Tarasov was reassigned as acting commanding officer of 24th Army on April 12; he went on to a rather spotty career over the next two-and-a-half years, including as the first commander of 70th Army, ultimately being demoted to deputy commander of 53rd Army before being killed in action in Hungary in October 1944.[4] Col. Sergei Alekseevich Knyazkov took over command of the 16th Guards.

Battles for Rzhev

At the beginning of July the division was in the reserve 58th Army and by the end of the month it had been assigned to 30th Army, both in Kalinin Front.[5] For the First Rzhev–Sychyovka Offensive Operation the 30th Army was committed along with the 29th Army of its Front and two armies of Western Front to break through the defenses of German 9th Army north and east of Rzhev. Kalinin Front's offensive began on July 30 with a powerful artillery preparation. The commander of the Front's artillery, Maj. Gen. N. M. Khlebnikov, recalled:

The power of the fire attack was so great, that after several tentative attempts to answer the fire, the German artillery fell silent. The two forward positions of the enemy's main defensive belt were smashed, and the troops occupying them were almost completely wiped out.

By the end of the first day units of 30th Army had broken through on a front of 9 km and to a depth of 6 to 7 km. However, on the same day heavy rains began which continued for several days. Roads became quagmires and small streams widened to significant obstacles. Under these conditions the Army's units became bogged down in bitter fighting in the area of Polunino northeast of Rzhev and its offensive ground to a halt.[6]

Due to the weather Western Front's forces delayed their offensive until August 4. When it began it immediately made significant progress on either side of the village of Pogoreloe Gorodishche. On the following day Army Gen. G. K. Zhukov was appointed to overall command of the two Fronts and proposed to liberate Rzhev with 30th and 31st Armies as soon as August 9. However it was not until August 21 that Polunino finally fell to the combined efforts of 16th Guards, 2nd Guards Motorized and 52nd Rifle Divisions, after which these severely depleted units advanced to the outskirts of Rzhev. After a limited regrouping 30th Army resumed the offensive at 0530 hours on August 24. Over the next two days it reached the Volga River 5–6 km west of the city and forced a crossing on August 29, but was unable to go farther. On the same day the Army was transferred to Western Front. During September 30 Army continued to attack, gradually gaining several blocks in the northeast sector of the city before finally going over to the defense on October 1. In the course of the fighting through August and September it suffered total personnel losses of 99,820 to gain 10 km on its right flank and 20 km on its left.[7][8]

During the offensive, on August 15, Colonel Knyazkov left command of the division, soon taking over the 28th Rifle Division. Col. Pyotr Grigorevich Shafranov was reassigned from command of the 44th Guards Artillery Regiment to command of the division the following day; he would be promoted to the rank of major general on November 27. 30th Army played a supporting role only during Operation Mars as it recovered from the summer's bloodletting.[9] In January, 1943 the division was moved to the reserves of Western Front for further rebuilding and in February it was assigned to 50th Army in the same Front but considerably farther to the south.[10] On March 1 the 9th Army began Operation Büffel, the phased evacuation of the Rzhev salient; 50th Army played only a limited role in the pursuit, being located near the base of the salient. Its history recounted:

The 50th Army's formations reached the enemy's main defensive belt on 17 March, where they encountered stiff resistance. Attempts to penetrate [the German defenses] failed in spite of the commitment of the second echelon... The army's forces went over to the defense along a line northeast and east of Spas-Demensk on April 1.[11]

Prior to this date the 16th Guards had been again transferred, now to 33rd Army, still in Western Front.[12]

Into Western Russia

In April the division was shuffled once again, now to the 16th Guards Rifle Corps of 16th Army, remaining in Western Front.[13] It would remain in this Army (and its successor 11th Guards Army) for the duration of the war. Before the German offensive at Kursk had ended the Bryansk and Western Fronts began an offensive against the northeastern flank of the German-held salient around Oryol on July 12. 11th Guards Army achieved a deep penetration at the boundary between the German 211th and 293rd Infantry Divisions. The Army commander, Lt. Gen. I. K. Bagramyan, committed his mobile forces in the afternoon and advanced about 10–12 km. Army Group Center hurriedly brought up the 5th Panzer Division to mount a counterattack in the evening, which was unsuccessful. The next morning 5th Panzer launched a new attack even before sunrise. More than half of its tanks and panzergrenadiers attacked over a commanding height and ran into the 16th Guards Corps, which was itself preparing for an attack with strong tank support. The German armor, driving eastward, was blinded by the rising sun and did not see the Soviet tanks and guns until they were at very close range. Within a short time the German attack was decimated, with 45 tanks completely destroyed. 16th Guards Corps soon began its own attack which inflicted heavy losses on the 14th Panzergrenadier Regiment. For 5th Panzer this became the "blackest day of the entire Russian Campaign."[14]

On August 15 both the 16th Guards Corps and the 16th Guards Division were among the units recognized by the Supreme High Command for their roles in the liberation of Karachev, and the division was one of four that were awarded its name as an honorific.[15] As early as mid-July the main forces of Western Front were preparing for its summer offensive, Operation Suvorov, the timing of which depended in part on the progress of 11th Guards Army in Kutuzov. Ideally the right flank of Army Group Center would be destabilized and in retreat after evacuating the Oryol salient, but in the event it consolidated along the Hagen line at its base.[16]

On July 30 the 11th Guards Army was transferred to Bryansk Front[17] and advanced towards the Front's namesake city through August and September. On September 1 General Shafranov handed his command over to Maj. Gen. Efim Vasilevich Ryzhikov. When the Front was disbanded on October 10 the Army accompanied its headquarters northwest to the area east of Velikiye Luki. The headquarters was used to establish Baltic Front (2nd Baltic Front as of October 20) and the Army remained under its command. At noon on November 18 the Army was reassigned to 1st Baltic Front. Given the complex situation in the Nevel region, where the 3rd and 4th Shock Armies had carved out a large salient behind the lines of German 16th Army (Army Group North) and 3rd Panzer Army (Army Group Center), Col. Gen. Bagramyan, who now commanded the Front, planned an attack along the Gorodok - Vitebsk axis with 11th Guards Army. Five divisions were concentrated on an 8km-wide sector with 16th and 36th Guards Rifle Corps delivering the main attack. 16th Guards Corps had two divisions in first echelon and one in the second. In the event the STAVKA delayed the start of the offensive until November 26, but an unseasonal thaw forced a further delay into early December.[18]

Battle for Gorodok

It was not until December 13 that the ground had firmed enough to finally resume the offensive on Gorodok. By now the 16th Guards Division had been transferred to 36th Guards Corps. The Corps was on the east side of the apex of the salient held by 3rd Panzer Army, due south of Lake Ezerishche, with all three divisions (16th, 84th Guards and 360th Rifle) in first echelon. The plan was effectively the same as it had been on November 26. They faced the German IX Army Corps' 129th Infantry and 6th Luftwaffe Field Divisions. The offensive began after a two-hour artillery preparation without air support due to poor flying weather. Of the Corps' three divisions only the 84th Guards was able to penetrate the German's first defensive positions on the first day of the assault; by contrast the 16th Guards managed an advance of only 400-600m before being halted by heavy German fire. A regrouping followed which brought reinforcements into 84th Guards' sector, which broke through the next morning. Following this success the 16th Guards Division expanded the penetration toward Laptevka and Surmino in the rear of the German 87th Infantry Division, which was also being pressed eastward by elements of 4th Shock Army. By early on the 15th that division, along with part of the 129th, had been completely encircled by the advance forces of the two Soviet armies. The remnants of the pocketed units struggled to escape to the southwest over the next 24 hours; some did, but many did not.[19]

While much of 11 Guards Army spent December 17 and 18 reducing the German pocket the 36th Guards Corps advanced 6 - 8km south towards hastily-erected defenses held by the remaining forces of 20th Panzer, 252nd and 129th Infantry and 6th Luftwaffe Field Divisions.[20] This line was soon overcome and Gorodok was finally liberated on December 24; three days earlier the 16th Guards Division had been recognized for its successes in the earlier stages of the offensive with the award of the Order of the Red Banner.[21]

Vitebsk-Bogushevsk Offensive

Gorodok was only intended as an intermediate objective on the road to Vitebsk. On January 6, 1944 the 1st Baltic Front began a new offensive with 11th Guards and 4th Shock Armies from the northwest in the direction of that city. Lt. Gen. K. N. Galitskiy, the 11th Guards commander, designated the 16th and 36th Guards Corps as the Army's shock groups, which were to penetrate the defenses of the German LIII Army Corps in the Mashkina and Lake Zaronovskoe sector before advancing on Vitebsk north of the Sorotino-Vitebsk road. By this time all of Galitskiy's divisions averaged roughly 4,500-5,000 personnel each, considerably understrength. Following a short but intense artillery preparation the 36th Guards Corps, supported by a tank brigade, made little progress. General Galitskiy later described the struggle of 16th Guards for the German strongpoint at the village of Kukhori as an example of the frustrating fighting during this offensive:

This small village, which was located on the high ground, dominated the terrain. The enemy fitted out the stone houses that predominated here with pillboxes and prepared them for all-round defense. Full-profile trenches connected by communications trenches were dug out of the outskirts of the village... Three networks of barbed wire entanglements were stretched 30-40 metres in front of the trenches. Many layers of machine gun and automatic weapons fire crisscrossed any point on the approaches to the village. The garrison of Kukhori consisted of 2-3 companies, numbering 80-100 men, armed with 8-9 heavy machine guns, 10-12 light machine guns, several antitank rifles, 2 assault guns, and also a battery of mortars. In addition, the garrison was supported by fire from no fewer than three artillery and three mortar batteries firing from the depths.

A full rifle regiment of the division assaulted the strongpoint twice between January 9-11 but even with support of a sapper company and heavy artillery fire failed to dislodge the defenders. General Ryzhikov then decided to use a specially selected assault detachment in a night attack. This was formed from a battalion of the 43rd Guards Regiment supported by a reinforced reconnaissance company and sappers, subdivided into several assault groups each with a specific objective. The attack began at 0200 hours on January 14 from two directions. Its suddenness preempted German artillery support and the village was taken by 0600. Despite this minor success Galitskiy's Army had advanced only 1-2km by this date. The STAVKA insisted that the assaults continue until finally calling a halt on January 24.[22]

The offensive was resumed on February 2. Galitskiy formed his shock group from the 8th and 36th Guards Corps backed by the 1st Tank Corps and facing the 87th Infantry Division plus battlegroups from 20th Panzer and the 201st Security Divisions from Mashkina southward past Lake Zaronovskoe to Gorbachi. After an extensive artillery preparation the shock group quickly overcame the forward defenses of the 87th Infantry and in two days of fighting advanced up to 3.5km. The 16th and 84th Guards Divisions reached the western outskirts of Kisliaki and captured the German strongpoint at Gorodishche on the north shore of Lake Zaronovskoe. LIII Corps withdrew the battered 87th Infantry and replaced it with the far stronger Group Breidenbach from 20th Panzer. By the end of February 3 the shock group had made enough progress that General Bagramyan released the 26th Guards Rifle Division from 36th Guards Corps' second echelon, while 1st Tank Corps went into action the next morning. The tanks attacked along the Kozly and Mikhali axis at dawn and in two days of heavy fighting with the help of their supporting riflemen managed to advance another 4km, taking Kozly and Novoselki before being halted by 20th Panzer. The attackers were now just 15km northwest of downtown Vitebsk.[23]

By the end of February 5, although LIII Corps had lost considerable territory north of the Vitebsk-Sirotino road its defenses were firming up. To deal with this Bagramyan ordered Galitskiy to redirect 16th and 36th Guards Corps to the south. After a brief regrouping the attack began again on February 7 but 36th Corps made no notable progress before the offensive was halted on February 16. By now 1st Tank Corps had fewer than 10 tanks serviceable, the rifle divisions of 11th Guards Army numbered fewer than 3,000 personnel each due to nearly constant combat since mid-fall, and they had used up most of their ammunition. The next day Bagramyan was ordered to withdraw the Army for rest and refitting with the intention to commit it against Army Group North which was falling back from Leningrad.[24] In the event, after a period in the Reserve of the Supreme High Command it was reassigned to 3rd Belorussian Front in May.[25] The 16th Guards would remain in this Front for the duration. On April 27 General Ryzhikov was briefly replaced in command by Lt. Col. Vasilii Vasilevich Kilkhanidze but returned to his post on May 22.

Operation Bagration

Map of the Vitebsk–Orsha Offensive, June 23-28, 1944. Note position of 11th Guards Army northeast of Orsha.
Map of the Vitebsk–Orsha Offensive, June 23-28, 1944. Note position of 11th Guards Army northeast of Orsha.

In the buildup to the summer offensive against Army Group Center the 11th Guards Army trained intensively in the forests in the Nevel region and received over 20,000 replacements, bringing the 16th Guards and the rest of its rifle divisions to an average of 7,200 personnel each. Beginning on May 25 the Army moved up well behind the front of 3rd Belorussian, followed by a secret move of 300km on June 12-13 to a sector north of the Dniepr River 30km northeast of Orsha, replacing elements of 31st Army. General Galitskiy screened most of his sector with the 16th Guards Corps while the 8th and 36th Corps concentrated on a narrow sector adjacent to 31st Army. On June 22 the 36th Corps was crammed into less than 10km with 8th Corps and had two heavy tank regiments and two assault gun regiments attached. It faced elements of the XXVII Army Corps of German 4th Army, primarily the 78th Assault Division.[26]

General Galitskiy decided to launch his main attack along the highway to Minsk on a sector from Ostrov Yurev to Kirieva. The immediate objective was to break through the German defense and pave the way for the 2nd Guards Tank Corps to seize the line of the Orshitsa River by the end of the first day. 36th Guards Corps, on the Army's left flank, would attack the sector from Slepin to Kirieva towards Shalashino to reach just outside Makarovo.[27]

Along with the other first-echelon divisions of its Front, the 16th Guards prepared a forward battalion to take part in a reconnaissance in force which was conducted through the afternoon and evening of June 22, supported by a 25-minute artillery preparation. While the main purpose of this reconnaissance was to uncover the German fire system, seizing their forward defenses was a secondary goal. While the battalions of 5th Army to the north had considerable success in this regard in 11th Guards Army only the battalions of the division and the 31st Guards Rifle Division were able to consolidate the first German trench line. Following an intensive artillery and airstrike preparation the Front's main offensive began at 0900 hours on June 23. The 8th and 36th Guards Corps encountered fierce resistance from the 78th Assault Division and other German units and through the day only advanced 2km. As a result the 2nd Guards Tanks remained in its jumping-off positions. At 0850 hours on June 24, following a 40-minute artillery preparation the 11th Guards Army resumed its offensive. While 8th and 16th Guards Corps advanced as much as 14km during the day, 36th Corps had still not cleared a path for the commitment of 2nd Guards Tanks. The next day the Army focused its efforts on the sector of 16th Corps which threw the German forces back another 7-12km and was by now deeply outflanking Orsha from the north. On June 26 as the leading Corps of 11th Guards attacked towards Borisov to prevent 4th Army from withdrawing across the Berezina River, the 36th Corps prepared to capture Orsha in conjunction with 31st Army. The Corps began fighting in the northern and western outskirts in the late evening and after stubborn fighting the city was completely cleared by 0700 hours on June 27.[28] The 16th Guards Division was among the units given special recognition for the liberation of Orsha.[29]

Minsk Offensive

By now the 36th Corps was 35-40km in the rear of the rest of 11th Guards Army and it spent the next few days catching up. The STAVKA directed 3rd Belorussian Front to make the main attack in the direction of Minsk with 11th Guards, 31st and 5th Guards Tank Armies. On June 29 the main body of 11th Guards advanced 30km, closing to within 22-28km of the Berezina while 36th Corps covered up to 40km pursuing rapidly retreating German forces. The Army advanced decisively across the river on July 1, throwing the defenders 25-30km to the west. By the end of the next day the entire 11th Guards had consolidated along a line from Lishitsy to Logoisk to Sarnatsk to Smolevichi. Minsk was liberated on the morning of July 3, primarily by units of 31st Army. On the same day 11th Guards advanced 30-35km and took Radashkovichy.[30]

Vilnius-Kaunas Offensive

On July 5, after liberating Molodechno, the main forces of 11th Guards Army pushed on towards the Neman (Berezina) River which they reached and crossed the next day before running into the German defenses of the "East Wall" and being halted. This line was cracked by a deliberate attack beginning at midday on July 7 despite German tank ambushes and heavy counterattacks. On July 8 the leading units of the Army advanced another 25-30km and by now were approaching Vilnius, which held a garrison of about 15,000 men. While the battle for this city went on until the 13th forward detachments of 5th Guards Tank reached the Neman River, followed by the left flank and center forces of the Front. 11th Guards faced the relatively fresh 131st Infantry Division in the Rudiskes area. By the end of July 15 the Army, in cooperation with 5th Army, had seized a bridgehead 28km long and 2-6km deep, while it also was maintaining a second bridgehead up to 6km deep. These continued to expand in fighting through to the 20th while repelling German counterattacks, at which point the Front went over to a temporary defense. A further advance began on July 29 which gained 10-15km. Kaunas was taken by 5th Army on August 1 and German forces continued falling back to the west. By now the 16th Guards had only two companies in each rifle battalion, and each company averaged 25-30 men; in addition the 44th Guards Artillery was lagging behind.[31] On August 12 the division was awarded the Order of Suvorov, 2nd Degree, for its part in the forcing of the Neman.[32] On the 20th General Ryzhikov handed his command to Maj. Gen. Georgii Andrianovich Vasilev, but returned to his post on September 4.

Into Germany

On October 16 Ryzhikov left the division again, now to become acting commander, and later deputy commander, of 36th Guards Corps. He was succeeded by Maj. Gen. Mikhail Andreevich Pronin. In the planning for the Vistula-Oder Offensive the 11th Guards Army began in the second echelon of 3rd Belorussian Front, on a sector from Kybartai to Kaukern on the right and Millunen to Georgenburg on the left. The intermediate objective was to capture Insterburg by the end of the fifth day in cooperation with 28th Army. The offensive against East Prussia began on January 13, 1945 and on January 21 the Front commander, Army Gen. I. D. Chernyakhovsky, decided to use his 11th Guards, 5th and 28th Armies to encircle and eliminate the German Insterburg - Gumbinnen group of forces, with the objective of pursuing and advancing directly on Königsberg. Chernyakhovsky assigned 11th Guards and 5th Armies to encircle Insterburg and capture it on January 22.[33]

General Galitskiy chose to attack the town at night with the 36th Guards Corps, to break into the town from the north and destroy the German garrison (remnants of the 1st, 56th and 349th Infantry Divisions with tanks from the 5th Panzer Division) in cooperation with 5th Army's 72nd Rifle Corps from the northeast and east. The 36th Guards Corps carried out a regrouping and attacked at 2300 hours on January 21 following a 20-minute artillery preparation; it was met by powerful machine gun and mortar fire and frenzied counterattacks. German units covering the road intersections north of the town held on with particular stubbornness. Units of the 16th Guards Division were counterattacked six times and forced to slow the pace of their advance. In response the Corps commander, Lt. Gen. P. K. Koshevoi, committed the 84th Guards Division from second echelon and at 0100 hours on January 22 its regiments broke through the defense. Facing encirclement, most of the German forces began falling back to the south with the 16th and 18th Guards in pursuit to the Inster River. After failing to blow the bridges the German troops fell back in disorder into the town, closely followed by the two Guards divisions. Once there the German forces once again put up stubborn resistance. Despite this the supporting 75th Tank Regiment, mounted with sub-machine gunners, broke into Insterburg at 0230 hours, and its gains were soon consolidated by the attacking guardsmen. Fierce street fighting, lit by burning buildings, broke out through the entire northern outskirts of the town. Suffering heavy losses from direct artillery and automatic weapons fire the garrison fell back to the town's center as 72nd Corps entered the fray. By 0600 hours Insterburg was completely cleared.[34] On February 19 the 46th and 49th Guards Rifle Regiments would be decorated with the Order of the Red Banner for their roles in the taking of this town, while the 44th Guards Artillery Regiment would receive the Order of Kutuzov, 3rd Degree.[35]

Battle of Königsberg

Also on January 22 the remainder of 11th Guards Army reached the Kurisches Haff along with elements of 43rd and 39th Armies, before developing its attack to the southwest and forcing the Pregel River. On January 30 the 16th Guards Corps reached the Frisches Haff, cutting off the German Königsberg grouping from the south while the 8th and 36th Guards Corps attacked some of the city's fortifications from the march and captured several permanent concrete structures. However, a powerful counterattack by elements of the Großdeutschland Panzer Division against 16th Corps soon restored communications with the fortress. On February 9 these three Soviet armies operating close to Königsberg were transferred to 1st Baltic Front while 3rd Belorussian focused on eliminating the large group of German forces in the western regions of East Prussia. As of February 24 the 1st Baltic was redesignated as the Zemland Group of Forces with the three armies and 3rd Air Army under command, now back as part of 3rd Belorussian Front.[36]

Before Königsberg could be reduced it was necessary to isolate it again. For this offensive the 11th Guards Army was detached from the Zemland Group. On March 13 the attack to the southwest began, following a 40-minute artillery preparation. The German forces put up particularly fierce resistance against the Army, which was attacking in the direction of Brandenburg. Its left flank was able to advance 2-3km and the attack continued into the night and the following day through dense fog. On March 15 the 36th Guards Corps captured Wangitt on the Frisches Haff, again cutting communications with the city, and three days later helped to take the strongpoint of Ludwigsort. By March 26 the 11th Guards was mopping up German remnants and preparing to return to the Zemland Group.[37]

When the assault on Königsberg began on April 6 the 11th Guards was responsible for the attack from the south, with 36th Guards Corps on the left flank, closest to the Frisches Haff. The German garrison numbered more than 100,000 men, with 850 guns and up to 60 tanks and assault guns. For the attack the Army was reinforced with the 23rd Tank Brigade, three self-propelled artillery regiments, a Guards heavy tank regiment, the 10th Artillery Division and many other artillery units. It faced the German 69th Infantry Division. On the first day, after a 90-minute artillery bombardment, the attack went in at noon. 36th and 16th Guards Corps made the most progress, penetrating 4km into the German defenses, blockading two forts, clearing 43 city blocks and beginning fighting for the railway station. On April 7 the Army continued fighting for the city's railroad junction, now assisted by heavy airstrikes. By the end of the day it had captured two forts and the suburbs of Zeligenfeld, Speihersdorf and Ponart. On the afternoon of April 8 it forced the Pregel to the northwest of Ponart and linked up with 43rd Army, cutting off the fortress from the forces of the German Samland Group and also capturing the port area. Over the following day German resistance slackened and by its end Königsberg had officially capitulated.[38]

During the assault on Königsberg the 16th Guards Division was credited with 8,000 German officers and men killed or captured, plus 86 guns and 10 tanks as trophies. On April 19 General Pronin would be named as a Hero of the Soviet Union.[39] In the Samland offensive that followed beginning on April 13 the 11th Guards Army was initially in the Zemland Group's second echelon. It was committed into the first line overnight on April 17/18, relieving 2nd Guards Army on the Vistula Spit, facing the heavily fortified town of Pillau. After reconnaissance over the next two days the 16th and 36th Guards Corps attacked at 1100 hours on April 20 but made little progress, which did not change the following day. On April 22, after 8th Guards Corps was brought in as reinforcements, the German defense began to crack. During this fighting General Pronin was wounded, and his command was taken over by Maj. Gen. Georgii Petrovich Isakov. Pillau finally fell on April 25.[40]


When the shooting stopped the division carried the full title of 16th Guards Rifle, Karachev, Order of Lenin, Order of the Red Banner, Order of Suvorov Division. (Russian: 16-я гвардейская стрелковая Карачевская ордена Ленина Краснознамённая ордена Суворова дивизия.) On May 17, in recognition of their services in the battle for Königsberg, the 43rd Guards Rifle Regiment was awarded the Order of Suvorov, 3rd Degree, the 46th and 49th Guards Rifle Regiments each received the Order of Kutuzov, 3rd Degree, and the 44th Guards Artillery Regiment was decorated with the Order of Aleksandr Nevsky.[41] General Pronin took over command of the 36th Guards Corps in June, and was also the military commander of Königsberg.[42]

After the end of the war, the division remained with the 11th Guards Army at Chernyakhovsk (formerly Insterburg). By February 1946 it had been transferred to the 8th Guards Rifle Corps. The 16th Guards Division returned to the 16th Guards Rifle Corps in late 1946 after the 8th Guards Rifle Corps headquarters was transferred to become an airborne corps; it remained with the 16th Guards Rifle Corps until the disbandment of the latter headquarters in 1957.[43] It became the 16th Guards Motor Rifle Division on June 25, 1957, directly controlled by the 11th Guards Army headquarters, before being disbanded on September 1, 1960.[44]



  1. ^ Sharp, "Red Guards", Soviet Guards Rifle and Airborne Units 1941 to 1945, Soviet Order of Battle World War II, Vol. IV, Nafziger, 1995, p. 49
  2. ^ Combat Composition of the Soviet Army, 1942, pp. 44, 63, 82, 101
  3. ^ Affairs Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of the Soviet Union 1967a, p. 110.
  4. ^ Aleksander A. Maslov, Fallen Soviet Generals, ed. & trans. D. M. Glantz, Frank Cass Publishers, London, UK, 1998, pp. 162-63
  5. ^ Combat Composition of the Soviet Army, 1942, pp. 122, 143
  6. ^ Svetlana Gerasimova, The Rzhev Slaughterhouse, ed. & trans. S. Britton, Helion & Co., Ltd., Solihull, UK, 2013, pp. 79-80
  7. ^ Gerasimova, The Rzhev Slaughterhouse, pp. 82-83, 86-87, 92-99
  8. ^ Petr Mikhin, Guns Against the Reich, Pen & Sword Books, Ltd., Barnsley, UK, 2010, p. 47
  9. ^ David M. Glantz, Zhukov's Greatest Defeat, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 1999, p. 359
  10. ^ Combat Composition of the Soviet Army, 1943, pp. 37, 62
  11. ^ Glantz, After Stalingrad, Helion & Co., Ltd., Solihull, UK, 2011, pp. 329, 333
  12. ^ Combat Composition of the Soviet Army, 1943, p. 84
  13. ^ Combat Composition of the Soviet Army, 1943, p. 108
  14. ^ Roman Töppel, Kursk 1943: The Greatest Battle of the Second World War, Helion & Co., Ltd., Warwick, UK, 2018, Kindle ed., ch. 2, sect. Operation Kutuzov
  15. ^ In Russian. Retrieved December 3, 2019.
  16. ^ Robert Forczyk, Smolensk 1943: The Red Army's Relentless Advance, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, 2019, Kindle ed.
  17. ^ Combat Composition of the Soviet Army, 1943, p. 189
  18. ^ Glantz, Battle for Belorussia, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 2016, pp. 54-55, 138-40
  19. ^ Glantz, Battle for Belorussia, pp. 212-16, 218, 220-26, 687
  20. ^ Glantz, Battle for Belorussia, pp. 226-27
  21. ^ Affairs Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of the Soviet Union 1967a, p. 239.
  22. ^ Glantz, Battle for Belorussia, pp. 310-17
  23. ^ Glantz, Battle for Belorussia, pp. 339, 342-44
  24. ^ Glantz, Battle for Belorussia, pp. 344-45, 348-49
  25. ^ Combat Composition of the Soviet Army, 1944, pp. 148, 161
  26. ^ Walter S. Dunn, Jr., Soviet Blitzkrieg, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA, 2008, pp. 140-42, 144
  27. ^ Soviet General Staff, Operation Bagration, ed. & trans. R. W. Harrison, Helion & Co., Ltd., Solihull, UK, 2016, Kindle ed., vol. 1, ch. 3
  28. ^ Soviet General Staff, Operation Bagration, Kindle ed., vol. 2, ch. 3
  29. ^ In Russian. Retrieved December 11, 2019.
  30. ^ Soviet General Staff, Operation Bagration, Kindle ed., vol. 2, ch. 3
  31. ^ Soviet General Staff, Operation Bagration, Kindle ed., vol. 2, ch. 8
  32. ^ Affairs Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of the Soviet Union 1967a, p. 460.
  33. ^ Soviet General Staff, Prelude to Berlin, ed. & trans. R. W. Harrison, Helion & Co., Ltd., Solihull, UK, 2016, pp. 124, 222-23
  34. ^ Soviet General Staff, Prelude to Berlin, pp. 223-24
  35. ^ Affairs Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of the Soviet Union 1967b, p. 253.
  36. ^ Soviet General Staff, Prelude to Berlin, pp. 225-26, 232, 241, 245
  37. ^ Soviet General Staff, Prelude to Berlin, pp. 247-48, 250
  38. ^ Soviet General Staff, Prelude to Berlin, pp. 253, 255-56, 261-65
  39. ^ In Russian; English translation available. Retrieved December 15, 2019.
  40. ^ Soviet General Staff, Prelude to Berlin, pp. 267, 269. The source states the 3rd Guards Rifle Corps reinforced, but this is an error.
  41. ^ Affairs Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of the Soviet Union 1967b, pp. 215-16.
  42. ^ In Russian; English translation available. Retrieved December 15, 2019.
  43. ^ Feskov et al 2013, pp. 133, 446–447.
  44. ^ Feskov et al 2013, pp. 150, 162.


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