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303rd Rifle Division (10 July 1941 - 27 Dec. 1941)
303rd Rifle Division (December 1941 - 1945)
Active 1941 - 1945
Country  Soviet Union
Branch Red Army flag.svg Red Army
Type Division
Role Infantry
Engagements Operation Barbarossa
Yelnya Offensive
Operation Blue
Battle of Kursk
Battle of the Dniepr
Jassy-Kishinev Offensive
Siege of Budapest
Prague Offensive
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Col. A.G. Moiseevskiy
Mjr. Gen. K.S. Fedorovsky

The 303rd Rifle Division began service as a standard Red Army rifle division shortly after the German invasion, and in its first formation fought in the central part of the Soviet-German front for a few months until encircled and annihilated in the fighting around Vyasma. A second 303rd was raised a few months later and fought on, mainly in the central sector of Ukraine, distinguishing itself in an assault crossing of the Dniepr River at Verkhnodniprovsk, and later in the liberation of the town of Belitsy. It ended the war at Prague, having advanced through Romania, Hungary and Austria.

1st Formation[edit | edit source]

The division began forming on July 10, 1941 at Voronezh in the Oryol Military District. Its order of battle was as follows:

  • 845th Rifle Regiment
  • 847th Rifle Regiment
  • 849th Rifle Regiment
  • 844th Artillery Regiment
  • 561st Sapper Battalion
  • 741th Signal Battalion
  • 365th Reconnaissance Company[1]

Less than a month after forming, the 303rd was assigned to Reserve Front, moving to 43rd Army of that Front on Aug. 10, just as that Army was itself forming up. By the end of August it had been shifted to 24th Army, and took part in the third counteroffensive against the Yelnya Salient, beginning on Aug. 30.

The division led the southern Shock Group as part of the planned concentric attack to seal off the salient, and advanced 2km on the first day, and again on the second. After standing off German counterattacks for two days, it again advanced on Sept. 3 with assistance from a tank battalion. It was still about 8km short of linking up with the northern Group when Army Group Center ordered its forces to withdraw from the salient, which was carried out over the next four days. General G.K. Zhukov gave the 303rd little credit for this success, stating that "The 303rd... operated poorly and without initiative". It was not chosen to become one of the first four Guards rifle divisions. As of Sept. 12 the rifle regiments of the division averaged only 400 men each, indicating excessive casualties.[2]

By the end of September the division was reassigned yet again, to 49th Army of Reserve Front some 200km to the north in the area of Sychevka. Before this move could get well underway, the 303rd was swept up in the German Operation Typhoon, and by Oct. 10 was deeply encircled north of Spas-Demensk.[3] By the end of the month the division was effectively destroyed, although it lingered on the official order of battle until Dec. 27.[4]

2nd Formation[edit | edit source]

A new rifle division, initially numbered the 448th,[5] was formed from December, 1941 to Jan. 1, 1942 at Topki in the Siberian Military District. It was largely formed from men drafted out of the Kuzbass coal mining region, and in March was re-designated as the second 303rd Rifle Division. At this time its composition by nationality was recorded as 40% Russian and 60% Siberian and others.[6] It remained in the Siberian District until April. Its order of battle remained the same as that of the 1st formation, although an unknown numbered antitank battalion would have also been included.

Late in that month it moved to the Moscow Military District and was assigned to the 2nd Reserve Army in the STAVKA reserves. By July the division was in 3rd Reserve Army when it was re-designated the 60th Army for front-line service. On July 19 that Army went into Voronezh Front, and on that same date, Col. K.S. Fedorovsky was promoted from chief of staff to divisional command. Later promoted to major general, he remained in command until Dec. 21, 1944, when he was mortally wounded in Hungary; he died a week later.[7] The 303rd spent the remainder of 1942 in that Army in that Front, mounting an aggressive defense against what the STAVKA anticipated to be a German drive to the northeast towards Moscow. In early 1943 it was moved to 40th Army, and then for a month in Voronezh Front reserves for rebuilding.[8]

Following this the 303rd was transferred to Southwestern Front, and in April to 57th Army of that Front. Following the Battle of Kursk, 57th Army was moved to Steppe Front (soon to be renamed as 2nd Ukrainian Front) and in September the division was reassigned to the 7th Guards Army. The 303rd was destined to remain in that Front for the duration.[9]

Advance[edit | edit source]

It was in this period, during the Battle of the Dniepr, that the division was recognized for its efforts in a river-crossing operation at the town of Verkhnodniprovsk, and received its name as an honorific. In February, 1944 it was moved to the 52nd Army as part of the 78th Rifle Corps, in which it liberated the Ukrainian town of Belitsy on Mar. 26.[10] However, the Corps' advance ran out of steam the next month outside the Romanian city of Iași.[11]

In June the 303rd was again redeployed, this time to 4th Guards Army. In late August, after the start of the 2nd Jassy-Kishinev Offensive the division was moved to Front reserves for re-building during the swift advance through Romania. Re-building complete, in October it was back in 7th Guards Army, this time for the duration, and now serving in Hungary. For most of that period it was under the 27th Guards Rifle Corps, although in the last two months it also served in both the 24th and 25th Guards Rifle Corps.[12] During the Debrecen operation on Oct. 19 the 303rd was urgently summoned to the Mezőtúr area in response to a surprise German tank attack. Mezőtúr was taken on Oct. 23, and the east bank of the Tisza River was reached on the 25th. On Nov. 1 an assault crossing was forced, and over the next four days, in cooperation with the 227th Rifle Division, the city of Szolnok was captured. For its contribution to the latter feat the 847th Rifle Regiment was awarded the Order of Kutuzov, 3rd Degree. On the afternoon of Nov. 6 the division began an advance in the direction of Kharomkhaz and on the 14th, along with the 27th and 409th Rifle Divisions, penetrated the southern suburbs of Jászberény.[13]

From Sept. 18 to Dec. 5, the 303rd was officially credited with the destruction of up to 1,000 enemy soldiers and officers, 22 tanks, 3 self-propelled guns, 4 armored personnel carriers, 4 other vehicles and 16 machine guns, as well as capturing 75 PoWs, 20 MGs, and other enemy equipment. During the Siege of Budapest in December, the division accounted for up to 200 more enemy troops, 8 mortars, 4 guns and 17 MGs destroyed, plus 3 tanks, 3 prime movers, 13 guns, 34 other vehicles, 37 MGs, and another 105 PoWs captured. From Sept. 18 to Dec. 14 soldiers of the division were awarded a total of 1,007 orders and medals, including one Order of Lenin, eight Orders of the Red Banner, 12 Orders of Alexander Nevsky, 166 Orders of the Great Patriotic War, 96 Orders of the Red Star, and 724 medals.[14]

On Victory Day the 303rd was just south of Prague. By this time the men and women of the division had earned the full title of 303rd Rifle Verkhnodniprovsk, Order of the Red Banner Division. (Russian: 303-я стрелковая Верхнеднепровская Краснознамённая дивизия.) The division was demobilized later in 1945.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Charles C. Sharp, "Red Tide", Soviet Rifle Divisions Formed From June to December, 1941, Soviet Order of Battle World War II, Vol. IX, 1996, p 69
  2. David M. Glantz, Barbarossa Derailed, Vol. 2, Helion and Co., Ltd., Solihull, UK, 2012, pp 330-57
  3. David Stahel, Operation Typhoon, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 2013, map on p 79
  4. Sharp, "Red Tide", p 69
  5. Walter S. Dunn, Stalin's Keys to Victory, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA, 2007, p 100
  6. Glantz, Colossus Reborn, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 2005, p 594
  7. Aleksander A. Maslov, Fallen Soviet Generals, trans. and ed. by David M. Glantz, Frank Cass Publishers, London, 1998, p 165
  8. Sharp, "Red Swarm", Soviet Rifle Divisions Formed From 1942 to 1945, Soviet Order of Battle World War II, Vol. X, 1996, p 114
  9. Sharp, "Red Swarm", p 114
  10. Sharp, "Red Swarm", p 114
  11. Glantz, Red Storm over the Balkans, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 2007, p 177-79
  12. Sharp, "Red Swarm", p 114
  13. Maslov, p 165-66
  14. Maslov, p 166



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