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333rd Rifle Division (August 20, 1941 – 1946)
Division commander Major General A.M. Golosko, postwar
Division commander Major General A.M. Golosko, postwar
Active 1941–1946
Country  Soviet Union
Branch Red Army flag.svg Red Army
Type Division
Role Infantry
Engagements Second Battle of Kharkov
Operation Blue
Battle of Stalingrad
Operation Little Saturn
Donbass Strategic Offensive
Battle of the Dnieper
Nikopol–Krivoi Rog Offensive
Dnieper-Carpathian Offensive
First Jassy–Kishinev Offensive
Second Jassy–Kishinev Offensive
Decorations Order of the red Banner OBVERSE.jpgOrder of the Red Banner
Order of suvorov medal 2nd class.jpgOrder of Suvorov 2nd class
Battle honours Sinelnikovo
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Col. M.I. Matveev
Maj. Gen. A.M. Golosko

The 333rd Rifle Division began forming in the North Caucasus Military District in August, 1941, as a standard Red Army rifle division, as part of the massive mobilization of reserve forces very shortly after the German invasion. In 1942 it served in the late winter and early spring fighting near Kharkov, taking a beating both then and during the opening stages of the German summer offensive. Withdrawn into the reserves, the division was rebuilt in time to take part in the Soviet counteroffensive at Stalingrad in November, and played an important role in driving the German forces out of the Caucasus region during the winter. In the autumn of 1943 the division shared credit with the 25th Guards Rifle Division for the liberation of Sinelnikovo in the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, receiving that place name as an honorific. After battling through Ukraine and into the Balkan states, the 333rd completed its combat path on a relatively quiet note doing garrison duties in the Balkans.

Formation[edit | edit source]

The 333rd Rifle Division began forming at Kamyshin on the Volga, on August 20, 1941, in the North Caucasus Military District. Although the division received its first commander in late August, it was almost a month later before enough of a division had been organized that the Soviet general staff began to carry it even as a "forming" division.[1][2] Its basic order of battle was as follows:

  • 1116th Rifle Regiment
  • 1118th Rifle Regiment
  • 1120th Rifle Regiment
  • 897th Artillery Regiment
  • 614th Sapper Battalion
  • 172nd Signal Company

In late October the division was assigned to 57th Army, which was also forming near Stalingrad and it remained in reserve with that army until December.[3]

Combat service[edit | edit source]

In January, 1942, during the Soviet winter counteroffensive, the 333rd was transferred to 9th Army in Southern Front. It joined in attacks which broke into the German front on the northern Donets River, reaching the vicinity of Slavyansk before being halted by German counterattacks. 9th Army played a secondary role in the Second Battle of Kharkov in May, but still suffered significant casualties in the German counteroffensive against the salient based at Izium. A month later, in preparation for Operation Blue, First Panzer Army launched Operation Fridericus II on June 22. The 333rd was near the right flank of its army, due west of Izium, and within days was partly encircled but managed to extricate most of its forces. As Operation Blue began, the division found itself being chased across the steppes by German armor. By July 10 it was back in the rebuilding 57th Army, attempting to reinforce 38th Army in the Kantemirovka area and help rescue the encircled 28th Army, but its resources weren't close to adequate for this. By the night of July 11–12 the division was falling back to a new line nearer to the lower Don.[4]

Not long after this, the much-depleted 333rd was pulled back into the Reserve of the Supreme High Command for rebuilding. The division came under the command of Colonel M.I. Matveev on July 26. As of August 31 it was in 4th Reserve Army, about 300 km northwest of Stalingrad; it was later transferred to 10th Reserve Army. On October 1 the STAVKA ordered the division to be assigned to the new Don Front, along with six other rebuilt rifle divisions. On October 22, a new Southwestern Front was formed, west of Don Front, and on the 25th the 333rd was transferred to this Front.[5]

As the buildup to Operation Uranus continued, the division was assigned to 21st Army in Southwestern Front, along with the 277th and 293rd Rifle Divisions, also from 10th Reserve Army. 21st Army was assigned to build the inner ring of encirclement of the German forces at Stalingrad from the north, attacking from the bridgehead over the Don at Kletskaya. When the operation began on November 19, the 333rd was on the right flank of the second echelon of its Army, backing the 4th Tank Corps and 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps. The attack struck the Romanian 13th Infantry and 1st Cavalry Divisions, and soon began pushing them aside. On the following day, the division entered the breach and began exploiting to the southwest. On the morning of the 21st, the remaining forces of Romanian 3rd Army, in complete disarray, were formed, in theory, into Group Lascar, but this grouping was already nearly encircled by the right flank forces of 21st Army, in conjunction with the left flank of 5th Tank Army to the west. On November 21, the 333rd linked up with 50th Guards Rifle Division at Golovsky, and the Romanian forces were encircled. During the following days the division was retained to help liquidate Group Lascar, while other infantry elements of 21st Army continued to exploit the breakthrough. A column of about 8,000 Romanian troops, mostly from their 15th Infantry Division, under General Sion, managed to evade the 119th Rifle Division and cross the Tsaritsa River, with about 3,000 eventually linking up with 22nd Panzer Division. Meanwhile, the main Romanian force ceased fighting at 2320 hrs. on November 23, and over the next 12 hours over 27,000 officers and men surrendered.[6]

With this duty done, the rifle divisions in the rear of 21st Army began closing up to the area of Kalach from the west to assist the struggling mobile corps in forming the inner ring of encirclement; by nightfall on the 24th the 333rd reached Malogolubaia, 24km north of that town. However, 5th Tank Army was having difficulty establishing itself at, and crossing, the Chir River in the face of continuing resistance from XXXXVIII Panzer Corps and various scratch German/Romanian forces. 24 hours later, after clearing Romanian forces from the region southwest of Raspopinskaia, the division was reassigned to 5th Tank, and began marching south towards the Chir, reaching that line late on November 26 and joined there by 40th Guards and 321st and 258th Rifle Divisions from 65th Army. The 333rd joined 119th Rifle Division's attack on the German defenses outside the town of Surovikino, which continued until the end of the month. Battalion-sized assaults by the division against Group Schmidt's defenses forced Schmidt to withdraw roughly halfway back to the town. As the day progressed, the division slid one of its rifle regiments southeast towards Golovskii, 10 km southeast of the town, attempting to identify a weak spot in the German defenses and exploit it by pushing southward across the river. On November 29, Col. Matveev concentrated all three of his rifle regiments east of Surovikino and then moved them 8 km southwest along the bank of the Chir overnight. The next day, attacking at dawn, the division liberated Dmitrievka Station, 10 km southeast of Surovikino, and forced their way across the Chir to capture the villages of Golovkii and Ostrovskii, south of the river, from German Group Kortner. These positions were soon fortified, and proved deep enough to bring additional forces across the Chir.[7]

By the beginning of December it had become clear to the STAVKA that the number of enemy troops encircled at Stalingrad was far greater than they had anticipated, that the pocket would not be liquidated quickly, and that attempts to relieve the pocket were likely. The closest German forces to the pocket were on the lower Chir, so Southwestern and Don Fronts were ordered to begin an offensive on December 7 and continue it until those forces were incapable of conducting a relief operation. The most important preliminary task was to enlarge the 333rd's bridgehead so that 1st Tank Corps could be concentrated in it. Accordingly, the division, along with 6th Guards Cavalry Division, liberated the villages of Savinskii and Lisinskii, doubling the width and depth of the bridgehead. When the Chir (Tormosin) Offensive began on the 7th, the 333rd was deployed with 1120th Rifle Regiment on the left, facing 1st Battalion of the German 336th Infantry Division's 687th Regiment; 1118th Regiment in the center, opposite 3rd Battalion of 686th Regiment; and 1116th Regiment on the right, facing battalion-sized Battlegroup von Buddenbroch from 7th German Air Force Field Division. 1st Tank Corps and 8th Motorcycle Regiment were formed up directly in the division's rear.[8]

Battle for State Farm 79[edit | edit source]

The offensive began promptly at 0900 hrs. when the 333rd quickly penetrated the boundary between Group Stahel's Group Schmidt and the 336th Infantry south of Ostrovskii. 1st Tank Corps rushed into the penetration, crushing Battlegroup von Buddenbroch, and advancing 6 to 7 km to occupy State Farm (Sovkhoz) No. 79, setting up an action that would become well-known to English-speaking readers with the publication of von Mellenthin's Panzer Battles in the 1950s. By the end of the day, the tank brigades of 1st Tank put up all-round defenses on the outskirts of the sovkhoz, in anticipation of resuming the offensive the next day; meanwhile, its 44th Motorized Infantry Brigade had been left to assist the 333rd in its continuing efforts against the German 336th.[9]

XXXXVIII Panzer Corps was alerted to the Soviet offensive shortly after it began; at the time it was off-loading elements of 11th Panzer Division at Tormosin. This division was ordered to counterattack the Soviet forces at the sovkhoz, moving into jumping-off positions overnight. Meanwhile, two battalions of the 44th Motorized Infantry were ordered to disengage from support of the 333rd and rejoin its parent corps. On the morning of December 8, these battalions were surprised by the 15th Panzer Regiment, and lost most of their trucks and equipment and many of their men in a two-hour fight; what was left was scattered to the winds. Later that day the rest of the Soviet tank corps was defeated at the state farm by 11th Panzer and forced to retreat back to the Ostrovskii bridgehead, where it joined with the 333rd in the face of German counterattacks on the 9th and 10th. On that second day, an attack by the 111th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, backed by about 50 tanks, drove northwards against the division's defenses, then eastwards, all the way to the western outskirts of Ostrovskii before being halted by elements of 1st Tank Corps, 8th Guards Tank Brigade, and a regiment from 47th Guards Rifle Division. Although these attacks shrank the bridgehead, they failed to crush it. Over the following days, the 47th Guards continued to reinforce the bridgehead while it was being contained by the 336th Infantry and elements of 11th Panzer while the rest of that division wore itself down to-ing and fro-ing across the steppes, trying to beat back other Soviet crossings of the Chir. On December 13, shortly after dawn, the 333rd and the other forces in the bridgehead launched a sudden, strong attack which broke through the boundary between 686th Infantry Regiment and the 110th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, encircling a battalion of the latter and creating a crisis for the panzer corps. A counterattack on the 14th relieved the encircled battalion, but this re-concentration of 11th Panzer allowed 5th Shock Army, to the east, to seize Rychkovskii and Verkhne-Chirskii, with relative ease. Since this area would have been the jumping-off point for a drive to relieve Stalingrad on this axis, the Soviet strategic objective had been met. 11th Panzer remained tied down at Ostrovskii until the 17th.[10]

5th Tank Army played a subordinate role in Operation Little Saturn, which began on December 16. The army was to join the offensive as soon as the situation permitted. The division continued to hold its positions near Ostrovskii until December 30, when it began to advance again against the 336th Infantry. The Red Army General Staff's daily summary for the following day noted that the 333rd had re-liberated State Farm 79.[11]

Operations in Ukraine and the Balkans[edit | edit source]

The division remained in 5th Tank Army, in Southwestern Front, until April, 1943. In that month it was reassigned to 12th Army in the same Front.[12] On April 5, 1943, the division came under the command of Col. Anisim Mikhailovich Golosko. He would remain in command for the duration, being promoted to Major General on September 15 of the same year.

Near the end of the Donbass Strategic Offensive, on September 21, 1943,[13] the 333rd and the 25th Guards Rifle Division were jointly credited for the liberation of the city of Sinelnikovo, near Dnipropetrovsk, on the east side of the Dniepr, and received the city's name as an honorific.[14] In late October, Southwestern Front was renamed 3rd Ukrainian Front; the division would remain in this Front for the rest of its combat career.[15]

As of April 1, 1944, during the advance on Odessa, the 333rd was in 6th Army, assigned to 66th Rifle Corps, where it would remain into the postwar. After the liberation of Odessa, 6th Army was ordered to spend about a week resting and refitting before moving west to the Dniestr River to reinforce the Front's advance on Kishinev. On about April 14, 6th Army was directed to cross the Dniestr and to occupy positions vacated by 6th Guards Rifle Corps in the central portion of 37th Army's bridgehead south of Tiraspol by day's end on April 18. In the event, this timetable proved too ambitious, and 6th Army's offensive was delayed until the morning of April 25.

"To expand the bridgehead, Lieutenant General Shlemin, the commander of the 6th Army, assigned the following missions: the 203rd and 333rd Rifle Divisions will penetrate the enemy's defenses along a front of three kilometres on the night of 24–25 April, capture the northern part of the village of Kyrpatseny, and subsequently reach the dominating [terrain] on Hill 141.1 [three km beyond]."

The sector was defended by a battle group of the German 15th Infantry Division. The assault battalions of the division began their attack at 0200 hrs. on April 25, following a short artillery raid of just 15 minutes due to lack of ammunition at the end of a long and waterlogged supply line. The 333rd managed to penetrate the forward German defenses, advance about 2km, and capture the German strong point at Fantina-Mascui and the village of Plop-Shtube, but was then halted by intense German artillery and machine gun fire, as well as air strikes. German reserves launched counterattacks the next day which retook Plop-Shtube and generally brought the advance to a complete halt by April 29. Shortly afterwards, 6th Army was disbanded.[16]

From about May 1 until the end of the war the division, and the 66th Rifle Corps, were in the 37th Army. At the end of 1944 this army became a separate, or "independent" army, meaning that it was not part of any Front. In this role it, and its component units, were out of contact with the German forces and served as garrison troops in the Balkans until the German surrender.[17]

Postwar[edit | edit source]

At the time of the German surrender in May, 1945, the men and women of the division carried the full title of 333rd Rifle, Sinelnikovo, Order of the Red Banner, Order of Suvorov Division (Russian: 333-я стрелковая Синельниковская Краснознамённая ордена Суворова дивизия). The division initially became part of the Southern Group of Forces with the 66th Rifle Corps. In the summer of 1945 it moved to the Odessa Military District with the corps and was disbanded there on 31 July 1946.[18]

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, Nafziger, 1996, p. 80
  2. Walter S. Dunn, Jr., Stalin's Keys to Victory, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA, 2007, p. 81, states that the division was formed in September in the Central Asia Military District.
  3. Sharp, "Red Tide", p. 80
  4. David M. Glantz, To the Gates of Stalingrad, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 2009, pp. 100, 112, 182-83
  5. Glantz, Armageddon in Stalingrad, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 2009, pp. 37, 274, 443
  6. Glantz, Endgame at Stalingrad, Book One, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 2014, pp. 59, 196, 205-06, 230-37, 277, 280, 346-47
  7. Glantz, Endgame, Book One, pp. 398-99, 417-18, 427, 475-76, 481
  8. Glantz, Endgame at Stalingrad, Book Two, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 2014, pp. 41-47
  9. Glantz, Endgame, Book Two, pp. 49-51
  10. Glantz, Endgame, Book Two, pp. 51-55, 62-63, 67-69, 73-74, 81
  11. Glantz, Endgame, Book Two, pp. 232-33, 280
  12. Sharp, "Red Tide", p. 80
  13. http://www.yadvashem.org/untoldstories/database/index.asp?cid=412, retrieved Jan. 27, 2017
  14. http://www.soldat.ru/spravka/freedom/1-ssr-5.html, retrieved Jan. 27, 2017
  15. Sharp, "Red Tide", p. 80
  16. Glantz, Red Storm Over the Balkans, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 2007, pp. 118, 152, 154, 286
  17. Sharp, "Red Tide", p. 80
  18. Feskov et al 2013, p. 489.
  • Feskov, V.I.; Golikov, V.I.; Kalashnikov, K.A.; Slugin, S.A. (2013) (in Russian). Вооруженные силы СССР после Второй Мировой войны: от Красной Армии к Советской. Tomsk: Scientific and Technical Literature Publishing. ISBN 9785895035306. 

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