The Raid on Tatsinskaya was a Soviet armoured raid deep into the German rear conducted by 24th Tank Corps under the command of Major General Vasily Mikhaylovich Badanov in late December 1942, during the last phases of the Battle of Stalingrad (Operation Little Saturn). It was designed to force the Germans to divert forces attempting to relieve the 6th Army encircled in Stalingrad. The Soviet force captured its objective, the Luftwaffe's airfield at Tatsinskaya, destroying over 72 aircraft on the ground, but was left cut off and without supplies. Despite the loss of most of the tank corps during the ensuing breakout, the raid was a great operational victory.
The Red Army had encircled the Wehrmacht's 6th Army in Stalingrad with Operation Uranus, begun on 19 November 1942. By the middle of December, the German relief effort, Operation Winter Storm, reached within 48 km of the encirclement ring, and the airlift trying to supply the encircled army was in full swing. In this situation, Stavka (Soviet High Command) decided to launch Operation Little Saturn, to encircle all of German Army Group A, by penetrating to the south and the coast of the Sea of Azov. The danger this operation created was so serious that the German command had to give up any hope of relieving the 6th Army and instead turned its attention to fighting the advancing Red Army formations, while simultaneously trying to move as many units as possible to the west. As a consequence of the threat, the most potent of the German divisions involved in the relief effort, 6th Panzer Division, was turned west, and ordered to first clear the raiding force from Tatsinskaya, and later to establish a new frontline towards the north of the airfield. With that decision, any hope of breaking through to 6th Army had vanished.
24th Tank Corps[note 1] belonged to 3rd Guards Army, which was commanded by General D.D. Lelyushenko, which was a part of the Southwestern Front under the command of N.F. Vatutin. The corps was designated as the army's exploitation force, in line with the doctrine of Deep Battle. It was therefore not to be committed during the initial breaching of the tactical defenses of Axis forces in the sector, but would be committed once a breach in these defenses had been opened.
The assault by 3rd Guards Army commenced during the morning of 16 December 1942. In order to accelerate the breaching of the Axis tactical defense by his rifle formations, Lelyushenko committed the other two tank corps available to him (17th and 25th Tank Corps) during the initial phase of the battle.
24th Tank Corps was ordered to commence its operation at 1130 hours on 17 December. At this stage, 17th and 25th Tank Corps had already reached the operational depth[Clarification needed] and were in the process of encircling Italian 8th Army and battling the forces of Army Detachment Hollidt. 25th Tank Corps later conducted a deep raid towards Morozovsk to the east of Tatsinskaya. The purpose of the two deep raids was to cut off the German formations conducting Operation Winterstorm, the relief attempt for the German 6th Army.
The raid was aimed at the German Luftwaffe's airfield at Tatsinskaya, from which a major part of the Stalingrad relief airlift was conducted. On Christmas Eve, 24 December 1942, they captured the airfield with an attack from three sides. The airfield may not have received a warning, since flight operations were still going on. An eyewitness account by a Soviet officer describes the scene:
Our tank detachments unexpectedly broke into Tatsinski military airport. First to penetrate enemy's territory was captain Nechaev's battalion. A tough fight between tanks and enemy artillery began. Germans were shooting grenades at the Russian (sic - Soviet) tanks and managed to blow up several of them. However the Soviet tank crews broke the Nazi defense. After they destroyed patrol forces, Russian (sic) soldiers started shooting German pilots that rushed to their planes desperately hoping to save their lives.
24th Tank Corps claimed the destruction of over 300 planes on the airfield, while German estimates were 72 were actually destroyed or almost 10% of the transport capacity of the Luftwaffe. The airfield defenses were quickly overrun, and while over 100 transport planes managed to escape, German losses were heavy. As the tanks were low on ammunition, many of the planes destroyed were rammed by the tanks. A number of planes were destroyed while still on railway cars on which they had arrived. Once the airfield was seized however, 24th Tank Corps was cut off, and found itself without supplies deep inside the German lines.
Zhukov states the Corps "captured a trainload of disassembled aircraft", and "crushed" 200 German transport aircraft "ready to take off." Then "for five whole days the armoured corps held Tatsinskaya, putting up fierce resistance to encircling enemy reserves.":136
Already while the battle for the airfield and the town were going on, it became clear to Badanov that he had been cut off, when march columns of his 24th Motorized Brigade were followed from the north by German forces. On 26 December, the last elements of 24th Motorized Brigade managed to break through the encirclement to join the main body of the corps. Field Marshal Erich von Manstein had meanwhile ordered the XLVIII Panzer Corps to move towards the deep penetrations the Red Army had achieved with the 11th Panzer Division and 6th Panzer Division. From 26 December, the two divisions had cut off completely the connection between 24th Tank Corps and 1st Guards Army. Towards the north, a mixed Kampfgruppe blocked the road against other Red Army formations that might come to the assistance of 24th Tank Corps. The German command also brought up the 579th Infantry Regiment of the 306th Infantry Division and three armoured trains: PZ 10a, 10b and 28. Together, these forces launched an attack with the aim of destroying 24th Tank Corps.
STAVKA reacted by ordering the Front command to assist Badanov's force. The available units were 25th Tank Corps, which had been reduced to 25 tanks by heavy combat, and 1st Guards Mechanized Corps, which had incurred losses too. They were reinforced with infantry, but did not manage to break through to Tatsinskaya. This led to the need for Badanov and his surviving men to break out to escape destruction, and permission to do so was given on 28 December. Most of the matériel and many men were lost during the break-out, but the damage to the Germans had been done. German forces engaged in the relief of Stalingrad had to be withdrawn to deal with the raiders, and many invaluable transport planes of the Luftwaffe had been destroyed, with their crews and ground personnel mostly killed. 24th Tank Corps claimed the destruction of 84 tanks, 106 guns, the killing of 12,000 Axis soldiers and the capture of almost 5,000 more in this operation.
Despite the loss of most of the tank corps' heavy equipment, the raid was a great operational success. 24th Tank Corps operated up to 150 miles (240 km) from its supply base, but eventually had to rely on captured supplies to stay operational. The follow-on rifle troops were not mobile enough to keep up, allowing the Germans to cut off the connection between the raiding force and its base, and ultimately defeat the operational intent of cutting off a large part of the German forces in the region.
Despite this, the raid had pushed a strong formation deep into the rear of mobile German formations, heavily damaged the Luftwaffe, and forced the German command to adapt its own operational plans. Previous raids had been by much weaker cavalry or airborne forces operating with partisans, and these had not been able to inflict as much damage.
Much was learned by the Soviet command from the raid, and it probably gave further impetus to create the new tank armies as independent formations capable of conducting sustained operations deep in the enemy rear. The almost complete loss of the equipment and that of many of the personnel of 24th Tank Corps also brought home the truth that operating so deep behind enemy lines carried exceptional risks.
STAVKA was quick in recognising the exceptional achievement of 24th Tank Corps. Major General Badanov became the first recipient of the newly created Order of Suvorov, 2nd Class, for this operation, and quickly went on to command 4th Tank Army later in the war, which he led in Operation Kutuzov in July 1943. From 1944 onwards, he commanded the Red Army Armoured School, and he rose to the rank of lieutenant-general.
During the raid, 24th Tank Corps was renamed 2nd Guards Tank Corps and given the honorific title 'Tatsinskaya' to honour of its achievement. It later played a key role in the Battle of Prokhorovka, as well as many other important operations during the remainder of the war.
Captain Nechaev, commander of the last tanks of the tank corps was made a posthumous Hero of the Soviet Union for his actions.
24th Tank Corps
The strength of the corps was 90% of tanks provided for in the TO&E for a total of 159 tanks, 50% of motor transport, and 70% of personnel. The Corps was supplied with two units of ammunition,[note 2] two units of fuel and lubricants, and five days of rations.
- 24th Tank Corps (Major General of Tank Troops V.M. Badanov)
Reinforcements attached to the corps for the raid:
- 658th Anti Aircraft Artillery Regiment
- 413th Guards Mortar (MLRS) Battalion
Air support was provided by 3rd Composite Air Corps of 17th Air Army, through an aerial liaison officer travelling with the HQ of the 24th Tank Corps.
In the game Call of Duty: Finest Hour, the last two Soviet missions are at Tatsinskaya in which, in a T-34 tank, the player attacks the station, then move onto the airfield then finally assault the last Germans at the Control tower. In a nod to the true story of the raid, the player's character is a tank commander named Nikolai Badanov.
The Victory at Stalingrad mission pack for the real-time strategy game Company of Heroes 2 features a recreation of the raid, with players tasked with using a limited Soviet armored force to destroy ground-based aircraft and capture the airfield, while withering German airstrikes and armored counterattacks.
- A tank corps was actually a division-size formation, but commanded by an officer with the rank of a corps commander.
- one unit (also referred to as 'combat load') is defined as standard expenditure of the item in question during a day of combat.
- At this time, a tank brigade consisted of two tank battalions (usually with two medium companies of 10 T-34 and one light company of 10 T-70 each) and one motorized rifle battalion, as well as an anti-tank artillery battery, and a headquarters company.
- Motorized rifle regiments consisted of three motorized rifle battalions, an artillery battalion, an anti-aircraft artillery battalion, a mortar battery, and a headquarters company.
- Adam, Wilhelm; Ruhle, Otto (2015). With Paulus at Stalingrad. Pen and Sword Books Ltd.. p. 159. ISBN 9781473833869.
- from the Voice of Russia article
- Zhukov, Georgy (1974). Marshal of Victory, Volume II. Pen and Sword Books Ltd.. p. 136. ISBN 9781781592915.
- Glantz, D. 'From the Don to the Dnepr' pp. 68–71
- Wolfgang Sawodny, German Armored Trains on the Russian Front 1941-1944; Schiffer 2003
- Erickson, J. 'The Road to Stalingrad'
- Glantz, D. 'From the Don to the Dnepr'
- Porfiryev, ‘Raid to Tatsinskaya’, VIZH 11/1987
- Scheibert, H. ‘Panzer zwischen Don und Donets’
- Voice of Russia Article
- Article (in Portuguese) on Operation Winter Storm
- Through the Furnace of War – article on evolvement of Soviet mechanized formations
- Russian map showing advance along the middle Don river
- 306.Infanterie Division (Wehrmacht)
- Forczyk, Robert. Red Christmas; The Tatsinskaya Airfield Raid 1942 (2012). Osprey Raid Series #30. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 9781849085861
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